(Merla and Renzo)
Demon Born Prequel
He’s ready to kill her on sight, yet her heart craves him. How can their two worlds ever meet?
Hunted for being born female. Merla Fleetfoot is a werewolf on the run.
All the pack alphas covet her. And the most blood-thirsty of them all—the alpha of the Howler clan—will stop at nothing to have her, including killing her father and brothers. Desperate to keep her family safe, Merla is forced to hide with them in Fairfall forest. But the daemon lord of Fairfall, Renzo Barone, hasn’t taken too kindly to that. His magic is lethal, and if he catches her, he’ll destroy her.
He’s dangerous, but he still fills her dreams, and Merla’s innocent heart is hopelessly lost. Renzo will never want her though. She’s a werewolf, and hence, vermin to him.
Broken-hearted and with the Howlers closing in, Merla’s only choices are to sacrifice herself to the alpha or watch her family die—unless she can somehow convince Renzo she’s more than just a werewolf.
STANDALONE Paranormal Romance | Demon Born Prequel
Full-length novella: 142 print pages.
Steamy love scenes (readers: 18+)
Read chapters below.
“ Wow! Talk about hitting the ground running. This is one action packed, fast paced, hard hitting, pulse racing, heart pounding, nailbiting, page turning bombshell that’s as riveting as it is captivating. All the twists and turns, ups and downs, along with a few unexpected surprises around every corner make for remarkable experience. A whirlwind of emotions and events that really make the storyline pop. The drama, fear, danger and suspense increases steadily as the tension spirals while the plot thickens. The characters are complex and believable. The scenes are so graphically detailed it’s easy to picture each scenario as they play off one another perfectly. Written with such realism it really pulls this bad boy together beautifully. Alyssia did an amazing job bringing this read to life flawlessly. Fantastic job Alyssia, thanks for sharing this little guy with us.” (Amazon US, Nov 30, 2018)
“ This is a fantastic book written so differently. I read it in one day. This is such an unusual story and so different from most of the werewolf stories that I have read in the past. I was captured by the first two chapters of the book and couldn’t stop reading until I was finished… This is one story that has to be read.” (Amazon US, Nov 22, 2018)
The gap between the two beech trees looked ever so innocent in the summer sunshine. So innocent that a frolicking deer would bounce its way through without a second thought. But any werewolf foolish enough to try was asking for a miserable death.
Merla studied the empty space. It was only pretending to be empty. In reality, invisible energy strands stretched between the two trees like a geometric spider web. Touch any strand, and the magical structure would snap you into its deadly embrace and choke you of breath and life.
The first traps had appeared three days ago, and they’d been crafted to just hold a werewolf until the hunters reached him. But then she’d broken every single one of those traps, and the daemon lord’s rage had boiled into fury. Now each trap he set was an absolute death sentence.
But luckily these deadlier traps were intricate to make, and powerful as he was, he could only craft a handful at a time. This was the fifth one she’d tracked down this evening, and there didn’t seem to be any more nearby.
Merla steadied her nerves. She just had to break this trap like the four before it, and her pack would once again hunt freely in the forest tonight.
She edged forward.
Magical tripwires littered the ground before her, and they too were invisible. One wrong step and she’d end up as a trophy head on the daemon lord’s wall. The trap was magicked to hold an adult male werewolf, typically the size and weight of a full-grown lion, so a smaller, female wolf like her wouldn’t even stand a chance. And in her human form as she was now, she’d be broken up in seconds like a mosquito in a tarantula’s web.
But being a female werewolf had its advantages. Her steps were lighter for one, and her reflexes a bit quicker. And tiptoeing and swivelling on bare feet like a ballerina, she avoided the spots on the ground that her keen senses pinpointed as tripwires. She just had to reach the tree trunk. The edges of the trap were anchored there, and breaking that anchor was the only way to break the trap. And with utmost concentration, she inched past the last tripwire and reached out in relief to touch the beech’s silver-grey bark.
Merla closed her eyes for a moment and sagged against the tree. She’d already done this dance four times today, but it never became easier. And every time she broke a trap, it alerted the daemon lord and his hunters. They were even now hot on her trail. She didn’t have much time left. And opening her eyes, she searched for the daemon lord’s magic on the tree.
Strange that she could find his magic at all.
As a werewolf, she had no magic of her own and no clue how to use magic. So by all logic, the daemon lord’s traps should have remained invisible to her like they did to her brothers and cousins. But something about this daemon, something about his magic, resonated deep inside her. So deep that she could almost command it. And as if plucking the strings of a harp, she played her fingers over the tree trunk.
Electric-blue strands vibrated into existence beneath her fingertips, and the more she plucked, the more they glowed and revealed themselves. They stretched between both trees like a net, the blue threads interwoven to form delicate swirls and esoteric patterns. It was a magical language of sorts, and its meaning escaped her.
