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Chuck arrived promptly at 7:18pm, thirty minutes before sundown. When Summer opened her door, she laughed because he looked like the very epitome of the “tacti-cool vetbro.” He was decked out in black cargo pants, brown hiking boots, a black baseball cap pulled down to his deep blue eyes, and a black t-shirt that looked at least a size too small as it stretched over his pecs and delts.
“Didn’t you say you got out after Desert Storm? Aren’t you too old to be this big a douche?”
“What?” Chuck spluttered, clearly anticipating a warmer, or certainly less mocking, welcome.
“You look like either a contract mercenary or an extra to a shitty ‘Mission Impossible’ knock off,” Summer said with a grin.
“Summer, I am a contract killer hired to kill werewolves.”
Summer’s face fell and an uncomfortable silence stretched between them.
“It’s a twenty minute drive, we’d better go,” Chuck finally told her.
Summer nodded once. Without a word, she snagged a phone and keys, bolted her front door, and followed Chuck to his non-descript gray beater. For the second time in two nights, she questioned her own sanity for getting into a car with the man. Incubus. Demon. Whatever.
The beater’s engine purred to life under a dented but otherwise well kept exterior before Summer could close the door. She brooded, quietly wondering what she wanted and needed from this meeting. The silence of their drive was broken only by the hum of tires on cracked asphalt. Unlike the night before, Summer felt no need to dig into what was coming with Chuck.
As a girl, she had often daydreamed about what her life would be like had one or both of her parents survived. She built wild fantasies where one or the other would show up to the homestead, announce themselves and their desire to take Summer away. She longed for that fantasy of a normal life, normal friends, normal expectations of her life. She wanted a home culture more aligned with the culture of those around her.
Summer’s eyes swept the narrow paved drive as they drove towards the dock. She wouldn’t admit it aloud, but secretly she hoped she would see her father. To see him, not some violent Alpha. They would make eye contact. He would smile, acknowledge her and her place in both his life and heart. They would talk, maybe hostile at first, but when she explained her place in the pack, he would relent and let Aunt Rose go, leaving them in peace. Maybe they would even make plans to meet again, somewhere less hostile, and get to know one another.
The longing for something that she had never even had in the first place burned her. It was a homesickness for a home that never existed.
Chuck eased the beater off the bumpy park road and onto the gravel patch that passed as a parking lot. Summer opened the door and took a deep breath as she stepped out of the car.
“At least three other them,” she told Chuck. “And I can smell Aunt Rose.” Fear touched her voice.
Chuck gave one sweeping glance. “Amateurs,” he spat.
“They only brought three, plus Rose. One will be the Alpha, maybe two Lieutenants who can keep sane through a conversation, maybe not. And Rose is being used as a bargaining chip. To keep you on edge, off balance, or maybe just to show they can. It’s amateurish.”
“Why? And how do you know there aren’t more hiding in the trees?”
“How do you know there aren’t?”
“I can only smell the three, plus Rose.”
“Well, I can sense human heartbeats. So, unless they’ve found a way to shift under a waning crescent moon, there’s only three.”
Chuck shrugged. “I always knew when a patient was gone. Always know when I’m walking into an ambush. Being an incubus has its advantages,” he told her. “Even when it has its disadvantages,” he mumbled, probably thinking it was too quiet for Summer to catch.
A hint of warmth spread across her middle as she remembered him abruptly cutting off something that hadn’t really started last night. It soured when she recalled the strange, predatory silver look of his eyes. She felt another longing for something that she never had, but it burned her in another, less unpleasant way.
“Let’s go,” she told him.
They walked the short gravel parking lot to the paved road of the boat launch. A simple wooden pier paralleled the launch where it sloped into the shallow river. Despite it being a sultry Saturday night in the summer, not another person was around the launch, unusual for a Southern water hole. Summer suspected that any fun seekers had been driven off when the Alpha and his crew had arrived.
Summer’s eyes graze past the three feral werewolves to look Aunt Rose up and down as she approached. They had taken the old woman’s cane and put tape over her mouth. One strong looking feral supporting her elbow and there was a trace of blood crusted in her silver hair. But other than an irritated expression on her face, she looked unharmed and well. Summer internally sighed with relief.
Summer’s eyes moved to the man beside her. He was average height, slightly shorter than the two muscular wolves beside him. Pale blond hair lay in whisps around his hair like corn silk. She tried to make out his eye color but couldn’t at this distance. She was curious that he looked so different from her own gold, brown, and chocolate coloring. Maybe because she resembled her the coloring of her wolf and he was born human. Another few steps and she could make out his pale blue eyes in his hardened face.
Summer opened her mouth to speak as they approached, but Chuck caught her arm discretely.
“Cautiously,” he told her in a whisper.
She pulled her arm out of his and glared at him. “I know what I’m doing, demon.” Summer strode forward and suddenly, every inch of her radiated the same commanding presence she had the night before.
“Alpha!” She called out.
The blonde in the center of the group straightened at her bark and Summer was almost disappointed to see he was the leader.
“Summer?” he called back.
If Summer flinched, she hid it in her forceful strides forward. “I want my Aunt back.”
“Then come and take her.”
“No. This is a parlay. We won’t resort to violence.” Her words were calm, but another glance at the blood in Rose’s hair had anger welling up inside her.
“You won’t resort to violence, you mean? I’ll do whatever the hell I damn well please.”
Summer halted several paces away. Her lip curled and she practically quivered with rage at his arrogance, but she held it together.
“Calm, he’s trying to rile you up,” Chuck whispered on her right.
“What do you want?” Summer asked. She was quiet, her voice calm and steady. Inside, she still seethed.
“Quite simply, I want you.”
