Excerpt from WOLF LOVER
Paige flicked off the overhead light and crossed the shadowed office to the glass door. Eli would arrive at any minute to pick her up. She had worked until after nine and wanted to go home, kick off her heels, and relax on the sofa in his arms for a while. Her business had picked up over the past few weeks and she had several new clients. Were they human? Not one. She realized her patients were more likely to be of the supernatural kind, her being a wolf now. As she reached to open the door a figure appeared in the alcove outside, startling her. Paige gasped, jerked her hand away and lunged backwards into the shadows. Her breathing quickened, along with her heart rate, and she took another tentative step further into the dark. Who could it be? And why now?
Life had been quiet for a short while and it had felt good not to have to be on her guard. But she knew it would be only a matter of time before a new threat ventured into their town and their lives would be thrown into turmoil once again. Remus would make sure of it. The dark shape stepped closer to the glass and Paige dashed out of the way hoping she wouldn’t be seen. She snatched her cell phone from her purse and pressed Eli’s number as she sidled along the wall around the room to the door leading to the kitchen and back exit. Eli’s voicemail kicked in. “Eli,” she whispered, “someone’s at the door of my office and I’m heading out the back. Please hurry.”
Paige rushed along the short hallway and into the kitchen. When she reached the back door her cell vibrated in her hand, the sensation sending a shockwave through her body, and she jumped. Eli’s name appeared on the screen and she pressed the green dot with her thumb. “Where are you?”
“Stay inside until I get there. I’ll deal with whoever’s outside.”
“I thought I should get out the back door and meet you in the next street.”
“Paige, please do what I ask.”
“No buts. I’m only a minute away.”
A noise echoed along the hallway. “I think they’re trying to break in.”
“I’m almost there. Please stay inside. It’s the safest place for you.”
Paige didn’t think so. “Eli, I need to get out of here.”
She rang off, dropped her phone into her purse, snapped open the locks on the back door, and whipped it open hoping to gain some distance between her and the unknown assailant.
The hooded figure stood right in front of her. “Hello, Paige.”
Paige’s anxious eyes widened and she sucked in a shocked gasp.
Eli screeched the four wheel drive to a stop at the curb at a skewed angle, threw open the door, and hurled his tall frame out of the vehicle. The perpetrator wasn’t at the front door now… so where were they? He stalked along the sidewalk, turned the corner and raced down the alley to the small rear courtyard and thrust open the gate. The back door to the building was closed. Had Paige taken his advice and stayed inside?
He marched up to the red wood door and tried the handle. Locked. He balled his fist and pounded on the door. “Paige, it’s me. Open up.”
The door swung back and Paige greeted him with a smile. “Hey. Come in.”
Eli frowned into her eyes. “Are you ok? Where’d the guy go?”
“It wasn’t a guy, Eli, it’s…”
“Me.” Paige’s mother stood up from the kitchen table.
Eli’s racing heartbeat calmed. “Abbey. It’s good to see you again.”
She nodded. “And you.”
Eli stepped into the small space. “I’m glad you finally made the decision to come and see your daughter.”
“I had to be careful. You know that.”
“Yeah, I do. Brent told us everything.”
“I couldn’t just waltz into Moon Grove and go knock on Paige’s door. The council would’ve known the moment I set foot in this town.”
“Remus and his cronies aren’t here. They’re in hiding. No one’s seen them for weeks.” Eli pulled out a chair and sat down, placing his Stetson on the table and running his long fingers through his wavy, dark brown hair.
Abbey’s right eyebrow rose. “Oh? Why?”
“It’s a long story, but I’ll give you the brief version. Remus wanted to build an army of unstoppable vampires by using Paige’s blood. One vampire, a mercenary Remus hired, drank from Paige after… well, after she’d been initiated and it turned him into a monster, a monster that wanted to kill anything in its path, including his own team.”
“Oh, my God.”
“Yeah. I lost most of my pack because of him. So you can understand why the members of the council disappeared.” He wouldn’t tell Abbey, Paige, or anyone else he knew their whereabouts. Not yet. He’d only inform them when the time came to rid Moon Grove of Remus’s hold on the town.
