A Magical Shift--Chapter One
Beneath the calm and shimmering surface lie intrigue, power, magic, and danger.
Welcome to Silver Lake—where appearances can be deceiving, and what you see isn’t truly what lies below.
Welcome to Silver Lake—where appearances can be deceiving, and what you see isn’t truly what lies below.
Owen Chancellor couldn’t believe his good luck. For the past few days, he had been stalking the beautiful Isadora Berta. Together with her long flowing red curls, creamy skin that had a light sprinkling of freckles, and deep blue eyes, she had enough sexy curves to make any man stop and stare.
This past hour, she’d traveled toward Westhaven, Scotland and then driven down a muddy dirt road, deep into the forest—alone. She then headed out on foot toward the cove bordering the North Sea, making her imminent capture a sure thing.
He couldn’t wait to take this fair lass home to his family to be his wife. The fact that she hadn’t even met him yet was a mere technicality. Once she saw him, she’d swoon as all the ladies did. He was taller than she was by a few inches, and his auburn hair and fair complexion would complement her looks rather well.
Loser indeed. He’d show his parents that he was worthy of their praise. Owen would train her to be a good and regal wife who would stand beside him at every occasion. He’d make sure she was honored by all.
He parked his four-wheel drive near hers, removed his clothes, and shifted into his wolf form to avoid leaving traces of his scattered clothes later on. He then scurried to the water’s edge; it would be less obvious sneaking up on her as an animal. Once he spotted her, he slowly edged closer, hiding behind trees or the thick brush to make sure she couldn’t see him. He then watched her prance around in her flowing white sundress. Isadora, Isadora. Once you are mine, I’ll have to teach you not to be so careless.
Just as he was about to make his move, he noticed the strange marking on the back of her shoulder. The blue circle with a green vine growing through it was new to him, so very different from his red moon encased in a black circle. He had sensed she wasn’t a shifter, but the intricate pattern must be a symbol for some group. But which one?
His future bride then bent down and lowered her hand to hover over the sand, and within seconds, a swirling cone erupted from the ground. Glancing upward, she giggled, the sound like small bells chiming. Despite her voice being light and airy, it wouldn’t be appropriate for someone who was about to be a part of his prestigious clan. It was one more thing he’d have to change about her.
As she rose, the small force grew, and its sudden billowing size mesmerized him. How the hell was she doing that? As the cone of sand turned into a small twister, Isadora spun around and laughed. He’d never witnessed anyone with such powers. She had to be some kind of witch.
Fascinated and a bit unsettled by this new development, he decided not to capture her today; he needed to see the extent of her abilities. He didn’t have long to wait. With the sand still spinning, she raised her arm and pointed toward the deep blue green sea as if commanding her creation to cut through the water. Dear goddess in heaven, the now rather massive sand storm actually parted the sea, cleaving it right down to the sandy bottom, and his respect for her grew significantly. This witch was far more than he had hoped.
With her calf-length dress hiked up to her knees, she walked into her self-made trough, the water never touching her. Owen blinked a few times wondering how this redheaded nymph had tricked him. She’d seemed rather ordinary before.
All of a sudden, she shot a ball of fire from her palm that bounced across the water, and he had to control himself to keep from howling. For a second, he was tempted to break cover and demand she tell him her secrets, but then reason intruded. His original scheme of capturing her in an effort to earn his rightful place in the family suddenly disintegrated. Joy surrounded him at the thought of what the two of them could accomplish together. To win her over though, he would have to resort to using his infinite charm.
Not wanting her spooked by a looming wolf, he decided it would be best if he left. Just as he turned around, she glanced over her shoulder in his direction, acting as if somehow he had disturbed her. While he couldn’t be certain if she’d seen him or not, he quickly darted back up the path, excited at his new discovery. He wasn’t sure how he’d accomplish his new goal, but one way or another Isadora Berta would become his.
