CJ Silver and his brothers have returned to Silver Town eager to reconnect with the pack. And with the she-wolf newcomers renovating the old Victorian Silver Town Hotel, it looks like the holidays are going to be very merry indeed. Laurel MacTire and her sisters are excited to be living in a wolf-run town, but they have another motive- to solve the fifty-year-old mystery of their aunt's disappearance. When CJ gets a whiff of trouble brewing, his protective instincts kick in-now Laurel has a hotel opening to prepare for, a mystery to solve, and a brawny wolf shifter underfoot. Perhaps she should have resisted the temptation to kiss him so wickedly in the snow...
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USA Today bestselling author Terry Spear has written over two dozen paranormal romance novels and medieval Highland historical romances. In 2008 Heart of the Wolf was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. A retired officer of the U.S. Army Reserves, Terry also creates award-winning teddy bears that have found homes all over the world. She lives in Crawford, Texas.
Mackenzie Cartwright was born in New York City to two artist parents and traveled the world at a young age. While in Italy, she discovered the joys of pasta and wine and has been a lifelong practitioner of the art of cooking. Other pursuits include devouring romance novels, watching the Food Network, traveling, and photography. Mackenzie lives with her husband and their Siberian husky in New York City.
Connor James Silver, better known as CJ, couldn't believe it had been a whole year since he and his brothers rejoined their cousin Darien Silver's wolf pack. Though his oldest brother was still butting heads with Darien at times, CJ was glad they had made amends and returned home to Silver Town, Colorado. His ancestors had built the town, which was still mostly gray wolf run, and he envisioned staying here forever.
Especially now that three lovely sister she-wolves had joined the pack and were remodeling the old Silver Town Inn. In two days' time, they would have hotel guests. CJ smiled as he strode up the covered wooden walkway in front of the tavern and glanced in the direction of what had been the haunted, neglected hotel across the street, which was now showing off its former glory. The windows were no longer boarded up, the picket fence and the fretwork had been repaired, and a fresh coat of white paint made the whole place gleam.
"CJ!" Tom Silver called out as he hurried to join him. Tom, the youngest of Darien's triplet brothers, was CJ's best friend.
He turned to watch Tom crunch through the piled-up snow, then stalk up the covered walkway. He had the same dark hair as CJ, although his eyes were a little darker brown. Tom was wearing his usual: an ecru wool sweater and blue jeans. The toes of his boots were now sporting a coating of fresh snow.
Tom pointed at the hotel, evidently having observed CJ looking that way. "Don't even think about going over there to help with the final preparations before their grand opening."
CJ shook his head. "I know when I'm not wanted." But he damn well wasn't giving up on seeing the women-well, one in particular.
Tom smiled a little evilly at him. "Come on. I'll buy you lunch. Darien has a job for you."
Even though CJ was a deputy sheriff and took his lead from the sheriff, everyone stopped what they were doing when the pack leader needed something done. Pack took priority.
He and Tom headed inside the tavern, where the fire was burning in a brand-new woodstove in the corner, keeping the room warm. The Christmas tree in front of one of the windows was decorated with white lights, big red bows, and hand-painted ornaments featuring wolves. The aroma of hot roast beef scented the air, making CJ's stomach rumble. Sam, the black-bearded bartender-and now sandwich maker-was serving lunch without Silva, his waitress-turned-mate. She was now down the street running her own tearoom, where the women ate when they wanted lunch out. The men all continued to congregate at Sam's.
The tavern usually looked a lot more rustic, less...Christmassy. Sam loved Silva and tolerated her need to see that everyone enjoyed the spirit of Christmas either at her place or his, though he grumbled about it like an old grizzly bear.
CJ glanced at the red, green, and silver foil-covered chocolates in wooden Christmas-tree-shaped dishes on the center of each table. Those were new. Silva had also draped spruce garlands along the bar and over the long, rectangular mirror that had hung there since the place opened centuries earlier. She'd added lights and Christmas wreaths to the windows and had put up the tree, though Sam had helped. He looked rough and gruff, and was protective of anyone close to him, but he was a big teddy bear. Though CJ would never voice his opinion about that.
"We'll have the usual," Tom called out to Sam.
He nodded and began to fix roast beef sandwiches for them.
"Staying out of trouble?" Tom sat in his regular chair at the pack leaders' table in the corner of the tavern. This spot had a view of the whole place, except for the area by the restrooms.
"I haven't been near the hotel." CJ glanced around the room, nodding a greeting to Mason, owner of the bank; John Hastings, owner of the local hardware store and bed and breakfast; Jacob Summers, their local electrician; and even Mervin, the barber-all gray wolves who were sharing conversations and eating and drinking. It was an exclusive club, membership strictly reserved for wolves.
