Tuesday Teaser 6/27/17 Victoria’s Cat Part 24
Good news! Victoria’s Cat is off to the editor!
Depending on how extensive the edits are, the book will be ready to release on July 11 as planned. I will bust my butt to make sure they are done in time for the promised release date.
Usually when I finish a book, I feel like it is a good story. Not every time. There have been a couple that I wasn’t happy with, and there have some that I was okay with, and then there are a couple that I thought were outstanding. I think Victoria and Marty’s story is outstanding. Is that wrong to say? I kind of love Marty. He’s quiet and laid back. And loud mouthed Victoria is perfect for him. They are pretty awesome together.
This isn’t quite the end of the book. I’ll have one more teaser on the 4th of July. Wait until you see what Wolf’s Shadow does to Marty! 🙂
Marty? Victoria hid her elation behind a confused expression. “Cats? You mean kitty cats?”
“I mean lions,” the general snapped. “Don’t play dumb. And don’t pretend you’re sweet and helpless either. I saw what you did to Mott. Now answer the question.”
“I don’t know anything about any cats.” She turned the tables and gestured to the bread. “What happened? Is this all the food we get?”
“You’re lucky to get that much, after the destruction your friends and family caused.” He leaned forward and glared at her. “You’re lucky to be alive. The president wanted to execute you three. His temper sometimes gets the better of him. Fortunately for you, cooler heads prevailed.”
Victoria returned the glare. “Does he have these little tantrums often?”
“Be careful,” he warned softly. “He could still have you given to the men. Think about it before you say anything else.”
Victoria was done minding her mouth. “Today my husband and my family burned your supplies. If anything else happens to me, they will burn a lot more. Thank about that.”
He shoved his chair back. “Eat your bread and get your bags together. We’re leaving in ten minutes.”
Renee stood up too. “Leaving?”
“Back to the bridge for a prisoner exchange. Be ready.”
With that he turned sharply to the door and left. Renee let out a long, shaky breath. “Thank God.”
“We’re going home?” Anna asked in a hopeful voice.
“I think so,” said Renee. “Here, let’s divide the bread and eat quick.”
When they jumped down from the truck at the bridge, sunset was painting the clouds gold and rose. Victoria squinted to try to see the other end of the bridge, but between the distance and the glare of the sun, she could only make out some indistinct forms. On this side of the bridge were only a dozen people, among them General Atwater, President Todd, and Major Ellis. President Todd’s face was oddly tranquil as he greeted them. Perfectly groomed and smiling, he did not look like the man who had rolled around on the grass having a tantrum.
“Ladies, I’m so sorry your visit is being cut short like this,” he said warmly. “It would be lovely to see you again sometime.” His smile was polite, with no sign of mockery or hint of threat, as if he were a normal host saying goodbye to guests at the end of a fun visit.
Victoria exchanged a glance with Renee. Either he was a good actor or flat out crazy. “Thank you.”
General Atwater took over. “In a few minutes, when the signal is given, you will walk slowly across the bridge. The president’s ladies will do the same. Don’t stop. Don’t talk to the other women when you pass them. Just walk slowly. We’ll stay on our side, and your men will stay on their side. Once you are across the bridge, each group will depart immediately.”
The pretty major sidled over to them. “We’re leaving Omaha for now,” he said. The sweet smile didn’t reach his eyes, which were stormy with rage. “But you haven’t seen the last of us. We will destroy you. Those bags?” He nodded at the suitcases their escort had handed down from the truck. “When we’re done with you, everything your entire tribe has left won’t fill even one of those bags.”
Victoria eyed his smile and curled her fist, but Renee jabbed an elbow into her side. Victoria turned her back on him. It wasn’t as satisfying as punching his teeth in.
“It’s time,” Atwater said. “Start walking.”
Victoria picked up her suitcase. “Good thing we didn’t pack everything when we left Omaha.”
Renee, carrying her bag, stepped onto the bridge. “Doesn’t matter. Right now, I would gladly drag everything I own across this bridge without batting an eye. Come on, Anna.”
They walked slowly, as instructed, and with each step Victoria’s heart pounded faster. She could see the gaggle of Todd’s women coming closer. They too were walking slowly. Gina’s mom and Fourth Mrs. Todd were in front, followed by Suzanne and Gina, and Todd’s sister and her friend brought up the rear. Victoria took a breath. Gina shouldn’t be going back to Todd. Words of angry protest leaped into her throat. But she couldn’t say anything. As the two groups drew closer, Victoria saw that Gina’s eyes were bright with tears. Victoria opened her mouth. Gina gave a tiny shake of her head. They passed each other in silence. Victoria clenched the handle of her suitcase so tightly it hurt, but she kept her mouth closed and looked resolutely to the end of the bridge.
