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Madison's Song
cover art © Tamian Wood

 

 

Madison Carter has been terrified of Scott Lee since the night he saved her from an evil sorcerer - then melted into a man-eating monster before her eyes.
Despite her fears, when Madison's brother, Clinton, is bitten by a werewolf, she knows there is only one man who can help.

 

 

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Madison's Song

fantasy

Christine Amsden

 

 

 

Prologue

Madison couldn't move. The only muscle in her body capable of stirring at all was her heart, and it felt like it was trying to make up for the rest. No ropes bound her. Nothing visible pressed her back and legs into the coarse beige carpet of her new rental home. Yet even as she writhed and twisted against unseen restraints, she knew she was trapped. Tied to the ground in a way that made her feel like a virgin sacrifice atop an altar.

The man looming over her, chanting spells and arranging crystals, didn't look like a powerful sorcerer. David McClellan had too weak a chin and beady little eyes. Those eyes, brown as mud and just as compassionate, told her without words that they would be the last thing she saw.

She didn't even understand why! Not that it would make a difference if she did. But she wasn't anyone special. She wasn't important. She was just an elementary school music teacher - or would be after she finished a semester of student teaching. This kind of thing didn't happen to her. To her friend, Cassie, scion of a powerful family of sorcerers, maybe. But Madison had no family connections and almost no magic aside from her beautiful, subtly enchanting voice. Why would anyone hurt her for a song?

A tear fell sideways into her sweat-dampened hair, joining countless others and doing exactly as much good. How long had she lain here, helpless? Minutes? Hours? It might only have been seconds. The box of "Card and Board Games" she had been carrying into the house lay on its side a foot or two away, some of its contents now strewn across the bare living room floor. There hadn't been any warning. One second she was on the way to her new bedroom to unpack her tenth or eleventh box, the next instant she was on the floor. Immobile. Helpless. Confused. Terrified.

Oh Lord! Why hast thou forsaken me?

There was magic in the air, growing stronger with each new crystal David arranged into a pattern only he could see. Cold, deadly magic that reinforced her every childhood fear. Her father had told her that magic was from the devil. Was this what he'd meant? Was this her punishment for brushing up against the world of sorcery, no matter how lightly?

David placed one last crystal before ceasing his chant. The silence felt ominous, like a lull before the storm, and when he moved away, out of her sight, a fresh wave of panic seized her. She strained anew at her bindings until the scent of incense filled the air. She had a sudden, vivid memory of Palm Sunday Mass, and of Father Owen making the sign of the cross as he wafted the same scent over his congregation. Father Owen didn't believe magic was evil; he had told her more than once not to listen to her father's "superstitious nonsense."

The time had come to pull herself together. To think. She wasn't helpless. She had a little magic of her own, even if the thought of using it made her feel sick inside. God had not forsaken her. He had given her a tool if only she could rein in her stampeding heart rate long enough to search her memory for what little knowledge she possessed.

First, she had to find her quiet place. Madison drew in a deep, shuddering breath and started to close her eyes, when a glint of something metallic caught her attention. She stared at the long, lethal dagger in David's hands, an ornate golden hilt largely hidden within his iron fist. His eyes drifted up and down the length of her bound body before settling on her midriff. He lowered the blade.

He was going to cut her. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself against the expected pain. Or worse.

Think, Madison. Focus!

She took one last steadying breath. Then she counted. Breathe in one ... two ... three ... four ... breathe out ... five ... six ... seven ...

Her concentration snapped when cold metal bit into warm flesh. Her eyes popped open, her muscles strained once more against invisible bonds, and she screamed.

Wait, she could scream? She had a voice?

"Silence," David commanded.

Her throat continued to work, but no sound emerged. She felt like a fish being gutted, choking and spluttering as David returned to the work of cutting into the soft, sensitive flesh of her belly. Yet even as tears refilled her eyes and fear devoured her heart some part of her recognized that her guts remained intact. Whatever David was doing to her with the dagger involved tracing shallow patterns across the surface of her skin.

Fight the pain. Take deep breaths. Ground and center. She was not in the empty living room of a house she had not quite moved into yet, she was at church, singing in the choir. Above her, Jesus hung from a cross, a crown of thorns atop his head, a soft glow surrounding him. She usually found the magic within that glow. She reached for it...

"Stop that!" David slapped her hard across the face.

Once again her eyes flew open. She saw the dagger dripping with blood - her blood. Had her feeble grab for magic actually made a difference? David seemed to have noticed something, but what?

"You're just making this harder on yourself," David said.

"What do you want?" Madison tried to ask. Her mouth moved, her lips forming the question, but no sound emerged.

She didn't think he would answer; he couldn't even have heard the question, but to her surprise he only hesitated a moment before saying, "Your soul."

He lowered the dagger.

Her soul? What did that mean? What could a man do with someone's soul? She now knew what he wanted, at least in part, but she'd been right - knowing didn't make a difference. If anything, it made things worse. She couldn't calm down now. She couldn't focus. She needed to breathe, blocking out all distractions, in order to find her quiet place. How was she supposed to block out the razor-sharp sting of a blade slicing across her abdomen? How could she focus with her very soul in danger?

Forget magic. Time to pray. Prayer was something she understood.

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...

David slapped her across the cheek, leaving behind a fiery trail.

Madison prayed harder.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee...

She braced herself for the strike of his hand against her cheek once more, but it didn't come. For a heart-stopping moment she thought her prayer hadn't worked this time. Then an ear-splitting CRASH shook the room. It felt like an explosion. Surely the roof would come crashing down at any moment. Madison instinctively covered her head with her hands and curled into a ball.

She didn't have time to take in what had happened - either the crash or the fact that her invisible bonds had evaporated as if they'd never existed. The house still trembled and dust filled the air when a great, primal roar made every hair on Madison's body stand on end.

Slowly, she lifted her head. David stood in profile to her, his face white with terror, his gaze fixed on the splintered front door, which now hung precariously off its hinges. The sun had all but set, casting the unlit room in deep twilight, but she could just make out who had blasted his way through that door.

Scott Lee.

Her heart gave a painful little twang at the sight of the man she'd spent the past few weeks daydreaming about incessantly. Now here he was like an avenging angel out of one of her fantasies, frightening her enemy and offering her hope. In that moment, she could honestly say she had never seen a more beautiful man. He wasn't particularly tall, but he was powerful, the clearly defined muscles of his bare upper arms rippling with strength.

Rumor had it he was a werewolf, and perhaps he was. Something lent him superhuman strength. The evidence was there in the splintered remains of the front door and then, the next second, in the ferocity of his attack.

David met Scott in mid-lunge, and Madison's hope turned to newfound concern when she realized that David's strength matched Scott's. The front door . David's white face . her fantasy hero . these things had made her momentarily forget that David, too, was a powerful sorcerer who reportedly sold dark and cursed artifacts out of his shop in downtown Eagle Rock.

What if David won? She could see the scene more clearly now: the crystals placed in a ritualistic pentagram pattern, the bowl of incense, the tiny drops of crimson staining the beige carpet, and .

The dagger! She scrambled on hands and knees to reach the place where David had dropped it, tracing the ruby in the hilt with her thumb as she picked it up. She stood, trying not to focus on her weakness or the blood on her stomach. Now that she had the dagger, she had no idea what she would do with it. She didn't know how to fight and even if she did, David and Scott were locked together in mortal combat. If she attacked, Scott might get hurt. Still, she watched and waited, her palm growing sweaty against the ruby hilt, ready to help in any way she could. Or make her final stand.

