Tuesday Teaser 10/13 and 10/20: Olivia’s Mate
My apologies for the delay in the Tuesday Teasers. The server was down for an upgrade that took longer than expected. No one’s fault, just one of those things. But we’re up again now, and to celebrate I’m going to give away a paperback copy of Tales of the Wolf Clan over the weekend. I’ll post about it again on Friday, with instructions about how to enter, so stay tuned.
Since it’s been so long, I’m giving you a double helping of Olivia and Kit! Enjoy!
Olivia gripped the edge the table so hard her fingers hurt. She swallowed. “That was quite a speech, Kit.”
“I practiced parts of it,” he confessed. “But that doesn’t make it less true.”
She stared at him. Victoria was right. It took guts for him to come all this way and face off against her menfolk. “Okay.” It was hardly more than a whisper, so she cleared her throat to speak louder. “You can court me. We’ll see how it goes.”
She wasn’t surprised to hear the growls coming from the men. “This is my choice,” she told them with a fierce tilt of her chin. “I won’t be stupid. I won’t be alone with him. But he deserves a chance to prove himself to me.”
Colby broke from his position against the wall to loom threateningly over Kit. “If he puts one toe over the line I’ll kill him.”
Kit rose to his feet and stared Colby dead in the eye. “That’s fair. I won’t do anything to hurt Olivia. I promise I want to do this right. I want her to be safe and happy, just like you do.”
The sound of derisive disgust came from more of the men than just Colby, but no one said anything. After a minute Uncle Des waved Colby back. He laid a heavy hand on Kit’s shoulder and it looked like he squeezed little more than necessary to get his attention. Olivia saw Kit’s slight flinch.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “you can come here and have lunch. 11:30. Don’t be late.”
Kit looked at Des and nodded. Olivia noticed that Kit was an inch or so taller than the Alpha, but more slender. He might be slender, but he hid great strength in his lithe body. She remembered him carrying her for hours at a run. She also remembered how angry and frightened she had been then. Was she still frightened? No, she was safe here with all the men of the Packs on hand.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Kit,” she said, smiling.
He smiled back. “I’m looking forward to it.”
He looked like a normal young man, the type she might meet at one of Aunt Carla’s concerts, all dressed up for the event. Just how deep did the civilization he’d acquired at his brother’s hands go? As a couple of the men herded him out she found herself forward to seeing him again.
Kit walked away from the house his mate lived in, feeling the eyes of at least two of her kin on him. Joy bubbled fiercely inside him. She’d agreed to his courtship. He wanted to lift his head and scream his elation. What did a civilized man do when he was this excited? He glanced up at the stars and began to count them to control his urge to yowl. The wolves ghosting behind him wouldn’t like him to scream his victory here in the middle of this town.
He never saw the wolves, but he was sure they followed him all the way to the place he was staying at. John Hudson, a townsman with a house on a large lot, had given him a bed in a sort of bunkhouse behind his house for a small amount of money. Kit walked past the house and entered the bunkhouse. It held six beds that Hudson rented out to men passing through Kearney. It wasn’t fancy. There was no electricity or running water, but for a man who had lived in caves until recently, it was perfectly acceptable shelter. The bed was clean and there was a chest at the foot of the bed where he could keep his few belongings. At the moment, Kit was the only one staying there.
He could see well enough in the dark, so he didn’t bother to light the lamp to open the chest at the foot of his bed. It had a lock, which was one of the things about civilization he hated. Why should anyone have to lock their possessions away? To keep other civilized people from stealing them? But he used the lock Hudson gave him because he had only a little money and couldn’t afford to have someone take it. He crouched now and carefully counted the coins and snips of gold. Justin had given him all he and Teresa could afford, but it wouldn’t last long. He might have to find work to earn more. How long would it take to court Olivia and gain her consent to their mating? He tucked the bag of money back into the chest.
He carefully took off the suit Kathy had made for him. He stroked the soft fabric, enjoying the plushness of it. Olivia had liked it. He remembered her quick expression of pleasure when she’d first seen him. She had instantly wiped it away, but he’d seen it, and he treasured it. As he neatly folded the suit coat and trousers into the chest, he folded the image of Olivia’s pleasure into the little box in his mind, where he kept all his best memories. He’s opened it often in the past year and a half, taking out precious memories of Olivia to comfort himself with when he struggled and failed to comprehend civilized behavior. The lessons Justin and Kathy had drummed into him were paying off. Olivia had smiled at him. Her male kin hadn’t tried to hurt him.
No, it was the others who had hurt him, those strange cats. They had followed him from the store this afternoon and dragged him into a snow-filled alley. He lifted a hand to his shoulder, feeling the bruises the cat named Marty had left. Although the two seemed to be the same age, Marty was clearly more dominant. Ray was aggressive, but followed the other’s lead.
“Who are you?” Marty demanded, a hand around Kit’s throat slamming him into the brick wall at his back.
“I’m Kit. I’m only here to find Olivia Stensrud. I don’t want your territory. I didn’t know there was a pride here.”
The two men exchanged a glance. Ray growled and Marty leaned close, eyes slitted. Had he been in his cat form his tail would have been lashing from side to side. “Where’s your pride?”
