The astute reader will notice that I haven’t had a preorder up for the last two months. Instead, I was teaming up with seven other urban-fantasy authors to create an anthology of all-new novellas.
The result is nearly ready to see the light of day, so I thought you might enjoy diving into the first chapter of each story. Scroll down for appetizers of stories to come!
Fox Hunt by Aimee Easterling – Mai’s life revolves around acting human and teaching fencing to middleschoolers. Then a student goes missing just as werewolves start breathing down her neck. Can she hunt the hunters without revealing her identity as a fox?
A werewolf howl curled across the dappled shade sheltering musicians and concertgoers alike. I frowned and reassessed. No, that wasn’t a howl. Not in broad daylight in a city park full of smiling humans. The undulating tone had to be the result of one really badly tuned violin.
Still, I started counting heads anyway. First my ten-year-old sister Kira—half Japanese like me, and also the only other one in the crowd who wasn’t rich and white as Wonder Bread. Next, I moved to the students three years older who were paying top dollar for this summer enrichment opportunity. As long as all twenty were present and accounted for, there was no point in worrying about whether that sound had been more than a strange violin.
“Stay away from wolves.” Dad’s warning whispered in my memory as I continued eying students. Twelve, thirteen…. Drat. I was 100% certain I’d considered that towhead before. Someone must have switched places on me.
Meanwhile, one half of the inseparable Raven twin duo popped up to hover at my elbow. “Ms. Fairchild?” she started, ignoring the glares of audience members who would have preferred she remain seated. The stage was slightly elevated, but the rest of us were lounging—or, in Charlie’s case, standing—on blankets spread across the grass.
Which meant Charlie was now obstructing the view of approximately a dozen people arrayed behind us. A dozen people who were rustling and murmuring their dissatisfaction. Well, I’d fix that public-relations issue as soon as I finished my count.
Charlie’s next words filtered through the music just as I ran out of students. “Jessie’s been in the bathroom an awfully long time.”
Ah. So my math hadn’t been off after all. And the absence of a sister to finish Charlie’s sentences also explained why the curly-haired and snub-nosed teenager had taken so long to get to the point.
I lurched to my feet, ignoring the increased griping behind me. I’d check the bathroom, then….
I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I froze as the crescendo of percussion gave way to a momentary silence.
Silence from the orchestra, not silence from somewhere just outside the assemblage. There, an unmistakable howl barreled into the musical gap so obviously that it caught even my charges’ attention.
“What was that?” Kira asked, dark eyes widening. She abruptly looked every bit the younger tagalong…a tagalong aware of the secrets we both hid.
“What?” Charlie, less tuned in to sounds, scrunched up her freckled nose in confusion.
“The…” Kira met my gaze then trailed off.
A snooty woman behind us muttered something about children needing to be seen rather than heard. Ignoring her gripes, I donned my best teacher voice. “It’s just a dog,” I told my students. “I’ll check on Jessie. The rest of you, stay put.”
Charlie subsided but I knew my sister would be far less malleable even though she lacked the twin’s years. Sure enough, Kira met my gaze head-on, her mouth flattening until she looked like a small, female clone of our father. Dad had been tenacious to a fault. Had to be as a human raising two girls with magical abilities after our mother died.
Today, Kira’s tenacity seemed inclined to get us both killed. She was already halfway to her feet when she spat out: “I want to see it.”
I shook my head, hating to pull rank but having no other option. Teacher voice wouldn’t work here, but threats might. “You promised not to be a hindrance. Do you want this to be the last summer session you attend?”
Kira winced, and rightly so. If she didn’t follow me to work, her other option involved sitting around our tiny apartment with nothing other than a book to amuse her. Our computer was so slow you could barely use it to play solitaire. I couldn’t afford to pay for a second cell phone.
No wonder my sister subsided after one tense moment. “I’ll keep count,” she promised, squaring her slender shoulders. As if she thought it was no problem to put herself in charge of kids three years her senior.
Her senior, but more innocent of the dark nature of the shadow world. I nodded acceptance. Then I strode away toward the source of the howls.
Instinct told me to hurry. But my job required me to make a pitstop before I could deal with the larger issue of werewolves. I couldn’t leave a ten-year-old solely in charge of nineteen middle schoolers after all.
Instead, I stalked past the point where my nineteen-should-be-twenty girls ran into Tony’s seventeen boys. I pretended not to notice the PDA where the sexes came together, averting my eyes and continuing on to the math teacher who was as human as his charges.
Tony was an ultra-pale redhead who’d been known to burn in the middle of winter, but still he lounged with his face upturned toward July sunshine. His eyes were closed and a blissed-out smile sweetened his angular face.
“Can you watch my girls for a few minutes?” I murmured, ignoring the bawdy joke one of his students made in response to my ill-chosen words. I’d learned over the years that if I left any opening for innuendo, teenagers would run through the gap with cheerful abandon. The best response to such a misstep was to ignore, ignore, ignore.
Which was what my co-worker appeared to be doing to me. I would have been annoyed if I didn’t know that his math mind considered classical music an inspiring puzzle. “Tony,” I repeated, louder this time.
“Quiet.” The same woman who’d muttered at me earlier was angry enough now to call her chastisement down the row of fidgeting students.
Ignoring both the snarky woman and the raised hairs on the back of my neck, I waited for my counterpart to blink his way out of a musical reverie. Finally—
“Problem, Mai?” Tony asked at last. His volume, unlike mine, Charlie’s, and Kira’s, was concert appropriate. Still, the woman behind us huffed yet again.
And Tony turned clear blue eyes away from me to assess the audience member in question. She was dressed to the nines, as if she’d expected plush velvet chairs in an air-conditioned concert hall rather than the chance to sprawl ourselves out beneath maple trees. And Tony’s words came out so smooth it took a moment for either of us to realize they represented a verbal slap.
“Behaving appropriately for the space you find yourself in is a very difficult skill to master, isn’t it?”
Leaving the overdressed woman to mull over the implications, Tony turned to face the next disrupter, the boy who’d made reference to my breasts. This time, my fellow teacher didn’t even need words to get his point across. Instead, he raised one eyebrow and waited until the kid dropped his gaze to the grass. Only then did he turn back to address me.
“Sorry about that. You were saying?”
Right. As amusing as it was to watch Tony deal with the unruly, I had more important issues on my mind. “Jessie’s been in the bathroom quite a while. I need to check on her. Can you…?”
“Take care of your hooligans as well as my delinquents? Sure.”
My co-worker’s quick acceptance was followed by a reassuring touch of three fingers to the back of my hand. Or was that gesture meant to be reassuring? I blinked, reassessing the way Tony’s gaze bored into mine, the way his pupils expanded despite the stark sunlight.
Tony wasn’t acting like a friend and colleague. He was acting like someone who wanted to take our relationship to a new level.
Unfortunately, I had far too much on my plate at the present moment to even consider dating. Problems like students with no interest in learning. Bills that stubbornly refused to pay themselves. A kid sister for whom I was the legal guardian…and who shared the same heritage that would make werewolves consider us prey.
Plus, Tony was so very, very human. There was no spark when his skin grazed mine.
Still, I thanked him. Smiled even though I didn’t feel like smiling. Managed not to flip off the woman fuming behind us as I momentarily obstructed the view of an entire row of audience members.
Only once I was out of the press and past a row of trees did I clench my fists and break into a run.
Wereabouts Unknown by Jenn Stark – Having strutted her way from cop to carny fortune teller to the newest, most fabulous member of a group of Tarot mystics, Nikki Dawes has the world in the palms of her bedazzle-gloved hands. But now a pack of displaced werewolves is relying on her to find the rest of their kind. Can she reunite those snarly, sexy beasts in time to win the war on magic?
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Flamingo Casino proudly presents your newest Queen of the Strip!”
Lights shot up from the stage, crackling across the walls and ceilings with white-hot brilliance. Cheering and applause surged up from the hundred or so cocktail tables scattered through the Flamingo’s second-largest auditorium. The woman on stage grinned and waved to the crowd with pure, unfettered joy…but it was never the sight of a pageant winner’s jaw-cracking smile that made Nikki Dawes’s heart thump hard enough to hurt.
No. Nikki leaned back against the bar, crossing her long legs as she settled her elbows on the counter. She studied the contestant who twirled and posed, fluttering her long, satin-gloved fingers. Past the feathers and wigs, the platform heels and sequined gowns, it was the eyes that told the true story of the beautiful starlets strutting the stage. Eyes that had seen too much, lost too much, that stared out, wide and disbelieving, savoring the crowd’s favor half in wonder, half in vindication, but always with just the tiniest shred of doubt woven in. Like all this might be pulled away as quickly as it had been showered over their Aqua-netted heads.
Nikki had been running the Flamingo’s Queen of the Strip beauty pageant for going on two months now, and she didn’t think she’d ever get tired of it. From the laughter and chatter of the full auditorium, she suspected the Flamingo’s patrons wouldn’t either—at least not anytime soon.
“We’ve got a new one, boss.”
Speaking of eyes that saw too much, Glinda Wren sidled up to the bar beside Nikki, her pink confectionary-style Good Witch of the North regalia billowing out around her as she seated one impressive hip on the next barstool over. Beneath her strawberry colored bouffant wig and sparkly crown, Glinda’s golden arched brows peaked impossibly higher as she glanced toward the back of the room, where the front doors opened out onto the main casino area. “Whoops, false alarm. No we don’t.”
Something tingled at the back of Nikki’s neck as she turned to peer into the depths of the Flamingo’s auditorium. They had custom retrofitted this room for the twice-weekly pageants that had become famous on the Strip in no time flat, and the tables were alight with multi-colored lamps pulsing in time with the music. Nearly every table was filled with locals and tourists alike, while Nikki’s team of competing showgirls worked the space alongside the cocktail servers, each more fabulously dressed than the last.
