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Tuesday Teaser 3/21/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 12

Holy moly, I was so busy packing I almost forgot about the Tuesday Teaser! Sorry this is late. I am moving on Saturday and I am drowning in boxes. I’ve packed 18 boxes so far, and I have a LOT more to go. I hate moving.  🙁

I wrote this section and something horrible happened. It disappeared. Either I didn’t save it –which is possible, of course–but Word is supposed to save every few minutes, and I SWEAR I never leave my computer without saving.  So I re-wrote it hastily. This is certainly rough, but I like it. I hope you will too.

 


Chapter Seven

 

 

Marty hadn’t expected to feel nervous, but his palms were sweating. He wiped them dry on his pants, squared her shoulders, and knocked on the door to the bedroom where he knew the men of the wolf clan were. With their hearing and sense of smell, the wolves must have known who was there, but they kept him waiting a long minute before Stone opened the door.

“Victoria is not here,” Stone said. “You can find her in the kitchen with her aunt Renee.”

“I know. I came to talk to you.” He looked over Stone’s shoulder into the room. “All of you.”

One of Stone’s eyebrows hooked up. He stepped back open door wide. “Come on in.”

All of the men from the Wolf Clan who were in Omaha were there, except for Colby and Rock. Colby was probably still trying to woo Miss Summer, with Rock providing moral support. That thought almost made Marty smile, but this was too serious an occasion for that. Marty glanced around the room, marking Eagle, sprawled on the end of a bed, and Hawk, who was sitting in a wooden chair against the far wall. The room wasn’t small, but it felt crowded with five of the Wolf Clan there. Marty mentally girded his loins and walked over to Hawk.

The older man flipped a long lock of graying black hair over his shoulder and looked up at him blandly. “What can we do for you?”

“I love Victoria.” Marty kept his voice mild. “And she loves me. We are going to get married.”

An explosive “No!” came from Eagle.

Marty continued, looking Hawk in the eye. “We’d like your approval.”

Eagle lunged off the bed. “No,” he snarled. “We told you no.”

“At the gala in January,” Marty nodded. “And I backed off because I didn’t want to start trouble there. But my feelings for Vic haven’t changed.”

Sand slung an arm over Eagle’s shoulders just as the younger man opened his mouth again. “Let him speak, Eagle,” he said soothingly.

Directing his words at Hawk and Sand, Marty went on. “Victoria and I have talked about it, and we want to be married. Even if you don’t approve. It would break her heart to go against her family’s wishes, but she will. Please don’t do that to her.”

They all regarded at him silently. Under the weight of their stares, Marty forced himself to stand still, no fidgeting. After a long pause that grow ever more uncomfortable as the moments passed, he finally spoke again.

“What is it that you have against me?”

“You’re a cat,” Eagle spat.

“So? Miss Olivia mated with a cat.” He looked challengingly around the room. “Is that your only problem with me?”

Quill, arms folded, leaned his shoulders against the wall. “Your brother didn’t know how to treat his mate during the first year of their marriage. It wasn’t until she left him that he changed.”

Stone came up from behind and stood next to Marty. “Maybe Shadow is afraid you’d treat his daughter the same way.”

“Yeah,” added Eagle hotly.

“I wouldn’t,” Marty said flatly.

The other men all looked at Stone. Marty turned his head to see Stone nod.

Some of Eagle’s anger deflated. “Maybe you wouldn’t mean to,” he conceded, “but you could. I’ve heard about how you can turn only part of you into a cat, like your fingers into claws. That would hurt Victoria pretty bad.”

Marty shook his head. “I have too much control for that.” He drew a deep breath and let it out. “Look, Eddie had never been taught about the cat. He never learned to handle it. That’s why he didn’t treat Lisa as well as he could have. It’s different for me. I was taught self-control from the time I could walk. I knew everything about the cat before I ever shifted.  My mom taught me. Eddie taught me even more, like how important it is to accept the cat. That’s why you don’t have to worry about me ever hurting Victoria.” He leaned slightly forward, to emphasize his point to Eagle. “Besides, Vic isn’t like Lisa. Would she put up with me doing anything she didn’t like?”

Eagle’s smile looked reluctant, but real. “No.”

“Give us your blessing,” Marty urged.

No one answered, but Quill asked a question. “Why do you love Victoria? You can’t know her very well.”

The answer to that was very simple, very reasonable, and very complicated. He decided to start with the reasonable thing. “She’s a strong woman. I like strong women. My mom is a strong woman, too, the queen of our little pride. When mom is gone, we’ll need another strong woman to be our queen.”

“She’s not a cat!”

Marty shrugged at Eagle’s exclamation. “Your mom isn’t a wolf, but isn’t she the Lupa of the Clan?”

“Yeah.” Sand nodded. “So, you want a replacement for your mother? That doesn’t sound like the right kind of love.”

“No!” Marty suppressed a shudder. It was time for the very simple reason. “She’s my mate. I don’t know exactly how it works with you wolves, but Kit McQueen says that cats don’t choose mates very often. When we do, it’s for life. When I met Victoria last fall I was completely fascinated by her. She’s beautiful. She’s commanding.”

“You mean bossy,” Eagle cut in.

“Yeah, I guess she is.” Marty smiled. “And I wanted to rub up against her and purr.”

The half-smile was wiped from Eagle’s face. “What?” he growled.

“I’ve never wanted to do that to another woman,” Marty explained quickly. “Really.”

Hawk stood up, eyes boring into him. “You want to marry her,” he began.

“I am going to marry her,” Marty cut in quietly but firmly.

“Ah.” Hawk nodded. “With or without our blessing.”

“Yes.”

“Because you love her and she loves you.”

“Yes.”

“And you promise to do everything you can to keep her safe and happy?”

“Yes.”

Hawk glanced at Stone, who nodded.

“Well,” Hawk said, the lines around his eyes deepening with his frown. “I’m not her father, but I’d say she’s worth ten horses. What do you say, Eagle?”

Eagle’s bunched eyebrows didn’t look particularly happy. “Fifteen. She’s the only girl in the family. Dad would insist on at least fifteen horses, all well trained and healthy.”

Marty blinked, his head feeling oddly light. “You want to sell your sister for fifteen horses?”

“Want to?” Eagle made a sound of disgust. “No, I don’t want to.”

“It’s the Lakota way,” Quill said solemnly, taking his arm off Eagle’s shoulder. “The number and quality of horses show how much you value the woman you love.”

Marty began calculating how he could get his hands on fifteen good horses. Or twenty. “Victoria is worth fifty horses,” he said recklessly.

Stone smothered a grin behind his hand. Sand laughed out loud.

Even Eagle and Hawk smiled.

“We’re just kidding you.” Quill stepped forward to throw a light punch at Marty’s arm. “We don’t do that anymore. We’ll talk to Shadow and smooth things over for you.”

“But if you’d like to give us a token of your regard, I like a tall, powerful horse that can carry my weight,” Eagle said helpfully. “Preferably a bay.”

Marty looked around the room and felt the twist of anxiety in his guts relax. Somehow, he had changed their minds. They approved.

Tuesday Teaser 3/14/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 11

I’m getting closer and closer to my moving date. Part of me is reluctant. I’ve been going through my stuff –and I have a LOT of stuff!– one room at a time and sorting things into Keep, Throw and Donate piles. No sense moving stuff I don’t need. But another part of me cannot wait. At this moment that kid upstairs is thumping. I don’t know what he’s doing, but I imagine him jumping with all his might at measured intervals of about 5 seconds.  He can’t help it. He is autistic. But really, it will be wonderful to not have upstairs neighbors. I was going to write tonight (lord knows the move is putting me behind!) but I just can’t concentrate. So here is what I have. Like last week’s snip, this is a bit slow and draggy. Mainly, I want the reader to see what kinds of men are in Omaha, and especially Brother Saul.  Things get a little more exciting in the next chapter when the Clan and the Madisons are at supper with the McGraths.  🙂

 


Victoria’s teeth ground together. I’m representing the Lakota Wolf Clan. The delegate from the Lakota Wolf Clan should not slap the other delegates. She forced a smile as she sat down. “Good morning. I am Victoria Wolfe.”

The other men introduced themselves. Mr. Finley came to their group and held out several sheets of paper and a pen. “Who will be taking notes for your group?” he asked politely.

Brother Saul pointed to her. “The woman can do it.” He raised an eyebrow at Victoria. “You do know how to write, don’t you?”

Instead of snapping out of any of the rude replies bouncing around inside her head, she nodded. “Yes, I know how to read and write.”

The other men in her group looked at her, some appearing almost embarrassed and others dismissive. Victoria wasn’t used to that. She was the daughter of the alpha of the Lakota Wolf Clan. No one treated her with even a hint of disrespect. She uncapped fountain pen and maintained her smile with some effort. She recalled her father’s words. He had said that she would learn more by listening than by speaking, so she kept her mouth shut and waited for the discussion to begin.

One said, “Look, I’m Hank Fuller from Chadron, way out west. This doesn’t really pertain to us.”

“Yeah, same here,” said another man. “This President Todd guy won’t have any interest in a little place like Mullen. Hell, most people have no idea where it is. I’m Gary Katt, by the way.”

Brother Saul leaned forward. Victoria took a moment to examine him. He had a bony frame with long arms and long legs, and a long, narrow face topped with thinning light brown hair worn in a ponytail. He would have looked nondescript, but his brown eyes were ferocious. She tilted her head to one side to look at him again. Maybe ferocious wasn’t the right word. Insane? Maybe that was going a little too far, but there was something mesmerizing about his eyes, something not quite normal.

“That’s all very well for you to say, but Falls City is only a few miles from President Todd’s territory.” Those brown eyes brightened with fervor. “Whatever decision we make, Falls City will be the first to feel it.”

A man on the opposite side of the circle nodded. “I’m Tom Valentine from Nebraska City, and I agree with Mister Allersen. Maybe those of you who don’t live on the river won’t feel the effects the way we will. Not right off, at least. From what I can see, Todd is a maniac. He’s like a grease stain on the ground, shiny and slippery and you can’t see below the surface.”

It was interesting that although Saul hadn’t introduced himself, this man knew who he was. Victoria shuffled the papers on her little desk. “Have you met President Todd, sir?”

Valentine jerked his chin in a half nod. “Once.”

