Caged in Bone


cibBook #4 in The Ascension Series

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Abel Wilder, werewolf Alpha, has gone missing, leaving his mate and the pack in a panic. His captor magicked his scent out of the sanctuary so that his mate can’t track him down. Only one witch can cast a spell that powerful.

James Faulkner has finally crossed a line that Elise Kavanagh can’t ignore.

Elise is going to have to hunt James down before the werewolf pack loses its Alpha and Rylie loses her mate. And Elise will have to find a way to make sure that James never bothers the pack—or anyone else—ever again.


Excerpt

Abel woke up on the last day he would spend with the werewolf pack and stared at his ceiling. The sun hadn’t risen yet. Moonlight reflected off the icy lake, casting silhouettes above his bed in the shape of tree branches and the ridged edge of a bush.

The pillow next to him was empty, indented where a body used to be. The sheets had been pulled aside. He could still smell the woman that had been there, even though the rapid fade of her sweat meant that she had already been gone for an hour. He dropped his hand into the empty space and imagined her warmth.

Rylie Gresham, Alpha werewolf, was an early riser. Had been for as long as he’d known her. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept in later than him, but he wished she would have slept in that morning. Would have been nice to wake up beside his mate just the once.

Abel shut his eyes again, tried to relax. But even though he had just woken up, he felt completely alert—no chance of falling back asleep now. His heart was already starting to race and he hadn’t gotten out of bed yet.

He inhaled deeply. Through the artificial barrier of the walls, he could smell the world beyond. Pine. Ice. Mud. Tar. Smoke. Wolves. Deer. Someone was already awake and starting to cook breakfast. It was a big job, feeding a pack of hungry wolves and all the humans that hung out with them. There hadn’t been a new werewolf in months, yet their pack was growing rapidly.

This was the last time he’d be smelling all of that for a while—the soaps and shampoos and sweat and human stink of it all.

He wondered if he would miss it.

***

Abel stuffed his feet into boots, pulled on a sweater, stepped outside. Most of the pack was still asleep. The sanctuary was quiet, even though what used to be a collection of cottages straddling a single road was rapidly becoming a small town. The two greenhouses had become four. They were building a trading post, kind of like a general store, and a school—a goddamn school.

Originally, they’d talked about those additions casually, like a “maybe someday” thing. Maybe if we don’t all die in the apocalypse, then someday we can build a school.

Hell was on Earth, the apocalypse had come, they were still alive, and now they were building a school.

He never thought he’d see the day.

Shoving his hands in his pockets, he walked fast to warm himself up, lifting his knees high to trudge through the feet of snow that had accumulated overnight. Wind bit at his nose and cheeks.

He found a shovel in the storehouse and got to work unburying the main road. They’d recovered a plow that could handle the road between the sanctuary and Northgate, but it had trouble getting down the hill into the valley. That meant that it took manual labor to clear a path all the way down. Usually, Abel let someone else do it. He liked to spend his day as a wolf, patrolling the perimeter, tracking the movements of deer through their mountains, sheltering in that no-emotion warmth of the beast’s mind.

But this morning Abel put all his weight into shoveling. He dug deep into the snow by the greenhouses and piled it on the side of the road, moving slowly down the hill. In the dim light of early morning, the snow had purple undertones. Almost the same color as the clouds in the sky.

His breath was a gray mist as he worked. The ice was settling in the forest, cracking and shifting. The river had frozen and turned the waterfall into a few long icicles plastered to the side of the cliff, and it always seemed too quiet without the water flowing. There was nothing to listen to but the rhythm of his slow, steady footsteps and the scrape of a metal shovel against asphalt.

He lost himself in the motion of it. The repetition.

Abel cut through the cottages and past the kitchen before he took a break, jabbing the shovel into a snowdrift so that he could lean on it. He was suddenly too hot. He pulled off the jacket and tossed it onto a picnic table.

The creak of hinges told him he wasn’t alone anymore. Abel turned.

A woman had appeared on the steps of the kitchens while his back was turned. She was bundled in a jacket, oversized jeans, snow boots. Her face below the collar was covered in a scarf, but he could tell she was smiling at him by the way her eyelids creased.

Abel sniffed the air, inhaling her scent across the long road. She must have been cooking breakfast. The air that came from the kitchen behind her smelled of a slow-cooked roast. But his wolf stirred at the musk of the woman, not the meat.

Mate.

This was the missing woman from his bed, the woman that had been missing in his life long before he had known she existed.

He didn’t have to speak or wave to acknowledge her. The heat of their joined gazes was enough. He wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been hot enough to melt all the snow between them.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. He had to keep shoveling.

Abel ducked his head and got back to work.

When he looked up again, Rylie had gone back inside.

