(This was supposed to post at 6 am eastern. And it would have if I’d done it for the 23rd and not the 26th, sigh)
Today’s theme is: Defining moments. I love defining moments, those points where the character or the story turns and clicks. Don’t forget to click the links at the bottom of the excerpt to read the other participating authors’ excerpts today!
I chose an excerpt from Cascadia Wolves: Standoff – when Grace decides to take a huge risk and meet with Nationall Allied Wolves to help them against her brother – but far more than that happens at their first face to face meeting.
It’s long so I’ve put it behind a text jump…
CASCADIA WOLVES: STANDOFF BY LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2008, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, Samhain Publishing
Grace tried not to fidget as she sat at the park bench near the bus stop. They’d told her to wait there for instructions. She was pretty sure Warren’s people hadn’t followed her. Pretty sure. All she had was hope at that point.
A man sat next to her, putting a book down between them and leaning forward. It was titled The Source. At second sniff, the man wasn’t a man but a wolf and not a Pellini wolf.
Picking the book up, she opened it to the bookmarked page. Follow me and get in the car. Don’t look back.
An SUV with dark windows slid up and the door opened, Grace followed the man and got in, shutting the door behind her.
“We’re on the way to the meeting now. Are you wearing any device that could be a tracker?” The man turned to her. Blue-gray eyes took her in from head to toe. Handsome, this wolf, but violence emanated from him as well. She wondered if he blamed her for the insanity her brother spread like a disease.
“I-I don’t think so.”
“My name is Ben Stoner. We’re going to stop and check you over first and then we’ll get to the meeting. You have nothing to fear from us unless you bring it on yourself.” He sat back quietly until they reached a warehouse and drove up and inside.
“Out now please.” He held the door open and steadied her with a helping hand. “Wand her.”
“Don’t you want my name?” Grace asked in what she hoped was a calm voice.
“No. Not yet. Save it for the meeting. Do you have weapons?”
“Hey, don’t get offended. I’m taking you into a meeting with important people, I can’t let you walk in there packing. It’s sort of my job and all.”
“And my kind isn’t trustworthy?” She knew it sounded petulant but she was risking her life for them.
“I don’t know shit about your kind. I only know about Warren Pellini and his kind. If you’re his kind, no, you’re not trustworthy. But it seems to me, if you’re on the level, you’re risking a lot and you’re not his kind.”
“Oh. Well. I apologize for snapping at you.” She smoothed a hand down her skirt nervously.
He laughed. “I imagine you’re nervous. Now, my people say you’re clean so let’s go. One warning, no sudden moves when we arrive. All my people have shoot-to-kill orders. That’s my family in there, I won’t let you harm them. Understood?”
Two more SUVs joined them, one in front and the other behind. They entered several checkpoints and moved through gates and behind walls until they stopped in front of an ivy-covered house.
No mistaking the state of war though. Wolf guards patrolled every few feet carrying large, scary weapons and looking tightly wired. What had she gotten herself into? Rhetorical of course. Her brother may be a soulless murderer but she wasn’t. It was her responsibility to help.
“Let’s go then. Remember, no sudden moves, all right?”
Gulping and swallowing nothing but dust, she followed him into the building, surrounded by guards.
And when she entered the large dining room, dominated by a large table, in turn dominated by wolves so powerful the air vibrated with it, she nearly lost her knees as she locked eyes with the hazel-eyed male near the head.
Never had she seen a more incredibly alluring male. Strong. His power, quiet and confident, rolled from him and caressed her. She sent out silent thanks she was wearing a padded bra or everyone would have known just how she was being caressed. It wouldn’t protect her from their sensitive noses though as her pussy softened and readied for him alone. Christ, what was this? Some sort of odd adrenaline response to her fear and nervousness?
Cade turned up to get a look at their informant. Tegan had let them know the convoy arrived and they were on their way inside.
His gut did a freefall. She’d be a honey-colored wolf. Slight, petite even. Graceful though. Her hair hung in a straight curtain to her shoulders, smooth. Smooth like the creamy skin over high cheekbones. Lush lips. Big, scared brown eyes. She couldn’t have been more than barely five feet and an inch or two, even in her sensible heels. Her legs were bare beneath the skirt that skimmed just below her knees. The dark blue of the blouse didn’t do much for her coloring.
Without thinking, he stood and the room went silent. Megan moved to his side, ready to leap or do whatever he needed. Tegan flanked his other side and Ben moved to stand next to the woman.
“Who are you?” Cade asked.
“Grace. Grace Pellini. I have information for you.” Her voice, what was it about her voice? So soft, comforting. It wasn’t as if she whispered, but still, so soft, so pretty.
“Please, please sit down and talk to us.” Cade indicated the place just across from him and she sat, her eyes not moving from his.
“I’m Cade Warden, Alpha of Cascadia. This is Maxwell Williams, Alpha of Great Lakes.” Cade continued to introduce the major players but it was as if he said it on auto pilot as he struggled to get over the need to touch her.
“I know who Maxwell is.” Her mouth canted down for a moment before she seemed to mentally wave it away and focus back on him. “Alpha of Cascadia. My brother tried to kill your sister a little over two weeks ago.”
He scented her anxiety and wanted to fix it. The need to make her feel better made his head swim.
“Did you try to help him?”
The shock on her face answered his question. “No. I’d never. No. I wasn’t allowed in that part of the lab complex. But one of my, well, one of the wolves I trusted more than the others, not totally of course, he helped her, didn’t he?”
“Yes. One of the Pellini wolves kept me sedated and tried to protect me the best he could. He’s safe now. I’m Tegan, Cade’s sister and Second here at Great Lakes along with my mate, Ben.”
“Grace, tell us what you came here to say and why we should believe you.” Jack Meyers, a man who pulled no punches, said what needed to be said but it did annoy Cade on some level.
