Excerpt #1 | Excerpt #2
I pray this finds you open-minded, for I must right an injustice. Centuries have passed since I made my fateful venture into Lost Woods. I still remember most of those events as if they happened yesterday.
Time has a way of folding within itself. Perhaps some of you know this. Forgive me if verbiage of centuries past cedes with that of today. Stephan says it’s to be expected.
He’s why I’m writing this. Enough time has passed for our people to be safe, as long as I exercise caution and restraint. For his sake I shall keep names and locations vague. I pray you agree no precautions are too great for loved ones.
Forgive me. I have once again rambled on with my exuberance and failed to introduce myself.
I’m Hannah. You, dear readers, know me best as Little Red Riding Hood. I caution you, the tale I tell this evening isn’t for the meek, nor is it a child’s tale. But it must be told, and I beseech you to spread its truth for the sake of love and carry it in your heart.
Here is the true tale of my big bad wolf—Stephan.
I can still remember the first time I saw him. I was much younger then—a foolish girl wandering alone in the woods, who had disobeyed Gran yet again to wander off the beaten path. After all, who would want to remain on the road taken by all when there was an entire forest of thick pine to explore? It was my treasure, and I was the mighty pirate looking for my chest of wares.
Darkness had begun descending when I heard the first pained call—a howl more than a cry.
Lonely and angry, it reverberated through the thick trees, bouncing off the bark with a rage my young, foolish self couldn’t fathom. Instead of fleeing, I ran toward him as if his voice resonated from within me. A compulsion to save him from whatever pain he endured overwhelmed my undeveloped senses. Surely I, the mighty pirate of Lost Woods, could do something. I was fearless, determined and a mighty eight years old.
I can still feel the thicket scraping my skin as I raced through an unexplored patch of my treasure chest. Dark, dank and eerily still, the woods seemed to warn me of the threat with its deathly silence, but I paid it no heed. I ran harder. Faster. Even the air choked me with its thinness as I raced upward, deeper into the trees than I’d been. Surely farther than anyone of my meager village had been. Oh what an adventure—one only for me.
Except for him. His pained cries thrummed within my ears, deafening me with his need and burdening me with a weight I was so unprepared to carry. Tears glistened in my eyes as my scrawny legs raced faster than ever. My feet pounded brutally into the soft earth. Mama’s wrath would be wrought on me for damaging my best shoes. My fingers throbbed, knowing they’d have to stitch whatever seams slipped from the treated leather skins. I bounded through the thicket and stilled when I saw him.
My heart ceased beating as I gazed in stunned awe at the shiny coat, glistening with moisture. A beam of moonlight splayed through the branches overhead, accentuating his magnificent pelt. I thought him a wolf like any other until I witnessed a shift. He howled his outrage as his body twisted and contorted before my naïve eyes. A young man lay before me, his leg mangled badly by a downed tree.
A sheen of sweat covered his brow as he looked at me, his eyes wide with fright or shock. I never found out which. It wasn’t like him to speak of emotions. Not even then.
I can still remember his prepubescent voice, deep yet still childlike—nothing like the pained howls which had beckoned me to his aid.
“Leave this place,” he growled.
I stepped forward. For some reason I wasn’t frightened by the anomaly he presented. I felt only his pain. His need. Sympathetic waves of discomfort pulsed through my exhausted limbs as I took another step toward him and extended my hand.
Looking back at that moment, I admit my foolish naivety, and I certainly can’t explain why I thought a formal introduction was in order. He regarded me as if I was daft. In all honesty,
I probably was. What other reason would I have been there?
“My compulsion wasn’t for you. It was for my kind. Leave this place before they…” He grimaced and bellowed as flesh gave way to the shiny pelt I’d been so enthralled by earlier.
I was close enough to touch him, to run my fingers across his front paw in a small measure of comfort, but I didn’t dare. Not when his gaze pinned me in place a mere two-hand distance from him. So close, yet held in place by an unseen power. It felt like he was restraining me, but he couldn’t have been.
A moment of fear raced through me, and then it was gone—both the fear and the sensation of not being able to move. I sat on the damp sod beside him as he shifted yet again to the charming boy with the soft golden eyes. I lifted my chin and mimicked the dithering look my gran had used on me for years. “You don’t scare me. You need me. I’m not leaving you, whoever you are—whatever you are.”
