Tag Archives: Hunter’s Moon

Promotion Sunday

Sarah is off on a well deserved getaway with her hubby this weekend, leaving the boys and the cats alone in the house. Yes, she knows she is taking a risk and that when they get home, she and Dan will discover the cats have taken over and the boys are now their servants. Oh, wait, that’s what it is like in any home owned by a cat. 😉 Anyway, because she’s having some “quality” time with Dan, we’re going to do something we aren’t real good about here. We’re going to promote our work. All we ask is that you remember a number of us are servants to our royal feline overlords and have kibble that needs to be bought.

coverforvfaVengeance from Ashes
Sam Schall

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

 

hunter's homeHunter’s Home
Ellie Ferguson

They say you can never go home. That’s something CJ Reamer has long believed. So, when her father suddenly appears on her doorstep, demanding she return home to Montana to “do her duty”, she has other plans. Montana hasn’t been home for a long time, almost as long as Benjamin Franklin Reamer quit being her father. Dallas is now her home and it’s where her heart is. The only problem is her father doesn’t like taking “no” for an answer.

When her lover and mate is shot and she learns those responsible come from her birth pride and clan, CJ has no choice but to return to the home she left so long ago. At least she won’t be going alone. Clan alphas Matt and Finn Kincade aren’t about to take any risks where their friend is concerned. Nor is her mate, Rafe Walkinghorse, going to let her go without him.

Going home means digging up painful memories and family secrets. But will it also mean death – or worse – for CJ and her friends?

 

Pixie NoirPixie Noir
Cedar Sanderson

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down…

Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…

“They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”

 

Trickster ebook coverTrickster Noir
Cedar Sanderson

After the battle of Tower Baelfire ended, Lom lay dying. Bella was tasked with not only the job she never wanted, but the one she did. Could she keep Lom alive long enough for him to come to the rescue when their kingdom needed them? And what did Raven, mysterious trickster spirit and honorary uncle to Bella, want with them? If the threat was big enough to have the trickster worried, Bella knew she needed to have Lom at her side. Underhill might look like a soap-bubble kingdom, but Bella and Lom knew there was a gritty underside. Why else would fairyland need a dark man willing to carry a big gun and be the Pixie for Hire?

 

witchfindercoverfinalWitchfinder
Sarah A. Hoyt

In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.

 

coverfinalbrightDeath of a Musketeer
Sarah D’Almeida

April in Paris 1625. D’Artagnan, and his new friends who hide their true identities under the assumed names of Athos, Porthos and Aramis, discover the corpse of a beautiful woman who looks like the Queen of France. Suspecting an intrigue of Cardinal Richelieu’s and fearing the murder will go unpunished they start investigating. But the enterprise will be fraught with danger, traps from the Cardinal, duels with guards and plotting from the king himself.

 

stardogs Stardogs
Dave Freer

Revolution rises!

The Interstellar Empire of Man was built on the enslavement of the gentle Stardogs, companions and Theta-space transporters of the vanished Denaari Dominion. But the Stardogs that humans found can’t go home to breed, and are slowly dying out.

As the ruthless Empire collapses from its rotten core outward, an Imperial barge is trapped on top of a dying Stardog when an attempted hijacking and assassination go horribly wrong. Trying to save its human cargo, the Stardog flees to the last place anyone expected – the long-lost Denaari motherworld.

Crawling from the crash are the Leaguesmen who control the Stardogs’ pilots by fear and force, and plan to assassinate Princess Shari, the criminal Yak gang, who want to kill everyone and take control of a rare Stardog for their own, and an entourage riddled with plots, poisons, and treason. But Shari and her assassin-bodyguard have plans of their own…

Stranded on the Denaari Motherworld, the castaway survivors will have to cooperate to survive. Some will have to die.

And some, if they make it to the Stardogs breeding ground, will have to learn what it means to love.

morningstarMorningstar
Dave Freer

(Previously published, according to our astute readers, as The Forlorn.)

Across the one human colony world, a place technologically regressed to near medieval, possibly the last place humans still survive, a desperate search continues. Scattered across the deserts, tangled jungles, and alien fortresses, lie the core sections of the matter transmitter.

These sections hold the key to vast wealth, power, or… the fulfilment of the colony’s purpose: to help humankind survive the rabidly xenophobic alien Morkth who will tolerate no other intelligent species. The Morkth managed to follow the colony ship, and, despite their mothership being shot down and their queen being killed, they continue their relentless struggle to destroy humankind… and to reconstruct that incredibly valuable matter transmitter. If they succeed, they’ll be able to return to the hive with the location of the colony of vile humans, and have a new world to occupy. If they fail, they’ll destroy the planet.

The search has gone on for centuries, and it is all reaching an end point. The future hangs in the balance.

The Morkth have lasers, aircraft, nukes. Those who want the core sections for their own ends… have vast armies. Against them are three unlikely reluctant heroes: A street child thief, a dispossessed spoiled brat of a princess, and a confused, amoral Morkth-raised human, armed only with 14th century weapons and their own wits.

It’s a lost cause, a forlorn hope.

But it’s all humans have.

consensual2smConSensual
Kate Paulk

There are vampires in the lobby, succubi in the beds, and bodies in the bathroom. It’s ConSensual, where the editors are demons, the writers are crazy and the vampires and werewolves might be the most stable people in the room.

If that isn’t enough, Dracula is staying at the hotel on a business trip for his wood-based hardware chain, Kit Marlowe is one of the authors, and there’s an out of control baby vampire to deal with. Once again, the “Save the World” department is caught with its pants down.

 

impalerImpaler
Kate Paulk

Impaler by Kate Paulk revisits the tale of Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. This is the tale of historical fact mixed with fiction and a touch of fantasy. But this is most definitely not the tired tale of vampires skulking in the night, lying in wait for innocent victims. Impaler tells the tale of a man devoted to family and country, cursed and looking for redemption.

December, 1476. The only man feared by the all-conquering Ottoman Sultan battles to reclaim his throne. If he falls all of Europe lies open to the Ottoman armies. If he succeeds…

His army is outnumbered and outclassed, his country is tiny, and he is haunted by a terrible curse. But Vlad Draculea will risk everything on one almost impossible chance to free his people from the hated Ottoman Empire.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00006]War To The Knife (Laredo War Trilogy Book 1)
Peter Grant

Laredo’s defenders were ground down and its people ruthlessly slaughtered when the Bactrians invaded the planet. Overwhelmed, its Army switched to guerrilla warfare and went underground. For three years they’ve fought like demons to resist the occupiers. They’ve bled the enemy, but at fearful cost. The survivors are running out of weapons, supplies, and places to hide.

Then a young officer, Dave Carson, uncovers news that may change everything. An opportunity is coming to smash the foe harder than they’ve ever done before, both on and off the planet. Success may bring the interplanetary community to their aid – but it’ll take everything they’ve got. Win or lose, many of them will die. Failure will mean that Bactria will at last rule unopposed.

That risk won’t stop them. When you’re fighting a war to the knife, in the end you bet on the blade.


murder world kaijuMurder World: Kaiju Dawn
Jason Cordova

Captain Vincente Huerta and the crew of the Fancy have been hired to retrieve a valuable item from a downed research vessel at the edge of the enemy’s space.

It was going to be an easy payday.

But what Captain Huerta and the men, women and alien under his command didn’t know was that they were being sent to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy.

Something large, ancient and most assuredly evil resides on the planet of Gorgon IV. Something so terrifying that man could barely fathom it with his puny mind. Captain Huerta must use every trick in the book, and possibly write an entirely new one, if he wants to escape Murder World.

baptism by fireBaptism By Fire (Edge of Faith)
David Pascoe

When a madman and a giant flaming thing attack James Lawrie’s Marine outpost, the medic and an explosively talented sergeant aren’t supposed to save the day. Life becomes no simpler when Petty Officer Lawrie returns home on leave to find federal agents investigating the disappearance of a young woman from his past. A young woman whose body turns up marked with eerily familiar symbols.

