"... a rising star with the sure touch of
a born storyteller..."
"I've read tons of romance books and find
myself bored, skimming pages with books
I like. This was the first in a long time that
I read straight thru to the very last sentence." Anonymous
"This is an unforgettable read that
will keep you up at night.
The suspense is exciting and unpredictable."
Connie transported me to a world of
shapeshifting werewolves, with a sexy hero
and a strong courageous heroine. Loved the
setting and atmosphere. Can't wait for more..."
Dana Gibbs is a wolf biologist, a known expert in her field, and when something or someone begins savaging campers and hikers in the Arizona mountains, state police blame the newly introduced gray wolf. But she knows that wolves do not hunt and kill so brutally and she races to the Arizona mountains in the middle of the worst snowstorm in decades to defend the animals she has spent a lifetime nurturing.
Once a renown psychiatrist, he now has a shameful secret. A dark curse has stole his humanity. When he finds an unconscious woman in a half-buried vehicle, he is tempted to leave her to fate. But he was once a healer and the instinct remains. He takes her to his mountain cabin and treats her injuries, fearing that he's put her in grave danger.
She awakens feeling a kinship to this rugged man, but then he demands that she stay inside at night and takes away her snow equipment. She attempts to escape but he catches her. He can't let her go. He needs her to perform a deadly dangerous ceremony that can only occur under the SHADOW OF THE MOON. And that only she can perform.
When each faces the truth and submits to the fated love that's drawn them together, his redemption becomes possible. Together they face an arduous night that they can endure only through the strength of unwavering love.
Twisted roots clung to the rocky, wind-tortured soil, producing gnarled trunks and starved branches that struggled to sustain their sparse leafs. Equally malnourished bushes fought the trees for the meager nutrients the ground provided, and the round, silver moon bathed everything in pale, ghostly light.
Morgan stood in the center of the barren clearing, watching his companion with a degree of professional detachment. She was swaying to and fro, solemnly chanting gibberish and scratching a large circle on the crusty earth around him with a tree branch.
Very Gothic, Morgan thought, grinning. Lily has outdone herself this time.
"A man-wolf shall be born this day," Lily sang, completing the ring and discarding the stick with a flourish. With equal drama, she slipped off her simple woolen coat, revealing a gown so obviously staged for the occasion that Morgan's grin erupted into laughter.
"Don't treat this lightly, Dr. Morgan Wilder," she said, regarding him sternly with her dark eyes.
"Put your coat back on, Lily. You're risking hypothermia." A chuckle still rumbled in his throat. Then, to prove his point, the frosty wind picked up. He drew his coat close to his chest. "It's freezing up here."
"I am not cold." Twirling slowly, she gave a toss of her long white hair. Her black gauzy robe lifted, spun around her shoeless feet. "Indeed, my blood runs hot. My wolf spirit is strong."
With another twirl, she lifted her arms, reaching for the moon. "As is the way of the wolf, my darling Morgan, tonight you become my lifetime mate and soar above mortal concerns. Strong, fleet of foot, invincible. The forest and the alleys will be ours. We'll share everything. Our bed, our rank, our offspring . . ." She stopped, held him firm in her dark gaze. "The blood we spill."
Morgan's chuckle died on the wind. Not that she hadn't always been unorthodox, but tonight she acted . . . possessed.
"Don't tell me we're going to do that old blood brother ceremony," Morgan said cynically. He was cold and hungry and getting angry. "I'm disappointed, Lily. I thought you were going to dispel my skepticism about these night creatures. Do you think dragging me to these ugly mountains and dancing around in your dressing gown will do that? I have to say, this is rather bizarre, even for you."
"There are forces at work in this world you do not understand."
For the space of an insane heartbeat, he almost believed. Of course the tortured, barren plateau practically personified evil. And the dark wind whipping malevolently around his ears seemed to whisper Lily's truths.
But grotesque settings don't a werewolf make.
Just as Morgan was congratulating himself on so skillfully handling his anxiety, a chorus of howls rose from the treetops of the black forest below, held as one long note, then wobbled and died. Another chorus immediately followed.
"Did you hear that, Lily? Come on, we're getting out of here." He flew out of the circle, intent on returning to the little car they'd rented in Paris, which was now parked more than half a mile away.
