It. Is. Release. Day.
Go ahead. Applaud and dance around. I'll wait.
Ah, forget waiting. I'm applauding and dancing with you!
I'm always amazed that the elated feelings of a release day never lessen even after you've released a bunch of books. The anticipation. The satisfaction. The completion. It's all so wonderful! Every single time!
Warrior Kole McMannus has been traveling across the country in a time that is not his own, searching for his brother. Since the day a Celtic goddess banished him from his home in Ireland, he’s battled wolves, wandered from state to state, and nearly lost all hope of being reunited with his kin. When he lands in Vermont and finds two of his cousins living the good life, however, he picks up new energy to continue his quest. Getting back to his old life with his brother is within his reach… if he still wants to grab it.
Singer and fiddler Emma Rhodes has a dream to launch her Celtic rock band, Hendrake, to international fame. She and her three bandmates have been giving their all to this cause, including a trip to Deer Creek Inn in the quiet woods of Vermont to write new material. It will only take one song to make their fantasies a reality. Without distractions maybe they can finally find the tune to take them to the top.
Or maybe Emma will find a new distraction.
When Kole and Emma meet over breakfast at the inn, he can’t get her scent out of his nose and she can’t forget the dazzling blue of his eyes. A run in the dark woods could change everything.
Making wolf vows is easy. Keeping them is harder.
Chapter One Excerpt:
The sandy Irish shore was gone beneath his paws. Instead, frigid snow stretched out in all directions around him. Kole McMannus shook out his wet brown fur and squinted his crystal blue eyes against the blinding white. Dark shadows of trees lined the horizon to his left, and icy peaks of mountains cut into pristine blue sky to his right.
Where am I?
He’d been in Ireland, kneeling with his fellow soldiers—his brothers—before the Celtic goddess, Flidae, protector of all wild things. She was pissed at their leader, Reardon McAlator, who had turned some members of his mercenary army into werewolves so they could slay the Spanish king’s bloodthirsty enemy. Flidae didn’t take kindly to her creatures being used as killers and had banished the turned men, Kole included.
And Shawn. His brother.
Kole immediately sniffed the cold air. He hadn’t been a werewolf long enough to understand how everything worked. He just knew he was hungry all the time and his anger wasn’t as easily controlled as it used to be. Unfortunately, anger was the only emotion coursing through him right now. Directed mostly at Reardon.
He sniffed again, not sure what Shawn smelled like. When his brother was a normal human, he mostly smelled of ale and sweat, like the rest of the army. Kole didn’t smell either of those in this arctic land, but Shawn was probably still in wolf form.
No. He refused to believe he and his brother had been separated. Surely Flidae wasn’t that cruel. Was she?
Kole ran toward the tree line, sucking in air that nearly froze his nose. Nothing smelled remotely recognizable. Nothing stirred around him except the snow his paws kicked up as he ran. He skidded to a halt and tuned his ears to his surroundings instead. Perhaps that sense would lead him to his brother.
Standing still, the tree line a few gallops away, Kole listened until his ears stung with the silence. He let out a growl and shifted to human, but the freezing temperatures were too much for his naked flesh to endure.
There was also the headache. The one that pulsed inside his skull when he was in human form. It had started when he’d first been turned into a werewolf, but Reardon had said the change could cause such symptoms. Kole hoped the headaches would subside as time wore on—as he got accustomed to being a werewolf.
Not likely to happen.
He didn’t want to get accustomed to being a werewolf. He actually didn’t care if he was a normal man anymore. Being in wolf form, however… well, that was oddly comfortable. He maybe preferred being a wolf. Being a werewolf though? No. He didn’t want to live a life like that.
After shouting Shawn’s name a few times and getting no response, Kole shifted back to wolf form and continued toward the trees. The sun was slipping to its resting place and those trees were more inviting than the barren white blanket Flidae had tossed him on.
