They Call Me Death Re-released!

My very first published book, They Call Me Death, was a success for me in many ways. I had readers who loved it, and readers who hated it. Personally, I really enjoyed writing it and I was proud of my first book, however, I recognized early on that it had it’s issues. Samhain Publishing was awesome enough to allow me to fix the issues I found and re-release my shifter story. It’s still the same story at its heart, but some major plot holes have been filled and hopefully it makes more sense. Here’s a preview of some new content:

“I mentioned the Camarilla, the faction that forced this change upon the world. Most
of the Elders who opposed them are still in hiding and may never come out in your lifetime.
The war was fought mostly amongst humans who suddenly became shiſters. Who had no
idea it was inside them all along.”
“Okay, now you really need to explain the war to me. What the fuck really happened?”
He frowned and pushed his coat aside to lean on his knees. He shook his head as if
having an internal debate, and for a moment, I thought he wouldn’t answer.
“It started out innocently,” he said. “Fiſty years before the war we had reached an
agreement, to reveal ourselves to your kind, though not publicly. The world was heading
toward ecological disaster and we believed the time was right. In fact, it felt like destiny.
What better symbol for how your fates and that of the land are connected than us? You don’t
have to be a spiritual person to appreciate the symbolism. But there is more to it than that,
though at that time, we kept this to ourselves.
“A delegation of shiſters from each of the major nations met with the heads of the
countries in the U.N. at least once a year. Sometimes we would aid them in humanitarian
efforts or environmental issues. We did not have numbers, you see, but we did have resources,
more than you could imagine and built over centuries.
“But we were also prepared for the fact that they would never treat us as equals, and
we guarded our secrets fiercely. Some nations grew frustrated, and we were accused of not
sharing everything we knew of our kind. Aſter one such meeting, two of our members
were kidnapped. We later found them in a Chinese laboratory…in pieces. Soon aſter, other
countries did the same. Including yours.

Buy the new ebook here!

A New Peace

Life is different now, and yet the same in aspects I never expected it to be. I have a home and family, but both my husband and son are so different from me. Shapeshifter. As a child my wild imagination never came up with that one. My new reality isn’t impossible, and neither is the peace we’ve found between humans and shifters. However, I can’t shake the sensation that it is tentative at best. I live in fear of losing all I’ve gained through my blood, sweat, and tears.

In the Land of Humans…

It’s been a while, things here have settled into a sort of peace. Not true peace. Not like it was before. To be honest, I’m not sure I even remember what life was like before I learned to shoot a gun, swing a sword with deadly accuracy and defend myself against beings so much stronger than humans. I’ve learned to live with this new reality and am content in my role as wife to a man who isn’t quite human.

My new life doesn’t make me any less human, or any less sympathetic to human needs. I’ve seen the anger on many of your faces as I walk the streets of Georgetown. I’ve heard the whispers. If you’re not brave enough to say it to my face then fuck off. I’ve paid my dues. I lost a son to evil shifters and learned the hard way not even my neighbors could be trusted. However, not all shifters are created equal. Know your enemy, not just by physical traits but by deed as well.

For those who are interested, the Alpha of FNT, Sandulf Theodereiks, will be visiting the Animal Menagerie a day or two next week. He invites any human adult who wishes to meet him to do so. You will be given free entry. If you follow all posted rules, you will also be allowed to leave at any time of your choosing.
Know your enemy. I assure you, those you perceive as the enemy certainly know you.

