Chapter 13 sneak preview of my current work-in-progress:
Luca – Book 1 of the Demon Born Series (paranormal romance).
Pre-edit version. May change before publication.
Nature can be so beautiful yet so cruel.
There’s a young cat that likes to visit our back garden. It’s a pretty thing with white fur and brown patches and huge yellow-green eyes. It wanders in around eight o’clock in the evening—an after-dinner stroll, I presume—just when the evening sun is setting, and the summer sunlight is deepest gold and makes all the flowers glow.
And this little cat likes to play during this magical time. It rolls around in the green grass, chases the evening flies, and jumps and skips and has a merry old time. Its favourite play spot is beneath the bushy branches of a low tree—an evergreen, but I have no clue what kind. I’d spend my evenings watching the cat, but I never went outside to disturb its play because I didn’t want to scare it away (it’s not my cat).
Then one day, something terrible happened.
The pretty little cat found a way up into that evergreen tree and raided the nest of a Robin Redbreast there. All four chicks in the nest died that day, and it broke my heart. Because, you see, I’d been watching the busy robin parents too. They’d wake before everyone else in the morning and devote the entire day to finding tasty morsels for their chicks. Mum and Dad would take turns to stay with the chicks or forage. I’d watch them as I drank my morning coffee, and it was something wonderful to wake up to. I remember thinking how grateful I was that they’d chosen to nest in our garden.
But then the day the cat found the chicks everything stopped, and all that remained of something so beautiful were four tiny, broken, blue-feathered bodies at the base of the tree and two grieving parents.
The robin and his female remained day after day in our garden. They’d sit close to the tree but never in it, seemingly unable to fly away from the memory of their babies. And they stayed like that for over a week. I thought my heart broke when the chicks died, but the parents’ grief brought me to tears.
And as for the pretty cat? Well, it comes back occasionally, but never as frequently as it used to. And every time it visits, it checks the tree where it murdered the chicks.
And as for me? I really don’t know what to feel about the cat anymore. Nature seems truly unfathomable from my human perspective.
I just wanted to share something that’s been on my mind. Hope I didn’t depress you, but in case I did, here’s the next part of Luca’s story to cheer you up 🙂
It was probably only half an hour after Luca left when the door to her prison opened again. Belle jumped up from the bench and rushed to the cell bars, ready to yell a world of insults at Luca.
“Hello, hello?” The ginger-haired lad who poked his head around the door smiled nervously at her. “I’ve come to let you out.” He waved a set of keys like a peace offering, then obviously reassured that Belle wasn’t about to bite his head off, stepped into the room and approached the cell.
Belle eyed him suspiciously. “Are you a werewolf too?”
“Yeah… uh… sort of.”
Sort of? He didn’t look much older than her with that baby face and those crazy freckles. And he was tall but stick-like, and his ungraceful movements didn’t seem to fit the image of a werewolf.
“You’re like the third or fourth trespasser we’ve had these past days,” he chatted as he unlocked the padlock and drew back the bolt. “It’s like buses. You wait forever for one, and then three come in a row.” He opened the door, and Belle warily walked out. “I guess you can tell we don’t get many visitors here,” he said with a sheepish shrug. “Not much excitement. In fact, the closest we came to anything thrilling was the first two guys breaking in, and the alpha nearly shredding them.”
Belle winced. So that was what passed for excitement around here.
“Oh, sorry,” he mumbled at her pained expression. “The alpha’s not usually like that.”
“He could have fooled me,” Belle said. She could well believe Luca was capable of shredding people to teeny bits. She gave the lad an earnest look. “My aunt… She came here earlier today. Do you know where she is?”
Concern lit his blue eyes. “Sorry. Don’t know anything about that I’m afraid.”
Belle’s shoulders slumped. He was telling the truth. She could sense it. And it meant she was no closer to rescuing Aunt Dee.
The lad held out his hand. “I’m Hero, by the way.”
“Belle,” she murmured half-heartedly as she shook it.
