The release date for Gray's Dilemma is quickly approaching! April 14th can't get here soon enough, so for all of you anxiously counting down the days, here's an excerpt to tide you over!
Excerpt from Gray's Dilemma:
“Hey Margie,” I call, loping down the driveway towards her. Her silver hair gleams in the sun, the wrinkles of her face barely noticeable in the early morning light. She’s leaning heavily on a slim cane, something she only does when she’s exhausted herself. She used too much energy healing Miles last night; I can’t ask her to expend anymore today. When I reach her, I entwine my arm with hers so I can take some of her weight as she limps towards the house.
“You flirt,” she says in her slightly raspy voice. “Don’t you know I’m much too old for you?”
“You, old? Never,” I say, smiling in genuine affection.
Out of everyone in the coven, Margie is definitely my favorite. The others tolerate us werewolves, some are even friendly towards us, but they always seem to be on guard around us, as if afraid we’ll go feral at any moment and tear their throats out. Margie is the only one who seems to honestly like us. Or maybe it’s just that she isn’t afraid of us.
“Why don’t you let me drive you home,” I suggest as we near the house. “I can get Allison out here to check on Miles. You can go enjoy this nice morning in your garden, relaxing.”
She pierces me with diamond sharp eyes. “I’m not that fragile, boy. I’m more than capable of checking in on the young one.”
“Miles isn’t that young.” I feel my lips curl in amusement. “He’s the same age as me.”
“At my age, everyone’s young,” she says wryly. “But he’s younger than you. Weaker. Needs more looking after, he does.” I cock my head, studying her. How does she know Miles is weaker? Granted, he’s not as big as I am, but he’s no toothpick either. Can witches sense dominance the same way werewolves can? I doubt it. Must just be one of Margie’s strange talents.
Just as we reach the porch, I hear a car in the distance. I turn my head and listen. I know the sound of every car in town, and this one doesn’t sound familiar.
“Human,” Margie says, her eyes faraway. “She needs help. You’ll help her. You’re a good boy.” She pats my arm affectionately before going inside to check on Miles.
I hear the car slow as it travels down the old dirt road leading to the manor. I cross my arms and wait in the yard for whoever this may be.
The wolf inside me stirs, awakening at the possible threat. Pack mate is hurt, it growls, flexing its claws. Stranger not welcome.
I fight to control the animal inside me, beating him back into submission. If this person poses a threat, my wolf will be free to handle this his way, but for now, I need to stay in control.
I don’t recognize the silver sedan that pulls up front. Repressing a growl, I stalk up to the driver’s side to see who our party crasher is.
“Oh, hi! Boy, am I glad to see you,” a pretty blonde girl says, rolling down her window and peering at me through large sunglasses. “Is this Ashwood Creek?”
My lips part in surprise when I recognize her. “Alexis, what are you doing here?”
Alexis is the human Derek’s currently dating. She lives over in Ridgefield, the nearest town to Ashwood Creek, which is also where we go to school since our town is too small to have one of its own. Even though she’s been dating Derek for some time, he’s never invited her to his house. It’s strictly forbidden to bring humans into our territory. It’s much too dangerous. Not just for her, though it certainly is that, but also for us. Our secrecy means everything. If the government ever found out that werewolves and witches actually exist, they’d round us up and lock us away in a lab somewhere. That’s also one of the reasons our relationships with them can never get serious. It would be too difficult for us to hide what we are if we stayed with a human for any extended length of time.
“Gray, right?” She asks, lifting her shades so they rest on top of her head. “Sorry, is this where you live?” She motions to the manor behind me, her blue eyes studying it curiously. “I didn’t mean to show up here. I’m looking for Derek’s place, but the roads around here so confusing. Half of them aren’t even marked! I’ve been driving around forever.”
Our roads are unmarked on purpose, to discourage outsiders like you from poking around, I think. But instead of voicing this, I turn and glance up towards my house. Ivan’s still standing at the window, eyes locked on Alexis.
A rustling sounds in the woods to my right and I bite back a groan. Great, this is all I need right now. Oblivious to the outsider in our midst, Max, one of our youngest pack members, comes bounding out of the trees.
His dark hair hangs wildly around his eyes, bits of leaves and twigs caught in it, his skinny bare arms streaked with dirt. He slows when he sees me talking to Alexis, a rumble vibrating from his chest.
Pack members are homeschooled usually until eleven or twelve, once Nikolay is sure they have control over their wolf side. At ten, Max hasn’t started public school yet and isn’t used to being around outsiders. Hopefully Alexis won’t notice his growling… Hell, I’m just thankful he’s in human form and dressed, sort of. He’s wearing pants, at least.
Max walks up to me, gold eyes locked on Alexis, shoulders hunched aggressively.
“Wow, you must be freezing!” Alexis says to him, climbing out of her car. “Where’s the rest of your clothes?”
“Kids,” I force a laugh and drop one heavy hand on Max’s shoulder, tightening my grip, warning him not to do anything. He wrinkles his nose, recognizing her scent as human. He looks up at me, with wide eyes, but thankfully keeps his mouth shut. “I’m always telling this one to wear a jacket, but does he listen?”
