Gray Moon Rising

It’s been almost a year since Rylie Gresham was bitten by a werewolf on Gray Mountain. Now something is beckoning her back to the place she was attacked, along with every other werewolf in the world. But they aren’t the only ones heeding the call. A group of hunters notices them gathering and sees it as their chance to wipe out the entire species.

Seth is about to graduate high school when he learns of the final hunt. He secretly plans to save Rylie and his werewolf brother even though he has to play along with the hunters to do it. But Rylie doesn’t want to be saved. She’s already decided to solve her problems with a silver bullet if answers aren’t waiting on Gray Mountain.

One way or another, everything is about to end—whether it means Rylie’s liberation or the end of her life…

Excerpt:

Sometimes, when Rylie was alone, she practiced shooting the gun.

That was how she thought of it. Not “a gun,” or “that pistol she stole from Abel,” but the gun. Special emphasis on the first word.

It was a revolver. She knew this because the word was stamped on the side, along with the name of a manufacturer she didn’t recognize. Rylie had never fired a gun before, but she had seen people get shot. After hours of turning it over in her hands, probing its parts with her fingertips, and pointing it at the wall, she thought she had it figured out.

She knew the business end and the trigger. Those were the important parts. Though not as important as the single bullet in the chamber.

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Rylie sat on the edge of her mattress, popped the revolver open again, and tipped the bullet onto her bedside table. It was the same lonely silver bullet she had been hiding in her room for weeks. It had been in the pistol when she stole it from Abel’s duffel bag.

She warmed the metal of the gun in her hands, thinking about all the times she had seen Seth shoot empty cans and the way he stood to stabilize his arm. Rylie lifted the unloaded gun and aimed it at her wall. Pulled the trigger. Heard the click, watched the barrel rotate, imagined the resounding bang.

It wasn’t cold in her room, but she shivered.

Her bedroom at the werewolf sanctuary was meant to be cozy. The walls were painted an inviting shade of blue, the bay window let her look down on the gardens, and her bed always had a fresh duvet filled with fluffy down feathers. But there was no hiding the fact that her window was barred from the inside, or that the paint was scored by claw marks. Her mattress had been replaced six times already, and she had only been there for four months.

Rylie aimed the gun at the claw marks on her wall. Those were from the last transformation, so Scott hadn’t had time to repaint. He kept several buckets of that blue in the closet just for her.

Beyond the reinforced wall, Abel was waiting for the same thing she was. A new moon. He changed later in the night than she did, so he might have been resting in anticipation. He would run with the other werewolves when the time came. They had acres of empty, fenced land to enjoy, where no human would be in danger.

Rylie wouldn’t join them.

She pressed the barrel of the gun against her temple and closed her eyes.

Click.

Someone knocked on her door. Rylie shoved the gun under her pillow. “Come in,” she said without raising her voice. Anyone visiting on the night of a new moon would have hearing as good as hers, and she could hear the mice playing in the field outside her window.

Abel entered. He was tall, dark-skinned, and broad-shouldered. He filled the room like shadows filled the night.

“What are you doing?” he asked. He wore nothing but loose linen pants, which were designed to fall apart when his body grew and changed. It bared the scars that ran from his temple to his hip.

“Same thing as you. I’m waiting.”

His eyes narrowed. He sniffed. “What’s that smell?”

The bullet was still on her table.

Rylie grabbed it when he peered out the window and tried not to wince at the way it burned her hand. She sat on her fist. “I don’t know. Did you bust into my bedroom to ask stupid questions, or is something going on?”

“Me and Bekah and Levi are leaving. We’re taking the new kid out for her first run, so we thought you might want to come.” He didn’t manage to sound even slightly enthusiastic about the idea.

The “new kid” was Tyas, a thirteen year old who had fallen into their sanctuary after a family vacation to the Rockies ended in a werewolf attack. Her parents went home. She stayed. She had recently finished transitioning to a full werewolf, spoke very little English, and cried all the time. Rylie had been avoiding her. Actually, she had been avoiding everyone, but Tyas more than the others.

“No thanks,” she said.

Abel glared. “You’re changing in here again?”

“So what if I am?”

“We’ve got two hundred acres out there, and you haven’t seen more than the front yard. I know you’re still being all whiny about that thing that happened at Christmas—”

“Whiny?” Rylie’s voice went up an octave. She couldn’t hold it back. “You think being upset about killing eight people iswhiny?”

He shrugged. “I’ve killed more than that.”

“You killed werewolves. Not farmers. Not fathers. Not—”

“Whatever. Look, you can stay in here if you want. I don’t care if you want to mope in your gloomy pit of a room. But Bekah’s getting worried that you won’t leave, and that means Scott’s getting worried, too. You’re going to have a whole coven of witches on you if you don’t act like you’re getting better.”

She bit her bottom lip. “But I’m not getting better.”

“Like I said. Whatever.” Abel paused halfway out her door, and something flitted across his face that might have been sympathy. “You and me could go on our own. You know, let Bekah and Levi babysit Tyas. There’s plenty of space.”

“No,” Rylie said forcefully.

Any hint of sympathy vanished from his expression. Abel’s mouth opened like he was going to say something else, then clapped shut again. He slammed the door behind him. It was reinforced with silver and steel, so it clanged in the frame.

Rylie peeled her fingers open. The bullet had burned a red divot in her palm. She grimaced as she slid it into the chamber of the revolver, then blew on the injury and shook out her hand.