“What happened to the vampire?” Abbey backed up to her chair and sat down, clasping her hands on the table top.
“We eliminated him.”
“We? If he killed most of your team then who’s we?”
Eli’s gaze moved to Paige then back to Abbey. “The local editor is a vampire. He called in other vamps to help. And I still have one member of my pack alive, but he’s pretty raw. A newbie.”
“Vampires? Since when do vampires help werewolves?”
“Archer’s a good guy, funnily enough. I trust him.”
Abbey shifted on her seat and folded her arms. “You shouldn’t. They always have hidden agendas. So what do you plan to do with the newbie?”
“Continue to train him. What else can I do? Brent asked if he could become a pack member.” Eli’s eyes met hers. “Are you ok with that?”
Abbey nodded. “Of course I am. You need him. He has abilities that can help you.”
“Thanks. I wanted to check with you before saying yes.”
“Brent makes his own decisions. No need to ask me. And I support him, no matter what.”
“Ok, good to know. So now I’m asking you. Do you want to be part of my pack?”
Abbey’s eyes moved to her daughter. Paige smiled and nodded. “Sure. Why not? We need to belong somewhere. We’ve been on the move for far too long now. And I’ve heard you take care of your wolves.”
“Isn’t that what any Alpha’s supposed to do?” Eli leaned back on his chair and folded his arms.
“It is, yes. But some don’t.”
“There’s a pack over near Bellehurst. They’re primal. Live off the land. Have you seen any of them in your travels? Talked to them?”
“Matthias is their Alpha, but I haven’t personally had any dealings with them. I saw him in Bellehurst once and he recognized me as a wolf. Acknowledged me with a cold look of awareness but left me alone.”
Eli gave a heavy sigh. “I thought I’d go over there and talk to him. I need strong wolves on my team. I know I can’t ask them to join me but I can ask for their help. Somehow we have to get rid of Remus and his vampires. They’re destroying our town.”
Abbey’s frowning gaze met his. “I don’t think they’ll do it. Like I said, they stay to themselves and don’t get involved in other peoples’ problems. Besides, they’re probably as afraid of the council as everyone else is.”
“All I can do is ask.”
Abbey shrugged. “No harm in trying, I guess.”
Paige walked over and stood beside her man, placing a hand of support on his shoulder. “I think they’ll listen to Eli. He has a way with people.”
“Maybe.” Abbey glanced at Paige before returning her gaze to the sheriff. “But before you do, there’s something you need to know.”
Eli stood behind Rosemarie sitting at her desk, hands on hips, watching the two human deputies walk through the office door. It would be strange not having his pack working with him, well, at least not all of them. He missed his wolf family… the men and woman he’d grown up with, had been initiated with. Lucky for him Cooper had decided to become a wolf or he’d be the sole survivor of Gregor’s massacre and he wouldn’t be able to accept that.
Cooper stood up but remained behind his desk. He wasn’t feeling much like being social, nor did he feel like working with a new partner. Bobby had not only been his mentor he had been his friend, too, and he missed him, along with Rebecca, Ryan and Paul. They had been his family, one he hadn’t had for a long time and his heart ached for them.
Eli watched his new deputies cross the room and stop in front of the receptionist desk and wondered how well they’d fair in Moon Grove, a town layered with deep, dark secrets that needed to remain hidden. Rick Jarvis and Taylor Brandis were fresh out of the academy. Could they do their jobs without getting themselves killed… or worse? He would have to keep a close eye on them for the first few months to make sure.
“Morning, Chief,” Rick greeted with a smile before gazing around the old-fashioned police station, thinking he’d stepped back in time. “Where do we sit?”
Eli rounded the wooden partition and came through the swinging gate. “You’re over there.” He pointed to Bobby’s old desk. “And, Taylor, you’re over there.” He’d had to set up a new workstation for her beside Cooper’s desk.
“Thanks,” the deputies said together, giving each other a smile and taking their seats.
“Later this morning, I’ll give you a tour of our town. I’ll also show you the places to stay away from and the ones to keep an eye on.”
