Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash) (3 page)

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
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“Not too bad,” Mel told her hands, not looking up from her intense study of her fingers. “Snake got there before…”

She trailed off again, so Snake took over. “We saw the Fosses take her out, and we could tell she wasn’t happy, so we were glad when Quill told a few of us to go check on her, be sure she was okay. The Chief put Quill in charge, so we did what he said, but I would have gone after her anyway.” Even from a distance his wolf had taken close notice of the struggling woman. He had whined and tugged at Snake’s control, demanding to go after her.

One of Mord’s eyebrows arched. “What did he think you could do for her if she wasn’t okay?”

“Hush, Mord,” said Marc sternly. “Let the man tell the story all the way through. Once he’s finished we’ll ask our questions.”

“He probably thought I’d do what I did,” Snake told his youngest brother-in-law. “Me and Paint went after Mel and found out what room the Fosses were in at the hotel. When we got there, we could hear Mel yelling and the Fosses laughing. Sounded like they were hitting her. I heard fabric tear.” The memory roused his wolf and painted a red curtain over his vision. To calm his wolf, he laid a hand over Mel’s wrist on the table and stroked the tender skin over her pulse as if he were petting a kitten. It calmed his wolf enough so he could keep talking. “We knocked on the door, and when it didn’t open, we broke it down.”

He could feel Mel’s pulse quicken under his fingers. What did she remember of that? His few lucid memories revolved around the sight of Mel held down on the bed by two men while a third ripped her shirt. The mental image of her face turning toward him with agonized hope was crystal clear in his mind, as was her shock when his wolf tore out of him. In that one split second while he stood in the doorway, his wolf had chosen a mate. His elation at finding a mate at last was swallowed by rage at the men who dared harm her. His memories of the wolf attacking the men who dared to rape his mate were hazy but bloody.

“The Fosses were trying to rape Mel. I killed them.” Such brief, simple words to describe how his wolf tore them apart with teeth and claws. The bodies of the three Fosses were collected in several chunks for burial. “My wolf chose Mel to be my mate.”

Mel pulled her wrist out of his hold so she could wrap her arms round herself in spite of the heat lingering in the early evening air. He saw her jaw clench and her lips turn white. During their journey from Ellsworth, she hadn’t said a word about any of it to him. He smelled her horror and terror the day he found her, and though it had lessened significantly, he still caught occasional traces of it in her scent. A wolf’s mate should never be afraid of him. His wolf squeezed a snarling whine out of his throat. All the Dirks jumped in their chairs, looking at him nervously.

“None of us wolves likes to see a woman mistreated,” Stone said quietly. “It doesn’t matter who he is, a man who hurts a woman around us will get what he deserves.”

Marc’s eyes showed approval, but he said nothing, waiting for Snake to continue.

“Miss Ellie’s son was at Moore’s Mill, so we went there first to get him. Mel talked to me and Stone about coming here before going up to the den. Quill agreed because Miss Ellie wanted to be married by a priest, and your uncle could do the ceremony. You know what’s happened since then.”

Marc eased forward to put his forearms on the table. “Yeah. My uncle married you to my sister yesterday, and this morning Quill and his new wife and the other men escorting them left to go back home. Now it’s question time. One, what happened to Jim, Randy, and Dave’s bodies? Two, how long before word comes to the Fosses about their deaths? And three, you asked to be able to stay for a while, but not why you wanted to be here. All I heard was some confusing talk about lies having a particular scent that wolves could smell.”

“We buried the bodies ourselves,” Stone answered.

“What was left of them,” Sara muttered, flicking a glance at Snake.

He felt no remorse for the deaths. The Fosses deserved to die for what they did to Mel. “I don’t know how long before word comes back about the deaths. Probably not too long. We tried to keep it quiet, but anyone at the fights would have heard Jim Fosse’s name. There was no way to hide that something had happened in the hotel room, but only a few people saw the bodies. We’re here because Mel told us about your mom. She asked us to sidetrack and see if we can help.” Snake shrugged and slanted a glance at his wife. “Do you want to explain?”

She let her arms drop and met the eyes of each of her brothers, one at a time. “We’re here because Stone can tell when someone is lying. They smell different. Right, Stone?”

Stone nodded. “Yeah, a person’s scent is different, sharper, when they lie.”

