TA DA! ~ Pretty Poison

Are you ready to return to the world of shifters with me? This 55K novel is one of the sooper seekrit projekts I’ve been working on this last little while, and is ready to go live December 16th. Ho ho ho! :D

PrettyPoison

Deadly poison…or exquisite cure?

Noah fell from an eighth story balcony as a toddler, cracking open his skull and shattering his body. The accident would’ve killed a human, but even shifter blood can’t heal some damage. After the pack recommended a mercy killing, Noah’s family ran. But there’s no outrunning the mating pact formed before Noah’s birth.

Wade, the new alpha, chooses an adult Noah to fulfill the pact. Wade believes the previous alpha was a fool to reject Noah as a weak and inferior wolf, but Noah’s family was wrong to hide him and starve his wolf, too. Human doctors with human medicines are poison to shifter physiology. Now that Noah is fully grown, halting his shift to retain the pins, plates, and bars holding him together hurts rather than helps him, and for Wade, more than Noah’s recovery is at stake.

Noah’s family sacrificed everything to keep him alive. Noah will do whatever it takes to save them—including mate with the alpha who is determined to correct past mistakes and defeat old prejudices contaminating the shifter community.

Too bad some still believe Noah is the true poison…and should be culled from the pack for good.

Content Warnings: Dubious consent, shifter knotting/tying, and Nerf gun assassination attempts. Ereaders (and you) may spontaneously combust–don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thank you, Lou Harper, for the gorgeous cover! Sneak peek excerpt to come soon…

:D
Kari

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Many grateful Tsgiving WAHOOs…and I have news!

Prepare yourselves for a string of woots — I’m finding lots of reasons to be grateful this Thanksgiving. BUT be sure to bear with me to the bitter end because I’ve fantastic news to share once I’m done with the gleeful happy dancing.

First off…

AReIDontTopRatedGayWOO HOO! I Don’t: A Christmas Wish is highest rated in Gay, Erotic Romance, and Romantic Comedy at ARe, all 3. O.O A nice surprise for me considering this was a holiday story from last year and a romantic comedy, which I think some are still mad at me for writing. ;-) If you aren’t abusing voodoo dolls in my likeness over that, btw, I dropped the price of I Don’t at all vendors to $2.99 this holiday season and if you use coupon code ZV26S at Smashwords, you can get it for two bucks — half what I Don’t was priced at last year. Yay?

Bear with me just a little longer, dudes. I have a bit more wahoo’ing before I get to meh news.

A few lovely reviews for An Unauthorized Field Guide to the Hunt:

“You know what I love about Kari Gregg’s paranormal stories? They are so out of the box, so original and so captivating… intriguing from beginning to end…” (Joyfully Jay)

“…one hell of an action filled, erotically masterful ride…” (Boy Meets Boy Reviews)

“With strong characterizations, excellent world building and sex scenes so hot it might melt your Kindle, I’m recommending this different take to the paranormal genre.” (Jessewave)

“…a smooth balance between anthromorphic beings; strange, hostile worlds; sex; and savage intrigue. It isn’t a soft or gentle story, rather one that will keep your heart racing the whole journey.” (Top 2 Bottom Reviews)

And a couple for the Bump in the Night anthology with my tentacle smexin’ at Riptide:

Oh*my*freaking*lord. This is over-the-top wickedness with a cherry on the top…” (Sid Love)

An incredible mix of dark fiction and explicit erotica meant to scare the living daylight out of you while simultaneously stoking that forbidden dark fire deep down in your shadiest part of your soul.” (MM Good Book Reviews)

So…YAY, YAY, YAY!!! I am one happy chicka. :D

And now, for the news…

Are you ready to go back to shifters with me? REALLY ready? ;-) Well, if you adore shifters as much as I do, you’ll soon have reason to woot along with me. I’ve returned to my beloved shifters in Pretty Poison, which will be coming in late December, and even better, this bad boy’s a novel. We get to see MOAR of this world, meet a few (ahem) interesting people along with Noah, and if the smexy times don’t melt your ereader…Holy God.

Deadly poison…or exquisite cure?

Noah fell from an eighth story balcony as a toddler, cracking open his skull and shattering his body. The accident would’ve killed a human, but even shifter blood can’t heal some damage. After the pack recommended a mercy killing, Noah’s family ran. But there’s no outrunning the mating pact formed before Noah’s birth.

Wade, the new alpha, chooses an adult Noah to fulfill that pact. Wade believes the previous alpha was a fool to reject Noah as a weak and inferior wolf, but he also knows Noah’s family was wrong to hide him and starve his wolf. Human doctors with human medicines are poison to shifter physiology. Now that Noah is fully grown, halting his shift to retain the pins, plates, and bars holding him together hurts rather than helps him, and for Wade, more than Noah’s recovery is at stake.

Noah’s family sacrificed everything to keep him alive. Noah will do whatever it takes to save them–including mate with a new alpha who is determined to correct past mistakes and defeat old prejudices contaminating the shifter community.

Too bad some still believe Noah is the true poison…and should be culled from the pack for good.

Look for the cover and a first chapter look-see soon!

Hoping you and yours all the best this Thanksgiving…
Kari

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Bump in the Night — Your creepy smut-o-pocalypse awaits!

October’s here. Halloween is in the air. Are you ready to be creeped out? Eager to wallow in beautiful (and arousing) OMFG-ness? Today’s your lucky day, dudes. Today is your day.

BumpInTheNight_500x750

Turn off the lights . . . and turn on your darkest fantasies.

Demon pacts. Ghostly possessions. Monsters lurking in the depths. The things that go bump in the night frighten us, but they also intrigue us. Fascinate us. Even turn us on.

