Still fuzzy from a long day’s sleep, Scarlet perched on the edge of the couch, tying her boots and soaking in the peace and quiet and the fresh country air. The living room’s picture window framed a postcard view to the west. Rich green mountain forest edged the pale gold pasture. Closer to the old farmhouse, her grandfather’s prized lawn was framed by small trees and shrubs he’d selected with such love and care. Nearby maple trees were already shedding bright autumn leaves.
The late Saturday afternoon sun sparked fire off raindrops still clinging to the newly bared branches. With a little start, Scarlet realized the sun was heading for the horizon. Hastily, she finished knotting her bootlaces, grabbed her favorite soft brown hoodie, tugged it on, and stuffed her mini-wallet inside the top’s kangaroo pocket.
If she didn’t hurry, the market would close for the weekend. Though missing a few meals would improve her hipline, eating nothing but canned goods until the only grocery store in Cedar Grove reopened on Monday did not appeal to her. Neither did the thought of wasting hours on a drive back to Treeland to buy groceries. Not when she could use those same hours accomplishing the task she’d come to the mountains to do: seek the help of the legendary werewolf whisperer. With a little luck, she’d find the whisperer and become an integrated werewolf, the Omega her pack needed so desperately.
For the million and tenth time, she wondered what kind of werewolf the whisperer was -- a sensitive Psi, maybe even a female, she hoped.
Once outside, she eyed the long drive curving down the hill toward town. With the time it took to open the garage, start the car, and navigate the winding road, walking would be almost as quick. She grimaced at her full hips. A fast walk would do her good. Besides, the shortcut through the woods beckoned like an old friend.
Twilight faded rapidly in the mountains. To the east, a ghost moon shimmered through wispy clouds. As she stepped into the old-growth forest, a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the lengthening shadows of the coming night made her shiver. Danger waited for her, lurking somewhere in the near future.
Ignoring the prickle of premonition, she pulled her hoodie more snugly around her neck and hurried along the woodland path to town.
Fifteen minutes later, the last glow of the afternoon sun lingered over the mountains as she crossed Main Street.
The town of Cedar Grove hadn’t changed much in the decade since she’d last visited. The same storefronts filled one solid block and still reminded her of a western movie set. A post office, a tiny library, a hardware store, a feed and seed with a fuel station attached, three taverns, and Morton’s all crowded together. A pristine white church, two dozen fat, comfortable bungalows, a two-story block of concrete, an all-grades-in-one school, and a park were scattered along the stretch of two-lane asphalt between the storefronts and the bridge that marked the end of the tiny community.
On the threshold of Morton’s Market, her steps slowed and then halted. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck quivered in warning. Every instinct she possessed shrieked that an Alpha male lurked inside.
Her heart stuttered and tripped into overdrive, her mind racing as she stared at the store. The business’s open hours -- ten to six -- were lettered on the glass doors right under the words MORTON’S GROCERIES, MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY. Tomorrow was Sunday. She squinted at the clock on the back wall. The plain black-and-white face read a quarter to six.
On any other night, she would have tucked her dormant tail between her legs and run back through the woods all the way to the safety of the old house. But not tonight. How could she track the whisperer if she was too cowardly even to buy groceries?
Her arm trembled as she reached for the handle. No cringing, she reminded herself firmly. She was on a mission. Wimping out at the first sign of an Alpha wouldn’t cut it. She wasn’t a submissive Beta, and even a flawed Omega did not cower. Besides, she was still in charge, not her inner bitch. Nothing would ever change unless Scarlet took action.
Abruptly she pushed into the store. Grabbing a basket, she scurried toward the dairy section clear in the back.
She spotted the Alpha instantly. Aggression rolled off shoulders big enough to block the coming moonlight. Even in human form, he prowled toward her -- a powerful male in his prime, pure lethal poetry in motion, and scary as hell.
As Scarlet fought to hold her ground, she felt her inner wolf hum for the first time in a decade. Her breath caught; she was afraid to breathe, afraid to believe. She’d endured so many treatments, sessions with the visiting Omega, meetings with Alphas to overcome her phobia of the dominant males, but nothing had worked to restore her damaged connection to her inner Omega bitch.
Hope beat wildly at her Omega’s gentle but unmistakable nudge toward the Alpha, infusing Scarlet with badly needed courage. Perhaps the connection wasn’t as damaged as she and the pack had believed. The link responding so soon made her impulsive trip to the mountains seem more like a valid inspiration and less like a desperate chase after myths.
Her wolf’s message came through loud and clear: this Alpha was different.
In a good way?
Gradually her heart rate slowed to something almost normal, her knees firmed, and she took a step forward. Alpha or not, her wolf had responded to him, and that was all that mattered.
Suddenly she couldn’t look directly at him. A weird tingling washed over her skin. If she’d been wearing fur, it would have fluffed. In challenge or dare, she wondered. Definitely not in terror, which was freakily strange for her.
