If you're watching Ravaged's wordcount to the right, I went beyond the original 75K I had estimated. But I think you all will be pleased.
* * *
Logan’s human ears
tried to perk when Sarah said, “Did you hear about the film maker renting Roy
Cole’s cabin?” She passed him the potatoes, a mischievous expression on her
Even if his ears
didn’t actually move, the eyebrows on both the adult Goldsteins did. Aaron’s
brown eyes gave his daughter a speculative look as he sliced the lamb roast.
frowned. “Weren’t you complaining about the way people gossip in this town when
we first moved here?”
“C’mon, Mom. A
film maker is a big deal here even if her movies are documentaries.” Sarah
scooped a healthy portion of lima beans onto her plate.
It was good to see
the young witch eating normally again. Logan shifted his attention from her
plate before she noticed. After the starvation they’d both experienced while
prisoners of Tyrone Mallory and Selene Antonius, it had taken them a long time
to fight the urge to eat sparingly and not hoard food. The assholes had
captured Sarah two months before the night he and Alex Stanton, his closest
friend outside of the were community besides the Goldsteins, had been abducted.
“Even better—” She
shot Logan a sly smile. “The film maker is a lady were.”
“And how do you
know this?” Aaron frowned at his daughter.
“I was in the
general store buying groceries when she was picking up the keys to the Cole
cabin,” she said primly.
He could feel
Aaron and Esther’s attention turn to him. Knowing what would come next, he
shoveled a huge forkful of potatoes into his mouth.
murmured. “By herself? This late in the season?”
“Maybe we should
invite her to over for coffee.” Aaron forked a slice of roast onto his plate before
he passed the platter to his wife. “Not a whole lot of supernaturals in Tuttle
Creek.” He eyed Logan as if daring him to dispute the offer of hospitality.
Sarah chirped. “I could interview her for my independent study project.” Except
it wasn’t her school assignment gleaming in her eyes.
A lump of concrete
would have been easier to swallow than his mouthful of spuds, but Logan
managed. His friends’ plans needed to be nipped now before someone got hurt.
Before he got
“Y’all need to
stop.” His already deep voice had dropped an octave. His skin prickled with the
threatening change. “She wants to be left alone.” That had been obvious from
her bald, dismissive look this afternoon. “And quit acting like a bunch of
Yentes. I can’t do a mate any good until I get my own shit together.”
“Will you stop
playing matchmaker?” He deliberately narrowed his eyes and stared at each of
Any story, any
tale, he could pull out of his own pain, he had used to keep Sarah’s hopes up.
Until there was nothing but his own stories. He should never have told the girl
he’d been in L.A. searching for a mate when he’d been taken. Now, her family
had made it their mission to fulfill his search in gratitude for keeping their
daughter alive in that hellhole.
their good intentions had made the last four summers excruciating. The appetite
he’d built up through an honest day’s work disappeared. He stood, placed his
napkin on his chair, and headed for the back door. Maybe a run would clear his
voice paused his hand on the knob. “I didn’t mean to push so hard.”
He looked back at
the teen. He forced a smile at the anxiety in her expression and the bitter
taste of her scent. Great. His irritation and lack of manners triggered one of
her attacks. “I know you didn’t, sweetie. We both need time to heal. I can’t
fix you anymore than you can fix me. Remember?”
The echo of their
therapist’s words eased the panic evident in her posture and the hint of ozone
in the room. She nodded though wetness still shimmered in her eyes.
The first snow of
the season was already falling when Logan stepped outside. A soft, muffled cold
enveloped him along with the flakes and the silence. He exhaled the tension,
and the cloud of his breath swirled into the night.
Not a good night
for a hunt since any prey would be tucked safely in their burrows and dens
against the storm. He scanned the area for any townsfolk over the top of the
fence before he stripped off his clothes and boots and set them in the box tucked
against the house. Aaron and he had built the storage when they first arrived
in Tuttle Creek for those nights he needed to let the wolf free.
Muscles stretched. Bones cracked and reformed.
He shook, from the
tip of his snout to the end of his tail. The snow fell faster, huge wet globs
now. No, definitely not a good night for a run. But he feared what he might do
to his friends if he didn’t work off his own rage and hate and terror at the
And he’d felt just
as inadequate when he saw the lady were and her expression of disdain this
afternoon. He should have gone over and done something about it. Yet, he’d been
frozen in his tracks and just stared at her. How could any she-wolf want him
when he was such a mess? With a leap, he cleared the side yard fence and
bounded into the forest
* * *
The next morning
dawned crisp and bright compared to the low-hung clouds that greeted Alyson’s
arrival to Tuttle Creek. The ground wasn’t cold enough yet to keep the thick
white blanket that has fallen last night. Finding a shovel in a shed behind the
cabin, she had already cleared the dirt drive of the soft snow when Mr. Cole
arrived on his tractor to plow her out.