Nikki didn’t see anyone out of place, but there was no doubting Glinda’s instincts. The indomitable Miss Wren had a good eye, and she’d grown up on the mean streets of southern L.A.. She didn’t miss much.
“A runner?” Nikki asked as the bartender handed her a large crystal flute filled with champagne. Runaways were more frequent these days, now that the show had gained some notoriety. Word had gotten out in Vegas that if you could get to Nikki Dawes, she’d help you get clear of whatever hunted you. Most times, the predators were the traditional sort—the strong subjugating the weak in a story as old as time. Sometimes, those predators hunted psychics.
And Nikki knew psychics. She’d been working the Strip for over ten years, and she’d seen a lot of Connecteds stream past the glittering lights and clattering slot machines. Some played, some stayed, and the most powerful of them all soared high above the city, running an entire magical empire that, until recently, Nikki had only experienced in limited quantities.
The Arcana Council were the physical representation of the Tarot; demigods who’d been kicking around earth since the dawn of recorded history, with a charge to keep the balance of magic in the world. Nikki’d fallen in with them as a part-time chauffeur and informant on all things magical in the city. And when they’d started working with small-potatoes Tarot reader with big-spud abilities, Sara Wilde, Nikki was all in. She and Sara had instantly clicked. After that, all Nikki had ever wanted to do was to stand strong for her bestie…a life choice that had reaped her a whirlwind of trouble of the very best kind.
Now a totally different kind of trouble was hunting the Connected community. And to help her gear up for that fight, Nikki had unexpectedly found herself in her own glitter-bombed seat at the high table of the Council…a development she was still trying to sort through. Her whole life she’d insisted on presenting herself as a larger-than-life superstar, and now she was the straight up Moon of the Arcana Council.
She needed a complete wardrobe overhaul, STAT.
Beside her, Glinda gave a short, contemplative hum, refocusing Nikki’s attention to their more immediate problem. In this light, Glinda appeared to be maybe half of her fifty years, a combination of expertly applied cosmetics, a dedicated yoga practice, and sheer, iron will.
“The girl I saw was definitely a loner,” Glinda decided. “But maybe not a runner the way we usually get. She wasn’t terrified so much as searching for a way out, and not finding it through here. Young, presents female, presents older than she probably is. She wasn’t unsteady on her feet, so I don’t think she was using, but there was something about her that just read off to me. She was too tight, too pissed. And now she’s gone.”
“Well, that’s no good,” Nikki muttered, and Glinda lifted her glass.
“Figured you’d think that. I’m also figuring you won’t be presenting the Queen’s sash tonight, yeah?”
Nikki’d already laid her glass down on the counter, untouched, and edged off the stool. She was wearing a blue sequin pageant gown slashed up to her hip bones on both sides, enough to show off her white, patent leather thigh-high boots, and she flipped back a stream of fire-engine red curls as she winked at Glinda. Fortunately, her gown was well-suited for whatever the night threw at her, with its shoulder-baring bodice wrapped tight over her breasts, the waist cinched in with a white leather girdle. Ordinarily, she’d have paired the ensemble with forearm-hugging white gloves, but sometimes, a girl just needed to be able to reach out and touch someone.
Especially if there was a runner somewhere close, needing help.
“I think I’m just going to have a walk around, check in with folks, see what I see,” Nikki said.
“I’ve got the bar,” Glinda nodded, flexing her fingers as she winked at their shared joke. “It’s about time for a new manicure anyway.”
“Your tips are looking a little tired,” Nikki agreed. Though neither had expected it when they’d started the Queen of the Strip pageant, brawls among the guests and quite a few of the pageanteers broke out at the Flamingo with cheerful regularity. It was a good thing the club’s owner was unconcerned with property damage—and that he liked a good fight.
Tall, dark, and devilishly handsome, Aleksander Kreios was nothing if not a fully hands-on manager of his smokin’ hot establishment. He was just that kind of a stand-up demigod—and, as it turned out, he was Nikki’s new boss on the Council as well, the Devil of the Council in the very fine flesh. Nothing like keeping your W-2 situation tidy.
Nevertheless, tonight the Flamingo didn’t have the feel of fight night. The energy of the room was carefree, redolent of dark whiskey, cheap wine, and fancy beer, along with the infectious joy of the pageanteers competing on stage. Her troupe of performers never failed to entertain, except when someone came into the bar determined not to be entertained. And they’d been running the show long enough that most of those assholes simply stayed away.
So why had the girl Glinda had seen split so quickly? What was she looking for—or scared of?
Nikki moved through the room with the ease of long practice, navigating through the precisely situated tables—close enough for sociability, distant enough to allow each attendee to enjoy the show in whatever way they chose.
She picked up her shadow almost immediately and smiled, deliberately not looking back at the bruiser who’d latched himself to her side. He and his hundred-strong pack were her guardians, kind of a gift with purchase when she’d become the Moon. Nikki was never one to say no to an entourage, but their leader, Torsten,…went above and beyond.
And if he wanted to tail her tonight, he’d have to keep up.
She pushed out the door as a small group of college kids entered the Flamingo, the last one a girl whose worried expression caught her attention. Nikki brushed against her, drifting a hand along the girl’s arm, which caused the other to flinch.
“Sorry, darlin’,” Nikki said. The girl glanced up, blinking fast as she took in Nikki’s costume.
“Oh! It’s no problem,” she blurted. Then she was gone, leaving Nikki with a raft of near-term memories to sort through. Up until recently, Nikki’s abilities had been pretty modest—they’d almost had to be, she’d always reasoned. Combined with her outsized personality, and considering the kind of magic her bestie flung around on the regular, if Nikki had been a monster-truck-level wizard, she’d have flattened everyone within a quarter-mile radius.
Instead she’d honed her skills more quietly, particularly during her years as a beat cop in Chicago, well before she’d had the guts to move to Vegas and let her own star shine more brightly. Some police officers were Connected without even knowing it, the cop intuition that was so important to the job seeming to come to them naturally.
Nikki’s intuition went a little farther. She’d always known she was different, of course—on multiple levels. But it was her ability to pick up the most recent memories of anyone she touched that had proven to be invaluable in questioning suspects and witnesses. It’s where she’d also learned how easy it was for people to lie to themselves, bending the reality they’d seen to fit their world view.
Like the girl she’d just cozied up to, who had seen something not right in the street outside. It’d flashed to her left, barely catching her notice, a blur of black on shadow, moving too fast to seem natural. The way a young woman might be yanked off street and into an alley—only that couldn’t be right, could it? That didn’t happen in Vegas.
The Strip was safe, everyone said so.
And so the college co-ed had hurried on with her clutch of her pals, leaving the question of who or what she’d seen in the alley to slip away into nothing.
Nikki heard the soft footfall on the sidewalk behind her, noticeable only because she was expecting it. She stopped. “You know, sugar lips, you’re really starting to cramp my style.”
“You’re tracking someone. It’s a skill I excel at.”
Torsten melted out of the shadows, giving Nikki the opportunity to more fully appreciate the features and attributes of her newest tagalong. Rugged, towering, and rippling with muscle, Torsten was the defacto leader of the guardians of the Moon, which apparently made him Nikki’s new number one fan. With his dark mane tumbling down to his neck, his flashing black eyes and sensuous mouth permanently set in a scowl, he was also so damned earnest about protecting her that she couldn’t bring herself to send him off, even though he and his crew had plenty of work to do that didn’t involve babysitting detail.
More problematic, even though she’d tangled with guys every bit as big and strong, Nikki admittedly felt a little out of her depth with Torsten. I mean, how exactly were you supposed to on-board a werewolf? Were there special HR manuals for that?
“Shouldn’t you be back with the others trying to shake your family tree?” she asked him now, if only to cover her nerves.
The previous Moon had fled earth with only half her pack, way, way back in the day. Now that the Council member and her guardians had returned to the fold, one of the most important tasks they had was to see who—if anyone—was left of their former full guard.
Apparently, that task didn’t rate with Torsten. “That will require researching six thousand years of history,” he countered, reasonably enough. “It’s not urgent. What you do is urgent. And my place is with you.”
The flood of pride, possessiveness, and loyalty flowing from the guy was so strong that Nikki blinked hard, jostling one of her false eyelashes loose. It wasn’t that she wasn’t used to backup. She had Sara, after all. But Sweet Mother Mary on a Tricycle, the way Torsten stared at her made Nikki’s heart shimmy like a showgirl on Seventies Night. His intense focus might eventually become a problem—but not yet, she decided. Definitely not yet.
“Okay, love chop, here’s the deal,” she said, her words a little more brusque than she intended. “A runner I’m interested in showed up at the back of the bar. Short, dark hair, thin.”
“The female,” Torsten confirmed, with such certainty Nikki leveled him a sharp glance.
“You saw her?”
“Of course. She looked like a thief, but she was too skinny to be a good one. She didn’t make sense. Also, she had no pack.”
Nikki smiled a little sadly. “There’s a whole lot of people on this rock who don’t, sweet pea. It’s a problem. What else did you notice about her?”
“She was touched by the gift,” he said, so nonchalantly that Nikki swiveled toward him.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. How do you know that?”
Torsten raised a dark, heavy brow. “I told you, I’m a tracker. What good would a tracker be, if I couldn’t tell when someone had been touched with magic?”
Nikki rolled her eyes. “What you don’t know about this earth is too long to work out, but let me tell you, most folk who are touched with the gift don’t know it, and sure as shit don’t know how to use it. What about our girl? Turn here.”
As she spoke, she gestured Torsten down the street where the corners matched the intersection she’d picked out of the college student’s memory.
“Her gift…it’s difficult to say if she knows its full strength,” Torsten hedged. “She was mostly afraid. She should have been, given the three who tracked her.”
Nikki’s stomach plummeted. “She was being tracked.”
