Authors: Olivia Stephens
Tags: #Paranormal, #Alpha, #Wolf, #Werewolf, #Shifter, #Romance, #Adult, #Erotica Romance, #Fiction
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Storm Shades copyright @ 2014 by Olivia Stephens. All rights 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 embedded in critical articles or reviews.
Running through the woods. This is freedom. This is living. The whole world comes alive, as I speed along the trail, jumping over logs, rushing through streams. I lift my head and sniff the air. I can smell the rain that’s coming. But it’s not time to head home yet, the hunt is on.
I don’t so much see the deer as sense it. I follow its scent, my eyes zeroing in on its position just over the rise. I can smell its fear. We remain still, the hunter and the hunted, each waiting for the other to make the first move. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it’s always going to be the hunted that makes the mistake; they have so much more to lose.
All of a sudden the deer breaks away, running as fast as it can away from me. But I could hear the muscles in its legs tense, getting ready to run before it even twitched to the naked eye. I’m on the move and gaining ground quickly. It’s frantic now, scared. It can feel how close I’m getting and, as I always do, I get the sense that the deer just wants the job finished. He’s almost longing for me to sink my teeth into him, to feel the life ebb out of him, as his hot blood rushes into my mouth.
I can hear the blood pumping around his body, smell his grassy breath as he pants heavily, knowing that he’s losing ground. I don’t drag the hunt out any longer. I can feel the storm is about to come. It’s time to end this. I push off, powering my way forward with my back legs, jumping the 10 feet between us. I land heavily on top of the deer, flattening it beneath me.
It squeals, and I can feel his fear. I don’t want to prolong his death; there’s no honor in that. I pin him down, clamping my jaws around his neck and pulling hard, shaking him and hearing the snap, as his neck breaks. I delve into him, biting and ripping him apart, feeding on him.
It’s over quickly—in a haze of blood. Afterwards, I raise my head and let out a howl aimed at the sky. After the kill, you pay your respects to the hunted. You thank it for giving itself to you. It is our way.
I feel the first drop of rain land on my thick fur. It’s time to go. I leave the remains of the deer to the other animals in the wood. It is not just my kill; it belongs to the mountain. I turn and start running back the way I came, feeling the power surge through my body, feeling the deer’s life force propelling me forwards.
All at once, I catch a scent of something I don’t recognize. The wind picks up, and I sniff at the air. I don’t know what it is, but something is coming. Something that is going to change everything.
“Jeez, Finn! Where did you learn to drive?” Sofie asks, as the shiny Range Rover almost hits the concrete sidings along the road.
“You ask the computer genius to take a turn at the wheel, you have to suffer the consequences.” Finn shrugs, stealing a cheeky glance at Sofie.
“Eyes on the road, genius!” Sofie points towards the truck coming towards them and wonders if now would be a good time to find religion.
“Finn, we’d all like to arrive in Beaumont in one piece—if that isn’t too much to ask?” Darwin’s voice comes from the back, buried behind a map of the area.
Sofie decides that it’s better for everyone involved if she concentrates on looking out of the window instead of what’s happening in the driver’s seat. The road is winding, and the sheer drop along the side of the mountain doesn’t give her any more confidence in Finn’s driving. They’re heading towards the third and final site that they’ve been instructed to investigate. It’s been three weeks, and the men are a little tired of being on the road, especially as they haven’t found anything all that promising so far.
However, Sofie is enjoying having a little distance from her real life in Washington. The small towns they’d been passing through were about as far away from her big city life as she could get. There was something peaceful about leaving everything behind and just concentrating on her work. She’d always been good on focusing on her job. It is one of the reasons she had managed to work her way up the pecking order so fast.
Besides, the only thing waiting for her back in DC was an apartment filled with boxes that she hadn’t got around to unpacking yet. It had been almost six months since she’d moved out of Tyler’s place, but everything else had seemed to be more important than making the apartment her home. It was a little like admitting that she and Tyler were really over, but that was what she had wanted, wasn’t it?
“So what’s the plan for tomorrow, boss?” Sofie turns in the passenger seat to look at Darwin, the head of the team.
The evening is starting to draw in, and the sun is going to be setting soon. They’re not going to be doing any surveying tonight.
“We have four sites to test within a two mile radius of the canyon,” Darwin explains, spreading out the map and pointing out the locations. “We’ll start with the furthest out and work our way back, unless anyone has any objection?” He looks at Finn, as he asks the question.
The computer expert is the one that usually pipes up with a spontaneous calculation on the most efficient means of collecting the date they need and how that doesn’t fit with Darwin’s suggestion. Finn hadn’t won many friends at Shale Corporation, as he generally treated everyone like he were ten times more intelligent than them, which was probably true in most cases. However, he is way too valuable not to have on the team. He got all the good assignments, which was probably why he is so testy about this trip—especially since they had found a big, fat zero so far.
