The End

Typewriter imageWow, I can’t believe it. I just finished the first draft of my work in progress, True Nature.

At one point, I thought it would be the first of my novels that ends up at under 100,000 words. Now, at barely over 125,000 words, it’s still the shortest novel I’ve ever written in English.

I’ve been writing every day for the past 131 days, so it will be weird not to work on it tomorrow. I’ll put the story aside for a few weeks while I wait for my beta readers and test readers to catch up, then I’ll get started on the revisions.

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt:

SOMEONE SCREAMED. The haunting sound pounded through Kelsey’s ears. Glass rained down on her. Water splashed over her knees, and she gasped as the cold liquid hit her itching skin.

Metal creaked and groaned, then a portion of the car’s roof caved in.

Hot pain lanced through her forehead, and something warm dripped into her eye.

Screaming, she ducked down. Her fingers scrambled to release the seatbelt, but she was trembling too much. The pressure on her chest increased. She couldn’t breathe.

Her heart slammed against her ribs.

Out, out, out!

She needed to get out before the water rose too high or the need to shape-shift overwhelmed her. Finally, the stubborn plastic gave way and the seatbelt released.

Behind her in the backseat, a baby whimpered and a woman screamed.

Dizziness threatened as Kelsey turned around.

The weight on her chest moved — and with it, everything else around her.

Her vision blurred. When her sight cleared again, the scenery had changed. Whispering leaves replaced the roaring water, and the stench of panic gave way to the smell of damp earth. The car’s crushing metal retreated and with it Kelsey’s fear. Instead, the hot waves of hunting fever pulsed through her.

A woman’s screams echoed through the trees.

With two long leaps, Kelsey caught up with her. Her padded feet lost contact with the forest floor as she sailed through the air.

A panicked shout and the woman went down.

Lips pulled back, Kelsey loomed over her and breathed in the metallic aroma of fear. Her tongue pressed against sharp fangs as she bent her head, closer and closer to panic-damp human skin. Her canines closed around pounding veins. She could already sense the salty taste of blood.

Another loud scream broke the silence.

Kelsey jerked awake. Great Hunter. Not those dreams again. Groaning, she wiped sweaty hands on her blanket and tried to catch her breath, but that wasn’t easy.

A weight still pressed on her chest.

Her breathing sped up again, and she struggled not to kick out her legs in blind panic. Calm down. You’re not trapped. But something weighed her down. She peered down her body and into the gleaming eyes of the cat that was perched on her chest, digging in his claws to hold on.

“Will!” She growled and shook herself, nearly dislodging the cat from on top of her. “Damn cats!”

This one was definitely getting too bold. It had no respect for the canines in this household. “Just because I sleep on the couch doesn’t mean I’m your long-lost buddy, understood?” She tapped the cat under the chin, but when he began to purr, she grudgingly gentled her touch to a light scratching. “I’m a Saru soldier, here to protect your human, not to serve as a kitty bed.”

She sat up and set the protesting cat on the floor, keeping her hands wrapped around the small body until she was sure Will was safely balanced on his three legs.

Heart still pounding, she listened into the darkness.

Everything was quiet.

Just a dream. Jorie’s safe. You’re safe. She breathed in Jorie’s coconut scent that still lingered in the living room. See? You’re not in the car, and you’re not in the forest. Finally, her heartbeat slowed and the itching of her skin stopped. She shoved back the sweat-dampened blanket, got up from the couch, and padded to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Maybe it would help to get the taste of Jorie’s blood out of her mouth.

It was a dream, she told herself again. You never bit her. Didn’t kill her.

The aroma of blood and the stinging smell of fear existed only in her imagination.

She leaned against the kitchen counter, pressed the cool glass against her forehead, and closed her eyes.

A scream from the bedroom made her jerk.

The glass slipped out of her fingers. Shards and cold water hit her bare feet, and for a few seconds, dream and reality tangled in a moment of frozen horror.

Instinct took over.

Kelsey raced to the bedroom, ignoring a sudden pain in her feet, ready to shift and defend her human alpha.

She threw open the bedroom door and pounced into the room. The smell of coconut and fear hit her, but her nose didn’t catch any scent that didn’t belong here.

No intruder.

The bedroom was empty except for Jorie, who jerked upright. Light flared when she hit the switch. She lifted one hand to shield her eyes from the light and clutched the duvet against her T-shirt-clad chest with the other hand. Shaggy bangs were plastered to her forehead. Her Asian features were distorted with fear, then relaxed when she recognized Kelsey. “Kelsey! What are you doing?”

“I-I… I’m sorry. I didn’t want to —” She squinted down at Jorie, taking in widened obsidian eyes. Her nostrils flared as she breathed in the sweaty aroma of fear, mixed with sharp tendrils of anger. “Are you okay?”