Everyone in the group waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t. Brother Saul jabbed a finger in Victoria’s direction. “You writing any of this down, girl?”

“Was there a question you wanted me to record?” she asked in her sweetest voice.

He glowered. “What is your husband thinking to let you come here?”

Victoria noticed that a couple of the other men looked embarrassed again, but she directed her smile at Brother Saul. “I don’t have a husband.”

“Then your father.” There was a sneer in his voice. “What man would allow a woman to represent him? He must be a weak sister.”

Laughter snorted out of her before she could catch it. “You haven’t met my father, have you?”

The glare he raked over her screamed with derision. “And where are you from, Miss?”

“I am Victoria Wolfe, of the Lakota Wolf Clan.”

A few of the men drew audible breaths. Saul Allersen’s expression didn’t change. She lifted her pen and smiled genially around the circle. “What questions do you have for the mayor?”

For the next thirty minutes the group discussed and decided which questions they wanted to submit to the Mayor. Victoria faithfully recorded them on the paper she’d been given. She thought most of them were good questions. How soon did Todd expect Omaha’s answer? How much would the taxes to Todd be? How large was Todd’s army? Did the mayor believe Omaha could defeat Kansas-Missouri?

The mayor spoke from the stage. “Ten minutes, gentlemen. Ten more minutes and then we need to wrap this up.”

Victoria was glad to hand her paper to Mister Finley when he came to collect them. After everybody had dragged their seats back to their original places and sat down, the mayor spoke again.

“I want to thank everyone for coming. I will be spending the rest of today and tonight reading your questions, and the city council will join me in preparing answers. We will meet again tomorrow morning at nine o’clock and we will move forward with our deliberations at that point. Good day.”

It took a while for all of them to leave the room. Victoria waited with Quill and Hawk for the congestion to clear, but before they could leave, the mayor raised a hand to beckon them toward the stage. He jumped down easily and shook Quill’s hand with enthusiasm.

“I’m glad to see you,” McGrath said. “How is Mrs. Ellie? And Mrs. Sara? It’s been how long? Twenty years?”

Quill was smiling. “You’ve been mayor for nearly twenty years, so a little longer since you rescued my mate.” The smile dimmed a little. He was probably thinking about Aunt Ellie and how she had been stolen and abused by evil men before she was found and helped by Rye McGrath. “She’s doing well. So is Sara. I’ll let them know you asked.”

“Good. Good.”

“And how is Miss Cayla?”

“My wife is doing great. She remembers you with a lot of affection. In fact, she’s insisting that you come to supper.” He aimed a small smile at Hawk and Victoria. “All of your party are invited. Are you free tonight?”

“Sure.” Quill smiled easily. “But you don’t want all of us. We’re quite a mob.”

“Yes, all of you,” the mayor insisted. “There’s only nine of you. We’re inviting the Madisons from Kearney too. Please come.” He gave a little chuckle. “Cayla insists. My wife has a way of getting what she wants, so don’t say no. Six o’clock.”

“You have the questions and answers to deal with tonight,” Hawk protested.

“Yeah, so I won’t be able to spend as much time with you as I’d like.” The mayor appeared sincere. “We’ll have all the representative for formal dinner parties over the next week, but we want you tonight. Just an informal supper. Please come.”

“Well, alright.” Quill shook hands again. “We’ll be there.”

My Book Boyfriend

Book Boyfriends. We all have them, don’t we? Z from JR Ward’s Lover Awakened is one of mine. And Curran from the Kate Daniels series. Cat from the Windflower. Oh, and Roarke from the In Death series! *happy sigh*

But finding new book boyfriends can be expensive. Here is a great promo that can help you find that perfect hero. Just click the image and answer three questions. A link to a book featuring your dream man will appear. And the books are free!!!

 

Tuesday Teaser 3/7/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 10

Happy Tuesday! I hope you are experiencing nice spring weather where ever you may be. After a Sunday in the upper 50s we’re having a  terribly windy here today. And snow.  Sigh. Winter is not yet over, that’s for sure.

As long as it’s not too cold or windy on March 25 when I move it will be alright. I am spending this week going thru my closets, drawers and shelves to weed out what I should throw away, what I should donate, and what I should keep and move. I have got a LOT of stuff! This is a lot of work! *whine*  My official move date is March 25, but I plan to have all my packing done by the 23rd. We’ll see how that goes.

This week’s snip from Victoria’s Cat is maybe a little boring. I want to show the threat facing Omaha and also introduce some new characters. This is one of the sections that I may revise pretty heavily when I do my revisions. As usual, not proof-read.


The entry of five men distracted her from that thought. The one in the lead had iron gray curls just touched with brown and an erect bearing. The last one was short, slender, and reminded Victoria of a rabbit. The men walked to the stage, climbed the two steps and filed to their seats, but did not sit right away. They stood silently, waiting for the attention of the representatives and delegates. Victoria noticed that the man with the curly hair must be Mayor McGrath.  She had never met him, but she knew that years ago, before he became mayor, he had helped to save aunt Ellie’s life. Gradually, the noise died down. Mayor McGrath raised his hand.

“Welcome to the twenty-second session of the Omaha Legislature. We have special guests for this session due to a matter which we will discuss at length. I am Ryan McGrath, Mayor of Omaha. On my left is Charles Beauregard, vice-mayor of Omaha. On my right is Judge John Case, chief justice of Omaha, and on his right is Captain Dean Erikson, head of the Omaha City Guard. The gentleman in the front corner of the stage is Joseph Finley. He is the legislative secretary, who will make a record of everything that is said here. Remember that before you speak, because any citizen of Omaha has the right to review the legislative records. Nobody wants to sound like a fool in a public record.” He smiled a thin smile and chuckled. “Not even me. Let us begin.”

The four men sat down. Mr. Finley laid a sheet of paper in front of the mayor, and then went to sit down at the smaller desk on the side of the stage. Mayor McGrath raised the paper to read, and after several minutes, laid the paper back down.

“There are a number of matters of concern to Omaha, but I think we’ll set those aside until the end of the legislative session and concentrate on the big issue that faces us now.”

The mayor had a strong voice that carried well. Victoria was pleased that she could hear him clearly. She listened attentively.

“We have invited all the towns and settlements in the area to send a representative to this legislative session. We’re glad to see so many of you here today. In the letter I sent out to your towns, I explained our situation. President Michael Todd of Kansas-Missouri wants to ally with us. I see three main benefits of an alliance between our two regions.” The mayor raised one finger and looked out over the assembly. “One, trade. Since much of Missouri is on the Mississippi River they have access to goods that we don’t, or that we have to pay high prices for. If we ally with them, there would be no additional tariffs. Goods that we would like to have would not cost as much, so more people could afford them.” He lifted a second finger. “Two, military. If Omaha is attacked, Todd would send military aid.” A third finger joined the other two. “And three, medical. If the Woman Killer Plague breaks out again, he would provide us medical personnel and medications.”

A voice rose from the middle of the room. “Yeah? About that military thing. Who would attack us?”

A second, more belligerent, voice yelled, “And what about the drawbacks?”

Victoria jerked in a breath. But the mayor didn’t seem annoyed at the interruption.

“There are drawbacks,” he said calmly. “As allies, President Todd could expect the same things from us. If Kansas Missouri or any of their people were attacked, they would expect us to send military aid. If a plague broke out, they would expect us to send medical help.” McGrath’s voice was steady and strong. “That would be fair. But there are other things I have concerns about.”

The mayor rose from his desk. “I’ve been watching Todd over the past five years. He started out as the mayor of Kansas City. In the first year, he started bringing the smaller towns and cities in that area under his control. That didn’t seem to be a problem. Todd required the other cities to send their people to work to rebuild Kansas City. That didn’t sit right with me, but I thought maybe labor was all those smaller places had to offer in exchange for protection. But it’s gone beyond that.”

Mayor McGrath stepped around the table to come to the edge of the stage and looked out over his audience. “Todd got together an army, and he didn’t use it to protect his people but to conquer people who did nothing to bother him. And then he made those people work for him. I’m not talking about jobs. Those people are slaves. That’s wrong, but did it affect Omaha?”

Victoria fixed her whole attention on the mayor. He was a good speaker, but even if he had been as dull as ditchwater she would have listened carefully. She already knew what answer she, as the clan’s delegate, would give. Her father and rest of the clan had talked at length in council as to what to stand the clan would take in this matter of alliance. The clan wanted nothing to do with a war between Omaha and Kansas-Missouri.

“No, it did not affect Omaha.” The mayor folded his arms. “It didn’t affect us then. But it does now. Todd controls all of Missouri, the eastern half of Kansas, parts of Illinois, and a bit of Iowa. He took control of those regions by offering them an alliance. When his alliance was accepted, the city was annexed to his empire. The current governing body remained in place, but reported to Todd and sent taxes to Todd. Heavy taxes. Some of the people were sent to live in Kansas City or other cities under Todd’s control.”

“Hostages,” muttered a low voice behind Victoria.

“When his alliance offer is rejected, as it was by Jefferson City and Springfield, his army simply smashes the city and takes it over by force.” McGrath was grim. “I’ve heard the stories from survivors. A lot of the people were killed, businesses looted, houses burned. Women and children were taken away and re-distributed to Todd’s loyal men.”

On either side of her, Victoria heard the low rumble of wolf warrior rage, but neither Quill nor Hawk spoke. The rules governing courteous behavior in council were too ingrained in them for their anger to be set free.

“So,” the mayor went on. “we need to decide how we will respond to Todd’s offer of alliance. That is why I’ve invited you all here now. I want to know your—”

A man three rows in front of Victoria leaped to his feet with a screech of wood on wood. “We have to fight him!” he shouted.

“No!” Another jumped up. “We’ll be killed if we fight.”

Victoria felt her jaw drop. The mayor hadn’t even finished speaking! More men were jumping to their feet and yelling. She looked at Hawk with disbelief. Didn’t these townsmen have any manners? Hawk shook his head sadly, as if he had read her mind. It seemed like she, Hawk and Quill were the only ones still sitting in their seats. She folded her arms and glared straight ahead. The yelling would stop eventually.

The boom of a gunshot cut through the shouting voices, leaving instant silence in its wake. The mayor stood with a small pistol in his fist. Victoria realized the gray square on the wall was a bullet trap.

“Sit down.”

