As co-owner of the only pet parlor in the county, Kimmy is serious about taking care of animals. When she hears a pair of dogs fighting in her yard in the middle of the night, she runs out to break them up. The only problem is they aren’t dogs—they’re wolves. And one of them has tentacles. And the other one is glowing.
It seems like something straight out of her favorite paranormal romance novels when the glowing wolf turns into the hottest guy she’s ever seen. So what if he’s actually from outer space?
Serac is intrigued by the courageous Earthling that ran to his aid wielding only a primitive weapon called a ‘broom.’ His zyln, the elemental spirit that lives within him, is fascinated by her—a fascination that Serac quickly shares. But she’s thrown off his mission, accidentally imprinting with the Lyrian pet he was supposed to deliver and distracting him from securing smuggling routes out of Earth. To make things worse, his ex-partner, a shapeshifting mercenary from Scorpii-2, is out to capture Kimmy for his own nefarious ends.
When Serac’s attraction deepens into his only chance at forming a mate bond, he is once more forced to choose between his heart and his conscience. And this time, he may not be strong enough to walk away.
Can their bond survive while they work together to complete a mission that could benefit billions of sentients throughout the galaxy?
Author’s note: This novella was originally published in the Pets in Space® 5 anthology.
Main Content: Approximately 28,325 words
Available on these retailers:
RATE OF RETURN
(THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMEWORLD SECURITY, Book Fourteen)
Copyright © 2021 Cassandra Chandler
All rights reserved
A piercing howl woke Kimmy from her sound sleep. At first, she thought it was a continuation of her amazing dream—a lovely side-effect of reading the latest paranormal shifter romance in her favorite series right before bed.
But then she heard the unmistakable growls and barks of dogs fighting. Real dogs. And something sounded off about one of them.
She threw off the pile of comforters and quilts she’d buried herself beneath and flung herself out of bed. The floor was freezing, and for the millionth time she wished she could stand sleeping in socks—or really anything more than a long nightshirt and undies.
“Cold, cold, cold,” she chanted, hopping on one foot, then the other as she scrambled for her oversized, fur-lined house-boots.
She grabbed her glasses and pushed them onto her face. After fumbling for the lights in the hallway, she ran downstairs, then grabbed a coat in the kitchen and pulled it on.
As she headed out the back door, she picked up her broom, just in case. She had a way with animals, but these dogs sounded…
Enormous. Oh my God, they’re huge.
And they weren’t dogs. Not like any she’d seen before.
She froze on her back porch, trying to make sense of what she was seeing, wondering if she was still dreaming.
At first, she thought they might be wolves. But wolves weren’t so big.
They also didn’t glow.
Or have tentacles.
The larger animal had five enormous eyes on its face, making it look like a cross between a wolf and a bug. The tentacles rippling along its back added to the…not-wolfness of it. That and the purple and green fur covering its body.
It was fighting what looked a lot like a gigantic wolf. His pelt was pure white and glowed with a silvery light that trailed along behind him as he moved.
If it wasn’t for the fact that they were obviously trying to kill each other—and that one of them looked like a nightmare—the sight would have been…magical.
“Fairies,” she whispered.
The glowing wolf looked over at her. His opponent took advantage of the momentary distraction.
Kimmy screamed as the nightmare-wolf latched onto the glowing wolf’s neck and shook, hard. Without thinking, she ran forward, waving her broom and yelling.
In some part of her brain, she realized how foolish it was—how dangerous and futile—but she couldn’t stop herself. She wouldn’t.
She charged at them full speed. The moment she reached the pair, she started whacking the nightmare-wolf as hard as she could, over and over again. It released the glowing wolf and snapped at her, its teeth clacking loudly inches away from her face.
She screamed again, but didn’t back off. With all her strength, she hit it soundly on the head with her broom.
“Bad dog!” she yelled.
What the hell am I doing?
The nightmare-wolf staggered back and shook itself. It growled, staring at her with calculating intelligence in its eyes.
“Back off!” Kimmy said.
She pushed as much authority as she could into her order, jabbing the broom in its direction. To her complete shock, the nightmare-wolf actually backed up a step. It looked between her and the glowing wolf, then turned and loped away.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe that worked.”
The glowing wolf started letting out hacking coughs, his legs shaking, then he fell onto his side.
“No, no, no.” Kimmy dropped her broom and knelt in the snow next to him, burying her fingers in his fur.
She couldn’t feel any injuries, but he was already so cold. The poor thing.
“Hang on,” she said. “I’ll help you.”
She shed her giant coat and spread it out on the ground behind the wolf. The cold hit her immediately, making her teeth chatter.
“Oh my God,” she said. “What am I doing now?”
She shook her head, answering herself. “I’m helping an animal in need. That’s what I’m doing. And talking to myself as I do it. As usual.”
The wolf tried to get up, which gave her a chance to scoot the fabric underneath him. When he fell back over, he landed right in the middle of her coat.
