The Black Claw is Here!

The Black Claw Cover4

Today, the Black Claw is available! Grab your copy HERE or a paperback.

Or if you’re in the UK, or Australia, click these handy links.

You can also read a sample here. (Spoilers for Hand of Steel.)

A savage pirate. Bounty hunters seeking revenge. A cyborg caught in the middle.

When murderous pirates slaughter a crew of innocent civilians and Krys’s captain is unjustly blamed for it, Krys must hunt down the real killers to clear his name or watch him die in the fighting pits.

Krys strikes a deal with a team of bounty hunters who see her as a traitor for leaving bounty hunting to become a pirate. The only thing keeping them from sending her to the pits is her promise of justice for their murdered teammate, but they fear their cyborg ally will lead them into a trap.

They might be right.


I also updated Hand of Steel’s cover, thanks to the work of ERA7. (Hand of Steel is on sale for 99 cents in celebration of the sequel’s release.) This is the lowest it’s ever been.

Here’s the UK and Australia links.

HOS Darker white


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Why Waiting is Good

country_in_chaos_cover_by_rebel_rider-davjubz When I started Country in Chaos, which was originally titled The Time has Come, and involved two separated twin sisters in a dystopian future, I didn’t know what I was doing. As I wrote, I learned more and more, changed one of the twin sisters to a boy, and changed the setting to a few months into the readers’ futures. I eventually edited the book to what I thought was a publishable level, then submitted it at the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference.

No one was interested.

Looking back, this is not a surprise. While the book was better than some survivalist fiction, a genre which isn’t known for stellar writing, it needed a lot of work to be publishable, and I was trying to submit it when dystopian and apocalyptic was in a downtrend.

By then, I was getting tired of the Chaos universe. I’d been in it so long that I wanted a break from it, so I moved into my Spaceverse, which had been on the backburner.

During this time, I did one final edit on Country in Chaos and printed some copies for friends and family. I didn’t believe the book was good enough for Amazon, but some people seemed to enjoy it, so if someone talks to me personally and knows it was my first book, they can buy it directly from me.

I started submitting Hand of Steel, the first book I wrote in the Spaceverse. I got some interest and could have published traditionally, but in both cases, a gut feeling after seeing the contract told me it would be a bad fit. (I was warned many times that I’d be rejected, but I was never warned that I might have to reject publishers.)

As I wrote sequels and prequels to Hand of Steel, I learned more about the Spaceverse world. Because I wasn’t published, I was able to go back and edit Hand of Steel to fit the new information I’d learned about the world through writing the other books. This also means I have a bit of a backlog, so fans will have more books to read sooner, a good thing for marketing. Fans won’t have to wait five years for a sequel, at least not for a while.

Now, Hand of Steel is published. The thing is, I’m glad I waited. If I’d published when I thought I was ready, I’d have published Country in Chaos, and it wasn’t good enough. If I’d published when the first publisher showed interest, I wouldn’t have been able to edit Hand of Steel. My Spaceverse would have been held hostage to what was already published.

HOS front cover final

I see a lot of writers self-publishing what I assume is the first book they’ve ever written, and many times, I suspect they’d have benefitted from a few more years of experience.

My advice to new writers who are considering self-publication, or even traditional publication: Wait. Finish at least two books that you consider publishable before releasing your first book. This counts double if you’re writing something with an overarching plot like a trilogy or series.

This is just my opinion, but I do feel it’s important not to get too excited and do something that will later be regretted.

Often, doing your best means not getting in a hurry.

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This is a story for the prompt that can be found on this Blog Battle thing. I’ve wanted to do it for a while, but this is the first time I’ve done it. It features Klate, captain of the Deathhorn, but he forgot to introduce himself.


“Ma’am, the pirates are on an intercept course,” my pilot said, his fluffy tail twitching nervously. 

I could see as well as him that there were pirates closing in, their ship a pale bone-white against the blackness of space.

“What chance do we have to escape?” I already knew the answer. 

“If we run, I estimate they’ll intercept in ten minutes.” Arati’s tail kept twitching. I’d never seen my pilot this nervous. “There’s no way our freighter can outrun a warship.” 

I nodded, my stomach boiling. We couldn’t outrun them, and we couldn’t fight them. 

Our com buzzed. I flipped it on, already knowing it would be a pirate. 

The pirate’s face appeared, a huge brown-furred Elba with piercing green eyes. I took an involuntary step backward. Even just seeing him onscreen, I knew he had to be truly massive.

“If you surrender without a fight, you will not be harmed.” His voice carried no Tupran accent, giving me a little comfort. Even if he looked like a huge predator, he at least sounded civilized. 