She wasn’t whining or moping, no matter what Abel said. She was more dangerous than the other werewolves at the sanctuary. It was better to hide.

Rylie tucked the gun into a drawer on her bedside table. Her blood grew cold as closed it, and her gaze was drawn to the window. The new moon was invisible in the black sky, but she knew it was peeking over the hill. She could always feel the moon.

The change tugged at her, like the moon was connected to her breastbone by a silver thread. Rylie stood and grabbed the bars as she gazed at the clear night sky. Her heart worked twice as hard to beat. Her blood grew thick and sluggish.

Almost time.

She fastened the bar on her door—not that werewolves were any good at operating doorknobs—and undressed. She folded her clothes and stuck them in the drawer with the revolver. Her hands shook as she pushed her furniture against the walls.

“Maybe it won’t hurt this time,” she whispered.

The stars blurred as the moon rose. Her eyes burned with tears. Her skin itched with fever.

Figures darted past the window. Four other werewolves, still in human form, fled for the trees. The wolf inside of Rylie longed to join them. She wanted to run, to feel the dirt between her toes, to be enveloped in the chilly spring breeze.

Someone gave a sad cry that sounded like a howl. They wanted her to come, too.

No. I can’t.

The last time she ran loose, she almost killed her aunt.

Painful memories were enough to kick the change into high gear. The power of the moon buckled her knees. Rylie sank to the floor, and her forehead bumped against the carpet.

Her jaw and cheekbones popped. Her skull cracked like ocean ice as her muzzle grew, and the skin stretched to the point of tearing. Rylie’s nose extended in front of her eyes as teeth erupted in her gums with flares of pain. Blond hair pooled around her hands.

It shouldn’t have hurt. After so many months of shifting shapes, she should have been used to it. But it was like taking a sledgehammer to the face every time.

She cried out as her lower back snapped, flinging her onto her side. Her kneecaps dislodged. Her anklebones strained as her feet rearranged.

The room blurred. She couldn’t focus on anything but the carpet two inches from her face. Where was the wolf? She prayed for it to sweep her human mind away and release her from the pain.

Let me go… let me forget…

The tail ripped free of her back. New muscles knit together as fire swept down her spine.

The mind of the wolf pressed into her, and Rylie surrendered. The pain became distant. It kept her from having to think about murders, revolvers, or monsters. And she definitely didn’t have to think about everything she left behind when the werewolf destroyed her life.

All she knew was the cold peace of a predator’s mind. It was better that way.

COLLAPSE

Long Night Moon

Something is killing innocent people around Rylie Gresham’s town. The police think it’s a wild animal, but she has other suspicions. There are new kids at school, and they have a lot in common with her: gold eyes, super strength, and a habit of turning furry. It seems Rylie’s not the only werewolf around anymore.

It’s up to Rylie and her werewolf-hunting boyfriend, Seth, to stop the killings. But saving lives doesn’t come naturally to a monster, and territory battles could risk the life of her sickly aunt–not to mention her own. Rylie has no choice but to stand her ground, protect her home, and stop the murders before anyone else gets hurt.

Excerpt:

Seth knew it would be a long day when he found blood in the fields.

Blood was never a good sign, since it often meant Rylie had gotten into the pastures again and eaten something she would regret. He could already hear her long speech about the innocence of cows again. It had been kind of cute… the first three times.

But this was different. He had never found so much blood after a moon. It was splattered over the frozen surface of the duck pond with a dark cherry sheen, like hard candy, and he didn’t think it belonged to a cow.

The human handprints weren’t a good sign, either.

He glared at his cell phone. When human bodies became involved, he had to call the police. Cops would mean an investigation, and if they saw him with a gun, he would have to answer a lot of questions.

It would be a long day. Seth hated long days.

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He trudged around the duck pond in calf-deep snow, keeping the blood in his periphery. There weren’t any paw prints around the pond, nor were there the other normal signs of a werewolf attack. There should have been claw marks on everything. Frenzied werewolves liked to leave marks.

Plus, there was no body. If a human died, it wasn’t Rylie’s fault, and that was almost worse. It meant his werewolf girlfriend wasn’t the only dangerous thing in the night.

“This won’t be good,” he muttered.

He tracked the blood away from the pond, across the pastures, and into the fields of a neighboring farm. He picked the trail of blood up a few yards down, where it smeared for a few feet.

He didn’t have to go far to find the source. Seth crossed the field and entered the thicket at its edge. Naked trees made skeleton shadows on the ground, and the fingers of the branches all pointed at one thing—the body of a farmer, half-buried in snow with his throat torn out.

Yeah. It was definitely going to be a long day.

Rylie would never get used to waking up outside.

She stretched out in a snowdrift, reaching her hands high over her head and flexing her toes so every muscle went taut. She felt like she had been beaten up. Her skin was battered and sore, but unmarked.

Sitting up, she peered around the fields in the light of early dawn. Snow stuck to her hair. Rylie recognized the ridge to the south, but all her normal landmarks were masked in a thick layer of snow. She had no idea whose property she was on.

And where was Seth? He usually tracked her all night so he could be close when she woke up, but there was no sign of him this time. The only footprints nearby were in the shape of wolf paws.

She got up and brushed the snow off her skin. Even though she was wet and her hair had frozen, she wasn’t cold yet. The change kept her warm.

Tilting her head into the still air, she took several short sniffs. The colors of winter splashed through her mind: the chill of ice, rabbits warm in their dens, and the flowery smell of cheap perfume.

