Weekly Serial Lion’s Pride Chapter Three

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Chapter Three

My nice, long run should have tired me out. Instead, meeting Piter had just keyed me up. At first, I just stayed awake, excited to have met a shifter, maybe even a friend, who wouldn’t awkwardly treat me like a princess. Unless he was from Glenhela, I wasn’t his princess anyway. And there was a very slim chance he was actually from Glenhela. There were only a handful of wolves in the kingdom.

Somewhere along that train of thought was when I realized that Caernen was the closest wolf kingdom. The odds were good, too good, that Piter was from Caernen.

After that, I just stared into the darkness, up at the ceiling above my bunk. I couldn’t decide if making a friend from Caernen would be good or bad. It could be quite positive. Becoming friends with Piter could give me a look into Caernen that I couldn’t get from Danica, or even my brother. Piter would be a source outside of the palace. Heck, he could even talk to Danica and my brother and help them understand what the people of Caernen were thinking.

Or it would be terrible. If I announced my brother’s wedding to the future Queen of Caernen and people opposed to it found out I had gone to school with someone from that city. Would they think it was a conspiracy? What if Piter himself was against the wedding?

It was just all one massive headache. So much for escaping to school…

I felt like I was up the entire night, head spinning. I was almost dreading our next romp.

***~***

“You look tired,” Amanda said to me, while we waited in line for breakfast.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“That sucks.”

I nodded in agreement. After our plates were loaded up, we joined Olga and Janice at what had become our “usual” table. Partway through breakfast, a couple of male humans and a female came over.

“Mind if we join you?” one male with blond hair asked.

“Of course!” said Janice. “This is Devon,” she pointed to the blond. “And Alan and Edith. They’re in my English class. Guys, this is my roommate, Olga, and our friends Amanda and Lani.”

Devon sat down next to me and smiled.

“What are you studying?” he asked me.

“Undeclared,” I said. “I’ll figure something out eventually.”

“Laid-back, I like it! I’m doing Computer Science.”

“Sounds tough.” Shifters kept it simple. We had access to the same technology, but had kept our lives much less advanced than humans. I liked it that way.

Devon nodded. “Worth it though, I think.”

The two of us talked for the rest of the meal. He seemed like a fun human. The university had an Ultimate Frisbee club that Devon had joined. They met every Thursday and he convinced me to give it a try.

When breakfast was over, all seven of us walked across campus together, gradually splitting off for our classes. As chance would have it, Devon and I had class in the same building.

“Three hour class?” he asked me. When I nodded he said, “Me too. Wanna get lunch after?”’

“Sure.”

I assumed he meant at the dining hall, but when we met up after class, he started walking the other direction.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“There’s a little shopping center up here, right off campus,” he said. “They have a good pizza place.” Devon stopped walking and turned to me nervously. “If you… like pizza.”

I laughed. “Yeah.”

“Great then, okay.” He kept walking and I hurried to catch up to him.

It was the first time I had left campus since the semester started. Although the shopping center was literally right next door. We crossed a street that led into campus from the main road and boom, we were there in the parking lot. The restaurant was a small, family-owned pizza parlor. Cozy, in fact. The walls were painted with scenes from Italy, mostly obscured by university memorabilia. It looked like the place had been open nearly as long as the university had existed. They had tons of black and white photographs from old college events and things like old jerseys and pennants. They even had a retired crew boat hanging from the ceiling.

Lunch was served by an extremely friendly woman who insisted we call her Mama. She asked our names and I had a feeling that she’d remember them if we came back. When the check came, Devon snatched it and paid for both meals.

“You don’t have to pay for me!” I cried.

“I invited you,” he said with a smile.

Had I just… wasn’t that what people did on dates? Had I just gone on my first ever date? And with a human at that! Could I ask if this was a date? Would that be weird?

“Fine,” I said instead. “I’ll just owe you.”

His smile turned shy. “You can pay next time… if you want to do this again.”

A second date? If that’s what this was. Well, why not? “That’d be great.”

Devon’s shoulders visibly slumped with relief. It was a date! “Awesome.”

We walked back to campus in comfortable silence. Was I crazy to go on a second date with a human? I half expected a kiss when we split up for our classes, but it didn’t happen. I couldn’t decide if I was disappointed or not. It would be my first kiss, after all. Did I really want to share that with a human? Did it matter that much? Maybe first kisses weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

I was still feeling a little torn when dinner time rolled around. Devon wasn’t in the dining hall, which didn’t help my indecision whatsoever. As I ate, I glanced around. It had become habit to look for the guy who had been staring at me the first night. I hadn’t seen him since. At first, I looked for him because he made me nervous. I wanted to catch him staring again. But, as time went on, I felt more like I was keeping an eye out just to be sure I hadn’t imagined him. Where was he? One paranoia-fueled possibility was that he was deliberately staying out of sight. I hoped not.

No sign of him. Now, I was free to start thinking about my upcoming run with Piter. Great. One more thing to worry about; a wolf who might have been from Caernen. Less than a month and I had a potentially imaginary stalker, a human who might want to date me, and a shifter who could be from the worst kingdom he could possibly be from.

“Only me,” I muttered.

When I got back to my room, I called my brother.

I opened with, “I need advice.”

“Okay.”

“So, there are three guys.”

“Good lord, Lani. You’re skipping the love triangle and going straight for the square?”

“Larkin,” I groaned. “Not like that… not all of them.”

“Then, like what?”

“Well… one I only saw once.”

“Um… okay?”

“He was staring at me. Like, creepy staring.”

I could hear concern in my brother’s voice. “You think he recognized you?”

“I don’t know. But I haven’t seen him since. It was only one time. I just… I dunno, I can’t forget it.”

“Keep your eyes open, I guess. Don’t let Mom’s paranoia rub off on you though.”

