"The Windwalker series promises a lot of awesome paranormal elements – magic, awesome magic factions (complete with their own kind of fortresses of magic galore), necromancers, the works!!" ~ Butterfly-O-Meter Books
"The first book in the riveting new urban fantasy Windwalker series is a fascinating read that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat." ~ The Jeep Diva
"Claire Ashgrove’s debut page-turner in her new urban fantasy series is fantastic. She creates a world that’s familiar enough to not need a codex to understand yet foreign enough to awe." ~ The Reading Frenzy
"The Windwalker concept is unique, as the origins of the magic are unique. The variety of paranormal abilities proved to be intriguing and fun to read." ~ Got Fiction
"A very promising world filled with magical people who can control elements, nature, power, illusions, the physical form & even the dead which is all displayed very well throughout the book and as all good fantasy style books should" ~ Book Passion for Life
"The action and adventure throughout the book will have you on the edge of your seat, and there were surprises around every corner. Take all that and add in a love story that was both sweet and believable, and you have a definite winner." ~ Literal Addiction
From the very first page its non stop action, suspense and plenty of twists and turns. Its a breathtaking magical journey" ~ Book Lover's Life
“Imaginative, breathtaking, and poignant. A spellbinding story.”
KAT BASTION, Bestselling author of Forged in Dreams and Magick
“An engaging modern fantasy that hooked me with the first sentence. You'll fall in love with the duty-worn hero right along with Ashgrove's fiercely protective protagonist.”
NATALIE J. DAMSCHRODER, Author of the Goddesses Rising Trilogy
“Before the Storm is a brilliant, heartfelt exploration of what it means to be human.”
SARANNA DEWYLDE, Author of These Scars We Keep
I was fourteen when I killed my father.
Sometimes, it seemed like the storm struck yesterday. The one that ripped him out of our house and threw his body beneath a pile of twisted metal and bricks. I remembered the wind whipping my ponytail as I stood and watched, the lightning that arced from the malevolent clouds and circulated through me as transformers blew. In ways, it was as if I experienced that hellish night from outside my body, as if it were apart from me. Although in the seven years that passed after, I learned I was directly responsible.
I never understood what fully happened then, but now, as I sat in the shrubs behind a perfectly manicured, sweeping Oklahoma lawn, and raindrops pelted around my shoulders, I knew one thing clearly. If the son of a bitch on the other side of the brick wall in front of me lifted a hand against my baby sister again, that destruction would reign once more.
Dried leaves crackled beneath my hiking boots as I shifted to get a better look through the large crack in the crumbling mortar and bricks. I froze. With any luck at all, Allen Rhoads was too focused on making Faye cower to hear. It didn’t really matter if he discovered me, all things considered. Just like everyone else, he’d never be able to prove I was responsible for his injuries. No, it was Faye who concerned me. I hadn’t seen her, not up close and personal, in seven years. Sure, I watched; that’s how I knew the asshole, our uncle, needed to be taught a memorable lesson. But as for talking to my sister—nada. Not since the night I murdered our dad.
I’d committed that crime for her, but she didn’t need to know.
“He texts you all the time, Faye,” Allen bellowed, his face inches from hers. In his opposite hand, he shook her pink cell phone. “You were talking to him after school today! He walked you home! Don’t you dare try to tell me you’re not seeing that worthless piece of white trash.”
“Uncle Allen, please,” Faye pleaded. “We were talking about our calculus test.” Though she raised a defensive elbow to shelter her face, her feet didn’t move. She stood her ground like the strong-willed witch I was.
If I was even a witch—I wasn’t sure.
“The hell you aren’t! I caught him sneaking out our backyard Saturday night, you little whore.”
I raised my eyebrow. That was new. Faye sneaking boys in? Somehow, I’d missed that. Still, she didn’t deserve the abuse Allen dished out regularly. And Darrin Jamison—the high school senior they were arguing over—wasn’t trash. He might not have the money Allen possessed, but he was a damn sight more man than my piece of crap uncle. Rage began to simmer in my veins. Around me, the breeze picked up. Tree limbs swayed, sending a shower of brittle fall leaves over the brick wall and onto their shoulders.
“It—I—we…” Faye stammered.
“You what? You can’t deny it, can you?” Allen straightened. He threw Faye’s cell phone at her feet and whirled on his heel, his hands clenched at his thighs. In the dim grey twilight, his formidable expression took on deeper, darker shadows. “I should have known when I took you in, you’d disappoint me. Your own father wanted nothing to do with you.”
I ground my teeth together, choking down fury. Daddy dearest had wanted too much to do with Faye. Just as he had with me. Overhead, lightning crackled through the clouds.
