Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Mine! Chapter Fifteen

It's Wednesday already? How does this keep happening? Last week left us on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I think this week will go in totally unexpected directions. No prompts this week, but enjoy anyway!

Chapter 15

Roaring took over for the shout. When I burst through the door, knocking it off the top hinge so it slammed into the wall at a crooked angle, Kraig was crouched on the bed. His eyes were glowing, but there was no recognition in them. I stared in shock.

The marks on his neck and face were rippling as his muscles writhed under his skin, almost like something was trying to get out.

Lydia gasped.

“Keep her back,” I told Henry. Kraig was crouching on the bed, lowering himself. I prepared myself for his leap, but what I wasn’t prepared for was his reaction when I boxed him in with my arms.

My mate yowled and swiped at my face, his blunt claws ripping down my cheek as his back legs raked at my belly. I fell on my ass, and he sprang free, skittering down the hall to the stairs. He scrambled down them on all fours, unsteady but still fast.

“Kraig!” Henry shouted. “Stop!”

“What’s going on?” Lydia came out of the room Henry had shoved her in. “Alpha, your face.” She was staring at me, her mouth dropped open.

“I don’t know,” I said grimly. Hot blood dripped down my face, and my stomach burned when I pushed off the floor.

“Are you okay?” Henry asked.

“Not important.” Kraig wasn’t okay, and I was much more concerned about that. The front door had stopped him, stymied as if he didn’t know how to work it. Unfortunately, the living room had windows that were wide open and a screen wouldn’t deter him at all.

“Did Kraig do that?” Lydia asked Henry.

His reply was indistinct as I tuned them and focused on creeping down the stairs slowly. Kraig was slamming into the door. I must have made too much noise, and Kraig turned his head toward me. His pupils were completely blown.

“Calm down. No one is going to hurt you.” My voice didn’t help him, and he backed away. His head swiveled, and he spotted the windows.


I chuffed. Kraig froze. I did it again, keeping the sound low and soothing. He cocked his head, but wouldn’t meet my gaze. I crouched at the base of the stairs, but I didn’t go lower than him. I kept my head up, my body loose. Blood dripped on the floor and probably stained the carpet along the stairs, but I ignored the metallic tang. It wasn’t enough to be dangerous, and I’d heal.

Keeping up with the vocalizations, I approached Kraig. I keep my movements fluid, drawing on the animal soul inside me, relying on my instincts. He was my mate, and whatever was happening to him, Kraig was still in there.

Inch by inch, I drew closer. Kraig hunkered down toward the floor, keeping his head low but watching my every move. I hovered over him, my mouth open as I breathed heavily and continued to soothe him. When I brushed my uninjured cheek against his head he began to purr. I thought everything was going to be fine, but then all hell broke loose.

Henry jumped off the upstairs balcony, a blanket in his hands. Kraig snarled at the heavy thud and skittered backward. He turned toward the window and his muscles bunched. I leapt at him just as he left the ground, slamming my much bigger body into his. The corner of his head hit the end table between the chairs in the bay window, and he went limp.

I snatched him up, and his head lolled backward over my arm. Blood was oozing down his scalp, and he was out. “What the hell was that?” I roared at Henry.

“He was out of control.”

“No he wasn’t! I was in control.” I was angry and afraid. “Now he’s hurt. Call the lion pride and see if their medic will come. I promise him safe haven. I’m taking Kraig to my place.”

Ignoring my car, I loped through the woods bordering the houses along the woods, moving toward my house. Pulling Kraig closer, I murmured, “Please be okay.”

There was too much we didn’t know. Too much I shouldn’t have put off for even a day as I relished having the one man I’d always wanted in my arms. Well, he was there now, and look what I’d done to him.

The slices on my face were already closing when the medic arrived. I didn’t like the scent of the lion in my territory, much less my house, but it was what Kraig needed.

I blocked the doorway. “You do not speak of this. Your oath.”

“My Alpha....”

Contacting the other groups would have to be done, now that we knew others were involved after Ritch shared his story.

“Him you may speak with, if necessary. No one else.”

The medic, a healer with online training in modern medicine, nodded his head. He was a mid-level pride member, dominant enough to travel on his own but not so much that he would threaten group leaders.

