I would rather show than tell... The following is an excerpt from DARKNESS BOUND, newly on sale and (I think) a lot of fun. If you enjoy the opening, I hope you'll read the whole book.
All the best,
First volume of The Chimney Rock Books
“We’re going to highjack this woman, body and soul,” Niles Latimer said. “I feel like crap about it but we don’t have a choice–unless we give up and wait to die, one-by-one.”
Standing in the bed of his truck beside a small stone cottage, he spoke telepathically to his second-in-command, Sean Black, who was several miles away, leaping through great, dark trees on agile feet. Sean was in his werehound form and at the speed he moved would arrive momentarily.
Niles paused, flexed his shoulders. From behind him he heard the familiar sounds of the powerful animal grazing past branches, using the dense forest as cover to allow him to move freely, hidden from any inconvenient and curious eyes. Even in his human form, Niles wasn’t tempted to turn around when Sean arrived–werehounds recognized each other instinctively.
Werehounds understood each other as either hounds or humans but other humans couldn’t hear them speak as hounds. Hounds could not speak aloud to either human or hound. They communicated between themselves on open channels or could limit their mind track between two or more.
“We appear to have no choice about the decision we’ve made,” Sean mind-tracked. “Unless, as you say, we scrap this plan completely and accept the inevitable. There’s still time for you to leave before she gets here. She doesn’t know you, doesn’t expect you to be here, so if you pass her on the way out you can say you took a wrong turn.”
Niles understood reverse psychology when he heard it. “Accept that our numbers will continue to shrink while we cling to the fringes of human society, never allowed to live among them openl, you mean? I’m not ready to do that.” Okay, so he had cold feet about the woman, but they wouldn’t get the better of him.
“We’re living among them now,” Sean said.
“Carefully,” Niles said. He looked over the waters of Saratoga Passage sweeping in beneath the bluff where the cottage stood. Wind spun dead leaves and grit into the cold air. He sighed, loving this place, hating that he and his kind could not find peace there. “We consider every move we make. If they knew what we are we would probably have to leave.”
“Or stand and fight.”
Niles swallowed a curse. “Fight the human world we want to be part of? Back to reality, Sean. We are sworn never to harm a human unless they threaten us. Without them we have no hope of getting back our own humanity. We are not like the werewolves—they are animals and they like it that way. We’re not the men we were meant to be either, dammit, but we’re not giving up, not now. Not ever.”
“They are too quiet,” Sean said. “The wolves. I keep expecting them to interfere with our plans somehow.” On these occasions he wished hounds could hear wolves thoughts, but they couldn’t, just as the wolves couldn’t hear them.
“You’re only saying what I’ve been thinking. The others must wonder, too. If they knew our plans, Brande and his pack would have every reason to stop us. We know too much about them. He knows we could make their lives hell.”
“It’s getting late,” Sean said. “Are you sure Gabriel gave you the right day for her arrival at Two Chimneys?” Two Chimneys was the name of the cottage the woman had inherited from her dead husband. She was about to come back for the first time since that death.
Niles rarely noticed fading light. He preferred the darkness and had perfect dark-sight, but he glanced around and wondered if Sean might have a point. “Gabriel ought to know. He’s going to be her new boss. She’s supposed to start in his office in the next couple of days and she’ll need to settle in here first. Gabriel said she’d come today.”
“This thing you’re doing could blow everything apart,” Sean said. “It could totally backfire. What if she goes running for the nearest cop the minute she finds out what you are?”
“I’ll feel my way. If she isn’t receptive to me, we’ll forget it–for now. We’d have to anyway.”
“How will you know if she’s receptive?” There was laughter in Sean’s thoughts. “When she arrives, you say, Hi, I’m gonna be your new mate. All the females of my species have died out giving birth. I need you–“
”Knock it off, Sean.”
Sean wasn’t done yet. “I need you to have my offspring, and find more females to do the same thing with other members of my team We want to restock our ranks. Oh, and we can’t be sure you won’t die the same way our own females did.”
