Monday, December 9, 2013

Sneak Peek: Wanted Alive or Fevered

I can't believe it's already December, it seems like just yesterday I was finishing up A Fistful of Dreams and it hadn't been that long since Micah & Mrs. Miller came out. This summer was jam packed with travel and the completion of Raising Kane--Kid Kane's story, but something funny happened while I was writing Micah's book, and then again when I wrote Buck's and finally when I started on Kid's, I realized why that funny thing kept happening...

What was the funny thing? Jason Kane. You see, in Micah & Mrs. Miller, I'd thought Jason was going to die. For most of the book, I thought his death would prove inevitable and it would change things irrevocably for the Kane family. Jason, however, had other ideas and those other ideas continued to assert themselves in the next two books.

So what did I do? I decided Jason needed a novella. Remember how I said that something funny happened with regard to my plans for Jason in book 3? Well as it turns out, he wasn't done with me quite yet. During the course of writing the novella, it became a full length novel with the first draft capping out at around 97,000 words. I have some edits and additions to make, which will make the book longer and as frustrated (and frankly stunned) as I was about it to begin with--this is the part of the story we need to see.

We needed to get into his head and see the piece of the puzzle--if you haven't read Fevered Hearts, I'm not going to spoil that puzzle piece for you except to share the following scene that has been burning in my brain for over a year. The book is scheduled for release in March, 2014. If you haven't had a chance to read Fevered Hearts, take advantage of Marshal of Hel Dorado's $0.99 price to discover Dorado, the Kane and Morning Star families, and their saga. *winks* Trust me, take a walk on the Fevered side.

The following is an unedited excerpt from Wanted Alive or Fevered

The week since the family meeting at the ranch passed in plodding slowness. Jason marked the time with the completion of building after building and the slow trickle of an incoming population—they’d welcome more than a dozen families and individuals. Word about opportunities in the region had begun to spread. Scanning the new arrivals and keeping a wary eye on those already present preoccupied most every waking moment. Maintaining such a high level of vigilance demanded a tremendous amount of his focus, and he kept his attention on the new arrivals and continuing his hunt for Ryan.

It also helped to accept the completion of the general store. The Morning Stars, it seemed, continued to invest their efforts in the town. Sam had been by three times, but not once had he resumed the conversation they’d had on the trail and Jason avoided reading his mind. He would not react to his family defensively. The rooms above the store had been laid out in painstaking accuracy—when he’d initially given the builders the instructions, Jason hadn’t realized how identical to the Stark living quarters they’d be. Shape. Size. Spacing.

Standing in the middle of what had been Olivia’s playroom, he studied the finished wooden floors and painted walls. Clean. Orderly.


If he stood very still and concentrated, he could almost imagine the silence—but the faint thump of hammers, the rattle of wagons, and the dull roar of a town slowly resurrecting from the ashes beyond the walls intruded on it all. He had appointments that afternoon with individuals looking to buy into the Dorado General Store. The Kanes had staked the entire town and in an effort to maintain a level of control over all new residents, they would keep a twenty-five percent interest in every business for the first five years.

Jed’s plan and it was a solid one. Some would have a higher stake than others—in the case of the General Store, Jason would only allow another owner forty-nine percent and then only if they could impress him. Irrational as the decision might seem, he refused to turn it over to just anyone. In this, however, it would take an exceptional individual to even make him budge.

The stairs creaked alerting him to someone else within the building. Pivoting, he opened his mind but couldn’t quite penetrate the foreign thoughts approaching. Resting his hand on the grip of his gun, he focused all of his attention on the door.

Mariska appeared in the doorway, carrying a wooden crate and swept a glance over him. “Not who you were expecting?” The she-wolf’s friendly observation carried a thread of humor.

Easing his hand off the gun, he nodded and moved to accept the crate. “I wasn’t aware you were in town.” His inability to read Cody or his mate would have been welcome when he was a child. With his heightened, hyper-awareness and concern over the possibility of MacPherson’s men bearing down on the town, the fact only added another layer of complication to an ugly situation.

“Supplies, some decorations for the rooms. If you decide to move into them,” she explained and Jason faltered.

Glancing down, he found a couple of wood cuts, kerosene lamps, what looked like lace table coverings and beneath it all, a heavy quilt. Mariska prowled around the large, empty space.

“Perhaps we should have brought you furniture, however…” She tapped a booted foot to the floor. “And a rug.”

Recovering, Jason carried the crate over to set it in a clean corner. “It is uncertain at this point on who will take the rooms.” Could he imagine living in the space, in the heart of this new town? The number of minds present—he would be constantly surrounded—and the din of the background noise might help drown out the ghosts.

An image of Olivia’s face flashed across his mind’s eye.

Or not.

“Okay.” Mariska continued her exploration. A heavy team of horses echoed through the canyon created by town’s main street. Letting the wolf do as she wished, Jason paced over to the window. A lumber wagon—likely from the ranch had pulled down the street. The wood would be offloaded, parceled out and tasked for the finishing projects. The new dressmaker had arrived two days before and she’d requested an addition to the back of her shop.

Behind him, Mariska continued to pace. Letting the wolf range freely behind him implied a trust he didn’t feel, but she’d given him no reason to be wary of her either. It was a delicate balance. “Mariska, was there something else you needed?”

