The Wolf Within

November 15, 2012 – Purgatory, Book 1

FBI Special Agent Duncan McGuire spends his days–and his nights–tracking real-life monsters. Most humans aren’t aware of the vampires and werewolves that walk among them. They don’t realize the danger that they face, but Duncan knows about the horror that waits in the darkness. He hunts the monsters, and he protects the innocent. Duncan just never expects to become a monster. But after a brutal werewolf attack, Duncan begins to change…and soon he will be one of the very beasts that he has hunted.

Dr. Holly Young is supposed to help Duncan during his transition. It’s her job to keep him sane so that Duncan can continue working with the FBI’s Para Unit. But as Duncan’s beast grows stronger, the passion that she and Duncan have held carefully in check pushes to the surface. The desire that is raging between them could be a very dangerous thing…because Holly isn’t exactly human, not any longer.

As the monsters circle in, determined to take out all of the agents working at the Para Unit, Holly and Duncan will have to use their own supernatural strengths in order to survive. But as they give up more of their humanity and embrace the beasts within them both, they realize that the passion between them isn’t safe, it isn’t controllable, and their dark need may just be an obsession that could destroy them both.

Author’s Note: THE WOLF WITHIN is an adult paranormal romance. It contains werewolves, vampires, adult language, sexy times, and lots of danger. Please consider yourself warned. THE WOLF WITHIN contains approximately 60,000 words.

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Chapter One

Special Agent Duncan McGuire raced around the street corner, chasing his prey even as his heartbeat thundered in his ears. Duncan’s partner, Elias Lone, was just steps behind him. No damn way were they letting the killer escape.

The twisted bastard had already murdered four women in Seattle. Slashed their bodies. Torn out their throats. This nightmare was ending.

Duncan would make it end.

The perp rushed into an alley.

Dead end, asshole.

The killer didn’t know the city as well as Duncan did.

His hold tightened on his weapon, and he leapt right into the entrance of that narrow alleyway. “Freeze!” Duncan roared. “FBI!”

The perp—a man with long, shaggy, blond hair—was facing the brick wall that ended the alley. At Duncan’s shout, the man did freeze, for all of about twenty seconds. Then he started laughing as he spun to face Duncan and Elias.

“You humans are so out of your league,” the blond snarled. His hands were up, and, as Duncan watched, the guy’s nails began to transform—

Into long, black claws.

The blond laughed again. “Just the two of you? This should be so easy.” His teeth were lengthening. Turning into sharp fangs. As Duncan watched, the man’s face elongated. His bones snapped.

“Hell,” Elias muttered from behind Duncan. “You were right. He’s a wolf.”

Duncan smiled, but didn’t take his eyes off the killer before him. “I told you, vamps would never waste that much blood.” Since Elias had just lost the bet, the guy owed him a hundred bucks. Duncan knew his werewolves.

The blond seemed to realize that they weren’t exactly quaking in fear before him.

“What?” Duncan asked, lifting a brow. “Is this the part where we’re supposed to act shocked because you can grow fur and howl at the moon?”

“You fuckin’—”

“Sorry,” Duncan muttered, “but you’re hardly the first Para that we’ve taken down.” Actually, Duncan and Elias were part of an elite unit that only hunted the paranormals in Seattle. The paranormals usually hid in plain sight, mostly managing to pass for humans.

Until they started to eat said humans. When the vampires and werewolves went bad and humans wound up as their prey of choice, well, that was when Duncan came in.

Someone had to keep the humans safe.

Duncan’s words seemed to enrage the werewolf before him. The guy’s lips peeled back—yeah, those teeth and claws were the weapons that had ended the lives of those four co-eds—and the fellow’s body stretched as the power of the shift flooded through him.

Duncan kept his own body loose and ready. His gun was in his hand, but he wasn’t firing unless the werewolf attacked him. His orders were to take the werewolf in, not to kill him.

The werewolf’s elongated teeth snapped together.

Like I haven’t seen all this shit before.

Unlike most humans, Duncan knew the score about the supernaturals. He’d known the truth since he’d been a kid.

“Humans aren’t going to stop me!” The killer’s cry was guttural. “You can’t!” Fur burst along his skin. He fell to the ground, his knees and palms hitting the cement. His eyes glowed. “You don’t have the power!” That last was more growl than human speech as the guy completed his shift…

And became a full on wolf.

The wolf launched at Duncan. Not coming in alive. Duncan’s fingers tightened around the trigger. He fired. Once. Twice.

The bullets stopped the werewolf cold.

