Savage Heart is set in the same world as Wolf Heart, but takes place in Louisville, Ky with a different set of characters. Detail and buy links (it’s coming out in Early December) are here.
The first chapter is below. Enjoy!
There were two werewolves in the pit and a vampire in a slick suit, fingering a martini, at the bar. But neither were in the same immediate danger as the artificially red-blonde, little punk girl in black leather bondage pants and a Misfits tank top who’d just, unfortunately, let a racial slur escape her lips and fly at Isis Montoya’s face. Isis’ kohl-lined, yellow-hazel eyes narrowed, holding back rage.
The slur was the kind of word no Irish-born human should have ever called a desert-blooded nonhuman like Isis. Then Isis had no more time to muse because the girl’s fist, threaded brass through the fingers and a flowers-and-thorns tattoo wrapped around the wrist, also came at Isis’s face. Because the club was mostly filled with humans, Isis let the blow connect, albeit along the side of her head instead of directly as the girl had aimed. The blow hurt, pain stabbed across Isis’ skull and the smell of blood lit up the air.
Then Isis moved, sliding into the girl, hooking her arm in the girl’s attacking arm and twisting up, up. The arm climbed the girl’s own back as Isis herself twisted and pressed against and in. It had the look and feel of intimacy. Violence often did. Isis felt an urge to keep yanking the arm until it snapped in the socket and the girl screamed. The temptation to bend down and bury her teeth in the meat of the girl’s collarbone, to taste the blood and the flesh, and snap the delicate-looking bones there rose, washing Isis’ mouth with saliva. She swallowed and fought both urges back.
Isis waited a beat before releasing. A man caught the girl when she fell. His broad shoulders, narrow waist and long limbs promised he’d be a large, thick man when he was done filling out. In the mean time he served as club manager.
“She hit me, Jeremy,” Isis said. She held up her hands to show she was unarmed and unclawed. Her attacker could hardly say the same. Jeremy restrained the girl himself and pulled the brass knuckles from her fingers. A trickle of blood from the head wound curled along Isis’ cheek. She resisted the urge to lick it clean.
“I can see that, Isis.” He handed her a ring of keys that would give her access to the employee restroom in the back. “Go get cleaned up. You only have a few minutes before your set.”
Isis didn’t question him. She darted through the crowd to the side of the bar. The stage and public restrooms took up the left side of the building. The bar, stockroom and various offices were all crammed into the right side.
Jeremy’s office was in the very back. It was double bolted, for more than one reason. All the mundane files and records, like customer credit card slips and cash were stored here. Second was the heavy steel door, also double locked, that led to the basement where migrant, injured or ordinary shifters were always welcome to crash on an emergency basis. Connected through a third door was Jeremy’s private bathroom, with a full shower and emergency operating area. A padlocked door on the wall was the only sign of the heavy narcotics and potentially dangerous medical equipment hidden inside.
Isis wet some paper towels and dabbed at the blood on her face. Her beast rolled past her eyes when she prodded the bruise where the little punk girl had punched her. The urge to find the bitch, to tear into her until her skin parted under Isis’ claws and a perfume of blood permeated the air, was ever present. But that wasn’t the path Isis wanted to follow.
Really, it wasn’t, she reminded herself again with an exasperated grimace to her reflection. So why did strangers just walk up to her and decide punching her in the face was a great idea?
A knock reverberated on the door and a moment later Jeremy entered without waiting for an okay. “What did she call you?”
“Ajaba bitch,” Isis answered, the slur foul but familiar in her mouth. She expected Jeremy to swear, but he didn’t. He controlled it better than she did.
“How did she know?”
“This isn’t some sort of game is it?”
She bristled. “No. This is not some sort of game. Why would I play like that?”
Jeremy didn’t respond but Isis knew him well enough to see his satisfaction at her answer. A relaxation of the angle of his shoulders, less tension in the set of his jaw. He never really trusted her, even when he claimed he did.
Isis squared herself, flashing a last look at the mirror. “I’d better get back for my set.”
After a moment Jeremy nodded. Not an awkward moment at all, Isis snapped mentally. It was a good thing werewolves weren’t mind readers.
“Yeah, probably. Listen Isis…” he trailed off, especially when she looked at him. “I called the police. They’ll want to talk to you after your set, you know. It’ll probably take them that long to get here.”
“Yeah, okay,” she answered. After another awkward pause she moved past him, escaping back into the lightly-populated club.
Back to where she felt normal, almost anonymous in the crowd. The overwhelming noise and smells blurred together into the mute feelings she imagined a normal human had. Here people looked at her because she wore a black and silver halter top that plunged between her breasts and a slinky black skirt that touched the tops of her stilettos but was also slit damn near up to her hips. Not because of where she walked and who she walked with. In the shadows and colored lights of the club she was almost anonymous.
