Ashe Carver is doing her best to become the mother she
needs to be for her 10-year-old daughter. Ashe was a kick-
ass hunter, risking her life on a daily basis, but now that
she is fighting her in-laws for her daughter, she has given
up her hunter ways to work a regular job at a library.
Ashe's skills are in high demand, so she still does odd
jobs like tracking down escapees from the Castle, a
paranormal prison. Ashe is in the middle of tracking an
escapee and is given a pleasant surprise as Captain
Reynard, a guard from the Castle prison, arrives to assist
in the capture. While hunting their prey, Ashe is attacked
by a sniper attempting to end her life. The sniper is only
the beginning of the drama unfolding to complicate both
Ashe's and Captain Reynard's lives.
Captain Reynard is a guard for the prison known as the
Castle. His family is part of an order who sacrifice their
sons to the Castle to govern over paranormal beings who are
a danger to the outside world. Captain Reynard is the
oldest and strongest among the remaining guards, which is
why he goes out into the world for short periods of time to
catch escapees. The large rabbit he is currently tracking
leads him right into the path of Ashe Carver, a hunter of
all trades. Together, they work to send the overlarge
rabbit back to its habitat in the prison, only to find
Captain Reynard's soul is stolen from a secret room within
the Castle. He has no other choice than to ask Ashe for her
skills to help him locate his soul before he fades to
UNCHAINED is an action-packed roller coaster ride with
thrills on every page. Sharon Ashwood always pens a
Been there, slain that ... Ashe Carver, monster-killer, has
the scars to prove it. But faced with a custody battle,
hung up her stakes and taken a job at the public library,
determined to show the courts and her ten-year-old daughter
that she's as good a mother as she is a hunter.
Easier said than done. There are lovelorn vampires haunting
the library, a slime demon in the shopping mall, and
her new-mom sister needs a hand with her ghostbusting biz.
Then, after centuries guarding a supernatural prison,
Captain Reynard strides into her world like a hero from the
library's Must Reads. Smokingly gorgeous, passionate
and courageous to a fault, he has only weeks to live unless
Ashe finds the thief who took his soul.
Ashe picks up her weapons to save the dayâ€”but not every
problem can be solved with a stake. With so much
tragedy in her past, Ashe fears the disaster she sees
aheadâ€”and prays she doesn't fail everyone. Again.
Memories are the hardest monsters to kill.
"Get down!" Ashe barked, dragging Reynard by the collar of
his fancy coat.
The next shot missed his head by a whisker. She could smell
his sweat, the dirt, and the tang of crushed plants. She'd
landed in a herbaceous border, destroying the gardeners'
careful work. A mound of thyme was bleeding spice into the
The clock tower of the main building chimed eleven. Time to
be home watching the late news, not chasing monsters around
a tourist trap. Wait, they'd bagged the monster. So why was
someone still shooting at them?
Reynard gripped her arm. "Are you hurt?" he repeated.
"No." She turned to look at him, careful not to raise her
head too far. "How about you?"
They lay still for a moment, breathing, listening to the
dark spring night.
"Anyone trying to kill you these days?" she asked.
"Not outside the Castle."
His eyes glittered. It might have been humor. She couldn't
quite tell. He was too closed, too different, like a map
with no street names or landmarks. Just a lot of really
Ashe swallowed hard, willing her jackhammer pulse to slow
down. "Then the shooter must be after me."
"A common occurrence?"
"Not since I moved to Fairview." This was all supposed to
be in the past. She had relocated, given up life on the
road, scaled down the hunting to almost nothingâ€”just the
odd case. She'd let the word go out that she was retired.
Sure, there'd always be some unhappy campersâ€”friends and
relatives of the supernatural monsters she'd exterminatedâ€”
but even they'd grown quiet.
Quiet enough that Ashe had taken the risk of sending for
Ashe crawled backward, a slithering motion that brought her
to the shadow of a thick bush. She rose into a crouch,
molding her body to the shape of the greenery, hiding in
the dense leaves. She guessed at the angle the bullets had
traveled. That put the shooter high up the tall column of
rock that formed the lookout in the center of the sunken
garden. She knew there was a nearly vertical staircase that
led up to the platform at the top, but it wasn't lit at
night. All she could see was the dark spire of stone
blotting out the stars.
Reynard moved to her left side, noiseless as a phantom.
Wisps of dark hair framed his face. His neck cloth had come
untied. Ashe couldn't help noticing messy looked good on
He rested on one knee, raising the long musket. "Stay
down," he said quietly. "I'll take care of this."
A sour burn of impatience caught in Ashe's throat. "There's
no way to make the shot at this distance."
"No?" There was that sarcasm again.
