Shattered Bonds (Jane Yellowrock, #13)

Shattered Bonds (Jane Yellowrock, #13)

Faith Hunter



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Teri Lee, Timeline and Continuity Editor Extraordinaire, for all the changes.

Mindy “Mud” Mymudes, Beta Reader and PR.

David B. Coe for raptors and feathers.

Let’s Talk Promotions at ltpromos.com, for managing my blog tours and the Beast Claws fan club.

Lee Williams Watts for being the best travel companion and PA a girl can have!

Beast Claws! Best Street Team Evah!

Carol Malcolm for the timeline update in The Jane Yellowrock Companion.

Mike Pruette at celticleatherworks.com for all the fabo merch!

Joe Nassise for putting me in touch with VIPs about older helicopters.

KC for helicopter info.

Larry Correia for contacts and info.

Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency, as always, for guiding my career, being a font of wisdom, and career guidance.

Cliff Nielsen for all the work and talent that goes into the covers.

Poet and writer Sarah Speith for giving me Jane’s medicine bag. It’s still perfect!

Copy Editor Eileen Chetti.

As always, a huge thank-you to Jessica Wade of Penguin Random House. Without you there would be no book at all!





CHAPTER 1


    He Ate Her Body While She Was Still Alive, Piece by Piece



Beast pawpawpawed, slow, across ridge of rock over creek. Silent. Good predator. Moving back paw into front paw track, paw prints overlapping in fresh layer of snow. Beast lifted snout and sniffed, breath in two white clouds in icy air. Wind blew own scent back, along path. Wind filled nose with musk of three male deer, upwind. Bucks did not see or smell Beast. Beast is best hunter.

But.

Biggest buck raised head. Sniffing. Pawing dirt. Eyes on tree bark where Beast had left mark before last pregnant moon. Where Beast had sharpened claws to mark territory. Old spoor. Beast had hunted along creek then. Was best hunter’s old spoor still strong with threat? Had Beast made stupid kit mistake?

No. Beast is good hunter. Want big deer. Has much meat. Will have good blood and good organs and good belly fat. Beast hungers. Big buck is strong and healthy.

Pawed closer. Crouched. Eyes on other creek bank and deer below. Watching.

Snow covered ground, deep as Beast paw. Wet rocks were black, sharp as knife blade in hands of human hunter. Sunlight was low, angled. Reflection in pool of water below did not show Beast. Did not show deer. Was good hunting spot. Water splashed from small falls, crisp, like breaking sticks. Would cover Beast sounds.

Smaller male in male deer herd finished drinking. Leaped up bank to flat ground beneath Beast’s perch. Beast waited. Finally, big deer dropped head. And drank.

Beast tightened crouch, pulling all body onto paws, shoulders high. Leaped. Shoved off with back legs. Stretched out front legs. Claws extending. Falling. Thick tail rotated for balance. Scent of buck rushed up. Heavy. Pungent.

Deer flinched. Hooves left ground. Buck leaped high. Away from other deer. Beast snarled. Not expecting jump. Whipped tail, swiveling body. Reaching.

Buck splashed into deep water. Beast missed.

Buck leaped again. Splashed hard. Hooves driving up far bank. White tail held high.

Beast fell.

Landed half in water.

Front paws missed rock just under surface.

Paws, legs, shoulders, head, slapped into water. And under it. Nose flaps closed, but not before water went up nose.

Front feet hit bottom, back feet hit bank.

Wrenched body back. Rear paws and claws dug deep into half-frozen muddy bank. Body twisted. Out of water. Blew water out of nose in loud snort. Spat and shook. Loose coat slid around muscular body. Flinging water droplets into snow. Blowing.

Beast whirled, searching for two smaller deer. They had vanished. Beast snarled at world. Screamed. Big deer must have heard or smelled Beast.

I hunger! Screamed again, sound echoing in hills. Chuffed in anger. Pounced up and down, paws sinking into half-frozen mud.

Deer did not come back. Prey was smart.

Shook again. Water had not penetrated into deep coat. Had not washed into paw pads. Beast would not freeze.

Pulled in air over tongue and over scent sacs in roof of mouth. What Jane called flehmen response, but Beast called scenting. Stopped. Held muzzle into air and smelled again. Caught stink of cat on air. Sucked in air again, hard and long, showing fangs, smelling with nose and part of brain that Beast had stolen from ugly dog, good nose, what Jane called bloodhound.