 

fancy freeFancy Free
Pam Uphoff

In the last parts of the Twenty-first century, AI, Artificial Intelligence is commonplace. Highly able computers, and nothing more . . . until some rare and as yet unidentified trigger creates an actual personality.

Artificial Personalities, APs or hals, are illegal. Destroyed upon discovery. Even Beowulf, the AP the government controls, and uses to hunt down emerging hals, isn’t legally recognized, has no right to existence.

So you’d think that when the Special Grid Security Unit started paying extra attention to the area where a certain cooking show operates, Fancy Farmer—the AP who runs the show—would be concerned.

But Fancy has a bigger problem.

She’s been stolen.

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Pen names – do you or don’t you?

Those of you who have followed my posts on Mad Genius Club, know that I’m one of those writers who got started rather late in life. It’s not that I wasn’t writing. I’ve written stories for as long as I’ve known how to write.  If it weren’t for Sarah, I’d probably still be happily writing my stories and then shoving them in a desk drawer or under my bed. But she somehow convinced me one day to email her something I’d written. From that moment on, she became my mentor and sometimes my tormentor as she pushed me not only to write but to start submitting my work to agents and publishers. Then, when Amazon – followed by the other major e-tailers – opened up to sales from small presses and self-published authors, she convinced me to not only start working for Naked Reader Press but to submit my work to NRP for consideration.

Believe me, even though I work for NRP, I don’t get any special consideration. Not only does Sarah read and edit my work, but Kate has been tagged to be the first line. If it doesn’t meet Kate’s standards, it doesn’t go any further in the process without me fixing whatever was wrong.

But back to the story.

About a year or so after Sarah started beating me about the head and shoulders to 1) submit my writing to publishers and agents and 2) to quit having bonfires with my rough drafts (and I still haven’t forgiven her for that. Bonfires are nice. Fire good) the two of us attended the national RWA convention in San Francisco. I enjoyed many of the seminars, talked with a lot of authors and got a lot of pointers. I also picked up all the free books I could. And, believe you me, many of them were so bad that I knew I could do better.

So, while Sarah was off with her then agent attending parties or meetings, I holed up in our room and wrote.

I never meant to actually finish the story. I most certainly never meant to let Sarah, or anyone else for that matter, see it. Little did I know that the story had other plans.

A month later, I had a 90k word novel. Worse, Sarah had walked in on me while we were still in San Francisco and caught me writing. So she kept asking how the book was going. How long until it was finished? This is when I discovered she had a warped sense of humor. She was actually enjoying tormenting me about this book, this romantic suspense book – a genre a very rarely read, that had taken over my brain.

That’s when I made my second mistake. I told Sarah I’d finished it. I should have known that she’d want to read it. She did. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She didn’t care that I’d not written the novel for public consumption. She said things like, “you are your own worst critic,” and “you aren’t allowed to have a bonfire.” So, I gave in. The pressure was too much and I sent it to her – and to Kate who she had roped into the conspiracy to drive me insane.

Not too long after that, I had messages from both of them. They liked it. I’ll admit, I looked at the AIM windows and wondered when the aliens had taken over the bodies and minds of two women I liked as friends and who I respected as writers. They came back with a few suggestions on how to improve the book and I was convinced that meant it wasn’t worth the electrons it was digitally printed on.

Around this same time NRP came into existence and Sarah was already reading the writing on the wall about a lot of legacy publishing. She told me that she wanted the novel for NRP. She did her best to convince me that readers would like it. I wanted to know why she wasn’t sharing the good booze she was obviously drinking.

Okay, there was one other consideration back then. There was still a very large and ugly stigma to self-publishing or small press publishing, at least in the eyes of agents and publishers. So, a pen name, if I agreed to publish the novel, made sense.

We went back and forth about it for awhile. You see, here’s the issue. The book is fluff. Pure and simple fluff. It wasn’t like anything else I’d ever written. It was almost as if someone else had taken over my brain and my hands and written it while I looked on.

But it was more than that. I didn’t want that to be my first book. I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed as a romance writer (not that there is anything wrong with that. It just wasn’t what I saw myself being back then). So Sarah of the many pen names came up with a solution. Without batting an eye, she asked why I didn’t release it under another name.

I still wasn’t convinced but I’d promised long ago to listen to her advice as my mentor. Plus, what was the harm? If it was a closed pen name, no one would know it was me. I could release the book and then, when the sales tanked, I’d be able to tell Sarah “I told you so” and go back to writing what I wanted to.

Fate’s sometimes a fickle bitch. And she most certainly was this time. It took awhile but the book sold and sold well. Even now, after being out for several years, it continues to sell. Some months it is only a few copies and others it is much more. More than enough to make me reluctantly admit that Sarah had been right.

But I let the pen name sit. Oh, I put out a couple of short stories under it but no more novels. After all, that wasn’t me. I didn’t naturally write romance or romantic suspense, much less rom/susp with humor.

Enter Sarah again about a year ago. I’d hit a spot where I was having a hard time getting into any writing project. I’d tried different things and all I wound up with was a lot of starts and stops. Nothing seemed to gel. Finally, probably out of frustration because I kept whining at her, Sarah threw down a challenge. I had no problem writing the Nocturnal Lives series. So, since paranormal romance was the hot thing, she told me to write a PNR.

I knew she’d lost her mind. There could be no other explanation. Me? Write paranormal romance? No way. Absolutely no way. Unfortunately, my muse, evil bitch that she is, had other ideas. Over the next few weeks, a seed of a story took hold. Before I knew what was happening, the book was written. And, you guessed it, Sarah and Kate liked it and Sarah said NRP was going to put it out. No ifs, ands or buts. It was going to happen. But, since it was PNR and not Urban Fantasy like the Nocturnal Lives series, she suggested I bring it out under the pen name. I jumped at the chance to use the pen name because, yet again, a book had come out of me that I swear I hadn’t written.

That book, just like the romantic suspense before it, sold and sold well. Both have individually paid me more than I’d have gotten in advances from a legacy publisher. The second book in what is now an ongoing series is going to do the same, given time. That’s not something I can sneeze at.

For the last few weeks, as I finished Nocturnal Interlude and started preparing to work on my next project, I started thinking about why I’ve kept the pen name closely held for so long. I can no longer deny the fact that I write romance of different flavors, maybe not as easily as I do urban fantasy, but I write it. Looking back at Nocturnal Serenade and, more recently, Nocturnal Interlude, I see some of the traits of the pen name starting to bleed into those novels. No, they aren’t PNR – heaven forbid – but there is some romance. More than that, the plots are getting tighter and the pacing is better. At least I think so.

Over the last week or so, I’ve had several conversations with Sarah about whether or not it was time to come out of the pen name closet. I talked with Kate about it and even drew Cedar into the conversation. So, long story somewhat short, and with Sarah’s approval – heck, she’s actually kicking me out into public and slamming the door behind me – it’s time to stop hiding behind the pen name.

So, let me introduce myself. My name is Amanda S. Green. But I also write under the name of Ellie Ferguson. The name is a mixture of family names. Ellie was my great-great-grandmother on my mother’s father’s side of the family. Ferguson was the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother on Mom’s mother’s side of the family. Both are names I’ve grown up knowing all my life and together they have been a name I could be comfortable with.

Why, you might ask, am I finally revealing this? Because it’s time. By not being open with the pen name, I’ve been running the risk of losing readers who like the Nocturnal Lives series but who would like more romance with their shapeshifter stories. The same thing goes for those who have enjoyed the Hunter’s Moon series. There may be some of those readers who like mystery and police procedurals mixed with shapeshifter stories.

