Try not to listen to those who whisper…
Below is an excerpt from the opening to the second Family Pack book, which continues the dark fantasy series about 21-year-old single dad Tommy Roling and his two-year-old daughter Corinne. Both of them are (wait for it) werewolves.
The name of this book is Hunter’s Moon, and it takes place a year after the first book, Family, Pack.
(Please note that the text and the cover are ALL subject to change!)
Tommy left Watts growling in the shed and reached for his little girl standing outside in her wolf form. She promptly bit him in the hand.
The shock was both immediate and familiar—she had sunk her teeth into him a dozen times before in the past few months. He barely even registered the pain as he tried to push her back out of the way. But her wiry little body was too quick for him, and she sprang past him into the shed.
“Corinne!” he cried, reaching for her with a bloodied hand that was already stretching and changing into something less than human. He needed to hold off the change in front of Watts, but after one look inside the shed, he knew he didn’t need to worry.
Watts was now down on all fours, no longer a strung-out-looking man with buzzed black hair.
He’d made the change into his own wolf form—an emaciated-looking black beast with yellow and red eyes—and he was now squaring off and growling at tiny Corinne. The man’s clothes lay in a shredded pile on the concrete floor, and the long fur on the chin of Watts the wolf quivered, looking just like his pointed little human beard.
Tommy leapt into the shed after his daughter, changing in mid-air from a tall, stocky human into a huge wolf with thick, dark-blond fur and paws twice the size of Watts’. He hit the floor with all four paws just as Corinne attacked.
Watts was lightning-fast. He lashed out with a high-pitched whimper—not unlike his fevered whispering from earlier—and struck Corinne hard on her furry shoulder. She flew across the shed in front of Tommy and hit the metal wall with a surprised bark.
Tommy saw red. With a growling bark of his own, Tommy fell on the other werewolf.
Somewhere in the deep recesses of his consciousness, he heard Attix whispering “Always bring ’em back alive.”
And then Tommy heard nothing else but the harsh snapping of bones.
* * * * *
Half a minute later, Tommy stood in his human form, naked and breathless in front of the bloody, broken body of Alan Watts, while his daughter whimpered at him from a few feet away.
He wiped the blood from his hands on Watts’ ruined clothes, and then he called to his daughter while he pulled his own clothes back on.
“Corinne,” he said. “Come here.”
He didn’t try covering up the body of the dead man for her sake. Watts had changed back to his human form as soon as the life had been crushed from his wolf body. Corinne had seen worse in her two short years of life. Tommy couldn’t help that, though the thought haunted him. No wonder she was getting so wild.
Unlike Tommy and Watts next to him, Corrine didn’t change back into her human form. She seemed to prefer her stronger, four-legged self, and he’d find her “wolfing it up,” as Burt called it more often than not.
Tommy, on the other hand, had grown up stifling his werewolf genes, convinced by Mom he could only use it once or maybe twice a month, only when the moon was full. Mom had never been one for honesty.
He rubbed Corinne’s furry head and checked out her left shoulder where Watts had hit her. She seemed fine, and her werewolf abilities would heal any damage from the blow faster than her human body would.
“You are in big trouble, little girl,” Tommy said, earning yet another nip from her. This time she didn’t break the skin.
He let out a shaky breath.
“And so am I,” he added, smelling the coppery blood spilling from Watts behind him. “Shit.”
Corinne curled up into his lap, rubbing her snout against his chest. Tommy petted her from the top of her head down her back, feeling each sharp ridge of her spine, every taut muscle of her wolf body.
Somehow she’d made it here all the way from Aunt Mel’s house, which was a good three miles away, and across the Iowa River.
“How the hell did you find me, girl? Did you catch my scent all the way from home? Were you worried about your old man?”
Tommy knew better than to expect an answer from Corinne, in wolf or human form. She talked a little when she shed her wolf skin, but nowhere near as much as she should have, based on what Mel and other parents had told him. People loved to give advice—especially unsolicited advice—to him about how to raise Corinne. Everyone had an opinion, based solely on their own experiences.
Try raising a daughter who’d rather be a wolf, Tommy thought. Then give me some advice about that.
The smell of blood and death, along with the insistent buzz of the electrical substation around him, pulled Tommy back to reality. Corinne’s dark eyes had closed while she was curled up in his lap, no doubt exhausted from her wild run tonight. Tommy shuddered, picturing his little girl sprinting through town on all fours, dodging cars and trucks and people to get to him.
“We’ve got to go, little one,” he murmured to Corinne. “Aunt Melanie’s never gonna offer to watch you again, you know that, right?”
Tommy lifted Corinne off his lap and set her unsteadily back on all four of her feet. Thinking of Mel, he pulled out his silenced phone and there they were—five texts and three missed calls from his aunt. He tapped out a quick “I’ve got her, be home soon” text and sent it. He silenced the phone again and pocketed it without waiting for her angry response.