“There are children onboard.” I wanted to plead with him to get him to leave them alone, but I couldn’t bring myself to beg. 

He nodded. “Meet me in the cargo hold. We won’t hurt them, not if you surrender.” His ears perked a little. “How many crew are there?”

“My son and daughter, they’re just kids,” I said. “I’ve got a Chix pilot, and his wife’s the mechanic. They’ve got a kid too.” There wasn’t any reason to lie to him. He’d figure it all out soon enough.

“Come to the hold,” he said. “Remove all your weapons. We don’t want any shooting.”

I nodded my whole body tense.

The pirate’s gaze softened. “You won’t be harmed.” The com flicked off, leaving us alone.

Arati stared at me, his eyes wide. “You know they’ll sell us as slaves on Tupra, right? They’ll really want the kids. They’re young enough to brainwash.”

I hurried from the cockpit. “We don’t have another choice. If we surrender, the kids will at least be alive.” 

The three kids were all in our little dormitory. 

“What’s going on?” Bessin asked. Being the older of my two, she’d noticed something was wrong. 

I scooped both of my children into a tight hug. “Pirates are going to board the ship. They say they won’t hurt anyone. Whatever happens, remember I love you.”

Dakkor clung to me, his body shaking. 

I finally released them. Arati held his daughter. His wife had arrived too. 

“Let’s get to the hold.” I took Dakkor and Bessin’s hands and led them to the hold. As we reached the hold, the ship shuddered. The pirate ship had docked with us.

I glanced at my tiny crew. None of us had weapons, so we stood, huddled together, as the hatch opened and the pirates leaped through. Because the ships were belly to belly, the pirates had to dive through their hatch and then came up out of our hatch. The reversing gravity didn’t bother the leader as he landed in the hold and stood, towering over us. He wore twin belts across his furry chest, weapons strapped to them, and he carried a rifle, even though he could’ve killed any of us with a single blow of his clawed hands. His crew filled in behind him, a Skallan, a couple Humans, and a pair of Torfs. The Elba leader towered over them all. His green eyes focused on us as he approached, his stride long. 

Dakkor started crying. He’d never been this close to an Elba, let alone a pirate.

The Skallan pirate glared at us.

“Get the supplies onto our ship,” the captain ordered.

I crouched and hugged Dakkor, trying to get him to stop before one of the pirates decided to shoot him. “It’s okay,” I whispered. “It’s okay. Don’t cry.” My voice nearly cracked. They’d take the kids, maybe stun them if they weren’t quiet. 

The captain strode to us and crouched. “Hey,” he said. “It’s okay. No one’s going to get hurt.” He spoke gently, like some sort of friendly uncle, not a space pirate.

“You’re taking our ship,” Bessin squeaked.

The captain shook his massive head. “We’re here for the supplies you were hauling to the military. We don’t have any use for a ship like this.”

“You mean—you’re not going to—” I couldn’t finish.

“We’re taking the supplies, just the ones you were paid to haul,” the captain said. “Once we leave, go on your way and haul something that isn’t going to the military.”

“You’re not going to sell us?” I could hardly believe it, but I saw nothing in the captain’s expression to tell me he was lying.

“Of course not. We don’t sell civilians, at least not without cause.” His eyes narrowed and his voice grew serious. “You may not think you’re doing any harm, but you are running supplies for a military, and that puts a target on you. Some of the other pirates aren’t as merciful as I am. There’s a reason the Company pays so well for this sort of job.”

I nodded. “We’ll find another line of work.” I stared up at the huge captain. “Thank you.”

He glanced at his crew as they hauled the supplies through the hatch. “That’s normally not what people say after I take their freight.”

“You didn’t take my ship or my children,” I said. “That’s what matters.”

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Hand of Steel is Published!

Today, Hand of Steel goes live on Amazon. For the first week, I’m running a sale. On the 7th of July, the prices of both the ebook and the print book will go up, so grab them now.

Amazon Link to Kindle


Goodreads Link

I look forward to reviews!

HOS front cover final

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Cover reveal!

I’ve been on radio silence for a while, in part because I’m not exactly what to do with a blog, but I have been working on stuff.

If you want to sign up for my email list, just click here. You’ll get a super short story that’s a prequel to Hand of Steel.

Also, if you want to read Kidnapped as an ebook, you can get it at this link. (You’ll have to sign up though.)

And here’s what you’ve all (presumably) been waiting for.

I present to you the cover of Hand of Steel! I hope to have it published within the next month.

