Monday, March 27, 2017

Ravaged - Chapter 2

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.

* * *

Chapter 2

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 heart-shaped face.

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.

However, Esther 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.

“Really?” Esther 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.

“Definitely!” 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 hurt.

“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.”

“Language,” Esther admonished.

“Will you stop playing matchmaker?” He deliberately narrowed his eyes and stared at each of the Goldsteins.

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.

Unfortunately, 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 head.

Sarah’s tremulous 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.

Skin pricked. 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 remembered helplessness.

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 hand.

And there she was daydreaming about romantic nonsense again. She sighed.

“What’s wrong, Miss Tribideaux?”

“It’s Alyson, Mr. Cole.”

“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.”

“Nothing wrong 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.”

“Like stalking 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 have tried.”

“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.

“Something 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.

“My misunderstanding then,” she added.

The incline 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.

Those glittering 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 Tribideaux?”

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.

“Coffee, black, 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.

Conversation 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?”

“Three eggs, 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 community.

Neither was this Logan apparently.

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.

Roy shrugged. “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.

She’d heard 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 bothers you.”

“You think he was involved in the Alton kidnapping, and he hung his people out to dry?”

Boney shoulders 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?”

Again, Roy 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 from Roy.

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 scowl.

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.”

Roy made 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.

“Sure!” Sarah 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 response.

Goldstein turned 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 her lonesome.”

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.

“Then you’re paying the gas money,” he muttered.

“Sure.” She 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.

Those thoughts 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.

Sarah’s enthusiasm 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 the deal.”

“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 of business.”

“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 for you.”

“Maddy isn’t here?”

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 their diplomas.”

Alyson accepted the envelope. “Roy says he doesn’t get a good vibe from the Sunshine Believers.”

“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 group.”

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 asses off.”

“Like Maddy?”

“Yeah.” Carol 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 mean?”

“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 and 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 it?”

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.”

Unfortunately, her 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 breakfast.

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.

Alyson stepped inside the clinic. No one was sitting in the waiting room, but ginger flooded the air.

A dark-haired 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.”

Esther nodded. “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?”

“Sure.” Esther’s 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.

“Apology accepted. 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 you.”

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.”

Alyson swallowed 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 muttered.

“I’m sure it looks worse than it is,” the woman replied. “Cousin Abner’s always doing something stupid.”

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.

Whoever picked 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 eyes.

Alyson Tribideaux, 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.

Or her six-hundred-dollar boots.

Sarah couldn’t 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.

The she-were 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.

“Dr. Goldstein 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 flew apart.

Logan swallowed 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 anything.”

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.”

Interesting. So 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 Haight’s place.”

Her arms dropped to her sides, and her mouth opened and closed a couple of times. Finally, she said, “Fine.” She turned to leave.

“What time?”

An exasperated growl started low in her throat. “Noon.”

“I’ll be at your place at eleven.”

“I can pick you up here.”

Logan liked 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 startled her.

“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?”

Alyson looked 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 have me?

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.”

He snorted. “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.”

“Siobhan 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 eyebrow.

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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ravaged - Chapter 1

Here's a little taste of what's coming. I'm sure because of the delays some folks are thinking, "Is she really writing?" I'll be posting the first few chapters of Ravaged over the next couple of weeks as I wrap up things.

* * *

Chapter 1

The scent hit Logan Polk as he straightened with a bag of feed on his shoulder. She-were. Definitely she-were.

Wolf. His kind.

His canine libido stirred regardless of his human side, and he sniffed the air, trying to detect her location amid the cold, wet wind of the approaching snow storm. Montana was neutral territory for the various North American weres, but most of them visited in the summer and fall when hunting was good.

Not that the occasional loner didn’t find it a good place to relax other times of the year. Or hide.

Like he did.

There. He admitted it like the therapist wanted.

It was fucking embarrassing for an alpha to have been kidnapped and tortured by a bunch of Normals. It was far worse to be treated for PTSD because of the experience.
But the therapy was working. He didn’t have the nightmares like he used to. He owed Esther and Aaron a lot for insisting he talk to their daughter Sarah’s doctor in Billings. Honestly, if another were had suggested it, he would’ve ripped their throats out.

But the witches understood. Sarah understood even more because she had been captured and tortured by the same assholes. The nineteen-year-old was talking about going to college next year back in California. She was getting on with her life.

And he was killing time in neutral territory.


The internal insult was lost when he spotted the she-were. She approached a bright yellow Jeep. Even if the plates hadn’t screamed rental, the color did. Not even Marvin, the town’s librarian/theater operator would be caught dead in anything that bright as his camouflage-style nail polish attested.

The lady had long brunette hair pulled in a tight ponytail. Legs that went on forever. If only she would turn around…

“Dammit, Polk! Get a move on. Ed can’t wait all afternoon for you to load his truck.”

