Authors: Afton Locke
Tags: #Black Hills Wolves
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Afton Locke
Cover art by Fiona Jayde
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Decadent Publishing Company, LLC
Look for us online at:
Black Hills Wolves Stories
What a Wolf Wants
Black Hills Desperado
Claiming His Mate
When Hell Freezes
Portrait of a Lone Wolf
Alpha in Disguise
A Wolf’s Promise
Wolf on a Leash
Tempting the Wolf
Naming His Mate
A Wolf Awakens
The Wolf and the Butterfly
Infiltrating Her Pack
Claiming the She Wolf
Worth Fighting For
This story is dedicated to the Facebook group The Wolf Pack: For Readers Who Like a Good Howl. Hanging out there is like attending a 24/7 Facebook party. These readers love wolf shifters. I ran a little contest to promote
Alpha in Disguise
and was amazed by the enthusiasm so many showed for a sequel. As a result, inspiration struck and I found the perfect heroine for Roark.
Black Hills Wolves
Wyoming, May 2012
Carrie Myers dashed out of her ranch house in the driving rain. Except for the circle of brightness from her flashlight, blackness enveloped her. Dang storm! Why did it have to be so fierce and sudden?
Even with the downpour, the strange noise she’d heard wasn’t thunder. She had to check it out, especially with so many cows close to calving time.
Never go outside without the gun, girl.
She stopped in her tracks as raindrops pelted the brim of her cowboy hat. Though Daddy had passed before Christmas, he still talked to her. Maybe she imagined it. No matter. It comforted her.
Not willing to question a spirit, she raced inside and grabbed the rifle. Panting, she ran toward the pasture, but a flicker of movement in the darkness stopped her. Then a growl pierced the drone of rain. The hairs on her nape rose to full mast.
The flashlight gyrated as she cocked the rifle. Her hands shook so hard, she almost dropped both. When she aimed the light in the direction of the sound, her stomach lurched to her throat.
Oh, Lord! A dark wolf. Big and mean-looking.
Its growl deepened. Intelligent eyes flickered green from the light she shone at it. Her heart slowed to heavy, throbbing beats as the animal crouched. Fear paralyzed her muscles. The beast was about to pounce on her, and she couldn’t move.
Shoot it, girl. Now!
Daddy’s words were all the encouragement she needed. Her eyelids involuntarily closed as she squeezed the trigger. The rifle kicked her in the shoulder, almost knocking her down into the mud.
She opened her eyes, ready to flee or fire another shot to finish it off. But she didn’t need to do either. It lay on its side, still as a stone, as blood seeped from its abdomen. Still gripping the gun, she nudged its hind end with her boot—softly and then harder. It didn’t move. The beast was dead.
Because it was no longer a threat, she realized how magnificent it looked with thick, reddish-brown fur and green eyes, still open. Its expression seemed almost human. She’d never killed such a big creature before. Nausea and sadness wrapped around her as the coppery scent of its blood pierced the rain.
She sure couldn’t leave it sitting in her yard to decompose. The smell might draw other wolves.
“What now, Daddy?” she called into the storm. “What do I do?”
Soaked to the bone, she sank to the ground and cried faster than the rain. Why did he have to die and leave her with so much responsibility? She’d never get the hang of running a whole ranch.
Get up, girl. Before you catch your death out here
. Daddy was back. Thank God. His presence gave her enough strength to stand, anyway.
Get my shovel from the shed. We’re going to bury it proper
She slapped the back of her hand across her mouth to force back the urge to vomit.
What was wrong with her? Hadn’t she helped birth a cow once? She’d even seen a carcass or two of cattle, which had sickened and died in the field. The wolf she’d shot was an animal like any other.
So numb she could barely feel her fingers, she unlocked the shed and found the shovel. Daddy told her where to dig. She labored for hours until her arms were sore enough to fall out of their sockets. Her hair, long and sodden, hung in her eyes and tangled in her mouth as she gasped deep breaths of air. Every time she pleaded to give up, her father’s spirit chided her in his gruff voice to keep going.
Luckily, the ground was soft and easy to shovel. Luck, ha. There was nothing lucky about her grisly task except for the Lucky Horseshoe Tobacco advertisement painted on the side of the barn. Daddy’s favorite brand. She imagined the aromatic scent of his pipe. He used to sit in the den and smoke while reading the paper. It sure smelled better than the sour mud coating her hands.
It’s deep enough, girl.