"I live in a dungeon. I've adapted to the dark." He sighted
down the long barrel as confidently as if it had one of the
super-duper, high-whatever nightscopes Ashe had seen in the
latest mercenaries' mag.
They were wasting time. Firing would give away their
position. They'd be better off sneaking up on the
sniper. "That thing has a range of two feet. A crooked two
He sighed lightly, and cranked back the hammer. It was at
that moment she saw it had a real, honest-to-Goddess flint
secured in the jaws of the mechanism. This thing relied on
sparks and naked gunpowder. They'd be lucky if it didn't
"They won't be expecting us to return fire," he said evenly.
"Because it's not possible! I have a real gun, and I can't
make that shot."
Thoroughly ignoring her, Reynard pulled the trigger,
jerking as the musket recoiled. It banged like a giant cap
gun and smelled like a chemistry set gone wrong. Ashe
opened her mouth to protest and got a mouthful of foul-
And there was a distant, sharp cry of pain. Reynard had hit
"That's not possible!" She realized she sounded annoyed.
He made a noise that was almost a laugh. "Just a touch of a
spell. I thought witches were open to magic."
"I'm not a witch anymore."
He gave her a look, grabbed the musket, and slipped into
the darkness. Swearing, Ashe ran to catch up. The entrance
to the staircase was on the other side of the tall spire of
rock, forcing them to circle its base. The colored lights
that illuminated the flower beds dwindled, then stopped as
soon as they left the footpath. Ashe tripped, nearly going
down on one knee before she bumped into Reynard.
He steadied her, and she could feel the remnants of magic
clinging to Reynard's long, strong fingers. But there was
more than that; she felt power spilling over her like sand
in a windstorm, stinging in a thousand tiny bites. Whoeverâ€”
whateverâ€”had been shooting at them was hurt, and not human.
She thought again about her daughter, and knew fear.
Reynard took a step forward. Ashe grabbed his arm. "You had
only one shot in your musket. I should go first."
He pulled what looked like a very modern Smith & Wessonâ€”it
was hard to tell in the darkâ€”from a holster hidden at the
small of his back. "I could reload. I also carry a backup.
As Mac is so fond of saying, shit happens."
The obscenity sounded wrong coming from him. Of course,
every assumption she'd made about him so far that night had
been off base. Not a good thing when they were supposed to
be covering each other's backs.
Reynard started up the stairs, showing just how good his
night vision was. Ashe brought up the rear. There was an
iron railing to her right, but that was her gun hand, so
she left it alone. Her skin crawled, not just with power
but with vertigo. Normally she didn't mind heights, but all
that changed when she couldn't see where she was putting
her feet. She felt for the steps and counted each one. Good
to know how many steps she'd climbed in case she had to
reverse course in a hurry. Thinking you were at the bottom
of the pitch-dark stairs when you weren't could be a
More plants and bushes grew on the rock spire. Leaves
brushed her face like slick, green fingers. They reached
the landing, where the stairs took a sharp turn. Overhead
was a wash of stars, thick and bright because the gardens
were outside the city. Above the canopy of trees, the
waxing moon gave a thin wash of light. Ashe saw Reynard
hold up his left hand, then point. His right hand was
curled around his weapon. Ashe grasped her own gun in both
hands, reassured by its cold, heavy weight.
They went up the last dozen stairs. At the top was a kidney-
shaped platform surrounded by an iron railing. It was like
another small garden. The flower bed, maple tree, and bench
would have been lovely in daylight. At night, the scene was
Reynard turned right and swept his gun downward to point at
the fallen shooter. Ashe aimed at the figure sprawled
facedown on the ground. He was twisted as if an effort to
duck had spun him around.
Vampire. Now that she was close, Ashe could almost taste
his essence. His energy was pouring needles of power over
her like the skitter of insect feet on her skin. She glided
to the left of the figure, Reynard to the right, until they
stood on opposite sides of their quarry.
What happened next depended entirely on the vamp. Why had
he shot at her? She wanted an explanation. She'd be happy
to keep him aliveâ€”vibrantly undead?â€”at least long enough to
question him. Longer if he played nice. Then again, he'd
tried to kill her already. If he attacked, there'd be no
The vamp was male, medium height, dressed in jeans. A
scatter of weapons and a tripod were strewn around him. She
smelled blood, but saw only a shining stain on the back of
his jacket. It was too dark to see color. He was
motionless, but still she kicked his rifle out of reach. It
was a sniper's pieceâ€”nightscope and all the fancy fixings.
"Weapon says he meant business," she said softly.
"It seems your enemies put forward their best efforts,"
"I'm so flattered." Ashe took another quick inventory of
the vamp. Short leather boots. The glint of a fancy watch.
