Gone with the Wolf
Author:Kristin Miller

chapter Four


It’d been five days since Drake touched Emelia skin to skin, palm to palm. Five days since he realized that she was, unequivocally, his Luminary. He’d wrapped up business and bailed, taken his helicopter to the airport and flown straight to his home in LA. He had to put space between them so he could think properly.

Two hundred years ago—hell, even last century—Drake would’ve howled all hours of the day and night to find his Luminary.

His father, Alpha to their pack, had owned and maintained unbelievable amounts of property before he died. Half of Queens and Brooklyn, most of Chicago and Seattle, and decent parts of Los Angeles were all Wilder property. Beyond the property and investments, he ruled over the most powerful werewolf pack in the world.

Handing control to an Alpha heir should’ve been simple. But Drake had a twin brother, Silas, and it’d been made perfectly clear that sharing control over the pack was not an option.

Knowing the pack wouldn’t take commands from two Alphas, Drake’s father had decreed that the first son to find his Luminary would become Alpha. The order had been simple. Find your soul mate and control the pack. The other brother would inherit their father’s property and be financially set for life. The order had started a nasty race to search out their Luminaries. Silas had been born minutes before Drake and felt that control over the pack should’ve been given directly to him.

Not wanting to destroy their relationship, Drake told Silas he didn’t care to find his Luminary—he’d given up the search. He wouldn’t let his thirst for control tear apart their family any longer. He and Silas had found peace, shared profits, worked alongside each other the way they should’ve all along. Some members of the pack naturally gravitated toward one of them or the other, and there was a large group of army-like mercenaries who refused to declare loyalty until a true Alpha was determined, but for the most part, they’d ruled equally.

But now, finding Emelia—a human, above all else—changed everything.

Silas would sense that Drake had found his Luminary. And he’d know that Drake would take control over the pack he longed to rule alone. That realization wasn’t going to sit well with a control freak like Silas.

Drake had planned on staying away from Emelia longer—a month might’ve weakened the pull between them and fuzzed the signal between Drake and his brother—but he’d gotten sick. Headaches and chills wouldn’t quit. Vomiting increased as the days crept on. He hadn’t slept a wink.

He’d instructed Raul to dive into ancient werewolf texts to see if there was some mention of the physical or psychological reaction an Alpha would have upon finding his Luminary. Within hours Raul had unearthed something disturbing: once an Alpha and his Luminary touched, they were connected by spirit. Sickness was common during long periods of absence, especially for the male.

Bloody wonderful. Drake was connected to a woman who seemed to hate him, yet if he stayed away from her longer than a few days, he’d be sick. Emelia didn’t exactly say she hated him, but Drake sensed unbridled disdain bubbling within her.

As he parked his BMW Roadster in front of the Knight Owl, he leaned beneath the doorframe and stared at the sidewalk welcome sign and warm, glowing interior. Chills gathered at the base of his spine. Why did he feel like he knew the building? He’d never been here before. Never even heard of the place.

The Knight Owl. He would’ve remembered such a name, wouldn’t he?

He exited the car and zipped up his coat, steeling himself against the crisp night wind. As he stepped onto the curb, Drake made a quick call to Raul that went straight to voice mail.

“Find everything you can on the bar called the Knight Owl, located at 970 East Porter Street.” He ended the call, hesitating a beat before striding through the front door.

Though the concept was ludicrous, Drake felt better already, merely being near the place that held such a strong tie to Emelia. Strength returned to his legs and the tomato soup he’d forced down at dinner finally settled in his stomach.

Emelia was nearby.

Striding through the creaky door, Drake was slammed with the mouthwatering aroma of BBQ burgers and roasted garlic. The walls were painted rich shades of brown and burgundy. Candles on the tables and lanterns in the corners cast a warm, buttery glow over the room. Mismatched chairs and wood-topped tables could’ve easily accommodated fifty people, though tonight the space was nearly empty. A group of four college-aged kids fought over a heaping plate of something brown that was situated in the center of their table—garlic-roasted onion strips, from the pungent smell of them. A lone guitarist in desperate need of a shave strummed away on the stage in the corner, giving a horrible rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”

The place had an interesting feel. It had character. Spice. And it was so unlike the other bars he’d visited in Seattle.

