Read When Angels Fall Online

Authors: AJ Hampton

When Angels Fall

When Angels Fall

By

AJ Hampton

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

When Angels Fall

Copyright© 2013 AJ Hampton

ISBN:
978-1-60088-836-6

Cover Artist:
Rebecca Sterling

Editor:
Keynyn Brysse

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

Cobblestone Press, LLC

www.cobblestone-press.com

Chapter One

Peter Marx paced the darkened lot of his uncle

s weather-worn bar and cursed the leopard clawing him from the inside out.


B
ullshit instincts,

he growled.

For twenty years, he

d managed to fight the urge to return home and claim his place as Alpha. Now here he was. Against his will. Snow gusted, ripping at his stinging cheeks. He ducked his chin and fought the shiver coursing through him.

He could still turn around, leave before anyone knew he

d come.

Coward
, the beast taunted.

Fuck the cat. The damn thing might as well have twisted his balls. Peter ripped open the door
with clenched teeth
and stepped inside
Lost Isle
,
a
place he

d never thought he

d see again. He

d
expected the blast of heat, but not the sorrow. Grief socked him in the stomach. Conversation fell silent as
,
one by one, the stricken townsfolk raised their heads to glare at the interloper who

d
dared invade their territory.

Oh, how things had changed.
He

d belonged to this community once upon a time.
He

d been the one to cast
a
judgmental eye toward the outsider. Now, he was the stranger, the nobody.

The leopard raged. They

re nobody. You

re Alpha. They serve you.

Alpha. Peter gave one sharp shake of his head.
It had never been about leading.
If given even half a choice, he would have gone anywhere but here. He

d tried to ignore the blind, half-crazed instinct to return to his birthplace, with no success.
The death of one Alpha called to the other.
Three days ago he

d climbed into his truck and headed north, leaving his Montana ranch behind.

He

d driven night and day through rain, sleet, and snow with nothing except a duffel bag. He

d brought one suit and an aching hole in his chest to attend a funeral he hadn

t been invited to.
By the time he

d regained control, it was too late to turn around. Mother Nature, the little bitch, threw one vicious snowstorm after another. Now, he was stuck in the middle of the Alaskan forest with nowhere to go. He shook off the snow clinging to the short strands of his hair, the ice on his black sweater. Stomping his boots, he left a pool of water at the door and held his head high.

There was a gleam of challenge in his gaze and a silent fuck-you attitude in every step he took while he stalked a path through
the handcrafted tables in the rustic bar. Twenty years ago, the wood had still been smooth and unblemished. Now, the tables he passed were dull, scuffed, and stained.

No one approached him. No one uttered a single word in his wake. The gazes he met and
tried to hold
found something more interesting to look at. Had he really changed so much that no one recognized him?
Topping in at six-foot-three and two hundred-plus pounds of muscle, he was no longer the scrawny boy they

d last seen.

Teeth clenching, Peter slid onto a creaking, rusted stool that reminded him of the sign out front. He traced the surface of the worn, once intricately etched border on the bar with his finger. He remembered carving the designs with his father. He also remembered the knock-down-drag-out fight that had ensued. Hard to forget three fractured ribs.


Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in
. I guess I should say I

m
surprised to see you
here
, but we

d both know that was
crap
,

a deep voice boomed from a shadowed corner behind the bar.

Stepping into the dim light, his
u
ncle

s tall, broad form came into view. Middle age had come and gone for James Marx in the years since Peter

s banishment. His
short
hair, now partially gr
a
y, held only hints of the long
-
ago blond. The craggy lines bracketing his mouth and eyes told of many harsh winters in the Alaska wilderness. Those same grooves telegraphed an undercurrent of anger.


No need to get
your panties in a bunch
,

Peter said.

I

m not sticking around. Figured since
my
old man died, I

d come and…

He trailed off, not sure how to finish his statement. He hadn

t driven two
thousand miles pay his respects, that was for damn sure.

His father was dead. So fucking wh
at? If only he believed that. Closure. He needed closure. Needed to know the old man was really dead. He hadn

t seen or spoken to him
since the day his father told him to get the fuck out. Peter had been fifteen at the time.

Silence drifted between him and his uncle, and it gave Peter time to concentrate on his surroundings. Playing in the background, a slow, depressing blues song hummed. The melody grabbed his piss
-
poor mood by the balls and then took a shit on it. He should have stayed in his cabin. Before he could rise to leave, a glass scraped across the bar.


If you aren

t staying, the
n this
one
is on the house,

his uncle said.

