I'm so excited to be hosting a sneak peek of Jennifer Lynn Barnes
upcoming book Trial by Fire
If you don't know Jen, she is awesome both as a person as a writer. She's wicked smart, crazy cute, super nice and just someone that I look up to immensely. She's also phenomenally talented (her The Squad books
are still some of my favorites) and one of the many things I just thought was fascinating about Raised by Wolves
, the prequel to Trial by Fire
, is how dead on Jen gets the pack dynamics of her werewolf world. Which of course shouldn't be surprising since she studies pack dynamics, but still -- it's was really really cool and fantastic!
This week I'm part of a chapter trail to celebrate Trial by Fire's release on Tuesday, June 14th! To read the first two chapters go here: Chapter One at Ally Carter's Blog
& Chapter Two at Sarah Rees Brennan's Blog
and for chapter four check out Rachel Vincent's blog
tomorrow! So, without further ado here's Chapter Three of Trial by Fire!
Trial By Fire
a Raised by Wolves Novel
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
After—but only partially because of—the bombshell I’d dropped on the boys, Thanksgiving dinner proved to be a tense state of affairs. Casey had to leave the table twice: once when Mitch’s hand brushed Ali’s as he reached for the salt, and once when Katie started bawling and Mitch was the one to reach out and distract the temperamental little miss from the indignity of being stuck in a high chair. As for Devon and Chase, they were acting even more high-strung than Ali’s ex.
Apparently, my distraction had worked a little too well, leaving the two of them closing rank around me, like the Thanksgiving steak—a vaunted Were tradition—might leap off the table at any moment and attempt an assassination. It was just a dream, guys.
I sent the words to the two of them through the bond, thankful that I’d mastered this part of being an alpha and didn’t have to worry about other members of our pack overhearing. I’m fine. I’m going to be fine, and if either of you move your chairs even a centimeter closer to me, you’re going to be picking stuffing out of your hair while trying to pry my foot out of your you-know-what.
The humorless expression on my face sold that threat. I wasn’t some weak little human girl anymore. For that matter, I’d never been some weak little human girl. I was a survivor, I was their alpha, and I could take care of myself.
“Ouch!” The cry escaped my mouth before I could stop it, and on either side of me, Chase and Devon leapt to their feet.
“Problem?” Ali asked mildly, amusement dancing in the corners of her eyes. Given the whole Casey thing, I didn’t think she had call to be in such a good mood, but what did I know?
“No problem,” I said darkly, rubbing my shin. “Somebody just accidentally kicked me under the table.” I narrowed my eyes at Lake, and she helped herself to another T-bone and smothered it in steak sauce.
“Wasn’t an accident,” she said cheerfully.
“Lake.” Mitch didn’t say more than his daughter’s name, and she rolled her eyes.
“It’s not like I shot her.”
There was a retort on the tip of my tongue, but I was pretty sure Lake had kicked me because she’d picked up on my saying things she couldn’t hear, and I really didn’t want to open up that topic of conversation to the table at large. The boys’ overprotective act was conspicuous enough as it was.
Note to self: in the future, I needed to be more careful about how I changed the subject.
I’ll tell you later, Lake
, I said silently. Promise.
Lake met my eyes and nodded, all thoughts of further under-the-table violence (hopefully) forgotten.
I reached out to dish up seconds, and the door to the restaurant opened. Casey crossed the room and slid back into his seat, composure regained. Even though I’d gotten used to his presence, something shifted inside my body. I took a long drink of water and gave my pack-sense a chance to acclimate again, only this time, it didn’t.
Through the heavy scent of homemade gravy and pies baking in the oven, I couldn’t even pick Casey’s scent out of the crowd’s, but what I was feeling now had nothing to do with the five senses and everything to do with my psychic bond to the Pack. The niggling sensation persisted, and the longer I waited for it to pass, the larger it got. Foreign. Wolf.
That was when I realized that I wasn’t sensing Casey. It was something else. Someone else.
Across the table, Mitch glanced toward the door, and then he looked at me.
“Get the kids to the back,” he said.
I turned immediately to Maddy, and with the quiet efficiency that had always made her a leader among the Rabid’s pint-sized victims, she ushered the others away from the table, even Lily, who let loose a comically high-pitched growl at the thought of being separated from her food.
“Now, Lily.” I added my voice to Maddy’s, but my thoughts were on Mitch, who’d already started reaching for the gun he and Keely kept behind the counter.
Ali didn’t ask what was happening. She didn’t have to. Within seconds, she had Katie in one arm and Alex in the other, and she met Casey’s eyes.
