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Excerpt from WOLF CURSE

 

CHAPTER ONE

Paige wandered through the house in search of Eli but couldn’t find him anywhere. It had been a wonderful day of turkey with all the trimmings, pecan pie and other scrumptious holiday morsels which Paige had prepared with Clarissa’s instruction, wine and their favorite Christmas carols playing in the background. The older woman had taken a nap, tucked up on the sofa in front of the fire. Now all Paige had to do was find Eli. Where could he be?

     She had noticed his Christmas spirit wane toward the end of dinner and wondered what was he had on his mind. She could tell there was something.

     Paige heard Clarissa’s voice echo into the entry hall. “He’s out on the front porch, dear. Said he needed some air. Bundle up it’s awfully chilly out there.”

     “Thanks, Clary. I will.” Paige shrugged into her thick, woolen jacket, pulled her knit cap over her ears and opened the front door. “Won’t be long.”

     “Take your time, dear. I’m fine.”

     Paige closed the door behind her and walked along the porch. Eli stood at the railing staring up at the clouded moon. “You disappeared right after dinner. Everything ok?”

     His gaze moved to her. “Come here.” He reached for her, pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead.

Paige frowned up into his eyes, a feeling of foreboding washing over her. Something was definitely wrong. “What’s going on?”

     “I’ve been doing some thinking and I’ve come to a decision.”

     Paige’s stomach flipped over under her jeans causing a wave of nausea. “What… kind of decision?”

     He stared into her eyes for the longest time without answering. What was he searching for? A reason to change his mind?

“Eli?” she urged.

     He gave a heavy sigh. “I can’t…” He sighed again. “I don’t want you to be my Alpha female, Paige.”

     She tugged free of his embrace. “You can’t make that decision for me. It’s my choice and I want to be with you.”

     “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I have. I can’t let you give up your life for me – for this.” He motioned to the street, meaning Moon Grove.

     “Eli, I love you. There is no choice.”

     “And I love you, too, but I don’t want you to be a part of this.”

     “Don’t you think it’s a bit late for that? I am part of it.” She reached for him. He stepped back.

     “It’s because I love you that I have to let you go, Paige.” Tears burned the backs of his eyes and he blinked. “Pack up and move back to Washington where you belong and live a normal life. Find someone. Have kids. Grow old together.”

     “No!” She stepped up to him, a scowl on her face. “I’m not going anywhere and you have no right to ask me. I belong here… with you.”

     “You don’t belong here. You never did.” His heart ached as he said the words. It felt as though someone was ripping it from his chest.

     Paige gasped and tears welled in her eyes. “Do you mean that?”

     “With every breath.” He wanted to hold her but wouldn’t. He had to make a clean break.

     “And you really want me to leave and never come back?”

     Eli nodded without answering. He didn’t trust himself around her anymore. He knew if she stayed they’d make love and it would be over. She’d become Lycan.

     Tears spilled down Paige’s face. “I thought…” She frowned at him, although he wasn’t looking at her now, then without another word she turned on her heel and rushed inside.

     After several minutes Eli entered the house.

     Clarissa heard him come in and called him into the living room. “Don’t do this, Eli. She loves you and you love her. And you know without her you’ll lose your strength in time. She’s a part of you. A very important part.”

     “I don’t care, Gran. I can’t allow her to give up her life for me and the pack. It wouldn’t be fair to her.”

     “Even if you manage to persuade her to leave do you really think she’ll stop loving you?”

     “In time, yes. She has to.” He paced.

     “You’re bound to each other, my boy. There’s nothing either of you can do about that. It was both parents’ decision all those years ago.  Your mother wanted it for you. She wanted to know you’d have someone to share your life with long before she knew she was dying.”

     Eli sat down opposite his grandmother. “Why did the Lycan curse kill her?”

     A sad look crossed Clarissa’s face and her eyes brimmed with tears. “She wasn’t strong enough.” Her voice was almost a whisper. She blinked back the urge to cry and gave her grandson a thin, wistful smile. “It happens sometimes.”

     “What if Paige isn’t strong enough?”

     “Oh, but she is. She’s proved that already.”

     Eli shook his head. “I don’t know.”

