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Cemetery Girl SNEAK PEEK

Prologue

Once the moon chases the sun away, you can find me lurking among the tombstones of the long forgotten. I’ll be sitting in my cemetery, back pressed against one of cold, mossy graves, pondering my future. A future I will never have. During such melancholy reflections, nothing is more comforting than the unchanging solidness of a tomb.

When not contemplating my life, I sit among the dead and worry about which scenario would bother the average person more, living life as an orphan or growing up in a cemetery. Now, I don’t mean any old cemetery. No, the graveyard I’m referring to is Sinners Acres, the abandoned burial plot situated down the road from where my house used to be. For centuries, the denizens of Sinners Acres have watched over the remains of my father’s people. None of the creatures, entombed in my cemetery, would be welcomed on more sacred ground. Among the inhabitants, I’m the only one made of flesh and blood. I’m the only breather. Until recently, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Loneliness has a funny way of changing a person’s perspective, not that it matters. Who would want to join me? Who among the living would willingly give up the normalcy of society to cohabit with the dead?

For most of my life, Sinners Acres has been my home. Since the age of six, I’ve lived in the family mausoleum. It’s a huge, intimidating building full of darkness, stale odors, and spiders. Despite my initial trepidation when I first walked through the doors, I’ve grown to love the place. Since one musty, leaf-scented October day, it’s all I’ve known. Now, at nineteen, it’s almost all I can remember…almost.

I would give anything to be able to forget the events that brought me to the cemetery. After thirteen years, I can still recall what it was like to stand in the smoke-filled air, ignored and inconsolable while my parents slowly roasted inside our home. The guilt over not being able to save them still eats at my soul. Not that anyone else put much effort into rescuing them.

Down the road from where I stood, the good folks of our town watched while my family’s beloved mansion crumbled to dust. Most of the onlookers seemed happy, as if glad to be rid of the spooky, eccentric couple who lived at the far edge of town. I remember seeing several of the city elders standing huddled together. Their whispered voices floated toward me on an ash-filled breeze. I couldn’t decipher their words, but knew they spoke of dark, devilish deeds. The muddled red and black colors of their auras gave it away. To this day, I wonder if, on Sundays, those same men kneel in their shiny, happy churches and pray for forgiveness for their sins. Do they beg whatever god is in season to spare them from the fiery wrath of hell?

I hope not. Why should they be spared when my parents weren’t?

The townspeople hated my family. They wore their prejudice like a badge. The more they spoke against us, the harder my parents worked to make our home seem ugly and uninviting. When compared to the neat, cookie cutter houses scattered around the county, our house was an embarrassment. My ancestral home looked like a cheap, amusement-park fun house. At first glance, there was an air of desolation about it. Even before the fire, our mansion looked like little more than a ruin. If any of the gentle town folk had bothered to come inside, they would have realized the exterior was a façade. Inside, the house was beautifully decorated. Our home was sturdy, safe, and far from ready for the wrecking ball. What people thought of as a haunted house was, in reality, an elegant tribute to the macabre. The outside of the mansion had been glamoured to look uninviting and ruinous. The inside was neat and orderly with cobwebs lovingly placed here and there for added ambience. Books and paraphernalia, related to a wide variety of occult subjects, lined the walls. The more exotic pieces in my parent’s collection were kept in my father’s study. After all, we didn’t want to scare away visitors…if we ever had any.

Years later, my grandpa told me that as soon as the smoke from the fire cleared, the town’s lawyers stepped in. They were eager to raze what was left of the house and put the land to good use. Our family retainer thwarted their plans. Ironclad, decades-old documents ensured the property could never be touched, unless a full-blooded member of the Enright family approved the sale. I was the last living child of my father’s line. No way was I going to turn our land over to those murderers. The city council may have been deadlocked in their pursuit, but I doubt that stopped them from slapping each other on the back and claiming victory. After all, that family was gone. The parents crisp and ashy and the daughter sent away.

In my dreams, I still see myself standing there, watching the chimney of our massive stone fireplace crumble while a town matron prattled on about some great aunt who was coming to get me. Distaste glowed from the old bat’s eyes as she told me this news. Like most of the people I knew, she couldn’t wait to get away from me. Why everyone was so afraid of such a small child I couldn’t say. Maybe they sensed there was something different about me.

As it turns out, my aunt never showed. Instead, Great Aunt Francis drove her flashy, gold-colored Cadillac off a bridge. Now, she lives on in the offspring of the fish that swim and reproduce at the bottom of Sinners Lake. Or so I’ve been told. I didn’t mourn my aunt’s passing.

At six, I already had an uncommon view of death. I knew being dead didn’t mean your life was over. Besides, the prospect of being raised by Aunt Francis didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her. I didn’t know her well enough to make that call. The problem was I could never understand why she’d been given the title, great. To my young mind, Great Aunt Francis was, in truth, a far below average human being and certainly not at all…great. I can still remember many unpleasant family visits, always at my aunt’s house. Each encounter ended with my mother crying and my father yelling something about how their beliefs made the Enright family what it was. Though I never knew what the fights were about, my love for my parents caused me to root on their side.

None of the townspeople, in all their Christian goodness, thought to take me in. Two days after the fire, when it became obvious my aunt wasn’t coming for me, I snuck out of the police station where I’d been left waiting. Unnoticed, I walked back to the remains of my burnt out home. When I arrived, I took refuge in the one area that had remained flame free, my father’s basement study. His den had been encased in a fireproof vault; it escaped destruction. So much rubble now covered the room it couldn’t be easily seen unless you knew where to look.

I stayed inside my dark sanctuary until overcome with loneliness, hunger, and a strong desire to talk to someone; I decided I wanted to be closer to my family. After dumping out the toys I kept stored in a wagon behind my father’s desk, I filled it with books and an old, beat up teddy bear. Satisfied with what I’d packed, I began searching the drawers for a large, oddly shaped key I once watched my father hide there. When I found it, I pushed through the rubble of the house and then walked the five miles to the family mausoleum.

I knew exactly where our crypt lay. On weekends, my parents often took me to the cemetery to visit my relatives. I used to think the large, ivy covered building looked like a dark castle. I liked to pretend the graveyard was a fairy kingdom and our crypt the seat of its magical realm. All the other mausoleums gracing the cemetery were topped with crosses, angels, and other sundry Christian and non-Christian religious tokens, but not ours. The Enright burial chamber was guarded by a large, imposing gargoyle I’d affectionately named Rover. The wooden door of our crypt was carved with runes, Celtic knots, and other arcane images; all of which validated the town’s belief something in the Enright family wasn’t quite right, even dare to say…unchristian.

Thirteen years ago, I entered the crypt unobserved by any living creature except for one ragtag, curly-coated dog who must have wandered into the cemetery through a hole in the fence. The memory of closing the mausoleum door behind me and then leaning against its hard, wooden surface is a physical one. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I made my way to a panel my father once told me lay hidden in the wall at the back of the crypt. Eager to get settled, I parked my wagon next to the empty casket of a long dead ancestor. After picking up my teddy bear, I started feeling along the wall for a secret lever. When I found it, I pushed the handle up. A stone panel shifted. Taking a deep breath, I entered a dark, narrow chamber. As I made my way down a curving staircase, my grief lifted. My parents souls may have moved on, but I’d soon be with people who loved me. The room at the bottom of the stairs was large and well furnished. Inside was a hand-carved bed and a matching dresser. Catty-corner from the bed sat a tattered sofa, a rocker, a writing desk, and a table with two chairs. After walking past an ancient ice box and make-shift kitchen, I climbed onto the oversized bed. Lying back, I sunk onto the hand-stitched feather mattress and smiled for the first time since my parents’ deaths.

