Brink Of Passion (Alpine Woods Shifters)

By: Sondrae Bennett

Chapter 1

“I still don’t see why I had to come,” Laurie complained as she walked into the lobby of the Tucson hotel where the multi-breed gathering was being held.

“We’ve been over this,” her brother, Danny, raked his hands through his hair with a drawn-out sigh. They had been over this. Many, many times. Their sister-in-law Samantha was six months pregnant and Laurie’s overprotective brother Jason refused to leave her side. Ethan, the second oldest brother, and his wife, Gwen, had left the day before on a belated honeymoon to Hawaii. Blah,blah,blah. All of that still didn’t explain why she had to come. Just because her oldest brother was the Premier of the pack, and her other two brothers were his officers, didn’t make her qualified for a leadership position.

Her younger sister’s mate, Brendan, would have been a better choice. Patient, cool-headed, and just a bit intimidating, he would have been perfect. Laurie, on the other hand, had the intimidation part down. The patience and level headedness…well, everyone had weaknesses, right?

Laurie rolled her shoulders, tuning in briefly to find Danny still in lecture mode. Jeez. Did he ever stop? Okay, granted, she was being crabby, like a pouting toddler. It wasn’t that she didn’t recognize it, but that didn’t mean she could stop it. Almost as if she had a missing filter between brain and mouth. She simply felt ornery.

No doubt Danny wanted to be here even less than she did. He had, quite literally, just mated his girlfriend Amber. Being separated from her must be dreadful. Yet, when she glanced at him, she could see none of the turmoil he must be feeling. One more illustration of why he ruled the pack, and she didn’t. Laurie didn’t have it in her to hide her turmoil. If she was miserable, everyone around her would damn well know it.

Rather than listen to yet another lecture on doing her part for the pack and for the family, Laurie turned away from Danny and glanced around. Damn. Swanky hotel. A chandelier, complete with dangling crystals that sparkled from candle-shaped lights, hung in the large lobby, and black tiles decorated the floor, giving the area a sleek, expensive look. White chairs and couches, made of some soft and inviting material, were artfully placed around the room, offering comfort and a false sense of privacy for small gatherings. With full human guests there might have been seclusion, but with a hotel full of shifters, the smallest whisper would be heard.

The pack must be paying a fortune for their room for this event. All pack members paid a due twice a year to cover incidentals, but even though Danny and she were only here for one night, the place must have taken a large chunk out of those funds. No wonder Danny had insisted they share a room.

Under different circumstances, partying with a bunch of unique shifters from all over the country sounded like one hell of a good time. But this was different. Instead of partying, she’d be going to lectures and debates on how to keep the communities safe, and how to interact with humans both inside and outside their communities. The Council governing all shifters had organized the event after a series of hybrid shifter riots almost exposed shifters to the human world.

All of which, if she were honest, did sound interesting and certainly useful. Except, unlike her brothers—and, she assumed, most of the other people here—she wasn’t an officer in the pack and had no real authority, which meant all she could do was look pretty and keep her mouth shut. Looking pretty, no problem. But she considered herself a very self-aware person. She knew her strengths. Keeping her mouth shut? Not one of them.

She wrinkled her nose as the scents of all the different shifters in the room assaulted her at once. None were particularly unpleasant, at least not on their own, but combine them all together and the whole lobby smelled like a barn. Or more accurately, a zoo. A human wouldn’t notice anything different about the smells in the lobby, but with an increased sense of smell, she’d bet half the shifters in the room were struggling not to cover their noses.

Her gaze slid over the room once more, this time absorbing more details about the people around her. To her left, a couple horses were making small talk with a trio of bears. In front of her, some deer eyed a lone coyote warily. Two felines of some kind walked through the main doors to her left. Definitely a zoo.

A group of men across the room snagged her attention. Holy crap, were those rhino shifters? Their foreheads protruded over small beady eyes as they scanned the room, the look distrustful, almost skeptical. As if they didn’t quite know what they were doing there. They all had the same build, with large shoulders and a stocky frame. They probably all had mad football skills. If she saw one of them charging down the field toward her, she sure as hell would get out of their way.