Title: Stray: A Sentinel Story
Series: Sentinel #1
Author: J.K. Hogan
Release Date: Ongoing
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Romance, Erotica, Fantasy, Paranormal, shifters, magic, vampires
All of the mythical creatures that howl, prowl, bite, and kill—from vampires to werewolves, from wendigos to witches, monsters to demons—are real. The Midnight Sentinel exists to protect the delicate human race from the monsters that wish them harm.
Sebastian Locke never asked to be a Prince among the Feliscindae, a race of feline shifters. He never asked to be the champion of an entire species. He never asked for responsibility.
Noah Cowan never asked to be abandoned by his parents. He never asked to be homeless. He never asked to fall into a reality where up was down, north was south, and nightmares were real.
Two men living in a dystopian world, post-apocalyptic several times over, in which all of things that go bump in the night truly exist, are drawn together by an intricate spiderweb of fate, duty, blood, and love.
There’s something about Noah. Sebastian is drawn to him like a moth to a flame, but so are many others—those much more dangerous than he. In order to keep Noah safe, Sebastian must trust him with his most guarded secret: the truth of the supernatural.
Hi folks! J.K. Here! I’m here to talk about my new project (you know, in addition to all of my traditional WIPs) called STRAY. Stray is a book I’m releasing by the chapter, free on my website (think fanfiction, but not). It’s a bit of a deviation from my normal M.O. of contemporary with a side of mental health issues, delving farther into world-building, futuristic tech, and combining human lore with paranormal fantasy. This story is purely for my own—and hopefully your—enjoyment. Read on for an excerpt!
Stray (excerpt) by J.K. Hogan
(Available chapter by chapter online at http://jkhogan.com/about-stray/)
Even from such a distance, Noah could see the feline’s big blue eyes blinking at him, as if it somehow knew he was watching. Satisfied that there was no movement out on the street apart from the cat, Noah turned away from the door. The foyer was dark, but then again, his parents had never bothered leaving a light on for him before, so he had no idea why he’d thought they’d start now.
That wasn’t exactly right. When he was little, they’d doted on him like something precious. They’d been good parents, saying and doing all the right things. His mom had been a stay-at-home caregiver for a while, and she’d been great at it, thinking up fun projects for them to work on and taking him places. But slowly, little by little, they had changed. Their eyes faded, and the love in them dissolved until they treated him like nothing but a roommate, or a pet they’d brought home and realized they were stuck with.
When Noah really thought hard about it, he always believed that the tipping point had been when they joined that church. Not that it was like any church Noah had ever seen. They had a building a few streets over, but the real action happened at a facility on fifty acres of former farmland outside the Beltrane city limits. Noah had no idea what happened out there—he wouldn’t attend, which drove an even deeper wedge between himself and his parents—but it sounded just like every description of a cult he’d ever heard of. Like, textbook.
Church of the New Hope was what they called themselves. The “worship leaders” had been trying to get his parents to move out to the main facility for a while now, but they’d held out this long because Noah refused, and he was their responsibility. But he wondered how long that would last. He was already an adult under the laws of the land, age being a mere formality these days, and in a few months, he would be an adult in the eyes of the almost-nonexistent official law.
Shaking his head, Noah shrugged off his backpack and dragged it by the strap as he walked into the living room. In there, only a single lamp was lit. He dropped his bag with a gasp when he realized his parents were sitting in the dim room, rigid and silent.
“Fuck! You guys scared the shit outta me.”
“Language, boy,” Bob Cowan said in a voice so devoid of emotion, it sucked all the air out of the room.
Anxiety sparking nerves all over his body, Noah’s gaze flickered to their feet, where sat two matching suitcases. He licked his lips and made eye contact with his mother. “What’s going on? Mom…” he prompted when she didn’t answer immediately.
When she looked at him, eyes wide and unblinking, she looked through him.
Noah’s father turned dark eyes on him, the color so like his own. “We’re leaving.”
It was like a bullet to the heart, the way those words punched through Noah, all the more devastating for their dispassion. “You’re going to that commune, aren’t you? The one with the church?”
“Yes,” Emmy Cowan answered, finally making true eye contact. “We are. It’s time.”
“I won’t go with you,” Noah blurted, his voice raising an octave when he had a sudden image of them forcing him into a car and driving him out to some cult.
“We know. You don’t believe the way we do,” Emmy replied with a wealth of censure in her voice.
“We’ve signed the house over to the New Hope,” Bob said. “You can continue living here until they come to claim it for whatever they plan to do with it, but there’s no telling how long that will be so you might want to start thinking about going out on your own—sooner rather than later.”
“They might let you take your proficiencies early, so you can start working.”
“Wait, what? You’d do this? Just leave me, abandon your…child?”
“You’re not our child,” Emmy whispered.
Noah stared at their impassive faces, hoping he’d see something that would make their words make sense. “I don’t understand what that means.”
Bob narrowed his eyes. “It has become obvious that you do not belong with us. We’ve realized the truth—with the help of the church. It became painfully obvious with the way you resisted the Light.”