CJ looked out the new windows of the tavern-also Silva's doing, now that the hotel was quite an attraction instead of detracting from the view. The new sign proclaimed Silver Town Inn, just like in the old days, as it rocked a little in the breeze. Only this time, the sign featured a howling wolf carved into one corner. CJ loved it, just like everyone else did.
The pack members couldn't have been more pleased with the way the sisters had renovated the place, keeping the old Victorian look but adding special touches. Like the two wrought iron and wood-slat benches in a parklike setting out front, with the bench seats held up by wrought iron bears.
Tom turned back to CJ. "Darien said-"
"I know what Darien said. My brothers and I were getting under the women's feet. They didn't want or need our help. Don't tell me we can't participate in the grand opening." Even though CJ would be busy directing traffic for a little while, he intended to stop in and check on the crowd inside the hotel to ensure everyone was behaving themselves.
Sam delivered their beers in new steins, featuring wolves in a winter scene etched in the glass, along with sandwiches and chips on wooden Christmas tree plates. He gave CJ a look that told him he'd better not make a comment about the plates or steins. CJ was dying to ask Sam how domesticated life was, but he bit his tongue.
"I'll be setting up the bar for the festivities," Sam said. "Silva is bringing her special petit fours, and she's serving finger sandwiches. The hotel had better be ready to open on schedule."
"Do you think any of the guests will run out of there screaming in the middle of the night, claiming the place is haunted?" CJ asked. It was something he'd worried about. He wanted to see the sisters do well so they could stay here forever.
Sam shook his head. "Blamed foolishness, if you ask me."
Sam didn't believe in anything paranormal. Some might ask how he could feel that way when they were lupus garous-wolf shifters. But then again, their kind believed they were perfectly normal. Nothing paranormal about them.
Someone called for another beer, and Sam left their table to take care of it.
"When you were over there getting underfoot, did you see anything?" Tom asked, keeping his voice low.
"Nothing unusual." Even though they'd been best friends forever, the ghostly business with the hotel was one thing CJ really didn't want to discuss with Tom. Neither of them had, not once over all those years.
CJ took another bite of his sandwich, hoping now that the hotel was opening, he could finally start seeing Laurel MacTire in more of a courtship way. He would never again make the mistake of mispronouncing her name. Who would ever have thought that a name that looked like "tire" was pronounced like "tier"? He couldn't know every foreign word meaning "wolf." But he did love that she was a pretty redheaded, green-eyed lass. She had been born in America, but she still had a little Irish accent, courtesy of her Irish-born parents. He loved to listen to her talk.
The problem was that she and her sisters, Meghan and Ellie, acted wary around him and everyone else in the pack. In fact, they didn't seem like the type of proprietors that should manage a hotel, since they were more reserved than friendly or welcoming. He wasn't sure what was wrong. Maybe they'd never lived with a pack before. He had to admit that everyone had been eager to greet them, so maybe they felt a bit overwhelmed.
The pack members were so welcoming because fewer she-wolves were born among lupus garous than males, and many of the bachelors were interested. The women in the pack were also grateful that they had more women to visit with. Besides that, the wolf pack's collective nature was such that its members openly received new wolves.
After eating the rest of his sandwich, Tom leaned back in his chair. "The two painters working on the main lobby left prematurely yesterday after demanding their pay for what they'd finished. They said that when they returned from a lunch break, their paint cans had been moved across the room, their plastic sheeting was balled up in a corner, and an X was painted across the ceiling in the study."
CJ frowned. "None of the sisters saw or heard anything?"
"The sisters had returned to their house behind the hotel to have lunch."
"Could it have been kids? Vandals?" CJ figured that what had happened wasn't the result of anything supernatural.
"Who knows? If we discount the ghostly angle, could have been." Tom finished his beer.
"Did the women smell the scent of anyone who had been in there earlier?"
"Not that they could say. So many people have been traipsing through the hotel, finishing up renovations, that maybe somebody else just moved the stuff. The electrician and a plumber were in earlier."
"About that... I've seen that they've hired humans for a number of the jobs. Except for Jacob, the electrician. I would think everyone, even if they're new to the pack, would hire wolves."
Tom shrugged. "They've never been in a pack before. It'll take a little getting used to. Maybe no one gave them a list of who could do the jobs for them. We all know who does what in the vicinity. The sisters wouldn't have a clue."
CJ nodded, but he was already thinking about how the painters had left the work unfinished. Maybe the women could use his help in painting the rest of the place. As long as the town or surrounding area didn't require him to get involved in any law enforcement business, he was free to help out. And eager to do so.
