A Touch of Malice #52weeks52stories


#52weeks52stories – Week 2
Prompt: “Vigilante”
Word Count: 3553

She caught her blurred reflection in the antiquated steel doors of the basement elevator.

Black turtleneck. Black Jeans. Black boots. Jacket and gloves, also black.

But she wasn’t some voluptuous bad-ass fashionista making a statement or setting a trend. She wore black for one reason. It hid blood splatter.

“Give me your knife, Jess.”

She’d forgotten it was still gripped tightly in her hand, blood dripping from its blade to the tarp on which she stood.

They extended their gloved hands, and he took the knife, dipping it into a small container of clear solution.

The blood disappeared.

He tossed the knife onto the tarp with the body and began rolling it up.

Jess stepped off her end and bent to help.

“No. I got this. You look a little shaken up. Scour the area and make sure we leave nothing behind.”

Jess walked around the small area of the underground parking garage but glanced over her shoulder to see Ren complete his task with ease and no emotion.

Was she shaken up?

Jess took one last look into the unseeing eyes of Neil Garner AKA William McNaughton before he disappeared into the folds of the tarp. She couldn’t muster up one ounce of guilt or remorse. She’d sent him to hell and knew she’d join him one day.

Jess grabbed Ren’s ‘tool bag’ and tossed it into the back of the Mercedes. She heard a dull thud and turned to see Ren walking away from the abandoned dumpster.

They climbed into the vehicle and began their return trip.

Thoughts of her aunt, Carmella Gordon, flooded her mind.

Her amazing aunt who’d always been a major part of Jess’ life, was gone, dead from her own hand.

Because of Neil Garner.

The heartless sixty-two-year-old Lothario picked Carmella out of a group of wealthy women attending a charity benefit and stalked her. Running into Carmella by “accident” on several occasions, the conman then asked the youthful seventy-eight-year-old retired physics professor out to dinner and his game began. Courting her aunt, spoiling her with gifts, and convincing Carmella he was in love with her.

Two short months after the senior citizens met, Neil asked Carmella to marry him and she accepted.

Distracted by new love and wedding preparations, Carmella wasn’t her usual watchful self and didn’t realize until it was too late her identity had been stolen.

And Neil Garner was nowhere to be found.

Humiliated and penniless, a bottle of Xanax and a water-glass of vodka was all Carmella needed to stop her broken heart and hide her carelessness.

Shame kept Carmella from reporting the crime and when Jess tried to after Carmella’s suicide, the police were no help.

Interested at first after hearing about the deceased woman’s empty bank accounts and missing property deed, detectives back-pedaled and double-talked Jess on her next visit to the station three days later. Phrases like ‘lack of evidence’ and ‘no complaining witness’ were tossed around.

When Jess said she’d take her story to the media, the captain of detectives took her by the arm, walking her to the elevator.

“Ms. Hunter, I believe you and I want to help you. But our hands are tied. This Garner character has friends and family in high places. We’ve been ordered off this case. Your aunt’s death is ruled a suicide, reasons unknown. I’m sorry.”

Shaking with rage, Jess spoke through clenched teeth, fighting to control herself.

“He took advantage of my aunt, stole everything from her and walked away. He. Must. Pay.”

“I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Fine. I will go to the media. And the Internet. I’ll tell my aunt’s story and -”

He grabbed her arm again, pulling her closer to the elevator and lowering his voice.

“No, you won’t. If these people think nothing of threatening an entire police department, what do you think they’ll do to you?”

The weight of his words took Jess’ breath away. Was her life in danger because she sought justice for Carmella?

The elevator doors opened. The detective helped her inside and walked away before the doors closed.

The man was scared.

Her aunt was dead, Neil had vanished without a trace… and all of Carmella’s assets and Jess was furious with nowhere to turn.

Until she found Ren standing next to her Jeep as she left the market one evening.

With a few shadowy details about himself and even fewer about the group he represented, Ren got Jess’ full attention when he produced a file on someone he’d been following for quite some time—Neil Garner.

Carmella Gordon was not the grifter’s first victim. Ren had photos of a half-dozen other women who’d lost millions to Garner.

Carmella’s case was unique because she was the only victim to die. Neil didn’t kill her, but his fraud and theft made him culpable… and made it time to find a permanent solution to the problem of Neil Garner.

Ren was sure Garner had accomplices on foreign soil. The money disappeared quickly, and skilled forensic accountants had failed to find the destinations.