McGrath barely raised his voice, but he didn’t have to. Victoria knew an alpha when she heard one, and the others must have too. Chairs squealed as the men sat.

“I guess Captain Erickson was right. He said we should’ve gone over some ground rules before we started. But better late than never, right?” The mayor gave his audience a fierce smile. “Dean? Would you mind?”

The lean man with short blond hair stood up and came to the edge of the stage. “The rules aren’t difficult,” he said. “First of all, only one person speaks at a time. There are ninety-eight of us in the room, and if we have everyone talking at the same time no one will be heard. Anyone who speaks out of turn will be asked to leave.”

There was more noise from men shifting in their chairs and come low murmurs Everyone will have a chance to discuss in smaller groups. One man near the front raised his hand like a kid in school wanting permission to speak. Dean Erickson stared at him for a long moment before nodding.

“With that many of us, how can we have a discussion?”

Erickson nodded. “That’s good question. We’re going to do it this is way: you will be divided into groups of eight. That’s a good number to have a discussion without having to wait an hour for a chance to speak again. Your group will take the rest of this morning to talk, ask questions, discuss your feelings about the proposed alliance. One of you will write down all the questions that the members of your group want to ask. We’ll collect your questions and read them over. Tomorrow Mayor McGrath will address those questions, and we will go from there. The important thing—” The captain said to hard Claire around the room. “Is that you discuss the issues and questions, without yelling. Do not interrupt someone else while they are speaking. Everyone’s voice will be heard.”

The mayor slapped Erickson on the shoulder. “Good job, Dean. Succinct and to the point.” He chuckled. “Let’s number off. You.” He pointed at the far end of the first row. “You are number one.” His finger veered to the right. “Two.”

The next man said, “Three?”

“Nice,” said the mayor approvingly and moved his finger again.

“Four.”

“Five.”

Marty’s voice said, “Six.”

They numbered off one by one, and Victoria wanted to be a number six, but she was a two. Everyone got up from their seats and milled around to find where their group was meeting. Chairs were dragged over the floor to form circles. Victoria approved. A circle was the best way for a group to hold council. The only person she recognized in her group was Brother Saul. He stared at her with obvious incredulity before frowning and turning to the man beside him.

“A woman?” he said. “What’s a woman doing here?”

Victoria’s teeth ground together. I’m representing the Lakota Wolf Clan. The delegate from the Lakota Wolf Clan should not slap the other delegates. She forced a smile as she sat down. “Good morning. I am Victoria Wolfe, representing the Lakota Wolf Clan.”

Tuesday Teaser 2/28/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 9

It’s the last day of February and I almost forgot to post the teaser. I am discombobulated. On Saturday I was informed that my rent was being raised a large amount. Like, way out of my budget. I had only until today to decide if I would sign a new lease or move. It was hard to decide, but I put my notice in today. Now I have 30 days to find somewhere else to live. That is so scary for me. I HATE to move. It’s so much work. And it’s expensive! But it is done. And I’m already tired, just thinking of of all the packing and cleaning ahead.  This may upset my writing schedule for the next six weeks, so future teasers might be thin. I hope you’ll enjoy this one. Remember that this is unedited, and I haven’t even re-read it to make basic corrections. Be kind!


Chapter Six

 

The next morning Victoria dressed in one of the four outfits she had brought to wear to the legislature meetings. It was conservative in that it was a jacket and slacks, but the color was electric blue. Since it had been custom made by Hannah & Lisa Designs for her, Victoria knew it top-quality and fit her perfectly. Her jewelry consisted of a fine gold chain around her neck with a teardrop shaped pearl pendant and matching pearl earrings. She applied a little makeup, and the bathroom mirror told her she looked her very best. She wanted to look her best. She was representing the Lakota Wolf Clan.

Marty and Ray were at a table near the back of the dining room. Eagle, Stone, and Sand where at a table near the front. Eagle was resplendent in his favorite navy blue wool breechcloth, heavy silver bead necklace and his two prized eagle feathers earned in battle. Stone and Sand wore plain white dress shirts and dark slacks. As she finished going through the buffet, Sand stood up and indicated the empty chair at his table. Victoria gave him a smile and a nod and walked to the Madisons.

“May I join you this morning?” she asked.

“Of course.”

Marty and Ray stood up, and Marty pulled out a chair for her. He was devastatingly gorgeous in a suit of chocolate brown. His golden blond hair rested in thick waves over his shoulders.

She took the chair and smiled. “Are they coming after me?”

She didn’t need to explain who she meant. Marty looked past her toward the front of the room and shook his head. “Stone is smiling. Sand looks like someone just hit him with a brick, and your brother looks like he’s about to explode. But they are still at their table.”

Ray stabbed a fat sausage with his fork. “Are you declaring war?”

She shook her head. “No, not war. This is more like a declaration of independence.”

Marty’s eyes laughed at her. “You’re a rebel.”

What should she have first, the pancakes or scrambled eggs? She looked up with a shrug. “I don’t think I am. I love my family and I know they love me. But I am a grown up and I get to make the decisions about my life. They’ll learn to accept it eventually.”

Ray bent over his plate and murmured, “Lesson number one coming up.”

Glancing over her shoulder, Victoria saw Colby come into the dining room. Marty was gorgeous, but Colby was too. He wore his only suit. It was charcoal gray, double-breasted, and the cut emphasized his narrow waist and broad shoulders. His short black hair gleamed. Little Miss Summer was crazy if she didn’t give Colby a chance to court her.

Colby filled a plate and came to their table. “Good morning.”

“Hey, Colby,” said Ray.

Victoria whistled. “Looking good, Cole.”

He raised dark brown eyes to her like a hopeful puppy. “Do you think she’ll like it? The suit, I mean.”

“If you mean Miss Summer, I’m sure she’ll love it.”

He sat a little straighter. “Do you think so?”

“You look great.” She jabbed a fork toward his plate. “So does the food. Be sure not to drip any syrup on your clothes.”

She hid a smile when he declined to use any syrup at all. Over the next few minutes the dining room filled with the men who were staying at the house. All were dressed neatly, obviously preparing to attend the legislative session. Jon and Tanner looked ill at ease in their suits. An older man was with them. Victoria guessed he must be the leader of their commune. She studied this man for a while trying to find evidence of his evil, but he looked perfectly normal. Certainly pompous, but not evil. When he, Jon and Tanner stood up to leave the dining room she purposely turned her head away so she wouldn’t have to say good morning to him.

Marty pushed back from the table. “And I think it’s time we left. Miss Victoria, may we escort you?”

Her brother was suddenly there. His voice didn’t have the bite could have. “We’ll escort Victoria.” He nodded toward Stone and Sand. “You can walk along with us if you like.”

“Thanks.” Marty ran a gaze from the feathers in Eagle’s hair to the breastplate made of hair blowing and brass beads over his bare chest to the silver bells dangling from the outside seams of his leather leggings. “No one will overlook you in the assembly today,” he said cryptically. “We can leave anytime.”

The minibus was waiting just outside the back door. Victoria, wrapped in her sheepskin coat, balked at the noise. “I’d rather walk all the way back to the winter camp than ride that thing. Let’s walk.”

Sand and Quill walked together in the lead, and Rock, Colby, Eagle, Victoria, Marty, Ray, and Stone followed. Before they had gone two blocks, the minibus passed them in a cloud of stinking fumes. Victoria waved her hand vigorously in front of her face to dispel the stench.

Even walking, they made good time to the city center and arrived only a few minutes after the bus had delivered the last of its passengers. They passed it going in opposite directions just as they came in sight of the fountain in the city center. Victoria was surprised and a little disappointed when they were ushered into the assembly room on the top floor of the judicial building. She had expected it to be like the clan council, where everyone sat in a circle. This room had rows of wooden chairs all facing the same direction, and at the head of the room was low stage with a long table and chairs facing the rows of other chairs. On one edge of the stage was a small table and chair. There were names engraved on metal plaques at the seats at the table, including that of the mayor of Omaha.

There was a man inside the door who greeted them and told them where their assigned seats were. Marty was in the front row closest to the table, but Victoria was near the back. Quill, the delegate from the den was on one side of her, and Hawk, representing the Plane Women’s House Pack, sat on the other. Each wooden chair had a small table attached to it, like the desks she’d seen in schools. Good thing these were adult-sized, or she’d never have fit. Each desk had a folded paper tent with a name if he on it. The wooden chairs were crammed close together. They weren’t very comfortable either. She should have brought a fur to pad the seat.

She shifted her weight and studied the legislative chamber. The walls were paneled in wood. Wood floor, wood walls, wood ceilings, all the same dull brown color. The only color was from a faded flag tacked to the wall behind the table on the stage, and a gray metal square hung on the wall to the right. There were narrow windows running along the top of one wall. Victoria felt almost claustrophobic.

“It will get stuffy in here with all these people, I bet,” she murmured to Hawk.

Hawk sat still, arms folded over his chest. “Too many people,” he said with a grunt.

By craning her head, she could see Marty twelve rows ahead of her. In the same row sat Brother Saul. How did he get to be so important that he was seated in the front row? Maty represented one of the largest settlements in the region, and he had been for five or six years now, so it made sense that he would be in the first row. But why were she, Hawk, and Quill near the back?

Quill leaned over her. “I don’t know which of you is getting more attention, you, because you are a beautiful woman, or Eagle, because he’s in full wolf warrior regalia.”

It was true that a lot of the hundred or so men in the room were staring at her and whispering together. It wasn’t unusual for her to get a lot of attention, but she had a feeling this came from the fact that she was the only woman in the room. These stupid misogynists probably thought a woman shouldn’t be a delegate. She wanted to stand up and say something rude. As the Clan’s delegate, she kept her mouth shut and only privately fantasized about what she’d like to say to them.

The room was filling up fast. Even the standing room along the walls was overcrowded. Rock, Eagle, Sand, and Colby were against the back wall. Rock waved to get Hawk’s attention and said something, but over the rumble of voices and screeching of chairs on the bare wood floor, Victoria couldn’t hear it. Hawk could. He nodded, and the others left.

“They are going somewhere else for a few hours,” he murmured to her.

Quill, having wolf-sharp hearing, didn’t need his translation. Victoria hid a smile. Probably going to see Miss Summer. How would that go today?

