Unchained (Shifter Night Book 3), page 1
Table of Contents
About the Author
Also by Charlene Hartnady
Shifter Night: Book 3
Copyright © February 2018, Charlene Hartnady
Cover Art by Melody Simmons
Copy Edited by KR
Website and VA: Simplicity
Proofread by email@example.com
Produced in South Africa
Unchained is a work of fiction and characters, events and dialogue found within are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, either living or deceased, is purely coincidental.
With the exception of quotes used in reviews no part of this book may be reproduced or shared in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including but not limited to digital copying, file sharing, audio recording, email and printing without prior consent in writing from the author.
Created with Vellum
About the Author
Also by Charlene Hartnady
There was a loud crash and Gage jumped to his feet. From dreaming about … he couldn’t remember … to wide awake in an instant. His vision remained blurred with sleep for a half a second before he was able to focus.
“Ash,” his voice was still croaky from disuse. There was an edge of confusion evident. His brother was breathing heavily. The male’s eyes were wide, they held a wild edge. Gage could scent anger; that and the acrid smell of fear.
Sweat dripped from Ash’s brow. “Get moving,” he screamed, the muscles standing up on either side of his neck. “They have them!” His brother’s face twisted with both anguish and disbelief as he shouted, “Those fuckers took my family!” Then he threw his head back and roared. A sound so deafening that Gage was forced to cover his ears with his hands.
Gage frowned. Half a dozen questions raced through his mind all at once. “Who has them? By them, I’m assuming you mean Alice and the children?” He tried to keep his voice even and to remain calm despite the adrenaline that coursed through him.
Ash thread his fingers through his hair, fisting his hands. "Fuck!" he growled as he doubled over, still clutching his hair. "Oh my fuck!" The words were laced with anger and disbelief. There was more there though. He could hear the pain and utter devastation. "There is no time, we must leave now." The scent of fear grew stronger, almost choking him. He'd never seen his brother like this. Never. That was saying something since Ash had lost a mate and a child before.
Gage felt his heart-rate pickup. He reached for the jeans that lay discarded next to his still rumpled bed and tugged them on, one leg at a time. "Tell me what happened." There was still a rasp in his voice.
Ash was pacing the room, his eyes moving from left to right. His jaw was tightly clenched. “They’re gone. When I came back outside, they were fucking gone. All four of them. Like they’d vanished into thin air.” He sounded broken. Completely destroyed. His red-rimmed eyes glistened.
“Are you sure they didn’t go for a walk or something? Maybe—”
“No!” Ash snarled. “Those fuckers took them. There was no scent trail. It was as if they disappeared into the ether. I know it was them. What the fuck do they want with my mate? With innocent children? The twins are still cubs. Ethan is a boy … just a little boy.” His voice broke with emotion. Ash wiped at his eyes with frantic, angry swipes.
“Take me to where it happened.”
“No!” Another loud snarl. “We have to go after them now.” Again, his eyes darted around the room. His muscles bulged. His teeth were sharp. If he became any more agitated, Ash would shift. The male’s fur would be just beneath the surface of his skin, prickling, his nail beds would be tingling. His gums would feel much the same. Then he snarled, turning on his heel. “I’m done talking. Done waiting.” Ash roared again. This time, louder than before as he rushed for the door.
Gage grabbed his arm. He needed to talk some sense into the male. He could understand why his brother was so frantic, so out of his mind, but running off half-cocked was not going to solve anything.
Ash yanked himself free and headed out the door. This time when Gage gripped his arm, Ash turned and popped him one on the side of his jaw with a meaty thud. Dull pain exploded and he staggered back a few steps.
Four males stood a little ahead of Ash. Probably attracted by the noise. “Stop him!” Gage yelled but none of them moved.
Just then, Ward rounded the bend. The male lived next door so he no doubt heard the commotion. “What’s going on?” He was frowning heavily.
“My family was taken.” Ash’s voice was deep and hoarse. So close to shifting that his muscles were thicker and roped. Even those of his throat.
Gage needed to talk some sense into him. “Go after them how? Where would we even start?” He couldn’t begin to understand what was going through the male’s head. Couldn’t begin to understand what he was feeling.
“We have to do something! Please.” He turned and gripped Gage by the forearms and squeezed ‒ hard. Any more pressure and his bones were going to snap. “We have to.” His brother turned to Ward as he let go.
