Unacceptable Risk

Hidden Wolves book 1

by Kaje Harper

Simon Conley was born a werewolf, making him one of a tiny minority in a sea of vanilla humans. The safety of the pack lies in absolute secrecy, sometimes violently enforced. In a species where pack-members are born and not made, being gay is considered a perversion. So when Simon falls in love with a human man, he's twice damned. Even his Alpha's grudging tolerance may not be enough to shield him from the hatred of the other top wolves. Then his lover Paul stumbles across pack secrets Simon was sworn to keep, and if the pack finds out, they may both end up dead.

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Excerpt:

“Hey, boy,” the vet murmured, opening the cage door to look at Simon. “You look much better this morning. You must have a strong constitution.” He reached out and stroked Simon’s head. Simon resisted the urge to duck. He was being a dog, and a friendly one at that. A dog would rub up against that hand, would take comfort in the long strong fingers massaging his neck. A dog might even lick at that wrist beside his face.

Simon gave in to temptation and did just that. The taste of man, and sweat, and a hint of antiseptic soap, burst on his tongue. His wolf senses were acute; he would know the taste of this man again among a thousand others. The vet giggled at the rasp of his tongue, a surprising sound from that tired and drawn face. He cupped Simon’s head in both hands and stared into his eyes.

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“You are a sweet boy and I like you too,” the man crooned, fingers digging gently into Simon’s fur. “I was worried about you, but you’re going to be just fine, aren’t you?”

Simon stared back. The man was young, although fatigue had put lines in his cheeks and circles under his eyes. Those golden eyes. He thought he had seen them somewhere before, eyes that were hazel, almost amber, like old honey. A faint spider-web of grey overlaid the gold, darkening as the man’s eyes widened in surprise at Simon’s un-dog-like, steady return stare.

Simon dropped his gaze submissively, as he had taught himself to do so often with the pack. The vet rubbed the base of his ears with strong thumbs and Simon leaned in. Then the man slid a finger under Simon’s lip and lifted it, pressing above Simon’s fang. Simon just barely aborted a reflex snarl at the presumption.
You’re a dog, you’re a dog. He converted the sound to a short cough.

Immediately the man looked concerned. “Your color’s good, but I’d better check that chest,” he muttered, reaching for his stethoscope. Idiot, Simon told himself. He held still for a careful going-over, making no move or sound even when fingers probed around the throbbing wound on his ribs. Every touch hurt, despite the obvious care the man was taking. But the less Simon responded, the less the vet would hover.

Simon was impatient to be alone, to be able to shift. When he ran the change through his body, it would pull together torn flesh and begin to knit bones. He was tired of being so vulnerable. He wasn’t fond of the pain either. After what seemed like an eternity of prodding, the vet reached in his pocket for a thermometer. Simon tucked his tail under tightly, and stared at the man hard. The next time you stick something up my ass, he thought as clearly as he could, it’s only going to be if we both want it there. Some message obviously got through, because the other man looked back and forth from the thermometer to Simon, and then put it away again. “Maybe later.”

The man’s fingers ruffled Simon’s good ear. “Rest now, baby. You’ll be better soon. I’ve got to go clean up and start working.” The vet backed up, locked the cage, and left the kennel room.

Finally. Finally! Simon pulled the fluid lines out of his legs with his front teeth, ignoring the trickle of blood from each site, and the flood of saline dripping onto the floor. He set his teeth into the edge of the leg bandage and twisted. He knew this elastic stuff; unwrapping was far easier than tearing it. The self-cling peeled off easily enough. The gauze and cotton underneath yielded to his strong jaws. The leg ached badly, and it was worse unwrapped, but Simon’s human arms were much burlier than his canine ones. The bandage would have become a tourniquet around his arm during the shift.

Simon curled himself up on the steel floor of the cage, in a position his human body would be able to accommodate. He controlled his breathing, stilled his muscles, and reached for the change. And fought back panic as he touched nothing.

Okay, okay, try again. He went through the exercises his mentor had taught him, back when he first learned this, and reached out again. There was nothing there. No sweet current of shift energy to pull into himself, to drive his body through its forms. He knew it was out there but he couldn’t touch it. Like there was a pane of glass between him and the change. Or, he realized, a wall of steel. The fucking cage! It was stainless steel, top, bottom, sides, and grill. And the whole room was lined with banks of cages.

