Over at Mad Genius Club this morning, I talk about pen names. The reason for the discussion is that I’ve been writing under one for some time now. No, not Amanda S. Green. That’s who I really am. But, back when NRP was first getting started and before indie publishing and small press publishing really took off, if you ever wanted to be published by a traditional publisher, you simply didn’t strike out on your own. The stigma is still there, to some extent, but it isn’t what it used to be.
So, after several long discussions with Sarah A. Hoyt, I came to the decision to admit to the pen name I had been using to publish romantic suspense and paranormal romances under. I’ll admit, part of me is terrified to do so but another part is relieved. I’ll still continue to release books under both names, but now there won’t be the juggling act of not slipping up and revealing that — gasp — I write romance or PNR.
So, what’s the pen name?
So, to introduce everyone to “Ellie”, here’s an excerpt from Hunter’s Duty (Hunter’s Moon).
“Lady, I said to hold still!”
The cop, who looked all of thirteen, held me against the hood of his squad car and finished cuffing my hands behind my back. As he did, lightning flashed overhead. I turned my head and stared down the alley, praying it had just been my imagination, that I hadn’t seen movement in the dark shadows. Damn my bad luck and the cop’s even worse timing. If only he’d been a few minutes later, I’d have finished the job and been well away from here.
Don’t get me wrong. Under different circumstances, and most definitely with a different partner, I might have actually enjoyed being cuffed. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of role-playing between two consenting adults, especially if it led to spectacular sex. But neither of us were playing and I most certainly wasn’t consenting – at least not in that way.
Hell, all I wanted to do was survive the next few minutes and the possibility of that happening grew smaller with each passing moment.
God, I hate my job sometimes.
With the cop’s forearm still holding me against the hood of his car, I blinked through the rain and sniffed. Nothing. Not that I really expected anything different. The wind had shifted again, blowing toward the alley. That, along with the cop’s fear and the smells of the car engine, made it almost impossible to scent my prey. Not good, not good at all.
Still, there was one small blessing. The cop was human. That meant the stench of death clinging to me didn’t call out to him. He couldn’t smell its foul odor any more than he could read my mind. Fortunately, science hasn’t progressed that far. The last thing I needed was some gung-ho cop mucking about in my mind, especially considering my activities of the last half hour.
The dark of night combined with the rain also helped. It kept him from seeing any blood that might have splashed on me during the kill, just as it kept him from seeing the bruises that marked my face. Nor could he see the way my jeans were torn at the left thigh where the feral managed to get in one good bite before I’d slit its throat and taken its head. Both the bruises and the bite would heal soon enough. What worried me was what forensics might reveal should the cops decide to check my clothes or do too close of an examination of the alley.
Well, I’d worry about that later – assuming there was a later.
“Look, officer.” I tugged ineffectually at the cuffs and then tried to straighten, only to be slammed back against the hood. The sharp, bitter taste of blood filled my mouth and I spat, sorry the rain would wash the results from the hood. Damn it, this was getting old fast.
A clap of thunder sounded overhead, rattling the windows in nearby buildings and drowning out anything he might have said. Unfortunately, it also drowned out any sounds that might have come from the alley. The alley I could barely see as the rain beat down even harder. By the time I saw anyone, or anything, emerge from the shadows, it would be too late.
I’ve always known death would come for me one day, but I’d planned to meet it head-on, fighting. I wasn’t one to “go gently into the night.” Now it looked like I’d meet it head-on, but there’d be little I could do about it.
Lightning streaked across the sky, followed almost instantly by another clap of thunder. The storm was right on top of us and didn’t seem to be moving anywhere fast. I sensed more than felt the cop fumbling with his radio. Taking advantage of his inattention, I twisted slightly, sliding out from under his restraining arm. Before he could react, and probably shoot me for trying to escape, I turned and straightened. But I didn’t move away from the squad car. Instead, I planted my butt against the fender and stood there, looking to my left, never taking my attention from the alley.
Another flash of lightning – damn, Mother Nature was pissed about something tonight – and the shadows near the mouth of the alley shifted. My breath caught and I fought the urge to move. The instincts born of a hunter tried to force me toward the alley, toward my prey. Common sense and a strong desire to survive stopped me. Even so, my wrists strained against the cuffs. My heart pounded. Fear, stronger than any I’d felt in a very long time filled me. Like this, I was helpless and I didn’t like it one little bit.
Wasn’t it enough I’d been forced to kill that night? Did I have to die as well?
“Damn it, lady, I told you not to move!”
The cop’s voice cracked as he dropped his radio and fumbled at his hip for his gun. If the situation wasn’t so serious, it might actually be funny. Maybe it would be in a decade or two. But for now, it was deadly serious and even more dangerous.
