WILDER: Chosen Ones #5
Only beloved storyteller Christina Dodd could bring you the explosive paranormal excitement of the Chosen Ones combined with Aleksandr Wilder’s story of redemption … and love …
As a young man, Aleksandr Wilder abandoned his duty, and for that lapse, he was tortured…and transformed. Now he prowls the city’s tunnels, knowing he can never again live as a man.
After seven years battling the world’s ultimate evil, Charisma Fangorn has become a tough fighter without illusions or joy. Deaf to her own instincts, she never suspects that a monster lurks in the dark underneath the streets.
When Aleksandr rescues Charisma from attack, hope stirs once more in his heart…and in the world. But can so exceptional a woman ever love a beast?
In WILDER, book six of the Chosen Ones, things are going badly for them, and it seems the world will almost certainly fall into darkness. Four years ago, Aleksandr Wilder left them to be married, and disappeared without a trace. Osgood, aka the devil, has grown in power, overwhelming the Chosen Ones on every front. The Apocylpse is looming. And Charisma Fangorn’s gift of hearing the earth song has almost completely disappeared, leaving her vulnerable to attack by demons that lurk in the dark. In this scene, she has at last gained consciousness after eleven days to find herself blind and tended by a strange being she does not trust…
PRESENT DAY, FAR UNDERGROUND BENEATH NEW YORK CITY
Charisma touched the blindfold tied over her eyes. “Why hasn’t my sight returned?”
“That particular demon’s venom is primarily a neurotoxin,” the creature said, “although Dr. King thinks when he bit you, he delivered a load of harmful bacteria, too. The neurotoxin attacked your nervous system — you suffered vertigo, convulsions, pain, and you were panicked because you couldn’t see. Dr. King thinks the shock of the bomb’s flash to your eyes, combined with the venom, injured your optic nerve and if we let it rest you will heal. Here’s your bed.”
Her legs wobbled as the creature lowered her to sit on her pallet. The broth should have revived her, and maybe it did. But she was still weak, her head swimming.
Beside her, he steadied her with a touch, and waited, maybe in concern … or maybe because he anticipated the pleasure of tearing out her throat.
She wasn’t afraid. She had always known she would die down here, and for right now – she had to know if this man, this thing, would murder her.
So she lunged toward the voice, shoved at the creature.
He toppled with a hard thump.
She landed on top of him. Kneed him in the groin.
He gasped in pain.
She lunged for his throat.
But he was very tall.
And she was blind.
She missed his throat, caught a handful of the cloth at his chest, gripped it, and clambered up him, planting her feet and knees hard into his belly and his chest. She lunged for his face.
He caught her wrist.
She still had one free hand, and she knew how to kill. She was ready to take him out, but … he was warm.
She hadn't expected that. She had really thought he was a demon, cold-blooded, pretending to care about her, presenting an illusion of humanity to lure her into some foolish revelation about her friends and her mission.
Instead he was a … well, she didn’t know what he was. He breathed, in and out, his massive chest rising and falling. His heart hammered beneath the knee she had planted on his breastbone. Beneath the loose robe he wore, his body parts appeared to be in approximately the right places, so he was … a mammal?
Probably some form of humanoid, a species that was perhaps not an enemy, and she was trained not to kill on anything less than a certainty, or in self-defense.
He, inconveniently, didn’t try to beat her unconscious or slice her to pieces. Instead, he remained motionless, and after a moment of indecision, she swept her hand across his chest.
It was heavy with ribs and muscles, and abruptly tapered to a thin waist and hips. His cotton tunic left his huge upper arms and shoulders free to move. And they really were huge, abnormally so. The arm felt human, with muscles and an elbow and more muscles and a wrist … but coarse hair about an inch long covered the skin. His coat felt like that stray German Shepherd mutt that appeared whenever she bought a meatball sandwich at Luigi’s Roach Coach.
This guy was not formed right. “Lift a lot of weights?” she asked.
“Yes. And I indulge in an unwise use of Rogaine, too.”
She half-laughed, because it was the polite thing to do when someone joked in the face of … of being so very, very different. Her heartbeat began to calm.
Maybe everything about him was the truth. Maybe he was merely one of the unfortunates who lived beneath the city because above, they would be the object of horror and mockery. Beneath the rough-weave of the tunic, she felt the heat of his skin, and over that, more of that rough, long, thick hair. A ruff of hair – of fur – circled his throat.
He didn’t wear a collar. He didn’t smell like a dog. He didn’t smell like flea shampoo. He smelled like a man who used Dove, probably in its liquid form, and rinsed in rain water.
She hesitated, her fingertips hovering over the top of his jaw.
“Go ahead,” he said, his voice rougher than before. “It’s a little late for you to worry about intruding on my personal space.”
She nodded. “Truth.”
With the flat of her hand, she stroked his cheek, then his temple. The hair here grew back toward his ears, like a man’s beard, but smooth. And softer than the hair on his arms. Pet-able. Up the center of his face, from the point of his chin to his forehead, his features were shaped like a man’s – and covered with fine, short hair like the coat on a dog’s face. Except for his lips. They were smooth, soft, sculptured in the same shape as human lips.
“A werewolf?” She was joking. Since Aleksandr had disappeared, the Wilder family had visited the Chosen Ones more than once. Aleksandr's parents, Firebird and Douglas, and his grandparents, Konstantine and Zorana.Konstantine had raised a family of shapeshifters and had a great deal of knowledge of the creatures that populated the night, and he had snorted when Charisma asked about werewolves and vampires and ghosts. She believed him, too.
But this creature beneath her gave a sigh. “Maybe.”
She gave a wavering laugh, and slid her hands into his long hair. The ends swept his shoulders, and the strands felt clean and glossy to the touch. But when she allowed her fingers to delve into his hair and touch his scalp, she gasped, and he flinched away. The skin there covered … something. Something weird. Harder than bone. With a seam.
“Who are you?” she breathed. “What happened to you?”
He took her hands, and held them, not to imprison her as he had before, but as if he wanted comfort for himself. “They call me Guardian.”
Her heart picked up the beat again. “What do you mean, they call you Guardian? Who calls you that? Is it your name?”
“The Belows call me that. The people who live down here. So I guess it’s my name.” He shrugged, a massive roll of his shoulders that for her seemed like a rollercoaster. “Say, could you do me a favor?”
“Could you get your knees out of my stomach?”
“Sure.” Hastily she slid off him and settled on the ground, sitting on her heels. “Could you do me a favor?”
“Tell me how you got the name.”