Shards of Frost (The Mercury Pack #5) by Suzanne Wright
When had life stopped being so simple? Probably around the time that Casey Frost first agreed to pay off her drug addict brother’s debt to save him from a brutal beating. It soon became a “thing.” When the dealer—who’s also an Alpha shifter—demands she do something that goes against her very being, Casey decides enough is enough. It’s while she’s confronting the Alpha that he appears—Eli Axton, a ruthless wolf shifter with a dark reputation. When their eyes lock and the mating urge violently kicks in, she knows her world is about to change.
The last unmated male in his pack, Eli feels weary and alone. Seeing his friends so happy makes the Head Enforcer acutely feel the absence of his true mate. He wouldn’t have expected to find her in the parking lot of a shifter fight club, or for her to be such an unusual breed of shifter. Certain that the female enforcer belongs to him, he doesn’t hesitate to claim her. Not everyone is happy to see Casey mated, though. Soon danger is coming at them from different angles, threatening the life they’re trying to build. Their enemy needs to be eradicated fast. But how did you destroy an enemy when you weren’t sure who they were?
Excerpt Shards of Frost (The Mercury Pack #5) by Suzanne Wright
Here’s a sneak peek of the first chapter of Shards of Frost…
Sitting on the stool at the corner post of the boxing ring, Casey draped her arms over the ropes and took long, steadying breaths. In all the years she’d been coming to The Den, she’d never lost a fight. Not once. In fact, she’d defeated each of her past opponents in the first round. That consistency made her a favorite among the spectators who placed bets on who, and in what round, a fighter would win.
Casey could sense that said spectators were getting restless tonight. Why? Because it was approaching round three.
Shame made her gut roll. Not because she was losing, but because she was losing on purpose.
Go down in round three, Casey. Round three. I have a lot of money riding on this, so do not disappoint me. Don’t fight badly or it’ll be obvious that the fight is fixed—just let your opponent get some good licks in, don’t put as much strength behind your blows, and then fake a knock-out. Simple.
As the words replayed in her head, Casey caught the eye of the bastard who’d spoken them. Ignacio Rodriguez—Alpha cougar, drug dealer, and sociopathic motherfucker—was standing among the crowd with his cronies, watching her carefully.
Now yeah, okay, it was worth noting that he wouldn’t come knocking on her door for cash if her drug-addict brother didn’t do a disappearing act whenever his debt became too high. And, yeah, maybe she was stupid to keep paying off those debts for Miles. But he was her brother; if the debt wasn’t paid, Ignacio would hurt him—bad.
Shit as it was, she couldn’t go to her Alpha for help. Miles was under the protection of the pack, despite not being an official member. But if she told Adrian that Miles was once again on drugs, the Alpha would live up to his threat and withdraw that protection. Then Miles would be more vulnerable than ever. In that sense, her hands were tied.
Of course, Ignacio was fully aware of that and took advantage of it. So long as the debt was paid, he didn’t care who the money came from. Sometimes, though, she got the sense that he liked taking it from her; liked that he could push, manipulate, and corner someone as dominant as Casey—it was like a power trip for him.
This time, though, he hadn’t been placated to hear she’d pay him in instalments. No, he’d had the bright idea that she could pay off the four-hundred dollars in one swoop if they fixed her fight—which was why she hadn’t wiped the floor with her opponent the way she normally would. And in the next round, she’d be expected to fake a defeat. The thought twisted her gut.
It only made it worse that he was there. Eli Axton. Everyone in The Den knew of him, considering he was the most savage fighter there. Brutal. Pitiless. Cold as ice. He never winced or flinched or cowered. Never gave any quarter or showed any mercy. Casey loved to watch him duel.
She also loved getting a glimpse of that magnificently muscled body … Broad shoulders. Solid chest. Badass tattoos. Big hands that were probably exceptionally skilled at making a girl come—he just had that air about him that said he knew his way around the female form.
He was truly sinfully, achingly good-looking. Especially with that full carnal mouth, the sharp cheekbones, and the well-defined jaw dusted with stubble. Depending on how the light hit his hair, it could look anything from pale bronze to ash brown.
His appeal went deeper than the surface, though. Eli throbbed with a dark dominance and barely restrained sexuality that made a girl think all kinds of dirty thoughts. Then there was his air of unshakable self-assurance and how unapologetically male he was … Yeah, he sure packed a sensual punch.
