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Lure of the Wolf (Aloha Shifters: Jewels of the Heart) (Volume 2) by Anna Lowe
Release Date: May 11, 2017
She can’t remember her past. He wishes he could forget his.
Nina only has the vaguest memories of who she is or why two men tried to kill her one terrifying night. All she knows is how quickly she’s falling in love with her rescuer – a man with secrets of his own. With her, he’s kind, gentle, and fun – but there’s a ferocious, animal side to Boone and the group of Special Forces vets he shares an exclusive seaside estate with. Can Boone help her uncover the past before the killers catch up with her?
If fate were to come knocking on the door of Boone Hawthorne’s beach bungalow, he’d shove it right back into the sea – especially if it started whispering any nonsense about destined mates. But one night, a woman washes up on his private stretch of beach. Before the wolf shifter knows it, he’s breaking every personal rule for her and making promises he’s not sure he can keep. Investigating Nina’s past means crossing paths with a powerful archenemy, cutthroat criminals, and a ruthlessly selfish ex-lover who will stop at nothing to get Boone back in her bed. Can he solve the mystery of Nina’s identity while protecting her – without risking his own heart?
Nina screamed and flailed, but that didn’t stop the thick arms that grappled with her.
“Finish her off already,” one man barked as she was flung across a narrow space.
Her head thumped against something hard, and she slumped to the ground. Everything went dim as the voices closed in around her.
“Is she dead?” Someone prodded her shoulder.
Her head spun from the blow, and bile rose in her throat. Where was she? What was happening? How had she gotten to this dark, wet place?
“She’s still breathing,” a man said above the ringing in her ears. He was close enough to engulf her with his vile breath, but she couldn’t move.
“Well, she won’t be alive much longer. I need her dead. But it needs to look like an accident,” the first man said in a strangely familiar voice. Moments ago, she’d recognized him. Now, nothing made sense. The blow to her head had rattled her memories around. Nothing fit into place.
“Accidental drowning, if they find her body at all. Come on. You get her feet,” the second man said, and they lifted her.
She flexed her fingers and moaned.
“On three,” the man said, swinging her body through the air.
She already felt sick, but the motion only made things worse. She blinked, desperate to pull herself together before it was too late.
A gnawing sense of dread spread through her bones. Why were her limbs so slow to react? Why was she so confused?
“Three,” the man grunted, and she was airborne.
She flailed helplessly before hitting the water, closing her mouth too late. Salt water choked her, and an invisible weight yanked her body into the depths of the Pacific. Terror gripped her — enough to jolt her halfway to her senses. She kicked toward the moonlight, desperate for air.
When she broke through the surface, gulping wildly, her long brown hair covered her face. She pushed at the tangles and coughed so hard, it hurt.
“Wait! Help!” she managed to scream.
A bad idea — attracting the attention of the men who’d just thrown her off a boat. They wanted her dead, but she couldn’t quite process that thought. Why would anyone want to kill her? What had she done?
“Shit, she’s not dead,” one of the men grunted.
“Not yet, she isn’t,” the other replied.
Bang! Something flat and solid smashed the water right beside her head.
Move it, fast! a voice in the back of her mind cried. Those men were swatting at her with an oar — and aiming for her head. They want you dead. Get away!
She paddled frantically. How was she supposed to get away? The lights that dotted the shoreline — Maui’s shoreline; that much she knew — were faint and distant. The only boat in sight was the sleek white motor yacht she’d just been shoved off. Angel’s something — she could see the name embossed across the stern in gold.
She kicked backward as the oar hit the water again and again, thrusting at her like a club. It glanced off her arm, and she choked in pain.
“Hurry up,” one man urged the other.
The oar slammed into her shoulder. It grazed the side of her head when they pulled it back, and her vision blurred.
“Get her!” she heard the man yell again, but his voice was distant and fading away.
If you black out now, you will die, the inner voice screamed. Dive! Now! Go!
Nina didn’t dive so much as sink. The water muffled all sound, and salt stung in her eyes. Which way was up? Which way was down?
Moonlight filtered through the water, and though instinct told her to kick toward it, she paddled sideways before surfacing again. The breath she inhaled drew in as much water as air, and she sputtered wildly.
“She’s over there!” one of the men shouted.
She wanted to scream, to cry. There had to be some mistake. But she could barely breathe, let alone speak, so all she managed was a garbled moan.
“Forget it,” the other muttered. “No way will she make it all the way to shore. We’re three miles out.”
He was right, and she knew it. The ocean was relatively still, but land was miles away. Her clothes were soaked, her limbs stiff. Her head throbbed, and her vision was blurry.
