Hey there, welcome to my playroom! This is where I'll be posting excerpts from published works and WIP's. To start things off, here's an excerpt from my latest release, Rescued: Southwestern Shifters book 1. Hope you enjoy it! Meet Gabe and Mika...
Gabriel Staley finished feeding the last dog in the kennels, rubbing his fingers through the blue heeler’s coarse fur before standing and closing the gate. He’d needed to spend extra time playing with Jojo and working on obedience with him. Jojo had been abused at some point, as had most of the dogs at Gabriel’s animal shelter. It amazed him how cruel people could be, not only to dogs, but also to any animal. It was a real problem, particularly out here where he lived, in this little podunk town of Shasta.
To be fair, he didn’t actually live in town; he lived on a few acres on the outskirts, in what he considered a decent house, nice but by no means fancy. Gabriel had inherited the place when his grandparents had passed away in a car wreck. He had already been living with them for several months, ever since he’d come out to his parents. Finding out that their only son was gay was more than his evangelical-loving parents had been willing to tolerate. There was no understanding or unconditional love in them, and Gabriel had accepted the demise of their relationship. His grandparents had welcomed him into their home, and their love and acceptance had been a soothing balm to his injured heart.
Yes, his grandparents had loved and accepted him, and they’d also made sure he knew that the God his parents had used against him was not the God they believed in. After being disowned and labelled an abomination, Gabriel had been on shaky ground emotionally. His grandparents had taken him in and shown him what love was supposed to be, in the way they treated him, and the way they treated one another. Their love for each other had been stronger the day they died than when they first met, and though it hurt Gabriel horribly, he always felt it was best that they’d died together. He knew it would have been what they wanted.
Arching his back to work out the muscles that were stiff from bending and lifting, Gabriel glanced at the semi-enclosed kennels he’d built himself, making sure all the gates on them were shut properly. He had converted an old barn for this purpose, dividing it into two rows of six chain link pens each. Not wanting the dogs to be confined for hours at a time, he‘d installed doggie doors in the back of each kennel and had put up chain link fencing that ran ten feet out behind each shelter, giving the dogs at least a little room. It wasn’t perfect at all, but it was a lot better than what waited for them out on their own.
As Gabe had found out, courtesy of his friend Todd Benson, a deputy for the Sheriff’s department, the stray dogs in Shasta were usually killed in whatever cruel manner Sheriff Kaufman felt like using. No one other than Gabe, Todd, and the local veterinarian Dr. Adam Soames seemed to care; it was just the way things had always been done in Shasta. The three men worked together to try to change that, one rescue at a time.
Gabriel headed towards his house, thinking how much he would enjoy a long, hot bath when his cell phone rang. Pulling the phone from his jeans pocket, he glanced down and sighed. He tapped the screen and brought the phone up to his ear.
“Hello, Todd. What’s going on?” Gabe knew since the deputy was on shift, he must be calling about a rescue.
“Gabe, I found a wolf, of all things. He’s in bad shape, though.”
A wolf? What the hell? While wolves weren’t unheard of in New Mexico, thanks to the transfer of wolves to the Gila National Forest, Gabe hadn’t heard of any of them working their way down into northern Texas.
“How bad is he hurt? Where do I need to meet you?” Gabe had more questions he wanted to ask, but those were the most important ones, so he would start there.
“Well, I got a call in from Mrs. Schumaker saying she thought she saw a big dog out by her barn. She was worried it might be rabid or something. Anyways, I got out here and damned if there isn’t this huge black wolf out behind the barn. Except he’s just lying here, and he looks like he’s been starved or he’s sick, I don’t know. I called Adam and he’s on his way right now. Can you head right over?”
Adam had become involved in the rescues when Gabriel had gone to the man for help with some of the strays he took in. After a few visits to the vet clinic with different dogs, Adam had finally asked Gabe what was going on. Once he’d learned what Todd and Gabe were doing and why, he volunteered to help as much as he could, giving free medicines and other needed services, including spaying and neutering. While Gabe didn’t really know him in a personal manner, he did know him very well in a professional manner and had a great deal of respect for the man.
After he assured Todd he would be there as soon as possible, Gabe tossed some towels into his truck, along with a blanket and a digital camera. He considered bringing what medical supplies he had at the house, but since Adam was going to be there, Gabriel didn’t see the need for his own meagre supplies.
Heading over to Mrs. Shumaker’s, Gabe wondered how the wolf had gotten into its present situation. He was a little nervous at the idea of approaching a wild animal, but Todd had been adamant the animal was too weak and possibly too close to death to be dangerous. Gabe hoped to hell the man was right, though he didn’t like thinking of it being in such a sorry state. With any luck, Adam would be there within minutes of Gabe’s arrival and he would know what to do.
