Jan 20 2014 12:00pm
Check out Reflected, the third novel in Rhiannon Held’s Silver series, available February 18th from Tor Books!
Silver and her mate Andrew Dare are pack leaders of the entire North American werewolf population, and that makes the more traditional packs in Europe very nervous indeed.
It’s getting hard to hide from human surveillance...
Felicia ran full tilt, tongue lolling out as she panted. She’d let Tom catch her soon, but not quite yet. She skidded in a U-turn, showering a bush with dirt and needles kicked up by her paws. Up ahead, near where they’d left their clothes, erosion had carved the descending path into a bare, hardened slide. Exposed roots provided improvised steps only here and there. It was much harder to navigate on four feet, without hands to grab at branches, but Felicia cleared most of it in one soaring jump and skidded down the rest.
At the bottom, she turned back in time to see the sandycolored werewolf trip and slide down nose-first. Tom rolled into it, ending on his back with his legs in the air. He gave Felicia an upside-down canine grin. Felicia snorted. Dignity? What was that? His fur tended to stand up every which way anyway, so the additional disarranging hardly made a difference.
Even without dignity, he was good-looking as a man and had an intriguing scent in both forms. Felicia twitched her tail as he righted himself and crouched low over his forepaws in an invitation to wrestle. Felicia waited to make sure he was watching her, then shifted back to human. No one cared about nudity, but watching the exact moment of shifting was very intimate. She knew he’d look away if he had warning. She wanted him to see her shift.
The Lady was near full, so the shift was as easy as diving into water from the bank above. When she finished and straightened, fully in human, his face showed he realized what she’d done. He turned his head belatedly.
Felicia crossed her arms under her breasts and waited. Even though it was June, it was late enough in the day that only slices of direct sunlight peeked through the trees, leaving much of her body in cool shadow. Seattle hadn’t managed to muster much of a real summer the three years she’d lived here. She supposed at least they were better than the summers near Washington, D.C., where her father’s home pack had been based before he’d expanded their territory to the rest of the country.
Tom shifted after an awkward moment. Felicia watched unapologetically. The twist of muscles from wolf to human had a real grace this close to the full.
“Felicia…” Tom pushed himself to human feet, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. He held his ground, but only barely, as she walked up to him, rolling her hips. “What are you doing? We were just playing.”
Felicia placed her hand on his shoulder and went to her tiptoes to breathe his scent from the curve of his neck. His light hair was too shaggy in human to stick up, but it tried anyway, making him look perpetually rumpled. His attraction was clear to smell, and it fed Felicia’s own. She was tired of all this waiting. “You don’t smell like just playing.” She nipped at his ear and he shivered.
“That’s not fair.” Tom pushed her to the length of his arm. “I can’t help that. But your father would kill me—”
Felicia caressed his wrist until he had to release the pressure holding her back if he wanted to avoid the touch. “What, I have to be celibate forever because I’m the alpha’s daughter? How is that fair?”
Tom huffed. “It’s not just that—” This time, when Felicia touched him, palm against his chest, he didn’t push her away. He was still lankier than she thought of as her type, but he’d definitely filled out some muscles since she’d first met him. She wanted to caress them, sternum to navel and lower, trace the delicious curve of his hip bone, but she stopped herself.
He didn’t push her away, but he didn’t pull her closer, either. Felicia’s stomach wobbled. Was he making excuses because he wasn’t actually interested? She’d smelled attraction, but every Were knew that was sometimes physically unavoidable. Just because you smelled it didn’t mean the other person wanted to act on it.
Felicia shook out her hair, wishing the black waves would curve smoothly together rather than always curling against each in an unruly mass. She looked down at her side, checking the smooth curve to her hip. There were other young men she could invite to a game of chase—had played that game with. They thought she was pretty enough. But Tom had never thrown himself at her. If she was honest with herself, she’d have to admit she could never really tell what he was thinking under the silly exterior.
Well, fine. If she was going to get herself rejected, she might as well get herself rejected for really trying. “I’m eighteen. Even the humans think that’s legal. I can make my own decisions.” Felicia balanced against his chest to whisper in his ear. “But if you’re so scared of my father you can’t get it up, I’d totally understand—”
Tom jerked back, but only to give himself room to claim her lips in a fierce kiss. His hands came up to her back and ass, yanking her tight against him. Felicia arched her body within the hold and gripped those glorious hips. Thank the Lady. She hadn’t misread him. He did want her.
When they came up for air, he glanced at the lowering sun. “You know this close to the full the rest of the pack will probably be coming out here to hunt once they get off work,” he said, resigned laughter in his voice.
