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Excerpt Reveal: Wolfsong by TJ Klune

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Wolfsong by TJ Klune

The Bennett family has a secret:
They’re not just a family, they’re a pack.
Wolfsong is Ox Matheson’s story.

Oxnard Matheson was twelve when his father taught him a lesson: Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then his father left.

Ox was sixteen when the energetic Bennett family moved in next door, harboring a secret that would change him forever. The Bennetts are shapeshifters. They can transform into wolves at will. Drawn to their magic, loyalty, and enduring friendships, Ox feels a gulf between this extraordinary new world and the quiet life he’s known, but he finds an ally in Joe, the youngest Bennett boy.

Ox was twenty-three when murder came to town and tore a hole in his heart. Violence flared, tragedy split the pack, and Joe left town, leaving Ox behind. Three years later, the boy is back. Except now he’s a man – charming, handsome, but haunted – and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.

The beloved fantasy romance sensation by New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune, about love, loyalty, betrayal, and family.

The Green Creek Series is for adult readers.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Wolfsong by TJ Klune, on sale 7/4/23


Chapter 2

Sometimes I walked in the woods. Things were clearer there.

The trees swayed in the breeze. Birds told me stories.

They didn’t judge me.

One day, I picked up a stick and pretended it was a sword.

I hopped over a creek, but it was too wide and my feet got wet.

I lay on my back and looked at the sky through the trees while waiting for my socks to dry.

I dug my toes into the dirt.

A dragonfly landed on a rock near my head. It was green and blue. Its wings had blue veins. Its eyes were shiny and black. It flew away, and I wondered how long it would live.

Something moved off to my right. I looked over and heard a growl. I thought I should run, but I couldn’t make my feet work. Or my hands. I didn’t want to leave my socks behind.

So instead, I said, “Hello.”

There was no response, but I knew something was there.

“I’m Ox. It’s okay.”

A huff of air. Like a sigh.

I told it that I liked the woods.

There was a flash of black, but then it was gone.

When I got home, I had leaves in my hair and there was a car parked in front of the empty house at the end of the lane.

It was gone the next day.

That winter, I left school and went to the diner. I was on break for Christmas. Three weeks of nothing but the shop ahead, and I was happy.

It started snowing again by the time I opened the door to Oasis. The bell rang out overhead. An inflatable palm tree was near the door. A papier-mâché sun hung from the ceiling. Four people sat at the counter drinking coffee. It smelled like grease. I loved it.

A waitress named Jenny snapped her gum and smiled at me. She was two grades above me. Sometimes, she smiled at me at school too. “Hey, Ox,” she said.

“Hi.”

“Cold out?” I shrugged.

“Your nose is red,” she said.

“Oh.”

She laughed. “You hungry?”

“Yeah.”

“Sit down. I’ll get you some coffee and tell your mom you’re here.”

I did, at my booth near the back. It wasn’t really my booth, but everyone knew it was.

“Maggie!” Jenny said back into the kitchen. “Ox is here.” She winked at me as she took a plate of eggs and toast to Mr. Marsh, who flirted with a sly smile, even though he was eighty-four. Jenny giggled at him, and he ate his eggs. He put ketchup on them. I thought that was odd.

“Hey,” Mom said, putting coffee down in front of me.

“Hi.”

She ran her fingers through my hair, brushing off flecks of snow. They melted on my shoulders. “Tests go okay?”

“Think so.”

“We study enough?”

“Maybe. I forgot who Stonewall Jackson was, though.”

She sighed. “Ox.”

“It’s okay,” I told her. “I got the rest.”

“You promise?”

“Yes.”

And she believed me because I didn’t lie. “Hungry?”

“Yeah. Can I have—”

The bell rang overhead. And a man walked in. He seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think of where I’d seen him before. He was Gordo’s age and strong. And big. He had a full, light-colored beard. He brushed a hand over his shaved head. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He let it out slowly. He opened his eyes and I swear they flashed. But all I saw was blue again.

“Give me a second, Ox,” Mom said. She went to talk to the man and I did my best to look away. He was a stranger, yes, but there was something else. I thought on it as I took a sip from my coffee.

