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Authors: T. S. Joyce

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Shelter Me Home

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SHELTER ME HOME

By T. S. JOYCE

Dedication

For Grammy, who taught me about letting go of the things I can’t control.

No more asking, “Where’s my Alaska book?”

This story is for you.

Other Books by T. S. Joyce

Bear Valley Shifters

The Witness and the Bear (
Book 1
)

Devoted to the Bear (
Book 2
)

Return to the Bear (
Book 3
)

Betray the Bear (
Book 4
)

Redeem the Bear (
Book 5
)

Bear Valley Valentine (
Short Story
)

 

Hells Canyon Shifters

Call of the Bear (
Book 1
)

Fealty of the Bear (
Book 2
)

Avenge the Bear (
Book 3
)

Claim the Bear (
Book 4
)

Heart of the Bear (
Book5
)

 

Wolf Brides

Wolf Bride (
Book 1
)

Red Snow Bride (
Book 2
)

Dawson Bride (
Book 3
)

 

Standalone Shifter Romance

Coveted by the Bear

Shelter Me Home

Copyright © 2015, T. S. Joyce

First electronic publication: February 2015

T. S. Joyce

www.tsjoycewrites.wordpress.com

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.

 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.

 

Published in the United States of America

 

First digital publication: February 2015

First print publication: February 2015

Chapter One

New York had chewed Farrah Fennel up and spat her out. In her defense, the big city had taken seven years to break her. Still, she never thought she’d be seeking sanctuary in her childhood home of Cooper Landing, Alaska as long as she lived. Her traveling companions included one ratty suitcase, a tobacco-chewing trucker who’d picked her up near Anchorage, and about as much shame as a person could shoulder.

Walter pulled the enormous 18-wheeler off the highway and smiled reassuringly at her. “Here’s where you have to get off. I have to unload right down the road, and then I’m headed back where I came from.”

She smiled to hide the nerves that sent waves of nausea into her stomach, and then nodded. Walter was a stout man with a slight paunch and a beard with every shade of silver imaginable. He had an easily earned smile and a knack for carrying the conversation where she failed at small talk.

For the hundredth time, she shifted her gaze to the picture of his wife taped to the dash. Farrah swallowed and looked back out the window to watch the fat snowflakes blanket the quiet town of Homer. His wife was a plain woman, if her sepia-toned picture was anything to go by, but when Walter talked about her, he made her sound like the most beautiful woman in the world.

That was what love was supposed to be like.

She’d missed her mark, and missed it wide, with Miles Anderson.

The 18-wheeler hissed and rocked as Walter pulled to a stop in a gas station that doubled as a diner. Downshifting to park, he turned and leveled her with a fatherly look.

“Ms. Farrah, I don’t know the reasons a proper looking woman such as yourself is out here hitching rides from strangers, but be wary.” He pushed his faded Peterbilt hat from his thinning hair and slid it back on as if it was habit. With a tug at his pocket, he pulled a black plastic rectangle out and flicked open a dangerous looking blade. “Anyone gives you trouble, you put this in their neck.”

The ease with which he said that was startling. With shaking fingers, she reached across the cab and held it between pointer and thumb like it was a dead snake. Even if someone had ill intentions toward her, she wasn’t altogether sure she could end a life to save her own. Walter didn’t have to know that, though.

“What does it mean to you?” she asked.

A slow smile spread across his face, and he shook his head. “Not a damned thing. I don’t believe in luck, and I don’t believe in lucky possessions. I switch out my pocket knives as I find them, and this one’s about due for a change anyway. You aren’t taking anything important from me, and I’d feel better leaving you with a way to defend yourself.”

“Okay. Thanks,” she said, folding the blade and tucking it into her pocket. “Not just for the knife, but for taking me all this way, too.”

“Sure thing, and Ms. Farrah?” he said as she turned to open the door. “Be wary,” he reminded her.

“Yes, sir,” she said with a tiny salute and grabbed her duffle bag.

