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Cover Reveal!

Victoria’s Cat 

Daughters of the Wolf Clan 2

Expected release date July 11, 2017

Victoria Wolfe, the only daughter of the Alpha of the Lakota Wolf Clan, has a mind of her own. Her father might put his foot down, but when she wants something, she gets it. And she wants Marty Madison. His calm steady nature calls to her volatile spirit. The fact that he turn into a mountain lion at will doesn’t matter to her at all.

Marty Madison has never seen a woman as beautiful as Victoria. Her lush figure and pretty face appeal to him, but what entices him most is her self-assurance. No demure young miss, she faces the world with a steely core of inner strength. Too bad her father objects to him being a mountain cat.

They thought the only obstacle to their marital happiness was her father. They were wrong. An evil empire is rising in the east, one which threatens not only them, but the homes and lives of everyone they love. Marty will need all of his steady calm to survive. Victoria will need all her steely inner strength to hold on. In a world under threat, can their love triumph over adversity?

Tuesday Teaser 5/23/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 20

Happy Tuesday!

I’ve spent hours looking for images for the cover of Victoria’s Cat. Boy howdy, finding a handsome blond man with longish wavy hair is IMPOSSIBLE. I’ll keep trying, and my goal is to have the cover ready by Monday. We’ll see what I come up with. 😉

This week’s snip is a good one, I think. Let me know what you think.


Something hurt. In the dark behind her closed eyelids, Victoria let that thought seep into her consciousness. After a space of time that might have been minutes or hours, she connected the pain to herself, specifically to her side. What had happened? Where was she?  What was that droning rumbling noise?

Pain. She’d been shot … Colby! She jolted into consciousness. She was lying on her back in a dim room that rattled. A vehicle, she realized, like the bus. Above her was rough canvas, dull gold in color, stretched over supports. She was on the floor with her head propped up on someone’s knee. Renee leaned over her. It must be her knee Victoria was propped against. There were two men sitting on a bench attached to the sides of the vehicle. Anna McGrath sat on the bench attached to the opposite side of the bus, arms folded over her chest, shoulders hunched. The men wore uniforms.

Full memory rushed over her. Marty. She tried to sit up, but her heart was heavy. Like an anchor, it held her to the floor. The burning ache in her side was nothing compared to the agony in her chest.

“Marty,” she croaked.

“Sh,” said Renee, smoothing her hair. “Poor Vic. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.” She hummed a familiar Lakota lullaby, still stroking Victoria’s hair.

Almost forgetting her heartache for a moment, Victoria stared at Renee. Aunt Renee wasn’t the type to croon lullabies and call people sweetheart. And now she was singing softly.

“Go to sleep, beautiful girl,” Renee murmured in Lakota. “The wind sighs in the grass, the night is good. Your man lives. The night is good, beautiful girl.”

Victoria had grown up speaking Lakota as much as English, so she understood the words. She just wasn’t sure she believed those words. Renee wasn’t fluent in Lakota. Was she messing up the words of the old song? No, after more than twenty-five years of marriage to Hawk, she knew enough to get by. Your man lives. Could it be true? Victoria’s hand shot out to grab Renee’s wrist. “He lives?”

“Sh, go to sleep, beautiful girl, men watch, men hear, beautiful girl.”

Victoria eased her grip and turned her head to look at the soldiers on the bench. One was the medic who had treated her. And drugged her. She put that to the back of her mind and looked at them with an expression she hoped looked sad and helpless.

“I’m thirsty,” she said in as pitiful a voice as she could manage. “And I hurt.”

The medic opened the bag beside him. “I have some pain reliever. Jack, give her your canteen.”

Victoria carefully sat up with Renee’s help. The floor of the vehicle was filthy and the only reason she wasn’t dirty was that a wool blanket had been laid down for her. She shifted to the bench beside Anna and accepted the pills and canteen. She hadn’t been lying about being thirsty and in pain. Renee settled beside her. Victoria wanted to ask her why she thought Marty was alive. Could it be true? She waited a minute until the road smoothed a little and drank the pills down quickly. She handed the canteen back to the other soldier with a murmured thank you before turning to lay her head on Renee’s shoulder.

“Where is he?” she asked in Lakota. “What about Ray? Colby?”

The answer might have been too complex for Renee’s basic Lakota. The faint shadow of the old scar on the side of her face pulled when she frowned. She took up the soothing lullaby again. “Your man remains where he fell, beautiful girl,” she chanted. “As we rode away, I saw him roll over. The wind moves through the grass, it is good.”

She nodded to the back of the truck where Victoria now saw that there was a small opening. Through it, she saw grassland obscured by a haze of dust, and the outline of another vehicle traveling behind them. Marty had rolled over after he was shot. That didn’t guarantee that he was alive now, but it gave her hope. “Ray?”

“Nothing, the night is good.”

“Colby?”

The song faltered for a moment, before Renee picked it up again. “Carried away, your male relative, by the travois of his enemy, beautiful girl. The night is good, beautiful girl.”

What did that mean? Colby had been carried away by the enemy on a travois? A travois was three lodge poles lashed together in a roughly triangular shape with canvas stretched between them. They were attached to a horse and dragged behind. That’s what the clan used to carry their goods when they moved from one camping place to another. Would this vehicle translate as a travois? So Colby must be in the vehicle behind them. Or another vehicle if there were more. Was he alive? And what about Ray?

“Go to sleep, beautiful girl,” Renee went on. “Be like the bird who appears weak to lure prey to her. Quiet as wind in the grass. It is good, beautiful girl. Keep secret things secret, the night is good, beautiful girl.”

Those words didn’t quite fit the rhythm of the song, but Victoria acknowledged the wisdom in them. Let those murderers think she was weak. Keeping Marty’s possible survival secret was the right thing to do, but it would look odd if she didn’t ask about him. She fixed the medic and his companion with a pathetic stare.

“Where is my husband? What happened to him?” she asked, letting the buried tears well. “And Colby and Ray?”

The soldiers glanced at each other. The medic said, “The president will explain it all to you. We’ll be back to camp within thirty minutes.”

Aunt Renee cleared her throat. “I saw Colby’s body loaded up into the back of another truck. Why on earth would you take his dead body and leave the others laying on the ground where you shot them?”

The soldiers looked at one another again and this time Jack answered. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you’ll need to speak with President Todd about that.”

Victoria could think of only one reason for them to bring Colby’s body. “You’re going to dissect him.” Horror swam with rage in her gut. “You’re sick.”

“The president has a scientific mind.” The medic busied himself closing his medical bag. “He likes to know how things work, and a werewolf is not something you see every day.”

Victoria stifled a bitterly sarcastic comment. Renee was right. Women who appeared weak and helpless would have the advantage of surprise if an opportunity to escape came. She let her head drop into her hands and cried noisy tears which were only half faked. Marty might be alive, but he might be dead too. Alone, without medical help, what chance did he have? Ray? No mention of him moving, so he must be dead. Patia was waiting for his return, but that would never happen. Colby’s dead wolf body had been brought along so he could be cut up. All that was enough to make anyone cry.

