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Authors: Kerrelyn Sparks

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BOOK: Wild About You
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Phil leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “So Rhett killed your girlfriend?”

“It was a long time ago,” Howard replied quickly to stop Phil’s fishing for more information. “Hand me one of those beers. We should be celebrating. Two of Rhett’s houses have been destroyed, and now we’ve done serious damage to his finances and political power.”

“Congratulations.” Phil passed him a cold bottle. “What’s your next move?”

Howard twisted off the top. “Rhett’s planning to run for governor, so we’ll ruin his reputation.” He took a sip. “It won’t be that hard, actually. We’ll just tell the truth about his shady financial deals. I e-mailed the proof to Harry, so he can leak it anonymously to the newspaper.”

With a sigh, Walter opened another bottle of beer. “This is a dangerous game you’re playing.”

“We’re covering our tracks,” Howard assured him. “Rhett won’t be able to prove that we’ve done anything.”

“He doesn’t need proof, son. His family has always been ruthless. They hurt innocent people all the time.”

Howard’s heart stilled in his chest for a few seconds. Had he made an error in his strategy? He’d assumed Rhett would react logically, searching for proof before he retaliated. But what if he flew into a rage and attacked the were-bear community? “Rhett has so many enemies. I thought you would be safe as long as he had no proof.”

Walter regarded him sadly. “All he has to do is think about who hates him the most, and he’ll know it was you.”

Howard closed his eyes briefly.
. He’d let his hunger for revenge consume him to the point that he’d blindly assumed he could protect his people.

“You think Rhett will attack these islands?” Phil asked.

“It’s possible.” Howard slumped into the easy chair next to his grandfather. “I’m sorry, Grandpa.”

Walter shrugged. “I thought about stopping you, but I’m tired of catering to those bastards.” He drank some beer. “What the hell, Rhett can come here if he wants. I’ve got a shotgun with his name on it.”

Howard frowned. “They outnumber us.”

“Let them try something,” Walter growled. “We’re on a damned island. If they try to land a boat here, we’ll blast them out of the water.”

Howard nodded. “You’re in a good defensive position. Post guards around the island, and make sure no one lands without your approval.” He groaned, thinking about all the innocent were-bears in the community. “I shouldn’t have done this.”

Walter grunted and drank more beer. “We should have done this twenty years ago when Rhett’s father threatened to annihilate us.”

“What exactly happened twenty years ago?” Phil asked.

“Nothing,” Howard said quickly.

“Nothing? We thought you’d killed Rhett.” Walter turned to Phil. “The only way I could stop Rhett’s father from attacking us was to banish my own grandson.” He shook his head, frowning. “I shouldn’t have agreed to it. It wasn’t fair to you.”

“You did the right thing.” Howard patted his grandfather’s arm. “You had the whole community here to protect. You couldn’t put them at risk because of something I had done.”

“Rhett deserved to die,” Walter grumbled. “When I think about what he did to that poor girl—”

“It’s over and done with,” Howard interrupted, letting his grandfather know he didn’t want to discuss Carly.

Walter finished his beer, then clunked the empty bottle on the side table. “It’s not your fault, Howard. It’s that damned curse.”

Howard groaned. Not that again. Whenever his grandfather had too much to drink, he blathered on and on about a stupid curse.

“There’s a curse?” Phil asked.

“Don’t get him started,” Howard warned him. “It’s a load of crap.”

“It’s our history!” Walter gave him an indignant look. “Are you calling our history crap?”

“The curse is crap,” Howard muttered. “It’s a cowardly way to dodge accountability. If the werewolves attack us because of the game I’m playing, then I take full responsibility.”

Walter shook his head. “Our race has been dying out for generations. And we roamed the earth, suffering, for a thousand years. All because of the curse.”

“It sounds interesting,” Phil said.

“Oh, it is,” Walter agreed, his eyes lighting up. “It starts with the legend of how we came to be. Pass me another beer, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

With a groan, Howard leaned his head back on the seat cushion and stared at the ceiling. He’d heard this story four times in the last month and about a thousand times in his youth. “It’s a stupid fairy tale.”