Praying I wasn’t making a fatal mistake, I tore my attention from the shadows shrouding the alley and focused on the cop. Maybe he really was as young and inexperienced as he looked. The way the hand holding his gun shook seemed proof of it. So did the fact he hadn’t secured me in the squad car while he checked the alley. He might not have told me what he thought he’d seen me do, but I could make a pretty good guess.
At least if he’d followed standard procedure, I’d be out of the rain. Instead, he had me standing there in the rain, cuffed like a common criminal.
Believe me, I might be many things but common I’m not and that’s something he’d soon discover if he didn’t get us out of there.
I waited, expecting Volk to appear from the shadows at any moment. He’d already surprised me once tonight and it had come close to costing me my life. He might still succeed, thanks to the cop. At least I’d had the satisfaction of knowing I’d dealt with one of Volk’s ferals before everything went to hell. But damn it, Volk had already cost us so much. How many more would die before we managed to kill him and contain the rest of his followers?
I closed my eyes and fought for control. The hunter inside me wanted out. She knew the danger we were in and railed against it. She knew how to deal with this foolish human and she knew how to deal with Volk. All I had to do was release control and let her loose.
Part of me wanted to do just that. God, how I wanted to. But cuffed as I was, it would be beyond foolish. I couldn’t shift with my arms secured behind me. At the very least, my shoulders, and probably elbows and wrists, would be dislocated in the shift. More likely, they’d be broken. Neither result would heal quickly. Besides, Hollywood had a number of things wrong about our kind, not the least of which was the process of shifting between human and animal. It wasn’t quick, nor was it painless. I had no doubts that before the shift was over, the cop would have put a bullet in my brain and that would seriously suck.
The sound of leather scraping against the pavement seemed to fill the air even though the cop gave no indication he’d heard it. My eyes snapped open and I once more focused on the shadows down the alley. I tensed, ready for flight. I’d risk a bullet in the back to facing Volk with my hands cuffed behind me.
Death was close. I could feel it. How long would it toy with me before finally striking?
A moment – or an eternity – later, I exhaled slowly. Whether I shivered from the cold or from relief, I didn’t know and it really didn’t matter. But my money was on relief. After all, no monsters – human or otherwise – had emerged from the shadows. Better yet, I was still alive. Maybe my luck was improving. I doubted it, but one can always hope.
Not that I was about to relax just yet. I knew Volk. I’d been tracking him for more than a month now. I’d seen what he could do and knew he wouldn’t hesitate to send one of the ferals in first to distract the cop so he could personally deal with me. Fear once again licked at the edges of my self-control and I fought it down. I had to stay calm and I had to figure out some way to convince Officer Do-Good to get us the hell out of there.
Most nights, the last place I wanted to be was a jail cell. Right now, however, the thought of being safely locked behind solid walls and strong bars sounded very, very inviting.
“Look, officer,” I began again as the sounds of a distant siren reached me. It wouldn’t be long before others joined us. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. “I don’t know what you think I did or who you think I might be, but I was just out for a walk. You’ll find my ID and motel key in my back pocket if you’d just look.” I let a hint of frustration creep into my voice. He’d expect it and God knows I certainly felt it.
“Lady, I read you your rights. I suggest you exercise the right to remain silent, because there is no way you were out for just a walk. I saw what you did!”
Great, just great. My luck was running true to form. I’d been stopped by Billy the Boy Scout, always true to duty. I’d lay odds he was one of those who always believed what he saw, no matter what the truth might be. Hell, with my luck, he also believed everything printed in the paper or reported on TV because the media would never lie or show bias.
Well, if he wasn’t careful, I’d shatter all his illusions. It was bad enough he’d cuffed me and hadn’t followed procedure by securing me in the squad car before securing the scene, something that might just keep us both alive a bit longer. The fact Volk still lingered in the area only made matters worse. When the wind had shifted a moment earlier, I’d caught the scent of him: that foul, carrion-like scent I’d learned to associate with him long ago. I’d felt his amusement in that moment. I’d become the mouse to his cat, most definitely not a position I enjoyed. If Officer Do-Good didn’t do something soon, I would because I did not want to die in this back alley.
No more than five minutes could have passed from the time the cop had cuffed me and his back-up arrived, but it had been five of the longest minutes of my life. In that time I’d gone from anger and frustration at being interrupted before I could finish dealing with Volk to bone-chilling fear and I’d had just about enough. The only thing keeping me from doing something that might be exceedingly foolish was the thought of how it wouldn’t accomplish anything but cause more trouble, trouble no one would thank me for.