The discomfort of
a seventy-something Normal thinking he needed to take care of her prompted her
invitation to make him breakfast for his trouble. Unfortunately, her offer only
pricked his pride further. They compromised at Alyson driving them to the local
diner and Mr. Cole buying.
“I don’t get why a
pretty girl like you is up here by yourself this time of year.” His piercing
gaze drilled her skull as she tried to concentrate on damp asphalt. If a wolf
ran in front of the Jeep again, she wasn’t sure she could keep it from tumbling
down the mountain.
“It’s my job.” She
shot him a quick smile.
“Doesn’t mean you
can’t have someone to keep you warm at night.” Mr. Cole chuckled. “If I was
forty years younger, I’d put my hat in.”
“I don’t know if I
could have handled you forty years ago.” She smiled back. It was easy to
believe he’d been attractive in his youth. Sure he had a full head of
silver-white hair and all his teeth, but his easy charm would have been what
garnered the ladies’ attention.
Finding a Normal
sounded appealing. Someone who knew nothing about the supernatural species,
much less cared, but the New Orleans pack would never accept such an
arrangement even if she were madly in love. Except Lannigan hadn’t had a problem
when his daughter married a Normal. According the gossip, Siobhan Lannigan’s
husband was a detective in the sheriff’s department out in California. Someone
strong enough and brave enough to go head-to-head with an alpha for his woman’s
And there she was
daydreaming about romantic nonsense again. She sighed.
“It’s Alyson, Mr.
“Well, then you
need to call me Roy.”
“No offense, Roy,
but insinuating I need someone makes you sound just like my father.”
He chuckled again.
“Men and women should look out for each other.”
She frowned. “He’s
just looking to—” Somehow, she managed to bite of the improper string of words
she was about to vomit. “I’m an only child, and he wants grandchildren so bad
he’d driving me crazy.”
with wanting grandchildren.”
It is when he’s setting me up with every
Tom, Dick and Hairy in a thousand-mile radius. Her fingers tightened around
the steering wheel.
“I see.” Roy
seemed determined to fill the silence. “He went too far playing matchmaker?”
“You could say
that.” She glance at the older man, but he appeared genuinely concerned. “I
think he sent someone after me.”
you?” Bushy gray eyebrows climbed his forehead.
“No.” She sighed
again. “There was a man at the feed mill staring at me when I came out of the
grocery last night. About six-two or six-three, sandy brown hair, looked to be
in his early thirties.” Muscles that didn’t strain when he was swinging around
hundred-pound feed sacks, but Roy didn’t need to hear that tidbit.
“Sounds like Logan
Polk.” He snickered. “Don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about there. The
gossip in town says he isn’t partial to women. And plenty of the single gals
“Oh.” Had she
misread the look he gave her? “I take it he grew up here?”
“Naw, he’s from
Texas originally. At least, he has the twang though he doesn’t offer much
personal information. He moved up here with Doc Goldstein’s family nearly four
years ago from Los Angeles. He really doesn’t say much about his past.” Roy’s
voice lowered to a sad note.
happened in Los Angeles, didn’t it?” she said softly.
“Don’t know the
whole story. Really none of my business.” He shook his head. “Scuttlebutt is
the Goldsteins’ daughter was kidnapped when they were in California. Bad things
happened. Really bad. I think Logan was hired by the Goldsteins as a bodyguard,
though none of them will say for sure. But damn, if any of the boys in town
look at that Sarah Goldstein sideways, Logan is on ‘em like white on rice.”
“I see.” This
Logan had to be a rogue. An alpha didn’t leave his pack unless he was looking
to start a new one. And a gay alpha didn’t stand a chance of either taking over
a pack or founding one. Mate or abdicate was the rule.
It sucked. It
sucked rotten eggs in her opinion. It was the freakin’ twenty-first century for
the love of Mother Wolf.
misunderstanding then,” she added.
leveled out, and she shifted out of the lower gear. Mounds of snow clung to the
prairie grass, but not a cloud marred the crystal blue vista.
“Now I know what
they mean about the big Montana sky,” she said.
“Yep.” Roy didn’t
sound smug or condescending, just happy with life. “Supposed to stay clear for
the next twenty-four hours according the Weather Channel. Wait until you see
the view tonight from your cabin.”
* * *
The Last Buffalo
Diner was crowded and loud when they entered. The noise died immediately as the
clientele watched them. The change was unnerving. It raised the hackles on the
back of her neck, but Alyson followed Roy as he plowed past men twice his size
and half his age.
He settled into a
booth at the rear of the diner, his back against the wall where he could keep
an eye on everybody. His choice left her with a decision—either sit next to him
so her back was against the wall too, which her wolf-half silently advocated,
or sit across from him like a proper human would.
eyes caught her hesitation. “I’m not the one you should be worrying about,
Alyson.” His voice was so low, only a supernatural could hear him.
