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The Porch Wolf

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I trotted back to the house a little after midnight, following the trail by scent as much as sight with the snow coming down hard now. I flipped the gate open that led to the pool, which I hadn’t filled since Catherine got her diagnosis. It was another of a long list of things I had ignored since she found out she had cancer.

The snow was four inches deep as I went up the stairs to the deck overlooking the back yard. I pressed the hidden panel with a paw, shaking the snow off my thick fur as the door opened. As soon as I was inside, I shifted back to my human form and dried off with a towel from the stack. I tossed that in a pile behind the door, then pulled on a pair of athletic shorts.

My wolf and I both suffered from the loss of our mate. It was like the Goddess reached in and tore my soul in half, a wound that would never stop bleeding. I grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniels from the table and went into the large living room, starting a fire in the fireplace to warm up while I got good and drunk. When the firewood was catching, I closed the screen and got up.

I turned on the television and put the videotape into the VCR. Tuesday nights was when I’d watch our mating ceremony. My father, Alpha Maksim Volkov, had officiated at his home in Welch, about five miles farther down the Cannon River from our current home. Our Pack had never isolated themselves from humans; we lived and worked among them, coming together to run and celebrate, and helping each other out. The Pack owned land that allowed us to let our wolves out and run, hundreds of acres of rolling hills in rural Goodhue County.

I’d attended the Winona Pack held a coming-of-age ceremony for their second daughter with my father and brother. I was twenty-two at the time, popular with the ladies, and had no interest in settling down. All of that changed when Catherine and her mother reached the stairway that led down to the room where her guests were waiting.

I forgot to breathe. Catherine was a living goddess, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

Dark brown hair tumbled in waves to the middle of her back. Her face, so enchanting, a narrow nose and prominent cheekbones, below hazel-colored eyes that I soon lost myself in. Her 18-year-old body displayed to perfection in a green ball gown. Her scent reached me, and I was lost.

Males moved to the bottom of the stairs to wait for her, and my wolf let out a ferocious growl. “MINE,” he said as I moved to intercept her. Those eyes got big, then she took a sniff, and a feral smile spread over her face. “MINE,” she said

The smart males quickly got out of the way, the not-so-smart ones I knocked out of my way as I ran across the room to her.

I jumped to the stair just below her, my nose going to her neck as my arms went around her. The scent had my wolf howling in glee, my jaw shifting in preparation. She tore my shirt aside so she could put her nose into my neck. Her wolf was just as ready as mine. “Claim me,” she growled. She moved her head to the side, exposing the skin on her neck and shoulder, and I bit down to claim her right before she bit my shoulder in return.

My head was swimming as our souls twined together. My parents had told me what it felt like to claim a mate, but that was just words compared to the real thing. She was everything I could want, and everything I didn’t think to ask for. I could feel her emotions. I could talk to her mind-to-mind.

I released her shoulder, licking the bite to help it heal. Bringing my hands up to her face, I cupped it while I rested my forehead on hers. Nothing else existed but us; I didn’t hear the people in the room or the shouts of congratulations. My head was reeling with the experience of melding with her.

She held me close, her heartbeat racing just like mine.

Her eyes, wide in wonder, pulling me into her very soul.

When I could think straight again, I pulled back my head but left my hands on her cheeks. “I’m Leo… Leo Volkov, your mate,” I said.

“Catherine,” she said. Her lips parted, her tongue darting out to wet them just before I pressed my own to hers. The kiss was beyond description, but our wolves wanted more. Leaning down, I swept her into my arms and started carrying her back up the stairs. Her mother went ahead of us, opening the door to her room.

We didn’t come out until the next morning, fully mated as was our way. Our parents took us to the County Courthouse to apply for a marriage license and scheduled our mating ceremony for the next Friday night. We had to deal with the five-day waiting period for the civil ceremony; it also gave time for family and friends to be invited and attend.

I hit PLAY, and the big screen came to life with the recording. After being used to HDTV, the old format was almost painful to watch, especially with the degradation of the tape after all these years.

The video opened with me standing in the large living room of my house, the room emptied of furniture except for folding chairs and a small raised stage. My father stood at the center, I was to his left, my younger brother Ivan on my other side as best man. The room was filled with not just werewolves but humans; friends, coworkers and people from school. The service served a civil purpose only, helping us blend in with the humans around us, and giving us the legal protections of a marriage bond. Under Werewolf traditions, we were already as bonded as we could be.