Unable to resist, Merla stood and stared at the beautiful designs. She’d seen them in each of his traps before but never grew tired of it. It was more than just the magical patterns though. It was the feel of his magic too. Every time she came near it, her body hummed on high alert as if she’d just run the most exhilarating prey-chase of her life.
And then there was the colour. The blue of these magic threads was the exact blue of his eyes—electric. Darker than her own blue eyes and so much more mesmerizing.
Her breath hitched on her wayward thoughts. What was it about this particular daemon? What spell did he have over her? She’d never even come face to face with him as a woman, only watched him from afar, but still he held her. And it couldn’t be because of his magic. She’d seen daemon magic before, nothing as powerful as his, but still it had never reduced her to such useless mush.
What would her father say if he found out she was feeling this way about a daemon of all creatures?
She was eighteen now and of mating age, and to top it all, she was a female werewolf—a creature scarcer than hens’ teeth. As her father would remind her: a rare and precious female wolf’s destiny was to mate with the strongest and best alpha, not lust after a daemon lord.
Guilt forced her back to her senses, and Merla cringed. Her family depended on her. For whatever reason, she was the only one who could sense the daemon lord’s magic and neutralize his traps. This was the job she was here to do, and she wasn’t going to let her pack down.
Once more she stroked her fingers over the tips of the magical threads. They sang to her with a sweet strum, and the sound set the heat flowing deep in her core and made her legs wobble. She clenched her teeth against the seductive rush and concentrated on finding the right thread to cut.
Choose the wrong one and the trap would gobble her in an instant.
But there was one thread, the anchor, which was the first piece of magic the daemon lord had spun when he’d created the trap. Cut that, and the whole structure would unravel in the wind.
And one by one, she tested each strand, feeling for the one that resonated most strongly of him.
Focus. No distractions. Just focus. No thoughts of dark hair, blue eyes, or a look that could melt her on the spot… Dear God, this was impossible!
But just as her exasperated breath escaped, her fingers found the anchor thread. It was bathed in the alluring essence of him, and it sang louder in her than all the others.
Gritting her teeth against the familiar rush of heat inside her, she lengthened her claws and sliced through the anchor in one swipe. The trap shimmered into full view and unravelled, and within seconds the last wisp of its magic had disappeared in a blink of electric-blue light.
Nice try, daemon lord.
Merla grinned and hurried to where she’d left the dead rabbit. Quickly bringing it back, she arranged it in the exact centre between the trees where the trap had hung. There. He could add that rabbit to the other four she’d left for him today. A consolation prize so that his traps weren’t entirely in vain.
And she stood to go, but then paused. Shouldn’t he also know who he had to thank for his wasted traps? She was playing with fire; her father and elder brother would be the first to tell her so, but a stubborn part of her refused to leave without a word. And reaching up, she plucked a strand from her long silver hair and placed it beside the rabbit’s still legs. The hair lay invisible in the green moss of the forest floor.
But the sudden thud of male footsteps rumbled through the ground and vibrated up through her bare feet. Heavy and crude, they screamed ‘city-dwellers’ even though this massive forest was miles from any city.
Merla froze. The daemon lord. He was coming. She glanced around. She should leave, but that stubborn part of her still refused. This might be her last chance to see him today. Just one more glimpse couldn’t hurt.
And catching hold of the beech tree’s low branch, she swung herself up and climbed high into the thick tangle of leaves. Luckily her simple vest and leather miniskirt made the task a doddle. And human feet and hands were a werewolf’s best friends for climbing. The daemons wouldn’t think of looking up in the tree for her. Also, another bonus of being female was that her wolf was barely detectable inside her when she was human, unlike for males. So the daemons wouldn’t sense her either. And with a grin, she lounged among the green leaves and waited.
“Fifth rabbit today,” Kurt said. “Looks like the makings of another tasty stew.”
Renzo’s eyes narrowed on the skinny grey carcass lying between the beech trees. He was still far from where his trap had stood, but even from this distance it was easy to tell what had happened.
He raised his head and felt the energy vibrations in the forest air. Silver wolf. Its essence lingered everywhere like it had around the previous four destroyed traps. Renzo bared his teeth in murderous fury. That damn wolf had given him the runaround for three days now, always staying one step ahead, somehow breaking his magic, and then blatantly toying with him by leaving dead rabbits in its wake. But enough was enough. That silver bastard was about to die a twisted and excruciating death. And teeth gritted in determination, he stalked towards the beech trees.
His men hastened their steps to keep up with him but remained oblivious to his rage.
“It’s been nothing but rabbit stew for three days,” Boris complained. “There’s a limit to how many of the skinny buggers a self-respecting daemon can eat.”
Kurt hefted his rifle and gave Boris a haughty look. “I don’t know about daemons, but for us humans, rabbit’s as good a meat as any. It’s a tad lacking in fat is all.”
“You wouldn’t know good food if it bit you on the arse,” Boris muttered. “Why can’t them werewolves catch a wild turkey or a boar for a change? There’s plenty of those critters in this damn forest.”