“That’d be great,” Taylor said giving him a broad grin. “I’m ready to get started.”
“Yeah, we need to get acquainted with Moon Grove and the townsfolk so they know who we are,” Rick told him.
“I’m pretty sure they already do. Word travels fast in small towns, especially this one,” Cooper offered, his gaze moving from one to the other. To him, it felt like an invasion of their work space, even though he knew they needed the manpower. He also realized the ongoing grief of losing his family had to be the reason for his resentment of the new deputies, and he’d have to pick up his game otherwise Eli would have him in his office telling him to play nice.
“Oh, yeah, I guess so.” Rick’s eyes moved to Cooper. For some reason the guy bothered him. He couldn’t put his finger on it even though it oozed from him. He knew it would take a while to fit in, and he wanted to make a good impression on his new boss and teammate. There would be certain adjustments to make coming from the city to a rural country town but he intended to make a go of it.
“Once you settle in I’ll brief you on our procedures and we’ll get out on the road. Ok?” Eli headed to his office and closed the door.
“Well I suppose I’d better introduce myself,” Rosemarie said. “I’m Rosemarie. I’ve been with Sheriff Blackwood for a long time now. We’re more like family than work colleagues. If you need help with anything don’t hesitate to ask. All right?” She gave the pair a thin smile and tried to hide her sorrow. The station wasn’t the same anymore. “Oh, and most people call me Rose or Rosy.”
“Thanks, Rosy,” Rick said. “It’s good to meet you.”
“You too,” Rosemarie replied.
“Would you mind if I call you Rose?” Taylor asked. “It sounds nice.”
“That’s fine, hon. I don’t mind either name.” Tears burned the backs of Rosemarie’s eyes and she blinked to prevent them from spilling down her chubby cheeks. “Oh, and he’s Cooper.” She pointed across the room. “Coop, say hi.”
“You’ll have to excuse him, he’s still hurting. We all are.”
“Yeah… we heard. Sorry for your loss.” Rick and Taylor had been briefed on the incident that had taken the lives of the town’s deputy, forensic guy, and a couple of civilians.
“Thank you. We appreciate that.” She turned to look at Cooper. “Don’t we?”
Rick could feel the hostility radiating from Cooper. What’s his problem? He and Taylor had come to a new town to assist with law enforcement so what made the guy so antsy? They were on the same team.
“So why don’t you both get settled in while I go make some coffee.” The receptionist rose from her chair and headed out to the kitchen.
Cooper popped up off his seat and followed her through the open doorway.
Taylor’s eyes followed him. “Rick?”
“What do you think’s wrong with Cooper? It seems like he doesn’t want us here. Don’t you get that vibe?”
“Yeah, I do. But like Rosemarie said he’s still grieving. Maybe that’s all it is.”
“I hope so because I want this to workout. I don’t want to have to go back to the city and tell the super I couldn’t handle it because someone made my life difficult.”
“I guess all we can do is give it some time. See how it goes.”
Taylor nodded. “You’re right, I guess.”
Rosemarie came back through the door, followed by Cooper, carrying a tray with mugs of black coffee, a jug of milk, a sugar bowl and some homemade choc chip cookies. “Help yourselves. I’ll just take this into Eli.” She picked up a mug of coffee and a small plate with cookies on it and walked over to his office. “Eli, I have coffee and cookies for you,” she called through the glass panel of the wooden door.
The door opened and Eli took the mug and plate from her hands. “Thanks, Rosy. Come on in.”
She turned around to look at the group standing by the tray on her desk. Cooper gave her a dark stare and she smiled unsurely. “Won’t be a tick. Why don’t you three get acquainted?” She hoped Cooper would behave. She could tell he wasn’t himself this morning.
The door closed behind her.
“Have a seat, Rosy.”
“Thank you, Eli.” She scooped her hands under her dress to smooth it out and sat down. “Everything all right?”
Eli sighed. “I think Cooper’s having a hard time coming to terms with the new arrivals. I can smell the hostility from here.”
“I know. He’s still grieving.”
