In the small shifter community of Delta, Utah, there’s no such thing as a stranger. Everyone knows everyone, so a new face in town doesn’t go unnoticed. When a woman Dylan Peterson doesn’t recognize shows up at his twenty-first birthday bonfire bash, he does what comes naturally as a host—he introduces himself.
The enigmatic Gena Pelletier is the most gorgeous woman he’s ever seen, and the most aloof. A scorching encounter with her under the moon blindsides him, leaving him wondering what just happened—and watching her disappear into the night.
Gena wasn’t born wild, but ever since her father’s murder she’s lived outside Delta borders on her own terms. She has no desire to return to civilization, not to its constraints, nor its rules. So what if Dylan is sweet and the sex is amazing? He’s just a way to scratch an itch. Funny thing is, Dylan is an itch a one-time scratch won’t satisfy.
Neither of them knows what to make of the other…and neither can walk away.
“Now this is what birthdays are about. In fact…” The hair prickled on the back of his neck. Instincts flared to life, and he swung his head around, searching for…what? He felt like prey. Like something, or somebody, was stalking towards him. He searched the crowd, his gaze finally falling on a woman he didn’t recognize.
The bonfire cast a golden tint to her already dusky skin, and flickered in almond-shaped eyes that made her seem more exotic than the wild mane of coppery curls falling down her back did. Even her simple jeans and top ensemble enhanced her beauty. The worn-denim-encased legs stretched for miles, while her plunging neckline highlighted full, high breasts. It was hard to tear his gaze away. It was even harder when the corner of her ripe lips lifted, and Dylan suddenly flashed on what her mouth might feel like doing something other than smiling.
The carnal instinct drove him back to Daria. Safe Daria. Cute Daria. He wasn’t sure what she was talking about anymore, but he smiled anyway. He even managed to say something that made her laugh.
But out of the corner of his eye, he saw the mystery woman moving. She circled a pickup and came to a halt at the front of Dylan’s Mustang. One long, slim hand stretched to trace over the hood, the caress of a lover instead of someone more casual. It was slow, and deliberate, and his entire body tightened with its unspoken promise.
A heavy curl fell against her cheek. When she reached up to push it off, the woman caught Dylan’s eye. Another enigmatic smile. A flare of her nostrils. He had no idea who she was, but he had no doubt she was a shifter. She was too feral to be anything else.
“I’ll be right back,” Dylan said, setting his plate on the table.
“Where are you going?” Daria asked.
“There’s somebody here I need to say hi to. I’ll be back soon.”
He didn’t like just abandoning Daria by the fire, but there were plenty of people there to keep her company. He needed to know who the strange woman was, and why she had appeared at his party without warning. She reminded him of the moon—something he could feel even if he didn’t quite understand why. He wanted to walk right up to her and blurt his name, but that might be creepy.
Instead, he pulled the Mustang door open and tugged out the blanket. Good, good. Make it look casual. Like you need a blanket at a bonfire on a hot summer night.
“I don’t know you, do I? I think it’s only fair to introduce yourself to the guest of honor.”
She didn’t move from where she sat against the edge of the hood, leaning back on her hands to stare up into the star-speckled sky. The slight evening breeze rustled the ends of her hair where it fell down her back.
“Introducing myself doesn’t really tell you much about me, though, does it?” Her voice was a husky alto, soft and clear in spite of the din of the party behind him. “I’m sure there’s stuff about me you’d find a hell of a lot more interesting than my name.”
She definitely wasn’t like the other girls he knew. Those other girls didn’t intimidate him. Or intrigue him. His feet moved without conscious direction. “I think your name might be a good start.”
Her head tilted as she regarded him, a debate clearly warring behind her eyes. There was a moment when he thought she wasn’t going to answer, but then she smiled, and his gut clenched. “Gena. And you’re Dylan.”
She was right. The revelation of her name didn’t actually tell him anything. He couldn’t think of anybody in Delta named Gena. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Daria still hovering near the fire, as though waiting for his return. Did Daria know her? Somebody at the party must have at least recognized Gena—nobody could forget a face, or a body, like hers.
“Yeah. What are you doing way over here by yourself?” Dylan gestured over to the fire. “There’s some cake. Or beer, if you’re thirsty.”
“I had a beer, thanks. And cake…” her nose wrinkled, turning her lips—albeit briefly—into the most delectable moue, “…not really my thing. Frosting on the other hand…” She touched the corner of her mouth, enough for him to realize with frightening embarrassment that he must have some stuck to his face. “I’d volunteer to clean it off for you, but I think your girlfriend might be a little upset with me if I did that.”
