A Life For A Life
The Chanku are gifted with more power--of mind, body, and soul--than the most superior of humans. Yet even these exceptional beings cannot change the laws of nature...or destiny. And when one loses his human life mate to a tragic accident, he is shattered by grief he never imagined possible...
The only thing worse than losing his love is knowing that her death was caused by the incompetence of a goddess supposedly possessed of timeless wisdom. The justice dealt for the goddess's horrible mistake is a demotion--from immortal to human--and the charge of filling the missing space in the Montana pack. But while some accept her quickly, not all are so willing...
It is time for Anton, Stefan, and Adam to test the newcomer: to see if she can withstand the heights of ecstasy these Chanku men will show her--and to discover whether, when faced with the ultimate sacrifice, she will make the right choice...
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June 29, 2010
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Excerpt from Wolf Tales 10 by Kate Douglas
Adam awoke beneath a sunny sky. He took a moment to regain his bearings before he realized he was in Eve's meadow, lying naked among the drying primroses. Somehow he'd returned to his human form as he slept. He sat up, surprised to find himself back here, in the same spot where he'd said good-bye to his mate so many days ago.
Or had it been weeks? He wasn't sure, but frost edged the leaves around him and the air still carried the chill of night. Time had lost all meaning to him. Just as life had lost meaning.
He'd been a wolf so long he'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be human. He rubbed his hand over his chin, shocked to find the thick growth of beard covering his face. His hair hung almost to his shoulders. He passed his fingers over his face and felt tears on his cheeks.
Memories slammed him in the gut and he doubled over with a harsh cry. Eve was gone. The pain sliced through him, cutting a jagged rip through his heart.
It was too much. Too much for his human mind, his human heart. With another cry, he shifted.
His world, his perception of grief, shifted as well.
It was easier this way. Almost bearable. Life and death and time meant little to the wolf. Blinking, he stood up and shook himself.
This perfect meadow had once shimmered with the brilliant dark pink of wild primroses. Now, though, only a few dry flowers remained on the withered leaves. The bright blooms had dried and turned to seed. How much time had passed?
Time. He'd lost track of time since she'd left him. He knew he'd not been back here since they'd scattered her ashes among the flowers. He couldn't recall coming here the night before, but then he rarely paid any attention now to the places he wandered, the paths he traveled.
His first thought was to turn toward home, to the cottage he shared with Mei and Oliver and ...no. Not with Eve. No longer with Eve.
What was the point? He turned in the opposite direction and trotted into the woods. It was easier as a wolf. Less complicated. He felt his grief, but it was a distant thing. Not as consuming as when he took his human form.
This morning's shift had been an aberration. He preferred it this way, on four legs with his human memories shoved aside, buried while his feral nature took control. Now, instead of mourning the loss of his mate, he noted the sounds of life in the forest, the scent of game.
He'd grown adept at hunting alone. Before, he'd always run with the pack or hunted with Eve at his side. Now, he slipped naturally into the silent posture of a lone wolf on the prowl, moving through the dark woods as quiet as a wraith.
The cares of his human self faded once again and slipped away. The overwhelming grief subsided, the feeling that a part of him was missing. When he ran as the wolf he felt whole, and if not entirely alive, at least capable of hunting, of feeding himself.
He scented the rabbit as he slipped through thick grass along the bank of a small stream. Moving carefully, he concentrated on the cottontail, coming in downwind of the tiny creature.
By the time he finally pounced, leaping over a patch of bracken fern and grabbing the rabbit in his powerful jaws, he'd left his human self entirely behind.
And with it, his grief.
He ate the rabbit, wiped his bloodied muzzle off in the dry weeds and paused at the creek to drink. Then, stomach filled, he found a sunny patch and stretched out in a bed of soft grass.
For the very first time since her death, Eve came to him as he slept.
His beloved Eve, dressed all in white, her blond hair flowing about her shoulders, her beautiful gray eyes filled with compassion. She was his mate, yet not. He didn't understand what was different, but she had changed.
