Home > Ascension (Cherchez Pack #1)

Ascension (Cherchez Pack #1)
Lauren Dane

Prologue

Kari Warner walked down the alley, well aware that something was following her.

No, not following— stalking. The alley was wide and the sounds of her heels as she moved along quickly echoed through it, bouncing from the dingy walls back at her.

Heart in her throat, her quick walk became a slow run. Fear choked her as she heard the corresponding quickening of the footsteps of her pursuer. Cursing her stupidity, she sent out a brief prayer, exchanging chocolate for safety.

Leaving the nightclub a few minutes before, she’d known she should’ve taken the long way. But she’d been so tired and had opted for the shortcut through the alley.

She’d gone that way a dozen times before.

She felt the weight of eyes on her, watching, measuring, waiting. The corner and the streetlight were only half a block away. Hope bloomed in her chest as she began to believe she was going to make it. The light cried safe haven. She held onto the light like a lifeline.

Suddenly a low growl split the air and the hair on her arms stood on end. A queer electric hum began at the base of her spine, riding up into her hairline.

What was that? her panicked mind screamed.

Eyes wild, she looked up to see a massive dog jump at her, knocking her over, ripping into her flesh with its teeth. She drew in breath for a scream but in those short milliseconds her throat was crushed as its jaws closed in over her neck and bit down.

Razor-sharp teeth tore at her. Its unbelievably strong jaw gripped tight as its head jerked from side to side, shredding her neck. Her hands pushed against the massive head as the long muzzle pressed against her open wound. Her mind, unable to accept the entirety of the experience, slipped into a state of unreality for a long moment and she felt herself drifting away. No!

Fighting, body screaming for air, she pushed up frantically, trying not to panic. Her strength ebbing, she had a hard time gaining purchase as she kept slipping in the blood she was losing. Her hands grappled with the dog, the hard muscles rippling beneath the fur. She wanted to just crawl away, to get far from the thing now tearing into her stomach with its teeth. But it was so strong, so big, that she couldn’t knock him away, or even off balance enough to get away. God, he’s so soft, she thought until everything went black.

Chapter One

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.

Everything hurt. Kari tried to swallow around the fire in her throat. Her eyes fluttered open.

“Kari? Get the doctor, she’s waking up! Kari, honey?”

Kari tried to focus on the man next to her bed. It was Jack, her brother. He gripped her hand until she winced.

“Sorry.” The grip lessened but he didn’t release. “How do you feel, sweetie?”

She tried to speak but all she could manage was a croak. So she just smiled at him, hoping to reassure him. Cool hands offered her a straw and urged her to take a drink.

“Small sips, don’t drink too much or you’ll be sick,” a woman’s soft voice cautioned.

Kari had to fight against her instincts because the cool water felt so good on her abraded throat and she wanted to gulp it down.

“That’s it. Good, Kari. I’m going to set the water down for a moment, okay? I’m just going to check you out. See how you’re doing.” The owner of the voice moved into Kari’s line of sight. She was a nurse—no, a doctor. Large brown eyes looked her over.

Close-cropped chic gray hair and a long tall frame completed the package. The embroidered name on the blue coat said “Dr. Elaine Kennedy”.

“Kari, can you try to talk?” Dr. Kennedy’s cool hands smoothed over Kari’s throat where the dog had bit her. Panic rose momentarily as she recalled the size of that dog, the intelligence she remembered in its eyes. As if sensing her panic, Dr. Kennedy made a soothing sound and touched Kari’s arm softly before undoing the front of her gown to look at her stomach. Kari relaxed. Something about the other woman made her feel more secure, safe.

Kari swallowed a few times. “Wha…what happened?” Her voice was hoarse, raw.

“We don’t know exactly. You showed up in the driveway of the emergency room.

You were pretty beaten up. We got an anonymous call that you were out there. Do you remember anything?”

“Dog. A big dog jumped me.” Kari moved her free hand to her stomach where the dog had ripped into her flesh and was surprised that there were no stitches there. “It bit me, tore into me, here.” Craning her head to look took too much effort and she slumped back, exhausted, against the pillows.

The doctor looked at her kindly, smiling as if she were not quite right in the head.

