Authors: Tasha Black
© 2014 by 13th Story Press
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
: August 14, 2014
3th Story Press
PO Box 506
, PA 19081
2014 by Cormar Covers
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insley was having
the dream again.
She had worried that coming home to Tarker’s Hollow would bring it back. Her hands twisted the sheets as she tossed in her old childhood bed. At the same time, she smelled the pine needles crunching underfoot as her dream-self ran through the college woods.
In the dream she was always a teenager again.
Brian Swinton, the new boy at school, ran a few steps behind her, laughing.
Brian had just a few freckles on his cheeks that made you look at his eyes, his big, dreamy, hazel eyes. Once you were done with his eyes, which could be quite a while, you couldn’t help but see how his t-shirt hugged his wide shoulders and his Levi’s hung from his narrow hips. And even though he was a new kid and quiet, he made Ainsley’s heart beat loud, loud, loud.
After school he would walk her home, and sometimes, Brian would try to pull her toward the woods. And Ainsley, who had always been a good girl, would sometimes let him.
There, they would kiss under the pine trees until Ainsley was dizzy and heated and pushed him away to run as fast as she could back home. He would call after her, both of them laughing.
But the dream wasn’t about one of those times. The dream was always about their last visit to the woods.
In the quiet night of her parents’ empty house, a more grown up Ainsley thrashed in the sheets and tried desperately to wake up. But her traitorous feet carried her deeper into the woods, deeper into the dream.
As she ran, her own laughter mingled with Brian’s, close behind. At last, she stopped, whirled around, and wrapped her arms around his neck, ready for a sweet, slow kiss.
Instead, he spun them both around and pressed her back against a tree.
He’d never done that before.
Before she could react, he slid his hands gently down her ribcage and let his thumbs brush her nipples.
Ainsley gasped as she took in the brand new sensations.
Brian pressed his mouth to hers again and angled his whole lean body against her soft one. She felt his heart pounding in his chest, and the hardened length of him throbbing against her hip.
Her insides clenched in pleasure and she deliberately pressed her breasts against his chest.
He inhaled sharply and stilled for a moment, then devoured her mouth again, fists clenched in her hair now, his hips rocking that mysterious stiff bulge against her.
In that moment Ainsley felt a surge of awareness. Suddenly she could hear every twig snap and every squirrel scamper in the woods. She could smell the wood shavings at the hardware store in the village, and hear the train on the tracks in the city half an hour away, thundering toward Tarker’s Hollow.
What was happening to her?
The sensory assault washed over Ainsley in a tidal wave until she felt that her heart could not keep beating.
Even poor Brian Swinton, excited as he was, must have felt the change in her. He pulled away, panting.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m sorry, I…” Tears welled in her eyes.
“Listen, we don’t have to make out, Ainsley. I know you have a lot of school work and you’re a nice girl…”
From her bed, Ainsley wanted nothing more than to agree with him and walk away. But she knew that was useless. The dream would run its course.
It always did.
Teenaged Ainsley touched a cautious finger to Brian’s lips, then cupped both hands around his familiar face, letting her thumbs brush over the freckles on the tops of his cheeks, and staring into his hazel eyes. The smell of anxiety wafted off the light sweat on his brow.
She ran her hands through his sandy hair and he closed his eyes. Her fingers traced the gentle swell of his biceps, and her nails raked slowly down his chest. He leaned into her hands, but she brought them back up to his face.
“Being with you, like this, it might just be my favorite thing,” Ainsley breathed.
Before he could respond, she grabbed his lower lip in her teeth and sucked on it gently.
Something was building inside Ainsley, struggling to break free.
Brian moaned softly. His hand cupped her breast, then worked its way down. He fumbled with the button of her jeans while they kissed.
The sounds of the surrounding woods disappeared - Ainsley could hear nothing over the pounding of her own pulse. At last, the button gave way and Brian slipped his fingers into the waistband of her cotton panties.
There was a blur of movement, and a harsh growl, then everything went black as the air filled with shrill, unnatural shrieks.
Ainsley Connor finally opened her eyes in the safety of her old bedroom, her throat raw from screaming in her sleep.
The dream was over, but the feeling of it still draped her like a thick fog.
Any hope of rest was gone for the night.
insley jumped out of bed
, silk pajamas clinging to the cold sweat that covered her. A shiver ran through her at the late-summer breeze drifting through the open bedroom window. The familiar trappings of Ainsley’s youth surrounded her.
