Ellis: Emerson Wolves ― Paranormal Wolf Shifter Romance

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

World Castle Publishing, LLC

Pensacola, Florida

Copyright © Kathi S. Barton 2015

Hardback ISBN: 9781629893440

Print ISBN: 9781629893457

eBook ISBN: 9781629893464

First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, October 5, 2015

http://www.worldcastlepublishing.com

Licensing Notes

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.

Cover: Karen Fuller

Editor: Eric Johnston

Editor: Maxine Bringenberg

Eight years ago

 

“Where are you, girl? Girl? Where the heck have you gotten yourself to now?” Dawn curled tighter into the hole she’d found for herself and tried to control her breathing. It would not do to get caught when she’d gotten so far this time. “Girl? You’d better darn well answer me. It’s not gonna go well for you if you don’t come out now.”

She had no intentions of ever going back. Dawn knew that if she was caught this time, not only would she be beaten again, but she’d more than likely die. Or she’d try her best to die this time. She was too tired to keep doing this. When her uncle moved by where she was, Dawn curled tighter into her ball and stopped breathing. He stood not two feet from her, and she knew that he’d only have to turn just a little to find her.

As soon as he moved on she was tempted to bolt again, but that had been what got her caught before. He wasn’t faster than her, but she was weighted down with the chains still on her ankles, and there wasn’t any way for her to shift and outrun him either. Staying still, even with the need to run now beating at her, Dawn closed her eyes and tried to think of anything but him.

She had been seven when she was brought to her uncle and aunt—brother and sister-in-law to her mom—and at first it had been nice. Her mother had been in prison for about three months before they’d figured out she had a kid, and the authorities had come looking for her. Stealing food had made her feel horrible, but she had a plan to pay everything back. That hadn’t worked out so well so far.

About a year after she’d started living with Uncle Basil and Aunt Neva, he’d supposedly lost his job. She never really understood what it was he’d done, but just one day she was sat at the table and told that she was no longer going to have the luxuries that she’d had before. Not that she could remember having any, but Aunt Neva took great pride in the fact that Dawn was going to lose them.

“And you’ll work around here too. Cooking one meal a day for us, and we’ll do the rest.” Again, something that she’d been doing anyway. “There will no longer be a ride to school. You’ll have to walk back and forth, and starting tomorrow, you’ll pack your lunch. No more free lunches for you.”

“But I do that already.”

The slap had knocked her off the chair and into the stove behind her. As she lay there, stunned and hurting, Aunt Neva stood over her screaming at her to get up. Dawn did finally get up and sit back in the chair, only to be knocked back again, by her uncle this time. She didn’t remember much of what happened that night after that. And it continued over the years, but mostly with her aunt giving out the hits and Uncle Basil just telling her what a disappointment she was, and how he wished he’d never said yes to taking her in.

For many years her routine had rarely changed. Dawn did the laundry, another job that had been added to her list when she’d been caught sitting at the table reading the newspaper that had been wrongly delivered to their house. While the laundry was washing or drying, she’d make their meals and then clean up after them. The living room had to be cleaned after they went to bed, but no vacuuming. Their bedroom was cleaned daily, the bed made, and the bathroom had to be spotless by ten or there would be hell to pay. While it wasn’t the cleanest house in the world, it was all she’d really known. Dawn could recite every story they’d told her about her mom—every evil thing that they said she did—and what Dawn should and should not be doing to help them out, as they were so good to let her stay with them. Then she’d turned eighteen.

Her birthdays were never acknowledged. The day would only be noticed by her, and for the most part, she was fine with that. At any given time up until that point she could have told anyone the days, hours, and even the minutes remaining until that particular time in her life came to her. She was leaving them then. It was her right as an adult.

Her eighteenth birthday had started out just like any other Tuesday. She had gathered the wash up and was putting the first load in the machine when her belly began to churn. Not like she was hungry—she knew that feeling all too well—but like she was going to be sick. Going to the bathroom had produced nothing more than a bit of bile, but she didn’t feel any better.

