If Quinn wants to get the best photos for his travel blog, no gate is too tall, and no ‘do not enter’ sign actually means he won’t go in. What he finds in a hidden exclusion zone by Chernobyl blows his mind. Mutants? Monsters? He doesn’t know, but he is bound to find out when not one but two of them break into his hotel.
Too bad the rules and attitudes they have toward sex don’t match Quinn’s at all.
Born with a disabled hand, smaller than the other werewolves, Dima is the lowest of the low in his pack, but when he meets the loveliest human he’s ever seen, he knows his luck has changed.
The last thing he expects though is his beloved friend Nazar turning on him once Dima’s affection for Quinn deepens, and he refuses to be mounted by Nazar anymore.
Nazar is a high ranking soldier in his pack, but in his powerful body hides a gentle soul, and all he wants is to escape the pack with Dima. But once Dima claims Quinn as his, secrets Nazar has so far kept hidden rear their ugly head.
The werewolf language doesn’t have words to describe what they crave, so Quinn might be the only one to help them solve the puzzle of the desires that go against the rules of their pack.
Themes: shifter, werewolf, menage, knotting, urban exploration, cultural differences, disability, hierarchy, USSR, isolated from the world, society of men, PTSD, military, secret organization
Genre: M/M/M romance, suspense, paranormal, urban fantasy
Length: ~75,000 words
WARNING: This book contains steamy content and graphic violence.
He looked around. So this was the black zone.
Thickly forested. Perfectly silent.
He’d been to precious few places in the world where he could feel completely alone, and this was one of them. A nervous feeling coiled in the pit of his stomach, but he laughed it off, shook his head, and started into the woods. The guides had gotten to him. Plain and simple. They’d given him just enough doubt, just enough possibility that those guns weren’t for show, to kick on some irrational lizard brain nervousness. There was no danger. Just illusions.
The farther he ventured into the forest, the thicker the undergrowth became. He picked his way through, occasionally using trees for balance as he climbed through a particularly dense patch. He muttered to himself about goddamned mutant vines trying to trip him. Wouldn’t that be fun—explaining to his guides why he had a twisted ankle and smelled like tree sap.
Abruptly, the undergrowth vanished.
Well, not quite. But there was suddenly a belt of bare earth a few feet wide carving a line through the brush and bushes, extending as far as the eye could see in either direction. From the tamped down dirt, this wasn’t just a random strip of barren soil. This was a path, and it was used as one.
Quinn gulped. His neck prickled.
He stepped into the path and crouched down.
Yeah, this was used all right. And not just by humans. There were boot tracks, and what looked like some tire tracks—exclusion zone, my ass—but that wasn’t all. Some of the tracks were distinctly canine, but unnervingly huge. Even bigger than the prints his mother’s Saint Bernard left in the snow. A bit longer and narrower too. Like a person had been wearing those dumb toe running shoes, except… dog-like.
They were also deep. Each depression dug far enough into the soil to suggest something heavier than a person. Or at least as heavy. And if they were wearing dog toe shoes, they’d gone all out—there were apostrophe-shaped punctures ahead of each toe. Why would they have claws on shoes?
The guns on his guides’ belts and shoulders flashed through his mind.
Quinn gulped. Okay, maaaybe there was a reason for the black zone and the guns.
Or maybe the guys with the boots were walking the very, very large dogs. Hadn’t he heard about a military facility near here? One of those places that existed but didn’t exist? Wouldn’t surprise him.
He shook himself, then snapped a few photos of the footprints, the paw prints, and the path. He took a pen out of his pocket, stabbed it into the ground at the edge of the path to mark where he’d turned, and started following the trail.
This was much nicer than stumbling over undergrowth, that was for sure, but those prints were kind of unnerving. Especially the fresher ones. The more he looked, the more the boot prints seemed slightly older. Like it had rained at some point since they were made. The edges on the paw prints—not to mention the claw holes—were much sharper and more distinct.
The hairs on his neck stood up. It was probably his imagination, but that “completely alone in the world” feeling was gone. And he kind of wanted it back, because this was getting creepy.
Quinn swallowed. He’d taken some photos. Gotten a look around. Maybe now was a good time go back.
