Authors: Kinsey Holley
This time, though, it was her fault.
The Valkyrie’s words echoed in her mind:
Yours to raise, yours to protect.
Dec broke the uncomfortable silence a short time later. “It’s all pretty feckin’ moot now, kiddos. We’re here.”
Cade locked himself in his office to get paperwork done before his guests arrived. Becca napped upstairs. He hadn’t seen Sindri since lunch.
His office was soundproofed, but he smelled Michael before the latter knocked on the door.
“It’s open,” he called, grateful for a break from numbers and breeding charts.
His second-in-command stuck his head inside the office. “Got a minute?”
Michael sat down facing Cade’s desk. “Seth Guidry called from Raton about nine, so they ought to be here soon.”
“Good. The rooms ready?”
“Yeah, Sindri did it.”
“Okay.” He waited for Michael to say something else, but the big wolf just sat there. “It wouldn’t take telepathy to know you’re not here to give an ETA on my nephew. Out with it, wolf.”
His lieutenant and best friend of twenty-five years tipped his chair back and laced his hands behind his head. “Maybe you should tell Aaron to call his father. If Aaron just talked to him, Rufus might realize you’re not trying to lure wolves away from their birth packs.”
Cade was scheduled to meet Rufus Stapkis and two other Pack Alphas in an effort to gain formal recognition for Rocky Mountain. Most packs hadn’t acknowledged Cade’s wolves as the legitimate successors to his father’s pack. Cade thought fifteen years was long enough.
“What’s the point? I’ll see Rufus in Denver on Friday. He can wait.” The idea of placating the half-mad Seattle Alpha repulsed him.
“I think Aaron should talk to him before that. Maybe put him in a better frame of mind for the meeting.”
Cade would rather fight the old bastard than talk, and he knew Stapkis felt the same. But he couldn’t ignore national pack politics, and he couldn’t afford to alienate the St. Louis and Chicago Pack Alphas.
“Fine,” he grunted in disgust.
He swiveled his chair to stare out the open window facing the front yard. The summer breeze ruffled the sheer curtains and fluttered the papers anchored on his desk.
“You think I should tell all my wolves to call their daddies? I could have them write letters home to Mommy. This is a pack, not a fucking summer camp.”
Michael didn’t crack a smile. “But we’ve got a woodshop. And the guys live in cabins, and we ride horses. Let’s ask Sindri if we can make s’mores.”
“You know, if you were Rufus’ second, he’d rip your throat out.”
“You know, you’re a hell of a wolf.”
Cade tried to scowl. “All right. Tell Aaron to call tonight. It won’t make the crazy bastard like me, but it’ll make me look magnanimous to the other Alphas. I like to look magnanimous. ’Cause I’m a hell of a wolf.”
The two old friends laughed. Then they both winced and jumped out of their chairs as Mrs. Palmer emitted an ear-splitting shriek.
“What the fuck?” Cade shouted. Michael was already out the door. Cade vaulted over the desk after him.
A gated road interrupted the trees lining Highway 50. Beside it, a stone plinth bore a plaque with stylized Celtic letters reading
Her stomachache returned.
“You know much about Icelandic horses?” Seth asked. She’d run a small stable in Sugar Land for the last seven years.
“Just what I’ve read on the Internet. They’re good-natured and can carry heavy loads.”
“Is that why they’re good for wolves?” Seth wasn’t into horses. If it didn’t have an engine, he didn’t pay attention.
“That, and the fact they don’t have a fight-or-flight response. Some people think wolves have been riding them since the Dark Ages.”
No one knew much about how werewolves lived in the distant past, including werewolves. They weren’t the most introspective of the non-human sentients. Recorded werewolf history started in the late forties, when they came out just before the other shifters, followed shortly by the dwarves and other Fae. Everyone knew they played a part in the Allied victory of WWII. Other than that, the werewolves didn’t say much.
If female wolves existed, Ally suspected, some of them would’ve taken the time to write stuff down.
“Norwegian and Danish kings liked ’em,” Dec said.
Surprised, she turned to look at him. “What?”
“Icelandic horses. The kings of Norway and Denmark liked them. They’re related to Faroese horses. Ever heard of them?”
“No. Where are they from?”
He laughed. “From the Faroe Islands, of course.”
“Those are in Scotland, right?”
