Excerpt – Hunt the Dark

Chapter 1

The sand was cool beneath my paws as I traversed the dry streambed and started up the bank. Circling a mesquite bush, I crested the rise and came to a stop, staring at the scene before me in the predawn light. The arid plain I expected, but not the large step-pyramid that dominated the landscape.

My heart rate surged, but not out of fear. It was excitement that made my pulse race. This dreamscape wasnt mine. After a week of trying, had I finally done it? Had I managed to cross over into Xols dreams? If so, where was he?

I lifted my eyes to the pyramid. Id never visited such a structure in real life, but Id seen a lot of pictures of the Aztec and Mayan ruins that dotted Mexico. I found it curious that Xol would dream of such a place, but he was very in tune with his ancestry.

Both curious and wanting to surprise him with my presence here, I set off across the barren plain, moving as quickly as my four legs would carry me. Oddly, we could only travel anothers dreamscape as our spirit animals. Which was why Xol had always shown up in my dreams as a Mexican wolf and why I was currently a Jack Russell terrier. Not the most fearsome of beasts, but she was an intelligent and tenacious animal Id identified with all my life.

Since wed taken down Chanticothe immortal whod wanted to use Xols body as a vessel to house the soul of her dead brotherXol hadnt visited my dreams. When Id finally gotten up the nerve to ask him about it, hed blown me off with some vague excuse about giving me some space. I wasnt buying it.

I reached the base of the pyramid and started up the huge set of steps that ran up this side of the structure. Even in human form, I would have found the climb challenging.

Panting, I finally scampered up the last step and stopped before the small temple that stood at the pyramids summit. The dark doorway filled me with unease, and it suddenly occurred to me that this might not be Xols dream. It could be a nightmare of my own creation. But I wasnt going to back down now.

Steeling my courage, I walked toward the opening. Torches flared to life within the moment I stepped across the threshold, startling a gasp from me.

Wait, dogs didnt gasp. I had shifted into my human form without thinking about it.

The light from the torches brightened, and my gaze was drawn to the stone slab that dominated the interior. A familiar form was tied to it, his eyes closed as if asleep. I hoped.


He opened his eyes with a start, then turned his head toward me. Tegan?He tried to sit up, but the crude ropes binding his wrists and ankles to the slab prevented it.

Maybe this was a nightmare, though I wasnt certain if it was his or mine.

I hurried to his side, noticing the blood as I moved closer. It stained the floor, and even the walls, as well as the flint knife resting on the slab above Xols head, but none of the blood appeared to be his. The Aztec-styled hip cloth he wore was clean, and his bare chest was undamaged, leaving visible the glyphs that decorated his skin.

My gaze returned to the knife. Thinking that I could use it to free him, I reached for it.

Tegan, run.Xols gaze was no longer on me. His wide eyes were focused on the doorway.

Theres no need for that, Xolotl,a voice said from behind me.

I snatched up the knife and, whirling toward the sound, came face to face with Tezcatlipoca, the immortal nagual who had apparently given Xols family their monstrous abilities.

His dark eyes met mine, and he lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender, his bloody palms toward me. Like Xol, he was bare chested, though he wore only a simple loincloth. Unlike Xol, blood was splattered across his upper body.

Seriously?I asked him. We had no physical forms here. Which meant there was no blood. All this was staged.

The corner of his mouth crooked into a smile. Acknowledging that Id seen through his ruse?

Leave her alone,Xol said from behind me, still tied to the slab.

I lifted the knife and returned Tezcatlipocas smile with one I hoped looked just as smug.

The knife moved in my hand, drawing my attention. I glanced down and saw that I held a wiggling snake.

With a cry of surprise, I dropped the snake and jumped back. I wasnt fond of snakes.

I expected Tezcatlipoca to give me a mad-villain rant about how foolish Id been to threaten him. Instead, he doubled over with laughter. On the floor between us, the knife lay where the snake had been.

Asshole. I expected more maturity from a five-hundred-year-old immortal. What motive did he have for invading Xols dream

Wait. We were all in human form. This wasnt anothers dream. This place was like the shore of Xols lake, or my otherworld agility circlewhich were both places where I shifted into human form involuntarily. I felt like an idiot for not picking up on that sooner, but I could berate myself later. What mattered now was that I wasnt powerless here.

I looked back at Xol and the crude ropes binding him. I imagined flames burning away those bindings, just as Id burned away the bindings Chantico had tried to use on me.

Xol flinched as the ropes vanished in simultaneous bursts of golden light.

I faced Tezcatlipoca in time to see a dark eyebrow lift upward. I thought he might back away, or show some semblance of fear, but he abruptly smiled.

Well done, Morning Star. Your talents werent exaggerated.

Whats going on?Xol demanded, getting to his feet. Are you—”

Tezcatlipoca waved a hand, and Xol vanished.

I blinked. What the hell?

