Alpha’s Vow – Chapter One
The best thing about hiking down to the hot springs at six-thirty in the morning is that no one else will be there. Manby Hot Springs—the three rock pools near the ruins of an old stagecoach bathhouse—can get crowded with naked hippies, both local and visiting, but not on a weekday. Not at this time of day. And definitely not when it’s snowing.
The sun is just starting to rise behind Taos Mountain, painting the sky in shades of pink, purple and orange. That, and the gentle snowflakes, feel like a perfect birthday gift from nature.
This hike is my own present to myself. I have to work in a couple hours, but I don’t want my birthday to consist of nothing but delivering mail. I want to do something to set it apart. I’m getting together with my friends for drinks in the plaza later, but soaking in the hot springs at sunrise seems like a great way to make the day special.
And get my mind off Chad.
My baby brother is serving over in Afghanistan, and hasn’t been heard from for months. Not even our parents—both retired Air Force officers—have been able to get a message to or from him.
Official word from the Air Force is that no news is good news, but I’ve had this low-level fear for him ever since he enlisted and it’s starting to get noisier. It’s probably unfounded. I’m a worrier in general, and I’m probably just fixating on this, but I sure would feel better if he would just let us know he’s alive.
I reach the end of the one-mile hike into the canyon that dead ends at the edge of the Rio Grande, and strip out of my clothes. I tuck them behind a rock because the neat freak in me doesn’t want to look at them while I’m basking in nature. It’s also why I prefer to come here alone. Other people don’t help me commune with nature, and they just mess with the landscape.
The softly falling snow means it’s actually warmer than usual, and there’s no cold wind. The hot water is going to feel heavenly. I take my time, stepping in slowly, savoring the contrast of the hot water surrounding my legs and the cold prickling my skin everywhere else.
I sink into the steam, settling my bare ass on the soft black sand so I can get my shoulders completely under water.
Across the river, on the slope of the opposite canyon wall, a movement catches my eye and I draw in a pleasured gasp.
A giant bighorn sheep turns his head to stare at me.
“Hey there, big guy.” I lift my hand in a wave, smiling. “Thanks for dropping in.”
He lowers his head to graze.
Satisfaction flows through me as I drink in the stillness. I sink even lower until the water covers my ears and chin and I close my eyes, enjoying the way the heat seems to soak into my bones.
And then I nearly jump out of my skin when a body plunges into the shallow pool from the rocks above. I stare at the chaos of water and body parts, trying to make sense of it. Somehow, impossibly, it takes the shape of a man—an extremely fit, naked man—who stands and stares back, seemingly as shocked as I am to not find himself alone.
For a moment, my brain short circuits. He’s insanely ripped—as if God invented some extra muscles for him. Either that, or he has more than his quota. Maybe there are people running around this Earth with muscles missing because this guy took them all. If so, then one of those people is me.
I sink a little lower in the water.
That’s the only thing I can think to say to the magnificent, dripping specimen of manhood. I grew up as a military brat. I’ve seen enough shirtless man-chests to inoculate me against the appeal. But this guy’s tattooed pectoral glory might be the exception.
“Hey.” He attempts to cover his manhood with both hands, and backs up. I recognize him—he’s one of the ex-military guys Sadie’s boyfriend works with. The mercenaries. Huge guys. Muscled. Dangerous.
I grin at his attempts to be a gentleman. I think my presence startled him even more than he startled me. “You can come in. And you don’t have to cover up. Nudity is expected down here.”
His eyes crinkle and he smirks, turning slightly to shield me from the sight of his peen. Of course, that gives me a delicious view of his epic, muscled backside. “Yeah, sorry, but this gun is fully loaded for you.”
Oh. “Um, thanks?”
He laughs softly and walks toward me, dropping to his knees to hide said gun under the steam. I’m now oddly disappointed I didn’t get to see it.
“My bad. I never would’ve jumped in if I’d known someone was in here. I’m Lance.” He holds out his hand.
“Charlotte. My friends call me Charlie.” When I reach to take his palm, my shoulders come out of the water. His gaze dips to the place where my breasts emerge from the steaming surface. He inhales sharply, his nostrils flaring. His ocean blue eyes lock onto my face. The lazy heat in his eyes warms me all over.
Damn, but he’s beautiful. And the way he’s looking at me… his obvious appreciation revs my sex drive. The one that stalled after experiencing Taos’ very limited range of dating possibilities… after realizing The Big Plan I had for my life might never come together.
“No worries,” I say. “You just surprised me.”
His grin has a hint of a dimple. Yowza. Face of a model, charm of a movie star, the sleekly muscled shoulders of an Olympic swimmer. Triple threat. “What are you doing here all by yourself at sunrise, Charlie?” he purrs. The question shouldn’t sound like he just offered me sex, but for some reason, it does. He floats closer, hovering right at the edge of my personal bubble.
And I tilt my head up at him with a smile, ready to flirt with him even though I shouldn’t. This guy has player scrawled across his muscled chest. I’ve met a million guys like him on base, where I grew up. Military playboys who fuck anything with a pulse, and don’t ever look back.