Torsten nodded. “They didn’t enter the bar with her, but their energy was all around her. So much so that I expected to sense her relief at reaching freedom, but that wasn’t there. She appeared more disoriented, jostled by the crowd, and she fled again almost as soon as she arrived.”
“And you didn’t go after her?” Nikki asked, only to be on the receiving end of Torsten’s silver-eyed censure.
“My place is with you,” he said again. “Unless and until you send me elsewhere and even then—”
“Yeah, yeah, got it,” Nikki said, waving him off. She peeked down the alley. It was disappointingly empty, but Torsten surprised her by moving down it anyway. He reached back and grabbed her hand, and Nikki jolted at his warm, vital touch. It unnerved her in a way she didn’t want to explore too closely, but she let him tug her along down the dark street, his preternaturally soft voice drifting back to her.
“She’s this way, and she’s not alone. If it’s a fight you want, Mistress Moon, you shall have it.”
“She’s hurt?” Nikki asked quickly, and Torsten’s chuckle was low and grim.
“No. But she’s about to be.”
Elemental Witch by B R Kingsolver – After a magical disaster puts Joanna’s future in jeopardy, the Supernatural Council gives her a second chance at Midleton College. New friends, a hot wolf shifter, and a serene campus grow on her fast. Then some fool summons a demon. Can Joanna clean up the mess before the demon kills her friends?
A fresh start. That’s what they told her, and it was true. What they didn’t say was that it was probably also her last chance. Everyone admitted that it wasn’t really her fault.
No one had ever told her she needed to set wards to screen herself from the elementals if she wanted to have sex. It was an accident. On the other hand, she was the one who caused the disaster.
Uncle Teddy helped her move her belongings into the cottage and put things away. She had to admit the cottage was nice and very comfortable, not at all the shack she had feared. A living room and a separate dining room were in the front, with a lovely kitchen behind the dining room, connected to a large workroom with benches, shelves, cabinets, and its own double sink and a gas cooktop. A door from the living room led to her bedroom and bath. The cottage wasn’t large, but for one, or even two people, it was fine.
Teddy took her out to dinner, and the following day, he and Rupert Glockner, head of the local Supernatural Council, took her for a tour of the campus and to buy groceries.
The morning after that, Teddy hugged her close, planted a kiss on the top of her head, and said, “I’m not going to tell you good luck. I think you’ve used up a lifetime’s worth of luck. What I will say is, study hard, behave yourself, and set your wards.”
“I promise,” Joanna said. “Thanks for everything.”
“I’ll see you next summer,” Teddy said. With one last squeeze, he let her go, climbed in his truck, and drove away.
With a lump in her throat, Joanna watched him go, then turned to face Mr. Glockner, her jailer. He seemed nice. Although she had caught a wary look in his eyes, she hadn’t detected any animosity or fear from him. But he and everyone else on the local council knew why she was there. The harlot of Oregon. She had felt her face grow warm every time she had to talk to him.
“Joanna,” Glockner said with his distinct German accent, “everything will work out fine. If there’s anything you need, let me know. And if you just need someone to talk to, or a home-cooked meal, you’re welcome in my home anytime. Susan wants you to come to dinner tonight so she can meet you.”
Susan was his wife. They had three kids, all much younger than Joanna.
“Thank you,” Joanna said. “I’ll be there.”
She watched him walk down the path away from her. The cottage where Joanna would live and Glockners’ home were on the edge of the forest that formed the west boundary of the city. Their house was about half a mile away from hers.
Joanna walked down her long driveway until she reached a footpath heading in the direction of Midleton College. She had a week before classes started, and a long list of things that needed to be done, from buying her books, to getting her student ID, to simply figuring out where to find everything.
At Oregon State, she had moved into a dormitory as a freshman, and everyone around her was in the same boat. None of them knew anyone, and they all were away from home for the first time, which made it easy to meet the other girls and make friends. At Midleton, she would be living alone, and as juniors, most of the people in her classes would already have a circle of friends.
Joanna spent most of the afternoon walking around campus. Some of the buildings reminded her of Oregon State. She also strolled into the area north of the university. Clothing stores, bars and restaurants, and various other businesses catering to students lined the streets. The town looked a lot different from what she was used to on the west coast—older and the brick buildings were narrow, tall, and long. One street that she walked down near the river had stately old Victorian mansions.
Judging from Rupert Glockner’s demeanor and dress, Joanna was willing to bet that his wife was a hippie earth-momma, like Joanna’s mother. Joanna showed up at the Glockners’ that evening wearing a long skirt and a loose, flowing white blouse embroidered with red butterflies.
She knocked on the door, and it immediately opened. A pair of children’s smiling faces— probably around ten years old—peered out at her.
“You’re Joanna,” the boy and the girl said in unison. Then the girl said, “Wow! Your hair is wild! I’ve never seen hair that color.”
“And you’re David and Diane,” Joanna said to the twins.
“And that’s Lizzy,” Diane said, pointing to a younger girl who was watching from the other side of the room with her thumb in her mouth. “She’s only four.”
“Hello, Lizzy,” Joanna said. “You know you shouldn’t suck on your thumb, don’t you?”
“That’s what Mom tells her,” David said, “but she still does it.”
Joanna smiled. “You know that will make you buck-toothed, and you won’t be able to whistle,” she said to Lizzy. All she got in return was a suspicious scowl.
Joanna started to whistle an Irish jig, and the air sprite hovering over Lizzy’s head began to dance and twirl. Lizzy’s hand dropped to her side. “Wow!” she said, watching the sprite with wide eyes. “How did you do that?”
“They like to dance,” Joanna said, “and they like music. When you learn to whistle really well, you can put on performances with elementals and butterflies that are super neat. But you won’t be able to whistle if you continue to suck your thumb.”
A pretty blonde woman stepped into the room. “Hi,” she said with a smile. “I’m Susan. I’m just finishing up in the kitchen. Can I get you something to drink?” She took Joanna by the elbow and pulled her along. “Goddess, thank you,” she muttered. “I’m about at my wits’ end trying to keep that kid’s thumb out of her mouth.”
Joanna looked around the spacious kitchen. Herbs hung from the ceiling, along with copper pots and pans. Jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables lined the shelves on every wall. The room was well-lighted and cheery and cluttered without being messy. Pots on the large stove bubbled, and the smells made her mouth water.
With a questioning look on her face, Susan held up a bottle of white wine. Joanna nodded, and Susan poured a glassful and placed it on the large table in the center of the room.
Joanna took a sip and allowed herself a smile. Susan was dressed exactly as Joanna had imagined. The cozy, welcoming feel of Susan’s home caused Joanna to relax for the first time since coming east.
“I’ll have to remember that,” Susan said. “I can’t whistle worth crap, but I’m the only one other than Lizzy who can see the elemental. Will they dance to other music?”
“It’s actually an air sprite. When she’s older, she may attract elementals, but sprites are much simpler beings. They like clear, high-pitched sounds,” Joanna said. “A flute or recorder or even a penny whistle works great.” She cocked her head and asked,
“You can see elementals?”
Susan smiled. “I’m a hearth witch. Not much power, but anything that has to do with hearth and home and growing things is within my sight. I can’t command an elemental, but I can provide an environment where they feel comfortable. And in return, they help me with what I want to do.”
“It is comfortable,” Joanna said, glancing around again. Maybe this exile wouldn’t be so bad after all. “Where’s Mr. Glockner?”
“We own a shop in town. Rupert will be coming home soon.”
“What kind of shop?”
“A witch supply store,” Susan said with a grin. “Herbs and other ingredients, charms, potions, candles, that sort of thing. We also sell stuff I make and bake.”
Rupert showed up about half an hour later, and Susan put dinner on the table. After a week of eating in diners while driving east, Joanna thought she had stumbled into heaven. When dinner was over, Susan sent the kids out to play and then poured wine for the adults.
“Do you like the cottage?” Susan asked as she rejoined her husband and Joanna.
“Yes, it’s really nice,” Joanna said. “I’m very pleased with the workroom. I’m careful about mixing potions and stuff, but it’s nice to be able to keep that sort of work separate from where you prepare your food.”
“Do you practice alchemy?” Rupert asked, looking surprised.
“Oh, yes,” Joanna said. “I have a spell book that’s been handed down in my family for ages, and I’ve always been fascinated with what you can create.”
“Rupert is an alchemist,” Susan said. “We built the cottage together when we were first married, and that was his room. I’m glad you like it.”
“Did you meet in this country?” Joanna asked. While it was obvious that Rupert was from Europe, Susan had no trace of an accent at all.
Susan gazed fondly at her husband. “No, I spent a summer hitchhiking across Europe when I was in college. Rupert picked me up in a bar in Vienna one night, and by morning, I was in love.”
Joanna had to smile at the way Rupert’s face turned red, and Susan laughed.
“Oh, my,” Susan said, “I’ve embarrassed you, haven’t I? Well, I’m not embarrassed. I’m madly in love with my Transylvanian alchemist and I don’t care who knows it.”
They seemed like an odd couple. Susan was pretty and outgoing and at least a decade younger than her husband. As short as his wife, with a receding hairline, Rupert wasn’t at all what Joanna would consider handsome. But the way they looked at each other left no doubt that they were happy together.
“Joanna,” Rupert said, “there are a couple of professors at the university who would like you to stop by this week. Helen Weatherspoon is in the art department. She’s also an elemental witch—air and water. Doctor Lance Underwood is the chairman of the ecology department and a fire witch. He has been assigned as your faculty advisor.”
“And they’re both on the local supernatural council,” Susan said. “I think they’ve been assigned to make sure you don’t cause a natural disaster.”
“Now, Susan,” Rupert said, glaring at his wife, “that’s a very inappropriate thing to say.”
She laughed. “As if I ever cared about being appropriate. She’s an adult, and she has a right to know how things are structured.”
