Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash) (2 page)

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
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“Come on, Sara,” she said and went up the stairs two at a time.

She heard Sara coming up behind her, and then the
snick
of shutters closing downstairs. “Hey, you take the window in your room. Keep watch for anyone coming up behind the house. Don’t shoot unless Marc gives the word. I’ll keep watch out front from my window.”

“Okay.”

With the bedroom doors open, Mel could see Sara as she ran into the room directly across the hall. The teenager took a stance beside the window, angling her body to look through the gap in the heavy curtain, the rifle butt on the floor, its barrel held loosely in one hand. Mel liked that about Sara. She could whine and put up a fuss like a spoiled two-year-old, but when shit hit the fan, she was calm.

Mel didn’t feel calm. As she leaned against the wall beside her window, her heart beat in her throat so hard she could count her pulse by it. She stared out the window, forcing herself to focus on the ranch yard and the rolling hills beyond. They were bare except for the dried yellow grass that moved in the hot summer breeze. A shadow bobbed on the crest of the hill to her left. A rider? A movement close-by caught her attention, and she saw her oldest brother Marc run around the house to leap up the front steps. The front door opened and slammed shut, and then the solid
thunk
of the bar settling into the brackets on the door drew a relieved sigh from her.

“Mel?” he yelled.

“Yeah,” she yelled back. “Snake said Mike and Mord are still out with the cattle. Me and Sara are upstairs. Sara’s watching the back, and I’m in my room keeping an eye out front. I just saw a rider coming up the hill to the west. There he is again, and there’s another rider behind him.”

“Sara?” Marc called. “You see anyone out back?”

“I haven’t seen anyone yet,” the girl shouted.

“Keep your eyes open. Let me know if you see anyone else. These two riding up to the front door might be trying to distract us from anyone else sneaking up the back.”

“You got it.”

Mel waited by the window, searching the empty landscape for more riders. The two rode under the arched entry in the broken fence. She watched their hands, noting they held them in plain sight, nowhere near the pistols in their belts or the rifles sheathed on their saddles. Smart. They knew they were sitting ducks for a gunman in the house. She lifted her rifle to have it ready in case of trouble.

“See anyone out back, Sara?” she called in a low voice.

“Nope.”

Okay, maybe it was just a neighborly call. Mel twisted her lips in a sour smile. Neighborly, like hell. The Fosses wanted her dead. She killed their big brother to save herself, not because she was a stone cold killer, but they didn’t care about that. Just the memory of that night twisted her guts with horror. She’d never forget the look of surprised rage on his face draining away to blankness as he died. Some nights she lived through it all over again in her dreams. The nightmares often ended with the remaining Fosses attacking the ranch and killing her brothers. She couldn’t regret saving herself, but it would have been so much better if she never married Rob. Then the Dirks and the Fosses would have stayed nothing but friendly neighbors.

The dogs Marc kept to warn them of strangers approaching barked in a frenzy of canine wrath. She recognized the riders as they came closer. Sam and Curt Fosse were the two oldest in the family since Rob’s death last winter. Did they know their brothers Jim, Randy, and Dave were dead too? A new memory flashed through her mind. Blood splashed over a hotel room floor. Chunks of meat still wearing shredded jeans. A feral wolf crouched in front of her, teeth gleaming like ivory in a snarling muzzle covered in dripping blood. Snake shimmering from blood-smeared wolf to blood-smeared man.

“No,” she muttered, free hand clenching the butt of her pistol. “Forget that. Focus, Mel.”

When the Fosses got to the edge of the yard, Marc yelled, “That’s far enough. What do you want?”

“Just passing by,” Sam shouted back, tipping the brim of his hat back to show a white smile. All the Fosses were handsome devils, Mel reflected. She married Rob not only because his ranch was doing well but also because of his devilish good looks. “No need for those boys in the bunkhouse to keep their guns pointed at us.”

Marc might have grunted, but didn’t answer in words. Mel could imagine the hard set of his mouth.

After a minute, Sam went on. “Heard your sister went off a week ago to Ellsworth to be a prize for a Bride Fight.”

“That’s right.” Marc’s tone was cold and flat, but it didn’t discourage Sam.

“So, who won her?”

“How would I know? Haven’t gotten a letter yet. Hell, the fight might not even have taken place yet.”

