Closer Than Family Preview

Merry Christmas to all and happy holidays if that don’t do ya fine. I’ve got a present for everybody who actually pays attention to these posts: another sneak-peek at Book 2. Without further ado, let’s get to it. Remember, these previews are unedited–so give me a little leeway, okay? Okay.

There was a tree-line with some underbrush about thirty feet away—close enough under cover of darkness. Aaron turned in the passenger seat to address Becky as she started to squirm out of her clothes. “If the cops hustle us along, we’ll have to circle, I guess. Pull over for a few minutes and then be on our way.”

“I’ll find you one way or another,” she said noncommittally as she pulled her blouse over her head, thankful to have something else to occupy her mind. “Still leave a scent trail in the car.”

Aaron turned away with an uncomfortable expression—probably at her matter-of-fact disrobing—and pretended to keep a lookout. Becky folded her things, each in turn as she got them off, and laid them in her duffel. When she was finally ready, she gave their surroundings a scan herself and opened the car door. “I’ll be back when I can, I know this isn’t gonna be much fun.”

“Just be careful,” Cassie implored from the driver’s seat.

Becky shot her a glare, and in her usual monotone, finally answered: “Relax. How many people can there be around here armed with silver?”

“At least two,” Aaron answered dryly.

“I’ll stay clear of your parents’ place,” Becky shot back easily—and not unkindly. She was surprised to discover she was feeling better-disposed toward her new Alpha than her Pack sister. That wasn’t something she would have expected when they formed their little association last night.

“You know that’s not the only concern,” Aaron added with a sigh, turning to face her with an awkward look—it was cute how much he was struggling not to look at her body, she had to admit. (Unsurprisingly, he failed—but at least he made the effort.) “I’m not gonna lecture you. You know the risks.”

“And the risks are greater if we leave Drake out there. Maybe he drifted downriver to Isobel. We’ll figure that out later—if he’s here, though, we need to know it—and get a line on whatever he’s planning.”

“No argument here. You’d better get going.”

Keeping low, for no reason other than it felt like the thing to do, Becky made her way from the gravel driveway through the tall grass to the underbrush at the tree-line. Then she hunkered down and forced the Change.

The Full Moon was still close, and at night-time, shifting was even easier. But ‘easier’ didn’t mean ‘easy’. Becky’s breath quickened as she allowed the Wolf to rise, her fingers gripping at the fallen leaves and twigs as she closed her eyes. She felt the exhilarating, unpredictable, unsteady rising of her wild side and bit back a scream, letting out only a quiet, wincing breath as her Change began.

She felt it first in her spine, then in her head: a splitting ache that made her want to cry before it spread to her limbs as her bones twisted and warped, forging themselves into new shapes, her muscles painfully multiplying. She was on fire, inside and out: her thick, dark fur sprouting all over her body provided a counterpoint to the more internal changes that was merely unpleasant rather than painfully torturous.

When the pain stopped, Becky forced her eyes open. It was easy to sense what was different: everything. Her vision was… Not the same. Not dull, just less important. Of all the ways she gathered information now, her sight was among the least helpful. Her hearing had greater range and sensitivity, and her nose was a window to a whole different world.

While masked as a human, a Wolf’s nose gave a little extra information: about people’s moods, who had been where lately. But as Becky set off on her search, angling toward the Zephyr River, she experienced the countryside around her as a tapestry of stories. Out here, most of them dealt with wildlife. But she could easily smell Aaron and Cassie in the car, not far away. Her instinct was to stay and guard the rest of her Pack, but that wasn’t what she was doing here. Off she went, and while the rich flow of information she picked up through scent told her a great many things, none of them yet was anything she actually wanted to know. She picked up a tantalizing hint here and there as she made her way north, along the eastward bend of the riverbank. Not a trace, as such, more like a distantly-heard sound: Drake was out there somewhere. But it wasn’t a proper trail she was smelling. Maybe he was on the other side of the river, she mused as she hunkered under a bush, waiting for a chance to sneak past a family cookout. The buildings along the riverbank were getting more densely-packed as she traveled north, closer to Central. When everyone’s back was turned, she took her chance and dashed across the open space and moved on before anyone could question the shadow they’d seen.

When she finally reached the Central Bridge, Becky knew she’d found what she was looking for: there was Drake’s trail, plain as day: two trails, actually. The older one from the previous day, when the submissive little male had crossed the bridge to pick up Aaron’s drop at the college. Becky allowed herself a little growl of excitement as she cast about: the smell of the newer trail was a little stronger toward town. She followed.

The stories her nose gathered were different now—more complicated and elaborate, though no less brutal, in their way. But she was concerned only with one thread: Drake’s. Now that she had a grip, she followed tenaciously. With only slight detours here and there to hide or (in one case) make an attack, Drake had headed into the middle of town. What he had in mind, she could only guess, but the closer she got to Downtown, the harder it would be to keep herself hidden. Meantime, all she could do was follow.

It was fully night by now, and the truncated towers of Downtown Graycliff sparkled with pale electric fire. Becky’s human side found the sight comforting, but her Wolf longed to tear those towers down and set that fire free in the ruins. As she made her way deeper into the city core, Becky found herself playing an elaborate game of hide and seek with literally everyone.  And it grew more difficult with each block she traveled. It was early evening still, and Downtown was just as active as during daylight hours.

Haltingly, she made her way closer to the core—she had to sacrifice following Drake’s trail directly for staying hidden. The other complication presented by the frequent encounters with people was her rising hunter’s instinct. She even started getting hungry. That was… Well, not easy to ignore, but she managed it by having something else to focus her attention on. There was one good thing about being in the middle of Graycliff’s central business district: there was usually a clock somewhere nearby. She had to strain to make sense of what she saw on them, but she could do it.

She was, in fact, focused on a clock, perched on a rooftop as she forced her brain to make sense of the cryptic lines and dots on the electrical display, when her nose picked up a distinct thread of fear. Not just fear, but absolute terror. Disturbingly, it stoked the fire of her hunger and Becky realized there was a very good chance somebody had seen her, though she was at pains to figure out who, or where they were. She swept her head around, trying to get a bead on whoever she had smelled—to confirm whether she’d been seen, if nothing else.

Becky was practiced enough at controlling her Wolf to anticipate its reactions, and that saved at least one life tonight. As soon as she laid eyes on the half-seen face peeping over the windowsill of the building across the alley, her first impulse was to leap across the empty space and batter her way through the glass to rip apart the small, tender human inside. She wasn’t just a bystander, but a child, and the smell of her urged Becky to fight even harder to keep herself from springing into action. The bad news was, she froze in place—not that the child hadn’t already gotten a look, but extending it was unproductive. When she felt she could move without attacking, Becky fled.

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