He halted, moving only his eyes as he scanned his surroundings. Clearly he was losing his mind, because he was sure someone was watching him now. Maybe some security cameras to make sure idiot tourists didn’t wander into the black zone. With any luck a guard was watching those now and had sent someone to come collect him and rip into him for being that idiot tourist before handing him back to his heavily-armed guides and…
Quinn exhaled slowly.
Definitely time to go back.
He turned on his heel.
Not ten feet away, an enormous black-brown creature stared back at him with intense yellow eyes. It was hunched down, as if it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be bipedal or on all fours.
Or maybe it was thinking about lunging at him.
And, like, ripping his face off with those huge fucking claws and the gleaming teeth peeking out from beneath its curled lips.
Quinn took a slow, cautious step back. The creature took a much more decisive step forward, staying on its haunches. One arm was tucked close to its side and slightly smaller. The other was poised to either reach for something or be used for balance, the gigantic clawed paw opening and closing in the air.
A low growl emerged from its throat.
And Quinn decided that was enough of that shit, and he spun around and ran.
Not supposed to run from dogs, right? What am I doing?
That’s not a dog. And I’m running. Fuck this.
“Help!” he cried out in English. Then in Russian. He hoped. Didn’t matter, did it? As long as his voice and obvious distress carried far enough to bring help over the river and through the woods before the big bad wolf ripped him to tiny pieces of dumb tourist?
He needed some obstacles between him and…whatever that thing was. So, he turned sharply and lunged into the woods. The creature skidded behind him, and stumbled, giving Quinn a few seconds to gain some ground, but it didn’t help.
“If you can hear me, help!”
Going into the forest was a bad idea. Really bad. Quinn still had to climb every obstacle and try not to break his neck. The wolf crashed through it like it wasn’t even there.
Time for Plan B. He quickly found a tree with branches that hung low enough to grab, and he scrambled up the mossy trunk. He pulled himself up off the ground, but an impossibly huge, strong hand grabbed his ankle and hauled him back down.
He hit the ground hard, the impact knocking a yelp out of him. He spun around, pressing his back against a tree trunk, and suddenly he was face to face with the wolf. Monster. Thing.
Its face nearly touched his. Lips pulled back across enormous teeth.
“Uh. Nice dog. Nice doggy.”
Probably doesn’t speak English, moron!
Quinn swallowed. He decided to try in Russian, since a lot of Ukrainians spoke it fluently. “Nice dog. Don’t hurt me.”
Because that works on animals. Fuck. I’m gonna die.
But to his surprise, the monster backed off slightly. The growl quieted. The massive head cocked.
Quinn stared at it, trying not to look it right in the eye, but also attempting to read its expression. If it had one. What the fuck?
“Please… please don’t eat me.”
A weird sound emerged from its flaring nostrils. Was that… did it fucking laugh at him?
The creature leaned in again and sniffed him. Quinn closed his eyes, holding his breath as hot huffs fluttered his T-shirt and his hair. He hadn’t pissed himself, had he? No. Good. Might as well die with some dignity. Because he was pretty sure dying was the only thing left in his future.
It backed off a little, and he opened his eyes, watching the creature through fogged up lenses. The creature sat back on its haunches. One arm stayed tucked close to its side, almost as if it was immobile, but the other moved just fine. At closer inspection, it also seemed that the motionless paw was smaller, and deformed somehow. The other paw hesitantly reached for Quinn—oh God claws—and tugged at his camera strap.
“Hey. Hey.” Quinn cautiously nudged the paw away, less for the camera’s benefit and more to protect his abdomen full of vital guts. “Look, if you’re gonna kill me. Just do it. Okay?”
The creature sat back a little and met his gaze, reminding Quinn of a giant wolf, despite the oddly primate-like shape of its body and its face lacking an elongated muzzle. What the hell?
“You’re not supposed to taunt your prey.” Quinn’s voice shook badly. “That’s what cats do. Not dogs.”
Another weird huff.
Quinn gulped. “Do you… do you understand me?”
A soft growl emerged. He didn’t know what to make of it, but it didn’t seem like a hostile sound. And he was still alive, so that was a bonus.
“If you understand me,” he said in Russian, holding out his hand, “give me your paw.”
The wolf jerked its head, eying his outstretched hand warily. He sniffed it, huffing more hot breaths across Quinn’s shaking palm and fingers.