Suddenly, the two men split apart. David staggered into a wall, hitting his head and bracing himself against a fall. Scott only stumbled backwards a step. He looked like he had the advantage, but for how long?

"Here!" Madison called, flipping the dagger around so she could thrust it hilt-first at her ally.

Scott took the weapon from her, turned back to David, and shoved it into his belly. It all happened in a second and with almost feline grace. Scott hadn't hesitated. He hadn't balked. His eyes held no remorse.

Time seemed to freeze. David's eyes popped open, gazing into his own mortality. Madison knew what he was seeing. She had seen the same thing only minutes before, and now she felt it again almost as powerfully as she had the first time. It didn't matter that he had been about to kill her. It didn't matter that he was evil and needed to be put down. It only mattered that he was a man, and death was nigh.

Scott withdrew the dagger from David's belly, raised it to his neck, and cut his throat. David fell. Blood spurted everywhere, drenching bare walls and floors. Scott seemed to anticipate the gush because he backed away quickly, escaping the worst of the spray.

Madison had never seen anyone die before. She was alive. She was safe, but at the moment that knowledge paled in comparison to the horror before her. There was so much blood! The average human body contained five-and-a-half quarts of blood. Such a stupid thing to think, a random fact she'd picked up somewhere, but here were all five-and-a-half quarts - on the floor, on the walls, and on the remnants of the door. Madison trembled, the knowledge of life and death marking her in ways that would scar her forever.

Scott had seen death before. She could see it in his jade green eyes when he turned them away from the corpse as if it were so much busted up furniture. He had other more pressing concerns, those eyes seemed to say as they scanned her from head to toe. She shuddered at his blatant perusal, trapped between horror and fascination. How many times had she imagined him looking at her just like that? But in none of her imaginings had a bloodied corpse lingered in the background, nor had she borne the bloody, stinging reminder that she had nearly become such a corpse. Gingerly, she pressed a hand against her abdomen, cringing when it came away red.

"The sun is setting," Scott said. Such a mundane statement in the wake of everything that had just happened.

"What?"

"The moon is full tonight." Scott paused. "You know what I am, don't you?"

"A werewolf?" She whispered the word, as if afraid that saying it out loud would make it true.

She looked out the distant kitchen window, facing the western horizon where the sun had already disappeared. Only the faintest of glows still marked twilight instead of true night.

Would he transform in front of her? Or was he begging her forgiveness while he sought privacy, leaving her alone with the destruction he had wrought? She longed to meet the wolf within him, partly out of curiosity, and partly because she could not stand the thought of staying by herself tonight.

She would never admit it to him, but she had read a couple of werewolf romance novels since meeting him, and they had tickled her imagination. Was Scott his pack's alpha? He exuded the right aura of power.

"I'll take care of this," Madison found herself saying, though she had no idea how. Was she seriously going to dispose of a body? "If you need to go."

"You don't get it. It's too late. There's rage in my blood, murder in my heart, and the scent..." He sniffed the air. "You're bleeding."

She swallowed, convulsively. His words ... his tone ... this wasn't right. She saw her fantasies as a bubble on the verge of popping, but she didn't have enough real information to use as a pin.

"I'll go clean up, if the blood is bothering you."

He licked his lips.

Madison crossed her arms over her chest, only just realizing that her torn shirt exposed more than her belly. The ugly old sports bra she had been wearing while toting boxes back and forth from her car, stained in her own blood, would not be a big loss. But she wished she had been wearing her prettiest bra, even if it meant the garment's destruction.

Not that Scott seemed to care one way or the other. He looked at her with pure heat in his eyes. She felt that sense of being overwhelmed yet again. He'd saved her life, hadn't he? She owed him a serious debt and among sorcerers, those weren't just pretty words. What would he want? Would she even want to deny him?

"When I turn into the wolf, it's not me anymore," Scott said. "Do you understand?"

"No." Madison was more than half in shock. She tried to wrap her mind around his words, but all she understood was his tone of desperation - and that she didn't know the first thing about real werewolves.

"Of course not, but you will. It's not me. The beast acts on emotions and instincts and hunger."

"What are you saying?"

"It may kill you." He swallowed uncertainly. The tiny movement made him seem more human. More vulnerable. It made her foolishly long for him even more. "I might know a way to save you. I've never tried it before."

Save her? Hadn't he already saved her? "What is it?"

"I need to mark you."

Her mouth fell open, but no words emerged. In her mind's eye she could see the pin approaching her fantasy bubble, but it had not yet popped. Something felt wrong. He was supposed to want to make love to her, not mark her. But maybe it meant the same thing to a werewolf.

"Please, Madison. There's no time."

Madison still didn't understand his words, but she recognized the urgency in his tone and she would have done anything to wipe the look of panic off his face.

She nodded, jerkily, and it was all the invitation he needed. He didn't even remove his t-shirt, only his shoes and pants. He came towards her and she thought he would kiss her, but he didn't. Instead he pushed her backwards until she understood that he wanted her to lie down on the floor. As soon as she had, he stripped away her sweat pants and underwear, then he was lying on top of her, leaning over her.

It was all happening too quickly. He'd said it would, but she hadn't realized how it would make her feel. Overwhelmed. Uncertain. Afraid. Shock almost gave way to numbness, but not quite. Scott was there with her, hot and heavy and solidly real; she focused on that. On his physical presence and his strength. He had saved her already; he would keep her safe now.

"I'm sorry," he said before thrusting painfully into her.

She bit her lip to keep from crying out. She turned her head to the side so he wouldn't see the tear sliding down her cheek. It wasn't for the pain, though the loss of her virginity had hurt the worse for her lack of readiness. It was for the words he had spoken to her, the words that had shattered an innocent girl's fantasy that a man like Scott would truly want her: I'm sorry.

He withdrew from her long before she had fully wrapped her mind around what was happening. She felt raw. Used. The evening had been one shock after another - life, death, and the loss of innocence in so many senses of the word.

It wasn't over yet.

She thought she heard him crying. Gathering her last shreds of courage and dignity she peeled herself off the worn beige carpeting and approached him on her hands as knees, past the box of abused board and card games.

"Get back!" he barked.

She froze, paralyzed, unable to bear what was happening to him and unable to look away. His face was twisted with pain, but she dared not approach to lend comfort.

His change came neither quickly nor slowly. He melted into the wolf, limbs bulging and shifting, his form elongating, fur sprouting in tufts. The new form tore away the shirt he had not yet removed.

He looked at her one last time in the instant before the beast took over, something unfathomable in his yellowing eyes. Whatever it was disappeared. Then he was gone.

The wolf wasn't really a wolf, though the beast did have something of the look of a canine in it. It walked on all fours, it had tufted ears, and its muzzle was the right shape. But it was too big, too fierce, too strong, and simply . unearthly. Its fur was pure black, with none of Scott's coloring, its eyes a golden yellow.

It wasn't him. He had told her it wouldn't be, but until she looked into those eyes she hadn't realized what he meant. Scott was gone. Only the wolf remained, and the wolf looked at her as if she were dinner.

She scrambled backwards, away from the creature. It growled its menace, but didn't initially turn its attention on her. Instead, it turned to David.

