For wolf-shifters like Astrid marked by the curse, time is running out. If she doesn
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Astrid's deer-hide boots sank deep into the snow, making the distance between her and her brother, Filip, widen even more.
"Will you slow down a little? My legs aren't as long as yours," she called. Although she understood the importance of getting back before their father returned from hunting and found her gone again, she couldn't hurdle over the high snowdrifts like him.
Filip pressed on at the same pace.
"Keep up, or go back home." He glanced at her with one of his thick, black brows arched. "I told you we had to make this quick if you wanted to come. If we're not back in time, Father will tan both our hides."
Father had already threatened to tie her to her tent post if she ever disobeyed and left again, but she could only stay cooped up in camp for so long before her skin began to itch. This excursion would be quick. She and Filip were safe together. All they had to do was walk the couple of miles, speak to the neighboring pack's alpha, and go home. Father would never know she'd even left. Simple.
An icy gust of wind squeezed through the naked trees, tossing up Astrid's auburn locks about her face. Last night's storm had left at least a foot of soft white fluff, and the wetness dampened her trousers, shoes, and wool socks with every labored step. The tip of her nose prickled, and she rubbed her lips together to give them warmth. If only she could turn into her wolf form at will. Then she wouldn't have to worry about the biting cold or her muscles exhausting so quickly. She and Filip could reach Mikel's territory on the east side within minutes. But the moon still controlled her shifting. She could only change at night.
They reached the riverbank. Astrid peered at its shiny, iced-over surface, about fifty paces wide. Underneath, the current raced.
Her heart skipped with fear. If she fell in, the current could take her away. She might as well suck in gulps of water to drown herself. It would be nothing compared to the torturous freezing temperatures against the winter air if she did manage to make it out alive.
She shivered and pulled her fox-fur coat's hood higher over her head and tighter around her shoulders.
"We have to cross here." Filip tapped his foot against the first boulder in the water, making sure it was stable. He shot her a sideways glance, a warning lingering behind his brown eyes. She could sense his hesitance through the invisible link they shared with all members of their pack. It was a bond that made them a family, allowed them to know each other in a deeper, more intimate way. And now, her brother's worry washed over her like an icy touch. It drew out her own fear.
There was at least half her height between her and the first stone, while the others after it were of different shapes and sizes, all slicked over with ice. Astrid bit the inside of her cheek, jitters overtaking her belly. She'd come this far already. There was no way she could give up now.
"Here, I'll help you." He reached one long leg across to the first stone. Perched in a split across the water, he held out his open palm to her. "Take my hand, and I'll pull you across."
"I got it." Her frantic heartbeat said differently.
Peering down at the swirling blue ribbon-like marks on her freckled wrists, weaving in and out of her fingers, she scolded herself for her nervousness. It was only holding her back. She didn't have time for hesitation. Or doubt. She had less than a month before her twenty-fifth Blue Moon. Time was not on her side anymore.
Her chest constricted as realization sank in, but she tried to push down her rising fears. Come on, Astrid. You were the one who insisted Filip bring you.
Astrid drew in a deep breath, mustering up the nerve, and waved Filip's outstretched hand away.
"Ash, no —"
She jumped onto the first rock. As she landed, her body rocked sideways and she struggled to get a solid footing. Filip was there suddenly, grabbing her by the arm and steadying her.
"You got it, hmm?" Filip's warm breath came out in white puffs with every word. "You have to be careful, Ash. One misstep. That's all it takes."
"I'm fine," she protested between gasps. Her heart was hammering in her chest, but she didn't let that fear show on her face. "I just lost my balance. I would have gotten it eventually."
He didn't argue, only extended his hand to her again. This time, she didn't hesitate to take it. Better safe than frozen.
With his help, she hopped onto the next rock and the next, nearly all the way across. Filip didn't say a word, and for that, she was thankful. Allowing him to help her was hurting her pride enough.
Filip wasn't as protective as their father, but Astrid was beginning to notice a change in his behavior, too. Little things. An offered hand here. A little extra food at dinner there. Agreeing with Father whenever he refused to let her leave the pack on her own. She knew he meant well, but those moments irked her. She was still fully capable of doing things on her own.
