Storm Moon Rising: Storm Moon Shifters Book 1 (HARDBACK)
Storm Moon Rising: Storm Moon Shifters Book 1 (HARDBACK)
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Maverick Hale, owner of Storm Moon and alpha of the Storm Moon Pack, made his way through the crowd in front of the stage to the bar at the far end of the room.
It was Thursday evening in the middle of November, and his club was busy. A local rock band was playing, and the heavy thump of the bass guitar thudded up through his feet. The atmosphere was heady, the excitement palpable. They were popular, with a good-looking frontman, and many of the crowd were scantily-clad women—despite the freezing weather outside. The scent of sweat, perfume, and spilled beer was strong, although he was probably more aware of it than most, courtesy of his superior wolf senses.
He familiarised himself with his customers’ moods as he passed through the crowd, detecting paranormal creatures among the humans, who were for the most part unaware of the company they kept. There were shifters, predominantly wolves like he and his pack, but there were also bird shifters and therians—who could shapeshift to any animal—as well as witches. They chatted about work, holiday plans, relationship problems, and flirted. Nothing to give him any concern. There was never much trouble at his club; his security staff ensured that. They were discreet, polite, and vigilant, easily disarming conflicts, but also swift to eject anyone who caused trouble. Apart from a couple of humans, his security team were all wolf-shifters, tall and packed with muscle, and that helped, too. Other than the occasional rowdy drunk, they hadn’t had real trouble for a long time.
As he reached the bar area, festooned with Christmas lights already, he spotted his friend, Kane, propped against the bar, having a drink and watching the dance floor. Another shifter, and the deputy manager of the club.
“Expecting trouble?” Maverick asked as he joined him.
Kane grinned. “No. Just thought I’d take a moment to enjoy the band. They’re good. Going places, I reckon. They might be too expensive for us to book in a couple of years.”
“The club who helped them in their early years? I hope not!” Maverick caught the eye of one of the bar staff, and signalled for a drink. In seconds, she passed him a rum and Coke, his usual.
“Hey Maverick, I know it’s a bit short notice, but I was hoping to get a couple of days’ leave next week. There’s a couple of things I need to do.”
Kane asked this casually enough, but he kept his eye on the crowd, and an uneasy feeling that he couldn’t explain settled over Maverick. “I’m sure we can juggle the shifts. Someone always wants extra money at this time of year. Is there a problem? No family issues, I hope?” Maverick knew Kane’s family was up north, and hoped no one was ill.
Kane shook his head, finally looking at him. “No, nothing like that. I might head up there to see them anyway, seeing as I won’t go up at Christmas. Nothing serious. I thought I could tag the days on to my days off. Monday and Tuesday would work well.” Kane was obviously unwilling to elaborate, eyes on the band again.
“No problem. Have you talked to Arlo about it?” Arlo was the pack’s second in command, and the club’s manager.
“No, actually. It’s a very recent decision.”
“Are you sure nothing is wrong?”
Kane flashed him a grin before staring at the stage again. “Mate, you’re paranoid. I’m fine. Just need to wrap a few things up.”
“Fair enough. I’ll head up to the office now and get it sorted out. Do you fancy a game of poker after the club closes?”
“Sorry, I can’t hang around tonight.”
It was unlike Kane to turn down a game. It was a regular event that took place in Maverick’s flat, but it was obvious Kane wasn’t going to share any further information. Taking his drink with him, and trying to dismiss his worry, Maverick headed to the office. The club was in Wimbledon, London. It was an upmarket establishment in a rich area, but the club appealed to everyone. The rich, the poor, and those in between. That was mainly because he pitched his prices right, and booked bands, mainly rock, to play regularly. The club was in the basement, and a bar was on the ground floor. He lived on the first floor above it.
A tug at his elbow made him look down. “Tamara! I haven’t seen you for a while.”
“I’ve been skiing.” Tamara was blonde and tanned, with whiter than white teeth, a dirty laugh, and an even dirtier mind. They were not a couple in any sense of the word, but they certainly had hooked up on occasions. It was an arrangement that suited him—most of the time. She stepped closer, pressing her body to his, her perfume wafting around him. “I missed you. Can I come up later?”