The wolf was much larger than Scott had been. Fleetingly, she thought it looked as if he could swallow David up in a few bites. As if her thought brought actions to life, the beast sank its teeth into one meaty thigh and pulled away a strip of flesh.

Madison screamed.

The carnivore is often given an exalted status in western mythology, revered for the simple beauty of the hunt and the kill. The reality before Madison at that moment was something entirely different. Whatever else David had been, he had been a man. Now a monster was eating him, bit by bit.

She tried to close her eyes, but every time she succeeded, they would pop open again. She couldn't look away from the blood and the gore and the intestines spilling onto the floor. The beast tore into the guts with relish, lapping up the feast it found there. And still, she couldn't look away. This was beyond anything she had imagined or could have dreamed.

An eternity later the beast turned away from its feast. It looked at her, blood and a bit of something unidentifiable dripping from its muzzle, then it stalked her.

Already flat against the wall, Madison had nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. The beast loomed over her, staring at her with those great yellow eyes, and for a moment she knew she would end up just like David. Only he had been dead first. Would the beast kill her first, or eat her alive?

It sniffed her. She reached out a hand to try to push it away but it growled, a sound low in its throat, and snapped at her. She pulled her hand back.

It went back to smelling her. It took its time, starting at her feet and moving upward. When it reached her belly, full of fresh cuts and blood, she was sure it would bite her, tearing her open. It likes the intestines the most, she thought, as it lowered its muzzle.

The beast growled again, but it didn't attack. Slowly, it backed away, finally sitting on its haunches. Then it looked at her. She had no idea what went through its primitive mind, though when it went back to David's body and picked through the remains for any meat it might have missed the first time, she had an idea. It was hungry. It was angry. It might even have been confused, but she accepted she might have been projecting her own emotions onto the beast.

It stayed with her all through that night - the longest of her life. If she moved, it growled. She longed to adjust her position, to soothe her stiff muscles, but fear held her captive. Each minute that ticked by could turn out to be her last. Any second, the beast could decide she wasn't worth keeping alive. Or that it was too hungry.

She tried to remind herself that this wasn't Scott. That Scott wasn't a monster so long as the moon wasn't full. The bestial eyes focused unwaveringly upon her didn't look like Scott's so it shouldn't have been hard to separate the two. Only she remembered how easily and remorselessly Scott had killed. And, unfairly, she remembered how he had hurt her. Even if he had done it to save her life.

Although, come to think of it, how had he known to do that? Why had he come here tonight? The question kept circling through her mind, but Scott was in no position to answer.

The night drifted endlessly on, a nightmare from which she could not wake. After a while her body went numb, her brain seeming to lose touch with the stiff muscles she could not bend or flex. The fear shifted into something else, something less immediate. It hadn't gone, it was more like emotional overload had placed her panic on mute. At that point her mind was able to leave the present, to drift backwards and remember how things were supposed to have been.

She'd first noticed Scott at the Fourth of July concert when, for the first time in her life, not one but two men had suddenly shown an interest in her. She hadn't known what to do with either Scott's rugged appeal or Nicolas's boyish charm, but she knew which called to her. She hadn't even cared if he'd only noticed her because she had revealed her songbird gift to the entire town. He had overwhelmed her, but that was a normal feeling for her. Deep down inside, where nerves and shyness couldn't penetrate, she'd been secretly thrilled.

She'd asked about Scott since then. Everyone had said the same thing: Stay away from him. He's dangerous.

Dangerous didn't half describe it. Every time Madison shifted, every time she twitched, the werewolf growled and she knew it would bite her. No, it would eat her alive. But time and time again it returned instead to the bloodied remains of David McClellan, where it gnawed on the bones.

Dawn came. Miraculously, unbelievably, the night came to and end and the beast melted into Scott in a reversal of what had happened the night before. The wolf didn't bear its pain as silently as Scott had. It howled during the long minutes it took to transform, leaving Madison with no recourse save to close her eyes and press her hands against her ears.

Her entire body spasmed when something touched her back.

"It's okay," Scott said. "It's over."

She took a few deep breaths to steady herself then turned to face him, finding only marginal comfort in the return of jade green eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said, repeating the words that had hurt her a lifetime ago when she'd hoped he might have wanted more from her than her safety. Now, she felt too numb to care.

"You did save my life," she whispered. "Twice, apparently. I owe you."

"I won't ask you for anything. Last night ." He paused, darting a quick glance at the body in the corner. "At least it worked. I won't touch you again."

Madison didn't have the will to respond. It was all too much. She needed to think. She needed to get clean. She rose on shaking feet, half expecting Scott to stop her. Half hoping. He didn't say a word as she hobbled to the bathroom, where she began the work of cleaning her body. But no amount of washing could clean the debris from her heart or her soul, and the terror of that night would follow her into her dreams for years to come.

 

Chapter 1

Two years later .

Madison clutched her cell phone as, for the dozenth time in less than a week, her call went to voicemail. Her younger brother's too-cheerful voice started to ask her to leave a message, but she hit "end" before it finished.

"Where are you, Clinton?" Madison wondered out loud. It had been a month. An entire month since the last time they'd spoken on the phone. Sure, he was in college, young and having fun, but he had never been irresponsible. He had never gone this long without at least sending her an e-mail. And while he wasn't a Facebook regular, he would normally have posted something about the end of finals. That, more than anything, had led to the frantic flurry of phone calls this week.

The school year was over for Madison as well. She had brought her fifth graders to tears when she had sung them a final good-bye that afternoon. There hadn't been a dry eye in the room, not even on the stonier faces of the tough boys. She hadn't meant to do it. She was normally very conscious of the power her songbird voice had to evoke emotions in those who heard it, but she had been distracted. Not thinking clearly. The prospect of a lonely summer loomed ahead, her fifth graders would move on to middle school where she would never teach them again, and worst of all, her anxiety over Clinton grew stronger as each new day passed without a word.

Clinton was, after all, the only family she had left. The only one who had never hurt or betrayed her. If anything happened to him .

Her mind started sorting through possibilities once again, but nothing made sense. She was Clinton's "in case of emergency" contact at school, at work, and on his phone. If he had gotten into an accident, she would know. Which left what, exactly? That a straight-A student had suddenly dropped out of school and joined a rock band?

It was probably nothing. He had probably been busy. They didn't hang out in the same circles, she wasn't his mother, and for all she knew he could have dropped his phone in a toilet. Weeks had passed between calls before - rarely.

But she had nightmares. These days, she almost always had nightmares. Madison knew better than most what sorts of dangers lurked in the night, but Clinton had always been separate from all of that. On the outside. He, unlike her, was the product of two normal people having a normal child.

She dialed again, this time calling Clinton's housemate, who had always struck her as being irresponsible. She wasn't surprised when he didn't answer her call, nor that he hadn't responded to the three messages she had left for him. She did not leave another.

Now what? The sun had set, but the moon had not yet risen. It wouldn't be full tonight, but it was close enough to make her shudder with remembered fear.

There was one final call she could make, one she had been putting off making for days. She had not spoken to her adoptive father, Phillip Carter, since the day he had betrayed her - selling the identity of her biological father to that man's enemies for the bargain-basement price of $10,000. In the end, that was how much she'd meant to him.

But she and Phillip (she sometimes still thought of him as Dad, but she was getting better) had one thing left in common: Clinton.

