Wolver’s Gold

 

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Wolver’s Gold  Yes, it’s a brand new cover

Finding gold where you least expect it…

 In the modern world, it’s not easy to hide an entire Wolver pack in plain sight, but the Gold Gulch pack has found a way. By day, Gold Gulch is a tourist attraction, where visitors can experience life as it once was. But when the gates close and the tourists go home, the wolves come out to play. Or do they?

When lone wolf and Special Investigator, Challenger McCall, is sent to Gold Gulch to take care of a problem that might involve the exposure of the wolver community, he finds a town that’s full of surprises, including a feisty red headed beauty who makes his wolf behave like a cub.

 Rachel Kincaid has become a wolver oddity; a spinster who refuses to mate. Why would she, when she already has to take care of the short-staffed hotel, its restaurant and her ne’er-do-well father? She’s tired of having her decisions made for her and being treated like a child and when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the handsome newcomer, the seeds of rebellion blossom.

Things get complicated when Rachel’s wolf awakens after a long and celibate sleep and the town’s women seem to awaken along with it. Papa’s gambling debts leave them on the brink; the pack is at risk; and the women rebel. Oh, and don’t forget the murders. If ever a pack needed rescuing, Gold Gulch is it.

 Together, McCall and Rachel scheme to bring Gold Gulch into the 21st century, both aware that the price of that freedom could cost them their love and their lives

 

Prologue

Snorting, yipping and growling loudly, the wolves ran, but not full out as they usually did on a hunt. They kept their small group together at an easy pace. Their prey was ahead, but they were in no hurry. Normally when on a hunt, they would keep their communication more circumspect so as not to alarm the prey into frightened flight, but tonight, there was no need for silence or speed. The prey remained easily within striking distance, and was aware of the danger, but could never hope to outdistance its hunters.

That was part of the fun and these wolves enjoyed the play. The smell of the prey’s fear excited them. They kept it running until it could run no more. Still, fear gave it impetus and it staggered on, searching for shelter it would not find, hoping the wolves would lose interest and move on, which they would not. This final burst of adrenalin did not last long, however, and dawn was not far off.

At a signal from the largest and most dangerous wolf, the one that was their leader, the wolves quickened their pace, spreading out in a practiced hunting formation. Short and round, long and thin, the lesser wolves circled the prey, attacking from all sides. Lunge and retreat, lunge and retreat, jaws snapping and tearing until one of them brought it down. Only one wolf, the youngest and little more than a cub, hung back, horrified by the animal cruelty of his packmates.

The prey screamed as they attacked, screamed until the last breath left it and it lay dead at their feet, bleeding from a multiplicity of wounds. As the prey’s lifeblood seeped out and stained the ground around it, the wolves circled, sniffed at the lifeless form and, elated with the smell of blood and victory in their nostrils, raised their snouts to the starlit sky, howling their triumph. That was the way of wolves.

But not of wolvers, those man-beasts that had come to the New World over three hundred years ago and moved westward to form new packs as their numbers and the country grew. Only at the full moon did the wolver males turn from man to wolf without the aid of the power granted their Alpha. At any other time, it was the Alpha’s magic that changed them. No wolver could make the change without him.

Light flashed and the dead man was suddenly surrounded by four full grown men, the youngest little more than a boy. They were naked and smiling; all except the boy, who was angry and still carried the shadow of his wolf’s snarl on his face.

“You said we were going hunting,” he shouted at the leader. There was a little residual growl in his voice. He glared at the others.

Two of the wolvers glared back, the looks on their faces expressing exactly what they thought of upstart cubs questioning their elders. They left it to their leader to put the cub in his place.

“You’re an adult. It’s time you joined the ranks. You wanted to be a part of this and part of this is doing what needs to be done to protect the pack. Pack comes first. First Primal Law. You should know that.”

“Don’t lecture me about Primal Law. You never got past First Law. What about five: wolf must not fight man, nor man wolf.” The young wolver turned and started to walk away.

“Pack comes first.” The leader pointed to the man laying dead on the ground.

“You disgust me. You’re twisting the Law to suit your own ends. This whole thing disgusts me,” the young wolver called over his shoulder.

“Do not walk away from this, Edmund.”

The lead wolver’s power swelled to frightening proportions, but the young man was too angry or too unwise to be cowed by it.

He turned back to the group, but only to yell, “This? This? At least have the courage to call it what it was. This was murder. Murder! Do you hear! And I want no part of it.”

“You’re already a part of it. You started with us and you’ll finish with us,” the leader growled.

“I’d rather be dead.” The young wolver continued to walk away.

Two weeks after the shop owner mysteriously disappeared, the young man was found hanged from a tree out in the hills. Some said he was despondent over the recent departure of his future mate who’d left the town and him behind. Others wondered at that. The two were school friends, but they’d seen no sign it was anything more than friendship. Everyone agreed, however, that it was best to ask no questions. Their Alpha and Mate would seek the answers if any needed to be found.

*****

“Looks like we’ve got a case, McCall.”

