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Tuesday Teaser 2/20/18 Gina’s Wolf Part 5

Moving is such a lot of fun, isn’t it? Yeah. My immediate move has been changed to this weekend. By immediate I mean my bed, TV, desk, computers (one for me and my writing and one for the day job) toiletries, etc. This week is devoted to cleaning my old room at my mom’s and sorting through my stuff here to see what I want to bring to mom’s, what I want to store, what I want to donate and what I want to throw away. I spent about 3 hours tonight going through about half of my craft stuff. This is hard!

It also means I’m too tired to do any writing. I’m afraid there may not be a Tuesday Teaser next week. Maybe you’ll get a Tuesday Truth instead 😉 Or maybe i’ll post a few of the vintage family photos that my brother unearthed when he was clearing out the storage room to make room for some of my stuff. My grandparents were married in 1919. That’s almost 100 years ago! I love that stuff.

While I’m busy sorting and packing, you can read the next little bit from Gina and Colby’s story.  Oh, and from now on he wants to be called Cole. He said colby is a kind of cheese. Not cool. LOL

 

“Colby!” she shrieked. “I’m freezing. I’m tired of following a stupid wolf who won’t even talk to me. Are you in there?”

The wolf trotted on. She ground her teeth to keep them from chattering. You wanted to escape, she reminded herself. Don’t be a baby. Freezing to death was preferable to marrying Jon, Tanner, and whoever else in Falls City. Colby would take care of her as soon as he decided they were safe. She just had to be patient and keep moving. At least he has a thick fur coat to wear. That envious sarcasm was her last thought before she tripped over something and tumbled into the comfort of darkness.

 

Chapter Three

 

The wolf heard the woman fall from the lip of the hill he led her along. In a single bound, he leaped to the edge of the slope. She rolled and bounced several body lengths to the narrow stream at the bottom of the hill, and then lay still on the ice, her arms and legs splayed. A whine rose in the wolf, driven by terror. His terror? The man’s? The wolf wasn’t sure. He dashed down the slope. Before he reached her, he caught the scent of her blood. Injured. His mate was injured. The wolf didn’t like that. His mate should never know pain.

She slept. Like the man within him, she wouldn’t wake. He nosed at her face. No response. He pawed her shoulder. Nothing. Blood oozed from a cut on her forehead. He licked it to stop the bleeding. He licked it and licked it, and the bleeding slowed, but she didn’t wake. The man could pick her up and carry her to safety, if he would just wake up. This was their mate who needed help. He blasted all his fear and anger in one internal shriek: Wake up!

There was a sluggish response, more of a groan than a word.

Our mate is dying! the wolf screamed at the man inside. If you don’t help her, we’ll lose her forever. Wake up!

Deep inside, the man stirred. The wolf felt his growing alarm and urged him forward by shoving images of their mate: her unconscious body lying over the crusty ice, her blood welling from the cut at her hairline to stain the ice beneath her, the blue tinge to her lips. That galvanized the man. Like a mighty wind blowing over the prairie, he rose and shoved the wolf back. Relieved, the wolf retreated.

Colby fell to his knees as pain crashed over him. He didn’t know where he was. This empty bit of scrubby land was completely unknown to him. He didn’t know why he was here or how he had gotten here. The place where his memories should be was a gaping black hole. He caught himself with one hand on the ice and put his other hand over his head to try to still the pain. A scent came to him that even a black hole couldn’t wash from his memory. Gina. Mate.

She lay before him in a bedraggled party dress. Where was her coat? He let go of his head to lay a hand over her cheek. Cold. She was so cold. He gathered her close.

“Miss Gina?”

His voice was a hoarse croak. He coughed and tried again. “Miss Gina!”

He eyelashes fluttered. “C-co-cold.”

“Yes, darling.” Gently he propped her against his chest and guided her hands into his armpits. Wrapping his arms around her to enclose as much of her as possible in his warmth, he looked around.  There was nothing to see but snow, ice-crusted dead grass, and some scrubby trees. The position of the stars told him it was a few hours after midnight, but did nothing to pinpoint their location. Why were they out in the middle of nowhere?

“Where are we?” he asked her.

“How would I know?” Her voice squeaked with outrage. “You made me follow you out here. Don’t you know?”

He didn’t reply. “Is this Nebraska?”

“Probably.” She pushed her face more deeply into his chest and flinched. “My head hurts.”

“Mine, too. We can’t stay here. We need to get you warm.”

As she whimpered agreement, he carefully stood, balancing her in his arms like a mother with a baby.  Flattened grass and scattered snow showed where they had come from. Climbing the steep, ten foot slope made his head jangle with pain. Once on top he searched the landscape for a camp, or a house, or anything that would help his mate. He read the tracks on the top of the hill well enough. His wolf had been leading the way when his mate fell down the slope. He looked in the direction the tracks led. Where had the wolf been going? He tried to remember. There was nothing in his mind. He took deep breaths to calm his panic. Since no better plan came to him, he continued in the wolf’s direction.

“Where are we going?” his mate demanded.

“There is a farmhouse ahead.”

That was only a guess, but a good one. To their left were straight furrows under the snow, indications that this land was under cultivation. The stream on their right would provide water to irrigate crops. Dawn was only a couple of hours away. Soon the farmwife would light the stove to cook breakfast. He would scent the smoke and find the house.

“Thank God. I’m so cold, Colby.” The stars gleamed in her pale blue eyes. He stared down at her, captivated by her beauty. Her eyes frowned slightly as she pulled a hand from under his arm and raised it to the side of his head, but she tucked it back without touching him. “Colby, are you alright? You were shot. I could see the gash on the wolf, but you don’t have a scar.”

He had been shot? Blurred, shadowy memories tried to form, but faded away before he could grasp them. “What has happened in the past week?” he inquired.

She drew a quivery breath. “Nothing much. Not until today. My stepfather probably made me wait that long to torture me.”

A growl vibrated in his chest. “Your stepfather tortures you?”

“Not physically. Mentally. He called for me this afternoon. Or maybe it was yesterday afternoon. He told me I was going to marry the Allersens. They’re from Falls City—”

“You can’t,” he interrupted fiercely. “You are my mate.”

She laughed bitterly. “Tell him that.”

His voice came out flat. “I will.”

She laughed again. “Hopefully we’ll never see him again.”

He silently swore she never would. “Tell me more.”

“Well, my wedding date was set for the first of May, and I would go immediately to the Brotherhood Commune in Falls City.”

“And? How did we end up out here?”

She lifted her head from his throat to look at him. “You really don’t know?”

He shook his head and regretted it. “No, I don’t remember. Normally I remember everything when the wolf is out, but I have no recent memories in my head right now.”

His mate put her face down again. “After supper I went to the outhouse. When I came out the soldier who escorted me was bleeding on the ground and you, that is, the wolf made me leave camp with him. We walked all night.”

“Where’s your coat?” He rubbed his hand along her bare arm. His body heat was something, but not enough. “You’re very cold.”

“The president gave orders that I couldn’t wear a coat. He probably thought that would keep me from running away. I guess he was wrong.” She paused. “Um, Colby?”

Hearing her speak his name made him forget the pain in his head. “Call me Cole. My mom named me Colby, but that is a cheese. I like Cole better.”

She stifled a laugh. “OK. Cole.  Are you the wolf? Or is the wolf you? It’s kind of confusing.”

He thought about how to explain it to her. “The wolf and I are two different people. In the Lakota Wolf Clan many boys are born with the spirit of a wolf within them. When the boy hits puberty, the wolf sort of wakes up. He forces the boy to let him out, and then the spirit wolf because a real wolf and the boy is a spirit inside the wolf. The boy has to learn to control the wolf. If he can’t control the wolf, he can’t force the wolf to go back to being a spirit. Then the boy isn’t human anymore. Do you understand?”

She gently shook her head. “Not really.”

He wasn’t surprised. Lots of women who mated wolves didn’t completely comprehend something they had never experienced. “Let’s not worry about that now.” He had no memory of the past week. The wolf had been in control and it chilled him how close he had come to losing himself to the wolf. “I’ll try to explain more when you are warm and rested. Look, the farmhouse is only a mile ahead of us.”

“Oh, hurry.”

He ran.

Tuesday Teaser 2/13/18: Gina’s Wolf Part 4

Happy Tuesday!

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. She’s in her mid-80s, and she has dementia. She does pretty well, but she really can’t live on her own. My oldest brother lives with her but she doesn’t really want her son to wash her hair, etc, and she doesn’t want a stranger to come in and do it. And even if she’s known you for years, you’re a stranger to her. So at the end of March I will be putting my stuff in storage and moving home.

Frankly, I don’t want to. I like living on my own and it’s been decades since I lived at home. I don’t want to share a bathroom with my brother. 🙁  However, the next door neighbor’s infatuation with his subwoofer is changing my mind about that. Mom’s house will be relatively quiet. I think I’ll be able to write there. Here, I give up after about an hour and have only 100 words written. In the long run, I think this move is the best thing.

I did manage some words this week. Here is the second half of Chapter 2:

 

After the meal, the ladies were excused so the men could put their heads together and lay their plans. Gina would have loved to linger and listen, but her mother firmly ushered her out. At least she didn’t have to put up with Tanner and Jon anymore. As the cluster of women approached the harem tent, she turned away from them.

