Authors: MJ Compton
“Libby and I are moving to Loup Garou,” Abby replied. If she married Luke. Plans could change. “But thank you.”
Her brain was spinning. She had so much to do. First of all, she needed to endure this farce, this scene from Gary’s I’m-a-great-guy-campaign.
“Don’t I have a say in any of this?” Gary asked.
“Mama made her own arrangements with Sendall’s several months ago.” How could she sound so . . . detached? But she did, and that was probably a good thing. “She remembered how . . . difficult everything was after Daddy died, and wanted to spare Libby and me.”
Abby led Libby as far away from Gary as the room permitted. Luke followed, almost as if standing guard. Restin made no secret of his intentions as he positioned himself between Luke and Gary. Pastor Shaw prayed, while Gary buried his face in his hands and sobbed for the benefit of his audience.
Libby’s shrieks overpowered Gary’s performance.
Abby couldn’t watch as Digger Sendall wheeled her mother from the house. No, not her mother. Just a body. An empty shell, like those at the seashore. Mr. Jeffers left, taking the hospital bed and other hospice equipment with him, followed by the pastor and Mrs. MacDougal. The house was empty of visitors. Finally.
Libby finally stopped sobbing.
“Start packing your things,” Abby told her. “We’re moving to Loup Garou.”
“But Gary said I’d have to do the cooking and cleaning here now that you’re not here anymore. And Uncle Dougie said he was looking forward to seeing more of me.”
“Gary is mistaken.” She didn’t mention Uncle Dougie, because there was no such person except in Libby’s imagination. Now that they were getting away from Gary, Libby could start taking the meds she needed. Gary had nixed those after only a year.
She doesn’t need drugs, she needs discipline.
As if discipline had worked before the formal ADHD diagnosis. Those months she’d been on Ritalin had been a window to the person Libby could have been had she not been bouncing like a pinball. She didn’t have to rely on imaginary friends.
“Don’t you want to live in Loup Garou?” Luke asked.
“You lied to Abby,” Libby snapped. “You told her you’d show her songs to Toke Lobo, but I’ll bet you didn’t.”
“Elizabeth is not going anywhere,” Gary said.
“Wrong.” Abby lifted her chin. “Mama named me Libby’s guardian. You have no say.”
Gary’s eyes narrowed. Gleamed between his lashes. “You’d better mind yourself,” he said in a low voice.
Before Abby could respond to Gary’s implied threat, Luke stepped forward. Every muscle in his body appeared tense. “No, she’d better start packing.”
Restin stepped closer to Luke. “Libby, start packing. You, too, Abigail.”
“Hey,” Libby said. “You’re Toke Lobo’s fiddle player. Do you live in Loup Garou?”
“Okay, I’ll live with you.” She started toward her bedroom at the back of the house.
“Get some garbage bags from the kitchen to put your things in,” Abby called after her. So sad that the minutia of their lives was reduced to trash.
“You girls don’t have anything I didn’t buy for you,” Gary said. He glanced at Restin, who stood in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his massive chest. “And if I were you, Abigail, I’d be real careful.”
“You don’t scare me. Not anymore.” Then why were her insides shivering like pudding in an earthquake? Gary could still hurt her. She prayed the past he’d forced on her never came to light.
Luke followed her down the hall to her tiny bedroom. He even helped stuff her clothes into a black plastic bag. “I remember this.” He held up the pink and lace dress she’d worn to the Moonsinger picnic. “You looked as pretty as a valentine.”
“Leave it,” she said. The garment was a summer dress, too lightweight for the current weather, and in a few more months, she wouldn’t be able to fit into it.
“I think you should wear it today when we get married. Unless you have a regular wedding gown stashed somewhere.”
Abby stopped packing her underclothes to gape at Luke. “What?”
He grinned. Dimples so deep a woman could drown in them framed his mouth and tunneled in his cheeks. “We’re getting married today. I know it’s a bad day for you, but we need to get married. Today. And I would love it if you would wear this dress. I have very fond memories of it.”
“So fond you couldn’t call me for three months?”
His smile faded. His Adam’s apple visibly bobbed in his throat. “I’m trying to do right by you. And I owe you.”
“I’m sorry. I know you’re hurting. I shouldn’t be dumping all this on you. And it’s probably not the best day to get married, but I think we should stick with our plan.”
She took the dress from him. “You’re right. I am hurting. But I also know we have to try to . . . rise above our circumstances.” She was going to freeze in that dress, but if he was making an attempt, she needed to be open to his efforts.
He stepped into the hall while she changed.
The top was too tight. She couldn’t pull the edges of fabric close enough over her breasts to button. She settled on a wedding outfit of gray dress slacks she couldn’t fasten at the waist and a pale pink sweater that emphasized her daily-deepening cleavage.
