Vice (Fireborn Wolves Book 1), page 1
Books by Genevieve Jack
About the Author
VICE: Fireborn Wolves Book 1
Copyright © 2016 Carpe Luna Publishing
Published by Carpe Luna, Ltd., PO Box 5932, Bloomington, IL 61701
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
FIRST EDITION: September 2016
Cover art by Steven Novak
Books by Genevieve Jack
Also in the Knight Games Series
The Ghost and The Graveyard, Book 1
Kick the Candle, Book 2
Queen of the Hill, Book 3
Mother May I, Book 4
Knight Games Box Set, Books 1-4
Knight World Novels
Fireborn Wolves Series
Vice, Book 1
Virtue, Book 2
Vengeance, Book 3
The death of a father is a delicate matter under the best of circumstances. As Kyle Kingsley stared at his brother Nate across their patriarch’s failing body, the circumstances surrounding this particular demise couldn’t be worse. Holed up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, Kyle had more questions than answers about the man who’d brought him into this world but had spent so little effort seeing him through it. Only, the time for questions was long gone.
“The lawyers are meeting on the Tanaka deal tomorrow. They’ll want to revise the paperwork. Dad’s name will be replaced with mine unless you have a problem with that.” Nate’s dress shirt and tie clashed with the general rustic appeal of the cabin but perfectly matched the brash ambition in his eyes.
“You mean, will I contest your claim to the throne?” Kyle shifted forward in his chair. His eyes fell on the mottled skin of his father’s hands. They rested on the head of the dog who’d stayed curled by his side for two days now as if he were giving the tawny mutt a benediction.
“Play to your strengths, Kyle. You’re the face of Hunt Club. Do you think for a second that if I had the clock-stopper you wear every day, I’d want to do what I do? Hell no. You’ve always been the beauty. I’ve always been the brains. Do you think the public wants to see this ugly mug all over the Internet?” He pointed to his own face. “We need your billion-dollar smile. Leave the desk jockeying to me and enjoy the good life as nature intended.”
“The good life? Hmm. Funny, it didn’t seem so great when that redhead—what’s her name?”
“Kate? From the New York agency.”
“She tried to set me on fire.”
Nate shrugged. “Redheads.” He ran a finger inside the neck of his tie, loosening it a few inches. “Kyle… the deal.”
“The position is yours.”
Nate smiled in that lippy, gaping way he did that always reminded Kyle of a filter-feeding whale shark, only instead of krill, his gaping maw collected entrepreneurial opportunities. He had to hand it to his brother—what Nate lacked in attractiveness he made up in cunning. Could premature hair loss be triggered by a hot-running brain?
“I’ll call the transition team and have them prepare the necessary documents for overnight delivery.”
“Two things. One, Dad’s still alive. Two, we are in the middle of nowhere. Unless you plan to go medieval and have the lawyer send the papers by carrier pigeon, it’s going to have to wait. Relax. There’s no hurry.”
“It won’t be long, though. The doctor said any minute now.” Nate’s brown eyes shifted, fixing on their father’s lumbering chest. “We should get the paperwork started.”
Although the lip smacking and carcass circling didn’t exactly surprise Kyle, his patience with his brother waned. Unrestrained ambition made for hasty decisions in the heat of the moment. Kyle preferred a more deliberate approach. Estranged or not, the man between them shared their DNA, one of the few things Kyle had in common with his brother. He deserved respect.
“I’d like to experience these last moments with our father minus the paperwork. It can wait.”
With a disappointed grunt, Nate shifted in his chair. “Why do you think he chose to come out here to die, anyway? I didn’t even know this town was on the map. What’s it called again?”
“Red Grove. I didn’t know it existed either, but I think that was the point. He didn’t want the public to see him like this.”
“His will says no funeral. Nothing public. Does Red Grove even have a crematorium? What do we do with the body?”
Kyle nudged back his chair, the legs protesting with a rumbling screech against the wood floor. The dog lifted its massive head, brown eyes tracking Kyle as he circled to Nate’s side of the bed. Despite his brother’s considerable size, Kyle fisted Nate’s collar and lifted him from his seat.
“I’m not going to say this again,” he whispered into his brother’s ear. “Dad is still alive. As far as we know, he can still hear us. We’ll handle the arrangements when the time comes. Until then, unless you want to talk about what few personal memories we have of him, shut the fuck up.” He dropped his brother back into his chair and returned to his own.
Nate spread his hands and shrugged. “Sorry.” He did not sound sorry. Only a note of annoyance flavored the word. Still, he hushed. The cabin grew quiet aside from the deep, wet rattle of their father’s breathing and the occasional whine of the four-legged beast lying at his side.
