Shadowmated excerpt

ShadowmatedBook two in the Rune Wolf series will be hitting ereaders in just over two weeks. In case you can’t wait, I’ve included an excerpt below.

But don’t dive down there yet! You’ll definitely want to read Matebranded before you give this one a try.

Already read book one? Then I hope you enjoy this sneak peek into Elspeth’s second adventure.


​Chapter 1

Infiltrating enemy turf was hard enough without a magical tattoo doling out dating advice. Especially when the matebrand in question seemed singularly uninterested in my survival. If anything, it appeared intent upon getting us caught.

Or so we realized soon after Orion and I crept down the deserted alley toward a darkened high-rise. According to his pack mates’ recon, a single guard patrolled inside, following a predictable loop that should have kept him well away from our entrance point. At least until—

Movement flashed in my peripheral vision. A man stepped out onto the sidewalk a mere fifteen feet from us, his crisp uniform and billed cap identifying him as building security. Unhurried, he lifted a cigarette to his lips with one meaty hand while the other sparked his lighter. A smoke break. Utterly routine…except for the faint sheen of electricity crackling through the air.

Magic. The matebrand must have nudged the guard’s habits to draw him out here, and I had a feeling I knew precisely what it would take for that amorphous sentience to let the deviation drop.

Still, Orion and I tried to get out of our predicament the easy way. We froze, counting on the guard’s human vision missing us in the near total darkness.

No such luck. He tensed and began scouring the shadows with slow, measured sweeps of his gaze. Which was a problem since there was no reason for anyone to be lurking in this deserted side street at this predawn hour. As soon as the guard saw us, he’d forget about his smoke break, remember his job, and investigate.

Especially if the matebrand manipulated him yet again.

Sure enough, the tattoos on my forearm itched, displaying the faintest hint of a power that had been much more vibrant before Orion broke our mate connection weeks ago. Hairs came erect along my nape just as they’d done three other times at three very inopportune moments. The guard took the first small step in our direction…

…And I gave in to the matebrand’s insistence. I giggled, swaying as if I was drunk before grabbing onto Orion’s arm for support. In response, the ink beneath my fingers subtly rearranged itself to accentuate the hardness of his muscles. My own ink tingled in reaction, the former itch transitioning to a yearning.

I should allow the tattoos on my skin to reconnect with those on Orion’s. We could be matebranded again. It would be so easy to give in to the inevitable…

Not happening. Not when reconnection meant the matebrand would once again assume control over our lives.

Gritting my teeth, I ruthlessly severed the tendril of my own craving, listening rather than watching as the guard’s boots scuffed fractionally closer. He was still suspicious, which meant…

“Ready for another round of enforced proximity?” Orion’s rumbled words carried the slightest edge of a purr. As he spoke, he swiveled us both around until the irregular bumps of a parking meter bit into my hip. His broad back shielded us from view while also hiding the fact that we weren’t actually pressed front to front the way the matebrand wanted.

I froze, imagining angling my body just the slightest bit to wipe away the unwanted empty space between us. My cheeks heated as I breathed in the cactus-flower aroma wafting off Orion in waves. Flower petals seemed to brush my tongue as I murmured, “You’ve been doing your homework. Getting caught up on all the romance tropes?”

Then I lost track of words as his hand rose to cup the air around my cheek. From the guard’s perspective, it would look like a caress. It felt like a caress, air currents providing the contact Orion wouldn’t.

I shivered, forgetting our reasons for keeping our distance, wishing Orion wasn’t so meticulous about granting me personal space. He didn’t close that final centimeter between us however. Because he refused to give the matebrand leverage until and unless I overtly told him I was ready to take that step.

I wasn’t ready. Still, it was hard not to focus on the sweet parts of our lost connection with Orion’s skin so close to my skin. Despite every rational reason to keep my distance, I swayed in closer, drawn by the flutter of Orion’s breath against my lips as he replied to a question I’d forgotten asking.

“My sister gave me half a dozen bodice rippers,” he rumbled. “That hotel being almost entirely full last week now makes so much more sense.”

I named the trope absently while letting my head drift sideways. “Just one room. A classic for a reason.”

In lieu of further words, his hand feathered down to trace the curve of my neck, still keeping a buffer of air between us yet managing to stroke my nerve endings regardless. The patterns he wove above my skin might have been tattooed there if we’d let the matebrand continue expanding across our bodies. The tingle of awareness that spun through me, though, had nothing to do with the matebrand and everything to do with the undeniable chemistry between Orion and myself.