Todd’s cruiser was pulled up alongside Mrs. Shumaker’s house. Gabe could see the barn when he pulled up into the dirt drive, and Todd stood at the side of the building towards the back. He gestured for Gabe to drive his truck on around to where he was waiting. Putting the truck in park, Gabriel left the engine running just in case he needed to jump in and make a quick escape. He knew it was a kind of wimpy thing to do, but still. Gabe got out and walked over to Todd, looking past him to the dark, furry lump lying in a pathetic heap on the ground. He stared hard, concentrating until he finally saw the wolf’s side rise slightly with an intake of air. Still alive, that was good. The sound of an engine had Gabe glancing back to see that Adam had arrived. He turned back to the wolf, feeling an irresistible pull towards the animal.
“Look at him, Gabe. The poor thing’s barely alive.” Todd’s voice was thick with sympathy. Gabe understood; his own stomach was clenched with anxiety for the wolf. Strange that, somewhere along the drive over here, he had gotten past being leery of the wild animal. He walked around Todd, heading straight for the wounded wolf. He vaguely heard Adam yell in the background to wait, to be careful It didn’t matter, though. Gabe’s desire to reach the wolf superseded anything else.
Eyes never leaving the wolf, he approached quietly, not wanting to startle the animal. He was barely aware of Adam a few feet behind him, as the pressing need to see to the wolf was too strong to ignore. The wolf opened his eyes, rolling them back to see who or what was approaching. A low growl rumbled from his chest, but for some reason Gabe didn’t feel it was a threat. A warning, perhaps, but not a threat-- not yet.
The wolf struggled to roll onto his belly, turning his head to look at Gabe through whiskey-colored eyes. Gabe felt the air leave his body with a whoosh-sound. Those eyes seemed to reach all the way into his soul, sparking a feeling of recognition and something else, something that made him feel warm from the inside out. Never blinking, he knelt down beside the wolf’s shoulder and extended his hand towards the muzzle.
“Gabe, don’t. He’s hurt and wild…”
Adam’s whispered command fell on deaf ears as the wolf sniffed Gabe’s outstretched hand warily, then gently licked it. Gabe threaded his fingers through the dark fur along the wolf’s nape. Eyes narrowing, he leaned forward to look at the scabby wound between the wolf’s shoulder blades.
“Hey, Adam, come look at this. What the fuck?” Gabe leaned closer, peering at the jagged, days-old wound. The wolf watched him sombrely, panting rapidly now. A shuffling sound alerted Gabe to someone’s approach. He turned and spotted the hypodermic needle the vet was clutching and frowned. Another low growl came from the wolf, and Gabe immediately felt the wariness Adam’s presence was causing the animal.
“Put the damned syringe away, Adam,” he ordered, eyes narrowing in agitation.
“Gabe, that’s not reasonable. This is a wild, wounded animal. If he lashes out, anyone around could be seriously injured.” His grip on the syringe tightened.
Gabe took a calming breath, trying to impart to the wolf a feeling of tranquility and acceptance. He figured it was worth a shot, as he had always believed many animals could pick up on and reflect a person’s emotions. The wolf lay his head down by Gabe’s knees and the growling ceased. He let out a whimper, and closed those beautiful brown eyes.
“He’s fine. Look at him; he’s too messed up do more than lay here. Just come look, I’ll stay up by his head while you get beside me on my right side, closer down to his hips. That way, if he does snap, it will be me that gets it.”
Adam looked at the wolf closely. Sighing, he slipped the syringe into his shirt pocket before coming to squat on Gabe’s right side. Gabe glanced back and saw that Todd was keeping vigil towards the front of the barn, watching just in case Sheriff Dickwad showed up. Adam bent to examine the injury Gabe had found.
“Shit.” Adam prodded the wound cautiously with his fingers. “Damn, it looks like someone creased him, probably to slow him down so they could catch him.”
He muttered something under his breath that sounded like ‘dumb fuckers’ to Gabe, but he couldn’t be sure. It was too hard to hear with the roar of anger that erupted in his head at the vet’s words. Someone had deliberately shot this creature, stunning him, injuring him, so they could capture him? For what purpose? They could have easily killed the wolf—in fact, it was a miracle they hadn’t.
Adam slid his hand around the wolf’s neck, cursing softly. If not for the look of fury in his eyes and the softly spoken curses, Gabe would have thought the man was unaffected by the situation. Every muscle in Adam’s body seemed relaxed and calm as he continued the examination. It seemed that whatever fear Adam had felt a few minutes ago was overridden by his feelings to the barbaric assault on the wolf.
“Feel here, around its neck. It’s raw all the way around.”
Gabe ran his hands around the wolf’s neck, feeling the wound left behind by some type of restraint. He was so angry by now he started to tremble, hands shaking as he brushed the dark hair. What had been done to this wolf? Who had done it? If he found out, it was a sure bet someone was going to get their ass kicked. Gabe met Adam’s gaze, seeing a reflection of his own anger there.
“So they creased it, caught it, chained or tied it up. Looks like they had the wolf for a few days, you reckon?”