“Get back to the rest of the team and bring them up to date,” Nile said sharply. “They’ve got to be on edge. I’ll check in later.”
Niles felt Sean close his mind, and heard him go on his way.
A flash if silver caught Niles attention. A small car passing the cottage on the far side. Leigh Kelly had arrived. He stood absolutely still, his eyes narrowed.
He had waited a long time for this day, this meeting. If this woman knew his plans she wouldn’t even get out of her car.
The thought of what lay ahead scared the hell out of him.
Leigh left the front door of the cottage open to let in fresh air. The little house had been closed up for eighteen months since her husband Chris died, and a musty smell inside made her eyes sting.
Or she told herself it was the smell that caused the start of tears.
Can I do this? She had thought she could, thought she was ready.
She glanced at the open steps leading to the sleeping loft and nearly lost it completely. A recollection shouldn’t be so clear you could see it. But she could see Chris climbing down those stairs early in the morning, his dark blond hair mussed, beard shadow clinging to the grooves in his cheeks and the sharp angle of his jaw—and that half-sleepy, half-sexy and all impish smile on his lips.
Leigh shivered and hunched her shoulders. No matter how hard this was at first, she would get past the waves of hurt, even disbelief. She had come too far not to make it all the way back to a full life.
For a few moments she leaned on the doorjamb and made herself take in the main room of the cottage, the main room with its fireplace on either side. This would be a happy place again. Sure it would take time, but Chris would want her to make it and she would, for both of them.
They had almost two years of wonderful time together before their marriage—only days after that marriage. But she wouldn’t wipe out a moment of that time, except for losing him.
She had gone inside, dropped her bag and started shrugging out of her green down coat when a thud, followed by another, and another, froze her in place. Her dog, Jazzy, still sat on the edge of the cottage porch, unperturbed, even though his head was turned toward the noise. Nothing moved beyond the big front window.
The thudding continued.
Carrying her coat, her heart thundering, Leigh tiptoed into the kitchen to peer through the window over the sink, then the one in the door, covered by a piece of lace curtain held tight top and bottom of the glass by lengths of springy wire.
Her stomach made a great revolution. Late afternoon had turned the light muzzy but in front of a wall of firs that was acres deep in places, stood a shiny gray truck with a long cab and a businesslike bed piled high with chunks of wood. In that truck bed stood a tall, muscular man in a red plaid shirt who tossed the logs to the ground beside the lean-to woodshed as easily as if they were matchsticks.
Leigh put her coat back on and crossed her arms tightly.
What was he doing here?
The door stuck and it took several wrenches to get it open. The ground was muddy from recent rainfall. Crossing her arms again, she kicked off her shoes and stuffed her feet into a pair of green rubber boots by the wall, where they were always kept–beside a larger pair.
Leigh glanced away from Chris’s boots at once.
“Afternoon,” the man called.
Leigh shaded her eyes with a cold hand and squinted to see him. He was very powerfully built, with dark wavy hair, long and a bit shaggy. The sleeves of the red wool shirt were rolled up. His Levis clung to strong legs, a dark T-shirt showed at the neck of his shirt. She couldn’t make out much more.
“What are you doing here?” she said. And she felt vulnerable since he could probably throw her as easily as one of the chunks of wood.
”Are you planning to squat here?” she asked, keeping her voice steady and sharp. “Because if you are you can forget it. This is my place. Get on your way.”
She wished she weren’t alone and kept herself ready to rush back the way she had come if he threatened her somehow.
“Hey, sorry. I’m just delivering wood like I told Gabriel Jones I would. I meant to do all this before you got here.” He had one of those male voices you don’t forget. Low, quiet and confident. And now that he had stopped moving wood an absolute stillness had come over him, a watchfulness. He was taking her measure. “I must have my days mixed up,” he added.
