Update on Victoria’s Cat. The rough draft is Done!
I want to break out the champagne and chocolate. But actually, I have a date with my vacuum cleaner and duster. 🙁 I haven’t cleaned since before I left for Ohio, and with three cats you can only guess at what color the carpet is.
The manuscript has been rushed off to the beta readers so I have a few days to recover before diving into revisions. Here is a good sized chunk of the second to last chapter. As I was highlighting to copy it, I saw several typos and mistakes. *head desk* Be kind. I hope you can enjoy it anyway.
Marty ran. The jagged edges of his heart stabbed him with every stride, but he ran. He had left his nephew, the man who was the brother of his heart, wounded behind him. Ray couldn’t run. He hadn’t even been awake. It tortured Marty to leave his nephew, but he knew Ray would want him to go without him to fetch help. He had taken only enough time to pull Ray away from the other dead men and build him a slight shelter so scavengers wouldn’t get him. He would return for Ray as soon as he could, but right now he had a mate to save. He had to get her back. He couldn’t do it himself. He needed help, so he left Ray behind and ran.
A mountain cat could cover a lot of ground even when bullets had torn chunks out of his chest and hip, even when a bullet had cut a groove in his skull. It hurt, but he ran because he had a mission. He was going to save Victoria, and punish the men who had stolen her and murdered so many from the train. The railroad tracks would lead him to where he needed to go, so he followed them with all the speed he could force from his broken body. Through the mud created by the early spring sun, he ran. When the mud turned to ice as the sun fell, he ran. He didn’t have time to baby himself, not if he was going to find the help he needed to save Victoria. With that thought alone in his mind, he ignored the pain of his wounds and followed the tracks to the place he knew he would find help.
* * * *
“It’s cold this morning,” Gina commented. She curved her hands around a mug of coffee and shivered. “I don’t like living in tents.”
Victoria sat beside her at the table that had shrunk overnight. “I’ve spent most of my life living in a tent. I don’t mind it.”
Gina sipped coffee that steamed in the chilly air. “Last night you said something about Colby.”
Victoria looked around the main room of the harem tent, but no one was around except for she, Gina, Renee, and Anna. They were going to be paraded around in front of the men from Omaha in a few hours. It was past nine in the morning, and the other women were still in bed. Victoria couldn’t imagine sleeping that late. But any of them could come in at any time, so she lowered her voice, knowing that canvas dividers wouldn’t keep them from being overheard.
“Colby jumped out of the truck on the way here,” she whispered. “He’s alive.”
Gina’s hands fell limp to the table. “How can he be? I saw him. He was dead.”
“I thought so too.” Victoria looked at Renee for confirmation, and the older woman nodded. “I don’t know how, but he survived. He’s a wolf warrior. They heal quickly.”
Gina closed her eyes and let out a trembling sigh. “I’m glad, but it doesn’t make any difference. He can’t take me to his family now.”
“He’s a wolf warrior. You’re the mate his wolf chose.” Victoria drank coffee. “You haven’t seen the last of him. He’ll get you out of here.”
Gina shook her head slowly. “It’s impossible. You’ve seen what it’s like. And now you’re stuck here too.”
Renee snorted. “You don’t know the Clan.”
Voices came from outside the tent. Major Ellis entered. “Miss Gina, you look beautiful this morning.” He nodded to the rest of them. “I’m glad you’re awake. President Todd wants us to be ready to leave in ninety minutes.”
Eighty minutes later Victoria, Renee and Anna were in the back of a truck. Victoria had been reunited with her coat, which must have been picked up when the Kansas-Missouri soldiers scavenged the train. There were six soldiers in the truck with them, and an entire fleet of trucks growled around them. Victoria put her hand under her nose to try to hold off the fumes.
“Ugh,” she said to Renee. “I hope this won’t take long.”
“About half an hour,” one of the soldiers shouted cheerfully, but before he could say more the trucks roared to life, drowning out anything else.
There must have been at least forty trucks in this convoy, and the noise they made and the tracks they left would make it easy to track them. Todd must not be worried about keeping the location of his camp a secret. If each of these trucks held ten soldiers each, the President would have about four hundred troops with him at the parley, which left his camp still well protected by the rest of his soldiers. Victoria wanted to say something to Renee about it, but between the noise and the jolting she lost interest in trying to say anything. She amused herself by imagining how much fun it would be to punch Todd right in the teeth.
Her side was aching again by the time the trucks stopped. She, Renee and Anna were kept inside the truck for nearly another thirty minutes before the engine started up again and they moved over bumpy ground. The six soldiers dismounted from the truck first and then helped the women down. They were in what looked like a decaying ghost town. Victoria glanced at Renee. Her aunt would have walked through cities like this in the Times Before, when they were alive with people and technology that Victoria can only imagine.
“This way, ladies,” one of the soldiers said, and led them along an ice-rimmed path to a wide bridge.
“We must be in Iowa,” Renee murmured. “I think this is a famous bridge over the Missouri River between Council Bluffs and Omaha.”
There were soldiers stationed either side of the bridge, standing at attention with their weapons propped against their legs in a non-threatening position. Ahead Victoria could see a bunch of people standing in the middle of the bridge. They wore the Kansas-Missouri uniform. She assumed Ryan McGrath was there too, but he must be past Todd’s soldiers. She wanted to see what was going on, but the bridge must be a mile long, too far for her to see or hear anything.
The six men of their escort arranged the women single file and took up flanking positions on either side of them. It was a long walk to get to the center. They were halted twenty feet away from the men, and even with her height, Victoria couldn’t see anything except the dirty ice on the river on either side and the backs of Todd and his men in front.
A thin sound came from Anna, not quite a wail, not quite a moan. Renee stepped out of formation to put an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “It’s going to be okay.”
Anna put a hand over her mouth. “I want my dad. I want my mom.”
“So do I,” said Victoria. It surprised her, but she really did want her parents. Her dad would mow down the soldiers and take her home. “Let’s try to listen and hear what they are saying.”
They could hear Todd speaking, but even though his voice was raised to carry, the wind was blowing past them toward him, pushing his words away from them. Victoria tried to distinguish what he said but they were too far back. She recognized Ryan McGrath’s voice but couldn’t make out any of his words either. Tears leaked down Anna’s cheeks. “Dad,” she whispered.
There was a flurry of movement ahead of them and one of the men from Kansas-Missouri turned and waved at them. The six soldiers marched them forward. Victoria strained to see the group on the other side of the bridge. The bridge curved out into a roundish central place, probably so pedestrians could look out at the river. On the side closest to Omaha was Ryan McGrath, along with Captain Erickson and a few other men she vaguely recognized from the stage in the legislative chambers, and there were Hawk and Stone to one side. A breath seeped out of Victoria, and with it, some of her anxiety.
Hawk tended to be stoic, but when he saw Renee, his face turned to stone and his black eyes burned with icy fire. He was twenty feet away from them, but Victoria clearly saw death written in the flat line of his mouth.
President Todd gestured Victoria, Renee, and Anna forward. He draped an arm around Victoria’s waist and the other around Anna’s shoulders. Renee, mercifully, was spared being touched by the president. Good thing. Hawk might have lost his habitual cool if the slimy little turd had put hands on his mate.
“As you can see,” Todd called jovially, “your ladies are quite well in my care. I think we can reach some arrangement that will ensure they remain safe and well, can’t we?”
McGrath looked almost as stony as Hawk. “We’d like to hear from the ladies themselves. Send them over.”
Todd laughed. “I don’t think so. You can hear them just fine from here.” He nodded at Renee. “Is that your husband, my dear? Please, reassure him that you are being well treated in my care.”
Renee fixed her eyes on her mate. “He’s absolutely right,” she called earnestly. “We’ve been treated like honored guests. In fact, last night we were invited to dinner. It was the best meal I’ve ever eaten. I wish we had a cook as good as the President’s.”
Hawk blinked. “Uh. Good.”
Victoria hid a smile. That blink was the equivalent of another man gaping. “It’s true,” she agreed, loudly. “Except for me being shot, we’re fine.”
The was no hint of shock on Hawk’s face now. He was back to be stony. Stone’s usually mild expression matched Hawk’s.
She went quickly on. “I was shot on accident,” she assured them. “It’s not serious, but President Todd sent his personal physician to me. He couldn’t have treated any of his own wives any better. Cousin Anna and I are fine.”
McGrath’s gaze flicked to Anna and casually away, but his jaw was clenched. Todd was stiff beside her. He said in a low voice, “My dear, I think you’ve said enough.” His smile, directed at Anna, chilled her more than the wind. “Not another word, do you understand?”
Victoria swallowed and nodded.
“Excellent.” The president turned back to the party from Omaha. “I’m told this young lady is one of your people.” He nodded at Hawk. “But I think she bears a striking resemblance to Mayor McGrath.” He put a finger under Anna’s chin and lifted her face to examine it before looking at McGrath. “Yes, she certainly does resemble you. How curious.”
The mayor of Omaha almost managed to look bored. “Return the ladies to us now and we’ll be much more open to negotiating terms that favor you.”
The president laughed. “Oh, no, that’s not how this works.” Todd’s arm gave Victoria a squeeze that nearly forced a hiss of pain from her. “You see, because I have your women, you will agree to whatever terms I want. Then, after you have proven trustworthy, you may get your women back. It all depends on you.”
Anna tried to muffle her sobs against her shoulder. Todd patted the top of her head. “Now, you girls scurry back to your truck and let us men finish our talk.”
Girls? Us men? He’s going to die, Victoria reminded herself. Don’t get angry. It’s only a matter of time before someone kills him. She would be happy to do it herself. With great reluctance, Victoria let the soldiers form up on either side of them to begin the march back over the long bridge to the truck.
“Be patient,” Hawk shouted in Lakota. “We’ll get you back.”
Renee turned her head to search out her mate. “We know,” she shouted back.
The soldier beside Renee gave her a gentle but firm nudge. Obediently, they marched down the bridge to the trucks. Victoria kept her eyes open for any sign of the other wolf warriors skulking in the brush, but didn’t see them. They were around, she was sure. Rock, Eagle, Quill, and Sand wouldn’t be napping back at the Limit. They were probably up to something right now that would cause trouble for Todd.
They waited in the truck for another hour before the truck’s engine roared to life and the fumes of its fuel clogged their noses.
“We’ll be back to camp in less than an hour,” one of their escort remarked. “We should have brought some rations. It’s past lunch.”
“Supplies were just delivered last night,” another said. “There will be plenty of food waiting for us.”
Victoria’s shoulders slumped. It hadn’t been likely, but she’d hoped they would be returned to Omaha right away. Renee must have felt the same. Over Anna’s head she nodded grimly.
