Authors: V. Vaughn
Text copyright ©2016 by the Author.
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Juliet goes on a camping trip with her human girlfriends the last thing she wants to run into is a group of male wolves on the prowl for mates. She’s been acclimating herself into the human world just to avoid the cocky as all get out type of men who break her heart. But when she meets Roman her life without a true mate is about to change.
Roman is the alpha of his pack, and with pressure from all sides he’s in search of a mate who can handle the challenge of a strong leader. When he finds her in Juliet he discovers the very woman who can steal his heart and help lead a pack is also the kind who will challenge him in ways that could cost one or both of them their lives.
!” I turn toward the voice of my college roommate, Alisha, and take in her impossibly long legs and flowing salon-blond hair. Damn it. She didn’t get fat. Not that I thought she would. She’s one of those people who actually
to run and competes in marathons. I’d hate her if I didn’t love her so much.
I ignore the groan of the ancient conveyor belt as it begins to move to bring in luggage, and rush over to her. She lifts me off the ground in a huge bear hug. She’s a foot taller than I am, and I squeal, “Put me down!”
“I’ve missed you so much.” She sets me back on my feet and twirls one of my curls around her finger. “I love, love, love it! I always said you should grow out your hair.” She steps back to inspect me further. “Whew! You’re still smoking hot.”
And this is one of the reasons why Alisha, a human, was my best friend in college. No matter how down I’d get about being a curvy girl, she always thought I was sexy. She helped me get to a place where I appreciated my body.
I link my arm with hers. “I missed you too. Where’s your luggage?”
She waves her hand in dismissal. “It didn’t make the connection. The airline is going to deliver it to the RV park later.”
“Well, that sucks. You know you can borrow anything of mine that you want.”
She smiles at me. “I knew that. Thanks.”
I ask, “How long until Chelsea and Jayden get in?” Our two friends lived in the other half of our suite at Winter Valley University and are human too. As a werewolf in a pack with very few females, I was the odd one out when I couldn’t find a mate—a fact that is apparent every day now that we’ve graduated and my girlfriends have moved to other places.
“They should be here in about an hour,” she says. The four of us are going on a camping trip in Blue Creek. While I would have preferred a beach vacation, Alisha is getting her masters in elementary education and has limited funds. The wheels of my bag rumble behind us as we approach the waiting area. She proposed a bare-bones vacation, but I put my foot down at the tent and carrying everything on our backs. I can’t imagine sleeping in the woods in human form, and my friends don’t know what I really am. So we’re renting an RV instead.
“Good,” I say. “We can go get a coffee while we wait.”
We find a place that has every version of caffeine one could want, and we get in line. Alisha is going on about the kids in her class when a familiar scent makes my stomach sink.
When we hear their laughter, it doesn’t take more than a second for Alisha to stop talking and turn to gawk at them.
“Holy hotness at one o’clock,” she says.
She whispered, but with their acute hearing I have no doubt they heard her. Besides which, the four of them look our way when I glance over.
This isn’t how I want to start my get-away-from-it-all vacation.
I sigh, and Alisha says, “Yeah. They’re not your type. Big, muscular, and cocky as all get out.” She chuckles because she’s right. I swore off my kind and searched out quiet, nerdy human males when we were in school, while Alisha lusted after the werewolves that would only date casually unless she was a mate. Fortunately, plenty of human men are just as obnoxious as werewolves, and she ended up with a football-player boyfriend instead.
“But they’re your type. We can sit at the table next to them.” I’m not being as generous a friend as I appear. I’m interested in why these guys are in a small-town airport and where they might be headed. I might even get an idea of the local packs and make sure we aren’t headed toward trouble. Being in an RV park will keep us safe at night, but if we go hiking like the girls plan, I don’t want to invite danger with my scent.
A girl takes my order, and a marker scratches the she writes my name on a paper cup before she hands it to a man who is making the drinks. Alisha ordered before me, and she says, “Grab my coffee? I’ll go save our table.”
I grin at her because I know what she really wants is to make sure nobody steals the spot next to the hot guys. “Of course,” I say. I watch her walk over, and before she sits, she manages to strike up a conversation with them. At least I’ll get the cliff-notes version of what they’re up to by the time I join her.
Alisha’s drink comes up quickly, and since mine is a fancier one that I expect will take forever, I carry the coffee over to her. When I hand it to my giggling friend, the drink maker calls out, “Juliet!”
“Whoa.” A guy with hair to his shoulders hits the one who’s wearing glasses. “Romeo, did you hear that?”
I roll my eyes because the star-crossed-lover joke is way overdone when your name is Juliet. Romeo looks uncomfortable, too, as his nostrils flare. I go get my drink, and when I come back, Alisha says, “These guys all work together and are here on vacation too.” She points at each one. “Dean, Byron, Alex, and Roman, but they call him Romeo.”
