Hi guys! We have E.J. Russell stopping by today with the tour for her new release Howling On Hold, we have a great excerpt and a fantastic giveaway where you can win a $25 Riptide Publishing gift card and an ecopy of an ebook from E.J.’s backlist, so guys check out the post and leave a comment to enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
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.
Emotional abuse (manipulation) from a parental figure
Violence / Gun 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.
Tanner turned the package over and eased the tape off the bottom.
Jordan punched the mattress. “Come on! Rip it open! It’s not like you have to save the paper for prosperity.”
“Posterity,” Dakota said. “Nobody could use it again anyway, Jordan. Not after you’ve mangled it.”
Jordan shot Dakota a glare. “Hey. I’ll have you know that’s a stellar wrapping job. You try and wrap six Frisb—” He clapped both hands over his mouth.
Dakota lifted an eyebrow, his grin wide and white. “Gee, Tanner, I wonder what Jordan’s gift could be?”
Tanner laughed and ripped the paper, much to Jordan’s wriggling delight. “Wow. Six Frisbees. That’s—”
“What you want, Jordan,” Gage said. “But Tanner hasn’t been put on toy report three times in the last month.”
Jordan pouted. “Those were accidents. Anybody could have—”
“It’s okay, Jordan.” Tanner put the stack of Frisbees on the floor. “Thank you. It’s a great present.”
Jordan beamed at him. “I know, right? You need extras. Everybody needs extras.”
Tanner leaned over and picked up an improbably thin package, longer than he was tall, with a lump at one end.
“That’s from me,” Gage said. He brushed his sun-streaked hair off his high forehead, but it only flopped forward again, the sides parting over his rather protuberant ears. “Although there’s something included that’s not in the package.”
“Why not?” Jordan said. “Half the fun is in opening the present.”
“Sure, Jordan.” Hector bounced a balled-up piece of wrapping paper off Jordan’s forehead with pinpoint accuracy. “That’s because for you, the paper is another toy.”
Jordan froze, his hand halfway to the paper ball. “You guys just don’t get the point.”
Tanner carefully removed the paper from Gage’s gift. “A fishing pole?”
Gage scooted across the carpet on his butt until he was next to the bed. “It’s the same as my favorite offshore rod. Graphite-fiberglass hybrid. Cork handle. Aluminum oxide glides.”
Jordan flicked the end of the rod with a finger. “What does he need this for?”
“Fishing, of course.” Gage smiled up at Tanner. “The extra part of the gift is that I’ll take you out on one of our pack’s boats and teach you how to use it anytime you want.”
“Thanks, Gage.” Tanner’s voice was a little rough. It wasn’t only Chase who’d become part of his life. The other guys in the house had become his friends too. “I’d like that.”
“Why?” Jordan sounded genuinely perplexed.
“You know what they say.” Gage grinned at Jordan. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day . . .”
Jordan snorted. “Yeah, but give a wolf a fish and he’ll bury it in the backyard.”
“You bury everything in the backyard,” Hector said, leaning his elbows on his knees. “But you have to admit, Gage, he’s got a point.”
Gage poked Hector’s calf. “Dude. I’m telling you, you’ve gotta try salmon.”
Jordan wrinkled his nose. “Coastal wolves are weird.”
Hector handed Tanner a small, slightly grubby envelope. The Dorito-dust fingerprint on the flap meant Hector had probably sealed it at the end of one of his marathon coding sessions. “This is from me.”
Jordan flopped over and flung his arms out. “Puh-leeeze don’t tell me you got him a gift card.”
“Jordan.” Chase’s calm voice held a gentle reprimand. “We’ve talked about respecting other people’s choices.”
Jordan hung his head. “Sorry, Hector.”
Tanner opened the envelope and drew out a piece of paper—similarly decorated with Dorito dust—that had obviously been torn out of a spiral notebook. When he unfolded it, he saw that Hector had scrawled a URL on it. “Um . . . thanks?”
Hector knee-walked over to the bedside. “Go there to download the game bits. It’s only a prototype, probably not a legit gift, since I’m hoping you’ll give me feedback. You’re good at that.”