     “Yes, you do. Go to her. Tell her you’re sorry. Tell her you love her and want to be with her. You have no choice, neither of you do, so you may as well make the best of it. At least together you’ll be able to keep each other safe.”

     Eli gave a heavy sigh. Could he ask her to give up her humanity?

*

Paige sobbed into the pillow, her heart breaking. How could Eli want her to leave after everything they’d been through? Everything they felt for each other? Her feelings for him had grown so quickly and now she knew why. They had been destined to be together their whole lives. She felt a pang of sadness and frustration because it was her choice to follow her fate and be with him. Not his. But she did understand the reasons behind his decision, even though she didn’t agree with them. He wanted to keep her safe, to protect her, and that only made her love him even more. Tears continued to slide down her cheeks.

     A knock on the door startled her, pulling her thoughts back into the present. She sat up, sniffled, and wiped her tear streaked face. “Come in.” Her heart beat just that little bit faster, thinking it was Eli. Hoping he’d changed his mind.

     The door creaked open and Clarissa peered around the edge. “Are you all right, dear?”

     Paige swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. “I don’t know, Clary.”

     The older woman stepped into the room, walked over and sat down beside her, clasping Paige’s hand in hers. “Eli headed home. I tried to reason with him but…” She gave the young woman a thin smile. “He’s only doing what he thinks is right. Give him some time. I’m sure it’ll all work itself out in the end.”

“Do you truly believe that?” Paige gave her a doubtful look. “Eli is strong-willed. I can’t imagine him changing his mind. Not about this.”   He’d left without saying goodbye so she knew he wouldn’t reconsider his decision. Their relationship was over even before it had truly begun.

     Clarissa patted Paige’s hand. “He loves you. That I do know.”

     Paige gave her a sad smile. “I know he does and that’s why I also know he’ll keep to his word… to keep me safe.”

     Clarissa hoped the young woman was wrong because without their union Eli would eventually lose his strength and his wolves would be vulnerable. The cohesive potency of the pack depended on their Alphas.

***

As Eli drove toward home his mind remained on Paige and the devastated look on her face when he told her it was over between them. His heart ached to be with her but there was nothing he could do about it now. He’d made the break and it had to stay that way. For her sake. He turned onto his driveway, eased his Jeep up beside the front porch and climbed out. Gazing up at the waxing gibbous moon he knew trouble was brewing. He could feel it in his gut and in the air. With the full moon less than twenty eight days away, he didn’t know what kind of trouble, but something was coming and he had to keep vigilant. The town depended on him and his pack to keep it safe.

He climbed the steps, key in hand, and when he stepped onto the decking his hackles went up. Eli turned his head, his intense gaze moving to the right of him. The shadowed figure seated in the wicker chair at the end of the porch stood up. “It’s been a while. Hasn’t it, Eli?”

     Trouble came in many forms and it appeared it was one step ahead of him once again.

     “What can I do for you, Alistair?”

     The figure moved out of the shadows. “I’m here as a courtesy because we were once friends.” He stepped up to Eli, his pale immortal eyes iridescent in the moonlight. “You have something we want and I’ve come to give you the opportunity of delivering it to us without serious repercussion.”

     “We haven’t been friends for a long time, Alistair.” Eli eased his six foot four inch frame away from the vampire. Not out of fear. He hated it when someone invaded his personal space – creature or human. “And what is it the council thinks I have?”

     A smug smirk spread across the immortal’s diaphanous, handsome face. “Come now, Eli, don’t play coy.”

     The sheriff’s frowning gaze remained on him. “Well, unless you spell it out for me I have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s been a long night.” He turned on his heel and headed for the front door.

     The vampire whipped past him, blocking his path. “We want the moonstone ring. We believe you are in possession of it.” Alistair’s canines snapped into place and his eyes almost glowed in the dark as he attempted to intimidate the sheriff.

     Eli knew he had to be careful. The venom of a vampire bite would put him out of action for quite some time and he couldn’t afford to leave his pack or anyone else he loved unprotected. His grandmother had perfected an antidote but it would take days to travel through his bloodstream as his wolf heart rate was slower than a human’s.

     “If I had the ring why would I give it to you? It belongs to our pack.”