Join us as fan favorites Ally Blue and Kari Gregg bring over-amorous aquatic beasts to life with their mythic twists on the Siren and the monster in the lake. Erotic horror pros Heidi Belleau, Sam Schooler, and Brien Michaels show us just how sexy scary can be with a pair of demon deals destined to curl your toes and set your heart thrashing. And literary masters Laylah Hunter and Peter Hansen weave haunting worlds where ghosts and dead lovers can touch our hearts (and other, naughtier places too . . .) and teach us lessons from beyond the grave.

By turns exciting, evocative, and exquisitely explicit, the stories in Bump in the Night are sure to scratch your sexy paranormal itch. Explore your wildest fantasies with us in this collection of dark erotic tales.

Just a head’s up — my 12K word contribution to this deliciously frightening anthology, “Mating Season,” is a gleefully depraved tentacle smex-palooza and if you don’t gasp at least one “OMFG!!!” while reading it, I will have considered that lack a shameful fail for yours truly. It’s the perviest perv that ever a perv could perv. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. LOL.

Get your fix of disturbing, smexy, and creepylicious at:
Riptide
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
ARe

And a happy, happy release day to my fellow Bump in the Night antho authors Ally Blue, Heidi Belleau, Sam Schooler, Brien Michaels, Laylah Hunter, and Peter Hansen as well as a woot to the antho editor at Riptide, good buddy Rachel Haimowitz!

Happy reading, y’all…and heed the warnings to stay away from the lake in the Fall. Or else. Mwahaha…
Kari

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Pornocats, the Movie

Pornocats book trailer!

And a hale & hearty squee — the Field Guide is a top 10 bestsellers at ARe and ranking high in the top 100 on Amazon‘s Gay Romance and Gay Fiction bestseller lists too. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I hope you guys are liking Shane & Lore as much as I enjoyed writing their story. :D

Happy reading —
Kari

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Run, Pounce, Fuck — Pornocats, HO! Available now, now, now.

KG_AnUnauthorizedFieldGuidetotheHuntOn Mariket, the strongest competitors win…by losing.

Narone native and former heir of Class II shipbuilder Denbo-West Industries, Shane West surrendered his perilous birthright to compete in the Hunt and tried his luck with the lusty cats of Mariket. Shane’s mastery of survival craft in the untamed forest made him an early favorite among gamblers, fans, and arena officials. When he lured a cat into an arousing chase the first night, mating with Lore to become the season’s first victor seemed guaranteed.

Then news from Arena 4 slowed to a trickle. Rumors emerged about cats who’d gone feral as well as shocking breaches in security. Unconfirmed reports of assassins and rogue predators circulated before offworld communications screeched to a halt.

In this unprecedented glimpse inside the arena, Shane peels back the veil of secrecy. What does it take to tempt a sexy cat? How does being marked as prey by a feline lover feel? Experience the wanton pleasures of the heat with Shane and his mysterious mate–and discover which of last season’s scandalous rumors are true.

Run, pounce, fuck.

Mate?

Welcome to the Hunt.

* ~ * ~ *

The Field Guide is available for your guilty pleasure right now, compadres. Tell your husband/significant other I said, “You’re welcome.” ;-)

And the winner of the pre-release giveaway is…

Penumbra!

Check your email, dude. :-)

Didn’t win? Bummer. But the winning ain’t over yet! Head over to Lasha’s Paranormal M/M Reviews, where I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to celebrate the release of the Field Guide. All you have to do is leave your email and answer which heroes from my backlist that you’d Marry, Shag or Cliff to be entered into a random drawing for the gift card, easy peasy.

And a not-so-fun update. I’ve already received emails about Spoils of War and Lovely Wicked. Those titles are temporarily unavailable because they are being reissued. I’ve grown quite a lot in my craft since those 2 books released in 2010 so I’m revising them and hope to have news about them returning to the marketplace very soon. Please have a little patience. I promise they aren’t gone forever.

And in the meantime, warn your DH/SO, join my woot,, and grab your copy of the Field Guide. Your smutty-licious guilty pleasure awaits!

Happy reading!
Kari

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Pornocats pre-release giveaway!

KG_AnUnauthorizedFieldGuidetotheHuntPornocats, HO! Just a few more days until An Unauthorized Field Guide to the Hunt releases on an unsuspecting and ill-prepared public. Mariket’s non-disclosure agreement didn’t stop victor Shane West from spilling the details and won’t stop this expose on last season’s scandalous Hunt, either. All your burning questions about Mariket, the cats, and the Hunt have been answered in this pervy account of Shane’s seduction, his survival, and his ultimate triumph.

What does it take to tempt a cat in the arena?
What’s it like to enter the chase, to accept the mark of a mate?
And which of the shocking rumors about last season are true?

You’re days away from finding out, compadres!

After hours of intense (and frequently embarrassing) interviews, I picked the best direct quotes from Shane about his mate, about what the arenas on Mariket are like, and what it takes to become a victor. These tips and tricks are nested in the Field Guide for all you competitor wanna- and gonna-be’s, no worries. Here’s a tease of the first kernel of wisdom & hard-won experience —

“Entering an arena is like being awarded a ticket into the most exclusive megabucks lotto in the galaxy…except that ticket is accompanied by vicious claws, fangs, and a barbed penis.” ~ Shane West

RAWR!

