The Afters Brothers are Cursed.
Grizzly shifter Braxton Afters is a creature of chaos. He wrestles with his beast every waking day. Even brawls at the local bar can't sate its ire. Add on the strain of a decade-long curse, and you have one angry, aimless bear. As his final summer draws to an end, Braxton doubts he’ll ever find a mate who could put up with both him and his inner monster.
Grace Florrie knows monsters. She’s painted them often enough thanks to her animal’s unorthodox gifts. Grace never thought of her visions as a blessing, though. Their horror taught her to keep a tight grip on herself. Control, after all, is the only way she maintains her sanity.
When Braxton rescues Grace from the sinister schemes of a wicked witch, he has no idea that Grace might just rescue him in return. With the equinox looming over Ever Afters Farm and Orchards, chaos and control collide. Can Braxton and Grace find a balance even as the mystery surrounding the Afters sleuth unfurls around them?
This full-length novel is intended for mature audiences.
Summer Solstice, 2015
A pair of chubby pigeons waddled across the sun-lit grass. Their soft coos calmed Grace Florrie’s frazzled nerves.
Even perching on her favorite bench in Damascus Park didn’t help when the visions came.
Still, the park was quiet, and she was thankful for that. The peace wouldn’t linger for long, of course. Not once the flock of out-of-school children descended upon the green.
Movement drew her gaze to the left. Jack Aimes shuffled along the sidewalk, leaning his weight on a scuffed walking cane.
He took a seat beside Grace and turned, regarding her with a shrewd frown.
“Go on,” he said, waving his cane. “Get.”READ MORE
Grace took flight. Landing a few feet away, she watched as the old man pulled a Ziplock bag from his pants pocket. He reached inside, retrieved a fistful of bird seed, and tossed the mix of millet and corn kernels toward the greedy pigeons.
She croaked her indignation. Ravens were unpopular; this was nothing new. She didn’t want his dusty bird seed, but come on. She was better than a damn pigeon.
Once more, Grace took flight. She beat the air with her wings, venting her irritation.
She’d spent her adult life grappling with her broken bird. She could fly just fine; it was the other aspects of her nature that had never worked. If she had a flock, she might manage better. Birds were intensely social creatures, after all. But no one wants to be around the girl who can glean the dark deeds that cloud your past. No one wants their indiscretions exposed or their heartbreaks laid bare.
Genuine intimacy was difficult enough to attain on its own. Intimacy via uncontrollable revelations on the part of your busted bird’s flawed magic? No one wants that.
Not humans. Not shifters. Not even an unkindness of ravens.
Perhaps that’s why the reputation of ravens as portents of doom still ruffled Grace’s feathers, even after a lifetime as an avian shifter. Most days, she’d give just about anything to experience a normal vision. To see the future rather than the past.
At least something could be done about the future. The past remained etched in stone, unchanging in its horror.
Her latest vision was proof of that.
She’d experienced bloody dreams often enough that the sight of pooled, sticky scarlet was expected. The worst part, however, was the pain. The despair. The hopelessness.
The vision had been a landslide of all of those turbulent emotions and more. If she’d sat down to paint the event, she’d have used up all her red and black oils.
Anguish had rolled forth in waves, quadrupling with every fresh angle of the scene. She’d witnessed the same young man four times.
Four times, she’d watched him struggle. Four times, she’d heard him scream through an amalgam of grief and agony. Four times, she’d watched him fall dead to the ground.
He’d seemed so familiar, but Grace was certain she’d never met him before. She was good with faces. She painted everyone she’d ever caught a flash of, right down to young Jack Aimes with his buzzcut and M60.
The denizens of Damascus knew old Jack as the kindly owner of the diner on Main Street, but Grace knew him by the colors of his past. She knew him by the deep greens of a Vietnam jungle and military fatigues; by the stormy gray of the overhanging skyline on the darkest day of his life; by the deep crimson of the unarmed teenaged boys he’d gunned down and wept over while rain washed away the evidence of his sins.
No, Grace had never met the young man before, but playing witness to his multiple deaths had been enough to knock her out for two solid days. Post-vision hangovers were worse than any tequila-fueled bender. They stuck around longer, too.
Flying, at least, soothed her pounding headache and calmed her tousled nerves. Dawn lit the sky with vibrant pinks that swirled into hazy purples. The pastels tapered into a blue that promised a beautiful start to the summer.
But even the warm breeze wasn’t strong enough to tear her thoughts from the apparent Lazarus of her vision.
Grace darted through the air, navigating a current. She dipped her head, earthbound. Inches above a stony path leading out of the park, she pulled up, her talons grazing the ground. As always, the thrill of a near crash made her beat her wings with renewed fury.
Rising high above the tree tops, Grace flew home. She spared a few extra moments to simply soar on a gust that ferried her over rooftops. Those moments were precious. Those moments meant she could keep the headache at bay for just a little longer.
Landing in her small backyard, Grace adjusted her wings. Folding them to her body, she hopped up the stone steps to her back door and nudged her beak to the cat flap. Grace’s self-loathing didn’t extend deep enough for her to own an actual cat, but the flap was useful in that it eliminated the need for backyard naked time. The nosy widows neighboring either side of Grace’s one-story Cape Cod would just love an eyeful of her bare ass. She’d fuel the Nightingale Lane gossip circle for weeks.
A foot into her kitchen, Grace paused atop the checkerboard tile floor.
Something was wrong. She didn’t feel the usual tingle-and-pressure that preceded a vision, but certainty flooded her hollow bones.
There was someone in her house.
Turning to the cat flap, she knocked her beak forward, readying herself to fly once she was outside. The flap did not open outward. Through the clear plastic door, she registered a dark shape.
Someone was holding the flap shut on the other side.
Claws clicked on the tiles behind her. Fear bristled her feathers. Slowly, she turned.
A towering timber wolf bared its jagged teeth and snarled. Its feral yellow gaze blazed a hole into her middle, freezing her to the spot. The beast pounced, snapping its jaws over her right wing.