Authors: Kinsey Holley
For Ashley, Belynda, Vickie, Wendy and the Other Wendy. This one is special, because it’s The First.
And to Inez Kelley, who’s very good with titles.
Outside Lake Charles, Louisiana
“His daddy was an alpha! A
wolf! Not a drunkass loser like you!” Humans could’ve heard the woman screeching in the next parish. Werewolves probably heard her all the way to Houston.
“You’re a lyin’ whore! The brat’s mine! Where is he? Dylan?
!” The werewolf, smashed on moonshine, couldn’t change easily. But a drunken wolf on two feet could still tear a human apart.
“Get outta my trailer, asshole!”
trailer and I’m not going anywhere, you fuckin’ bitch!”
Next came the sound of breaking glass, followed by the bellow of a liquored-up beta, more breaking glass, the woman screaming, rinse, repeat…
Allison Kendall, exhausted after a day’s work at the stable, turned up the television and longed for a remote to mute Guy and Gracie Fontenot. Her trailer and the Fontenots’ stood a hundred feet apart, the last two left in the otherwise deserted Bayou Estates Mobile Home Park. The next nearest house lay a half mile away. It made living next door to the violent couple creepy, even though they were kin.
The window unit in the living room sputtered, useless against the suffocating August heat. Listening to the White Trash Werewolf Show was better than stewing in her own sweat, though, so she left the windows open. At least the unit in her bedroom still worked.
Carefully she opened the door to her room, where five-year-old Dylan Fontenot slept. The din of domestic war couldn’t keep the tiny veteran awake. She dropped a kiss on his forehead and tiptoed out. When the phone rang, she dove to catch it before Dylan woke up.
“Hey. I just got home,” said her cousin, Seth. “You up for something?”
“Can’t. I’ve got Dylan. Gracie brought him over this afternoon.”
“Shit. How bad?”
“Real bad.” She slumped as she sighed, her emotional exhaustion equal to her physical fatigue. “Your bimbo sister just told her psycho husband he’s not a daddy.” The rest of Lake Charles had figured it out five years ago.
“I wish you’d stay out of that mess.”
“Seth, we’re family! I’m not leaving him in that hellhole when they go at it.”
“But you can’t keep him all the time, either. He doesn’t belong to you. We’re only—oh, fuck it,” he muttered.
She didn’t feel like arguing again either. “Guy’s lost it this time. Should I call the cops?”
“Don’t. Gracie won’t press charges. She’ll just get pissed off at you and take it out on Dylan. God, our family sucks.”
So did living in the middle of a never-ending episode of
“I guess it’s pizza again,” said Seth. “Want me to re—”
Gracie Fontenot’s shrill, skull-piercing scream drowned out the rest of his words. Her terrifying wail ended as abruptly as it began, like someone had snipped a cord.
Or snapped her neck.
The world held its breath. Then Guy Fontenot’s moonshine-maddened roar shattered the night. The Fontenot trailer door opened and slammed.
Seth screamed, “Get the shotgun—I’m on my way!”
She dropped the phone and raced for the second bedroom at the back of the trailer.
Aunt Jackie always kept it loaded, please God, please, let it still be loaded it has to be loaded…
Thank God. She pumped it once and started back for the living room, shaking with fear. The shotgun rattled in her hands. Bile rose in her throat as hysteria began to squeeze the air from her lungs.
Dylan’s sweetly sleepy voice stopped her cold, instantly quelling the panic. She paused outside her bedroom door.
Mine or not, no one touches him.
“Stay in bed, baby,” she called softly. “Everything’s all right.”
She reached the living room and found it empty. No sound came from outside.
Maybe Guy had passed out.
Maybe he was stumbling to the biker bar a mile down the road.
Maybe he’ll get run over.
The front door went flying as if sucked out by a whirlwind. Guy Fontenot lurched across the threshold, staggered, and steadied himself with one hand against the doorframe. His slack, sallow face gleamed with sweat. He squinted at her as he tried to focus. The acrid stench of moonshine and unwashed werewolf filled the tiny room. She stifled a gag while her mind raced.
