Crimson Hollow Book Three
After a near death experience, Ginger Fox wonders if there is more to life. In search of answers, she takes off to visit her brother, who recently mated with the Deputy of the Crimson Hollow Tribe. Maybe finding out what made her free-range brother settle down will allow her to put the past behind her and do the same. If not, it will give her time with her brother and maybe she could find a way to thank him for saving her life.
Liam O’Neil has never wanted a mate to get in the way of his desire to climb the ranks of the tribe’s guards, but when his lion catches Ginger’s scent, he can’t stop himself. Trying to play the friendly host allows him to spend time with her but she continues to shut him out every time he tries to get close to her.
With the help of a little boy, who needs the pair’s help, Ginger soon realizes there’s more to life than touring the country, but is she ready to be stuck with a lion? More to the point, is she ready to settle down and live life within a tribe after she left her own wolf pack?
Her voice was so soft, he wasn’t sure if he heard it or not, but when he looked up to find her peeking around the wall, he knew he was a goner. She had removed her sweater, leaving on only a thin tank top that clung to her curves. Her auburn hair cascaded down her bare shoulders in soft waves, making him want to drag his fingers through the strands and pull her close. She was gorgeous.
Before he could say a word, she took a step into the room, slowly closing the distance between them. “I’m sorry I snapped. You’re respecting the boundaries I set in place…” Growing more uncomfortable with every word, she shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “Maybe I don’t want that anymore.”
He waited a moment to see if she would continue but she just stood there, uneasy. “What are you saying?”
“I was wrong.” She took a couple of steps to him and sat down next to him on the sofa. “Judging you based on your animal and my past wasn’t fair. I had no right to do that.”
“A scent can bring back memories—”
“I know.” She let out a deep sigh before continuing. “A lot of things can bring back the memories but I can’t let them control my life. They’re dead, but I’m alive. It’s time to remember that. If I can’t do that, how will I help Swift?”
After growing up in a wolf pack, Ginger Fox was surprised to find Crimson Hollow unlike what she had expected. The wolf pack had structure and the Alpha had control over everything. Under her former Alpha, they could barely sneeze without seeking his approval first. He controlled their environment with an iron fist; a brief look from him made the members fall in line, doing whatever they thought he wanted from them. The reactions weren’t out of respect but out of fear.
Even though the pack lived in their own houses, they came together for every meal, so there were no kitchens in the individual homes. A small micro fridge for drinks and a few snacks, but that was it. Their Alpha had controlled every aspect of their lives and when given the chance, Ginger turned her back on them and went her own way, following in her brother’s footsteps. In the years since they had left the pack, she and Garret had stuck together. He had been there to pull her back from some pretty dark shit and she owed him her life for that.
As far as Alphas went, Jase seemed to be top notch. From what she had gathered since she arrived in Crimson Hollow, he cared for his members, taking precautions to make them safe, and actually listening to what the tribe wanted. Her only reservation with him was, he happened to be a bear and she had been down that road before. Bears were bad news and, though Garret told her Jase was different, she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. She had been on the wrong side of a bear’s claws before and she had no intention of letting that happen again.
“Hey there…Ginger, isn’t it? You’re Garret’s baby sister.” A man strolled toward her. His black hair brushed against the collar of his shirt and glistened under the last rays of sun, while his warm, yellow-brown eyes honed in on her.
“Yeah.” She set her wine glass on the step beside her and tried to keep her voice lighthearted. “I’m Garret’s only sister.” For some reason, it grated along her skin to be called his baby sister and reminded her just how often he had come to her rescue.
“No offense.” He placed his hand on the railing and watched her. “I’m Liam. Has Garret made time to show you around? If not, maybe I could.”
“He’s dealing with stuff, but I’m fine.” She didn’t want to get into the fact that she hadn’t actually seen her brother since she’d arrived. Garret and Sin had to handle an emergency with a neighboring tribe and left before she made it to Crimson Hollow. She had hung out on the porch in hopes of seeing them return, but night was falling and still, she saw no sign of them. She was quickly growing tired of waiting but more than that, she was tired in general. It had been a long trip and all she wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep.
“Well, if you want to get the lay of the land, I’m just two cabins over. Garret and Sin have been busy lately, so I might be your best chance.” He let go of the railing and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Thanks, but Garret’s asked me here to—” The wind shifted, sending his scent directly at her. The musk of his lion slammed into her like a freight train at full speed, sending her inner wolf dashing forward. It wasn’t the urge to fight or kill, but something that terrified her even further.
“You’re here to see if you can help Swift,” he finished for her. “She’s pretty messed up right now, and we’ll all be thankful if you can do anything for her.”
“I…I got to…” She shot up, knocking her wine over in the process, shattering the glass and spilling the contents over the steps, as she stumbled backwards. “Got to go…” A few more steps backwards and her hand brushed against the door handle. Without taking her gaze off him, she twisted the handle and pushed the door open. Quickly, she rushed back into the cabin and closed the door.