HOS cover11

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Kidnapped: Part 9 (The End)

Kidnapped 9

Five days later, after the full moon had come and gone, Thorne led the group back toward Refuge. Unlike Ash and Fern, Thorne stuck to his animal form. He’d said he preferred running to riding horses.

“They’re not going to take us back,” Ash said. He rode one of the horses they’d taken from the kidnappers. It had taken a few days for him to shift to his human form, but he’d finally done it. His horse, used to carrying werewolves, seemed fine with a werecat rider.

Fern sighed, her mind flashing back to the bloodlust she’d felt, first taking down the huge werewolf, and then hunting and eating a deer. I didn’t even feel guilty about killing that werewolf. If she shifted around humans, could she control the bloodlust? She looked at Ash, who rode next to her. He hadn’t killed her, even with the wolfsbane in his system. Surely, if he had some degree of control when he’d been drugged, she’d be able to keep control.

Thorne stopped, his tail upraised. “Someone’s coming.”

A man on a dun horse trotted toward them, a huge dog at his side.

“Robiel!” Fern urged the mare into a trot.

The horses met. Robiel examined Fern. “You shift?”

“Both of us,” Fern said. “Wasn’t your ankle broken?”

Robiel shrugged. “Werewolves heal fast when the moon is full.”

Thorne smiled. “I suspected it.”

“You’re a werewolf?” Ash stared, his eyes wide.

“Mom was pregnant with me when she got bit.” Robiel turned his horse toward Refuge. “Eva’s waiting for us at Refuge.”

Fern glanced at Thorne. “Did you smell wolf on him?”

“No, but humans generally don’t threaten to rip people’s throats out. Quite a few scouts have some werewolf in them. It makes them immune to vamps.”

“Is Refuge letting us back in?” Ash asked.

Robiel frowned. “No. They’re not friendly to shifters, which is the reason I’ve kept my condition under wraps. We’ll be headed for one of the southern packs. Zatari’s got a lot of halfbloods in her pack. She’d even take in Eva.”

“But Mom’s human. She’ll get bitten.” Fern shivered. Mom couldn’t live with werewolves. The second one lost control, she’d be dead.

“I’ll teach you two to control your instincts,” Robiel said. “I did some digging. That werewolf who killed Violet had just broke up with her, and from what I gather, he wasn’t a good human to begin with.” Robiel looked at Fern and Ash. “That’s not going to happen to you two.”

Hope blossomed in Fern’s chest. Maybe they wouldn’t be monsters.

Robiel turned to Ash. “What exactly did Roland want with you?”

“Experiments,” Ash hissed. “They want to use the werewolf powers to make soldiers and see what happened with half-breeds like me. Apparently, no one like us had ever been bitten by both species.” He shivered. “They were trying to train me, make it so I followed orders.”

Robiel stiffened. “We’ll need to warn the packs.” He gazed at Thorne. “I have to get these kids south. Will you be coming?”

Thorne sighed. “No. I’m going back to my pack and warn them.” He sat on the road.

Fern pulled her horse to a stop. “But they’ll kill you.”

Thorne gazed at the sky. “The blood moon’s coming. I’ll be able to challenge Frost then. The pack needs a new leader, especially with the fort so close.”

Robiel nodded to Thorne. “Good luck.”

Fern dismounted and wrapped her arms around Thorne. “I’ll miss you.”

Thorne placed one massive paw on her shoulder. “I’ll miss you too.” He stepped away and met her gaze. “You’re strong enough to control yourself. Remember that.”

“Thanks. I’ll be okay.”

Thorne loped through the forest. A few minutes later, his howl echoed through the trees.

Fern threw her head back and howled in answer.

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Kidnapped: 8

Kidnapped 8

The pair stalked around the edge of camp where the undergrowth hid them from the guard.

Moonlight shined off the silver-furred feline in front of Fern. He was smaller than Thorne, but still over a hundred pounds. He had a shorter tail, which made him look slightly wolflike.

Anger welled up in Fern at the sight of her brother’s form. She paused and took a few shaky breaths. Too much anger and she’d turn into a werewolf. She belly crawled next to Ash.

He sprang to his feet and hissed at her. A chain around his neck rattled. He had a slender build, cougar-like, and a spark of anger in his silvery eyes.

“Ash, it’s me, Fern.” She crawled closer and reached for the chain.

Ash growled, low and menacing. His ears lay flat against his head.

“What’s going on over there?” Nelgen shouted.

Part of Fern wanted to leap at him, to sink her teeth into his throat. That’d teach him for messing with her brother. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end, and her skin burned.