Izzy had done it! For the past four years, she’d studied under the finest of her kind in Italy, France, and now, Scotland. Today was the first time she’d been able to literally part the sea. Not that her work was done by any means, but soon, she could return home and contribute to her family’s safe keeping. Another two months of practicing, and her powers would be sharper than ever. Izzy’s mentors had complimented her on her ability to control the wind, but her talent with fire definitely needed more work. One mistake could prove deadly, or at the very least, costly.
As she stood at the shoreline and admired the earth’s beauty, a strange feeling of being watched washed over her again, but she shook it off. Several times this past week, she’d had the sense that someone was following her, but every time she looked over her shoulder, no one was there. It didn’t really matter. It wasn’t as if anyone could harm her.
With her tests complete, it was time to return to town. As she trekked back to her four-wheel drive Jeep, a strong vibration rattled her chest, causing her heart to pound and her body to shake. Recognizing the sensation, she stopped and waited for the imminent discussion from above.
“Izzy, your family needs you at home.” The thought entered her conscious mind.
Family. Home. Her pulse tripped at the thought of what she’d given up to come here. She missed Silver Lake, Tennessee, but if she’d stayed, she never would have learned so much from the great witches of the world.
She hadn’t heard from the moon goddess, Naliana, in over two years, and an unease spread through her at hearing those words. She looked up at the sky. “May I ask why?” she telepathed.
“No, my dear. Do as I say and return quickly, but let your arrival be a surprise.”
Almost as soon as the tightening in her chest appeared, it was gone. One never disobeyed the moon goddess since she was the one who gave the Wendayans their powers in the first place. Izzy and her ancestors would have remained human with no powers had Naliana not interfered and bestowed magic to each of her kind.
A bit unsettled by the sudden command, Izzy hurried to her vehicle. As she was about to slip in, she spotted another set of tire tracks next to where she’d parked, along with some wolf paw prints. While it was interesting, she didn’t give it much thought as her mind was still on the command. She slid onto the front seat and gripped the wheel, worried sick that something had happened to her parents or her sister. Why else would Naliana have summoned her? Not telling her folks she would be returning home before her studies were complete also concerned her, but they would be delighted by her unexpected arrival nonetheless.
Naliana was all about being mysterious. She loved to have fun with people, often at their expense. As much as Izzy had been looking forward to working with another Wendayan who had mastered the art of fire, her family came first—as did the command from above.
As Izzy headed out of the forest, more deep gouges ran alongside her old ones in the muddy road—gouges that hadn’t been there before. A chill tripped up her spine, reminding her of the eerie sensation she’d had back at the water’s edge of being watched and the paw prints by the car. She purposefully shook, trying to push that thought out of her head. If the humans found out about her powers and her kind, her life as she’d known it would never be the same.
Ryerson McKinnon responded to the alarm by sliding down the fire pole. “Where’s the blaze?” he asked one of his coworkers as he suited up. Shuffling feet and the distant sound of the truck engine firing up created a sense of chaotic excitement and intense urgency.
“Donaldson’s warehouse. One truck’s there, but they need more. Blaze is bad.”
Shit. Abandoned for months, the building sat on the north side of the town of Silver Lake, but Rye hated to see anything in his area destroyed. He was the proud Alpha-in-training for his wolf-bear Clan that resided around the lake the town drew its name from.
Like his father, the instinct to protect and keep the Clan safe was strong and had him on high alert especially at a time like this when danger was close to their homes. He hoped the owner hadn’t set the fire for the insurance money, as had been the case in a few other instances. Rye had heard Donaldson and his family had come upon hard times, so perhaps he’d been desperate.
“Let’s hurry, folks,” the driver shouted.
Rye hopped on the fire truck, wondering if the red moon was cursing Silver Lake once more. The townsfolk had their theories about why so much crime happened every time it appeared. He had his suspicions too, but he’d never voiced his opinion. The whole concept of evil werewolves would scare the town to death—or at least the human population living there.