I dipped my head and tried to wipe the rain from my eyes with my shoulder – Have I said I hate being cuffed? It’s damned inconvenient – Then I turned my attention to the car now parked behind the squad car. Interesting, it wasn’t a marked unit. Instead, it was a black SUV. To the untrained eye, it looked like any of a number of other SUVs on the market these days. But I didn’t have an untrained eye. I saw the reinforced bumpers and other special after-market add-ons that told me it had to belong to one of Coyote Springs’ detectives.
The driver’s door opened and a man stepped out, a very tall man. A man who, in the quick flash of lightning, looked like he was as much at home in a gym as he was patrolling the streets. He wore black slacks, black shirt and a DSPD windbreaker. His shield hung from a chain around his neck. He paused long enough to frown up at the rain before closing the distance between him and the uniformed officer in long, quick strides.
Then the wind shifted again and every instinct was once more on alert. The scent of the newcomer was more heady than the most expensive cologne. My other self, the white tiger that had been fighting for release, pressed once more against my control as she recognized one of our own. This newcomer, this mountain of a man, smelled of the grasslands. Whether that was good or not had yet to be seen. Like the normals, shape-changers have their bad seeds.
God, I hoped he really was one of the good guys.
At least he looked like he knew what he was doing as he looked first at me, his eyes sliding over me before he focused on the deeper shadows of the alley. Nothing about his expression or the way he held himself betrayed his thoughts. Surely he’d realized what I was. It was possible he hadn’t and, if that was the case, I didn’t want to call attention to my true nature. So I reasserted control over my tiger and prayed the newcomer got us far away from the alley and soon.
Instead, he turned his attention to the uniformed officer and motioned for the younger man to join him. After a quick warning for me to stay where I was, the young cop complied. I leaned against the fender of the squad car, wondering what was going to happen next and not liking how they kept me standing there, wet and cold, while they talked. I strained to hear what they said but couldn’t quite make it out. There was something about “patrol”, “flash”, and “blood” and that was all. Nothing I hadn’t expected.
“Did you find anything when you searched her?” the newcomer asked, turning to look at me with the jaundiced eye of a cop who’d been on the streets long enough to know just how fatal it can be to take anything for granted. “You did search her, didn’t you?”
“No, sir.” In the light form the head lamps, I could see the uniform swallow nervously. “I secured her and figured it best to wait for back-up before doing anything else.”
Oh my God, he was worried I’d yell sexual harassment? Give me strength.
“Please tell me you at least secured the scene.”
“N-no, Chief Kincade. I didn’t think I should leave her unattended.”
For a moment, Kincade said nothing. I’m not sure he could. Frustration and disbelief radiated from him. In the light from the two cars, I saw how his right hand fisted at his side. I might be the one cuffed, but Officer Do-Good was the one in real trouble. Not that I had much sympathy for him just then.
Kincade took another step forward until he was standing almost nose to nose with the uniform. “Let me get this straight, Officer Snyder. You arrested this woman you say you saw kill someone. You cuffed her and I assume you read her her rights.” Officer Snyder gave a jerky nod. “But you didn’t search her and you didn’t secure the scene, even though it’s raining and any evidence there might be is being washed away. Worse, you didn’t check to see if there might be someone in need of medical attention further down the alley. Nor did you check to see if she might have an accomplice hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to shoot you and free her.”
With that, Kincade moved to stand before me. His left hand closed around my left arm and he gave a slight tug, just enough to let me know he wanted me to come with him. Since he was moving toward his SUV and not the shadows of the alley, I was happy to oblige. Not only would the SUV keep the rain off of me, it would offer some protection against Volk should he still be nearby and decide to strike.
“Lean back,” Kincade said after helping me into the back seat.
I did as he said and watched as he secured the seat belt across my waist. He cinched it tight and then gave it a tug to make sure it wouldn’t loosen. Then he bent. Before I could react, much less ask what he was doing, he shackled my ankles, the short chain running through a metal loop in the floor.
He straightened and quickly glanced over his shoulder to where Snyder stood looking miserable as the rain continued to beat down on him. “I don’t know who you are, lady, but I know what you are. I also smell the blood on you. As soon as I check the alley and make sure you haven’t left me a mess I can’t explain away, we are going to have a chat. What you tell me will determine whether you go to jail and get to call your lawyer or you go straight to my clan leader to explain why you’re hunting in his territory without permission.”
Mouth suddenly dry, all I could do was nod. He gave me a long look before slamming the door, locking me inside the SUV. I might be dry, but I might just be in more trouble than I’d been in before. Hunting in another clan’s territory without permission from the local clan leader could a capital offense. My own alpha had assured me he’d see to it my way was cleared wherever my hunt took me.
