Clay by B.J. McCall

Clay by B.J. McCall

Clay

Thunder Wolves, Book 2

by B.J. McCall

Changeling Press

Ebook ISBN: 07305-02355

[ Shifter Romance, MF ]

Wolves and cats are natural enemies, but all it takes is one breath and Clay Thunder is hooked.

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Chapter One


Kissa Troy clasped her hands to keep them from shaking. Her dad was gone. She was alone. What would the government do with her now? Her life in witness protection had been a series of new identities, new places and new faces.

Even the deputy, who had introduced himself as Deputy U.S. Marshal Brown, was new. The name suited him — he was ordinary in appearance with short brown hair and brown eyes. “Where’s Henry?”

“Busy. You’re no longer assigned to the program.”

No longer assigned? “Henry promised we’d be taken care of.”

“Your father was the protected witness. He’s dead. File closed.”

After ten years in the program, the government was cutting her loose. “What if they come after me?”

“You have no value as a witness,” Brown said. “Bezo’s in prison. We see no reason why they’d be interested in you.”

She lowered her voice. “Whoever we is doesn’t know the Catamounts.” And you, Mr. Brown, don’t have a clue.

Brown slid a large envelope across the table. “Your new identity and something to get you started.”

Kissa stared at the envelope, but didn’t pick it up.

Brown tapped his index finger on the envelope. “It’s clean. Make the best of it.”

Clean meant the identity wasn’t archived within the program. She’d have no ties and no one protecting her back.

“Per your father’s request we’ve arranged for cremation.”

Kissa looked at Brown. The deputy pulled out his phone to check his messages. “I want my father’s ashes.”

“The ashes will be scattered,” he said, not bothering to look at her.

“Where? I want to be there.”

The deputy looked at her, his expression devoid of sympathy. “Not going to happen.”

She pulled out her phone. “I want to talk to Henry.”

Brown stared her, his expression challenging her to try. She dialed and got a recording for a disconnected number.

“I’ll need your documents.”

Kissa bit her lip. She wanted to protest, but her needs would fall on deaf ears. She pulled a nylon pouch from beneath her sweatshirt and removed the driver’s license, medical and social security card she’d been using for the last four years and handed them to Brown. Sharon Jones vanished as the deputy tucked the cards in his pocket.

Brown stood. “You’ve been here too long. Don’t stick around.”

Fear shot through her. “They’ve found us?”

“A big cat shifter in a city hospital is an anomaly. My advice, disappear and don’t look back.”

Mountain cats cured their ills by shifting, but Kissa’s father was half human. Shifting mended broken bones and injured muscles, but the cancer attacking his brain was beyond magic and medicine. She knew he was gone, but still found the finality of his life difficult to accept.

Long after Brown left, Kissa remained at the table, sipping coffee and staring at the hospital across the street. Brown had given her good advice, but Kissa wasn’t ready to let go. The three-story building with its wide hallways and ugly green walls was her last connection to the most important person in her life.

Kissa opened the envelope and removed a Nevada driver’s license, a social security card and a thin stack of bills, all hundreds. No contact numbers. No safe address. She was on her own.

Tears formed in her eyes, but Kissa wiped them away. No point in crying. As she’d been trained, she memorized the information before placing the cards and money into the nylon document holder. She’d learned long ago the necessity of being prepared to bug out at a moment’s notice.

She shouldered her daypack, left the diner and crossed the street. Kissa entered the hospital and took the stairs to the second floor. She walked along the hallway and stepped into her father’s room.

The bed had already been stripped and all traces of her father were gone. Still stunned by the loss of her father, Kissa left the hospital. With all her worldly possessions in the daypack and nothing but memories to sustain her, she started walking toward the bus station and an uncertain future.

* * *

Clay Thunder took off his wide-brimmed hat and peeled off his sweat-soaked T-shirt. He looked at his shift boss. “Can it get any hotter?”

Dan was pushing forty, hard-working with an easy smile. New to the roofing crew, Clay appreciated the older man’s friendship.

Dan pulled off his ball cap and dragged the back of his hand across his forehead. “Probably. This job’s almost done. You staying on for the next one?”

Replacing his hat, Clay looked over the expansive roof. He’d spent the last two months working for a roofing company. Every week he swore it was his last job, but then he’d take another. Clay knew he’d been stalling. Breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, Rani, had been difficult. Clay cared for Rani, but she wasn’t his true mate. His parents loved her like a daughter and the pack thought of them as a couple. The pressure to reconsider his shocking decision had driven Clay to L.A. As the weeks had passed, Clay knew he’d made the right decision. The city wasn’t the place for a wolf, but Clay wasn’t sure he was ready to go home.