His victims were left with nothing, forced to move in with family or even worse, nursing homes. Neil Garner never served a day in jail or had even been arrested.

Jess was incredulous.

“Why not?”

“Because his real name is William McNaughton, and he is the first cousin of a United States Senator.”

Jess stiffened with rage.

“So, he’s allowed to steal from women with no recourse? Ruin their lives without arrest or punishment of any kind because of who he’s related to?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“That’s not right! My aunt is in her grave because of him!”

Ren didn’t respond.

“You said you needed a permanent solution. What? You going to murder his cheating ass?”

He tilted his head and smirked. “No, Jess. You are.”

She didn’t try to stop the grin growing on her face.


Thirty-four-year-old Jessalyn Hunter was pragmatic and methodical. She didn’t make waves or bend rules. An only child, she was the product of her upbringing by West and Bonnie Hunter—both English professors.

When Jessalyn lost her parents to sudden illnesses eleven months apart, it was her mom’s older sister, Carmella, who kept Jess from sinking into depression.

It was also Carmella Gordon who helped Jessalyn through her divorce, when ex-husband, Randy, decided he liked gambling and sex with random women… and men better than being married to her.

The once-dependable HMO benefits manager had no boundaries during the divorce. When fake apologies and tears didn’t work on Jessalyn, Randy resorted to forgery, attempting to take stock portfolios and life insurance benefits he knew no divorce court would award him.

It was then, Carmella Gordon presented her niece with a large manila envelope.

“I had my suspicions about Randy a few months ago, sweetie, and I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know at the time it was this bad.”

Confused, Jessalyn opened the envelope and pulled out its contents—a thick stack of eight-by-ten color photographs.

She stared at her soon-to-be-ex-husband shooting craps at gaming tables, placing bets at race tracks… and in several different sexual encounters.

Jessalyn looked up at Carmella. “Auntie?”

“I’m so sorry, darling. There was no easy way to tell you.” She led her niece to the sofa and sat her down. “I’ve taught college students for too many years to not recognize the signs. I know the look—wild-eyed and crazed—that comes with too many hits of Ecstasy, too many uppers, and yes, even cocaine usage.

I thought I saw that look in Randy’s eyes when you two came to dinner on Easter, but I talked myself out of it. Randy wasn’t the type, and you’d already know if there was a problem.

Soon after, you confided in me about his late hours and gambling. My concerns returned. My suspicions were confirmed when I stopped by your place early one evening. You hadn’t made it in from work yet, and Randy answered the door… wired. He said he was coming down with something. I told him to get some rest, and I left. And hired a private investigator the next day.”

Jessalyn closed her eyes, stunned at Carmella’s confession. She had been so focused on Randy’s gambling, she’d missed everything else.

“I never planned for you to see these photos, Jessalyn, but after Randy showed his true colors and tried to steal from you, it’s time to play hardball.”

Jessalyn was almost childlike. “What do I do, Auntie?”

“You seal that envelope and have it delivered to Randy’s attorney. And wait.”

“No. I could never do that! It’s too ugly. People will know.”

“Jessalyn Christine! You will do it! Randy already knows what he did, and I doubt his attorney wants anyone to ever see them. Those photos will encourage him to convince his client to walk away before anyone else does see them.”

“Like who?”

“Like his job.”

Jessalyn’s mouth gaped open.

Carmella reigned in her anger and cupped Jessalyn’s cheek.

“West and Bonnie did such a great job raising you. You’re a good, honest, caring person. But Randy is scum. He isn’t going to stop until he gets his hands on your inheritance to squander away and you’ll do nothing to stop him. You’ll be the bigger person—following laws and rules.”

Jessalyn saw a darkness creep into Carmella’s eyes.

“But not anymore. You’re going to play by his rules and have that envelope delivered tomorrow.”

Carmella stood and headed for the kitchen but turned back to her niece.

“Wrong, mean, bad… call it what you will, sweetie. But a touch of malice never killed anyone.”

Carmella was right. Two days after Randy’s attorney received the envelope of evidence, she signed her divorce papers. Randy Gates was not present. After an expedited filing and shortened waiting period, she was once again Jessalyn Hunter and her marriage, a fading memory.

But Carmella Gordon also had it wrong. A touch of malice could kill.

After Ren told her what her job would be, she went from Jessalyn Hunter to Jess, the hunter.

Ren’s vigilante group provided her with everything she needed.


Carmella had looked out for Jess and interceded when her own husband tried to steal from her. The shrewd professor gave Jess the means to protect herself and move on with her life.