Winter Angel

Scott watched the sunrise from atop the wall while stifling another yawn. Sixteen hour shifts were necessary, but coupled with his inability to get a good night’s rest they were killing him. He’d already tried the room darkening curtains and soothing music suggested by a fellow soldier, however his mind couldn’t seem to shut down during daylight hours. Another week like the one past and he’d be useless. Chill winter air filled his lungs as he breathed deep and released it slowly. This was his favorite part of the day, watching the sunrise just before leaving the wall and ending his shift. If he’d had a peaceful night it was even better. There’d been only one incident last night that ended quickly. Scott thought back to his first weeks of duty, when he’d hungered to draw shifter blood, and laughed to himself. He’d been immature and prejudiced, eager to kill the shape-shifters that tried to cross into human lands.
            He glanced back at Georgetown, full of humans still asleep at that early hour. Christmas decorations in red and green dominated the buildings, almost overpowering in their garish presence. He faced Circe again and the contrast of its drab plainness. He’d heard the shifters had reverted to the pagan ways and shunned Christianity. He snorted, knowing most human Christmas decorations had little to do with religion anyway.
            Movement below drew his eye to the street level, where three kids rummaged through a dumpster. He looked away but his sight was invariably drawn back. From atop the eighteen-foot concrete and metal barrier it was nearly impossible to tell their ages, but they didn’t look old enough to be out alone so early. Their clothes showed the hardships of living on the streets, and their slight build told of many hungry days. Scott tried to swallow down pity and concern. They were shifters. He no longer hated them with a vengeance, but didn’t care about them much either. He was about to turn his back when a vision in white stepped around the corner of the nearest building.
            She was an angel. There was no doubt in Scott’s mind the red-headed woman clad in a denim jacket, white t-shirt and khaki slacks was straight from heaven. White tennis shoes protected her feet and a black backpack was slung carelessly over one shoulder. She began to rummage through it the moment she spotted the boys. They hadn’t noticed her yet, so intent were they on whatever prizes the dumpster held. Scott heard her call out but her words were lost on the slight breeze. The boys froze and turned as one to watch her approach. She held out bottled drinks and the boys immediately left the dumpster to accept them. Scott watched in awe as she proceeded to remove wrapped food from her bag and hand it over. She stood talking as the boys ripped into their meals and devoured them in heartbeats. Scott didn’t know if they were even listening to her, but her face was so animated he couldn’t help but wish he could hear her.
             As soon as the food was gone the boys amazingly tossed their trash into the dumpster, rather than onto the ground, and surrounded the woman. Scott tensed, but she didn’t seem to be concerned. She kept talking and smiling at the boys, even as the smallest one grabbed for her bag. Scott drew his weapon, a Glock 36, but kept it in one hand pointed at the ground. The woman continued to talk and the boys stopped moving toward her. She calmly removed the youngest ones hands from her bag and opened it more so they could all look inside. Then the boys stepped forward as one, intent on getting into the bag, and Scott raised his gun. However, the woman pulled the bag out of reach and said “No” loudly enough for Scott to hear. To his amazement the boys stopped and waited.
            It was the longest minute of Scott’s life as he too waited to see what would happen. The woman appeared human, which meant it was his job to protect her. However, she was in Circe, on the shifter side of the wall. Had she been in Georgetown he would have jurisdiction, but unless they threatened him directly he could do nothing. The woman continued talking, the smile no longer on her face, and the boys stood listening calmly. Then to Scott’s amazement, two of them stepped back and allowed the smallest one to step forward and reach into her bag. One by one, the boys stepped forward and peeked into the bag before taking a few items out. Scott couldn’t tell what she was giving them, but the colorfully wrapped packages looked more like gifts than drugs. He assumed it was food. As soon as the last boy made his choices the three of them turned and walked away. The woman watched them with a slight frown on her beautiful face. She wiped her eyes then zipped her bag back up.
            Scott was tempted to call out to her, to run to the stairs and try to get into Circe before she disappeared. However, his replacement for the next shift hadn’t arrived yet, leaving him stuck on the wall for awhile longer. He glanced at his watch with a scowl, and then watched in frustration as she turned and left his sight.
            “Hey, man, how’s it going? Anything happen last night?”
            Scott turned to see Bryan, his daytime replacement, walk up and sighed in annoyance.
            “Nope. You’re late…again.”
*
            Angela was exhausted after another long night of feeding the shifter kids nobody wanted. She didn’t understand it since most animals tended to be excellent parents. It annoyed her that so many shifter children had been left to fend for themselves after the human-shifter war. This time of year always seemed worse. The human homeless had shelters, but the shifters fended for themselves. Like their animal brethren it was survival of the fittest in their world.
            She rubbed her neck with one hand as she approached one of the checkpoints allowing her through the wall and back into Georgetown, her home. After a quick DNA scan the guards waved her through and she headed for her lonely apartment. Three years had passed since her divorce but she still remained alone. Helping the kids on the other side of the wall filled a void no other aspect of her life could reach.
            She walked along lost in thought, navigating the familiar streets on autopilot. The sun was steadily rising and she needed breakfast. She walked briskly around a familiar corner…and right into a hard, muscular chest.
            “Whoa.”
            She gasped as large hands gripped her arms and held on to prevent her from falling backwards. Looking up, she remained speechless as she took in the handsome face looking down at her with concern. The stranger’s brows arched as recognition lit his eyes.
            “It’s you.”
            His deep voice rumbled from his throat. Dark hair curled over his forehead, still damp as if he’d recently showered, and she inhaled the fresh scent of his aftershave. At least six-two with an athletic build, he was the sexiest man she’d encountered in a long time. There were slight lines at the corners of his dark brown eyes and the grin that spread across his face revealed dimples. Suspecting she’d never met this man before didn‘t stop a spark of feminine interest from igniting low in her belly.
            “Uh…do I know you?”
            His grin widened. “No. We’ve never met but I watched you this morning.”
            That confession immediately made her wary, and she tried to take a step away from him. His grip tightened and the amusement in his expression melted into concern.
            “I work on the wall,” he said quickly.
            She froze. “Oh.”
            His intent gaze filled her with apprehension and she looked around nervously. The street remained empty, but Angela swallowed down her fears. Never in her life had such sexy man looked at her with hunger burning in his eyes. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time, but she sensed he wouldn’t hurt her. She always trusted her instincts. She looked up into his brown eyes and he seemed to relax.
            “I’m Scott. I patrol the wall overnight. You are?”
            “Um, Angela…Angela Smyth.”
            His smile returned, widening as his blatant hunger seemed to intensify.
            “Angela. I knew you looked like an angel when I saw you this morning.”
            Her pulse sped up and heat infused her face. Flirting never came naturally to her and men as good looking as Scott rarely looked her way.
            “Um…thank you.”
            “You’re welcome. I was just heading to the pub for a bite to eat now that my shift is over. Would you care to join me?”
            Angela bit her lip in indecision and tried to think of a polite way to decline. Scott still held her arms, but his touch was gentle as was the tone of his voice. She already knew a couple of soldiers who patrolled the wall, so finding out about him should be a piece of cake. The question was did she really want to eat alone again? She took a deep breath and looked into Scott’s eyes, noticing for the first time the slight wariness he hid behind his confident grin.
            “Sure. Why not?”
            His smile broadened even further and the wariness disappeared. Releasing her arms, he placed one hand at the small of her back to propel her down the sidewalk. The entire five blocks to the pub, Scott questioned her about her life and work. She answered him honestly, reveling in the rapt look of attention he kept throughout. She’d always been very passionate about her work with the abandoned shifter children and never cared what others thought. Being a soldier, she’d expected Scott to scoff at her efforts. However, he surprised her with praise for her caring.
            They reached the pub and sat down to a pleasant meal where Scott told her about himself and what inspired him to become a soldier. His initial hatred of shifters had mellowed over the years as he worked on the wall and saw all aspects of life on both sides. They finished eating as the sun rose high in the sky, and Angela planned to head home alone. Scott wouldn’t hear of it and walked her to the door of her apartment building.
*
            Scott watched Angela dig into her pocket for her key and barely stifled a groan. She was gorgeous and he still couldn’t believe some idiot had willingly divorced her. Throwing a smile over her shoulder, she opened the door and stepped inside. He remained in the hallway as she turned to face him. Nervousness screamed from the tense lines of her body, and he looked down at the doorknob considering how to ease her wariness of him.
            “I can’t believe you still use these old fashioned locks.”
            He looked up to find surprise on her face as she too examined her door.
            “It’s what was here when I moved in. I haven’t had any problems so never considered upgrading to a scanner.”
            He shrugged and played with the doorknob. Leaving her was the last thing he wanted to do, despite his body screaming for sleep. Exhaustion was finally setting in after the adrenaline rush of unexpectedly coming face to face with Angela. He still couldn’t believe his luck.
            “Are you working again tonight?”she asked quietly.
            He looked up and watched her nibble on her plump lower lip. His hungry gaze tracked the movement and his cock twitched.
            “Yeah. We’re on sixteen hour shifts right now, so I go in at noon.”
            She gasped and glanced down at her watch. He already knew it was after eight. He’d be lucky to get three hours of sleep.
            “Scott, why didn’t you tell me? I kept jabbering on when you needed to get some sleep.”
            He grinned and shook his head, taking a step closer to her warm presence. Her eyes widened but she didn’t back away.
