Warrior Witch Sneak Peek

Prologue

 

The red-rock formations stood tall and imposing against the velvety night sky. A hunter and a witch stole across a barren, dusty field with only the moon to light their path. They were on their way to an alpha-werewolf summit to head off a war between the werewolves and vampires.

Fiona’s heart was in her throat as Gabriel led her into the shadow of a jagged sandstone fin. He seemed to know exactly where the werewolves would be gathering, though Fiona couldn’t understand how. 

As an aether witch, she had the unique ability to manipulate the energy in all living things. Every person, plant, and animal had a unique aether signature, and she could sense supernaturals from a distance. She should have been able to tell if there was a werewolf nearby, but all she could sense was the steady thrum of life that surrounded them — the cacti, juniper trees, the tall brown grasses that scratched at her ankles, and the tiny nocturnal creatures that scurried underfoot. 

Gabriel stopped into the shelter of the huge sandstone formation so that Fiona could catch her breath. As a hunter, Gabriel didn’t need the break. He was stronger and faster than any mortal, and she suspected he could have run for miles without so much as breaking a sweat.

Fiona didn’t have that advantage, and her cardio was weak to say the least. Chest heaving, Fiona put her hands on her knees and tried to quiet her breathing. She was sure that every creature in the vicinity could hear her wheezing breaths. 

The Garden of the Gods was an astounding natural marvel, though the place held nothing but bad memories for Fiona. It was where Gabriel had been possessed by a lower demon and driven his car off the road. It was where Alexios had torn the veil between realms, making the place a regular thoroughfare for demons until she’d closed off the tear. 

But Fiona knew the history of the Old Red Lands and why the veil was thinner there. She knew how, before white settlers had come to the region, the Utes would visit the towering red rock formations on vision quests and wedge their bodies between the rocks when it was time for them to die. And, according to Gabriel, it was considered neutral territory among the local werewolf packs. If the alphas of the Colorado packs were meeting that night, Garden of the Gods was the most likely place for the summit.

They waited in silence for several minutes, and Fiona’s vision slowly adjusted to the silvery-blue tones of the desert at night. Every so often, she’d hear the snap of a branch or the soft crunch of dry grass and wonder what was lurking in the shadows. 

When Gabriel nudged her shoulder with his, Fiona’s heart gave an excited leap. He held one finger to his lips and pointed up where the jagged shape of a taller formation stood out against the spangled black sky.

If it weren’t for Gabriel’s preternatural vision, Fiona would have missed him completely. But once she focused on the top of the rock, she could just make out the silhouette of a man standing against the sky. It was Justin Teller — the White River alpha. She recognized the way he stood.

Justin and Gabriel had been childhood friends, but their current alliance was shaky at best. The vampires had carried out a highly coordinated and brutal attack against the local packs. Justin had warned Gabriel to stay out of werewolf business, but the stakes were too high to sit back and do nothing. 

A war between the vampires and werewolves would bring nothing but death to both sides, and the local covens would be caught in the fray. Hunters would flock to Colorado in droves, killing supernaturals indiscriminately. Those that survived would be forced underground. They couldn’t let the conflict escalate.

Gabriel motioned for Fiona to follow him, and they crept into a narrow chute cradled between two sandstone fins. In the dark crevice between the rocks, the moonlit sky was like a river above them. Fiona couldn’t see where her feet were going, so she reached out on either side to touch the rough sandstone walls. A moment later, Gabriel’s hand closed around her arm, and he guided her up a gradual incline until they emerged onto a narrow shelf. 

Squinting through the dim silvery light, Fiona could just make out a narrow lip jutting out from the formation. It hadn’t felt as though they had covered much distance, but they were now perched perilously high off the ground. Gabriel led the way along the edge of the formation, and Fiona scooted carefully behind him. Her chest tightened as her feet found purchase on the grippy, porous rock. One wrong move — one misstep — and she would plummet thirty feet to the ground. 

Pausing for a moment on a particularly narrow stretch, she breathed in deep and reached out with her senses to touch Gabriel’s aether. The edges of his energy were sharp with alertness, but there was a familiar steady thrum of aether beneath his wariness that calmed her racing heart. 

It was enough to take the edge off her own fear and keep her moving until the shelf widened and she found herself standing on a small plateau across from the alpha werewolf. She became aware of a the tingle of werewolf aether along the back of her neck, but the light breeze blowing back toward them would keep the werewolf from catching their scent.  

It was lucky. Justin wasn’t the only alpha present. She could sense the others lurking nearby. Their energies were hardened and more closed-off. They were all on their guard. 

