Paranormal Romance Author

Annie Nicholas

Writing Romance with Bite

The Ass Kicking (Vanguard Elite)

For a non-full moon night, the pack house was crowded. Poker game in the garage, standing room only in the kitchen—Marie had made her famous lasagna—and a Dexter marathon in the living room.

Nobody lived here permanently. Not even their alpha. The house, and Ian used the term loosely since it was really an abandoned gas station, was where wolf shifters gathered in New York City if they were part of the Wolfsbane pack. The city really contained five packs and none of them got along.

Not like that huge pack in Chicago, the Vanguards. What a pansy name for a pack. Ian only knew about them because they sent someone last month, offering to train recruits in the art of being werewolf. His alpha had attacked before they learned more. Wouldn’t want them to abandon his pack. What an a-hole.

Ian dug at something stuck between his teeth with a toothpick while leaning against the hallway wall, stomach full. He came to the house for the meal. Rent was due this week and he was short of funds.

The alpha kept the cupboards stocked. He didn’t want hungry shifters prowling the city streets. They could hang here and crash on one of the cots in the attic when needed, but the alpha maintained the place mostly for the silver lined cages in the basement. That was where those who lacked control were kept.

Ian had spent his first month as a wolf shifter behind those bars. Broke a pack record for the person who had taken the longest to get his shit together after first being infected by the werewolf virus. At least, he hadn’t died like ninety percent of the other recruits, but he thought his alpha wished he had.

From the kitchen entrance, a thin, handsome shifter was shoved out into the hall. Thomas stumbled and fell to his knees.

Omegas…

The wolf stayed in that position as three others followed him from the kitchen. “Who said you could have seconds?” One of them shouted at Thomas.

Ian flung his toothpick to the floor. It bounced, landing in front of Thomas’ face. He lifted his head, his terror filled gaze pleading with Ian’s.

Hell, Ian was already in trouble for borrowing the alpha’s car without permission. What would a little fight matter, and Thomas owned a car.

“Stay out of this, Ian.” None of them dared lay a hand on him, because he’d already kicked their asses in dominance challenges as he climbed the ranks in the pack. They could gang up on him, but nobody was sure how the alpha really felt about him. Including Ian.

They had a love hate relationship where the alpha loved to hate him.

“Thomas promised me a ride home. I need him whole.” He grabbed the omega by the shoulders and dragged him to his feet.

“I did?” Thomas’ voice faded as Ian glared.

“See, he’s already scared witless.” He shoved the small male toward the front door. “Get the car. It’s boring here.”

Thomas made a fast exit.

Ian didn’t dare turn his back on the others. This wasn’t how he had pictured shifters living. They excluded the brutal beatings from the recruitment videos or the fact that as soon as his jobs found out he was a werewolf they’d found any excuse to let him go.

Broke, unemployed, and the alpha’s private punching bag. Yep, every girl’s dream mate.

Thomas pulled up in his Geo Metro as Ian left the building. He didn’t have the heart to tease the omega about his crappy little car, because, at least, the dude owned one.

“Take me home.” He filled the passenger seat and didn’t bother with a belt. Knees to chest and head bent to the ceiling, he doubted any accident would throw him clear of the car. Hell, the airbag deploying would probably send his lungs to meet his tonsils.

Twenty minutes later, they stopped in front of his apartment building. He leaned forward to leave.

“Ian?”

He stopped, hand hovering by the handle. Dread a knot in his stomach. He didn’t want a mushy moment. He’d done what was right, what his conscience would let him live with. That was it. Nothing more.

“Thanks for the save.” Thomas couldn’t meet Ian’s stare. Not because of embarrassment but because of his rank in the pack as an omega. The way Thomas explained in to him was he didn’t fight for dominance. He didn’t care about it like most wolves. Instead, he cared for the pack in general like the other omegas. They threw parties and kept things fun, until some assholes decided to pick on one of them.

“Just stay away from the pack house for a few days, okay? Let them forget about you.” Ian exited, slamming the car door behind him, his focus on the lit third floor window. He hadn’t left it on.

He ground his teeth. Seriously, he had nothing to steal. With supernatural strength, he leaped in one bound to the small balcony. The old metal clanged and rattled from the sudden weight of his landing. He popped the window open from the outside, snapping the rusted lock, and climbed through. He didn’t have time to shift to beast form, but in human shape he was faster and stronger than any man.

He crouched by the window and froze mid-attack. He hadn’t considered his intruder would be non-human.

His alpha sat on the couch, eating the last of Ian’s food. Cold pizza hung halfway to his lips. “Nice entrance. Very dramatic.”

Straightening, Ian struggled to drop his gaze. His wolf always strove to fight first and ask questions later. Ian had no outlet except the occasional pack challenge and his alpha had noticed his sudden rise in the ranks. Ian didn’t want to take his place. He didn’t want this pack of mutts. “Make yourself at home.” His heart raced and he didn’t dare move.

Roy didn’t make house calls. Ian wracked his brains for any wrongs he might have recently done, but nothing leaped forward. Hell, the alpha hadn’t even shown up here after Ian had stolen his car—oops, borrowed. He had sent his top wolves to drag him to the pack house for his beating. Ian had worked hard since then to keep his nose clean since the alpha had threatened to kick him out of the pack. He might not fit in, but that didn’t mean he wanted to go lone wolf.

The alpha set the slice of pizza in the box. “I have a proposition for you.”

“You’re not my type.” Oh for Christ’s sake, why couldn’t he keep his fucking mouth shut? Ian had no preconceptions about challenging Roy. He’d pound Ian to a pulpy mass. Ian knew this from experience.

“Ian.” Roy spat out the name like acid. All pretense of being congenial gone out the window with Ian’s heating bill and apartment deposit. “I don’t know why I thought you’d be compliant.” Roy picked up a roll of duct tape from the worn coffee table. “You always need to do things the hard way.”

Ian held up his hands. “Wait a minute—” Before he could blink, Roy had him by the throat and slammed him onto the living room floor. He really should toss this rug. It smelled of old sex and stale beer. Twisting around, Ian kicked Roy in the chin, sending the alpha pin wheeling over the coffee table. It shattered into kindling.

“I liked that table.” Ian growled low in his chest. He hadn’t money for food let alone furniture. He rubbed his throat. “What’s this about?”

Roy rolled to his feet with the grace of a dancer. “You need discipline.” He punched Ian, giving him whiplash.

Ian’s knees wobbled from the impact and he fought the tunnel vision. If he lost consciousness, God knew where he’d wake up. “Look, we can fix this. I’m trying.”

“I know you are. That’s why I haven’t made you a lone wolf yet.” He jabbed his fist but Ian dodged it. Roy managed a swing kick that laid Ian flat on his back. The alpha flipped him over with his supernatural strength and pressed his knee to Ian’s spine. He held him in place like this while taping Ian’s wrists behind his back.

“What are you going to do with me?” Terrible things ran through Ian’s head—slavery, sex toy, death. He struggled to get free.

Roy grabbed the back of Ian’s head by the hair. “What I should have done weeks ago.” He slammed Ian’s forehead against the floor hard enough for him to taste blood. Then the lights went out and he tumbled into oblivion.