“Those claw marks look like they weren’t too deep.”

“Check him first,” I said. My stomach burned, but I’d slapped some bandages over them. Kraig’s jaw was swollen, and he was still unconscious. Worse, the tremors under his skin, the muscles writhing and jumping, hadn’t stopped.

The medic paused beside the bed. He turned wide eyes toward me. “What is he?” Even as he asked the question, he was working. Pulling up Kraig’s eyelids, he checked his pupils.

“A doctor was experimenting with our genetics. I allowed him here, not knowing what he was doing with his samples and research. Kraig”—I swallowed roughly—“grew up here, as a human werekin. Now....”

Feeling along Kraig’s jaw, the medic checked inside as well. “He has fangs, claws, markings... not just tiger. I’ve never seen anything like him.”

Is he okay?” I asked. I’d struck my own mate, caused the livid bruise on his swollen jaw. Guilt was killing me.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Author Interview: Mann Ramblings with Priest and Pariahs

Today I have an interview with a lovely author, Mann Ramblings, with a feature of his latest book in the Ship Logs of the Santa Claus series, Priests & Pariahs.


What do you love most about writing science fiction?
World building! I love stretching the rules of possibility inside of a framework of reality. Some writers make the mistake of not following their own plot structure religiously and it hurts their efforts. My geeky friends and I used to spend our time as teens watching movies and pointing out the plot holes and errors to each other. Even with movies we loved. So I really strive to not give readers that easy opportunity. My best example of it done right: the Harry Potter series, where from the first book, it's said no one can come back to life. And no one ever does. Ghosts haunt the school and speak to others, but no one comes back to life. Dead is dead.

For me, science fiction is the setting the story sits inside of rather than the driving force. I like to introduce the elements without making it so technical only a die-hard can appreciate it and making it plausible enough the reader isn't pulled out of the narrative. It can be a tough balance, and I hope I manage to achieve it.

If you had to only work on one writing project for the next year... what would it be?
My next WIP is a steampunk novel titled Innocence & Carnality which so far has been part of my flash fiction group, Wednesday Briefers. Writing and posting 1k a week, I've already put in almost a year on it, and I'm about halfway through the first draft in the process. (It's a big one.) I'm just gearing up after a break to start hashing out the rest. Not at 1k a week. I'm hoping to get the manuscript submitted by the fall. There's a lot of rework to fix the pacing out of the 1k scenes, but I'm looking forward to it. I've stayed really excited about the story even with the extended writing phase. I'll be sure to let people know when I get closer to the end.

Do you have any of your books represented in your tattoos?
Why yes, now that you mention it. Anyone who's spent any amount of time talking to me knows of my passion for tattoos. (Some ad nauseam, no doubt.) I love all my ink. I designed each one and plan on getting more once I pay some of it off my Visa card. In the meantime, I need to get back in to the gym before I ruin the canvas. LOL

On the inside of my right arm sleeve I have the title logo from The Luxorian Fugitive. It was a present from my tattoo artist for getting my first publishing contract. I also have plans for getting the ship's logo that appears on all the covers and title pages, Santa Claus Express, (a not-so-subtle nod to the show Futurama) but I can't decide just where to place it yet. Maybe on my back just below the neckline....
Do you have a favorite quote from Priest and Pariahs?
Oh, man that a tough one. Writing Costa's dialogue was the most fun for me. I wanted his speech and phrasing to distinctly British, so when I first wrote Priest & Pariahs, I had my dear friend, member Never Surrender, beta-read the chapter with a focus on helping me revise his speech patterns into something genuine. The whole process helped me hone his sharp wit and other characteristics. I love all of his lines, such as this bit from chapter one as Costa talks to a young boy who's hitting on him after awaking from cryo-sleep. The line underscores Costa's unforgiving nature to the intolerant and alludes to the new adventure about to begin.

You should get back to your bigoted little family,” he said, dismissing the boy. “Run along. We all have new lives to start.”