It was only then that Fiona noticed the creatures in the underbrush had gone silent. She could no longer hear the rustle of wings in the trees or the whisper of a fur coat against the stiff grass. It was as if every living thing in the vicinity were holding its breath. Even the trees seemed to stand still.

Fiona squinted through the long shadows cast by the scrubby trees that grew in the silty earth along the top of the formation. If she concentrated, she could just make out the shapes of three other men standing at the edges of the plateau. Judging by Gabriel’s stiff posture beside her, he could see them, too.

“Why are they in human form?” Fiona whispered. Now that she’d said it, she wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting. Five giant wolves convening to howl at the moon?

“That’s protocol for a peaceful summit,” said Gabriel under his breath. “Showing up in wolf form would be seen as a threat, and none of them is here to fight.”

Fiona raised an eyebrow. Judging by the fierce, dominant energy emanating from the alphas, she doubted that peace was what they had on their minds. The way their energy seemed to amplify, it felt as though they were all in silent competition with each other — or else daring the other alphas to challenge their supremacy.

“Whatever happens,” said Gabriel, “stay out of sight. I don’t want them to know you’re here.”

Fiona was about to ask what he was planning when a male voice rang out in the quiet night air. “You are here on behalf of Temple Canyon?” he asked. 

“My name is Rebekah Holt.” This time, it was a woman who’d spoken, and Fiona cast around.

Another figure emerged from the cluster of trees — shorter than the four men.

“You’re the new alpha,” came Justin’s voice. Fiona couldn’t see his penetrating amber stare through the dark, but she still shivered at the memory.

“Yes.”

“What happened to Wade?” came another male voice.

“Wade lacked focus,” said Rebekah crisply. “That was a weakness my pack couldn’t afford in the wake of Marco’s murder.”

A resounding silence greeted that pronouncement, and Fiona’s stomach twisted with a mixture of fury and dread. Marco was the former alpha of the Temple Canyon pack, whose wolves had kidnapped Gabriel and tortured him for days. Fiona had seen Wade at the pack gathering in Cañon City. He’d been Marco’s second.

“And the rest of your pack?” asked Justin. His question seemed to ask how they were taking it — this new female alpha.

“We lost eleven wolves in the attack,” said Rebekah, a hard edge to her voice. Fiona could sense the alpha’s rage and her own bitter self-hatred. The alpha blamed herself for not defending her pack.

As Fiona analyzed the new alpha’s energy, she realized Rebekah’s aether was familiar. She’d sensed it before at Marco’s house. Rebekah was the red wolf who’d shown up to fight and nearly killed Gabriel.

Fiona’s heart did a little stutter-step. She turned to say something to Gabriel, but he was no longer standing at her side. Panicked, Fiona cast around and spotted him a few yards ahead, crouched in a stand of junipers. 

He was too close to the alphas, Fiona thought. Surely they would be able to smell him. But the way Gabriel had embedded himself in the scraggly trees, perhaps he thought they would mask his scent.

“I’m sorry,” said Justin in a low, somber voice. “We lost my brother and four others.”

Silence greeted that statement, but Fiona sensed a shift in the alphas’ energy. They didn’t drop their guard right away, but she felt the tension bottom out. Almost immediately, the desert responded. The animals started to move again, and she heard an owl in the trees. Even the wind seemed to loose a breath as the collective vibration of their aether dipped.

Almost immediately, she felt the hard edges of the wolves’ aether dissolve in their outpouring of grief. They mourned Justin’s pack as if it were their own, and, for a moment, their aether seemed to synchronize. It was as if their common wounds united them, and she felt their energy taper out and meld into one — the collective energy of a pack.

“Damn bloodsucking savages,” came the gravelly voice of an older male alpha.

“How many were there?” asked Justin.

“Forty. Maybe fifty,” Rebekah huffed. “The attacks all happened around the same time. One of my wolves called me at eleven. He found the first of ours dead. There were four or five sets of prints outside his house. Same story with all the others.”

“That was right around the time that they hit us,” said another alpha. “Same M.O. Five vamps to each wolf — most of them in Florissant. There were also a few in Lake George and one down in Divide.” 

“So they hit Temple Canyon and Platte River at the same time,” muttered Justin. “Then they attacked in Montrose and Creede?”

“That fits,” said the older alpha. “They hit us around two thirty, and we’re just over three hours from Florissant.”

“They would have had plenty of time to get to us if they were coming from Cañon City,” said another.

“If they were able to hit two packs at once, that would put their numbers closer to a hundred,” said Justin. His voice was low and strained with concern.