She was looking forward to meeting the president face-to-face. He would pay for every drop of grief and misery he had caused the Lakota Wolf Clan. Before she was done with him, he would wish he had never been born. Then she’d let her dad and other male relatives at him. Just that thought was almost enough to make her smile. Almost.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

The vehicle slowed, bounced around, and came to a brief stop. Victoria could hear men’s voices from the front where the driver must be, and then they started off again at a slower pace. Victoria held on to the edge of the bench, teeth gritted against the pain in her side. It wasn’t bad, but bouncing over rough ground didn’t help it. She was glad when the vehicle finally came to a stop.

Jack opened the canvas at the back of the vehicle and jumped down. The medic held his hand out to keep them back until Jack lowered some sort of half door. Renee went first, using the heavy metal rungs welded onto the door as steps to climb to the ground. Anna went next, and finally Victoria was able to lower herself.

A quick glance around showed three trucks parked in a semi-circle in front of a row of green tents. From the first vehicle came a line of soldiers. Gina Summer stepped down from the driver’s compartment and hesitated when she saw Victoria. The man behind her gave her a nudge and she went in the direction of the largest of the tents. The driver’s compartment of the last truck opened and the lieutenant jumped down. He had cleaned the blood from his mouth, but his lip was red and swollen. Victoria smiled with pride.

The smiled faded as she watched him walk to the back of the truck. His stride was impatient, maybe irritated. He jerked the canvas up and froze. “Hastings!” he shouted.

The medic ran for the other truck. He fell back a pace, staring with shock inside the truck, before hoisting himself into the truck. The lieutenant joined him. Victoria looked at Renee.

“That’s the truck they tossed Colby into,” Renee murmured.

Victoria walked over to the truck, Renee with her. She was tall enough to be able to see into the truck. It was dim, but she could see two bodies on the floor of the truck, both human, both bloody. She didn’t see Colby. An impossible hope flared.

The lieutenant crouched beside one of the bodies. “What the hell happened here?” he growled.

The wounded man spoke feebly. “The wolf, sir.”

“He was dead.”

“He came back to life, sir.” The man’s hand, bloody and trembling. lifted like he was swearing to something in court. “Like a demon out of hell! He tried to kill us, then he jumped out.”

A smile bloomed on Victoria’s face. She must have made some noise, because the lieutenant’s head swung around. “Do your wolfmen do that?” he demanded. “Come back from the dead?”

“Of course not.” She tried to tame the smile, but it grew into a joyous laugh. “He must not have been dead. But you will be soon.”

Jaw clenched, the lieutenant stabbed a finger at one of the men who had approached. “Boland, take the ladies to meet the president.”

Victoria followed the man, still smiling. She couldn’t see how Colby had survived, but he clearly had. All she had to do was sit back and wait for him to bring help. She sobered a little. Where was Marty?

Tuesday Teaser 5/16/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 19

I am just about done getting the paperback version of Olivia’s Mate ready for publication. My goal is to have it ready for release by June 1. Actually, a little before that would be good. I plan to have a few copies with me for the signing at RAGT in Cincinnati OH on June 9th. If you’re in the area, please come at meet me. I would love that! The signings are open to the public. I am signing from 3:00 to 5:00. Learn more about it HERE.

 

Now, we are getting close to the end of Victoria’s story. A LOT is going to happen in the next three chapters, and this one starts off with some pretty shocking things. You have been warned!  🙂


Before he could answer, a dozen men in gray-green uniforms poured into the train, all grim-faced, marching in perfectly synchronized, pounding steps. They lined the center aisle, every other man facing the opposite direction, rifles pointed at the passengers. One man with a thin line of red down his sleeve stood at the head of the car and spoke in the ringing tones of authority.

“Everyone will remain in his seat,” he barked. “In the name of President Gerald Todd, this train is now the property of Kansas-Missouri. You are our prisoners. Anyone who attempts to resist will be shot.”

 

Chapter Ten

 

Victoria felt Gina slump beside her. Had she fainted? She turned quickly to help her and found that Gina had buried her face in her backpack. The man in charge pointed behind her. “Sir, release the lady and sit down.”

Marty’s hand clenched painfully on her shoulder before opening. She cast an anxious glance over her shoulder and saw Marty sit back. The turquoise of his eyes seemed to be overlaid by a yellow sheen. She looked quickly at Colby. His face was hard and set. Across the aisle, Ray looked only mildly interested but his eyes glowed with that same odd yellow sheen. Victoria swallowed and turned back to the front.

The men in charge walked down the center aisle to where she sat. He gave Gina a bland smile. “Miss Todd. Your father has been worried about you.”

Gina raised a pale face. “My father is dead,” she said flatly.

He paid no attention to her words. “Your mother is anxious to see you. Please accompany Corporal Lundgren to our vehicle.”

“Lieutenant,” Gina began, but trailed off when his face didn’t change expression. With a sigh, she stood up.

Behind them, Colby growled. Gina shook her head at him. “It’s okay,” she said dully. “I should have known they would catch up with me eventually.” Her gaze returned to the man in charge and her mouth curved in a bitter imitation of amusement. “No need to chain me up. I’ll come peacefully.”

Colby growled again and this time it wasn’t a human growl. Victoria turned her head to see a shimmer of heat. Colby’s wolf was coming out and Victoria could guarantee he wouldn’t be happy.

The wolf never had a chance to be happy or unhappy. Just as the wolf began to solidify, one of the soldiers in the aisle raised his rifle.

“No!” shouted Gina.

Victoria, closer to the soldier, lunged to put herself between the soldier and her cousin. Too late. The report of the bullet was deafening inside the train car. The bullet burned her side. At the same moment, a thud and crunch sounded behind her, and the howl of the wolf was pained. A second shot cut off the howl. Gina sprang toward the aisle, struggling to get past Victoria.

“Stop,” she shouted. “For God’s sake!”

With one hand clamped against the pain in her side, Victoria looked behind her and saw the wolf twisted at an impossible angle over the seat, blood painted an arc over the window. “Colby,” she whispered. And then more loudly, “Colby! Colby!”

He didn’t move. Even his furred ribcage didn’t move. Victoria ignored her side and lunged over the seat to touch Colby. Nothing. “He’s dead.” It came out low and hard, grief and rage bound up with disbelief.

Renee shouted something Victoria didn’t catch, and then fell into muffled sobs. Another set of sobs joined her, tinged with hysteria. Anna McGrath, Victoria decided.

The lieutenant’s face finally showed something. Anger. “Points, take that fool out and execute him. He fired without an order, and injured a woman. Hastings, we need your med kit.” In a gentler tone, he said to Victoria, “I deeply regret that you have been injured, ma’am. Please sit down and allow Corporal Hastings to see your wound.”

What wound? Victoria lifted her hand from her hand and saw it covered with blood. Feeling ridiculously woozy, Victoria slid back into her seat. She glanced back at Marty. His face looked slightly different than they usually did. If his cat came out, with they shoot him too? His lip pulled up in a feline snarl as his yellow-green eyes went from Colby’s body to her.

“I’m okay, Marty. It’s nothing. Is Colby dead? Is he really dead?”  She begged him with her eyes to deny it.The

He nodded wordlessly, his face becoming even more feline.

Colby. One of the most annoying of her Alpha cousins, and so dear. What would Uncle Taye do? Aunt Carla? Victoria forced tears back. No crying in front of the enemy. “Don’t do anything stupid,” she told Marty.

