Lone Wolf, Exerpt #2
Lone Wolf Excerpt #2
Copyright Jennifer Ashley, 2013
Pub date: April 16, 2013
Continued from previous post . . .
“Now then, lad.” Liam moved around the man with his lanky grace and stopped a foot in front of Maria and a little to her right.
This forced the human man to turn slightly, moving his line of attack away from Maria. Ellison adjusted so that he was now half behind the human and half on his left side, a position from which he could grab said man if he tried to go for Maria. Spike and Ronan moved in to cover any remaining gaps in the circle.
Maria had seen the same tactics during her three years of absolute terror living with a pack of feral Shifters. No, not living with them. They’d stolen her from her family and imprisoned her in a warehouse basement with other females.
She’d watched those Shifters form similar circles around intruders or with dissidents within their own pack. They’d surround the victim, not threatening, not attacking. Just intimidating.
Shifters had intimidation down to an art. The Shifters in Mexico had finished their circle of fear by killing the intruders and the dissidents. Maria had never seen the Austin Shifters kill anyone, and they wore Collars made to shock them if they grew violent, but she knew the potential for destruction was there.
Something deep in the asshat’s drunken brain knew it too, but he tried to brazen it out. “I’m not paying for shit.”
“Nor will you be,” Liam said smoothly. His Irish lilt was musical and deep, despite twenty and more years living in Texas. “You’ll leave this bar on the moment, and you won’t be coming back again. Not ever, I’m thinking.”
He smiled when he said it—the smile of a lion who knows the gazelle is within paw’s reach. Didn’t hurt the lion to be nice to the gazelle.
“You don’t own this bar, you piece of Shifter turd,” the man said. “You can’t throw me out, or my friends.”
“It looks like your friends have already left. Fine men they are for deserting you, aren’t they?”
The man looked around, blinking when he realized he stood alone, surrounded by Shifters. His friends, who’d been loud and obnoxious in the corner, had quietly walked out when Ronan had left his post.
“Ellison,” Liam said, looking over the asshat’s head. “See that he gets out, will you? I’ll put you in charge of his safety. Spike, go with him.”
Ellison’s grin flashed. It was a wolf’s grin, matching the large gray wolf Ellison became when he shifted. His was a fine-looking beast, with silver gray fur that shone in the moonlight, and a long-legged grace that went with his strong face.
“I’d be happy to.” Ellison returned his hand to the human’s shoulder. No mistaking the flinch that time. “This way, son.”
“Stop calling me son.”
Ellison laughed, his strong Texas accent booming through the room as he said, “Hey there, Ronan. Why don’t you back off and let the man through?”
Ronan—who, Maria had come to know, was one of the gentlest guys in Shiftertown—instead moved to block the doorway, folded his arms, and looked mean. Seven feet tall, he made a formidable barrier, and the rumbling in his throat became a deep, vibrating growl.
“Come on now, Ronan,” Ellison said. “Liam says we got to let the man go.”
Ronan glared down at the asshat, whose face was now shining with sweat.
Spike—the tall, tattooed biker-looking Shifter—moved past Ellison and leaned his hand on the doorframe. As though he and Ronan went through an unspoken conversation, Ronan finally nodded and turned sideways in the doorway to let Ellison and the man pass.
Ellison, hand on the man’s shoulder, steered him between Spike and Ronan. Ronan left barely enough room for them to squeeze through into the glaring lights of the parking lot.
Maria went to the doorway to watch, as did every other Shifter in the bar. Ellison turned the man loose at the edge of the parking lot, halting as the man jogged across the dark street and got himself into a pickup.
“Y’all don’t come back, now,” Ellison called after him. “Hear?”
The truck roared to life. The man peeled out onto the quiet road, squealed around the corner, and was gone.
Ronan laughed, the loud sound filling the bar. Ellison strolled back inside and high-fived first Ronan then Spike. Ellison’s laugh joined Ronan’s in loud, rich warmth, and Spike added his grin. Liam stood back and watched the three with a fond look an older brother might give mischievous siblings.
Ellison let out a Texas whoop. “Good fun, Liam. You all right, Maria?”
His cowboy boots crunched on the glass in the middle of the room. Maria, shaking from anger, fear, and watching Ellison’s eyes soften to warm gray as he looked at her, lost her temper.
The human man had unnerved her, and the Shifters surrounding him like stalking beasts had reminded her too strongly of the Shifters who’d held her captive. Shifters were Shifters, and Maria would never be safe.
She swept a shaking finger and a scowl around the four men, ending at Ellison. “Locos. You’ll bring the police in here, and then they’ll close the bar, and I won’t have a job. I need this job.”
She ended shouting up at Ellison, who blinked his gray eyes then turned up his grin. “Now, sweetheart, it was good fun, and that asshat is too scared to do anything to retaliate. He’s gone.”
“I could have taken care of him, until you had to step in with all your muscles.”
No, no, the term was "muscle in." That’s what they said on TV shows—Maria was learning all her American slang from television.
Ellison started laughing again. “Yeah, me and my muscles to the rescue. Don’t leave out Ronan’s. His are pretty hefty.”
“You gobshite,” Maria snapped. Liam was also teaching Maria slang. She retrieved the tray from the floor and held it up like a weapon. “If he tells the owner I made trouble, who will get fired? Me. You don’t even work here.”
“Now, honey . . .”
Said in that Texas drawl, in Ellison’s deep voice, the endearment made Maria warm inside, threatening to assuage her anger. Which was why she raised the tray and started for him.
Liam’s big hand yanked the tray from her hands. “Take a break, child.”
Maria opened her mouth to let her hot temper have its way, but one look in Liam’s eyes made her close it again. “I don’t need a break,” she said. “I’ll clean this up and get back to work.”
“I’ll be cleaning it up,” Liam said. He jerked his thumb at the office door in the dark rear of the bar. “You. Break. Now.”
No one argued with Liam. Not for long. At least, no one but his wife, his brother, his father, his nephew, and now his little girl, who couldn’t even talk yet. Maria raised her chin, turned her back on the Shifters, walked past Ellison, shoes crunching broken glass, and slammed her way into the empty office.