Just so happens that, as some of my American peeps might be aware, the Powerball lottery here on earth is creeping around $400 mill. Drawing’s tonight and I, for one, am making stellar plans for my winnings. (Current plan is building a castle, btw. With a moat suitable for floating beer coolers and inner-tubing on those rare occasions when zombies aren’t attacking. LOL) So…

Don’t want to wait for the next mating cycle on Mariket to trigger your chance at a win in the Hunt? Me, neither. Waiting sucks. Fortunately, getting your shot at a prize couldn’t be easier. You won’t even need to pony up two bucks for a Powerball ticket. Leave a comment below with what YOU would do with a lotto win to be entered into a random drawing for a free digital copy of the Field Guide by 9:01 AM EST on August 13th, the release date for An Unauthorized Field Guide of the Hunt. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. For another chance to win, if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter already, please do so on the sidebar to the right on my website — I draw a random winner among subscribers for a prize every time a book releases!

Leave your comment below about what you’d do with your lotto bucks for your shot at winning a copy of the Field Guide — and I wish you all the best of smexy luck in the next Hunt…

Kari

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Pornocats cover…WHOA!

KG_AnUnauthorizedFieldGuidetotheHunt

On Mariket, the strongest competitors win…by losing.

Narone native and former heir of Class II shipbuilder Denbo-West Industries, Shane West surrendered his perilous birthright to compete in the Hunt and tried his luck with the lusty cats of Mariket. Shane’s mastery of survival craft in the untamed forest made him an early favorite among gamblers, fans, and arena officials. When he lured a cat into an arousing chase the first night, mating with Lore to become the season’s first victor seemed guaranteed.

Then news from Arena 4 slowed to a trickle. Rumors emerged about cats who’d gone feral as well as shocking breaches in security. Unconfirmed reports of assassins and rogue predators circulated before offworld communications screeched to a halt.

In this unprecedented glimpse inside the arena, Shane peels back the veil of secrecy. What does it take to tempt a sexy cat? How does being marked as prey by a feline lover feel? Experience the wanton pleasures of the heat with Shane and his mysterious mate—and discover which of last season’s scandalous rumors are true.

Run, pounce, fuck. Mate?

Welcome to the Hunt.

* ~ * ~ *

Releasing at Loose Id on August 13th. Pornocats, HO! :D :D :D

 

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Announcement

Any disputes between Noble Romance Publishing and I have been amicably, fully, and satisfactorily resolved.

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Vacationing…in a lunatic asylum

Summer time means vacation time for most. Everybody hits a sandy beach or some such and yeah, sometimes, I do that too. Not always, though. Not even usually, tbh. Though I hate camping with the fire & passion of 1K smut writers, we occasionally pitch a tent because the rest of the family loves it and we’re actually pretty good at the whole camping thang. (To be fair, I do like the hiking bits and I never met a Discovery Channel level insect I didn’t want a picture of.) Or we’ll spend a week riding roller coasters at an amusement park. We also love history. Living near so many great Civil War battlefields, we usually visit one or few every year.

But then, there’s the weirdness.

For my family, tour stops in the Land of the Strange are kinda like special events? We look forward to them the way most people anticipate trips to Europe — with lots of preparation and zeal! Ghost towns. Haunted places. The sites of natural disasters/tragedies. Yanno. Just odd spots.

The Trans-Alleghey Lunatic Asylum is one of those places.

Please allow me a wee bit of background deets…I was raised not far from the asylum, the next county over actually, and the hospital was still in operation in those days as Weston State. This was not a place anybody wanted to go then. I vaguely recall the town drunk (yes, we had one) ending up in Weston State to dry out from time to time. (Same town drunk performed a wedding ceremony for my brother and his date in the parking lot of a gas station on prom night!) If you were arrested and a psychiatric eval was ordered, you’d won a 6-month stay at Weston State too. In fact, shortly after I moved from the county, my great uncle was murdered and his killer was eval’ed at this hospital. Not exactly a happy place or a site inspiring fun memories for me. I mostly remember it because of my uncle. And the town drunk, of course. ;-)

Still, it always looked creepy as hell and every time we visit family, we invariably drive by the hospital. The asylum was closed in the 90s. A local bought it several years ago (we all thought she was CRAZY) and it opened for tours, initially paranormal/haunted tours for the most part. Which cracked me up. Listen, I’m from the area and I was a weird kid. If ghost stories were floating around about the place, I would’ve known about it. The asylum looks spooky as all get out. The place should be haunted — but it’s not. We happened to be in town at the time so I had my redneck fun snooping around with the dh & my daughter while Ghost Hunters was filming the first (of many) “investigation”s of the asylum and laughed like a loon when it aired on TV. (To this day, I devoutly believe at least some of the ghostly murmurs they reported were faint echoes of my diabolical snickering outside.) Whatever, the place ain’t haunted. That’s the point, but driving by the asylum during every visit home, year after year, we’d collected TONS of exterior shots. Haunted or not, my family wanted to see inside the place. Desperately. (This is what happens when your nearest & dearest aren’t locals.) The whole haunting spiel is nothing but a joke to me, a bad one, but I’ve long admired the architecture and the history is dark & bizarre. I adore the dark and bizarre so…Frankly, they wore me down.

We finally toured the asylum a couple of weeks ago. Even though it isn’t haunted and even though I’m still local enough for the sad/tragic memories of the place to be firmly entrenched in my head. Even though the cost of those tickets will require you to hock a kidney on eBay. We went.

Worth the bucks, dudes. Totally worth it. And this is from a (former) local.

Anyhoo, I thought it’d be fun to share some of my pics from the tour so…here ya go.