Casey knew with every bone in her body that he was out of her league. Hell, he was out of her solar system. More experienced. More secure in himself. More everything. Keeping up with the amount of game he’d bring to the table would be a struggle for any female.
And now he was watching Casey through those cool, sharp eyes the color of weathered oak. Eyes so piercing, they could see through any mask or lie. She could literally feel the heat and weight of his gaze; feel it pulling at her.
She’d never fought in front of him before, and it was just her luck that he’d come to The Den tonight. She had enough pride that it rankled Casey to know he was watching her “lose,” particularly since she admired and respected him as a fighter.
The bell rung.
“Round three!” the umpire called out.
Shit. Standing, Casey rolled back her shoulders. Her gaze flicked to Ignacio, who smirked, the piece of shit. Rage churned inside her, making her blood boil and her fingertips prickle.
The bastard had introduced her brother to drugs, got him “hooked,” dragged Miles down so low that her brother didn’t see a way to pull himself back up … and now Ignacio wanted to drag Casey down too. Why? Because that was what twisted people did.
God, she couldn’t do this. She just couldn’t.
Honor and integrity were important to her. If she threw this fight, if she let Ignacio take those things from her, she’d hate herself afterward. And it might even encourage him to demand other things of her in the future, like to throw her pack’s soccer game or to do certain “favors” for him. She’d spiral deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole until there was no way out—a little like Miles had.
She needed to make a stand here and now. Needed to communicate that she wouldn’t be his lapdog; that he would never rule or own her.
His eyes narrowed in warning, as if he suspected she didn’t plan to “cooperate,” as he’d put it. Well, he’d be right to suspect that. She’d pay off Miles’ debt, but she wouldn’t lose pieces of herself in the process.
Determination welled up from Casey’s toes to the top of her head as she strode to the center of the ring. The breeze coming from the ceiling fan fluttered over her skin, ruffling her T-shirt and lifting her bangs. Her mink stood tall, bracing herself to shift and lunge if needed. The animal hadn’t liked or understood why Casey was holding back during the fight, and she was sure as hell happy that Casey no longer intended to do so.
Her opponent licked her split lip. “You’re not gonna win this one, Frost.”
Casey stared at the fox shifter. Sasha Flint was a good fighter—there was no doubt about it. But she’d never have gotten this far in the fight if Casey had truly let loose on her. Apparently, she’d made the same mistake as Ignacio and had forgotten one thing: Casey was no one’s bitch.
She swiped out her claws, slashing Flint’s face. Casey didn’t give her a moment to react. She rammed her foot into the female’s ribs and then slammed her fist into Flint’s solar plexus, knocking the breath right out of her.
Adrenaline pumping through her veins, Casey attacked from all angles—punching, kicking, slashing. And the spectators lost their damn minds.
The fox recovered fast from her shock and retaliated hard. She came at Casey with claws, fists, and elbows. She was strong. Sneaky. Went for every weak spot and injury. But Casey was lightning fast, and that had always given her an edge in a fight.
Casey ducked, weaved, and dodged. Flint still landed plenty of blows, and they all hurt like a motherfucker—the female had a mean right hook. But Casey had long ago learned to push past pain. She’d also learned how to deliver maximum pain, even if it meant fighting extra dirty, and she did exactly that.
Flesh tore. Blood dripped. The scent of pain permeated the air.
Both females growled, hissed, grunted, and cursed.
Soon, their breaths came fast and shallow, but they didn’t slow down. Didn’t lower their guard or give any openings. Just continued to fight fast and dirty. Casey’s mink stayed close to her skin the whole time, anxious to join the battle and defend her.
Flint, the sneaky bitch, shackled Casey’s wrist and yanked hard, trying to dislocate her shoulder. Oh, the fuck no.
Casey peeled back her upper lip and swept out her leg, knocking Flint clean off her feet. The female hit the ground hard, and then Casey was on her. One hard blow to the fox’s temple was all it took—she was out cold.
Knuckles stinging, muscles quivering, Casey stood upright. She felt the burn of many superficial wounds and knew she had to look a mess. Flint looked no better—especially with blood matting her hair and what appeared to be a fractured cheekbone.
