Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 20

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 20

Unable to just sit in the silence while she waited, Shelley walked to the big picture window on the other side of the room and looked out over the parking lot. Dillon was down there, leaning with his back against the building and one foot propped up on the wall, James Dean style. Dean with longer hair and a beard, anyway.

Reluctantly, Shelley moved away, not wanting him to see her. She understood needing space all too well, and also what happened when she couldn’t get it. She couldn’t imagine how he was feeling.

Going to the back wall of the room, she paced slowly back and forth, back and forth, not really paying much attention to the TV. It felt like hours before she heard footsteps in the hall. Her watch confirmed that it had been just a little under nintey minutes since Dillon had walked out. She hoped it was him coming back.

“Shell-EY? Shelley-stein?”

She winced at the sound of that too-familiar voice and took a deep breath before the cloud of cheap perfume and bad manners hit.

“Shelley Frank, where the heck—there you are. Where’s my Tabby-cat? And why aren’t you in her room? Oh right. You leaving her alone is the whole reason she’s here. Be a doll and point me in the right direction, Steiny.”

Shelley moved toward the diminuative red-headed tornado,  masking her surprise at Aunt Jane’s lack of four-inch heels. Intensely self-conscious about her four-foot-five height, Jane never left the house without her stilts, at least not that Shelley had ever seen.

“She’s still in surgery, so she doesn’t have a room yet. I haven’t heard from the doctor yet either. It’s been…” Shelley checked the clock on the wall, “Wow. It’s been nearly four hours.”

“That’s just unacceptable,” Jane shook her head, digging around in the big leather purse she carried. “Where’s the nurse? You should have heard something by now. I’ll go ask. They won’t dare deny her mother information. I’ll bring the wrath of God down on this place.”

Shelley was relieved to see a doctor come into the waiting room behind Jane. He looked haggard and ready for a nap.

“Ms. Franks?” He waited for Shelley’s nod. She gestured in Jane’s direction.

“This is–”

Jane stepped forward, impatient. “I’m Jane Thomas,  Tabitha’s mother. So you can talk to me from now on.  How is she? Is she going to make it?”

“It’s still very touch and go, Ms. Thomas. Your daughter sustained extensive injuries to her leg, and in order to save her life, we had to amputate it. She’s still in critical condition, but if she does okay in the next twelve hours or so, then I think the prognosis is good. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Jane trembled, and Shelley pushed a chair behind her knees just before she fell.

“Oh my God. You cut my baby-girl’s leg off? Without even asking me? You monster — how could you?” She doubled over, putting her face in her hands and sobbing loud enough to wake the dead. If that was possible, Shelley thought wryly. Guess they’d find out.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Shelley said, trying to process the news that Tabby’s leg was gone. “Can we see her?”

“Not just yet,” he said. “She hasn’t quite woke up yet. But a nurse will come and get you just as soon as she’s awake.”

Shelley nodded. “Thank you. I know that was a lot of work, and we appreciate everything you’ve done to save Tabitha’s life.”

Jane looked up from Shelley to the doctor and back, her eyes wide.

“You’re thanking this guy for taking Tabby’s leg off? I knew you were desperate, Steiny, but hitting on your cousin’s doctor is a new low.”

“How about I just check on you later when Tabitha is awake? Then I can answer any questions you might have about her therapy and rehabilitation.” He gave Shelley a look of compassion before he left, and she was grateful.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jane murmured, swiping tears off her face. “She’ll be ugly now, with a fake leg, and no man is gonna want someone who can’t take care of herself. “

Shelley reached out and gave her aunt’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’m sure she’ll be back to her old party-girl self soon enough.”

Jane looked at her as though she’d forgotten Shelley was there.

“Oh dear…you should go home. I’ll take care of Tabby, but you’ve done quite enough for her lately, don’t you think? You go get some rest. There’s no reason for you to be here anymore.”


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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 19

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 19

Dillon had taken the pack off his back and was digging through his supplies. He tossed her a small package that looked like a rectangle of foil. An emergency heat blanket, the label said. When she looked back at him he was already opening one, and he spread it over Mike.

“We’ll treat for shock and hang tight for a bit. The guys have already radioed for medical personnel, and they’re on the way. We don’t want to do anything that might make any of these wounds worse.”

