First, let me say Happy Veteran’s Day to all those who have served their countries in the armed forces. Hats off to veterans!
I’m not doing a regular teaser today because I have a Cover Reveal for you.
Wolf’s Lady, After the Crash book #6.5
Sand Wolfe, a lonely bachelor of the Lakota Wolf Clan, goes to Omaha to work as muscle in his cousin Sky’s whorehouse. There he meets his mate, Miss Amanda, who also works in Sky’s House, although in a very different position. He will do anything to convince her to give up her career and accept his mate claim.
Can a businesswoman leave her glamorous life and settle down in a wolf den? Amanda finds Sand’s methods of persuasion very persuasive. But will the men of Omaha allow her to leave?
Omaha, Nebraska – the new Sin City of what had once been the United States
September 10, 2070
Sand Wolfe looked at the distant wall enclosing the city of Omaha, hiding the distaste wrestling with curiosity in his belly behind a blank face. He had been here only two months ago as part of the group escorting a cousin’s mate to her uncle, but on that trip he had stayed outside the wall while the others took Sara into the city. He liked to run free, and stepping foot inside a dirty city was something he’d never wanted to do. Curse Snow for talking him into this.
“C’mon,” his cousin Snow muttered. “The gate is right ahead.”
They walked, leading their single horse behind them, through an area which had once been the outskirts of Omaha. Now it was empty, all buildings and trees burned away decades before he was born to prevent attackers from using the scenery to sneak up on the city unseen. Sand flicked a glance up at one of the watch towers built into the wall, his excellent eyesight finding two men there, and the long barrels of rifles aimed at him and Snow. The barrenness of the land gave the guards a clear line of fire. Sand forced his shoulders not to twitch.
The road led them directly to the gate. More guards were there, armed with rifles and questions.
“Names,” one guard barked at them.
“I’m Snow Wolfe,” Snow said in his quiet, gentle voice. “This is my cousin, Sand Wolfe.”
The two guards, beefy and well fed in their olive drab uniforms and black boots, exchanged a glance, but they said nothing about the names as one wrote them in a book. Snow was actually Snow On His Fur of the Lakota Wolf Clan, and Sand’s full name was Wolf Running In Sand. The cousins showed their Lakota heritage in their waist length braids and dark skin. They wore denim jeans and cotton shirts in deference to city peoples’ requirements, but they both wore comfortable moccasins.
“What’s your business in Omaha?”
“We’re visiting family.”
The man poised his pen over his book. “What’s the name of the people you’re visiting?”
The guard who wasn’t writing gave a low whistle. “Sky, huh? Lucky. Or does he make you pay full price?”
Sand scowled to hide his confusion. Pay full price for what? The guard writing paused with his pen above the paper. “Cute. Snow, Sand, and Sky. No sun?”
“No.” Snow’s voice was flat.
“Twenty-eight,” Sand answered.
“Twenty-seven,” said Snow.
The man wrote it down. “How long are you staying?”
Snow raised his eyebrows at Sand. “Two months maybe. We’ll head out before winter comes.”
Maybe he could stick it out that long, but Sand doubted it. He was sure they could have snuck into the city and avoided all this gab. No wolf warrior liked to be interrogated by human men who were clearly inferior. One of the guards went to their horse and searched through the saddlebags, inventorying their spare clothes and scant food stores. Sand tensed with a low growl bubbling up his throat when he pawed through the sealed letters Taye, Rose, and others from the den had sent for Sky, but the guard only noted the letters down in his book too.
“No weapons?” he barked.
“We both have a knife,” Snow said, touching the grip of the knife in his belt.
The guard wrote for a while longer, then tore the sheets out of his book to hand one to Sand and the other to Snow. “Your Visitor Permits. Keep those with you at all times. They’re good for two months, until October 31. The City Guard can ask to see them at any time and if you don’t have your visitor’s permit with you, you will be escorted out of the city.”
Sand read the words on his permit. It identified him as Sand Wolfe, age twenty-eight, six feet two inches tall, 170 pounds, slender build, black hair very long, brown eyes. Nose aquiline, mouth full. All accurate enough, he supposed, folding the paper and putting it on the breast pocket of his plaid cotton shirt. He rolled his lips together, wondering what the paper meant by “full”. He hadn’t eaten anything since the rabbit his wolf had caught and eaten last night.
Once they were past the gates Sand took a deep breath and steeled himself to enter the city. “Let’s find Sky.”
Feeling like a wide-eyed boy from the country made Sand scowl. The city was said to have twenty-five thousand residents. What were they all doing on the street at this very moment? He could see only a few yards ahead of him on the sidewalk because it was so crowded with pedestrians. Some of them were women, and as far as he could tell they had no male escort.