“Maybe you should ask… nicely,” Kurt said, smirking.
But Boris looked thoughtful. “You mean pin a note to the tree or something? Think it’ll work? Think we’ll get something better than rabbit next time?”
That did it. Renzo’s rage flamed blue around his hand, and in one savage throw he hurled a fireball straight at the rabbit. It exploded with a bang that startled the birds from the trees and left a smoking black patch on the ground. “There will be no ‘next time’,” he growled.
Boris took a hasty step back. “Right you are m’lord.”
“Four rabbits for the stew then,” Kurt murmured, also keeping a respectful distance.
Renzo approached the tree where he’d anchored the trap. Werewolves didn’t deal in magic, and yet this particular wolf had not only seen his invisible trap but had also worked out exactly which thread to cut in it. How the hell was that even possible? Only another daemon lord could challenge his power like this, and even then the challenge wouldn’t get too far. But here was a magicless werewolf, besting him every time.
“So… uh… you think he might still be around here?” Boris asked tentatively.
“Who?” Renzo snapped.
“The silver one…” Boris’s voice faded into silence.
The silver devil. Renzo cast his gaze around the surrounding forest, but only a faint echo of the silver wolf’s essence lingered. The bastard had either run away or was extremely skilled at hiding. “If he values his skin, he won’t stick around,” Renzo muttered and set about dismantling the remains of his trap. The silver wolf may know how to break the traps, but the creature had no clue how to clean up the magic completely. Renzo frowned as he worked. It would take half a day to set a new trap, but set one he would. And this one would have the silver devil’s name written all over it.
“Them werewolves sure are tricky bastards,” Boris mused as he and Kurt waited for Renzo. “Not a track anywhere. You wouldn’t even know one had been here.”
Kurt frowned. “What do you know about animal tracks? How many werewolves did you track in the city? None, I bet.”
“All right then, Mr Know-it. Find me a track now. Even one if you can.”
Kurt slung his rifle over his shoulder and hunkered down to the ground. “All animals leave tracks. And I’m guessing a werewolf ain’t much different from any other wolf, only bigger.” He searched a while over the forest floor but didn’t seem to be finding anything.
“You won’t find it,” Renzo said, cutting Kurt’s troubles short. “You’d have to be another werewolf to see the tracks, or else you have to track them through magical sense.”
“That how you do it, boss?” Kurt asked, straightening.
Renzo nodded as he wound up another strand of loose magic. Of the three of them, Kurt was the only one with any experience of forests and tracking. He’d spent a lonely life moving from forest to forest, making it his hearth and home, and hiding from other magicless humans. It was only now at almost forty years old that Kurt had come across magic of any kind or even realized the existence of daemons and other supernaturals. The man was brave though, and damn loyal. It was the reason Renzo had taken him in and given him a proper home.
“I can barely get a whiff of werewolves magically,” Boris said, his hands glowing with the faint light of his weaker daemon magic. “But I’ve still enough juice in me to knock a couple of them out if needed.”
“Ain’t nothing magic can do that a well-aimed gun can’t,” Kurt said.
“You got silver bullets?” Renzo asked.
Kurt jiggled his rifle. “Like you said.”
“Good.” Renzo turned back to the remains of the trap. Silver was the only type of bullet guaranteed to stop a werewolf. It wouldn’t kill the creature, but it would put him out of action for a week at least. But one sure way to kill a supernatural was to cut off his head so he couldn’t heal or regenerate. Which was exactly what his next trap would do. He stepped back and regarded the last threads of magic floating between the trees. The picture rose in his mind of the silver wolf caught in his new trap. That would be the day. He’d watch the bastard struggle and gasp for life, and then when it was almost over, the trap would close, and boom, instant decapitation.
“We never had this trouble in the city, eh m’lord?” Boris said, cutting into Renzo’s sweet thoughts of revenge.
Renzo blinked. “No… no, we didn’t.” And he returned to cleaning up the magic.
“We had werewolves in the city, all right,” Boris continued to Kurt. “But they were… how d’you put it? Civilized. They didn’t sneak onto your property in the middle of the night and squat in it like it belonged to them.”
Kurt laughed. “That’s par for the course in this here countryside. We’ve squatters coming out the wazoo here. Damn, even I was one at times. You find ‘em. You chase ‘em off. Simple.”
But when you were dealing with werewolves, it wasn’t so simple. Renzo glanced around the forest again but picked up no movement or sense of wolf anywhere. The forest was peaceful in the bright evening sunshine, cheerful even. Though for someone who had until a month ago spent every day of his life in the heart of a sprawling city, the forest was still a stifling green coffin.
Anger at the direction his life had taken rose, and Renzo clenched his jaw. At twenty-four years of age, he should have been living it up like his cousins in the midst of daemon royalty in London. Instead, some distant uncle had decided to kick the bucket, and Renzo had inherited a mammoth manor house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by its even more immense forest.