They had been travelling twenty minutes when a new stench cut through the engine fumes. Renee pinched her nose closed.
“Something’s burning,” she muttered.
The scratch at the back of Victoria’s throat turned into a cough. The light coming through the opening at the back turned dim. A haze of dirty smoke filtered in. Something was burning, but it didn’t smell like grass or wood. Victoria had seen more than one prairie fire in her life, but those occurred in hot, dry weather, not in damp springtime. She could tell by the way the soldiers readied their weapons that this wasn’t a natural disaster. They expected trouble of the man-made sort.
The truck picked up speed, jolting over the uneven ground. Victoria clenched onto the bench to keep from being bounced off the seat. After several minutes, they slowed to a crawl. Voices outside the truck were raised. Not all the words were clear, but shock and anger were. From the little she caught, the new supplies had been set on fire, and the fuel and ammunition had exploded.
She was dying to see what was going on, but the soldiers stopped her.
“No, ma’am,” one said. “You all stay put until we know if it’s safe.”
Two of the escort slipped out to find out what was happening.
“The Clan,” said Renee with satisfaction.
“Did all the food burn?” one of their escort asked another. “What about lunch?”
Victoria’s stomach growled, but she shared a smile with Renee. “The Clan,” she agreed.
The canvas at the back of the truck opened and Lieutenant Mott looked in. “Bring the ladies out,” he ordered. “Take them to the harem and make sure they stay there.”
Somehow the burning smell was even worse outside the truck. Victoria fanned her hand in front of her face to try to clear the haze. She could see the harem tent ahead and to the right, and to her left, President Todd stood with fists shaking in front of his face. That face was contorted into an ugly mask, clenched teeth exposed by curled lips, eyebrows pulled so low his eyes couldn’t be seen, and nostrils flared.
“That doesn’t look good,” Renee muttered. “Is he foaming at the mouth?”
A glistening strand of spittle rolled from the corner of his mouth. Victoria took a step back. “Eeew.”
The President slammed his fists into the truck he stood beside. “My son,” he screamed. “They took my son!”
Victoria stared, repelled, while he threw himself to the ground, screaming. “Get them back. Get them back!” he shrieked, pounding the grass with his fists and slamming his heels into the ground. “I’ll kill them! All of them. I want them dead! Dead, dead dead!”
Anna was staring too. “My little brother Nick used to do that when he was two, but he doesn’t do it anymore.”
“Everyone I know outgrew it,” Victoria said. She watched the President writhe around, biting the collar of his uniform. “This is like a toddler tantrum, but worse.”
General Atwater hurried toward them. “Ladies, please go to the harem tent. It’s best that you aren’t in sight right now.”
Their escort bunched around them and herded them away to the harem tent. The soldiers looked nervous, like they wanted to be out of sight too. Renee paused when they got to the tent. Strangely, there were no men guarding the tent. “Wait a minute,” she said, when the escort turned to go. “What is going on?”
The soldiers looked at each other. “Dunno, ma’am.” The tallest one, whose name on his uniform was Smithers, shuffled his feet. “Our supplies were vandalized and the President’s harem was captured.”
“He said something about his son,” Victoria remembered. “I don’t think we met him.”
A different soldier answered. “Not born yet. Fourth Mrs. Todd is expecting. It’s the president’s first child.” He shook his head. “The president is going to flip.”
“Shut up,” muttered Smithers. “Ladies, please go into the tent and stay there until you are called for.”
Renee opened the flap. “Lunch?”
Smithers shook his head. “If there’s any food we’ll try to get you some.”
His voice said he doubted there was any food to be had. Renee led the way into the tent. The passed through the main room, down the hallway made by canvas hangings, to the room they had left only a couple of hours ago.
“Kind of creepy with no one else here,” Renee observed.
Victoria agreed. “Yeah. Let’s go sit down in the front room.”
After they were settled, Anna asked, “Do you think there really isn’t any more food? At all?”
“There might be some,” Renee said thoughtfully. “I bet the president keeps his food separate from the army’s supplies. But if he has three thousand men, his private supply won’t go far. Either they’ll have to go looking for more food nearby or wait for more to be sent to them from another place. Either way, the army will be hungry.”
“I’m already hungry,” Victoria put in.
“And hungry men aren’t as disciplined,” Renee continued. “Todd could face a mutiny. Or whatever it’s called in the army.”
“Did your husband do this?” Anna asked.
“My husband was on the bridge with your dad.” Renee jerked a thumb at Victoria. “Her husband might have. I suppose they came here looking for us to rescue us. When we weren’t here, they took the harem.”
“Yeah,” Victoria agreed. “Burning the food and the other stuff was brilliant, but I’m getting pretty hungry.”
Anna sighed. “Me too. How did your husband get the other women out of camp? There were lots of people here who would have stopped them.”
“That must be why they burned stuff. Everyone probably ran over there to save the food.” Victoria frowned a little. “Stealing women doesn’t seem like something they would do.”
Renee shrugged. “At least the harem will be completely safe with them.”
Victoria glanced at Anna. “True.”
Hours passed. Supper time came and went with no food and no news. Anna was snoring with her head on the table when a male voice announced he was entering. It was General Atwater and a younger soldier holding half a loaf of bread. The general gestured and the man set the bread on the table, gave a crisp salute and left. The general sat down. Victoria divided her attention between him and the bread.
“It’s interesting,” he remarked dispassionately, “how many big cat prints are around our camp. Wolf tracks I had expected. But big cats? No. What can you tell me about the cats?”
Marty! Victoria hid her elation behind a confused expression. “Cats? You mean kitty cats?”
“I mean lions,” the general snapped. “Don’t play dumb. And don’t pretend you’re sweet and helpless either. I saw what you did to Mott. Now answer the question.”
I leave very early tomorrow morning for RAGT in Ohio. I’ll be back in 6 days. I had HOPED to have Victoria and Marty’s story done before I left, but I still have one more chapter and maybe an epilogue to write. sigh. There will not be a Tuesday Teaser next week so you are getting a double dose now. This is the rest of Chapter 11. It is wordy and meandering and I think I will need to tighten it up quite a bit during revisions. The point of this chapter is to show the reader what life with President Todd is like, so I think I’ll need to cut out a lot and/or condense it so it reads more quickly. As it is, I think it’s too much, and readers are likely to get bogged down. What do you think?
The harem was the largest tent. Victoria ground her teeth over that designation. The man had a harem? And took them along when he was ready to conquer a new city? If he expected to make her his newest wife, he was in a for a rude surprise. She was already married. And if he tried to move on her, she would twist that little shrimp into a pretzel.
There were two guards at the door flap of the harem tent. They wore uniforms instead of lionskin loincloths like the eunuchs that guarded the sultan’s harem in a book she had read. The interior of the harem tent was just as prosaic as the guards. No silken pillows over thick carpets or embroidered hangings separating the rooms. No divans with lounging sultanas. The ground was covered by a plain khaki tarp, and the hangings dividing the tent were of that same material. And the inmates weren’t wearing sheer flowing silks.
Victoria almost bumped into Renee when she stopped. The six women gathered around a table wore jeans and blouses, and the expressions on their faces ranged from mild interest to something that looked like hate. Hate? Before Victoria could follow up on that thought, Gina Summer leaped up from her chair and hurried toward them.
“I’m so sorry about Colby,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry about all of this.” She looked past them and her eyes went cool. “Major Ellis.”
Vitoria thought it was a curse word rather than a greeting.
The major was certainly handsome. Not as handsome as Marty, but his smile lit his already handsome features and turned him into a living work of art. His voice lowered to a seductive purr. Gina’s cool expression didn’t change but she put her hand behind her back, away from his reach. The young major continued to smile. It reminded Victoria of Lieutenant Mott and his persistent, slimy smile.
“Dear Miss Todd, I’m so pleased to see you safely returned to us.”
A woman at the table rose. She was a little prettier than Gina, but there was a definite family resemblance. Her mother? Victoria thought she didn’t look old enough to be Gina’s mother.
“Major Ellis, won’t you please join us? We were just planning a dinner to celebrate my daughter’s return.”
“I would be delighted, Mrs. Second Todd, but the president requires my attendance at other meetings this afternoon.” He nodded briefly to Renee, Victoria, and Anna. “These ladies will be joining you. The president and his staff will be joining you for supper.” He sketched a salute that was almost a bow. “Until then.”
Gina shot his back one poisonous look and turned back to Victoria. “I suppose I should introduce you around.”
Victoria exchanged a glance with Renee, and they walked to the table. Anna clung to Renee like a leech.
“This is my mom, Ellen Summer Todd.” Gina pointed to the woman who had invited Major Ellis to join them. The woman gave them a friendly smile and nod. “The woman on the far end is Suzanne Smith Todd, the president’s fifth wife.”
That woman had a beautiful face surrounded by a waterfall of golden hair and a voluptuous body. Her beauty was spoiled by the scowl on her face. She didn’t nod or smile, just glared at them.
“The woman next to her is Shelley Parker Todd, the president’s fourth wife.”
That woman was just as beautiful but somehow more human. Her brown hair was a riot of curls, her smile warm.
Gina indicated a woman of petite stature, a pretty pixie face, and hair so dark a brown it was almost black. “Mrs. Tamra Todd Mayo, the president’s recently widowed sister. And her companion, Janelle Cass.”
This lovely, slender woman was the president’s sister? She looked too nice to be the president’s sister. Victoria returned her friendly smile.
Suzanne sniffed. “Companion? She’s a servant.”
Janelle, blond and middle-aged, didn’t react but the president’s sister did. “Janel is not a servant.” She spoke quietly but firmly, her voice shaded by a Southern accent. “I’ve known her since I was a baby. She’s my friend.”
Suzanne sneered. “You would think a woman in your position would choose her friends more carefully.”
Tamra laid her hands flat on the table and leaned forward to meet Suzanne’s sneer. “A woman in my position can choose the friends she wants. Be careful, Suzanne. My brother’s wives can come and go depending on his whim. You are his wife at the moment, but that can change in a second. I was born his sister. That won’t change. Think about that.”
An uncomfortable silence was broken by Gina’s mom. “Ladies, what kind of an impression are we giving our guests?”
“Guests?” Suzanne surged to her feet. She jabbed a finger in Victoria’s direction. “Look at her. You know he’ll want her to be Mrs. Sixth Todd.”
Victoria stilled. The pretty major had called Gina’s mom Mrs. Second Todd. Suzanne must be Mrs. Fifth Todd. Victoria slammed her arms crossed over her chest. “Over my dead body.”