"Morgan! No!" Lily rushed forward and shoved him toward the ring. Morgan grabbed her hands, stumbled backwards. When they hit the circle's perimeter, Lily jerked away as if she'd hit a force field.
With a long, purposeful step, Morgan breached the circle again, then gripped Lily's arm. "Get your coat," he ordered. Don't argue."
"It's too late. . . . The forces . . ." Lily peered over her shoulder. Morgan followed her gaze.
"Dear God!" he bellowed.
Eyes, glowing darkly red. Enormous heads. Massive, dangerous jaws, parted to reveal gleaming fangs. One by one, they filed into the clearing. With a gasp, Lily pushed Morgan back in the ring.
"What are you—" Morgan sputtered. "Are you crazy? Run, Lily. Now! Those wolves will tear us apart."
But she was deaf to his voice. Throwing back her head, she lifted her arms to the moon. The air whipped her flimsy robe and snowy tresses, swirling them around her in a frenzy.
Morgan's blood froze as he saw the pack of wolves part and circle in opposite directions around the ring. Seven of them, he noted through the haze of fear in his mind, and they blocked all hope of escape. They surrounded the circle, sat down, and stared at Lily, obviously waiting.
But for what?
"Yeafanay . . . cawfanay . . . naylanay . . . may," crooned Lily.
Why hadn't the wolves attacked her? he wondered, then forgot the question as knees grew weak and began to throb.
"Yeafanay, cawfanay naylanay' may.” Lily paused. Each wolf raised its head and a great unified howl lifted up, echoing off the rocks, filling the sky. As the last echo faded into the black night, Lily again began to chant.
"Lady moon in her great fullness squares dark Pluto now. Yet fickle lady waits for none and soon moves on.
Oh, Phantoms of the Dark Beneath rise up and heed my cry."
Pain shimmied through Morgan's body, piercing, unbearable pain. His legs buckled. Staggering backwards, he cried out and crumpled to his knees. Through all this, Lily continued her litany.
"Bring fang and claw and strength
beyond what mortals know.
Bestow these gifts upon your servant now,
that he may roam the earth
as wolf and man, as man and wolf
With each word, Morgan's agony grew more intense. His legs and arms burned with the fires of hell and he clawed at them, wanting to pull them out as he would some grievous tooth. His jaw shifted and needles pierced every inch of his skin. A thousand knives jabbed at his head.
"Rush, Great Phantom, rush, yeah, rush. Race, Great Phantom, race, yeah, race. The Lady rolls on, time grows short."Lily's voice rose with the wailing wind that beat at Morgan's agonized body like a razor-sharp whip.
"Heed us now. Heed us now.Barely aware of the cruel rocks slicing his burning skin, Morgan writhed on the hard ground, battling the misery of his own flesh. His mind filled with jumbled, crazy questions. How had Lily's fingernails grown so long? Or her teeth so sharp and shiny?
Time grows short. Heed us now."
"Lily," he cried from the depths of his pain, but only a grunt emerged.
"Yeafanay cawfanay naylanay may. Yeafanay cawfanay naylanay may.
A man-wolf is born this day!"
Morgan heard nothing more. Lost in a whirlwind of agony, he thrashed inside the ring. Anguished sounds exploded in his throat. Torment was his whole world now. He was lost in it.
Dying. There was no other explanation. He was dying. And because it hurt too much, he closed his eyes in futility and rolled into a ball, adrift in his own wretched whimpers.
Time passed. He sensed movement around him, but refused to open his eyes. Why were they tormenting him? Why didn't they kill him now? Eyes still closed, he lifted his head awkwardly. It felt heavy and stiff, but the thousand knives were gone. He brought a hand to his brow, felt fur. A peculiar yelp escaped his mouth.
His eyes snapped open and he stared in unspeakable horror.
Where hands once were, he saw hair and claws—large, powerful claws that could rip a throat apart. A crazed laugh bubbled in his throat, but when he opened his mouth only a groan emerged.
"Your alchemization’s complete, Morgan," Lily said from above him. "You are one of us now."
She stood in the perimeter of his vision, a silhouette against the dark woods. Behind her, a bat darted for the trees and he could see each rib of its small wings, see its tiny feet drawn close to its body. It was all so clear, he'd swear the sun was shining. Surely his eyes were playing tricks. He focused on Lily, who now bent to stroke his head. Red glinted off her ebony eyes.