But there was another scent, too. It was the kind of smell that caught the attention of the wolf inside her, even though it should have been sleeping after a new moon.

Blood. Lots of it.

She was torn. Rylie needed her clothing before she got cold—or worse, before someone saw her streaking through the snow—but the blood smelled sticky-sweet and delicious, and she was so hungry.

Maybe just a peek.

Rylie jogged across the hills. Steam drifted off her skin and plumed around her mouth. Even though she was sleepy and sore, the call of blood made her push on.

More than a mile away, the smell became much stronger. It came from a large grove of trees.

And people were waiting on the east end.

Rylie hesitated before plunging inside. She ducked behind a thicket to keep herself hidden. Trucks with the sheriff’s logo were parked nearby, as well as an ambulance, and some other vehicles with government plates.

She sniffed again. So much blood.

Ignoring her better instincts, Rylie crouch-walked through the grove and followed her nose.

A man in a uniform appeared on the other side of a tree.

She froze.

His back was turned, so he didn’t see her. “Jesus H. Christ, what a mess,” he muttered. “You ever seen something like this before, Mary?”

“What a mess,” echoed a woman that Rylie couldn’t see. She was blocked by a bush.

The officer moved, letting Rylie see around his legs.

At first, all she saw was meat, raw and dripping. It was laying there on the snow, waiting for someone to take it. Still fresh. Still warm. Her stomach growled so loudly that she was afraid the deputies might hear.

After a moment, her human mind kicked in.

A human body.

The man shifted again, blocking Rylie’s view, but the corpse was branded into her mind. Her stomach lurched. Rylie clamped both hands over her mouth to keep from vomiting. Her shoulders heaved, and bile rose in the back of her throat. She couldn’t make a noise. She couldn’t get caught.

“Think it was a coyote?” Mary asked.

“Hard to say. I’ve never seen a coyote that vicious.”

Rylie slipped out of the trees again. She felt dizzy.

Motion on the hill overlooking the grove caught her eye. A dark figure at the top waved his hand, silhouetted by the rising sun. Even though he was too far away to smell, she recognized Seth, and he disappeared as soon as she waved back.

His message was clear. Rylie had to get away from the sheriffs.

She kept low as she followed the smell of her own perfume to the clothing she had hidden between rocks a half mile away. It was far enough behind the hill that the investigators couldn’t see, but she had to hurry. Finding a body meant they would probably sweep the whole area to find what killed him.

By the time she reached the rocks, her temperature started to drop, and the chill seeped into her bones. Her feet burned with cold. Her fingers became stiff and unresponsive. She hurried to pull the jeans over her legs, and they felt strange scraping over numb skin.

She had to blow on her hands until her fingers would bend before she could manage the socks and boots. Rylie skipped the shirt to put on the fur-lined jacket. She had initially refused to wear it, since she used to be a vegetarian and still hated animal products, but she was grateful for its warmth that morning.

“Sorry,” she muttered through chattering teeth, trying not to imagine any poor dead bunnies.

Rylie jerked the hood over her head, stuffed the shirt into her pocket, and trudged toward the road where Seth parked the truck. They reached it at the same time.

The windows were iced over, and its hood was covered in an inch of snow. He tossed his rifle inside.

“What happened?” she asked.

He grinned when he saw her buried deep in the oversized jacket. His slanted smile made her heart stop beating for a second. Seth was wearing all black as usual, and his freshly-trimmed hair accentuated the hard lines of his cheekbones and jaw. “You’re not cold, are you?”

“No,” Rylie said.

“Liar.”

“I’d like to see you spend all night naked one of these moons. Then we’ll see who’s cold.”

Rylie had to move Seth’s school books to get in the truck. He must have spent the night glued to his books. He was serious about semester finals, and determined to get all A’s on his report card, so he didn’t do much other than study.

He got in the driver’s seat. She pushed back her hood.

“Seriously, Seth, what happened?”

“You saw the body. What do you think happened? Someone got killed.”

“What did it?”

“I got a good look before I tipped off the sheriffs. His throat had been torn out, but it was too neat to be a werewolf. They’re savage when they attack,” Seth said.

“You mean, I’m savage when I attack.”

“It wasn’t you. I tracked you for half the night, and you stayed out in federal lands.” He didn’t look at her. “And none of him had been eaten. Like I said, you’re innocent.”

Rylie stared at her boots. “Oh.” He was right She had gotten a few animals before, and she never left much behind. “Who died?”

“Isaiah Branson.”

Her hands flew to her mouth. “My neighbor? Oh God! That’s so close to my house! What if my aunt had been outside? What if—?”

Seth grabbed her hand. His touch spread warmth through her body.

“It wasn’t Gwyneth, so don’t worry about something that didn’t happen. There’s lots else to worry about anyway. If it wasn’t a werewolf that tore open Branson’s throat, then what was it?”

Rylie couldn’t answer that. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to know.

COLLAPSE

All Hallows’ Moon

The good girl has become the big bad wolf…

Rylie survived a werewolf bite. She’s moved to her aunt’s ranch to enroll in a new school and continue her life—except now she transforms into a monster every moon and struggles to control her murderous urges.

Without many werewolves left, it’s hard to stay in hiding. A family of hunters–Eleanor, Abel, and Seth—recognize the signs and follow Rylie to her new home. They want to stop her before she murders someone, and the only way to do it is with a silver bullet. Seth soon realizes the werewolf is Rylie, the one monster he failed to kill. Worse yet, he’s still in love with her.