“If she becomes his wife, he’ll never sleep with me again and then how can I have a baby?” Suzanne jumped up and ran down the narrow corridor formed by canvas dividers, ducking under one. Muffled sobs sounded. Victoria looked at Renee. Her aunt looked surprised, confused, and slightly disgusted.
Gina’s mom sighed. “Please, pay no attention to Suzanne. She’s having a difficult time right now. You know who we all are. Come sit down and introduce yourselves.”
Renee pulled Anna over to the table. Gina came with them and sat beside her mother. Tamra and Janelle carried over two more folding chairs. Renee and Victoria sat down and stared at the ladies. After a long silence, the president’s sister bounced in her chair. “Well? Who are you and where did you come from?”
Renee answered. “I am Renee Wolfe. This is my niece, Anna Wolfe, and another niece, Victoria Wolfe Madison.”
Another pause. Mrs. Mayo did not give up easily. “And where did you come from? How did you come here?”
Victoria kept her mouth shut, not sure how much to say. Renee answered for them again. “We were on a tree going home when the Presidents men stopped the train, boarded it, shot the men, and brought us here. I don’t know why we’re here. I don’t know what will happen to us. We are innocent noncombatants in this conflict and we want to go home.”
“Yeah,” agreed Victoria. “Why are we even here?”
Mrs. Mayo tapped her fingertips together. “I don’t know. My brother doesn’t discuss political things with me.”
Gina made a rude noise. “You’re here because my mother’s husband — who is not my father, by the way – is a control freak. I ran away from him. I thought I’d be safe in a place where he didn’t rule, but I was wrong. The reason he took over the train was because I was on it.” Her voice broke and she covered her face with her hands. “I’m the reason those men are dead. It’s my fault.”
A wave of anger tried to claw its way up Victoria’s throat but she pushed it back down. Renee shook her head. “It’s not your fault. It’s the fault of that lieutenant, and the men who pulled the triggers, and the president.”
She dropped her hands and her face twisted. “I hate him. He’s not my father. He’s the man who murdered my father so he could marry my mother. Now he wants me to marry one of his flunkies. That’s why I ran away. I won’t do it.” She turned to her mother. “I won’t.”
“Georgina, hush.” Her mother’s voice was stern. “You don’t know how good we have it now. I don’t have to worry about seeing you go hungry or wondering how I can protect you. Gerald takes good care of us. You have beautiful clothes, a wonderful home, and everyone knows who you are and respects you. There are a hundred girls who wish they were you. No,” she said when Gina opened her mouth with obvious protest. “He’ll see to it that you have fine a husband. Major Ellis is young and handsome, and has a position of power and wealth. You are a lucky girl.”
“I am an unlucky girl,” Gina countered. “Gerald Todd is a monster.”
The slap of her mother’s palm across Gina’s cheek was loud. Victoria was so shocked she simply stared. “That is enough,” Mrs. second Todd said coldly. “Go and make the guest room ready for our visitors. Janelle, would you please help her?”
With the murder of agreement, the blond woman got up and ushered Gina out. The second Mrs. Todd turned to Renée and Victoria. “I’m very sorry you had to hear my daughter’s hysterics. She’s at that age where everything is life-and-death. I promise you my husband is not a monster. He’s a powerful man, a decisive man, who knows what he wants and gets what he wants. He’s also generous and loving and respectful of women. I have never regretted becoming his wife.”
“Uh-huh.” Victoria folded her arms and leaned back in her chair. The movement hurt. “I’m not about to become his wife. I already have a husband.”
Gina’s mom just smiled. “I’m sure you’ll change your mind in time.”
“Don’t hold your breath.” Victoria waved at the quiet wife, Mrs. Fourth Todd. “You don’t mind sharing a husband? I’ve heard of women with more than one husband but never a man with more than one wife. It’s wrong.”
Shelley Todd shook her head. “I don’t mind at all. I have a wonderful, comfortable life and I don’t have to bear the burden of all the housework and entertaining myself. I get to share the work with other women that I like being with. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
A voice called from outside the tent, and the door flap opened showing a dapper man of middle years carrying a medical bag. “Ladies, forgive my intrusion. The president sent me to take a look at one of his guests who was shot.”
All the women looked shocked. Victoria raised her hand. “It’s nothing, just a little scratch.”
The man moved forward. “I am Dr. Penrose. Is there a private room?”
In only a minute, Victoria, Renee, and Anna were in a part of the tent that was sectioned off by canvas hangings. Janelle and Gina plumped pillows on the three cots and left. The doctor was very deft and gentle and confirmed that the wound was clean and there was no reason that it wouldn’t heal completely. He put a fresh dressing on it and left. In a few minutes Gina’s mom poked her head and told them they should rest for a few hours. She would call them when it was time for the dinner.
Victoria didn’t think she would be able to sleep, but she must have, because when Renée jiggled her shoulder she found that three hours had passed.
“They brought our luggage,” Renee reported, pointing to two bags.
“They robbed the train,” Victoria muttered.
The clothes she had packed only this morning were wrinkled but clean. She dressed and sat on her cot, staring numbly at her hands. It was this morning that she had kissed Marty good morning. Their first morning as man and wife. Her hands clenched into fists. But not their last. She pounded her fists into her thighs. Not their last. Marty was alive. He and Colby had met up and were organizing a rescue right this minute. She refused to believe anything else.
Anna was staring at her with wide eyes. Victoria made herself relax and smile. The canvas wall twitched and Gina slipped in. She was wearing a dress. Victoria looked down at her jeans and sweater.
“I hope we’re not expected to dress for dinner.”
Gina sat on the cot and waved that off. “You can wear what you like.” She motioned Renee over and spoke in a very quiet voice. “He won’t want to marry you. You’re too old. So be sure to make him know how valuable you are. Give him a reason to keep you safe and healthy. Colby said you were a good cook. Convince Todd that you can cook the best food he’s ever tasted.”
“I can cook the best food he’s ever tasted,” said Renee flatly. “By what I can smell, his cook is terrible.”
“I heard he treats women well. Why wouldn’t he keep us safe and healthy?” Victoria asked.
“He has five thousand men here. Todd often gives women to them. They can’t slap or punch or kick a woman, and those women are given extra rations and other comforts, but is that what you want to do?”
“Hawk would kill them.” But unease glimmered on Renee’s face.
“The entire clan will go to war.” Victoria shuddered at the thought. “They will anyway, after what’s happened to us.”
“Then be sure to make that plain.” Gina’s heard lifted just as the wall twitched again.
“Georgina? It’s time for supper.”
“Coming, mom.” She lowered her voice. “Good luck.”
As she got up, Victoria reached out and snagged her sleeve. “Colby isn’t dead,” she whispered rapidly. “He escaped.”
Disbelief flared in Gina’s eyes, chased by hope.
Victoria and Renee walked out to the main room with Gina and her mom. The table there had expanded to seat twenty. President Todd was at one end, and Victoria recognized Major Ellis, the man called Bob, and Lieutenant Mott sitting at the table. When the men saw the ladies enter, they all rose to their feet. There were three stragglers who stood up a second later than the others. Victoria’s heart stopped.
Brother Saul and his two sons. She stared, wondering what were they doing there. Hadn’t they been killed with the rest of the men on the train? Her eyes narrowed as her back teeth clamped together. Why are they smirking at me?
The president gave them a warm, welcoming smile. “You lovely ladies are the only thing we lacked to make this table beautiful. Please, sit down.”
Victoria almost protested when he indicated that she should sit on his right. Renee was on the other side of the table, two seats down. Suppressing anger, Victoria allowed the president to seat her. Gina was opposite her, obviously ignoring the pretty major beside her. On Victoria’s other side was the older man called Bob. His uniform was loaded with awards and badges. Mrs. Mayo was on his other side. Gina’s mom took the chair at the foot of the table. Brother Saul sat between Suzanne and Shelley, his two sons on the other side of the table. Victoria stared down at her plate to give herself a minute to control her anger.
Good grief. There wasn’t a plate. There were three, stacked on top of each other. And three forks, three knives, multiple spoons, three stemmed glasses, a little plate off to the side. Victoria didn’t even know what to do with all those plates. Or the glasses. Who needed so many anyway? She slid a glance over at Renee. Her aunt was glaring a hole into Brother Saul’s forehead.
“Allow me to introduce General Robert Atwater,” the president said politely, indicating the man called Bob.
“Charmed,” the general said in a bored voice.
“Likewise,” Victoria said.
“Let us begin,” the president announced.
A line of young men in military uniforms entered the tent, carrying large trays with shallow bowls filled with salad. One of them held a plate of leafy greens over her stack of plates, waiting for her to remove the intricately pleated napkin sitting there. She did and he set her salad down. Victoria inwardly shook her head. The Saturday suppers at the Plane Women’s Eatery were fancy compared to the other meals they served, but nothing like this. Even if the Eatery had a zillion plates per meal, they couldn’t serve fresh greens in March because there weren’t any available at this time of the year. Unlike other vegetables, greens didn’t freeze or can well. How in the world did he get fresh greens in March?
But that wasn’t nearly as important as her other questions. She plastered a polite smile on her face and turned to the president. “Excuse me,” she began. “Why are the Allersens here?”
He cut her off with an imperiously lifted finger. “My dear, my dear,” he chided her. “Ladies do not speak unless they are first spoken to.”
The polite smile disappeared. “Seriously?”
“Absolutely. The mark of a true lady is that she speak only to praise and uplift the men in her life.”
The president’s hand closed tightly over hers where it gripped her fork. “And she never uses strong language.”
Victoria forced herself to loosen her grip on the fork. “Oh? And what do you think you can do about it? Shoot me?”
His smile was somehow chillingly sweet. “I won’t do anything to you. That is so crass, don’t you think? But consider your cousin.”
Her mind went immediately to Colby. “What about him?”
“Her,” he correctly gently. “The young innocent you left in your quarters at the back of the tent. Anna.”
Victoria’s lips felt stiff. “What?” was all she could manage.
“So young. So nubile.” He smiled as he poured wine into one of the goblets at her place setting. “The men in my army work hard for me. They deserve a reward. They won’t do her any lasting damage. She may even enjoy it.”
“Anna?” she croaked.
“But you don’t hurt women!” she burst out.
“Certainly not. I wouldn’t be causing her any harm. You would be, with your wayward and disobedient mouth.”
Horrified rage shook her hands. She clenched them into fists in her lap and said nothing.
The president laughed lightly. “Well, perhaps she really is your cousin. General Atwater is convinced she is the daughter of Ryan McGrath.”
Under the heat of her glare the greens on her plate should be wilted. They weren’t. Even though she no longer had an appetite, Victoria forced herself to eat her salad. She would need all her strength to kill this megalomaniac. She was aware of his stare resting on her, but she ignored him. He didn’t seem to like that.
