Read the first chapter of Hot Blooded by Amanda Carlson, the second Jessica McClain novel – a fast-paced and irresistibly sexy urban fantasy novel perfect for fans of Kelley Armstrong.
The knife pressed against my neck was pissing me off. “You’re kidding me, right?” I couldn’t see what was behind me, but it smelled faintly of eggs. Half a beat later its Otherness began to creep along my skin like an unwanted caress. My fingers curled around the door handle of my car.
I didn’t have time for this.
It hissed a few inches from my ear. “Shut up, bitch. You’re going to pay for what you did—”
I brought my elbow up hard, faster than any human could follow, and cracked my attacker neatly in the face as I spun around. Without hesitation, I grabbed him by the neck and slammed him onto the hood of the car next to me. Crap, that was going to leave a dent. I glanced around. Luckily there were no bystanders nearby. “What’s your problem?” I snarled. “Doesn’t look like you want a piece of me now.”
The rheumy eyes of a stunned imp stared back at me, blinking once. An imp, by definition, was half human, half demon—and this one was heavy on the human, which was why he hadn’t triggered any of my new senses. A supe this weak had to be in close proximity to give off any Otherness. He wasn’t a danger to me—more like a pesky mosquito—and to my credit he stank like a dirty bum more than any kind of demon. I examined him, not surprised to find he resembled the imp I’d killed last week. But this one was a lot weaker than Drake, so maybe a dis- tant relation gunning for revenge?
Demons got off on revenge.
“So it’s…” he gasped through a very diminished airway, “…true…”
“What’s true?” I relaxed my grip on his neck so he could answer. When he failed to do so, I hauled him up by the shirt, turned him around, and pushed him against the side of my car. “I’m running a little short on time. Care to expound further?” I shook him for emphasis, letting him know there was really no other choice.
A glint of surprise along with a creepy smile full of stained, slightly pointy teeth slowly spread over his features. I jammed him back against my car, locking my forearm across his neck again, hoping to convince him to spit out an answer before things had to get any uglier. “Look,” I said when he remained silent. “I’ve had a rough few days and I’m in no mood to be attacked by yet another supe. This is not going to end well for you if you don’t answer my question, so I’ll ask it again. What’s true?” His greasy brown hair swung limply over his shoulders as I jostled him into a better position. What was it with imps? Not showering must be a union order.
“I didn’t know you were her,” he finally spat, his metallic breath pinging my nose like a tarnished penny. I eased my arm off his jugular. “I came to avenge my cousin. But I can smell you now. I know who you are. There have been rumors, but you won’t be able to hide from us. We will find you.”
Find me? My wolf shot to the surface, sensing the real threat behind his words. I wasn’t hiding from anyone, especially not the imps. My secret had come out, and for all I knew the entire planet was well aware I’d become the only female werewolf on earth. It wasn’t ideal, but nobody had asked me.
My nails elongated to vicious points in the span of a heart- beat. “What do you think you know about me?” I edged in closer, inhaling his repugnant scent. The possibility this moron knew more about me than I did tested my compassion on every level. “Imp, you have three seconds before my wolf comes out, and I can guarantee you’re not going to like what she has to say.” She growled her agreement in my mind and I echoed it out loud for effect.
Instead of answering, the imp lunged forward, trying to break out of my grasp. His movement surprised me, forcing me to take a small step backward to steady myself. But my hold didn’t break, because he was weak and the muscles in my arms had already coalesced together like two giant anvils waiting to bring the hammer down on his greasy, uncombed head. “I’ve had enough of this crap, demon boy.” I shook him. “You’re going to talk whether you want to or not.” I dug my nails into his neck to accentuate my point. “You can either spill it here with me, or you can face my Alpha, who is a lot less patient than me.”
“You will not rule us…bitch,” he sputtered, blood slowly leaking out of the wounds in his neck. “We are stronger. We will never follow you! Your filth cannot touch us.”
Rule? “What in the hell are you talking about?” He wasn’t talking about ruling the humans. I rocked him back on the edge of his heels, my irises flashing an angry violet. “Listen clearly to what I’m telling you now. I want nothing to do with your demon race—not now and certainly not in the future. Ruling you doesn’t even make sense. I’m a wolf, and demons live in the Underworld.” A place nobody in their right mind would volunteer to go willingly. “And believe me, imp, my plans aren’t about to change. There’s absolutely nothing about your kind that appeals to me.” Stinky, unwashed cretins.