As the day wore on, she began to sweat. Her body felt strange, and she could swear that there was a monster inside of her…a monster that wanted out of her. By dinner she could hardly move, her muscles ached, and her skin felt as if it was going to peel away from her.

As the dinner simmered on the stove, Dawn had gone into the yard to get some fresh air. Screaming with the pain, she fell to her knees, and just as the consuming pain took her breath away, it was gone. She knew that something was wrong…so terribly wrong. Dawn fell twice trying to walk, and then realized that she was no longer Dawn, but something with fur and paws.

Dawn was able to move around after a few minutes, and had liked the way she felt. Her body was…she supposed it was stronger than her human body had been, and for some reason she’d not been scared or freaked out by the change. Just wonderfully happy. Then her uncle had come out of the house, and things went bad fast.

Her uncle stomping by her again brought her out of her thoughts. She didn’t move, and for now that seemed to be working for her. He was getting madder by the second, and she nearly smiled at that. But him being pissed would only be harder on her if he caught her.

“Darn you, girl, when I find you, I’m going to whip you with a stick. Where the heck are you?” She saw him twice more as he moved by her hiding place. Her legs were cramping up and she had to pee, but those were minor things compared to what he’d do if he caught her again. “Girl, you are starting to really make me mad at you, and you know how it hurts you when I lose my temper.”

Dawn stayed where she was until the moon was high in the sky. She’d not heard her uncle in a long time, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t out there somewhere just waiting for her to get up and show him where she was. But she had to move. It was that or be so sore she’d not be able to get away if he was gone.

Moving slowly to let the pins and needles move out of her muscles, Dawn picked up her bag of things and slowly moved her head above the hole where she’d been hiding.

Nothing. Lifting her nose to the air, she could smell him, but it was faint now. His scent was faded, long gone from where she was. Pulling the bag and her chain with her, she moved out of the hole. Still cautious, she moved from tree to tree, hardly making a sound as she did so. It was the most delicious feeling she’d ever had.

Walking with the moon in front of her, Dawn knew that she’d make it to a town soon. It had taken her four different failed escape attempts before she got to this point. And she had made better decisions on what to take with her too. Food was a necessity, but it was the compass she’d found one day when she’d been in the big shed, as well as all the money she’d been stashing away since her eighteenth birthday, that was going to be the most help. It had only been a few dollars here, some change there, that she’d found when doing the laundry. Lucky for her when she’d been caught all those times before, neither of them had found those two items.

It was dawn when she stopped. The town was ahead of her; she could see the glow of the city lights. But Dawn knew that going into the little burg would be a mistake. She had on clothing that was filthy, and there was a shackle on both her ankles. The long chain was attached to another one that was around her neck. It would be hard to hide and even harder to explain. Dawn was sure she looked like a prison escapee.

Instead of going to the town to beg for help, she made it to the big barn that was near the road. Spending the day there was preferable to anything that she might find in town. She hid in the top of it, where the sweet hay was the nicest bed she’d had in a long while, and fell asleep.

The voices woke her. A man and a boy were talking about the sheep that had been stolen. Dawn knew who had stolen them. Her uncle took great pride in his ability to turn a buck at someone else’s expense. Listening to them talking, she knew what it was costing them to have so many of his herd taken.

“We’ll have to cut corners, you know.” The boy said yes, and Dawn wondered what sort of punishment he’d put on the little boy because of her uncle. “Maybe we’ll only be able to get one popcorn instead of two when we go see that movie tonight.”

“Oh, Dad. You don’t even like popcorn anyway.” The child and man laughed, and Dawn smiled at the sound of it. “Maybe we can use my savings to go tonight. I been saving and saving.”

“No, that’s your money, son. You’re going to go to college with that, and can take care of your old dad when he’s too senile to take care of himself.” They laughed again and moved out of the barn. Dawn sat back, thinking about the conversation as she ate her banana.