She was a tricky wench. Telling the men they had to do something worthy in order to get back to Ireland. How was he supposed to do that when he was the only one here? And where had she sent his brother? Shawn was a capable soldier. He could take care of himself, as could any of the men, but Shawn was the only immediate family Kole had left.
Their mother had died in childbirth along with the sister who wasn’t meant to be. Their father—a seafaring man—had perished a few years later in a shipwreck. When Reardon, their cousin, asked them to join his army, neither brother had to think too hard about their answers.
They hadn’t regretted their decisions either. Reardon had led them to glory in every sense of the word. Hired as mercenaries by rich kings, the army traveled, shed blood, claimed victory, basked in fame, and accepted unimaginable wealth. Kole and Shawn had been happy to be counted among their cousin’s forces.
Until Reardon had shared his curse with them. Betrayal was a difficult concept to swallow, especially from someone they’d all put their complete trust in.
Kole wasn’t blind though. The Spanish king’s enemies would have broken Reardon’s winning streak. Legends would have fallen on the battlefield if Reardon hadn’t taken some action. Kole wasn’t sure being turned into werewolves was the right action, but it hadn’t been his decision to make.
Just my consequence to suffer.
He was more upset by the banishment from Ireland and the separation from Shawn than the werewolf part. He could manage being a wolf. Being without his brother was the worst.
Leaping into the woods, Kole made a vow to find Shawn, no matter what it took. He’d figure out this place, find civilization, ask questions, fight if he had to. Shawn would no doubt be doing the same.
They’d find each other.
Still hoping that perhaps Shawn was here somewhere, Kole shifted back to human again.
“Shawn!” The snow crunched under his bare feet, his toes feeling numb. “Shawn, are you here?” He rubbed his hands up and down his arms, trying to hold on to whatever warmth he might still have inside him.
He wandered deeper into the forest where the wind wasn’t as biting, the trees offering a little protection. What he wouldn’t do for some garments. Being a soldier meant he’d worn armor most of the time, and though the thought of cold iron sent a shiver through him, he’d prefer his fighting gear over nothing right now.
“Shawn, please be here, brother.”
After a few circles around the area that didn’t turn up anything besides more ice-laden trees, Kole cradled his head in his hands, the headache throbbing behind his eyes again. Squeezing his eyes shut, he let out a growl and prepared to shift back to wolf form.
A crack sounded behind him and he whirled around. “Shawn?” He took a few steps in that direction, wanting to shift, but also wanting to be able to talk out loud to his brother. “Is that you?”
Movement happened all around him at once as six wolves emerged from the frosty shadows. Brown fur, black, gray, white blurred as they formed a semi-circle in front of him. Their keen eyes zeroed in on him as Kole’s heartbeat roared in his painful head. He’d had plenty of chances to die on the battlefield. Brutally. Bloodily. Not once did he think he’d be torn apart by wolves in an unknown arctic landscape with absolutely no one to mourn his death.
He went with his first instinct. Run.
Swiveling on his numb heel, he scrambled over frozen brush, cold air burning in his lungs as he ran. Behind him, the wolves’ paws thundered on the ground, sending vibrating shockwaves under his own feet. Growls and snarls sounded as they pursued him. Hot breath flooded his bare backside, and as welcome as that warmth was, he didn’t stop running. If he stopped, he was dead. If he was dead, he couldn’t find Shawn. If he didn’t find Shawn, he’d never forgive himself for suggesting they join Reardon’s army. His brother could have been spared Reardon’s foolish decision to turn them and Flidae’s harsh banishment to punish them.
Shawn followed Kole. Always. Five years younger, he regarded Kole’s thirty-six years of existence as something to be listened to and not questioned. His brother thought him wise. His brother thought wrong. A wise man didn’t find himself running naked from hungry wolves in the snow.
Shift. Flidae’s voice echoed in his head, the word amplifying the ache there. Shaking his head, he kept running, afraid the time it would take him to shift would allow those wolves to sink their teeth into him. He also didn’t want the goddess’s help. She was the one who had gotten him into this predicament in the first place.