"Of course, that doesn't explain the X on the ceiling," Tom said.
"Most likely vandals."
CJ wasn't afraid of any old ghost in the hotel. He hadn't been since that day when Darien and Jake had tried to scare him and Tom when they were all kids. CJ told himself it had just been them. But neither of the Silver brothers had said anything about what CJ had witnessed, confirming or denying it. He was still telling himself the apparition he'd seen was only a figment of his imagination. That, as a kid, he'd been so scared, he could have imagined anything. That the darkened shadow of a woman was nothing more than dust particles highlighted by moonlight shining through the basement door's window.
Tom sat taller in his chair. "If visitors ask about the hauntings, Darien wants everyone in the pack to tell them the stories are just rumors."
"Right. Ghosts don't exist."
Tom let out his breath. "But you know differently. We both know differently."
That made CJ wonder what Tom had experienced. But if CJ admitted to even one soul that he believed the hotel was haunted, there would go his best-kept secret of all time. Besides, Tom had never shared what he'd experienced either.
Tom straightened a bit. "Okay. Well, as I said, Darien has a job for you."
If it had to do with helping Laurel MacTire, CJ would jump right on it. He was certain that she really didn't mind that he'd been so in the way when she was trying to get the place fixed up. She was just overcautious about everyone in the wolf pack.
"Hang some Christmas lights on the hotel?" Then again, the job could have nothing to do with Laurel, her sisters, or the hotel. CJ finished the last of his beer.
Tom tilted his chin down. "No helping the women with the hotel. Unless they change their minds and ask you to."
"All right," CJ said. "What then?"
"We have some ghost busters in town."
"That's just what we need." CJ was ready to protect the three sisters from anyone who might try to ruin things for them.
"For now, they're staying in the Hastingses' bed and breakfast, both tonight and tomorrow. But they have reservations at the hotel, and they will be moving over there as soon as it opens. They've been grilling Bertha Hastings and everyone else about the hauntings."
"That's not good."
"Of course, we're worried they might stir up trouble for the ladies by reporting the place is haunted to discourage people from staying there. But what we're really concerned about is that they'll learn that something a lot more serious than ghosts exists in the area."
"You want me to get rid of them?" CJ asked, surprised. Not that he thought Darien wanted him to kill anyone, but keeping their wolf halves secret was paramount to their well-being.
Tom chuckled. "No. But you're assigned to watch over them. If they see anyone shift when they shouldn't, then we'll have to take care of it."
CJ's whole outlook brightened. "Right. They're staying at the hotel." And if he had to really watch them, he'd have to stay there too! That meant he could see Laurel more.
"Can you handle it?"
"I mean..." Tom glanced around the tavern where pack members filled nearly every chair at the wooden tables. The room was humming with conversation. He leaned forward. "Because of the ghosts."
"That don't exist."
"Yeah, I can handle it." CJ smiled. He would do anything to be able to spend more time with that wickedly intriguing she-wolf. Though he hoped he wouldn't be running out of the hotel and breaking out into a cold sweat-again.
More than that, he knew something else was going on. The women didn't just buy the hotel because it was a beautiful building or a great investment opportunity, or because they desperately wanted to join a pack. They'd been reservedly friendly. Like they didn't trust anyone. And they hadn't joined in any pack functions during the six months they'd been renovating the hotel. Not once.
Of course, they said it all had to do with getting the place ready, and they were too busy or too tired afterward to participate. But he'd noticed the looks between the three sisters when he'd asked them why they had chosen this hotel to buy. It was as if they had some deep, dark secret, and they had to keep it that way.
So yeah, he was definitely interested in Laurel, but not just because she was a hot she-wolf. He wanted to know what she and her sisters were really doing here.
* * *
Laurel MacTire's luck hadn't been so hot lately. Tomorrow, both her sisters had to go out of state to ensure the shipment of furniture had arrived from Paris and then was safely transported here. When she and her sisters had tracked down the auctioned highboy and blanket chest that had belonged to their aunt Clarinda, they were afraid something bad had happened to her. In her will, their aunt had promised the furniture to their mother-her twin sister, Sadie.
If their mother had died first, then the furniture and their aunt's belongings would have gone to the girls when she died. If their aunt had died. But they'd learned from their mother six months earlier that Clarinda had vanished fifty years ago. Someone had auctioned off the furniture around that same time. After searching for several months following their mother's death, the sisters had finally located and purchased the pieces.
Clarinda had said in a letter to their mother that the furniture was unique, with an added fe...
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