Shelley nodded and opened the packet, spreading the foil over Tabby’s still form. Dillon rolled up a towel next and put it under Mike’s feet, so she did the same for Tabby. Then they sat, for what seemed like hours until the medical team finally came over the rise. She checked her watch as she moved out of their way, surprised that it had only been 20 minutes. But they were pretty close to camp, relatively speaking.

The next few hours were a blur, as they followed the EMTs down the mountain, helping to carry the rescue litters. Tabitha and Mike were loaded into an ambulance and Shelley followed with Dillon in his truck. They finally settled into worn out hospital chairs with fresh cups of waiting-room-coffee and a sigh.

“The doctor didn’t look too hopeful.” Shelley took a small sip of the strong but watery brew. “He looked kind of green around the gills when he saw the maggots, actually.”

“Well, that’s what he has nurses for.” Dillon tossed his coffee down in one gulp. “I just hope we got to them in time. There’s only so much these folks can do. Only thing for us to do now is wait.”

Shelley nodded, and then fished her cell phone out of her purse. “I need to call Tabitha’s mom — I can’t believe I didn’t think about that before. She’ll want to drive over. Does anyone in Mike’s family need to know?”

Dillon shook his head. “He doesn’t have any — just me.” He didn’t seem interested in sharing further, so Shelley gave him a small nod and stood up.

“I’ll just be in the hall over there. I shouldn’t be long.”

When she got back, Dillon was standing with a doctor in scrubs, and her stomach roiled. Surely it was too soon for news…good news, anyway.

“Thank you,” Dillon said, slumping into his seat as Shelley walked over to them. The look on his face said everything, and she turned to the doctor.

“Tabitha or Mike?”

“Mr…uh, Mike didn’t make it, I’m afraid. I’m sorry.”

Shelley nodded and slipped down into the chair beside Dillon. He leaned forward, elbows on his thighs and head in his hands. His shoulders shook slightly, and she put an arm over them, lightly, not knowing what else to do.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

He sat there for another moment, and then abruptly stood, not looking at her.

“I need some air, and some space. I’ll be back later.”

Shelley nodded at his back as he stalked out of the waiting room. Leaning back in her chair, she closed her eyes and reflected on the harsh words Tabitha’s mother Jane had yelled into her ear just a few minutes ago.

This is all your fault, she’d said. You were supposed to be a calming influence for her. You were supposed to watch her, and keep her out of trouble. Where were you when all this happened? Why would you let her just go off with a strange guy into the mountains? Why? 

And now the ‘strange guy’ was dead, Tabby was fighting for her life, and none of it would have happened if she’d just said no to the whole trip and talked Tabby down. Or maybe if she hadn’t left the speed dating night so early. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so concerned with her own boredom, and stayed closer to Tabby instead…

Opening her eyes, she shook her head. None of that mattered right now. All that mattered was Tabby making it through this. As long as she survived, everything would be okay.

Somehow.


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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 18

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 18

“Tabitha!” Shelley pushed past the men, slapping their hands off as they tried to stop her. The grade was steeper than it looked, but she leaned back and kept going, zig-zagging down the hill to slow her momentum. Heavy footsteps pounded behind her and Dillon called her name. Why did he want her to stop? Why wasn’t he rushing down to help his friend too?

A distinct coppery smell wafted past her on the breeze, followed by the smell of rotting meat. She refused to believe Tabby was dead. She couldn’t be. Not after all they’d done together. All they still had left to do. She just…couldn’t be dead.

“Shelley, you have to stop! Look across the fire!”

Dillon’s voice finally penetrated and she looked up, seeing nothing across the firepit except another hill, that one covered in trees and shrouded in the dimness of a forest in daytime. Just a few more steps and she’d be right next to Tabby…

Just then, she saw the glowing eyes. Smelled the stench of rotten meat, and knew it wasn’t coming from either of their friends.

Bear-breath was much, much worse than she’d ever bothered to imagine. And those eyes were fixed straight ahead, locked onto her as a long tongue licked drool from black jowels.

A shot rang out from somewhere behind her and the eyes and muzzle went sideways. The animal grunted and the earth vibrated as his body hit the ground with a solid thud.

Shelley couldn’t take her eyes off the beast. It was bigger than she’d thought a black bear would be, and she imagined a breath, maybe two even though the shot had run right through the head. When a heavy hand fell on her shoulder, she nearly jumped out of her skin and gasped.

“Just me. The bear’s dead. Are you okay?”

She finally turned her head to see the concern in Dillon’s eyes. Swallowing hard past the lump in her throat, she nodded.

“Who shot it?”

