Nina S. Gooden | The Big Cry Wolf
Romance, Author, Paranormal Romance, Steampunk Romance, Nina Gooden
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The Big Cry Wolf

Book 2, Riding Hood Tales

 Liquid Silver | Amazon | All Romance

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Heat Level: 3

Word Count: 43,950

Romance Sub-Genre(s): Paranormal

Roux has never been happier in her life. As a human living among wolves, she’s ready to tackle the job of earning their respect and approval. Her mate, Aldrich, is a sinfully sensual Alpha with the ability to light her up with just one look. It’s a shiny new start, a fresh chance to have all the things she never thought she would: love, acceptance, and security.

She never expected it to be easy, but she didn’t think it would be murder.

When the confusing world of wolf politics and caste expectations takes a deadly turn, she finds herself in the midst of a brewing war where only she can find the true instigator. There are other shifter-races in the forest surrounding Harmony, and if she doesn’t stop this war, conflict will shake them all.

To make matters worse, no matter how hard she tries, she cannot re-summon the Blut-kette. Aldrich, needs the mystical red riding hood to remain sane, and every day he is without it, he loses a little more of himself to the battle between man and beast.

It’s up to her to conquer the warring energies within her and the Pack. She has to … or she will lose everything.

 

Excerpt:

 

Chapter 1

“I thought happily ever after would last … you know, forever.” I muttered angrily to myself, all but jogging to keep up with Frauke’s quick pace.

The chipper brown-haired woman paused long enough to look back at me, sending her thick double braids flying through the air. “What was that, Princess Roux?”

I stammered an embarrassed reply and all around us, curious wolf eyes turned to watch my reaction. I’d all but forgotten about their superior hearing. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all.”

Frauke turned a knowing grin my way and put both hands on her hips, letting me know she was more than willing to wait for me to come up with an answer. The growing interest in our standoff made my skin tingle with awareness. We were standing in the middle of one of the huge hallways of the Pack stronghold, a walled city that the wolf shifters called home. It was an impressive building at the center of the various wolf boroughs, the hub of inter-Family meetings and all political gatherings.

It was also the birthplace of the vicious rumor mill I just couldn’t manage to stop feeding. Ever since Adawolfa had been forced to rescue me the one time I’d stumbled into the men’s bath, it seemed like I’d gotten nothing but suspicious looks.

I swallowed a nervously whispered “Oh my. Could this day get any worse?” and unwittingly stroked my throbbing cheek. Frauke was by my side immediately.

“Does your injury pain you again?” All amusement slid from her face. “The Healer gave me more salve to put on it if you have need.”

I grimaced, remembering the last vile smelling concoction the stern wolf crone had brewed for me. The discoloration had been worse than the rope burn I’d gotten when a heavy curtain had snapped above my head while I was drawing it for the evening. I shook my head quickly, holding my hands up in defense. “No, it’s nothing. It’s just a little itchy.”

The poor choice of words had her big green eyes dropping to my left foot. A foot which was still encased in a sticky brown wrap. “Itchy like your sprain?”

Recognizing a battle I couldn’t win, I plastered a smile to my face and continued moving in the direction we were headed. “You were saying something about the difference between Primogen and Elders, weren’t you?”

She caught up with me easily, the clip in her step unhindered by the height of wolf fashion, something I was still getting used to. Like Frauke’s, the dress I wore gathered at the neck, leaving my back and shoulders bare. The flowing material was also all but transparent, forcing me to carefully consider every physical adjustment. The style marked me as part of the wolf gentry.

“Of course, of course. You will need to have a firm grasp of all political procedures. There are four Elders at this time. As the Pack grows, we add to this number and each of them is responsible for a portion of the Pack.”

I forced myself to focus, despite the wolves that stopped to stare as we marched by. Several of them dropped their eyes in respect, stretching toward the floor until the back of their necks were bared to me. “They’re called Families, right?”

“Finally, you remember.” A soft gasp echoed off the gleaming white walls as one passerby caught her derisive tone. I swallowed my discomfort at being the center of so much attention and tried harder to concentrate on Frauke as she went over the hierarchy of the Pack.

“Each family has an Elder. Below them are the Lupis and Lupa, wolves who stand in line to be the next Elder or a possible mate. After the Lups, there are our Brothers and Sisters. These are adult wolves in good standing with the Pack.”

