Riley Jenson Guardian series
Being thrown out of a tree wasn’t my idea of fun.
Granted, countless nestlings all over the world went through this every year, but they only had to do it once, and for them it was simply fly or die trying.
I wasn’t a nestling, and I wasn’t built to die. Not easily, anyway. I was dhampire—the offspring of a newly turned vampire whose dying seed somehow created life in the werewolf who raped and then killed him—and my bones were extraordinarily strong.
Being pushed from a tree couldn’t kill me like it did those countless nestlings. But God, it could still hurt.
I mean, werewolves weren’t designed to fly, and muscles used to being either a wolf or a woman were having trouble with the mechanics of being a bird.
Not that I particularly wanted to be a bird. And particularly not the type of bird I could now become. I mean, a seagull? A rat of the sea? Why that? Why not something more dignified and fearsome—like a hawk or an eagle? Something with useful weapons like talons and a hooked beak built for tearing?
But no. Fate had thrown me a seagull. I’m sure she was up there laughing at me right now.
Of course, I probably could become something else. The drug in my system that had caused the initial change into a gull would probably allow me to take other forms, but I wasn’t about to risk it. The other half-breeds who’d been injected with ARC1-23 had changed into so many different forms that they’d lost the ability to become human again, and that wasn’t a problem I was willing to face. Especially not when I’d already felt that moment of confusion, right after I’d first attained gull shape, when the magic that allowed me to shift shape had seemed to hesitate, as if it couldn’t remember my human form.
That had terrified me.
So, much as I hated being a gull, I was going to stick with it, practice its form, until being a gull was as natural and as ingrained into my psyche as the wolf and the woman.
Maybe then I would play with other shapes.
“Riley, you cannot stay on the ground forever,” a deep voice rumbled from above. “Learning to fly is a matter of perseverance. And height.”
I muttered something unpleasant under my breath and rolled onto my back. A dozen different aches assaulted the muscles along my shoulders, spine, and arms, and made me long for the heat of a nice, deep bath. Though even a bath wouldn’t do much for all the bruises I was beginning to collect.
Not that a bath was in my immediate future anyway, if old Henry had his way.
He was sitting in one of the top forks of the gum tree high above me, his bright red shirt contrasting sharply against the cheery yellow flowers that dotted the tree. His silver hair gleamed like ice in the dappled sunlight, and his nut-brown skin was as weathered and worn as the bark of the tree itself.
He wasn’t Directorate personnel, but rather a friend of Jack’s. He was also a hawk-shifter, and his family apparently had ties with Jack’s that went way back. I’d tried some gentle questioning in an effort to glean something useful about my boss, but Henry had so far proved an unwilling gossiper.
“Riley,” he warned again.
“Henry,” I said, mimicking his cross tone. “I’m not going to have an inch of white skin left if you keep this up.”
“Jack says you must learn as quickly as possible.”
“Jack hasn’t been thrown out of a tree a million times.”
He laughed—a rich, merry sound that had a smile tugging at my lips despite my grumpiness.
“It’s only twenty today. It took Jack a good thirty or so times a day—for a week—before he got it.”
Jack might be a vampire now—thanks to the blood ceremony he’d taken over eight hundred years ago—but he’d been born a hawk-shifter and had the advantage of coming from a family of shifters. If it had taken him so long to learn, then heaven help me.
I raised my eyebrows and pushed up into a sitting position. “You taught Jack?”
“I am not that old, little wolf. No, it’s just something of a legend in our roost. Few hawks are so slow to learn.” He laughed again. “There are some who say that’s why he’s bald. He lost his hair because he landed on his head too often.”
I grinned. “Well, I’m glad to know it’s not just us seagulls.”
“You have spent most of your life as a wolf. It’s natural that you would find the ways of flying difficult.” He shook the rope tied to the branch near his legs. “Come.”
“If it was as easy as coming, I’d be a natural.” I rose, and bit back a groan as a dozen fresh aches erupted across my torso and legs. Damn, I was going to be black and blue by tonight. Not that it really mattered. It wasn’t like I had anyone to go home to anymore.
Pain rose like an old ghost. I quickly shoved any thoughts of Kellen back into the box labeled “do not think about,” then reached for the rope and began to climb. It had been two months since we’d split. I should be getting over it by now. Should be getting over him.
But I wasn’t, and I wasn’t actually sure I ever would. I’d loved him, and he’d walked away. And not for the reason I’d most expected—the fact that I was infertile, and a half-breed. No, he’d walked away because I was a guardian and wouldn’t give it up. And the fact that I couldn’t, thanks to the drug and the havoc it was still wreaking on my system, hadn’t made a difference.
He’d walked away. Become just another man who couldn’t accept what I was. Another man who’d managed to smash my heart.
I’d had just about enough of the whole damn “love and relationships” thing. So much so that, since our split, I’d been keeping pretty much to myself. Of course, I was a werewolf, so the moon heat would always ensure sex was a part of my life. But that one week was about it for me and men. It seemed that love and I were never going to find a happy medium, and as much as I still wanted the whole picket fence ideal, I just wasn’t up to coping with the whims and foibles of men right now.
Chocolate, coffee, and ice cream were far more reliable when it came to providing a good time, and at least they would never disappoint me.
I just had to thank the fast metabolism of a wolf for the fact that I hadn’t put on any weight over the last few months. If I were human, I’d be the size of a house.