Ruthless Wolf by Jasmine Wylder

Chapter One

If Parker had known she was about to be murdered, she would have done many things differently in her last day of life.

She had no reason to think she was about to die, though, so when she signed off from her shift at the hospital, she swiped away her mother’s call, sending a quick ‘busy—can’t talk’ message because she was just too tired to talk.

It wouldn’t have taken much energy, she would later think. But at the time she thought, I just talked to her yesterday. I’ll call after I have something to eat, knowing full well she’d forget by the time she got home. Death had haunted her steps all day—two of her patients had passed away today. They were old and sick, but it didn’t mean she didn’t feel their deaths. Her mother didn’t understand what that was like.

Parker would later think what an idiotic thing that was to think. Her mother might have been a stay-at-home mom all Parker’s life, but she’d been the main caretaker for Parker’s grandmother at the end of her life. Her mother would have understood. And maybe if she had slowed down a little, her life wouldn’t have ended as quickly as it did.

She had to run to catch the train, and as soon as she found a spot to sit—her feet were killing her—she popped in her earbuds so she wouldn’t have to listen to the world around her.

A man kept turning his head to look at her and she pulled out her phone, thumbing up a newspaper article in the hopes that seeing her occupied would deter him.

As was her habit, she had washed off all her make-up before leaving the hospital. Her long, dark-red hair was pulled back into a braided bun at the back of her neck and her scrubs hung baggy and unflattering over her plus-sized frame. She had even done the trick she’d learned from a book, which apparently came from Oprah, on how to flatten out her sizable bust. Two sports bras layered over each other, one on backward to provide more compression. She didn’t look cute at all. No reason for the man to keep giving her attention.

And yet… he sidled closer and smiled. “Hey.”

Parker pretended she couldn’t hear him.

“Excuse me.” He tapped her shoulder.

Parker jerked, pretending she’d been startled. The man smiled at her and gestured for her to take her earbuds out. She gave him a dirty look and pointed across the train.

“There’s an empty seat over there,” she said loudly.

The man’s smile faltered. “I just wanted to say—”

“My grandma just died, please leave me alone.”

The man scoffed but retreated.

If she had known what was going to happen, she wouldn’t have gotten on the train. She would have gotten an uber. She would have called the police the moment she got to her apartment building. She would have done something.

But she didn’t spare him a second glance as she got off the train and walked to her apartment building. Only breathed and listened to music and tried not to think at all. When she got home, she locked the deadbolt behind her and headed for the kitchen.

“Cinna-Cinnabon-Cinnamon,” she called as she pulled the small dish of dog food from the fridge.

Her normal pet sitter, a teenage girl who used Parker’s apartment to study since her own home was chaotic with four younger siblings, had called at noon saying she and her family were taking an unexpected trip to the beach, which meant Parker’s terrier-mix rescue would be starved for attention.

In hindsight, it was the one thing Parker was grateful for in this day, that her pet sitter wasn’t here. Who knew what he would have done to her?

“Cinnamon,” Parker called again.

“I took the dog to a shelter,” a voice said behind her.

Parker whirled.

Her heart slammed into her ribs as she stared at the man lounging in the doorway. He was larger than life a good head taller than she was. He wore all-black clothing, fitted tight against him to reveal the contours of his muscles. A grin lingered around his lips. Brown hair, golden skin, a smattering of facial hair that gave him a rugged air.

Her mouth opened and closed, questions bursting through her. Her feet rooted themselves to the floor. Where would she have run even if she could?

“I’m sure the shelter will find a good home for your precious little Cinnamon,” the man continued as he pushed himself off the doorway.

“You’re the man from the train,” she blurted.

How had he gotten in here? He couldn’t have followed her in. She locked the door! Could he have picked the lock so silently? But he said he took Cinnamon to a shelter…

He’d been in her apartment earlier. He followed her back only to make sure she was here.

Parker’s hands clenched. “What do you want? Who are you?”

“You don’t need to know that.” The man narrowed his eyes as he scrutinized her. “I was expecting more of a fight from you… but then I suppose you’re still in the shock phase, aren’t you?”

The kitchen knives. Parker lunged for them. Her bones burned as she snatched up the biggest one and whirled. The man was right next to her. She screamed as he twisted her arm, but his hand slapped over her mouth. He pressed her backward over the counter. Somehow, he’d taken the knife from her.

The knife pressed against her throat. Parker whimpered.

“I would say I’m sorry for what I’m going to do to you, but I’m not. I love the smell of blood. I love the taste of pain in the air.” He grinned at her fear.

Parker shoved at him, too aware of the knife against her throat. With one hand she fumbled for another of her kitchen knives.

“I thought about asking for a show; that is a stripper pole you have in your living room, isn’t it?”

Parker grabbed a second knife. It wasn’t a stripper pole—it was a dancing pole. She’d taken up pole dancing as it was pretty much the only exercise she actually found enjoyable. The thought of this man seeing her work out—

The man caught her hand, pressing her knife uselessly into the counter. He tutted at her. “You should consider yourself lucky. You have been called for a higher purpose.”

