Authors: Mandy Lou Dowson
A Moon Bound Series novel
Mandy Lou Dowson
Copyright © 2014 by Mandy Lou Dowson
Published by Mandy Lou Dowson
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Linda Boulanger / Tell Tale Book Covers
Book design by Mandy Lou Dowson
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Mandy Lou Dowson
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To my children, without whom this book would have been finished long ago, I’m grateful for the interruptions, as you remind me there is life outside of fiction.
To my partner, without whom said children (and pets) would have starved. Thank you for being so patient with me as I lived in my own world for months on end.
To my Beta Babes (Vicky, the two Janes and Michelle), without your encouraging words and kind reviews, I would have been too much of a chicken to proceed. Thank you.
To my writing group “Fantasy Writers” on Facebook, thank you for putting up with the sheer volume of questions, memes and nonsense. I would be truly lost without like-minds to bounce ideas off of.
To all the authors who have played a huge part in the development of my imagination, from childhood to, well bigger-childhood, you are heroes, each and every one of you.
And finally, to all who encouraged, gave advice, and helped me on my way, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Now, let's get to the good stuff!
Snuffling in the undergrowth, the wily she-wolf found the scent of her prey. It probably thought it could get away from her. How wrong it was. She’d been tracking it for hours. When her jaws at last closed on the throat of her prey, and she could feel the warm rush of blood washing over her tongue, she would howl her triumph to the pale crescent of the moon, which was barely peeking out from behind the rolling clouds.
The taste of a storm was in the air, like old pennies, and she needed to be back to her cubs by the time the rain started falling. It had been three long days since she’d last fed sufficiently – three days since she’d had to take her cubs and run – and her small reserve of strength was fast trickling away. Cunning prey in this unfamiliar territory. She’d barely managed to forage enough to keep her milk up, let alone enough to satisfy her own needs, so she went without in order to fill the rumbling tummies of her babies. A mother’s job was ever self-sacrificing.
It thought it had lost her, she realized upon spying her quarry snoozing by a dry stream-bed. On the contrary – she had merely taken the time to rest a while, giving her weary body a respite from the constant game of hide and seek. These past days it seemed she was always seeking or hiding, and she longed for a return of the days where she herself could snooze lazily in the forest. Her forest. Her home. She barely contained the whine that the thought of home brought to her throat. Those days were long gone.
Paws placed with careful precision, positioning herself up-wind of the dozing buck, she allowed herself to wallow in the thoughts of filling her own stomach this night. At last. She was running on empty. The cramps had started assaulting her tender abdomen the day before – the greedy jaws of hunger clamping down on her scrawny belly until the need to hunt outweighed even the need to run. It had been only a single season since she’d given birth to her three cubs, she needed the nourishment this buck would bring to her – if she didn’t eat, there would be no more milk, and that jeopardized the lives of her babies. She couldn’t allow that.
She crept slowly through the freshly fallen leaves and the damp earth, willing the buck to doze a little deeper. Just long enough for her to get a hold of his windpipe and tear through it in one mighty crunch. Normally, she wouldn’t dare attempt to bring down such a creature alone, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
The majestic animal, curled up on his side, stretched his neck as if in invitation, and the she-wolf could hardly contain her eagerness. This was her chance. Perhaps her last chance. If she didn’t feed this night, she would not have the strength left for another hunt. This kill had to be quick, clean and complete.
Something – perhaps an owl shifting on a branch, or a rodent scrambling across the dry leaves – drew her attention for a split second. Containing her territorial growl only through sheer force of will, she leapt at the sleeping buck, latching onto his throat, tearing it out as quickly and easily as she had dared hope.
The hot rush of fresh blood gushed into her mouth, almost drowning her in the flood, and she reveled in the coppery taste of life itself. The life that had belonged to the buck now belonged to her, and her cubs, that they might make it one more day in this harsh world.
The moon beckoned her and she tilted her muzzle to the heavens, emitting a spine-tingling howl of pride, and vicious victory. In turn, the moon seemed to wink at her from the dark skies, tipping its hat to a skilled hunter of the land.
If only it knew
, she thought sarcastically, before returning her attention to her dinner.
In her preoccupation with the buck and her enthusiastic communication with the moon, she had failed to notice the clean scent of death had been stealthily replaced by the sharp tang of another wolf. A male wolf. A pack wolf. She froze, her haunches vibrating with the fight or flight reflex, but she could not flee; her kill, hers. And yet she did not have the strength for fighting. An impasse, then.