Ash turned toward Nelgen and roared.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Fern unclipped the chain around his neck.

He turned on her. His huge silver paw slammed into her side, sending her rolling.

“We’re under attack!” Nelgen shouted.

At Nelgen’s words, Ash leaped.

Nelgen lifted his rifle.

Ash bowled him over, and the pair went down in a flurry of claws and fur. They rolled over some packs, scattering bottles and syringes.

The four werewolves, who had been asleep before the fight, charged. 

Fern unslung her rifle and fired, striking one in the side, though the creature stayed on its feet to fight. Thorne sprang among the werewolves. His teeth slammed closed on the nearest halfblood.

The pureblood werewolf grabbed Ash by the scruff and threw him off Nelgen’s mauled form. The pureblood was the only wolf anywhere near Thorne’s size.

Ash crouched submissively, though he growled as he did so. Fern tried to aim for the pureblood, but Ash stood between them. With terror pulsing through her, Fern couldn’t hold the rifle steady enough to risk the shot.

“Kill the elf,” the pureblood ordered. “She doesn’t care about you, not like you are now.”

Ash stalked toward Fern, Nelgen’s blood covering his face and paws.

The rifle trembled in Fern’s hands. He’s a monster. “Make him stop, or I’ll shoot!” Fern yelled at the pureblood. She couldn’t hit him without hitting Ash.

Behind her, Thorne fought the trio of smaller werewolves. He’d be no help.

Ash circled closer, moving out of Fern’s line of fire.

The wolf within clawed at her chest, trying to rip free of its prison. She aimed the rifle at the pureblood but hesitated. If she fired, Ash might pounce.

The pureblood snarled. “Attack.”

Fern aimed the rifle back at Ash. “Ash, it’s me. Don’t listen to him. Please. This isn’t you.”

Ash growled and crept closer. What had they done to him?

Fern backed away. “Ash. Please stop.” Tears flowed down her cheeks. They’d made him into a monster. Where had her brother gone?

“Now!” the pureblood howled.

Ash leaped.

Fern fell under his weight. The rifle dropped from her hands.

Ash stared down at her, his eyes narrowed.

The wolf inside Fern pushed harder, telling her she had to fight, not lay still like a piece of prey. God, please help me, she silently prayed. “Ash, don’t do this. I’m your family. I love you. You’re not a monster. You can control yourself.” Please let Thorne be right.

Ash glanced at the pureblood.

“Kill her.” The pureblood stepped closer and licked his lips.

“No.” Ash took a few steps toward the much larger wolf. His ears were flat against his head.

Fern crawled toward the rifle. She had to keep focus, or she’d shift. Her instinct urged her to fight, to bite, not go for the rifle.

A halfblood werewolf charged her.

Fern spun. There was no time to reach the rifle. She released the wolf within. It exploded out of her, flowing over her and consuming her with blonde fur. 

The tan halfblood hesitated. Fern sprang to meet him. Her jaws clamped down on the surprised wolf’s throat. She tore at him, his blood in her mouth.

The halfblood ripped loose and ran, blood dripping from his throat.

Ash yowled in pain. The pureblood tore at his scruff.

Fern sprang on the pureblood. Her teeth sank into his shoulder. Blood spurted into her mouth. She pulled at the wolf, her instinct telling her to attack, not to back down.

He turned on her, his jaws snapping.

Fern tried to leap back, but the pureblood grabbed her by the throat and threw her down.

Ash sprang to his feet and tore into the wolf. His teeth pierced the pureblood’s back. The wolf spun and snapped at Ash.

Fern attacked. She grabbed the pureblood by the throat, stopping him from reaching Ash. 

The pureblood fell to the ground. Fern bit down with everything she had. His legs flailed, but the struggles weakened. Finally, he lay still.

Fern released the wolf and licked her lips. Satisfaction swelled within. She’d won.

Ash still held the wolf’s back, his jaws clenched. He growled at Fern.

She backed away from the kill.

One of the halfbloods ran. Fern shot after him, her muscles lending her more speed than she’d ever had. A thrill shot through her. She could run now. She could chase this enemy down and kill him.

Thorne bowled her over. “No chasing! Control yourself.”

Fern rose to her feet, her tail between her legs. Her instinct wanted her to chase, but it also warned her to submit to wolves who could easily kill her.

Thorne limped to Ash, his tail uplifted. “That is not your kill. Stop acting like an animal.”

Ash released the dead werewolf and backed away, his body low.

The two other halfbloods lay dead on the ground, and horses tugged at their halters. Ash stalked toward them.