Kit hadn’t seen them in a year and a half. “New Mexico. Maybe Arizona. We winter down south and come north to Colorado in the summer. They’re not here. Just me.”
“Why are you here?” Ray bared his teeth. “What do you want?”
“My mate,” Kit answered simply. “Olivia Stensrud is my mate. I’ve come to court her.”
Marty and Ray exchanged another look. Marty released his throat with a chuff. “My mother will want to meet you. Come with us.”
They didn’t give him a choice. Marty’s hand clamped so tightly over his shoulder Kit could feel fingers pressing on bone. He didn’t struggle though. Of course the queen of this pride would need to give her consent to him being in her territory. How many cats did she rule over? And why hadn’t his pride ever heard of them? They walked to a part of town Kit hadn’t been to yet. It was surrounded by a stone wall guarded by armed men. They weren’t cats, though. They were let in and they walked to a grand house. It was a fit home for a queen. They went into a bedroom in the back of the house next to the kitchen.
When he saw the queen he was shocked. There was still fire in her faded blue eyes, but her body, lying in a bed loaded with blankets, was emaciated and weak. It was hard to tell her age, but if Marty were her son, she couldn’t be seventy yet. Marty bent over her, calling her Mom and kissing her cheek. He whispered in her ear so low that Kit couldn’t hear. The queen nodded a few times and beckoned to Ray to come closer. He called her Grandma. Finally the men straightened and the queen pointed at him.
“You, come here. Tell me about yourself.”
He did, emphasizing that he was only here to court Olivia. She asked more questions about his pride, and it seemed as if she didn’t know how a pride worked. How could that be? He wanted to ask questions too, like how many cats were in her pride and where were the other queens. But he didn’t want to be disrespectful. In only a short time her eyes lost their fire and she fell asleep. Kit stared at her and then looked at the other men.
Marty led him out of the queen’s bedroom to the kitchen. Another man was there, older than Ray and Marty, but resembling both of them. He froze for a split second when he saw Kit, then his eyes shimmered cat gold.
Marty jerked a thumb. “Eddie, meet Kit. Kit, meet Eddie, my brother and the Mayor of Kearney. Kit is visiting while he tries to woo Olivia Stensrud. Mom is okay with him staying in town.”
Eddie relaxed a little. He even offered his hand in the human mode of greeting. “Nice to meet you. Sorry I have to run, but Jasper Packard’s mare is foaling. Look after him, Mart.”
That had been Kit’s introduction to the Kearney Pride. Marty and Ray had both walked with him back to Hudson’s house. They weren’t as friendly as Eddie, but other than warning him to watch himself, they made no threats. There was nothing now to prevent his courtship.
He lay on the narrow bed and pulled the sheet up to his waist. Tomorrow he would see Olivia again. He would begin his formal courtship.
Olivia checked the small round table one more time to be sure the tablecloth hung evenly. The usual beige tablecloth had been replaced with one of bright, Christmas red. She was surprised that uncle Des was allowing her and Kit to sit alone for their lunch date. Well, not really alone since there were a dozen other people already eating lunch in the restaurant. But at least they would be at the same table, and unlike last night, the table was small, so they could have at least the illusion of privacy. She stepped back and jumped when she bumped into somebody. Something prickly poked her shoulder.
“Hey.” Victoria’s voice was a growl. “Look what you did.”
Olivia brushed at her shoulder and admired the small arrangement of pine boughs and cinnamon sticks tied with cheerful red ribbon. One of the pine twigs was broken. “Sorry.”
Victoria carefully pulled the broken piece free and set the arrangements in the center of the small table. She stepped back, head tilted to the side to check the placement, and made a minute adjustment. “There. Festive, don’t you think?”
“It’s nice,” Olivia agreed. She glanced around the restaurant, noting that all the tables had cloths of red or green, but not centerpieces. “Did you make enough for all the tables to have an arrangement?”
Her cousin shot teasing look over her shoulder. “Nope. Just the one, for our special guest.” She put extra emphasis on the word ‘special’. “We want everything to be perfect for him, don’t we?”
Yes, she did. She glanced around the restaurant, noting Hawk was the only man of the Pack in the dining room, although she was sure some of her younger cousins were around, ready to bus tables and wash dishes. She was sure they would all be keeping an eye on this little table.
Victoria’s gaze shifted toward the entry and a slow smile curved her lips. “He is such a pretty boy.”
Olivia whirled around and saw Kit walking behind Mrs. O’Connor, the hostess. His face was pretty, but his wide shoulders and whipcord physique were all man. Mrs. O’Connor waved toward her and turned back to the hostess desk up front.
Victoria murmured, “Have fun.” Then she disappeared into the kitchen.
Olivia started forward to welcome Kit. She was relieved to see he was casually dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. She had debated what to wear today. This was their first date, and last night he had dressed so nicely. She didn’t want to be under dressed. After wrestling with it, she had settled for wearing her usual jeans and a sweater.
“Good morning!” he said eagerly. The tip of his nose was red. He might be cold from the December air, but his smile was warm.