At last he turned and looked down at the wrecked body of Watts. He stared at the man for a long time, thinking about all he’d told him tonight, calculating how much to tell Attix.
He knew someone who might have been the next person on Watts’ list.
There had been a guy like that back in Dyersburg, too—that guy Lance had suggested Tommy kill his ex-girlfriend and baby mama Suzanne, and Tommy had wanted to do it as soon as Lance said it—but Lance had died in Tommy’s chaotic last night in his hometown.
He could at least warn the guy here in Iowa City, though Tommy knew it would sound totally crazy.
Hey Dennis, Tommy imagined himself saying to the skinny guy with the ponytail, watch your back, because there’s this shadowy group looking to off people with voices like yours, and they’ve been using werewolf assassins to get the job done. Just a quick heads-up for ya, pal.
Shaking his head and wishing he could laugh about it all, Tommy instead pulled out his phone again and called Attix.
* * * * *
“Now this is something else,” John Attix said fifteen minutes later, standing over the body of Alan Watts. “What happened to his clothes?”
Attix was an intense black man in his early forties, a head shorter and a hundred pounds lighter than Tommy, but with so much presence he seemed much, much bigger. Tommy had been working with him for over a year now, and even in his sweat pants and a gray University of Iowa Field House T-shirt, the guy still intimidated him.
“Well,” Tommy said, swallowing hard. “He was naked when I found him. Messing around with his knives there.”
“Ugh,” Attix said. As if that explained everything. Tommy had learned that the less he said, the better. Attix filled in the rest on his own, intuitively.
Tommy glanced outside to make sure Corinne was still in the thick bushes on the other side of the fence surrounding the substation. He’d taken her there before Attix had arrived and ordered her to stay there. He didn’t have time to try to run her back to his car at the Fox Head to take her home. And how would it look to walk into the tavern to find Burt with a small red wolf or a naked little girl in his arms? As usual, Burt wasn’t answering his phone, and Tommy couldn’t bring himself to call his aunt.
“Tommy,” Attix said, irritation in his voice. “Stay with me here. Relax. What’s out there that’s got you so distracted?”
“Just looking out for cops and stuff.”
“Hey, we are the cops and stuff. You did the right thing, calling me. Some jokers would’ve tried to cover this up, or tried to hide the body. Or worse, bury him. That never frickin’ works.”
Tommy let out a soft, nervous laugh. He’d actually considered all of those things before calling Attix. But then he remembered the other man’s advice: We take care of our own, so don’t try going off on your own.
He also needed his half of the reward money, which he still planned on getting even though their fugitive was no longer breathing.
“So,” Tommy said, “we make it look like an accident?”
Attix gave a cynical laugh.
“Nah, man. The more you try to cover something up, the more problems you create. I’m just gonna call this one in myself, tell them I got an anonymous tip about a body in here. What I won’t tell them is that you were here. So you need to get gone.”
Tommy wanted to check on Corinne in the bushes again, but forced himself to look only at Attix.
“Okay,” he said, glad that the shed had a concrete floor instead of dirt, which would’ve shown all kinds of tracks, human and otherwise. “Want me to help clean up?”
“You didn’t try to move him or do anything else to the body, did you?”
Tommy shook his head, squirming a bit from Attix’s sharp voice and intense gaze.
“Good,” Attix said. He rubbed his chin as he looked down at what was left of Watts. “You really did a number on this guy, Tommy. He must’ve put up some kind of fight.”
Tommy had been running on adrenaline and nerves for the past hour or two, and now his energy suddenly left him. His shoulders slumped forward, and he nervously pulled at his too-loose jeans.
“Yeah,” he muttered.
“He didn’t talk, did he? Tell you anything?”
Tommy shrugged. “Just said something about how they made him do it. I told him to save it, and then when I tried to secure his wrists, he lost it.”
While Tommy spoke, Attix checked out Watts’ hands without touching the body.
“Speaking of wrists,” he said, “his right one got crushed. You do that?”
Feeling nauseated all over again, Tommy nodded. “First thing he did was go for one of his knives. I stepped on his wrist to get it free. Maybe a bit too hard.”
Attix straightened up and directed his high-beam gaze right at Tommy. He had a look on his face like he wanted to ask more questions, or maybe throw a theory or two Tommy’s way. Tommy had never told Attix about his werewolf abilities, and he definitely didn’t want to confess to that now. But sometimes he had a feeling that Attix suspected something about him, but he knew better than to ask. The promotions and reward money this past year had been way too good for him.
“I know all I need to know, here, my friend,” Attix said. “One less scumbag to deal with here in our fine city. I’m calling this in now, so you need to hit the road.”
“All right,” Tommy said, already backing out of the shed. “Thanks,” he added.