A night with Tamara was probably better than a night spent playing poker. “Sure. I have a few things to organise, but I’ll come find you when I’m done.”
She reached up and kissed him, a promise of things to come. “Don’t keep me waiting.”
Thinking his night was looking up, he turned down a corridor that ran between small rooms, all with plush couches, low tables, and atmospheric lighting that allowed for more intimate conversation, finally reaching the stairs at the end that led upward to a mezzanine office. Brody, one of the younger pack members, stood sentinel on the door, and Maverick nodded in greeting before passing inside. Immediately the raucous noise and pounding beats vanished, thanks to the soundproofing that insulated the room.
It was a mix of office space and lounge area, with a small kitchen and personal bar, plus a couple of security monitors with feeds from cameras around the club. A huge window overlooked the stage and bar, and a desk topped with a computer and the usual office paraphernalia was at the far end. It was Domino’s desk, but seated behind it was Arlo. His office was upstairs, but he liked to use Domino’s at night.
He was the only person in the room, and he looked up as Maverick entered. “I hate staffing rosters. They stink, beyond anything else that I have to do. Even the accounts.”
“You don’t do the accounts. Our accountant does.”
“You know what I mean!” He leaned back in his chair, huffing with annoyance.
Arlo was in his thirties, like Maverick, and one of his most trusted friends. He’d been a pack member for years, and had supported Maverick when he had challenged for the alpha position years before. He wasn’t interested in the role for himself. He just wanted a secure and functioning pack. The low light cast his strong features into relief, making snakes of his dreadlocks that fell to his shoulders. He was mixed race; his dad Jamaican, his mother English.
Maverick took the chair opposite him. “Is this your usual pre-Christmas grump?”
“I like Christmas! I like mince pies and rum cocktails, and all of the ridiculous shenanigans that go with them. I’m not grumpy. Well, maybe I am over Christmas lights. There are hundreds of them!” He gestured to the room in general. “Jet and Domino have gone mad. It’s not even December!”
Maverick couldn’t disagree with that. At least they hadn’t put up the Christmas tree yet. “Which is exactly why I haven’t let them decorate my flat, despite their pleas. But I actually have other things on my mind.” He leaned forward, placing his drink on the table. “Kane wants some leave next week. It’s a last-minute request.”
Arlo groaned. “See? Rosters! I’ll bring up next week. Bloody Kane…”
“Something’s wrong with him, I know it.”
Arlo was already flicking through files on the computer. “Because he wants leave?”
“He wouldn’t look at me while he asked. It was odd.”
Arlo stared at him. “I know you have your alpha super-sensory perception thing going on, but I really think you’re being paranoid.”
“I’m serious. Have you been watching the floor tonight? Has he met anyone?”
“No, I’ve been stuck behind the desk. Domino and Grey were watching earlier, but they’re watching the band now.” He studied him a moment more. “It’s probably family business, and Kane tends to keep that stuff to himself. Don’t worry about it. And I can give him the time—a couple of guys want more hours. It’s all good.”
Maverick tried to brush his concerns off. Maybe he was just tired and overwrought. He had been working some very long hours lately, as well as monitoring the activities of the North London Pack, the other big shifter pack in London. He walked over to the window, looking down to the bar where Kane had been standing, but he’d gone. He searched the crowded floor, but there was no sign of him. Potentially he was in one of the side rooms, or even upstairs in the bar.
Arlo was right. Kane just needed leave for personal business, and he should let it be.
Kane watched Maverick walk away, feeling terrible that he’d lied to his friend.
It couldn’t be helped. In fact, it was safer this way.
For the briefest moment, he had considered taking him into his confidence. Kane knew he could trust him, and certainly knew Maverick could handle himself, but there were some things not meant to be shared.
He smiled as the crowd parted in front of Maverick, as if they knew he was the alpha.
It was the way he carried himself. His tall stature, good looks, and his tightly controlled air of authority. A blonde reached out to tug his elbow, and leaned in. Tamara. That guaranteed there would be no poker game tonight, and it made him feel slightly better about lying.