She tried to
appear confused, but she had the impression he saw through her act. Slowly, she
slid onto the opposing bench.
A stout, matronly
waitress with graying hair in a tight braid appeared beside their table,
already pouring coffee into one of the two cups she held. She grinned at Alyson
and set the first cup down for Roy. “What can I get you to drink, Miss
That the waitress
knew who she was sent a trickle of unease through her. Back in New Orleans, she
had relative anonymity thanks to the big city population. Here in Tuttle Creek,
Montana, population four thousand-three hundred-one, she would stand out.
please.” It seemed the safest bet. She could feel the eyes of everyone in the
diner on her. Besides, the odds of getting a decent café au lait in Montana
were about the same as her finding a beignet in the forest.
resumed around them. Once the waitress set down the second cup and toddled off
to take care of another customer, Alyson leaned forward. “I take it I passed
the city versus country test.”
“Yes, ma’am, you
did.” Roy grin as he took off his cap and unwound his muffler.
She took a sip.
Not as bitter as the chicory mix favored back home, but she still missed milk
to mellow the flavor. Little containers of artificial creamer sat in a matching
mug at the end of the table. Those would be even worse than plain coffee.
“So who should I
be worried about?
“I hear you’re in
town to interview the leader of the Sunshine Believers.” Roy wrapped his hands
around his own mug.
“I take it he’s
not popular around town.”
The old man’s
frown emphasized the deep lines embedded in his face. “He’s never caused any
trouble around here. Neither have any of his people. There’s just something off
about him that I can’t put my finger on.”
The waitress came
back, her pen poised on her pad. “Your usual, Roy?”
“Yep. Thanks, Lois.”
She turned a
bright smile on Alyson. “And you, dear?”
scrambled, with bacon and toast.” If Roy hadn’t insisted on paying, she’d order
her normal breakfast, but she wasn’t about to bankrupt the man. Besides, she
could always grab a snack back at the cabin later. Like maybe some more ice
cream if she could swing by the store before they drove back up the mountain.
Lois tucked her
pen behind her ear. “I like a girl who isn’t afraid to eat.” She sauntered back
to the window behind the counter and called out the order.
Alyson took a sip
of her coffee. “So what do folks around here think of the Reverend Ford
Haight?” Might as well get a little background. Most small towns were
notoriously closed-mouthed, but then neither she nor Haight were part of the
Neither was this
She shut down that
thought. Even if Roy was right, and the man wasn’t a suitor planted by her
father, she needed to focus on her job.
“Don’t think many of them care as long as he doesn’t cause trouble. You know
about what happened in Los Angeles four or so years back?”
“You mean the
kidnapping of Jessie Alton, the actress? The men from the Sunshine Believers who
kidnapped her all ended up in prison or high security mental wards. Haight disavowed
them.” There had been a few things missing in the public police reports, too.
Things that made her suspect someone involved in the whole sordid affair
regarding the kidnapping was supernatural. Something of this magnitude,
especially between Alton and her husband’s popularity as entertainments stars,
required a joint effort to keep things quiet. Well, relatively quiet.
stories about the cooperation between the Lannigan pack, L.A.’s master vampire,
and the resident witch coven. But any time she’d asked Papa about specifics,
he’d told her not to worry her pretty little head about political affairs.
Roy bobbed his
head. “Yeah. While he did say those men weren’t acting on his cult’s behalf and
the police couldn’t tie him to the crimes, it makes me wonder.” His fingers
drummed the side of his cup. “This is the type of town where no one’s perfectly
innocent, but as long as you keep your nose clean and don’t hurt anyone, no one
“You think he was
involved in the Alton kidnapping, and he hung his people out to dry?”
shrugged under his insulated coat. “Don’t know. What I do know is there are a
lot of pretty young things that are part of his compound. More women than men
if you know what I mean.”
The image of Maddy,
the teenage girl at the general store who lived at the Sunshine Believers’
ranch, popped into mind. “Do you think they’re brain-washed or abused?”
shrugged. “Don’t act like it, but I’m not an expert.” He reached over and
grasped her hand. “Just be careful when you’re around him. I suggest you take
someone with you when you drive out to the compound.”
She took a deep
breath. Underneath the aromas of frying food, the hay-sweet scent of cattle and
the crisp odor of fresh-cut pine, the old man still had the super tart scent of
an Arkansas Black apple. But something else crossed her nose, and it wasn’t
Ginger. Lots of
ginger followed by the unmistakable musk of another were. None of which came
from the surrounding tables.
She turned around
to follow the scents. A tall man with shaggy, graying hair strode toward them.