“Georgina?” her mother said sternly.

“I need to use the facilities,” she said airily.

One of the guards flanking the door flap halted her. “Beg pardon, Miss Todd,” he said diffidently. “The president has instructed us to escort you wherever you want to go.”

“I’m just going to the latrine.”

“Yes, Miss. I will escort you.” Even in the starlight she could see the blush that rose to his cheeks. “You’ll need to leave your wrap here, please.”

“But it’s cold.”

The blush darkened. “Yes, Miss. President’s orders.”

I won’t be likely to run away without something to keep me warm, she thought sarcastically. “Alright. Mom, will you take my shawl?”

Her mother took the wrap with a frown. “You have a chamber pot in the tent,” she began.

“I need some fresh air.”

With no wrap over her mostly bare shoulders, it really was cold. Gina hurried over the icy ground to the row of tents erected over the latrines. She wanted to escape. In fact, after dinner with Jon and Tanner, she was determined to escape. But running off with a guard hanging on her heels and without provisions or even a coat was impossible. And this young private –Carson? Carleton?—would be in big trouble if she ran away when he was guarding her. She would just be married off to a repulsive commune of misogynists; he would be executed.

She left him waiting a few respectful yards from the latrine tent and did her business as quickly as she could. When she came out of the tent she didn’t see him standing where she had left him. She glanced around, confused. On her second glance she focused on the ground, looking for tracks to show where he had gone, and that’s when she found him.

The gallant young private was a crumpled dark shape on the moonlit snow. A black shadow spilled over the snow around his head. She rushed forward. A large, dark animal sprung out of nowhere to block her path. It was a dog. No, not a dog. Gina squinted in the dim light, trying to ignore the leap of terror in her throat while identifying the animal. It was a wolf. A wolf? The huge head was level with her waist. Fangs gleamed ivory in a gaping maw. Gina froze, not even breathing. There were dark streaks on the teeth. Blood? Gina finally remembered to breathe.

Her scream died in her throat. The top of the broad head had no fur, only a raw place were blood had clotted. She had seen only one wolf up close in her life. She swallowed a shuddering breath.

“Colby?” she whispered.

The wolf moved to her, his eyes shining yellow in the dim light. She backed away. He kept coming. After a minute of retreating from his advance she realized he was herding her out of camp. She tried to side step. He moved with her, now using his heavy shoulder to force her to keep moving. It was too cold out here without a wrap. Her dress was thin, no protection from the wind. Her shoes were sturdier than her evening pumps, but still not warm enough She was sure the camp had guards around the perimeter. One of them would see her and … What? Rescue her? Send her back to Jon and Tanner? Shoot Colby? Ice that had nothing to do with the temperature slid down her spine. Or worse. They would capture Colby and turn him over to Major Ellis and her stepfather to torture.

Colby must have a camp. Hopefully he had something warm for her to put on there. This was her best chance of escape. She turned and allowed the wolf to push her out of camp.

Once it became clear she wouldn’t try to go back to camp, the wolf bounded a few steps in front and led her away from camp. Every few steps he turned his head to be sure she was still behind him. She turned her head too, to be sure no one was following them. It wouldn’t be long before she and the private were missed.

The private. Gina wrapped her arms around herself as she hurried behind the wolf. Was he dead? Cold seeped into her bones, the result of horror mixed with the frigid air around her. The private hadn’t done anything wrong, but the wolf murdered him. Maybe she was insane to be following this wolf through the dark. If she hadn’t seen him transform from a man to a wolf on the train with her own eyes, she wouldn’t have believed it. There really were werewolves, and Colby was one.

She tripped over a clod of frozen earth under the snow and hit her knees hard. The wolf dashed to her side and nipped her wrist.

“Hey!” She batted ineffectually at him. He responded by closing his mouth over her wrist and tugging.  She could feel his teeth against the bones in her wrist but he didn’t bite down. “Okay, okay, let go. I’m coming.”

She would have sworn she walked for hours behind the wolf. She grew colder with every step. When they came to the river, she realized they had walked at least five miles. It really had been hours, then.  The wolf growled low when she didn’t immediately slide down the bank. She held her arms close to her sides so he couldn’t nip her wrist again and cautiously went down to the river. The frozen river wouldn’t stop any pursuit, but it might slow them down. Where were the pursuers? She had expected them to catch up long before this. She made her way carefully over the river, the wolf trotting before her.

Without trees or hills, nothing blocked the wind on the surface of the frozen water.  Her teeth chattered as she laboriously pulled herself up the opposite bank. At the top, she fell. The wolf was there, sticking his furry face into her hers and growling.

“Colby,” she croaked. “I can’t. I just can’t.”

The wolf didn’t accept that. He put his massive shoulder into her side and pushed. She dragged herself to her feet and stood wavering, staring at the wolf.

“How much farther?” she asked.

The wolf growled and stepped past her to lead the way.

She trudged behind him. How cold was it? Forty degrees? Above freezing, so she couldn’t actually freeze, could she? She couldn’t feel her feet, though, and that couldn’t be good. Her upper arms and face stung with cold. At least the wind was dying down. The skirt of her satin dress wouldn’t be much protection, but she flipped it up to cover her shoulders, not caring if the wolf could see her underwear. Modesty was the least of her problems right now. Besides, it was a wolf. Colby had yet to make an appearance.

On and on they went through the cold night. Gina stopped looking back to check for pursuit. If her stepfather’s men caught up with them she might be grateful. They would wrap her in blankets and give her something warm to drink. Just the thought of it brought the threat of tears.

“Colby,” she called.

The wolf didn’t pause, but one of his ears cocked back as if to hear her better.

“Colby, how much farther?”

He didn’t answer.

“Colby!” she shrieked. “I’m freezing. I’m tired of following a stupid wolf who won’t even talk to me. Are you in there?”

The wolf trotted on. She ground her teeth to keep them from chattering. You wanted to escape, she reminded herself. Don’t be a baby. Freezing to death was preferable to marrying Jon, Tanner, and whoever else in Falls City. Colby would take care of her as soon as he decided they were safe. She just had to be patient and keep moving. At least he has a thick fur coat to wear. That bit of envious sarcasm was her last thought before she tripped over something and tumbled into the comfort of darkness.

Tuesday Teaser 2/6/18 Gina’s Wolf Part 3

Here in North Dakota it is still winter. In some places winter is winding down (or it is summer) but we can expect another 6-8 weeks, or more. We’ve had some nasty snowstorms in April in the past. But maybe this year will be an early spring. I love winter, and even I am getting tired of it. I hope you are a=enjoying beautiful weather wherever you are.

I mention weather because poor Gina is going to be quite cold for the next chapter. Again, this is very raw. I think I need to up the tension at the dinner party and make it a little more interesting. The point of the dinner party is to make sure you, the reader, detest Jon and Tanner. I wonder if I need to fill in any more info about the other ladies. They don’t have a big impact on the story, though, so I’m not sure.  But the end of this section picks up the pace.

 

Chapter Two

 

Only her stepfather would throw a dinner party in a tent when the temperature had dropped below freezing. What’s more, he expected ladies to wear low cut dresses to the dinner. Gina wished for a thick shawl to drape over her bare shoulders. Not just because it was cold, but because that nasty old Brother Saul was leering at her cleavage. He was discreet about it, but Gina caught him at it. When she did, the old man just bared yellow teeth in a smile that made her want to vomit. Thank goodness he was seated across the table at her father’s right hand.

Her mother, as the ranking Mrs. Todd present, sat at the foot of the table with Fourth Mrs. Tod on her right and Fifth Mrs. Todd on her left. Gina sat between Jon and Tanner on her stepfather’s left. Her stepfather’s sister, Tamara, was next to Brother Saul. Gina liked Tammy. Too bad she had to sit next to the old man. The remaining seats were occupied by the ranking men of her stepfather’s army.

Dinner was served by young privates in dress uniforms. They brought in baskets of bread, with small crocks of butter, cheese, and jellies, followed by steaming tureens of soup. One of the privates served her a bowl of soup. The warmth and the scent of it was alluring. Cream of chicken. Gina stared at the creamy broth.

Tanner leaned close. “Do you like the soup?” he asked eagerly.

She took a spoonful and almost swooned at the richness of the broth. Since the forces from Omaha had destroyed the camp’s supplies a week ago, meals had been lean. The President and his family had eaten a little better than the army, but all of them had been on short rations. Todd’s men had been combing the countryside for wild game, and augmented their hunting by collecting food from the local population. At the end of winter, no one had vast quantities of food stores left, but the army of Kansas-Missouri ruthlessly confiscated what they found. Gina hated to think she was eating food stolen from people who had worked hard for it, but she was cold and hungry, so she ate.

“Do you?” Tanner said insistently.

“Yes,” she replied truthfully. In the minefield of politics and her stepfather’s insanity, it might be the only truth she told tonight.

Tanner’s grin was smug. “It’s all from our commune.”

Gina lowered her spoon. “The soup?”

Tanner’s sigh said she was an moron. “The cream, the chickens, the eggs, and butter.”