“We have plenty of time. That just makes it more exciting.” Felicia braced herself for another round of objections—why did Tom care so much what other people thought?—but he just grinned mischievously. He freed one hand and ghosted fingertips down her spine. The sensation was surprising, not quite ticklish, but something that made her back muscles arch without thinking. She gasped and shivered all over.
Tom rocked back a step, grinned wider, then danced out of her reach. “Better capture me quick, then.” He dropped to rest fingertips on the ground as he shifted back to wolf.
Felicia shifted as quickly as she could to follow. Wouldn’t want to give him too much of a head start, though she didn’t want to capture him immediately either. That was the best part of sex, catching someone who was delighted to be caught.
Tom raced off through the thickest part of the underbrush, and Felicia dashed after, jumping branches and crashing through ferns. Rather than going for distance and speed as they had in their earlier running, he captured the intensity of this chase by using the obstacles to keep them tangled close. When he darted one way, she darted the other, trying to cut him off, but he countered her every move until she panted with canine laughter.
Time for a new strategy, Felicia decided. She sprinted in a straight line away from him and hunkered down behind a downed tree’s upturned roots. She pressed herself flat to the ground and watched between hanging clods of dirt as he followed her trail, slowly and suspiciously.
She surged out of her hiding place and bowled him over, both of them nipping at each other’s fur as they rolled around in the dirt and pine needles. She knew perfectly well he’d been expecting that, but she didn’t mind. She got on top of him and he surrendered with a flop of his head to lie stretched out flat on his side. She scrabbled back just enough to give herself room to shift to human to smirk at him. She’d captured him fair and square.
Tom shifted back and pushed to his feet, head bowed. Too late, Felicia caught the grin he was hiding. He lunged away, but she was fast enough to get a tight grip on his ankle. “Dirty cheat!” She was breathing almost too hard to get the laughing words out.
“You didn’t think I’d make it easy on you—” Tom lost the rest of his words in the wheeze as she yanked his foot out from under him and he fell on his ass. She grabbed his calf and then the opposite thigh as she climbed up his body, knees on either side. No way was she taking her hands off him now.
“Gotcha.” Teasingly, Felicia stopped short, straddling his thighs rather than his hips, and slipped her fingers along his length. She began by mimicking the ghosting pressure he’d used on her, growing more and more insistent. He moaned, whatever smart answer he’d been planning lost for good. She used her free hand on herself, rocking her hips as she tapped into the familiar delicious rhythm.
Tom touched her upper arms and drew her up until she was leaning over him and he could draw her nipple into his mouth. Felicia was about to prompt him, but his own experimental graze of teeth against it made her gasp and he increased the pressure until she almost couldn’t stand it.
When she moved down his body again, she stopped at his hips and guided him into her. His hands settled on her hips as she wriggled, finding the perfect angle. Then the rhythm, slowly increasing. Felicia abandoned herself to it.
Tom might have seemed silly, but he was really good with his hands. And tongue. Like any first time together, it took some experimenting to find just the right pressure, just the right rhythm, but when they collapsed to tuck against each other, Felicia had no complaints. That had been nice.
Languid contentment pooled in her limbs. Even when the sweat drying on her skin started to chill her, Felicia didn’t want to move.
Tom slid his arm over her waist, probably feeling the same chill. “Wow,” he commented, tone warm rather than teasing.
“What, you thought I was as innocent as Father wishes I was? My first was back in Madrid, before I even met Father properly.” Felicia tried to burrow against him for more warmth, but it was a losing battle. She finally surrendered and sat up. Tom stood first to help her up and then draped his arm over her shoulders as they wandered back up to the trail in search of their clothes.
They’d stashed their bags with their clothes in a tree a couple yards off the trail. Even if Felicia hadn’t remembered where, the werewolf scents layered on that of human-made fabric stood out sharply among the growing things. Tom knocked their packs down, and they both rummaged. Felicia wished she’d thought to bring a brush. Her hair was probably a sight.
Cars had been coming intermittently up the winding road that bordered the Roanoke pack’s hunting land, heading for the houses buried in the trees farther up the hill. Now one engine rumble slowed, changed direction, and stopped. A slammed door from close by made it clear someone had turned in.
“Lady!” Tom hurriedly dumped all his clothes into a pile rather than pulling out each piece in order. “Roanoke Dare is going to kill me.”
Rather than jump to conclusions, Felicia waited it out until a few moments later a breeze came at the right angle to bring the newcomers’ scents. “Father’s not with them. It’s just Silver and the beta.”
