Authors: Carol Davis
To Abby’s disappointment, Aaron wouldn’t agree to their staying at the cottage. They hadn’t brought enough provisions to last much longer, he said, and they couldn’t eat fish and mushrooms day after day.
He was firm about that being his reason for saying no, but she could see in his eyes that he felt the cabin wasn’t safe.
He thought Lane might come back, this time with the police—even though she’d assured him several times that that wouldn’t happen. Now that the old man had seen her here, alive and well, and could verify that Lane hadn’t killed her…
Lane had to be done with her now, she decided. After all, she’d practically thrown up on his shoes.
“Later,” Aaron finally conceded. “We can prepare, and come back later on. After the elders have made their decision.”
So they headed back to the village again, hand in hand, though both of them were ill at ease. When they spotted Luca and Katrin again, Abby broke away from Aaron and headed toward them, glad to have someone else to talk to.
She’d forgotten that they were both wolves.
“What’s wrong?” Luca demanded.
He looked so fit and strong that it was hard to believe he’d been near death a couple of days ago. If anything, he looked better than he had when he’d confronted Aaron up near the stream, demanding to know who Abby was, and why she was here on the island.
“Nothing,” Aaron told him.
Luca turned to Abby, as did Katrin.
The tension on Aaron’s face prompted Abby to shake her head and shrug. She struggled to keep her expression mild, to play along with Aaron’s mood. He clearly wanted to handle the situation himself, and she supposed that was his right, given that this was his brother and his childhood friend, and they were still more or less strangers to her.
“They left,” she blurted. “It’s all right.”
Luca’s brow furrowed into a scowl. “Who left?”
The brothers glowered at each other for a minute, Luca’s near-fatal injuries and Aaron’s battling Micah to avenge him clearly forgotten. They’d fallen into confrontation so easily that Abby reminded herself that it probably happened all the time: two young men battling for dominance as if they couldn’t help but fight over
She’d seen her own brothers do the same thing, and there’d been a bloody nose a time or two, a split lip, a lot of bruises.
, she thought.
Maybe she ought to ask Katrin to live at the cabin with her.
Finally, Aaron heaved out a breath and told his brother, “Someone came from the other island, the one with the hotel. Looking for Abby. He had old Mac with him. He insisted that Abby come back with him, but she sent him away.”
Luca’s gaze moved back to Abby, so intense that it made her shudder. “I did,” she told him. “He’s gone.”
“How long ago?” Luca said.
Had it been hours? Less than an hour? She had no idea.
She supposed it was progress of a sort that neither man asked her or Katrin to leave. Which wasn’t to say that she wanted to stand there watching them face off like this. It was like watching a momentary cease-fire between two people holding very big guns.
It’s never any different, is it?
No matter where you go, some things are always the same. Nobody really lives in peace and harmony.
In her mind’s eye, she could see herself sitting alongside a campfire with her mother, who was braiding little Abby’s hair as she sang something softly. A Beatles song, Abby thought. Her mother had always loved the Beatles.
“You need to tell Father,” Luca said. “Go to him first, and let him inform the elders.”
“Wait,” Abby interrupted. “Why does anybody need to tell anybody anything? Lane left. And the old man.”
“Did you see them leave?”
“I—I saw them walk away.”
“But you didn’t see them leave the island.”
“I did,” Aaron said. “I watched until they were well out to sea.”
It was a trick of the light, Abby decided: the shimmering sunlight cutting down through the trees, causing the air in between Aaron and Luca to waver like a mirage in the middle of the desert. Something was happening there, and she had no idea what it might be if it wasn’t the sunlight.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to find out.
“Can we go?” she said to Katrin, trying to hold her voice steady. “We should let them… do whatever they’re going to do.”
Katrin considered the request for a moment, then stepped away from Luca and took Abby by the arm. Abby thought Aaron might try to keep her here, but he didn’t; he didn’t reach for her, and before she could put together any real regret, Katrin had tugged her down the path toward the village.
Abby looked back over her shoulder and felt only mildly surprised that Aaron seemed to have forgotten she’d ever been there beside him. His focus was entirely on his brother.
“They’ll do what needs to be done,” Katrin assured her. “It really has very little to do with you.”
“But… it sort of has everything to do with me.”
Katrin shook her head. “This happens, from time to time. People come here, either intentionally or by mistake. The pack has ways of dealing with it.” She cocked her head and took a long look at Abby’s face. “Please be sensible about this. You and Aaron may be joined, but you aren’t yet a member of the pack. So this doesn’t concern you. You won’t be asked for your opinion.”
“I never am,” Abby sighed.
“Your place in the human world doesn’t matter here. It doesn’t matter what experiences you had there.”
“I sure feel like it does.”
Katrin stopped walking and looked off into the distance, then shifted her attention back to Abby. “I spent time on the mainland. We all have, except for a few of us. I think I understand the dynamics there. Your history. It’s different here. It may not
different, but it is. Once you’ve been accepted into the pack, your wisdom will have weight. Not with the elders, perhaps, but Aaron will listen to you. He will ask for your advice. I’ve known him since we were children. He’s always valued my opinion, and he will value yours. The children will come to you for help and care. You may not have anything to offer a young one going through the transition, but in other things—”
Nodding, Katrin started them walking again. “At the time our bodies begin to come to maturity, the wolf within starts to speak. Until then, it’s a quiet voice inside us. The sense that we aren’t alone. When we reach maturity, the wolf is able to break through the walls and emerge.”
She shivered a little, and Abby supposed she was remembering that happening to her.