The Dirk men glanced from Stone to Snake with confusion. Mord shoved an elbow into Stone’s side with a snort of a laugh. “Yeah? That’s a nice trick.”

Plainly Mord didn’t believe Mel. Snake folded his arms and asked, “Mord, who are you in love with?”

Mord’s ears went pink. “Nobody!”

“Lie,” said Stone, buttering another slice of bread.

Mord’s face flamed. “What? Who do you think I’m in love with?”

Stone shrugged. “I can’t read your mind. I can only tell when someone lies. Like I said, their scent changes.”

Marc shushed Mord with a lifted hand. He stared at Snake. “Can you tell too?”

Snake shook his head. “No. My sense of smell is decent, but nothing like Stone’s. I can sometimes make out some emotions, especially if it’s someone I know pretty well, but most people could tell me the sky was purple with green stripes, and I wouldn’t know if they were lying by their scent.”

Mord snorted. “Cute party trick, but big whoop-di-doo. You delayed your trip north just to show off your little game?”

“No! Don’t you get it?” Mel said urgently. “When the man comes to collect the ransom money for Mama, Snake and Stone can trail him and question him. They can track really well too. They can find him, and they’ll know when he’s lying. We’ll be able to find Mama and rescue her.”

A spark of excitement animated Marc’s face. “The letter will be coming any day.”

Mord’s lower lip had a barely noticeable tremble. “I haven’t seen Mom since I was seven years old. That’s how old I was when Dad died, and Mom was stolen only a week after his funeral.”

Mike leaned forward, staring across the table at Stone with guarded hope. “Honest? You know when someone’s lying?”

Stone put the last bite of bread in his mouth and nodded.

“Hot damn!” Mike pounded a fist on the table, making his bowl and spoon jump and clatter. “We’ll get those bastards now!”

After that one outburst, the brothers were silent, but Snake could almost feel their jubilation. He was happy for them, but what he really cared about was the radiant smile Mel gave him.

“What actually happened to your mom?” Sara asked. “I never heard the whole story.”

The Dirks lost some of their jubilation. A dark heaviness settled over them.

“Not much to tell,” Marc said with a shrug. “Dad died of blood poisoning about eleven years ago. Not long after the funeral, all of us were out with the calves, and Mom was alone in the house, getting lunch ready. When we got home for lunch, the food was still in the oven, burnt to a crisp, but Mom wasn’t here.”

“We looked for her,” Mike said bleakly. “We didn’t see any tracks. There was no sign of a struggle. Nothing.”

“Nothing,” Mord echoed, sounding suddenly young. “We never saw her again.”

Sara reached an impulsive hand over Stone to pat Mord’s arm. “You were so young, and your dad had just died. That must have been terrible.”

Stone grabbed her hand and yanked it away from Mord. She jerked it free with a glare. Mel spoke before Sara could yell at Stone. “It was bad. I was just thirteen. A girl really needs her mother at that age. But what came next was even worse. A month later we got a package in the mail with a letter. The letter was from a man who said he had our mother, and if we wanted her to stay alive, we had to pay gold twice a year. The box…” Mel paused to swallow. “The box had the end of Mama’s finger in it. We knew it was hers because she had a scar right along the fingernail. The finger was already decomposing, but we recognized the scar. The letter said every time we failed to pay, another piece of Mama would be sent to us.”

“Cowards,” snarled Stone. “Evil cowards!”

“We buried the finger next to Dad,” Marc said, looking down at his clenched hands. “We’ve never missed a payment, even when the amount demanded increased, but if Mel hadn’t volunteered to be a prize for the Bride Fight, we’d have missed this next one. We have no money left. We’ve lost or sold most of our stock. The only thing we have now is the ranch itself, and we can’t sell that. It’s been in the Dirk family for nearly two hundred years.”

Snake hesitated, but it had to be asked. “How do you know your mother is still alive?”

“She sends a letter with the man who collects the money. He leaves it at whichever place we’re supposed to put the money. It’s a different place every time.” Marc nodded to the marble box sitting on the mantel in the living room, just visible through the archway between the dining and living rooms. “We re-read them from time to time. She says she’s being treated well. She said no one hurt her.”

An even darker shadow fell over all the Dirks’ faces. Snake thought he knew why. Why was any woman stolen except for sex? “I guess she couldn’t say anything else, could she?” he said. “The men probably read the letters.”

