I’d never met the eyes of a two barreled gun, but I might have been shot at once. When I was sixteen, me and my buddy, Zach trespassed onto the Collins’ property. We knew Albert Collins made moonshine in the back of his old barn. So, one night we decided to take our first taste. The barn smelled like rot and too much moisture, like it could fall any minute, but the moonshine sat in shiny clear bottles and my mouth watered from the excitement of the moment. Albert Collins of course smelled the desperation off of us and chased us down, shooting his Ten Gauge at the sky.
Not to kill us. Just to frighten a couple of kids enough to keep them from ever coming back. I wondered if Albert Collins survived Jacob’s take-over.
The man attached to the gun in my face now had warm bronze skin and a short fade on top, but thick brows. He was a tall man, muscular, only wearing a pair of gray sweat pants. He must have been fresh out of bed, but he was wide awake. He had a mean look like an attack dog, chomping at the bit for some action. He looked ready for anything. He looked like he could pull the trigger.
“Who are you? Why are you in my house?” He barked, when someone else finally turned the filling sink off. Behind him, a woman yawned and dumped the full bowl of water out. She was short and darker than the man, built like a fairy with her hair wrapped up in a floral scarf. She was covered in a fluffy pink bathrobe. She crossed her arms, bored almost and leaned against the counter. She yawned again, but this time, she covered her mouth.
“Listen man,” I said, breathing hard. In the corner of my eyes, my hands trembled. The cold from the outside still clung to my body as if I stood naked in the middle of a snow storm. “I’ll go. I didn’t think anyone was home-”
“Hm,” He shook his head, totally not buying it. “Not as comforting as you think it is.”
“Right- It’s just- I’ll go. I didn’t plan to hurt anyone. I’ve got a friend in your living room and I’ll grab him and I’ll go.”
“How old are you?” The woman asked, slinking around the man. She nudged the First Aid Kit with her bare foot.
“Grace,” the man snapped. His eyes widened like she just sprouted another head. “Go back upstairs,” he growled, but she just ignored him.
She asked again, “How old are you?”
Her brown eyes squinted at me. They were already sharp, like a pair of cat eyes and just as curious and dangerous. She didn’t seem that old, maybe early thirties with the kind of bone structure fit for the covers of vogue. However, I could probably fit her in my pocket. That didn’t stop her from shooting the man, twice her size, a glare.
I closed my eyes. “Twenty-one.”
When I looked up, her eyes softened. She asked, “Why are you here? Why did you need this stuff?”
“Grace, stop it,” the man insisted, without setting his gun down. “It doesn’t matter how old he is. Look at his eyes, a Rogue is a Rogue...” I straightened up. They were wolves and I couldn’t believe I missed the smell of Gamma all over this house. The man snapped, “Go upstairs, I’ll deal with this.”
Grace raised her hand at him, keeping her eyes on me. “Ignore my husband, we’re talking. Just me and you. Why did you need this stuff? You don’t look hurt. I’m guessing your friend is.”
“Or his friend is busy filling a duffel bag with our stuff,” the man muttered.
“Start talking,” Grace smiled tightly. “Start with whatever is easier.”
I just stared at them, the knot in my throat inflating. I was a Rogue in their house. This was just delaying the inevitable. My jaw clenched, knowing this couldn’t end well. If they had to, they would sell Drew and I out in a heartbeat... but I needed their medicine and their first aid. I needed to play along. At least for now.
I licked my lips and said, “He’s not my friend. He’s my mate and I think...” My breathing hitch, the panic returning and twisting my insides. “I think his wound is infected. He has a fever and the wound doesn’t look good. He just passed out and- and- I didn’t know what else to do. We don’t have anywhere to go-”
“Okay, okay,” Grace whispered. “Calm down. Take a deep breath.”
“This is ridiculous,” the man stated, incredulously. He might think he was dreaming. “We should call the police.”
“What’s your name?” Grace asked.
I said the first thing that popped into my head, “Zach.”
“Alright, Zach, let’s go check on your mate. If anything just to shut my husband up, he’s Liam by the way and I’m Grace.”
“You drive me crazy,” Liam dropped his gun, turning the safety on and snapped at his wife. “You know that, right? You drive me fucking crazy.”
“Lead the way, Zach,” Grace motioned.
I nodded, slowly putting my hands down and I turned. I felt their eyes boring holes into the back of my head as I followed Drew’s smell back to the living room. Someone hit the light switch, revealing a nicer room than I expected. It was like a remodeled barn with a rustic flare. The support beams were still showing, pointing into a high triangular ceiling. Dangling in the middle was a huge chandelier made out of re-purposed mason jars. A huge stone fire place sat snug against the wall. There was so much seating I imagined their family was over a dozen. My surprise didn’t last long. Interior design wasn’t really on my mind in that moment.
