“Was he cute?”
“Well, if you’re going to accost people, they might as well be good-looking.”
“I didn’t accost him. Well, maybe I did, a little.”
“Well, it’s no surprise you had to blow off a little steam. You’ve gotten a lot of pressure from your family lately, and all the excitement over the baby hasn’t helped.”
“Everyone worries about me being alone. But I
“Nothing wrong with working by yourself. Lots of people are more productive without distractions. Take James for instance. Some folks would find it unbearable to drive that tractor around all those acres for a whole day at a time. But it suits him. He’s right in tune with what he’s doing, thinking and planning as he goes.”
“Exactly.” Kenzie blew out a breath. Birkie understood. She always understood.
“The only difference between what James does and what you do is that at the end of the day, he has a home to go to and people to talk to. He works alone but he doesn’t
alone. Your family knows your work is important to you. They just want to see you have a more balanced life, that’s all.”
“I know they mean well but—”
“But your brothers have conveniently forgotten that they didn’t go out looking for their true mates—their mates came into their lives when the boys were ready.”
“Even James?” Kenzie still marveled at the change in him.
James. Trust me, if he hadn’t been ready to be healed and move on, he wouldn’t have met Jillian. That’s just the way it works.”
“Not according to Carly. She thinks I need to get busy and find myself a man.”
“That’s Carly for you.” Birkie was no doubt rolling her eyes. “If Jake hadn’t fallen for her after she set her sights on him, I expect she’d have nabbed him with a bear trap. She’s direct that way. But it doesn’t matter what Carly or anyone else thinks. All that matters is what
“I think my work comes first.”
“Perhaps that’s true. It is for some. Just don’t close the door on possibilities. The most important thing is to be openhearted. To be receptive to whatever relationship comes along that feels right for you. Could be a dog or a child, or maybe a whole group of people working to save the long-toed salamander.”
“Maybe I’ll be one of those old ladies with twenty cats.”
“Cats are not to be underrated as a source of happiness, but it
possible that a man might come along too, you know. Take that fellow you gave a ride to—what if he asked you out?”
“He doesn’t count, Birkie. He’s not a Changeling.” And she was
not mentioning that Josh
asked her out.
The older woman sighed into the phone. “Honey, it’s the heart that counts. Being a Changeling doesn’t necessarily make a man good relationship material. And being human isn’t a reason to write somebody off. There are good and bad individuals in both species. We were all reminded of that after Bernie.”
Kenzie shivered. Bernard Gervais had been old even for a Changeling, and nasty by any standards. She and Birkie had been away in Scotland when the miserable old loner broke the most cardinal rule of her kind by killing at least two humans, and possibly more. His bloodthirsty rampage had set human and shapeshifter relations back several centuries. Years later, the small rural community of Dunvegan remained suspicious of all wolves and often shot them on sight, and even Kenzie found it tough to blame them.
Good and bad in both species.
“I’ll try to remember that.” She honestly wished she felt as Birkie did—her life would be so much easier. They’d discussed this concept since just about forever, but while Kenzie accepted it logically, she couldn’t seem to do so emotionally. Humans, while likeable and even fun, were just not trustworthy. Their first reaction to the strange and unusual was fear, their second to destroy the source of that fear. Which made it all the more important that she focus on her work.
Ever sensitive, Birkie changed the subject. “Say, I nearly forgot to tell you. Bucky Simons drove his mother’s car right through the window of Mavis William’s sandwich shop. It happened at lunchtime yesterday... .”
Kenzie smelled him long before she saw him. Nate Richardson hadn’t been a Changeling long, only about thirty years or so, but even a cub would know better than to approach her from upwind. Nate being Nate, however, he was all too happy to broadcast his highly masculine presence to her. Still, it was a hell of a surprise—she hadn’t seen him in what, two years?
Kenzie got to her feet and pulled the bandana from her head, wiped her face with it and quickly ran her hands through her hair. She surveyed the careful grid of strings and stakes she’d created, the first square of earth she’d uncovered, and waited. Sure enough, Nate swaggered into view. He was tall, blond, blue-eyed, and as tanned as a surfer. Built like one too.
“Hey baby, why are you always working?” He smiled broadly and gave her an enthusiastic hug that almost pulled her off her feet—not an easy task when she was nearly as tall as he.
“Why are you always
working? And what the hell are you doing in Alaska?”
“I came, I lectured, I conquered—got a couple of corporate sponsors out of Anchorage for a dig near Petersburg.”
“In the Tongass forest? Congrats. I saw the basalt tools they found there a few years back. Pretty unique with the carved finger grips and all, but not all that old.”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re such a snob, you know that? At about 1,500 years old, they’re way older than even
.” Moving in close to her, he ran a finger softly along the sensitive edge of her ear. “Good thing I like older women. A lot. Wanna see how much?”
She shook off his hand and stood back, giving him a friendly shove as she did so. “No thanks. I have work to do.”
“I’ll say. It’s July and you’ve barely started here. Usually you’d have half the hillside excavated by this time of year.”
“What can I say? Things dragged out at Monte Verde, then I went home for a couple weeks to see my brand new niece.”
“Which brings me to my next question. Why are you still working by yourself? You could have sent any number of students up here in May to do the initial fieldwork for you. Even volunteers will jump at the chance to help with a dig for God’s sake, and you wouldn’t even have to be herrs ve to be.”