There is it. My secret is out and now I can’t hide. At least not unless I run faster than Sarah. (Looks around for a really good hiding place. Sighs. She’d find me. She always finds me.) I might not be completely comfortable about this, but it is time.

Welcome to my world and please no more pen names to hide behind because I have enough genres running through my head already.

You can find Ellie’s Amazon page here.

My Amazon page is here. (and I am working to get the pages merged.)

 

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Filling in . . .

Let me start by letting you know that I received an SOS from Amanda earlier this morning. There was something about it being morning, no coffee and and a raging headache. Let’s just say she wasn’t a happy camper. So, since I happened to be up — sort of — and, as she said, looking for ways to promote my latest book, she asked me to fill in. She did ask me to say she would be posting her thoughts on the YA article she linked to earlier in the week just as soon as she’s online again.

Anyway. . . .

If you guys hadn’t figured it out, I’m pretty new at this writer business. I’d tried some years ago to do it the old-fashioned way. I sent queries out to agents and publishers and got the usual canned responses. Since I didn’t know any better, and since my family didn’t look at writing as a “real” profession, I quit trying to break in and left my writing for my therapy. (Come on, I can’t be the only one who is in a better mental space when I’m writing than when I’m not.) Considering the fact that our family tree is populated with journalists, the attitude sort of surprised me but then I guess there is a difference between journalism and fiction writer (well, there used to be, but I won’t go into my opinion of most so-called journalists these days).

So, I acted like an adult and got a “real” job. Let me tell you, being an adult isn’t as much fun as folks want you to believe, at least not if you aren’t doing the job you want to do. Now, I’m not talking about wanting to be a racecar driver or pro ball player and you don’t have the talent or reflexes for both. No, I’m talking about when you have the need to do something and you choose not to for whatever reason. For me, the need was to write and I made the choice not to because of family pressure and, to be honest, the fact that I do like to eat regularly and have a roof over my head.

Then the day finally came when I realized that the publishing business had changed. Or maybe I’d just changed. I didn’t really care if my work came out from a BIG publisher. What I wanted to do was write and get my work out there for the readers to find. As sure as I’m owned by a mass of cats and dogs, no one was going to read my work with it stashed under my bed. So I started looking at what my options were and finally decided to go with Naked Reader Press — if they’d have me.

I was lucky. They not only wanted me but one of the first novels NRP put out was my romantic suspense Wedding Bell Blues. I knew even then that Sarah and Amanda and company were using WBB as a test case. If it did well, they’d want more from me. Fortunately, it did do well enough for them to ask for something else. There’s nothing like getting that call from your editor telling you that they want to see another novel from you.

Of course, this being Sarah, nothing is ever as easy as it seems. She wanted another novel, but she wanted me to try my hand at something a little different. Paranormal Romance was selling well. She wanted to see me making money, hopefully lots of it, and she’s a business woman. If I made lots of money, NRP would also make money. So, hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

I’ll admit, I fought it. I had never read a paranormal romance at that point. What I’d heard of them didn’t endear them to me. I like a book with a good plot and characters folks can relate to (even if one reviewer of WBB doesn’t believe a doctor can obsess about her daughters getting married). Writing a book that was just a series of sex scenes tied loosely together with an improbable plot didn’t appeal to me.

But, NRP wanted a book and I wanted to deliver one. So I started reading paranormal romance to see what I might be getting myself into. Some were good. A few were very good and a great many were downright porn. Then, in the course of all the reading, I realized I could write my kind of book and still call it paranormal romance. Sure, it wouldn’t have as much sex as some folks would expect and others would be put off by the sex it did have in it. But I’d learned one lesson very quickly with WBB: you are never going to please everyone who reads your book.

huntednewcoverSo, I sat down and started writing. Hunted was the result. To my surprise, it did well. Sarah — damn her — had been right. Paranormal romance does sell. What she didn’t warn me about was that the characters are LOUD and even more DEMANDING. They don’t want to let my fingers leave the keyboard any more than they are willing to let me try to write anything but stories set in their universe. Which is probably a good thing since Sarah, grinning like the evil woman she is, told me that I needed to write the second book in the Hunter’s Moon series ASAP in order to take advantage of how well Hunted was doing.

HUNTERSDUTYAnd that’s where Hunter’s Duty ( formerly known as Blood Moon and, in my less affectionate times kimchee junior) comes in. It’s the second book in the series — and, yes, the third book is already demanding to be written. Of course, being me, I’m trying to hold off as we wait and see what the sales for this book will be. Not that it is keeping my muse quiet. Oh no. SHE assures me the sales will be just fine and that I need to get started on Hunter’s Pride. Yes, she’s already given the book a title and has told me the basic plot.

Sigh.

So, here comes the push. You knew there had to be a push, right? Check my books out. Think of it this way. The more books I sell, the more Sarah gets to tell me, “I told you so.” That makes her happy and a happy Sarah is a Sarah who writes more. So, in a way, by buying my books you are also making sure Sarah writes more books for you to buy. See, it’s a win-win situation 😉

Seriously, I suck at this promotion stuff. Most writers do. So, if you’d like to see a sample of Hunted you can find it here.

You can find a sample of Hunter’s Pride here.

As for the rest of it, don’t keep shoving work under your bed or in the closet. Find yourself a good editor and then get it out there. We’re so lucky as writers to have so many different options for making our work available. Do your homework and choose which works best for you. But, if you have the need to write, write. There can never be too many stories.

 

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My muse is being a pain but I still love her — I think.

huntedcoverLet me start out by saying that Sarah is mean. She cornered me in a weak moment and somehow managed to get me to agree to post here again. She says it will help promote my books. Me, I think it’s her way of getting back at me for whining at her about my muse. You remember my muse, don’t you? The one who initially got me into writing by promising I’d be able to write nice mysteries and instead dragged me kicking and screaming from romantic suspense to paranormal romance. The muse who, right now, is dangling a new plot in front of me instead of helping me finish Blood Moon. Sigh. My muse is an evil witch sometimes.

Now that that’s over with, I guess it’s confession time. As much as I want to be a plotter, I’m not. I’ve tried. Heavens, how I’ve tried. But every time I write an outline, it seems to kill whatever project I am trying to work on. Maybe it’s because I’m trying too hard to figure out what’s supposed to happen next. Maybe it’s because my muse thinks I don’t trust her and am trying to circumvent her wonderful genius — snarf. Whatever it is, as soon as that outline is done, I feel like I’ve already written the book and all I want to do is move on to the next project.

That would be all right if my muse wasn’t acting like a kitten hopped up on catnip right now. I sit down to write, coffee at hand and the promise of chocolate to come if I have a good day at the keyboard and — oooooh, shiny. A new plot pops into my head. Then my muse gets all huffy because I don’t instantly go play with the new plot she so graciously dropped into my lap. So she goes off to sulk, refusing to be tempted by caffeine and chocolate, and leaving me to pound my head instead of my fingers against the keyboard.

Hence Sarah being mean to me and making me do this post because I whined about it to her and her basic response was, “Welcome to my world. Now write a blog about it.”

See? She is mean.

But I’ll show her. I’ll finish Blood Moon, sooner rather than later, and then subject her to the new plot bunnies my muse has been dropping into my lap. That will show her. It will, won’t it? Please tell me it will.

Two weeks ago, I posted the first chapter (a rough draft at least) of Blood Moon. So, how about a teaser from Hunted, the first book in the Hunter’s Moon series? For those of you who prefer paper to digital, it is also now available in print.

*     *     *

They were here.

I knew it the moment I stepped outside. Despite all the precautions I’d taken, despite all the times I’d moved and left no forwarding address, they’d found me–again. It didn’t matter that I’d done everything possible to live off the grid. All it took was one small mistake and there they were.

Damn it. I really liked it here and now I had to move and move fast.

