Chapter 1 ~ The hand-grip-thingie of my desk phone cracked and Elizabeth blurted an ow. I rushed to figure out how to hold the two separate pieces to the side of my head. “What was that?” she hissed. She’d been hissing a lot on this call. Maybe explained why I’d plied a little too much muscle to the thingie. I explained I broke my phone. She asked how I did that. I didn’t answer her. “This isn’t going well,” she said. “You think?” “Not like you’re geared to forgiving,” she threw at me for the third time. Loss of faith ain’t nothing. “Maybe this isn’t something we can overcome,” she said. My mind flicked back to our last vampire grip-and-grin. She’d worn a red silk skirt with about two inches of material to it, a sheer top that veed to her knees. Sounds slutty, or my memory tends to exaggerate. If there was no other reason to overcome my faith issues, the fact she made every other female on earth look a little homely should have given me a proper attitude adjustment. But a relationship isn’t all about sex. Maybe ninety percent. But there were a whole lot of other things in the remaining ten percent Elizabeth and I needed to work out. Me living in Tampa and her in Rio de Janeiro was on the top of the list. “Maybe refer to me as endowed and not a vampire, would help,” she said. “You call yourselves vampires,” I said. “When have you ever heard me use that derogatory term?” That wasn’t fair. I wasn’t talking about her. I was talking about the average street walker. Not that Lord Elizabeth Wintour was anything close to a street walker. Five hundred years ago, she probably wasn’t close to the average street walker. I never got around to asking her exactly how old she is. But I have a feeling she was turned around the fifteenth century. At least her tastes hovered in that timeline. Except when she’s going out of her way to—arouse me. Like that night in Texas. “I’ll work on it,” I said. More plastic splintered in my hand and she groaned. Must have been loud. “We need more time,” she said. I shook my head. The last time, we lost fifteen years. Maybe we weren’t meant to be together. “You may be right.” “Really?” Her voice softened. “I mean, I was surprised you ever called me, after—” The whole Antoine-Melusine-thing had made me think fighting to make it work might be worth it. But those two ancients were bickering too, Antoine admitted. Melusine was a bit squeamish about certain alpha females wandering around Antoine’s estate, among other things. Go figger.  “Did you really break the phone?” Elizabeth asked. I held my tongue. “You wolves have a temper,” she said. I thought I’d been doing rather well. “Call me endowed.” I sensed her smile. She was stubborn enough not to let me actually hear that she was amused. “You aren’t funny,” she said. Of course she couldn’t admit I had a smidgen of wit. Not this Tennessee hick. The phone-thingie shifted and the mic-half dangled for a moment by a red and blue wire. “Come to Brazil,” she said. My lungs turned to concrete. Eyes welled. I really wanted to. But even if my life wasn’t currently a little crazy— “I can’t leave here,” she continued. “The whole mess you caused in September drew out too many unattached endowed. It’s a nightmare down here.” “My mess!” “Don’t be so sensitive,” Elizabeth said. “I’m endowed,” I said. “I have a right to my emotions.” “You’re a big baby,” she said. “You stabbed me in the back.” Her intake of air was like a knife in my chest. “Carter—” I waited. “I hope you have a good life.” The phone went quiet. A little like my heart. I run a multi-billion-dollar company but can’t figure out how to make up with a woman who loves me. I don’t think she’s ever said she loves me, but I know she does. Stepped too far from her comfort zone too many times not to be crazy about me. What’s not to be crazy about? Doesn’t go both ways. I mean, yeah, she can hold a conversation. She’s a powerful and beautiful creature. I might could eventually get used to the fact she likes to get high on blood. But she’s a wine drinker.  Really. A wine drinker. My heart shook or something. Who was I kidding? Not having her in my life— I hadn’t realized how empty my life was until I met her. The sex was unbelievable. She gets me. Not too many people ever have. My hand shook as I tried to set the two halves of the phone-thingie in the cradle. The lower half kept falling over, wouldn’t hold the little button down. The dial tone screamed at me. Clenching my muscles to rip the thing apart, I stopped short. Don’t know how I managed that. Maybe because I’ve survived five months without her already, and things haven’t completely fallen apart in my head. Only because council business has kept me so busy I haven’t had a moment to think about my personal life.  