New Release: Hot Shift

When a mysterious outsider crashes Terra’s fiftieth birthday party, her position as female alpha hangs by a thread. Uncontrollable shifts make matters worse as Terra and her mate go undercover to hunt through the circus for missing family members. Can they bring their daughter and pack mates home before it’s too late?

This bonus epilogue is set after and contains spoilers for the Wolf Rampant Trilogy. Included along with scads of other stories in the anthology Hot Shift & Other Stories. Keep reading for a peek inside…


Hot Shift & Other Stories

​Chapter 1

Hot flashes are werewolf kryptonite.

One moment, I was watching my mate Wolfie insinuate himself into a pack of circus dogs, pretending to obey the trainer who guided my mate, two poodles, and a Great Dane through a series of gymnastic contortions. We were smack dab in the middle of the field behind our home, a space newly redolent with buttery popcorn and sweet cotton candy. Calliope music carried through the night air, combining with excited shouts from pack mates as they played carnival games and gasped at the simulated magic of tumblers and fire eaters.

The next moment, real magic struck. An unrelenting wave of heat surged through me, waking my inner wolf and threatening to expose shifter existence to the human performers brought in to celebrate my fiftieth birthday.

Not that I understood what was happening at first. I assumed, instead, that the uncomfortable warmth came from standing too close to the bonfire. I was watching my pack mates with an eagle eye, having mandated we all either stick to two or four legs, no switching. And it was gradually becoming clear that even the most volatile among us would manage to toe the line.

Everyone except me, that is. Because the blaze in my core flared up into a conflagration before I realized the bonfire wasn’t responsible. There was no way I could flee into one of the distant houses before the shift seized hold of me. Instead, all I could do was rush toward the outskirts of the crowd, past the games and neon-lit rides, hoping I’d find a patch of darkness to hide within while my wolf burst out of my human skin.

Pack laughter morphed into cacophony as I fought down blind animal instinct. I was no longer part of a united whole. Instead, imaginary claws scratched their way down my spine, giving me the distinct impression that at least one pair of watching eyes didn’t wish me well.

But I couldn’t focus my bleary vision well enough to hunt for the source of that danger. My humanity was already fading, the wolf within me trying to gain ascendance…
Meanwhile, the vibrant colors of circus lights dazzled and dizzied. I stumbled, my knees wanting to re-bend into a new configuration, my arms reaching for the ground no matter how hard I tried to keep them loose and natural. Hairs pushing up out of my skin made the heat inside me worsen. My teeth cut sharp against the inside of my lip.

Then I saw it. An empty fortuneteller’s booth. Dark, sheltered. Whoever ran the attraction was elsewhere, and I didn’t hesitate. Just shoved my way through the curtain then recoiled at the stench of a wolf not affiliated with our pack.

Fur. Dominance. Danger.

The reek had mixed with heavy sandalwood incense swirling from a burner, and the unpleasant combination pushed me over the edge. I didn’t have time to take off my clothes. Didn’t have time to call to my mate down the tether that joined us. Just twisted in on myself, the blaze of the hot flash searing through me as human bones melted and reformed lupine. Claws burst forth from curled fingers. Scents rushed into my nostrils with sharp intensity. Shaking my fur, I tossed away the last vestiges of my humanity along with the hot flash.

I was instantly, gratefully cool.

Which is when the velvet curtain parted to let in a wolf-scented woman. She was a stranger, no one I’d ever met before. Yet, she greeted me by name.

“Terra Wilder. First female alpha. I’m a big fan.”

The words sounded complimentary, but there was something dark beneath them. As if this woman two decades my junior was laughing at me, and not because of my hot-flash-induced shift either.

I wanted to reply, but I’d learned over the last couple of years that my thermoregulationary malfunction would return if I didn’t lean into being a wolf for a while. So I cocked my head, hoping the stranger would elaborate on why she was angry, why she was here in the first place.

She didn’t. Instead, someone else pushed through the curtain behind her. Someone who flared his lupine nostrils, considered the woman draped in scarves and bangles, then yawned as only Wolfie could when facing down potential danger.

My mate didn’t consider a vagrant dominant worth his while. Didn’t bother glaring her out of this tent, a matter he could have taken care of so easily she wouldn’t have stopped running until long after she left our territorial boundary behind.