“As to your original question,” he said smoothly, “Saul Allersen is an ally.”
Traitor, Victoria fumed silently.
“He has provided key intelligence to me in the past several months.”
Victoria lifted her head enough to shoot a glance at Renee. Her aunt was listening, tight lipped.
The president leaned back so the uniformed server could remove his salad plate and replace it with fish. He waited until Victoria had also been served.
“He has given me valuable information on Omaha and the goings on there. For instance, news of the train departing this morning with so many delegates on board was delivered by the younger Allersens.”
That was why Jon and Tanner were nearly too late to get on the train. Victoria cut her fish with grim control. In her mind, she was cutting into the Allersens.
“I also know that you are the daughter of the chief of the Indian werewolves.” He delicately blotted his mouth with his napkin and laid it down to put a caressing hand over hers. “As my wife, you could be instrumental in forging a powerful alliance between your tribe and Kansas-Missouri. Do you see that?”
Did he see how easy it would be for her to impale his hand with one of the many knives lined up beside her plate? Someday he would die with shock rubbing that smarmy smile off his face, because he would never see her coming. She gritted her teeth behind a smile that probably looked more like a grimace.
After a pause, he said, “You may answer. In fact, since I asked you a question, you are required to answer.”
She unclenched her teeth. “Naturally, I’m flattered, but I’m already married.”
From down the table, Brother Saul cackled. “He’s dead, woman. You’re free to marry again. So sad. Married only one day and already a widow.”
Victoria had to look down at her plate to hide the hate blazing in her. Brother Saul would die too. But Marty wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be.
“Mr. Allersen, can’t you see the lady is grieving? Show some respect.”
Under the president’s cutting censure, Allersen dropped his eyes.
Todd turned back to Victoria. “Of course, you will need some time to mourn. You will be my honored guest until you accept my proposal.”
Until I accept, Victoria mused, hiding her disgust. Not if. Huh. You’ll be waiting quite a while, moron. Pretending meekness, Victoria raised her gaze to him. “May I ask a question?”
“What happened when you met with Ryan McGrath this morning? You did meet with him, didn’t you?”
“Yes, we did meet with the mayor.”
Victoria put the last morsel of fish in her mouth to keep from prodding him. Her empty plate was whisked away and a plate of steak replaced it. The president poured a different wine in another of her glasses. She eyed it warily. She drank very little. Was he trying to get her drunk? She picked up the goblet of water and drank.
“You asked what happened when we met.” The president smiled at her over his wine glass. “Not very much, actually. I believe he is stalling. Trying to buy time.”
“Waiting for some of the delegates to send him reinforcements.” Brother Saul chuckled smugly. “He will be waiting a long time for help.”
Victoria noticed that no one else at the table was talking. Everyone was listening to them. “Because the delegates on the train were murdered.” She tried so hard to sound calm that her voice was flat. “Won’t it be hard to form alliances with cities whose leaders you ki— er, died?”
“That might be a problem if I wanted alliances with those cities.” The president waved that away. “But I don’t. They don’t offer anything of value in an alliance. They simply belong to me now.”
Victoria visualized punching the president in the mouth. Casting a glance down the table to Mott, whose mouth was still swollen gave her a sliver of satisfaction. “But the tribe has something valuable enough to you to make an alliance worthwhile?” She purposely used the word tribe, although they called themselves the Clan. She wouldn’t give him anything, not even their correct name.
“Certainly. They will be fierce fighters in my army.”
Victoria swallowed a bite of meat. “I wouldn’t count on it, if I were you.”
He smiled that gentle, sweet, evil smile, the one so like Lieutenant Mott’s. Does he teach it to all his men? she wondered. Is it part of their training?
“Oh, I am counting on it,” he said mildly. “If they ever want to see you or Mrs. Wolfe again, they will join me. I understand that a few of your werewolf relatives are still in Omaha.”
It was hard, but Victoria didn’t shoot a scowl down the table at the Allersens. She paid very close attention to slicing into her steak.
Todd looked at the man beside her. “General Atwater, arrange for an additional honor guard for the ladies. They’ll make an appearance at the parley tomorrow afternoon. A brief one, so the gentlemen from Omaha can see that the ladies are safe in our care. Miss Anna will be included, of course. I think seeing her will help Mayor McGrath come to the right decision.” He stroked her arm with his fingertips. “Be sure to go to bed early. You’ll want to look your best tomorrow.”
While Victoria tried to force her emotions into some kind of control, dessert was served. She took pleasure in the fact that the sponge cake was leaden and the canned strawberries were soggy. Anna’s brownies last night had been much better.
Last night? It was only last night that she had held hands with Marty under the table at the McGraths’ house and eaten a home cooked meal less fancy than this one but so much better. Just twenty-four hours ago she had repeated the words that made them legally man and wife in the world of the townspeople.
Where was he now? Was he in Omaha, organizing a rescue? Or had he returned to Kearney to bring help? Hurry, Marty, she thought. I need you.
We’re getting close to the end of the story! In this chapter we will learn more about President Todd, and next week we’ll find out more about who Georgina Summer is and what’s been going on in Omaha for the past day. Hard to believe Rye McGrath’s dinner was less than twenty-four hours ago! Lot’s has happened, and lots more will be happening.
Victoria was surprised when the soldier led the way not to the largest tent in camp, but the one beside it. When the clan set up camp, the Alpha’s lodge and those of the leading families were at the center of camp, with others laid out in concentric rings around them. Here, three larger canvas tents were at the front of dozens of rows of small A-line tents all facing one direction in a block. It looked weird to Victoria. She glanced at Renee to see what she thought of the camp, but Renee was looking down at Anna McGrath. The girl was white faced, her lips visibly trembling. Poor kid.
Two uniformed sentries with rifles held across their chests were posted on either side of the closed door flap. They stood like statues, not even looking at them. The soldier escorting them paused outside. “Mr. President,” he called. “Lady visitors to see you. Permission to enter?”
There was a moment of silence, then a voice spoke. “Permission granted.”
One of the sentries pulled the door flap open, still not even glancing at them. The escort ducked under the flap. Victoria followed, grimly eager to meet her enemy face to face.
The rectangular tent was divided into two squares, this front room with a table with a roll of paper on it surrounded by four chairs, and another room in back, probably a sleeping room. There were three people in the room, all dressed in the familiar uniform of Kansas Missouri. Two of them sat at the table and third stood beside it as if he had just stood up.
Victoria examined them, trying to decide which one was the president. The man standing was boyish and slim, with sandy brown hair cut short, bulbous blue eyes, and a weak chin. She dismissed him and looked past him to the men at the table. The one nearest to her had a stocky build with thick, broad shoulders and a face that wasn’t precisely handsome, but she could see how the craggy features would appeal to some. His hair was black with generous sprinkles of silver, with a hint of curl controlled by a close cut. He was probably her dad’s age, in his mid-fifties. The third man had a perfectly proportioned physique that made his uniform look elegant. The gray green fabric was tailored to fit his broad shoulders and narrow waist perfectly. His brown hair was thick and neatly trimmed, his face dominated by large liquid brown eyes. Victoria had to suppress a sneer. He was prettier than she was. And he was about her own age, so probably too young to be the president. It must be the rugged one across the table.
Boland, their escort, snapped a salute to the wimpy-looking guy standing by the table. “Mr. President, Lt. Mott asked me to conduct these ladies to you. They are from the train we stopped this morning.”
Victoria remembered to close her sagging jaw and examined the man again. His face might appear boyish, but a closer look revealed lines around his eyes and mouth, proving that his age was closer to fifty than twenty.
“Where is Lieutenant Mott?” the scrawny man asked. His voice was deep, full, and rich, utterly belying his appearance.
Boland maintained a rigid posture of attention. “Sir, the lieutenant has been momentarily delayed, but he will be in directly to give his report.”
“Very good, Boland, you are dismissed.”
The soldier snapped another salute, turned briskly, and left the tent. The president stepped closer to them with a friendly smile. “Ladies, allow me to introduce myself. I am Gerald Todd, President of Kansas Missouri.”
Victoria almost snickered. The all mighty president of Kansas Missouri didn’t quite come up to her chin. There was a moment that stretched a little too long before Renee replied. “I’m Mrs. Wolfe, and this is my niece, Mrs. Madison.” She pulled Anna a little closer. “And this is my niece, Miss Wolfe.”
An almost childlike delight lit Todd’s eyes. “Wolfe?” he cried. “From the Indian tribe of werewolves?”
Victoria clenched her back teeth together to keep herself from correcting him and allowed Renee to do the talking. “That’s right,” Renee said in cold voice.
The door flap opened and Lieutenant Mott came in. He stood at attention and saluted. “Sir, I am ready to make my report on the taking of the Omaha train.”
“Splendid. These ladies tell me that they are part of the werewolf tribe.”
Todd turned his attention to Victoria. She had heard people talk about undressing someone with their eyes. She was fully dressed, but she would swear his protuberant eyes were undressing her. His gaze lingered on the curve of her breasts. Where was her coat? It must have been left back on the train, dammit. She drew herself up to her full height, and had to hide a wince when pain burned her side.
The president frowned and when he saw at the bloodstains on her blouse, the frown turned into a dark scowl. “My dear lady, have you been hurt?”
“Yeah, when one of your men shot me.” Sarcasm was thick in her voice. She remembered an instant too late that she was supposed to be a weak, helpless woman. She put one hand over her heart and tried to flutter her eyelashes. “I was terrified. It was dreadful.”
Victoria didn’t know how, but that weak chinned face went cold and hard. He didn’t look boyish or secretarial now. He snapped glare at Lieutenant Mott. “What happened?”
“Mister President, one of the men overreacted and fired his weapon. His target was not the lady, but she was grazed by the bullet. Private Hastings cleaned and bandaged the wound. There’s no indication that it is serious. The man who fired has been executed.”
“Excellent.” The president stepped even closer to take Victoria’s hand. As he bowed over it she noticed there was a bald patch in his sandy colored hair. “I’m sure the private did his work well, but I’ll send my personal physician to attend you. I deeply regret that you were injured.”
He brushed his lips over her knuckles and it was all she could do to not clenched her hand into a fist and ram it into his weak chin. Instead she forced a smile. “Thank you. When will we be returned to our families?”
“Not immediately, I’m afraid.” The president stepped back and gestured to the pretty young man. “Josh, will you escort the ladies to the harem and then find Doctor Penrose? “
Victoria’s squawk was either ignored or missed when the older man stood up. He was staring intensely at Anna. “What is your name, young lady?”
The girl’s voice was a tiny thread when she said, “Anna.”