Much. I leave personal issues only to those hours between three and five AM when I’m trying to sleep. I close my eyes and see Elizabeth, either in her black slacks and white silk blouse, or that tiny red number she wore in September. That skirt left an indelible mark on my soul. I unplugged the hand-thing from the larger square with all the buttons, stood, and strode out to Frieda’s side of the office. My Girl-Friday spoke on her phone, but twisted around to give me a glance. Her brow arched as her eyes caught the phone swinging in my hand. She pulled her own phone away four inches. “Again?” she said. “Talking to Elizabeth?” I closed my eyes. I had a few incidents lately. But the water cooler gave me great pleasure, the way the jug exploded, sending water into every conceivable cranny of the office. The rush of water cooled me down two degrees. Frieda held out her hand. I gave her the phone and walked to the door, Baby Boy jogging behind me to catch up. Even his sway wasn’t going to give me a smile. Rottweilers have an interesting lope, no doubt about it. And Baby’s goofy face rarely failed to give me a lump in the throat, or some such thing. But I wasn’t in the mood to smile. I found myself outside the shop staring at the striking-blue Tampa February sky not remembering getting here. But Baby Boy sat, shoulder leaning against my left leg, patient as could be. My cell vibrating woke me up a bit more. Thing never stops vibrating if I’m not talking on it. I needed to end my close ties to the local store managers. They think I need to be aware of every little thing. That’s what I have regional managers for. And VPs. For grins, I pulled out my phone and checked who was on the end of the umbilical cord. Hum. Didn’t expect that. “Hey, Trudy.” “Frieda said you were in a bad way.” The ladies would like to take care of me. They’re sweet. “Not that I care, or anything,” Trudy continued. “Timing aside. We need to talk.” I’d been seeing this coming for a while. The last six months had been hard on everyone. Who knew the threat of Armageddon could be so stressful? I checked my Rolex. Nine fifteen. I’d been in the office since four. I could use some lunch. “I’ll pick you up in ten,” I said. “Front lobby?” she asked. “Yeah.” I would love to talk her out of retiring, but she had a right to enjoy her grandkids while they still thought she hung the moon.  Chapter 2 ~ It took me eight minutes. I hit every green light all the way down Kennedy Boulevard. That never happens. It was an omen. Many of my kind believe in such things. Me, not so much. From the sidewalk a half block away, Trudy’s bodyguard gave me a nod as I crossed two lanes to get to the curb. He looked left and right one last time before darting a wave at the glass behind him. I herded Baby Boy into the backseat. Trudy exited the swirly door as I pulled the Audi to a stop. I noted she didn’t carry a purse. No phone in her hand. She didn’t intend to allow any interruptions. Twenty years Trudy had been with me. Her kids had been in the high school-college phase of life when she strode in for an interview. Felt like a flash of time, but it was a good chunk of her mortal life. I exhaled hard with that thought.  Humans burn out too fast. At one point in my life I swore never to get attached to another. I worked hard at that. Maybe it’s all the mothering she’d layered me with all these years. Her wolf-shadow opened the door for her. She folded beside me without meeting my eyes, but she did greet Baby Boy. Trudy had no need to feel guilty. She wasn’t letting me down. The door closed behind her and her bodyguard strode for the building. She must have insisted on some space, otherwise he would have gotten in the back. I gave her a, hey. She sucked in a shaky breath as I merged back into traffic. “Hubs passed out last night,” she said. “What!” “Another heart event,” she said, calmly. I pushed through a very pink light. “And why are you in the office today?” “Sign authorization of authority,” she said. Just like that? “I’ll come back,” she said softly. I stared at the red light ahead. I didn’t want to stop. My heart was racing and I needed to hit the Audi’s accelerator to match it. “They’re scheduling surgery,” she said. He told me the other evening he didn’t ever want his chest cut open. Was very adamant about it. Maybe that wasn’t so recent. I pulled to a stop, trying to catch my breath.  “I know the timing is—” “Oh shut up,” I said.  “I’ll do whatever to help transition—” “Shut up,” I repeated. “He in Tampa General?” “They sent him home this morning. Not like there was anything they could do for him in the ER.” “And you come to the office,” I mumbled. “Davey’s spending the day with him,” she said. Their kids are solid gold. And people say millennials are self-absorbed. Occurred to me I knew her kids’ names, but not her husband’s. Trudy has never called him anything but Hubs. I’m so self-absorbed I never asked. In twenty, stinkin’ years. “Not like there’s anything imminent,” she said softly. Now I was hitting nothing but red lights. I pounded the steering wheel. She asked where we were going. I smiled. “What?” I didn’t answer her. Two more red lights later I pulled into the Den’s parking lot. “The Den?” Trudy almost whispered. “Seriously? Twenty years I’ve heard about this hell hole in the wall, and today you take me? It’s a bar, right? It isn’t even ten o’clock.” A wolf never has to look at the clock to order a beer. “They go out of their way to make it look, uh—” Maybe a little seedy. It’s a wolf joint. What’d she expect? I gave her a look.  She smiled. “Are we really?” I parked. The lines hadn’t been painted or the asphalt resurfaced since I’d lived in Tampa. That didn’t help the overall appearance of the place. There were four other vehicles. I recognized all of them. The proprietor drove the F250. I wouldn’t have expected him till evening, when the place tended to liven up. The Camaro belonged to the barman. The other sedans belonged to the cook and a sales type that mostly used James’s Wi-Fi. I smiled inwardly, walking to the passenger side of the Audi. I opened the door, and Trudy gave me a surprisingly nervous pout, but she accepted my hand and climbed out of the car. Baby hauled himself over the seat and skirted around us at a jog. Trudy and I walked to the entrance still holding hands. The woman’s heartrate had to be near a hundred. She only learned of our kind last September, right before the entire fit sluiced through the shan.  Baby Boy loves the Den. Maybe because everyone there gives him a sniff in exchange. And a tidbit off their steaks. His hips swung with energy, leading us to the door. “It says members only, strictly enforced,” she said. “Just to keep innocent folk out,” I said. I should have warned her. She suggested they were maybe closed. Wolves don’t need a lot of light. “Let your eyes adjust.” She managed into a chair and I sat next to her, never letting go of her hand. She held mine like a vice. James waved Tommy off and came out from behind the bar. He greeted Baby Boy first with a head scratch, then me with a, hey. He pulled out the chair across from me, turned it around to sit with his arms over the back. “A visitor, today.” “Trudy. James.” James welcomed her to the Den. Held her hand a little longer than usual to express that welcome. Trudy has a titanium spine, but she was taken back a bit. Mouth opened, but nothing came out. Must be James’ tattoos. He wore a sleeveless shirt like he always does, and the tats flow uninterrupted from his shoulders to his wrists, over muscles that dip and flow like sand dunes. James fought off a smile, looked back at me. We chitchatted a minute before he asked what he could bring us. Not that he had to ask what I wanted. The Den doesn’t have a complicated menu. They have a lager and a stout on tap, and nothing but T-bones come from the back. Mostly the twenty-four-ounce variety, served as snacks, mostly. Trudy wouldn’t be drinking wine today. James suggested coffee and she nodded. I told him Trudy’s steak actually needed to hang on the grill a few minutes. James smiled and gave Trudy a wink before he left. Trudy whispered, “I’m really not up to a steak, at ten in the morning.” I told her not to worry. “Baby and I’ll finish off what you can’t eat.” If Baby Boy was lucky. She blushed. That had to be the first time I’d ever seen the woman do that. She reached up and tugged on a curl of gray-brown hair laying across her ear. She began to apologize again for the timing and I gripped her hand a little tighter and told