“Hi.” She waved at the table. “We’re sitting here.”
Kit stepped forward and eased a chair out, looking at her expectantly. It took her a minute, but she realized he was waiting to seat her. The heat of a blush surged into her cheeks. She gathered her composure and stepped in front of the chair. As she sat, he scooted the chair forward. It was as smooth and graceful as if they had done it a dozen times. When she looked up, she saw Aunt Renee in the kitchen door, nodding approval.
Kit sat across from her. The table was so small that with the centerpiece there would barely be room for their plates. It was strangely intimate. He leaned forward slightly to speak in a low voice.
“I dreamt of you last night,” he told her.
In anyone else that might have sounded flirtatious, but Kit was matter-of-fact.
“Yeah. It was a good dream. We were old and gray, with grandchildren—”
He broke off when Marissa came to their table and set a cup in front of each of them and poured hot, fragrant coffee into the cups. Marissa was Red Wing’s mate, a comfortably plump woman with smile lines on her pretty face.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully. “How would you like your steaks done?”
Olivia stared. “Steak? I thought today’s lunch was Boston Baked Beans with a slice of ham, or a hamburger and fries.”
“For everyone else, that’s right.”
Kit patted his front pocket with a wrinkle between his brows. “Steak costs more, doesn’t it? I’m not sure I can afford steak.”
Marissa waved that away. “It’s on the house. Renee likes you, young man.”
Olivia’s mouth dropped open. “She does?”
“Yep, and she doesn’t like many people enough to offer them a free steak. So how would you like it done?”
“Medium rare for me,” Olivia said and looked at Kit.
He still had that wrinkle between his brows. “But a man is supposed to buy his date’s meal,” he protested.
Marissa gave him a warm smile. “If you try to pay for this, Renee will be unhappy. You don’t want to make Renee unhappy. If Renee is unhappy, her mate is unhappy, and her sons are unhappy. An unhappy Hawk is not a good thing. Believe me.”
Kit smiled, the line smoothing from his face. “Okay. I’d like my steak rare, please.”
Marissa went to the kitchen and returned immediately with a basket of dinner rolls and a small bowl of butter. “There you go. Your steaks will be out before long.”
Kit buttered a roll and handed it to Olivia before buttering one for himself. “So, Renee is mean?”
“Oh, no. She’s just a really good cook, and she expects people to appreciate her cooking.” Olivia took a bite of the roll and almost moaned. Fresh out of the oven, with butter melting over the edges, the roll was just a preview of the excellent lunch to come. “Aunt Renee is a wonderful person, but she isn’t the warm, fuzzy type. But if she likes you, then Uncle Hawk will like you. He’s the pack Beta, so his opinion carries a lot of weight.”
“That’s good then.” Kit leaned over the table. “But the most important thing to me is whether you like me.”
That stupid blush was back, but she gazed at him steadily. “That’s what we’re going to find out, right? That’s why we’re courting.”
He nodded with a slow smile. “Yeah. Do you like living here? You used to live on a ranch out west.”
“I like it well enough. My family lives on the ranch, but we travel a couple of times a year to visit other family. This isn’t a new place for me.”
“But you’ve been here a long time, not just a visit. Is it because of me?”
Olivia forced a bite of bread down, and picked up her coffee to drink. She wouldn’t lie to him. “My mom and dad thought it would be good for me to be away from the ranch for a while.”
“They thought I would try to take you again.”
He stared out the window on the far side of the room, showing her his perfect profile set in melancholy lines. “I wouldn’t have. I watched you and your family walk away from me on that mountain and I realized then that I had done wrong by stealing you. That’s when I decided to go to Justin and have him and his mate teach me how to behave.”
He had seated her like a perfect gentleman. He kept his elbows off the table and ate his roll in small, controlled bites. Which was more than most of the men in the Pack did. “You learned a lot.”
He flashed a smile at her. “Before I went to them I searched for you. Not to take you, but just to see you from a distance. I found your home, but I figured out you weren’t there. I heard your brothers talking about you, though. That’s how I learned you were in Kearney. I’m glad you are still here.”
She had missed the ranch, and being with her family, bitterly, but now she was glad she was here. “Did you like being with Justin? Was it hard to be away from your family?”
“Sometimes it was hard.” He looked down at the roll he crumbled. “I can’t go back to the pride. Tricia and Maria forbade it.”
The roll she’s so enjoyed turned to lead in her stomach. “You’ve been banished?”
He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Justin and his mate said I was always welcome. If you accept me, we will need to discuss where we will live.”
The kitchen door swung open and Marissa appeared carrying a tray. She set down plates loaded with steaks and baked potatoes and long green beans. “Here you go,” she said cheerfully. “Need more bread? Butter?”
Olivia inhaled the scent of perfectly seasoned and grilled beef. “I’m good. This is terrific. Please tell Renee thank you.”
Kit nodded enthusiastically and Marissa laughed. “Save room for dessert. We have apple pie and cinnamon vanilla ice cream.”
After she left Kit stared at Olivia so intensely that she shivered. “What?”
A faint wash of red swept into his face. “I know what I’d like for dessert,” he murmured. “But that’s not civilized.”