She was now twenty years old and no one had talked to her like that since she’d been a child. Not in the whole nearly fourteen years she’d been with her aunt and uncle. Even then her mom would yell at her for hours about an A on her report card and not an A-plus, and no matter how many times she’d tried to explain to her that they didn’t give that kind of grade, she expected her to have them. Dawn knew now why she’d done it. Her mom had wanted her to have a better life than she had right then. Fat lot of good it had done either of them.

Lying back down, she decided that she’d stay one more night, then move on. There was no way she was going to get caught now. This was the furthest she’d ever gotten, and she was going to make the best of it somehow.

Dawn stayed for three days. The first night, after the house had darkened, she searched the barn for anything to remove the shackles from her body. She finally found a long screwdriver, but ended up stabbing it into her foot and not removing the chains at all. It had hurt like hell but she did a good job of cleaning it up, and by the morning of the fourth day of her freedom, she was ready to move on.

She hadn’t gotten far when an expensive looking car nearly ran her down.

The lady had been really nice to her, talking to her calmly while Dawn had tried to clean most of the blood and dirt off her pants. These were her cleanest pair, and as she had no way of knowing when she’d be able to wash them, it frustrated her to no end that they were dirty. When the woman reached out and touched her fingers to her hand, Dawn felt a burn up her arm like she’d touched a hot burner.

“He’ll find you tomorrow if you don’t let me help you.” Dawn fell back again, soaking her pants through as she stared at the woman. “My name is Addie Parker. I live up the road about three miles. But your uncle is going to find you tomorrow while you’re in a restaurant asking about a job.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The woman nodded. “I’m just out taking a walk.”

Her voice had been scratchy from lack of use, and she was sure the woman thought she was nuts. Then she knelt down to her level, uncaring of the mud and mire that was getting on her nice clothing, and put her hand on the shackles. She touched the one around her neck and finally spoke.

“He put this one on you when you first shifted. He said that it was the only way to keep you from killing them in their sleep. It was used to chain you to the wall in the bathroom.” Dawn nodded at her, terrified beyond anything she’d ever been before. “These he put on you after he read that if you shifted while wearing them that you’d sever your feet. He’s not a nice person, is he?”

“No. Neither is my aunt.” The woman nodded. “How do you know these things? Is he…do you know him? Is he talking to you about me? I’m not going back there.”

“No. You’re not. But he’s going to find you if you don’t trust me.” A car drove around them, and Addie shielded her from being seen by its occupants. Then Addie helped her into her car. She spoke as she drove, telling her about where she would be safe from now on. “I have a cottage on the property not far from where you lived before. It’ll be safer for you there. No one knows about it but a few, and it’s too close for him to think you’d go there. No one ever goes out there anymore. They used to use it for a hunting shed, but it’s been a long time since anyone hunted on the property. I’d take you to my home, but I’m afraid he’d figure it out. Not that I’m afraid of him, but people will talk and he’ll get to you.”

“Why are you doing this?” Addie drove for a few minutes, and Dawn started to ask her again, but she finally answered.

“No one should be abused. And you seem like a nice person.” She glanced at her. “You
are
a nice person. I want to help. And in turn, you can help me.”

“I don’t have anything to help you with. I don’t have but a few dollars.” Addie grinned and told her how much she had to the penny. “How do you know that?”

“I can read you…your mind and your body. You’re very malnourished. The wound on your foot is healing, but you need to rest for a while. You’ve been beaten up a great deal, starved when you pissed them off, and you don’t have nearly enough fluid in your body to keep you well.” As they turned down an overgrown drive, Addie continued. “I need someone to keep an eye on the place. Keep strays, including people, out of the house. I can pay you, in money or food, but I’d suggest food for now so that you won’t have to travel into town. There is still the chance that he’ll find you.”

“I’m not going back.” Addie told her she didn’t want her to either. “His name is Basil Combs. My aunt is Neva. He lost his job when I was eight, and they’ve not had much in the way of income since.”

“How long ago was that?” Dawn told her it had been fourteen years, give or take a few months. “I’m so sorry you had to live like that. It’s not right that anyone should live like an animal, the way they were treating you.”

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