“Oh.” Gina wasn’t sure what else to say, so she went back to eating.

From her other side, Jon offered her a thick slice of bread thickly buttered. “What my idiot brother is trying to tell you,” he said smoothly, “is that the wagons we sent to Falls City to bring provisions arrived today. You don’t need to worry about being hungry.”

“That’s good to know,” she said politely.

Tanner leaned close. “The Brotherhood knows how to work the land. We never go hungry. Our women get their fair share of the food, too.”

Gina plastered an impressed expression on her face. “How very egalitarian of you,” she said gravely.

Tanner’s prominent forehead furrowed in obvious confusion. Gina hid a smirk. She hadn’t expected him to understand words with more than two syllables.

Jon shook his head at her with a condescending smile. “Men and women are not equal. Men, who have more responsibility, occupy a higher status than women. But that is not to say women are unimportant or without worth. They are honored as mothers. That is their glory.”

“We make sure our women are given everything they need,” Tanner put in. “Even rebellious women have food and clothes after they learn how to behave. You’ll find that out next month when you come to Falls City.”

A month. Only a month of freedom before she would have to marry these smug men who thought a women’s worth was measured only by her children? Too bad there wasn’t anything hard in the soup. Gina longed to crunch down on something. She only bent her head and stared at her empty bowl. It was a subservient position the President approved of. It had the advantage of hiding her face.

“There,” said her stepfather heartily. “You will be taken good care of in Falls City. I did right to reward our allies. When those thugs from Omaha snuck into my camp and burned my supplies, they thought we would retreat in ignominious haste. But thanks to good Brother Saul and his Brotherhood, we have plenty of food to last some time. Omaha will regret attacking me.”

Gina almost looked up, but remembered in time to keep her head down. Reminding him that those thugs had also taken his women captive and forced him to agree to a nonaggression pact would be stupid. She chewed bread vigorously.

With another smirk, Tanner pinched her upper arm. His smile was scary. “You don’t want to marry into the Brotherhood, do you?” When she didn’t answer he pinched her harder. “Do you?”

She swallowed bread. “It was unexpected,” she said carefully.

“Maybe you want to run away and marry that Native werewolf.”

Colby. For a moment, she saw him in her mind’s eye, tall and broad shouldered, black hair gleaming in the sun, a stubbornly set expression on his face when he told her she belonged to him. She shrugged indifferently and buttered another slice of bread. “I barely knew him and didn’t like him.”

Tanner’s fingers reached for her arm again, ready to pinch. Her stepfather’s voice stopped him. Tanner might not have recognized that very pleasant tone, but Gina did. She froze, keeping her head bent.

“Young Tanner, my daughter has displeased me, but she is my daughter, and I expect you to treat her with the respect she deserves. Do we understand each other?”

Tanner sat back. “Yes, sir.”

Gina noted the surly tone. She was sure that as soon as they were away from her stepfather’s reach, she would be a mass of bruises. Her future as the wife of multiple misogynistic men turned her stomach. Eating the rest of the dinner seemed impossible, but she forced herself to chew and swallow the roasted venison, the creamed corn, and the dried apple pie. She would need her strength to get through whatever would come next.

After the meal, the ladies were excused so the men could put their heads together and lay their plans. Gina would have loved to linger and listen, but her mother firmly ushered her out. At least she didn’t have to put up with Tanner and Jon anymore. AS the cluster of women approached the harem tent, she turned from the other women.

“Georgina?” her mother said sternly.

“I need to use the facilities,” she said airily.

One of the guards flanking the door flap halted her. “Beg pardon, Miss Todd,” he said diffidently. “The president has instructed us to escort you wherever you want to go.”

“I’m just going to the latrine.”

“Yes, Miss. I will escort you.” Even in the starlight she could see the blush that rose to his cheeks. “You’ll need to leave your wrap here, please.”

“But it’s cold.”

The blush darkened. “Yes, Miss. President’s orders.”

I won’t be likely to run away without something to keep me warm, she thought sarcastically. “Alright. Mom, will you take my shawl?”

Her mother took the wrap with a frown. “You have a chamber pot in the tent,” she began.

“I need some fresh air.”

It really was cold. Gina hurried over the icy ground to the row of tents erected over the latrines. She wanted to escape. In fact, after dinner with Jon and Tanner, she was determined to escape. But running off with a guard hanging on her heels and without provisions or even a coat was impossible. And this young private –Carson? Carleton?—would be in big trouble if she ran away when he was guarding her. She would just be married off to a repulsive commune of misogynists; he would be executed.

She left him waiting a few respectful yards from the latrine tent and did her business as quickly as she could. When she came out of the tent she didn’t see him standing where she had left him. She glanced around, confused. On her second glance she focused on the ground, looking for tracks to show where he had gone, and that’s when she found him.

The gallant young private was a crumpled shape dark against the moonlit snow. A black shadow spilled over the snow around his head. She rushed forward. A large, dark animal sprung out of nowhere to block her path. It was a dog. No, it was a wolf. A wolf? The huge head was level with her waist. Fangs gleamed ivory in a gaping maw. Gina froze, not even breathing. There were dark streaks on the teeth. Blood? Gina finally remembered to breathe.

Her scream died in her throat. The top of the broad head had no fur, only a raw place were blood had clotted. She had seen only one wolf up close in her life. She swallowed a shuddering breath.

“Colby?” she whispered.

 

Tuesday Teaser 1/30/18 Gina’s Wolf Part 2

Hello! I hope everyone is doing well. There has been a lot of flu and bad colds going around here. I have been immune in January, but I just got home from supper with a friend who says she is coming down with something. Glad to see her and spend time with her, but I was careful to not touch my hands to my face, and I was quick to wash my hands as soon as I got home. I already had the flu, thank you.  LOL

Here is the second half of Chapter One. As last time, this is raw. What you get in these Tuesday Teasers is the fast draft. In this first draft I tend to I dump info in blocks so I have it down. I go in later and break it up so the readers gets little bits here and there. But as I said, this is the raw version. Hope you can enjoy it anyway.  🙂

Oh, and isn’t her mom the best?  *cough* I keep trying to make her a more sympathetic character, but it isn’t working!

 

An hour later, Gina dug her fingernails into the thin mattress on her cot. “I can’t marry him—them,” she said in a furious whisper to her mother. “I can’t.

“You can,” her mom countered. “And you must.”

Gina scowled at the tarp floor. Of course her mother would take his side. It probably wouldn’t change anything, but Gina tried to convince her. “Do you know how the men in Falls City treat their women? You can’t really call them wives. A man takes a number and when his number comes up, he gets to sleep with one of the women. The women have no choice. Is that what you want for me?”

“Of course not.” Her mom laid a hand on her forearm. “I wanted you to marry Stanton Ellis.”

Gian recoiled. “He’s a monster.” All too aware that the walls, being only canvas, didn’t keep sound from carrying, she lowered her voice. “Do you know what he does to stray dogs and cats? Torturing them is his hobby.” She shuddered, memories of coming across the remains of his hobby making her stomach turn. “I couldn’t marry him.”

“So you put everyone, including yourself, in danger by running away.” Her mother’s lips tightened. “I am very disappointed in you. The major wouldn’t have treated you badly. Your father wouldn’t allow it. If you had stayed in Kansas City instead of running away last summer, you would have been married and living close to me. Any friends you made in Omaha would be safe now. Instead, because your selfish willfulness forced your father to come looking for you, they will never live in peace again. That is on your head.”

Her mom stood up and went to the door flap. “Think about that, Georgina Anne. Your engagement supper will be served in one hour. Wear your nicest dress and don’t be late.”

Gina buried her face in the pillow until she heard the curtain that served as he door rustle closed. Her mother was right. Every person in the city of Omaha and the state of Nebraska were in danger because she had come to Omaha when she ran away last summer. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Or maybe she had, she admitted painfully, but cared more for her own freedom anybody else. Running away from Kansas City had been the bravest thing she’d ever done. Only now did she wonder if was also the stupidest.

But President Todd would have come to Omaha eventually. It was too prosperous a region for him to have ignored for long. She had only sped up the inevitable. She let out a long, trembling breath.  She hated him with every fiber of her being.

Nine years ago, when she was eleven years old, her father died. Less than a month later her mother had married Gerald Todd. Mr. Todd, as he been called then, already had a wife. Since there were far more men than women, women did sometimes marry more than one man. Gina thought that was disgusting, but if everyone was happy, it wasn’t any her business. But she had never of a man with more than one wife. A few years later her stepfather became the mayor of Kansas City. Most men would have been satisfied to be mayor, but Gerald Todd wanted to rule the world. And he wanted sons to follow in his footsteps. His first wife had no children. His second wife, her mother, had become pregnant several times but no child had been born alive. He married a third wife and took over all of Missouri. That wife never conceived. A couple of years ago, he expanded his power into parts of Kansas, where he found and married Shelley Parker. He pushed into Illinois and married his fifth wife, Suzanne Dent. None of his wives had delivered a living baby, but Shelley, the fifth Mrs. Todd, had recently discovered she was pregnant.