Walter huffed as he opened another beer bottle. “There aren’t any damned fairies in our legend. We’re descended from fierce warriors.”

“Fine,” Howard grumbled. “But do us a favor and tell us the abridged version.”

“There is no abridged version—”

“Oh yeah?” Howard interrupted, sitting up. “We had a magical guardian who created us with some weird hocus-pocus, and then the jerk betrayed us. End of story.”

“It’s not the end until we find our guardian and get her to lift the curse,” Walter insisted.

“Her?” Phil asked. “Your guardian is female?”

Howard snorted. “She’s nonexistent.”

“They were real. The guardians are real.” Walter gulped down some beer and wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “All right. Once upon a time—”

“Told you it was a fairy tale,” Howard mumbled.

Walter glared at him. “Once upon a damned time, there were three magical sisters. Guardians, we called them, for they guarded our village in Norway. The oldest was the Guardian of the Sea, ’cause she could talk to the creatures of the sea. The middle one was the Guardian of the Forest, and she talked to the woodland creatures. The youngest, the Guardian of the Sky, spoke to birds.”

Phil nodded. “Cool.”

“Eagles would warn the youngest sister if an enemy was coming over the mountain,” Walter continued. “And the birds of prey would attack them, scaring them away. If the enemy came by sea, the seals would warn the oldest sister. Then she would ask the whales to capsize the boats. Over the years, the village flourished, the three sisters had daughters who inherited their powers, and all was well for many generations.”

“Till they all died of boredom,” Howard grumbled.

“That’s not how it goes, and you know it.” Walter scowled at him.

Howard stood and ambled toward his bedroom. “I’m going to see if Harry got my e-mail.”

“You’ll miss the best part,” Walter called after him.

With a snort, Howard shut his bedroom door. The last thing he wanted to hear was how some magical Guardian of the Forest had created a bunch of berserkers. He wasn’t sure how his ancestors had come into being, but it had happened over a thousand years ago, so as far as he was concerned, it no longer mattered. He called Harry, and they discussed their strategy for ruining Rhett’s reputation.

Thirty minutes later, he returned to the family room.

Phil looked up from the couch, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “You never told me you’re a berserker.”

Howard arched an eyebrow at him. “Do I look crazy to you?” When Phil grinned, he muttered, “Don’t answer that.”

Walter motioned toward the werewolf. “Phil agrees with me that if we find our guardian, we could convince her to lift the curse.”

Howard scoffed. “There is no curse. And there’s no guardian.”

Walter scowled at him. “How can you deny your own heritage?”

“I don’t deny being a were-bear. Or the descendant of a berserker,” Howard replied. “But the curse is crap. We’re responsible for our own decisions in life. And I seriously doubt the guardians ever existed. If we did have one, she betrayed us, so good riddance.”

“There could still be guardians out there,” Walter insisted. “There were three sisters, and they had daughters.”

Phil nodded. “It makes sense. If your line survived, then their line could have survived, too.”

Howard gave him an incredulous look. “Are you actually buying into this nonsense?”

Phil shrugged. “I know it’s bizarre, but my ancestors have a weird history, too. We were created by some Celtic wizards in ancient Wales. If my story is true, why wouldn’t there be some truth to your grandfather’s story?”

“Exactly.” Walter finished his beer and set the bottle down with a clunk. “So all we have to do is find our guardian.”

Howard snorted. “Fine. I’ll put an ad on Craigslist. Wanted: single female willing to be guardian to a pack of grizzly were-bears. Warning: former guardian murdered on the job. Yeah, that’ll work.”

Phil chuckled. “Even if some lady was crazy enough to respond, how would you know if she was an actual guardian?”

Howard shrugged. “Who knows? It’s a load of crap.”

“You would know,” Walter said quietly.

“How?” Howard asked.

Walter paused for a moment, considering. “I’m not sure. But somehow, you would know.”

Howard gave him a wry look. “I’m not looking for an imaginary woman.”

“How about a real one?” his mother said from the doorway, her eyes sparkling with humor. “But first, come and eat your supper.”

