Wolf Tales II
Blue Ribbon Rating 4.5
"...WOLF TALES II is a must read... The love scenes are hotter than hot, so have a fan ready to cool you down...I thoroughly enjoyed WOLF TALES II and look forward to the next book in the series coming out later this year from Kate Douglas."
"...Smoldering hot and a howling read, Ms. Douglas has done it again. Adventure, danger and intrigue are only a few things that keep you interested in this tale. Fast paced plot and stimulating dialogue is another...Wolf Tales II, is a deliciously erotic paranormal that will leave you panting for more."
Reviewed by Wateena for Coffee Time Romance
"...Fans of erotic supernatural romances will appreciate this torrid sequel with the twist of their intertwined past."
"...Douglas' compelling story is coupled with a tension-filled conclusion. More Wolf Tales are to follow and, no doubt, will be just as titillating."
Heat level O
"...If you loved Wolf Tales and didn't think the series could get any better, you were sadly mistaken. Wolf Tales II has everything that made Wolf Tales amazing and then some... intense, steamy, and oh so hot!"
"...I really enjoy the blistering hot sex and sensuality of Kate’s Wolf Tales stories and this book does not disappoint...Wolf Tales II was a really fun read with hot and steamy sex, with characters you root for and sympathize with."
© 2006 Kate Douglas
Wolf Tales II
San Francisco, California-January 1986
A gun-metal gray sky closed in upon the small group of mourners standing near an open grave. Ulrich Mason glanced down at the tiny hand clasped in his and wondered once again how any father went about explaining death to a six year old.
Mommy's gone to live with the angels? That, of course, raised the question of why Mommy loved the angels more than she loved Tia or Daddy. God needs Mommy in heaven? How could God possibly need Mommy more than they did? Mommy belonged here, alive and laughing, her strength a tangible support in the structure of their lives.
The small fingers wrapped in his large hand trembled. Ulrich took a deep breath and closed his eyes against the pain.
Damn you, Camille!
How the hell could she leave them like this? Damn her, she'd done things her own way, in spite of the risk.
How the hell was he going to survive without her?
And what about Tianna? Ulrich leaned down, lifted his daughter easily and held her tightly against his shoulder. The expected, "I'm a big girl Daddy. Put me down," went unsaid. Instead he felt Tianna's bony little frame shudder, heard her soft, broken sigh, then lifted his chin to make room for the defeated press of her head against his throat. She tucked herself tightly under his jaw. Tianna's wild frizz of blonde curls, so beautiful against her deeply bronzed skin, tickled his ear.
The minister's soft words floated in and out of Ulrich's reality. Caught in the rhythm of Tianna's warm breath against his throat, he inhaled her clean, fresh-soap, little girl scent. He was only peripherally aware of the scuffling and quiet movements of the few mourners standing around the grave and the steady hum of traffic on a nearby freeway.
Ulrich let his memories wander back to Camille. Warm and alive, she paused just outside his consciousness, smiling that secretive, seductive smile that had caught and held him so neatly just eight short years ago.
He felt her warmth, her love, her strong, courageous nature, and most of all, her amazing sensuality surrounding him, holding both of them close. Camille's beautiful eyes, caught somewhere between green and gold, sparkled in the sunlight. She raised her hand, her silky skin shades darker than their daughter's, and beckoned him, calling...
A soft tap on his shoulder yanked Ulrich back. He blinked, noticed the minister had closed his Bible, saw the other mourners now talking quietly among themselves. Ulrich turned slowly to see who had touched him, who had dragged him away from visions of Camille.
A tall, powerfully built young man wearing Marine Corps dress blues stood beside him.
Ulrich shifted Tianna's slight weight in his arms. She sagged against him, asleep finally after so many sleepless nights. "Yes. I'm Ulrich Mason."
As tall as Ulrich and darkly handsome, the mourner could have been any young Marine officer, though there was something about him, something Ulrich sensed beneath the clean cut surface. A friend of Camille's? A lover? Ulrich didn't recognize him, at least, not at first.