Chemistry so sublime I didn’t realize the guard was gone until retreating footsteps were cut off by the thunk of a metal door shutting. Only then did Orion mutter something I couldn’t quite make out before stepping back and taking the cactus-flower aroma with him.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” he asked at a more audible register.

For a split second, I thought he meant denying the matebrand’s formation. For a split second, I considered saying no.

Then I remembered what we’d come here for. “I’m sure that if we don’t break in, Celeste will do it herself.” I answered, my voice huskier than it should have been.

Strong and solid as always, Orion nodded. “Alright then. Back to work.”


Ever since my adopted sister tore apart her father’s study and found out about her shifter heritage, she’d searched for confirmation of her guess that other werewolves were being similarly experimented upon. To that end, she’d returned to Julius’s mansion to gather evidence while I’d done the same as best I could from the outside.

Her involvement had driven me crazy. Celeste couldn’t shift the way I could. She was a kindergarten teacher, for crying out loud. She didn’t need to put herself in harm’s way by returning to the place where we’d both been raised as unwitting lab animals.

I can do more where I’m at,” Celeste had rebutted when I’d tried to suggest she move in with either Orion’s pack or my Aunt Vega’s. “You live your life and I’ll live mine.”

Her response had hurt and I wasn’t so sure she hadn’t meant it to. The memory of my past actions sat like a wall between us, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say my goal here tonight was as much to remove that wall as it was to save shifter kids I wasn’t even sure existed.

As if he felt my inner turmoil down our non-existent mate bond, Orion’s hand reached toward mine then retreated without touching. Most likely, he smelled my roiling emotions. Which was a good reminder that I needed to get my head on straight.

So I pushed away thoughts of sisters and mate bonds and I skimmed my gaze across the facility that we’d determined was the most likely possibility for caging experimental werewolves. The top floors were rented out to various businesses for office space while an extensive basement had been soundproofed then never put to any obvious use. And yet, a paper trail suggested food was delivered here at regular intervals. Council members came and went occasionally. The security levels were considerably higher than for any other building on the block.

There was only one way to find out whether we were right about what was inside.

“Ready?” I asked Orion.

“Ready,” he answered. Then he guarded my back as I padded down rough concrete steps to a door far less modern than the one the guard had come out of. This was our saving grace—the Council had apparently decided on stealth over effectiveness. Thirty seconds with my lock picks and the door swung open into pitch dark.

The space was dark but not devoid of sensation. A dank, musty tang washed over us as Orion and I padded inside. Then the door to the street thudded shut behind our backs.

I reached for my flashlight. But before I could flick it on, an overhead light flared, brilliantly illuminating our surroundings. At which point, I discovered our first mistake.

I’d assumed if that outer door was easy to get through, we were home free. But the Council left nothing to chance.

Instead, we appeared to be stuck inside a vestibule with the only viable options being retreat or passing through a seemingly impenetrable inner door. There was no obvious lock, no keypad even. Just biometric scanners that would currently be powered off—I hoped—and the possibility of caged werewolf children on the other side.

For the first time, I let myself imagine what those caged children might be like. Had they been brought up to believe their lupine halves were distasteful, twisted just like I’d been into reviling the very essence of their beings? Or perhaps they’d been genetically manipulated like Celeste and had never managed a single shift.

I only realized I was shivering when Orion spoke my name. “Elspeth?” His voice was more vibration than sound.

“I’m fine,” I lied, keeping my volume just as quiet as his had been. “Call it in.”

His werewolf senses meant he could taste the bitterness in the air, so it was no wonder Orion growled softly. Still, he didn’t argue. Instead, he pulled out his phone and typed in a request to his hacker contact.

One moment later, the lights went out. Pitch darkness, silence…then the distant hum of a generator springing to life.

“You’re sure this is a good idea?” I asked. “If we start an electrical fire, the kids…”

“It will be a very small flame,” Orion promised just like he’d done the first time we discussed this. “And our contact is certain that there’s a fail-safe to open all locks in the event of a fire.”

Nothing happened though. Well, nothing other than the barely present scent of something burning seeping through invisible cracks around the inner door. That plus the faintest whoop of a smoke detector nearly entirely muffled by soundproofed walls.