***

The sound of an idling car engine echoed over the snow. The sky had lightened to pale violet, heralding the approach of sunrise—still too early for most of the pack to be awake, much less going anywhere. Abel propped the shovel against the wall of the nearest cottage and went to the carport.

Summer and Abram were loading a pickup, pouring gas into its tank and setting bins of produce in the bed. “Hey, Abel!” Summer called once she spotted him, waving a gloved hand over her head. “Good morning!”

“Morning,” he grunted.

Abel watched as they rearranged the bins to make them all fit at the bottom, and Abram watched Abel right on back. Under the brim of his knitted black cap, his face was filled with barely concealed irritation, as if Abel had interrupted something.

They’d gotten a lot of leafy winter vegetables out of the greenhouses that week. Too many to fit in the pickup easily. Abel grabbed a bin to help and Abram jerked it out of his hands.

“I’ve got it,” Abram said.

He jammed it in place and slammed the tailgate shut.

Abel’s wolf bristled. He straightened his spine, squared his shoulders. Made his profile as big as possible.

Submissive wolves knew to shrink down and lower their eyes when he looked like that. Problem was, Abram wasn’t a wolf, and he wasn’t submissive. His posture screamed dominance. It took all of Abel’s self-control not to start growling.

Summer, of course, was oblivious. “I’ve got a couple more bins before we can go,” she said, tossing a tarp over the truck bed. “We’ll need to trade all these veggies for scrap in Northgate, and I want the greenhouses pretty much empty when we go.”

“I’ll meet you back here in a few,” Abram said. “I have a couple other things to do.”

“Also known as hiding in a warm cottage while I do the hard work,” she said to Abel in a stage whisper. She dropped down from the truck, landed in the snow, and gave him a hard pinch in the ribs. “Tomorrow is a homecoming day, so we’ll be staying overnight at St. Philomene’s. See you when we get back?”

Abel stepped away from the pinch. “Well…” The gold ring on her left hand seemed to catch all the light and glow. “You still wearing that thing?”

Summer pulled her hand against her chest, like he had smacked her knuckles. “It’s an engagement ring. I’ll be wearing it for the rest of my life.”

He snorted. He didn’t mean to—it just came out of him.

A frown looked so foreign on Summer’s normally cheerful face, but her expression quickly shuttered, hiding her hurt. “Yeah, okay. Homecoming tomorrow. Stuff to do. Gotta go.”

She jogged toward the greenhouses again, curly hair bouncing behind her.

Shit. That wasn’t what Abel had meant—well, except that it was. He didn’t think much of one of the angels marrying his daughter. Especially a jackass like Nash. But Abel hadn’t wanted to pick any fights, not this morning.

Abram jumped out of the truck too. He was a little shorter than Abel. The spare inches were enough to make the Alpha wolf relax—even if just a fraction.

“I could use help shoveling, since you got a few minutes,” Abel said, pushing thoughts of Summer’s engagement out of his mind. It was hard make the request nicely. He didn’t ask for help with the pack; he demanded compliance. But today was going to be a good day, and Rylie would want him to be nice about asking.

His son didn’t seem to have gotten the message. Abram’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t bother,” he said. “It’s not happening.”

A growl escaped Abel before he could stop it. “I told you to help me shovel.”

“I don’t help assholes do anything,” Abram said.

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Deleted Scene

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This scene originally took place toward the end of the first chapter of Caged in Bone. I truncated and rewrote it in Abel’s perspective when I realized that the tone and mood was all wrong for the book – it just didn’t fit. But we so seldom get to see Rylie and Abel being intimate that it seemed like a shame to keep it to myself. This has had ZERO editing. It’s a rough draft, fresh from my brain. Also, it is sexy, so (like the rest of The Ascension Series) it’s not recommended for young readers. Happy reading!

Rylie touched a match to the last candle just as the flame crawled to her fingertips.

“Ouch,” she whispered, flicking her hand to extinguish the flame on the match. She sucked on her burned hand. The skin tingled with the healing powers of a werewolf, but the memory of pain lasted long after the actual injury was gone.

She stepped back to look around the bathroom in her cottage. She had picked the design of the buildings herself and selected the floor plan with the largest bathrooms, but they were still pretty small. There was barely enough room for the deep corner tub, a toilet, and a sink. It had taken a lot of clever placement to fit two dozen tapers in the room. It lit everything up with a pinkish-orange hue.

“Okay,” Rylie said, shoving matches in the drawer and grabbing the bathrobe off the wall hook. “Almost done.” She was talking to herself. That was bad. She was way more nervous than she had any right to be.

She and Abel had been together for over a year now. They had two adult children together.

Being a couple should not have been this hard.

Awkward or not, Rylie could try. It was the best she could do.

So she stripped down, put on a bathrobe, filled the bath with painfully hot water, and she waited.