“Aren’t we all? We lost good people…”
“Yes, we did.” She swiped an errant tear from the corner of her left eye. “Ones that can never be replaced.”
Eli’s right eyebrow arched. “What else could I do, Rosy? We needed the manpower.”
“I understand that, Darlin’, but it doesn’t make it any easier.” She picked up a cookie from off the plate. “You forgot to introduce us, you know.”
“Damn! Sorry, Rosy.” He reached across, picked up the mug and sipped his coffee.
“You’re not yourself, either. I can see that.”
“I miss my best friend. I miss my pack.”
“I know you do. So do I, Eli, so do I.” She took a bite of the cookie and dabbed another tear.
“These new deputies will do fine once they settle into a routine. Cooper just has to give them a chance. He can’t be mad at them for what happened.”
“I don’t think it’s that. I think he doesn’t know how to handle the loss. He’d been without a family for so long and then he had us for the briefest time before that monster killed everyone. I think he has survivor guilt. But he’ll work through it. I’ll talk to him later and see if there’s anything I can do to help.”
Eli’s frown rested on her. “I should be the one to do it, Rosy, not you.”
“I don’t mind.”
He shook his head. “No, I’ll do it. You need to take care of yourself.”
“Don’t be hard on him, Eli. He needs a gentle hand.”
“Maybe he needs to talk it out with Paige.”
“You mean as in patient/doctor?”
“I think he needs you or me to talk to. If you send him to a shrink, pardon the description, Paige is wonderful, he’ll think you feel he can’t do his job.”
“I’m not sure he can right now.” Eli leaned back and folded his arms.
“You know he’ll be able to hear us talking?”
“Yes, I know. Maybe you’d better tell him to come in.” He watched Rosemarie cross the office. “And leave us to talk.”
The receptionist nodded, opened the door and stepped outside.
Eli’s gaze moved to the open doorway. He hated having these kinds of conversations with his deputies. He hoped they would follow protocol and not need a pep talk. He remembered Craig. Craig always required a talking to. He hated being told what to do and could never adhere to the rules – pack or police – and look where it got him. Killed. Cooper stepped into the office.
“Close the door and take a seat.” Eli gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk.
“What’s up?” Cooper sat down and gave his boss a sheepish glance. He had a fair idea why his boss wanted to talk to him. He couldn’t help overhear the conversation between Eli and Rosemarie.
“I’m not going to have to keep an eye on you, am I?”
“What do you mean?” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“Cooper, the hostility is radiating off you. I’m sure our new deputies can feel it.”
His deputy’s frown deepened. “I’m not hostile with them. It’s… the whole situation, you know?”
“We’re all grieving. Losing the people we love hurts like hell but we have to keep our role in this community professional.”
Eli leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “Do you think you can do that?”
“Of course, Chief.” Cooper’s head bobbed.
“Good. Because I don’t want to have this conversation with you again. Got it?”
“Yep.” Cooper stood up.
“On the flip side, if you need to talk you know I’m here for you, right?
“Sure I do.” Cooper gave him a brief smile.
“Ok. Good. Taylor’s going to be your new partner. I’ll have Rick with me until he gets used to our procedures and the layout of the town and then he can work alone.”
“Can I go now?”
“Yes. But remember what I said. And do me a favor.”
“Don’t give your partner any reason to suspect what you are. Ok?”
“Ask them to gear up and I’ll give them the tour.”
“Sure.” Cooper crossed the office to the door but before opening it he turned around. “Thanks, Eli.”
“No problem. Just remember Rosemarie and I care about you. You’re not only a deputy or pack member, you’re our family.”
Cooper smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
Five minutes later, Eli stepped into reception. Rather than brief them here he thought he’d do it on the drive. Might make more sense that way. “Ok. Here’s what’s happening.” He tossed the four wheel drive keys to Rick. “You’re driving and I’ll sit passenger. Taylor, you’re in back. Once we’re on the road, I’ll show you around town and introduce you to some of the polite residents.”
“Polite residents?” Taylor gave an unsure smile.