That explained it, right? Gabriel had asked this man to bring the wood. “I see.” She felt like an idiot, but she couldn’t be sure he wasn’t trouble and likely to turn on her.
“The shed was full when . . . the last time I was here.” The day she and Chris had left, never to come back together.
“Apparently your stash got borrowed,” the man said. He flipped up one corner of his mouth. “With the house empty for so long you probably hosted a few beach bonfires. It’s starting to get cold. You’ll need this yourself now.”
She didn’t care about how cold it might get. The man sounded reserved but sure of himself and he made her edgy. He was probably right about the beach fires. Kids from the quiet little town of Langley and the outlying areas needed a way to let off steam and there were worse ways than having beach parties around Chimney Rock Cove.
“I’ve already stacked some of this by the front door,” the man said. “Easier to get it to the fireplaces that way.”
She had been too busy forcing herself to go into the cottage at all to noticed details.
The man didn’t seem threatening–not really. Except for that stillness that didn’t feel quite natural. “You sound as if you knew I was coming,” she said. Of course he did. He had already said as much.
“You know how things are around here,” he responded without looking at her. “Everyone knows everyone else’s business, but your new boss, Gabriel, he said you took some sort of office job at the bar. He mentioned it to me when he got me to clean your gutters.”
The blood that rushed to her face throbbed. It would look awful, splotchy and bright red around the freckled bits where her skin stayed pale. “Clean the gutters?” she said and swallowed. “Gabriel thinks of everything.”
“I was glad to do it. Niles Latimer–“ he hopped down from the back of the truck and wiped his right hand on his jeans, and wiped and wiped, then hesitated and put the hand in his pocket. “I’m in the cabin by the beach.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “That way.”
Leigh felt his stillness even more strongly. Something restrained by his own will. If he didn’t want to hold it back, what then?
A rapid but stealthy current of energy invaded her, touched her in places and ways beyond understanding. She was responding to him. The most subtle yet definite change in light, an intensity, sharpened the lines and shadows of his features.
These things didn’t really happen. Fancy had taken over because she was tired and anxious. Strange and fascinating men didn’t set out to charm a woman they had only just met—or to possess her. The presence of danger. Leigh gave an involuntary shiver.
She advanced on him with wobbly determination, only she’d make sure he never knew she was not sure of herself. “I know the place,” she told him, shooting out her own hand. “I’m Leigh Kelly.” She used to be so confident, at least on the outside. To a fault some said. The same people might have called her a “smart mouth” and she knew some had.
He glanced at her face with bright blue eyes, lowered that gaze quickly and yanked his hand out again. He wrapped very long, workman’s fingers around hers and she winced when her bones ground together. Niles Latimer pulled back as if she had shocked him.
“Nice to meet you.” There was no particular accent that she recognized. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry you lost your husband.”
“Are you?” She closed her eyes for an instant. “Forgive me–my social skills are a bit rusty sometimes. Thank you, but Chris has been gone quite a while now and I’m back in the swing of things.” She surprised herself by adding, “Wonderful memories can’t be so bad.”
She followed his gaze to her left hand where her wedding ring still looked new and three embedded diamonds glinted.
Leigh had never considered taking the ring off.
Once more she felt his unwavering attention on her. That was it, he watched her as if she was the only other person in the world and he had to commit her to memory.
And that, she thought, was a ridiculous conclusion on her part. He paid attention when he talked to someone was all. That was polite and probably too rare.
Niles pushed his sleeves higher on the heavily muscled, weather-darkened forearms of a physical man. “Is it all right if I carry on unloading now?”
“Of course,” Leigh said. “Thank you. But tell me how much I owe you for the gutters and the firewood.” Whether she’d asked for them or not, both things were needed.
“Nothing,” he said airily, sweeping wide an arm. “House warming present. Re-warming. This tree had to come down and I’ve already got enough wood for half a dozen winters. Anyway, neighbors look out for neighbors.”