One more stone to go before they reached the other side. She leaped for it a little too eagerly. But when her boot touched the boulder's smooth surface, it slipped, sending her toppling over. The river rushed up to meet her. She yelped, waiting for the crash and the flood of arctic water, but in the next second, her brother's firm hand was on her elbow, pulling her up safely back on the rock with him.
For a moment, she stood there, muscles rigid and chest heaving as she tried to make her lungs work again.
"I should have never let you come," Filip huffed more to himself than to her. A few drifting snowflakes clung to his cropped black hair. "This was a mistake."
It took Astrid a second to regain herself, but once she did, anger snapped through every nerve ending, replacing all her unease. She twisted out of his grasp. "I've done more dangerous things before. Most of them while with you."
She and her brother used to sprint to the end of the winding river, where it fell off the side of the earth, and watch crowds of birds circle the strange abandoned dwellings carved out of the rock across the ravine. That's what she wanted again. To be treated like everyone else.
Filip glanced away, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. His lips pulled down in a deep frown, wrinkles appearing around his eyes. Only three years separated them, but he looked so much like their father then, with his flat nose, square jaw, and worn expression, that her stomach knotted with sorrow. And a bit of fear, too. They both knew what was to come if she didn't find her mate; speaking it aloud only made it more real, more painful.
"Let's just get across," Astrid muttered, turning around. Sadness seeped into her bones. Maybe she wasn't taking this as seriously as she should. Maybe she should be more active in searching for love and breaking the curse. But the men in their pack were more like family than anything else. Her father had always said the sky spirits would lead her to love, like it had for him and her mother, and Filip and Mila. It couldn't be forced or hunted. Astrid wanted to believe it, that a love strong enough to break the curse was possible for her, too.
Filip nodded but remained silent as they jumped onto the riverbank. Once they were on land, his long strides gained him the lead again.
Every unspoken word filled the space between them, and she hurried, trying to keep up.
A breeze rushed by, whipping cold against her cheeks. Desperate for conversation, something to take their attention away from her mistake, she racked her brain for a change of subject.
"Will Mikel be angry to see us unexpected like this?" Astrid didn't know much about the other wolf packs or the older alpha, Mikel, only that her father tried hard to keep peace with them and respect their boundaries. Since their group was made up mostly of young families, it was better not to pick a fight with the others.
"He shouldn't be," Filip replied as they walked on. His attention stayed straight ahead. "There has been a lot of talk about Jerrick's pack threatening the others, challenging alphas, and taking over. Father wants to make sure Mikel's pack isn't one of them."
She'd heard of the brutish alpha, Jerrick, many times when listening in on her father's discussions with his men. When he was only sixteen, he'd won rule over his pack after challenging the previous alpha, his own father. According to stories, he didn't even flinch when he ripped out his throat. After that, he and his pack had settled far north in the high mountains.
"Father thinks Jerrick wants to be the sole alpha. Rule over all our kind."
There was no way their father would let that happen. Let alone every alpha. Too much power in the hands of one man was dangerous.
The smoky scent of a snuffed fire filled Astrid's nose. They had to be close.
"Mikel's camp should be up here." Her brother answered her thoughts. The trees thinned ahead, and their sparse stick-branches allowed the sunlight to spill into the woods. The rays reflected off the whiteness of the snow and made the ground twinkle. A short hill, blanketed in a thick layer of white, blocked their view of what lay beyond. "Just over this."
Filip began the climb up, and Astrid followed a few steps behind. "We need to find out more information about what's going on for Father," he said as he neared the top. "Then we can leave. Hopefully all rumors —" But his words died the moment he reached the snowy knoll's peak. He stared down at something she couldn't see.
"Filip?" Confused, Astrid bounded from one of his deep footsteps to the other.
He whipped around, his cheeks pale and his eyes full of fear. His panic was so strong, it traveled along their pack bond and shook her core. "Turn back, Ash. Now."
It was too late. She had already reached the crest.
Gazing down at the small valley below, her chest constricted. She had expected to see a camp much like the one they lived in, with temporary cabins made of canvas and hides, and scattered fires with people hovering over them, cooking or telling stories. Instead, smoldering piles of wood and ash dotted the freshly fallen snow. Along with the scent of fire, the pungent stench of seared flesh smacked into her, stinging her eyes. No men or women. No movement of any kind. Astrid's pulse raced.
The wind whistled through the wide-open vale.