Sure, the title and vast fortune that came with being ‘Lord of Fairfall’ was some consolation, but it didn’t make the place any less tedious. Other than the manor house and the forest, the only talking point Fairfall had was a ragtag collection of houses that called itself a town, and its equally ragtag population of crabby witches and wizards. Renzo scowled. His daily job as ‘Lord’ consisted of settling disputes about whose spell had jinxed whom and suffering the endless love potions the young witches kept slipping into his drinks. The silly little fools didn’t even realize that as a high-level daemon he was impervious to their weak witchcraft. But now every beer, wine, and even coffee he drank was as bitter as iron because of the potions sneaked into them. He’d been reduced to drinking plain water this past week, and it hadn’t helped his temper when an entire pack of werewolves had crept into his forest three days ago and set up home.
The last magic thread floated like blue smoke in the exact middle between the trees, and Renzo reached for it. But a new sense made him pause just as his fingers touched the thread. He glanced down. His black boots were planted in the centre of the scorched circle created when he’d blasted the rabbit. The circle was empty though. Even the grass had burned to a crisp, leaving only darkened soil. But an essence of something delicate crept into his awareness from the burnt forest floor. He snapped the magic thread and crouched down to examine the ground.
“Everything all right, boss?” Kurt asked from behind.
“I sense something,” Renzo murmured, running his fingers over the blackened soil. Images popped into his mind, and he frowned. Silver wolf… Its coat a beautiful white tipped with silver, and its eyes an unearthly pale blue.
He’d seen the wolf once before when he and his men had arrived at a broken trap before the creature had had time to run away. He should have killed it then but had stood staring into those blue eyes instead, mesmerized. Werewolves in their wolf form didn’t have blue eyes. Alpha eyes were red. Beta eyes were yellow. Blue was unheard of. What exactly was this creature that could dismantle his magic and whose eyes shone like the winter sky?
Renzo studied his black-stained fingers. The silver wolf’s essence was still faint as if some time had passed since the creature had stood in this spot. But another essence rose to the top. One that made him feel…
He turned to Kurt and Boris who were watching him expectantly. “Take a walk around the area,” he said. “Our friend may have got careless and left a track or two after all. I’ll meet you back at the manor later.”
“Right, m’lord,” Boris said, and he and Kurt strolled away from the beech trees.
Renzo turned back to the new essence on the ground. It was more recent than the wolf’s, and it was female.
He brought his stained fingertips close to his nose. A subtle but heady scent of honeysuckle that could only be picked up by his magical senses wafted through his mind. Honeysuckle mixed with something so deliciously feminine that his blood near boiled with desire.
A surprised growl escaped him. What the hell was this? It had been a month since he’d had any female company. Was he so desperate now that he was sensing females willy-nilly in the forest?
It wasn’t a werewolf. That was certain. Werewolves, like daemons and vampires, were male. And it wasn’t any of those silly witches from the town either. They were human, and this scent was far from human. Could it be a succubus? But succubi wouldn’t be caught dead out here alone in a forest. They preferred the city where the lights were bright and the men were rich and powerful. He scented his fingers again. No, not a succubus… What then? Frowning, he stood up and looked around.
Merla couldn’t tear her gaze from him. He was standing right beneath her tree and looking around as if searching for something. Searching for her?
She pressed tighter into her hidden spot high up. The temptation to show herself was immense, but he was a daemon, and she was a werewolf. Their two worlds would never mix. So she gazed her fill instead. He was tall and built like a warrior; the arrogant tilt to his jaw promised swift reckoning to anyone who crossed him, and the relaxed stance of his powerful body belied the intense focus he kept on his surroundings.
She pulled her essence into herself even more. None of it should leak out. He shouldn’t pick up on her presence at all. And now that it was only the two of them here, she was in even greater danger of being found. The older men had walked away minutes ago—one human, the other daemon. He’d dispatched them to find her tracks, but they wouldn’t find anything. Even the human, who walked like forests were home to him, would be lucky if he found a single werewolf toe mark.
But at least it meant she had the daemon lord all to herself for once.
Renzo. That was his name. Renzo Barone. She’d overheard the witches in town practically salivating over it. Lucky them. At least they got to stand in front of him. If she tried that, she’d be taking her life in her hands. But these feelings she had for him were difficult to overcome. And why him of all people? She’d felt nothing like this for anyone in all her eighteen years, and now suddenly this. Shouldn’t she be lusting after an alpha werewolf instead?
Answers though were in short supply, and giving in to her craving, she edged out on the branch for a closer glimpse of him.
Renzo’s senses snapped alert, and cocking his head to the side, he listened. Something… or someone was near.
If pressed, he’d say it was the silver wolf. But it didn’t feel quite like the wolf. He tested the air again, but it wasn’t the feminine scent from before either. So who was it? His hands twitched in annoyance. A few days of tracking in the forest wasn’t enough experience to outwit a werewolf, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the creature was hiding somewhere nearby and mocking him even now. He glanced around the thick forest but saw nothing. Damn, but the silver was a cunning creature, crafty and resourceful, and in some ways… admirable.
