In the finale to the award-winning Talon Pack series from NYT bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan sets, the final Brentwood must find his mate as the war with the Aspens comes to a close.
Cheyenne Liles has watched all of her friends mate into the Talon Pack and have their lives changed forever, one by one. She’s stood back, helpless to assist in the war with a rival Pack. But just when she thinks her time with the Talons is over and believes she should move on with her human life, the Aspen Pack Alpha takes matters into his own hands, altering her fate far more than a single mate mark ever could.
Max Brentwood used to be the smiling one, the only Brentwood who was somehow able to save his soul during the last Alpha’s reign. But his life was irrevocably changed one fateful day on the battlefield, and he was never the same again. Suddenly, Max is forced to face his future and make a choice when Cheyenne comes into danger: let fate decide, or watch his world crumble around him.
The shifters of this world have fought demons, humans, and themselves. Now, it’s time to find out who they truly are as the war between the Packs ends, and the moon goddess finally takes a stand.
Blood roared in Cheyenne Lyon’s ears, but she didn’t scream. If she did, he would win. And if he won, then all would be lost. It wasn’t just her life she held back her pain for, but the lives of her friends. The only family she had ever known.
This shouldn’t be how it turned out.
She was supposed to be safe away from the world that had darkened around her, away from the fighting and magic that were so far out of her depth. The things that she, a woman of science, had no hope of truly comprehending.
The man behind her that wasn’t truly a man lowered his head to breathe on her neck, sending chills racing down her spine. These weren’t the chills of anticipation that came from being with a lover. Instead, they represented the dread that came from death, that portended the uncertainty of her own fate.
“It’s almost ready. Soon, you won’t have to wait for what’s to come. Soon, you’ll do your duty, and the next steps will be taken.”
Cheyenne closed her eyes, swallowing the bile that rose in her throat. She didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to know why Blade, the Alpha of the Aspen Pack, wanted her. But she knew she didn’t have a choice.
She was stronger than the tears burning in her eyes, stronger than the need to run and hide from the monsters that lurked in the dark. At least that’s what she’d always told herself when she stood by her friends’ sides as they each found their mates and became part of the Talon Pack; thereby, somehow becoming enemies of the Aspen Pack.
Enemies of Blade.
Cheyenne had fought alongside her friends and their new people, their new wolves and lions and witches, as she tried not to end up bleeding and dead because she was a mere human in the world of the supernatural. She’d kicked and screamed and tried to fight when she been too weak but had prevailed. The others, however, had been far too strong for her to defeat on her own. She’d stabbed and killed when one of the Talons, Max, a man who was now family to her friends, helped her.
He’d helped her.
But he wasn’t here to help her now.
She swallowed hard, aware that Blade still stood behind her, either waiting for her to say something or just wanting to hear himself speak. She had to focus on him, had to concentrate on the present and not what she’d done in the past or who she’d fought alongside.
Cheyenne was a vet, she took care of animals and those who couldn’t take care of themselves. Now, she was surrounded by those who could turn into wolves and other creatures she didn’t know and didn’t want to think about. Her friends had said there might be more out there than wolves, witches, and cat shifters, but she’d tried to put that out of her mind.
She’d always been on the outside looking in. One by one—first Dawn, then Aimee, then Dhani—her friends had found themselves deep in the world of darkness and change. And though Cheyenne had only recently discovered the existence of magic and shifters along with the rest of the human world, somehow, she’d been fully ensconced in it thanks to her friends.
But she wasn’t a shifter, wasn’t a witch. She hadn’t even reacted to the wards like the others had, either feeling the magic too much like Aimee or feeling it differently the way Dhani had. Instead, Cheyenne had felt nothing. She didn’t understand the lure of magic and only liked science and indisputable evidence. And while the world beneath her world, or rather the world that now ran alongside hers intrigued her, she wasn’t part of it.
Her friends would one day move on from her more than they already had. She was still aging, while they were not. They were starting new lives, maybe even beginning families and growing into their new powers, strengths, and matings.
And Cheyenne wasn’t part of any of that.
As the last of her friends mated into the Talon Pack, Cheyenne had told herself she was okay, that she would find a way to move on and stay settled within the human world. She’d convinced herself that she’d be able to fade into memory as her friends physically stayed the same age, and she died a natural, human death.
As Blade breathed down her neck again, standing silently behind her, waiting for something unknown to her, she pulled herself out of those thoughts.