Her touch repulsed him. Instinctively, he turned his head, snapped at her hand. He caught a tuft of fur.
She laughed. "Ah, you are angry. But you will grow accustomed to this new life."
The pain must have driven him insane, thought Morgan. Reality, illusion, had blurred. Just like it had for poor Boris, who had spurred him into this loathsome wild-goose chase.
He scrambled clumsily to his feet and wobbled in the air, the weight of his body dragging him down on all fours. He wanted to speak of his bewilderment, to tell Lily that her murky robe now looked like a coat of silver-white hair, that her teeth had grown long and sharp. But he could utter only a series of whines.
"Your skepticism is refuted." Lily's mouth widened into a beastly smile. "You are mine now, my darling Morgan. For many, many glorious lifetimes."
And elsewhere, by those brave enough to live in the perilous mountains, were heard the echoes of a night beast's agonized howl.
Dana Gibbs clicked on the cab light of her four-by-four vehicle to check out the crude map a buddy in the Arizona Fish and Game department had sneaked to her. It seemed she was lost. Although she'd found the referenced mile marker no trouble at all, the map unfortunately didn’t show the Forest Service route number, nor was there any indication that two roads forked with the main highway.
She scowled up at the dark Arizona sky, taking it rather personally that the weather report hadn't mentioned snow, then checked her watch. It wasn't even five o'clock, but the sun had long ago disappeared into layers of blustering clouds. She felt pretty blustery herself.
From the onset of this grueling drive through the narrow, twisting roads of the primitive Blue Range, her mood had been glum. She'd driven all night from Albuquerque to offer her help on this expedition, only to meet a reception as chilly as this unexpected March storm.
Captain Will Schumacher of the Arizona Highway Patrol had given her a fishy look, as if she were somehow personally responsible for the recent slaughters.
"Thank you, Dr. Gibbs," he'd said dryly. "But every jurisdiction in the state is wanting to horn in on Mission Lobo. We have enough radicals on the team. We don't need another one."
She'd swallowed the insult without retort, although at no little cost to herself, and tried to tell the chubby and pompous man that the carnage couldn't be the work of wolves. Not even bothering to mention that the Mexican wolf had been extinct in the wild for decades, she brought up the obvious. Contrary to fairy tales, wolves didn't mutilate their prey by ripping off limbs and tearing out entrails. They killed it, then ate it.
Also, there was the question of the infant boy. A forest ranger had found the baby wailing from cold and hunger amid the torn remains of its parents. If, by remote possibility, wolves had been responsible for the carnage, why would they have spared the weakest victim?
None of it made sense.
She went on to explain that she wouldn't even have come if it wasn't for the sightings. But three separate groups of backpackers had reported seeing a large canine deep in Ebony Canyon. Since few people were skilled enough to hike so far back into rugged country, Dana gave some credence to their reports. Those men and women understood the wilderness, knew animal tracks and spoor, and were not given to panic attacks.
Still, even the best of her limited persuasion skills got her nowhere, so Dana decided to strike out on her own, despite the captain's chilly reception. The idea of finding a truly feral pack that had experienced little or no contact with man thrilled her. Though she knew it was a long shot, she had to check it out for herself. Something she couldn't do sitting in her Ranger, trying to figure but which way to go.
She shut off the dome light, pulled up her parka hood, and stepped from the Ranger.
Snowfall was still light, but a capricious wind periodically whipped the flakes into whirlwinds. The highway was deserted. She hadn't passed or been passed by anyone for over an hour. Of course, sensible people were home in front of warm fires, not standing at the fork of a remote road shivering in the wind.
The waning sun cast soft, hazy light from somewhere behind the thunderheads, which combined with the falling snow to create a fog that made Dana think of the mists of Avalon. She stuck her tongue out playfully, caught a soft crystal and let it melt in her mouth.
She loved the wilderness. Loved the pine smell, the murmuring sounds that soothed her soul, loved feasting her eyes on the unspoiled beauty. Warm fire or no, she'd rather be here any day of the week.