Assuming I lived long enough to do so.

Just moments before I’d been thinking about the upcoming weekend. A couple of days off sounded good. I didn’t even mind the fact Dana had set me up on a blind date with her cousin. Not that I expected anything to come of it. Nothing ever did. Either my demons interfered or Michael’s trackers did–like now. Damn it, what’s a girl got to do to have a nice dinner and maybe some good sex?

Without breaking stride, I melted into the early afternoon foot traffic. A quick glance right and then left didn’t reveal my pursuers. But I knew there were there. I could feel their eyes on me. The back of my neck prickled. There was that itch between my shoulder blades. Instinct had kept me alive this long. Would it be enough now?

God, I was an idiot. I’d actually started believing Michael had forgotten about me or had decided it just wasn’t worth the effort to keep looking for. I’d known better. I’d embarrassed him when I refused his advances in front of the others. But that hadn’t been the end of it. He hadn’t let it go.

Bile rose in my throat at the memory of that long ago night. I’d learned what it meant to fight for your life then. I could still feel his hands on me. If I closed my eyes, I could smell the scent of him as he’d pulled me close. I’d fought then. That’s the one thing he hadn’t expected. It was over almost as quickly as it had started. I’d fled the only home I’d ever known that night, leaving him bleeding on the floor.

I’d run. I might not have looked back but I had kept a look out. I’d known Michael wouldn’t just let me go. But I’d never expected him to keep up the chase this long. God, would I never get my life back?

I’d arrived in Dallas almost a year ago, hoping to lose myself here. After fifteen years on the run, I was tired. I wanted nothing more than to settle down, find a mate and have a life. The thought of moving again, of having to establish yet another identity was almost more than I could bear.

Had I gotten careless because I was tired of running?

It didn’t matter what happened. The damage was done. If I wasn’t careful, I’d find myself once more facing Michael. This time there’d be no escape. What happened so long ago could be seen as a direct insult to him, the clan’s Alpha. Michael had to bring me back. Otherwise the others would think he wasn’t strong enough to control a mere female. If he wasn’t strong enough to control a female, they’d doubt his ability to control the clan.

It didn’t matter that I had never been a “mere” anything where the clan was concerned.

None of that mattered. I had to get away. The next person to bump into me could be the one I was running from. I’d never been one to act like a lamb awaiting the slaughter and this was no time to start. I might not be the Marine my father had been but he’d taught me well. He and my mother, God rest their souls, had taught me how to act under fire, real or metaphorical.

It was time to remember exactly who and what I was. I was the daughter of the former Alpha of our clan and his mate, who was an alpha in her own right. Let the fools Michael Jennings sent for me learn just what that meant.

If they wanted to play, I was more than happy to oblige.

I paused before the main display window for Neiman Marcus and glanced around, careful not to be too obvious about it. Yes, someone was definitely there. Again. As much as I’d like to believe whoever was watching me was more interested in my good looks–hah!–or even in stealing my backpack, I knew better. Despite all my attempts to tell myself differently, I’d felt their presence for a week now. Never at the same place and never at the same time–and never this close.

Damn it, I had gotten careless.

Fortunately, so had they. They were close enough I could scent them. Yes, them. There were at least three trackers close by. I probably ought to be flattered Michael had decided a single tracker wasn’t enough to bring me in. Hopefully, three wouldn’t be enough either.

I didn’t have time to wonder why Michael had suddenly changed tactics. Had something happened within the clan to force his hand? Or was he, like me, growing tired of the hunt

God, why couldn’t this be over? I like a good hunt as much as the next person. But only when I’m the hunter. This being the hunted didn’t sit well. One way or another, I had to end this game of cat and mouse. But I had to bide my time. Downtown Dallas wasn’t the place for a confrontation, at least not the sort I usually found myself involved in. So, unless I wanted our secret made public, I had to find some place secluded and I needed to find it quickly.

A hint of worry licked at my confidence. These hunters were better than the others Michael had sent for me in the past. They’d been able to track me no matter what I did to throw them off. That meant they were at least as good as I was, perhaps even better. So I had to be careful. No unnecessary risks. Well, at least no outrageously unnecessary ones. My whole life was one of risk. The fact that someone was stalking me–again–only proved it.

Fortunately Dallas, even downtown Dallas, wasn’t without out-of-the-way areas where I could put my plan into action. All I had to do was get to one before my unseen trackers decided to make their move.

I started down the block. Attorneys and their clients hurried down the street in the direction of the courthouse, briefcases swinging like weapons to part the crowd before them. Men and women in business suits strolled only slightly more leisurely back to their offices from lunch. One or two may have staggered, a bit worse for wear after one too many margaritas at lunch.

As the crowd pressed on down the street, I paused near the entrance to Renaissance Tower. I carefully shifted my backpack, settling it more comfortably over my left shoulder, leaving my right hand free. I wanted to be able to drop it without hesitation, or use it as a weapon, when the time came–and something told me that time would be soon.

I had to get off the streets.

A man bumped against me and I stiffened, relaxing only as he mumbled a quick, “’Scuse me” before moving on. One thing about Dallas, it’s a polite town. Even though I looked like the average college–okay, post-grad–student wandering the streets, people still greeted me and begged for forgiveness for whatever minor breech they thought they might have committed. Strange town this.

A slight smile touched my lips as I ducked inside the building. I knew it was a risk. There were any number of security cameras here, cameras that would capture my image. But they’d also capture the image of whoever followed me. It might not help me, but in the long run, it might help any who looked into my disappearance. That really was the best I could hope for.

The glass doors closed. For one moment I relished the cool air that greeted me. But I couldn’t stand there enjoying it. Too many others wanted inside, politely but insistently pushing past me. Then there were the trackers. I could feel them even if I couldn’t see them.

“May I help you, ma’am?” the uniformed security guard asked as I approached his desk. He looked up and grinned. This was the third delivery I’d made there this week. “Hi.”

He really did have a nice smile.

“Hi, Gil. I’ve got a delivery for George and Chandler from the Jessup Firm. They’re expecting it.”

I waited as he called upstairs to confirm my story. I hadn’t realized when I took the temporary job as runner for a local law firm that it would come in handy as a way to keep alive. I’d been surprised enough when it led to some very interesting dates. Now it seemed I had another reason to be thankful for those bottom feeders called lawyers.

“Twenty-fifth floor, Finn. Sign in and put this on.”

He pushed a clipboard across the desk in my direction with one hand and handed me a guest badge with the other. He glanced at the page as I scrawled my name on the first available line. I handed him back the clipboard and then attached the badge to the right front pocket of my jeans. There, I was official.

“When you going to finally agree to go have a drink with me, Finn?”

“When you don’t have a family to go home to, Gil.” That was one of my only rules. No married men, and especially no married men with kids.

I gave a little wave and moved toward the elevator bank. I needed to be smart now. More than my own future depended on it. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for letting the world-at-large know that shape-changers really do exist and that we walk among them. Michael might be willing to risk it but I wasn’t.

Ten minutes later, my delivery made, I stepped into the corridor and glanced around. No one else was visible. But that didn’t mean anything. My pursuers could very easily be waiting for me in the lobby. It would be easy enough to flank me as I stepped off the elevator. They’d rely on the fact I wouldn’t want to create a scene. By the time we were away from the crowds, it would be too late–at least for me.

They could be closer, hiding in the restrooms down the hall or in one of the stairwells. I doubted they had given up, but I could no longer feel them bearing down on me. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. All I knew for sure was I had to get out of the building without being forced to either surrender or reveal much more to the public than any of our kind wanted to.

The elevator doors slid open and I tensed. Instead of the demons from my past appearing, a couple of well dressed women stepped out instead. From their whispered conversation, I knew they were talking about a different kind of assignation than the one I’d been expecting. No, they were comparing notes on their love lives, oblivious to all around them.

