Hello Everyone. Today, I’m very excited to be celebrating the book birthday of The Last Wolf (The Legend of all Wolves #1). Maria Vale’s début novel in her urban fantasy series, The Legend of all Wolves.
I was given an advanced copy of The Last Wolf and absolutely loved it. Read my review here. Therefore I couldn’t resist the opportunity to help spread the word about this fantastic paranormal romance/urban fantasy series. It is a unique find.
I hope you become as excited about this new series as I am.
The Last Wolf (The Legend of all Wolves #1) by Maria Vale
For three days out of thirty, when the moon is full and her law is iron, the Great North Pack must be wild.
If she returns to her Pack, the stranger will die.
But if she stays…
Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of her Pack’s social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn’t all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves…
To celebrate this book birthday of The Last Wolf, and to whet your appetites, Maria has given permission to share an excerpt of this amazing book. It’s a powerful excerpt, beautifully written…
EXCERPT FROM CLAIMED BY HER COUGAR
In the tranquil morning air, a deer called out, the sound echoing around the mountains sheltering the peaceful verdant valley.
Rath stilled, froze right down to his breathing as his ears twitched and he cocked his head, the instinct to hunt that animal sweeping through him and tugging at his cougar side. When the call didn’t come again, he exhaled slowly, releasing his breath and using the action to centre himself, and looked to his left, out of the window that formed a triangle on the gable end of his log cabin, nestled beneath the two sides of the pitched roof where it hung out over the deck below to provide cover.
Mist swirled above the sweeping bend of the river that formed a barrier between him and the thick forest that blanketed the other side, where his senses had pinpointed the deer, among other creatures stirring in the early morning as darkness began to give way to light. The tendrils of fog crept over the stony bank of the river in places, crawling across the grass and into the pines that flanked the open ground on his side of the creek, reaching the deck of the cabin nearest it.
His was too distant, close to two hundred metres from the river across the grass. It was rare for the spring morning mists to reach his home, happened only once or twice a season, the sun too swift to rise and burn them away before they could creep that far up the sloping green.
Rath lingered and let the beauty of the scene wash over him, savouring the peace because it would be shattered soon.
Gods, he wanted his instincts as an unmated male cougar to be wrong, but they hadn’t been yet.
This year, there would be a gathering.
He grabbed his long-sleeved cream t-shirt from the banister at the front of the loft bedroom and tugged it on, following it with a thick dark green fleece that had a zip that reached the centre of his chest. He pulled his faded jeans on and buttoned them as he descended the wooden steps to the ground floor of the cabin. It was small, had only two rooms on the lower level—an open plan kitchen and living room, and an enclosed bathroom—but it was more than big enough for him.
A huff burst from his lips when he saw the fire in the log burner was low. No wonder it was so damned cold this morning. He moved around the worn beige couch and crouched before it, opened the door and tossed another log on, and warmed his hands as he waited for it to catch. When the fire was blazing again and the chill of morning was off his hands, he yawned and latched the door, and rose back onto his feet.
Gods, he needed coffee.
Rath scrubbed a hand over the two-days’ growth on his face, thought about shaving and then shrugged it off. He was going to be out all day again, repairing the cabin by the river and clearing up a few more odd jobs he needed to complete around the settlement at the other dozen or so cabins spread throughout the trees on his side of the river. A little insulation on his face wasn’t a bad thing.
Winter had loosened its grip on Cougar Creek, but the mornings and evenings were still chilly, the air holding a bitter bite that was slow to go as the sun struggled to heat the land and quick to return once darkness fell again.
He had been working non-stop since the snowmelt, when that damned feeling had stirred in his gut and he had found himself pacing the porch, scenting the air, hungry for a female he didn’t want and didn’t need.
Wasn’t going to chase.
Gatherings meant one thing for him and his brothers—patrolling the area, acting as a security force to keep the community safe when they were together and in danger of attracting attention.
They also acted as a security force within the pride too, breaking up any fights that weren’t over a female.
Cougars were solitary, so things always got tense when the entire pride gathered in the small village of cabins. The lodges were scattered throughout the broad band of forest that hugged the mountain behind him and the river before him, with enough space between them to keep everyone calm, but there were always a few males too riled up by the season and the reason they were at the village, and fights always broke out.