A hundred childhood dreams and fantasies took flight in an instant. The seething anger ebbed away. Summer’s heart swelled and she took a deep breath, ready to answer.
Chuck’s hand brushed lightly against hers, pulling her back from the childish fantasies. She composed herself and asked the only question that mattered.
“You’re my child, isn’t that enough?”
“Why now?” Summer clarified and frost could have grown on her words.
“I always intended to come for you,” he told her and she felt the emotional whiplash as hope flared in her once more. “But the pack wouldn’t let me. I could never get close enough to the Asteraceae homestead to contact you.” He gave her a warm smile as one of his enforcers shifted behind him. “I loved your mother and knew you would be special like her. I couldn’t let someone so special slip from my life.”
The enforce werewolf shuffled again and Summer realized it was because Aunt Rose was squirming. She caught Summer’s eyes and unreadable look in them. Summer frowned.
Her father must have caught the frown and thought it was directed at him. “I wasn’t always feral, you know. I met Autumn, your mother, before I was ever bitten. I loved her. I wanted to spend my life with her and tried to prove it every day. I moved to the homestead, the only human in the entire settlement.”
He hung his head, as if the words weighed on him. “But, I was bitten not long after in an attack on the homestead. It was ok at first. I had an entire pack to ease me through the transition, even if they were all born werewolves.”
Summer’s heart warmed to hear that her pack would try to help him when she knew how much they had always told her they despised bitten werewolves.
“Autumn became pregnant not long after,” he said and grinned as if the memory warmed him. “As it turns out, being mated to a bitten werewolf allowed me to hang on to sanity. Much longer than if I had been alone with no one to help ground me. She taught me what a feral pack could not and I adapted well. But, the pack started to turn on us. They were afraid of me. Of what our baby, you, would be. But Autumn stood by me and refused to let them kill me. I supposed I started getting more violent. They told me I could be the pack’s ‘enforcer,’ but while useful, I was shunned for what I did.”
Hope flared in Summer, hearing that her father had faced what she had faced. The pack had assumed the worst, not willing to let either of them have a chance to be themselves. She ignored Aunt Rose’s frantic squirming.
“Why did you leave me?” she asked. “You know what they were like, that they would do the same to me. Why would you leave me with them?”
“I tried. I tried to bring you with me, please understand,” he pleaded. “I tried to convince Autumn to leave, to let me bite her so she could be strong like me, but she refused.” He shook his head sadly.
“Bite her?” Summer asked, her eyes widening. Chuck stepped a half step closer to her.
“I left you with Dittany and took Autumn for a drive. I knew, I just knew, that if I could get her away, get her somewhere the pack couldn’t interfere, I could convince her. I tried to explain why she should let me bite her: she’d be stronger, she would feel more like me, we could run away from the pack and their asinine rules together. She was considering allowing it until I explained that we would have would bite you too.” His face went hard. “She refused, not wanting to let that happen to you until you were old enough to make the decision on your own.” He shook his head, cornsilk hair drifting around in a halo. “I knew that once Autumn was bitten, she’d forget about you, Summer. She would only want to run and hunt, unless you were bitten as well. And she refused. Refused to make you the best version of you!”
Summer stepped back, into Chuck’s chest. His reassuring warmth spread into her.
“I now regret killing Autumn in that crash and abandoning you. But now that I hear how spectacularly violent you are, I know I was wrong then. You are the child of a born and a bitten werewolf. You have the control and the violence I need to run the two packs!”
Every childhood fantasy and hope evaporated in Summer’s sudden rage, a piece of her heart dying in an instant.
“Murder!” she howled and launched herself at him.
Chuck grabbed her by the waist before she could complete her leap and dragged her back, arms like iron bands holding her against his chest.
“So, you won’t be joining me then?” the Alpha asked. In Summer’s mind, she had already cut any acknowledgment that this man could be kin.
“Never,” she snarled and thrashed in Chuck’s arms.
“Then I have no need of her,” the Alpha said.
Before anyone could react, his hand transformed into a claw-tipped paw and he swiped at Rose, tearing her throat out without a single change in his expression.
Rose’s eyes widened and locked on Summer. A shrill screech filled Summer’s ears as she watched Rose convulse and drop to the ground. Blood gushing down her chest from a gaping hole in her neck as she fell. Summer was spun and tumbled, her arms and fists whirling furiously as she fought but was hauled at inhuman speeds across the parking lot. The shrill screech died as Chuck threw her in the back seat and she realized it was her howl. The beater roared to life and Chuck tore out of the parking lot as Summer begged him to go back, to let her fight the Alpha, or to retrieve Rose’s body.
“You shouldn’t have held me back,” she howled. “I could have grabbed her, I would have saved her!” Tears rolled down her cheeks and her horrified howls became choked sobs.
Chuck didn’t answer; he simply drove as fast as he could back to Summer’s townhouse. Summer curl up in a ball on his back seat. There no words left. They both knew they had been outnumbered and nothing could have prevented what happened.
An indeterminate time later, Chuck pulled Summer from his backseat, cradling her in his arms as he carried her into her townhouse. He set her gently on her couch, facing the darkened bay.
Somewhere, a part of Summer registered a dim light coming on and the clinking of glass. A tumbler of whiskey was shoved in her hand. She downed the contents in a single swallow and held it out for more. Chuck simply swapped the glass in his hand for hers then went to refill a glass for himself.
Summer sipped once, listening to the sound of crickets in her backyard and water lapping at the retaining wall that held back the bay.
“How much of that did you already know?” she asked into the semi-dark.
The sound of liquid pouring stopped and there was a long silence.
“All of it,” he admitted quietly.
“Get the fuck out of my home.”
Chuck set the tumbler down and walked out, his lithe steps silent in her darkened home.
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