Orphan Hunter Landon craves a family who will love him unconditionally. When he’s adopted by the Knights, an organization dedicated to destroying shifters, Hunter is grateful, but their ideology never sits right. Finally, on a rite of passage during which he’s supposed to kill his first shifter, Hunter discovers the truth: he meets Glenn Lightfoot, a deer shifter, and asks a lot of questions.
Glenn hates the Knights and worries about the safety of his herd with one in their midst. After all, the Knights have hurt his family before. On the other hand, this is his chance to convert an enemy, and some instinct tells him Hunter won’t betray him.
Soon Hunter sees the Knights for the monsters they are. When his time is up, he leaves the herd to protect Glenn. But Glenn is determined not to lose the man he has come to love and respect to the Knights’ cruel campaign.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted the “opposite sides attract” plotline. Two characters on either side of the “war” who come together to help bring down the organization. Who doesn’t like those types of stories? This was the perfect story to take the war between the Agency/shifters, and the Knights to an entirely new level. It pushes forward events in future books, and causes some vital repercussions.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted another non-predator character, so I created Glenn, the deer shifter. I wanted to have an African American character, so I created Hunter. They are so cute together. I really enjoy mixing elements together to turn a tried-and-true plot into something new, or at least not same ol’, same ol’.
HUNTER pressed his ear against the door, struggling to hear what the two people inside were saying. His heart pounding in his ears didn’t help the situation. He closed his eyes and directed his entire focus on listening.
The foster care administrator, a kindly old woman named Mrs. Jenkins, was speaking. Going over his records, Hunter suspected. He crossed his fingers. He really liked Janice, the woman who had visited him every day for the last week. She was nice, pretty, and black. That counted for something. He was black himself, and he couldn’t count the times white folks came into the foster home and overlooked him, going to the white children. And as he got older, he knew his chances of being adopted lessened. He was already thirteen and he’d been in and out of foster homes since he was three.
Now Janice was talking. Her voice was soft, melodic, soothing. He wanted her as a mother. He was on his best behavior when around her and hoped he’d made a good impression. The fact she was talking to the administrator was good news. He wanted a family, somewhere to belong. He didn’t want to feel like an outcast anymore. Something unwanted, like a dirty secret.
“What ya doing?”
Hunter waved a hand to hush Daniel, another foster child. He was a friend, but a year older. He was also white, freckled, and resembled a stick figure. Instead of leaving, Daniel knelt down beside him and pressed his own ear against the door.
“Getting out of here?” he whispered.
“Don’t know,” Hunter murmured. Suddenly, his vision blurred and turned inward. He saw a series of images, like a movie on fast-forward, and he smiled. Janice came out of the office and took his hand before kneeling down in front of him. The administrator came up behind her and was smiling happily. Janice said he was now her son.
Hunter suddenly snapped back into himself. He moved away from the door and tugged at Daniel’s sleeve.
“What? What’s wrong?” Daniel asked as they stepped to the opposite wall.
“Nothing.” Hunter grinned. “Nothing at all.”
He heard chairs scrape along the floor behind the door and braced himself. He’d started having visions like that a couple of months ago, and so far, they’d never been wrong. They’d started as visions only a few seconds into the future, and then they started to become minutes. Of course, he’d been freaked when they first started, and whenever he tried to tell any of the adults, wondering if this was normal, they had sent him to counseling. He’d learned to keep quiet about them.
And he’d also started to enjoy them.
The door opened and Janice walked out. She was about six feet tall and slender with generous hips. Her hair was short and frizzed around her face. She wore a red pants suit and high heels that probably accounted for several inches of her height.
She walked over to Hunter and knelt before him, taking his hand. Hunter’s heart pounded hard and his stomach clenched with anticipation. It was just like his vision. The administrator was behind Janice, and Hunter delighted in the warmth of Janice’s hand and the affection in her eyes.
“You’re my son now, Hunter,” she said softly.
Hunter grinned. “Can we go home?” he asked.
“Yes, we can,” she said and stood up, still holding his hand. “Let’s go.”
Seven years later
HUNTER glanced at his GPS before turning in a circle, seeing nothing but trees and shrubbery. The bag was heavy on his back and the rifle felt awkward in his hands, despite his training. Scattered sunlight touched the ground, making a patchwork quilt of light and shade. Branches zigzagged above him, covered with moss and leaves, and he often heard the chatter of squirrels and the rustle of birds. He enjoyed the peace around him, and the two days he’d camped here had been a happy change from the confines of the substations the Knights assigned him to.