“Am I allowed to ask what we should do about the dog?” Nate tugged at his pant leg, clearly perturbed by Kyle’s restrictions on the conversation.
Kyle reached out and stroked the dog’s head. “His name is Milo.”
“I can’t have a dog. I’m allergic,” Nate said. “We’ll have to take him to the humane society.”
“He’s a one-hundred-sixty-pound mastiff. No one is going to adopt this dog. Three-quarters of the population doesn’t have a house big enough for this dog. Frankly, one fart and he could knock down the walls of this cabin.”
Nate snorted. “You can’t keep him. You’re barely home. And I don’t need to tell you the staff is not going to want to deal with a dog like this.”
“Dad loved Milo.”
“More than he loved either of us.” Nate’s nostrils flared. “Just another way for the old man to deliver one last jab to the balls.”
“Maybe, but I’m keeping him,” Kyl
“Don’t be ridiculous. They’ll never let you on the plane with that thing.”
“I’ll drive him back in my rental.”
Nate scowled. “This is a bad idea, Kyle. You don’t adopt a dog to fill the absentee-father-shaped hole in your heart.”
Kyle let his eyes drift over his brother’s stocky frame. “Better than filling it with peanut butter.”
Nate flipped him the middle finger.
Silence settled between them again, interrupted only by their father’s labored breaths. For once, even Nate had nothing to say. He crossed his arms and stared blankly at their father.
The scrape of claws on wood caused Milo to raise his head again and Kyle to rub the tightening skin at the back of his neck.
“What was that?” Kyle looked toward the kitchen in the direction of the front entrance. Milo gave one low woof but didn’t find the noise concerning enough to leave the bed to investigate.
“Who knows? We’re in the middle of the woods. Probably raccoons.” Nate stood and stretched. “I’m going to grab a cup of coffee.” He waddled toward the kitchen.
With a whimper, Milo laid his head back on the bed, staring at the old man with the single-minded intensity only man’s best friend is capable of. Kyle scratched the dog behind the ears. “It’ll be okay, Milo. I’ll take care of you.”
The quiet morphed into something even quieter, a silence that only comes at the end of things when man and beast become equals and the last stroke on the portrait of a life is cast upon the canvas. Kyle stared at his father’s chest. It did not rise. It did not fall.
With two fingers, he searched for a pulse. And then he said good-bye.
Dr. Laina Flynn popped the last corner of her pastrami on rye into her mouth as she navigated her way to the examination room on autopilot. Who had time to eat lunch when you were running Carlton City’s busiest and most trusted veterinary clinic? Four Paws Animal Hospital was the type of state-of-the-art facility you’d expect to find associated with a university veterinary program. But Laina had the resources and know-how to bring the best in veterinary medicine to Carlton City and she had the passion to ensure her patients’ unsurpassed care.
“What’s going on with Milo?” She entered the room, her eyes focused on the chart of the one-year-old English Mastiff her assistant, Becca, had wedged into the schedule at the last minute. Milo was not a regular patient, but it was obvious the dog needed her help. He barely raised his head to greet her. Becca was having no trouble keeping the 160-pound dog on the examination table. The mastiff was clinically lethargic.
“He’s been sick since Tuesday afternoon,” a deep male voice said.
“Tuesday? This has been going on for three days!” Laina positioned her stethoscope to listen to the dog’s heart and lungs. Typical. Too many owners let their animals suffer in hopes of avoiding veterinary bills. For Milo’s sake, she prayed to the goddess it was nothing serious. She palpated his abdomen. The organs were normal but the skin of his belly was covered in an itchy-looking rash. When she moved the assessment to Milo’s head, she found dry eyes and nose, and the capillary refill rate in his gums was much too slow. “He’s dehydrated. Has he been vomiting?”
“Once or twice.”
“Is he eating and drinking?”
“I think so.”
“What are you feeding him?”
“Ahh. Has he been scratching a lot?”
“Constantly. How did you know?”
She pointed out the edges of the red rash on Milo’s abdomen. “I think Milo has a corn allergy. It’s the main ingredient in ButcherBits. Switch to something grain free like Orijen. Can you afford Orijen? There are less expensive alternatives but I’ve had the best results with it.” She scribbled some notes to herself on Milo’s chart. When the man didn’t say anything, Laina raised her head and looked directly at Milo’s owner for the very first time.
For a second, her mind blanked, her synapses shouting in unison, all power to the visual cortex! The eye candy standing in her examination room was best described as sin covered in chocolate sauce, poured into a pair of blue jeans and a trendy dress shirt. Polished, she thought. More polished than the usual pet owner who graced her halls. Groomed dark brown hair, physique developed enough to pass as a professional athlete, and eyes the golden color of ripe wheat—hazel, she supposed, with uneven chocolate-and-evergreen pigment dispersion that made her wonder if he suffered from a mild case of sectoral heterochromia. She caught herself leaning across Milo for a closer observation.