"I..." The man looked away, down at his sharply polished shoes, back at Ulrich. "I am..."
The truth exploded in Ulrich's mind, took the breath from his lungs. Suddenly made sense in a most horrible manner. "You are the one who shot my wife." Ulrich nodded at the man's stricken look. "I thought so."
"I am so sorry, Captain Mason. It was a horrible accident, it was..."
"It was inevitable." Ulrich sighed and rubbed his chin against Tia's silky crown. Suddenly he felt much older than his forty-three years, and very, very tired. He stared into the younger man's amber eyes, eyes very much like his own, very much like Camille's, and knew exactly what he had to do.
"You...this...all of it makes Camille's death even more tragic, if that is at all possible." With one last glance at the dark scar in the earth, the final resting place for his beloved wife, Ulrich turned away.
The young man waited, obviously confused. Ulrich stopped. "Aren't you coming?"
"Of course." Impatient now, facing the path he knew his life must take, Ulrich shifted his small daughter's weight in his arms and led his wife's killer across the wet grass toward the parking lot.
* * *
Ulrich tucked the soft blanket under Tianna's chin, brushed the tangled strands back from her forehead and left a light kiss on her temple. He watched her a moment as she settled into sleep, so much like her mother in spite of her lighter brown skin and yellow hair, it made his heart ache. He backed quietly away with a prayer in his soul that somehow they would find a routine, a way to go on.
Without Camille. He'd never imagined anything like this. He'd always thought he would die first, of course...but not for many, many years. A slight sound from below caught Ulrich's attention, brought him back to his place here in his daughter's doorway at the head of the stairs. There was no use putting it off any longer. With a last glance toward Tianna, Ulrich went down to talk with the man who had changed all their lives with a single, well-placed gun shot.
It felt terribly awkward, waiting here in the living room, surrounded by photos, keepsakes, and the almost palpable essence of the woman whose life he'd ended. Waiting while her grieving husband put their beautiful daughter to bed, wondering why he'd agreed to come here, knowing there'd been no other choice.
Lucien Stone reached for a small portrait on the mantel and looked into the eyes of Camille Mason. He'd seen pictures of her, snapshots in color and black and white, photos the press had splashed all over the front page in the five days since she had died, but not this one. Not one of her smiling into the lens, laughter evident in the sparkling eyes, the deep dimple on the left side of her cheek. Damn, other than Tianna's lighter coloring, their daughter was the spitting image of her mother. What was she now? Five, maybe six...Tianna Mason was going to drive her father crazy some day...along with every little boy in the classroom.
Luc was still staring at the photo when Tianna's father entered the room.
Carefully he set the picture back on the mantel and turned toward Ulrich Mason. A rookie cop fresh out of the Marines, Luc had heard of Mason though never met him before. As big as the San Francisco Police Department was, Luc knew very few officers outside his own precinct.
The huge man stood on the last step. His broad shoulders stooped, his entire body shouted exhaustion, grief...the misery of a strong man brought down.
All Luc's fault. If only...
Ulrich straightened and was immediately the imposing, intimidating figure Luc recalled from the publicity photos, the standard shots of the young police captain whose beautiful wife had been tragically killed.
Mason's demeanor and voice commanded attention. "You're still a rookie, aren't you? New to the force?"
Ulrich stepped into the room. "I want you to tell me exactly what happened last Friday, exactly what you saw."
Luc took a step back, challenged by the quiet threat in Mason's voice. He fought an unexplainable urge to grovel at Mason's feet. "It's in the reports, sir. I'm sure you've seen them."
"No. Not your official report. I've read it, the one that says you saw a naked African American woman run out of the woods and thought she was a threat to a group of school kids. Tell me, Officer Stone, what really happened. Exactly the way you recall. What you saw that night. This is between you and me. It's not for the police. It's not for any court proceedings, nor any investigation. It's for me. Camille Mason's husband. I want the truth."
