A Christmas Kiss

 Breeds -19

Lora Leigh


A special thank-you to all the dear and special friends who have stood behind me, beside me and in front of me through a very difficult year.

Lue Anne, Natalie, Jennifer and Janine. Jessica, Crissy, Donna and Sheila. For my son, Bret, who always has my back; and my dearest friend, Sharon, who has supported me more times than I can count.

For my daughter, Holly, for running the roads; and Ryan, for putting up the fence. For Renae, for helping when I needed it the most; and for Ann Marie, for the shoes and wonderful e-mails.

All of you have made my life brighter, enriched it and understood when things got crazy.

Thank you.


Wolf Mountain, Colorado Wolf Breed Compound, Haven

There was something about a winter snowfall that Jessica

Raines had always loved. A sense of warmth, despite the cold. A sense of wonder, a remnant of her childhood that she had never lost.

Now, as she moved through the soft, heavy winter white that fell around her, she had never felt less like a child. At twenty-four, she felt old, worn and tired.

Christmas was coming. Lights were strung around the Wolf Breed Compound of Haven and windows were lit up with the festive colors of the season as lavishly decorated trees twinkled merrily into the winter night.

Christmas was coming and Jessica had never felt less festive.

The snow was beautiful though. She had missed it last year during her imprisonment in the underground cells to which the Wolf Breeds had kept her confined. Because she had been a traitor. No matter how reluctantly, still, she had betrayed the very people she had believed in so deeply. Even as she had done it, helpless against the compulsions rising inside her, Jessica had raged, fought, screamed silently. But still, she had hidden information, relayed defense maneuvers and revealed the residences of the Wolf Breed alpha and his mate, as well as their second-in-command to her father.

The pure blood society he had worked with had nearly killed them. If she hadn’t found the strength to pull two of the mates from their homes before the attack, then they would have been killed.

She pushed her fingers through her hair, tugging at the tender roots as she fought to make sense of the betrayal her father had dealt her. He had been sending her to certain death. He had to have known it. The drug he had slipped into her food and drinks when she visited, the orders he had given her—he had known beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would be caught, and that she would die. And still, he had done it.

She couldn’t even ask him why he had done it. He was dead now. The society he had been a part of was disbanded. Advert, the small town outside the Breed compound was under Wolf Breed control, but still, Jessica suffered.

She had lost everything because of his hatred for a species that hadn’t asked to be created. One that was determined to survive now that it existed. He had sacrificed his daughter, and then his own life, for nothing.

She lifted her face to the falling snow and imagined the dampness on her skin was the moisture of the melting ice. It wasn’t. It was tears, and she knew it. Her father wasn’t the only one who had lost in his bid to destroy the Breeds; Jessica had lost as well, much more than anyone could imagine.

Pausing, she leaned against the large trunk of a towering oak and gazed up at the close canopy of thick, dark clouds. The snow was flying thicker, harder. It suddenly had a heavy, ominous feel to it, as though nature were moving in to exact vengeance for crimes untold.

Or perhaps against her.

Grimacing at the flight of fancy, she shook her head before moving quickly to turn back to the cabin she had left. That sudden movement was followed by a loud retort and a chunk of bark striking her in the face.

There was a second of disbelief, a pause as the realization that someone was shooting at her filtered through her system, before Jessica jumped behind the tree, heart racing, fear pounding within her.

Someone had just fired on her.

She was in the middle of the forest with no coat, no weapon, no guards. She was undefended in a place where she shouldn’t have needed defending.

Now what?

She stared around the bleak winter landscape, fighting to catch her breath through the pounding of her heart as she tried to think quickly. Logically.

She couldn’t see anyone, couldn’t sense anyone. Right now she would give her eyeteeth for those nifty super-senses the Breeds possessed. Advanced hearing, seeing and sense of smell would come in handy right now.

