Brave Are The Lonely
“Don’t miss these men of the old west!” – For the Love of Reading
“If you love westerns AND the supernatural, you’ll want to pick up this book.” – Romancing Rakes
When the spirit fever struck a town, a village or an outpost, it left few if any survivors. The white man blamed the Indian saying they used their mojo on them. The Indians blamed the white man for angering the spirits. The survivors knew it didn’t matter. The Fevered were forever changed.
When death seemed preferable…
Mourning his mate drove fevered wolf shifter Cody out of Texas, but a brother’s need drags him back from the brink.
…and good deeds never go unpunished…
Gypsy princess Mariska only wants to protect her people and her freedom, but a dangerous choice puts her on a collision course with an angry wolf.
…the best thing that could happen to him…
When Cody touches Mariska, his wolf cannot escape the hunger that fills him. For Mariska, Cody’s touch brings her a pleasure she never imagined, but is it enough to heal his fractured soul?
…was the last thing he expected.
As danger stalks all three of them, they must confront who they are or risk losing Cody forever.
His wolf. His woman. His way.
Read An Excerpt
Late September 1850
Somewhere in the Territory of New Mexico
Kid leaned back in the saddle, the little town of Natchez turned out to be little more than some mud shacks strung together by family connections, loose farming and heavy Mexican Indian population. But they sold him supplies, trading him new blankets for a gold piece, fresh bread, a wineskin full of hard cider seasoned by local flavor and enough leather to repair his damaged gear. Fortunately, he had the tools back at his camp.
Equally fortunate, the town also offered the beautiful Maria.
Not intentionally, he was sure. But she’d found him tending the mare at their stable and the sweet but easily seduced woman tumbled right there atop the warmth of the straw. She’d come eagerly, too, absent any drawers beneath her skirts. Lazy pleasure rolled through his system at the memory, relieving the tension of the long few days between towns. A week had made his need damn near unbearable. Maria spoke a spattering of bastard Spanish, but one passionate kiss opened the only line of communication he needed to understand.
Her flaming hot, tight little sex milked him greedily for an hour. His flagging spirits were stoked and his only regret was that he couldn’t stay the night and take her over and over until she whimpered for relief. An hour away from Natchez, the reason he couldn’t linger leapt down from a yellow rock to pace alongside his mare. The horse was used to the wolf’s presence, she didn’t even flinch.
“I picked up soap if you ever decide to bathe.” He called to the wolf by way of greeting. The flat, yellow stare barely budged his good mood. “Hey, you could have gone into town. I’m sure Maria had a friend. If not, I don’t mind sharing.”
Apparently Cody had no response for that, but that didn’t surprise Kid either. In the four weeks since they rode—well, since Kid rode and Cody followed on four feet—the wolf hadn’t shifted. Not once. Unless he did when Kid found a town, his companion remained the sandy colored wolf with sharp teeth and a bland stare.
The wolf grieved. He followed Kid halfway across Texas and across the border, a half-presence at his back, always there, but never reaching out. His agony echoed through Kid, a cold and brittle thing. The first week had been the worst. But two back-to-back nights in the camps surrounding distant army outposts helped him get through it.
The third town hosted the flame-haired Ann-Juliette, but one look at her and Kid knew he couldn’t. She reminded him of Scarlett and the mournful howls of the wolf far too close to the little border community set everyone’s hackles on edge. After that, he skirted the towns as best he could until the need for supplies and a woman couldn’t be ignored. And then he avoided any redheads.
It didn’t make the wolf happy, but it didn’t elevate his grief the way Ann-Juliette had. Kid understood. Just a little over a month before, Cody’s ‘sister’ Scarlett married Kid’s brother. The Marshal and his fire-starting bride were back at the Flying K, the Kane family ranch. Kid left the night of their wedding, not that he begrudged his brother’s happiness, but his father’s stern disapproval coupled by the wild strangeness surrounding their new family was too much for him.
