Two Days Later
I was out all morning, checking out apartments near Century College here in White Bear Lake. I had enrolled before I left Bethesda Naval Hospital, because it was near Donut and the club he wanted me to prospect with. I was about halfway done with their two-year program to get an associate’s degree in Law Enforcement, having started by correspondence course while still in the Marines. It also would give me what I needed to pass the licensing exam. With my disability benefits and the GI Bill, I wouldn’t have to go in debt or work while I was getting my degree. Still, I didn’t want to dip into my savings to buy a car. I was hoping to be close enough to walk or take a short bus ride so I could survive without one.
I knew what winters were like here, they were long and could be brutally cold at times. I’d grown up in Lake City, a small tourist town on the Mississippi about fifty miles to the southeast. It was a good place to grow up, but I didn’t have the best upbringing. My father was a drunk who beat my Mom and occasionally me; when he was killed in a single-car accident, driving off the road into a ravine when he fell asleep, I felt nothing for him. I loved my Mom, but she died of breast cancer while I was in the Marines. I had no desire to go back there, the memories were painful.
The apartment complexes were a bit spendy, but I found a guy who had a mother-in-law apartment in his basement he was willing to rent. I had filled out all the paperwork and given him a deposit, I was just waiting for everything to be processed and get the go-ahead to move in. He expected that in two weeks, so that was how long I told Viper I needed to stay here. “You’re welcome to stay until you get your place,” he said, “But I’d like you to help Snake out in the kitchen, cover for him when he’s busy. He can use the break,” he said.
That was all fine with me, it gave me a chance to get to know Eve. After I carried her into her room, I didn’t hear or see her the rest of that day or the next. I could hear people, mostly Snake and Kelly, going in and out of her room. The second day, I saw a woman I didn’t recognize coming out. She had scrubs on, and filled them out well, she looked to be about thirty. “Hey, is she doing all right?”
“Eve will be fine, uh…”
“Mitch. Mitch Miller, I’m staying here until I can find a place. I just got out of the Marines.”
“Oh, you’re the one Donut told me about! I’m Doctor Meghan Jenkins, I’m the Club Doctor. How are you feeling? Any lasting issues from your treatment?”
“No, it’s going fine, I’m just having to work to gain the muscle back after losing so much weight.”
“Well, if you join the club, I’ll need to give you a physical and verify for myself you are doing all right. I don’t trust the VA bureaucrats when it comes to disability claims, so I can help you with those if you run into problems.” She shook my hand, I heard someone coming up the stairs. “Nice to meet you, Mitchell.”
“You too, Doc. Is Eve awake? I wanted to say hi.”
“She’s resting, and if you know what is good for you, you’ll leave her alone. Eve is special, she’s not some kid you can seduce and abandon.”
“So I’ve heard, I’ve seen ambassadors with less protection than her.”
A voice from behind me cut in. “And most of it is to protect her from guys like you, Mitch.” Doc moved past me as Hammer gave her a quick hug, then he parked himself in front of Eve’s door. “I know I’m not the first to threaten you, even Donut tried to help you out. You need to forget about her and find some biker chick or floozy to get your nut off. This is your last warning, quit sniffing around her or you’re gone.”
“Understood.” I smirked as I thought back to that conversation; it was one of those things where you knew the right thing to do but couldn’t do it. Every bit of logic and instinct told me to let her be, but there was something about her, something I just HAD to have in my life. I’d just have to be smart about how I did it.
Last night I had gotten a text from her signed, “Little Miss Troublemaker.” I called her back, and we talked into the night. I kept things light, asking her about her art, her college plans, the movies she liked to watch. She spent time learning about me; my time growing up, why I entered the Marines, even what it was like to be a sniper. “Did you kill anyone?”
“Yes, but they needed killing,” I told her as I laid back in bed, my eyes closed as I focused on her voice.
“What was it like?”
I thought about how I could break it to her, most women, they wanted to think you regretted it, that you weren’t some crazed killer. I couldn’t lie to her, though. “I didn’t think much about it while it was happening, really. Your training takes over; you focus on the aim point, your breathing, the trigger pull. When the shot was fired, I was watching the trail of the bullet through the scope for the second and a half it took to get there. I watched it hit, watched the blood spray behind him, watched him drop to the ground like a switch was turned off.”
“That sounds horrible, it must give you nightmares.”
“No, it felt good. It validated everything I had spent years preparing for, training for; when it came time to do it, I did it right. One shot, one kill.” I let out a breath. “The people I killed, they weren’t good people. I made things safer for the people there, I saved lives of my fellow Marines.”
“So if you liked it, if you were good at it, why did you leave the Marines?”
“I was medically discharged… I had cancer. Testicular cancer.”
“I’m in remission, they tell me I have a good prognosis, but I was discharged with a service-related disability.”
“That sucks. Are you ok with being out?”
“No, I miss it already. My best buddies are still there, most of them. I miss the camaraderie, the shared goals. That’s one reason I want to join a club, to get some of that feeling again.”
She laughed a little. “These guys are like that, half of them have been with the club more than twenty years,” she said. “Growing up, it was like I had two dozen Dads and a dozen Moms. Everyone was watching out for me, making sure I wasn’t hurt, keeping me from doing anything wrong.”
“Seems like nothing has changed.”