She did not have Phillip's number programmed into her phone, but she dialed it from memory, her fingers automatically jumping from digit to digit. Those fingers stayed curiously still and calm as she waited through four rings. Then she heard the familiar gravelly voice for the first time in over a year.

"What?" he demanded without preamble.

Her breath caught, something got lodged in her throat, and it was a moment before she managed a "Hi." Stupid girl. Why do you still care?

"What do you want, Madison?" Phillip asked in the clipped, distant tone he'd always used when she misbehaved.

"I haven't heard from Clinton in almost a month. I was wondering if you have."

"No." There was a pause. "I'm worried." He probably was. Clinton, he cared about. Clinton was really his son. Clinton had never even accidentally brushed up against the world of sorcery.

Madison might have felt jealous, but Phillip didn't know how to show affection to anyone, not even his son. Which was why Clinton often agreed with Madison that they were all the family each other had.

"I'm going to drive to Springfield tomorrow to look for him." She hadn't made the decision until she'd said it, but now she knew it was her only choice. Maybe she was overreacting, but if that was the case then so be it.

"Have him call me when you find him." That was it. Phillip didn't want to hear from her, only from his real son. Otherwise, she could turn right back around and go to the devil, where she'd been heading.

Well, what had she expected? A sudden change of heart? A declaration of love?

"I will. Bye, Da-" Madison just stopped herself. Old habits. "Bye."

Phillip ended the call without saying another word.

Madison tried to push thoughts of Phillip from her mind as she prepared for bed. She called Clinton one last time, not because she thought he would suddenly pick up the phone but because she wanted to leave one last voicemail telling him she'd be making the two-hour drive from Eagle Rock, Missouri to Springfield in the morning. Then she set her phone on the nightstand and started humming to herself.

The tune was a familiar one, a song she'd been working on for years. She had the melody right, but she still had not found the words to go with it. The song needed words full of hope and love, but nothing in her life had inspired that kind of poetry lately.

Not for the first time, Madison wished her songbird gift would work on herself - that she could sing a joyful song and draw that song's happiness into herself. But that was not how it worked. In fact, she didn't make people feel the song's emotions as much as she made them feel her own. The melody and lyrics helped set a tone she could embrace, but she had once managed to make someone cry singing, "If You're Happy and You Know It."

Today was that kind of day. Music was her refuge, but tonight worry followed her within its sheltering embrace. She gave up by nine o'clock, thinking she should at least try to get a good night's sleep before setting off in the morning. She only prayed that her nightmares would give her respite.

* * *

She is scared and hurt, but not alone. Before her stands the man who saved her life. He is only a few inches taller than she, but so broad and powerful that he seems much larger. His arms ripple with well-defined, sculpted muscles that she knows he can use to kill. His face is not classically handsome, but it is rugged and beautiful to her. She loves his eyes most of all. Those jade green eyes that carry the weight of the world within their depths. They say eyes are the windows to the soul, so she tries to peer inside to see.

He looks back, giving her the sense that he sees her as no man ever has before - as a woman. He extends a hand to her and she takes it, feeling the thrill of contact. This is it. This is what it's supposed to feel like when a man touches a woman. She is pure sensation, all flutters and tingles. She wants this man, if he'll have her. She is afraid to hope that he might.

Suddenly, he shifts. In those soul-deep eyes he betrays a flash of pain, then his body jerks and flexes. Hair begins to sprout even as his bones contort. He looks like he is fighting the transformation, but he is fighting a losing battle.

For one last, lingering second he looks on her with the green eyes she knows. Then he is the wolf, and when she looks into its eyes, Scott is gone. The beast has yellow eyes, without so much as a spark of humanity left.

The beast growls, baring his teeth. He lunges for her, sinking long, sharp canines into her throat. She cannot scream. Her heart is trying to escape her chest. Her throat works again and again, but the scream will not come.

She can smell the blood. It's everywhere. The beast is going to eat her alive. It lowers its muzzle to sink its teeth into her belly and tear out her intestines - the part it likes best. She knows what will happen next, and there is nothing she can do about it.

If only whoever is calling her on the phone could help her. If only...

* * *

Sweat drenched Madison's sheets when she finally managed to pull herself away from her recurring nightmare long enough to understand that the phone truly was ringing at two in the morning. She fumbled with several objects on her nightstand before finding the phone, but she had long-since missed the call. Her blood ran cold when she saw that it had been Clinton who'd phoned in the dead of night.

No word for a month and now this? A phone call at two in the morning?

Madison crawled out of bed, removed her sweat-drenched night shirt, then fumbled through her drawer for another. She wanted a shower. She wanted to change the bed. She settled for a dry shirt before taking a seat on the floor near the foot of her full-sized bed and returning her brother's call.

He answered on the first ring. "Oh, thank God."

Madison's pulse jumped. "What's going on?

"I need your help."

"You're in trouble." It wasn't a question. "What do you need? Money?" Although, now that she thought about it, if he needed money he could have picked a more reasonable hour to call.

"I don't need money." Clinton drew in a deep breath, as though stealing himself for something. "I need magic."

Magic? Madison sat up straighter, the last tendrils of sleepiness melting away as if they had never been. Sure, she had a little bit of magic, but Clinton knew how she felt about using it. And even if using magic didn't make her feel somehow tainted, the fact remained that she really couldn't use it. Magic required a combination of potential, effort, and study. She had little potential, didn't care to put out much effort, and had only studied enough basics so she wouldn't hurt anyone with what little potential she did have.

Unless . "What do you mean by magic, exactly? Do you want me to sing for you?" Most outsiders didn't understand the distinction - Madison herself had only started to understand in the past year or so - but a gift was not the same thing as magic. Her songbird gift was tied to the soul and was as instinctive as breathing. She almost couldn't not do it, which was something she had never been able to explain to Phillip.

"No, that's not it. I need real magic."

"You know I don't have enough to count." But Madison had a feeling she knew where this was going.

"You can ask your other brother for help." Clinton said, confirming her suspicion. He always sounded jealous when he talked about her other brother, as if her recent discovery of the existence of a half brother meant she felt differently about him.

"Why don't you tell me what's going on first?"

"I don't want you to freak out."

"How can I not freak out when you call me at two in the morning?" Madison's voice rose as all her worst fears came tumbling back through her mind.

"More, then. I don't want you to freak out more. But I need some magical help, and I need you to get it for me."

"Wait a second, are you honestly suggesting that I act as a go-between when I don't even know what it is I'm going between?"

"Yeah. Pretty much."

"No!"

"Madison." Clinton had switched to his wheedling tone. If he were there in person, looking at her with the big brown puppy dog eyes they had both inherited from their mother, it might have worked.

"Clinton," Madison said, trying and failing to match his tone.

"The thing is. Look. I can't handle losing you right now."

"Why would you lose me?" Madison could feel her heart pounding a little faster in response to the fear in her brother's voice. She had never heard anything quite like it there before. Her palms felt slick, and it was hard to hold onto the phone.

"If I told you what was wrong, I might. It's-look, I called because I met someone tonight who swears he can help me, but I don't trust him."

"You should go with your instincts."

"My instincts have been telling me to run away, but I can't run from this."

"From what?" Madison didn't yell, but it was a near thing. She felt like a string about to snap in two.

"This guy I met says tomorrow will be too late."

"The guy you don't trust? What happens tomorrow night?"

