May 2015

See Jeaniene at Romance Writers of America®

35th Annual Conference
New York Marriott Marquis
New York, New York
July 22–25, 2015

Books, movies and TV shows

Like millions of other people, I rushed out to see Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron. I really liked it (and now I want a Hulk/Black Widow movie to happen) but I have to admit that I liked the first Avengers more. Age Of Ultron followed typical movie sequel format by having more action, explosions, and chase scenes than the first one, and that came at the price of character development, in my opinion. Now, to be fair, there are a LOT of characters. Since many of them have their own movies centered around them, to adequately flesh out each one while still moving the Avengers-as-a-team storyline along is an impossible task, so my nitpicks are just that: nitpicks. Overall, it’s a good, fun movie, and I look forward to seeing the next Avengers, plus the next Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk… you get the picture ;).

May isn’t just the start of the summer movie season. It’s also the time that TV networks renew shows and/or drop the ax on them. I blogged before about how I liked the new TV show Forever, which reminded me of Castle with light supernatural elements, but it’s probably going to get canceled. Revenge, one of my guilty pleasures, has already gotten the ax. I am crossing my fingers that the brand-new show iZombie does not meet these same fates. It’s funny and twisted, with a dash of dark, and I would be so disappointed if it’s not renewed for a second season. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend it.

On the plus side, some of my other favorite TV shows are returning soon. I really liked The Strain, although it’s about as dark of a take on vampires as you can get. Defiance is another favorite, although it took me several episodes before I got into it. Longmire will also return in the near future, and I am so glad that it was picked up by Netflix after A&E cancelled it because I was not ready to say goodbye to those characters.

And finally, I’ve been busy writing The Sweetest Burn, book two in the Broken Destiny series, which will release sometime around the end of this year. I posted the description on my website, but I haven’t posted any teasers yet, so now seemed as good of a time as any. Here’s a snippet from early on in The Sweetest Burn. I’ve tried to take out any spoilers, so you’ll see a “censored” in the text, and this scene in the novel is longer. Also, this is pre-revisions and pre-copyedits, so you might see some grammar errors and missing and/or extra words, too. Apologies for those, and I hope you enjoy!

***

I rolled over and stuffed the pillow in a new position under my head. Useless. The bed was comfy, the RV was quiet, and yet I’d lain here, wide awake, for hours.

“Ivy.”

My gaze flew to the door, but it was still closed. I hadn’t imagined hearing Adrian say my name, though, so I strained my ears and waited.

“Ivy, come outside.” Adrian’s voice was low but clear, and I realized that he was speaking to me through the exterior wall of the RV. “I need to show you something.”

I got up, mostly because I couldn’t stand to toss and turn anymore. I doubted something was wrong or Adrian wouldn’t be whispering. Plus, we’d parked at the edge of an old cemetery. Demons couldn’t cross onto hallowed ground, so we were safe from them. Hallowed ground wasn’t a deterrent to minions, but there’d need to be a lot of them to pose a threat with Adrian, Brutus and Costa here, not to mention me.

The thought cheered me. I wasn’t the same helpless girl I’d been when this whole thing started. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Well, I’d had lots of things try to kill me, so by extension, I had to be stronger by leaps and bounds.

Once out of the bedroom, I tiptoed past a snoring Costa, who was on the sofa bed. The lone pillow on the floor must have been where Adrian had slept. He rarely used blankets, having long ago become well-acclimated to the cold. Like Costa, I piled on the blankets to offset my memories of the dark, icy realms, but most of Adrian’s time there had consisted of him being treated better than a king, so maybe he didn’t mind the memories as much.

Adrian had left the RV door open a crack, so it made no noise when I opened it to go outside. He’d moved away from my side of the trailer and stood near one of the old tombstones. It took a second for me to realize that Brutus was perched on top of a crypt next to him. If I hadn’t spotted the gargoyle’s red, iridescent eyes, I might’ve mistaken him for an elaborate statue.

“What’s up?” I said, keeping my voice down although we were the only ones who seemed to have difficulty sleeping.

Adrian wore a jacket and jeans, and until he turned to face me, I didn’t realize that those were all the clothes he had on. The jacket was open, and moonlight reflected off muscles in his chest while shadows gave his abs more definition than they already had. His chest was hairless, but a line of dark gold started at his abdomen before disappearing into the jeans that hung low on his hips. That line invited me to explore everything I couldn’t see, and as he walked toward me, every ripple of muscles reminded me of the lethal power contained inside his stunningly-sculpted body.

“Is this what you wanted to show me?” I asked, a tiny crack in my voice belying the quip. “If so, that’s playing dirty.”

A slow smile curled his mouth. “If I were playing dirty to get inside your pants, I wouldn’t be wearing anything.”

Yeah, I thought, dragging my gaze away from his physique, that’d probably do it. Out loud, I said, “Why did you want me to come out? If it’s about what I said before…”

His smile faded. “No, but now that you mention it, that did piss me off. I don’t care what [censored] thinks of me, but you shouldn’t lie about what you feel, and we both know our lineage has nothing to do with what’s between us.”

“Tell that to every Archon and demon alive,” I muttered, mentally kicking myself for bringing the subject up. I should just keep a piece of tape handy so I could slap it over my mouth every time I had the urge to say something stupid.

“I don’t care what they think, either,” Adrian said silkily, closing the distance between us.

I backed away, holding out my hands to ward him off. “Don’t. If this is why you called me out here, I’m leaving.”

Hard assessment filled his features, as if judging whether I meant that, but he stopped. “It’s not why, but I can’t help it. Don’t say you haven’t missed me, too, or I’ll know that you’re lying.”

“Really? How will you know?” I said, deciding that I’d much rather challenge him than admit to that.

He came close enough to brush my hair away from my neck. I was only wearing a tank top over my pajama pants, and I told myself it was the night air hitting my skin that made shiver. His fingers trailed over my neck, lingering on the spot where it felt like my heart was trying to escape through my jugular.

“Because when you lie, your pulse pounds even harder.”

I moved away. Even his light touch was affecting me. Damn the memories that had come flooding back, taunting me with how his hands had felt when they’d explored other parts of my body.

“You’re wearing the necklace.” The masculine satisfaction in his voice scattered more shivers over me. I closed my hand over the pendant, as if concealing it made that any less true.

“I, ah, had nowhere else to put it yet,” I mumbled.

Adrian laughed, but the knowing sound was nothing compared to the intensity in his gaze. “This time, I don’t even have to look at your pulse to know you’re lying.”

What was I going to say? That I’d taken it off twice, only to put it back on because it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and I still couldn’t believe he’d given it to me? Better my lame response than admit to that.

Brutus interrupted the moment by hopping off the crypt and stretching out his wings to their full extension. Then he chuffed at Adrian as if to say, hey, pal, remember me?

Adrian threw a rueful look at the gargoyle. “You’re anxious to get started, I know, but your timing sucks.”

I actually loved the gargoyle’s timing. In fact, the next hunk of raw pot roast meat I came across had Brutus’s name written all over it. Then I looked more closely at the gargoyle, noticing that he had something around his neck, too.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing.

Adrian cast one more look at the diamond in my cleavage. Then, he walked over to Brutus and fingered the straps.

“It’s why I called you out here. You’re about to have your first flying lesson.”

I knew my ears weren’t malfunctioning, yet I still repeated his statement as if I’d misheard him. “Flying lesson?” Are you serious? my mind added in a screech.

He patted Brutus, murmuring to him in Demonish before he answered me. “I’ve had Brutus since right after he was born. He was so small, I could carry him around like a baby, and he broke every fragile object in my house when he was learning how to fly.”

The mental image of baby Brutus learning how to fly was adorable, but it didn’t quell my apprehension. “But I don’t want to learn how to ride Brutus when he flies.”

He shrugged. “The RV’s got its perks, but speed isn’t one of them. That makes it terrible for getaways if we come under attack. Brutus has speed, maneuverability, and his hide is so thick, minions would need a rocket launcher to bring him down.”

Brutus chuffed, lifting his head a notch higher. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the gargoyle understood ever word because then he fluffed out his wings as though he were preening.

“You’re all that and a bag of badass,” I told him, smiling when he chuffed again as if in agreement. Then I returned my attention to Adrian. “I get why you wanted to learn how to ride him, but why do you want me to?”

Adrian fingered the straps around Brutus’s neck, which I now realized was a harness. “It takes strength and concentration. If I were injured, I wouldn’t be able to do it, and Brutus maxes out at carrying three people in his arms.”

I swallowed hard. I didn’t like heights and I hadn’t even been good at horseback riding the few times I’d tried it. The thought of trying to ride on a flying gargoyle’s back made my stomach roil, but the thought of Adrian being left behind again was a thousand times worse. I’d rather puke my guts out than risk that. Hell, I’d rather die, but I’d keep that to myself.

“Okay,” I said, forcing a smile as I approached Brutus. “Let’s get the flying lesson started.”

***

Pack, conclusion

Pack book coverBelow is Part 2 and the conclusion of my werewolf short story, Pack. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, then please go here or you’ll be missing half the story :). As I mentioned in my prior post, I wrote Pack early in 2008 for an anthology. While I was re-reading it recently in preparation of posting it free on my blog for a limited time, I made some slight changes to clarify character’s thoughts, motivations, and feelings. You see, the old anthology had had a word count limit that I’d already gone way over, so I’d left some of those things out in the original version. Some of you who’d read the prior version might not even notice the difference when you read this, but in case you did catch some slight additions/changes, this is why.

All of that being said, I hope that you enjoy Part 2, the conclusion of Pack! Boring repeat of prior legal disclaimer: All rights reserved and copyright to Jeaniene Frost.

***

The words were out of my mouth before I could form another thought. I had to see it. No matter what.

Daniel stood, the afghan falling to the floor. He met my eyes, and a ripple went through me. His were even wilder than before, starting to slant and gleam with amber. He undid his jeans, letting them drop to the floor.

Nothing but bare skin underneath.

I might have made a sound. Seeing a magnificently-formed, naked male body only a few feet away is worth a sharp intake of breath, no matter the circumstances. But all my feminine appreciation fell away when he crouched on the floor and rivers of silvery hair began to replace the skin on his back. Then there was a crunching sound as bones curved, popped, and formed where none had been before. It didn’t look the same as in the movies. There was no screaming. No slow protracting of a muzzle replacing a face, blood spurting, or drawn-out writhing. Daniel had simply crouched on the floor and then, in about ten seconds, a wolf the size of a pony, covered in silver and charcoal fur, stared at me with bright yellow eyes.

“Marlee,” it – Daniel – rumbled.

I felt light-headed. Nope, you’re not crazy, and neither are they. But that’s the bad news.

I had made a move toward the door without even being aware of it. Daniel sat on his haunches in front of it, those golden eyes drilling into mine.

“Sit,” he said.

A rather unhinged cackle came out of me. What looked like a huge dog was telling me to sit. How backward was that?

“Woof,” I replied in a shaky voice, but sat in the chair he’d recently vacated. His lips pulled back in a canine version of a grin.

“Stay,” he rumbled in that distinctly animalistic voice.

I was about to say that he was pushing it, when another ripple overtook his body. As seamlessly as water flowing over rocks, skin began to cover that thick silvery coat of hair, bones elongated, reformed, and in less time than it took for me to get over the shock of seeing a wolf in the room, a naked man now knelt on the floor. The only thing left over from the unbelievable transformation was a fine sheen of sweat on his skin.

I finally found my voice again, but all I could come up with was a stupid question. “Does… does it hurt?”

Daniel sat back as casually as if he was getting ready to watch a football game. “The first few times, it hurts like hell. Then you get used to it, and it feels…freeing.”

