Authors: Viola Rivard
Tags: #Fantasy Romance, #Love Story, #Paranormal Romance, #Romance, #Shifters, #Werewolves
A large seat had been carved into a giant slab of granite. It was covered in animal pelts and topped with the biggest set of antlers Taylor had ever seen. Hale sat in the throne, wearing nothing but a stitched fur that hung around his hips, just long enough to cove
r his groin. There was a thin sheen of sweat on his muscular chest, making it glisten in the firelight. With his unkempt hair and thick beard stubble, he looked like a barbarian king.
Hale didn’t look her way as Taylor approached. He was conversing with a hulking male with long brown hair and tribal tattoos on his arms. She recognized him as one of the hunters, but didn’t know his name.
Taylor cleared her throat to get Hale’s attention. The alpha muttered something under his breath to the other male, who nodded his head and then took his leave. Once he was gone, Hale’s gaze settled on her.
I was told to bring these to you,” she said, placing the bowl of meat on the floor. She felt very agitated, but she wasn’t sure why. Hale hadn’t done anything to piss her off, yet.
“Good,” he said. “Thirty seconds on each side. Don’t burn them.”
She gave him a puzzled look. “Huh?”
“The skewers are by the fire. Start cooking.”
She glanced over at the bonfire. A tin pail sat beside it, three metal skewers sticking out.
Taylor almost protested, but knew it was pointless. Either she could stick her tongue out and stomp her feet, or she could just get it over with. In the end, she opted for the path of least resistance.
Grabbing a metal skewer, she staked a slice of venison, pretending it was Hale’s head. That made roasting it over the fire extra cathartic.
“Remember,” he said. “Thirty seconds on each side.”
Taylor rolled her eyes. “I’m surprised you don’t just eat it raw.”
You’re rather mouthy for a woman in your predicament,” he said demurely. Taylor didn’t have to look at him to know he was smirking again.
She turned the meat over. “Let me guess, Lark told you?”
He ignored the question. “You don’t strike me as a killer. I imagine you must have killed with a gun.”
Taylor tensed. “Why do you think that?”
“A gun is a weapon for a coward.”
Gritting her teeth, she handed him the skewer. His eyes remained on hers as he took a bite, unaffected by how hot it was.
She took a moment to consider her response, grabbing another skewer and another slice of venison.
With her back to him, she asked, “When was the last time you were at the mercy of someone stronger than you?”
“This man, he tried to harm you?” he asked, sounding more curious than concerned.
“I’m not a maniac,” she said, turning the meat. “I don’t
go around killing people for no reason.”
“And your human authorities w
ill prosecute you regardless?”
After it had happened, Taylor had driven his car away from the scene, ditching it on the outskirts of the nearest town. Still in shock, she’d walked in a daze for hours until she came to a small park. There, she’d climbed inside a wooden jungle gym and fallen asleep.
she awoke the next morning, the murder was already in the newspapers. She could have gone to the police then, explained the circumstances, and maybe received some leniency, but she doubted any amount of explaining would have saved her from prison.
“It’s burning,” Hale said.
Taylor blinked and then realized he was referring to the meat. She pulled the skewer back, examining the meat. One side had begun to blacken.
“Sorry,” she said, actually feeling a bit bad. She held it out to him.
“Do you love my brother?” he asked, taking the skewer. He bit off a piece, chewing it with a distasteful look on his face.
Taylor took the
unused skewer and staked another piece of meat.
“We just met,” she said, holding the meat over the flames.
“So you don’t, then?”
She could feel his gaze burning a hole into her back.
“I like him.”
“Good,” he said, sounding pleased. “I wouldn’t have believed you if you said you loved him.”
Taylor turned the meat and didn’t respond. She wasn’t the type of woman who believed the L word was something sacred, but she’d been burned too many times to go throwing it around willy-nilly.
“He’s leaving because of you,” Hale said.
Handing him the skewer, she met his gaze and said, “I told him that’s not what I want.”
Hale leaned back in his
seat, visibly relaxing as Taylor skewered another piece of meat.
“Alder always was the stubborn one,” he said.
She couldn’t stop herself from laughing. “I find that hard to believe.”
“It’s the truth. I can always be convinced with a punch or two to the face, but it’s impossible to get Alder to do anything he doesn’t want to.”
Taylor held the meat over the fire, angling her body so that she could smile at Hale. “Speaking of which, I can’t believe how quickly your nose healed.”
Aside from some faint bruising, it was impossible to tell that Alder had broken Hale’s nose the night before. She remembered that Lark’s black eye had healed as well. Was it a shifter thing?
“We heal quickly,” he explained, confirming her suspicions. “You’re burning it again.”
“Oh, crud,” she said, pulling the skewer back. This one was practically crispy. She cast him an apologetic look.
Hale gestured for her to come to him. “Bring it here.”
“Sorry,” she mumbled, handing him the skewer. She moved to stake another, but Hale held up a hand.
“No, sit,” he said, motioning to the flat rock beside his chair. Taylor reluctantly complied.
She watched Hale examine the burnt meat before setting it aside and turning
to look at her. With his chin resting on his hand and his eyes heavy-lidded, he seemed calm and placid. He almost looked like his brother, but she didn’t trust it.
“What do you eat?” he asked.
Taylor scratched her chin. “Hm… Tofu, peanut butter, protein shakes—”
“What do you eat that I could provide for you?” Hale interjected.
For some reason, the question made Taylor blush. Quietly, she said, “You don’t have to provide anything for me.”
Hale gave her an impatient look. “Why can’t you just answer simple questions?”
“Fine,” she said, sighing. “I like fruits and vegetables.”