Refusing the kindness would sound churlish but it made her feel very uncomfortable to accept. “Um,” was all she could think of to say. Leigh felt iron determination under Niles’ calm manner, determination and control drawn as tight as a loaded crossbow. It didn’t make her comfortable.
He laughed and it suited him–and made her smile. “I reckon I scared you. That was dumb. I should have thought of that possibility and come to the door to introduce myself,” he said. “Sorry about that. But let me get back to unloading. Then I’ll stack it.”
“Oh, no.” She shook her head. “No such thing. Leave it on the ground and I’ll do it. I’m tougher than I look and I need the exercise.”
“Stacking wood is a man’s job,” he said, showing no sign of realizing his own reminder that she was alone now. “You’ll have plenty to do giving the house a good clean.”
She dithered but said, “Well, thank you, then.” At another time she would have told him a woman could stack wood perfectly well. Today she didn’t mind having a man do something for her.
She only glanced over her shoulder once on her way back and he was already making the first layer of wood in the lean-to. Gabriel would never send anyone untrustworthy and Leigh decided she liked having Niles there, doing ordinary things and making the place feel less empty.
Blue striped mugs and matching plates lined shelves built into a kitchen alcove no more than two feet wide. A heap of clean silverplate flatware worn dull by use remained atop the small chest fitted below the shelves. And white pottery canisters, complete with yellow duck knobs, stood in a cluster on a scrubbed wood counter beside the speckled green enamel sink. One side of the sink was chipped all the way down to dark metal. Everything was exactly the way it had been when Leigh Kelly last left the kitchen–with Chris at her side.
More than eighteen months ago.
Everything was the same? No, everything had changed. Leigh was alone now, had been for what felt an eternity. She and Chris would never again run into this house, breathless after chasing one another around outside, and race for the kitchen to make hot chocolate or pour a glass of cold wine.
But she would start over. She would learn to remember Chris without wanting to cry.
She took the carnival glass vase from the center of the round table and filled its pencil wide well with water. With the New Year firmly settled in, the deep cold of winter turned the ground to stone. The only thing in bloom outside was a hardy Fuscia bush, but she had picked a short branch with a few vivid red flowers that would do just fine. Whenever she and Chris came here, the first thing she had done was to put a flower in the vase, sometimes a purple Cosmos, or a Snapdragon in summer, a couple of leggy Impatiens in fall.
Chris’s chair was left pushed out from the table and he had forgotten to take his scarred leather bomber jacket from the back. He had only used the coat up here and kept it on a hook in the broom closet.
Leigh’s eyes stung again and she blinked. The brown leather felt so soft beneath her fingers. The inside of the collar was darker where it had rested against his neck over a number of years. She touched the collar, picked up a sleeve and squeezed the knitted band at the wrist in one fist.
The jacket was cold but she could see Chris wearing it and striding along the beach below the bluff, laughing up at her.
Blinking didn’t hold back tears this time.
This was breaking the promise she had made herself–already. It was okay to feel nostalgic and even a bit choked up, but there could be no falling apart or letting the terrible hurt take over once more.
She fumbled in her pockets until she found tissues and pressed them to her eyes just as they completely misted over. The pain in her throat was as much from fighting for control as struggling not to put on the coat and go curl up with the tears until she fell asleep.
No. This was her new beginning. Choosing to return to the area known as Chimney Rock Cove and the house called Two Chimneys (because of the two fireplaces, one on either side of the same room) might take more guts than to go to a fresh, strange place, but in time she would be glad of the familiarity.
And she had not really had any choice but to return to see how she did here. The power of remembered happiness would eventually pull her back anyway.
The baggage she had brought in, one suitcase, still stood just inside the front door that opened into a well-worn and cozy living room where she and Chris had spent hour after hour. She had left the case there when she heard Niles Latimer but if she decided not to stay she wouldn’t have far to carry the bag back to her car.