LOL, okay, I heinously stole this picture, but I didn’t get a decent panoramic exterior shot this trip and I’m too lazy to look through my older pics so…this is the place. Notice the clock tower. In this shot, the tower hasn’t been restored yet, but if you scroll down to the shot of the rec yards in back, you can see what the clock tower looks like today. The main building here is one of the largest made of hand-cut stone in the world (bested by the Kremlin in Russia). Construction was interrupted by the Civil War so parts of the asylum are really fricking old. ;-)

Exterior 1 — The asylum, btw, isn’t simply one building. It’s a complex of many buildings. If you want to get technical about it, the asylum was entirely self-contained back in the day. The grounds included a farm, a coal mine, a cemetery…well, everything. Anyhoo, this is of the main building.

Exterior 2

We’re going in…!

The auditorium. There was a stage for performances and a projector room for showing movies against the wall. The floor here is way too unstable to walk on.

Window from one of the units — CREEPY AS HELL

They staged one of the patient rooms with props.

This wouldn’t have been existing while the asylum was still in operation, but once the place closed, they had to lock it up super tight because some local rabble rousers (ahem) might break in and get hurt since the place is/was falling apart. Funnily enough, a team of local police got permission to do drills there before the new owners bought the place. They were only supposed to use the hospital and grounds to practice stuff like entries, tactical war gaming, & whatnot, but those boys brought paintguns and tore the place up. Wouldn’t have mattered, I guess, if someone hadn’t gotten stirred up about preserving the asylum as an historic place, but…Those cops were soooooooo busted, LOL.

The bathrooms of each unit were done in gorgeous marble. At the time the hospital was built (Civil War Era), the idea was to surround psychiatric patients with beautiful architecture in order to encourage peacefulness and tranquility. A soothing environment might aid treatment. Doesn’t mean they aren’t still going to write on bathroom walls, marble or otherwise. Demonstrably.

Somebody has a sense of humor.

This changed in later years, of course, but all staff originally lived at the hospital. The nurses’ working conditions were especially horrifying. They lived 16 to one suite (we saw 2 suites) comprised of 2 bedrooms each. The nurses worked 12 hour shifts so swapped beds by whoever was on/off shift and only got 1 day off work each month. That isn’t this room, though. This room would’ve been used by staff who maintained the grounds and stuff like that. They had a ward on the top floor.

And this is the ward the doctors stayed in. Yes, they lived at the asylum too. This ward was in use until the facility closed back in the 90s. Doctors weren’t required to live on-site anymore, no, but they had rooms in case it was easier or more convenient for them to sleep over. Some of the doors still had names taped to them from the days the hospital was still in use, one for a doctor and another for a paramedic.

The TB building. There’s a baseball field in front of it. The asylum had its own ball teams. No lie. This is the building, btw, where they take people for paranormal/ghost tours, including the grand daddy overnight tour. Yeah. Because I want to spend eight hours and a hundred bucks to sleep somewhere swimming in contagions. Fabulous!

The TB building has screened-in porches at each end.

Main building architecture I love

Lurvs the flourishes — this one’s dogwood

Did I mention I lurvs the architectural flourishes? LOL. Seriously, if you go along the back of the building, the builders included flourishes that are faces, each of them distinct/unique, for good luck. I can’t remember how many faces there were. 8? But you could lose an hour, easily, trying to find them all which is saying something considering the back of the building is a great deal more plain and serviceable than the front. They kept the rear simple(r) because, hey, who pays attention to the back end of a building? Still had those neato faces scattered about, though. Cool.

Another spooky window. This one was on the way to the medical center, where residents had surgeries (including lobotomies) and whatnot. Also had a beauty shop with barber chair. Just in case you wanted a quick trim before you got your brains stirred for you, I guess. The asylum was true one-stop shopping — the morgue was there too, so funeral homes could pick up bodies without strolling them through the front entrance. If the families of patients didn’t retrieve their relatives, patients were buried on the asylum’s grounds, where there are 3 cemeteries and over 2,000 former residents are interred. You can see trunks and personal items of former patients that were never claimed in the museum rooms in the lobby. Sad.

This is the building where the criminally insane were housed. It was shut down after a riot in the 90s, I believe. I took this shot from still another building, the geriatrics building. To the left of the building above a building that operated as the asylum’s halfway house stood, where outgoing patients could learn skills to help reintegrate with society before they were chucked out the door. A resident, however, decided she didn’t want to leave and burned the place to the ground (with her in it), so nothing remains of it today.

The back of the building. The women’s rec yard was through the wooden double doors and the men’s rec yard was through a second (unpictured) set of double doors to the far right, with the kitchens sandwiched between. There was also a pool for physical therapy that has since been filled in. This side of the building is where you would search for the faces architectural flourishes. (Note the restored clock tower.)

Each unit had a day room (or lounge), where patients could gather. They restored one so we could see what it would’ve looked liked back then.

So those are the pics of the asylum that didn’t have my kids in them — but there are loads of other stuff to see! Seclusion rooms, the museum rooms & art gallery just off the lobby, inside the medical center, the fountain out front, the soldiers/veterans ward, a ward that’s been fully restored…All kinds of fascinating bits of history and general creepiness. If you find your way near Weston, WV, a stop at the lunatic asylum is definitely worth a few hours of your time.

Next weirdo trip of awesome…Centralia, PA!

By the by, for anyone who’s wondering, the pornocats (officially An Unauthorized Field Guide of the Hunt) is scheduled to release at Loose Id in mid-August — WOOT! I’ll get on the ball at some point and post the blurb under the Coming Soon tab, I promise. :-)

Hoping you’re having a blast this summer ~
Kari

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Pornocats, HO!

Want a look-see at what I’ve been up to? This is my latest project, An Unauthorized Field Guide of the Hunt. Or you can call it my pornocats. I sure have been, LOL.

