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Dark Wolf Unbound (Heart of the Shifter #2)

By:Stephanie Rowe

Dark Wolf Unbound (Heart of the Shifter #2)
Stephanie Rowe

       A Heart of the Shifter Novel


Chapter 1





Jace Donovan didn't hesitate.

The moment his SUV pulled up in front of the old ranch house buried in  the woods on the banks of the Hood Canal in Washington, Jace kicked open  the door and stepped out onto the damp ground. The winter rains had  created a muddy mess, but it mattered little to him. Nothing mattered to  him right now. The pain from his shattered ankle was excruciating, but  he kept his weight evenly distributed on both feet, out of habit. No  wolf shifter showed weakness and lived long enough to regret it.

His two pack mates, Cash Burns and Drake London, got out of the vehicle  and walked up so they were flanking him, both of them close enough to  grab him if all hell broke loose.

Jace grimly studied the decrepit house. The paint was peeling, the  shutters were broken, and the lawn was an overgrown swamp of moss, mud,  and weeds. His black mood became even darker at the sight of the  squalor. The Stevens family had so little, and yet he'd still managed to  find something to steal from them. Not just something. He'd stolen the  only thing that mattered.

"You have the guns?" he asked his escorts, keeping his gaze on the run-down house.

"We're not going to shoot you," Cash said evenly.

"Do you have the guns?" he asked again, making it clear that he wasn't going to even acknowledge that mutinous statement.

"Shit, Jace, you're not going to lose control and murder them," Drake said. "Grigori is gone. He doesn't control you anymore."

Jace said nothing. He just stood there, watching the house, waiting. He  wasn't going to explain it again. It was their job to do as he  instructed, and if he showed weakness, he knew they would never do it.  Yeah, he was their alpha, but he was more than that. These two men were  his deepest friends and his greatest allies. If Jace gave them any  leeway at all, he knew they would never put a bullet into him when the  moment came.

So, he waited, not looking at them, not lowering himself to respond. He  used the blistering pain in his ankle to distract himself, adjusting his  stance to put even more weight on the ankle that had been crushed in a  recent fight with the psychopath Grigori and Jace's deputy, Damien, who  Grigori had co-opted.

Finally, Cash and Drake exchanged glances, and Cash shrugged. "Fine,  yeah, we have the guns. If you go after anyone, we'll stop you."

Tension wrapped tighter around Jace's spine. "No matter what it takes."

Cash sighed. "No matter what it takes."

Satisfaction pulsed through Jace. He wasn't going to pretend he was  happy to die. The last thing he fucking wanted was to get a silver  bullet between his eyes, but he wasn't going to let one more innocent  die by his hands. If killing him was necessary to protect others, then  killing him was what needed to happen.

"Then we go in." He strode forward without hesitation, heading right for  the front door. With each step on his injured leg, his body shook in  agony, but he welcomed the pain. Each shard of pain was a reminder of  what he'd done, for letting his wolf control him. He deserved a  shattered ankle, and a part of him was still pissed that the doctors had  worked so hard to save it.

As Jace neared the house, Cash and Drake stayed so close that their  trench coats brushed his legs. He hadn't gone anywhere without Cash and  Drake since he'd been released from prison. They were his bodyguards  now, but their job wasn't to protect him. It was to protect others from  him. He knew he was a ticking time bomb, but he didn't know what trigger  would make him finally explode.

He slammed his fist on the door and then stepped back.

Waiting.

There was no sound from inside.

Swearing under his breath, he hit the door with his fist again. "Hello!" he shouted. "Is anyone home?"

This time, he heard the faint shuffle of footsteps inside. Tension shot  through him, and he jumped back, moving slightly behind Cash and Drake.  Sweat broke out over his palms as the footsteps neared the front door.  Someone was walking toward the door, toward him. Someone who once could  have trusted him, could now become his victim in a split second.