As big as her coat was, the wolf was bigger. Still, with the slick snow beneath him, she was able to drag him to her house.
She had piled a bunch of snow up next to her porch when she’d shoveled the walkways earlier in the day. Hopefully, there was enough packed in to hold their weight.
She sucked in a breath and ran toward the slope, tugging the wolf after her. The makeshift ramp worked like a charm. On the porch, she didn’t stop, but kept up their momentum until she had him through the kitchen door.
“I’m so glad I left that open,” she said.
Snow and ice scattered across the tile, but she didn’t care. At least it was warmer inside. She could mop up the mess later.
Rising to close the door, she noticed another glowing creature. This one was bright red, his glow so intense, it almost hurt to look at him. Whatever this was, he was tiny.
She tried to slam the door, but before it shut, the furry little thing bolted into her kitchen, climbing up the drawers and onto the counter. He knocked over several containers as he made his way to her cabinets. When he reached the top, she could hear him running back and forth, chittering angrily, the red glow of his fur streaking along the ceiling.
“What now?” she asked.
She had left her broom outside, but the little guy had knocked a spatula onto the counter. Kimmy picked it up and kept it ready, just in case he tried to jump at her.
“Settle down,” she said. “I have enough to deal with already.”
The wolf seemed really out of it, but made a chuffing noise. She dropped back to her knees next to him. Her hand went to his head automatically, years of practice and instinct taking over. She gently petted him, trying to keep at least one of her strange visitors happy.
“It’s okay,” she murmured. “It’s okay.”
His coat was still so cold, even with the door shut. She tried to pull more of her coat around him, but he was just too big. His eyes had rolled shut, but his breath was coming more easily.
“That’s it,” she cooed, stroking his fur. “Just breathe. You’re going to be okay.”
Movement from the top of the cabinets was her only warning that the little guy had decided to join them. He spread his limbs—all six of them—stretching the skin that connected them and glided down to land on the wolf’s side.
The tiny creature was only letting out little squeaks now, so she kept up with the soothing talk. He also started changing color, oscillating between red and yellow.
“It really is okay,” she said. “I’m only trying to help.”
The color-changing critter settled into a pale pink color, paws burrowing into the wolf’s pelt. He poked his head up, staring at her with huge, black-and-pink eyes.
“You are just adorable,” she said. “Which I hope isn’t an insult.”
She dared to reach out and gently run her fingertip over his head. He blinked a few times, making a quizzical noise, then closed his eyes and started to sort of purr.
“Is this your friend?” She gave the wolf another gentle pat. “I’m going to help, okay?”
Her tiny guest looked like a sugar glider, only with two feathery antennae coming off the top of his head. His fur was even softer than the wolf’s.
This has to be a fairy. And that means…
She looked back to the wolf, gingerly feeling around his neck. He let out another chuff, which was way better than the hacking noises he had made earlier. She thought back to how the other wolf-thing had looked at her with uncanny intelligence in its eyes.
Excitement shot through her. Could it be?
“Please be a werewolf,” she murmured.
A hot guy werewolf.
She managed not to say that thought out loud.
The fairy glider made an indignant squeak, then scurried up Kimmy’s arm and nestled at the base of her neck. She could feel several of his arms holding onto her hair to stay in place.
The wolf’s fur glowed more brightly, then pulled back into his skin. His muscles popped and joints cracked as they shifted into a humanoid shape—an absolutely masculine humanoid shape.
Kimmy sat back on her heels to give him space, but stayed close in case he needed help. Not at all because hot werewolf shifter romances were her absolute favorite genre of books and she prayed that she was living one at that very moment.
The man raised himself up on his hands and knees, breathing heavily. The muscles of his back flexed with the movement. He was beefier than she usually liked, but watching the light glint off of his richly tanned skin, she didn’t have any complaints.
Give the guy a break, Kimmy. He just got his ass kicked.
Although, he’d been doing okay until she’d distracted him. Hopefully, he wouldn’t hold that against her.
Hopefully, he’d hold other things against her.
Chiding herself yet again, she reached out and gently touched his shoulder.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
He jerked away, landing hard on his backside and staring at her with wide eyes—amber eyes that went perfectly with his short, raven-black hair. As he moved, he grabbed her coat, draping it over his lap to cover himself.
His lips were full, his eyebrows dark slashes above his eyes. He had a strong jawline, too, matching his physique. There was a haunted quality to his eyes that drew her in.
“It’s okay.” She held out her hands in a calming gesture.
She realized she was still holding the spatula. They both stared at it. Could he think it was a weapon? She tossed it away, just in case.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said.
He swallowed hard. She could see his throat work. Then he licked those lush lips.
Her heart beat hard against her ribs and her mind reeled, wondering what his first words to her would be. She leaned forward as he opened his mouth to speak.
“Are you insane?” he said.