Mel smiled, even with the memory of the grisly ending of her third, very brief, marriage lingering in her mind. Not exactly a lie. She did go to the Bride Fight and was won by Jim Fosse, but she hadn’t sent a letter. Not, she snorted to herself, that Marc had a problem with twisting the truth. He could say anything with a bland, blank face, and no one would know he was lying.

Sam’s face lifted to stare up at her window. Mel stood utterly still, knowing she couldn’t be seen where she was. After a minute he looked back to the front of the house. “You had visitors last night. Indians. They had some white women with them, I heard.”

“You hear a lot.”

Sam laughed. “Sure. Folks like to talk to me. So who were they?”

“Just travelers, passing through. We sold them some supplies, and they left this morning.”

“Were the women young? Pretty?”

Marc declined to answer. Silence stretched. Mel moved slowly and carefully to wipe away the sweat gathering on her upper lip. It wasn’t nerves that made her sweat, she assured herself. The bedroom was sweltering in the humid July afternoon. She kept her gaze sweeping over the distant hills, looking for any threat, but checked Curt and Sam frequently. They sat quietly in their saddles, twenty-five yards from the house. If they thought they could force Marc to speak, they were in for a surprise. Her big brother was a champion at keeping his mouth shut. Finally, Sam gave up and spoke again.

“Mind if we fill our canteens?”

“Yeah, I do. It ain’t but a three hour ride home for you. You won’t die of thirst before then. You oughta get going.”

Mel caught the corner of Sam’s mouth tightening below the wide brim of his hat. “This ranch used to have a reputation for hospitality.”

“The Flying D is plenty hospitable. Any of our friends and family would be welcome to come in out of the sun and have a drink.”

Sam’s horse shied at his sharp jerk on the reins. “Not exactly neighborly. In fact, that sounds downright rude.”

“Yeah,” Marc drawled. “I get that way with folks who threaten to burn me out, kill my brothers, and rape my sister.”

Curt made a sudden move of his hand. Mel raised her rifle, watching him, but he settled down. “Look, Marc,” he said. “That was right after Melissa shot Rob. We were all pretty hot then, and maybe we said some things we shouldn’t have. It’s water under the bridge now.”

Really?
Mel silently scoffed. Being won by Jim in the Bride Fight and taken off to a hotel to be raped and murdered by three Fosse brothers didn’t sound like water under the bridge to her. Once the three remaining Fosse brothers realized Jim, Randy, and Dave were killed by Snake, they would come hunting him.
Unless they already know?
She considered that. How could they? No, this was a fishing expedition. They wanted to find out what Marc knew, but he wasn’t giving them anything.

“Better get going,” Marc suggested, “if you want to get home before supper.”

Sam and Curt sat silent in their saddles. Another bead of sweat gathered on Mel’s upper lip, trembling with its own weight. It broke and rolled over her lip in a salty slide.

Sam raised one hand and tapped a spur into his horse’s flank. “We’ll be going then. See you around, Marc.”

Mel finally wiped the sweat from her lips. She kept her gaze moving over the hills instead of staring at them as they rode slowly up the road and under the arch in the fence, but she saw the two gray wolves slink through the grass behind them. She wiped sweat away again and felt the knot of worry in her chest unkink a tiny bit. Snake and Stone would follow the Fosses and make sure they didn’t double back.

“With the Wolfe boys out there, I think we’re safe from an ambush, but keep watch another fifteen minutes anyway,” Marc called.

Sara called back, “I see Mordecai and Michael out back. They’re half a mile off, and they’re walking their horses in real slow.”

Mel eased a careful breath out. Thank God, all her brothers were safe. For now. She didn’t know what would happen when the Fosses found out more of their brothers were dead, but it wouldn’t be good for the Dirks.

* * * *

Snake wasn’t sure which he liked more, the rich taste of the stew his mate made or the feel of her thigh pressed against his under the supper table. The stew was good, but the warmth of Mel’s thigh made his thoughts turn to other appetites. Last night was their wedding night, and he spent it on the floor of her bedroom, stretched out in front of the door. Tonight, he decided, he wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor. Here, at the supper table with her three brothers present, wasn’t the time or place to share that decision, but after supper he would tell her. He couldn’t wait to find out what her reaction would be.