Kane checked his watch. Another few hours yet before his meeting. Perhaps he should call his father, just in case.
Maverick was entertained for hours with Tamara’s naked body and wicked smile.
It was probably a stretch to say that he’d missed her, but he certainly appreciated having her back in his bed. He knew she felt the same. It’s why their relationship—or lack thereof—worked. She had her life, and he had his. Their between the sheets activity was a fun side-line. He was also pretty sure that he wasn’t her only romantic interest, and that was fine, too. He had several willing females who shared his bed, and he was happy to keep it that way. He was not about to settle down any time soon. The perks of running a club.
As the weak winter light cracked through his blinds, Tamara stretched against him, all smooth skin and heat, and his hand lowered to cup her bottom and pull her onto him. She nuzzled his neck and straddled him. “I can’t stay long. I have to work.”
“So do I. We better make it count.”
Unfortunately, before he could start making anything count, his phone rang, the buzz carrying it across his bedside table. He ignored it. Whoever it was could wait. Lost in Tamara’s heat, he was vaguely aware of the call ending.
And then it rang again.
He answered it gruffly, seeing Domino’s name on the caller ID. She was the head of his security team, and another shifter. “This better be good.”
She didn’t waste time on preamble. “You need to get down to the club. Now.”
Tamara nuzzled his neck.
“I’m not fucking kidding, Maverick. Get down here. Now. It’s…” She hesitated, a catch in her voice. “It’s Kane. Just come. I’m out back.”
She ended the call, and his worries for his friend eclipsed all other thoughts. “Sorry, Tamara. Rain check.”
“Right now.” He rolled her off him, deciding a shower could wait. “Help yourself to breakfast, and I’ll see you soon.” He pulled his jeans and t-shirt on, not even bothering with underwear.
She sprawled naked on his sheets, pouting. “Can you come back? I’ll wait.”
Unfortunately, fear was chasing all other thoughts from his mind. “It sounded urgent. Sorry, Tam.”
Heart in his mouth, he raced down the stairs to his private entrance that was situated at the side-rear of the club, rounded the corner, and descended the steps that led to the open-air loading bay. There were two entrances to the club’s lower level there. Double doors, which led directly to the rear of the stage where the green room and storage areas were, and a single door that provided an emergency exit. It led to a corridor that ran alongside the stage onto the dance floor. The area wasn’t ideal. The steps from the ground floor carpark meant bands had to carry their gear up and down, but that was just the way it was.
Domino waited by the open emergency exit. She was a tall, athletic woman, with long, chestnut hair that glinted with red in a certain light. Her lips were pressed so tightly together, the skin around them was white. She had earned her place as his head of security because of her astute nature, brilliant combat skills, and diplomacy. All qualities he valued highly. And she was also a good friend.
“I have very bad news.” She led him inside, not waiting for questions.
The smell of blood struck him before he was even in the room. It was in darkness except for one spotlight onstage, which lit up Kane’s dead body. As if dreaming, Maverick walked up the steps, silent as he studied the torn throat and bloody mess that now constituted one of his best friends.
His silence masked a building anger and utter shock, quickly followed by a desperate urge to find and kill whoever had done this. He couldn’t trust himself to speak. He crouched down to close Kane’s sightless eyes, taking a moment to compose himself. He wanted to shift right now and head out to the London streets to chase the murderer down, but in broad daylight, that was impossible. He could, however, search the club from top to bottom.
Domino spoke as if she’d read his mind. “I’ve already checked the immediate area while I waited for you, and I found one strange scent on Kane’s body, but that’s all.”
He shifted from grief and anger to practicalities, standing to face her. “Wolf-shifter?”
“Hard to tell. There are so many other scents around—the band from last night, their crew, the customers, and the shifters who were customers. To be honest,” she hesitated, “I think shock impeded my senses. He was one of my best friends.” Domino’s eyes filled with tears for the briefest of moments before she brushed them away.
Maverick suddenly felt horribly selfish for not even considering her feelings. His own had been so overwhelming. “Sorry, Dom. I’m shocked, too. Are you okay?”
