Let me first start off with an apology for the flaw in the most recent print edition of Madly and Wolfhardt. It has come to my attention that chapters 12 and 13 are identical. I'm posting the correct chapter 13 below and I'm fixing the problem today. This was a limited edition and I've spoken to most of those who have one about rectifying the situation. Thank you all for being so awesome about it and you know I plan to make it up to you:)
I'd also like to thank everyone who came out to see us Plumes in Florida. It was a great pleasure to meet you and I hope to hear from each of you sometime soon.
Lastly, I'd like to give a special shout out to Jennifer. You are the most amazing reader and fan, and I thank you for being so supportive and awesome! I looked for you before we left on Tuesday night. I wanted to give you a BOcabulary tee-shirt, but you'd already left. If you want to e-mail me with your address, I'd be happy to send you one. It would be an honor for you to wear a Blood Like Poison tee:)
Happy Sunday, y'all! I'm off to try and catch back up on Gravity. Wish me luck!!
The following contains a HUGE spoiler! If you haven't read Madly, STOP NOW!!!
MADLY AND WOLFHARDT
The click of the switch seemed extraordinarily loud and I flinched when the light blazed brightly into the darkness of the room. At that moment, I felt like exactly what I was—bait!
I moved in front of the window, much as I’d seen Kellina do in the vision the Seers had given me. I puttered around the room as if I was readying myself for bed. After a couple minutes, I returned to the lamp, to the window and, with another deep breath, I perched on the side of the bed and turned the light off with an ominous click.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited.
I was listening so closely for sounds in the house that I could hear the crickets outside, even through the thick glass of the closed window. Other than their song, however, there was nothing to hear but the beat of my heart pounding furiously in my ears.
Once again, I heard the rustle of Jensen’s pants as he moved across the room toward me.
“You can try again in a few minutes,” Jensen whispered. “But this time, after you cut the light off, walk quietly over and stand beside the closet door. That way, when Wolfhardt comes in, I’ll be between you and him.”
“Ok,” I breathed, now glad that Wolfhardt hadn’t come the first time. If he’d leapt into the room, he would’ve had a clear straight line to me where I sat on the bed. It rankled that Jensen hadn’t thought of that a little sooner.
It was blunders like that that made me miss Jackson even more. He would’ve been thinking of my safety from every possible angle, start to finish.
Jensen moved back over into position. I heard the hushed tones of him whispering communications to the others and then it was silent once more—just me, my pulse and the crickets.
I waited for a few more minutes and then I stood and repeated the entire process again—and got the same result. When Wolfhardt hadn’t shown up after another ten minutes of sitting in the dark, waiting, I felt the first pangs of frustration.
We repeated the process a third time, also with no luck. The Sentinels, of course, were like robots. They weren’t feeling antsy or annoyed; they could probably wait all night and never say a word. But not me. I was quickly reaching my boiling point.
My movements were a little sharper, my inner monologue a little more aggravated as I went through the motions for a fourth time. When I snapped off the lamp, I paused, growling under my breath before creeping over to stand beside the closet door.
As they had each time, my ears strained to pick up any extraneous sounds, hoping upon hope that Wolfhardt would take the bait.
And this time he did.
My first clue of his approach was the warming of my bracelet against my skin, almost as if it was powering up for the fulfillment of its mission. My second clue was hearing the monster himself as he neared the room.
The soft, quick puffs of sniffing penetrated the silence. They were followed by one sharp snort and then…nothing.
My heart banged ruthlessly against my sternum as adrenaline flooded my body, making me feel jittery and jumpy, ready to run. My eyes, having adjusted somewhat to the dark, were trained on the edge of the door, expecting to see Wolfhardt’s snout appear at any moment. What I wasn’t expecting to see was movement inside the closet to my left.
There was a shift in the shadows, as if something black was filling the already-dark, empty mouth of the closet. I looked and saw a form lowering itself down from the upper shelf inside the walk-in space. Panic rose in my throat, threatening to suffocate me, but not before I sucked in a deep breath, preparing to scream my head off.
Something shot out of the closet toward me. A large hand clamped down hard across my mouth, smothering the scream before I could sound the alarm. I reached up to grab at the thick wrist attached to the hand when words at my ear sent goose bumps of recognition skittering down my arms.
It was Jackson. He whispered the words so slowly and his voice was so low I could barely hear him. But I heard enough to know that it was him. My body filled in the rest of the blanks.
My knees felt rubbery with relief and I wanted to turn and throw myself against him. Luckily, the part of me that was still thinking rationally reminded the rest of me that we were at a critical juncture in the apprehension of our first escaped Lore, so I resisted the urge.