Inspiration hit. I reached out and stopped the door before it could close. I punched the buttons to make the elevator car stop on the twenty first, nineteenth and tenth floors before coming to a stop in the lobby. Unless I missed my guess, the car would stop on at least one other floor along the way which was all to the good. The more stops it made, and the more people who got on and off, the more difficult it became for my pursuers to realize where I had actually gone

Now, to get out of the building. Then I could make sure that any confrontation happened on my terms and not theirs.

I resisted the urge to run as I walked toward the stairwell door. I could hurry once there. Then I’d take the stairs up six floors and then take the elevator down. Everything above the thirtieth floor used a different bank of elevators than the one I’d come up on. Those elevators opened out of sight of the main lobby. Even better, they opened just across from the stairwell door that led down to the parking garage. If I could just cross to that door, I’d be in the garage before anyone knew it.

Of course, that was a very big IF….

The elevator doors opened and I let myself be swept out by the other passengers. I glanced around, every sense alive and seeking. Much as I’d hoped my shadows had given up, at least one was still there. I could feel him. He was close, too close for comfort. But where? Why couldn’t I see him?

Praying the explanation was as simple as whoever it was happened to be on the opposite side of the elevator bank and blind to my return, I looked for the stairwell door. All I had to do was get to it. That’s all. Only ten feet separated me from potential freedom.

With my backpack thumping against my side, I hit the door at a dead run. Now we’d play it my way. Let’s see just how good he–or she–happened to be. I’d bet my life–hell, I was betting my life–that he hadn’t. Dear God, I hoped I wasn’t backing the wrong horse this time.

I pelted up the drive, climbing, climbing until I saw daylight. Cars lined up at the gates, waiting for their tickets to enter or to pay so they could exit. I slipped between them, emerging onto the street. Even then I didn’t slow. I couldn’t. Not when I could hear someone behind me. Running feet, labored breathing. Good. He wasn’t in the physical condition I was and he’d pay for it. Then he’d tell me what I wanted to know or pay an even greater price.

I veered to my right into another parking garage, an above-ground one this time. We’d already run more than a city block, not counting the time in the bank’s parking garage. I could feel my pursuer flagging. Good. Just a little longer. I had to be careful about where I chose to confront him. But soon, very soon, this would be over.

There’s something about the hunt that excites at the primal level. It doesn’t matter if you’re the hunted or the hunter. At least it doesn’t matter to me. My senses seem to sharpen as my pulse increases. My mind clears and a sort of calm settles over me. I know how good I am. I’ve managed to survive combat situations and too many chases like this one because of it. This hunter, if you dared call him that, was no match for me.

I raced up the ramp, one level and then two. My running shoes, carefully selected for just such an emergency, cushioned my steps. Only a muted slap-slap-slap with each footfall betrayed me. Even though my pulse raced, my breathing was barely labored. I was born for the hunt.

I hit the door leading to the stairwell. Time to add some distance between us. The door slammed behind me, just as I wanted. I wanted him in the stairwell. I wanted him to wonder which direction I’d gone. When he started up the stairs, he’d be even more tired. That would make him an easier target when the time came.

Three flights up, I slammed through another door. I didn’t think about anyone else who might be on the other side. This was between me and the man following me. The world had shrunk to just the two of us. There wasn’t time to worry about anyone else. Not until this was over. Until he was over.

Then I could worry about consequences.

I slowed, my eyes scanning the level. Almost every parking space was filled. The cars and vans increased the shadows on the level, making it easier to hide. And hide I was going to do. Now was the time for patience and cunning. Maybe it was even time to play with the fool a bit before pouncing. This mouse had very sharp teeth and the cat had better be battle-hardened before going after it.

He was close. I could feel it even as I heard him coming nearer. The fool. Why wear boots if you’re trying to stalk someone? Every step he took reverberated, even through the closed door. Soon, very soon, it would be over.

I crouched behind a van near the top of the ramp, hidden in the shadows. My backpack rested on the concrete beside me. Down the aisle, the stairwell door clanged shut, followed almost instantly by a sharp curse. I couldn’t help smiling. It just kept getting better.

I remained where I was, secure in the knowledge the shadows were, as always, my friend. For a moment, the only sounds were those of my heart beating and my slow, even breaths. There! A step. Then another. His pace quickened. He wasn’t running, but it was close. If I’d had any doubts about being followed, I no longer did.

Waiting, listening as he moved up the aisle, memory intruded. This was wrong. There had been at least three of them when I’d ducked into the bank building. Why had they split up? More importantly, where had the others gone? I might have little respect for Michael but he wasn’t a fool. He’d have sent a team that worked well together. So why was this team breaking all the rules?

Leaving my backpack, I edged around the rear of the van. The backpack, if the tracker found it, would delay him further. It would divert his attention and give me the chance to act. But I had to take care not to blow my chance before it arrived.

I crept behind another vehicle, this one big and black. Some sort of SUV. I really didn’t care what it was as long as it offered me protection. Now was when hunter became the hunted and the thrill of it raced through me. If only we were away from town where this could become a real hunt. It had been too long since I’d allowed my jaguar out and now it strained against my control, confident it was better at this game of cat and mouse than I.

Hell, it probably was, not that I dared do anything about it now. The trackers might be willing to risk exposing our existence, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t. There were too many others who’d suffer if the normals discovered the things of their nightmares walked among them.

Footsteps neared. Slower now, more relaxed. It was almost as if someone was taking a leisurely stroll down the aisle. Had I misjudged? Was it possible my stalker had been playing me? No, I didn’t believe that. There had to be another explanation.

I shrank further into the shadows. My heart hammered. Fear clawed at my throat. For one moment, I closed my eyes. I prayed this was all some horrible dream I’d soon awaken from. But it wasn’t. I’d learned long ago that the only nightmares are the ones we’re forced to live, day after day after day.

A car door opened just a few yards away and I started nervously. My hands flew to my mouth in a desperate attempt to silence my gasp. It wasn’t him. By all that was holy, it wasn’t him. It had been an innocent, that’s all. Whoever it was, they weren’t a part of this. All I had to do was wait for them to leave. Then I could finish this, once and for all.

If I had time. For all I knew, the hunter had heard my gasp and even now was using the sounds of the car starting and backing out of its space to distract me as he closed in on my location. Dear God, what should I do?

Patience. I had to stay patient and not move too soon. I couldn’t risk getting careless now, with the end so close.

A red sedan slowly passed my hiding space. Behind the wheel sat an attractive, gray haired woman. From where I crouched in the shadows, I could see she hadn’t locked her doors. It would be so easy to slide into the backseat as she drove past, to force her to drive me out of there and away from my pursuer. It was so tempting. . . .

No! That wasn’t the way. It was far too dangerous to involve someone else, someone outside the clan. In this day and age of lo-jack tracking on cars and global positioning software in cell phones, it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. One phone call to the police and they’d know within minutes where the car was. I might be willing to do a lot of things but risking a police shoot out wasn’t one of them.

The car disappeared around the curve and I sank back against the wheel of the SUV. Where was he? My ears strained and my heart pounded. No matter how many times I’d been in this position–and I’d been there more times than I cared to count–it never got any easier. But this time was different. I could feel it. The hunter was alone and a one-on-one fight suited me just fine.

I wouldn’t kill him unless he forced me to. Not that I wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to find out how he’d found me. Once I knew that, I could disappear into the shadows again and move on, another town and another identity.

Again.

Leather scraped concrete and my muscles tensed. I waited, ready to pounce. All he had to do was come a little closer.

Wait. Something was wrong. This was all happening too easily. Was it possible this was all some sort of elaborate trap they’d laid to capture me?

Fear licked at my confidence and without thought I glanced down, frantically searching for that tell-tale red dot of a laser scope. Nothing. If anyone besides the two of us were there, they hadn’t tagged me, at least not yet. Maybe I was worrying for no reason.