Not to be judgmental, but I know his type. Fun to date, but here one day, ghosting the next. The opposite of the type I need for The Big Plan.
And yet here I am, savoring his charm like it’s my favorite mocha shake, complete with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and shavings of dark chocolate on top.
“It’s my birthday,” I find myself saying, even though I didn’t plan on telling anyone who didn’t already know.
Lance flashes a lady-killer grin. “Happy birthday, Charlie.” He murmurs my name like he’s savoring it.
If he were any other guy, I’d roll my eyes and put up my usual defenses. I could still shrug Lance’s charm off. If I told him to stay away, he would. But he’s floating naked in the water, so close, so gorgeous, his attention all on me. It feels like fate.
“If we were at a bar, I’d buy you a drink. But since we’re naked in a hot spring, would you accept a back rub?” His dimple makes an appearance. This Charm Boy’s got a license to kill—with those long lashes, sculpted cheekbones, and baby blues. “A birthday massage?”
Ha. There it is. He’s playing his role as player so perfectly, it could be scripted. But fuck it, I want to let it happen.
“How about a foot rub?” I challenge, and let one foot drift up in the water between us.
He doesn’t falter. He claims my foot, keeping it under water and stroking his thumbs along my arch. He’s good. Infinitely skilled. He uses just the right amount of pressure between the long metatarsal bones, rolls and pulls each toe like he’s uncorking a bottle of fine wine. And then he starts working between my toes.
My plan has backfired. Every point he presses on my foot sends pleasure shooting up between my legs. This is foreplay.
Aw, damn. This guy is so hot, he’s going to make the water in this pool boil. If I didn’t know fifty things about screwing military guys, I’d do him. Not to incorporate him into The Big Plan. God, no. Just for fun. Just for me.
I know he’d be good in bed.
“You’re friends with Sadie,” he observes.
I blink. I shouldn’t be surprised he remembers that—we’ve met once before, briefly, in a restaurant. He just seems like the kind of guy who doesn’t notice anyone but the girl who’s naked and right in front of him.
“You’re friends with Deke,” I counter.
His amusement seems to grow. He studies me with those dimples flexing. “You wear cute t-shirts.”
I should not be so pleased he noticed. He does know me. And he likes my shirts. Or thinks they’re cute—is that the same thing?
“You ride a Harley.”
He shakes his head. “Ducati.” Then he shrugs, like he realizes I probably don’t care to hear the difference. “Yeah.”
Okay, I like this guy. I don’t want to, but he’s really hard not to like. Especially when he’s working between my toes like he knows it’s somehow the secret path north, straight between my legs.
For one insane moment, I consider jumping him right here in the hot spring pool. But I don’t do spontaneous. Ever. Nothing happens in my life without a thorough think-through. Without a plan.
“I heard you’re Special Forces.”
A hint of wariness creeps into his gaze. His face becomes little guarded. That makes sense. Special Forces is serious. He probably did and saw things that changed him forever. That’s what I’m afraid of for Chad.
But I guess that’s what he wanted—Chad, that is, not Lance. He knew what he was getting into when he enlisted.
“Was,” Lance says, and the serious tone in his deep voice does things to my insides that rivals the pleasure from his touch. “We’re in private security now.”
Right. I knew that, too, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Special forces have skills that translate to mercenary work in the private sector. Tough, dangerous work that pays real well. I’ve seen their fancy cars and bikes. They’re rolling in cheddah. Private contracts are lucrative, but dangerous as hell. And I have a feeling that what Lance and his buddies do may not be entirely legal.
Either way, Lance is a grade-A adrenaline junkie. He left the military, but couldn’t leave the life. Nothing wrong with that, but not a guy I could see myself with.
I point at my chest. His eyes track the movement like a tiger watches his prey. “Military brat. Both parents were active duty and deployed a lot.”
His expression softens. “Sorry?”
I laugh. “Yes. Thank you. I’m definitely scarred from it.”
He works my heel, pinching all around the circumference, then stroking up my Achilles. My nipples stiffen despite the hot water. I make a mental note not to lift my shoulders above the waterline to let him see his effect on me.
“The moving around, or the deployments? Which branch?”
He succeeds in disarming me a little more every minute I remain here with him. His question shows he gets it, and the way he watches me for my answer makes it seem like he’s really interested.
He’s interested in getting laid, my snarky side reminds me.
“Both. Both my parents were Air Force. We moved a lot, and if my parents were deployed at the same time, we stayed with my grandparents. Different school almost every year.”
Lance’s gaze is sympathetic.
“But no, I don’t have a problem with the military culture, per se.”
He quirks a brow and his hand strokes sensuously up the calf of my other leg until it catches the heel and he changes which foot he’s massaging. My pussy clenches. This guy has all the moves. He starts to stroke my other foot, and I stifle a groan of pleasure.
“You live in Taos. Isn’t the culture here the polar opposite?”
I laugh. “Good point. Why did you guys choose here?”
“I asked you first.”