He wore the requisite Tuttle Crossing uniform of jean, boots, and flannel
topped off by a heavy coat. A young woman followed him, mid-to-late teens by
the look of her. Her dark hair framed a heart-shaped face with shining brown
eyes. Her appearance was similar enough to label the man as her father. Witches
from the tangy ginger with a fainter hint of ozone.
Behind them stalked
the were from the feed mill, dressed like the male witch but with an ugly scowl
marring his handsome features. A scowl she recognized from her father and
cousins. He was itching to shift and tear someone a new asshole.
And of course, the
trio stopped in front of their table.
“Roy, you missed
your appointment,” the male witch said with a milder version of the were’s
The old man
scowled right back and tilted his head in Alyson’s direction. “Can’t you even
use your company manners, Doc?”
“Hello, Roy. You
missed your appointment.”
“So you tracking
down patients now?”
The older witch
smiled. “Only when they don’t come in for their quarterly A1C testing like
they’re supposed to.”
introductions. The Goldsteins were rather enthusiastic. The were barely gave
her a civil nod.
“Why don’t you
join us for breakfast since there isn’t a free table?” Roy added.
No, no, no.
immediately slid into the booth next to Roy. Her father followed.
Which only left
room for Logan to sit next to Alyson.
Human establishment, human manners, she
reminded herself. She scooted across the cracked vinyl seat to make room. On
the other hand, he didn’t seemed too pleased about the arrangement either.
Alyson took a
surreptitious sniff of the man next to her. Yep, he was definitely the were
who’d ran in front of her last night, but she wasn’t about to confront him in
front of so many Normal witnesses.
She wondered if
one of the Goldsteins summoned Lois by the way she appeared out of nowhere with
menus. Alyson bit her lip at a more uncomfortable thought. Maybe she was distracted
by the bulk of Logan Polk overwhelming everything around her.
Small town gossip
filled the minute or two before Lois appeared with plates for Roy and Alyson balanced
on her arm. Once she dropped off the drinks for the rest of their table and
took the remaining orders, Doctor Goldstein leaned over and said, “Roy, I want
you to stop by the clinic for your blood work after breakfast.”
“Can’t. Caught a
ride into town with Miss Alyson.”
The doctor’s lower
jaw worked for a moment before he said, “Roy, you can’t put this off any
longer. I can’t authorize refills of your insulin until I know what your
numbers are. You could be taking too little or too much.”
Roy reached for
the syrup bottle and deliberately pour a healthy amount over his pancakes in
to her, a please-help-me look in his eyes.
The old man’s
stubbornness reminded her too much of her mother’s situation. She had also
insisted nothing was wrong. By the time Alyson had figured out she was lying,
Mama was dead.
Alyson cleared her
throat. “I was planning on doing some research this morning at the town
library. Why don’t you take care of your errand at the clinic, and I’ll swing
by when you’re done?” she said brightly.
“Fine, but I want
something in return,” the old man growled. “Doc, you need to accompany Miss
Alyson to the Sunshine Believers compound. She shouldn’t be going out there by
The change in
topic obviously caught the doctor off guard, too. “I’ve got a pretty full
schedule today. Maybe Logan can go out to the compound with Miss Tribideaux?”
He looked at the man next to her.
Alyson could feel
the tension in Logan’s body. His attitude was a one-eighty from yesterday’s
frank appraisal. Maybe she really had misread things like Roy suggested. Maybe
his stare yesterday was the normal analysis of an interloper in his perceived
territory, even though Montana was supposed to be a neutral zone for the packs.
Panic set in. He
didn’t want to escort her anymore than she wanted him to. Not that she needed a
chaperone anyway. “I don’t have a definite appointment with Mr. Haight yet, and
I’m sure Mr. Polk needs to be at work.”
“No worries! It’s
Logan’s day off,” Sarah chirped. Her statement earned a glare from the male were.
paying the gas money,” he muttered.
grinned, pulled out a few bills from her pocket, and slid them across the table.
“This should cover it.”
Alyson tried not
to smile at the girl’s antics. There was obviously some kind of rivalry going
on between the two. More like the sibling version than anything else. Was Logan
getting as much pressure to find a mate as she was? It must be bad if his witch
friends were in on it. Maybe they weren’t as plugged into the town grapevine as
Roy. Or Logan hadn’t come out of the closet with his friends.
actually made her feel sorry for the man sitting next to her.
The rest of the
meal passed pleasantly despite the tension in the male were. Sarah carried most
of the conversation. She had been taking classes remotely, working on her
graphic arts degree, but planned to transfer next year to a bigger school.
Questions spilled out of her about cameras, software and anything else she
could think of relating to video arts.
didn’t hide the worry in Aaron’s eyes when his daughter spoke about moving
away. Another unspoken something was going on in that regard. His behavior
cemented Roy’s story that something bad had happened to Sarah in the past. The
more the teen talked about attending school in California, the more Roy
fidgeted in a way that had nothing to do with his third cup of coffee.