Drew’s coloring had not improved, if anything he looked worse and that thought made me nauseous. He grunted and I flew to his side, taking his hand and pressing it to my chest. I moved his bangs, wet with sweat out of his face. “Ssh,” I whispered, stroking his face. “It’ll be okay. Just wait a little longer.”
“How old is he?” Grace asked, approaching him from behind the couch.
“He’s only eighteen.” My words came out tortured and Grace softened again.
“That’s one nasty bite,” Grace commented, motioning to Jacob’s mark and my face grew hot. I wondered what they thought about me claiming to be Drew’s mate while he sported such a nasty bite. It didn’t smell like me. Drew didn’t smell like my mate at all, at least not to them. She raised her hand, asking first, “May I touch him?”
I just stared for a long moment. My gut reaction was to say “no”. I wanted to snap at anything that tried to touch him, but I swallowed the dread and I just nodded. The whole time, I told myself she didn’t mean any harm like a mantra. She nodded back, using one hand to check her temperature and the other to check Drew’s and her eyes widened. “Damn,” she said and turned to Liam. “Honey, call Dr. Singh. Tell him it’s urgent.”
Liam guffawed. “You’re joking.”
“Yeah and the real punch line is gonna come when I take this boy upstairs and put him in a real bed. Go,” she demanded, waving him away. “Tell him to bring his kit. This kid’s got a bad fever and an infected bite. What?” Her glare narrowed. “Staring at me is not going to magically summon Dr. Singh.”
Liam finally rolled his eyes and lowered his weapon. He swore something nasty under his breath, but went upstairs anyways. The whole house creaked as he moved. It seemed like such a big house for two people. I looked up, meeting Grace’s eyes. She had been staring at me. I told her, “I can’t pay you or that doctor.”
“That’s fine,” she shrugged. “Dr. Singh owes me one.”
“And we are Rogues. Your husband is right.”
“I figured you were. Your eyes are crazy. I’ve never seen a wolf maintain red eyes in their human form.”
“Why, then? Why are you helping me? What do you get out of it?”
“I’m in the habit of helping my fellow wolf,” she said and raised herself, pausing for a moment as she looked at Drew. “You smell so afraid.” She looked at me. “It’s palpable, how scared you are. You looked like you were ready to take that bullet if I heard you out. Then, when you said he was your mate, I believed it. The smell made sense. If I didn’t try to help, well I think I’d be the monster. So...” she fixed her robe closer again. “Pick up your boy and follow me. We can get you two set up while we wait for Dr. Singh.”
She turned, walking towards a staircase and leaving me alone in her home. Me, a self-proclaimed Rogue that just broke into her home and tried to steal from her. The last few minutes hit me like the worst whiplash, making me dizzy with questions. It was like I blinked and suddenly, we had a place to stay.
“I better take advantage while we have it,” I muttered and picked Drew off the couch and carried him up the stairs.
“I’ve cleaned the wound and drained the fluid,” The doctor explained as he rummaged through his bag. He must’ve been middle aged with streaks of grays striking through his black hair. He had crow’s feet and soft tan skin. He pushed up his wire rimmed glasses up his triangular nose and took out an IV bag and a needle.
By instinct, I tried to stand, but Grace held my shoulder. She pressed me down into the seat to keep me from hopping up and punching the doctor’s lights out. No matter how much Dr. Singh was helping, if he caused any pain to Drew, I was inclined to stop it. Grace got that pretty fast.
Drew laid underneath a thick bed quilt, but without his shirt and the jacket we stole. He was still sweating, but the bite mark was covered by clean gauze. The room was like the living room, purposely weathered and rustic. There was bookshelf made of crates and the headboard looked a puzzle of salvaged wood. The coach across from the bed was leather and so was the lounge chair. All the pillows, the blankets and even the rug was made from thick material and of warm colors. The exposed wooden walls were hand painted with collages of flowers while an apple orchard was painted behind the bed. It still didn’t feel like a home. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Liam stood by the door, refusing to take part of this situation. He refused to get anywhere near it as if he could catch crazy.
“Your friend here...” Dr. Singh muttered, sharing a knowing look with Grace and Liam. Grace said we were old friends from out of town. Liam snorted at that and Dr. Singh wasn’t fooled. My eyes gave us away. Dr. Singh explained while he tied Drew’s arm off before he popped the needle into his skin and my stomach curled in on itself. Still, I couldn’t look away. My eyes followed the tubing to the clear bag hanging from the bed.
“Settle down,” Grace whispered, pushing me down again. She leaned down by my ear and said, “I’ll be back soon with a cold compress, you try to relax.” She slipped by Liam, the human statue, patting his arm as she disappeared.