I still was having trouble grasping everything I’d just witnessed. He looked like a normal man, albeit a beautiful, mouth-watering specimen of a man. But that was an illusion. An enormous animal was inside him, and it took up God only knew how much of his mind and conscience.

Daniel smiled slightly. “You smell like fear again, Marlee, but I’ve already told you – you have nothing to be afraid of.”

“Really? Because what you just did is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” I replied, glad my voice was steady even though I was shaking inside. “How do I even know that I’m talking to you? It might just as well be the, ah, wolf.”

“It’s both,” he said at once. “Always. And you still don’t need to be afraid.”

Yeah. Sure. Considering it might be me shifting into an animal in a couple weeks, from where I was sitting, I had plenty to be afraid about.

“I want to go home.”

Even as I said it, I knew it was useless. But it was true—so true that the very words ached.

He let out a sigh. “I’m sorry for what brought you here. But even if you left and never told anyone about the pack, think of your family. You’d hurt one of them, Marlee. You wouldn’t mean to, but you’d do it.”

Ice crept up my spine. “What are you talking about? Why do you think I’d hurt my family?”

He inclined his head. “Because of your ankle.”

I looked at it. It was still wrapped in a cast, same as before. What…?

Then it hit me. When I’d walked to the door from the bed a few minutes ago, I hadn’t been limping. I hadn’t even felt a twinge of pain. In a sudden panic, I pulled up the sleeves on my shirt and looked at my arms. All of the ugly scratches and cuts were somehow… gone.

“Your ankle isn’t broken anymore,” Daniel confirmed, sympathy etched on his ruggedly striking features. “And there isn’t a mark on your skin, which would be impossible…unless you were one of us.”

 

Chapter Five 

The lights from the street seemed to pale in comparison to the moon, which shone like an ominous, bright hourglass in the sky. I looked up at it and shuddered. When it reached its fullness, I would change into something not human. The thought was still as unbelievable as it was horrifying.

All the residents of the town were in the streets. I did a mental head count and came up with forty, maybe fifty people. The ‘pack’, Daniel called them. My new family.

I thought I might throw up.

There was a slight commotion as a dozen people came from the far end of town. I recognized one of them and flinched, but Daniel laid a light hand on my arm. Even though he was doubling as my captor, the gesture calmed me. It shouldn’t, of course. Daniel was dangerous, but somehow I sensed he’d defend me against the man being led to the middle of the street.

I’d only glimpsed him right before passing out, but still, I’d know that face. When someone tries to murder you, it makes an impression. Not to mention that Gabriel was the only person here with only one eye. His dark brown hair hung in strands around his face, and he was stark naked. What was it with these people and their lack of clothes?

Joshua stepped out from the crowd. At least he was still dressed. “Gabriel Thompson, you have been found guilty of infecting a human against their will,” he stated in a clear, intractable voice.

“It’s not the full moon,” Gabriel snarled, trying to pull free of the two men who held him. “How do you know she will turn?”

Joshua looked my way. Daniel grasped my hand and led me forward. I didn’t want to get any closer to Gabriel, but thankfully, Daniel stopped after only a few feet. Then the blonde doctor stepped out of the crowd.

Gabriel faced me and shot me a look of pure hate. I’d never been on the receiving end of a stare so heavy with malevolence and barely-restrained violence, but instead of scaring me, it strengthened the momentary wobble I’d had in my knees. I’d never done anything to him, but he’d ruined my life. If anyone had a right to hatred, it was me, not him.

I put my shoulders back and matched his glare. Daniel glanced between us and then gave me a nod that I could only translate as approval.

“Diana,” Joshua addressed the blonde doctor. It was the first I’d heard her name. “You examined Marlee yesterday. What did you find?”

“Her right ankle was fractured,” Diana recounted in a clinical voice. “She had multiple abrasions, contusions, lacerations, and puncture wounds on both her legs, plus a deeper wound on her right arm.”

Joshua swept out a hand to me. “Look at her now.”

I could almost feel the eyes raking over me, taking in my skin revealed by the short sleeved shirt and rolled-up pants I was wearing. Both were too big, since they were Daniel’s. My own clothes had been bloodied and ripped up in the attack, so they were no good. I didn’t ask about what happened to my backpack. Seeing it again would remind me too much of everything I’d lost.

“She is completely healed. There is the proof to all that she will turn,” Joshua stated, his voice now flat. “Gabriel, your sentence for turning a human against their will is death.”

To my surprise, after those words, Gabriel was released. He looked around in defiance, and I saw some people bow their heads, wiping at their eyes. Were those his family? Would they be here for the pronouncement of his sentence? I wondered. Daniel’s family was; I could see his mother on the opposite side of the street. How awful this sentence would be for Gabriel’s family, even though I still didn’t pity him.

“I might die now, but the rest of you will follow,” Gabriel hissed. “I’m only giving out the same mercy our kind has been shown. I refuse to be ashamed to hunt those who kill us.”

His words had barely died away when a shot rang out. I jumped, sucking in a breath as a gory crimson hole bloomed on Gabriel’s chest. His eyes went wide, then he let out two harsh, labored breaths before falling to the ground.

Somebody sobbed. Joshua’s face was grim as he lowered the smoking rifle. I was so shocked, I couldn’t even suck in a breath, let alone scream as I was doing on the inside. I’d had no idea that the punishment would be carried out immediately, or publically. Seeing someone die from a gunshot wound was nothing like how it was in the movies. No, it was horrible in ways I couldn’t even begin to describe.

“We only hunt to eat what we need to survive,” Joshua stated, anger and grimness coloring his words. “We will never be like them.”

“Never be like whom?” I asked Daniel, my voice strained from horror.

He didn’t look away from Gabriel’s twitching, bleeding form when he replied with one word. “Humans.”

*** 

I didn’t stay to watch the five men run the gauntlet. I’d already seen things that would be forever burned on my memory, no matter how I’d try to forget them. Daniel took me back to his cabin. He made coffee in silence and handed me a cup. It tasted like it was laced with something alcoholic, which I was grateful for.

Occasionally, I’d hear shouts coming from the direction of the town. The gauntlet was a noisy business as well as a brutal one, it seemed.

“Gabriel’s wife,” I said after the minutes stretched. “Joshua said a member of the pack was upset because his wife had been killed. That was Gabriel, right? Did…did hunters kill his wife?”

Daniel sat across from me, resting his elbows on the table as he drank from his own cup. The lighting in the kitchen reflected off his hair, making the russet color look richer.

“Yes.”

“But why hurt me?” I wondered. “I was camping, not hunting wolves!”

A sigh rumbled out of Daniel. “Gabriel wasn’t being logical. Neither were the others with him. The pack has been going through a hard time since the laws were changed.”

“What laws? No one even knows about werewolves; it’s not like it’s open season on them.”

“Gray wolves were taken off the endangered species list a few months ago,” Daniel said, his expression hooded. “The government did it knowing what would happen. Before the ink was dry, scores of wolves were killed. They were hunted to near-extinction in these areas before and now, certain groups of people are trying to eliminate all wolves again. What Gabriel did was wrong, but I can empathize with what drove him to it. You can’t understand what it’s like, having people try to wipe out your entire race from existence.”

His voice was bitter at that last part. I set my coffee cup down with a bang.

“I’m Jewish. Don’t tell me I can’t understand what that’s like.”

After a moment, Daniel inclined his head in acknowledgement. We sat in silence after that, but oddly, it wasn’t tense silence anymore. Instead, it was as if we’d come to an unspoken truce.

“So,” I said at last, mythology and reality competing in my mind. “Gabriel’s wife was shot while in wolf form, but she was killed. How would the hunters know to use silver bullets on her? Maybe you’ve been found out after all.”

A bleak smile creased Daniel’s face.

“The bullets don’t have to be silver. No, Marlee, we can be killed in a lot of normal ways. But if the wound isn’t mortal, and if it’s not exposed to silver, we can usually heal it.”

Noises rose from the town again, sounding something like a cheer this time. Daniel nodded in its general direction. “They must be finished.”

What a strange, harsh society this was. Gauntlets. Executions. Shapeshifting. And here I was, stuck right in the middle of it.

“You know, soon, my family will start a search for me,” I said, trying to sound as casual as possible. “My parents will notice when I don’t come back from vacation, not to mention that my employers will wonder what happened when I don’t show up in the next few days.”

He shook his head at that. “What were you thinking, anyway, hiking out there all by yourself?”

His tone was so scolding that I stiffened. “I didn’t start out alone. My friends came with me, but then Brandy twisted her ankle, so she and Tom had to leave. I was going to leave, too, but…”

I stopped. Finishing that sentence would be too revealing. But I was sick of putting my dreams on hold, waiting for just the right, most perfect situation. 

I’d put off so many things thinking I had to have my life set up perfectly first. It’s why I stayed at my job as a paralegal instead of continuing my education to be a lawyer (I wanted to decide on the perfect branch of law to practice before making that leap). It’s why I’d waited so long to take this camping trip (I wanted to pay my car off before splurging on a vacation). It’s also why I hadn’t moved to Manhattan with Paul when he’d asked me. No, I’d wanted to be further along in my career before taking my relationship with him to the next level.

Staring at Brandy’s twisted ankle that day, thinking that again I was going to have to put my plans on hold, had been the last straw. I’d decided to hell with waiting. Even if I was doing it alone, I was hiking through Yellowstone like I’d planned.

And look where that decision had gotten me.

“You wouldn’t understand,” was all I said.

His gaze was steady and yet penetrating at the same time. “I thought we’d just established that we’re both capable of understanding a lot more than the other realizes.”

I let out an impatient sigh as a burst of frustration coursed through me. “All right, then how’s this? I don’t want to tell you. I don’t know why I’m even talking to you. You’re my kidnapper.”

“Not really.” Softly, but the words still resonated. “You’re part of the pack now. And as enforcer, I keep the pack safe. Even if it’s from themselves.”

This wasn’t a conversation I wanted to explore. I wasn’t ready emotionally or mentally. I yawned, not bothering to cover my mouth, hoping he’d take the hint.

He did. Daniel pushed his chair back and stretched. “Are you going to give me trouble if I take a shower?”

I eyed him warily. “I won’t throw a radio in with you, if that’s what you’re talking about.”

He grinned. “Good to know, but I meant, can I trust you not to run away while I’m in the shower? I don’t want to have to tie you to a chair, but I also don’t feel like chasing after you with soap in my eyes.”

I looked away from his smile, which was charming, sexy, and dangerous all at the same time. It wasn’t the dangerous part that unnerved me; it was the other things.

“I’ll stay put.” But only because you’d hear me if I didn’t. 

Daniel went in the bathroom and I sat on the bed, debating whether to climb under the covers, since the room was chilly. Finally, I decided to wait. I’d shower once Daniel was done, then I’d borrow one of his shirts to sleep in again. At least they were long enough that modesty wasn’t an issue.

I cast one longing look at the window and the freedom that lay beyond it, but then sighed. Daniel would chase after me, stark naked and soapy, then he’d probably tie me to a chair after all. The thought of sleeping sitting up while duct-taped didn’t appeal to me. No, I’d wait for another chance to escape. One had to come up.

After about ten minutes, Daniel finished with his shower and appeared in the door frame. His hair looked darker wet, and drops of water still beaded his skin. All he had on was a towel slung low on his hips, the white color emphasizing his deep tan. He ran a hand through his hair, flinging more droplets away. With that simple, muscle-rippling gesture, some intensely feminine part of me reared up, forgot everything else, and just stared.

No wonder he isn’t human, I found myself thinking. No normal person could be this sculpted and gorgeous. 