Rarely, if ever, did looks alone stir something inside Laina. As a werewolf, she was no stranger to attractive men. Her kind enjoyed genetically fast metabolisms and above-average muscle mass. Even an out-of-shape werewolf carried the appearance of a fit human. Besides, Laina was the type of woman to be attracted to brains over brawn, once enjoying a passionate affair with a height-challenged professor of archeology during her university days. Still, one look at Milo’s owner and the wolf inside her got to her paws and panted like she was in heat.
Curious, Laina took a deep breath through her nose, theorizing that perhaps he was a shifter, wolf or otherwise. Could the stirring in her lower abdomen simply be her inner animal sensing a playmate? But after sorting through the odors of dog and disinfectant, all her hypersensitive nose detected was human with a hint of maple wood and pine needles as if he’d been on a long walk through the deep forest.
“Are you okay?” Becca said, nudging her arm.
“Uh, yes, of course.” She cleared her throat and glanced at her assistant. When her gaze fell on Milo’s owner again, he blinked rapidly, reaching for her face with one knuckle in an oddly intimate way.
“I think you have something in your hair,” he said.
Becca ripped a paper towel from the roll they always kept on the desk and handed it to her. “Looks like you might have a leftover from your surgery this morning, Doctor,” she murmured.
Laina took the paper towel and turned toward the small mirror above the hand-washing station. There, in the untamed waves of her mahogany hair, was a blob of congealed blood. How it got there, she wasn’t sure. She’d worn a cap during the surgery itself. Maybe when she was cleaning up her operating room? Frantically, she wiped it out as best she could, then turned back to the owner, a red-hot creep of embarrassment rising above the collar of her lab coat.
“Had to operate on an intestinal blockage in a Rottweiler this morning.” She laughed nervously. “I carry a little bit of each of my patients with me, I guess.” She laughed harder, mortified when her inhale morphed into a snort. Crap. This is a veterinary hospital not a sports bar. Pull yourself together! Doing her own version of the rapid blink, she tucked her hair behind her ear with one unmanicured hand and refocused on Milo. “So… Orijen or some other grain-free food. Will that be a problem?”
“Cost is no object,” he said in a gruff voice. Oh, good lord he was sexy. Don’t look, Flynn. He’ll burn your retinas like the sun.
She exchanged glances with Becca, whose expression promised she’d position Laina on the table next to Milo if she didn’t snap out of it. Why wasn’t her assistant swooning at the knees over this guy?
Clearing her throat, she said in her most professional voice, “I want to run some blood tests to rule out other more serious conditions. Is Milo up-to-date on his immunizations?”
“I’m not sure,” the man murmured. “His last owner had an emergency and I agreed to take him in.”
“Wait, this isn’t your dog?”
“He is now. I adopted him… Tuesday. We’re on our way home. I was just worried about him and didn’t think this could wait.”
“Smart. It can’t. How far is home?”
“Another day’s drive.”
She rubbed the mastiff’s ears and looked long and hard into the dog’s big brown eyes. As a werewolf, Laina could communicate dog to dog through smell, so
“Can you give him twenty-four hours here? I’ll administer some lactated Ringer’s solution IV and run a few blood tests. If all goes well, he should be good to go tomorrow.”
The man retrieved his phone from his back pocket and stared at his calendar app for the better part of a minute. Even from across the examination table, Laina could see he was booked solid. Would he clear that mess of a schedule for a dog he’d owned for less than a week?
“If you think that’s what he needs, I’ll plan to spend the night in Carlton City.”
“I do,” she said softly, her heart warming. Attractive and an animal lover.
He stroked a hand over Milo’s side. “Okay. Do what you need to do.”
“Perfect. We’ll get started.” She helped Becca get Milo off the table and through the door to the procedure room. “If you’d like to wait out front, I’ll have Becca ring you up and take your number so we can contact you when he’s ready.”
“Actually…” the man scratched the back of his head, the deep forest scent filling her nostrils once again. Was that pine? Cedar? Had he been hiking? Fishing? The scent didn’t match his polished exterior. “I was hoping I could take you to dinner. I don’t know anyone in Carlton City, and since I’ll be here tonight waiting on Milo, I thought… It would be nice to have some company if you’re interested.” The man shifted from foot to foot, tucking a hand into a back pocket. She wondered absently how the hard roundness of his backside would feel against her own hand.
It took her a second to process what he was saying. She was so befuddled, her response came out, “Whatsziwhozit?”
GENEVIEVE JACK SERIES:
Other author's books:
- The Ghost and the GraveyardKick the CandleThe Ghost and The Graveyard
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