Instead of answering, Jorie wiped her face and looked to the other side of the bed. As if only then remembering that Griffin was away for the night, she glanced at the picture on her nightstand.

Kelsey followed her gaze. From her place next to the door, she couldn’t see the photo, but she herself had taken it just a few months ago, so she knew the frame held a picture of Griffin sporting a liger-sized grin as she wrapped strong arms around an equally happy-looking Jorie.

The smell of Jorie’s fear evaporated, and Kelsey wished she had a protector who could chase away her own nightmares as easily.

“I’m fine,” Jorie said. She dragged trembling fingers through her midnight black hair and looked up at Kelsey. “What about you? You look a bit disheveled too.”

“It’s nothing,” Kelsey said. After all, she was there to serve Jorie, not the other way around. “Just some stupid nightmare. That’s all.”

“Yeah, me too.” A sharp breath escaped Jorie. “God, what a dream.”

Dream. Kelsey flinched. Oh, no. I woke her from a dream. As a member of Jorie’s Saru unit, she had to follow just three simple rules: Protect Jorie with your life. Don’t chase the cats, even if they taunt you. Never wake Jorie because she could be dreaming.

Congratulations. You just broke rule number three. “I’m sorry,” she said, lowering her gaze. “I didn’t realize…” She stopped herself. After two years as Jorie’s bodyguard, she really should have remembered that Jorie’s nightmares were not like hers. What if she had just compromised the Wrasa’s safety by interrupting an important dream vision?

“Hey,” Jorie said.

Kelsey glanced up, then away again when Jorie swung back the covers and slender, naked legs appeared.

“Don’t look so guilty,” Jorie said. “If you hadn’t come in, I might have woken myself up with my screams. Besides, it has happened before. Griffin once woke me in the middle of a dream vision by kneading against my belly.”

Ugh. Kelsey resisted the urge to press her hands over her ears. She didn’t want to hear any details about what her alpha pair did in bed, even if it was just kneading. It was like thinking about her parents having sex.

When Kelsey looked up again, Jorie had slipped on a silk bathrobe. It dragged across the floor as Jorie circled the bed, much too long for Jorie’s slender five-foot-six frame. She snuggled her nose against the fabric, and her eyes fluttered shut as she inhaled.

A whiff of liger hair and Griffin’s favorite body lotion hit Kelsey’s nose. It’s Griffin’s robe, she realized and grinned. Just one night apart and she’s missing her already. Like a pair of mated wolves. She found their behavior almost comically endearing. Not that she’d ever tell them that, of course. As the lowest-ranking member of the pack, she had no business commenting on their private lives.

“How about a cup of —” Jorie stopped and rushed toward Kelsey. “Oh my God! What happened to your feet? Stay still. Don’t move.” She almost stumbled over the bathrobe’s excess length, then caught her balance and sank onto her knees in front of Kelsey.

“W-what are you doing?”

“Didn’t you notice? You’re bleeding!”

Kelsey stared down. Tiny shards of glass were embedded in the skin on top of her feet. Blood dripped onto her toes. “Oh.”

Jorie produced a tissue from the bathrobe’s pocket and dabbed it against Kelsey’s feet.

“Um, Jorie…” Pinpricks of pain shot up Kelsey’s legs, but the heat in her cheeks had nothing to do with pain. She reached down and tugged on Jorie’s upper arm, trying to get her to stand. “You don’t need to do that.”

“Sure I do. You’re hurt.” Jorie continued dabbing.

Kelsey squirmed. Even after two years, Jorie’s got no concept of pack structure. This is wrong. Nataks don’t kneel in front of nederi. She tried to shuffle back, but Jorie’s grip on her ankle held her in place.

“Stop that. You’re dripping blood all over my carpet. Sit down.”

Following orders was in Kelsey’s nature. She plopped down onto the edge of the bed.

“Stay here,” Jorie said. She gathered up the bathrobe as if she were a queen in a ball gown and strode from the room.

Dazed, Kelsey stayed behind. She shot up when she remembered. “Please be careful in the kitchen,” she called after Jorie. “I dropped a glass. Let me clean up.”

“No, I’ve got it,” Jorie said from the kitchen. “You stay where you are.”

Kelsey sank back onto the edge of the bed.

One of the kitchen cabinets banged shut. Glass clinked as the bristles of a hand brush rasped over the floor. Within minutes, Jorie returned. “Do you want to go out and shift? That would probably be more efficient than patching you up.”

“Later,” Kelsey said. If she weren’t on duty, she would just shift; that would have taken care of superficial wounds like these. But with Griffin in Boise to meet with the council, Jorie’s protection was her responsibility. Leaving her, even for just a few minutes, was out of the question. “For now, I’ll just put a Band-Aid on it or something.”