“Hi, Grandma, I’m home.”

If anyone had been with me, they wouldn’t have heard a reply. Since I’m a little different, I heard a much-loved voice say, “I know, child. I know.”


Chapter One

“I can’t believe I let myself get caught up in the past like that,” I said as I stood and stretched. Looking down, I traced my fingers over the rough letters engraved on the tombstone I’d been using as a backrest. After saying goodnight to the soul resting there, I brushed some loose leaves off my skirt and then started walking back to the mausoleum.

It wasn’t like me to brood over what couldn’t be changed. The ease with which I’d slipped back into my old memories worried me. Maybe it was because it was October and close to the anniversary of my parents’ deaths. Maybe it was because, lately, I’d been feeling off-kilter and not at all like myself.

Nearing the crypt, I paused to look around. I was alone, well, mostly alone. I couldn’t shake the feeling someone was lurking nearby, someone who didn’t belong in my cemetery.

“Stop it.” I rolled my shoulders and tried to shake off my paranoia. This wasn’t the first time I sensed someone living trespassing in the land of the dead. I’d been feeling the unwelcome presence for a couple of weeks. My ghosts would’ve told me if our visitor meant me harm and that gave me comfort. Letting out the breath I’d been holding, I entered the crypt. After making my way downstairs, I collapsed on my bed. Lying on my back, I kicked my feet until my oversized ankle boots fell to the floor. I didn’t bother undressing. What was the point? No one but the ghosts ever saw me. Sinking onto the big, feather mattress, I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to come. When it didn’t, I flipped onto my stomach and sighed.

“What’s claimed your mind now, child?” My grandmother didn’t bother materializing. The lavender scent gracing the room told me it was her.

“The girl needs to find herself something to do. She needs friends, real friends,” the gruff voice of my grandfather chimed in. His spicy, pipe-tobacco smell mixed with my grandmother’s lavender, and I sighed in contentment. No matter what thoughts plagued me, that unique aroma made me feel safe.

“You’re right, Hershel. Ella, come morning, why don’t you head to the village and play with some of the other children? You need to spend time around people your own age.”

“Grandma, I’m nineteen, almost twenty. Girls my age don’t play. I’m fine here. You know spending time with other breathers isn’t high on my list of favorite things to do.”

“Have you thought about giving that school another go? Now, I know you’re just gonna argue with me, but I think you gave up without a fight,” my grandfather said.

“All the living have ever done is make my life miserable. Last time I tried going to that bloody college, things didn’t end well.” A lump formed in my throat when I thought about how the other students tormented me. “I was miserable, you know that.” Wanting to be left alone, I hid my head under my pillow and then snuggled farther into the mattress. Drawing the quilt to my neck, I began humming in an attempt to block the voices.

The more I tried not to think about what happened the last time I tried integrating myself into the land of the living, the more the movie projector in my brain forced me to replay each hideous scene. My grandpa was right…sort of. The suggestion I give other breathers another chance to humiliate me was way off base. But the idea I needed to find a hobby was spot on. Too much introspection never led to anything good. Since introspection seemed to be my middle name, I was heading toward serious trouble.

“Herschel, Bea, leave the girl alone. She belongs here with us. The folks at that fancy school never treated her right,” my uncle Frank said. Whenever I headed into town, I carried Frank’s soul with me. His spirit fit nicely inside the purple and gold amulet I wore around my neck. I brought him in case I needed an adult presence with me. As the oldest and strongest ghost, Uncle Frank was able to materialize at will. He could also interact with humans better than the other ghosts. He was with me the day I registered for college. After arriving on campus, I waited until I was alone and then released him from my necklace. As soon as he materialized, we stepped out of the alley we’d been hiding in and made our way to the registrar’s office. Uncle Frank still appeared human or human enough, if no one looked closely. I was hoping, if anyone noticed Frank, they would focus on my uncle’s striped pants, waistcoat, and top hat, and ignore everything else.

Like mine, Uncle Frank’s clothes were from another era. He dressed that way because, as a ghost, he was stuck wearing the clothes he’d died in. Since he passed away in the early nineteenth century, his attire was a little old fashioned. At least he’d been wearing a suit when he died. Being well aware of Uncle Frank’s proclivities, let’s just say thank God he was appropriately dressed in the fashion of the day when he passed on.

My wardrobe was outdated because the antique trappings of my long dead relatives were the only things I had access to. My clothes came from trunks scattered throughout the crypt. Most of what I was forced to wear hadn’t been in style since years before my grandma’s birth. Since I’m small, her clothes, the only ones that could at all be referred to as modern, though that was a stretch, didn’t fit me.

The clothes nearest my size had once belonged to a young cousin, a cousin who never got the chance to grow to womanhood. Having been trampled by a horse, when she was twelve, Cousin Grace was stuck wearing brightly colored ankle-length dresses that dated back to the late nineteenth century. As much as I disliked her old, outdated dresses, I was glad she wore them; though I wouldn’t dream of telling her that. To me, the constricting, floor-length gowns worn by the women of her era looked uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure I would have felt trapped inside them. I think the reason Cousin Grace longed to wear those horrible, dark-colored dresses with their corsets and bows was because they signified adulthood. Something she would never achieve.

“Ella’s attempt to integrate herself into modern human society was an abysmal folly,” my aunt Ethel chimed in. “She has no business being in a place with so many men. Men bent on ogling her with their lust-filled eyes.”

“Don’t worry, Aunt Ethel. I’m not planning on repeating that nightmare. Once was enough.”

“Ella, you’re a young woman now. You can’t stay here with us forever. You need to find a man to take care of you,” my grandmother said.

“I need to what?” Fighting through a coughing fit brought on by a sudden intake of air, I asked, “Why do I need a man? I’ve been taking care of myself for the past thirteen years. I see no reason why that should change.”

“You’re lonely, Ella. I can see it in your eyes. You’re lonely for something we can’t give you.”

What could I say? My grandmother was right; I was lonely. Loneliness led me to that college in the first place. Intellectually, I was prepared for the rigors of higher education. Aunt Ethel, my long dead maiden aunt, had seen to my lessons. I may not have talked, acted, or dressed like the other students, but I was extremely intelligent. Most of the things being taught in the entry level classes, I already knew.

Knowing I’d be bored, I attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince the registrar to let me sign up for advanced classes. Stuck being spoon-fed information I already possessed, it didn’t take long to discover that mingling with other humans was going to be a nightmare. The girls in my classes made fun of me. Even the social outcasts teased or ignored me. I guess my freak flag flew higher than theirs did; at least that’s what I once overheard someone say.

Aunt Ethel wasn’t too far off the mark about how the male students reacted to me. Though, I wouldn’t tell her that. Most of the guys I ran into either treated me like a social pariah or tried to coerce me back to their dorm rooms. I willingly went with the first boy who tried this. He said he wanted to talk to me about one of the classes we shared. I can’t remember what subject vexed him; it seemed to me most of the other students struggled with all their classes.

Once the guy had me alone, he grabbed hold of my shoulders, pushed me down on his bed, dropped his body on top of mine, and tried to kiss me. Unsure what to do, and kind of wanting the kiss, I was a willing participant until his hand snaked between us and he squeezed my breast. Shocked at the unwelcome invasion, I lifted my knee and drove it into his groin. The imbecile fell off me, doubled over in pain. Once I was satisfied he wouldn’t be able to stand and follow me, I left.

Later, when I got home, I told my grandmother about what happened. She wasn’t a sympathetic listener.

“Grandma, you remember what happened the last day I attended class, don’t you? Remember the guy who needed my help?” I hoped she knew what I was talking about. I didn’t want to repeat the details, especially not with Aunt Ethel lurking nearby.