The forms there were clearer now. That tall, broad frame must be Eagle. Her brother was here. That was Mayor McGrath, and next to him was Hawk. Beside her, Renee was shaking. Anna’s breathing was almost sobs. Poor kid had cried a lot in the past two days, and Victoria didn’t blame her. Her own breath caught when she saw the setting sun gleam on golden hair. Marty? No, the hair was short, not wavy locks falling to broad shoulders. But those shoulders had a familiar set… She gasped.
“Marty,” she whispered.
It was him. As they came closer, she recognized him, but his face was distorted by horrific bruising. His hair was clipped close to his head to make way for a bandage that covered him from one side of his forehead, over his ear, to the back of his head. His jacket was open to show one arm in a sling. He was injured but alive. Victoria grabbed hold of Renee’s arm for support. The joy and relief made her head swim.
It was agonizing to keep her pace slow and steady. The end of the bridge seemed miles away. The need to touch Marty was overwhelming. Somehow, even though she was shaking, Renee kept their pace steady. She must want to throw herself into Hawk’s arms as much as Victoria wanted to do the same with Marty. But could she throw herself at him? He was hurt. His shirt didn’t fit right, as if he was wearing something thick under it, like bulky bandages. He was leaning on another blond man. Was that his brother, Eddie Madison? What was Mayor Madison doing here in Omaha? She scanned the men waiting at the end of the bridge and identified several cousins who hadn’t come to Omaha with the representatives. They were naked, so they must have come in wolf form and changed back to men. But she didn’t see Colby or Ray.
The questions swirling around her brain could wait a few minutes. Only a couple of yards to go. Anna broke away from Renee’s arm and rushed at her father. Renee’s attention was fixed firmly on Hawk, who stared back at her with a face so expressionless that Victoria knew he was hiding strong emotion. Renee ran the last few steps off the bridge to Hawk. Her mate folded her in his arms, face still blank, but Victoria saw the black of his eyes gleam with moisture.
Victoria looked away from them to Marty. His face was as white as the bandage as he straightened up from his brother’s support. He swayed and Eddie grabbed him again. Victoria took three long strides to stand inches away from him. Her hands trembled when she reached for him. Where could she touch him that wouldn’t hurt him? After a few uncertain moments, she dropped her hands. He swayed again, his swollen features twisting with a hurt that wasn’t physical.
“I’m ugly now,” he began in a hoarse voice.
“Shut up,” she snapped. She had to swallow twice to get her mouth to work. “You’re alive. I thought you were dead.” Her voice broke on a harsh sob. “I thought you were dead,” she repeated. “I want to hold you, but I don’t want to hurt you.”
He took a tottering step to her and half collapsed against her. “Then I’ll hold you. But you might have to hold me up while I do it.”
His good arm draped around her waist. He leaned his cheek against her hair. In fact, he leaned most of his weight against her. “It’s a good thing I’m tall and strong,” she said, trying to joke, but she couldn’t stop crying.
Eagle tapped her shoulder. “Sorry to butt in, but we have to go. You can talk on the bus.”
Most of her relatives let their wolves out but Hawk and Eagle stayed human. It was only twenty yards to the bus, but Marty was shaking and wheezing with exhaustion by the time they got there. Eagle and Eddie Madison helped him get into the bus. Victoria sat at the end of a seat and Marty slumped against her. Eddie sat on his other side to help steady him. Eagle, Hawk and Renee, and Mayor McGrath and his daughter climbed into the bus and found seats. The bus started up with a now familiar roar. Even the smell of the fuel wasn’t as horrible as it had once seemed. As the vehicle bumped its way over a rocky path, Marty groaned.
“He refused to stay home,” Eddie said to her with a tired smile. “He insisted on coming to be here when you were released.”
Victoria stroked one of Marty’s short blond curls with light fingers. “Idiot,” she said fondly.
“I love you too,” Marty said in a sluggish voice.
“Are you okay?” she whispered.
Even over the noise of the engine, Marty heard her. “I will be. Now that you are safe, I’ll be just fine.” He dropped his head to her shoulder. “See? This part of my head is good. I think I’ll just rest it here for a minute, okay?”
“Okay.” He could keep it there as long as he liked, even if it put her arm to sleep. “I love you, Marty.”
He snored. Beside him, Eddie gave a smothered chuckle. “He needs sleep. I don’t think he’s had any in days.”
Had it been only two days since their wedding? They had slept that night. Maybe not very much, but some. “How did you get here?” she asked.
Eddie jerked a chin at Marty. “My brother dragged himself into Kearney, bloody and limping only hours after the train was attacked. I sent word to the Plane Women’s Pack and the den, and we came here at a run. My baby brother insisted on coming back with us. I don’t know how he did it, but he kept up with us.” He smiled. “I suppose a man —whether cat, wolf, or human— can perform miracles to save the woman he loves.”