“Yeah,” I laughed.

“Next?”

“He’s human and… I think we went on a date today.”

“Whoa!”

“Is that a bad idea?”

“Why? It’s not like you’re going to marry the guy.”

“Well, no.”

“So? Date. Have fun. Isn’t that what college is all about?”

I flopped back onto my bed and smiled. Talking things over with my brother always made me feel better. Sometimes I just needed a second opinion. I hoped that wouldn’t change when we got older. Once I was Queen, I’d need him more than ever.

“You really are helpful, Larkin.”

“I know.” We both laughed. “Sooo?” he finally drawled.

“He’s a shifter.”

“Ouch. Does Mom know there’s another shifter there?”

“No.”

“Where’s he from?”

“I didn’t ask! I know better.”

“What is he?”

I sighed. “He’s a wolf.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah.”

“How far from you is Doreva?” Another wolf kingdom.

“Further than Caernen.”

“What do you guys… do?”

“So far we just shifted and went running. Doing it again tonight.”

“Remember what I said about a love triangle…”

“No! He is not on the table. He’s just another shifter.”

“What if he wants more?”

“I’m the Princess of Glenhela.  I can’t get involved with him, especially if he’s from Caernen.”

“He doesn’t know that.” Larkin hesitated. “Uh… does he?”

“No!”

“Well, then that’s what your human boyfriend is for. Now you have an excuse to not date the wolf.”

“I don’t know if I want a human boyfriend either.”

“Sucks to be you.”

“Brat.”

“Jerk-face.”

“Punk!”

“Butthole… don’t tell him you’re from Glenhela, Lani.”

“I won’t.”

“And I know it’s hard, but don’t do anything stupid.”

“Aww, it’s almost like you care, Larkin.”

“Almost.”

My door opened and Amanda came in with Olga.

“Gotta go. Love you.”

“Yeah, you too.”

I hung up and smiled at them. “Hey.”

“Who was that?” Amanda chirped.

“My brother.”

“Ahh, I thought it was Devon.”

“What?!”

“I saw how he was looking at you during breakfast,” she teased. “You guys would be a cute couple.”

I laughed nervously. She and Olga exchanged a knowing look. I considered just skipping running. How had things gotten so complicated so quickly?

~~~*~~~

In the end, I decided that I needed the exercise. I met Piter back on the stairway.

We talked, briefly, as we walked toward the woods. Just about our classes and how we were enjoying school. Nothing about where we were from. In fact, we could have been humans for all we talked about being shifters. And then, we ran. No words at all. Sometimes we kept pace, other times we spread apart. Wolves were marathon runners, lions were sprinters. When it was over, we walked back to the dorm together.

I felt relieved. This was the level of relationship I could safely maintain. Maybe even a bit more friendly. I hoped that Piter felt the same way. With any luck he didn’t want to get too close to a lion.

“I don’t think we should risk this three days in a row,” he said when we reached the stairway.

“I agree.”

“Tuesday, again?”

“Perfect,” I said in relief. Nothing as humans. Keep it shifter-business. I liked it.

“Night then.”

“Goodnight.”

I lay awake again, tumbling it all around in my head. Maybe I was overcomplicating things. I didn’t know the guy was staring at me. And, even if he was, what were the odds that it was because he knew my identity?

And Piter… I’d deal. I came to college to get away from the worries about the future. Who cared, really, if he was Caernen? One lone college friend wouldn’t affect the fallout from the marriage one way or the other. If we even stayed friends. Maybe he’d transfer after this semester. Maybe our schedules wouldn’t line up. Maybe another wolf shifter would show up and they’d become best buddies and forget all about me.

As for Devon… who cared? It was just as uncertain as Piter. And what was the harm of having a human boyfriend?

Feeling much better, I snuggled under my covers and fell asleep.

~~~*~~~

Breakfast was just me and Olga, until Janice’s classmate Edith joined us.

“You cool if I sit here?” she asked.

“Of course,” said Olga. “So, where are you from?”

“The northwest,” said Edith. “Little podunk town that nobody has ever heard of. This is the big city for me.”

We laughed.

“Some big city,” said Olga, who I knew was from Boston. “You’re likely to get eaten by a coyote here.”

I bit back a snicker. Or a lion.

“Come to my town, you’ll get eaten by a bear,” Edith said.

“Bears?” Olga cried. “Not like in town?”

“Yeah, they go through the garbage and stuff. See ‘em all the time.”

“Jeez!”

Edith grinned. “So, either of you have a homecoming date yet?”

Olga snorted. “No way. Dances aren’t my scene. I’ll be at the football game though!”

I was excited for homecoming. Not so much the dance, but the entire package of celebration and school pride.

“Not yet,” I said.

“Going to the dance?” Olga asked, wrinkling her nose.

I shrugged. “No reason not to.”

“Except for the dance part,” she said dryly.

Olga’s reaction didn’t seem to dim Edith’s enthusiasm. “It’s going to be fun! Just gotta get my guy to ask me…”

“Ask him,” I suggested.

“He doesn’t even know I exist,” she sighed.

“You have two weeks,” Olga told her.

Edith nodded. “I do. I’ll just bide my time and wait for the right moment.”