Where does the crew of the Santa Claus go from here?
Whether by accident or design, I've left multiple avenues to take for future stories. When I designed the Santa Claus, I deliberately didn't introduce the entire crew to give me some flexibility for the future. A lot of people's stories haven't been touched on and others haven't been 100% completed. James and Barrus are in limbo, and I'd like to see what Dante is capable of, just to name a few.

I can think of two different storylines I'd like to write that don't really intertwine, so that would potentially create at least two more books just off the top of my head. Nothing's solid yet. Once I finish my current WIP, I'll start deciding what will be next and go from there. So far, all the stories have been one-offs, but sometimes I'd like to try for a multi-book epic saga. It's always a hard choice. I have so many ideas....

Synopsis – Priest and Pariahs

Ship Logs of the Santa Claus, Book Three
Costa McQuillen is a Pariah, a para-human with tech empathic abilities who has escaped from Earth, where being para-human is illegal—and marks him for extermination. Arrogant and standoffish, Costa is unable to trust anyone, but is willing to risk everyone’s safety to reach the planet Omoikane. His best solution: gaining passage on board the Santa Claus.
Arbor Kittering, the crew’s newest coding tech, is a medical oddity. With the technologies available to prevent birth defects, Arbor’s status as a dwarf brings the kind of attention he could happily do without. Having spent a short time in prison for data hacking and falsifying government files doesn’t help. The Santa Claus is his last chance at a new start, if he can decipher the strange malfunctions plaguing the ship.
Priest, the Santa Claus’ Head Pilot, is a bit of a scoundrel. Perpetually single, Priest is attracted to Costa for his exotic looks, and to Arbor for his unique qualities. In truth, he’d like to have both, but it’s clear such a thing isn’t in the cards. Now Priest needs to make a choice, before it’s too late.

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THE DARKNESS REMINDED him somehow of an unborn child, floating weightless, enveloped by warmth. What would anyone give to fall back into such a simple existence, removed of all need beyond instinctual thought? What a fortunate nine months it would be. What a wonderful life, sleeping and cared for inside the womb, never requiring a voice. All before anyone could teach a soul to love or hate, or something or someone was unwanted.
Is that what was happening here? Had he somehow regressed back before his own infancy? The pangs of jealousy he was experiencing told him no. Sadly, no.
He felt like he’d been slumbering for such a long time, and very, very slowly he was starting to wake. Threads of logical coherence began to tickle his thoughts in the dark. It was not a welcome sensation and he fought to avoid it. Why couldn’t he go back into the lovely silence?
Envy for the ignorance of the unborn rolled through him. How unfair it was to have the innocence of being sequestered and never hearing the taunts of children or comprehending the cries of the intolerant taken away from him. If only he had never heard slurs of hatred or understood what defined a second-class citizen.
What was that sound? Could it be a faint heartbeat in the distant void? It sounded brash and unnatural, refusing to lull him back to sleep like the soothing cadence of a mother’s pulse.
Like a child, he wanted nothing more than to stay safe and warm, but like in every instance, someone always forced a person into the painful light and cold of reality. The darkness parted above him with a soft mechanical hiss. The warmth bled away, making him want to cry.
Daring to open his foggy eyes, he squinted in the artificial light. A woman in a white coat hovered over him.
“Welcome back to the real world,” she said. “Can you tell me your name?”

Book Trailer

Start with Books One and Two of Ship Logs of the Santa Claus!

The Luxorian Fugitive

Sergeant Liam Jacks is the security chief of transport vessel, The Santa Claus. He travels the planetary cluster with Marc Danverse, his best friend and captain, seeking to escape his tortured past and find some peace of mind.
Having been through a civil war together, Danverse and Liam are close. Maybe too close….
All that changes when mysterious stranger, Hadrian Jamison, an escaped Adonirati, books passage to Alpha Centauri. Can he be trusted? Can the stories of his past be believed?
As Liam’s fascination with Hadrian grows, jealousy threatens to tear apart his friendship with Danverse.
When Hadrian’s owner shows up, Liam is forced to go against orders in order to launch a rescue mission to save him.
The ensuing conflict may be more than any of them expected.
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A Cook’s Tale

