Authors: Gwen Campbell
Book two of the Western Wolves
Sergeant Owen Wells is finally stateside. He goes home to a place he’s never seen and tries to fit into a werewolf pack that doesn’t take kindly to interloping males. But Owen’s got some skills they need. He’s sent on a covert mission to find out why a neighboring sheriff was murdered and why the hierarchy in that pack is crumbling.
Problem is, he can’t keep his paws off a certain aggravating female deputy sheriff, even though the pack’s interim sheriff, Tom, is sniffing around her too. All it takes is one pack run to show them that they might be missing out on something wonderful—and that three in bed is the perfect number.
Now they just have to figure out who the bad guys are and why they’re gunning for Owen.
In their new three-way relationship, Owen and Tom do more than share Suzanne—they enjoy each other in hot male/male interactions.
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
“Brodie, confirm the location of that 9-1-1 call.”
Sheriff Ed Timberman felt cranky, plain and simple. He released the call button on the squad car’s receiver. Waiting for his dispatcher’s reply, he tried stretching his back. No good. There wasn’t enough space behind the steering wheel to get a good stretch going.
He’d spent a lifetime of hours in squad cars and, lately, too many sitting behind his desk. All he had to show for it was a gut that stuck out like he was in his second trimester and a case of piles creeping up on him like moss up a tree.
He sighed, rubbed his tired eyes and grinned.
Ah hell, he had nothing to feel sorry for. He’d been doing a job he loved for forty-two years, had a mate who’d given him three terrific pups and who baked the finest cinnamon rolls this side of the Great Divide. In fact there was a batch of those fine cinnamon rolls waiting for him at home once he finished with this last call. Although from the looks of things somebody was having a joke at the sheriff department’s expense.
Ed checked the dash clock. His shift had officially ended ten minutes ago.
GPS coordinates confirmed, Sheriff. It’s the last turnoff on South Fork Road
.” His dispatcher’s calm, modulated voice crackled through the squad car. Reception wasn’t so good when you were snugged up against the foothills of the Wind River Mountains. “
I’ll play back the 9-1-1 call to confirm the information the caller gave but the last turnoff is the one on the right
“Thanks, Brodie. That’s real helpful,” Sheriff Timberman deadpanned. This far out there was
one turnoff. “Sheriff Timberman out.”
He put the car back in drive. The sun would be coming up in ten minutes or so, making it easier to see, although it wouldn’t crest the foothills for another forty minutes after that. As he drove down the pitted dirt road he checked the shoulders for tire marks. The caller had said he’d sideswiped a tree. Ed decided to give it one more mile before he wrote the call off as a crank and headed home.
Like it so often did, his persistence paid off. Cresting yet another hill, he spotted a pickup truck hanging off the side of the road. Grabbing his hat off the passenger seat, he got out of his car and scanned the ditch. He scented the air at the same time. Odd. There was no scent of human nearby and the truck cab was empty. The front tires were resting in the ditch but it seemed to Ed a bruiser of a half-ton like this one should be able to pull out no problem.
Spring was late coming this year. Snow was still piled up in spots in the forest on either side of the road and the ground, for the most part, was still frozen.
Huh. Driver had probably been drinking and couldn’t figure out how to back his own damn truck out of a ditch. Ed lifted his head and sniffed again. Fella was probably in the woods, taking a leak.
He was heading back to his squad car to give the siren a quick blast when his head shot up.
The barest taste of another wolf in the air when the wind died down in honor of the sunrise.
When the hairs on his arms stood up for no good, rational reason, he unsnapped his holster and withdrew his service revolver.
Sheriff Ed Timberman heard the repeat of the rifle an instant before his head was slammed sideways. He was dead before the momentum dropped him onto the road.
Every bird in the forest stopped singing and if there had been anybody around to listen they would have had no problem hearing the measured, heavy footsteps coming through the trees, downwind. A man wearing sturdy boots stepped onto the road, slung his rifle over his shoulder, kneeled beside Ed, sniffed the air around him then checked for a pulse. He checked the wrist of Ed’s gun hand—the only exposed pulse point on his body not spattered with blood.