“Silver, dumb ass,” Duncan said with a sad shake of his head as smoke drifted from the wolf’s body. “It’ll stop your kind every time.” The fur slowly melted from the beast’s body. The bones reshaped. In death, the monster became a man again. Well, not completely a man. A werewolf still kept his fangs and claws at death.

“Nice shots,” Elias said, still from behind him.

Duncan grunted. He kept his weapon up as he eased closer to the body. Lowering the gun at this point would be a rookie mistake. Paras weren’t like humans. Even if they looked dead, half the time, they weren’t. They’d keep coming and coming and coming, just like the monsters in scary movies. Only this wasn’t a movie.

Reality was scarier than the late-night horror shows.

“You hit him in the head,” Elias said as he slid closer. “Don’t worry, man, he’s gone. He’s—”

A growl sounded from the mouth of the alley. Duncan spun around.

Too late.

It wasn’t just a lone werewolf they were hunting. He’d thought they were dealing with an isolated killer, a werewolf gone mad with bloodlust. That profile had been what the intel had showed him.

The intel was wrong.

Logan was gazing at a pack. Four other fully shifted werewolves were at the front of that alley.

They were leaping for Elias. And Elias had put up his weapon already. Rookie mistake.

Duncan rushed forward and shoved his partner to the side, barely dodging the claws of a werewolf. Duncan aimed his gun and started firing. Again and again.

One wolf down. Another—

He felt teeth tear into his shoulder.

Into his neck.

He could smell the wild, woodsy scent of the beasts. His own blood. He could feel his blood, trailing down his neck, soaking his shirt.

His gun wasn’t firing. He’d used all the bullets.

More wolves were closing in…

Just as they’d closed in when he’d been four. When they’d killed his family.

When he’d lost everything but his life.

He hadn’t been able to see the wolves then, but he’d heard their snarls and his mother’s desperate cries. He could still hear those cries in his nightmares.

She hadn’t survived the attack.

He had.

Only this time, Duncan knew he wouldn’t be so lucky.

Elias was screaming. The beasts were howling.

And Duncan—Duncan was pretty sure that he was dying.

***

“I’m so sorry, man.” Elias’s voice was shaking and miserable.

Duncan opened his eyes. Pain knifed through him. Twisting. Gutting him.

He tried to move. Couldn’t.

Not because of the pain but because…because he was strapped down?

What the hell?

“I’m sorry,” Elias said again.

Duncan’s gaze flew to the other man. Elias stood a few feet away, and the faint glow from a street light revealed the haggard appearance of his face.

Why was Elias apologizing? They’d both made it out of that stinking alley, and, wonder of wonders, they were both actually still breathing. “You…owe me…” Duncan managed.

Elias shook his head. The lines on his face deepened even more.

“Get him to the containment facility,” a hard voice ordered.

Whoa…what? Containment? Containment was where his team—the Seattle division of the FBI’s not-supposed-to-exist Para Unit—sent their captured shifters and vampires for temporary holding. He wasn’t a prisoner. He was one of the good guys.

Duncan tried to lift his head. On the second attempt, he actually succeeded, and it was then that he saw the face of his boss, Eric Pate, come into focus. “I’m sorry,” Pate said, and he actually sounded like he was, odd for the usually emotionless director, “but we don’t have an option.”

Duncan jerked at the bonds holding him down. The other agents had strapped him to a gurney and were wheeling him toward a waiting ambulance.

“You were bitten by the suspect.” Real regret tinged Pate’s voice. “You know what that means.”

Bitten. No. The fuck, no. “Kill me,” Duncan snapped. Because there was no way he’d become a monster. The werewolves only existed to torture and kill. To slaughter. Their beasts dominated. They attacked anyone and everything.

Just like they’d attacked his family.

I won’t be like that. When he’d agreed to become part of the secret division, he’d known there would be deadly risks involved in his cases. He’d known the risks, and he’d long ago decided what he would and wouldn’t become.

“No!” Elias yelled as he surged forward. “Pate, dammit, don’t! You promised—”

Screw any promises that Pate had made to Elias. Now Duncan remembered the feel of teeth tearing into his flesh. His neck. His shoulder. With all of those bites and the blood loss, he should be dead.

But he wasn’t. Because his body was already transforming.

If a werewolf’s bite didn’t kill you…if you had the DNA that would enable you to become a beast, then just one bite from a shifted werewolf would infect you. Transform you.