 The trials and tribulations of the crew and passengers of interplanetary transport vessel, The Santa Claus continues in A Cook’s Tale.
After a horrific breakup, Erron Murfin is bitter, homeless, and friendless. When the cook’s position on the Santa Claus presents itself, Erron decides to escape his current circumstances and join the crew. On board he reconnects with family friend Gamin Wells, whose own secrets and issues begin to surface upon Erron’s arrival. The least of which is the reason the pair haven’t laid eyes on one another in over twelve years.
As Erron settles into his new duties, the men on board take an interest in their newest crew member. Among those intrigued by Erron are polyamorous couple, Barrus and James. Despite Erron’s cautious nature, he’s drawn into a triad relationship with the pair.
But there’s something about Gamin…
Is Erron too damaged to confront his own feelings?
Will his past prevent him from finding what he needs?
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About the Author

Like many gay men, when Mann Ramblings grew up, there weren’t any heroes he could relate to. The world held him back while he tried futilely to hide the real person inside. So much has changed since those hollow days. He finally found his voice, the voice that says it’s all right to revel in the so-called inappropriate joys, laughs, and loves that storm inside a man’s head. It took a long time to find that courage and now that it’s here, he plans to use it well.

While spending years more focused on visual arts, he never let go of his innate passion for storytelling—he wanted to write and draw comic books when he grew up. Once he discovered M/M fiction, a whole new world opened with new possibilities. Why couldn’t you have fantastic and dynamic tales with an M/M cast? He started reading the online tales of authors like, Night Tempest, Rob Colton, and Alicia Nordwell, which only fueled within him the need to create. Eventually he found, and with a little coercive nudge from Night Tempest, started sharing his tales with an unexpected level of positive response. That experience and support gave him the courage to cross his fingers and aim for the world of M/M publishing.

Born and raised in Michigan, Mann Ramblings continues to type away, wishing it was practical to use a noisy, old fashioned keyboard that clacks with each strike, if only to annoy his loving partner and spoiled miniature dachshund.

Twitter: @mannramblings

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Mine! Chapter Fourteen

Yet another week and more flash fiction to share! This week's flash was inspired by the prompt: "Follow me. Quick."

Chapter Fourteen

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” I asked. “We haven’t been apart since I found you.”

“I’ll be with my parents.” Kraig sounded confident, but he was tapping his claws against his leg. “You go be the alpha.”

“Do I have to?” Clearly I was having a much harder time with the impending separation than Kraig was. My face heated.

Kraig snickered. “I won’t tell anyone you just whined like a five-year-old.”

“Thanks.” I glanced over my shoulder. His parents didn’t live that far away, but Kraig wasn’t up to walking any distance so they left together to get the car. “Follow me, quick.”

“What? Where are we going?” Kraig got up and followed me inside.

“Not far.” I shut the door and pushed him up against it. My instincts were screaming at me to refresh my scent so no one would be able to miss who Kraig belonged to, and I needed his scent on me just as much. Our bodies fit together just like I knew they always would; I leaned down and pressed my cheek against his, enjoying the way our stubble rasped together. 


I ripped my shirt over my head and then yanked his up to his armpits.


“Shh.” I pressed our chests together, and he sucked in a ragged breath.

Kraig rubbed his cheek against mine, and then pulled his head back. “My parents.”

“Don’t worry. Not starting something we can’t finish. Just need this.” I was tempted by his soft lips, but I didn’t want to break my word. I rubbed one hand up and down his back. His skin heated. Dragging my nose along his neck, I took a deep breath of his scent and relished the way it mixed with mine.

He began to purr, the vibration making me far too interested in things I’d promised him I wasn’t going to start. Car tires ground against the gravel driveway, and I sighed. “Your parents are back.”

I didn’t want to let him go, and Kraig had to be the one to step back. He pulled his shirt down, and then bent over and picked mine up. “Here.” Once I had it on, he smoothed it down. “It won’t be too long.” He pulled my head down for a quick kiss.

Outside again, I stood at the foot of the stairs as Kraig got into the backseat. Henry gave me a somber nod. He’d protect his son, not just because he was the alpha’s mate, but because he loved Kraig no matter what had happened to him.