She picked up her guitar case and took one final look around her childhood bedroom and wondered if she would ever be back. The grimy pink walls, the limp floral curtains, her narrow twin bed . . . she wouldn’t miss any of them.
Luke carried the plastic bag with her clothes in one hand and pressed the other in the small of Abby’s back as he steered her out of the bedroom. “We need to get going.”
Gary sat in his cracked brown vinyl recliner. Silent. Watching. Probably making sure they didn’t take anything he deemed his.
“Abby.” Libby ran through the front door. “I forgot my pillow. I can’t sleep without my Santa Claus pillow.”
Abby set her guitar case next to the door. “I’ll get it. You wait in the car with Restin. Luke, you go ahead. I’ll be right out.”
“I’m not leaving you with him.” The sentence sounded more like a growl than words.
It took only a moment for Abby to locate Libby’s pillow, Luke dodging her steps the entire time.
When they returned to the front room, Gary was standing, her guitar held over his head.
“No!” She dropped Libby’s pillow and lunged.
Too late. He slammed the guitar down. Hard. On the arm of his recliner. The wood splintered. The steel strings sagged with nothing to keep them taut. Something inside her broke as Gary tossed the scraps to the floor. She hadn’t thought her day could get any worse. Wrong again.
Luke charged Gary, but Restin streaked through the front door and caught him. Stopped him. Why? Why didn’t Restin just let Luke do what needed to be done?
Luke’s fingers brushed Abby’s hand as he took the ruined instrument from her and gently, almost reverently returned it to its case. His hands shook as badly as hers as he helped her close the hasps. She never would have made it to the Jeep if Luke hadn’t guided her. She crawled into the back seat, cradling the case.
“I’ll buy you a new guitar right after we get married,” Luke said as he climbed in next to her.
Abby shook her head. “It was my father’s guitar. It’s all I had left of him.”
Good thing Abby had never dreamed about her wedding, because there was nothing fantasy-like about it at all. They were married in the county clerk’s office. No pretty dress for her. No bouquet. There wasn’t even a ring. Not that a ring meant anything. Gary had proved that. Libby stood up for her. Restin stood up for Luke. That was it. She was married. For better or worse. She’d take the status quo. She was already intimately familiar with the worse part.
She stood in the center of the main room of Luke’s minuscule cabin and surveyed her new home. One corner was devoted to a drum set. Another looked like a home office. Luke’s computer set-up rivaled Gary’s in its complexity. A kitchen area occupied one end of the room. Wide plank stairs led to what appeared to be a loft. There were no bedrooms. Where would Libby sleep? Where would she sleep?
Maybe Luke expected her to sleep with him. He might even want sex from her again. She didn’t know how she felt about that. She’d certainly enjoyed being with him. But he lied to her. A lot. Since she was starting a new life, things were going to change. No more letting people walk all over her.
“You girls can share the bed,” Luke said. “I’ll sleep on the sofa for the time being. The Pack is going on tour starting this weekend, so I’ll be gone a month or so.”
“I thought I was going to live with the fiddle player. I don’t like it here. I want to move in with Uncle Dougie.” Libby clutched her Santa Claus pillow to her chest.
“We’ll be building on to your cabin,” someone said from the door.
Abby started. She recognized the man as one who’d helped tackle Luke the previous evening.
The man held out his hand. “I’m Marcus, your father-in-law.”
“Welcome to the family,” Colette said as she followed Marcus inside. Luke’s mom was a pretty woman. She was clearly the source of Luke’s mop of buttercup yellow curls and sky-blue eyes.
She gave Abby an awkward hug.
“Tokarz called the housing council together this morning after learning about your sister,” Marcus said. “The council decided to build on to your cabin to make room for everyone.”
Housing council? Things must work differently in Loup Garou than they did in Oak Moon.
“The addition needs to be started right away, before the weather turns,” Marcus continued.
Luke nodded, as if family interference were completely normal. “I thought they could stay with Granny a few nights while I’m on tour.”
“No,” Libby said.
“That would work. Maybe Abigail’s sister would like to stay with us,” Colette suggested.
Luke turned to Abby. “Is that okay with you? If your stepfather tries to cause trouble, I can protect you better if I’m not distracted.”
was the protector of her sister. She didn’t need Luke or his family’s help.
White spots cavorted before her eyes. She reached out to grip something, anything, to keep from falling. Luke caught her by the waist. Pain shot up her side, but she managed to hide her wince. Her bruises were worse than they’d been the night before. “Hey. What’s wrong?” Concern shaded Luke’s voice.
She swallowed. Hard. “Light headed. It happens.”
“Get her a chair, Luke,” his mother said.