Oh-so-quietly, Jackson removed his hand and stepped in front of me, his body completely shielding me from the rest of the room. Unfortunately, Jensen didn’t know that Jackson had arrived, so when he moved in front of me, it startled Jensen. Reflexively, Jensen turned to attack.
Everything that happened next was a blur. It happened so quickly, it seemed that one minute I was appreciating the heat from Jackson’s body pressed tightly to my front and the next I was screaming for them not to hurt Wolfhardt.
When Jensen turned on Jackson, it alerted Wolfhardt, who charged through the door—teeth bared, ears back, hackles up—ready to defend himself. I stood with my back pressed to the wall, paralyzed by fear when I saw the big beast leap into the room.
As Jackson and Jensen wrestled, one of them accidentally hit the door and it slammed shut with a loud bang. That left me trapped between the wall and the wolf with nowhere to go.
Wet, quivering lips pulled back even further from long white teeth that glistened in the low light. The mirrored eyes of the wolf met my terrified ones. A low growl sounded in the back of his throat and his eyes shifted to Jackson and Jensen where they tussled. My eyes didn’t follow. I couldn’t look away from Wolfhardt.
In my peripheral vision, I saw one of the big men get thrown to the ground in short order, the victor rushing quickly to my side. I was awash with relief when I saw Jackson appear beside me. He was staring murderously at the wolf.
I saw the wolf’s eyes flicker from Jackson to me and back again, and then another growl rumbled in his barrel chest. As I watched him, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something hauntingly familiar about his eyes, something that no longer made me feel threatened.
Like the flash of lightning in a midnight sky, recognition struck and the fear inside me abated. I gasped when I realized where I’d seen those eyes. Though I didn’t understand how it could be, I knew the identity of the descendant Wolfhardt had come to awaken. And that’s why I couldn’t let them hurt her.
It was Kellina.
The bracelet heated in recognition of the Lore, threatening to burn the skin on my wrist. Stunned by the new development, I paused, and it was that fraction of a second that could’ve cost us the entire operation and the life of my friend.
As if in slow motion, I saw Jackson crouch ever so slightly, preparing to spring forward. Rashly, I grabbed his arm, screaming one word into the confusion of the night—No!
The uncertainty in that moment, the hesitation in that one short heartbeat, was all she needed to escape. And she did.
Turning, Kellina sprinted across the width of the room and leapt through the window. With the loud crash of breaking glass still ringing in our ears, Jackson and I stood, unmoving, as she dropped out of sight, falling toward the unforgiving hardness of the earth.
It was as if life suddenly rushed back into our bodies at the same time. Simultaneously, Jackson and I both moved—he to the door, I to the window. I heard him shouting commands to the other Sentinels and, despite his questionable status among them, they obeyed him without question.
As they scrambled about, I leaned through the window to scan the ground for Kellina’s broken wolf-like body. But it wasn’t there. Frantically, I searched the tree line for her, my eyes stopping with relief on a long, fluffy tail as it disappeared into the forest.
“Jackson, she’s headed for the woods,” I called as I ran toward him at the door.
“She?” he asked as we made our way quickly down the stairs.
“It’s Kellina. She’s Wolfhardt.”
“How? Are you sure? How can that be?”
“I don’t know how, but I’m absolutely positive. We have to get to her.”
Together, with a small army of Sentinels trailing behind us, we ran across the yard and into the forest in search of Wolfhardt.
As the woods widened, spreading out before us to the left and to the right, so did the Sentinels. They fanned out, two-by-two, to cover more ground as we went. Jackson and I took off at a run toward the path. We hadn’t gone far when something pale darted through the woods in front of my eyes. I didn’t need to ask if Jackson saw it.
Speeding up, he veered slightly left, heading straight for a curve in the path up ahead. He was trying to get in front of whatever was running parallel to us through the trees.
All of a sudden, I saw Jackson cut sharply right, leaping off the ground and hurling his body through the air just as a shape rounded a huge oak tree. I heard a grunt as the two bodies tumbled in a tangle of limbs to the ground.
“It’s me,” a muffled voice said as Jackson rolled on top and sat up. “Ahh,” it screamed in agony.
I recognized that voice.
“Jackson, let him up. It’s Aidan!”
After a split-second pause, Jackson came fluidly to his feet, extending his hand to help Aidan up. When Aidan was on his feet, Jackson turned to resume his chase through the forest.
“Come on,” he called back to me.
