by Lise MacTague
When Cassidy Nolan agreed to take over as the Alpha for Chicago’s North Side werewolf pack, she knew she was in for a challenge. Four months later, and she’s wondering how things deteriorated so far so quickly. Her sister—the Hunter of Chicago, a genetically-engineered werewolf/vampire/demon slayer—has disappeared, and wolves from her pack are vanishing without a trace. Complicating matters is the lone wolf in town whose motivations Cassidy isn’t sure she trusts.
All Snow had planned was to check in on her brother’s old pack, to make sure they were doing all right and that she didn’t need to avenge him. The new Alpha might be floundering, but with some guidance, Snow thinks she could be a decent leader. Not one to stay too long in one place, she should already be heading out of town, but the Alpha’s plight and that of her pack have her sticking around a little longer.
Cassidy and Snow quickly realize that time is a luxury and they’re about to run out. Forces far greater than the North Side Pack are aligning against them. And when they go looking to forge outside alliances, they discover that those who would call themselves allies may not have their best interests at heart.
In the world of Five Moons Rising.
In stock (can be backordered)
|Publication Date||December 15, 2022|
|Cover Designer||Kayla Mancuso|
The wolven was young, Snow could tell from the way she held herself: unsure, as if the weight of her wolf hadn’t yet settled completely. The girl still hadn’t picked up on her presence, which might not have been a fair benchmark. Snow had spent most of her life learning to draw in on herself, staying off the radar of humans and wolven alike. There were advantages to being overlooked.
Take her current situation. What was the youngster doing, loitering near this warehouse-looking building in the middle of an industrial neighborhood? Did she also know Ruri? If so, why wasn’t she going in?
Snow raised her head and inhaled deeply, tasting the cold wind. The smells of the city, exhaust, human sweat, the occasional mild reek of garbage or sewage, were shot through with traces of Lake Michigan, even this far from the beach. Underneath it all was an unfamiliar scent, one that raised her hackles, though she wasn’t quite sure why. It was enough to warn her away from rushing into the building, even though it held the wolven who could clear up the circumstances surrounding her brother’s death.
Dean… Snow shook her head, trying to rid herself of the image of the baby-faced boy he’d been. He’d worshiped her, had cleaved to her side like a shadow. When the time had come, he’d requested that she be the one to turn him, to allow him to join her and their deceased mother as wolven. A smile drifted across her face. No one had ever asked her to catalyze the change before that and none since. Some of her traits were undesirable. Luckily for Dean, her lack of dominance had not been transferred along to him. He might still be alive if it had.
Snow frowned at the lit windows of the squat building where Ruri was said to be living. There was no trace of her, only the young wolven. If this really was Ruri’s home, there should have been some trace. Hell, the corner where Snow loitered unnoticed would have been a prime area for scent marking, and though the unique markers of Ruri’s scent were all over it, they were older than they should have been. Either someone had lied to her, or there was something else going on, something she didn’t understand. Her lips curled in a soundless snarl at the idea.
Her source had been adamant that Ruri was living in this area but had been cagey about why she’d left the North Side Pack. Still, the vamp had insisted the wolven hadn’t gone far. At the time, Snow hadn’t thought too much about it. Vampires loved to hold back their little tidbits. She and Carla, the vampire Lord of Chicago, had been doing occasional business for the better part of a century. She could see no advantage for the leader of Chicago’s vampire community to betray her now. Besides, if Carla had wanted to sell her out, Snow would be hanging upside down from a meat hook. Her blood—the blood of any wolven—was too highly prized to be wasted on pooling onto the uncaring pavement of a somewhat smelly alley.
The girl pushed herself away from the wall where she’d been watching the brick building.
Snow started forward, then froze. She hadn’t meant to move, but her wolf knew something was amiss. She snarled at Snow to keep moving, to stop this youngling, this cub, before it was too late. Snow held still. She hadn’t gotten this far by jumping into situations she didn’t understand.