We finished eating and headed off to our classes. My stomach was a nervous knot by the end of class. Lunch, English, and then Ultimate Frisbee… I counted down in my head.

~~~*~~~

Ultimate Frisbee, as it turned out, was nothing to be nervous about. In fact, it was a blast! Devon showed me the basics before the game started and then we weren’t even on the same team. I was a little stronger and faster than the average human, but none of that was an advantage in the unfamiliar game. I thought that, at first, I’d have to act more normal. By the end of the game I was using my supernatural skills just to keep up! Some of the humans made the most incredible catches. Devon, in particular, was quite agile.

Tired, but giddy, I accepted Devon’s invitation to dinner after the game ended. We ate a quick bite in the dining hall, much later than I usually had dinner. We were heading toward the doors when they opened and Piter walked in.

“Oh, Lani,” he said, looking surprised.

“Hey.”

And then he walked in. The guy who had been staring at me. His eyes widened. If he didn’t know who I was, he sure looked stunned to see me. He stopped in his tracks, then his shocked expression cooled into a neutral one.

For a moment, none of us spoke.

“Who’s your friend?” Devon finally asked. Did I hear a hint of jealousy in his voice?

“Sorry, this is Piter,” I said. “And this is Devon.”

They shook hands and I was glad to see that Piter didn’t display any tell-tale signs of possessiveness. My brother’s love triangle joke seemed like just that. What a relief.

“This is my roommate, Jory,” Piter said. “This is uh…” He cleared his throat. “Lani.”

Jory looked at me with piercing dark blue eyes. They flicked to Devon, narrowed, and then burned back into me.

Undeterred by Jory’s reaction, or perhaps unaware, Devon stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Same,” said Jory flatly. He pushed between us and stalked off into the dining hall.

Piter smiled awkwardly and hurried after him.

“Great guy,” Devon said.

“Piter is,” I said, compelled to defend another shifter. “His roommate… not so much.”

“Is he now?” Devon asked. “How uh… how great?”

He was jealous!

“Well, I mean. A friend.”

“Just a friend?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, you wanna…” Devon sighed and trailed off.

“Yeah?”

“Gotohomecomingwithme?”

“What?”

Devon laughed nervously. “Homecoming. Do you want to go with me? To the dance?”

~~~~

I hope you liked Chapter Three!

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Weekly Serial Lion’s Pride Chapter Two

If you missed it, head back to Chapter One!

I hope you enjoyed the previous chapter! Thanks for coming back for more!

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Chapter Two

Amanda, my roommate, kept up a steady stream of chatter as we walked to the dining hall together. It was refreshing to be with something who wasn’t a family member actually talking to me. Most people I met either weren’t sure how to talk to their princess or wanted to woo me into giving them stuff. But Amanda just wanted to be friends. She was genuinely nice to me. I admit, I sort of tuned out as we walked, just basking in how different and how great college was going to be.

“Right, Lani?” she said.

“I… uh… sorry, what?”

Undaunted, Amanda gestured to the forest that our path had brought us closer to. “I said, it’s creepy, right? All dark and spooky.”

Dark was the only part I thought she had right. The only word I would have associated with the forest less than “creepy” was “spooky”. “I guess?”

She shuddered. “I don’t know why the path comes so close to it. I wonder if there’s a better route to the dining hall. That or we’re just going to have to get dinner before the sun goes down from now on!” She pulled out her cell phone and opened her flashlight app, in spite of the sporadic streetlights along the way.

“You’re that freaked out?” I asked.

“Aren’t you? Who knows what’s in there! I heard there are coyotes around here.”

“If we’re attacked by a coyote, I’ll protect you,” I promised, trying not to laugh. Being afraid of an animal was absolutely baffling to me.

Amanda grinned and thanked me, with no idea that I was being completely serious. We shifters liked to keep our existence a secret, but the odd human now and again figured things out. I certainly wasn’t going to let a coyote drag my roommate away when I was more than capable of saving her. I knew it was there, but I semi-consciously felt for the claw under my shirt, like I often did when I thought of shifting. I was pretty sure even the biggest coyote around wouldn’t stand a chance against a lioness.

She picked up her pace and I followed. The path was nearly deserted, which pleased me. I was planning on running wild in the forest when I got the chance. My only concern had been getting out of sight of the students. If all humans were as paranoid about being near the trees at night as Amanda was, it would be easy for me to slip on and off campus.

We made it to the dining hall without any coyote sightings and lined up for dinner. I rarely got to choose what I ate. The cooks stuck to their own menu, amending it now and then to suit my parents’ fancy. The buffet style dining hall was like heaven. In spite of wanting to fit in with the humans, I loaded up my plate with a little bit of everything. Luckily, it looked like everyone else wanted to sample the food too, so I wasn’t the only one with a full spread.

Amanda and I sat down at the end of a long table and were soon joined by a couple more girls. We went around with introductions. Crown Princess Lelania Galonllew of Glenhela was a mouthful that I was happy to shed in favor of Lani Grant. Short and sweet.

Halfway through dinner I got the eerie feeling that someone was staring at me. I looked around, hoping to catch them in the act, but couldn’t see anyone who looked like they might have been watching me. Nobody still staring, no heads rapidly turning away.

Probably guards.

Then again… I cast another glance around. Unless my mother had sent a second pair, there was no way they would already have arrived. Not to mention I didn’t recognize anybody. Surely the guards would at least look familiar. And only students could eat in the dining hall. As worried as she was, I couldn’t imagine that my mother would have gone to the effort of posing a guard as a student just to keep an eye on me.

The feeling kept nagging at me as I ate. I finished quickly. I didn’t like feeling nervous. Maybe my mother’s concern about assassins or kidnappers or whatever was rubbing off on me. As soon as I was finished I grabbed my tray and headed for the nearest trashcan. There was a line of people, scraping off their trays. I joined it, practically bouncing in place, eager to escape.

And then, I saw him.

The tall window next to me was reflecting the dining hall as clearly as a mirror. And there, a few tables away, was a boy. He was staring intently in my direction, brows furrowed, eyes narrowed. If he was a guard, my mother had found one I had never seen in my life.

His eyes moved to my reflection and somehow seemed to meet mine. His shoulders stiffened and he jerked his head back down to look at his plate.