Tanner met Hector’s dark eyes, and they shared a look—misfit to misfit. Like Tanner, Hector was an anomaly: he wanted to be a video game developer, not work on his pack’s farm. A little warmth loosened the ball of tension in Tanner’s belly. At least somebody values my opinion. “Thanks. Really.”
“Wait. It’s a game that’s not even finished?” Jordan reached for the paper, but Hector batted his hand away. “What fun is that?”
“Jordan,” Chase warned again.
Jordan whined low in this throat. “I keep forgetting.”
“It’s an awesome gift, Hector. I mean it.”
Hector’s warm brown skin didn’t reveal a blush the way Tanner’s did—thanks to his Irish mother’s genes—but Tanner’s thermal vision detected the wash of blood to Hector’s cheeks. “Happy birthday, man.”
Only two gifts remained—a long, flat box and another envelope. Tanner told the butterflies in his belly to settle down, but he couldn’t help it. One of those gifts had to be from Chase. And I’ll treasure it forever. Even if it was nothing more than a card. Because it would prove—or at least hint—that Tanner was occasionally in Chase’s thoughts.
Gods, I’m pathetic.
He picked up the envelope, which was completely clean. “That’s from me,” Dakota said, relaxed as usual. Nothing ever riled Dakota.
Then the box is from Chase. Something other than a card. Tanner’s mood rocketed, and he eased open the flap with a grin at Jordan, who groaned. The card inside was blank.
Jordan plucked it out of Tanner’s hand, turning it upside down and right side up. “What’s this?”
Tanner snatched it back. “This is mine. Remember Chase’s lecture about boundaries? The one he has to repeat each time you dog Mal’s every move?”
Jordan’s eyebrows bunched in a frown, pink staining his cheeks. “Yeah, but Mal’s fae and you’re were. Neither one of you are human.”
“It still counts, Jordan,” Chase said. “You’re supposed to be applying the lessons to your whole life, not just when humans can see you. That’s what control is all about.”
“Whatever,” Jordan muttered.
Dakota grinned at Tanner. “It’s a rain check for a lift pass. I figure we can take a weekend off sometime this winter, after we all get back from break, and I’ll take you to my pack’s resort and teach you to ski.”
“Ski?” Gage said. “Not snowboard?”
Dakota nudged Gage with a foot. “His choice, surfer dude.”
“Yay!” Jordan bounced up, his earlier shame forgotten. “Road trip!”
Dakota chuckled. “Dude. The present’s for Tanner. Not you.”
Jordan drooped, his big brown eyes wide with the hint of unshed tears. “You mean we’re not invited?”
Dakota maintained a straight face for maybe ten seconds before he burst out laughing. “That sad-puppy face isn’t gonna work on everyone, you know. But yeah. I meant for all of us to go.” He nodded at Chase in the doorway. “Chase too. My mom wants to meet all of you, and my dad’ll cook.” He grinned at Gage. “No seafood though.”
Gage snorted. “No imagination, more like.”
Tanner lifted the last package. It was wrapped in paper decorated with mistletoe and holly and had a snowman gift tag on it.
Tanner kept his smile from vanishing, although it probably slipped noticeably. Not from Chase. He cleared his throat, tapping the gift tag. “Christmas isn’t until next month.”
Hector shrugged. “Last year’s supply. You know how Dr. MacLeod is always on us—”
“Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!” the guys all chorused.
“Heh. Right.” Tanner unwrapped the gift slowly, ignoring Jordan nearly vibrating with anticipation, then lifted the lid. Inside lay a pocket knife with a polished wooden handle, a little longer than Tanner’s palm. “Wow, Hector. This is beautiful. But you didn’t have to give me two things.”
Hector dug a finger into the carpet. “Well, the other one’s not all that great.”
“It is.” Tanner leaned forward. “Really it is.”
“I wanted to give you something practical too. This’ll come in handy since you’ll be heading back to your pack soon. The knife’s like the one my dad gave me. A little bigger than a Swiss Army. It’s great for cutting vines in the field. I know Wallowa isn’t the same as Umatilla. Your economy is lumber products, not produce, but what the hey, you know?”
“It’s great.” Tanner batted Jordan’s hand as he reached for the knife. “And it is not a toy.”
“I was only going to look at it,” Jordan mumbled. Tanner relented and handed it to him. To give Jordan credit, he handled it with proper respect before returning it.