They raced up Robin’s Ridge and passed several cruisers along the way with their blue flashing lights illuminating the entire street. At the hardware store, Rye caught sight of a gaping hole in the front window and shattered glass on the sidewalk. What was wrong with people today destroying property? His best friend, Kalan Murdoch, one of the town’s deputies, was probably running his ass off tonight trying to contain the crime spree.
A few miles before they reached their destination, Rye detected the acrid smell of smoke along with the glimmering light from the flames. For Donaldson’s sake, he hoped they could save at least part of the building.
When they arrived, fire was rapidly consuming the left side of the one-story, vinyl-covered ten thousand square foot wooden structure, and it wouldn’t be long before the other half was gone too. Fortunately, only a few buildings were located nearby, lessening the chance the fire could spread. Assuming it was arson, and Donaldson wasn’t the one responsible for the blaze, why set this building on fire? No onlookers had arrived, and in his experience, arsonists liked to watch their handiwork. Without any bystanders hanging around to question, the who and why just got a bit harder.
Rye jumped off the truck and started toward the structure. Thanks to his enhanced werewolf hearing, a whimpering sound from inside reached him, but it was barely audible amongst the shouts of his coworkers, the crackling of the blaze, and the falling of a few roof beams. Shit. Fearing someone was trapped inside, he headed straight for his supervisor, adrenaline filling his veins. The men from the first truck who’d arrived were spraying the west side of the building, yet none of the men seemed to be on their way to search the interior, which meant he’d have to go into the undamaged end to find the source. “Sir, I think I hear someone crying in there.”
Frank Emerson turned his head to the side and cupped his ear. “I don’t hear anything other than the roar of the fire and the pump of the fire hoses.”
Rye wasn’t about to state the reason for his acute hearing since Frank, a human, didn’t know his kind existed. “I have to go check, sir.”
His superior grabbed his arm. “It’s too dangerous. The building could collapse. You need to follow protocol.”
If he did, the trapped animal or person would surely die. “I’ll be quick, sir.” Given his biological makeup, Rye was more immune to the heat and smoke than a human. He took off before his boss had the chance to stop him.
After calculating the speed with which the fire was consuming the west side of the building, he figured he had two, maybe three minutes tops to find the source of the crying. Rye prayed the trapped creature wasn’t human since he didn’t have the luxury of tracking him as a wolf. Shifting would have resulted in his suit being shredded, and he wasn’t about to walk out of a burning building naked.
With no time to waste, Rye dashed into the far end of the building. If it weren’t for his excellent eyesight, he would have had a hard time even seeing his hand in front of him. With the facemask on, he couldn’t call out, so he slipped it off and nearly choked.
The deeper he moved into the building, the clearer the whimpers became, forcing Rye to press on despite the flames looming closer. “Can you hear me?” he called out.
A soft woof floated toward him and relief immediately washed over him. Hopefully, the little fellow was merely scared and not seriously injured. After calling out to the dog a few more times, a German Shepherd puppy hesitantly trotted toward him.
“Good boy,” Rye said as he crouched down. “Come here.”
A crack sounded and a beam crashed to the ground right next to him, nearly clipping his arm. The puppy whimpered and shook, and Rye closed the gap between him and his target. “We need to get out of here, little guy,” he said, knowing full well the dog didn’t understand him.
The puppy backed up, but Rye was able to scoop him into his arms before the dog darted away. With the animal held securely, Rye ran as quickly as he could toward the door. Just as he reached the outside, a ball of fire streaked next to him, causing a ton of wooden beams to crash down and even more smoke to surround him. Boy, was that close.
Needing to get them both to safety, he kept running until the air cleared.
Frank rushed up to him. “Damn, you were right. Are you okay?”
Ryerson took off his mask. “Yes, but I’m not sure about the pup here. He’s still wheezing pretty badly.”