Kid needed to be away, away from all of them, their needs, their judgments and their turbulent emotions. The wolf, though, the wolf needed something more. He needed to mourn the loss of his mate. As far as Kid could tell, Cody and Scarlett had never been more than brother and sister, but the man shared his existence with the wolf he became and that wolf had chosen Scarlett. It was that loss the wolf mourned.
“We’ll be in the mountains in a couple of days. We need a good campsite so I can get all the gear repaired. The town told me there’s an outpost with some fur trappers ahead. We’ll cross it before the mountains. We can finish the resupply there.” He kept Cody up to date on the direction they were headed whether the wolf gave a damn or not.
If he wanted Kid to shut up, he could damn well change and tell him so.
The mare’s bridle jingled as she tossed her head. The nights were turning cooler and the mountains meant snow. He’d get her saddle gear repaired tonight and check into a blanket for her when they got to the trapper’s outpost. A rumbling, low noise from Cody’s wolf and the great beast leapt ahead, outpacing the horse easily.
“Unless you want to grumble about buckshot, it’s your turn to catch dinner,” he called after the wolf; certain Cody could hear him even as he rapidly retreated into the distance. The wolf would find him when he set up camp. He always did.
“Guess it’s just you and me girl.”
He patted the mare’s neck and relaxed into the saddle, whistling. The absence of the wolf left him replete and peaceful. Natchez had been a fine little town and Maria, just the balm he needed.
Cody followed the curve of the wash trail Kid rode. The faint scent of water, rabbit, scrub brush and mice tickled his nose. The smaller animals went quiet in his passage and he left them be. He wasn’t hungry. Kid’s words echoed in his ears.
His turn to hunt.
The wolf’s mouth fell open, tongue lolling in the wind, sampling the air. He was ever watchful for the dangerous scent of man. Luckily, they were traveling upwind, which brought the scents to him. He would know they were there long before they appeared. Kid was safe for the time being, which meant Cody could roam.
The young man’s frequent visits to every hovel they came across left the wolf bewildered. He refused to follow him to closely, the smell of unwashed bodies, cooking food and strangeness overwhelming. But he never strayed far.
He’d ambushed one angry husband who came after Kid at their first town and frightened off another at the third town. Kid’s insatiable appetites for female companionship didn’t make him discriminating. They’d even spent one rainy night at a remote farmhouse. Cody in the barn with the horses while Kid seduced the absent farmer’s daughter. At least she didn’t have a husband.
The wolf understood the husband’s anger, the rage at Kid’s philandering. But Kid was pack. That meant Cody would protect him.
A long escarpment of rocky outcroppings beckoned. The sun-drenched stone would be warm in the air that turned progressively chilly the further west and higher up they went. Kid said they’d be in the mountains soon, but the distant peaks were closer than Kid believed. Cody grew up on a mountain, one didn’t have to go higher to find the colder air.
Home flashed through his mind. The scents of the lake, the rich pines, firs and cedars were fresh to his tongue. A familiar flame haired female splashing in the icy cold lake, heating the water at the edges until the boys could frolic there as well.
The howl tore out of his throat before he could stop it, hard, long and keening. Scarlett chose another. Cody understood that. She was happy. The man was happy for her.
The wolf missed her.
The land went silent around him, what few critters that hadn’t scrambled out of his way huddled quietly, sure that the end was near. Cody ignored them all. He’d caught the scent of deer the night before. He wanted venison, sick of rabbit, squirrel, grouse and fish. The wolf wouldn’t bother with it all, but Kid said it was his turn.
He would take care of his pack.
Evening brought the cold promise of rain on the wind. Winding his way up the path to the lashed together trees and makeshift wind break Kid set up for camp, the wolf was glad for the shelter and the scent of wood smoke and crackle of fire. The doe he carried was heavy, but he’d taken her down as close to the scent of wood smoke as he could. Kid glanced up from mending the saddle, his eyebrows raised.
