Today is the culmination of an idea I had at DragonCon in 2012. It was a small thought that jumped into my brain in the middle of a panel – what would happen if Jordan (then named Jess) met Montgomery (then named Carl)? Six years later, the result of that question is now availaible in digitaland paperback forms. It’s something I never thought would actually happen, even as I worked towards that goal.
More thanks than I can possibly express to the people who stood by me through this crazy journey – Isabella Midnight, Melissa Snark, Elanor Huges, Steve Mix, Julie Thio, Tabitha Carlson, Karen-Leigh Schmocker, Colleen Wright, Jess Owen, Michelle Dunbar, Shay VanZwoll, Tammy Payne, Fiona Jayde, and many people I’m sure I will be kicking myself for forgetting to mention. Your support and cheer-leading kept me going when I was ready to quit. I owe you all a debt of gratitude.
“Jerry Dan?” the barista droned over the din of the coffee shop. “I have an order for Jerry Dan.”
Jordan Abbey grabbed for the napkins on the condiment bar, open book balanced in her other hand, only half-listening out for her name. Broad shoulders knocked into her. Stumbling to the side, she dropped the napkins and juggled the book between her arms, losing the page she was reading.
Biting back a sigh, she closed the book, cradling it against her chest. That was the third time he had bumped into her, and the guy, engrossed in his phone, hadn’t noticed yet.
Someone tapped her shoulder. “I think he means you.”
“Huh?” Jordan turned away from the serial blocker toward the man who had spoken. Her brown eyes met warm green ones, darker from the contrast to his pale skin. His mix of clothing could either have been the business-casual of an older student who just came from work, or a new teacher in his first year at the college.
He gestured toward the counter. The barista scowled in her direction with narrowed eyes. His words were louder and sharper, “Medium mocha latte for Jerry Dan.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s Jordan.” She closed her book and stuffed it into the backpack at her feet before picking up the bag and swinging it over her shoulder. “At least he didn’t botch my last name.”
The stranger arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Abbey,” she said. “Half the time, I get called Church.” She squeezed past several other students to get to the counter and picked up her coffee. “Thanks.”
The barista rolled his eyes. His face settled into a deeper frown as picked up the next order. “Alabama!”
“Okay, now he’s messing with us,” the brown haired man said as she passed him on her way out. He smiled as she paused. “My name’s Montgomery.”
Jordan laughed. “Nice to meet you,” she called over her shoulder as she walked outside.
Her smile faded as she headed down the path leading to the bus stop in front of Rancho Robles Community College. Even though the coffee shop in the Liberal Arts building was still crammed with people, once she stepped outside the campus was deserted. Without the sounds of other people, the murmur of the creek at the bottom of the ravine parallel to the path echoed menacingly rather than trickling charmingly. The moon threw unexpected shadows off the bare branches of the trees, giving a spooky impression of a haunted forest.
“You’re creeping yourself out, Jo,” she muttered. She stole a glance at the sky, peering through the branches. She shuddered as a wave of fear washed over her. She swallowed, pushing her anxiety down into a ball in her stomach. “This is silly. This is your college campus, not a scene in a horror film.” Tugging her hoodie closer against the chill of the autumn air, she walked the way she had been taught in her self-defense class—head up, the arm not holding her coffee swinging freely to exude a confidence she didn’t completely feel.
Jordan was halfway to the parking lot when the bushes rustled behind her. All the stories she’d heard about women being attacked, raped, and left for dead flashed through her mind. She slipped her hand into her pocket, manipulating the keys to slide between her fingers as makeshift claws as she squinted over her shoulder.
An animal the shape of a malamute and the size of a Saint Bernard stepped into the circle of light. Gray, shaggy fur that was meant for colder climates than Northern California covered its muscled frame. Jordan sighed. It’s somebody’s dog. She could deal with dogs. “Shoo!” She waved her hand at the animal. “Go home!”
The canine cocked its head to one side, lips curled as if it were smiling. Its bushy tail swished back and forth. Then it rose on its hind legs.
Jordan’s breath caught as the creature strode toward her. Her mind urged her to run but her feet remained rooted to the earth. The mouth of the beast dropped open, revealing fangs designed to rip flesh. It grunted and snarled as it strode forward, its paw reaching for her shoulder.