I don’t want to be—

“If you go rogue, I’ll put a silver bullet in your head myself,” Pate promised, green eyes glittering. Rogue. That was the term for werewolves who couldn’t maintain their control. They lost all touch with humanity. Beasts. Monsters. Pate’s gaze stayed locked on Duncan as the guy continued, “But you’re one of us, and no one is putting you down yet. We’re damn well going to give you a chance at survival first.”

Pate didn’t understand. He didn’t get it. He was a suit who saw the wolves from a distance. Duncan had seen the newly transformed up close and personal. The beast took over. It was all basic instinct. All need and bloodlust.

Pate looked up and nodded toward the agents around Duncan. “Take him to Holly. She can take care of his wounds and start to get a read on him—”

He snarled. Duncan’s body twisted and a fire seemed to burn beneath his skin. “Not…her…”

The boss didn’t know how Duncan felt for the pretty, little doctor. Holly was already his temptation with her sweet smelling skin and her fuck-me eyes. He’d tried to stay away because he’d known she was too fragile to handle someone like him.

If she hadn’t been able to handle the man he’d been, there was no way she’d be safe around his soon-to-be-emerging werewolf side.

“He’s starting to change!” Elias’s shout. “Drug him and get the guy in that ambulance!”

A needle shoved into his arm.

Duncan kept fighting and trying to get them to understand, “Not…Hol…”

They were loading him into the ambulance. They weren’t listening to him. Holly was the last person he should be around. He wanted her as a man. He knew that a werewolf’s desires were just magnified.

And what the wolf wanted, he took.

Without thought. Without remorse.

No limits. No control. No conscience.

Just the beast.

He opened his mouth and only a growl escaped. Not Holly. Keep me away from her. I’ll hurt her.

He could feel the fire spreading beneath his skin. Hands were on him, holding Duncan down because the drug wasn’t working.

“Uh, is he supposed to be this strong?” One of the agents—Shane, he knew Shane, they played cards every Wednesday—asked nervously. “Cause this hoss is—”

The strap across his chest broke free, and Duncan lunged up.

Not Holly!

Another needle was jabbed into his neck. One straight into his heart.

“That’ll stop a tiger,” Pate panted out the words.

A tiger…

Or a werewolf.

Duncan fell back against the gurney.

Holly, I’m sorry.

His eyes closed.

***

Holly Young gasped when the doors to her medical wing were shoved open. She had been packing up, ready to go home for a few hours of chilling on the couch and watching crime TV reruns but—

“Holly, an agent was bitten!”

She snapped to attention. Everyone in their division knew the risks of the job. When they started hunting monsters, they’d all realized that the agents faced the risk of one day becoming a monster. Of getting exposed.

Bitten.

She yanked on her gloves even as she motioned toward the operating table on her right. “Put him there, and let me check him out.” Her heart was racing, but her hands were rocky steady.“What are we dealing with?” Holly asked as she rushed forward. The agent was strapped down. Unmoving. She couldn’t see who it was. There were over two dozen agents in Seattle’s Para Unit.

“Multiple werewolf bites,” Pate told her.

Multiple. She gulped. “You know what’s happening to him. He’ll die from the poison in those bites.” There wasn’t much she could do for a werewolf bite. If the agent had been bitten by a vampire, she could have given him a transfusion, made sure the wound was closed. Possibly saved him.

But a werewolf bite?

Death sentence.

“He’s not dying.” Pate stared at her with narrowed eyes. “The agent has already started to transform.”

She almost dropped her stethoscope at that news.

A human transforming into a werewolf? That was so rare.

And deadly.

Her heart drummed even faster in her chest, and her hands gave the slightest tremble as she hurried toward the table. The other agents had transferred the wounded man onto the table she’d indicated, and they had already strapped him down once more. Holly elbowed them aside, trying to make her way through to see the poor agent who’d just been given a one-way ticket to hell.

She saw his dark hair first. Thick and a little too long. Then her gaze fell to his strong cheekbones, knife sharp. She recognized the hard blade of his nose, but his eyes were closed, so she didn’t see his normal bright blue stare.

Duncan?

“Get back,” Pate ordered the other agents as he lifted his hands. “Clear the room so she can work!” Then Pate’s fingers curled around her elbow, and he leaned in close to her. His voice lowered as he whispered, “You keep him sane.” An order. Or a plea?

She stared down at Duncan’s powerful body. Blood was all over him. Already drying on his ripped clothes. On his neck. His arms. But even as she stared at him, the long, thick gashes on his body were closing before her eyes.

Werewolf healing. That was some kind of magic.

