Wild Heart Preview

**Coming Very Soon

 

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The woods smelled perfect, like rain and rich, moist soil, and faintly, underneath the evergreens, like strange werewolf. Michael’s lip curled up in a smile.

Two months ago a pack war erupted over the fifty-odd square miles of prime territory where Michael had lived his whole life. Many people, even friends, died. But now the land was his, and nothing would take it away.

The Wolf burst through his skin. Between one stride and the next he landed on four feet, pushing himself off the ground and over a fallen log across the trail. Behind him four good warriors, male and female alike, shifted to wolf and began the chase.

Michael’s legs covered the trail in a ground-eating lope. Silence wasn’t as important as speed. Neither was as important as intelligence. Michael knew the land well enough to have two other teams coming from other directions.

No escape had become something of a motto of his.

An abandoned house loomed around the next curve. Most of the roof had fallen over, giving the appearance that some enthusiastic swordsperson had sheared off a corner. The faded wood siding hung from the facade in places and the whole building smelled strongly of wet and mold.

A large shadow-blob darted from the veil of kudzu and bindweed, climbing the walls. It tried to flatten itself to the ground, as if it could slip past them unnoticed, but Michael and his lupercus had gotten very good at ferreting out the Wolves who came to Liberty looking to grab a piece of what they thought was a war-torn land.

Michael’s legs bunched and thrust, pushing him forward until he collided maw-first with the foreign wolf. Teeth sank through fur and met flesh. Michael felt the impact when one of his lupercus collided with the enemy from the other side. Michael tried for the throat, but the wolf twisted and he hit shoulder instead.

Blood was still blood.

One of the lupercus didn’t miss. More of the rich velvet smell hit the air as someone—probably Angie—tore the back of the foreign wolf’s leg open, hamstringing him.

Michael let the fight move a few steps away. She’d more than hamstrung him. His left rear leg was snapped, bone barely even attached to itself by tendon and gristle. Within a breath Michael was human again, a blond mass of a man towering over even the unusually-large wolves tussling before him.

Michael snatched up the invader by his scruff and held him up. “Human, now and we’ll talk. Or you can keep fighting and die.”

The wolf snarled and flailed. He tried to twist around and take a chunk from the arm Michael held him with. So Michael dropped him to the lupercus waiting below.

Ten minutes later he still stood nearby, leaning against a maple, finally starting to recover from a long, hard winter. It was hard to convince northern wolves, but in Tennessee, three weeks below freezing and five days subzero was a hard winter. Plus, somehow, the land knew when there were bad leaders on it. He firmly believed this and took heart in every sign of burgeoning spring.

Some of the other wolves laughed and called him superstitious. Maybe. But the land knew.

“Alpha?”

One of his transplants, Angie, stood before him, covering her chest with her arm. She was an oddball of a person. Short brown hair, cut in a bob, with chocolate brown eyes that developed gold sparks when she was pissed off. She was as modest as a werewolf who occasionally shifted in places without clothes could be. Plus, somewhere along the family line, someone had decided werewolf genes weren’t fun enough and bred in dwarfism.

The lycanthrope and dwarf genes battled it out through her adolescence, leaving her a solid five foot, shaped differently from a standard human, and thickly muscled. Her last pack had assumed a level of disability and forbidden her from holding a position. Michael made her his second when rebuilding the Liberty pack. He had yet to regret his decision.

“Angie?”

She blushed a little because he’d told her to stick to first names. Habits were hard to break. “They all three fought and we had to put them all down.”

He nodded in acknowledgment. He stopped feeling bad about killing people when one of his challengers tried to take his eye out of spite. He couldn’t take the land, so maiming others was apparently justified.

Assholes.

“I’m thinking about this shack, Angie. This is, what? The third time we’ve found a fight here?”

“Fourth,” Angie answered.

“I can’t decide if it would be better to torch it, or if it’s just damn convenient to let them keep hiding here.”

“I’d torch it, sire. Mark it with scent too. It’s like vermin: if you leave them an opening, they’ll think that it means they’re welcome here. Leave our scent and they’ll know we’re watching.”

Michael nodded. “Do it, but search the place thoroughly before. And have Ian help so we don’t start a forest fire.”

Michael’s third, Ian, was a seasoned werewolf and a seasoned firefighter.

“I want a ditch, three by three. Thom, Jennifer, search the place to make sure it’s useless first.”

Angie was back in wolf form before her words finished ringing through the air. Michael crouched down and grabbed a handful of soil. As the rich dark earth sifted between his fingers, he grinned. Annoying werewolf invaders or not, it was good to be home.

~

She watched the werewolves between the branches of the trees, unable to keep her lip from curling in disgust. This was supposed to be the middle of nowhere, dead space. Well, dead of civilization. Instead she’d found herself on the tail end of a werewolf war.

She’d curse, but she could barely breathe right now without them hearing.

This was bad. Real bad. But she still had time. She hoped.