Determined and more than a little curious, she braved another step.
As he came closer, she forced herself to meet his gaze. Instantly his dark gray eyes pinned her in place.
She quickly dropped her focus to the floor, quivering with tension, but she didn’t panic. Her inner bitch made a throaty sound of approval. The sudden urge to grovel and show him her throat washed over her, making staying upright a challenge.
When she darted another look, he’d halved the distance separating them. He stopped, glanced down at his hip, and glared at an insistent buzz from his pager. A deep rumble of irritation issued from his throat. The sound was so loud, she could’ve sworn it shook the pyramid display of microwave popcorn on his left.
Once again, she sensed his focus locking on her.
“Stay,” he growled at her. Then he whirled and strode off, disappearing down the soups and spices aisle.
For a few seconds, she remained glued to the spot. Slowly the tension eased, and she pried loose her death grip on her shopping basket. The strangest part of the encounter was the need she felt to obey him. For the past decade, she’d been terrified of all Alphas, some more than others, but none of them had ever compelled her to do anything. She’d never considered the difference between fear and obedience until now.
Finally free of his power, she scurried toward the dairy section, still shaken and not at all sure she could have defied him if he hadn’t left. Then she dashed on through the frozen section, scored a gallon of coffee ice cream, and grabbed a squirt bottle of chocolate sauce. Two jars of Nutella joined the rest of the items in her basket. She quickly headed toward the front of the store, but a tempting display of Honey Crisp apples beckoned her to detour.
Apples and Nutella -- practically health food, she mused. Her belly growled. Less rattled with each passing second, she added a can of coffee, backtracked for a pint of cream, fresh eggs, bacon, and bread. Hips be damned. She needed strength. A female did not thrive on Nutella alone.
With the Alpha gone, the too-brief connection with her inner bitch disappeared.
The store’s familiar aromas of earthy root vegetables, slightly sour spilled milk, aging meat, and pine-scented cleaner calmed her until she was certain her usual nervousness around Alphas had exaggerated the episode with the strange male.
Her boots made businesslike taps on the industrial vinyl floor as she hurried to the checkout.
An old-fashioned shiny counter bell sat on the customer’s check-writing shelf. She gave it a pat. A round face sporting Benjamin Franklin-style glasses and smelling faintly of bay rum popped up from behind the counter, beaming. “You must be Charlie’s granddaughter.”
Scarlet drew back, startled. Then she registered his infectious grin. It was a smile that made it impossible not to smile back. “Yes, I am.”
“Heard he’d left the place to you.” He nodded to himself with satisfaction. “Charlie used to bring you in here when you were just a little bit of a girl. You haven’t been back for a while. But I’d have known those auburn curls and Charlie’s chin anywhere.” He pulled the groceries from her basket, setting each item on the counter and inspecting them. “Cracked egg. Wait right here. I’ll get another carton.”
Scarlet darted a nervous peek toward where she’d last seen the Alpha. “Please don’t bother.”
“No bother.” The grocer, Frank Coleson -- according to his name tag -- hitched off, favoring one hip, and vanished in the direction of the dairy section.
When he returned with a new carton, Scarlet glanced back at the store’s front windows where the gloom of night continued to thicken.
Fear hadn’t been what she’d felt with the Alpha. Not exactly. Whatever she’d felt, though it wasn’t quite fear, was still scary. She wasn’t anxious to test his strange power with a second encounter.
With painstaking deliberation, the grocer checked each item’s price as he rang up her total and then printed a receipt. He pushed his glasses farther up his nose and tilted his head, peering at the cash register tape.
“Better double-check.” His eyes flickered from the groceries to the itemized bill and back again, ticking off each purchase during his meticulous bagging.
She swallowed a sigh of frustration, but she couldn’t bring herself to snap at him. Surely her reluctance had nothing to do with obeying the Alpha’s command to stay?
Finally he gave a happy little bounce. “Everything’s copacetic, ready to go.”
“What do I owe you?” Scarlet pulled out her wallet.
Mr. Coleson shook his head, clearly offended. “Oh no, we’ll send a monthly bill.”
“Then thank you.” She reached for the sack of groceries.
He frowned, clutching the bag to his concave chest. “I’ll carry your order out to your car.”
Scarlet took a quick scan of the store. Seeing no sign of the dominant male, she again reached for her groceries. “Thank you, but that’s not necessary. I walked.”
Approaching footsteps thudded, growing louder the closer they came until the sound drowned out everything except the pounding of her heart.
He was back. Scarlet fought an urge to run.
Her inner bitch hummed back to life, startling Scarlet again. A response to the Alpha? There was nothing else it could be. The Omega stretched, arching her back, and sniffed appreciatively, all but shoving Scarlet toward the Alpha.
Oh what she wouldn’t give for five minutes of solid communication with her long-dormant wolf.