What she meant was: don’t turn into a cat. She jumped in her seat when a shot sounded outside. Had they really shot that man? Gina climbed carefully past her. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered miserably. After a quick glance at the seats behind them, she went out the train, followed by one of the soldiers. The lieutenant stepped closer to where Marty was and stared. At him? At Colby’s wolf’s body? What was going on behind that cool, smooth face?

The medical soldier reached for the buttons on Victoria’s blouse. She slapped his hands sharply. “Hey, not in front of an audience.”

The lieutenant overheard this and nodded. “Remove the men from the train,” he ordered.

One by one, the delegates and their escorts who had fled Omaha filed past her, soldiers following. Brother Saul and his boys marched past with disturbingly smug expressions on their faces. Marty seemed to be making a real effort to remain calm.

“I am the lady’s husband,” he said.

The lieutenant shook his head. “Outside.” He jerked his chin at Ray. “You too.”

Victoria heard claws puncture the seat back.

“It will be okay, Marty,” Victoria said, pretending confidence. “Please, we don’t want any trouble.” She used her eyes to indicate Colby. “Okay?”

She could see reluctance in every stiff line of his body as he stood up. “I love you,” he murmured, and stepped into the aisle.

Ray followed him. There was no one on the train now except for Victoria, Renee, Anna, the lieutenant, the medic, and one last soldier. While the medic unbuttoned her blouse, the lieutenant turned to Renee. He indicated Colby’s broken body with a sweep of his hand.

“Did you know him?”

Victoria could see over the medic’s bent head that Renee’s face was wet with tears, but stony. “You murdered him. You murdered him.”

“I regret it, ma’am. My man fired unlawfully. Do I assume correctly that he was one of the Indian wolf men?”

“Lakota Wolf Clan, moron,” snapped Victoria.

“Vic,” said Renee warningly. “Didn’t you just say we didn’t want any trouble?”

“Ouch!” Victoria glared down at the medic who must be using hellfire to clean out the wound on her side. Or maybe it was just alcohol. “Sorry,” she told the lieutenant insincerely, and went on with utter sincerity. “I wouldn’t want to be you when the Clan finds out what you’ve done.”

The lieutenant smiled at her. “You are also a member of the clan?”

What was he smiling for? She didn’t like that smile. “Eyes up here,” she snapped, pointing at her forehead. He hadn’t actually been looking at her bare chest, and even if he had, there was little to see because her brassiere covered all the important parts “And you better believe it.”

“And you?” he asked Renee.

“Yes.”

The lieutenant directed his smile at Anna, who was still sobbing almost soundlessly. “Who is your father, young lady?”

Renee pulled the girl close. “This is my niece,” she answered quickly.

The lieutenant smile grew. “Then I don’t think I need to worry about the Clan, do I? With the three of you as hostages, your wolf men won’t dare to cause trouble.”

Furious, helpless, Victoria glared down at the medic. “Aren’t you done yet?”

“Nearly,” he said cheerfully. “The bullet burned a groove along your ribs but didn’t crack or nick any. You have a nice layer of fat that protected you. You have a lovely …” With a quick look at the lieutenant, he cleared his throat. “We just need to make sure it’s good and clean so you won’t get an infection.”

Victoria gritted her teeth. “Fine. Hurry up.”

Renee looked up at the lieutenant. “It’s bad enough that you killed Colby. If anything happens to us, the entire Clan will be looking for you and when the find you, you’ ll die. Slowly.”

“So keeping you alive and well is in my best interests.”

Victoria hated that smile. She hated it. She wanted to wipe it away.

The lieutenant spread his hands. “But we have no intention of harming you or any woman. President Todd is very clear on that. That is the reason I had the shooter executed. He fired without an order, which would have earned him strict disciplinary action, but the fact that he wounded a woman is what required his death. You are safe with us.”

The medic wound strips of cotton around her torso to hold a pad in place over the wound. Victoria waited until he finished “Thank you,” she told the medic.

He began putting things into his canvas bag. Victoria saw that it was neatly organized with rules of cotton on one side and scalpels and syringes on another. “No problem. Always glad to help a lady.”

She turned from him and stood up to face the lieutenant. It pleased her to notice that the lieutenant was two inches shorter than she was.

Renee stood up too. “Now what?”

“Now you return with us to President Todd’s camp. He will decide what should be done with you.”

Anna clung to her. “I want my daddy,” she wailed.

Renee gave her a pat. “There, there. The clan will come for us.” She held lieutenant’s eyes defiantly. “They’ll be here within the day.”

“Oh, I think it will take longer than that for them to get word of where you are.” The lieutenant leaned over and knocked on the window. He made elaborate hand signs to whoever was out there, and stood back up to smile at Renee. “Since I can’t have your men reporting back to your wolf pack …” He trailed off with a shrug.

A barrage of gunshots sounded from outside the window.

“… I guess we’ll just have to dispose of them.”

Victoria leaped across the aisle to the window, pushing him out of her way. Her heart stopped when she saw two bodies lying on the ground, their golden hair covered in blood, more blood on their chests. “Marty! Oh, God. Marty!” She turned her gaze to the lieutenant and his sickening smile. Rage swelled up in her. “You killed him. You son of a bitch. You son of a bitch!”

Propelled by grief and rage, her fist swung in right hook and landed right in the middle of his smile. He fell back, stumbling into the center aisle, blood welling from his lip, red like the blood in Marty’s hair. But not enough of it. She scrambled after him, wanting revenge more than she wanted air to breathe.

“I’m going to kill you,” she promised.

A jabbing pain in her butt distracted her. The medic stood behind her with a syringe in his hand. The third soldier leaped to pin her arms to her sides. Her recently bandaged wound shrieked with pain, so she shrieked too. Anna cowered behind Renee, who was kicking the fallen man energetically at the ribs. He rolled away and staggered to his feet.

“I’m going to kill you. I’m gonna kill you all.” Victoria struggled frantically, but her strength was draining away. How could that happen so quickly? Didn’t it take a while for medication to act? But everything from the moment the train stopped had happened so quickly. She raised bleary eyes to the medic. “What did you do to me? Whah?”

Her fingers were going numb. Her lips didn’t move properly. “Drugged me. Righ? Drug. Drugged. Me. Sonbitch.”

“I’m sorry. Sit down, ma’am,” the medic suggested compassionately.

She did, but only so that she didn’t fall ignominiously on her face in front of the evil lieutenant. She stared at him, trying to hold her head steady. His lip was bleeding freely, swelling satisfactorily. “No more smiling for you for a while,” she gloated. Maybe that’s what she said. She wasn’t quite sure it came out clearly, so she focused all her effort on the next words. “Kill you. Soon,” she vowed, and gave up the struggle against darkness.

*    *    *    *

 

Questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll see if I can answer.

Tuesday Teaser 5/9/17: Victoria’s Cat Part 18

Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that I have only 2 more chapters to write in Victoria’s Cat, and I expect to have a cover reveal within the next 10 to 14 days. The bad news is that Victoria’s Cat won’t be released on June 2 as hoped. It is being pushed back to July 3. I am so sorry. The move put me behind, but I still had hope that I would make my deadline. I failed. My editor is being very gracious and has a slot for me in the second half of June.  Again, I apologize for the delay.