"We need to go." Filip's firm hand was on her arm, tugging her back down the hill, but her knees locked her in place. Black mounds peeked out of the white snow.
"W-What is that?" But before he answered, she spotted a soot-covered foot sticking out of one of the piles.
Nausea racked her gut as her gaze swept over the others. Bodies. There were about a dozen of them on the surface alone, blackened and charred. People turned to cinders.
Dead. Mikel's pack was dead.
Please don't let any of them be children. Thinking about it made her dizzy.
How many lay underneath the snow, out of sight, covered by the recent storm?
"What monster would do this?" She choked, her throat tight. "All those innocent people ..."
"Jerrick." Filip's voice shook with rising panic. "His pack may be nearby. Ours might be next." He turned and rushed down the hill. "We have to tell Father."
"We should check for survivors," she shouted to his turned back. "Maybe someone ran into the forest to escape. They might need our help."
"We can't risk it, Ash. We need to go back."
He was right. Jerrick's pack had to be close, and if they had done this to Mikel's people, she didn't want to think what they'd do if they found them wandering around. It was smarter to leave before they were caught, but she couldn't stop the sinking feeling inside.
Throwing one more glance over her shoulder at the wreckage, movement caught her eye. A mound of white trembled.
Astrid spun and dashed down the hill. The steepness had her stumbling; she caught herself near the bottom and rushed forward, gaze focused on the hump dusted with ash just ahead of her. A muffled whimper teased her ear. She barreled toward it.
"Astrid!" Filip's voice echoed behind her.
"Someone's here!" When she reached the mound, she dug as fast as she could, tossing handfuls of snow at a time. Her fingers were numb, but she didn't stop. Almost a foot in, blond hair popped through the whiteness.
Heart slamming against her ribs, she fervently scooped away more piles. Suddenly, Filip was at her side and joined in. He cursed.
"Quick! Get 'em out of there."
A face as pale as the snow around it appeared, eyes closed and lips blue, followed by more amber hair and a long, muscular arm. Cobalt spirals swirled around the shoulder, and from what she could see, across the right upper chest.
Moving fast, her brother grasped the body by the elbow, anchored his boots in the ground, and yanked hard. The stranger slid out of the snow.
Astrid's eyes widened.
It was a man. A handsome, naked man.
Erec shot up, his skin sticky with sweat. His foggy head whirled. Where was he?
Struggling to catch his breath, he looked from side to side. Canvas walls surrounded him, and the flickering of a dying candle bathed the small space in orange light and tall shadows. He spotted an open trunk filled with animal furs and clothing, and a colorful, half-completed tapestry stretched out on a nearby loom. A pair of snow-covered boots sat in the far corner on top of a mud-stained fur rug.
The hair on his arms raised as his inner wolf hovered close to the surface, ready for another attack, but when Erec sniffed the air, he caught only the fragrant scents of lilacs mixed with the crisp, soothing midnight breeze and wolf fur. There were no sounds of chaos coming from outside, no snarling wolves, crackling fires, or screams. Nothing besides his own erratic breathing and the thudding of his pulse against his eardrums.
He glanced down and noticed that he was sitting in an unfamiliar bed, his fingers gripping a quilt around his waist that wasn't his. His head was foggy, and his most recent memories were painted with blood. Jerrick and the ambush in the middle of the storm. The horrific sight of old friends being slaughtered and fed to the fires. He'd witnessed families being ripped apart right in front of him and then dragged into the woods.
Had he been brought to Jerrick's camp as a prisoner? His chest tight, he slid to the edge of the bed. He would have to make a run for it. If it was still nightfall, the darkness would cloak him enough to sneak past any men on guard and the snow would help cover his tracks. Ripping off the quilt, he paused. He was naked.
Erec racked his memory again. He remembered shifting into his wolf form to help in the fight. He killed a few of Jerrick's men, too, but the moment Erec saw Jerrick seize Mikel by the throat and snap his neck — the man who had accepted him into his pack as an orphaned child — he lost it. He leaped for Jerrick's throat, teeth exposed, ready to rip out his jugular, but a colossal brown wolf rammed into him like a sledgehammer. He'd never forget Jerrick's rumbling, mocking laughter as he slipped into the blackness.
