Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash) (9 page)

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
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Well, hell.
She already felt something more than gratitude. But how could she say that? She remained silent for long minutes, staring at the knee of her jeans where a worn spot threatened to become a hole. Her mother would have patched it by now. She didn’t allow her family to look raggedy, even in their work clothes.

“Are you thinking about your mom?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell me more about her.”

Mel scooted a couple of inches closer to him so she could lean her shoulder against his arm. “Mama is beautiful. All of us kids take after our dad. We’re okay looking, but not beautiful like Mama.”

Snake jerked his head around to stare at her. “You think you’re not beautiful?”

She flapped a dismissive hand at his incredulity. “Some people say I’m pretty—”

“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“Thanks. Mama was so beautiful men rode a hundred miles to dance with her when there was a party in town. Even after she had four kids, she was still the most beautiful woman for a hundred miles.”

“You don’t love her because she’s beautiful, though, do you?”

“No, I love her because she’s my mother. I never knew how much until after she was stolen.”

“You love her so much you would do anything to get her back. Not every daughter would be willing to let her brothers sell her to be a Bride Fight prize.”

“We had to have the money to pay for Mama. It was worth it.” Mel blinked tears back. “It could have turned out bad, but you saved me. And now everything is going to be fine.”

“Yeah.”

They lapsed into comfortable silence, just leaning against each other. She closed her eyes, remembering her father and mother together at the kitchen table. She recalled frequent silences between them. When she was a kid, she couldn’t understand why they didn’t talk to each other more. Now, finding comfort in Snake’s quiet presence, she understood. Dad wasn’t the type to hug and kiss his wife in public. Mama called Dad Mr. Dirk, and he called her Mrs. Dirk. It was a private game of loving teasing.

She glanced over at Snake. “Do you want me to call you Mr. Wolfe?”

“What? No.”

“Oh. Just wondered. Dad called Mama Mrs. Dirk.”

“Probably wanted to remind people she was his wife.”

“Yeah.” That could be part of it, Mel thought. “Anyway, Uncle Martin—You remember him? Dad’s brother? He’s the one who married us.”

Snake played with a lock of her hair that had fallen out of the braid. “I remember. Marrying you is my very favorite memory. So far.”

Mel could almost feel his stare travel over her body and swallowed hard. “Well, Uncle Martin said Dad was nutty about Mama. He was so in love he didn’t wait until she was sixteen to marry her.”

“Your mom was fifteen when they got married?”

Mel heard a subtle note of disapproval in his voice. “Yeah. She was almost sixteen when Marc was born. Uncle Martin said things were different back then. Her mom and dad were both dead, and she needed to be safe. That’s why Dad married her so young.”

“Hmm. I guess if it were you in that situation, I’d want to marry you right away too. Don’t think I could keep my hands off you until you were eighteen.” The easy humor died, replaced by cold steel. “But if we ever have a daughter, no man is touching her until she’s grown up.”

“What if something happens, and she’s left alone?”

“The Clan and the Pack will take care of her. Mel, you want kids?”

“Sure. Some day.”

“How did you like what we did this morning?”

Heat began a slow burn between her thighs. She folded her arms over her chest and shifted away from him, wondering what reaction he was expecting. “I liked it just fine,” she finally admitted. “I didn’t know if I would, but I did. That doesn’t mean,” she hurried to add, “that I’m ready for anything more than that yet.”

“Ah, Mel,” he groaned. “You’re killing me. I can smell your want for me right now.”

She jerked her legs straight and pressed her knees together. “Damn your sense of smell! Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is?”

“Embarrassing? I like it. And you don’t need to have a wolf’s sense of smell to know how much I want you.” He waved at his lap. “You can see it for yourself.”

Half against her will, her gaze followed his wave to the front of his breechcloth. “Um, I see what you mean.” Her would-be prim tone dissolved into snorting laughter. “Poor Snake. That can’t be comfortable.”

“More comfortable than it would be in jeans,” he replied without rancor. “And I can stand it, because I know someday we’ll make love. You still need some time, and that’s okay. I don’t want to rush you into something that important. Come here. Lean on me.”

She did, settling her head on his shoulder. “You’re a good man, Snake.” Better than she believed a husband forced on her could be. “I guess Mike will be here soon.”

