In the Scottish wood, a clan of immortal shape-shifting wolves takes in an orphan girl, Gillian, as one of their own. But when she matures into a beautiful woman and falls for a mere mortal, her forest family and new lover are plunged into a fiery, passionate struggle to claim Gillian's heart, body, and soul...
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April 29, 2003
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Excerpt from Catching Midnight by Emma Holly
London, November 1349
"Get out!" cried Gillian's mother, hoarse from days of weeping. She pulled one hand from cradling the baby's head so she could point. "Get out before it is too late!"
"Mama?" said Gillian. She hovered inside the threshold of their crooked wood-framed house, afraid to enter but even more afraid to leave. She was only ten, far too young to face the horror in the streets.
But that, it seemed, was what her mother wished.
Her mother coughed into her hand, then cuddled the baby closer to her breast. His dimpled little arms hung limp. Beneath the left was a blackened swelling, the pestilence's telltale bubo. Gillian shifted her glance from it to her mother's face.
Her cheeks had not looked fevered the night before.
"You must leave," her mother said. "You are the only one of us who might survive."
She sounded angry. Watching her, Gillian tried not to wish her mother had ever stroked her hair the way she was stroking Col's. Col was the boy and he was sick. Her mother had borne other babies, boys both, who had not lived to see their swaddling. Naturally she wanted to save the one who had.
"Wh-where shall I go?" she asked, the question squeaking.
For a moment she thought her mother would not answer. She looked so weary, even wearier than when Papa had gone to France with the soldiers to seek his fortune. Her eyes were shut, her cheeks roughened by drying tears. She coughed again, then turned her reddened gaze to meet her daughter's.
"Go to the forest," she said. "You know you love playing in the woods."
By myself? Gillian thought. I should go into the forest by myself? But she did not say the words, no more than she asked when she might come back. Instead, biting her lip, she moved to gather the loaf that sat on their splintered table. Else she would have no food at all. The bread was almost white. A luxury bought with hoarded coin.
"No!" snapped her mother before she could touch the crust. Chin aquiver, Gillian snatched back her hand. Her mother softened her tone. "It might be tainted, Gill. I do not want you to take sick."
Gillian stared at her. Sometimes she sensed things other people could not, secrets hidden behind the masks they wore for the world. Her mother would scold her if she spoke of what she saw, telling her such nonsense was the devil's work. The devil's work it might be, but Gillian was not sure it was nonsense. She knew when shopkeepers meant to cheat them, knew when the butcher's daughter feared the back of her father's hand. Now a suspicion dawned at the awkward look on her mother's face. Her mother did not believe the loaf was tainted. She was saving that fine white bread for Col: Col, who would probably die before he got the good of it.
When her mother dropped her eyes, Gillian knew the guess was true.
She backed away, blinded until her pooling tears spilled down. "Good-bye," she said unsurely and then, because she could not help it: "I love you, Mama."
Her mother made a sound like a hinge in need of oiling. Still rocking the baby, she pressed one fist to her mouth. "You live," she said fiercely. "You live."
Gillian would rather her mother say she loved her back. For the last time, she looked around the room where she had been born: at the chickens scratching listlessly in the corner, at Col's battered cradle, at the stool by the fire where her papa had liked to whittle fancy spoon handles out of wood. He had been able to make them look like anything, like animals or trees or even people's faces. She remembered how he had leaned over his knees while he worked. Had he loved her? She could not recall the feeling if he had, only the pile of shavings between his feet.