But she’d not been there for her aunt.

Between Jess’ job and Carmella’s active lifestyle, niece and fiancé had only met on two occasions. Jess wasn’t there to notice warning signs or discuss the hastiness of the engagement.

She didn’t know he’d convinced Carmella to allow his business-manager nephew to manage their affairs while they took an extended honeymoon and traveled the world.

A document.

A signature.

A life stolen.

A life taken.

It was time for Jess to make it right and hold McNaughton accountable.


Had the police not been threatened and taken off their investigation, they would have found William McNaughton hadn’t gone far. Just twenty miles. And he was now Claude Pierce, retired physician, wooing his latest mark—Leta Howard, an aging star of B-movies.

With Leta having no family, a fading fan base, and a diagnosis of early onset dementia, Jess had to work fast. William would waste no time disappearing with her millions.

Jess became a true hunter. Stalking the conman for several nights at a time, learning his routine. She switched to days, calling off work due to a mysterious back injury she even visited her doctor for. Jess would say or do whatever it took to get justice for Carmella.

Despite the snowy days and below freezing temps at night, Jess continued learning all she could about the cold-hearted scam artist.

She couldn’t believe the arrogance of the man. Cruising around the southland in his S-class Mercedes. Stopping for three-hundred-dollar haircuts and thousand-dollar massages. Spending money he had not worked a day for. Money he’d stolen.

Jess wondered about McNaughton’s well-connected family and his cousin, the senator.

They knew what he was doing. Why didn’t they stop him? His family waited until after he’d defrauded some trusting widow or divorcee then used all their considerable resources to help him avoid jail.

It was cruel.

And it was about to end.


After a month, Jess had the information she needed and called Ren. It was the only time she called the burner phone. They met in a crowded downtown cafeteria during the lunch rush.

“The man has a clear-cut routine, but the only time he’s alone is when he visits Leta on Wednesday evenings for dinner.”

“You’re certain?”


“And ready?”


“Good. And for the record, we knew about his Wednesday dinners with Leta. We just had to be sure about how committed you were to this. You wouldn’t be the first person to get cold feet.”

“I understand.” She smirked. “And my feet are nice and warm.”


Five days later, Ren pulled up in front of Jess’s house. She was out the door and approaching the Tahoe before it stopped.

Jess climbed in and fastened her seatbelt, not greeting or glancing in Ren’s direction until he failed to move the vehicle.

He was staring at her.

“Jess, it’s not too late to call this off.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Not everyone can kill.”

“You’re wrong, Ren. Put in the right situation, anyone can kill. Anyone. With what you do, you of all people should know that.”

Without another word, he pulled away from the curb.


They made the drive in silence.

Three miles from Leta’s, Ren found a spot on a crowded side street and parked. He got out.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes. Be ready to grab the bag and leave the truck.”

Jess sat in the silence and waited. She thought of Carmella and everything which had happened in the year since her death.

It was a hard year. She’d struggled with her lot, slipping in and out of depression. Coworkers and her few friends showed concern, but none were close enough to know the extent of Jess’ pain.

But it was better not having anyone close.

Her nightly activities would have raised alarms and brought questions Jess wouldn’t answer.

Seven minutes later, a dark gray Chevy Celebrity pulled up next to the Tahoe. Jess saw Ren in the driver’s seat, grabbed the tool bag and left the Tahoe. Seconds later, they were on their way to Leta’s.

They exited the Celebrity half a block from their destination and walked the rest of the way. They appeared to be a couple out for a late evening stroll.

Had anyone been around to notice them.

Much like Leta Howard, her neighborhood was crumbling in decay from lack of care and concern. The once pristine and coveted properties were now a Hodge-Podge of vacant lots and boarded up homes, with a handful of buildings dissected into one-room studio rentals of which most were empty. Greedy developers kept watch waiting for the area to take its last dying gasp before rushing in to scoop up the land at cut-rate prices.

Leta’s Tri-level brownstone stood at the end of the block. Despite the missing tiles and peeling paint, it was obvious the building has once been a showplace. Leta purchased the dwelling during the heyday of her film career when she was the brunette with the big blue eyes. She never got the guy and her name never appeared over the title, but with her D-cup bra size and generous hourglass figure, Leta had love scenes—and side flings—with some of the industry’s most popular leading men.

Shrewd to a fault in her younger days, Leta negotiated better deals for herself than her agent did, and she made sound investments amassing a small fortune.

