He wanted revenge, not a mate…
Pendragon Gargoyles Book 1
For months Corrine Lawson has walked a fine line between reality and madness. The only thing keeping her sane is her sexy and mysterious next-door-neighbor, Ryker. Yet the closer she gets to uncovering the truth about him, the harder it becomes to resist the man who exposes her to a dangerous world steeped in myth and legend. Surrendering to him and the sizzling connection that burns between them means succumbing to the madness within, and that’s not a fight she’s willing to lose.
Both man and wolf, Gargoyle Ryker McKinnon has spent nearly a century tormented by his past, hungering only for vengeance—until he finds Corrine, a spirited human and the key to his redemption. Determined to use Cori as a pawn in a deadly game of revenge, nothing prepares Ryker for the staggering emotion her touch unleashes or the brutal need to claim her as his own.
When Cori is caught in the middle of a bitter feud and a centuries-old greed for Excalibur, will Ryker’s secrets destroy the woman he loves or finally awaken the fierceness inside her?
Praise for the Pendragon Gargoyles Series
“…the entire series a must-read.” – Rabid Reads on Primal Pleasure – Rabid Reads on Primal Pleasure
“The world that Sydney Somers created is just fantastic. The twists and turns will keep you coming back for more.” – Fictional Candy on Primal Instinct
“…the action is fast paced and the romance is scorching making The Pendragon Gargoyles an utterly addictive series – Black Lagoon Reviews on Primal Hunger
“Sydney Somers writes love stories with a sexy edge that keeps me coming back for more.” – Fiction Vixen on Primal Pleasure
“Sydney Somers has a great voice. I always enjoy reading her and I definitely recommend this series.” – Smexy Books on Primal Pleasure
“Sydney has created such an interesting world, it’s difficult not to be in awe as you read these books.” – Yummy Men Kickass Chicks on Primal Temptation
“Somers’ Pendragon Gargoyles inhabit an increasingly complex, creative world.” – Romantic Times Book Reviews on Primal Temptation
Corrine Lawson was living next door to a werewolf.
As far as theories went, it might explain why her mysterious neighbor continued to avoid meeting her face to face. In truth, it was as ridiculous as assuming he was albino, disfigured by a psycho ex-girlfriend or just wanted to hide a hideous face tattoo that seemed like a good idea after a dozen beer and tequila shooters.
Really though, contemplating Ryker’s reclusive nature kept her mind off her two biggest problems at the moment—three if she counted the nearly empty bottle of wine.
She’d lost her job. Again.
And she didn’t have a weapon. Something long and sharp and capable of penetrating thick rubber would work. Unfortunately, nothing in her apartment, least of all one of the cheap butcher knives that would bend on impact, was suitable.
Her gaze drifted to her fingernails, but she forced her attention back to her wine, wishing she’d thought to stop for more on her way home. Maybe she would have if she hadn’t been busy fantasizing about slashing her boss’s tires for letting her go.
Her third letting go in a month.
Corrine picked up the bottle, leaving the glass on the counter behind her. She didn’t bother to turn on any lights as she made her way through her cramped studio apartment, heading for the back door. As of next week she’d be officially late on her rent. The power bill wouldn’t be far behind so she might as well get used to living in the dark.
Although her balcony was barely big enough for the folding lawn chair and over-sized flower pot, it was one of the few places she could go where she didn’t feel like she was losing her mind. And after the shit-show with her former boss tonight, her mental grip was tenuous at best.
The rusty track screeched in protest as she unlocked the sliding door and dragged it open. Even though her second-hand air conditioning unit was out of commission, her apartment was surprisingly cooler compared to the early summer humidity that saturated the air outside. The sun had gone down hours ago, but the temperature had barely dropped.
With the weather being the least of her worries, Corrine dropped into the folding chair, the mesh covering groaning in protest. At least it didn’t tear. She’d take her victories any way she could get them these days.
Leaning her head against the brick wall, she watched the last leaf on her plant break off and drift to the dusty soil beneath it. Apparently she was as good at holding down a job as she was gardening.
At least you have wine.
She tipped the bottle back for a long swallow, trying hard not to think about the stack of bills she’d left on her kitchen table. Tomorrow. She’d worry about them tomorrow or the next day, like when she met her mother for lunch.
She’d put off asking her mom and step-dad for a loan, knowing they’d want some kind of explanation for the fact that she’d dropped out of her graduate program in psychology. Keeping it short and sweet with, “Your daughter has become a freak,” wouldn’t go over very well.
“Fuck,” she muttered, sinking a little lower in the chair.
Corrine felt her lips curve despite the colossal mess her life was in. The lazy drawl that drifted over the privacy fence separating her balcony and the one next door tended to have that effect on her.