Dillon pointed to John, now standing way too close to that carcass for comfort.

“He circled out the moment you started running — hit the hill full speed and didn’t stop until he found his mark. Thank God.”

A low groan from the bodies on the ground pulled them both back to the reason they were there in the first place, and Shelley whirled around, kneeling on the ground beside Tabitha while Dillon went to Mike.

“Tabby? Are you okay? Wake up — talk to me!” Shelley grabbed her shoulder and gently pulled Tabby from her stomach to her back, earning another groan in the process.

“Shelley?” Tabby blinked up at her, but didn’t seem to see her. “Is that really you? You’re like a mirage. All fuzzy or wavy or something…” Her head lolled to the side and Shelley gave the rest of Tabby’s body a quick glance, expecting the blood to be on her torso. But it wasn’t.

“Tabitha — wake up Tabby! What happened to your leg?” When she got no response, Shelley put two fingers to the side of Tabby’s neck and prayed.

Her heart was beating, but it seemed weak. Shelley moved to look at the wound on her leg, and that’s when she realized that the putrid smell she’d been trying to ignore wasn’t bear breath, but rather a long, obviously infected gash across Tabby’s thigh.

“Oh God,” she breathed, wondering how long the two had been laying in this spot. The wound was dirty, and…were those maggots?

Momentarily at a loss for what to do, she glanced over at Dillon and Mike, now on his back too. Mike’s wounds were considerably more substantial — long gashes across his chest, and apparently in worse shape than Tabby’s.

“What do we do?” she asked, looking helplessly at Dillon. “I don’t even know how to help.”


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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 17

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 17

“Got something!”

Shelley and Dillon both turned as the man just above them appeared in the trees. He was waving at them, motioning them to join him. Dillon stood and offered Shelley a hand. When she took it, her eyes met his and he smiled. He may have pulled a little harder than necessary when he helped her up, but she didn’t complain when she stumbled against his chest.

Neither did he, she noticed.

The second guy came running from up below the trail and just kept running past. Shelley frowned.

“Come on.” Dillon took a step back, but still kept her hand in his. “Let’s go see what they found.”

Shelley followed him up through the underbrush and tried not to think about what they might find. It was almost anticlimatic when they reached the other two, and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“What are we looking at, John?” Dillon asked. The man held out his hand, palm up, to reveal a heart-shaped locket Shelley had never seen before.

“That’s not Tabby’s,” she said, a glimmer of relief easing the tighteness in her chest. “It’s not hers. Someone else must have lost it.”

She glanced at Dillon, and saw the tightness in his jaw as he reached out to pick up the locket.

“It’s Mike’s. He keeps a picture of his mother and his daughter in there, and carries it in his pocket.” He put it in his own pocket. “He was definitely up here then. Any signs of where they might have blazed a trail?”

John nodded. “Broken branches and scuffed dirt all over the place. I hiked a little ways back and found blood, but it looks like they’re covering it as they go. Probably trying to confuse any prey animals who might be after a meal.”

“Would that work?” Shelley asked, earning three rather dubious stares.

“Probably not,” John answered. “But won’t hurt either. Just makes it a little harder to tell when the bleeding started and stops. But we’ll be able to follow the trail. Are you ready?”

Dillon looked at Shelley. “Are you sure you want to do this? I think we’re getting close, and no one would blame you if you wanted to wait back at camp….”

“I should smack you for that,” she replied, moving past him. “I’m going. Come on.”

John took the lead again and Dillon fell into step by Shelley. “I didn’t mean to insult you,” he said as they walked, watching the path appear almost magially as John cleared broken branches and dirt piles out of the way.

It wasn’t long before they saw the smoke. Practically running, they made it over the next rise just to see an impromptu campsite at the bottom and two people laying motionless beside a dying fire.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 18!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 16

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 16

The day was beautiful as Shelley trekked across the mountainside with Dillon and the others. Too pretty, really, she thought, her gaze drifting across tall grasses swaying around blooming flowers, tall trees rattling their leaves, and the occasional tiny woodland creature darting back into hiding. Didn’t nature know her friend was missing, and probably hurt? Why was everything so…normal?

She’d first caught the sound of running water fifteen minutes back, faint in the distance. It was getting louder now, and her tired steps quickened, anxious to reach the old ranger station. If Dillon was right, Tabby was close, and maybe they weren’t too late.

Though it seemed like a long way to travel from the bear carcass.