Guy couldn’t move that fast, this drunk—but he didn’t have far to reach her. The shells were silver-loaded—but how much would it take to stop him? If she fired and missed, she wouldn’t get another chance.
She’d never imagined she could die at eighteen.
“Where’s m’boy?” He looked ready to pass out.
“Go home, Guy. You can see Dylan tomorrow.” Her voice came out several octaves above normal, but still steady. A human’s fear pheromones could push an enraged wolf over the edge. Moonshine made it worse. She swallowed, silently begging her heart to slow down and her hands to quit shaking. She kept the shotgun pointed at the floor.
“Gracie’s dead. M-my wife. I killed m’wife.”
Learning his wife had borne someone else’s child could drive a stable werewolf to murder. No one would mistake Guy Fontenot for stable.
He sagged against the jamb, but she hesitated to raise the gun. She’d never killed anyone before. If she held him off until Seth showed up, she wouldn’t have to.
“It’ll be all right, Guy. You need sleep. Tomorrow you can figure out what to do.”
“Want the boy.”
“No, Guy, I’ll take care of Dylan. You go on home now.”
He stared at her for a moment. His eyes widened. He snapped his mouth shut as he stood a little straighter.
Guy was slow, not stupid.
“You wanna get ridda me so’s you c-can call the cops.” He sneered at her and she shuddered. “Think you can shoot me, girly? You wanna sh-shoot me?”
She watched in horror as his nails began to lengthen and the bones of his hand began to move beneath his skin, twisting, stretching, popping.
. She’d been so focused on his body she’d ignored his eyes. The irises had begun turning yellow. He stank so of moonshine and sweat, she hadn’t caught the rich, earthy scent that was another signal of impending change.
Guy stumbled toward her. She couldn’t back up. She didn’t want him near Dylan.
The howl of an enraged werewolf on four feet filled the air, and she nearly fainted with relief.
Seth was here.
It happened so fast, and all at once. Through the open door behind Guy, she glimpsed a streak of brown fur as Seth reached the front yard. Guy didn’t turn to see death running at his back, but rushed at her just as she raised the shotgun.
Her trembling hands betrayed her. The shot went wide.
Guy closed the distance. She swung the gun at his head. He knocked it from her hands. With a strength born of terror she kicked, sole first, straight into his balls. It didn’t stop him. He clutched at his groin with one half-changed hand as the other swiped wildly. His claws raked her belly. She stumbled backwards.
It took a moment for the pain to penetrate. She looked down to see a blossoming red stain soaking her T-shirt. Touching it, her hand sank into a gaping wound.
She looked up at Guy’s yellowing eyes and saw tears.
In dreamy slow motion, he grabbed her by the throat and flung her aside. Guy roared as Seth landed on his back. Ally went flying across the room, her skull striking the metal window ledge. A brilliant, bright white pain exploded behind her eyes, like a camera’s flash going off at the end of her nose. She crumpled to the floor as someone whispered in her head.
Dylan’s cries, Seth’s howls and the disembodied voice were the only sounds in the trailer now. Guy was dead.
A second later, so was Ally.
She was never the same after that.
13 years later, outside Fremont, Colorado
Cade MacDougall struck a match against the porch railing and lit a cigarillo. He took a long, satisfying drag as he leaned against a column and surveyed his domain in the blinding sunshine of a postcard Colorado summer’s day.
In the distance to his right, horses ran in the pasture while grooms cleaned the stables. To his left, saws, hammers and drills sang in the woodshop. From inside the house wafted the aroma of baked chicken and fresh bread. And ten yards in front of him, beside a swing set in the grassy center of the compound, a young wolf tormented the person Cade loved most in the world.