Hale nodded, seeming to consider her response. “Okay,” he said. “You can go now.”
She glanced back down at the bowl of venison. There was still a lot of uncooked meat left.
“You’re not still hungry?”
Hale’s eyes danced with amusement. One corner of his mouth twitched as he speared a piece of meat.
“I’m starving. Now go.”
Taylor set the crate down as Lark situated the torch in its holder. The firelight illuminated the garden area, revealing a miserable patch of land. The ground was overrun with weeds and at least half of the stones that sectioned it off were missing. Perhaps earlier that afternoon she had been much more optimistic, because from where she was standing, the garden looked like a lost cause.
“Are you sure about this?” Lark asked, coming to stand beside her. Taylor almost told her she wasn’t, but then Lark added, “We’ll probably be leaving soon anyway. It may be a waste of time.”
Taylor frowned. “No, we’re gonna do this and we’re not leaving.”
Lark turned to face
her. Her eyes were wide and hopeful. “We’re not?”
“No,” Taylor said, shaking her head. “When Alder and I were on the top of Mount Ezra, we stopped and looked down at Halcyon Mountain and the valley. There was this pride in his eyes and I knew that this place was important to him.”
It was the best way she knew how to describe it. What she’d seen in his eyes was something she’d wanted her entire life, security and a sense of belonging. The valley, the mountain, this place was Alder’s home and he wasn’t going to leave it because of her.
To Taylor’s surprise, Lark sprang on her, pulling her into a fierce hug. Not sure what to make of it, she
awkwardly hugged Lark back, gently patting her between her shoulder blades before carefully detaching from the shifter.
“I was so worried,” Lark said, her eyes brimming with tears. “The valley has always been my home. I like exploring and finding new things, but I don’t ever want to leave.”
Taylor smoothed Lark’s hair out, the same way Alder usually did for her. “You could have stayed here.”
“With Hale in charge? My life would be miserable,” she lamented. “Plus, Beka would never leave, which means Glenn wouldn’t come either.”
Taylor realized just how much this must have been eating at Lark. “I promise, I’ll do everything I can to convince Alder to stay here.”
She mulled over their situation some more as they went to the river to collect stones. She kept expecting her circumstances to seem a little less surreal as time went on, but no such luck.
She had killed a man, gone on the run, fallen for a werewolf, and was living in the wilderness. Eventually, hopefully, it would start to seem real.
They carried back at least a dozen medium-sized river stones. Taylor was happy to sit by the time they got back to the cabin. Her ankle was throbbing with pain as they set the stones in place and she made a mental vow to keep off her feet tomorrow. The problem was, without TV, games, or
books, staying put was insanely boring.
By the time the sun began
to rise, they’d only succeeded in digging up about half of the garden. The handle had broken off the rusty spade Taylor had been using. After a couple hours of stabbing the ground with the metal piece, she joined Lark in using her hands to dig up the weeds. A few inches beneath the surface of the ground was a rich layer of loamy soil that would be perfect for growing crops, provided the seeds were still any good.
Throughout the night, she a
nd Lark made idle conversation, which mostly consisted of Lark recounting things she’d done with Glenn while Taylor tried to squeeze in responses. She got the impression that Glenn was Lark’s only friend and that it had been a while since Lark had had another female to talk to, so she didn’t mind the one-sided conversations.
“Tomorrow I’ll ask Glenn if he can build us a fence,” Lark said,
yanking a dandelion from the earth. “That way we can keep the deer out.”
“You think deer would come this close to the den?” Taylor asked, leaning back on one arm. The summer heat didn’t let up at night, and the humidity made it even more unbearable. She swiped at her forehead, wiping the sweat on her damp dress.
“Oh, yes. Deer are very stupid animals,” said Lark.
“I always thought they were, I don’t know, graceful and—”
Lark cut her off with a loud snort. “Deer are terrible! Just you wait and see. Hey, what’s it like where you’re from?”
“I’m from a lot of places, but mostly Boston. I never liked living in the city. Too much traffic
, and everyone’s always in a hurry.”
“What did you do there?”
Taylor scratched the back of her head. She actually missed when Lark was talking about herself, because her own past wasn’t something she wanted to think about.
“I was in college and I also worked as an intern. It was a pretty boring job that my stepdad
sort of guilted me into taking.”
Lark’s head tilted. “Stepdad?”
Taylor realized that stepparents were probably another one of those concepts that shifters were unfamiliar with. Lucky them.
“He’s the man my mother married a few years after I was born,” Taylor explained.
“Did your father die?”
Taylor shrugged. “I don’t think so, no. I’ve never met him. Heck, I didn’t even meet my mom until I was fourteen.”
Lark stopped digging. Sitting with her legs crossed, she gave Taylor her full attention. “How come?
The fog had begun to roll in from the lake, sweeping through the forest and obscuring it from view. With the fog came cool air, the first reprieve from the sweltering heat of the day before.
“She was really young when she had me,” Taylor said. “I guess she wanted me to have a better life, so when I was born she gave me up for adoption—that is, she gave me to a more stable family, one that could raise me better.”
“That must have been so hard for her,” Lark said.
“I’d like to think so.” She paused, picking at a blade of grass. “When I was a kid, I used to dream about her finding me, taking me home with her. And then one day, she did.”
Her head tilting, Lark asked, “But what about your other family? The one she gave you to?”
“The Cavanaughs?” Taylor said thoughtfully. “I’m not sure what happened to them. I had a lot of medical problems when I was a baby. They put me up for adoption when I was a year old. I don’t even remember them.”
, what happened to you after that?”