Her parents had never taken down her boy band posters, or packed away the shelves of trophies. Just sitting there made her feel like she was in high school again, her parents asleep at the end of the hall. Like she could run to their room, snuggle herself between the two them and everything would be all right.
Of course that wasn’t the case.
Her parents were dead. That’s why she was here, reliving old nightmares in her childhood bedroom.
Ainsley was a very practical person, but this particular dream, one she’d been having for the last ten years, always left her feeling scared and lonely. And now she really was alone – in Tarker’s Hollow, and anywhere, if she was being honest.
She decided to head down to the kitchen for tea to soothe her throat. She slipped on a bathrobe and walked down the narrow hall of the creaky old Victorian.
Her hand instinctively reached for a cell phone in her robe pocket, but came up empty. In New York, she would have found an email from a client or another agent to keep her busy – no matter the hour. But her phone was plugged in downstairs, where she had sworn not to touch it, and she had handed her client list over to a young upstart agent in her firm for the duration of this trip.
Ainsley knew she needed to focus every waking moment on emptying this house so she could get back to New York. Back to her real life. Back to her clients.
And out of Tarker’s Hollow before the full moon.
Boiling water hit the peppermint teabag in her mug with a hiss. Ainsley brought the steaming brew to her face and inhaled.
It took her back to after school tea parties with her best friend, Grace Kwan-Cortez, in this very kitchen. Ainsley set her mug on the round oak table, where it rested on a ring stain put there by so many previous cups.
When Ainsley’s parents died in the accident, Grace’s parents had sent her a card. It read as though no time had passed since the day Ainsley left Tarker’s Hollow at age seventeen without looking back.
In the card, Mrs. Cortez told Ainsley that she loved her and that they would always think of her as their daughter and hoped she would think of them like her parents now. Mrs. Cortez also explained that they had set aside a bedroom for her. She could come home anytime to stay for as long as she wanted.
The honesty had shattered Ainsley’s frozen heart and she’d immediately stuffed it in the bottom of her underwear drawer, unable to bring herself to throw it away.
The Cortez family home and her own had been the settings of so many happy girlhood memories. She could lose herself wallowing in the past if she wasn’t careful.
That’s why she was practically hiding out in the house.
If she didn’t bump into any of her old teachers or schoolmates, if she didn’t call Mrs. Cortez, then she couldn’t get sucked in. She could get in and get out – just like she planned.
That was sort of the name of Ainsley’s game. Since middle school she had been what people might describe as a Type A personality. She liked to ask questions and get things right on the first try. She and Grace had been two peas in a pod.
Until that night with Brian had ruined her life, and ended his.
he had spent
days in her room after Brian’s death. When she was finally able to leave her bed and take a shower without breaking down, her parents had told her it was time to have a talk about growing up.
She had thought it ludicrous under the circumstances, and pushed them off again and again, until they cornered her in her room two weeks later, as she packed for college. She’d gotten accepted early, and, like it or not, the summer session was about to start.
It turned out that Ainsley’s family had a very different version of “the talk.”
“Mom, Dad, you missed the boat. We already talked about the birds and the bees in health class.” Ainsley neatly rolled a skirt in plastic and placed it in the blue suitcase they’d bought for her.
“I was thinking more about the wolves,” her dad said.
Ainsley froze, thinking of growl she’d heard in the woods with Brian right before...
“Ainsley, we knew we needed to have this talk with you before you went away. But we hoped you could have a little more time to enjoy your childhood. Most wolf cubs don’t turn until they’re in their twenties,” her dad said. “And we weren’t even sure if…”
A look from Ainsley’s mom made him reconsider finishing his sentence.
Ainsley swallowed and smoothed her hair behind her ears, a nervous habit. She began rolling another skirt.
“I know you’re still hurting, honey,” her mom whispered and reached to touch Ainsley’s face.
Ainsley cringed. The hurt look in her mother’s eyes would be with her for a lifetime. Her mom withdrew her hand.
“No matter how you feel right now, it’s important for you to learn as much as you can about being a wolf. It is who you are. And you’re going to need to know what to do,” she said.
There it was. Ainsley had always known she was different. She just didn’t realize how different, until that day in the woods. The day she had transformed into some kind of monster and killed poor, innocent Brian Swinton.
Of course she didn’t actually remember that part; she had blacked out, mercifully. But Sheriff Warren said it looked like Brian had been mauled by a bear.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist.
The realization of what she’d done hit her like a kick in the chest.