            “Sitting in a pub with you, getting to know you, was well worth one sleepless day, baby.”
            Her breath hitched and she licked her lips, making it impossible for him to resist temptation. He leaned in slowly, giving her time to protest, but she didn’t as he moved his mouth against hers. He kept the kiss simple, afraid of revealing the hunger building in him for this one delectable woman. She responded in kind, allowing the press of his lips and sighing as he swept his tongue across the seam. He pulled back rather than pressing into her open mouth, knowing he wouldn’t be able to stop from going further.
            “I don’t want to leave you already.”
            She smiled and the blush that stained her cheeks only made her more beautiful.
            “You need to get some sleep. Wall duty is dangerous enough with proper rest. I don’t want anything happening to you because you’re tired.”
            He nodded with a sigh. “What time will you be up in the morning? My shift ends at six.”
            Wariness filled her eyes and she took a step back.
            “Um, I don’t know.”
            She began to turn away and Scott gently grabbed her chin with one hand. He turned her to look at him.
            “Angela, I think you’re wonderful. Please don’t brush me off, baby, my heart can’t take it.”
            She blushed again, and looked away for a moment before meeting his gaze. Her brilliant blue eyes reminded him of the sky in springtime. He longed to run his fingers through her bright red hair and kiss every freckle on her pert nose.
            “Scott, we don’t even really know each other
            “Yet. That can be easily remedied if you have breakfast with me again.”
            Angela gave a short laugh and shook her head, but the smile she gave him kept him hopeful.
            “Breakfast? Where, the pub again?”
            “Wherever you want, baby. I’m not a bad cook. If you’ll trust me enough to follow me home, I’ll make you an omelet.”
            Angela seemed to think it over as Scott held his breath in hopeful anticipation. After a few seconds she finally nodded her consent.
            “All right, I’ll have breakfast with you. But since you bought breakfast today, I’ll cook tomorrow. Just come by after your shift.”
            “Perfect. I’ll be here just after sunrise.”
            “Fine.”
            Without another word she took another step back and slowly closed the door, leaving Scott with a silly grin on his face.
*
            Angela fought the urge to look at the clock, knowing Scott would have to shower and change after his shift. Her nerves were shot and she wondered if he’d gotten enough sleep. After he’d left, she’d spent the remainder of the morning calling her friends in the military. A couple of them had met Scott, but didn’t really know him and one actually worked with him. As nonchalant as Angela tried to sound, Tina wasn’t fooled for a moment. She told Angela everything she knew about Scott. The overall consensus was that he was a keeper.
            Angela tried to push away thoughts of keeping a man she barely knew and finished cutting vegetables for the omelets. She hadn’t cooked for a man since her divorce and it felt like such an intimate thing to do for someone she’d just met. But Scott had gotten under her skin. He was intelligent, funny, sexy and a complete gentleman. The kiss they’d shared lit a fire in her veins she couldn’t ignore. Even if Scott wasn’t looking for a relationship, jumping into bed with him would be no hardship. Over three years had passed since she’d had sex and she was more than ready to end the unintentional celibacy.
            A sharp knock at the door startled her from her musings and the knife slipped across the onion she’d been chopping. She cried out as it nicked her skin.
            “Angela? Angela!”
            She stuck her finger in her mouth as blood began to bead at the slight cut, and headed for the door. Scott banged on it and the old wood groaned.
            “I’m coming, Scott. Hold on!”
            She unlocked the door and opened it to find him nearly vibrating with tension on her doorstep.
            “I heard you yell. What happened?”
            Without waiting for an answer he stepped into her apartment and pulled her hand away from her mouth. He frowned down at the small cut as blood beaded up again, and pulled her behind him to the kitchen sink.
            “Scott, the door. I’m okay. It’s just a small cut.”
            He ignored her and turned on the tap, thrusting her finger under the cool water.
            “I’ll close the door in a second, baby. I just want to stop the bleeding.”
            Angela sighed and let him rinse her finger. He gently dabbed at it with towel until he was satisfied the bleeding had stopped.
            “Is it all right? Is it going to stay attached? Should I invest in a pair of four-fingered gloves?”
            Scott glared at her for a second before striding toward the front door and closing it, clicking the lock into place. Then he turned and came back to stand before her. She leaned her back against the kitchen counter and crossed her arms against her breasts. He ran a hand trough his hair and sighed.
            “I’m sorry. You scared me, okay? I heard you yell and you have those damn flimsy locks on your door and…I just imagined the worst.”
            Her slight hint of anger melted at the genuine concern on his face. He really cared about her. Angela swallowed the lump in her throat at that revelation.
            “It’s okay. I’m sorry I scared you.”
            His wariness eased away and he leaned forward, placing his hands on the counter to either side of her hips. She was caged within his heat, his hard chest a thought away from her suddenly aching breasts. His breath whispered across her lips and her nipples hardened.
            “If that’s the worst that ever happens to you, I don’t a mind a scare every now and then. Especially if you’ll let me kiss it better.”
            She would’ve smiled if her brain had continued to function properly. All she could do was stare up at him. One swipe of her tongue across her bottom lip and he groaned, taking her mouth in a brutal kiss as he wrapped her in his strong arms.
            He licked her lips and she opened for him, moaning as his tongue slid against hers. He tasted of mint and his own unique flavor, a heady combination when coupled with his masculine scent. Angela couldn’t help squirming against him, fighting to get closer. As if sensing her impatience, he slipped his hands beneath her shirt and pushed it above her breasts, revealing her lacy bra. A shiver ran up her spine as the cooler air hit her heated skin.
            He pulled away from her mouth and she began to protest, until her t-shirt was whisked over her head. He immediately removed his and pulled her back against his chest.
            “Kick off your shoes.”
            His whispered words barely penetrated her lust-fogged mind, until he unhooked the clasp of her bra. She had a second to doubt the wisdom of having sex with him so soon before he bent to the task of suckling her breast.
            “Oh, Scott.”
            He groaned with her flesh still in his mouth before unbuttoning her jeans. The rasp of her zipper reminded her of his request, and she leaned against his arm around her back to kick off her shoes. He switched to the other breast while pushing her jeans over her hips and she wiggled until they hit the floor.
            “Your turn,” she whispered.
            He lifted his head and peered down at her body. Clad only in white lace panties, Angela had never felt so exposed. Scott made her feel sexy and wanted, two things she’d lost with her husband long before the divorce.
            Shaking away any thought of other men, she straightened from Scott’s embrace and reached for the clasp on his jeans.
            “Where’s your bedroom, baby?”
            She unbuckled his jeans then looked up and smiled. His heated gaze was made more intense by the panting breaths rasping from his chest. A light sweat beaded on his forehead and he looked primal. Angela bit her lip and pulled his zipper slowly over the impressive bulge of his erection.
            “Just down the hall behind me. Second door on the right.”
            Without another word, Scott scooped her into his arms and headed for her bedroom. She yelped in surprise, then laughed at his eagerness. He grinned down at her and her chest ached. It felt so good to laugh with a lover. This was what had always been missing from her life.
            Scott gently placed her in the center of the bed before kicking off his boots. He peeled his jeans and briefs down his muscled thighs, revealing his straining erection. A little larger than average, his thick cock was already tipped with moisture. Slickness formed between Angela’s thighs in answer and she hooked her thumbs in the top of her panties.
            “No. Let me, please.”
            She froze at his whispered plea and moved her hands above her head. She left herself open to him like a feast, allowing him to look his fill as he slowly stroked his cock from root to tip.
            “Please, Scott. Don’t make me wait.”
            As if she’d flicked a switch he was suddenly in motion, pulling her panties down her legs and crawling over her on hands and knees. His sweat slicked skin moved against hers and she moaned in approval.
            “I’ve had full meds, baby. But I might have a condom in my wallet if you want.”
            She shook her head, panting as she tried to make sense of his words. Each citizen in The Combined Human States had a full medical work up of shots given every five years, preventing everything from chickenpox to pregnancy. She knew they’d both be protected and didn’t want to wait a moment longer.
            “Now, Scott, please.”
            She reached down and clasped his muscular ass for emphasis, pulling him to her. He grinned and gave her a quick, hard kiss, before slipping a hand between their bodies. She felt the head of his cock rubbing against her pussy, then he was pushing for entry. She raised her knees high against his ribs, opening to him fully, and he pushed inside. She cried out and he groaned against her neck. He found a rhythm and began to thrust harder, ratcheting up her arousal and pleasure.
            “More, Scott Harder.”
            He took her commands to heart, pounding his hips against the backs of her thighs until she was screaming in an all-consuming orgasm. Her muscles tightened around his cock, milking it as he fought for control. Three more thrusts and he lost it, coming deep within her with a shout of completion.
*
            Scott rolled off of Angela’s soft body and pulled her against his side. Contentment filled him and he wanted nothing more than to drift off to sleep with this woman in his arms.
            “We haven’t had breakfast.”
            Her drowsy comment made him smile and he glanced down to find her eyes closed. She was so beautiful, her light brown lashes fanned against her freckled cheeks. He imagined waking every evening to that sight and his gut clenched.
            “I’m more sleepy than hungry, baby.”
            “Mmhm.”
            He chuckled at her mumbled acknowledgment and reached over to pull a blanket over them. They may have met only yesterday, but he planned to keep her in his life for a long time. He sighed at the thought of what tomorrow might bring and tried not to dwell on his duties. For now, he decided to be content with the angel that had come across his path, and pray he could keep her past winter.