Last time a gathering had happened, he had personally intervened in more than a dozen brawls, tearing the two opponents off each other and confining them to their cabins for a day or two as punishment.
His three younger brothers weren’t as diplomatic. Storm in particular loved getting stuck into a fight, bashing heads and drawing blood, giving the two males a taste of his strength.
Storm hated being in charge of overseeing the gathering, would prefer to be in the thick of it, fighting and fucking, but it was tradition for their bloodline now, and that meant his brother was confined to the side lines with the rest of them.
Personally, Rath wasn’t interested in the gathering at all, would rather it never happened, or at least happened elsewhere, somewhere far away from Cougar Creek.
He didn’t need females invading his territory.
Wasn’t interested in the silent, or sometimes not so silent, invitations they issued to him.
He would leave the job of satisfying them to the other males who would follow their instincts back to the pride village, forgoing their solitary life for a few weeks to wait for the females to come and to fight for dominance and the right to be the one who would ease her needing.
Hell, some of them would even mate.
Rath paused at the kitchen counter in front of the picture window, staring out of it at the lush grass and the valley beyond it, and the snow-capped mountains that rose in the distance, seeing a different time, one close to fifty years ago now.
When he had found a mate of his own.
One who had been ripped from him.
He shoved her out of his thoughts and focused on his morning ritual, reaching for the cafetiere and setting it down on the polished wooden counter, spooning coffee grounds into the bottom of it and then grabbing the steel kettle. He set it on the stove, stooped and grabbed the white plastic water container and growled.
It was empty.
He had meant to fill it last night before heading to bed, but had been so tired after finishing the repairs to the inside of the cabin nearest the river, one of a couple that had been damaged by a winter storm, that he had passed out on the couch.
A cabin he would have to work on again today, getting the roof repaired, because he was running out of time.
The family who owned it had sent word that they would be arriving soon.
The letter he had picked up on a supply run to the nearest settlement had contained more than just news of their imminent arrival though.
It had contained a request for him to personally court the female who would be coming, one who had recently reached her one hundredth year and matured.
He wasn’t interested and he would make that clear when the party arrived, would have sent them a damned reply already if they had chosen to email him rather than sending a letter. A flat refusal wouldn’t appease this particular family, would only see them trying to convince him, so he would use his position as pride protector as a shield to get them to change their mind, telling them he couldn’t participate.
The only thing he wanted to take care of were the cabins.
He stuffed his feet into his black boots, grabbed the empty water can and a metal pail, and zipped up his fleece before opening the door and bracing himself. Damn, it was cold. He needed water, and then coffee, lots of coffee, before he could brave the weather and start work on the roof of the cabin.
His strides were quick at first, carrying him off the raised deck and down the steps to the grass, but they slowed as he looked at the valley, at his home, breathed in the crisp air and absorbed the silence, falling back into savouring it again, clinging to these last remnants of quiet before the storm hit.
Things always got crazy when his brothers descended on him all at once, returning from the cities to annoy him for weeks on end, stomping all over his territory and invading his space.
His second youngest brother, Storm, always lived up to his name, and he was due to return soon, before the others and before the males came for the gathering, having drawn the short straw to help him prepare all the cabins, opening them up and airing them out, and getting any last minute repairs completed.
A smile tugged at his lips. It would be good to see him though. It had been more than a year since Storm had hit the creek, his work keeping him away. Rath appreciated the extra funds rolling in from his direction though, so he wasn’t going to complain when he saw him. Everyone who owned a cabin at the creek donated to running the village, paying Rath a small wage that covered whatever food and supplies he had to buy and couldn’t just hunt or gather.
He glanced at the single storey log cabin nestled beneath the trees to his left and groaned as he saw the state of the right hand side of the pitched roof. He was going to be up there for hours, repairing and replacing all those shingles. Still, he would have one heck of a view.
Rath looked to his right, at the river and the mist that danced above it, swirling in places as the breeze stirred it. Birdsong filled the air, the sound a melody he always loved hearing, and the sun cast a golden glow over the fog as it rose, and turned the snow on the peaks amber too. The sky beyond them was clear today, threaded with only fingers of clouds that burned gold in the sunrise.
Fuck, it was beautiful.
The bite in the air felt good in his lungs, invigorating him.