“Nice. You want yours cooked or uncooked?” The young man set aside the saddle and reached for the long knife he carried in his gear.
Cody deposited the doe next to the fire and sat. Kid could handle the butchering, when he was done, Cody would drag the remains far enough away that the scavengers wouldn’t bother them. He was tired. The long circuits around Kid’s path left him weary in body and mind. Once he ate, he would sleep tonight.
Dreamless, unless his brother showed up to plague him again. Buck was Quanto’s child in body and spirit. His brother possessed the gift to visit the dreams of others, to affect them and to communicate through them. He’d always had trouble with Cody’s wolf, because even in his dreams, he remained in wolf form. His brother could talk to him, but Cody refused to answer.
He could, he supposed. But Buck wanted him to come home.
The wolf wasn’t ready for that and the family was safe. Sam Kane would keep Scarlett protected, most of their brothers lingered at the Flying K and likely would winter there.
He had time.
The scent of blood drew a growl from his belly. The doe’s flavor clung to his tongue. He could have devoured her on the spot, but Kid needed to eat too. Instead of his usual chatter, the boy skinned the doe, carving off flank and muscle to spit over the fire. Kid was careful not to spill the entrails, but the coppery hints of blood would mark their campsite. When he’d carved and spit enough meat to feed them for the night and the next day, Cody lumbered over to grab the remains and haul them off.
“Smells good. Thanks.” Kid’s words followed Cody back down the path and into the brush. He carried the female a mile and deposited her amongst some leaves at the base of a tree. He nudged her face with his nose and whuffled the scent, remembering it and thanking her spirit for the sacrifice.
The wolf didn’t much care about the ceremony of it, but thoughts of Quanto brought Cody’s upbringing to mind. Living with nature meant appreciating those spirits that passed so that he could eat. He’d chosen a younger female, one not in season, nursing or pregnant. It was the best he could do to assuage his hunger and his duty.
Rolling through the leaves, he doused the scent of her blood on his fur with loamy earth, briar and foliage. It wouldn’t wash it away completely, but it would make him less attractive to other predators and save him the task of having to kill them.
The first drops of rain spattered him as he returned to the lean-to. Kid had angled the fire to be sheltered by the leafy roof. The area was smoky, but warm and dry. His mare stood against the back wall of leaves, drowsing with a bag of oats open near her feet. She cracked an eyelid as Cody slid through the gathering dusk to circle the fire.
The venison sizzled.
“Saddle’s fixed. Shirt’s mended. There’s clothes in that pack that will fit you if you want to change. We’re low on corn and bread. We’ll have to see if we can get oats ahead or better grazing land for Misty.”
Cody slid down, forelegs stretching in front of him, back legs tucked and his tail drifting down to lay against the ground. He set his chin on his legs and watched the flickering flames.
“Sleep, I got first watch. I’ll wake you when the food is ready.” Kid’s voice steadied his descent into the doze. The flickering flames and a redheaded beauty danced together in his mind’s eye. The wolf sighed, darting off into his dreams to remember when Scarlett was his and no others’.
The wind blew flurries of snow from the west as Karl Distain unhitched the horses from his wagon and paid the stable master two nickels. Distain glanced down at the Innkeeper’s two sons. “There’s another nickel for watching the wagon and if you haven’t touched anything when I come back, I’ll give you one more so you get one each.”
The eldest of the pair tested the nickel with his teeth, his dark eyes hard and filled with no small amount of cunning. “And if we have looked?”
Distain drew himself up to his full height, removing the shotgun from its holster on the wagon. He was a big man, standing over six feet, the boys backed up a step as he faced them. With the heavy beard he favored, thick trail coat and the hat brim low on his eyes, he also presented a menacing picture. One he gladly used to his advantage.
“Take a look and find out.”