We turned the corner and entered one of the huge courtyards the stronghold offered. A few months ago, I never would have guessed how much the shifters hated to be cooped up. The prospect of four walls and a ceiling was outrageous in their community. Instead, they opted for open layouts, rooms with only three walls and usually no ceiling.

Then again, a few months ago I wouldn’t have guessed I would have moved from the small town of Harmony into the forests where the Pack lived. Being framed for murder had changed my whole life, including my address.

“You’re not listening, Princess.”

I dragged myself back to the conversation at hand. My leg throbbed with pain, but I ignored it putting on a brave face. “I’m sorry. I think I’ve got it, though. After Brothers and Sisters, there are the Yearlings—wolves who have yet to make their first shift. Afterwards, there are Pups and finally the Omegas, who are outcasts.”

Frauke grinned at me, nodding the entire time I rattled off my list. She took her duties as my emersion coach very seriously. Assigning her to me had been Aldrich’s first command after his bullet wounds had healed. His second was to sic Cundrie on me.

I shuddered just as she appeared, stalking across the courtyard with a determined expression. She was a little taller than Frauke, but since they were twins, their features were almost the same. Cundrie had the same lithe figure, but kept her thick hair cut shorter and pulled back into one braid at the base of her neck. Apart from the differences in their body language and hair style, it would be hard to tell them apart.

“Don’t even try to get away from me this time,” she all but growled. “Your accidents aren’t going to save you from a session today.”

I considered going with her, really I did. As a human surrounded by shape-shifters, I knew I needed to be able to defend myself. Not that I was afraid of the wolves, but Cundrie never missed a chance to drill the possible dangers of being a part of the Pack into my head.

“The peace you knew in Harmony is because the Pack protects the village from harm.” Her voice had blistered my ears one day after I’d failed to defend myself from attack a fourth time. I was dripping with sweat and covered with bruises, but there’d been no sympathy in her tone. “There are other Packs out there, wolves jealous of the long-standing strength of our own. You’re a weak link, Roux, and if they were to attack, you would be the first one targeted.”

In the straw-covered sparring ring, she’d rushed me, her body propelled forward by superior strength and speed. I managed to duck under her first attack and return with a jab of my own, but caught only air. Seconds later the heel of her foot connected with my back, sending me crashing forward into the ground.

“You’re human, but you still have animal instincts buried in there somewhere.” She barked, helping me up before moving into position for another round. “You have to let yourself trust those instincts. Your enemy will likely be a member of another shifting race. An animal. You have to fight fire with fire.”

I groaned, already feeling my body throb along with the memory. Life amongst the wolves was nothing like being in Harmony. It was gritty, demanding, and difficult. It was also completely worth it, as long as I was with Aldrich.

Knowing this didn’t mean I wanted to be kicked anymore. I put my hands up defensively. “Cundrie, what are the chances of us skipping practice today? I’m still a little sore from yesterday’s pounding.”

I tried to make my voice as lighthearted as possible, but she knew I wasn’t joking. Her arms folded over her chest and she bared her teeth in annoyance. “Do you think the hogs will care if you’re sore when they attack?”

“At this point, I’d rather spend the years it’d take me to pick up magic,” I grumbled. “You said humans have a natural…”

I trailed off, seeing the incredulous look on both of the twins’ faces. They gasped in unison. “You can’t use magic!”

Cundrie recovered herself first. “Wolves are the antithesis of magic. Some of us are able to use it in small doses, but for the most part, it is a more dangerous poison than silver. The hogs use magic.”

Her sister came to my defense and I tried to cheer under my breath. Of course, they both heard me. “Come on, Cund, give her a break. Besides, the war against the pig-shifters has been over for almost fifty years. Don’t you think it’s time to give it a rest?”

Cundrie colored slightly before shaking her head. “She’s already outmatched. She needs to learn to protect herself for those times I cannot be her Shadow.”

“Aldrich will be Primogen. That will make her Primarch, or at the very least the mate of an Elder. A Shadow will always be near her.”

“And if he is made Primogen she will find herself under as much pressure. She may even be challenged. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, sister. You just want to keep her for yourself.”

“I can’t believe you! I’m ensuring she has everything she needs for her future. Information is more useful than physical strength.”

Cundrie kicked her heel against the ground. “Take that back this instant! You’ve been impossible ever since I was initiated into the Shadow.”

