Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash) (5 page)

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
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“Sorry,” she muttered, squirming to move herself back to the edge.

She noticed he wasn’t trying to move away. “Mel, Alfie can’t possibly blame me for not sticking to my side of the bed considering the circumstances.”

Twilight dimmed the room, but she saw his teeth gleam in his dark face, a ghost of the smile she’d seen on his face so many times during their ride to the ranch. “Don’t laugh,” she muttered. “This isn’t funny.”

“No, it’s natural. Come on. Is it so bad to sleep close to me? I promise to not touch you. Well, not with my hands. See?”

He shifted to tuck his hands beneath his head. Mel rolled onto her side to watch the thick muscles in his biceps bunch and the taut swell of his pectorals smooth nearly flat with his arms in that position. Some women preferred a tall man with a slender, lightly muscular build, but she liked his broad shoulders and thick chest. And since she was only five feet five, his five-feet-eight height was fine with her. He was young and strong.

A thought struck her. “Snake? How old are you?”

“Twenty-six.” His brows pulled low. “No, twenty-seven.” He turned his head on the pillow to look at her. “Why?”

A few years older than she was. “You said you didn’t see any women up close until you were twenty.”

“Yeah. My mom died when I was five.”

A pang of sympathy warmed her. “My brother told me about how almost all the women in your family were stolen and killed. Was she one of those?”

He was quiet for a moment. “Yeah.” His voice was rough and low. “I don’t remember her too well. After that, there were only a few women in the Clan. I went to live with Taye and the Pack when I was eight or so. They live in an old building with lots of rooms. Back in the Times Before they called it a motel. Taye’s mother died a few years after that. She was the last woman to ever hug me until Taye mated Carla. And then there was Tami. And then, Lisa.”

A new note of warmth came into his voice when he said the last name, and Mel was shocked to feel a little niggle of jealousy. “Who’s Lisa?”

A gleam of white in the dark revealed his smile. Mel cursed herself and rolled to her back to glare up at the ceiling, arms folded over her chest.

“Lisa is my sister. She adopted me after she left her husband and came to live at the den. His name is Eddie Madison.”

Mel’s crossed arms loosened a bit. “You don’t like him.”

“I didn’t like him then. He was a…a…”

“Jerk?” she suggested. “Asshole?”

“Yeah. He was so selfish he didn’t even know he was hurting her. Jerk.”

Mel clamped a hand on the edge of the bed to hold her fury inside. “Did he beat her?”

“If he’d ever laid a hand on her, he wouldn’t be alive now,” Snake snarled. “Even if Lisa begged me to not hurt him, I would have killed him.”

Why did women stay with men who mistreated them? Mel would never put up with that. Hell, she hadn’t put up with it. Just ask Rob.

“He’s better now.” Snake sounded reluctant to admit it, but he went on. “Since she agreed to return to him, he treats her fine. Better than fine. I know they’re happy. Even a wolf with a bad sense of smell can scent their happiness, and my sense of smell isn’t that bad. They have three little boys now, all as pretty as angels, just like their mom and dad. Lisa is the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen, and Madison is good looking too.”

Mel refused to compare herself to beautiful women. She was at best pretty. But Snake was beautiful. She half sat, leaning on an elbow to look at him. She tightened her grip on the edge of the mattress to keep from tumbling on top of him. In the near dark Mel felt her cheeks flush. How stupid, to think of a man as beautiful. But he was. Not pretty. Not even quite handsome. His nose was maybe a little too craggy for that, his cheekbones too pronounced, his eyebrows too thick and low. No, not a pretty boy, but his mouth was full and soft, a startling contrast to his hard features. She could bend over right now and kiss it to find out if his lips were as soft as they looked.

It was an astonishingly tempting thought. No, she decided. Not yet. Someday she would kiss him. They were married. Husbands and wives did kiss. And more. She settled herself carefully on the mattress, hugging the edge. Someday they would do it all. But not tonight.

*

Snake smiled down at his sleeping mate cuddled under his arm. As soon as she fell asleep, she lost the battle with gravity, and her warm body found its way to his side. He decided he really loved this bed. It sagged enough to give him a backache, but it sent his mate to snuggle against him. It took all his self-control to keep from caressing her bare thigh. This was the closest he’d been to her, and he savored the weight of her head against his shoulder, the scent of her hair in his nostrils, the soft press of her breast against his, as he let sleep claim him.

