Silver (Excerpt)

Rhiannon Held’s new book Silver is coming out on June 5, but we’ve got a excerpt right now to whet your appetite:

Andrew Dare is a werewolf. He’s the enforcer for the Roanoke pack, and responsible for capturing or killing any Were intruders in Roanoke’s territory. But the lone Were he’s tracking doesn’t smell or act like anyone he’s ever encountered. And when he catches her, it doesn’t get any better. She’s beautiful, she’s crazy, and someone has tortured her by injecting silver into her veins. She says her name is Silver, and that she’s lost her wild self and can’t shift any more.

The packs in North America have a live-and-let-live attitude, and try not to overlap with each other. But Silver represents a terrible threat to every Were on the continent.

Andrew and Silver will join forces to track down this menace while discovering their own power and their passion for each other.

1

 

The lone werewolf smelled like silver and pain. Or maybe it wasn’t pain, maybe it was fear. In human form, Andrew Dare’s nose had missed that undertone altogether, and even in wolf it was elusive. Her trail wove beneath one of the power line towers straddling this strip of grassy, undeveloped land, and the metal bar clipped the top of Andrew’s ears as he padded under. He twitched his ears, checking again for any nearby humans, but he remained alone for the moment.

Pain and fear or not, she was a Were carrying silver, and that could mean only one thing: she was a European. Only European Were used silver on each other and would therefore have reason to carry it, and damned if Andrew was going to let any of them cause trouble in his alpha’s territory.

The lone’s trail had followed the power lines for several miles but now it diverged into a suburban development probably close enough to be considered part of Nashua, New Hampshire. Andrew stopped where the tangled unmown grass met a path into a cul-de-sac and considered, panting. The summer sun was low now, the heat was easing, and the scents he got from the development were fogged with car exhaust as everyone returned home for the evening.

Risky, to follow any farther in wolf form. The human scents Andrew found on the wind were few and far between, suggesting an upper-middle-class neighborhood with big lots. People in those neighborhoods didn’t ignore strays, they called animal control. And animal control knew the difference between a dog and a wolf, and a wolf and a creature that massed much larger than any natural wolf.

Andrew sniffed again and allowed himself a growl when he smelled no humans close enough to hear it. Damn that European. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book to stick to heavily populated areas so cars would drive away one’s scent and pursuers would have to sacrifice their wolf form’s superior nose, but knowing it didn’t make it any easier to counter. He’d have to push himself running back to his clothes and his car to not lose any more time. He was already—Andrew put his nose to the trail again—half a day behind as it was. But standing here debating would waste as much time. He started back.

It was good to run. Andrew had spent too much time stuck in traffic driving up here from Virginia. His muscles protested the pace at first, an aching commentary on how much time he’d been spending in human lately. Why bother shifting when he had no real pack to hunt with?

His nose caught a rusty tang and he jumped a few wires remaining from an old fence as he turned his thoughts instead to what the European Were might hope to accomplish here. Was she scouting the territory for the rest of her pack to follow, or did she plan to challenge and replace one of the sub-alphas in the larger Roanoke pack herself? He’d chased another silver-smelling lone last year, but that man had disappeared over the Mississippi into the Western packs’ territories long ago. Much as Andrew had hated to let the lone go, he trusted the Western packs to deal with him.

Andrew doubted this lone was after him personally, either. If so, she was long overdue. He’d escaped back to North America a decade ago. Still, the fact that she had brought silver suggested she was looking to punish someone. Andrew didn’t intend to allow that. Once he caught her, he’d drag her back to explain herself to his alpha. If she didn’t have a good enough reason for her failure to ask permission to cross Roanoke territory he’d have the pleasure of shoving her on a plane and out of Roanoke for good.

When he reached the bush where he’d hidden his clothes, Andrew crouched low and drew in a deep breath. Shifting at this moon phase was an effort, though at least the moon was waxing rather than waning. Andrew concentrated, eyes closed, pushing, pushing, until he felt the blessed tipping point. Everything fell into the new configuration: sight and scent and arrangement of muscles. He stretched his arms to settle his mind into it, and then pulled on his clothes.

It took a frustratingly long time to find the right cul-desac by car from the other side, but when Andrew finally returned to the spot he’d left off, traces of the Were’s trail still remained. He jogged a little to make up time as he followed the scent on foot in human form. At least the Were hadn’t been running. Her scent was thick, suggesting she’d wandered.