Which was just
plain weird considering none of them had mentioned any familial relationship
between him and the Goldsteins.
Part of her was
relieved when Logan claimed he had things to do. He laid down a couple of bills
and stalked off before Lois made his change. Once everyone else was finished
with breakfast and the bills were paid, Alyson walked out with the Goldsteins
and her landlord.
Alyson and Roy
climbed into her rental, and they followed the Goldsteins’ SUV out of the
parking lot and down the street. At the edge of town, the clinic sat, a
low-slung concrete pre-fabricated building, huddled on itself against the coming
winter that threatened to bury it. The only cheerfulness was the bright red signage
on the front, stating “Tuttle Creek Medical Center.”
“I could have walked
three blocks,” Roy grumbled.
“I know you could,
but Doctor Goldstein insisted.”
“This is taking
time out of your business.”
“I need to check
in at the general store for Haight’s response before I head to the library.
Besides, you’re the one who bargained for my escort.” She pulled into a parking
space in the cleared lot and cut the engine. “So you need to uphold your end of
“This is why I
like my mountain. No one’s hassling me up there.”
Alyson popped open
her door. “Which is exactly why you need your meds sorted out before the real
winter sets in.”
Roy climbed out
and rounded the Jeep. “You’re worse than my wife, God rest her soul.”
“And you’re as
cranky as my father,” she shot back. “I’ll be back in a bit while you take care
“Fine.” He waved a
gloved hand in the air and stomped into the clinic. If he didn’t have the apple
smell of a Normal, she’d claim the old man was a were.
Alyson pivoted and
strode down the sidewalk to the general store. No one was inside when she
entered except the proprietress, Carol Riesgraf.
She looked up from
some paperwork on the counter and grinned. “Hey, Ms. Tribideaux! Got something
Carol shook her
head. The silver pixie-cut made her look decades younger than seventy. From the
way she spoke on the phone when Alyson had been making arrangements, she and Roy
had been classmates in school. “She dropped this off on her way to the high
school this morning.”
The admission sent
a frisson of unease through Alyson. “I didn’t realize she was that young. What
do her parents say about her living on the Sunshine Believers compound?”
A disgusted look
filled Carol’s lined features as she handed over a sealed envelope. “From the
little she told me, there were some problems with her stepfather and his
wandering hands. People whisper all kinds of insinuations about Fred Haight,
but I’ll give him this. He makes the kids he takes in finish school and get
the envelope. “Roy says he doesn’t get a good vibe from the Sunshine
“I don’t like to
gossip.” As if to emphasis her point, Carol pursed her lips together.
Alyson tried for a
reassuring smile. “All I’m doing is collecting background material. The community
in which some of these splinter religions live and work can make or break the
Carol stared at
her fingers clenched on the counter for a moment. “As long as I’ve known Roy,
he’s had a…sixth sense if you will. I don’t discount his opinions, but—” She
looked out the window before returning her gaze to Alyson. “Like I said, Haight
makes the underage ones go to school. The handful with jobs in town work their
smiled. “I don’t ever have a problem with her. She shows up on time, ready to
work, and doesn’t complain about a thing. Maybe that’s the problem.”
“What do you
“Have you ever met
a teenager who doesn’t complain?” One of Carol’s silver eyebrows rose. “Even I
bitched when I wanted to listen to Elvis records with my friends rather than do
my chores on our ranch.”
curiouser as one of Alyson’s favorite authors would say. Haight had admitted
publicly he wanted to redeem his organization’s name. But if he had a way of
turning Normal teens into model citizens, he could make a mint.
And Maddy had
smelled pretty damn Normal when they met yesterday afternoon.
“Thanks for this,”
she said and waved.
Once outside the
store, she yanked off her glove, slid a fingernail under the flap, and tore
open the envelope. Inside was a note with the sharp, printed words she came to
expect from Fred Haight. An invitation to lunch tomorrow for an interview to
discuss the terms of filming his compound and his followers.
He was sticking to
his word that he wanted to meet her in person before he granted her access to
the entire compound. Given his group’s history, she could understand his
reluctance to let a stranger observe his people. Still, she was disappointed
that any real work would be put off for another day.
She shoved the
note into her hip pocket. It didn’t mean she couldn’t set up some preliminary
interviews with some of the town leaders. And the delay would get both her and
Logan out of Sarah’s attempt to force them together.
Her trip to the
town’s library was a little more fruitful. The head librarian, Marvin Newlin,
happened to be the mayor’s brother. He invited Alyson over for dinner that
evening. He also pulled a half dozen books on the town’s history he thought
Alyson would find useful. Thank Mother Wolf, she remembered to stuff a reusable
canvas grocery bag in her backpack.
“I hear you’re
going to be filming Reverend Haight’s ranch.” Mr. Newlin played with his
reading glasses hanging from a pink beaded chain around his neck.