Lots of questions, and the only two people with the answers were out here somewhere, waiting for help.

“Hold up.” The man in front stopped, and Shelley about ran into Dillon’s back. Stepping to the side, she looked around him at the leader, and then just beyond.

Across the next clearing was a wooden shack — or the remains of one, anyway. The roof had collapsed and was partially in, partially out of what was left of the gray plank walls. The fallen structure wasn’t capable of providing shelter any longer. Firewood was about all it was good for now.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Shelley said. “If Mike knew about this place, then he would have known they were close to the trail when he killed the bear. They would have gone the other way, toward camp, not farther up the mountain.”

The three men all looked at her for a long moment.

“What about the sweatshirt? We found it first, closer to the camp…” Dillon’s voice trailed off as the words came out, and understanding widened his eyes. “She took the sweatshirt off after, maybe used it to try to stop the bleeding. Though we don’t know if she was the one injured or Mike.”

One of the other men frowned. “If they were headed back toward camp, they should have been there by now. Before we left, actually. What the hell happened to them?”

“Only way to find out is to find them.” Dillon breathed a heavy sigh. “And we’ve been looking in the wrong direction for over an hour. Let’s head back to where the sweatshirt was, and we’ll figure out how to proceed from there.”

When they finally reached the correct site, Shelley collapsed on a fallen log, almost as good as a favorite recliner after a hard day.

“I can’t imagine what they were feeling like when they stopped here,” she said, speaking slowly as she tried to catch her breath. “Actually, I can’t believe they made it all the way here, considering one of them is hurt. That’s quite a jaunt just from the attack site. Is that even possible with a bad injury?”

Dillon shrugged, taking a seat beside her. “You’d be surprised by what a good shot of adrenaline can do. But it is pretty amazing they made it this far. Shock would have been setting in for someone hurt and bleeding that badly. It is odd that we didn’t notice any bloodstains or drops between here and there though. There should be some sign of them passing through, and it’s like they were just picked up there and dropped here.”

Shelley sat up a little straighter. “Or, they didn’t use the trail. Maybe they were confused, or avoiding the trail for some reason.”

“I’ll check for some sort of sign above the trail,” one of the other men offered. He pointed to the fourth man. “Why don’t you check below the trail?” The other man nodded and they set out, leaving Dillon and Shelley to rest.

“Are those guys rambo or something?” Shelley was only half-kidding. “They don’t seem to ever get tired.”

Dillon’s lips turned up in a small smile. “They’ve probably had more sleep than us.” His smile faded, and he cocked his head to the side, giving her a searching look. “They weren’t in a car wreck just the other day either. How are you feeling? You must be in a lot of pain with all the walking…”

Shelley shrugged. “It hurts here and there, but nothing I can’t handle. It actually hurt less when we were moving. Mind over matter, I guess.” She looked away, her gaze drifting over the small clearing. “You’d think it would be easy to find someone these days, with all the technology at our disposal. But here we are, searching a mountain for two people who could be anywhere. You’d think there was a better way to do this.”

Dillon was quiet for a long moment, and she wasn’t sure he was even listening. Then he looked up, eyes wide and face flushed.

“Maybe there is,” he said, putting two fingers in his mouth and letting out a long, loud whistle. “We need to get back to the camp.”


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 17!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 15

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 15

Turning her back to the wall, Shelley slid down to sit on the floor. Her whole body was shaking — she couldn’t help it. Dillon sat down beside her but she didn’t look at him.

The image was burned into her mind. Even in the dim hall light, she’d seen the big dark stain on the front of Tabby’s shirt. Cuts and slashes seared through it like grill marks, and all Shelley could think about was what kind of an animal could have done that, and whether Tabby could have survived it or not.

Or anyone, for that matter.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Her small, shaky voice sounded foreign even to Shelley’s own ears.

Dillon put an arm around her, pulling her into his side. “We don’t know that. People have sustained some very rough treatment and still lived to tell the tale. Don’t give up on her yet.”

Shelley nodded against his chest, soaking in the warmth of his comfort for a few more seconds. Then she gently pushed away, swiping the tears off her face and getting to her feet.

“There’s no way I can sleep now — not when she’s out there hurt and in pain. We have to find her, Dillon. What can we do now? Check maps and make a plan for first light? Go scouting the trail? I need to do something. I can’t just sit here.”

