Alpha's Darkling Bride

By: Linda Barlow

Chapter 1


JESS


My mother was trying to fix me up with a vampire.

No, I exaggerate. If Cameron Malloch is a vampire, so am I.

Actually, we’re both shifters, but unlike most shifters, we have more than one form. I’d always believed my only alternate self to be a wolf.

I didn’t find out until I was older that I could also shift to a darkling. A ferocious winged humanoid with no moral code and a hunger for blood.

My mum, who had a practical side when she bothered to use it, figured that since she was part of the family who’d bequeathed me the multiform shifter gene, she ought to be the one to solve my demon problem.

“It would be the perfect match,” she told me. “Cameron is a multiform shifter and so are you. He has a darkling side, too. Plus he’s a very important man. He runs the Council of Protectors for all of Scotland.”

“He’s my cousin, Mum.”

“He’s only your second cousin. It would be quite legal.”

Right. But I wasn’t interested in Cam Malloch that way. Fortunately, he wasn’t into me, either, except as someone to mentor and harass.

Mum wouldn’t give up on the idea of an arranged Scottish marriage, complete with kilts, bagpipes and haggis. So I fled.

Which is how I found myself thousands of miles away from the Highlands in Whittier, Montana. Not such a dramatic change as it might seem. I was born here.

“Much though I hate to consider it,” my grandfather was telling me as we drove the rugged road from Whittier to his ranch a few miles outside of town, “I might have to sell off a few acres of land.”

“What? Why, Grandpa?” The beautiful expanses of meadow and forest with the Rocky Mountains looming majestically in the western distance had been in the family for generations.

“Well, darlin’, I don’t want to bother you with the details, but I’ve got a few debts to settle. Never fear, though. I do have an interested buyer in mind, a friend of mine. He’s a fair man who wants to keep the land as natural and pristine as we do.”

“Debts? How much? I have a little money set by. Maybe I can help. I’d hate to see you sell any of your ranch.”

“Thanks, honey, but I can’t take money from you. You’re a young woman with a bright future.” He started coughing as he gripped the wheel of our SUV. Ever since I’d arrived, he’d had a bad cold. “You’ll need your savings for yourself. Besides, it wouldn’t be enough."

"How big are your debts?"

"A man's debts are his own private business. Don't worry. I got it covered."

But I did worry, and I hated to think about Grandpa suffering from money problems at this stage of his life. He was the only one left from my father’s side of the family, and I loved him very much. If there was any way I could help out, I wanted to.

Meanwhile, I didn’t like the sound of that cough. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay, Grandpa? Your cold should be getting better by now.”

“Tip-top! It’s so good to have you home, pumpkin.”

He’d insisted on driving, but I could see that he was weary. We’d been into town to do a little shopping together. He’d wanted to pick up some of the foods I liked, and I’d needed a few art supplies. I’d moved back to Whittier a little more than two weeks ago, and Grandpa and I were still trying to learn each other’s ways.

My offer to do the driving had been brushed aside with his customary impatience.

For as long as I could remember, Grandpa had insisted on doing things himself. He liked to be in control, to run his own life, to be independent.


We were well into the countryside now, and I was enjoying the fresh air with the SUV’s sunroof and windows fully open. The evening was magical. The full September moon floated on a sea of wispy clouds. The breeze was warm and moist, scented with wildflowers and lodge pole pine. Crickets chirped, fireflies danced and the ground alongside the vehicle on the rough mountain road was bursting with the rich aromas of summer's end.

But as Grandpa weaved out of our lane, my sense of safety vanished. He corrected, but he seemed off somehow. Not quite as fit and sharp as he had always been. This was no great surprise, since he’d been stricken with cancer last year. He was in remission, but the treatment had taken a lot out of him. I’d been shocked at his gauntness when he’d picked me up at the airport.

As we headed up into hillier ground, we rounded a curve going a little too fast. I’d never thought of Grandpa as a man who thrilled to speed; so maybe his judgment was impaired. I was positive he hadn’t been drinking; I’d have smelled it on him. I didn’t make much use of my shifter abilities, but my sense of smell was hyper-acute, no matter what form I was in.

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