Friday, March 07, 2014

Feral Heat--Excerpt 2

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Feral Heat by Jennifer Ashley

Chapter One (continued)

Deni’s heart beat swiftly as she pulled on the sarong she’d thrown off to rush into the fight with Broderick. Broderick’s scent of arrogance had enraged her, and she’d wanted to pummel him for jumping the other Shifter without challenge.

Then she’d felt her memory slide away, the feral thing inside her taking over. She shivered. Her wildness hadn’t receded until Jace had smacked the wolf down himself, and Deni had fallen away from the fight.

Jace hadn’t then turned around and kicked her butt, as he’d had a right to for interfering. Instead he’d touched her, licked her with his strange Feline sandpapery tongue, then held on to her after she’d changed back to human.

Deni was still shaky as they entered the fight club’s main area. Jace kept hold of her hand. It was a big hand, warm but callused, his grip strong. He was a fighter, a warrior.

If Deni remembered right, Jace Warden was the son of Eric Warden, leader of the Las Vegas Shiftertown. Jace was third in command there, the second in command being Eric’s sister. Jace would be in the most dominant Feline clan of his Shiftertown, and in the most dominant Feline pride of that clan. The top of the top.

Alphas usually bugged Deni, because they could be arrogant shits, but only concern and protection flowed from Jace. An alpha interested in taking care of others. What a concept.

The biggest crowd gathered around the central ring—the other two rings were empty. From throats, beast and human, came wild cries, delight in whoever was winning, groaning from those foolish enough not to back Dylan.

Jace moved through the throng to the ring. Shifters moved aside for him, most without noticing they did so. Instinct, Deni guessed—sensing that they should get out of Jace’s way before he made it an order.

A large man stood at the perimeter of the ring, arms folded, the Sword of the Guardian on his back. Deni always felt a frisson of dread when she saw the sword, whose purpose was to be driven through the hearts of dead or dying Shifters. The sword pierced the heart, and the Shifter turned to dust, his or her soul following the pathway to the Summerland.

The sword shimmered a little in the flickering light. Other Shifters gave the Guardian a wide berth, also uncomfortable with him. Kind of hard on Sean, Deni always thought, but Sean had been much less haunted since he’d taken a mate.

A human woman stood next to Sean—not his mate. She was the scrappy woman who’d tied herself to Ronan, a Kodiak bear, who was even now in the ring, fighting Dylan. The woman—Elizabeth—danced on top of the cement blocks, cheering for Ronan at the top of her lungs.

Sean would be standing as second for Dylan, his father. A second’s job was to make sure that no one interfered with the fight and that the other side didn’t cheat. Dylan and Ronan would go for a fair, straight fight, but other Shifters could be cunning. The seconds were there for a reason.

Dylan was the black-maned lion snarling in the middle of the ring, his paws moving lightning fast as he battled the bigger bulk of the Kodiak. Ronan was fully shifted to bear, his ruff standing up, his eyes alight with fighting fury. Ronan’s Collar sparked deep into his fur, but Dylan’s was quiet.

“Unfair advantage,” Jace said into Deni’s ear. “Dylan knows how to keep his Collar from going off.”

Deni had to turn her head and stand on tiptoe to answer into Jace’s ear. His hand in hers was warm, and she leaned close. “That’s why he only fights the strongest: Ronan, or Spike, who’s the champion. Sometimes Dylan lets his Collar go off on purpose, to keep things interesting.”

“But he usually wins anyway,” Jace finished.

He had a rumbling baritone that tickled inside her ear, his hot breath making Deni tingle even more. She squeezed his fingers a little, and was rewarded with an answering squeeze.

Ronan roared. His Collar was sparking, his mate yelling her encouragement, but Deni saw her worry. These matches weren’t to the death, but Shifters could be badly hurt in them.

Deni could scent and sense Elizabeth’s excitement tinged with fear. She also caught Sean’s tenseness as he watched his father battle. If something went wrong, if one of the Shifters was hurt so much the Guardian was needed, Sean would have to plunge his sword into the heart of either his father or his close friend.

Deni caught his sorrow—Sean had had to send one of his brothers to dust a dozen years ago—which laced through the sorrow in her own heart. Deni wished her cubs were here, her boys, but they were working at their jobs in the city, earning what little money Shifters were allowed to earn.

Dylan backed away from Ronan’s onslaught, ears flat on his head. He didn’t roar—Dylan’s roar could shake apart the town—but his growls filled the space.

The sound caught in Deni’s nerves, calling to the feral inside her. All Shifters had the instinct to throw off any polish of civilization, to revert to their wild forms, to return to the time when they’d been bred to fight and hunt. Even after a thousand and more years, Shifters retained the same basic instincts—fight or be killed, hunt or be hunted.

Shifters had come up with strict rules made to tame their inner beasts. To keep themselves from tearing each other apart after they’d fought free of their Fae masters, Shifters had agreed to certain rituals that must be performed in regard to mating, fighting, and even death. Take those away, and they were simply animals who could make themselves look human.

Deni’s motorcycle accident last year had robbed her of the veneer of calm Shifters strived to learn. The wreck must have jarred something loose in Deni’s brain, because she’d been fighting her instincts ever since, often losing. Knowing the bastard who’d run her down was dead had helped her begin to heal, but she wasn’t there yet.