Our plan wasn’t going to work. Celeste’s face would pinch with the same disappointment that had colored her voice last month when I’d prioritized strangers above her students. She’d think I hadn’t really tried. That I didn’t value what she valued. That our bond as sisters was irreparably broken, just like the mate connection that Orion and I had lost.

No, I couldn’t let that happen. I needed to come up with another way in. I needed to…

The door clicked open. Which would have been welcome if evidence of a larger-than-expected flame hadn’t immediately flowed through the opening to fill the vestibule. Illuminated by the dim glow of backup lighting, a hallway stretched out before us full of haze reddened by LEDs. Roiling smoke was already so thick it burned my eyes and seared my lungs, but that wasn’t the worst of our problems.

Amid the haze, the silhouette of a figure nearly as large as Orion blocked the doorway. “Welcome,” a male voice intoned, “to the underworld.”


​Chapter 2

Smoke messed with my ability to smell, but I would have caught a tinge of fur if this man was lupine. I was sure of it.

Nearly sure of it.

Beside me, Orion shook his head very slightly. No, he didn’t think the stranger was a shifter either. Which left a few possibilities, the most likely of which was—Council employee.

Still, I would have given the stranger benefit of the doubt if the door behind us hadn’t opened at that very moment. “I know you told me to wait,” Celeste said as she breezed through and shut herself into the smoky interior alongside us, “but you’re running behind schedule and…oh. Who are you?”

The stranger’s voice dropped, turning seductive. “Finnegan. And you are?”

For one long moment, my sister just stared at him. She’d be taking in what I’d seen already, but I had a sinking suspicion she was spinning those same physical features into a very different narrative.

Because Finnegan was tall and lean, with a messy mop of dark hair that fell into his eyes and gave him a boyish charm despite the fact he otherwise appeared very close to my age and Celeste’s—mid-twenties. His tailored suit made no sense for a man woken in the middle of the night but did an astonishingly good job of emphasizing corded muscles. And the dark trench coat layered on top was currently open at the front in a way that framed him to full advantage. Only the faint sheen of sweat along his hairline hinted at any discomfort with the heat and smoke that currently had me stifling a cough.

No wonder my sister’s voice turned husky. “I’m Celeste. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Curling through the smoke, I caught the sickly sweet scent of Celeste’s arousal. Caught something less clearcut from the stranger, although the intensity of his gaze upon her person suggested my sister’s interest was very much returned.

I didn’t like this one bit.

Especially when the stranger—Finnegan—took a step forward. Celeste’s hand stretched out as if she intended him to shake or kiss it, even though he might just as easily grab her wrist and yank her off balance, turning her into a hostage…

Orion and I slammed into each other in our haste to form a barrier between the stranger and my sister.

“Keep your distance,” Orion growled.

I expected Finnegan to growl back. If he’d been a wolf, he would have been dominant. Something about his stance made me sure of that.

Instead, he lifted one arm to reveal what had been hidden behind his trench coat—a garbage bag full of clothing “Is this a rescue or isn’t it? I’m packed and ready to go.”

I frowned, rearranging my assumptions, or trying to over the blaring alarms and eye-burning smoke. Was it possible we’d gotten our wires crossed? Was this basement meant to cage adult werewolves rather than children?

No matter how hard I sniffed, though, Finnegan continued to smell entirely human. Which meant, counterintuitively, I needed to treat him like a greater threat.

Because a human was more likely to be working for the Council. It would have been nice to be able to communicate that guesswork down a mate bond. As it was, I had to hope Orion’s thought processes ran along a similar path to mine.

“You got this?” I asked.

Orion didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he struck in a flash of shifter-expedited movement. One blink, then Finnegan’s face was pressed up against the wall, one trench-coat-clad arm twisted up behind his back. Celeste barely had time to gasp before Orion uttered a single syllable:


“Great.” Problematic stranger taken care of, I grabbed my sister’s wrist then tugged her out of the vestibule and into the hallway. After all, there were still children to hunt for, whether Finnegan was their jailer or an older captive as he claimed.

I’d expected the smoke to be worse here, but it was actually a little better. So that wasn’t the reason my sister strained away from me, trying to stay close to the double set of doors that opened onto the vestibule. She was the one who’d been adamant that we follow this lead as soon as possible. But even as her feet unstuck and she trailed behind me into the increasing darkness, she acted as reluctant as when Julius had refused to let our younger selves leave the table until we’d cleared everything green off our plates.