Newspaper clippings in gold-tinseled frames covered the walls, snagging Drake’s attention. As an older couple emerged from the back half of the building and made their way toward the exit, Drake moved aside to let them pass. The faded headline of an article from October 30, 1929, caught his interest.

Dow Plummets Thirty Points. Wall Street Scrambles to Recover.

Drake remembered the day after the stock market crash well. He and Silas fought over whether to pull cash from their investments and hide it in overseas accounts or hold tight and ride out the drought. Seemed like they couldn’t agree on anything.

“Hi, handsome. What can I getcha?” The brunette waitress who’d slid up next to Drake reeked of cheap cherry-blossom lotion. Chopped, razor-short hair framed a heart-shaped face and thin lips.

“I’m here to see Emelia.” The sledgehammer pounding into Drake’s temple eased up at the mention of her name.

“She’s working the bar on the flip side. Want me to call her for you?” The waitress smiled politely, the piercings on her upper lip, chin, and eyebrows shining in the flickering overhead lights. Why women thought they had to drive nails of silver into their skin to attract men was beyond him.

“No, I was hoping to surprise her.” Drake gave one of his deviously slow winks. “You won’t give away my secret, will you?”

“Not at all.” She shook her head as the scent of her arousal hit Drake’s heightened senses. “If you change your mind, and decide you want something after all…anything…let me know. My name’s Renee.”

“Thanks,” Drake said. “I’ll remember that.”

With one last glance at the deserted front of the bar, Drake stalked around the wall that split the building in half and stopped as his heart gave a jerk.

Emelia stood behind a long, wooden bar, shaking a drink. Flipping the silver can in her palm, she poured the yellowish liquid into a glass and smiled when a tiny red straw dropped and spun, facing the customer in front of her.

Drake’s gaze stuck to her like glue. The entire building could’ve gone up in flames and he would’ve stayed to watch Emelia a minute longer. Her hips swayed confidently as she walked to the opposite end of the dimly lit room. She smiled at a scruffy-bearded fellow wearing worn flannel and suspenders, laughed when he laughed, and lit up the entire bar. She was personable and friendly, refilling the drink of a curly-haired woman trying to catch the eye of a Goth-dressed guy standing next to her. Even though there were only three customers perched at the watering hole, Emelia spun to the till as if roller skates had replaced her shoes. She was all bar business, decked in ripped jeans and a black, lace-trimmed tank. Sexy as hell.

In her natural space, Emelia didn’t fit the secretary bill Drake had initially pinned on her. Thank God. He wasn’t sure what he expected from Emelia, being a temp and all, but he’d never been hot and heavy over one of the ladies on his staff, and was secretly hoping his Luminary would have a passion for something other than filing papers.

Sliding onto the nearest stool, Drake was amazed Emelia hadn’t spotted him yet. On second thought, maybe she had and was choosing to ignore him. The thought made something in Drake’s chest pinch. Rubbing the spot with his hand, Drake watched as Emelia placed an order through the window on the far side of the bar. An older man with short, spiky hair peeked his face through the window and held his gaze on Emelia’s backside a little too long for Drake’s taste.

“What does a guy have to do to get a drink around here?” Drake said a little too loudly, leaning into an umbrella of amber light.

Emelia spun around slowly, as though she’d sink into quicksand if she moved too fast. With a nervous smile pulling at her lips, she approached him, tossing a napkin on the bar.

“We don’t have Lafite,” she said, wiping her hands on her jeans, “or anything like what you’ve got in that cellar of yours.”

“Do you have scotch?” He removed his coat, draped it over the stool next to him, and tipped his chin at the top glass shelf.

She pulled down a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Drake’s favorite and the most expensive in the brand, and poured a stout glass. “Ice?”

“Straight.”