Clinton didn't respond. Madison's mind whirled. What did happen tomorrow night? Well, that was obvious. The full moon. She always knew when the full moon was coming because .

No. It couldn't be.

"Please tell me this doesn't have something to do with the full moon tomorrow night," Madison pleaded. Her hand shook and her voice trembled.

"Don't freak out."

"Too late!"

"Okay. Okay!" Clinton was talking faster now. Breathing faster. "You know that girl I told you about last time I called? Clara, the new waitress at Chili's?"

"Yes."

"Four weeks ago she came up to me and said she wanted to be my mate. I thought that meant she wanted to . well, you know. So I said sure, great. She wanted to drive out to this secluded spot to do it, so I took her, but when we got there she took off. Then the moon rose, and out came this giant thing . hard to describe . it didn't really look like a wolf. I ran for my car, but it bit me on the back of the knee just before I got inside."

It was a good thing Madison was sitting on the floor, because if she hadn't been, she would have fallen. She knew the rest of the story, even before Clinton told her the details. The next day he got sick. Really, really sick. He almost died. He was sick for three weeks and missed his finals. When he woke up, it was to find Clara tending him. She seemed happy that he'd survived, and that he would now be a werewolf just like her.

"I didn't want to believe her," Clinton whispered. His voice was so low she barely heard him. "All week, I've been trying to figure a way out of it. It's not like I didn't grow up believing in things like werewolves, but you don't want to think it can happen to you, you know? And I've been in Springfield for three years, where most people don't believe in magic."

Madison could feel the delicate threads of her life slipping through her fingers once again. She should be used to it by now, perhaps, but this . In her worst nightmares she never could have imagined this.

"Madison, are you still there?" Clinton's voice sounded far away, and agitated, as if he had been trying to get her attention for a while.

"I'm here."

"You're freaking out."

"I'm fine." She wasn't. Her whole body was shaking. From somewhere in the bowels of the house the air conditioning kicked on; it felt like a draft of arctic wind.

"I need help, Madison. I don't know who else to ask. Clara's so strong and has such good hearing. I had trouble getting away from her. Tonight I did, and then I met this guy at a bar . he says if I go with him he can fix me, but it has to be before the full moon. Before the first, um, transformation."

Madison didn't believe there was a way to fix it, but she couldn't tell him that, not when he had called her for hope. He wasn't the only one who needed hope.

"I'm scared," Clinton said.

"Me too."

"Can you help me?"

"Don't go with him," Madison ordered. "Promise me you won't. I'll get you some help, one way or another."

"Really?"

Madison closed her eyes and swallowed, hard, knowing what this promise would mean. Clinton thought it was simple. He thought there would be a cure. She knew better, and she knew that however powerful her other brother was, Evan Blackwood wasn't the man who could help Clinton. The man who could help Clinton was the reason she couldn't sleep at the full moon, and the reason she had so many nightmares at other times of the month. He was the reason her hair clung damply to her forehead at that very moment, and the reason she needed to change her sheets.

"Really," Madison promised.

 

Chapter 2

Jessica was a bitch in more than one sense of the word. Scott knew that, and yet he'd spent the past six months of his life fucking her. He couldn't even pretend he was using her in place of the real thing, because to even picture the woman he really wanted while in bed with Jessica felt like sacrilege. He didn't exactly use her for sex, either. Sex with Jessica lacked any depth, and most nights he thought he would get just as much satisfaction from his hand. The other nights, nights like tonight, he thought he'd get more satisfaction from his hand. At least then he wouldn't feel bad about picturing her.

"Is that all you've got?" Jessica taunted him when he rolled over and told her to leave. "You wouldn't want the pack to know you're losing stamina."

Therein lay the real reason for the time he spent with Jessica. It was a show. A power play. He was 27 years old, nearly 28, and he led a pack of men and women who became wild animals at the full moon, and who didn't necessarily rise much above that state the rest of the time. They expected him to be powerful. They expected him to be virile. They almost universally confused one with the other.

Scott did have an edge that, to the best of his knowledge, no other werewolf had - he was also a powerful sorcerer. Magic had run through his veins long before he'd foolishly let himself get bitten, and magic, or at least fear of magic, was how he kept control now.

"Get out," Scott growled, refusing to dignify her comments with anything more than a not-so-playful nip on the back of her neck.

Jessica yelped, got the message, and quickly donned her clothes. She wanted him to take her as his mate; he knew that, and he expected her to make another play for the position soon. She'd tried last month, when she stopped taking the pill and didn't tell him. Some combination of his sense of smell and his gift of intuition had saved him from falling into that trap, but he remained on guard.

No, he needed to dump her. He would, too, as soon as he found someone to replace her. Preferably someone from a nearby pack, since none of the available females in his own pack would be able to stand up to Jessica. It would be nice if she'd leave after he pushed her away, but he couldn't be so lucky, and he could only force her out if she disobeyed him. She'd walk a fine line, but she wouldn't do that.

"It's really not gentlemanly to force a girl into the cold, lonely night," Jessica whined. "What if someone attacked me?"

"I'd feel sorry for him," Scott replied.

She laughed, mistaking his comment for a compliment. She flung a long mass of fake red hair over her shoulder and made a show of wriggling into too-tight jeans. It should have stirred something in him, but it left him cold. Skinny legs had never appealed to him, though they did not repulse him nearly as much as her attitude. An attitude that was, apparently, just what his pack expected from his mate.

"You aren't even going to show me to the door?" Jessica asked after she had dressed.

"Do I ever?"

She laughed. She liked it when he acted like a jerk to her, which made him dislike her almost as much as he disliked himself.

"See you tomorrow night," Jessica said as she headed out the bedroom door.

A minute later he heard the front door open, but it didn't close right away. There was a startled yelp, one so soft he wouldn't have heard it without the heightened senses of his wolf. It almost sounded like ... but that was impossible.

"Well hi there, honey," Jessica said in her sugary sweet bitch voice. "No wonder Scott was in such a hurry to kick me out if he had you coming over. Why don't you just head on in? He's waiting in his bedroom."

Scott let out a string of soft curses that Jessica would have heard perfectly, though a normal woman standing on the other side of the door would not. Flinging aside the covers, he reached for a pair of jeans, managing to pull them on just before Jessica returned, ushering in the woman who had been haunting his dreams for years.

Madison looked beautiful to him, even in jeans and an oversized t-shirt that hid the curves he had spent hours studying from afar. Her thick brown hair lay in graceful waves around her shoulders, glowing with health and making him itch to touch it to find out if it was as soft as it looked. Her scent filled his nostrils as longing filled his heart, as well as other less honorable parts of his body.

His pack wouldn't approve. Scott's best friend, Evan, who had discovered that Madison was his half sister a year ago, would rip Scott's head off if he touched her. But those weren't the reasons he kept his distance.

The reason Scott kept his distance was shining from Madison's eyes: Terror. Worse than that, though, was the knowledge that he had put it there in the first place. She had reason to fear him, both for what he was and what he had done to her personally.

"Here's your late-night snack," Jessica said, bringing Scott back to the present. The look in Jessica's eyes told Scott he had better have an explanation for Madison's presence. The words told him she wasn't waiting for that explanation to begin her assault on a perceived threat.

"Jessica. Out." Scott gave her a look that broached no argument, though she opened her mouth a fraction before shutting it again.