He reached for her, human now in his dream state, but she stepped back and shook her head. No, my love. No more.
I don't understand.
Our time is over. It was too short, but I've been called for another purpose.
He shook his head in angry denial. What purpose? What's more important than our love? Than the child we hoped to make?
Her sigh was audible and obviously frustrated. So typically Eve, even in his dream. I don't know. Only that I have been called and you have a life to live. Much to do in the years left to you. Don't waste them grieving for what cannot be. Look forward, as I am. I'm not asking you to forget me, but you must move on.
No, damn it!
He blinked, aware he was awake, that the sun had moved to the west and the air had grown cool with the coming of night. And he was human again. Why had he shifted now without intending to, twice in such a short span of hours?
How could he have lost the entire day, here beside the creek?
And what of Eve? She'd come to him in his dream, or was she merely his own wishful thinking?
No. If he'd wished for her, imagined her, she would never have told him to move on without her. He ran his fingers through the hair covering his chin. Then once again he shifted, stood up and shook himself. He gazed once in the direction of home. Then he turned and trotted in the opposite direction, into the woods.
Anton stood on the back deck, staring at the forest. He sensed his mate before he heard her, knew she worried, just as he did. Her hands slipped around his waist from behind and he covered her fingers with his.
"Did he come home?"
There was no need to say his name. They both worried about Adam. "No. I'm thinking of going after him."
"Do you sense him? Is he okay?"
Anton nodded. "I've been with him most of the day."
He'd left Adam alone for weeks now, checking in throughout each day to make sure he was okay, that he remained on familiar ground. Adam's thoughts had been easy to find amid the myriad mental signatures of his packmates. Feral and dark, the mind of the grieving wolf was a dark morass of anger and frustration.
But each hour saw him turning more toward the wolf, hiding his human grief in the complex mind of a predator. Avoiding those who loved him, who worried about him.
This was the first day Anton had stayed with him. The first day in weeks he'd truly run with the wolf in Adam's mind.
He turned and wrapped his arms around Keisha. He'd tried to put himself in Adam's place, tried to picture going on without his beloved mate.
He couldn't do it. Even to imagine such a loss was more than he could bear. It was impossible to criticize Adam's withdrawal from the pack when Anton feared he wouldn't find the strength to even draw his next breath, should he lose his beloved Keisha.
"He's not okay," he said, nuzzling her hair, inhaling her scent. "He's dreamed of her and she's told him to move on. He can't. Not yet."
Keisha leaned back from his embrace and looked into his eyes. Her perceptive gaze was so intimate, so powerful, he almost looked away. "Was it a dream, or did she come to him?"
He took a deep breath. "I believe it was a visitation. She was Eve, but not. I sensed something more in her. Something powerful. She reminded me of the goddess."
"The goddess? I thought you no longer held her in such high regard?"
He chuckled. The first time he'd seen humor in anything beyond his daughter's sweet hugs since Eve's death. "I'll rephrase that. She reminded me of the goddess, but in a good way. There was a sense of something more than Eve about her. I just couldn't place it."
"Come to bed. Sleep. Give Adam his time alone. He'll come back to us when he's ready."
Anton turned and gazed out over the forest. He sensed Adam moving farther up the mountain, near the tree line where forest gave way to rugged cliffs and snow-covered rock. "I hope so," he said, but he wasn't all that certain.
Adam's grief was still too powerful, and his loss too great.
Keisha tugged on Anton's hand. He gazed into her beautiful eyes and sighed. He could stand out here on the deck and worry about his friend, or he could make love to his
The worry would wait. He followed Keisha into the house.
Adam awoke at dawn beneath the twisted branches of a dying spruce. Once again he was human, but as before, he couldn't recall shifting. He clearly remembered coming here, though, to this rocky promontory perched above Eve's meadow.
It would always be her meadow, now that her ashes nourished the primroses.
He sat up, shivering in the chilly morning air, remembering his silent run down the hill last night, sneaking into his workshop while everyone slept.
