Of Wings and Wolves

Book Cover: Of Wings and Wolves
Part of the The Cain Chronicles series:

Summer Gresham knows that she’s different. After all, she’s the only twenty-year-old coed that shapeshifts into a wolf. But her unique nature is a well-hidden secret, so she’s baffled to be singled out for a prestigious internship. She’s even more stunned when she discovers that the man who wants to hire her–Nash Adamson–specifically requested Summer…and he won’t take no for an answer.

Nash has more than a few secrets of his own. Like Summer, he’s different, too: a rebel angel in exile. Summer is the key to his freedom, and her warmth and beauty stirs something inside of him that’s been sleeping for millennia. She almost makes him forget that he’s imprisoned.

Summer suddenly finds herself at the crux of an ancient war, and angels don’t care how many mortals get caught in the crossfire. Torn between saving Summer and freeing himself, Nash has to choose what matters most: their love, or his freedom.

Darkmoon

Rylie Gresham has survived becoming a werewolf, going crazy from silver poisoning, and being hunted by her fiance’s family. But all of that was nothing compared to the challenge Rylie faces now: being pregnant…with twins. And it definitely doesn’t help that her fiance’s brother has declared himself the father, either.

The brothers, Seth and Abel, are at each other’s throat over Rylie, even as the twins are fast approaching term. But it may be too late for all of them. The government has revealed the existence of werewolves, threatening everything that Rylie holds dear. And the evil werewolf Cain is preparing for his final act of revenge—destroying the pack and stealing Rylie’s children.

Excerpt:

It was seven o’clock at night on a cold December evening, and the news was bad. Seth sat in the living room with Levi rigid beside him. Neither had moved for ten minutes. The others weren’t any cheerier: Bekah was lumped against the wall, Scott and Gwyn were by the window, and nobody breathed as they watched a familiar face give a speech on the TV.

“Evil is real,” said Tate Peterson. His hair was spiked in the front, his eyes were clear, and he wore a neat three-piece suit. His knuckles were white as he gripped the podium in front of him.

Cameras flashed. He swallowed hard and glanced at his note cards.

“Evil is real,” he said again. “I’ve seen it myself. Evil took my mother—a respected county commissioner—and now evil has taken my grandfather, too. The man that you all know as Senator Peterson.”

Another pause, more shuffling cards.

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“Evil comes in many forms. There’s evil in the hearts of men. The kind of evil that makes families fight, or forces us to commit crimes. I was a troubled kid. I knew that kind of trouble intimately before I found God.” He looked straight into the camera. “But there is a more literal evil in the darkness, too. It doesn’t care if you smoke pot or engage in homosexual behavior. There are creatures that want your blood, life, and soul. A thousand different kinds of demons: incubi, strigoi, mara.” Tate’s eyes narrowed. “Werewolves.”

Levi stood in a swift motion, haloed by furious energy. “Tate,” he growled, as if he thought his ex-boyfriend would be able to hear him through the TV.

Scott reached for his arm, but Levi jerked away and stormed out of the room. His father moved to follow. Bekah held up a hand.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I’ve got it.”

Tate was still talking as Bekah followed her twin brother out of the house. Seth barely heard the rest of the speech, but he didn’t think the details mattered anyway. The sentiment was perfectly clear.

A hand appeared from off-frame and pushed Tate gently aside. A new man took the podium as the camera zoomed back to show both of them. This speaker was older than Tate, and not nearly as handsome; he kind of looked like an ape in a suit. He had introduced himself at the beginning of the event as Gary Zettel, secretary for the brand new Office of Preternatural Affairs.

“Thank you for sharing that with us, Mr. Peterson,” Secretary Zettel said, a totally inauthentic smile glued to his lips.

It had been eighteen hours since a senator had been assassinated at his office in Washington, allegedly by some kind of demon. Tate’s speech laid out everything for the public: the truth that most people chose to ignore, and which most supernatural creatures tried to conceal from the public.

The United States government had just destroyed centuries of secrecy in one fifteen minute speech.

Only the blast of cold air blowing through the living room managed to draw Seth’s attention from the TV. Stephanie Whyte, doctor and witch, shut the door behind her, unwound her scarf, and hung her jacket on the hook.

Gwyn grabbed the remote and lowered the volume. “Thank goodness you’re back. Did you get everything?”

Stephanie lifted a plastic bag. “I did. Where is she?”