“No. I am very far from okay. I want to kill whoever has done this.”
“That makes two of us.” His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he moistened his lips, aware he hadn’t even had a drink yet that morning. “Who the hell would kill Kane? I can’t get my head around this at all. But I want answers, and I want them now.”
“I know—so do I. The thing is, there’s no sign of a break-in. Kane either let the killer in because he knew who it was, or they were here all night.”
“But your team searched the place before locking up, right?”
“Of course. But maybe it was a therian-shifter who was a tiny animal. Maybe it came through the vents.” She raked her hands through her long, thick hair. “I don’t know anything right now, but I will find out.”
He squeezed her shoulder. “I know you will. We all will. When did you find him?”
“Minutes before I called you. I let myself in upstairs, as usual, made my way down here.”
“Everything okay upstairs?”
“It all looks as it should. But down here, the spotlight was already on.”
“The killer lit him up, like a bloody stage act.” Maverick took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders that were so tight they were bunched up around his ears. “I just don’t understand why he was here so early. He never normally arrives until mid-afternoon.”
“Maybe we have to consider the fact that he was meeting someone.”
Maverick stared at Kane’s dead body once more, considering the conversation they’d had the night before, and then surveyed his club. They didn’t open until the evening. The bar opened at five, and the club opened at eight. That meant security could sweep the building, and the shifters could do it in their wolf form. What was he thinking? There was no way the club would open that night.
“Dom, I want the team to search every nook and cranny, but they need to especially take notice of the roof spaces, cupboards, storage, anywhere where someone could have hidden.” He took a deep breath, grief threatening to overwhelm him. Just because he was part wolf didn’t mean he didn’t feel human emotions. They had a reputation as fighters, but like any wolf, they cared about their pack, and their family. He focussed on his anger. That was the only thing that would sustain him now.
“What about Maggie Milne?” Domino asked. “We have to tell her. I know you want to handle this yourself, but we must involve her.”
“Bollocks. Not bloody Maggie!” Maggie was the Detective Inspector of the Paranormal Policing Team in London. She was razor-sharp and relentless. “Holy shit. She will drive me insane.”
“I know, but…”
“Yes, of course. We have to. If she finds out any other way, it will be worse.”
Domino nodded. “I’ve called Arlo, straight after you. He should be here soon.”
“He’ll be devastated.”
“Everyone will be. Kane was popular. I also have four shifters on the way. We can search this place in an hour, and call in Maggie then. Sound good?”
“Perfect. I’ll help search, too. What about Grey?” Grey was Domino’s deputy. He was human, and ex-forces, and like a bulldog when it came to investigating anything.
“On his way, too. I haven’t told them anything over the phone. Just said it was urgent.”
The snick of the club’s entrance door opening had them both whirling around, but it was just Arlo. He lived in Wimbledon, only minutes away. He froze when he saw the body on the stage, and then he finally stared at Maverick and Domino. “Kane?”
Maverick nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
With a visible effort, he gathered himself together and reached their side. “Bastards. Who would do this?”
“Excellent question, and one we’ve just been discussing. Thanks for coming so quickly.”
Arlo shook his head in disbelief. “When you said there was an emergency, Dom, I didn’t really envisage this.”
“Sorry. I didn’t want to say over the phone.”
“It’s fine. There’s really no easy way to break this news, is there?”
Domino lowered her voice, searching the dark shadows of the poorly lit room as if someone might lurk there. “Who would dare to do this? Everyone who knows the shifter world knows they’d be starting a war they could not win. What’s their end game? Is this an individual vendetta? Did Kane piss someone off, or is there more to this?”
Maverick stared down at Kane’s body as he considered her questions. Blood had spread around him, congealing in thick, dark pools. His throat was ripped out, and huge claw marks shredded his abdomen. Kane was tall and powerfully built, like most shifters. “He’s not in his wolf, but his injuries suggest a wolf did this—or another wild beast. Why didn’t he change? That’s the most obvious thing to do when we’re threatened. We’re more powerful as a wolf!”
“Perhaps he did,” Arlo suggested, “and shifted back before death.”