“Orion’s hurting him,” my sister complained, her voice louder than was really necessary even with the cacophony blaring.

No, that wasn’t right. Among humans, Celeste’s speech would have been entirely appropriate to the surroundings. I’d just gotten used to living among wolves.

Wolves who wouldn’t consider what Orion was doing excessive. No bones had cracked and I doubted Finnegan’s muscles were really straining. “He’ll be fine,” I answered, opening a door in hopes it was the kitchen. No such luck.

“We can’t leave him alone with…” Celeste started.

“Orion?” I finished her thought absently, traveling faster into the haze.

“An alpha werewolf,” my sister answered under her breath, perhaps not expecting me to hear her. “You know how they get.”

There was so much to unpack there…so much I would have said myself two months ago. Now was neither the time nor the place for word-bending however. Not when I had a blazing appliance to find behind one of the closed doors that lined both sides of the stark hallway. A scavenger hunt with a hard deadline—douse the device with fire repellent before the entire building went up in flames.

Yesterday, I’d agreed with our hacker’s suggestion to set up a long-distance fire by overloading a smart toaster. It made good sense after all. The appliance was bound to be outside any sleeping quarters, giving me and Orion time to squelch the problem after smoke triggered the unlocking of doors and before the blaze really took hold.

But we hadn’t counted on dilly-dallying talking to a stranger, then talking about a stranger. We hadn’t counted on Celeste joining the invasion, moving slower than a shifter would have as she trailed her fingers along the wall to make up for the dim lighting. I just hoped the combined delays didn’t mean fire had flared up to cabinet level before we reached the source.

The second door opened onto a room that wasn’t the habitat of a toaster any more than the first had been. The third, though…

Yep, the toaster was in here somewhere. Hidden behind that wall of unquenchable flames.


Celeste was the one who slammed the door, cutting off the flow of billowing smoke. My eyes didn’t just tear now. They burned, trying to squeeze shut to protect delicate membranes.

I could see well enough, though, to know that the kitchen had passed the point of fire suppression. Celeste was right to create a barrier between the conflagration and the hallway. She was also right to hurry us further down the hallway, away from the exit rather than toward it.

After all, there could still be children locked in one of the rooms we hadn’t checked yet.

The two spaces we’d looked into on the way to the kitchen had been a bathroom and a living room, both currently devoid of life. Which left three doors further down the hall…

I hesitated, uncertain whether it would be safer to send Celeste back toward Orion and the stranger or to let her follow me deeper into what Finnegan had termed the underworld. My sister was the one who made the decision for us. “We’re not leaving kids behind in this,” she said, taking the lead as she felt her way deeper into the smoke.

Past the kitchen, heat from the fire turned suffocating. If I had to guess, I’d say the flames had burned through an interior wall and spread in this direction. It also seemed as if the air-filtration system was drawing smoke toward this end of the hallway, condensing it beyond the filter’s ability to clean.

The thought fizzled in my head, rational explanations pushed aside by painful skin prickling. By breathing gone raspy. A cough started in my lungs then shook my entire body in a way I couldn’t seem to stop.

Then Celeste was sloshing water out of a plastic bottle onto my sleeve and dragging that sleeve across my nose. The layer of wet fabric helped a little, enough so I could peer at her to ensure she’d done the same.

“Never underestimate a kindergarten teacher,” my sister admonished, her voice coming out as a croak from behind what appeared to be a cloth handkerchief tied across her nose and mouth.

My sister was right—she’d had more foresight than I had. And it wasn’t so much that I was underestimating her. It was that working together on a critical mission was unfamiliar territory for the two of us. I’d been trained to walk through hazards unflinching. She hadn’t. And I needed Celeste to make it out of here alive.

I didn’t waste time trying—and failing—to send her away though. Instead, I took the lead as we entered a portion of the hallway so smoky Celeste had to grab onto the back of my shirt to keep her bearings. Even my shifter-assisted eyesight had turned our surroundings into a blur now. Smoke and heat pressed against us in a suffocating embrace.

I could barely discern the first door on my right, the opposite side of the hallway from the kitchen. My hand had just touched the knob—still cool—when heavy footsteps pounded up behind us.

Orion. I knew the cadence of his stride without having to look, but I glanced backwards anyway as the dark shape behind me rumbled, “Finnegan swears there’s no one else here.” Despite his words, Orion continued to keep his body between Finnegan—who’d followed him down the hallway—and the rest of us.