The doctor explained, “... is going to be okay. I’ve given him some antibiotics and I’ll leave some ointment. You’ll need to redress his wound every twenty-four hours-”
“Thank you,” I finally released a breath I’d been holding.
His brows jumped over his slipping glasses, hitting me with a firm look that made me feel like a little boy again. He said, “I’m not done. He’s wildly dehydrated and I’d dare say malnourished. If I had to put money on it and I try not to do that anymore or the other Dr. Singh, my wife will make me sleep on the couch. No, I’d say you’re not doing too well yourself Zachary.”
I fidgeted. I didn’t expect to have the microscope aimed at me too.
“I’m putting Lyle on bed rest and I’m prescribing you—” He pointed at me “—some regular rest and a balanced diet and a shower,” he shot a finger at me again. “You smell awful and look worse. Get a haircut too.”
“Sounds good,” Grace said, appearing again. She handed me the cold compress and pinned me down with her cat-like eyes. “They’ll be staying with us.”
“Well,” Liam finally spoke, raising his voice to a roar, “if you ask me-”
Liam grimaced. He picked himself off the threshold and skulked into the room, aimed at his wife. “We’re trying to run a business here, Grace. We can’t just let strange men run around the Inn and expect people to be cool with it.”
“If you’re worried about the girls, they’ll be fine,” Grace stated and crossed her arms. “And it’s the off season.” She glanced at me, adding some much needed information. “We run and an Inn here, the Dearest Inn. There’s an apple orchard just over the hill. During the Fall, this place is packed. The whole town is packed. There’s a popular mountain trail too and great little shops and restaurants. There’s even a spa with a hot springs. We’re a sensation in the fall.”
“He doesn’t need the brochure,” Liam grumbled.
“No wonder all the rooms were locked,” I mumbled before I could stop myself.
Dr. Singh cleared his throat to remind me of his presence, but focused on packing his things away. Blushing, I bowed my head and sat on Drew’s bedside. I laid the cold compress across his forehead, fixing his bangs out of the way. Dr. Singh nodded. “A haircut for him too.”
I chuckled and even Dr. Singh’s lips curled into a smile, for just a moment. I watched Drew’s sleeping face, listening to his little breaths. He seemed to be sleeping more peacefully now, much to my relief. My whole body relax, the adrenaline shaking out of me, replaced by back aching exhaustion. I rubbed my eyes, feeling a familiar wetness. I just couldn’t believe I found help. He was going to be okay.
“How about we discuss this more tomorrow?” Liam asked. “It’s nearly 3:00 am.”
“Fine,” Grace frowned and dropped her arms.
“Wonderful, I’m going home,” Dr. Singh stood. He was a shorter man and I hadn’t realized until now, he came over in his pajamas, a matching silk set underneath a huge puffy winter coat. He eyed Grace, raising one of his fury brows. “Is this something we’re letting Cameron know? He might want to know about your...” He glanced at us on the bed. He landed on, “Guests.”
“Cameron doesn’t need to know,” Grace waved her hands as if it was a silly question.
“We should tell him,” Liam argued. “We would’ve told Henry. We would’ve asked for Henry’s approval.”
“Well, Henry isn’t here and Cameron doesn’t need to know.”
“Who’s Cameron?” I asked.
“Our Alpha,” they all said in unison and my heart squeezed.
“Our fresh Alpha,” Grace explained further. “His father, Henry died almost a year ago. He just took the title a few months ago, so he has more on his plate to concern himself with than us inviting a few friends to stay. Besides,” She snuggled deeper inside her coat and stuck her nose up in the air. “I have dirt on him and he’ll let me do whatever I want.”
“You drive me crazy,” Liam shook his head and then motioned the doctor. “Come on, Aasif, I’ll walk you out.”
“Alright then,” Dr. Singh stood with his doctor’s case by his side. He pointed at me again. “I’ll be back in a few days to check on Lyle, but I also wanna see a bit more color in your face too...” He was halfway out the door, when he turned and said, “and a haircut. You need a haircut.”
“Okay,” I grinned, too tired to argue. I nodded. “Thank you.”
Liam and the doctor left. Their quiet conversation echoed through the house. Grace didn’t move at first. “I’m not even going to ask if you want your own room.” She nodded at a door by the wardrobe. “That’s the bathroom. You’ll find plenty of towels. I expect to see you cleaned up in the morning. Good night.”
“Night,” I whispered and she left too, closing the door behind her and I didn’t hear the click of a locked door. We could leave before anyone else woke up. It was tempting to take everything they gave us and split, but I had to be sure. Leaning close, I kissed the top of Drew’s head and promised, “we’ll leave as soon as you’re well again.”
There was no way we were staying here.