I dropped to my stomach and looked under the cars, searching for another set of feet, for anything to prove or disprove my fears. Nothing. Only the boots and jeans of the lone tracker.

I sat back up and drew a slow, deep breath. My lips pulled back, baring my teeth and a low, primal growl fought for release as my jaguar fought for control. My muscles all but quivered in anticipation as each step brought the tracker closer, ever closer.

From where I crouched, I saw his legs first. Faded blue jeans. Black, worn boots. Interesting. That wasn’t the usual attire of the trackers but it did make sense if this one was trying to blend in. Maybe he wasn’t quite the amateur I first thought. Or maybe not. Although he moved slowly up the aisle, checking first one direction and the other as he scanned between the parked cars, his hands were visible and very empty. My well-trained eye saw no hint of a weapon anywhere on him. Good. That would make things much easier.

I slipped further into the shadows cast by the SUV and the wall behind me. All I needed was for him to take another couple of steps forward. That’s all. Then I’d be in his blind spot and could move. He’d never know what hit him. By the time he figured it out, it would be too late and they would both be well away from there and anyone who might be looking for him.

Silently, I rose from my crouch and stepped into the aisle, ready to attack. My head jerked up, the scents of the other trackers suddenly assailing me. Damn it! It had been a trap. Somehow, I’d played into their hands. But how? How had they known this was where I’d come?

My mind may have frozen, but my body acted on instinct. I turned and took first one step and then another. I had to run. It didn’t matter where. All that mattered was getting out of there. I’d made the worst mistake possible. I’d become over-confident and I’d fallen into their trap.

The screeching of tires filled the air. A moment later, a black Mustang slid to a stop beside me.

“Get in!” the driver yelled as the passenger door swung open

For a moment, hope flared. Escape was at hand.

Three sharp jabs hit my back, like needles or nails, as I dove into the car. Then my system lit up. It felt as if a thousand–a million–hot needles suddenly pierced me. Every nerve seemed to catch fire. No longer would my body answer my demands. Muscles tensed, spasmed and I slumped forward. There was pain–I think there was pain–as I hit the dashboard face first. Then I was thrown back against the passenger seat as the Mustang sped off.

Breathe. I had to breathe. But my lungs wouldn’t work. Panic filled me. This is what Hell must be like. A mind alive and terrified in a body that does nothing but scream in agony. Dear God, was this really the day I’d die?

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When stories run amuk

huntedcover

by Ellie Ferguson

Let me start by thanking Sarah for asking me to blog today. She’s had to listen to me almost as much as Amanda and Kate have as I’ve angsted over my last two books. Hunted, the first book in my new Hunter’s Moon series, wasn’t a book I ever meant to write. In fact, I was almost half way through a nice cozy mystery when the plot for Hunted hit me. It was like I’d been struck over the head, dragged to my desk and tied to my chair and threatened not to have any coffee or chocolate or good scotch until I wrote the book. Fortunately for my sweet tooth — I have to have my chocolate — the plot was so strong, the characters so there that it didn’t take long to write the book.

So, I wrote my first paranormal romance. It was a departure, of sorts, for me. My first novel, also from Naked Reader Press, was Wedding Bell Blues, a romantic suspense novel. I had a lot of fun writing it but even that wasn’t what I saw myself writing. In my mind, I’m a cozy mystery writer. Oh, I might add in a nice suspense novel here and there, but mystery is what called to me. The only problem with that is no one told my muse.

It seems my subconscious had been leading up to Hunted. One of my two short stories is an urban fantasy. The other one is a fantasy of sorts. And then, when I wasn’t looking, I was hit by Hunted that demanded not only that it have the urban fantasy elements but also the romance, hence paranormal romance.

Still, as I finished the novel and sent it off to first my beta readers and then to Sarah for editing, I tried convincing myself that Hunted was a one off. It wasn’t going to be a series. Oh no. It was a lark and now I could go back to what I really wanted to write. Silly me. First, Sarah told me that I wasn’t done with the universe. Then, as if just waiting for her to give it permission to come storming back, the universe overtook me again and the second book in what is now, I guess, a series hit me right between the metaphorical eyes.

Like Hunted, Blood Moon (working title) looks to be a quicker write than a lot of my other work. Also like Hunted, it has its own form of torturing me. I’m a plotter. It’s something Sarah has tried to break me of because I try to plot out every little detail. She says it’s because I don’t trust myself as a writer yet. Me, I say it’s because I want to know what’s happening BEFORE it appears on the screen in front of me. It can be very embarrassing if your child — or worse, your parent — is looking over your shoulder and you are suddenly writing a hot and heavy sex scene and haven’t realized it.

At least Hunted let me do some plotting ahead of time. I generally knew what was going to happen from chapter to chapter. Oh, it threw me for a loop from time to time, but not like this one. Blood Moon tells me I can plot out the next chapter. Then it lets me write the chapter according to my notes. Then, as I sleep, my muse — who is an evil muse I’m beginning to think — changes the chapter and I wake up having to completely rewrite the chapter. Rinse and repeat each day.

That is so very different from my normal writing style that I’m afraid I may be driving Kate and Sarah insane with snippets and needy emails wanting reassurance. They have assured me it’s good so far and remind me that I went through this same sort of lack of confidence about Hunted which has turned out to be, by far, my most successful title to date. As for Amanda, well, she has threatened to hurt me if I don’t quit whining and just finish writing the thing.

All this is, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, a way of hopefully enticing you to go check out Hunted. I’ve linked to the Amazon page for it, but you can find it on iTunes, All Romance E-books, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and more. It will also be available in print in the next few weeks. Yes, I’m doing the happy dance — like so many, actually holding a printed book of mine makes it real even though I know an e-book is just as real as a printed. It’s just that I’m old-fashioned that way.

Here’s the opening scene for Blood Moon, due out the end of summer. I hope you enjoy!

*     *     *

“Lady, I said to hold still!”

The cop, who looked all of thirteen, held me against the hood of his squad car and finished cuffing my hands behind my back. As he did, lightning flashed overhead. I turned my head and stared down the alley, praying it had just been my imagination, that I hadn’t seen movement in the dark shadows. Damn my bad luck and the cop’s even worse timing. If only he’d been a few minutes later, I’d have finished the job and been well away from here.

Don’t get me wrong. Under different circumstances, and most definitely with a different partner, I might have actually enjoyed being cuffed. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of role-playing between two consenting adults. But neither of us were playing and I most certainly wasn’t consenting – at least not in that way.

Hell, all I wanted to do was survive the next few minutes and the possibility of that happening grew smaller with each passing moment.

God, I hate my job sometimes.

With the cop’s forearm still holding me against the hood of his car, I blinked through the rain and sniffed. Nothing. Not that I really expected anything different. The wind had shifted again, blowing toward the alley. That, along with the cop’s fear and the smells of the car engine, made it almost impossible to scent my prey. Not good, not good at all.

Still, there was one small blessing. The cop was human. That meant the stench of death clinging to me didn’t call out to him. He couldn’t smell its foul odor any more than he could read my mind. Fortunately, science hasn’t progressed that far. The last thing I needed was some gung-ho cop mucking about in my mind, especially considering my activities of the last half hour.

The dark of night combined with the rain also helped. It kept him from seeing any blood that might have splashed on me during the kill, just as it kept him from seeing the bruises that marked my face. Nor could he see the way my jeans were torn at the left thigh where the feral managed to get in one good bite before I’d slit its throat. Both the bruises and the bite would heal soon enough. What worried me was what forensics might reveal should the cops decide to check my clothes or do too close of an examination of the alley.

Well, I’d worry about that later – assuming there was a later.

