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Blackstone Ranger Rogue
Author: Alicia Montgomery

Chapter One

 

 

Darcey Wednesday sighed as she watched the happy couple dance to the slow, romantic song playing over the speakers. The ballroom of The Blackstone Grand Hotel was decorated beautifully, setting up a fairy-tale-like background for the bride and groom.

Really, she was ecstatic for Daniel and Sarah. If anyone deserved to live happily ever after, it was her sister. Ever since they met at that god-awful foster home, Sarah had taken care of her and their other adopted sibling, Adam. For over twelve years, Sarah had been like their mother, father, protector, and caregiver all in one. She could have abandoned them when she turned eighteen and was no longer the responsibility of the state, but she didn’t. Sarah worked her ass off to get them out of a terrible situation and provide for them all these years.

And now, Sarah had the love of her life, Daniel Rogers, to take care of her. And Darcey would never begrudge her sister happiness.

But that didn’t mean she couldn’t feel a pang of envy, watching them stare into each other’s eyes, holding each other, dancing together. They were two bodies, but one soul. Fated, bonded mates.

Someone jostled her from behind, and she turned her head. It was one of the waiters carrying a tray of champagne as he walked away from her.

A fluttering in her chest distracted her for a moment.

Mine?

She shook her head and smiled sadly.

The fluttering slowed to a weak flapping before it stopped.

Another sigh escaped her lips. She was used to the familiar flutter and the voice in her head. After all, she was a shifter, and for as long as she could remember, had always shared her body with her inner animal. It never bothered her, that she was different. In fact, she wondered what it was like for humans like Sarah and Adam. What was it like to constantly be alone in their thoughts? To not have an inner companion? To not have to struggle to keep it under control?

Yes, most of her life, she’d lived around humans, from the Nevada orphanage where she’d spent the first nine years of her life, to the various foster homes she was shuttled around in until she met Sarah and Adam. Still, it wasn’t something she thought about every day—that was just her life. Sure, she’d met a few shifters over the years. When she came close to any of them, she always just knew if they were like her. Like a feeling she couldn’t describe but a truth she just knew.

Now, here she was, in Blackstone, Colorado, surrounded by other shifters. Hundreds of them. The moment she stepped foot in this town, she knew this place was way different from Las Vegas where she’d lived all her life. Soon, she would be living here full time, too, and opening the first ever brick and mortar shop of Silk, Lace, and Whispers, the online lingerie store she ran with Sarah.

It was exciting, for sure, and she was grateful that Daniel had invited her to live with them in his house. She and Adam would be occupying two of the bedrooms on the first floor. She would be surrounded by her family—old and new, which included Daniel’s parents who she was already growing to love—and would be living in a town where everyone was like her.

But she still felt alone. Like there was something out there she was constantly searching for. Like something was missing.

Maybe it was because she wasn’t like other shifters here. Her new brother-in-law was a bear, as was his boss, Damon Cooper, whom she met earlier today. His other coworkers in the Blackstone Rangers were wolves, lions, deer, foxes, and of course, she had heard about the Blackstone dragons who protected the town.

But her? She was no apex predator. In fact, she wasn’t any kind of predator. Rather, she was the most docile, harmless creature one could imagine—a swan.

She had only been a few days old when she appeared at the doorstep of the St. Margaret Orphanage. The nuns had no idea what she was and had been just as surprised as her when a few years later, she was in the middle of a fight with another kid and poof—disappeared under the pile of clothes on the floor. Panicked, she had dashed into the bathroom and saw her reflection in the full-length mirror. She looked like a fluffy gray duck. Yes, as cliched as it sounded—an ugly little duckling. But later on, as she matured, her true form emerged. The ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan.

Kinda, anyway.

But surely there were other non-predatory shifters around here, right? A raccoon or squirrel, or maybe even other avian shifters?

The music shifted into something more cheerful, jarring her out of her thoughts. Daniel released Sarah and stepped back, then led her into the beginning steps of an old-fashioned swing dance. The crowd cheered and clapped as the couple spun around the dance floor.

“They’re so happy, it’s disgusting.”

Darcey suppressed a smile at the familiar voice. “Disgusting, huh?” she said to her younger brother, Adam, who had popped up beside her in his brand-new motorized wheelchair.

“Yeah.” His mouth twisted. “I don’t see the big deal with being in love anyway. People can be happy on their own, you know?”

At first, she thought her brother was being his usual sarcastic teen self. But when he looked up at her with those big green eyes, she saw a flash of something that made her heart twitch. It was sympathy.

Aside from the couple themselves, no one was happier about Daniel and Sarah getting together than Adam was. He practically worshiped his new big brother and was thrilled about leaving Nevada to live here. But Adam was not only smart for his sixteen years, but also emotionally mature. She knew he was trying to suppress his happiness because of her. He didn’t want her to feel bad that Sarah had Daniel, while Darcey remained single.

As far as she knew, Sarah had never dated seriously nor had any long-term boyfriends. In fact, except for two or three guys she’d dated exclusively for a few months and handful of dates over the years, Sarah had been contentedly single, devoting all her time to raising and providing for her and Adam.

She, on the other hand, tended to flit from one relationship to another, with disastrous results. Whenever a guy paid even a modicum of attention on her, she went all in, focusing her time and energy to making the “relationship” work, bending over backward to please him. But none of that mattered because they all ended the same—with her alone and her heart broken.

She was like a big jerk magnet, attracting only the worst men. They seemed nice enough at first, but they more often than not turned into assholes who either ghosted her or stuck around long enough to take advantage of her, whether financially or emotionally. Eventually, she would end up crying and swearing off relationships. But sure enough, a new guy would come along, and well … her relationship status had more cycles than the Tour de France.

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