A throat cleared behind me. The trashcan was free and I was just standing there like a spaz. I muttered an apology and quickly slid the trash off my tray. I whirled back to face the boy, but his chair was empty. Shoot. I looked around and spotted him; at the far door, hurrying out of the dining hall.

If he was a shifter, he’d be long gone before I could get to him. Especially with the woods nearby. Not that I wanted to call attention to myself by running across the room either.

I swung by the table where Amanda was still eating.

“Something didn’t agree with me,” I lied, patting my stomach. “I’m going to head back to the dorm.”

“Alone?” Amanda asked in alarm.

Our new friend Olga stood. “I’m heading back, I can walk with you.” She turned back to Amanda and her own roommate, Janice. “If you two are cool alone.”

Janice nodded. “We’ll go back together.”

Good grief. Did all humans flock like this? I understood the benefit of safety in numbers. But shifters mainly formed packs to guard against the threat of rival alphas and other packs. Humans didn’t have the same feral desire to fight and dominate that we did.

Like Amanda, Olga seemed uncomfortable by the trees. If Amanda was so worried about coyotes, I wondered how she would feel knowing that soon a lion would be running around in there too.

~~*~~

Sadly, there wasn’t a lion in the woods “soon”. It was nearly three weeks before I felt comfortable enough to venture out. I wanted to make sure my roommate was a sound enough sleeper and to be certain that, no matter what night it was, the path into the woods was clear. I also wanted to make sure the moon was bright, until I got more comfortable in the strange woods.

It seemed like Tuesdays were the best day. Late nights on Thursdays and Fridays were usually full of people coming and going to parties. Forget about weekends. But early morning classes on Wednesday seemed common enough that campus was empty after dinner on Tuesday. I snuck in and out of the room, pretending to take late night showers, to test my roommate. Lucky for me, she was a sound sleeper.

School itself was great. I was still an undeclared major and taking my ‘gen-ed’ classes. My favorite was an art class, where I could just get my hands dirty sculpting. The rest weren’t so different from my lessons at home, except for the group setting. History, though, was fascinating. I knew so little about human history.

The staring incident had also kept me inside longer. Without outright asking, since I didn’t want to worry her, I had managed to figure out that my mother had not sent more guards. Whoever that guy was, he wasn’t a royal guard. Thankfully, I hadn’t seen him again. I was hoping he was just a weirdo. Maybe he thought I was really pretty or had a bad dye-job or something.

I slipped quietly out of bed, already wearing my “running” clothes. My roommate didn’t stir as I tip-toed out of the room and eased the door shut. Home free. I practically skipped down the hall, giddy with the thought of finally shifting.

I jogged down the stairs and nearly crashed into the door that led to the third floor as it swung open in front of me.

“Sorry!” a guy gasped.

You have got to me kidding me. I almost never saw people on the stairs. Why now?!

He stood there, looking at me like he had been caught doing something wrong. I was sure I had the same expression. Relax, I told myself. He would never, ever suspect that I was sneaking out of the dorm to turn into a lion and go gallivanting around in the woods. I wasn’t even sneaking, really. There was no curfew, we weren’t forced to stay in the building all night.

The boy slipped past me and went up a couple of stairs, toward the girls’ floor. He was wearing only a t-shirt and boxers. “Don’t tell the RA,” he said with a wink.

He had just unknowingly given me a great excuse. I caught the door to the boys’ floor before it shut and matched his sly grin. “Only if you won’t.”

We both laughed and he jogged up the stairs. I waited a moment, then hurried on my way. There was nobody else around and I made it outside without another incident. The windows from the rooms looked right down onto the path, so I did a few token stretches, just in case anybody was watching. They’d think I was a bit weird going for a midnight run, but with luck wouldn’t read into it further. Then, I broke into a brisk jog down the path. As soon as an empty building was between me and the dorm, I veered off the path and into the woods.

The nearly full moon made it just bright enough for my weak human eyes to see where I was going. After I felt like I was far enough away from the path, I stopped. For a moment I just took deep breaths, inhaling the crisp air and getting back in touch with nature. It wasn’t necessary for shifting, but I liked to get in the mood. I could hear a couple of owls and a whip-poor-will calling in the distance.

At last, I pulled out my claw and clutched it in my fist. I closed my eyes and focused on the image of a lioness. Shifting wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t exactly painless either. Since it had been so long since my last change, I felt especially stiff. My body ached as my bones and muscles stretched and rearranged. The small patch of fur over my heart itched more and more, until it suddenly rippled and began to spread out over my skin. I felt a weird tugging sensation as any clothing the fur touched was pulled taut and absorbed into it. It was almost painful as my tail sprouted and my spine elongated.

Done. I was shifted. I shook myself off and stretched. Then I took a deep breath, opened my mouth and… crap. I couldn’t roar, not this close to campus. I let out the breath as a growly-sigh and shook again instead. I set off slowly, getting my feel for the forest floor and enjoying the crunch of leaves under my paws.

Being a lion always felt… right. Even though I spent most of my time in human form, there was something indescribably perfect about shifting into my animal body. I didn’t mind being human. In fact, I enjoyed. But there was a sense of contentment, inner peace, that I felt when I was a lion. I knew that my family felt the same way, and assumed that most shifters did.

I picked up my pace into a brisk trot, then a lope. I jumped a fallen tree and broke into a flat-out run. Lions were made for sprinting, not distance running, so I didn’t go far. I eased back into an easy jog and alternated between that and sprints for a while.

As I explored, I wondered if any shifters did spend more time as animals than humans. There was no reason not to. I could, if I wanted to. It just wasn’t convenient. Our home, heck our entire kingdom was built to accommodate our human bodies. It had plenty of room to shift, but our buildings were all human friendly. We had human sized doorways, and chairs, and beds, and everything had to be manipulated with fingers, not paws. Where there any shifters out there who did the opposite?