     “The council controls this town, Sheriff, don’t forget that. It would be in your best interest to surrender the ring as soon as possible. The consequences far outweigh your need to play hero, wouldn’t you agree?”

     Eli folded his arms and stretched his spine, standing his full height. He didn’t like being threatened. “What kind of consequences?”

     “Let’s just say that defying the law has a…” he searched for the right word, “avalanche effect. You wouldn’t want someone you love to be affected by your uncooperative decision, would you?”

     Eli’s honey colored eyes glowed with anger. “Don’t threaten me, Alistair.”

     The vampire’s features transformed to human. “As I said, I’m here as a courtesy. If the other members of the council have to act it will be unfortunate.”

     “You can go back and tell them to stay the hell away from me and anyone I know. You rely on my pack to keep this town under control. What do you think would happen if I called my wolves off?”

     Alistair’s eyes widened. “You wouldn’t do that. You have an obligation to this town.”

     “No, I don’t. I’m just doing my job. But that could all change.”

     The vampire descended the front steps then turned around. “Some advice. Don’t antagonize them, Eli. You’re not indispensable.” With that said, his dark form dissolved into the shadows.

 

CHAPTER TWO

With the case solved, and the coroner signing the release, it was time for Paige to make arrangements to lay her uncle to rest. The funeral home was in the next town and as she drove toward Bellehurst she remembered what Eli had told her about not viewing Jake’s body. Because she hadn’t seen him in such a long time she felt she owed it to him and herself to say goodbye. To have some kind of closure. Eli’s words echoed in her head, “Please, Paige, promise me you won’t go over there. As next of kin you have the right to view his body but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t. For your sake.” A shiver ran through her. What horror had her uncle endured that wouldn’t allow her to be able to view his body? Should she heed Eli’s warning or should she do what she felt in her heart was the right thing? It was something she’d have to decide once she arrived.

     The town was visually similar to Moon Grove but somewhat bigger, with a population of just over three and a half thousand residents. The main street stretched for a good few blocks with a variety of stores, other businesses, and a supermarket. Trees lined the neighboring streets and quaint, two-toned painted houses sat in rows with picket fences and well-maintained, front yards. Paige wondered if it was anything like her old home town with its own dark secrets. Were there werewolves and other supernatural creatures residing here too?

     She turned off the main road, drove along Petunia Street, pulled into a parking space outside the funeral home and ran her eyes over the property. The split level, red brick building had burgundy awnings above arched windows with a matching marquee umbrellaing the main entrance. Its circular asphalt drive sat beneath tall, white oak trees and curved out to the street on either side through lush, green manicured lawns. The double-posted, white sign with elegant, black cursive script read: Mitchell’s Funeral Home: Serving Families with Dignity and Compassion.

     She pulled the key from the ignition, opened the door and stepped out of the car, gazing around at the stores and homes on the opposite side of the road. At least Jake would be laid to rest in the Moon Grove Cemetery where she could visit him whenever she wanted. Paige gave a heavy sigh and headed for the front door. When she opened it and entered the cozy, home-style foyer a woman in her mid-thirties, with short, brown hair and pleasant face dressed in a burgundy skirt suit with Mitchell’s Funeral Home embroidered in gold on the breast pocket approached her, hand extended. “Hello, you must be Paige O’Connell. I’m Virginia Burch. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

     Paige shook the woman’s hand. “Thank you, I appreciate your kindness.”

     “Won’t you come this way? I have the information you requested and we can talk in our sunroom.” She directed Paige straight ahead and through an open, double set of white French doors into a bright, attractive sitting room. “Please, have a seat.”

     Paige sat down in an upholstered, pale mint green and wood armchair in front of a sophisticated, gray marble topped coffee table with a potted white orchid sitting in the center. Virginia sat on the cream, two seat sofa opposite.

     “I have a question, if that’s ok?” Paige crossed her legs at the ankles and placed her hands in her lap.

     “Of course. What is it?” The woman smiled, giving Paige her full attention.

     “Is my uncle here?”

     “Yes, he is. Arrived yesterday.”

     “Can I see him?”

     The cheerful smile vanished from the woman’s face. “Well, uh, you could… but I wouldn’t advise it.” Her eyes moved to the pen in her hand.

     “May I ask why?”