The only sound was the distant pounding of the waters in Saratoga Passage onto the driftwood-strewn beach beneath the bluff in front of the house–and the thump of Niles Latimer’s logs. These and some loud sniffing from Jazzy, her Sheltie, Yorkie mix. Jazzy didn’t settle until he had explored every corner and cranny of new digs.
Jazzy was seeing the house on Washington’s Whidbey Island for the first time.
Chris never met the dog.
Leigh tapped a foot, summoning up the energy she was famous for. It had been on the rocky beach below the cottage that she met Chris for the first time. She had come by chance, looking for a retreat. A pin in a map was her guide to Chimney Rock Cove, but from the moment she saw the place it seemed familiar and she wanted to be there. Chris was the clincher.
Sometimes she had been convinced it wasn’t the pin that brought her to Whidbey Island, but fate—not that she believed in fate. Or did she? Even the air in the place felt different and colors took on their own fresh brilliance.
Now there was a job waiting for Leigh at Gabriel’s Place, a bar and grill in a forested setting a few miles south of Langley. She found the help-wanted ad in a discarded newspaper at a Seattle coffee shop and called on impulse before she could change her mind.
Gabriel Jones had interviewed her on the phone and told her she was hired. Just like that. Of course she knew him from the times she and Chris had eaten at the restaurant north of the little stone house Chris’s grandfather had built almost entirely with his own hands.
As soon as she had hung up the phone from speaking with Gabriel about the job, and to make sure she didn’t find an excuse to back out, Leigh gave notice at Microsoft and took her software engineering skills north to the island she had tried to stay away from in case she couldn’t deal with the memories. But after all, thanks to Chris, she owned the house and land at Chimney Rock, and knew the area intimately. And she didn’t care if designing a web page for a local bar and eatery, getting the accounts computerized and generally trying to drag the place out of the red was a huge step down from what she was trained to do.
The measly pay would cover expenses, not that she cared about that either, and she wouldn’t be the first woman to be way overqualified for a position.
This was where she had been happier than at any other time in her life and sadness had become so old. She was ready to laugh again, to make a friend or two maybe.
She was talking herself into this.
Perhaps she was succeeding. The least she could do was see how she did spending a night alone in the house. She filled her lungs with crystal air and shivered at the tingle that whipped over her skin.
Time to pick up and make a life again, that’s what she had told herself, many times, until she finally got the message and knew she was right.
The phone rang, and rang, and rang. She picked it up on the fifth ring, figuring someone didn’t intend to leave her alone until she answered–not that anyone was supposed to know she was here.
“Hello.” The wintry evening snapped cold outside but she could see a steel blue moon rising beyond the windows, even with all the lamps switched on.
Leigh didn’t recognize the voice. “Who is this?”
“Gabriel Jones . . . at Gabriel’s Place. I’ll be there in an hour or so. I picked up a few groceries for you. Enough to get you started. Sorry to be so late coming.”
Of course it was Gabriel. Who else would it be? Puffing air into her cheeks and holding it, Leigh tried to think coherently but failed. She wanted to tell him not to come, didn’t she? Yes, definitely.
“I’ve got a couple of phone numbers for your neighbors just in case you need to call someone,” he said. “You can always reach me if you’ve got a problem.”
She and Chris had only come up on weekends and she didn’t recall ever talking to a neighbor. The nearest house, which must belong to Niles Latimer, was built farther south on a piece of land that jutted out to the water’s edge beneath the bluff. Chris said he didn’t think he would like it there when the tide was in and water lapped around concrete bulkheads built to protect the foundation of the cabin.
“You still there?” Gabriel said. He had one of those deep, vibrating voices that sounded like he would sing baritone–and as if he smoked. Leigh didn’t know about either. She did know he was an ex-football player who was imposingly huge.
“You don’t have to do all this,” she said. But she couldn’t be rude. “I’d be very grateful for the groceries but you don’t need to bother with anything else. It’s all fine here.”
