Authors: Goldie McBride
Tags: #romance, #paranormal romance, #fantasy, #paranormal, #shapeshifter, #shape shifter, #fantasy romanc
(C) Copyright by Goldie McBride, July
(C) Cover Art, July 2012
Published by KK and M
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All
characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and
not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or
events is merely coincidence.
The persistent, escalating commotion in
the courtyard finally roused Aslyn from sleep. Alarm should have
jolted her awake, should have galvanized her into instant action.
At any other time, her mind would instantly have responded to the
sounds that could mean nothing but danger. Instead, a heaviness
pervaded her senses, as if she’d drank too much wine or
Her sluggish mind connected with that
thought, meandering along it until she recalled the celebration the
night before. Her father had announced her betrothal to Wilhem of
She had been reasonably satisfied with
her father’s choice of husband. He was an older man, nearing
thirty, but not so old that she felt repelled by his age, and he
had attained some note as a warrior. He was not hard on the eyes,
either, for which she was grateful.
Twenty six did seem a little old to a
fifteen year old girl, particularly since she’d hoped to make a
match nearer her own age, but she was certain she had not imbibed
more than she should have, either from excessive delight, or
The direction of her thoughts finally
roused her sufficiently that she pushed herself upright and looked
around. The tower room was dark still, barely lighter than it had
been when she’d doused the candles and climbed into her bed the
night before. The sun could not have risen.
Why then did it seem the entire keep
was aroused and moving about as if they were well into the new
As she was striving to puzzle through
it, she realized she was covered in a chilled, sticky wetness. She
looked down at herself then and a new wave of confusion swept over
She was nude. What had happened to her
gown? More importantly, what was the substance she was coated
Her hands, indeed her entire body, was
splotched with the sticky residue. She held out her hands, peering
at them in the dim light. Slowly, her eyes focused. Slowly the dark
patches attained a rusty hue.
Her heart lurched painfully in her
chest. Stumbling from the bed, she staggered toward the reflecting
glass that was perched upon her dressing table.
Streaks of the same sticky substance
smeared her forehead and cheeks. It was concentrated, however,
around her mouth and throat. Instinctively, her hand went to her
It wasn’t hers. She had no
She stared at her hands, her arms,
looked down at her body in dawning horror, trying to grapple with
How could she be soaked in blood when
she was not injured?
Some nameless fear seized her and she
stumbled to the wash stand. Dashing water from the ewer into the
basin, she began scrubbing herself frantically. She had to get rid
of it. She had to remove the evidence….
She broke off the thought, paused in
her task. The evidence of what?
She couldn’t grasp it. She couldn’t
seem to move beyond the need to bathe. Dismissing it, she
concentrated on cleansing herself. When she’d finished, she stared
down at the filmy water in revulsion, realizing she could not leave
it for the maids to find. Lifting the basin, she stumbled awkwardly
with her heavy burden to the window then set it down on the floor
to unfasten the scraped hide that covered the opening.
Below, chaos reigned. People were
dashing hither and yon; women screamed; horses reared as her
father’s guard fought to bring them under control; the dogs from
the kennel bayed as if they had the scent of death in their
Aslyn grasped the bowl and tossed the
contents from the window.
She’d barely done so when her door
exploded inward with a force that slammed the wooden portal back
against the stone wall with a sharp crack of splintering
“Lady Aslyn! Oh! Thank the saints you
are here and unharmed!”
Aslyn stared at her nurse wide eyed.
“Where else would I be at this hour?”
The nurse burst into wails. “My lady!
My lady! I don’t know how to tell you this terrible
A wave of dizziness washed over Aslyn.
“No, no! My poor child! I did not mean
to frighten you for your father! And your mother gone these many
years, I know how dear he is to you. I should have thought! I
should have realized….”
Aslyn strode toward the woman, grasped
her shoulders, and gave her a shake. “Cease your babbling and tell
me! You are frightening me to death! What has happened?”
“You’re betrothed! Lord Wilhem, my
lady! He has been found….” The nurse broke off, clutching her
“For mercy’s sake, tell me. Do not
leave me to wonder what ill has befallen us. I shall go mad! Has he
attacked us? Has he fallen ill? What?”
The nurse clutched her, her fingers
curled like claws, digging in to Aslyn’s flesh painfully. “It’s
horrible. I shall carry the image to my grave. Some beast fell upon
him last eve and … and it must have been a wild beast, or some evil
thing. No man could have done to him what was done. I would not
have recognized him but for the ring he wears. His face was torn
away, his body ripped apart, his entrails scattered, as if wild
dogs had fallen upon him and fought over his remains.”
Aslyn felt the strength leave her
knees. She wilted to the floor, her thoughts chaotic.
One thought pounded through her mind
over and over, however. The blood—she had been covered in blood and
she had no idea how she had come to be covered in blood.