Instead, he dismissed the woman who’d made my fur bristle and trotted over to lick my face in commiseration. “Rough one?” he sent down the mate bond.

A few minutes earlier, he’d been frolicking with a pink party hat atop his lupine head, a hat that had since twisted down to rest alongside one cheek. His neck was encircled by a rhinestone collar that had been presented to him by the same pack mate who glitter-dusted his coat into several shades of way-too-bright.

To cut a long story short, Wolfie should have looked like a joke. Instead, his strength, his warmth, was palpable. He was all rock-solid partner and co-alpha. No wonder I leaned into him without consciously intending to do so, seeking the unique combination of goofball and comfort that was as familiar as my own heartbeat.

The tension inside me uncoiled. If Wolfie didn’t think the strange wolf was a problem, I didn’t either. If he didn’t think I’d made a mess of things by shifting after ordering everyone else in our pack to stick to one form, then I was ready to forgive myself.

“Not so rough,” I answered honestly, “now that you’re here.”

Chapter 2

My mate and I padded back out to rejoin the circus together, the same lights and music that had made me queasy earlier now bubbling joy through my center. And our pack exacerbated the pleasure. Over the course of the next hour, various friends dropped by to purchase corn dogs for us, to clip glittery bows onto my fur, and—in Ember’s case—to pay for a game of hoop toss.

“Which stuffie do you want?” Wolfie asked me silently via the mate bond after our daughter had left. The joy radiating off his lupine form proved that he was entirely caught up in the moment.

I was right there with him, but I also couldn’t resist pointing my snout at the toy that reminded me of Ember twenty years ago. She’d been a rascally pup, as in her wolf brain as Wolfie while lacking his maturity. At the time, I’d felt like I was treading water, trying to keep our pack together while also preventing Ember from literally lighting herself on fire. Now, she was a confidante and ally…and I missed being able to enclose her entire squirming body in my arms.

Wolfie must have caught a bit of the emotion that went along with my gesture because he stilled, his earlier antics fading. With supreme care, he picked up the first ring in lupine teeth and flung it toward the indicated stuffie with all the intensity of a skilled predator.

It should have been an easy win. Wolfie was able to snap grasshoppers out of the air in wolf form and catch fruit flies in his human fist. His coordination was impeccable.
But the ring turned sideways as it flew. Twisted and ended up stuck between a giraffe and a tiger two feet away from his target.

My mate wasn’t the one who’d messed up. The ring was clearly weighted to fail.

Any other alpha werewolf would have torn the cheating carny’s throat out. Wolfie just huffed out a lupine laugh, and I caught some sort of pun running through his mind involving the ringmaster having not quite mastered this particular ring yet. Then his attention narrowed in on the hunt as he picked up the second hoop.

In contrast, my attention was distracted by something far less sweet. Because a bitter tinge was sliding down the pack bond toward us. It came not as words but as emotions, their source inconclusive but their meaning as clear as the pang they created in my chest.

A member of our clan felt stifled here. Craved adventure. Hoped the fortuneteller would help them find what they were lacking.

I spun, scanning the crowd for faces of pack mates who might be chaffing against Wolfie’s and my leadership. But everyone was laughing. Everyone was enjoying themselves.

Well, almost everyone. A slender form I recognized from behind as easily as if I was holding her twenty-years-younger body in my arms slipped through the curtain to enter the fortuneteller’s tent.

Our adopted daughter Ember had become part of this pack in a way that made the word adopted anathema. Every member of our clan was an honorary aunt, uncle, or cousin to her. She baked us surprise pick-me-ups, lived in her fur as easily as her human skin, and had grown to become one of my very closest friends.

She was also, apparently, the stifled werewolf who wanted to leave our pack.


I didn’t see whether Wolfie won the stuffie. Because I was already loping through the crowd away from him, throttling down our connection to a thread slender enough so he’d believe the excuse I pushed back in the direction from which I’d come.

Indigestion. I needed a moment in private.

I wasn’t lying either. When I thought about Ember leaving, my stomach felt like it was tying itself into knots. Plus, I had a pretty good idea that her discontent would hit Wolfie even harder than it was currently hitting me. Better to debrief our daughter solo before pulling my mate into the loop.