“And what sort of help did you think that boy needed, alone in his room like that?”

My grandmother was right. Trying hard to fit in, I hadn’t given much thought to what I was doing. In the back of my mind, I carried the knowledge that the families of many of my classmates played a part in the death of my parents. Still, I tried not to resent them. They weren’t responsible for what their parents did. My grandmother taught me not to hold grudges against the innocent. She always said such judgment never led the holder to better things.

“Bea, you weren’t there to hear the other kids taunt her. I was,” my Uncle Frank said. When encased in my amulet, he was able to hear everything anyone said to me.

“I had to leave, Grandma. If one more person told me to go back to the museum, I would have lost it.”

Only one student had been kind to me. I couldn’t member his name. I’m not sure I ever knew it. It would be a long time before I’d forgot what he looked like. He was tall and broad with shaggy, dark hair and big, dark eyes. He played football and dated one of the vapid cheerleaders. Though his friends teased him about it, he was always polite to me. He even talked to me once or twice. Though, what passed between us could hardly be called a conversation.

After my experience at the school, I never ventured into town unless I needed food, supplies, or a new book. I guess I could have bought more stylish clothes on one of my trips, but the thought never crossed my mind. I doubt it would have made much of a difference. No matter what style I dressed in, people would have teased me. Numerous other things set me apart from the mundane humans. No matter what I wore, or how I talked, I’d never be part of their world. I’m human…I think. But I’m also a little bit more. Someday soon, I hope to discover what that more consists of.

“I still say you quit before giving it a real chance,” my grandfather scolded.

Feeling antsy, and not in the mood to talk anymore, I jumped off the bed, grabbed my boots, and headed for the door. “I’m going for a walk.”

“It’s dark outside,” my Aunt Ethel cried. Aunt Ethel was a worrywart. In fact, it’s what she died from. I’m sure her death certificate listed some fancy medical term, but extreme fretfulness had been the real cause of her demise.

“I walk in the dark all the time. No harm ever comes to me. No one visits the cemetery. If anyone intent on threatening my virtue happens to stop by, I’m sure Rover will save me.”

Rover was the gargoyle who guarded the family tomb, and he was very much alive. Twice a month, I watched him take to the sky and fly off to God knows where. Three days later, at exactly midnight, he’d return looking…satisfied. Whenever I asked him where he went, he’d settle himself back on top of the crypt and stare at me in stony silence. In retrospect, thinking about the full look he had on his face when he returned, I didn’t want to know where he’d gone or what he’d been doing.

Stopping to pull my boots back on, I worked the long laces into perfect little bows. When done, I looked around for my wrap. “Is it cold outside?” I asked of no one in particular.

“It’s always coldcoldcold,” a voice howled from across the room.

“No, it’s not, Cousin Gertrude. Just because you froze to death while attempting to get your cat down from a tree doesn’t mean it’s always cold outside,” I admonished as I shot a glance toward my cousin’s shimmering, translucent form. She was sitting in the corner, petting the cat that had died along with her.

“Don’t wait up,” I told the ghosts before climbing the stairs to the main part of the mausoleum. Although they didn’t actually sleep, my family of ghosts tended to rest at night. I knew my ghosts preferred lurking around when it was dark, but my grandmother had convinced them I needed to be kept on a human schedule. Whether or not the others agreed with her, I couldn’t say. My grandmother was a forceful presence, one all the other ghosts obeyed.

Walking out into the crisp fall air, I took a deep breath and then peeked at the stars. The sky was a clear, dark blue. Everywhere I looked little lights danced across the heavens. The moon was three quarters full. In a few days, the lunar orb would be round and bright.

Walking toward the back of the crypt, I stopped at the graves that still held occupants. After dropping a kind word to the creatures I met along the way, I decided to head to Sinners Lake. Halfway there, I stopped at an elaborately carved sarcophagus. The identity of the owner was a mystery. No one would tell me who was buried in the ornate grave. All I knew was the spirit was male.

He wasn’t an extremely friendly ghost. He came and went without talking to anyone. One time, I was standing next to his grave when he suddenly appeared on top of it. I said hi. He didn’t reply. Instead, he gazed at me with the oddest expression on his face and then flew away. He seemed more solid than my crypt ghosts. His strange behavior and appearance only added to the mystery.

This time, when I stopped at his grave, I traced my fingers across the dull, worn letters that had once spelled his name. As usual, I couldn’t make out what they said. Not even an earlier attempt at grave rubbing gave me a clue to his identity. Running my fingers along the cold marble of the tomb, I thought about what he looked like. My unidentified ghost was tall and thin. The grace of his movement proved he was strong and muscular.

He had the blondest hair I’d ever seen and piercing blue eyes that touched my soul. The word handsome didn’t come close to describing him. I ran my hand back and forth over the wind worn marble and wondered if my mysterious ghost felt as lonely as I did.

Still thinking about the oddly handsome specter, I walked away from his grave and continued toward the lake. I was almost there when I heard voices, locked in a heated argument. Not used to hearing human speech in my cemetery, I stopped for a moment and listened. No one ever came to Sinners Lake. Now not only did I have a mysterious trespasser lurking about, but more humans had taken it upon themselves to enter the rusted, locked gates of the graveyard…but how? And more importantly, why?

The lake was part of cemetery property, my property. The town’s people thought it was haunted. They were right, of course. I knew better than to venture near the water if living, breathing people were there. No one knew I lived in the cemetery. I’d managed to keep my unique living arrangement secret for the past thirteen years.

It helped that the cemetery belonged to my family and was closed to public burials. A string of retainers and relatives, all residing across the immense salt-water pond protected it. When I was young, my ghosts and I discussed the idea of me trying to find my living relatives. Money for travel wasn’t a problem. More money than I’d ever need was strategically stuffed in trunks throughout the cemetery. I didn’t want to leave. The cemetery was my home. The ghosts were my family. There was also the little problem of a passport. It’s hard to get one when you don’t have a birth certificate, social security number, or real address.

Despite knowing I’d be in danger if anyone saw me, the voices drew me in. As if being pulled by a magnetic force, I continued walking toward the lake. On tiptoe, I made my way to a large tree. Hiding behind it, I peeked at the fighting humans. I watched as the guy who’d always been nice to me when I was at school, stood arguing with three men. All were clad in jeans, T-shirts, and football jackets. The other men were waving their hands around and yelling at my…friend? Placing my foot inside a hollow spot in the tree, I climbed until I was high enough to look down at the angry breathers without fear of being seen.

The argument continued for quite a while. From what I could pick up, the three guys seemed to think the object of their discontent was acting strangely, and he had been for some time. They were yelling at him for breaking up with his girlfriend, quitting the team, and acting like an all-around jerk. Finally, a large guy with red hair swore and shoved the dark-haired object of their rage.

The aggressor turned and walked away. After a few steps, he stopped and yelled, “You can find your own way home, asshole.”

“Fuck you,” my dark-haired almost friend growled as he watched the others leave.

The dark-haired man turned toward the lake, ran a hand through his shaggy hair, hair that seemed longer than I remembered it, and said, “I know you’re there, Ella. You can come down. I won’t hurt you.”

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M/M/F Interracial Erotic Romance

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Lonely Charlie disappears with sexual deviates. Can Henry and Izzy rescue him and prove to him that he’s their hearts desire?
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Erotica Fantasy
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Ohh...Santa!

That's right...Ohh, Ohh, Ohh...Santa!

MuseItHOT is seeking submissions of no more than 10k words for this holiday season. We're aiming to HEAT things up this Christmas.

 

We're looking for HOT, HOT, HOT, and extremely sensual stories between 5000 to 10,000 words set around the holiday season.

