Sunday, April 03, 2011
by Amanda Steiger
Cover art: Marteeka Karland
Theme(s): Werewolves, Gay and Lesbian
Haden is half-human and half-Folk -- a breed of wolf shifters who must find a bondmate when they reach adulthood... or die of bond deprivation sickness. But after a lifetime of being bullied by his pack and ostracized for his heritage, Haden's not ready to open his heart to anyone. Then he crashes his motorcycle and finds himself in the care of a powerful Folk male who stirs his blood like no other.
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2011 Amanda Steiger
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Haden rolled over in bed and buried his face against the pillow. Cold wind whistled through his open window, billowing through the curtains and caressing his naked, sweat-dampened skin. It was thirty degrees outside -- a cold, dark Maine night. The heater in his bedroom barely worked, but in spite of that and the open window, he was drowning in sweat. It poured out of every pore and drenched the sheets. He rolled over again, panting, his brow burning dully with fever.
He knew what it was, of course. The fevers and headaches, though agonizing, were the least serious symptom of bond deprivation sickness. There was worse to come. He was twenty-three -- still young, but past the age when most of his kind had already taken a bondmate.
His jaw clenched, and his hands fisted on the sheets. He'd hoped that he might avoid this. He was half human after all, and God knew his heritage had caused him enough trouble growing up among the Folk. His human blood should be good for something, shouldn't it?
So he'd thought... but it seemed that his genes weren't doing anything to cushion the effects of bond deprivation.
"Damn it," he said through clenched teeth. Claws sprouted from his fingertips, puncturing his pillow. He took a deep breath and retracted them.
He was never going to get to sleep like this. He flung the sheets aside, walked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge. He chugged it, hoping it would take the edge off his anxiety, but the knot of tension remained lodged in his gut.
His skin tingled, every nerve-ending hypersensitive. His fingers tightened on the bottle and it shattered, glass shards slicing through skin. He cursed and sucked the blood from his fingers. Despite the pain and the cold, sick fear squirming in his stomach, he had a raging hard-on. And he knew from experience that jerking off would only take the edge off for a short while. Then the need would be back, deeper and stronger than before, as if every orgasm fed it -- like trying to slake his thirst with saltwater.
These days, it was always like this. Feelings bombarded him, and he was swept up like a leaf in a river, powerless.
Haden crouched, picked up the bloody glass shards and tossed them into the trash. As he straightened, wooziness hit him like a slap, making him sway on his feet.
He'd long since given up the hope that it was just a persistent flu bug. His body was trying to push him to mate. But for those born of the Folk, the act of mating was binding. And there was no one he trusted that much. Hell, no one he trusted, period.
He couldn't take this anymore. He had to get out. Where, he didn't know -- just out.
He threw on a faded leather jacket and a pair of jeans and walked out of the house, into the cool, dark night. Pine trees surrounded his mountain home, spicing the air with their fresh, sharp scent. Through gaps in the trees, he could see the gleam of moonlight on water: the ocean. He'd always found the sound of its waves comforting, but tonight, nothing soothed his jangled nerves.
The house was on his pack's ancestral land. It had belonged to his mother while she was alive. He'd grown up here, with her trying her best to shield him from his packmates' aggression.
There were some Folk who didn't frown on mating with humans and bore no resentment toward half-bloods... or so he'd heard. But they were the rare exceptions to the rule, and his pack's attitude was much more traditional. The typical way of dealing with half-bloods was to kill them immediately after their birth. Only his mother's fierce devotion had saved him from that fate.
Haden stared out at the ocean. His nostrils twitched, sampling the hint of salt on the breeze.
For an instant he thought he glimpsed a shadow moving through the trees and a faint musty scent reached his nose. The hairs on the back of his neck tingled and stood up. "Who's out there?" he called, making his voice as deep and rough as he could. No response. The scent was gone. A wind sighed through the trees, swaying their branches.
These days he often had the feeling that something or someone was watching him, but it always turned out to be nothing -- a moon-shadow or a bush stirring in the wind. Probably, it was just nerves. But knowing that didn't quiet the restless, itchy, caged feeling crawling around under his skin. And he knew there was only one thing he could do to make that feeling go away.
Haden shuddered and wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly cold.
Mom had always told him that he would one day have to take a mate. That it was the way of the Folk. Her own bondmate had been a human -- one who'd abandoned her and left her to slowly die of bond deprivation. After watching the bond kill the only person he loved, was Haden supposed to accept his fate? Was he supposed to bind himself to one of his packmates, one of those who hated him and would have crushed his infant skull, given the chance? Even if he could find someone willing to accept a half-blood, the thought of being so vulnerable to another person made his survival instincts scream in protest. Surviving meant keeping to himself, keeping out of sight.
His bike was parked in the yard. He started up the engine and sped down the street, his headlight cutting through the fog. Below the road, to the east, the sea lay vast and dark under the starry sky. To the west lay dark forests.
He rode, cold wind stinging his face, not knowing where he was going -- just that he had to get away. Even when it began to rain in icy, stinging pellets, he didn't slow.
Too late, he saw the patch of ice gleaming on the pavement. He hit it, skidded, and spun off the road. Ground and sky flashed past his vision. Then there was a sickening jolt, a blinding flash of pain, and everything went black.