Andrew grew more cautious as the trail turned into a yard. He couldn’t say for sure with his human nose that no one was home, but the windows were dark and no car was in the driveway, so he strode up for a quick look. The sun’s angle made the window reflective against a faint background of blinds. A complete handprint stood stark against it. The placement—Andrew matched his hand to it—suggested someone trying to look through. He peered, but the blinds had no crack big enough to see anything beyond.

But the air held no hint of Were other than the lone anywhere in this neighborhood. A werewolf in human form eating garlic would have been able to tell that.

The trail wound away from the window through front yards until it reached some trash cans beside a garage. The lone’s scent was on them as if she had poked through after knocking them over. Looking for something?

Two women approached, pushing strollers, so he righted the cans to look like a good Samaritan. This house was blocks away from the first one where she’d been looking in. That made no sense, even if the Were had a grudge against some particular humans. What was this woman after?

 

Silver had been running for a long time. It began with the monster. The monster poured fire into her blood and smiled as she screamed and her wild self fled. He’d thought her so far gone in burning, he’d not watched her closely, and she’d escaped. She sensed him distantly behind her now. Following her trail. She couldn’t let him catch her, or it would begin all over again.

The monster chased distantly, but Death followed close behind. He stalked her with endless patience, waiting to claim her when the monster’s snakes of fire finished their task. She glimpsed him behind her when she could no longer run and had to walk. Her ears strained to hear the forest’s voices beneath the padding of his feet. They had something of an unspoken accord, she and Death—she did not run too fast and he did not catch her just yet. Instead, he padded in her footsteps, tongue lolling out in canine laughter as she tried to ignore him and strained for the scent of her wild self. If only she could find her wild self, then perhaps she would be whole again. But the fire made her head pound so much it was hard to think.

At night, sometimes Silver would invite Death to sit with her. He hulked there opposite her, smug and black. He was blacker than night or a raven’s wing or anything Silver could remember when words and memories wiggled and twisted from her grasp. But then, he was Death. That was description enough.

Sometimes at night the wind tossed the branches of the stately columns of trees around Silver, and the small monsters at the light’s edge shrieked and warbled, making the forest’s voices whisper in concern. Then Death would howl to the Lady’s round, shimmering disc and make the fire burn in Silver’s veins. Your death is in you, his howls told her. In your blood. You cannot fight what is in you.

Silver screamed and begged the Lady to make it stop when the fire burned bright. She curled around her useless arm as the fire pulsed. Each time Death called to the fire, the snakes engraved on her skin grew longer and twined their hissing, traitorous way from the cup of her elbow ever closer to her heart. Silver begged the Lady to protect her from Death, begged the Lady to help Silver find her wild self.

Sometimes the forest crooned a comforting counterpoint to her screams, and sometimes it drew back in shocked silence. Death panted and laughed. The Lady did nothing, as she had done nothing when the monster poured the fire into Silver’s arm.

This day, as Silver trudged through the forest, calling her wild self and searching the trees for a gray flicker of muzzle or flank, she wondered if the Lady still loved her. The Lady had given Silver her wild self from love—perhaps She had taken that wild self back when love waned. Maybe Silver had lost that love by taking the Lady’s gift for granted.

But the Lady had not waned. She was full and luminous above Silver, as always. And surely it was a sign of the Lady’s favor that the monster had not caught her yet?

Coming upon a stream, Silver found a still place with few ripples and looked into her eyes, searching for her wild self inside as well as out. Her wild self could as easily have hidden deeper rather than running outward from the fire, but Silver saw no sign of her. Dimness made it hard to see, since though the Lady’s light fell all around her, it did not touch Silver except indirectly.

Even in dim light, Silver’s hair showed nearly all white now, brown chased away. She blinked in surprise. The fire had burned the color from it, of course, but only the new growth. New growth was old now, and she wondered at Death’s patience. She pressed her hand flat against the stream’s cold surface, printing it before Death shattered everything into ripples as he lapped at the water.

At her midday meal, Silver did not invite Death to sit with her. Alone, she forced down the foul-tasting carrion she had found. She drew off her shirt to trace the snakes’ path on her dead arm, tickling their diamond-scaled backs with her fingertip. They writhed in pleasure and hissed to her. Silver frowned, trying to understand Snake. If she could speak their language, perhaps she could persuade them to leave her.

Surely this could be solved by cleverness. Perhaps it was even a test for her to prove herself worthy of the Lady’s gift. Silver considered this. Death must be outwitted somehow. She frowned at him. Invitation or no invitation, he sat on his haunches nearby, nose tipped to test the air. When he felt her gaze on him, Death turned to face Silver.