“You sure you don’t want to hit the BevMo across town? You could save yourself the thirty-five-dollar shot and invest in the bottle.” She slid the glass across the bar; it stopped right on the mark, right in front of him. “Not that I couldn’t use the money.”

Drake held up the glass in mock cheers and took a sip. The smoky drink warmed his insides and erased the last hint of sickness that’d plagued him over the week.

Who was he fooling? The ease of tension in his middle had nothing to do with the scotch.

Moving with a kind of grace Drake hadn’t seen often, Emelia checked on Mr. Lumberjack at the end of the bar and refilled his beer. She wiped up a mess Mr. Goth had just made and double-checked to make sure Ms. Corkscrew didn’t want to order another round. When Emelia circled back around to Drake, she stared as if she expected him to poof into a cloud of smoke and disappear once more. That wasn’t happening. Not now. Not when he had the chance—away from prying company eyes—to get to know his Luminary.

“So this is your place?” Drake had been curious about the Knight Owl. He hadn’t expected a newspaper-clad bar with a dark, tavern feel. The bar wasn’t the kind of place he’d normally visit. It was warm and friendly and gave an unconventional, homey vibe. “It’s clever.”

“What are you doing here, Mr. Wilder?” Emelia’s hands found her hips, but attitude didn’t follow. She looked nervous. Like he’d invaded her turf and caught her being nice when it was the last thing she wanted. “Don’t tell me you came to pay compliments to my bar. I might have to hurl.”

Drake’s stomach wrenched. “For the love of God, don’t mention hurling.”

“Mr. Wilder, are you all right? You look…green.” She eyed him carefully. “Like Kermit green, you know? The men’s room is right over there.”

She hitched her thumb like a hiker, pointing over her shoulder to the main room, but Drake’s gaze didn’t follow. He focused on breathing. In and out, in and out. He closed his eyes. Despite the overwhelming aroma of his scotch, Emelia’s natural feminine scent invaded his nose. As tantalizing hints of warm sugar, and something a bit sweeter, worked their way through Drake’s senses, coating away the last of the queasiness, he sighed. Emelia truly was the calm to his storm, the Chicken Soup to his howling soul.

And he was royally botching this.

“You’ve been MIA all week,” she said, her voice like liquid velvet.

Drake opened his eyes and drank in the softness of Emelia’s features: gently rounded chin, high cheekbones, silky, honey-blond hair flowing to her shoulders. She was a goddess. Aphrodite in human form.

And she’d noticed his absence.

Before Drake got too excited, a hard bout of logic sucker-punched him in the gut. Of course Emelia noticed. She sat in front of his office door all damned day. Idiot.

“Glad to hear that I’ve been missed,” he teased. He could’ve sworn Emelia shuddered before averting her eyes.

“Wouldn’t count on it.” She snatched a wet glass off the drying rack and toweled the rim, scraping it like she aimed to shave it down to sand.

“Has Mr. Bloomfield been showing you the ropes well enough?”

“Not as good as you.” Her eyes widened as if she caught herself. “What I mean is, there were some things I wanted to talk to you about this week…” She paused, her gaze snapping to the kitchen as a plate banged against a sink. “Where’ve you been, anyway?”

“I had business to take care of in LA.” He drank to soothe the burn in his throat. “I won’t be going back there for a long while now.”

Not unless he wanted to compete in the Influenza Olympics. There was no way his businesses could slow down, no way he could ignore the work that had to be done at his offices around the country.

Emelia would just have to come with him, though he wasn’t sure how he felt about it yet. She was easy on the eyes—understatement of the year—but she also had a mouth like a sailor and Drake never knew what she was going to say, or do, next. Wild cards never panned out well. Not in a business run by logistics and numbers and margin calls. Drake had built his life around predictability, only inviting people he could trust into his inner circle.

Mother Nature certainly had a twisted sense of humor, matching him with a loose-cannon bartender…a human, loose-cannon bartender, no less.