Far too belatedly, it occurred to me that I was still staring at him even though several seconds had ticked away. He’d have to be a regular, blind human not to notice, and he was part-animal with super heightened senses.

Look away, stupid! the sane part of me urged. So I did, finally dragging my gaze up his body to meet his face.

He wasn’t smiling smugly over my obvious admiration of his looks. He wasn’t scowling in offense over my rudely objectifying him, either. No, he was just staring at me with such an open hunger that an almost painful clench of desire grabbed me right below the waist. All at once, I wasn’t chilled anymore. Instead, I was so warm that I was bordering on sweating.

This is wrong. All wrong. Don’t you dare. You need to snap out of this right now, I mentally berated myself. 

“Stockholm syndrome,” I whispered. It could only be that. Who in their right mind got turned on by their kidnapper, no matter what he looked like?

“Or something else.” Daniel’s voice was equally soft, but it contained an undertone that sent a reckless shiver through me. “Wolves can tell their intended mate by scent, sometimes before they’ve even sighted them. Once the two meet… things are inevitable from there.”

That wildness was lurking in his eyes again, as if the animal in him was reaching through his guise of humanity to make itself known. Seeing it was nerve-racking, but the man himself was so dangerously enticing; I found myself twisting the bed sheets with my fingers just to keep myself from reaching out to him.

“I’m not a wolf,” I said in a shaking voice.

Daniel just smiled, dark and sensual and promising.

“You will be soon.” 

 

Chapter Six

A tentative knock sounded at the door. “Can I come in?”

The voice was feminine. I would have said no, but there was no lock and my wishes were pretty much ignored by everyone, so what was the point?

“Fine.”

A girl with auburn hair came in. It took a moment, but then I recognized her from the other night. Daniel’s cousin. Damned if I remembered her name.

“I brought you some clothes,” she said. “Hope they fit, but if they don’t, you can take them back. The store’s right down the street.”

The girl set a couple bags on the bed. I’d barely left this room for two days since the night of the gauntlet. Confusion and uncertainty had begun to overwhelm me. What had started out as a twisted, supernatural hostage scenario had changed into something more. I could now sense the rain before it started, hear noises from further away than humanly possible, and had recurring dreams about turning into a wolf that had changed from terrifying at first to strangely exhilarating in the recent ones.

All of that was disturbing enough, but what had me hiding in my room for the past couple days was the fact that I was increasingly drawn to Daniel. I craved his scent more than food, followed him with my gaze whenever he entered the room, and had to literally fight with myself not to touch him when he was near. I’d never been hooked on drugs, but this must be what addiction felt like, and it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The worst part was, I was pretty sure Daniel knew what I was going through.

He’d tried to talk to me for the past two days, but I refused to speak with him. The simple truth was that I didn’t trust myself. I should be focusing on the fact that I was changing into a monster, and not be secretly fascinated by my new senses, or lusting after the person who held me prisoner. The night of the full moon loomed in front of me like an executioner’s axe. Whatever control I had over myself now, I knew it would be gone as soon as that ghostly orb rose in the sky.

And the worst part? Some primal, burgeoning part of me was looking forward to that.

“…thought we could have a soak,” the girl was saying. “That always helps me unwind when I’m upset.”

“What?” I hadn’t been paying attention to a word she was saying.

“The hot springs,” she repeated. “We have indoor and outdoor ones. I bought you a swimsuit. Anything’s got to be better than being cooped up in this room day and night.”

Outside. With just her. I gave the girl a quick, cagey look. Maybe this was my chance. She was petite, looked about nineteen or twenty, and seemed nice. Let’s hope she was gullible, too.

“Sure. Thanks,” I added, smiling. “What’s your name again? I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”

“Laurel,” she said with an answering smile. “Here, I’ll leave so you can change.”

“Can we go to whichever spring has the least amount of people? I’m, ah, shy about being in a bathing suit around strangers.”

Growing up spending my summers at Lake Michigan, that was a lie, but she didn’t know that. She nodded.

“Sure.”

I lowered my voice. “He doesn’t need to come, does he?” I asked, with a nod toward the rest of the cabin, where Daniel was. “I’m so tired of him shadowing my every move.”

She lowered her voice as well. “I’ll talk to him.”

My smile widened. Nice and gullible. Maybe, my luck was changing.

*** 

If circumstances were different, I would have been awed at how beautiful this place was. The cabins were set near the end of the mini-town and spaced well apart for privacy. The mountains loomed majestically around all of it. Forests bridged the bottom of the mountains, adding a more secluded feel, and the steam rising up from the rock-bed hot springs looked both soothing and inviting.

But, sinking into the warm mineral water, I was reminded of my tub at home in my apartment. A stab of longing went through me when I thought about my parents, who I’d meant to call before leaving on my camping trip, but I hadn’t. Or my older sister, Leigh, whose birthday was next month. My little nephew, Todd, who’d just turned one last month. My coworkers, who made the long hours from nine to five pass much more quickly. My best friend, Brandy, who’d always been there for me. And her boyfriend Tom, who told me in confidence right before they left that he was finally going to pop the question to Brandy. Tears began to burn my eyes. Would I ever see any of them again?

I will, I promised myself fiercely, refusing to give up on everyone I’d ever known. I’ll get away, and I’ll…I’ll find a doctor to cure me! There must be a way. I just have to get away from here. No matter what. 

“Feeling better?” Laurel asked. She leaned back, settling her arms around the edge of the rock lip.

“Yes.” And I did. I’d committed myself to a course of action and I was determined to follow it through. No matter what.

“I don’t know why you’d be embarrassed to be seen in a swimsuit, Marlee,” she went on. “You’re very pretty. Finn’s already interested in you.”

“Finn?” I asked blankly.

“My cousin. The guy with the long black hair. You met him the same night you met me.”

Oh, yeah. I couldn’t care less, but the more she talked, the more she might let her guard down. “He looked young,” I replied neutrally.

She laughed. “He’s forty-two.”

My jaw dropped as I remembered the smooth-skinned, flirty Finn. “He can’t be!”

Laurel gave me a slanted look. “There are advantages to being one of us, you know,” she said in a casual tone. “You know how one year equals seven in a dog’s life? Well, we have the reverse of that. And you already know that we heal a lot faster than normal people. Plus, when we change into a wolf, we experience the world in ways no one else can. I don’t know how anyone would rather be just a human, in fact.”

I gaped at her. Did she really believe all of this? Could some of what she’s saying even be true? Just when I thought things couldn’t get any stranger.

“How old are you?” I managed to ask.

She settled back more comfortably in the natural rock formation. “Oh, I’m only twenty, but the good news is, I’ll look like this for a long time. The age slowing doesn’t happen until puberty’s over, thank God. Imagine being a teenager for forty years?”

I couldn’t, and I didn’t even want to. “And Daniel?”

“I’ll let him tell you how old he is,” Laurel replied with a little smirk that made me very wary.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Like hell. She was obviously itching to say more. I scooted closer, lowering my voice.

What?” I asked insistently, but smiled as though we were sharing secrets.

Laurel’s smirk widened. “Normally, when someone’s exposed to us the way you were – which is very rare, I might add – Daniel is the one to bring them in, but he doesn’t watch over that person the whole time. He’s big on having his own privacy. He’s never had someone stay at his cabin for four days straight, even a girlfriend. Add his refusal to let Finn even visit you and, well…he’s acting possessive. Like a wolf with his future mate.”

I was alternating between being shocked and feeling a ridiculous sense of triumph. Daniel, seeing me as a future mate? So it wasn’t just me who’d been so affected by the other person these past several days!

But that presented a whole new set of problems. It was one thing when I thought that Daniel was being so attentive just because it was his job as the pack’s enforcer. Knowing he might feel the same reckless emotion about me that I was feeling about him would decimate the slim hold I had on my control, and I still needed to get away. Not complicate things to a fantastic degree by giving in to those feelings.

Or, I reminded myself, ruthlessly reining in my emotions, Laurel could be wrong. Daniel could be keeping me close because he knew I hadn’t really accepted this as my new life. She might be reading in hidden motivations that didn’t really exist. Either way, I had to take advantage of my chance away from him, which was why I’d agreed to this hot spa outing in the first place.

I hunched a little, letting an expression of pain spasm across my face.

“What’s wrong?” Laurel asked at once.

“Cramps,” I said with another grimace. “I think I’m getting my period. Could you do me a huge favor? I don’t want to embarrass myself by, um, springing a leak while walking back to town. Do you have any tampons you could bring me? I’ll just wait here.”

As I spoke, I climbed out of the hot water and sat on one of the large rocks, wrapping a towel around me. Here’s hoping the universal sympathy every woman had for that time of the month would result in Laurel doing something very stupid.

She gave me such an odd look that I cursed myself for not coming up with a better reason for her to suddenly go away. Well, I didn’t have much time to think up a clever ploy. But then, at last, she smiled.

“Sure. Be right back.”

Laurel got up, fastened a towel around herself, and walked away. I waited, barely breathing, until she rounded a cabin that took her out of sight, then I bounded up and began running flat out of the nearest line of trees.

 

Chapter Seven

I didn’t have shoes on, so all the rocks I ran over cut into my feet, but I ignored them. It would only take Laurel ten to fifteen minutes to return. That’s all the time I had to get away, so I had to make it count.

I ran as if I was trying to outrace a wildfire, noting with a growing sense of awareness that I was moving faster than I ever had before. I was in decent shape, but I had never been an athlete… until now, it seemed. I wasn’t even getting winded. Maybe the werewolf curse inside me would actually help me to get away.

Go faster, I urged myself. Head for the mountains. It’ll be harder for them to track your scent over all the rock. 

Even as I ran far faster than I ever had before, I couldn’t help but notice that the forest was alive with sounds. The cry of birds. The rustling of branches as they rubbed together in the wind. The thuds my feet made on the drying leaves strewn over the uneven ground. The awful feeling of the world crashing down on me began to lessen, replaced with an inexplicable joy over simply running as hard and fast as I could. I might be running away from this life, but right now, I felt strong, free, and wild, like the forest itself was spurring on my steps. That strange joy caused me to run even faster, allowing me to forget the pain in my feet, until the trees became almost a blur around me.

Giddiness bubbled up inside me. This felt so right. Like I’d been waiting my whole life to run this way.

Something hard suddenly collided with me, snatching me up. My heart was already pounding, but it kicked into another gear as I glimpsed the person who’d grabbed me. Daniel.

He whirled me around to face him, those blazing amber eyes pinning me as tightly as his grip did.

“What were you thinking?” he demanded, giving me a shake. “You’re only wearing a bathing suit and a towel! I should have waited until tomorrow to go after you. Maybe spending the night in the freezing cold would have knocked some sense into you!”

My emotions were on overload from the adrenaline rush of my attempted escape, the frustration of being caught, and the residual exhilaration of the incredible run. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I felt as if something hiding inside me had finally taken over.

I grabbed Daniel’s hair and yanked his head down, slanting my mouth across his. For a split second he froze – and then his mouth opened, his tongue twisting with mine. His hand tangled in my hair, jerking me closer, while his other hand molded our bodies together. The intense heat coming from him made me gasp, but I pressed against him, wanting more of it. He made a low, deep sound in his throat that could only be called a growl and kissed me deeper, harder, unleashing a flood of lust inside me that shook me to my core even as it frightened me enough to cure me of my earlier recklessness.

If you don’t stop now, you’ll end up having sex right here, right on the ground. Just like the animal you’re turning into… 

“No!”

I wrenched away, my breath coming so fast that I was panting. Daniel let me out of his arms, but his hand tightened on my wrist, not letting me get entirely free.

“What’s wrong?”

I let out a despairing bark of laughter. “You. Me. Everything.”

