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Claimed by the wolf, p.1

Claimed by the Wolf, page 1

 part  #1 of  Shadow Guardians Series

 

Claimed by the Wolf
 


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Claimed by the Wolf


  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are use fictitiously.

  CLAIMED BY THE WOLF. Copyright © 2009 by Charlene Teglia. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America . For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York N.Y. 10010

  www.stmartins.com

  Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Teglia, Charlene.

  Claimed by the wolf: a shadow guardians novel/ Charlene Teglia –1st ed.

  p. cm

  ISBN 978-0-312-53742-5

  1. Supernatural—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3620.E4357C56 2009

  813’.6—dc22

  20009019941

  First Edition: December 2009

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  For P. with love

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Thanks to the Write Ons for the writing support.

  And to N.J Walters for advance reader feedback.

  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Prologue

  Kenric would have cursed when the demon he pursued evaded hi, but in his wolf form he could only snarl. The Sound of a wolf on the hunt denied its prey was more chilling than any curse he could have uttered, but the demon wasn’t there to be intimidated by it. How could the creature have escaped him?

  Frustrated fury drove him to cover the ground again, and the trail ended in the same place. A gate. The creature had fled through it to its home in the Shadow realms, where Kenric could not follow. The sounds of battle forced him to turn away and abandon his hunt. This demon had fled, but the others still fought.

  Kenric’s pack boasted a hundred warriors at full strength. The allied forces of werewolves, witches, dragons, sidhe, vampires, and one rebel breed of demon had gathered in this ancient valley that had been home to Akkadians before the Sumerians and then Babylonians ruled. Here they made their stand against the invaders from the shadow realms.

  The fight had been evenly matched when he ran after the demon. He returned to a slaughter. The air was thick with dust and the metallic tang of blood, and the bodies of the fallen covered the ground.

  He understood why the tide had turned against them when he saw a witch strike down the last of his wolves while he was still too far away to assist.

  Betrayed. The witches had changes their allegiance and now fought for the demons, turning on those who had trusted them enough to turn their backs.

  The strike had clearly been well planned and executed. The demon he’d pursued had lured him away until it was too late. Now his pack lay butchered. His feet dug deep into the shifting soil as he ran faster.

  Kenric felt his muscles, gather tensing to spring. His eyes fixed on the coven's leader.

  One thought consumed him; kill her and then see how well her sister witches fared.

  His strength carried him through the air. His fury found its target and he brought the woman down. He saw then the reason for her perfidy, the price of the coven's loyalty. The witch clutched a spell parchment roll scribed with demon markings. Her desperate grasp became eternal as her life's blood soaked into the thirsty ground.

  An unmistakable scent caught his attention. The piece of writing wasn't just inscribed by a demon, it contained potent demon magic. Kenric bit at the papyrus, determined to destroy it along with her, but it eluded him, vanishing before his jaws could close around it. The witch's now empty hand still formed a claw, as if reaching after what she had traded their world for even in death.

  Death took him next.

  He opened his eyes to see a woman in full battle dress, heavily armed, wings extended behind her. A star shone on her forehead. He knew who he faced. He'd seen her likeness depicted often enough.

  “Inanna,” he said. “What dream is this?”

  “No dream” The goddess regarded him with golden eyes that burned with power.

  “You fought well.

  “Not well enough.”

  “I am the judge of that.”

  Kenric supposed she was. Men forgot Inanna’s other aspects when they celebrated her as goddess of sexual drives. She was also a warrior goddess.

  “Would you continue?”

  The question made Kenric bare his teeth as if he could taste vengeance in the air. “I would continue for all eternity.”

  “Fierce warrior.” Inanna gave him an approving smile. “You choose the same fate as your fellow captains of battle.”

  They all died?” Kenric asked the question automatically, realizing as he spoke that there could have been no other outcome. The scene of slaughter he’d returned to had been too complete. Adrian, Kadar, Abaran, Ronan, were all here with him in the netherworld. Leaving the world without defense, without help or hope.

  “They did. And like you, they choose to fight on. You five will wear my star and defend the world’s five gates against the shadow realms. Werewolf, demon, dragon, vampire, and sidhe, you are now my chosen immortal warriors, my Shadow Guardians.”

  As she named him, Kenric felt fingers of fire drawing ion his chest. He looked down to see her sign burned into the skin over his heart, an eight-pointed star enclosed by a circle.

  One

  Sybil Ames was on her way home from work when she saw the estate sale sign. The radio began to blast out Ace of Base's “The Sign” simultaneously, and it struck her as simultaneously. Estate sales had all sorts of things mixed together, trash and treasure.

  Lured by the possibility of a real find, she put on her blinker and pulled into the drive.

  The house wasn't one of the new McMansions that seemed to be all subdivisions produced anymore. It was rickety and gloomy and more than a little surly, slanting on a hill with an aggressive tilt. If any neighborhood covenants and restrictions applied, the homeowner association was either too apathetic or too intimidated to enforce them.

