Victoria Storm leads a few surviving members of her pack in a desperate flight. As the surviving child of their leaders, the she-wolf inherited the role of Alpha. Reeling from the violent deaths of her parents and the man she loved, she faces tough choices when the task of keeping her people safe conflicts with the demands of preserving her Norse heritage. She struggles to balance her duties as Freya’s priestess and Odin’s Valkyrie. When innocent children are abducted, she must set aside her differences and work with her worst enemy to rescue them.
Read an excerpt…
“Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas!”
Cowboy Santa’s recorded greeting ended on a nerve-grating crackle. The decoration fell blessedly silent once again. The large red and white inflatable St. Nicholas swayed with the force of the air blower keeping him erect.
Wincing, Victoria Storm started the mental countdown. T-minus thirty until the inflatable doll would once again bellow its holiday cheer. The constant drone of the machine’s engine grated on her nerves and hurt her sensitive werewolf hearing. But it didn’t annoy her nearly as much as the nails-on-chalkboard static.
She stood at the northwestern corner of a busy four-way light in front of a Western apparel store in downtown Albuquerque. People were out in droves taking advantage of the clear weather to do their Christmas shopping. The morning air was crisp and chilly, but the sun shone bright. Harried mothers herded rambunctious children. Women out for retail therapy moved at a more leisurely pace, chatting as they walked. Couples young and old had arms loaded down with bags and boxes. Traffic moved along at a snail-paced crawl. Vehicles navigated an obstacle course of curbside parking, stop signs and lights, and busy crosswalks.
“Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas!” Crackle.
“Should we kill it?” Teenage werewolf Jasper shot Victoria a smile and a conspiratorial wink.
“It’s just so…” Rotating her head, Victoria tried looking at it sideways. But no, doing so offered no improvement to the ascetics of the decoration.
“Ugly?” Jasper quipped.
She pressed her lips together to contain the laughter shaking her sides and struggled to inject a note of warning into her voice. “Jasper, please…”
She heaved a long-suffering sigh.
“Want me to put it out of its misery?” Grinning, Jasper took a menacing step toward the blowup doll. He hiked his hand, fingers spread to suggest a claw.
“That would be wrong, and you know it.” Victoria reprimanded him with a stern frown, unwilling to admit how tempting she found the suggestion.
A month ago, back when she had a lot more freedom and fewer responsibilities, she would’ve enjoyed a stab ‘n run. Before she became Alpha of the Storm Pack following the violent deaths of her parents at the hands of hunters. As their new leader, Victoria was now the center of the spiritual connection shared by all the members. Today, her conscience dinged her for even daring to consider it. A proper leader didn’t engage in vandalism or juvenile pranks.
“Blowup Santa dolls are wrong.”
“Jasper…” Exasperation edged her voice. Her struggle to not dissolve into giggles hurt. “I said no.”
“Huh.” As Jasper huffed, his long arms swung far and wide. He came within inches of striking one of the many pedestrians crowding the sidewalks. The woman performed a sharp swerve to avoid getting hit and shot him a nasty glare as she passed.
“But I’m bored. How much longer do we have to wait?”
Victoria ducked and slipped neatly under his waving arm. The fifteen-year-old’s hands and feet were larger than the rest of his body, making his movements awkward.
At a couple inches shy of five feet, the top of her head was even with his mid-chest. She had the muscular build of a dancer. Even though it had been years since her last formal training, she moved with the grace and precision of a ballerina.
“I don’t know for certain,” she said. “Freya didn’t provide any specifics.”
“But it has to be right here on this exact corner?” He stabbed at the ground and then flung his arm toward the opposite street corner. “Why can’t it be over there?”
She settled her hands on her hips. “What, are you four? The goddess has commanded that we wait right here, so this is where we wait.”
“But jeez, we’ve been here over an hour now.” He stared at the invisible watch on his wrist and pulled the estimate out of thin air.
“It’s been twenty minutes at most. How long we’ve been here is beside the point,” she explained. “When a goddess tells you to wait–”
She nodded. “We wait.”
Jasper didn’t miss a beat. “Just what are we waiting for?”
“Freya didn’t say.”
His tongue poked between his teeth and past his lips. “Can’t you ask?”
“One does not interrogate a goddess.” Victoria frowned over his impertinence. All the while, she acknowledged her own edginess, feeling very much the hypocrite. Mentally, she extended a prayer to Freya. Goddess, what are we waiting for?
Freya’s gossamer giggle flittered through her mind. Who is the child now?
Victoria sighed and replied telepathically, Well played.
