NOTE: The ending (the last small paragraph) of this sample chapter has recently been changed in editing!
Three Months Ago
I run until my feet bleed, until I can no longer feel the pain of every searing cut and nerve-ending exposed to debris and freezing snow that burns like fire. My ankles are mottled by blood and dirt and bruises. My breath, now so heavy that it weighs more than my chest can carry, sputters from my lips in a pathetic, asphyxiating mess, bringing me to my knees a second time.
No. I can’t stop running.
I have to become something that I’m not, as fearless and dangerous and powerful as the beast chasing me. I have to believe that I can go on because if I don’t, I’ll die here tonight. In these woods. Under the cruel array of stars and planets and dark matter that watches this scene unfold and does nothing to stop it.
The trees snap like bone behind me in the darkness. A bone-chilling roar rips through the air and my heart stops. I can picture blood hemorrhaging from its teeth. Its back arched in a way that terrifies me, its blade-like claws ready to strike me down like a massive bear tearing down its prey.
Only this werewolf is more massive than any bear.
I hurl myself forward, pushing my body harshly against the wind and I run. My eyes have become attuned to the darkness. I can see out ahead of me with a finer precision. But how? How can I know this forest so intimately, as if I have lived here all my life? How can I judge these distances, evading the black canopy of trees and the dead branches beneath them so obscured by the magic white dust?
It doesn’t matter how right now.
I have to keep running.
The beast is closer. But my mind is disorganized, a chaotic tangle of truths and lies and disbelief. It could’ve had me by now. The werewolf could’ve taken me down before I crossed the creek minutes ago, over the half-frozen water that took my feet out from under me. I heard it breathing behind the trees in the darkness as I lay on the frigid, wet bank. I could smell the musky, wet hair. I could feel its gaze upon me, hungry for my flesh and blood. But it let me go, it allowed me to pick myself up just when I had given up and had no intention to push on.
It’s toying with me.
And I keep running. Because at some point, after you have surpassed surrender, after you realize that just moments ago you thought you’d die if you went any further yet you didn’t, the human body becomes something else. Maybe it’s only adrenaline, or maybe some staunch and enigmatic love for life, I don’t know. But it’s different. Stronger. Faster. Formidable. You forget that your lungs have almost stopped working, that your stomach is filled with ice and heat and mush, that your heart has been begging you to stop for the past many minutes, threatening to burst.
I run out into a field, leaving the veil of trees behind me and the air is colder here, having no obstacles to maneuver around, nothing to stop the gusts from pushing against my body, threatening to kill me with hypothermia.
I suck in a quick breath and it burns my lungs like fire.
I see a horse out ahead, its hot breath exhaling like thick streams of fog from its nostrils. I see the stars all around me as if I’m a trinket inside a giant globe and I envy them in this moment as they stare at me with all their brilliance and mystery and power.
I look further into the outskirts of the trees and see two more horses not so far from the first, concealed by the shadows.
And then I stop.
I stop because I realize I’ve been here before. I look all around me, grasping every detail as if each one is a piece of some significant puzzle. The forest surrounds me in a tree-enveloped circle where I stand in the center feeling trapped, like a gladiator in an arena. At any moment the beast is going to rip through the trees on either side of me and I won’t have anything to hide behind, nothing to obscure my movements as futile as they may be. My back is arched now too, or maybe it’s just hunched over absurdly in some failed attempt at a battle-ready stance. I move around in a methodical circle, my arms at level with my ribs, my head moving in jerking motions at every sound no matter how moderate or faint or real they may be.
My heart stops and so does the world around me when a low, gruff howl reverberates through the blackest sliver of trees to my left. The horses snort first and then squeal and sprint away.
I hear nothing now but the sound of its breath; the low, guttural movement vibrating its massive chest. I can’t see anything but its eyes staring back at me, flecked by the moonlight, and its breath so thick and measured.
My body is no longer ‘something else’. Surrender has returned and this time I know I can’t fight it. Finally, I can feel how exhausted my lungs have become and how cold and hot and heavy my stomach truly is. I can feel my heartbeat sputtering to a slow crawl, clamoring for some sense of normalcy, but never finding it.
My mind is pacified by stillness and submission; it has now become something different.