He pushed his hair out of his face, staring at me with an intensity that made me shiver.

“None of that is wrong. It’s right, even if you don’t want to admit it yet.”

At some point, my towel had fallen to the ground, leaving me in just the bathing suit. Daniel’s eyes dipped and his gaze slid over me with the same effect as an intimate caress. Tremors ran over me and I swayed, feeling as if my body were trying to move toward him with a will of its own.

Daniel’s grip on my wrist softened to a light stroke of his fingers. “You want me, Marlee.” His voice was low, but it vibrated in a way that made me think of dark rooms and tangled, sweat-dampened sheets. “Why are you pushing me away?”

The effect of his voice slid over me like another sensual caress, but the words stiffened my spine. “Because I can,” I said harshly. “You’ve stolen all my other choices from me, but this one is still mine, and I say no.”

At that, he let me go, and the warm amber light in his eyes hardened to cold, dark topaz. He picked up my towel, handed it to me, and turned his back.

“I’m not the one who stole your choices,” he said, the words bulleting over his shoulder. “Gabriel did. You want to run away, Marlee? Fine. If you stay out in these woods, you’ll probably die of exposure. If you manage to survive, then when the full moon rises, you’ll change, but you won’t know how to change back. Then, trapped in your new form, you’ll go insane as you become mastered by urges you can’t even imagine right now. You’ll end up mauling whoever you come across, be it man, woman, or child. Then, people will hunt you. They’ll kill any other wolf they come across trying to get to you, but sooner or later, they’ll find you. You’ll get shot or caught in a trap, but either way, it will be horrible and it will end if your death.”

He was breathing harder and his hands clenched into fists, but he didn’t turn around, and when he spoke again, his voice was ragged.

“You want your own choices? Here they are: walk away now and people are guaranteed to die, including you. Come back with me, learn how to control what’s happened to you, and no one dies. Those are your choices, Marlee. Only those.”

My mind was reeling from everything he’d described, and I couldn’t ignore the unmistakable ring in his tone that came from the conviction of truth. Still, I couldn’t let myself believe him. That would be the same as giving up.

“With medical advances, if I get to a good doctor, I can find a cure,” I replied stubbornly.

Daniel laughed, but it was harsh. “We’ve had doctors within the pack try to find a cure for decades. Not for ourselves, but to fix people who’ve been unwillingly infected, like you. There is no cure, Marlee. If there was, we’d have given it to you already.”

Hopelessness crashed over me. “You’re telling me I’ll never see my family and friends again. You’re willing to do anything for your pack, but you expect me to just forget about anyone who’s ever meant anything to me in my entire life!”

He still didn’t turn around. “If you wouldn’t have refused to speak to me for the past couple days, I’d have told you that you only need to be quarantined for a couple months. Once you’ve learned control over your condition, you can see your family and friends again. They would be welcome to come here, or you can move away and live on your own near them. You’d need to live somewhere close to a wolf population, though, so that when you change, you’re not running on four legs down a city street attracting unwanted attention.”

My brain whirled so much with this new information that I felt faint. I didn’t have to be trapped here forever! I could go home, see my parents, my sister, Brandy, even my nephew again. All I had to do was wait it out. Get control. Was it really possible? Could I actually learn to live as both a woman AND a wolf? 

Daniel started walking away, the dried leaves crunching under his feet. I stared after him, torn by indecision into staying where I was. Was he really giving me my own choice, as I asked? If I turned around and walked the other way, would he truly not try to stop me?

I tested it. Turned and walked in the other direction. There wasn’t the slightest hesitation in his steps as he kept going. He’s tricking you, my cynicism whispered. He’ll come back. 

I kept walking. So did he. Soon, the sounds of Daniel’s footsteps began to lessen as we moved further away from each other. After ten minutes, I couldn’t hear him at all.

 

Chapter Eight 

Even with the moonlight illuminating the forest, I would have been lost without Daniel’s scent. Somehow, I knew it, could follow it as though it were neon road signs, even though I hadn’t consciously paid attention to it before. This was my first time doing anything solely by reliance on my sense of smell, but that’s exactly what I was doing as I walked back through the woods toward what I thought was the town. Here and there in my peripheral vision, hazy flashes of maroon darted by. They had scared me the first few times I saw them, but then I realized what they were. I was seeing the heat that living creatures gave off, just as if I was looking at the creatures through an infrared camera.

My new, sharpened senses had seemed to bloom as soon as night fell. Or perhaps, they had bloomed because I’d tried to use them instead of feared and suppressed them, as I’d done for the past few days. Now, using them made me feel more alive than I ever had before. In fact, in some ways, it seemed like I’d been sleepwalking the previous twenty-five years of my life, numbed to all the brilliance of the world around me.

Of course, I knew what had caused all this, and it boiled down to one simple thing—the wolf in me, waking up and getting ready to be freed.

It was the main reason why, after sitting in the forest watching the sun fall and the moon rise, I was now walking back to the town. Whether I’d chosen to be or not, I was part wolf now. Because of that, I couldn’t go back to my family, friends, or coworkers, not knowing what I was capable of, even if I did make it out of these woods. If the choice was sacrificing months of my life dealing with the strangest scenario imaginable, versus risking people I loved by hoping Daniel that was wrong and I wouldn’t one day eat some or all them…well, there was no choice. Not in my opinion.

That wasn’t the reason my heart started to beat faster when I recognized the man leaning against a tree just outside the limits of the town. All right, I’d had more motivation than just protecting my loved ones by returning.

With every step I’d taken away from Daniel, something burning and heavy had settled in my heart. It was as unfamiliar, frightening, and exciting as the other changes I’d experienced this week. How could I care so much for someone after such a short period of time? I’d been with my former boyfriend, Paul, for three years, but hadn’t felt the crushing sense of loss at our breakup that I’d felt when I was walking away from Daniel earlier. Was it a case of supernatural hormones gone haywire? Or the wolf recognizing something in Daniel that my humanity didn’t allow me to believe in yet? I didn’t know. I only knew it was the most real thing I’d ever felt.

“I thought you were letting me go,” I said as I approached. “Yet here you are, still in the forest instead of in your bed back at your cabin.”

Daniel turned. He was still too far away for me to see his expression, but when he spoke, his voice sounded raw. “I was letting you go, Marlee, but no wolf can sleep while his mate is in danger.”

Mate. Such an ancient, primitive word, and so possessive. All things considered, we barely knew each other. Why wasn’t I uneasy at hearing it? Why, instead, did warmth spread all over me, even as I was shivering in the cold night air?

I swallowed. “How can you be sure that I’m your mate?”

He was at my side in the next heartbeat, enfolding me in his arms, his body heat almost searing my skin.

“I knew it as soon as I smelled your scent,” he said, his voice now low and rough. “I told you, that’s how it is with wolves. That day with Gabriel—I wasn’t out there because I was tracking him. He and the others had masked their scents so I wouldn’t be able to trace them. But I found them anyway because as soon as I caught your scent on the wind, I was out there tracking you.”

What he said was incredible, impossible, overwhelming. I shuddered even as I leaned in closer to him, unable to stop myself from turning into his embrace. “Daniel, everything has happened so fast…”

He touched a finger to my lips, cutting my sentence off. Then he caressed my face. “Don’t judge by that. Breathe me in. Tell me what you feel.”

I inhaled near his neck, absorbing the mix of wood smoke, spice, and musk that made up his scent.

In an instant, a bone-deep contentment battled with instant, fierce lust inside me. I wanted to throw Daniel to the forest floor, rub my body all over his, claim his flesh as my own, and then hold him and never let go. I’d never felt such intense emotions before, let alone all at once, each one merging seamlessly into the other. Doubts, fears, and rational thought didn’t pale by comparison. They vanished.

“I feel more than I have a right to,” was what I finally said, my voice shaky from the maelstrom going on inside me.

He bent so that his lips were almost brushing mine. “I give you the right, Marlee. I want you to claim me as yours.”

And I wanted to claim him and be claimed by him. That was the undeniable truth of it. Whether it was me or the wolf inside who’d made this decision, I didn’t know. But I felt it through every fiber of my being, and I knew it was right.

I’d asked Daniel days ago if it was him I was talking to, or the wolf. It’s both, he’d said. Always. I hadn’t understood then, but I did now. The wolf didn’t feel like it was a separate entity from me anymore; now it was me, but without all my fears, doubts, or hesitations. The wolf was me stripped of all my pretense, and it knew, unequivocally, that Daniel was mine.

And so did I.

“Then take me home, mate,” I whispered.

It was an invitation and a promise. I wasn’t giving up myself, my family or my friends, but I’d first learn to live in harmony with the wolf in me, and I’d do it here, with Daniel – my love, my lover, and mate.

Daniel swept me into his arms and strode toward his cabin, kissing me the entire way.

***The End***

Thank you for reading Pack. I hope you enjoyed it.

Justified, a character recap

Note: This recap is spoiler-free for the ending of Justified.

Back in 2010, my husband and I heard about a new show that was described as a sort of modern-day Western, with a dash of cops-versus-robbers. We hadn’t heard of most of the cast before, but we liked the lead actor, Timothy Olyphant, so we decided to check out the first episode.

That was all it took to get hooked on Justified.
Raylan rachelIn the interest of space, I’m not going to do a season-by-season recap or even a broad highlight of the storyline. Instead, I’m going to take about what was the driving force behind my love of this series: the characters. Walton Groggins, who played Boyd, quickly became my second-favorite character after Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan. In fact, during some seasons, I might have been rooting for Boyd a wee bit more than Raylan even though Boyd was the show’s mostly-unapologetic villain.

Boyd gifIn my humble opinion, Groggins’ multi-layered, finely-nuanced performance of Boyd should be a lesson in how to craft a villain who truly sees himself as the hero of his own story (as writers know, that’s the starting point for crafting a believable villain, but it’s rarely done so well as here.)

Raylan, on the other hand, is the epitome of an anti-hero. I remember reading a study a few years back that claimed to find similarities in the “function” of cops’ brains and criminals’ brains. Raylan’s character certainly seemed to support the theory that the thought patterns of law enforcers and law breakers can be surprisingly similar, even if their actions are distinctly (or usually) opposite. Olyphant’s portrayal of Raylan, a modern Federal Marshall who has more than a touch of Old West mentality, blurred the line on cop versus criminal more than a few times, but in a way that left me cheering him when he crossed into what was distinctly un-lawman-like territory. Why? Raylan’s motivation. He didn’t cross those lines without a reason that I, as the viewer, could sympathize with. Take, for example, a mob guy telling Raylan that he was going to kill Raylan’s pregnant girlfriend the first chance he got. What happens next was illegal, but for me, it was understandable.

.
6-marshalstiffieI also loved the side characters. There were many, so I’m only going to list my favorites, such as Art, Raylan’s gruff-but-fair boss who is also a father figure to him; Tim, a Federal Marshall coworker who’s a former decorated veteran sharpshooter; Ellen May, an endearing prostitute who humanizes a profession that’s very easy to look down upon; Bob, a seemingly inept deputy who turns out to have surprising grit; Limehouse, a criminal with his own finely-honed since of justice, and Wynn, a shifty criminal who is, above all, a survivor. Lest anyone think that Justified was light on strong female characters, it wasn’t. I just wanted to reserve them for their own paragraphs :).

Ava gifWhen we first meet Ava, she comes off as a beautiful, flirty, ditsy blonde… if you don’t count her almost casually describing how she shot and killed her abusive husband over his favorite meal of fried chicken. Joelle Carter did a fantastic job of portraying Ava as person who let her physical abuse harden her into someone you did not f—k with, while at the same time, showing a woman who longed for a stable, loving relationship and a family. Ava was also honest with herself over her unfortunate tendency to fall for men who would ultimately disappoint her, and the way she grimly soldiered on in a world where she was often dismissed as arm candy had me rooting for her. Ava was frequently underestimated, and she used that to her advantage in ways that ended up shocking the people who thought they knew her best.