Which, of course, she thought wryly, was why she and her band were about to go on stage. Tommy R. and Jesse were already warming up without her. They were warming up the audience, that is, which had begun to wander after the last band. Jesse roared into the mic and began a riff from a metal song, to cheers from the pit.
Across the room Nick slipped back in the door from his last smoke break before they started. Isis hated the habit, mostly because the aura of smoke burned her nose and made her eyes water. But it wasn’t like he needed to preserve his voice for singing or anything. Just his fragile human lungs from cancer.
When she took the three shallow stairs onto the stage someone in the crowd wolf-whistled and yelled, “Yeah, baby!”
With an amused smile Isis took the mic and answered. “Keep it in your pants, boys.” Then with a wink she added, “At least until after the show.”
Her voice took on the edge of a purr when she was happy and this made her very happy. The first song in their set lately was a cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”. It was familiar, fast-paced and, when belted from Isis’ lips, more than a little dirty. A few of their own original songs followed. Isis’s voice rang out against the soft bodies and black-painted walls, a beast of its own. Hours of practice were essential because despite the light and noise and the smells of the crowd, she was someone else.
Music washed her away. It didn’t come from her so much as through her, channeled from the symphony of life around her. And gladly she gave herself over to it, adding her own bit of insignificance, in the hopes that it would beat through the souls and bodies of the people around her. For just a few minutes she hoped the music set them free.
Then the boys played the last notes of Suzanne Vega’s “My Name is Luca”. (“Always leave them on a down note,” Isis had told them months ago, “so they’re sad to see us go.”) It wasn’t the crowd cheering, though they did, at least out of politeness, but the catharsis of performing that had Isis feeling like she was floating off the stage.
Her boys looked proud of themselves too. Tommy R., dirty blond hair a mess and dripping sweat onto the bottle of icy water he rolled across his face, all but glowed. Jesse, behind a thick curtain of dyed-black hair and thick-fingered, black-nailed hands, beamed. Even Nick, who seemed the most world weary of all of them (however world weary a twenty-three year old hottie could be, Isis thought) looked pleased with himself.
Then the real world intruded in the form of Jeremy and the officer he led back to the stock/green/break room to take a statement from Isis. Assault, Jeremy called it. Technically it was true, assault sounded kinder, more human, than Isis would have put it.
Punched in the fucking face just about covered it. And some of the peace bled out to rage.
The officer, who seemed capable in that solid, completely emotionless way that dealing with trauma burned into people, didn’t ask her to wash off her make up. But did gently touch her cheek where the crazy woman’s punch connected. A slight human woman would have to be utterly insane to knowingly attack someone like Isis, right?
“It glanced off my face,” Isis was saying, her mouth still on autopilot. “It’s still tender though.”
“You’re lucky. I’ve seen girls like you with their cheek fractured over assaults like this.”
Probably not, Isis thought. But she appreciated the tiny glimmer of concern in Officer Patrick’s eyes. She wasn’t sure it was entirely fair, but she appreciated it.
“Do you want to press charges?” he asked.
“Of course. Also, I’d like it to be considered a hate crime if I could. Throwing slurs along with punches proves it to me.”
Officer Patrick smiled. “I agree, but we’ll have to see what a judge thinks.” He passed her a business card with his name on it and her report number scribbled in ink. “Take it easy, Ms. Montoya. And protect that voice of yours. You’re pretty good.”
Warmth flushed Isis’ face. If he wasn’t at least twenty years older than her she’d have suspected he was flirting. Or maybe she just wanted to pretend he was because it distracted her from the edge of violence she still felt against her skin.
The room, even though it was a reformed warehouse, was suddenly too small. Too crowded. Too loud and too many smells tried to tear their way up her sinuses. When Isis spotted Jeremy heading her way, no doubt to give her another lecture, she made her escape. Out the back fire escape and into the obscenely humid Kentucky April night that nevertheless felt twenty degrees cooler and significantly emptier than the club crowd had.
Isis sucked in deep breaths of stale cigarette smoke and city animal smells. To a human they’d be foul scents. But, despite being cloying, to her they were just more scents, colored trails on the movement of the night air. She sucked them up greedily.
“So what’s a nice girl like you doing sulking out here?”
Nick’s voice made her smile. “You’re assuming a lot,” she answered.
One side of his mouth grinned. The other held his cigarette until his long fingers reached up and grabbed it. “Yeah,” he answered, “like that you’re a girl? Maybe you should take something off and prove it to me.”