"I'm leaving." Jessica gave Madison one last push in Scott's direction, which would have caused the other woman to topple onto the floor if Scott hadn't grabbed her first. "Maybe tomorrow night we can share."

Madison stiffened in Scott's arms, but Jessica was gone before he had a chance to scold her.

Now what? Scott was entirely too aware of the woman he held in his arms, of her softness, of her warmth, and of her scent, reminiscent of sweet vanilla. She often smelled of fear too, at least around him, but tonight the scent was sharper. It spoke of something she feared even more than him. Something that had her half clinging to him.

He knew he needed to let her go, but something primitive within him rose to the surface, demanding action. Demanding he make her his. He could feel her body trembling, he knew she was afraid, but she didn't push him away. Hope swelled within him, a feeling he had believed long-since buried.

Almost of its own volition, one of his hands went to her hair, the fingers sinking into the thick, silken strands of chestnut. It was exactly as soft as he'd imagined. She had cut her hair a few months ago so that it only fell to her shoulders. After he had set aside his indignation, he had to admit that the new style complimented her round face, drawing attention to her full lips and brown eyes.

Her trembling grew in intensity, making him wonder if she was simply too afraid to push him away. In a sudden burst of clarity, he remembered who he was, what he was, and why he had no business holding this woman. He lingered a moment or two more, cursing himself for what that hesitation said about him as a man, then he set her aside.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, when he once again possessed some semblance of control.

His intuitive gift began to weigh in now that he had put some distance between them. Something was very wrong. Not only had Madison come to him of her own free will, but she had done so at . he glanced at his digital alarm clock . 2:36 in the morning. His first thought was that something had happened to Evan, because why else would she come to Scott herself, instead of going to her own brother?

"What's going on?" Scott asked before she had responded to his first harsh question. "Is something wrong with Evan?"

"Evan? What? No. Why would you think that?"

"Because you're here. What are you doing here?" He'd asked that already.

"I-need your help. It-it's about Clinton. My brother."

He vaguely remembered that she had another half brother, one who shared the same mother, away at college or something. "What about him?"

"Well, you see, he called me. Woke me up. Says he was b-bitten."

Scott's eyes narrowed, focusing on her pale face, full of terror he knew wasn't entirely for him. "By a werewolf?"

She nodded.

"Where?" Scott asked.

"He's in Springfield."

Scott wasn't even aware of growling until he saw Madison flinch away. "Springfield? Missouri?"

"Yes."

That was his territory. When he found the wolf suicidal enough to perform an unauthorized bite in his territory, he would grant their death wish. "Does he know who did it?"

"Said her name was Clara."

"I don't know a Clara. What's her last name?"

"I-I don't know. I didn't think to ask."

Scott rubbed his hands over his face, working to compose himself. An unauthorized wolf in his territory was serious business under any circumstances, but to have bitten someone, she had to be insane. Which meant he had a lunatic werewolf to deal with, in addition to a new wolf, assuming he survived the transition. For Madison's sake, Scott hoped he did, although she wouldn't like what he became.

"He called half an hour ago," Madison was saying, though Scott only half heard. "He told me his girlfriend bit him, that he's been really sick for weeks. I knew about that. I guess it's lucky he didn't die."

"Yeah," Scott said absently. Her brother wasn't out of the woods yet, but she didn't have to know that.

"He said he was at a bar, and someone was saying he could cure him, if he went off with him."

"What?" Scott was nothing but attention now. This kept getting better and better. What the hell was going on in his territory, under his nose? And how did they think they could get away with it?

Madison tried to back away a step, but she already stood against the wall and had nowhere to go. Scott knew how angry he must look and he fought to contain the feelings, for her sake. It was late, he was tired, and he was in the presence of a woman who drove him crazy, but he needed her to answer at least a few questions before she left.

"Come on, let's go talk in the living room." Much safer to have her there than in his bedroom, which still smelled strongly of sex. The living room wasn't much cleaner, but it was far less intimate.

Madison set a basket of unfolded laundry on the floor so she could sit in one of the recliners. Scott mirrored her action, dumping a stack of books unceremoniously to the floor so he could sit on the couch.

"What did you tell him?" Scott asked when they were seated.

"Just that I-I didn't think there was a cure. That the guy was probably lying."

"You're right, there's no cure." He wouldn't sugar coat it for her. If her brother lived, he would become a monster once a month.

"That's what I thought." But her face had fallen somewhat. "I told him to go home and wait for me. I said I'd get him help."

"And you came to me?" Scott still couldn't believe it. "Why not go to Evan?"

"He's not a werewolf. He'd have just gone to you."

Yes, but then she wouldn't have had to come to him. He didn't know what to make of that. Probably nothing. With the full moon tomorrow night, time was of the essence.

"You did the right thing," Scott said grudgingly. Probably including coming to him, although he wouldn't have expected it of her. Maybe he should have, because one of the things he admired about her was her sense of loyalty. She didn't trust easily or often, but when she did, she gave her all. She would even, for example, face her greatest fear if it meant helping her brother.

"Can you help him?" Madison asked.

"I'll do everything I can. He is my responsibility."

"He is?"

"He was bitten in my territory."

"Oh. I hadn't realized your territory was so big."

"It covers Missouri south of Jefferson City, and Northern Arkansas. I know every wolf who roams my land. Every one. They're all my responsibility."

"But you didn't know Clara."

Scott growled. "I'm sorry she attacked your brother. She had no business being here at all, and her life is forfeit."

"Oh." Madison's eyes had turned into twin saucers.

"Where does Clinton live?" Scott asked. "I'll need a few hours sleep before I go, but I'll go to him first thing in the morning."

"I'll show you."

At first, Scott didn't think he had heard her correctly. It almost sounded as if she thought she would be coming with him. That was impossible for countless reasons, chief among them the fact that Clara, whoever she was, could be a danger to Madison, although Scott's own feelings came in at a close second. Being around her made him hope for things that could never be. Keeping his distance from Madison these past months had become a matter of self-protection.

"I'm coming with you," Madison clarified.

"The hell you are!"

She shrank back into her chair, but before he had a chance to think he had won, she did something that she had never done in his memory. She looked him straight in the eyes. Her scent had shifted slightly with the gesture, the tang of fear not gone but offset by something else. Determination?

"This is pack business," Scott said.

Didn't she understand? He couldn't be alone with her. At first, after that terrible night, he'd thought she just needed time. That she would eventually forgive him, if for no other reason than because he'd had no other choice and he had saved her life. But instead she'd gone straight into the arms of another man and every time she saw Scott, every time she looked at him as if he were the devil himself, he died a little more inside.

"He's my brother, and he's afraid. I need to be there for him."

Her brother would go well beyond fear by the time this was all over; having someone he loved alongside him would help, but only if she had the strength to stay with him. "You do understand that if he pulls through this, it's going to be as a werewolf?"

"Y-yes." She looked away for a moment, then seemed to realize what she had done and looked right back. Her eyes contained determination and that loyalty he so admired. "I'll pay you."

"I don't need money."

Madison glanced around his tiny, two-bedroom house dubiously. He couldn't blame her for her analysis; many saw the size of his holdings and believed as she did, but he had little need for material goods. He lived simply because he chose to, not because he had to, and therein lay a world of difference.

"Something else then," Madison said, leaning forward. The new position gave him a better view of the cleavage just visible above the neckline of her t-shirt, a sight that was all the more alluring because he knew she hadn't done it intentionally. She probably didn't even realize how those words and that posture would affect him.