Racing back to the meadow with the coil of rope clenched in his jaws. It lay on the rock beside him now, a tight coil that promised a final answer to his grief.
There was one thing left to do.
He'd sensed Anton in his mind yesterday. He'd blocked him during his run down the hill, his silent return up the mountain.
Now Adam dropped his shields. Anton?
I'm here, Adam. You've been blocking me. Why?
I needed to be alone. But now ...will you meet me?
Of course. Where?
The rock above Eve's meadow. Come alone. Please, Anton. For me?
I will do anything for you, Adam. Half an hour. Be safe.
Anton's compassion would be his undoing. He didn't deserve this, but it was the only option, the only way. Adam didn't want any of the others to find him. Only Anton. At least the alpha might understand.
Eve was dead. Adam gazed at the thick branch high overhead. It was the only way he knew to be with his mate again. He looped the coil of rope over his shoulder and climbed up the tree. Bark flaked away beneath his bare feet and broken branches scratched his hands and legs.
He smiled, thankful for the awareness of rough bark, sharp branches, the cool air blowing across his bare skin. Thankful to have these last sensations before they were gone forever.
He reached the branch and lifted himself up until he straddled its thick length. He tied one end of the rope off and figured how much he'd need to keep his feet from touching the ground.
He took one last glance at the sunlight dancing off the meadow below and another long, steady look at the glorious snow-capped spine of the Rocky Mountains.
He thought of Eve. Of how much he loved her, how she'd always loved the sight of snow shimmering on the high peaks.
Then he tied the rope around his neck and quietly slipped off the branch.
"You jackass. I can't believe you would actually do something this stupid."
Adam blinked. Slowly he sat up. His throat hurt like hell. He swallowed carefully and rubbed his fingers over the bloody, abraded skin under his jaw.
He blinked again. Joy blossomed in him, suffusing his entire body with a warm glow. He'd done it! Dear Goddess, he'd found Eve! He was looking into her gray eyes, her beautiful . . . No. They were different, somehow. She was different, but her eyes . . . They shimmered in the morning light, going from gray to green and then gold . . . and back to gray.
"Eve?" He reached out and touched the line of her jaw.
She slapped his hand away. Her southern drawl was thicker than ever. "Don't you 'Eve' me. What in the hell did you think you were doing?"
"Am I dead? Is this heaven?" His voice sounded horrible, all scratchy and raw. He swallowed again, but damn, it hurt. Heaven shouldn't hurt, should it?
"No, it's not heaven, and no, thanks to Liana and me and Anton, you're not dead. If Anton hadn't suspected what you were up to and called on the goddess, we wouldn't have known you were planning such an idiotic stunt. We wouldn't have gotten here in time and then you would be dead."
She stood up, slammed her hands down on her hips and glared at him. "And if that had happened, trust me, heaven wouldn't even be on your radar."
He tried to stand up, but his legs wouldn't work. Why didn't any of this make sense? "But you're dead and I can see and hear and touch you . . ." He reached for her hand. She whipped back, out of his reach. "Only so I can make a point. Look, what you did was wrong. I came to you yesterday for a reason. I told you it's time for you to move on and it's definitely time for me to get to work. I have a lot to do, and so do you. Killing yourself is not an option."
Adam shook his head. She looked like Eve, but she sure didn't sound like Eve. This woman was coming across as the original alpha bitch. He looked up, and realized for the first time they weren't alone. "Who are you?"
The blond woman standing silently behind Eve shrugged and shook her head. Eve turned to glare at her. "That's Liana. The Goddess Liana, the one who screwed up and let me die before I should have, which is the only reason we were able to save your life."
The blonde stepped forward. Her hands were clasped in front of her, her fingers twisting nervously. "Because of my inattention, Eve died too soon. When you tried to take your own life, you compounded the problem." She took a deep breath, shot Eve a guilty glance and turned back to Adam. "You can't die now. You have too large a role to play. I'm sorry, Adam. So very, very sorry."