The truth. Did he really believe anymore? Luc stared down at his hands, remembering. When he looked up, Mason was handing him a glass of brandy. A peace offering? The crystal goblet reflected the light from the overhead chandelier and felt warm in the palms of his hands. Luc took a deep breath and almost smiled at the stupidity of his next move.
He would tell Ulrich Mason exactly what he saw before he killed the captain's wife.
First Luc took a long swallow of the brandy and blinked against his quick tears from the potent liquor. He cleared his throat and stared into the glass as he spoke.
"I was patrolling north of the park, close to the Presidio. There was an all points out. Someone had spotted a wolf running near Fulton Way. It sounded absurd, but the orders were real and the dispatcher seemed serious. The caller said the animal snarled at a group of tourists, then disappeared into the bushes as if headed back into Golden Gate Park. Since I was close, I went for a quick look. I thought I heard screams coming from a wooded area near the Japanese Tea Gardens. I drew my weapon and ran toward the sound."
He paused here, at the point where the truth he told Mason differed from the official story in his report. "That's when I saw it. Not a naked woman, definitely a wolf. Beautiful, alert, not at all like the pathetic creatures you see in a zoo. The animal turned and stared at me...it wasn't afraid but I was stopped cold by a sense of uncanny intelligence, of almost human understanding." Luc paused, shook his head in denial, then whispered, "I had the strangest feeling, as if the wolf knew something about me, some great secret."
He turned and looked at Mason, caught in the image, the sense of wonder, of disbelief he'd felt. A wolf in Golden Gate Park! Mason stared back at him, unblinking.
"Just then a group of five or six kids came racing around the bend in the walking trail. They were screaming their heads off. I couldn't tell if they were scared or playing, but they headed right for the wolf. I shouted at them but I don't think they heard me. The wolf turned and crouched down low. I could see its teeth and I thought it might attack. It looked threatening, ready to spring. The kids were coming closer and I just reacted. I shot it. There was a moment of silence, the recoil of the gun in my hand...I'm amazed I was accurate at that distance." Again, he shook his head.
"I swear the wolf understood exactly what I'd done. It looked right at me again, and the really odd thing was, I felt almost like it was trying to talk to me, somehow to communicate. I swear, if I didn't know better, I..." Luc hung his head, feeling horribly sad, not a little bit foolish.
He swallowed back the lump in his throat and looked up, directly into Mason's eyes. "I thought, for the briefest of moments, that the wolf forgave me, that it understood why I had to shoot it, but I know that's impossible."
He shrugged away the image-those intelligent eyes, the beautiful creature he'd killed. If only... Shaking off the sense of disbelief, Luc slowly continued. "Before I could react, the animal dropped in its tracks. The kids scattered, still screaming. By the time I reached the clearing, they were gone. Detectives were able to locate a few of them. They all heard the gunshot, but not one of them saw the wolf. They thought I was shooting at them and that's why they ran."
Ulrich Mason sipped at his brandy. His eyes were so deep set it was hard to tell their color. Luc had the strange sense he was gazing into his own eyes.
"What happened next?
Once again Luc stared into the brandy, wishing there were some way to change time, to return to the man he'd been before. He took a deep breath, remembering, and had to clear his throat to speak.
"I radioed for back-up. I didn't say I'd shot a wolf. I mean, in Golden Gate Park? I couldn't believe it. I reported I'd fired my weapon and might have hit a large dog. Then I went to check on the wolf, to make sure it was dead. Instead of a wolf, I found a woman lying in the grass, naked. She was young, African American, very beautiful. I checked for a pulse but couldn't find one. I'd aimed for the wolf's shoulder, hoping to hit something vital. The bullet had gone through her chest. She was dead. It wasn't until the next day I discovered the woman I killed was your wife."
Luc sat down hard on the leather couch, the brandy snifter clutched in both hands. He still had no idea how it happened. How his bullet, intended to protect a group of children had killed a woman. "I swear, Captain. I saw a wolf. I did not shoot at your wife. I don't know how the hell..."