“It will all come back to you with time. But you can see for yourself that you have no wounds there, just some extensive bruising. Your throat took a beating though. Looks like your larynx was pretty severely damaged. You had a concussion and some swelling on the brain, which has lessened considerably.”

“How long have I been here?” Damn, it hurt to talk. She tried to swallow but it was so painful. “Water, please,” she asked and Jack brought the straw back to her lips.

“Three days. You came in at two thirty on Saturday morning. It’s Tuesday.”

“Jesus. Three days?” Groggy, her head hurt. No—her entire body hurt. And where on earth did the dog go? Had she imagined it? No, there was no way she could have imagined such a thing. That dog had been massive. She could still feel the razor-sharp teeth rending her flesh. The silky texture of the fur under her hands. She tried to work it through but she kept losing track. The medication made her drowsy, messing up her thought processes.

“Will she be okay?” Jack watched her, concern written all over his face.

“Well, her pupils look good, reactive like they’re supposed to be. Her pulse has remained strong. The swelling has gone down to nearly normal. It looks good for her.

We will of course keep her in for at least another day or two for observation, just to be sure.”

Dr. Kennedy smiled at Kari, patting her hand before walking to the door. “Just take it slow, Kari, and everything will be all right. Get your rest now. Have your brother help you bring the level of the bed up a bit. Watch some TV or listen to a book on tape.

I’ll be back in a few hours.”

* * * * *

“You are so lucky that Elaine was on shift.” Andreas angrily paced the elegant, wood-paneled library. “She just called. Kari has regained consciousness and will recover.” He slammed his hand down onto the side table so hard it split into pieces.

“Idiot! I told you it wasn’t the plan to change her for another month or two. Until after I’d met her and she’d gotten to know me.”

Michael, the man in the chair receiving the angry lecture, winced. His blond hair fell over his eyes, hiding his expression.

“You’ve got to stop breaking the furniture, Andreas. Does she remember anything?” A third man walked over to the table and picked up the wood, tossing it into the trash. His long black hair shimmered against the golden tone of his skin, brown-black eyes glittered behind thick lashes. The face had a savage beauty to it—the nose not quite straight, a small scar bisecting his left eyebrow, the lips lush but holding a not-so-subtle hint of danger.

“Elaine says Kari reported that a big dog attacked her,” Andreas gritted out, glaring down at Michael. Fists clenched, rage vibrated through him. His Mate had been put in danger and his plans to meet and woo her without frightening her had been upset. His primal need to protect her, to bring her to him in a way that made her most comfortable, had been challenged. “Lucky for you the wounds have healed already so Elaine was able to blow them off and focus on the concussion. She wouldn’t allow too close an examination by Kari’s brother so no one saw the bites but Elaine and Henry.”

Laurent Cole dusted the wood off his hands and grabbed an apple before tossing himself into a chair nearby. He watched Andreas pensively. “What are we going to do?”

“It’s too late to delay. The change has already started. Elaine told the brother she’s going to keep Kari in the hospital for another two days but we have to get her out before that. She’ll be totally healed by then and it will look suspicious. Problem is, I don’t know how we’ll deal with the brother.” Sighing, he sat down and ran large hands through wheat-blond hair that touched the top of his shoulders. His amber eyes were intelligent but could be merciless in defense of those he loved and protected. His body was tight with stress and barely repressed fury.

“We don’t have a contingency. This wasn’t meant to happen for another two months. Full moon is in three days. It’s clear to Elaine that Kari is changing already. The wounds have healed so fast. We have to have her with us at full moon. She can’t transform the first time alone, she wouldn’t survive. We don’t have the luxury of slowly bringing her into the Pack.” Andreas’ voice was weary, face resigned.

“We’ll have to go to her and explain. Or rather, we’ll have to bring her here and explain. Make amends. She won’t believe us, of course, so that’ll make the transformation even more difficult. I hate to start off with her with distrust and fear. I wanted it to be different.” Andreas looked out the window at the pine trees surrounding the large house, toward the lake and sighed. He felt so out of control of the situation and it ate at him.

“She’ll have to deal with it, Andreas. She has no other choice. We have no other choice. We need her,” Laurent said with an elegant shrug. “The Pack needs her.”

Phillip, the final man in the room, growled. “If Michael had just kept his shit together we wouldn’t be dealing with this.” One leg crossed over the other, swinging back and forth. The movement seemed casual but there was menace there just beneath the surface.

