Cover Artist: Bryan Keller
Published by Changeling Press
Release Date: February 24, 2023
Raya — Elias kidnapped me nearly a decade ago and used me for his awful experiments. His goal: to create a superior race. How could that possibly go wrong? Now I’m no longer fully human and I’ve lived a life in hell. But I adore my two kids, no matter how they were conceived. I thought we’d die before we ever found freedom, but it arrived in the most unexpected way. The big biker shifter is scary as hell, but it’s either go with him, or remain chained and starving.
Henry — The dark mage killed my mate and unborn child. There’s nothing I want more than revenge. It never occurred to me he’d have a woman and kids chained in his cellar. They reek of black magick, enough so, I hated them on sight. I’d planned to leave them behind. Until I heard their story. My club won’t be happy when I walk in with three people covered in the stench of black magick. But something unexpected happens when I catch Raya’s true scent. She’s my fated mate, and now I have the difficult task of not only gaining her trust, but the children’s as well.
WARNING: Contains subject matter some readers may find difficult to read. Recommended for ages 18+ due to adult situations, bad language, and violence. Guaranteed happily-ever-after, no cheating, and no cliffhanger.
Preorder for February 24, 2023
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Copyright ©2023 Harley Wylde & Jessica Coulter Smith
Elias paced the small cabin. I didn’t know why we’d come here. He’d spoken about this town before. Many times. I knew a shifter nearly killed him thirty years ago. Fatally wounded, he’d escaped to a community of mages, where they’d healed him. It had taken years for him to regain his health and full power. He’d often bragged about surviving.
Why return now? He’d dragged us all over the country. At first, I’d thought he was running from something. Now I wondered if he’d simply been heading toward Wolf Creek. Even though I’d been with him for years, he never confided in me. Not about anything important. There was no reason for it, since I was little more than a prisoner. His slave.
I heard the chains clink in the cellar and fought not to wince. It wouldn’t be long before I joined them. My babies. No matter how they’d been conceived, I’d love them with all my heart until the day I died. They were my reason for living. And the only way Elias maintained control over me all this time. If it weren’t for my precious children, I’d have run before now.
“It’s nearly time,” he muttered. “I’ll take her just like the others. I’m sure she’ll be useful. Stupid fucking dhampir doesn’t know why I invited him to Wolf Creek. Everything is falling into place.”
Her? I didn’t know who he was talking about, and I would not ask. And a dhampir? Did he mean the man I’d heard him speaking to a few times? It didn’t matter. The less I knew, the better. I’d learned that the hard way. Although, his words bothered me a great deal. Was he going to enslave someone else? I reached up to lightly touch the collar around my throat. I hadn’t been the first, nor the last. However, I’d been the only woman to survive.
Elias not only used black magick, but he also liked to experiment. He’d abducted countless women across the globe, all in the name of creating a better species. It wasn’t something recent, either. From what I’d learned during my time with him, he’d been working on this project for decades. Even before he’d fled Wolf Creek thirty years ago. I didn’t know what made me so special. Why had I survived when others hadn’t?
I lifted my hand and stared at my fingers. Even now, black tendrils of smoke shifted around the digits. I’d been completely human until Elias snatched me off the street. Through pain and suffering, he’d infused me with some of his black magick. I couldn’t actually use it, but it had become part of my cellular structure, which meant I passed those traits to my children, which had been his intent all along.
“It’s time.” He rubbed his hands together, a wide smile on his face. “Into the basement. You know the rules. Keep your mouth shut. But first… I’m going to prep you for a special guest arriving within the next two days.”
I knew exactly what that meant. He removed a syringe from his pocket and injected me with the serum that would make me mindless with need. While he preferred for me to get pregnant without it, and enjoyed hearing me scream in pain, he’d used this on me several times before. I honestly thought he got off on hearing me beg for someone to fuck me. At least, it didn’t take effect immediately.
Elias tossed the syringe aside and gave me a shove, and I walked to the hidden door. He opened it and I went down the steps into what I assumed had once been a root cellar. My children perked up when they saw me. Elias followed me into the hole, attaching a chain to my collar. I held open my arms and my babies ran to me. Their chains barely reached, but we were close enough I could hold them.
I smoothed the hair of my precious little girl, Marigold, and kissed the forehead of my son, Logan. Mari had not only inherited some of the black magick, but she’d also gained her father’s ability to shift. As for Logan, he only had black magick. His father had been a dark mage like Elias.
“I’m scared,” Mari said.
