I’m starting a pseudonym to write shapeshifting billionaire paranormal romances under. (Believe it or not, shapeshifting billionaire paranormal romances are a thing. A very popular thing! And SO MUCH FUN to write, OMG!!!)
For early access to the Murphy Lawless novellas, you can subscribe to my Patreon page! I’ll be posting about them when they’re released, but they’ll come straight to your inbox this way.
And for today, a teaser chapter from RAVEN HEART, the first Alaskan Totems paranormal romance by Murphy Lawless! :)
RAVEN HEART: CHAPTER ONE
A surveyor’s mark, hot glowing orange, cut a line across an arm’s length of mountain stone. The paint splashed a few pieces of loose rock, but not enough to wipe it out if Elena knocked them away. Farther down the mountain, where grey stone turned to loose scree, another mark could be overturned entirely, but it wouldn’t make any difference. The surveys were done, and the development rights for the land had been put up for lease.
The federal government had given Alaskan natives more of their land back than any other Native American tribes—and that was a problem right there, given their land back—but this whole swath of mountain, traditional Tlingit hunting and gathering territory, still fell under federal lands, all the way out into the bay, and it turned out there was oil in them thar waters.
Elena Peratrovich’s mother, and her mother before her, had been fighting to get the land recognized as Tlingit territory for decades, long before anybody discovered oil, and today, they’d lost for good. No one in the tribe had the money to buy up the resource rights, and that meant the profits from oil and fishing development would benefit…well, someone else. As always.
So Elena had come to the mountain to say goodbye, to look out over the bay and the forests before oil platforms and cruise ships became eyesores on the glacier blue waters. She’d hiked up with the sunset around ten o’clock the evening before, and sat on the mountain through the long dusk and the few, hours of night. The horizon, never truly dark, began to brighten with grey again before three, and by four, soft gold light turned the sky pale behind the mountains. Shafts of brightness threw color on the mountainside, gradually illuminating scraggly brown and green moss, and stretching for the spruce forest that made up the range’s tree line. Farther down the stubborn spruce gave way to leafy trees and fern-filled undergrowth, Alaska’s all-but-unknown rain forests providing trees of massive size, even up to the cedars that had once made up the southeastern tribes’ traditional houses.
Looking over the early morning glory, Elena knew she wouldn’t give up. There was so little left unspoiled in the world already, and this country, the Great Land, was in her very blood. It couldn’t fight for itself, so she would fight for it, up until her dying breath.
But she couldn’t fight for anything up on a mountainside, regardless of how beautiful it might be. Elena sighed and stood, brushing her hands against her jeans-clad thighs, and shook the stiffness of sitting all night out of her muscles. Her cotton flannel shirt would be too warm by the time she’d gotten halfway down the mountain, but the red plaid button-down had been perfect for the cool night. Besides, it was comfort clothing, and she’d needed that too, knowing the mountain and its resources would be up for sale by morning.
There were a dozen paths down the mountain, or, at least, things that looked like paths coming up. Going down it was easier to tell they were run-off channels, places where the winter’s melting snow found the easiest way down. Most of them were scree-covered, with the loose rock so lightly settled that gusting wind shifted pieces of shale as she watched. A few of the paths disappeared over sharp ravines where a fall would mean certain death. There weren’t many creatures this high up, three or four thousand feet above the water, and Elena had only climbed the foothills, truth be told. The mountains proper lay behind her still, rising ten thousand feet into the air. Goats lived up there, and bears, and all the smaller beasts that could survive in mossy meadows and in the valleys where trees might eke out an existence.
Mostly, at the moment, there were mosquitoes, attracted to Elena’s warmth as she trundled down the mountainside. They whined in the air, fighting against the wind to approach her. Those that came close enough complained with thin high voices about flannel and denim and, most offensively of all, sturdy leather boots that meant the surface veins in her ankles weren’t easily accessible. Elena, smiling at their frustration, slapped a few away, then raised a hand in greeting as a raven’s shadow flickered over the earth. “Hello, Raven.”
A hoarse voice cried, “Hello!” in response. Elena lifted her eyes with a laugh, surprised to be spoken to this high in the mountains. In parking lots, sure: ravens that frequented towns heard people—human people—speaking to one another all the time and learned to echo their language. In the mountains, though, ravens usually stuck to their own tongue, not bothering with human words. Elena put her hand over her heart, smiling her thanks at being acknowledged by the trickster bird.
The raven circled above her, dipping a wing as if it knew she watched, then dove beyond a ravine edge, only to be tossed above her again by an updraft. It folded its wings a second time, disappearing into the ravine, and flew upward again to shake itself gleefully in the early sunshine. Elena laughed again and made her way to the edge so she could watch the corvid play. It was a big bird—an enormous one—with wings spreading what looked like a good three feet, sunlight bringing out the violet depths in their blackness. It dove a few more times under Elena’s delighted watch, then beat wings back into the sky, kloking self-importantly at her.