her to hush. “I’ve never been one to go on about how important a person is to me.” “No,” she agreed. I tilted my head at her. James delivered my beer and her coffee. “That has to be the biggest glass of beer I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Saves them from wearing a path in the tile,” I said. She looked down at the concrete floor. Point taken. “I never appreciated everything you did for me, the company.” She pulled her hand out of mine to test her coffee. “No. You didn’t. But you gave me an enormous amount of freedom to take on anything that interested me.” “And a lot that didn’t,” I said. She smiled. “A man probably doesn’t tell his mom she’s important, either,” I said. “And you’ve been a good mother to me.” She chuckled. She would have been really embarrassed to know how clear her rose cheeks were to me in the gloom. She sighed. “You never would have made it if I hadn’t helped you with Maggie.” Maggie wouldn’t have made it. Oh, that horrible trollop. Has been a major pain in my backside. Never have figured out why I took her on as my private little charity case. “I came close to killing her a few times.” “I know you did,” she said. “I just never realized until recently, when you said, kill, that you really meant, kill.” We were quiet a moment. “He’ll be fine,” I said. Her eyes welled. She sipped at her coffee. Grimaced again. I should have warned her a wolf-brewed cup is stronger than garden variety. I looked down, surprised my glass was already half empty. “I stayed home with the kids for ten years, before I went back to school to get my master’s.” She set her cup down. “Don’t know if I can stay home and care for Hubs. I’m afraid I may kill him.” I formed a smile for her. “I’m not kidding.” I didn’t think she was. Hubs, to me, is like a clingy kitten. Cute. But way too needy.  Our steaks came and our conversation turned to what she would do if she could do anything in the world she wanted. Because that’s something I could make happen. If she’d let me. I was hurt to find she didn’t have a greater level of imagination.  I’ve been on this earth a while. I’ve seen humans come out of their witless teens, grow into agreeable beings, mature, and retire, where they bored after three trips to wherever, and then die. I would take Trudy back to engage her in any little project she wanted. Give her as much time to play house with Hubs as she wanted.  Maybe I was the delusional one. I hoped not. Three hours later I dropped her at home. She’d switched to the lager about the time she got her steak. I think she learned she loved the combination. So she had two reasons not to return to the office. I called her bud to meet her at home, and would have headed for Maggie’s bungalow. I had some things to say to her. But she wouldn’t be awake for another four hours. So I had four hours to spend panicking over who would run the business with Trudy stepping back. The council was taking way too much of my time to try it alone.  Chapter 3 ~ The line rang. A whole slew of other thoughts hit me. I waited twenty years to let Trudy into my world. That was a huge mistake. Maybe I have trust issues. I left Frieda as a temp for a year while I decided if I could put up with her humanness. Really. That’s a big deal to us wolves.  She answered her phone as I realized, maybe I shouldn’t move to the executive offices. Whoever I brought on as the new CEO should have Trudy’s place. The view rocked. Frieda was on her second hello. Maybe I should say something. “Hey. Called to throw you a project.” “Yeah. I don’t have anything better to do. My plate is so clear. I can catch a breath any time I want. But, what would the new project be, Boss?” I explained Trudy was retiring and settled to let her blah, blah about how she would miss her, how civilization would crumble without the woman. Humans, especially women, use way too many words. I interrupted her. I just had to. “So the project was to move us downtown. But not sure if I want to do that, since picking up my phone to call you.” The other thing pressed into my chest. I pulled off Kennedy into a store parking lot, leaving the car running. Baby Boy gave me a curious snort in my ear. “You there, Boss?” “Call ya back,” I said. “Got a few calls to make.” I maybe disconnected on her sarcasm. That would ruin her day. I dialed up our Atlanta councilor. The guy is an absolute wuss. Can’t say I really like him. But he’d gut himself if I