The Moonlight Series by Ashlynn Monroe
Desperate to find her missing daughter, Bianca risks turning over one last stone: some off-the-grid commune hiding behind a massive wall.
Law feels Bianca’s pain down to his bones, but his pack’s safety comes first. Until she witnesses his shift and he’s forced to choose—turn her, or trust her.
Book 1 in Ashlynn Monroe’s Moonlight series! September 2016 Book 2 available soon!
Here’s a sneak peak, just for you, of Moonlight’s Peril by Ashlynn Monroe. This book releases September 5, 2016 and Moonlight’s Gift, book two in the Moonlight Series releases October 31, 2016. Preorder for Moonlight’s Peril are a special thank you sale price of 99 cents!
Holding her breath, Bianca Archer clicked on the flashlight. She crouched low, doing her best to keep the glow hidden. Opening the well-creased map, she smoothed the paper. Desperation trumped common sense where Chessa, her missing teenage daughter, was concerned. She pointed the beam down at the notes and marks to study the places she’d personally searched. There wasn’t much left except the inside of the compound.
The wind whistled, blowing hard outside. Rubbing her chilly arms, Bianca glared, through her windshield, at the entrance to the compound. Her eyes followed the massive wall that kept her from searching. Law Foster—even his name seemed weird—and his band of off-the-grid types knew something about what happened to Ches. Her maternal instinct demanding she scale the fence and find her child, but rational thought kept her seated.
No traffic traveled down the gravel path this late at night. Leaves blew wildly in the trees as the wind danced through them. The air held the crisp tang of fall and somewhere an owl sat hooting. Bianca would have appreciated the sight of headlights right now to chase away her unease.
The full moon hung high in the sky and Bianca could see well for such a late hour. As usual, she couldn’t sleep. Watching the compound for any sign of her child was the only solace she found. She hadn’t enjoyed uninterrupted sleep since Ches went missing because ghoulish nightmares took a toll on her. Every. Single. Night. Chessa should have started seventh grade today. Bianca avoided the stores and their colorful aisles of school supplies for so long that last night’s supper had been ketchup on saltines.
Yawning, she shook her head, fighting to stay awake. She closed her eyes, just to rest them a second.
“Let me go! Mommy! Help me, Mom!” screamed Chessa.
Bianca caught a glimpse of Chessa’s long, dark blonde hair as she ran around a tree.
“Lucas, where are you?” Bianca stumbled through the woods. “Ches? Please don’t hide. Where are you?”
Where were they? She looked down. Why was she wearing her Coach heels for hiking? She took another step and her foot caught in a rotted log. A terrified scream ripped through the stillness of the night. She yanked with all her strength, but her foot remained trapped. Another scream echoed and when she looked up the moon wasn’t yellow anymore; the celestial orb was blood red. Now she stood in a field. Lucas’s body lay at her feet, torn and broken. His blood covered the ground. A frozen expression of horror remained on his face, just like when she’d identified his body at the morgue.
A loud pounding on her window made Bianca jerk. Her short, unrestrained shriek burst out as she struggled for consciousness. Car. Road. She looked around until she understood what woke her.
Both men standing next to her vehicle had wide stances. With the moon shining bright, Bianca could see the matching scowls they wore. Foster and his number one minion, Nik Martin, glared at her. For a second, she debated running or staying, but courage demanded she face her nemesis. She reached into her oversized bag for her small bottle of pepper spray and hid the weapon by her side for reassurance. Taking a deep calming breath, she started the engine in case she needed to make a quick getaway. Motorized noise from her window going down was the only sound. Even the crickets had quieted as if they were also afraid of Foster.
She gazed up at the duo as they glared back at her. Annoyance gave her the nerve to be the first to speak. “What’s your problem, Foster? I’m not on your land this time. I checked the deed with the city and this road isn’t yours.”
Bianca tried to ignore how his rugged features made him even more handsome as the moonlight played over his face. Foster cleared his throat and his full lips twisted into a frown. His dark blond hair was just a little too long. The tall male-model-beautiful man made her a little breathless. He glared at her with his icy gray gaze. Too bad he’s a psycho.