He looked back at the cabin, at the damage that had been done to the roof when the lodgepole pines that sheltered it had shed snow on it, the sudden impact breaking a whole area of old shingles and one of the roof trusses. The square window on that side of the gable end had a crack in it and would need repairing too, but he would have to patch it up for now, until he could get some glass in. He was sure the family would understand he had prioritised the roof and replacing the old rotten deck planks, and that other cabins had needed his attention so he hadn’t been able to get new glass.
The cabin was larger than his own, formed an L shape in the woods, branching off to the left of the front of the cabin, around the tallest lodgepole pine, and the ceiling was vaulted inside, left open above the rooms.
It added a feeling of space, but Rath preferred having his bedroom in the loft, making use of the roof area.
Plus, he had a fantastic view of the valley from his bed.
He twisted the cap off the white water container and stuck it in his back pocket as he approached the river. When he hit the pebbled bank, he set the container down and bent to scoop water into the pail.
His ears twitched.
The birds fell silent.
His instincts rose to the fore, heightening his senses, and he swept them around him, searching for the source of the disturbance he had felt. Something was out there. It was probably just one of the local animals on the other side of the river, stepping out of cover to scare the birds. With the mist, he couldn’t see the bank on that side, and it had him twitchy, his cougar instincts putting him on high alert.
Only one thing in the valley could harm him, and possibly kill him, and the bear shifters tended to keep to themselves and avoid the creek.
Whatever had just wandered into his territory was just an animal, not a threat to him.
Still, he tipped his head back and drew air over his teeth, scenting it to see what he was dealing with.
Rath stilled as he didn’t scent an animal.
He smelled a human.
A floral note, tinged with sweat. Probably a hiker, but he was damned if a human was going to encroach on his territory.
He set the pail down beside the container as he rose onto his feet in one fluid motion. He tracked the scent through the mist, following it along the bank to the right of the clearing. It grew stronger as he reached the trees, and he slowed his breathing and moved stealthily through the fog, his acute senses charting the route ahead of him. His muscles coiled as he focused, his senses heightening further, and he assessed the danger and the human he could now feel ahead of him, barely twenty metres away.
They were still on his senses.
He slowed his movements, each step careful and silent, so he didn’t alert them, just in case it was a hunter strayed into his territory.
His vision sharpened, allowing him to see the human before it could see him through the mist, giving him the upper hand.
Rath stilled again.
It wasn’t a male.
It was a female.
A curvy brunette who looked as stunned as he felt as the mist cleared between them and she lifted her head and blinked at him.
She wasn’t a hunter either.
She had been shooting, but it wasn’t a gun she had aimed at him.
It was a camera.
In which Silver, in an act of mercy, kills her former shielder
The circle of wolves in the Clearing tightens around Ronan, and for the first time since my Dæling, I am deeply grateful that I am not Pack. I am just a guest and don’t have to be part of this.
But when I start to lope away, Ti doesn’t move. He doesn’t understand what is happening, so I nip at his pant leg. The Alphas of each echelon are taking up their positions at the front of the circle. Everyone wants this over with quickly.
Opening a passage for Charlie, John nudges Ronan’s father toward his son. In its mercy, Pack law allows First Blood to Ronan’s family, so that when the Pack eviscerates him, Ronan won’t feel anything. I plant my front paws and pull Ti harder, because I really don’t want to watch Charlie rip out his son’s throat.
Ti doesn’t move.
John nudges Charlie again, but Charlie just stares at Ronan, his head cocked, his mouth open. Then his eyes roll around the circle searching for help he won’t find, because to be on Pack land as an exile is bad enough, but the only response to an attack on a pup, is a Slitung, a flesh-tearing, and every wolf shows teeth. Charlie throws himself on the ground in front of John, his feet up in the air, his hips shimmying back and forth in a clownish show of submission.
John snaps at him.
Charlie follows our Alpha around, one ear up, the other down, his mouth open in a rabid leer, until with a quick look over his shoulder, John signals Tara to drag the broken wolf away from the Pack. Tara grabs his muzzle tight in her powerful jaws and drags him off mewling. I run beside him whimpering too, begging Charlie to come to his senses long enough to do this last kindness. He seems not to even see me, more interested in the furry thing following behind him. As soon as Tara lets him go, he starts to chase his tail, barking.
