Authors: Maddy Barone
After the Crash, Book 3.5
Copyright Maddy Barone 2012
All Rights Reserved.
No story is written in a vacuum (at least none of mine have been), and that is especially true for Sherry’s Wolf. I struggled with Sherry. I wanted to dash off a quick 10,000 word short story, but Sherry’s character was far too complicated and wounded for that. Luckily, I had my critique group to help me brainstorm how to give her a happily ever after. So a big thank you to the Word Weavers:
Athena Hill Gracyk, Laura Fasick
Kat Smith, Mary Jean Adams
Krystal Van Buren, Tina Holland
Also I want to thank the lovely people who did fabulous beta reads for me. Any mistakes in this book are mine, certainly not theirs. Thank you, ladies, for taking the time to read and give me your impressions and suggestions.
Andrea Haywood-Gray, Sidney Bristol
Chauntelle Baughman, Suzanna Medeiros
Holly Boland, Tina Taft Hobson
Most of all, I want to thank YOU, my readers. About a year ago I decided I wanted to do something to tell you all Thank You for reading my books. This story is for you.
Sherry was so lovely. Jumping Stag of the Wolf Clan paused outside the big room of the Plane Women’s House to let his eyes soak in the beauty of his mate. He hadn’t seen her in nearly four weeks, since the day after he’d made human wedding vows to her averted face and hunched shoulders. Those vows meant nothing to her. They’d been sitting with the congregation, not standing in front of the priest with the other couples, so perhaps the vows he’d made weren’t official, but he meant every word he’d echoed quietly as the priest said them. For him, they merely put into words what she was to him: the woman his wolf had chosen to be his mate, the woman he ached to share a bed with, the woman he would die to protect. She had told him to go away for a few weeks so she could have a chance to consider if a relationship between them was possible while she talked with counselors. It had nearly broken his heart, but he’d left her, and now he was back, desperately hoping she was open to his love.
Strangely, the room was empty but for Sherry. Usually it would be crowded with some of the other two dozen women who had survived the plane crash at the end of October, plus some of the men from Kearney who were working to put the apartment building back into livable condition for them. Stag was glad they weren’t here. He savored this chance to watch Sherry without interruption. Her straight black hair lay over her shoulders, reaching the middle of her back. Her dark skin had lost its gray cast and glowed with health. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. Stag had never seen a woman who looked like she did. Her skin was darker than his, her eyes tilted up at their outer corners. She wasn’t black, nor Asian, but a perfect blend of the two races.
She sat before one of the wood stoves with the cane he had carved for her leaning against her chair, long slender fingers busy with knitting needles and wool. Quiet satisfaction flooded him when he saw that her left hand was bare of the ring her late husband had given her to mark their marriage. Stag had resented that overgrown diamond from the moment he recognized it as a wedding ring. His hand lifted to the small buckskin bag he wore on a leather thong around his neck, thinking of the simple ring his mother had worn.
He should go in and greet her, but he remained in the hall, watching her hungrily. Her face was defined by high cheekbones flowing to a perfectly shaped mouth and an elegant jaw. Even if she’d not been his mate he would think her beautiful. She was still far too thin, though. In the Times Before the nuclear attacks that began in 2014, slender women had been considered the most beautiful. Stag couldn’t imagine why. Sherry was stunning like this; with a little more weight to soften her narrow frame she would be even more gorgeous.
Sherry gave her ball of yarn a little jerk and it leaped from her lap to roll toward him. She swore under her breath, shifting to get up. He walked in silent moccasins still wet from the snow outside to pick the yarn up and hold it out to her. Her dark, exotic eyes fixed on the ball of yellow yarn and then lifted to him. He braced himself for the familiar mix of fear and repugnance to fill their liquid brown depths. It flared, but like an unruly dog called to heel, the emotions stopped and faded to a barely noticeable level. Was there something else in her face? Her plump, wide mouth trembled into a smile that looked determined, almost forced. It hurt to see it even as his heart soared.
“Stag, you’re back.” Her voice held that same determined, strained welcome. Even her accent, an exotic blend of the south and something he didn‘t recognize, couldn’t hide how she forced herself to be pleasant. “How are you?”
He blinked. The wolf within him danced happily at what it perceived as a welcome, but the man was all too aware of her clenched teeth. “I’m good. How are you?”
He saw her hand close so tightly over her wooden knitting needle he wondered why it didn’t snap. The urge to haul her slight body against his was overwhelming, but he controlled himself. It had been four weeks since he’d seen her. Four weeks of missing her and seeing her only in hot, forbidden dreams. In none of his dreams had she turned away from him, calling him a perverted animal. No, in those dreams she had always been warm and welcoming. Was it too much to ask that she at least smile at him as if she meant it?
Stag pulled his thoughts away from that. She had greeted him. Forced or not, it was the first time she had spoken to him first, and she hadn’t quite flinched away from the sight of him. He smiled at her. “I’ll go put my gear away. I’ll see you at supper?”
The relief in the back of her eyes hurt him. “Sure, I’ll see you then.”
Stag turned and walked out the door he had come in. The other door into the big room, the one on the opposite side of the room that led to the kitchen, creaked open and Stag paused at the sound of a voice. He couldn’t see through the half-closed door he had just passed through, but he recognized the voice. It wasn’t one of the other women who lived here. It was Kearney’s big blacksmith, Bill Russell. Stag’s lip curled in a silent snarl. Sherry was
; no other man should be alone with her! Remembering Sherry’s furious denial of his right to restrict other men’s access to her, Stag made himself stay still and listen instead of charging back into the room to kill Russell. His wolf ears were plenty sharp enough to hear the low-voiced conversation in the big room.