“He’s going to be very strong,” Pate murmured, the soft words just for her ears. The other agents had already backed up. Backed up, but she noticed that Duncan’s partner, Elias, still had his gun out.

And aimed at Duncan’s unconscious body.

She moved her own body a few inches, deliberately putting herself in the line of fire. You aren’t shooting him!

“We can use him,” Pate said, his body brushing against hers. “If we can control him, then this could be our chance.”

This wasn’t a chance. It was a man’s life.

She reached out her hand to touch Duncan’s skin. Even through her latex glove, she could feel the heat pouring off his body.

“Clear the room!” Pate snarled again. Because the other agents were lingering. She didn’t blame them. One of their own had just been taken down in a way that was no doubt a nightmare fear for them all.

“But, sir…” Elias stepped forward. And he still had his gun out. “He’s too dangerous to leave alone with her! He could attack—”

Pate’s shaking head stopped his words. “He’s not going to wake up for hours. And by then, he’ll be collared.”

Collared. When werewolves were brought in for containment at the facility, the first order of business was always to suit them up with a silver collar. The collar controlled them. Kept them in check every moment. If the werewolves tried to attack anyone, then silver was automatically released from those collars and injected into their blood via tiny needles.

The collars themselves were unbreakable, mostly because they were made of silver, and no werewolf had ever been strong enough to fight the silver and escape.

The old story about silver being the weakness for the wolf? Luckily for humans, that story had turned out to be true. If the werewolves hadn’t been given some sort of weakness, the humans would be screwed.

But the idea of Duncan…collared like that…

Her back teeth clenched.

“He doesn’t want this,” Elias shouted. That gun needed to be holstered. She was about to do it for him.

“Right now, the man doesn’t know what he wants!” Pate threw back. Holly knew Pate wouldn’t back down. He never did. “Now, Agent Lone, I’m ordering you to stand down. This isn’t your call. And it isn’t his, either.”

Because once you joined the Para Unit, your life wasn’t exactly your own any longer.

Swearing, Elias holstered his weapon. Finally. Then he turned on his heel and hurried from the room. The double doors swung shut behind him.

Holly forced herself to take in a deep breath. Duncan had been viciously attacked, and now, to come back as a werewolf? Pate had taken risks before with his agents, but there had never been a case like this.

“He’s going to be an alpha,” Pate whispered, staying close to her so his words wouldn’t carry far. She knew the other agents were waiting just outside of the medical wing. “I can tell by the speed of his healing. Hell, the guy was already starting to shift at the scene. We had to dose him three times just to stop the change.”

Three times? She’d been the one to brew that drug. Holly knew it was powerful. One dose should have been more than enough to put Duncan out.

The doors to her medical wing flew open again, and she jerked. Elias—coming back? What the hell?

His cheeks were flushed. His blond hair mussed. He pointed toward Holly. “She’s going to need a guard in here with her!” Elias called out. “The doc won’t be able to handle him.”

Shane August grabbed the guy and tried to yank him back. Elias didn’t appear in the mood to be yanked.

Pate exhaled slowly. “After Duncan has the collar on, she’ll be able to control him.” Then Pate pointed to Shane. “August, you stay in here and keep an eye on Holly until she has Duncan secure.”

Shane, not Elias. Very good choice.

Shane shoved Elias back of the room, then he stood there, near the door, with his watchful brown gaze locked on Duncan’s body.

Pate made no move to leave, not yet. “Check him out, top to bottom. Get blood work. Run your tests. Every test you can think of.”

Tests that would show them all just how deadly Duncan would become.

She nodded and met Pate’s stare. “If he—if he proves to be too much of a threat?” Because she’d seen werewolves who had no sense of humanity left in them. Beasts that couldn’t be controlled or contained. They’d all seen wolves like that. In her experience, those recently bitten were the worst.

The most dangerous.

“Then you stop him.” She noticed the emphasis he put in his command. “But that’s a last resort. I don’t want to lose him. We need him, Holly. We need what he’ll become.”

Because while the other agents thought that Pate was just a suit who never got his hands dirty, she knew better. Pate had been chosen to lead the West Coast Para Unit because he knew all about the dark side of life.

And he also believed that the best way to fight a monster was…with a monster.

That was why she was there.

“Do whatever you have to do, but make sure Duncan McGuire survives.” Then Pate was backing away. He crossed to Shane’s side, whispered to the agent, and after a moment, the swinging doors to the med room closed behind Pate.

She didn’t move from her position near Duncan. Duncan McGuire. He’d always made her nervous. Too aware.