Panting, Casey lifted her head and glared at Ignacio, who stood among the cheering spectators, his eyes flinty and cold and gleaming with a promise of retaliation. She let a smile curve her mouth, daring him to do his worst. And she had absolutely no doubt that he would.
As a juvenile, Eli had been forced to brawl in an illegal fighting ring. It had been nothing like The Den, where shifters went to simply blow off steam and sharpen their combat skills; where there were rules, healers, and a no-kill order. No, the fighting ring had been inhumane.
He’d been repeatedly pitted against humans, feral animals, and fellow shifters. Each duel had been a fight to the death, and no one had given a single shit whether you were there willingly or not. In a place like that, you learned to be quick. Vicious. Cunning. Learned to switch off from your moral compass for just a while. It was the only way you could kill night after night. The only way to survive.
While forced to duel in that fucked-up pit, he’d seen a lot of good fighters come and go, just as he’d seen many good fighters compete at The Den. But this female … he’d never seen anyone move the way she did. Casey Frost was explosive. Could go from naught to sixty in a fucking nanosecond. She moved with blistering speed and a savage, no-holds-barred style as she went at her opponent with laser targeted strikes.
Seriously, she was fucking hardcore. There was raw power behind every pitiless punch, kick, blow, and block. In his experience, a fighter’s strikes were often less accurate if they moved too fast. Not with Casey. Her timing and precision were faultless.
She wasn’t all about speed and ruthlessness, though. She fought smart. Kept up the pressure. Didn’t fall for her opponent’s tricks. She didn’t just use her limbs, no, she incorporated her entire body into the fight. Twisted this way and that way, always smooth and fluid like the moves were ingrained in her. She also used her claws and teeth like they were weapons—slashing, biting, and stabbing.
He’d gone to The Den to distract himself from the shameful bitterness that curdled in his stomach. Receiving news that his cousin from another pack had recently found his true mate should have been welcome. It wasn’t. Although it made him an asshole, Eli couldn’t help but resent that yet another person had met their mate while he remained alone.
He’d stood back and watched as each of his pack mates and friends met their match. In most cases, they’d found their true mates. In other cases, they’d imprinted on someone. In every single case, they were utterly content. Although he was happy for them, he couldn’t help envying them.
One might have thought that Eli would be reluctant to find his true mate, considering he’d watched his mother crumble to pieces after the death of her own until she was a shadow of her former self. But although he’d seen the mess that a broken true-mate bond could leave behind, Eli had always longed to find his predestined mate. And that longing now plagued him day and night.
It wasn’t that he was unhappy. He had a good life. He was part of a tight-knit, powerful pack. He was Head Enforcer, and it was a position he enjoyed. A position that suited him and his highly dominant wolf, who would never have coped with a lower rank. Also, his mother, siblings, and nieces were part of his pack—not every shifter had that luxury. So, yeah, his life was good.
Still, he always felt that something was missing. It was the same feeling you had when you attended a party where a person important to you was absent from the large crowd. It might be just one absent guest, but the lack of their presence made a huge difference. Eli carried that feeling with him wherever he went, whatever he did.
Each time he witnessed another mating ceremony, it fucking hurt—they were the times when he felt the absence of his own mate so much more acutely. She should be right there, at his side, where she belonged. But he didn’t have a clue where she was or even if she was waiting for him. For all he knew, she’d chosen to imprint on another male. While he could never begrudge his true mate any happiness, the thought still clawed at him.
Maybe it was selfish of him to want to find her so badly. It wasn’t like he was a prize. Eli had done a lot of bad things. The kind that marked a person’s soul; that ate at it until the edges were frayed and jagged. He hated that he would go to her that way, but he needed her.
His wolf was equally eager to find the other half of his soul. Being surrounded by mated pairs day-in day-out had soon begun to make the beast feel … sort of pushed out, as if he now hovered on the periphery of their pack. As if he didn’t quite fit anymore.
Lonely, the wolf constantly prowled and brooded and vented at Eli, swiping out with his claws. The beast was in a perpetual foul mood and craved the company of his mate so much that he showed no interest in any female who crossed his path. But when the wolf had caught sight of the mink in the combat ring, he’d instantly stopped prowling. And now he was utterly still, absolutely entranced by her.