Her paralysis shattered at the first touch. Jordan screamed and swung her arm up, flinging her coffee and knocking the paw off her shoulder. Relying on instinct, she threw a punch. Her fist holding the keys impacted the creature’s nose.
The beast squealed a short yip. Jordan twisted and fled for her life.
She made it three steps before its jaws clamped over her shoulder, teeth grinding against bone. She shrieked as her feet left the ground. As quickly as she was lifted, she fell, landing with all her weight on her right foot. Her ankle gave way and she collapsed onto her hands and knees. Another stroke of pain knifed through her shoulder. Her vision turned white for a second as her head hit the ground.
When her sight cleared, all she could see was a large gray paw planted inches from her nose. Hot breath driven by lungs like bellows gusted past her ear. Claws gripped her shoulder. With a tenderness that seemed at odds with the earlier bite, the beast turned her upper torso over. She rolled, screaming as pressure was put on her wounded shoulder. She looked up into a wolfish face with brown eyes filled with… worry? Concern?
“Hey!” a familiar male voice yelled.
The creature whipped its head around to look behind them. She couldn’t see what it was looking at, but there was no mistaking the warning rumble in its growl or the way its ears flattened against its skull.
“Identify yourself and your pack.”
The canine’s growl deepened. It stepped around Jordan with caution. She wasn’t sure if it was afraid of injuring her further, or preparing to defend its prey from a rival. She squinted into the glare of the street lamp, trying to identify her would-be savior. It was the man from the coffee shop—Montgomery.
“I’d leave her alone, if I were you. Alpha Shane doesn’t take kindly to poachers, even if he is one himself.”
The wolf’s hind paws flexed, claws raking the ground, its muscles coiled. There was a blur of motion before she could yell a warning. Jordan squeezed her eyes shut, certain that Montgomery would be shredded in front of her.
A single gunshot rang out, followed by a yelp, a splash, and a second yip.
The splash had barely sounded when footsteps rushed toward her. She opened her eyes. Montgomery knelt near her head. He pushed the clipped words out between rapid breaths. “Did he bite you?”
“Left shoulder,” Jordan gasped.
His fingers probed feather-light at the tear in her sweatshirt. He hissed when she flinched. Jordan glimpsed a flash of too-long teeth. Her vision blacked out when the man grabbed her by her right arm and tugged upward. “We can’t stay here. He won’t be down long. Can you get up?”
“I think so.” Jordan clutched at Montgomery for support as she staggered to her feet. She took a step and pitched forward, hopping on her left leg while her arms flailed for anything to help her balance.
“Careful,” Montgomery said as he hauled her upright. Jordan draped her right arm around his neck and gripped his shoulder. She stumbled next to him, half-dragged, half-supported down the path toward the parking lot. “I can get you someplace safe. Then we can figure out the next step.”
Jordan hopped on her good foot. “Shouldn’t we call the police? Animal control?”
Montgomery spat out a laugh. “You think people with catch poles can stop what attacked you?”
She shrugged. That was a mistake. Sharp pain pulsed through her shoulder, answered by the grinding ache in her ankle. Jordan shivered despite the hoodie she wore against the cool night breeze. She stumbled alongside him the best she could up the path and into the parking lot. Darkness swirled at the edges of her vision. “Whoa,” Montgomery said, like he was calling from a great distance. “Stay with me. Keep those eyes open. We’re almost to my car.”
She staggered a few more steps. Cold spinning darkness closed around her. Jordan fell against the side of an SUV, unable to do more than hiss at the fresh agony shooting through her shoulder. Despite the pain, she wrapped her arms around her torso and rubbed them while her teeth chattered. The shivers wracking her body threatened to vibrate her into pieces. “Where… where are we going?”
“My place.” The double beep of the car unlocking punctuated his words. “You’ll be safe there.”
She wanted to ask why there and not a hospital, but her vocal chords had disconnected from her brain. She half-sat, half-fell into the passenger seat. Her last thought before blacking out was that he had a handsome face, despite the tips of his eyeteeth peeking below his lips.