“Let go,” he said in her brother’s voice. Her brother was dead, so Death had his voice. He had all the voices of Silver’s pack. “Please. We miss you, Silver. Come back to us.” Silver knew that it was not her brother speaking, and Death knew she knew, but he liked to taunt her.

Silver sat up and threw a rock at Death, missing him by a wide margin. She needed to keep moving, and not let him distract her, or the monster would catch up. Thorns curled up to bind her feet and hands, trying to hold her there until the monster arrived. She tore free before they could take proper hold, though they rustled triumphantly at the blood they had captured from her. Time to run faster again. Always running.


2

 

Blood. Andrew smelled blood, werewolf blood, sharp as a shout on the wind. Fresh blood. He pounded into a run, sacrificing discretion for speed. The smell came from a triangle of protected wetland surrounded by a chain-link fence. The cut metal ends glistened red where someone had squeezed between links and post, hard to see but immediately obvious even to Andrew’s human nose.

He strode to the fence and hid his hands with his body in case of observers, then bent the links back far enough to squeeze through. The land sloped too much for Andrew to see the water below, but he could smell it as a tang of freshness that meant it was running. The Were’s silver-tainted scent was clear on top, mingling with the blood and pain again. She must have hurt herself badly.

But that made no sense. Her werewolf strength should have let her bend the fence back as easily as his had. Why expose herself to scratches when she had to know she was being followed? He could smell fresh blood still, up ahead. A healthy werewolf would have healed mere scratches by now.

He followed the path worn down to the stream, past beer bottles and crumpled chip bags. He kept his hand out to stop the hanging blackberry tendrils menacing him at face level from scoring any hits.

He saw a flash of white as the Were straightened from a crouch. She was scrawny, her scuffed and dirty jeans caught on her hipbones. By human standards, she looked around twenty-five, but werewolves aged slower as well as lived longer, so she was more likely in her thirties to forties. One sleeve of her plain gray, zippered sweatshirt hung free, the arm a lump held against her chest. The sweatshirt’s bagginess hid anything else about her figure. Blood still seeped from cuts on her hand and cheek.

Up close, the stink of silver was muddier, not like a carried object but mixed in with everything else. The scent of her pain reminded him powerfully of injured humans he’d smelled. A hint of infection, under the blood. But werewolf wounds didn’t last long enough to get infected. Under the poison lurked the more normal stink of someone who hadn’t bathed in far too long.

After her scent, the strangest thing was her hair. Even dirty, the locks straggling to below her ears were recognizable as white. Werewolves didn’t go white before their first century, if ever.

“You’re in Roanoke territory,” he said, voice low so as not to carry to any humans on the relatively still air, but still plenty loud for a werewolf. “Who are you?” The Were just stared at him. Did she not understand English? He repeated it in Spanish, since he’d been fluent once upon a time, though she didn’t have the look of any of the Spanish packs. Her face showed no more response.

The woman dropped to a crouching stance, one hand on the ground, as if ready to run on four legs. She stared intently at his face for a moment, and then stared just as intently at a point in the air beside his feet. Andrew knew it was empty, but he instinctively checked again to be sure. Nothing.

“I lost my name. The Lady has turned Her back on me, and my wild self is gone. I walk only with Death.” The woman’s voice was soft and breathy, probably with pain, but it didn’t waver. Her eyes swung back to a point somewhere in the matted grass covering the small stream, empty but for a snagged plastic bag.

Something about the reverence with which she invoked the Lady made Andrew’s arm jerk reflexively, ready to bow his head and press his thumb to his forehead. Childhood training ran deep, but he caught himself. Bullshit, like all religions. “What pack do you belong to?”

Blankness again, like she hadn’t understood and used English a second before. Either she was playing a deep game, or she was brain-damaged. Andrew didn’t see how any werewolf could be, but it was hard to argue with the evidence before him. She smelled so wrong—silver and blood and infection—his instincts screamed at him not to touch her. No European or other troublemaker would be able to fake that, or her apparent insanity. He needed to find her help.

“Why don’t you come with me?” he said, keeping his words simple, like speaking to a child. For every step forward he took, she took a matching one back. He was no good at this. As Roanoke’s enforcer, it was his job to drag people back to their punishments, not to coax them.

She bolted past him. Andrew grabbed at her, but she still had a werewolf’s speed. She dodged and escaped through the hole he’d made in the fence. She took off down the street, running flat out, head down.

Andrew growled under his breath and followed, jogging more than running. He didn’t want anyone passing to see a grown man chasing a scrawny and pathetic-looking girl. He could outrun her if it came down to it, but he’d rather try letting her slow down naturally. She smelled too hurt to keep up the pace for long.