From the seat behind them, Eagle spoke. “I have to say, I didn’t like the idea of you marrying him, but I was wrong. That cat will do anything to keep you safe.”
Eddie smiled at her again, and she was struck by the warmth and sincerity of it. The contrast between his smile and the smiles she’d seen on the men from Kansas-Missouri was stark.
“Were you part of the raid on Todd’s camp?” she asked. “There were cat paw prints there.”
“Yes. I wanted to be part of the rescue. You’re my sister now,” he said. “Congratulations and welcome to the family.”
“Thank you. Ray? Is he okay?”
Ray’s dad sighed, his smile fading. “He’s pretty bad off,” he said. “He’s at the hospital in Omaha. They think he’ll live, but …” He trailed off. “He hasn’t woken up. He might not ever wake up. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Ray. Patia’s fiancé. What would her cousin do if Ray didn’t wake up? Or if he did wake up but couldn’t speak or move? It was too painful to think about now. She turned to look back at Eagle. “How about Colby? Where is he?”
Eagle looked stricken. “He’s dead. Don’t you remember? He was killed on the train. Marty told us about it.”
“No,” Victoria said at the same time that Renee did. Renee, sitting beside Eagle and still wrapped tightly in Hawk’s arms, went on. “We thought he was dead. Those assh—” She broke off with a quick glance at Anna in the seat behind her. “Er, the soldiers from Kansas-Missouri threw him in the back of a truck, but when the truck got to the camp, the two soldiers who had been in the truck were bleeding and Colby was nowhere to be seen. They said the wolf came back to life and tried to kill them before jumping out.”
Eagle’s eyes lit with hope. “Then he’s out there somewhere, probably trying to get help. We’ll find him. Aunt Carla will be crazy with joy. She thinks he’s dead.”
The bus bumped twice, and smoothed out. They were on a road now.
“We’re almost home,” McGrath remarked. In the third and last seat, he had an arm around his daughter as if he’d never let her go. “Mrs. Madison, you and your husband will be our guests while he recovers.”
Victoria opened her mouth to decline, but he stopped her with a raised hand.
“My house is closer to the hospital, and we have a large bedroom on the first floor. Mayor Madison is our guest. I would be honored to have you stay with us too. Thanks to you and your family, my daughter is alive and well. I can never repay you.”
It was hard to deny him when he sounded so sincere and grateful. Besides, how would Marty climb the stairs to the third-floor bedroom at the Limit? “Thank you,” she said.
The bus went up an incline and stopped. With great care, Marty was roused and helped off the bus and into the mayor’s house. Eagle followed with her suitcase. He murmured that he was going to talk to Rock and some of the others about finding Colby. A wave of love swept over Victoria when her brother gave her an enormous hug.
She sniffed. “I love you.”
He looked abashed, but smiled. “I love you too. See you in the morning.”
When the door closed behind him, Mrs. McGrath swooped to her daughter with tears and hugs. Her nearly incoherent exclamations of joy mixed with her daughter’s wails and sobs. They clung together for a long moment. Anna babbled about how scared she had been, and how hungry they were, and how evil Mr. Todd was. Rye McGrath put his arms around both of them, tears in his own eyes. Mrs. McGrath raised her head and looked at Marty. With obvious reluctance, she pulled away from her daughter and husband. She seemed to be torn between her daughter and her duties as hostess. Anna was still crying, but she smiled through the tears at her mother.
“Go ahead, Mom,” she said in a small, shaky voice. “I’ll stay with Dad.”
Mrs. McGrath gave her daughter one last hug before turning to Victoria and Marty. “Please follow me. There’s a bedroom right off the living room.”
They followed her, half carrying Marty. Light from the hall gave enough illumination to see the outline of the furniture. Eddie helped his brother to the bed, sat him down, and pulled off his shoes. Victoria hovered over her husband, holding his good hand and staring anxiously down at his white face.
“This was my mother-in-law’s room,” Mrs. McGrath explained, flipping on the light to show a luxuriously furnished bedroom with a sitting area and a private bath. “Anna said you hadn’t eaten hardly anything all day.”
Victoria’s stomach rumbled loudly. Mrs. McGrath laughed. “I’ll heat supper up in a minute. The dining room is…” She trailed off when she noticed how Victoria clutched Marty’s good hand. “No, I’ll bring a tray to you here.”
“Thank you,” Victoria said to her hostess. “I could definitely eat. Lie back, Marty,” she ordered.
“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled. He seemed to try for a smile, before carefully easing himself down.
The obvious pain he tried to hide hurt her too. “Thank you so much, Mrs. McGrath.”
“Please call me Cayla,” Mrs. McGrath said thickly. “And thank you. My daughter is home. We can never thank you enough. I’ll be right back.”
Eddie stood at the door. “Do you need help getting him undressed?”