“I hope to. We’re
meeting tomorrow to discuss the particulars.” She needed to dump the books in
the backseat of the Jeep before Roy saw them. Otherwise, the old man would
insist on carrying them.
“The man actually follows
Christ’s path. Charity to all.” Mr. Newlin beamed. “I’m not a member, mind you.
Our great-grandfather built the town’s first church.” He chuckled. “Well, the
only church. But the way that Rev. Haight takes in those lost souls—” He patted
the space above his left breast. “It just fills your heart with love, doesn’t
Alyson gave the
polite smile she always did when the subject of personal religion came up.
“He’s done a great many things to turn around his organization. That’s one of
the reasons I want to interview him.”
simple answers weren’t enough. By the time Alyson extracted herself from the
clutches of the librarian, the bright morning sunshine was rapidly melting the snow
still laying in yards and flower beds. It also made for a pleasant walk back to
the clinic. People nodded and gave friendly waves as she went.
Was that why
Haight moved his group here? To create a more positive atmosphere?
Everyone she met
so far had good things to say about him and his people. Everyone except Roy.
And the old man had nothing to go on but a vague feeling. She’d put more stock
in Dr. Goldstein having a suspicion, assuming he was telepathic like a large
number of witches were.
She could understand
why even witches such as the Goldsteins liked living here. But it didn’t answer
why an alpha would be so closely attached to non-were supernatural family.
Rogues didn’t bother forming those kinds of bonds. Unless the Goldsteins were
rogues as well. She was so discomfited by Logan’s presence she hadn’t looked to
see if Sarah or Aaron had worn earrings, which she should have to determine
their coven membership.
No, the Goldsteins
being unaffiliated didn’t make sense. Rogue witches usually attached themselves
to vampire covens out of sheer survival instinct. Or at least, that had been
her experience. Why would they serve a rogue alpha?
The two witches hadn’t
acted subservient to Logan. In fact, they had been damn friendly to her if they
were rogues. Even Logan had given her a token amount of civility despite his
irritation with being forced to interact with her. The stories her parents told
her said a rogue wolf would kill a pack wolf if he discovered one alone. Logan
hadn’t done anything besides look at her, or try not to look at her, at
Stop it, she told herself sternly. You’re not interested in Logan, remember?
And he’s definitely not interested in you. Marvin Newlin was more to
Logan’s taste if Roy’s gossip was true. Assuming the poor Normal could survive
a night with a gay alpha.
inside the clinic. No one was sitting in the waiting room, but ginger flooded
woman peered over the reception counter. “Hi! Can I help you?”
“I’m here to pick
up Roy Cole if he’s done with his appointment.”
The woman grinned
and stood. “You must be Alyson. I’m Esther. Jill of all trades and Mrs. Dr.
Goldstein.” She held out her palm.
Alyson could help
but laugh along with the woman’s infectious enthusiasm as they shook hands. Unlike
her daughter’s wayward locks, Esther’s dark hair was pulled back in a neat bun.
The studs in the second piercings on the witch’s ears were tiny silver
grizzlies while the silver hoops in the first piercings were plain. The bear
was the symbol for the Los Angeles witch coven if Alyson remembered correctly.
Plain hoops meant Esther didn’t hold an office within the group.
“By the way, thank
you for getting Roy in here. Aaron hasn’t had a chance to get up the mountain.
It’s been high school sports check-up season for the past two months.” She
rolled her eyes.
“I can see him
being a stubborn patient.”
“Since we’ve got him here, Aaron’s doing a full work up, so it may be another
twenty to thirty minutes.” She paused as if she wanted to say more, but she
leaned over to check the front door before she continued.
“Come over for
dinner tonight.” She held up her hands when Alyson opened her mouth. “No
pressure, I swear. Not many supers live in the area, so it’s a treat for us to
visit with someone new.”
Damn, no matter
what she said, refusal would be awkward. “Um, I accepted an invitation to the
Newlins tonight.” When Esther’s expression fell, Alyson quickly said, “Maybe we
can get together tomorrow night?”
quick smile turned into an embarrassed expression. “I just wanted to apologize.
I heard about what my family did to you and Logan this morning. My daughter
really doesn’t understand personal limits, especially when it comes to weres.
My husband should have known better though, so I’m sorry for his rudeness.”
The apology took
Alyson by surprise. She wasn’t sure what to say, except she had a way out of
the direct awkwardness with Logan.
Actually, the escort thing isn’t a problem. I’m not going out to the Haight compound
today after all. I was hoping I could leave a message for Logan?” Instead of making
a definitive statement, she ended the sentence on the quivering high Normal
women used, asking permission instead claiming their power. Dammit, she wanted
to bite her own tail.