Music started to play, and Catherine appeared at the door. I paused the video, my fingers tracing over the outline of her face. I remembered the feel of her hair, the softness of her body, and the sound of her voice. I must have stopped the video a dozen times before it was over.

And then I drank until I stopped feeling anything.

When I woke, it was almost noon. The fire was out, the room cold. I closed the flue and went to the bathroom to do my business. The hangovers were as bad as the blackouts. Brushing my teeth to get the taste out, I took a few Tylenol and went to the kitchen. I drank a few glasses of water and juice with the scrambled eggs and toast I made. I was minimally competent in the kitchen, the main reason I ate out every night. When the dishes were in the sink, I shifted and then hit the button to go outside. I ran on my property for twenty minutes, checking the fences and refreshing the scents on the posts and trees around it.

When I’d finished running the perimeter, I went back to the house and laid down on the porch that went from the garage wall to the front door. The stamped concrete was cold, but I had a thick mat near the steps. The walls and shrubs guarded me against the winter winds. Flopping down, I put my head on my paws and stared out at my yard and the road and trees beyond.

After our mating, with our father still Alpha, the two of us began to look for a place of our own. I had started a general contracting company a few years earlier, drawing workers from among my Pack and friends from high school. Volkov Construction was growing steadily, and our parents helped us with the money to purchase the land. Eighty acres bordering the Miesville Ravine Park Preserve along one side, the rest a mix of farmland and orchard.

I built the garage first, needing the space enclosed for a workshop, and the floor above for a two-bedroom apartment. We lived in that little space for two years while construction of our dream home continued around paying jobs. Our dwelling was a big one, over five thousand square feet; not only did Catherine and I want a large family, but we needed space for Pack functions when I took over from my father.

My parents never saw us move in. A drunk driver took them, and our Beta pair away from us as they returned from a meeting in northern Minnesota. The State Patrol delivered the news, but my wolf already knew my father was gone. He’d felt the mantle of the Alpha shift from my father to me. The will gave their house to my younger brother, and I received a larger share of the money from their estate.

Our lives were never the same after that day. I rushed our home to completion while we dealt with all that came with running a Pack. My brother Ivan became my Beta, and between him and Catherine, we made it work. It was hard, we rarely slept a whole night, but we were happy.

I stayed outside until the sunset, then went back in to take a shower and change. Tonight was dinner at King’s Place.

I thought about taking the truck, then changed my mind and dressed for cold weather instead. I headed out to the garage. The four-car garage had my motorcycle and snowmobile in the second bay, beyond my truck. The third bay had my Jeep, the fourth bay Catherine’s silver Lexus SUV. We’d bought it a few months before her diagnosis, and I kept up the maintenance on it as if she would return to use it again.

It reminded me that I needed to start divesting myself of things soon. I had to put my estate in order before my wolf died, and Catherine’s possessions were a good start.

Tomorrow. I couldn’t handle it tonight.

I zipped up my snowmobile suit before opening the door. With all the snow, it was the perfect time to take a ride on the trails that passed behind my home.

As I straddled the Polaris and started it up, I imagined for a moment a weight settling into the seat behind me, arms wrapping around my waist and holding on. I shook my head, pulling out and watching the door close behind me. Those days were over. She was gone, and if not for a promise to her, I would be gone too.

Racing through the snow along the ditches towards Miesville, I put all that behind me. I would eat my fill, have a beer or two, then return home and grab another bottle. I would let the whiskey blot her out of my dreams and memories for a few hours, then start another day. Tomorrow would be at Las Margaritas for Mexican food, Friday at Dugarel’s, Saturday at the St. James, Sunday at the Smoking Oak, Monday at the Chinese Buffet.

And then back to Wiederholt’s on Tuesday for more Prime Rib, and a chance to see Liv again.

As I got off my snowmobile in the lot, my eyes went across the road and spotted Liv’s car in the back of that lot. For a minute, I considered going there instead, before deciding against it. A half-pound burger and waffle fries awaited. As I sat at the end of the bar, the place packed with snowmobilers, I jotted down a few ideas. If I did it right, everything would be ready by spring.

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