“In our bedroom,” Seth said, feeling queasy with nerves. It wasn’t from the press conference. He had even bigger worries than that. “Should I come with you?”

“I’d like to talk to her on my own first. Wait out here.” Stephanie tucked the bag under her arm and disappeared down the hall.

Seth sank onto the couch again, and Gwyn sat beside him. “It’s going to be okay,” she said, rubbing a cool hand over his arm. He forced a smile.

“Thanks, Gwyn. You’re probably right.”

Secretary Zettel continued to speak in front of the blue curtains with Tate hovering at his back.

“Evil is real, but there’s no reason for the American people to be afraid.” He removed the microphone from its stand and paced across the stage, forcing the camera to follow him. “Yesterday’s attack represented more than just an assassination on a respected senator. It’s an attack on our very freedom. Our nation has come face-to-face with evil, and we will respond with the core of America’s good heart.”

As he walked across the stage, Seth glimpsed people standing behind Tate. The press conference was being staged outside of Senator Peterson’s home, which meant that the rest of the surviving members of the Peterson family were there: Tate’s dad, his aunt, and his newly-widowed grandmother. There were also a cluster of men in black suits. Seth almost skimmed right over them, but one of the faces caught his eye.

“Wait,” he said, reaching for the remote. “Are you recording this, Gwyn?”

“Recording it? With what?” she asked.

Seth punched several buttons, but nothing happened. They had canceled their satellite subscription when they thought that the entire pack was moving to California, so their DVR didn’t work anymore.

“Watch the background,” he said, crouching in front of the screen and pointing at the corner.

“What are we watching for?” Scott asked.

“Just watch.”

Seth held his breath as he waited for Secretary Zettel to pace in the other direction again. And there he was: the man among the people that Seth had initially assumed were Secret Service. He was only on-screen for an instant before the speech ended and it cut back to the newsroom.

“Jesus,” Gwyn breathed. “Was that…?”

“I don’t understand. I didn’t see anything,” Scott said.

It felt like Seth’s heart was going to pound out of his chest.

Those hadn’t been Secret Service. The black suits, black shirts, and Bluetooth earpieces were all hallmarks of the Union.

And his half-brother, Cain, had been standing among them.

Rylie gnawed on her thumbnail as she paced in the twelve foot by twelve foot box that was her bedroom. She hadn’t stepped outside the door for hours. Not since Abel had claimed to be responsible for her pregnancy at the wedding.

She couldn’t face the awkward silences and the judgment in the eyes of her werewolf pack. Nobody had to speak for her to know that everyone thought that she had cheated on Seth.

It seemed so stupid to hung up on that when they had just defeated Cain. But she was. She didn’t even care that she had witnessed her evil mother-in-law die a second time. All she cared was that her pack thought their Alpha was a slut.

Her cheeks burned with the shame of it.

She jumped when her door creaked open, but it wasn’t Bekah trying to console her again. It was Stephanie Whyte, who was her usual brisk self.

“Heck of a night, isn’t it? Lie down and expose your stomach, please.”

The nonexistent bedside manner probably should have bothered Rylie, but it was comforting, for once. Stephanie couldn’t have cared less if Rylie was sleeping with Seth or Abel or Seth and Abel, or every single werewolf in the world. All that Stephanie cared about was doing her job.

Rylie stretched out flat on her back in bed, lifted her shift above her navel, and wiggled her jeans lower on her hips. “What are you going to do?”

Stephanie dragged the desk chair to her bedside and sat down. She squirted a dollop of hand sanitizer onto her fingers. “I’m just going to see if I can feel your fundus. This won’t hurt.”

“My what-us?”

“The top of your uterus. It will help me date your pregnancy.”

Rylie shut her eyes and tried to remember how to breathe. My pregnancy. It had been almost two weeks she took the pregnancy test and saw those two pink lines, but she still wasn’t used to the idea of it.

Stephanie palpated Rylie’s lower abdomen, eyes going distant with thought.

“Well?” Rylie asked after a few seconds of silence.

“What’s the date of your last menstrual period?”

“I don’t know. I don’t keep track.”

She pressed a little harder, but not painfully so. “Hmm. Well, when was the last time you changed into a wolf? Three months? Four?”

“It hasn’t been that long. I skipped a few moons, but…two months? Maybe less?”