She very much feared, however, that she
The dream was the same as it had always
been, so far back into her memory that she could not remember when
it had first crept into her sleeping mind to frighten her. She was
a young child. She knew this somehow, though she had no idea of how
old she was … small enough to hide under the benches in the great
hall and creep away unnoticed … less than five, she was certain.
She was afraid and triumphant at the same time. She’d escaped
nurse’s watchful eye. She’d managed to slip through the garden and
out the postern gate.
Someone had left the gate ajar and the
outside world beckoned. Her sense of happy adventure had lasted
until she realized she was lost. When had the meadow given way to
wooded lands? She couldn’t seem to remember anything except that
she had chased a rabbit, round and round, enjoying the pursuit and
far more interested in running that in actually catching the poor
She heard voices calling to her. They
were fearful, angry. There were many voices, as if everyone from
the keep had come to look for her. The idea frightened her almost
as much as the fact that she was lost. She didn’t want to be
punished. Instead of answering them, she ran and hid. As she
crouched beneath the tangle of brush, however, darkness began
creeping through the leaves of the trees, closing around
Finally, her fear of the dark woods had
overcome her fear of punishment. She’d crawled from hiding, begun
to run toward the voices that still called her name, though anger
had given way to their own fears. Even as she ran, however, heard
the voices become louder, closer—she realized that something was
running behind her, giving chase as she had pursued the rabbit
before. Quite suddenly, it had bounded from the brush and pounced
upon her, knocking her to the ground, its sharp teeth bared in a
snarl, its golden eyes gleaming in the light of the full
She threw up her hand in an effort to
protect herself. Pain flooded through her as she felt its teeth
sink into her flesh. She screamed in terror and kept on screaming
as the pain filled her shocked mind.
Aslyn woke, still caught in the grips
of her nightmare, still struggling to scream.
As it slowly faded, she realized she
was cold, so cold her teeth were chattering. Dazed, her mind still
sluggish, it took her some moments to assimilate where she
With the dread of recognition, her gaze
finally focused upon her hands, curled inward toward her palm,
almost like claws. They were bloody. She needed no mirror to tell
her that her face and neck were covered with it, as well. She’d
shifted in the night, fed upon … some hapless prey. The time of the
moon was upon her.
Shuddering, she rolled over, sat up
abruptly, and looked around. She was naked, lying in the snow.
Small wonder she felt as if she would freeze to death.
There was no escaping the nightmare
world she had descended into in her fifteenth year, although, in
the beginning, she had lied to herself that she would find a
Fearful that she would harm someone she
cared for, or that those who loved her would discover her
affliction and be forced to destroy her, she’d fled her home after
the death of her betrothed. But she had told herself that she would
discover a cure. She would find a way to lift the curse, or
affliction—she wasn’t even certain of which it was. Over the past
three years since her quest had begun, she had acquired a good deal
of knowledge in the healing arts, and even discovered others on her
own, but she had never come close to curing her own
Each time the moon waxed full, the
madness seized her. She wasn’t certain whether it was a blessing or
a curse that she could never remember what she’d done. She
remembered feeling a darkness churning to life within her as she
gazed up at the full moon, a throbbing to life of something
primal—and then she remembered nothing more, awaking each time
naked and bloody and certain only that she had savagely killed
In truth, she supposed it was both
blessing and curse. It was hard enough to deal with the knowledge
that she had killed without having to bear the weight of the memory
of the kill. And yet, how was she to find a cure when she didn’t
know with any degree of certainty what was happening? Somewhere in
the knowledge that eluded her lay a piece of the puzzle. She was as
certain of that as she was certain that the nightmares that had
plagued her these many years were not nightmares at all, but
Whatever had happened to the child she
had been was at the root of her curse.
Forced from her contemplation finally
by physical distress, Aslyn focused on scrubbing the blood from
herself with snow. There was no water, and, in any case, she was
half frozen already. Using snow would not make her any colder. She
had to rid herself of the blood before the stench made her
It was far from ideal, however, in the
sense that it was impossible to cleanse herself thoroughly with the
icy crystals. Finally, satisfied that she’d removed as much of the
drying blood as she would be able to until she found running water,
she stumbled to her feet and looked around.
Scraggly, winter bare trees dotted the
area around her. Here and there a craggy knob of rock poked through
the white blanket, however. She frowned. She’d sought shelter in a
cave when the snow had begun to fall. Turning in a slow circle, she
finally spied a dark crevice some little distance from where she
now stood. Relief flooded her. She’d returned to her
She had learned that she could,
generally, count upon that, at the very least. Whatever madness
seized her in the night and sent her scouting for a kill, she
usually returned to whatever shelter she’d sought for herself when
morning chased the night shadows away.
With an effort, she stumbled toward the
narrow opening, tripping in the shifting, almost knee deep snow
drifts. Her clothing littered the entrance of the tiny cave.
Shivering, she lifted the coarse gown that lay closest to examine