 

“Entering an arena is like being awarded a ticket in the most exclusive mega bucks lotto in the galaxy…except that ticket is accompanied by vicious claws, fangs, and a barbed penis.” ~ Shane West

Cycle 2315
Mariket, Arena 4
Season Premier

Shane bounced lightly on the grate floor in the crowded hovercraft to stay nimble as he monitored the red light above the bay door. He used his peripheral vision to assess the ship’s complement of Hunt competitors. He wished he could believe the division of competitors for transport to Mariket was coincidental and that his assignment to a ship with just two other humans was bad luck. Lying to himself—if only to calm his screaming nerves—would result in failure and pain, though. The cats never left anything to chance. For some unknown and unknowable reason, the cats had chosen to insert him into the arena with a group that included few likely allies. That could mean screening tests had indicated Shane was a poor candidate, to be discarded early and ruthlessly. Or the cats might believe him so well suited for the Hunt that he’d been selected for the gift of vulnerability.

Either way, when that light flashed green and the bay door glided open, Shane was in deep shit.

He slowed his breathing by inhaling a long drag of air through his nose until his chest fully inflated and then released it through his lips in a protracted though silent hiss. Panic wouldn’t help.

Shrugging to secure his backpack comfortably on his shoulders, he pretended not to notice the spicy stench from the majority of Nambians on the ship. So what if the agile and ferocious creatures could trigger their own heat? Any cat who would fall for the promise of a fast fuck rather than the lure of the chase wasn’t for Shane. Let the Nambians squander limited time and resources on orgies. Shane hadn’t come to the Hunt to entertain lusty cats as their whore.

He just hoped the Nambians didn’t think much of his strategy, either. If they’d identified him for elimination when they exited the hovercraft, Shane was doomed.

The red light flickered.

The shields had lowered to allow hovercrafts into the arenas then.

Not much longer.

Shane’s pulse sprinted as his fight or flight response kicked into overdrive. He lifted his hand to curl his fingers around the strap of his backpack to anchor it. The cats never allowed them to take much into the Hunt, but he couldn’t afford to lose his kit. Vulnerability was fine, maybe even good. Helpless stupidity wouldn’t be forgiven.

Green!

By the time the pneumatic door slid wide, Shane had already leaped forward. Smaller, quicker, Shane pushed through his fellow competitors and squinting at the brightness of the arena from the gloom of the ship, he jumped through the bay door. He contorted to free himself from a tug on his pack and grunted at the jar of his feet landing on solid ground.

He bent to dislodge another grasping wrench on his pack. And he ran.

To the trees.

He focused on making it through the thick underbrush that circled the landing pad and the fact that cats waited in that forest, primed to hunt him, was irrelevant. At least the cats wouldn’t beat Shane and worse to strut their strength and superiority. Leaving the Hunt too soon was more dangerous than all the competitors and cats in the arena combined, an early evac as good as a death sentence for him. If he didn’t reach another landing pad and ally with a larger group of humans…

He streaked across the field cleared for the hovercraft. Snarls, screams, and the thuds of fists landing on flesh erupted behind him before he’d scrambled halfway to the woods, the sickening sounds a chorus signaling the predictable rush of medivacs during the first moments of the Hunt. Let them fight. Fewer rivals for Shane with the cats. He’d last longer. Plus, the brawl would occupy wardens. He he wouldn’t have to worry  about the officials intruding to spur this season on.

Pounding footsteps followed closely behind Shane as he raced toward the forest. He’d never believed he was the only competitor on his ship with the brains to opt out of an unfriendly alliance at this entry point. He didn’t need to be smartest, though. He needed to be fastest.

With a frantic glance, he pinpointed the least dense sliver of overgrown thicket ahead and legs pumping, he shot directly for it. Whoever was trailing him—more than one competitor judging by the collection of uneven pants—would be on him once he entered the woods, but he might still give them the slip if he forged a quicker path through the barrier of briars.

He barreled into the prickly patch of leaves and twigs, lifting an arm to shield his eyes from jutting thorns that whipped at him as he used his momentum to punch a hole in the brush. Brambles gouged his hands, his neck, any exposed skin. Ignoring the sting, he raced on. The scritch of tearing fabric and brief flare of pain at his thigh didn’t stall him. Even the vines tangling around his feet didn’t slow him. When he tripped, he simply rolled, allowing the weight of his body to ram him forward. He tumbled once, twice. Too fast. A disorienting spiral of violent green whirled around him until his legs hitting a slender tree jerked him to a stop. Shaking his head to clear the dizziness, he scrambled on all fours through a tunnel of dappled leaves. He was almost in the forest proper. If young trees grew and native wildlife had made a path of bent limbs in the thicket to feast on ripe berries, he must be close.

The brush thinned.

Shane lurched to his feet, stooping in the cramped space. He could move faster now. Even as the underbrush cleared around him, he knew he’d failed, though. The labored pants behind him had dispersed, curses and sucking breaths echoing from both his left and to his right.

He hadn’t outrun them.

As the leaf-cover melted away, he spotted one of the other humans running to his right. He was smaller than Shane, who was considered tall back home on Narone where sporadic growing seasons had stunted evolution in human development. The crown of Shane’s head barely reached the chins of his kind everywhere else, but this human was shorter still. Shane could take the guy in a fight, if he had to. Not so the gigantic Aretu ahead and to Shane’s left, whose black eyes streamed wet from the daylight that must be blinding him, but whose long legs and wide stride ate up the distance Shane tried to put between them. He wouldn’t fair well against Aretu talons or camouflaging black fur come nightfall.

At least one other competitor ran behind them, probably two, but the greater need for haste didn’t allow Shane to glance over his shoulder. The walls of rich lush green they’d burrowed through muffled ringing cries and growls from the melee they’d fled at the landing pad, but that didn’t mean any of them were safe yet.