“Not exactly. North of Scotland, halfway to Iceland. Beautiful, wild country. Bleedin’ cold, of course. You don’t swim in the North Atlantic.”
“Since when do you know about Icelandic horses?”
“I’m Irish, you know. The Irish are mad for horses.” He flashed his lopsided grin.
“Yes, I’ve heard,” she murmured.
No matter how long she knew him, she didn’t feel she knew him. He never missed his rent, and he made the best cosmos in southeast Texas, and somewhere along the way he’d become one of their closest friends. It had seemed natural to bring him along, especially considering that they’d never have found Dylan’s uncle without him.
Now, though, she wondered—why had he wanted to come?
Barbed wire on wooden posts lined both sides of the gravel road. All they saw were dense clusters of trees and expanses of rock, grass and scrub brush. A pond sparkled in the distance. Shadows punctuated sunlight as they drove beneath trees whose branches met to form a canopy above the road.
“I didn’t expect something this big,” she mused.
“His father bought the first piece of property back in the fifties, and Cade’s been adding to it over the years. Remember how the Rocky Mountain Pack imploded?”
“We can’t remember something that happened before we were born, Dec. How do you know so much about this?”
He shrugged. “I thought it’d be useful to read up on the wolf, is all. Considering as how we’re staying with him a while—or longer.”
Dylan snorted at
and gazed out the window, refusing to get drawn into the subject.
Dec ignored the teen. “MacDougall’s parents were murdered while the family vacationed in Scotland.” His accent thickened as he spoke. “After the pack fell apart and the survivors left, no one bought the MacDougall land. Cade came back here fifteen years ago and started putting the place back together. He’s also bought a lot of property in town.”
Dec fell silent, watching the scenery roll past with a faraway look in his bright green eyes.
More trees, more grass, more scrub brush.
She was about to ask Dec another question when they rounded a bend in the gravel road. A spectacular vista opened up.
Mountains filled the horizon in the far distance, foothills in the near. Fields of green and gold, a couple of stables, neatly painted outbuildings, and several houses filled the foreground. The stables stood next to a section of fenced pasture about fifty yards away. Inside the fence stood the Icelandic horses Cade MacDougall bred, powerful little things with lavish manes and floppy foretops. She hoped MacDougall would let her ride.
To the right, a prefabricated metal warehouse squatted among large wooden structures. Behind this group of buildings stretched more uncleared land. A small yard held a wooden play system and a trampoline.
Directly in front of them stood a large house with cabins on either side and slightly behind it. The large two-story stone and timber structure looked like a cross between a Swiss chalet and something out of a western—cowboys and goatherds, maybe, or Heidi on horseback. The front door, arched with stone, soared into the second story, where windows sported balconies. The overall effect was both rugged and lovely.
Her stomachache got a little worse.
Cars and trucks and six or seven motorcycles sat in a graveled area. She grinned in spite of her nervous stomach. Rich or poor, urban or country, assimilated or feral, werewolves loved bikes.
Seth pulled into the gravel lot. Everyone in the car gasped and winced as a woman’s piercing scream split the still, sunny air. Ally and Seth stared at each other. She knew they were both remembering Gracie’s death cry.
The screamer, however, was quite alive. An older woman of ample proportions thundered down the front steps of the large house, heading for a late model Cadillac parked at the other end of the gravel lot. The old lady moved with impressive speed for one so large. Wolves came running from all directions to the center of the compound.
The old woman slammed the door of the Cadillac and peeled out backwards in a squeal of tires and a spray of gravel, fishtailing as she threw the car into drive and roared out of the lot.
The two wolves reached the porch just as Mrs. Palmer’s car disappeared in a cloud of gravel. Cade looked at his second in shock.
“Goddamn. What is it with the nannies?”
Upstairs, Becca began to cry.
He turned back to look at the house, as if he’d find an answer there. “It’s not Becca. Mrs. Palmer loves her. Why I do keep getting nymphos, drunks and crazy women?”
“I talked to her at lunchtime. She was fine. I would’ve known if she was upset about something.”
If wolves possessed Fae talents, Cade’s would’ve been telepathy. While he couldn’t read minds
, he had an uncanny gift for reading emotions. Mrs. Palmer had been just fine two hours ago.
