Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Moment of Silence

Due to a death in the family, thing will be on hold for my various universes for the next week. This is what a couple of more experience writers call "life bumps." I hope to be back to writing and publishing soon!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Something New Under the Sun

Believe it or not, I'm doing my very first book signing. I'll be at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library Author Fair on July 20, 2017.

I'll be ordering the books from the printer in the next couple of weeks. If you can't be in Findlay for the signing and want to buy a signed copy of one (or more) of my books, drop me a message from my website or my Facebook page.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Status Report - May 2017

I'm happy to say the first drafts of Ravaged and Sacrificed are DONE!

And as I started back into Resurrected last Friday, I realized I had a bit of a problem. There's a two-year gap between the last two books, and there's also some major changes that take place within the Western U.S. Vampire Coven over that time period. In the very ancient outline from which I'm working, I'd planned to use exposition, flashbacks, and memories to fill in the blanks, but the changes still come across as pretty jarring.

Not to mention, doing so will make Resurrected a very long and exceptional boring read. I don't like that kind of book, and I highly doubt y'all would like it either. So I decided to do two mini-novels that will take place between the big novels so everything makes a little more sense.

Besides, I'm already giggling at the thought of Tiffany having to team up with her mother-in-law to save the day. 😈😈😈

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ravaged - Chapter 7

I had to take last week off to write, edit and submit my short story for this year's volume of Sword and Sorceress. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll continue my streak. 😃

* * *

Chapter 7

Logan swallowed his irritation about getting turned into Alyson Tribideaux’s personal pack mule. Or maybe the irritation stemmed from how great her ass looked in her jeans as she bent over her tripod while she set up a shot of the main building. “Since you’ve drafted a film intern for free, are you saving your money for Morgan Freeman to narrate this documentary?”

She glanced up at him. “What?”

He stared up at the overcast sky. This morning’s beautiful sunshine was long gone, and low gray clouds scudded across his view. They insinuated more snow on the way. “Morgan Freeman. He’s played God before.”

She looked at him and grinned. “I hear James Earl Jones is cheaper.”

“You really think Haight would sign off on you using Darth Vader to do the voice-over about his compound?”

She laughed. “You’re right. Actually, I don’t worry about hiring the voice work until I edit the film and write the narrative.” She turned back to the viewfinder.

“Don’t you have some idea of what would work?”

“If you mean, will I use Frank Oz as Miss Piggy for the vocals, then yes, I know what definitely won’t work.” She made a few adjustments, and the camera emitted a high-pitched electronic whine as it recorded. The pitch was so high most Normals didn’t hear it.

“So you do have someone in mind?”

She laughed again and straightened. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying pitch your talent.”

“Dream on, Miss Director.”

She looked at him with real curiosity. “So are you just going to throw feed bags around for the rest of your life?” He stared at the surrounding forest. The subject of what he used to do before his abduction didn’t sit well with most weres. But why did he care what she thought?

He shrugged. “I don’t really know yet. After Vietnam and college, I did the computer start-up thing three times. Sold each of the companies for a profit. I’m not sure what I want to try next.”

She cocked her head. “Vietnam? I-I didn’t realize you were that old.”

“Does that bother you?”

“N-No.” She quickly turned back to the viewfinder, though the digital camera was working just fine.

For some reason, her discomfort sent a tickle of amusement through him. He crossed his arms. “Got something against middle-aged men?”

“No. Now, shush. I’m working.”

Before he could continue teasing Alyson, Sharon appeared over the little ridge in the field with a cardboard drink carrier. From the way she huffed and puffed, she’d hiked around the compound in order to stay outside of Alyson’s camera shot. “Thought…you might…need some coffee.”

Logan grabbed the carrier before she dropped it. “Thank you.”

“Sorry.” Sharon bent over and rested her hands on her knees. “I’m still working to get back in shape. Believe it or not, I used to run cross-country.”

Alyson sniffed. “Oh, my goodness! Is that really café au lait?” She acted like an addict herself with the way she stared at the lidded disposable cups.

“Good nose.” Sharon grinned and straightened. “I doubt if mine is as excellent as the ones in New Orleans, but they get me through the afternoon.”

Logan handed Alyson a cup, and she took a sip. Her ecstatic expression made him wish he was the cause, not a cup of milk and coffee.

“This is incredible, Sharon!”

Haight’s assistant blushed. She seemed to do that a lot. “I’ll have some ready for you in the morning.”

Logan frowned. “About tomorrow morning, I can’t get the time off two days in a row.”

Alyson shot him an arch look. On the other hand, a hint of dismay shone in Sharon’s eyes. Great, now he had two women upset with him.

“And what makes you think I need your help, Mr. Polk?” the were said sharply.

He suppressed the urge to bark back. “You need someone for the set up. Otherwise, it’s going take you twice as long to unwind all your cords.” He pointed to Sharon. “She’s got her own job to do, as does everyone else who lives here.”

Alyson crossed her arms. “So what are you suggesting?”

He was really beginning to hate her stance. It made him want to tackle her and prove who was alpha. “What about Sarah Goldstein? She can use the experience for her independent study project. You would have your unpaid intern while you’re in Tuttle Creek without worrying about her room, board and travel expenses.”

“I’ll be the judge of who I need—”

The instant the words left her mouth, a gust of wind seized the camera tripod. Logan caught it before the tripod and the very expensive video camera hit the ground.

“This is why you need a real assistant.” He grinned.

She grimaced. “We’ll talk about it on the way back to my cabin.”

* * *

Two hours later, alarm bells rang in Alyson’s head when Logan took the turn for the town instead of the road up the mountain. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

He didn’t even bother to look at her. “You accepted Esther’s invitation to dinner, remember? And you need to talk to Sarah about her working as your assistant for the next week.”

“We said we would discuss on the ride back to my cabin,” she ground out.

“No, you said that, not me.” He flashed her a grin. “But we are talking about it on the ride back to Tuttle Creek.”

“And why can’t we pick up my vehicle?”

His scent turned as sharp and acidic as vinegar. “Did you notice the change in weather while you were getting your outdoor shots?”