Tom frowned. “Roanoke Silver, you mean.” He threw her an apologetic grimace. “Sorry, Felicia, but your stepmother’s just as scary.”
“She’s not my stepmother.” Felicia immediately regretted the snap to her tone, but it was true, wasn’t it? Fine, her father could have anyone he wanted as a mate, but that didn’t give her any connection to Felicia. “They’re not married. She’s not my anything.”
“She’s still one of your alphas.” Tom froze, underwear in his hands, as voices reached them.
“Go ahead. I’ll be up by the stream,” Silver said, presumably to John, the beta. Her white hair showed in flashes here and there through the trees farther down the trail. Felicia suppressed an instinctive urge to look back over her shoulder. The stream beyond them wouldn’t have moved in the last few minutes.
Sudden laughter bubbled up in her. What were they worrying so much for, anyway? She was an adult; she could make her own choices. What did it matter if Silver found out? She’d had enough rest to regather her energy since the last shift, so she shifted to wolf and snatched Tom’s jeans out of his hands. She stopped a few yards away, her turn to bend over her forelegs, and growled an invitation for him to try to get them.
Tom frowned without the humor she’d hoped for and grabbed for one pant leg. She took off, as fast as she could go on four legs. A beat later she heard Tom’s growl, from a wolf throat this time. No surprise. No way he could keep up with her on two legs.
Since she was trying to avoid the beta and Silver as well as evade Tom, Felicia headed off the trail quickly, straight to the edge of the property. She ducked under the pathetic barbedwire fence that marked the property line but couldn’t really keep anyone out. It snagged a fluff of fur in retaliation.
Across a shallow ditch, pavement sliced through the trees. She hadn’t realized she’d been heading for the road, but it had probably been inevitable. The pack’s hunting lands weren’t that big. Tom crashed through the underbrush behind her, and she danced onto the road to keep out of his reach, grinning as she dragged his jeans along the ground. She backed onto the grassy rise on the other side until her tail brushed the fence, and she waggled the pants back and forth.
Tom tumbled under the fence and into the ditch, righted himself, and glared at her. After a moment and with a visible sigh, he bounded after her.
Then everything went wrong all at once.
Felicia registered the purr of a sports car barreling down the hill barely a heartbeat before the car itself flashed past. Tom gave a sickening canine shriek, the car thumped, skidded, swerved, and the engine growled away at even greater speed.
Felicia hurled herself back down onto the pavement. Tom. What had happened to Tom? Was he all right? Lady, please let him be all right.
Silver looked at Death when she heard Tom’s scream, even as she pounded into as much of a run as she could get from her human legs. He seemed amused, no more, as he effortlessly matched his pace to hers, the advantage of four wolf legs. The low growl of some great beast, perhaps the cause of Tom’s misfortune, disappeared down the mountain.
Something Silver couldn’t see caught at her legs, tried to scratch and trip her. Thorns, her eyes told her, reaching malevolently for her skin, but she knew better than to trust her eyes. They suffered from the shadows that poisoning had brought to her mind. The deeper the shadows, the more unexpected the truth beneath. To help Tom, she needed to find that truth.
Two hands would have helped, but Silver did the best she could with one after tucking her scarred and useless arm more securely, hand in pocket. If the thorns caught that, she would bleed before she was done. She tore the plants up at the roots with her good hand and half slid down a hillside to reach Tom.
More shadows there—rushing water, tumbled to white over rocks, foaming up around the flat place where Tom lay. Water that Silver knew wasn’t water. In her worry for Tom, the harder she tried to see something else, the more the rushing sound filled her ears. Felicia waded out into the current from the other side, red-tinted black fur remaining pristine and dry as she reached Tom and whined over him in shock.
“I’d hurry,” Death said, using her brother’s voice. Good advice, like her brother would have given, even though it wasn’t him speaking.
Silver nodded and darted out to Tom. Water that violent meant danger. The sooner she dragged Tom out of it, the better. Felicia looked up from trying to nose Tom out of his protective curl around his injuries, so they could see the damage. Silver stroked his tame self’s hair, sandy like the wild self’s fur, and eased it to lie more comfortably, trapped beneath the wild self. Blood from both mixed on her hand and Felicia’s ruff and in the water.
Felicia kept whining and Silver wished she could make the sound properly with her human throat. Finally, Tom’s wild self relaxed enough for her to roll him over to see the wounds. The torn and abraded skin wasn’t knitting, which meant his healing had more important things to do, like repairing smashed organs. They needed to get him out of the river to help.