Dark hair, collar length. "Y'know, at first I wondered why
someone would shoot from a place with only one escape
As she spoke, she shifted the Colt to her left hand and
reached into the pocket that ran up the outside of her
right thigh. Familiarity washed through her. Slaying wasn't
her happy place, but it was one she knew inside and out.
And it was the place where a bad guy ceased to be a "he"
and became an "it." It was easier to take them out if they
weren't a person.
Ashe pulled out a long, straight, sharp stake. "Then it
came to me. Vamps can fly. And then I thought of another
thing. I was called out here on an emergency. How did an
assassin know where I'd be? Somebody's been doing some
planning, and I'm going to want names."
The vampire struck. The speed was breathtaking, lifting it
from a facedown sprawl to a frontal attack in less than a
secondâ€”but she'd been expecting that. Ashe felt the thing's
body pound into the stake, and she used its own momentum to
drive the weapon home. All she had to do was brace her feet
against all that brute force and lean into it.
The vamp flailed its arms, trying to change direction and
pull away, trying to slash and bite and escape all at once.
She'd judged the vamp's height fairly well, but the stake
had entered just below its heart. Ashe felt her feet skid
on the stone beneath her, sliding far too close to the iron
railing and the sheer drop beyond.
Reynard yelled, grabbing the vamp from behind. In a flash
of moonlight, she could see the vampire's faceâ€”features
twisted in pain and rage. Reynard was managing to pin its
arms, something no human should have been able to do. That
seemed to scare the monster even more than the stake.
Ashe twisted her weapon, driving upward. The vampire
gasped. She stopped a hair's breadth from skewering it,
praying Reynard's strength would hold. She was taking a
risk, pausing like this, but a chance at information was
She could feel hisâ€”itsâ€”breath on her skin, catch the faint,
sweet smell of its venom. A vampire's poison was so
addictive, its erotic high made its victims slaves after
just one bite.
"Why were you shooting at me?" she demanded.
It bared fangs, giving a rattling hiss.
"Scary, but I've seen better," she said.
Reynard did something that made the vampire wince. "Answer."
"Abomination!" it snarled, and gave one last lunge at her.
"Last" being the operative term. Ashe slammed the stake
upward just before its fangs could reach her flesh. She
heard the snap of its teeth as they closed on air.
The vampire was suddenly deadweight. Reynard let the body
drop, wood still protruding from its chest.
Ashe looked down at the vampire. She knew she would feel
plenty laterâ€”anger, triumph, regret, pity, self-
justificationâ€”but at the moment she was blank. She'd done
what she had to do. Once the adrenaline wore off, the rest
could engulf her.
The vampire had called her an abomination. She opened her
mouth to comment on how strange that was, coming from a
bloodsucking monster, but closed it again. It was weird
enough that she didn't want to even think about it.
Besides, there were other, more pressing questionsâ€”like why
had the vamp chosen to die rather than talk?
It could be vengeance. It could be something else. Whatever
it was, it was personal. That thought made her queasy.
"Are you all right?" Reynard asked.
"Yeah," Ashe said, keeping her voice light. "It went down
Reynard sat down on the bench, head bowed. Ashe looked
away. He looked glum, but skewering the enemy wasn't a
cheery kind of thing. And then again, you didn't get into
this kind of work to talk about your feelings.
Ashe turned to lean on the railing. Below was the garden,
bathed in starlight. A much better view than the vampire.
The body had already started to shrivel. In about twenty
minutes, it would be a pile of dust. It was like time
caught up with the vamps, grinding them to nothing. Once it
was gone, they would search the vamp's possessions for
Above, the stars glittered like sequins on a torch singer's
evening gown. Below, the gardens glowed like a fairy
kingdom. It seemed distant and surreal, a pretty mirage she
could look at but not touch. She was made from a different
elementâ€”something far less appealing.
At some point along the way, when her parents died, or when
her husband died, or maybe when she'd bagged her first
monster, Ashe had let herself slide into the darkness. Now
that her daughter was home, she had to snap out of it. Kids
needed a bright, shiny world. Eden needed something besides
a monster-slaying action figure for a mom. Too bad Ashe
didn't know how to be anything else.
She would try. Goddess knew she would try. She would strive
to see the beauty in the world and look away from the
shadows. It was her duty as a parent.
She heard Reynard shift on the bench behind her.
"You should come see the view," she said.
"No, thank you." His voice was quiet. The dark made it
He was silent for a few heartbeats. "I have to go back to
"So?" She turned, leaning against the rail to face him.
He raised his head, but didn't meet her eyes. "Whatever I
see out here will make me restless, and I don't have a
choice about going back. It's best I see as little as
There was so much regret in the words, it bruised her.
Regretâ€”that she knew. She could almost taste it like
coppery blood on her tongue, sharp and familiar.
Now, finally, there was something about him that she
And, Goddess help her, she suddenly wanted to fix it.