Jess looked around as she and Ren walked down the incline into the parking garage. Leta Howard had the resources to restore her home to its grandeur, but she didn’t have the mind to see it through.

A perfect mark for William McNaughton.

A bare, low-watt bulb cast an eerie glow over the six-stall area.

Ren went to work, laying out a black tarp which almost covered the small area between the elevator and McNaughton’s Mercedes.

Jess leaned against the wall and watched him prepare.

After the tarp was in place, Ren took a slim-Jim from his bag and opened the Mercedes, exposing the wires under the dash he’d soon need.

Returning to his bag, Ren took out a 9mm Glock and attached a suppressor. Making sure the safety was still engaged, he reached out, handing the gun to Jess.

Ignoring the gun, Jess bent down and pulled a seven-inch Smith & Wesson fixed-blade knife from her boot.

She saw the look of surprise on Ren’s face, but also saw that he understood. From beginning to end, this was personal.

He returned the gun to his bag and went to the other side of the Mercedes, crouching low against the wall.

Jess leaned back in the shadows next to the dumpster. And waited. Her eyes never leaving the elevator door.

Twenty-nine minutes later, McNaughton exited the elevator.

He was reaching for the car door handle when Jess stepped from the shadows.

“Neil Garner.”

He turned to face her, the muted lighting giving his white hair and pale skin a ghost-like pallor. The arrogance in his eyes sickened her.

McNaughton opened his mouth to speak, but Ren was behind him in an instant, pulling his arms behind his back with one of his massive hands and covering the suddenly terrified man’s mouth with the other.

Jess plunged the blade into his heart, her eyes never leaving his.

His body jerked as Jess hit her mark. His muffled cries became pitiful moans.

“This is for my aunt, Carmella Gordon.” With a quick flick of her wrist, Jess turned the knife and watched McNaughton’s eyes flutter as life left his body.

Ren held on to the slumping man’s body making sure it fell onto the tarp. He removed McNaughton’s rings, watch and took his wallet and cell-phone, removing the battery. Then he set about his cleanup.


The drive home was another exercise in silence.

Jess re-thought the last two hours, making sure she’d missed nothing.

While stalking McNaughton and learning about Leta’s neighborhood, Jess found out the street changed to curbside trash pickup years before and the bins sat on the other side of the brownstone. The dumpster sat unused in the underground parking area, a rusted out memento to another time when life was full and busy with nights of endless parties.

McNaughton was the only one to use the parking area while Jess kept watch.

Leta Howard only left her home once—through the front door—and by medical transport to a doctor’s appointment. Jess never saw Grace, the forty-seven-year-old agoraphobic who rented the second level of Leta’s brownstone. As far as Jess knew, Grace hadn’t left the home in over twelve years, living by Internet shopping and home deliveries.

McNaughton’s fortune at finding the perfect isolated victim led to his perfect isolated death. The empty street combined with Leta’s diminished capacity ensured it would be some time before his body was discovered and identified.

Jess and Ren left Leta’s in McNaughton’s Mercedes, stopping for Jess to get the Celebrity and follow Ren. They left the Mercedes on another side street blocks away. After wiping the car down, Ren got in the Celebrity and the two vigilante assassins repeated the process with the Celebrity and Ren’s Tahoe.

When the Tahoe stopped in front of her house, Jess reached for the door handle, but Ren stopped her.

“You know my name isn’t Ren, right?”

The corners of her lips twitched.

“I know.”

“And you know you’ll never see me again? Never be able to find me?”

This time, Jess did smile.

“Yes, I know.”

He looked straight ahead as Jess got out the truck. Just before closing the door, Jess looked over her shoulder, still smiling.

“Merry Christmas, Ren.”

He drove away, and Jess made her way up the walk to her front door, past the reindeer and mini-Christmas trees all covered in tiny white lights.

After entering and locking her door, Jess didn’t stop until she reached her laundry room. She stripped out of her black murder apparel, including the knit skull hat which hid her unruly auburn curls, tossing everything into the washer and starting the cycle. Jess pulled a pair of sweats and a t-shirt from a folded pile of clean laundry and padded into her living room.

She slipped into the clothing by the light of her blinking Christmas tree, and just like that, Jessalyn Hunter, eighth-grade history teacher was back.

Jess smiled at the photo on the fireplace mantel of her and Carmella taken during the holidays last year. She caressed the frame.

“Rest in peace, Auntie.”