Torn between family and love, Rylie struggles to reconcile her feelings and control the wolf within while Seth fights to do what’s right. But what is right—obeying desire or duty?

Excerpt:

When the sun sank beneath the hills, the trucker turned on his headlights to illuminate the road. Night fell quickly in the middle of nowhere. There weren’t any streetlights for miles, much less city, so he knew it would be black in minutes.

His passenger bounced her knee and drummed her knuckles against the window. She was fixated by the passing landscape even though there was nothing to look at but long grass and the occasional tree. Her blond hair was pulled into a messy bun and her fingernails were chewed so short that her thumb bled.

The trucker watched her from the corner of his eye. She was starting to tremble.

“You okay?” he asked.

She nodded a little too quickly. “Yeah. Sure. I’m fine. Is this as fast as we can go?”

He chuckled. “I’m in a hurry too, sweetheart, but I’ve gotta go the speed limit. Another speeding ticket could make me lose my job.”

“Going slow could make you lose more than that,” she muttered.

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“What did you say?”

“Nothing.”

A rabbit bounced past the headlights, and her head whipped around so she could stare at the place it vanished. There was something unnatural about the way she moved. It was like everything startled her. The trucker wondered if she was on cocaine or meth or something else. Nobody acted like that unless they had taken drugs—or if they were nuts.

He suspected there was something wrong with his mysterious passenger when he picked her up at a truck stop two states back. How many cute teenage girls hitchhiked on semis? Just prostitutes. But this kid was no hooker, and the trucker wouldn’t have done anything if she was. He had a son her age back home. His picture was taped to the dashboard.

The girl seemed pretty normal for the first few hours—quiet, but normal—but she got more nervous as time went on. Now her skin was flushed and her pupils were too wide.

“You ever going to tell me your name?” he asked. It was the first time he’d tried to talk with her since Colorado.

“Rylie. My name’s Rylie.” She raked her fingernails up and down her shoulder, leaving red tracks on tan skin.

“Pretty name. I’ve got a niece named Kiley. She’s in the chess club at school, and…” He trailed off as she shuddered, hugging her backpack against her body. “You okay?”

“Moon’s coming soon.”

“Yeah?” He leaned forward to look at the sky. All the trucker could see were clouds. “How can you tell? Won’t there be a new moon tonight?”

“I’m in a hurry. There aren’t going to be any cops out here. Can’t you…?”

“Relax,” he said. “We’ll get there when we get there.” He watched her from the corner of his eye. “How old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen?” She didn’t respond. “Drugs seemed like the cool thing to do when I was your age, but they ruined my life. I lost my family and spent years in rehab. Addiction is brutal.”

Rylie looked startled. “I’m not addicted to drugs.”

“I didn’t think I was addicted either, but—”

“No, I mean, I’m not taking anything. Okay?”

“Okay, okay. You’re not addicted. Then what are you running from?” he asked.

“Nothing. I’m going to live with my aunt. She moved out here from Colorado a couple of months ago, so I’m going to work on her new ranch.”

“And your aunt lets you hitchhike?”

She lifted her chin stubbornly. “Nobody lets me do anything anymore.”

“Uh huh.”

She wasn’t going to talk to him about her problems. No big deal. The trucker remembered being in her place years ago. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it all that much, either. Getting past his denial was the first step to recovery.

They drove on in silence, and she kept scratching herself. Probably meth. It looked like meth.

Even though he knew he couldn’t help her until she was ready to help herself, he had to try. “I could drop you off at a hospital if you want,” he suggested.

“I’m not going to a hospital!” she snarled. Her eyes flashed a reflective gold, like an animal.

“Holy mother of—”

Rylie looked out the window again, cutting him off with a slam of her knuckles against the glass. “My friend Tyler says speed limits are suggestions.” She had calmed down and sounded normal. Not growling. Not like…

He was imagining things.

He patted his pocket in search of caffeine pills. The trucker hadn’t slept in over a day, and now he was hallucinating. But his pockets were empty. “Maybe I’ll go a little faster,” he muttered. He’d get the kid to her aunt and pull over to catch some sleep.

The trucker rolled down his window, letting the cold air slap him in the face. When the clouds parted, there was no moon. It was a dark night.

Rylie groaned and doubled over.

“Hey there,” he said. “You okay?”

Her fingernails dug into her sides. “I’m—ugh—I’m fine.” Rylie shoved her backpack to the floor of the truck and pressed her forehead to her knees.

She arched her spine. It ridged under her t-shirt like it could tear the fabric.

“You don’t look fine.”

“I need out. Stop the truck!”

“What? But—” A sign whizzed by, indicating that the next town wasn’t for fifteen miles. “There’s nothing out here. I can’t drop you off; you’d get eaten by—”

She lifted her head and slammed it down again. Something made a popping sound, and it reminded the trucker of the time he caught his arm on a passing trailer and wrenched his shoulder from the socket.

Rylie snapped her head to the side. Her bleeding gums stained her teeth and the skin around her nose was stretching—her nose was breaking—

“Jesus Christ!”

“Stop the truck,” she growled. “Now.”

He swerved and tried to press himself against his door to get away from this thingit wasn’t a teenage girl, not anymore, her blond hair was falling out in huge clumps on the seat—but the huge cab of the truck was suddenly too small.

She threw her head back as she screamed and dug her nails into his dashboard. They weren’t fingernails anymore.