Racehl gifRachel, played beautifully by Erika Tazel, is another Federal Marshall coworker. Being a petite, lovely African American woman in a male-oriented (and frequently racist) world, Rachel quickly shows that she is a force to be reckoned with, both for her guts and her intelligence. She goes toe-to-toe with the bad guys almost as much as she does with Raylan, and is one of the few people who seems able to get Raylan to do what he should do instead of what he wants to do…some of the time, anyway. Rachel has many, many great scenes in Justified, but if I had a complaint, it would be that I wished her character would have been more deeply explored. I thought that Rachel had the potential for a lot more storylines (spinoff, anyone?), and was I the only one rooting for her and Tim to get together?

Kaitlyn Dever plays Loretta, a teenage girl who’s first introduced to the storyline as a victim of an older man’s very-unwanted attentions. Despite being on the fence about her at first, Loretta grew into one of my favorite characters. To say she’s had an unconventional upbringing is putting it mildly; Loretta cut her teeth on the crime business at an appallingly young age, as a scene where she sells “herbal relief” in school highlights. But, growing up in the middle of the illegal weed industry meant that it was all Loretta knew. From her recollections, you can almost image her playing as a child among the drying marijuana plants in the hollers of Harlan, and how she manages to rise above the many, many, many adults who try to use her was simply badass. I might not agree with a lot of Loretta’s choices, but I applauded her for her fierce inner strength.

Honorable mention goes to Mags, played brilliantly by Margo Martindale. Mags only appeared for season 2, but her portrayal as the matriarch of the Bennett crime family was so memorable, hubby and I bought a jar of apple pie flavored moonshine in honor of Mags (if you’ve seen season 2, you’ll get the inner joke ;)). On the turn of a dime, Mags could go from motherly and folksy to ruthless and terrifying, all with the same sweet smile. I would never want to meet someone like Mags in real life (come to think, the same could be said for quite a few of my favorite characters on this show) but it was a true pleasure to watch her on TV.

JustifiedWhy am I talking about Justified, some of you might wonder? Because the series finale was last night. As mentioned earlier, you won’t find any spoilers here – and DON’T leave any in the comments, it’s awful to spoil people who aren’t looking to know what happens in advance! – but I will say that I was satisfied with the ending. Not everything went the way I would have preferred, but enough of it did that I was left with a good feeling. After being so upset over how Dexter, another favorite show, ended, I was nervous about the finale of Justified, but my concerns turned out to be unfounded. Let me tell you, that was a relief. I hate when I invest years of time and emotion in something that ends in a way that makes me regret going along for the ride in the first place. Justified didn’t do that, so if you’re in the market for a character-driven show that sometimes blurs the lines between the peacekeepers and the outlaws, I highly recommend it. And hey, lucky you who haven’t seen it yet – you can now watch all the episodes at your preferred pace, whereas I had to wait years to see how it would all turn out :).

And now for a brief, off-topic reminder: The second part of Pack, a free werewolf short story, will be posted this Saturday the 18th. If you haven’t read Part 1 of Pack, you can find it here.

Pack

Back in early 2008, I wrote a short story for the Mammoth Book Of Paranormal Romance anthology called Pack. If you haven’t read it before, Pack was my first (and to date, only) werewolf story. Later, when I got my rights back, I self-published Pack with authors Ilona Andrews and Meljean Brook in an ebook-only anthology called Under Her Skin. In the years since, Meljean, Ilona and I have dipped more into self-publishing, so a couple months ago, we decided to break up the anthology and self-publish our stories on our own as individual shorts.

That is what will eventually happen to Pack, but before it does, I wanted to offer it free to my readers for a limited time. I really enjoyed writing Pack because I’ve been a fan of werewolf stories almost as long as I’ve been a fan of vampire ones, so it was fun for me to get to play around in that world. Some of you who’ve already read Pack have contacted me to ask if I’d ever write another story set in this world. The answer is kind of yes and kind of no. Here is why it’s kind of no: in the many years since I wrote Pack, I’ve thought up ways to expand the mythology to include more shapeshifters, give it a more complex origin story, and change it from a secret, “closed” world to an open one where the average person knows that shifters exist, and some of those people have to work with them. So, that’s why I wouldn’t write in the “same” world that Pack features. Why it’s kind of yes is because one day, I would like to play with a bigger, more complex world that still has some of the tropes found in Pack, but with my current deadlines, I have no immediate plans to do so. Still, it’s something that continues to tickle my brain, so you never know when an entire book might come out of that :).

As mentioned, Pack is a short story, but it’s still a little long for a blog post. That’s why I’m splitting it into Part A and Part B. Part A is below and it consists of approximately half the story. Part B will go up next Saturday, the 18th. All that being said, I hope that you enjoy the first part of Pack. Legal disclaimer: All rights reserved and copyrighted to Jeaniene Frost.

***

Chapter One 

I knew I was being hunted before I heard the growl. First, there had been flashes of gray and black in the trees around me, too fast for me to make out. Then crackling of dried leaves and twigs as those forms came nearer. And that primal, icy feeling on the back of my neck that told me I’d just moved from the top of the food chain to prey.

No one was around to help me, either. This was Yellowstone National Park, one of the last great American wildernesses. I hadn’t seen another soul since my friends Brandy and Tom abandoned the hike three days ago, and I’d been lost for two days now. A wave of fear rolled over me, making my stomach clench in a nauseating way. Whatever had growled, it wasn’t alone.

New growls emerged from behind the trees—low, guttural, and more menacing than a mugger in a dark alley. I flicked my gaze around, trying to hone in on the source while I drew my backpack off my shoulders. I had a gun in there which I’d brought along in what I’d thought was over-the-top paranoia. Now I wished I’d brought an Uzi and some grenades, too.

I had the backpack on the ground and was pulling the gun out when the animal struck. It came at me with incredible speed, plowing right into me and knocking me over. Instinctively, I scrambled back, holding my hands out in defense and convinced I’d feel teeth tearing into me at any moment. The wolf – God, it was a huge wolf! – didn’t lunge for my throat, though. It stood a few feet away, mouth open in what seemed to me to be a sick caricature of a grin, with my gun on the ground between its paws.

I’d dropped the gun. How could I have been so stupid as to drop the gun?

That thought raced through my mind, followed by a slew of if onlys. If only I hadn’t gone on this camping trip. If only Brandy hadn’t twisted her ankle, forcing her and Tom to leave early. If only I hadn’t been so determined to continue the hike alone. If only the map hadn’t gotten ruined. If only I’d had a satellite phone, instead of my useless, out-of-area cellular.

And if only I hadn’t dropped the damn gun when an enormous wolf charged me. That would probably be the last regret I ever had.

Twigs snapped behind me. My head jerked back while I still tried to keep an eye on the wolf in front of me. Five more wolves cleared the trees, running around me with an easy, deadly grace. I started to scoot back more, but there was nowhere to go. My heart was pounding while my breath came in strange, jagged gasps.

You’re lost out in the middle of nowhere, and these wolves are going to eat you. Oh God, no, please. I don’t want to die… 

Only four days ago, I’d been laughing with my friends about how great it was to be outdoors, instead of trapped inside our stuffy offices. This was the vacation I’d been waiting years to take. How could this be happening?

One of the circling wolves broke from the ranks and charged me. I flung up my hands in useless defense when the huge gray wolf let out a growl that sounded like a word.

“Mine.”

I gasped. That wolf did not just speak! But its yellow eyes gleamed with a savage intelligence and another rumbling, coherent growl came out of its throat.

“You. Dieee.”

I abandoned all logic to scramble to my feet, running as fast as I could even while knowing it was futile. Sudden, scalding pain in my ankle had me stumbling, but I didn’t stop. I lurched on, heart hammering and tears blurring my vision. Around me, the wolves gleefully yipped as they kept pace.

More pain seared my leg. I fell, panic urging me to get up even though both my legs felt like they were on fire. I tried to run again, but my left ankle buckled. The wolves’ cries became more excited. They darted in, nipping me and drawing blood before bounding back and ducking out of the way of my wild punches. I couldn’t run anymore, but I staggered forward, looking for anything that would help me. Maybe I could climb a tree. Maybe I could find a heavy branch to use as a weapon.

It’s too late for that, Marlee, said an insidious voice in my head. Just give up. It’ll be over soon. 

The enormous gray wolf suddenly jumped in front of me. Its mouth was open, fangs gleaming in the late afternoon light. It let out a howl that stopped the other wolves in their tracks. Then they joined in, filling the air with their victorious cries. The gray wolf became silent, coming closer while its companions continued their howls. I braced myself, images of my family and friends flashing in my mind. They’ll never know what happened to you. You’ll just be another vanished hiker in the woods… 

Despite my overwhelming fear, anger also reared up in me. I looked at the gray wolf, only a foot away now. You might kill me, but I’m going to hurt you before you do. 

When it lunged, I was ready. Its fangs sank into my right arm, which I’d thrown up to protect my throat. But even as I almost fainted at the agony of its teeth tearing my flesh, I didn’t hesitate. My left thumb jammed into its eye, as deep as it could go.

Something like a scream came out of the wolf. Or maybe I was the one screaming. Either way, it took a second for the next, new sound to register, but when it did, I felt a surge of hope. It was the loud, unmistakable boom of a gunshot.

The gray wolf let go of me. I sagged back, clutching my torn arm to my chest. The wolf’s right eye was bleeding and it was panting, but it didn’t run. Neither did the other wolves. They crouched, staring over my shoulder, snarls coming from their throats.

“Leave,” the gray wolf said, garbled but intelligible.

I’m hallucinating again, I thought. Maybe I’ve passed out. Maybe I’m being ripped to pieces right now. 

Something brushed by me. I recoiled when I saw it was several more wolves. With my good arm, I began flailing at them in a pathetic attempt to keep them away, but they ignored me. Their attention seemed fixed on the other, snarling wolves.

When a gorgeous, naked man appeared and squatted down next to me, I knew I was hallucinating. I might have even let out a laugh. Maybe all of this was just a horrible dream, and I’d wake up safe in my tent.

“Are you all right?” the man asked, looking me over.

Now I was sure I laughed, but it had an edge of hysteria to it. “Never better.”

I looked at his face – and gasped. His eyes were amber and slanted, just like the wolves’ eyes, and the same wildness lurked in them.

God, please let this be a dream! 

The man stood. He had a gun pointed at the gray wolf. “You’ve gone too far, Gabriel,” he said. “Hunting humans is forbidden. The pack will judge you for this.”

The wolf snarled. “They hunt us,” it said.

“They don’t know better,” the man replied. “We do. Either you come with us, or I shoot you with her gun.”

I was shaking my head from side to side, even though no one was paying attention to me anymore, it seemed. Talking wolves didn’t exist. Handsome, muscular men didn’t walk around naked in the forest, chatting with non-existent talking wolves. Why couldn’t I wake up? And what was that noise? It was getting louder, like a swarm of bees approaching.

When the gray wolf sat down, shuddered, and its fur began disappearing into its body, I didn’t even blink. I was concentrating more on finding the source of that buzzing noise. It was almost deafening now.

The last thing I saw before the noise rose to a crescendo and my vision went black was the wolf’s fur being replaced by skin…and the body of a naked man where the gray wolf had just been.

 

Chapter Two 

Pain tugged on my leg. My eyes opened with a rush of terror as my last memory came roaring back.