“Maybe I’m being that way because being a royal bodyguard isn’t what it’s cracked up to be!”

Both women sputtered with outrage and I couldn’t help but smile. I was an only child and watching them squabble only reminded me of how close they were. Pushing back a pang of longing, I watched the sisters argue for a few more seconds before slipping backwards and away from their view. I stepped under a low archway, pressing myself to the stone wall. The twins eventually noticed my absence and split up to find me. I edged deeper into the cover, sucking in my stomach in order to clear the narrow pathway. The abrasive surface scratched my skin but I continued to propel myself forward, sure the winding tunnel would open in another courtyard. It took several turns to realize the passageways were deserted mazes.

“Oh my!” I hissed when a particularly sharp edge dug into my side. I stopped moving as the alley widened enough for me to stretch out. A thin trickle of blood ran down my exposed shoulder and I sat down on the ground with a thump. The fortifying breath I took whooshed out when a deep, masculine voice barreled down on me from above.

“How many more times are you planning to get hurt this week, mate?” My stomach lurched, though I’m not sure if it was excitement or the initial surprise as Aldrich jumped down from the top of the high wall.

His knees bent and powerful thighs absorbed the shock from the twenty-foot drop. Long purple-gray hair cascaded down his back, fluttering as if in slow motion as he landed. He straightened slowly and I managed to keep my tongue in my mouth, but it was a close call. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and I dragged my eyes over the muscular planes of his body. A sheen of dirt and sweat clung to the contours of his chest. A ragged gash on his left pectoral knit and healed as I watched.

I swallowed the lump of attraction when it swelled in my mouth. “Were you on the sparring field?”

A slow grin spread across his face, showcasing straight white teeth and slightly sharpened canines. I stood still, transfixed by the playful gleam in his eyes. He tossed his hair out of his face, revealing one black and one white eye, which contrasted nicely with his hair. “You would already know that, were you training as you’re supposed to.”

“I was going to, really.”

A lavender eyebrow arched, clearly telling me he didn’t believe my lie. “Of course you were. Which is why you’re wandering around the labyrinth instead of suiting up with Cundrie?”

I blushed guiltily. “Yeah, well … I was planning to do so, but got lost on the way to our rooms. You know how big this place is, and I’m still getting used to everything.”

He laughed, a low sexy tone that slammed into my gut and spread fingers of please don’t stop through my body. I knew the moment he noticed my sudden state of interest because his own sparked in his mismatched eyes.

Aldrich took a step closer to me and my entire body hummed with awareness. All of a sudden, the small space we stood in was much hotter than before. The black and white pools of his eyes shimmered. I gulped in a heated breath and tasted him in the air. His soft, masculine scent flooded my nostrils and made my head spin deliciously.

“Are you still not used to being among wolves, little sheep?” His big hand reached out and stroked my cheek. Pleasure spiraled through my body and I bit back a moan. My face flushed even as I raised my hands to rest them on his bare chest.

“I’m doing all right, don’t worry about me.” I wondered if my voice sounded as flustered to him as it did to me.

He chuckled and I felt the rumble beneath my palms. “I never had a doubt. You are as tough as any wolf.”

The compliment warmed me in a way nothing else could. I bit my tongue to keep a lid on my fears about not meeting expectations and pressed my mouth to his chin. He bent his head and nuzzled my shoulder, a whine of displeasure hitting my ears even as his hands wrapped around my waist. “You really must stop hurting yourself. This scrape is taking up the space where my bite should be.”

His voice sent sultry vibrations across my skin as his tongue rasped against the small wound. I shuddered as each flick from his mouth sent slivers of fire to my throbbing body. The wound slowly closed itself, each stroke of his tongue leaving healthy skin in its wake until only an ugly bruise remained.

My head fell back and I slid my hands up his chest to muscular shoulders. We were alone. It seemed like it’d been years since we’d actually had some time to ourselves. A couple of months ago he’d been hit with a silver bullet that was meant for me. The pain had to have been excruciating, as silver is poisonous to wolves, but even when he was hit, his only thought had been to keep me safe.

While he was unconscious, I’d been put into a dream state and sent into his psyche to save his life. I wasn’t a shifter, so as his mate I hadn’t had the power to heal him physically with my body, as wolves can. It was all in my head—or rather, it was all in his head—but I had been able to heal him through our mental link. A whisper of pleasure swirled in my belly at the memory of his rough hands. Despite the danger, it’d been the single most erotic night of my life.

