I'm excited announce the release of Hunted Intensity!
It's been a trying first month of the year so far. I can't seem to find the focus that I need and my mind wants to be anywhere but on the project that I'm trying to finish. I'm getting things done in small bits. I'm feeding my muse to keep my creativity up and will work through this slump and finish off the last two chapters of Tiger Eyes and get more work done on the short story I'm writing. Enough about my lack of focus and onto the excerpt.
Tori brought more wood into the large cabin. She wanted to have enough to last through the night and into tomorrow although she doubted the storm would last past the morning. She’d have to shelter here until the storm passed. Not that her aunt would miss her. Tori knew her aunt had made a place for her there after Tori’s brothers disappeared only because Tori’s uncle had ordered it. Since her uncle wasn’t there now, her aunt didn’t hide her animosity. If he had been at home, Tori wouldn’t have been sent to the city to deliver those goods on her own.
Still, the drop off of the wares had happened as planned. The trouble had happened on the way back to the valley when the storm had hit. The michkal had run off when one of the first claps of thunder had sounded. The sturdy pack animal wasn’t the fastest beast, but she didn’t have a hope of catching it when it was panicked. She had no doubt that it would make it back to the stables on its own, but Tori wasn’t risking the mudslides and floods that could happen on this mountain on foot. Those bulging, deep gray clouds promised more than the small patches of rain that had been dumped so far.
She’d never been so glad to see a place as she had to see this isolated hunting cabin. Coming back from the town, she’d known she wouldn’t make it back to the valley before those heavy clouds burst. In good weather, it took nearly two days to reach the village from this point. On foot and in bad weather when there was a chance of flooding from rain, it could take more than extra time. It could take her life. The forest trails could be treacherous, not to mention the rivers. She expected a lonely, but hopefully short stay at the cabin. She didn’t think any other villagers were travelling and only someone familiar with the area would know of the shelter and that it would be stocked with the essentials.
Putting the wood down along the inside wall, she turned and whistled. Mirlu, her big, gray canil trotted over to her and into the cabin. She closed the door and barred it. Wiping her muddy boots on the thick brown woven rug near the door, she hung her wet coat on a peg near the door. Finally, she could get warm and rest for a while. She took the wood to the rough hewn box near the fireplace and pulled off her boots as she settled in for the night.
Tori added a couple of logs to the fire and stirred the soup in pot hanging in the huge rock fireplace. The cabin was stark and definitely bare. There weren’t even chairs or beds, only the essentials, supplies and a couple of pots for cooking. She took a seat on the cushions she’d placed on the bare plank floor in front of the fireplace and leaned back on her arms relaxing for a moment. She had a fire for warmth, a comfortably padded pallet for the night and soup to eat.
Now, she could rest while the storm rolled overhead. It was a relief and a much better option than having to stay out in the cold rain and eat whatever she could find in her bag or on the trail. That could have happened if the michkal had run off a little later in the trek around the mountain and through the forest to the valley.
Dozing slightly as the warmth of the fire filled the cabin, her eyes snapped wide in alarm as the door rattled against the bar holding it closed. Mirlu stood and walked to the door, but he didn’t growl or even seem alarmed. His head cocked to the side and his long, pointed ears swiveled. Must be the wind. She turned back to the fire. The door banged against the bar again, but this time, it did it three times in a row. That couldn’t be just the wind.
The fact that Mirlu wasn’t agitated reassured her. The canil was protective and if it was anything or anyone he considered a threat, he’d be all fangs and growls. She rose to her feet and walked over to the door. She cautiously slid the board free of one of the loops and pulled the door open a little to look outside. Even though Mirlu wasn’t worried, she wasn’t going to take chances. The plank would keep it from opening fully.
She looked out and at first didn’t see anything, but then she looked down. A sleek black form stood right in front of the door. A big feline paw with long, sharp claws raked at the door. A tiron. She blinked. She’d only seen the animal form of a Santir shapeshifter in a book, but she couldn’t mistake it. Looking back at Mirlu, she raised her brows. Not a threat? The animal was huge. He stood chest high, muscled and she’d bet those claws of his had left marks on the door. She’d never met one of them, but she knew there were a couple of groups in the area.
The tiron stumbled sideways as it raised its paw to scratch at the door again. It didn’t even seem to be aware that she had it partially open. Okay, something was wrong. Maybe it, he or she, was hurt. Now, that she wasn’t gaping in shock, she noticed that the tiron’s sides heaved with labored breaths. Where were the tiron’s friends? She knew shifters tended to stay in groups and seldom traveled alone. Wondering why the Santir was here during one of the worst storms to hit the area in years was going to have to wait. He was in trouble and obviously needed help.
She pushed the door closed far enough to remove the bar fully and then opened the door. Stepping to the side, she held open the door so the tiron could enter. The tiron’s eyes fixed on hers and it took a slow step forward. Its rounded head pressed into her stomach and even through the fabric of her shirt, she felt him take in a deep breath. A rolling purr rumbled through the beast as he turned and entered the cabin. The beast’s triangular ears swiveled and tipped back. He couldn’t seem to walk a straight line as he moved into the room.
She frowned as she followed after shutting and barring the cabin door. What had that been about? Who was this shifter? Mirlu seemed comfortable with him, but right now she was questioning the canil’s ability to know what was dangerous. That shifter was huge and the claws on those paws looked lethal.
The tiron plopped on his butt in the middle of the floor and watched her with deep green eyes. Tori raised an eyebrow. She’d expected the tiron to change into human form. From what she knew about them, they weren’t shy about nudity, but maybe he was being considerate of her.