I was so busy imagining what my room would look like if it were designed for a lioness instead of a girl, that I almost didn’t notice the deer. I spotted her at the last possible second and froze. The doe was drinking out of a small stream. She jerked her head up, wide eyed, and lifted her tail in alarm. I held perfectly still until she bent to drink again. Slowly, slowly, I lowered myself into a crouch.

Should I?

I certainly could. It would be easy. I measured the distance. A quick step-step-step-step-step-step- step-step-step-step-pounce! A single bound would take me over the stream and onto the deer. If she ran, it would be easy to turn my momentum into a second strike and catch her.

But should I? We followed three rules for hunting.

Pick your prey carefully. We weren’t animals. An animal would kill whatever prey was easy. Young, slow, injured. If it was time to hunt, an animal would take what it got. This deer was young, probably her first winter. She looked healthy and strong. Killing her would impact the population. A hungry lion would strike, a shifter wouldn’t.

Only kill what you’ll finish. I wasn’t that hungry. A rabbit would do, if I saw one. Not a whole deer.

Never kill for sport. We weren’t animals, but we weren’t humans either. Humans took trophies. Shifters took only for food. Even if I wanted to break that rule, I’d leave evidence behind. I didn’t want to chance on a human finding it and thinking the kill was suspicious. The last thing I needed was humans swarming the woods looking for some big predator.

The doe was safe tonight.

Even as I made up my mind, she flicked her tail in alarm again. This time, she bounded away into the woods. The bushes on the other side of the stream moved and a huge coyote stalked out.

No, not a coyote. It was a wolf! It saw me and froze. I wasn’t afraid, I could take a wolf. Then again, I had only ever done basic self-defense sparring. I had never actually fought another predator. I hoped a wolf would have the sense to not mess with me.

Unless…

“Good evening,” I said. A real wolf wouldn’t understand me. But a shifter…

The wolf looked surprised, then its tongue lolled out in amusement. “I was wondering if mountain lions range this far.” Its voice was distinctly male.

“I’m not a mountain lion.” I was slightly insulted by being compared to a small cougar.

“I see that now.”

“You go to school here?” I asked.

The wolf nodded. “You?”

I nodded too. Meeting another shifter without your pack was often a delicate process. It was something I was taught to handle, but had never experienced. Everyone I met in Glenhela knew I was the princess. And I often met them while sitting next to my mother’s throne.

The first rule of thumb was that we wouldn’t ask where the other was from. Shifters stuck together. While feuds between packs were rare now, it was better for us to be allies, not enemies. Finding out we were from packs that weren’t on great terms would only lead to problems. There were still a few roaming Alphas and wild packs out there. They’d force you to join if they could. I doubted any were nearby, but this wolf and I could protect each other from them.

Luckily, even if this wolf was an Alpha, we wouldn’t be compelled to fight since I was underage. Then again, he was probably younger than twenty-four as well.

Our next step was to shift. As the stronger shifter, I was supposed to go first. Sort of a trust-submission thing. I slowly began to change. If he attacked or didn’t shift soon, I’d quickly return to my lion form. After he realized what I was doing, he started too.

Once we were both human, we laughed at each other. It was incredibly dark, but I could see just well enough to recognize him. It was the boy from the stairway.

“I thought you were going up to the fourth floor,” I teased.

“I thought you were coming down to mine.” He smiled at me. “I’m Piter.”

“Lani.”

“I’m jumping over,” he warned, gesturing to the creek. I backed up to give him some space.

“Nice to meet you,” I said, as we shook hands.

“Likewise. I thought I was the only shifter at the school.”

“So, you don’t know any others?”

“No. No, just me. I’m the only shifter. Do you know more?”

“Nope. As far as I know, we’re the only ones.”

“Good,” he said. “That’s good that… you know, we met.”

I laughed at his sudden awkwardness. “Yeah.” A cool breeze made me shiver. My light clothes weren’t meant for standing around in the cool night air. It had gotten colder since I had left the dorm. In fact, it was probably getting quite late. “I should get back soon. Before my roommate wakes up.”

“Yeah, that’d be tough worrying about your roommate finding out.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Yes, of course. I meant it is tough.” Piter rolled his shoulders and started shifting. “We should get back, you’re right.”

He stood patiently while I shifted and soon we were trotting through the woods together. It was obviously a much better environment for a wolf. He set a brisk pace that I found almost challenging to keep up with, as he wove through gaps between trees and bushes, and ducked under things I had to jump.

But it was still nice to be with another shifter. Even though we didn’t talk as we went, the companionship was there. All too soon we reached the path and changed back. We continued in silence, back to the dorm.

“Well, goodnight then, Lani,” he said as we stopped on the stairwell where we had unofficially met.

“Goodnight, Piter. Guess I’ll see you around campus.”

“Yeah. And if not, same time tomorrow night?”

“That’d be great.”