"You're not safe with me." He could feel himself caving, though. He wasn't that worried about his ability to keep her safe, and he knew from experience that new wolves transitioned better if the people they had loved in their former lives didn't reject them.

"If you were going to kill me, I think you'd have done it two years ago."

"Then maybe I'm not safe with you," Scott said.

She just stared at him, like she didn't have a clue how she affected him. Was it possible, after all this time, that she didn't know? That fear had blinded her so completely? Then again, he had been keeping her at arm's length, knowing how she felt about him. Knowing he didn't deserve her.

Not for the first time, Scott wished his intuition would help him where Madison was concerned. It was a powerful gift most of the time, but it had never been good with emotions which were, after all, somewhat unpredictable and illogical. The only thing his intuition had ever consistently told him about Madison was that she would be an ideal mate for him; it had not assured him that he would be half as good for her.

"Look," Scott said, "I'm not saying you can't help your brother. He's going to be terrified, but he's also going to be a werewolf. Like me."

"I know."

"If you abandon him halfway, it'll make things worse."

She actually scowled at him. "Clinton is the only family I have left. I'll love him no matter what."

Looking into her eyes right then, he thought maybe she would. Or maybe he just wanted to believe that, for Clinton's sake if not his own. The truth was, her fears about werewolves weren't unjustified. Scott was a killer; she'd seen that with her own eyes, and she didn't know the half of it.

"Fine, you can come." He only hoped he wouldn't end up regretting it.

 

Chapter 3

Madison was alone with Scott, and the full moon would rise in just under twelve hours, at 6:56 pm. She'd looked it up before leaving, and she had a mental countdown going in the back of her mind. Springfield was two hours away, so a four-hour round trip, plus however long it took to collect Clinton... There was plenty of time. Really.

She still couldn't believe her daring, both in going to see Scott in the first place and in forcing him to take her along on this trip. Cassie had once told her that she had an "inner core of courage" that surfaced when something really mattered, but even Cassie had to admit that most of the time Madison was a mouse. She had never stood up for herself when her peers had bullied her in school, when her adoptive father had betrayed her, nor when her fiancé had abandoned her.

But Madison had defied her adoptive father. She had embraced singing, even though it had cost her so much.

As for the man sitting beside her, she had no idea how to handle her tangled fears and desires where he was concerned. She had managed for the past two years by avoiding him whenever possible. That had been difficult at first, but it had grown easier after her engagement and easier still in the last year or so, ever since Madison had learned that Evan Blackwood, Scott's best friend, was also her half brother. Madison knew that Evan had "settled the debt" she owed Scott, but Evan remained stubbornly tight-lipped about the details of the settlement, and she had never had the courage to ask Scott.

Would avoidance be possible now? Clinton was going to become a werewolf tonight. The reality still had not fully sunk in, though it was beginning to. She remembered Clinton's voice on the phone, and his fear when he thought she would reject him. She hated that he'd believed it of her, but what else was he supposed to think? He knew more about the night David had tried to steal her soul than anyone else. Not everything - she hadn't told him that before that night she'd imagined Scott as some kind of romantic hero and had even half fallen in love with him - but all the rest.

She should talk to Scott, open her mind and really learn about werewolves in a way she hadn't let herself before. But the silence pressing between them felt too solid, and every time she tried to open her mouth to say something, her throat felt impossibly dry.

"You do realize that I'm a werewolf, not a vampire," Scott said after a time. He sounded agitated.

Madison glanced down. Her fingers, she realized, had been toying with the crucifix she wore tucked beneath her shirt. She had bought the necklace after a series of local vampire attacks and had been wearing it ever since. Now, toying with the pendant was just another in a long line of nervous habits she couldn't seem to break. Or if she did, another bad habit would take its place. She had spent a year learning not to bite her nails, only to discover she had nearly chewed her bottom lip off in the process. She stopped doing that, and started twisting her hair, breaking the once beautiful strands. She'd cut her hair short and now she was back to chewing her nails, figuring they were at least a less prominent feature than her hair and lips.

"Sorry." Madison dropped the pendant, then had to talk herself down from chewing on a nail. This was going to be a long trip.

"It wasn't an accusation. I was trying to start a conversation."

"Oh," Madison said. Well, she'd wanted to start a conversation, too. She should follow his lead, but all she could think to say was, "Sorry."

"Stop apologizing for everything. It's annoying."

"Sorry." Oh God, had she really just said that? If she were Cassie, she would have played it off like a joke. That sounded like a good idea, so she forced a small smile.

Scott smiled back. "Cheeky."

It had worked. Madison's smile grew wider. "Sorry."

This time, he laughed. He looked so much more human when he laughed. Had she ever seen him do that before?

"It is made of silver," Madison said. "Doesn't that count for something?"

"Only if you melt it into a bullet."

"Telling me your weaknesses? Isn't that risky?"

"No. Because first of all, it isn't true, and second of all, you won't tell anyone it isn't."

"What makes you so sure I won't tell anyone?"

His smile disappeared, replaced by his usual brooding expression. His green eyes grew dark and impenetrable, reminding her of how little she knew about this man. "You wouldn't do anything to hurt Clinton, would you?"

"No. Of course not." Madison looked away. So much for her attempt at levity. She shivered, and returned her gaze to the window.

"You know, I'm actually trying to help you. I didn't have to take you along. Do you think you could try not to be afraid of me, at least until moon-rise?"

Madison's head snapped back around. "It bothers you that I'm afraid of you?"

"Yes, it bothers me. I-it bothers me."

Madison stared at Scott's profile for a long minute, trying to figure out what to make of him. She had tried to see things from his point of view before. Countless times, as a matter of fact. Intellectually she knew he had done nothing to her that hadn't directly led to his saving her life and even her soul. Emotionally, on the other hand...

There remained so many unanswered questions about that night. She couldn't bring herself to ask them, but they floated through her mind nonetheless: How had he even known she needed help? Why was he so far from his usual forest so close to the full moon? And why had he stayed away from her afterward? She wanted to understand that most of all, because there were moments when she swore she thought he wanted her. She could be wrong - she had little experience with men and she wasn't exactly a leggy bombshell like that woman he'd been with earlier in the night - but the way he often looked at her... She didn't want him to look at her like that; it terrified her, but he had saved her life. And sometimes, she was almost afraid to admit to herself, she liked the way he looked at her.

"Why does it bother you that I'm afraid?" Madison asked instead.

"Why does it-?" Scott turned his head slightly, scowling at her. "What kind of question is that?"

Madison pushed away her instinctive reaction to his scowl. He wasn't going to hurt her. The wolf inside him wasn't Scott, he'd said so himself minutes before she'd seen the truth for herself in the beast's eyes. And Evan had assured her that wolves could only shift at the full moon. It was the only assurance he had ever given her about Scott; mostly, Evan liked to unnecessarily reinforce her fears.

"You're scowling," Madison said.

Scott's lips straightened and he turned back to the road. "I was?"

"You do that a lot."

"I didn't realize that." He frowned. "Maybe I've gotten hard. I didn't used to be that way, but dealing with a pack of werewolves all the time... I guess it's my turn to apologize."

"It's okay."

"No, it's not." Scott sighed. "And no, I never wanted you afraid. I just didn't think there was any other choice." He paused before adding, "Is there?"