He got to his feet as well. “I know. Mike’s still out there too. I hope he’s with Tabitha, and that they’re somewhere safe tonight. Let’s go back down to the command room and see what we can figure out. I promise we’ll leave at first light to explore the section of trail where her shirt was found.”

Shelley nodded. “I’ll get my shoes.”

A few hours later when the sun was just barely peeking over the horizon, she shouldered a pack full of supplies, turned her headlamp on and followed Dillon and three other men through the woods and down a narrow trail that wound back and forth across the side of the mountain. The birds had a lot to say, it seemed, and the hiking was anything but quiet. There was an old, earthy quality to the fragrance each step kicked up, mingled with the fresh scent of pine needles and the occasional not-so-fresh smell of scat. If she hadn’t been desperate to find Tabitha and the guy she’d run from, Shelley might actually have enjoyed the walk.

They passed the spot where the sweatshirt was found about an hour into the hike, but a thorough examination revealed absolutely nothing. Not even blood droplets leading away from the site.

The sun was finally warming through the trees when the man in front called a halt. She looked ahead past Dillon to see why, and it was immediately obvious.

“Oh God,” she muttered, coveringher mouth with one hand. “Is that –?”

“Black bear,” Dillon said, moving to block her view. “Looks like someone killed it. Human, not animal. Mike usually has a hunting knife on him, but he wouldn’t do something like this unless  he had no other choice.”

“Like saving Tabby.”

He nodded. “We’re not too far from an old ranger cabin close to the creek. He might have taken her there if he had the strength.”

“Any idea which way that cabin is, Sir?” One of the men had a compass out, and the other was searching the bushes for a possible trail leading out.

“It’s been awhile, but I think I can find it. I’m pretty sure the creek is north-east from here, so that might be a good place to start.”


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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Chapter 1

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing! 


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 1

It’s not easy being right all the time.

Shelley Frank watched the fourth guy of the night walk away and for a second, pretended to wonder what would happen if she just played “normal” with the next one. But she already knew. Guys were so predictable. Which made them boring, which made this whole evening a complete waste of time.

Maybe not a complete waste, she thought as that annoying bell rang and the next speed-dater approached. He wasn’t particularly interesting at first glance, other than the fact that he didn’t actually seem interested at all. Well, that and the five-o-clock shadow that darkened his jawline with a perfect amount of shade. He sat down across from her with a bored look that probably matched her own.

He met Shelley’s gaze with two startlingly-green eyes and she was surprised at the confident dismissal reflecting back.

“I don’t mean any offense, but I’m only here ‘cause my buddy needed backup and you don’t look like you’re any more into this than I am. So if it’s okay with you, we’ll just skip the whole getting-to-know-you bit, and I’ll get a little work done before the next switch. Is that cool?”

Shelley nodded, but didn’t figure he even saw it considering his smartphone was already in hand and his thumbs were moving a mile a minute. The vibe he gave off was clearly a don’t-talk-to-me one, and Shelley pondered that for a minute.

Was it a ploy to catch her interest by appearing to be uninterested? Or was he really not into this whole thing — and if that was the case, why didn’t he just leave? Then again, she was still here too. The clock was ticking, and considering he was the only challenge she’d seen all night, she decided it was worth the risk.

“Let me guess,” she started as she had with all the others. He was wearing worn, comfy-looking jeans and a semi-wrinkled teal button-down shirt casually untucked with just a hint of curly chest-hair showing in the vee at the top. His black hair was a little long and naturally wavy, and a few errant strands kept falling across his eye.

With those looks and that always-on attitude, it was hard to draw conclusions without knowing more, but she’d give it a try.

“You’re an IT geek with a boner for the latest gaming system and a God complex. A programmer, maybe, which gives you a sense of purpose and at the same time, takes away your ability to connect with other humans on any meaningful level.” Okay, maybe not that last part, Shelley thought. But if it got his attention…

He didn’t even look up from the small screen and his fingers never stuttered. Shelley figured he hadn’t even been listening, so her assessment was just wasted breath. By the time the bell rang again, she’d decided to call it a night and move to the other side of the bar while her cousin finished running the event.

Her partner for that round got to his feet before she could, and finally looked at her, a sharp, appraising gaze that made her want to take a step back.

“Bored, smart woman who somehow got roped into attending this thing against your better judgement, and you’re trying to make the best of it, but you’d rather be at home curled up on a couch with a book and your beloved…leopard gecko or something. Maybe a glass of wine. But you definitely don’t want anyone here taking a liking to you, because that would make him ‘not boring’, and that might make you think you have a chance for half-a-second. Which you don’t, of course, because you always push people away before they have a chance to do the same to you.”

