by Sandra Sookoo
||Erotic Paranormal Romance
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Riley Hanson has fate by the balls. She’s a kick-ass wolf-shifter who’s not afraid to tell people off, especially if they try to suggest how to live her life. She lives with her grandma in the Wisconsin woods, hoping to keep the worst of humanity away.
Carson Hoode, the guy every woman wants to talk to but not date, drives a truck for Red Riders Express. Six months off a divorce, the only thing he’s got going for him is a perfect delivery record, except a heavy October downpour and a muddy road threaten it. As he tries to finish his route on foot, he slips and wrenches his knee. The business end of Riley’s rifle closes out his day.
The fur and pheromones fly as Riley and Carson battle their attraction while eluding a back woods hunter intent on bagging more than local wildlife. They’ll need a healthy dose of fairytale magic to survive—too bad there’s no such thing. Now, if only Grandma would give them some privacy because someone’s getting laid at the end.
"Thanks for nothing, assholes." Riley Hanson slammed the phone receiver back in its cradle on the wall. She pressed her fingers over her eyes and took a few deep, calming breaths before her rising temper got the better of her. Those bastards. Once again the idiots in town refused to accept delivery of her grandmother's insulin, which meant the delivery service would have to send a driver into the remote woods of the hills where she lived.
In the rain.
On a night where the full hunter's moon would make an appearance and cause her to go furry.
"Damn it all to hell and back. Next time I see those guys, I'm going to beat them to a pulp with a pool stick." She couldn't help the words that slipped out; hadn't known she'd spoken them out loud until she heard the soft, wheezing laugh from her grandmother in the room next door. "What?" She popped around the wall that divided the kitchen and living area and gave the older lady a mock glare while planting her hands on her hips.
"Don't give me that, child, I'm much older and have seen much worse." Grandma Hanson chuckled again, laying her knitting in her lap. "The jerks in town never sign for my packages. I don't know why you let yourself get upset this time."
Riley sighed. Of course her grandma was right. She relaxed, collapsing on the sofa next to her relative. She rested her head against the fleshy shoulder she'd drawn comfort from since childhood. "I know, but I didn't have a chance to go to town and fetch it after work. I hate when the delivery people have to trek all the way out here, especially when the weather is so nasty."
"Especially when you're ready for the monthly shift." Grandma Hanson lifted a shaking hand and petted Riley's long, black hair. "That is the real reason for your angst."
"Yes." As if she could forget the one, major thing that set her apart from everyone else in the village. "I hate shifting in the rain." She shivered, imagining how the damp would permeate down into her thick fur coat, chilling her to the bone. It would take an hour in the Jacuzzi tub to thaw out.
"You can't help the weather or your natural instinct." Her grandmother shrugged. The gesture caused the air to fill with her rosewater scent. "Make the best of it. During my shifting years, there were many times I didn't want to deal with the transformations, but there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it."
"You're right." Once menopause kicked in, a woman's shifting urge declined every month along with her estrogen levels until she didn't transform anymore. "I just wish it didn't hurt so much." Right now, that event seemed so far off. The cold always made shifting worse.
Her grandma's next laugh made the older lady's double chin quiver. "The legends say that if a wolf-shifter finds their true-of-heart mate, their touch can make transforming bearable."
Riley snorted. She'd heard that story too many times to count. "Right, and as dorky as that sounds, I also don't believe that if some guy holds my hand, I won't feel the shift. Old wives' tales probably."
"Doubting will get you into trouble one day, maybe faster than your smart mouth." Grandma Hanson gave her a stern look straight from her childhood. "I found mine back in the day. Your grandpa helped me through those times with a strength I could never summon myself."
"But he was also a shifter. He understood."
"Yes, and you've shunned all the male shifters of our former pack." Admonition hung heavy in Grandma's voice.
"They were asses." When her relative remained silent, she patted the older woman's hand and sighed. "Trust me. It was for the best. I'd rather die than hitch myself to any of their alpha-hides for the rest of my life."
"I'm sure you had your reasons."
"Yeah, it's called retaining my sanity and not being sent to prison for first degree murder."
Her grandma chuckled. "All men can be trying. What you need is a strong man who keeps his strength inside instead of overtly wearing it outside."
"No, I need a cold beer or a big slice of your seven-layer chocolate cake." Riley's mouth watered at both thoughts. "The thing about guys is if they're strong inside, it's only a matter of time before they start acting like a cave-dwelling barbarian on the outside. Especially those jerks in town or from the pack. I don't need 'em."
"The world is a bigger place than here."
"True, but men are all the same. Besides, once they get a good look at this scar, that's all they can see." By rote, she lifted a hand and traced the slippery tissue on her right cheek. In the form of a crescent moon, three inches long, she'd received the wound as a child, before her shifting abilities had fully developed. It had healed but left the scar behind.
"It will be of no consequence to the right man."
"Trust me, none of them have passed that test yet. I don't want them anyway."
"You young people are too full of talk to know what you want. Someone who'll ground you is who you need."