With a sinking belly, she stumbled over to the wolf and dragged it by the hind legs toward the fresh hole. The animal was so massive, trying to move it made her boots sink into the mud midway up her calves. When it tumbled in, the tobacco smoke intensified until it seemed she watched herself through a misty haze. Thunder grumbled and lightning flickered as if even nature disapproved of the kill.
At last, she began to cover the dead wolf in wet earth. Fresh strength returned to her limbs as she pushed and shoveled in the mud. When a flash of lightning revealed a pale hand sticking out of the grave, she gasped.
What on earth? She’d shot a wolf. Hadn’t she?
Her eyes must be fooling her. Although curiosity tempted her to brush away the mud to investigate, she tossed in more instead. Her heart pounded louder than the thunder.
Lightning flashed again, revealing a man’s face with a short beard the same color…as the wolf’s fur. She screamed and gripped both sides of her cowboy hat, wanting it to swallow her head. How in the heck? Did a human lie in the hole? If so, where had he come from? What happened to the wolf?
You’re seeing things, girl. Just keep shoveling.
“But shouldn’t I call 9-1-1 or something?” She didn’t have the stomach to dig the thing back up, but maybe someone should investigate.
And risk losing the ranch I worked so hard to build? Finish the job and don’t worry. No one will ever find that thing here
Too stunned to argue, she obeyed. After shutting off her mind, she moved her arms like machine parts, shoveling and shoveling. When the task was finally complete, she patted the top smooth, reminding her of planting the vegetable garden.
“Lord, whatever that thing is, please have mercy on its soul,” she said gazing up at the black sky.
She stood, every muscle aching and on fire. Her soaked jeans made her legs feel like they were encased in concrete. The carcass was hidden, but she’d never look this way without picturing it lying there. Wondering. Never, ever would she forget this miserable night.
On her way back to the house, the light from her flashlight reflected from something shiny on the ground. With an aching back, she stooped to get a closer look. A gold chain.… One she didn’t recognize. Her stomach jolted. Had the wolf been wearing it before she…buried it? If so, dragging him had probably pulled it off.
When she hooked it with her finger and held it up, some sort of animal claw dangled from the end of it. From a wolf or dog, if she were to guess. Despite the cold dampness around her, the chain seemed to burn into her flesh.
She glanced back at the raw ground and shuddered. Even if she possessed the strength to return it to its owner, she couldn’t stomach the task. If she threw it away in Cody, someone might find it and connect her somehow to the mysterious creature. No choice but to keep it. Shivering again, she slipped it into her jacket pocket.
As if she needed a reminder.
South Dakota, three years later
Roark Archer stood with his hands on his cocked hips, gazing at the sorriest piece of land he’d ever seen. Hills bucked up and down worse than a drunk with the heaves. Too many damn trees and rocks. Even the dirt looked poor as shit. No view. South Dakota might be fit for birds but not much else.
“You expect our pack to move to this hellhole?” he asked his cousin Lara.
Drew Tao chose that moment to walk from the SUV, a roll of papers under his arm. Roark didn’t care if he’d heard him or not.
“Keep your voice down.” She smoothed the red streak in hair as black as her cousin’s. “The Tao pack was generous to offer us land.”
He kicked at the uneven ground with his boot. “There’s got to be another way.”
“The Lamar Canyon pack is decimated,” she insisted. “Whoever stays in Yellowstone will eventually be killed off by the ranchers and hunters.”
Tell me something I don’t already know.
“I don’t want you there, either.” She gripped his arm, making the black leather squeak. “It’s not safe.”
Drew politely cleared his throat. “Ready to look at the plat?”
The dark-haired Alpha spread the papers on an old stump. While they rattled in the breeze, he indicated the land with a sweep of his arm.
“We can subdivide it for each family, but first, we need to bring everyone here. They can stay in a common area temporarily.”
Ogden, Lara’s Tao mate, grinned. “Those families will need houses. Looks like I’ll be busy at the lumber mill for a while.”
Drew smiled, too. “What else is new, right?”
Roark wrinkled his nose. The pack was more sickening than a 1950s sitcom. And he was supposed to join it like a good little boy. Pledge his life away and erase his Lamar heritage forever. How had Lara done it? She used to be Lamar’s Alpha, for fuck’s sake. One look at Ogden’s muscular arms and twinkly blue eyes answered his question. The mating call overrode everything else, even family.
“I can help organize clearing the land for homes,” Ogden said. “I can use the timber to build them.”
“And what about the pack schoolhouse?” Lara asked. “It might need to be expanded.”
“True enough. As home building progresses,” Drew added, “the Tao pack members who moved here can loan their tents and RVs to the refugees.”