I haven’t been very active here or on my social media sites due to things you likely don’t care to hear about. As a thank you to those who stick by me even during the quiet times, here is a free read that will, I hope, give you a laugh.
Posts in category Free Reads
Read the Prologue
Mia cursed as her oil light flickered into life again on her car dashboard, reminding her of the impending repairs she would somehow have to find money to get done. Unless she wanted to go back to relying on her feet and an old pair of shoes, which is how she’d gotten around in her first months at Harper’s Bend.
She hit the steering wheel, barely swallowing the scream bubbling up in her chest. She cursed and hit the wheel again for good measure, wanting to give into the urge to throw a full tantrum. At one time, she probably would have. She would have screamed, stamped her feet and broken one or both stiletto heels in the process. But she didn’t wear stilettos anymore. She didn’t throw tantrums, either. If prison had taught her anything, it had taught her some self-control. As satisfying as the tantrum would have been, she instead pulled into her parking space in front of her apartment building and turned her car off. She then took a deep breath and released it slowly as she took the bag of groceries out of the back seat. She’d call some mechanics in the morning to get estimates for the repairs.
“Mia Ellis. You’re not an easy woman to find.”
Mia’s back stiffened instantly – not so much at the man’s voice but at what he said. She’d paid a lot of money to have that name disappear after she’d gotten out of prison. Getting rid of it and adopting a new name were the reasons she now drove a beat up, second hand car and lived in an apartment that had seen its best days four decades ago.
She slowly turned around as she said, “You have me mistaken for someone else. My name is Theresa -”
“This conversation will go a lot faster when you stop assuming I am an idiot.”
She arched her eyebrow, taking in the man standing a few metres away. She could spot money half a town away, and he might as well have had ‘I’m worth billions’ tattooed on his forehead. But not old money. He’d earned or stolen his, one way or another, and that made him even more dangerous.
He had short cut spiked silver hair. Despite the colour, she guessed he couldn’t have been more than forty years old. His hair stood out in stark contrast against his black turtleneck, black suit, and black shoes. His cool blue eyes glinted with amusement and the right side of his mouth jerked up into a smirk. He raised his chin, saying nothing but appearing to enjoy her scrutiny.
She frowned. In her experience, only bad things came in expensive black suits.
“Okay. Let’s assume I’m not Theresa and you’re not an idiot. What do you want?”
His smirk melted into a confident smile. “That’s better. You have two choices: come with me voluntarily or be taken by force.”
“What…?” She frowned and looked around. Not sensing any danger, she looked back at the man. He looked too manicured to do the kind of dirty work he threatened, but rich men rarely wasted time with idle threats.
“Voluntarily, involuntarily. Quietly, noisily. Easily, by force. The choice is yours.” He held his hands behind his back. “I’m nothing if not a gentleman.”
She adjusted her groceries on her hips and shook her head. Definitely money but definitely crazy. What a shame. She could have used a rich man to fall into bed with. Instead, he had to be the last straw on an especially crappy day.
“I choose ‘go screw yourself’,” she said. “Take your suit, your hair gel and your ‘gentleman’s choices’, and have them all kiss my backside.”
She took a step away from her car, moving slowly as she waited for him to say something. The moment she moved, her instincts began telling her something was very wrong. She looked at him.
His smiled remained and his gaze never moved away from her. She looked around the street, waiting for a car to pull up, someone to try to jump her or something to happen. She clenched her groceries, ready to fling them at anyone who came near.
Finally, she shook her head and walked toward her apartment.
Suddenly the sound of a muffled shot caught her attention just before searing pain ripped through her lower back. She cried out, dropping her groceries and clinging to the car to stay standing. Her legs stopped supporting her and she collapsed. She managed to get one hand behind her and felt the blood – her blood – flowing out onto her hand.
“Help me!” she screamed, trying to crawl under the car.
The man with silver hair cocked his head to one side, his smile never wavering as he waved at someone to come closer.