Women, walking alone? What were their men thinking? Were they crazy? Anyone could snatch them away!
Well, maybe not. The sidewalk was full of people. If a woman screamed for help, there were plenty of men to step in. The women dressed differently, some in skirts and some in pants, but every one of them he saw wore a silver whistle around their neck. To make a call for help? It made sense. The sound of a whistle could travel farther than a human voice. He saw more men in the olive drab uniforms and black boots standing at corners, watching the people on the sidewalk with sharp attention, noting each wagon or rider than passed on the street.
“I don’t like this place,” he muttered to Snow. “What is that noise?”
His cousin grabbed his arm. “Look! It’s the bus!”
A large wooden rectangle on wheels rolled laboriously up the street toward them, accompanied by a roar, like a fierce wind in January. A team pulling a wagon on the opposite side of the street shied, half rearing, until the driver jumped down to pull them to the side of the road out of the way of the box. He soothed them with gentle hands until they stood quietly, only little shudders rolling through them. Sand felt kinship with them. He didn’t like the noise either. He didn’t see horses pulling the box, and when it passed them he saw no one pushing it. The stench it emitted made him want to gag.
“Isn’t that marvelous?” Snow said enthusiastically. “I saw it last time I was here, but I didn’t get to ride it. Let’s go!”
Ride in the belly of that thing? “What about the horse?” he said, keeping his tone mild so Snow wouldn’t know he was unsettled by the evil thing. With the noxious odor lingering behind the bus, even Snow’s keen nose wouldn’t detect his unease.
“Oh. Right.” Shoulders slumped, Snow watched a door open in the box and steps lower. A dozen people crowded around the opening, and one by one they disappeared inside. “Well, I’ll ride it later, after we stable the horse.”
Sand started walking again. “Why do you want to ride it? It stinks.”
“But it goes all over Omaha. Omaha is big! Instead of walking from the river to the outer wall you could sit and ride.”
Sand slanted a glance at his cousin. “We have feet for a reason. How hard is it to…?”
He trailed off as something caught his attention. He was riveted on a splash of color on a pale bare arm, a hand with long fingers tipped with red paint holding a railing as a woman stepped up into the bus. Sand’s heart stuttered. Long brown hair, glossy with health, rippled in the breeze as the woman disappeared into the box. He’d had only the briefest glimpse of her, but the sight was seared into his brain. He watched the box roll away, almost too stunned to register his wolf’s frantic attempts to burst out, almost too stunned to be able to think. But one piece of knowledge swirled in his belly.
His mate was in Omaha. His mate was in that noisy, stinking box and she was going away from him. The hell she was going away from him! He tore at the buttons on his shirt to strip to let his wolf out, but Snow grabbed his arm hard, keeping him from ripping his shirt off so he could release the wolf. His wolf clawed at his insides, demanding to be let loose so he could follow his mate. Sand tried to jerk free but Snow held on.
“What are you doing?” Snow hissed.
“My mate!” was all Sand could get out. “Let me go! My mate is in that box thing.”
For an instant Snow’s hands loosened, surprise flashing over his face, but he tightened them again. “Hold on, you can’t change here in the street. The City Guard—” he nodded at the uniformed men “—will shoot you if you do. Calm down. We’ll find her. Omaha is big, but there’s not that many women here, and half of those are too young to be your mate or too old. What did she look like?”
It took effort, but Sand forced himself to take his fingers away from the buttons on his shirt. He drew a deep breath and closed his eyes, calling up the image of his mate. He’d seen her only from the side, but he knew he would recognize her again in an instant. “She’s about six or seven inches shorter than me. Soft, and round in all the right places. Her hair is down to the middle of her back. It’s brown and a little wavy. Not plain brown. The glowing brown like that polished wood desk Taye got for the Lupa.”
“Walnut,” Snow supplied.
“Yeah. Her cheekbones are high. Her chin has a shallow little dent in it. Her face is soft, her mouth is wide.” How he wanted to stroke a thumb over her lips! “I didn’t see her eyes, but I think they’re light. Green, maybe. Or blue. Her skin is very pale. She was wearing a skirt down to her ankles, light flowered fabric, floaty. Her shirt …” He swallowed, remembering the scrap of green fabric that barely covered the most beautiful body he’d ever seen. “She has a picture painted on her shoulder. It goes from her upper arm, across her shoulder down to her –er, under the neckline of her shirt.”
“Uh-huh.” Snow reached to pat the nose of their horse. “She sounds distinctive. I bet Sky can help us find her. “
“Yeah.” Sand began walking briskly in the direction of the river, where his cousin lived. “Let’s hurry.”