Eli couldn’t blame him. Even before she’d started to fight, something about her had snagged Eli’s attention. Something elusive. Elemental. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Then she’d started to move, and he hadn’t been able to look away for even a second. All that strength and power she possessed was seriously fucking hot.
Fire, he thought. Casey was like fire. Untamed. Fierce. Intense. Uncontrollable. And Eli wanted her. Suddenly, the thought of blowing off steam in her bed held far more appeal than blowing it off in that ring.
As his wolf watched her melt into the crowd, he urged Eli to hunt her down. Well, he’d get his wish.
Eli deeply suspected he wasn’t the only one who’d be following her. It had been obvious to him that she’d initially held back during the fight with the fox, and he hadn’t understood why. Then he’d seen the looks she exchanged with Ignacio Rodriguez, and he’d suspected the bastard had told her to throw the fight—it was something the cougar had done before with others.
Really, it surprised him that Ignacio had dared to tangle with her. No one picked a fight with a mink. Why? Because an entire pack would seek vengeance for the harm of just one of their own, and since a single pack could contain hundreds and there was literally no way to mink-proof your territory … yeah, it was just best for all if they were left well alone.
One would think that mink shifters were weak while in their animal form, given how small they were. Not at all. Like their animal counterparts, they were ferocious, bloodthirsty predators who were remarkably strong. Hell, they could carry prey up to four times their own body weight—sometimes more. And they had a stare that even he found disturbing.
Eli thought of them as ninjas. Stealthy. Cunning. Moved with blinding speed. Killed quickly and quietly. If a mink was stalking you, you’d never know it.
Those sleek little furballs hunted for sport and killed for the mere thrill of it, leaving behind mangled, beheaded carcasses. Carcasses they usually macabrely piled on top of one another. Because why wouldn’t you?
Alphas constantly sought alliances with mink packs. It was pointless. Minks rarely agreed to alliances, refusing to be “used” as armies. Plus, they didn’t do war. They either settled the matter on a one-to-one basis—usually by pitting their best fighter against that of their enemy—or they descended on their foe’s pack in the dead of night, decimating its number in a matter of minutes. It depended on just how badly you’d pissed them off.
Eli had to wonder what kind of leverage the cougar had over Casey that he felt comfortable fucking with her. There was really only one way to find out.
Inside the restrooms, Casey quickly cleaned the blood from her skin and checked the state of her wounds. Some were ugly looking, but they’d heal by themselves within the hour; she didn’t need the help of a healer.
Once she’d retrieved her purse and jacket from the metal locker she’d hired for the evening, she slipped out the back door into the cool night. It didn’t come as a surprise to find Ignacio and his four cronies gathered in the parking lot. She stopped a few feet away from them, keeping her expression carefully blank.
As usual, Ignacio’s dark, shoulder-length hair was slicked back into a ponytail. Even as he stood there looking every inch a fucking CEO in his tailored suit and gleaming black shoes, his predatory nature was perfectly apparent. There was a distinct darkness about Ignacio.
She’d met some seriously cold people in her life, but this male … he was a whole other level of callous. Those black, dead, reptilian eyes could give even the bravest person a soul-shattering chill—especially when he fixed that malignant stare on you as intensely as he was fixing it on Casey.
It was crazy that he could ooze charm and draw people in even as he possessed that cobra look. She wouldn’t go as far as to call him inherently evil or anything, but he sure seemed to lack that certain something that made a person … well, a person.
Ignacio Rodriguez could be a cruel son of a bitch. And he was evidence that “cruel” wasn’t always curt, gruff, and aggressive. Cruel could be polite. Cruel could be softly spoken. Could have a mate. Could smile and laugh and act understanding—though the latter was mostly to toy with you. But it was always ready to strike, and it would strike hard.
Right then, she had the feeling that Ignacio was done acting “understanding” toward her cause. Would he hurt her? Maybe, since he knew she couldn’t go to her Alpha for help without revealing why Ignacio was on the scene. His usual MO, though, was to target the relatives of those who’d wronged him. The only close family she had was Miles.
His typical forms of retaliation often went along the lines of giving people what he called an “acid shower” or stripping them naked and leaving them in a metal cage for days. Hell, he’d even once poured molten silver into someone’s eyes.