Almost to himself, Mason whispered, "Always, you did it your way. Ah, Camille. I never dreamed..." Mason sighed. "Let me tell you about my wife, about Camille."
Luc felt the sofa dip as Mason sat down next to him, but he continued staring into the amber depths of his brandy.
"First, though, difficult as this is, I must thank you. You've been truthful even though your mind disbelieves what your eyes have seen."
Luc raised his head and stared at Mason. The older man looked back at him, his eyes the same odd shade of green and amber as Luc's. Why, Luc wondered, did that seem so terribly important?
"As unbelievable as it sounds, when you saw the wolf, you saw Camille, my wife." Mason looked away. He coughed, rubbed his hand across his eyes. Luc felt as if his own heart broke, mortally wounded by the fathomless pain in the other man's voice.
"She was unique in many ways, a woman of the forest. A woman destined to be my mate, the perfect match for me...but she was not what she seemed. Camille was not merely of African American descent. She was a member of a unique race, a separate species, actually, long forgotten, often misunderstood. A species that gave rise to fearful legends and fantasies, almost all of them false. Still, she was impetuous, often careless, but always beloved. She was Chanku."
"What?" Luc leaned back to better see Ulrich. The man appeared lost in his own world of dreams and thought. "What do you mean...Chanku?"
"Chanku. A species of wolf native to the Himalayas." Ulrich turned and looked straight into Luc's eyes. "A species of wolf, but also human. Interchangeable, able to shift from one form to the other, with the intelligence of a human yet all the senses of its wild counterpart. The wolf you saw was my wife. The shift back to her human roots occurred at the time of her death. Camille, myself, our daughter...and, if I am not mistaken, you, Lucien Stone, are all Chanku."
Oakland, California August 2006
Luc sipped his brandy and stared out the large bay window of Ulrich Mason's Marina District home and reflected on the night's mission while he waited for his commander's return. Things had gone better than expected-the young kidnap victim was unharmed and now safe with his parents. Even better, the intelligence had been good, for a change.
Lights reflected off the bay. Traffic, even this late at night, still raced along Marina Boulevard. The rest of the pack had gone off to their respective homes for the night, all heading toward a group of apartments carved out of an old Victorian mansion in the Sunset District. The boy had been returned safely to his parents, the press kept totally out of the story and the first, cursory debriefing was complete.
There would be time for more details later, after they'd all caught up on some badly needed sleep, but for now Luc appreciated a moment to merely sit and relax and enjoy the pleasurable feeling of a job well done.
What did he have to go home to, anyway? There was no mate waiting, no children. No life beyond the camaraderie of the pack and whatever job came next.
Since the terrorist attack on New York, the pack had worked overtime, their unique abilities in demand by the government as never before. A small band of men, all Chanku, brought together by one retired police captain who had long ago recognized his own heritage and realized he could not be the only shape shifter in existence.
Still, Luc could count on one hand the number of Chanku recruited by Ulrich Mason over the last twenty years to work in Pack Dynamics, the cover for a force so secret even the president was unaware of its identity. Four other men ranging in age from the newest member, barely into his mid-twenties, to Luc, now forty-one. Not counting the commander, of course. Ulrich Mason was an entity unto himself.
There were other Chanku out there. Others with the unique ability to shift from human to wolf, but, just as Luc had been ignorant of his heritage, many of them remained unaware of their potential. So often they led lives of quiet misery, aware of something lacking, but never learning what.
Luc knew Ulrich had recently made contact with the leader of another pack, a group now living in Montana. Ulrich hadn't said too much about them, though Luc had sensed Ulrich's respect for their leader, a man reputed to be a powerful wizard as well as Chanku.
Now that was an interesting combination...a magical shape shifter? Luc chuckled quietly to himself. Accepting the concept of shape shifting was hard enough, but adding magic to the mix was a bit much. Still, it was heartening to know there were others out there aware of their heritage, living with their own kind.