Aaron crouched while Rebecca grabbed a fistful of fur and swung a stubby leg over his back. She pulled herself up to sit astride, legs dangling three feet off the ground. Aaron turned in circles, around and around like a dog chasing his tail until Becca, dizzy and laughing, fell into the soft grass. When she stood, Aaron poked her in the butt with his nose, or nudged her in the stomach with his head, or lightly tapped her on the back with his tail. She plopped back down. Then she stood up. Aaron knocked her down again.
Soon, overcome with shrieking giggles, she lay for a while in the grass while Aaron yawned and scratched, waiting for her to catch her breath. Then they did it all over again for the sixth or tenth time while Cade looked on with quiet delight. He preferred Becca’s giggle to any sound on earth, and he liked any wolf who made her giggle like that.
Mrs. Palmer would have no trouble getting Becca down for her nap. Cade would have a lot of trouble if she saw Becca and Aaron. The latest nanny didn’t approve of little girls roughhousing with werewolves.
“Baby Girl,” he called. “Go inside and let Sindri wash you up for lunch.”
“Inside, Rebecca. Now.”
She pouted, but she seized a chunk of the good-natured Aaron’s fur to pull herself up. Still a little dizzy, she toddled up the porch steps. He reached down to stroke her cheek and run his hand through her long hair, black and curly as his own. She hugged his knee and smiled up at him.
“I’m gonna try to be a cat again.”
“Why don’t you try being something else? I can’t tell my wolf friends my baby girl’s a cat.”
He gave a rueful laugh. “If you say so, baby.” It tickled him she pretended to be the only shape-shifting female on the planet. But a cat?
Becca went inside, Aaron right behind her.
Cade put out a boot to stop him. “No four-footed in the house, pup. It’s a nanny thing.”
Aaron bounded off the porch.
Mrs. Palmer had wolf issues, but she didn’t drink or steal and she didn’t have a thing for wolves. He’d fired all her predecessors. Premiere Professional Child Care didn’t want to send another applicant, and he didn’t want to hire one.
Sindri joined him on the porch. “The meal is ready. You should eat before it gets cold.”
He nodded, lingering to finish his cigarillo. “Becca wants to be a cat.”
“Buy her a kitten.”
Cade did a double take. Sindri never said anything remotely in jest. “A kitten. On a ranch full of werewolves.”
“The girl should have a pet.”
“A cat’s not a pet. A cat’s an appetizer.”
Sindri didn’t respond. He clasped his hands over his stomach and gazed stoically at the landscape.
“Something on your mind, old man?” Cade smiled down at the top of the brownie’s head.
“I make an offering to Eir this evening. I would have you join me.”
Cade sighed as he ground out the cigarillo and kicked it into the grass. Trying to keep the irritation out of his voice he replied, “Sindri. You know I don’t do the old rites. The Church disapproves.”
“You do many things your church disapproves of,” Sindri huffed. “Your mother was a Christian, but she respected the Old Ones. She did not reject them or their ways. Eir loved your mother.”
So had Cade.
“You do not do the old rites because they remind you of her.”
Cade heard the love in Sindri’s voice. It did nothing to lessen the ache he felt whenever he thought of his mother.
“Becca reminds me of her. Everything on this ranch reminds me of her. I don’t do the old rituals because I don’t give a…” No. He wouldn’t be disrespectful. The Old Ones meant nothing to him, especially not Eir, but he wouldn’t say that to Sindri. “What’s the offering for?” he asked instead.
Sindri didn’t protest the change of subject. “For finding your brother’s son.”
“Old man, the werewolf databank in D.C. found Carson’s son. If Carson hadn’t been in that hospital in New Orleans, we wouldn’t know Dylan Fontenot existed. Maybe you should make an offering to the VA instead. You won’t need to gather comfrey and copper. I’m pretty sure they take money.”
He wanted the words back as soon as he said them. His childhood guardian didn’t deserve his unthinking sarcasm. No one but Rebecca loved Cade as much as Sindri did.
Drawing himself up to his full three feet, two inches, Sindri turned to go back in the house.
The wounded little brownie stopped.
He addressed the brownie’s stiff back. “Eir can restore life, can’t she? She can raise the dead?”