Something about Roman intrigues me, and I take a moment to look at him. He’s not the usual kind of attractive. His nose is crooked as if it’s been broken, and his eyes are the kind of intense that’s scary. The expression on his face isn’t helping, either. He’s sitting next to Alisha at his table and scowling. But I’m drawn to him anyway. He’s just as built as the other guys, but his shirt is looser, and I think he might be less of a jerk. I notice a muscle along his jaw actually jumps as he glares at me, and it makes me wonder why he’s pissed off. When his nostrils flare this time, I react by doing the same. And that’s when I get it. The heavy odor of their combined testosterone floods my senses, and my stupid wolf snaps to attention. I grab my coffee and take a big swig to tamp down my primal urges before they all smell them. The hot liquid scalds my tongue, and I grimace. These guys are on the prowl, and I think Roman isn’t happy his friends are flirting with a human.
Alisha continues talking. “They’re camping close to where we are staying, so I invited them to come join us one night.”
I cover my mouth to keep from spewing out my second sip of coffee. “You did?”
Maybe that’s why Roman is mad. Not all werewolves enjoy human female company, and I bet he’s one of them. I say, “I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on,” says Alisha. “They’re all single. We’re all single.” She shrugs as she smiles at the guys. “You never know what might happen.”
That’s what I’m worried about. I glance at the guys and hope they get my hint. “Alisha, we don’t know anything about them. We’re all just
school teachers, and what are they?”
“Firefighters.” Alisha sits back and crosses her arms in satisfaction.
I want to groan, because there’s no way I’m going to keep Chelsea and Jayden away from these guys now. I’m also suspicious because the story sure sounds like a line to me. I glance at Roman again, and his gaze flits quickly back up my body as if he’s trying to hide that he just checked me out.
“Really.” I squint in doubt. “Who’s putting out the fires in your town now?”
“There are a lot of us,” says Alex as he smirks at me.
Now I cross my arms too. “I’ll bet.” My chair scrapes as I push it back with the intention of getting up to find a cookie or something so I can get away from the intoxicating musky odor, but in my rush, I manage to hook a chair leg around the table and jostle it enough to make our coffees tip over.
I move quickly to grab them before they spill too much, and Roman reaches to do the same. Our heads nearly touch, and he’s faster than me, but when he grabs the cups, hot liquid splashes on him. He pulls back as if it hurt, and I notice his hands are trembling.
Alisha says, “Oh my gosh!” She gives him a napkin. “Did that burn you?”
“No.” He glances at me as he says, “I’m fine.”
Alisha says, “Thanks for saving our coffee.” She touches his arm. “Do you guys ever get hurt?”
Roman’s face lights up before he turns toward her and says, “We’re good at our jobs, and if we do get hurt, it’s worth it to save a life.”
Oh my God.
What a guy won’t do to impress a pretty blonde. I guess he is into humans after all. My raging hormones are messing with me, because my wolf wishes Roman were impressed with me instead. I breathe through my mouth to help block the odor that’s making me crazy and try to make the nerdy look of Roman lose its appeal. Fortunately, I’m saved by the ding of a text.
I glance down and read it before I say, “Looks like we need to go. Jayden and Chelsea are here.”
When we stand, Alisha says, “You know where we’ll be staying.” She waves her fingers at them as I tug my bag behind me. “See you soon.” I don’t bother to watch the four guys drool as she walks away, and I wonder how I can get out of a night around the campfire with four horny werewolves.
the bossy one in our group even though we don’t let her make all the decisions, so while I booked the RV, I decided to let her drive. Jayden called shotgun and got the passenger seat, while Alisha and I made ourselves comfortable in the back. I think we made out with that deal because we’re on couches, and I lean back on the soft cushion as I gaze out the window. We’re far enough south of Winter Valley that the rhododendrons are in bloom, and the bright splashes of magenta flowers catch my eye. Our first stop is for supplies, and we load up on food for the week and plenty of alcohol. My soda can fizzes when I pop it open and take a sip.
Alisha says, “I sure hope they manage to get my luggage to me tonight. I’ve got nothing I need.” Even though she bought the necessary toiletries, she’s the girl scout of our group, and it’s bothering her that she’s not prepared.
I say, “You know we’ll all lend you anything you want.” I reach over and touch her arm as if I can take away her distress. “Relax.”
“Thanks. I know I need to let it go.” She sighs, “I’m trying.”
“Hey, want a beer?” I ask.
Jayden calls out from up front. “That’s it. Get her drunk, and then she won’t care.” She swings around to face us and tucks a strand of her thick brown hair behind her ear. “Grab me one too.”
“Hey, no open containers, ladies,” says Chelsea.