Camille Mason had been the key for Ulrich, close enough to her Tibetan roots to retain the knowledge of the grasses the Chanku needed, the combination of vitamins and enzymes and other nutrients that enabled that small part of the brain unique to their breed to function as it was genetically intended. Ulrich had explained it all to a disbelieving Luc that long-ago night.
Luc shifted in his chair, remembering the emotions he'd experienced sitting in this same room, in the home of the woman he'd killed. He'd quit the force the day it happened, emotionally devastated by such a horrible mistake. The quiet, graveside memorial had been even worse, but he'd felt an overwhelming desire to attend. No longer a cop, he'd worn his military blues out of respect. He'd stood apart, feeling the husband's grief, sensing the man's terrible pain, Ulrich's love for his little girl, his loss.
His unimaginable loss.
What would it be like to find a mate of the same species? A woman as attuned to your every thought and need as Camille must have been to Ulrich's? Though the pack was always on the alert for female Chanku, none had been found. The only one Luc had ever known was Tia, and she was just a kid, as far as he knew completely unaware of her shape shifting nature. The last time he'd seen her, almost ten years ago, she'd been a tall, gangly teenager with smooth, mocha skin, braces on her teeth and freckles sprinkled liberally across her nose.
She'd inherited some of her mother's dark coloring-skin the color of coffee with cream and the most beautiful amber eyes he'd ever seen. She even had her mother's dimple in her left cheek. Her hair, though, was dark blonde, just as her father's must once have been, and she'd worn it tied in a pony tail to control the wild tangles.
It was difficult to imagine her as a woman, now.
As a young teen she'd had an inherent grace that hinted of sensuality to come, a natural beauty both unique and compelling. He was a young man in his prime, alone without the prospect of a mate, but a winsome and endearing teenager had been more fun to tease than consider even remotely as an object of desire.
Then Tia was gone, off to that private boarding school with her best friend, and eventually on to college somewhere back East...Boston? She'd been home rarely for very brief visits, though Ulrich had occasionally gone to Boston to visit her. Luc wondered what Tia'd be like now, wondered if Ulrich had ever told Tia the truth about her mother, about herself?
Did Tia know how her mother died? Did she remember?
"Thanks for waiting, Luc."
Ulrich stepped into the room. He'd removed his suit coat and loosened his tie. His thick shock of white hair was a bit ruffled and out of place but for a man in his sixties, Ulrich still carried an air of authority no one would ever strip from him.
"No problem, Boss. It feels good to sit with absolutely nothing on my mind for a change."
"You deserve to relax." Ulrich poured brandy into a crystal goblet and sat in the leather chair opposite Luc's. "Just don't get used to it."
Luc laughed. Ulrich lifted the brandy in a silent toast. "You did well tonight. The boy is safe, the press still blissfully unaware of our existence, and no one was injured."
"Thank you. I was concerned about the intelligence, but it was good for a change. That's important. Unfortunately, it's also rare."
Ulrich nodded. "I know. That's why I asked you to stay. The lack of good intelligence can be a real problem. We never really know exactly what to expect." He concentrated on his glass for a moment, then raised his head and stared intently at Luc. Though they regularly communicated telepathically, as was the way of the pack, Ulrich's thoughts remained blocked.
Luc waited, his curiosity growing with each beat of his heart.
Finally Ulrich shifted in his chair and leaned forward. "Tianna called. She's moving back to San Francisco." Ulrich rolled the glass between his palms. "She plans to teach...a private school over in the Sunset. There's a small apartment at the school so she'll live there."
That was the last thing Luc had expected to hear. He studied his mentor for a moment before answering. "You don't seem very happy about it. I would think you'd be thrilled to have your daughter close by."