The younger of the two paled at his low words, but the fear shivering the air around the pair convinced him they understood the threat. He grabbed a saddlebag and tossed it over his shoulder before lumbering across the yard towards the saloon. Fort Courage began as most forts in the area did, with a handful of settlers and a nominal military force. The Mexican Army abandoned it, leaving the fur trappers, traders and locals the benefit of the high wooden walls to fend off animal and Indian alike.
This wasn’t Distain’s first visit to Courage. He passed through a couple of times a year. But he’d ridden his team hard since leaving Texas on the trail of his next hunt. The boy moved fast, too fast and vanished for days at a time. But Distain was an expert tracker. The wolf still traveled with the boy.
That or the boy was the wolf.
Distain pushed open the heavy double door to Courage’s only saloon. The interior was heavy with heat, smoke, liquor and women. A tinny piano played in one corner, an ancient Mexican-Indian at the keys. No one even looked up as Distain limped his way across the room to the table in the corner. He caught the bartender’s eye and jerked his head to the table.
Farris owned the saloon and remembered every face that passed through his doors. Unlike most saloons, the winter cold off the mountain meant the place stayed zipped up tight. Distain set his hat on the table and stripped off the heavy trail coat. He turned the chair so the back was pressed to the wall before he sat down, shotgun in easy reach.
“Whiskey and stew.” He ordered when the bartender reached the table. “And a room with one of the ladies tonight.”
“Got a preference?” Farris asked after returning with an ancient, cloudy tumbler of whiskey and a steaming wooden bowl filled with a dark stew. The smell set Distain’s stomach twisting. He’d eaten nothing but trail tack for two days trying to close the distance on the wolf. He’d nearly had the kid in Natchez, but the boy lost him in the rain that washed out his trail.
Courage was the next logical stop. He’d beaten the information out of the girl who’d dallied with him in the stables. She’d begged to give him whatever he wanted, so he sampled the goods and left her bleeding and sore in case she decided to skirt him to warn the wolf.
“Warm and willing.” He didn’t bother to look over the women in their ruffled bloomers, shoulders bare, buttons straining against ample bosoms and trim waists accented by the drawstrings on their drawers.
The bartender nodded, accepting three silver pennies with a sweep of his hand across the table. “Room three. She’ll be waiting for you.”
Distain dismissed the man, tossing back the whiskey to chase away the internal chill and scooping up the stew with the heavy spoon. It was flavorless and the meat hard, but it was hot and it filled the hole. It didn’t take the bartender long to return with the bottle and refill his whiskey and stew. Frustrating days of traveling left him with a powerful appetite. He shifted his sore leg away from the table to stretch it out. The burns though mostly healed left his left leg mottled and bruised. The tooth marks on his forearm were scarred over, but he rubbed them occasionally to remind himself of the great, sandy wolf.
That pelt was going on his wall. He’d joined Ryker’s posse after hearing how the bank in Dorado had been sacked. He’d heard of such things before. He carried many trophies from previous hunts. But Ryker’s posse had been torn apart, burned or shot. He’d barely survived the wolf’s attack and if not for the fire, the wolf would have torn his throat out. He owed the wolf a favor in kind.
And they were close to their reckoning.
Distain’s scars ached with it.
He finished the second bowl and the whiskey and rose to carry his gun, bags, coat and hat up the stairs, limping carefully. He found a defeated eyed beauty waiting for him. He set his things down and locked the door. She came forward to meet him, but he avoided the kiss she offered. He had better things to fill her mouth with.
“Why the hell are we just staying here?” Jimmy demanded, hammering another fence rail into place.
Buck sighed. Jimmy’s irritation and hostility continued to escalate. He and Cody were close friends as well as brothers. It didn’t escape any of their notice that their hawk-eyed brother was tense over Cody’s disappearance. He’d vanished the night of Scarlett’s wedding and hadn’t come home.