He threw the brake even though they weren’t on the shoulder of the road. They weren’t even on the correct side, for that matter. He didn’t care.

Something snapped and cracked. Rylie’s jaw unhinged and slid forward. She spit blood onto her jeans.

The trucker’s hand fumbled for the door. Locked.

“Oh no—oh God—”

She flung herself against the dashboard, and then arched in the other direction, straining her feet and head back like a bow. Something was wrong with her knees.

Yeah, but what isn’t wrong with this thing?

“Get out!” she shrieked, and flecks of bloody spit slapped against his face.

Rylie lunged for him, claws flashing.

His finger caught the lock. The door fell open.

He fell onto the pavement and slammed the door behind him. The trucker couldn’t think straight, because every time he tried to broach the idea that some poor hitchhiking kid had turned into something—something not human—he felt a level of panic very close to insanity.

The cab rocked back and forth. He couldn’t see what was inside from this angle, but he could hear shrieking and howling. Those noises couldn’t come from a human mouth.

Because she’s not human.

“Oh Jesus Christ,” he said.

Fear wheeled through his skull. Management would have everything from the neck up if they found out he abandoned his truck. And the goods, the electronics he was supposed to be getting to that warehouse—

Something slammed into the windshield. The safety glass spiderwebbed.

Forget management.

The trucker ran as fast as he could, rolling his tubby body along at a speed he hadn’t managed since he was two hundred pounds lighter and twenty years younger.

Howls followed him into the night.

Rylie awoke to a cool breeze playing across her skin and a feeling of dread.

Oh no. Not again.

She opened her eyes. A tiny black bug crawled along the grass by her head, and a thin layer of mist hovered over the ground. Her skin felt soggy.

Shutting her eyes, Rylie tried to force memories of the previous evening to emerge. As usual, she couldn’t remember what happened after she… changed. But she remembered a trucker. Nice guy. Smelled like gas station bathrooms and tobacco, but nice.

Her mouth was sticky, and there was a warm, sated feeling in her stomach that she recognized. It was the same way she had felt after killing a deer over the summer.

She wiped a hand over her mouth, and her fingers came away bloody.

Was the trucker… alive?

Rylie sat up, scrubbing a hand over her chin to clean it. The damp grass made her shiver. Ants marched along her knee.

She lifted her head and sniffed. The smells of the pasture splashed through her mind: meat and blood, soil and grass, honey in the comb, and a musky, chemical scent meant to mimic flowers. It was her own smell. She had picked the weirdest perfume she could find at the drug store so it would be easy to track.

Trailing the perfume down the hill, she found shreds of cloth tangled in the barbed wire fence. She suddenly recalled agonizing pain scraping down her back as her fur stuck on something—but it was gone as soon as it came. She never remembered her time as a wolf once she turned back.

Rylie picked the remains of her clothes out of the wire. There were more holes than cloth in her t-shirt, and the seams had burst when she changed, too. But it covered the important parts. It was better than nothing.

Her jeans were a little further down the hill, and in even worse condition. Rylie had to hold them over her hips as she plodded toward the road. She had no idea how to explain this to her aunt. She needed to buy new clothes before showing up at her door.

She stopped at the bottom of the hill. There were lumps all over the pasture in front of her, but it was too dark to make out any detail. Rylie approached the closest one with fear twisting in her stomach.

It was—or at least, it used to be—a cow. But the only way Rylie could tell was because of its distinctive odor, like manure and hay. The thing on the ground didn’t look much like a cow. Neither did the other three carcasses, either. She had a feeling she knew what had happened.

“Oh no,” she whispered.

Something clicked twice, chick-chuck. Rylie had seen enough action movies to know the sound of a shotgun being pumped.

“Hands up. Turn around. Slowly now—nothing sudden.”

Rylie obeyed. Her heart skipped a beat.

It wasn’t the first time she’d been at gunpoint, but it was just as scary this time as it had been the last time, so it took her a moment to realize who was aiming at her. A gray-haired woman with hard lines framing her mouth braced the butt of the shotgun against her shoulder, and a cowboy hat hung down her back by a bolero tie.

“Aunt Gwyneth?” she gasped.

The shotgun dropped. “Rylie?”

COLLAPSE

Six Moon Summer

Rylie’s been bitten. She’s changing. And now she has three months to find a cure before becoming a werewolf…forever.

Rylie Gresham has been attacked by a wild animal at summer camp. She survived with something far worse than normal injuries. Animals fear her, she’s craving raw flesh, and her anger is uncontrollable.

Mysterious Seth Wilder knows a lot about werewolves. He thinks he might be able to fix Rylie. His secrets might be far more dangerous than the change Rylie’s facing, but she has no choice but to trust him. After all, if she doesn’t figure out a way to stop the transformation, then at the end of summer, she’ll be a monster.

Excerpt:

Empty buses idled in the parking lot at the bottom of Gray Mountain. Almost everyone had arrived for the first day of camp an hour ago, but one girl came in her own car.

“This is it,” announced Rylie’s dad. “Camp Silver Brook.” He tried to sound upbeat. Rylie could tell he was faking it.

She glared at the camp’s entrance. The footpath was marked by a tall sign carved out of a tree, but she couldn’t see any cabins from the parking lot. Dense trees prevented sunlight from reaching the ground even though the day was sunny, so the forest looked dreary and dark.

Three months of this: dirt, pine needles, and having to share a cabin with strangers.