She couldn’t stand there much longer, she told herself. She was going to have to move soon or the shooter could work his way around until he had a line of sight on her that she couldn’t escape.

There was only one course of action. She gripped the rough trunk of the tree, hard, before throwing herself past it and racing for the large rocks and boulders a short distance away.

Shots fired behind her. Clumps of dirt flew up, striking against her as she ran. She slid into the snug embrace of the boulders, flinching on a hard shudder as another bullet exploded against the side of a huge rock.

“Cowards,” she bit out furiously, pushing herself as close against the rock as she could. “Bastards.”

Surely to God one of the Breeds would have heard the gunshots by now. Haven, the Wolf Breed Compound, was patrolled by one of the best Breed security forces in the world. So where were they now? Maybe it hadn’t really been such a good idea to slip away from her bodyguard.

On hands and knees she crawled through the mess of boulders lying around like a child’s toys tossed about haphazardly.

The sharp retort sounded again, this time sending chips of stone flying over her head as she wedged herself between upright columns and fought to make herself as small as possible.

She was dead. The Breeds should have just killed her a year ago when they were debating the action, because she was definitely going to die now.

Where the hell were the Breed patrols? Or was that who was shooting at her?

Fear rushed through her system in a surge of adrenaline as the next shot sent a bullet tearing into the stone above her head. They were getting closer. She wasn’t going to survive. She would die here, in the cold and the snow, and it would probably take a while for someone to find her body. Evidently no one was too concerned with her now that she had been released, though she was confined to Haven. It was probably a Breed trying to kill her.

“Jess.” A hand clamped over her mouth and strong arms jerked her behind the rocks as another shot struck beside her shoulder.

Heated, hard and male, the large body she was suddenly cushioned against was a welcome relief, a place of security as she recognized the voice at her ear.

Hawke Esteban.

Relief poured through her system with enough force to leave her dizzy. One arm curled around her waist, dragging her backward to the security of another outcropping of the large rocks she had been using for protection.

“What the hell are you doing out here?” he hissed in her ear, his dark, brooding voice sizzling with anger.

She tried to shake her head. How the hell was she supposed to talk with his calloused palm clapped over her lips?

“Stay still,” he ordered as she struggled against him. “Mordecai and Rule are moving in on the shooter.”

Mordecai, the cold, steel-hard Coyote assigned to Haven from the Coyote pack in the cliffs above, and Rule, the Lion Breed who normally worked as personal security for the Director of Breed Affairs, Jonas Wyatt.

Both men were killers, true stone-cold Breeds bred to shed blood.

“Let’s get you out of here.” His hand slid away from her mouth. “Stay behind me. We’ll work our way back to the cabin and let them take care of business here.”

Hawke could feel fear crawling through his system as he gripped Jessica’s hand, and following Rule’s directions, began to lead her along the most secure path back to the cabin she had been assigned.

Fear was an unknown emotion to him, until now. Until he had faced the realization that someone was shooting at his mate. That he could lose her. That everything he had fought for over the past year could end in her death.

He couldn’t face it, he realized in the moments that he, Mordecai and Rule had raced to her rescue. He couldn’t face Jess’s death. In the past year she had already faced more than any woman should have had to endure; to lose her this way was more than he could contemplate.

Lifting his head, he pulled the scents of the forests into his nostrils, drawing farther away from the sharp tang of evil and gunfire. He could literally smell the intent of the man stalking Jess. The murderous anger; the determination to kill her.

“He’s drawing away, Hawke.” Mordecai’s voice came over the communication link. “We don’t have an ID yet, just scent. Rule is moving in place to capture.”

“Capture, don’t kill,” Hawke warned the Coyote Breed, his voice hard. “I want enough left to question.”

“If I have to,” Mordecai drawled.

“You’re dragging me, Hawke,” Jess protested behind him.

He was dragging her. He was pulling her through the forests at a quick pace, forcing her to keep up with him as he rushed her back to safety.