“Yeah. Then we start another wait, for Stone to signal the man has come.”

* * * *

It was early afternoon the next day when Snake heard Stone’s howl. “There’s the signal. Mount up!” he said.

Mel hurried to pack up what little they unloaded earlier, relief planting a fierce grin on her face. Last night she and Mike settled into the same bickering they indulged in when they were kids, and even in the middle of her irritation, she knew it was stupid. She slept chastely beside her husband, all too aware of Mike only a few yards away. The morning crept by so slowly she wanted to scream. So now, being able to actually do something was a relief.

It took them almost two hours to reach the gas station, and they didn’t see anyone there, so Snake slipped off his horse. “Stone must be tailing the man. I’m going to let my wolf out so I can cast around for their scent. I’ll yip when I want you to follow me.”

Mel forced herself to stay in the saddle, but she couldn’t keep her restless hands from checking the rifle in its sheath under her knee, or from stroking the butt of her pistol.
Alfie.
The thought got a little smile out of her.

Mike was doing the same. He scowled at her. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.” She reconsidered. “Well, just remembering something Snake did the other ni—”

Red swept up his cheeks, dull under his dark tan. “Shut up! There’s some things a brother doesn’t need to know.”

Mel smirked at him. “Okay. Doesn’t matter anyway. Soon I’ll be able to tell those things to Mama.”

An answering smile bloomed on Mike’s face, a soft, happy smile. “Yeah.”

A yip sounded from behind the gas station. “Let’s go,” said Mel.

“Keep your eyes open,” Mike suggested, grabbing his rifle, face back in its hard lines. “That man might see us on his back trail and take a shot.”

Mel nodded and pulled her weapon free to hold over her thighs. They rode for the entire afternoon, leading the spare horse, sometimes losing sight of Snake. They often stopped while he scouted ahead, and occasionally they had to back track to find the trail. They saw no one else, though they passed a few abandoned farms or ranches. It was past suppertime when they saw two wolves running toward them. Snake and Stone flowed into their man shapes, grabbed their breechcloths and moccasins from the spare horse’s saddlebag, and put them on.

“He’s about a half mile north,” Stone said quickly. “There’s a rundown house and a barn that looks abandoned. He went into the barn.”

“Stopping for the night?” Mike wondered. “There’s still an hour of daylight left.”

Snake shrugged. “Could be. Mel, I want you to keep quiet. Let Mike do the talking. There’s a chance this guy won’t know you’re a woman.” His expression said he doubted it. “As long as you don’t talk, he might not guess. Promise me you’ll keep quiet.”

Mel nodded, and made sure all her hair was stuffed up under her hat and dug her leather vest out of the saddlebag. She put it on, settling it to help hide the curve of her bust. “I know I didn’t need to come on this trip, and if you hadn’t given your okay, Marc would have kept me home. Thank you. I’m really glad I got to come along. I promise to keep my mouth shut.”

She loved seeing her husband smile. “Okay,” he said. “Come on.”

With Snake riding behind Mel and Stone on the spare horse, they quickly covered the distance. Mel thought the house, like so many others they’d passed, did look abandoned. The paint had long ago peeled off the sides of the house. But the glass windows were intact. Strange. They were usually the first thing salvagers took from abandoned buildings.

“Dismount here,” Snake whispered at the edge of what would have been the yard. “Stone is going in first. Mike, once you’re inside the barn, you go right. Mel, you go left. Set yourselves into crossfire position, so if you need to shoot, you won’t hit each other. I’ll come in last and guard the door. Be careful. He’s armed.”

Excitement and anticipation bubbled in her guts and tightened her hands on her rifle. Now she would get the answers she’d wanted since she’d been left both fatherless and motherless as a young teen. She walked as silently as she could behind Mike through the open barn door.

The man apparently wasn’t worried about being followed. He stood with his back to the door, whistling as he groomed his unsaddled horse. Mel noticed the barn was surprisingly well stocked, with another horse in a stall, but she forgot anything but the man when Stone glided behind him and lifted the pistol from the man’s belt and then yanked him a few yards away from the horse.

“What the hell?” the man squawked, stumbling and whirling around.