He growled in disgust at the direction his thoughts were going. Admirable? Since when did a daemon lord find a werewolf ‘admirable’? The belligerent battle of the past three days was getting to him, and he was forgetting that the wolf had challenged his pride and his authority. No creature got away with that. He scowled out at the forest. The silver was hiding there somewhere, and there had to be a way to flush it out. Perhaps where vinegar had failed, honey might work.
“I know you’re here,” he called out to the silent trees, and clasping his hands behind his back, he relaxed his stance further to appear as non-threatening as possible. “Show yourself. Let’s talk this out, man to man. I’m willing to negotiate.”
Right, daemon lord. As if I’m falling for that. Merla watched in fascination as blue wisps of magic flickered over his hands. His anger was right on the surface and tightly coiled. The slightest push and he’d explode. So who did he think he was fooling with this fake show of calm?
In this mood though, he was irresistibly tempting to play with.
And plucking a green beechnut, she kissed its prickly surface and let it drop.
The small nut bounced off his head, and in one swift movement, Renzo had spun around, stretched up a hand and fired.
Blue light ripped like cannon fire through her thick branch. Merla gasped and ducked back as half the branch blasted off and thudded to the ground. But then her shock turned to silent laughter, and she pressed her body against the tree trunk, away from the blast zone. Somehow, she’d known he’d do that. He was like an open book to her, and it didn’t take much to flip his pages.
Still, he was a dangerous book, and she was playing a dangerous game.
The branch crashed down by his boots, and Renzo gritted his teeth. What the hell was wrong with him? He was jumpier than a rookie soldier today, blasting out at anything that moved.
He glanced up into the tree but saw nothing. No creature lurked up there among the thick layers of leaves. As if werewolves would be hiding in trees anyway. And he shook his head at his foolishness even as anger roared fresh inside him again. Looking for an outlet, any outlet, he grabbed the fallen branch, snapped it over his knee, and flung the thick pieces back against the tree trunk.
He was turning away when the spiky beechnut that had struck him caught his eye. Stooping, he picked it up. At once the honeysuckle essence he’d sensed earlier flowed through him like an erotic shiver. He frowned and glanced up into the tree again. Something… someone was up there.
But just then a blackbird flew in from nearby and touched down on what was left of the branch in the tree. The bird waggled its bottom, puffed out its little chest, and began singing fearlessly as if it was the only creature there.
Renzo’s eyes narrowed in disappointment, and he clutched the beechnut tighter. Damn it. Whatever this tempting essence was, he had to find its source, and soon, otherwise he risked being driven mad by it.
Merla watched him stalk away.
The blackbird sang on mere inches from her, and pulling her werewolf essence tighter into herself, she remained stock-still on the branch. As long as she didn’t move she’d stay invisible to the bird. It was a basic trick every wolf pup learned, but it sure came in handy when she was trying not to be caught.
The broken halves of the fallen branch lay at the base of the tree, and she regarded them. Renzo was physically strong even without magic. She hadn’t expected that. Was he stronger than an alpha werewolf? The question made her bite her lip. She really shouldn’t be asking it. She really shouldn’t be interested in him at all. It was too dangerous. If her father caught even a whiff of what had happened here, he’d have a heart attack. And her father’s health was already too shaky for her liking.
Renzo disappeared past some trees, and with a sigh, Merla let him go from her mind as well. Stalking the daemon lord was becoming too risky. It was her fault that her pack had been terrorized into hiding out in this forest, and she didn’t need to add to their troubles by falling in love with Renzo. And forcing herself to promise to stay the hell away from him from now on, she climbed down from the tree. But the feeling remained that such promises were all too easy to break.
It didn’t take a sixth sense to find her cousins.
Sai and Beren, both older than her by a couple of years, were with the twins, Trey and Raul, who were her age. They weren’t even trying to hide. Instead, they were standing bold as rain on the outskirts of Fairfall town and chatting up several young witches.
Merla frowned. They were supposed to stay in the forest and keep a low profile, not flirt with the locals. And worst of all, they’d also roped in her fifteen-year-old brother, Arden.
Her frown turned into a scowl at the eager look on Arden’s boyish face. Dammit, he was way too young to be making eyes at vapid floozies like this. But Arden looked more than keen. His blue eyes shone, and he ran a self-conscious hand through his silver hair when the pretty blonde witch beside him whispered something and stroked his almost-manly biceps.
Merla groaned in irritation. Her cousins had a lot to answer for. They were reckless, and there wasn’t much she could do about that, but now they were teaching Arden to throw caution to the wind, all for the chance of an easy lay. And breaking her own cover in her anger, she left the safety of the trees and marched straight for the small group.