Chapter 3

Mel woke, feeling cool morning air on her back and warmth on her front. It was solid yet soft against her cheek as she yawned. It felt like—

Her eyes shot open, and she stared into Snake’s smile, only inches from her nose.

“Good morning,” he said.

She was proud of the smooth, unhurried way she climbed out of bed. “Looks like I overslept,” she said, trying for a casual tone. “Breakfast is going to be late if I don’t hurry.”

He moved even more smoothly than she did and twice as fast. He rolled out of bed and caught her by the arm. His kiss was a light brush of lips over hers.

“I’ll run downstairs and get some water pumped for you,” he offered and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him before she fully registered his kiss.

“Good grief, Mel, get a grip,” she muttered to herself and jerked her fingers from her lips. “It wasn’t much of a kiss.”

She gave a quick, disgusted shake of her head and pulled open a dresser drawer to grab clothes for the day. She dressed, buckled her gun belt around her waist, and hurried downstairs to the kitchen where Sara and Stone were facing off.

Sara flicked at glance at her as she came in. “See?” she said to Stone. “Mel’s here now, so you can go do whatever you need to do.”

Stone backed a few steps away, and Mel saw his face set into stoic lines. “I’m going to run a wide perimeter patrol. Be back for lunch.”

Mel frowned. “What about breakfast?”

He shrugged, heading for the back door. “I’ll catch something on the run.”

Sara made a horrible face. “And tear it open and crunch its bones, I suppose?”

He turned with a glare. “Depends on how big my catch is. Rabbit bones are hardly worth the trouble.”

The door closed behind him with a controlled slam. Sara scowled. “I think that’s disgusting. You want me to go out to the hen house and collect eggs?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

As Mel went about cutting bacon and slicing potatoes, she felt energized. Sleeping next to her husband had been very restful. She felt more relaxed and awake than she had in a long time. If he caught bunnies and ate them raw, well, that was normal for a wolf, right? Nothing for her to worry about. She wondered how much of Snake was present when he was a wolf. She would have to ask him sometime. Maybe later, when she knew him better.

Breakfast was a half hour late, and Mord and Mike clearly wanted to complain, but Snake came in from chopping wood and stopped them with a cold glare whenever they opened their mouths.

Marc sat in his usual place at the head of the table. “Mord, you and Mike head out to the south fork. The silt has built up something awful, and the creek is practically dammed there. Get it cleared out so the cows can get clean water.” He nodded to Snake. “Stone said he would watch for strangers approaching. Could you do some hunting?”

Snake finished his toast. “Sure.”

“Thanks.” Marc looked over at Mel. “Garden could use some water and weeding.”

“Yeah, I’ll be out there this morning. Sara, you want to help?”

“You bet.”

After washing the breakfast dishes and tidying the kitchen, the women headed out to the large garden behind the house. Mel surveyed the neat rows of peas, carrots, beans, tomatoes, and corn with concern. Plainly, the rabbits had been in her garden, and the withered leaves showed the need for water. “It’s been dry,” she remarked to Sara.

Sara shaded her eyes with her hand and looked to the northwest. “Yeah, but it looks like rain is coming.”

“Maybe. We’ll water this morning anyway and tonight too, if the rain doesn’t come.” She glowered at the nibbled peas and perfectly healthy weeds. “Why is it that those damned rabbits eat everything except the weeds?”

They spent the next three hours filling buckets with water to trickle over the garden, pulling weeds, and harvesting the ripe vegetables. For a little while, with her hands in the dirt, Mel felt like she was truly home, with no troubles behind her and none before her. She would like to be just another prairie woman tending her daily chores, knowing the hard work would pay off with food on the supper table tonight and jars of vegetables lined up in the pantry to last all through the winter.

“I noticed there’s not a lot in the pantry,” Sara remarked. “Do you think your brothers gave too much to Quill and Ellie?”

“No.” Mel sat back on her heels to stretch her lower back. “We won’t need to save money to pay for Mama anymore, so we’ll be able to get by. In a few years the ranch will be prosperous again.” Just the thought made Mel smile. “Mama will be home!”

“Yeah, but you won’t be here with her. Snake will take you north to live in his ‘den’.”

