PamelaBy: Shannon Mayer
Thank you seems inadequate when it comes to being grateful to those who help bring a story to life. My editors, cover artists, proofreaders, ARC team, and readers. All of you have a part in making this story more than it could have been without you.
Here’s to a thousand more.
“Always go too far, because that’s where you will find the truth.”
THE GULF OF Mexico beach is where Raven found me, where we met the first time as I tried to convince three shifters that the demons had been contained and they could trust me, an underage witch.
“Listen to me.” I struggled not to yell at them. In part because of the wind and the sound of the waves, but more because they kept turning their backs to walk away. It occurred to me that this must be how parents felt when their children refused to see basic logic and reason. I drew a breath and forced myself to relax my stance before I continued. “Rylee stopped the demons. The world is safe now. I was at the battle. I saw them go down.” My back was to the softly lapping water of the Gulf. Around us was the constant hum of the world continuing as if there had been no fight for its existence. Strange how that was.
The cries of the gulls overhead, the rhythmic push and pull of the waves on the sand, the rustle of clothes as the shifters adjusted their stances; my words made them uncomfortable. A waft of dried seaweed—tangy and sour—curled up my nose, tickling and taking me to the edge of a sneeze, something that would make me look even more undignified than I was sure I did. Soaked to the bone, my hair a wild, wind-blown mess, and I knew without seeing myself that I looked younger than the fifteen years I was.
The three shifters stood in human form in front of me, almost as bedraggled as I was. Their clothing was not in good shape, and two weren’t even wearing shoes. They looked like bums, homeless men who’d been out for a night of drinking and ended up on the beach at daybreak. But I could see through what the world saw to what they truly were. One wolf, one bear, and one mountain lion—all male—were battered and bruised beyond the way their clothing looked. The wolf shifter took the lead, which was not a surprise seeing as they tended to be a bit on the bossy side when they were Alphas. “Look, I know the demons are gone. I was at the battle, too.”
I smiled, doing my best not to sigh with relief. “Then you know that now, more than ever, we need to look out for each other. There are so few of us left.”
“Us? You aren’t one of us.” The bear shifter shook his head and a smell of rotting meat floated through the air as he let out a wet grunt. “We aren’t meant to be in close quarters with one another. Don’t know what you’re up to, little girl, but I don’t like it.” He took a few steps forward as if to intimidate me.
Marco, my friend and transportation, clacked his beak. Just once, but the sharp snap stopped the bear shifter in his tracks. “I wouldn’t threaten her. It would be bad for your health to do so again.” Of course, being a thousand-pound male Harpy with talons that could gut all three of the shifters with very little effort helped his words in their effect. I appreciated it, but it also irritated me that no one took me seriously on my own. Even now, after all that had happened, I was still seen as the kid.
The young one. True as it might be, I didn’t feel young.
The wolf hadn’t taken his yellow-green eyes off me. He had dirty blond hair and those eyes seemed to be looking for something, as if he could see through me. I held his gaze easily. I’d locked eyes with far more frightening people than him.
“We don’t need each other now; the threat is over. Brighton is right about that,” the wolf said. Brighton must be the bear. The burly man nodded. Brighton the bear, then.
I clenched my fists at my side, fighting the urge to grab the wolf and shake him till his teeth rattled and what I was saying sunk in. How did I explain what I couldn’t even fully say to my family, to Rylee, or even Liam? The fear that curled through my blood at night while I lay trying to sleep was all too real. The war against the demons was won, but something else was coming, and I knew it as surely as I knew the color of the sky.