Do something! Now! instinct screamed as the motorboat powered up and sped away.
She yanked one shoe off, then the other. Her legs kept tangling in her skirt, so she shed that, too, and let the ocean swallow the fabric up.
The ocean will swallow you too, if you don’t get moving. Go!
She turned in a slow circle, wondering which way to go. Wondering why she even bothered. Maybe she should let death take her quickly instead of fighting it.
You’re not a quitter. You can’t be. Just like Mom. She wasn’t a quitter.
Nina sobbed at the thought of her mother. So sick, so frail, yet refusing to give up the fight.
Come on, make her proud.
She slapped the water, as if the ocean were to blame for the cancer that had stolen her mother away. Then she treaded water, trying to catch her breath — and to make sense of it all. But her mind was hazy, and her memories were a jumbled mess. Where was she? What happened?
The loose shirt she’d been wearing floated around her, restricting her arms, so she pulled it over her head and cast it aside. Floating was easier without it, but still, it was an awfully long way to land.
So swim. Just swim. One easy stroke after another.
She wanted to protest, but her arms were already obeying the inner command, as if that was her mother begging her.
Don’t think, honey. Just swim.
The moon rippled over the water. The hum of the yacht’s engine faded away, and an eerie peace settled over the ocean.
Swim, honey. The way you used to go all the way across the lake.
That lake, wherever it was, was little more than a faint memory. And heck, this was no lake.
You can do this. One stroke at a time.
The ocean rose and fell with the long, lazy rhythm of the swell, and she imagined that it was cheering for her, too.
You can do it. One stroke at a time.
* * *
Nina had no idea how long she swam or how far. She simply swam, looking up from time to time. The lights didn’t seem to grow any brighter or nearer, but strangely, she didn’t despair. Her body was on autopilot, swimming weakly along, and she let her mind tune out. Maybe drowning wouldn’t be as bad if her mind was as numb as her fingertips.
She switched to her back at some point and looked up at the twinkling stars. Maybe they were rooting for her. Maybe she’d make it after all.
She lost track of everything and faded into a trance that may or may not have been death grasping at her toes. One minute, she was dreaming about dolphins, and the next, her hand closed over coarse, gritty sand. She kicked feebly, wondering why she wasn’t moving any more, then closed her eyes. Let death take her. She didn’t care any more.
“Hey!” A deep voice reached her groggy mind.
A wave swished over sand, and she flexed her fingers. Sand? She blinked. It was still night, but darker than before — so late, the moon had set. Pebbly bits of coral jutted into her belly, and her head ached. Her shoulder, too.
“Hey, you can’t be here,” the man said again. His deep, resounding voice stroked her skin and warmed her threadbare nerves.
She lifted her head, blinking, but dropped it back to the sand a second later. Just that small movement made her head swim.
She wanted to say something like, I’ll be out of here as soon as I can lift more than a finger, but all that came out was a groan.
Two bare feet lined up inches from her face, and the man spoke again, more quietly this time.
“Lady, are you okay?”
She laughed, which came out as a cackling kind of moan. No, she was not okay. Not by a long shot.
“I hate to say it, but this is private property. No trespassing. Which means…”
She let his voice fade away. What did it matter if she trespassed? She was alive.
He touched her shoulder, and she hummed. In light of what had just transpired, she ought to have panicked at being so close to a stranger, but all she felt was warmth and hope. As if her mother were coming to take care of her and everything would be okay.
The man turned her gently, and a warm hand touched her aching brow.
“Jesus, what happened?”
Funny, she wanted to ask the same thing.
She tipped her head back. God, he smelled good. Or did the whole beach smell like sandalwood and Old Spice?
“Can you hear me?” he asked, kneeling over her.
She tried to nod, but couldn’t. Her nerve endings were firing blanks, and she was tired. So, so tired.
“Does this hurt?” he asked, touching her arm.
It had until he touched it. Then all she felt was a cozy, enveloping heat. A sense of security.
“Hang on,” he whispered, sliding his hands under her body.
She held her breath, wondering if her nightmare was about to get worse.
“Don’t hurt me,” she said, curling up into a ball.
“I won’t hurt you,” he whispered.
“Promise,” she insisted, though her voice was weak. It was childish, really, because he could break his promise. Men did that all the time.
He paused for what seemed like an awfully long time, and panic crept in toward her again. Was he going to hurt her? Rape her? Smash her over the head?
“I promise I won’t hurt you.” His voice was soft. Impossibly soft and kind. “Okay?”