Renee cut in quickly. “This is my niece, Anna Wolfe.”
The older man’s smile was sardonic. “Really? I’m told the mayor of Omaha has a daughter named Anna, and you resemble him greatly.”
“This is my niece,” Renee insisted.
Todd waved a soothing hand. “We won’t worry about that now, Bill. The important thing right now is for Mrs. Madison to be looked over by Doctor Penrose. Ladies, if you will follow Major Ellis, you will be given quarters where you can rest. I will see you later for supper.”
Lieutenant Mott, the President, and the man he’d called Bill gathered around the table, speaking softly. Renee looked like she wanted to protest more, but closed her mouth and gave Anna an encouraging smile. Dismissed, they followed the pretty man out of the tent.
The harem was the largest tent. Victoria ground her teeth over that designation. The man had a harem? And took them along when he was ready to conquer a new city? If he expected to make her his newest wife, he was in for a rude surprise. She was already married. And if he tried to move on her, she would bend that little shrimp into a pretzel.
Daughters of the Wolf Clan 2
Expected release date July 11, 2017
Victoria Wolfe, the only daughter of the Alpha of the Lakota Wolf Clan, has a mind of her own. Her father might put his foot down, but when she wants something, she gets it. And she wants Marty Madison. His calm steady nature calls to her volatile spirit. The fact that he turn into a mountain lion at will doesn’t matter to her at all.
Marty Madison has never seen a woman as beautiful as Victoria. Her lush figure and pretty face appeal to him, but what entices him most is her self-assurance. No demure young miss, she faces the world with a steely core of inner strength. Too bad her father objects to him being a mountain cat.
They thought the only obstacle to their marital happiness was her father. They were wrong. An evil empire is rising in the east, one which threatens not only them, but the homes and lives of everyone they love. Marty will need all of his steady calm to survive. Victoria will need all her steely inner strength to hold on. In a world under threat, can their love triumph over adversity?
I’ve spent hours looking for images for the cover of Victoria’s Cat. Boy howdy, finding a handsome blond man with longish wavy hair is IMPOSSIBLE. I’ll keep trying, and my goal is to have the cover ready by Monday. We’ll see what I come up with. 😉
This week’s snip is a good one, I think. Let me know what you think.
Something hurt. In the dark behind her closed eyelids, Victoria let that thought seep into her consciousness. After a space of time that might have been minutes or hours, she connected the pain to herself, specifically to her side. What had happened? Where was she? What was that droning rumbling noise?
Pain. She’d been shot … Colby! She jolted into consciousness. She was lying on her back in a dim room that rattled. A vehicle, she realized, like the bus. Above her was rough canvas, dull gold in color, stretched over supports. She was on the floor with her head propped up on someone’s knee. Renee leaned over her. It must be her knee Victoria was propped against. There were two men sitting on a bench attached to the sides of the vehicle. Anna McGrath sat on the bench attached to the opposite side of the bus, arms folded over her chest, shoulders hunched. The men wore uniforms.
Full memory rushed over her. Marty. She tried to sit up, but her heart was heavy. Like an anchor, it held her to the floor. The burning ache in her side was nothing compared to the agony in her chest.
“Marty,” she croaked.
“Sh,” said Renee, smoothing her hair. “Poor Vic. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.” She hummed a familiar Lakota lullaby, still stroking Victoria’s hair.
Almost forgetting her heartache for a moment, Victoria stared at Renee. Aunt Renee wasn’t the type to croon lullabies and call people sweetheart. And now she was singing softly.
“Go to sleep, beautiful girl,” Renee murmured in Lakota. “The wind sighs in the grass, the night is good. Your man lives. The night is good, beautiful girl.”
Victoria had grown up speaking Lakota as much as English, so she understood the words. She just wasn’t sure she believed those words. Renee wasn’t fluent in Lakota. Was she messing up the words of the old song? No, after more than twenty-five years of marriage to Hawk, she knew enough to get by. Your man lives. Could it be true? Victoria’s hand shot out to grab Renee’s wrist. “He lives?”
“Sh, go to sleep, beautiful girl, men watch, men hear, beautiful girl.”
Victoria eased her grip and turned her head to look at the soldiers on the bench. One was the medic who had treated her. And drugged her. She put that to the back of her mind and looked at them with an expression she hoped looked sad and helpless.
“I’m thirsty,” she said in as pitiful a voice as she could manage. “And I hurt.”
The medic opened the bag beside him. “I have some pain reliever. Jack, give her your canteen.”
Victoria carefully sat up with Renee’s help. The floor of the vehicle was filthy and the only reason she wasn’t dirty was that a wool blanket had been laid down for her. She shifted to the bench beside Anna and accepted the pills and canteen. She hadn’t been lying about being thirsty and in pain. Renee settled beside her. Victoria wanted to ask her why she thought Marty was alive. Could it be true? She waited a minute until the road smoothed a little and drank the pills down quickly. She handed the canteen back to the other soldier with a murmured thank you before turning to lay her head on Renee’s shoulder.
“Where is he?” she asked in Lakota. “What about Ray? Colby?”
The answer might have been too complex for Renee’s basic Lakota. The faint shadow of the old scar on the side of her face pulled when she frowned. She took up the soothing lullaby again. “Your man remains where he fell, beautiful girl,” she chanted. “As we rode away, I saw him roll over. The wind moves through the grass, it is good.”
She nodded to the back of the truck where Victoria now saw that there was a small opening. Through it, she saw grassland obscured by a haze of dust, and the outline of another vehicle traveling behind them. Marty had rolled over after he was shot. That didn’t guarantee that he was alive now, but it gave her hope. “Ray?”
“Nothing, the night is good.”
The song faltered for a moment, before Renee picked it up again. “Carried away, your male relative, by the travois of his enemy, beautiful girl. The night is good, beautiful girl.”
What did that mean? Colby had been carried away by the enemy on a travois? A travois was three lodge poles lashed together in a roughly triangular shape with canvas stretched between them. They were attached to a horse and dragged behind. That’s what the clan used to carry their goods when they moved from one camping place to another. Would this vehicle translate as a travois? So Colby must be in the vehicle behind them. Or another vehicle if there were more. Was he alive? And what about Ray?
“Go to sleep, beautiful girl,” Renee went on. “Be like the bird who appears weak to lure prey to her. Quiet as wind in the grass. It is good, beautiful girl. Keep secret things secret, the night is good, beautiful girl.”
Those words didn’t quite fit the rhythm of the song, but Victoria acknowledged the wisdom in them. Let those murderers think she was weak. Keeping Marty’s possible survival secret was the right thing to do, but it would look odd if she didn’t ask about him. She fixed the medic and his companion with a pathetic stare.
“Where is my husband? What happened to him?” she asked, letting the buried tears well. “And Colby and Ray?”
The soldiers glanced at each other. The medic said, “The president will explain it all to you. We’ll be back to camp within thirty minutes.”
Aunt Renee cleared her throat. “I saw Colby’s body loaded up into the back of another truck. Why on earth would you take his dead body and leave the others laying on the ground where you shot them?”
The soldiers looked at one another again and this time Jack answered. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you’ll need to speak with President Todd about that.”
Victoria could think of only one reason for them to bring Colby’s body. “You’re going to dissect him.” Horror swam with rage in her gut. “You’re sick.”
“The president has a scientific mind.” The medic busied himself closing his medical bag. “He likes to know how things work, and a werewolf is not something you see every day.”
Victoria stifled a bitterly sarcastic comment. Renee was right. Women who appeared weak and helpless would have the advantage of surprise if an opportunity to escape came. She let her head drop into her hands and cried noisy tears which were only half faked. Marty might be alive, but he might be dead too. Alone, without medical help, what chance did he have? Ray? No mention of him moving, so he must be dead. Patia was waiting for his return, but that would never happen. Colby’s dead wolf body had been brought along so he could be cut up. All that was enough to make anyone cry.
She was looking forward to meeting the president face-to-face. He would pay for every drop of grief and misery he had caused the Lakota Wolf Clan. Before she was done with him, he would wish he had never been born. Then she’d let her dad and other male relatives at him. Just that thought was almost enough to make her smile. Almost.
The vehicle slowed, bounced around, and came to a brief stop. Victoria could hear men’s voices from the front where the driver must be, and then they started off again at a slower pace. Victoria held on to the edge of the bench, teeth gritted against the pain in her side. It wasn’t bad, but bouncing over rough ground didn’t help it. She was glad when the vehicle finally came to a stop.
Jack opened the canvas at the back of the vehicle and jumped down. The medic held his hand out to keep them back until Jack lowered some sort of half door. Renee went first, using the heavy metal rungs welded onto the door as steps to climb to the ground. Anna went next, and finally Victoria was able to lower herself.
A quick glance around showed three trucks parked in a semi-circle in front of a row of green tents. From the first vehicle came a line of soldiers. Gina Summer stepped down from the driver’s compartment and hesitated when she saw Victoria. The man behind her gave her a nudge and she went in the direction of the largest of the tents. The driver’s compartment of the last truck opened and the lieutenant jumped down. He had cleaned the blood from his mouth, but his lip was red and swollen. Victoria smiled with pride.
The smiled faded as she watched him walk to the back of the truck. His stride was impatient, maybe irritated. He jerked the canvas up and froze. “Hastings!” he shouted.
The medic ran for the other truck. He fell back a pace, staring with shock inside the truck, before hoisting himself into the truck. The lieutenant joined him. Victoria looked at Renee.
“That’s the truck they tossed Colby into,” Renee murmured.
Victoria walked over to the truck, Renee with her. She was tall enough to be able to see into the truck. It was dim, but she could see two bodies on the floor of the truck, both human, both bloody. She didn’t see Colby. An impossible hope flared.
The lieutenant crouched beside one of the bodies. “What the hell happened here?” he growled.
The wounded man spoke feebly. “The wolf, sir.”
“He was dead.”
“He came back to life, sir.” The man’s hand, bloody and trembling. lifted like he was swearing to something in court. “Like a demon out of hell! He tried to kill us, then he jumped out.”
A smile bloomed on Victoria’s face. She must have made some noise, because the lieutenant’s head swung around. “Do your wolfmen do that?” he demanded. “Come back from the dead?”
“Of course not.” She tried to tame the smile, but it grew into a joyous laugh. “He must not have been dead. But you will be soon.”
Jaw clenched, the lieutenant stabbed a finger at one of the men who had approached. “Boland, take the ladies to meet the president.”
Victoria followed the man, still smiling. She couldn’t see how Colby had survived, but he clearly had. All she had to do was sit back and wait for him to bring help. She sobered a little. Where was Marty?