He grinned lecherously at her. But even his lusty expression held a glimmer of levity. Isis found herself smiling again. “I saw you come out here, looking upset and figured I’d catch you. Everything okay?”
“No,” escaped her lips before she could stop it. But then she caught herself. “It just got a little overwhelming in there. The lights and the smells. I have a bit of a headache from where that bitch hit me.”
“Yeah, what was that all about? You steal her boyfriend or something?”
“Not that I know of,” Isis answered with a sigh.
“Lighten up, sweetie.”
That’s what Isis was trying to do. But a punch to the face and sour look from Jeremy ruined it for her.
“How about I treat you to a greasy burger and a milkshake? I hear the boys love my milkshakes,” Nick said with another grin.
“I have a better idea,” Isis countered. She slid up against him in the shadows of the alley now that his cigarette was out. “How about I take you home and you can cook a burger for me?”
“A girl who trusts me to cook? Dangerous.”
Isis’ grin turned a different kind of predatory. Nick caught her hand and let her lead him out into the night.
* * *
He was gone the next morning off to wherever Nick went during the day. Come to think of it, Isis didn’t know a hell of a lot about him.
She and Jesse had met in their Freshman English class in high school. Tommy R. was older, graduating at the end of the same year. Jesse had introduced them the summer before senior year. She knew what they did, what they dreamed of doing, and hell, had met their parents.
But Nick had just shown up, shocked the hell out of them with his guitar skill and demanded to join the band. At first Jesse had bristled because Nick only played guitar, which forced him onto bass. But at some point they’d gotten a little boy bonding time to smooth things over.
The sun’s rays filtered through the blinds. Motes of dust spun lazily through the air, which Isis watched waiting to see if she’d drift off back to sleep or not. She’d woken thinking of work, her brain already planning the day. The edges of sleep burned away while she was still wondering if she even wanted to be awake.
Then the succulent aroma of spiced, cooking meat rolled past her nose again and Isis realized why she was awake. Her feet were on the floor moments later.
The trailer wasn’t what most people would think of when they heard “trailer”. Three bedrooms and two baths, one half was Isis’ and the other her mother’s. Plush gray carpet tickled her feet along the hall.
In the kitchen that dominated the middle of the trailer stood a woman, with her black hair pulled back into a thick braid and a simple pair of gray yoga pants and a white tank top on, moved around, frying up meat, eggs and bread. She was fit and tone for her age, without the painful look that accompanied many women in their forties who where trying to hang on to their youth. Her skin was the soft tan of good cured suede and without looking, Isis knew her eyes would be the gold-touched color of chestnuts.
Isis gave her an enthusiastic hug, like she had when she was a child. Her mom always brought that touch of clinginess out in her. “How was Tennessee?”
“Messy. A big storm rolled through the night after we got there. The flooding was mostly receded by the time we left, but there were still trees and power lines down everywhere. I’m very glad to be home.” She did look a little tired with dark shadows and redness in her eyes. “How did your show go?”
“Oh, okay, I guess. Nick and I had to cut out a little early. I had a headache.”
Her mom smiled in sympathy and slid a plate of food across the counter to her. “We passed each other in the driveway. He’s a cutie.”
Isis blushed. It wasn’t like she really was a kid. But that didn’t mean she was immune to her mom’s teasing either.
“Listen sweetie,” her mom continued, “I’m beat and I need to check in with the restaurant later tonight. If you don’t mind I’m going to take my food and spend some quality time with a book before I have to go be a grown up.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Her mom smiled again. It was always a wonderful sight. “Dishes? And if you want, divide the
meat in the coolers up into easier to manage portions. That would be fantastic.”
She planted a kiss on Isis’ head then took her own plate.
“Mom, are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, just very happy to be home.”
Breakfast was tasty, but Isis expected no less. After all her mom owned Valkyrie, a midscale restaurant in one of the trendier parts of town. She’d started out cooking, but now she mostly just handled the business end of things. The only time she cooked was with Isis, whose skills in everything, at least in her own opinion, paled in comparison to her mother’s. No, they blew sweaty goat balls.
Just like watching her mom putter into the master bedroom. Isis wanted to help, but she couldn’t figure out where to start. Running a business and a pack was too much for any single person. Throw in that they didn’t even have the advantage of a dependent social structure—or even a smidgen of loyalty innate to the members of their tribe—that werewolf packs had and it was less like running and more like smacking everyone into line.
There were some things Isis could do. Make sure the bills were paid, checking to see if the financials balanced right, and portioning out the meat her mom had brought back. Out of all of it, working elbow deep in flesh, bone and vacuum sealed containers was the most appealing.
Isis sighed as she rinsed off her plate. At least she had her day planned.