It’s time for the next tidbit in Sand and Amanda’s story! The first bit is pretty much an info dump. This is how I write my first draft. I just dump a bunch of info that I want the reader to know. On my second draft I go back and do a lot of cutting and rearranging. But you poor readers are getting the raw product here with this. I hope you can enjoy it anyway.
Snow grabbed the saddlebag to carry into the house before following Paint up the back steps to a kitchen. Sand looked carefully around, noting the strange appliances, as the three of them passed through the kitchen to a narrow hall that led into an office. Three tall windows were set in a rounded wall facing the door, pouring light into the room. A man in a suit and tie sat at the desk, looking down at a stack of papers before him. His dark hair was short, and his hands looked elegant and pampered holding a pen. Who the hell wore a suit to sit at a desk?
The man looked up, blue eyes narrow under black brows, then he stood. He was as pretty as a girl, Sand thought derisively, before amazement unhinged his jaw.
“Sky?” he yelped.
The man grinned, then, a dimple biting into his cheek beside his mouth. “Sand. I know it’s you by that broken tooth.” The grin deepened. “Breaking that tooth is one of my happiest memories.”
“It’s only chipped,” Sand said with dignity that dissolved under Sky’s fierce embrace. It had been a long time since he’s seen Sky, and he had seemed like some prissy city stranger sitting at the desk. Now, feeling the emotion in that embrace, Sand knew he was still Sky. Changed by his years in Omaha, sure, but still Sky.
Sky released Sand and did the same to Snow, before lightly punching his shoulder. “You! Snow, you are the reason I was on kitchen duty so much. Whose idea was it to sit out in the hall outside the Lupa and the Chief’s room when they made love?”
Snow laughed. “That was a long time ago! We were all just kids back then. Besides, it was Paint’s idea to spy.”
Paint raised his hands. “Oh, no, you can’t blame me for that!”
They all laughed. After a moment Snow sobered, running his gaze from Sky’s glossy black shoes to his gray-blue slacks with their perfect creases to the matching coat, crisp white shirt and navy blue tie. “You cut your hair. You don’t look like yourself. What’s happened to you?”
Sky’s face retained the smile, but somehow it seemed to Sand as if a door had closed. Sky propped one hip on the edge of his desk. “Like you said, it’s been a long time. People grow up. So, are you here to work with me or just visiting? I can always use more muscle to keep the visitors in line.”
“We’re here for a couple of months. We can help you out. But Sand—”
Sand cut him off. “I found my mate, Sky. She’s here in Omaha, somewhere. You have to help me find her!”
Sky stared for a moment, his level brows pulled low. “Of course.” He looked down at his feet, crossing one ankle over the other and apparently examining the shine on his shoe. “You realize, don’t you, that if she is in Omaha she is probably either already married or working in a house?”
That had been the thought circling his mind like a caged beast ever since he’s recognized his mate. He didn’t want his feelings exposed on his face, so he bent his head and joined in the examination of Sky’s shoe. “I know,” he said softly.
Sky reached a hand to give him a comforting punch in the arm. “But you never know. Maybe her family is well off and they’re able to afford to pay the tax.”
Sand didn’t know anything about rich women. Had she been wearing rich woman’s clothes? “Yeah, maybe.”
Snow dug in the saddlebag. “Before we get into Sand’s mate, here’s the letters from home.”
Sky took them and leafed through them until he came to the one with Rose’s handwriting on the outside. As far as Sand knew, this was the first letter Rose had written to Sky since she’d found out he was running a House in Omaha. Sky’s hand clenched on the envelope so tightly his knuckles shone white, and that invisible door opened just enough to show the edge of raw emotion before slamming shut again. “Thanks.” He set the envelopes casually on the desk behind him. “So, tell me about your mate.”
“She’ s beautiful,” Sand said immediately. “I know every man says that about his mate, but mine truly is. Her hair is long and it shines in the sun. Her skin is very pale.” Words failed him when he remembered her soft, curved body. “She has a painting on her arm and her shoulder.”
“A tattoo,” Snow put in.
Sky nodded, using one finger to scratch his chin. “What was the tattoo of?”
Snow shrugged, looking at Sand. Sand shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. It went from here,” he touched his elbow and drew his fingers up the outside of his arm, over his shoulder to his heart, “and went here. Do you know her, Sky?”
Sky looked at Paint. “Maybe,” he said at last. “I know of a few women who fit that description. We’ll find her, Sand. Not now; it’s late in the afternoon. But we’ll find her, I promise. Why don’t you get them settled in, Paint? I’m going to my room to read my letter. My letters,” he corrected himself.
Sand’s wolf didn’t want to wait even another minute to start the hunt for his mate, but Sand forced him down. His mate was here in Omaha. He would find her. Sky had his letters in his hand, running his thumb over and over the one with Rose’s handwriting on it. Sky must be anxious to read Rose’s words.
“Sure,” Paint said. “I’ll get them beds out back and then show ‘em around.”
Sky got up from his lean on the desk. “I’m glad you’re here,” he told Snow and Sand with fervent honesty. “I’ll see you tomorrow and we’ll start the hunt for your mate.”
Sand watched him go out. “He’s not the same, is he?” he asked Paint in a low voice, knowing how good wolf hearing was.
“No,” Paint agreed. “Come on. I’ll show you the house. We need to keep our voices down. Mostly the ladies nap in the afternoon.”