“You’re nothing but a good for nothing tramp!” Allen bellowed. “You’re going to respect the privileges you’ve been given, if I have to beat it into you. I swear to God, girl, you won’t embarrass me. Not with my re-election in another month.” He whipped around to face her once more, his arm cocking to his shoulder in the same angry whirl.
I glanced up. Felt that rage, that helplessness, the same instinctual desperation to protect Faye fill my veins. A deep roll of thunder sounded in the heavens, as ominous and foreboding as the telltale way my fingertips prickled with power I didn’t quite know how to control. All I knew was it happened when I felt. And I’d come here because Allen could provoke feeling inside of me. Now he’d regret ever disturbing the perpetual numbness.
Closing my eyes, I breathed deeply. Now. Let the storm come now. Let it be as horrible and deadly as the wrath I unleashed years ago.
A feeling of disassociation slipped over me, and distantly I felt a strange smile pull at my mouth. I remembered that odd sensation. Recalled all too well how it veiled over me and offered me protection from the flying debris even as it created an emotional barrier.
This was it. It would happen now.
As another bellow of thunder echoed overhead and the darkening sky filtered out the sun, I sucked in a deep breath and opened my eyes. My gaze focused on Allen; the stirring winds churned more violently. He uncoiled his arm, the back of his knuckles arcing toward Faye’s delicate cheek.
Something heavy hit me from the left. I toppled with the force of impact, barreled sideways into the fallen leaves and thick carpet of weeds and overgrowth. Knocked senseless, I barely comprehended a boulder of a weight pinning me to the musty ground. Gasping, I pushed to my knees to crawl away.
“No, you don’t,” a masculine voice whispered near my ear. Strong arms wrapped around my torso, anchoring my arms to my side as he rolled off me.
Beyond the brick wall, a sharp crack echoed through the sudden stillness. My sister cried out in pain. Sobs followed. “Uncle, please.”
My own need for survival took over—I twisted my shoulders and kicked with my feet. What the hell?
“Easy, Halle. I won’t hurt you.” Twisting awkwardly, he repositioned us into a quasi-sitting position.
For a moment, panic ebbed. I blinked. This guy knew my name? With another thrash of my entire body, I tried to shake off his hold. The bands of steel locked around my waist tightened, but he leaned his head over my shoulder enough I could see his face somewhat. Young. Close to my age—maybe twenty-five, twenty-six. Shadows obscured all but the glitter of sky-blue eyes. Those vivid blues made me gasp.
Annoyed, I reared my head back and slammed it sideways into his. I didn’t know who this jerk was, but damn it, he would not stop me from helping my sister.
Instantly, I regretted the head slam. He didn’t move except to bow his head and let out a sharp hiss. Conversely, pounding filled my skull. Tiny bright stars shot through my vision. Damn. Did he have steel wrapped around his brain?
“Okay, I’ll give you that one,” he murmured as he lifted his chin once more. Tight lines settled in around his mouth. His gaze remained fixed on the brick wall. “Next one’s not free.”
From the other side of that barrier, a back porch door squeaked open then banged shut. Damn it! Faye had gone inside. I couldn’t do anything with her locked up in there. It was too risky.
Infuriated, I twisted my head and glared at my captor. It wasn’t the first time someone had seen me lurking in the shadows and thought I was some sort of would-be burglar. I’d dealt with annoyances like this before. This time, I was willing to bet savior-guy here was some sort of security attaché for my uncle. I wasn’t the only one who had it in for the city’s esteemed mayor.
But how did he know my name?
I clamped my mouth shut tight, refusing to ask. If he’d taken a guess, I didn’t need to confirm I was still hanging around Applegate. Frankly, I preferred the theory that I’d died in the storm with my father, although my body had never been discovered.
“Are you done fighting?” he asked, obviously mistaking my momentary stillness for cooperation.
Hah! Soon as he let me go, he’d realize I hadn’t survived on the streets without learning a thing or two about self-defense. My glare narrowed more.
“Okay then,” he muttered. “Have it your way. I’m not in any hurry. The camarilla wants to see you, but we’ve got time.”
Camarilla? My thoughts skittered chaotically. Who was this guy? I twisted violently sideways, grunted when those powerful arms only tightened around me more. Unreal. He should be letting go, or his grip should have at least slipped.
A glance at the clearing sky told me whatever power I might have wielded from the atmosphere had slipped away. Great. He’d not only thwarted the chance I’d been waiting for with Allen, but he’d distracted me so much I’d lost my connection with the power I so rarely could manipulate. “Jerk,” I muttered.
His chuckle was low and oddly harmonious. “I’ve been called worse. Name’s Kale though. Kale Norwood.”
My gaze snapped back to his, and I willed him to drop over dead. Evidently the fates weren’t in agreement with that desire. Instead, the last of the grey clouds cleared, allowing an orange-pink sunset to filter through and illuminate Kale’s devastating grin.