I am just about done getting the paperback version of Olivia’s Mate ready for publication. My goal is to have it ready for release by June 1. Actually, a little before that would be good. I plan to have a few copies with me for the signing at RAGT in Cincinnati OH on June 9th. If you’re in the area, please come at meet me. I would love that! The signings are open to the public. I am signing from 3:00 to 5:00. Learn more about it HERE.
Now, we are getting close to the end of Victoria’s story. A LOT is going to happen in the next three chapters, and this one starts off with some pretty shocking things. You have been warned! 🙂
Before he could answer, a dozen men in gray-green uniforms poured into the train, all grim-faced, marching in perfectly synchronized, pounding steps. They lined the center aisle, every other man facing the opposite direction, rifles pointed at the passengers. One man with a thin line of red down his sleeve stood at the head of the car and spoke in the ringing tones of authority.
“Everyone will remain in his seat,” he barked. “In the name of President Gerald Todd, this train is now the property of Kansas-Missouri. You are our prisoners. Anyone who attempts to resist will be shot.”
Victoria felt Gina slump beside her. Had she fainted? She turned quickly to help her and found that Gina had buried her face in her backpack. The man in charge pointed behind her. “Sir, release the lady and sit down.”
Marty’s hand clenched painfully on her shoulder before opening. She cast an anxious glance over her shoulder and saw Marty sit back. The turquoise of his eyes seemed to be overlaid by a yellow sheen. She looked quickly at Colby. His face was hard and set. Across the aisle, Ray looked only mildly interested but his eyes glowed with that same odd yellow sheen. Victoria swallowed and turned back to the front.
The men in charge walked down the center aisle to where she sat. He gave Gina a bland smile. “Miss Todd. Your father has been worried about you.”
Gina raised a pale face. “My father is dead,” she said flatly.
He paid no attention to her words. “Your mother is anxious to see you. Please accompany Corporal Lundgren to our vehicle.”
“Lieutenant,” Gina began, but trailed off when his face didn’t change expression. With a sigh, she stood up.
Behind them, Colby growled. Gina shook her head at him. “It’s okay,” she said dully. “I should have known they would catch up with me eventually.” Her gaze returned to the man in charge and her mouth curved in a bitter imitation of amusement. “No need to chain me up. I’ll come peacefully.”
Colby growled again and this time it wasn’t a human growl. Victoria turned her head to see a shimmer of heat. Colby’s wolf was coming out and Victoria could guarantee he wouldn’t be happy.
The wolf never had a chance to be happy or unhappy. Just as the wolf began to solidify, one of the soldiers in the aisle raised his rifle.
“No!” shouted Gina.
Victoria, closer to the soldier, lunged to put herself between the soldier and her cousin. Too late. The report of the bullet was deafening inside the train car. The bullet burned her side. At the same moment, a thud and crunch sounded behind her, and the howl of the wolf was pained. A second shot cut off the howl. Gina sprang toward the aisle, struggling to get past Victoria.
“Stop,” she shouted. “For God’s sake!”
With one hand clamped against the pain in her side, Victoria looked behind her and saw the wolf twisted at an impossible angle over the seat, blood painted an arc over the window. “Colby,” she whispered. And then more loudly, “Colby! Colby!”
He didn’t move. Even his furred ribcage didn’t move. Victoria ignored her side and lunged over the seat to touch Colby. Nothing. “He’s dead.” It came out low and hard, grief and rage bound up with disbelief.
Renee shouted something Victoria didn’t catch, and then fell into muffled sobs. Another set of sobs joined her, tinged with hysteria. Anna McGrath, Victoria decided.
The lieutenant’s face finally showed something. Anger. “Points, take that fool out and execute him. He fired without an order, and injured a woman. Hastings, we need your med kit.” In a gentler tone, he said to Victoria, “I deeply regret that you have been injured, ma’am. Please sit down and allow Corporal Hastings to see your wound.”
What wound? Victoria lifted her hand from her hand and saw it covered with blood. Feeling ridiculously woozy, Victoria slid back into her seat. She glanced back at Marty. His face looked slightly different than they usually did. If his cat came out, with they shoot him too? His lip pulled up in a feline snarl as his yellow-green eyes went from Colby’s body to her.
“I’m okay, Marty. It’s nothing. Is Colby dead? Is he really dead?” She begged him with her eyes to deny it.The
He nodded wordlessly, his face becoming even more feline.
Colby. One of the most annoying of her Alpha cousins, and so dear. What would Uncle Taye do? Aunt Carla? Victoria forced tears back. No crying in front of the enemy. “Don’t do anything stupid,” she told Marty.
What she meant was: don’t turn into a cat. She jumped in her seat when a shot sounded outside. Had they really shot that man? Gina climbed carefully past her. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered miserably. After a quick glance at the seats behind them, she went out the train, followed by one of the soldiers. The lieutenant stepped closer to where Marty was and stared. At him? At Colby’s wolf’s body? What was going on behind that cool, smooth face?
The medical soldier reached for the buttons on Victoria’s blouse. She slapped his hands sharply. “Hey, not in front of an audience.”
The lieutenant overheard this and nodded. “Remove the men from the train,” he ordered.
One by one, the delegates and their escorts who had fled Omaha filed past her, soldiers following. Brother Saul and his boys marched past with disturbingly smug expressions on their faces. Marty seemed to be making a real effort to remain calm.
“I am the lady’s husband,” he said.
The lieutenant shook his head. “Outside.” He jerked his chin at Ray. “You too.”
Victoria heard claws puncture the seat back.
“It will be okay, Marty,” Victoria said, pretending confidence. “Please, we don’t want any trouble.” She used her eyes to indicate Colby. “Okay?”
She could see reluctance in every stiff line of his body as he stood up. “I love you,” he murmured, and stepped into the aisle.
Ray followed him. There was no one on the train now except for Victoria, Renee, Anna, the lieutenant, the medic, and one last soldier. While the medic unbuttoned her blouse, the lieutenant turned to Renee. He indicated Colby’s broken body with a sweep of his hand.
“Did you know him?”
Victoria could see over the medic’s bent head that Renee’s face was wet with tears, but stony. “You murdered him. You murdered him.”
“I regret it, ma’am. My man fired unlawfully. Do I assume correctly that he was one of the Indian wolf men?”
“Lakota Wolf Clan, moron,” snapped Victoria.
“Vic,” said Renee warningly. “Didn’t you just say we didn’t want any trouble?”
“Ouch!” Victoria glared down at the medic who must be using hellfire to clean out the wound on her side. Or maybe it was just alcohol. “Sorry,” she told the lieutenant insincerely, and went on with utter sincerity. “I wouldn’t want to be you when the Clan finds out what you’ve done.”
The lieutenant smiled at her. “You are also a member of the clan?”
What was he smiling for? She didn’t like that smile. “Eyes up here,” she snapped, pointing at her forehead. He hadn’t actually been looking at her bare chest, and even if he had, there was little to see because her brassiere covered all the important parts “And you better believe it.”
“And you?” he asked Renee.
The lieutenant directed his smile at Anna, who was still sobbing almost soundlessly. “Who is your father, young lady?”
Renee pulled the girl close. “This is my niece,” she answered quickly.
The lieutenant smile grew. “Then I don’t think I need to worry about the Clan, do I? With the three of you as hostages, your wolf men won’t dare to cause trouble.”
Furious, helpless, Victoria glared down at the medic. “Aren’t you done yet?”
“Nearly,” he said cheerfully. “The bullet burned a groove along your ribs but didn’t crack or nick any. You have a nice layer of fat that protected you. You have a lovely …” With a quick look at the lieutenant, he cleared his throat. “We just need to make sure it’s good and clean so you won’t get an infection.”
Victoria gritted her teeth. “Fine. Hurry up.”
Renee looked up at the lieutenant. “It’s bad enough that you killed Colby. If anything happens to us, the entire Clan will be looking for you and when the find you, you’ ll die. Slowly.”
“So keeping you alive and well is in my best interests.”
Victoria hated that smile. She hated it. She wanted to wipe it away.
The lieutenant spread his hands. “But we have no intention of harming you or any woman. President Todd is very clear on that. That is the reason I had the shooter executed. He fired without an order, which would have earned him strict disciplinary action, but the fact that he wounded a woman is what required his death. You are safe with us.”
The medic wound strips of cotton around her torso to hold a pad in place over the wound. Victoria waited until he finished “Thank you,” she told the medic.
He began putting things into his canvas bag. Victoria saw that it was neatly organized with rules of cotton on one side and scalpels and syringes on another. “No problem. Always glad to help a lady.”
She turned from him and stood up to face the lieutenant. It pleased her to notice that the lieutenant was two inches shorter than she was.
Renee stood up too. “Now what?”
“Now you return with us to President Todd’s camp. He will decide what should be done with you.”
Anna clung to her. “I want my daddy,” she wailed.
Renee gave her a pat. “There, there. The clan will come for us.” She held lieutenant’s eyes defiantly. “They’ll be here within the day.”
“Oh, I think it will take longer than that for them to get word of where you are.” The lieutenant leaned over and knocked on the window. He made elaborate hand signs to whoever was out there, and stood back up to smile at Renee. “Since I can’t have your men reporting back to your wolf pack …” He trailed off with a shrug.
A barrage of gunshots sounded from outside the window.
“… I guess we’ll just have to dispose of them.”
Victoria leaped across the aisle to the window, pushing him out of her way. Her heart stopped when she saw two bodies lying on the ground, their golden hair covered in blood, more blood on their chests. “Marty! Oh, God. Marty!” She turned her gaze to the lieutenant and his sickening smile. Rage swelled up in her. “You killed him. You son of a bitch. You son of a bitch!”
Propelled by grief and rage, her fist swung in right hook and landed right in the middle of his smile. He fell back, stumbling into the center aisle, blood welling from his lip, red like the blood in Marty’s hair. But not enough of it. She scrambled after him, wanting revenge more than she wanted air to breathe.
“I’m going to kill you,” she promised.
A jabbing pain in her butt distracted her. The medic stood behind her with a syringe in his hand. The third soldier leaped to pin her arms to her sides. Her recently bandaged wound shrieked with pain, so she shrieked too. Anna cowered behind Renee, who was kicking the fallen man energetically at the ribs. He rolled away and staggered to his feet.
“I’m going to kill you. I’m gonna kill you all.” Victoria struggled frantically, but her strength was draining away. How could that happen so quickly? Didn’t it take a while for medication to act? But everything from the moment the train stopped had happened so quickly. She raised bleary eyes to the medic. “What did you do to me? Whah?”
Her fingers were going numb. Her lips didn’t move properly. “Drugged me. Righ? Drug. Drugged. Me. Sonbitch.”