Halloween as a Human


Halloween is one of those holidays I always took for granted as a human. It wasn’t until after the treaty, and my world began its rebirth, that I considered how it would affect non-humans. Andor once told me how he’d partially shifted one year to take Emily trick-or-treating. Neither she, her mother, nor any of the neighbors had a clue that his wings were an actual part of his anatomy. He said many people had asked where he’d had them made, and everyone wanted to touch them. I’ve learned his wings are one of the most sensitive parts of his body. He confessed that by the end of the night he was quite turned on.

For the most part, shifters can’t shift into their animal self until puberty. However, there are exceptions to every rule. It leaves me to wonder if any of the little trick-or-treaters that ever came to my door weren’t really in costume. Was there an authentic wolf or bear cub, just partially shifted, that came to call? With the proper training and good control it’s entirely possible. There could easily have been teenagers walking on two legs while the top half of their bodies were more suited to the animal within. I guess I’ll never know.

Halloween isn’t actually recognized in FNT anymore than it is in CHS now. I’ve told Andor how sad that makes me and he decided to let me throw a Halloween party this year. I’ve told all of the guests that they can come as human or animal, but still have to be in an actual costume. Andor said if he comes he will be The Big, Bad Wolf. I think he’s currently searching for a Little Red Riding Hood to accompany him. This should prove to be an interesting evening.

Interview with Alexia Williams

Alexia Williams was a young mother and wife before the war started. She baked bread, planted flowers in her garden and kept her household running smoothly day-to-day. Her transformation into a soldier for the Combined Human States (CHS) wasn’t a subtle thing. In a matter of hours from the shape shifters making themselves known to the humans who’d been blind to their existence for centuries, Alexia’s neighbors and closest friends turned her world upside down. Disbelief and defensiveness clashed until an argument ensued. It escalated quickly and in the aftermath Alexia’s husband and baby boy were killed. Her pain kept her alive and before long she made her place in the human military, fighting to keep shifters on their side of the wall.

MJ: Hello, Alexia. The readers have been very curious about your background. It isn’t everyday a “Suzy Homemaker” goes from that persona to a gun-toting soldier. Care to tell us about your transformation and which personality you feel is more you?

AW: Hello, Missy. I appreciate you taking the time for this interview so I can set the record straight on a few things. I know shifters and humans alike have a few preconceived notions about me. I don’t appreciate it from complete strangers.

MJ: Understandable. What misconception would you like to address first?

AW: Honestly, this idea about me being a gun-toting, ass-kicking, wonder woman is ridiculous. Sure, I’m a very different person from the Alexia people knew before the war. Hell, who isn’t? The civil war was too many decades ago to know any of those people, but I’ll bet war in their front yards changed them too.

MJ: Well, the shifters do call you “Death”.

AW: Did. They did call me “Death”. Since the Alpha has accepted me into his lands that’s no longer the case. But I would like to point out that his reasons for calling me that were beyond my control. It was never a conscious decision to be the best killer or kill the most shifters for CHS. I was just surviving and doing my duty. It also helped that I manned a part of the wall notorious for shifter migrations. The shifter city of Circe has long had a problem keeping their citizens in check. That’s why the human city on the other side, Georgetown, has such a heavily manned wall.

MJ: That makes sense. It’s odd though that shifters would congregate there when the wall stretches from coast to coast. Surely there’s a weaker crossing point.