“I recognized one of the vamps,” said the older alpha with the gravelly voice. “I had a run-in with him in the wet mountains.”

“That’s Rosalinda’s clan.”

“One of them was sired by that nasty bi —” the last alpha broke off. “Latisha up in Denver.”

Justin swore just as Gabriel let out a hiss between his teeth. Fiona guessed that Gabriel must have had a run-in with the vampire named Latisha back when he’d lived in Denver.

“I thought the Brotherhood took care of Latisha’s clan,” said Justin.

“They tried,” said the other alpha. “But this vamp survived. Started siring a bunch of his own after Latisha was killed — definitely a Night Supremacist.”

“If the Coalition is involved, we need to act fast,” said Rebekah.

“I agree,” said the gravelly-voiced alpha. “We hit them hard. They won’t be expecting it. They think we’re weak.”

“It’s too risky,” said Rebekah. 

“What’s your plan?” asked Justin. His question wasn’t a challenge. His tone was measured and thoughtful.

“We sit on Sigrid’s clan — starve them out.”

There was an audible rumble from the other alphas, but then Fiona heard a rustle in the trees. Gabriel stepped into the moonlight, and her heart gave a frantic jolt. She wanted to cry out and warn him that Rebekah was the red wolf, but it was already too late. 

The alphas all turned in the direction of the noise, and Fiona heard a low growl.

“Pierce!” Justin snapped. “I told you to stay out of this!”

“Murderer!” Rebekah rasped.

Fiona’s gaze latched onto the female alpha and was startled to see a pair of chilly blue eyes gleaming in the dark. Human eyes didn’t glow in the dark like that, Fiona thought, and there was something not quite human about their shape. Rebekah was on the verge of the Change.

Fiona didn’t think. She just ran. Keeping her body low to the ground, Fiona sprinted from her hiding place and crouched in the shadow of the juniper trees. 

“Easy,” said Justin, taking a step forward to put himself between Gabriel and the other alphas.

“This is the hunter who killed Marco!” Rebekah spat, her eyes glowing like twin blue flames. “He also killed my new wolf, Amber. She was only a child!”

At those words, Fiona sensed an abrupt shift in the alphas’ energy. Their aether crackled with unbridled rage, and she felt the low, frantic thrum of aether that was more animal than human. Two of the younger male alphas had started to change. 

There was a sickening crack of bone, and Justin let out a wolf-like snarl. Fiona wasn’t sure whose side he was on. He snapped at the werewolves, still glaring at Gabriel, but the wolf energy seemed to be catching. Justin’s brown eyes had lightened to the color of whisky, and he was stooped forward as though his spine had begun to bend.

“Only a hunter would be so low as to harm an innocent!” the red-headed alpha snarled. He seemed to have difficulty getting the words out, and Fiona realized his face was changing shape — lengthening into a snout. He spat, and a few teeth hit the ground. Fiona’s stomach curdled in disgust. She could see reddish-brown fur sprouting from the alpha’s hands and neck that matched the hair on his head.

“That werewolf was hardly a child, and she wasn’t innocent,” said Gabriel. “Marco and his wolves tortured me for days. The new wolf attacked me.”

“He shot Marco in cold blood,” Rebekah growled.

“Seems like you should be thanking me,” said Gabriel. “It was only after Marco died that you staged your little power grab.”

Rebekah made a noise between a snap and a bark — an impressive feat considering she still held her human form. There was a flash of red hair as Rebekah lunged at Gabriel, but Justin dove between them. That was when Fiona got a good look at her features and realized she’d seen Rebekah before. The new alpha had been at the bar the night of the Temple Canyon gathering — one of only two female wolves in the pack.

“How dare you!” growled another of the alphas — the Black Canyon alpha, Fiona thought. “You align yourself with Sigrid’s clan, and then you murder our kin!”

“I am not aligned with Sigrid’s clan,” said Gabriel, somehow managing to keep his voice even despite the raw, frantic edge to his aether. “Temple Canyon wolves came to my home and attacked me. I was well within my rights to kill Marco.”

“I told you not to come here, Pierce,” said Justin under his breath, still holding Rebekah back.

“I don’t take orders from you!”

Fiona cringed. It was dangerous enough to snap at an alpha on his own turf. To openly challenge a dominant werewolf away from his pack was tantamount to a death sentence. 

“What did you say to me?” Justin growled, turning to him with glowing amber eyes. 

“I said I don’t take orders from you — you or any wolf.”