“Hey, look on the bright side. At least you won’t be spending the night in the cell.”
“That’s just wonderful. And why am I being let out now? What evil plan has your ‘alpha’ cooked up for me?”
“Um… he said you were to make yourself useful around the house.”
“Oh, so now I’m a servant?”
“Well, no… I mean, we work here, Uncle Hanson and me. But we like it. We don’t feel like servants.”
“Yes, but you have a choice. I don’t much feel like cleaning Luca’s toilets just because I accidentally trespassed.”
“Yeah, um…” Hero flashed her an embarrassed smile. “You’ll have to talk to the alpha about that. I just follow orders.” He darted to the wooden door. “I’ll show you to your room.”
Belle frowned and followed him. So now not only did she have the threat of the mate bond hanging over her, she also had to slave away for Luca. Damn right she was going to talk to him about this. She was going to rip him to pieces.
Hero’s long-legged stride moved him like the wind, and Belle found herself nearly running to keep up. Her cell had been down in the basement, and they soon climbed out into a cupboard-sized room that looked like it doubled as the lost coats room judging by all the sad-looking coats and wellington boots strewn around. From there they quickly stepped into a stone-floored corridor.
“Kitchen’s back there.” Hero pointed to a door behind them.
“Then I guess my room will be around here somewhere,” Belle said, noting the various nondescript wooden doors on either side of her. Servants usually slept near the kitchen, didn’t they?
“Nah, your room’s upstairs. Come on.” And indicating for her to follow, Hero dashed off down the corridor.
The house brightened and became grander the higher they climbed. Belle glanced around. She’d expected more dust and cobwebs, but the entrance hall on the ground floor was pristine. “I thought the place would look more unlived-in,” she mused as they passed huge expensive-looking paintings and alcoves containing tall marble statues.
“Some of the downstairs rooms do,” Hero said. “No one’s used them for years, probably because it’s been just the alpha here for so long with mainly Uncle Hanson and me. This old place’d be happier with more people running around, I reckon.”
“But what about your pack? Don’t the other werewolves come here?”
“They used to work here, kept the place neat and all that. But…” Hero shrugged. “Things haven’t been so good lately, so the alpha told them all to stay away. We’re only here because Uncle Hanson and I refused to leave.”
Was it finances? Belle studied the hall’s opulent decor and crystal chandelier. A place like this would be a money pit to run, and it wouldn’t be the first big house to fall victim to an owner’s change of circumstances. For a moment, her heart went out to Luca. This was obviously his ancestral home, and to think he might be struggling to keep it made him seem almost human. “It must be hard finding the funds to run such a big house,” she murmured.
Hero stared at her. “Ah, no. It isn’t that. It’s—” But he suddenly clammed up. “Um… let’s take the stairs.” And he bounded up the enormous staircase leading up to the first floor.
Belle frowned after him. More secrets the ’trespasser’ shouldn’t know. Well, every topic couldn’t be off limits. And she set out to dig for whatever information she could find. “Your alpha…” she said, puffing after Hero. “He can cast magic. I thought werewolves couldn’t.”
“Well, I can’t,” Hero said with a laugh. “Would love to though. There’s a few people I wouldn’t mind turning into worms. But yeah, us werewolves don’t deal in magic, even though we all have witches as mothers and sisters. Good news is we’re immune to all but the strongest of spells. But the alpha is pure lycan, so he can blast people to kingdom come, or just go wolf on them and rip ‘em to pieces.”
“What’s a lycan?” Belle asked, catching up with him at the top of the staircase.
“You never heard of lycans?” Hero asked in surprise as he strode on.
“I know very little about werewolves.”
“You know a werewolf is born to a werewolf father and a human witch mother, right?”
“Well, lycans are born to a daemon father and a werewolf mother,” Hero said. “It’s pretty rare actually coz a female werewolf is born, like… well, never. I haven’t met one and don’t know any wolf who has.”
“So Luca’s mother was some kind of rare werewolf?”