“Is that a polite way of asking me to leave?” Challenge threaded through the husky words.
Glancing over his shoulder, he studied her and found only curiosity, not aggression in her eyes. “No. But I don’t know why you are here.” She and he were not friends, and while she was mated to Cody Morning Star, the wolf had made his allegiance to Kid clear. Still, he wasn’t hostile at the ranch… And hadn’t been for some time.

“I have a difficult question to ask.” Hands clasped behind her back, she continued her pacing. Apparently it was his week to provide answers.

Shifting so he could divide his attention between the street below and his unexpected visitor, he nodded. “All right. Ask.”

Another pause and her brows arched. “You’re not the friendliest person.”

“That wasn’t a question.” The reply earned a faint smile.

“True.” Stopping, she thrust a hand through her hair. “This is not—easy for me.” A harshness rasped in her voice and her eyes went ice blue. Wolf blue. “You have met…other Fevered?”

Keeping his arms lax, he judged the distance through the window to the ground. He would likely hurt himself if he had to go through the glass, but he’d survive the fall. A mental punch might slow the wolf down, but he’d have to rely on body language to warn him if her control slipped. “Yes.”

Her mouth compressed and lines of tension deepened around the corners of her eyes. “Were any of them—animal shifters?”

Intrigued by the direction of her inquiry, Jason relaxed a fraction. “Not specifically, no. A number of them had other abilities.” Volunteering the last, he considered her question. “You, Cody, and Ben are the only ones I’ve met directly.”

Exhaling a long sigh, Mariska dropped her chin and her shoulders sagged. “I’d hoped that perhaps you had…”

“May I ask why?”

 “It’s not important.” Her stiff posture made a liar out of her.

“Important enough to bring me a crate of supplies I did not request.” The crate had provided her with an excuse to speak to him. “Why are you curious about other shifters?”

A second heavy wagon echoed below. The packed wagon looked to be a supply run from San Antonio. Jason studied the driver and the two men traveling with him. Like most people arriving in a new place, they glanced about. It only took him a moment to catch sight of their eyes, and then he skimmed surface thoughts. Categorizing all three as exactly what they appeared to be, he withdrew.

Mariska’s eyes narrowed and her expression turned thoughtful. “You were reading those people below.”

One nod. “I read everyone who arrives. We will not be taken by surprise again.”

“What if they show up when you’re not here?”

“We will deal with it,” he shrugged. They would have to implement other ideas, but soon the town would settle. “The population will stabilize soon enough. Strangers will stand out, differences will be more easily noticed.”

“And they won’t need you as much,” her swift grasp of the fact surprised him.

“Yes.” When that happened, he would be free to resume his own hunt and eliminate the target his presence painted on the town. “You did not answer my question.”

“No, I didn’t.” Mariska agreed with a hint of a smile. “It is not a subject I feel entirely comfortable discussing with you.”

“Yet you were comfortable enough to ask—what would you have wanted to know had I said yes?”

“If any of them were female.”

He gleaned a great deal of information from her admission. “Which neither Cody nor Ben are, and even if Ben was, he is too young.”

She nodded, the intensity in her startling blue wolf eyes undiminished. “Yes. I am still learning to understand my wolf and my reactions are far more intense, basic—animalistic. Cody accepts this part of his nature, and he is comfortable with it. I am not sure why it is such a struggle for me now and…more I don’t know how it will affect me later.”

Lacking Kid’s insight to what was going on beneath the surface, Jason considered the fundamental differences between male and female. “Talk to Miss Annabeth.”

“What?” Mariska blinked. “She is not…”

“No, but she’s a woman and she’s a mother. She knows how to listen.” If Mariska’s struggles were related to Kid’s absence, then perhaps a confidante would help. While it was all conjecture on his part, Jason had little else to offer her.

“I’ll think about it.” The she-wolf nodded and canted her head. A moment later, sounds echoed below, and feminine voices drifted up the stairs. “The other ladies are here. They all brought you gifts.”

Surprised, Jason frowned. “Why?”

“You are too alone,” Mariska informed him. “So you will let us do this.”

Below, the rattling of yet another larger wagon grabbed at his attention and Jason glanced down to find a coach pulling in. The same deep brown as many of the stagecoach services, it had no markings and that suggested a private hire. Alarm rang through him and he focused on the driver—finding nothing suspicious, he considered the passengers. Two emerged from the side of the coach facing the general store. Recognizing the new saloon keep and his wife, he filtered through their surface thoughts. Three passengers had been on the coach, they and another woman.

The third passenger must have emerged on the far side of the coach. Behind him, feminine laughter and voices merged into the din. He identified both of his sisters-in-law, the younger amplifier, Sage, and Delilah joining Mariska. Ignoring them as they explored the apartment and discussed what it did and didn’t need, he continued to watch the street. Passengers offloaded, the driver set the team into motion again and revealed Dorado’s latest visitor finally.

His heart fisted in his chest, his lungs compressed, and hum of sound both internal and external shut off abruptly. Dressed in a deep gray muslin, with a light coat and a bonnet to match, he’d know the woman below anywhere.

She stood on the boardwalk, a long thin walking stick in hand, and though her eyes were closed and her head tilted back as though she were absorbing the sounds and scents around her—he knew what he would see if she opened them.

Spots danced across his vision. She’s alive…

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