“I’m sorry. Sit down, ma’am,” the medic suggested compassionately.
She did, but only so that she didn’t fall ignominiously on her face in front of the evil lieutenant. She stared at him, trying to hold her head steady. His lip was bleeding freely, swelling satisfactorily. “No more smiling for you for a while,” she gloated. Maybe that’s what she said. She wasn’t quite sure it came out clearly, so she focused all her effort on the next words. “Kill you. Soon,” she vowed, and gave up the struggle against darkness.
* * * *
Questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll see if I can answer.
Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that I have only 2 more chapters to write in Victoria’s Cat, and I expect to have a cover reveal within the next 10 to 14 days. The bad news is that Victoria’s Cat won’t be released on June 2 as hoped. It is being pushed back to July 3. I am so sorry. The move put me behind, but I still had hope that I would make my deadline. I failed. My editor is being very gracious and has a slot for me in the second half of June. Again, I apologize for the delay.
These last few chapters move quickly. I tried to make them suspenseful, and that begins at the end of this chapter. I hope you’ll enjoy this. Ta-Da: Victoria’s Cat!
Colby gestured with the backpack he held. “Sit down, Miss Gina.”
Georgina Summer snatched the backpack away from him and held her back very straight as she strode past him to the bench. Many of the delegates nodded to her as she passed them, but luckily no one tried to touch her. By the set of Colby’s jaw, he was irritated by something. A stranger touching his mate would undoubtedly have set him off. Victoria made room on the bench for the younger woman, who sat with her denim-clad knees primly together, backpack on her lap, looking straight ahead without speaking. It looked like Colby wasn’t the only one irritated by something. Or someone. Victoria cast another sidelong glance at her cousin and saw a shadow of misery on Colby’s face before he hid it.
A man in a blue uniform opened the door to the platform. “We’re boarding now,” he called. “Ladies first.”
Hawk took Renee by the shoulders and gave her a light kiss. “I’ll see you soon, love.”
Victoria was fervently glad that Marty wasn’t staying behind. She hugged Rock and Hawk good bye, but when she turned to hug Colby he murmured, “I’m going on the train too. I’m not leaving my mate’s side.”
Victoria arched a pale brow. Colby, passing up a fight? Of course, he’d give up even more for a mate. The only women in the station were Victoria, Renee, Georgina Summer, and Anna McGrath. The men in the station held back while they went out to the platform and boarded the train. Victoria chose a seat in the middle of the first passenger car and slid her suitcase under it. It seated two. She and Marty could at least hold hands for the four or five hours of the journey to Kearney.
Renee and Anna took the seat across the aisle from her. Georgina Summer tossed a quick glance over her shoulder, and squeezed past Victoria to sit beside her.
“Hey!” said Victoria. “I’m saving that seat for—”
Miss Summer seized her arm and cut her off. “Please!” she hissed. “I don’t want him to sit next to me.”
“Him? Who, Colby?”
“I don’t like him. He scares me.”
Ouch. Victoria glanced toward the front of the train and saw Colby’s face contract with hurt and grief. He’d heard every whispered word just fine. Poor Cole. She turned back to the younger woman. “Has he hurt you?”
Georgina opened her mouth, scowled, and closed it. “No,” she admitted reluctantly.
The girl was honest. Victoria approved. She leaned close. “He won’t. He’s pushy and bossy, but he won’t hurt you.”
“Maybe not me, but he almost killed Lachlan last night!”
Victoria looked up and her gaze followed Colby and Marty as they walked past and settled in the seats right behind where she and Georgina sat. Colby’s face was carefully neutral except for his black eyebrows which were in a straight line over his eyes. Victoria arched a brow at her cousin before turning back to Georgina.
“Did Lachlan try to touch you?” Victoria inquired. “Or stop you from coming?”
Miss Summer watched Ray slide into a seat behind Anna and Renee. Other men walked down the aisle and took seats. Victoria thought she wouldn’t answer and wished Marty was beside her instead of behind her. After a few moments, the other woman spoke in a low voice.
“Lachlan thought I’d be safer if I hid in Omaha.”
A quiet sound came from the seat behind them, not quite a growl, not quite a sigh. “You’ll be safer with the Pack,” said Colby.
Georgina half-turned her head. “I’ve known Lachlan for months. He and Ceara have taken care of me like I was their sister. I’ve known you for what? Two days?” The words might have been sarcastic, but her tone was calmly reasonable. “Think about it. Why would I believe you over them?”
“Because you’re my mate.”
Victoria waited for her to explode, but she didn’t. She merely turned her head to the front and sat quietly with her hands folded over the backpack in her lap. Victoria raised a brow.
“So,” she asked conversationally. “Why did you come?”
Georgina didn’t look at her. “Because I didn’t want Lachlan to die.”
“I wouldn’t have killed him!”
Colby sounded more beseeching than angry. Miss Summer didn’t turn. “I’ll stay with your mom and your sister for a little while, and I’ll say thank you for the hospitality, but I am not looking for a husband.”
Colby muttered, “You don’t have to look. I’m right here.”
His mate sniffed and ignored him. The train started off with a jerk and a hiss. A tiny niggle of worry that Victoria hadn’t even been aware of seeped out of her. The train moved sluggishly at first, then built up speed. They were heading home. Victoria leaned over Miss Summer to look out the window. Yes, they were leaving the station now. She began to sit back when she saw two figures running along the platform. They leaped onto the train.
A moment later the door at the head of the car opened and two men rushed in, panting. Jon and Tanner Allersen. Victoria supposed, sourly, they weren’t staying to defend Omaha after all. The two young men started toward the back of the car. Beside her, Colby’s mate turned her face sharply away. She probably didn’t like the Allersen boys either. If they had done something to annoy her, Colby wouldn’t be happy. Or maybe he would be, since it would give him an excuse to fight.
Brother Saul boomed over the noise of the train. “Sit down, you rascals.” He lowered his voice to what he probably thought was a quiet tone but even human ears could hear him just fine. “Did you get it done?”
After a long minute, Miss Summer turned to Victoria. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I am Georgina Summer.”
Victoria shook her hand and felt callouses on it. “Victoria Wo… I mean, Victoria Madison.” Her smile bloomed with wonder and pride. “I just got married last night.”
“Thanks. My friends call me Vic.”
“My friends call me Gina. Are you friends with, um.” Her voice trailed off as she appeared to search for a name. “Cody?”
“Colby,” he growled.
Gina’s face was completely sober except for a tremble at the corner of her mouth. “Right. Colby.”
Victoria looked at her with surprise and some approval. That was a smile hiding on Gina’s face. She was teasing Colby. “Yeah, we’re cousins. Our dads are cousins, so that makes us second cousins.” Victoria took pity on Colby. “He’s a good guy. I mean, yeah, he’s pushy like I said, but he’s a good guy. You should try to get to know him while you’re staying at the den. Aunt Carla won’t let him bother you.”
“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Gina said, obviously deciding to ignore the topic of Colby. “I guess I’ll try to get a little rest.”
She shifted her backpack against the window and laid her head on it. Victoria lifted a shoulder and looked over it at Colby, trying to convey that she had tried to sway his mate’s opinion in his favor. He nodded to her.
With no one to talk to and nothing to do, Victoria closed her eyes and let her head droop. The rocking of the train lulled her into a doze.
She wasn’t sure how much time had passed before she woke to the scream of breaks. She and Gina were thrown forward into the seats in front of them as the train shrieked to a halt. Some of the passengers tumbled into the aisle, others stumbled to their feet. Marty reached over the back of her seat for her shoulders.
“Are you okay?”
Victoria rubbed her forehead. “Yeah, sure. What’s going on? An accident?”
Before he could answer, a dozen men in gray-green uniforms poured into the train, all grim-faced, marching in perfectly synchronized, pounding steps. They lined the center aisle, every other man facing the opposite direction, rifles pointed at the passengers. One man with a thin line of red down his sleeve stood at the head of the car and spoke in the ringing tones of authority.
“Everyone will remain in his seat,” he barked. “In the name of President Gerald Todd, this train is now the property of Kansas-Missouri. You are our prisoners. Anyone who attempts to resist will be shot.”
It’s May! That means I should have the rough draft of Victoria’s Cat done, but I don’t. I am making progress, however. I am three-quarters done, and I’m liking it. This week I am not giving you the rest of the love scene, which is from Victoria’s point of view, but we’ll pick up the morning after instead. Chapters 9 and 10 are going to be action packed, and Victoria is going to find herself in very tight spot. Nothing that she can’t handle, of course. With a little help from her new husband and another unexpected source. So, Enjoy!
Victoria was dead to the world when fingers poked her shoulder. She blinked bleary eyes open in the dark and muttered, “Wha? What?”
“It’s time to get up. You need to pack.”
“What?” she said again. Her mind swam through black layers of sleep, struggling to find reality. This was the little bedroom at the top of the limits, right? Yeah. She was naked! Memories hit her with a joyous thud. “Marty?”
“Yes. Lights coming on.”
All but blinded, Victoria squinted. “You’re already dressed,” she said, disappointed. “What time is it?”
“Quarter to six. We have less than an hour before we have to leave for the train station.”
“An hour!” She threw the covers back and, seeing Marty’s smile, remembered that she was naked. She stood up and stretched, finishing with a sly smile in his direction.
His smile was almost wolfish. Or was the cat-ish? His hands cupped her face to hold her for his kiss. It was a long, lingering kiss. Victoria melted into it.
“If only we had a little more time,” he said with regret.
She played with the lapels of his suit coat. It was the same one he’d worn to the mayor’s house yesterday. “Don’t we have time?”
“No.” He pushed her gently but firmly away from him. “Pack. Take a shower. A quick shower, and come downstairs for breakfast.”
His hair was damp, so he must have already showered. She wished he’d woken her. He must have seen her disappointment.
“There’s no rush, love.” He kissed her again. “We have lots of time ahead of us.”
“Like tonight?” she suggested.
“Where will we be tonight?”
He looked startled. “I guess Eddie’s.”
“We’ll be going out to visit the Clan, right?”
“Right. They need to know what is going on here. But we won’t head out tonight.”
She pulled him down for one more kiss. “Good. I am looking forward to making love with you again as soon as possible.”
“Tonight.” He returned her kiss and stepped back, shaking himself. “I can’t wait. I’ve got to go get my stuff packed up. Meet you downstairs.”
Victoria had grown up moving camp every few weeks. She knew how to pack for travel, so it took her only five minutes to get her stuff together. Her shower was just a quick, and she was downstairs in the kitchen with her satchel less than fifteen minutes after Marty left. He wasn’t there yet, she noticed, but several women were already preparing breakfast. Aunt Renee, of course, was directing the women in her usual brisk manner. Kim Mitzell, face stony, obeyed the directions given. The Limit’s usual cook would probably be glad to see Renee go. Victoria felt a flash of pity for the woman.