Casey doubted he’d go too far with her. No, he’d want to communicate his displeasure, but he wouldn’t leave any injuries that wouldn’t be healed by the morning—he wouldn’t want her pack mates seeing her marked for the same reason that no one messed with a mink shifter.
He let out a long sigh, like he was disappointed in her. “You confuse me, Casey,” he said, his voice pitched low and soft. “Why would you turn down the chance at paying off your brother’s debt in one hit? Why drag this out for yourself?”
“You’ll get your money,” she said.
“But now I’ll have to wait, and that is an issue for me.”
“That ponytail is an issue. This is just a hiccup.”
His mouth twitched in amusement. She’d been giving him shit about his ponytail from day one, refusing to show any fear, since he’d only exploit it. Ponytails might look good on some guys, but the look didn’t work for him.
“It is a shame your brother is not as strong as you. He would not be in this position if he were.” Ignacio crossed to her with slow, sure steps. “I think you will agree that I have been gentle with you, Casey.”
Gentle? Nope. He might not have physically hurt her, but he’d been playing with her like a cat with a mouse, finding amusement in making her dance to his tune.
“I respect your strength, I respect that you are so loyal to your brother,” he went on. “I have a sister your age; you remind me of her in many ways. This has made me reluctant to hurt you. Especially as I like to look upon that pretty face of yours—it would displease me to mar it. But I worry you are not grasping how bad this situation can get for you.” Those black eyes glittered for a moment. “I am not the kind of man you should fuck with.”
No, he wasn’t. But he also wasn’t the kind of man you let manipulate or rule you. She’d had to make a stand tonight.
He softly skimmed the tips of his fingers along her cheekbone. “Do you not grow tired of always cleaning up after Miles?”
Fuck, yes, but … “He’s my brother.”
“And so you will continue to protect him. Admirable. But who will protect you when I take a blade to your flesh as a message to him? Tell me that.”
Lightning fast, he whipped out a knife. She fluidly wrestled it from his hand and put it to his throat—a move she’d mastered at the age of sixteen.
His men edged closer, bodies tensed to spring. Ignacio? He chuckled, the weirdo. She had the sense that he’d simply been toying with her again. A little like a lion giving a gazelle a fighting chance because it made the killing all the sweeter.
“Balls of steel. Lower the knife, Casey.”
“You could back away and leave instead.” But she knew he wouldn’t. As an Alpha, he’d stand his ground.
“You’ve displeased me enough as it is. You don’t want to make this even harder on yourself. Oh, you could attempt to kill me right now, that is true. And I believe you would. But then my men would take you down.”
“They could try.”
He smiled. “Such strength and defiance. You know, if I were not already mated, I would take you as mine. You will give a man strong sons one day.” His smile faded, and his face hardened to stone. “Now, lower the fucking knife.”
There was a ripple of unease in the air as someone stalked out of the shadows to her left. She barely glimpsed the newcomer in her peripheral vision, unwilling to look away from the threat in front of her.
The corner of Ignacio’s mouth canted up just a little. “Eli,” he greeted simply.
Eli? Great. Just great.
The wolf hummed. “Five men against one woman,” he said, his voice so deep and gritty that it practically oozed testosterone. “I have to say, Ignacio, I don’t like what I’m seeing here.”
“Walk away,” Ignacio told him, his voice soft and lazy. “This female and I have a few things to settle.”
“Walk away? Hmm, that won’t work for me.”
Annoyance flickered across Ignacio’s face. “This is not your business.”
“I’m making it my business. Tell your cats to back off and give the female her space. You know I can take them down, Ignacio, so it would be stupid to test me. Really, you should know better than to try trapping a mink anyway. Especially this one. I have the feeling she can kill you easier than she can breathe—blade or no blade.”
Ignacio clenched his jaw. “You do not want to interfere here,” he warned silkily.
“I don’t hear you calling off your cats, Ignacio. This confuses me.”
“As I said before, this is none of your—”
“I heard you the first time. Now call. Them. Off. The only thing stopping that female from slitting your throat is that your cats would attack her. If I take them down, there’s not a damn thing to stop her from ending you right now.”
The tension ratcheted up as the cougar held his gaze, unwavering. Then Ignacio slowly lifted his hand and flicked it back slightly. His men backed away.