Fern’s mouth watered. She could already imagine her teeth sinking into their tender flesh. They’d won the fight. The horses were theirs. 

Thorne leaped between the horses, Ash, and Fern. “Follow me. We’re going hunting. You two need to burn some of that bloodlust in a constructive way.”

Fern closed her eyes. I’m a person, not an animal. Still, the horses smelled good, and she hadn’t eaten much but dried meat. Getting fresh meat would be fun. They didn’t really need those horses anyway. It wouldn’t be wrong to eat one, would it?

“We’re going after deer,” Thorne said. “You’ll leave the horses alone.” Thorn moved for the edge of the camp. “In your states, you won’t be able to focus on much of anything. Best to get out of here before you eat something you shouldn’t.” He glanced at the horses. “Let’s go.”

Fern and Ash followed after Thorne, their noses lifted in search of fresh meat.

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Kidnapped: Part 7


Fern slid off the mare while Thorne sniffed the leaves on the forest floor. They’d been churned up by something large, probably horses. 

“If we press on, we should catch up to them tonight,” Thorne said.

Fern examined the leaves, noting how damp dirt still clung to them. Thorne was right. They were close.

With the moon only a couple days from being full, Thorne’s size had increased until he’d be able to take on any black bear in the forest, making Fern glad he was on her side. 

The hot feeling, like her blood had been warmed, shot through Fern. She leaned against the horse and rubbed the old bite on her arm. The sensation had been going on all day and had gotten worse when the moon rose. Unlike the feeling she’d had when she fought the vamp, this one refused to be pushed down, even when she rested.

“Is something wrong?” Thorne asked.

“I think I’m about to shift.” Fern wrapped her arms around herself.

Thorne let out a low growl. “Maybe we should wait for the rescue until after the full moon. It’d be cutting it close, but I think we’d still be able to get Ash after the full moon.” Thorne glanced north. “If your adrenalin kicks in, you’ll shift. That might save you or get you killed depending on what happens.” 

Tears burned in Fern’s eyes. She’d be turning into a monster. “We need to get them tonight before I shift. I’m not letting that werewolf bite Ash.” Even if she couldn’t save herself, perhaps she could save her brother.

Thorne’s ears drooped. “He’s a werecat. I don’t know how they turned him without a werecat, but they did.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Fern snarled. How could he keep it a secret from her?

“It wouldn’t have done you any good to know,” Thorne said. “You had enough to deal with.”

“He’s my brother!” Her hair bristled. Fern froze. The tingling sensation turned into full-blown burning. She fell to her knees. “Thorne, I’m turning!”

“Look at me, Fern.” Thorne stood over her, his golden gaze boring into her.

Fern looked into his golden eyes. 

“Now, concentrate on your human form. Think about breathing, not anger or excitement. Do it.”

Fern focused on her human self. The burning eased. Finally, it went back to the tingling she’d felt before. She glanced at the moon. If the wolf fought this hard to get out, she wouldn’t stand a chance on the full moon. “I’m turning into a monster.”

Thorne growled. “You are not a monster. Neither is your brother.” He stepped closer. “You’re only a monster if you let your instincts control you. When you turn, you need to control your instincts. They’re no different from human instincts. Some say prayer helps. It has helped me avoid ripping out a few throats.”

Fern hugged herself. The hot anger had surged up so fast. How could she control that? “I saw someone who shifted,” Fern said. “He killed my best friend right in front of me.”

Thorne sighed. “I admit, I don’t know much about halfbloods like you, but I do know Christ can help you fight any urges you feel, even bloodlust.”

Fern nodded, but she still didn’t trust herself.

“Do you want to go after your brother or wait until after you’ve shifted?” Thorne asked.

Fern took a few deep breaths. “We can go now.” She climbed onto the mare. “I’m not taking a chance of them getting to Fort Roland first.” 

“Then let’s go.” Thorne trotted ahead.

Fern followed after him as they traveled. Now that they were close, Thorne paused to sniff more often, then listened. Fern focused on staying calm and tried not to think about the monster she would become. 

The moon hung high above them when Thorne stopped, his hackles on end. “Tie the horse here. From now on, we go on foot.”

Fern loaded the rifle with silver rounds and tied the mare to a tree. Hopefully, if things went bad and they didn’t make it back, the horse would rip loose and head back to Refuge. Fern doubted the vamps would get the mare. She had more experience with vamps than Fern did.

Fern followed Thorne through trampled leaves.

Wood smoke hung in the air. After a few more minutes of travel, Fern spotted firelight shining through the trees.