She sniffed the crisp air, a habit she'd developed from long years of working with wolves. They did it to check the terrain for prey or predators. Since she lacked their keen olfactory nerves, it served no such purpose for her, as her father often told her. He usually finished by saying she spent so much time with her animals she was beginning to act like them.
A gust of wind blew under the edge of her parka. She tightened the drawstring, then started walking toward the intersecting roads. They were a four-wheeler's nightmare—unpaved, splotched with ice, and barely wide enough to allow two cars to pass without scraping sides. Judging by the deep ruts, a snowplow had been through recently, leaving cliffs of snow on the sides of each road.
Dana approached the fork where the roads met the highway and squinted through the gathering low fog. Maybe the north road. After all, she was headed in that direction. Faulty logic, she had to admit, but if the choice turned out badly, she could always backtrack.
So what if she ended up camping here all night? Her Ranger was well equipped. Her main concern was that Mission Lobo would start their search without her.
Of course, the unit would have to contend with the storm, too. Besides, despite the excited skip of her heart every time she thought of it, she would undoubtedly learn that there weren't any wolves. Her best guess was that some fly-by-night zoo owner had released a captive animal into the wild after learning how expensive they were to feed. Maybe a bear, or even some large jungle cat.
Perhaps a delay wouldn't hurt. She could sure use a solid night's sleep. Between meeting with bureaucrats and nursing an Arctic white wolf who was struggling through an Albuquerque hot spell, she'd had few opportunities to close her eyes over the last several days.
She was beginning to feel the effects. Not that she minded spending time with Sharky. He was a sweet animal, devoted to his mate, and he'd be gone soon enough. New Mexico was too hot. When winter ended, a facility in Alaska would take him in.
Dana felt a familiar pang of loss. She hated giving up even one of her animals. With a shake of her head, she went back to choosing a road. Even the lure of a long, solid block of sleep and the knowledge that she'd probably come up empty-handed on this excursion couldn't mitigate her excitement. She had to be there on the front line. If wolves did exist in Ebony Canyon, they needed someone to protect them from the trigger-happy officers under Schumacher's command.
North it was.
She headed back to the Ranger.
While she'd been woolgathering, the sky had blackened and the wind was now a steady blow, pelting her with frozen snowflakes. It rattled the branches of the bare ash and cypress and sent macabre whistles through the needles of the evergreens. The sound reminded Dana of the thin scream of a dying rabbit and sent prickles through her body.
Abruptly, she stopped walking. Something was out there, behind the bending pines and whipping branches.
Watching her . . .
She studied the dense forest, searching for movement. All was still, but she'd learned to respect those sudden prickles of her skin. Once, when she'd felt much this way, she'd turned a corner of a trail to find a bear raging against a swarm of bees. The prickles had saved her life.
She lowered her head against the wind and quickened her pace toward the Ranger. Just as she reached for the door handle, a howl resounded over the highest treetops. Achingly mournful, it carried a message of pain, loss, death.
Dana felt the sorrow to her bones. Grotesque images of flying limbs and spurting blood flashed through her mind. Her shivers turned into flesh-racking shudders. Her knees buckled. She grabbed for the handle, jumped inside the ranger, and shakily activated the locks.
Just a coyote, she told herself as she turned on the engine with trembling fingers, unnerved by her intense reaction. She'd grown up in some of the country's most rugged areas and felt safer backpacking alone through deserted canyons than she did on most city streets. True, she'd felt fear before, but not limb-numbing terror such as this.
Her hands were still shaking when she engaged the four-wheel drive and jammed the Ranger into gear. The four-by-four creaked and swayed as she entered the road, jarring her in her seat. She clenched her teeth, focused on avoiding the worst ruts, and soon forgot the fearsome howl.
Several bumpy miles later, Dana rounded a sharp S-turn and pulled to a full stop. The road had already deteriorated into a narrow cow path, and now an enormous wall of snow had swallowed it.
Tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, she sighed loudly, and backed up, hoping for enough room to turn around in. She then angled the Ranger to the right, gingerly rolling back until she felt the tire hit the ridge of a drainage ditch bordering the road. Next, she pulled forward as far as possible until she reached the opposite side. She repeated the procedure several times, carefully avoiding the boggy ditch, which she knew would suck her four-by-four right in.
