Under My Skin (Leap Books, 2010):
For the second time that day, I stared into the werewolf’s red eyes, bright with human intelligence though a wildness flickered in their depths. The stuff of nightmares stared back at me, through me, and called to the beast that lurked within. Finding me out. My body tightened against the urge to flee. To hide.
I waved my dagger to remind the beast, and myself, that I was the one in control. Or at least, I hoped I was. The security lights glimmered off the sharp silver blade, making my point for me.
Flinching, the werewolf averted his massive head. Thank God, I didn’t have to bluff this time. Now I was all about the follow through. My doubts faded on a mind-blowing rush of power at the beast’s show of fear.
I took a bold step forward. The beast stumbled backwards, knocked into the bunny cage, and sent the trapped creatures into spastic scuttles. I had him. We both knew it.
Then I slipped in the bunny blood. I cried out, flailing my hands in the air, trying to regain my balance, but my feet shot out from under me. I crashed to the floor. My head cracked against the linoleum. I landed in a sprawl under the werewolf’s stinking jowls. His foul breath filled my nostrils as stars spun in front of my eyes. My athame flew from my hand, scraped across the floor, and came to rest a few feet away.
I twisted onto my stomach and reached frantically for the hilt. Oh, this was so wrong. My nails dug into the linoleum floor. I inched closer. My breath escaped in a ragged sob. My splayed fingers trembled. An inch. One inch more. So close.
But not close enough.
Second Skin (Leap Books, ETA 2011):
Chapter 1: A snarl. A lunge. A bite.
We stood in the clearing. A fine mist of fog hovered a foot off the ground, snaking through the tall grasses. The damp ground smelled fresh and inviting. A gentle breeze brought the savoury aroma of the forest to us. Pine. Wild strawberry. Sage. One scent stood out above the others. In synchronism we turned our heads. A deer pranced at the edge of the woods.
Mom shot me a mischievous glance. “It’s time.”
Her elegant form shimmered before me, her dark hair whipped around in a wind of paranorm making, energy crackled in the air. A sleek black wolf stood in my mother’s place.
The change reinvented me.
We charged through the grass. Two black wolves. Wolven.
The deer bolted.
We separated, flanking the panicked creature. The complications of human life slipped away. There were no more questions, just the thrill of the hunt. I was strong. Invincible.
A different scent lit the air. I darted after the more intense lure, ignoring the black wolf’s sharp cry.
A snarl. A lunge. A bite.
I feasted as if I’d never had a fresh kill.
“Eryn, what have you done?” Mom’s beautiful porcelain skin paled to a chalky white, her delicate features twisted into a grimace. Her eyes gutted me as if she’d swiped a claw across my belly.
I glanced down at the earth. At the remains of a bloodstained shoe.
A human. I had attacked a human.
My stomach recoiled.
“Help me…” I tried to scream, but my wolf had no words.
Mom backed away, shaking her head.
I ran to her, never fast enough to reach her side.
She slipped into the mist and vanished.
I was alone. Just me and the beast that had slipped over me like a second skin.
I woke on a strangled sob. My teeth throbbing in my mouth. The coppery taste of blood lingering. I bolted upright, pushing my comforter aside and swung my legs from the warmth of my bed.
The red glow from my alarm clock confirmed it was midnight. The witching hour. Though witches were the least of my worries. I walked to my bedroom window, bare feet chilled from the cold hardwood. Witches had control over their abilities, weren’t hounded night after night with horrific visions of what might happen if they gave in to their power.
I shoved the curtains back to see my friend, Brit, in full dark sprite form, soaring past my second-story window, the whoosh of her wings audible through the double-paned glass.
No dream, this was all too real.
Damn, Brit knew better than this. To risk being seen by one of Redgrave’s clueless townspeople, inviting the torches and angry mobs Wade had once joked about.
Wade. I couldn’t think about him.
I scooped my jeans from the floor, pulled them up and over my hips. I yanked a rust-coloured hoodie over my head. My stomach rumbled in hunger sparked by the dream. The thrill of the hunt. Bloodlust bit at my veins even as bile collected at the back of my throat.
Yeah, witches were the least of my worries.
The cool night air ghosted my breath as I tore through the trees, dodging their heavy, snow-covered branches. I leapt over randomly placed tombstones like a pro whipping through a round of mini-golf. It sucked that I was becoming familiar enough with Crimson Cemetery’s terrain to charge forward on automatic. That I was doing so for the third night that week was just plain irksome.
The hair on the back of my neck trembled. Not a good sign. I inhaled sharply. The pungent scent of hungry, drooling werewolf drifted on the breeze. I was heading right into its path.
It seemed I was always running straight toward the stuff any normal person would be running from. But then I wasn’t normal. Not really a person either if you wanted to get picky about the details. A low whoosh overhead drew my attention. Against the starry sky, I tracked the dark form that dipped and swooped over the graveyard like some ginormous half-baked prehistoric bat. In her dark sprite form, Brit retained her human stature of five feet, though her wingspan was slightly longer. My best friend’s wings sliced through the trees, causing mini-snowstorms to dump down on me with each impact.
My thighs worked harder as I bolted uphill, keen to take advantage of the higher ground. Brit was closer now. Reachable. Physically at least. I knew she was hurting, no one doubted that. She wore her feelings like a shroud, blocking us out. She wouldn’t even talk about it to Matt, her boyfriend. But going all clammy wasn’t the extent of the problem.
On a nightly basis, Brit drowned her sorrows in her mother’s liquor cabinet. She was out of control, self-destructing. Self loathing and I were best buddies, I’d slid blades along my own flesh, just to feel something, anything. To let my own inner demon free. So I got where Brit was coming from. Unfortunately, I knew a lot of her pain came down to choices I’d made.
“We don’t have to do this tonight,” I called as I sprung into the air, swiping at the heavily scaled legs hovering five feet above me. “Let’s just rent a tear-jerker and bawl our eyes out. We’ll both feel better.”
“Leave me ’lone!” Brit glared down at me, though her eyes were slightly unfocused. Her long black hair whipped around her, twitching like the tails of hundreds of angry cats. “I’m just goin’ for a walk.”
Still running at top speed while Brit flew above me, I laughed at her interpretation of walk.
“I hate to shatter the illusion,” I said, “but this ain’t your average evening constitutional.” I leapt up again, swatting at her feet. Once. Twice.
“Stop it!” Brit’s expression changed from rage to shock. “What are you doing?”
“Friends don’t let friends fly drunk,” I shouted. I gripped a hand around her calf and hung on for dear life. Brit dipped at the change in weight, then surged upward and banked hard, pin-wheeling us in space.
I looked down.
My Aunt Sami’s burnt chili supper crawled back up my throat as I struggled not to black out. We’d cleared the hill and were now soaring twenty feet over the graveyard. My stomach rolled. Werewolves, vampires, and other beasties I could handle, but heights?
Not so much.