Unfortunately, it’s no easy matter for an alpha to pass unnoticed among her pack mates. One of the current generation of troublesome teenagers we called yahoos had found a way to cheat at balloon darts. Another was trying to lead the circus animals in a revolt against their trainer despite the dog-wolf language barrier. And our resident gardener was furious because one of the circus support staff had backed a truck into her blueberries, flattening decades of growth.

To cut a long story short, by the time I reached the fortuneteller’s tent, Ember was gone. The curtained space was salty with my daughter’s tears, though, and I could no longer feel her down the pack bond. So perhaps I could be forgiven for barely making it inside the curtains before I shifted up into my human form, immediately tossing an alpha command at the strange werewolf.

“Tell me where my daughter is,” I demanded.

My dominance should have been sufficient to force words out of the other woman’s mouth. Instead, she laughed in my face. And when she spoke, she didn’t mention Ember at all.

“My name is Fiona, thank you for asking. And, yes, I was an alpha just like you. One of the little girls who believed that if Terra could do it, then I could do it also. Only, I didn’t have a big, bad bloodling backing me up. So when my pack mates received a better offer, they left me. Guess I’m not an alpha anymore.”

Her story should have tugged at my heartstrings. Instead, I did exactly what she’d accused me of—I drew upon my mate’s strength and used his borrowed power to growl,

“So you’re trying to steal my daughter to rebuild your pack.”

Lack of dominance clearly couldn’t have been the reason Fiona’s pack mates left her. Because even with a hint of Wolfie beneath my words, she found it easy to counter my question with a question. “Is it stealing to tell an adult she has options?”

“What options?”

“To look for a mate somewhere every eligible bachelor isn’t considered a cousin. To attend baking school in Paris rather than trying to hone her skills on YouTube videos. Anything other than staying stifled in a pack where she’ll always be overshadowed by parents who aren’t even biologically her own.”

The truth of the stranger’s accusations struck like a blow. No wonder this space reeked of Ember’s tears.

The growl that arose could have been mine, but it wasn’t. Looking down, I found Wolfie at my hip, still rhinestoned and glittered but no longer even slightly playful. His lips had curled back, his ears were pinned, and it was crystal clear he wasn’t a wolf to be crossed.

Yep, realizing our daughter wanted to spread her wings was an even tougher pill for him to swallow than it had been for me.

Thankfully, Wolfie and I had honed our partnership over the years. When I was weak, he held me up. When he was out of control, I reined him in.

Now, I managed to tamp down my own sadness in the face of my mate’s aggression. Fiona was baiting us; I could see that now. She hadn’t outright lied, but she hadn’t answered any of my questions head-on either. She was playing with our emotions the way she’d likely played with Ember’s. If I had to guess, her goal was to lure me and Wolfie into a fight with her, which would inevitably draw in our pack mates and reveal the existence of werewolves to the circus performers outside this tiny curtained enclosure.

She was banking on the fact that even Wolfie had to obey national laws. If we revealed ourselves to humans so flagrantly, the powers that be would have no choice but to dole out punishment. It might take half a dozen alphas to neutralize my mate, but sheer numbers meant they’d win in the end.

And our pack? I couldn’t lead without Wolfie’s assistance. Could Fiona? Was that her long-term goal?

The likelihood that this entire confrontation had been meticulously organized to win Fiona a pack was just slotting into place in my mind when Wolfie attacked.

Chapter 3

“Shut down the circus! Get the humans out of here!” I broadcast via the pack bond, not bothering to target any specific individuals, just ordering everyone alike.
Then I fixated my attention upon Fiona, who’d gone four-legged in the moment I’d been focused elsewhere. She slithered out of robes that might as well have been designed to be easily discarded by a wolf, and she attacked with all the finesse my mate currently lacked.

Because Wolfie was lost in a fury I’d seldom seen him consumed by. At the present moment, he was a worried father instead of a smart alpha. All the control he’d shown when faced with a cheating carny was long gone.

Fiona, in contrast, was full of cold calculation. And she was deeply intent upon the win.

No wonder she managed to dart in under her opponent’s guard, ripping a gash into the skin above his ribs before retreating just as quickly. Down the mate bond, I could tell that Wolfie didn’t even feel the injury. But when his blood splattered crimson onto the woven rugs beneath us, it was all I could to do not to shift and dive into the fray.