“Not to mention that you’re very important to the pack,” her father added.
Her mother shot him that look again, like he’d said too much. Ainsley seized the opportunity.
“How am I important?”
“Ainsley, our family has been part of this pack for generations,” her mother explained. “Your grandfather led the pack as alpha, and now your father has that role.”
“A lot of changes are coming to this town, Ainsley,” Dad said, “and we will need strong leadership to survive.”
Ainsley stared at her father in wonder.
“Is that why everyone in town is so friendly to you?”
“I suspect it is has more to do with my effervescent charm, but being the alpha doesn’t hurt.”
Ainsley ignored his attempt at humor.
“Not all of them, but yes, a lot of the people here are wolves. We don’t use the term ‘werewolf’ – it’s a little offensive.”
Even monsters had to be politically correct, it seemed.
are the leader of the pack?” she asked.
“That makes it sound like the old Shangri-La song, but yes, I am the alpha.”
Ainsley thought about it.
Her quiet father was always at the center of every party. Their friends came to him for advice. Underneath the old tweed blazers his body was strong and warm. He could still sweep her up and throw her over his shoulder as a teenager as easily as when she was a little girl. His vision was excellent in spite of the decades in front of a computer or with his nose buried in an old tome. And even the soft voice he used now vibrated with strength.
She had never really thought about it.
He was her father. He would always be big and strong and brave in her eyes, and she would always want to obey him and make him proud. There was nothing crude and animalistic in that.
“I believe you, Dad. And I need to leave. I can’t be part of this. What happened was unforgivable.”
“It’s tragic what happened to Brian, honey,” her mother said. Ainsley could tell she wanted to say more.
“He’s not the last boy in Tarker’s Hollow, Ainsley,” her father said. “Another wolf would be the best choice. Until now I’ve held them back. Now that you know the truth, that can change.”
Ainsley had sudden insight into why the other boys had been so weird. Lately, she’d begun to actually feel the hungry stares she’d thought she’d been glimpsing for years, and hear the hearts pounding.
When she turned around they always cast down their eyes. She thought that was just how boys were – cowardly. Until the new boy had met her eye and gulped when she looked his way. Her heart turned to ice at the thought.
“The last, the absolute
thing on this earth that I want to date is another
. It’s bad enough that I can’t get out of this.” She paused. “Wait. Is there any way for me to get out of this?”
“No, Ainsley,” her father said. “No, there isn’t.”
“So no matter what, I’m going to turn into a gigantic wolf?”
“Did I turn into a wolf because… because I was making out with Brian?”
“No,” her mother said. “Although that sort of…
can draw your wolf to the surface. Your cycle as a wolf has to do with the cycle of the moon.”
“Do I have to turn?” Ainsley asked. “What if I don’t want to?”
Ainsley shot her a pleading look. Her mom had always been able to make things right. Ainsley wished more than anything that she could go back to being that little girl with the pigtails and the skinned knees, running to her mom for a bandage and a glass of homemade lemonade – to go back to a simpler time, before all this mess.
Her mother sighed.
“You can’t change who you are, Ainsley, and turning is part of who you are now.”
“There are stories,” her father said, slipping into the academic tone he used with his students. “Of wolves that were under duress and couldn’t turn. They say the pain was excruciating, both mentally and physically.”
“Michael.” Her mother shook her head at him.
“So it can be done!” Ainsley said, latching on to the possibility of a normal life.
“It may be technically possible to withhold from turning, Ainsley. But I would advise against it,” her father said. “The amount of self control it would take would be monumental. Your mind and body will be consumed with your new life at every moon cycle. You should engage with it, master it, and enjoy it. It is who you are. You can’t just run away.”
“Watch me,” Ainsley said firmly. The teeth of the zipper came together with a satisfying hiss and she swung the suitcase off the bed.
She was going away to college, she had a full scholarship to Columbia, and there was nothing they could do to stop her.
“You’re coming home two days before the full moon.” Her father’s tone made it clear that it wasn’t a request.
Of course she didn’t. She hadn’t set foot in the house since. Until the car accident had claimed her parents’ lives and forced her back into town.
Her parents had hidden the truth from her just long enough to make her a murderer.
And now their degenerate lifestyle meant that Ainsley couldn’t just hire an army of ladies armed with boxes and stickers to empty the house. Instead, she had to put her life on hold and risk damaging her career to go through their belongings herself and annihilate any trace of what her parents had been.