“Well, I was going home,” she replied, amused. “You’re the one who interrupted me.” She waved at the bird, then considered both the scree-filled path she’d taken down to the cliff’s edge, and the narrow edge of the ravine itself. On a still day she might have risked the edge, which lay perhaps twelve inches wide—wide enough for her certain feet— but the wind gusted again and she thought better of it. A quick scramble brought her halfway up the ravine path with the raven muttering and commenting from above.
The treacherous stone looked solid. It looked wedged into its brethren, and indeed, it probably was. But it was thin, too, much thinner than it seemed at a glance, and it broke under her weight, sending Elena sliding backward. She flung her weight forward, reaching for the run-off path’s edge, for solid rock there, and a second piece of stone broke under her grasping fingers.
Rockslides that got talked about were always big things, huge stones falling on unwary passers-by or crushing cars. Anyone who’d ever driven an Alaskan highway, though, knew there were much smaller ones, a sudden spit of scree that came from nowhere, innumerable small rocks that startled more than damaged. That was what happened under Elena now, a little rush of unstoppable stone, its own momentum carrying it—and Elena—along. It flung her past the ravine’s edge, off the steep slope entirely, giving her no chance to even try clinging to the side to save herself.
For a heart-wrenching moment she was in free-fall, arms wide, the ravine’s edge an ever-increasing distance away. Her stomach had been left somewhere up there with it, an empty lurch filling her middle, and her hair flew forward, obscuring her vision. She thought she should curl, tuck herself into a ball in the hopes that when she hit she might bounce and roll instead of simply break.
Too late: she jarred so hard her chin hit her chest, jaw snapping shut, teeth aching, tongue numb as if she’d bitten it badly enough that she couldn’t feel it. Pain radiated through her arms, her shoulders, and that—
—that didn’t make sense. Her legs, her tailbone, they should have hit first, they should be where agony shouted through her body, but no, her shoulders hurt, her weight pulling from them, dislocation a near thing—
—and the mountain was falling away from her, not rising to smash her body on its stones. She flew forward, carried forward by strong talons that cut into the tender flesh of her upper arms, huge black claws, and she looked up at the raven’s massive belly, six feet, ten feet long, impossibly huge, and beyond it, the underside of a vast beak, the frantic beating wingspan that defied comprehension—
It let her go, and she fell a short distance to the safety of the mountain’s side. Her knees bent, taking the impact easily. The sturdy boots kept her ankles from twisting as she landed. Elena wrapped her arms around herself, easing their ache as she gaped at the impossible raven disappearing over the mountain’s peak.
She hadn’t even had time to scream.
The woman had spoken to him, and so naturally he answered, forgetting, for a moment, that he was a bird, and a bird far away from the nearest human settlement, at that. Hello, Raven! she had called, and he said Hello! in response, as any polite being would do. Not that many had the ears to hear it anymore, or even bothered to greet the wild things that crossed their paths.
She had been so pleased, though, that he became full of himself, as ravens were wont to do, and played in the wind for her for a little while. She seemed sturdy and reliable for a human, with a roundness of feature that pleased his raven eye: her face would make a good mask for the sun, bright and giving.
And then she fell, and that was his fault; even a raven knew when a mistake was of his making. So he changed, which he hadn’t done near a human in more years than man could count. Not to his mortal form, either, that wouldn’t do any good to a woman falling from a cliff. No: the other shift, the hard one. The yéil, the Great Raven, whose size made it a thing of legend. A man could not change his weight, his mass, into a bird’s, and be mistaken for an ordinary creature, and so the magic did a kindness for those who wished to remain hidden in plain sight. It took the mass and put it aside, made the shifter hardly more than usual amongst other ravens. But it could be called, if desired, made manifest, and then he was a monster of ancient stories.
A monster large enough to catch the woman, who thankfully fell with her arms spread. Had she not, his talons would have pierced her torso, hurting her as much by saving her as he would have by allowing her to fall. But his talons wrapped safely around her outspread arms. The weight of her pulled them down several feet before his mighty wings drew them upward again. Heavy, she was heavy, but she didn’t fight him, and that made it easier. In moments he carried her to safety, dropped her back to the welcoming earth.
Then he flew away, hasty, cursing his foolishness, and would not even let himself glance back to see her wondering gaze as he crested the mountain, because no good ever came of the Trickster’s children interfering with the children of men.
(the end! of chapter one, at least! :))
RAVEN HEART, the first Murphy Lawless Alaskan Totems shapeshifting billionaires paranormal romance, is available now at my Patreon for subscribers at $3 or more a month, and will be out soon at Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo & other e-book sites!