I swear to God, my nipples hum with pleasure. This man has every nerve ending in my body tingling for him. “Okay, you’re right. I picked Taos because I wanted the opposite of what I had growing up. I wanted a place to put down roots and stay forever. And I love Taos. It’s beautiful, and I like the liberal vibe here. But I’m not a hippie. I’m not a fly-by-night just passing through until Spirit sends me somewhere else.”
“No.” His gaze is warm. “You seem pretty grounded.”
Compliments. Another technique in the playboy manual. Lance is smoother than most guys, I’ll give him that. I need to make my escape before I have no defenses left. Actually, I need to leave, anyway, if I’m going to get to work on time. I already stayed much longer than I planned.
“Yes, well, as much as I’m loving this, I need to get out. I have to be at work by eight.”
Lance drops my foot and launches himself to his feet, dripping water. He turns to angle his hips away from me. Does he still have a hard-on?
“Right.” He’s already climbing out of the pool, giving me that epic view of his smooth ass. Water streams in rivulets between the powerful muscles of his quads, shoulders, and back.
I can’t speak for a moment. It’s like viewing fine art, a marble sculpture of a Greek god. There are no words.
“Give me a head start, and I’ll leave you in private to get out and dressed.”
Such a gentleman. Anyone less suave would hang around and try to sneak a few peeks. Offer to walk with me up the canyon.
His cheek curves as he tosses over his shoulder, “Happy birthday, Charlie. I hope to see you again soon.”
He disappears around behind the ruins of the old bathhouse, away from the trail that leads out of the canyon. And then, I could swear it sounds like he’s running.
I climb out of the pool, curiosity winning out over any fears I have of flashing him, but he’s disappeared. I scan the trail up the side of the canyon.
No sign of him.
What… the heck?
Where did he go? And why was he in such a hurry? It doesn’t make sense, but I don’t have time to worry about it. If I don’t throw on my clothes and hoof it out of here, I’ll be late for work.
Rafe would kill me if he knew about my cock-up.
And I don’t mean the boner I sprouted for the stunning human.
The girl whose face I’ll be jerking off to every night this week.
I race along the river in wolf form, trying to put some distance between me and the hot spring pool before Charlie climbs out to discover that I don’t have any clothes to put on—oh, and I happened to swim there from the John Dunn bridge. In wolf form.
The cold snow-water river dunk followed by a dip in the hot spring has been my latest indulgence. Today was the third morning I’d ridden my Ducati down to the low bridge, stripped out of my clothes, and swum with four legs downstream in the icy water to then shock my system with the pleasure of the hot spring. It is a totally unsanctioned activity, since showing our wolves anywhere near humans is forbidden.
But damn, it feels so good. The contrast of freezing cold and then steaming hot. The early morning exhilaration of exercise and pleasure.
But I can’t risk it again. I don’t know how my wolf didn’t pick up on Charlie’s presence before I launched into that pool.
I was in wolf form when I jumped. I literally had to shift mid-air when I realized she was in there.
I’m so fucking lucky her eyes were closed and she didn’t see my wolf.
I was flustered by my mistake, and then by her scent, which was alluring, but hard to catch in the water. It drove me wild trying to get the full notes of it. Like pine and peaches rolled into one.
I’ve seen Charlie in town before. She’s in that group of females that hangs out with Deke’s mate, Sadie. But today was the first time I got close enough to smell her, and now I crave more. A lot more.
Maybe it’s just the fact that she was naked and I’d just shifted, but I sprouted a chub that refused to go down the entire time I was in that pool with her. I mean, I’m the kind of guy who appreciates a naked female, regardless of her scent. Any naked female.
Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve managed to get a female in bed, because while I didn’t see that much of Charlie, the thoughts about what she was hiding under all that steam and water nearly drove me wild.
I definitely want to see more of her.
All of her. Preferably writhing underneath me, screaming my name as I make her come.
Maybe tonight. It is her birthday, after all. It would be a shame to leave a woman unsatisfied on her birthday. But Rafe would cut my dick off if I did hunt her down to make her scream. We’re not supposed to fraternize with civilians—a.k.a humans. Charlie’s friends with Sadie, which means things could get messy. Living in a small town makes it nearly impossible to screw around.
I arrive at the low bridge where I left my Ducati. After lifting my nose to scent the air for humans, I shift back to my two-legged form, emerge from the brush, and change into my clothes by my bike.
What Rafe doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
Alpha’s Vow (Shifter Ops, book 2)
The sweet human is pregnant with my pup.
We had one night together, and then she ghosted. Apparently, I’m not part of her ‘life plan’.
Whatever, angel. Plans change.
She thinks I’m a player. That I won’t stick around. She thinks I don’t have what it takes to be a dad.
That I won’t drop everything and dedicate my life to our baby. To our family. To her.
She’s wrong. She thinks I’ll walk away?
She has no idea what she’s in for. A wolf never walks away from his mate, and he always protects his pups.
I may not have marked her yet, but I will.
And if she tries to run, I’ll follow.
I’ll follow my beautiful female to the ends of the Earth.