AW: Not really. From what I’ve been told the Circe/Georgetown section is one of the lowest points. The ground beneath the ten-foot wall has sunk in some spots. That’s why the guard towers were built to keep an eye on it. Most of the less populated areas have robots and cameras, as well as sensors to keep anyone from crossing. I’ve heard one stretch of wall uses an ultra-sonic system with a pitch that deters any type of animal from wanting to get within miles. Ear plugs are great for human ears, but not so much for many animals. Plus, Circe is one of the largest shifter cities in the Federal Nation of Therianthropes.

MJ: Interesting. You seem to know a lot about the wall. Do you miss guarding it?

AW: (grins) Sometimes. My life has changed quite a bit since meeting Andor Olavson, but I’m still a soldier at heart. Before the war I never would’ve guessed I’d enjoy time on a shooting range or training with a sword. I still do both and keep in shape just in case. My loyalties might have altered a bit but I’m still human. I still have human friends and count them among the people I trust. I was surprised by how many people stuck by me when I left.

MJ: So, you haven’t reverted back to “Suzy Homemaker” then?

AW: (laughs) Not quite. Every now and then I’ll make a gourmet meal just to keep in practice, but I don’t have time for scrapbooking anymore.

MJ: So, if the shifters’ misconception is that you’re “Death”, what is the most common human misconception?

AW: That being shifter-friendly is the same as hating humans. How in the hell can I hate humans? I am one. It’s ridiculous but you’d be surprised by the crap I hear walking down the streets of Georgetown. Few will say anything to my face, but hate for anyone to think my feelings for Andor affect my being a “good human”. The intolerance is what led to the war and our precarious peace is still in danger because of it.

MJ: Intolerance and prejudice are as old as time. Do you think humans and shifters will ever be able to live together peacefully without the wall?

AW: I sure as hell hope so. I once watched a recording of the Berlin Wall being torn down. People were using their bare hands to pull the bricks apart. There were tears of joy and mourning for the many people affected by that damn thing. It broke my heart to watch it even as it gave me hope. History has a habit of repeating itself. Maybe we’ll one day show our children or grandchildren a recording of the CHS/FNT wall coming down. I know North America isn’t the only continent with one, but it has to start somewhere.

MJ: Very true. Time will tell, I guess. Well, that’s all the time we have for this interview, but hopefully you’ll join us again for part two?

AW: (smiles) You can count on it.

Prequel to They Call Me Death

The World of Shifters

The year is 2025. Natural resources are on the verge of running out. Animals are becoming extinct at a rapid pace on every continent. Civil wars are the reality in many countries all over the globe. Paper is nearly non-existent and humans rely on technology for nearly every aspect of their daily lives. Education is on the back burner as people go into survival mode and military law is inevitable.

In the United States, the president and cabinet are kept behind locked doors to prevent assassination, speaking to the people through weekly televised updates. Global relations are at a standstill as each country tries to prevent self-annihilation. Humans are dying out, killing each other at an alarming rate. Religious fanatics believe the end is near. Apocalyptic prophesies abound and there is little hope for future generations.

Amidst the chaos there is a hidden species, biding their time, hiding in plain sight until they simply can’t remain hidden any longer. The violence calls out to their primitive instincts as the fight for survival becomes harder each day. They are shape shifters. Part human, part animal, their DNA is a delicate mix created by Mother Nature to survive all obstacles. They’ve walked on two legs as humans for centuries, but the time has come to reveal their true nature.

It happens slowly at first. They reveal themselves to government agencies in the hopes of preventing bloodshed on either side. Some are successful while others fail miserably, and the public remains oblivious. The shifters don’t want to remain hidden, however no one can agree on the best course of action. After years of failed talks, kidnappings and brutal experiments, the shifters decide to take action.

May 3, 2025, on television screens across the world, shape shifters make themselves known in the most brutal way possible. The internet explodes with questions and live video. Humans run frightened in the streets to escape the various species of animals appearing where they were never meant to roam. The civil wars continue but the battle lines have changed. Human enemies fight side by side to keep the animals at bay.

August 4, 2028, a treaty is signed in what was once the United States of America. Both sides begin construction to strengthen the impromptu wall hastily erected by the humans at the beginning of the war. Within two years it’s complete enough to man with soldiers, and in the end will span the entire width of North America. From sea to shining sea, a fifteen foot high, eight foot thick, steel and brick barrier keeps the two new countries separate. Other continents soon follow suit.

The northern half of North America becomes The Federal Nation of Therianthropes. In the south the humans create the Combined Human States. CHS is made up of all of the states from the west coast to the east coast south of Colorado, including most of California, and all of Latin America. The rest of the former U.S. and all of Canada belong to the shifters. Both countries have their own government, their own constitution and their own armed forces.

The rules are simple. If you’re a human you don’t go into FNT without a permit or a sponsor. Some humans go north for business, some out of curiosity, others for adventure. However, if you’re a shifter you don’t enter CHS period. There are no permits, no sponsors, no exceptions.

The Calm Before the Storm

Alexia Williams sat up to greet the day as sunlight streamed in through her open curtains. Sunday was always her favorite day of the week. She’d proclaimed it family day immediately after her son, Michael, was born. Her world revolved around him and he liked that just fine. She looked over at the sleeping form of her husband, Hank, and smiled. After two years of marriage she still couldn’t believe her luck. They’d been friends for a year and roommates for five before he’d finally popped the question. She planned to wake up beside him for the rest of her life.

A slight sound prompted her to rise and walk into the next room. Michael clapped his little hands together as soon as he spotted her and she laughed.
    “Good morning, munchkin.”
    “Mama!”
She laughed and picked her eleven month old up with ease. Within minutes he was cleaned-up, dressed and ready to start a new day. They woke Hank with kisses until he tumbled both of them to the bed. Laughter rang through the large master bedroom in a house filled with love and hope for the future.

That afternoon, Alexia visited her closest neighbor and friend, Kitty. They exchanged recipes in a long held Sunday ritual as their children played at their feet. The men were outside discussing lawn equipment while the women enjoyed the air-conditioning. It was a typical Spring afternoon. Nothing appeared different about Kitty or her husband, Leander. Nothing in their demeanor warned Alexia of things to come. Months later, she would look back on that last peaceful Sunday afternoon and wonder why they hadn’t told her then that they were animals.