It was an hour long walk, even hurrying as they were. There was a tall stone fence around Sky’s house. That wasn’t unusual. A man had to take steps to protect his property. The gates were made of fancy black iron twisted in ornate shapes. They were pretty but wouldn’t do much to keep attackers out. On the pale stone wall hung a rectangle of metal. It said:
The Sky’s The Limit
A Gentlemen’s Club
Open Tuesday through Thursday 5:00pm to 1:00 am
Friday and Saturday 6:00 pm through 2:00 am
Private Entertainment by Appointment Only
A man he didn’t know came to the gate to ask their business. He looked tough, and was armed to the teeth. He was polite though, and became politer when Snow said they were Sky’s cousins, come to visit for a few months.
“Mr. Wolfe has been expecting relations to come,” he said, opening the gate. “Y’all sure do look alike. I’m Keith Henderson. Stables are around back. There will be a boy there to take the horse. Mr. Wolfe is probably in his office this time of day.”
As they passed through the gate Sand nodded approval when he saw a pair of secondary gates were made of stone. Not so pretty, but much stronger. Then he looked forward. The gravel drive was a tan ribbon cutting through green grass that stretched like a well-tended carpet a good half-mile to a tall, three story red brick house sitting on a rise. The drive split and one fork became steps that marched up to the fancy front door, and the other curved away to the back of the house.
“This is where Sky lives?” he asked Snow. “This is his house?”
“Yep. Wait ‘til you see the inside.”
As they led their horse down the drive around the house, Sand got a good look at the place. It was huge! Had Sky suddenly become rich? Only a rich man could afford to live in a house like this. It had a fancy porch with white columns, and lots of tall narrow windows with white woodwork around them, and rounded sections Sand didn’t know what to call. He couldn’t believe his little cousin lived in a house a hundred times nicer than the den.
“He’s got humans living here, right?” he muttered to Snow. “Must be a pain to heat in the winter.”
“Oh, sure,” Snow agreed. “Most rooms have fireplaces, but with the electricity generated by the river, it keeps pretty warm anyway. The ladies’ appointments wouldn’t appreciate coming into a cold room to do their business.”
Before Sand could ask about appointments and business, a pair of men stepped onto the drive. “Paint!” Snow called joyfully.
Sand hung back a minute, examining the other man. He was a stranger with brown hair and eyes, his face behind its close clipped beard hard and expressionless. Sand noted the burly shoulders and long arms. He could be trouble in a fight, Sand judged. Then Paint was pounding on his back.
“I’m glad to see you two!” he said, adjusting his eye patch. “Now I can head back to the den for a while. I don’t mind helping Sky out, but this place gets to me. You’ll know what I mean after a week or so.”
Sand suppressed a sigh. He hadn’t wanted to come in the first place. Except … His mate was here. In his amazement at seeing where Sky lived he had almost forgotten that. He had to find her!
“This is Neil Marzek. He’s head of Sky’s enforcers. Neil, this is my cousin Snow and my cousin Sand. I’ll take ’em in to see Sky. You’ll take care of their horse?”
Neil’s face still showed no warmth. Sand could respect that. They were strangers in his domain. “Sure,” Neil said in a gravelly voice.
Snow grabbed the saddlebag to carry into the house before following Paint up the back steps to a mudroom and on to the kitchen. Sand looked carefully around as the three of them passed through the kitchen to a narrow hall that led into an office. A man in a suit and tie sat at the desk, his dark hair cut short, his hands pale and pampered, holding a pen. Who 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 as Sky came around the desk to crush him in a hug. Then he did the same to Snow, before lightly punching Sand’s shoulder. “You! Sand, you are the reason I was on kitchen duty so much back at the den. Whose idea was it to sit out in the hall outside the Lupa and the Chief’s room when they made love?”
Sand laughed. “That was a long time ago! We were all just kids back then.” He 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.”
Snow bounced on the balls of his feet. “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 joined in Sky’s contemplation of his shiny shoes. “I know,” he said softly.
Sky reached out to give him a comforting slap on the arm. “But you never know. Maybe her family is well off and they’re able to afford to pay to keep her single.”
They would have to be very rich to afford the yearly Single Status tax. She hadn’t been middle aged, but she didn’t look like a teenager, either. 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 whorehouse in Omaha. Sky’s hand clenched on the envelope so tightly his knuckles shone white, and that invisible door over his face opened just enough to show the edge of raw emotion before it slammed shut again. “Thanks.” He set the letters 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 brown 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 too, helplessly. “I don’t know. It went from here,” he touched his biceps 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 pushed away from 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.”