She put on her stethoscope. Bent to listen to his heartbeat. So fast. Not weak, the way it should have been considering the amount of drugs in his system. Duncan’s heartbeat was thundering at a frantic rate.

The transformation.

Holly had been hiredto be the personal physician for the agents in the Para Unit. When you went out and fought monsters, you could return with some rather…unusual wounds. Instead of explaining vamp bites and shifter claw marks to the local hospital staff, Pate had wanted her to take care of his men and women.

He’d also wanted her to study the prisoners in containment.

Two reasons to bring her in. There were more reasons, of course, there always were. But those were the two he’d used to the FBI Brass.

And, since she’d owed Pate far more than she could ever repay, it wasn’t like Holly had been given much of a choice in taking the job.

No, she’d lost that whole choice option a year ago. When she’d lost her life.

Carefully now, she lifted one of Duncan’s eyelids. She was about to shine her light on his eye when she realized—

No need for the light.

His eye was shining on its own. The blue had lit up, streaking with gold. Already a werewolf’s sight. A werewolf’s vision was ten times better than a human’s during the day, and at night, werewolves could see in the darkness. All of a werewolf’s senses were enhanced. Incredibly amped.

She backed away from him a bit. Her gaze scanned over his body. So much blood. Her nostrils flared a bit at the scent. Considering the damage he’d sustained, it was amazing that he’d survived the attack.

And if he hadn’t? If Pate had come back to tell her that Duncan had died on his mission? How would she have felt then?

Holly swallowed. She put down the small light, and her gloved hands reached out to skim over the wound on his neck. I would have missed you.

She’d been paying too much attention to Duncan from the very beginning. On her second day at the facility, he’d walked in with a bullet in his shoulder. He’d stripped off his shirt. She’d dug the bullet out, been all business.

Until she’d looked up and gotten caught by that bright, blue gaze.

As a rule, when she looked at Duncan, Holly wanted. She craved.

Dangerous, but then, Duncan was a dangerous man. He was about to become even more so.

“Shane…” She raised her voice so the agent near the door would hear her. “Please get me the silver collar from the storage room.”

“I’m supposed to guard—” Shane began, his voice rumbling just a bit with the drawl of South Carolina.

Holly glanced up at him. Shane was a good guy. Tall, blond, with classic features and warm, brown eyes. Handsome, no doubt appealing to most women.

She wasn’t most. She didn’t want pretty boy perfect.

Her fingers lightly skimmed over Duncan’s shoulder. “He’s out. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Just…get the collar for me, will you?”

After one last worried glance at Duncan’s still figure, Shane headed toward the storage room.

Her breath eased out on a relieved exhale.

Good. She’d wanted a few moments alone with Duncan. She reached for her scissors. Carefully, Holly cut away his shirt. She bagged it and sealed it because Pate would want an analysis done on all that blood.

Then she bent to inspect the bites on Duncan’s neck and shoulder. “They sure tore into you,” she whispered. But those wounds were closing. Already healing as he became something far more than man. “I’m so sorry, Duncan.”

She’d barely talked to him before this attack. Too nervous. Every time his eyes had locked on her, Holly’s heartbeat had kicked up and raced in her chest. She’d stuttered and glanced away because—

I want him. Only, before, he wouldn’t have been able to handle her secrets. No man could.

Not and keep living, anyway.

Almost helplessly, her hands slid over the muscles of his chest. The shift would make his muscles harder, even more defined. Not just a six pack anymore, hell, it looked like he was close to getting a dang twelve pack—

His hand flew up. His fingers wrapped around her wrist, holding her far too tightly.

Holly’s gaze flew to his face. His eyes were wide open, the gold even bolder in that blue gaze that it had been moments before. His lips were parted, and she could just see the edge of his lengthening canines.

Oh, hell. “Duncan?”

He jerked to a sitting position, snapping those straps that had been over his body in an instant, and he yanked her closer to him. His other hand rose and wrapped around her shoulder, effectively trapping her in place.

His brows lowered as he studied her, and his nostrils widened as if he were drinking in her scent.

Not good.

“D-Duncan, you’re back at the med unit. I’m just checking you over to make sure—”

His head lowered toward her throat. Holly yelped, thinking he was going for her jugular, and she tried to push him back.

Only there was no pushing him.

Enhanced strength, definite check. It sure looked like Pate was right about the alpha coming out in Duncan.

He was right.

And I could be screwed.