Although she’d said otherwise, she hadn’t quite given up on catching a glimpse of her elusive neighbor. By her estimation Ryker was at least six feet tall, but that was just a guess since they had yet to cross paths in the building lobby or hallway. She also knew he preferred sticking to the shadows and had a voice that could melt the panties clean off a woman.
Their conversations were mostly one-sided, but that hadn’t stopped her from looking forward to their nightly chats. No one had ever accused Corrine of being quiet, but since Ryker kept showing up, night after night, she assumed he didn’t mind that she talked a lot.
On a good day he’d laugh at her stories, offer a bit of sage advice when the occasion called for it, and sometimes, if she was really lucky, he’d tell her about one of his friends or his family.
He had a large one apparently, making her a little envious. She loved her parents and younger brothers, but they were all she had really. Her biological father, who she saw only when his business trip schedule left room for catching up, didn’t have any siblings. Both her mother and step-dad had also been only children, leaving her without any extended family to celebrate with on Thanksgiving or 4th of July.
“You’re gonna have to share that wine if you keep stalling.”
She glanced at the fence, wondering not for the first time if he could somehow see her. They’d joked about his keen hearing more than once, but sometimes it still staggered her. “Bad day, remember? That means I don’t have to share.”
“Fired again, huh?”
With anyone else she might have been annoyed that he’d jump to that conclusion, but not once in the month they’d been neighbors had he ever judged or talked down to her. It was one of the things that made him incredibly easy to talk to, especially when it came to her employment problems.
His gruff, skin-tingling voice didn’t hurt either.
“I think my boss called it a spontaneous lay-off.”
Ryker laughed, the sound making her feel that her upside down life wasn’t quite as grim as she feared. It didn’t matter that the sensation was temporary. She’d take what she could get.
She knew it was stupid to let something as superficial as her and Ryker’s late-night chats reinforce the illusion that she was in control of her life, but it was the only ray of sunshine in the otherwise dark and unpredictable existence she’d stumbled into weeks ago.
“Well, you haven’t been late to this one, right?”
“Nope.” That would be the job that she’d lost just after Ryker had moved in.
Getting up first thing in the morning had become almost impossible. It didn’t matter that her alarm clock was so loud that more than one neighbor had complained about it. She slept right through the ear-splitting ring every morning. Ryker was the only one who hadn’t said a word about her irritating alarm or the fact that it took her forever to rouse long enough to shut it off.
According to the team of doctors she’d been seeing, it was probably a side-effect of her medication. Which one was anybody’s guess.
“Not another breakdown in the middle of the street during rush hour I hope.”
“Hey!” It was almost ridiculous that he could make her panic attacks seem as harmless as a paper cut. “I wasn’t fired for that.”
Ryker hadn’t asked what caused the panic attacks she’d mentioned, and she had no intention of sharing. Their friendship—if that’s what you could call hanging out on their balconies with no idea what the other person even looked like—was the only thing in her life that wasn’t entirely fucked up.
Telling him about the panic attacks or the variety of meds she was on to control mood swings that could make an estrogen-overdosed teenager look like a saint, would probably send him apartment hunting.
And that was saying something considering he was the one who refused to meet in person.
“Maybe the full moon had something to do it with it,” Ryker mused, a grin in his voice.
“The moon is to blame for my getting fired?”
“People do crazy things when it’s full.”
Corrine turned her face to the night sky, the glow of the moon more soothing than troubling. “And does it make you do crazy things, too?”
“It’s not a problem for me.”
“Not a werewolf then,” she said.
Ryker was quiet for a long moment. “Ah. The theory of the day,” he guessed.
“Werewolf syndrome. Or more specifically, Hypertrichosis. Excessive body hair,” she explained. “The world record holder’s body is ninety-six percent covered in hair.”
“I know your life’s ambition is to nail someone from the Guinness record book, but unfortunately my body isn’t covered in hair.”
“Lie,” she said easily, reading the subtle nuances in his voice. She wasn’t sure when she’d picked up the spooky habit of being able to tell when people weren’t being honest with her, but it hadn’t steered her wrong yet. “Hairy chest, huh?”
Laughing, he shifted on his balcony. She imagined him moving closer to the fence, the same way she did.
“Well, I’m not the waxing type.”
“Good.” She took another swig from her bottle. “I’m not either.” Grinning, she waited.
It was hard to take the warning not to flirt seriously when she was sure he was smiling. “So I guess we’ll add Hypertrichosis to the list.”
“Nope. I’m still recovering from being crushed that you’re not albino.”
“You changed the subject by the way. What happened at work?”
Corrine blew out a breath. “I growled at a customer inappropriately.” Literally. Recalling the unexpected and almost feral sound that had sprung from her own throat made her shiver.
“What did he do?”