Tanner looked around at his housemates—his friends—carefully not glancing at Chase. “Thanks, everyone. This has been one of the best birthdays ever.”
Jordan bounced on the mattress so hard he nearly ejected Tanner onto the floor. “What are you talking about? It’s barely started. There’s cake! And tonight—your twenty-oner party at”—he leaned forward, his voice dropping to a whisper—“the Bullpen.”
“Wait. What?” Tanner had no desire to prove his legal adulthood by getting smashed at Portland’s legendary shifter bar. “I don’t—”
“Come on,” Jordan wheedled. “Nobody else turns twenty-one for at least another year. This is our chance to see inside the place.” He wiggled closer. “They have fight pens in the sub-basement. Did you know? My cousin told me all about it.”
“Even if we go to the Bullpen,” Chase said as he walked over from the door, “which is entirely Tanner’s decision, since it’s his birthday, you will not get any closer to the fight pens than the men’s restroom, Jordan. Are we clear?”
“I said, are we clear?”
Jordan plopped back down on his butt. “Crystal.” He hung his head and muttered, “Spoilsport.”
Chase lifted the flap of his messenger bag and pulled out a small square box. He held it out. “This is for you too.”
As Tanner took the box, his gaze snagged on his frayed cuff. Oh gods. I’ve probably got epic bed hair and morning breath, not to mention I’m wearing a sleep T-shirt that’d seen better days when it belonged to my jerk-face cousin Finn. “Th-thanks.” He accepted it with appropriate reverence because Chase.
This time, not even Jordan’s barely contained excitement could make Tanner move quickly, because this was to be savored. Chase had chosen it for him. Wrapped it. Given it to him with his own hands. The moment would have been better if they’d been alone—then Tanner could have opted for the kind of thank-you he’d been dreaming of since the first time he’d seen Chase. The moment would be better if I didn’t look like last season’s scarecrow’s backcountry cousin’s dog.
But it was still a gift from Chase, something Tanner would keep forever, even if it was a box of werewolf-safe chocolates. He’d let them crust over with white bloom before he’d eat a single one. Okay, maybe he’d eat them all except one and keep that one in a glass case forever. Don’t be an idiot. The box is too small for chocolates. Unless it was one of those super-fancy truffles that came one to a box.
Chase tucked his hands into his pockets. “It was delivered for you a couple of days ago with instructions that I was to give it to you on your birthday.”
Tanner’s stomach plummeted. Not from Chase. But that crash of disappointment wasn’t the only reason he wanted to hide under the bed. Or maybe under the house. Because the card tucked under the ribbon was inscribed in his uncle’s careful handwriting. “D-delivered?”
Chase’s brows drew together in a tiny crease. Probably detecting my incipient panic attack. Chase was too good at reading him. Reading them all, really. It’s what made him such a good RA. “FedEx.”
“Oh.” Tanner smoothed the hairs on the back of his neck that had risen at the thought that one of the pack enforcers—or worse, his cousin—might have actually been here, where he’d always felt safe. He glanced at the other guys, who were all watching him expectantly.
Tanner took a deep breath and yanked the ribbon off, then tore the paper savagely enough to meet Jordan’s strict gift-opening standards. The velvet box inside could only hold one thing.
He flipped the top open with his thumbs, and sure enough, his father’s signet—the crest of the Wallowa pack alpha—winked gold at him from its nest of satin.
“Duuude,” Jordan breathed. “Did someone just propose to you?”
Tanner’s choked laugh was buried in the guffaws from the other guys. “Hardly.”
“Do yourself a favor, Jordan,” Dakota said, wiping tears of hilarity from his eyes. “When you’re ready to propose to someone, don’t do it via FedEx. Not if you want ’em to say yes.”
Jordan flopped back against the wall, his arms crossed. “Maybe the person was shy. Maybe they wanted to find out for sure before they got turned down in person, like in those flash mob proposals that go wrong.”
“In that case,” Chase said, his gray eyes glinting in amusement, “I expect they’d arrange a private proposal. However, it’s not likely they’d pop the question in front of everyone except themselves.”
“I guess.” Jordan sat forward, angling his head for a better view of the ring. “So what is it, T?”