Tuesday Teaser 2/21/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 8

Here is the next snip in Victoria’s Cat. Things are finally getting interesting! I think during my revisions I’ll need to make a lot of changes so that Marty and Vic get to spend some more time together. The trick is getting them together without her brother and cousins/uncles getting in the way. As Marty says, “It’s a tricky business courting a woman of the Wolf Clan.”

I also re-wrote the bit with Colby after his mate brushes him off. I think I liked it the other way better, where he thinks his first encounter went pretty well. What do you think?


Victoria went back to watching her cousin. “Hey, Cole? You want some more hot chocolate?’

Speaking slowly, still staring unblinkingly at the girl, Colby said, “Yes, please.”

The girl lost her cheerful, friendly smile under the intensity of Colby’s stare. She held the carafe in front of her like a shield. Impatient, Victoria plucked Colby’s cup from his hand and held it out to the girl.

“Pay no attention to him,” she advised the girl. “We don’t let him out very often so he’s not really socialized.”

The girl gave a nervous laugh and filled Colby’s cup. He reached out quickly, trapping the girl’s fingers between the cup and his hand. “Are you married?” he demanded.

The girl gasped. Victoria huffed. “You see what I mean? No social skills at all.” She said out of the corner of her mouth, “Cole, are you crazy?”

“Mate,” he said simply.

“Wow.” Victoria looked at the girl again. “Are you sure? She doesn’t look any older than sixteen.”

“Eighteen,” the girl flared. “Your manners aren’t much better, are they?” She aimed an impressively cool glare at Colby. “Now let go of my hand. The cup is hot and it’s burning my fingers.”

Colby released her at once. “Sorry. Are you okay?” And with barely a pause,” What’s your name?”

She put his cup on the table with enough force that the liquid slopped over the edge. “You can call me Miss Summer, if you need my services as your waitress. Other than that, you don’t get to call me anything.”

“Summer.” Colby let out a slow breath. “That’s a beautiful name. I’m—”

“I don’t care who you are.” Summer wheeled around and stalked off.

There was silence at their table for a long moment before Colby cleared his throat. “Did that go badly?”

Rock coughed. “Pretty much.”

Marty and Ray both hid behind their cups. Eagle slumped back in his chair, shaking his head.

“What did I do wrong?”

With Marty dragging her hand in little circles over his thigh, Victoria was having some trouble concentrating, but she tried.

“Are you married?” she said, pitching her voice to a low growl to imitate Colby. “Honestly, Cole.”

Colby rarely looked anything less than supremely confident. Now he reminded her of a kicked puppy as he stared into his cup. “She’s my mate. I needed to know if she was already married.”

Ray gave his future brother in law an encouraging thump on the shoulder. “At least you know where she works. And you found out her name. Summer. That’s pretty.”

“Actually, Summer is her last name.” Marty gave Victoria’s hand a squeeze and turned it over to trace designs on her palm. She all but swooned. “Her name is Georgina Summer.”

Colby craned his head and looked toward the counter. It was empty. “Miss Summer. So she’s not married. But where is she?” A frown gathered on his forehead. “She shouldn’t be here alone. Anyone could walk in and steal her! I—”

“Sit down.” Marty could put quite a bit of bite in his voice when he wanted to. Colby visibly bristled under the tone. “This is Omaha,” Marty told him. “Women aren’t property here. They aren’t stolen.” Colby opened his mouth, but Marty went on. “Usually, Lachlan and Ceara are here too. They own the place. Tomorrow there will be four or five counter staff to handle the crowds from City Hall. Representatives stop in here all the time when the legislature is in session. Miss Summer is perfectly safe.”

Muscles in Colby’s bunched. “I have to talk to her. I have to … court her.” Wonder broke over his face. “I have a mate!”

Rock and Eagle leaned close. “How did you know?” asked Rock.

“My wolf told me.”

Eagle frowned. “Does your wolf speak to you in words? Mine only sends me feelings.”

“This time I swear I heard his voice. He said ‘mate’. And then I smelled her. She smells so good.” Colby closed his eyes and inhaled, as if catching the last lingering traces of his mate’s scent. “Chocolate and coffee and sugar. So sweet.” His eyes opened and went to the counter. “I have to find her. I need to—”

“Wait.” Marty finally let go of her hand to reach across the table to Colby. “She’s probably still upset. Why don’t you give her a little time. Let’s go up to the museum, and on the way out you can stop in here to apologize to her.”

“That’s good advice.” Victoria’s hand felt cold without Marty’s strong fingers holding it. She pulled it up and wrapped it around her cup. “Think about it, Cole. She’s never seen you before in her life, and you grab her and ask personal questions. What would you do to a man who tried that with your sister?”

“Kill him.”

Since that was the answer she was expecting, she didn’t roll her eyes. “So you can see why she was upset.”

He didn’t seem to want to admit it, but after a long moment he nodded. “Okay, let’s go look upstairs.”

Victoria was happy for Colby, but what made her really happy was that the discovery of his mate drew attention away from her and Marty. They left the coffee shop and crossed the building’s lobby to the stairs, and the whole way, Rock and Eagle were asking eager questions about how Colby knew that Miss Summer was his mate. Was he absolutely sure she was the one? How did it feel? Even after they had entered the museum on the second floor, the three wolf warriors were still talking about it.

A fussy looking elderly man glared at them. “Please keep your voices down.” The words were polite, but the tone was an order. Victoria looked around the large cluttered room and saw no one else that they would disturb by talking.

Rock, Eagle and Colby drifted to one end of the room, whispering furiously. Ray gave Marty a wink and followed them. Victoria listened, and when the whispering died down, Ray asked a question that started it up again. Marty tilted his head toward the other end of the room.

“There’s a display down here I think you’d like to see,” he said loudly.

Victoria followed him and bent over the glass case. Flat rectangular things were arranged artistically over cream colored velvet. “What are they?”

“Cell phones from the Times Before. Eddie’s wife, Lisa, had one. I bet your mom did too.” He bent over also so that their shoulders touched and their faces were side-by-side. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I tell you, trying to court you is just about impossible with your brother and all your relatives in tow, but I am not giving up. I take it by the way you petted me downstairs, that you are not in adverse to my courtship?”

Her heart skipped a beat and fluttered. “Not one bit adverse. In fact, I plan to marry you.”

In the reflection in the glass she could see the white of his teeth as he smiled. “One of the things I love about you the most is your honesty. Vic, I didn’t stop courting you because I didn’t want you.”

“I know, I know.” She shook her head with a sigh. “It was my dad, wasn’t it? I bet he said something to you at the gala in January.”

He took her hand. “Yeah, he did.” With his other hand he pointed at one of the cell phones in the case.

Victoria shot a quick glance toward the men and saw Eagle looking at them. “Yeah,” she said in a normal tone, which she knew her brother could hear perfectly well even across the large room. “That one looks a lot like the one my mom had in the Times Before.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Why did you let my dad chase you away?”

“The gala wasn’t the right place to make trouble. And I wanted to be sure that you really did welcome my interest.”

“Aunt Marissa said in her letter that you were going to come find me if you didn’t hear from me by April.”

“Absolutely. I know who I want to marry. You are worth fighting for. I would hate to cause trouble between you and your parents, but I know who the right woman for me is.”

They had been crouched over this one case for a suspiciously long time. Vic moved a few steps to the next case. “I’m sorry that my dad doesn’t like it. It would about break my heart to lose his approval. I’m not a little girl.” She quit pretending to examine the display and looked him in the eye. “I know who the right man is for me and even my family can’t change my mind about it. I don’t care what their objections are. You are going to be my husband.”

He swallowed. “I can understand their objections. They don’t need to be concerned, but they do have their reasons.” He licked his lips. “There’s something about me that you need to know.”

The silence stretched while he appeared to try to find words. Victoria jumped in. “You mean about you being a mountain cat?”

His jaw dropped. “You know?”

“Of course I know. I don’t see why my dad would object to that. I mean, your brother and Ray are cats, right?”

His golden hair caught the light as he nodded his head. “Yeah. Yeah, but there’s a little bit more to it than that. When Eddie and Lisa were first married, he was a bit of asshole to her. Almost abusive, really.”

Victoria’s eyes widened. “What? Mayor Madison has always treated his wife like a princess.”

“I was not even born at the time, but Eddie has told me a little bit about it. His cat didn’t know how to treat her.”

Victoria crossed her arms over her chest. “He beat her?” She shook her head with certainty. “He couldn’t have. Snake would have killed him.”

“No, it wasn’t that bad. He was just rough with her. He would grab her arm and hold it too tight. Sometimes he spoke harshly to her. He would say things that hurt her.”

“Oh. That’s not so bad.”

“It’s bad enough. Your dad is afraid I will treat you that same way. That’s his real objection.”

Victoria’s back snapped straight. “If you ever did anything to hurt me—”

“You would kill me? Or have one of your brothers do it?”

“No.” She relaxed. “You would never do that to me.”

He smiled. “No, I wouldn’t.”

They had been so involved in the conversation, they hadn’t noticed that the others had abandoned their corner and were approaching. Victoria looked down into the case they stood at. “What is that?” she asked loudly.

Marty peered down into the case. “I’m not sure.” He angled his head to read the white card. “It’s a fitness tracker watch.” He read a little bit more, frowning. “People in the Times Before would wear these on their wrists. It would tell them the time, temperature, and…” He shook his head. “How many steps they had taken during the day. I wonder what they wanted to know that for?”

Colby tapped a finger on the class of the case. “Hey, let’s go back downstairs. I’ve seen enough.”

“Sure.”

Victoria doubted that she and Marty would have any more time alone, so she gave in with good grace. At least they had had a chance to figure out where they stood, and they would have more chances to talk. Preferably alone.

To keep from overwhelming Miss Summer, the rest of them waited in the lobby when Colby went into the coffee shop to speak with his mate. He came back in only a couple of minutes.

“She went home.” Colby looked lost. “There’s a man in there instead.”

Marty nodded. “She’ll be back tomorrow. You are not the representative from the den, so you’ll be free to come here tomorrow while the legislature is in session. Maybe you can get a chance to talk to her then.”

Colby brightened. “That’s right. Quill has to stay there for all the talk, but he doesn’t need me to be with him every minute. I’ll come here and court my mate.”

Victoria wondered just how much time Miss Summer would have if the coffee shop was as busy as Marty said it would be. She shrugged. It would do Colby good to have to work for something. As she walked out into the thin spring sunshine, Victoria grinned to herself. She’d give her favorite necklace to see the girl brush him off and take him down a peg or two.