 These last few chapters move quickly. I tried to make them suspenseful, and that begins at the end of this chapter. I hope you’ll enjoy this. Ta-Da: Victoria’s Cat!

 

 


 

Colby gestured with the backpack he held. “Sit down, Miss Gina.”

Georgina Summer snatched the backpack away from him and held her back very straight as she strode past him to the bench. Many of the delegates nodded to her as she passed them, but luckily no one tried to touch her. By the set of Colby’s jaw, he was irritated by something. A stranger touching his mate would undoubtedly have set him off. Victoria made room on the bench for the younger woman, who sat with her denim-clad knees primly together, backpack on her lap, looking straight ahead without speaking. It looked like Colby wasn’t the only one irritated by something. Or someone. Victoria cast another sidelong glance at her cousin and saw a shadow of misery on Colby’s face before he hid it.

A man in a blue uniform opened the door to the platform. “We’re boarding now,” he called. “Ladies first.”

Hawk took Renee by the shoulders and gave her a light kiss. “I’ll see you soon, love.”

Victoria was fervently glad that Marty wasn’t staying behind. She hugged Rock and Hawk good bye, but when she turned to hug Colby he murmured, “I’m going on the train too. I’m not leaving my mate’s side.”

Victoria arched a pale brow. Colby, passing up a fight? Of course, he’d give up even more for a mate. The only women in the station were Victoria, Renee, Georgina Summer, and Anna McGrath. The men in the station held back while they went out to the platform and boarded the train. Victoria chose a seat in the middle of the first passenger car and slid her suitcase under it. It seated two. She and Marty could at least hold hands for the four or five hours of the journey to Kearney.

Renee and Anna took the seat across the aisle from her. Georgina Summer tossed a quick glance over her shoulder, and squeezed past Victoria to sit beside her.

“Hey!” said Victoria. “I’m saving that seat for—”

Miss Summer seized her arm and cut her off. “Please!” she hissed. “I don’t want him to sit next to me.”

“Him? Who, Colby?”

“I don’t like him. He scares me.”

Ouch. Victoria glanced toward the front of the train and saw Colby’s face contract with hurt and grief. He’d heard every whispered word just fine. Poor Cole. She turned back to the younger woman. “Has he hurt you?”

Georgina opened her mouth, scowled, and closed it. “No,” she admitted reluctantly.

The girl was honest. Victoria approved. She leaned close. “He won’t. He’s pushy and bossy, but he won’t hurt you.”

“Maybe not me, but he almost killed Lachlan last night!”

Victoria looked up and her gaze followed Colby and Marty as they walked past and settled in the seats right behind where she and Georgina sat. Colby’s face was carefully neutral except for his black eyebrows which were in a straight line over his eyes. Victoria arched a brow at her cousin before turning back to Georgina.

“Did Lachlan try to touch you?” Victoria inquired. “Or stop you from coming?”

Miss Summer watched Ray slide into a seat behind Anna and Renee. Other men walked down the aisle and took seats. Victoria thought she wouldn’t answer and wished Marty was beside her instead of behind her. After a few moments, the other woman spoke in a low voice.

“Lachlan thought I’d be safer if I hid in Omaha.”

A quiet sound came from the seat behind them, not quite a growl, not quite a sigh. “You’ll be safer with the Pack,” said Colby.

Georgina half-turned her head. “I’ve known Lachlan for months. He and Ceara have taken care of me like I was their sister. I’ve known you for what? Two days?” The words might have been sarcastic, but her tone was calmly reasonable. “Think about it. Why would I believe you over them?”

“Because you’re my mate.”

Victoria waited for her to explode, but she didn’t. She merely turned her head to the front and sat quietly with her hands folded over the backpack in her lap. Victoria raised a brow.

“So,” she asked conversationally. “Why did you come?”

Georgina didn’t look at her. “Because I didn’t want Lachlan to die.”

“I wouldn’t have killed him!”

Colby sounded more beseeching than angry. Miss Summer didn’t turn. “I’ll stay with your mom and your sister for a little while, and I’ll say thank you for the hospitality, but I am not looking for a husband.”

Colby muttered, “You don’t have to look. I’m right here.”

His mate sniffed and ignored him. The train started off with a jerk and a hiss. A tiny niggle of worry that Victoria hadn’t even been aware of seeped out of her. The train moved sluggishly at first, then built up speed. They were heading home. Victoria leaned over Miss Summer to look out the window. Yes, they were leaving the station now. She began to sit back when she saw two figures running along the platform. They leaped onto the train.

A moment later the door at the head of the car opened and two men rushed in, panting. Jon and Tanner Allersen. Victoria supposed, sourly, they weren’t staying to defend Omaha after all. The two young men started toward the back of the car. Beside her, Colby’s mate turned her face sharply away. She probably didn’t like the Allersen boys either. If they had done something to annoy her, Colby wouldn’t be happy. Or maybe he would be, since it would give him an excuse to fight.

Brother Saul boomed over the noise of the train. “Sit down, you rascals.” He lowered his voice to what he probably thought was a quiet tone but even human ears could hear him just fine. “Did you get it done?”

“Yes, sir.”

After a long minute, Miss Summer turned to Victoria. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I am Georgina Summer.”

Victoria shook her hand and felt callouses on it. “Victoria Wo… I mean, Victoria Madison.” Her smile bloomed with wonder and pride. “I just got married last night.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks. My friends call me Vic.”

“My friends call me Gina. Are you friends with, um.” Her voice trailed off as she appeared to search for a name. “Cody?”

“Colby,” he growled.

Gina’s face was completely sober except for a tremble at the corner of her mouth. “Right. Colby.”

Victoria looked at her with surprise and some approval. That was a smile hiding on Gina’s face. She was teasing Colby. “Yeah, we’re cousins. Our dads are cousins, so that makes us second cousins.” Victoria took pity on Colby. “He’s a good guy. I mean, yeah, he’s pushy like I said, but he’s a good guy. You should try to get to know him while you’re staying at the den. Aunt Carla won’t let him bother you.”

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Gina said, obviously deciding to ignore the topic of Colby. “I guess I’ll try to get a little rest.”

She shifted her backpack against the window and laid her head on it. Victoria lifted a shoulder and looked over it at Colby, trying to convey that she had tried to sway his mate’s opinion in his favor. He nodded to her.

With no one to talk to and nothing to do, Victoria closed her eyes and let her head droop. The rocking of the train lulled her into a doze.

She wasn’t sure how much time had passed before she woke to the scream of breaks. She and Gina were thrown forward into the seats in front of them as the train shrieked to a halt. Some of the passengers tumbled into the aisle, others stumbled to their feet. Marty reached over the back of her seat for her shoulders.

“Are you okay?”

Victoria rubbed her forehead. “Yeah, sure. What’s going on? An accident?”

Before he could answer, a dozen men in gray-green uniforms poured into the train, all grim-faced, marching in perfectly synchronized, pounding steps. They lined the center aisle, every other man facing the opposite direction, rifles pointed at the passengers. One man with a thin line of red down his sleeve stood at the head of the car and spoke in the ringing tones of authority.