He served his purpose,Tezcatlipoca explained. The boy can finish his slumber.

What purpose?I demanded. Whats going on?

Tezcatlipoca smiledthen vanished.

Damn it,I muttered. So much for my hope that Tezcatlipoca had forgotten about me. After all, it had been a week since he first visited me in the spirit world. Now I wondered why hed waited so long.

I eyed my macabre surroundings. Was this a true representation of

A bolt of lightning followed by a simultaneous crack of thunder crashed outside. I whirled toward the doorway, biting back a scream. An instant later, the lightning and thunder came again, but this time, I recognized it for what it was. Someone in the mortal world was trying to wake me.

I ran for the doorway and jumped through, leaving the templeand the spirit worldbehind.

I sat up with a gasp, back in my bed in my apartment. Early morning sunlight leaked around the blinds, backlighting the shadowed shape that stood over me. I took a breath to scream, but he spoke before the sound emerged.

Tegan.Relief colored Xols voice as he stepped back. Dressed in a pair of gym shorts, his glowing glyphs were visible. Hundreds of the tiny designs trailed down his chest from his shoulders. Their glow matched the eerie arcs of electric blue lightning that flickered in the depths of Xols pupils.

Athena, my Jack Russell terrier, rose to her feet from her place on the bed beside me. But instead of the enthusiastic greeting she always gave Xol, she growled.

Something slid off my dresser and landed with a soft thump on the carpet.

Damn it.Xol bowed his head, a frustrated wrinkle on his forehead as he closed his eyes.

I shoved back the covers and hurried to my feet. Shh. Its okay.I reached up and trailed my fingers along the glyphs. His skin was ice cold.

It was still hard to get my mind around the fact that the glyphs werent tattoos, but souls burned into Xols flesh. The soul of every tribesman who had been tainted by Tezcatlipocas twisted magic in the last five hundred years. Xol was the psychopomp of his people.

Shh,I repeated, running my fingers along the frigid marks. Im fine.

What were you doing there?A muscle tensed in Xols cheek. Did Tezcatlipoca invade your dream, too?

No. I, um, think I walked into your dream. Unless I stumbled into Tezcatlipocas.

Now is not the time to be out exploring.His angry words were followed by another thump that came from across the room. Athena growled again.

Easy.I stepped around Xol, continuing to trace the glyphs. An aspect of my magicas much as I hated to admit itwas to calm and control canids. It gave me the ability to control the monsters Tezcatlipocas magic had created. And that included the ones bound to Xols skin.

Focused on my task, I continued to speak words of calm and reassurance as I stroked the glyphs, and the skin beneath my fingers gradually warmed. By the time I faced Xol once more, the glyphs no longer glowed.


He released a breath before lifting his head to look me in the eye. The glow was gone, leaving only those flecks of gold in his dark brown irises to catch the light.

Better?I asked.

He pressed his lips into a fine line.

What?I asked, not sure what to make of his expression.

Im sorry.He abruptly turned and left the room.

I frowned after him. Since Id removed Chantico from the equationkilled her, I forced myself to addXol seemed to be really struggling to control the souls bound to him. They were invisible to me, so I couldnt see how bad it was, but the frequent poltergeist activity, especially when Xol was upset or angry, had increased.

Athena whined, but before I could lift her from the bed, she hopped down herself and headed down the hall after Xol. Technically, her post-injury quiet period had ended, but I still wanted to baby her. She had come so close to dying, and though she was now well on her way to recovery, I wasnt. Not mentally.

But my issues could wait. Right now, I needed to deal with Xols.

Taking a deep breath, I headed for the living room.

The blanket and pillow he used while sleeping on my couch were on the floor, along with one of the cushions. It appeared hed had a fitful night, or had left the couch in a very big hurry.

He was nowhere in sight, but the apartment door stood open. Normally, I might have been annoyedit was summertime and air-conditioning was expensivebut I was too worried about Xol to care.

I found him standing at the edge of the deck, his hands braced on the rail as he gazed out over the side parking lot. The thick morning fog obscured the distant view of downtown Cincinnati, but I knew he hadnt come out here for the view.

Xol?I could see the tension in his bare shoulders, the muscles flexing as he gripped the rail. Normally, I would have admired the display, but not now. Are you—”

I need to go for a run.He faced me. I cant deal witheverything when Im this tense.

I understand.Though it made no logical sense, the need to use our magic was strong in both of us. It had been a week to the day since our last run at the pond. I have an obedience class at nine and an—”

I can go alone.

You dont want to wait?I felt oddly bereft that he didnt want me to join him. I was seriously beginning to think he was avoiding me.

I dont dare wait.He hesitated, then seemed to force himself to continue. Im barely holding it together as it is,he finished in a whisper.

Ill cancel my classes.

No.He closed the distance between us. When Im in a better place, well go for a run.He reached out and touched my cheek. The gold glinted in his eyes, growing more plentiful. Together.