“Yes. There are people in Moon Grove who don’t welcome newcomers so we’ll give them a wide berth for the time being.” Eli headed to the door and opened it, motioning for the pair to step outside ahead of him. Once they were on the porch he turned around and looked at Cooper and Rosemarie. “Can you hold the fort?”
“We sure can,” Rosemarie said, her eyes moving to Cooper then back to Eli. “Go. Show those young people around.”
“If anything comes up radio me or call me on my cell.”
Once the three were in the car Eli directed Rick where to go. “Do a U-turn and head back into town.”
“Call me Eli. I hate being called boss.” He didn’t actually hate it. Bobby and Rebecca used to call him boss and he couldn’t bear to hear it.
“Oh, sure, ok… Eli.” Rick flashed the indicator and turned the vehicle around. “Moon Grove is a… pretty town.” He smiled as he drove down the tree-lined main street.
“Yeah, it is. But it has its undertones.” Eli slid his sunglasses onto his nose and gazed out the passenger window.
“Undertones?” Rick chuckled. “What? A dog escaped the backyard and ran amok down town?”
“You have no idea.” Eli turned to look at his new deputy.
“Is there something we need to know, Eli?” Taylor asked between the seats.
“Not at the moment, no. You’ll be covering simple call outs for the first few weeks until you know where you’re going and what you’re doing.”
“We’ve been trained to handle anything.” Taylor frowned and folded her arms. She wanted to get into the cogs of what made Moon Grove tick.
“I get that. But there are certain things you don’t know and until you do you’ll follow my instructions. Ok?” Eli peered around the back of his seat at her. “Ok?”
Taylor’s face flushed. “Yes, sir.”
“Thank you.” He pointed to the Tribune office. “Pull into the curb.”
Eli stepped out of the vehicle. “Wait here. I won’t be long.”
Rick’s eyes met Taylor’s in the rear view mirror. “What do you make of that?”
Taylor shrugged. “Beats me. Looks like we won’t be told anything.”
“I think the sheriff’s looking out for us, being new to the town.”
“Our job is to serve and protect. How can we if he won’t let us?”
“Give it some time. It’s only our first day.”
Eli stepped into the Tribune office and Archer came up to him. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Sheriff?” He smiled.
“I wanted to let you know I have two new human deputies.”
“Ok. Thanks for the heads up.” He peered through the office window at the four wheel drive. “So you’re showing them around?”
“Yeah. I want them to get a feel for the place without knowing what goes on here.”
“And how long do you think it will last? They’re bound to come across something supernatural at some point… and then what are you going to do?” Archer folded his arms.
Eli sighed. “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Archer’s left eyebrow rose. “Probably not the best philosophy.”
“I know, but it’s the best I can do for now.”
“Tell them everything and turn them into wolves.”
“I thought we were past the last name thing.” He gave Eli a smirk.
“Yeah, yeah, we are. But I can’t do that.”
“Why not? You need wolves in the pack.”
“Be serious.” Eli frowned into the vampire’s dark eyes.
“I am being serious.”
“Where’s your brother and his friends?”
“They had to go out of town for a few days. They’ll be back.”
“Good.” He waited a beat. “I appreciate your and their help with Gregor.”
“You already said that.” Archer gave him a curious frown.
“I want you to know I’m grateful.”
“Thanks. I know.”
“Well, I’d better get going.” He headed for the door. Archer opened it for him.
“Thanks. Tell your brother and his friends to keep a low profile once they’re back.”
“I will.” The sheriff stepped out the door. “Eli?”
“Can we talk some time soon? There’s something I need to tell you.” He knew he couldn’t keep drinking Paige’s blood a secret for long. He had to tell Eli.
“Sure.” He gave the editor a questioning frown. “Everything all right?”
“Ok. Can we do it later today?”
“Yeah, sounds like a plan.”
Eli tipped the brim of his Stetson and headed back to the car.
Archer watched him climb into the Jeep and drive away before going back to his desk. If they were working together he had to be honest with Eli. He wondered how the sheriff would take his confession.
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© 2019 M. A. Anderson
Bella Luna Books, Australia
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