Sneak Peek into The Frenchman

Releasing October 24th is the third book in the Legacy Series. The Frenchman follows the origin story for Darren Dubose, the alpha from the Loup-Garou Series. Read how Darren met his mentor, John Croxen, and learned to grapple with the reality that he is a loup-garou.

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Chapter 3

When Darren entered Warminster, he didn’t consider the attention he would draw. Every one of the townspeople knew who he was by reputation, either of himself or his mother. They all knew him as the bastard child who could barely lift a basket full of grain. Even though he snitched a shirt from another farmer’s clothes line on the way into town, it did little to hide the change that took place in him.

Heads swiveled in his direction and he could feel their shocked and frightened gazes as they assessed his new body. What he didn’t expect was to hear their whispers. Every word they said, whether in hushed voices or simply masked by their own hands as they talked to their neighbors, he could hear them loud and clear, even if they were across the street or behind closed doors.

“Look at him!” they silently jeered. “What happened to him.”

“That’s not the same boy.”

“That can’t be Martha Dubose’s son.”

“What did he do to himself?”

“It must be the work of the devil.”

“An angel must have blessed that poor boy.”

Darren’s steps slowed as he turned to listen to each of them with a fluttering heart and uneasy stare. Their voices of dissention, ridicule, and disbelief crowded in until he was ready to give up on finding George and run for the quiet safety of the forest. He could scarcely hear himself think through the cacophony of noise, from the townspeople’s chatter to the rumble of carts and stamping of horse hooves on distant streets.

He could hear the merchants toiling away in their shops and laborers talking with their fellow workers. Children laughter and baby cries screamed in his ears as if they were close enough to touch. Smells of all kinds from the putrid stench of dung to the perfumes of ladies in their homes strangled his mind and sometimes made him retch and cough for cleaner air.

The town had never seemed so odious, so revolting and unkind a place as now. Darren thought he could take no more until a new sensation pierced through the chaos. A tight and prickling feeling in the back of his skull. He sometimes felt this when he rushed out of bed too quickly or took one sip too many of the brandy that Arthur offered him to ease his stomach ailments. This, however, was much worse and more intense than any of that.

He touched the back of his head to make sure he wasn’t bleeding or hadn’t been inadvertently struck by something. Darren did wake up on his back, so perhaps some bug or insect had bitten his scalp during the night. However, there was no blood or bump to indicate an injury.

“Pssst,” he heard coming from up ahead, a harsh sound that seemed to break through all the distracting noises.

Darren looked up and saw a man standing just outside the door of the bakery. His sharp blue eyes fixed on Darren and he waved him forward. As he obeyed the summons, Darren could feel the sharp needles in his skull dig their invisible points deeper into his skin.

Yet, he bore the discomfort long enough to join the man at the door. The baker’s cheeks and tunic were dusted with a decent layer of flour that offset his dark hair. As soon as Darren was within arm’s reach, the baker pulled him into his shop and shut the door.

The yeasty scent of unbaked dough and fire from the ovens that met him was a pleasant smell compared to what he encountered on the streets of Warminster. All around, trays and bowls of rising dough and bushels of golden brown loaves were scattered over the floors and surfaces.

Before Darren had a chance to adjust to the sudden lack of congesting noise, the baker grabbed him by the arm. “Were you bitten?”

Darren looked to the frantic man and blinked back the fresh wave of confusion. “What are you talking about?”

The baker quickly let go. The tingling in Darren’s skull began to ebb away, giving him some relief as he grew accustomed to the feeling.

“Were you bitten or born this way?” he clarified as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

Darren, still lost in the question, shook his head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

The baker’s brows lowered and he gestured to Darren’s body. “This. What made this happen?”

Taking a look at the hysterical baker, Darren didn’t think that he was looking for the secret to his strength. Though the baker’s profession might have been innocuous enough, the man looked as if he could crush bones easily between his hands. In fact, their statures were not so dissimilar.

“I… I just woke up like this,” Darren replied, not wanting to give away George or make the baker suspect that the hermit had anything to do with this just yet. The rest of the townspeople already believed him to be a sorcerer or witch of some sort. If they thought that George had created this new body for Darren, their suspicions might be confirmed.

“So, you were born one,” the baker said with a relieved nod. “That is good. At least we know that there isn’t another of us running around somewhere. Where is your father? Or, is what they say true, that you have none?”