“You can pull your shirt down.” Stephanie sat back, steepled her fingers, and gave Rylie a thoughtful look. “The average werewolf can’t sustain a pregnancy because of frequent, violent physical changes. Did you know that?”

“Yeah. Seth told me that I’d never have a baby,” she said.

“So I imagine you weren’t even using condoms, were you? Don’t answer that. I don’t need to know.” The older woman heaved a sigh. “Look, Rylie, you’re not an average werewolf. You’re an Alpha. And you feel like you might already be four months pregnant.” Rylie’s jaw dropped, but Stephanie wasn’t done. “Your fundal height is almost to your navel. You aren’t really showing because first time mothers have strong abdominal muscles.”

If Rylie hadn’t been laying down, she thought she would have fallen over. Dogs only gestated for sixty days. Was she going to have a dog pregnancy? “What does that mean? Does that mean I’m growing supernaturally fast? Do werewolves do that?”

“We don’t know anything yet. It’s too soon to worry.” Stephanie grabbed the plastic bag she had brought off the floor. “You’re hyperventilating, Rylie. Relax.” She punctuated those words by pulling out several color-coded vials and a needle. A very long needle.

“What’s that for?”

“It’s so I can draw your blood and make sure things are progressing normally. We’ll have to treat this as a high-risk pregnancy…assuming that you plan on keeping it.” She snapped on blue latex gloves.

Rylie was grateful for the surge of anger she felt at that suggestion. It was a nice change from the utter terror. “Of course I’m keeping it! What kind of person do you think I am?”

Stephanie wiped down the inside of Rylie’s elbow with an alcohol swab. “I think you’re the kind of person that turns furry twice a month. We’re not even certain that you can carry the baby to term, or that it will be healthy. We don’t even know who the father is. This isn’t a simple situation, and I would understand if you chose to abort.”

That was such an ugly word. “Abort.” Rylie felt queasy again.

“Seth’s the father. I’ve only ever had sex with him.”

“Right,” Stephanie said.

A sharp prick, and the needle was in. Rylie watched in sick fascination as the blood spurted into the vial with every beat of her heart. Once the first was filled, Stephanie swapped it out, and she ended up filling four vials total. She pressed cotton against the needle’s insertion point and withdrew it.

There was no need for a bandage. Rylie healed instantly.

“I can send one of these to a lab for paternity testing,” Stephanie said, turning the chair toward the desk to label the vials.

Rylie sat up, rubbing her arm. “Are you listening to me? I don’t need paternity testing. I would never cheat on Seth!”

Aside from the one time she had kissed Abel, anyway. But kissing didn’t produce babies.

“As I said, you’re hardly a typical situation. If you think that there’s any chance—even a small one—that you might have mated with Abel while in wolf form, then I recommend a paternity test. It would be good for your peace of mind, if nothing else.”

Rylie groaned and let her head bump against the wall.

Squeezing her eyes tight, she nodded once.

Stephanie dropped the vials in an envelope. “I’ll contact the hospital and arrange a dating ultrasound as soon as possible.” She removed her gloves and threw them in the trash. “I think it would be best if I performed the scan myself.”

“You don’t think you’ll look inside and see a puppy, do you?”

She had meant it as a joke, but Stephanie didn’t laugh.

“I’ll tell Seth he can visit you again,” she said on her way out of the room.

Rylie grabbed the wastebasket and threw up for the third time that day.

She had been having morning sickness for a while, and it wasn’t getting any easier. It always left her feeling dizzy and weak—almost as bad as silver poisoning. But Rylie could try to purge silver from her system. There was no purging a baby.

Assuming you plan on keeping it, Stephanie had said.

The suggestion of abortion angered Rylie, but it wasn’t the first time she had thought about it. Whether Seth or Abel was the father, it was going to be Eleanor’s grandchild. Eleanor was pure evil, and so was her oldest son, Cain, who was also a werewolf. And since there was no chance that Rylie was going to produce human offspring, the odds of making a baby like Cain were pretty high.

She buried her face in her arms. Maybe her baby was going to be a monster, but Rylie couldn’t kill it. She couldn’t.

The door opened, and Seth entered. She thought that he was going to be angry, but he only looked stunned. “We have a problem,” he said.

“I know,” Rylie said. Her chin quivered.

“You already know?” Seth looked puzzled. “Were you watching the news in here?”

