July 7, 2011

Prologue for Changeling Dream By Dani Harper

Author of Changeling Dream
 
Tendrils of smoke rose ghostly white against the night sky like escaping spirits. Two days had passed and the house had collapsed to one side in a heap of charred beams and ash. No human could have survived such devastation.

James Macleod was not human.

Far beneath the blackened beams, he lay burned, bleeding, and broken. Close to death but as yet unable to embrace it. Now and then, he broke the surface of unconsciousness, only to be dragged under again by relentless agony and despair.

The waning moon hid its face as James opened his eyes at last. For a fleeting moment he thought he was blind, then realized night had fallen, although which night it was he had no idea and didn't care. He was still alive -- barely -- and didn't care about that either. His broken ribs screamed at him as he began to cough up more blood and soot, but this time oblivion stubbornly refused to take him back.

Evelyn. He couldn't see her beneath the debris, but he could just reach her delicate fingertips. They were cold and unyielding. He felt again the slash of agony in his heart that was far greater than the pain in his body. She had been human. Vulnerable, both she and the child within her, his child. He had failed them both, failed to protect them, failed even to discern any danger to them. He had been moving the cattle to summer pasture in the deep coulees along the river when a calf blundered into the fast-moving water. Saving the young animal and regrouping the herd had set him back an hour, then two. Just two scant hours in which all that was dear to him was left defenseless.

He'd known at once. James had barely turned his truck for home when cold terror suddenly clawed his heart and his wife's voice echoed briefly in his mind. Gunning the old pickup, he'd kept it on the rough dirt road by sheer force of will. Faster, faster, heedless of the rugged terrain. He had to get home, had to reach her. When an axle broke, James left the crippled truck and raced flat out, first on two legs, then on four.

The house had been strangely dark when he reached the yard.  Evelyn always left a light on for him. Always. And then he had spotted the smoke churning from an upstairs window. He caught no stranger's scent as he ran into the burning house, as he shifted shape and shouted for his wife. He had smelled blood, however, mixed with the thickening smoke. He followed the metallic tang of it straight to the dining room, knowing and not wanting to know that it was her blood. And that there was far too much of it. Dear God. James had squeezed his eyes shut against the ugly gunshot wounds that had stolen her life even as he cradled her small body against him. She was gone. Their child within her, already loved, was gone as well.

It was his fault, all his fault, although James had no idea who had done this. Few people could even find his ranch. It was remote, all but hidden, with the nearest neighbor miles away. He knew no enemies in this country, yet in his shattered heart he also knew it was no random act that had taken his loved ones from him. He should have known better. He should have known. His family's entire sept of Clan Macleod had been forced to leave Scotland more than two centuries earlier, when fear of Changelings caused all wolves to be slaughtered to extinction there. Why had he thought it would be better here, safer now? Why had he assumed humans were any more civilized now, any less driven by fear and hatred of those who were different? But then there had been Evelyn, and she was wholly, completely human. Evelyn, who embodied all that was good about humanity, who knew what he was and accepted him, who loved him with a heart that was bigger than she was. Evelyn who had just paid for that love with her all-too-human life.

Already half-mad with pain and grief, his own human side wanted nothing more than to follow his loved ones. Changelings were long-lived and tough, gifted and powerful. But they were not immortal. And not immune to bullets even if they weren't silver. Evelyn's killer had still been in the house, waiting for James, and James hadn't known. Perhaps he hadn't cared then either. The last thing he saw was his whole world in his arms -- then nothing.

Left for dead. Now, his Changeling nature was automatically trying to heal the horrendous wounds, weakly attempting to regenerate burned skin and tendon, repair and replace broken bone. But with so much damage and so little energy left, the process was winding down before it had really begun. Soon it would stop altogether and he would get his wish.

For one clear moment that wish coalesced in his mind -- a soul-deep desire for death. James embraced it without reservation, forgetting that his inner wolf was driven by a powerful and primitive instinct to survive. Without warning, fresh agony suddenly slammed into him from every direction. His heart was being squeezed through his ribs, his very bones felt as if they were exploding. The animal within had gone completely wild. Unbidden, it frantically clawed its way to the surface.

Dark clouds diffused the moon, hid the massive wolf that crawled out from under the charred wreckage, veiled the singed white fur in shadow. Sides heaving, the creature limped on three legs to the edge of the clearing and collapsed. James lay there for a long time and regarded the wreckage. Fists of sorrow beat inside him, but his lupine eyes could not weep. Instead, a cry of anguish was ripped from his throat, gaining in strength as it sliced through the silence. It rose and became an ululating howl echoing over the ruins of his home, his heart, his life.

As he howled out his grief, the sky cleared. The moon was far from full but still it blanketed him with pale silvery light, lent him its peculiar strength that only Changelings knew. James stood. So his wolf nature wanted to survive? Then it could damn well do it without him. He would set it free and never walk upright again.

The wind picked up. Although only three legs would obey him, the white wolf began to run. Run, to outpace the agony that could rip and tear a human heart. Run, to outdistance the human grief that could not be borne. Run, to be as the moon, a swift white shape gleaming in the night. Run, to be a wolf and only a wolf.

As he raced away into the welcoming arms of the night, James was only fleetingly aware that he had just buried his human self alongside Evelyn.

And then he was aware of nothing.

The above is an excerpt from the book Changeling Dream by Dani Harper. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2011 Dani Harper, author of Changeling Dream


Author Bio

Dani Harper,
author of Changeling Moon, writes paranormal romance, blogs about the paranormal, watches paranormal TV and movies, and reads paranormal books of almost any kind. So it's only natural that werewolves, faeries, ghosts and other supernatural creatures populate her stories. She lives on an island in Southeast Alaska with her fisherman husband. Her stories get written on land or at sea with the help of her executive secretary, Fiona the Pug.


For more information please visit http://www.daniharper.com/  and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

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