I glanced at the tree we both knew I was far too weak to move. I removed my favorite red cloak, the one my gran had given me two moons past, and folded it up. I placed and then gently ran my hand across his forehead. “They’ll be here soon. They’ll save you. I’ll keep you company until they do. What’s your name?”
His eyes closed and he growled. I could feel his skin shift beneath my fingers, as if he was fighting a natural instinct.
“What makes you do that? What are you?”
“I won’t harm you.” His voice was soft. His breathing was labored as he opened his eyes.
“I know.” His skin was hot to the touch. “Why do you do it so often?”
“I can’t control it when I’m injured. I’m too weak.” Anger and pain punctuated his words. Surely boys of his kind were the same as those I knew, and my brother would never like admitting weakness. I admired the bravery he displayed in confessing his problem to me—a stranger. A girl. He relaxed into the soft pillow my cloak provided.
“You are far from weak. I heard you from a great distance. I will keep you company until they arrive.”
“Your kind can never know of mine. It is our code, and the code must be upheld. Leave this place. I don’t wish them to harm you.” His concern touched my young soul, strengthened its resolve to remain in the dark thicket of trees even as the biting cold breeze brushed across my flesh. I shivered. “Why are you not scared?”
“Gran taught us to embrace all creatures with respect and love. Only then will we get that love and respect back. Surely that includes you.” The wind bit into my flesh, and I shivered again. He closed his eyes. “Don’t fight your need to change. It doesn’t scare me. Rest and I will tell you about Gran and my village.”
His hand came up and pulled at an amulet dangling from his neck. Placing it in my hand, he spoke with determination. “Wear this at all times. It will keep you safe. Rest against me and I will keep you warm. Together we will make it through the night.”
And we did.
My pulse quickened and I fiddled with the hem of my borrowed dress. I gawked at his powerful body as he greeted Nalla. His eyes danced with adoration when around her, and I wished I could see the same glimmer in his eyes when he thought of me.
The same type of clinging leather pants molded against his powerful thighs. Muscle rippled across his stomach, partially visible through the open wood-colored vest. His chest was unmarred by hair. My fingers longed to trace the contours of his smooth skin.
Heat spread through me to center at my nether regions. I squeezed my thighs together and looked down because I was afraid my cheeks were stained with shame. My attraction to him had grown, and my body refused to behave.
His long legs brought him to me faster than I was prepared for. I stood, my legs wobbling as my breathing accelerated. His hands grasped my arms, steadying me with a strength that made me shiver. Not even the mightiest of my village’s fighters were so honed and muscular. I’d seen enough of his people to know none of the men in his pride were like the men I was accustomed to.
Thanks. Not only was it a naïve and foolish thing to say, but it came out with a meekness that made my mind scream at my blathering tongue. I’d thought of clever retorts and envisioned conversations with him about many things for the past few nights. I’d even fantasized about him.
And all I had to say when he stood before me was “thanks”. A flicker of darkness appeared and disappeared in his golden eyes.
Nalla shuffled a chair. The dragging sound across the bare floor of the eating area pulled me from my lustful thoughts. I focused my attention to where his fingers touched my skin. Tingles danced there and spread through me like molten fire. Heat rushed to my core. My pussy moistened. My nipples hardened.
I fought the urge to tug on my dress or look down to see if it was apparent. I refused to sever my contact with him.
“She’s been asking about you.” Nalla’s voice quashed the connection I’d felt. I stepped back enough to allow my heartbeat to slow, but his assessing gaze remained on me, and I was lost in the tumbling waves of desire his presence had incited.
“Really?” His voice, filled with curiosity, made me smile. “I’ve been catching up on pride issues. Some of it is quite tedious. I’m sure your company would have broken up the monotony.”
“She has a restless spirit, much like you.” Nalla chuckled. “Were she one of us, she’d be prowling in animal form.”
Stephan grinned. I couldn’t understand their amusement, but I knew she had no ill regard for me. She sat at the table and regarded us.
“Is her leg healing well?” he asked.
I hadn’t realized how injured my leg was until Nalla had begun treating it. “Those poultices of hers don’t burn anymore. Surely that’s a good sign.”
Nalla laughed. The rich tones of her wise voice soothed me. I hadn’t realized I missed my gran until that moment. They were too alike for me not to be drawn to her.
