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Excerpt from RITUAL RIDGE:
Mira faced Loren across the grassy clearing. The men on his side had retreated out of sight into the forest, refusing to watch the proceedings out of respect. Mira knew her own companions would stay at the edge of the clearing behind her. They had to watch if only to be ready to step in if Mira got into trouble she couldn’t handle. A single, unarmed man would not often injure a woman badly while in the grip of the rage, but anything might happen. If they thought he would cause Mira permanent injury, her companions would intervene and throw Loren off the cliff.
“How do you feel?” he asked. He was far enough away that they had to speak loudly, but much closer and he would become unable to converse.
“Nervous,” she admitted.
He smiled. “So am I.”
Mira took two steps forward and stopped. Loren’s eyes widened for a moment, then eased as she stopped before it was too late.
“Who was your mother?” said Mira.
“I never knew her. She died shortly after my birth.”
“You came from my village?”
He shook his head.
“No. Further east.”
“What’s out there?”
“You mean bad men,” she said, her voice taking a harder edge.
He inclined his head in acquiescence. “Of course.”
“Come a little closer,” she said.
“Before it happens, I want to apologize for what I will become.”
“No. I need you to be what you are. Sympathy for a man can only hurt me.”
It was strange, saying to him the words she’d been taught her entire life. It wasn’t until this moment that she truly understood them. She did have sympathy for him. What must it be like, knowing you would lose control of yourself? Some women, like Elise, never gave it a second thought. Who cared how a man felt? Mira hadn’t known how she would react until this moment. She also had no doubt that despite whatever kindness she might feel for Loren, it would make no difference.
“I understand,” he said.
She looked at him for a final moment. Her first impression of him had not been wrong. He was beautiful.
“Then come over here and show me.”
Loren took two more steps toward Mira before he was close enough for the rage. The distance was different for each man, but around fifteen feet was as near as they could get to a woman before they lost their sense. Mira estimated Loren made it to twelve feet. The distance meant nothing in this instance. An extra three feet wouldn’t help or hurt Mira’s intentions. She would not try to escape nor was she going to try to kill him. The whole point of the ritual was to get attacked, caught, and used in the way intended by whatever had affected the men of the world. It was a controlled environment, with the arrows of her friends, ever-ready on their side of the clearing, ensuring Mira would have only this single man to deal with. The men of the West travelled in groups and it was rare to encounter one alone in the wild. A woman could usually escape a single man once he finished, but a group would keep going until the woman was too weak to escape, eventually dragging her away to whatever hell they called home. Assuming she lived, of course.
Mira had seen the change before, from captured men in cages in her village. It was a training tool, used to expose girls to what they might encounter if they wandered away from the village. With no one around his cage, a man would become his normal self. He might call out and plead to be released. He might apologize for what he was, or he might just as easily scream threats. It didn’t matter in the end. Once any woman got close enough to trigger the rage, the man became a snarling animal bent on one purpose. It was terrifying the first time Mira saw it happen, and though she had seen it many times growing up, it still haunted her dreams. Nightmares, mostly, in which there were no metal bars between her and the animal. Like there were none in the way now.
Loren changed on the third step. The effect was close to instant: a brief, faint moment of confusion followed by a burst of testosterone infused violence. His body threw itself at her, his face becoming a mask of angry lust.