She started panting within a minute and slowed to a jog as shadows from the maples lining the sidewalk slid up and over her hair in rhythm. The rushing sound of traffic on a main road oozed up with its choking exhaust to blanket them both.

Andrew’s breath caught as the woman didn’t turn aside on the last residential cross street as he had expected, but kept going right for the traffic. “No!” he called after her. “Wait, that’s a good girl. It’s all right.”

That made her pause, at least. A concrete wall shielded the houses along the road from the noise, and the woman caught its end to hold her up as she snarled silently at him. “I won’t let you hold me here. The monster will find me while you’re still deciding whether to listen to me.”

Andrew didn’t know what monster she meant, but who knew what she thought she saw, acting as she was. He strode forward and she jerked away from the wall, toward the cars. He couldn’t reach her before she reached the road, so he stopped again. Stalemate. “It’s all right—”

The woman’s expression grew harder. “Stop insulting my intelligence. It’s not all right. Death says I’m supposed to trust you, but Lady knows why.” She took a backward step toward the road. “Just let me go. I’m no threat to you. The monster chases me, and I run. Death follows to take me, not you or your pack.” She cocked her head, listening to something that couldn’t be heard. “But you have no fear of him, he says.” She snorted, and spoke to the air. “That’s a dubious recommendation, at best.”

Andrew let silence fall as he chose his words carefully. Something told him these would be the last words he’d have time for before she was gone, crushed by one of the SUVs barreling past. If religious metaphors were so important to her delusions, he’d use them too. “Fair enough, but I’d recommend you run somewhere else.” He nodded to the street behind her. “Death hunts those lands.”

The woman twisted her head over her shoulder to frown at the cars. “I can swim,” she objected, but her stance changed, no longer braced to run in that direction.

Andrew didn’t allow himself a sigh of relief yet, but he held out his hand to the woman. “Come on. If the monster comes, he can deal with the wrath of Roanoke’s enforcer, and by extension, Roanoke’s alpha.”

The woman ignored the hand, but she did join him. “I would not dismiss the monster so easily if I were you.”

Andrew put a hand behind her back, not quite touching, to guide her back to the car. “So what’s your name?”

The twist of the woman’s lips made her abruptly look much older. “I told you, I lost my name. Death calls me Silver.”

Andrew choked. She didn’t seem like she was trying to shock him, but if it was a joke, it was in poor taste. Who in their right mind would name themselves after a torture method? Though he supposed that was the operative phrase here—the woman clearly wasn’t in her right mind. “But what do you call yourself?”

The woman smiled without humor. “Who am I to argue with Death?”

 

The man was some kind of warrior, Silver decided. He was the first she’d seen since she started walking in the Lady’s realm who seemed quite real, besides Death and the monster. He didn’t shine with Her light from within like one of Her champions, but Silver didn’t mind. She would have hated to be reminded of the Lady’s true favor forever denied her. It was bad enough that the Lady’s light caressed his skin from above.

The warrior’s wild self was scarred, rough patches scattered in the steely gray fur. Silver watched the wild self pace beside the man and saw the play of muscles catch and hold in places, where more scar tissue lay hidden below the surface. His tame self did not show the injuries, as was the way of tame selves, but had the same confidence. His short hair was dark, and his features and muscles had a fineness to them that suggested his power came from training, not sheer strength. No brute, he. No wonder Death approved.

Death exchanged sniffs with the warrior’s wild self, two old alphas too confident to bother with the ritual of challenge. The warrior’s wild self had more muscle, but Death had no injuries and moved with the quickness of night swallowing the sky when a cloud passed over the Lady’s light.

“He brings you voices?” Silver asked Death. “Is that why you like him?” Death returned to stalk her rather than answer. Silver braced herself for his howl to come, but she could never brace enough for the burning, hissing pain that consumed her. The snakes paralyzed her muscles, forcing her to fight to break free before she could even writhe with the pain.

“Is he going to cut my voice loose for you?” she asked, when she had the breath for words again. “Is that why you wanted me to go with him?”

Receiving no answer, Silver ignored Death in turn and curled over her arm to sing the snakes a lullaby. Sleep, sleep, don’t hiss, don’t bite. They ignored her and her mind gnawed at the problem of this warrior, keeping her from her own sleep. He seemed kind, kind enough she had no wish for the monster to catch him too. He probably thought he could defend himself, but the monster had weapons he couldn’t counter. She should leave to protect him, but she was tired, so tired, of running.

Silver © Rhiannon Held 2012

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