“Come back here tonight,” Sai, the eldest of the lads, was saying to a dark-haired witch. “Bring your friends too. We’ll have fun.”
“Yeah, It’ll be fun all right watching the elders hoick you up by your ears for this,” Merla drawled behind him.
The lads turned to her. “Oh, heeeey, wet blanket,” Beren drawled back. “Don’t you have someone else’s parade to rain on?”
Sai smirked. “Nah, no one will let her near. She’ll run ‘em crazy with her nonstop nagging.”
“Who is she?” the dark-haired witch asked, giving Merla a hostile look that swept haughtily over her naked arms, short skirt, and especially her bare feet.
Merla crossed her arms over her chest and glared back. The girls were all dressed in flattering dresses. Their hair bounced in perfect curls, and their faces glowed with just the right amount of blush and lipstick. They looked feminine in a way she never had in her life, and they were probably the type of women men like Renzo melted for. Her cousins were certainly melting.
She stopped herself. She wasn’t jealous. No, she absolutely wasn’t. She was a werewolf, and she had to wear clothes that were easy to remove so she could transform at short notice. Her only dress choice was the skirt and top she wore or simple jeans and t-shirts like the ones her cousins were wearing. So no, she wasn’t at all jealous of these pretty human females.
But no matter how many times she told herself that, she couldn’t quite convince herself.
“She’s our annoying little cousin,” Sai was saying to the witches. “Ignore her, and she’ll disappear.”
Merla glowered at him. “You wish, jug ears. I’m not going anywhere until you get your arses back in the forest. Don’t you realize you’ll be seen out here?”
Sai blushed at her nickname for him. “We’re not scared pups,” he blustered, glaring at her. He turned to the girls. “Anyone tries it on with us, and we’ll shred them like paper.” And he growled, showing off his strong teeth.
The witches giggled in appreciation.
Merla rolled her eyes. Honestly, these girls were pathetic, fawning over her stupid cousins like this. But then the thought came that she’d spent most of the day fawning over Renzo. Heat rose to her cheeks, and she frowned. She hadn’t been as pathetic as these females, had she?
“Merla, there’s no rush,” her brother Arden said, his longing gaze still glued to the pretty blonde witch. “We’re far from the town. No one will see us here.”
“It’s a huge risk, Arden.” Merla stabbed a finger in her cousins’ direction. “Don’t copy them. They’ll land you in trouble.”
Beren groaned. “Man, no wonder female werewolves are hardly ever born. They sit on your head like giant worry warts and suck all the joy out of life.”
“God, I swear…” Merla gritted. “If you guys don’t get back in the forest right now, I’ll drag you back.”
Her cousins guffawed. “Put away your fangs, Merla,” Sai said. “You’re outnumbered here.”
“Yeah? You want to try me, Sai?” she asked. They were bigger than her, but one thing they knew well enough from their play fights as pups was that she was tenacious. They may overpower her, but she sure as hell wouldn’t go down without taking chunks of them with her.
Sai dropped his gaze at her challenge, and Merla smirked. He knew what would happen if they fought. And likely he didn’t want to end up minus an ear and sporting several bald patches in his beloved mane of dark hair in front of these girls. “Let’s head back to the forest,” he growled to the other lads.
“You’re not to tell Uncle Fenris about this,” Sai snapped as soon as they were all back beneath the forest’s thick canopy.
Merla nodded. Her father was their pack alpha, and news of this little escapade would only worry him when he was desperate to keep them all safe.
“There’s still an hour until hunting time,” Arden said, glancing past the leaves at the slowly darkening sky. “Dad won’t be looking for us anyway.”
Beren grinned and rubbed his hands together. “I’ve a feeling the hunt’s gonna be extra brill tonight. There’s this excitement in the air.”
“Oh yeah, plenty of excitement with those daemon traps hanging around,” Raul, one of the twins, muttered.
Sai shot Merla a worried look. “You did clear those traps, didn’t you?”
He grinned in satisfaction. “All right then. Looks like it’s gonna be one hell of a hunt, lads.”
“…except, maybe… one trap,” Merla added.
Sai rounded on her with wide eyes. “What? You left one of those damn traps active? Man, those things are beasts. What the hell were you thinking?”
So much for his bravado. Merla grinned inside. They had her to thank for Renzo not catching them and shoving their wolf heads on a pike. But did they ever send a scrap of thanks her way? Most certainly not. “What’s the matter, Sai?” she asked. “Can’t take on the daemon lord and one of his little traps?”
“Little trap? The thing’s bloody savage and fucking invisible to the rest of us!” He glared at her. “Did you or did you not get rid of them all?”
“Fine. I did.” And when he looked meaningfully at her. “All of them,” she added.
“Why the hell are you all so worried about a daemon?” Arden asked. “We’re werewolves, aren’t we? I thought tooth and claw were stronger than magic.”
Merla shook her head. “Most magic, mainly witchcraft. But don’t challenge the daemon lord, Arden. His magic is different. He’s powerful like you’ve never seen before.”