The she-were whirled around at Wade’s shout. Mother Wolf bless his boss’s bullhorn voice. The stranger was even better looking than his imagination had painted her. A perfectly proportioned rack and a face that would make angels weep.

She frowned when she caught Logan staring at her. Even though he was downwind from her, his unblinking gaze was unmistakably wolf. Instead of approaching him, either to take him up on his blatant offer or to warn him off, she tossed her shopping bags in her Jeep, climbed in and pulled away.

Ed and Wade flanked him as she headed down Main Street and out of town. Wade clapped his shoulder. “She’s a looker all right.”

“Yeah,” Ed drawled. “We were all beginning to wonder which way your flag flew. Guess Marvin wins the pool.”

* * *

Alyson Tribideaux glanced in the rear view mirror. Nothing was behind her but the deepening twilight. Of all the things that could have gone wrong on this trip, another werewolf in town was not one she expected. Much less a lone alpha from the bold way he watched her.

Was he yet another beau Papa had steered in her direction? Damn, she knew she should have lied to him about where her next project was taking her.

Please, God. Let the wolf at the feedstore be the only one around. The last thing she needed was fighting off a bunch of suitors in Tuttle Creek while landing the biggest interview of her career.

The Reverend Ford Haight had taken over the Sunshine Believers four years ago. He moved the controversial group from Los Angeles to a ranch outside of the little Montana town. He was also credited with turning them into productive members of society after their leaders had kidnapped American TV actress Jessie Alton, the star of the hit comedy “Buddies”.

For some strange reason, none of the media had run the story, not even the most notorious of the tabloids, The National Scoop. He’d brought the incident up first when he answered Alyson’s letter and emphasized that he wouldn’t cooperate if Alyson only focused on his group’s lurid past. When she wrote back, saying she strived to be even-handed about her subjects in her documentary on splinter religions, Haight agreed for the Sunshine Believers to be included.

When she asked if they could have a phone conversation, he refused politely. He pointed out he didn’t trust her enough yet to allow her to have the ranch’s private numbers. Given modern trolling techniques, she really couldn’t blame him.

So, she had left a message with Maddy, one of his adherents, at the general store to let him know she was in town as he had instructed. The teenager was far younger than Alyson had expected, but she promised to deliver the note when she went home after her shift. For now, Alyson had to be patient, something she’d never been good at.

Her real problem on this project may be the alpha wolf getting in her way. This close to winter, she figured she would miss most of the hunting crowd. And he may take her rudeness as a reason to approach her.

Oh, hell. If he was one of Papa’s plants, he’d approach her anyway. Maybe it would be best to do her own hunting rather than go back into town when she needed more supplies.

Except she couldn’t hunt cherry amaretto ice cream in the wild.

Why couldn’t Papa be as forward thinking as John Lannigan, the leader of L.A.’s werewolf pack? According to the grapevine, Lannigan’s daughter was his beta.

Not that she wanted to be Papa’s second. She wanted love, passion, respect for being herself, not because she was the pack princess. She definitely didn’t want to be treated like a breeding bitch. She wanted to be swept off her feet by someone who adored her.

You’re being as chickenshit and backwards as you accuse Papa of being. You’re the wolf, not Red Riding Hood.

A flash of tan fur darted from the forest. She slammed on the brakes, and the Jeep’s tires screeched as it slid on the asphalt. Thank Mother Wolf, the forecasted snow hadn’t arrived yet, or the vehicle would have slammed through the guard rail and rolled end over end into the deep ravine on her right.

The acrid scent of burnt rubber mixed with the wet air as she opened the vehicle’s door. A few flakes fluttered to land on the hood of the Jeep and her nose. The wolf had already disappeared into the thick brush on the other side of the road.

She took a deep breath. Werewolf. An unfamiliar pack. The one who had been staring at her back on Main Street? She hadn’t been able to detect his scent in town with the wind at her back, coming off the surrounding peaks.

The road meandered around the river and up Mount Tuttle. He could have caught up with her if he knew the area better than she did.
Not if. Since. She’d been in Tuttle Creek long enough to pick up the keys for the rental cabin and supplies. Scouting the area should have been her first priority.

But then, she’d been mocked incessantly for being more human than wolf. Never in front of Papa though, and she hadn’t been stupid enough to whine to him. Deep down, she knew he felt the same way as those who’d insulted her even if he never said a word.

Still, if it were the werewolf in town who’d been staring at her, there were easier ways to get her attention than running in front of her Jeep. She climbed back into the driver seat, shifted gears, and hoped she found the rental cabin before dark.

* * *

Golden eyes watched the vehicle as it disappeared around the bend. The shape-shifter would be strong enough to breed. She wouldn’t survive any more than the weaker mammals he had experimented with on the ocean-side of these mountains, but she would live long enough. And in this isolated plateau, no one would discover she was missing until he had a score of his kind to prepare the way for his master by killing the usurper.