“Jackson, wait!” Aidan yelled, holding one arm across his stomach as if he was in pain.
Jackson stopped and turned around, but didn’t come back.
“Not now, Saint. Madly, come on.”
“I can help you find her,” Aidan blurted, huffing heavily.
On that note, Jackson did return.
Aidan waved Jackson off.
“Just trust me, I can. I have one condition, though.”
“No, there’s no ‘just trust me.’ You tell me how or I’m leaving right now.”
Aidan sighed, an angry exhalation that bled into a loud cry of agony.
“I’ll be able to track her,” he said through gritted teeth.
“How?” Jackson asked again, still skeptical.
“Because in a few minutes, I’ll be a wolf, too.”
If he’d reached out and slapped me, I couldn’t have been more surprised.
“What? Aidan, why? How do you know that? You can’t know that?”
“Yes, I can, Madly. I can feel it. I’m changing right now,” he said doubling over with a groan.
“But you have to have blood to…to…”
My heart skipped a beat at the thought of Aidan killing someone to get what was necessary for full transformation.
“Not when you’ve been bitten. Wolfhardt completed the curse when he killed the blacksmith. Now, anyone exposed to the saliva is cursed as well.”
“Then, Aidan, you shouldn’t be out here. You need to be somewhere safe, somewhere you can be protected and where you can be monitored.”
I didn’t want to add that he needed to be somewhere that everyone else would be safe from him, too.
“When I realized that Kellina was the Wolfhardt descendant, I knew I had to help her. I couldn’t let you kill her.”
“How did you find out?”
“When the moon rose, something inside me started to react to it, started to change. It was like all of a sudden I could sense something familiar in her, something I’ve not sensed before. As the moon got higher, Kellina’s eyes changed, like she wasn’t Kellina anymore. It was like there was someone else in there with her. I didn’t really put two and two together until she left. She hadn’t been gone long when I heard a howl and it called to me. Like…” Aidan paused, cringing as his muscles bunched and squeezed, his forehead shining wetly in the light of the bright full moon. “It’s hard to explain, but you’ve got to trust me. I just knew.”
“But Aidan, you can’t be out here. Someone could get hurt. You could get hurt.”
“I don’t care, Madly. She’s my mate. She’s all I care about. I love her and I can’t live without her. I don’t even want to. I have to do this. For her.”
I understood that. I felt nothing less than that very same desperate bond to Jackson. It made no sense and it cared not for the comfort or preferences of the Mer. It was a supernatural tie, one that selected us, not the other way around.
Of their own accord, my eyes darted to Jackson. He was looking at me, not at Aidan, his expression indecipherable.
“Can you run?” I asked Aidan, my eyes still on Jackson. When Aidan didn’t answer, I looked back to him.
Aidan’s mouth was open in a silent scream, his eyes wide and glassy.
He bent forward sharply and I heard a nauseating snap that sounded like bone breaking. Aidan fell onto his knees, pulling in agitation at his shirt as his agony finally made its way into the air in a loud cry of torment. Jackson and I stood helplessly by as an amazing transformation took place right before our very eyes.
Aidan’s spine bubbled and stretched as his ribs flared into a deep barrel shape. His shoulder blades dropped down and moved forward, his arms lengthening and his elbows popping outward. With a muffled crack, his hips and pelvis shifted, pulling his legs beneath him in a crouch. A throaty whine slipped through thinning lips as Aidan’s nose thickened and elongated.
Coarse, dark blond hair began to push its way through the fabric of his shirt and shorts until Aidan was covered in fur from his rapidly growing ears to the base of his spine and beyond, where the hair thickened into a bushy tail.
When his body finally quieted, Aidan shook, his muscles twitching in succession from his nose to his tail in that uniquely canine fashion. As he moved, his shiny coat shimmered in the dim light. I was mesmerized, absorbed by every detail of his appearance.
With one quick jerk of his head, Aidan looked up at me, his eyes the same hazel they’d always been, something in them still eerily familiar. Unsteadily he rose on his now-hind legs until he towered far above my head. Then, with a grunt, he let himself drop back onto his front legs. They still looked somewhat arm-like, only now they ended in long bony digits tipped with sharp claws.
With a meaningful look at Jackson, Aidan put his nose to the ground and took off like a shot, leaving us to try and keep up. Luckily the uneven terrain provided a bit of an equalizer, slowing a newly-wolfen Aidan down a bit, too.
Aidan stopped just ahead of us and we slowed in response. Jackson looked left and right, scanning the forest for signs of Wolfhardt. The tiniest of movements teased my peripheral vision and I turned my head sharply left. There, looking at us through two enormous trees, was Kellina.