Tuesday Teaser 2/14/17 Victoria’s Mate Part 7

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Valentine’s Day. It just happens to be Tuesday, so that means a new teaser from Victoria’s Cat. We haven’t gotten to the actual romance part of the story yet (although Vic does her best to let Marty feel her attaction to him), but I’m giving you a slightly longer than usual bit so you can see Colby meet his mate and … *cough* … show her how tender, patient, and sweet he can be. Yeah, let’s go with that.  LOL


Chapter Five

 

“This is the city center,” said Marty. “Too bad it’s only March, because the fountain is beautiful in the summertime.”

The wide sidewalks in this part of town where clear of any ice, leaving Victoria with no excuse to lean on Marty’s arm. She had declined the offer of riding in the bus. First of all, she hated that contraption, and secondly, she wanted a chance to actually talk with Marty. Walking at his side would be the best way to do that. Besides, when she had to walk over any ice, she laid her hand on his arm to supposedly steady herself. She felt positively infantile getting a thrill from having her fingers rest on his coat sleeve, but she would take her thrills where she could find them.

She walked between Marty and Eagle into a wide open area and looked around at the architecture of the Times Before. Ray, Rock, and Colby were behind them. Even in March, this section of Omaha was impressive. There were tall buildings on three sides of an open square whose centerpiece was the fountain. Nothing was growing yet, but she could picture colorful beds of flowers and velvety green lawns. They must have been here yesterday, because the building behind them was the railroad station, but Victoria had no memory of the fountain.

“I bet it’s real pretty,” she agreed. “Those stone benches would be a nice place to sit and watch the fountain on a hot day. What’s that building over there?”

“That building is the City Hall, where we’ll go tomorrow for the start of the legislative session.” Marty turned his head so the three behind him could hear. “The ground-level holds jail cells. The next floor is where the court meets to try criminal cases. The legislature meets on the top floor. I’m not sure how they’ll get everyone in there. There’s not that much room even when it’s just the usual representatives in attendance. I bet there’s another fifty or sixty people to fit in there now, with all the delegates from the towns here in Omaha.”

The thought of standing in the legislature chambers to represent her clan was almost as exciting as having Marty brush against her. Her breath caught in a pleasurable shiver when he bumped into her hip.

“Sorry,” he said immediately. “Are you cold? The building opposite City Hall is the Cultural Center. There’s a coffee shop there if you’d like to get a coffee or hot chocolate.”

Victoria wasn’t actually cold, and her brother and cousins certainly weren’t, but at the mention of hot chocolate, they all headed for the Cultural Center. Marty insisted on paying for all of them, which was good. Victoria had no cash. Her brother and cousins didn’t either. Currency was a city thing. The Wolf Clan had cash, but normally they bartered for what they couldn’t produce themselves.

Victoria and the clan men took the largest table in the shop, the one in front of the big window in front, while Ray and Marty went to the counter and ordered.

“This is a nice little place,” she observed to Eagle. “A few little tables and chairs, nice view of the square, and a fireplace with big fat armchairs in front of it. I’ll have to come back again.”

Her brother inhaled deeply. “Smells good too.”

Colby closed his eyes and sniffed. “It does. Too bad coffee doesn’t taste as good as it smells.”

Marty and Ray came back each carrying a tray loaded with cups and donuts. Victoria made room for Marty on the padded bench beside her. Eagle and Colby, sitting on the other side of the table, paused a moment while they appeared to debate whether they should protest this seating arrangement, then reached for cups and donuts.

The hot chocolate was the good kind: thick and rich, with a small mountain of whipped cream on top sprinkled with shaved chocolate. Marty watched her enjoyment of the beverage with a smile that looked almost envious.

“You like chocolate,” he commented. “You know they say chocolate is the way to a woman’s heart.”

Normally that sort of remark would have brought the snarling wrath of her brother and cousins down on him, but they were deep into their chocolate. Victoria let her free hand slide down beneath the table to brush over Marty’s thigh. It was the barest touch, but red flowed into his cheeks and he drew in a sharp breath.

“You know what else?” She leaned a little closer to him. “There were two things that the Wolf
Clan loves to eat: raw meat and chocolate. Personally, I could leave the raw meat, but I do really like chocolate. I like watching the sunset over the plains, and I like finding prairie roses in the green grass in the spring.” She watched his Adam’s apple go up and down as he swallowed and lowered her voice to a purr. “And I like you.”

Colby’s head came up with a glare. It would have been more effective if he didn’t have a whipped cream mustache. Victoria gurgled with laughter.

“Vic.” Her brother sounded pained. “Please behave.”

Well, that was an astonishingly mild rebuke. She walked her fingers down Marty’s thigh to his knee, trying to look innocent. A naughty part of her wanted to walk her fingers in a different direction, but stroking his fly would be a little much. A girl had only so much control. But someday, she vowed silently, I will stroke every single part of him. Marty’s hand grabbed hers and held it pressed tightly against his knee. He tried to speak, failed, and cleared his throat to try again.

“There’s a, uh, a …” Marty coughed. “A museum on the floor above. Would you like to go up there next?”

“What do they have up there?” Rock set his cup down and swiped a hand over his upper lip to clear away the remains of the hot chocolate. “Is it like the stuff in the library at Kearney?”

“Some of it.” Marty drank the last of his chocolate, his fingers playing with hers under the table. “Some of it is much older, like from the early nineteenth century.”

There was a trace of chocolate at the corner of Marty’s mouth and Victoria forced herself to look away. If the others weren’t here, she could kiss it away. Would it taste even sweeter from Marty’s lips? She made herself remember the history lessons she had been taught as a child. “That was before the Times Before, right? After the Civil War? Or is that before the Civil War?” She had never been very good with dates.

“The Civil War was in the eighteen-sixties, so before. But there are some Indian artifacts from the eighteen-seventies and eighties that you might enjoy seeing.”

“Lakota?” Like all of them, Colby was very aware of their heritage.

“Yes, Lakota, and Pawnee, Cheyenne, and I think some Kiowa items.”

They all voted that the museum would be their next stop. Before they could get up, the counter girl came over with a large carafe.

“I don’t have any more whipped cream,” she said apologetically, “but there is more hot chocolate. Would anyone like a refill?”

Victoria held out her cup with a smile. “This is great hot chocolate,” she said. “Thanks.”

Surprised that more cups weren’t being held out, she turned to look at the rest of the table. Her brother and Rock were both staring at Colby, who was staring at the girl with an expression Victoria had never seen on his face before. Longing? Fear? Awe?

She glanced back at the girl. She wasn’t especially pretty. Her chin was pointed, her nose long. She was taller than aunt Ellie, but not especially tall. Her hair was mousy brown, scraped back in a limp ponytail that hit her spine a few inches below her shoulders. Her figure was painfully thin, not softly rounded. Victoria was baffled by her cousin’s interest.

Colby’s nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply and for one moment Victoria could almost see his wolf deep inside him. Uh-oh. It couldn’t be… No, this couldn’t be Colby’s mate. Marty held his cup out to the girl and Victoria prepared to defend him from her cousin. But Colby didn’t move. He watched, white faced, as the girl took Marty’s cup with a cheerful smile and refilled it. Victoria let out a breath. That meant either the girl wasn’t Colby’s mate, or Colby’s wolf considered Marty part of his pack. A mated wolf, especially a newly mated wolf, would violently object to a man outside the pack touching his mate.

Victoria went back to watching her cousin. “Hey, Cole? You want some more hot chocolate?’

Speaking slowly, still staring unblinkingly at the girl, Colby said, “Yes, please.”

The girl lost her cheerful, friendly smile under the intensity of Colby’s stare. She held the carafe in front of her like a shield. Impatient, Victoria plucked Colby’s cup from his hand and held it out to the girl.

“Pay no attention to him,” she advised the girl. “We don’t let him out very often so he’s not really socialized.”

The girl gave a nervous laugh and filled Colby’s cup. He reached out quickly, trapping the girl’s fingers between the cup and his hand. “Are you married?” he demanded.

The girl gasped. Victoria huffed. “You see what I mean? No social skills at all.” She said out of the corner of her mouth, “Cole, are you crazy?”

“Mate,” he said simply.

“Wow.” Victoria looked at the girl again. “Are you sure? She doesn’t look any older than sixteen.”

“Eighteen,” the girl flared. “Your manners aren’t much better, are they?” She aimed an impressively cool glare at Colby. “Now let go of my hand. The cup is hot and it’s burning my fingers.”

Colby released her at once. “Sorry. Are you okay?” And with barely a pause,” What’s your name?”

She put his cup on the table with enough force that the liquid slopped over the edge. “You can call me Miss Summer, if you need my services as your waitress. Other than that, you don’t get to call me anything.”

“Summer.” Colby let out a slow breath. “That’s a beautiful name. I’m—”

“I don’t care who you are.” Summer wheeled around and stalked off.

There was silence at their table for a long moment before Colby cleared his throat. “That went pretty well, don’t you think?”

 

Tuesday Teaser 2/7/17: Victoria’s Cat Part 6

It’s Tuesday!! Yay!!

 

I’ve been going back through Victoria’s Cat and I see one major problem. There hasn’t been much interaction between the hero and heroine. In other words, Victoria and Marty have barely spoken. That is going to change when Marty takes her and her brother and cousins on a tour of Omaha, but … I think I’ll need to find a way to get them a little private time sooner. But there is no way for them to do that with all her relatives hanging around. Can you imagine Marty sneaking up to her room? Like Eagle and Stone wouldn’t hear him? Dang it, I’ll have to think about it. Meanwhile, here is the rest of chapter four.  🙂

 


Marty hefted the twenty-five-pound slab of bacon in its waxed linen bag higher on his shoulder. “Come on,” he said to his nephew. Ray was only a year younger than he was, so they were more like brothers than uncle and nephew. “Mrs. Renee needs this bacon to finish making breakfast.”

“Mmm,” sighed Ray, licking his lips and hefting his own sack of bacon to his shoulder. “I love eating her bacon. Or anything else she makes.”

They left the butcher and hurried up the street. Marty cast a teasing glance at his nephew. “Do you think that marrying Patia will let you eat Mrs. Renee’s cooking every day?”