“So you come back into town and decide to stop by my bar?” she asked, eyebrows pitching. “No offense, but you don’t look like my typical customer. Most of my patrons can’t afford the tie cinched around your neck.”

“This one?” Drake eyed his charcoal-gray, Italian silk tie lying against his pristinely white Forzieri dress shirt. The ensemble had been purchased by his stylist—she’d said it exuded powerful grace. He thought she was full of shit, but the clothes fit well, so he couldn’t complain. “This tie couldn’t have cost more than fifty.”

More like three hundred, but who cared?

“Is that so?” she said, a playful gleam in her eye.

Leaning over so that the swell of her breasts pressed against the bar, Emelia dragged a finger across Drake’s chest. He fought to keep his eyes off the plumpness of her breasts as his slacks tightened at the seams. She smiled, slow and teasing, as she spun small circles over his pectoral muscles. Drake’s mouth dried as blood froze in his veins. He couldn’t get their kiss out of his head, couldn’t forget the way her lips had felt brushing against his. She was so close. All he’d have to do is lean forward, drag his hands through her hair, and catch her mouth.

They weren’t in his building or on duty. They wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. He could kiss her, drive her crazy, pleasure her in the back room, and they wouldn’t be breaking any company rules. Hell, even if they were, he was the damned boss. If it meant kissing Emelia again, he’d rewrite the whole company-relations book to include a boss-secretary-Luminary loophole.

Emelia leaned farther forward. Drake’s breath sucked in as a hiss. She latched on to the bottom of the tie like it was a rein, gave it a commanding tug, then flicked it, whacking him in the nose. She laughed the way she had in the cellar, carefree and playful, her smile wide and bright like a Colgate ad.

The woman was trying to kill him.

“Very funny,” he said, as she went back to drying glasses. How could she be so unaffected by their closeness? “You’re right—bars aren’t normally my thing. This place has a unique quality about it, I’ll give you that. It stands out in this neighborhood like a gem.”

Just like its owner.

Something he said pulled down the corners of Emelia’s lips. For the first time since he’d seen her in the bar, she went rigid. “Yeah, well, if big businesses keep stepping in and shutting places like this down, there’ll be no personality left in Seattle. Everyone will walk around town like corporate drones with Palm Pilot styluses shoved up their asses.”

There came the surge of anger again. It flowed off Emelia in tangible waves. How could she be hot one minute, nearly scorching his skin through his clothes, and be as cold as ice the next? Was a big business threatening to shut down her bar? Was that the cause for her hostility? Whatever the reason, Drake had to diffuse the situation, especially if they were going to be attached at the hip for the next couple hundred years.

How would that work, anyway? How could he take control over a pack if he couldn’t produce an heir? And would Emelia want to be turned? Would she want to bond with him at all? There were too many questions and not enough blood flowing through his brain to think them all through.

“I think we started off on the wrong foot, Emelia. What do you say we start fresh?”

“Fresh?”

“Let’s pretend the wine cellar never happened.” How could he forget? “I’m not your boss and you’re not my secretary. What if I’m just a guy who walked into your bar?”

“You can’t hide who you really are.” Emelia slid a fifty-cent tip off the bar and dropped the quarters into a mason jar next to the till. “You can staple antlers on a dog, but that won’t make him a reindeer.”

Laughter erupted from Drake’s chest. “You say the craziest shit sometimes, you know that?”

“Haven’t you ever seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas?”

“Can’t say I have.”

She tilted her head and shrugged. “Sounds like you had a pretty boring childhood.”

Images of intense Alpha training—military-school-esque—in remote portions of the Sierra Nevadas flickered through Drake’s brain like an old movie reel. The laughter that had bounced through him moments before flatlined. He took a solid drink, then nodded solemnly. “If you only knew.”

“Listen,” Emelia said, her voice as soft and smooth as a lover’s caress, “the whole ‘starting fresh’ thing sounds dandy, but you’re still Russell Drake Wilder, CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and I’m still Emelia Hudson, your temp secretary. You’re not some guy who walked into my bar…you’re the guy who thinks he bought it.”