Must include a Santa, naturally, a very sexy Santa...one who knows how to please.

Stories can include a menage a trois, F/M, F/F, M/M...up to you.

Make sure your stories flow and not only hopping into sex with no backdrop. We want to see a connection between characters.

 

Send submissions to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

On the subject heading note: SANTA EROTIC SUBMISSION

Within the body of your email add your name, email, website link if any, along with your query, and a short synopsis of your manuscript.

Full manuscript should be attached to your query.

 

Deadline for submissions: July 1st, 2014.

Publication: Winter 2014

 

 

Staring into the Eyes of Chance - SNEAK PEEK

Staring into the Eyes of Chance

A LIIA (Lycan International Investigation Agency) Book

by Kay Dee Royal

Paranormal Erotic Romance

Olivia endures a thirty-four year passionless marriage, discovering her dead husband’s philandering history at his funeral. She devotes her energy and life-long sensitivity with animals to her wildlife refuge and preserve.

Chance, a Lycan alpha and leader of the Lycan International Investigation Agency (LIIA) throws himself into his investigations. He chooses to neglect his duty of finding a primal-mate after watching his father become an empty shell over the loss of his.

A murderous rogue pack draws Chance onto Olivia’s wildlife preserve, sending Olivia’s animal sensitivities into overdrive. Chance and Olivia discover a sizzling force driving them together.

Will they succumb to its enticing tether, or fight to resume their loveless lives apart?

 

Chapter One

Olivia needed calm, not the stress of yet another five minute lecture from her sister, Lacey, who was hell-bent on finding her a man. She squeezed her eyes tight and started counting. One…two…Of course, it helped Olivia faced the opposite direction from her sister.

“Ray’s been gone for over two years. It’s time,” Lacey said. She sighed, sounding as exasperated as Olivia felt. “You’ll like this guy, trust me.”

Three…four…five…

Lacey refused acknowledging that Olivia lived a contented life. She incessantly set up ridiculous dates of handpicked men. Those chosen few, Lacey’s caliber of men, were deeply established in the corporate world and a little too much on the wild side. If Olivia ever climbed onto that branch of life again, she’d select less business-oriented men. At fifty-five years old, she found it a highly unlikely branch.

Ten…count over. Olivia opened her eyes and saw the farthest floodlight kick on. Her whole back area of barns and sheds was illuminated, but when the back light facing the woods came on, it looked like a hit of pure sunshine. She stared out the three-season porch window, interested in what tripped the motion detector. Once in a while a rehabilitated deer wandered in for a visit from her wooded preserve.

“Olivia, are you still here?” Lacey’s sarcasm shot Olivia back into the room.

“How many different ways have I told you? No. More. Men. Period,” Olivia snapped. Thank God Lacey was leaving in the morning. She’d only stayed the weekend with Olivia for a forester seminar, but it seemed like a month.

“Okay, just this one. If you see this guy, I’ll never fix you up again.” Lacey shuffled back into the kitchen, most likely fixing herself a cup of coffee. No one drank more coffee than her sister.

“Like that’s going to happen.” A movement from the trees drew Olivia’s attention and she watched for whatever was there.

“I promise, just this once,” Lacey’s voice carried through the open door between the kitchen and three season room.

“Oh my God,” Olivia gasped. A huge black wolf pranced out of the tree line and sniffed the air. Its head snapped around, staring at her. Their gazes connected and something tingled inside her. She’d never connected with a wolf before. It crouched low. All of her porch windows were open and a steady breeze wafted through toward the wolf. She knew it should run in the opposite direction after smelling human, not come closer. It was tough figuring the exact size of the beast, being a good one hundred plus yards away, but she knew it stood larger than anything she’d seen, even in its crouched position. How in the hell did it get over my eight-foot fence?

“H-e-l-l-o, am I talking to dead air? What do you mean by, ‘oh my God’…Olivia?”

“What?” Olivia focused on the wolf with its body slouched and moving in the direction of the barns.

Oh God, he’s after the animals there.

“Just meet this guy. His name is Chance.” Lacey started through the door into the porch. Olivia rushed over, stopping her.

“Okay, sure,” Olivia answered without caring what her sister just said. Olivia needed outside without panicking Lacey. “Go take that bath you talked about earlier while I check on my healing critters.”

Olivia stood trembling at the doorway. She watched the wolf move closer from her peripheral. Lacey would freak if she saw it.

“Okay, guess we got guy stuff covered. Jacuzzi here I come.” Lacey turned and walked through the kitchen toward the bathroom.

Olivia kept an eye on the wolf’s progress, grabbing her tranquilizer rifle on the way out of the porch. Once clear of the house, she lost sight of the wolf. It disappeared behind the barn. She bent low and ran until she reached the building. Olivia swallowed the knot of panic, followed the outer wall until she reached the corner, and peeked around it.

Where the hell is it?

Sharp prickles raced up her spine as the deepest, longest, eeriest wolf howl she ever heard echoed through the forest. Her body froze and her fingers clung white-knuckled around the tranq rifle. A longer ominous howl answered. It came from the backside of the barn. She took a deep breath, stood up with gun ready, rounded the corner, and ran the length of the barn. Olivia paused for another breath before dashing around to the backside of the structure.

Nothing.

She stepped away from the building, intent on walking her yard perimeter, head pivoting in all directions, scanning the short grass and fallen leaves. Movement to her right alerted her too late as she pivoted toward the motion.

“Oomph!” She took a hit, like a truck slammed into her front side. A flurry of black and silver fur, claws, and teeth. She fell flat on her back, her head bouncing off the ground. The rifle flew from her grasp. No footfalls, no heavy breathing, but a pungent scent of musty dog fur lingered in the air. Olivia lay there, afraid to move, afraid the wolf had just called in his pack.

She closed her eyes, calling up her animal sensitivity ability, while shoving down her own panic. After years of psychically working with animals, she knew they sensed panic and fear. Her breathing needed regulating.

Olivia relaxed as best she could and opened her mind. She sensed the wolf; masculine. He came across with an urgent need to protect, more like helping her feel safe. Another howl, with a deep and sinister timbre, shattered her concentration. A stab of electricity zipped through her, pumping adrenaline and tightening every muscle. This howl came from farther inside the forest than the first one. She sensed aggression in the wolves within the forest, ready for battle. Her heart drummed against her ribs in anticipation of an answering call, and she couldn’t stop the tremors running rampant in her belly.

Instead she saw the lights go out through her closed eyelids. She opened her eyes and saw nothing but blackness.

Nine o’clock on a September evening, what did she expect? Damn power company! Hopefully Lacey sat in the Jacuzzi and wouldn’t come running out.

She lay listening for any sound. Her own breath, the loudest panting she’d ever heard, came in at a close second to her heart banging against the walls of her chest. Slowly, she sat up. The back of her head throbbed, her spine hurt, and the front of her body ached, especially her breasts. She bent her legs to stand and in that same moment a jet of hot mist coated her face.

Wolf breath.

Olivia froze, tamping down the run-for-your-life urge. Her mind reached toward the beast beside her, searching his energy markers, his emotions, urges. She read him as curious, stimulated. Maybe a misread of…sexually stimulated? She sat back on her haunches, figuring if she stretched at least four feet of her five-foot ten frame, maybe she’d appear larger. His breath assailed her from above, she remained squatted.

Damn, this thing is huge!

He sniffed the top of her head, down by her ear, licked the length of her neck and up the side of her face. Another howl close by, echoing near the tree line, got the wolf’s attention. He raised his head from her and shoved her body back with his own. She went down on her butt, folding her legs sideways. Fur from his backside pressed into the front of her, including her face. Olivia turned her head away and took a breath. A shiver began in her belly and inched through her arms, legs, and up her neck. She sensed his urgency, he must move and his need…again, to keep her safe and again something else, another misread?