Fern and Thorne slunk into thicker brush and crept closer to the camp. Five horses stood picketed on the far side of the camp while five animalistic shadows slumbered around the fire. One was a short distance from the others, farther from the fire.

A man leaned against a tree, his head bowed. For a guard, he wasn’t doing a very good job; then again, what did they have to fear? 

Thorne sniffed the air. “I scent one pureblood werewolf, three halfbloods, a man, and Ash. The riders must have turned into halfblooded wolves. I can deal with halfbloods without trouble, but that pureblood’s a real threat.” Thorne sniffed the air again. He let out a low growl. “Thought so. They’ve got Ash drugged up on wolfsbane.”

Fern’s stomach turned to ice. “What does it do to him?”

“It makes us act like animals driven by instinct, and we’re trapped in that form until it wears off. They probably figured it was easier to confine him if he was trapped in a form with no thumbs.”

A growl rumbled in Fern’s chest. “What should we do?” They couldn’t leave Ash, not like this.

“He’s going to be chained or tied up. You’ll have to get him loose on your own. He doesn’t know me so he might panic. Be careful when you go to him. Wolfsbane makes shifters forget they’re people.”

“Okay.” Fern crawled forward, every muscle tense. Something wild welled up in her, telling her how to creep quietly. Her jaws itched to snap closed on her enemies. She shoved the terrifying instinct down.

“If you get in a bad situation and can’t shoot, let the wolf side loose,” Thorne whispered. “Once it’s loose, you’ll have trouble with control, but it’s stronger and faster.”

Fern clenched her jaw. God, please don’t let me shift.

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Kidnapped: Part 6

kidnapped6Thorne led Fern along a crumbling road. After nearly a week of travel, the kidnappers left the deer trails and took to the main roads used by travelers, most of which had been paved a century or so ago, back before the vamps showed up and forced humanity into walled cities.

Thorne’s size had grown with the moon phase. If Fern had been on the ground, his shoulders would have come past her waist. Fern glanced at the moon. Another week and it would be full. Would she turn into a werewolf then or turn into a werecat on the new moon?

Thorne lifted his nose and sniffed the air. His hackles stood on end. Ahead of them, the road narrowed so the trees stretched all the way over it, making a tunnel of dark foliage. 

“What is it?” Fern pulled the mare to a stop. She scanned the forest, but the moon did nothing to pierce the darkness under the trees.

Thorne sniffed again. “There’s a faint vamp scent.” He eyed the forest. “We’re in unclaimed territory here. No one hunts the vamps.”

“Maybe we should camp in a clearing until it’s daylight. That’s what scouts do, isn’t it?”

“If we want to catch Ash’s kidnappers before they reach the fort, we can’t stop.” Thorne walked into the darkness.

Fern urged the mare after him. Thorne didn’t have much to worry about. Though vamps would eat anything that moved, they tended to avoid other big predators and large groups. Humans and elves were something they’d go crazy for. After all, their main method of reproduction was to bite humans and elves. 

“Fern, is something wrong?” Thorne asked.

“If there’s a vamp around, it will come for me,” Fern said.

“You got bit by a werewolf and a werecat,” Thorne said. “There’s a good chance you’ll be immune to vamps, even if you still smell like prey.” He glanced at the moon. “If you’re going to turn into a werewolf, you should start feeling the wolf side soon, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.” Thorne resumed walking.

Fern urged the mare after him. “What would I feel?”

“I’m a pureblood, so I don’t know what it’s like to not be able to shift, but when I try to hold the wolf side in close to the full moon, I feel energy trying to escape and my skin starts to prickle. If something gets your adrenaline up, it’s more difficult to stay in human form.”

She looked at the moon shining through the dense foliage above. So far, that hadn’t happened, but she still had almost a week to go. God, please let the bites counteract each other, Fern prayed for what must have been the hundredth time.

Thorne trotted through the forest, his movements tense.

Fern tightened her grip on the mare’s reins. Thorne may not have said anything, but after traveling with him, she’d learned his body language well enough to know he expected something to go wrong.

Fern listened to the forest sounds. Crickets chirruped. In the distance, an owl screeched. She tried sniffing the air but caught no scents, other than the cool night smell the forest carried. 

The mare shied away from the trees surrounding them.

Thorne spun, his teeth bared. “Run forward. I’ll keep them off your back.” 

Fern kicked the mare. She sprang forward, going into a dead run without urging. Her ears flattened against her head.

A vamp, its body pale, sprang from a tree. It missed the mare and fell to the ground. The shape may have been human, but the thing moved more like an animal.