After a moment the man stood, went to the truck, climbed into the cab and started the engine. Driving slow and precise, he backed out of the ditch. The engine growled with Detroit-heavy power. Gravel crunched beneath the beefy tires. He made a U-turn, gave Ed’s body a wide berth and headed back to South Fork Road.
The silence was broken by the crackle of the radio. “Sheriff Timberman, come back. Playback of the 9-1-1 call confirms the location. Sheriff?”
The pitch of Dispatcher Brodie Dell’s voice began to change from its usual controlled, calm cadence.
“You pull the cinch tight but a little at a time. Like this.” Six-year-old Ryan Upton’s brow furrowed in concentration. The pony shifted its weight but didn’t actually move. “Pull it too tight, too hard and the horse’ll do something to get you to stop. Some of them hold their breath and stick their belly out so you
tighten the cinch.” Ryan pulled on the cinch again with a deft control that belied his age.
Owen Wells felt the permanent furrow between his eyes deepen as he watched. What kind of idiot let a first grader hang around animals that outweighed him by over a hundred pounds? Pony or not, he kept expecting the thing to kick Ryan straight into an emergency room. He looked around the interior of the barn, hoping to find it ringed by cushiony bales of hay.
What kind of whacked-out werewolf pack was this? Weres, keeping animals as pets. Any self-respecting pet he’d had the misfortune to come across had scratched first and asked questions later. Instinct told every animal where they stood in the food chain. They were smart enough to perceive weres as predators.
Except in Wyoming, apparently.
“You try.” Ryan glanced over at the big horse watching them from two stalls down.
“Me? I don’t think so.”
I’m staying right here where I can grab you out of harm’s way when that pony goes berserk.
Owen held his hands out. They were big hands, darkened by the sun and battle-scarred. He was a three-tour veteran of the war in Iraq, could sniff out an IED at five hundred yards and knew at least twelve ways to kill a man with his bare hands so the fella wouldn’t know he was dead until he hit the ground.
There was no way he was going to climb onto a skittish half-ton horse whose feet somebody had conveniently nailed iron plates onto.
“How about I watch you?” Owen said. “Everybody says you’re a good rider. Show me how it’s done.” He was a fearless man but he was about three seconds away from hyperventilating when Ryan climbed onto a nearby wood crate and used it to help himself mount the pony.
Holding his breath, Owen walked alongside after Ryan touched the heels of his leather cowboy boots to the animal’s sides. Trying not to be too obvious about it, he held his hands at the ready. If the pony got up to mischief, which he was sure it would, he’d be ready to pluck Ryan to safety and remind the beast of its manners with a solid left hook to its skull.
He wasn’t going to take any chances with his only living relative.
To Owen’s utter surprise, the pony walked calmly. It obeyed the subtle pressure of the reins on either side of its neck, adjusted its pace when Ryan tightened his knees or touched it with the toe or heel of his boots.
Despite that, Owen stayed close. Ryan smiled and the April sunshine lit up his profile, sparkled like summer lightning in his eyes. Owen blinked. They might only be second cousins but Ryan had the same brown eyes he did. The same blond hair stuck out under the brim of Ryan’s warm, felt cowboy hat. Even their noses were shaped the same, although Ryan’s was considerably smaller.
Something heavy and poignant settled in Owen’s chest. He’d never wanted pups. The cliché lone wolf, he liked his independence and the closest he’d come to belonging to a pack over the last thirteen years were the units he’d served in. Now, maybe, he just might think about reconsidering the life plan he had going.
Ryan lifted himself up in the saddle by balancing his weight on the stirrups, on the balls of his feet. His skinny long-limbed body shifted and Owen grabbed Ryan’s waist without a second’s delay, making sure he didn’t fall.
Yeah. Right. He’d make time to reconsider his life plan if this kid didn’t give him a premature stroke.
“Hey, big guy, looking more like a cowboy up there every day.” Nath Powell walked up to them. This pack’s Beta, he shaded his eyes from the sun, watched Ryan with a critical eye then smiled. “Yep. You sure are. Now get down here and show me you remembered to smooth the wrinkles out of the horse blanket before you threw the saddle on top. A good horseman—”
“Takes care of his horse before himself. I
, Nath. Jeesh.” Despite his childish pique, Ryan dismounted and stood to one side, holding the reins so Nath could examine the pony.