Peter

s hand closed around the tumbler and he drew it close. He looked into the golden
-
amber liquid, inhaled. The rich, familiar scents of the whiskey stung his nose
and watered his mouth
. He lifted the cup to his lips, muttered a quick

T
hanks,

against the rim before he sipped.

Fire raced down the back of his throat, temporarily subduing the raging beast within. Lately, nothing shut the bastard up. Cupping the glass between his palms, he rolled the smooth cup back and forth while he brooded over his mixed bag of emotional crap.


You know,

James said, cocking his hip against the bar and throwing a dishtowel over his red and brown plaid
-
covered shoulder,

you look just like Greg did when he was your age. What are you now, thirty
-
five?

Peter
snorted, ran a hand through his
thick, black hair. He and Greg looked nothing alike. With Peter

s dark hair and green eyes, he favored his mother. But hadn

t that been part of the problem? Greg took one look at the son and instead saw the dead wife.

As if reading his mind, James shook his head before lifting his own glass to chapped lips.

It ain

t the physical appearance. In that respect, you

re the spitting image of Jenny. Nah, I see my brother in the set of your shoulders, the fuck
-
you in your gaze, and the brooding lines around your eyes. Watchin

you roll that glass in your hands is like seeing a ghost.
He

d never admit it, but he
regretted sending you away.


Bullshit.

Peter slammed his glass to the counter.

At the surge of emotion, the animal within crashed against his self-control, threatening to break free. Where silken fur craved release, skin itched. Where razor
-
sharp canines would grow, gums ached. When the tips of his fingernails burned, he wrestled the beast into submission. His internal struggle was silent, and one he
fought
almost every hour of the day.


Something had to give or you t
wo would have killed each other,

James continued.

Thanks to your mother, you
and your father
both held the Alpha gene
at the same time
, and neither was willing to concede to the other.
Marx men are stubborn bastards
.

That was one way to put it.
They drank the
rest of their
whiskey in an uneasy silence, the only noise from the fucking suicide tone drifting from the jukebox and the slow rebuild of conversation from the people behind him. Peter and James stared at one another, sized
each other up
.
When Peter was
a teen
,
his uncle had seemed larger, bulkier. Peter knew if he were to stand, he

d top the other feline-shifter by at least four inches.

Force him to submit
, the leopard demanded.

Just as Peter knew he would, his uncle shifted his gaze to the side
and cracked first.

The funeral was today.


I know,

Peter replied.

Even if he hadn

t already known, one look at the somber patrons would have told him. It didn

t take a genius to link the sweet, fragrant stench of death clinging to thick plaid dress shirts with a funeral. From behind him, he heard the clinking toasts, the murmured chattering of truth and lies the living whispered about the dead.


Gregory Marx was a damn good man.

Lie. Gregory Marx was an emotionally stinted asshole.


He built this town from the ground up.

No one mentioned that Peter, his son, had helped.


He had such a kind, giving soul.

Wrong
. His father was a selfish bastard.

The humans in this town had no idea what kind of a man

animal

Gregory Marx really was. If they

d known the truth about his father, and
the
other members of the Pard living secretly beside them, they all would have been extinguished long ago.

More than a dozen residents of Bellows Falls, Alaska
,
harbored a dangerous secret, one Greg had protected with his life.
One that, by all rights, was now Peter

s unwanted responsibility.

He
didn

t need to turn and search the crowded tables for the ones who didn

t belong with the

normal

citizens. Energy pumped off their skin in electric waves of heat. The
sharp
scent of their leopards
pressed hot
against the back of his neck.

The feline preened.
We protect, now
.


Give me another,

Peter said, sliding his glass across the bar for a refill.

As he sat there, the rumors spread throughout the bar
and his agitation ratcheted up a notch or five
.


Shot in the head.


Poor Eva found him naked, frozen in her truck outside of the clinic. He fell at her feet when she opened the door.


They say it was suicide.

Peter drank,
tried to erase memories from his past and
fill the gaping hole
s
with liquor. A grating creak of rusted hinges sounded from the entrance. Peter didn

t bother looking to the sound, finding out who else had just come to drown the sorrows of the day. Night, rather, since it was perpetually pitch black outside in the winter. His nose twitched, senses alert despite the
alcohol
.

The newcomer brought a fresh meaning to the word grief. Heartrending, to be accurate. The scent was a mixture of pain, guilt and the stinging salt of freshly fallen tears. Under the perfume of death, the pure, honey
-
sweet
fragrance
he remembered wafted, mixed with the slight undertone of sunshine.

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