Luke led Abby to the sofa. She sagged against the back of the sofa. Luke might not be loving or caring like her father had been with her mother, but he wasn’t abusive. And he was trying. She was safe. Libby was safe. Her baby was safe.
She tried to stop the trembling in her arms. The shaking of her legs. But she’d been so tense for so long that letting go of the tension turned all of her muscles to mush.
“Are you okay?” Colette asked.
Abby nodded. “It’s been a rough couple of days.” The bruises on her face were evidence of that. She imagined there were traces of the tears she’d shed for her mother drying on her face, too. “I’m a survivor.”
“Of course you are. But you have to think about my grandbaby, too,” Colette reminded her.
These people were excited by her pregnancy. Happy. Pregnant before married wasn’t an embarrassment to them.
Abby’s hand slipped to her abdomen. She wasn’t far enough along yet to have a baby bump or feel movement or anything of that sort, but her body was acting on instinct. Protecting the new life growing inside her. Despite Gary’s best efforts to beat the baby out of her.
“I brought supper so you wouldn’t have to cook your first night in a new house,” Colette continued. “Marcus, did you bring in the slow cooker? It’s nothing fancy. Stew. Luke loves stew.”
Abby’s stomach rumbled.
“Me and Abby love stew,” Libby said. She’d been exploring Luke’s house, touching things as was her wont. Libby didn’t handle new situations well. Especially on her own. Abby appreciated Marcus and Colette’s concern about Libby, but she needed to keep Libby with her.
“I’m Libby. Are you Luke’s mother? How does that make us related?”
Abby wanted to sink through the floor. Libby didn’t have filters. Oxygen deprived at birth, she hadn’t developed as quickly as she should have. Her ADHD only compounded the problem. Meds. Abby had to see about getting Libby back on her Ritalin.
“If you’d like,” Colette replied without even blinking. “Or maybe we can be really good friends.”
Abby shot her a look of gratitude. Not everyone understood or was comfortable with Libby.
“I have a stepfather, but I don’t like him. My real mama died today. She didn’t like Gary hitting us, but she couldn’t stop him.”
“I am going to kill that son of scat-eater,” Luke muttered.
Luke was always threatening to kill Gary. Too bad he never followed through on any of his promises to her. But she didn’t voice that thought. She didn’t want to cause any more awkwardness. “Gary’s too mean to die,” Libby said, as she opened the cupboard under the kitchen sink. “That’s what Uncle Dougie always says.”
“I can be meaner,” Luke said. “I can be your stepdad’s worst nightmare.”
Abby bit her lip to keep from making a snarky comment.
“Libby, would you like to stay at my house tonight?” Colette asked. “Abigail and Luke probably might want to spend some time alone.”
Libby slammed the cupboard door. “Sure.”
Abby shook her head. “Libby doesn’t do well in strange places.”
“Well, until she comes and sleeps there, it will always be a strange place,” Colette replied. Her manner was calm. Serene. Nothing disturbed her composure. “You and Luke are already starting off in a difficult situation. Why don’t you let us make things easier for you?” Abby didn’t know what to say. Why didn’t these people resent her for being pregnant and disrupting their son’s life?
“I’m sorry to hear about your mother. What arrangements have you made? Is there anything we can do?” Marcus asked.
“That’s kind of you, but—”
“You’re part of our family now,” Colette said. “Let us help.”
“Mama’s been sick for quite a while, and made her arrangements with Sendall’s Funeral Home. I just need to set a time. Everything else was prearranged. But thank you.”
Colette shook her head. “It sounds as if you’ve been carrying a burden for a while. It can’t be good for you or the baby.”
Ah. The Omegas didn’t really care about her or Libby. And why should they? They didn’t know the Grant sisters. Her baby, however, was half theirs. “So it’s settled. Libby will stay with us for a little while.”
“Mom, maybe Abigail wants her sister here.”
Abby stared at Luke. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had agreed with her about anything. She felt almost as if she’d fallen down a rabbit hole and changed her name to Alice.
Colette sounded hurt. “Oh.”
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate your offer. It’s been a rough couple of days.”
“If I can’t go to Uncle Dougie’s, I want to stay with Colette and Marcus.” Libby was edging toward whiny mode.
The situation was about to turn uglier than it already was. She tried to defuse Libby. “What if you get scared in the night?”
“I want to go with Colette and Marcus.” Libby stomped her foot for emphasis.
“Please don’t do this now,” Abby begged in a low voice.
“You got married. You were going to leave me alone with Gary.” Libby’s eyes were nearly popping out of their sockets. Spittle gathered in the corners of her mouth. “I don’t want to live with you.”
Abby stood and tried to put her arm around Libby, but Libby flung off the embrace.
