You can see a complete list of Bandit Creek Books here: http://banditcreekbooks.com/books/
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This week's spotlighted title is Skin Deep by Shanna Gekko
By Shanna Gekko
Kai knows trouble has found him when a fiery pint-sized female shows up at his door, bringing news of gruesome animal sacrifices in the woods around Bandit Creek. She also brings a teasing scent that draws his attention and sends every protective instinct screaming for him to protect his mate.
Hazel is determined to stop the monster she’s been following for miles and she won’t let anything distract her from her mission. She teams up with Kai, but vows to keep a firm “no-touch” policy where the handsome Native is concerned. Her resolve doesn’t last long as the two are drawn together like lodestones, their every touch igniting a passion neither has faced before.
Only, the trail of ritual sacrifices points to a greater threat than either first realized. They are about to face Kai’s enemy ancestor, a yee naaldlooshii—skinwalker—who will stop at nothing to destroy everything around him.
Shanna Gekko currently juggles writing with herding kids and pets, and a full-time job, among other commitments, and she truly doesn’t know how she does it. While she will read practically anything, her writing has strayed to the fantastic since she was in Grade 7. You can read some of her musings at www.talesfromtheashes.blogspot.com
Skin Deep Excerpt
By Shanna Gekko
There was nothing Kai liked better than his morning run to work on all fours. His breath shot out in puffs of white as he loped through the snow and undergrowth, tongue lolling sideways out his mouth in a comical grin. Too soon he neared the town, trotting down alleyways until he slipped into the doggie door in the back of his vet clinic. Shaking the cold out of his fur, and the wolf off of his skin, he went to check on his two animal patients that were overnighting at the clinic.
Ten minutes later, he was out the door again, but in his human skin. Shivering a bit without his fur, he hurried across the street to Ma’s Kitchen, its large windows glowing their welcome against the winter pre-dawn.
“Your usual?” A smiling Marie asked as the door jingled with his entrance.
“You bet! Could you add a few sausages to that? I think I need the extra fuel to keep warm today. Bloody cold out there,” Kai flashed a smile and grabbed a mint by the till. Marie hurried off to do just that, her cute little butt sashaying over to the food window and coffee machine. He might be part animal but he was all male and extra sausages or not, a sight like that could keep him warm at night.
Lucy herself headed over to ring up his order. Instead he caught up her hand and looked deep into her twinkling eyes.
“You’re glowing beautifully today, Lucy! So when are you going to leave that husband of yours and bless me by becoming mine?”
She snorted as usual, pink staining her cheeks and truly turning her radiant, then snatched her hand back out of his to pat the curly silver wisps that had already escaped the coiled bun on her head. “Oh stop, Kai. I think I liked you better when you were quiet.” She traded a loaded paper bag and coffee for cash and waved him away. “Now go be a good boy and feed Jack. George put a couple extra sausages in there for him as well.”
“You break my heart, but I won’t give up.” He glanced behind her and gave a bold smile and little wink to Marie, causing her to redden prettily.
“Your heart can stand a little breaking, now get out of here. You’re distracting my staff.” She tossed her towel back over her shoulder and grabbed a pot of coffee to go top up the customers sitting on the ripped red leather stools at the counter.
Juggling the coffees and breakfasts, Kai braced himself for the cold as he pushed open the door. The wind moaned into Ma’s Kitchen, the sound raising the hairs on his neck. Shaking his head to rid the unease, he went off on his search for Jack.
There were very few places that Jack liked to pass out at in the winter. During the warmer weather, almost anywhere was fair game, but in the winter, only a couple spots would provide a little extra warmth and shelter. Kai went close to these areas and literally sniffed him out. Jack had a very unique scent that was mixed in with the odor of the Jack Daniels he normally pickled himself with. Kai was surprised when he actually found him by the church. It was one place that Jack seemed to avoid.
The grizzled man was crouched by a vent that had warm air blowing from it, the area around it devoid of snow. Sitting down beside Jack, he handed over one of the still steaming coffees, took his own breakfast out of the bag and gave the rest to Jack.
“How are you doing today, Grandfather?” Respecting your elders had been drilled into Kai from an early age, especially due to his Native heritage. There may not have been a family connection, but Jack had always been known as Grandfather to him and his kin.
Jack wrapped his gnarled hands around the hot coffee as if gripping a lifeline and grunted. “Same as ever, pup. Different days, different weathers.”
“Not such a pup anymore.” Kai ate a sausage in one bite.
“Maybe not, wolf. But when you get to my age everyone is a pup.” Jack reached into the bag to fish out a sandwich. “Different age, same people. Only the winds truly change. It’s windy today.” Kai was used to the ramblings and actually found comfort in them. “What have the winds told you today, Grandfather?”
The wind chose that moment to howl through the bell tower above, the sound grating on Kai’s sensitive eardrums. Looking up at the dawn colored clouds, red glowing on black, he couldn’t help but remember the old weather saying, “Red in the morning, a shepherd’s warning…”He shook his head. Pretty soon he was going to start finding omens in tea leaves. Jack finished his sandwich first before looking him straight in the eyes. The earth seemed to drop out from under him and the only thing that he could see on a field of white were Jack’s black eyes boring through him to his very soul. The wind howled around them, but even so Kai could hear Jack’s whisper as loud as if it was yelled. “Things are blowing into town.”