“No problem,” Attix said, already distracted by his phone. “You did good, getting this guy off the street. Just try not to kill the next fugitive you track down, okay?”
Tommy slipped away without another word, wishing he could block the memory of Watts’ broken body from his mind forever.
I did that, he reminded himself. Because I let myself lose control.
He climbed over the fence and hurried around the other side into the darkness surrounding the bushes. With sharp jolts of panic hitting him with each step he took toward the bushes hiding Corinne, he convinced himself that his daughter wouldn’t be there when he got there.
He’d have to track her like he’d tracked Watts tonight, but it wouldn’t be nearly as easy as following a drunk and whispering man reeking of cigarettes and beer. He’d have to change, no doubt, and chase her through Iowa City in wolf until he found her.
But when he pushed through the bushes, he found his little strawberry-blonde two-year-old snoring softly on a pile of pine needles inside. She still hadn’t made the switch back to her human form, most likely due to the warmth her fur coat gave her as the summer night turned a bit cool. Or maybe she just preferred her four-legged self these days.
Tommy had a sudden urge to curl up next to her and sleep the night away in there. But this place would be full of cops soon, and they needed to get back home.
He scooped up his little wolf daughter and carried her out of the bushes. Keeping to the shadows, he hurried back to his car near the Fox Head and secured the four-legged Corinne somewhat awkwardly into her car seat in the back.
On the way to their rented house on its three acres just outside Iowa City, Tommy fought to keep his own eyelids open as the events of the past few hours caught up to him.
Burt better be home, Tommy thought, and not out drinking up the last of his paycheck. He owes me for his half of rent from last month.
They’d only been living here for two months, and his big brother was already dropping the ball with his share of the bills. That was one of the things he’d wanted to discuss with Burt tonight at guys’ night out, along with a possible visit to see Mom and Dad back in Dyersburg for the first time in over a year. Corinne needed to see her grandparents, as much as a trip back home would suck for Tommy.
But then Watts had shown up to change those plans.
Tommy hit the brakes hard to avoid a doe and two half-grown fawns darting across the lane to their rental house. He’d seen these three deer countless times since moving here this summer.
Dumber than dirt, Burt would say every time they showed up, usually to leap right in front of their moving car. Too dumb to live.
Waiting for his heart to stop hammering, Tommy looked down the lane at their little three-bedroom ranch. It was a great place, with a wide, fenced-in yard for Corinne that Tommy thought would help to keep her contained. The light blue paint needed a fresh coat, and the porch had some rotted-out places, but that didn’t bother him. It was private but still close to town, and it was theirs. So long as they made rent each month.
The lights were out, so either Burt had gotten a cab home and crashed for the night already, or he was still out partying despite Tommy’s request for him to head home earlier. Tommy was betting on the partying, always a safe bet with Burt.
He knew he should call Aunt Melanie with an update, but he couldn’t deal with her anger and disappointment with both him and his little girl right now. He’d make it up to her later. Somehow.
Before starting down the lane, he took a look up at the stars and thought for a guilt-ridden moment about Watts.
He never should’ve hit her, Tommy thought. I could’ve held it together if he hadn’t done that.
Tommy’s thoughts shift from Watts to his new friend Dennis, who worked with some of the women’s sports teams at the university. The first time he met him, Tommy had just dropped off a pile of pizzas for Dennis and at least a dozen college-aged girls playing video games inside his apartment, and those girls had devoured the pizza as soon as Dennis yelled Go.
Tommy dropped his gaze back to his windshield and the now-empty lane in front of him.
No, Tommy recalled. Dennis hadn’t yelled Go. He’d yelled, “Feedin’ time.” And the girls had attacked that pizza like wild animals.
Looking back at that time now, Tommy knew that all the girls must’ve had the werewolf gene, but he could tell that Dennis did not have it in him.
He remembered feeling unnerved to be around so many other weres all in one place. He’d wanted to dive into the fray and risk life and limb for a slice of Pizza Pit pie. Pack mentality was hard to overcome, even in his human form.
Tommy had become friends with Dennis, and they’d hung out quite a bit since that time, playing video games and tap-dancing around each guy’s more-than-human skills. Tommy appreciated the fact that Dennis had never used his voice on him, except for possibly one time when Dennis had wanted to win that Call of Duty mission and Tommy’s guy had taken a dozen bullets for Dennis’ guy.
Surely that hadn’t been Dennis in the nearby town of Mount Vernon who Watts had killed.
He wanted to call or text his new friend to warn him somehow that he might be in danger. But it was late, and he didn’t know how to warn him without sounding crazy.
Watts was dead, and Dennis is safe, he told himself silently. Go home already.
With that Tommy drove down the lane, his daughter still breathing deep and slow in the back seat, her furry hind legs feet twitching as she ran in her dreams. He vowed to call Dennis first thing in the morning, and hoped he wouldn’t regret waiting until then.