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “It was getting cloudy. So what?”

“First of all, there’s another snow storm coming in. This time, it’s going to stick for the rest of the winter. Second, we lost four hikers this year because they were too dumbassed to come back down the mountain when the weather soured.” He shot a glare at her. “Third, the snow will start before dinner’s over, and that pansy-assed banana of yours with its lack of snow tires or chains won’t be able to climb back up the mountain.”

She made a low growl in the back of her throat, but he ignored her challenge. Her father would be the first to tell her she was damn lucky that Logan didn’t accept.

That thought made her feel worse. She swiveled her head to stare the passenger window.

Why did Logan Polk make her feel so incompetent? Of course she had checked the weather report this morning. She’d actually planned to use the incoming storm to gracefully bow out of the Goldstein’s invitation.

Alyson wasn’t aware she’d made another sound until he said, “What was that? I have trouble translating wolf when I’m not one.”

She turned slowly to glare at him and his shit-eating grin. Aunt Francine was right. She should have kept her distance from this man. “It means you’re as controlling as my father, and that isn’t a compliment,” she snapped.

Logan took a deep breath. Good to know she was irritating him as much as he was her. “Considering some of the damn fool things you’ve done in the two days I’ve known you, René probably has a full-time job trying to keep you from killing yourself.”

Alyson clasped her gloved hands together and stared out the windshield. Her old grief tainted the air as memories of finding her mother filled her mind.

“You know your father loves you. He’s just trying to protect you,” Logan said softly.

His half-assed attempt at a non-apology was the last thing she needed to hear. “I guess you middle-aged men know everything.” Her reply was as bitter as the scent she emitted, the scent she couldn’t suppress.

“More than some snot-nosed pup.”

She stared at him. Anger shoved the past out of the way. “Is that what you think of me?”

He took another deep breath. It reminded her of Papa whenever she rejected one of the suitors he presented. “I think your father didn’t do you any favors by overprotecting you. You’re making…errors of judgment regarding the people and environment around you.”

Now he was deliberately attempting to piss her off. “My first instinct was to stay away from you, so my judgment is just fine!”

“Forget I said anything then,” he snapped.

“I will, rabbit-bait,” she shot back. And Mother Wolf help her, she’d never talk to him again.

* * *

Logan bit his tongue to keep from returning her insult. He was going to get through tonight’s meal without losing his temper. He owed the witches that much. He knew Esther meant well by inviting the snot-nosed bitch to dinner. And dammit, he wasn’t going to be the one who broke the peace of the Goldstein home. But for the love of Mother Wolf, this girl could be an idiot.

Her silence stretched until they reached the valley floor when he couldn’t take it anymore. “If things are that bad at home and you don’t want to stay in New Orleans, you can always join another pack.”

Alyson remained silent.

“Look, if we don’t pretend to be civil to each other during dinner, the Goldsteins, especially Sarah, will drive you insane trying to fix the problem.”

She snorted. “Why should I be nice to you? You see me as either a stuck-up, spoiled pack princess or an omega to be kicked around and raped by the rest of the males.”

What the hell had he stepped in? Worse, what the hell was going on in New Orleans? “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’m also too stupid to understand pack politics. Any other insults you want to add to your list, Mr. Polk?” she finished with a heaping serving of sarcasm.

“I get it. You’re pissed Auntie Francine replaced your mom in your daddy’s affections.” He immediately regretted the words. Obviously something was itching under her skin, but lashing back like this wasn’t going to help him find out what it was.

“How dare you.” Her voice was low-pitched, dangerous. Whenever his own mother sounded like that, someone was about to lose some fur.

If they were lucky.

“You’re the one who’s made it clear she hates being a wolf. And I’m getting tired of you treating me like your own personal omega.” This time, the grin he flashed wasn’t well-meant, and he made sure to show all his teeth. “I bite back.”

“You’re right.”

That simple admission startled him. “About what?”

“My feelings regarding the pack.” Her sniff sounded suspiciously like she was trying not to let tears fall. “I’m too much like my mother.”

“What do you mean? From what I know, Minuette was everything a packmaster could ask for in a mate.”

“And she hated every minute of it. So much so she killed herself.”

That bit of news hit Logan in the gut. She couldn’t be serious. But her surreptitious swipe of her face said Alyson was deadly serious.

“I’m sorry. I heard she died in a car accident.”

“That’s the story everyone was told.” Her scent switched from bitter grief to the sulfur of anger. “Aunt Francine did what she had to in order to protect me.”

“I’m still sorry you had to go through that.”

She did a one-shoulder shrug. “Let’s drop it.”

He’d never heard of a werewolf actually committing suicide. Just how bad was life with René Tribideaux that his wife would rather kill herself than live with him? Especially if Alyson was as young as Logan suspected she was when Minuettte died.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought killing himself at a couple of points during his imprisonment, but that was before his captors had placed Sarah in the cage with him. The old memories triggered his own anxiety, and he forced his fingers to unclench round the steering wheel. The itch of fur along his skin faded as he counted each deep breath he took.

But his anxiety wasn’t the real problem. Alyson Tribideaux was rapidly becoming his own personal itch he didn’t dare scratch. He wasn’t about to give her the advantage by letting her know that, but it didn’t mean he had to be a total asshole.

The eleventh deep breath didn’t do a damn thing to clear his head. Worse, it filled his brain with too many ideas regarding her. How the hell was he going to survive dinner?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ravaged - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

“I’m so sorry for making you wait, Miss Tribideaux.”

Alyson turned at the friendly greeting. Looking at Frederick Rogers Haight, several things struck her. Medium height, average build, common brown hair with a smattering of grey threaded through, and mediocre brown eyes framed by non-descript steel wire-rims. They all added up to someone who would normally blend in with the crowd if it weren’t for his bright smile and jovial attitude.

“That’s quite all right, Reverend Haight. Sharon has been taking good care of us.” She took a deep breath as she shook his proffered hand. The crisp scent of a red delicious. Well, that killed any theory about him being a super.

The assistant froze for a moment, but Haight’s chuckle seemed to relax her. “I’m not sure what I’d do without her. Honestly, she’s the one who keeps this place running.”