He was in wolf form. It was all Buck knew. When Buck walked to his dreams, he found the wolf, but the stubborn animal ignored him. He’d spent many nights trying to reason with him, but the animal had no interest in Buck or his stories. Reaching for another board, Buck hammered it into place.
Half of their brothers had already gone home to the mountain—Buck, Jimmy and Noah were all that remained on Kane land, ostensibly keeping an eye on Scarlett. Well, Buck was. Jimmy waited for Cody when he wasn’t arguing about the merits of going after the shape shifting brother and Noah had his eye on one of the ladies of the house.
That lady was the reason Noah wasn’t sweating his ass off in the sun with Buck and Jimmy repairing pasture boards taken out by an unruly herd. Instead, he was driving Miss Lena back and forth to town.
“Why is Quanto telling us we can’t go after him?” Jimmy’s impatience wore on Buck’s nerves. He shared Jimmy’s concern, but his brother couldn’t seem to take his focus off Cody’s departure.
“I told you, he said Cody’s wolf needs the time. He left for a reason. We have to respect that.” Buck didn’t necessarily agree with his father, but unlike Cody or Jimmy, he wouldn’t argue with him. Scarlett could be worse, but they’d decided collectively to keep her out of the loop. Instead, they’d said he’d gone home to the mountain and whenever she asked if he was okay, Buck told her the truth. He seemed well enough.
“And if he keeps going west? And he needs us?” Jimmy slammed another nail home, securing the board before moving down to the next set of three. They’d been at this for three hours, repairing nearly a mile’s worth of fencing.
“Then we’ll go.” Buck had no qualms about that. He picked up the broken remains of fencing and tossed them into the wagon before pulling out another longer piece.
“And the boy?” They’d been careful about not mentioning that he traveled with Cody. Jebidiah Kane hadn’t spoken his youngest son’s name since realizing the boy was gone. Scarlett confided that Jed was really heartbroken, but was too proud to show it. Sam and Micah figured Kid would turn up. He always did after a few days.
It had been a month and both men were starting to worry. Micah left the Flying K to ride south towards San Antonio. But no word came back.
Jimmy helped him brace the board and Buck reached for the saw. The longer pieces of wood had to be cut to fit.
“He’s still with Cody or maybe Cody’s still with him.” Buck measured carefully before setting to work sawing the length in half. “Between you and me, I think that’s why Quanto wants us to leave it alone.”
Jimmy shoved his Stetson back, squinting in the late afternoon sun. “He thinks the Kid is Fevered.”
Buck nodded. “He knows he is. But the Kid doesn’t. Cody smelled something different the first time he met him. He gets along pretty well with him too. So maybe there’s something there. I don’t know.”
“A Fevered who doesn’t know can be dangerous.” Jimmy took the cut board over and set it up to the post, hammering the squat metal nails to secure it. Buck said nothing, Jimmy hadn’t believed he was Fevered from a young age. Until the first time he shot a gun. It took three dead for him to accept it.
Buck could only pray to the Great Spirit that it wouldn’t take Cody’s death to get Kid to admit too.
Cody growled at the Fort walls looming in the distance. Dusk came early this close to the mountains and the air carried the promise of snow. His nose itched at the scent. Kid rode through the gates an hour before and still wasn’t out.
Agitation paced through the wolf. Kid left most of their bags at the makeshift camp a mile from the Fort gates, the closest Cody dared to venture. The walls were watched and men with rifles were stationed to overlook the little valley. Kid planned to gather blankets and camp gear before they headed up to make the pass.
Cody didn’t much care what he needed, but Kid said he’d be back before nightfall.
The wolf turned a yellow-eyed glare at the golden sun sinking red and orange behind the mountaintop. The wolf couldn’t enter the Fort. He saw no sign of anyone leaving. He watched the sun until it disappeared, leaving only a dark blue blanket of sky with stars peeking out.
Lips peeling back from his teeth, the wolf heaved a harsh sigh and fell over, fur slipping, muscles twisting, bones reshaping.