“Everyone will remain in his seat,” he barked. “In the name of President Gerald Todd, this train is now the property of Kansas-Missouri. You are our prisoners. Anyone who attempts to resist will be shot.”

 

Tuesday Teaser 5/2/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 17

It’s May! That means I should have the rough draft of Victoria’s Cat done, but I don’t. I am making progress, however.  I am three-quarters done, and I’m liking it. This week I am not giving you the rest of the love scene, which is from Victoria’s point of view, but we’ll pick up the morning after instead. Chapters 9 and 10 are going to be action packed, and Victoria is going to find herself in very tight spot. Nothing that she can’t handle, of course. With a little help from her new husband and another unexpected source. So, Enjoy!

 


Chapter Nine

 

Victoria was dead to the world when fingers poked her shoulder. She blinked bleary eyes open in the dark and muttered, “Wha? What?”

“It’s time to get up. You need to pack.”

“What?” she said again. Her mind swam through black layers of sleep, struggling to find reality. This was the little bedroom at the top of the limits, right? Yeah. She was naked! Memories hit her with a joyous thud. “Marty?”

“Yes. Lights coming on.”

All but blinded, Victoria squinted. “You’re already dressed,” she said, disappointed. “What time is it?”

“Quarter to six. We have less than an hour before we have to leave for the train station.”

“An hour!” She threw the covers back and, seeing Marty’s smile, remembered that she was naked. She stood up and stretched, finishing with a sly smile in his direction.

His smile was almost wolfish. Or was the cat-ish? His hands cupped her face to hold her for his kiss. It was a long, lingering kiss. Victoria melted into it.

“If only we had a little more time,” he said with regret.

She played with the lapels of his suit coat. It was the same one he’d worn to the mayor’s house yesterday. “Don’t we have time?”

“No.” He pushed her gently but firmly away from him. “Pack. Take a shower. A quick shower, and come downstairs for breakfast.”

His hair was damp, so he must have already showered. She wished he’d woken her. He must have seen her disappointment.

“There’s no rush, love.” He kissed her again. “We have lots of time ahead of us.”

“Like tonight?” she suggested.

“Like tonight.”

“Where will we be tonight?”

He looked startled. “I guess Eddie’s.”

“We’ll be going out to visit the Clan, right?”

“Right. They need to know what is going on here. But we won’t head out tonight.”

She pulled him down for one more kiss. “Good. I am looking forward to making love with you again as soon as possible.”

“Tonight.” He returned her kiss and stepped back, shaking himself. “I can’t wait. I’ve got to go get my stuff packed up. Meet you downstairs.”

Victoria had grown up moving camp every few weeks. She knew how to pack for travel, so it took her only five minutes to get her stuff together. Her shower was just a quick, and she was downstairs in the kitchen with her satchel less than fifteen minutes after Marty left. He wasn’t there yet, she noticed, but several women were already preparing breakfast. Aunt Renee, of course, was directing the women in her usual brisk manner. Kim Mitzell, face stony, obeyed the directions given. The Limit’s usual cook would probably be glad to see Renee go. Victoria felt a flash of pity for the woman.

Renee noticed Victoria and waved her in. Surprisingly, she didn’t put Victoria to work. “Sit down. Eggs will be ready in two minutes.” She lowered her voice. “No one else knows anything about you know what.”

Hawk came in then, so Victoria didn’t have to respond. Hawk meekly obeyed his mate and took a chair across Victoria. “Sleep well?” he asked blandly.

“Like a baby,” she replied in the exact same tone.

He chuckled. “Babies don’t always sleep very well.”

Marty came in, wearing a pair of jeans and a sweater instead of yesterday’s suit. He looked around the room with a slight frown. As he slid into the chair beside Victoria, he spoke quietly to Hawk.

“Ray wasn’t in our room, and neither were the Allersen boys. Have you seen them?”

Hawk shook his head.

“What about Miss Summer? Is she here?”

Hawk leaned back when Renee put a heaping plate in front of him. The smile he gave her was full of love, the comfortable kind of love that developed over years, steady and strong. “Thank you, love. Sit down and eat with us.”

“I believe I will.”

Marty waited until the four of them were sitting at the table before he returned to his original question. “Did Colby and Ray come back last night?”

Hawk paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. He lowered it slowly, frowning. “I don’t know. Rock went with them to find Colby’s mate. If they found her they were supposed to bring her here. Is she upstairs in the room across from yours, Victoria?”

Victoria shrugged. “I didn’t see her.”

“I didn’t hear her,” said Marty. “Do you think they’re still out there, looking for her? Or trying to convince her to come with them?”

Hawk stood up. “It should have taken that long. I’m going upstairs to check on her.” When Marty stood up, he waved him back. “No, you need to eat before the train comes. I can get a bite later if I need to. I’ll be right back.”

Marty’s unease spread to Victoria, and she found herself not enjoying the fried potatoes and scrambled eggs as much as she usually did. “Where are the other delegates? Aren’t they going on the train too?”

Renee had the answer to that. “Most of them have already left for the train station. Hawk decided it was better if we didn’t all go in one big group. If two or three people leave at a time it doesn’t look quite so obvious that there’s exodus out of Omaha this morning.”

“Good idea. Uncle Hawk is pretty smart.” Victoria inwardly squirmed. They were leaving Omaha in time to avoid whatever trouble President Todd had for the city. Was it right to run away? Actually, it wasn’t the leaving that made her feel like a coward, but the sneaking away in the early hours of the morning.

Marty noticed her discomfort. “What’s wrong, Vic?”

She lowered her voice to a tiny whisper. “Sneaking out of town and leaving everyone else here to face, uh, him doesn’t feel right.”

He took her fingers and gave them a gentle squeeze. “I know what you mean. But we have a responsibility to our friends and families back home.”

Uncle Hawk came back in and took his place at the table again. He glanced over at Marty and shook his head. “No, there’s no sign the girl has been here. I checked your room, and Ray’s scent isn’t fresh. The only fresh scent is yours. So I don’t think he was there last night.”

Marty stabbed a chunk of potato with a little bit too much force. “Dammit,” he muttered. “Ray had better not miss the train. McGrath said it won’t wait.”

“Maybe he’s already waiting for us there,” Victoria said, trying to sound encouraging.

But when they got to the train station, there was no sign of Ray, or Colby, or Rock. Miss Summer wasn’t there either. Two dozen of the delegates and their companions sat inside the station, talking quietly and looking tired.

Renee looked for an open spot on a bench, but they were all full. The nearest bench was occupied by Brother Saul. Hawk stepped over to him and growled almost politely, “Get up, and let the ladies sit.”

Brother Saul raised a pugnacious chin, but stood up and moved a few steps away. Renee gave him a brusque nod and sat down where he had been. Victoria joined her. She didn’t see Jon or Tanner in the station. Maybe they, like her brother and cousins, were staying in Omaha to help if it came to a fight.

Marty alternated between keeping anxious watch on the door and pretending to stroll casually around the station, too obviously not looking for his nephew. Victoria found herself glancing around the room as if Ray and the others might crawl out from under a bench at any moment. With the sun not yet up, the bare lightbulbs couldn’t quite illuminate the entire room, so maybe the boys would materialize out of a dark corner.