Joanna shrugged. “I’m aware that I’m viewed as a walking catastrophe waiting to happen. I’ve spent the past year and a half with people monitoring everything I do. If I sneeze, everyone around me freezes, waiting for the world to come to an end. I’m just happy that your community was willing to accept me. Everyone in Oregon treated me like a pariah.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Susan said. “I think everyone understands that.”
Rupert cleared his throat. Leaning forward, he fixed Joanna with his eyes. “Yes, people are afraid of you,” he said. “And no, from my understanding, what happened wasn’t your fault, and no one believes you have any malicious intent. But it is the nature of people to be afraid of someone who holds so much power. Since it slipped away from you once, they’re afraid it might happen again.”
Joanna felt her face grow hot. “I know better now,” she mumbled. “Besides, it’s not like I have a lot of opportunity to be in that situation.”
“It will get better, honey,” Susan whispered. “Don’t give up.”
Later, Rupert offered to walk Joanna home, but she said, “That’s not necessary. The elementals protect me.”
Walking Joanna to the door, Susan handed her a small basket. The contents, wrapped in a dish towel, smelled of fresh-baked bread. “Don’t be a stranger,” Susan said, giving Joanna a hug. “I hope we can become friends.”
The moon was high, not yet full, but it supplied plenty of light for Joanna to see the path home. She knew the forest stretched for miles to the west, eventually rising into what easterners called mountains. There was a lot of activity going on in the forest, some that she could hear and some that the elementals told her about. The moon would be full in a few more days. With her new home so close to the forest, she expected it would be interesting.
As if in answer to her thoughts, the trail curved around a large tree, and she found a wolf with a black coat standing in her way.
“Hello,” Joanna said with a smile. “You’re out a bit early this month, aren’t you?”
The wolf growled.
“Oh, give me a break. That’s not very friendly. What are you, antisocial?”
It snarled and stalked toward her, gathering its hind legs beneath it as though it might spring. Suddenly, it flew off its feet, blown to the side, as a strong blast of wind swept across the trail. The wolf yelped as it slammed against a tree.
“I don’t know why you’re being such a bitch,” Joanna said, walking past it. The wolf watched her as she continued down the path without looking back.
Dragon Tears by Marina Finlayson – New wolf Nat Turner jumps at the chance to escape her controlling pack when she’s offered a job as bodyguard to a powerful dragon. But her dream job becomes a nightmare when she realises she must also protect the magical gems known as dragon tears that contain his power. Because holy hell, does that man have a lot of enemies.
Tony padded into the break room, dripping water everywhere and bringing the delightful aroma of wet fur with him. Werewolves are huge, and when a werewolf gets wet, so does everything in his vicinity. Rain dripped off his muzzle and pooled on the floor.
I leapt up from the table, holding my hands out. “Don’t—”
But it was too late. He shook from nose to tail and water sprayed everywhere.
“Tony, you bastard! How many times have I told you—the break room is for two-legs. Now this place stinks of wet dog. And look at me. I’m soaked.”
In the blink of an eye, the wolf became a short, powerful man, wearing the same navy-blue uniform with the High Moon Security logo on the breast pocket that I was. Only his was dry.
He grinned, unrepentant. “Lucky it’s your turn to go outside, then. It’s bucketing out there. You would have been wet in five seconds anyway.”
“Don’t hit me with your damn logic.” I shrugged back into my jacket and prepared to face the storm.
“You know, the rain wouldn’t bother you if you let your wolf out to play.”
I wiggled my fingers at him. “Opposable thumbs, baby. Can’t play Candy Crush without them.”
He sat in the chair I’d just left and put his feet up on the table. “Can’t play Candy Crush if your phone drowns either. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I paused at the door and gave him a stern look. “That sandwich better still be there when I get back.” Werewolves are walking stomachs. They’ll eat anything that isn’t nailed down.
Tony curled his lip in the direction of my sandwich. “It’s salad. It couldn’t be safer if it was locked in a bank vault. How can you eat that crap?”
“You werewolves and your meat obsession,” I said as I opened the door. “Just wait till you die of scurvy. Who’ll be laughing then?”
“You keep eating that rabbit food and you’ll be the first werewolf to die of a lack of protein,” he called after me.
He hadn’t been exaggerating—it really was bucketing outside. I zipped my jacket, turning the collar up and pulling my cap down firmly to keep the rain out of my eyes. What a night! Visibility was poor, and the rain drowned out any scents. There was no sign of Sam. She was probably patrolling around the front of the warehouse.
Warehouse was a bit of a misnomer—it made it sound like what was inside was for sale. This was simply a storage facility, sprawling on a vast industrial lot. Our tiny break room was just a shed tucked away at the back. Acres of concrete surrounded the main building, with not a blade of grass anywhere, the whole lot encircled by a high steel fence. The building was steel too, and was so massive it was probably visible from space. I’d never been inside it, but Tony said it was crammed full of treasure—and it wasn’t the only such facility our employer owned in Sydney.
I’d found it hard to believe on my first day, when I discovered what my new job entailed. “How much treasure can one man own?”
Tony had shrugged. “Dunno. Ask Jeff Bezos. “
“Why, is he a dragon, too?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “No, but if a human can manage to scrape together billions of dollars in a single lifetime, why is it so hard to believe that a dragon could? Gabriel Arquette has been around a lot longer than Jeff Bezos, and he has magic on his side, too.”
I trudged around the enormous building while the rain trickled down my neck and hammered onto the concrete. I found Sam on the south side of the complex, patrolling the fence along the street. With her colouring, she looked like a German shepherd. Well, a German shepherd on steroids. She would dwarf even the largest shepherd. I gave her a wave but she ignored me—not all of the pack were as friendly as Tony.
There were two massive roller doors on the side that faced the street, big enough to admit a semitrailer with room to spare. Or a dragon, I guessed. A smaller, person-sized door opened around the back on the north side, and that was it. No other doors, no windows.
As jobs went, it was a pretty easy one. High Moon Security was owned by Matt, the pack leader, and provided jobs for the whole pack. We were responsible for guarding the treasure stored here, but all we had to do was make sure no one came on site without permission from the boss. I’d only been here six weeks, and already I was bored out of my mind.
The others spent most of their shifts in werewolf form to alleviate the boredom, patrolling the grounds like overgrown guard dogs. I was as new to being a werewolf as I was to being a security guard, and much preferred remaining in human form. But the monotony of pacing around and around the vast building, while it was working wonders on my leg muscles, was just about doing my head in. I couldn’t imagine a lifetime in this role, but apparently I didn’t get a say in my own life anymore.
I huddled against the back wall of the warehouse by the small door, and stared out at the rain. Becoming a werewolf had not been my idea. Hell, six weeks ago, I hadn’t even known werewolves existed outside the movies.
And then the attack happened. I shuddered and folded my wet arms more tightly across my chest. I didn’t like to think about it. Bad enough that I still had nightmares about it.
But, bad as those moments of sheer terror and agony had been, what came after was infinitely worse. When Matt sat me down and explained why I’d recovered so fast from my injuries, and what my new life involved, I was revolted.
“You can’t keep me here,” I said. “I have my own life.”
His face had softened into lines of sympathy. “Nat. Sweetheart. That life is over. No one’s trying to trap you, we’re trying to help you. And trust me, you’re going to need help. The first time the change comes on you, you’ll be grateful to have your pack around you.”
“And I should just take your word for it? Who died and made you God?”
“He’s our leader,” Leon had growled.
I wouldn’t have liked Leon, even if he hadn’t been the one who bit me and turned my life upside down. He was a huge, muscled guy with a scar across one cheek, who never looked at you straight-on when he was talking to you. I couldn’t see what Matt saw in him. They couldn’t have been more opposite. Matt was a fit-looking guy in his late forties with a warm, paternal air, and he could have sold ice to polar bears. When he was talking to you, he made you feel as though you were the most interesting person in the room.
“I didn’t vote for him,” I said.
“Nobody votes,” Leon said. “This is a pack, not a democracy.”
“Then maybe you should ask people if they want to live in the Middle Ages before you turn them.”
Thunder rumbled overhead, shaking me out of my gloomy thoughts. I looked up in time to see a bird flit across the dark sky and land on the roof above my head.
Strange. Why would a bird be out in this weather? It was three o’clock in the morning, and that was no owl. It had looked more like a sparrow.
Another one arrowed in and joined its friend. I stepped out of the shelter of the doorway to have a better look. For a moment I stared up and two sets of beady eyes stared down, then the birds hopped out of sight.
I high-tailed it back to the break room. Tony had his feet up on the table and was scrolling through his phone.
“So, tell me. On a scale of ‘one to freaky magic shit’, how suspicious is a pair of blue birds landing on the roof right now?” I’d seen a lot of freaky magic shit in the past six weeks, more than I’d ever imagined could possibly exist, and now I was suspicious of everything.
Tony’s feet thudded to the floor. “Bright blue? Like a summer sky?”
“As far as I could tell in the dark, yeah.”
“Shit. Sounds like goblin familiars.”
“You can tell that because they’re blue?”
“Same colour as goblins,” he said. “Goblins are natural mages. Magic’s a part of them and it colours their familiars.”
“Right.” There was so much to learn about this crazy new world I inhabited. I’d only just come to grips with the fact that there were human wizards, and now we had goblin mages as well? “Does that mean there’s a goblin around?”
“Most likely.” He switched to the mental speech of the pack. Sam, you see anything out there? We’ve got a couple of goblin birds on the roof.
I flinched. The mind speech felt like the biggest invasion of privacy, and made me want to scrub out the inside of my skull. I rarely used it myself, but I still heard broadcasts from the rest of the pack.
Nothing out front, she said. Check the back.
My eye fell on my half-eaten sandwich on the table. What were those birds doing up there? Spying? Maybe there was a way to get them down. I grabbed some bread and headed back out into the rain, which was finally easing.