***

Sandulf Theodereiks looked his long-time friend, Andor Olavson, in the eye and sighed from the depths of his soul. The time for action had come and his most trusted advisor was dead set against it.

“What would you have me do, Andor? We’ve been over this many times.”

Andor pushed his long, gold-streaked hair from his face and paced away from his Alpha. He’s always done what Sandulf advised, usually without question. When he did disagree it was with a well thought out argument based on fact. His emotions didn’t normally control his actions, but tonight’s offensive was stressful for everyone.
“I would remain as I am, Alpha. It’s bad enough my wife refuses to accept my animal. The humans I work with will never understand.”

“Which is why this must be done. Do you really wish to remain hidden for another century? What of your daughter? Should Emily be forced to hide?”

“There must be another way. This all or nothing—”

“Is what we’ve been driven to. My brother’s death will not be for nothing, fugol. The humans drew the line in the sand with his death. Now we will cross it and destroy those who would treat us as nothing but lab experiments.”

“What of the innocent lives that will be lost?”

Sandulf ran a hand down his face in an uncharacteristic show of fatigue. Being the oldest and strongest wolf shifter on the continent gave him power over the others, but he was not immortal. The sudden death of his twin brother had been a blow he hadn’t expected. Ranulf had been in talks with the American government for a peaceful unveiling of the shifters to the human public. Every other country was in the midst of the same talks. However, Ranulf had been betrayed and before Sandulf could get to him Ranulf was killed, the psychic link they’d shared for centuries severed. That had been the final straw. The Humans wanted shifters to remain hidden, remain the stuff of nightmares and legends. Sandulf wanted a better future for his people where they would no longer have to hide away half of themselves. This was the only answer.

“Every precaution has been taken. In war there are always casualties, and despite Ranulf’s best efforts this will be war. You know it has already begun. There is no stopping this now.”

Andor sighed again and dropped his head into his hands. “I know, Alpha.”

Sandulf watched his friend with a weary heart. Shifters learned early on to accept both halves of themselves, otherwise the whole would not be healthy. Andor had never shown signs of being uncertain until his human wife, Lillian, refused to accept his animal nature. She was a spoiled, selfish woman. She’d given Andor a daughter after many arguments and seemed to treat the child well enough. However, once Andor had revealed the Golden eagle hidden within him, she’d lost her mind.

“The hour grows late, Andor. You must take your place with the others and ensure all goes as planned in your sector. You are one of a very few I trust so far north of me. I will await your report.”

Andor raised his head and nodded, his expression one of weary resignation. Without another word he stripped to the skin and changed. Within the blink of an eye a Golden Eagle sat at Sandulf’s feet. To a human it would look like any other, but Sandulf’s psychic abilities gave him a link to every shifter under his command and he easily saw the difference in the bird before him. He stepped to the closest window and opened it wide. Andor took flight without hesitation and was gone.

Like waves in the ocean it began slowly. Shifters strategically placed within television stations all over the world changed first. It was televised live so there would be no doubt or confusion about the reality of a human becoming an animal. The humans reacted in predictable fashion, violently acting out to what they didn’t understand. Sandulf telepathically gave the shifters permission to defend themselves by any means necessary and the blood began to flow.

***

In a small New Mexico town, the Williams family watched the nightly newscast in horror. Michael began to wail, Hank and Alexia stood riveted. Neither of them realizing how much their lives were about to change.

***

With one last thought to his ten year old daughter, far south from his Canadian post, Andor turned to address the hundreds of shifters gathered before him. Tonight the humans would learn shifters were more than fairy tales and lab experiments. Tonight the shifters would earn their freedom…or die trying.

Alexia’s First Battle

Alexia’s first instinct was to run down the long driveway leading from her ranch house, through the gate and into the next to get to Kitty. Her friend was always so calm under stress. When the world stopped making sense, Kitty would know what to do. Hank had yelled for her as she ran out the door, but she was confident he’d follow along with Michael. Their neighborhood remained still and quiet. She’d always loved living in a small town in southern New Mexico. Now it might be the only thing that kept her family safe.

Kitty stood on her darkened porch. Lights shining from the windows behind her created a familiar silhouette. Alexia couldn’t make out her face in the gloom, but sensed Kitty was watching her run up the gravel driveway. Voices sounded from within the open doorway and Alexia wondered if they had seen the newscast also. Leander wasn’t prone to show emotion over most things, but Alexia guessed he’d be as ready to grab a rifle as Hank had been. She slowed as she neared the porch steps.

“K-Kitty. Did you…watch the news? Did you…see?” she panted as she stopped to catch her breath.
She stood at the bottom of the steps one hand on the railing as she raised a foot to ascend. She lifted her head to look into Kitty’s face and froze. A sense of foreboding snaked up her spine as she took in Kitty’s neutral expression. Her friend didn’t look shocked or wary. She looked resigned.

“Hey, Alexia. Yeah I saw it. Leander, Todd and Bernard are in the living room talking about all of the changes that are coming. What do you think about people who can shift shape like that?”

Alexia swallowed hard and fought the urge to turn and run back home. She heard Hank walking up the drive and prayed he’d grabbed his rifle.

“I’ve never really thought about it, Kitty. But they’re not exactly people are they? I mean, that cougar killed someone on live television. People don’t do that.”

Kitty frowned and the voices inside the house abruptly stopped. In the next heartbeat Leander stepped out onto the porch. Hank’s warm presence behind Alexia made her feel better until Michael giggled at the sight of their neighbors. Leander nodded to Alexia and Hank but his expression remained blank. Kitty was still frowning and Alexia felt sweat pooling at the base of her spine. Kitty turned to face her husband.
“Honey, they don’t think shifters are people. What do you think?”

Leander sighed and shook his head, laying a hand on Kitty’s shoulder. “Kitty, we discussed this. We should have explained a long time ago—”

“Explained what exactly?” Hank asked.

Alexia moved a step back away from the porch and Kitty’s attention snapped back to her.    

“Now don’t go running off, Alexia. We’re friends, right? There’s a lot we need to talk about.”

Alexia and Hank stood in shock as Leander and Kitty stepped off the porch and told them they were shifters too. Alexia had never once guessed her friends were any more than they seemed. As Leander spoke, Todd and Bernard, other neighbors, walked out of the house to explain how they too could shift shape. Over half the residents of Magdalena, New Mexico were shape shifters. The small town was perfectly situated against a national forest to accommodate the fox, black bear, mountain lions and other animals that shared their bodies.