  A prime location for a ghost. Sybil perked up at the possibility. She'd never encountered a real ghost. Or anything very interesting, for that matter. Her apprentice witch status pretty much made her the coven's errand girl, and everything exciting remained shrouded in secrecy, It was like being a kid who constantly heard a chorus of, You'll understand when you're older” from the adults, but a whole lot more frustrating since she was an adult herself.

  The scattered items out in the driveway were either thoroughly picked over already, or the estate hadn't much to offer to begin with, picked over, Sybil decided, eyeing a piece of dark walnut furniture that had Started off as quality before it wound up on the wrong side of entropy. Antique dealers tended to hit sales early and buy up anything valuable to resell.

  Still, that one piece gave her hope that something else had been discarded or passed up her bland apartment really needed a touch of gothic. A stone gargoyle was just the sort of thing she might trip over here.

  The sagging walnut armoire demanded closer inspection, so Sybil tried the doors and drawers, half-expecting a bat to fly out in the process. Instead, she found one drawer stuck tight. She pulled harder, and it came loose in a rush that almost sent her backward. Her desperate Hailing for balance wasn't graceful, but it saved her from falling on her ass. Sybil peered into the armoire to sec what caused the drawer to stick, and spotted
the book.

  The leather binding was cracked and dirty. She pried it out carefully and opened it up. It looked like a personal diary of some sort. It wasn't. The Faded words crowded the pages in a camped, back-slating and almost illegible style, but the content was unmistakable.

  She'd found a grimoire.

  Interesting, Sybil turned the brittle pages with care, slowly deciphering handwriting the nuns at her Catholic school could’ve threatened the author with hell for. Not that witches believed in hell.

  She should put it back. She held onto it anyway, reluctant to put it down.

  It looked like it contained pretty advanced magic. If she could do a spell or two out of this book successfully, on her own, without a senior witch overseeing every step of the ritual and the coven approving her experiment in advance, maybe she'd finally prove she was ready For more than sweeping up spilled salt and washing away used pentagrams.

  Maybe she could finally get a familiar of her own. Maybe she could finally start learning something useful. Some real magic.

  She open the book again, deliberating, and let out a startled curse when she got a paper cut on her index finger. A drop of blood fell on the book, making the decision for her. She’d damaged it, although she could argue that the book had damaged her first.

  Either way, she’d have to buy it now.

  She tucked it under her arm and carried it with her while she poked through the remains of the estate sale. It was a disappointment, overall. No leering stone gargoyles.

  No buried treasure. Just trash, except for the little handwritten leather book.

  Sybil made her way to the disinterested woman in charge. “How much for this?”

  The woman frowned, pulled out a pair of reading glasses and consulted a list.

  “Books are two dollars,” she said.

  Sybil paid and carted her booty home. Home was a ground-floor apartment in Oakton, Virginia, modern and comfortable and lacking in essential character. Although considering the character the estate sale house demonstrated, maybe there was something to be said for bland.

  “I need a familiar,” Sybil told the book. “This place needs more than a makeover. It needs life.”

  She put the grimoire down on her altar. It seemed like the right place for it. She felt a little shock jump from the altar’s surface to her hand through the book and let out a hiss of surprise at the static discharge.

  Her hand Stung as if burned, then itched. Sybil rubbed it against her khakis, trying to dispel the prickling heat. She'd probably gotten fifty years' worth of dust and allergens on her skin when she picked up the book.

  The explanation didn't cover the acrid scent of smoke that rose from the cover where it touched the altar. It's Just a book of shadows written in really bad cursive, Sybil told herself. The altar isn’t rejecting it.

  Except she had cut her finger on it, and if the drop of blood had activated some long-dormant magic ... a chill went through her and she took a step back. Her retreat came too late. The book opened, pages rifling as if turned by unseen fingers. Words glowed as if written in fire.

  Sybil warned nothing more than to rush forward and slam the book shut. Instead, she found herself moving closer as if in a trance, running her cut finger along the burning words, speaking the written words out loud. She couldn't even identify the type of spell she was compelled to recite, but the power of it was unmistakable, and it held her trapped. With each syllable, the sensation of power built. Unfortunately, it wasn't power that was hers to command. Just the opposite.

  She'd wanted real magic. She realised, too late, that she should have been more specific. This was very real, and she wasn't its master. She was at its mercy.

  The burning, biting itch spread from her hand up her arm, then over her body until her entire epidermis felt like if was on fire. She said the last words of the spell in a near scream, and collapsed on her knees in relief when the prickling heat of unknown magic crawling over her skin stopped.

  “Shit,” she hissed. She scooted back, panting with taction and reaction. And fear.

  What had she just done?

  Sybil lurched upright and grabbed for salt and her athame. Make a circle. Close that thine inside it. Then call her coven and maybe an exorcist.