That was why they were still camped here outside Omaha. Todd didn’t want to have his precious unborn son face any risk. Traveling in March in a badly sprung truck lumbering over prairie that went from frozen earth to mud and back again would present some risk.

Then again, Todd was probably trying to provoke some response from Omaha that he could use as an excuse to attack them. So far he was keeping to the terms of the peace treaty Omaha had negotiated at the prisoner exchange, but that would last only as long as he wanted it to.

She rolled over on her back and put her arm over her eyes. Yeah, her mom was right. Her selfishness would cause her newly made friends in Omaha lots of trouble. People like Lachlan and Ceara McRoberts. When she had escaped from Kansas City – no easy thing, considering that everyone in the city knew who she was and that she wasn’t allowed to leave – she had disguised herself as a boy and hopped on a riverboat going north. When she disembarked in Omaha, she was tired, hungry and scared. Ceara has found her and given her a job in the coffee shop she owned with her husband. They had given her an attic room in their house to live in, a place at their table, and a small wage. Those were all good things, she was grateful for them, but the most important thing they gave her was a new life. No one in Omaha knew she was, so no one was frightened of her. No one hated her. No one tried to get close to her in order to curry favor with her stepfather. For seven months she’d had a good life. Now, her future didn’t look nearly so good.

Gina dressed for supper.

Tuesday Teaser 1/23/18 Gina’s Wolf Part 1

Hey, I’m sorry. I almost forgot to post this!

I have finally begun Gina’s Wolf. It picks up a week after Victoria’s Cat ends. I am not entirely happy with the beginning, but that’s not unusual. It feels a little stilted, and I’m trying a bit too hard to show what Todd is like. I also need to sprinkle in a little more back story, like why are they still camped in the west edge of Iowa and how much food do they have, and does she ever think of Colby. For me it’s better to spit the words out and then go back later and add what needs to be there. So all that was to say, “Hey, please be kind when you read this. It is very raw.” 🙂

 

You can expect a scene on most Tuesdays through the end of April.  Enjoy!

 

GINA’S WOLF

Daughters of the Wolf Clan 3

© Maddy Barone 2018

 

Chapter One

 

The wind that ruffled the wolf’s fur carried the sound of voices to him. They called a word over and over in their human speech. He felt uneasy, as if he should recognize that word. Perhaps he should recognize the voices too. But the voices were of human kind, and though confusion smeared many things in his mind, the wolf knew that humans caused pain and carried death with them. So the wolf eluded the humans, keeping out of their paths until night fell. He trotted away, careful to keep his paws from places that they would sink into snow or mud so that the humans couldn’t track him.

Humans were bad, but somehow he couldn’t bear to leave them entirely. To the north and west there was a large concentration of humans inhabiting solid dens that shut them in completely. The wolf was sometimes drawn to them, but never went too close. To the east, over a wide river, was another, smaller, concentration of humans, who lived in dens that they could take with them when they moved.

The wolf did not have a den. He had made one once, but the human hunters had found it and exclaimed excitedly to one another, saying that almost-familiar word over and over. Cold bee. After that, the wolf only found sheltered places to rest for a few hours.

Cold bee. What did it signify? The wolf didn’t know. The man would know, but the man was still slept, no matter how desperately the wolf tried to wake him. Maybe the man’s head hurt even worse than the wolf’s did. It throbbed with fiery pain when the wolf moved to suddenly or for too long. He cautiously picked his way over the frozen river, ignoring the cold stinging his paws. In the dark, hidden by clumps of dead grass covered with fresh snow, the wolf settled down to watch the humans in the camp of movable dens. The humans here carried the dark sticks that made heads explode. The wolf knew that, and fear crawled through his ruff at the sight of them, but he couldn’t leave these humans for more than a day or two. There was something here, something important. The wolf knew that too, but he didn’t know what. The man would know. Why didn’t he wake?

There had been a time when the wolf had never wanted his human to wake and push him into a small corner of his mind. The man had been only a pup then, and they had waged war to see which of them would be the Alpha and control who was a mere shadow in the mind of the other. The wolf had fought hard, but the human pup had won, forcing compliance to his will. At the pup’s command, the wolf was only a spirit inside the human’s body unless he decided to allow the wolf to come out and run on four paws. Then the pup was a spirit in the wolf’s mind, but even in spirit form the human pup was strong enough to banish the wolf back to a spirit. The wolf respected strength and learned to yield willingly since the pup was wise and strong. The pup grew into a man, and they had forged an alliance that suited them both.

But now, when the wolf wanted him to take control, the man slept. A frustrated growl made the pain in his head flare. He should leave this place and go to where game hadn’t been hunted to almost nothing. He’d eaten only a few rabbits over the past week. Had it been a week? That was a human measurement of time, so the wolf wasn’t sure. He was sure he hadn’t eaten enough.

He got up, intending to go right now. Further south it would be warmer, and the rabbits would be plentiful. His head swung back to the human dens. There was something there. Something more important than even food. Twice, when the wind had been exactly right, he’d caught faint traces of a scent that put him in a frenzy. He didn’t know what it was. And the man wouldn’t come out.

Even now, that scent drifted to his nose, drawing him out from the grass. He had taken several steps before he stopped himself and dropped back down. Wake up, you stupid man! he shouted internally.

For the first time, a sluggish response came. Jee-nah. Then the man was gone again.

Jee-nah. What was Jee-nah? Was that the reason he stayed? Why was Jee-nah so important?

The word came to him so faintly he wasn’t sure if it came from the man or his own fragmented mind. It sent him, belly to the ground, toward the human dens. A sense of danger nagged at him, but the power of the word beat it back. The word sang in his blood and sent fiery elation through every nerve.

Mate.

 

“Miss Todd? Your father is asking for you.”

Gina clenched her teeth. Her name wasn’t Todd and President Todd was not her father. By the apologetic look on Janelle’s face, she knew what Gina wanted to say. With great care, Gina pushed back from the rickety camp table and stood. The urge to kick her chair over and scream nearly overwhelmed her. But only one person in the Kansas-Missouri camp was allowed to throw fits, and it wasn’t her.

“Thanks,” she said. “Where is he?”

“In the command center.”

Naturally. Gina brushed through the canvas door flap of her room in the harem tent and walked along the narrow corridor to the entrance. She took a wrap from the line and threw it around her shoulders. The sky was blue, and the sun shone brightly, but it was cold. She walked the twenty yards to the smaller tent her stepfather used for meetings. Two guards there gave her nods. One cleared his throat and angled his head so his voice would carry into the tent..

“Miss Todd has arrived,” he announced.

From inside the tent, a man said, “She may enter.”

Oh, joy. Gina swallowed and stiffened her spine. Such formality didn’t bode well. It had been week since she’d been returned to her stepfather, but she’d barely spoken to him. Was this when he would punish her for running away from Kansas City? Gina swallowed and stepped into the warmth of the command tent. The braziers sitting in each corner of the tent might thaw her toes, but they did nothing for her lungs, which had a bad tendency to freeze up when she was scared.

Gerald Todd, the President of Kansas- Missouri, sat at the head of the command center’s table. At first glance, with his thinning brown hair and cherub’s face, he didn’t look like a power-hungry, absolute ruler. He wore his most cherubic smile now. Gina suppressed her shudder. She glanced at General Atwater sitting at his right hand, but the General was focused on some papers on the table in front of him. No help there. To President Todd’s left and a little behind him—the properly subservient position for a woman– was her mother. Gina almost tripped on the canvas tarp covering the ground. Todd didn’t allow women to attend high level meetings. This was going to be bad.

A movement to her right caught her eye. Major Ellis stood there, boyishly handsome in his perfectly fitted uniform. He wasn’t smiling. His cool eyes were fixed on the other side of the tent. Gina followed his gaze to Brother Saul Allersen, whose ascetic face held a self-righteous smirk. He’d worn that same expression every time she’d seen him, but it seemed just a little more self-righteous today. His anal son, Jon, wore his usual suit, his short brown hair meticulously groomed, and looked even more smug than usual. Tanner, his other son, had made some effort to tame his wild hair, but his denim trousers and flannel shirt looked as if he’d slept in them. His smirk matched his brother’s. Why was that disgusting trio here?

Gina pulled her attention away from them and focused on the biggest threat in the room. Her mother’s husband was still looking sweetly angelic as he stood to welcome her. She was supposed to be honored that the most powerful man in eight hundred square miles stood up for her. She tried to paste an expression of humble appreciation on her face.

He stretched out his arms, making her intensely glad the table was between them to prevent an embrace. “My dear, I am so glad to see you well and safely returned to the bosom of your family.” He gestured. “Major, a chair for my daughter.”

Knowing better than to sit without permission, Gina merely nodded her thanks and stood beside the chair until President Todd beamed approvingly and invited her to sit.

“You are a fine young woman.” He dimmed his smile to something gently aggrieved, folding his hands on the table before him. “But you have been very naughty to worry your mother and me the way you did by running off. You know we live in a dangerous world where not everyone is as protective of women as I am. And some people would take advantage of you and try to use you to hurt me.”

That’s the real issue, Gina thought sourly behind her mild mask. Since he didn’t demand that she reply, she was happy to keep her mouth shut.