“Sounds good to me,” Sofie replies to Darwin before Finn can say anything, closing any possible arguments down. “Finn, you and I will do a gear check when we get to the motel. That way we’ll be ready to go first thing in the morning.”
“Whatever you say, Sofe.” Finn does a mock salute, almost knocking his trendy thick-framed glasses off in the process, forcing Sofie to stifle a laugh. “You know, I think I liked you more when you were just the hot new chick who barely spoke.” He shakes his head in mock despair.
“That was a long time ago, Finn,” Sofie reminds him, looking out the window at the impressive canyon below them. She has only been at Shale for 18 months, but it seems a whole lot longer.
“Yeah, now you’re an old timer, just as twisted and jaded as the rest of us,” Finn says lightheartedly—although his tone is in stark contrast to his words.
“That’s enough,” Darwin says from the backseat, ending any further discussion, and the car falls silent again.
They all know what Finn is talking about. They’re scientists, but the ideals they had in college of somehow using their knowledge to make a difference in the world has fallen by the wayside. Sofie likes her job. She’s one of the few people she knows who can say that. Well, to be more specific, she likes the science. Geology is her passion. It probably isn’t very sexy, and it isn’t something that a lot of people would understand; but, she finds something comforting in it. She works with rocks and minerals that have been part of the Earth for hundred—if not thousands or millions of years. It’s a comforting thought that all of this remains, even after we were all long gone. For Sofie, it gives life something close to a meaning.
The car speeds past the cheerfully-painted sign at the town limit. It reads,
Welcome to Beaumont, Wyoming
“Do all small towns look the same, or is it just me? It’s like there’s a template that gets handed out that they all have to follow to the letter. One hardware store with ironic sign, check. Cellphone reception from the dark ages, check.” Finn waves his phone at Sofie as if this was the worst news he was going to hear all day.
“Finn, you’ve been complaining for the past three weeks. This is the last stop on the trip so just suck it up,” Darwin says, his voice uncharacteristically harsh. Finn and Sofie both bite their tongues, knowing that his reaction probably only means one thing.
“Any news from up on high?” Sofie asks innocently as Finn cruises along the main stretch of the town, looking for somewhere to buy provisions.
“He’s not pleased with the findings so far,” says Darwin, not directly saying whom he’s talking about since everyone in the car knows that he’s referring to Luke Calambor, the head of Shale Corporation, an all-around awful human being. “He’s threatening to come down himself to see what’s going on.”
The words make Sofie’s blood run cold. It was another reason that she was enjoying being so far away from DC. It meant being far away from Calambor and his focus on her that had become more and more obvious and not a little scary. “Why? Because if he’s here does he think that means that we’ll find the mother lode of oil under these rocks?” Sofie shakes her head at the man’s sense of self-importance.
“He probably figures he can will the oil out of the ground just with the force of his arrogance,” Finn suggests solemnly, making Sofie laugh.
“I’d keep those opinions to yourself Finnbarr. Whatever your thoughts are about Mr. Calambor, he’s still the owner of the company that you work for, and he’s still the one signing your paycheck,” says Darwin with unusually testiness, especially since he is as likely to criticize the boss as any of them. The fact that he’s towing the line makes Sofie and Finn exchange worried glances. “I’ll go check us into the motel. You two deal with the provisions and the gear.” He hops out of the car as easily as his 60 years will allow him and starts making his way down the street, looking older than he had only a few short days ago.
Finn and Sofie watch him go. “What was that all about?” Sofie asks, pulling her long brown hair up into a pony tail, trying to give it some semblance of order after the long car journey.
“My money’s on the divorce, guessing he’s had an update from the lawyers,” Finn says.
Although it would be easy to think of Finn’s comment as simply an innocent throwaway comment, Sofie knows better. “You’re guessing, or you know?” Sofie looks at her colleague pointedly. “Have you been hacking into Darwin’s emails again? If he finds out, you know that he’s going to mount your head on a stick!”
“I don’t think you can call it hacking when it’s so easy,” Finn says evasively. “Anyway, market’s over there. You hit that, and I’ll start checking the gear.”
“Great, except we don’t want to broadcast to the good townsfolk of Beaumont why we’re here, and as soon as you start pulling out all our equipment, we’re going to get some attention. How about you just come with me and help carry the bags?” Sofie suggests, jumping out of the car and stretching her legs, enjoying the feeling of being able to walk around.
“What do I look like? The hired help?” Finn complains but follows Sofie anyway, grumbling all the way.