At first, it’d been strange for older members of the streak to come to me for advice, but I’d spent enough time at my father’s side to fake it until I became more confident in leading. It came naturally now, and I didn’t waste any time making judgements as I visited the people I considered mine. We were a prosperous group overall, and major conflicts were rare. That was a good thing because I couldn’t settle and focus like usual.

“Are you okay, Alpha?” Bethany asked. “Can I get you a drink?”

My skin was crawling, and the hairs on the back of my neck were up. I rubbed a hand over my hair, and Bethany and her partner both flicked glances at my nearly bare head and then looked anywhere else. “No, thank you. I understand you want to organize the gathering this fall?”

“Yes. The summer gathering was great, but Cassidy and Owen are expecting, as I’m sure you know.”

That had been my last stop, and I’d given them my sincerest congratulations. Every birth was precious, and helped our group grow. Plus, I was good friends with Owen since he was only four years older than me. “Yes, they mentioned they would be taking a step back. I’m happy you’re willing to volunteer. It can be a lot of work, and I know you have the twins.”

Zoe waved a hand. “They’re not so hard to take care of now that they’re back in school. We’ll do the planning during summer break and then do the actual work when they’re in class with the other streak children.”

“You’re not teaching this year?” I asked her.

“No. My part-time medical transcription job has been upped to full-time, so I’m not going to have any free mornings.”

I made a note to check in with the organizers of the streak’s homeschool classes. Maybe that would be something Kraig could do, if he was up to it by then. Just a single thought of my mate sent an ache through my heart. My stomach flipped.

“I’m sorry, but I have to go. Thank you again for volunteering to organize the gathering, and let me know if there is anything you need from me.” I stood and barely handled the brushing of their skin against mine as we touched.

Maybe that was it. The many scents of the streak members who all wanted a touch overlaid the scent of my mate. It’d been two hours, and I’d planned on doing a few personal errands too. Not going to happen.

Heading out, I drove a little faster than I should. I needed Kraig, and the longer we were apart, the worse I felt. Was something wrong? I parked crookedly and slammed my door behind me. I was running by the time I hit the front door and burst into the living room.

“Deke? What’s wrong?”

Henry stood up and flexed his fingers, claws popping out from the tips. He stood in front of Lydia. Kraig was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is he? You promised to keep him safe,” I hissed.

“Kraig?” Lydia pushed Henry. “He’s upstairs sleeping. What’s wrong?”

I tried to calm my breathing. “Nothing... Everything.”

My skin was crawling, like it would split open. A hoarse shout broke the tense tableau. Kraig!

Our souls had bonded, and this was the echo I’d heard about. I pounded up the stairs to his room.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Mine! Chapter 13

Here we go again... it's Wednesday! This week's flash piece was inspired by the prompt: "Just hold me. Please." Enjoy!!

Chapter Thirteen

The front door opened behind me. I’d been so focused on Ritch, assessing the danger he posed to the streak and my mate, that I didn’t even hear Kraig moving around in the house. He was pale, his expression stricken. He had to have heard Ritch. I half-turned, refusing to turn my back on Ritch even with Deke at his back.

Kraig clutched the door like it was holding him up. “I know. I know what happened to Danny.”

Pain and fear spread through the air, the acrid odors coming from Kraig. I rushed up the stairs to him, needing to banish those scents. I was careful as I wrapped my arms around Kraig and pulled him close. He shook as he wrapped his arms around my waist and fisted his hands in my shirt.

A single footstep on the wooden steps sent my protective stance into overdrive again. I snarled, glaring over my shoulder as I gently pushed Kraig down into a chair. “Stay back.”

Deke had his hand on Ritch’s shoulder, pulling him back. “They’re newly blooded,” he whispered. “Don’t stare.”

“But...” Ritch stretched out one trembling hand. “He looks like....”

“A tiger and a cheetah,” Kraig said bitterly. “A freak.”

Ritch shook his head. “You were... but you look like him. That pattern on your neck. And the lines on your muzzle. I saw a picture of his mate once.” He dropped his hand. “How is this possible?” he whispered.

“Danny was in another cage when I woke up in mine. They did things to him and me. Then, one day, they... they....” Kraig broke off, choking on the words.