A sluggish, muted rumble came from outside, followed by the low hiss of machinery. The train was firing up its engines. According to the large clock on the wall, departure was only ten minutes away.

“The train is already here.” Renee nodded to the dark window, where the dark outline of the train could be seen. “Maybe Colby and Rock are already on it.”

“Maybe.” Hawk didn’t sound convinced. “It’s probably been here for a little while, so they might have gotten on already.”

Marty returned from one of his rounds of the train station. “They’re here, with Anna McGrath.”

The door opened and the mayor’s daughter came into the station escorted by Ray on one side and Rock on the other. Behind them, were Colby and Georgina Summer. Victoria could practically see the tension seep away from her husband. He pushed through a knot of men standing by the door and took the two suitcases Rock carried.

“I’m glad to see you, Miss Anna,” he said gently. He gave his nephew a nod. “You too.”

Colby gestured with the backpack he held. “Sit down, Miss Gina.”

Georgina Summer snatched the backpack away from him and held her back very straight as she strode past him to the bench. Many of the delegates nodded to her as she passed them, but luckily no one tried to touch her. By the set of Colby’s jaw, he was irritated by something. A stranger touching his mate would undoubtedly have set him off. Victoria made room on the bench for the younger woman, who sat with her denim-clad knees primly together, backpack on her lap, looking straight ahead without speaking. It looked like Colby wasn’t the only one irritated by something. Or someone.

Tuesday Teaser 4/25/17 Victoria’s Cat: Sexy Snip

Here we are, the last week of April, and I have to scrape the frost off my windshield. It is currently 42 degrees F (5 degrees C) and this morning it was 29 or so (-1 C) The lows will be in the upper 20s and the highs in the mid 40s this week. Now that’s what I call spring in North Dakota! Sigh. At least it’s not snowing like it is 60 miles north of here. Yes, I do like cold weather. However, in April, I like it to be a little warmer than this!

And speaking of warmer, the snip I have for you this week is the start of the wedding night scene. Marty is finally getting his heart’s desire, and Victoria is ready to play. It’s not super hot, but maybe not something that a kid should stumble across. If you are an adult, click the link below to read today’s snip. As usual, not edited. Enjoy!

 

Victoria’s Cat Excerpt 

Tuesday Teaser 4/18/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 16

Sorry, everyone. This week’s teaser is a bit short. 🙁   I’ve been busy trying to get Olivia’s Mate ready for paperback.  It can be a challenge to get everything formatted nicely, and the cover front and back just right. I have been rejected a couple of times now and I’m almost tearing out my hair.  But hopefully it will be accepted this time. Here is the cover. I think it looks great, but what do I know?   LOL  When I am finally successful, I will hold a contest to give away a couple of copies. So stayed tuned for the newsletter in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here is the snip for this week!


Hawk gave him a curled lip, not quite amused, not quite grumpy. “I will do that. You might have other plans for the evening.”

Marty looked down at her, eyes intense. “Oh, yes,” he purred. “I have plans.”

*

 

Marty held his new bride’s hand and didn’t plan to let go of her until they were finally behind closed doors. Thing is, that might be a little while. Of course, the rapid, low-voiced discussion McGrath was holding with Hawk and Quill was important, but Marty knew his responsibilities for tomorrow: to be at the train station with his wife and aunt-in-law before seven in the morning, and take charge of Miss Anna there. But that was still eleven hours away, and he had things to do in the next eleven hours. Glorious things. He drew a breath, leaned a shoulder against the dining room wall, and dug for patience. Victoria’s thumb gliding over the back of his hand did help him maintain his patience, but he gave her a slow smile, silently urging her to continue.

It was a huge relief when a knock on the door cut the conversation off. The voices of John Case and Charles Beauregard were heard in the foyer. They were here for the meeting to discuss the delegates’ questions. Those questions, Marty said to himself, are useless now. I think it will be a different topic under discussion tonight.

McGrath lifted his head, obviously having heard Beauregard and Case heading back to his office. “I’m sorry, gentlemen, my time is up.”

Hawk nodded and stuck out his hand for the mayor to shake. “We’ll talk to the delegates at the Limit about Todd, and the train. If you want us with you tomorrow when you meet Todd, send word to us. We’ll be at the Limit.”

McGrath shook Hawk’s hand and then reached his hand to Marty. “My daughter will be at the station tomorrow morning.”

With great reluctance, Marty let go of Victoria’s hand so he could shake with the mayor. “I’ll see to it that she gets safely to Kearney.”

It was a relief to get outside. The sun was down and the air had a definite chill. He wanted to be sure his wife was warm. Well, he would see to it that she was warm once they got back to the Limit. Warmer than warm, he amended. He would see to it that she was hot.

Colby and in stopped them at the bottom of the walk. “I’ve got to find Georgina,” he said in a hard, intense voice. “I want her on that train tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Ray.

Rock nodded. “Me, too.”

Eagle shifted. “Me —”

“No!”

Hawk, Quill, and Sand all said the word at the same time.

“No,” said Hawk again. “Rock, go ahead with Colby. I have no authority over Ray, but Eagle needs to stay with us.”

Eagle’s expression was morose. “I’m not sleeping in that room upstairs across the hall from the lovebirds tonight.” He shot a peeved glance between Marty and Victoria and Stone. “You’re on your own tonight, Stone. It’s bad enough hearing all that ruckus from mom and dad. I don’t want to hear it from my sister, too.”

A clear peel of laughter rose from Victoria. “You would think that at their age they would have slowed down by now,” she said with another giggle.

“Why?” Marty squeezed her hand and gave her a small, wicked smile. “Do you think we will have slowed down when we’re their age?”

Eagle grabbed fistfuls of his thick black hair and moaned. “Kill me now,” he muttered.

Hawk shook his head, not smiling. “Colby, Rock, get moving. You can bring Miss Georgina back to the Limit. She can sleep alone in the room across from the newlyweds. The rest of us had better get moving. We got a lot to do before morning.” He shot Marty a glance, and continue in a dry voice. “That is, most of us have things to do before morning that don’t include –”

“Uncle Hawk!” Victoria’s voice was primly shocked.

Mrs. Renee gave her husband a deeply disappointed look. “I might not see you for a long time. Don’t you think–”

“Yes,” Hawk barked. He coughed a little self-consciously. “But this isn’t the time to talk about it, love. Let’s go.”

Colby, Rock, and Ray peeled off to go in search of Georgina Summer, and the rest of them headed at a fast walk toward the Limit. Marty didn’t mind the fast pace. The sooner they got there, the sooner he could hurry his bride up the stairs to her bedroom.

A Wonky Wolf Clan Family Tree

Over on my Facebook page someone messaged me (hi, Janice!) asking if I had a family tree for the Wolf Clan. Well… Sorta. Kinda.  This is really out of date. I slapped this together when I started playing with Olivia’s story. So many children had been born in the next generation that I needed to keep track somehow. It’s probably pretty confusing to read. Someday I really ought to clean it up and really make it easy to read. But here it is for now. If you’re interested, you can click this link: FAMILY TREE

 

Tuesday Teaser 4/11/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 15

Whoo-hoo!! Two/thirds done with Victoria’s story, and the best is coming up!