Sharon blushed, and the lightest hint of roses came from her direction. Alyson had to clamp down on her own emotions to keep from revealing the assistant’s secret. Sharon had a crush on her boss. No wonder she worried excessively over the reverend’s possible displeasure.

Haight scratched the back of his head. “This place will be filling up pretty soon, and I believe we need to hammer out the final details. If you don’t mind retiring to my office for lunch, Sharon will make sure your intern is fed.” Alyson relaxed slightly. Maybe this would be easier than she thought.

Until Logan inserted himself between her and the sect leader. “Where Miss Tribideaux goes, I go.”

Haight frowned. “Just what are you insinuating, young man?”

“Logan! I’m so sorry, Reverend—”

“I think you know exactly what I’m stating,” Logan growled. “Starting with Hollywood and leading to Peru.”

Sharon clapped her hand over her mouth.

Instead of the fury Alyson half-expected, Haight shook his head sadly. “Our mission is to find lost souls and show them the light. Those men you refer to in California weren’t doing our Lord’s work, son. They did terrible things. They were caught. They were punished.”

“What about the ones who escaped to Peru?”

Alyson blinked. She’d only discovered the incident with the actress. There were others?

“We certainly don’t condone the brutal murders of those other two women in Los Angeles. It is my understanding the United States government asked to extradite our former members who allegedly committed the crimes. However, Peruvian law enforcement has yet to apprehend them.” Haight exhaled noisily. “And before you ask your next question, I’ll give you the same answer I gave the FBI. No, I have not been in contact with them. I would most definitely turn them into the proper authorities. However, I sincerely doubt they would dare show their faces here.”

“Because you’d punish them?”

Haight’s heated gaze could have melted steel. “Because one of the women they are accused of murdering was our order’s prophet.”

* * *

Alyson retrieved the bags for her laptop and printer out of the coat closet before Haight led her to his private office. Logan obviously wasn’t happy about the arrangement, but he kept his mouth shut as she walked away. Once Haight closed the office door, she held up her hand.

“Before we go any further, I want to apologize for Logan’s behavior.”

“My dear, if I got upset at every accusation thrown our way, I would have given myself a brain aneurysm years ago.” He held out a chair for her at a tiny table on the other side of the room from his desk. The wide window showed a panoramic view of the valley with the town of Tuttle Creek nestled by its namesake. She took the proffered seat and studied his private space.

The museum metaphor carried over into his office. Another prehistoric fossil embedded in basalt adorned the wall behind his desk chair. It was a smaller version of the dinosaur on the mantel in the receiving area, but with the appropriate four limbs. A bookcase overflowed with tomes on Paleozoic archeology. Framed fossilized footprints from millions of years ago hung on the opposite wall.

When he took the seat across from her, she continued, “I want you to know I have no intentions of dredging up dirt. You’re one of several groups I’m filming—”

Haight held up his hands. “Stop right there.” He leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “A documentary should give an unflinching portrayal, shouldn’t it?”

His candor threw her off the speech she’d mentally rehearsed. “Yes, it should.”

“Then you need to include our problems as well.” His expression turned grim. “I’m not happy about the terrible acts performed by some of our former members, but they happened. If you ignore it, you’re integrity will be called into question, Miss Tribideaux. If I ignore it, the odds are something similar could occur again.”

He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes before he laid his spectacles on the table and returned his attention to her. “All I ask is that you don’t sensationalize those terrible things the way the tabloids have. Please stick to the facts.” His earnest look was so endearing. He reminded her of the parish priest back home.

“You mentioned one of your own was a victim,” she said softly.

He nodded. “Jane Chevrette. Before we go forward with this project…” He stared out the window for a moment. “She was…very important to me. I won’t ask you to remove any mention of her, but please don’t mention her gift. People already don’t think much of us. I don’t want her name disparaged.”

She hesitated. “May I ask a few questions off the record?”

“Testing me?” One graying eyebrow rose above the rim of his glasses.

Alyson inhaled. Grief spiced his scent, but there was no hint of deception. “No. I want us both to be comfortable about this project, but it sounds like Ms. Chevrette was more than a colleague.”

He slowly removed his frames before he stared out the window overlooking the valley. “Yes, she was much more to me than just a fellow in faith.” When he turned back to Alyson, she could describe the glint in his eyes as murderous. “If I could wreak vengeance on the people who killed her, I would,” he said.

Logan’s earlier words chilled her. “Did you go to Peru?”

He blinked and sighed before he replaced his glasses. “No, but I did make some enquiries through non-government channels. The people responsible for my Jane’s death are no longer in that country, and I cannot…reach them at the moment.”

“If you know where they are, why don’t you call the FBI?”

The slightest smiles curved his lips. “May I ask you a question in turn, Ms. Tribideaux?”

“Of course.”

“When a werewolf is killed in a dominance fight, do you report the death to the Normal authorities?”

Her lungs refused to work. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He waved a hand. “This is off the record, isn’t it?”

She nodded slowly. The old fear of discovery continued to punch her in the gut, making it difficult to breathe. “Did you really think I’d let a stranger onto this property without learning everything about her?”

What should she do? Laugh it off? Run? And how the hell had he discovered her secret?

What Haight had said about his lover, girlfriend or whatever she was to him being the group’s prophet finally registered in Alyson’s brain. “Ms. Chevrette wasn’t Normal.”

The reverend’s smile was sad. He leaned his elbows on the table as he regarded Alyson. “No. She wasn’t. And yes, I do know about your world. You have nothing to fear from me. Part of conventional seminary training is learning to keep your parishioners secrets as long as they are not a danger to themselves or to someone else. I have no problem extending the same courtesy to a business partner.”

“Let get this straight. You’re asking me to not out Jane as a supernatural and in return, you won’t out me as one?”

Haight chuckled. “When you put it that way, it sounds more like blackmail than a negotiation.”

If her father were here, he’d kill Haight outright because he knew the truth about. While the reverend’s offer did sound like blackmail, she could understand him wanting to protect someone he cared about. Alyson nodded. “Your terms are acceptable, Reverend.”