“You shouldn’t have gone in against orders, but we’ll discuss it later.” He nodded to the little fellow. “Isn’t your sister a vet tech?”
“Then have the dog checked out now.”
The puppy was still shaking in his arms. “Thank you, sir.” He had another hour on his shift, but the dog might not last that long without care. From the back of the truck, he located a small oxygen mask and placed it over the pup’s face, and immediately, the dog calmed.
Because he hadn’t driven, he needed his sister to come and get them. He called Chelsea, and when she answered, he explained the situation and his location.
“I’ll be right there. Keep doing what you’re doing. He’s probably still frightened.”
“I hope that’s all it is.”
From the quiet background and lack of barking and cat howls, Chelsea must have already gone home, which was all the way across town. While Rye waited, he studied the fire. If Donaldson hadn’t hired someone to torch the place, the Changelings were the next most likely suspects, though what they’d have to gain by burning the building, he didn’t know. Then again, that group of malicious, mutated werewolves just might get a kick out of destroying something.
By the time Chelsea made it to the warehouse, the men had the fire pretty much under control, but the building was a total loss.
“Hello, there,” Chelsea said, petting the rescued dog. She then looked up at Rye. “I don’t see a collar on him.”
“Looks like a stray. His coat is thin and he appears malnourished.” Chelsea continued to rub the dog’s fur and cooed at the poor animal while Rye held the mask over the dog’s face. She acted as if time wasn’t critical. “Shouldn’t we be going?” Rye asked. “You can cuddle with him all you want after the vet checks him out.”
After planting a kiss on the pup’s head, she looked up at Rye. “I’m ready. What are you waiting for?”
“Funny girl.” Still holding the puppy against his chest, he rolled his eyes, and then slid into the front seat of her car.
She inhaled deeply and wrinkled her nose as she fired up the engine. “Phew, you two stink.”
“You would too, if you ran into a burning building.”
She took off but not before looking over at the dog. “Was he burned?”
“I can’t tell, but he didn’t cry out when I checked him over.”
“I called ahead and asked Dr. Dana to meet me at the clinic since we’d just closed.”
“Smart.” Once his sister and her new patient arrived at the clinic, he said he’d walk the two blocks back to the fire station to pick up his vehicle. He then handed her the puppy. “Thanks for coming out so fast.”
As soon as they were safely inside, he headed toward the station feeling a bit funny traipsing down the streets in his fireman’s gear, especially on a warm summer night.
At home, Rye pushed open the front door and found his future Beta and second-in-command, Kalan, stretched out on the chaise lounge with a beer in his hand. The T-shirt Rye had worn yesterday was still on the chair next to Kalan, along with today’s newspaper, but at least the coffee table was devoid of garbage like the pizza box from last night’s dinner. “Not that I mind, but what are you doing here?”
“I needed a little energy release and wanted to see if you were up for a run.”
“I’d like one, but I need to shower first.”
Kalan waved his beer. “Do it later. By the time I finish throwing you in the dirt, you’ll just have to get clean again.”
Rye gave him the finger. “Don’t you wish, but then you’ll have to smell me.”
“Let me grab something to drink. My throat’s dry.” Rye walked past the four-seater dining room table into the open-concept kitchen and pulled out two beers since he noticed Kalan’s was almost empty. He returned and handed Kalan his. “Here.”
"Thanks. I heard about Donaldson’s warehouse. Do you think it was arson?”
“Given the origin and speed with which the fire burned, it was definitely driven by an accelerant.”
“Could the Changelings have masterminded it? It is a red moon tonight.”
“Always a possibility. If they are responsible, they are probably just blowing off steam. Which reminds me, the fire truck I was on, drove by the break-in at the hardware store, and I saw the damage.”
He nodded. “I worked that scene right after I checked out the graffiti sprayed on the back of the church.”
“Sounds like kids might have been responsible for that.”