“No, you look like a hipster who’s seriously far from home, my friend,” Sofie jokes. Finn’s skinny jeans and ironic t-shirt couldn’t be more out of place amongst the conservative residents of the small-town.
“Whereas you blend right in. Your shirt probably cost more than these people make in a month.” Finn doesn’t bother to lower his voice, and they get a few curious glances from bystanders watching the new arrivals.
“Just try to stop talking for like five minutes. Your head won’t explode, I promise,” Sofie says through gritted teeth, as she virtually drags Finn towards the market.
After nearly coming to blows in the chips aisle, they both manage to make it out of the market alive. They fight like cat and dog, but they’re more like brother and sister than work colleagues. Sofie was the first person—outside of his family—who Finn came out to, and she was the only person in the office who knew he was gay. Rumors abounded, but he wanted to keep his private life and his work life as separate as possible. Sofie understood that; she felt the same way. Finn had been her first call when she and Tyler had split, and he’d offered to hack Tyler’s computer and fill it with inappropriate images that could send him to jail for a very long time. Sofie appreciated the sentiment, but it wasn’t really her style.
She knew that Finn had her back, and she had his. He was the only one whom she’d told about Luke Calambor’s advances towards her. Things had gotten so bad recently that he’d helped her install a video camera outside her apartment building and, within a couple of days, she’d found what she had expected. Luke was following her home—night after night—and staring at the window of her apartment, sometimes for hours. She hadn’t told Finn that Luke wasn’t the only reason she wanted eyes outside her apartment to feel safe. The other reason was something that she dealt with on her own.
Sofie’s thoughts are elsewhere as she crosses the road, and she stops dead in her tracks as she takes in the guy a little further down the street. In her defense, he’s not the kind of person that she could really miss. He’s tall and broad, handsome in a rugged, primal way. He wears his sandy colored hair longer than she would usually find attractive and, despite the distance, his sky blue eyes are piercing. Their eyes meet, and it’s like the world shifts under her feet. It’s a feeling that she can’t describe, like the Earth’s gravitational pull has moved to draw them together.
He ignores the cute girl with the low-cut top he’d been chatting to, and the smile that plays across his lips as they stare at each other makes Sofie’s heart beat like she’s just run a mile. She opens her mouth to say something but, all of a sudden, the blare of a car horn breaks the spell. She jumps out of the way as a kid behind the wheel speeds through the space where she’d just been standing.
“Jesus Christ, Sofe! You trying to get yourself killed?” Finn yells, sounding more shocked than angry.
Her eyes go back to the mystery guy outside the furniture shop. Evidently, he’s back to talking to and flirting with the cute girl. His eyes flick up to catch Sofie staring at him again, and he grins, like he knows exactly how sexy he is. Sofie quickly looks away and catches herself blushing to the roots of her hair.
“Earth to Sofie. Sofie Braun, come in.” Finn waves his hand in front of her face like she were in a catatonic state.
As she slaps his hand away, she laughs and, trying to cover her embarrassment, says, “I’m fine, Captain Kirk.” However, Finn’s too sharp for that. He peers past her, looking for what she’d been staring at, and the expression on his face tells her that he’s found it.
“Now, that, my little long-legged friend, is what you call a ten out of ten,” Finn says, without taking his eyes off the mystery man until Sofie drags him away.
“And doesn’t he know it! I don’t think he needs us to confirm it for him,” she replies irritably, feeling like an idiot for her little under-sexed female routine.
“Sofe, the dude is like Brad Pitt in
Legends of The Fall
, Ryan Gosling, and the Diet Coke guy all rolled into one,” says Finn, virtually salivating as he says the words.
“Finn, take a breath. I don’t think he bats for your team, not if the way he’s talking to Little-Miss-Hot-Pants says anything about him.” Sofie shoves the paper bags of groceries into the car and jumps in, slamming the door harder than she needs to.
“Is that a little bit of the green-eyed monster I’m detecting, Ms. Braun?” Finn asks, as he starts the car, clearly enjoying Sofie’s discomfort.
“How can I be jealous of someone I’ve never even met?” Sofie studiously ignores the guy in question as they reverse towards him. However, she can’t help but notice how he made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
“Well, maybe it’s not him specifically—despite his overwhelming hotness,” says Finn, as he fans himself like he’s just had a hot flush. “How long has it been?”
“How long has what been?” Sofie absently twirls the ends of her hair around her fingers, trying to ignore the question.
“Since you’ve had anyone in your bed other than yourself and, no, a vibrator doesn’t count. They have to be breathing,” he says, swinging a hard left and throwing Sofie against the door as he parks in the motel lot.
“You’re never driving again.” She points her finger at him and gets out of the car, refusing to answer the question.