Biting down hard on the inside of my cheek, the taste of my own blood helped me focus. Fiona wanted us to shift in front of humans, which meant she intended this fight to spill out of the curtained enclosure before our pack could get the hired circus staff out of the area. Already, she was tempting Wolfie toward a wall he could easily burst through. To make matters worse, the air wafting away from that corner was so redolent with our daughter’s tears that I wasn’t surprised when the already bristling fur between Wolfie’s shoulder blades came even further erect.

The scent was working on me also, but I fought back using memories that I not only held firm in my mind but also thrust toward Wolfie via our mate bond. Ember, yesterday, delivering pre-birthday cupcakes elaborately decorated with paw prints and wolf faces. Ember guiding the yahoos away from high jinks that would end in broken bones and toward ones that resulted in deep belly laughs. Ember repeatedly showing that she had a good head on her shoulders and was happy here, at least most of the time.

Yes, our daughter was young and sometimes cried, but she was resilient also. She’d be alright.

My reminders didn’t appear to make any difference to Wolfie, but they kept me on track. If I wasn’t much mistaken, Fiona would have found a way to draw humans into her tent just in case she wasn’t able to tempt us out of its shelter. Which meant I needed to be ready…

I yanked on the clothes I’d discarded an hour ago during my hot-flash-induced shift, clothes Fiona had left where they fell. I didn’t take time for underwear, just drew on jeans and a t-shirt, running one hand through hair that, yep, still had bows clipping sections into little-girl tufts.

I’d just gotten the first bow loose when two men who weren’t part of our pack burst through the curtains. By nose, I could tell they were humans. By sight, I recognized one as the dog trainer, the other as the ringmaster.

“That’s Fiona’s dog!” the former exclaimed. He had a whip in his hand, the same one he’d used entirely theatrically during a recent performance. He seemed to be considering using the whip far less theatrically against my mate now.

“She attacked my dog,” I retorted, sidling over to place myself between the humans and the wolves.

As I spoke, Wolfie and Fiona came together again and this time stayed together. I couldn’t tell who’d gotten hold of the other’s throat, could just see two shades of fur merging into one as the opponents tumbled end over end in a two-wolf ball of snarling fury.

The dog trainer stepped sideways and cracked his whip far too close to Wolfie for comfort. And I didn’t think. Just thrust my hand into the mass of teeth and claws, latching down on the sole part that didn’t look like the others.

The rhinestone collar. My fingers didn’t clench shut around the restraint but instead pressed deeper into the fur on either side…

Fingertips made contact with my mate’s hot flesh, and at the same time I strove to get through to him via the mate bond. We had to be smart. We had to stop this. He’d promised to let me take charge when my head was clear and his wasn’t. He’d promised…

Wolfie instantly went limp in my grip.

Fiona was the one who tried again to provoke us. Not with an attack, though. Instead, whining, she rolled over to show off the blood staining her flank. The blood that had originated inside my mate.

I only realized I was growling when Wolfie sent words down our mate bond, words that proved the teeter-totter of rationality had landed on his side this time. “I lost more blood than that when our daughter gave me a nosebleed during Ember ball.”

Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to remember the way pack mates had tossed our favorite wolf pup through the air as a game twenty-four years earlier. The laughter as Ember accidentally slammed into my mate’s face. My horror as blood exploded over both father and daughter. The way the event had mellowed into a fond memory in the years between then and now.

“This will be a fond memory too,” Wolfie assured me. “In a couple of decades.”

And that was enough to keep me human as the dog trainer did his job, using the whip to create a choke collar then marching Fiona across the field of dismantling circus.

Every one of our pack mates glared as Fiona passed them, and she’d visibly wilted by the time the kennel door slammed shut behind her furry butt. I got the distinct impression she was grateful to have bars between herself and us.

When the circus drove off, Fiona was carted along with them. By the time another hour had passed, Wolfie and I were gorging on left-behind cotton candy and laughing at the metaphorical circus my birthday party had turned into.

We laughed until I sent a joke down the pack bond to Ember and got no reply.

Closing my eyes, I considered the network of invisible connections that radiated outward from me and Wolfie. Had Ember worn herself out and fallen asleep? Had she gotten sidetracked, so intent upon baking she didn’t notice my message?

No, my daughter’s thread wasn’t just dormant. It was entirely missing from the web that bound our pack together.

So were the threads of three female yahoos. I didn’t have to tear apart pack central to know where they’d gone.


Keep reading in the Hot Shift anthology!