Another one sprang in front of the mare, its hands upraised. The mare charged the monster and ran over it. She lashed out with her hind feet, striking the already downed creature.

Fern glanced back. Thorne tore into one of the vamps.

Something slammed into Fern, throwing her off the mare. She hit the ground and rolled.

She sprang to her feet, only to come face to face with a vamp. The monster, clad only in a loincloth, had pale skin and red eyes. Its lips curled back, exposing long fangs and a mouth too wide for a human. Instead of nails on its fingers, it had claws. Maybe at one time, this thing had been human, but now, it was a predator, a cunning animal with a taste for blood.

Fern stepped backward. She tried to keep her eyes on the vamp while she looked for some sort of weapon.

The vamp sprang at her, faster than any human. Fern threw up her arms. As the creature shoved her against the ground, she grabbed it by the throat. Its too-wide jaws snapped closed inches from her face. It clawed at her, scratching her shoulder. She tried to shove it off, but the thing’s muscles seemed to be made of coiled steel. 

An energy burned within Fern. She twisted and struck at the vamp with her knee, knocking it off her. She sprang to her feet and snarled at the creature. They circled each other. Fern felt her hair bristling as she stood under the light of the moon. The vamp hesitated.

Fern snarled again. She’d rip out the monster’s throat and taste its blood. See how it liked that.

A shudder passed through her. This wasn’t her talking, it was the wolf. She shivered and tried to shove the wild instinct down.

The vamp, sensing her hesitation, leaped.

Thorne slammed into it. He grabbed it by the throat and shook it like a rat. He spat the mauled body out and turned to Fern. “Did it bite you?”

Fern examined her arms. She had no bite marks. “Just claws,” she said. 

Thorne shifted to human form, wiped the vamp blood from his mouth, and walked to her. He peered at her wounds. “Just wash them. You should be fine. They’re not deep enough to get infected.”

Fern shivered. “It almost killed me.” 

“You let your guard down at the last second,” Thorne said. “Why?”

“I thought I was shifting.” Fern ran her hands over her arms. Were they hairier than normal?

“In a case like that, you need to free the wolf,” Thorne growled. “You’re no fighter. The wolf instinct knows more about fighting than you do.”

Fern looked at the dead vamp, which lay in a heap with its head ripped halfway off. No way a human could survive a werewolf attack. If she turned into a werewolf near people, she’d slaughter them. “I should have stayed in the jail,” she whimpered. “I’m going to be a monster.”

Thorne’s lips peeled back, exposing teeth too sharp for a human mouth. “Do you think I’m a monster?”

“You were born that way. It’s different.” Thorne was a pureblood, not one like Mitch. Purebloods had some degree of control.

“That’s only an excuse,” Thorne said.

“And what about them?” Fern pointed at the dead vamp. “They’re not even human.”

“Those things don’t have souls,” Thorne said. “When a vamp bites a human or elf, they give them a parasite. It kills the human mind then takes over and uses the body. Whoever inhabited those creatures before the parasite took over has already died. Becoming a werewolf doesn’t change who you are. Your soul is still intact, no matter what form your body takes.” Thorne looked toward where the dun mare had stopped a short distance up the road. “You’d better get the horse. We should get moving before more vamps show up.”

Fern hurried to the horse, who seemed to be unconcerned about the fight. Fern grabbed a canteen and washed her wounds, a few of which were somewhat deep, but she left them exposed to the air. They’d stopped bleeding.

She climbed onto the horse and followed Thorne northward, toward Fort Roland. 

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Kidnapped: Part 5

Kidnapped 5 2
Ash came to as hands roughly dragged him off a horse. The last thing he remembered was being yanked onto the horse and a needle sinking into his arm, then nothing. He blinked and tried to find his feet as a second man grabbed him. 

The half-moon hung overhead. Night had come while he’d been unconscious. 

He thrashed, but dizziness overtook him and his legs tangled together. He almost fell, but the two men holding his arms kept him from going down. They dragged him to a tree, forced him to sit, then tied his hands behind the tree so tightly they nearly wrenched his shoulders. The tree’s bark dug into his arms. The two men who had tied him to the tree stepped back to admire their handiwork. Both of them were the right age to be guards, but Ash didn’t recognize either of them from Refuge. 

Two more men stood farther back, speaking to each other. Ash squinted, trying to see enough to identify them. One of them looked his way. The scant moonlight gave Ash enough illumination to see the face. 

“Nelgen!” Ash spat.

Nelgen strode toward Ash and squatted in front of him. “I see Sleeping Beauty finally awakened.” 

Ash glared. “Why are you doing this?” 