The wolves. Attacking me.

“No!” I screamed, trying to defend myself.

Something big held me down. I was so panicked, it took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t biting me or covered in fur.

“You’re all right, the doctor is just setting your ankle,” said a deep voice.

My head felt cottony, but I tried to shake that off as I took stock of my surroundings. I was in a bed. An older blond woman was giving me a mildly irate look as she bent over my ankle. Someone held my upper body in an unyielding grip, and from the muscled arms wrapped around me, whoever it was didn’t look like a nurse.

“Let go of me.”

That grip didn’t loosen. “Doc?”

“You can let her go, Daniel,” the blond woman said.

In my next blink, I was free, staring around the room with its wood walls, rustic interior, and bloody bandages on the floor. I didn’t have the best health insurance, but unless medical standards had really dropped, this wasn’t a hospital.

It took a second for me to recognize the tall, russet-haired man by the bed. “You’re the naked guy,” I blurted. He wasn’t naked now, wearing a pair of loose-fitting denim jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.

He smiled, but it looked strained. “You remember.”

Not all of it. I knew he’d stopped the wolves from attacking me, but I couldn’t remember how, exactly. Or why he’d been naked in the woods in the first place.

There was something about the wolves. Something really important that my groggy mind couldn’t quite recall.

“The wolves…” I began.

“I need to finish this,” the woman interrupted me. “Hold still. You’ll feel some pressure.”

She certainly sounds like a doctor, I thought. Professional, uncaring, and using the word ‘pressure’ to describe what would probably hurt like hell.

My premonition proved correct. A burning pain started in my ankle as she probed, muttering to herself while she shifted it a few times.

“Where am I?” I asked, biting back a yelp. “Is this a Ranger station or something?”

The man stared at me, his hazel eyes seeming to probe as much as the doctor’s pitiless fingers.

“What’s your name?”

“Marlee. Marlee Peters.”

“The sedative shouldn’t have worn off this quickly,” the woman remarked when I couldn’t help but yank back as she manipulated my ankle in a direction it didn’t want to go. “You know that, Daniel.”

“So give me another one,” I said, clenching my teeth as the pain began to throb. ‘Pressure’, my ass!

Daniel, as the doctor called him, let out a sigh. “Damn Gabriel,” he muttered.

Gabriel.

The name conjured up an image of a huge gray wolf glaring at me, one eye bleeding. They hunt us, it had said. Then it started writhing on the ground, its fur disappearing…

I tried to bolt out of bed, but Daniel had me pinned back before I’d even cleared the covers.

“It’s all right, Marlee,” he said.

“Like hell it is!” Whatever remains of the sedative they’d given me wore off in the flash of that memory. Run, my mind urged.

From over his shoulder, I could see the blond woman sit back in disgust. “I can’t work like this,” she muttered.

“Get Joshua,” Daniel told her, still holding me to the bed.

I screamed for help, which drowned out any reply the woman made. I kicked, too, even though that hurt my ankle like I’d set it on fire.

Daniel went from holding me down to flattening me on the bed with his body. It was like a ton of bricks just landed on me. He even had his legs tangled in mine so I couldn’t kick. I couldn’t move, but I could keep screaming, which I did, long and loud. He winced.

“Stop that. You’re hurting my ears.”

His arms were pinning mine down, but his hands were loose near my face. He could have covered my mouth to shut me up, but he didn’t. That meant he wasn’t concerned about anyone overhearing, which meant there was no one near enough to help.

I stopped screaming, trying another tactic. “Let me go. I’ll leave and you’ll never see me again.”

“Why were you in the woods alone, Marlee?” he asked. “That’s not very safe.”

Considering my current situation, the absurdity of that statement made me laugh. “You don’t say?”

He ignored that. “You remember what you saw. That’s why you stink like fear now.”

“It wasn’t real,” I muttered. “I was tired, I’d been lost for days, and I panicked because of the attack –”

“You know it’s real,” he cut me off. “Sorry, but you know, so we can’t just let you go. Even if nothing comes of your bites.”

That froze me more than the two hundred pounds of muscle holding me down. I’d been bitten – several times, in fact. I’d seen the movies, knew enough of the folklore to know what happened to a person who’d been bitten by a…

“This can’t be real,” I whispered.

His gaze was grim. “It’s as real as it gets.”

***

I insisted on sitting in a chair to meet Joshua. Daniel stood next to me, his presence a silent threat that any attempts to leave would be quickly stopped. Still, when one met the leader of a pack of werewolves, one wanted not to be trapped under another werewolf in bed, right? Yeah, I thought so, too.

Of course, I was also still thinking – hoping – that I’d just eaten some bad mushrooms along the trail and none of this was real. Be careful what you wish for, ran through my mind. I’d wished for years to go to Yellowstone. My ex-boyfriend, Paul, and I had planned this trip, down to the places we’d hike and where we’d camp. We were thrilled when my best friend Brandy and her boyfriend had agreed to come. The more the merrier, right?

But things had changed. Paul moved to Manhattan, our relationship couldn’t overcome the long-distance strain, and four months later, I ended up being a third wheel on this trip instead of it being a fun, couples’ getaway. Add that to being overworked and underpaid as a paralegal, and you had my fervent wish for something new and exciting to come into my life.

Looks like I got that wish, though it might come with a set of claws. I waited, missing my small cubicle at the office more than I’d ever missed anything.

Ten minutes later, the blond doctor returned with a man in his late forties. He had  edges of gray on his temples, but the rest of his hair was thick and auburn — the same color as Daniel’s, actually. He also had a similar large, muscular build, albeit not quite as lean as Daniel’s. He wore a tan jacket and vest over his collared shirt, with a pair of denim pants.

In short, he looked like your typical Yellowstone tourist, not the leader of a secret pack of monsters.

“I’m Joshua,” he introduced himself, holding out a hand.

At a loss over what else to do, I shook it. Part of me wanted to run screaming out the door, and the other part wanted to burst into tears. Surprisingly, this myriad of emotions left me feeling slightly numb, like I was running on auto-pilot.

“Marlee.”

Joshua sat on the edge of the bed. His posture was casual, but there was nothing relaxed in his gaze. He looked me over as if I were a potentially-contagious virus. I fought not to hold my breath.

“What happened yesterday was very unfortunate,” Joshua began.

“Yesterday?” I couldn’t help but exclaim, glancing at the window. It was nearly dusk. I’d thought it was the same day as the attack.

“Yesterday,” Joshua repeated, giving me a frown that said he wasn’t used to being interrupted. “A member of our pack was…distraught over his wife’s death. He and a few others began hunting you. You were lucky Daniel found them when he did, but you’d been bitten, so we couldn’t drop you off at the nearest hospital. You haven’t heard of our kind before, Marlee, and there’s a reason. We do whatever’s necessary to protect the secrecy of our existence.”

We’ll kill for it was left unsaid, but I heard that loud and clear in the subtext. I nodded, striving to hold onto my numbness. Hysteria wouldn’t help me, no matter how tempting it was to give in to that.

“A person has to be bitten several times to be at risk of transforming, and half the people who’ve been bitten still don’t turn,” Joshua went on briskly. “We won’t know whether you’ll turn into one of us until the next full moon, two weeks away.”

Two weeks? It would take that long for me to find out whether or not I’d become a monster? I’d go insane wondering until then. And if it did happen…well, suicide didn’t sound like a bad idea all the sudden.

“What happens if after the full moon, I’m not…ah…like the rest of you?” I couldn’t bring myself to say a werewolf. I just couldn’t.

Joshua gave me a thin smile. “That depends on you. Either you stay with us, as a member of the skinwalker part of our pack, or…”

He shrugged. That single gesture completed his sentence in the most chilling way. Or we kill you. 

One way or the other, I was screwed.

 

Chapter Three  

“Hungry?”

I sat in the chair, my broken ankle finally in a cast, and glared at Daniel before replying.

“Somewhere between the death threats and the thought of turning into a four-legged monster, I lost my appetite.”

Part of me wondered why I dared to be so surly to him. The other part figured I was as good as dead anyway, so it didn’t matter.

Daniel grunted. “Suit yourself, but I’m getting something.”

He stood, stretched, and then held out a hand. I just stared at it.

“What?”

“You’re coming with me,” he replied. “Who knows what kind of trouble you’d stir up if I left you alone?”

“And I suppose you’ll just drag me along anyway if I refuse?”

A smile quirked his mouth that I would’ve found charming, under other circumstances. “You learn fast, don’t you?”

I gave Daniel another withering look that didn’t seem to faze him. He was extremely handsome, in an outdoorsy-type of way. His hair was chin length and russet, and he had a faint weathering to his features that spoke of long days outside. Daniel only looked a couple years older than me, which would put him at about thirty, but there was an air of command about him that made him seem older. None of the lawyers at my office had managed to pull off such a dominating presence, in fact.

But I wasn’t about to let him know how much he intimidated me. Wasn’t there a saying that showing fear in front of an animal made it more aggressive? That sounded familiar, so I had to play things off as if I wasn’t as terrified as I was. Maybe chutzpah would work.

“So, you’re the group’s babysitter, is that it?”

He smiled at my challenging tone. “I’m the pack’s enforcer, so it’s my job to make sure anyone who’s a danger to us – like you – doesn’t get away. And I’m very good at my job, Marlee.”

At over six feet tall with muscles bulging from every limb, yeah, Daniel looked like he did a very good job of enforcing. He’d scare anyone with half a brain.

“What are you going to do with me for the next two weeks? You can’t just keep me tied to your hip.” I didn’t even want to think about after that, or what might happen on the full moon.

He rubbed a knuckle under his chin as he considered me. “With your limp, you wouldn’t get far even if you did manage to slip away from me – which you wouldn’t. So, let’s get some dinner, then you can wash up and begin plotting ways to outsmart us dumb animals.”

Daniel said that last part with an arch look that let me know he was both aware of my aversion to what they were and of my dreams of escape. I glanced away, gritting my teeth. I had to be a lot better at fooling them if I had any hope of escaping.

“Didn’t you say you were hungry?” I replied, to change the subect.

He held out his hand to me again. “Come on. Let’s eat.”

*** 

I had to take Daniel’s arm to avoid hopping on one leg to the dining lodge. They didn’t give me any crutches, which I supposed was deliberate so as to keep me at a disadvantage. As I got my first real look at where I was, I was surprised to see that it resembled some sort of tiny Wild West town, of all things. A narrow strip of street ran down between the twin rows of shops, lodgings, and…were those saloons? It was so surreal, as if I’d been transported back in time. I half expected someone to gallop by on horseback, shooting at the moon.

“What is this place?” I asked.

Daniel let out an amused grunt. “Not what you were expecting, right? Let me guess. You thought we’d live in a big den in the woods?”

From his tone and expression, he was teasing, but I wasn’t trying to make friends with my kidnapper.

“The 1800’s called. They want their Tombstone replica back,” I replied. Two could play at being a smart ass.

I was using his arm as a sort of brace, but Daniel managed to keep perfect pace with me. His reflexes were so fast, he counter-balanced my every step, so I almost walked at my normal speed.

“You’re not far off,” he said, ignoring my sarcasm. “This was an old mining town back in the nineteenth century. It was empty for decades after the silver dried up, but then some of my relatives bought it and the surrounding land. We restored many of the original buildings and cabins, plus added upgrades. Now, we rent it out seasonally as a private resort area.”

That brought me to a stop. “Werewolves are running a resort town?” I asked incredulously.

He shrugged. “We have to make a living, just like everyone else.”

This was like being in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

As we walked, we passed several people on our way down the street. I was surprised at how normal they looked. There were men and women of varying ages, plus a couple children, and everyone appeared to be minding their own business – aside from all the sideways glances I was getting.