“I hate to do this
to you, but I’ve got a swarm incoming.” Esther nodded at the front of the
clinic. Sure enough, one stressed mother with three little ones, all under five
and with running noses, struggled to herd her brood past the glass door. As
they watched, two more vehicles pulled into the lot. “I won’t see him until the
clinic closes, and he planned to drive up to the Cole cabin before noon to meet
Esther pointed to
her right. “The first house past the clinic is our place. The gate’s unlocked. Logan
should be out back chopping wood. Or that was his plan, and if he is, he won’t
answer the phone.”
her urge to grimace. Not her first choice of plans, but before she could say
no, two men rushed in with a third slung between them. The injured man was
white as a sheet, probably because the towels wrapped around his lower hand
were a brilliant, wet scarlet. “Esther!”
The eggs and bacon
in Alyson’s stomach lurched at the sight. Why couldn’t she handle this kind of
sight while she was in human form?
Esther ran around
the reception desk. “For the love of all that’s holy, Abner! How many times are
you going to stick your hand in an auger?”
The injured Abner
gave a sickly grin. “Till I lose it?” Esther guided the men through a door that
presumably led to the exam rooms.
Alyson backed out
of the way and into the mother with the three sick toddlers. “Sorry,” she
“I’m sure it looks
worse than it is,” the woman replied. “Cousin Abner’s always doing something
The oldest child,
a boy, yanked on his mother’s coat. “Yah think Abner’ll still have his stitches
at Thanksgiving,” he said between loud sniffs.
“We’ll see.” She
gave Alyson a long-suffering look. “If you don’t have kids yet, I strongly
suggest putting them off for as long as possible,” she whispered.
“Thanks for the
advice.” Alyson smiled and quickly left the clinic. Once outside, she took deep
cleansing breaths of cold, mountain air. It lessened the threatening nausea.
She had to be the worst were on the face of the planet for letting the sight of
a little blood make her ill.
As she stood on
the sidewalk, another pick-up and a mini-van pulled into the clinic’s parking
lot. Aaron hadn’t been joking about having a busy morning, even without Abner’s
desire for self-mutilation.
Like it or not,
she was going to have to face the alpha on her own.
* * *
Logan set aside
his splitting maul for a moment to strip off his thermal undershirt. Mother
Nature was making up for last night’s snow with a much warmer day than
expected. He tossed the shirt over a branch of the backyard maple, grabbed the
maul and was reaching for another log when a flash of movement through a chink
in the fence caught his attention.
their way through the muddy, dead grass in the front yard was downwind as well.
His protective goggles didn’t help. He shoved them up, frowned and shaded his
the filmmaker. The very attractive filmmaker who happened to be the New Orleans
pack leader’s daughter. The one who didn’t want to give him the time of day.
And moved across
the yard like a wolf afraid to dirty her paws.
have known who she’d been trying to him up with when she brought up the subject
at dinner last night. But he definitely needed to have a long talk with the
young witch about knowing the players before manipulating the board.
disappeared from sight. The gate latch jangled before the gate itself swung
open. Her gaze didn’t meet his until she reached him. Her expression was
reminiscent of an omega trying bluff her way through an encounter. “Hello.”
“Hello.” He set
the log on end, slid his goggles back into place, and swung the maul. The dry
wood split with a satisfying crack.
“I came over to
let you know I won’t be needing your services after all.”
“My services?” He
placed another log on the stump he used as a chopping block.
volunteered you to escort me to the Sunshine Believers compound? Anyway—”
He brought the
maul down a little harder than necessary. She jumped back when the two blocks
the grin that threatened to split his face just as easily. “You really
shouldn’t be out here without steel-toes boots.”
She ignored his
advice. “As I was saying, my appointment has been delayed until tomorrow so I
won’t need you this afternoon. So thank you for your assistance.” She pivoted
smartly and stalked toward the gate.
What a snob. Not being interested was
one thing. Looking down on him as a servant to be ordered about and dismissed
when not needed was another. Not to mention, he’d told his friend Alex, who
happened to be the Augustine Coven’s chief enforcer, he’d take a look at the
Sunshine Believers compound if he ever got the chance.
Well, this was his
chance, even if was with the most conceited wolf on the face of the planet. “What
time tomorrow?” he called.
She paused and
turned to face him. “Why?”
He set one of the
split pieces on the chopping block before he answered. “Because the currency in
this part of the world is favors. I’m supposed to escort you to Haight’s place,
and that’s what I’ll do.”
“You don’t owe my
He swung the maul
again. She didn’t leave as he half-expected. “Aaron owes you for bringing Old Roy
in for his check-up. I owe Aaron for putting me up for the last four years.
Ergo, I owe you.” Not to mention he and the Goldsteins owed Augustine and his
people for getting him and Sarah out of the Mallory Labs torture pit, but he
wasn’t about to admit that little Miss Holier-Than-Thou.