“Look, officer.” I tugged ineffectually at the cuffs and then tried to straighten, only to be slammed back against the hood. The sharp, bitter taste of blood filled my mouth and I spat, sorry the rain would wash the results from the hood. Damn it, this was getting old fast.

A clap of thunder sounded overhead, rattling the windows in nearby buildings and drowning out anything he might have said. Unfortunately, it also drowned out any sounds that might have come from the alley. The alley I could barely see as the rain beat down even harder. By the time I saw anyone, or anything, emerge from the shadows, it would be too late.

I’ve always known death would come for me one day, but I’d planned to meet it head-on, fighting. I wasn’t one to “go gently into the night.” Now it looked like I’d meet it head-on, but there’d be little I could do about it.

Lightning streaked across the sky, followed almost instantly by a clap of thunder. The storm was right on top of us and didn’t seem to be moving anywhere fast. I sensed more than felt the cop fumbling with his radio. Taking advantage of his inattention, I twisted slightly, sliding out from under his restraining arm. Before he could react, and probably shoot me for trying to escape, I turned and straightened. But I didn’t move away from the squad car. Instead, I planted my butt against the fender and stood there, looking to my left, never taking my attention from the alley.

Another flash of lightning – damn, Mother Nature was pissed about something tonight – and the shadows near the mouth of the alley shifted. My breath caught and I fought the urge to move. The instincts born of a hunter tried to force me toward the alley, toward my prey. Common sense and a strong desire to survive stopped me. Even so, my wrists strained against the cuffs. My heart pounded. Fear, stronger than any I’d felt in a very long time filled me. Like this, I was helpless and I didn’t like it one little bit.

Wasn’t it enough I’d been forced to kill that night? Did I have to die as well?

“Damn it, lady, I told you not to move!”

The cop’s voice cracked as he dropped his radio and fumbled at his hip for his gun. If the situation wasn’t so serious, it might actually be funny. Maybe it would be in a decade or two. But for now, it was deadly serious and even more dangerous.

Praying I wasn’t making a fatal mistake, I tore my attention from the shadows shrouding the alley and focused on the cop. Maybe he really was as young and inexperienced as he looked. The way the hand holding his gun shook seemed proof of it. So did the fact he hadn’t secured me in the squad car while he checked the alley. He might not have told me what he thought he’d seen me do, but I could make a pretty good guess.

At least if he’d followed standard procedure, I’d be out of the rain. Instead, he had me standing there in the rain, cuffed like a common criminal.

Believe me, I might be many things but common I’m not and that’s something he’d soon discover if he didn’t get us out of there.

I waited, expecting Volk to appear from the shadows at any moment. He’d already surprised me once tonight and it had come close to costing me my life. He might still succeed, thanks to the cop. At least I’d had the satisfaction of knowing I’d dealt with one of Volk’s ferals before everything went to hell. But damn it, Volk had already cost us so much. How many more would die before we managed to kill him and contain the rest of his followers?

I closed my eyes and fought for control. My hunter wanted out. She knew the danger we were in and railed against it. She knew how to deal with this foolish human and she knew how to deal with Volk. All I had to do was release control and let her loose.

Part of me wanted to do just that. God, how I wanted to. But cuffed as I was, it would be beyond foolish. I couldn’t shift with my arms secured behind me. At the very least, my shoulders, and probably elbows and wrists, would be dislocated in the shift. More likely, they’d be broken. Neither result would heal quickly. Besides, Hollywood had a number of things wrong about our kind, not the least of which was the process of shifting between human and animal. It wasn’t quick, nor was it painless. I had no doubts that before the shift was over, the cop would have put a bullet in my brain and that would seriously suck.

The sound of leather scraping against the pavement seemed to fill the air even though the cop gave no indication he’d heard it. My eyes snapped open and I once more focused on the shadows down the alley. I tensed, ready for flight. I’d risk a bullet in the back to facing Volk with my hands cuffed behind me.

Death was close. I could feel it. How long would it toy with me before finally striking?

A moment – or an eternity – later, I exhaled slowly. Whether I shivered from the cold or relief, I didn’t know and it really didn’t matter. But my guess was on relief. After all, no monsters – human or shifter – had emerged from the shadows. Better yet, I was still alive. Maybe my luck was improving. I doubted it, but one can always hope.

Not that I was about to relax just yet. I knew Volk. I’d been tracking him for more than a month now. I’d seen what he could do and knew he wouldn’t hesitate to send one of the ferals in first to distract the cop so he could personally deal with me. Fear once again licked at the edges of my self-control and I fought it down. I had to stay calm and I had to figure out some way to convince Officer Do-Good to get us the hell out of there.

Most nights, the last place I wanted to be was a jail cell. Right now, however, the thought of being safely locked behind solid walls and strong bars sounded very, very inviting.

“Look, officer,” I began again as the sounds of a distant siren reached me. It wouldn’t be long before others joined us. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. “I don’t know what you think I did or who you think I might be, but I was just out for a walk. You’ll find my ID and motel key in my back pocket if you’d just look.” I let a hint of frustration creep into my voice. He’d expect it and God knows I certainly felt it.

“Lady, I read you your rights. I suggest you exercise the right to remain silent, because there is no way you were out for just a walk. I saw what you did!”

Great, just great. My luck was running true to form. I’d been stopped by Billy the Boy Scout, always true to duty. I’d lay odds he was one of those who always believed what he saw, no matter what the truth might be. Hell, with my luck, he also believed everything printed in the paper or reported on TV because the media would never lie or show bias.

Well, if he wasn’t careful, I’d shatter all his illusions. It was bad enough he’d cuffed me and hadn’t followed procedure by securing me in the squad car before securing the scene, something that might just keep us both alive a bit longer. The fact Volk still lingered in the area only made matters worse. When the wind had shifted a moment earlier, I’d caught the scent of him: that foul, carrion-like scent I’d learned to associate with him long ago. I’d felt his amusement in that moment. I’d become the mouse to his cat, most definitely not a position I enjoyed. If Officer Do-Good didn’t do something soon, I would because I did not want to die in this back alley.

No more than five minutes could have passed from the time the cop had cuffed me and his back-up arrived, but it had been five of the longest minutes of my life. In that time I’d gone from anger and frustration at being interrupted before I could finish dealing with Volk to bone-chilling fear and I’d had just about enough. The only thing keeping me from doing something that might be exceedingly foolish was the thought of how it wouldn’t accomplish anything but cause more trouble, trouble no one would thank me for.

I dipped my head and tried to wipe the rain from my eyes with my shoulder – Have I said I hate being cuffed?  It’s damned inconvenient – Then I turned my attention to the car now parked behind the squad car. Interesting, it wasn’t a marked unit.  Instead, it was a black SUV. To the untrained eye, it looked like any of a number of other SUVs on the market these days. But I didn’t have an untrained eye. I saw the reinforced bumpers and other special after-market add-ons that told me it had to belong to one of Coyote Springs’ detectives.

The driver’s door opened and a man stepped out, a very tall man. A man who, the the quick flash of lightning, looked like he was as much at home in a gym as he was patrolling the streets. He wore black slacks, black shirt and a DSPD windbreaker.  His shield hung from a chain around his neck.  He paused long enough to frown up at the rain before closing the distance between him and the uniformed officer in long, quick strides.

Then the wind shifted again and every instinct was once more on alert. The scent of the newcomer was more heady than the most expensive cologne. My other self, the white tiger that had been fighting for release, pressed once more against my control as she recognized one of our own. This newcomer, this mountain of a man, smelled of the grasslands. Whether that was good or not had yet to be seen. Like the normals, shape-changers have their bad seeds.

God, I hoped he really was one of the good guys.