Tony joined me a moment later, back in wolf form. I nudged him into the shelter of the doorway around the back.
“Stay there and be quiet. I’m going to see if I can tempt those birds down closer.”
I tore the bread into little pieces and scattered the crumbs in a wide arc across the wet concrete. They looked pretty soggy and unappetising.
Still, I wasn’t a goblin bird. How did I know what they found appetising? Maybe waterlogged free crumbs looked like a feast to them. I whistled a short trill, watching the roof from the corner of my eye.
A little blue head appeared, cocked to one side. I took an ostentatious bite of my sandwich, making appreciative noises, then scattered a few more crumbs as I walked away. In my peripheral vision, I saw another blue head join the first. Neither of them could see the wolf hidden under the overhang of the doorway.
Once I was far enough away to appear unthreatening, one of the birds plucked up its courage and winged its way down to the ground. It pecked greedily at my trail of crumbs. Nothing else moved. Good. Tony had the sense to wait for the jackpot.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Werewolves were hunters, after all.
The second bird joined the first, hopping along behind it. Almost there. Just a little bit closer.
And wham! Right on cue, Tony surged out of hiding. His jaws closed on one blue ball of feathers as his paw slammed down on the other, pinning it to the ground. I ran back to inspect his catch.
They were both dead, not surprisingly. I felt a twinge of sadness as he spat out the one in his mouth. Poor thing. It was covered in spit and leaking blood from its wounds. We both stared at the forlorn little bundle a moment.
Yep. That’s a goblin bird, all right, he said.
Then where’s the goblin? Sam asked. He won’t be far.
I tried the door handle, but it was locked, as it should have been. I set off at a jog, my boots splashing through puddles, checking the fences—checking for anything out of the ordinary. The world smelled fresh and clean, as it does after rain, but there was nothing unusual on the wind.
Not that I knew what a goblin smelled like.
When I’d completed my circuit of the warehouse, I stopped, frustrated. Tony was prowling the back fence and there was no trace left of the goblin birds. He’d probably eaten them. What else could I do? The place was well lit with floodlights, so I should have been able to see anyone trying to get in. Yet I couldn’t help feeling I was missing something.
I eyed the overhang above the back door. Maybe there was another reason those birds had been on the roof, apart from the vantage point it gave them. My werewolf muscles tensed and I sprang, catching the overhang and pulling myself up. From there it was another big leap and pull to get onto the main roof.
The building looked even more enormous from this vantage point. You got the full picture of how vast it was, with acres of steel roofing stretching out into the darkness. Air conditioning units grouped at intervals looked like dice scattered from a giant’s hand.
And the place where one of the roof panels had been removed stood out like a dog’s balls.
I moved as quietly as I could across the roof until I stood at the edge of the hole. A rope was secured to an air conditioning unit and dangled down into the cavernous interior, disappearing into the dark.
We have a problem, I said, mind to mind. The goblin’s already inside.
What? How did he get past us?
Magic, I guess. That seemed to be the answer to a lot of questions lately. And why was he asking me? I’d only just found out goblin mages existed. For all I knew, they could fly. You’d better call for backup.
We don’t take orders from you, Sam said instantly.
Fine. You want to be the one to tell Gabriel Arquette you did nothing while a goblin tossed his warehouse? Be my guest. I’m going in to have a look.
Be careful, Tony said. Goblins are slippery little bastards.
I tested the rope before I committed, then shimmied silently down into the darkness. One good thing about being a werewolf was the superior night vision. I mean, not that I’d been running around in my former life going Man, I wish I could see better in the dark. And I certainly wouldn’t have traded my humanity for it if I’d known. But it was kind of cool.
I’d actually made a list in that first week, when everything about my new life seemed negative. I was a glass-half-full kind of girl, but my positivity had taken a real hit when faced with the grim reality of losing control of my life. Good things about being a werewolf, I’d written at the top of the page. Then I’d stared at it, chewing my pencil. See in the dark had started the list, followed by fast healing. I’d hesitated over good sense of smell. Sometimes that was more a curse than a blessing.
But I used it now, sniffing at the climate-controlled air inside the warehouse as my feet sank into a thick Persian carpet. Strange perfumes floated on the air, mingling with the cold scent of metal and coins, and the slightly musty smell of the rain-dampened carpet I stood on.
I’d expected crates, neatly stacked, or some kind of shelving system, like a giant IKEA, but this place defied all logic. It was an Aladdin’s cave. In some places, chests and boxes were piled high, almost to the ceiling, their haphazard arrangement spitting in the face of gravity. A mountain of coins and jewels glinted in the centre of the vast space. I half expected Smaug to rear his head over the top and blast me with fire.
How did Gabriel Arquette find anything in here? What was the point of owning all this stuff, if it was just jumbled together like so much trash? Bolts of silk in a rainbow of colours were stacked higher than my head, spilling onto the floor. Statues loomed out of the dark, some life-sized, some much larger. Suits of armour were lined up along the closest wall like soldiers standing guard, swords in jewelled scabbards dumped at their feet like sticks.
It was like the world’s largest museum, if the curator had gone completely nuts. I stared around in awe.
There was no sign of the goblin. To be fair, there could have been a whole army of them—there were plenty of places to hide. You could spend days in here and still only see a fraction of the treasures the building contained.
Which made me wonder what the goblin knew that I didn’t. If he’d just been going after valuables, I’d have expected to find him digging into that massive pile of money and jewels. The fact that he wasn’t made me think he must be after something specific.
Good luck finding anything in this place.
I climbed a tower of sturdy cedar chests to get a better look over the mess. Maybe I could spot the goblin from up high.
How big are goblins? I asked, as it suddenly occurred to me to wonder exactly what I was looking for. Maybe they were only tiny. Maybe he’d flown in on one of those little blue birds.
They can pass as short people, Tony replied. Don’t let him see you. If he sees you he can cast a spell on you.
Good to know. I crouched low and scanned the vast space, but nothing moved. Maybe I should just hang around near the rope, to catch him on his way out.
But what if he had another exit? I’d look pretty stupid then.
I caught the tiniest sound, as if something small had been bumped then rapidly set to rights. Should have added excellent hearing to that list of werewolf pluses. I stalked across the top of the stacked chests, moving silently as only a wolf can. Beyond the edge of my tower of chests was a gap between it and another stack, this one of wooden packing crates. The top of the crates was below my present height, but the gap was wide. Wider than I would have been able to jump as a human.
But that was before. Now I leapt across, landing with only a whisper of sound, my movements muffled by a mass of purple velvet that was heaped on top. Hopefully the patter of rain on the roof disguised the sound. Creeping across the crates, I peered down into a narrow corridor between them.
Below me, a small figure dressed in black was going through the drawers of an ornate cupboard. Jewels glittered inside, but he barely glanced into each one before closing it impatiently.
I retreated from the edge, considering my options. I could jump him from here pretty easily. He seemed absorbed in his search—but Tony had said not to let him see me. My eye fell on the mound of velvet. It was thick, heavy fabric in long lengths, like large curtains. Perfect.
I stole back to the edge with my arms full of velvet, just as he closed the last drawer and moved on down the tight corridor to an enormous grandfather clock. He opened the front and checked inside.
The rumble of a motor startled us both. The distant roller door at the front of the building was opening. The goblin slammed the front of the clock shut as I hurled the curtains and jumped down after them.
I smashed into the goblin and he collapsed under a smothering pile of heavy velvet. He squealed and kicked, but I grabbed at him, throwing myself across his struggling body. He scrabbled desperately at the thick drapes, trying to squirm out from under them, but I wasn’t having that.
Several pairs of booted feet ran into the building. I found a lump under the velvet that felt like a head, and punched with all my werewolf strength.
“Move again and I’ll kill you,” I growled.
He abruptly went limp.
“Over here,” I called.
When Matt and Tony and three other wolves arrived, I was sitting on my prisoner, who was still buried under an avalanche of purple velvet.
Lunaticking by Dale Ivan Smith – Sorcerer-Agent Elizabeth Marquez tracks illegal wolf-men manifestations. Shifter Chloe must find her kidnapped pack leader. Together, these two wielders of different magics must find the supernatural culprits behind both crimes, and stop a far greater one from happening.
The howl shredded the silence of the Olympic Rainforest night, erupting from the canyon mouth, east of Tully and me. The hairs on the back of my neck stuck straight out. It sounded like something out of a horror movie.
“That’s our wolf-dude,” I told Tully. He loomed beside me in his leather duster, his dark face tight with concentration as he peered into his scry stone. He began chanting a Tag spell in Finnish.
I held my wand and peered into the darkness, brushing my bangs away from my eyes with my free hand. The waxing gibbous moon had sunk behind the wooded ridge west of us, plunging the canyon floor into darkness. Morning twilight hadn’t begun yet.
“Got you,” Tully said. A golden thread hung in the air, a glowing spell-line that connected him to the wolf-man manifestation.
“Let’s go then,” I said and started back down the trail at a half jog, my wand out, point down. I pulled a Link spell from memory. I’d cast it in German. Not much elegance, but plenty of sure strength, enough for this wolf-man manifestation, especially out here in the boondocks.
“Liz, wait up,” Tully called behind me.
I looked over my shoulder at him. “Come on, old man, better keep up.” Tully was thirty, four years older than me, and I never wanted to miss a chance to tease him about the age difference.
He broke into a run, and I ran faster to stay ahead of him, but Tully had longer legs, was former US Army, and a big-time gym rat. He passed me in seconds.
My breath burned as we ran. My boots felt like they weighed a ton each. Maybe I should have worn hiking ones instead of Doc Martens. We crested the rise in the middle of the canyon and then I could see the mouth, and the distant mountains, lit by the nearly full moon sinking in the west of us.
