Challenge Accepted

Challenge AcceptedParanormal Romance (Werewolves)
Series: Wolf Appeal (Book 2)
55k words (novel)
March 17, 2018
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Since being turned into a werewolf, Adam has been a loner. Practically a hermit. Okay, actually a hermit. When the local wolves and werewolves start experiencing weird behavior, he can’t resist the pull to step up and see if he can help. And runs smack into trouble in the form of the werewolves’ National President.

Myra’s term as President is nearly over, but she’s determined to track down the wolf who was attacked, and turned against his will. When she meets Adam, she only wants to help him live a full and happy life. Then she sees him naked. And gets to know him. And decides she wants a lot more for him than to just escape his lonely cabin in the woods.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

The forest was his, and he no longer questioned it. Other wolves, natural wolves, roamed the same land, but they didn’t bother him. They acknowledged his place in their territory and both sides were content to leave the other alone.

Adam paced the tree line to the north of his cabin, uneasy. Something was off in his territory and he needed to figure out what it was. He’d run across two seemingly rabid wolves, one the week before, the other just yesterday, that he’d had to put down. He’d felt sick doing it, but there’d been no choice. He couldn’t risk the wolves making the others sick or getting too close to town. The farmers in the area already disliked the wolves, were pushing to have their protected status revoked and hunting season declared once again.

Adam had checked the werewolf database and forum—and wasn’t it a kick in the pants that such a thing even existed—and managed to find out that the nearby werewolf pack, headquartered about thirty miles away, had also experienced something similar. Only, their incident hadn’t been a natural wolf, but a sick werewolf who’d attacked its own pack members.

Adam shook himself in irritation, resettled his fur and headed back to the cabin. The information he’d seen online about the local pack’s experience was sketchy. A young member had come out of the woods fighting, and it had taken a much stronger wolf than necessary to put her into submission. She’d finally gone unconscious, with a high fever, and when she woke, hardly remembered a thing. The worry, of course, other than not understanding what was making her and the natural wolves sick, was that if a stronger wolf were to be affected, they might cause real damage before someone powerful enough could stop them.

More worrisome was word from the town. There’d been talk about the rabid wolves, even though the local vet had stated that no rabies had been found. Talk about getting some hunters together to take care of the problem if the local officials weren’t going to handle it. Adam wasn’t sure which idea was worse, local hunters invading his land, firing willy-nilly, or the government coming in thinking they could do whatever it was government employees thought they should do to handle the situation.

He had to consider the possibility that the pack had more information than had been posted online, and if he didn’t figure out what was going on, he was going to have to talk to them. Which irritated the hell out of him.

Pulling his human form to the front, he let the wolf fall away and strode into his cabin. He stepped into sweatpants and moved to the kitchen area.

A quick jiggle of his old teapot confirmed there was plenty of water in it and he turned on the stove. He pulled his not-so-old coffee press out of the cupboard and went through the mindless steps of producing coffee while he mulled over the problem. If the townspeople thought there was an outbreak of rabies, even though he was pretty sure that wasn’t what was happening, they could go on the offensive. The last thing he needed was human hunters invading his property, firing at anything that looked like a wolf, including himself. Been there, done that, no need to repeat the experience, thank you very much.

When the coffee was ready, he moved to the couch and sipped thoughtfully. The first taste was perfect, and he smiled. He may live with very few of the trappings of civilization, but no way was he giving up good coffee.

Not getting shot again was also a priority, but so was keeping humans and werewolves out of his territory, just for his own peace of mind. Getting kidnapped, tortured and turned into a werewolf had just been a bit more than his already somewhat introverted nature could stand, and he’d given up on wanting anything to do with people.

When he’d found and hacked into the werewolf site, he’d searched for stories like his, but come up blank. Apparently the crazy-as-fuck pack that had kidnapped, tortured and turned him had been the exception, not the rule.

Still, even after he’d come to that conclusion he hadn’t been much interested in meeting up with others of his kind. He’d roamed the states for a couple of years until he’d hit on this part of Montana. Close enough to the pack that he could pretty much identify, and therefore avoid, where they lived and worked, but far enough away that he didn’t have to work too hard to remain unknown.