Rain began to fall onto the town of Echo Falls as a man on a motorcycle pulled into a parking spot in front of Sophie’s Cafe. He tapped his fist on his helmet a couple times and pointed up to the sky, feeling lucky to have arrived before the weather, and then pulled his bags out of the top box. He shouldered his backpack and walked to the front doors.
All the outdoor tables and chairs had been stacked up for the night, but the sign on the door said they were still open. He raised his hand to knock on the door just as a woman inside raised her hand to flip the ‘Come on in! We’re open!’ sign to ‘Sorry, we’re closed.’ She looked at him and arched her eyebrow.
He took off his helmet and grinned at her, giving her his best ‘please?’ puppy dog eyes. She smirked and opened the door.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
“A late customer?” a large man with a meat cleaver in his hand asked as he stepped out into the cafe.
The cyclist swallowed and held up his free hand. “I’m Adam Baker. I’m here about the apartment for rent.”
The woman smirked. “I’m Sophie. That’s Otto.” She nodded to the man with the meat cleaver. “The apartment is upstairs. There are only two rules for staying here. The first is always pay your rent on time. The second rule is that you must like to eat.”
He grinned as he pulled off his gloves. “I think we’re going to get along just fine.”
Lily heard the engine long before she saw the car. She stepped back into the shadows of the alley, waiting until she could no longer see its rear lights before walking back out into the street. She paused, taking a slow, deep breath and letting her senses readjust after the intrusion. Every smell and sound came to her in sharp detail. A bitter autumn wind stirred dead leaves and trash on the ground, and she pulled the collar of her jacket up. She took another breath to steady her heartbeat and silently moved forward.
Her prey was close.
She could smell him now, his scent a mixture of sweat and dirt. He was nervous. He’d no doubt felt her gaze and her presence on the main street, but hadn’t caught a glimpse of her. Anyone else would have listened to instinct and backed off for the night, but not him.
He made a jagged trail through the town, avoiding the most brightly lit streets. She guessed his destination would be the abandoned construction site by the lake on the east side of town – the place she’d first seen him a few nights ago.
She wouldn’t let him get that far.
Thick mist began to obscure the streets as she followed him. His pace slowed, and she slowed with him, letting her smell and hearing make up for her lacking sight. Although she’d grown up on these streets and walked every one of them, they felt unfamiliar and unsettling at such a late hour in a way that laid heavy in her stomach. She’d explored the mountains surrounding the town as both wolf and human, going far beyond the territory of the wolf pack. The mountains made her feel more at home than she ever did in town for reasons she couldn’t put into words. She belonged to the mountains, and she never felt more powerful than she did on the hunt.
Echo Falls did not belong to her – nor she to it.
She wished she could shift so she could hunt in her true form, like she was meant to hunt. Balancing her weight on four paws instead of two feet would give her the speed and stealth she truly wanted. But she wasn’t allowed to hunt as a werewolf. Not in the town and not for this. As a human, she still held an advantage: she could do more than a regular human. Unfortunately, so could her prey. She could smell the wolf on him, that tinge of wilderness that marked him as something ‘other’.
The heaviness in her stomach began to churn, and the feeling of being watched prickled her skin across her shoulders.
Focus, Lily. Focus… There.
Her prey had stopped at the corner of an old brick building and looked around. She could hear his muttered curses as he rummaged through his pockets. She stopped to watch as he pulled out a phone. The glow of the screen turned his torso into a dark silhouette, and she moved closer.
“Crap,” he muttered, letting the hand holding the phone fall to his side.
Not wanting to risk him getting away, she sprinted forward. He would hear her feet on the concrete, but he wouldn’t have time to react. One tackle with a few fractured ribs would keep him still long enough for her to interrogate him. She sprung forward.
She was wrong.