“Fuck!” Ward growled.
“Take us to where this happened. We need to try to figure this out. To figure them out. Maybe they left some sort of clue,” Gage said.
“That’s a good idea.” Ward nodded.
“It happened right outside the house. Ethan wanted to play outside. The boys were napping in their stroller.” Ash clenched and unclenched his fists. He spoke quickly. “I went back in to get us another cup of coffee and when I returned, they were gone. Gone!” he repeated the word, his eyes becoming wild, his face contorting in anguish once again. “The stroller too. Fucking gone! Like before, there was no scent. No prints. Nothing at all.” Ash swallowed thickly, his Adam’s apple bobbed. “It was just like when Meredith was taken.” He ground his teeth. “Alice has been beside herself with worry and now she’s gone too. What the fuck …” His brother wiped his eyes before the gathering wetness could fall. He sniffed hard.
Gage could remember that moment all too clearly since he had been with the human healer at the time of her abduction. The incident had taken place only five short days ago. The beast that had taken her was big, strong and faster than anything he’d seen before. He was lucky to be alive. “Sounds like it’s them.” There was no other explanation.
“Yes, it does.”
Suddenly someone screamed and a loud snarl followed. The noise came from some distance. They all turned towards where the sound had come from. There was another blood-curdling scream and they took off, adrenaline pumping. Hackles raised.
Edith looked down at the tiny infant in her lap. His skin was so incredibly soft. The little one was perfect in every way. From his gummy mouth to his itty bitty toes. “I can’t believe he’s already two months old,” she gushed, glancing up at Ana. “Firstly, because he looks far too small to be anything other than a newborn,” she paused to take in a breath, “and then secondly, because it took me this long to get out to see you.”
Ana giggled. “Yeah, well, shifter babies are really small. You must remember that I was only pregnant for three months.” She hooked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.
“Nuts!” Edith shook her head. “I still can’t believe it.” She lifted her eyes in thought. “I suppose that it’s a good thing. Rather get it over and done with as quickly as possible, right?”
“Right.” Ana smiled. “Although,” her expression turned wistful, “I quite liked the whole experience. Maybe not the two weeks of nausea but other than that I really enjoyed being pregnant. Feeling my baby grow inside me. Feeling his little kicks. It was almost over before it began.”
“I suppose you are right. I’m so sorry it took me so long to get my ass in gear and to get myself over here. It’s just that Jeff has really been trying to move into my area. That’s why I can’t stay as long as I’d like. I have a show day next Sunday.” The Jones property was one of those pieces of real-estate that you just knew would sell without too much hassle. Well-appointed, well maintained, lock up and go. It ticked all the boxes, including being north-facing and having river-frontage. There was nothing not to like, except, maybe the price tag, but the place was worth it, so it would sell regardless. Edith called that a serious win in her book, since she lived off commission. The only downside was that it was a dated house and – big sigh - she wished she could afford to buy it for herself. Oh well!
“Is that asshole still trying his luck?”
Jeff could go and suck eggs. He’d had his eye on her suburbs since he started at the agency two years ago. “Like you wouldn’t believe it? And to think I taught him everything he knows. Little shit!”
“You’re telling me. I don’t miss the drama and the boring day-to-day stuff, but I sometimes do miss my old job.” Ana took a sip of her tea.
“Seriously?” Edith shook her head. “If I had a hunk like Winston and lived out in this paradise … well, Jeff could take all of my properties. I wouldn’t care. I sometimes get so sick of having to go it alone, you know? What am I saying? You, of all people, know.”
“I’ve told you a hundred times, your guy is out there somewhere.”
Edith couldn’t help but roll her eyes. It wasn’t that she was a negative person. It really wasn’t. She’d had enough though. She’d been on enough awful dates. Been hopeful too many times to count, and now she was done. Finished. She wasn’t looking. She no longer believed in true love. She didn’t want to settle on a mediocre relationship either, so …
“I can see by the look on your face that you don’t believe me.” Ana put her mug down with a clunk and the baby in her lap started.
Edith rocked her legs from side to side and Logan settled back down. “I guess I don’t believe you,” she sighed. “I tried my hand at finding love,” A good couple of times, she thought to herself. “I failed. I’m going to get myself a cat or two and be done with it.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Ana made a face. “You have to be open to the possibility or love might be staring you right in the face and you won’t even see it.”