"It scares the shit out of me, having her so close. Think of what we do, what we're like." Ulrich stood up, as if his body could no longer contain his emotion. "You haven't seen Tianna in a long time, Luc. There's a reason for that. I didn't want you-not any of the pack-near my daughter. I don't think I could have handled it, watching you bastards sniff around her like the animals you are. You're male, all Chanku. You've been with a lot of women. Hell, you've probably been with just as many men. That's the nature of the beast, literally." Ulrich turned and smiled but there was little humor in his expression. "Our sex drive is sometimes overwhelming, isn't it?"
Luc nodded, but he wondered where Ulrich was taking this, and he wasn't sure he liked the implications that he'd be unsafe around Tia. Granted, the sex drive was something he'd had a difficult time with at first, once the special diet Ulrich started him on had unlocked his Chanku spirit. The need, the urge to mate, to fuck any available woman-or man-any time he had the chance. It had taken years to achieve control over that part of his nature, to find some sort of balance that allowed him to live without constantly thinking about who he might screw next.
"We can't deny sex is a huge part of what we are, a powerful drive even before the supplements are added to the diet, impossible for many years after. I couldn't let you, of all the pack, near my daughter, not while she was growing up, not when you were the one man who knew exactly how strong the bloodline runs in her veins."
Luc's short bark of laughter barely hid the shaft of anger slicing through him. "I'd like to think you could trust me with your only daughter, Boss. I..."
"Settle down. Don't take it personally. Put yourself in my place. I've not been celibate since Camille's death, though I've never found another life mate. Not like Camille. You didn't know my wife. Her sexual drives were often beyond her control. Mine weren't much better. Neither of us was faithful during our marriage, though it was by mutual choice."
Ulrich shrugged and took a sip of his brandy. "You're aware Chanku are not monogamous by nature, though we reproduce only with our life mate. The need for sexual satisfaction runs strongly in our women and they rarely hesitate to experience relations with as many men and women as possible. Sexually transmitted human diseases don't affect us and the woman has total control over conception, so there's no reason not to enjoy sexual freedom."
Ulrich flashed a self-deprecating smile at Luc. "However grand it sounds in theory, and no matter how well it works with adults, I don't think I could have handled that overt sexuality with my daughter, nor would it have been fair for me to attempt to curtail it. The pre-teen years were hard enough."
Luc relaxed as the tension went out of him.
Ulrich grinned. "Trust me, you have no idea how relieved I was when she and her friend Shannon decided they wanted to go to an all girls' boarding school. I felt like the gods had granted me a favor."
"She doesn't know, does she?" Luc had suspected but never asked.
Ulrich shook his head. "No. I've never told her, and Tianna has not been given the nutrients she needs to activate her Chanku nature. Until she adds the supplement to her diet, she is just another highly sexual human. She doesn't know. She hasn't got a clue who she is, what she is. I didn't... I couldn't..." He shook his head again, as if acknowledging there were no valid excuses or acceptable explanations.
"Do you think that's fair to her?"
"Hell, I don't know if it's fair or not." Ulrich fairly bristled. "Her mother and I felt it best to keep the truth from her until she was old enough to understand the need for secrecy. Then Camille was gone and I couldn't find the right time. The ability to shift emerges at puberty if the child has a steady diet of the nutrients. I kept them from Tianna on purpose. How do you tell a little girl facing her first period without her mother there to guide her that, oh, by the way, not only are you going to bleed every month, you now have the power to shift into a wolf? I couldn't then. Now I don't know if I even want her to know."
"Why? It's her right, don't you think?" Luc stood up and placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "You didn't hesitate to tell me. Hell, you scared the crap out of me that night, shifting into a wolf without warning me what the fuck you were doing!"
Ulrich laughed out loud. "Got your attention, didn't I?"
"I guess you could say that. I just about shit my pants."
"Sorry, but you looked at me as if I'd lost my mind and I had to prove our existence. Besides, I didn't care a whit about you or your psyche. All I cared about was your DNA. I needed you to start my pack. I'd dreamed about a secret force of shape shifters ever since Camille took me through my first change from man to wolf. You were the only other Chanku I'd ever found and I hated your guts. Protecting your self-esteem was the last thing on my mind."