Not river. Path. Having a plan focused her, and Silver found that understanding with a bubble-pop of relief. They needed to get him off the path. Felicia must have been thinking along similar lines, because she crouched and began to switch her wild self for tame with hands useful for carrying.
“No,” Death snapped.
“No!” Silver held out her hand to stop Felicia before she even quite understood what Death was reacting to. Another growl approached from up the mountain, more uneven in tone than the beast that had hurt Tom. Felicia, surprised by Silver’s order, settled back onto four feet as a human arrived and stepped out of her vehicle. A vehicle, not a beast.
“Oh, my God! Your poor dog!” The human woman smelled of children, though she had none with her at the moment. She jogged up and leaned over Tom, slippery black hair fanning down to hang over her shoulders.
Silver smoothed Tom’s ears, trying to imagine he was a pet, not a Were she was desperate to get away from human eyes so further healing at werewolf speed would not raise alarms. “If we can just move him out of the way, my friend’s around, we’ll—”
The woman gasped in objection. “That’ll take too long. I’ll give you a ride down the hill, the—” She said a word Silver didn’t understand but could guess at. One who healed pets, not humans. The last thing Tom needed, though he could have used a Were doctor. “—we use, she’s really great. I’m sure she can do something for him.”
Silver looked again at Tom’s wounds. Which was the greater risk? Going along to the pet doctor, hoping that Tom’s healing, without additional sleep or food, would stop short of the torn skin, leaving something to at least explain the blood? Or would it be better to knock the woman down, run for it?
And how would they take Tom with them if they did run? Felicia couldn’t help carry him as her wild self, couldn’t switch to her tame in front of the human. Silver couldn’t drag him one-armed without showing strength greater than a human woman should have. She seemed to have no choice but to pray to the Lady the doctor would see nothing more than a pet with wolf ancestry.
“Thank you,” she told the woman, accepting. She helped the human lift Tom into her vehicle and glanced back to see Felicia standing in the path, stock-still and smelling of anger at Silver’s choice. Silver squashed exasperation she had no time for. Even if Felicia had a better idea, circumstances didn’t allow her to share it, so better she put her effort into making this one succeed.
“Run, girl,” Death said in a woman’s accented voice that belonged to Felicia’s and her father’s past, not Silver’s. Silver saw what he meant immediately. If Felicia ran off, Silver could justify coming back to find her later, after treating Tom. Meanwhile, Felicia could warn John what was going on.
But of course Felicia couldn’t see Death. She stayed where she was, and the human woman turned back to her. “C’mon, boy,” she crooned in a voice for a pet or a baby. “There’s room in the back for you too.” She got a grip in Felicia’s ruff.
Too late. Silver would have to bring her other “pet” too. She almost called Felicia by her real name, but of course that wasn’t a pet name. Silver wanted to snarl a curse. Names were hard enough for her to remember as it was. Glaring at Felicia’s wild self, she remembered a thought she’d had on first meeting the girl: so much of her childhood had been shaped by flames.
“Smoke,” Silver snapped, using an alpha’s command in her tone before Felicia could decide to fight free of the human. “Come.” She took over the woman’s grip on Felicia’s ruff, pushed her into the vehicle, and climbed up after. She smoothed Tom’s fur along his head, one of the few places free of blood, and wondered what in the Lady’s name she was going to do once they reached their destination and the only one who could speak was the one whose sight was obscured by shadows.
The human woman chattered in a bright tone as they traveled down the hill, but Silver could smell the stink of her worry. She seemed to think Silver would fall apart if she wasn’t distracted. Silver would have preferred silence, though if the woman could have gotten Felicia to stop staring at Silver with wide, frightened eyes, Silver would have hugged her. She needed to think.
“I’d do it now, if I were you,” Death said. He used what Silver thought of as “his” voice, though of course he had none of his own since the Lady had taken his from him. This voice must have belonged to someone long dead.
Silver pressed the heel of her hand between her eyes. Even if she could have said “do what?” out loud to Death with the human listening, he would have just laughed. She knew what he meant. She could see past the shadows, but the pain that caused had been worth it only once before.
She checked Tom again first, to stall. He was still unconscious, and the tears across his side seeped slowly and did not heal. Silver had no food for him, to give him more energy to heal, so perhaps the doctor would find something to explain all the blood after all.
But there would still be questions. Her name, the location of her home, payment. Silver knew she couldn’t give the kind of answers the humans would want without one of her pack members with her. Unless she did what Death had already decided she must do. Lady, wasn’t there any other choice?
She supposed not.
Reflected © Rhiannon Held, 2014