“It was very foolish of you to risk yourself like that. Your mother has explained it to me. When you were told of the great plans I had for you, you were overwhelmed with maidenly shyness and ran.”

Gina couldn’t help a quick glance at Major Ellis. He noticed of course.

“Is your mother right, my dear?”

Curse it, she had to answer a direct question. “Yes, sir.”

“Well.” He tapped his fingertips together under his chin. “I have changed my mind. You will not marry Stanton Ellis.”

A gasp of relief almost escaped her.

“He is young and handsome and one of my most promising young officers. I had thought you two would be a good match, but I believe you have made it plain that you are too flighty to be his wife.”

Thank you, thankyou, thankyouthankyou, she chanted silently.

“I have another plan for your future, one that suits me very well. I have allies to whom I owe a great debt. How better to reward them for their loyalty that by marriage into my own family?”

Dread crashed over her. Involuntarily, her gaze slid to the side, to Jon’s self-satisfied face.

Her stepfather beamed again. “You are such a clever girl! You’ve already deduced the plans I’ve made for you. You will be the jewel of the Brotherhood Commune as Mrs. Allersen.”

Gina clenched the edges of her chair to keep from jumping up and screaming, but she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She gazed with horrified eyes at the Allersens. Jon, so prissy, like he had a stick up his butt, round face smug. Tanner, always so sure he was right, and no woman was worth much. “Which one?” she blurted.

Her stepfather’s smile turned sweetly vicious. “Why, all of them, of course.”

Strong Hearts Available NOW!

Yep, Brutus and Denise are ready for you to fall in love with them. Brutus, so big and strong. Denise, so steady and stubborn. They are perfect for each other. They have a little trouble finding their happily ever after, but they eventually do. I hope you’ll find their journey satisfying!

 From the minute big, bad Brutus Gunnison of Dallas Fire & Rescue sees Denise, he falls like a ton of bricks. She is everything the Iraq War vet has ever wanted in a woman: pretty without being frilly, with a great sense of humor and a love of dogs and baseball. Most amazing of all, she’s not afraid of him.

Denise Friedlander is busy. Between working thirty hours a week, going to school, and serving in the Texas National Guard, she doesn’t have time for a man. And after the way her father ran out on her mom the minute she got pregnant, she is careful with men. But she can’t resist Brutus. He’s not the handsomest man in Dallas, but with those muscles and tattoos, he’s the hottest. Besides, he shows the tenderness hidden under his rough exterior only to her.

But old wounds run deep and when Brutus betrays her trust, Denise walks away. Can they learn to trust again to find their happily ever after?

 

BUY IT HERE:

 

 

Tuesday Teaser 1/16/18

Tomorrow Strong Hearts comes out!!! I am going to post one last teaser from Brutus and Denise’s story.
Then next week I’ll begin giving you little tidbits from Gina and Colby’s story.

Young woman embracing man with naked muscular torso

Although I don’t think contemporary romance will ever be my favorite to write, I have to say I loved Brutus. He’s so big and mean looking, but he really does have a tender heart. At least for Denise, the heroine. I had a hard time deciding which pic to choose for the cover. I finally picked the one where they are embracing front to front.  But I’m including the other one so you can see how gorgeous Brutus’s chest is  🙂

These two are like real people. That is, they are good people, but they are human, and they have flaws. I hope you’ll give them a try.  🙂

Chapter Three

 

“Hey, Wolfe, it’s me.” Brutus squeezed the phone between his ear and shoulder while he dumped a scoop of dry food in Rowdy’s bowl. The dog looked at him like he was only minutes away from starvation. “There ya go. Good boy.”

“What?” said Wolfe.

“Not you. I was talking to the dog.” He dropped the plastic scoop into the trashcan he used to store Rowdy’s food and flipped the lid shut. “Hey, look, I was in Billie’s tonight and—”

Wolfe cut him off with a groan. “You got drunk and had another fight?”

“Oh, for … No! All I had was a cup of coffee, and I was there for only thirty minutes.”

He should have stayed longer, taken the opportunity to talk some more with Denise, but he had been so elated when she agreed to meet him at the game he hadn’t trusted himself to make sense during a conversation. Which reminded him of why he’d called his buddy.

“Look, I ran into that girl. Her name is Denise. The game was on at Billie’s, and it turns out she’s a big Rangers fan. So I asked her out to the game on Saturday.”

There was a moment of silence on the phone. “The game we’re going to on Saturday?”

“Uh, yeah. Could I buy your ticket from you?”

“I don’t know. I was looking forward to seeing the game.”

Brutus’s heart fell. “Aw, c’mon, Wolfe. The season is almost over, and there’s no way the Rangers can pull up enough to make the playoffs. Culver is pitching. It’s not like you’d be missing anything.”

A sigh came over the phone and Wolfe’s voice turned dreamy. “Except some quality time with my best bud.”

Brutus took the phone from his ear and stared at it. “The fuck?”

Wolfe’s snicker grew to a howl. “Gotcha.”

Brutus huffed a weak chuckle. “You suck.”

“Yeah, but you can have my ticket anyway. Hope you and Denise have a good time at the game.”

 

Denise left the National Guard Armory at half past four on Saturday. She had only two hours to get home, bolt down supper, change out of her uniform, shower, dress, and drive to Arlington to meet Brutus at the ballpark. She was met at the door by an eager Stella.

“I’ve got an interview right away Monday morning,” she reported.

“That’s great.” Denise tossed the words over her shoulder as she headed to her bedroom. Her uniform came off quickly, but she took the time to neatly hang it to wear again tomorrow.

Stella leaned on the doorjamb. “Would you like me to make you a sandwich?”

“I would love that. Thank you.”

She took the quickest shower of her life, blasted her hair with the blow dryer for two minutes, and put it up in its usual ponytail. She grabbed clean jeans and her Texas Rangers jersey and pulled them on. She snagged her Rangers ballcap, threading her ponytail through the gap in the back. When she went out to the kitchen, Stella stared at her.

“Is that what you’re wearing on your date?”

Her sister sounded horrified. Denise looked down at herself to be sure the jersey didn’t have a stain. “Yeah. Why?”

“No makeup?”

“I hardly ever wear makeup. Thanks for the sandwich.”

Stella poured some chips on the side on the paper plate. “You’re welcome. Are you sure about the makeup? I could do your eyes for you. Your eyes are real pretty. All you need is a bit of liner and mascara to bring them out.”

Oddly touched, Denise smiled. “Thanks, Stella. Maybe next time. We’re just going to the ballgame, and I’m running a little late.” She bit into her sandwich, surprised and pleased that the amount of mustard was just right. “Good sandwich.”

Denise’s phone rang.  She looked at the screen before answering. “Hi, mom, what’s up?”

“Denise, I haven’t talked to you in an age.”

“It’s a been a while.” Denise agreed. “I’m sort of busy right now.”

Stella opened the fridge. “Did you want a pickle?”

Her mom said, “Who was that?”

Denise jumped up. “No one.” She shook her head at Stella and edged out of the kitchen, pausing in the short hall.

“I heard a voice,” her mom said.

“It was the TV. Hey, I’m heading out to the Ranger’s game in a few minutes. Can’t talk now.”

“Well, alright. You give me a call sometime this week. We haven’t talked in too long.”

Denise agreed and hung up. Thank God she dodged that bullet. What her mom would say about Stella staying with her made Denise shudder. She went back to her sandwich and her sister.

There was a wrinkle between Stella’s pale brows. “Was that your mom? I heard her ask about me.  Why did you call me no one?”

Darn it, she needed to turn down the volume on her phone. “I didn’t. I mean, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“You oughtn’t lie to your mama.”

Denise took a large bite of sandwich and attempted diplomacy. “Well, the thing is, mom would be unhappy if she knew you were here, and there’s no reason to cause her grief. She’s sort of crazy when it comes to the assh… er, your dad.”

Stella tilted her head to the side. “Daddy said she wouldn’t like it at all.”

Denise shoved a handful of chips into her mouth to prevent a sarcastic comment about her sperm donor. “Tell me about your job interview.”

Stella brightened. “Oh, I think it’s the perfect place for me. The hours are good, and the pay is reasonable. Not great, you know? But the tips ought to be real good. It’s at The Pink Pussycat Lounge.”

Denise swallowed with effort. “That’s a, uh …” She stalled, not sure what to say.

“It’s a gentlemen’s club. From what I’ve read, it’s a nice place. It’s in an old, historic part of town. Lots of rich tourists.” She must have seen the horror Denise tried to hide, because she giggled. “The position is for a waitress, not a topless dancer. It’s work I’ve done before. I’m good at it, too.”

That was work that Denise wouldn’t do in a million years. But Stella would never want to clean the kennels at the dog shelter. “Well, that’s great. I hope you get it.” Denise stood up and grabbed her keys. “Gotta go. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Have fun.”

The drive to Arlington took way too long. When she finally got to the stadium, the parking lot was filling up fast. She glanced at the clock on the dash. Twenty-five after six. She beat a pickup truck to a sliver of a spot. The truck never would have fit. Then she locked her car and bolted to the area Brutus said he would meet her.

The crowd was thick. At five-six, she wasn’t tiny, but she couldn’t see much but backs, shoulders and heads.