In the midst of the growls, snarls, roars, and cheers, with the scent of blood and sweat pouring from the ring, Deni’s thoughts began to tangle. Her scent sense heightened, bringing in the excitement of the Shifters, the bloodlust in Dylan, the singed-fur smell from the sparking Collars, the strong male scent of Jace Warden next to her.

She probably would have been all right with Jace’s calming hand in hers, if the fighting Shifters had been anyone else, but Dylan had a powerful Shifter presence. Being alpha didn’t simply mean winning fights and scaring Shifters into submission. It was an indefinable something about the Shifter—scent, timbre of voice, subtle compulsion to follow this male. In animal form, it was more apparent, and Dylan was broadcasting his force loud and clear.

Since the accident, Deni had been able to use her animal senses fully in her human form. All Shifters retained some of their superior senses of hearing, scenting, and tracking ability when human, but they were muted, distant, able to be pushed aside so the Shifter could live as human without going crazy.

Not so for Deni. She had to constantly fight herself not to shift, attack, or even kill when she was confused, afraid, or angry. Going feral was the term. Her Collar tried to shock sense into her, but that only resulted in more pain, more confusion, more anger.

Deni smelled Dylan’s fighting blood, which announced to everyone there he was far stronger and meaner than the giant bear he battled. Ronan continued swinging his enormous paws, landing blows on the smaller lion. Dylan’s lithe body moved and flowed with the hits that would have crushed any Shifter who’d stood still and taken them. Dylan’s lion’s paws moved in a flurry, batting back the bear with the swift, manic strength of a cat.

Deni’s wolf howled to life. She wanted to leap into the ring, rush to Dylan’s side, and help him fight. He was her alpha—he’d been leader of all Shifters for a long time before conceding his position to his son. Ronan was lesser than Deni, and he dared to confront Dylan. Now Ronan must pay.

Deni clenched her free hand into a fist, jaw so tight it ached. She shouldn’t be here—she should have gone home and not let the compelling Jace talk her into watching the battle. She now wanted more than anything to break all the rules of the fight club and run into the ring. Ronan would knock her senseless before he could stop himself, but her wolf didn’t care. The bear needed to go down.

Deni started to growl, the sound rising in her throat. Her Collar snapped a spark into her, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t stop. And that terrified her most of all.

“Hey,” a deep voice in her ear rumbled. “Hold it together.”

Jace. His warmth covered her side, his stern command reaching her inner beast and stilling the need to shift. Deni realized her fingers had already changed to wolf claws, and fur ran from her head down her back, which was bared by the sarong.

Jace didn’t let go of her hand, though she felt her claws pierce his skin. He ran his other hand, warm and broad-palmed, up and down her back, which returned to human smoothness.

“Want to go?” he asked her.

Deni nodded. She couldn’t see much anymore—the fires and lanterns blurred into one whirling light, the shouts and growls blending into a mass of animal sound.

Jace tugged her away, again becoming the lifeline that drew her through the crowd. In the howling, swirling madness, Jace was a constant, his warmth pulling her onward.

He took her into the parking lot, turning her away from the lights. Once the cool night air touched her, darkness erasing the maddening lights, Deni drew a long breath. Her fur and claws receded, leaving her on her human feet, shaking.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Jace was saying as they threaded their way through parked vehicles. She heard his voice but didn’t pay much attention to the words. “I shouldn’t have taken you in there. I didn’t realize it was that bad.”

“It’s bad,” Deni said, nodding. She wasn’t concentrating on her words either. “I should have stayed home tonight, but I needed . . .” She shivered. “I don’t know what I needed.”

Not true. Deni had needed escape, life, not hiding in the dark. Her sons had gone to work, Ellison had taken his mate, Maria, out for dinner and probably sex, and the rest of Shiftertown had emptied to attend the fight club. Sit at home and mope or go out and be with her friends and neighbors? She’d been tired of moping, so here she was.

Deni’s uncontrolled instincts were punishing her now. Jace had known to take her out of there before she did something stupid, but the wildness in her didn’t calm. It needed release.

Deni’s wolf needed to fight, to hunt, to kill. Robbed of that, the she-wolf in her wanted the nearest thing to it.

She swung to Jace, his scent filling her, his strength calling to her. He was solid, strong, alpha, male, and he was here with her in the dark. She couldn’t have stopped herself even if she’d wanted to.

Deni slammed both hands to Jace’s chest. He caught her with a strong grip but fell against the side of a pickup, carrying her back with him. He had a musky male scent, a little wild, like the woods on a moonlit night. The moon was high and full tonight, always irresistible to a wolf.

Jace’s eyes were unusual, jade green, the color heightened by his tanned face and brown black hair he’d buzzed short. He was large too, but agile and athletic.

He watched her, not shoving her away, not angry. Just watching.

Another surge of sound came from the arena, human and animal crying out for blood. Deni snarled, pinned Jace against the truck, and kissed him hard on the mouth.

*** *** ***

Stay tuned for more . . .

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(Copyright 2014 by Jennifer Ashley)

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