Ignacio looked at her, his eyes glittering. “Run to the wolf, let him protect you,” he taunted. “I must say, it surprises me that you would hide behind another.”
“I have a blade to your throat, I wouldn’t call that hiding.” Casey took a slow, casual step back and then held out his knife to him.
Mouth twitching in a dark amusement, Ignacio took the blade from her. “We will see each other again soon, Casey.”
“Stay away from her, Ignacio, or you and I are going to have problems,” Eli warned, but the cougar didn’t respond.
Casey watched as the cats walked to a black Audi without a backward glance. Only once the car smoothly drove out of the lot did she turn to face Eli. His eyes followed the Audi even as he slowly stalked toward her, his muscles rippling and flexing, each step sure and deliberate. Damn, he was too much uber hotness for her to deal with.
Her pacing mink paused. Pushed closer to her skin. Eyed him closely. Purred.
As his scent of cinnamon bark, spicy cloves, and a dark masculinity surrounded her like a blanket, her hormones went into a frenzy and all her feminine parts did a little cheer. Moreover, her mink purred again and did a languid, flirtatious stretch.
His gaze finally snapped to hers. That was when everything went tits up. An electric, irrepressible, blindsiding force crashed into Casey’s mind and wrenched at her psyche like a magnet. She winced, breath catching in her throat as a visceral, all-consuming, unbearable need flooded her body and battered at her soul. Her nipples tightened. Her pussy clenched. Her nerve-endings went haywire.
God, she needed to fuck. Hard. Fast. Rough. Needed him. Needed her mate.
As a pair of hooded, unusually pale hazel eyes met his, Eli felt like someone had punched him right in the gut. Seriously. His breath almost gusted out of his lungs. At the same time, a terrible hunger snaked through his system—thickening his blood, heating his skin, and making his cock harder than it had ever been.
His wolf lunged for her with such force that Eli almost stumbled. Shit. He took a deep, steadying breath and got a lungful of her scent. Fresh peaches, vanilla cream, and raw sensuality. It was like a slick, warm fist curled tight around his dick, and he wanted more of it. Wanted that scent filling his lungs and clinging to his skin.
Eli’s blood thrashed in his ears as the primal hunger built and built … until the only thing he could think of doing was pinning her to the ground, burying himself deep inside her, and fucking her until she was addicted to his cock.
And as he watched her cheeks flush, her eyes glaze over, and her breaths start coming hard and fast, he knew she was having the same struggle. Knew she was … “Mine.”
She put a hand to her stomach and almost doubled over, as if the hunger pounding through her was just too much. In a flash, he was there, pulling her flush against him.
“Shh, breathe,” he said, curving his hand around her nape. “Just breathe.”
She stared up at him, struggling to regain her composure, her eyes begging him to do something. Helpless against that silent plea, he kissed her. Sank into the moment, into her. Poured himself down her throat. Drowned in her taste.
Eli took that mouth like it belonged to him, licking and biting—because it was his. He relished every moan and whimper she fed him as she ground against his cock, as mindless with need as he was.
Wrapping her braid around his fist, he angled her head how he wanted it. Her hair was as sleek and dark as wet seal-fur, and he could just imagine having it spread over his thighs as she swallowed his come.
Intellectually, he’d known the mating urge was intense and overpowering, but nothing could have prepared him for the sheer force of the insistent, pressing, violent hunger that hammered at him, driving him to possess and claim and mark. Fuck, he had to have her right there—
Not safe, a voice in his head whispered.
That whisper somehow reached him through the fog of red-hot lust. Ignacio was gone, but he could circle back or send one of his cats after her. She was too exposed there, out in the open. Too vulnerable. No, Eli couldn’t claim her there. He needed her safe more than he needed to take her.
Scrounging for some measure of control, Eli pulled back and took a series of deep breaths. Her lips parted, her eyes dazed, she looked adorably off-balance. He caught her face with his hands and drank in every feature, every curve, every line, every freckle. Mine, he thought.
“I’ve been wondering where you were.” And now he’d found her. His mate. The other half of his soul. “How far do you live from here?”
She licked her lips. “Five minutes away.”
“I’ll drive us there in my SUV. I can’t fuck you here, but there’s no damn way I’m not claiming you tonight.”
© Suzanne Wright