“Okay,” she mumbled like a sleepy child — or a woman about to pass out.
Her senses had been drifting in and out, but the second he cradled her against his chest, she felt wide awake.
She looked up and blinked into his eyes. Pure, indigo eyes that glowed and flared like hot coals, framed by the rugged features of the world’s most handsome man. Which had to mean she was hallucinating — but heck, hallucinating was better than facing the ugly truth. Maybe she’d go with it a little longer. She’d pretend that this was her dream man coming to her rescue and not some hairy old hermit or whoever it was. Because no real man had ever looked at her with eyes so gentle and so concerned — not one with that much muscle, anyway.
“Hang on. You’ll be okay.”
Palms whispered overhead as he strode along, and the fragrance of hibiscus mixed with his earthy scent. Crickets sang from the lush foliage, and a bird called. Maybe she’d died and gone to heaven, and this man was an angel carrying her toward the pearly gates.
“You’ll be okay,” he repeated, covering her with something soft and clean. A blanket? No, a beach towel he’d grabbed off a railing as he walked. She clutched at a corner of the fabric. God, she really ought to get herself out of baby-in-the-womb mode, but she just couldn’t find the energy.
She stared, focusing on his eyes. Either the indigo had brightened to a royal blue, or she’d been imagining things. His sandy hair feathered and curled to a point just below his ears. As he walked, he glanced down, checking on her. It should have been awkward, being face-to-face with a perfect stranger, but it simply felt right. So, so right.
The cadence of his steps changed slightly; he was going uphill. The rolling sound of breakers faded, replaced by a gurgling stream, and the air was filled with a scent of ginger. Somewhere ahead, a light shone.
“Almost there,” he murmured.
Almost where? She tightened her grip on his thick forearm and blinked at a dim point of light.
The hum of voices carried on the wind as he walked on, and the light grew brighter.
She wished her legs would obey her order to stretch and slide to the ground, but they wouldn’t. He was carrying her over to a group of people. A group of men, from the sound of it, not far ahead.
“Don’t worry,” her knight whispered in her ear.
Which reassured her for exactly one second until he stepped into the circle of light.
“Whoa,” another man said, and a chair scraped over a tile floor.
“Holy…” another exclaimed.
“What the hell?” a third growled, and Nina immediately tensed. She wasn’t welcome here. God, she was at the mercy of these men. They could do anything—
“Shh,” her knight reassured her, tilting his arms to let her snuggle closer to his chest. She closed her eyes and breathed him in, letting his breezy, salt-air scent calm her.
He leaned down and placed her gently on what felt like the world’s softest couch. When he slid his arms out from under her, a wave of sorrow washed over her. She’d never felt more alone or more vulnerable. But then he brushed a hand along her cheek and whispered, and her nerves calmed a little bit.
“Shh. You’ll be okay. I promise.” His tone practically chiseled the words into stone.
She managed a tiny nod, but her eyes remained sealed tight. She didn’t have the energy or the nerve to open them just yet. The voices were frightening enough.
“What happened?” a deep, rumbly voice demanded.
“Get that light out of her eyes,” her knight barked, his voice suddenly harsher, harder.
“What the hell are you doing, bringing a human in here like this?” another asked.
Nina shook her head a little. Did someone just say human, or was that the ringing in her ears?
“Jesus, Boone. What’s going on?”
She’d been fading out again, but at the mention of his name, she perked up a little. Boone. Was her rescuer named Boone?
“We need to find Silas,” the one with the deep, growly voice said.
“No, don’t!” Boone barked.
Nina cringed, almost wishing she’d black out again. Was Silas a bad man? Bad like the men she’d escaped earlier that night?
Wait. What men had she escaped? She shook her head a little, but the memories escaped as quickly as they’d flitted through her mind.
“We don’t need Silas,” Boone said.
“What happened?” someone asked, leaning in.
Her eyes fluttered open, and she blinked. Three men came into focus, all of them looming over her. Big, burly men with inscrutable faces and searching eyes. She shrank back and clutched at the beach towel covering her body. All she had on after shedding her clothing in the water was a string bikini top and a skimpy bottom. Her skin itched from the crust of dried salt — and from the scrutiny.
They were in an open-sided shelter of some kind — a big, open space set up like a living room. Make that a man-den. A clubhouse, almost, with deep couches and a bar to one side, open to the fresh sea breeze and covered with a thatched palm roof.
“You’re okay now,” the nearest man murmured, and her eyes jumped to him.