“Doubtful at best,” Edith laughed. It came out sounding a bit strained. Oh well, it was the line of conversation. Best she move away from talk of men and love. Arghhh! It was giving her a headache. "So," she carefully picked up her own mug, trying not to jostle the baby, "why was my trip nearly canceled anyway?" Ana had messaged her to say it was potentially off and then, just yesterday, she'd said that it was back on.
“I had to beg to get them to agree to let you come. You see, a woman was kidnapped a couple of days ago. A human, visiting the village.”
Edith felt her mouth drop open. “What do you mean kidnapped? How? Why?”
Ana shrugged, her eyes were wide. If Edith didn’t know any better, she would say that her friend was afraid. “We’re not sure. Some or other creature or creatures that live in these woods.” Ana seemed to look around them, like she was imagining herself deep in the forest.
"A creature?" Edith sounded skeptical. She couldn't help it; it sounded a bit far-fetched. Then again, she was visiting a shifter village in the middle of nowhere. Anything was possible after that, right?
Ana nodded. “We’ve seen signs of them … it. We’re not sure but we think there are more than one. One of them left a large footprint. There have been two attacks. Once on one of the Alphas. It was Winston’s Alpha, he was there when it happened. Ward was badly injured. The Alpha didn’t see much, but someone,” she paused, “something, tore into Ward that day. His injuries were severe. Then, a couple of days ago, one of the bear shifters was torn up really badly and the woman he was with was taken."
"I wouldn't joke about a thing like this. Gage said it was huge and powerful. He said it was ridiculously fast despite its size as well. We also know that the creature is winged; Gage ‒ the guy who was attacked ‒ saw that much but nothing else. That's why they almost canceled your trip. Since we're staying indoors, I didn't think you'd be in any danger."
Edith snorted. “Winged? Really? Maybe he hit his head a little too hard.” She could only hope. This creature sounded surreal. Surely the shifter, Gage, had banged his head a little too hard or something?
Ana swallowed the large gulp of tea she had just taken. “Nope, it’s the only explanation. How else could they come and go without leaving any prints? He definitely saw wings, and they were feathered. The one and only print they’ve left to date was,” she widened her eyes, “huge and looked to be feline.” She frowned. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
That sparked some sort of memory. Oh yes! Her younger brother went through a phase where he couldn't get enough of mythological creatures. Anything from Bigfoot to the Kraken and everything in-between. "That's interesting." Edith licked her lips. "I think I have a picture of what this creature might be. In theory anyway." It so couldn't be what she was thinking though. A creature like that simply didn't exist outside of books and fairytales. Did it?
Ana frowned. “Oh! Okay. What did you have in mind?”
She may as well share her thoughts. “Well, you know how Tommy—”
“Quiet!” The look that came over Ana’s face was nothing short of scary. She held up a hand, her face turning panicked in an instant. Then, her best friend leaned over and took her son from Edith, holding the baby to her chest.
“What is it?” Edith finally asked, whispering.
Ana shook her head. “I’m not sure. I heard screaming.”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“My hearing has improved since mating with Winston. I definitely heard it and it sounded bad … really bad. Something terrible has happened.” She rocked the baby, her eyes wide, her face deathly pale.
Everyone in the room spoke at once. The females and children huddled together, whispering amongst themselves. Quietly reassuring each other.
There were many who argued and there were also those who were in all-out panic mode. Screaming and ranting, as if that would solve anything. Then there were those, like himself, who stood in shocked silence. Gage let his eyes move across the room, coming to rest on
Ash paced back and forth, muscles bulging, still halfway to a shift. Gage could see that his brother was barely holding it together.
“Silence,” Ward commanded ‒ and not for the first time. “Silence,” he repeated, louder this time. Then he snarled; the vicious call echoed around the room, it demanded instant obedience and submission. Ward was an Alpha, he had that inherent ability, just like others of his stature.
Almost everyone did as they were commanded. Though there were one or two Alphas who continued to talk quietly amongst themselves, able to ignore the tone of a fellow leader. Ash continued to pace.
"Is everyone present?" Ward asked, then looked around the dining hall. It was the largest room in the village. Most of the tables and chairs had been carried out to make space for everyone. Females with young children sat on the chairs along the walls.
There were murmurs of agreement.
“We need to do something and fast,” Ash rasped, his voice guttural. His vocal cords had thickened, more like those of a bear than a human.
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