Authors: Susanna Shore
Tags: #Urban, #Vampires, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Paranormal, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Paranormal & Urban, #Literature & Fiction
A WOLF OF HER OWN
The Two-Natured London
A Wolf of Her Own. The Two-Natured London.
Copyright © 2013 A. K. S. Keinänen
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
No part of this book may be reproduced, translated, or distributed without permission, except for brief quotations in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogues and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, organisations or persons, living or dead, except those in public domain, is entirely coincidental.
Cover © 2013 A. K. S. Keinänen
The moon © Morguefile.com
The man © iStockphoto.com
Lee Burton, Ocean’s Edge Editing
Subscribe to Crimson House Books
Table of Contents
Slop bucket emptied into a trough in a forceful sweep. The slushy feed recoiled and splashed over the brim, landing on Gemma’s boots.
"Fudge!" The boots didn’t bother her; they were old Wellies she’d kept for the sole purpose of feeding the pigs. Why, when she had sworn never to feed a darn pig in her life again, she had no idea.
"That’s not true, is it?" she asked the pigs. "I kept them because I knew I’d end up back here." No matter how far she went, she could never completely leave the farm.
Frustration was followed by anger she instantly stifled, the act so well practiced it happened without effort.
, she could still hear her mother tell her,
a vampire never loses her temper. That only leads to death.
Mother had been right.
The pigs didn’t care about her mood. They rushed in to eat, happily spreading the food everywhere, both in the same spot though there was plenty of room around the trough. Gemma couldn’t stay angry watching the pair, not even when more slop spattered on her. It wasn’t their fault she was here.
That blame she would land on her brother.
"What sort of an idiot decides to get married and go on a honeymoon right before the lambing season, leaving me in charge?"
The pigs remained unimpressed.
She sighed. Of course she would help Tom, she was the only family he had—well, had been. He was married now. "Do you think I’m angry because I’m jealous?" One of the pigs shot her a look that clearly said ’duh’ and she nodded. "I’m jealous."
She had all but fled the farm the moment she was able, leaving her brother alone, yet expecting him to be there for her whenever she came back home. "He’s found someone to share his life with and won’t have room for me anymore. Do you think he loves her?"
She didn’t find the question odd—or that she was asking it to the pigs. She had done that all her life, the farm animals her confidants. "Of course he does. A whirlwind love of such passion he had to elope in all haste without telling me…" The stab of pain in her heart had another cause than just jealousy though. Envy. She wasn’t strong enough to feel deep emotions like love. Not if she didn’t want to lose control of the beast within her.
What if she was never strong enough? She would spend her long life alone.
Resentment so profound it made her insides clench swept through her. She stood still, her hands squeezed into fists, breathing steadily until the emotion eased. Slowly, she relaxed her muscles. She was in the clear; the Rider hadn’t stirred.
She should have said no to Tom when he’d asked for her help. The farm and all the memories it evoked put too great a strain on her control over the Rider. But he so seldom asked her for anything she hadn’t been able to refuse. He could consider this as a wedding gift.
He wasn’t getting anything else until he actually brought his bride home and introduced her to his sister.
At least it wasn’t quite the lambing season yet—if things went as planned. Despite modern advances in many areas of farming, they still weren’t able to control the exact date the ewes gave birth. If the multitude scheduled to deliver during the first couple of weeks of April decided to pop early, she’d be screwed.
The ewes had better stick to the appointed schedule, because she had no idea who to turn to for help otherwise. Most farmers around these parts had quit ages ago, and she couldn’t go for help to their closest neighbour, the Greenwood manor. Wolf-shifters weren’t exactly who one wanted around lambing sheep.
With little lonely girls, however…
She exited the pigsty briskly, her childhood friend another memory her return home had evoked that she didn’t want to dwell on. But she wasn’t in so much of a hurry that she didn’t remember to close the gate carefully. She had better things to do than chase after escaped pigs. They wouldn’t go far, but once one started chasing them, they got very excited and put on a good show before returning to their pen on their own.
Next up, the horse. Amanda’s stable opened to a corral, so Gemma only needed to feed her and open the door for her to come and go as she pleased. That was easier said than done. The huge draught horse hated her and tried her best to trample her every time she got close enough, which was every time she entered the stall to feed her.
"It’s only a horse. You can do it." Fear, like anger, was a bad emotion for her. She tried to stem it with steady breathing, but her heart was beating erratically as she opened the door to Amanda’s dusky lair.
A snort greeted her. It came from left of the door, which was good, as the manger was on the right. Leaving the escape route open, Gemma slipped in.
"Hello, old girl," she said in her most soothing voice, heading resolutely to the feeder in the corner. Another snort, closer, followed by the stomping of a hoof. She had a vivid image of a cartoon bull preparing to charge and she glanced behind her. Amanda was calm, the stomping only her feet moving idly. With a heavy beast of burden like her, even such innocent exercise sounded threatening. Relieved, she emptied the bucket of grain into Amanda’s feeder and returned to the door. She would clean the stall later when the horse was out.