“You know I prefer to be hands-on.” It was an old argument, and not one they’d ever resolved. They’d gone to the same university, become roommates and occasional lovers (
friends with benefits
, as Nate had called it). They’d been on digs together from South America to Egypt to Ireland as they finished their degrees, then their doctorates. Several years had passed, and Nate was now a professor with full tenure at New York University. She’d been offered the same—long before Nate, if the truth be told. And just like the many other professorships she’d been offered, she’d turned it down in favor of her fieldwork.
“You just like getting dirty. Speaking of which, I could use a little down and dirty.” He waggled his brows. “How ’bout it, baby?”
“You haven’t changed a bit,” she said as she dodged his grab. He teased her like this every time he saw her—and she knew it wasn’t all teasing. At her insistence, they’d returned to
between the time she got her first doctorate and her second, but he hadn’t been happy about it. He had wanted to take the relationship forward, wanted a commitment.
Commitment was not something Kenzie wanted, at least not with Nate. Sure, he was charming and handsome and a lot of fun. And she didn’t meet many Changelings outside of her own Pack. But it had become evident early on that he felt more like a younger brother to her than a serious love interest. He was barely full-grown in the wolfen world even as he appeared thirty-five in the human world. Although she looked to be the same age, Kenzie was actually well over a century—still very young for a Changeling, but impossibly ancient for a human.
Still, age could be dealt with in a relationship. Different life goals? Not so much. They just didn’t seem to want the same things. He placed enormous value on social standing and cultivating powerful friends. Appearance was everything to him, and by the time they’d graduated, she’d come to realize that he’d chosen image over substance, even in himself. What was it Birkie had said?
Being a Changeling doesn’t necessarily make a man good relationship material.
Whatever the reasons, what she felt for Nate Richardson was affection and no more. That long ago no-strings liaison with him hadn’t worked for her either. Maybe it was because most Changelings mated for life, or maybe she just wasn’t designed for a casual relationship. But it was clearly a case of all or nothing when it came to men.
All of her passion in the years since had been channeled into her research and fieldwork, something else which Nate didn’t understand. He complained bitterly about the competition for sponsors, about the endless fund-raising that preempted his teaching time, but in truth, he loved every public minute of it. He’d obviously found his niche. Kenzie suspected he’d forgotten what fieldwork was like even as she knew he wouldn’t miss it. He’d never loved the hands-on work as she did, nor did he share her cause. Not that she’d ever told him about it....
“How the hell did you get here, anyway?” she asked. “I didn’t hear a plane.”
“Are you kidding? You know how much I like to drive, and then I even got in a little four-by-fouring to get to your camp. I had some general GPS coordinates to go by but if I hadn’t spotted your truck, I’d still be searching for you. By the way, why is your dig so damn far from your camp? I practically had to track you to find you.”
“Family stuff, remember? I wanted a cell phone signal for a change.”
“That’s a casThatfirst. You’re usually incommunicado for months at a time. Hell, if I’d known there was a chance you’d answer your damn phone, I would have called you to join me in Anchorage.”
“Why not? You need a good meal and a chance to shop. Maybe trade in your truck for something classier. Good God, couldn’t you at least get a Volvo?”
“I like my truck. I don’t like the city and I hate shopping.” And she wasn’t dumb. Nate would love to have her along on his fund-raising mission—while she wasn’t exactly famous, her name meant something both in and beyond archaeological circles. “Besides, I’m busy.”
“You’re always busy. Take a break, for God’s sake. Kick back a little. You’ve got nothing to prove and surely this site will keep. No one’s ever found anything around here except for one little microblade—if it
one—and it was probably dropped by a passing hunter.”
He’d done his homework, she’d give him that. A tiny chip of dark glass-like obsidian found by a hiker years ago had led to some initial exploration of this area, but there had been no further evidence uncovered to suggest there was an ancient encampment here. Kenzie, however, had found clues at sites in northern British Columbia and the Yukon that she believed pointed to this place. None of which she was about to share with Nate of course. She shrugged. “It interests me, that’s all. Besides, I like the scenery.”
“The scenery is a helluva lot better in Petersburg. Why don’t you break ground there for me? I’ve already got the media prepped to do a story there, and the site’s getting a mention in an upcoming special for the History Channel.”
She shook her head and his face darkened. “I forgot, you don’t give a damn about the media, do you?” he blurted. “You’ve never needed to compete for funding.”
Here we go again ...
Kenzie sighed inwardly. No matter how he’d tried to hide it, Nate had always resented her financial independence. Like many Changeling families, hers was old enough to have accumulated a great deal of hidden wealth. Her personal net worth could fund many archaeological digs indefinitely, and while Nate had no idea just how
she was worth, he openly envied the independence she enjoyed. She could pick her own site and work there as long as she liked. Kenzie worked alone by choice, but that didn’t mean she didn’t work efficiently. She made good use of the latest remote sensing methods—proton magnetometer, electrical resistivity, ground penetrating radar—all without the need to beg for sponsors, making her a rarity in her field.
He scrubbed his hands over his face as if to change his expression. “That was a jerkwad thing to say. I’m sorry, I guess I’m grouchy from traveling. Took two Alaska Air connections to get to Petersburg yesterday and then I had to charter a bush plane to go back up to Juneau in time for a flight to Anchorage. God, I don’t know how the locals manage to get anywhere in their own state.” Sudden devilment appeared in his eyes and his grin was bright in the July sun. “You know, I could really use a run. How ’bout it?”
Kenzie felt the prickle of static electricity on her skin, the buildup of energy that heralded a Change. A moment later a large tawny wolf stood in Nate’s place. He bowed on his front legs, his tail wagging as if he was a big dog inviting her to play.
Oh, what the hell... .