Kalan polished off his first beer then opened the second. “That’s what we thought, especially when we found the tipped over garbage cans behind the grocery store, but the break-in at the hardware store seemed a bit over the top for teens. Add in the fire, and I’m thinking those bastard Changelings are fucking with the town again.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they transformed themselves to look like local teenage boys then passed by a few security cameras just to throw us off.” Rye slipped out of his hot uniform shirt, tossed it on the kitchen island, and then dragged his tired ass over to the sofa and sat across from his friend. “Why act up now when they’ve been rather calm for the last few cycles?” Rye asked.
“I wish I knew, but it’s not like I can ask them or secure any kind of search warrant without probable cause. Nor can I go to the Sheriff and say there are some crazy ass werewolves causing trouble.”
Rye chuckled. “That would cause a stir.” The townsfolk of Silver Lake had no idea what kind of creatures like in the hills north of town. Rye leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “I’ve been thinking about the fire and why they might have targeted Donaldson’s place.”
Kalan’s eyes widened. “Why is that?”
“Not that this is based on any fact, but the only reason would be to keep all of us so busy, we wouldn’t catch them doing something else really bad.”
“The power hungry monsters might be looking for a way to steal more onyx. If they have us running around, putting out literal and figurative fires, they could search in peace.” No one knew for sure why the Changelings needed the red onyx so much, but it was suspected that it protected them from harm.
“It’s as good a theory as any. What do you propose we do about it?”
Rye jumped up and paced. “Fuck if I know.”
Kalan set his beer down then pulled his dirty blond hair back into a ponytail. “Perhaps a run will clear our heads. Unless you’d rather shower and head into town. We could find us some pretty little ladies and wear off our excess energy that way. You up for it? It might improve that sour mood of yours.”
“Fuck you. I’m not moody. Irritated and a bit on edge, perhaps. As for going out, I don’t have any excess energy. Hell, with all this shit that’s been happening, I need to focus on taking care of our clan and not let some woman disrupt my brain.”
Kalan laughed. “You better hope you don’t meet someone claiming to be your mate.”
“That would suck now, wouldn’t it?” He didn’t need any more talk of women. “Let’s go for a run.” Or rather a playful jaunt, as bears weren’t built for speed. His wolf could run circles around Kalan.
Once they disrobed, they headed outside. The McKinnon compound consisted of six homes scattered across twenty acres with plenty of room around Silver Lake for additional buildings should the need arise. Kalan’s family had an equal spread next to theirs. Since only shifters lived in this walled off region, they were free to run and roam without human notice.
Rye shifted into his wolf form first, and then Kalan became his bear. Good thing they were friends because Kalan could seriously harm him if he wished. It wouldn’t take more than a few well-placed swipes to put Rye out of commission for a day or two. The same age, the two had chased, battled, and played together since their youth, helping Kalan learn his limits.
Despite having worked close to a thirty-six hour shift, Rye charged first, jumping on Kalan’s back. The hulk swung around and knocked him off. Just to be a pain in the ass, Rye took off running toward his brother’s house in an attempt to tire out Kalan.
“No fair. I’m too beat to chase you,” he telepathed.
Rye was beat too. “You said you wanted to go for a run. You change your mind?”
It was only after their parents announced their retirement as Alpha and Beta that he and Kalan had been able to communicate telepathically, and the novelty had yet to wear off.
Rye loped back to his friend, and then went on the offensive, once more managing to get in a few good gouges before retreating. As they became more energized by having fun, their growls and snarls rang through the forest.
“Hey, you two,” Chelsea shouted.
Rye stopped. Man, he hadn’t even sensed his sister was near. He was losing it. Chelsea was carrying the puppy who appeared quite content. “I stopped by to tell you that Badger is going to be okay, thanks to you big brother.”
Badger was a cute name, but in his shifted form, he couldn’t tell her that. Times like this, the restriction of whom he could communicate with was frustrating and inconvenient. If he shifted back into his human form, however, he’d be naked. Usually that wasn’t a big deal, but this was his sister, so he remained in his animal form. Kalan had enough sense to do the same.