“I’m thinking about it. Can’t say I’m looking forward to another job in this heat.”

“Speaking of hot,” Dan said. “Your fan club is back.”

Clay turned around and glanced at the bar across the street. A slender woman stood just outside the front door, sipping a soda. Her sandy brown hair fell past her shoulders and sunglasses shielded her eyes.

“Who says she’s my fan club? Maybe she’s looking at you, Dan.”

“If I take off my shirt, she doesn’t make an appearance.”

Clay had noticed the woman before. She always wore the same outfit. A black T-shirt with Murphy’s in green lettering tucked into a pair of faded jeans that molded nicely to a pair of long legs. “Could be a coincidence.”

“I think it’s time you joined me for a cold beer.”

Dan liked an after work beer, but Clay’s habit was to return to his motel room and wash off the sweat before going out. “Once she gets a whiff of me, she’ll likely throw me out of the place.”

“Maybe, but maybe the lady will enjoy getting a closer look.”

A breeze kicked up and Clay lifted his nose to the wind. Cat. The scent was faint but unmistakable and to his surprise very tantalizing. He inhaled, wanting to pull the enticing scent deeper into his olfactory sensors, but the wind had shifted. Was the lady a cat shifter? No way to tell for sure from two stories up. He wanted a closer look. “You buying, Dan?”

“No way. I’m not the eye candy.”

Clay grinned and shook out his damp T-shirt. “Okay, let’s have a beer and say hello.”

The moment Clay stepped into gloomy bar the scent of female cat perfumed the air, but this feline was no run of the mill tabby. Instead of his hackles rising, something lower, deeper stirred. Arousal wasn’t his usual reaction to her kind. Big cats and wolves were natural enemies.

“I love bars without windows,” Dan said. “Country music on the jukebox and air conditioners running at full blast. A working man’s heaven.”

Clay barely noticed the cool air or the song playing on the jukebox. His attention was on the cat. The sunglasses were gone and a pair of slanted tawny eyes locked with his. Her mountain cat scent wasn’t strong enough for her to be full blooded. Like him, human blood flowed in her veins. Perhaps that was why her beauty was striking, rather than conventional. Her nose was thin, her cheekbones high and her mouth a bit too wide. Clay loved her looks.

“Welcome to Murphy’s.”

He pulled off his hat and dropped onto a stool. He and Dan were the only customers.

She moved along the bar until she stood directly opposite Clay. Her nose twitched. She knew what he was, but instead of keeping a bit of distance between them she leaned closer. “What’s your pleasure?”

Her voice was low and slightly breathy. Her feline scent surrounded Clay, pushing away the smell of beer and stale smoke. His heart rate jumped and his brain went numb. His blood and his senses went south. He wanted her.

Her eyes narrowed with knowing and her lips parted in unconscious anticipation.

Sometimes lightning just struck. Out of the blue and without warning.

He didn’t know her name or anything about her, except the physical attraction between them was as strong for her as it was for him.

In a heartbeat, Clay changed his plans. He wasn’t leaving the city until he made this kitty purr.

Dan spoke up. “Two drafts. He’s paying.”

The bartender’s gaze remained on Clay. “Cat got your tongue?”

“A draft is fine,” Clay said, without taking his eyes off of her.

She poured the beers and set them on the bar.

Clay dug his wallet out of the back pocket of his shorts and pulled out a twenty. “Keep the change.”

Her fingers lingered every so slightly on his as she took the money. “Thanks.”

Clay’s gaze was glued to her backside as she walked to the cash register. The cat had a great ass. The low growl he made wasn’t lost on his friend.

Dan downed most of his beer. “Tonight might get interesting.”

Clay picked up his glass and drank. “Might.”

Dan finished his beer. “It’s hot wings night at the Corral. Want to come?”

“See you in the morning.”

Dan laughed and slapped Clay on the shoulder. “The lady doesn’t date customers. Good luck.”

Luck had nothing to do with it. With wolves it was all about scent.

* * *

Werewolves were natural enemies, but this wolf was different. Honed by physical labor, the roofer’s muscular body had caught her eye. Then one day the wind had shifted. One deep breath and she was hooked on his heady, alpha male scent. Her unexpected reaction made her all the more curious.

Kissa had wondered if the roofer’s face would match his body, but a wide brim hat had always shielded his eyes. But that face didn’t matter, or even his fabulous bod. It was his scent that had brought her outside each day to watch and to wish.