A fiery mixture of anger and pain swirled inside him, and he gritted his teeth. Part of it was toward Jerrick and the brown wolf's cheap shot at him, but most of it was toward himself. He should have never run away as a child. If he'd ignored his fears and stayed, he might have been able to save the east pack during the attack. Mikel had offered him a home and a family when he had none, and what had he done in return? Thrown it back in his face. Rejected it, hurting the only man who had meant anything to him.
After that, Erec couldn't bear to face Mikel, and now he would never get the chance to again. Nine Blue Moons later and he was still a coward with the pack's blood on his hands. He'd been sleeping in a cave nearby, debating on whether or not to return, like he had done so many times before, when he'd heard the screams and smelled the smoke. By the time he reached the camp, it was too late. Jerrick's wolves were everywhere.
So much blood. It had stained everything red.
Erec ran his fingers through his hair and stood. His feet sank into the soft rug. This didn't seem like a place where Jerrick's men would sleep. It was too neat, the air inside too warm and inviting. The clothes, the tapestry, the white fur carpet — Jerrick and his men were cold, murderous fiends. None of this fit.
Excerpted from "The Curse"
Copyright © 2018 Harper A. Brooks.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I look forward to reading the next story from you.
Rating: 4.5/5 This is a different take on werewolf lore and, even though this is the second book in the series, it still works well as a standalone IMHO. In this lore, any werewolf who hasn’t found their soul mate before their twenty-fifth blue moon will die and both Astrid and Erec are approaching this date with destiny - there are only three weeks left for them to find their true love. Astrid is the stubborn, determined and very protected daughter of the pack Alpha, especially so since her mother died. She is something of a rebel, insisting on learning to fight with the males, even though this is unknown. She enjoys exploring and hunting and, whilst out on such an expedition she discovers that a neighbouring pack have been attacked by a rogue pack who are determined to make all the regional packs into one huge pack with just one Alpha. Even though she senses danger, she also senses Erec, the adopted son of the Alpha of the decimated pack and helps to rescue him. Erec is determined to take revenge on his pack’s murderers and not to be distracted by his attraction to Astrid. The story follows the two as they work together to help protect the pack, rescue members of his father’s pack and attempt to thwart the attackers who are trying to take over. This story is packed with drama, intrigue and suspense as well as romance, all skilfully woven to create a real page turner that I thoroughly enjoyed. The descriptive scene setting, well developed characters and excellent plot make this a compelling read and I particularly appreciated that the author avoided graphic sexual encounters - her story is so well crafted it definitely didn’t need them to keep the reader engaged. I will definitely be looking out for more by this author in future and have absolutely no hesitation in very highly recommending this story to anyone who enjoys superb paranormal suspense filled romances! I requested and received a copy of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review after choosing to read it.
For wolf-shifters like Astrid marked by the curse, time is running out. If she doesn’t find her soul’s mate before her twenty-fifth Blue Moon rises, she will die. And with only three weeks left, things aren’t looking good for her. True love just doesn’t fall out of the sky. Lone wolf Erec is determined to stop a crazed killer from harming anyone else. Even if it means helping a rival pack. But he never expected to feel such a pull for the alpha’s beautiful daughter, Astrid. He doesn’t have time for distractions if he wants to find a killer before his final Blue Moon rises. Danger looms, and the swirling patterns on their skin mark them for death, but Astrid and Erec are willing to do whatever it takes to save the pack, even if they die trying. Review: In this second book in this series we find out the origin story of wolf shifters. Like the first book in the series I thought this explanation was unique and interesting. Once we get into the story, I liked the girl (Astrid) always trying to spread her wings and the lone wolf (Erec) feeling like he does not belong anywhere. The whole bad pack trying to take over all the other packs, added great tension to the story. There was drama, action, romance and sexiness woven into this story. I was so drawn into this world that I could not put it down until I finished it. Not sure which type of shifter will get their origin story romance, but cannot wait to read it. 4Stars *I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book provided by the publisher.*
I will not restate the plot nor reveal any spoilers in this review. This is the first book by Harper A. Brooks that I have read and it is an excellent read. It has romance, suspense, drama, heartache and a HEA ending. From the first page to the last, the story keeps you interested. I really appreciate that there was no foul language nor graphic sex scenes. It is my belief that a story should be able to stand on its own merit and not rely on raunchiness to keep readers interested. Harper A. Brooks has written a book that has depth of characters and storyline. While this is the first book I have read by this author, it definitely will not be the last!