“As long as that particular term isn’t in the contract.”

Alyson rested her own elbows on the table. “And how do you propose to enforce that particular clause if it’s not in the contract?”

“I guess we’ll just have to trust one another,” he said.

She considered his statement for a moment. The clause really couldn’t be in a contract that another Normal might see. But the thought of following pack protocol made her stomach rebel. And if she did follow protocol, exactly how would she get out of the ranch alive? Not to mention, who had Haight already told her secret to?

“I guess so, too.” She reached down and pulled her laptop out of its bag. “I have my standard contract. If you want any additional changes—”

“Let’s get some food before we start. No sense continuing our negotiations on an empty stomach.”

As if she were waiting for a cue, Sharon entered with a tray. She set the two salads and bowls of strawberries before them, along with glasses and a pitcher of ice tea.

“Ring me if you need anything else.” She bounced out the door, obviously in a much better mood. Alyson wondered how much her improved demeanor was due to Logan.

And immediately squished the thought faster than a summer mosquito.

“I’ll need releases from the Sunshine Believers members I film.”

“That won’t be a problem. Most of our folks have agreed, but there’s a few that have said they don’t want to be a part of your project. I know you’ll respect their wishes.” Haight reached over and patted her hand, a fatherly gesture. “I trust you to do the right thing.”

She relaxed a bit and brought up the contract form on her laptop screen. Maybe her anxiety had nothing to do with this project and everything to do with the werewolf on the other side of the door.

* * *

Logan watched the rest of the diners as he poked at the rabbit food before him. Occasionally, one of the group would look his way before muttering to the person next to him or her.

“Lunch isn’t to your liking?” Sharon’s expression no longer had the fretfulness it had when he and Alyson first arrived.

He smiled. Or tried to. The motion felt unnatural and stiff after the last four years.

It didn’t earlier when you were talking to the pretty were, the voice in the back of his mind reminded. The voice that was beginning to sound more and more like his therapist.

“I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy,” he murmured politely.

Sharon frowned. “I can have the kitchen fry a soy burger for you.”

“No, thanks. I appreciate the thought though.” He laid his fork aside. “You said you recently joined the Sunshine Believers. When was that?”

“It will be two years next month.” She took a sip of her tea. “I can honestly say Fred Haight saved my life.”

“How so?” He didn’t have to feign curiosity. The attitudes here reminded him of pack mentality. A tight-knit group with a healthy suspicion of an outsider.

She blushed, a hard one compared to earlier. The woman obviously adored her boss. Even a Normal could get that without detecting the rose undertone to her scent. “I became addicted to painkillers after a car accident. My sister dragged me to rehab twice. It didn’t help.”

Sharon stared at the dead garden outside of their window. “He found me in Cheyenne, homeless, trading sex for oxycontin. I’m not proud of myself. If it weren’t for Reverend Haight, I’d be dead or worse. I can’t really explain how he did it. He used mainly talk therapy, which never worked before when I was in rehab, but he cured me.” She face Logan again. “I’m clean. He gave me a decent job. A purpose.”

He inclined his head toward the rest of the dining room. “What about everyone else?”

She smiled. “Everybody has their own story. None are the same. Some were adrift spiritually. Some lost their homes in the last economic downturn and had nowhere else they could go. Some were addicts like me or had other problems with the law.”

“He sounds like saint.”

Sharon’s expression sharpened. “He’s a good man, but he’s just a man. I know what the people in Tuttle Creek say about him, but they don’t bother to get to know any of us either.”

“Actually, all I’ve heard and seen are good things.”

Her eyes widened and she blinked. “Oh. Like what?”

Suspicion ran deep in this woman. But then, it had taken the folks in Tuttle Creek a little time to accept the Goldsteins and him as well.

“I work with Avery at the feed mill. He’s the hardest worker there. Always on time for his shift. Always polite. You don’t see that much in kids these days.” Logan reached for a roll from the nearby bread basket. “Carol at the general store says the same thing about Maddy. And she’s quite pleased that Haight insists Maddy, Avery, and the other kids get their high school diplomas.”

Pink spread across Sharon’s cheeks again. This time, the scent of yeast and flour spilled from her, as if she were as fresh-baked as the roll in his hand. “I didn’t realize you—”

“Knew a couple of y’all?” He grinned. “Now who’s makin’ assumptions?”

Her laugh was self-deprecating. “I apologize for my attitude. I guess I’m so used to being looked down on or my decisions questioned. It didn’t occur to me I was doing the same thing.”

He shrugged. “It happens to all of us at times.”

Sharon leaned closer and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “You’re not really her intern, are you?”

* * *

“The man who came with you isn’t really your intern, is he?” Haight stared at Alyson with an unblinking gaze.

She hesitated for a moment. She didn’t want to damage her relationship with the reverend. Not after they’d hammered out the contract and he’d signed it. “I’m afraid half the town insisted someone escort me to your compound.”

He shook his head. “After this time, they’re still afraid.”

“I don’t think it’s you so much as me, sir.” She took a nervous sip of her tea. “I’m the stranger. Worse, I’m a tenderfoot. They’re afraid I’ll get myself eaten.”

“Eaten?” His eyes widened.

“Mayor Newlin and the sheriff think there’s a large wild predator a little too close to town.”

“A wild predator?” Concern flashed across Haight’s mien. “This is the first I heard of any incident.”

She shrugged and waved an airy hand. “Some hunters found a dead elk torn up in a mountain meadow. If Logan hadn’t driven me here, the mayor or Doctor Goldstein were going to.” She smiled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say my father hired them all to keep an eye on me. Honestly, I think the town officials were trying to scare me.”

Her statement only increased the furrows of worry on the reverend’s forehead. “Because you were meeting with me?”

“More like trying to scare the big city girl.” Alyson laughed. “Which is ridiculous considering New Orleans is surrounded by gators.”

Haight chuckled as well. “So your father protects you from these gators?”

“No, he tries to keep away far more dangerous predators.” She leaned closer and mock whispered, “Men.”

* * *

Logan smiled at Sharon. “You found me out.”

“A lie’s not a way to make a good impression.” Despite her admonition, she returned his smile.