Turning, she eyed the dozens of mini-gift bags she’d set out earlier. Tomorrow was the last day of school before Christmas break and she promised each of her five classes a party. Including her coworkers and school administrators. Jess had more than two-hundred bags to fill.

Grabbing her tablet off the coffee table, Jess loaded Spotify. She returned to her world, filling bags with goodies as Johnny Mathis sang It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.


©2018, Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

“Fangs in the Moonlight” #52weeks52stories

Full Moon

#52weeks52stories – Week 1
Prompt: “fangs in the moonlight”
Word count – 3556

This can’t be happening. This isn’t real.

Joyce Camp crouched on the ground shivering, despite the humid July night.

Sam is playing some sort of trick on me. A prank. He’ll laugh any minute and yell, “Gotcha!”

“Joyce? Please… get up.”

She didn’t move, frozen in place. Frozen by a fear she’d never known.

And she had known fear.

A young Joyce lived with fear when first, her father, Carl, and later, her stepfather, Marcus, took sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain on her shapely body for the smallest infraction. Her mother, Pearl, would stand by in silence… or leave the room, trapped in a fear of her own.

Joyce had navigated a different route home from high school each day to avoid the spiteful gang of girls, jealous of her clear, mocha skin and honor student status.

After marrying her college sweetheart, Joyce stared fear in the face when her husband began abusing her after losing his job. Joyce was convinced she’d die the night he attacked her while she was five months pregnant with their second son.

However, Joyce faced her fears and rebelled. She fought back and reclaimed her dignity and vowed never to be afraid again.

But this was different. Joyce was terrified and couldn’t defend herself when she didn’t know who… or what was standing before her.


She couldn’t speak. Couldn’t respond, her throat dry and swollen. And what would be the point, anyway? Her heart raced, beating so loud, Sam sounded distant and far away. He wouldn’t be able to hear her.

“Baby, please… look at me.”

Her pulse calmed. The joke was over. Sam’s had his fun.

Steeling herself, Joyce raised her head, anxious to see the soft brown eyes she’d fallen in love with.

Instead, all she saw was fangs in the moonlight.

Falling backward, Joyce threw her arms out behind her just in time to catch herself.

“Sam? What the hell is happening?”

He reached down to help Joyce up, but she crab-walked away from him.

Allowing his arms to fall to his side, Sam Donovan hung his head. When he looked up again, the anguish in his golden eyes caught Joyce off-guard.


“This is who I am, Joyce. What I am.”

Joyce propped herself up, unfazed by the fact she was sitting on the sidewalk.

“Just what is that, Sam? What is this? What are you?” She didn’t miss him flinch at her words. “Wait. Sam? Are you sick? Is this some sort of rare disease? I’ve read -”

He cut her off.

“I’m a wolf shifter, Joyce.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“A lycanthrope, actually-”

“Stop it Sam! This isn’t funny!”

Emboldened by anger, Joyce scrambled to stand, but when Sam extended his hand to help her, one glance of the shiny, ebony fur covering his hand and arm caused her to pull back again.

He knelt in front of her, close enough for Joyce to see the amber flecks in his glowing eyes. Her stomach roiled, threatening to give up the Italian meal they’d shared less than an hour before.

“I know this is hard, sweetheart, but you must know… somewhere inside that I’d never hurt you.”

And she did know.

Since the day Samuel Donovan walked into the IT department of Commerce Bank, Joyce knew he was different from other men.

Not only did his broad, six-foot-three frame tower over all his coworkers, his demeanor set him apart.

Women from every department in the bank logged terminal service requests hoping Sam answered the call. When he did, he’d politely decline their invitations to lunches, dinners, and gym sessions. The more brazen women would openly proposition Sam and he’d decline. Every time.

Some speculated Sam was gay.

But Joyce knew he wasn’t.

It was the way he looked at her. Never leering or lustful or undressing her with his eyes. But thoughtful… considerate, with care and concern… and yearning.

Yet, he never asked her out.

And she wouldn’t ask him out.

Joyce’s past relationships with men on any level proved to her being alone was better. There were no demands made of her, no attitudes to contend with, no fragile egos to stroke.

The only men allowed in her life was the two she gave birth to—twenty-five-old Tate and twenty-three-year-old Christopher.

But Sam Donovan still intrigued her.

When the combination of a pulled back muscle and a flash rain storm kept Joyce from leaving the building for lunch, she resigned herself to reading and munching on crackers.

A large white bag placed on the table in front of her startled Joyce. She followed the hand holding the top of the bag and found herself locked in a gaze with Sam.