Maybe he wasnt avoiding me because of our uncertain relationship, but because of his problems with his control. I wasnt certain which bothered me more.

Do I get to watch you change?I teased.

The corner of his mouth twitched, and he gave me his usual response, You just want to see me naked.

It was such a relief to hear him respond to my teasing that I decided to continue it. Youre not far from it now.

He smiled that very nice smile as his gaze dropped to the tank top and skimpy shorts I wore. Yesterday had been a scorcher, and the air-conditioner hadnt been able to keep up. It had been far too hot for traditional pajamas.

I could say the same to you.

Xol.I tried for a warning note in my voice, but wasnt so certain I pulled it off. Neither of us had ever denied that we were strongly attracted to each other. There had just been so much crap between us, that we had never acted on it. That theme continued.

Sorry,he said.

No, youre not.It was my turn to smile.

The gold flared brighter in his irises, but I would have missed the flash of electric blue if I hadnt been staring into his eyes.

He took a hasty step back, muttering what was most likely an expletive in Nahuatl.

Okay. Go,I relented. But when you return, were going to discuss this.

He started to speak, but I cut him off.

Dont shut me out. Im part of this, Xol. You need to accept that.

Accept that Ive damned you?

You also need to stop being so melodramatic.

He frowned.

I will figure out how to help you,I insisted. Maybe Ill even break this curse.

He shook his head. Tenacious Tegan.


He smiled. Is it any wonder why Im hopelessly”—he hesitated for the briefest moment—“dedicated to you?

Its all part of my charm,I replied lightly, though my heart beat more quickly in my chest. The last time I had joined my soul to Xols, hed let me see the depth of his affection for me, but he had yet to acknowledge it out loud.

He lightly touched my cheek again. Its best that I dont fall prey to it right now.He took his hand away. Id better get dressed and go.Without another word, he returned to the apartment.

I released a slow breath, gazing out at the fog-shrouded landscape. Maybe he was right.


I found my class a welcome respite this morning. It was good to be back in my normal routine, and for just a little while, I was able to forget about the crazy situation I found myself in.

Working with dogs and their owners was my personal bliss. I tried not to let the knowledge that my aptitude was magical diminish the experience. Yet I couldnt help but wonder if training was another outlet to exercise my magic. Just like my friend Bo had become a vet to exercise his magical ability to diagnose a sick or injured animal.

Pushing those thoughts from my mind, I waved goodbye to the last of my departing students and turned my attention to the training floor. Normally, I would spend some time straightening the area, neatly stacking any training aids and aligning any out of the place chairs along the wall.

I considered leaving the area as it was. After all, Velma was no longer here to criticize. But old habits died hard. I could wait a few more minutes before I walked upstairs to see if Xol had returned.

I was hanging a couple of spare leashes on the pegs near my office when the front door opened. I turned, a smile already in place to greet Xol, but it wasnt he.

The man spotted me and headed in my direction. He wasnt anyone I knew, but there was something familiar about him. I was trying to puzzle out why that was when he stopped before me.

Miss Morgenstern?

Yes.I gave him a tentative smile. Perhaps he was a perspective client. I was well-known in dog training circles.

He reached inside his sports coat and pulled out an envelope, then offered it to me. Your eviction notice.

I had started to reach for the envelope and stopped. What?

This building is slated for demolition in two weeks.

Two weeks? Dont you have to give me more time? And who the hell are you?

Ronald Durkins. Velma was my aunt, and the building fell to me as her next of kin.

So, shes barely cold, and you intend to plow under her lifes work?

He pursed his lips. Sentimentality cannot be the basis of a business decision. A very wealthy conglomerate is interested in this piece of landand only the land.He gestured with the envelope. You will see that all the legalities have been taken care of, including your contract with my aunt.

I took the letter. Without a better understanding of these legalities, I could hardly argue.

What about the name?I asked.

The name?

The Queen City Canine Academy.I lifted my arms to encompass the space around us.

Ronald Durkins frowned. Nothing was mentioned in Aunt Velmas will.A speculative look crossed his face. Is it worth anything?

No, but it is on my business cards. I wondered if I needed to change it.That wasnt entirely true. Well, the business card part was. As for the rest, the name of the academy did carry a certain weight in the canine world, especially in agility circles.

Oh.Ronald looked disappointed.

I thought it would honor Velma by continuing to use it, but if youre going to get even greedier, then Ill just change it.

Ronald pursed his lips. This isnt greed. Its business.

Whatever helps you sleep at night.

He lifted his nose in the air. Ill speak to my lawyer and get back to you on the name. Good day, Miss Morgenstern.He turned on his heel and walked out.

Good thing Xol wasnt here. He might feel obliged to eviscerate the little weaseland I might have let him.

It looked like my normal life would no longer be a reprieve. And I had two weeks to find a new one.


Releases July 31st

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