Wonder what it feels like to have my hand bit off. Guess I’ll find out.
But it wasn’t attacking him. Just studying him.
He swallowed. “T-touch my hand if you understand me.”
The paw rose. One claw tapped the center of Quinn’s palm.
Oh. My God.
So it understood. Russian, anyway.
And it hadn’t killed him. If anything, it seemed… curious?
Moving slowly and carefully, Quinn lifted his other hand. The monster tensed, and its yellow eyes locked onto Quinn’s hand as he reached across the void.
“I just want to touch you,” he said. “I’m curious.”
Its eyes darted toward him. Back to his hand. Back to him again.
Quinn’s fingertips brushed the reddish brown fur on the monster’s shoulder. The skin twitched, much like a horse trying to get rid of a fly, but it didn’t recoil, so Quinn rested his whole hand.
The creature turned its head. Its brow furrowed, its huge nostrils flaring as it sniffed, but it didn’t pull away.
Carefully, Quinn petted the fur like he would a dog instead of a monster that was bigger than he was and had claws like a fucking bear. His heart was going ninety miles an hour, his stomach twisting, but he kept petting the monster because this beat the hell out of being minced.
The monster nudged his wrist with its cold nose. Then harder, dipping its head as if to try to duck under his hand. Quinn relaxed his arm and let the creature maneuver his hand until it was on the silky smooth fur of its head.
He couldn’t help laughing. What in the world…?
He petted it a couple of times, and the creature rubbed against his arm almost like a cat.
Would it object to having its ears scratched? They were upright and pointy with little tufts on the ends, and scratching them was almost irresistible aside from the whole “not wanting to lose an arm” thing.
Lightly at first, he scratched behind the wolf’s ear. It stiffened, but leaned into it, so Quinn did it a little harder, and laughed when the wolf closed its eyes and pressed against his hand. He was actually surprised it didn’t start thumping its back leg on the leaf-littered ground.
So he could pet it, and he could scratch its ears. Was he making friends with this thing? Well, if experience had taught him anything, the way to any critter’s heart was through its stomach.
“I’m going to take something out of my pocket.” He slowly withdrew his hand. “Just a little thing to nibble on.”
The wolf intently watched him as he shifted, slid his hand into his pocket, and found the Snickers bar he’d been carrying around. The wrapper crinkled, which made the wolf’s ears prick up, and Quinn laughed.
The wolf met his eyes and laid its ears back down. Okay, so maybe laughing at it when it put its ears up was insulting. Or something.
He crinkled the wrapper again, and the ears came back up. Carefully, Quinn unwrapped the candy bar and broke off a piece. He offered it on his outstretched palm.
The wolf sniffed it, but didn’t take it.
“It’s okay.” Quinn pushed his hand closer. “It’s food.”
Sniffing it again, the wolf eyed him.
Quinn took a bite off the remaining bar. “See?” he mumbled through a mouthful of chocolate and peanuts. “Food.”
The wolf’s eyes flicked from Quinn’s face to the bar in his hand to the little morsel on his palm. Its massive jaws opened—holy shit what big teeth you have—and the monster’s pink tongue lapped at the candy. Then again. After some tentative licks, it very delicately removed the candy from Quinn’s hand, and the jaws closed. It chomped on the candy, cocking its head this way and that as if it didn’t quite know what to make of the strange flavors and textures.
Quinn took another bite of the candy bar. “Good, isn’t it?”
The monster gulped it down. It started sniffing the remaining candy.
And just like that, the candy was gone.
Quinn stared at his empty hand, then at the creature that was apparently getting the hang of chewing a Snickers bar.
“Dick,” he muttered.
Another huff of almost-laughter.
Quinn laughed and shook his head. “Good thing I wasn’t hungrier than—”
The creature suddenly jumped back, head snapping toward the town Quinn had left behind. It rose to nearly its full height, standing more like a man than a wolf, and sniffed the air.
Quinn sat up. What was going on?
Then he heard shouts. They were distant, but distinct.
“Go that way!” one of his guides barked. “I’ll check to the south.”
Quinn turned to the creature and was about to say he knew who they were, but in the blink of an eye, the mutated wolf was gone. Brush and undergrowth rustled, but then it was just… gone.
“I loved the complexity of the characters; the MCs are so different, but they complement each other..”