“But he did. And so it has to be done. She may well hate us all for a long time but it’s too late anyway. She’s going to transform in three days and she’ll be far worse off without us than with us. Michael will have to explain himself to her later. The Pack needs an Alpha-bitch. We need to continue and we can’t do that without females.”

Laurent’s tone was matter-of-fact.

Andreas got up and paced the room, thinking over all possibilities. After a few minutes he stopped and turned to them. “We’ll bring her here tomorrow. Elaine’ll help us get her out of the hospital. She and Henry will have to drug Kari and drive out. It will probably be necessary to keep her locked up for a bit. We can’t have her trying to escape out here. She could get lost easily.”

“What about the brother?” Phillip asked.

“Maybe we can bring him over later. For now, well, we can’t say she’s dead or he’ll want to see the body. We can’t just take her or he’ll wonder where she’s gone.” Laurent fell silent for a moment before speaking again. “He lives in Boston, he’s a cop there. I think I need to call the Lieutenant for the Quincy Clan. If I remember correctly, at least one of their Pack is on the police force there. Maybe we can arrange to have him go back suddenly.” Making his mind up and getting a nod from Andreas, Laurent left the room to make the call.

* * * * *

Kari had the dream again. The moon hung heavy and fecund overhead and it pulled at her blood. The scent of forest, fur, filled her senses. She ran. The pads of her paws sank in the loam of the forest floor. Her breath came in pants, steaming in the crisp air in ribbons of frosty white.

A dog—no, a wolf—came to her and rubbed the side of his muzzle along her own, his amber eyes alight with the joy of freedom, the joy of the run. Another wolf, this one black as night with splashes of gray on his haunches, approached and it appeared that he was grinning at her. He bumped her, pressing his body to hers playfully. There was an overwhelming sense of rightness about the moment and a terrible sadness washed through her when she awoke. Alone.

* * * * *

Andreas Phinney sat in the window seat and watched the sun rise over the lake. He, Phillip and Laurent had all run the night before. He was tired but in a good way. His muscles held residual warmth, the aches were ones that would make his sleep deep and restful. He’d need to take a good solid nap before Elaine arrived in the late afternoon with Kari. He had a feeling he’d need all of his energy to deal with her and the resulting situation.

He was a werewolf. One of the very few who were born that way. And not just any werewolf—Andreas was the Alpha wolf of one of the most important packs in North America, the Cherchez Clan. Important due to size, strategic placement of Pack lands and the influence his Pack and family held nationwide and had for generations.

There weren’t a whole lot of female werewolves. And of those, not all of them had the necessary biology to be able to crossbreed. Kari didn’t know it but three generations ago her family had two werewolves born to it. These cousins many times removed were born to the Appalachian Clan. Andreas knew this because the genealogical records of werewolfkind were kept meticulously. Chances were excellent that Kari would be able to bear his children. Thankfully, that biology was also what enabled her to survive the transformation.

Andreas hated having to force transformation on her. Her old way of life had ended and she didn’t even know it yet. She’d have to be guarded at all times, especially in her first year. Protected from other werewolves who smelled the chance to challenge her.

Protected from herself until she could control the change better. And once she did get pregnant, the next generation of the Cherchez Clan would be guarded at all times.

Laurent walked into the great room, bringing him out of his reverie. “It’s done. The Quincy Clan does have two members on the police force, one of whom happens to be the third in command. Apparently a case the brother worked on is coming up for trial.

He probably won’t have to testify but they’ll make him believe he’s needed. I’ve spoken to Elaine, she knows what to expect. She and Henry will take Kari out once the brother leaves.”

“All right. Thank you, Laurent. I want Phillip with her at all times. Sean is coming later today. I wish we could have a few women with her.”

“You can’t cling to what-ifs anymore, Andreas. She’ll be here. She’s our new Alpha.

She might not like it but she’ll have to deal with it.” Laurent was a man of exceptional bluntness. It made him an extraordinary bodyguard and Lieutenant and an equally exceptional best friend “I’ve sent out the Call. There will be a Gathering Saturday. The entire Clan should be here. We’ll have a full house. Make sure Anna and Gregory check the cabins to be sure there are enough linens and firewood.”

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