“I’m not checking the electricity,” Gabriel said. “Niles will do that. He knows all that stuff.”
“We already met. The power seems fine. Thank you, both of you, for getting the gutters clean and the wood in.”
Leigh tried to ignore Jazzy who was scratching the front door. The dog should not need to go out again.
Gabriel cleared his throat. “Good. Wanted to make sure I told you how glad I am you’re here. I couldn’t believe my luck when you took the job. It’s real different from what you’re used to. Could be a breath of fresh air for you. Different air anyway. The pay’s not much but by the time you’ve started bringing in more customers—and I know you will--I’ll be able to afford more. You do know all your meals are found. That’ll help.”
She didn’t know how to answer.
“Anyway, Leigh, give yourself a few days to settle in. Start here when you’re ready. I’ll be over with the groceries.”
Leigh opened her mouth to say she intended to begin work tomorrow but Gabriel said, “Bye,” and hung up the phone.
The scratching continued, and an uncharacteristic whining. Leigh made her way back from the kitchen and through the living room with its assortment of slightly sagging armchairs covered with a fabric resembling tartan carpet in shades of rust and green.
She let Jazzy run outside where he only went as far as the edge of the weathered gray porch and sat with his head raised, sniffing. The fringes of blond fur on his ears and above his eyes, stood straight up in the breeze.
The open door let in a whiff of air off the water. Very little about the house had been changed since Chris’s grandparents’ time. He had liked it that way and Leigh still did.
She wasn’t ready to climb the stairs to the loft yet. That’s where they had slept and felt so cocooned and isolated in their own world–safe in each other’s arms and in their love.
Leigh did look up at the patchwork quilt draped over the loft railings. Even that was grungy-looking. Many months of neglect had coated the whole place with dirt but cleaning would help her adjust and keep her mind busy at the same time.
A while later the downstairs had begun to feel the way Leigh liked it. She had tied her hair back with a scarf and rolled up her sleeves and the legs of her jeans. Sweating from physical labor helped ease the tension.
Illuminated by the yellowish porch light, buckets of dirty, sudsy water made a river through mud near the porch. Leigh wiped her face on a sleeve. The house smelled clean. Within days it would be its old shiny self.
She heard the powerful engine of Niles Latimer’s truck start. By the time she got to the kitchen door his taillights were disappearing through the canyon of firs as he drove up the track leading to the road. Leaving him alone like that for hours without as much as the offer of some coffee stank. She had been so preoccupied she got used to the sounds of him working and now she was sorry he had left. He had been there a long time.
She grabbed a flashlight and stepped outside the door. The woodshed was full and extra logs stood in piles covered with tarpaulins. The whole area was raked free of debris and he had pulled out the jungle of weeds from behind the shed. No wonder he had spent a lot of time there. She would take him some cookies or a pie, or both, and write a thank-you note.
“Neighbors look out for neighbors.” His voice came to her clearly, and the vision of a vibrant man with steady, amazingly blue eyes.
Loneliness could become a dangerous companion.
Losing herself in work again was the best way to shut out unwanted thoughts.
Darkness became complete and milky mist rose off the water to curl up over the bank. Seat cushions from the chairs had been vacuumed and stood propped on the porch to air out. If she didn’t bring them in they would get damp.
Followed back and forth by Jazzy, she hauled in the cushions and replaced them. The bookshelves were dusted, including the books, and the crystal birds Chris had inherited and liked had all been washed in ammonia until they sparkled. Every table had been polished, the big Oriental rug vacuumed and the wooden floors washed. Leigh had done the dark boards on her hands and knees.
Dragging stiffness dug between her shoulders. She looked up at the unlit loft. If she was going to have a place to sleep, there was no putting it off any longer. Clean sheets and the swipe of a duster over the obvious surfaces would have to do for now. She had already freshened up the one bathroom in the place, a shower combination that was downstairs.