Tully stopped and I did likewise, bending over and gasping for air. He uttered a command word and purple mana pulsed along the golden thread of the spell.
The air shimmered, and a window of silver light appeared in front of Tully. He gestured and we finally glimpsed our target, after a night spent wandering through this forsaken forest.
The supernatural’s gray fur was shaggy. Its jeans bulged and ripped, going down to just below the knees, with the tattered remains of a checkered shirt hanging from its broad shoulders. The eyes glowed red. It sniffed the air, mouth open, short fangs shining in the moonlight. The manifestation was right out of a Universal monster movie from the Nineteen Thirties. Manifestations modeled themselves on human ideas and self-conceptions. Everything from myth and folk lore to urban legends.
“Now that’s a classic wolf-dude,” I said. It looked like a stunt double for Lon Chaney Jr.’s wolf man.
Tully gestured with his hands and the golden spell-thread brightened. “Anthro-wolf, to use the correct designation.” face narrowed in concentration. “It’s a Level Three.”
I blinked. That was a permanent on the Residency scale. “That was fast. We only picked it up yesterday.” How could it solidify that quickly? Manifestations took time to coalesce.
“And why is it out here in the boondocks?” Tully asked.
“Good question,” I said. This part of the Olympic Rainforest was deserted. There shouldn’t be any here. “Maybe it wandered away from a populated area.” I shook my head. To exist, manifestations needed people. Supernaturals flickered into existence from the interaction between mana and the human subconscious. Mana was the fuel for magic. It flowed through everything and everyone, invisible except for the few of us aware of its existence. There were very few humans out here, and supernaturals typically needed a large collective subconscious. Which meant there should only be the very rare fleeting manifestations, not a permanent prancing about.
I searched my memory for the ranged binding spell I needed. The Spinning Chain, I’d go with that. Ensnare him at range, and then attach the Link spell. Two spells in quick order. Despite the long night, I could do it.
I began slicing the air in front of me with my wand, warming up. The wolf-dude was a hundred yards distant. It turned and ran off, shoulders rolling, long arms nearly scraping the ground.
I chanted the Spinning Chain spell in Spanish. “I cast forth my hand and ensnare you from afar.” My skin tingled as a spinning loop of golden light appeared before me. It turned to a muddy gray glow with steel glints, mimicking a real chain. “I bind thee!”
As I pulled back my arm for the windup, a chorus of howls echoed behind us. I couldn’t stop the spell, but my aim went all skewed and the chain missed the lens and spun into the trees. My right tricep muscle suddenly cramped.
In the arcane lens, the image of the wolf-person disappeared into the trees, the lens dissipating a second later as Tully lost concentration.
We turned and peered back up the canyon. Moonlight washed the tops of the trees with light, but the forest beneath was dark. The chorus grew louder.
I massaged my arm. “More? How are they materializing out here in this deserted forest?”
Tully snapped his wand, flinging a quick spell in that direction. “Reveal!”
We waited. And waited.
“No mana. No magic.” Tully said, after a minute.
“You’re kidding.” I flexed my arm. Still a bit cramped. “You’re telling me those howls are not supernatural?”
“There’s nothing magical there,” he said.
“Maybe that supernatural can throw howls. You know, like a ventriloquist.”
He gave me a side-eye.
“Okay, I admit, that’s ridiculous. Maybe those howls were fleeting manifestations, Level Zeroes?” Level Zeroes were supernaturals that only lasted for minutes, sometimes just seconds. Most manifestations were phantasmal Zeroes, only a few solidified enough to become even a Level One, which might last an hour, or a day at most. Level Twos, perhaps a few weeks. Level Threes, like the wolf-man manifestation I’d failed to ensnare, were the lowest level of permanents.
“Multiple Level Zeroes?” Tully’s tone told me he thought I was nuts.
“What else could it be?” I asked.
“How about actual wolves?”
I squinted at him. “There aren’t any real wolves here in the Olympic peninsula.”
“Actually, there is a wolf sanctuary here. Not close, but still here.”
“You’re suggesting that maybe an actual wolf left the sanctuary and happened to end up here, right when a manifestation outbreak occurred?” I asked.
Tully shrugged. “Okay, so it does seem pretty unlikely.”
“There are no coincidences, just connections not yet found,” I said, quoting our RU.N.E. field manual. The Regulating Union for Normalizing Enchantments loved to spell everything out, especially procedure.
His eyebrows rose. “You’ve actually read the field manual?”
“Hey, I’ve read it. I just don’t read it for fun like you do.” I put my wand away. Tully couldn’t cast another scry until after dawn, and then it was going to be very difficult to locate any supernatural. Day magic was much more subtle than night magic, and manifestations usually went to ground once the sun was up.
“There’s only one thing we can do,” I said. “Go find breakfast.”
Prowl by N. R. Hairston – Wereskunk Anise is constantly ducking werewolves and vampires intent upon harvesting her high-dollar skunk oil. Will alpha werewolf Brick really help, or is he just another poacher hunting her?
The wolf swiped at my throat. I jumped back and held up my hands. I was a skunk. Well, I was human, I just had skunk DNA.
That meant I fought with my thiols. Thiols was that god-awful smell those with skunk DNA released when trying to get away from an attacker, but it had multiple uses.
I directed my thiols at the wolf’s neck. It shot from my hands, wrapping around his throat. The thiols was purple, a clear sign I was pissed off. My thiols could be used as a spray, but I could also turn it hard, thready, like rope.
I used my thiols to lift him up, cutting off his air supply. His feet dangled, eyes wide. Those with wolf DNA had superstrength and telekinesis, but I wore a pure silver ring. It bit into a tiny portion of his neck, eating into his skin and muscles.
“What do you want?” I asked the wolf. “Because you can’t have my skunk oil.” To get it, he’d have to remove it from the lateral glands in my back. A painful process.
He didn’t answer. I gave him the once over. He was tall and slim of frame with dark hair. His face looked rough, haggard. Most of the time when a skunk was attacked, it was for our oil. Was this guy a dealer? Did he want my oil to get high with? Skunk oil could heal anything from broken bones to gaping wounds. Vampires rubbed it on their skin and could come out in the sun.
Many used it to conceive. Some rubbed it on their sexual organs and were able to climax for hours. When heated to a certain temperature, skunk oil got you so high, you didn’t come down for days. Put all those things together and you had one of the most expensive and sought-after drugs on the market.
I looked at the wolf in front of me. He was gagging now, struggling for breath. I had a target on my back because of people like him. Both drug dealers and drug users hunted skunks like me. The only way to get skunk oil was from a person with skunk DNA like myself.
Drug dealers never asked, they often snatched us off the street, holding us hostage and bleeding us dry. Skunks learned to fight at an early age.
We never made it easy. If you were going against a skunk, you’d better bring ten of your friends. Everyone knew that, so why had this guy come alone?
I heard movement from my right, but I steeled myself. I wouldn’t look. I couldn’t become distracted. If I lost my hold on him, he’d no doubt use superspeed to knock me out, then drain me. He could take my oil without draining me completely.
When you drained a skunk, you left us unable to move for months, sometimes years. It broke our bodies down, sometimes it even killed us.
Most who trapped people with skunk DNA wanted an unlimited supply of skunk oil, so they wouldn’t kill us unless they didn’t know what they were doing.
The footsteps on my right grew closer. I sniffed the air, dread filling my stomach. This guy wasn’t alone. His whole pack had joined us.
I planted my feet on the ground, ready to fight them all if I had to.
The footsteps were right on me now. “Anise, why don’t you put Greg down.”
My heart plummeted to the ground. I’d know that voice anywhere. Alec was head Alpha of the Cain River Pack. He was known for hunting down skunks and draining them of their oil.
Skunk oil was a highly addictive drug. Those who used it for prolonged periods would suffer horrifying withdrawals if they didn’t get it every day.
Was Alec a user, or a dealer? I didn’t know. I guess it didn’t matter. He wanted to take something that didn’t belong to him. He wanted my skunk oil, and I didn’t see him asking nicely.
The wolves in Alec’s pack formed a circle around me, closing me in. I could feel the sweat on my palms, but I told myself not to panic. I’d gotten out of situations like this before.
I still held Greg in my grip, my pure silver ring steadily breaking his body down. I took a deep breath and let him down, hoping for a quick escape. “Sorry, Alec,” I said, deciding to go the humble route. “Greg and I had a small misunderstanding. It’s cleared up now.”
I heard low growls coming from the other wolves, could see them getting closer. My heart played hopscotch in my chest. My fingers curled at my sides. They could no doubt smell my fear. I hated that, hated being weak in front of them.
“Didn’t know you guys were having a pack meeting,” I said, my eyes frantically searching for an escape route. “I’ll take my leave now.”
“You’re invited,” Alec said, walking closer.
He probably heard the gulp in my throat, but I kept my head high. “I’m late for yoga. I’ll catch up with you next time.” Thiols swirled around my hand, waiting for one of them to attack.
Alec kept coming toward me, claws extended. His broad shoulders looked hard, threatening. His tan skin glistened under the unforgiven sun. Alec stood over six feet tall. I was only five-six, which meant I had to look up to him. His face was square, eyes a glowing orange.
He had strength and power, but Alec was also vicious. He played by his own rules and ripped out the throat of any who opposed him.
His cruelty was most brutal when directed towards those of us with skunk DNA. I took a deep breath. The odds were not in my favor, but I wasn’t out for the count yet.
Angry black thiols whipped around me. If Alec got too close, it’d slice into him. He’d quickly self-heal, but it might buy me enough time to get away.
I took a step forward, not willing to show him my fear. “I said I was leaving, Alec. You got a problem with that?”
He leaned his head to the side, looking like he thought I should know better. “Anise, come on. You know how this works.” He tsked at me. “You just can’t mind your own business. Always sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
I worked as a private detective. Anytime I got a lead that someone was collecting skunks, I hunted them down. A few other skunks worked at the agency with me. They always helped when asked. We’d freed many skunks from Alec and others like him. That made me an even bigger target.