There he was.

His short brown hair was hidden under a Texas Rangers ballcap, but he was a head taller than most of the other people here. He stood against a wall, arms folded over his massive chest, like a colossus standing guard. She stood on tiptoe and waved to get his attention. She knew the exact moment he saw her. His face relaxed from a cold, granite mask to a warm smile. In that moment, even with his blunt, heavy features, he was almost unbearably handsome. In only a moment he’d plowed through the people jammed between them and came to her side.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly.

He glanced at his wrist. “Only by two minutes.”

“Oh, good. Traffic was murder. I’m glad you’re so tall. I don’t know how I would have found you otherwise.”

His cheeks flared with color. “I’m a pretty big guy,” he said, looking away.

“Good thing, too,” she said brightly. “In a crowd like this I tend to get lost, so I’ll just stick to you like a leech, and you can get us where we need to go.”

His gaze flashed back to her face and a slow smile curved his lips. “Sounds good to me. Hang on.”

He grabbed her hand and towed her through the crowd. Most people got out of his way before he got to them. Denise laughed with delight as she watched people melt away from their path. People never did that for her, she always had to squirm and nudge people to get through a crowd. They got to the turnstiles and Brutus handed over their tickets, then led the way up the stairs to their section. His long legs made climbing the extra wide, extra tall steps look easy. Denise had to stretch her legs to make the climb. She was panting a little when they got to their row.

They settled into their seats and then neither of them seemed to know what to do or say next. They spent several minutes looking at the people marching up and down the steps like armies of ants, and down at the field where some of the players were warming up. Finally, he cleared his throat.

“Are you from Dallas?” he asked.

Relief that he had spoken first eased the strain. “No, I grew up near Fredericksburg. My family ranches about three miles northwest of it.”

His head jerked around. “Fredericksburg? I’m from Kerrville.”

Denise stared. Kerrville was only a thirty-minute drive from Fredericksburg. “Small world,” she commented. “You must have gone to Tivy High?”

“Yeah, my mom taught English there.”

They exchanged stories of their high school years. He graduated two years before she had and joined the Navy immediately afterward. After her graduation, she had tried tech school for a year.

“But I didn’t do very well,” she confessed, “so I joined the Army. I did one tour in Iraq, and when my ETS came up, I decided to go into the Guard and go back to school.”

She glanced up and caught his gaze. He had the most beautiful eyes, especially when he smiled at her. “What’s your MOS?”

When she told him, he thought a minute. “They keep changing the designations. Motor pool?”

She nodded. “Mechanic. Wheeled vehicles. Although in Iraq, I did plenty of work on track vehicles too. Nothing like sand to gunk equipment up.”

He laughed shortly. “Tell me about it. A mechanic, huh? Have you always been into that?”

She shrugged. “I guess. Growing up on the ranch, I learned a lot about all kinds of stuff, from fixing equipment to grinding feed to herding cows. I was the only girl, so my uncles and cousins treated me just like a boy.”

“What about your sister?”

Denise stilled. “She grew up in Mississippi.”

“Oh, your parents divorced? That’s tough. You must have been pretty young.”

May as well get it out and over with. “They were never married. My mom thought they would be. When she found out she was pregnant with me, she told him. She thought they’d get married then. But it turns out he was already married, and his wife was expecting, too. Stella is five months older than me. I never even met her until two weeks ago.”

His mouth hung open for a split second. His voice went flat. “Your father is an ass. People don’t sleep around when they’re married. Period.”

Now her mouth hung open. He might have misunderstood her reaction, because he hurried to apologize.

“Sorry,” he said. “He’s your dad. I shouldn’t put him down.”

“Oh, no, please do.” Her chuckle was brittle. “I’ve never met him, and I have no plans to. I don’t call him dad, because he’s not. I suppose he’s my father, but only in the biological sense of the word. I have my uncle Rob and my uncle Steve, and that’s good enough for me.” She swallowed, anxious to turn the conversation. “How about you? Sisters? Brothers?”

“Two brothers, one older and one younger. Cash helps manage the ranch and vineyards. Gus bums around. He works the rodeo circuit, mostly bull riding, and works on the ranch in the offseason.”

The game started. The Rangers’ pitcher, Culver, retired the first three batters, all on strikeouts.

“Good start,” Brutus said. “Culver’s earned run average isn’t that great this season, but he’s looking good today.”

Denise agreed. She accepted the hotdog and beer Brutus ordered, and settled in the enjoy the game. He wasn’t the fidgety sort. He followed the game with keen interest, but he didn’t scream or shout when the Rangers got a hit. When the Rangers scored a run in the second inning, he only smiled and sucked down more beer. He did lean forward to watch Culver face his twelfth batter and retire him.

“It’s the bottom of the fourth,” he murmured, “and so far, Culver hasn’t given up a hit or a walk.”

He didn’t need to tell her that as of now, Culver was pitching a perfect game. “It’s only the fourth inning,” she cautioned. “Too early to get too excited.”

He nodded. “True. Plenty of games start out good but …” He trailed off, apparently unwilling to jinx it.

The fifth inning came to a close without a hit or a walk. During the sixth inning, everyone in the ballpark seemed to be aware that they could be seeing history. A perfect game came around only once in a blue moon. In the entire history of baseball, a period of nearly one hundred and fifty years, less than two dozen perfect games had ever been pitched. Most pitchers never pitched a game where they didn’t give up a hit or a walk. No one had ever done it twice. Denise reached up to tighten her ponytail even though it didn’t need it.

The air during the seventh inning stretch seemed electrified. Half the stadium sang Take Me Out To the Ball Game with manic energy, and the other half just stood silently. She was on the manic side. Brutus stood quietly beside her.

Culver started the eighth inning with his eleventh strikeout. Not a single person in the stands cheered. No one wanted to breathe any harder than they had to for fear of distracting Culver.

“How many pitches has he thrown?” Denise muttered. “If they take him out—”

“They won’t take him out. He has a solid shot at a perf …” Brutus swallowed. “You know.”

The next batter sent an easy pop fly to right field. The third batter of the inning went down swinging. Denise looked up at Brutus and saw the same wonder and anticipation there that she felt herself. One more inning. Could Culver keep this up for three more batters?

At the top of the ninth Denise sat on her hands to keep them from trembling. The first batter struck out. The stadium was dead silent. Even the announcer said nothing. The players in the dugout lined the fence, faces intent. The second batter swung at the first pitch and missed. A sigh went around the stadium. People rose to their feet, still silent, straining to see everything. Denise and Brutus stood too. The second pitch was a ball. The third pitch was a ball. Denise wished she had more beer to wet her dry throat. The fourth pitch was a strike. The fifth was a ball. It was a full count. The next pitch could be the one that ended Culver’s perfect game. Brutus took her hand. She clenched his fingers in an agony of nerves. Together they watched the next pitch. Foul ball.

Brutus lifted his cap enough to swipe the back of his hand over the sweat on his forehead. Denise watched Culver wind up and closed her eyes. She opened them in time to see the batter swing and miss.

Strike three. Her knees threatened to collapse. She gripped Brutus’s big hand harder. He looked down at her and smiled. It was a tight smile, probably intended to be reassuring, but he looked as tense as she felt. Only one more batter. If Culver got this guy out, he would make baseball history.

The third and last batter of the ninth inning stepped into the batter’s box. The glare on his face said he intended to put an end to this perfect game.

Denise’s heart stopped at the crack of the bat hitting the ball. The ball soared three hundred and seventy feet to center right. Denise quit breathing while she watched the outfielder sprint desperately to catch the ball. When he did, the smack of the ball in the mitt could be heard clear to Dallas. Utter silence reigned for five more seconds. Then the stadium broke out in hysteria. The announcer shouted that they had just witnessed the twenty-fourth perfect game in major league baseball history. The wave of cheering was like a wall of sound crashing into her. Denise’s legs turned into cotton candy, and the only reason she didn’t fall down was Brutus’s big hands on her waist. He had a curiously blank look on his face.

“Wolfe is going to kill me,” he said.

“Oh, my God,” she screamed up at him. “He did it! Culver pitched a perfect game! And we got to see it!”

“I know,” he said, quite calmly, picked her up, and kissed her.

Surprise held Denise still for a split second. She decided it must be one of those quick, carried-away-by-the-moment kisses, fast, hard, and full of jubilation. But it wasn’t. His face was hard and blunt, but his lips were indescribably soft. His kiss was gentle. Exploratory. Hot. She forgot her feet were inches off the concrete. She forgot she’d just witnessed baseball history. The people jumping up and down and screaming madly only inches from her ceased to exist when his tongue brushed over her lips, asking to come in. Her arms reached up and around his neck and she kissed him back with everything in her.

It was a long moment before she came up for breath. She blinked at the hot way he looked at her. “Come home with me,” he growled.

Her girl parts screamed yes. The rest of her said no. She braced her hands against his chest. His pectorals were bunched and hard from holding her one hundred and thirty pounds up. It was hard, but she shook her head. “Too soon.” Those two were the only words she could find for a minute. “But this deserves a celebration. How about a beer and some dancing at Billie’s?”

He didn’t answer for a long minute. “Good enough,” he finally agreed.