“Are you staying or coming?” she asked him calmly.
I could see the temptation of going with Ali warring with Casey’s lupine desire to prove himself—to Ali and to the rest of her pack.
“This is Cedar Ridge business,” I told Casey quietly. “We’ve got it covered.”
The dagger eyes Casey shot me in that moment made me realize that he hadn’t forgiven me for being the straw that broke his marriage’s back.
He wouldn’t ever forgive me. Foreign. Wolf.
Right now, I had bigger issues than Casey.
“If I asked you to come with us, would you come?” It took me a second to figure out that Ali was addressing that question to me, not Casey.
I didn’t answer.
Ali started again. “If I told you to come, would you— You know what? Never mind, but if there’s a hair out of place on your head when I get back, be forewarned, I will kill you, alpha or not.”
With those words, Ali followed Maddy and the rest of the younger kids back into the kitchen, out of sight and, hopefully, out of harm’s way. After a long moment, and another glare in my direction, Casey retreated, leaving only five of us to meet the coming threat.
Devon, Lake, Mitch, Chase, and me. Foreign. Wolf.
This time, the feeling was so strong that it brought me onto the balls of my feet. There was a foreign wolf on our territory. My territory. He’d come without permission, on an evening when the bar was closed. Teeth gnashed in the recesses of my brain, painting the walls of my mind red with blood as I realized the potential for this to end badly.
The werewolf Senate hadn’t been happy with the idea of a human alpha, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about the fact that I had something most male Weres wanted very, very badly.
Maddy. Lake. Lily, Katie, Sloane, Ava, Sophie . . .
Their names blended together in my mind, and the adrenaline pumping through my veins turned angry and cool. Most werewolves were male. Natural-born females, like Katie and Lake, survived to birth only because they’d been half of a set
of twins, and most packs didn’t have more than a handful of females, period.
Ours had nine, all of them young, none of them mated. As long-lived as werewolves were, most wouldn’t have batted an eye at the idea of taking possession of a female and waiting a decade or two for her to grow up.
If I had to, I’d tear this intruder to shreds with my bare hands to keep our girls safe.
“You even think of telling me to turn tail and hide, and I’ll laugh you out of Montana proper.” Lake’s words left no room for argument, but we both knew that if I wanted her to leave, I could make her leave. That was what it meant to be alpha.
I met Lake’s eyes. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” I said. Alpha or not, forcing my will on someone else wasn’t what it meant to be me.
An alien smell—snake oil and vinegar, feces and blood—permeated the thick wooden door, strong enough that even my human nose could make it out, and though none of the five of us moved, the shift in the room was unmistakable. My pack was ready to fight, and I was ready to let them—and to do what I could to back them up—but whoever the intruder was, he never crossed the threshold of the door.
There was a loud thump outside, like a duffel bag being dropped onto cement, and then a high-pitched gargle—half choke, half whine—filled the air.
The smell—and the meaning behind it—finally registered, and I pushed my way through my werewolf bodyguards until the only thing standing between me and the door was Mitch.
“Someone’s hurt.” I said those two words like they were all that mattered. For a moment, I didn’t think Mitch was going to get out of the way or even open the door. He’d spent a long time living on the periphery of Callum’s pack, with Callum his alpha in name only. Mitch wasn’t used to taking orders, and even though he’d joined our pack shortly after Lake had, I wasn’t used to giving them to him.
Please, Mitch. I met his eyes.
With a slight nod and his gun at the ready, Mitch opened the door. I didn’t push him, didn’t rush it, but when Mitch knelt down next to a heap of bones and fur, I couldn’t hold back any longer. I was beside him in an instant—not within biting range, but close enough that I could make out every inch of this ravaged Were’s body.
He looked like he’d been taken apart piece by piece and sewn back together—badly. He was stuck halfway between his human form and his animal one, and the patches of skin that weren’t covered with fur were angry and red, welts layered over bruises layered over burns.
Why didn’t he finish Shifting?
Bile rose in my throat with the question. Weres healed extremely quickly, but you couldn’t Shift and heal at the same time; it was like trying to eat while throwing up. That explained why the body in front of us was still battered to a pulp, but not why its owner had let himself be caught in the throes of Shifting for any extended period of time.
Without meaning to, I moved my gaze to Chase. The expression on his face was completely impassive. Even I couldn’t read it, but I didn’t need to, because the last time I’d seen a Were caught between one form and another, Shifting back and forth with excruciating results, it was Chase. We’d been hunting the Rabid who’d Changed him into a Were, and the monster had turned the hunt back on us, infiltrating Chase’s head.