He opened his mouth, his stained teeth and coppery breath assaulting me on so many levels. “We will strike you down before you place a foot on the throne of Astaroth! The Proph- ecy will not stand. Your death is imminent,” he sneered through the choke hold. “You will not best the powers of the Under- world. We are coming—”
I slammed my fist into the side of his head and he crum- pled to the ground like a worthless marionette. “Yeah? Well, you’re going to have to get in line, buddy, because everybody around here seems to want something from me and I’m late for a meeting.”
I opened my car door and tossed him in the backseat. He was still breathing, but it would take him a while to recover. Unwanted attacks were getting old, but at least this one didn’t have a foaming muzzle and three-inch canines. I slid into the driver’s seat.
Now I just had to figure out why everyone in the entire supernatural race seemed to know more about me than I did.
“What did you just say?” I stood so quickly, my chair spun back and clattered against the wall. “The Second Coming of what? And who exactly was the first?”
Devon tossed a panicked look at my father, Callum McClain, Pack Alpha of the U.S. Northern Territories. The three of us had been sitting at the conference table in my office; my father had his hands folded neatly in front of him, looking calm and in charge. He nodded to Devon to continue as I stalked around the table. The fear leaking out of the Pack’s computer whiz made my wolf edgy.
Devon spoke again, clearing his voice once before he started. “Um, well, according to what it says here . . .” I stopped behind his chair, leaning over his shoulder to read the words for myself. The text on the screen appeared to be taken from a copy of a photograph, and not a very clear one. The original parchment background looked broken and old, like the ink had rubbed off before they’d snapped a good shot of it. It read:
The Prophecy of the True Lycan:
One shall walk again; above all others she is born;
Within her the beast shall lie, well hidden in True Form; And from this day forth, the Children of the Night shall pay; By her supreme rule, her righteous hand will slay;
Justice to all, as none are her equal;
The True Lycan will Vanquish all Evil.
I turned away and started to pace. “What it states there doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t we have our own record of this if it were true? Anyone could’ve made this stuff up—it’s on the Internet for chrissake. That could easily be the rantings of a sixteen-year-old sci-fi nerd who fabricated a story about a female werewolf who took over the world. He probably saw a graphic novel about a hot chick who turned into a wolf and his libido shot into overdrive.”
I made it back and forth twice before anyone spoke.
“Well.” Devon paused. “This isn’t the only place I found this information . . . exactly.”
I spun around to face him. “What? Are you telling me what’s written there is actually a possibility?” The pulse of change began to twitch just below the surface of my skin, my arms and legs tightening in anticipation.
Major emotion was hard on wolves.
It triggered everything inside us, like holding a lit match in front of a can of butane. Since these sensations were brand- new to me, I was clearly having a hard time containing myself. Being overtired and worried about finding Rourke did nothing to help the situation either. There was also the slight problem of harboring a deadly spell in my veins, a gift from a deranged goddess who was trying to kill me.
“I believe it might be more than a possibility,” Devon replied. “What we are seeing here is likely a loose interpretation of the original Prophecy, since the real one would be so old it would have gone through numerous retellings in numerous languages before now.” He nodded toward the text on the screen. “I’ve cross-referenced ‘True Lycan’ in some of our oldest books and there are several indications in Pack history of a ‘stranger who will walk again’ who is ‘unique from all others’ and will ‘dole out justice’ with a supreme rule. It never specifies a female, per se, but I think all these things make it a strong possibility none- theless.” He pointed in front of him. “This website went live less than twelve hours ago and the link was sent directly to me. I’ve been unable to trace any of the digital signatures. I don’t even know what country it originated from. But there’s enough correct wording, even though I can’t officially authenticate any of it from the Rights of Laws, that makes me believe what we’re reading here could hold truth, or at least a version of the truth, to your identity.”
The werewolf Rights of Laws, our bible of sorts, had entries missing and others were charred beyond recognition. It had been destroyed in a fire long before it had been entrusted to my father. If there’d been any kind of werewolf Prophecy, it would’ve likely been inside those pages. Since “Lycans” were our ancestors, they were commonly referenced in our books.
I glanced at my father. “I’m not going with ‘truth’ just yet. We’re still seeing this on the Internet for the first time and it’s too similar to the Cain Myth to be a coincidence. Whoever sent this link to Devon had to have been behind sending the first Myth to the Compound all those years ago.”
“Agreed.” My father nodded. “But the Cain Myth was obvi- ously changed to target our race alone. To instill hatred of you from the very beginning.”
“But why would someone do that?” I asked. It seemed too complicated.
“Fear. Whoever is behind all this was worried you’d grow up to be too powerful, which you are proving to be. At the time you were an infant. There was no way to reach you. What bet- ter way to see your end than to make sure the wolves wanted you dead from the very beginning? The Cain Myth did its job effectively. The wolves have grown irrationally fearful of you, coupling you with the end of our race. If they had their way, you wouldn’t have lived to see your sixteenth birthday.”