Shane stumbled to a halt only when the black dots that danced across his vision from lack of oxygen made him cripplingly light-headed and his empty stomach proved it wasn’t so hollow Shane couldn’t wretch up bile at the brutal pace. He bent over, hands braced on his knees, and vomited to the forest floor.

The Aretu didn’t look back. It kept running. Good riddance.

The human next to him cried out and collapsed to the ground in a heap of flailing arms and legs a few paces away. The other human from the ship slammed into him, the two of them rolling in a clump of limbs. Their combined shouts rang out loud enough to draw every predator in the arena. Fantastic. If Shane wasn’t so busy puking his guts into the dirt, he would’ve cursed. May as well shout the news from the treetops. The travelling feast is here!

Startled from his disgust, he jerked away from a canteen shoved under his nose – more specifically, from the shimmering scales of the triple-clawed hand offering water to him. “Not to drink. To rinse your mouth,” an unmistakable trilling voice said.

Horror jolted up his spine and forced Shane to tilt his head up.

He hadn’t evaded the bloodthirsty Nambians, after all.

Hard to tell since this one leaned over him, but the Nambian looked like a runt, not quite as tall as others of his kind and not as bulky with muscle. If Shane straightened to his full height, this Nambian would tower above him by the span of just a few hands. The iridescent scales were smaller too, roughly the size of Shane’s thumb instead of his fist. This predator was young, barely an adult, which might have convinced Shane had driven the reptile to flee a species alliance at the landing pad that would pick off weaker members as soon as rivals had been dispensed with—if not for the notorious sacrificial loyalty of Nambian competitors in the Hunt.

“Allies?” the Nambian hissed.

Shane mightily resisted the urge to throw up again. “Thanks,” he told his assassin. Shane accepted the silver canteen and pretended to spill a little of its contents to ensure what spattered to the forest floor wasn’t acid. Maybe poisoned? Under the Nambian’s reptilian gaze, Shane lifted the canteen. He shifted casually to the side and placed the webbed skin separating his thumb and forefinger between the opening and his mouth before feigning a sip, then spitting sour saliva into the dirt to dutifully “rinse.” Returning the canteen to his own kit, the Nambian squeezed his shoulder. “I will see,” the scaly predator said through his weirdly lipless mouth, gaze indicating the other two humans groaning nearby. “Stay.”

Since the Nambian hadn’t attacked yet, Shane sat on the ground and rested. Struggled to catch his breath. Maybe the Nambian preferred to eliminate the pesky humans from the Hunt one by one. A single man wasn’t as strong as the cunning reptiles, no matter how young, but humans outnumbered the Nambian for now so Shane was probably safe. He’d exercise patience while the others tried to pull together an alliance among this landing pad’s refugees, wait for his opportunity to slip away. Mentally praying for a distraction, he watched the Nambian stride to the others.

“Snake got him. Does anyone have something sharp?” one of the humans, the chunky blond who had crashed into the first man, asked.

The Nambian pivoted to angle his creepy scaled head in query at Shane.

“No,” he reluctantly admitted.

The creature grinned, pointy teeth menacing. “I do.”

Figured.

“Get away from it,” the other human whined, clasping his leg to his chest.

“You’re bit and it’s already swelling,” the blond said. “Do you want to leave the arena on an accident medivac this early?”

 Rucking up his Hunt shirt, the Nambian withdrew a forbidden dagger from the waistband at his scaly abdomen. “The venom must come out,” he agreed, beady black eyes focused on Shane instead of the others. “You could die.”

As if Shane needed another clue that the Nambian would make Shane his bitch if he didn’t get the hells away?

The blond guy held out a flat palm for the contraband knife. “I grew up on a farm with a lot of vipers. I know how to extract venom. I’ll do it.”

Smirking at Shane, the Nambian handed over the knife.

Stupid bastard.

The blond proved humans could be as sly and deadly as every other species sent into the arenas by immediately sticking the dagger between shiny scales and into the Nambian’s gut. As they wrestled for control of the smuggled dagger, Shane hauled his winded ass off the ground. He’d sprinted out of sight before the echoes from the first screams died in the alien forest and the wardens’ shouted warnings to “Stand clear! Drop the weapon!” rumbled. A trio of med techs wearing the standard blue Arena 4 jumpsuit streaked by Shane.

One less Nambian to compete against.

The snakebite would trigger the medical evac of the other human, too.

Maybe Shane’s luck had turned.

 * ~ * ~ *

He jogged all day. The five landing pads inside the arenas were spaced so far apart he wouldn’t stumble into range of other competitor groups and a more secure human alliance until tomorrow, but Shane hadn’t survive to adulthood by being careless. Once he broke free of the perilous bottleneck at his own entry point, he doubled back to ensure the blond hadn’t continued following him. Then, he slowed his pace to watch for signs. Scuffed dirt. Broken branches. Disturbed leaves.

Nothing.

While he hadn’t fostered in the countryside of Narone in his teens, Shane had dodged raiders after one of his brothers had arranged for a malfunctioning speeder to dump him in the Badlands once. He could avoid others when he needed to.

He sure needed to.

Cats most readily accepted humans. No one was sure why. Thousands of offworlders queued through the cats’ screening center on the Seskeran moon every mating cycle and dozens of species had made the cut to be inserted into one of the five arenas on Mariket. All were hunted. No other offworlders won the Hunt as frequently as humans, though, which put one hell of a target on Shane’s back. That the cats pounced and toyed with humans most was unnerving. Add the ferocity of other species desperate for a victor and the harrowing odds against humans usually persuaded those tempted to enter the Hunt to reconsider. Winning was too horrible to contemplate. Most humans stayed away.