Foster crossed his arms over his chest and the furrow in his forehead deepened. “Bianca, we don’t have your daughter. You know we don’t. You’re upsetting my family with this stalking routine. You shouldn’t be here every night.”
“You can’t stop me.” Bianca glared. “I know you, or one of your family members has her or knows something about what happened to her. Lucas didn’t mean to trespass on your land. I’m sure he didn’t. Please, just give her back to me.” Bianca realized how desperate her pleading sounded. Emotion rushed through her, shutting off common sense. “Please, I’ll do anything. I’ll never tell the police. We’ll just say she ran away because she was scared. Please, I can’t live without her.” Foster’s hard expression never cracked. Bianca’s heart sank. “Please.”
“We don’t have your kid.” Nik’s menacing tone sounded almost like a growl. But that’s just silly. He reached inside her car window and grabbed her shoulder.
Instinct took over. In a single motion, Bianca swung her arm forward and sprayed Nik right in his eyes. He reared back, letting go. His agonized howl sounded more animal than human.
Bianca slammed the car into reverse, backed up, and slammed the car into drive before flooring the gas pedal. Her aging BMW fishtailed, kicking up the gravel with violence to match her erratic emotions. She sobbed herself into a blinding torrent of misery, but she didn’t dare stop, or Foster and his pals would make her disappear too. She had to find her daughter, which meant she couldn’t let them kill her. She was the only one who believed Chessa remained on that property, alive.
“Fuck!” Nik cried. “Aww shit, she blinded me.”
“You should’ve kept your hands to yourself,” Law said without any hint of sympathy. He watched his friend struggling. Law’s jaw ticked as he clenched his teeth. The fear on her face, when Nik grabbed her, had twisted his gut. “The lady has a big set of balls. She’s not easy to intimidate. If she were, she’d have stayed away by now.”
Nik grunted and moaned as the change began. His body twisted and the popping-tearing sounds of his limbs and torso morphing into his primal form made Law look up into the sky. Two nights until the full moon. An injury like the pepper spray would set any wolf into a transformation this close to the sacred night. Nik managed to hold the wolf back until Bianca Archer was gone. Her blue eyes always saw too much. There was something about her that Law couldn’t fully explain, and that bit of mystery made her dangerous. The moonlight had sparkled in her hair making the strands look like silver. And just like real silver, everything about her was just as dangerous to him. Humans weren’t good for his kind. He’d never been into fancy blondes, but that woman made him hard as hell. She smelled better than most human women too. Her curves were a turn on. What the fuck is wrong with me? The last thing I need in my life is a human.
Nik howled again; his body caught between beast and man. “We have to stop her,” his deep voice rumbled with a demonic cadence brought about by the transformation.
“I. Won’t. Kill. Her.” Law’s firm certainty punctuated the statement.
“Unless you’re willing to start a war with Tobias there’s nothing we can do to help,” Nik growled. “She’s good as dead.”
“But not by my hand, or yours. We aren’t like Tobias’s pack. We’re human.”
Nik gasped as his expression twisted with agony. His ears and snout began shrinking, so he started to look more human. “We’re wolves.”
“Yeah, we are, but we’re also men. People will miss her.” Law ran his hand through his hair. He gave the beta wolf of his pack a piercing look. “I won’t have a war, but I don’t agree with the murder of that woman. We don’t kill.”
“We do to protect the pack,” Nik said. “That’s been the rule since the beginning of time. Even your dad would’ve killed a woman threating the pack. Why don’t we just lead her to Tobias and wash our hands of her?”
“There’s something about her—I don’t want her killed. Let me handle her.”
“Like you’ve handled her so far?” Nik smirked. “What is it with you and that woman? You’re not thinking clearly.”
I wish I knew. Maybe I just need to get laid. “You want to challenge me for alpha?” Law’s voice rose.
Nik flinched. “Hell no, but I don’t want you to put yourself in a position where some else will.” He scratched behind his ear with a metamorphosed hand. “You know Kort would love to take the pack from you.” His face was starting to look a little more human. “She’s making our people nervous. There are men with mates and families who resent you for sparing Bianca. You’re a good leader, but that doesn’t mean you don’t make some bad decisions once in a while. Letting that woman live isn’t the right thing for our blood.”