“No.” Ray sounded hopeful. “But I’ll get to eat it sometimes, and Patia learned to cook from her aunt. Even if Patia cooks only half as well it’s better than what I make.”

“Have you set a date for the wedding?”

“Actually, we’re still just courting. Dad thought I should wait until after all this business here in Omaha is settled before I asked her to marry me.” He was quiet for a minute. “I wish we were already married. We could be here on our honeymoon.”

Marty cocked a brow. “With her brother in the same house?” He shook his head. “With his wolf hearing you never have any privacy. Some honeymoon that would be.”

“That’s a good point.” Ray gave an exaggerated shudder. “No, thank you.”

They paused on the curb to allow a car to pass in a billow of suffocating fumes. The early morning air was brisk, but spring was here. Dawn had broken while they were in the butcher shop and now the golden light of morning made everything seem new and fresh. It would be a beautiful day for the tour he was going to give to the woman he wanted to marry. Just remembering his first sight of her last night made his heart beat faster. Ray must have read his mind, or maybe he just scented his excitement. His nephew nudged his forearm.

“So, when are you proposing to Miss Victoria?”

“As soon as I’m sure she wants to marry me.”

Ray skirted an icy puddle on the sidewalk and smirked at him. “Even though her father told you he would never allow his daughter to marry you?”

“Yeah.” His mouth compressed in a flat line when he remembered Wolf’s Shadow and a bunch of the other wolf clan men confronting him at the gala in January. He had gone outside the old sports center where the gala was traditionally held to cool off after vigorous dancing and found himself in the center of a ring of threatening men. Shadow had told him Victoria was off limits and if he didn’t break off his courtship there would be trouble. He’d said Victoria wasn’t interested in marriage to him. He had acquiesced only to avoid trouble at the gala. “Yeah, even though. It’s Vic’s decision. I’m betting she’s not the woman to let anyone else make the decisions for her. If she wants to marry me, she will.”

At least he hoped she would. Her father’s concerns about his fitness to be a husband were invalid. That was his politician-polite term for it. Stupid was the better, if not wiser, word. And if Vic asked, he’d tell her so.

As they walked up the drive to the Limit’s gate, Ray shook his head. “I don’t get it. When I spoke with Taye Wolfe about courting his daughter, he was okay with it. But Shadow won’t let you court Victoria? I have the same, uh, issue that you do. So why will Taye accept me as a son in law, but Shadow won’t accept you?”

“Because your intended father-in-law is sane and reasonable, unlike the father of the woman I want to marry.”

Ray slanted a look at him. “Ah. That must be it.”

“Do me a favor, Ray. On the tour, try to get me a little time alone with Vic. You know, talk loud and keep the men’s attention on you.”

“I’ll try.” Ray laughed out loud. “This is going to be a very interesting morning.”

*

The breakfast buffet was scrumptious. Victoria always enjoyed breakfast. It was the most important meal of the day, and a woman of her height and figure needed plenty of calories to maintain her curves. She enjoyed this breakfast, too, but half of her attention was on the table behind her where Marty and Ray sat with Jon and Tanner from the Brotherhood Commune. All the small square tables were full. This time the delegates and their escorts from the Wolf Clan did not push tables together to sit as a group. Victoria sat with her brother, Colby, and Sand at the table nearest the open staircase. Rock, Quill and others were at other tables around the reception room turning dining room.

Over the clatter of cutlery and the morning chatter in the dining room, she couldn’t make out many words from Marty’s table, but the tone of his voice when he chatted with Jon and Tanner was friendly. Ray sounded reserved but pleasant. Marty couldn’t like those two idiots, could he? If he did, he would lose serious brownie points with her.

Her brother’s hearing was far sharper than hers. Eagle, seated on her left, paused in chewing and cocked his head as if listening. Colby, on her right, did the same. She was dying to know what they heard, and she didn’t have to wait long to find out. Eagle and Colby threw down their forks at the same time and leaped to their feet to face the table behind.

“No!” they snarled in unison.

Sand, the fourth person at the table, stood up more slowly, but only watched the two younger wolf warriors without speaking. Victoria jumped up too, to see what was going on.

Jon rose to his feet, face set. “No? What do you mean, no?”

“No, you’re not going on the tour with my sister,” Eagle snapped.

The arrogance in the tilt of Jon’s head almost made up for his lack of height. “There is no law against it. If I want to go, what will stop me?”

Victoria’s eyebrows climbed up her forehead. Was he blind? Or just stupid? Anyone who knew anything about the clan knew that her menfolk lived for opportunities to crush would-be suitors. Almost entertained, she folded her arms and waited for her brother’s reply.

At six feet and five inches, Eagle was nearly a foot taller than Jon. He stepped close, kicking a chair out of his way. To give him credit, Jon didn’t retreat.

“I’ll stop it, moron.”

Colby stepped up beside Eagle. “And I’ll help him.”

Tanner jumped up. “You can’t do that!”

He might have said more, but a voice from the door rang out with authority. “Stop,” said Renee.

Incredibly, Jon proved he was indeed the moron Eagle had called him. “I don’t listen to a cook,” he said, flicking his fingers dismissively toward Renee.

An awful silence fell, laden with a combination of shock, horror and disbelief. Victoria simply gaped at the fool, waiting for thunderbolts and lightening to strike him down. Thunderbolts and lightning in the guise of Hawk. All over the dining room she saw the men of the clan stand and prepare for battle. Hawk advanced like grim death on the table where Jon stood.

He was cut off by Ms. Mary. The tiny, frail lady took dainty, tottering steps right in his path without seeming to notice him. Even an enraged mate of the wolf clan gave way before a lady, especially an elderly one. Her lined face was set into an offended frown as she shook a finger in Jon’s face.

“I’ve never heard such rudeness,” she announced. “If you wish to remain a guest in this house, you will apologize at once, young man.”

Jon cast an angry look around the room. The men of the clan stared back, a silent promise of retribution. For a long minute, no one moved. Victoria wondered if Jon even realized what a colossal blunder he had made.

Into the silence, Stone spoke in Lakota. “I wonder if this is how he treats the women at his village? Perhaps that is why he must come all the way to Omaha to find a wife.”

Colby snorted with reluctant amusement. Rock gave a harsh bark of laughter, and Sand showed his chipped tooth in something not quite a smile. Jon’s square face turned red. Victoria was sure it was rage, not embarrassment. He turned stiffly toward the door where Renee stood. Hawk shifted half a step to block his mate from the younger man’s line of sight.

Victoria stared as Jon’s face underwent a transformation from sullenly angry to charmingly rueful. He lifted his hands with puppy dog eyes. “I am so sorry,” he said with every appearance of sincerity. “I’m a bear first thing in the morning. I shouldn’t have let my temper get away from me like that. Please forgive me.”

Renee jerked her chin down once, and disappeared back toward the kitchen. Hawk gave Jon one long, hard look, and then followed his mate. One by one, the men of the clan returned to their breakfasts, but Victoria noticed they positioned themselves so they could still see Jon. Last of all, Eagle and Colby came back to their table and sat down.

Ms. Mary patted Jon’s arm. “There now. That’s better. You have a nice breakfast, my dear.”

The clatter of forks and spoons and the murmur of voices rose again as the elderly left the dining room, but the noise was more subdued now. Victoria could clearly hear Marty say that maybe the Allerton boys could ask their father to give them a tour of Omaha. The leader of the Falls City commune had been to Omaha many times. A few minutes later, he and Ray excused themselves and came to Victoria’s table.

“Good morning, Miss Victoria,” Marty said warmly. He nodded at Colby, Eagle, and Sand. “We can leave on the tour anytime you’re ready.”

She waited for one of the men to make some protest, but they were silent. Maybe they were comparing Marty and Ray with Jon and Tanner and deciding that Marty was the far lesser evil. Cheered greatly by that thought, she smiled at the man she planned to marry.

“I can be ready in ten minutes.”

“Perfect.” Not being a fool like Jon, Marty nodded again at the men. “We’ll meet you in the foyer.”

“Ten minutes,” Victoria agreed. She watched him saunter up the stairs and tried to keep her pulse steady. The way he moved made her mouth water. The curse of having wolf warriors for watchdogs was that they could smell when she was excited. She turned back to the table. “Are you coming, Sand?”

He shook his head, biting into a piece of toast. “I’ve been in Omaha before. But Colby and Eagle are going, aren’t you?”

Both young men nodded eagerly. “She won’t be alone with the Madisons.”

She dabbed her mouth with her napkin. “But better the Madisons than the Allertons?”

Colby looked sour, but admitted, “Much.”

Victoria, as she went to up to her room to freshen up, chalked up a major victory in her campaign to win approval for her marriage to Marty Madison. Jon truly was a moron extraordinaire, but his idiocy had done wonders to show what a good choice Marty was. She smiled as she combed her hair. Now to move on to the next skirmish.

Tuesday Teaser 1/31/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 5

Wow! It’s almost February. I’ve been slacking off a little on my writing. Bad Maddy! No cookie!  But I do have a good sized snip for you from Victoria’s Cat.  Enjoy  🙂


Eagle bristled. “If they so much as smile at my sister…”

“Smiling is acceptable,” Stone said. “No fighting unless they step out of line.”

Victoria waited for him to define what constituted stepping out of line, but he didn’t. She tapped her chin with a forefinger as a wicked idea came to her. Compared to the Aller-Jensen boys, Marty must be much more acceptable to her menfolk. She smiled.

“You’re right, Uncle Quill. Dad told us we should present ourselves well here in Omaha. Beating up strangers because we don’t like their lifestyle would be wrong.” She swallowed and forced the next words out. “We should invite them to sit with us at supper.”

Every one of her relatives snapped his head around to stare at her. “What?” they chorused.

“Well, you know, just to be nice. I mean …” She faltered under their combined outrage. “It would be neighborly. Right?”

Hawk voiced their collective response.” No,” he said with flat finality.

Victoria sighed to hide her relief. “Oh, alright. Where’s Uncle Sand?”

“He went to deliver some letters for Amanda.” Hawk seemed glad of the new topic. “You know his mate grew up here in Omaha.”

“Uh-huh. Oh, look, Mrs. Theige is waving at us.”

The housekeeper came to stand by the stairs. “The buffet is ready, gentlemen. And Miss Wolfe,” she added quickly.