"Yesterday, I'd have said no."

"And today?"

Madison hesitated. "Today, there's a werewolf out there who I love and need to find a way to support no matter what."

"Okay," Scott said slowly. Then again, "Okay."

"Maybe we could get to know each other a little better."

"Okay," he said again. "Why are you wearing the cross?"

Madison looked down at the cross, which she was once again twisting between her fingers. "I bought it after the vampire attacks a while back, but I like wearing it anyway. I am Catholic."

"You are?"

"Go to mass every Sunday. Sing in the choir."

"Huh. I wouldn't have expected that from Evan's sister."

"Half sister," Madison corrected. "As in long lost and not raised together. My parents were both Catholic. I mean, my mom and my adoptive dad."

"I'd just think being Catholic would make you think magic was evil or something."

Madison shuddered. It wasn't the religion at all, it was entirely Phillip Carter. Father Owen had even said that her voice was a gift from God. Of course her gift wasn't exactly magic, but Father Owen didn't know that. Madison still had trouble grasping the difference some days.

"You do have a problem with it," Scott said. "Is that why you and Evan have been having problems?"

"We're not having problems, exactly, and no, it's not the reason." Madison had never thought of magic as being evil in other people, only in herself. When she thought about the logic there - or lack thereof - it made her head hurt, but didn't change her feelings.

"Interesting," Scott said, as if she'd just told him a lot more than she had.

"This is getting awfully personal," Madison said. "If you're going to ask me about all this, you should tell me something personal about yourself."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I don't know." Madison cast about for a subject that wasn't related to his monthly transformations. She wasn't ready for that yet, though she knew she would have to be soon. Unfortunately, the only other subject she could think of was almost as difficult to bring up. "Tell me about that woman who was with you tonight. Jessica?"

Scott's jaw tightened, but he kept his eyes on the road ahead of him. "She's a bitch."

"A werewolf, you mean?"

"That too."

Madison almost laughed. Almost. But she saw from the fixed expression on his face that he was absolutely serious. "You really don't like her?"

"She's one of the most selfish women I've ever known. She's not attracted to me, she's attracted to power. She's constantly asking me to work magic for her, and she's in love with my position as alpha. In the few months we've been together, she's already lorded it over the other females in the pack. I've had to intercede a couple of times."

Madison looked straight ahead into the sunrise, trying to figure out why someone like Scott would be with a woman like that if he hated her. It must be the legs. Men went crazy for long, thin legs.

"She's pretty," Madison said after a long pause.

Scott snorted. "Not my type."

"What's your type?"

He glanced at her, his eyes raking her face and torso, settling for a few extra seconds on her chest before returning to the road. "I like curves."

Madison's cheeks went red. Before she could stop herself, she had glanced down at her own chest, which she'd always thought was too big, much like the rest of her body. But Scott couldn't mean it. He'd only said that to unsettle her. And it was working.

"Anything else you want to know?" Scott asked.

"Why are you with her if she's not a nice person?"

"I'm not a nice person." He paused then added, quietly. "I'm not even a person."

"Oh, Scott." And for the first time in his presence, Madison didn't feel afraid. She felt something else entirely.

 

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Author Bio

Award-winning author Christine Amsden has written stories since she was eight, always with a touch of the strange or unusual. She became a "serious" writer in 2003, after attending a boot camp with Orson Scott Card. She finished Touch of Fate shortly afterward, then penned The Immortality Virus, which won two awards.

Aside from writing, Christine teaches writing workshops at Savvy Authors and is a freelance editor. She also mentors aspiring fiction writers.

Christine lives in the Kansas City area with her husband and two kids.

TTB titles: The Immortality Virus
Touch of Fate

Cassie Scot series
Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective  Book 1
Secrets and Lies  Book 2
Mind Games  Book 3
Stolen Dreams   Book 4

Cassie's Friends
Kaitlin's Tale
Madison's Song

Author web site.

 

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Madison's Song Copyright 2015. Christine Amsden. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

To order this book:
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN Nook; eReader; Kindle; Kobo Books; OmniLit
List Price: $6.50 USD

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available October 2015!
List Price: $18.95 USD

 

  Author News

Madison's Song is a finalist in the Fantasy category for the Foreword Reviews 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Mind Games by Christine Amsden is the winner in the category of Paranormal in EPIC's 2015 eBook award and also won Silver in the Fiction Fantasy/contemporary category of the 2014 Global eBook Awards.

The Immortality Virus by Christine Amsden is the winner in the category of Speculative Fiction SF in the 2011 Global eBook Awards and winner in the Science Fiction category for the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards.

Praise for Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective (book 1 in the Cassie Scot series)

"In this entertaining series opener, Amsden (The Immortality Virus) introduces readers to the eponymous Cassie, a decidedly mundane member of a magical family. ...Readers will enjoy Cassie's fish-out-of-water struggles as she fights magical threats with little more than experience and bravado." ~ Publishers Weekly

Praise for Secrets and Lies: a Cassie Scot novel (book 2 in the Cassie Scot series)

"...Cassie, stubborn and proud, is bravely trying to live on her own after her family disowns her. ...The growing complexity of Cassie's world makes this an entertaining installment, focusing as much on the will-they, won't-they romantic chemistry between Cassie and Evan as on the primary mystery...." ~ Publishers Weekly

"Christine Amsden unleashes her brilliant storytelling magic as the adventures of Cassie Scot escalate to the extreme. Rife with betrayal and a debt too deep for money to clear, Secrets and Lies plunges the reader into an utterly believable world where villains and heroes spring lifelike from the pages. Brace for a whirlwind ride of sorcery, romance and knife-edge peril. A truly original urban fantasy. Not to be missed!"
~ Kim Falconer, bestselling author of The Spell of Rosette, Quantum Enchantment Series

 

  Reviews

Madison's Song is the latest addition to the Cassie Scot Paranormal Detective fantasy/mystery series. Though not the latest installment, it is a stand-alone, companion book to the series and, though there are mystery elements in it, it is primarily a romantic fantasy.

So far I've read and enjoyed all of the books and this one didn't disappoint. As usual, Amsden delivers a fast-pace, highly entertaining read with fully sympathetic and compelling characters. This time I was especially swept away by the romance between Madison and Scott.

Madison Carter is a sweet, shy music teacher from a small town. When her brother Clinton's life is put in danger, she must unwillingly join forces with Scott Lee, a very alluring and dangerous alpha werewolf, to find Clinton and help him. Scott is slave to the moon, a vicious killer and man-eating monster, but he has a soft spot for Madison, whom he was forced to "mark", make love to, two years ago in order to save her life. Since then, they've been bonded in more ways than both are willing to admit. Needless to say, sparks fly from the very beginning. As they follow the trail to Clinton, they find themselves thrown in a secret lab, prisoners of a psychopathic doctor with a very dark agenda. Romance, suspense, mystery, action and thrills abound, and then some.

Fans of the Cassie Scot series and romantic fantasy will gobble this one up. Amsden hooks us from page one and doesn't let us go until the end. With minimalist descriptions, non-stop action, and skillful characterization, this author delivers a tale that both engages and captivates. I was also impressed by the world building and all the fascinating dynamics about werewolves and their packs. I was able to forget reality and immersed myself into the world of the impossible. Highly recommended!

Midwest Book Review
 



 

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