“Oh, please,” says Alisha. “Put it in a plastic cup, and nobody will ever know.”
“Fine,” says Chelsea as she moves the RV smoothly onto the off ramp of the highway. “But I know nothing.”
“Never did. Never will,” says Jayden, and Chelsea holds up her middle finger as we chuckle.
Metal caps clink on the small countertop as I open the bottles and hand one to Jayden. She says, “Tell me more about the firefighters.”
“There’s not much else to say. They’re definitely hot and claim to be single. What else do you need to know?”
“I get the feeling you don’t trust them.” She swallows a mouthful of beer. “Why?”
I shrug. “It’s not that I don’t trust them. But we hardly know these guys, and I want to make sure we’re safe.”
When I hand Alisha her drink, she says, “We’ll grill, have a few of our
drinks, and that’s it. Nobody goes off into the woods with some guy all alone. Promise.”
“Then what’s the point?” Chelsea chuckles.
Alisha says, “I forgot to tell you the best part. One of the guys is named Romeo, and he’s Juliet’s type. Broody, glasses, and he’s got a killer smile.”
“Roman,” I say, “And he wanted nothing to do with a Juliet. He was all about the Alisha.”
“No way,” Alisha says. “He was trying to make you jealous.”
I scowl. “Why do you say that?”
“You practically growled at him when he checked you out, so he tried another way to get your attention.”
“My God, boys are stupid,” says Jayden.
I shake my head. Roman might not have been happy that I wasn’t impressed by him, but it wasn’t because he was into me. I think he flirted with Alisha to make sure I knew he didn’t like me.
Alisha grins. “Not all of them. Just my favorite kind.”
Chelsea glances at us in the rearview mirror. “You know, one day you’re going to be ready to settle down and fall for a guy like Roman.”
“I probably will.” Alisha sips her beer and looks at me. “Maybe you’ve had it right all along. Perhaps I should work on Roman. He is the perfect mix of hotness with brains on the side.”
I ask, “How could you tell he was smart?”
“He was reading the menu when I started talking to them, and it didn’t even have pictures.” We all laugh with her, but even though I’ve sworn off werewolves, mating, and having a family, the image of Roman’s smile floods my mind. I’m being foolish, and I know better. If I were supposed to have a mate, it would have happened already.
We pull into the RV park a few minutes later, and we all get out so I can check us in. I approach the office and inhale the sweet scent of honeysuckle as the others go peruse the gift shop to buy firewood and any trinkets they decide we must have. When I get inside, I detect another scent right away, and the guy behind the counter squints at me as if he’s recognized me as a werewolf too. He asks, “Here for the ceremony?”
“I’m here with my friends from college.” I mouth, “Human.”
He nods. “Stay away from Chimney Peak if you decide to hike.”
I’m dying to ask what the ceremony is, but I think I know, and it hits me what an idiot I’ve been. My pack is isolated up north, and we don’t interact with other clans. Since we spend time with each other throughout the year, we don’t have a need for a scenting ceremony to find mates from other packs. But it’s common around here, and I bet that’s what Roman and his friends came for. Before I can ask about it, another couple enters the office, and I immediately recognize them as human. The paper parking pass is smooth in my hand when I take it and thank the clerk.
When I catch up to my friends, I discover they bought firewood, strands of tiny lights to adorn our campsite, and T-shirts with the park logo to commemorate the trip. Chelsea drives us toward our spot. Alisha says, “Look at that!”
We pass a site with a wooden covered wagon painted in bright colors. An array of more clothing that seems to match sways in the breeze as it hands from a line. Jayden announces, “It’s a fortune-teller.”
“Oh, cool,” says Alisha. “We’ll have to go.”
Chelsea parks in a location next to the woodlands, and I notice a sign near a path into the forest. “We’re right next to the hiking trail,” I say. The familiar scent of the rich earth that wafts through the RV’s vents is a pleasant scent for my wolf nose.
“Nice,” says Alisha. “I’ll use that path for a run tomorrow.”
I remember the warning from the clerk. “When I checked in, I was told not to take the trail to Chimney Peak, so stay away.”
“Why?” asks Jayden.
I shrug. “I’m not sure. But I don’t think I want to find out the hard way.”
“Gotcha,” says Alisha. “Now who else is going to see the fortune-teller with me?”
“Uh-uh,” says Chelsea. “Those women freak me out.”
Jayden says, “No thanks, I’ll stay here with Chelsea. Maybe later.”
I sigh because I’m not sure I want to hear about how I’m going to be a strong single woman and all that crap they tell me that’s supposed to make me feel better about being mateless. But I know Alisha really wants to go, so I say, “I’ll go with you.”
Our feet tap lightly over the dirt as we make our way down the road. I ask Alisha, “What do you want to find out?”