“Skipping meals isn’t healthy.”

He took the seat next to her and emptied the bag of its contents.

Still in mild shock at Sam’s generous gesture, Joyce Camp fell back in her chair, mouth hanging open when he placed her favorite roast beef and turkey grinder in front of her.

“H-How did you know?”

Sam had already taken a large bite of his own sandwich and finished chewing before answering.

“We use the same deli… and I pay attention.”

Had any other of her male coworkers taken liberties and bought Joyce lunch, she would have been uncomfortable. Her inner alerts would have gone off at a deafening level.

But with Sam Donovan, it was different. It just felt… right.

They ate their lunch in companionable silence that day. Joyce’s only other vivid memory was how blood rare Sam’s roast beef sandwich had been.


The thought brought her back to the present and the ‘man’ kneeling before her.

Joyce gasped. The body hair and fangs were gone. The brown eyes that reminded her of smooth velvet regarded Joyce with concern.


“Are you okay?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be okay again.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry. I wish there were another way. I practiced telling you for months, but decided the best way was to show you.”

“Sam? Months? What are you talking about?”

He sat on the ground next to her.

“Our working together and meeting? It’s not coincidental.”


“Let me finish.” He wrapped his arms around his knees, staring out over the park. “That technology seminar you attended in Denver a couple of years ago? I was there too. I picked up your scent seconds after entering the convention center.”

Joyce frowned, her brow knitted. “Scent?”

“Of my mate.”

Joyce shook her head in disbelief. She opened her mouth to speak but she couldn’t form the words. Sam continued.

“Lycans can date and marry anyone they chose. Some don’t though, preferring to wait for their fated mate—the one person they’re destined to spend eternity with.”

“But, how do you kn- ”

“It’s part of our makeup. Scent is our most powerful sense. We live our lives… make decisions based on the scent of our surroundings and people. When we scent our mate, it’s overpowering. An insatiable hunger. An unquenchable thirst. Lust and desire that never ends. A love we’ll sacrifice our lives for.”

Clutching her hands to her chest, Joyce was in awe. “I’m your mate?”

“Yes. And though it took some doing… calling in a few favors, I had no choice but to follow you here.”

“You came to Camden… just for me?

A faint smile was his only response.

“But why didn’t you say anything in the beginning?”

“I don’t think introducing myself as a wolf shifter and your fated mate would have gone over well.” Sam laughed at her smirk, but it didn’t last long as he sobered.

“Remember what I said about my senses? I could tell you were alone… and lonely. But I also sensed doubt, mistrust… and anger. As much as I wanted to be with you, Joyce, I couldn’t push. You needed time to get to know me,”

Resting her chin in the palm of her hand, Joyce looked away.

“This is crazy, Sam. I can’t pretend I’m not freaked out by this… or that I can even believe it. I’m fighting to keep my dinner down, and should be running from you as fast as I can in the other direction.” She turned back to him. “But you’re telling me the truth. It’s written all over your face… and in your eyes.”

Joyce scrubbed her hands down her face and through her hair. “What am I supposed to do with this information? Being your mate… destined, fated and all that?”

If she weren’t sitting so close to Sam, she wouldn’t have heard his response, his voiced low and pained.

“Can you accept me, Joyce? Can you live with what I am?”

The weight of his words slammed into her chest and she hung her head.

A better question was, “Could she live without Sam?”

Could she go back to a life of mistrust and doubt, never having anyone to lean on and share her life?


Things changed the day Sam bought her lunch. They established a solid friendship, taking breaks together at work. In the evenings, Joyce and Sam would take in a movie, sporting event, or visit one of the local museums.

Joyce Camp was captivated. No man had ever treated her with so much care and kindness. Not one had any interest in what she wanted. They only sought to take from her and control her.

She was thrilled when her boys hit it off with Sam during a visit home. Tate and Chris were happy for their mom and approved of Sam.

But after her boys left, Joyce lay in bed one night wondering exactly what she had with Sam.

If she thought about him, Sam appeared. If she needed something, he appeared. Sam seemed to know Joyce’s needs before she did.

And yet, he’d never kissed her. Except for holding her hand a few times when they were in crowds, Sam never touched Joyce.

The gay rumors resurfaced in her mind. Determined to take the direct approach with Sam and find out what was going on with them, Joyce never got the chance.