He sat at the booth next to mine. We faced each other. He smiled briefly at me. It was a nice smile, bright and toothy. Mom handed him a menu and told him she’d be back. I could already see Jenny peeking out from the kitchen, watching the man. She pushed her boobs up, ran her fingers through her hair, and grabbed the coffeepot. “I got this one,” she muttered. Mom rolled her eyes.

She was charming. The man smiled at her politely. She touched his hand, just a slight scrape of her fingernails. He ordered soup. She laughed. He asked for cream and sugar for his coffee. She said her name was Jenny. He said he would like another napkin. She left the table looking slightly disappointed.

“Meal and a show,” I muttered. The man grinned at me like he’d heard.

“Figure out what you want, kiddo?” Mom asked as she came back to the table.

“Burger.”

“You got it, handsome.”

I smiled because I adored her.

The man looked at my mom as she walked away. His nostrils flared. Looked back at me. Cocked his head. Nostrils flared again. Like he was . . . sniffing? Smelling?

I copied him and sniffed the air. It smelled the same to me. Like it always did.

The man laughed and shook his head. “It’s nothing bad,” he said. His voice was deep and kind. Those teeth flashed again.

“That’s good,” I said.

“I’m Mark.”

“Ox.”

An eyebrow went up. “That so?”

“Oxnard.” I shrugged. “Everyone calls me Ox.”

“Ox,” he said. “Strong name.”

“Strong like an ox?” I suggested.

He laughed. “Heard that a lot?”

“I guess.”

He looked out the window. “I like it here.” So much more was said in those words, but I couldn’t even come close to grasping any of it.

“Me too. Mom said people don’t stay here.”

He said, “You’re here,” and it felt profound.

“I am.”

“That your mom?” He nodded toward the kitchen.

“Yeah.”

“She’s here, then. Maybe they don’t always stay here, but some do.” He looked down at his hands. “And maybe they can come back.”

“Like going home?” I asked.

That smile came back. “Yes, Ox. Like going home. That’s…. it smells like that here. Home.”

“I smell bacon,” I said sheepishly.

Mark laughed. “I know you do. There’s a house. In the woods. Down off McCarthy. It’s empty now.”

“I know that house! I live right near it.”

He nodded. “I thought you might. It explains why you sme—”

Jenny came back. Brought him his soup. He was polite again, nothing more. Not like he’d been with me.

I opened my mouth to ask him something (anything) when my mom came back out. “Let him eat,” she scolded me as she placed the plate in front of me. “It’s not nice to interrupt someone’s dinner.”

“But I—”

“He’s okay,” Mark said. “I was the one being intrusive.”

Mom looked wary. “If you say so.”

Mark nodded and ate his soup.

“You stay here until I’m off,” Mom told me. “I don’t want you walking home in this. It’s only until six. Maybe we can watch a movie when we get home?”

“Okay. I promised Gordo I’d be at the shop early tomorrow.”

“No rest for us, huh?” She kissed my forehead and left me to it.

I wanted to ask Mark more questions, but I remembered my manners. I ate my burger instead. It was slightly charred, just the way I liked it.

“Gordo?” Mark asked. It was almost a question, but also like he was trying out the name on his tongue. His smile was sad now.

“My boss. He owns the body shop.”

“That right,” Mark said. “Who would have thought?”

“Thought what?”

“Make sure you hold onto her,” Mark said instead. “Your mom.”

I looked up at him. He seemed sad. “It’s just us two,” I told him quietly, as if it were some great secret.

“Even more reason. Things will change, though. I think. For you and her. For all of us.” He wiped his mouth and pulled out his wallet, pulling a folded bill out and leaving it on the table. He stood and pulled his coat back over his shoulders. Before he left, he looked down at me. “We’ll see you soon, Ox.”

“Who?”

“My family.”

“The house?”

He nodded. “I think it’s almost time to come home.”

“Can we—” I stopped myself because I was just a kid.

“What, Ox?” He looked curious.

“Can we be friends when you come home? I don’t have many of those.” I didn’t have any except for Gordo and my mom, but I didn’t want to scare him away.

His hand tightened into a fist at his side. “Not many?” he asked.

“I speak too slow,” I said, looking down at my hands. “Or I don’t speak at all. People don’t like that.” Or me, but I had already said too much.