He paused for a minute, started to say something, and then appeared to change his mind. He reached into a back pocket and pulled out a card, dropping it on the table.

“Just for the record – your first assessment was a little off. Might want to brush up on those people-reading skills.”

Shelley watched him walk away and grabbed the card, moving away from the table to avoid yet another round. Holding his card under one of the dim bar lights, she peered closely at the tiny print.

“Dillon Riley — Outdoor Enthusiast/Tour Guide/Owner at Rattlesnake Falls Lodge and Resort.” There was a PO Box listed in Big Timber, and a cell phone number she assumed was his. She had never heard of Rattlesnake Falls, but there were a few different camps up that way and it was beautiful country for it.

Brow furrowed, she looked up and scanned the room, trying to spot Dillon again. Outdoor enthusiast? Really? He didn’t look even remotely outdoorsy with that pale skin and slender frame. Did he have enough muscle to lift a hiking pack?

She knew she was being both unfair and bitchy, but she couldn’t seem to stop, and that was as good a cue as any to leave.

Slipping the card into her purse, she searched the crowd again – this time finding her target, and pushed through the people to where her cousin was holding court from a bar stool.

“Hey Tabby – I’m gonna head out. Do you need a ride?” She only asked to be polite. Her cousin never needed a ride, and rarely came home on nights like this anyway. Shelley wasn’t sure why Tabitha felt the need to drag her along. Tabby insisted it was to keep her company until the party ‘really got hoppin’, which took all of about ten minutes in any bar her cousin had ever set an insanely-high-heeled foot in.

Tabby shook her head. “You chased everyone off again, didn’t you?”

Shelley just shrugged and smiled. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she yelled over the jukebox and elbowed the ribs of a guy with roaming hands on her right. “Take care!”

“In the morning- sure…maybe!”

Tabby turned back to her adoring fans and Shelley pushed her way back through the crowd, somehow managing to find the door. A gust of cool air hit her face as she pushed it open, and she immediately lost her balance as the lower-but-still-substantial heel Tabitha had insisted Shelley borrow caught on a crack in the concrete just right.

Helpless against both gravity and momentum, she reached for the railing she knew was attached to each side of the three-steps down to the parking lot. Her fingers hit the cold metal and slid off just before her shoulder slammed into something warm and solid. She grabbed on for dear life, hoping whatever or whoever it was would at least slow her fall as the momentum kept carrying her sideways.

And right into a thick, steel band of an arm that encircled the center of her back as if she’d been meant to roll right there the whole time. Strong fingers wrapped around her ribs, and she gasped when the world finally stopped spinning and she found herself staring into the same startling green eyes she’d seen at the table inside.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 2…

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Serial Story: MacKenzie Saves the World, Part 30 (Final)

This serial story is presented in draft (unedited) format. Each new installment will replace
the one before. If you get behind, email me and I’ll hook you up with the missing chapters!


MSTW_400

MacKenzie Saves the World
Part 30

The next morning MacKenzie stretched, trying to remember why her muscles were so sore, and how her bed had gotten so soft. Her hands and feet both hit barriers before she opened her eyes and recognized Josh’s living room.

And the man himself, fast asleep in his chair across from where she lay on his couch.

She smiled at how peaceful he looked. The past month had been so busy, but they’d made time for each other and she’d gotten to know him – not just what he liked and how he thought though they’d certainly spent plenty of time talking about…everything, but she knew his expressions, his habits, every line and crease on his face. And everything she knew about him just made him that much more dear to her. She couldn’t imagine life without this amazing, resilient man.

Careful to be quiet, she moved the blanket aside and stood, unable to resist just one more stretch up high overhead. When her heels finally touched down and she looked over at Josh, he was looking at her, something in his eyes that she couldn’t quite decipher.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, setting his own blanket aside. She rolled her eyes at him as he rose and came toward her.

“My hair’s a mess, this dress is trashed, and I’m sure my makeup’s all over my face. But thank you.”

He leaned down for a kiss and she met him half-way, surprised when he released her quickly.

“Everything okay?”

He nodded, reaching into his pocket. “Better than okay.” He pointed to the ottoman. “Can you sit down for a minute?”

Kenzie sat, her stomach flipping in anticipation. And when he knelt in front of her, she could barely focus for the pounding in her chest. He held out a small black box, still closed on the palm of one hand, and grasped her hand with the other.