Because there would be nothing natural about her death today.
She didn’t know why Blade held her, and he wasn’t being forthcoming about his reasons. Maybe it was because she was the weakest link when it came to the Talons. She might not be a member, but since she’d fought alongside Max and had close friends within the den, maybe Blade saw those connections and thought she was worth something.
Only she wouldn’t be. She wasn’t a mate to any of the Talons or even the Redwoods—another Pack of shifters with deep ties to the Talons. She wouldn’t be able to fight back because she didn’t have a weapon and, unlike her friends, she wasn’t a weapon herself.
“It’s almost ready,” Blade repeated, then moved to start pacing around the small room he had her in.
She didn’t know what it was, but she knew she likely wouldn’t live when it was ready. She didn’t know how she knew that, other than a feeling deep down that this was the end for her, no matter how hard she fought.
Her head ached, and she swallowed hard, not relaxing because even though Blade was no longer directly behind her, he was still close enough to rip out her throat on a whim. She’d been leaving her vet’s office late, after hours, her back already hurting from an emergency sock removal surgery on a lovable Lab with far too much energy, when someone had come up from behind and put their hand over her mouth.
She’d screamed, kicked, and tried to use her keys to claw herself free like she’d been taught in not only her self-defense classes but also from Kameron, Dhani’s mate. He was the Enforcer of the Talon Pack and had wanted Cheyenne and her friends to know moves to protect themselves. Only her training hadn’t been as thorough as the others’ since she didn’t have claws or fangs to fight back with. Instead, she’d used her body weight to try and throw the man off balance, but it hadn’t worked.
He’d been so much stronger than her, and the more she fought, the harder he pulled and squeezed.
Then, he’d knocked her out with the back of his hand on her face, a shocking slap that had set her ears to ringing and had her teeth practically moving in her gums.
When she woke up, she’d been chained to a chair, a dimly lit bulb flickering above her. She’d been alone, cold, but thankfully still clothed. Her cheek stung, and she knew she probably had a concussion.
None of that mattered though when Blade stepped into the room.
She remembered his face, recalled the look of him as he prowled toward her. She’d seen him on the news, had spotted him in person when she fought by Max’s side, trying to keep both of them alive even though she knew she wasn’t that much help.
Blade was evil incarnate, a true horror in every sense of the word. He’d lost his witch in the last fight, and Cheyenne knew that had cost him. Scarlett had apparently helped him cross the lines of dark magic and move into the area where someone could lose their soul if they weren’t careful. He’d tried to get at the Talons for numerous things over the past few years and had nearly succeeded in wiping them out.
Blade had sent rogues over the boundary lines, willing away their need to survive and instilling in them a need to kill. He’d made those rogues break their bonds with their former Packs and had hurt them, forcing them to do what he wanted. He’d kidnapped and tortured Cheyenne’s friends, attempting to use them much like he might be using her now: as a symbol of how weak he thought the Talons were. He’d attacked the Pack with magic, taunted them, and used the human media to prey on them, as well.
He’d broken so many edicts, yet he was still free because he and those in his Pack were stronger than the Talons and the Redwoods—possibly stronger than any other Pack and the humans put together. According to Cheyenne’s friends, Blade wasn’t afraid to use dark magic and risk the end of the world in order to get what he wanted. And because the Talons couldn’t do that without killing their own like Blade was unafraid to do, they were at a disadvantage.
And just a few days earlier, he’d declared himself the Supreme Alpha of all the other Packs around the world.
Cheyenne had no idea what that meant, only that it wouldn’t be good for her, not with the way Blade had looked at her when he first walked into the small room, and certainly not with the way he stalked toward her now.
Blade had kept her in the chair, the chains loose enough that if she wiggled just right, she might be able to get herself free. But he must have known that when he chained her up. It was all psychological. Because, if she got herself out, she wouldn’t be able to get past him. And if, somehow, he tripped or happened to be looking the other way for just the instant she’d need to get through that door, she then had to hope it was unlocked.
If it weren’t, then Blade would kill her, or wait to murder her until it was ready.
Whatever it was.
Even if she got past that door, she didn’t know what was on the other side. She didn’t know who was out there or where she was. She was probably on Aspen Pack land, but according to the others, not all of the Aspens were on the side of their Alpha. Not all of them agreed with the extent of their Alpha’s depravity. Even the Talon’s contact, the Beta of the Aspens, Audrey, hadn’t been heard from in weeks, making them all worry that Blade had found out about Audrey’s clandestine meetings with the Talons and her true loyalties.