The couple attended an outdoor jazz concert one warm spring evening. Returning from the ladies’ room, Joyce was just a few steps away from where Sam waited for her on their blanket when a man blocked her path. It was obvious he’d had too much to drink by his wobbly stance… and the lewd suggestions he made. The drunk reached out to touch her and before Joyce could blink, he was gone. Joyce found herself wrapped in Sam’s arms as he ushered her to their spot. She looked over her shoulder to find the drunk man sprawled on the ground several yards away.

“I should have gone with you.” He seemed to be admonishing himself more so than speaking to her.

Sam got Joyce settled on the blanket and handed her a glass of wine. “Are you okay?”

All she could do was smile and respond, “Yes, I am. Thank you, Sam.” He still had an arm wrapped around Joyce, and as he returned his attention to the stage, Joyce leaned into him. His fresh, clean scent mixed with his all-too-warm body heat made Joyce dizzy. She snuggled deeper into Sam’s side, resting her head on his chest.

Joyce felt the vibration rumble up from deep inside Sam before she heard the growl. Sam tightened his arm around Joyce and she thought she heard him say the word, “Mine” but when she looked up at him, Sam returned her glance with a smile and continued with the concert.

Did she imagine that? Sam didn’t growl, did he?

Her thoughts were pushed aside when the first chords of her favorite song were played. Sam jumped to his feet, pulling her up with him and they began to dance, as did most of the surrounding people.

Sam spun her in circles, dipped her, and danced around her, and Joyce loved every second.

The introverted woman won her personal freedom years before. Standing up to her abusive husband and divorcing him was Joyce’s declaration she was no longer a target or a victim. She raised Tate and Chris, continued her education, and advanced in her career.

But Joyce never felt free… until that evening in the park. He defended and protected her. Danced with her. She was his focus.

Yet, hours later, when Sam took her home, he stayed long enough to help her wash and put away the dishes from the picnic basket, gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze and said goodnight.

Joyce was speechless and could only watch him leave.

She knew he cared about her… wanted to be her. But why did he always end up walking away?

After a restless night, Joyce Camp resigned herself to the fact she couldn’t make Sam want her, and she’d never throw herself at him.

That thought lasted two days.

The next night, the couple had dinner on Joyce’s patio. She watched Sam wolf down the porterhouse steak that had barely been on the grill long enough to get warm. The man loved his rare meat.

Joyce stood to take some of their dishes inside when Sam stopped her and motioned for her to sit down. Instead, he stood and stacked their dishes onto the serving tray.

“I’m not helpless, Sam Donovan.”

“Oh, I know that for a fact, Joyce Camp. But you did most of the work preparing dinner. I don’t mind clearing the table.”

She folded her arms on the table and leaned forward.

“You’re always there for me, Sam.”

He set the tray down and bowed low, one hand across his waist. “That is my purpose, madam. You need something, I provide it.”

His words flipped the on-switch in Joyce’s brain.

She leaped from her chair, cupped his face with both hands and pulled him into a searing kiss.

If Sam Donovan was surprised, he got over it, wrapping his muscled arms around Joyce, pulling her tight against him.

She moaned when she felt his hardening length. Sam took the opportunity to sweep his tongue into her mouth.

Joyce wrapped her arms around his neck and held on. It was just a kiss, but this fevered passion was new to her. Sam ignited a blaze inside Joyce and she wanted to burn.

She moaned again as Sam slowed the kiss. With their lips still touching, he opened his eyes and caressed her cheek. “Mine.”

Joyce had heard him correctly in the park!

“I-I thought you didn’t want me.”

“I’ve always wanted you.”

She frowned. “But why -”

“It had to be in your time… on your terms.”

Had he not been holding her close, Joyce knew she’d collapse, so overwhelmed by his simple statement of fact. The remaining weights around her heart fell away, and she took his mouth again in another blistering kiss.

Without breaking the kiss, Sam scooped her up and carried her inside all the way to her bedroom.

Sleep wasn’t an option that night as Sam took Joyce to heights of pleasure she’d only read about in books. He teased her with his fingers and tongue and showed her what it meant to be possessed by passion.

Joyce didn’t know how much more she could take, but when at last Sam entered her, his movements were slow and deliberate, giving her body time to adjust to his size as he sunk into her heat.

Impatience and need wracked her body and Joyce arched her back pulling Sam deeper. The sensation sent her over the edge but not before a familiar growl followed by a deafening roar filled the room when Sam found his own release. Her heart raced as he wrapped his arms tighter around her. Not able to hang on to consciousness, Joyce slipped into blissful darkness knowing her life would never be the same.