“Yeah, my younger brother is exactly the same,” she says rolling her eyes.
I doubt that, but I nod and smile anyway. I hear Ivan’s heavy footfalls from inside move toward the front door. I need to get rid of Alexis before he decides to come out and do it himself.
“So, uh, does Derek know you’re coming over?” I ask. Damn Derek. I told him dating a human was a bad idea. Though, granted, I never thought she’d drive all the way out here to see him. And I’m betting Derek didn’t either…
The front door of the manor opens and Ivan exits to stand on the porch steps, arms crossed over his wide chest like some gangster guarding the club house.
“Oh, no. I’m surprising him,” Alexis says, smiling widely.
Yeah, this will certainly be a surprise. “Huh, well you should have probably called ahead; he’s actually out of town for the weekend.”
“He is?” Her face falls. “He never told me that.”
“Family thing,” I say vaguely. Can’t have her driving around town searching for him. She might see something she shouldn’t.
“You having a party here or something?” She asks, craning her neck to look over my shoulder at all the parked cars in front of my house.
“Family reunion. You should get going, I’ll let him know you dropped by.” I try to herd her back into her car, but she catches sight of Ivan on the steps behind me.
“Who’s that?” She asks, gaping up at him. Can’t say I blame her; he’s certainly an impressive sight when he’s enraged. At 6’6”, with biceps to rival a professional body builder’s, he can certainly intimidate when he wants to. Even from across the yard, he looms over us, steel eyes glaring over a large, crooked nose. Alexis flinches when those stormy eyes meet hers, one hand wrapping protectively around her midsection as she cringes against the car.
“Is everything okay in there?” She asks me, leaning in close so her whispering won’t be overheard.
Yeah, good luck with that. I’m sure he’s heard every word she said, even when he was inside the house. Werewolf hearing can really be a pain sometimes.
“I can call the cops if that guy is bothering you,” she whispers, her hand creeping toward her purse.
“No, everything’s cool,” I hurry to reassure her before she can reach her cell. “That’s my grandpa.” I can feel Ivan’s gaze burning a hole in the back of my skull. Why did she have to mention the police? Ivan’s going to kill Derek for this.
“Your grandpa?” She leans to the side, peering around me to get a better view. “He doesn’t look like any grandpa I’ve ever seen.” She raises her eyebrows skeptically.
Ivan certainly looks young, thanks to our slower ageing. At most, he can pass for early fifties, though I know he’s well over a hundred. He’s still slim, his muscles still limber, the silver at his temples the only sign of his age.
“Yeah, well, they had ‘em young back in those days. I need to get this one inside to warm up,” I say motioning toward Max, who’s still and silent at my side. “See ‘ya Monday.” Without waiting for her response, I head up the yard toward the house, marching Max up ahead of me. I hear Alexis climb back in her car, making a wide U-turn before heading back the way she came.
Arms still crossed, Ivan steps back, letting me and Max through, his left eye twitching. That’s never a good sign…
As soon as we cross the threshold, Ivan slams the door behind us. “What was that?” He growls quietly.
“She was lost,” I tell him, heading into the living room. “Nothing to worry about. She’s leaving now.”
“She came here looking for Derek.” Ivan’s glare pins Derek to his seat. His face drains of color, eyes darting around nervously.
“We should wait for Nikolay before discussing this,” I say, playing for time. I’m afraid of what Ivan would do if left in charge of Derek’s punishment. “You did great out there, Max,” I say, changing the subject.
“Really?” Max’s eyes, now a bright blue, light up at the praise.
“Yeah, you really kept your cool. You barely even growled at her. Very impressive.”
Max beams, his crooked front tooth making him look even younger than he is. “You think I’ll be ready for school soon?”
I remember when I was his age; I couldn’t wait to go to public school, to get out of this small town and experience something new. Different people, different places, different anything. Growing up in Ashwood Creek can be claustrophobic, even with the several hundred thousand acres of wilderness surrounding us.
“Absolutely. When’s your birthday? Another month or so?” He nods. “I’ll talk to Nikolay. Maybe I can convince him to send you after you turn eleven.”
Max grins again and follows me over to one of the sofas. Ivan’s gaze follows me. I just need to stall long enough for Nikolay to return. After their argument last night, Ivan will be wary about overstepping again so soon.
“So what happened on the hunt last night?” Max asks, bouncing up and down in his seat. “My dad said Miles got hurt. Is he gonna be okay?”
I smile, his enthusiasm hard to resist. “He’ll be fine, Margie’s looking at him now.”
“Is it true you took down an eight point buck? My dad said Zak fought you over it, but I bet you won.”
“You’d bet right.”
“What did you—”
“Maxwell, stop pestering Gray. He has more important things to do than answer your never-ending questions,” Grant says, walking up to us and laying one large hand on Max’s shoulder. He’s a burly man, short compared to the rest of us, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in width. A large black beard covers most of his face, blending into the dark curly hair on his head.