“Thanks for the ride, Dad.” Rylie didn’t pretend to sound happy. Missing the bus hadn’t been an accident.

“Come on, it’s not that bad. Aren’t you excited? You can ride horses and go in a canoe and take lots of hikes.” Her dad got to the trunk before she could pick up her bag.

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“Yeah. I’m thrilled. Can I have my backpack?”

“Let me walk you in,” he said.

Rylie grimaced. “Dad. I’m almost sixteen. I don’t need to be babysat.”

“Come on, humor your old man.”

She rolled her eyes but didn’t argue.

They walked up the trail together, backpack slung over his shoulder and her gaze fixed on her pristine leather hiking boots. Rylie’s mom said the shoes were a going away present for the summer, but she knew they were actually an apology for the divorce.

The buses pulled away by the time Rylie and her dad reached the top of the hill, leaving their car alone at the bottom.

After living in the city for so long, the forest seemed too quiet. Her footsteps echoed against the slopes of the mountain and her breath was loud in her ears, although it might have been the asthma making her wheeze. Rylie touched her pocket to reassure herself that the inhaler was there. She was probably allergic to everything in the woods.

It was a long walk up the trail on Gray Mountain. Rylie’s dad wasn’t in good shape, and he was struggling within minutes. “Look, Rylie,” he panted, and she recognized the beginning of another apology.

“Don’t worry about it,” she interrupted. “Really.”

He scrubbed a hand over his balding scalp, wiping the sweat away. “It will all be better by the time you come home in August. I promise.”

She didn’t reply. What was there to say? It wouldn’t be better in August. It would never be better unless she could go back to a house with her mom and her dad. A house where they didn’t yell all the time. A house where they didn’t get rid of their daughter so their lawyers could fight in peace.

Rylie heard voices before she saw the other campers: four large groups of girls, all around her age. They laughed and chatted, pushing each other around, meeting old friends and making new ones. Counselors with clipboards led them toward a fork in the path marked by a sign indicating “Silver Brook.” The other sign read “Golden Lake.”

“Excuse me,” said Rylie’s dad. “Excuse me!”

People turned to look at them, and Rylie stared harder at her shoes. A counselor broke away from the group. “You must be Rylie! Glad you made it!”

“Thanks,” she told the ground.

The counselor scanned her clipboard. “Let me see… there you are. Group B.”

Rylie’s dad slung an arm around her shoulders in a half-hug. She tried to inch away from him. “Do I need to check her in?”

“No, but it looks like her paperwork isn’t finished. Did you mail it in?”

“Uh… I might have forgotten,” he said.

Hope swelled within her. Maybe he hadn’t finished Rylie’s enrollment and she wouldn’t be able to stay. She could walk back down the hill, get in the car, go home, and pretend this camp thing didn’t almost happen.

“That’s okay,” the counselor said. Rylie peeked at her name badge. Louise. She looked like a high school gym teacher. “You want to come to camp and fill a couple things out?”

And all hope was gone.

“Sure!” he boomed. “Good day for a hike!” Rylie could have withered and died on the spot.

Louise clapped her hands. “All right, campers! Let’s catch up with the others!”

Rylie trailed behind the girls in Group B. They all wore short-shorts and fake tans. One had a gold chain around her ankle with a single diamond, and Rylie glimpsed perfect white teeth when she talked.

Many of the people in Group B were from Rylie’s city, but they went to the private school, May Allan. Rylie’s parents would have sent her there if it wasn’t so far from home. Seeing her potential classmates made her glad. Rylie was the richest kid at school, but she would have been nothing at May Allan.

It was a long hike to the girls’ cabins, and Rylie was worried her dad would have a heart attack before they made it. Louise set a fast pace to catch up with the other groups. He barely managed to keep up.

Once they reached the camp, Louise directed them to a log building overlooking the lake. “That’s the office. I need to take Group B to their cabins.”

“I could just go home with you, dad,” Rylie said in a last-ditch effort to escape.

He laughed, bracing his hands against his knees to catch his breath. He seemed to think she was joking. “The paperwork will only take a minute, pumpkin. Why don’t you wait out here?”

She sat on one of the benches, smoothing her hair down with her hands. There was already a canoe out on the lake. Rylie could just make out more cabins on the other shore—probably the boys’ camp. She had read about Camp Golden Lake in the brochure. The boys and girls weren’t allowed to hang out at all.

Rylie studied the rest of her surroundings from the bench, digging the toes of her hiking boots into the dirt. The common area was unremarkable. They had cut down trees to make seats around an amphitheater with a fire pit in the middle. Rylie could see the recreation hall and the dining room, and paths leading to cabins elsewhere in the camp.

It was oppressively quiet, like she was the only thing alive in the woods.

“Three months,” she mumbled.

What in the world was there to do in a forest for three months? Walk around? Look at trees? Commune with the stupid deer? At least in the city, there were libraries and coffee shops. There was nothing like that here. Rylie wasn’t even sure there were showers.

A splashing sound drew her attention back to the lake. The canoe had drawn close to her side of the shore. Rylie shielded her eyes to look at the person sitting inside.

It was a boy. He was probably her age, or maybe a little older, judging by the breadth of his shoulders. His arms were dark tan, like he had already been camping for months, and he was looking right at her.

Rylie chewed her bottom lip. One of the guys from Golden Lake? He was going to get in trouble if he was caught so close to their shore.

She raised a hand to wave at him. After a moment, he waved back.