Shane hadn’t enjoyed that luxury. He must compete. His brothers’ attempts to kill him had forced him to the one spot in the galaxy impregnable to uninvited offworlders–Mariket. If he managed to impress the cats and convince them to accept him in trade negotiations after the Hunt concluded, he would become too valuable to his home planet to waste. Narone wouldn’t tolerate losing Shane to petty family squabbling. He would finally be free of them. And safe.

If he didn’t fuck it up by mating a cat.

He must compete well. Very well.

Just not too well.

Rather than pondering the perilous dance of his Hunt, Shane concentrated on scouting for berries, nuts, and anything that looked edible as he jogged. He’d made not thinking about the Hunt and the cats his mission inside the arena. That mission would be more successful if, instead of freaking out, he narrowed his focus to only what was immediately necessary. Escaping his hovercraft’s group of competitors before his bruised and bloodied body became the stepping-stone of a victor? Necessary.

Shane squinted at pea-sized purple berries in the highest limbs of bushes ahead.

Finding something to fill his cavernous stomach and show off his self-sufficiency?

Vital.

Sweeping his surroundings for predators, Shane slid his pack off his aching shoulders at what must’ve been well past midday. Hard to tell with the gloom, Mariket’s sun hidden by the forest canopy. He unzipped his pack and retrieved one of the few personal items the cats allowed—his flatscreen. Unlike many competitors, poverty hadn’t driven Shane to the Hunt so his screen was security coded to power up in the palm of his hand alone. Stomach gurgling, he waited while the device read his handprint and decided that a dirty, sweat-streaked Shane was still indeed Shane. The screen glowed to life. With a few taps of his fingers, Shane was thumbing through a plant identification guide he’d loaded into the handheld device.

He smiled moments later when the leaf arrangement on the stems, the shape and color of the berries, and even the dark fertile soil all indicated he’d discovered a meal that wouldn’t poison him. He shut down the screen to conserve battery life and returned it to his pack, trading the device for a collapsible cooking pot.

He circled the bushes, picking berries at chest height. Other forest scavengers had already stripped fruit from that point down. No matter how his stomach grumbled, he harvested a thin band along that watershed mark so he wouldn’t leave obvious signs of his presence to others. Luckily, he spotted wild mushrooms beneath the lowest branches that his screen once again assured him would not kill him. Between the berries and the mushrooms, he filled his pot.

That should increase his odds with bookies taking bets across the galaxy. Another step closer to becoming too valuable for his family to kill.

Carrying the pot so he could toss bites into his mouth, he moved on. The berries burst, tart and juicy, on his tongue. The mushrooms were bland and unpleasantly rubbery, but he’d been able to harvest more of them so the volume pacified the yowls of his stomach.

He veered off his current heading when half the berries and mushrooms were gone. The gods must have blessed him because the sound of gurgling water guided him to a pond the size of his sleeping quarters back home. Ordinary lilies floated on the surface. Insects snapped and buzzed. He crouched behind giant ferns and studied the tracks in the mud surrounding the water source while he finished his supper. No claw marks, which was both warning and relief. Nambians and other taloned competitors hadn’t visited the pool. But neither had the cats. Maybe they were all too busy fucking to care about one lone human roaming their hunting ground.



He set out again when he felt the cool night creeping near. He needed to be far from a water source and hidden by the time the forest gloom deepened to pitch black.

The cats were nocturnal. Mostly.

Shane hiked as long as he practicably could, but this time, his luck gave out. He wanted a pile of rocks, a hill not built by biting insects, maybe a cave. He found none. Fallen trees that might’ve provided a camouflaging shelter had been markedly absent during his journey through this section of the arena. The forest was the forest was the forest. There were towering trees and random clusters of bushes and then still more trees and bushes. In some areas, predators could survey the forest floor from above virtually unimpeded.

Damn cats didn’t play fair.

When the shadows of dusk began darkening the woods, Shane couldn’t wait anymore. Others would stalk the arena once daylight fled, exploiting species adaptations that made the inky black their home. Without weapons, Shane was worthless in the dark and his strength too wasted from running. He had to hide.

Though vanishing inside a shroud of thorns made his nerves jangle, finding a shallow trench in which to bury himself under a blanket of forest detritus felt too much like a grave. A thicket heavy with leaves was his best bet. He crouched and retrieved the standard issue sleeping bag from his backpack, hoping the thin material was warmer than it looked. Tamping down shrieking unease, he wriggled under a cascade of greenery and unfurled his bed for the night. He twisted to tug his pack into the claustrophobic space to serve as his pillow. He unzipped the sleeping bag so he could squirm inside, twisting to squeeze into the tight cocoon. Hands shaking, he arranged the lowest branches of the thicket to hide him and fastened the sleeping bag to his chin. He considered pulling the drawstring tight around his face so he wouldn’t lose as much body heat, but he wanted to hear anything nearby.

No cat or competitor would be able to see him.

That was bad. Very bad. Competitors who disappeared made for a boring Hunt, which might prod wardens to flush him into the open if fighting at the landing pads had tapered.

And the brush surrounding him felt like a crypt.

Shane couldn’t remember the last time he’d hiked so much, though. He’d certainly never run so far. His overtaxed muscles burned, the sting at his feet promising blisters he’d been too rushed to check at the pond. Exhaustion weighed him down. Willing his body to relax, he closed his eyes.

They popped wide at the distant rustle of branches in the tree canopy overhead.

Just birds.

The arena was full of them, not to mention the millions of small animals he’d spotted as well as the tracks they left in damper soils. Shane had camped in the Badlands, enough to understand jumping at every sound would result in a restless night that robbed his body of sorely needed sleep.