The teenager’s words were like a bucket of cold water. Mel took a deep breath. “Yeah, but he’ll bring me down to visit from time to time.”

“What about the Fosses?”

Mel didn’t want to think about the Fosses and their sworn intention of punishing her and her brothers for what she’d done to Rob. “Let’s not borrow trouble, okay? One thing at a time.”

“Okay.” Sara hacked her trowel into a clump of weeds to break them up before pulling them. “Question for you. Damn!”

Mel shook her head when the roots of Sara’s weed broke, leaving most of them still buried in the soil. “Yeah?”

“I asked Mord about Danny Bell. He said you were married to him.”

Mel forced her attention on the weed she was digging around. “So?”

It appeared Sara was oblivious to her discouraging flat tone. “So back when we were at the mayor’s house in Ellsworth, you told me and Ellie that Rob Fosse was the only husband you’d ever had.”

“I lied. Hand me that pick, would you?”

“How long were you married to Danny?”

Mel sat back, wiping her forehead with her wrist. “Look, it was a long time ago.”

“You don’t want to talk about it.”

“No, I don’t.”

Sara pursed her mouth and passed the pick over. “At supper last night, Mord made it sound like you killed Danny.”

Mel stabbed the pick into the ground with vicious precision, loosening the soil about the stubborn weed. “I didn’t shoot him.”

“Did you stab him?”

“What?” Mel threw the pick down and turned on her knees to glare at the teenager. “No! He died while I was out.”

“Oh. Did he fall down the stairs or something?”

“No!” Mel dug her grimy hands into her dark blonde hair and tugged on it. “For God’s sake, no. He was hurt a long time before he died. Hurt bad. His legs were crushed when a barrel rolled off the wagon he was unloading. He never got well after that. I went out to a town dance with some friends one night, and when I came home, he was dead. Now that you dragged all that out of me, can we get back to work?”

Sara’s narrow brown eyes softened. “Sure. What a jerk Mord is, to make that story into something it’s not. Here, I’ll get us some water.”

After Sara went to fetch water, Mel sagged down with one hand braced in the dirt and the other rubbing over her sweaty face. The story she’d told Sara was true. She just left some bits and pieces out.

Sara came back with the water. “I’m sorry. I can be a real bitch sometimes. I don’t mean to. I just get caught up with something and don’t know when to quit. But I’m really sorry I brought all that up. I guess it still hurts you.”

Mel drank and forced a smile. “Ready to move onto the next row?”

A little before noon they looked over the half acre garden with satisfaction. “We didn’t get to all of it,” Sara said. “But we made a good dent. Do you want to keep going after lunch?”

No, not all of it was weeded, but today would be another scorcher. “No, it’s too hot, and I’m getting tired. Tomorrow morning we can hit it again.”

Sara cast her a sidelong glance. “Tired? Didn’t you sleep last night? Or did you and Snake…”

Mel felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment when Sara trailed off suggestively. “No, we didn’t. We’re waiting until we know each other better. How about you and Stone?”

Sara’s face instantly lost her sly good humor. A scowl slammed over her face. “Stone. He tried, but I told him no.”

“Oh. And did that work?”

“The big dummy looked like he wanted to cry, but he left me alone. Let’s go back in and wash up.”

Mel agreed, but as she pumped water in the kitchen for them to wash in, she inwardly marveled. Stone stopped when Sara said no. Snake didn’t force her last night, either. Unlike Rob, the bloodthirsty werewolves listened to their wives’ wishes. It was another thing to appreciate about being married to Snake.

A wolf’s howl lifted faintly in the distance. Sara’s head came up. She stared at Mel for an instant. “That’s Stone,” she said with confidence. “Why’s he yelling?”

“I don’t know.” Mel wiped her torso dry and let her shirt fall back into place while she touched the butt of her pistol. “We better lock down the place in case it’s trouble.”

Sara remembered what to do from yesterday. Between them they closed the shutters, locked the doors, and ran upstairs with rifles to station themselves at the windows in their rooms. The dogs ran from the bunkhouse to howl their warning of a horseman approaching. This time it wasn’t a Fosse who rode down the drive but one of the men from Hill City, the closest town. Mel recognized Tom Hatcher, one of Danny’s friends. She danced with Tom the night Danny died. Mel’s heart took on the familiar weight of guilt when she remembered that.

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
7.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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