Mel stared. He was old! Well, not that old, really, but maybe fifty-five or so. He reached for Stone but stopped when Mike lifted his rifle to aim at the man’s belly. Mel, opposite Mike, did the same with steady hands and hatred in her heart. This man, this weak-chinned stubble-faced excuse for a man, would give them answers. She kept her eyes on him, her nervous twitches gone calm and cold.

“Ask your questions,” Snake said quietly behind her. She shot a quick glance over her shoulder and saw his position let him watch both the action in the barn and see if anyone was coming from outside.

Stone passed the filched pistol to Mike and stood just out of reach of the man. Mike shoved the pistol into the back of his belt and glared at the man with cold, flat eyes, looking a lot like their dad right then. “Where’s my mother, you son of a bitch?”

The man had a long skinny throat with a prominent Adam’s apple that bobbed a long ways up and a long ways down when he swallowed. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

Stone’s voice was soft. “Lie.”

The man whirled on Stone, anger glowing on his thin face, but stopped when Mike raised his rifle a few more inches. “We won’t get answers if you’re dead,” Mike said flatly, “but I figure you can talk just fine without a finger or two.”

The man raised his hands and backed up. “Now, look,” he began. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

“Lie,” said Stone.

Mel looked at the man more closely. When would he have seen Mike? Maybe he wasn’t quite fifty-five, she decided. More like fifty. His body was tall and bony with long arms and legs. His gray hair might have been blond once. His fair skin was burned dark by the sun, heavily lined by age and trouble. His nose was prominent, his chin receding. Not a handsome face, but distinctive. She tried to remember ever meeting him but came up empty.

“Stuff it,” Mike barked. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m gonna ask you questions, and you’ll answer. And don’t bother lying. Let’s start at the beginning, and I’ll make the questions real easy for you. Did you steal my mother?”

“No.”

Stone blinked. “Truth.”

Mike’s jaw hardened as he clenched his teeth. “Did you send word to my family that as long as we sent you money twice a year you wouldn’t hurt my mother?”

That prominent Adam’s apple bobbed up and down again. “No.”

“Lie.”

Mel felt air ease out of her lungs. For a split second, she’d been afraid they had the wrong man. So this man wasn’t responsible for stealing her mother, but he was part of the gang who had. He was the one to write the letter.

Quick to pounce, Mike snapped, “Did you cut off her finger as a warning to us?”

“No!”

“Truth.”

Mike’s voice rose to a frustrated shout. “Then who did?”

The man remained stubbornly silent.

This was not going the way it should. Mel wanted so much to say something, but she promised to keep quiet, so she wrestled the urge down. She might end up with a hole in her cheek from biting it, but she would keep her word.

Mike looked around the dim barn. “Is this where you live?”

“No.”

“Truth.”

“Geez,” Mike muttered. “This is like pulling teeth. Where do you live? And where is my mother?”

The man wet lips that shook, pressed them tightly together, and stared blindly over Mike’s head.

“How many of you were in on stealing my mother?” Mike asked.

The man shook his head, glaring at Mike.

“Stone, you got your knife, right?”

“Yeah, I have my knife. Sharpened it this morning.”

“Good.” Mike smiled almost pleasantly at the man. “We might need it to carve answers out of this guy. By the time we’re done, he might be missing a few parts, but he’ll tell us where to find my mother.”

Savage satisfaction rose in Mel at the look of barely controlled terror on the man’s face. “I don’t know your mother!” he bleated.

“Lie.”

Mike lost the pleasant smile. “How many times have you hurt her?”

The man remained silent.

“Is she still alive?”

Maybe it was the desperation in Mike’s voice that loosened the man’s tongue. “Yes.”

Mel’s knees wobbled with relief when Stone said, “Truth.” But she tightened her hands on her rifle, determined to stand strong.

“Where is she?” Mike screamed.

Mel heard an almost silent scuffle behind her and jerked her head around to see Snake holding a struggling figure with his elbow crooked around the intruder’s neck. The person wore dark blue jeans and button-up shirt of crisp blue cotton and high-heeled boots polished to a glossy sheen.

Blonde hair, lightly silvered by age, tumbled down the figure’s back, spilling over Snake’s bare arm. “I’m right here, goddammit!” the figure shrieked.

BOOK: Wolf's Vengeance (After the Crash)
3.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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