At home, when someone said food was ready, there was a stampede to the where ever the food was to be serviced. Here, no one moved, but all the men were looking at her. Eagle nudged her with an elbow. “They’re being gentlemen, sis, so lead the way before we all starve to death.”

Victoria cast a glance over her shoulder at the corner where Marty was. He and his nephew, Ray, were standing now. He gave her a subtle nod and a slow smile. Good. Marty would join her for supper. Her tummy made a little shimmy of anticipation. She hadn’t spoken with Marty in more than a month. How odd, she thought, that she had missed him so much when she’d barely known him a few months ago.

Once she took a plate from the staff at one end of the table against the wall the men flooded to form a line behind her. She went along the table, taking generous helpings of all the offerings. Anything that Renee made was guaranteed to be delicious. She carried her plate to one of the small square tables, put it down, and went to the next table.

Eagle was right behind her. “What you doing?”

“Let’s put some of these tables together so we can all sit together.”

“That’s a good idea.”

Eagle and Colby shooed her out of the way and moved the table themselves. She grabbed another of the tables and dragged it over.

Colby frowned at her. “We don’t need that many tables.”

“Yes, we do,” she said. “There’s me, you, Eagle, Hawk, Rock, Quill, and Stone. Sand will be coming soon, so we should save a chair for him.” She added in a casual tone, “And don’t forget Ray and Marty.”

Colby stopped dead. “The Madisons don’t belong at our table.”

“Don’t be rude, Cole. Ray Madison is going to be your brother-in-law.”

Apparently, Colby couldn’t find an argument against that. “Oh, fine.”

It wasn’t a gracious acceptance, but Victoria would take it. She wasn’t stupid enough to smile where he could see her. Now if she could just arrange it so Marty sat next to her. Maybe she could say she was saving the seat on her left for Sand and then wave Marty over?

That didn’t work, of course. Stone took the chair on one side of her and Eagle was in the other. Darn. Victoria cut the beef roast on her plate and took a bite. She closed her eyes to savor the flavor of it as it melted in her mouth. No one made beef roast as tender as Renee. She opened her eyes to look for Hawk so she could compliment his mate’s cooking, and saw Marty sitting across the table from her. Her smile grew.

“Hello, Marty,” she purred. “Nice to see you. How have you been?”

If he could sell his mile, he would be a rich man. “Good, thanks.” He aimed his smile at Stone and Eagle. “How was your trip?”

“Long,” she replied before the men could. “We rode the fifty miles to Deadwood to catch the train. Well, I rode, but most of the escort was in wolf form. It’s a good thing Deadwood knows us. I think there might have been a couple of visitors who were surprised to see a lone woman ride into town with three packhorses and twenty wolves running alongside her.”

He laughed. “That must have been a sight.”

Eagle grunted. “There were some visitors. They looked at my sister with too much hunger. Like maybe they wanted to steal her.”

“I bet the twenty of you around her discouraged that idea.”

Eagle grunted again, looking very satisfied.

“And then you took the train here. I hope it wasn’t too uncomfortable.”

Her brother shoveled in a spoonful of mashed potatoes. “I didn’t like being cramped up in that train car for nearly two days, but it wasn’t too bad.”

“Good.” Marty smiled at Victoria. “I know some of your uncles have been to Omaha before, but I don’t believe you have?”

She scooped up a spoonful of mashed potato herself. At this time of the year, the potatoes must made from spuds that had been dried and ground into powder, but the butter and cream Renee whipped them with made them very tasty. She really missed eating Renee’s cooking, but even that couldn’t compete with the appeal of the man across from her. “No, this is my first visit.”

“The legislative session begins the day after tomorrow. If you don’t have plans for tomorrow, I’d be happy to take you on a tour of the city.” When Eagle looked up sharply, he added smoothly, “All of you, of course.”

Hiding her smile and speaking quickly, before any of her relatives could forbid the trip, she said, “That would be great. I’d love to see the city.”

Eagle’s spoon clattered on his plate. “No.”

Victoria jabbed her elbow into her brother’s side. “Yes.”

From her other side, Stone said with exaggerated patience, “Of course you can go, Vic. I’m sure Colby and Rock would like to go too, even if Eagle doesn’t.”

With their sharp ears, Colby and Rock, sitting a little further down the table, had followed this exchange. By leaning forward, she could see them both frowning at her. “We’ll go,” Rock affirmed, transferring his frown to Marty.

“I’ll go,” Eagle said, grumbling.

“Wonderful,” Marty said, as blithely as if he didn’t have three wolf warriors glaring suspiciously at him. “Tomorrow after breakfast?”

“Great.”

Victoria happily contemplated her dried apple pie. She would be with Marty for the whole morning. There had to be a way to get rid of her brother and cousins for at least a little while. She made eye contact with Marty, willing him to see that she was interested in him as more than just a friend of the clan.

His eyes were gorgeous, a vivid shade between blue and green, fringed with eyelashes longer and thicker than her own. Their true beauty, though, was in their warmth. She had seen some eyes that always looked cool and distant. Her uncle Dan, for instance, had eyes of glacier blue that only warmed when he was looking at his mate or his daughter. Every time she had seen Marty looking at her, his eyes had been warm. He would have been a very handsome man regardless, but that warmth made him devastating.

When Stone cleared his throat, she realized she had been staring at Marty too long. She busied herself cutting into her pie. “How is your mom doing, Marty?”

His eyes clouded. “She’s not getting any younger. I’m afraid we might not have her with us much longer.”

“I’m sorry.” Marty had been a surprise child born when Mrs. Madison was in her mid-forties, so she must be at least seventy now. She didn’t know Mrs. Madison well, but she had every intention of becoming the woman’s daughter-in-law. “That must be so hard.”

“Thank you. How are your parents?”

They spoke of generalities for the rest of the meal. The tone was casual and impersonal, which seemed a great contrast to how she was feeling, but none of her relatives growled or glared any more than they usually did. She considered it a great success. Tomorrow will would be her chance to move the relationship past casual and impersonal.

 

Chapter Four

Victoria woke earlier than usual the next morning. Winter was her favorite time of the year because the long nights gave her more time to sleep. Sleeping was one of her favorite activities. But spring was just about here, and the flimsy curtains at the window didn’t keep the light out. She sat up in the saggy bed and stretched. Going by the amount of light filtering in, breakfast was still an hour off. Good. Today she was going to spend time with Marty. There was only one thing standing in the way of that, and she was going to take care of it before breakfast.

Dressed in jeans and a pale blue sweater, she went across the hall and knocked on the other bedroom door. “Hey, you guys awake?”

Her brother’s voice sounded. “Yeah, come in.”

When she saw that Rock, Sand, Quill and Colby were there as well as Eagle and Stone, she smiled with satisfaction. “Good morning.”

Sand stood up from his lean on the wall and came to give her a quick hug. His chipped tooth flashed when he smiled. “Good morning, Vic.”

She smiled back, devising her plan of attack. When she was a girl, her mother had taught her that the best way to handle a bunch of wolf warriors was to put them on the defensive at the start and not give them time to regroup. She looked around the room, considering. Rock and Colby were on the bed. Eagle was propped against one corner of the dresser and Quill was on the other. Stone lounged against the wall beside the head of the bed. Taking a deep breath, she marched to the wall opposite the door and folded her arms.

“Uh-oh,” murmured Stone.

Sand closed the door and leaned on it, looking at her with one eyebrow raised.

“I want to talk about our plans for this morning,” she announced.

Colby nodded. “Yeah, we were just—”

She cut him off with a sharp chopping motion. “I’m talking.”

The expression of outrage on Colby’s face almost made her laugh, but she suppressed it. Accustomed to her speeches, Eagle folded his arms over his chest with exaggerated patience.

“Marty Madison will be taking some of us on a tour of Omaha this morning, and I expect him to be treated with respect.” She looked around at her kinsman to be sure they were paying attention to her. “I will walk beside him—” She raised her voice to be heard over their growls “— so that I can hear what he says. I don’t have super hearing like you do.”

“No one needs super hearing to be able to hear you,” Rock muttered sourly.

She ignored that, congratulating herself for finding the excuse of needing to hear Marty as a way to walk beside him. Even her idiotic brother couldn’t argue with it.

“So I don’t want to hear anybody growling or complaining about me being too close to him on the tour. In fact, if I put my hand on his arm so I can keep my balance on the ice, I don’t want to hear one peep out of any of you.”

Into the shocked silence, Stone shook his head with a smile. “She’s just like her mother,” he commented to Quill.

“Scary,” agreed Quill.

Victoria re-folded her arms over her chest with a scowl. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.” Stone held up his hands in surrender. “Your mother is a wonderful woman with strong opinions and a way of running over opposition.”

“I just want to make sure that everyone has a good time on the tour today.” She jabbed a finger toward Colby and Rock on the bed and then glared at her brother on the dresser. “No growling. No howling. No dragging me away if I actually brush against Marty.” She would brush against him, and it wouldn’t be on accident, but they didn’t need to know that. “Okay? Are we on the same page?”

Eagle pushed away from the dresser. “You’re doing this just so you can be with Marty Madison.”

Busted. Her brother had seen right through her plot. So what. She walked around until she stood toe to toe with him. “You make it sound like a crime. I happen to like Marty Madison. I happen to like spending time with Marty Madison. And if I want to be with him, I will!”

“He’s not the right man to be your husband,” Eagle shouted.

“And who decided that?” she demanded. “Dad? I love him, and I love you, but you have no right to tell me who is the right man to be my husband. If it was up to you, I’d never get married!”

“Do you think dad would decide something like that without good reason? Huh?” Eagle was every bit as angry as she was. “Trust him on this.”

She was glad of her height. If she was one of Stone and Sara’s daughters, she never could have glared right in her brother’s eyes. “He’s so overprotective I can barely walk across camp without a guard. And you’re no better. Who you think would be good enough to be my husband? Maybe that little runt Jon Allerton?”

“No,” Eagle began, sounding horrified, but Victoria cut him off.

“I’m the oldest virgin in thousand square miles. And I’d like to lose that title sometime before I die.”

They all swung around when the door opened. Sand stepped out of the way for Hawk to come in. The eldest of her uncles looked at her with a severe expression. “Do you realize that everyone downstairs can hear your little discussion?”

Victoria froze with horror. “Marty?”

Hawk his head. “No, he went out to buy more bacon for breakfast. The little runt is out too. And I exaggerated slightly. You can be heard but many of your words could be understood.”