The next heartbeat had me scowling again. Handsome, maybe. But this guy was a roadblock. Thanks to his intervention, I’d have to follow Allen around for God only knew how long until he outraged me so much nature took over my conscious again. Fucking perfect.
Then again, with the way my annoyance was compounding, it might not take all that long.
Kale’s expression sobered and he shifted position. “For someone who’s supposedly got a mouth on her, you’re awfully quiet. Something tells me that’s not a good thing.”
Not by a long shot.
“Okay, Halle, here’s the deal. You and I need to talk. But I’m going to get up before this rock under my hip embeds itself permanently.” He shifted his weight again, grimacing briefly. “It’s much easier for us both if I let you go first. What do you say—am I going to have to tackle you again?”
I opened my mouth to tell him where he could go, but the sound of Uncle Allen’s back door banging again derailed my thoughts. Tension filled my shoulders as my attention riveted on the voice beyond the brick wall.
“Come back here, you little tramp! I’m not finished with you yet!”
Branches rustled as she slipped behind the evergreen bushes that lined the wall and moved down the barrier. Her choked sniffle fueled my rage all over again. What had Allen done to her this time? Would the evidence of his abuse be visible? Or like the other times he beat her, would he take care to attack only the places clothing could hide?
That asshole was going to die. Just like his brother.
Kale’s arms relaxed, and I eased to my feet, tracking Faye’s movements down the wall. The hair on my arms lifted as dry lightning crackled through the late evening sky.
Keep going, Faye. All the way to the end of the yard. Stay back.
She couldn’t hear me, but I supposed the prayers didn’t hurt. Though what god would listen, I couldn’t answer. Faith was a precarious thing, and the only faith that mattered was that which I had in myself.
Sidestepping, I started for the wide, oblong crack in the wall to better see where my uncle was standing.
“Faye!” he hollered.
The iron hinges on the gate at the end of the lawn creaked. Faye? Or had Allen decided she’d taken refuge in the surrounding woods? I had to find out.
Breaking into a jog, I headed for deeper tree cover and the corner of the wall. If Faye had exited out the back gate, she wouldn’t be able to see me in the thick umbrella of woods surrounding our uncle’s property, but I could see her. I could see she was safe. At least for now.
“Damn it,” Kale muttered. His heavier footfalls joined mine, tromping through the woods.
The crunching leaves and snapping twigs didn’t concern me. These woods were a common hangout for Appelgate’s bored teens. Not to mention the pond at the top of the slight hill drew wildlife like a prehistoric tar pit. Any number of creatures could be crashing through the brush as Kale and I were.
The fact he followed, however, disturbed me greatly. If he was part of Allen’s security, he’d drag me inside that house and expose me to Faye. Then my aunt and I would both be expected to explain why I wasn’t really dead.
More than anything though, I needed to see for myself that Faye was okay. Out here at a distance, where if she weren’t, nothing bad would inadvertently happen to her. Out here where if he’d made her bleed, Faye couldn’t ever discover her big sister’s dark side.
I stumbled around a gnarled tree trunk and skidded down a rocky incline. Quiet sobs drifted through the air, twisting my heart. If I had known Faye would meet this fate, I never would have abandoned her to my extended family. But then…Uncle Allen had been nothing but kind in the years before…before I did what I did. It was like he changed the night the tornado ripped through Applegate, Oklahoma, destroying his brother. More so than how grief typically altered people’s lives.
“Halle!” Kale called in a hushed whisper. “Stop.”
Like hell. I doubled my pace.
He matched my ground-covering strides.
Ignoring Kale as best as I could, I ducked under a low-hanging elm branch and dodged a crooked sapling. Long mahogany hair peeked through a grove of thorn bushes. Faye sat within that protective circle, her arms folded on her bent knees, her shoulders heaving as she tried to stifle her sobs.
Something caught her attention, and she jerked her head up, scanning the trees that kept me hidden. I stopped before movement could draw her full focus, but not in time to spare myself from witnessing the blood that seeped from her split lower lip.
White-hot fury arced through me. In a heartbeat’s passing, the starlit sky vibrated with the low rumble of thunder.
Before I could savor the power that thrummed around me, a force like a moving locomotive slammed into my back. The air rushed from my lungs, making it impossible to brace myself against imminent impact.
I hit the ground chest-first.
Strong fingers locked around my ankle. “I said…stop,” Kale managed between labored breaths.
Him! Just who the hell did he think he was?
Dragging in a short gasp of air, I twisted to look down the length of my body at the hand that trapped me in place. As my furious gaze locked on the back of his bronzed knuckles, lightning split the sky. It arced over Allen’s gabled rooftop, spidered through the skeleton branches of deciduous trees, and slammed into the moist earth a breath away from Kale’s right shoulder.
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