Alec motioned to Tode, one of the enforcers in his pack.
Tode smiled at me. I could feel fireflies under my skin. Tode was bigger than a bear and his bite was much more vicious than his bark.
My thiols swirled around me as a warning. I looked at Alec and gritted my teeth. “If he touches me, I’ll kill him.” I didn’t give him time to respond. These guys had superspeed. They could attack in an instant and I wouldn’t see it coming.
Lethal red thiols filled the air and spread to each one of them. If they moved an inch, it’d slit their necks open. I put up a shield, pink thiols floating around me. I’d pay for this later.
Using my powers at this level exhausted me. A thiols shield was a skunk’s best weapon, but we rarely used it because it depleted our energy so severely.
“I don’t want to fight,” I said, looking at Alec and his pack. “Just let me go.” I took a few steps back. I was so focused on the pack in front of me, I didn’t sense the lone wolf coming from my left.
A blur caught my eye. I turned too late. The wolf barreled into my shield. I went tumbling back, the smell of blood filling the air. My thiols shield had sliced off the wolf’s arms up to his elbows.
He let out a monstrous roar and stumbled back. I hit the ground hard. The fall broke my concentration, causing my shield to vanish.
I had to act before they realized how much of an upper hand they had. Thiols shot from my mouth in the form of a silver mist. An awful, horrendous smell filled the air. It did its job. All the wolves dropped to their knees, gagging. The smell would enter their nostrils, invading their senses. Wolves had super smell. It made them even more sensitive to the horrible scent we skunks released.
I rose shakily to my feet and held out a palm. My thiols lifted Alec and his pack in the air, tossing them away from me. I swallowed hard, fear eating into my gut.
I had to get out of there. I turned to run but saw another blur. Shit. I was in trouble. Alec was head alpha for a reason. While the rest of his pack were still struggling with my thiols hold, Alec had already broken free.
Before I could get away, he grabbed me by the neck, lifting me in the air. Sweat covered my skin, my pulse banging loudly in my ears. I couldn’t let him drain me. I wouldn’t.
“You know what happens next, Anise,” Alec said. He was smug, so sure he’d already won. His voice went low, seductive. “Why fight it?”
Blood trickled down my arm where I’d fallen earlier, and I could feel my energy waning. Still, I wouldn’t give up. I wouldn’t give a predator like Alec the satisfaction.
“If you want my skunk oil,” I said through gritted teeth, “Then you’ll have to kill me.”
“Not a problem.” Alec squeezed my neck tighter, and I could sense his pack closing in, surrounding me.
I was weak. The shield had taken a lot out of me, and my thiols was nearly depleted. It’d take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to build back up. I gagged from the pressure on my throat. The only asset I had left was my mind and my fists.
I went slack in Alec’s grip, hoping he’d think I passed out. He grunted, then shook me a few times, before loosening his hold and throwing me over his shoulder. I was dizzy now, disoriented, but knew I had to stay in control.
I figured he wanted to take me home and drain my oil, but I wasn’t down for the count yet. A skunk’s claws were half the size of a wolf’s. It was a laughable comparison, but a skunk’s claws did have one thing a wolf’s didn’t.
From my position over his shoulder, I dug my claws into his back, injecting the last of my thiols into his bloodstream. The thiols was red and angry, it cut into his heart, liver, and lungs, making him gasp and fall to his knees.
The pure silver ring I wore had a tiny blade on it. I jabbed it into the back of his neck. Just long enough for him to fall over from the pain.
I took that opportunity to run. I’d only made it two feet when another wolf appeared. This new wolf was tall and broad-shouldered. He had tan skin and dark hair. His face was so chiseled, you could probably chip a tooth on it.
My mouth went dry. He was… beautiful. I could sense this new wolf was more alpha than Alec. Heck, he was the most powerful wolf I’d ever come across.
He walked with a confidence and power that had all of Alec’s pack dropping to their knees and baring their throats. I needed to get away. I needed to run while they were distracted, but I couldn’t.
My body wouldn’t budge. It wanted to move closer, to get near this new wolf. It wanted…
This new wolf looked at Alec. “Am I late to the party?” His voice rolled over me, a deep baritone I felt all the way to my bones.
I swore under my breath. What was wrong with me? I needed to go.
“Alec?” this new wolf said. “Just what are you doing?”
Alec was on his knees, panting. His heart and liver were probably still stitching themselves back together. “Stay out of this, Brick,” Alec said.
My head snapped up. Brick? As in head Alpha of the Black Wood pack? Black Wood was the biggest pack around. Its leader Brick was said to be ferocious in a fight. I’d heard a lot about Brick. We lived in the same town. I’d just never seen him up close.
Brick’s eyes went to mine. His pupils dilated. I saw confusion cross his face, though he quickly covered it. “This ends now,” Brick said, voice reverberating through the air.
Alec grunted, still on the ground. He must have sent out a signal to his fellow pack members because they all lunged toward Brick at the same time. Brick growled and most of them cowered back.
I saw a blur. When it cleared, Alec and a few of his pack members were on the ground. They had open wounds and gashes.
Before I had time to process the strength and power it took to injure so many wolves at once, Brick had gathered me in his arms and supersped me away.
Full Moon’s Curse by Jenn Windrow – Sometimes the cure is worse than the curse. Cursed by a witch on a power kick, Julia Monroe has twenty-four hours to kill the leader of the local coven. If she fails, she’ll be forced to live as a wolf for the rest of her life. If she succeeds, she’ll be excommunicated from her pack and her family.
My momma always warned me not to piss off a witch. And judging by my current incarceration behind silver-lined bars, it was clearly another bit of parental advice I ignored, only this time, I might not live long enough to regret it.
It had been three days since I fell into the witch’s trap. Three days of starvation and torture. Three days of being forced to live in my wolf form without shifting.
I wanted nothing more than to scratch the witch’s eyes out with my claws, to tear her throat out with my teeth, but I was trapped, and paws made any escape attempt rather difficult. So, my revenge would have to wait. Instead, I sat, fuzzy, furious, and filled with a kind of rage only a werewolf possessed.
I paced back and forth, careful not to brush against the silver bars of my prison. Trying to avoid another singeing silver burn to my body. At least I had learned that lesson.
My hell away from home had a bowl of water, something that might pass as food but smelled like the inside of a dead rodent, and a blanket to curl up on, like I was a stray dog she had found on the street. I had news for the witch who had stuffed me in this cage: werewolves don’t make good pets.
It felt like an eternity passed before the door to the basement creaked open. A sliver of light slithered down the stairs like the tip of an arrow pointing right at me. The toe of a sensible black flat hit the first step. At the fifth step, I finally saw the face of my captor.
I expected an old woman with grey hair and warts, but what came down the stairs was the exact opposite. She was only a few years older than me, mid-thirties if I had to guess. She had red hair that women paid a fortune for in the high-end salons, green eyes that almost glowed, and lips that tilted down in a perma-pout.
She stopped on the last step and stared at me.
Had I been human, I would have asked her what she wanted, but I was a wolf and wolves didn’t talk. We did bite, however, so I bared my teeth and gave her my most feral snarl.
“You’re angry.” Her voice had an almost sing-song lilt to it. “Understandable. But I promise you, Julia Monroe, you will be set free tonight. Right after we have a little talk.”
My answering growl rattled the cage.
“Now, now. Calm down.” She walked to my cage and knelt in front of me and the smell of wolfsbane stung my nose. “I will restore you to your human form for our conversation, but in case you have any ideas of escaping, know that I have spelled the house so you can’t leave until I allow you.”
She bowed her head and chanted in a language I guessed was Latin. Sparks of green magic dripped from her fingertips and sizzled on the floor.
Her magic seemed to reach inside of me and pluck at the thin thread of control I had over my wolf.
The change from wolf to human came on fast. My skin started to tingle, then burn, like someone had lit my fur on fire. My bones popped and cracked and shattered, rearranging themselves into my human shape. The change always stole my breath but being forced to shift left me panting on the floor and gasping for air.
Skin replaced fur, a ski slope nose replaced my muzzle, and red nails replaced my claws. It took a few minutes for the human part of my brain to click back on, but when it did, I screamed from the pain.
Fear sent my heart racing. Fear that this witch was in control of the most primal part of me—my wolf—and that fear triggered my mouth. “What do you want, bitch?”
With a twinkle of her fingers, she opened the cage door but blocked the entrance so I couldn’t step out. “You are going to do something for me.”
“What makes you think I would do anything for you?”
Her smile was one thousand percent Wicked Witch of the West. “Because if you don’t, I’ll make sure you spend the rest of your life as a wolf.”
A shiver shimmied up my spine, and just like that, she had my undivided attention.
A Myth in Moonlight by Becca Andre – Leena knows that mythical creatures don’t exist – not in the modern magical world. But when the old werewolf myth proves to have some…bite, she must reexamine her beliefs to break an improbable curse before it runs wild in Cincinnati.
The moon broke through the clouds, illuminating the prehistoric effigy mound in its cool blue light. I took a step closer to the low rail of the observation platform, mesmerized by the sight before me. This was my first trip to Serpent Mound, and though an Ohioan from birth, I had always been more apt to visit historical sites far from home rather than those in my own back yard.
Against my better judgment, I had climbed the rickety lookout tower, but was now glad I had taken the risk. The view of the winding, three-foot-high mound in the tranquil wash of moonlight was amazing. I could clearly see the nearby coiled tail and even get an impression of the distant head swallowing an earthen egg.
“Nice view,” a male voice said from right beside me.
Thinking I was alone, I jumped in surprise, then grabbed the handrail when I found myself much too close to the edge.
