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. 😃
* * *
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.”
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?