He moved back, his head next to hers. A growl vibrated, harsh and deep, beside her ear. Olivia jumped when he yipped instead of howled. He circled her, stopping behind her. A sudden scratch of claws and pebbles from rain washout near the barn pelted her. Air swirled around her as the wolf leaped over her head in the direction of the woods.

Olivia’s breath whooshed out like a balloon being released. Tears welled and trickled down her face. The wolf’s size was about as abnormal as it got. She’d never heard of any wolf being that large. She’d done plenty of research on the species, brushing up for the wolf pup she rehabilitated and released back into the wild years ago when Ray and she first opened the refuge, before they owned the preserve property.

Olivia pushed herself up onto wobbly legs, her stomach lurched, and before she could blink, vomit spewed. She retched hard, falling onto her hands and knees, weak and crying, something she hadn’t done since Ray’s funeral. As if on cue, all the lights popped on, illuminating her shadow against the barn wall.

Oh, that’s lovely. Damn power company.

A howl, and then another and another, echoed from different locations in the forest. Her forest, her wildlife preserve, not a place for a beast like her visitor, and most definitely not a place for the aggressive lot in the forest. She swiped her face with the bottom of her shirt and looked toward the woods.

About thirty yards away in the mowed meadow, her wolf circled with another, close-in-size, milky-eyed wolf with a deformed face, both spot-lighted in the yard light. They flashed razor sharp teeth and glowing eyes, with the exception of the one’s coated eye. Their vicious growls and snapping jaws filled the air. Olivia found her tranq gun on the ground and grabbed it. By the time she turned for a shot, she saw the tail end of both wolves leaping into the woods, her wolf chasing the other.

Olivia leaned against the barn, adjusting her position in accordance with her pain. She thought of the curious readings she sensed from her wolf, not sure of their meaning. She never questioned first impressions from readings anymore. Years of experiences proved first intuitive readings rang as authentic truth in almost every case.

She closed her eyes and pictured her wolf looking at her for the first time, the way his head snapped in her direction and how their gazes met and connected. She touched her neck, sliding fingertips up her cheek where his tongue touched her skin.

Her breath caught, heart raced, and her eyes opened wide. She laughed out loud, maybe in relief, maybe in a small fit of hysteria, or maybe because she consider that wolf as “her” wolf. Her “stimulation” readings from him threw her off, knowing it wasn’t a possibility. She would check with an area forester or park manager regarding the wolf pack.

On shaky legs she shoved away from the barn siding and walked toward the house. Olivia dropped the gun just inside the porch and then marched through the house, until she stood outside the bathroom door.

“I came in for a flashlight, still haven’t looked in on the animals. It will take me a while, Lace. Are you going to be alright?” Olivia spoke through the closed door.

“I’ll be in bed before you get back and won’t care if the lights go out again. Got to leave early, I’m needed back in the classroom by tomorrow evening.”

“Okay, I’ll have coffee ready.”

Olivia snatched the flashlight from on top of her refrigerator in case the lights went out again. She slung the tranq rifle over her shoulder by its leather gun strap and headed out to her mending critters. An owl hooted nearby and she jumped. She scanned the back tree line, listening for wolves. Nothing.

For the first time since, Rebel, her Australian Shepherd, died, she was thankful he hadn’t been there tonight. She knew Rebel would have attacked to protect and she also knew he wouldn’t have survived. Perhaps that was exactly what happened one week ago. Rebel protected and lost. Her heart cracked a little more for the loss of her friend.

She walked through the barn housing the cages of a broken-winged red-tailed hawk, a healing ground hog that got caught in a trap, and a young maimed raccoon, now healed and nearly ready for release. She gave them fresh water and checked bandages and bedding. All looked good for the evening. She’d brought her small goat herd inside earlier—they were all bedded down for the night as well.

After leaving the barn, Olivia inspected the back area one more time, noticing the motion light was off. She closed the porch door gently behind her, set the flashlight on a windowsill nearby, and slid the gun off her shoulder, leaning it against the doorframe.

“I called Chance and left a message on his phone,” Lacey said, startling Olivia and making her stumble. Olivia latched onto a wicker chair before she fell. Lacey continued, “Told him to stop here if he wanted a date, phone calls wouldn’t work for you.”

“What! Who’s Chance? What in the hell are you talking about, and why are you sitting out here in the dark?” Olivia grumbled.

“I wanted you to know I left a message on his phone in case I forget to tell you in the morning. He’s a wonderful, caring man, all into nature, just like you.”

“Didn’t we just have this conversation? God, Lacey, when will you stop? I don’t want a date with anyone, I’m happy alone.”

“You said you’d go out with him, before you went checking on your animals, before I got in the tub. Doesn’t matter, this will be the last man I want you to meet. Promise.”

Olivia’s eyes acclimated to the dark interior of her porch. She saw Lacey arch a well-groomed eyebrow, her movement accentuated by the outside light filtering through the branches of Olivia’s one oak tree between her house and barns. She rolled her eyes and sighed, her head, back, and chest aching.

“I’ll do this, only because by doing it, you’ll never—and I mean never, send another man my way again.”

“I won’t, because I won’t have to. You’ll fall for this guy. He’s a forester. One of the guest speakers at the college seminar I attended, only instead of talking about cultivating a healthy, healing forest, he was more into wolf sightings and their habitat. I met him personally at the professor’s meeting afterward. When he told me he resided in your neck of the woods, I asked him if he was single…and the rest is history.” Lacey giggled, which tensed Olivia’s jaw even more.

“God, Lacey, you never cease with your pushing. There are so many other great uses for that kind of energy, and yet you waste it on me. Wow.”

Olivia shuffled straight to her bathroom, snapping on the light. Her eyes automatically squinted when she saw her reflection in the mirror. “Oh my God,” popped out.

“It isn’t that bad. This guy’s a real gentleman, well, kind of a hot looking nice gentleman.” Lacey said from the hallway.

“See you in the morning, sis.” Olivia closed the door before Lacey saw her condition. Olivia’s shirt wore remnants of vomit. Her hair strayed in ratted disarray from its tie, and the filth on her face showed streamline moisture tracks from tears. Olivia learned long ago she couldn’t share stories of wildlife with her sister. Lacey would go on a rampage against the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She wanted Olivia to move back to Lower Michigan’s most southern area, especially after Ray died.

“Night, sis,” Lacey said from the other side of the bathroom door. “Tell me how it goes when you meet Chance. Don’t you just love his name? I’ll try not to call you every hour for a report.”

“Stop. Go find your own guy and leave me be.”

“That’s just it; I have lots of guys beating down my door. You have zippo. You’ll need to douche with Rustolium in order to get those feminine parts back in condition.”

“I have a battery charged way I keep my lady parts in working order.” Olivia chuckled.

“Olivia! I didn’t know you had it in you.” Lacey laughed.

“I don’t, yet, but it’s on my agenda for tonight, so close your bedroom door tight.” Olivia grinned at her little funny, and Lacey laughed even louder as she walked away.

Olivia turned on the water and filled her jetted sunken tub. One of the few selfish things she afforded herself when they built the house. She got a Jacuzzi, and Ray got a crazy huge shower with multiple showerheads and wall benches.

Her whole body ached, every cell, zapping any stamina left. She slipped out of her jeans and pulled off her T-shirt. Steam wafted, thickening the air, but not enough it masked the mirror. Olivia stood staring at herself, naked. Her muscle hadn’t lost much of its firm tone, but the tightness of her aged skin was another matter.