She snorted, laughing into the phone as I smiled. “You have no idea.”
“Why so much security? Are you really in that much danger?”
“So they tell me. I’m worth a lot, apparently, there’s a price on my head and a bunch of people who would kidnap me in a second if they had the chance. The guys, especially the Knights, they are my security.”
“They don’t let you do much, do they?”
“Nope, and after I got hurt this week, I’ve been put on lockdown. I can’t leave the clubhouse grounds at all.”
I sighed loudly. “That really sucks,” I said. “I was hoping you might want to go do something, get out for a while, maybe catch a movie or something.”
“Are you asking me out?” She giggled a little.
“Hell no, if your Dad found out he’d have my ass. I’m just trying to cheer you up a little, I figure those wounds will have you laid up for a few weeks. They looked pretty bad.”
She yawned. “I’m tired, Mitchell. Can we talk tomorrow?”
“I’d love to.”
“Goodnight, my beautiful troublemaker.” I ended the call and laid back in bed, a smile on my face as I drifted to sleep.
I slipped out of my cabin, walking to the woodpile and ducking behind it before removing my clothes and leaving them hanging from a protruding branch. I looked back towards the window, where my older brother was sitting in the living room with his human wife, watching a movie on the satellite television. She tucked into his side, his broad chest and hairy arm giving her a comfortable spot to relax. I knew that he would take advantage of my absence to make love to her; my hearing was such that me being gone was the only way he could have true privacy.
I called forward my wolf, falling to all fours as my grey, black and white colored wolf shook out his fur and smelled the air. My brother used to run with me every day when we were young, when I was just his annoying little brother who needed to learn how to be a wolf. We had been on our own since he was seventeen and I was eight. Mom died of the same cruel disease that killed all the other women in our Pack. Dad died when our Alpha tried and failed to take over another Pack, he was a Warrior and a loyal wolf to the end. My brother had taken me to this cabin when my father departed, and that was the only reason we were still alive. Our Pack had been overrun that day, the women taken, the men killed along with the male children.
For the next five years, I never ventured more than a mile from our cabin in the deep woods. My brother had some savings, and eventually we inherited money from the Pack lands that had been sold. He homeschooled me until I was old enough to start high school, and by then he hadn’t scented another wolf in two years. I went to school with humans, blending in, while he took a job in a lumber mill and met his now wife. Now twenty-six, I had been working at the mill since I was eighteen, saving to get my own place.
I started to run fast through the dark forest, my eyes easily picking up the features in the soft moonlight. I still couldn’t believe my brother gave this up, but when he got serious about her, he overdosed on Wolfsbane and killed his wolf. They’d never have children of their own, but he was human now, not worried about his secret getting out. I refused, I loved my wolf, but I had to keep myself balanced so I didn’t flash wolf on her.
I pushed harder through my run, the miles behind me as I ran the familiar trail. I slowed when I got closer to the lake, there were cabins all along it, and dogs. I didn’t go too close to them, I stayed a couple hundred yards away as I moved silently through the trees. I picked up the pace as the lights faded behind me. I stopped when an unexpected scent crossed the trail. Human… and young.
I followed the scent off the trail into the darkness, going another hundred yards or so until I could see it. I was a little shocked to find a little kid, no more than three or four years old, barefoot and in his pajamas, shivering and crying as he sat next to a tree. I could smell the blood, his arms and face were scratched from the brush, his feet torn up from the rocks and twigs. He was almost a half mile away from home, and his parents probably didn’t even know he was gone.
His head was on his knees, his arms hugging his legs, so he didn’t hear me as I approached. I didn’t want to scare him, so I laid down, whining softly as I crawled closer to him. He froze as he looked up, seeing me, my eyes glowing in the moonlight. “Puppy?” I moved closer, and he grabbed me around the neck, hugging me and crying into my fur. “Puppy…” I curled around him as he buried his face in my neck, he was exhausted, and soon he was sleeping.
Now I was really at a loss as to what to do. I couldn’t leave him out here all night, but I couldn’t walk naked out of the woods holding a three-year-old either. I waited until I was sure he was out, then I shifted back to my human form underneath him. Picking him up, I started to work my way back through the woods towards the houses. I followed his scent trail, seeing how he had wandered around as he got lost. Eventually, I got to the edge of the trees. I shifted, then gathering his pajamas in my teeth, I picked him up gently and slowly moved out of the woods, into the grass back yard, before I set him near the back deck. Raising my head to the sky, I let out a loud howl, followed by some barks.
The dogs in the neighborhood went nuts, and as I kept barking, I saw a few lights come on and people yelled at their dogs to shut up. I kept going until the light on the back of the house went on, a man coming to the sliding glass door.
A shotgun in his hand.
I turned and ran for the woods as quickly as I could as I could hear the sliding door open, waiting for the sound of the buckshot coming. Instead, I heard him yell “Tanner” and then a woman started to cry. I stopped far enough away they wouldn’t see me in the darkness, turning to see the boy being hugged to his father’s chest as he took him inside. I chuckled to myself, imagining the story the next morning.
I loved being a wolf, but I knew I would die alone. There were no more shewolves. I met a Pack wolf last year at a bar and he told me the bad news. I would never have a mate, never have children. I turned for home, swearing to Luna that I would live as a good wolf, honoring her ways until the end.