Still, the woman seemed to be made of sterner stuff and looked unruffled by Jack’s straightforward question. “When Warren was shunned and left Great Lakes to start his own Pack, I was in medical school. I lost my status here with Great Lakes just like the rest of my family did.” Her eyes cut to Maxwell briefly. “I had no Pack but for what Warren created. But I’ve never been close to my family. I’ve been estranged from them for several years but seven months back a body came through my emergency room and I smelled my brother on him. He’d—the victim—been partially transformed but his DNA wasn’t all wolf or all human. It was broken. His entire system just sort of collapsed in on itself.”
Cade pushed a glass of water her way and she sipped it before speaking again.
“I’d heard the rumor he’d…Warren…stolen a copy of the lycanthropy virus but I thought he’d lost it. That body in my ER said otherwise. So I went to him and said I wanted back in the family. I was alone, without a Pack, it wasn’t so hard to believe really. After a while, I offered to help with my medical skills and he didn’t trust me so he gave me nickel and dime stuff. But I did it and kept at it and the bodies showed up in my ER until I went nearly mad with the anger. I confronted him about it but pretended I was mad he was being so careless. That’s when he let me in part way and I’ve been working my way closer and closer to this project ever since. When he lost the big lab two weeks ago after you rescued Tegan, he let me in even more because he lost a lot of data. But I don’t know how much more I can get. He’s suspicious and I can’t hide how distressed I am with all this.”
She reached into her pocket and tossed a small memory card on the table. “There’s some data there. Not a lot because he’s got the computers in the labs monitored very closely.”
“Does he have the virus?” Cade asked.
“Not the full virus. What he has is partially correct. That’s why he’s been experimenting on the homeless humans. But he gets closer every week. What he used on the Enforcer he murdered was very close.”
Maxwell leaned forward. “What?”
“It’s not the complete virus. He had that once, back when he assassinated your Third two years ago. But he lost it then and apparently has spent the intervening time attempting to re-create it.”
“No, not that. We know that, or suspected anyway. We didn’t know what happened to Gina, our Enforcer. We never found her body. We’d heard he killed her but we didn’t know how.” Maxwell heaved a troubled sigh.
“Ah. Yes. He used a bastardized version on her and it killed her. I’m sorry for her and her family. I never met her of course, she came on after you so unceremoniously shunned my entire family from this Pack, but I’d never want an innocent to suffer for what the guilty did.” Her eyes held Maxwell’s and Cade’s wolf agitatedly pressed against his human skin.
“I did what I had to do. Warren was a cancer in this Pack.”
“Yes. Well you must be so proud of the outcome.” Grace cocked her head and glared at one of the most powerful wolves Cade had ever met. An amused smile dragged one corner of his mouth up. Gutsy, this wolf. “You had a responsibility to all your wolves and you tossed everyone in our family to the wind to punish my brother. It seems…unnecessarily overbroad. But what do I know? I’ve been without a Pack for years now because it was my criminally insane brother or nothing so I chose nothing.”
Maxwell rubbed his face and sighed.
Tegan settled in just behind Cade, he felt her amusement. Cade wondered idly just what he’d have done in Maxwell’s place. It seemed a bit of an overreaction to shun an entire family but having members in your Pack who were so openly criminal and destructive was a cancer. It ate away at morale. His brother-in-law Nick’s Pack, Pacific, had a similar problem, only it had been at the top. Some years before, Cascadia had its own issues. It was Monday morning quarterbacking to try and second guess another Alpha in a situation like this one.
“Can you speak with some of our researchers about this?” Cade asked her. “We’ve got a lab, have had one for several years now. I’m sure they’d understand you far better than we can.”
Those amber depths met his and settled in at the base of his spine.
“We can get you back to your location safely,” Maxwell said.
Cade turned, a growl trickling from his lips. “We can’t risk her now!”
“There’s no reason to believe anyone saw her meeting with us, Cade.” Maxwell’s eyes widened a moment as they moved back and forth between Cade and Grace.
“Can you just so casually put her in danger this way? We know what he’s capable of, Maxwell. Will you just throw her to the dogs because you’re done with her? Just toss her back like you did the rest of her family?” Whoa, that was out of bounds. Cade knew it and yet, he couldn’t quite stop the flow of anger driving his words.
“That’s not fair, Cade,” Tegan said quietly.
“No, he’s got a point.” Maxwell shrugged. “I did clearly make too broad a choice when I shunned Pellini’s whole family. Grace was one of my wolves and I didn’t do my duty by her or the others in Warren’s family when I shunned them all. But I’m not just tossing her into danger unceremoniously because I don’t care. I truly think she’s been unexposed. Ben said so and I trust my Enforcer.”
Without meaning to, Cade stood and moved to her. Alarmed, she’d stood as well, pushing her chair back, her stance mirroring his.
Things were moving fast, teetering on the edge of sliding out of control but Cade’s wolf had taken over.
Cade breathed in to try and center himself and push his wolf back down. Instead, he got a gut full of her scent. He grabbed her hands and she swayed. His entire world rocked on its foundations and re-settled as he truly saw her for what she was.
Dimly in the background he heard Megan curse and felt her move back.
“Someone want to tell me what the hell is going on?” Ben asked. “Do we have trouble or what?”
Possessiveness and protectiveness nearly blinded Cade as he grabbed Grace around the waist and put himself between Ben and her with a snarl. Ben stood his ground, examining Cade’s face.
“Not the kind of trouble you think.” He turned to face Grace again. The fear on her face softened when he touched her cheek, wanting to calm her. “Thank God you’re not his wife.”
Shocked laughter exploded from her, strained at the edges.
“I’m not going to send you back. You know that, right?”
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