“Hooves are clean. Nice job, Ryan,” Nath said as he lifted one of the horse’s fetlocks and rested it across his knees. “Coat’s been brushed.” He slapped the pony’s neck affectionately. The animal quivered with unmistakable pleasure and gazed back at him with what could only be adoration. Nath continued his monologue. “Tack’s clean. Blanket’s tight and smooth. Stirrups are at the proper height and the cinch is perfect. Well done, big guy.”
“So? Do I get to keep him?”
“It’s not my decision to make alone,” Nath answered. “Cutler and Fina have a say too. If they think you’ve done a good enough job caring for him we’ll buy the pony from Gil Pike. But if what I’ve seen today is any indication, I’m pretty sure they’ll say yes.”
Ryan jumped up and started punching the air. “
“Just remember, this is your birthday present. From all three of us. Don’t expect anything else.”
Ryan’s air-punching stopped then he nodded. “Yeah. Yes. The pony’s the best present I’ve ever got.”
“But if somebody happens to give you a book or a new pair of riding gloves…” Nath looked around covertly although nobody else was in sight. “Get a little excited over that too.”
“I will,” Ryan vowed and put his knee in Nath’s cupped hands. After the Beta helped him back into the saddle Ryan took off at a canter, moving in a big circle around the two males.
“It still makes you crazy watching him up on that thing, doesn’t it?”
Grudgingly, Owen nodded. He wasn’t used to being around other weres, was no longer used to their discernment. He’d been here less than a week and still didn’t like feeling transparent. “Yes.”
Nath grinned, adjusted his cap and turned so he could keep an eye on Ryan as the boy rode past. “All our stock is bred by weres. Because we raise them from birth they’re not afraid of us like outside animals would be, if that’s any help. And you know that although Fina, Cutler and I aren’t related to Ryan, he’s our surrogate son. We fret over him more than we will our own pups.”
“Yeah,” Owen acknowledged with a grunt. He scuffed the tread of his steel-toed boot against the partially frozen turf. “This is new to me. All of it. Before my enlistment was up I got the usual psych debriefing.” He was still amazed at how easy it was to talk to Nath. Owen Wells wasn’t a sharing kind of guy. Maybe being a good listener was part of being a Beta? Owen no longer knew. He’d left his pack the day after he’d turned eighteen. “They said it’d take some time to acclimate back into civilian life.” He lifted his hand and returned Ryan’s wave when the boy rode past.
“My brother was the same,” Nath said. “Our mother was still alive when Cutler came back from Iraq. She and I used to sit up nights worrying about how quiet he’d get or how…wooden he seemed.”
“He’s not like that now.”
“No. But it took him almost a year to snap out of it. ’Course that’s probably not the PC term for it.” Nath offered a wry smile which Owen returned. “Now let’s see about teaching you how to ride. No self-respecting Wyoming man doesn’t know how to ride.”
“You’re nuts. Fucking certifiable,” Owen grumbled but followed Nath into the barn. “All you guys out here are. God I miss Tennessee.” He pulled up his coat collar against the wind freshening out of the north then held out his hand to take a horse blanket from Nath.
“The weather might suck at times and the work might be hard but the women are mighty fine.”
Nath’s cell phone rang and he answered it. “Hey, big brother. When’ll you be home—”
When the color drained out of Nathaniel’s face Owen stared at him and trained his wolf ears on the phone conversation—both sides of it.
“Sheriff Ed Timberman’s been murdered. First thing this morning. Looks like he was ambushed. His deputy called me and asked me to come up. State police are already there but their Alpha wants a were in on the investigation. Says I’ll be able to communicate with his pack better than humans could.”
“Do they know why—?”
“No. Might be because he was a cop, the sheriff, a Beta or simply a were. Gotta go, Nath. I’ll be home tonight but don’t wait supper on me. You tell Fina for me. She knows the dangers of being mated to a cop but this’ll be hard on her.”
“Sure. We’ll wait up for you. She’ll be fine.”
Through the phone Owen heard the Alpha’s sigh, clear as if the man was standing next to him.
“I’m glad she’s got you too, Nath. Give her a hug and a kiss for me.”