Werewolves weren’t some kind of fairytale folk. Iron didn’t hurt them, any more than silver actually did. But being surrounded by too much dense metal could block them from shifting. A wolf had to reach out and touch...something, a source of energy that the theorists in the werewolf community had yet to really define,
in order to change. The shift happened within the body, but most of the energy for it came from outside. And right now, Simon couldn’t manage it. There just wasn’t enough shift energy filtering into the barred cage front in this steel-cage-lined room to do the job. The metal absorbed and rechanneled the energy away from him. His body ached to bathe in that power and shift, but he couldn’t.

For a moment, Simon went nuts. That was the only way he could explain coming to himself to find his body slammed against the bars, his muzzle jammed farther than it could comfortably go under the corner of the door. He was whining in a high-pitched painful sound. Was that really him? He shut up abruptly. Control. Never lose control.

Before he could untangle himself, the vet ran in and yanked open the barred door to free Simon’s muzzle. With his weight unbalanced, he fell out of the cage into the man’s arms. And was caught and held.

“What?” the man murmured. “What, boy? It’s okay. You’re okay. Hush, baby, hush. Jesus, what did you do to your splint?”

Simon gathered himself to pull free and run. Then he froze, holding the impulse back by the skin of his teeth. Not yet, damn it. A young woman in animal-print scrubs followed the vet through the door and shut it firmly behind her. She reached for a noose pole standing by the door.

“Doctor Hunter!” she said. “Are you okay? Do you need help?”

“I’m fine, Sarah. This guy just panicked or something. He fell on me. He’s not trying to bite me.” The vet was petting Simon, rubbing gently, fingers somehow missing all the sore spots and finding just the right zone on Simon’s chest.

“I don’t remember that dog,” the girl said doubtfully.

“I found him last night. Someone had him in a dog fight and then dumped him. He’s cut to hell, but he’s really sweet. I dragged him all over the place last night getting him here, with a broken leg and a bunch of bad ribs, and he never so much as lifted his lip. He’s really tolerant.”

“But if he’s a fighting dog... He’s awfully big.”

“I don’t think he was a fighter, I think he was bait. They steal pets, huskies, golden retrievers, even little dogs, they don’t care. They dump them in with the real fighting dogs to teach them to kill. This guy is so sweet, I wonder if he tried to fight back at all.”

The hell I didn’t fight, Simon thought. You try it with five to one odds and see how you do. But as a cover story, it wasn’t a bad guess.

“Bring me some Ace injectable.” Hunter added, “And materials for another splint. We need to get this guy fixed up again before the clients start arriving.”

Simon tensed again, but he had missed his chance. These people were accustomed to handling dogs, and set up to prevent escapes. He could get away, sure, but only if he was willing to really hurt them, of if he shifted in front of them. And if he broke the first commandment and let them see what he was, he would have to kill them. Pack law was inflexible on that point. He was trapped, for now. He allowed Dr. Hunter to drug him, re-splint the leg, and replace the catheters. Only when he was waking up in the cage and the vet brought in a bucket collar
designed to keep dogs from chewing their bandages did he balk.

He might still be groggy from the drugs, but damned if he was wearing that thing. He locked eyes with the young man, staring hard, watching the man’s eyes darken with apprehension. This time Simon didn’t look down...

COLLAPSE

About the Author

I get asked about my name a lot. It's not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname.

I live in Minnesota, where the two seasons are Snow-removal and Road-repair, where the mosquito is the state bird, and where winter can be breathtakingly beautiful. Minnesota’s a kindly, quiet (if sometimes chilly) place and it’s home now.

I’ve been writing for far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment. I mainly publish M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi…) I also have a few Young Adult stories released under the pen name Kira Harp.

My husband finally convinced me that after all that time writing for fun, I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I have a weakness for closeted cops with honest hearts, and teachers who speak their minds, and I had fun writing the four novels and three freebie short stories in the series. I’ve been delighted by the reception Mac and Tony have received.

I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published. A complete list with links can be found on my Books page.
I also have  an author page on Goodreads where I do a lot of book reviews. You can find me to chat there– I hang out on Goodreads a lot because I moderate the  Goodreads YA LGBT Books group there. I also post free short YA stories on that group, more than 50 of them so far. Or find me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/KajeHarper


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