Authors: Vanessa North
The Ushers Book One
An imprint of
Amazon (The Ushers 1), Copyright © Vanessa North, 2012
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
This e-Book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
633 Edgewood Ave
Lancaster, OH 43130
Published by Musa Publishing, October 2012
This e-Book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this ebook can be reproduced or sold by any person or business without the express permission of the publisher.
Editor: Jeanne De Vita
Cover Design: David Efaw
Interior Book Design: Coreen Montagna
This book contains adult language and scenes. This story is meant only for adults as defined by the laws of the country where you made your purchase. Store your books carefully where they cannot be accessed by younger readers.
For Nickie, with my gratitude.
in the tree high above the school building, Sara watched the two teenagers fighting, anger sparking in her chest. She didn’t need her superior avian eyesight to know that Bianca was involved. Among her colorful pack-mates, Bianca’s white hair always stood out. This girl was going to be the death of her. She wouldn’t break up the fight, but that didn’t stop her from being glad neither of the adolescent Weres had a wolf yet. She listened to the shouts and cheering from the bystanders, and she knew what would happen next. Bianca had let Susan put her in a seemingly vulnerable position.
Here it comes.
From where she was pressed into the dirt by the girl on her back, Bianca swung her head back and connected with Susan’s face. Her elbow slammed into Susan’s ribs—a crunch of bones breaking, an ear-splitting shriek, and then Bianca was walking away from the fight, her left eye swelling shut and her adversary writhing on the ground.
“Stupid. She can’t even fight, and she calls
an abomination,” Bianca muttered as she picked up her backpack from the ground.
Sara knew the moment Bianca became aware of her presence because Bianca’s voice roared defensively into her head.
“I didn’t start it.”
“Go home and get cleaned up. You’re a mess.”
Sara launched herself into the air, letting a wind current carry her as she swooped low to the ground and shifted, taking her human form as she approached Bianca.
She opened the door to the brand-new dormitory building and gestured for Bianca to head inside.
The girl glared at Sara before she trudged up the stairs and let herself into the suite she shared with Sara and her mother.
As Bianca changed out of her bloody clothes, Sara filled an ice bag. She handed it over, and Bianca’s glare turned to a sullen wariness.
“Are you gonna tell my mom?”
“That you were fighting again? We talked about this.”
“She called me—”
Sara roared at her. “You need to stop taking the bait. You’re better than that.”
“I know you want me to take the high road, but you’re not the one who is different from everybody else!”
Sara felt the flush of embarrassment coming from Bianca when she realized what she had said.
“I’m more different from them than you are, lovely. You don’t see me punching anyone over it.”
“They say my mom should have drowned me as a pup, and that Monica was wrong to take us in.”
“They’re wrong. Besides, who are they to question the Alpha?”
“When it comes to me, everyone questions her.”
“I know you fancy yourself terribly persecuted, Bianca. Goddess help me, I understand the temptation. But you can only change so many minds with your fists.”
“Why did Monica offer us her protection? Willingly bring controversy into her pack?”
“The prophecies say a white she-wolf, an
, will Usher in the first change. That when she makes a great sacrifice, there won’t be any more ghosts. That when the sacrifice is made, the way will be cleared for the second Usher to unite all wolves under one Pack.”
“I still don’t get why you think that just because I’m albino, I’m
“I can talk in your head, can’t I?”
“So can the rest of the pack. It doesn’t prove anything.”
“I’m not Pack.”
Bianca sighed, pulling the ice away from her eye. Sara noted that the bruises were already fading, her werewolf genetics predisposing her to fast healing. Sara wanted to offer some words of comfort to her lonely friend.
But she couldn’t.
Bianca, like it or not, would have to pay a very dear price to make life better for the very wolves who harassed her for being different.
Sara’s job would be to convince her that they were worth it.
the entryway of the small bed and breakfast, sniffing the air. Though breakfast had long since passed, certain smells lingered that brought a smile to his face and a rumble to his stomach. He doubted a human would still notice the scents of blueberries and bacon, but his wolf sense of smell was sharp—and particularly liked the scent of bacon. He liked the rustic “Old New England” atmosphere of the inn, which reminded him of times that had long since passed. The human world had changed very quickly after World War II, and he felt a nostalgia for more innocent times as he took in his surroundings. His species, unlike the humans they resembled, lived for centuries and resisted the changes that humans seemed to hurtle themselves into at breakneck pace. This rush of longing swamping even a modern wolf like Jack was a testament to that.