He loved his family, but doubt had always gnawed at his stomach. He learned not to voice it, just as he’d learned not to voice his abilities when he was a child. Hunter thought it was odd that what he had once hidden had been embraced and considered normal by the Knights. The rest of his family had abilities, and that had been a marvelous discovery.
The wind was cold and Hunter pulled his jacket closer to his body. It was March, and he was on a hunt in the Wayne National Forest in Ohio—for a deer shifter—and he wasn’t at all happy about it.
Leaves crunched under his boots as he continued through the brush and ducked under branches or climbed over fallen trunks. It wasn’t deer hunting season, which meant he was alone out here, and he figured this would be the time when deer shifters would be in their animal form. The danger toward them would be lessened. But that also meant he had to be extra careful. If a park ranger found him, he’d be in big trouble.
Hunter stopped by a mossy tree and dropped his bag. He leaned his rifle against the trunk and took a sip from his canteen. The location and type of shifter had been his choice. But he only had one month to kill his first shifter. It was a rite of passage his family demanded of him. Hunter rubbed his stomach as he felt it tangle into knots. Now that he was actually here, amid the natural beauty of the park and the silence it offered, his doubt became more pronounced.
Shifters had never done him any harm. His mother would tell him stories about the bloodthirsty shifters and what they did to the weak, the vulnerable. Two wolf shifters had killed her own parents, and she had vowed that no one else would feel the pain she felt every day of her life. He remembered being inspired by that story, and he remembered hating the shifters for a time, working diligently at his training and learning all the Knights could teach him. But as time moved on and he became more aware of what the Knights actually did to captured shifters, he couldn’t help the questions that began to form.
Hunter stared ahead of him, but he didn’t see the ancient trees, the greens and the browns, the blue of the sky. All he saw was the lab and the shifter on that dissection table. He’d been standing with a small group of children his own age, and they had looked through a one-way glass, watching… something that still haunted him in the dead of night. The shifter had screamed, and he remembered asking the adult behind them why they couldn’t sedate the shifter. He’d been told the shifter was faking, trying to gain their sympathies. Hunter was told that shifters didn’t feel pain.
The snap of a twig brought Hunter back to himself. He ducked and looked around, quietly grabbing his rifle. He was concealed by thick shrubbery and carefully peered above it to see a magnificent white-tailed deer. It was a buck, and he could tell it was old despite the short antlers. The antlers would have fallen off in the winter, but they were steadily growing back. Hunter watched the buck, admiring the grace and strength in the lithe body. The buck’s ears were moving constantly and his head was held high in anticipation.
Hunter squinted, silently urging the buck to turn his head, so Hunter could see his eyes. He’d learned a lot from the Knights, such as knowing how to determine whether an animal was a shifter or not. It was all in the eyes. The buck’s coat was the usual dull grey that whitetails took on during winter months, though sometimes the fur or hair of a shifter would be strange or unnatural for the species they could shift into. But the best way to know was the eyes.
The buck suddenly turned, and Hunter felt giddy that the buck was nothing but a regular animal. The eyes were large and black and held no unusual intelligence in them. They were almost blank, the deer concerned only with food and staying out of danger. Relief settled on Hunter’s shoulders, and he wished he could feel disappointment. But he was far from it.
Hunter stood up and startled the buck, which jerked and leapt away. Hunter watched him leave, hating himself for doubting his family. They would know more about the world than him, right? They knew more about shifters than he did, so who was he to question them? Maybe it was just hard for him to wrap his mind around the idea that all shifters, even the prey shifters, not just the predatory ones, were bloodthirsty brutes. Not even predatory animals should be lumped into the “murderous brute” category. They were doing what nature trained them to do.
In fact it was humans, who the Knights claimed they were protecting, who were the most bloodthirsty. Hunter sighed and grabbed his bag before walking deeper into the park, frequently checking his GPS. He was two weeks into his hunt, having been in another national forest in another state, and he hadn’t come upon one shifter, neither predator nor prey. He was becoming frustrated. What would he do if his month was up and he had no shifter? Would his family disown him? The very idea scared him but it didn’t harden his resolve. He still doubted he could actually do it. Actually kill a shifter. To murder.
His family was everything to him, and his mother made this rite of passage sound holy; like he was some crusader. But he didn’t feel that way.
He would be a murderer.
Hunter shook himself and tightened his grip on the rifle. His family was right. They had to be. He was just a coward. That’s why this was a rite of passage: it was supposed to be hard, and it had to test his loyalty to the Knights.