Just a little longer, my priestess. Be patient, please.
I’m trying, but Jasper’s not making it easy.
“I’m bored.” Jasper paced furiously. “I mean, like, really bored.”
Victoria bit her tongue. Through the pack bond, she felt Jasper’s impatience as if it were her own emotion. As pack mates, they shared an enduring and mystical connection. The empathic and spiritual union served as the foundation of their magic and held their social group together. It was most effective at close range. Only extreme trauma provided enough potency to unify them across great distances.
Glancing around, she resisted the desire to nag further. At twenty-four, she was nine years older than the boy, but it often felt like much more. She wondered how he’d reduced her to acting like his mother.
Her grungy appearance didn’t help her disposition. She wore her pale blonde hair back in a braid. It had been weeks since she’d indulged in luxuries like makeup or nice clothing. Hot meals were few and far between, hot showers were even rarer.
“Did Freya hint at why we’re here?” Jasper asked. “Are you a priestess or a Valkyrie?”
“Good question.” She rocked on her heels, surprised at the boy’s ability to parse the two. Her duties as Freya’s priestess and Odin’s Valkyrie often proved compatible. But the two things were far from the same. Not everyone understood that, even within her own pack.
“If you’re here as a Valkyrie, I’ll finally get to see you collect the souls of slain warriors destined for Valhalla.” Eagerness energized the boy’s voice, making it clear which option he preferred.
“It seems unlikely this will be the location of a great battle.” She cast her gaze about the bustling venue. Not a warrior in sight. “You wouldn’t be able to see the spirits of the fallen anyway.”
“How do you know who to take?” He leaned forward, a bloodthirsty gleam in his eyes. Like most young men, Jasper loved stories of valor and glory, the gorier the better.
She smiled, willing to indulge him. Anything to alleviate his boredom and her own. “A Valkyrie witnesses the warrior’s death with her own two eyes. If she finds the man or woman worthy, then the soul is collected and escorted to Valhalla to serve in Odin’s army.”
“Across Bifröst.” Jasper’s eyes gleamed.
She nodded. “Yes, across the Rainbow Bridge.”
“That’s something I can’t wait to see.”
Her smile lapsed and her eyebrows knit, creasing her forehead. “Don’t be too eager. You won’t cross Bifröst until you’ve died. Goddess willing, that won’t be for a very long time.”
Jasper hauled up, crossing his arms. A mutinous scowl etched the lines of his face. “Once I die, I’ll be with my mother and father again.”
Victoria’s concern morphed into horrified realization. “Jasper, no. Your mom and dad died defending the pack. They fought so you could live. Your duty is to honor their sacrifice. To do so, you must live, grow old enough to become a man and take a mate, and have children of your own. That is how we commemorate those who have passed.”
Grief pressed upon her, an awful pressure within. She had no relief. Not even tears. Her conscience refused to permit the self-indulgence. As Alpha, she couldn’t afford to show weakness. Not while the others looked to her for strength.
Jasper stared at her in guilty silence and then averted his gaze. His mouth turned down in a pout. “I’m starving.”
“I know.” Victoria squeezed two fingers into the front pocket of her skintight jeans and fished out a crumpled twenty. Gnawing her lower lip, she stared at the last of her cash. She loathed parting with it. Especially since she couldn’t risk accessing her bank accounts or credit cards.
Not with hunters after her and her pack.
Her stomach rumbled its emptiness, a noisy reminder she hadn’t eaten in two days. As the Alpha wolf, Victoria had a duty to see to it all her pack mates ate properly and regularly, an area where she’d failed shamefully. The well-being of the pack’s youngest members took priority. Even if it meant the adults spent long nights dining on squirrels and gophers at the park.
She forked the money over to him. “Here. Take this and go get something to eat.”
He caught the bill in one greedy hand. He glanced down, and proclaimed, “Thanks!” He took off like a shot down the sidewalk. If it weren’t for the fact he was running on pavement, he’d have raised a cloud of dust in his wake.
Turning so she could follow his progress, Victoria watched him uneasily. Allowing the teenager out of her sight wasn’t an easy thing to do. It took all her self-control not to chase after him like an overprotective hen. She managed to remain outwardly calm, but a flight of moths banged around inside her gut. Still, she couldn’t treat him like a pup. Jasper was a young male werewolf intent on asserting his independence and proving himself. His testosterone exceeded his common sense by an exponential factor. At best she managed his stupider impulses and hoped he didn’t figure it out.
Being stuck out in the open, surrounded by normal humans, agitated her primal instincts. As a werewolf, she radiated a predatory aura. People shied away from her and circled to either side to avoid coming too close.