I grinned and jogged up the stairs to my floor, pleased to have made friends with a shifter.

~~~~

Chapter Three

If you’re enjoying Lion’s Pride, please help spread the word to other readers who might like it too! And feel free to comment at the end of chapters to let me know what you think!

Writing, Blogging, Formatting, Homemaking, and Crafting!

Phew!

Remember when I said exciting things are coming? They’re here! Some of you may be familiar with my book formatting logo:

EK Formatting

Well, I’m expanding the EK brand to all manner of ventures. Instead of spreading it all out, I’m going to start by consolidating it onto a single blog. I also plan on blogging more frequently. In order to help you know what each post is about, they’ll have a lovely logo like that at the top! A general post, much like this one, will be tagged with this:

blogging

So, what else can you expect to see from me? First up is the newest:

homemaking

The Homemaking tag is one I’m particularly excited about, without it the rest of these ventures wouldn’t be possible. You see, I’m staying home with my son! Expect posts with the homemaking tag to involve stay at home mom sort of things. Cleaning, decorating, child-raising. It will probably be the most infrequent of my tags, but I thought I’d include it while I was going logo design happy.

I regret, that I’m not 100% sure how long this stay-at-home gig will last. Life outside of DC is expensive, especially with a new mouth to feed. My hope is that I’ll be able to earn enough from my formatting, writing, and crafting to make staying home continue to be possible.

Which, leads me to more tags!

writing

This might be the one that you’re most excited about, assuming you follow my blog because you’re a fan of my writing. Well, I’ve got a lot in store. Now that I’m staying home, I hope to be quite prolific in the coming months! What’s on the list you may ask?

Wrought-Iron Roses will be releasing December 8. I do apologize for the postponement. Writing with a newborn turned out to be quite a bit harder than I expected! I’m still settling into a routine, but I’ve gotten over the hump.

If you missed the Curse Collectors book trailer, do check it out! I’m pretty pleased with it! Special thanks to the wonderful voice actress Emily Wood for providing the creeptastic voice.

Wee! What did you think?

More than Magic fans will be excited to know that I’m working on a new story for the paperback release of Danio’s Prelude. Never fear though, I’m not going to force people to buy a paperback just to get a short story. There will be ways to get a digital copy as well. The Soul Choice paperback should be out in November. I am sorry to say I still don’t have set plans for a sequel to Soul Choice, but yes, I did emphasize the word set. The characters are always nagging at me and I’m sure that a plot will come to me one of these days. There is, however, a More than Magic universe short story coming up in an anthology this spring!

Observant readers who follow me on Facebook may have noticed that I’m secretly, not-so-secretly gathering followers to a pen-name. I’m working on a couple of new series that I’d prefer my YA readers not accidentally buy, if you get my drift. Those will be out starting in 2016. If you haven’t caught my alter ego yet, but are interested in those series, I’m happy to let you in on the secret.

Last, something I’m super excited about. The original version of Semester Aboard was published one chapter at a time online. I miss doing that. I miss the instant chapter-by-chapter feedback and reader reactions, as well as the pressure to keep writing because people are waiting. So, I’m thrilled to announce that I will be posting a serial on my blog! Currently, I’m planning to do a chapter a week. The question now is, what will I write? I have plans for two series that I think would both translate well to serial form. I’d love to get your feedback on which one you’d like me to start with. Don’t worry, if it works out I’ll do both. They’re both YA series, one is a high fantasy with elves and unicorns. The other is a sort of urban/high fantasy hybrid featuring shifters. Drop by this link to vote and please leave a comment here with your preference as well!

I’m also finally going to start a monthly newsletter! Go ahead and sign up! Subscribers will get sales, freebies, sneak peeks, and more!

That wraps up my busy world of writing. I’ve got one more logo to show you! I’m also really pumped about this one. I’ve always wanted to open my own Etsy store, I’m a big crafter. I just never knew what to sell. I used to sell crocheted goods on a forum long, long ago. But those take ages and are tough to ship. I had a vision for art that I wanted to hang in the nursery, but couldn’t find what I was picturing. I’ve been on a painting kick recently, so I made them myself. After some great feedback from friends, I decided to sell them!

Without further ado:crafting

And behold, my own Etsy Store!

In addition to selling, I’ll also be posting here and there with crafting updates, patterns, and ideas. I’m brainstorming More than Magic and Curse Collectors themed paintings as well. If you can think of anything along those lines that you’d be happy to hang on your wall, please let me know!

And that brings you up to speed! Thanks for taking the time to read it all! Do please let me know which serial you’d like to see first and if you have a painting idea for me!

Until next time…

Carved in Cherry Chapter One

Get ready!

 New Adult Paranormal Romance
Ready for an exclusive sneak peek of Chapter One?
Please remember, this is unedited and the formatting will be affected by blogger.
Chapter One 
“It’s a magical, invisible antique shop,” Jo said. “Obviously.”
Rachel laughed at her sister, before pulling out her cell phone. She brought up the directions and frowned at the screen. “It says that it’s off Gristmill Road. Right?” She held the phone out for Jo to double-check.
“Gristmill Road.” Jo gestured to a nearby street sign. “We’re on it. And we’ve walked up and down it a dozen times.”
“Well, Aunt Lydia’s antique shop has to be somewhere.” Rachel shoved the phone back in her pocket and started walking.
Jo fell back into step with her. “What is ‘grist’ anyway?”
“Just an old-timey word for grain. Stuff like wheat, rye, bar-“
“Okay, okay! History nerd.”
“Shouldn’t you know that, writing geek?” As she spoke, Rachel turned and shot a silly look at her sister. The action loosened her scarf, just as a cold gust of wind blew against her back. Several drops of icy water dripped down her back. She gasped in surprise and turned to find the source.
“You okay, Rach?”
Rachel reached back and brushed at the nape of her neck. “Yeah.” She looked up and spotted a rusty, iron sign, swinging from the side of the building. A few drops of water slid from the icicles clinging to the sign.
Antiques
