Calla is a young shifter, the only female within miles High Lonesome, her small southern West Virginia hometown. Her mother had managed to keep her safe from the bounty of male mountain lions in the past, but now Calla finds herself alone and without a protector...and the moon is full. Haben hasn’t been able to get close to Calla since their first meeting, right around Valentine’s Day. When he shows up at her house a year later, he finds the wounded spit-fire determined for him to keep his distance - despite his instinct to keep her safe.
Calla must choose to either place her trust and safety to an outsider, or fight off every male mountain lion between here and Charleston with just her wits and a shotgun. The stakes are high and the numbers are against them. Even if they prevail, will Calla be able to keep her heart safe from her protector till sunrise?
Calla woke up in the house on the steps that led up to the attic. She wasn’t dead, she wasn’t outside, and her entrails weren’t hanging out. She was naked, but that happened. Lifting her head, she saw light from an overshadowed sun ebbed through the windows. She was disoriented. Ecstatic, yes. But she’d expected to wake up, if she woke up at all, outside. Had the toms gotten into the house? She started to sit up, but gasped at the pain that surged through her.
Running her tongue along her teeth, she tasted blood. She touched her mouth, her nose, but whatever blood was there had dried. She raised her head, more carefully this time. The ringing in her ears was receding. Her arm ached, but she could move it today. She couldn’t pull in a deep breath, still, and she was pretty certain she couldn’t put much weight on her leg, yet.
Thank you, Jesus!
Somehow, she had survived the night. The moon had let her heal up, maybe enough to survive tonight. She had no idea what time it was but if her momma had preached anything, it was modesty. Calla had an ingrained aversion to being naked in the daylight. With careful movements, she managed to make it to the bedroom by using the walls. She dressed and collapsed at the kitchen table with a bowl of puffed, tasteless cereal and not enough milk to cover the bottom of the bowl. It was 5:10 in the evening.
She ate regardless, hurriedly, and wolfed down another three pieces of bread, wishing she had time to toast them with butter—and put half a pig on them but there wasn’t enough time. She needed to get the rifle and the knives and scoot up the stairs before moonrise. It came crazy early in the east in February. She gained a few extra minutes because of the ridgeline. But not many.
Buoyed by hope from making it through the first night, she dared to hope some more. Maybe God was still watching or listening. Maybe. Maybe the boys would get bored, or lost, or distracted and stay away tonight, too. Another night to heal and—
And then what?
Momma had always been there when she woke up. The boys were gone and Momma made her eggs and cheese and toast and sausage. What did she do when she Changed? Did she go out gallivanting and screaming at the moon, too? Did Momma lock her up in the cellar? Or the attic? She had asked her, just about every time. And Momma would tell her it was all right; she hadn’t done anything horrible; she hadn’t killed anything; and she was safe. Her cat didn’t know how to get outside, right? If Calla locked the doors, locked herself in the attic and barred the door, and nothing got in— she couldn’t get out either, right?
It was worth a try. She crawled and limped and crawled again to each of the windows and doors and made sure they were locked. The front yard was already dark in the shadow of the ridge. She kept the rifle with her, used it as a crutch, and hoped the boys stayed away. Maybe they were scared. Maybe last night had been real cats and her fear and hurt had made her think things were worse than they were. Maybe there weren’t any boys coming around this time.
But a boy did come. She almost missed the movement when she glanced out the window except he turned to the side and there was a glint from his chest. Broad shoulders, strong arms, clearly glowing eyes, watching intensely, stalking something.
Calla’s heart fell to her stomach as she dropped to a crouch that sent pain screaming through her leg. She bit back a whimper. It was Haben. It had to be. No one else could’ve blended into the shadows like that. No one else held himself like he did. No one else could cause both fear and hope in her chest at the same time. No one else made her stutter over her words and want to talk to him anyway.
“Haben?” she shouted.
He stopped and stared hard at the house, only his topaz eyes moving. He couldn’t see her. Now that she knew where he was, and who he was, and with the moon trudging ever higher, she could see him plainly.
“What’re you doing here?”
“I’ve not seen you in town this month,” he called back. His accent was rich, from someplace south, he said; way, way south.
“I wanted to know why.”
He’d been watching for her?
He moved his arms purposefully to his back and brought around a small, heart-shaped box with a stuffed, plush kitten attached. “I bring something.”
With everything she was, she wanted to rush out and hold onto him and plead with him to stay and take care of everything, like Momma had done. She tightened her fingers around the gun stock.
She checked the tremor in her voice and said more strongly, “Now’s a bad time!”
His head moved down and then up. “I know about you.”