He pushed away from the brick wall and turned, leaving her to hit the road. She landed mostly on her forearms, the sleeves of her jacket saving her from the worst of the scrapes. She coughed and desperately gulped down air. Rolling onto her back, she saw him stop and look back over his shoulder. Pushing past the pain in her chest, she got to her knees and scanned the ground to see what he’d lost. Her muscles tensed, and they looked at each other.
Whatever it was, he decided it wasn’t worth the risk and took off again. She sprinted after him, catching him before he managed to cross the road.
He stopped and spun around, slamming his fist into her jaw. The force of the blow nearly knocked her to the ground. He pushed past her as she stumbled, and she made a mental note to never underestimate a werewolf.
Even the ugly ones.
Adrenaline began to course through her, and she sprinted forward. Within a dozen steps, she’d closed the distance between them. She jumped forward and tackled him, throwing them both down on the pavement. Before he had a chance to recover, she punched him in the stomach. When he curled to protect himself, she pushed him onto his back. Straddling him, she pinned his arms to his sides. He slowly stopped squirming.
Then he laughed and spit in her face.
“Do you like punching women?” she asked.
Her fist stopped any answer he could have made. His head wrenched to the side, and he coughed blood. She raised her fist again… and looked around. She could smell someone, and the sensation of being watched quickly followed. A familiar scent. A human.
He began to walk toward her, and she looked down at the werewolf. Scum giving a bad name to her kind, as far as she was concerned. Her jaw began to ache. He began to twist and turn beneath her, cursing as he tried to buck her off.
“I’ll kill you!” he raged.
She raised her fist to punch him again and heard David’s quick footsteps coming toward her. He caught her arm and all but pulled her off the dealer. Satisfied that she wouldn’t have another go, he pulled the man to his feet.
“I have it under control,” she said and scowled at him. She didn’t like being ‘handled’ by anyone.
“You always do,” he said.
She growled softly at him and, as usual, he ignored her. Shaking her head, she walked back toward the corner of the brick building. His English accent made him sound like he was always talking down to her. She had to remind herself that they were working for the same cause.
David said nothing as he followed her, easily keeping his grip on his captive while she searched the ground. It didn’t take her long to find the guy’s phone. The screen had cracked because of the fall, but it still worked.
“This could be useful,” she said, picking it up and examining it.
“That’s mine, you dumb–”
Before he could finish his sentence, David gripped his throat. He sputtered and coughed, but he didn’t call her the word he’d been thinking.
“Language,” David said, loosening his grip.
She dropped the phone into her jacket pocket and, not finding anything else, walked over to the pair. The man struggled, but David held him tight as she searched him. He didn’t have any weapons other than a small knife, no doubt relying on his werewolf strength to keep him safe. Idiot. Another lone wolf causing trouble.
She found what she wanted in a small pocket on the inside of his jacket, close to his armpit. He only needed a small pocket for those kinds of goods. She couldn’t be completely sure of their colour in the poor glow of the streetlight, but she didn’t need to be. The feel and the weight of them told her all she needed to know.
“Drug dealer,” she said, putting the baggie into her pocket with the phone. She watched him struggle. “I need some information.”
“I’m not gonna tell you a thing.”
“Are you sure about that?” She lifted her hand so he could clearly see it. He screwed his face in an expression of annoyance until he noticed that her fingernails were growing. And they weren’t only growing – they were forming sharp points.
“Pure bred,” he whispered, his voice a mixture of awe and disgust. He shook his head and raised his chin. “Running around harassing us normal wolves.”
“I’m interested in what you’re selling,” she said.
His eyes narrowed as he studied her face.
She cleared her throat. “Something just for werewolves.”
The dealer visibly relaxed and leered at her. “Why didn’t you say so? I got the best Bane in town.”
She frowned. Bane had started appearing in Echo Falls months ago. Supposedly only a ‘decent’ high for humans, some tweaking had turned the drug into the ultimate high for werewolves. It promised to expand all the senses to wolf levels while the user stayed in human form. Every werewolf could feel like a pure bred – even during the new moon when they were at their weakest. Already more attacks and violence were being reported, not only around Echo Falls but in the surrounding towns as well.