If she wasn’t still freaked out over the whole thing, she might have laughed at Ryker’s presumption that it wasn’t her fault and that a guy had definitely been involved.
Instead she studied her hand once more, her fingernails in particular. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about the blunt tips, but for one panic-inducing moment at work she could have sworn they’d lengthened.
She was pretty sure that imagining the claw-like nails was the only thing that had stopped her from strangling the guy who’d slipped his hand under her shorts.
“It wasn’t your boss, was it?”
“No.” But a groping boss had been the reason she’d been fired from the second job. “Just some college guy being a douche.”
“Did he hurt you?” All traces of humor left Ryker’s voice. “Who was he?”
“Nobody. Not even a regular.” And the local campus bar had plenty of them.
She’d chosen to keep working there part-time after she’d been forced to quit school two months ago. It had helped keep the setback from feeling permanent. For weeks she’d been holding onto the hope that she could re-enroll in the fall, but she was still no closer to figuring out what the hell was wrong with her.
Closing her eyes, she turned her face toward the privacy fence. “Tell me about your day.”
When he didn’t say anything, she frowned. “You’re not still thinking of that jerk are you?” For a man who went out of his way to avoid meeting her in person, he was a bit over-protective.
“No,” he answered a few seconds too late.
She laughed. “Lie.”
“Technically I was thinking about hunting down your boss.”
“It’s not his fault.” If anything was to blame it was probably the medication that wasn’t doing a damn thing to temper the uncharacteristic spikes of aggression that had systematically turned her life upside down.
If she hadn’t dropped out of school, they probably would have kicked her out by now anyway.
“You’re good at your job.”
“I don’t know what shocks me the most, that you sound surprised by that or that you’ve obviously stopped by the bar and didn’t say hi.” She’d half suspected that Ryker knew more about her than he let on. “Guess I should just be lucky I haven’t come home to find any dead or black roses on my doorstep.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d teased him about having a little too much in common with a stalker.
Another deep laugh came from over the fence, and Corrine shifted in place, ignoring the creaks in her chair. She’d sit on a milk crate to talk to Ryker, especially on days when the world threw her another curve ball.
God, she’d freaking growled at someone. She was pretty sure she still couldn’t reproduce the sound if she tried, and she had on the way home.
“The hamster wheel is spinning, Cori.”
She smiled at the nickname. She only let her family get away with calling her that. After being tormented growing up about having a boy’s name, she’d insisted everyone stick to her full name, but for some reason she’d never corrected Ryker.
“What’s on your mind?”
Aside from you? “Just thinking of places I can drop off or email my resume,” she lied.
“You mean there’s somewhere left around here you haven’t been fired from?” The smile was back in his voice.
“I’d punch you if I could reach you.”
“First time I’ve ever been glad to have that privacy fence.”
Grinning, she pushed to her feet, moving closer to the barrier, relaxing for the first time all day. “I’ve told you before I could totally take you.”
“Self-defense classes, right?”
She might as well have told him she’d could bench press ten pounds. “And what kind of skills do you have to rely on?”
“Some of us just try to steer clear of trouble.”
“I guess you didn’t realize that talking to me puts you on a collision course.”
“Couldn’t imagine a worse fate,” he teased.
Leaning back against the fence, she set her palm against the rough wood. If she closed her eyes and thought about it hard enough, she could hear his steps inch closer, his hand pressing against the wood in a mirror-image of hers.
“Yeah?” He had moved closer.
Her ears buzzed, and she shook her head, denying the sound of him shifting his weight, the rub of fabric on his pants like nails down a chalkboard. His toes must have nudged something heavy and ceramic, the sound scraping her ear drums.
She tried to hold the sounds close, to reel them back in, but she was already losing control.
The cars on the street out front thundered past, voices half a block away seemed to take place on her balcony. Noise from a television and a washing machine joined the shrill rings of cell phones, rattling air conditioners and street repair work on the corner.
They might as well have been jack hammering in the middle of her apartment.
The harder she tried to tune it out, the more the sounds punched through her head, a maddening symphony that churned together until she thought her ears would bleed.
“Make it stop,” she whimpered, half falling, half sliding to the ground.
On her knees, she rocked her body, the motion useless against the onslaught that made it impossible to sit still. One…two…three…four…
It’ll pass. It’ll pass.
“Talk to me.”
“Answer me, Cori.” The sound of Ryker’s voice separated from everything else. She focused on that, on the familiar rhythm of his words, sometimes smooth and warm, sometimes short and clipped and with even a hint of menace. The latter she’d heard more when he’d first moved in.
“Talk to me,” she managed, her voice thick. “About anything.” Thirteen…fourteen…fifteen…
“My cousin is planning a birthday party for me. In Vegas,” he added.
At the hotel his cousin owned, she guessed. Mac wasn’t it?