After their late supper, Howard went back to his room to check his e-mail. Angus had sent a message, demanding that he and Phil return to New York immediately. The mission in Mexico wasn’t faring well, so Angus and Emma needed to go there and help out. That would leave Romatech and the school without security. Howard and Phil were supposed to report to the school by tomorrow night no later than ten o’clock.

Howard paced about his room, considering his options. The guys in Mexico were his friends. He couldn’t remain here if it jeopardized their mission. He also harbored strong protective instincts toward Tino and Sofia. He couldn’t leave them and the other children at the academy unguarded. And then there was the Payback game he was playing. The shit was about to hit Rhett’s fan, and it might be better if he was far away when it happened. That way, Rhett might think one of his other enemies was responsible.

A few hours later, Dougal came up from the basement, a bottle of synthetic blood clutched in his mechanical hand.

“Angus left an urgent message on my phone.” He looked at Howard and Phil. “I have to teleport ye back tonight.”

Howard nodded. He’d already said his good-byes to his mother and grandfather. As long as he had his laptop with him, he could continue the game against Rhett.

“I understand.” He swung his packed duffel bag over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Five

ark and creepy
. Elsa Bjornberg eyed the forest that hugged the winding two-lane road. For the last hour that she’d been driving, the forest had been getting thicker. Darker. Creepier.

A shiver crept down her spine. “This house is in the middle of nowhere.”

Alastair’s only response was a light snore. Jet lag had caught up with him, and he’d fallen asleep two hours ago. Still, she was glad he was there in the passenger seat and she wasn’t alone. In a dark, creepy forest.

For the hundredth time, she glanced at the GPS that came with the rental car. It claimed she was right on target. Then why was she feeling so uneasy?

Another shiver skittered across her skin, raising the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. She turned on the heat. Ever since they’d entered the forest, she’d become increasingly on edge. Her nerves tingled, as if she expected something to happen around the next bend.

She glanced in the rearview mirror and gasped when a shadowy form moved across the road. Her heart lurched, then settled back down as she realized it was just a deer. Thank God it had jumped onto the road behind the car and not in front.

With a tightened grip on the steering wheel, she glanced again at the rearview mirror. What the hell? There was a whole herd of deer in the road. Looking at her.

Her heart thudded in her chest. Too much caffeine. That had to be it. She glanced at the huge cup of coffee in the cup holder. She’d gulped it down to make sure she stayed awake.

It had been a horribly long day, starting with their flight from London to New York City, a train ride to White Plains, and then a rental car for the trip to the foothills of the Adirondacks. They should have spent the night in Albany. They were both exhausted, but for some strange reason, the owner of the house had insisted on meeting them at ten o’clock tonight, so they had pressed on to make the appointment.

She’d felt fine for the first part of the drive. She loved to travel and see new places, and the Hudson Valley had been lovely. But then the sun had set, and they’d left the main road to enter a forest that seemed endless. She hadn’t passed another car in over an hour.

The road curved back and forth around the foothills, like a dark ribbon that had caught her and was pulling her deeper and deeper into the forest. Definitely dark and creepy, but oddly enough, she felt more excited than afraid. She felt . . . compelled.

She drove up a steep hill, cresting it just as the nearly full moon emerged from clouds. Moonbeams shot out, illuminating the forest before her as if an artist had painted the treetops with luminous silver. Her breath caught, and her foot lifted off the accelerator. For just a second, it felt as if time stretched out, as endless and ancient as the woods.

It was beautiful. More than beautiful. It was . . .

She shook her head. Sleep deprivation was making her imagine things. She’d never lived in a dark and creepy forest. She’d always been a city girl.

Alastair stirred in the passenger seat. “Sorry, luv. Didn’t mean to conk out on you.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “It’s bloody hot in here.”

“Sorry.” She turned off the heat. “The forest was giving me the willies.”

He peered out the side window. “Blimey. Where the hell are we?”

Elsa smiled to herself. Whenever Alastair was half asleep his Cockney accent slipped through. But as he became more awake, he sounded increasingly like Mr. Darcy. “The town of Cranville should be coming up soon. Then it’s another ten miles to the house.”

“Excellent.” Alastair stretched. “Perhaps the town will have an inn.”

“You know, it might be hard to get supplies out here in the middle of nowhere.”

BOOK: Wild About You
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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