“You know what it’s like with the tourists. They come up here, unprepared, and they think it’s a zoo or amusement park.” He rolled his eyes and leaned back. “Remember those hikers that got caught in the snowstorm last spring and died of hypothermia?”

She nodded.

He jabbed a thumb in the direction Haight had escorted Alyson. “It’s the beginning of winter, and she’s up here with a designer coat, six hundred-dollar boots, and no chains for her tires.” He shrugged. “She’s staying in Old Roy Cole’s rental cabin, so he asked me to keep an eye on her. Last thing we need is for some rich bitch to drive her pansy-assed rental off the side of the mountain.”

“So why the lie?”

“Probably to preserve her dignity by pretending she’s in charge.” He shrugged again. “I don’t really give a shit what she says.” He leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. “I prefer a real woman to some city slicker any day.”

Red flooded Sharon’s face. “I-I’m flattered, but…” She took a large drink of her water.

“That’s okay.” He smiled. “I didn’t realize you and the reverend—”
“No!” Her outburst drew the attention of the remaining diners. “I mean, um, there isn’t anything between him and me.”

Logan straightened. “I didn’t mean to upset you. You’re a very attractive woman. I had to ask.”

Her blush deepened. “Well, that’s, um, very flattering, Mr. Polk—”

“It’s Logan,” he corrected gently.

“Logan.” She cleared her throat, but wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Like I said it’s flattering, but I’m still working on my sobriety. It’s best if I don’t get involved with any one.” Her gaze flicked to him and back down to her hands. “I hope you understand.”

“I do.” The problem was he really did. In his case, it wasn’t drugs, but his damn anxiety attacks. “Again, I apologize fore making you uncomfortable. That’s the last thing I wanted to do.”

She scooted back her chair and stood. “If you’re finished eating, why don’t we go find the reverend and Ms. Tribideaux?”

Logan rose as well and laid his napkin on his chair. “That’s a good idea.”

* * *

Amusement filled Reverend Haight’s face. “If I had a daughter as beautiful as you, protecting her would be a full time job.”

Alyson laughed to cover her discomfort. Why the hell was she bringing up such a personal subject with this man? But talking to him felt so comfortable, like she had known him all her life.

“Well, the other side is he wants to see me married, so he’s been parading a ton of associates’ sons through our h
ouse. But I’m not ready to settle down. My career is just starting to take off.”
Haight poured more ice tea into her glass. “And you want to establish your reputation before having a family.”

“Yes.” She took another drink. “It’s not that I don’t want family…”

“I agree with you.” He lifted his own glass. “Sow your wild oats before you have children to worry about. Here’s to finding yourself before finding a mate.”

She raised her own glass and clinked it against his. “To finding ourselves.” She took a sip before she waved her hand to indicate the compound. “Is this sanctuary about finding yourself?”

He chuckled. “No, I’m well past my…oats stage.” His expression turned somber. “This about protecting my family, and the Sunshine Believers are my family.” He took another sip of his tea. “There’s a dynamic that some family units have and others don’t. It makes the difference of whether the unit can remain together after a family tragedy.

“I know most of the public doesn’t believe this, but the things that happened, the terrible crimes some of our membership committed, had the same effect on our organization as it does when a member of a nuclear family unit does those same types of acts. And the same questions go through our heads. Why didn’t we see it? What could we have done differently?”

He took a deep breath and blew it out. “The best I can do is give my people some space to deal with those questions, even as I still struggle with them.”

“Would you mind if I ask about Jane and what kind of role she played?”

A sad smile appeared on Haight’s face. “Jane had the gift of foresight. I know most people would think she was a scam artist, but…too many things she saw came true for me not to believe her.”

Alyson pushed condensation down the side of her glass as she considered her next question. “If Jane was precognitive—”

“Why didn’t she foresee the problems?” His smile turned wry. “In the case of the actress, she did. She warned the men not to do something stupid, and they assured her they wouldn’t. Unfortunately, she believed she carried more influence over them than she did. By the time, we learned they had gone through with their plans, well…”

He shrugged. “The authorities arrived at our property before Jane and I did. They rescued the woman, and I was questioned about the matter.”

Alyson frowned. “Why wasn’t Jane questioned?”

“I told her to take our car and leave. There was no sense both of us ending up in jail.” Haight shrugged again. “She was the real leader of the Sunshine Believers after the disaster of that actress’s kidnapping. Or she was until she was murdered.”

“Was her gift the reason for her murder?”

“I believe it was. The extremists knew Jane would go to the police if she learned they planned additional crimes.” A tentative smile crossed his lips. “I’m sure you find the whole story ridiculous.”

“Reverend,” she said as she reached over and covered his hand with hers. “Like I said, I’m from New Orleans, the American voodoo capital. I’ve enough strange things in life to know there’s more to the universe than we poor mortals understand.”

He smiled widened. “I know that as well, Alyson.”

A shiver ran up her spine, and she tried to release as quickly as she could with obviously jerking it away. The echo of Roy’s warning yesterday morning ran through her mind. Her inner wolf said there was something off about Fred Haight. Something neither her human side nor her canine side could lay a paw on.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ravaged - Chapter 5

Oops! I got so totally caught up in writing Sacrificed over the weekend (which is actually a good thing, right?), I forgot to post the next chapter for yesterday.

So to my wonderful readers, sorry about that!

* * *

Chapter 5

Logan blinked in surprise as he pulled into the drive of Cole’s rental at ten-fifty-eight a.m. The pack princess promptly walked out of her cabin with a couple of bags full of equipment slung over her shoulders.

Or maybe it shouldn’t be surprising. She didn’t want to give him an excuse to see where she slept, which fit more with her prickly disposition.

Not that he wanted to see it.

Liar, said the wolf inside him.

“You want this in the back?” she called the second he braked.

“Yeah.” By the time he turned off the ignition and jumped out of his Jeep, she had the rear door open and had wrestled the larger canvas bag inside.

“I could have helped,” he grumbled. So much for his effort to mend fences between their packs. A surly cub caught in the throes of puberty had a better disposition.

