This witch takes in strays. Stray animals, not stray ex-boyfriends, magical cultists, or shifters.
At least, that used to be the rule…
Luna Summerwood has always taken in strays. As a witch who runs a veterinary clinic, she’s healed creatures that fly, swim, and crawl. She’s not the most powerful Summerwood witch; her only magic is the ability to communicate with animals. But when an exotic maned wolf is brought to her in the dead of night, Luna is plunged into the shadowy underground world of shifter trafficking.
With the help of her ex-boyfriend—who also happens to be a local deputy and someone who pushes all her buttons—she investigates a series of occult crimesinvolving missing farm animals. After her ex is nearly killed, Luna discovers thatthe Casimir, a cult of magical collectors, plans to steal the maned wolf.
This beautiful maned wolf is more than he seems—he’s a shapeshifting man named Renan.He was once captured by the Casimir and forced to do their dark bidding. Luna is his last chance at finding sanctuary…and perhaps love.
But the Casimir want more than just Renan. Centuries ago, the Summerwoods warred with the Casimir. Now, these sorcerers will stop at nothing to possess the Summerwood land and theburied magic of the witches themselves.
My skin was crawling. That guy was one of the Casimir sorcerers…I had to warn Sandy and her deputies. I jogged up the gravel driveway, past the mailbox, to the parked sheriff’s car. Something was weird about the car. The windows were rolled up, and water leaked in a stream from beneath the car, too much to be condensation from air conditioning.
“Hey,” I said, knocking on the dirty passenger side window, trying to get the attention of the deputy who sat there, staring through his sunglasses at his phone.
But he didn’t move.
It took me a second to realize that the car was full of water.
Dread pooling in my belly, I yanked open the car door. Water splashed all over my legs, nearly knocking me over. The whole interior of the car reeked of magic. I staggered back to the car to touch the guy’s neck.
I couldn’t feel a pulse. He was dead.
Tires squealed on gravel. Down the road, the Jeep swerved, as if there were a fight going on inside.
I reached into the deputy’s gun belt and yanked out his gun. I had no idea how well it would work after being underwater, but I needed something to protect myself. I slammed my fingers to the radio, but it had shorted out.
I looked up again to see a long-legged canine loping down the road, toward the Jeep. I recognized Renan in the shape of a maned wolf. Running as fast as he could, ears pinned back, he was gaining on the Jeep.
I ran down the road. I couldn’t let Voss escape now. He knew where I lived, and he would surely see Renan alive now. If he told the rest of the Casimir, we were dead.
The Jeep swerved and landed in the ditch, rolling onto its side in about two feet of standing water. Renan jumped onto the Jeep’s passenger door and growled, the hair standing up on his back.
I aimed the gun at the Jeep and advanced slowly. “Come out with your hands up!” I ordered, trying to think of what Dalton would say.
A thumping sound echoed inside the Jeep, sounding like a hammer. Something heavy struck the windshield, and the glass broke into a spiderweb of pieces before the busted sheet of safety glass was shoved out onto the hood.
“Oh, hell,” I whispered as a crocodile crawled out over the hood of the Jeep.
“Freeze!” I shouted, staring over the dead deputy’s gun.
But the crocodile glared at me toothily. With shocking speed for such a chunky animal, it scrambled up the hood toward me.
I pulled the trigger.
Renan jumped on the crocodile’s back, his teeth scrambling for purchase on the thick reptilian hide. The crocodile swept back and forth, shaking its head and tail, trying to dislodge the maned wolf. The scuffle pushed them off the Jeep and drew them into the mud of the ditch.
As furious as he fought, I knew that Renan was no match for the crocodile. I had to find a way to help. I dove at the passenger door of the Jeep. I ripped it open and yelled for the ranger within.
But he was going to be of no help. The interior of the Jeep was splashed with blood, and Ranger Perkins seemed to be doing his best to hold his guts in with both hands.
“Your gun,” I gasped, and lunged for his belt.
“What the hell is happening?” he murmured weakly. “You gotta get away. You gotta—"
I scrambled through the ruined windshield, gun aimed before me. Renan was holding on to the crocodile’s neck for dear life, while the croc started a barrel roll in the narrow ditch. Dirty water splashed all around them, and I had a hard time sighting the gun in on my target without risking hitting Renan.
I slid down the hood of the Jeep and landed in the ditch, water up to my knees. The croc’s black eye emerged, and its jaws snapped toward me. I aimed at the croc’s head and pulled the trigger not once, but twice, three times…
The crocodile flopped back into the water. Renan jumped to the bank panting, and the croc grew still as the roar of the gunfire receded.
Shaking, I lowered the gun.
“Will that do it?” I whispered. “Will that kill him, or will he heal?”
Renan walked toward me. As he moved, I heard the crunch of his bones reorganizing, limbs lengthening. I stared in fascination, watching that red fur ripple over him and fade, twisting into the shape of a man.
“I think he’s dead. And there’s no healing the dead,” Renan said.
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs and sometimes reads them to her cats. Her books have earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Laura’s work has also been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016. The latest updates on her work can be found at authorlaurabickle.com.
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