“It can be frightening,” Katrin went on. “Even though we know it’s going to happen, it’s a very overwhelming sensation. So the adults create a quiet atmosphere for us. Keep us calm. There’s much laying on of hands.”
This time Abby stopped walking. Holding her head in her hands, she said, “You’re going to have to teach me a lot of things.”
“We all will.”
Thoughts, questions, ideas, pictures… The inside of Abby’s head felt like a cyclone. In all of her time here, she hadn’t really stopped to consider what life on the island would be like in the years to come. How very different it would be from what she was used to.
“What about when you’re sick?” she asked in a small voice. “Like… cancer? Kidney failure? There’s no doctor, is there? What do you do?”
“You suspect that your kidneys will fail?”
“I—no. I guess not. But Aaron said that that woman who took care of Luca was a healer. She stitches up wounds and puts poultices on them. What if it’s something worse than that? What about a heart attack?”
Her voice had gotten a little shrill. She felt bad about that for a moment, then told herself that the questions needed to be asked. That she needed to have answers, so she could make an informed decision. No, she’d never be able to leave Aaron, but she still needed to know what her future would be like.
“We believe in the ebb and flow of life,” Katrin said softly. “We do what we can, but if the illness or injury is too severe, we accept the decision of the great order of things. We believe that we return to the world of the wolf, from which we came.” When Abby didn’t reply, she reached out and brushed Abby’s cheek with the back of her hand. “Don’t worry. Your kidneys aren’t likely to fail.”
“How can you tell?” Abby asked, more sharply than she’d intended.
Katrin grinned at her. “I’d be able to smell it on you.”
By the time they reached the village, Abby was limping again. Her left shoe had created a painful blister on her little toe, and her heels were raw. She forced herself to take a few more steps to the rail fence that surrounded what looked like a big vegetable plot and leaned heavily against one of the fence posts.
“We’ll get you some shoes,” Katrin promised her. “I think there are some in the storehouse. If not, we’ll send for some.”
“Send where?” Abby asked.
“We have contacts. Durable shoes are difficult to make with what we have here, so we barter for them. Some other things, as well. Cooking pots. A couple of the older wolves have a fondness for books. Granny Sara likes new fabric now and then.” Katrin chuckled. “And I’ll admit I look forward to our shipments of chocolate.”
Abby matched the other woman’s smile, then turned to look at the vegetable patch more closely. She was no expert on farming, but she could see a number of tomato plants, cucumbers, beans, and lettuce. The leafy tops of other plants suggested there were things underground: carrots, potatoes, radishes.
“I didn’t think wolves ate vegetables,” she said with a frown.
“The wolf is only a part of us,” Katrin said with a shrug. “There’s meat available, and eggs, and cheese. And we fish. Don’t worry—no one will bring you a gutted deer and expect you to eat it raw.”
Abby grimaced. “Thank God for that.”
Down near the end of the path, she saw someone she recognized: Granny Sara, walking slowly along with Micah. They both seemed to need support, and Abby felt a wave of regret for what had happened over the past few days. Granny Sara had been loving and generous enough to raise her grandson after his parents had drowned, and he’d paid her back by trying to murder Aaron’s brother.
“He’s still here,” she said with a frown, mostly for Katrin’s benefit, since Micah’s attack on Luca had happened because of Kat.
“Nothing’s been decided yet.”
“And they’re letting him walk around loose in the meantime?”
“He’s being watched. Don’t be fooled—there are eyes on him all the time.”
“Daniel, you mean?” Abby shuddered at the thought of the huge, burly “watcher,” who seemed to take matters into his own hands whenever he felt he ought to—like transforming into a snarling wolf right in front of her.
“Daniel among them, yes.”
“They should have had eyes on him before he attacked Luca.”
Katrin winced at that. “We have an apple tree,” she said, firmly changing the subject. “Pears, plums, peaches. They don’t bear fruit reliably, but when they do, we all eat our fill. You’ll be surprised how much we have here. You won’t find that you miss anything. Not anything worth having, at least.”
Katrin looked miserably uncomfortable for a minute, then her face brightened. Abby turned to see what had caught her attention and spotted Aaron and Luca coming out of the woods.
When they reached the path, Luca turned away, heading deeper into the village, and Aaron walked toward the two women. As he came closer, Katrin slipped quietly away, and Abby felt a pang of regret for asking her about Micah. She’d have to apologize later, she told herself. After all, none of what had happened was really Katrin’s fault.
It wasn’t Aaron’s, either. She had nothing to blame him for, nothing to find fault with.
“Will you show me around some more?” she asked when he reached her. “I want to see the rest of the village.”
That got rid of the frown he’d been wearing.
He led her first to where half a dozen small children were playing: two girls and four boys, all dressed in simple pants and shirts. A couple of them were tossing a big red ball to each other, and the others were busy constructing something elaborate out of rocks and sticks. It was impressive, given that the children couldn’t have been older than three or four.
“How many children live here?” Abby asked.
“At the moment, eleven small ones. Two are infants. And four adolescents.”
She saw something in his eyes as he watched the children playing, something she’d never seen in Lane’s. He was ready and willing to play with the little ones if they asked, to either toss the ball or help gather more rocks and sticks. It made her want to hug him, because it was a sign that he’d be a doting father.
That was pushing things a little too far into the future. She wasn’t ready to think about children, although she was going to run out of the birth control pills she’d been diligently taking in another couple of weeks. That made her wonder if the shipments Katrin had talked about included any sort of birth control.