Then, she noticed something else, looked away from the mirror image and down at herself. “What?” She touched the tops of her breasts. Above each nipple, a huge red and purple paw print appeared, as if tattooed.


Chapter Two

Chance leaned against a tree, brushing a twig from his chest hair, uncaring of his nakedness. His fingertips touched broken skin and followed a deep scratch from mid-sternum to the inside of his hip. It must have happened when he jumped the eight-foot fence. The wound would heal before morning.

More important, he’d lost the rogue alpha, again. Just like before. The Lycan International Investigation Agency (LIIA) identified this alpha as Smoke. He completely vanished, leaving no scent trail, not even a blood spill. Chance never got close enough to clamp his jaws around any part of the elusive wolf.

But more perplexing was that woman. How her scent drew him away from the rogue he’d tracked for months. He first saw her in the window, looking at him. In that moment, an undeniable connection occurred, a deep admiration, respect…or something deeper, unexplainable. She totally obliterated his focus. He couldn’t decipher it, but she captivated him, drew him in as if some kind of spell bound them.

Then, she was crouching outside, emanating fear on the light breeze. His wolf instinct answered her call for protection with a force as powerful as firemen pulling victims from a blazing inferno. Such a fragile human body, he was afraid he’d killed her when her head hit the ground. His only thought was getting between her and Smoke. He didn’t want her wandering around the yard with Smoke and his pack so close.

Her scent pervaded his consciousness, like the taste of her skin. Both lodged comfortably inside his brain, a cherished memory. She sat there, afraid, yet strong, fighting down panic. He enjoyed her trembling body, and her confidence.

What in the hell happened back there?

It made no sense, the trail of Smoke’s pack ended on that woman’s property. His team had followed the rogue pack across France and into the states. Smoke only concentrated on areas free of fences and people. Chance couldn’t rule out how close her property was to the LIIA Ops facility, only a few miles away. Plus it wasn’t far from the village limits, and Chance knew what Smoke was capable of doing to the locals.

She didn’t carry the mark of a male mate. He understood from a fellow forester there was a wildlife preserve taking up over two thousand acres of wooded land in the area. He must have stumbled onto it when he leaped over the fence.

His forester guise would last a while longer. He needed access onto her property in daylight hours. For some reason the rogue pack ran mostly nocturnal. Daylight hours left them vulnerable in their sleep and allowed Chance’s team an opportunity at finding Smoke’s lair.

“Trevor.” Chance put out a telepathic pack call, as only pack members could for each other. Trevor was the best agent Chance ever trained, besides being his closest friend and his right hand man at LIIA.

“Hey, boss man,” Trevor answered.

“I found something. I’ll want you and a few others with me tomorrow morning. We’ll need an up-close and personal scan of this area. The rogues are here.”

“You need me there now?”

One thing about Trevor Drakeland, he never hesitated jumping into the action, the more dangerous, the more he wanted in.

“No, I’m good. See you in the morning.”

“Got it. I’ll have Jase and Dir with me. Meet you at the club-house.”

A howl in the distance threw Chance into alert mode. He’d tracked this pack himself, not only because they went against Lycan laws by killing innocents, but they did it in a most elusive way. They vanished many times without leaving any scent trails.

Tonight Chance came close to capturing Smoke. But, for that woman, the one he couldn’t banish from his memory anymore than he could have stopped her from distracting him as he closed in on the rogue leader. Just the thought of her fired his cock into attention. Chance never experienced anything like her in his past; no woman claimed so much power over him. His right hand fisted around his heavy shaft.

He had turned away from Smoke for one moment and in the next moment he was gone without a trace. Then again, after Chance’s interaction with the female, he confronted the rogue alpha, and then lost Smoke a second time. Arousal fled and frustration settled in.

Chance howled in human-form and within seconds, in a flurry of bones cracking, muscles stretching, claws and fangs extending, he transformed into his furry self.

He ran back to Blue, his midnight blue Dodge truck, parked along a two-track on the public land. Chance shifted into his human form, gathered his clothes from the truck seat, and dressed quickly. He climbed in, started his truck, and then maneuvered onto the main road, turning toward the lone woman’s home.

An eight-foot fence ran along the roadside, enclosing a huge wooded area. With his window down, he scented for her, but instead picked up Smoke. The same scent had eluded him only a short time ago. He stopped the truck, pulled a tranquilizer hand gun from his glove box, and got out.

“I know you’re close, you son-of-a… Show yourself.”

Smoke’s scent grew stronger, like a rabid killer, so familiar and yet different. Chance set himself into a battle stance, prepared for attack, tranquilizer gun in hand.

“Come out, coward,” Chance yelled. The rogue’s scent came at Chance from all directions, so close, and suddenly it drifted away until Chance couldn’t scent the rogue alpha at all.

What is this guy’s game?

An eerie prickle combed over his scalp, shooting a deep worry for the woman he’d seen earlier. He assumed she lived alone. He jumped back into the truck and drove down the road until he came upon a two-track drive. His truck lights flashed across a large mailbox listed as Bentley, 120 Wayward Road, beneath hung a wooden sign, Nature’s Friends In Need Wildlife Refuge and Preserve.

Chance cut off his truck lights and swerved into the drive.

Ms. Bentley, here I come.

He drove about half a mile along the winding wooded drive before he saw her house. He backed up, losing sight of it and parked off the edge. At eleven o’clock, she should be inside for the night. Chance figured she’d have another motion detecting light in her front yard, like in her back. He picked up a dog scent, maybe a week old, nothing fresh.

His night vision cued in on the motion sensors near the light fixtures. He found a black-out spot, stooped low and crept closer to the house. If he stuck near the siding he would go undetected. There were no active laser beam set-ups or cameras.

Spindly residual threads of Smoke’s scent hung in the air, not fresh, but Chance kept running into it. So the rogue must have paid a visit.

Chance moved, his body sleek and stealth, toward the only window interrupting the darkness with a soft glowing light. He leaned against the siding and angled his head, peering inside.

His breath caught as she stepped out of a sunken bathtub. Her backside, slender and shapely, showed a dark ridge of bruising along her spine. She turned, dipping slowly, as if in pain, and retrieved a towel lying on the floor. When she rose, he saw her breasts, smallish, the size of ripe apples with his paw prints stamped above her taut rosebud nipples. A rush of blood went south and pooled into hard-lust-want.

Again, something about her beckoned him with a magnetic pull. As if she sensed his presence, she glanced toward the window. His head automatically snapped back, but not before he saw her lovely violet eyes. He closed his and her image clung, imbedded, every inch of her streamlined body and beautiful lavender eyes. His keen hearing honed in on her rushed steps, stopping at the window. He moved sideways and melted his backside against the house.

“Hey, where are you?” Trevor slammed into his head.

“Kind of busy at the moment.”

“Well, I know it’s not with a woman, God forbid. So, you need some help. I can’t sleep and wanted a companion for a midnight run.”

“I need to sort a few things out, but wait for me. I’ll need a midnight run the way it’s going.”

“Ten-four.”

After seeing Ms. Bentley, all of Ms. Bentley, Chance might even take matters into his own hands. Running would definitely help wear him out, but not the curious building urge for this woman. He heard her rustle the curtains and walk away. Chance took another peek. She’d drawn the curtains completely, blocking any view.

Damn! What the hell am I thinking, spying on a nude woman from outside her window?

His jeans remained an uncomfortable barrier against the blazing heated rod beneath. Ms. Bentley’s bare-skinned pelt embraced his brain, only making matters worse. He scanned her yard and ambled slowly around the house, sticking near the walls. By now it was midnight and definitely time for a run with Trevor.