Aw, geez. Time to change the subject before Grandma decides to give me the "sex" talk. "Yeah, no time for a man ‘cause I need my job."
"Modern woman syndrome."
Riley rolled her eyes. "Okay, true, but I have to have something. The wolf thing isn't my whole identity. Shifting under the hunter's moon will take a lot out of me, and I can hole up here, working from home if I feel sick afterward. It's a good life." Riley flinched as a jagged streak of lightning zipped across the darkened sky. Seconds later, a rumble of thunder rattled the large picture windows in the front room.
"Maybe, but the shift this month is different. It's under the brightest moon of the year. Full of energy even if it’ll probably rain for most of it." A flicker of unidentified emotion darkened her grandma's face before she lapsed into a grin. "You work too hard. That job of yours stresses you out too much."
That was an understatement. Riley stood and drew the heavy brown drapes across the windows. She did the accounting and bookkeeping for a few businesses in Harper's Glen, Wisconsin, and while she enjoyed handling the numbers, it didn't leave much to occupy her imagination. Most of the time, stress was her partner and by the time she arrived home at night in time to ensure her grandmother had eaten and had her injection, exhaustion kicked in.
"True, Grandma, but for the moment I need it." She returned to the sofa and slumped beside her relative. "I made this decision with my eyes wide open. I wouldn't do it any differently if given the chance." She held her grandma's hand and peered into her faded green eyes. "I mean it. Mom may have stuck to pack law, but I'll always have issues with it."
"I know, child, but at times rebelling is too much for one person to handle."
Riley yanked her hands away. "So you think I should have agreed with the pack and left you alone to die, or given into the rules of those arrogant males and let them treat me as if I were property?" One of the reasons she fled her wolf pack was their practice of leaving the elderly, sick or dying alone in the woods as the pack moved on. Soon the winter snow would fly, and accompanied with plunging temperatures, no one could survive the elements without shelter.
"No, Riley." Grandma shook her head as she fumbled with her knitting. "I only meant you're wasting your life taking care of me when you could be traveling the world, trying to find a young man to settle down with."
"Oh, lord." Riley rolled her eyes. Again with the true-of-heart perfect mate stuff. "Trust me. I've had enough guys hit on me to last a lifetime, so I'm full up on male attention." She sprang up from the sofa in order to pace the length of the large, open room. Another bout of thunder rumbled through the sky. Except, there were times during the quiet part of the night when she couldn't sleep. Would she ever find a guy who wouldn't mind what she was or understood that she was capable of taking care of herself. She cleared her throat.
Not now, Riley. "Which is another reason I don't want to go into town. A Friday night? Those jerks will likely be drunk before nine." Who the hell knew what the asses in the pack would be doing right about now?
I don't care either. That time of my life is over. Too bad I'm a shifter stuck in a human world barely keeping it all together.
Grandma glanced at a German-style cuckoo clock on one wall. "It's nearing seven-thirty. Best get yourself down the drive and meet the driver—if he comes at all. If not, you'll need to go into town whether you want to or not. I have one injection left."
"I'm well aware." She strode to the coat closet and wrenched open the door. "I don't know how long I'll be out there. Do you need help with the injection and test?"
"No, dear. I've been battling diabetes for a while now." Grandma Hanson stood. As she tucked her knitting into a basket, she said, "Good luck out there.” She covered a yawn with a blue-veined hand. “I'm heading up to bed, and maybe I'll read for a spell. Oh, and by the way, I laid jeans and a warm sweatshirt inside the field box yesterday if you need them."
"Thanks." It was always awkward wandering around the woods in clothes tattered and torn from the shift.
"If you hurt too much from your shift, wake me and I'll rub the ointment into your muscles."
"Okay." By willpower alone, Riley kept the shiver of revulsion at bay. That ointment smelled like wet dog food with a garnish of hot monkey sweat. It was one of her grandma's home remedies, and no way was it going anywhere on Riley's body. Not to mention her grandma slept like the dead most times. Even powerful thunderstorms couldn't rouse her. Once she was down, she was out until sunrise. "Pleasant dreams."
"They usually are."
Having no desire to know what her grandma dreamed about, Riley shoved her arms into a thick raincoat, zipped up and put the hood over her head. She'd give the delivery people thirty minutes then she'd have to abandon the driveway in favor of transforming. Already the lunar power called to something deep inside her. As she left the cabin, she let the door slam closed behind her.
Stupid shifting. If she did ever find that perfect guy, he'd better not mind her being feral and furry once a month—or her tendency to mark her lovers, sporadic as they'd been. Huddling in the parka, she shoved off the wraparound porch and into the cold October rain. Didn't matter. She had her job, her wolf and her grandma, adding another facet to her life would only cause complications.
Sizzling Hot Book Reviews
Come Hither was funny and sexy, but touched my heart too. Grandma was a hoot! The "bad" guy was a bit of a stereotype, but, as a parody I can let that slide. I love Sandra Sookoo's voice, she is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. If you like snarky heroines, and vulnerable heroes, Come Hither is the book for you.
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