With considerable effort, she finally had the Ranger at a suitable angle to the line of the road. From here, she turned the steering wheel as far as it would go, then stomped on the gas, counting on weight and momentum to carry her out. But she'd misjudged the slickness of the road. The tires tried to grab, but failed. The vehicle fishtailed and skidded toward the ditch.
Whomp. Thump. Thump. The right front wheel scaled the edge of the ditch, jolting the Ranger to a stop.
"Dammit!" Dana pressed her lips together, slammed the gears in reverse, and floorboarded the gas pedal. The wheels spun impotently and she released the gas.
Throwing open the door, she stomped through the mud, dug out a lantern from the rear, and went to inspect the damage. Her back tires sat on a sheet of ice. The front passenger wheel was mired in the ditch. Cursing herself for having decided she didn't need chains because the western storm season had passed, she swung the lantern around, seeking something to wedge under the stuck wheel. The light fell on a branch, thick with pine needles, several yards inside the forest.
Dana hopped across the ditch.
The lantern splashed light on the underbrush. Birds flapped their wings and flew from dark shadows. Various creatures scurried and squeaked on...the ground. Finding the normality of the sounds reassuring, Dana hurried toward the branch, confident she'd soon be out of her predicament.
A howl shattered her serenity. The night creatures instantly hushed and only an undulating echo broke the silence.
Dana froze midstep. Her nerve endings vibrated, and for a moment her foot remained suspended in air. Angry at her loss of control, she stamped the foot down and exhaled heavily.
Her breath misted in the lantern's wake, creating a heavy fog. The light quivered in her trembling hand. Battling an urge to dash for the Ranger, Dana made herself creep toward the branch. As soon as it came within reach, she snatched it up and sprinted toward the road, nearly tumbling when her foot caught the top of a dark stone.
Finally, she reached the Ranger and hastily bent to wedge the bough beneath the mired wheel. When it was securely in place, she climbed inside. By now, her body was stiff from cold and tension. She struggled to remain clearheaded as she looked over her shoulder and applied gentle pressure to the gas pedal.
The Ranger didn't budge. Dana upped the pressure. Nothing happened. As she steadied herself for one a more try, the terrible wail came again. So loud, so close, it seemed just outside her door. She spun toward the windshield. She'd forgotten the lantern! And in the perimeter of its spilled light, a blurred shape moved with superhuman speed.
Dana slammed down on the gas pedal.
The Ranger lurched—once, twice, then again. She let up, stomped down again. The vehicle shuddered, broke loose, and careened back at drag racing speed.
Dana instinctively hit the brakes, all the while knowing it was the wrong thing to do. Brakes squealed, tires screeched. The Ranger zigzagged, then spun. She battled the steering wheel, trying to force it in the direction of the skid, but it defied her control. Behind her, the wall of snow loomed larger and larger until it filled her rearview mirror.
Like a great white shark, the wall opened up and sucked in the four-by-four like a minnow until it jerked to a halt against the skeleton of solid earth. The jolt threw Dana against the steering wheel, propelled her up and into the windshield, then rebounded her back into the seat, where she slumped like a rag doll.
Her head roared with pain. The coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. Her vision grew fuzzy. Within the beams of the headlights, evergreen branches swayed and dark, unnameable shadows danced. Blinking, she tried to bring the sights into focus. She felt light-headed and giddy.
As a strangled moan escaped her lips, her world quaked. She watched numbly as snow slid down the windshield. At first the avalanche only covered the hood, then, gaining momentum, it dumped huge chunks of snow on the roof, where they clattered, bounced off the glass, and slid down the fenders. Dana screamed.
Then the windows were filled with white. All was deadly quiet. The only light inside the car came from the dimly glowing instrument panel.
Who will protect my wolves? Dana wondered as she passed into unconsciousness.
Beneath a towering pine stirred a man as huge and solid as the tree trunk that sheltered him. A long wool overcoat hung to his knees over heavy leggings that were tucked into bulky, serviceable boots, and his face was hidden in the abyss of a deep hood. Each item was of a nondescript dark color, not quite black or navy blue or gray, allowing him to melt into the shadows.
What had possessed him to come this close to a major road so early in the evening? He knew better. But he'd heard the screams so often of late, could barely abide them, and a night such as this was made for death.