Alexia wanted to run away in horror. Hank shook his head in denial as he held his son in one arm and his rifle in the other. Much later, Alexia wouldn’t be able to say who began the argument, but within moments the men were yelling viciously. She was able to pull Michael from Hank’s arms just before Leander attacked him, but then Kitty was in her face yelling. Todd and Bernard shifted and Alexia nearly passed out. In a haze of confusion and terror she watched her husband die beneath the jaws of a mountain lion.   

Something within Alexia’s controlled, rational mind snapped and she slapped Kitty across the face. Kitty instantly shifted and swiped Alexia’s legs out from under her. Rolling on the ground in pain, her only thought was to protect her son. She covered him with her body as the cougar’s claws shredded the back of her dress. Blood, warm and thick filled her mouth as she fought her rising nausea and tried to crawl away. Hank’s voice had finally silenced and she refused to look for him.

A coughing roar echoed in the night and Alexia knew Kitty stalked her like the wounded prey she’d become. Michael had stopped screaming but his tired whimpers were almost worse. A few feet away Alexia spied a pile of freshly cut firewood with a gleaming axe lying beside one large piece. With a last burst of energy she jumped up and ran for it.

Kitty roared again and leapt, knocking Alexia off her feet. She twisted enough to take the brunt of the fall, but Michael was knocked from her grasp.

“No!”

She screamed in horror as she saw the cougar going for his small body and grabbed what part of him she could. Kitty reached for him at the same time and clamped her jaws on his shirt. A tug of war ensued, Alexia frantically trying to remove the shirt caught in Kitty’s teeth, but the cougar was just too strong. With a final tug Michael was ripped from her arms and flung toward Leander, an even larger mountain lion.

Kitty leapt on top of Alexia before she could rise to follow her son. Her next moments were spent trying to live in order to save him. She ignored the sounds Leander made, ignored the silence after Michael stopped crying, ignored the soul-deep pain that told her he was gone. With a reserve of strength she didn’t know she had, she kicked Kitty off of her and rolled against the wood pile. In one fluid movement she grabbed the axe and raised it as she continued to roll. Kitty never knew what hit her as she leapt into Alexia’s swing. The axe caught Kitty in the chest, breaking through skin and bone to stop the heart of stone Alexia had never guessed was hidden within.   

Leander was harder to kill. He hesitated as Alexia ran at him with an axe over her head and an insane scream ringing from her lungs. The other two shifters had disappeared into the night but she barely noted their absence. She had nothing left to lose. Her family was dead and the world had gone mad. She might very well die covered in blood from a creature she’d never dreamed could exist, but she would certainly take some of them with her into hell.

The Wall

Sandulf surveyed the battlefield before him with vision blurred by sweat and blood. The worst was finally over. Three years had passed as mere moments in time, like most events in his long life. At five-hundred and twenty-seven years he’d seen more than enough death to numb him to the experience. Even when it came by his own hands. Movement from the corner of his eye had him turning to face one of his most trusted wolves. Connor was covered in gore as well, all but his hands. They’d been scrubbed clean, as pristine as the white sheets of paper they held. He looked up at Sandulf as he neared and grinned with amusement.

“They use one of the most precious resources to call a truce, Alpha. I wonder what the humans would think of your library.”

Sandulf understood his amusement but didn’t share it. He was bone tired and wanted nothing more than to sign the treaty and stop the blood shed. His wolf had gotten his fill of the hunt within the first year. Sandulf honestly hadn’t expected the humans to take so long in devising a treaty.

“Have you read it?” he asked.

Connor was one of the most intelligent men under his command. Sandulf trusted him with his life as well as every aspect of it.

“Yes, sir. Frederick Jamison drafted it with the full support of the remaining members of Congress. It’s what you expected to happen once they started building the wall.”

“They wish to keep it? That line gives us the advantage.”

“Yes, sir. It’s to be expanded to stretch from coast to coast. We get everything to the north and they remain in the south.”

“Hmm. Texas and California?”

 “Texas is theirs. California ours.”

Sandulf rubbed his chin with one dirty hand and paced away. All around them shifters began the grim task of checking the dead. With so many bodies, a burn pile was the only way to keep the chance of disease from spreading. They would ensure there were no live ones left before tossing them into the fire.

With a thought, Sandulf prompted Connor to read the hastily prepared Jamison Treaty. It was amazingly simple and to the point. Nothing like the documents American congressmen were known for writing. It lined out very firm borders but as Connor stated, the shifters had the advantage. Sandulf listened intently to each term and mentally picked at them, searching for flaws or tricks. He trusted very few shifters and no humans after his brother’s death. He turned back to face Connor.

“Sounds fairly cut and dry. What is your opinion?”

Connor shrugged even as he appeared to think it over. “I’ve read it three times now. I see nothing that might come back to bite us in the ass. Perhaps Andor should read it before you sign?”

Sandulf stilled as he mentally searched for his trusted advisor. The Golden Eagle was soaring low in the sky over a residence set back among the trees. His emotions hit Sandulf like a punch to the gut but the Alpha showed no sign of his distress.

“No. He isn’t near and is dealing with something personal at the moment. I don’t suppose you have an ink pen?” Connor chuckled and shook his head. Sandulf glanced around at their surroundings then down at his tattered clothes. “Well. Let us show we are animals after all.”

He lifted his right hand and instantly formed a wolf’s paw, then bent to dip it in a puddle of blood near his feet. Connor held the last page of the treaty out, supporting the underside with his palm as Sandulf stamped his paw print beside the President’s signature. Once that was done, he extended one sharp claw and dipped it in the blood, then added his signature as well.

 “That should leave little doubt as to who signed it,” Connor said.

Sandulf smiled at the amusement in his voice. “Indeed.”

***

Andor stood naked in the middle of what used to be his living room. Blood splattered on the walls told of a fierce battle, though he doubted the young residents had put up much of a fight. His house had become an orphanage. He’d convinced himself Emily would be safest here, away from him and the battles he fought in the name of his Alpha. He didn’t know why Lillian had left her or where his selfish ex-wife had gone, but there was little doubt his young daughter was out there somewhere in the world on her own. He glanced again at the hastily scrawled message on the wall near the fireplace.

“Daddy, where are you?”
Emily’s scent permeated the brick and mortar. She’d been standing there, searching for him. She was smart enough to know he had hidden passages built into the house, but he’d never shown her how to get to his underground lair. Lillian had forbidden it and like an idiot he’d listened to her.