But if he hadn’t, facing Volk might actually be the lesser of two evils. It wasn’t long before Kincade emerged from the shadows. Relief filled me –– well, relief and a touch of worry –– and I watched as he once more approached Snyder. It was easy to see that Kincade hadn’t found anything to substantiate what Snyder had reported, not that that helped me. Kincade had smelled the blood on me. As a shape-changer, he’d know it was the blood of one of our kind. Hopefully, he’d remember to tell his alpha that. Killing one of our own kind was a serious offense but not the automatic death sentence hunting a normal would bring down on me. Still, I was relieved he hadn’t come across Volk. Hopefully, he’d be able to convince Snyder he’d made a mistake and I had done nothing wrong. Then, if my luck continued to hold, he’d call his alpha and find out I was authorized to be in their territory and they weren’t to interfere with my hunt. If that happened, and I knew it was a very big if, I’d soon return to the hunt.
At least for the moment, I didn’t have to worry about becoming Volk’s next victim.
Kincade said something to Snyder that had the uniform hunching his shoulders and staring at his feet like a kid getting a very effective dressing down. Then Kincade nodded to the squad car, the implication clear. He stood there, watching as Snyder moved slowly away from him, feet dragging through the water. Part of me felt sorry for the kid. He’d had the misfortune of stumbling upon something he wasn’t prepared to believe in, much less understand. Then he’d been dressed down by his boss. My night might have sucked, but it had been even worse for Officer Snyder.
“We both got lucky,” Kincade said as he slid in behind the steering wheel. “The rain washed away the most obvious evidence of what you were doing in that alley and whoever else was with you or your target got the body away before anyone else could see it.” He slid the key in the ignition and a moment later we drove off with a squeal of tires. “But you are a problem I have to deal with. Name and clan?” The last was snapped out and I knew better than to keep quiet.
“Maggie Thrasher, Northern California clan, Eureka pride.”
He nodded but said nothing else. Instead, he radioed into Dispatch that he was transporting the suspect to County. My heart beat a bit faster. Surely he wasn’t really going to do that. County jail meant not only fingerprinting me and taking my photo. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, it meant the cops could –– and, with my luck, would –– take a DNA sample from me. That was one of our kinds’ biggest fears. Modern science had finally advanced to the point where it was quite possible some overly-ambitious lab tech would spot the difference in our DNA from normal human DNA. Once that happened, our secret would be out and none of us wanted to risk the panic that was sure to follow.
Shape-changers might be stronger than normals and much more difficult to kill, but we also were in the vast minority. That’s why we have always done our best not to let our existence be known. We’ve seen what fear can do to people. We’ve seen it in our own kind when a new shifter form suddenly appears. If our existence became public knowledge without the right groundwork being laid, there would be bloodshed and too many on both sides would die.
“Where are we going?” Did he hear the worry in my voice?
“To see my alpha. He’ll either tell me you are cleared to be here or he won’t. For your sake, you’d better hope you’ve told me the truth and he knows why you’re here and has approved it. We had trouble with hunters coming here without permission last year and trying to take his mate against her will. He won’t take kindly to another hunter coming here without prior approval.”
I swallowed once, mouth tight, as memory of my own clan leader telling us about his visit to the Texas clan and the reasons for it. I’d known then that Declan hadn’t told us everything. There were gaps in the story about how the clan leader for the Northern California clan had hunted for a female shape-changer for years, ever since she’d spurned his advances as a fifteen year old after her parents’ deaths. He’d somehow discovered she was living in the Dallas area and had sent hunters after her, without notifying the Texas clan leader of their presence, much less getting his permission for them to be there.
But there was one thing I remembered very clearly from that night. When Declan told us the names of the clan leader and his new mate, I’d been stunned. Not by the fact the Northern California clan leader had died in a fight with the female alpha of the Texas clan. Not even by the fact the Californian had tried to kill the Texas clan leader. No, I’d been shocked by the identity of the female alpha. We’d grown up together, been best friends. I’d mourned when she ran away and blamed myself for not being there when she most needed me. Now my fate might very well rest in her hands. Would she remember me? Would she be able to forgive me for failing her?
With that came memory of the clan leader’s name. Kincade. Obviously Chief Kincade was some sort of relative. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. I just hoped the clan leader and his mate were morning people. Unless I was very wrong, we’d be at their place long before the sun was up. Then I’d have to hope Declan had done as he’d promised and filled the alpha in on my mission and why it was so important I be allowed to work in the Texas territory. If not, well, Volk would be the least of my worries.
And I still hadn’t had any coffee.
Now I’m going to try to forget that my head is stuff, my nose is running and my throat’s on fire. I’ll be back tomorrow with another post.