I could recite the Cain Myth in my sleep.
As a Female in Wolf Skin rises, the unborn Daughter of Cain is born;
In her the beast shall lie, well hidden in True Form;
And from this day forth, the Wolves of the Night shall pay; Blood and flesh of their bones, her mighty hand shall slay; The end of the race will be close at hand;
When the Daughter of Evil rules the land.
I arched an eyebrow at my father. “If we already had infor- mation about a ‘True Lycan’ in our history, why haven’t we put the pieces together before now?”
My father’s irises jumped, sparking violet. His emotion tingled quickly through my veins, the blood we’d shared dur- ing the oath rearing up in my body, sending a flood of sensa- tions through me, and at the forefront was love. “Rumors of a strong one, Y Gwir Lycae, the True Lycan, the one above all others who would someday rise again, have been around for as long as I can remember. Those were the tall tales the elders told around the hearth at the end of the day, a cup of mead in hand. Did I think those old stories might be connected in any way to my daughter? Never. The thought didn’t even enter my mind. We are a male race, dominated by strength. Your birth was an anomaly, something I have always considered special. I thought fate had smiled on us by introducing a female line, because without them, our race will eventually die out. There are very few human women left in the world who can carry our offspring. Despite the Cain Myth and all the trouble it caused, I held fast to the hope you were here for a reason and eventually the wolves would accept you and see you as I did—as an asset to this race. It seems you are indeed here for a reason, but it’s not quite the one I’d been hoping for.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think this is what any of us had hoped for—certainly not me.”
“With that said, I believe this is not the time to lament fate,” he stated firmly. “In order to move forward, we need to arm ourselves with as much information as we can gather. I agree with Devon. This is only a version of the real Prophecy. I want more answers as soon as possible.” He turned to Devon. “When I return, I want a full report, even if you have to travel to the Old Country to obtain the information you need.” We had an ancestral estate in Scotland. It was an old, beautiful castle filled with antiques and a library as big as a football field. “Cross- check with every entry you can find about Y Gwir Lycae. There should be a fair amount of texts to draw from. When you’re done, I want a cohesive outline of what we are looking at here.”
Devon nodded once. “Yes, sir.”
I sighed, rubbing my temples. “I’m not sure what to believe. The reasoning that these old tales were actually about a female is thin. I don’t have to remind you now is not a good time to find out I’m some reincarnate of an all-powerful she-wolf who is supposed to dole out justice to the supernatural world.” Was there a good time to hear something like that? “Among other things, I have an angry police detective tied up in the other room I might actually have to kill.” I slid my fingertips to the bridge of my nose and shook my head. “This is all so insane.”
I was more rattled hearing this news than I cared to admit. During my first few days as the only full-blooded female were- wolf in the world I’d been ruthlessly attacked in my own home, turned on by my own kind, bound by a goddess who had stolen my mate—who was a werecat of unknown origin—and taken prisoner by a cranky Vampire Queen—whom I’d sworn an oath to that could get me killed. If this so-called Prophecy was true, it was going to stir up a maelstrom once it spread through the preternatural grapevine—if it hadn’t already. Who knew who already possessed this information? We could’ve been the last to receive it on purpose. It didn’t bode well that the stinky imp this morning had hinted about it. And if that little asshole knew, there was a chance they all knew.
“Jessica,” my father said as he stood. “We will handle this. It’s not ideal, but we will persevere as we always have. We are wolves. And wolves fight. We will win.”
“I’m leaving town in less than five hours.” I glanced at my wrist, even though I hadn’t worn a watch in years. I gazed across the room and met my father’s eyes, my blood jumping with his anxiety, mixed with a hefty dose of my own. “I can’t even begin to process everything this quickly. I’m going to need more time.”
“Well,” Devon interrupted, “there may be an upside to all this after all.” He swiped a bead of sweat off his forehead. “It’s much better than finding out the Cain Myth is true. At least with you being the True Lycan, we know you’re not the real Daughter of Cain. I mean, right there, that should calm down some of the wolves, don’t you think?” He raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Right?”
I shot him a dangerous glare. Devon wasn’t a wolf. He was a human Essential to the Pack, brought in for his technical savvy. He was a nice guy and completely loyal to Pack, but I wasn’t interested. “Yes,” I answered. “Because my new job of vanquishing all evil is much better. The demons already seem incredibly fond of me, and the Vamp Queen can’t wait to get me back in her grasp. My life is bound to improve now that my righteous hand is cocked and ready to kill anyone up to no good, which pretty much describes just about everyone in the entire supernatural race.”