The Beast in Him Excerpt
True, he was drunk. Very drunk. His daddy’s idea of a proper send-off for his youngest boy before the United States government owned his ass for the next few years. But just because he shouldn’t have had those last four tequilas, didn’t mean he didn’t know they were tracking her.
They were always tracking her. Always screwing with her. From what he could tell, she didn’t even stay at the house anymore. Her foster parents didn’t care as long as the checks kept rolling in. So she mostly lived out in the woods like a wild child. Except she wasn’t a wild child. Just a poor kid who’d had the unlucky misfortune of getting on the wrong side of his baby sister.
He caught their scent and immediately knew where they were heading. To the high school. They’d find her under the bleachers. She hid under there a lot. She could hide anywhere when she needed to. Unlike the brawnier She-wolves, her kind’s body type was small and wiry, like all wild dogs.
By the time they made it into the gymnasium, he already stood in front of the bleachers. He didn’t have time to find her and get her out, he’d have to stop them here.
“Hey, Bobby Ray,” Bertha, also known as Big-Boned Bertha, cooed. His sister, at sixteen and already six feet was still smaller than Bertha. But she was tougher and Bertha learned early on not to mess with Sissy Mae Smith. She learned the hard way. Now she took it out on the smaller, weaker Omegas of the town. Yet she seemed to have a special hard-on for this one girl. This one girl with no protection, no family, and no Pack. A dog among wolves. The Lord could be cruel when he set his mind to it.
“I know why you’re here, Bertha. And I want you to take your friends and go.”
“Oh, come on, Bobby Ray. We won’t hurt her none.” Bertha squatted down to look through the slats of the bleachers. “Is she in there? Come on out, Jessie Ann, we just wanna say hi.”
“I said you need to go.”
Bertha stood up, damn near as tall as he was, and tossed her hair back. “Why aren’t you at your party, Bobby Ray?”
“Once my daddy starts putting my brothers into headlocks and telling them they only live ’cause he didn’t kill ’em in the crib, it’s time for me to go.”
She stepped closer to him. “You really going to join the Navy tomorrow?”
“Already joined, darlin’. Tomorrow I get on the bus.” And the hell out of here.
“You’ll be missed,” she said low, for him only.
“My momma says that too.” He put his arm around her shoulders and steered her back toward the doors. “Look, you take these guys out of here. I’m waitin’ on somebody.”
“A friend who’s going to hook me up with the best ‘shine in three counties. But he’s not coming in if he sees an audience. So why don’t you head back to the party and I’ll meet you there.” He forced a smile. “And then we’ll have a party of our own.”
“Okay. See you in about an hour?”
“Sure,” he lied, feeling almost guilty if he hadn’t known she’d come there to beat up a ninety-five-pound girl.
Bertha kissed his cheek and motioned to the other wolves to follow her out. The bunch of them were already pretty drunk. A few more drinks and they’d all pass out and by the time they woke up in the morning, he’d be on a bus and gone from Smithtown forever.
Once their scent faded, Bobby Ray turned around and headed back toward the bleachers.
“It’s okay, Jessie Ann. You can come out now.” He waited for her to answer but it seemed she was still scared. He caught her scent, so she was around somewhere. “Come on, Jessie Ann, you know you have nothing to worry about with me. I’ll walk ya home.” At least he hoped he could. That tequila was starting to hit him pretty hard.
“Dammit, Jessie Ann, I don’t have time for this.” He walked around the bleachers and crouched down to see under them. He felt a little wobbly from all the liquor so he reached out and lightly put his hand against the metal of the bleachers.
Small brown hands grabbed hold of his shoulders and yanked him back. They both hit the floor as the bleachers slammed down like a set of dominoes. If he’d been under those bleachers, he’d have been crushed to death.
The silence after the deafening sounds of all that slamming metal stunned him.
“You did that.” Bobby Ray looked over his shoulder at Jessie Ann Ward. She was a cute little thing, but a tad innocent for his tastes. Big wide brown eyes and a cute little nose and full lips that promised all sorts of things he felt pretty confident she’d never be able to deliver on. She kept her long curly hair in two ponytails and you could easily see the many colors flowing through each strand. All wild dogs had multiple colors in their fur and, when human, in their hair. Brown, gold, blond, white, and black all on one head made it hard for Jessie not to be noticed.
Still, he’d had the hots for her since the first time he saw her, but Jessie Ann was the kind of female who you mated with, not simply made out with. And he had no intention of getting trapped in this town. Another Smith male with a Pack of vicious sons and a mate who didn’t know if she loved him or hated him. Probably both.
“I could have gotten killed,” he growled.
“Don’t snarl at me,” she growled back, pulling herself into a sitting position. “It wasn’t for you anyway.”