said that was a good idea. I needed five other concurrences from the board before I could bring Frieda into the fold. “She make it through our security check?” was the only thing he asked. “Of course, when I hired her five years ago.” I don’t allow any humans to spend any time around me without knowing, if they accidently find out I’m maybe not as human as I appear, they’re unlikely to go screaming to some tabloid with pictures. “I’m okay,” he said. I hung up and started through the list of councilors who hated me least. I’m surprisingly not that popular. Especially after that early meeting when I shifted and threatened to gut one of us because he suggested I might not be that faithful with the facts. He would be the last I called. I needed four more approvals now. Midway through the third call someone gave me an irritated horn blast. I had pulled across three parking spaces. Maybe the place was getting busy, and the guy needed a slice of parking. The Audi is so comfortable, or maybe because I’m so focused, I hadn’t considered I wasn’t sitting at my desk. The one benefit of not being liked, my calls were very short. They were happy to say, yeah, so they could hang up and tell whoever was nearby, how much they hated my guts. So I got my majority vote quickly, tapped out a text to the head of council security to inform them who was coming aboard, and called Frieda to change any plans she had for lunch. “I ate lunch two hours ago,” she said. I was really looking forward to another T-bone. But maybe taking her to the Den wasn’t the best idea anyway. “Boss? You there?” Uh. My mind was spinning, thinking about everything I knew about Frieda. Frieda, a name by the way, that didn’t go with the package. Frieda makes me think of a buxom server in an English pup. But my Frieda ran track at USF. Six-foot-tall. Played semi-pro football on the weekends. Never wanted to work on her MBA. I made her. I can be persuasive. She cussed me a lot, despite the salary I gave her. I must have interviewed a thousand people.  I’m not that easy to please. Been called a prick to my face more times than I can count. Screened people with degrees out the wazoo. It wasn’t education that was my primary concern. When Carl, my security guy, noted in his clearance review that three of her references called her a bitch, but the most honest bitch in the world, I was sold.  It wasn’t easy to replace Trudy when I promoted her to chief bottle washer. “Boss?” “Uh, yeah. I’ve got some deep thoughts on my mind,” I said. “You need to clear out your afternoon schedule.” “I’ve got a conference call in a bit.” How does she do conference calls and still screen my calls. She’s amazing.  “Fine, fine,” she muttered. “I’ll call you when I’m downstairs,” I said. “We need to talk. Somewhere private.” “We’re going somewhere?” I told her yeah, that she probably wouldn’t be making it back in the office today, and hung up on her argument. Baby Boy snuffled. I invited him into the front seat, before I pulled out for Kennedy Boulevard. There was a day I would have gone ballistic over possible scratches in my leather interior. The Rottweiler’s company has made that anal issue history. Frieda picked up as I pulled into the shop’s drive. “I see you.” She stepped out of the front office carrying both of our gym bags, which gave me a, huh. She opened the passenger door to Baby Boy’s big head. Usually he does what I say, but evidently he didn’t want in the rear seat again. Frieda gave him an ear scratch, let him give her a lick, then got him in the back without a word, and crawled in the passenger seat. Immediately asked me where we were going for privacy. I admitted I hadn’t thought of a place yet. “I missed my yoga last night,” she said. “Uh—” “I have my own studio at home,” she said. Going to a female employee’s home blasted fireworks and I stuttered a triple beat. She joked she’d sign a sexual harassment disclaimer if that would make me happy. It didn’t. She told me to head south on Westshore. She’d mentioned she’d bought a fixer-upper bungalow in the high-rent district nearby. That’s why she could get to the office in five minutes. Tampa’s south side is an eclectic mix of real estate, the only common denominator being that a half-lot typically goes for a million bucks with a teardown sitting on it. McMansions sit next to humble, seventy’s, thousand-square-foot bungalows. Not three blocks down, three blocks over, away from the