Challenger McCall flipped through the manila folder, skimming for pertinent information. “Looks like we’re a little late to the party,” he said, noting the dates of the deaths.

“Some things take time. Too much time in this case. You can add another name to that list. Paul Porter is dead.”

McCall glanced at the notes. “The sheriff?”

“And our contact. Seems he had a bad fall from his horse. His injuries were pretty extensive, so it could have been natural.”

“But you don’t think so.”

The dapper little man shrugged. “At any rate, it works in our favor. He was planning to retire and already had you set up to take his place. All you have to do is make it happen.”

“Why me?”

“Why not? I think this is a case you need.”

“What I need is a shower and a bed. Me and Dog have been living in a fucking shithole for the past six weeks. We’re beginning to smell like each other.”

“Gold Gulch is a small western tourist town. Think of it as a vacation.”

“That’s what he said the last time,” McCall said to the German Shepherd mix lying on the floor by his feet. The dog cocked his head curiously at McCall’s voice and whined. “Yeah, exactly, and look were we ended up. Six weeks in a fucking tent. In Oregon. In the rain.”

“Ah,” his boss nodded his head sagely, “I’ll grant you that was probably a mistake, but only because you’ve been complaining lately about how much you have to travel. I thought you might like a break.”

McCall snorted a laugh. A break? More like punishment for complaining. He’d been travelling almost constantly for twelve years, moving from place to place on behalf of the Convocation of Wolvers and his boss, Eugene Begley.

Eugene Begley had a talent for finding mates, which earned him a reputation as a highly prized matchmaker. His specialty was Alpha’s Mates, those women who were needed to share the throne, so to speak, with the leader of a pack. This wasn’t always easy since most Mates started out as fully human and only through mating with the Alpha did they become wolver and it wasn’t like any human woman would do. A woman who had the potential to become an Alpha’s Mate was special and rare and Eugene Begley had a knack for finding them.

It also gave him an excuse to travel the country, visiting packs and sticking his nose into places where it normally wouldn’t belong, which was where Challenger McCall entered the picture.

Every wolver pack had a hierarchy and every wolver, male or female, knew their place within it. It was embedded in their DNA, a part of the collective wolver soul, and those few that chose to go it alone, lost a part of their souls in the process. Even rogues, who were outcast from their packs, tended to join up into loosely bonded groups.

There were no Primal Laws defining rules for placement. Though physical prowess and cunning were always high on the list of alpha qualities, they usually weren’t the only strengths that were considered valuable. Each pack Alpha defined the hierarchy of his pack.

Which could make for one big cluster fuck when the Alpha died unexpectedly without an agreed upon heir or was Challenged regularly from within the pack. The best of wolvers became agitated when the hierarchy was in flux. The worst became fucking rabid. Over half the ‘troubles’ McCall investigated involved a pack in transition.

The Convocation didn’t give a shit what was written on it, as long as every member of the pack was on the same page. A disorganized pack was a threat to the wolver community as a whole, because the longer the chaos lasted, the more it posed a risk of exposure to the outside, human, world.

As far as he could tell from Begley’s notes, Gold Gulch pack was not in transition, but too many unnatural deaths or disappearances could call outside, human, attention to a pack. If the Alpha didn’t handle it, then it became McCall’s job to investigate and rectify situations where the secret existence of the wolver community might be at risk. He was a troubleshooter, a fixer, and he worked for an organization that didn’t officially exist.

Begley nodded at the folder. “Look it over. Memorize your cover and references. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, but if you must, at least enjoy it.”

The comment earned him another snort of laughter from McCall. There was nothing Eugene Begley wouldn’t do to preserve the anonymous continuation of his species.

Sitting behind his desk with his hands folded on top of it, his boss was about as innocuous looking as a wolver could get. Small for a wolver and sporting a slight paunch at his middle that hinted at a lack of exercise, he was nattily dressed in a double breasted blazer, snow white shirt, and red checked tie. McCall had no doubt that beneath the jacket were khaki trousers professionally pressed with a razor sharp crease over highly polished tasseled loafers, probably encasing argyle socks.

His tidy and innocent looks belied the fact that Eugene Begley had more magic muscle than any Pack Alpha McCall had ever met. That’s what Begley called the power all Pack Alpha’s were endowed with, yet the little wolver never flexed his magic muscle where anyone would notice. He was known as a matchmaker, but he was so much more than that, and he’d taught the rebellious young Challenger to find that magic muscle within himself.

In what seemed like a lifetime ago, when McCall had been debating whether to chuck it all, go rogue, and become a packless vagabond, Eugene Begley snapped him up, trained him, and put him to work. Released from the stifling confines of his home pack, he now had the freedom of a lone wolf without the isolation that came with going rogue. Begley had become his de facto Alpha, though nothing was ever officially said, and while he might grumble, McCall would do anything his Alpha asked. It was good to be able to run with the ragtag pack Begley controlled, but have none of the day to day bullshit belonging to a pack entailed. He answered to no one but his boss. He made no lasting relationships with anyone and that was fine by him.