Chapter Three

Olivia rose at five, like every morning. Stretching her arms above her head, she bent over and touched her fingers on the floor, pleasantly surprised at the absence of pain from the knock-down she got by the huge black male wolf. Her wolf. There he was, in her head again. She’d fallen asleep thinking of him and he still imbued her mind this morning.

She pulled her pajama top over her head, flicked on her bedside lamp, and looked down. No marks, nothing marred her skin. She touched her breasts, no pain. It didn’t make any sense. Pain and bruises, like the two she wore last night, didn’t simply get up and leave.

The scene of her late night visit needed checking after daylight, if only to prove her incident actually happened. But first, she would see Lacey off and do morning rounds for her refuge residents. She dressed in her favorite black jeans, T-shirt, and grey hooded sweatshirt for the early morning chill. Olivia tapped on Lacey’s door.

“You up, sis?”

“Almost dressed and definitely ready for coffee,” Lacey confirmed.

Olivia listened through the closed door, hearing her sister packing and rummaging around the guest room. She hurried into the kitchen, started coffee brewing for Lacey, and heated water in a kettle for her own morning green tea. She warmed applesauce muffins from her pantry. Everything was ready before Lacey rolled her suitcases into the kitchen.

“Here, sis.” Olivia handed Lacey a steaming cup of coffee and set a warm muffin on the table. “Sit for a minute before you take off.”

“Yum, smells enticing in here.” Lacey sat down, cupping her hands around the coffee mug, flashy red painted nails clicking together. She held it close to her lips, blowing on the hot liquid and then taking a shallow sip, followed by a longer sip. “You make the best coffee.”

“It’s an organic blend and I’ve told you how you can order it for yourself.” Olivia stirred her tea and took the chair across from Lacey.

“I wish I could stay longer and make sure you hold up your end of the bargain.” Lacey stared over her mug at Olivia.

“I’ll hold my coerced promise and let you know how it all falls apart.” Olivia chuckled.

“Nice. No wonder you have no one knocking down your door. They’re rejected before they even get near the place.”

“Now you’re getting it. This is the last time, Lace.”

Lacey drained her coffee and set the empty mug in the sink. “I have a good feeling about this one.” She giggled and Olivia rolled her eyes. “Can I have a cup to go?”

Olivia poured her sister a travel cup and bagged a couple muffins.

“I’ll walk out with you.” Olivia held the door. Lacey wheeled her suitcase out, with another bag and her purse slung over one shoulder. She pointed and pressed her key-fob and the trunk popped open. She dumped the suitcase and bag inside, and then slammed it closed.

“I love you, sis,” Lacey said, giving Olivia a quick hug. She opened the driver side door of her bright red sports car and climbed in. She got comfy and then reached out. “Here, I’ll take those.” Olivia handed her the travel cup and muffins.

“Drive safe, and, know your big sis loves you, too.” Olivia waved until Lacey’s car vanished around the bend in the drive. Her sister’s vibrant energy overwhelmed the peaceful balance Olivia craved. Even though she enjoyed hearing all about Lacey’s exciting life, Olivia was done participating in it, or almost done.

One more with a guy named, Chance…hmmm, what are the chances?

Early dawn light filtered through the trees, igniting bird calls and chirping chipmunks. Olivia breathed in the dewy morning air of nature and, with a smile growing steadily across her lips, strode into the largest barn. Usually her five goats were milked around six o’clock while still a little groggy, but today she ran them through about a half hour late. She poured their milk into containers and either froze or refrigerated it. Goat’s milk was an expensive, but much needed commodity. She appreciated her good supply for drinking and also using it for the four-legged baby wildlife brought into her refuge. Though no babies resided with her at present, only a few young goat kids fed by their mamas.

Olivia opened the side door leading to a pasture pen and herded her goats outside. She fed them hay and grain and then watered them.

“Rebel, I miss you, my friend,” Olivia whispered. Her Australian shepherd had herded the goats for her. He was great at it, a real knack at calming the troublemakers. She glanced at the two worst-tempered goats, and once satisfied they would behave, she wandered back inside for feeding and watering the hawk, raccoon, and ground hog.

Goat stalls got mucked out, milking stations swept and washed, and finally cages cleaned out. Like a ritual, her morning ran the same every day. When finished, she walked outside behind the barn.

Her body trembled and her senses heightened. She stood at the place where her collision occurred with her wolf. Olivia scanned the ground until spotting his paw prints. A match for the set on her breasts last night, only hers didn’t have claw marks at the tip of each toe pad like the ones indenting the dirt.

“Olivia, where are you?” Lindsey, her closest friend, called out.

“Backside of the barn, come here a minute.” Olivia opened her hand across one of the prints. It spanned almost two hands in height and width.

“What’s up? You get your sister out of here alright this morning?” Lindsey walked over, chuckling. Olivia was on her hands and knees. “Oh my God, what kind of animal made that? No dog is that large.”

“Not a dog. A wolf, the largest one I’ve ever seen.” Olivia stood up and brushed dirt off her knees. She looked over at the disturbed pebbles closer to the barn and a shiver quaked through her. Globs of her stomach contents from the night before marked the ground.

Lindsey touched Olivia’s shoulder. Olivia jumped.

“Are you alright?” Lindsey asked. “Do you think this beast killed Rebel?”

“It’s a good possibility some wolf did.” Olivia considered the creatures from last night. She knew deep in her heart and in her psyche, the visiting black wolf had not been involved in the death of her Australian Shepherd a week ago, but there was a good possibility the milky-eyed deformed wolf was. Olivia didn’t want that guy crossing paths with Lindsey.

Olivia recalled the aggressive howls scattered throughout her woods. She originally thought a bear mutilated her best four-legged friend. Rebel’s dead body lay near the road a distance from her house, which hadn’t made sense at the time. He never left the yard, never wandered near the road in the seven years of his short life.

“Olivia?” Lindsey shifted from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable.

Olivia made a decision regarding her friend’s assistance.

“I don’t believe this creature killed Rebel. I had a close encounter with him last night.”

Lindsey gasped and her eyes popped wide. She scanned the ground around Olivia. “Is that what I think it is?” She pointed at the vomit. “Yours?”

“That happened after the visit. He didn’t hurt me, just knocked the wind out of me. He had opportunity enough to hurt me. At first, I thought he was calling in his pack for dinner. But…I sensed he was protecting me.” Olivia watched Lindsey’s eyes squint and her brows scrunch together. “I know, it sounds silly, but you know my animal sensitive ability. You know I can read their energy, emotions, or rather their feelings. I can practically wear it as my own.”

“Are you telling me you were here?” Lindsey pointed at the ground again. “With the wolf?”

“Yes, and do you know the damn power company acted up right then? It was black as Lacey’s coffee when the wolf visited me.”

“Visited?”

Olivia sighed. “I don’t expect you’ll understand my decision, but you aren’t going driving through the forest. No checking on the deer status or refilling their feeders. I’ll have you doing some work for the other animals. More things need done around the barns.”

“So, who’s going out there?” Lindsey’s mouth pinched into her judging look.

“Me. I’ve done it for years, nothing stopping me from doing it again. Especially now, we don’t have many rehabilitating animals.”

Tires from several vehicles crunched over the dirt and gravel drive, both women looked up at the same time.

“Expecting anyone?”

“No.”

Lindsey walked back through the open barn door. Olivia listened for Rebel’s bark of greeting and an overwhelming sadness punched her heart. She stepped up her pace, following Lindsey out the other side of the building. Three trucks stopped between her house and the barn, creating a billow of dust.

Olivia’s sensitivity sky-rocketed, at least four animals came through her psyche, but she depicted none of them as injured. Maybe these people simply needed a spot for releasing healthy animals into a protected habitat.