“I’m…what? What am I?” Drake slowed down her words. “I think I bought it? I’m pretty sure I would remember having a hand in this place.”

She backed against the register as an invisible wall slammed between them, frigid and impassable. “Are you honestly going to sit there and pretend you don’t know a thing about what’s been happening in your own company?”

Here it was, the reason for the anger. Drake stood, kicked his foot up on the stool, and went palms-down on the bar. “Give it to me straight, Emelia. What are we talking about here?”

She fidgeted, planting her hands on her hips, crossing her arms over her chest, then shoving her hands into her pockets. Whatever she had to say was tying her in knots. The desire to stroke his hand down her cheek and tell her that it would be all right nearly overcame him. But he didn’t know what the real problem was, he reminded himself. How could he promise that things would be all right when he truly didn’t know what was bothering her?

Her words had to be off the mark; Drake would’ve remembered taking out a loan for new property. “What is it you think I did to you and your bar?”

Emelia’s eyes weighed heavy with burden as she opened her mouth to speak, then clamped it shut again. The longer the silence stretched between them, the more strain showed in the tightness of her lips.

Damn, Drake hated seeing her this way. He preferred the fun-loving Little Red he met in the cellar, when she didn’t care about being seen as ridiculous and foolish. There weren’t many people like that in his life—people who made him laugh from his belly and forget that he had a job to do and a business to run. He enjoyed seeing Emelia’s inner light shine when she bartended, when she didn’t know he was watching. He hated the fact that something he did made her guarded and fidgety, questioning her thoughts before they formed into words.

The bell from the kitchen dinged loudly, severing their connection. It dinged again, and again, two loud chirps that came from an irritated hand.

“Order up,” the cook hollered, staring through the kitchen’s window. “Emelia, this one’s yours for the group out front.”

“Have Renee take it out.”

“She’s on break.”

Sighing heavily, Emelia shook her head and seemed to snap back to business mode. The curtain behind her eyes returned, blocking the anger from taking front and center stage.

“I shouldn’t have opened that can of worms, not here,” Emelia said, swiping two full trays off the kitchen sill. “You took me off guard, showing up mid-shift like this. Can we talk later? Tomorrow morning, maybe? In your office?”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday.”

“You’re telling me you don’t work weekends?”

“Of course I do, I was thinking about you. Aren’t you going to want to sleep in tomorrow?”

Isn’t that what normal people did? Work nine to five, then relax with family, friends, and lovers on weekends? As the thought struck him, Drake realized he hadn’t checked Emelia’s personal background. He hadn’t seen a ring, thank the stars above, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a constant “someone” in her life.

“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I can take care of myself.”

“It’s a man’s job to take care of his woman.” The words tumbled out as Drake’s head went light. His mating instincts sure took the wrong moment to flare up. Time to get fresh air before he started humping her leg. Drake peeled a fifty out of his money clip and dropped it on the bar, then draped his coat over his arm.

As Emelia’s eyes narrowed to slits and she opened her mouth, probably to tell him how she wasn’t his woman, Drake said, “What time do you close tonight? It’d be my pleasure to give you a ride home.”

“No, there’s no need for that, I’ve got my car.” Emelia tilted her head to the side. As though she was weighing Drake’s offer and intention. “I think it’d be best to talk tomorrow anyway…temptation sleeps better during the day.”

What the hell was that supposed to mean? Why couldn’t she talk like a normal person so he could understand her? What was with all the damn Skippys, stapling antlers, and sleeping temptation talk?

“You really need to get out of the office a little more often.” She blew rogue strands of blond hair out of her face, giving Drake a glimpse of something feral churning in her sapphire eyes. “I meant that I won’t be tempted to invite you inside my place for a nightcap if I don’t allow you to drive me home.”

Emelia disappeared around the corner, handling the trays like a pro.

As Drake finished off the remnants of his drink and left the bar, he couldn’t help but smile. No matter how much Emelia wanted to hate him, he’d somehow gotten under her skin.