There was a brief, shivering pause before Justin lunged for Gabriel’s throat. Gabriel threw out an arm, but it didn’t matter. The alpha was too strong. Justin tackled Gabriel to the ground, and the other alphas pounced. There was a throaty grunt from one of the werewolves, but flat on his back with a broken arm, Gabriel was no match for them.

Fiona didn’t have time to think. Her body simply reacted. In her heightened state of anxiety, the aether had been creeping up from the earth and into the soles of her feet. As her body clenched with terror, she felt the molten-hot charge of aether shoot up her legs and into her chest. Fiona threw out her hands with a guttural yell, and a burst of raw power shot out of her and slammed into the wolves.

Justin flew back and hit the ground as Rebekah slammed into a tree. The other alphas landed in a heap, and Fiona felt a surge of anger and fear.

As the tingle of power in her arms and legs subsided, she realized the low thrum of anger wasn’t coming from the wolves. They were still too stunned and confused to be angry at her. She couldn’t see Gabriel’s face from where he lay on the ground, but she knew that he was furious. Not at the wolves, she realized. He’d expected an attack. He was angry at her for showing her face when he’d told her to stay out of sight.

But Fiona didn’t have time to dwell on this. She could see the red werewolf’s chilly blue eyes scraping the shadows for her. Determined not to be seen as weak, Fiona stepped out from the trees. Her heart was hammering in her rib cage — so loud she was sure they could hear it. But she took a deep breath and tried to calm her aether. Her body wasn’t cooperating. She knew they’d be able to sense her fear, but she wouldn’t cower in the shadows.

“You,” Rebekah hissed, her chin lifting as she scented the air. “I know you.”

“Yes, we’ve met,” said Fiona tersely. 

“Met” wasn’t exactly the right word. Wolf Rebekah had mauled her in Marco’s back yard. Fiona still had the claw marks to prove it.

“You’re an aether witch,” said Rebekah.

Fiona didn’t reply. Justin already knew what she was, but he was strangely quiet as he picked himself up. She’d used her aether-wielding ability to give his father a few more weeks to live, but she knew he didn’t trust her.

Rebekah narrowed her gaze at Fiona. “Why do you defend the hunter?”

“She’s his mate,” spat the werewolf with the low, gravelly voice — the Rio Grande alpha. “I can smell him on her.”

Fiona briefly wondered what Gabriel smelled like to the werewolves. Judging by the way the alpha wrinkled his nose, it was not a pleasant scent.

“Your plan won’t work,” said Fiona evenly, deciding to ignore the other alphas.

Rebekah’s cobalt eyes flashed. 

This close, Fiona could see that she was very pretty. Her coppery hair was long and straight, and she had soft cheeks and a long slender nose. Her narrow lips and straight red eyebrows gave her a certain shrewdness that kept her beauty from obscuring the intelligence that sparkled behind those brilliant blue eyes.

“Excuse me?” Rebekah hissed.

“Your plan to starve out the vampires. It won’t work,” Fiona repeated.

One of the male alphas growled, but nobody moved to attack her. The alphas had no reason to believe her, she realized, and yet they were hanging on her every word. 

“And why is that?” asked Rebekah.

“Sigrid’s clan maintains their own blood bank,” said Fiona. “They just bought a second industrial freezer to preserve their overflow from tourist season.”

“How do you know that?” the red wolf snapped, her tone laced with suspicion.

“Her sister is one of them,” Justin growled. 

Fiona knew right then and there that her credibility with the alphas was shot. Not only was she a hunter’s mate, but her sister was a vampire.

Rebekah narrowed her eyes. “Is this true?”

“Yes.”

“Why have you come here, witch?” the Rio Grande alpha snarled, emphasizing the word “witch” in a way that said he had another word in mind. Up close, Fiona could see that he was much older than Justin and Rebekah. He had closely cropped gray hair, a thick mustache, and the strong, wiry build of someone who’d worked on a farm for most of his life. He was dressed in Levi jeans and dusty leather boots, which gave the impression that he had in fact wandered off some ranch somewhere.

“I . . . we came here to try to stop this war.” Fiona’s voice wavered despite her best efforts, but the older alpha did not regard her with scorn. If anything, his steely gaze seemed to soften, and it occurred to her that trying to act tough around a bunch of alpha werewolves was a losing proposition. Alphas met dominance with more dominance. Her raw honesty seemed to disarm them in a way that projecting strength did not.

“What’s it to you?” the old alpha asked. His tone was suspicious, but there was also genuine curiosity there.

“She has a bounty on her head,” said Gabriel. “The Brotherhood wants her dead or alive.”