I am further behind in the book than I had planned to be by this point. Moving has taken a big chunk of my writing time. I am about three quarters settled now. I still need to figure out how arrange all my craft supplies, and I need to find a safe place for my grandmother’s wedding dress. She made it herself (she was a very skilled seamstress) in 1919. Nearly a hundred years old! Those things might need to wait a few weeks until I finish this rough draft.

Here is the next bit in the story. 🙂


Chapter 8

 

“This is not how I imagined my wedding,” Victoria mused, watching Anna dash back into the dining room with the book her father had requested.

Marty squeezed her hand. “Do you want to wait?”

“Hell, no.”

Her soon to be husband flashed her a devastating smile. “Good, because I don’t want to wait either.”

Eagle had a pained expression on his face. “How am I going to explain this to dad?”

“You won’t have to,” Victoria assured him. “I will explain.”

We will explain,” Marty amended.

The mayor interrupted. “Let’s get started. Cayla and Anna, beside me. Bride and groom in front of me. Everyone else, behind the bride and groom.”

They all scrambled to take their places, moving chairs to make make room for themselves at one side of the table. Victoria resisted the urge to pinch herself. Her uncles and cousins were being oddly complaisant. She wasn’t dreaming, was she? Captain Erickson stayed by the door with an impassive face that probably hid impatience. No, this wasn’t a dream. She was full of joy, but the mayor and the captain were grim. The threat to Omaha was real. Maybe she shouldn’t be so happy when Nebraska was under such a threat. Marty took her hand and squeezed it. But she was happy. Just the warmth of Marty’s hand around hers made her happiness grow.

The mayor opened his book and ran his finger down the page to find his place. He looked up from his book to give them an encouraging smile. “This is the short ceremony. Ready?”

Marty pulled her hand through the crook of his arm and nodded.

“Alrighty, then.” The mayor cleared his voice and his tone became formal. “We are gathered together here today to witness this man and this woman join their lives as one in the bonds of marriage. Um, I guess we’ll skip that next part.” He paused, running his finger little further down the page in his book. “Okay, here we go. Do you, Martin Madison, take this woman to be your wife? Will you love her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health? Do you promise to be true to her, loving only her as long as she lives?”

Marty’s voice was strong. “I do.”

“Do you, Victoria Wolfe, take this man to be your husband? Will you love him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health? Do you promise to be true to him, loving only him as long as he lives?”

“I do.” Her voice cracked so she cleared her throat and spoke more loudly. “I do!”

The mayor snapped his book closed. “I pronounce you man and wife.” He jabbed a finger at the small rectangle of paper on the table. “All we need to do is sign our names, and it’s legal.”

The marriage certificate had no fancy borders or pretty illustrations, but it had a place for their names and the date, and it said that they were married. That was all Victoria cared about. She signed her name and waited as Marty bent to sign his.

Rock nodded. “That was the quickest marriage ceremony I ever heard,” he said approvingly.

Anna looked a little disappointed. “Dad, you didn’t tell him to kiss the bride.”

Victoria had noticed that too. The mayor signed his name at the bottom of the certificate with a flourish. “No time for that now,” he said. “We—”

He broke off when at the sound of running feet in the hallway outside. Captain Erickson put a hand inside his jacket and pulled out a revolver. The person who burst into the dining room was a man in his late teens. He clutched a white envelope in his hand. He passed it over to Captain Erickson and bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to suck in air.

“A letter from President Todd,” he panted.

Rye McGrath stuck out a long arm and snatched the envelope. “Is he here already?” he demanded.

“No, sir. This came from a messenger riding a motorized bicycle. The president and his people are still more than an hour away.”

McGrath tore it open and read. Everyone in the room watched him with varying degrees of anxiety. After what seemed like a long time, the mayor looked around.

“President Todd would like to meet with me and members of the city council tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.” His mouth curled in a mirthless smile. “He apologizes for the short notice. He meant to send a letter before he left Kansas City, but he forgot.”

Another man in the uniform of the City Guard entered the dining room. It’s getting crowded in here, Victoria thought, moving a little closer to Marty to make room for the mayor to step past her.

“Lieutenant,” he said shortly. “Report.”

The lieutenant saluted smartly. “We cabled the train as you requested. It will arrive a little past five tomorrow morning. Dennis Black, the engineer, wants to know if he can continue on his eastern route.”

A small smile, which looked genuinely pleased, quirked McGrath’s lips. “No. Once it’s here, have the train get itself turned around and ready to head back west. I want it ready to leave Omaha by seven tomorrow morning.”

He turned to the man who had brought Todd’s message. “Don’t talk about this to anyone. Dean, arrange for the representatives and their parties notified quietly about the situation and inform them that the train will be leaving Omaha for the west at seven tomorrow morning. If they wish to be on it, they better get to the station on time. It won’t wait for them.”

Tears shimmered in Anna’s brown eyes. She blinked rapidly, but when her father turned to her they fell, rolling in fat drops down her cheeks. McGrath’s face softened slightly and his voice went gentle.

“Anna, you will need to get packed. The train will probably be very full, so only take what you need. I’m sure the Wolfes will provide you with anything you can’t bring with you.”

Renee gave the girl a bracing smile. “We will. Have you ever thought of becoming a pastry chef?”

Anna’s face contorted with tears even though she obviously tried to control herself. “Daddy,” she began.

Her mother put an arm around her. “You’re not leaving this second. Let’s go upstairs and get started packing.”

The room seemed slightly less congested after they left. The mayor watched his wife and daughter leave with a strained look on his face. The expression vanished immediately as he faced Marty.

“She’ll be at the train station well before seven. I’m putting her in your hands for the journey.”

“I promise to take good care of her. She will be delivered safely to the Plane Women’s House. You have my word of honor.”

The mayor nodded. “Okay, then. Will you notify the representatives at the Limit? Keep it quiet. I don’t want a panic in Omaha.”

“I will,” Marty said.

Hawk gave him a curled lip. “I will do that. You might have other plans for the evening.”

Marty looked down at her, eyes intense. “Oh, yes,” he purred. “I have plans.”

 

 

Tuesday Teaser 4/4/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 14

Last night I unpacked the last box. yay!!!! Does that mean my move is finished? Nope. That means I have a whole bunch of stuff stacked around the apartment that I need to find places for, and a bunch of flattened boxes to give away to a friend who is moving in a few weeks or take down to the dumpster. Moving is such a lot of work! But I’m getting closer to being done.

All during this move I’ve done very little –in fact, NO– writing. This next snip from Victoria’s Cat is pretty short. I’m starting with a bit from last week, but the last part is newly written. So new that I haven’t even read it. Please excuse the errors. *blush*


Quill and Stone took turns telling about the various members of the clan, recent births and deaths, and marriages. Victoria ate and listened. She didn’t know how well acquainted Mayor McGrath was with her kinsfolk, but he listened with every evidence of interest. At the foot of the table, Mrs. McGrath listened with equal interest. She knew Sand’s mate, Amanda, because they had worked together for Uncle Sky at the Limit.

Marty leaned a little closer. “I love watching you eat,” he murmured.