A horrible thought stuck Maverick. One that made his anger flare again. “If this was one of our own pack…”
“We don’t know that,” Domino said, cutting him off. “We don’t know anything. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
Arlo nodded. “I agree. Second-guessing the loyalty of our pack will not do us any favours. Could this have anything to do with that leave he wanted, Maverick? You said he seemed off.”
“What leave?” Domino asked.
Maverick quickly summarised their conversation from the previous night. “Arlo convinced me I was overreacting, but now I’m sure something was troubling him. He seemed guarded. Like he was keeping secrets.”
Domino shook her head. “He was never forthcoming about his family. Some people are like that.”
Arlo drew their attention back. “The pack. When are we going to tell them? It has to be soon.”
“This afternoon. Once Maggie’s been here.” Maverick could barely wrap his head around this, never mind think about telling the pack. “Can you arrange it, Arlo?”
“Of course.” He raised his dark eyes to Maverick’s, his concern apparent. “This will cause absolute disruptions.”
Domino folded her arms across her chest, drumming her fingers on her arms. “Perhaps this is what the killer wanted to do. Split the pack from within by creating distrust.” She was almost as tall as Maverick, and she held his gaze, something that not many people could do. “If someone is seeking to challenge your leadership, they would do so by creating discontent and making the pack feel unsafe. You have to be stronger now than ever before. Our pack, and your position, depend upon it.”
Maverick knew the shifters would be angry and nervous. Always a bad combination. “I am fully aware of that. But I need to check this place out for myself, first.” He stripped his clothes off and handed them to Domino, aware he shouldn’t leave them close to the crime scene.
When shifters changed, they did so naked, or their clothes would rip. They had learned to abandon any modesty within the pack, because often they shifted and ran together at night, under the stars. Or in the day, if they could find a sufficiently isolated spot. While Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park beyond it offered miles of green space, they were also popular places, which made them too dangerous to shift there in the daylight.
Maverick shifted in seconds, the fluid movement of changing from human to wolf as natural as breathing. There was a misconception that it was painful, like they used to show in the old werewolf films, and that certainly might be true for werewolves. They were human, and it wasn’t their natural state to change; the moon’s cycles made it impossible for them not to. However, for him and his kind, it was a second skin.
Being a human in a wolf’s body meant he kept his human intellect, thoughts, and reasoning, but benefitted from a wolf’s superior senses. It also meant that as a human he was much stronger and faster than a normal person, because he had inherent wolf abilities.
Maverick raised his nose, the many disparate scents assaulting him. He detected individual pack members, and the scent of humans—particularly the band who had been on the stage and their crew from the night before. However, Kane’s scent overwhelmed all others, especially the sharp tang of his blood pooling around him. Thanks to the slope of the stage and the angle of Kane’s body, there was no blood on one side, and he could sniff his body easily. Domino was right. There was an odd, unknown scent on him.
Maverick moved on, investigating the wider stage, and then progressed to the dressing room, essentially one long room with a sink and fridge, and finally the bathroom and storage rooms. He spent a while investigating the double doors that led to the loading bay. The killer could have entered that way, but again, Domino was right. There was no sign of a break-in. Failing to detect the strange scent anywhere, he explored the main floor. Unfortunately, he found nothing obvious. The killer had been too clever for that.
Maverick needed space to think. He headed to the bar, situated at the opposite end of the dance floor from the stage, and shifted back to human. His reflection in the mirror behind the rows of spirits did not paint a pretty sight. Framed by his shoulder-length dark blond hair, grief made his face look older than his years, and his eyes smouldered with orange light that displayed his anger. A faint scar marked his clavicle and stretched down his sculpted chest to his abdomen, the result of an old fight, but a few others were invisible in the low light. Shifters were born fighters. It was rare to find one without scars. Potentially, by the time this was over, he may have a few more.
Sighing, he stared at the scene on the stage, feeling the chill of the cold room on his bare skin, but unwilling to move. He held on to the moment’s peace and quiet. Once Maggie arrived, and the pack and the staff were told, there would be no peace for days, maybe even weeks. There were things he had to do. Calls to make.
Killers he had to hunt.