“Hey! I think this is it!” Rachel stepped back for a better look at the old building. The first story was made out of old, worn brick and the second was wood. Rachel tried to picture what it must have looked like when it was new. When had that been; two-hundred? Three hundred years ago? Most of Old Town had been built in the early eighteenth century. Rachel could see a pair of paned windows. She squinted up at them, wondering if the glass was handmade.
Jo’s voice broke into her thoughts, “Where’s the door?”
That was a good question. Rachel looked back and forth along the building. Nothing but brick.
“Well, it must be somewhere.”
They walked along the cobblestone sidewalk toward the edge of the building. There was a space – hardly large enough to call an alley – between the antique shop and the building next door. Rachel and Jo didn’t have enough room to walk side by side. Halfway down the alley was a door, covered in peeling green paint. A little plaque by the door read: Lydia’s Curiosities.
“Guess this is it,” Rachel said.
The windows were so dusty Rachel could hardly see the word Closed on the sign behind them. She tried the knob anyway and wasn’t surprised when it was locked. She pulled off a mitten with her teeth and started rummaging in her purse for the key. ”Where is that key…”
Buscar la clave,” Jo said. “Or wait, is it llave?” She had recently taken an interest in her Mexican heritage and started learning Spanish.
“Beats me. It’s yournative language. Which reminds me, has it started coming back yet?”
Jo had been fluent, or at least as fluent as a two-year-old could be, when she was adopted. She picked up English rapidly and hadn’t spoken a word of Spanish since. She had been hoping her past fluency would help her in class, but so far she was on the same level as the other students.
“Not yet. Oh my God, did I tell you my professor said my accent is terrible?”
“Tell her to kiss your culo. Ah-ha!” Rachel triumphantly fished the key out of her purse and worked it into the lock.
Jo pulled out her phone. “I should text Angie and let her know how to find the place.” She looked back out toward the street. “We’re across from the Haber…”
“Haberdasher. And you’re supposed to be an English Major.”
“I know the word, I was texting,” Jo said. “And it’s a haberdashery. A haberdasher is the person who…haber…dashes.”
The door clicked open, just as she finished texting, and the two peered into the dimly lit shop.
“Do you remember Aunt Lydia at all?” Jo asked, as they nervously walked in. She vaguely remembered their recently deceased aunt visiting when she was younger. Rachel, three years her senior, probably had better memories.
“Sort of.” Rachel remembered a quiet, older woman. A little strange, maybe even whimsical. Like the sort of woman who had twenty cats and knit tea cozies. She couldn’t remember many details about Lydia herself. Unmarried, no children, as far as she knew. In fact, Rachel hadn’t even known about the antique shop, until Lydia’s lawyer arrived to tell her and her sisters, that they were the proud new owners.
Rachel moved further into the shop and looked around eagerly. She was almost disappointed as she took in just how small it was. The building had looked so much bigger from outside; the shop must have shared the space with other stores.  A solitary, dirty, bare light bulb hung from the ceiling, casting just enough light for Rachel to see around the entire room. There were bookcases, lined up to form aisles, and shelves along the walls. There were a couple of large cabinets and a handful of bigger pieces of furniture. Everything else was neatly stacked up on the shelves. Rachel had been hoping for more.
“Having a histor-gasm?” Jo quipped from behind her.
Rachel snorted and punched her sister. “There could be some cool stuff here,” she said, hoping she was right. “And you’re the fiction writer. Something here could inspire the Next Great American Novel.”
They both giggled. Jo pulled the door closed behind her. Without the light from the street, the shop seemed even darker. The two slowly walked through the store. A shelf full of old books caught Jo’s eye and she drifted over toward it as she went. Rachel started to follow her, but spotted an old cash register sitting on the counter. She wondered whether or not their aunt had been using it to ring up customers and decided to investigate it. The counter was high enough that Rachel had to stand up on her toes to lean over to look behind it. It looked like the cash register was still in use. There was also a yellowed ledger. Rachel picked it up and skimmed over the most recent transactions.
Jo was almost to the bookshelf when she spotted a door labeled Private. She took one last glance at the books and headed over. In spite of the fact she technically owned the shop, she felt just a little rebellious opening the door. She paused, confused, when she realized there was no knob. Instead, there was just a simple keyhole, framed by a slightly decorative piece of metal, carved into the door.
“Hey, Rach,” she called. “You see any keys behind that counter?” Jo poked at the keyhole. “Any hugekeys,” she added. Based on the hole, the key that went to the door must have been enormous. She gave the door a push, just in case it was unlocked, but it didn’t budge. She poked her finger into the keyhole and pulled, just in case, before giving up and turning her attention to one of the nearby shelves. It was full of wicker baskets, which were almost overflowing with odds and ends. There was a basket of coins, one filled with little glass animals, and one of keys. Jo pulled off her mittens and stuffed them into her coat pocket, before leaning over the basket. She stirred the keys around with one hand. “Never mind, I just found an overabundance of them,” she muttered.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Rachel had joined her and was examining the door.
“I already tried,” Jo said, as Rachel started to push on the door. “It’s loc-“
The door easily swung partway open, revealing a dark room beyond. Rachel raised an amused eyebrow at Jo.
“You mean unlocked?” she snickered.
“Well, I loosened it for you.”
 The door was old and worn. Rachel ran a hand over the smooth wood and traced around one of the large iron hinges.
“I think these are handmade,” she murmured. The door was very, very old. Probably as old as the building. Rachel took a step back and frowned at it. It looked more like a door to the outside, than an interior door. She leaned back and looked at the wall, wondering if the shop had been added on at some point.
“Are you going to go in or keep fondling the door?” Jo asked.
For an answer, Rachel pushed the door further open and led the way in. Jo followed.
“Jeez. I think we found the Room of Requirement.”
“No kidding,” Rachel chuckled.
The room dwarfed the first room and it was absolutely packed full of antiques. Everything was covered by a thick layer of dust. There was so much stuff crammed into the room that neither girl could see the walls. The only space to walk was a narrow aisle between stacks of junk. Even smaller paths broke off and wove through the antiques and out of sight.
Rachel’s laugh turned into a sneeze. “It looks like she died years ago, not days. I don’t think anyone has been here in ages.”