Victoria paused in spearing a potato. Her plate was loaded with meatloaf and potatoes drenched in gravy, with a small mountain of green beans on the side. A glance around the table told her that the McGraths’ plates were not nearly so full. “Am I eating too much?” she whispered.

“Oh, no.” His voice dropped to a purr. “You should eat as much as you need to keep that gorgeous figure of yours nice and …”

He trailed off, apparently having noticed her brother and cousins glaring daggers at him. He cleared his throat and went back to eating. Victoria glared back at her brother and cousins. Those killjoys need a poke in the eye. Dammit, just when Martin was starting to say something interesting. She moved her leg to press her thigh against his and gave Eagle a sweet smile.

She might have been bored with all the reminisces between the older people except that Marty had obviously decided not to bow down to her brother and cousins. He leaned a little closer again.

“Have you seen the house that I am building in the mayor’s compound back home?” he asked.

She thought about Eddie Madison’s home in Kearney, a stately mansion built in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Several blocks of Kearney were walled in around the mansion to form a private compound. She had never been inside the wall. “No, I didn’t know you’re building a house.”

“I am.” He smiled an intimate, quiet smile. “I started it last fall after I met you.”

Warmth fluttered in her chest.

“We’ve torn down one of the old buildings to make room. I plan three bedrooms right now, but there’s space to add on.” He cleared his throat. “To make room for more children.”

Eagle looked like he would crack teeth if he didn’t stop clenching them. Victoria gave her brother another bland smile. She turned her attention back to Marty. “When do you think it will be finished?”

She didn’t think Marty could be any more handsome than he was right then. “That depends on you, Miss Wolfe.”

He was doing that purring thing again with his voice, and Victoria had a stray thought. Would he have that same rasp in his voice when he talked to her in bed? She had to swallow to find her voice. “Oh?”

His smile said he knew how he was affecting her. “Say the word and I’ll send a message home to tell Eddie that it has to be done now. We can honeymoon here in Omaha for a few weeks until it’s done, and then we’ll go home where I’ll carry over the threshold and—”

A man rushed into the dining room, coat unbuttoned and blond hair standing straight up. He stopped in the dining room doorway, and cast a quick glance at them sitting around the table. It was the captain of the City Guard. “Rye,” he said curtly. “I need a minute. Right now.”

The smile left the mayor’s face. “My office.”

Captain Erickson disappeared.

The mayor stood up. “Please excuse me for a few minutes.”

There was silence for a long moment after the mayor left. Mrs. McGrath cleared her throat.

“I hope you have room for dessert,” she said brightly. “We have brownies and vanilla ice cream.” She nodded at her daughter. “Anna, Nick, bring it in.”

Victoria exchanged a glance with Marty. Maybe the mayor was called away from supper all the time, but Mrs. McGrath seemed a little too cheery, as if she were trying to hide worry.

“Brownies,” Quill said happily. “I love chocolate.”

The scent of warm chocolate entered the dining room before Nicholas and Anna. It was a mouth-watering scent almost delicious enough to distract Victoria. Anna was going to be a beauty one day, and she had more social graces than Victoria ever would have. Even with her gawky arms and legs she managed to serve everyone gracefully.

“Very nicely done,” Mrs. McGrath told her daughter.

The girl’s round cheeks glowed with a pleased blush.

Renee surveyed her plate of brownie topped with a perfect sphere of vanilla ice cream before taking a bite of brownie. “Heavenly,” she announced. “A perfect blend of chocolate and vanilla.”

Anna’s blush grew brighter. Her mother gave her a fond smile. “Anna made the brownies.”

Renee looked surprised. “They are very, very good.”

Mayor McGrath came back in, followed by Captain Erickson. Both of their faces were grave. The mayor stopped beside his wife at the foot of the table and looked at each one of them.

“This is unexpected.,” he said. “President Todd is sixty miles from Omaha, and he brought his army with him.”

Mrs. McGrath grabbed his hand. Her beautiful face remained calm, but her knuckles shone white. The mayor glanced down at this wife, but didn’t speak. Victoria was alarmed by the way Marty stiffened beside her

“How long till they get here?” he asked calmly.

The mayor lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Maybe two hours to get to the river. They might camp on the other side of the river tonight or they might push through.”

“What does he want?” Hawk glanced quickly at his mate, trouble in his eyes.

Now the other shoulder rose in a shrug and the mayor shook his head. “I don’t know. We were supposed to have until the middle of the month to get an answer to him about whether or not we would accept his alliance.”

Quill looked grim. “How likely is it that this is a peaceful visit?”

“He brought his army with him. That doesn’t strike me as particularly peaceable.” McGrath looked down at his wife again, and then over at Hawk. “I want my wife and daughter safe. Will you take them back to Kearney with you?”

No,” said Mrs. McGrath instantly. “I’m not leaving you.”

“Cayla,” the mayor began.

“No,” she said again, more forcefully. “And I know you want me safe, Rye, but not all the women of Omaha have a way to leave. I will not run away and leave them.”

Worry twisted the mayor’s face as he looked at his wife. And after a long moment of silence he nodded and turned his attention back to Hawk. “My guess is Todd will do one of two things. He’ll attack tonight hoping to take us by surprise, or he will wait until morning and try to bargain with us.”

“Why would he attack and risk casualties to his own army if he can the alliance he wants?” Stone tapped his fingers on the table, frowning in thought. “Maybe he brought his army to intimidate you into agreeing to the alliance.”

Hawk stood up. “And he’s coming now, while all the representatives of all of cities and settlements in the region are here in Omaha. If he takes all the leaders hostage, he won’t have to attack the cities to control them.”

Dean Erikson nodded grimly. “That’s my take. We should notify the representatives immediately so they can evacuate back to their homes.”

Rock had an eager look on his face. “We should stay. If there’s going to be a fight, you can use us.”

Eagle and Colby nodded vehemently. “If Omaha is conquered, it’s only a matter of time before Todd heads up our way,” Eagle pointed out. “Better to stop him here.”

“Yeah,” Colby agreed.

“I could use your help.” The mayor looked tempted. “No, you should be sure Miss Victoria and Mrs. Renee get home safely. I wouldn’t trust their safety to Todd. I’ve heard stories of what he does with women.”

Colby whispered, “Georgina.”

Eagle looked torn, glancing between Victoria and Renee. “Hawk can escort them home.”

Hawk shook his head. “I am older and more experienced. I should stay. Quill, you will see to our women.”

“Rye Thomas saved my mate once. I will stand here with him. Stone?”

Stone shook his head. “We all stay or we all go.”

“But Renee and Victoria must go home,” Hawk decreed.

“Sand, you could take them,” Quill suggested.

The mayor raised hand. “Time is short, gentlemen.”

Marty’s chair squeaked as he stood up. “I will take the ladies back to Kearney.”

Eagle’s thick eyebrows dove down over his nose. “You’re not kin.”

“Not yet.” Marty flashed a confident smile around the table before turning to Mayor McGrath. “Marry me to Victoria. If I’m her husband, I can be her escort.”

Victoria’s heart leapt in her chest. It was a sign of just how much Eagle wanted to stay for the possible fight that he didn’t protest immediately. He glanced at Hawk with his lips pressed tightly together. Hawk shook his head minutely.

Hawk nodded at the mayor. “Do the ceremony quick.”

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