Tampa Bay side, she directed me into a long, cracked concrete drive. There were signs of renewal that stood out. A skylight jammed between weathered barrel tile. An extended entry. All-weather windows, not the old-Florida roll outs. But the stucco needed a lot of work and the paint peeled on every inch of trim. “I’ve spent most of my time so far on the inside,” she said. It looked like a lot of trucks had been using her small front yard for parking. “I’m at a lull in construction,” she continued. “Nice to pay cash as I go. The mortgage is a killer by itself.” “Look,” I said, “This isn’t a g—”  “Oh shut up. I’ve worked for you for five years and you haven’t uttered one suggestive thing to me. I know you aren’t into me.” She got out of the car with both of our bags and walked to the sun-blanched door. I closed my eyes, shook my head. Baby Boy snuffled and slobbered the side of my head. I guess he was ready to follow Frieda, wherever she was going. So I cut off the engine, let Baby Boy out of the back, and trudged to the front door, left cracked three inches. Baby Boy quickly disappeared, to explore. The entry was bare concrete, as was the living room it opened to. But around the corner, I peeked into a dining space and kitchen that looked out of a New York magazine.  “Your bag in the hall bath,” Frieda called from farther down the hall. An open door hinted a master bedroom.  I retreated the other way, down the bare concrete hall. Some basic updates, new counter, sink, and mirror were in place. But unpainted drywall and a bare bulb hinted work for future paychecks. My bag sat on more concrete floor. I unzipped it, glad I keep it outfitted for different interests. I’ve been known to take in a run when I’m ticked off, a three-on-three pickup game with fellow wolves when I have business to discuss, and my enormously baggy bib overalls, in case I ever find myself needing something to wear after shifting through the seams of my daily wear.  Since Frieda joined me, I even keep a tee and cotton gym shorts for a yoga practice. Back in the seventies I hung out with a human woman who was big into yoga. After we split, I hadn’t kept it up. I always claimed I hated it. But only a fool disregards the cosmic Zen of a good stretch and a good core workout. I let Frieda talk me into some park practices over the years, for good causes. After changing, I slogged down the bare floor, shower shoes slapping the concrete, and Frieda called from around the corner, which I found was probably once a family lanai, now transformed into a glassed-in studio with bamboo tile, overlooking an amazing backyard full of blossoming azalea, which I personally hate. The pollen those things generate kills us—endowed. The thought gave me a sad jab. Baby Boy was gazing out the glass too, though he’s not much into nature. He hates getting away from the A/C. I kicked off my shoes next to Frieda’s. “I know,” Frieda said. “You hate azaleas. I didn’t plant them.” She pulled a mat and towel from a wicker shelf unit and shoved them my way, before getting a pair for herself. While I found a space to unroll my mat, she lit two candles at the far end of the room. Some kind of berry scent. Five minutes later we were both in our preferred opening asana. “You know I don’t expect you to promote me into Trudy’s position, right?” Frieda exhaled. Not a frustrated sigh. It’s part of vinyasa. “So this high drama wasn’t necessary.” Well, that helped a little. “If you wanted me on the corporate side, I know you would have had me more involved in—” She flowed smoothly into a tabletop position. I realized she wore bright red tights, a black sport bra with one of those hint tops overlaying it. Her bum in the air caught my eye. I quickly harassed myself for that observation. For a female in her later thirties though, she was well maintained. Since working for me—maybe I work her too hard, she’d put on a few pounds. But they looked nice where they settled. “I mean,” she continued, “our desks sit over one of your shop floors. Isn’t exactly the center of the executive world. I’ve visited downtown, you know. Have budget meetings there, attended mandatory harassment classes—uh, with that note, probably wasn’t a good idea to ask you here, huh?” I shifted to a staff pose. She was working a cat-cow, which was very distracting. “So, cut the drama and start talking,” she said. “What’s up?” Baby Boy lay down a foot from me with an humph.  