The song, that fucking song, began to play in his head again, and he  swore, slamming his fists to his forehead. Shut the fuck up. Sweat  trickled down his back as he fought to silence that song, but he could  still hear it, faintly, drifting through the edges of his mind.

Ever since he'd heard that song and it had forced him to shift and  murder, the song had continued to haunt him, drifting through his mind  on its own, as if it were a wraith that was slithering through his mind,  waiting for the right time to incite him to attack.

He knew he should leave. He shouldn't be here. But he owed this family,  and he trusted Cash and Drake to shut him down. "Knife," he commanded  Cash. "Get the knife ready." The song was getting louder in his head.  How loud did it have to get before it forced him to shift, before it  turned him into a murderer again? He'd been able to resist the song ever  since that night, but it was stronger right now than it had ever been,  crawling through his veins like an insidious poison.                       
       
           



       

Cash glanced over at him. His eyes widened at whatever expression he saw  on Jace's face, and he immediately reached into his coat pocket. Jace  knew that his fingers were now wrapped around the handle of a  silver-bladed knife, ready to strike.

The knife wouldn't kill him, but the hit of silver in his veins would hurt him enough for Drake to shoot him.

The door handle began to turn, and the song played even louder in his  head. Swearing, Jace dug into his own pocket and wrapped his fingers  around the silk bag containing two silver balls. He dumped the contents  into his palm, and his skin began to burn the moment the silver touched  his hand. He gritted his jaw against the pain, summoning all his  discipline to keep himself from jerking his hand out of his pocket and  away from the silver.

The pain in his hand was so consuming that he was barely able to focus  when the door opened, revealing a gray-haired woman in a pair of black  pants and a red cardigan. Her eyes were bright blue, sparkling with more  life than he would have expected, given her stooped shoulders and the  trauma he'd put her through.

He cleared his throat and pulled his shoulders back, keeping his fist  tight around the silver balls and leaning more of his weight onto his  broken ankle. The pain was excruciating, but it worked, leaving no room  in his mind for songs. "Mrs. Stevens?" he asked.

The woman's silver-white eyebrows went up. "I'm Nancy Collins. No  Stevens here." Her eyes were bright, but there was an edge to her voice  that spoke of a heavy weight in her soul.

"None?" Had he gotten the wrong house?

No, he was certain of his information. This was the last registered home  address of Melissa. He quickly concluded that this must be the  grandmother. No one from her family had come to the trial, so he had no  way to recognize anyone. "Are you the mother or grandmother of Melissa  Stevens?" His voice caught as he said the name of the woman he'd  murdered. Jesus.

Pain flickered across the woman's face. "Not mother. Grandmother," she  said softly. "My poor girls. First Jessica, and then her daughter, dying  the same way."

The same way? The mother had been murdered too? Jesus. What the fuck had  he brought upon this woman? The gaping emptiness that had been haunting  him since that night expanded, sucking him down. He knew this was it.  He was done after this. As an alpha, there had been instances where he'd  had to make the choice to end the life of another shifter, after he'd  concluded that it was an irredeemable threat to society. He never took  the task lightly, but protecting innocents was the very foundation of  who he was. The song had turned him into the same monster that he'd had  to destroy, and now, it was his turn.

There was just one last thing to do before he took the fate he deserved.

Slowly, he went down on his knees and bowed his head. "My name is Jace Donovan," he said. "I-"

"Jace Donovan?" The woman sucked in her breath, apparently recognizing his name. "You bastard!"

He didn't lift his head, staring at the weeds growing out of the cracked  cement on the stoop. "I know. I know there is no forgiveness for what I  did. I know nothing I can do will bring her back. But I owe you and  your family an apology. I am sorry, on every level of my soul, for  killing your granddaughter. I-"

"You think it's an excuse that someone else was controlling you?" she hissed. "You think that makes it okay?"

He looked up, what was left of his soul crumbling when he saw the tears  shining on her cheeks. "No," he said. "I don't think it makes it okay.  That's why I'm here to apologize." He suddenly had an idea, and he  looked over at Cash. "Give her the gun."

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