Blade hadn’t taken Cheyenne’s phone, but it was deep in her jacket pocket, and she couldn’t reach it. She didn’t know if he was unaware that she had it because he and his men hadn’t searched her, or if he knew she had it and didn’t care.
Because he knew she had no hope of escape.
No chance of rescue because no one knew she was gone.
How could they? She lived alone, worked late, and no one cared where she was at night. They all assumed that she was safely tucked in bed and far away from the world of the Packs and the war surrounding them.
Only, she wasn’t.
And the idea of hope was getting a little harder to grasp onto with each passing moment.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Blade asked, coming around to face her. His hair was getting a little long, sliding over his forehead and into his eyes. He absently brushed it back as he bent down in front of her. His breath smelled of peppermint, his teeth were perfectly straight, and if he weren’t an egotistical maniac with a homicidal streak bent on world domination, she might have considered him attractive. As it was, he reminded her of what she’d imagine a demon might look like.
Smooth moves, and a slick attitude.
The bearer of death.
“No, I don’t know why I’m here,” she bit out. She wasn’t slurring, and though her head hurt, she didn’t see double, so she didn’t think he’d drugged her. Why would he need to drug her when he could overpower her in an instant?
“Why don’t you tell me?” She knew she shouldn’t have an attitude with him, but what did she have to lose? She wasn’t getting out of this room alive. She knew that. There was no amount of magic or prayers to a goddess she wasn’t sure she believed in that could save her.
This was it.
And if she were going down, she would do it with a fight. A fight for her life, and a fight for the woman who Cheyenne was beyond the woman in chains.
Blade grinned, but it didn’t reach his eyes. No, those eyes were dead, evil, and she didn’t know why the media had believed him when he went on air pretending to be a human to put the Talons under fire. There was nothing human about Blade. There was nothing good about him.
“You should know, usually, I’d never turn down a good monologue, but we don’t have a lot of time. I’ve been waiting years for this moment, for the moon to rise at the perfect angle on the one night when the power is the greatest—for the moon goddess to bless me with what is needed.”
Cheyenne had no idea what he was talking about, but whatever it was, she knew it could mean death for the Talons, the end of her friends. That was what this man, this wolf, seemed to want—at least in her opinion.
“You’re going to serve a specific purpose, Cinnamon.”
“It’s Cheyenne,” she bit out.
“Does it matter?”
“It does to me.” She met his gaze and didn’t drop her chin when his wolf came into his eyes. She only knew it was that because the others had told her, and she had seen it with the Talons. A gold rim glowed around his iris, pulsating with power. Blade was not a lower-ranking wolf. He’d become Alpha because of his strength, or at least because of his family line—she wasn’t sure on the mechanics of it all—but she knew an Alpha couldn’t be weak.
And Blade wasn’t weak.
He snorted after a moment, then continued. “I searched for over a century for the artifact and then waited a few decades longer to work out the details. And you’re the final detail.”
He paused, and she swallowed hard, knowing that she wouldn’t like what he had to say next. Of course, she hadn’t liked any of it. And though her pulse raced, and she practically shook in her chains, she listened to every word and knew that if, somehow, by the grace of the goddess, Cheyenne found a way to survive, she’d tell the Talons everything she knew.
Because she might not be a Pack member, might not be a shifter, but she’d die before she let her friends get hurt because of this monster.
“The artifact needs you. Well, it needs blood to activate. And the fact it will be your blood will be killing two birds with a single stone.”
He pulled out a long, thin knife. Cheyenne thought it might be called a stiletto, but she wasn’t sure.
“Actually, a single blade will work.” He winked. “Pun not intended.”
Then he stood up, and she screamed, pulling herself out of her chains as she bent down and wiggled. His eyes widened a fraction, but then he schooled his features and came at her. She screamed again, trying to duck out of his hold, but he was too fast. He was always too quick.
He pulled her by the hair, the stiletto close to her neck. She froze, leaning against his chest as she tried not to rock forward onto the blade.
“Come with me.” He growled the words and tugged her out the door, unlocking it with a key as he did.
She wouldn’t have made it, wouldn’t have escaped, no matter how hard she fought.
She didn’t want to die today.
But it didn’t look like she was going to have a choice.