“Jackson,” I whispered.
Keeping my eyes on the other wolf, I saw Jackson shift subtly in my direction so he could see around the trees. Kellina didn’t move. It was then that I realized that she wasn’t watching us; she was watching Aidan.
“Aidan,” I whispered.
Aidan’s head snapped up and he thrust his nose into the air. I knew the instant he caught her scent. He growled, a low rumble that I felt in my feet as if it vibrated the earth beneath us.
Slowly, Aidan moved around in front of me. Gradually, I shifted back until I was standing beside Jackson and we were both facing Kellina.
Aidan stilled and the forest fell silent around us, not even the creep of creatures to disturb the moment. I knew instinctively that a wealth of communication was passing between him and Kellina, but it was her distraction, her fascination with Aidan, that proved to be her downfall.
As she watched him, the Sentinels had just enough time to maneuver into a position that made escape for Kellina impossible. When they struck, descending upon her, she had nowhere to go.
She struggled ferociously, prompting two more Sentinels to step into the fray. It was difficult to see what was going on, but when Kellina yelped, I could only assume that the Sentinels were gaining the upper hand.
At her distress signal, Aidan growled and lunged forward. But Jackson, ever ready and always a step ahead, quickly grabbed Aidan by his thin midsection and pivoted, throwing him to the ground.
Jackson lay with his thick upper body across Aidan’s, his legs pinning Aidan’s to the ground, effectively subduing his struggles. When Aidan continued to growl and snap, Jackson moved slightly to secure his head. Aidan seized the opportunity, opening his big jaws and biting at Jackson.
“Ohmigod, Aidan! No!” I cried, rushing forward. “Jackson don’t let him bite you.”
With lightning fast reflexes, Jackson managed to avoid Aidan’s glistening teeth until he was able to secure his head safely. The entire time, my heart felt as if it was going to batter its way out of my chest like a jackhammer.
The Sentinels pressed on until Kellina was contained. Though she continued to snap and snarl viciously, I saw no other movement. From the ground, Aidan began to whine, ceasing to struggle beneath Jackson’s heavy body.
When the sounds of thrashing and scuffling stopped, a forlorn howl erupted across the forest, drawing all our eyes to Kellina. The sound was so woeful, it made the hairs on my arms stand up.
Within seconds, Aidan chimed in, the two howls dancing through the crisp night air like two secret lovers, seeking comfort in each other’s arms. I looked back to Aidan, my heart breaking for him, and saw that his features were slowly returning to normal.
Beneath the cover of Jackson’s body, I could see Aidan’s arms and legs returning to limbs that looked familiar, the claws shrinking back into closely shorn fingernails. Within a minute or two, he looked like the boy I’d grown up with, the boy who was supposed to be my prince.
Jackson lifted himself off Aidan and helped him up, Aidan closely examining his skin, temporarily bewildered by the sudden change.
“Stay here,” Jackson ordered Aidan. As he walked by me, he murmured, “Be right back.”
Jackson jogged over to the group that was standing near Kellina and her captors. He spoke quietly to them, gesturing toward Aidan a couple times. When he was finished, he motioned to me as the Sentinels made their way to Aidan.
Confused, I walked to Jackson, nervously fingering the hot band around my wrist.
“What do we do now? How do I get Wolfhardt into the pearl?”
There was a long pause before Jackson answered me, a pause where he watched me in such a way that I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had to say.
“Madly, you know I would never hurt someone if I didn’t have to, right?”
“Of course I know that.”
“And you know that I would never recommend any unnecessarily harmful actions unless there was absolutely no other way, right?”
“Jackson, I know that. What are you getting at?”
He paused again.
“When the Lore were captured in olden times, most of the human bodies they inhabited didn’t survive the… the… extraction.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, still confused.
“Madly, there is a good chance that we won’t be able to save Kellina when we take Wolfhardt.”
“What?” I whispered, certain I must’ve misunderstood his meaning.
“Kellina might die. But, Madly, we have to remove Wolfhardt. We have to,” he reiterated.
“I know that, but…”
“You know if there was any other way, I would take it. But there’s not. I’m sorry, Madly,” he said, reaching out to brush a wayward strand of hair from my cheek. “This is the only way. It’s our only chance to regain Atlas.”
I closed my eyes, covering my quivering lips with my hand.
“Jackson, we can’t let that happen. I can’t kill Kellina. I…I just…”
“I’ll do everything I can to save her. You know I will, but we may not have a choice.”