The young wolven’s head whipped around to stare right at her. Odd-colored eyes glared at her, one a brilliant crimson, the other electric blue. Snow would have put money on the young wolven’s teeth having already lengthened. Her hair was light brown, but with an odd dapple, so it looked like she was standing in the shade beneath trees on a moonlit night. For a second, the same strange effect shaded across the pale skin of her face.
Ah, hell. Snow forced herself to relax. The cub was quick, both in reactions and to shift. She would have to be careful with those instincts. They would mark her out as inhuman almost as quickly as dropping to all fours and calling the wolf to her would. An easy smile crossed Snow’s face. She opened her posture, keeping her hands where the wolven could see her.
“Howdy,” she said, making no attempt to raise her voice, knowing the cub would hear her half a block away.
The wolven’s eyes hardened from surprise into suspicion. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Snow held up her hands, palms forward. “I’m passing through, that’s all. I didn’t peg this as anyone’s territory.” She allowed her gaze to slide away from the wolven.
“And you just happen to be where I ended up?” The wolven snorted. “That’s hard to believe.”
“I came to visit a friend,” Snow said, “but I don’t think she’s home.”
A gust of wind brought with it the sourness of disappointment. “I don’t smell her either,” the wolven said quietly. “Someone is moving around up there, but I don’t think it’s them.”
“Them?” Snow cocked her head. “There’s more than one up there?”
“Which one are you here to see?” The wolven left her post and started purposefully toward her.
Her presence washed over Snow like a wave. It threatened to pull her under. From half a block away, she hadn’t been able to get a read on exactly how dominant this one was, but it was plenty. She was very new to have such power behind her.
“Ruri,” Snow said, the answer pulled from her by the wolven’s presence. She snapped her mouth shut. A polite redirect of the conversation had been on her lips, but her wolf was eager to please this one.
“Ah.” She stopped in front of Snow, looking her up and down while her nostrils flared.
Snow shifted, putting her shoulder forward. If the wolven attacked, she wouldn’t find it easy to go right for Snow’s soft belly, and Snow was already poised to flee if necessary. The wolven’s scent pushed in on her, filling her nostrils, inviting Snow to come with her, to be held safe at her side among her pack.
“Alpha?” Snow whispered. It was ridiculous. Her youth was painted across her. The youngest cub would know this one was very new indeed, yet all the markers of the head of a pack came with her. The head of a familiar pack, one that was as close as Snow had to family—or had been until Dean was taken. “Of the North Side Pack.” Her voice flattened as she spoke the name. This was who she’d come to see Ruri about. This was Five Moons.
* * *
Cassidy nodded. “Yeah.” It was strange. If those words had come with that tone from another wolven, especially not one of her pack, Cassidy Nolan’s back would have stiffened. She would have lifted her chin and done her best to stare down whoever had dared to disbelieve her, and her wolf would have snarled, ready to fight to defend her position.
That wasn’t happening. The spirit of the wolf inside her grumbled a bit but didn’t seem too put out by this stranger. That was also odd. They’d caught her watching them, and yet the wolf was unconcerned.
“I mean no disrespect,” the strange wolven said. A hint of a Southern accent was buried under a clipped Midwestern cadence. “I was surprised. You’re awful young to be Alpha.” She shrugged and glanced off into the shadows. Dark hazel eyes held shards of silver, though she didn’t seem to be on the edge of changing.
Cassidy watched her closely, not worrying about the other wolven’s response to her forwardness. Deep brown hair faded to auburn at the tips; when she turned her head, the cloud of loosely kinked curls lifted and fell in waves. Her sepia skin reminded Cassidy of an old photograph, or maybe it was the feeling that this wolven was caught slightly out of time. Her clothing wasn’t quite right for present day, a trait Cassidy had noticed among the wolves who called her Alpha. They would hold on to favored pieces of clothing or styles. This wolven had that same look. She’d been around for a while.
“Is there a minimum age?” Cassidy asked. She tried to inject a bit of humor into the query, but she still wondered. There might be an advantage in talking to a wolven who wasn’t part of her pack. She couldn’t ask her packmates such questions. They didn’t need to know the reservations she held. The pack had been through so much in the past months.