Hunters, however, were a whole nother matter. Superior numbers and resources gave them an advantage. Since they were human, they blended into crowds. She could be under observation, unaware of the danger until it was too late.
Shifting her stance, she scanned the passing faces, ever watchful. Her imagination cultivated suspicion, perceiving potential enemies everywhere. Being the hunted instead of the hunter was exhausting, and she despised it. Werewolves were top predators, not prey animals.
Freya’s voice spilled through Victoria’s mind. I’m sorry for placing you and your pack mates in the path of danger, Victoria. Please believe me. It is necessary for you to be here.
Her lips parted, and she expelled her breath. I know, Goddess. No apologies are necessary. I’m simply tired…
I am trying to locate a safe haven for your pack, but our options are limited. Perhaps if you reconsidered the possibility of taking a mate…
Victoria cringed. Two weeks ago, her lover, Daniel Barrett, was murdered right in front of her. She had failed to protect him and wasn’t able to heal his grievous injuries. His loss eviscerated her, leaving an aching hole in her chest and her life.
She gulped air. My Lady, please. I know it’d be the practical thing to do, but I can’t–not yet. Right now I can’t even think about another man.
Freya’s voice softened. I don’t mean to be insensitive or cruel.
I know that too.
In the distance, Victoria spotted Jasper’s tall, slim form as he emerged from a corner deli, carrying a white paper bag. She breathed a sigh of relief to have him back in her line of sight. As he walked toward her, she turned her head and tried to look like she wasn’t watching him.
You’re being far too obvious. More to the right, Freya advised.
Mouth twisted in a grimace, Victoria spun on her toes and almost walked through the restless spirit of a woman. An icy hand closed around her arm. Startled, she rocked on her heels and wind-milled her arms to avoid tipping over. The chill of the grave swept through her body. Gasping, she froze, staring at the distraught apparition. Without question, this was why Freya had commanded her to wait.
“The child thief has stolen my son! Help me. Please!” The woman had light brown hair and an olive-toned complexion. A white nightshirt, stained with dried blood, hung to mid-thigh above her bare legs and feet. Her appearance mirrored the condition of her body at the time of death. Dark bruises marred her face and throat, and she had defensive wounds on her hands and forearms. The side of her skull had been bashed in.
“Please, Michael is all alone. He’s so scared. I need you,” the spirit pleaded, taking advantage of Victoria’s silence.
Her gut clenched. As Valkyrie and priestess, Victoria had a duty to respond to a spirit’s call for help. As a nurse, a healer, she had a nurturing nature and rarely passed on an opportunity to render assistance to those in need. The circumstances left her questioning Freya’s wisdom, even though such thoughts were wrong. With resources so scarce and her pack’s straits so dire, she wasn’t sure she could take the risk. Living people were counting on her.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I don’t think I can help you.”
“You must help me,” the woman pleaded. “No one can see or hear me.”
“Do you understand why that is?”
Approaching at a jaunty trot, Jasper skidded to a halt. His bright eyes focused on the empty spot before her, and his eyebrows rose, disappearing beneath his lank brown bangs. His tongue flickered across his lips and moistened them against the aridness of the winter air.
“What’s up?” he asked, eyes bright with curiosity. “Is a ghost here?”
“Shhh.” Victoria waved a silencing hand at him. She cast an anxious glance about, concerned their odd behavior would attract the wrong sort of attention. Neither Jasper nor any of the other humans present could see the dead woman. They lacked Victoria’s gift of spirit sight.
Fortunately, no one spared them a second glance.
Ignoring her shushing, Jasper bounced on the balls of his feet. “What does it want? C’mon, tell me what’s going on!”
Victoria stepped closer to him and dropped her voice. “It’s a woman. She says her son was kidnapped, and she needs me to help him.”
Jasper grinned. “Cool!”
“Not so much for her.” Victoria glared at him, irritated with the teen’s insensitivity. Not that she really blamed the boy for craving excitement, but their lives were already dangerous enough. They didn’t need to add to it.
“Find out what we can do for her,” Jasper urged. He had a good nature and a kind heart, but he didn’t take the dangers the pack faced into account. He failed to consider how assisting the ghost would sap their resources and expose them to discovery.
Rolling her eyes, Victoria exhaled through her nostrils so her breath formed a cloud of vapor on the brisk air. Born and raised in Arizona, she found the extreme winter temperatures of the high desert familiar. The thin air left her lightheaded.
“Come over here so we can speak privately,” Victoria said, addressing both the spirit and the boy. She shook off the ghost’s hand.