“Come off it, girl. Stop babying him.” Beren slung a brotherly arm across Arden’s shoulders as they walked. “If you outsmart the daemon lord, lad, you’re sure to earn your werewolf stripes. Maybe even become a prime-beta like Connal.”
Arden’s blue eyes glowed. “Yeah? Really?”
Merla scowled. “No. You’ll just get yourself killed trying.” Their elder brother, Connal, being prime-beta of their pack was second in command to their father. Arden worshipped the ground Connal walked on and would do anything if he thought it would make him more like his hero. But challenging Renzo was suicide, and even Connal wouldn’t do it. Merla turned to Beren. “Stop feeding him these stupid ideas. You know those traps are sure death. At least I can see them. He can’t.”
Beren grinned. “But that’s the challenge, isn’t it? And the lad wants to prove himself. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Women.” Sai shook his head. “They’ll never understand.” And her cousins strutted on, filling Arden’s head with tales of possible glory if only he could outwit Renzo.
Merla let out an exasperated breath. Her only consolation was that it would take Renzo time to set his traps again, so Arden was safe for tonight at least. And tomorrow she’d make sure to break all of Renzo’s new traps before Arden got anywhere near them.
Her cousins and brother chatted happily as they walked ahead of her. They looked so carefree. But the reality was they were fugitives hiding out in this forest, homeless wolves no one wanted. And it was all her fault. Merla glanced around at the jade-green forest that had been their reluctant home for the past few days. All she had to do was say ‘yes’ to one of the many alphas who coveted her as a mate, and her pack could finally live in peace out in the open.
An image of the alpha of the Howler Clan came to her. Derrick. Big and rough, cold-hearted and fierce. He was the most powerful alpha any of them had ever met, and he was the most determined to have her. But the thought of him even coming near her made her shiver in revulsion.
Her father’s decision to run away with her and the pack rather than sacrifice her as a trophy to Derrick was what had condemned them all to this panicky existence. And Derrick wouldn’t give up. He’d come for her. He’d hunt them down, and he’d slaughter her father and family for having defied him in the first place. Fear and guilt clawed Merla’s insides. This precious image of the lads all laughing and merry may not last long, and all this because she’d been born as a female werewolf.
“Come on, Merla. Stop hanging about,” Beren called back.
Merla snapped back to the present, but she couldn’t set aside her pain and guilt as she hurried after them.
Embers from the fire flickered past the bony remains of the spit-roasted stag. They sparked orange in the night and brought out the wolf-colours in the eyes of the men sitting quietly around the firepit.
Merla’s attention was on her father though. His tired eyes—light grey in their human form—glowed with an alpha’s red tint. A struggling alpha. He dipped his greying head as deep coughs once again racked his body.
One of her two uncles leaned forward and held out a battered tin mug half-filled with beer. “Fenris, drink this.”
Her father gave him a grateful nod and taking the mug, gulped back the beer.
Her uncle sat back. His eyes glowed with a beta’s yellow tint as did his brother’s beside him. And the concern in both their gazes as they regarded her father—their elder brother—echoed the concern in Merla’s heart. Werewolves healed quickly, so weakness, disease, or even fight wounds were never much of a problem. But her father wasn’t healing at all. Merla gazed at his tall, hunched form as he sat staring into the fire. It was his worry for her that was blocking his healing, she was sure. Once again, the full blame for his pain rested on her.
She’d barely turned eighteen when nearby alphas looking to own her had started challenging her father to battle. He’d fought them and won, but each victory had been harder to gain. And battle after battle, she’d had to watch her once strong and sturdy father become reduced to the broken wolf he was now. He hadn’t had time to recover fully when the most brutish alpha of them all, Derrick of the Howler Clan, had challenged him. Her father would never have survived. Their only choice had been to run away.
Merla dragged her gaze away from her father and glanced around their makeshift camp. Only her four cousins seemed immune to worry as they sat away from the fire, joshing with her brother Arden and drinking beer. Beer they’d stolen from the town while they were supposed to have been hunting. They’d been mighty proud of their little heist too and had crowed about it nonstop until her ears had turned blue. Still, beer was welcome. At least it cheered up her father somewhat. Maybe that was why he hadn’t come down too hard on the lads for the stupid risk they’d taken in getting it.
Arden laughed at something Sai said, and then Beren and the twins eagerly jumped in with tales of their own. Their eyes glowed various shades of beta-yellow in the firelight, and their voices rose with excitement.
Her Uncle Orban growled at them. “Pipe down,” he muttered.
The lads grinned at him and returned to whispering among themselves.
Merla scowled. They were planning something, and she’d bet it had to do with Arden taking on Renzo or his traps. But they’d never tell her. And it wasn’t just because they saw her as a party pooper. It was because they didn’t see her as a proper member of the pack at all.