Where to begin. This would only be the third time I’ve done this. Trudy and Hubs took it well last year. But I didn’t want to screw this up. “I said, just say it. You’re here. I know I’m too good an employee so you aren’t ready to fire me. The company’s ROI is sound. So no looming layoffs. So how bad could it be?” I let out a hard breath. It wasn’t vinyasa. And it wasn’t frustration. I hit the preamble that she had to swear she would never reveal what I was about to tell her. I considered adding the threat-of-death thing, but decided to leave it out. She claims she hates drama. There was no way I could concentrate on my positions and continue. I stood and strode to the glass facing all that red azalea. “You’re freaking me out, Boss. Yeah, yeah. Okay. Never repeat. Ever. Yeah. So go on.” Still facing the backyard, I said, “Trudy is the only person who knows, oh, and Maggie. But I’ll need someone with intelligence, aware of, what I’m going to tell you. So—” Maybe I was over worrying this. Frieda sighed hard. “Maggie already told me.”  Chapter 4 ~ Maybe I screamed. Or growled. For a wolf, it’s kind of the same thing. Baby Boy whined. I noted the glass walls around us vibrating. The odd sensation brought me out of my anger. It’s probably the engineering background in me. “Tell me she didn’t,” I hissed. “Because I’m going to kill her.” “She said you’d kill her,” Frieda said. “That’s why I brought you here. If you ever needed some mind altering vinyasa, that would be now.” I wasn’t exactly practicing an asana, but I was definitely tightening my core and stretching every muscle. I wanted to put my fist through one of those glass panes. I peered down at Baby Boy’s worried mug. The gentle giant has a way of centering me. “So, Is Elizabeth a wolf too?” she asked. At least Maggie hadn’t told her everything. I hissed loud and long. “How did she make you believe her?” Frieda turned crimson. There was no hiding it in this bright, sunlit room. Not that she could have hid it at the Den, either, from me. I came close to asking if Maggie vamped out, but that would have outed Maggie. Since I wasn’t certain Frieda knew about Maggie yet, that would have violated one of our keystone laws too. Frieda’s face puckered. Was she going to cry? Her eyes rimmed red. Oh, I hate it when women cry. I’d rather they rip out my heart. I could grow another one. “I don’t drink much,” she practically whispered. “She showed up here one Friday night with a bottle of Jose Cuervo. She can be pushy. And she doesn’t take a hint well, and she doesn’t listen to harsh words any better. You know?” I nodded. “I maybe got really tipsy. Worse than that. I mean, Friday night and I wasn’t out with a guy. Like every other Friday night the last five years. I had gloves on and was sanding a bookcase, covered in dust when she got here.”  She explained Maggie voiced frustration that the tequila didn’t do anything to her. Somehow the conversation jumped to her needing to get high, and they were in Maggie’s car, on their way to her bungalow. “She didn’t pull a bottle of weed out of her fridge. She sucked blood from a flippin’ plastic tube. Looked like a melted, summer, cherry juice stick. Grossed me out. I threw up a lot of tequila in her sink.” Maggie broke our law. A stream of colorful language came to the tip of my tongue. Being responsible for the twit, I was required to—at this point in our relationship, could I kill the stupid female? Being the chair of the council didn’t free me from our laws.  I pressed hard into my temples with the palms of my hands. “You look less than happy,” Frieda said. Kill her? Risk others learning I didn’t take care of her? The law is straight forward. My life is forfeit if I don’t judge, sentence, and execute her. Mine will be the more severe wrong. Did it matter the human she confided in is now sanctioned? My brain dulled. I hadn’t read the statutes in a while, but I don’t think the timing was significant. Worth a visit to a lycan lawyer. “What’s wrong?” Frieda asked. I didn’t want to tell her. But if I failed to take care of Maggie, and Frieda ever told one of our kind—not as though that was a possibility—unless she was taken before a tribunal for some reason. I lowered to the floor in a half-lotus position, and folded forward with a groan. “Uh, what is it, Boss?” She raised onto her knees, though I faced her bamboo floor, I could sense her move closer. Last thing I needed was an attractive