“No, it was for them. And do you think you would have ever forgiven yourself if they’d actually gone under there?”
“They wouldn’t have. It was just to scare ’em off. I’m tired of being hunted like a gazelle.”
He stared at her and finally saw all the bruises on her face and neck, probably going well down her torso and legs. They’d caught up with her again. Dammit. He did try and protect her but there was only so much he could do and Sissy Mae simply wouldn’t call off her She-wolves. Not even seventeen and she already had her own Pack. The females her own age followed Sissy around town like the Second Coming. He had no idea what happened between them but Sissy made it clear she thought of Jessie Ann Ward as their own Pack Omega. Problem was, Jessie Ann didn’t much like that position. So she fought back when most Omega wolves would have taken it until it was over. But she wasn’t wolf. She was wild dog. And if she had her own Pack…but the wild dogs were dying out. The young adults hit by a vicious strain of influenza that could only be passed between them when shifted. It had wiped out more than half of the adult breeders before their own doctors could get a handle on it and come up with a vaccine to stamp it out. The damn thing had left a lot of elderly grandparents raising pups and a lot of orphans. Orphans like Jessie Ann.
Tragically, like the full-blood wild dogs in Africa, Jessie’s people were becoming extinct. Which meant she had no one except him watching out for her. And once he got on that bus tomorrow, she wouldn’t even have that.
“Jessie, you’ve gotta learn to take care of yourself.” Without thinking, Bobby Ray reached out to touch her cheek and she reared back from him, which hurt his feelings. Especially his drunk feelings. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”
She scrambled back from him. “I know that.” If she did, then why did she keep moving away from him? Annoyed, he grabbed hold of her ankle, holding her still. “If that’s true, why are you running from me?”
“I’m not running.” But she desperately tried to get him to release her leg.
“Then stop fussin’!” he snapped. When she didn’t, he yanked her over and somehow yanked her right into his lap.
She gasped in surprise, her arms around his neck, her thighs on either side of his hips. For a little thing, she sure did feel good there. He rested his hands on her hips. Bobby Ray knew he should push her off, but all he wanted to do was bring her closer.
She stared down into his face, those brown eyes devouring him on the spot. Yeah, he knew when a female wanted him and, to his utter surprise, Jessie Ann Ward wanted him. He watched her gather her courage and then she moved in, her lips lowering toward his. He could feel her sweet breath against his mouth and he could easily imagine how hot the kiss would be. He knew she’d taste wonderful and would respond to him like no one ever had before.
He also knew kissing her would be the dumbest thing he could ever do. So, too drunk to temper his actions, he shoved her off his lap, wincing when she hit the floor hard.
Bobby Ray ran his hands through his hair. Sometime tomorrow, all his hair would be gone. “We…we can’t.”
“We can’t what?” she snarled, pushing herself to her feet. “You grabbed me.” She stood and he could see she wore one of her Star Wars t-shirts. She must have ten of those and ten of her Raiders of the Lost Ark tees. A real nerd, Jessie Ann.
“Don’t be mad, Jessie Ann. It’s not-”
“Forget it.” She glanced at the small watch on her wrist. She had a weird thing about time, which he found fascinating since no one else in town did. “I gotta meet my friends at Riley’s.” A comic book store in the next town over.
“I’ll walk with you.” He didn’t like her being out there on her own.
“No. I don’t need you.” She practically spit that in his face, then she grabbed her oversized backpack filled with her nerdy books and papers and hauled it onto her shoulders. For such a small thing, he had no idea how she managed to haul that bag around.
“It’s too dangerous for you to walk over there at this time of night.”
“I’m meeting my friends.” Her friends. All male. He often caught their scent lingering around her. He saw them once when he and one of his buddies went to the comic book store on a whim. She was in the back with five other guys playing some game that involved a board, paper, and many-sided dice. He sensed dragons were involved and that’s pretty much where Bobby Ray lost interest. Dragons, swords, fairies-all that stuff seemed pretty stupid to him. But he hadn’t liked her being around all those full-human males. He liked it even less now.
She turned to walk away but stopped and glanced at him over her shoulder. “Good luck, Smith. You know, tomorrow. You’re gonna be great.” Then she took off running. He didn’t bother going after her. Wild dogs were wicked fast, and he was way too drunk to keep up.
Instead Bobby Ray laid back against the floor and closed his eyes, figuring a few hours sleep would have him right as rain. Of course all those dreams about one small She-dog with innocent eyes and a wicked mouth only managed to drain him and make him wish things were different. But they weren’t. Not until he got out of Smithtown and changed his life for good.
Then maybe, just maybe, he’d have something to offer a spunky little wild dog who could haunt a man’s dreams and his heart.