     Virginia’s gaze returned to Paige. “Did the sheriff tell you what happened to him, hon?”

     “No. He just said it would be better if I didn’t see him.”

     An empathetic half smile returned to the woman’s face and she nodded. “He’s right.”

     “So we can’t have an open casket for his service?”

     “It would be… difficult.”

     “Can you tell me what happened to him?”

     The woman’s eyes widened. “Oh, well, I –”

     “If I can’t say goodbye then I’d really like to know how he passed.” Paige fidgeted with her hands. “He’s… he was my only remaining relative.”

     Virginia reached across and rested a hand on Paige’s knee. “I’m so sorry, hon. Maybe query Sheriff Blackwood again. I’d hate to be the one to have to tell you.”

     Paige gave a heavy sigh. “Why?”

     “Because it would be too distressing for you. I’m sure the sheriff can explain it better than I could.”

     By the time Paige left the funeral home it was late afternoon. All of the arrangements were in place. Had she made the right decision by not pressing to see her uncle one last time? It seemed she would never have any closure as far as his death was concerned. Eli wouldn’t give her the information, even if he was talking to her. How awful could Jake’s death have been? What terrible agony had he suffered that she would never know about? Had he been torn apart by the black wolf? That would be the only explanation as to why she couldn’t view his body. So many questions and no one to provide the answers.

*

When she reached Moon Grove the sun had almost set and as she drove along the main street she noticed a light burning in the Tribune newspaper office. Was there a new editor in town that she hadn’t heard about because she wasn’t privy to grapevine gossip? Paige pulled into the curb on the opposite side of the road, climbed out and crossed the street. She peered through the glass door but couldn’t see anyone, at first. Then she noticed him. He saw her at the same time and made his way over to the locked front door. The catch snapped back with a click as he opened it. “Hello. Do you need some help?”

     Paige took a step backwards. “Oh, no thanks, I was just wondering why a light was on in the office at this time of night. She couldn’t help staring. He was tall, dark and incredibly good-looking: chiseled jawline and clear skin, and he had the palest blue eyes she’d ever seen.     

     Realizing her gaze had remained on him for far too long she averted her eyes.

     “Do you go around Moon Grove checking on who’s left the lights on at their businesses?” he asked, amusement in his voice.

     “No, of course not.” Her eyes moved back to his handsome face. His smile was just as gorgeous. “It’s just that since Wendy Ellis…” her voice trailed off.

     “Yes, nasty business that.” He extended his hand. “I’m Archer Hamilton. I’m the new editor and chief of the Moon Grove Tribune.”

     Paige was reluctant to shake his hand but thought it would be rude not to. His hand was cool and slightly clammy and she felt her arm go rigid when their palms connected and tried to relax it. “I’m Paige – Paige O’Connell.”

     His handsome smile widened. “It’s nice to meet you, Paige O’Connell. Did you want to come in?” He turned and motioned inside.

     “Thanks, but I’d better get home. It’s been nice meeting you though.” She took another step backwards and glanced over her shoulder at her car. Something about him drew her in and she wasn’t sure she liked the feeling. Was he like the other supernatural creatures that inhabited Moon Grove? She turned to look at him. How could he be? He’d come from out of town.

     “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.” His beautiful eyes met hers and she couldn’t help but gaze into them. The pale blue irises were almost iridescent, and so mesmerizing.

     “Uh, yes, I’m sure we will.” She turned on her heel, crossed the street and took one last quick glance over her shoulder before climbing into her car.

     Archer watched her drive away then closed the door. She was someone he’d have to get to know. For many reasons.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Eli was aware of the new editor in town and would make a point of calling by to discuss the township’s etiquette with him. New residents were monitored for the first few months after arriving to make sure they blended in without any complications, whether they were human or supernatural. Council law stipulated it, and as sheriff of Moon Grove it was his duty to maintain the laws. He’d requested information about Archer Oliver Hamilton and learned that he’d been Wendy Ellis’s assistant editor back in New York, and that was the reason for him being in the town now. He’d had no prior convictions, not even a minor misdemeanor or parking ticket. So it appeared he was squeaky clean, although the sheriff doubted it.