  Her hand was shaking. She fought to steady it along with her breathing. The last thing she needed to do now was cut herself with her own ritual knife. The shaking stopped and tile blade rose and swept down, slicing her other palm. Then her hand stretched out to spill more blood on the book “No,” she growled, “No, no, no.” She pulled her hand back so the red droplets sprinkled the edge of her altar instead. She watched in disbelief as the droplets moved toward the book as if pulled by some unseen source of gravity.

  Not enough time to pull the altar forward and cast a circle around it. Instead she shifted back and cast one around herself, shoving raw adrenaline into the rite to power it. Just as she was finishing, the book shot through the air and struck her chest. Then the circle rose, sealing them both inside it.

  Burning, prickling heat rushed over her, and she knew the cursed thing she'd found wasn't done with her. It wanted something, and what it wanted became abruptly clear as crystal. It hungered for a conduit, a way to loose the magic it contained. And she was gifted enough but also untrained enough to be its tool.

  “I won't let you use me” Sybil said through gritted teeth.

  She brought her athame up to trace a protective symbol in the air. Before she finished the movement, the book, pulsed against her chest like a living thing and she found her arm frozen.

  She was losing.

  So when the door of her apartment blew in, she welcomed the distraction. She even had a brief hope of rescue. Until a dark wolf the size of a pony came through the frame in a cloud of dust and wood fragments.

  She gaped at it in astonishment. “When I said this place needed a familiar? I take it back.” Her words sounded thin to her own ears.

  The enormous creature saw her, crouched down, and sprang. She closed her eyes, unable to watch fanged death leaping for her. Then she remembered it couldn't reach her. But did she want it to? That was one way to break her impasse, she thought in grim determination. She swept her, empty hand through the circle and broke it.

  The wolf’s body struck her down, knocking the book away from her in the process.

  “Destroy it,” she whispered as she fell under the weight of the nightmare creature, more from desperation than hope of being understood. “Burn that book of shadows and you can do whatever you want to me with my blessing.”

  The beast snarled something that sounded remarkably like, “Burrrrn.”

  Sybil turned her head to see the book on the floor beside her burst into flames that danced over the pages, crackling as they consumed. Her skin seared as if the same fire devoured her along with the paper, and she writhed in agony.

  The wolf pinned her down as she burned with the book. She looked down at her bare arm to see if it was all in her mind. Symbols scored her skin. “It's writing itself on me,” she whispered in horror. “Goddess save me.”

  The desperate plea went unanswered AS far as Sybil could tell. The pain went on as waves of unknown magic buffeted and burned her. When it finally stopped, the sudden cessation was almost a new pain in itself.

  She looked over at the floor where a heap of ashes should have been. Should have been, but wasn't her eyes flicked to the wolf that hadn't disappeared along with the book, although it had moved off of her. The ruff around its neck stood up and it didn't look friendly. From the size, it had to be a timber wolf. She couldn't imagine what it was doing in Oakton, but since it had seemed to talk, what was one more impossible thing?

  She got her answer as a haze shimmered around the animal's form, distorting and obscuring it, making the limbs seem to elongate. Sybil blinked hard as the haze cleared, leaving a tall, heavily muscled naked man standing over her.

  A mane of black hair fell around his shoulders. His eyes, a deep gold, pierced her
s.

  His angular face still locked like it held a wolf’s snarl. A tattoo of an odd star, like a pentagram with too many points inside a circle, decorated his chest.

  He spoke in a deep growl. “Do you know what you've done, witch?”

  “Asked you to burn a book,” she answered, feeling numb. “I'm normally against that sort of thing, but I think this case is an exception.”

  His Jaw tightened. “You've fed the demon spells with your blood, spoken the words that opened one of the five gates to the shadow realms, alerted any Forces still seeking it that the lost book has been found, and shot up magic flares to pinpoint its location.”

  “You forgot the part where I broke my protective circle so you could rip me to pieces as long as you got the book, too,” She rubbed her arms, now once again bare of any marking. “And by the way, I take back what I said about doing anything you want with me, since you didn't do your part.”

  She thought she saw a muscle over his eye twitch, “If you hadn't already joined your blood to demon magic, it could not have transferred itself from that body to yours.”

  Her jaw sagged. “What? Are you saying I'm possessed?” The full horror of it struck her. “They're in me. All those words. Those incantations want to be spoken. They want to use me to do it.” Sybil stared at the stranger in front of her, appalled. “Stop me.

  Whatever that book of shadows is, it's evil. Stop me before it makes me do anything else.”

  “I would love nothing more.” He glared at her. “But you begged the goddess for aid, and she's chosen to grant it.”

  Two

  Sybil stared at the stranger. “What would you know about an answer to prayer?

  Weren't you a wolf when you came in?”

  His lips tightened. They were very well-shaped lips, and in other circumstances she would have appreciated that a lot more. He didn't answer, and she supposed she couldn't really expect him to.

  She looked around her living room and wondered why it looked so normal after everything that had just happened. With one notable exception. “You broke my front door,” she said. “There goes my damage deposit.”

 
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