“Huh? I was talking about this.” She placed her hands over her stomach. “What are we going to do?”

The shock vanished from Seth’s face and was immediately replaced by sympathy. “Oh, baby.” He sat at her side and wrapped his arms around her. He was so gentle, so sweet, and tears immediately spilled out of her eyes and splashed down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Seth.”

He pulled back to look at her. “Sorry?”

“I didn’t tell you. I can’t…I just…”

He wiped her tears away with the palm of his hand. “I just wish you had told me so that you wouldn’t have to deal with it alone. I’m not angry. Just surprised.” Seth gave a shaky laugh. “I didn’t think I’d ever be a dad.”

His hand trailed down her stomach and rested on her belly button, and Rylie put her hand over his. There was only a small, soft lump under her shirt. “Stephanie thinks that I might be growing too fast,” she said, and she couldn’t keep her voice from shaking.

Seth responded by kissing her, slow and deep, without moving his hand. Even though she had been throwing up, he still kissed her like he meant it. But when he pulled away, he wasn’t smiling.

“What were you saying about the news when you came in?” Rylie asked, grateful for a distraction.

“Forget about it. What about…” He trailed off, seeming to choke on the words he wanted to say. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What about Abel? I mean, there’s no chance, right? There’s no way that Abel could be…”

This time, when his words failed, he gave up speaking. But Rylie couldn’t respond.

When she remained silent, he kissed her again.

“Whatever happens,” he murmured against her lips, “I’m going to be here for you. We’ll do this together. Okay?”

Rylie rested her head on his chest. “Okay.”

COLLAPSE

The Cain Chronicles

Book Cover: The Cain Chronicles
Part of the The Cain Chronicles series:

Rylie Gresham has enjoyed two peaceful years as Alpha of the last werewolf pack in existence. But she's feeling kind of confused. Her boyfriend, Seth, has been away at college, and her feelings for his brother, Abel, have been growing as they run the pack together.

Everything gets a lot more complicated when someone sends her a silver bullet and a threatening message. It throws her into a deadly battle with enemies old and new, which is only slightly less perilous than the battle inside her heart. Sooner or later, she's going to have to choose: will she marry Seth, or follow her feelings for Abel?

This is a collection of the first four episodes of The Cain Chronicles, a serialized novel. It amounts to approximately 65,000 words. If you've read episodes 1-4 before, there's nothing new here. If you're just joining the story -- enjoy! 🙂

NEW MOON SUMMER
Rylie is Alpha: the leader of the werewolves. They're an endangered species living in a sanctuary, and she's guarded them for two peaceful years. The peace is shattered when somebody sends Rylie a threatening silver bullet. A new member of the pack goes missing. And to make things worse, her inner wolf is strangely attracted to her boyfriend's brother, leaving her torn between the love of two men--one of them a werewolf, and the other a former hunter.

BLOOD MOON HARVEST
Rylie's home has been turned into a battle zone by attacking hunters--and by her conflicted heart. Her wolf and human sides are in love with different men, and neither Seth nor Abel will give Rylie up without a fight. To save her pack, Rylie will have to find out who Cain is. To save herself, she'll have to choose between the man she wants and the man she needs.

MOON OF THE TERRIBLE
Abel is struggling to find his footing at the werewolf sanctuary when he receives terrible news: the girl he loves and his brother have vanished. Seth calls to claim that they're eloping, but Abel knows it's a lie. There's no way that Rylie would get married without telling him. Not when the memory of her scorching kiss is still burning on his lips. Certain that something is wrong, Abel drops everything to rescue Rylie and Seth--and stake his claim over his mate.

RED ROSE MOON
Rylie Gresham, Alpha of the endangered werewolf species, is pregnant. The fact that she's only eighteen and maybe a tiny bit in love with her boyfriend's brother isn't even the worst part: the baby is going to be a werewolf, too. Certain that Seth is the father, she finally agrees to marry him, even if her heart is still filled with doubt.

Abel is being held captive by Cain when he hears about Rylie's condition--and the shocking circumstances surrounding the conception. Rylie and Abel have been mating on the full moons, so there's a chance that he's the father, and she has no clue. Now Abel has to escape Cain and crash the wedding before his mate marries his brother.

A zombie mother-in-law, back-stabbing hunters, and wicked morning sickness mean that they're all in for one heck of a party.

Published:
Publisher: Red Iris Books
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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