Her dad came out of the office. “Okay, everything is settled. They told me you’re in Cabin B3. Sounds like you’ll be with some nice kids! Why don’t I take you there?”

“I can find it myself,” Rylie started to say, but her dad looked sad. She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure. Show me.” Glancing back at the lake, she saw the canoe had moved on. The boy was gone.

The cabins for Group B were laid out in a rough circle around another fire pit. A few girls were trying to get a fire going, carrying wood up the path and piling pine needles between the rocks. The sun was still high, but Rylie could tell sunset would fall quickly in the mountains.

“Here it is!” her dad said. He rubbed his hands together, looking between Rylie and the cabin like he wasn’t ready to let her go. “I could help you unpack if you want.”

“I really think I can handle it,” Rylie said.

He sighed and handed the bag over. “You’re right. I have to let you go someday.”

“You could let me go home,” she whispered, but he didn’t hear. He hesitated at the mouth of camp.

“Love you, pumpkin,” he called. Someone near the fire giggled.

Rylie slung her backpack over her shoulder. “Love you too, dad.” She didn’t wait for him to leave. She couldn’t stand to see the other girls whispering.

It was going to be a very long three months.

Rylie managed to skip orientation by telling Louise that she was sick. Once she was alone, Rylie pulled out her diary and opened it to the first blank page.

Dear diary, she wrote. I hate my life. Rylie considered the words with a frown, chewing on her pen cap. Camp could be interesting, I guess. Maybe if I see it as a learning thing instead of a punishment for the divorce…?

She dropped her pen. Why fake optimism?

Stretching her cell phone over her head, she searched for reception in the cabin’s tiny loft. No bars. She wouldn’t even be able to text her friends back home. Rylie flung her phone to the bed and tried not to let frustration choke her.

“I can’t believe this,” she told the empty room.

Rylie hid from a few campfire sing-alongs and hikes in the first week, but after begging illness for a few days, Louise forced her to go to the infirmary.

She tried to fake a cough. The nurse wasn’t fooled.

“You can stay overnight, but you’re going back to the cabins tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?” Rylie asked. “I could be diseased and contagious. Maybe I should go home.”

The nurse gave her a look which obviously meant nice try, and Rylie was back in her cabin the next morning.

She didn’t mind sleeping on a tiny cot in the loft. (All the other beds were taken by the time she got there.) She did, however, mind having to share her living space with a bunch of teenage girls.

Rylie’s friends back home were mostly guys, since all the girls she knew were catty and stupid. And these ones hated Rylie for no reason at all.

They shot nasty looks at her before going to the morning activities, and they didn’t talk when they saw her in the evenings. Her roommates avoided her during the day and treated her like an alien when Louise forced them to interact.

Dinners were the worst. The cooks offered some kind of meat product slathered in gravy on most nights, and just looking at it made her queasy. Rylie had been a vegetarian ever since she learned how animals were butchered in the seventh grade.

“Tofu?” asked the man in the hairnet behind the counter. “You want tofu?” Which meant, of course, they didn’t have it.

She sat down to eat her carrot sticks, trying to imagine herself anywhere but the mess hall: maybe watching a movie at the second-run theater on thirty-second street, writing a journal entry on a park bench, or reading a book at the coffee shop on the corner.

Rylie closed her eyes and let her imagination carry her away. There were no moths fluttering around the lights and no mosquitoes. Only percolating coffee and an indie guitarist in the corner. Maybe a cute guy at the next table. She could sip a mug of chai tea and drift away on guitar melodies.

“Where is she from?” whispered a girl at the table behind her, stirring Rylie from her fantasies. She was loud enough for everyone to hear. It had to be deliberate.

Another piped up in the same fake whisper. “I don’t know. Her dad dropped her off. He was wearing glasses like this.” Rylie glanced over in time to see the girl holding her hands in front of her eyes to indicate big circles. “And he was super fat.”

“Where’s she been all week?”

“She hides in one of the cabins. She never comes out. It’s so freaking weird.”

“Look at her clothes.”

“Look at her hair.”

Rylie’s cheeks flamed as she touched her white-blonde hair. Even though she always thought it was too pale for her face, she had never heard anyone talk about her like that before. A rope of embarrassment twisted in her stomach.

She dumped her remaining food into a trash can and hurried back to camp. Sunset cast long shadows over the path. Rylie wanted to be back in bed before it got dark so she could hide from the night’s campfire activities.

The cabin’s lights were already on, and the sounds of laughter poured out the window. Rylie pushed the door open.

Her four roommates were clustered around a cot by the door. “…but I hope he doesn’t ask me out,” read Patricia in a nasal voice. “I don’t want to reject him and hurt his feelings, but I don’t want to be his girlfriend, either.”

Rylie recognized those words. She had written them herself.

In her diary.

The contents of her backpack were spread across the room as her roommates pawed through them. Patricia held out her diary so everyone could see it. None of them had noticed Rylie yet.

“I bet she made it all up,” said Kim. “Who would want to go out with her, huh? She wouldn’t even show up for the date!”

“What are you doing?”

The girl with the gold anklet looked up. Amber. She was holding a pair of Rylie’s shorts in one hand and Byron the Destructor, her favorite stuffed cat, in the other. “We noticed you hadn’t unpacked yet. We were just… helping,” she said before bursting into giggles. The other girls followed suit.

Rylie stared at them. Her embarrassment in the mess was nothing in comparison to the numbness spreading through her now.