I hugged her tight and wished I could ease her fears. Instead, I did my best to tamp down my own. I didn’t think we’d ever escape Elias. One day, he’d sell my children. When I became useless, he’d kill me. As it was, I’d lost the last two babies. I knew he was searching for another male to impregnate me. He’d desperately wanted a baby that was half vampire and half dark mage. It seemed my body rejected the vampire’s offspring, as both babies came from the same male.
“When I’m older, I’m going to get us out of here,” Logan said. “With my magick, I’ll take down Elias and free us from this prison.”
I placed my fingers over his lips. “Hush, sweetheart. If he hears you say such a thing…”
He nodded, understanding what I meant. I hated that my children had to grow up so quickly. They’d never been able to play, make friends, or enjoy their lives. If I thought it would be possible to run away with them, I’d have done it long ago. But I knew Elias would hunt us down and punish us.
The door upstairs slammed, and the tension in my body eased. At least he would be gone for a while. I felt bad for whatever woman he’d lured to this town. Would her fate be the same as mine? I hoped not. I didn’t wish this existence on anyone.
Mari began humming The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and I rocked her. Logan slumped against my side and stared at the opposite wall. Elias hadn’t even left us with anything to occupy ourselves while he was gone. There’d been times he’d left a rubber ball or a pack of crayons and a coloring book. I knew it wasn’t out of the kindness of his black heart. He’d claimed it made the children less whiny and more tolerable.
“One day, if we’re ever free of Elias, you’ll get to enroll in school so you can learn new things. You’ll make friends. Play outside. Go to the movie theater, the park, learn to swim. We’ll have so much fun.” I smiled wistfully, thinking of all they’d missed out on, and the things I’d taken for granted before Elias kidnapped me.
“Do you really think we’ll ever get away from him?” Logan asked.
My heart ached at the despair in his voice. My little angel already knew the answer. No matter how much I’d tried to instill hope in my children, Logan somehow knew we’d be the property of Elias until he either sold us or killed us.
I couldn’t answer him, refusing to lie.
Mari dozed a bit, and even Logan closed his eyes for a little while. Every second was even more agonizing, because time stretched endlessly in the cellar. At least the lightbulb hadn’t gone out. The dim light helped little, but it dispelled some of the darkness. Being locked down here in absolute blackness would have been much worse.
Mari whimpered in her sleep, waking Logan. I smoothed her hair and murmured to her, hoping to ease whatever nightmare she might be having. Logan blinked and rubbed his eyes before sitting up a little straighter. I knew he’d fight to stay awake now. My little boy had grown up entirely too fast.
Mari woke twice and dozed off again each time. While she napped, I told Logan a story. Mari liked the romantic fairy tales about princes. Logan, however, wanted action and adventure. His favorites were tales of pirates or explorers. So I talked about One-Eyed Willie, Captain Jack, and the others I’d watched in movies when I’d still had my freedom. He ate up every word, and it helped pass the time.
My stomach rumbled, and so did the children’s. Mari woke again, yawning and leaning away from me a little. I knew she wouldn’t fall asleep again anytime soon. Every time the monster who owned us made her go hungry, she’d be awake for hours. Unlike Logan, who said sleep made him feel less hungry.
Elias hadn’t left us with any food or water. A bucket in the corner served as a toilet, but none of us had been desperate enough to use it today. We’d each had a chance earlier to use the bathroom upstairs to relieve ourselves and clean up a little.
“He’s been gone a while,” Logan said. “He didn’t forget us, did he? I’m not sure starving to death is much better than suffering whatever he’s planned for us.”
With no windows, I couldn’t tell what time of day it was by now. However, my butt had gone numb from sitting on the hard ground. I had to have been down here for more than an hour. I listened intently, wondering if Elias had managed to quietly return. Minutes ticked by, and when I was going to give up, I heard booted steps. They seemed to scout the entire house.
Would they find the hidden door to the cellar? Did we want them to? I caught Logan’s gaze, and he gave me a slight nod. Whatever he sensed or smelled seemed to make him feel as if the person upstairs wouldn’t harm us.
“Help! Please, we’re down here!” I yelled as loud as I could. By the fifth time I’d called out, the door at the top of the stairs opened and a large silhouette moved toward us. My breath caught when the man approached. I couldn’t tell his age and depending on what he was, he could have been hundreds of years old and still appeared young.
“What the fuck?” he muttered. His gaze narrowed on me before shifting to my children. I held them tighter, wondering if I’d made a mistake by calling for help. “Who are you?”