“Leave me alone. I’m going with Marcus and Colette.” Libby raced up the stairs to the loft. “I’m getting my stuff now.”
“She’s upset about your mother passing,” Colette said. “She’ll be okay.”
That’s what you think. She needs her medication.
“Marcus, the slow cooker is in the backseat of the car. Can you fetch it?” Colette turned to Abby. “I don’t know what Luke has for pots and pans. We bought him some things when he first moved in here, but you know how men can be.”
Marcus went to the car and Abby returned to the sofa and closed her eyes. She wanted to be alone. This day had been one of the worst in her life. Grief plucked every nerve and muscle in her body. Too much. She needed to mourn, but no one was giving her a chance.
Outside, something howled.
“You won’t be living like this much longer,” Colette told Luke, as she bustled around his small kitchen. Abby heard the chink of dishes being moved around. “Your mate deserves better.”
“My wife.” Luke’s tone was wooden.
“Don’t split hairs.”
“You know,” Luke snarled at his mother, “I get real tired of everyone treating me like—”
“You deserve to be treated. I raised you better than this. Your father told me some of what transpired during your audience with Tokarz last night, and all I have to say is we’re lucky someone as wise as Tokarz de Lobo Garnier is leading this pack. Someone else might not have been as lenient with you.”
Abby must have been even more exhausted than she thought. Colette was saying things that made no sense. The same sort of things Macy had said the night before about alphas and such. What Abby thought of as code talk.
The distant howling resumed.
“I know what I did was wrong. I’m doing what I can to make it right. But being wrong doesn’t mean I should be punished for the rest of my life.”
Colette must have made some kind of motion, because Luke said, “She’s asleep. I doubt she got any more sleep last night than I did.”
“Since when do you sleep at night?”
“You know what I mean,” Luke snapped again.
“You better keep doing right by that girl.”
“I married her, didn’t I? I brought her kid sister back to Loup Garou to keep her safe. Damn. I need to buy Abigail a guitar.”
“Her stepfather smashed hers today.”
A fresh wave a pain washed over Abby. Luke didn’t understand the only value in the guitar was that it had been her father’s. He’d taught her to play when she was barely big enough to embrace the body and her fingers strained to span the neck.
“That poor girl,” Colette said.
The door opened with a blast of cold air. “Where are Abigail and her sister?” Marcus asked.
Abby struggled to open her eyes and sit up. “Here.” Her tongue felt too big for her mouth. “Libby is still upstairs.”
“What’s wrong?” Luke asked.
“Their stepfather showed up at Tokarz’s house. Claims you kidnapped Libby.”
“No!” Abby struggled to her feet. “He can’t have her.”
Luke caught her arm as she tried to pass him. “Let Tokarz take care of him.”
“Promise me, promise me Libby stays with us.” Abby knew she was screaming because of the pain in her throat, but the roar in her ears muffled the sound.
“Libby doesn’t go anywhere with Gary Porter. He will have to kill me first,” Luke vowed.
Libby’s face appeared at the overhead rail. She was pale. “Gary is here?”
“He’s at Tokarz’s house,” Luke said. “Gary doesn’t know where we live. You’re safe here. I won’t let him take you.”
“No one will let him take you.” Marcus sounded fierce. “We protect our own, and you’re one of us now. Let’s take your stuff out to the car.”
Abby’s skepticism must have shown on her face, because Colette squeezed her arm as Marcus hefted the garbage bag of Libby’s clothes. “Macy told you last night. You’ve never been safer in your life. I’ll let my errant son explain everything to you. Now you rest. The first few months of pregnancy are exhausting. How far along are you?”
“Since the night of the Moonsinger family picnic.” Abby hadn’t bothered to count. Hadn’t wanted to admit the possibility of pregnancy. Another fantasy that hadn’t come true.
“I meant to ask you last night, but have you seen a doctor?” Something in Colette’s tone changed. She sounded almost anxious.
Abby shook her head. Seeing a doctor would have only confirmed one reality she wanted to vanish.
“Good.” No mistaking the relief in Colette’s tone. “Granny is an excellent midwife. She handles all the births here. She’s over the moon to be tending you, what with this being Luke’s baby and all.”
Everyone accepted her pregnancy and Luke’s paternity. Abby had expected resistance, if not denial. But even during the fiasco last night when Gary had burst into that party, no one had condemned her. Luke had been censured. Very different from the other people she knew. When a girl got pregnant before marriage, she was the person damned for loose morals. No one ever thought to blame the guy who couldn’t keep his pants zipped. She’d expected more of the same, not immediate acceptance. And everyone acted so excited about the baby. She hadn’t even thought of it in terms of another person, but rather, as another problem.