“I’m used to it.” A tentative smile crossed her face. “I can’t afford an assistant yet.”

He slammed the back door shut. “Not even a college intern desperate to work for free in the movie business?”

“I’m on the road a lot. There’s still travel expenses, room and board to deal with. It’s not fair to drag some kid around the country and make her pay her own way.” She turned and headed for the passenger door.

Something didn’t make sense. He climbed into the Jeep. “Not that it’s my business, but didn’t your parents set up a trust fund for you?”

One slim dark eyebrow rose. “You’re right. It is none of your business.” She turned and faced the windshield and sighed. “So many people lost everything in Katrina, not just the pack. I asked Papa to dissolve the trust and use the funds.”

“You couldn’t have been more than knee-high.” He flipped on the ignition.

“Old enough to understand what happens when the levees fail, Mr. Polk.”

He almost leaned over to brush his shoulder against hers in comfort. Probably not the best idea considering their conversation yesterday. Instead, he reached for the gearshift. “Were you able to get out?”

“Yes.” Her voice carried so much sorrow. “My Aunt Francine led a caravan of the pregnant women and pups to Houston. Papa and the rest of the pack tried to secure our boats and equipment. We still lost three quarters of what the pack owned.”

He did a J-turn and headed back down the drive. “I can’t imagine rebuilding from that.” Sweat trickled down his spine. He hadn’t lost anything in his life except his self-respect, and he couldn’t even get that back.

“Papa is the heart and soul of the pack. If he believed, then everyone believed.”

What he wouldn’t give to have someone believe in him like that. He blinked stinging drops out of his eyes. “You okay?” she asked.

He glanced at her before he turned and checked for oncoming traffic on the main road. “I’m fine,” he lied. “Why?” She pointedly looked at his hands on the steering wheel. His knuckles were white.

Great. Nothing like an anxiety attack in front of her.

Logan forced a smile. “Sorry. Thinking of how our dads would react if they knew we were in the same vehicle.” Yeah, that was an excellent excuse. Not that he really believed there would be trouble at the Sunshine Believers compound.

She laughed, but it sounded just as forced as his smile. “Yeah, I heard about what happened between them. How about we vow never to tell them we met?”

He pressed the accelerator and turned left. “Sounds like a smart plan. Even Dad’s version about what happened makes them both sound like douchebags.”

“You don’t think it’s romantic fighting for your true love?”

“Romantic? Are you shitting me? It’s one thing to fight to protect your lady. It’s another to fight over a woman like she’s a damn prize.”

Alyson said nothing for the longest time. Had he royally pissed her off with his statement?

He glanced at her, but she didn’t look angry. “Really? Is that how you want to be treated? Like an object to be fucked and brought out to impress other wolves when you’re not popping out pups?”

Still nothing. Her silence wasn’t helping to nerves prickling his skin.

The need to fill the void in the Jeep overwhelmed him. “Bet you haven’t heard my mom’s version of the story.”

“And what’s that? She resents being an object to fuck.” Sharpness tainted her voice. So she was angry after all.

He grinned. “You obviously have not met my mother. She’s nobody’s object. You do know she’s really the San Antonio pack alpha, don’t you?”

“You’re kidding?”

Another glance. Alyson stared at him with rapt attention.

“Hell, no. She left the Dallas pack for the same reason I left San Antonio. Didn’t like the idea of battling the parent to be top wolf.”

She laughed. “In other words, you were afraid your mama would whip your ass.”

“Damn straight, I am. She bluntly told both Dad and René they had a choice. They could each fight her to retain alpha position of their packs. Or they could fight each other for her hand and retain some semblance of dignity. Personally, I think your dad lost on purpose.”

Now, Alyson was laughing so hard tears ran down her cheeks. “Kn-knowing Papa, you’re probably right.” That sent her into another spasm of hilarity.

They rode in companionable quiet for a few minutes before he asked, “So why does a nice wolf like you buy into the Normal myth of Prince Charming?”

And the tension between them slammed back into place.

“Why does a wolf like you resort to pathetic Normal behavior such as stalking?”

“I beg your pardon?”
“I not only saw you, I smelled you. First you ran in front of my Jeep the night I arrived. I nearly hit you on the drive up to the cabin. Then you were standing out by the cabin windbreak this morning around three a.m.”

He frowned. “I admit I watched you when you picked up groceries at Carol’s two days ago. It’s a little surprising to scent another were this late in the season, but I wasn’t anywhere near your cabin until I picked you up—” He looked at his watch. “Fifteen minutes ago.”

“Are there any other weres in the area besides you?”

“No,” he ground out.
“So you want me to believe you weren’t spying on me?”

Her incredulous tone and her accusations irritated him. “Why would I bother? You were the one yesterday who said I had plenty of women after me.”

“I was only repeating what Roy had told me.” She crossed her arms.

“So you’re a gossip, too?” he shot back.

“Shut up. Just shut up,” she snapped.

“Happy to oblige,” he growled.

Only a tomb would have been quieter than the rest of their forty-minute drive.

* * *

Alyson was never more glad to arrive at her destination in her life. The nerve of that man! Maybe she was too human, but her nose worked just fine. She could tell the difference between a were and a regular wolf. And she damn well knew a were smelled the same regardless of which form he wore.

She rolled down the window of Logan’s Jeep, letting in the damp, moldy odor of decaying leaves. The gate to the ranch stood open. Brown remnants of high meadow grass rustled between tiny mounds of snow, but no guards could be heard, much less seen or smelled. Wire fencing was strung between chest-high wooden posts along the drive with occasional bright orange ten-foot poles.

Breaking her oath to never talk to Logan Polk again, she asked, “What are the orange poles for?”

“They’re guides for the plow so the driver doesn’t accidently run into the fence posts,” he said, guiding his Jeep through the open gate. “Last thing you want is cattle and horses escaping in the middle of a blizzard.”

She looked at the orange poles again as the Jeep drove past them. She couldn’t imagine drifts that deep. Snow in New Orleans was a truly rare event. Something to be celebrated as the city shuts down to enjoy the moment. Another pang of homesickness went through her.