“The usual—when I’ll find love. What about you?”
“I want the winning lottery-ticket number.”
Alisha smacks my arm. “I think you should ask about love too. The last time we did this, she said you weren’t ready to know.”
I’d forgotten about that, and I shrug. “Fine. I’ll ask about when I’m going to find love too.”
When we get close to the gypsy wagon, a woman with wavy hair almost down to her knees is standing with her hands clasped in front of her as if she’s waiting for us. She’s in a peasant skirt and blouse that look as if they could use a good washing, and the odor coming from her accosts my strong sense of smell as I fight the urge to vomit. The authentic witches have a different idea of hygiene, but at least I know they tell the truth.
“Come,” says the woman. She leads us behind her wagon to where a simple fire is burning. A large pot with it’s contents bubbling is on the grate.
Alisha says, “We both want to know about our love lives.”
The woman stares at Alisha and puts out her hand. I say, “I’ve got it.”
I reach into my pocket, but the old woman says, “No. I don’t take
money.” She gives Alisha the once-over. “I’ll do both for free.”
Alisha glances at me, and I shrug because I’m not about to tell her the witch probably knows I’m a werewolf.
“Okay,” says my friend.
The gypsy grabs Alisha’s hand, and the old woman’s head tilts back as she closes her eyes. She snaps her head back down as her eyes pop open. “He’s good for now. Get a calculator.”
Alisha gasps. “Logan?”
The woman rolls her eyes as if Alisha asked a stupid question and turns to me. She takes both of my hands, and her bony fingers squeeze hard enough to hurt. “Juliet. You have a Romeo.” She drops my hands, reaches into the pocket of her skirt, and pulls out a small bottle of clear glass that appears to contain an amber liquid. The woman presses it into my palm. “You will need this.”
I recall the story of Romeo and Juliet and how she took a potion to appear dead to get out of an arranged marriage to someone other than her true love. But when Romeo found her, he thought she really was dead and killed himself, which caused Juliet to kill herself too when she awoke. I ask, “Am I supposed to drink this?”
The woman shakes her head. “It will save him.”
“Who is he?”
Now she rolls her eyes at me as if I’m supposed to know. She shoos us away with her hand. “Free time is over.”
I frown as I try to sort out what I just heard. Once we’re far enough away, Alisha whispers, “I think she was right about me, but what she told you was strange.”
I gaze down at the tiny bottle in my hand. I’m tempted to pitch it into the garbage, because for all I know, the witch was testing me. A tiny shiver runs down my spine and it makes me stick the vessel in my pocket instead. “I know. Does she expect to me to carry the potion around until I bump into my dying Romeo?”
“Maybe she’s talking about Roman.”
I snort. “Right.”
“You never know… she did know your name without being told.” says Alisha.
I shake off the feeling that the gypsy might have been right after all and place my hand on my pocket to make sure the bottle didn’t magically disappear.
When we get back, I take on the task of building the fire so we have nice coals to cook over later. The logs clunk together as I drop them in the pit, and I squat down to arrange them better.
A faint howl sounds in the distance, and I glance at my friends to see if they heard it. Alisha and Chelsea are arguing about how best to hang the lights, and I decide they couldn’t detect it with their human ears. But my wolf heard it loud and clear, and my primal side is trembling with the possibility of finding a mate.
Is my Romeo out there?
I sigh because this isn’t going to go well for me either way. I gave up on the idea of a mate a couple years ago, and I’m not about to sneak off to a scenting ceremony and get my hopes squashed like a bug one more time. And even if I did, how would I explain it to my friends? Either way, my wolf is going to make my human miserable. She’s got a one-track mind and doesn’t care if another wolf will break my heart when his true mate comes along.
I grab the newspaper Alisha bought with the sole purpose of using it to start the fire. The inky paper crumples, and it’s a hard ball before I realize what I’ve done. I loosen it up a bit before I shove it under the wood, and the sulfur of a match tickles my nose as I strike it. I may need to drink heavily tonight in an attempt to dull my senses. Once I’m sure the fire will stay lit, I get up to find the vodka.
The aroma of something cooking in butter with garlic follows Jayden as she emerges from the RV, and both lighten my mood. She holds plates full of cheese, fruit, and crackers, and I grab some food as I pass by her to go make a strong drink. When I’m inside, I also mix a weak one for Chelsea and grab two more beers for the other girls before I go back outside.
I enter the tail end of a conversation, and Chelsea says to me, “Alisha got a text from Alex. The guys are coming for dinner tomorrow night and bringing steaks.”
My skin tingles with excitement before I convince myself it’s really dread. I say, “Sounds fun,” and stick my hand in my pocket. The potion is warm in my hand as I grasp it and wonder who my Romeo might be.