Smelled cat. Was male. Did not smell like lynx or bobcat. Was not small feral cat humans used as mousers. Was different. Was . . . bigger. Scent was old and no tracks showed in snow. But cat had been on Beast’s territory. Back feet landing in prints of front feet, Beast stalked scent. Followed old cat smell many short steps, body in crouch, to tree on edge of hunting territory. Male cat had left spoor near tree. Old scat. Male cat was healthy. Strong. Bigger than lynx. Beast sucked in scent through nose and mouth. Cat was not lion from Africa. Cat was not leopard. Not puma. Was not werecat. Beast knew those smells. Did not know this cat. Beast pawed scat and saw bones of rabbit in scat. But. Cat was gone.

Beast clawed tree, shredding bark. Clawed and clawed, marking territory. This is Beast territory. This is Beast hunting ground. Snarled again. Shook more water out of pelt. Left spoor at ground under tree, on top of male cat scat. This said, Beast place. All who hunted here would know it was Beast place. Went back to pool of water and drank. Beast water. And when Beast sees deer again, Beast deer. Beast food.

Beast screamed, mountain lion cry bouncing up hills like human ball on walls. Beast shook, flinging more water, and shoved off with all four feet. Straight-up jump, what Jane would say was too high, but Puma concolor knew was good jump. Landed on top of rock ridge. Raced into trees and down top of hill toward house that was human home.

Snow began to fall. Ran through snowflakes, slinky and lithe and lissome. Good words for Beast. Each leap covered more than Beast body and tail, body and tail, and part of body again. Was long run steps.

Sun dipped behind western ridge. Dusk fell. Beast eyes saw world as green and silver and gray and many shades of black. Cold air and snow kept Beast cool. Felt good on strong body. But Beast still hungered. Was skinny.

Thought of humans and vampires and witches. Want to hunt bison in Edmund car. Edmund is gone. Want to sit on Leo and rub jaw on Leo to scent mark. But Leo is gone. Want to curl around Angie Baby and Little Evan and new kit and keep kits safe. But kits are gone. Beast is hungry. Beast is sad.

Thought about big-cat spoor. Beast is lonely.

Felt/saw/smelled change. Beast stopped. Crouched. Thought was another deer, but . . . vibration beneath Beast’s paws was too big for running deer. Was like stone on stone, not deer hooves. Beast quivered in reaction, sniffing, dropping belly to snow. Thinking. Vibration got stronger. Claws extruded and sank into leaves on ground beneath snow. Vibration got stronger again. Earth moves, Beast thought. Earth is alive.

Snow fell from quivering branches overhead. Large globs landed on snow with soft plops. Dollop of snow splatted onto Beast’s back. Beast hissed. Leaped high and to side, into trees, hissing, spitting, hissing, growling. Raced up tall tree into branches. Hunched tight. Smelling for enemy. But tree was shaking too.

Earth settled. Night fell darker beneath heavy clouds. Faint light came from place where sun set. Beast turned to stare at it. Sun was gone. Was too light there now. Had been darker there when sun set last time Beast hunted. More white man’s lights? Hate white man’s lights.

When Beast was satisfied that Earth was staying still, Beast dropped from limb, loped toward house. Smelled wood smoke on air. Smelled Brute spoor stink. Smelled Bruiser and Eli and stink of gunfire from new shooting range. Family. Saw snow fall, felt snow landing on coat. Trotted out of tree line, along row of grapevines, branches showing hints of green from warmer weather, now gone again. Bruiser said Mother Nature was fickle. Beast did not understand fickle. Trotted past unfinished cottages. Past finished cottages. Up to house that Jane called inn.

Beast did not need lights, but security lights were on. Alex and Eli trusted Beast to know if Beast was safe, but did not trust Jane to live, so littermates had come. They had put up cameras. Beast was on camera and motion sensors. Beast thought about spraying spoor on cameras and chuffed with laughter. But Bruiser was here. Eli and Alex. Family. Beast did not spray cameras.

Beast was nearing front steps when something in mind tore with harsh sound. Beast stopped. Stumbled. Fell to snow. In head, deep in mind, Edmund screamed, “My mistress! Dange—” The sound of his cry was cut off. Was sound of agony. Beast froze, lying in snow.

Edmund cry waked Jane.

Beast? Was that Ed?

Beast whirled body and spun to feet. Raced for door, sprinting, leaping, covering twenty feet in a bound.

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