Renee noticed Victoria and waved her in. Surprisingly, she didn’t put Victoria to work. “Sit down. Eggs will be ready in two minutes.” She lowered her voice. “No one else knows anything about you know what.”
Hawk came in then, so Victoria didn’t have to respond. Hawk meekly obeyed his mate and took a chair across Victoria. “Sleep well?” he asked blandly.
“Like a baby,” she replied in the exact same tone.
He chuckled. “Babies don’t always sleep very well.”
Marty came in, wearing a pair of jeans and a sweater instead of yesterday’s suit. He looked around the room with a slight frown. As he slid into the chair beside Victoria, he spoke quietly to Hawk.
“Ray wasn’t in our room, and neither were the Allersen boys. Have you seen them?”
Hawk shook his head.
“What about Miss Summer? Is she here?”
Hawk leaned back when Renee put a heaping plate in front of him. The smile he gave her was full of love, the comfortable kind of love that developed over years, steady and strong. “Thank you, love. Sit down and eat with us.”
“I believe I will.”
Marty waited until the four of them were sitting at the table before he returned to his original question. “Did Colby and Ray come back last night?”
Hawk paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. He lowered it slowly, frowning. “I don’t know. Rock went with them to find Colby’s mate. If they found her they were supposed to bring her here. Is she upstairs in the room across from yours, Victoria?”
Victoria shrugged. “I didn’t see her.”
“I didn’t hear her,” said Marty. “Do you think they’re still out there, looking for her? Or trying to convince her to come with them?”
Hawk stood up. “It should have taken that long. I’m going upstairs to check on her.” When Marty stood up, he waved him back. “No, you need to eat before the train comes. I can get a bite later if I need to. I’ll be right back.”
Marty’s unease spread to Victoria, and she found herself not enjoying the fried potatoes and scrambled eggs as much as she usually did. “Where are the other delegates? Aren’t they going on the train too?”
Renee had the answer to that. “Most of them have already left for the train station. Hawk decided it was better if we didn’t all go in one big group. If two or three people leave at a time it doesn’t look quite so obvious that there’s exodus out of Omaha this morning.”
“Good idea. Uncle Hawk is pretty smart.” Victoria inwardly squirmed. They were leaving Omaha in time to avoid whatever trouble President Todd had for the city. Was it right to run away? Actually, it wasn’t the leaving that made her feel like a coward, but the sneaking away in the early hours of the morning.
Marty noticed her discomfort. “What’s wrong, Vic?”
She lowered her voice to a tiny whisper. “Sneaking out of town and leaving everyone else here to face, uh, him doesn’t feel right.”
He took her fingers and gave them a gentle squeeze. “I know what you mean. But we have a responsibility to our friends and families back home.”
Uncle Hawk came back in and took his place at the table again. He glanced over at Marty and shook his head. “No, there’s no sign the girl has been here. I checked your room, and Ray’s scent isn’t fresh. The only fresh scent is yours. So I don’t think he was there last night.”
Marty stabbed a chunk of potato with a little bit too much force. “Dammit,” he muttered. “Ray had better not miss the train. McGrath said it won’t wait.”
“Maybe he’s already waiting for us there,” Victoria said, trying to sound encouraging.
But when they got to the train station, there was no sign of Ray, or Colby, or Rock. Miss Summer wasn’t there either. Two dozen of the delegates and their companions sat inside the station, talking quietly and looking tired.
Renee looked for an open spot on a bench, but they were all full. The nearest bench was occupied by Brother Saul. Hawk stepped over to him and growled almost politely, “Get up, and let the ladies sit.”
Brother Saul raised a pugnacious chin, but stood up and moved a few steps away. Renee gave him a brusque nod and sat down where he had been. Victoria joined her. She didn’t see Jon or Tanner in the station. Maybe they, like her brother and cousins, were staying in Omaha to help if it came to a fight.
Marty alternated between keeping anxious watch on the door and pretending to stroll casually around the station, too obviously not looking for his nephew. Victoria found herself glancing around the room as if Ray and the others might crawl out from under a bench at any moment. With the sun not yet up, the bare lightbulbs couldn’t quite illuminate the entire room, so maybe the boys would materialize out of a dark corner.
A sluggish, muted rumble came from outside, followed by the low hiss of machinery. The train was firing up its engines. According to the large clock on the wall, departure was only ten minutes away.
“The train is already here.” Renee nodded to the dark window, where the dark outline of the train could be seen. “Maybe Colby and Rock are already on it.”
“Maybe.” Hawk didn’t sound convinced. “It’s probably been here for a little while, so they might have gotten on already.”
Marty returned from one of his rounds of the train station. “They’re here, with Anna McGrath.”
The door opened and the mayor’s daughter came into the station escorted by Ray on one side and Rock on the other. Behind them, were Colby and Georgina Summer. Victoria could practically see the tension seep away from her husband. He pushed through a knot of men standing by the door and took the two suitcases Rock carried.
“I’m glad to see you, Miss Anna,” he said gently. He gave his nephew a nod. “You too.”
Colby gestured with the backpack he held. “Sit down, Miss Gina.”
Georgina Summer snatched the backpack away from him and held her back very straight as she strode past him to the bench. Many of the delegates nodded to her as she passed them, but luckily no one tried to touch her. By the set of Colby’s jaw, he was irritated by something. A stranger touching his mate would undoubtedly have set him off. Victoria made room on the bench for the younger woman, who sat with her denim-clad knees primly together, backpack on her lap, looking straight ahead without speaking. It looked like Colby wasn’t the only one irritated by something. Or someone.
Here we are, the last week of April, and I have to scrape the frost off my windshield. It is currently 42 degrees F (5 degrees C) and this morning it was 29 or so (-1 C) The lows will be in the upper 20s and the highs in the mid 40s this week. Now that’s what I call spring in North Dakota! Sigh. At least it’s not snowing like it is 60 miles north of here. Yes, I do like cold weather. However, in April, I like it to be a little warmer than this!
And speaking of warmer, the snip I have for you this week is the start of the wedding night scene. Marty is finally getting his heart’s desire, and Victoria is ready to play. It’s not super hot, but maybe not something that a kid should stumble across. If you are an adult, click the link below to read today’s snip. As usual, not edited. Enjoy!
Sorry, everyone. This week’s teaser is a bit short. 🙁 I’ve been busy trying to get Olivia’s Mate ready for paperback. It can be a challenge to get everything formatted nicely, and the cover front and back just right. I have been rejected a couple of times now and I’m almost tearing out my hair. But hopefully it will be accepted this time. Here is the cover. I think it looks great, but what do I know? LOL When I am finally successful, I will hold a contest to give away a couple of copies. So stayed tuned for the newsletter in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, here is the snip for this week!
Hawk gave him a curled lip, not quite amused, not quite grumpy. “I will do that. You might have other plans for the evening.”
Marty looked down at her, eyes intense. “Oh, yes,” he purred. “I have plans.”
Marty held his new bride’s hand and didn’t plan to let go of her until they were finally behind closed doors. Thing is, that might be a little while. Of course, the rapid, low-voiced discussion McGrath was holding with Hawk and Quill was important, but Marty knew his responsibilities for tomorrow: to be at the train station with his wife and aunt-in-law before seven in the morning, and take charge of Miss Anna there. But that was still eleven hours away, and he had things to do in the next eleven hours. Glorious things. He drew a breath, leaned a shoulder against the dining room wall, and dug for patience. Victoria’s thumb gliding over the back of his hand did help him maintain his patience, but he gave her a slow smile, silently urging her to continue.
It was a huge relief when a knock on the door cut the conversation off. The voices of John Case and Charles Beauregard were heard in the foyer. They were here for the meeting to discuss the delegates’ questions. Those questions, Marty said to himself, are useless now. I think it will be a different topic under discussion tonight.
McGrath lifted his head, obviously having heard Beauregard and Case heading back to his office. “I’m sorry, gentlemen, my time is up.”
Hawk nodded and stuck out his hand for the mayor to shake. “We’ll talk to the delegates at the Limit about Todd, and the train. If you want us with you tomorrow when you meet Todd, send word to us. We’ll be at the Limit.”
McGrath shook Hawk’s hand and then reached his hand to Marty. “My daughter will be at the station tomorrow morning.”
With great reluctance, Marty let go of Victoria’s hand so he could shake with the mayor. “I’ll see to it that she gets safely to Kearney.”
It was a relief to get outside. The sun was down and the air had a definite chill. He wanted to be sure his wife was warm. Well, he would see to it that she was warm once they got back to the Limit. Warmer than warm, he amended. He would see to it that she was hot.
Colby and in stopped them at the bottom of the walk. “I’ve got to find Georgina,” he said in a hard, intense voice. “I want her on that train tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Ray.
Rock nodded. “Me, too.”
Eagle shifted. “Me —”
Hawk, Quill, and Sand all said the word at the same time.
“No,” said Hawk again. “Rock, go ahead with Colby. I have no authority over Ray, but Eagle needs to stay with us.”
Eagle’s expression was morose. “I’m not sleeping in that room upstairs across the hall from the lovebirds tonight.” He shot a peeved glance between Marty and Victoria and Stone. “You’re on your own tonight, Stone. It’s bad enough hearing all that ruckus from mom and dad. I don’t want to hear it from my sister, too.”
A clear peel of laughter rose from Victoria. “You would think that at their age they would have slowed down by now,” she said with another giggle.
“Why?” Marty squeezed her hand and gave her a small, wicked smile. “Do you think we will have slowed down when we’re their age?”
Eagle grabbed fistfuls of his thick black hair and moaned. “Kill me now,” he muttered.
Hawk shook his head, not smiling. “Colby, Rock, get moving. You can bring Miss Georgina back to the Limit. She can sleep alone in the room across from the newlyweds. The rest of us had better get moving. We got a lot to do before morning.” He shot Marty a glance, and continue in a dry voice. “That is, most of us have things to do before morning that don’t include –”
“Uncle Hawk!” Victoria’s voice was primly shocked.
Mrs. Renee gave her husband a deeply disappointed look. “I might not see you for a long time. Don’t you think–”
“Yes,” Hawk barked. He coughed a little self-consciously. “But this isn’t the time to talk about it, love. Let’s go.”
Colby, Rock, and Ray peeled off to go in search of Georgina Summer, and the rest of them headed at a fast walk toward the Limit. Marty didn’t mind the fast pace. The sooner they got there, the sooner he could hurry his bride up the stairs to her bedroom.