Sasha Trudeau considers herself a soldier first and a werewolf second. But while her secret government-sanctioned task-force faces its greatest challenge so far, Sasha faces something much more primal: the undeniable pull of the moon--and her own desires.
With rogue wolves savaging both the human and paranormal worlds, Sasha's team of elite operatives has one job: destroy the rogues and isolate the deadly toxin that's poisoned their blood. But the challenge is far more complicated than Sasha could have imagined. Soon she is thrust into a full-scale supernatural war for supremacy--and the only man left who Sasha can turn to might be the biggest danger to her of all. . .and in more ways than one.
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St. Martin's Paperbacks
September 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Bite the Bullet by L.A. Banks
Northwest wilderness along the Canadian border . . .
A howl tried to climb up her throat but she swallowed it down until her lungs felt like they were going to burst. Her human side refused to give the wolf free rein. Not like this.
Sasha licked her lips, trying to find the Lieutenant Sasha Trudeau that she'd been before the full moon, before the heat. With Max Hunter on her flank, the lines between her wolf and human selves became more blurred. They had to find Fisher and Woods, the last two guys on her ambushed Paranormal Containment Unit squad. Familiars. She hated the term and preferred to call them friends.
Sweat slicked her body beneath layers of clothes. The frigid night air felt good against her face. Hunter had told her what to expect; so had his grandfather, Silver Hawk. As an alpha Shadow wolf mate, Hunter would know; as her lover, he would have warned her. But that was just it-there was no understanding this unless one experienced it. They'd said that, too. Yet, they were males. How could they even attempt to describe transforming from human to wolf during the burn that came with being in a female heat? What they'd conveyed was only secondhand knowledge. The mates had no concept; the insanity that came with this defied definition.
Besides, the moon was a gorgeous, radiating disk above her, impossible to escape. Sasha stopped running for a moment and squeezed her eyes shut, panting. The sensation of an abrupt wolf- change so near the surface of her skin strangled her reason. Suddenly the backpack she carried felt too heavy; it had become an onerous appendage just like her suffocating parka, thermals, boots, and jeans. Thick fabric restricted her being and made her want to scream with frustration. Labored breathing filled her ears. It was hers. Scents from the pristine environment stabbed into her sinuses and caused her to take in gulps of air through her mouth.
"Sasha . . . baby, just let her go," Hunter said in a sensual murmur as he loped to her side.
"No!" she shouted, hugging herself and bending over to pant harder.
"It's natural, a part of-"
Her low, warning growl stopped his words. "I want to be in control of me!" Tears stung her eyes but she refused to let them fall. "Can't you understand that? I'm a goddamned soldier!"
Hunter backed away from her with a nod and leaned against a tree, cloaking his form in the shadow of it. He'd instinctively done so as if he could tell that his mere presence was making her testy, and she appreciated his innate understanding that it had.
Sasha glimpsed where he'd been standing and then released a hard breath of relief that she could no longer see him. It was difficult enough catching his wondrous, earthy male scent when the winds suddenly shifted or hearing his easy footfalls in the snow that made shivers dance up her spine. Seeing his handsome, six- foot- five, muscular body peel out of the shadows had literally sent an irrational jolt through her system.
There was something about the way his long, jet- black ponytail had come loose on the run to spill onyx velvet over his thick shoulders . . . but that was nothing compared to the expression on his rugged face or the lingering question that burned deep within his intense, amber- rimmed irises. When he'd absently licked his lush bottom lip just before shadow- blending, she'd almost gone to him. But no. She would remain in control, would remain focused on the mission. Shadow Wolf or not, she had a job to do.
What she needed was distance and time to pull herself together. Slowly straightening, she lifted her chin and kept her eyes on the horizon, giving him her back. She refused to even look in the direction of where he'd been. What would be the point? It didn't take rocket science to know that he was staring at her. She could almost feel his hot gaze penetrating her back. He'd been looking at her like that all night.