Scowling at the sentimental direction of his thoughts, Jack tapped the small bell at the front desk, shuffling from one foot to the other. He didn’t want to be won over by the charm of a country inn. He had work to do, and he couldn’t afford to lose his edge. He was Guardian, protector of his Pack.
“I’ll be right out!” a feminine voice called from upstairs. He looked up and saw a pair of shapely legs descending the stairs with a spring in the step. The legs belonged to a petite young woman with waist-length black hair. She wore a prim gray dress that fit the throwback charm of the inn. As she flew down the stairs toward Jack, she smelled of lavender soap and something peculiar he couldn’t identify—wind and cold? The woman paused at the second to last step, putting them face to face. Almond-shaped black eyes met his, and she smiled at Jack politely.
“Hi. Do you have a reservation?”
Jack smiled back, attempting charm. He knew women found him attractive. They liked his dark-haired, “rough around the edges” look and his boyish grin, and he wasn’t averse to using that to his advantage. He hoped this little bit of a woman would be able to help him.
“I’m afraid not. I’m not familiar with the area, but I’m here to do some research. I was hoping to find a place to stay for a week or so?” Not quite a lie, but not really descriptive of the business that had brought him north to this sleepy inn in the Berkshire foothills.
“Let me check the schedule. Lucky for you, it’s not peak season, so we probably have something available.” She walked around to the back of the desk and opened a laptop. “Just try to get a room in September when the maples are turning—we book out a year in advance for leaf season.”
He watched her dark eyes scanning the reservation lists, and he tried to imagine wanting to see leaves change color so desperately that he’d book a room a year in advance. Humans were funny about nature, ignoring it all the time, only to be struck dumb at the glory all around them at the strangest times. He watched as the woman’s eyes widened, and her lips turned up in a secretive little smile.
“A-ha!” she crowed, sweeping a cascade of waist-length hair back behind her shoulder as she started to type, sending another wave of windy scent toward him. “The Whitney is available the rest of this week through next Wednesday. Would that do?”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” he murmured, raising an eyebrow.
Something about this woman—Sara, according to the name tag pinned to her gray dress—struck him as off. She wasn’t wolf, but she didn’t seem entirely human, either. She was attractive, and certainly non-threatening, but he felt slightly uneasy standing in front of her, like she could see through his pretense and knew exactly why he was here. Her black eyes hid a sharp intelligence that made him wary.
“Okay, then, the Whitney it is. I’ll need a credit card for the room. The rate is two hundred and forty-five dollars per night.”
He swallowed and reached into his pocket for his wallet. Two hundred and forty-five dollars per night was more than he was accustomed to spending on a hotel room. Of course, most of his travel was closer into the heart of Mid-A territory, not out on the edges in rural New England. He handed her his credit card and watched as she entered his information into her computer. A cold look scuttled across her face, stripping it of its openness. She picked up a key on a pink gingham ribbon from a rack behind the desk, shrugging slightly as she met his eyes again.
“Do you have bags you’d like me to bring up?” she asked with a dimpled smile.
“What kind of man would let a lady carry his bags?” He felt the words explode from his mouth incredulously. Damn. He wasn’t a misogynist—he loved women—but he also clung to the old-fashioned ways his parents had taught him. Some old habits died harder than others—he figured manners were worth keeping around.
She laughed, a pretty laugh with her head thrown back, as the musical sound pealed from her like bird song. “Oh, I think we both know that I’m not a lady.”
“Then what are you?” Wondering if she was going to reveal her secret made his wolf pace warily within him.
“I’m an employee.” She grinned, laughing at her own joke. “Here you are, Mr. Murphy, the keys to your castle.”
She handed him the key with the gingham ribbon. “So, the bags?”
“I’ll get them myself.” He growled, losing patience with her joke. He turned on his heel and stomped back to his car, muttering the whole way. He pulled his duffel from the trunk and returned to the house with the dainty antique key in hand.
“Right this way, then, Mr. Murphy.” She led him up the stairs, emphasizing the word “mister.”
He glared at her, sure this little female was poking fun. He wasn’t used to being teased, and he didn’t much like the sensation. Everything about this trip seemed to get under his skin, irritating him. Rogue wolves. Strange little women. He’d had enough of it all already, and he’d only just gotten here. His thoughts rolled to Maryland, to sailing on the Chesapeake Bay with his father and brothers, to running at night under the moon as a wolf. He vowed to finish this business quickly, report back to Paddy, and take a much-needed vacation.