“She’s been asking about your talisman and wanted to walk the village. Perhaps you can appease her.”
“Sure.” His voice was low. “I’ll gladly tell her why she has our talisman and what it represents.”
“Your father wouldn’t approve.”
“Then it’s a good thing I stopped heeding his advice long ago. If anyone has need of me, send Fallon for me.”
Fallon. “He’s your brother, right?”
“I see you’ve been learning of my family. I trust Nalla’s delighted in telling you many stories of my foolish youth.”
I wished that was the case. The woman had offered nothing.
“I will, now that I see you approve.”
Stephan chuckled and touched my arm. The contact made my skin tingle. “Let us go before she starts now.”
His arm rested on my back just above my waist. Cool air whipped through my hair when we exited the home I’d been locked away in. Unable to contain my glee, I paused and took a deep breath.
“I should’ve come sooner, but Nalla kept telling me you needed to heal.”
“She’s very protective.”
“It’s in her blood. Women in my clan have been healers for many generations.” His hand fell away from me when we began to walk through his village.
Everyone halted their activities as we passed. I found their scrutiny disconcerting. The first few moved to their knees as if about to undertake a chore I didn’t understand. All the homes we passed resembled one another. Most displayed a talisman on the entry.
I tried to study them without being obvious, but decided it best not to when Stephan drew me closer to him.
“Your people don’t like me.”
“They’re unaccustomed to strangers. There’s a difference.” The sincerity calmed my nervousness even though I doubted it was the truth for everyone.
“I’ve heard some of them yelling at Nalla.” I winced when his jaw twitched. “She tries to hide it, but I hear them. They want me gone.”
“She should have told me this. I would’ve dealt with their meddling myself.”
I shook my head. “They have a right to be upset. I’m doing nothing to earn my keep and am not of your pride.”
We continued our path toward the woods and my pulse quickened when I realized he didn’t intend to remain within the village. A few awkward smiles greeted me once we neared a group of homes with the same talisman that I wore around my neck.
“This is your family’s area?”
He nodded. “On my father’s side.”
“Why isn’t Nalla here? She displays this talisman, yet is on the other side of the village.”
“She’s on my mother’s side, but may display whichever talisman she feels within her soul since she’s a healer. She’s chosen this one since it’s stronger than her other option.”
“Do all your kind get that option?”
“Only the healers or those within the royal line.” His hand returned to my back and drew me toward him until my thigh brushed his as we walked. “You gather information well.” My mind swelled with his admiration.
He paused and turned me to face him. His attention moved to the village, now a good distance from our secluded cove. I was fascinated by the large tree misshapen by time. Its trunk was hollowed near the base. A small sitting stool rested within the area.
“This is my retreat.”
His fingers grazed my cheek. My heart flailed in my chest. He’d brought me here—trusted me with his private spot. Could he be feeling the heat between us as I did? My breathing became ragged. My nipples ached with a hardness my naïve mind couldn’t deny. My entire body yearned for Stephan.
“You have no idea what hunger you incite in me, Hannah.” His breath fell against my forehead as he drew me forward until my hips collided with his groin. “Your thoughts drive me mad with the need to possess you.”
I stumbled on his statement, but any attempt to understand it vanished when his hand wrapped in my hair and he drew me to his lips. I closed my eyes. Unable to breathe, I prayed my pounding pulse wouldn’t explode with the turbulent flames of anticipation burning me.
His lips caressed mine and his tongue tasted my mouth, tracing the contours before foraying to my tongue. I swallowed his groan, thinking it more of a growl. My arms wrapped around him.
The kiss was unexpected and unlike any of the wayward advances village men had made—not that many had tried. I followed his lead and clung to him, my body burning with a need I didn’t understand or know how to sate. All I knew was Stephan would absolve me from my raging desires.
His kiss grew more demanding, more consuming. I relished his body crushed against mine. Heat spread through my legs as he lifted my dress. I moaned when he guided me toward the tree until my back was pressed against it. His hand ran up my thigh while his mouth claimed mine.
His other hand rubbed an aching nipple through my dress. I longed to strip and feel his fingers on me there. A growl echoed around us and mingled with my gasp as his fingers found my pussy.
Hot lips moved to my ear. The huskiness of his voice rumbled through me. “You’re so wet for me, Hannah.”