“Hello. Ms. Bentley, I presume,” said a man with black hair, silver flecks glistening in the sunlight at his temples. He stood tall, almost military stature, trim build, and tight blue jeans. His green ranger-type uniform shirt stretched across his broad chest. Rolled sleeves ended at his elbows and an impressive muscular forearm dusted with shiny dark hair flexed as he reached toward Olivia with his right hand. She accepted it.

An instant sizzle of current warmed her skin, climbed her arm, and zipped through her body at the speed of light. It sparked her animal psyche. Surprise at the instant overload of sensitivity made her step back and break their connection. He looked as shocked by it as she felt. He stood staring at her, wide-eyed, his mouth open. She looked back at him and something familiar about his vibrant amber eyes startled her, something she should know, recognize.

What the hell?

Three men and a woman wearing similar shirts stared at Olivia in some kind of awe, like she was from another planet. Olivia’s overwhelmed animal sensitivities booked her entire brain, leaving her grasping for inner balance. Lindsey nudged her and then finally spoke for Olivia.

“Yes, this is Olivia Bentley, owner of Nature’s Friends Wildlife Refuge and Preserve. Do you have an injured animal or something?” Lindsey’s tone sounded a bit offensive. Olivia knew her friend well. Even through the foggy brain-stuff going on, Olivia recognized the beginning signs of Lindsey’s confrontation mode.

The man, who Olivia thought she sensed, regained his composure and spoke again. “I’m Chance Grayton, a forester with the U.P. National Parks and Forestry. I’d like to introduce my associates, Trevor Drakeland, and Dir and Jasmine Payton.” None of them reached for her hand. “We appreciate your kindness and green-eco-nature in caring for our wildlife. We came out today for an opportunity at canvassing and assessing your healthy productive habitat. Would it be all right if we took a hike through your wooded area?”

Olivia heard his name and related it to her sister’s conversation last night, and the next thing she heard was he wanted on her property. She recalled her sister talking about this man looking for knowledge of wolf sightings, and here he was the day after a wolf visited her. Coincidental? She didn’t believe it.

Olivia’s body tensed, anger setting in, coated with a stale feeling of being duped into some kind of coercion. She sensed his lie.

How? She’s never read a human before.

Chance stepped in front of the others, closer, and whispered, “Your sister also left a message on my cellphone.” He shuffled his feet and his lips trembled, almost like he was embarrassed, or maybe he recognized her disapproving attitude toward him. “I wonder…would you join me for a mid-afternoon lunch?”

“Did you just ask this fine woman to go out with you?” Trevor interrupted, perfectly timed for stopping Olivia’s negative response.

Jasmine kicked Trevor, and Dir told him, “Shut up.”

Chance faced them and witnessed it all. Olivia watched his body lose some of its proud posture, shoulders drooping and head tipping forward. Strange.

“Beware, he hasn’t dated in years. You might find yourself holding up a one-sided conversation,” Trevor said with a chuckle and winked at Lindsey. Chance whipped around toward Olivia, red-faced, eyes bulging, and she read him as terribly agitated.

Olivia decided her little battle with Chance over his lie could wait until there wasn’t an audience.

“I look forward to it,” she said. Olivia heard Lindsey gasp, followed by a nervous-catchy cough. “In fact, I insist on having lunch together before you go canvassing my property, as you call it.” She’d be damned if his intent was hunting down the visitor she had last night. Not happening on her watch. Her psyche believed the wolf she met last night was one of the good guys.

All four of them looked at each other, and again her senses went into overload with restlessness and wonder of “now what?” She studied them for a moment.

Am I reading them all?

“I’m sensing you have a few animals with you. Were you releasing them here?” Olivia ventured.

Again, an uncomfortable-looking expression exchange from all of them, and Trevor, Jasmine, and Dir walked back to their trucks. Chance stared at her. Olivia couldn’t tell if his look was of shock or surprise.

“Why would you ask that?” He studied her face. His eyes softened, but not their intensity. His gaze burned the top of her head, singed her body all the way down, until his heat stroked the tips of her toes.

“Naked” formed in her psyche, stimulation, his, sexually. She gasped. He was fantasizing about her!

“Stop looking at me that way,” the words rushed from her mouth. He stepped back as if slapped, curiosity crossing his face, and he arched an eyebrow.

“You didn’t answer my question–why would you think we had animals with us?”

“I’m an animal sensitive. I possess the psychic ability of sensing an animal’s emotions, feelings, energy. And I sensed four healthy animals with you. So I ask again, do you have animals you want released on my protected property?”

“I’d question this ability of yours if I were you. We brought no animals with us.”

Olivia knew she must have looked open-mouthed-shocked, because being wrong for the first time in her life was the last thing she expected, other than her confusion over reading Chance, a human for the first time.

“You better check your trucks for unknown four-legged passengers, because Olivia is never wrong with her sensitivities,” Lindsey stated, standing in full frontal Peter Pan battle stance, legs wide with hands on her hips.

“I’ll pick you up at two o’clock. Dress casual, we’ll be eating out on my deck.” Chance smiled at Olivia, ignored Lindsey, and then walked away. He climbed into his truck and followed the others. They circled around and drove away, dust swirling in their trail.

Olivia emptied her lungs on a long sigh.

What the hell did Lacey get her into with this Chance guy?

“Why are you going out with that guy?” Lindsey’s mouth dropped open, and her brows buried into the bridge of her nose. Olivia held back laughing out loud at her friend. “Obviously, you’ve lost your mind.”

“Actually, I think my sister has lost her mind. She set me up with Chance, if you can believe it. Lunch won’t be a big deal.”

“That guy may be to-die-for-good-looking, but he’s got a few rocks loose upstairs.” She rapped her forefinger against her temple. “Maybe you should consider Trevor? He got my feminine parts sizzling with that smile of his. Use and abuse him, and when you’re finished, kick him curbside. I’ll pick up that kind of trash any day.” She giggled.

“God, Lindsey, go get laid. Lacey can set you up if you need it. She’s got a list of sexy candidates and it reaches all the way up here.”

“You never answered me, is Lacey gone?”

“Yes, thank God, or Chance and his friends would be running around on my property as we speak.”

“Well, I’m starving after all that. You got the makings for a sandwich in there? Or is it just salad stuff?” Lindsey grabbed Olivia’s elbow and pulled her toward the three-seasoned porch.

“I picked up some deli meat just for you, but you get it on my homemade sunflower seed bread.”

Lindsey let out an exaggerated breath, and then said, “Okay, guess that’ll do. I mean what other choice do I have, eating here? I suppose you already ate breakfast?” She grinned and Olivia gave her a quick hug.

“I ate a muffin with Lacey. Hey, on another note, your drama career kicked in big-time a little while ago—you performed a hell of a classic Peter Pan.” Olivia giggled. “I thought you’d go air-borne and heave yourself into Chance.”

“Yeah, he needed a good shove, but my drama teacher tapped my shoulder on that one and told me to stand down.” Lindsey sighed and then got busy building her sandwich, being familiar with Olivia’s kitchen. Olivia settled in a chair, thoughts far from food.

Her sensitivity with Chance and his associates confused her. She’d never read humans before, so how could her long standing ability suddenly change? Something was off, especially with sensing a “sexually stimulated” read on the wolf the night before. No animal exuded that kind of feeling or behavior toward humans, and then again with Chance, a human. Maybe she’d get some answers when she saw him this afternoon.

Olivia’s sensitivities still rode high, heated sparks of excitement whirring through her. Meeting with Chance definitely threw her a boomerang. The sooner she got this date thing over, the faster she could get on with the rest of her life, and the sooner she could close herself off from the unfaithful lies of men.

 

End of sampler. To purchase, please visit

Staring Into the Eyes of Chance

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