When Nath ended the call and slid the phone back in his pocket, Owen was watching him. “You knew that sheriff?”
“Met him a few times.” Nath ran his hand over his face. “My brother’s real good at his job but today I wish he wasn’t a cop. Every time Cutler steps out the door for work, in the backs of our heads we know it might be the last time. Something like this…” His voice trailed away.
“Brings it home,” Owen supplied quietly. He stared down at his hands for a moment. “At first I thought it was weird.”
“What? Fina having two mates?”
“Yes. But you and your brother are different enough to balance each other out. She’s lucky to have you. Both of you.”
“Damn straight,” Nath acknowledged without a trace of vanity. He inhaled and it was as rife with meaning as his brother’s exhalation had been. “She’s working in the greenhouse. Watch Ryan, okay? This is gonna be hard on her.”
“Of course.” Owen watched Nath walk over to Ryan’s pony, talk with the kid briefly, tickle the kid’s ribs then take off back to the house.
“Hey, Ryan,” Owen called out, drawing his cousin’s eyes back to him. “How about you show me how to saddle that horse in the barn?”
“Sure thing, Owen. Come on. We’ll have you riding like a Wyoming rancher in no time.”
“I was afraid of that,” he muttered and trotted off in Ryan’s wake.
That night Owen stretched out on his back in the guest bedroom of Fina and Ryan’s home. The heat was still on so he didn’t sleep with the window open. He’d taken to doing that since he got back, liked being able to scent the air outside, know what was around him.
was around him. Back in the sandbox of Iraq, when he slept his unit had always been nearby. Sentries patrolled beyond that. In the midst of trained, alert soldiers Owen could let his guard down for a while. Here there was a female and a pup needing protection.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have confidence in Fina’s mates. He did. Cutler and Nath were powerful weres. But there were only two of them and Owen… Owen scrubbed his hand over his face, relaxed his shoulders, which were gravitating up toward his ears, and let his breath out. He was in Wyoming for crying out loud. Who was going to attack them? Canada?
Living on alert for so long had left its mark on Owen and he wasn’t thinking about the permanent furrow between his eyes. A thirty-one-year-old male shouldn’t have wrinkles. He ran his fingertips over the crease, felt his skin smooth then snap right back.
His wolf’s ears picked up the sound of a heavy vehicle coming down the gravel drive. The slight hitch in the timing of Cutler’s big sheriff’s SUV was familiar to Owen now so the sound didn’t make him tense in preparation for battle. Lying in the dark, with the light of the waning moon washing his chest with a cold, clear glow, he listened to the crunch of Cutler’s boots, heard a key in the front door. The lockbox inside the hall closet opened and a faint metallic clink told Owen that Cutler was storing his service revolver for the night.
Turning his face toward the window, Owen thought about a woman he’d met on leave seven months before. He’d been in Germany and she’d been there teaching adult classes in English. They’d hooked up in a bar near the base and hadn’t left the hotel room for two days. He remembered how her long, pale body had looked stretched out in the moonlight. The scent of her. The taste of her as he’d touched his lips to every square inch of her skin. She hadn’t been a were but she’d been lovely. More important, she’d had a good heart. Despite that, after his leave was over the emails between them quickly fizzled into nothingness. He wasn’t real proud of himself when he realized that didn’t bother him.
“Are you all right?” It was Fina’s voice, muffled by the room and the hallway that separated her bedroom from Owen’s. Despite that he heard the anxiety in her tone.
“How’s Sheriff Timberman’s family taking it?” This was Nath’s voice. He didn’t sound groggy. Huh. Guess Owen wasn’t the only one not sleeping tonight.
Owen heard Cutler’s response but tuned it out. Things whispered in the dark between mates were nobody’s business but their own.
For a moment he envied Fina’s good fortune. Then he remembered how every single one of his relationships had failed. A long time ago he’d figured out he had no gift for being a mate. He’d spent too many years without a pack, hiding who he was. What he was. Now he was a were by birthright only and content to live that way.
He picked up Fina’s voice again. It sounded less tight, like whatever Cutler said had made her feel better. Then she sighed—a warm, feminine sound of pleasure. Cutler and Nath made similar masculine sounds and when they did Owen deliberately tuned all of them out.