“Is somebody doing this to him?” I kept my voice low, and it was almost drowned out by the heavy, tortured breaths coming from the porch. “Should I try to break off the connection?”
That was what I’d done to free Chase from the Rabid. I’d gone into Chase’s head, taken the connection the Rabid had formed when he’d Changed him, and snapped it in two.
If I had to, I could do it again.
“No.” Mitch’s voice was sharper than I’d ever heard it. “This wolf isn’t yours, Bryn. Unless you’re wanting war, you’ll keep your little alpha nose out of his pack-bonds. Not all alphas are as forgiving as Callum when it comes to other people stealing their wolves.”
I felt like Mitch had slapped me, like I was stupid and young and completely incompetent as an alpha and a person.
“Whose is he?” I asked quietly, trying to place the wolf’s scent but thrown off by the smell of blood and the mewling sound now making its way out of the creature’s monstrous hybrid mouth.
Mitch didn’t reply; instead, he pointed to the creature’s neck. “There’s what’s keeping him from Shifting.”
My eyes adjusted to the darkness on the porch, and I saw the object Mitch had referenced: a long, thin metal shaft that glowed in the light of the nearly full moon.
“Dev?” I could have removed it myself, but impulsive or not, even I wasn’t stupid enough to think that my going that close to an injured Were was a good idea. Whoever he was, the mass of flesh and bones on our porch was out of his mind with pain, and pain had a habit of making Weres unpredictable.
If Devon got bitten, he’d heal in a matter of moments. If I got bitten, I might never heal, and if I got bitten badly enough, I’d end up either dead or Changed—and neither one of those was a future I would particularly relish.
Devon walked forward, and without waiting a beat, he knelt, closed a hand around the shaft, and pulled. Most werewolves were allergic to silver, but as in many areas of life, Devon was an exception. As he jerked the hated object out of the wound, the injured Were reared back, and I heard teeth snapping and the sound of flesh—though whose, I wasn’t sure—giving way.
Chase came to my side, and I thought of that moment of quiet in the woods—how fragile it had been, how fleeting.
Dev tossed the silver rod to one side. “We’ll want to pick that up,” he said, almost absentmindedly. “Wouldn’t want one of the kiddos to get ahold of it.”
Our visitor’s body registered the silver’s removal. It shuddered and finally gave way to one form.
If I’d been horrified before, I was sickened now. There wasn’t a piece of flesh that had been left untouched, and for a moment, I thought I might throw up or cry or both.
The injured Were was a boy. Not a man, not a threat. A boy—maybe a year or so younger than me. All business, Mitch bent and hefted the boy into his arms, eliciting a high-pitched whine more lupine than not.
“Tell Ali I’ll need medical supplies,” he said. “Lake knows where they are.” With those words, Mitch turned to carry the boy away, leaving the rest of us standing there, slack-jawed and tense.
Lake was the first to snap out of it, and she hurried back to the kitchen to relay the message to Ali. Chase’s eyes followed Mitch’s progression, and I could see the gears in his head turning as he analyzed the situation. He ran a hand through my hair, assuring himself with every light touch that I was all right, convincing the wolf inside him to still.
Devon didn’t move, and this time, I said his name silently.
After a long moment, Devon managed to drag his eyes away from the blood seeping into the wooden planks of the porch. His fists clenched, and he turned toward me. “Bryn.”
There was a wealth of information in that one word, and I knew that whatever Devon said next was going to send a tremor through our pack, like static feedback or a punch to the gut.
“I caught his scent, and it wasn’t pretty.”
I waited for Devon to make a comment about Calvin Klein cologne or something equally flippant, but he didn’t. Instead, he cut right to the chase.
“This kid is from the Snake Bend Pack, Bryn. His alpha is Shay.”
Bonus! I'm also going to follow in Ally Carter's brilliant footsteps and offer a bonus gift/prize/offer of an autographed (by me) advanced reader copy of Entrhalled
, the smart chicks short story collection featuring Jen, me and a whole bunch of awesome authors! At the end of the week I'll draw a random name from the comments to this post (both on blogger and LJ) - as usual you get an extra entry for tweeting/facebooking/linking to this chapter (just make sure to put that information in the comment so I can give the bonus entries). Enter by midnight EST on Friday June 17th to win!
Thanks to Jen for letting me celebrate the release of Trial by Fire which comes out in only two days! You can order it here: Amazon
| Barnes & Noble