"I’ll leave this open for you, all right?" She exited the stable, but had taken only a couple of steps when she felt a huge head butt her in the back. The bucket flew in an arc to the other end of the closure as she fell on her face in the muddy floor of the corral.
She was back on her feet before she had properly registered what had happened, facing Amanda. The horse was standing in the doorway and she could swear the damnable beast was laughing at her. "I’ll get you one day," she swore, as she backed slowly out of the corral, her eyes fixed on the horse. But they both knew it was idle boasting.
Outside the closure, the gate securely shut, she took a look at her clothes. She was drenched in mud. The front of her waxed jacket was plastered with it, wet sludge seeped through her jeans, a line of cold water dripping down the leg of her left boot. She emptied it and then wiped her hands on the backside of her jeans. It wasn’t as if the trousers could get any worse for it.
Not that it made her hands any cleaner either, she noticed as she tried to remove mud off her face. Already she could feel it beginning to dry. In a few more minutes she wouldn’t be able to move her face.
She debated changing her clothes before finishing her morning chores, but saw no point in it. She would have to take the four-wheeler to the back meadow to check the sheep in the pasture there. The roads and fields being in rough condition after a heavy rainfall the past couple of days, she was likely to get as muddy as she was now all over again.
She went to the tap at the side of the stable and ran some water over her hands. It was ice cold, but she washed her face with it too, for what good it did. She didn’t have anything to dry with, so she opened her coat and used the hem of her shirt. Judging by the greyish streaks it left on the previously white tee, her wash-up hadn’t been entirely successful.
Just the same. The sheep wouldn’t care what she looked like.
The ten minute drive to the meadow at the edge of Tom’s estate was bumpy and exactly as muddy as Gemma had predicted. She now had a new layer of mud on top of the earlier. She couldn’t wait to get back indoors and to a hot shower—or as hot as Tom’s old boiler could make the water.
Fantasising about the shower, it took her a moment to realise the sheep weren’t in the meadow. Shocked, she twitched, involuntarily opening the gas of her ATV. The vehicle shot forward, almost throwing her off. Releasing the throttle hastily, she regained her balance and managed to avoid hitting the ancient grey stone fence that surrounded the meadow.
Maybe her eyes were deceiving her. Or the entire flock was laying low in the grass. Sneaky bastards.
She cut the engine and climbed off the four-wheeler and onto the fence. It might be old, its top covered with moss, but Tom had maintained it well and the loosely piled stones didn’t sway under her weight. From her higher perch, she scanned the pasture, but it was still empty.
"What the fudge?" She couldn’t have lost the entire flock. Had she left a gate open? Sheep wouldn’t wander far. She glanced around, but they weren’t outside the fence either.
At the other end, the meadow sloped downwards to a stream that marked the eastern border of the estate. Across it, fields as old as theirs belonged to the Greenwood manor. The drop was deep enough that the sheep might remain out of sight if they were down there, drinking or grazing or whatever it was that sheep did. Baaaed.
With a self-suffering sigh, she dropped down inside the fence. She had better take a look. Sheep were an idiotic bunch. One could never know what they would get into their tiny heads to do.
The field didn’t look terribly large, but it was a good hike over squelching ground to where the terrain began to drop. She welcomed the exercise. The ride had made her feel cold in her wet clothing and the walk got her blood circulating again. Some of the dried mud stuck on her jeans flaked off in the process as well. A definite improvement, as the mud had made them stiff and uncomfortable.
The pasture descended gently down to the stream, the slope full of green goodness for the sheep to enjoy. But they weren’t grazing there. All fifty or so sheep were huddled in a tight group by the stream, unnaturally still.
Gemma had a notion that if she approached the four-legged mattresses too fast, she would cause them to stampede into the stream. And that would only end up in tragedy. So she stayed where she was, trying to locate what had scared the animals. They might be stupid, but as a flock they acted according to some logic. She assumed they were the farthest away from whatever they had fled from.
Turning around, she spied a copse of trees at the northern edge of the meadow, left there for the sheep to find some shelter in. It looked empty, but that didn’t mean it had been so earlier.
Crossing the field once more, she made her way to the grove. She might not want to be here, but she had never shied from her responsibilities.
She smelled the blood instantly when she entered the small woods and feared the worst. One of the ewes must have lambed and hadn’t made it. She halted, not wanting to witness it, but forced herself to move on. Maybe the ewe wasn’t dead yet and she could help her. Following her nose, she circled a couple of trees—and stopped in shock.
It wasn’t a site for birthing gone bad. It was carnage.
Three ewes had been killed and torn into, their bellies opened to access the young, their partially-eaten carcasses witness to what had happened to them.
Gemma dropped on her knees in the wet ground, all strength gone from her legs. She stared at the ghastly sight with unseeing eyes, a memory of past atrocity overriding the reality.
The revolting smell of the bloodbath made her Rider stir, reminding her why she had to control herself at all times. If she let her second side free, it would kill.
It might already have killed…
Sickening fear made her curl up. She held herself tightly until the spell passed and she could breathe normally again. She had not killed these sheep. She would remember. It had to be something else.