“T-The truth? Which is w-what?”
“You’re a monster,” Emmy hissed.
Noah gasped and reeled away from the two strangers, parents who were not his parents. He took a step back, then another. His mind whirled with a hundred different thoughts that wouldn’t quite coalesce, because those blank, shadowy faces were etching themselves into his grey matter. He’d remember them for the rest of his life.
When spots swam in his vision, Noah realized he’d stopped breathing. He tried to take a deep breath, but only managed a strangled wheeze. He took one step back, then another, and another, until he felt the doorframe with his fingertips. All but falling through the door, once he was back in the foyer, he turned and scrambled up the creaky staircase to the second floor. Skidding around two corners at top speed, he burst into his room and slammed the door shut behind him.
Backing up against the decrepit wood, Noah slid down until his bottom hit the floor, where he curled up in a ball, wrapped his arms around his head, and bawled until he couldn’t speak and could barely breathe.
The musty smell of the mildewing carpet invaded his senses, choking the breath from his lungs. He couldn’t move.
You’re not our child.
What did that mean? Maybe they were disowning him. Maybe he was adopted.
Noah guessed it didn’t really matter because they were leaving him. He heard footsteps downstairs. Doors opening and closing. Sounds of objects being moved around, dragged. The final sound of the heavy front door slamming shut. And then he knew.
He was alone.
Noah needed to breathe. He tried to stand up, to open the window, but he couldn’t force his extremities to cooperate. He’d heard of this, sometime while studying for his proficiencies, this thing that happened to a person who was traumatized. Hysterical paralysis, they’d called it.
He couldn’t move his legs, but he had partial control over his arms, so he crawled. Gasping for air, he dragged himself across the room, over the moldering carpet, until he reached his workbench that was situated in front of the window. Noah’s muscles trembled as he hauled himself onto it, sending tools and mechanical parts raining to the floor. With a gasp and a groan, he forced up the sash, dragged his body over the sill, and tumbled out onto the rusted fire escape.
Crisp night air filled his lungs. The mist of light rain settled on his skin like dew on a spider web. Finally, Noah could breathe. And move. But he didn’t. He lay there on the fire escape, staring up at the swirling gray nimbus above him. Breathe. Just breathe.
Noah heard a noise to his left. Barely a whisper. Weary, like moving through molasses, he turned his head and saw the cat. The big white cat that had been staring at his house was padding along the metal railing, impossibly balanced on a surface no more than two inches in width. It blinked at him, waiting.
“You’re a big fella, aren’t you? Surely you belong to somebody or you probably wouldn’t have survived this long, so why are you following me around?” Noah rolled to his side, the cold from the corrugated metal fire escape seeping through his clothes to his skin, and faced the cat. “Don’t you have a home? A family? I don’t. Not anymore.” His voice broke on the last syllable, and dissolved into a sob.
The cat leapt off the railing, landing on silent feet beside Noah. It crouched into a sphinx position and watched him. Unblinking. Still.
Noah sniffled, then rubbed his face with the sleeve of his pullover. “I can stay in this house at least. Until they come and take it.”
The cat remained, so Noah kept talking, saying everything and nothing. “My parents left to join some religious commune. Church of the New Hope. I think it’s a cult, but they don’t much care what I think. They said I wasn’t their child. They said I’m a monster…” His breath hitched. His lips trembled.
“I’m almost a man now. I take my proficiencies in a few weeks. In the eyes of practically everyone, I’m adult enough to survive, except I have nothing. No money, no job, only a temporary roof over my head. The only income I have is from the electronics I build. I can sometimes sell them to people who can’t afford the store-bought kind. Sometimes being the operative word. And you know what else? I’m lying in the rain, pouring out my life story at the feet of a stray cat. Gods, what a mess I am.”
The cat inched closer, crawling with its belly to the floor, approaching cautiously. It obviously decided that Noah posed no threat, because it curled up in the hollow of his stomach, its tail wrapping around its body and face until it was nothing but a furry white ball. Grateful for the warmth of life that penetrated his numbness, Noah drifted off to sleep. It wouldn’t be the last time he slept outside in the rain.
Read it for free at jkhogan.com
Chapters are cross-posted on Tumblr
Illustrations are cross-posted here (and any NSFW illustrations will be available on Tumblr only, though we’ll let you know about them on the main story feed)
J.K. Hogan has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, beginning with writing cast lists and storylines for her toys growing up. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, magic happened. She is greatly inspired by all kinds of music and often creates a “soundtrack” for her stories as she writes them. J.K. is hoping to one day have a little something for everyone, so she’s branched out from m/f paranormal romance and added m/m contemporary romance. Who knows what’s next?
J.K. resides in North Carolina, where she was born and raised. A true southern girl at heart, she lives in the country with her husband and two sons, a cat, and two champion agility dogs. If she isn’t on the agility field, J.K. can often be found chasing waterfalls in the mountains with her husband, or down in front at a blues concert. In addition to writing, she enjoys training and competing in dog sports, spending time with her large southern family, camping, boating and, of course, reading!
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1/31 Divine Magazine
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