“Are all of them like you?” I asked, keeping my voice calm. My heart had started to pound, however, and if the movies were right, they could hear it. There were so many of them. How would I ever get away? 

“Most of them,” Daniel said. “The others are skinwalkers – normal people, to you. But you don’t have to be afraid of anyone, Marlee. We’re not what you think we are.”

“I’ve already had some of your group try to kill me, and you and Joshua seem pretty open about how you’ll finish the job,” I replied shortly. “So you’ll excuse me if I don’t buy the whole ‘we’re misunderstood’ speech.”

Something flashed in Daniel’s hazel eyes. It made me back up a step, but his hand shot out and gripped my arm.

“Why’d you bring that gun camping with you?” he asked, his voice soft. “You brought it for protection, right? Because if anyone tried to hurt you, you’d hurt them, right? Well, now imagine if someone’s trying to hurt your entire family. How far would you go to stop them?”

Daniel leaned in, tightening his grip so I couldn’t pull back. “I’d do anything to stop that,” he whispered near my ear. “Including holding you hostage. If you got away, you’d tell people about us. People who would come to hurt and kill my family. So, I might not like it sometimes, but I am ruthless when it comes to protecting my pack. And don’t pretend you wouldn’t be the same way, if the shoe were on the other foot.”

That gleam of wildness was in his eyes again. The otherness that reminded me that an animal lurked inside him. I shivered.

“Let go of me.”

He did, dropping my arm only to hold his out again. “We’re almost there,” he said, nodding at the square building to the left.

I balanced on his arm again. We didn’t speak as we walked the rest of the way to the dining lodge.

*** 

It looked like any normal, rustic restaurant inside, if a little more upscale. Instead of smaller tables scattered throughout, there were several long tables arranged in the room, each seating over a dozen. The food seemed to be served family-style, with large dishes placed in the middle of the tables from which everyone took their servings. There was a moment of quiet as Daniel and I walked in.

“This is Marlee,” Daniel said to the room at large. “She’s joining us.”

I didn’t know if he meant for dinner, as a possible new werewolf, or some other cryptic thing. I didn’t argue, though. Not with dozens of pairs of inhumanly sharp eyes focused on me. Now I knew how a piece of meat felt when it was dangled above a crocodile pit.

“Hi,” I said. God, that sounded stupid, but what else was I supposed to say? Somebody call 911 sounded tempting, but I didn’t think it would do any good.

An older woman bustled up to me, smiling. “Welcome, dear! Aren’t you pretty? Such beautiful brown hair.”

I just wanted to sit, hide, and plot my escape, not exchange pleasantries with Mrs. Butterworth’s version of a werewolf.

“Um, thanks.” That was the best I could come up with, and yes, it was pathetic.

“Let’s set you up over here, it’s quieter,” she said, leading Daniel and I to a table that only had four other people at it.

“Thanks, Mom,” Daniel replied.

I stopped so fast, I almost staggered. “Mom?

A grin edged his mouth. “Everyone has one, after all.”

“Quit teasing Marlee, she looks starved,” his mother said to Daniel, holding out a chair for me. “We have some excellent venison stew for dinner tonight. That should help put the color back in your face.”

I sat at the table, avoiding eye contact with the other four people, though I did notice one was a female. Daniel sat next to me, that challenging little half-smile still on his face.

“Not what you expected again?” he asked.

I glanced around the room once more. People were laughing, eating, and chatting. Sure, I kept getting discreet looks, but no one was licking their chops in a menacing way at me. Maybe I’d imagined the types of looks I was getting before, because now, it all seemed terribly…civilized.

“No,” I replied, and left it at that. These people might appear to be nice, but they were my kidnappers. My executioners, if I refused to become one of their group. All the table manners in the world couldn’t make up for that.

“Daniel,” someone at the table said. “Introduce me.”

I glanced up, meeting a pair of blue eyes on a smiling face. Black hair hung past his shoulders, untamed and playful, like his expression.

“Finn.” There was a hint of a growl in Daniel’s voice that hadn’t been there before. “This is Marlee. Marlee, my younger brother, Finn.”

Again I was surprised at the family connection, though I shouldn’t have been. Why wouldn’t all of their kind congregate together? Isn’t that what normal wolves did?

“Hi,” I said in the same non-committal tone I’d used before.

“Charmed,” Finn replied, grin widening.

“Cut her a break, she’s had a bad day,” the girl next to him muttered before giving me a sympathetic glance. “I’m Laurel, Daniel’s cousin. Sorry about what happened to you.”

“Which part?” I couldn’t help but ask. 

She sighed, her gaze sympathetic. “All of it.”

There was no stopping my snort. “Yeah. Me, too.”

Daniel cleared his throat. I returned my gaze to the table in front of me, tracing its edge. It’ll be another day or so before people even realize something’s happened to me. How long after that before Brandy or my parents organize a search, if there is one? How many days will go by before they give me up for dead? How am I supposed to just sit here, surrounded by werewolves, and pretend nothing is wrong? 

I would never see any of them again. Eventually, my parents would bury an empty casket. I’d never be able to tell them I loved them, hear their voice again… I may as well have been killed in that attack yesterday. With that realization, a tear slid down my cheek. I sucked in my breath, trying to hold back the pain, the grief, but that only made it worse. Another one came down. Then another. I bent my head, hoping my hair would hide it, when a warm hand landed on my shoulder.

“Laurel, have the food sent to my cabin,” Daniel said, then he scooped me up before I could even protest. We were out of the dining lodge and down the street in the next few heartbeats.

“God, you’re so fast,” I gasped in astonishment. Fresh tears spurted. How could I ever get away, if he moved this fast and there was a town full of more creatures like him?

“You’re going to be okay, Marlee,” he said.

No, I wasn’t. I was trapped in a strange place surrounded by creatures that weren’t supposed to exist. My old life might not have been all champagne and roses, but no one had the right to rip me away from it without my consent. The enormity of what I’d lost between yesterday and today slammed into me. I didn’t care anymore that the tears wouldn’t stop, or that I started hitting Daniel. My grief was too sharp to worry about embarrassment or consequences.

 

Chapter Four  

Wolves were chasing me, biting at my ankles, snarling as they crowded around me, letting out howls that made my blood turn to ice. I ran, twigs stinging me as I darted between the trees, gasping for breath, crying out with each new flash of pain in my legs. They were toying with me. My death was only a matter of time. 

The full moon came into view between the trees, illuminating more wolves in my path. I screamed at them, but it came out as a howl. Horrified, I looked down to see that my feet had turned into paws. Fur slithered up my body, replacing my skin. I fell forward, claws shooting out of my fingers… 

“NO!”

I woke up screaming the word, flinging the sheets away like they were animals attacking me. It took me a second to orient myself. Wood ceiling, wood walls, an antler chandelier above me. Right. I was in Daniel’s cabin. All the better to make sure I couldn’t escape.

He sat in the reclining chair on the opposite side of the room, eyes slitted. Watching me. He’d slept in the chair last night. I guess I should appreciate him giving me the bed, but my gratitude was in short supply.

“Another nightmare?” he asked quietly.

I’d had them all night. Either I was getting eaten by wolves, or I was turning into one. Terrifying no matter which way you sliced it.

Daniel stretched. The afghan he’d thrown over himself slipped, revealing that he’d taken off his shirt. Cords of muscles flexed beneath taut, tanned skin.

Despite everything, I looked. I’d never seen such a perfectly muscled body before – at least, one that wasn’t on TV advertising gym equipment. Daniel didn’t have the bloated look associated with steroid users, but he had a thick, brawny frame that usually spoke of many hours in a gym. Absurdly, the image of a werewolf bench-pressing flashed in my mind.

I glanced up to find Daniel staring at me. He didn’t wink or make a comment, but there was no doubt he knew I’d been staring at his body.

I managed to shrug. “Stockholm syndrome,” I said. “The whole ‘bonding with your captor’ thing. I’ve already cried in your arms, now I’m checking you out. Just ignore it. Of course, I can’t be your first captive, so you’re probably used to this.”

A faint smile touched his mouth. “You’re the first female I’ve had to quarantine, and none of the men looked at me the way you did.”

There was something deeper in his voice with that last sentence. I shivered, both from unease and other things. Yes, Daniel was very attractive with his dark russet hair, thick brows, full mouth, and piercing hazel eyes – not to mention that body. But this wasn’t a first date. This was a hostage situation, and a macabre one at that.

“Don’t let it go to your head. I’m scared to death and looking for any form of comfort,” I said, regaining control of my wayward emotions. “Speaking of that, since a certain murderous gray wolf keeps appearing in my nightmares, I need to know. What happened to Gabriel?”

Daniel’s face became shuttered. “He’s under arrest. If you shift, he dies for infecting you against your will. If you don’t turn, Joshua said Gabriel losing his eye was punishment enough. Joshua had liquid silver poured into Gabriel’s eye so it wouldn’t heal.”

Their harshness apparently wasn’t limited just to outsiders. I felt mildly sick over what I’d heard, but under the circumstances, pity for Gabriel was beyond me.

“And the others?” Gabriel hadn’t been alone when he’d ambushed me.

“They run the gauntlet.”

Daniel said it lightly, but I swallowed. “As in, the thing Native Indians used to do with captives, where they line up on both sides and beat the shit out of the person as he tries to dash down the center?”

That hint of wildness was back in Daniel’s gaze again, a primal, untamed gleam I’d never seen except in the eyes of an animal. On a full-grown man, it both was mesmerizing and frightening.

“Something like that. Except we’ll be in our fur, and they won’t be.”

I couldn’t help but gulp. That sounded barbaric, and it was on my account. As I pushed back the graphic images my mind supplied, something else occurred to me.

“But it isn’t the full moon. How can you…you know?” In fact, how had any of the werewolves changed form the other day, if I had to wait until the full moon to see if I was infected?

Daniel translated what I couldn’t say out loud. “Once we’re past the first year, we can shift at will. New pack members are dependent on the full moon to change, though.”

I digested this. “So, right now, you could turn into a –”

“Wolf,” he finished for me, his slow smile doing nothing to detract from the new intensity in his gaze. “Yes.”

So many emotions crashed through me. Fear. Revulsion. Curiosity. Disbelief. What if all of this was a twisted farce, and I hadn’t seen what I’d thought was a wolf turning into a man in the woods? What if this was just a town full of crazies who thought they were wolves, and in my stress, I’d bought into that?

“Show me,” I said.

***

 

Again, hope you enjoyed! Please check back on Saturday, April 18th for Part B and the remainder of Pack.

Whatcha watchin’?

I’ve been humming along writing The Sweetest Burn, book two in the Broken Destiny series, so I don’t have much to blog about that wouldn’t be a rephrasing of “I wrote words!” And really, how interesting is that to say in several different ways, let alone one? :) I will have some scene snippets from The Sweetest Burn for you soon, however. I enjoy posting little glimpses of my works-in-progress and I hope you enjoy reading them.

Because I don’t have much going on aside from work, let’s talk about TV. One of my favorite pastimes aside from reading is to unwind on the couch while watching TV. As an aside, I usually fall asleep to an episode of World’s Dumbest. No matter what boneheaded thing I might have done in the day, watching that show allows me to feel intellectually superior, at least for 45 minutes ;). But what I’m really excited about is the return of Outlander to the Starz channel tonight.  I first read the book, Outlander, over twenty years ago, and it was my gateway drug to first-person narrative. It also made me a lifelong fan of Jamie and Claire, so you can imagine my happiness when I heard that the series was picked up by Starz. The fact that the series is (thus far) staying close to the book, plus it’s extremely well-acted, and Sam Heughan looks almost identical to how I pictured Jamie in my mind, is just the icing on the cake.