“He knows I hate the idea, but insists it’s too much of a milestone.”
“How old will you be?”
If he heard the lingering pain in her voice, he didn’t let on. “Thirty,” he eventually answered.
She didn’t call him out on the lie. Later she could wonder why he didn’t want her to know how old he was.
Ryker continued, “He wants to make some big deal about it, invite a bunch of people I haven’t seen in a very long time.”
The hammering between her ears began to ease.
“Knowing him, half of Vegas will be invited. Any excuse to bring more people into his Casino.”
“The Wolf’s Den, right?” Her muscles relaxed and she fell back on her butt, her back against the privacy wall.
As quickly as her hearing magnified, it dissipated, but she thought she heard him crouching behind her.
“You’ll have to see it sometime.”
“It’ll be at the top of my list when I win the lotto.”
She exhaled slowly, the panic that fisted her heart finally easing. Her hearing hadn’t gone wonky in a while. She’d almost taken that as a good sign, that whatever was wrong with her, was getting better. It had become the most debilitating side effect of her condition, one that she wasn’t even sure the doctors believed.
“Better now?” Ryker asked, some of the tension in his voice fading.
“It was all that talk about my body hair that set you off, huh?”
After what just happened, it should have been impossible to laugh at him, but the sound broke free of her throat anyway. How could he set her at ease so quickly?
She rubbed at her eyes. God, what did it say about her that this—whatever she and Ryker had going—might be the only thing keeping her from hurtling into the abyss that kept trying to reach up and swallow her whole?
Maybe it was just one more sign that something was wrong with her that she wanted to close her eyes and pretend that they weren’t separated by a stupid fence. That she could reach out and touch him, feel the warmth of his palm, the weight of his arms around her.
She swallowed, determined not to sound like she’d just boarded the bus for Crazy Town. “You have no idea what a furry chest does to me.”
“That bottle of wax is going straight into the garbage.”
Cori pushed herself to her feet. “Careful or I’ll think you’re flirting with me.”
“I don’t like the thought of you suffering,” he murmured.
She closed her eyes, imagining he whispered the words against her ear. “In that case give me the wax.”
“Haven’t been through enough today?”
She shrugged, then remembered he couldn’t see her. “Trouble is my middle name, remember?”
Something rubbed against the fence—Ryker leaning against the wood?
Deciding it was just wishful thinking, Corrine stepped away from the fence. “Ever feel like the entire universe is out to get you?”
Silence stretched between them. “Once.”
“Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to remind you—”
But she knew it wasn’t. His sister and her family had been killed and Ryker was still grieving. Sometimes she wondered if that was part of the reason he never took her up on her offer of ditching the balcony setup in favor of drinks or dinner face to face.
Probably for the best. He hardly needed her kind of crazy in his life, and he didn’t even know the half of it.
He was quiet so long she wondered if he had gone back inside without her hearing him. “You’ve had a rough day. You could probably use a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.”
Damn it. Definitely not okay. She might as well have been across the hall or at the other end of the building for as close as she felt to him now. She hadn’t heard that careful distance in his tone since the first week she’d found herself talking to him.
Another apology rose to her lips, but she knew he’d just shrug it off.
The breeze shifted, caressing her face. Even though the park was five blocks away, she was sure she could smell it—the aged wood of the trees, the crisp leaves and flowers, even the dew covered grass deep in the shadows.
A run would make everything better.
Three months ago the closest she’d come to being athletic was watching sports on television or online. Somewhere over the course of losing her mind, she’d started running. Aside from talking to Ryker, running was the only thing that gave her any sense of control over the stress, the craziness, the fear.
“I think I’ll go for a run.”
She looked over her shoulder as if she could see him scowling through the fence. “No?” she echoed.
He sighed. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like you had to leave.”
“You didn’t.” But hadn’t he? He’d dismissed her seconds ago and now he wanted her to stay? She rubbed the back of her neck in a failed attempt to loosen the tension burrowing into the base of her skull.
God, she’d had a long enough day without dissecting Ryker’s motives. Maybe he was right. Maybe a shower and sleep was exactly what she needed. She didn’t like the continued throbbing deep in her ear or the thought of having another attack while running.
“I think I will call it a night.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Cori.” When he didn’t move to go back inside, she realized he intended to stay outside alone.
“I’m sorry you had such a shitty day.”
“Me too.” She reached a hand out, imagining once more that she could feel his palm through the rough wood. Then, realizing how stupid she probably looked, she let her hand fall back to her side. “Talk to you tomorrow.”
Trying not to feel the sting of dismissal on top of a day that was already headed for the record books, she stepped back into her apartment.
The door was almost closed when he whispered, “Sleep well.”
Given how sensitive her hearing was lately, she didn’t know if she was supposed to have heard him or not.