Law’s exceptional wolf’s eyesight could still see her taillights over a mile down the road.
The pack always comes first.
The diner was noisy. Even with the sun barely up the dim interior of the Daily Grind filled with people lining up for fresh gourmet java or a sandwich to go. The place had the best coffee in town. Bianca and Kloe Masterson sat at a table in the back of the restaurant.
“So the guy just grabbed you?” Kloe pushed a lock of auburn hair behind her ear. Her lively hazel eyes widened.
Bianca shrugged. “Yeah, but I used the pepper spray Randal gave me. Tell him the stuff came in handy.” The shock on her friend’s face made Bianca look away.
Every inch of the small restaurant crammed in decorations like old coffee cans and crazy mugs. Some of the cups had unique handles. One entire wall had all fifty states commemorated on ceramic. The last time she’d been here Chessa had enjoyed her first real cappuccino. The memory twisted Bianca’s lips into a sad smile and tightened her throat with grief.
“You’ve got to stop going out there. Randal said the sheriff just leaves those creepy bastards alone. He said they’re dangerous. I asked him what he meant, but he did his closing-me-out-thing—like usual,” Kloe said, a little too loudly. Several people turned to look at them.
Bianca turned her attention back to her friend. “Are you and Randal still going to marriage counseling? He loves you. I know he does. Maybe the counselor is right, and he just has a problem letting people in. He’s always been quiet, even when we were kids, it’s just his way.”
“No it’s more than that,” Kloe whispered. “He’s been odd, especially since Ches went missing. I almost feel like he’s hiding something.”
“Oh God, he’d never hurt her. Right? You don’t suspect your husband of having something to do with this, do you?” Bianca’s voice rose in alarm.
“No! Of course not. I—I just can’t explain his attitude. He’s been weird the last few months that I think he might be having an affair. He’s acting strange about Foster’s people too. It’s like he’s not telling me something. People go missing in the woods, and the deaths are always blamed on animals.” Kloe reached out and put her hand on Bianca’s, but her gaze remained steady. “I couldn’t survive if you went missing too.”
Pity in Kloe’s eyes forced Bianca to look away. Bianca focused on a poster of a cat drinking coffee. Kloe cleared her throat before continuing. “They didn’t find Chessa’s blood on the scene. Randal’s been a game warden for half his life, but he’s only seen animals kill humans in the hills around Wild Rose Valley. We have more animal attacks than any other county in the state.” Kloe’s voice grew rough as if her throat clogged with sorrow. Bianca heard the same thing in everyone’s words lately. Since the nightmare began people treated her like she’d lost her daughter, but she refused to give up.
The waitress brought them each a refill on the coffees. They nodded at her with appreciation. Their server gave them a grin before giving them privacy. “You shouldn’t keep going up there alone, at least let me come along next time,” Kloe’s tone changed to worry.
“I go when I can’t sleep. I love you for offering, but no, I won’t take you with me,” said Bianca in a firm, no-nonsense tone. Kloe wouldn’t give up if she sensed any weakness in Bianca’s response. She knew Kloe’s tenaciousness well after a lifetime of friendship.
“I’ve got your back, B.”
“I know you do, but I won’t stop searching. My daughter is out there, and she needs me.”
“I love Chessa like my own. You know I do.” Kloe grabbed Bianca’s hand in a white-knuckled grip. “I want her home too, but when we find her if something has happened to you she’ll be devastated. You have to stay safe for her.” Kloe’s grip tightened as if she tried to keep Bianca in town with the sheer force of will.
Bianca hated how much sense Kloe made. “I’ll be more careful. I haven’t used Daddy’s handgun in years. It’s time I went back to the range.”
“What killed Lucas was bigger than what one little handgun can handle. Please don’t go out there again.”
Bianca gave Kloe’s hand a squeeze. “You know I won’t make a promise I’ll break.”
Sorrow drew Kloe’s features down into a frown. “I can’t lose you too, B. I just don’t want to face life without both of you.”
“There is no life for me without my daughter.”
Kloe nodded and let go of Bianca. Bianca sat back in her chair. They sipped the coffee.
“Did you sleep at all last night?” Kloe asked.