The roofing job was almost done and Kissa figured the crew would move on to the next project. Tomorrow, or the next day she’d come to work and the wolf would be gone. Temptation over.

Then the wolf had strode into the bar, scenting every breath she took and ruined everything.

Kissa had noted the departure of the wolf’s friend. Now, it was just the two of them. The temptation was unavoidable.

His face was lean, his eyes a pale blue and his jaw was shadowed by a new growth of beard. Ruggedly handsome, the wolf had an easy smile and perfect white teeth. He wore his long, dark hair pulled back and tied with a length of leather.

She stood spellbound, the small, diamond-shaped patch of fur at the base of her spine on end. Her senses went on full alert. She’d learned to follow her instincts about humans. Who to trust? Who to fear? Wolves were avoided, but this blue-eyed hunk was trouble, an alpha on the prowl.

The heart pounding, pheromone-driven attraction between them made her blood rush. Even if she resisted him tonight, she sensed this wolf wasn’t moving on. He was on her scent and nothing would deter him.

Shifters weren’t like humans. Pheromones didn’t lie.

They were alone, gazes locked and blood sizzling.

This wasn’t good. What to do?

The air conditioner droned and jukebox played a favorite love song.

The wolf smiled. Not a leer, nor a grin, but the kind of smile that wrapped around Kissa’s heart.

“What’s your name?”

The identification she carried said her name was Elizabeth Smith, age twenty-five, brown eyes, brown hair, five foot seven, and a hundred and twenty pounds. The eye color and height was correct. Maybe she’d gained a couple of pounds, but the rest was as phony as the Phoenix address. She should have let go of her real name long ago. Instead she held it deep in her heart, a wonderful secret in a tough world. If she didn’t, she’d lose the only real thing in her life.

She’d used Elizabeth in Arizona, Liz in Nevada, Betty in Texas and Liza in Utah.

She smiled at the wolf. “Beth.”

He extended his right hand. “Clay Thunder.”

That brief brushing of their fingers when he’d paid for the beers had ignited a spark. What would happen if they touched?

Mountain cats and werewolves didn’t mix. The fire in his blue eyes said differently. Her singing blood said differently.

She placed her hand in his. His skin was hot and his palm calloused. Hot shivers traveled the length of her spine. Touching him was a mistake.

His long fingers wrapped around her hand. “When do you get off work?”

Should she lie? Should she tell him to get lost? Did she want him to walk out the door and never come back? She should pray he’d do just that. “Why do you want to know?”

“I want to know what time to pick you up.”

“I don’t date customers.”

He raked the pad of his thumb over her inner wrist. “So I’ve heard.”

More hot shivers. The last thing she needed was a lover. “Then why are you asking?”

He lifted her hand to his face and inhaled. “You make me burn.”

“I don’t date werewolves.”

His lips skated over her skin. The fur at the base of her spine quivered.

His gaze held hers. “This is beyond dating and you know it.”

It was and that was what made it so alarming. He wasn’t like anyone she’d encountered. She had no idea how to deal with the problem he presented. “Do I?”

He smiled and sensual fire glowed in his blue eyes. “You’re trembling and your heart is racing, but not from fear.”

A smart cat would run.

“What time do you get off?”

“Bar closes at two.”

He stood on the rungs of the stool and leaned over the bar. He wrapped a hand around her neck and drew her face up to his. His lips touched hers, then he eased into a heart-stopping, bone-melting kiss. His lips were firm and his mouth warm.

Her heart raced and skipped a beat.

His scent surrounded her like a warm cocoon. Heat spread through her, slowly burning through muscle and bone.

She hadn’t been kissed in months. She hadn’t been really kissed in a long time. She’d never been kissed like this.

Her toes curled and a low purr escaped her throat.

She wanted to rub against him, skin-to-skin and fur-to-fur.

The wolf lifted his head. “This is good.”

“Wolf and cat. Bad mix.”

“I won’t bite if you don’t claw.”

Outside, she heard the slamming of car doors. Murphy’s had a regular after-work clientele. “Customers.”

The wolf released her and put on his hat. A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I’ll be back, but just in case you get off early I’m staying near the highway at the Lucky Shamrock Motel, room seventeen.”

The door banged open and several construction workers in dirty T-shirts, shorts and dusty boots walked in.

The wolf pulled a five-dollar bill out of his pocket and slid it across the bar. “See you later, Beth.”

She acknowledged the new customers with a gracious smile and the lingering taste of the wolf’s kiss. She picked up the five. A phone number was written across Lincoln’s face. She memorized the number and tucked the bill in the pocket of her jeans. Work consumed her evening, but the sexy wolf remained in her thoughts.

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