PROLOGUE and Copyright

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Copyright © 2016 by Brian S. Ference

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of very brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

*** Warning - This work contains mature content. ***

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James approached the crumbling stone wall of the vast country estate. He'd have to move quickly to avoid detection from the other men tramping through the dense woods nearby. His short stocky figure was capable of small bursts of speed, but his legs were more used to the deck of a ship than tearing through the thorny shrubs and tangled tree roots of the forest floor. Timing his move, he vaulted the wall and sprinted across the open ground and into the waiting cover of the trees. He sank down behind a hawthorn bush that provided some concealment while he caught his heaving breath and listened intently. There was almost no sound at all. Strange, this area should be teaming with quail and other animals. Why were there so many men in the forest? Ah, they must be beaters for a hunting party nearby. The beaters were likely in search of the fat speckled quail that would be hiding among the dense undergrowth and in the surrounding fields.

James was hunting for a very different form of prey. He checked the five-shot Webley revolver in his coat, making sure it was fully loaded. It was an inexpensive sidearm, but it had served him well over the years. The last time he faced his quarry it escaped unscathed. That was a mistake he would correct today-or die trying.

The men moved off towards the fields, so James quietly advanced to the edge of the trees to get a closer look at the light-brown country house. The architecture was in the Palladian style, with symmetrical pillars in the front and circular arches over the large windows. There were multiple wings attached to the central house, and they too were adorned with pediments and porticos.

He was about ten meters away but, with the low fog on the ground, it was difficult to see clearly. As he stood behind a thick oak tree, he leaned outward and peered into the windows of the building. The first and second rooms proved empty and he quickly moved on. The third contained a large gathering, with all sorts of people moving about inside, but his target could not be seen there. At the last window on the side of the house, he was shocked to see the very face he had been searching for looking directly back at him. He leaped backward and turned sideways to conceal his broad shoulders behind the tree. He desperately hoped that he hadn't been seen. Maybe the eyes were simply looking out at the surrounding woods. No, that was foolish-he had been spotted. But, perhaps he could draw his prey to him instead. Risking another glance around the tree, he saw that the face had disappeared from the window. If he was discovered, he would do whatever was required to find a way to spring his trap, even if it cost him everything. Failing that, he would wait for another opportunity to take his revenge.

He had been away at a distant port when the letter came bearing news that would change his life forever. From that moment, James had vowed vengeance and thought of little else. He had been hunting for years now with only one previous encounter with his prey. That time he had lost his nerve. But now he would finally finish it. A little patience would cost him nothing and would be well worth the wait to end that particular life.

After several minutes with no alarm being sounded, he gradually retreated and moved deeper into the forest to wait. Nearly a quarter-hour of time passed. He snapped his head up abruptly as a faint scraping sound announced the approach of someone nearby. James cocked the hammer of his revolver and pointed it in the direction he had taken back from the house. Minutes passed in deafening silence as his heart thudded rapidly in his chest. There was no one there.

The attack came from his side instead of thefront. James was completely unprepared by the sheer force of whatever hit himand knocked him sideways onto the ground. He only had a sense of a large darkshape as it continued the attack, falling upon him. Desperately, James broughthis revolver to bear and fired a shot in the center of the enormous shape. Asound of pure fury exploded from the thing as a massive, clawed hand raked a fireof agony and blood across his outstretched arm and sent his revolver smashingthrough the dense brush. James tried to rise to his feet, but more burning painblossomed in his chest and stomach. Theterrible strength of the creature forced him down, crushing the breath from hislungs. He saw sharp canines and the hairy muzzle of a wolf as it slammed intohis face and neck. He could only scream in surprise and disbelief as thefoul-smelling animal ripped into his body and life began leaking out from him. Hislast fading thoughts were of his terrible failure and the unjustness of theworld. This impossible creature had inexplicably killed him and prevented himfrom taking his revenge. He would never have the satisfaction of ending thelife of the man whose face he had seen staring back at him through the countryhouse window.

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