He’d never been hunted, though. Not like this. The whisper of leaves and every scrape of phantom twigs set his heart to pounding. The cats weren’t on his trail yet. Shane had been smart, conservative, devotedly applying the tips he’d learned at the screening center. Why would the cats go after him when the much more entertaining Nambiums were so thick on the ground? He’d never followed reports or betted the Hunt because the violence of the chase spooked him, but even he knew the first days were dominated by sexual gluttony. The real Hunt started days from now, when the cats grew weary of mindless fucking. Once the fog of arousal faded and the cats’ lust had spent on the most readily available prey, only then did the cats play.

Shane trembled anyway, fear growing as the black of night swallowed him whole. If he lifted his hand to his eyes, he wouldn’t see his fingers. Not in the arena. Maybe not anywhere on Mariket. The tree canopy blocked the glow of the Seskeran moon and smothered starlight. With his eyes now deprived of information, his sense of hearing sharpened. His stomach clenched at the faintest, most innocuous sounds.

No cats were here. That scratch to his far left was the scrape of twigs rubbing in the breeze, not claws skittering over tree trunks and limbs. He was safe.

He shivered, though, because he didn’t feel safe.

He felt like he was being watched.

Cats were unlikely to be nearby, but wardens were rarely far. Nothing mattered to them except orchestrating the most productive Hunt that would attract competitors to the arenas for the next mating cycle. They couldn’t physically touch Shane. Hunt rules forbid that, but they could steer cats and competitors in any direction they wanted, toward safety. Or danger.

Making an enemy of wardens by vanishing had been a colossally dumb idea.

When he jerked in his sleeping bag at the chirp of an insect near his cheek, he disturbed the thicket, which swayed. Shane silently cursed. His competitors and the cats wouldn’t need to go to the effort of hunting him. Shane’s nervous stupidity was as good as a clarion alarm. At least the cats were too busy fucking Nambiums to press the advantage of his embarrassing lapse and he had this first night to correct his mistakes.

Although he’d been right about the bush concealing him, it wasn’t the best choice for shelter. Nearby wardens would flush him out. Darkness increased his claustrophobic paranoia and the sensation of being trapped and smothered by the brush made him too jumpy, tricked him into small nervous tells that pinpointed his location. If he sat and leaned against the tree near the first tangle of briars in this cluster instead, where he could use some of the prickly branches as cover, he would be partially exposed to the night, but steadier. Less prone to anxious twitches. He’d also pacify wardens disgruntled with him for disappearing.

He might even manage some rest.

He just needed to slither from the thicket without alerting the entire arena. Since moving quietly at night was a skill he must master to succeed in the Hunt, he might as well start practicing while the cats enjoyed their whores elsewhere.

First step?

Lowering the zipper of his sleeping bag and, to do that without noise revealing his presence, he must move the fastener down the teeth of the zip one by one. Slowly. Glacially. To ensure panic didn’t rush him, Shane counted his heartbeats between each incremental descent. One, two, three, then the fastener lowered a single notch. One. Two. Three. Then again.

At this rate, dawn would break before Shane freed himself from the mother-fucking thicket that made him shake, but he forced himself to breathe smoothly, evenly. Twenty lifetimes later, the zipper had traveled as far as his left shoulder. By the time the bag had loosened to his elbow, Shane shivered from cold instead of fear. He was also convinced leaving the thicket before daybreak was a mistake only marginally less catastrophic than hiding inside it in the first place, but he couldn’t bundle back into the sleeping bag. The sleep he craved was impossible and the endless march of time before dawn intolerable. So he lowered the zipper until he was able to comfortably work his arms free. Blind, he groped for the brambles he’d arranged to camouflage his tunnel into the bush and moved them aside until his careful, reaching hand met only cool night air.

He lifted up, wincing at another inadvertent shake of the thicket, but he aligned his body with the hole he’d re-created without rustling the leaves again. He froze. Listened. A pair of night animals squeaked at one another in a high-pitched chatter that must indicate no large predators stalked them. Except Shane, of course, and he couldn’t care less about whatever forest vermin called the woods home.

He just wanted a comfortable place to rest.

He inched from the thicket, squirming forward so soundlessly the thunder of his pulse in his ears was louder than the slide of his body over the cool earth. Instinct prodded him to pause at the opening before wriggling farther, but he couldn’t see anything, including the eyes of the animals chittering at one another so close.

How a planet populated by cats could have rats astounded him.

If the rats were lively, Shane was positive he could complete his escape from the thicket unmolested, though. His speeding pulse calmed with each breath of fresh, free air he drew into his lungs. Threading his legs, still cocooned in the sleeping bag, through the narrow hole in the briars was agonizing when the urge to yank them away taunted Shane, but he resisted. He somehow managed to reach, gracefully silent, inside the brambles for his pack too.

Now, he needed to find that tree.

In the black, sucking darkness.

After slithering the rest of the way out of his sleeping bag, he cradled his backpack and the bag against his chest and crawled. Shane had committed his surroundings to memory when he’d chosen the site for his camp. He knew where he was and where that tree should be. Since he’d invested in moving as slowly and quietly as possible, he’d even familiarized himself with the forest noises by now.

So when a quiet chuff joined the caroling nocturnal sounds, the rats weren’t the only animals to freeze.

Shane’s heart stopped. Just stopped.

* ~ * ~ *

The Hunt begins when I wrap up some final bits and shove this bad boy out the door, but it’s never too early to boot up your flatscreens to place your bets for this season’s victors, compadres. Which competitors will you cast your votes for? Keep your eyes right here for competitor profiles and other Hunt news!

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