But he didn’t release her. “Hey? Could you put me down?”

“Do I have to?”

“Well, it will be hard for me to drive to Billie’s this way.”

He roared a laugh. Such a happy, joyous sound made her giggle too. “Okay, okay.” He settled her gently on her feet. “Let’s get out of here, but hang on to me. This crowd will trample both of us if we’re not careful.”

She’d like to see anyone try to trample him. “I’ll stick to you like glue,” she promised. “Lead the way, big guy.”

Strong Hearts Coming Soon!

It’s been a much colder winter this year than it has been for the past several years. Tomorrow the high is expected to be -10 F,  and Tuesday it will be 1 (above zero!) and then the rest of the week we’ll be enjoying the balmy temps of our January thaw. That is to say, we might get above freezing.

The weather is cold, but Strong Hearts, my second story in Paige Tyler’s Dallas Fire & Rescue Kindle World, is hot, and it comes out on Wednesday January 17.

I had actually not planned to write this story. I wrote Brave Hearts, intending it to be a one time thing. Brutus Gunnison was the hero’s best friend, and he was supposed to have a very small role in the story. But Brutus is bigger than life. He took over and kept hogging the scenes. I had several readers ask me where they could find his story. WEll, here it is. I wrote these two out of order, since Strong Hearts takes place about seven months before Brave Hearts.  Here is a little sneak peek for you:

Strong Hearts

Coming January 17, 2018

From the minute big, bad Brutus Gunnison of Dallas Fire & Rescue sees Denise, he falls like a ton of bricks. She is everything the Iraq War vet has ever wanted in a woman: pretty without being frilly, with a great sense of humor and a love of dogs and baseball. Most amazing of all, she likes him.

Denise Friedlander is busy. Between working thirty hours a week, going to school, and serving in the Texas National Guard, she doesn’t have time for a man. And after the way her father ran out on her mom the minute she got pregnant, she is careful with men. But she can’t resist Brutus. He’s not the handsomest man in Dallas, but with those muscles and tattoos, he’s the hottest. Besides, he shows the tenderness hidden under his rough exterior only to her.

But old wounds run deep and when Brutus betrays her trust, Denise walks away. Can they learn to trust again to find their happily ever after?

Read an Excerpt Here

Tuesday Teaser 12/12/17 Strong Hearts Chapter 1b

 

Happy Tuesday! I’m under the weather, so I’m home from work today.  I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping, but I’m awake right now and decided that I should take advantage of my alertness to make a post. I plan to do my annual Stuffed Christmas Stocking giveaway soon. If you’d like to enter to win a stocking stuffed with books and swag, the entry form will arrive in my newsletter this weekend. If you don’t get my newsletter, you can sign up by filling out this form. This picture doesn’t include everything I’m giving away. There will be more books, a calendar with each month featuring one of book covers, another mug, more candy… We’ll see how much I can stuff into that stocking! This is just a quick pic I took this morning of some of the items.  😉

 

Here is the Tuesday Teaser. Enjoy!

 

Denise watched the two men walk away and shook her head. Two men who were so hot in such different ways didn’t cross her path often, and she wanted to watch them for as long as possible.

“That right there,” drawled her sister beside her, “is one fine Mr. Hottie McHotPants.”

Denise turned to Stella with an arched brow. “Which one?”

“Which one?” Stella’s blue eyes opened wide. “The handsome one, of course. Not the oaf who fell on top of me.”

“The one who fell on you wasn’t as handsome as the other man,” Denise conceded, “but he had a great physique.”

Her sister shuddered delicately. “Oh, sure, if you like men who look like wrestling stars.”

“I do.” She remembered the way the big man’s arms stretched the sleeves of his t-shirt. The shirt was the kind that had been washed so much the blue had faded to gray, and the thin fabric clung to every taut curve and valley of his sculpted torso. “I really, really do.”

“Oh, Sissie, you’re simply hopeless.”

Maybe I am, she thought. Twenty-nine and not a single serious relationship to show for it. Denise tipped her longneck to her lips for the last swallow. “Ready to go?”

“It’s only ten!”

“I work at six,” she reminded Stella.

Stella looked around, maybe hoping for someone else to trip. After a minute, she sighed. “Alright. Let’s go back to that dump you call home.”

Denise set the bottle on the bar very carefully. “Since I’m letting you stay there rent free until you find a job, you shouldn’t complain.”

“Oh.” Stella covered her painted mouth with delicate fingers. “I know. I shouldn’t have said that. You’ve been better to me than I deserve. I’m sorry.”

Denise nodded. Her sister always apologized when she said something mean. It was as if Stella was simply unaware of how her comments sounded, but Denise didn’t buy it. Stella was twenty-nine, a little old for the innocent act. In Denise’s opinion, Stella had plenty of smarts, but she was stupid when it came to men. Stella probably thought the opposite. Denise shook her head. Her sister had left Mississippi dead broke and desperate after her boyfriend kicked her out of their apartment. Denise would never, ever put herself in a position where she depended on a man for everything. Nope, as sure as God made Texas, she would never be under a man’s control.

But it didn’t do any good to try to convince Stella that she could be self-sufficient. The main reason Stella had wanted to go out tonight was to meet some men. Billie’s Bar & Grill was a place where Denise and her last boyfriend had gone to unwind. She should have known it wasn’t Stella’s kind of place as soon as she came out of her room in that tiny silver dress.

With a sigh, Denise pushed off the bar stool. “Let’s go.”

In the car, Stella twisted a lock of hair around her finger. “Did you truly like that big guy?”

“Yeah.” He hadn’t been handsome. His face was too hard and blunt for that, but every muscle defined by his tight T-shirt oozed masculinity. Just remembering the ridges and valleys of his torso made her girl parts remember what they were for. Denise cleared her throat. “Yeah, I did.”

“Well … The bouncer called him Doc. Do you think he’s a doctor? A doctor would make a great boyfriend.”

Denise recalled the tattoo on the guy’s arm. It was a military unit’s emblem. He might have been a medic, but a doctor? “I doubt it.”

“I suppose not. He didn’t look like a doctor,” her sister agreed regretfully. “If you had a rich boyfriend you wouldn’t have to live in such a dump. I mean,” she quickly corrected herself, “such a small place.”

It’s not that small, Denise wanted to say, but she kept her mouth shut. She parked her car on the street and led the way up the steps to her admittedly crappy, but fairly roomy, two-bedroom apartment. Stella was almost right when she called the place a dump. She tried to see her place through the eyes of a stranger. The entryway was tiny, so she moved into the kitchen to allow Stella to come in. Yeah, maybe it was a dump. The couch in the living room was upholstered in gold and green plaid that matched the carpet. The shag carpet was avocado green and may have been new in the 1970s. The stains and worn out spots testified to its age. The jumbo-sized recliner, bought at a secondhand store for next to nothing, was neon pink. It might have been an eyesore, but it was comfortable.

Denise hung her keys up with a shrug. It was home. The neighborhood was decent, and the rent was low enough that even someone who was a full-time student at UT Dallas, served in the Texas National Guard, and worked twenty hours a week at an animal shelter could afford it. The carpet was clean if stained, and it didn’t matter if the appliances gave out now and then, because she knew how to get them working without pestering the landlord.

In her glittery cocktail dress, Stella looked as out of place as a hot house flower in a tin can stuffed with daisies. She headed off to the second bedroom, which until a week ago had been Denise’s office. “Good night, Sissy. See you in the morning.” She paused to flash a cheeky grin. “Dream of your muscle man. Maybe that will put you in a better mood.”

Denise rolled her eyes and went to her room to get ready for bed. She did dream of the muscle man. She woke, sweaty and heart pounding a hundred miles an hour, shuddering with the strength of her orgasm. Wow, she thought, wiping the sweat from her upper lip, if that’s what a dream of him does to me, imagine what it would be like with the man himself!

But in her busy life, where would she find time for a boyfriend? Well, maybe for him she could make time. She kicked the tangled sheet off and stretched out on her back. Tomorrow was her busy day. Work at Dog Heaven for three hours, attended three classes, then another two hours at the shelter.  Maybe she could swing by Billie’s for a beer tomorrow after work and ask around about her dream lover? She flung her pillow over her head and told herself to not be an idiot.

But after work the next evening, she swung into Billie’s. What could it hurt, right?

Tuesday Teaser 12/5/17 Strong Hearts Chapter 1a

Well, I’ve been giving little snips from here and there in the story. I’ve decided it’s time to start at the beginning. This is unedited, so it might change a bit here and there, but I like this. This story releases on January 17 2018.

WARNING: strong language.

 

STRONG HEARTS

copyright by Maddy Barone

Chapter One

 

Brutus would have pounded that asshole into a pancake if the bouncers hadn’t stopped him. It took both to drag him off.  The blood dripping from the little shit’s nose made him smile. Smiling hurt his split lip, though, so he settled for a sneer.

“That’s what you get for disrespecting the United States Marine Corps,” he said, allowing the bouncer to pull him a little further away. He knew the bouncer, Matt Martinez, was a Marine himself. “Did you hear what that little rat said?”

“No, and it doesn’t matter.” Martinez sighed. “Come on, Doc, you know what Billie said last time you got into a fight here.”