“Shit!” she mumbled more to herself as she pulled out her cell phone. Sliding her finger over the locked screen, she made quick work of unlocking it and pulling up her contacts. Garret’s name was displayed on the screen and all she had to do was hit the call button. I’ll just tell him something came up and I have to leave. Make arrangements to see him another time. He’ll understand. Even as she tried to convince herself, she knew she couldn’t do it. Her brother had helped her more times than she cared to remember and now he’d asked for her assistance, she couldn’t turn her back on him. She wouldn’t run out on him, even if she’d just fallen into the lion’s den.
* * *
Standing next to the porch steps, puzzled over what had caused the sudden change in Ginger, Liam scratched his head. Though she pulled his lion close to the surface and he wanted to stake his claim on her as his mate, she had seemed unaffected by the mating urge as they made small talk. If she hadn’t been Garret’s sister and he couldn’t smell her wolf, he’d have questioned if she was human because of the lack of reaction.
His inner lion urged him to climb the steps and demand to know what had changed. Why did she look afraid of him as she stumbled away from him and back into the cabin? She’d come to Crimson Hollow; what did she expect to find? Except for Garret, wolves didn’t belong to their tribe. Most of their members were cats or bears, and recently a few foxes had taken refuge within their tribe.
“Liam.” Jase, the Chief of the tribe, stepped off his deck and strolled toward him. “Have you seen Ari lately?”
“Yeah, he was just heading back to his cabin. Why, something up?” As Jase’s personal guard, he needed to be kept abreast of any threats to the compound or Chief.
“No.” Jase scanned the grounds for anyone close enough to overhear them. “I just wanted to get an update on the perimeter fence. The missing child case from our neighboring tribe is concerning. They’ve been searching for him for hours, but his scent disappears where he got into the car. If he was kidnapped, that makes it all the more important for us to ensure the safety of the tribe. If he took off with his friends, there is going to be hell to pay.”
“We should double the guards on duty for tonight.” Liam quickly ran through names of who he could add to the schedule and he came up short. “We need more—”
“Guards, I know.” Jase shook his head, sending brown strands dancing in the wind. “Granddad refused to allow me to have guards training while he was in command, and now that he’s gone, I’m behind the eight ball. I have members that I need to keep safe, but I don’t have enough able-bodied guards. We have five new recruits in training but they’re not ready to be in the guard rotation yet.”
Liam went silent for a moment to consider what he’d witnessed with the new recruits training. “There’s nothing better than in the field hands-on training. Let’s team them up with some of the more experienced guards. It will double our numbers on patrol.”
“They’ll get themselves or someone else killed.” Jase scanned the grounds again, his gaze lingering on the guards making their rounds. “If one of our trained guards is injured because of the recruits’ inexperience, then we’re in a worse situation than we are now.”
“The guards know their job and they’ll do it. The threat level is higher than normal but the recruits have two weeks of training under their belt. They’re not going in blind.”
“I don’t like it.”
Liam’s partner, Noah, stood near the gatehouse, talking with the guard on duty, and their morning chat carried to him. “With Garret away, Noah oversaw the recruits’ training session today. He’ll know who can handle themselves and who would be cannon fodder. We’ll handpick ones that are ready and team them with the more experienced guards. It’s the best we can do with what we have. Unless you want Noah and me to take shifts on ground duty.”
“Your duty is to guard the Chief and Deputy. I should have ground guards that can handle the tribe’s security.”
“We’ll keep you and Sin safe.” Unable to keep his face from revealing his thoughts, Liam looked away from Jase.
“This isn’t the time.”
“I didn’t say anything.” He kept his attention on the door, willing his mate to come back outside. There was no doubt that she could hear them; she knew they were out there, and she could feel his tension. He wanted her and his lion wasn’t happy about being denied.
“I know you want Sin to have her own guards. We’ve had this conversation and now isn’t the time to have it again. Not out here in the opening.” Jase tipped his head toward the door. “And not in front of an outsider.”
They had the conversation and it had gotten him nowhere. Two guards with two charges. It was impossible to keep them both safe around the clock. Then, to have Sin running off without taking a guard with her because another tribe needed assistance. Garret, her mate, was with her, this did little to comfort Liam’s unease as she was in more danger outside their perimeter.
He understood Jase was hesitating to trust additional guards to protect his sister until they knew who had the skills to handle the responsibility, but having no guards was worse than having a guard that couldn’t handle the situation. Foxes have been targeted. I won’t risk Sin until I know that she can be protected. Until I am certain the guard I assign to her will protect her completely, you and Noah will ensure her safety. Liam understood Jase’s need to protect his sister, but he was leaving her vulnerable without a guard that was solely responsible for her safety. Her mate, Garret, could be targeted as well for his role and would be unable to protect her.
“Chief, I’m sure you know what is best.” With the knowledge weighing in his gut that if Sin was his sister he’d want her protected, he glanced at the window where he could sense Ginger watching them from behind the curtain. “I’ll get with Noah about the recruits and have them assigned.”
“You do that. Then I want to see you and Noah in my office.” Without waiting for a reply, Jase strolled back to his cabin, leaving Liam standing outside of his mate’s cabin alone.
Temptation to climb the steps and knock on Ginger’s door prickled along his skin. To have her open the door and see her again wouldn’t be enough. He wanted to soothe away the terror that radiated from her. He wanted to feel her in his arms and to know that she was truly his. You’re mine, Ginger. You have no reason to fear me. You’ll know that soon.