It’s in control of my lungs and my insides and my heart. It tells me that it’s okay to face the beast. To let it happen. To let death take me. To accept this finality boldly with my last breath and thought.
My breath comes out in a long, irrevocable draw and my body stands fully upright of its own accord. My hands carefully drop to my sides, my fingers curl softly near my palms.
The beast steps out from the trees, revealing its colossal size that I had always been afraid of and loved with the deepest depths of my soul. I believe I can feel the earth beneath me rumble gently as he approaches, but I know it must be my mind playing tricks on me because his steps are too soft and calculated to create such force. The seconds pass between us in a lingering and ominous phase, every step bringing him closer to me, closer to my time among the stars that always have watched unbiased.
I never realized when it happened, but I notice my right hand reaching toward him, my palm tilted in a delicate gesture to which my thoughts are unaware. My thin, icy fingers open for him as if they are their own body and believe that nothing so beastly can ever harm something so small and frail.
I can see him clearly now as he stands in the glow of the full moon. As he stands only feet from me in the wide open field of bitter, stinging air and snow now blemished by my bleeding bare feet. But I’m still not afraid.
He moves closer.
In this fraction of a moment I gasp sharply and feel a shot of blood race into my heart.
But my fingers, so resolute and independent of me, still have a mind of their own. A heart of their own. A life of their own that I can’t bear to struggle against.
I reach out the last few inches needed to touch him and my hand becomes warm underneath his fur and his strong, thick flesh. My heart is screaming inside, but my mind pushes it down into the hot mire of my trembling insides and I remain unafraid. Ready to die.
His chest heaves with hot breath. I can feel it on my face and skin, protecting me from the stinging wind. The blood I imagined on his sharp, massive teeth is not there, but I know it will be soon. I always knew that my love for Isaac Mayfair would one day be the death of me.
I always knew.
Softly, I close my eyes.
But instead of death, I feel a different sort of passage.
I feel safe.
My eyes open slowly and see his elongated snout pulling the saliva-dripping skin carefully away from his teeth. His mammoth chest still heaves with onerous breaths. His large inky-black eyes, glazed over by moisture and rage and conflict, bore into mine. Carefully, my left hand also comes up, my fingers joining the others in a display of delicate affection.
I’ve never been this close before. Not like this. One movement out of place, a single cell in my body triggered by fear, and Isaac will sense it. In a split second the frightening expanse of his opened jaws and the force of his bite could take off my head.
“Isaac…Listen to my words.” Both of my hands take his much larger hand and guide it slowly toward my heart.
No, I’ve never been this close before. Not like this, so bold and stupid and utterly reckless. Not when he has Turned against his will, when he was unprepared.
When I provoked him….
One movement out of place…a single cell triggered by fear and it will all be over.
Another deep growl reverberates through his chest and the air around his snout becomes visible and hot. With his beast-like hand resting against my heart, I let my head fall slowly upon it. I close my eyes and pull my body further into his, resting my head in the bend of his arm. And I inch my way closer, allowing his warm, fur-covered body to envelop my fragile frame. His heart beats dangerously rapid, but somehow I know that it’s normal, that he is calm. For now.
“It’s Adria. It’s me, Isaac.” My words are soft, as fragile as my body against his, yet I don’t falter an ounce.
A subtle movement by Isaac causes me to lift my head away from his stomach. He leans over me, nudging his head against my own in a display of understanding and of affection.
But the moon’s sway on this night is more powerful than mine.
I knew this too, that tonight was the worst night to give in to his intimate advances. But I wanted him as much as he wanted me and I believed in my heart that we could get through this. That I could let Isaac have me in ways no one else has and that I would live through it.
But I was wrong, and tomorrow, after the full moon has fallen back behind the Earth, I know I will not hear the end of it.
Isaac turns quickly and rips away through the field, leaving me standing here. A part of me is relieved, thankful that I can breathe again, but the larger part is ashamed.
Months from now, maybe even years, Isaac will never let me forget it.
KINDRED, book two in The Darkwoods Trilogy is scheduled to be released on Isaac Mayfair’s 20th birthday, July 20th! Add it to your TBR (to-be-read) shelf over on Goodreads here! Until the release date, you can still get book one, THE MAYFAIR MOON for Kindle for only $.99 here! And it’s complete with a brand spankin’ new cover!