Regardless, she was a military- trained, Special Ops, fighting machine, Sasha reminded herself as she began to pace. Squad leader of the Paranormal Containment Unit- PCU's top gun. The only genetic mistake that had made it out of the moonlight madness alive. Two of her men were still moving under radar behind Shadow Wolf territory lines, and she had to bring them in. The United Council of Entities was having an international meeting in New Orleans during the rare blue moon right after Mardi Gras, and every supernatural species would be in attendance- she had to prepare, be sharp, and gather intel. Demon- infected Werewolf virus was still on the black market. And now that she'd learned how to spot other wolves, plus the Fae, Pixies, Dragons, and other supernaturals, somebody would talk.
Damn the moon and any genetic defect she harbored! Despite the pressures of being what amounted to a double agent, the wolf was controllable, the clan elder had said! Mind over matter. That was the only way her kind had remained concealed for centuries. They were different from the outlawed species of demon- infected Werewolves that they hunted, a breed abomination that fed on human flesh and had no choice but to follow the phases of the moon. The transformation- burn would pass.
Sasha yanked back her hood and raked her fingers through her hair, noting with dismay that it had thickened on the run. She closed her eyes and turned her face up to the luminous disk in the sky and shuddered.
"It's different when you're in heat, baby," a very deep voice murmured from the shadows.
"What would you know about it? Screw you!" she shouted, whirling on the sound of Hunter's voice as it began to circle around her.
"Definitely an option I wish you'd consider."
Sasha snarled. If Max Hunter had laughed, she would have lunged at him and gone for his throat.
"I told you after that last time, no matter what, not until we were out of range of my men, your men, and the whole clan!"
"All right, I'm sorry," Hunter said in an amused tone that irked her to no end. "You ready to run some more or do you want to make camp and eat?"
"I want to get to the Shadow clan base camp to night, not tomorrow," she snapped.
"Not advisable," he said flatly, coming out of the shadows with his arms folded. "You need to allow your condition to . . . mellow."
"My condition?" She felt her hands slowly begin to ball into fists at her side.
He nodded and stared at her hands. "As beautiful as you are, you might make me kill one of my own men in this condition."
She flipped him the bird and almost growled when his only response to the rude gesture was a dashing smile.
"Uh, yeah," he said, smirking. "My point, exactly."
"It's only twenty more miles! In a flat- out run, we could make it!"
Total frustration engulfed her as she began to walk back and forth before a stand of trees. "And you've got another thing coming if you think I'm going to enter a Shadow Wolf clan camp that has two of your best friends there, with me smelling like I've been knocking boots on the trail. I have some freakin' pride, Max Hunter. I'm a squad commander, and I will not have my men even remotely think that I delayed a recognizance with them because of some personal bull! Never happen. Not after all they've been through-especially them."
"I hear you," Hunter replied calmly, slipping into another shadow. "Understood." "Good! I'm glad we've gotten that straight, because if you haven't noticed, every body of water we've passed is frozen solid."
A deep baritone chuckle echoed throughout the glen. "So, at least you've thought about it. Now I feel better. Slightly."
"No, I didn't think about it!" she shouted, her voice carrying against her will.
"Be honest, Sasha. You've weighed the logistics and come away with a negative conclusion. That I can accept. I told you before I am no liar-and the last person I ever lie to is myself."
"Kiss my ass, Max Hunter."
He stepped out of the shadows with his head tilted and dropped his backpack in the snow. "Gladly."
She drew her nine millimeter on him and he simply smiled, now flashing canines.
"Like I said, I try not to lie to myself, and my condition isn't wholly stable, either."
She stared at him but didn't lower the weapon. He didn't seem the least bit concerned by its presence.
"We need to make camp here. I've gotta eat," he announced and glanced down with a weary sigh. "You're not the only one subject to clan embarrassment; you do realize that, don't you?"
"We keep moving," she said through her teeth.
"Suit yourself," he said, unfazed, and began to unzip his parka. "This is moose country."
"So you aren't coming?"
He smiled a wicked smile. "Not yet."
She turned away from him and holstered her gun again, determined not to allow him to see her hands tremble. Her angry footfalls turned into outright stomps in the snow when she heard him unzip his jeans.