“Sorry.” Conor gripped my upper arm as if afraid I was about to tumble over the side. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
He immediately released me, and I realized I must have snapped the words.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” I hurried to add. “I figured I was the only one foolish enough to climb this thing.”
He pressed his lips into a fine line as he studied me through narrowed eyes. “I think you just called me a fool.”
“I didn’t mean to imply—”
“I’m kidding, Leena.” He broke into a laugh, the moonlight glinting in his fair eyes. “Come on, you’d have to be a little foolish to climb this thing in daylight, let alone total darkness.”
I smiled at his good humor, trying to hide the anxiety worming through my stomach. It hadn’t occurred to me until this moment that the other students in my folklore class would have difficulty navigating the tower steps at night. Had Conor noticed that my night vision wasn’t natural?
“This trip would have been much more informative if we’d come during the day,” Conor continued, casting an annoyed look in the direction of the serpent’s head where Professor Giles had gone with the bulk of our classmates.
“This class is part of his Magic in Myth curriculum,” I reminded him. “You’ve got to expect a little magic—and Serpent Mound at night is certainly magical.” I added the last in a rush, then watched his face closely. I didn’t know Conor well. In truth, I’d only known him for about five weeks, having met in this very class. I knew he was a history major and that he appeared to view anything magical with distain. I hoped I was wrong about that.
Conor studied the scene before us. The moon was full and without the clouds, I figured he must be able to make out a fair amount of detail.
“I guess you have a point,” he conceded. “But I was hoping for a little more fact from this class. It was described as a history of local folklore in the catalog—which sounded like a fun elective for me. I enjoy local history, but all the professor has lectured on is fairies and werewolves.”
“If you can set aside your expectations, you might find it entertaining.”
A hint of his smile returned. “Perhaps.” He focused on me. “You’ve never said why you took this class. You’re a science major, right? That hardly seems the type of person who’d be interested in unicorns.”
My attempt to hold in a laugh became a snort. “Unicorns? Professor Giles has never lectured on unicorns.”
Conor shrugged. “I’m sure I saw it on the syllabus.”
“Right.” I smiled as I shook my head. “In answer to your question, I’ve always had a fascination with myths and such. When I saw the class listing, I though it sounded like fun, and I needed an elective.” I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d been hoping that a better understanding of the old myths would help me puzzle out my own gift. “Come on. Everyone could use a little magic in their lives.”
“Hmm.” He pursed his lips and I watched him closely, hoping for some indication as to how he felt about—
A sound, eerily like a high-pitched female scream, carried across the moonlit grounds. For a moment, I thought it might be some kind of night bird we didn’t have in Cincinnati, but when a couple more screams joined the first, I realized they were human.
Conor whirled and started down the stairs, taking the narrow steps far too quickly. Maybe his inability to see well in the low light hid the danger or maybe heights didn’t make him as uneasy as they made me. Whatever the case, he was long gone by the time I reached the ground.
The screams had come from the direction of the serpent’s head, and since our classmates were the only people out here—I assumed—it had to be them. Had someone fallen over the cliff that bordered that end of the mound? Maybe Conor was right. A nighttime visit wasn’t such a good idea.
A paved trail bordered the mound on both sides, forming a loop around the thirteen-hundred-foot-long earthworks. My legs were burning by the time I approached the head of the serpent.
Conor easily outdistanced me, disappearing around the end of the mound, though the screams had quieted before we were halfway there.
Slowing my pace, both out of a need to catch my breath and uncertainty, I rounded the egg-shaped earthworks beyond the mouth of the serpent. Where was everyone?
On the other side of the oval mound, a trail led down the bank. From the pictures on the internet, I knew the path led to a railed deck built on the edge of a cliff that overlooked the stream far below, but the encroaching forest blocked my view. I hadn’t gone far when I spied two women sitting on the edge of the leaf-covered trail. I recognized both from class.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We were attacked,” one girl answered—I couldn’t remember her name. “This big dog ran out of the woods and bit Kristie.” She nodded at her companion.
“It might have been a coyote,” Kristie added, gripping her calf where I assumed she’d been bitten.
“Where are the others?” I asked.
“They walked down to the overlook with Professor Giles. I stopped to get a rock out of my shoe.”
“When I heard her scream, I came back,” the other girl said, then turned to Kristie. “Wasn’t Pete with you?”
Kristie forehead wrinkled. “I never saw him. Do you think the coyote grabbed him before me?”
The other girl gripped her dark braid and looked over her shoulder, her brown eyes wide as she studied the forest that surrounded us. How well could she see into that shadowed darkness? Could she define the individual trunks of the tall, closely spaced trees, or was she just watching for movement?
I jumped at the sound of Conor’s voice as it carried to me from farther down the trail.
Promising to get help, I left the girls and hurried to Conor. He knelt beside a young man—was this Pete?—who was sitting up, holding his shoulder. The zippered hoodie he wore had been pulled down, exposing his white T-shirt and the spreading stain on his sleeve that looked black in the moonlight, but I knew would appear bright red in sunlight.
“What happened?” I whispered, squatting beside them.
“It was this big dog,” the young man answered. “It ran out of the woods and jumped me.”
“Where are the others?” Conor asked. “Professor Giles?”
“He led them down the trail to the overlook. I was waiting on Kristie. She stopped to tie her shoe or something.” He looked up at me. “I heard her scream. Is she okay?”
“It bit her in the calf,” I answered.
His brow wrinkled with evident concern. “Is it bad?”
“I don’t know.”
With Conor’s help, he got to his feet. “I’ll go check on her.” Still holding his shoulder, he hurried back toward the girls.
“We need to find the others,” Conor said. “Come on.” He didn’t wait for my response before heading on down the trail.
Glancing at the shadowed forest all around us, I hurried after him. Had the animal run off? If it was a wild animal, did it have young nearby? Maybe that was why it had attacked. Or was it rabid?
“I knew I should have brought a flashlight,” Conor grumbled. Professor Giles had insisted that we leave them behind. He wanted us to view the mound in the light of the full moon, insisting there were lunar as well as solar alignments built into the mound by its creators.
As for myself, the lack of a flashlight wasn’t normally a problem, but I didn’t like the shadows beneath the trees where the moonlight didn’t reach. Even my excellent night vision couldn’t completely penetrate that darkness. I was so tempted to do something about it, but I—
A snarl was the only warning I got before a huge canid bounded out those very shadows I had been longing to illuminate. For just an instant, I was frozen in place, watching in fascinated horror as it ran right at me. Nope, not a dog, or even a coyote. That was a wolf. A gigantic two-hundred-pound representative of a breed only seen in northern climes. Had it escaped a zoo?
These thoughts flashed across my mind in the space of seconds, then my survival instincts kicked in. Running wasn’t an option. I could never outrun a wolf, but maybe I could scare it away. Did I dare—
“Leena!” Suddenly, Conor was there. He shouldered me aside, stepping into the path of the closing wolf.
I pressed both hands to my mouth as the animal sprang. It hit Conor square in the chest and took him to the ground.
Conor grunted on impact but managed to get his hands up in an attempt to keep the wolf from his throat. The deep snarls and snapping jaws made it clear that animal wasn’t ready to concede defeat.
I spun in a circle as I studied the ground, looking for a weapon—maybe a large stick or a rock. But I saw nothing suitable.
Conor cried out, and I looked back. The wolf had clamped down on his forearm.
Out of options, I opened myself to the moonlight, drawing in that soft blue glow. Joy filled me as our immediate surroundings plunged into darkness an instant before a bright silver-white light exploded around us. I knew that light was coming from me.
“Hey!” I shouted.
The wolf lifted its head. I expected the golden eyes of a typical wolf, but this animal had blue eyes, like a husky. However, its coat was the usual gray with whiter fur along the belly, inner legs, and jaw—which made the blood on its muzzle stand out.
I held those blue eyes with my own, the intense silver light I controlled twinkling back at me. His raised hackles smoothed, and he covered his exposed teeth as the serene tranquility of the moon calmed him. Interesting. I had never tried this on an animal.
Conor turned his head, and like the wolf, stared at me with the same wide-eyed shock. Crap. The last thing I wanted was to dazzle him with my power. I needed to hurry.
“Go!” I shouted at the wolf, then pulled in more moonlight, creating a brilliant flash.
To my utter amazement, the wolf tucked his tail and, with a whimper, turned and sprinted for the trees. Once he was beyond the glow of my moonlight, he vanished into the shadows. Was he gone, or would he return and—
“Leena?” Conor whispered.
With a gasp, I looked down to see him staring up at me. I let go of the moonlight, and we were suddenly plunged into darkness.
Maybe it was my relief that I’d driven off the wolf, or just the absence of the magic, but my legs turned to jelly. I reached out, hoping to brace myself, but there was nothing to grab. Instead, I just wind milled my arms for a moment, then fell on my butt. Hopefully, Conor was still flash-blinded and hadn’t seen that.
“Are you okay?” I asked, trying to direct his attention away from, well, everything about me. “Your arm?”
“Is bleeding,” he muttered. “A lot.”
Oh damn. I pushed myself up onto my hands and knees and crawled toward him across the dewy grass. As moonlight returned to fill the lightless void I had created, my night vision rapidly returned.
Conor was sitting up, cradling his arm against him. Even from a distance, I could see the bloodstains saturating the sleeve of his jacket. He stared in my direction, though it was clear that his unfocused gaze wasn’t on me. But that wasn’t anything to be concerned about. I’d read that mundane humans could take up to half an hour to regain their night vision.
“Hey,” I said, letting him hear my voice so he knew where I was. “Let me see.”
He pulled away when I touched his shoulder. “I need to keep pressure on it,” he said, the words coming out in a rush. “Maybe you should call for help.”
Did he really need to keep pressure on it, or was he afraid to let me touch him?
Heart in my throat, I pulled out my phone and dialed 911.
Keep reading all eight adventures in the High Moon anthology!