Sharp canines scraped against my shoulder and the sound Aldrich made morphed into an animalistic growl. “You smell good. Like apples and cinnamon.”

The steel bands of his arms tightened around me. I panted softly, fighting to keep air in my lungs as he squeezed it out. His lips parted over my collarbone and he smoothed his teeth down my chest. I whimpered and he lifted me up, nudging my thighs apart until I wound my ankles around his back. His mouth fell hot and heavy on my chest.

“I love the way the kleid looks on you.” He stumbled forward, pressing my bare back to the wall. I gasped in shock when he turned his face up to mine. One of his eyes was normally white while the other was black. Now, they had morphed into swirling pools of black and white, with no distinguishable pupil or iris. They looked huge. The monochrome colors faded in and out, each color vying for supremacy in his eyes.

“A-Aldrich, what’s happening? Your eyes…”

He chuckled, dipping his head so he could nibble me through the dress. “The better to see you with, liebling.”

His voice sounded strange, like his teeth were too big for his jaw. I opened my mouth to tell him to stop, but my vision muddled with dizzying pleasure. With an expert flick of his wrist, he snapped the thin cloth of my panties and shifted, pressing the thick mass of his erection to my core. “So wet. And hot.”

I clung to him bonelessly, rocking my own body to keep up with his frantic pace. He stroked the nub of nerves between my legs and moaned in time with his thrusts. He yanked free the band at my neck and my dress puddled against his legs until there was only the thin fabric of his pants between the two of us.

The growling in the air sharpened and so did his fingernails. Claws cut into my thighs where he held me and I yelped. Pain sliced through the haze of goodness I was shrouded in. He grunted and tore away from me so quickly I barely had time to get my shaking legs to the ground.

“Did I hurt you?” He crowded me with his voice and I saw that wolf ears had pushed through his hair. He was slipping into the half-man, half-wolf state that only Alphas could achieve. His already sharp canines had dropped over a mostly human jaw, leaving thin trails of blood down his chin. “Answer me!”

I couldn’t help flinching. I wasn’t afraid of him but my eardrums were taking a beating. The twinge of panic in his voice made the sound even thicker.

“You know you could never hurt me…” I trailed off, doing my best to hide the wounds at my thighs.

It didn’t work. His nose elongated into a purple-gray muzzle and he inhaled deeply.

Aldrich turned away from me and between rapid pants, I sucked in a breath of surprise. He swung to face the wall, sinking his claws into the unyielding surface. Deep furrows appeared in the stone under the onslaught and he threw his head back to howl. The sound slammed into my head like a sledgehammer, but I was unable to take my eyes off of him. His hair had bled to a shade of black so dark the shadows appeared to jump into the tresses.

“Al!” A husky voice, laced with concern sounded above us. Before I could shift my focus in that direction, Adawolfa jumped down and was standing beside Aldrich. I squelched a bubble of jealousy when she reached out to take his shoulder. The rage that seemed to shake in his body bled away, leaving his hair the shiny purple-gray it was meant to be.

I took a step closer and he scented the air, turning his head to gobble me up with his gaze. I let out a relieved breath when I saw his eyes were no longer all swirly. He gritted out his commands. “Don’t. Stay there.”

I don’t know if the hurt I felt was reflected in my face, but Aldrich immediately gentled his tone. He turned back to me, but I saw the way his muscles bunched and pulled under the surface of his skin. His control was fragile and the gleaming points of his teeth looked threatening, even to me. “Do not be concerned; all is well.” He said to me before turning back to Adawolfa. “Please ensure my mate finds her way out of the labyrinth.”

Without waiting for a response, he leapt up and over the wall, leaving the voluptuous beauty and me alone.

I schooled my features, not wanting to give away how shaken I was. Modesty wasn’t held highly in the society of shape shifters so I didn’t bother attempting to smooth down my dress. “What was that?”

“It’s what happens without the Blut-kette. You haven’t yet been able to re-summon it, so he is on edge.”

The Blut-kette. It seemed like all of his problems always came back to the mystical riding hood that seemed to be as alive as any of the wolves. Just a few months ago, the Splitter had tried to steal it in order to control the unstable power of the Alpha Wolf. The cloak was said to be the only way for those who carried a true wolf to control its power. Without it, they deteriorated into hulking beasts who knew neither friend nor foe.