Inside of the simple luggage was everything she owned in the world. She’d sold everything out of her one bedroom apartment in the city to afford the plane fare to Alaska, and anything important and small enough, she’d shoved into the purple suitcase. Her warmest clothes, miniature bottles of fancy shampoos and body washes she’d collected from the hotels she and Miles had stayed at, a pink bag of toiletries and make-up, jewelry that held sentimental value, and a small wad of cash she’d stashed in the hidden zipper inside. All of the money she had to her name was bouncing in the bag against her leg as she waddled across the snow and ice to the front door of the gas station. The wheels on the luggage had stopped working years ago, and she dragged it across the frozen parking lot, leaving a divot trail in her wake. Even if she didn’t own much, it was still heavy for a five-foot-three woman who hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a few days.

Turning to wave Walter off, she took the opportunity to catch her breath and give her arms a rest. When the truck drove past, snow flurries whooshed up from the ground and made tiny tornadoes in the wind.

Walter waved as the 18-wheeler pulled back onto the main road. She’d been lucky to hitch a ride with a decent human being. From where she stood, there weren’t many of them left. Hopefully, she could get as lucky with her next ride.

Cooper Landing was just two tiny hours away from Homer if she took the highway connecting the two towns. She pulled her parka more tightly around herself and zipped it up to keep the chill away. Her knees buckled when a roiling and unexpected wave of nausea took her. She swallowed hard once. Twice. A fine sweat broke out over her eyebrow as the world wobbled. She needed to eat something, and fast.

Hefting the suitcase handle to her hip, she slipped and slid until she reached the door, then tugged it open. The air smelled of grits and fried potatoes and brought another wave of sickness from sheer desperation. Mouth watering, she made her way to the back to a counter adorned with old fashioned stools. A young couple talked quietly in the corner. The only patron she had to pass on the way to an empty stool was a man, his face obscured as he hunched over nursing a mug of steaming coffee. His heavy jacket lay across the stool to his right, and the neck of his gray thermal shirt was stretched just enough to show the strong cords of muscle in his neck that led down to two vertebrae that pushed against his smooth skin. A curl of black ink peeked out from under the fabric and brushed the base of his neck. From the way his shoulders pressed against the cloth of his shirt and hung loosely around his middle, the man was built better and healthier than any of the models she’d served drinks to in the city. The material of his shirt was thin enough to show off the muscles of his back, and she looked away, widening her eyes to saucers. The man had tingling warmth flooding into her stomach like some dam had busted, and she hadn’t even seen his face yet.

What in great goodness was wrong with her?

She’d left Alaska years ago because no one would ever suit her in this frigid place. Snow-loving hippie Alaskans weren’t her type. It was probably just the mysterious tattoo. She’d always been a sucker for tattoos.

Much harder than she’d meant to, she dropped her luggage by a seat three down from the man. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him twitch his head toward her once before pulling his attention back to a weather report on the old black and white television set hanging from the back wall.

No matter which way she stretched her neck, there wasn’t a soul to be found to take her order. No one behind the counter nor in the kitchen, from what she could see through a small cutout in the wall. Her entire body shook with its need for fuel, and she searched instead for a service bell to ring.

A bowl of peanuts sat between her and the man, and she pulled it to herself and started gobbling the little snacks down like a desperate squirrel. It wasn’t until she was picking at the crumbs in the bottom that she looked up to see the man watching her.

Recognition froze her in place.

Aanon Falk stared at her with raised eyebrows like she’d just beamed down from the moon. She dropped the empty nut bowl with a tiny clatter to the countertop.

“Hi,” she said to break the awkward silence that filled the space between them.

He waited two seconds too long to be polite before he gave her a terse, “Hi” back.

Aanon didn’t recognize her.

She turned away and stifled a laugh. Of course, he didn’t. She hadn’t exactly been memorable in high school, and he had been seven levels out of her league back then. She snuck a sidelong glance at him as he took another drag of coffee. Oh hell, he was still out of her league, even if she was interested. His nose was straight and strong, probably a gift from the sexy Norsemen who peppered his genealogy, and the angles of his jaw were sharp like glass. The color of his eyes rivaled the clearest Alaskan summer sky, and blond hair tumbled out of his gray winter hat and tickled the tip of his tattoo. Short, gold whiskers graced his chiseled jaw, and when the waitress finally appeared through a swinging door, his smile still held the masculine beauty she remembered. A strange sensation rose in her chest as the memories of the lanky boy she’d gone to school with warred with the physical presence of the well-formed man beside her.

The waitress,
Clara
, her nametag read, topped off Aanon’s cup of joe and focused her attention on Farrah. “You know what you want, sweety?”