She didn’t have to wait for long. The walls of the cottage shifted, air sighed from under the bathroom door, and she heard footsteps.

Rylie fidgeted with her bathrobe, then made her hands hold still at her sides.

Abel pushed the door open. He was tall and broad enough that he dwarfed the room, sucking all the air out as soon as he stepped in. There was faint amusement in his eyes as he took in the steamy bathroom and all of the candles.

“That,” he said, pointing at the tub, “is a bath, not a shower. You promised me a shower.”

Her whole body cringed at the criticism. “Sorry. It’s dumb. I’ll put out the candles.”

“No, I don’t mean—fuck it, Rylie,” Abel said, “just shut your mouth.”

He pulled her against him and kissed her hard. She melted against him, all soft curves against the hard plane of his muscular chest.

They kissed for endless minutes. His tongue explored her mouth as his hands stroked down her back, to her hips, molding her in his grip.

He hooked a finger through the knot on the tie of her robe. Tugged it loose.

The robe fell open, and Rylie could barely breathe as he stepped back looked at her. His gaze was tangible. Hot fingers teasing her nipples to peaks, making her skin pebble. He palmed her breast, rolling the hardened nipple between his fingers, squeezing the flesh so that his hands left pale imprints on her skin.

Abel’s touch was possessive. He claimed her with every stroke and squeeze and rub.

He pushed her thighs apart with his knee, pushing her against the wall, lifting her weight so that her feet came off the floor. There was nothing holding Rylie up but his leg and her back against the tile. They were close enough to the candles on the back of the sink that she could feel their warmth, and Abel shifted the folds of her robe so they wouldn’t catch.

“The candles are a little dumb,” he said, sliding a hand down her stomach to slip his fingers under the waistband of her panties.

She didn’t have enough brain cells to be offended this time. “I thought they were sexy.”

“You’re sexy,” Abel said, hiking her thigh up, his fingers burning a path from her knee to the edge of her underwear, “and I want to see you.”

He reached out for the light switch. Rylie grabbed his wrist.

“Wait, don’t—”

She pulled on him, and he pulled back. They unbalanced. The back of her legs bumped against the edge of the tub. She slipped and crashed into the water, hands still locked on Abel’s shoulders.

One more benefit of being Alphas was the incredible reflexes. He had the presence of mind to cup the back of her head against the impact and turn at the last instant, splashing down next to her instead of on top of her. But that meant that they were both almost fully submerged, from knees to chin, feet dangling over the side. Hot water sloshed over the floor.

Rylie gasped, wiping her soaked hair out of her face. “Oh my God—are you okay?”

Abel choked and spluttered. For an awful, embarrassed second, she thought that he had swallowed too much water. But then she realized that he was laughing. “Leader of the pack,” he said, leaning over her, water streaming off his sodden shirt, beading on his square jaw. He was even warmer than the water. “Biggest, baddest wolf alive. Clumsy as hell.”

“Stop it,” Rylie said, but she couldn’t stop giggling, either.

His shirt was stuck to his abs. She peeled it up his chest and he lifted his arms to let her take it off over his head.

Once that was out of the way, he collapsed on top of her, pushing her legs into the tub. It was deep enough to fit both of them, though not wide enough for them to comfortably lay side by side. He fit himself between her knees instead. The fly of his jeans dug into her tender flesh. Her bathrobe floated around them.

“First the candles, now this,” he said, nipping the side of her throat hard enough that she felt the burn of healing fever.

“I promise I will never try to seduce you again,” Rylie said. She ripped his jeans open. The button popped off and bounced against the porcelain side of the tub. She winced at the sound.

Abel’s laughter faded to a heated stare. “Like I told you before, I ain’t complaining.” He jerked the elastic of her panties hard enough that they snapped.

“Hey,” she protested, “I liked that pair.”

“And I liked these jeans,” Abel said, tossing her panties to the floor.

He pushed inside of her, no preparation, no warning. Rylie was ready for him, but it was still a shock—the fullness of it, the sheer size of his body in proportion to hers. Her fingernails dug into his shoulders as she gasped. Abel liked it when she did that, digging her fingers into the muscles of his back hard enough that another ounce of pressure might draw blood. He growled as he began to move.

The rhythm of their bodies made the water ripple over her, hot water on hot skin. She felt like she was going to slip under. Rylie’s hand slapped against the tile, seeking purchase, and found nothing. She had nothing to hold onto but Abel.

They moved and rocked together. Tension built within Rylie, making all her muscles clench and heat spread to the tips of her toes.

“Abel,” she gasped.

He sank his teeth into her neck. Hard. “Do it,” he said.

She hit her peak, and he followed a moment later, roaring and cresting and emptying half of the bath tub onto the floor.

And outside, it continued to snow.

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