Darren took a step away from the offending baker. “Born what? If you don’t start talking sense, I’ll… I’ll…” He held up one of his fists, something that never used to be intimidating. “I won’t hesitate to –“

The baker let out a hearty laugh, cutting Darren’s threat short. “Boy, you can do nothing to me.”

He had enough of their contempt, enough of being disregarded. He used to be defenseless, but no more. Darren used his fist and threw all his weight into the punch, sending the baker to the floor.
With his chest heaving and heart thrumming heavier in his chest, Darren stood over the man and shouted, “Don’t laugh at me! Tell me what you mean! What am I?”

He was expecting the baker to call him a bastard, a coward, or a fool. Instead, Darren watched with horror as the baker took his jaw and popped it back into place. A trickle of blood oozed from the corner of his mouth and he wiped it on the back of his arm, smearing flour across his lips and chin in the process.

If Darren had broken the man’s jaw in that way, he shouldn’t have been able to talk or even push himself off the floor so quickly. He hadn’t even expected to throw that much force into the punch.

“You, boy, are a werewolf,” the baker said and he shoved a baffled Darren backward a step or two so he would have room to straighten out his tunic.

“A… a what?”

“Werewolf,” the man repeated. “Just like me.” He offered out his hand. “Bartholomew,” he introduced.

Darren wasn’t sure whether to take the man’s hand or run out of the bakery screaming. He didn’t move, he didn’t accept the gesture of friendship offered by the man who just realigned his own jaw, and he wouldn’t believe anything the baker said.

“Werewolf?” he questioned. “The beasts that mothers tell their children about to make them behave?”

Bartholomew lowered his hand. “Not the exact same, but the general idea. There are many differences, of course.”

“Such as the fact that they don’t exist,” Darren replied. “No man can turn into a beast.”

“Yet, you changed forms overnight,” Bartholomew stated. “I’ve seen you in town and you were not like this before. So, how much more fantastic is it to believe a man can change into a wolf?”

Darren shook his head. “It’s not the same.”

“Isn’t it?”

They stared at one another for a long, tense moment before Darren broke in. “What proof do you have? If you are a werewolf, prove it.”

Bartholomew looked toward the paned window that gave him an ample view of the street beyond and moved away so anyone who might have peeked in couldn’t see his face. When the baker turned back to Darren, his eyes were no longer blue, but a brilliant shade of gold. Darren staggered backward, but could not look away as his hands trembled.

“This is the easiest way to show you,” Bartholomew said, a note of apology in his voice as if he didn’t want their first meeting to have come to this.

More startling that the change in Bartholomew’s eyes, was the change in Darren when he stared into the gaze of the wolf. Something deep within his chest began to stir, as if some whirling mass was coming alive beneath his ribs. There was no pain, just a sense of comfort and affinity with the pair of golden eyes.

The rational, reasonable part of his mind could not comprehend any of it, shunning any possibility that this was real. Perhaps he had been dreaming this entire morning? The change in Darren’s body was slightly more difficult to accept than a man’s eyes turning an unnatural color that belonged on an animal. Yet, what if this were all a fantasy? What if these muscles and those eyes were nothing but a figment of his imagination, concocted by whatever George put in that tonic? This all led back to George in some way or another and it reminded Darren that he still needed to find him.

First, he needed to see if this really was a dream. He shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut to block out the false reality. “This isn’t real,” he repeated to himself over and over again, as if it would do him any good.

The baker grabbed him by the arms and shook him. “I assure you, this is real. Look at me.”

Against his better judgment to ignore the fictitious figure, Darren opened his eyes. The wolf in Bartholomew’s gaze was gone now and the blue had returned.

“Where did you wake up? What happened last night before you fell asleep?”

Darren saw no point in lying to the baker, since this was only a dream. He would wake up soon enough when someone found him in the woods. So, he told him about riding his horse through Lockleat Forest, how he fell under tremendous pain, and blacked out in consequence.

“Yes, you were certainly born a werewolf,” Bartholomew mused as he let go of Darren. “Do you know where your father is?”

“Neither I nor my mother have seen him for years. He was not a werewolf.”

“Can you be sure of that?” Bartholomew’s brows arched and Darren wasn’t positive anymore.

“For the sake of argument, what if he was? What does that matter?”