“It’s Jack,” he corrected her, following her up the stairs. Her backside was lovely under that gray dress, firm and athletic and rolling like two cats fighting inside a bag. He could certainly appreciate a lovely backside, even when he didn’t know to what sort of creature it belonged.
“Well, Jack, this is you.” She gestured toward a white door off the ornate hallway.
He nodded hesitantly, and then on impulse, he stepped close and leaned in to breathe her scent more clearly. Lavender and mountain cold air—he could almost smell snow and rain and pine trees emanating from her. Definitely not human and not wolf. But he smelled wolf
her, just below her own elemental smells, as though she’d been near a wolf recently, more recently than her last shower. She could help him, perhaps.
Sara tried to cover the awkward moment by describing the history of the room, pointedly ignoring the way he had leaned in to smell her. “Whitney was the original owner’s daughter’s name. She’s kind of the inspiration for the room.”
He grabbed her hand, stopping her narration cold.
“Are you a shifter?” he asked abruptly.
Her eyes widened, and then her dimple reappeared.
“I should have known a wolf would guess.” She smiled ruefully. “I’m not sure why you’re here, Mr.—Jack. Forgive me for not announcing myself.”
“You smell like wolf,” he returned. “Are you friendly with a wolf pack?”
“There is no wolf pack here,” she said firmly, the smile falling from her eyes.
She was lying—no, not lying exactly, but still deliberately misleading him. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but there it was. He looked at the elegant surroundings and then gestured toward his door.
“Not officially, no.” He frowned. “Can you come into my room with me for a moment?” At her alarmed expression, he held up his hands. “I promise I won’t harm you, but I don’t want to talk about this out here in the hallway.”
He inserted the key into the door and turned it. He was immediately assaulted by a barrage of pink—gingham and florals and even pickled oak floors with a tinge of pink to them. He nearly gagged at all the frippery of it. No wonder she’d been laughing at him, a big male wolf in the silliest room in the inn.
“Welcome to the Whitney,” Sara said with a wink. She turned to go, but he grabbed her hand and pulled her into the room behind him before she could escape, shutting the door.
“Not so fast, little one.” He dropped her hand, staring into her eyes and willing her to answer his questions. “Why do you smell like wolf?”
“It doesn’t concern you.” She scowled.
Again, he was certain she was lying. Well, sometimes it was best to combat a lie with the truth.
“I’m here because my pack is concerned about rogue wolf sightings in the area. My Alpha sent me. I’m here to negotiate with any rogue wolf pack regarding our territory boundaries. We have only a few wolves living near enough to here that hunting paths would cross, but it’s only polite to introduce ourselves to the neighbors.” He knew the irritation in his voice would be coming through as aggression, though he didn’t mean it as such.
“I’m not wolf,” she said, a pleading look in her eyes.
“I know.” He scrubbed a hand across his face. “Please, I’m not threatening you. I’d like your help. You smell of wolf. Do you know a rogue wolf?”
She looked terribly unhappy, her eyes dropping and her teeth biting at her lower lip.
“Sara, I won’t harm you. Surely you can smell that.” He held out his hands in a gesture of peace.
“My sense of smell is not as keen as yours, Wolf,” she sighed decisively. “I’ll speak to someone who can answer your questions. You’ve got to understand, it’s not my place to speak for them.”
She walked over to a writing desk in the corner of the room. She wrote something down on a small notepad, tore it off, and then handed it to him. He looked at the address she’d scrawled in her neat, feminine handwriting, as if it could mean anything to him.
“This is the address of a bar nearby. It’s about five miles up the main road. It’s large, public, and lots of people will be there on a Thursday night, so you don’t have to worry about an ambush, okay? I’ll meet you at eight. I might be alone, but if there is a wolf with me, I’ll need you to extend your promise not to harm me to my friends, as well. They trust me, and…I can’t let anyone hurt them.”
He smelled a note of fear on her. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. You have my word. No harm will come to you or anyone who accompanies you.”
“Thank you, Jack,” she said quietly. Her face looked almost forlorn, but a quiet resignation stole across it. “I believe you’ll keep your word. I’ll see you at eight.”
Sara opened the door and walked out, looking suddenly very ancient.