“Oh, Emily. Where are you, sweetheart?”

***

Alexia lifted another brick and fit it into the space in front of her. Sweat dripped into her eyes, but she simply wiped it away and kept going. Her back ached, her shoulders screamed in pain and fatigue had become a constant companion. Stopping was not an option. She had one last row to add before this part of the wall would be ready for the next layer. As soon as her small part in building the barrier that would keep the animals out of her lands was done, she planned to walk the few miles into Georgetown. The new city was only a few months old, but growing by the day. She would make a new life there. It wouldn’t be much, but so long as there was breath in her body it would go to keeping shifters out of human lands.

A shout from above told her she needed to hurry as the sound of a crane nearing grew louder. Sheets of steel would go over the brick to reinforce the wall. It was a massive undertaking, but with so many humans flocking to this part of the newly formed country security was essential. From what she’d heard, soldiers would walk the length of the wall night and day, ensuring shifters didn’t attempt to cross over. Their leader had signed the treaty in blood and the President had taken it as a threat. The peace was precarious at best and no one really expected it to last. How long would the animals be content to remain separated from their prey? How long before the humans decided they wanted their turn at being predator?
    

Learning to Live

Alexia walked up the cement steps quickly, eager to start her shift on the wall. Dawn was a whisper on the horizon and the weak morning light had her squinting to make out the soldier headed her way. After a couple of steps she recognized Lance’s arrogant swagger. He’d hit on her again the day before and she’d nearly decked him. Her angry response had made him laugh and pissed her off more.

“Morning, Lex. Ready to start shooting shifters?”

Alexia rolled her eyes and moved to step around him but Lance grabbed her arm. She froze, looked down at his large hand and then back up with a scowl. “Let go.”

He released her but then shook his finger inches from her face.
“Now, don’t go getting all pissy on me, girl. Save it for the animals. Just wanted to let you know about the Red Zone. It’s been pretty active tonight and there was some kind of trouble, but the shifters took care of it. It should be okay by this afternoon. Just watch yourself. There’s still a crowd down there right now.”

She took a step back to calm the urge to bit his finger off. “I’m not an idiot. I read all of the alerts first thing.”

He grinned and nodded indulgently. “Okay, okay. I’d just hate to see that luscious behind kicked around all day.”

The urge to shoot him nearly overwhelmed her, but Alexia settled for flipping him off and walking away. His deep, masculine laughter followed her down the wall.

***

Andor shook his head in disgust and paced away from the two male shifters he’d known for decades. They were angry, and rightly so. Who was he to question Mother Nature and all that she’d accomplished? It didn’t matter that years had passed since he was a party to a transgression against nature, against the very fabric of his being. He’d once sworn he would follow Sandulf into the fires of hell himself and during the war he nearly had. His two companions were still angry over incidents best left in the past, but he needed their help one more time. How was he going to earn their forgiveness?

He turned back to face them and they abruptly stopped their nearly silent conversation. Andor had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he hadn’t even considered eavesdropping.

“I knew of your misgivings with Theodore Castor, as did Sandulf. But you knew what was at stake. Or more appropriately, who. We had to save her at any cost or risk losing our Alpha to madness. As it is, I don’t know that he has fully recovered. Fighting helped him, but for how long is anyone’s guess.”

“And now you want us to help protect the humans?” one asked angrily.

Andor sighed and ran a hand down his face. “No. I’ve already explained it isn’t for them.”

The men looked at each other, possibly holding a telepathic conversation. Andor tried to wait patiently but felt the seconds slipping away. The urge to find Emily was insistent and imperative to his peace of mind. Shifters were dying mysteriously and spectacularly. He wasn’t certain who was behind the mutilated bodies they had recovered but the two men before him and unparalleled tracking abilities. They could help him discover the truth.

The human scientist, Theodore Castor, had been a friend to the shifters. Sandulf had trusted him with what he prized most and Castor failed him miserably. The shifters were still paying for that mistake. Word spread fast among the telepathic species. Sandulf had quickly taken down the few rebellions that sprang up after that incident, but Andor continued to encounter attitude when he least expected it.

He’d been at Sandulf’s side when Castor started his experiments. He’d voiced his concerns to the Alpha and backed down when they were ignored. Perhaps Andor could have done more to stop the chain of events that led to Castor building a massive laboratory so close to shifter lands, where he could easily acquire his favorite test subjects. He hadn’t. And now they were paying the price.

After a heated discussion, aloud for Andor’s benefit, the two men denied his request for help. They acknowledged Sandulf as their Alpha, but until he ordered them to help track for Andor they wouldn’t do a damn thing to aid him.

Andor walked away resigned to go it alone. The missing shifters had to be found. Castor needed to be exposed for the blood-thirsty, not-quite human, madman he was. And Andor desperately needed to find Emily so he could hold her in his arms and know she was alive and well. So far only one shifter was willing to help him, an old FBI colleague from his days before the war. Janet was the best research assistant he’d ever had and would be invaluable in helping him map out the little information he’d found.

He left the area to fly back home to the lonely apartment he used in Circe. Landing on the roof, he had a good view of the wall, clearly visible in the early morning light. Human soldiers walked back and forth, machine guns in hand as if they could lift them quickly enough to make a difference. Andor wanted to laugh at the picture they made. As if a wall could really keep the shifters out. It was a testament to Sandulf’s power that the war had ended at all. Once the tang of human blood touched the lips of many shifter species, the animal took over and instinct kicked in. Only Sandulf’s influence called them back to themselves, putting the human side back in control.

A soldier caught Andor’s eye and pulled him from his musings. Smaller than the others, her size wasn’t the only obvious difference. A sword swung from one hip as she paced back and forth. Excitement and anticipation sped Andor’s pulse. The shifters might not be willing to help him in his quest, but a lone human could be the key to getting him what he needed. And he had just the right human woman in mind.

***

Lance twisted and turned, fighting to fall asleep as he had been since dropping into bed over an hour ago. The single image in his mind wouldn’t let him rest and he knew in his heart something was seriously wrong.
    “Emily,” he whispered.
One chance encounter what felt like ages ago, and those big, golden eyes wouldn’t leave his mind. Thinking of her constantly had begun to be a nuisance, but he couldn’t banish her from his thoughts. Even without a single word between them he’d felt an instant connection. If only he had stopped her from running out of the library and talked to her. He’d learned her name from the librarian, but nothing else. Now he craved more.