The moon was just dimming in the sky, the sun about to rise on the horizon. She must have been unconscious for longer than she thought if a new day was about to start.
She wasn’t going to die on a Sunday but a Monday—a thought she’d never thought to have. Blade pulled her close, the bile in her throat so strong that she was afraid she’d throw up right on his shirt.
“The moon needs to be on her way from the sky and into the darkness, for the light must come.” Blade smiled, and Cheyenne knew tears were falling down her cheeks.
She tugged at his hold, trying to get away, but she couldn’t.
“You will be our salvation. Blood for blood. Blade for flesh. Sacrament for death.”
Then, he slid the blade under her ribs, puncturing her lung but not her heart. She was a vet, had gone to school to learn the anatomy of animals, but she had learned the anatomy of humans, as well.
She knew he’d stabbed her there on purpose so she would bleed out slowly, death taking longer than the seconds or minutes of agony she might have otherwise endured. With her lung punctured, she would lose the ability to breathe, would drown in her own fluids even as her lifeblood left her.
She could already feel her breathing become labored, feel her lungs fighting for oxygen.
Then, she was on her back, blood slowly pooling around her as Blade stood above her. The moon was still overhead, the sun slowly rising behind Blade’s back.
And in his hands, he held a stone, hand-carved and almost brick-shaped, but she couldn’t tell what it was exactly. Power leached from him as he squeezed it, his hands covered in her blood. The hairs on her arms stood on end and it felt as if she were too close to a lightning strike. And though the power had to be coming from the stone and into him, it was as if he had so much in him now, he couldn’t contain it all.
Then she closed her eyes, afraid that this was the end because it hurt to breathe, it hurt to see the power in his hands. Because she wouldn’t be the only one who died for what he held.
When Cheyenne opened her eyes again, Blade was gone, and the only thing she could hear was the wheezing of her breaths. She swallowed hard, slowly reaching into her pocket for her phone. She might not be able to save herself tonight, but maybe she could save her friends.
Her fingers slid over the screen, her blood making it too slippery for her to see the display clearly. She tried to call the last person in her recents, but it scrolled a bit farther and dialed someone she’d only called once—and just so he could have her number.
It had been done in an odd sense of friendship, camaraderie.
Now, she just hoped he answered.
“Cheyenne?” Max growled into the phone. “Where are you?”
“Here,” she wheezed. But she knew it was too late, he wouldn’t be able to hear her. “I’m here.”
She could have sworn she heard a howl as she closed her eyes again, and when she opened them once more, she knew she had to be dreaming.
Max. She didn’t actually say the word, didn’t have the breath in her lungs.
She only knew it was him hovering over her on three legs, blood on his muzzle, and the anger of a thousand suns in his gaze. During the final battle with the rogue humans who had wanted the wolves to die, Max had lost the lower part of his right arm as well as a lot of flesh on his chest. His chest had healed, but his arm hadn’t grown back. Shifter genetics didn’t do that. So, in wolf form, he stood on three legs, strong and fierce, though she knew he didn’t feel that way.
Max growled, and she wondered why he had blood on his muzzle.
Then, she didn’t wonder anymore when he bit into her flesh.
She didn’t scream, didn’t feel a thing. She didn’t know why she didn’t feel anything, she wasn’t cold enough to be that close to death, not yet.
Something was protecting her.
And she knew Max wasn’t trying to eat her. No, he was attempting to change her, to save her.
He was doing the only thing he could.
And he hadn’t given her a choice. If she lived through this, she would make sure he understood that she would have said yes to a change. He was breaking the law, and possibly breaking part of himself to do this, and he already had enough on his shoulders.
She didn’t want him to blame himself for this.
But as he bit her again, something snapped inside her. Not physically. But a warmth in her heart spread and seemed to spear outward toward Max. She gasped, suddenly able to breathe as Max quickly changed to his human form—far too fast for him or any other wolf.
Before she could think, he had her in his naked lap and was holding her close, blood covering them both. She couldn’t quite understand it all.
“Mate,” he whispered. “The moon goddess.” He coughed. “Mate.”
And then, she fell into the darkness again, wondering if the word mate was the last thing she’d ever hear.
Because she wasn’t a wolf.
She didn’t know if she was Pack.
But…she was Max Brentwood’s mate.
About the author:
Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times
and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her
works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher
Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started
writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and
hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas
with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or
alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can
and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.