Everyone had their place in the pack with the alpha at the top and the betas below. The colour of their wolf eyes placed them there. But her wolf had blue eyes, the same ice-blue as her human eyes. Where did that place her in the hierarchy? Nowhere. She was a nobody in her own family. And no matter how hard she tried to compensate for it with her hunting skills and now her ability to destroy Renzo’s traps, she still felt like a fifth wheel.
“Sitting by yourself again?” her elder brother, Connal, came to her. His overlong blond hair flopped over his forehead, and impatiently swiping it back, he sat down beside her.
“It gives me a mysterious aura,” Merla murmured.
Connal grinned, and his cornflower-blue eyes glowed with the amber tint of a prime-beta. “Nah, it just makes you look boring.”
Merla shrugged. “Nothing wrong with ‘boring’.” And she silently studied her father’s hunched figure. “He’s not getting better.”
Connal sighed and glanced around at the surrounding forest. “A few more days hiding out like this with no challenges might see him heal.”
“I’m scared, Connal. I don’t think he’ll survive another fight.”
A muscle tensed in her brother’s jaw. “It won’t come to that. I won’t let it.”
Merla looked at him. He’d fight in their father’s stead; that’s what he meant. But Connal was only twenty-one. Even as a prime-beta, he was no match for a fully developed alpha, especially not one as vicious as Derrick Howler. “Dad would never let you,” she said. “You’re not even an alpha yet. It’s suicide.”
“Dad has no say in this anymore. Look at him. He knows he can’t protect us. That’s why we’re hiding. But how long do you think we can hide?”
“We don’t have to hide,” Merla said quietly. “If I give myself up to Derrick before he hunts us down, it might save our pack.”
“Like hell you will,” Connal growled. And when she stayed silent, he scowled at her. “Merla, promise me. You’re not to give yourself to that savage. Hell! You think it’ll save Dad if he knows that son-of-a-bitch has you? He’ll fight for you anyway. He’ll die for you.”
She shook her head in despair. “We’re living on borrowed time. Derrick will find us. You know he will. And when he does, I’m the only one he’ll take alive.” In what condition ‘alive’ was something she didn’t want to think about. “At least if I give in now, I might be able to negotiate for all your lives.”
Connal looked grim. “And we’d live out the rest of those miserable lives as slaves to the howlers. I speak for every wolf here when I say ‘over my dead body’.”
Merla glanced away. If only she’d been born male like every other normal werewolf, then her family wouldn’t have been forced to choose between death or a fate worse than death. Maybe her sulky cousin Rudi was right; she should run away and give herself to Derrick, stall him enough so her pack could escape. Surely her father wouldn’t try to rescue her if he realized all hope was lost and she now belonged to Derrick?
Merla clenched her jaw. She never thought she’d end up agreeing with Rudi of all people. And frowning, she looked back at the fire where her father and uncles sat. “Where’s Rudi?” she asked Connal.
He checked their surroundings. “The little worm’s not here. Isn’t that a surprise?”
Rudi was two years older than Connal, and the blood between them had never been warm. And when Connal had ascended to prime-beta status a few months ago, things had soured faster than mouldy yoghurt. Until then, Rudi had fancied himself as the next alpha of their tiny pack. But now he was a mere beta who had to take orders from not just her father but Connal too.
“Do you think he’s gone to the howlers?” Merla asked, knowing her brother shared her unspoken suspicion that Rudi had turned traitor.
Connal frowned. “Dad,” he called out. “Where’s Rudi?”
“Hunting,” their father said, throwing a brief glance their way.
“We already caught a stag, so what the hell is he hunting on his own?” Connal asked.
“Mind your own business,” Rudi snapped, stepping out of the shadows. And he approached the fire with a dead rabbit swinging from his hand.
“A rabbit?” Connal raised an eyebrow. “That’s some fearsome hunting, Rudi.”
Merla frowned. A rabbit wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to catch. What had Rudi been doing the rest of the time?
Rudi’s green eyes glinted yellow in the light, and he placed the rabbit down beside the fire. “What the hell are you implying?”
“That you were looking for the howlers, planning to bring them here,” Merla snapped.
“Watch your bloody words,” Rudi snarled. “You‘re the reason we’re in this shithole.”
Merla opened her mouth to bite back.
“Merla,” her father said. “That’s enough.”
She shut her mouth and leapt to her feet. “I’m going to the lake,” she bit out. It was the only place she was sure to get some peace. Her father nodded, and she stalked past a stony Rudi. “I know…” she muttered to him, low enough that her father wouldn’t hear.
“Be careful out there,” he muttered back, his eyes cold.
OTHER DEMON BORN BOOKS
(Luca and Belle)
Demon Born Book 1
When beauty finally meets her beast, things are not all as they seem…
Belle Meed, armed with nothing but her wonky magic, is suddenly thrust into the fight of her life against ghouls and vicious curses and an insufferable but irresistible werewolf who insists he is her soulmate. It doesn’t help that he might be out to kill her also.