At least he looked like he knew what he was doing as he looked first at me, his eyes sliding over me before he focused on the deeper shadows of the alley. Nothing about his expression or the way he held himself betrayed his thoughts. Surely he’d realized what I was. It was possible he hadn’t and, if that was the case, I didn’t want to call attention to my true nature. So I reasserted my control over my tiger and prayed the newcomer got us far away from the alley and soon.

Instead, he turned his attention to the uniformed officer and motioned for the younger man to join him. After a quick warning for me to stay where I was, the young cop complied. I leaned against the fender of the squad car, wondering what was going to happen next and not liking how they kept me standing there, wet and cold, while they talked.  I strained to hear what they said but couldn’t quite make it out.  There was something about “patrol”, “flash”, and “blood” and that was all.  Nothing I hadn’t expected.

“Did you find anything when you searched her?” the newcomer asked, turning to look at me with the jaundiced eye of a cop who’d been on the streets long enough to know just how fatal it can be to take anything for granted.  “You did search her, didn’t you?”

“No, sir.”  In the light form the head lamps, I could see the uniform swallow nervously.  “I secured her and figured it best to wait for back-up before doing anything else.”

Oh my gods, he was worried I’d yell sexual harassment? Give me strength.

“Please tell me you at least secured the scene.”

“N-no, Chief Kincade.  I didn’t think I should leave her unattended.”

For a moment, Kincade said nothing.  I’m not sure he could.  Frustration and disbelief radiated from him.  In the light from the two cars, I saw how his right hand fisted at his side.  I might be the one cuffed, but Officer Do-Good was the one in real trouble.  Not that I had much sympathy for him just then.

Kincade took another step forward until he was standing almost nose to nose with the uniform.  “Let me get this straight, Officer Snyder.  You arrested this woman you say you saw kill someone.  You cuffed her and I assume you read her her rights.”  Officer Snyder gave a jerky nod.  “But you didn’t search her and you didn’t secure the scene, even though it’s raining and any evidence there might be is being washed away.  Worse, you didn’t check to see if there might be someone in need of medical attention further down the alley.  Nor did you check to see if she might have an accomplice hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to shoot you and free her.”

“I-I—“

“Stay here.”

With that, Kincade moved to stand before me. His left hand closed around my left arm and he gave a slight tug, just enough to let me know he wanted me to come with him. Since he was moving toward his SUV and not the shadows of the alley, I was happy to oblige. Not only would the SUV keep the rain off of me, it would offer some protection against Volk should he still be nearby and decide to strike.

“Lean back,” Kincade said after helping me into the back seat.

I did as he said and watched as he secured the seat belt across my waist. He cinched it tight and then gave it a tug to make sure it wouldn’t loosen. Then he bent. Before I could react, much less ask what he was doing, he shackled my ankles, the short chain running through a metal loop in the floor.

He straightened and quickly glanced over his shoulder to where Snyder stood looking miserable as the rain continued to beat down on him. “I don’t know who you are, lady, but I know what you are. I also smell the blood on you. As soon as I check the alley and make sure you haven’t left me a mess I can’t explain away, we are going to have a chat. What you tell me will determine whether you go to jail and get to call your lawyer or you go straight to my clan leader to explain why you’re hunting in his territory without permission.”

Mouth suddenly dry, all I could do was nod. He gave me a long look before slamming the door, locking me inside the SUV. I might be dry, but I might just be in more trouble than I’d been in before. Hunting in another clan’s territory without permission from the local clan leader could a capital offense. My own alpha had assured me he’d see to it my way was cleared wherever my hunt took me.

But if he hadn’t, facing Volk might actually be the lesser of two evils. It wasn’t long before Kincade emerged from the shadows.  Relief filled me — well, relief and a touch of worry — and I watched as he once more approached Snyder.  It was easy to see that Kincade hadn’t found anything to substantiate what Snyder had reported, not that that helped me. Kincade had smelled the blood on me. As a shape-changer, he’d know it was the blood of one of our kind. Hopefully, he’d remember to tell his alpha that. Killing one of our own kind was a serious offense but not the automatic death sentence hunting a normal would bring down on me. Still, I was relieved he hadn’t come across Volk. Hopefully, he’d be able to convince Snyder he’d made a mistake and I had done nothing wrong. Then, if my luck continued to hold, he’d call his alpha and find out I was authorized to be in their territory and they weren’t to interfere with my hunt. If that happened, and I knew it was a very big if, I’d soon return to the hunt.

At least for the moment, I didn’t have to worry about becoming Volk’s next victim.

Kincade said something to Snyder that had the uniform hunching his shoulders and staring at his feet like a kid getting a very effective dressing down.  Then Kincade nodded to the squad car, the implication clear. He stood there, watching as Snyder moved slowly away from him, feet dragging through the water. Part of me felt sorry for the kid. He’d had the misfortune of stumbling upon something he wasn’t prepared to believe in, much less understand. Then he’d been dressed down by his boss. My night might have sucked, but it had been even worse for Officer Snyder.

“We both got lucky,” Kincade said as he slid in behind the steering wheel. “The rain washed away the most obvious evidence of what you were doing in that alley and whoever else was with you or your target got the body away before anyone else could see it.” He slid the key in the ignition and a moment later we drove off with a squeal of tires. “But you are a problem I have to deal with. Name and clan?” The last was snapped out and I knew better than to keep quiet.

“Maggie Thrasher, Kansas clan, Wichita pride.”

He nodded but said nothing else. Instead, he radioed into Dispatch that he was transporting the suspect to County. My heart beat a bit faster. Surely he wasn’t really going to do that. County jail meant not only fingerprinting me and taking my photo. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, it meant the cops could — and, with my luck, would — take a DNA sample from me. That was one of our kinds’ biggest fears. Modern science had finally advanced to the point where it was quite possible some overly-ambitious lab tech would spot the difference in our DNA from normal human DNA. Once that happened, our secret would be out and none of us wanted to risk the panic that was sure to follow.

Shape-changers might be stronger than normals and much more difficult to kill, but we also were in the vast minority. That’s why we have always done our best not to let our existence be known. We’ve seen what fear can do to people. We’ve seen it in our own kind when a new shifter form suddenly appears. If our existence became public knowledge without the right groundwork being laid, there would be bloodshed and too many on both sides would die.

“Where are we going?” Did he hear the worry in my voice?

“To see my alpha. He’ll either tell me you are cleared to be here or he won’t. For your sake, you’d better hope you’ve told me the truth and he knows why you’re here and has approved it. We had trouble with hunters coming here without permission last year and trying to take his mate against her will. He won’t take kindly to another hunter coming here without prior approval.”

I swallowed once, mouth tight, as memory of my own clan leader telling us about his visit to the Texas clan and the reasons for it. I’d known then that Declan hadn’t told us everything. There were gaps in the story about how the clan leader for the Northern California clan had hunted for a female shape-changer for years, ever since she’d spurned his advances as a fifteen year old after her parents’ deaths. He’d somehow discovered she was living in the Dallas area and had sent hunters after her, without notifying the Texas clan leader of their presence, much less getting his permission for them to be there.

But there was one thing I remembered very clearly from that night. When Declan told us the names of the clan leader and his new mate, I’d been stunned. Not by the fact the Northern California clan leader had died in a fight with the female alpha of the Texas clan. Not even by the fact the Californian had tried to kill the Texas clan leader. No, I’d been shocked by the identity of the female alpha. I’d never met her, but I’d heard about her all my life. She’d been my older sister’s friend during the summers when Eileen would visit our grandparents in Oklahoma.

With that came memory of the clan leader’s name. Kincade. Obviously Chief Kincade was some sort of relative. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. I just hoped the clan leader and his mate were morning people. Unless I was very wrong, we’d be at their place long before the sun was up. Then I’d have to hope Declan had done as he’d promised and filled the alpha in on my mission and why it was so important I be allowed to work in the Texas territory. If not, well, Volk would be the least of my worries.

And I still hadn’t had any coffee.

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