“Oh, she’s not my girlfriend. I mean, she’s nice and I kind of like her, but we haven’t…we aren’t…” Dylan moved closer. He hadn’t left the fire so he could explain his relationship, or lack thereof, with Daria. “We’re just friends.”
“Well, that’s good.”
When Gena leaned towards him, he almost did the same. He had to force his body to freeze when the tip of her finger touched the edge of his lips. It wasn’t anything more than the slightest of contact, but his skin electrified at the heat of her body, his pulse jumping when her nail scratched upon withdrawal. Frosting clung to her finger, but only for as long as it took to suck it into her mouth. Her cheeks hollowed. There was no way she wasn’t doing that on purpose. The fleeting thought that one of his buddies might have hired her as a special birthday present crossed his mind.
“I’ve wanted to do that ever since your cousin pointed you out to me.”
Dylan smiled a little uncertainly. “You have? Are you…?” Gena licked her lips. She was making it difficult to think straight. He owed Shawn big time for this. “Are you from around here? I mean, are you from Delta?”
She shook her head. “But I am from around here. Just…out there.” She nodded towards the darkness. “It’s a gorgeous night, don’t you think?”
“It is,” Dylan agreed, his attention locked on her. “I couldn’t ask for a better night.” I couldn’t ask for a better night? Nice. Real slick. If she walked away from him, Dylan wouldn’t blame her.
Except she didn’t roll her eyes at him or otherwise mock his response. Instead, she inched sideways, making a clear—but narrow—space for him to sit down. Dylan took a single step, then halted in his tracks when she proceeded to lie back against the cold metal. The way her hair fanned around her head made him itch to run his fingers through it, while the moonlight sculpted her body in silver shadows.
“So come and enjoy it with me.”
This couldn’t be real. His friends set this up. It was some sort of elaborate practical joke, and soon, they’d jump from behind the trucks to mock him for thinking a mysterious, beautiful woman emerged from the desert just to flirt with him.
Dylan perched on the edge of the hood then slowly lowered himself backwards. It might be some sort of big set up, but he was going to enjoy it while it lasted. “The moon’s bright tonight too.”
Her arm brushed against his. Now that he was close to her, the faint scent of her skin filled his head. She didn’t smell like the bonfire but earthy and rich, like she’d spent the entire day sunbathing in the nude.
He really needed to stop imagining her naked.
“These are my favorite moons.” Thank God she was talking again. “Like you can just pluck it out of the sky.”
Dylan chuckled, though he wasn’t exactly amused. That just seemed like the thing to do. “Me too.” He paused before adding, “I’ve always felt a strong bond with the moon.” He knew he wasn’t winning any points for intelligent conversation, but he hoped she understood what he meant.
Gena tilted her head towards him, her hair brushing along her cheek. They were too far away from the fire for him to discern what color her eyes were, but they shone with the same radiance as the stars, bright and intelligent. “Is that why you had a bonfire for a birthday party? So you could be out here at night?”
“Yeah. It’s hard for me to stay indoors when there’s a full moon. All my friends wanted to go barhopping, but there are only three bars in Delta. I convinced them we should take the booze with us and go to the desert.” The corner of his mouth lifted. “Of course, I didn’t count on just about everybody under thirty following us out here.”
“Bigger crowd makes it easier to slip away.”
“Yeah, I guess nobody’s noticed my absence, yet.” Which didn’t make any sense. If this were a practical joke, wouldn’t people be jumping out of the shadows by now? Without a doubt. That meant this was real. This conversation, this girl, the moon reflecting in her eyes. It was all real. “But we haven’t exactly gone far.”
“The night’s still young.” Rolling onto her side, Gena rested her cheek against her arm. Her free hand came forward and rested lightly on his chest, the fingertips stroking him gently through the thin fabric of his T-shirt. “I’ll bet you’re gorgeous when you shift. Do you prefer to run or fly?”
The heat of her hand was like an imprint on his chest. Now that he no longer expected the gotcha, he didn’t feel so awkward, or out of his element. He did, however, feel intoxicated—with the scent of her hair, the warmth of her skin and the pale light of the moon. He felt like running. He wanted to know if she could keep up.
“Run. I don’t like heights.”
She smiled. “Me too. The running part, I mean. There’s nothing more liberating.” Her fingers continued to caress him, each slight brush quickening his pulse. “If you feel like taking off, all you have to do is say the word, you know.”
“I…” He could leap from the car that second. Despite the warm night, he shivered as adrenaline dumped into his system. “Do you want to go for a run? It’d be good to get the blood flowing.”
Gena edged closer until her heat pressed against his hip. Her mouth hovered at his ear. “Running’s my second most favorite thing to do.”