He didn’t remember a lot from that week six years ago. He recalled being invited out to a ranch by Paula Cage and enjoying a lovely barbecue before her crazy-ass brother had turned into a werewolf—an honest-to-god fucking werewolf!—and attacked him.

After that, things got hazy, though he still had uncomfortable flashes of Paula trying to get him to have sex with her while he was bleeding and only half-conscious. Fucking nuts, all of them. When the full moon had risen the next night, and he’d turned into a wolf himself, he’d taken off. Which was when the fuckers had shot him.

The whole thing still struck him as completely bizarre, even after all these years. He’d eventually come to realize that the pack he’d first encountered wasn’t the norm, and he’d discovered there were plenty of werewolves out there who were normal, law-abiding citizens, but that didn’t mean he had any desire to socialize with them, any more than he was willing to hang out with humans and risk being found out. Or risk hurting them; losing control somehow and turning them by mistake.

He finished his coffee and contemplated the teetering stack of books by the couch. It was almost time to make a trip into town, drop off the books he’d read, pick up some new ones, as well as other supplies. If he waited too long, it was a pain in the ass to haul the larger quantity of books to and from the old pickup he kept on the east side of his land. He divided up his trips, hitting the town that was closer to pack land only a couple of times a year, and interspersing that with trips to the other side of the mountain.

So far, he’d managed to avoid running into any of the pack while in town, and as far as he knew, they weren’t aware he existed. He’d learned enough about their ways to figure he’d be able to talk himself clear of any situation, mostly due to the fact that he wasn’t breaking any of their laws, other than remaining anonymous. Technically, he was supposed to let the Bitterroot hierarchy know he was there so they could make sure he was following said laws, but what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. He’d been in the area three years with no contact and until now he’d seen no reason to change that.

With a sigh at the idea that it might finally be time to come out of the werewolf closet, he moved to turn on the generator, get some hot water going. He’d make dinner, run a load of laundry, wash the dishes, and take a nice hot shower before going to bed, sleeping on the problem.

Just before flipping the switch, he frowned at the distant buzzing sound coming from outside. It wasn’t often he heard low-flying planes in the area, but it seemed like lately it had been more frequent.

He turned on the generator and grabbed a sweatshirt on his way to the front door, having cooled off from his earlier run.

The sun had set and the light was nearly gone, but he could just pick out the plane a couple of miles to the west, heading toward town. Something else to look into, he figured, though he wasn’t sure where to start on that. Maybe he could hack into the local airport, see if it was possible to identify the plane that way. He made note of the time and went back inside to make his dinner. If he didn’t have any brilliant ideas before morning, he was going to have to suck it up and do what needed to be done.

Two days later

The vast expanse of forest called to Myra, beautiful in twilight. She wished she could shuck her clothes, her shoes, those trappings of civilization that usually grounded her, stand naked in the cool mountain air for just a minute, before allowing the fur and simplicity of her wolf to overtake her. The wind whistled softly through the branches, birds called out cheerfully to each other, and the crisp, clean smells vouched for the two-hour drive out of the city.

Sighing, she turned her back on the enticing sight and faced the wolves who’d come out of the pack house to greet her.

She could feel their nervousness, should do something to calm their worries, but was too on edge herself. They’d called in to the National Council to report a problem but hadn’t expected her, the current National President, to show up. What they didn’t know was that their problem seemed to be coinciding with her problem, one she wanted to clear up as soon as possible. Needed to clear up.

Not that she could just fix it. That was the real tragedy. No matter what she did, what the pack did, there was no fixing this. An innocent man had been brutally attacked, turned into what he would surely perceive to be a monster, then escaped to live the life of a werewolf without the support of those like him.

If they’d found him, like she believed, she could offer that support now, answer any questions he might still have after all these years, let him know that the evil shits responsible for his attack had been taken care of. But she couldn’t fix it. Couldn’t give him back the life he’d lost.

The alpha pair gave her a slight bow and she nodded and managed a distracted smile before preceding them inside. She’d known Michael and Linda for years, but they weren’t particularly friends. All reports she’d studied while flying north to meet them indicated that Bitterroot was a healthy pack, not very large considering the vastness of land available in Montana, but tight knit and happy.