“That was three months ago!”

Brutus shot the rat who didn’t give honor where honor was due one last dirty look and followed Martinez to a stool at the end of the bar. Along the way they passed several patrons at the bar who seemed to be pretending to be deaf and blind. One caught his eye, a platinum blonde who had to have had breast implants. The Dolly Parton wannabe didn’t impress him. He plopped himself down on the bar stool Martinez pointed him to and waved for Jerry, the bartender.

Before he could order a beer, Martinez spoke. “Coffee or a coke, Doc. When your buddy gets here, you let him take you home.”

A cold spot spread in Brutus’ throat. “You’re cutting me off? It’s only ten o’clock!”

Martinez thumped a fist on his shoulder. “That’s Billie’s rule. If you fight, you leave. And you’ve had too much to drink to drive home yourself, so you just sit here and wait for your ride.”

Brutus slumped on the bar. “Who’d’ja you call?”

“Wolfe. Who else? You gonna cause any more trouble?”

“No.”

He’d drink his coffee like a good boy and let his friend take him home.  Brutus rested his forehead on a fist and stared morosely into the black coffee Jerry brought him. He heard the jukebox switch to a different song, something slow and melancholy. The clack of pool balls reminded him that he’d been having a good night, downing a few beers, shooting a few games, and relaxing after a long shift at the station house. Then that little ass wipe invited him to play. He was probably twenty-one, barely legal, and thought he was a hustler. Whatever. They were playing for almost nothing, so Brutus didn’t care if he lost. Everything was cool, until that guy started talking about how useless Marines were. Things went downhill fast after that.

He tried a sip of coffee. It hurt his split lip. With careful fingers, he gingerly explored the injury. Damn.  The swelling had better go down before his next shift. Three days. It should be gone by then. If not … Hopefully, Captain Stewart wouldn’t be around to notice. Brutus didn’t need another lecture from his boss. He reached for the bowl of pretzels on the bar and had to hide a wince. His ribs were sore from a right hook. That kid had some good moves, at the pool table and away from it. Brutus was going to feel this tomorrow. It was a lot like that fight he’d had back in Camp Fallujah. Or was he thinking about that fight in Camp Dreamland?  Or Camp Dakota? His service days in Iraq were more than ten years ago, so it hard to keep that straight.

“Gunnison.”

Brutus jerked his head up. His partner stood there, looking down at him with a small frown. “Hey, Wolfe. You got here fast.”

“I was already out.”

That’s right, Wolfe was taking his latest piece of arm candy to a movie or something. “Damn, did this mess up your date?”

“No, Cherilyn wanted an early night. I just dropped her off.”

“Aw, too bad. So, you havta sleep alone tonight?” Brutus looked his partner up and down. Wolfe was everything Brutus was not: handsome, light on his feet, tall and muscular without being a hulk, and charming. A real chick magnet. Women went crazy for Wolfe’s pretty boy face.  “Well, it has to happen to everyone sometimes, right?”

Wolfe blew out a breath and shook his head with a half-disgusted, half-affectionate smile. “Shut up. Ready to go?”

“Yeah, sure,” Brutus pushed the still full coffee cup away and lurched to his feet. He had to catch himself on the bar. Maybe he’d had more than he’d realized. He straightened and testing his walking ability. Wolfe watched him without offering to help. Yeah, his buddy understood a man’s pride. “Lead the way.”

He did okay until he tripped over the pointy toe of a sparkly high-heeled shoe and landed nose first in a bountiful cleavage. Brutus might not have the polished manners of some men, but his mama had whupped common decency into him.  He jerked upright and staggered a step back.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he blurted. “Are you hurt?”

The platinum blonde gave a throaty laugh and made minute adjustments to neckline of her low-cut dress.  “Why, I just don’t believe I know.”

Her accept was deep south, not Texas, and her sex kitten purr was directed at Wolfe, not him. Brutus took one long look at her and decided his buddy was welcome to her. She was beautiful but fake. Too much makeup, and too much of her body on display. Billie’s Bar & Grill was one step above a dive, and that short, sequined dress should be worn in a place where fancy cocktails were served.

He glanced at his friend to see his reaction. Wolfe, as usual, showed little. He liked living up to his Native American ancestors’ reputation for stoicism, but Brutus had known him since the old days in Iraq. Behind that coolly polite façade, his buddy was laughing his ass off.

The blonde flicked her foot. The sparkly shoe landed at Wolfe’s feet. “Why, look at that,” she cooed. “My shoe just plumb fell off.”

There was a pause in the noise as the jukebox switched songs. From the other side of the blonde came a sigh. Brutus stepped a little to the right to see who was sitting next to the blonde. For a full five seconds, his lungs forgot how to work.

This was how a woman ought to look. Brown hair pulled up in a bouncy ponytail. Blue jeans neither too baggy nor too tight, and a plaid shirt worn open over a white T-shirt. Her cleavage probably wasn’t as impressive as the blonde’s, but it had a perfect curve. He followed the long line of her leg and saw she was wearing cowboy boots. Worn out cowboy boots, not the pretty, shiny kind city cowgirls wore for show. If she was wearing makeup, Brutus couldn’t tell. Her face was pretty. Not Miss America beautiful, but pretty. Damn. She was Brutus’ prefect woman. Right now, she looked annoyed. Even that looked good on her.

“Stella, for crying out loud.” She turned on the barstool to Wolfe. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

Brutus sighed. Now that she’d gotten a look at his buddy, she wouldn’t have the time of day for him.

But she remined slightly apologetic, not even blinking at Wolfe. No gasp. No staring worshipfully, no blush or smile. She took the shoe Wolfe held out to her. “Thanks,” she said briefly, and thrust it at the blonde.  “Put your shoe on, Stella,” she said in a furious whisper.

“Relax, Sissie.” The blonde pouted and turned slipping her shoe on into a languorous tease. If she wasn’t careful, those tits were going to pop right out of her dress. The pouty smiles and bedroom eyes were directed at Wolfe. The ponytail girl sighed again. Wolfe didn’t respond except to punch a light fist into Brutus’ bicep.  “Ready to go?” he asked.

Brutus couldn’t resist one last look at the pretty brown-haired girl. Her eyes, large and blue, looked at him with a hint of disapproval. His back went up.

“What are you looking at?” he demanded.

Her cool blue eyes ran up him, and then down him. “Nothing much,” she said, turning back to the bar.

“Ouch,” murmured Wolfe, hidden laughter in his voice. Probably no one else heard it, but Brutus did. “Come on, buddy.”

Outside, the air was hot and laden with humidity. Normal for Dallas on the first day of September even at ten at night. Brutus took a lungful of the thick air in before climbing in Wolfe’s pick up.

“Man, did you see her?” Brutus sighed happily. “If I dream about her tonight I’ll be a happy man.”

Wolfe drove out of the parking lot. He stopped at a red light and raised a dubious eyebrow. “I didn’t think she was your type.”

“What? You kidding?” Brutus closed his eyes and remembered the sweet curve of breasts against a white T-shirt half covered by a western style shirt. “She’s exactly my type. Such perfect tits.”

The light turned green and Wolfe stepped on the gas. “Yeah, I guess they were pretty spectacular. Big enough to fill even your hands.”

Brutus’ eyes popped open. “I’m not talking about the blonde!”

“Oh?”

“No. The little brunette gal sitting next to her. The cute one who looked like an actual person.”

“Oh,” Wolfe said with a note of comprehension. “Sure, she was pretty. Looked nice, too. Someone you could really talk to.”

The truth of that hit Brutus’ drunken mind like a sledgehammer. The blonde looked like a man hunter, the kind you took to bed and that was all. The brunette looked like the kind you took home to meet mom.  A girl like that wouldn’t want anything to do with a big brute like him.

Wolfe must have misunderstood his silence, because he went hastily on. “I don’t know that blonde lady. For all I know, she’d be great to talk to. We shouldn’t judge someone by the way they dress.”

Brutus snorted. “Right. We should judge by the way they act. I’ll bet my next paycheck that blonde wished you’d have been the one to trip and land on her tits. Her shoe fell off right in front of you, and that didn’t happen on its own.”

“Thank God your little brunette saved me from having to put it back on the blonde’s foot.”

His little brunette. Brutus reveled in the sound of that. “Yeah. Lucky you.”

Wolfe pulled his pickup into the short driveway in front of Brutus’ house. “Look, give me a call in the morning and I’ll give you a ride back to your truck.” He turned to study him, eyebrows pulling low. “You’ve been partying a lot lately, even when we have back to back shifts. You okay?”

That Indian had always been a little too perceptive. “Geez, Wolfe, you want to talk about our feelings now?”

His buddy snorted a laugh. “Get out of here. See you tomorrow.”

Brutus unlocked the front door and tossed his keys on the table in the front hall in time to catch his dog, Rowdy. The brown mutt was big and mean looking, but loyal and even loving with the right person.  Just like him.

“We’re a lot alike, boy,” he whispered, scratching behind the floppy ears. “One thing is different, though. You had your balls cut off, but the lady dogs still like you. I still have mine, but the ladies don’t like me.”

With that happy thought, he went to bed.

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