     Leaning back in his office chair, Eli’s mind wandered to Paige and he wondered how she was doing. He missed her, but knew he’d made the right decision. He couldn’t bring himself to steal her humanity just for the sake of himself and his pack… nor for Moon Grove. It wouldn’t be fair. The one thing he did know was he’d never be able to stop loving her, no matter how hard he tried. But there was nothing he could do about that. It had to be this way for Paige’s sake. He was a man of honor and would live up to the choice he’d made of setting her free.

     Eli had heard that Jake’s funeral was the following morning at eleven and would pay his respects at the cemetery, but keep his distance. He would have liked to attend the service but knew it would be too close for comfort with Paige being there. She would be distressed enough without him adding to her discomfort. He closed the file on Archer Hamilton, walked over to the cabinet in the corner and slid the manila folder into a sleeve in the top drawer. Tomorrow morning was soon enough to make that official visit to the Moon Grove Tribune.

     Rosemarie popped her head around the open door. “It’s late, Eli. Are you heading home soon?”

     The sheriff closed the drawer and turned around. “In a bit, Rosy. You go on home.”

     “Are you sure? I can stay if you need me.”

     “No. It’s fine. You head off.”

     She gave a small smile. “If you’re sure?”

     Eli nodded. “I’ll close up.”

     “Ok. See you in the morning.”

     “I’ll be coming in a bit later tomorrow, Rosy. I have some council business to take care of first.”

     Rosemarie’s left eyebrow arched. “The new editor?”

     “Yeah. Best get that sorted early.”

     “Anything we should know about?”

     “Not that I’m aware of yet. But if there is I’ll call a meeting.”

     “We’ll see you at Jake’s funeral then?” she asked.

     He nodded again. “Yeah, I’ll be there. Just not near the graveside.”

     “You know best. Goodnight.” Rosemarie headed for the front door.

     “Goodnight, Rosy.”

     Eli sat down at his desk, Paige still on his mind.

***

 

Paige climbed into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. Her childhood nightmares had completely disappeared and she assumed it was because they had figured out the reason why she’d been having them all those years. Her father’s remains had been located but not her mother’s. So the mystery continued. What had happened to her? And where was her body? She gave a heavy sigh. Tomorrow. Tomorrow she’d lay her uncle to rest. Her heart gave a painful twinge and tears stung the back of her eyes. She had no family now. She was alone. She thought she could start a new family with Eli but that wasn’t to be. Paige knew he would always live in her heart no matter what happened in her future. He was part of her and she him. Nothing could change that.

     She gave another sigh, snuggled beneath the covers, turned on her side and gazed out the window. She missed their conversations, his handsome face and smile, his beautiful wolf eyes, missed him looking out for her, missed him. Was there anything she could do to change his mind? Paige knew the answer so there was no point in rehashing it over and over in her mind. She had to accept it and let it go. Could she?

     After a while, her eyelids grew heavy and she drifted into a peaceful sleep.

***

When Eli arrived home he knew immediately that something was wrong. He threw the Jeep’s door open, flew around the car and up the front steps to the door. He stood, using his wolf senses, but could hear nothing. That didn’t mean someone wasn’t still inside. He shoved the key into the lock, pulled his pistol and jerked the door back. His home had been ransacked: furniture overturned, shelves emptied, the books strewn across the living room carpet, cushions slashed with the white stuffing spread across the sofa and floor beneath. Had the council decided to play dirty? He hoped it was the council and not some new, half-crazed monster in search of the ring or perhaps the new threat he’d felt. News traveled fast in supernatural circles and he would need to be on his guard at all times from now on.

     The sheriff stepped into the room, eased the door closed, and ran his gaze around the kitchen before moving to the hallway. So far so good. He inhaled a deep, Lycan breath through his nostrils to pick up any scent. None – not human or supernatural. What kind of creature didn’t leave some kind of distinct odor lingering on the air? Vampire? Could it have been Alistair or one of the other vampires on the council?

     After doing a thorough check of his home, Eli began the lengthy task of putting his house back in order. It was going to be a long night. He made a mental note to tell his pack, just in case whoever had been through his house thought another member might be hiding the ring. If that’s what they were looking for.

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© 2017 M. A. Anderson

Bella Luna Books, Australia

 

 All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission of the Author.

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