Something hot and wet ran down her throat the second before the white agony slashed across her skin. The man drew his knife back. Something red dripped from it. Her body went cold, and her vision went black.

Fire burned through her veins. Parker shot up, screaming.

As suddenly as the pain came, it was gone. She panted, her nails digging into her own arms. A chill settled over her, as though she was being wrapped in ice. Slowly, her brain processed her surroundings.

The dim lights of the morgue beamed overhead. She sat on a metal table, a white sheet clinging to her body. A tag sat on her toe, and she leaned forward to take it off. The sheet fell and the cold air caused gooseflesh to rise across her naked body. As she looked down at herself, the delicate stitches of a Y incision used for autopsies dissolved into her skin.

What the…?

She blinked hard, trying to process. She was in the morgue. The man had cut her throat and stabbed her in the heart. Now… now what? She was dead? But if she was dead, why could she move?

She rolled off the table, relishing the biting pain in her knees as she hit the smooth floor. Pain meant she was alive, right? Somehow, she was alive.

A nearby table held a pile of clothes. A piece of paper lay on top, her name written in an elegant script on it. They weren’t her clothes, too fancy, but she yanked them on anyway. Anything was better than being naked.

The top was a white silk tank with a built-in bra, and the panties were a lacy black thong she only put on because it was better than nothing. The jeans fit her perfectly, formed as though they had been made for her body. A black leather jacket and a pair of kitten heels finished it off.

What was going on? She was murdered… no, no it couldn’t be. This had to be some sort of psychotic break. She’d have to get to the hospital and check herself in.

But in the pit of her stomach, she knew that wasn’t it. She knew. The impossible had happened. She’d been murdered—murdered—and somehow, she was back.

Parker had never been religious. Her parents didn’t care about anything to do with God or religion. When she visited her grandmother, Mimi, she’d been dragged to church every Sunday but had spent more time exploring the stained-glass windows with her eyes and concocting stories about them than listening to the pastor—bishop? —much to Mimi’s chagrin.

Resurrection, though... this had to be a miracle, right? Had Jesus decided she had something left to give? Or was it another god? She didn’t know anything about Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or any other non-Christian religions to know if they had resurrections in them.

Parker inhaled deeply and released it on the count of ten. She’d been distracting herself as she stared at the medical chart hanging on the end of the table she’d been lying on. A question bounced around in her brain, one she wasn’t sure she wanted the answer to. Thinking about her apparent resurrection and what God might be responsible was better than thinking if that man had…

“Fuck it,” she declared to the empty room. “I’m Parker Nadine Kelly and I’m not letting a piece of paper scare me!”

She snatched up the clipboard and read through her own autopsy report. Once she’d read what she needed, she dropped it again. No signs of sexual assault.

She squeezed her eyes shut, breathing evenly, before forcing them back open. Now she had to get out of here. Resurrection or not, she wasn’t going to stick around and find out what ‘higher calling’ that man had been talking about.

The door swung open before she was halfway across the room.

She stopped dead as a dark angel stalked in. He moved gracefully, powerfully. Dark eyes latched onto her at once and her breath left her.

The man was even taller than her murderer. Long, dark hair was pulled back in a half-up style, beads glinting in a few of his braids. His skin gleamed a bronzed brown in the morgue lights, his eyes dark and endless as the night sky. He was shirtless, powerful muscles hard beneath his burnished skin. A series of tattoos wound across his chest and shoulders. Swirling darkness clung to the air around him, like a halo.

One of his arms wrapped around her waist and Parker gasped. He’d carried her out of the room, pressed tight against his hot body, before her brain was able to process he’d even touched her. She let out a shriek and pummeled his chest.

“Stop,” he ordered brusquely. “Unless you wish for me to leave you in the morgue, Ms. Kelly?”

Parker gasped. “How do you know my name?”

“Because I know everything about you.”

She struggled against him, but he was impossibly strong! She screamed again when they headed upstairs. Doctor Spears, the mortician, lay crumpled on the ground. His eyes were closed, his usually kind face frozen in pain.

“Enough,” the dark angel snarled, lifting her off her feet entirely. He pressed a hand over her mouth, cutting the scream off. “He’s not dead. Things have been set in motion and nobody cares what you want—this will go easier for you if you do exactly as I say when I say it.”

“What?” she gasped.

“For now, just be quiet.”

He dragged her outside and released her. Parker stumbled on the kitten heels and started back toward the hospital, but her dark angel was gone.

In his place was a wolf made of shadow. Swirls of smoke-like aura burned around him. Fur darker than the deepest black she’d ever seen clung to his monstrous form. The man had been taller than her, and the wolf was even taller. She stared up and up, seemingly to the stars. Blood-red eyes burned in the depths of that dark fur.

Parker believed in God at that moment—and she knew she was going to hell.

And yet when the wolf snatched her up in its jaws, she didn’t even scream.