“Won’t hurt to check,” I answered, yanking open the door. Before haze took over the air inside, I scanned the space and found it just as devoid of life as the others.

This room was an office, complete with desk and computer. Would a prisoner be given supplies like those? But if Finnegan wasn’t a prisoner, wouldn’t he have taken advantage of Orion’s turned back in order to call for reinforcements?

Which is when I realized Celeste’s fingers had left my shirt. My rasping breath was so loud in my own ears, I hadn’t heard her move away from me. But I caught the motion as she opened the next door down, the last one on the non-kitchen side.

“Bedroom,” she called back to us.

“Mine,” Finnegan answered, “and you look remarkably good in it.”

Just like everyone else’s, his voice had turned rough from smoke inhalation. No, that wasn’t quite right. His tone was also tinged with flirtation despite heat from the kitchen pressing into our skin like a physical force.

Celeste was mostly human, so she should have felt ten times worse than I did. Still, she leaned toward Finnegan while his entire body angled back in her direction. Both of them appeared willing to make calf eyes as the building we were inside literally went up in flames.

“Terrible pickup line,” I muttered under my breath. “Even worse timing.”

I’d kept my voice shifter low, but Finnegan as well as Orion responded by glancing in my direction. Celeste didn’t. She was so intent upon gazing at Finnegan that I expected cartoon hearts to pop out of the smoky air and form a halo around her head.

I’d never seen my sister like this. Still, when we watched movies together, she always ogled the bad boys. Was this the moment she fell for exactly the wrong man, not on screen but in real life?

Something fell then, but it wasn’t Celeste. Instead, the crash came from the kitchen. I could only hope a cabinet had come loose from the wall rather than a structural support losing its integrity. Surely a building this large would be framed in metal? Still…

“I swear there’s no one else here,” Finnegan said, his tone turning urgent as if he’d just realized he and Celeste were inside a burning building. “Let’s go.”

“There’s one more room,” Celeste countered, already moving toward the door on the kitchen side of the hallway. The door I suspected would open onto flames.

A louder crash emerged from the kitchen. The wall on that side bulged as if something heavy pressed up against it. If sheet rock collapsed into the hallway, Celeste’s only exit route would be blocked…

“It’s time to evacuate. Ladies first.”

The alpha command spun me around and thrust my feet forward before I fully understood what was happening. My motions weren’t my own as I hurried back down the hall, aiming toward the exit. Only the sound of Celeste’s parallel footsteps prevented me from struggling against the compulsion and forcing myself to stay in place.

As I walked, I puzzled as best I could while breathing through my sleeve and swiping at tearing eyes. My sister wouldn’t have left that doorknob unturned of her own free will, which meant shifter magic worked on her even though she showed no other signs of having a connection to her wolf. Thank you, Orion, I thought, grateful he’d guessed my sister’s susceptibility and used it to protect her.

Then Orion’s growl carried down the hall through the smoke. “You’re a wolf.”

“Not much of one,” Finnegan answered. “Can’t shift. Perhaps we could hold the rest of this conversation somewhere the walls aren’t about to cave in on us?”

Whatever Orion replied, I didn’t hear it. Because the alpha command—Finnegan’s alpha command?—continued carrying me down the hallway faster and faster. I thrust open the unlocked outer door and stumbled out into the fresh air of the dimly lit alley. There, I bent over and hacked out sooty yuck that had settled in my throat, blinking my eyes furiously to clear my sight.

It took me far too long to straighten and look for a sister who might need my help. Shifter constitutions tended to be hardier than humans’, and Celeste was far more human than she was lupine. The smoke had been bad there at the end, far too bad for damp cloth over a nose to protect us. Celeste might not have made it…

She had made it. Wasn’t in any distress, apparently.

Instead, my sister stood with her head cocked, gazing intently at the doorway we’d so recently stumbled out of. She was waiting for something. She was waiting for—

Finnegan emerged, not bent over but rather just as tall and sturdy as he’d looked when he greeted us the first time. His trench coat billowed out behind him like a cinematic wizard’s cloak, and he didn’t seem to chafe at its bulk despite the Texas heat and the fiery interior he’d just strode through.

In response, Celeste sighed, the breeze of air wending out of her lips soft and awestruck. I had a sinking suspicion I’d just witnessed love at first sight.


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