Her nails sank into his shoulders. She didn’t want to hurt him. He’d been hurt enough. But…

He wasn’t biting her. Wasn’t sinking those new, wickedly sharp canines of his into her neck. He was—

Nuzzling her? What. The. Hell?

Holly was pretty sure that she’d just felt the lick of his tongue over her neck.

She shuddered against him. “Ah…Duncan…you need to let me go…I can help you…”

He was on the edge of the table now. He’d pulled her between his legs. Caged her so well. The heat from his body scorched her.

His right hand wasn’t on her shoulder any longer. It had just dropped to the curve of her ass.

“Duncan!” Her voice snapped at him.

His head lifted. Only the man she’d known wasn’t staring back at her from those gold/blue eyes. A hungry beast stared back at her. A beast who sure looked like he was ready for a bite.

Been there, done that.

That burning gaze seemed to consume her. “Want…” The word was an inhuman rasp, a beast’s growl.

“You…” Holly paused, wet her too-dry lips and muttered, “need to let me go—”

Her mouth was still open when his lips crashed down on hers. Not gentle. Not even close. Desperate and rough and wild. His tongue thrust into her mouth. His hold tightened around her, and Duncan—

Took.

She’d wondered what it would be like to kiss Duncan McGuire. She’d daydreamed. Fantasized. Harmless thoughts, really.

She’d never imagined anything like this. His tongue thrust into her mouth. His tongue tasted and tempted. His tight hold on her body had her pressed hard to the front of his body, and there was no missing the guy’s arousal.

Um, no missing it at all.

She shouldn’t respond. He was injured. Probably out of his mind from the transformation mutating within him, but the hot touch of his mouth on hers seemed to send a current of pleasure right through Holly’s body. Her breasts tightened. Her hips pushed restlessly against the thick length of his cock and—

“Dr. Young!” Shane’s horrified voice cut through the cloud of lust.

Shane. And, just like that, Holly didn’t have to worry about breaking free of Duncan’s grip. Because at the other man’s shout, Duncan pushed her away from him and leapt from the table.

Then he went after Shane. With claws stretching from the tips of his fingers and with a snarl on his lips, Duncan launched at the other man.

No!” Holly screamed.

But Duncan didn’t stop. Shane had the silver collar in his hands, and he’d holstered his weapon, so he had to drop the collar before he could arm himself.

The collar hit the floor, and Shane didn’t move fast enough to draw out his weapon.

Duncan’s right hand wrapped around Shane’s throat. He lifted the agent up into the air. Shane’s feet dangled, and he tried to choke out some speech.

We are so screwed. She’d been right earlier.Duncan! Let him go!” Holly screamed. He hadn’t hurt her, but it certainly looked like he was ready to introduce Shane to a whole world of pain.

Wolves were territorial. Especially the alphas. Duncan had been coming on to her—marking her in the way of shifters, she knew that—and then another male had come into the room.

So screwed.

Shane was struggling to get out his gun. His fingers were shaking, but, on the third try, he managed to yank the weapon from the holster. Then Shane tried to lift the gun to Duncan’s chest.

No!” Now her scream was full of fear. She raced toward them.

But, with his left hand, Duncan just snatched away the gun and tossed it across the room. “Stay away…” Duncan snarled as he lifted Shane higher, “from her.”

Holly grabbed the collar. Unlocked it. Duncan was so tall, about six foot four, and she was only five foot seven, so this was gonna be tricky. She jumped up, trying to latch on around his back.

He spun at once, slamming Shane to the floor and catching her in his arms. He lifted her, bringing her closer even as he frowned down at her.

Gotcha.

“Sorry,” Holly whispered, and she locked the collar around his throat. The silver immediately began to burn him, sending faint plumes of smoke into the air as the skin on his neck reddened and blistered.

He dropped her, and her ass hit the tile with an impact that would leave one hell of a bruise. But she jumped to her feet and rushed toward the counter. Duncan was yelling and snarling and trying to yank the silver collar away from his neck.

“Stop!” Holly shouted at him as her fingers curled around the collar’s remote. “You’re just making it hurt worse!” That was the way the collar had been designed. The more you struggled, the more you’d burn.

She typed in a code for that collar, then adjusted the setting, knocking down the intensity. “Give me just a second, and I’ll help you.”

His head whipped toward her. His fingers were still at the collar, shaking. Burning.

“I can make the pain stop,” she whispered, “but you have to show me that you have control.”

He was coming toward her. Stalking her. Seemingly uncaring now of the burns on his throat.

“D-Duncan?”

He kept coming toward her. Holly was afraid that “control” might not be part of his vocabulary anymore.