“Not entirely true.”
Jo pointed to the floor. A path, mostly clear of dust, wound away from the door and deeper into the room. Several sets of footprints split off from it and led in different directions. Someone walked around in here, but not often. She spotted a bunch of paw prints too; probably from a cat or small dog.
“Storage?” she asked.
“Must be.”
Rachel looked around for a light switch. The dim light from the main room wasn’t nearly enough. Nowshe was excited. Even though she and her sisters were planning to just sort everything and clean the shop, Rachel was hoping she’d find something cool to keep. The massive storage room had exponentially increased her chances of finding something neat.
Something moved. Rachel gasped and moved closer to her sister. She squinted into the darkness, heart pounding.
“When do you think Angie will-”
“Shh!” Rachel clamped a hand over Jo’s mouth. “Someone’s here!”
“What?”
“Over there!” Rachel pointed and pulled her sister closer to the door.
Jo freed her arm from Rachel’s grasp. “Are you kidding? You better not be trying to scare me.”
“I’m serious!” Rachel’s eyes frantically scanned the area where she had seen movement. “Hello? Is somebody there?” she called.
“Should we call the police?”
A low, menacing voice filled the air, “What are you doing here?”
The girls stared in horror as a figure stepped out from behind a bookshelf. He was tall and hooded, and his face was hidden by shadows. He took a step toward them and raised a sword.
“How did you find this place?” he demanded. “Who sent you?”

An Interview with Kerrelyn Sparks

Kerrelyn Sparks, the author of the popular paranormal romance series, Love at Stake, shared a few minutes of her time to answer some of my questions back in April.  I posted it on a site where I freelance, but I’m not sure how many people who are actually interested in paranormal romance have gotten a chance to read it!  It doesn’t seem to get much traffic (in fact it’s been viewed less than 100 times in six months!) so I thought I’d post it here.

If you haven’t read any of her books, be sure to!  I was lucky enough to get an ARC of her newest novel, Sexiest Vampire Alive, and it’s awesome!  I’ll probably put a review of that up here soon as well.

Enjoy!

Elizabeth: Your first paranormal romance book came out in 2005. What inspired you to write paranormal romance?

Kerrelyn: I actually grew up reading a lot of historical romance, so once I started writing, that was the subgenre I tried first. In 2002, my first book, a historical romance, was released (For Love or Country). Soon after that, paranormal romances became popular, and I was instantly intrigued. I realized that my favorite historicals had always contained strong paranormal elements (like Green Darkness by Anya Seton, the Merlin series by Mary Stewart, or Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux). Paranormal romance would allow my imagination to run wild, so I thought it would be great fun to write. And I was right–it is fun! My first paranormal romance, How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, released in 2005, and it’s been a thrill ride ever since!

Q: You’ve got quite a few books under your belt. Vampire Mine is coming out soon and Sexiest Vampire Alive will be out in September. Not only that, but you consistently make the USA Today bestseller list. How does it feel to be a successful author?

It’s a dream come true. I wake up in the morning and think, ‘How did I get so lucky?’ And when I get e-mails and letters from readers who say I made them smile even when they’re currently enduring pain or hardship, then I feel truly blessed and grateful. I try to remember that warm and fuzzy feeling when deadlines are coming too fast, the words are coming too slow, and I’m asking myself, ‘Whatever possessed you to think you could write a book?’

Q: Was writing something you always wanted to do?

Yes, but as you can see above, I have a problem with self-doubt. Even though I had the desire to write a book, I didn’t believe I could do it. Fear caused me to procrastinate for years. Even now, I have moments in each book where I fear I can’t pull it off. Fortunately, there’s a horrendous thing even scarier than self-doubt. It’s called a deadline, and it forces me to push through and keep going. And when the words do flow and the book seems to magically come together, it’s the greatest feeling ever!

Q: I frequently see authors tell aspiring authors to read, read, read! What books have influenced you most?

I agree with that. I never took a writing class. My classroom was my mind soaking up thousands of books over the course of my life. All that reading helps you develop good instincts. Every reader knows when a book is working, when it keeps them so intrigued they don’t realize five hours have gone by. My early favorite authors were Anya Seton and Mary Stewart. Then later, I fell for Kathleen Woodiwiss, Jayne Ann Krentz (Amanda Quick), Julie Garwood, LaVyrle Spencer, and Jude Deveraux. Their books influenced me the most.

Q; Where and when do you get most of your writing done?

Wherever and whenever I can. I’ve had to write in cars, planes, hotel rooms, waiting rooms, and gymnasiums. This is probably true for most writers. In an ideal world, I would always write at home in my office, everyone would leave me alone for hours, and dinner would magically appear.

Q: Now that we’ve got e-books and e-readers, it seems like the book world is changing. Have these changes impacted you or your writing style at all?

The writing is the same, but the business side of being an author is changing. It’s an exciting time! I’m watching it closely, but for the time being, I’m delighted to stay traditionally published with HarperCollins.

Q: I often see authors being asked for advice for new writers, so I’m going to turn that around. What do you consider the best advice you were given when you were starting out?

To act like I already was what I wanted to be. In other words, since I wanted to be published, I dressed and behaved like a professional writer from the beginning.

Q: Which of your books are you most proud of?

The one that just released, Vampire Mine!

Q: My last question, I’ll admit, is mainly for my own curiosity. I love that some of your vampires are Scottish, complete with accents and kilts! What inspired their heritage?

My Scottish ancestors arrived in America in the late 1600s, so you wouldn’t think I could have a strong tie to Scotland. But whenever I’m in Scotland, it feels like I’ve come home. The good Vamps in my books are usually warriors who were transformed as they lay dying on battlefields, and unfortunately, history is full of brave Scotsmen dying in battle. I also wanted my vampire heroes to have a strong sense of honor and a good sense of humor, and the Scotsmen seemed perfect for that. And the kilt—who can resist a guy in a kilt? Writing the accent comes naturally to me, but I have to admit I talk like a Texan!

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