“I can do it. Thank you.”
Her brother-in-law nodded. “He’s stubborn, so you’ll need to be firm to get him to behave.”
Victoria snorted. “He’ll behave,” she declared.
“I’m not deaf, you know,” Marty muttered.
“Are you going to behave?” she demanded.
“Too hurt not to right now.” He closed his good eye in a slow wink. “But just wait a week. I’ll misbehave in a way that you’ll like a lot.”
A tide of red flowed into Eddie’s lean cheeks. He coughed. “I’ll say good night.”
Victoria held her giggle in until the door closed behind him. “Oh, Marty,” she gurgled. “You are so naughty.” The giggles morphed into sobs. Dropping to her knees on the floor, she buried her face in the blanket by Marty’s shoulder and wept like a baby.
“Oh, now,” he said, awkwardly trying to twist his arm to clumsily pat her head. “Don’t cry, Vic. Everything is alright now.”
She sniffed inelegantly. “I’ll cry if I want to.” But she wiped her eyes on the sheet and raised her head. “Let’s get you undressed.”
She moved slowly and carefully as she unbuttoned his shirt. When she saw the bruising spreading out from under three separate bandages, her lips flattened. “How many times were you shot?”
His brow, the one not covered by a bandage, pulled down as he silently counted on his fingers. “Four. My shoulder, my arm, my hip, and my head. They were lousy shots.”
She didn’t laugh. “I didn’t punch him hard enough,” she growled.
“That lieutenant, the one who was in charge on the train.”
“You punched him?” he said delightedly.
“Right in the kisser.” She swelled with remembered satisfaction. “He went down like a sack of potatoes. His lip is still swollen.”
“That’s my Vic,” he said proudly.
She eased off his shirt and moved to his pants.
“This is different from the last time you unbuttoned my pants.” He angled his head to look up at her with a leer. “Maybe if you were very careful…”
She peeled his pants down and saw a bandage on his hip. A bullet must have gone through him, right under the hipbone. “That’s not funny.” The tears started again and she wrestled them back. “You ran all the way to Kearney like this?”
The leer faded. He took her hand. “I had to. You know that. I had to get help for you. When I first came to, back there by the train tracks, I knew immediately that you were gone. I looked around, but you weren’t there. No one was there except the dead men on the grass.”
His eyes clouded. “I left him. I left him behind.”
“Where is he now?”
“Hospital. Few blocks away. He’s in a coma.”
He speech was getting short. He must be exhausted. She pulled his hand to her lips. “If he’s in the hospital, then you know he’s being taken care of by men who know what they are doing.”
A faint smile ghosted his lips. “And women. Omaha has two lady doctors.”
“Well, then you know Ray is being take good care of.” She pulled his pants off and removed his socks. “You did everything you could.” She surveyed him, naked except for the bandages. “You could have died. If it had been Ray who was able to go for help would you have begged him to take you along?”
“Of course not.” He slanted a twisted smile up at her. “I know I did the right thing. It’s just hard.”
“I know.” She moved to lift the sheet over him but paused when he raised a hand. “What?”
“When you look at me, do you see your husband, or just a wreck?”
“I see my husband,” she said instantly. “A little the worse for wear right now, but brave and strong. You’ll recover.”
“Yes. My face might be scarred.”
She made a rude sound.
“You don’t care?”
“Idiot,” she muttered.
He smiled. “I love you,” he whispered. “I don’t know how it is for wolves, but I heal fast. In a week, I’ll be able to do more in bed with you than just sleep.”
He was leering again. Victoria rolled her eyes. “Oh, good. For now, though, just sleep.”
“You, too.” His eyes were already closing. “Sleep with me.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
He shook his head. “If you lay on this side it will be fine. If you do accidentally hurt me I’ll let you know, okay?”
She thought about it, gauging the width of the bed. “Okay.”
Twenty minutes later, she was dead asleep against him. Marty breathed in the scent of her hair. All the pain and weariness and anguish were nothing compared to the feel of his mate beside him. He placed his hand gently over her thigh, rejoicing in her presence. His mate was returned to him, safe and well, and that was worth running two hundred miles with bullets in him.
A soft knock announced Mrs. McGrath with supper. He didn’t move. Victoria didn’t stir. After a few moments, he heard the clink of dishes as something settled on the floor outside the door. A tray, he guessed. Later, he told himself. You can wake Vic up later. For now, he just wanted to savor having his mate cuddled up beside him. She snorted a delicate, lady-like snore. He silently chuckled. He loved her. He must, because even her snores were precious to him. He turned his head and brushed a kiss over her hair.
“I love you,” he whispered, as sleep pulled him under.
* * * *
One week later the train, which had been retrieved from where the Kansas-Missouri troops had abandoned it, pulled into the Kearney station. Victoria stared out the window.