“Aw, dad, I wasn’t pestering him. When do I get to go on the hunt, huh? I did good when the human came up and surprised us. I didn’t growl or nothin’. Tell him Gray, I did good, right?”
Grant’s black eyes sharpen as he looks at me. “Human? Here?”
“It’s being taken care of,” I tell him, meeting his eyes squarely until he looks away. “And Max is right. He did very good. Might even be ready for school soon.”
Max grins and bounces some more, but a scowl appears on Grant’s face. “School? He’s much too young for that. It’s too dangerous,” he says in his gruff voice.
“Sending our kids to public school early is the best way to teach them to interact with the outside word. The younger they are, the more easily they can assimilate. You know this.”
Grant makes a face, but doesn’t argue. Ever since his wife was killed by hunters two years ago, he’s been overprotective of Max. But as I’ve explained to him countless times, the best way to protect Max is to let him experience the world. He’ll have an easier time blending in with the humans if he learns to be around them. Keeping our kids cloistered in this speck of a town doesn’t do anyone any good.
Margie’s uneven limp sounds on the stairs and I immediately go to her, anxious for her report. “How is he?”
“Fine, just fine. Healing on his own now; doesn’t need any more help from me,” she says, leaning on her cane.
“Good. That’s good.” My shoulders relax and I only now realize how tense they’ve been. “I’ll have Isabel take you home. Iz?” I call her over. She’s a year older than me with dark blond hair and a wide face. She’s my closest friend in the pack, other than Derek and Miles.
She walks over to me obediently. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure she gets home safe.”
“I know you will,” I say, giving her a small smile. “Do me a favor and stay with her awhile, make sure she gets some rest? This whole Miles business has really worn her out.”
“Absolutely, whatever you need.”
“Now, now, no need for that,” Margie protests. “Richard is waiting for me to help him harvest the herbs today. We need to get them cut before the frost comes.”
“I’ll help you collect the herbs from your garden,” Isabel soothes. “You can show me how to make that tea you like in the evenings. What was in it again? Chamomile?” She asks, leading Margie towards the door.
This is why I chose Isabel to take Margie back instead of one of the older women. She has a gentle way with her that’s lacking in many of the others. I know she doesn’t care a thing about herbs or teas, but she’ll continue doing and saying whatever she can to put her at ease. The others aren’t so patient.
As soon as Nikolay returns, I follow him into his study with Ivan close on my heels, ready to pounce.
“You hear what happened?” Ivan asks Nikolay before I can get a word out. “A human came here, looking for Derek! Almost stumbled on the volchonok Max while he was running in the forest! This is a problem!” He slams his fist down on the Mahogany desk with a thud.
Nikolay narrows his eyes in warning before turning to me. “What’s this all about?”
“Derek’s human girlfriend showed up to surprise him. I intercepted her and sent her home. Max was in human form,” I emphasize, glancing at Ivan, “and handled the situation well. It was a misunderstanding, easily rectified.”
“Misunderstanding?” Ivan says. “She threatened to call the police.”
“Only because she saw you looming over us from the porch like a 1920s gangster.” I consciously relax my fists and force myself to speak in a lazy, bored voice. “If you would have stayed back and let me handle the situation, it would have ended sooner than it did.”
“You handle the situation? You’re a pup,” he scoffs.
“I’m next in line to lead. You want me to act more like the Alpha’s son? Then let me handle this.” I face Ivan squarely, my eyes level with his.
He sizes me up, readying himself for a fight. We may be the same height, but Ivan has a little more muscle mass and a hell of a lot more experience. Despite his advanced age, I’m not delusional enough to believe I stand a chance against him. But standing up to him right now is the only way I’ll be able to protect Derek. Weres’ only respond to strength and guts. I need to prove I have both.
“Enough, both of you,” Nikolay says, breaking up the standoff. “Gray is right; he’s next in line. He needs to start showing the others that he can lead.” He glances at me from under his brows. “How are you going to handle this, Gray?”
“I’ll force Derek to break off the relationship. We won’t have any more problems from her.”
“And if he refuses?” Ivan asks, his voice a low croon.
“If he refuses to stop seeing the human, then his punishment will be the same as Mikhail’s,” I say, keeping my gaze steady on Nikolay’s. From the corner of my eye, I see Ivan smirk.
“If that happens,” Nikolay says, “you will administer the punishment yourself.”
Images of Mikhail’s beaten body flood my mind, his arm hanging limply at his side, his dislocated jaw distorting his face. I swallow the bitter taste in the back of my throat and nod once.
“Then it’s settled.” Nikolay turns his back on me and sits down behind his desk. “It’s almost time for your guard shift. I suggest you speak with Derek before you go; I want this taken care of as soon as possible.”
I turn to leave, but Ivan blocks my way. “Think you’re ready to challenge me?” He smirks.
“To protect my pack, I’ll challenge whoever I have to,” I tell him, refusing to lower my eyes. “Even you.”
Ivan smiles, revealing his teeth. “Good boy. You just might make Alpha after all.”