“Shh.” I dropped to my knees beside him and ran my hand over the short bristles of his mane. “It’s okay.”  The submissive posture grated on my instincts, but I wasn’t going to move away from my mate, and I wasn’t going to make him say it. “Once Kraig was a human werekin like you. What we do know is that your cousin and his mate were both experimented on by the doctor you mentioned. He also experimented on others, but somehow—we don’t know how yet—he transferred their bonded werekin souls into Kraig.”

Tears overflowed and ran down Ritch’s cheeks. He shook his head, working his jaw. “They’re dead, aren’t they?” He curled his hands into fists. “I failed.”

“If you failed, then so did I. Kraig was gone for two years. We thought he died. I let that doctor into my territory and allowed him access to my streak.”

Kraig grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “You didn’t know.”

“But I should have. My gut told me something was wrong about him. Look at what he did to you.”

“This was done before he brought us here. You couldn’t have stopped it.”

Ritch turned away. “Maybe if I’d said something when he first disappeared. Maybe gone to the Alpha.”

Park broke his silence. “You can’t live your life constantly thinking maybe. Come on.” He pulled Ritch back. “We’re going back to my place,” he told me.

I nodded my permission. “We’ll talk later.”

When they were gone, I focused all of my attention on Kraig. He was wiping away tears, and he looked exhausted. “This was too much. Let’s go back to bed.” He wouldn’t let me carry him, but I supported Kraig up the stairs.

“What do you need?” I asked.

“Just hold me. Please.”

We’d skipped dinner, and Lydia called me on it. “How is he supposed to heal if you don’t feed him?”

“Mom, I’m okay. I needed sleep more than I needed to eat. Besides, I’m healing fine.” The bone-deep slice in his wrist was a red line, still raw, but completely closed. Two days wasn’t going to be enough to take away the dark circles under his eyes or hide the way his clothes hung off his downright skinny frame.

She shoveled a few more sausages onto his plate.

“Besides, you’re going to make my stomach explode.” She sniffed, but finally put the pan in the sink. I nabbed two of the three sausages off Kraig’s plate and stuffed them in my mouth, and he mouthed, “Thank you.”

I smirked. “I’d hate to see you explode. Ow!”

Lydia had smacked me on the back of the head. She sat down in a chair next to Kraig’s dad and picked up her fork. “No innuendo at the table.”


“Don’t even try it.” She raised that eyebrow, and I clamped my lips shut around what I wanted to say. It’d been so long since she was like this, back to the woman who’d kept in line before I became the leader of our streak. “Sorry.”

Clinking of forks and sounds of enjoyment dominated the morning quiet. “What do you have planned for today, Deke?” Henry asked.

“I have a few issues to adjudicate, so I was going to drive over to a few streak member’s houses.”

“They aren’t coming here?” Kraig cocked his head to the side. “They always did before.”

“Right now’s not the best time to have additional scents in my home.” My rooms were inundated with my scent and his mom’s dominated the kitchen. There weren’t a lot of scents that suck around since the streak members visited briefly, no more than a few hours at a time, if that. I needed his scent mingled with mine or my instincts would ensure I drove everyone else out, if Kraig didn’t do it first.


Henry cleared his throat. “Would you like Kraig to come home with us while you’re out?”

“If he wants to.” I wasn’t going to make his decisions for him again.

Lydia froze.

“Of course I do. Park still lives there, right?”

“No, he has his own place now. But your room is just how you left it.” Lydia cleared her throat.


“I couldn’t bear to change it.” Lydia blinked. “It was the last piece we had of you.”

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Mine! Chapter Twelve

This week's flash is inspired by the prompt: Time isn't on our side. Enjoy!

Chapter 12

I flexed my fingers, my claws extending to their maximum. “Why were you on the side of the house?” I stalked closer to take a deep whiff of his scent.

“That’s my fault,” Park said. “You were in the backyard with Kraig, and I thought it would be easier for Ritch to go around than to go inside your house.”

“Why?” I growled.

Ritch flinched, but so subtly that only the narrowing of his eyes gave it away. He looked calm; his breaths slow and even, his shoulders rounded and chin tucked slightly to one side to expose his neck. He didn’t meet my eyes, keeping his gaze on my face but not going higher than my mouth.