Mike nodded heavily. “Yeah. In one of her first letters she said she wasn’t raped.”

Stone gave Snake a glance that doubted the veracity of that letter. Marc caught it and nodded. “It’s been eleven years. For all we know she’s had other children. She was only in her mid-thirties when she was taken. If we find out we have more brothers or sisters, we’ll bring them back home too.”

“She’s never said in her letters that there’ve been more kids,” Mike pointed out. “She does mention things like nice clothes and good food.”

The men who stole women sometimes took very good care of their prizes, and sometimes they even fell in love with them. Snake doubted that was the case here. Why demand ransom from the sons of the woman you loved? Then again, why give up a source of easy money? “It sounds like some of the money you send is keeping your mother comfortable at least.”

“Yeah.” Marc dragged the word out in a sarcastic drawl. “Won’t keep me from feeding a bullet to those assh—” He broke off with a glance at Sara. “I reckon it depends on what we find, but I don’t see any reason to waste time in a courtroom. Shoot ‘em or hang ‘em, that’s what I figure to do when we find ‘em.”

“We’ll find them.” Stone’s voice was very sure, and he seemed older now than nineteen. Snake nodded his support as his cousin went on. “They’ll pay for what they did to your mother.

“We’ll be able to see her soon!” Mord’s laugh was heartfelt, bubbling with relief and eagerness, lifting the mood out of the grimness back to jubilation. “Mel, I wasn’t too sure about this new man of yours, but if he’ll bring Mom back, I’ll welcome him to the family with open arms.”

Mel snorted. “Thank you very much for your approval.”

Her tone was tart, but Snake could sense the same lighthearted relief in his mate that overflowed from her brothers.

Mord’s face creased with sly humor, though he tried to disguise it by setting his mouth into an earnest line. He leaned over the supper table, gazing at Snake with obviously faked concern.

“Are you sure you want to be my sister’s husband?”

Snake cocked his head to the side, aware Mel had straightened. “Yeah.”

Mike joined in the teasing with a
sound. “You positive about that? Do you know what her track record with husbands is?”

Mel’s happy scent instantly soured. She slammed her hand onto the table. “Cut it out, Mikey.”

Snake put a hand on her knee beneath the table and gave her a gentle squeeze. “I don’t know what a track record is.”

Mord widened his eyes with mock distress. “Do you know what happened to Rob Fosse?”

Snake cut Mord off. “Sure. He got what he deserved.”

“Melissa Ann is quick to shoot,” Mike said with a sad shake of his head. “Mind your toes, and other parts.”

Mel gave a furious snort.

Mord smirked. “And then there was Danny Bell.”

Mel’s scent changed so completely, for a moment Snake felt as though he were teetering on a cliff with nothing to cling to. So many emotions rushed out of her he couldn’t identify them all. Shock, rage, grief, and guilt were some of the scents he caught. She stood up, drilling her brother with a glare of pure fury not reflected in her cold voice. “Sara, wanna give me a hand with these dishes?”

Snake waved the girl back. “I’ll help with the dishes.”

He sent a cold glare of his own at the younger Dirks, and maybe he would have said something to them if Marc hadn’t intervened.

“You boys have time to flap your mouths, you have time to clean the outhouse,” he said evenly.

“Aw, c’mon, Marc. We was only joking,” Mord protested. “It’s getting on towards dark.”

“If you want to act like a shit, you can shovel it,” Marc replied evenly. He dipped his head in Sara’s direction. “Pardon my language.”

Amid protests at the late hour and other complaints, Mel made her escape to the kitchen. Snake followed her, keeping his distance as he lifted the kettle to the stovetop to heat for dishwater. When there was no more to do but wait for the water to heat, he took her hand and looked into her eyes.

“Who is Danny Bell?” he asked.

Chapter 2

Mel tugged her hand free and turned to the sink to hide the burn of tears in her eyes. Danny. She shot Rob with no remorse, but Danny…The muscles in Mel’s shoulders coiled tight and then slumped. Danny was different.

“Mel?” Snake asked softly.

Mel took a moment to be sure her face was under control before she turned around to meet Snake’s gaze. “Danny was my first husband.”

Snake nodded, face calm and gently concerned, which confused the hell out of her. He was a vicious werewolf. Shouldn’t he be snarling about now?

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
11.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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