She let out a quick breath with relief.

“Your father does have his reasons for not wanting you and Marty to be together.” Hawk shook his head. “If you want to spend some time with him while we’re here in Omaha, you can. But never alone. Do you hear me, Victoria? Don’t forget you’re not here for romance. You are representing the clan to the Omaha Legislature. That has to come first.”

Chastened, Victoria nodded. “I know.” A hot thread of shame worked its way down her back. She had manipulated her way into being the clan’s delegate in order to see Marty. But she would do her best to speak for the clan. “I’m sorry.”

Hawk nodded and held a hand out palm down to indicate the subject was closed. “Breakfast should be ready in a few minutes. Let’s go grab a table.”

Tuesday Teaser 1/24/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 4

Okay, this is a little later than I had hoped, but it’s still Tuesday, at least here in North Dakota, so this still counts as a Tuesday Teaser  😉

 

Before we get to the teaser I wanted to take a minute to thank all of you who bought Brave Hearts and especially those who left a review. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

 

And now, here is the next little snip in Victoria’s story. Again, parts of this are flat and more “telling than showing”.  I am considering having Colby find his mate in Omaha. I can’t decide though. What do you think?

 

Chapter Three

 

Victoria started toward Marty’s corner, but was cut off by her cousin Colby. She couldn’t smack him here, with all the witnesses in the room, so she gave him a smile. Hopefully no one would notice her clenched teeth.

“Cousin,” he greeted her silkily. “Come say hello to the rest of the family.”

She saw that Hawk and Rock had stayed against the far wall. Obeying the pull on her arm, she went with Colby to greet them. She gave Rock a hug. He was the elder son of Des and Connie, the Alpha and Lupa of the Plane Women’s House. A little younger than she, he was painfully shy with women, but just as belligerent as any other wolf warrior of the clan. His hair was long and so dark a brown that it looked black. She stepped back and turned to the older man in the group. Hawk was one of the oldest of her uncles, and had been her surrogate father while she stayed at the House last fall. She’d always thought of him as calmer and less aggressive than the Alpha males in the clan. His embrace was warm.

“So, Victoria,” he murmured in her ear. “You are the delegate from the clan.”

His voice was carefully neutral, but she was sure she could hear amusement in it. Since they were nearly the same height, she could look him right in the eye.

“Is there something wrong with that?”

He lifted his hands in surrender. “Absolutely nothing. I’m just wondering how you convinced your father to send you.”

Victoria slumped a little. “It wasn’t me. Mom spoke for me. But I think the person who really swayed him was Aunt Sherry.”

His brow hooked up. “Sherry?”

“I know. I don’t think she’s ever spoken in council before.”

“Huh.” He smoothed his silver-streaked hair behind his ear. “When a quiet hearted person like Sherry lifts her voice, the wise listen.”

At the sound of Colby growling, she turned away from Hawk. The two brown haired men from the little couch had approached. They stood elbow to elbow with nervous expressions on their faces.

“We, uh, we thought we’d like to, uh, welcome the lady.” The one on the left seemed relieved to have gotten the sentence out. When Colby and Rock continued to growl, the young man swallowed hard and looked at Colby. “No offence.”

“Of course not.” Victoria smiled at him but didn’t try to step around Rock or Colby. She had been dealing with over protective males her whole life. She’d learned long ago that fighting this particular battle was useless. “I am Victoria Wolfe.”

The second of the two men poked the first. “I knew it,” he whispered. “See?”

“Shut up.” He took a deep breath and tried a smile at Victoria. “I’m Jon Aller-Jensen from Falls City. This is my brother, Tanner. We’re real happy to meet you, miss.” He extended his hand to shake, but when she didn’t move from behind Rock and Colby, he dropped it. She was a little sorry to disappoint him, but who knew what Colby would do if she touched a stranger?

“Pleased to meet you.” Victoria looked the brothers over. They were tidy and well dressed, but going by the tans that hadn’t completely faded and the callouses on Jon’s hand, they weren’t soft townsmen. “So, what do you do in Falls City?”

“Farm, mostly. Run some cattle. Brother Anthony is here for the legislature, but me and Tanner came along to see Omaha. Never been here before. We’re—uh, hoping to meet some ladies.”

He was nervous. Victoria hid a smile. Nervous men tended to ramble on, and it seemed men were always nervous around her. If her heart wasn’t already given, she might have enjoyed a little flirtation with Jon. “My first visit too,” she said. “Have you met my cousins? This is Colby Wolfe and Rock Wolfe, and my uncle, Hawk In Flight Wolfe.”

No one shook.

“Falls City,” Hawk said flatly. “That’s the Brotherhood Commune?”

Both young men nodded. “Yes, sir.”

To her complete surprise, Hawk took Victoria’s arm and steered her firmly away from the brothers without even telling them good bye. “What are you doing?” she demanded in a low whisper. “I was only talking to them.”

“That’s all you’ll be doing with them, and it’s the last time you’ll do it.” He let her go when they got to the bottom of the staircase between the big rooms. “Let’s go up to my room until supper is ready.”

She blinked up at her uncle. Had she thought Hawk was the reasonable one? Colby caught up to them at the first step. “What’s the Brotherhood Commune?” he asked.

Quill, Rock, Eagle, and Stone joined them. Victoria went up a couple of steps to get away from the testosterone. It gave her an elevated view of the reception room. Jon and Tanner were standing with their heads close together, whispering furiously. Marty was still in his corner chair, smiling at her. She smiled back, tempted to wave, but not wanting to draw her menfolk’s attention.

“The Brotherhood Commune?” Stone said with a frown. “I think I’ve heard the name, but I can’t place it.”

“Brotherhood,” spat Hawk. “They say they are all brothers and share everything.”

Rock looked confused. “We all call ourselves brothers.” He glanced at Victoria. “And sisters. Even though most of us are cousins, and some only distant cousins at that. Some of us aren’t blood related at all. Is that what they mean by brotherhood?”

Hawk looked up at her. “Why don’t you go upstairs, Vic? We’ll call you when supper is ready.”

“Ha.” She folded her arms and stared him down. “One of the reasons I’m in Omaha is to meet men. If those two aren’t suitable husband material, I need to know why.”

“An Omaha man wouldn’t be suitable,” Colby stated.

“Oh?” She tilted her head. “Isn’t that why you are here? To see if your wolf will claim a mate?”

“That’s different,” he growled.

Eagle opened his mouth with a frown, glanced toward Marty Madison, and closed his mouth without saying anything. Victoria smiled sweetly at her brother.

Hawk cleared his throat. “The Brotherhood Commune,” he began with a quelling frown, “Is a farming community about five miles south and east of Falls City.  They share everything. No man owns anything. Everything belongs to the commune and the commune belongs Brother Anthony Jensen. Everything.”

“Like the plows?” asked Rock.

“And the harvest?” put in Eagle.

Colby frowned. Somehow, frowning made him even more handsome. That thought irritated Victoria. Such a stubborn man shouldn’t look so handsome. His frowned deepened, making him look darkly handsome instead of sulky. “Their clothes and furniture belong to this commune?”

Hawk shrugged. “Maybe not their clothes. The men sleep in bunkhouses. They share everything else.”

Quill sounded thoughtful. “That doesn’t sound so bad. Lots of single men stay in dormitories or bunkhouses. What aren’t you telling us?”

“Wait.” Eagle had forgotten about Marty to stare at Hawk. “What about the married people? They don’t stay in bunkhouses, do they?”

“There aren’t any married people at the Brotherhood Commune.”

Rock chuckled a little at Hawk’s statement. “They won’t be around long without any children to continue their line.”

Hawk was silent for a long moment. “There are women and children, but the women aren’t married.”

“Well, what’s wrong with the men in this commune?” Rock demanded in disgust. “They don’t need to go to Omaha to find wives, not if they have women right there.”

Hawk allowed himself a sigh. “The Brotherhood share everything,” he began patiently.

Eagle made a choking sound, head swiveling to stare from Hawk to the brothers below, and back to Hawk. “They share their mates?”

Hawk nodded. “The women there are treated just like any other communal property.”

Victoria slapped a hand over her mouth and turned her back on the brothers. “I am going to throw up.”

Colby looked like he was about to launch himself over the banister at the Aller-Jensen boys. “Excrement of diseased dogs,” he snarled in Lakota.

It was his own made up curse word, since Lakota didn’t have the wealth of swear words that English enjoyed. Victoria used to hide a smile when he said things like that, but right now it had never sounded so appropriate.

“Women abusers,” Eagle agreed, scowling fiercely, obviously prepared to back Colby in his attack.

Hawk laid a restraining hand on Colby’s shoulder. Quill grabbed the collar of Rock’s flannel shirt with one hand and Eagle’s with the other. “Just hold on,” Hawk said. “I’ve never heard that the ladies aren’t happy with that arrangement.”

Victoria made a gagging sound. “Really? They probably aren’t allowed to talk to strangers.”

Stone chuckled. “Some women like having the attention of a lot of men.”

Victoria cast a glance of loathing at the two brothers. They must have noticed, because they quickly turned away, shoulders hunched. “That’s disgusting,” she snapped. “And they are here in Omaha to meet ladies? Ha! Probably looking for new blood for their harem.”

Eagle shook off Quill’s hand. “They won’t get it.”

Quill sighed and looked at Stone. “When did we get so old that we are the voice of reason?” He turned back to the younger generation. “No. We are not here to pick fights with the other delegates. Just cool down.”

Eagle bristled. “If they so much as smile at my sister…”

“Smiling is acceptable,” Stone said. “No fighting unless they step out of line.”

Victoria waited for him to define what constituted stepping out of line, but he didn’t. She tapped her chin with a forefinger as a wicked idea came to her. Compared to the Aller-Jensen boys, Marty must be much more acceptable to her menfolk. She smiled.

“You’re right, Uncle Quill. Dad told us we should present ourselves well here in Omaha. Beating up strangers because we don’t like their lifestyle would be wrong.” She swallowed and forced the next words out. “We should invite them to sit with us at supper.”

Every one of her relatives snapped his head around to stare at her. “What?” they chorused.

“Well, you know, just to be nice. I mean …” She faltered under their combined outrage. “It would be neighborly. Right?”

Hawk voiced their collective response.” No,” he said with flat finality.

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