Sand wanted to ask about the women, but decided to wait. The house was like nothing he’d ever seen before. The Clan mostly roamed all over the Plains in search of good hunting during summer, and lived in either lodges or small plain houses in the Sacred Lands in winter. The den had once been a motel that the Pack had converted to their home. One or two wolves shared a room, but spent most of their time in the rec room or outdoors. The den was comfortable. This house, for all its fancy woodwork and furniture, was not. He followed Paint and Snow through the kitchen into a narrow hall that went to a large room with a long narrow table at it. The dining room was connected to what Paint called a receiving room. Apparently there were two large receiving rooms divided by a staircase, and the hall upstairs was open except for more of the fussy railing from the staircase.
“The ladies’ rooms are on the second floor, and Sky’s suite is on the third floor.” Paint opened the door in a spacious entry area. “There are dorms for the workers in back. You’ll be in the men’s dorm, of course.”
Of course. After they walked around the house and past the stable Sand saw three long single story buildings. “Three? How many men fit in one of those?”
“There are ten bedrooms in each, plus a lounge, kind of like the rec room back home.”
“Sky has thirty men working for him?”
“Nope.” Paint tossed a grin over his shoulder. “Fourteen, with you two here. We’re in the middle dorm. The other two are for the women workers.”
Snow stopped so suddenly that Sand bumped into him. “What? How many ladies does Sky have working in his House?”
Paint stopped and turned around. “There are eight who do the kind of work you’re thinking about. There’s another twenty who do the laundry, cook the food, do the shopping, clean the house and all the rest of that. Do you know how many times the bed sheets have to be changed in one night? That’s a lot of laundry to do every day.”
“I thought all women who didn’t get married had to work in a House here,” Snow protested.
“Yep.” Paint started walking again. “No one said what they sort of work they had to do. Here, in Sky’s House, no woman has to do work they don’t want to.”
A tension he hadn’t even been aware of eased up on Sand’s heart. His mate might not be a prostitute. Not, he hastily assured himself, that it mattered if she were. He would love her no matter what.
“So,” said Paint three hours later. “You know what to do?”
Sand shrugged unhappily. “You want me to just stay out here in the hall and listen for a woman’s voice to say ‘monitor’?”
“Yes,” said Paint patiently. “That’s the word the ladies use when their appointment behaves in a way she doesn’t like. If you hear a woman call for a monitor, go right into the room and be sure the man isn’t hurting the lady.”
Sand hadn’t met any of the ladies yet, but already the knowledge that they were members of Sky’s Pack made his hackles rise at the thought of any harm coming to them. He nodded crisply. “Do I kill him?”
“No! The lady will tell you whether the man should be escorted out or given a warning. OK? You don’t have to stand. You can sit here. The appointments will begin arriving in about fifteen minutes. Your shift is three hours long. I’ll relieve you then.”
Sand watched Paint go down the stairs. He looked around the hall with its doors at regular intervals. The second floor was built like an open rectangle. Doors were set at regular intervals along the outside wall, two on each side, with a bathroom in three corners and a linen closet in the fourth. He glanced over the ornate rail that hugged the open edge of the upstairs in a graceful curve and saw the reception rooms below. If necessary he could easily leap over the rail and land. If he needed to get to the opposite side of the upstairs area he could possibly leap it.
At the top of the stairs was a small alcove with two chairs on either side of a small table. He moved over to one of the chairs and gingerly sat. The next three hours were going to be the hardest of his life. He closed his eyes and called up his memory of his beautiful mate. Soon, he assured his wolf, they would find her and claim her.
The door at the far end of the hall opened and Sand sat up straight as a scent came to him. There were a multitude of sickeningly sweet scents crowding his nose, but this one was clean and light. Deep inside, his wolf gave a mighty howl. Sand was so shocked by his wolf that he almost didn’t notice the woman stepping out of the door. She had walked right up to him before he wrestled his wolf into a semblance of submission.
Her hair, the glossy brown of polished walnut, was looped up and fastened in an intricate style that showed off her soft white throat. Sand’s gaze found the edge of a tattoo and followed it to the neckline of her robe. His mate. His mate was here!
“Well, hello,” she said in a throaty purr, looking him up and down with obvious approval. “You’re the hall monitor for tonight?”
He nodded dumbly, barely able to keep his wolf from screaming his victory, taking in her luscious curves with awed eyes. If he touched her, even a graze as light as air with his little finger, he would seize her and carry her off to .. To where? There was nowhere in this ugly city to take his mate. His fists curled as he fought with his wolf. The wolf didn’t see why they had to take her anywhere. Here was a perfectly good place to claim her.
“You must be one of Sky’s relatives?” she asked.
The seductive shadow of a southern accent in her voice sent a shudder down his spine. He nodded again.
“I knew it. You’re all so buff and handsome. I’m Miss Amanda. You can call me Amanda.”
“Amanda,” he breathed, leaning a little closer to draw in a lungful of her scent. “I’m Sand.”
She almost knocked him off his feet when she ran the tip of one soft finger down his nose to tap his lower lip. “And you all have such fun names. You’re adorable! I would love to play with your hair sometime. In fact, on my next day off, I’ll give you a freebie.”
She turned to saunter back to her door. Sand’s gaze fixed on her lush, swinging hips, pretending his feet were glued to the floor. She paused and turned back.
“Oh, I forgot what I came out for. I was going to tell you that my first appointment tonight is Terry Askup. Last time he was here he was given a warning for being too rough. If it happens again, I’d like you to escort him out.”
Sand stared at her closed door with cold goo swimming in his guts. Miss Amanda was his mate. His mate was a business woman. In a few minutes she would be entertaining a man with a history of roughness, and she might ask him to escort her appointment out.
Escort him out? The man would be lucky if his wolf didn’t rip him to pieces.
This was not good.