“He’s back?” Russell asked.
“Yeah,” said his mate with a tremble that ended in a soft sob.
“Here, I’ve got you, sweetheart. Just lean on me.” Russell’s voice turned violent. “Did he hurt you?”
Stag’s snarl almost covered the sound of nearly silent feet coming down the hall toward him. His friend Des, the Alpha of the new Plane Women’s House Pack, put a hand on his arm, halting his incipient leap to kill the blacksmith.
“Relax,” Des murmured. “It’s not what you think.”
What was he to think but that while he had been away —to give his mate the time alone she’d requested!— she had found a new lover? Stag’s wolf wanted to taste the blacksmith’s blood, to rip his throat open.
“It’s not a romance,” Des told him, keeping one hand clamped on his arm. “They’re kin of some sort. Sherry’s father’s family name was Russell, and they come from the same town. The blacksmith treats her like his little sister. He’s courting one of the other women.”
One kink at a time, the knot of hurt fury in Stag’s heart untwisted itself. The blacksmith was tall and burly, with a wide mouth and skin as black as night. Sherry was tiny compared to him, and her skin was more golden brown than black, but though her mouth was more delicately formed, it was the same shape. Stag could believe they were related.
“You know I won’t let him hurt you,” Russell was saying. “No one will let him hurt you. I don’t much like those wolves, but even his own kind will protect you from him.”
“I know.” Sherry’s voice was so quiet that Stag had to strain to hear her. “I don’t really think he’ll hurt me. He never has, even though I’ve been a bitch to him. I’m just lost. Part of me was actually glad to see him. It’s just … Everything’s so different since the plane crashed. I keep thinking I’ll wake up and be back in 2014, with electricity and running water and LeRoi. I hate it here. I want my old life back.”
Bill Russell made a soothing noise. “Aw, it’ll get better.”
“I know,” Sherry said again. “I’m kind of getting used to living in the Dark Ages. What really sucks is I feel like I’m six years old again. It’s just like when I first came to America. Lost and scared. All I ever wanted was to have control of my own life. I grew up dreaming of the day when I could be on my own. I gave that up to marry LeRoi and you know how
The pain in Sherry’s voice made Stag want to kill something.
“I’m not saying I’m glad your husband is dead,” Russell said in a cautious tone. “But leopards don’t change their spots. Now you can start fresh.”
“Fresh?” Sherry’s muffled voice said. “I guess that’s one way to look at it. I don’t need to worry about my future with LeRoi. That’s been decided for me. I should be relieved. But am I? No. I cry, like I did when I was a lost little six-year-old.”
The blacksmith made more crooning noises.
Stag felt his nails dig into his palms. Sherry should be telling
should be holding her in his arms and making those quiet, soothing noises. He wanted Sherry to tell him everything about her life. He wanted Sherry to accept him as her mate.
“And a werewolf thinks he owns me!” Sherry wailed, as if that were the icing on her cake of misery. “Why can’t I just be single?”
“Because men want wives and children,” the blacksmith said reasonably.
“And sex,” snapped Sherry.
“And sex,” Russell agreed. “Will you do what Dixie and Jodi said?”
There was a pause, while Sherry sniffed loudly and blew her nose. “Yes. I’ll sit with Stag at supper tonight and try to get to know him better.”
“Good. And remember, if you decide you don’t want to be mated to him, you can tell him no. You have the right to do that. Then you can take your time finding a man you can marry.”
Stag’s eyebrows shot up.
? The blacksmith was three times her size and ten years older and she called him Billy?
Des chuckled almost soundlessly beside him. “C’mon. We’ve done a little room re-arranging since you were gone. Faron and Donna got married and they live at his place now. You’ll have his room. It’s a little bigger than the one you had.”
Stag turned his back on his mate and her kinsman. He needed some time to compose himself before supper. Des led the way to the stairs that went down to the basement room where Faron Paulson had stayed. Paulson was the sheriff of Kearney, in charge of the town’s security, an important position that made him the mayor’s second in command.
“Is Paulson coming back to help guard the women during the day?” he asked.
“Nah,” Des answered. “Our Pack is in charge of the women now.” He flipped a grin over his shoulder before opening the door to Faron’s old room.
It was larger than the nook Stag had slept in. The light from the long, narrow windows running along the top of the wall illuminated the broken tiles of the floor. A small bed was neatly made up against the wall. He stepped into the room and inhaled the scent of Kearney’s sheriff on the sheets and blankets. His wolf whined. The wolf wanted the scent of their mate on the bed. Those sheets would have to be changed before he lay down to sleep tonight. Des lifted a brow, silently asking what disturbed him. Stag shook his head, declining to explain. He’d told Sherry he would put away his gear but he had none. The only reason he was wearing this breechcloth and leather leggings was because he’d kept a few things stashed in the shed in the yard of the Plane Women’s House.
“I heard about the trouble with that rancher,” he said now to Des. “Any more problems from that?”
Des leaned his shoulder against the door frame. “Nah. We’ve made some little changes. Taye’s keeping some extra security around the den, and we’re careful about who we let in on visiting nights. But no one’s bothered us about it. Dan and his mate are real happy. They’re staying at the den until spring.”
Stag nodded and opened the top drawer of the bureau just to keep himself busy. “Good. Those cowboys got what they deserved. People will remember that if they try to attack us again.” He examined the empty drawer with faked interest. “Where is everybody?”