Adam nodded. “Yeah, I’m thinking some dumb ass thought it would make a cool pet, and found out there was an error or two in their theory. Like the fact that you can’t domesticate a wild animal.” He continued his inspection, running his hands over the wolf’s torso, hips, and legs. The vet slid his hands down the wolf’s belly and Gabe felt the wolf’s body tense. Shaking his head at Gabe’s worried look, Adam brought his hands back up to the wolf’s side and nudged Gabe. “And this beautiful wolf is a male as I just found out. That’s why he tensed up, I hope, since I groped the poor guy.” Chuckling softly, Adam nodded at Gabe. “I want you to move around to the other side, up by its head. I need to look in his mouth.”
While Gabe slid around to the other side, he murmured soothing words to the wolf, not wanting it to be spooked, and wondered why the hell it irritated him hearing that Adam’s hands had confirmed the wolf’s sex. Gabe shook off the ridiculous surge of anger and watched as Adam pulled on the skin, tugging it up to check for dehydration. Nodding to himself, the vet moved on to the wolf’s mouth, looking inside the muzzle then checking his eyes. Gabe wondered if Adam realised he was no longer worried about being bitten.
Adam continued to inspect the animal for other injuries in his usual efficient manner. The only obvious ones he found were the crease and the neck wound, along with the dehydration and malnourishment.
“Alright, I don’t feel any obvious breaks, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a series of x-rays to make sure, and I’d like to draw some blood and run a few tests on that end, too. We’d have to take him to the clinic for that, though.” Adam looked at him and Gabe shook his head. He knew it was more dangerous to take the wolf to the clinic unless it was absolutely necessary. While he didn’t like the idea of taking chances with the animal’s health, Gabe couldn’t risk taking the wolf to town unless there was a pressing need for it.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Adam. The clinic is in the town, has and there’s a law against wolves and wolf-hybrids in the town limits. You can’t tell me Sheriff Kaufman wouldn’t jump at a chance to throw that law at us and force euthanasia.” Gabe knew the bastard would get his rocks off by doing so. The wolf whimpered and scooted up against him, almost as though he understood the conversation. Well, maybe he did, or at least the emotions behind it.
Adam sat considering, then nodded. “Yeah, you have a point. The problem is, if there is some internal damage that I’ve missed in this quick exam, he could very well die.”
The wolf whimpered again, pushing closer into Gabe, almost knocking him on his ass. He flung an arm back to catch himself, not wanting to sprawl out and risk scaring or hurting his wolf.
What the hell? Why was he thinking of this beautiful, wounded creature as his? Gabe pushed that thought out, because it made him just as much a monster as the bastard who had hurt the wolf in an attempt to own it, didn’t it? To want to keep the wolf for his own rather than nurse him back to health and return him to the wild.
“Do you think that’s the case, doc?” He stilled, waiting for the answer.
“I don’t think so, but I can’t swear on it, Gabe. You do have a point about Sheriff Kaufman, though, so I think we’d better get him to your place, put him on an IV to re-hydrate him, clean and dress the wounds he has. I’ll leave you some sedatives in case you need them, too.” Adam ran his fingers over the wolf’s head, gently scratching behind the twitchy ears. “You’ll need to watch the wolf closely in case something is damaged inside of him. I don’t think there is, but…” Adam shrugged and stroked the wolf’s dark head. That surge of anger coursed through Gabe again as he watched the vet’s strong hand brush over the wolf’s head. What the hell was wrong with him? Christ, he was acting like a jealous lover!
Todd jogged towards them, motioning for them to hurry up, looking worriedly from his friends to the road.
“Y’all need to hurry it up. Kaufman radioed to see what the hold up was here, and he sounded suspicious. I wouldn’t put it past the fucker to come screaming down the drive any minute.” Todd nodded towards the wolf. “Think he’s going to be okay, Adam?”
Gabe watched as Todd’s gaze roamed over the other man, taking advantage of the vet’s preoccupation with the wolf to admire his broad shoulders and tight ass that seemed to have Todd tied in knots. Gabe suspected his friend of having a…thing…for the vet for about a year now.
Not that the man seemed to notice. Todd jerked his gaze back around to the road as Adam and Gabe rose together, cradling the wolf between them. If Gabe just had some hint, some clue that Adam might be interested in Todd, he wouldn’t worry over the situation. Yes, Todd had always kept the closet door shut up tight, not wanting to deal with almost certain rejection from his family, and it was a sure bet Sheriff Kaufman would find some reason to fire him, too. But Gabe knew, and Todd knew he knew.
Hell, Gabe wasn’t even sure that Adam was gay. He realised that he’d never seen Adam out with a woman, but he’d never seen him out with a man, either. He almost groaned at the hopelessness of his friend’s situation.
Grunting, Gabe and Adam carried the wolf to Gabe’s truck. Todd ran over and opened the door to the crew cab, holding it while the other two men gingerly slid their patient onto the blanket in the back seat. Todd was acting spooked, and Gabe knew they needed to get the hell out of here.
“Let’s go!” Todd’s voice was uncharacteristically sharp as he barked out the order. Gabe and Adam felt his urgency and sprinted around to their vehicles and jumped in. Gabe made a u-turn and laid on the gas with Adam right behind him. So far so good. Now, all they had to do was get back to Gabe’s place without a certain sheriff interfering.