“No, not a wink. When I close my eyes, I dream of what it must have been like for her. Lucas was just starting to be a father. She was so happy to have his attention, finally. Seeing him die had to be terrible.” Bianca held her head in her hands and fought back a shaky sob. “To know his killer has my child is to know the truest definition of hell. I just want to save her. I—I don’t deserve to live a normal life while she’s suffering.”
“You didn’t make this happen,” Kloe said firmly. “Lucas was an experienced outdoorsman. Randal said he was one of the best. He was only a short distance from the state land, and that was a spot without marking. They were close to the road too. He didn’t put her in danger, at least not intentionally. You could never have foreseen this so please stop beating yourself up. We’ll find her.”
“Every day it’s like she’s slipping farther from my grasp. I’m scared I’ll lose hold of her completely soon.”
Kloe wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I won’t let that happen, and neither will Randal. We’ve been family too long.”
Bianca nodded. How do I tell her there’s nothing she can do?
Trinity Louvel came up to the table. The smart, cute girl had dark hair and serious eyes. She was Chessa’s dearest friend. Seeing her was a fresh wound to Bianca’s soul.
The girl had spent a lot of nights with her and Chessa. Trin’s parents were the coldest people Bianca had ever met, so the girl relished the loving atmosphere at the Archer house. Even after Chessa was gone, Trin had come over a few times to check on Bianca. She’d even come around with pizza one random night, and sent flowers for Bianca’s recent birthday. Trin had helped with the search, but like everyone else she’d given up as time stretched out.
“How’s eighth grade?” Bianca asked. Trin was a grade older than Chessa.
Trin set down two to-go cups and gave Bianca a hug. When she straightened back up, she picked up her coffee. “It’s good, fun. I’m involved with a lot of activities. We’re going to be dedicating the yearbook to Chessa this year.”
Bianca tried to hide her pain. She gave Trin a tight smile because she knew the girl thought she delivered good news. “I’m sure when we find Ches she’ll be honored.”
Trinity paled. “I’m sorry. Yeah, when we find her she’ll like it.” She looked at the door. “My mom is waiting. See you.” She scurried away.
Kloe reached out and squeezed Bianca’s hand. The understanding look on her friend’s face brought her back to the brink of tears. Bianca cleared her throat before speaking. “I need to catch Foster and his cult doing whatever it is they do out on that compound. They called it a farm, but it’s a commune.”
The waitress returned. “Is there anything else today, ladies?”
Bianca looked to Kloe, who shook her head. “No, but thanks,” Bianca replied. The server put the bills down on the table and left. Bianca watched the young waitress sashay away as if she didn’t have a care in the world. The sight stirred her envy. How long has it been since I had a moment of peace? She turned her attention back to Kloe.
Kloe’s eyebrows drew together, and her mouth turned down with a very troubled expression. Her gaze never left Bianca’s. “Please be reasonable about this.”
“Were they reasonable when they took her and killed her father? Did she see Lucas die? I identified what was left of the body. Pieces. That’s all that was left. Yes, animals gnawed on him, but no one will ever convince me some animal was responsible. We don’t even have bears this far south. What kind of horror did she see?”
Kloe wiped moisture from her eyes. “I don’t know. I don’t want to know, but when we find her those are things she may need to tell us. Maybe she’ll never tell us. We have to be here for her. Getting yourself killed won’t do her any good.”
Bianca sighed. “I know. God help me, I know, but I can’t stop. Finding her has become the only thing that gets me out of bed.” Pity in Kloe’s big brown eyes made Bianca turn away again. She studied her feet to avoid the sorrowful gaze of her friend.
“I love you, B.”
Kloe stood up and grabbed both bills. “This is on me.”
“You don’t have to buy my coffee,” Bianca protested half-heartedly.
“It makes me feel better,” Kloe said. Bianca let her friend have her way. Since she’d taken the extended unpaid leave from her job money was scarce. “What are you going to do today?”
Bianca paused, considered lying, but decided on the truth. “I’m going to go for a hike up to the top of the bluff, Wild Rose Ridge, and take pictures of Foster’s place. I’m not a cop. I can do things they’d never get away doing. She’s there. I feel it.”
