Dark Wolf Rising (Heart of the Shifter #1)

By: Stephanie Rowe

Chapter 1

BRYN McKENZIE WOULD be dead by Thursday.

And it was going to be an ugly, terrible death.

It was almost two in the morning on Christmas Eve day, and she hadn't slept yet. She just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting. Listening for the inevitable click of toenails, or a low growl, or the spine-chilling howl that would tell her that her moment had come.

Time was almost out, and she knew she would die today or tomorrow, which would be fitting, given that her own mother had died on Christmas Day. The magic of Christmas hadn't mattered to her since that horrible day, and it really wasn't foremost in her thoughts at the moment.

All she could do was lie there and frantically try to figure out a way to survive the death that was coming for her. She hadn't come up with a solution yet, despite being locked in the hotel room for three weeks. Her location was a secret...but she had no doubt that they would find her. When they did, there would be no escape.

She let out a deep breath, too exhausted and strung out to sleep, listening to the low conversation of the men in her living room.

Men who had been assigned to protect her.

Men who would fail.

They thought they knew how to keep her safe, but they hadn't seen what she had seen...which was why she had to die. No one who'd witnessed that particular murder would be allowed to live, and she knew that.

She'd known it when she'd stayed at the scene and waited for the police.

She'd known it when she'd agreed to testify at Jace Donovan's murder trial.

She'd known it when her team of highly skilled police officers had set her up in this hotel room, determined to keep her alive long enough to testify on the day after Christmas.

She'd known the risks, but she'd done it anyway. She would stay here and hope she was wrong, because a woman had died in front of her, and Bryn was the only one who knew who had done it. There was no way she could stay silent if it meant the man who'd killed that innocent woman went free. Without Bryn's testimony, the police would never have known who had murdered her. The victim's name was Melissa Stevens, a name Bryn would never forget, and the man who'd killed her was Jace Stephens…right after he shifted into a wolf.

Bryn was trying to do the right thing for once in her life. After her mom had died when Bryn was seventeen, the guilt had driven her into a self-destructive hell to hide from the pain. She'd been fighting her way back ever since, but she still felt like the shadows of the accident and the subsequent dark time in her life were always haunting her. If she died trying to bring justice to the monster who'd slaughtered an innocent woman, then at least she'd die trying to do something worthy with her life.

It wasn't enough to simply want to make a difference. She had to actually make a difference. If she could stay alive long enough to testify, then maybe she could begin to understand why she'd survived the car accident that had killed her mother.

The truth was, although Bryn had accepted the risk that she might be assassinated before the trial, God help her, she didn't want to die, and she really didn't want to die the way Melissa had died: slowly, agonizingly, in a pool of her own blood, with her throat ripped from her body.

Bryn squeezed her eyes shut against the images that wouldn't leave her mind, the images of that horrible moment, that brutal attack, the screams that hadn't stopped ringing through her mind since it had happened. "Breathe, Bryn," she whispered, trying to slow the sudden racing of her heart. "It's okay. Right now, you're perfectly safe. No one has hunted you down yet—"

She suddenly became aware that the living room had gone silent. The men had stopped talking, and tension cut through the air, weighing on her like an iron band around her lungs.

Her heart leapt into her throat, and she bolted upright in bed. Was this it? Was it happening now? She leapt to her feet, grabbed the gun with the silver bullets from her nightstand, and backed into the corner, aiming at the door of the bedroom. She'd already dragged the heavy hotel dresser and couch in front of the door, but she knew it wouldn't save her. Her hands were shaking, and sweat was trickling down her back. She'd known they would find her, but now that they had, she couldn't control the raw fear shrieking through her mind.

There was a low growl from the living room, and she froze, fear paralyzing her. A wolf. Then one of the men screamed, and a frenzy of growls and snarls erupted from the living room. Gunshots. Crashes. Howls. Screams.

The men were being murdered.

She looked down at the gun in her hands, and she groaned at the sight of her shaking fingers wrapped around the metal. Highly trained professionals were being slaughtered out there, and she thought a gun would help her? She'd never even shot one before. She couldn't fight. She had to run. Now!

Frantic, she raced to the window. She was on the fifth floor. Too high to jump. She'd been happy about that at the time, knowing that no one could climb in her window, but now, dear God, now, she wished it was lower. Another crash sounded from the living room, and more gunshots.

There had to be handholds. She wasn't going to die tonight, and she wasn't going to die the way Melissa had, slaughtered by a werewolf. If she fell, at least she'd die quickly and painlessly. She shoved the gun into the waistband of her jeans and reached for the window—

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