QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM paranormal romance out: “Howling on Hold.”
Sometimes it’s harder to teach a young dog new tricks.
That’s why werewolves embark on a Howling: a three-year rite of passage in which they’re sent to a group residence to wrestle with their wolfy instincts and assimilate into the Wider World. But Tanner Araya’s Howling is almost over, and he could be called back to his remote pack at any moment. His twenty-first birthday might be his last chance to act on his strongest instinct and finally kiss Chase Denney.
Chase is RA at the Howling residence affectionately dubbed “the Doghouse,” and he takes his job seriously. So seriously that when he realized he was developing feelings for a resident, he forced himself to keep Tanner at a distance. But now that Tanner’s twenty-one, he’s not Chase’s charge any longer. They could be friends or—if Chase is lucky—something more. At least until they both return to their home packs for good, as tradition demands.
It would take a miracle for them to get together—especially when the other Doghouse werewolves insist on “helping.”
Warning: Many Frisbees are harmed in this story, forgiveness is not always easier than permission, and the five-second rule does not apply.
Warnings: Emotional abuse/manipulation; mild violence.
Tanner had been staring at his bedroom window in Howling Residence Seven since midnight, waiting for the first day of twenty-one to feel different than the last day of twenty. But as dawn filtered through his blinds, he was still the same not-tall-enough, not-social-enough, not-alpha-enough werewolf that he’d been before he’d crossed that invisible threshold from junior to senior, from provisional pack member to full adult.
Guess it was too much to hope for a magical transformation, some ping that would turn me into a stronger, wiser, more worthy version of me.
A thump outside his closed door drew his attention away from the slow creep of light across the carpet. Whispers, giggles, another thump, a hissed warning. He sighed, turned onto his back, and laced his fingers across his belly.
“You might as well come in, everyone. I know you’re there.”
The door burst open, and the other juniors at Residence Seven—nicknamed the Doghouse—tumbled into the room. They were led, of course, by Jordan, who, at eighteen, was the youngest of them.
“See?” Jordan bounded across the carpet, shaggy brown hair flopping, and leaped onto the foot of Tanner’s bed. Tanner moved his legs just in time. “I told you guys it was okay. It’s his birthday. He doesn’t want to sleep all day!”
Dakota, tall and lanky, locs framing his amiable brown face, flipped Tanner’s desk chair around and straddled it, leaning his arms along its back. “Some people like to sleep in, pup. Ever think of that?”
Jordan scoffed, settling himself on the bed cross-legged, his back against the wall. “Old people, maybe.”
His arms full of—gods help me—wrapped gifts, Gage entered more sedately, although he was grinning as he deposited the packages on top of Tanner. Hector followed, tongue poking out of the side of his mouth in concentration as he balanced a cake in his hands.
“Cake?” Tanner struggled to sit up, gifts sliding off his chest onto the floor. “It can’t be nine in the morning yet. Maybe not even eight.”
Jordan bounced on the mattress. “So?”
As Gage cleared a stack of Tanner’s books off the desk so Hector could slide the cake onto it, Tanner noticed Chase hanging back in the doorway, watching them all with an indulgent smile.
Chase Denney, their RA. Chase Denney, the perfect alpha-in-training. Chase Denney, who still sees me as a kid.
True, weres developed at a slightly slower rate than humans, but it still rankled, imagining that Chase thought Tanner was no more mature than Jordan. At least I don’t dig up the backyard and try to hide the evidence like Jordan does. But Jordan wasn’t even halfway through his first year. Tanner was a third-year resident, with the end of his Howling in sight.
The thought sent a chill down his spine. He drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them. I don’t want to go back.
When he’d first arrived, his eventual departure was so far in the future that it was easy to pretend it wouldn’t happen. Technically, he had another six months before the three-year residence allowance was up. But in reality, once weres turned twenty-one and passed their assimilation exams, they weren’t bound by the regulations mandating strict supervision and education. Tanner had passed every test with honors. I should have thrown them somehow. Made it look like I still needed the structure and support of the instructors.
But their instructors were supes too, and fooling them was no easy task. Besides, Tanner loved his classes with Dr. MacLeod, their druid professor. Not doing his best, seeing disappointment in Dr. MacLeod’s eyes . . . Well, Tanner couldn’t face that.
Hand-to-hand combat lessons with Mal Kendrick, their fae instructor, were another matter. Tanner and Hector both had problems there—Tanner because he was smaller than all the other guys, and Hector because he didn’t see the point of so much physical exertion. But Mal had laughed, clapped them both on the shoulder, and told them they didn’t need to be enforcers. They only needed to be able to ward off an attack without going wolfy, in case the assailants were human. So Tanner had unfortunately passed those exams too.
Bottom line, nothing was keeping him here other than his desire to stay. As long as he flew under the radar, didn’t cause a ruckus, and didn’t give anyone a reason to report him and remind his uncle that he wasn’t required to stay, maybe he could delay his return until May.
And maybe sometime during those months he’d be able to convince Chase he wasn’t a kid anymore. And then what? Chase wouldn’t be an RA forever. His service requirement was almost over. He’d be returning to his own pack at about the same time Tanner would. Maybe if I do really well, I can apply to be an RA for my own service.
Even if he managed that, Chase would still be gone. But at least I wouldn’t be stuck out in the back of beyond in Imnaha, with no future but a dead-end mill job.
Jordan nudged Tanner’s knees with his foot. “Dude. Come on. Presents! Don’t you want to see what we got you?”
Tanner blinked. “Um. Sure.”
Jordan rolled to his knees and leaned over the edge of the bed, butt in the air. He rummaged among the fallen gifts and retrieved a clumsily wrapped package with its bow askew. It looked like a collapsing layer cake. “Here.” He plopped it onto Tanner’s lap, causing the paper to rip a bit. “Open mine first.”
Gage and Hector settled onto the floor next to the bed, Hector licking what looked like a glob of chocolate frosting off one finger. Chase stayed by the door, his messenger bag slung over his shoulder as if he were on his way out. Not joining in our reindeer games. Tanner’s stomach knotted, and not just at the prospect of cake for breakfast. But with Jordan wiggling on the bed, causing it to bounce, eager brown eyes on Tanner’s face, Tanner tried to at least pretend at some enthusiasm.
E.J. Russell–grace, mother of three, recovering actor–writes romance in a rainbow of flavors. Count on high snark, low angst and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.
She’s married to Curmudgeonly Husband, a man who cares even less about sports than she does. Luckily, C.H. also loves to cook, or all three of their children (Lovely Daughter and Darling Sons A and B) would have survived on nothing but Cheerios, beef jerky, and Satsuma mandarins (the extent of E.J.’s culinary skill set).
E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.