They settled into seats and the pair waited for her to begin while Simone, the third in their pack hierarchy, brought in a plate of refreshments. Myra thanked her, accepted a cup of tea and took a sip, waiting for Michael and Linda to take their drinks as well.

“Linda,” she began. “After you spoke to Tom about what had happened down here, he called me, as I may have a particular interest in part of your story. Would you mind going over what you told him, giving me the details directly?”

Tom, the current National Secretary and therefore main point of contact between the packs and the head organization, had called her as soon as he’d hung up with the Bitterroot alpha. He would have done that anyway, due to the problem with pack was having, but he’d also been excited to share the news about the unknown wolf.

“Of course. It started a few weeks back. One of the pack ran across a wolf that was acting sick. We thought rabies at the time. She had to put the poor thing down, and brought the body back.” She glanced nervously at her husband.

“We considered destroying the body,” Michael said, his back straightening.

Myra knew if he’d been in wolf form she’d see his hackles rising.

“But if there really was a rabies outbreak happening, the town needed to know.”

She nodded her agreement and the couple’s tension level eased down several notches.

“Animal control said they didn’t actually find rabies, had some odd test results but couldn’t say anything definitive,” Linda continued. “He wouldn’t confirm poison or drugs, said he needed to run more tests. We put the word out to the pack to be on the lookout for any other odd wolf behavior, and not to eat anything they weren’t sure of, for fear of poison, but nothing happened for another week.”

“Except,” Michael jumped in, “the vet received another dead wolf, which he also confirmed was rabies-free.”

“But we didn’t know that at the time,” Linda finished. “What happened next was one of our own wolves got sick. A few of the teens had gone out for a run, and this one, Denny, came back on his own, acting wildly out of control, completely unlike himself. Our first was able to subdue him until Michael showed up.”

“He was sick, running a high fever, sweating, breathing hard.” Michael stood and began to pace. “They said before Jake was able to calm him down he’d been attacking whoever came near, even our third.” He gestured to where Simone had left the room. “Which is crazy, he’s nowhere near strong enough to challenge a member of the hierarchy. Once I got there he was able to calm down even more and went to sleep for about twelve hours. When he woke up he barely remembered any of it, thought it had been a nightmare, or a fever-induced hallucination.”

“Jake was the first to comment on the similarity to the sick wolf,” Linda added.

Michael sat back down, took his mate’s hand in his. “The next night, another of my wolves, a sixteen-year-old who I think will likely be hierarchy one day, turned up the same way. Out of her head, threatening anyone who came near. When I got there, I could tell that she was just barely hanging on to her control. Actually, once she realized I was there, she lost her control and attacked. We had to hold her down so I could force her submission. Once she submitted, it was just like it had been with Denny. Liv was sick, she slept, she barely remembers.”

Shaken by the story, Myra considered. She’d never heard of such a thing. “Would you know if natural wolves up here were acting rabid?” Myra asked.

“Yes. No question. There are enough hunters, ranchers and farmers in the area who hate that the wolves are protected. They would jump on any excuse to have that protection stopped. It’s why we hesitated before going to animal control, but if there really had been an outbreak of something…”

Myra nodded. Some areas of the country had a much more delicate balance with the hunters and local population than others. “And then you met the lone wolf.”

Michael glanced at his wife but she motioned for him to continue the story. “He showed up in town yesterday, walked up to one of our wolves and asked her for her alpha’s phone number, or for her to call and give us his number. Linda and I went right out to meet him. Said his name was Adam and he lived not too far away.”

“Wouldn’t say where, exactly,” Linda interjected.

“Wouldn’t say where,” Michael confirmed, “but said he had some acres and kept to himself, but he was concerned about the sick wolves. Said he’d heard we’d had a couple of sick kids, as well, and wanted to see if we had any new info to share.”

“I’d like to know how he knew about the kids,” Linda said, the anger in her voice clear. “It’s not like it’s something we were talking about freely.”

“You guys didn’t like him,” Myra said.

Michael winced.

“He wasn’t…” Now Linda hesitated. “He knew he was expected to let us know he was living here, he wasn’t ignorant of the rules, he just didn’t care. Blatantly.”