“No, she was a human sorceress. His great-grandmother, Lady Merla, was the werewolf dame. Heard she was quite the character too, a real deadly hunter, not to be messed with. But the lycan gene passes cleanly from father to son once it’s created, just like every supernatural gene. As long as there are sons, it’ll exist.”
That was her job, wasn’t it? Belle glanced away in worry. If Luca was a lycan, and she was a lycan’s soulmate, then it was on her shoulders to have the sons he needed to continue his lineage. Maybe that was why he’d been so adamant about needing her, even keeping her prisoner for it. But she could never give in to their mate bond. For one thing, need didn’t equal love. But more scarily, there was no telling what magical horrors mating with him would unleash in her.
“Some of us though, it doesn’t matter if we have sons or not.” Hero’s quiet words broke into her troubled thoughts. “Best not to pass the gene on.”
Belle looked at him. There was a sad faraway look in his eyes. “You’re talking about yourself,” she guessed as they walked down a corridor.
“Ah, sorry. It came out.” He shot her an apologetic glance. “It’s just… always there, you know.” And he tapped the side of his head with a finger.
“Why did you say you were a ‘sort of’ werewolf?” Belle asked with a frown.
Hero sighed. “I’m an omega,” And when she gave him a quizzical look, “lowest of the low,” he explained.
“Obvious isn’t it?” He indicated his slim form. “I’m not exactly going to beat the crap out of any other werewolf in a one-on-one fight. And when I change to wolf…” He pulled a curl of his red-orange hair. “My coat stays tinged with this colour. Really mucks up the camouflage. Even a newborn buck can see me coming from a mile away.”
“Like a big fox?” Belle asked, trying to picture an orange wolf.
“Not that bad,” Hero said, shooting her a long-suffering look.
“Sorry. I wasn’t teasing. It was just the first image that came to mind.”
“It’s fine. I know. But it’s mostly around my collar and down my back. I’m grey-black everywhere else, same colour as Uncle Hanson. Thing is though, none of the hunters will have me on their crew. And a wolf who can’t hunt, or isn’t even strong enough to fight… Well, he isn’t really a wolf, is he?”
Belle studied him. “Maybe you just need to grow into your strength? You still seem quite young.”
“I’m twenty-one,” Hero said indignantly. “And there are plenty of dork-heads younger than me in town who can challenge even the adults and win their respect.” He shrugged. “Nah, I’m just ‘carrot-top’. It mightn’t have been so bad if Uncle Hanson hadn’t been prime-beta, the alpha’s right hand. That kind of power and strength runs in families, you know. Everyone expected me to have inherited it.”
“When something is broken inside, and you’re not who you’re meant to be…” Belle gave him a wry smile. “I might know a thing or two about that.”
“What’s your story?”
Was it wise to reveal her weakness? But if she was stuck here in Fairfall, people were going to find out anyway. “I’m a witch without magic,” she admitted.
“You can’t be a witch if you have no magic.”
“Oh, I have magic all right. Plant magic. But I can barely use it. Most of the time, it’s like it doesn’t exist. And then sometimes it goes off like an atom bomb. I can’t control it.”
“Oh, man.” Hero took a careful step away. “So you’re like a walking magical grenade?”
“Well, it’s been years since anything really bad happened,” Belle conceded.
“Phew!” He came back to her side, then shot her a wry smile. “Maybe you’ll grow out of it?”
Belle laughed. “I doubt it.”
They’d reached another wide staircase, and a sudden uneasiness overtook Belle, an eerie feeling, like eyes were watching her. She shivered and glanced at the scenic paintings lining the staircase wall as she climbed. But they were all landscapes with not a face in sight. “Hero, is this house haunted?”
He turned back to her. “You know old places. They’re bound to have a spook or two tucked away in the corners.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“Sorry. Just kidding. No ghosts that I know of.”
“What was that…?” Belle slammed to a halt at the top of the stairs. That voice… she couldn’t have imagined it. It had sounded like a woman. Frowning, she strained to hear more.
Hero shot her a nervous look. “What’s wrong?”
To be continued next week…