“You know I love you, MacKenzie. And I can’t imagine my life without you. Will you marry me? Please?”

She couldn’t have held back a wide smile if she’d tried.

“Of course I’ll marry you. I love you so much.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, throwing them both off balance. When they were both laughing on the floor, he rolled to his side and held up the box, a teasing glint in his eye.

“Do you want to see your ring now?” The way he said it, the look on his face made her curious.

“Absolutely.” She reached for the box, but he pulled it back out of reach. Laughing, he opened it where she couldn’t see it, and then slowly lowered it down to eye level.

Kenzie looked at the dark, almost black titanium band inlaid with two lighter bands top and bottom. A pink oval diamond was set deep in the center, the top flush with the band so it wouldn’t get caught on things. She stared for a long moment, not sure whether to laugh or cry as Josh took it out of the box and slid it on the ring finger of her left hand. she wiggled her finger, watching the light flash through the stone.

“I can’t believe it,” she breathed, unable to take her eyes off it. “You had Charade’s ring made. How did you do it?”

Josh reached for her hand, bringing it to his lips for a kiss.

“I had Kevin get me your sketches, and took them to a jeweler I know. One of his designers made it happen. You like it?”

MacKenzie shook her head. “No, I love it. You are amazing.” She pulled him down for a kiss, needing him close.

“Superhero amazing?” he murmured against her lips, rubbing his nose against hers. She giggled.

“My own personal superhero, without a doubt.”

The End

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed MacKenzie’s story! The edited, final version will be out in print and ebook on November 14th.


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Serial Story: Under His Wing, Part 29

This story is presented weekly in draft
(unedited) form. Each installment is available for one week until the
next is posted. Miss one? Email me, and I’ll hook you up. Enjoy!


Dunning Manor, Book 1

Under His Wing
Part 29

Peter’s car was the only one in the lot when Katie parked on the street a couple buildings away. It would make saying what she had to say easier, but it was scary too, considering she needed to go in without Thomas so Peter would feel like he was in control of the situation.

She had to convince him to meet her at the site in the woods that they’d set up – the sooner, the better.

“Wait,” Thomas said when she reached for the car door. “I have something for you.” He pulled a large tiger-eye pendant out of a pocket, hanging from a thick dark silver chain.

“Wear this. It will protect you when I can’t.” He held the chain in both hands and she ducked her head so he could put it on. She felt the weight of the stone settle over her heart, and an almost electric buzz settled under her skin, like a force field of sorts.

“It tingles,” she said, rubbing the smooth stone between her fingers as she held it up for a closer look.

He nodded. “Druid magic. You have the instructions for him?”

“Right here.” She retrieved the piece of paper from her purse and waved it at him.

“Then go. Call out if you need me, and I’ll get to you as fast as I can. The amulet will protect you until then.”

She opened the car door, and then at the last minute turned back and grabbed the collar of Thomas’s shirt, pulling him in for a quick, hard kiss. Surprised as he was, he kissed her back, and she smiled as she pulled away.

“For luck,” she murmured, and then got out of the car and strode toward the garage, hoping she looked more confident than she felt.

The bell above the door rang loud as she let herself in, and she could see Peter bent under an open hood in the first bay of the work space. Her skin crawled as she approached him, and the amulet grew warmer against her heart, a reassuring sensation.

Peter stood, a grin spreading across his lips as he recognized her, and he wiped ineffectively at the grease on his hands with a red rag.

“Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in. Need a lube job, sweetheart? You know I’m happy to service you for free anytime.”

Katie fought back the gag reflex and tried to stay focused on the reason she’d come.

“Are you still interested in using me for your artwork?” She cocked her head to the side, doing her best to look curious rather than repulsed. Holding out the piece of paper, she watched the interest flare in his eyes as he took it from her.

“What’s this?” He opened it and scanned the contents, then met her gaze again. “Directions?”

She nodded. “I have something set up for us there. A gift, of sorts. Will you meet me later tonight?”

Peter frowned. “What about your new boy-toy? He doesn’t seem to like me much…”

Katie shrugged. “He’s out of the picture. This is just…us. Will you come?”

Peter chuckled. “Sure. But if you want to make art, darlin’, we don’t have to wait. In fact, let me show you something over here.” He moved away, deeper into the double bay of the garage, and she followed, keeping her distance from him. When he stopped next to one of the oil pumps, she stayed back several feet, knowing it was folly to trust him.