“No thanks,” she said. “I want something specific. That comes in a syringe.”
He sniffed. “I don’t deal that crap.”
She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Gel caps only. Easy to move, easy to hide, easy to take.”
“You don’t have anything else?” David asked. “The Cure?”
The dealer snorted and shook his head. “Lemme go, morons. If you wanna believe in fairy tales, I don’t want nothin’ to do with you.”
As much as Lily wanted to keep questioning him, she sensed he was telling the truth. With nothing to lose and two potential customers to gain, he would have told them if he had anything close to what they wanted. He might have tried to pass the Bane off as something else, but he wasn’t smart enough for that.
Another dead end.
She began to feel the cold and her lack of sleep, her mind and her muscles all protesting. “Let’s tie him up.”
How many steps can there be?
She should know. She lived in this apartment building.
Tears ran down her cheeks and her lungs burned for air. Only the random irrational thought broke through the panic keeping her feet moving down the steps. Keep running. Keep running. The light of the emergency exit came into view. Almost there…
The door to the stairwell slammed open with a hollow boom. She tripped and clung to the railing to steady herself.
The shock of the cool night air sent a shiver of relief through her body. She’d come out a side exit into an alley. If she could just get to the front –
Suddenly she was thrown to the ground from behind. She hit the concrete, what little breath she had knocked from her lungs. Blood began flowing from where her head hit the ground, and small sparks of light floated into her vision.
How did he catch up so fast?
Desperately she tried to gulp down as much air as she could, willing her lungs to cooperate. Instinct kicked in as the attacker slashed at her, and she curled into fetal position.
A dog. He’d turned into a dog. A big dog with vicious claws and teeth he used to tear into her exposed back, thigh and shoulder. She slowly regained her breath but could only use it to scream her throat raw.
Her vision faded, taking the small sparks of light with it. Searing pain ripped through her shoulder as a claw dug down against her bone. One last, long scream tore from her lungs before she was left gasping and sobbing, her fear slowly smoldering into rage.
Things can’t end like this.
She opened her eyes as the dog stood over her, trying to get to her throat. A paw came into her line of vision and she saw her chance. She reached out, grabbed it and squeezed with all the strength she had.
The dog yelped and tried to twist away, but she held on with all the strength she had. She knew she’d only bought herself time. She couldn’t move the dog off her and she couldn’t squeeze his paw all night. He tried uselessly to bite her, his jaws having no strength so long as she squeezed his paw. But she could already feel her strength waning.
Suddenly the weight of the dog flew off her, taking the paw out of her grip. Without thinking, she used her one cooperating arm to drag herself toward the front of the building.
She shivered, her arm giving out, and caught a glimpse of a second dog. No. A wolf… Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, she listened to the dogs fighting, the battle just a few steps away. She tried her best to curl up against the building wall and willed the growling and snapping to go away. They sounded like they were tearing each other to pieces.
The universe granted her wish, the battle ending with the sound of two bodies hitting each other and a sharp whine. She shivered and softly whined as well, dreading the approach of the winner as one of the dogs yelped and ran away.
A few moments later a warm, human hand brushed the back of her head and she screamed again. If it could be called a scream. Her throat burned and rebelled at her abuse of it.
“Ssh. You’re safe now.”
She tried to scream again and move away, but her body wouldn’t obey her commands. She groaned as the full force of the pain washed over her.
He murmured and she relaxed her desperate grip on staying conscious. Sleep seemed so tempting, the black abyss singing a siren’s song to her. Her rescuer – captor? – tried to soothe her, but something dark and dangerous in his voice betrayed him. He was different. She tried to bat away his hands but gave up after a few attempts, not sure if her good hand was actually moving.
As she slipped into the darkness, she wondered if death had merely granted her a short reprieve from the inevitable.