“When do you want me to start?” Challenger McCall asked, rising from his seat and motioning the dog to follow.

“Yesterday,” Begley answered with a smile.

 

 

 

Rachel meets McCall

She’d just bent to sweep her neat little pile of debris into the pan when he spoke above her.

“What’s freckled and pink and red all over,” he asked with a snickering laugh and then sang his detestable ditty. “Tell me Rachel dearest, if what they say is true, are you like the other redheads and red all over, too?”

Anger rose in Rachel so quickly and violently, it should have frightened her. Her spine snapped to attention, shoulders back and squared. Gripping her broom with two hands, she spun it upright like a soldier presenting arms and then she swung that broom like she knew what she was doing and had done it before. She thrashed that obnoxious wolver, who was now hunched over with his arms curled around his head to protect himself from the blows of the tightly woven fan of straw.

“Do you really want to know the answer?” she hissed at him, continuing the broomstick battering. Whomp. “Because I’ll gladly tell you, Mr. Coogan.” Whomp. “Your whole body, that’s what.” Whomp. “Or it will be by the time I’m finished with you! Now get out of here before I really lose my temper.” Breathless, she gave him yet another swat. “And don’t come back!”

“Aw, Rache, I was just trying to get your attention,” Coogan complained as he scuttled around the edge of the large vestibule, Rachel right behind him threatening another bout of violence. “It was just a bit of fun.”

“It’s Miss Kincaid, and the next time you think that’s the way to get a lady’s attention, you’d better think twice. Do you hear me, Mr. Coogan? I have neither time nor tolerance for your fun. Now get out and do not dare to enter this establishment ever again.”

She drove him through the open door with the threat of her broom. Someone stepped aside when, with one last stroke of her menial weapon, and as if she was sweeping the last of the dirt out the door, Rachel chased the man out.

A large, booted foot connected with the seat of Jack Coogan’s trousers with enough force to send him sprawling over the porch and down into the dirt.

“Always happy to help a beautiful woman,” said a deep voice.

Cheeks flushed from the heat of battle, green eyes blazing with a hundred grievances ready to explode, and trusty broom at the ready, Rachel turned to the owner of the boot.

“Whoa, little lady, whoa.” He waved his hands in front of him to ward off the imminent attack. “I’m on your side,” he laughed. “No guy in his right mind would say that to a lady.” He laughed again. “I would have helped you more, but you looked like you were doing fine without me.”

Rachel felt her mouth open, yet no sound emerged. With a conscious effort, she forced it shut, but could do nothing about her wide and staring eyes. To calm herself, she drew in a breath deep enough to make her corset creak, and caught the heady scent of a prime alpha wolver.

“Are you okay?”

No, of course she wasn’t ‘okay’. How could she be? She’d just lost her temper in the most unladylike manner in front of this, this…

“Oh dear,” she breathed and looked at the broom in her hands as if she’d never seen one before. “Oh dear,” she said again.

Reason tried to reassert itself when she spotted the dog, sitting at the wolver’s heels. Out of all the thoughts whirling in her head, only one made it to her tongue.

“You can’t bring the dog in here, and out there, it must be on a leash.”

“Actually, I was looking to rent a room for a few days.” He stepped through the doorway and closed the door behind him. “Miss Kincaid? I think you should sit down.”

Her face fell into a different kind of frown. Etiquette, practiced for years, was lost. Words of polite discourse were nowhere to be found. “How do you know my name?” she asked rudely.

“You told the guy you just gave the ass whuppin’ to. It’s Miss Kincaid, you said.”

She started to reprimand him for his language and then her befuddled brain kicked in and she realized what he’d said. “How much did you hear?” she asked in a high pitched squeak that sounded nothing like her own well-modulated voice.

“From the minute the bastard spoke,” he told her, grinning. “I was standing in the doorway, admiring your, um, dustpan skills, when the jackass made a crack about your…”

“You saw the whole thing? Why didn’t you speak?” And save her from making a fool of herself.

“Should I have? You looked like you had it under control.” He winked at her. “Next time I’ll remember to step in.”

“There won’t be a next time, Mr.… I’m afraid I didn’t get your name.”

“Challenger McCall, though most folks just call me…”

“Sheriff McCall.” She rolled her eyes heavenward with a silent prayer to the Good Lord to strike her dead without delay.

“I hope so,” he said, starting to laugh. “Is that a problem?”

“No, sir, of course not. Why would it be?”

“I don’t know. You just seem a little upset by it, that’s all.”

Upset? Why would she be upset? It couldn’t be because the visitor, who should be, as all visitors were, gone in the next day or two never to return, a visitor who witnessed the most improper, unrefined and disrespectable circumstance she’d ever found herself in, turned out to be the very handsome and unsettling new sheriff. Oh, heavens no. That wouldn’t be upsetting at all. Her stomach rolled and fluttered in unaccustomed discomfort, as if she’d ingested something alive and still moving. Panic started to rise.