At the head of the table, Marcus Dirk, the eldest of his brothers-in-law, swiped up the last of the gravy in his bowl with a chunk of bread. Snake judged his age to be around thirty. His short brown hair showed no gray, and his lean sun-browned face showed no wrinkles, but neither did it have the softness of youth. He nodded to Sara, sitting with Stone on the other side of the table from Snake. “That’s good bread.”

Sara flushed becomingly. “Thanks. It’s about the only thing I make that’s really good. My dad always ate whatever I fed him, but he always said the bread was his favorite.”

Stone raised a hand to tug a lock of his new bride’s wavy golden-brown hair. “It was good bread. You’ll have to show us how you make it when we get back to the den.”

Her brown eyes narrowed, and Snake braced for an explosion, but she only jerked her head aside to free her hair. Stone hid his hurt behind an expressionless face, but Snake could feel his younger cousin’s yearning to love his mate and the pain her rejection caused. He cast a sidelong glance at his own mate. Lust and mating were powerful urges, so tangled with snarled emotions that sometimes he felt like he would lose control of his wolf.

Marc pushed his bowl away and leaned back in his chair. “Well, this is the first chance we’ve had to really talk since you showed up yesterday. We’ve heard the basics of your story, but I’d like to know more.” His eyes, a harder, colder green than Mel’s, narrowed at Snake. “From what I can figure, you didn’t win Mel in the Bride Fight. So how did you wind up married to her? Hell, what were you doing in Ellsworth in the first place? You’re from Nebraska.”

Mel opened her mouth, but closed it again and settled back, looking at him. Mordecai, next to Stone across the table, and Mike, seated beside Snake, leaned forward on the elbows they planted on the table, looking like they were anxious to hear every word. They were both younger than their brother and sister. Mike was maybe in his early twenties, and the hint of roundness in Mord’s cheeks showed he was probably in his late teens. Both had the brown hair and the tall, rangy build Marc had. Snake glanced at Mel, pleased her figure was soft and plump. So womanly. So beautiful with her suntanned face framed by dark blonde hair just long enough to touch her shoulders. He curled his fingers into a fist to keep from reaching for her and turned back to Marc.

“I’ll start at the beginning. The Chief got word that his cousin Ellie was going to be a prize in the Bride Fight against her will. He sent a bunch of us down here to Kansas to bring her home.”

“The Chief?” Marc asked.

“Taye. Our cousin.” He nodded at Stone. “He’s Alpha of the Pack. You know about that?”

Marc nodded. “Some. The men turn into wolves, like you do. I know about the Lakota Wolf Clan. Same thing, right?”

“Pretty much. The Pack is part of the Clan, but we stay put at the den by Kearney, and the Clan roams the prairie.”

Stone straightened in his chair to lay a hand on Sara’s shoulder. “Except during the winter,” he told her. “The Clan has a permanent settlement in the Black Hills they stay in during the winter. I can build us a house there if you want.”

Sara twitched her shoulder away from him without looking in his direction. He slumped back, face blank. Snake mentally shook his head. His little cousin’s courtship wasn’t going well. A quick glance at Mel showed she was listening with a quiet face. Would she like to live in the sacred lands during the winter? Would a room in the den be enough for her? He would give her anything she wanted.

“So, Taye sent us down to fetch Miss Ellie,” he went on. “She’s Taye’s cousin, and Sara was with her. We planned to buy her and Miss Sara from the city council in Ellsworth. We didn’t know about Mel then, but we would have bought her too. The men in Ellsworth were set on having the fights, though, so it didn’t matter how much gold we offered for them. Ellsworth wasn’t selling. A couple of us entered the Bride Fights. Quill won Ellie and Stone won Sara.” He didn’t have to glance at Sara to know she scowled. “The first woman won was Mel.”

Marc jerked his chin at his sister. “Jim Fosse won you?”

“Yeah” she said. Snake sat closely enough to feel the tension in his mate’s body. “Him and Randy and Dave all entered the fight. I think they figured one of them would win, and Jim did. They took me to the hotel for the…And they…”

Her voice trailed off, and Snake wanted desperately to hold her, but though she hadn’t completely rejected him, she wasn’t entirely comfortable with him, either. He touched her arm lightly instead, feeling how tightly her muscles were clenched.

Marc’s narrow face showed no expression. Anyone with a nose less keen than a wolf’s wouldn’t know of the fury roiling inside him. “How bad did they hurt you?”

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
12.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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