Him. Boone. Her rescuer, who wasn’t a hairy hermit, after all, nor a mountain god as she’d half suspected when he’d carried her so effortlessly. He was a sandy-haired, athletic man who took her breath away. His eyebrows curved up when he looked at her, and he nodded as if to agree with everything she had to say. His skin was a toned copper color, and his eyes—
The second the boundless blue of his eyes met hers, her pulse skipped.
“Hey,” he whispered. “It will be all right.”
That made her feel better, but when the other two men starting lobbing questions at her, she wavered again. Everything was a haze.
Something bad. Something she’d rather not remember. She touched her head and immediately winced.
“What are you doing here?”
God, she wished she knew.
Boone shouldered a tall, dark-haired man aside, sheltering her from the onslaught.
“What’s your name?” he asked, so quietly, so gently, she wanted to cry.
Then she really did cry, because she couldn’t remember. The Nina part came out automatically, but after that, she got stuck. Nina… Nina who? She searched her memories and found them horrifyingly blank, like a photo negative left too long in the sun.
“Where are you staying?”
“Who can we call?”
“How did you get here?”
The questions surrounded her like a swarm of hornets, and no matter how she tried, she couldn’t find an answer to any of them. The harder she searched her mind, the more frantic she became. Like a person who’d lost the most precious thing imaginable, she searched the pockets of her mind, one after another and then all over again.
Her mouth opened and closed, but still, no words came. No memories, either.
A boat…two men…shouts…
But she didn’t remember stepping foot on a boat. She didn’t remember anything up to the moment she’d been thrown overboard. “Two men…threw me… A boat…” she murmured, but her words were as disjointed as her thoughts.
“What boat? What men?” someone demanded.
She threw her hands over her face and rolled sideways, trying to hide the tears, wishing she could disappear into the couch — as if she still had a scrap of pride to protect.
“Back off,” Boone barked, and just like that, the hubbub ceased. His voice was so sharp, so commanding, even she peeked up.
The other men looked startled at the command. They were equals, she sensed, unused to taking orders from each other. Any one of them could have led an elite military platoon, judging by the hard lines of their faces and their wide, no-nonsense stances. But for that moment, at least, Boone outranked them all.
“Back off,” he murmured again, and they did.
He readjusted the towel over her body and patted her arm.
It will be okay, the gesture said. I swear it will be okay.
She closed her eyes and focused on his touch — the only thing keeping her from going over the edge there and then.
“Get me that dish towel,” he murmured. A moment later, he wiped her face with a moist cloth. Slowly. Carefully. Tenderly, almost.
“She fell off a boat?” one of the men asked in a hushed voice that the others matched.
“Got pushed off, from the sounds of it,” another one corrected.
She wished they would all be quiet and let her pretend Boone was the only one in the room.
“Why would someone push her overboard?”
“Because they want her dead.”
“Why? What did she do?”
Nina wasn’t looking, but she felt their inquisitive glances bore into her skin.
“Why can’t she remember anything?”
She screamed at herself in her mind, wondering the same thing.
“Shock. Fear. Bump on the head?” Someone went through a whole catalog of possibilities. And damn, every one was true.
“So what are you going to do?” one of them asked Boone.
A heavy silence followed, and Nina held her breath. His hand brushed hers uncertainly.
Help me, she wanted to scream. Please help me.
“Let her rest,” he said at length. “Maybe she’ll remember after she gets some rest.”
Rest sounded good. Her body begged for it, and her mind latched onto the idea. All she needed was some rest, and everything would come back again, right?
“We have to tell Silas,” someone said.
Nina went tense all over. Whoever Silas was, she already knew to steer clear of him.
“Later,” Boone growled. “I’ll tell him soon. First, I have to take care of her.”
Taking care of had so many meanings, but she concentrated on the positive ones. Like the image of Boone, tucking her into a bed and promising everything would be okay.
“Hang on,” he murmured, picking her up again.
She mumbled a halfhearted protest but immediately melted into place against him. Her chest against his, her arms around his neck. It all came naturally, just the way his arms fitted around her shoulders and knees.
“All you need is some sleep,” he assured her as he walked. “Everything will be okay.”
He carried her back toward the beach, and before she knew it, he was tucking her into a huge, cozy bed. She slipped in like Goldilocks going right for the biggest bed and hugged a pillow tightly, wondering if she could ever get to sleep.
A weight settled on the mattress behind her as he sat, stroking her shoulder.
“It will be okay,” he whispered.
Her eyelids drooped. Her body practically sighed. She’d gone from lost and terrified to safe and totally secure. A moment later, she dropped off into a blissfully dreamless sleep.
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