Moving rapidly, she climbed the stairs and coughed when she pulled the hanging quilt from the railings. It must go to the cleaners. She would have to do something about getting a washer and dryer here–if she stayed. Not that she knew where they could be hooked up other than outside.
Using a set of sheets she had brought from the condo in Seattle, the bed was changed in record time and everything for the laundry gathered into a pile in one corner.
Gabriel hadn’t come with the groceries. Smiling to herself, Leigh went wearily downstairs again. The main reason Gabriel needed help was because he was disorganized and disinclined to attend to detail–like milk and bread for Leigh. She got her keys and bag, hoping there would be somewhere open in Langley. If all else failed, the gas station carried a few things.
“C’mon, Jazzy,” she said. “We’re going for a ride.”
Jazzy rolled his eyes. Leigh couldn’t tell anyone her dog did that, but he did–sort of–if there was something he didn’t want to do. Jazzy didn’t much like riding in the car, particularly not when he was already curled up and comfy on one of Leigh’s freshly cleaned chair seats.
She opened the front door and barely stopped herself from falling over a box and a small ice chest. Gabriel must have sensed on the phone that she wasn’t ready for visitors. “You’re a good man, Mr. Jones,” she said aloud, hauling the box, then the ice chest to the kitchen. A potted poinsettia with leaves in two shades of deep pink, nestled between coffee, bread and several boxes of cookies.
Leigh sighed. This was all part of tackling a normal life again and she had better get used to it. Gabriel was being thoughtful and kind and the plant was beautiful, obviously one of the many that had not been sold over Christmas.
“Doggy treat,” Leigh called out, producing a surprising box of rawhide chews.
Instantly, Jazzy raced into the kitchen, his blackcurrant eyes shining behind the wispy fringe of beige hair. He stood on his hind legs and danced, until he could grab the chew and take off.
Leigh put the poinsettia on the draining board and gave it some water. When she turned around, Jazzy was back–without the chew--and standing on his hind legs again, pawing the air like a miniature wild horse.
“Pig,” Leigh said, knowing her shaggy friend’s penchant for hoarding. “Okay, but don’t come back again.” She gave him another, bigger chew and scratched his head.
Half an hour later, the groceries put away and a cup of tea in hand, Leigh headed into the living room, sat down and stretched out her legs. If she wasn’t careful she’d fall asleep in the chair and appealing as that might be, it wouldn’t feel so good in the morning.
The front door was still open–just a few inches–and a cold draft slid through.
Leigh got up trudged across the floor. She could hear Jazzy gnawing on his chew. Arching her back, she listened again and held her breath. The sound of teeth scraping across something hard got louder—too loud to be made by her little dog.
She looked outside and it took all the restraint she had not to scream.
Side-by-side on the porch lay Jazzy and a new companion. Jazzy chewed the little piece of rawhide. His friend gnawed the other one.
“Jazzy, come here,” Leigh croaked.
Her contrary buddy stared at her, then licked the face of the other animal . . . wolf, giant mutant dog, something escaped from a zoo somewhere or whatever it was. Leigh wanted to slam her door on the blue-black creature with massive shoulders, hard muscle that undulated with even the slightest move, and lion-sized feet.
It stared at her with soft golden eyes while she shivered and poised herself to grab her silly, trusting little dog and pull him to safety.
The giant rose slowly, backed away a step or two. He was a magnificent dog, she decided, and very scary. With one paw he batted Jazzy on the butt, sending him toward Leigh a whole lot faster than he ever moved by choice.
Back rippling beneath the wiry fur along its spine, what was left of the chew delicately balanced between his teeth, their bizarre visitor lumbered from the porch and was instantly absorbed into shadows.
She thought she heard soft, measured footfalls that entered the forest and kept on loping. Only, of course she couldn’t hear an animal walking on spongy ground from this distance. Or see a faint, gauzy trail of silver slipping from the bluff to follow in the dog’s wake . . .