But there were secrets and rules to wielding it that I didn’t understand. It existed both in the physical world and the spiritual one and needed to be re-summoned back by a mate in order to be of any use. Only, Aldrich had chosen me as his mate … and I wasn’t a wolf.

I frowned, replaying what had happened in my head. “I’ve never seen that happen … his eyes, yes, but that thing with his hair is new.”

Adawolfa was as hard to read as always. I took a moment to really look at her, grudgingly admitting that she was beautiful with her smooth skin and sharp green eyes. That didn’t mean I had to like her. After hearing the rumors, I couldn’t bring myself to trust her enough to do any more than tolerate her. Too many people in the Pack were sure that if it hadn’t been for me, she would have ended up as Aldrich’s mate.

And the cold way she spoke to me didn’t help matters.

Her arms folded across her ample bosom and she kept her voice steady and aloof. “It is not abnormal for an Alpha. There is much about them that we don’t know, but the connection to their wolf is … different.”

I wanted to ask her more questions but she was already turning away from me, her hips swaying with barely contained irritation as she moved. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Lupa still wanted Aldrich as her mate. Just thinking of the two of them was enough to kick my blood pressure into overdrive, but I kept my thoughts to myself and followed her silently. I even managed to keep from limping, though every step shot discomfort through my thighs.

I inspected the gashes as subtly as I could. They were shallow and the most I had to worry about was a mildly irritating sting. I’d have to be careful not to do anything to rip them open, though.

It took an embarrassingly small amount of time to break free of the stone labyrinth with her help. Adawolfa stopped at a plain wall that I would have thought was a dead end if she weren’t inspecting it so closely. Sliding her palms along the smooth surface until she found what she was looking for, a click sounded and the rock easily slid to the side, revealing a thick screen of high shrubs. She stepped back, gesturing for me to continue through the opening. I stared for a moment, trying to get my bearing and she huffed with displeasure. The chocolate curls that danced down her back waved with mocking grace even with the subtle movement.

“Are you afraid to step out into the unknown? One would think you’d conquered such a fear by now.”

I bristled at her tone as much as her words. Without another word, I marched forward. She reached out to catch my shoulder before I could glide free of her range.

“Look, human. The Storm Moon is approaching us quickly. It is well known that Hrodulf is weakening. His time is past. A new Primogen will be named and it is very likely the name called through the Howl will be Aldrich. You must prepare for this change in your status. The Primogen is the living representation of the Pack’s strength and standing. His mate will be the same or she will be removed from her position.”

I sucked in a violent breath, unsure of whether or not what she’d just said was a threat. The Howl was a simple ceremony but that didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking. It was a way for those in the Park who didn’t agree with the newly named Primogen to speak out. If enough of another name was called, a challenge opened up. The pit of unease that settled in my stomach wasn’t because I thought anyone would disagree with Aldrich being Primogen. His strength was respected.

Refusing to show her any weakness, I gave my own head a toss. While my own hair was still swinging, I drew my shoulders back and narrowed my gaze on her. I’d seen the action repeated several times by high ranking wolves and had established that it was a showing of power. Without waiting for a response, I turned and continued my exit.

A burst of light blinded me for a moment as soon as I pushed through the opening. The heavy bush swallowed up the entrance to the labyrinth, hiding it from view and I made a mental note of where it was positioned. When my eyes adjusted, it was only through sheer willpower I kept from turning right back around.

I recognized the crowded main courtyard and paused when the wolves caught sight of me. A huge tree stood in the center of the heavily populated square, vibrant and green despite the winter. The bustling hub held its breath while I took in the defiantly green grass and all of the excited faces which had moments ago been laughing and smiling.

Everyone in the large space saw the emerald leaves of the single, monster of a tree brighten and sparkle with light the moment I arrived. The Irminsala tree appeared to be giggling.

I swallowed back the urge to groan.

When Aldrich had been shot with the silver bullet, I came to the Stronghold to beg entry. I hadn’t known that the Pack was protected by the Irminsala tree spirit and that I would have to prove my worth in order to be allowed to pass. At the time, my only thought had been to save my mate so I’d showed off the power of the Blut-kette … which may or may not have involved me flashing some skin. The spirit hadn’t let me live it down yet.

“I’m glad someone is amused,” I muttered.