While Scarlet was distracted by her inner bitch, the beaming Mr. Coleson set her groceries on the counter behind him.
“Sheriff, good to see you. Have you met Scarlet?”
Sheriff? Didn’t that just put the frosting on her cake? For the first time, she registered the uniform. How to make an Alpha even worse -- give him a badge and gun. She turned, making herself meet the male’s gaze.
Blinking to dissipate the power of his stormy gray eyes, she took in his strong nose, heavy brows, and full lips quirking at the corners. Like most Alphas, he was breath-catchingly gorgeous and dripping with sensual charisma. No doubt he’d worn out batons staving off the local women.
A whiff of his leather, woods, and wild-animal-sex fragrance liquefied her knees.
“Scarlet walked,” Mr. Coleson said reprovingly. “She needs a ride home.”
“I’ll handle it.” The sheriff unloaded a loaf of rye, a package of Havarti, and a bag of chips on the counter, watching her all the while. “Ring me up.”
“Sure thing.” The traitorous Mr. Coleson moved jauntily, ringing and bagging.
Clearly he was oblivious to the tension between her and the sheriff, not to mention unaffected by the Alpha’s incredible scent. Good thing too; if he noticed they weren’t exactly human, there’d be hell to pay. She didn’t need more complications.
Despite her effort to stand still, Scarlet fidgeted under the weight of the sheriff’s scrutiny, wishing she could grab her groceries and go, but his steady gaze held her as surely as if she’d been bound and gagged. An image of herself in cruel silver chains with a filthy rag stuffed in her mouth flashed through her mind’s eye, leaving her shaky and nauseated. Her inner bitch’s presence vanished.
The sheriff took both bags in one capable-looking hand, cupped her elbow with the other, and steered her out of the store. “Take it easy, Red. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Now he read minds too? No, he’d probably caught scent of her fear. Goddess knew the depressing tang was all she could smell. There was nothing she could do about her telltale odor, but she didn’t have to cower and snivel. She straightened her spine. “Thanks.”
“You here for a visit?”
“Something like that.”
His light grip on her arm firmed until her bones felt the squeeze. He stopped.
Instantly she regretted evading his question.
“May I see some identification?” His sensual mouth tightened, and Alpha power edged the mild words.
She fought the rising tide of fear at the sharp tone of his suspicion and lost the battle. She looked away from his tight face, unable to meet his eyes, and then darted peeks at him through her lashes. Technically he’d asked a nice, respectful question, but she wasn’t silly enough to believe refusing to answer was a real option.
Tingling licks of flame teased her skin wherever his gaze brushed it; it felt as if he’d actually touched her. While she fumbled for her ID, heat streaked up her neck. Great. The redhead’s curse -- an ugly blush was searing her face.
After an age, her clumsy fingers extracted her driver’s license from the leather case.
He took the identification and studied it with a stony expression. “Any other picture ID?”
“No.” She bit her tongue to keep from adding anything else she’d regret.
“Is this your current address?”
For a second, she thought his gray eyes warmed. A wild imagination was so not helpful. Especially not when dealing with Alphas, a subspecies of werewolf totally missing the humor gene. She almost answered yes automatically before she caught the trick in his question. With a lift of her chin, she said, “It’s my permanent address. Currently I’m staying at my grandfather’s place. He left it to me.”
He didn’t answer right away.
“Satisfied?” she hissed like a shrew.
This time she didn’t imagine the sparkle in his eyes or the quirk at one corner of his surprisingly generous lips, and new hot spots sparked to life in her breasts and between her legs.
“No.” He gave her another long, slow perusal, finally handing back her driver’s license. “Not by a long shot.”
© Evanne Lorraine
A Taste of Scarlet
Author: Evanne Lorraine
Publisher: Loose Id, LLC
Genre: BDSM BBW Shape-shifter Paranormal
A rare Omega wolf with the gift of healing, Scarlet underwent her first shift to werewolf form while held captive by a pack of rogue Alphas. The abuse shattered her connection with her inner bitch and left her with a severe Alpha-phobia. A broken wolf link put her out of the mating game. But determined to serve a pack in need of her healing, she searches for the legendary werewolf whisperer on the chance he can work the miracle she needs.
Once he roamed North America guiding the broken wolves back to wholeness, but Daniel nearly lost his humanity the last time he tracked a rogue. Escaping from the whisperer business, he spent months in his true werewolf form. Now he’s the lone wolf sheriff in sleepy Cedar Grove. He likes peace and quiet in his territory, same as any good law officer, and the new redhead in town is pure trouble.
Two seconds after they meet, she's disturbing the hell out of his peace. She’s a pack princess and he's not interested in a pack sanctioned mating. Been there, done that, and still paying through the nose for the mistake. Leaving her alone is the right choice, but he can't deny that she smells delicious.
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, BDSM theme and elements.