“Cade, they’re here,” Michael said. “Oh shit, she really is hot.”
“The female. The foster mother.”
“Huh? Oh.” He’d been so dumbfounded at Mrs. Palmer’s getaway he hadn’t noticed the three wolves and a young woman with a centerfold body getting out of a Jeep Cherokee. The four new arrivals gazed in astonishment after the latest ex-nanny’s car.
“No, can’t be,” he told Michael. “The female’s in her thirties. Shawn! Go help them with their luggage. I’ll be there in a minute.” He slapped Michael on the back. “You do the introductions. I have to go see to Becca.”
“No, that’s her. I know that’s her,” Michael muttered as Cade headed back into the house.
They huddled together by the Cherokee, choking on the dust stirred up by the departing Cadillac. A redheaded werewolf with a friendly grin trotted up.
“Hey! Welcome to the ranch, we’ve been expecting y’all. ’Course, we weren’t expecting that.” He waved in the direction of the vanished Cadillac.
“Dude, what happened? Who was that?”
Ally elbowed him. “That’s none of our business.”
The amiable werewolf laughed. “It’s okay, I don’t mind. Don’t ask Cade about it, though. I think we just lost another nanny. Anyway, my name’s Shawn.”
Seth introduced himself and everyone else. When he got to Ally, Shawn looked her over with unabashed interest. “You’re the girl who lives with three wolves. I didn’t realize you’d had a pup yourself. Seth’s your cousin, right? So Declan’s your mate?”
She understood his assumption, but the bluntness caught her off-guard.
Dec put a hand on her shoulder. “She’s not mine, and she hasn’t had a pup. She looks this young naturally.”
Shawn gaped. “How old are you?”
“Holy crap! You look eighteen!”
“All right, Shawn, show some fucking tact.”
The new voice belonged to a werewolf with beautiful yellow hair, more reminiscent of a lion’s mane than a wolf’s coat. The smile he gave them looked uncomfortable, as if he didn’t wear it very often.
“This is Michael Wargman, Cade’s lieutenant and the one who keeps the rest of us in line.” Shawn made the introductions all over again. “Michael, can you believe she’s never had a pup?”
“Ally, I apologize for Shawn. There’s no filter between his brain and his mouth.” Shawn ducked as Michael took a swipe at the back of his head.
She couldn’t help laughing, disarmed by the redhead’s humor and obvious lack of fear. “It’s all right. I get that reaction a lot.”
Wargman looked nothing like his younger brother Nick, the Houston Alpha. He was taller, bigger and broader. The hard, sharp angles of his face combined with his bulk to give him an intimidating air.
Shawn and Michael offered to help the guys unload the truck. Ally left them to it. She didn’t lift heavy loads in front of others.
The wolves who’d come running earlier had dispersed. The little yard at the center of the compound was empty again, which suited her. She wanted to be alone for a few minutes.
Her stomach unclenched a tiny bit.
She couldn’t be sure they’d done the right thing until they met MacDougall, but simply arriving had already eliminated some of her tension. With any luck Dylan would soon settle in. Then she’d worry about her own future.
He couldn’t imagine anything a four-year-old could do to make a woman of Mrs. Palmer’s age and experience go nuts like that. Becca was rambunctious, a bit spoiled and liked to take her clothes off. Mrs. Palmer knew all that. He asked if there’d been any wolves in the house. Becca and Sindri said no.
If it were up to him, Sindri would be Becca’s permanent caretaker, as the brownie had been his and Carson’s. But Cade was a single wolf raising a daughter on a ranch full of wolves. While no one knew where Becca’s mother was, her maternal grandmother in Savannah had always wanted to raise her. Courts never took sons away from their fathers or their fathers’ packs, but single wolves often lost custody of their daughters. He had to find another nanny.
And he had to get back to his guests. After assuring Baby Girl she hadn’t done anything wrong and he wasn’t angry, he tucked her back into bed, hoping she’d resume her interrupted nap.
Shawn was showing the three wolves their rooms on the other side of the landing.
“We were gonna put you all in these four rooms, but since Mrs. Palmer… Oh, wait, here’s Cade. Cade, this is Seth Guidry, Declan MacSorley, and, um…your nephew, Dylan Fontenot. He looks just like you, doesn’t he? Well, I guess I mean he looks just like Carson, you know?”