Bartholomew crossed his strong arms over his chest. “A werewolf can either be born or bitten by another werewolf. If you were not bitten, then your father must have been a werewolf. Those are the only two ways. It is preferred that fathers stay with their sons until they reach maturity, as you have, but it seems to be a rarity now. I’ve met many more like you who change and have had no guidance. Most unfortunate, I cannot give you such guidance. Only your father or an alpha can.”

It was all too fantastic to believe and Darren gave the baker a mirthless smile and looked heavenward. “This is absolutely ridiculous. I’m not a werewolf.”

“Then how else can you explain your enhanced senses and your new strength and speed?”

Darren had mentioned none of that to Bartholomew in the short few minutes they had known one another. “How could you –“

Bartholomew grinned and tapped one of his ears. “I am a werewolf too, remember? I’ve been around for centuries. I know how unusual it can seem, but you must believe I’m telling the truth.”

“I do not believe it, sir, and I will not,” Darren snapped. “It’s preposterous all together and I don’t know how I could have ever thought any of this to be real. I’m still unconscious, somewhere in the forest and this is all a dream. Good day to you,”

Darren stormed toward the door, but faster than he realized, Bartholomew blocked his path. “You can try and deny this all you want, but as the days, weeks, and months drag on and you haven’t woken up, you’ll know I am not lying to you.”

Darren’s skin crawled as a fiery anger welled in his gut. “I am not a werewolf and my father was not a werewolf. I am not some murdering beast that prowls around in the moonlight. You, sir, are insane and I’ve had enough of this!”

He forced the baker aside with one sweep of his arm and charged into the street without so much as a look backward. He slammed the bakery door shut behind him and stood in the street, immersing himself back into the biting words of the women and snide remarks of the men who watched Darren from a safe distance. He almost preferred the smell of dough over the suffocating city odors, but he could not bear the company that came along with it.

Bartholomew did not chase after him as Darren hurried to find George’s trail again. Even as he did, the thought occurred to him that he was tracking, just as a wolf did, using a scent to find his target.

No. Darren shook his head. He would not give in to such temptations. He was not a beast. This was all either a terrible and misleading dream, or a hallucinogenic effect of the tonic George prescribed. He had to make sense of this somehow. There had to be a better explanation than werewolves and monsters.

Down the street, a commotion erupted. He turned to watch a cart careen down the lane, led by two mad horses who were not too concerned with trampling everything and everyone in their path. Darren jumped out of the way as the wagon loaded down with wooden crates, came rattling past him. Undeterred by the interruption, he carried on.

Then, he heard something else. A woman’s scream. Considering that the horses were plowing their way through the center of a crowded square, it wasn’t surprising to hear. What she screamed was more important and it snagged Darren’s attention.

“My baby!”

Darren turned and saw just the faintest flash of blonde hair down the lane, lying right in the destructive path of the rampaging horses. Without a second thought, Darren did what he knew he had to. Being careful not to overshoot, he dashed forward, little more than a blur to anyone else’s sight.

He quickly passed up the horses who were at a full gallop, and positioned himself in front of the little girl who had fallen onto the cobblestone streets. He could smell a bit of blood from her skinned knee. Looking back to the horses, he felt a primal and inexplicable shift in his chest.

Without even meaning to, a deep growl rumbled from his throat and his eyes went cold as if wind were blasting them, but they didn’t go dry nor did they warm themselves again when he blinked. Instead of grabbing the girl like he had intended, Darren stood his ground and braced himself to take on the horses himself.

What had come over him?

The horses spotted Darren, their crazed eyes rolling in their skulls as their necks and haunches frothed up a good sweat. They reared and quickly turned to escape the man who blocked their path. They skittered to the side and he thought he could smell something emanate from them as potent as the stench of dung that floated through the streets. It was a peppery, savory smell that only encouraged the rising of this primitive notion that he could easily tear these horses apart if he wanted. Some intuitive sense told him it was fear that he smelled. Fear of death from the human who dared to step in front of them.

Darren’s lips curled up in a snarl as the horses turned. The wagon, however, could not be stopped so easily. The hitch that kept the horses strapped to the cart snapped against the force of their change of direction.

The wagon wheels first skidded along the stony streets and then caught at some point, causing the contents to tumble out, barreling toward him with their sharp edges spinning with each turn. Darren turned his shoulder to the crates and crouched down to shield the child he endeavored to protect.