Nelgen ruffled Ash’s hair. “I got paid well. Shame we didn’t get your sister too. That would’ve been more fun.” 

Ash tensed at Nelgen’s touch. He itched to hit Nelgen. He’d never felt more helpless. At least they hadn’t caught Fern.

The fourth man, the one Nelgen had been talking to, approached, a small bag in his left hand.

“Coal, where are you?” 

A huge black werewolf trotted from the trees. “Scouting, like you asked,” he said, his voice a low growl.

Ash’s heart pounded. As much as he hated Nelgen’s touch, the sight of the werewolf stalking toward him sent a new wave of fear rushing him. He was a rabbit staked down waiting for the wolf to eat him. 

Ash closed his eyes and looked away. The sight of this werewolf brought back memories of Mitch’s bullet-ridden body and Violet’s torn flesh. 

The wolf’s warm breath blew against his face. “What do we do without the cat?” 

“I’ll inject the saliva into him,” the fourth man, probably the leader, said. “No biting. It needs to be an exact amount for this experiment.” 

The wolf stepped back. Ash opened his eyes. The leader of the group squatted in front of Ash. He reached out and felt Ash’s hair, then ran a hand along the tip of Ash’s ear. “You’re certainly the real deal,” he said, his voice low. “Not some skinny kid who gets treated as being part elf, but a real halfbreed.” He looked at the moon, then dug into his bag and extracted a pair of syringes. “Here I have werecat and werewolf saliva.” He held them in front of Ash’s face. “Elves only turn if they’re bitten by a werecat. Humans only turn if they’re bitten by a werewolf, so what do you think your kind would do if both species bit you?”

Ash stared at the syringes, his mind flashing back to what Thorne had said about Fort Roland. They were going to experiment on him.

The leader chuckled. “You’re a smart one, aren’t you?” He stood and walked behind the tree. 

Nelgen and the black werewolf watched Ash.

Ash heard the leader kneel behind him. Needles sank into both of Ash’s arms. 

Ash clenched his jaw. With his bindings so tight, he couldn’t pull away. 

Finally, the needles withdrew. The leader stepped around the tree and stared down at Ash. 

“How long before he turns?” Nelgen asked. 

“Most of the time, when someone’s bitten like I was, they’re not likely to turn until near the full moon,” the leader said. “However, if we wait for a full moon, this half-breed will likely turn werewolf. We want to see what happens if he turns now, at the half-moon.” He dug through his bag. “We’ll have to force the shift now.” 

Even though the night had a chill to it, sweat trickling down Ash’s back and stuck his shirt to the tree.

“How do we force him?” Nelgen asked. “Beat him up? I can do that.” Nelgen shook a fist at Ash.

The leader pulled another syringe from his bag. “That won’t be necessary, I’ve got wolfsbane.” He bent and injected it into Ash’s neck. 

The stuff burned. Ash gritted his teeth but couldn’t help but grunt as the fire spread through his body. He felt two ropes loop over his head and around his throat.

The leader cut him loose. Ash fell forward, his arms too numb to catch him. He lay on the leafy ground, the pain making his skin burn.

He tried to stand, but the pain overwhelmed him. His fingernails began to lengthen, growing into sharp claws, while silver fur sprouted across his body. His clothes ripped as his size increased. He closed his eyes and tried to stop the transformation, tried to control his body, but the bones kept shifting, his jaw lengthening, his ears moving. 

Something slipped over his face. Ash opened his eyes and lashed out at the leader, his claws missing the man by inches. He sprang at the man, only to be jerked back by the ropes around his throat.

He tried to bite at the ropes, but a muzzle kept his jaws firmly closed. Fear and rage, rawer than anything he’d experienced, lent him energy. He thrashed, clawing and twisting, the movements tightening the ropes around his throat. That only added to the raw terror and rage.

The black wolf slammed into him, grabbed him by the scuff, and pinned him to the ground. “That’s enough,” the werewolf snarled.

Ash snarled back and tried to roll over, but the wolf held him firm. “You’ll learn to obey me, cub.” 

“Can you train a cat?” a man asked. Ash glared at the man, feeling a pulse of rage. The man had done something to him, but his mind was a fog of rage and fear. Didn’t the man have a name? Ash had known him before the nightmare began.

“Remember who you are?” the wolf asked. 

“Ash,” Ash growled, the muzzle muffling his words. 

“Give him some more. If I’m going to train him, I can’t have his human side surfacing,” the wolf snarled.

Ash felt another needle prick and more burning, then the last bit of rationality fled him as the animal instinct consumed his mind.

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