The old alpha’s eyes flickered to Gabriel, and the lines around his mouth deepened as he frowned. “How does that work, with her being your mate?”

“I’m no longer affiliated with the Brotherhood,” said Gabriel. “And I think it’s safe to say it would be in all of our best interests if they did not get involved in this.”

The Rio Grande alpha choked out a laugh. “You don’t leave the Brotherhood.”

“That’s what I said,” Justin broke in. “But apparently Pierce is telling the truth.”

“How do you know that?” asked the old werewolf.

“The witch used her . . . ability to relieve my father’s suffering.” He nodded at Gabriel. “She used his aether to do it. Apparently, that has the fun side effect of being able to tell what a person is feeling.” Justin’s bottom lip curled. “Gary says he’s telling the truth — whatever that’s worth.”

“Given your dad’s finely tuned bullshit detector, I’d say it’s worth a lot,” rumbled the Rio Grande alpha.

“Have we all forgotten that the aether witch’s sister is one of them?” Rebekah snarled.

The old alpha conceded her point with a nod. “It certainly presents a conflict of interest.”

“My only interest is in preventing more bloodshed,” said Fiona. “For your sake as well as my sister’s.”

“That might be truth,” said the old alpha. “But this massacre cannot go unpunished. The original treaty between the clans and the packs was put into place after the Brotherhood made it illegal to sire new vamps. But the vampires broke their end of the bargain, so the treaty is null and void.”

“That wasn’t Sigrid’s intention,” said Fiona. “My sister was consuming ichor without her sire’s knowledge. If he’d known —”

“That doesn’t change the facts.”

Fiona wanted to scream. Werewolves could be so hardheaded when their pride was threatened. To them it didn’t matter that the entire premise of the conflict was based on Eleanor’s ignorance and Fiona’s selfish desire to bring her sister back from the dead. Nor did it seem to matter that a war would bring more death to their packs and draw the Brotherhood into their territory. They would rather watch their fellow wolves die than let the vampires’ actions go unpunished.

“I appreciate your willingness to put yourself in harm’s way to protect your kin,” said the old alpha. “But if we allowed the vampires to get away with murder, our entire species would be wiped out.”

“If you continue this crusade, you will be wiped out!” Gabriel snarled in frustration. “Take a look around! Rebekah lost a third of her pack. Justin lost three of his top wolves — including Brody.” He looked to the other alphas, whose faces were hidden in shadow. “I don’t know who you lost, but I’m guessing the vampires didn’t target your most submissive wolves. They would have gone after the strongest in your ranks so you wouldn’t be able to defend yourselves the next time.”

One of the other alphas growled in warning, but Gabriel didn’t back down. “Running off half-cocked to launch a counterattack would be playing right into the Coalition’s hands. They didn’t come to Sigrid’s aid because Temple Canyon staked one of her vampires. They came because they saw an opportunity to cleanse Colorado of its werewolf population.”

One of the younger alphas took a step forward, but the older alpha stopped him with a look.

“You might not like what I have to say, but you know it’s true,” said Gabriel. “You can’t take on the Coalition. It will be your final act as alphas. If the vampires don’t kill you, the Brotherhood will.”

He had to raise his voice near the end of that statement. The Platte River and Black Canyon alphas were muttering angrily, and Fiona was getting nervous.

“You’ve said your piece, now get the hell out,” the old alpha told Gabriel. “This is werewolf business.”

“We can’t let them leave!” Rebekah snapped. “The witch will run straight to her bloodsucking sister and tell her everything we’ve discussed.”

“Let them,” said Justin. “There’s nothing they can say to the vampires that would compromise our plan. I have wolves watching Sigrid’s compound. If any vampire tries to leave before daybreak, my wolves have orders to stake them.”

Fiona’s blood ran cold. Although he’d spoken out in their defense, Justin was glaring at Gabriel with a look that said he would let the other alphas tear them limb from limb. “Leave us,” he snarled.

Gabriel held Justin’s gaze for an uncomfortably long time, and, for a moment Fiona feared that he was going to fight his old friend. But then Gabriel took a step back and edged back the way they’d come.

Fiona felt the tension dissipate as they retreated, but the alphas continued to watch them until Fiona turned to go. The skin along the back of her neck tingled. She didn’t like turning her back on the alphas, though she knew that if they were going to kill her, they would have done it already.

When she reached the sandstone fin they’d climbed up, Justin’s voice rang out. “Consider this my last act of mercy, Pierce. The next time you stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, I won’t hesitate to kill you or your mate.”