human female dressed in red tights moseying up to me right now. “Maggie—” I exhaled hard, and rose up. “Our kind have harsh laws.” For her part, Frieda remained surprisingly patient. Held back her regular sarcasm. “It’s a capital offense to make a human aware of us, without council sanction.” “Capital—sanction?” “As her responsible mentor. By law, I’m obligated to kill Maggie.” “Kill? Really? Dead kill? Seriously? No way.” I nodded slowly. Frieda mouthed a metaphor. It isn’t that I’ve ever told her not to use them around me. But after spending one hour with me, way back, she probably figured out I worked hard not to enhance my speaking. The Captain beat that into me for years. “If I don’t—” “Execute her?” she wisped.  I nodded. “And you ever let it slip. The council would sign my death warrant.” And there are at least five who would gladly sign it. “Wow. That gives me something on you, huh?” She grinned. I sucked on my lips. That wasn’t something to joke about. “Hey, chill,” she hissed. “I’ve got your back. You know that. Always there for you. Every minute of the day. Ready to jump when you sigh. Not like I’d ever tell—unless you really ticked me off—wow, that face came back.” I closed my eyes. “You won’t kill her, will you? Come on. She’s, you know, a half-wit. They’d understand—this council. What’s the council?” “You don’t need to know anything more about that at this point,” I said. “You just need to be aware, because the world intrudes now and then. It’s why my office isn’t downtown with everyone else.” “Ah. I always wondered about that.” No kidding. “You’ve only asked me a million times.” “That’s an exaggeration. Maybe ten times.” “How’d you get a college degree? You can’t even count.” “I can count fine, bud. You’re just hysterical.” “If I was hysterical you’d be dead now.” She shook her head. Ponytail flipped over her shoulder. “You know, that kind of talk—I’m not comfortable with it at all.” I fell over on my back and slid my fingers into my scalp, tugged on my hair. “So can you tell me about the full moon and stuff? Does Hollywood have it right? Do you turn folk with a scratch? Do you howl at the moon every month? Really run around on four paws?”  She was sanctioned now. Wasn’t anything I couldn’t tell her. Maybe I should have been glad I didn’t have to shift to prove I’m on the immortal side of things. “Can you show me?” I shook my head. I was in a mood, with this Maggie thing. My beast would be a little unmanageable, at least cranky. I’ve wished a million times I could go directly to my four-legged wolf. The beast is really inconvenient. “You guys everywhere?” she asked. I shook my head. “A lot in the company, you know, wolves?” “Not a one,” I said. “What about Maggie?” That was a long story. “She can tell you, over your next bottle of Cuervo. If she survives.” “Oh, that’s not fair.” She whined a moment more. “Tell me about Elizabeth.” At least she was dropping Maggie as a topic. “No.” How in the world did Maggie even know where Frieda lived? I wasn’t going to ask. Frieda must have gotten my tone, because she shut up. But I needed to explain the strange stuff last year. Our near Armageddon. To put things in perspective. So the tight security would make sense. I took a deep breath, reminded her she was under a sacred trust, sanctioned, and told her about the outing of the Texas clan, and the short-fought war with—I didn’t call them endowed, it caused. Two hours later, after telling her more than I intended, and after a pause, she voiced one of those colorful words that can be used as any part of speech. “Now we really could use some savasana.” Wasn’t a bad idea. And after that, a big steak. She led me through some advanced poses for forty-five minutes that would have ripped open a human’s gut—if said human wasn’t in phenomenal shape. I think I impressed her. We wolves are pretty physical. And flexible.  © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Urban Fantasy Fantasy Dystopian
L one   wolf   Carter   McCown   faces   his   greatest   peril—two   angry   alpha females   adjusting   to   immortality.   He’s   surrounded   by   too   many   ems. Maggie.   Miranda.   Margaret.   Mel.   Molly.   Emily.   And   then   there’s   his crush    and    assistant,    Frieda,    and    his    off-and-on    vampire    lover, Elizabeth.    This    is    Dude    Lit    Romance    with    a    wash    of    humor    and dollop of mayhem.
SCI FI Suspense