Victoria grasped Jasper’s forearm and moved out of the path of pedestrians. The fifteen-year-old stood a full head taller than her and outweighed her by a whole lot, but she moved him with ease. He lacked the stature of an adult male and deferred to her because she outranked him within their pack’s hierarchy. They sought shelter in the natural alcove provided by the Western apparel storefront.
The dead woman followed.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know how I can help you,” Victoria said. “I have to protect my own people.”
The spirit moaned, low and anguished.
Jasper cut in, “Victoria, we have to help her! It’s the right thing to do.”
Victoria stifled a groan. Yep. Too much testosterone, no common sense.
The ghost mother clasped her hands together as if praying. “Please, he’s going to be eaten.”
Horrified, Victoria flinched, and her reluctance crumbled. It was better to die than dishonor her calling. “Where’s Michael at now?”
The woman opened her mouth as if to offer a ready answer, but her face froze in an expression of anguish. “I… I… don’t know. He’s close, and it’s so dark. Please, he’s so scared.”
Victoria’s nostrils flared. What was it with ghosts? Never capable of providing straight, simple answers. “I’ll need more than that to help him,” she said, swallowing her impatience. “If only you can give me some way to find him.”
“I-I don’t know.” The outline of the spirit’s body wavered.
Victoria’s sense of urgency spiked. Afraid the distressed ghost would dissipate, she softened her tone. “What’s your son’s full name?”
The woman’s flickering form steadied. “Michael,” she said. “Michael Allen Frasier.”
“Good, that’ll help me find Michael,” Victoria said. “What’s your name?”
The spirit blinked. “June,” she answered with less conviction. “June Frasier. I’m thirty-two. I’m a court reporter.”
Victoria nodded, hoping the gestures would encourage the spirit. The conversation was progressing better. The woman had volunteered more than she’d asked. “How old is Michael?”
June’s lips quivered, and her eyes filled with tears. She grabbed Victoria’s hand. “He’s six. Please, you have to find him. He’s all alone, and he’s so scared.”
“Okay, tell me where he is, and I’ll look for him.” Victoria glanced up and down the busy street. Her wary gaze watched to see if their odd behavior was attracting attention. Fortunately, none of the shoppers appeared to have noticed.
June’s eyes widened. She shoved a fist into her mouth and bit her knuckles. Static ran through her pattern so she flickered, indicating she might wink out at any moment.
Ghosts were displaced souls trapped between the planes of existence. Their ability to interact with the physical realm depended on many factors. Force of personality played an instrumental role, as did the trauma associated with a person’s death. Because June lacked a solid presence, Victoria suspected the only thing anchoring the mother was her love for her son.
“Where did you die?” Victoria’s sense of urgency increased with each passing second. “Is your child still near your body?”
“What do you mean? I’m not dead!” June stared at her in open horror.
“No, wait! Don’t go!” Victoria lunged, grabbing for the ghost, but her hand passed through the spirit’s arm. Within seconds, June had dissolved into a shower of gray and white sparkles.
“Damn it!” Victoria stomped her foot on the pavement.
“What happened?” Jasper asked, dancing with excitement.
“She’s gone.” Victoria ran a hand across her scalp to the base of her braid.
“Gone? Where’d she go?”
Victoria exhaled a breath she’d been holding. “I don’t know. Sometimes the soul crosses over once the person realizes they’re dead. Other times, too much stress can disrupt the ghost for a while. She might recover and come back.”
Jasper’s fists clenched. “How long will that take? We can’t wait! If her son’s been taken, he needs help right away.”
“We know their names. There are other ways of finding them.” Reaching out psychically, she sent a wave of cooling energy over Jasper, soothing his wolf.
The boy’s rigid stance relaxed somewhat, but his tone remained anxious. “Where will we start?”
Victoria opened her mouth but froze before an answer crossed her lips. Her gaze locked on the classic muscle car parked alongside the curb on the other side of the street, a few hundred feet down.
Her breath hitched. Was that…? Could it be…?
“Hey, Victoria? What’s wrong? What’re you looking at?” Jasper’s voice buzzed in her ears, increasingly insistent. The meaning of his words failed to register.
Heart in her throat, she walked north. Pedestrians passed her on either side, but she barely noticed them. Before she got close enough to read the Arizona plates below the rear bumper, she verified her suspicions. The 1970 Chevelle SS 454 convertible was red with black racing stripes and a buttery soft white leather interior. With as much time as she’d spent in the car with her lover, she’d know it anywhere.
It had belonged to Daniel.