“All right. You stay here. I’ll get it.” Jorie entered the bathroom and reappeared with a first-aid kit. She knelt down next to Kelsey again and reached for one of her feet.

Everything in Kelsey urged her to get up and move out of a more dominant Wrasa’s territory, but Jorie’s determined gaze shackled her to the bed.

“So,” Jorie said when she opened the first-aid kit, “what happened?” She tilted her head toward the kitchen, then nodded down at Kelsey’s feet.

“I got up for a glass of water, and when I heard you scream, I dropped the glass. I’m sorry I made such a mess.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Jorie used a pair of tweezers to pull needle-sharp pieces of glass from Kelsey’s skin.

Kelsey winced. Now that she wasn’t distracted by a possible danger to Jorie, the tiny cuts started to hurt. Oh, come on. Don’t be such a puppy. The pain was manageable, and she knew she wasn’t in any danger of shifting shape.

A metallic smell mingled with the odor of blood as Jorie dabbed iodine on the cuts.

“Bad dream?” Kelsey asked to distract herself from the pain and from how uncomfortable she felt looking down at Jorie.

“Yeah. Pretty bad. A woman attacked a boy. He struggled and tried to break free, but she pinned him down with her full weight. God, he was terrified. I could smell his fear.” Jorie paused and shivered, the iodine-drenched cotton ball inches from Kelsey’s foot. “He groaned and I think tried to talk to her, but she was merciless. She laid her forearm across his throat and pressed down.”

Kelsey’s lips pulled back in a silent snarl. “She was human.” It was a statement, not a question. No sane Wrasa would ever hurt a child. But then again, Jorie would probably say that no sane human would either.

“Yes.” Jorie put the iodine back into the first-aid kit. “The boy wasn’t, though. For some reason, I saw that quite clearly. He was Wrasa.”

Every muscle in Kelsey’s body clenched. “She was trying to kill one of us?”

Dark eyes glanced up at her. “I thought we finally made it past the ‘us versus them’ stuff.”

Kelsey looked away and licked her lips. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”

“I know. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” Jorie sent a smile up at Kelsey and nudged her knee. “Lift your feet.” When Kelsey did, Jorie swept her palm over the soles of her feet, searching for more shards of glass.

The gentle touch from her unusual alpha soothed Kelsey’s nerves. “Do you think it was just a dream or was it a vision?”

“I don’t know. Some of it didn’t make any sense, so maybe it was just a dream. I mean, the boy wasn’t a small child. He was a teenager, almost as tall as the woman. Why didn’t he just fight her off? Wrasa are usually stronger than humans, so it’s not like he was helpless.”

“Unless…” Kelsey gritted her teeth at the thought. “Unless he was going through his Awakening.”

The Romance Bet by Jae

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13 thoughts on “The End”

  1. Congratulations!

    What a wonderful achievement. Only 125K? Hm. How does it feel to write a shorter novel? How does this compare to say, Second Nature, which is much longer?

    I’m so happy for you.

    • Thank you.

      Interestingly, True Nature doesn’t feel like a shorter novel to me. It’s pretty fast-paced. Things start happening in chapter one and keep going from there.

      Second Nature needed to be longer because I had to set up my world and introduce my species of shape-shifters.

      And with most lesbian fiction novels ending up at around 80,000 to 90,000 words, True Nature would still be considered too long to be published by most publishers. Thank God L-Book isn’t one of them.

  2. Woohoo Jae, nice going!! Can’t wait until it’s out, I loved Second Nature and the stories that go along with it!! This sounds it’s gonna be even better. Can’t wait!

    • Thanks, Athena.

      You might remember Kelsey from Second Nature, in which she was a minor character. But overall, it’s not even necessary to have read Second Nature to understand and enjoy True Nature.

  3. Is BOUNCING off the walls EXCITED!!!! From the excerp I just read, True Nature us going to be every bit as Awrsome as Second Nature is… I am looking forward to reading TN.


  4. Congratulations! What a great accomplishment!!

    I have a confession to make. When you first announced the 100K word target, I was bummed, because I enjoy reading your books so much I don’t want them to end. I secretly cheered each time you bumped up the target higher and higher. :-)

    Thanks for the excerpt. Looking forward to reading the book!

  5. Wow, I can’t wait to be able to read the whole book. Loved the excerpt.
    BTW, Got the bookmarks & bookplates in the mail today. Thanks!

  6. I’m curious: Now that nearly a week has passed, do you find yourself thinking about changes you want to make to True Nature once you start the revisions process? Or were you able to “turn it off” and focus on your other projects?

    • For the most part, I’m happy to set True Nature aside for a while and not having to think about the changes I will have to make. Some of them are tough nuts to crack, and I know it’ll be easier to solve these problems if I can get some distance first.


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