Taking a deep breath, Hunter followed deer tracks in the mud and found several sleeping places. He knelt, and after counting the number of burrows made into the brush, he determined he was following a good-sized herd. It was almost too big to be natural. Maybe they were shifters. He stood and continued on his way.
TWO days later he was following the same trail, but he had yet to spot any other deer. While still finding the park peaceful and beautiful, his frustration mounted. He’d encountered a couple of bobcats and a cougar, but they had left him alone. He’d almost hoped they were shifters, but their eyes had shown him the truth. He half wished a predator shifter would attack him, and then if he managed to kill the beast, it would be in self-defense. But he’d had no such luck.
Hunter was deep in the forest, trails nonexistent, and he was constantly yanking spider webs out of his face. Scowling, Hunter dropped his bag, leaned the rifle against a tree, and took a small sip from his canteen. There was nothing but silence all around him. It was near dawn, the time when deer were most active. The air was cold and stagnant, heavy on his lungs and it made him want to sleep, to just curl up and forget about everything.
Hearing movement behind him, Hunter swung around and knelt, grabbing the rifle. A buck walked into view. Hunter’s hands trembled as he lifted the rifle even with his face. His heart began to pound harder and his palms became sweaty. If this was a shifter—could he do it?
The buck had his head down and was sniffing the ground, his ears twitching from side to side. Hunter watched silently, controlling his breathing. He didn’t know how, but he could tell the deer was young. There was nothing very remarkable about his looks or stature; he looked like a normal white-tail deer. What if this wasn’t a shifter? The deer’s nose wiggled and his great head suddenly lifted.
Eyes of a deep, powerful green stared right at him. Eyes that revealed an intelligence that knew he was there, that he had a rifle, and that he was aiming to shoot.
Hunter shuddered out a breath and raised the rifle to his eye once more. It was now or never. Here was his chance to prove to his family that he was loyal. That he loved them. The buck just stood there, staring in apparent fright. Hunter vaguely noticed the deer was flapping his tail, showing the white underneath, perhaps alerting the rest of his herd.
But Hunter didn’t hear or see any other deer. All he saw was this one that he could easily shoot. But even as he hesitated, arguing with himself, Hunter’s mind was pulled inward. He had just enough time to think not now before images in his head moved swiftly past. He saw the buck run off. He saw himself chasing him. The images blurred, completely incomprehensible, before they suddenly slowed, showing the deer once more. Then the deer shifted and a very attractive, slender, naked man replaced him, with the same deep green eyes. His hair was a tawny color and charmingly curly, falling before those large and powerful eyes. He was more rangy than skinny and his skin was golden. A sprinkle of hair covered his chest and made a path down to his groin, where more of that tawny, curly hair lay. His penis was relaxed in the vision, but that didn’t take away from the powerful image seared into Hunter’s mind, and it didn’t stop his own body from reacting to the shifter’s beauty.
Then the images blurred again, and slowed down only when he saw the deer shifter, standing very close to him, his eyes nearly shut, his mouth tilted up as if expecting a kiss….
Hunter slammed back into himself. The images took less than a second, but it was enough to make him drop his rifle. It fell onto the ground with a thud, and the deer shifter turned and sprinted away, just like in his vision. Shaky and sweaty, Hunter hesitated only two seconds before grabbing his bag and leaving his rifle. He ran after the deer, his blood rushing and his mind confused, curiosity bursting.
He rarely had visions so far into the future. The ones only a few minutes in the future depicted events that were inevitable; they would happen. But the ones which were hours, days, or even, once, a week in the future were only possible futures. They had just as much chance of not happening. The blurry images meant some time would go by before those visions had any chance of coming to pass, and he couldn’t predict when.
Why had the shifter changed in front of him? Why had the shifter tried to kiss him? And why hadn’t he been pushing the shifter away?
He would only get those answers if he followed the deer shifter. He ran faster, tripping now and then, but never giving up the hunt.
About the Author:
M.D. Grimm lives in the wet state of Oregon, and when she’s not reading, writing, or watching movies, she dreams of owning a pet dragon. She’s wanted to become an author since second grade and feels that her dreams are finally coming true. She was fortunate to have supporting parents who never told her to “get her head out of the clouds.” While she doesn’t like to write in only one set genre, she feels romance is at the core of most of her stories. M.D. earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Oregon and hopes to put that degree to good use in the literature world as well as the “real” world.
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