Oak collided with flesh and splintered into his skin, but he stood firm as the little girl screamed beneath him. When the collision was over and the dust settled, Darren and the child were surrounded be crates that were cracked open and broken apart, their contents spilled onto the street. With a few great thrusts, Darren pushed the heavy crates away from them and sent them flying in the square. Shrieks and gasps of alarm exploded among the nearby citizens.

Onward the horses sped, dragging the remaining parts of their harnesses as men tried to wrangle them to a stop. A crowd had gathered to assist in pulling the crates off and the mother of the child rushed forward to claim the girl.

With tears in her eyes, the woman gathered up her frightened and confused daughter. She did not offer a thank you or a promise to repay the debt she now owed to Darren for saving the life of her child. Instead, she took one look at him and fled with a horror-stricken look on her face.

The animalistic urge to growl and snap his teeth disappeared, but his eyes still felt cold and his muscles tensed to danger. He looked to the townsfolk, shards of wood sticking out from his tunic with dribbles of blood seeping through the cloth.

With each pair of eyes he met, disturbed sounds of alarm poured out of their mouths. Women ran away and men gapped, their hands reaching for the hilt of their daggers that were strapped to their belts. If the men didn’t have a weapon, they picked up whatever they could find to wield.

“Beast!” they cried.

“Witch!” gasped another.

Darren picked out the splinters as he backed away from the mob that accused him of something he did not do. He pried each of them out, but when he inspected the wounds, he found no holes or puncture wounds. Yet, there was blood all the same.
“I’m not a beast!” he argued, sweeping the last bit of dust from his tunic.

Still, they persisted and one man pulled out a gun, the shaking barrel pointed at his chest. Once more perplexed and frightened, Darren hurried from the scene at a fast pace, but not a supernatural one as he had before. He needed to disappear, to become inconspicuous somehow before these men were out for his head. What had he done? Yes, it might have been unnatural the way he blocked the crates from crushing the child, but shouldn’t they have been cheering instead of scorning him?

Bartholomew emerged from his shop, probably hearing the disorder in the square. Darren made to steer around him, but the baker quickly grabbed him just as he had before. Their eyes met, but he did not have the same reaction as the others. “Run as far as you can from here and keep your eyes down until they’re warm again.”

It was then that Darren looked to the darkened window of the bakery. Between the framed panes, he could see his face and the golden eyes that stared back.

It couldn’t be. He rubbed at them, trying to erase the truth he could not accept. This was just a dream. Just a dream.

“I will come to you this evening. Go!” Bartholomew pushed him further down the street as the shouts of men grew closer.

There was no time to protest. Darren lowered his head and hustled away after he regained his footing. Taking the shortest path out of town and ducking through alley after alley, Darren finally arrived back to the spacious, rolling hills of the farmlands that surrounded Warminster.

He breathed in the fresh air, but nothing would ease his troubled mind. His eyes had turned gold, just like Bartholomew’s. Was that why they were cold? It had to be why the townspeople ran and shouted the way they did. What made them gold?

Darren remembered the way he felt staring down the horses, how he had been completely prepared to wrestle them to the ground to keep them from trampling the little girl. Such heroic impulses were not new to Darren. There were many times when he wanted to step in and stop a fight or help a man who was being robbed on the streets, but Darren had been unable to do anything about it because he wasn’t strong enough to contend with such brutes. Now, he was the brute, and he could do so much more than toss rocks over rivers. He could help people and save lives, just like he saved that girl, but was it worth it?

What if every time he stepped out to help someone, he turned into a beast with wolfish eyes?

Darren caught himself on an oak tree and pounded his fist into the bark until his knuckles bled. Angry tears leaked from the corners of his eyes. What was he to do? Who had the answers he needed so dearly?

No, he was not a werewolf. They didn’t exist.

Back and forth, his mind warred against him, battling for one truth over the other. Monsters were not real, not like the fairytales and folklore spoke of. Surely, there were evil people in the world, tyrants and warlords who killed people for the pleasure of it. But, it was not possible that a man could change shape and become an animal. He couldn’t… could he?


About Sheritta Bitikofer

Sheritta Bitikofer is an author of eclectic tastes. When she's not writing her next paranormal or urban fantasy novel, she can be found volunteering at her local animal shelter, shooting archery at a medieval reenactment event, doing Zumba, watching a historical documentary, or having coffee with her husband at their favorite café. A wife and fur-mama to two rescue dogs, she makes time to write engaging and moving stories about shifters, vampires, and magic that enthrall readers from cover to cover.
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