She grimaced and
folded her arms. “The only reason I was in town this morning is because Roy was
angry I cleared the drive before he arrived.”
she was a total pansy-assed omega. No wonder Tribideaux couldn’t find a mate
for his daughter.
Logan grinned. “By
usurping Roy’s duties as host, it’s your own fault I have to escort you to
Her arms dropped
to her sides, and her mouth opened and closed a couple of times. Finally, she
said, “Fine.” She turned to leave.
growl started low in her throat. “Noon.”
“I’ll be at your
place at eleven.”
“I can pick you up
getting a rise out of her. He gave her a mock frown. “The drive going into the
compound is an old logging road. I can guarantee that Mother Wolf-awful banana rental
of yours doesn’t have the shocks or suspension to handle the terrain, much less
the mud from last night’s snow. We’ll take my Jeep.”
“Look, you don’t
want to be around me, and I know why.” A wry smile tugged at her mouth. “Sarah
really pushed for you to escort me. I’m sure it’s because we’re both—” She
shrugged. “You know. I get the impression she’s a bit of a spoiled princess,
used to getting her way.”
“No. She’s not.”
He didn’t exactly snap at her, but his anger surprised him as much as it
“Then why was she
pushing so hard for us to be together? I mean, Roy already told me that you
aren’t interested in girls.”
His lower jaw
dropped and he gaped. It took him a couple of tries to form words. “Where on
earth did he get that idea?”
defensive and embarrassed. “He, uh, just mentioned you don’t date women, even though
you’ve had several, um, interested parties in Tuttle Creek.”
He dropped the
maul and strode across the yard until he was inches from her. He had to give
her credit for not backing down. “Do you have any idea what an alpha is?”
Her lips puckered
in a sour expression. “Too much of an idea.”
Logan ignored her
odd look. “It means I need a female of my own kind.” Like you, but he didn’t
dare say that. She’d bolt. And if the only thing holding her back from
approaching him was Roy’s dumbass gossip, then he needed to give her another
impression of him.
She held up her
hands in a warding off gesture. “Hey, I get how hard being an alpha in the
closet must be—”
“‘An alpha in the
closet’?” She surely wasn’t suggesting what he thought she was.
“Look, I’m not
getting in the middle of some Brokeback
Mountain scenario you’re hiding because you don’t have the balls to come
clean with your friends.”
The urge to kiss
her insinuations away vied against the urge to slap her for the insult. And his
mother would be the first one to make him pay for laying a hand on a woman in
anger. He shoved up his goggles and decided to try another track.
He folded his arms
over his chest and rocked back on his heels. “Is that why your nose is bent out
of shape? Because as a pack princess,
you can snap your fingers and have any stud you want, and you know you can’t
Her cheeks pinked.
“Maybe I want someone who’ll respect me, not use me for his own selfish power
play. Someone who respects women. Like a Normal.”
“Right. René Tribideaux will agree to his daughter marrying a Normal over his
dead furry body. In fact, he’d kill you before he allowed his family line to be
sullied with Normal blood.”
Her chin jutted
forward. “Not necessarily. The beta of the Los Angeles pack married a Normal.”
Lannigan?” He laughed. “Have you ever met her?” When she shook her head, he
added, “There’s a reason I didn’t mate with her, even though her dad and my
parents tried to push us together ten years ago.”
“If you didn’t
like her, why are you hiding up here in neutral territory, pining over her?”
Alyson shot back.
He dropped his
arms and deliberately leaned over her. “For a documentarian, you can’t keep
your facts straight. Am I in Montana because I’m in the closet or because I’m
pining over a bitch?”
Her eyes swept
over him as she inhaled deeply. “I don’t care why you’re hiding. I just know
you are, which means you’re not much of an alpha.”
“I’m not hiding up
here,” he growled.
She lifted an
His skin prickled,
and he clenched his fists to keep from losing control. “I’ll be at your cabin
by eleven tomorrow morning. You’d better be ready to go, pack princess.”
“Don’t be late,”
she sneered before she marched in the direction of the front fence line.
“Don’t let the
gate hit you in the ass!”
The gate swung
sharply, but stopped before gently shutting with a soft click of the latch. At
least, she didn’t leave him with repairs to do on his day off.
He needed to call
Wade about taking tomorrow afternoon as personal time. Wade shouldn’t argue too
much, especially since the Grisham kid had been begging for more hours.
But for now, he
needed to finish splitting the cord of wood Aaron had delivered this week. If
this winter was anything like the last, they needed to save the generator fuel
for the clinic when Tuttle Creek lost power.
He picked up the maul and grabbed another log. Otherwise,
he may split the New Orleans pack princess’s stubborn head open. Yeah, much
better doing some solid work than think about how Alyson Tribideaux’s ass
looked as she sashayed out of the yard.