Copyright Jennifer Ashley, 2013
Pub date: April 16, 2013
Continued from previous post . . .
Ellison started after Maria and found Liam in his way. “Let her go,” Liam said in his quiet voice. “Give the lass time to catch her breath.”
Ellison eyed the office door between him and Maria, a barrier he needed to break down. That Liam formed another barrier made him growl in irritation.
Maria lived in Shiftertown under the Morrisseys’ protection, staying now in Liam’s brother Sean’s house. She’d been brought here by Liam’s dad a year ago after she’d been rescued from the feral Shifters down in Mexico. She’d then gone to stay with her brother, who lived way out in El Paso and who had sponsored her to get her a visa. But the brother had made it clear that he, like her parents still in Mexico, considered Maria ruined goods and a disgrace to the family.
Maria had returned to Shiftertown after six months, and Liam made sure she got hired on at the bar he managed. In her off time, Maria cleaned houses, ran errands, and looked after cubs for Shifters who paid her. She worked nonstop, her energy amazing. Ellison’s sister had said, with a laugh, that Maria could be a Shifter with stamina like that.
Liam brought out a broom from behind the bar, then the great alpha Feline, leader of his pride, his clan, and all of Shiftertown, went to work sweeping up the glass. Spike, one of the most formidable fighters in Shiftertown, grabbed a mop and started helping him.
Another Lupine stopped next to Ellison—Broderick, who was in the second wolf pack in Shiftertown. Ellison’s pack was very small. Most of his clan had died out in the wild, their immediate family going just before Shifters took the Collar, leaving Ellison, his sister, and his sister’s tiny cubs alone. Shiftertown had been good to them, letting the boys, Jackson and Will, grow up unharmed.
“She’s ripe,” Broderick said. He was watching the office door, behind which Maria rested, his gray eyes intense.
Ellison tightened, the wolf in him tense, readying itself to take down a rival. Ellison kept his voice mild when he said, “I think she smells pretty good.”
“I mean she needs to be mated. Soon. Now.”
“I know what you meant.” Asshole. “But she’s off-limits.” Liam and Dylan had made that clear. “To you, to me, to all Shifters.”
“That’s bullshit. This is a Shiftertown full of mateless Shifters. And she’s fair game.”
Ellison didn’t bother to answer. Fair game was a female without a mate, a clan, a pack or pride. A female whose mate had died and who had no family to return to was considered fair game, as was a female stolen from another clan. Unmated, unprotected. Shifter leavings was another term Ellison had heard.
Maria wasn’t quite the same. First, she was human, and second, she was definitely under Morrissey protection.
Good thing she was. As soon as Maria had returned to Shiftertown, intending to stay a while, male Shifters had started sniffing around. Maria had formerly been mated to a Shifter, she smelled of Shifters, and Shifters were desperate for mates.
“She’s off-limits,” Ellison repeated with a growl.
Broderick laughed. He was tall and rangy, with a buzz cut and white gray eyes. “And don’t you just hate that?”
Ellison did. Maria was lovely, with her black hair, red mouth, and lush hips outlined by the black leggings she wore to waitress, but Ellison saw the bleakness in her eyes. Her life had been destroyed by Shifters, and she was hurt, and she grieved.
He eyed the blank panel of the closed door, knowing Maria was hurting behind it. He wanted to go to her, put his arms around her, and say, Hey, sweetheart, it will be all right. I’ll fix everything for you.
But he knew he couldn’t. The Shifters who’d captured Maria had sequestered her—Shifters in the wild in ancient times had locked their females away from all others in the same way. She’d been imprisoned against her will, hurt, terrified—nothing that would heal easily, if ever. The best Ellison could do right now was turn Broderick away from the door and let Maria have some peace.
“Ellison.” Annie, another waitress, passed Ellison with a tray of drinks to replace the one Maria had lost. “You have a phone call.”
Ellison put his hand on the cell phone in his pocket, but it was silent. At the bar, the human bartender briefly held up the house phone, then set it down to pour the next drink.
Ellison didn’t want to take his eyes off Broderick, but he knew that neither Liam nor Spike would let anyone into the office with Maria, especially Broderick.
Ellison made his way to the phone, thanked the bartender, and picked up the receiver, wondering who’d call the bar, not his cell phone.
“Yeah?” he drawled.
“Ellison?” the breathless voice of one of his nephews came to him. “You need to get back here. It’s Mom. She’s gone again.”
*** *** ***
Ellison tore away from the bar and sprinted out into the darkness, his nephew’s words pounding through his head. The wolf in him told him he could move faster in animal form, but Ellison didn’t want to lose precious minutes stopping to undress and shift.
He ran up the porch steps of his house to find all the lights on inside. Jackson, the older of his nephews, met him at the door.
“We tried to stop her,” Jackson said, panicked. “But you know what happens.”
“Tell Andrea to come over,” Ellison said, pushing past him. Andrea, a wolf Shifter who lived in the house across the street, was a healer. They might need her.
Ellison raced down the hall in the one-story bungalow to his sister’s bedroom, finding his second nephew, Will, waiting anxiously in the doorway. Will, twenty-four, the youngest of Denise’s cubs, had tears in his gray eyes.
“She’s bad this time.”
Ellison paused to put his hands on Will’s shoulders. “Jackson’s getting Andrea over here to help. Don’t worry.”
Will returned the clasp, slightly comforted by Ellison’s touch, but he didn’t relax.
Ellison stepped into Deni’s bedroom. In the middle of it, facing him, was a huge gray wolf with murder in her eyes.
Deni wasn’t as large as Ellison, being female and about forty years younger, but she was a Shifter, and that made her powerful. She snarled at Ellison, no recognition in her expression.
Deni’s room was a wreck—furniture overturned, clothing shredded on the floor. The window blind had been half ripped down, the slats tangled as though an animal had seen something through them and had gone for the window, not caring that the blind was in the way.
Deni sniffed, smelling Ellison fresh from the bar, and then snarled again, ears flattening on her head. The Collar around her neck emitted several sparks.
Ellison carefully didn’t move. He was Deni’s alpha, leader of their tiny pack. Though it broke his heart to see her like this, at the moment he needed to be less worried brother and more alpha wolf.
“Den.” He made his voice firm but not harsh.
Deni growled right through the word, an arc of electricity running around her Collar. Ever since whatever foul bastard had run her down on her motorcycle and left her mangled and half-dead, Deni had been having episodes of forgetting who she was, who Ellison was, who her own cubs were.
Each time this happened, she reverted into her wolf and stayed there—threatening like a cornered animal.
Deni’s body had healed fairly quickly—Shifters had incredible metabolisms that closed wounds swiftly. Plus, they had Andrea—half Shifter, half Fae—who had Fae healing magic, made greater when she channeled it through her mate, Sean, the Shiftertown Guardian. They’d brought Deni back from death and thought all was well.
Then had come the first episode of Deni’s brain more or less shutting off and making her forget everything she was. Human doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her, and Andrea couldn’t help.
What Deni needed was a Shifter healer—one stronger than Andrea, well versed in ailments from which Shifters could suffer. The trouble was, Shifter healers weren’t thick on the ground, if any even existed these days, and Deni was sick now.
“Deni,” Ellison said again, making his voice hard with command. “It’s Ellison.”
Deni snarled one last time, then attacked.