The irony of her life wasn’t lost on Joyce. She had a full life. She had things she’d been too afraid to hope for.

She had Sam.

Now she had to choose between a life with or without him, and both choices frightened Joyce.

Could she go back to being alone, not trusting anyone enough to allow them into her life? Or could she move forward with Sam, accepting him for who he is?

Joyce was pulled from her thoughts when Sam called her name. She met his gaze unable to speak.

Sam rose to his knees and kissed Joyce’s forehead. “Baby, it’s okay. I know it’s a lot to throw at you at one time.”

“Then why, Sam? Why show me what-… who you are? Why tonight? Why here?” The anger in her voice surprised them both.

“I thought about waiting until I took you home, baby, but I knew you’d be overwhelmed, and I didn’t want you to feel trapped behind locked doors. I didn’t want you to be afraid of me.” He glanced around, taking in the park. “I love the outdoors, and we’ve shared so much here, I hoped you’d feel safe.”

Joyce thought she’d choke as she swallowed her shame. But Sam continued before she could attempt to speak.

“And why tonight?” He averted his eyes, chuckling, but the laugh was breathy and devoid of humor. “The fated mate’s prophecy has a downside. If a Lycan is rejected by his mate, he dies of a broken heart… sooner than later. I’m growing weaker, so I know my time is near. That’s why I didn’t complete the shift. It takes a lot of energy to shift back.”

“Complete the shift? What does that mean?”

“Wolf shifter, Joyce. The keyword is wolf. I go from two legs to four.”

She threw her hands out at her sides.

“How am I supposed to process all this? What am I supposed to do, Sam? Help me!”

“Just make a decision, sweetheart. Yes or no.”

“What?” Joyce rose to her knees. “What, Sam? If I say no, you die!” She grabbed both of his hands. “Do you think I’d let that happen? Of course, I accept you. I accept you, Sam! I won’t let you die! Do you hear me, Sam? I won’t let you die!”

“Ssh, ssh, ssh, calm down, sweetie. I wish it were that simple.” Sam cupped her face. “But you can’t accept me to save my life. You have to want to share my life. And, there’s… a ritual.”

Her blood ran cold at his words. Joyce had managed to push visions of fur and fangs in the moonlight to the back of her mind. Now it was all rushing back.

“A… ritual? What kind of ritual, Sam?”

“Well, while we’re making love -”

“I like the sound of this so far.”

“… I have to bite you… here.” Sam touched a spot on his neck near the carotid artery.

Joyce Camp fell back, stunned. She touched the spot on her neck, incredulous. “Bite me?”

“It seals the bond, linking us together for eternity. We’d never be more aware of anything than each other.”

Joyce scooted backward, then crawled and stumbled until she was standing. Rubbing her temples, she paced in a small area a few feet away from Sam.

Wolf shifter. Fated mates. Ritual. Neck biting. Rejection meant death.

Her head throbbed as she tried to piece it all together while wishing it were all a dream and she’d wake up any moment cuddled next to the man she loved.

Joyce stopped pacing. The corners of her mouth twitched, and she did not try to hold back the smile.

She loved him.

Joyce had never said the words, intent on keeping the promise she made to herself years ago. Loving someone gave them power over you and Joyce would never again be controlled.

She glanced over at Sam, still seated on the ground, waiting, not pushing or demanding. All she had to do was say no, and he’d walk away to die alone. Sam gave her the power over them… over him.

A sudden thought popped into Joyce’s mind. Power was a funny thing. If you didn’t use it wisely, what good was it?

Her mind was still in turmoil, looking for an exit, but Joyce’s heart made the decision and it calmed her soul. She approached Sam, hand clasped in front of her.

“I don’t understand the things you’ve told me tonight, Sam… still afraid to believe it’s all true. But I trust you, and you said this fated mate prophecy is for eternity, so you don’t get to walk away. I do want to save your life, but I also want to share your life… because I love you.”

The golden glow returned to his eyes. He stood, unhurried, never taking his eyes from hers.

“What did you say?”

Joyce gestured between them. “I want this… us. I want you.”

Sam gripped her waist, pulling her close. “No, go back to the part about loving me. I knew it.”

She smirked. “Don’t gloat, Donovan. It’s not cute.”

His grin took her breath away. Eternity wouldn’t be long enough with this man.

He raised her chin to kiss her, but Joyce pulled back, frowning.


“What’s wrong, Joyce?”

“Do you really have to bite me?”

Sam threw his head back roaring with laughter.



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