"You need a guide," he called out behind her. "Until you're scented in as a non- hostile clan member, they'll hide from you . . . will also hide your men for their safety."
"Then stop messing with my head and come on!"
She didn't turn around as she'd yelled out her response. The last thing her nerves could stand at the moment was the sight of Hunter's dark, stone- cut body in the buff. They'd never see eye- to- eye on the point, anyway, so what was the use of arguing? He claimed status as a warrior, she was a soldier-the difference being, according to Hunter, warriors chose their own missions and fates, whereas soldiers took orders. Problem was she now had two hierarchies to serve. As the alpha female of their pack, she, too, was a warrior . . . and her pack status was supposed to supersede any military rank any day, according to supernatural law. Blah, blah, blah.
Yeah, so what, she still worked for the brass and he was his own loose cannon leading a local pack and the frickin' North American clan. She doubted they'd see Hunter's point in a military court while being court-martialed for literally getting waylaid while on an important mission to find vials of missing biohazardous materials. Oh, yeah, that would go over big. Like trying to argue with the feds about taxes-losing proposition.
Remembering the philosophical debate made Sasha grind her teeth as she trudged in the snow and tried not to think of Hunter's deliciously naked form hidden by the shadows. His silver and amber amulet was probably stunning against his rock- solid chest, too-but she was not going there.
To her way of thinking, some things were a matter of personal ethics; as a soldier, she had a job to do first and foremost. There was no time to be self- indulgent. The military didn't give a rat's ass about things like phases of the moon, natural ebbs and flows of Shadow Wolf menses, thermo-combustion properties within one's bloodstream, or the acute pain involved in repressing a howl. She wasn't even supposed to exist. As far as the brass knew, she didn't-well, not as a Shadow Wolf, anyway. She and the other members of her squad had been a laboratory mistake, and in order to not be added to the most wanted and hunted target list, she had to maintain her human presence at all times.
"Sasha, you have to stop running with all that gear on," Hunter called out, nearer to her than she'd wanted. "You'll drop from heat exhaustion holding back your wolf and pressing on like this bundled in layers under a full moon. It's dangerous!"
"Go to hell!" Had he any idea how much politicking had gone into her and Doc Holland convincing the generals from Special Ops Comm that she needed her own bud get, her own Special Forces Paranormal Team, and to keep her so- called informants, like him, off radar?
"I'm not stripping out here or changing!"
"Then slow your pace and walk it off."
"Fine. Are you coming with me, then, or not?"
Sasha slowed her pace to a trot, breathing hard. Cold air knifed her lungs and she hated that Hunter was right; she was burning up. Acute pain made her fight against a whimper. She could tell that Hunter was undecided. He claimed he was going to make camp and needed to eat, but yet he was following her, torn. That was the problem, they were both torn. But she had to remember what was at stake: lives. Human lives. She should have taken the meds Doc had developed, but doing so blinded her to so much of the preternatural world that she needed to see. One week clean and she could see Fae auras. Two weeks clean and she'd been able to see the subtle mesh of scales beneath the skins of those who hailed from the Order of the Dragon. Phantoms announced themselves to her nervous system now even before she saw them, bristling the hairs on the back of her neck. Without meds muddying her perception, she could scent other Were- beings, especially other wolves, a half mile away. And Vampires made her snarl while still vapor. Meds might have made her survive the heat with less duress, but they definitely wouldn't make her job in New Orleans any easier.
Bottom line was, she had to focus-had to collect her squad members Fisher and Woods from the Canadian border, and then double back to the big shindig in New Orleans, regardless of Hunter's beef with the Werewolf clans or Shogun, the alpha southeast Asian pack leader.
As it was, HQ didn't even know that Fisher and Woods had made it out of Afghanistan alive. Only Doc knew the truth. Flashes of Rod's Werewolf infection going full- blown entered her mind and she briefly closed her eyes as she recalled his death at the barrel of her gun. Captain Rod Butler was more than a fellow soldier-he'd been her closest friend, like a blood brother. The image of dropping her mentor would always haunt her.