If you haven’t checked out the Outlander series, I could not recommend the books enough. If you haven’t checked out the TV series yet, same deal. Here’s a trailer, for a teaser:

Another show I recently started watching that I’m really enjoying is iZombie. It debuted on the CW network March 13th and there are currently three episodes out. This show manages to be quirky, darkly comedic and warmhearted, all at the same time. The heroine finds herself unexpectedly undead, and navigating all the crazy consequences of that while still trying to live a “normal” life reminded me of a blend between the former TV show Dead Like Me and the movie Warm Bodies. To see what I mean, here’s the trailer below.

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So, what TV show did you newly discover, or what show are you looking forward to starting up again?

Topic potpourri

As the subject line states, I have no central theme for today’s post. Just different items. First up, I’ve added one more appearance to my 2015 schedule. I will now be attending the Romance Writers of America (RWA) convention in New York, NY from July 22nd through July 25th, at the New York Marriott Marquis. I don’t have a specific schedule yet, but once I do, I’ll post it. Right now, all I know is that I’ll be at the mass signing (open to the public) on July 22nd. If you’re attending RWA, hope to see you there.

Loki Jan 2015Yesterday, I found out that my youngest dog, Loki, will need to get double-knee surgery on his hind legs to repair his knees. How does a dog who’s just turning 3 end up with bad knees, you wonder? Apparently it’s a birth defect where the “grooves” that are supposed to hold his knee caps in place are smooth instead of grooved, so his kneecaps have a tendency to slip out of their socket. I feel guilty because we had no idea that there was a problem until a few days ago, when we saw Loki periodically hold up his back right leg when he walked. On the plus side, Loki is so young that his runaway kneecaps haven’t caused any arthritis or tendon shredding, so there’s no permanent damage. I, as a worried dog mommy, will be a bundle of nerves as we await confirmation from a specialist and then go about scheduling the first of his two surgeries. Poor little guy, he has no idea that he has some rough roads ahead until this can get fixed. Here he is in January, guarding the stuffing from the toy he’d just de-fluffed.

J and J at ApollyConIn totally random news, I need to get a new, “official” author photo. The one I had been using was from 2011, when my hair was longer and I’d gone with blond highlights. Now, my hair is shorter and auburn, as evidenced from the photo to the left from last month, when my sister and I dressed up in our Greek-themed costumes for ApollyCon. I think I’ll stick with shorter and auburn for a while, or until I grow bored, whichever comes first. I’ve bounced back and forth between light brown (my natural color), red, auburn and blondish for the past twenty years and I see no reason to stop now. I might be too chicken by the permanence of a tattoo to get one of those, but I can play with my hair color when I want to change things up a bit. The only color I haven’t tried is black. I’m so pale, people would think I was going for a goth look to match my vampire novels, and I already get that from all the black clothes I wear when in reality, that’s just laziness. Black goes with everything, so that’s why it’s a main staple in my wardrobe.

Finally, if you didn’t see my post last week, I announced that the next character in my vampire series to get his own novel with be Ian. I also opened the floor to guessing who the heroine would be. If you more details, including hints as to the heroine’s identity, then go here.

That’s it for me :). Hope you’re having a nice weekend, and hope you have good week next week!

Thanks, and about that bribe…

Thanks to everyone who voted for Up From The Grave in the DABWAHA competition! Our bracket had a record turnout, however, Up From The Grave did not advance. Still, it was really cool to have it in the contest at all, let alone to have it make it past the first round. Plus, I loved the book that did advance (Magic Breaks) and it was written by my bestie, Ilona Andrews, so I am very happy for her. If you’re following DABWAHA (and it’s a great way to get reading recommendations) be sure to vote for Magic Breaks and Burn For Me in the coming brackets! If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend both because Ilona’s books are as fabulous as she is :).

Some of you might be wondering, what about that bribe you offered if you won? Since you didn’t, are you not going to write an Ian book now? *grin* As I mentioned, Ilona’s one of my BFF’s, so when she Tweeted this during our fake Twitter fight, she was right:

 

After I finish the Night Prince series, the next front runner for  a vampire book is Ian. As many of you know, I’ve said for years that Ian is moving closer to his own book, and if I didn’t already have a story in mind for him, I wouldn’t have offered his book as a bribe. However, as mentioned, I still have to finish the Night Prince series (one more book), plus the Broken Destiny series (two more books) so, an Ian book is still a little ways off. You will see him pop up in the final Night Prince book as a side character, though, and having Vlad and Ian interact together should be a lot of fun to write.

Before you ask, I’m not revealing who the heroine is for Ian’s future book yet. To give you a hint, she has appeared in the Night Huntress series before. That’s all you’re getting out of me at the moment, so you are welcome to take your best guess, but I will neither confirm nor deny any of them yet ;).

That’s it from me. Thanks again, happy speculating, and hope you’re enjoying your Sunday!

My DABWAHA bribe

ETA: Today is the day! Vote for Up From The Grave here on March 21st between noon and midnight only, Eastern Daylight Time.

For your amusement, I have copied and pasted the Twitter “fight” that Ilona Andrews and I had last night, whereupon we used our rapier wits (heh!) to insult each other’s books, all to vie for your votes. For the full reason (with Ian book bribe included!) on why I think I should win instead of Ilona, read below the Tweet fight :).

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In case you haven’t heard of it, DABWAHA is a fun book competition run by Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books every March to coincide with March Madness. In similar style, books are paired off against each other, with the winner advancing to the next bracket, and so on, until there is only one. I have a special place in my heart for the Smart Bitches blog because many years ago, they gave me the very first book review I ever received on Halfway To The Grave. So, you can imagine how flattered I was to see my final Cat and Bones novel, Up From The Grave, make it into the DABWAHA competition this year. It’s like the universe was closing a circle somewhere.

Up From The Grave made it through the first round on DABWAHA. On March 21st from Noon to Midnight (EDT) only, the polls will be open to see if it advances again. However, it’s up against a very excellent novel by my longtime friend, author Ilona Andrews. I, of course, upon seeing this, decided that I couldn’t possibly ask my readers to help me defeat a novel by one of my BFF’s…..wait, what did Ilona post on her blog?

Oh no she didn’t! 

Ilona was offering a bribe to her readers to crush my book? All right, then! *takes off gloves* It’s ON, bey-otch! :)

So, what bribe shall I offer you to entice you into voting for Up From The Grave at this link TODAY, March 21st, from noon to midnight? Hmmm, what about….if it beats my now-former BFF’s book, then…

The next vampire spinoff novel I write will feature Ian as the hero.

That’s right, Ian lovers, he can be all yours, if you help me show my vote-hungry friend that she might have started this with the bribes, but I will finish it! *insert “Spartans, prepare for glory!” war cry here*

So, readers, if you’re Team Ian, vote for Up From The Grave on March 21st between noon and midnight EDT. Then, spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, whatever. We only have a 12 hour window to make this happen.

Besides, Ilona has another novel in this year’s DABWAHA competition anyway ;).

 

 

Disclaimer: This bribe-off and all corresponding smack talk is purely in jest. Ilona is my BFF and always will be :).

UK sale and what I am/have been reading

Guess what, UK readers? Remember all those times I’ve posted about US ebook sales and you’ve bemoaned the fact that the sale wasn’t honored overseas? Well, this one is just for you! From now until the first week of April, Amazon UK has the ebook edition of The Beautiful Ashes, Broken Destiny book one, as a Kindle Monthly deal, so you can pick it up for only $.99US readers, so far Amazon hasn’t matched the deal, but they did lower the ebook price to $4.99, so if you haven’t started Ivy and Adrian’s story yet, it’s available now at a reduced price.

Speaking of Ivy and Adrian’s story, I’m cruising along writing the second book, The Sweetest Burn, which will release around the end of the year. If you missed my earlier post about it, I have the description available here.

On one of my other recent posts, I blogged about a book I’d blurbed, and a few of you asked me to compile a list of all the books I’d given official quotes on. I really like this suggestion, but it’s going to take a little time since I’m going back over a 7+ year period and I’m not the most organized person :). Plus, as mentioned, writing has been going well, so I’ve been giving that my full attention instead of digging through emails. In the meantime, please allow me to share some books I’ve recently enjoyed. Let’s start with what I’m reading now:

Rock HardROCK HARD by Nalini Singh

In New York Times Bestselling author Nalini Singh’s newest contemporary romance, passion ignites between a gorgeous, sinfully sexy man who built himself up from nothing and a shy woman who has a terrible secret in her past…

Wealthy businessman Gabriel Bishop rules the boardroom with the same determination and ruthlessness that made him a rock star on the rugby field. He knows what he wants, and he’ll go after it no-holds-barred. And what he wants is Charlotte Baird.

Charlotte knows she’s a mouse. Emotionally scarred and painfully shy, she just wants to do her job and remain as invisible as possible. But the new CEO—a brilliant, broad-shouldered T-Rex of a man who growls and storms through the office, leaving carnage in his wake—clearly has other plans. Plans that may be equal parts business and bedroom. If Charlotte intends to survive this battle of wits and hearts, the mouse will have to learn to wrangle the T-Rex. Game on.

My take: I’m reading this now and I love it! In fact, I was tired when I first picked it up, but I was soon so engaged in the story and characters that I kept reading until my vision became so blurry that the words were too fuzzy for me to go on. I have work and family today, but tomorrow, I have a date to finish this novel and I can’t wait.

 

beguile a beastTo Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

CAN A WOUNDED BEAST . . .

Reclusive Sir Alistair Munroe has hidden in his castle ever since returning from the Colonies, scarred inside and out. But when a mysterious beauty arrives at his door, the passions he’s kept suppressed for years begin to awaken.

TRUST A BEAUTY WITH A PAST . . .

Running from past mistakes has taken legendary beauty Helen Fitzwilliam from the luxury of the ton to a crumbling Scottish castle . . . and a job as a housekeeper. Yet Helen is determined to start a new life and she won’t let dust-or a beast of a man-scare her away.

TO TAME HIS MOST SECRET DESIRES?

Beneath Helen’s beautiful façade, Alistair finds a courageous and sensual woman. A woman who doesn’t back away from his surliness-or his scars. But just as he begins to believe in true love, Helen’s secret past threatens to tear them apart. Now both Beast and Beauty must fight for the one thing neither believed they could find-a happy ever after.

My Take: Such a great romance with a Beauty and the Best twist! While sexy and totally alpha, the hero definitely isn’t your cookie-cutter type: his face is heavily scarred and he wears an eye patch over his missing eye. The heroine also bucks tradition by being a former-mistress-turned-single-mother on the run. Watching them fall in love while healing themselves inside and out was a heartfelt, delightful treat.

 

FrozenFrozen by Meljean Brook

A paranormal romance novella

For a year and a half, Olivia Martin has tried to forget Erik Gulbrandr, the glacial man who’d scorched her mouth with a single kiss. But when Olivia finds herself snowbound with Erik on the winter solstice, she discovers that the man who set her body aflame is cursed by abominable needs — and a desire that might destroy them both…

My Take: Just because my first two books were contemporary and historical, you didn’t think I’d stopped reading paranormals, did you? :) Of course not! This paranormal element featured a twist on the Norse Frost Giant mythology that I found inventive and interesting. I’m also not usually a fan of novellas versus novels, but I really liked this one and didn’t feel cheated at all by its shorter length. If you’re a fan of Meljean Brooks, you won’t want to miss this. If you’re new to her, this novella is a great way to sample her excellent storytelling skills.

That’s it on my end for now. Wishing all of you very happy reading!