They rolled up to a massive one-story log cabin at the end of the driveway. Similar, slightly smaller buildings spread out from the main one. It resembled a rustic ski lodge.

Or a dude ranch. She wasn’t quite sure which effect the Sunshine Believers were going for. According to the information she’s dug up, only the main building had been on the property when Haight’s organization bought the ranch. “Do we just go inside?” Logan said as he cut the engine.

“It’s polite to knock,” she said.
He gave her an odd look as he cut the ignition, and she realized her words had come out sharper than she intended. Except she’d meant them to be cutting, hadn’t she? The bastard had lied about spying on her, hadn’t he?

An attractive brunette burst out of the front door of the lodge, waving. “Ms. Tribideaux?”

Alyson leaned out the window. “Yes?” She took a surreptitious sniff of the woman. Golden delicious. Normal. But something seemed off and she couldn’t figure out what.

The woman smiled. “I’m Sharon Tyson, Reverend Haight’s assistant. You’re a bit early. I can show you around while he finishes his current meeting.” She shifted to peer at Logan. “Will you be back in two hours, or would you prefer I call you when Ms. Tribideaux is ready to leave?”

Before Alyson could stop him, he’d jumped out of the Jeep. He rounded the vehicle and, well, he didn’t push Reverend Haight’s assistant out of the way, but she scurried back at the scowl on his face when he opened the passenger door. “Where would like your camera equipment set up, Ms. Tribideaux?” he said.

She slid out as well. Logan seemed determined to repay this favor by proxy that he owed her. The silence of the ranch bothered her. There wouldn’t be many insects above ground with the current temperature, but there should have been birdsong. For the first time, she was glad of his company.

She waved at the grouchy were. “Sharon, this is my college intern, Logan Polk.” Alyson smiled sweetly at his frowning visage. No question about it. He didn’t like being treated as unpaid help he’d suggested she get. “Just take the equipment bags in with us. I still have to get Reverend Haight’s signature before we start filming.”

She slug her backpack over her shoulder before she turned back to Sharon. “I hope you don’t mind. If our meeting goes as well as I expect, I want to get a jumpstart on my work today.”

“Oh, um…” Sharon’s flummoxed expression would be funny under normal circumstances.

Alyson struggled to keep her own expression nonchalant. It wouldn’t do to piss off the woman. She knew how much power the so-called secretaries and personal assistants really wielded in most organizations.

“I think just carrying it in will be fine.” Sharon shot Logan a worried look. “I’m not sure how the reverend will feel about having an extra guest.”

“As I told him in our letter exchange, I have no intention of painting the Sunshine Believers in a bad light.” Alyson swept her hand in the air to indicate the ranch. “I find what he’s done here quite admirable. I think people need to see what good leadership can do for any organization, not just a religious sect.”

Sharon brightened at the compliment. “That would be so great. I wasn’t a member when things went bad all those years ago.” She lowered her voice. “I heard the stories though. The members of the church at the time were so relieved when those men were caught before they hurt the woman they’d kidnapped in L.A. Human sacrifice is not what we’re about.” A shudder ran through her.

Alyson went for the gracious, socialite smile she’d practiced for years. “Why don’t you show us where we can stow our gear? I’d love to see what all you’ve built here.”

It must have worked. Sharon beamed and said, “Right this way.”

Alyson swallowed her irritation when Logan made a point of carrying the equipment bags. She couldn’t afford to replace anything if he broke something. But it wasn’t worth the pissing contest in front of Sharon after the rocky beginning with Reverend Haight’s assistant.

The interior of the main cabin wasn’t anything like Alyson expected. Humidity weighed down the air. Instead of the blue-collar American, wild west, or native tribal designs she’d seen all over town, the lodge’s great room resembled a Paleozoic museum.

Petrified wood had been carved into various pieces of furniture. Huge potted palms hugged alcoves and corners. Rather than the head of a large hooved, local herbivore hanging over the fireplace, the outline of an eight-point sun had been carved into the stones. Hammered gold filled in the grooves.

Underneath the sun, what appeared to be a skeleton of a tiny dinosaur perched on the mantel, some carnivorous variety from its jagged teeth and the prominent ripping talons on each of its limbs. The relic was posed in such a way it almost appeared alive and ready to pounce on its next victim.

Alyson took a closer look. Instead of the requisite four limbs, the skeleton had eight. She waved to indicate the figure. “Is this a particular species native to Montana?”

Nervous laughter burbled from Sharon. “No. Our symbol used to be an eight-legged lizard over a star. After the problems in L.A. and the negative connotation reptilian species have in America, Reverend Haight decided to simplify the emblem.” She pointed at the gold design. “Now, it’s just the eight-point star.”

“But the skeleton?” Alyson raised an eyebrow.

More nervous laughter. “One of the teens was fooling around with fossils and animal bones. Reverend Haight thought it was cute, so he put it up on the mantel.”

The ashy smell of fear wafted from Sharon. But fear of what? Being judged for having bones in a worship space? Many shamanistic religions as well as the Catholic Church held bones as religious objects.

Or was it fear of bringing Child Protection Services down on the compound? Anything in U.S. society that wasn’t WASP-ish was immediately suspect in a large swath of the country.

Or was it as simple as fearing her boss’s temper? What if Fred Haight’s views weren’t as far removed from his jailed compatriots’ opinions as he wanted the outside world to believe?

Whatever it was, Alyson knew if she pushed, the assistant would clam up. Best to give it time, wait until the members of Sunshine Believers trusted her.

Sharon led them to what she called a coat closet. The space was the size of the cabin Alyson rented from Roy. Once their gear was stowed and coats hung, Sharon led them around the main building. The place was more like a spa than a religious center. Massage rooms, a sauna, and meditation spaces were interconnected by a brook diverted through the building. The water feature even had tadpoles and tiny fish swimming in it.

While Sharon kept her manner upbeat and cheerful, she kept shooting nervous glances in Logan’s direction. Maybe the woman subconsciously picked up on his alpha dominance though he took pains to remain in the background as they toured the facility.

Sharon swept into a large room with a series of tables with white cotton cloths covering them. “This is our communal dining area. We serve a completely vegan diet, and we grow a majority of our food.”