Dazed, Kai had to shake his head a few times to ground himself. Jack was focused on finishing up the sausages like nothing had happened. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? What kind of things?” Jack just shrugged, took a gulp of coffee and belched. So that’s how he was going to be.
“Fine. Stay warm, Grandfather and if you need a place to sleep you are welcome to my extra bed.” He hurried towards his clinic not bothering to look back at the old man. Somehow he always survived and even though he rambled strangely, Jack was always right.
It was a slow Friday morning. In between a cat with a weight problem and a set of vaccinations for a husky, his brother Dan Hunter, the local Forest Ranger, came in for a visit.
“Hey, bird brain! Don’t see you in town very often. What brings you into my territory?” Kai enveloped his older brother in a man hug.
“Are you sure you’re not a bear instead of a wolf?” Dan gasped and shoved him away with a large grin.
“Dunno. Never tried to be a bear before. That’s Peter’s specialty. Wolves are faster anyways.” He went to the kitchen beside his office to brew a cup of the tea Dan preferred. “Are you freezing your wings off out there today?”
Dan followed him, both of their large bodies almost filling the small space. Dan was a little leaner than him, and Kai had longer hair, but other than that the family resemblance was striking. He handed a steaming mug to his brother who took a sip immediately, not bothering to wait till it cooled. “It might be freezing out there, but what I’ve seen in the forest the past couple of days chills me right down to the bone.”
Kai stopped tidying the kitchen and gave his undivided attention, gesturing for Dan to continue.
“I’ve been finding animal corpses out in the backwoods. Now that’s nothing new, but it’s the fact that they have been skinned and drained of blood that has my blood going cold. Added to that, the stink of evil permeates the corpses so no sane animal would ever go near it.” He shuddered then gulped down the rest of his tea as if trying to scorch the memories away.
“Maybe this is the thing blowing into town,” Kai mumbled.
Dan looked at him sharply, his golden eyes glowing against his chestnut skin. “What’s that?”
Kai shrugged. “Just a Jackism. He said that things were blowing into town. Of course he didn’t clarify what types of things were coming. You know how he is.”
“Yeah, I also know he’s usually right, in some weird way or another.” Dan leaned against the counter, his eagle feather earing swaying
He shrugged again, fiddling with the wolf amulet around his neck. “What kind of animals have you found? How many?” Poor things, he thought. Nothing deserved that.
“So far an ermine, a coyote, and a couple of wolves. Only predators, no prey animals. Always moving up in size.” He paused to pin Kai with his hawk eyes again. “You be careful out there, wolf. I don’t want to come across your skinned body. I don’t know how I’d tell mom.”
“Thanks for the warning. I’ll make sure to keep my ears pricked and my nose up. Any area in particular I should watch for?”
“Seems to be south of the mines. Hasn’t been close to your cabin yet, but you may want to keep a special eye on your rescues out there. They’d be sitting ducks.” Dan started layering up again in preparation for the cold of outside.
“I can’t be out there all day. I have other animals here that need my attention. Any chance you can do a fly by, at least once a day?” Thankfully, he only had two wild animals being rehabilitated right now, a surly bobcat and a cougar he’d nicknamed Lady, but he would still worry. They’d be sitting ducks in those cages.
“I already checked on them before I drove into town.” Kai looked at his brother, confused. “This is a business call, Kai. I have to let Sheriff Morgan know about what’s happening in Bandit Creek’s backyard and I can’t exactly fly into the Sheriff’s office. I think the guy would have a damn heart attack and I don’t want to kill a good sheriff.”
“Point. I’ll give you a shout when I get home and let you know if I saw anything on the way.” Kai tapped his temple indicating it would be a mental shout out. Better than a cell phone or radio, at least he would always be in touch with his family, though it was harder the further apart they were.
“Sounds good. Stay safe.” With that, Dan was sending a blast of cold air into the clinic as he hurried to his jeep.
Kai’s mood during his run home was subdued. Any signs he might have missed due to his enthusiasm for his morning run were starkly obvious now. The forest was quieter than normal for a winter evening, as if all the animals were hunkering down in preparation for a big storm. Whenever the winds shifted, the bitter scent from the north-east made his nose curl, forcing a sneeze.
Hackles standing straight out and feeling skittish to the bone, he was never so glad to get home where he knew he was safe. He darted in through his dog door, shivering for a moment as he tried to calm his animal side. Finally he shook off the wolf and headed to the kitchen to gulp down a glass of water and few pieces of jerky before heading out back to check on his animals.
He wasn’t two steps down the porch when the wind shifted to gust from the cages. A waft of nuts and sunlight teased his nose, making him want to sigh in pleasure, if it wasn’t so foreign for this time of year. He rounded the corner to the small wild animal shelter surprised to see a figure occupying a stump by the cages. She hugged her knees into her chest, emerald eyes glaring at him through the whipping strands of chestnut hair around her creamy skin. The scathing look felt like a punch to his gut. This was the angriest, and most beautiful, female he had ever seen.