“There’s nothing wrong with the way you speak.”

“Maybe.” If enough people said it, it had to be partially true.

“Ox, I’m going to tell you a secret. Okay?”

“Sure.” I was excited because friends shared secrets so maybe that meant we were friends.

“It’s always the ones who are the quietest who often have the greatest things to say. And yes, I think we’ll be friends.”

He left then.

I didn’t see my friend again for seventeen months.

.    .    .

That night as I lay in bed waiting for sleep, I heard a howl from deep in the woods. It rose like a song until I was sure it was all I could ever want to sing. It went on and on and all I could think of was home, home, home. Eventually, it fell away and so did I.

I told myself later it was just a dream.

.    .    .

“Here,” Gordo said on my fifteenth birthday. He shoved a badly wrapped package into my hands. It had snowmen on it. Other guys from the shop were there. Rico. Tanner. Chris. All young and wide-eyed and alive. Friends of Gordo’s who’d grown up with him in Green Creek. They were all grinning at me, waiting. Like they knew some big secret that I didn’t.

“It’s May,” I said.

Gordo rolled his eyes. “Open the damn thing.” He leaned back in his ratty chair behind the shop and took a deep drag on his cigarette. His tattoos looked brighter than they normally were. I wondered if he’d gotten them touched up recently.

I tore through the paper. It was loud. I wanted to savor it because I didn’t get presents often, but I couldn’t wait. It only took seconds, but it felt like forever.

“This,” I said when I saw what it was. “This is  ”

It was reverence. It was grace. It was beauty. I wondered if this meant I could finally breathe. Like I had found my place in this world I didn’t understand.

Embroidered. Red. White. Blue. Two letters, stitched perfectly.

Ox, the work shirt read.

Like I mattered. Like I meant something. Like I was important.

Men don’t cry. My daddy taught me that. Men don’t cry because they don’t have time to cry.

I must not have been a man yet because I cried. I bowed my head and cried.

Rico touched my shoulder.

Tanner rubbed a hand over my head.

Chris touched his work boot to mine.

They stood around me. Over me. Hiding me away should anyone stumble in and see the tears.

And Gordo put his forehead to mine and said, “You belong to us now.”

Something bloomed within me and I was warm. It was like the sun had burst in my chest and I felt more alive than I had in a long time.

Later, they helped me put on the shirt. It fit perfectly.

.    .    .

I took a smoke break with Gordo that winter. “Can I have one?”

He shrugged. “Don’t tell your ma.” He opened the box and pulled a cigarette out for me. He held up the lighter and covered the flame against the wind. I took the cig between my lips and put it toward the fire. I inhaled. It burned. I coughed. My eyes watered and gray smoke came out my nose and mouth.

The second drag was easier.

The guys laughed. I thought maybe we were friends.

.    .    .

Sometimes I thought I was dreaming but then realized I was actually awake.

It was getting harder to wake up.

.    .    .

Gordo made me quit smoking four months later. He told me it was for my own good.

I told him it was because he didn’t want me stealing his cigarettes anymore.

He cuffed the back of my head and told me to get to work.

I didn’t smoke after that.

We were all still friends.

.    .    .

I asked him once about his tattoos.

The shapes. The patterns. Like there was a design. All bright colors and strange symbols that I thought should be familiar. Like it was on the tip of my tongue. I knew they went all the way up his arms. I didn’t know how far they went beyond that.

He said, “Everyone has a past, Ox.”

“Are they yours?”

He looked away. “Something like that.”

I wondered if I would ever etch my past onto my skin in swirls and colors and shapes.

.        .        .

Two things happened on my sixteenth birthday.

I was officially hired at Gordo’s. Had a business card and everything. Filled out tax forms that Gordo helped me with because I didn’t understand them. I didn’t cry that time. The guys patted me on the back and joked about how they no longer worked in a sweatshop with child labor. Gordo gave me a set of keys to the shop and smeared some grease on my face. I just grinned at him. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him so happy.

I went home that afternoon and told myself I was a man now.

Then the second thing happened.

The empty house at the end of the lane was no longer empty and there was a boy on the dirt road in the woods.

Copyright © 2023 from TJ Klune

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