Holding the pump in one hand, he took a lighter out of his pocket with the other, and smiled, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Watch this.”

Squeezing the handle, he started dispensing oil onto the cement floor between them, and then he flicked the lighter to life, setting the oil stream on fire.

The burst was so hot it forced Katie backwards, and she teetered on the edge of the second work pit before catching her balance as Peter laughed. He swirled the oil-fed flames around in patterns, looking as comfortable as a gymnast with a ribbon as Katie slowly backed toward the exit.

“Leaving so soon, Katie-girl? But we’re only getting started!”

“Meet me tonight,” she called out above the roar of the flames. And then she pushed out the door and ran all the way back to the car.

Sweating from heat and nerves, she slid behind the wheel and peeled away from the curb, needing to put as much distance between that monster and herself as quickly as possible. She could feel Thomas staring.

“Is he coming tonight?” Thomas asked, the calm tone of his voice helping to calm her own nerves.


She nodded. “He’ll be there.”


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Serial Story: Under His Wing, Part 23

This story is presented weekly in draft
(unedited) form. Each installment is available for one week until the
next is posted. Miss one? Email me, and I’ll hook you up. Enjoy!


Dunning Manor, Book 1

Under His Wing
Part 23

“Bed?” Katie looked at his hand, and back at his face, her arms still holding her knees to her chest. “My bed is too small. We can’t share. And I don’t have a guest room. Can’t we just sleep out here, on the couch? The ottoman seems to work well enough…”

Thomas frowned. “Your bed is narrower than your sofa? Why?”

“That’s not what I meant.” Katie shook her head. “I just think we’ll be more comfortable out here, is all.”

Squatting down in front of her, Thomas took the hand he’d sought a few seconds earlier. “I’ll sleep on the floor, if that makes you happy, but you need to get good rest tonight, and that means you need to sleep in your own bed. Come now. Don’t argue.”

Too tired to put up any more of a fight, Katie let him help her up and then led him down the hall to her room. As soon as he saw the bed, he’d realize there was no way he’d fit. Flipping the light switch, she stepped back with a gasp, bumping into Thomas.

“I take it this wasn’t your doing?” he asked, gently pulling her back into the hall, and then stepping around her to move through the doorway.

“No,” she said, peering past him at the chaos of clothing, books and accessories, all strewn about like a tornado had touched down.

“I’m no neat nik, but I’m not anywhere near this bad. It must have been Peter. He knew where the key was. I can’t believe…” she stopped, not wanting to voice the fact that she’d slept with the man who wanted to sacrifice her for his art.

Thomas gathered up the pile of clothing and other sundry items off the bed and dumped them on the floor to the side. Then he reached up and began peeling off layers of clothing, as if Katie wasn’t even there.

But she was. And she stood transfixed as his back was bared to her, tribal-style designs swirling across the broad expanse with every movment he made. What a gorgeous, glorious creature he was, no matter what form he took. When he moved to push his pants off his hips, she stared, licking her lips at the thought of what might be revealed.
“It’s not fair,” he said, his voice low and soft. She jerked her head up at his words, noting the smirk as he watched her watching him over his shoulder.

She swallowed, her mouth dry. “What’s not fair?”

He broke eye contact to look forward again, letting his trousers slide down his legs. Her gaze immediately went to that perfectly molded, sculptured bottom, and the continuation of the tribal pattern started above.

Yum.

“You have too many clothes on, Katie Watson. Undress. Unless you require my aid for this as well?”

She was pretty sure her face was the color of a ripe tomato. It felt like one of those atomic fireballs she used to get out of the dime machines as a kid. Still, she considered taking him up on it. Surely this man would make her forget everything wrong in her world, even if only for a night.

But then what?

“Thanks, but no th–”

He turned around, hands on his hips and one leg out, looking entirely too comfortable with his buff, extremely well-endowed self. No woman in her right mind could say no to that, could she? What were the odds she’d get another chance to be with such a man?

Gargoyle, a little voice in her head whispered. She nearly giggled when she whispered back.

Exactly.

“On second thought…” She stepped closer, wanting to look away from his intense stare. Unable to look anywhere else. Raising her hands, she placed them on his chest, remembering how different he felt from other men. Cool and hot at the same time, like a rock at sunset that had been sitting in the sun.

He nodded once, and then his lips were on hers, his arms pulling her in, his scent making her brain go foggy. She gave herself up to the sensations.


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