“My dad’s signet.” Tanner tried to close the box, but Jordan snatched it out of his hands, despite a warning growl from Chase. “The pack leader’s crest. It’s a replacement, actually. The old one got ruined. Got caught on the machinery at the mill and nearly took Dad’s finger off with it. When he died and my uncle took over as alpha-regent, Uncle Patrick put it in a safety-deposit box.” Tanner swallowed against a lump in his throat. “Waiting for me to come of age.”
“Wow.” Jordan’s eyes were the size of saucers. “That’s so cool. We don’t have anything like that in our pack.”
Dakota lifted an eyebrow and held out an open palm. “May I?” Tanner nodded, so Dakota took the box from Jordan. He lifted the signet carefully and held it in a dusty sunbeam, studying its etched wolf’s head backed by the silhouette of a fir tree. “Did your father actually wear it? I’d think it would be a liability if he had to shift quickly.”
Tanner shrugged. “I don’t really remember much about him. He and my mom died when I was four.” Subtle whining from all of the guys, even Chase, greeted Tanner’s statement, causing his eyes to prickle. “But my uncle said something about it being shift-enabled.”
“That accounts for it,” Chase murmured.
Tanner, ever sensitive to any word out of Chase’s mouth, looked up. “Accounts for what?”
“The magic detectors in the house security system pinged with a low-level maintenance spell when I brought it inside.”
Dakota passed the ring back to Tanner. “You know no artifact can confer pack leadership, don’t you? Not even these days, when challenge-by-combat is outlawed.”
“Yeah, I realize it’s only a symbol. But my uncle, my cousin, and I are the only ones with alpha potential, and my pack is traditional. Really traditional. The pack alpha mantle passes from father to son and I’m the last of the line, so it’s expected.”
Gage coughed into his hand, but it sounded like Bullshit. Which Tanner had to agree with. If only I belonged to a more progressive pack. He’d heard that some of them actually held elections, for Remus’s sake, and passed the leadership around. Not the Wallowa pack. Never the Wallowa pack.
Jordan nudged Tanner’s knee. “Aren’t you going to put it on?”
Tanner shuddered. “No.” He set it aside, resisting the urge to fling it out the window. He’d mastered his instincts to bury things, either valuables or threats, early in his first year at the house, but he’d be happy to dig a very deep hole—maybe to the center of the earth—and drop this in if it meant he could escape his destiny.
Sadly, Dakota was right. The signet didn’t make him the pack alpha. The mantle would fall on his shoulders at 11:52 tonight, the time of his birth, when he was officially twenty-one. He drew a pattern in his blanket with one finger.
Mythmatched Universe series
Wait . . . Is that . . . No, it couldn’t be. Could it? A fae at the florist? A demon at the deli? A werewolf at the Y?
Humans will never know. They can’t know, or the lives of every supernatural creature on this world—or under it—would be at risk.
So the supes of every nation, culture, and pantheon joined together in uneasy alliance, vowing to keep their society secret in order to survive among humans.
But when you spend every moment hiding your true nature, how can you ever find true love?
E.J. Russell holds a BA and an MFA in theater, so naturally she’s spent the last three decades as a financial manager, database designer, and business-intelligence consultant. After her twin sons left for college and she no longer spent half her waking hours ferrying them to dance class, she returned to her childhood love of writing fiction. Now she wonders why she ever thought an empty nest meant leisure.
E.J. lives in rural Oregon with her curmudgeonly husband, the only man on the planet who cares less about sports than she does. She enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
Connect with E.J.:
- Website: ejrussell.com
- Blog: ejrussell.com/bloggery/
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/E.J.Russell.author
- Twitter: twitter.com/ej_russell
- Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/ejrussell/
To celebrate this release, one lucky person will win a $25 gift card to Riptide and their pick of an ebook from E.J.’s backlist!
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Check out the other blogs on the tour!
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Erotica for All
Bayou Book Junkie
Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews
On Top Down Under
Boy Meets Boy Reviews
MM Good Book Reviews
Real Talk Book Talk
La Crimson Femme
Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
Jessie G Book Reviews
My Fiction Nook
Book Reviews and More by Kathy
Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents
TTC Books and More