“Nice teddy bear,” said Kim before dissolving into snickers.

“You guys—you—I can’t…” She didn’t know what to say. Her mouth worked, but no sounds came out. “It’s not a bear. It’s acat.”

She ripped the backpack off the bed. They had gone through everything—even her underwear. Rylie snatched her diary out of Patricia’s hands.

“Way to be grateful,” laughed Amber. “Didn’t you hear me? We were helping!”

Eyes stinging, Rylie backed up until she hit the door. Why were they laughing? What was so funny? “Of course,” she whispered hoarsely. Helping.

Rylie flew out of the cabin and passed Louise, who was setting pokers and marshmallows on a table by the fire.

“Where are you going?” called Louise. “Rylie? Rylie!”

She ran without looking where she was going. She passed a line of people heading back from the dining hall, and she knew they could all see her crying. Everyone would know what Patricia and Amber did to her. The teasing would only get worse.

Rylie had to stop by the office on the shore of the glistening lake. Her chest felt constricted and she wheezed with every breath. She fumbled for her inhaler and tried to let all the air out of her lungs, but it took a few tries before she could calm down enough to breathe at all.

She sucked down the medication. Wheezed again. Took another puff. Slowly, her air passage relaxed.

“How could they do this to me?” Rylie rasped, fist clutched around her inhaler. “I hate them. I hate them.” The full moon’s reflection blurred in the water. It was laughing at her too, just like everyone else at the camp.

She couldn’t stand to be there a minute longer. Rylie threw her backpack onto her shoulder and plunged into the forest.

She didn’t know how long she walked. The trail grew thinner and twistier. She stumbled over a log in her path and the bark scraped her shin. Blinded by tears, Rylie pushed on. She didn’t know if it was the way back to the parking lot, but it didn’t matter since she didn’t have a way home. She needed to get away.

The trees grew so close together that she had to climb over them to keep going. Occasionally, she glimpsed the full moon between the branches, but she could always feel it watching her.

At long last, Rylie came to a cluster of trees she couldn’t pass. Too tired to find a way around them, she flung herself onto a mossy boulder to rest.

Her racing heart gradually slowed. All the fury and embarrassment drained out of her, leaving only a small, burning coal of shame in the pit of her belly.

None of this had been in Rylie’s plans. She wanted to go to a summer concert series at the park by her house. She planned on seeing a new exhibit at the art museum, too. Maybe it wasn’t glamorous, but that was how she liked to have fun: on her own in the city, or with a couple friends from school. Not surrounded by harpies at camp.

Of course, now Rylie wasn’t surrounded by anyone. She had gotten her wish. She was alone.

She was also lost.

Rylie looked around from her perch on the boulder, but there was no sign of a path now, much less humanity. She didn’t even have any light. Fear trickled in at the edges of her mind. She had no maps, no compass, or anything else to help her get around.

Rylie pulled out her cell phone. Still no reception. The GPS didn’t even work.

Something rustled in the bushes nearby. She froze.

“Hello?”

She lifted her cell phone to illuminate her surroundings with the screen. It cast stark shadows on the bushes and trees, but it was too dim to see further than a couple feet.

The soft, rhythmic sound of feet against pine needles whispered around her.

“Who’s there?” she called. Fear made her throat tighten again, and she gripped her inhaler. Rylie crept around a tree, peering into the darkness. Maybe it was a deer or something. “If that’s you, Amber, you better hope I don’t find you. I’ll—I’ll beat you up!” She sounded much braver than she felt.

A bush shook behind her. Rylie turned, but nothing was there.

Her breathing roared in her ears like an ocean tide. The entire forest was silent and eerie, as though everything living had vanished. Even the moon was gone now.

Picking a random direction, Rylie started walking, keeping an uneasy eye on the trees around her. She wished she had a flashlight. Even better, she wished for a helicopter so she could fly off the mountain.

She eased around a thick tree. A pair of golden lights flashed in front of her.

Eyes.

Rylie jumped backward, but the lights disappeared instantly. She froze. Her heart pounded.

The eyes had been low to the ground, more like an animal than a human. She could hear it rustling amongst the foliage.

She was being stalked.

Lifting her cell phone a little higher, she stared around for another glimpse of eyes. A twig cracked like a gunshot. Rylie gasped and spun, and her inhaler dropped from her hands.

She bent down to search for it, but her fingers only found dirt and pine needles. Her heart pounded. Her lungs started to ache.

Something growled, and Rylie decided she didn’t care about her inhaler anymore.

Backtracking toward the trail, she whispered a silent prayer to the black sky: “Please, please just let me get out of here. I’ll never do anything this stupid again. I swear.”

A hulking gray body flashed in front of her. She jerked back and her heel caught a low rock. Rylie lost her footing. Her cell phone flew from her grip. The back popped off, the battery dislodged, and all light vanished.

She hit the ground. Something heavy, hot, and furry struck her body.

Pain ripped across Rylie’s chest. She screamed into the night, but nobody was there to hear her.

COLLAPSE

Six Moon Summer was originally planned to be a standalone novel rather than a series. I only wrote more when readers demanded a sequel.

Though I published this book during the heat of Twilight mania, and it's been described as similar to Twilight, Six Moon Summer was actually inspired by a desire to have Christopher Pike books with more romance.

In early drafts, Seth was named Cain and was a character more similar to his brother Abel.

Early drafts also featured either (or both) Seth and Rylie dying via suicide.