Tara turns her back on him with a growl and a dismissive kick of rain-sodden soil. She heads back to the Pack, which clears a path for her. As John’s Beta, Tara has a place of honor, but she also has a place of responsibility and is expected to be right up front for the Slitung. I stick to her slipstream and push through to the whimpering Ronan.
Rubbing my muzzle against his, I turn to John, my body down, my head between my paws. I’m not sure he will accept my claim to First Blood, but I have a better chance if I at least smell like the wolf who had been my schildere but who never wanted to be my mate.
Then John’s nose bumps against mine, telling me to get up. With a quick snap of his jaws, the Pack retreats, giving us room. John is a good wolf and a great Alpha and, if given a choice, will always choose mercy.
First Blood allows for one bite only, and if Ronan decides to fight me, I doubt I’ll be able to make the kill. But after everything that has happened, the once-upon-a-time Alpha of the 14th Echelon seems to understand that his luck is not going to change again.
He lies back with his chin stretched high, staring at the mountains and the pinpoints of stars and the real world, the world of men, that he so wanted to be a part of.
Opening my jaws wide, I gently take his throat between them. It’s what we do, and it means trust me. It means I see you at your most vulnerable.
I bite down fast and hard on the cartilage tube, giving it the same fatal break I would for a deer. Ronan struggles a little, and blood spurts into my mouth. I curl my tongue against the back of my throat, because I don’t want to swallow this blood. I don’t want to be nourished by this death.
The pulse of his blood slows, but I don’t lift my head until it stops.
Before I even stumble out of the way, the Pack surges forward, eager to be done with this particular bit of ritual butchery.
I race for Clear Pond, my paws sinking through the cold, thick mud and dying sedges until I am in deep. Pushing the air out of my lungs, I sink and stay down until my own throat is on the verge of collapse, and the blood that had already started to stiffen on my muzzle and chest and legs begins to melt away from my fur. Maybe there was so much that all of Clear Pond is tainted, but no matter how many gulps of water I take, my mouth still has the sharp, metallic tang of blood, and there’s something stuck in my teeth.
I start to change, and as soon as I’m finished, I pick at the thing with my fingers until it comes loose. I don’t look at it before throwing it into the weeds. I think the change was a mistake though, because in skin, I feel the intense cold of the schist on my naked body and the icy water running from my hair down my back and the taste of death in my mouth. I can’t stop shivering. I try to get wild again, but my muscles are spasming so hard that I can’t. I lurch up on all fours and then to my legs and stumble only a few steps before collapsing again, my head on my knees.
A warm coat that smells like angelica and green corn and the earth before a storm settles around my shoulders. “Put it on,” says that quiet voice, and Ti lifts me, guiding my arms into the sleeves, and then pulls me close to his even-warmer body. He says nothing, just holds me tight, letting me shiver against him.
“I killed him,” I finally stutter.
He lifts my sodden hair out from under the collar of the coat.
“Yes, you did. And if you hadn’t, he would have died in pain and the whole Pack would have had the burden of it. Now only you do.”
Ti doesn’t say that I wasn’t responsible or that I shouldn’t feel guilty, but rather that it’s a burden worth carrying and one that I’m strong enough to bear. His faith calms me in a way that no amount of coddling ever could.
It’s one of the things I love about him….
“I can’t get the taste of blood out of my mouth.”
He doesn’t respond. I guess he didn’t hear, or knowing him, he did hear, but doesn’t think there’s any point in responding. It doesn’t matter. I settle my head back on his chest and listen to his heartbeat.
Did I say love?
He frees one arm and lifts my chin. It’s dark for my poor human senses, but he’s not like me and the nearly full moon lights up the green glow of the lucidum in his eyes.
He hesitates, his lips hovering above mine, like a boy nervously contemplating his first kiss. But I know what he’s hiding, and I stretch up as high as I can and wrap my arm around his neck, feeling the shape of his skull under the roughness of his cropped hair. I feel his mouth against mine, firm and ripe and warm and still closed.
Nuzzling the seam of his mouth, I catch his lower lip gently between my fangs, pulling him closer. I know you, Tiberius. I know the wildness that you’ve always hidden there, but I am not human and I want the untamed, inhuman sharpness of your mouth.
I let go and lick my lip before gently circling his, my breath feathering his sensitive skin.
Finally, his lips open softly and I seal my mouth around his, because this is his first kiss and mine too, and I am his shielder in all things.