“Uhhh.” Shit, was she really freezing up now? Perfect. Aanon-Sexy-Face-Falk was staring, and her mouth couldn’t remember the syllables to the word
pancakes
.

“You okay?” Clara asked.

“F-fine,” she stammered. “What’s good to eat here?”

“We have a special with eggs, bacon, and pancakes if that suites you.”

“Yes!” she said too fast. Farrah cleared her throat and said a little quieter and a little less psychotic, “Yes, I’ll have that please. And water.”

Clara looked at her a moment longer and gave a little nod. “I’ll get that in to the cook and bring it right out.”

The waitress bustled back through the swinging door, and Farrah wrapped her hands around her stomach as if it would keep her hastily eaten meal of peanuts in her guts. Nausea was such an unfortunate part of her current journey. She’d give her snow boots if she could just feel better. Leaning her head on the countertop, she squeezed her eyes closed and pursed her lips.

“Are you all right?” Aanon asked in a deep voice. Now he was standing right beside her.

“I’m awesome,” she muttered. What did she care what he thought of her? Aanon didn’t even remember who she was. She’d be in here to eat breakfast and then never see the man again. Unless she was unfortunate enough that he still lived in Cooper Landing. But, no. No one had wanted to escape that small town as much as Aanon.

Except for maybe her.

“You look like shit,” he observed.

“Sir, your flattery will get you nowhere with me.” She rolled her head to the side and stared up at him. Pursing her lips, she sighed. He was even more beautiful from this angle. How obnoxious.

“You know, this isn’t exactly a tourist stop,” he said, taking his seat three down once again.

She wasn’t even going to explain that she wasn’t exactly a tourist. The longer he went without recognizing her, the more embarrassing it became. It wasn’t like The Landing was a big place. The population had been holding steady at three hundred when she’d left seven years ago, and there weren’t that many kids. Sure, they’d all gone to school a couple of towns over with more children their age, but everyone knew everyone in Cooper Landing. Well, everyone knew everyone but her, apparently.

“Hello?” he asked with an edge to his tone.

Clara came in and set a glass of water and a plate of steaming food in front of her. “You need anything else, sweety?”

“Actually the check when you’re ready. I need to get back on the road.”

“Sure thing.” Clara ripped the check off her pad of paper and placed it on the counter.

Farrah pulled the bills she needed out and handed it to Clara.

“You need change?”

“Nope, it’s all yours.” So the tip was big for the size of the check. She didn’t have money to waste, but after seven years serving patrons in New York bars, she’d learned that tipping karma always came back around.

Clara smiled brightly, transforming her entire face. She was a pretty girl, probably twenty years old or so with little need for make-up. “Thanks a lot.”

Farrah smiled. “Sure. Food’s real good.”

Clara beamed and headed for the couple down the counter.

“You think it’s a smart idea to be driving in this weather?” Aanon asked. “It’s supposed to get even worse in the next couple of hours.”

A tired-looking older man sat beside her and waved to Clara.

“Well,” Farrah said, turning to Aanon, “it’s a good thing I’m not driving. Excuse me, sir?” she asked the man beside her. “Would you mind giving me a ride?”

He cocked his head and looked her over with a frown. “Where are you headed?”

“The Landing.”

“Sorry,” he said with a shake of his head. “I’m headed the other way.”

“Thanks anyway,” she said, then started in on her breakfast with a single-minded tenacity.

Oh, she could feel Aanon shooting her sidelong glances, but the meal held her attention better. It had been a long time since she’d had more than a gas station snack to keep the sickness at bay.

All right, what was she going to do now? She chewed a bite of pancake and glared at the weatherman on the television. It was a two hour drive from here, but if she was going to escape this gas station diner, she had to leave soon before the snow doused the mountain. Weatherman estimated she had about three hours before the storm hit. She washed the last bite of breakfast down with the glass of water and waved to Clara. She hoisted the suitcase off the ground and didn’t even offer Aanon a
have a nice life
as she passed.

Something about him made her want to clam up and flee. He was too interesting for his own good, or hers. And what kind of sniveling wuss would make friendly conversation with someone who couldn’t remember her after years together in the same small classes? Not her.

Fighting the urge to look behind her and see if he was, in fact, watching her, she shoved out the front door and headed for a truck pulling in to get fuel.

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