“Vegan?” Disbelief twisted Logan’s brow.

Sharon tilted her chin in a defiant manner at his question. “It’s a healthier lifestyle and much better for the environment.”

Alyson took a deep breath, as much to test Logan’s doubt as to prepare to smooth over Sharon’s ruffled feathers. She caught the faintest odor of Normal blood. Underneath it was a whiff of something else familiar that she often detected in conjunction with the coppery scent. A combination she only smelled when Papa returned from a meeting with the vampire representative of New Orleans. “Is that sandalwood I’m smelling?”

“I’m afraid so. We burn incense during services.” Sharon’s expression became alarmed. “You’re not allergic, are you?”

“Oh, no. It just reminds me of—” Alyson caught herself. “Someone I know back in Louisiana who wears a lot sandalwood cologne.” She forced a chuckle.

A soft chime rang, and Sharon jumped. “That’s Reverend Haight. Wait here please, and I’ll let him know you’ve arrived.” She dart out the door.

“We need to get you out of here,” Logan murmured.

“Why?” Alyson crossed her arms.

“Can’t you smell it?” He looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. “Neither scent is from a tree.”

She rolled her eyes. “Has it occurred to you there’s a simpler explanation? As in one of the women here is having her period? And you can’t be sure it isn’t incense and not—” She glanced around herself. “The other thing.” If he didn’t say “vampire”, she wasn’t about to either.

His jaw muscles clenched so hard they stood out in sharp relief under his skin. “You can’t tell me you think she’s acting in an ordinary manner.”

Sharon’s behavior bothered her more than she wanted admit to Logan, but she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of being right either. “Maybe if you’d stop glowering at her like the big, bad wolf, she wouldn’t be so nervous around us.”

“I don’t think I’m the one she’s afraid of.” He glowered more.

“Has it occurred to you that if something is going on here, she’s more likely to open up to me?” Alyson said softly. “Without you being so…intense?”

Slowly, his shoulders relaxed before he inclined his head. “You’re right. I get a little…” Rotten citrus tainted the air. His anxiety had to be incredible.

His admission made her feel a little sympathetic. If even half of what Aunt Francine had insinuated last night were true, Alyson understood Logan’s jumpiness at the sandalwood odor. “Weird about them?” She gave him the slightest of smiles. “I totally understand.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he growled.

Mother Wolf, she’d really stepped into it, hadn’t she? But there really wasn’t a point in lying. He knew who she was, and that she knew who he was.

Alyson let her arms drop to her sides, and lowered her voice even more. “All I mean is I’d be nervous too if I were the only one of our people who survived Selene Antonius’s little shop of horrors.”

His nostrils flared, and his fists clenched. For a moment, she feared she’d made the wrong choice. If he lost control here in a compound of Normals, they were both in deep shit.

Instead of sprouting fur, he closed his eyes and quietly counted, “Ich, nie, san, shi…” When he reached what she assumed was ten, his shoulders had relaxed and his skin had smoothed.

His eyes slowly opened. “You know.”

“Yeah,” she admitted. “I’m sorry for questioning you. You’d know before now if there are any of them living in Tuttle Creek, which is why I didn’t want to jump to conclusions when I smelled the sandalwood and blood.”

He shook his head. “You’re right. There isn’t any of them nearby.” He leaned closer to her ear and murmured, “Closest vamps I know of are a couple living in Billings.”

She cocked her head. “Literally two?”

He grinned. “No, literally a couple. Ever hear of Toni Wells?”

“The romance writer?” Alyson stopped short of gushing over her favorite author. “I’ve heard of her,” she said coolly. “Joni and Thomas Wellington.”

She snapped her fingers. “So that’s why their Ancient Nights Convention is held up here in the middle of winter.”

“No, you’re not a fan at all,” he drawled.

For once, she didn’t get angry at his teasing. In fact, she kind of liked it.

* * *

Fury ripped through Marcus Giovanni as he watched the video feed from the Sunshine Believers dining room. If it weren’t the middle of the day, he’d charge up there, rip off the wolf’s head himself, and ship it to Alex Stanton.

Or maybe he should ship Polk’s left hand to Stanton.

He held up his arm and stared at the stump. Not even the V-virus’s vaunted healing power could replace a missing limb when it had been cut off by the weapon of a god. Not when he’d left his hand behind, his blood coating the pebbles and soaking into the desert sand. Not when the choice had been his hand or his life.

Maybe daylight was a good thing. It kept him from doing anything stupid like revealing his continued existence. Augustine and the rest of his minions must have assumed he died in the Nazca desert. Let them continue to believe so until it was too late.

No, he needed to lay aside his personal desires and stick to the plan. He wasn’t going to make the same impatient mistakes his grandmother and the lizard demons had made.

His phone buzzed. He thumbed the “Answer” icon. “Yes.”

“Why is the male werewolf with the filmmaker?” Haight sounded curious.

Not who was he, but why. “Maybe word got out about your little stunt in Seattle.” As much as it burned Marcus to say it, he added, “Leave this one alone.”

“Why?”
Marcus wanted to yell in exasperation, but Haight didn’t think like he did. The idiot was too worried about short-term results. “He’s here to protect the female. She’s a pack princess from Rousseau’s territory, but she’s in Augustine’s now. Something happens to her, and you’re going to have more trouble on top of you than you know what to do with.”

“And why would I be afraid of some vampires?”

“You know what happened in Peru.”

Faint static was the only sound for almost a minute. “You and your people need to stay where you are until she leaves.”

“I wasn’t planning on coming out until after sunset,” Marcus muttered sourly.

“No, stay there until she’s finished filming.”

Haight’s statement confounded him. “You’re really going to allow her access to the entire compound?”

“No, just most of it. When she presents a lovely view of our church, it will attract more lost souls. Fresh human blood will quench your thirst far better than the occasional elk, wouldn’t it?”

Despite himself, his mouth began to water. “Yes, it would.”

“Stay where you are. I will notify you when she leaves.” The signal abruptly cut out.

Marcus leaned back in his chair. Now, why was Haight so damn interested in the Tribideaux bitch?