Not me. Reardon McAlator.
Aye, right. His cousin. Some of the blame was his, but Kole made his own choices too. Choices that affected Shawn. And not for the better.
A sharp pain exploded in his left heel and he let out a shriek, the likes of which he never would have believed himself capable of. Glancing down quickly, he noted the bloody footprints trailing over the snowy ground as he ran. One of the wolves had bitten him. The scent of blood intensifying their chase.
Maybe Flidae was right. If he shifted, he might outrun them. He could at least heal that bite faster.
Perhaps he could show these wolves he was one of them.
Will they accept me?
Only one way to find out, Flidae said.
Not helpful. Why would she be? This was all a game to her.
No game, wolf soldier. Just survival.
Which he wasn’t going to do if he didn’t get away from these wolves.
He burst out of the trees and dug his toes into the snow when a cliff appeared in front of him. An icy cliff. One he continued to slide toward. He had no idea what magnitude of drop waited for him, but if the white-capped peaks at eye-level on the other side of the chasm were any indication, the ride would be a long way down. The edge laughed at him, knowing full well it was about to swallow him whole.
If it didn’t, those wolves surely would.
Kole jammed his heels into the ice-covered snow, his bitten heel screaming in protest as more flesh tore. He glided toward the precipice as the wolves narrowed the gap between them. Their teeth were bared, showing their unhappiness at his intrusion in their territory. Saliva dripped from their mouths only to freeze in the fur around their snapping jaws.
He let out a growl as he dropped to all fours and clawed the snow with his hands to stop his glide toward the edge, but his momentum would not be stopped.
With a roar, the wolves leaped at him.
He had a strange moment to observe them in mid-air, all their muscles tensed and ready to rip him to shreds. That moment was enough time for his wolf to explode free.
Kole was a much larger wolf than they were and when they landed, each one of them skittered back, whines cutting through the silence. He bared his own teeth, his hackles raising, making him larger than he already was. His back leg was slick with blood still, but he pushed that aside. His headache was gone, allowing him to focus and think and plan.
He let loose a roar that had the other wolves lowering their tails and back-stepping. His first concern was getting away from the cliff edge so he rushed forward, growling, barking, snapping his jaws until that precipice was no longer a danger.
Now to deal with threat number two.
Kole lunged at the closest wolf, but before he could do any damage, all six of the wolves bowed their heads to him. A few whines still sounded, but their utter submission surprised him.
You lead them now, Flidae said.
Lead? He’d never been a leader. He took charge of Shawn, but that was about it. Kole had always followed. Reardon mostly. And look where that got me.
Lead. Aye. He could be Alpha of this pack. He could stay in wolf form for a while. Just until he figured out how to find Shawn. These wolves could show him the lay of the land, keep him fed, fight any other threats this place held.
He could… enjoy being a wolf. No trying to be both man and wolf. No lamenting what he’d become.
Letting out a puff of air as acceptance of their submission, Kole nudged each wolf with his head until all six of them were standing before him.
Food, he thought and, instantly, the wolves took off. The last wolf glanced back at him as if to say,
This way, Alpha.
Maybe they could lead him to Shawn too.
He ran after them, but quickly took the lead when the wolves found a moose. His stomach growled.
Apparently banishment worked up an appetite.
The wolves fanned out around the moose, using brush as cover, then as a unified front—as an army—they lunged, Kole at the neck of the animal. Bringing down the antlered beast was easy with a pack.
Within moments, they were sharing their first meal together. Bonding.
Kole knew he shouldn’t like tearing into the moose’s flesh so much. Blood dribbling down his fur shouldn’t have pleased him. Raw meat shouldn’t have tasted so heavenly.
But gods be damned, it did.
If you haven't started the Warrior Wolves Series yet, you can right now by downloading Wolf Kiss, Book One, for only $0.99.
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