As soon as I got a good whiff of him, I knew it was all a facade. He wasn’t calm—he was terrified, like a prey animal facing his death.

“Back... home.” Ritch’s breath hitched, but he pushed through it. “We weren’t allowed in the alpha’s home. He said our scent offended him and punished us if we got too close.”

“Is that what you’re expecting me to do? Punish you?”

“You’re the alpha. I’m human werekin.” He said that like it explained everything. I looked past him to Park who looked on with a grim expression.

“That is not how things work in this streak. You are a stranger, however, and will not stray from your guard.” I looked beyond him to Park who gave a single nod.

“I understand, Alpha.” Ritch bared his neck. “I apologize again.”

“Why did you rush over here?” I backed away from Ritch and forced my claws to retract, but stayed between them and the front porch.

Park stepped up right behind Ritch, so close they nearly touched. “Because Ritch told me he had a cousin who bonded outside the streak—outside his animal soul—with a cheetah werekin. Even if they’d let her stay, cheetahs live solitary spread out across their territories. So they left his tiger streak almost three years ago.”

Clamping down on my reactions, I tried to remain impassive. “And?”

“And his cousin left the streak but kept sending him messages. Ritch helped them find a good place to hide from their alpha and put the money down on property with a trailer for him.”

Ritch took up the tale. “Danny was gone about six months and then the letters and texts stopped. Our grandpa sold a patent a long time ago and left us money in trust—that was how I paid for their new place—but he hasn’t touched it. I have no family in the herd, and only my tie to a tiger streak kept me valuable enough to protect. As soon as he disappeared, I was fair game. The alpha let his third-in-command claim me, thinking that would give them access to the trust. But Grandpa was smarter than that. Without both of our signatures, or one of us and a death certificate, the bank won’t release the funds.”

“You’ve been blooded? How can you stand to be apart from your mate?” I’d be curled up into a ball. I could barely stand the distance between me and Kraig right then.

“Claimed, not blooded,” Ritch said bitterly. The acrid stench of hate filled the air. “Human werekin are never blooded. We’re nothing more than slaves to your kind, allowed to interact with the humans to protect werekin secrets, but we don’t really fit in with them either. If it wasn’t for the fact that the humans would put us in a cage just as fast as they did you, most of us would probably reveal werekin existence. It could hardly make our lives worse.”

“We don’t do that here,” I said. “When I was growing up my dad’s second cousin was a go between and helped us expand our territory. My uncle is a human werekin and a professor; he doesn’t even live with the streak. He helps us because we’re family and he wants to.” Well, he rarely wanted to, and he did complain the whole time about how it was beneath his dignity as a PhD to pay bills and the like we could only do in person, but he still did it. I wasn’t going to mention that, though.

“That’s what I heard when I was wandering, and why I came here.” Ritch broke his facade and clenched his hands together. “I also heard....”


“There’s a doctor. He used to work at a hospital in the town. He knew about werekin, so he’d treat us. My cousin took me to him to get my arm set the last time I’d been beaten, and he took blood from both of us but didn’t say why. The doctor took more from me, but he disappeared right after my cousin did. My”—he grimaced—“the guy who claimed me was talking to the alpha once about him and I overheard them say—”

I roared. My voice was no better than a snarl as I said, “Are you telling me your alpha and the man he sold you to were in league with the doctor who harmed Kraig?”

Ritch cringed back, but Park didn’t move. Park squeezed his shoulder gently. I backed off immediately, but Ritch was still shaking. “No! They were suspicious of the doctor and some of the tests he was doing. Apparently he showed too much interest in us human werekin.”

“What herd did you come from; who is the alpha of your cousin’s streak?”

At that question, Ritch clamped his jaw shut. He stared at the ground and didn’t answer me, but I could smell the terror rolling off him again.

“I don’t plan to tell them you’re here. I’m assuming you ran away.”
He nodded. “I tracked the doctor here, but I know time isn’t on my side. He has something to do with Danny’s disappearance; I’m sure of it. I have to find him,” Ritch said desperately.

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