They would not kill her yet. She was sure of it. They would want to know where the cubs were first, at the very least. Perhaps if she pleaded her case diligently enough, they might spare her. She would never be trusted in the pack again, but her cubs would be safe. That was all that mattered. She turned to her pack-mate.
The shimmer came easily to her, despite her malnutrition these past months, her body seeming to melt and reform as if a she-wolf had never crouched over the buck’s body. Instead, the form of a naked woman in her early thirties was revealed by the faint light of the moon, her blond hair hanging limply down her back, a defeated stance on her frame.
“Bradley,” she swallowed, her throat unused to the human language she once took for granted so much. “The cubs–” Her voice deserted her, leaving her silent apart from a faint wheezing sound, and a sharp pain as if someone had punched her in the chest made her flinch. The knife had been thrown with great accuracy, hitting her square in the chest, knocking the breath from her.
Muscles rippling, the giant black wolf she knew as her Alpha strode toward her, seeming to grin through his wolf-face at her. A warm wetness trickled down her tummy, washing her skin in a red so dark it appeared black.
When the second form climbed down from a tree behind Bradley her confusion cleared. His second-in-command, Turosk. He had been the one. The source of the knife that had sped through the air, stealing her breath and her life before she’d ever gotten a chance to plead for it.
My cubs,” she began, slumping to the ground like the prey she had turned out to be.
Your cubs!” spat Bradley, filling her vision with his newly shimmered human body. A body she had once lain with, drawn warmth from, worshiped with her own. “They can starve like the mongrels they are!”
As the light faded from her eyes, she wished she could have died a true hunter’s death – by the claws and teeth of her own kind. Instead, they had assassinated her, like a common rogue.
Her babies. Her beautiful babies. But it was too late. She was gone before her Alpha and his second finished their grisly work and shimmered back into wolf-form, trotting away, and leaving her body for the carrion-feeders.
“Come on!” she growled, her hair swinging wildly as she twisted her head to glare over her shoulder at her pursuer. “Catch me if you can!”
With a mighty surge of her legs she leaped the old stream bed, landing lightly on the balls of her feet, running flat out now, her legs getting into their stride. He’d never keep up, much less catch her. The layout of these woods imprinted on her mind so much she could have ran through it with her eyes closed and not brushed off a single tree.
Laughing, she threw a look behind her and noticed that she was now alone. He’d disappeared.
. She had no wish to be followed any further in any case. She liked being on her own, rules be damned. A stupid and out-dated concept, making her travel with a Guardian at all times, even on their own land. It was even worse in the confines of the circular village the pack lived in. You didn’t even have to step off your own front porch to see almost every other building in the little pack town. Eyes, everywhere, and most of them fixed on her.
The pack lands were extensive enough that she could lose herself as well as her Guardian if she wished to. This was a wild land, and only the wild survived here. Of course the humans had set up their own villages, towns and cities outside the territories here, but rarely did they encroach on the lands handed down from Alpha to Alpha, further back than anyone could remember.
Giant swathes of land were parceled up and designated to certain packs by the first Were Council centuries ago, in order to bring all the bickering and warring to an end, and since then, this little slice of wilderness belonged to the Loam Floor pack. There were two other packs within traveling distance, the Tall Grass pack – which it so happened had been locked into a bitter blood feud with her own for years – and the Swift Runner pack to the east. Beth couldn’t remember anyone ever seeing a Swift Runner wolf up close and personal – they were so secretive and, well…swift.
She shook her head slightly, her loose blond hair swinging at the small of her back, barely out of breath as she once again thought how silly it was to guard her as if she were a child. If she lived in the human world, she’d be considered a woman grown.
It was even more unbelievable, that while an un-mated female was considered a child, an un-mated male could still find his place in the hierarchy. Take her Guardian, for instance. Mid-twenties, shocking good looks and un-mated, he was still permitted to join the ranks of the Guardians, and trusted enough to be around the juvenile females – though the more she thought about it, the more she realized she’d never seen him acting inappropriately with any of them. Whatever, it was still unfair. She snorted in derision as the trees blurred past. As if he could even keep up with her. She had no idea what had prompted the wolf to volunteer for Beth duty, but it would be a good guess that he’d thought to keep her in line.
Even the grizzly old mated wolves couldn’t do that unless she allowed them to.
Luckily, she’d perfected the art of ditching her escort as soon as they were far enough from the Den House that to go back and alert them to her ploy would only give her a bigger head-start. She would return when she wished to and not a moment sooner.