“Just be careful. I have a light client load right now. Why don’t I call in today and go with you? Jennifer can reschedule my appointments,” Kloe said.
“Kloe, you hate hiking. No, go to work. If you don’t hear from me by noon, call the police.”
“Jesus, that’s a hell of a thing to make me think about all day,” Kloe replied, anger resonating in her tone.
“I was going to lie,” Bianca admitted.
“You’re atrocious at fibbing, but I almost wish you had. I—just be damn cautious. What if it was a bear? What if one of Foster’s cronies is a serial killer? I don’t like you going out there alone.”
“I’ll be careful and going alone gives me my best odds of getting away with spying. That man must have cameras everywhere, or darn good hearing. Every time I’ve tried to get close, he catches me and lets his creeps chase me off.” Bianca pushed the bangs out of her eyes and slumped in the chair, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m trying something new. Don’t forget that my dad and Randal’s dad practically raised us as siblings in those woods. Daddy might have been a pharmaceuticals mogul, but he never forgot his roots or how to hunt. I know my way around the trails.”
Kloe rolled her eyes. “Travis Archer was a prick. Whenever I think of him, I go rage-blind. I still can’t believe your father left everything to that damn wildlife foundation and didn’t even give you enough money to finish college. A little outdoor time doesn’t make up for what he did. All you got from the estate was a box of personal effects and the title to your car. When your mom died, he just changed overnight.” She sighed, shaking her head. “It’s probably been years since you went out in those woods. Do you even own a pair of hiking boots anymore?”
“Nope, I thought I’d wear heels and my little black dress,” Bianca said in such a sarcastic tone that Kloe raised her eyebrow.
“I wouldn’t put it past you,” Kloe grumbled.
Bianca scowled. “Ha, ha very funny. I have Dad’s little Remington pistol in my closet.”
“This isn’t a joke. I hate you going out there alone.”
“I know. I have good reception, even in the woods. I’ve been in that area enough recently to know my phone works, and I’ll send you a text.”
“If you forget, I’m going to kick your ass. Text me,” Kloe said.
“I will. Don’t worry about me.”
“When my best friend is hunting for a murderer I have the right to worry.” Kloe gave her a hug before taking the bills to the counter. The line had died down, and she was able to pay right away.
Bianca left before Kloe finished settling the tab because she didn’t want her friend to see the tears in her eyes.
Randal rested his hands on the trunk, sighing. He stepped back and wiped his sweaty forehead with his arm before turning the key. He looked down at the dead body of a young man. He’d never seen the guy before, but when Tobias called, he came. Hate stole Randal’s ability to draw a full breath for a second. He wanted to scream, but instead he calmly took his shovel out of the trunk. He needed to get this done. Dawn had burned off the morning fog and sun was already peeking through the trees. One of these days his luck would run out, and someone would catch him cleaning up after Tobias. He just hoped that day wasn’t today. Kloe would never understand, and if he had his way, she’d never need to try.
“Sorry kid.” Randal turned around and rammed the tool into the earth. “Hell, I don’t even know if you were a werewolf or a human.” His eyes blurred from moisture, but he wasn’t sure if it was sweat or tears. His father shot himself in the head when he couldn’t take the horrible deeds anymore which left Randal to inherit nothing but the old house and a blood debt he refused to pass down to another generation.
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Coming home after kidnappers stole a decade of her life should have been the best moment of Joy’s life. Instead, the pack treats her like any other outsider—with suspicion.
Nik’s arms ache to hold his she-wolf, to heal her scars. But some wounds may be too deep even for love to reach…
Book 2 in Ashlynn Monroe’s Moonlight series! October 2016 Book 3 coming soon! ashlynnmonroe.com
Captivated was in the top fifty bestsellers at All Romance eBooks. I would like to thank everyone who has purchased the story. I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing the novella.
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Ashlynn Monroe has been dreaming up stories all her life. She started to put them on paper at thirteen, but it wasn’t until she was thirty that she decided to share them with others. She’s a busy mom with a full time job, fantastic friends, and a unique sense of humor. She’s just a regular girl who’s in love with the idea of happily-ever-after. She’s honored to be multi-published by some of the best electronic publishers in the industry. Ashlynn survives each day by dreaming up her next tale of romance.
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