“I don’t want to interrupt your playtime, boys; I’m just delivering the good news.” She held up a palm and continued, “No need to shift on my account.”
“Because I don’t need to see anyone’s private parts, that’s why, especially my brother’s.” She acted as if she understood what Kalan’s roar meant. With a grin, she waved goodbye. “Later.”
She spun around and rushed back the way she came. This time, Rye howled at her hasty retreat. As soon as she was out of sight, they shifted and headed inside to dress. As much as Rye enjoyed the quick tussle, his neck was stiff from Kalan flipping him over. He rubbed the sore area near his shoulder, hitting a sensitive spot.
“You should get a massage and have your aura cleansed at the Crystal Winds Spa,” Kalan said.
“Great idea. While I’m there, I’ll make sure to get a mani-pedi too.” He glared at his friend. “Hell no, I’m not going to a spa. That’s for women.”
“Not true. Both our dads claim Kathryn Berta has the hands of a goddess. One hour under her talented fingers, along with some crystals and aroma therapy, and you’ll be good as new.” Kalan tapped his chest. “I’ve been, and afterward, I felt like a new man. In fact, after the day I’ve had, I might make an appointment for myself.”
“You’ve never said anything before.”
“Because I knew you’d ridicule me.”
That was probably true, and if ever there was a time that he needed a clear head, this was it. “I’ll think about it, but if I do go, you absolutely cannot tell anyone.”
Kalan laughed. He made the motion of zipping up his mouth and throwing away the key. “Go take your shower, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As soon as his friend left, Rye hurried to wash off the stench and think. He loved his job and he loved his Clan, but he had a hard time prioritizing what needed to be his main focus. Should he work his way up the fireman’s ladder so to speak, or throw all of his energy into being the best possible Alpha?
Right now, what he needed was a shower and a good night’s sleep.
After the much-needed cleansing, Rye crawled into bed but found it was hard to turn off his brain, despite his exhaustion. He would doze for a while, and then wake up again thinking about the Changelings and what he and the other shifters could do to contain them.
By the time morning arrived, he was agitated and pissed off that he’d let himself lose sleep over those mutant werewolves. Even before he had a cup of coffee, he called the Berta home, hoping Kathryn could fit him in for a relaxing aura cleansing.
She answered after the first ring. “So nice to hear from you, Ryerson.” He asked if she was free. “For you, I’ll find the time. How about nine? We’ll have your aura cleansed and your muscles relaxed in no time. In case you don’t know, for privacy purposes, we do our cleansing for your family and the Murdochs at the house next to mine. All other Clan members are treated in town.”
“Izzy’s place?” he asked. Her parents had given it to her when she’d graduated from college, but she hadn’t lived there in the last four years.
“Sounds great and thank you. I’ll see you soon.”
Once Rye disconnected, his energy actually perked up knowing he might soon be able to figure out a few things. He quickly brewed his coffee and fried three eggs and some bacon. By the time he had finished eating, he was running late and left his dishes in the sink.
He hopped into his black Ford Escape and headed down Riverside Drive toward the Berta compound, admiring the sparkles shooting off the stream that connected Silver Lake to Wendayan Cove. He and his father had visited the Berta family last year when Kathryn’s husband, Len, had needed some help.
A burst of energy speared him at seeing the well-kept, pretty, yellow house with white shutters. Sitting on about two acres, the wood frame home had a nice porch and a long pathway lined with flowers that led to the street. A small but well-tended garden was to the west of Izzy’s single-story home.
Once he parked, Rye cut the engine and jumped out. Instantly, the sounds of the distant waterfall settled his nerves. As he continued up the pathway, he inhaled the sweet scent of the honeysuckle that bordered the path. Nice.
Rye knocked, and when the door opened, his body practically exploded with unbridled lust.
No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening. Not now.
I hoped you enjoyed this except!