Michael nodded. “But on the other hand, whether it seems like it right now or not, Linda and I, our hierarchy, we have a good handle on our region. We may not have known he was there, but we for sure would have known had he been making any trouble.”

Linda pursed her lips. “I didn’t like him, you’re right. Doesn’t sit well with me that he’s out there all by himself, avoiding us for years. It’s not natural. It’s not wolf.” She sighed. “But, I did believe him that he’s been behaving himself, and that he’s trying to help figure out this problem.” She glanced at her husband, got a nod from him. “The other thing is, well…he’s stronger than us. And it’s really not natural for a wolf that alpha to not want to be pack. So, what’s he doing out here, all by himself?”

Myra debated how much to tell the alpha pair. Ultimately, the matter couldn’t be swept under the rug. Pretending it hadn’t happened wouldn’t make sure it never happened again. “I got a call a couple of weeks ago from Mountain Pack, in Idaho. Seems their alpha found his mate, a woman named Hillary. She told him that she’d been attacked and turned, four years ago.”

Linda gave off a gasp and Michael gaped at her.

“I know. It gets worse. An entire rogue pack had formed in Phoenix, Arizona. Led by a man named Ken Cage, who was related to the alpha pair in the Mesa pack.” She took a deep breath, trying to calm the anger that burned even now, weeks after bringing those wolves to justice. “Cage liked to find humans and convince his pack that they could be turned. Then attack them, and if they were female, which they mostly were, rape them, until they died.”

Linda looked physically ill and Michael looked confused. “That doesn’t make any sense, that’s not how wolves are turned. Besides, anyone strong enough to live through that isn’t going to stick around with the idiots who turned him.”

“Exactly. So, not only was Cage a crazy bastard, he was also an idiot. And you’re right, both wolves who survived escaped once they turned. The others didn’t survive. To add insult to injury, the bastard couldn’t even remember his victim’s name.”

“And you think this Adam is the other wolf that did?” Linda asked.

“I hope he is. Cage says he shot the teacher that turned, but never found a body. Which doesn’t mean he really got away, of course. But I’m hoping.” If their Adam really was just a lone wolf, one who, for whatever reason, shirked the need for contact, companionship, and touch that most wolves craved, that was fine. But she needed to find her missing wolf, do whatever was possible to help him understand the world he’d been forced into, be as at peace as possible with the wolf within himself. Of course, there was always the chance that the teacher had died, but she would exhaust all possible efforts before giving up.

“That’s just awful,” Linda said. “To have lived all this time alone, no pack, no family, just…” She shook her head. Michael took her hand, his thumb gliding an absent pattern over her skin. For the first time in a long time Myra felt a pang of longing for her mate. It had been more than fifteen years since Eric had been killed. Wolves touched a lot, so it wasn’t like she didn’t have physical contact on a regular basis, but it wasn’t the same.

She shook her head and returned her attention to the couple. Wolves were pack animals. They needed to touch, smell, be with each other. The fact that Adam wanted nothing to do with them wasn’t a good sign, but at least he’d come forward to help with the sick wolves. She focused on that.

“I know. I need to talk to him, find out if he’s the same wolf. If he’s not, I’ll still help with the current situation while I continue to search for the teacher. If he is, I’m hoping we can figure something out to help him integrate, or adjust, or…whatever we can do.” She paused, took a sip of her nearly forgotten tea. “He’s stronger than you? Even as a pair?”

Michael nodded his confirmation. “Definitely.”

“Then hopefully he really is the one I’m looking for. It would take a very strong wolf to survive what he did.” She was anxious to meet him, to know for sure. “How did you leave it with him.”

“He gave me a cell phone number, took mine. Said he’d call if he found anything out, asked me to do the same. He was polite, didn’t try and push any power or anything. I’m sure he knew we were irritated, but he stayed cool.”

“I have no reason to believe that you don’t have an excellent handle on this territory. If he’d been misbehaving in anyway, I’m sure it would have come to your attention before now.”

They nodded, looking relieved. Michael pulled out his phone. “Would you like me to call him?”

“Yes, please. Ask him to meet us tomorrow, somewhere he won’t feel threatened. I’ll trust you to pick a suitable location.”