She’d been through so much. And now her sister wasn’t answering her calls, hadn’t for a couple of weeks, now when she needed her most.
“How do you know Ruri?” Cassidy turned back to watch Mary’s building.
“I knew her when she was your pack’s Beta.” A whiff of sadness tickled Cassidy’s nostrils, with its unmistakable blue tones. “I heard she broke with the North Side Pack. I thought I’d look her up on my way through town.”
“Sure.” Why did Ruri make this woman so sad? “I’m Cassidy.”
“Snow.” The woman made eye contact for a moment. Her eyes still held hints of silver, but they’d started to recede as Cassidy continued not to show aggression.
“How do you know it’s not Ruri up there?”
“Doesn’t smell right. The only hints I get of our kind are old.”
“Me too.” Cassidy shoved her hands deep into her pockets and considered the building. Someone was home and moving around on the third floor, where Mary kept her living quarters. It was where she’d expected her sister and her sister’s girlfriend to be. “I don’t smell blood.”
Snow cast her a startled look. “Why would there be blood?”
“If someone was up there without Ruri and my sister’s permission, they’d be bleeding.”
“Ah.” Snow chewed on her lip. “I imagine that’s true.”
Cassidy barked a quiet laugh. “They wouldn’t know what hit them.” She lifted her head and inhaled again. “I don’t smell much of Ruri or Mary.” Not that Mary had much of a smell. The absence of Ruri’s unique fragrance was more concerning. She wasn’t sure if she would smell Mary from across the street, but Ruri should have stood out like a golden beacon in the scent landscape.
Did Mary break up with Ruri? She shook her head. That would be a huge error in judgment on her sister’s part. Not that she was showing the clearest thoughts these days, not for the last…five years was it? When did the government turn Mary into a Hunter? Cassidy hadn’t thought to ask about the actual timeline. Too worried about the actual answer, she supposed.
“I need to go up there.” She took a step toward the building but stopped when a warm hand wrapped around her elbow. “What the—” She spun, glaring at Snow. “That’s not a good…” Cassidy trailed off. Her wolf hadn’t reacted. She was so accustomed to the other half of her soul twitching at the slightest sound that her lack of reaction was far more shocking than the most frenzied outburst would have been. “…idea,” she concluded belatedly.
“You shouldn’t go up there.” Snow snatched her hand back and looked down, her words a fierce contrast to the deference of her body language. “Something isn’t right. The smells are all off.”
“Off? All I get is the usual crap Chicago smells.” Cassidy inhaled reflexively. “It’s not even as bad as normal. There’s something floral.”
“In Chicago. In February.” Snow glanced up at her from the corner of her eye. “That’s the weirdest part of it all.”
“Huh.” Cassidy scowled up at the lit window. “All the more reason to check then.” She stepped toward the street.
Snow hesitated, then followed her. “I’m coming with you.”
“Pretty sure I can handle myself.” The wolf twined around her core in agreement. The two of them could handle pretty much anything anyone tried to throw at them. Her skin started to prickle in anticipation of an excuse to shift.
“Just in case.” Snow lengthened her stride until she was abreast of Cassidy. A mirthless grin flashed across her lips. “I’m not going to be the one to lose the third North Side Alpha in less than six months.”
“You’re not one of mine,” Cassidy said. “I can’t make you stay back.”
“Oh, you probably could.” Snow sounded almost cheerful. “I’d be happier if you didn’t try.”
“If you say so.” There was something about her, this wolven who wasn’t of her pack but didn’t set off the alarms she expected from an outsider. “How are you in a fight?” Gauging Snow’s wolf was difficult. The woman was definitely wolven, but her presence didn’t expand around her like the others Cassidy had met. It was like their identities extended beyond their skin, some more than others. There was no one in her pack whose self was so compact.
“You don’t have to worry about me.” Silver flashed in Snow’s eyes again. The glints intensified until her eyes shone nearly white.
Cassidy grinned. “Excellent.” She knew her own eyes were glowing to match Snow’s. “Let’s see what’s waiting at my sister’s place.”