Luc shook his head, sobered by the memories of how they'd met. "Okay. I guess I can accept that. So tell me what you expect me to do?"
"There's a major lack of good intelligence and always the risk of discovery. I am afraid I won't have the information I need to keep my daughter safe. She's an adult. There's no way I can watch her every minute. Luc, I want you to protect her. The pack, as well as the true purpose of Pack Dynamics is, so far, a well-kept secret, but at some point, somewhere, we will be found out. It's inevitable. I have no idea how we'll deal with that when it happens-and it will happen, but our work is too important to let fear of discovery put us out of business."
The same concerns kept Luc awake far too many nights. "I know. Can you imagine the uproar if someone gets proof of our existence? None of us would be safe."
"Agreed." Ulrich raked his fingers through his white hair. "Just last month we had that reporter writing about werewolves in some tabloid. Next thing you know, he's jumped off the Golden Gate. Might have solved our problem, except one of the cops thought he saw two wolves on the bridge, chasing the man, and he put that in his report. You get enough reports like that and someone's going to start paying attention. One good thing about the incident is that's how I discovered the existence of the Montana pack. I suspected others in the area-I'd sensed Chanku nearby on more than one occasion."
Ulrich paused. "I told you I made initial contact with their alpha male, Anton Cheval. He's an amazing man with powers we can only imagine. I hope we can all meet at some point. There's much we can learn from Cheval."
Ulrich stared into the brandy for a moment, as if considering his words. Finally, he looked back at Luc. "There's something I didn't tell you at the time, that the Montana pack leader's mate is my niece. Her mother was Camille's sister."
Luc felt a chill run the length of his spine. "Your niece? Why haven't you ever mentioned her? Is the sister, her mother, still alive?"
Ulrich shook his head and set his glass down on an end table. "No. She was the victim of a hit and run shortly before I lost Camille. Killed near the park, in fact, not far from where Camille died. I assumed her daughter had inherited the genes, but, like an idiot, I never followed through. I'll admit I went a little crazy when Camille died. I had Tianna to worry about. I lost track of Keisha-to be honest, I never tried to keep in touch. Developing the pack consumed my life and I honestly forgot all about her."
Ulrich held his hands out, palms up, a helpless gesture Luc never would have associated with the man. "It was foolish. All these years, searching for more Chanku and I never thought of my own damned niece. Then a few months ago I read the tabloid story about a werewolf attack, did some snooping, called in some markers and got the identity of the rape victim. I recognized her name. It was all too coincidental, the werewolf attack story and all. I figured, knowing Camille's genetics and their relationship, she had to be Chanku."
"How many in their pack?"
"Four. Two men, two women."
"All Chanku? Both men have mates?" Luc felt an ache deep in his gut at Ulrich's slow nod.
"My niece, Keisha, is a landscape architect. It appears she is the one who designed the memorial garden in Golden Gate Park."
There was no need to wonder which memorial Ulrich described. Every one of the pack had noticed the developing garden, drawn to it by the selection of grasses native to Tibet. Grasses every Chanku needed to help him shift.
"So it wasn't a chance selection of plants." Luc recalled the attractive African American woman directing the workers when the garden was under construction. Shouldn't he have sensed her? Why hadn't he noticed her basic nature?
"As far as I know, my niece was unaware of her ability to shift. Keisha didn't find out until she was assaulted. She shifted and killed her attackers."
"I remember reading about a dog attack in the Chronicle. The article said three men were killed by pit bulls, that it was some sort of gang retaliation."
"The paper got it wrong. The only publication that was even remotely close was the tabloid that ran the werewolf story."
Luc laughed. "You got me there. I don't read tabloids."
"Neither do I, usually. This particular headline caught my eye. I've not gotten the details from my niece, but I intend to question her next time we meet."
"I wonder how the reporter got his information? I don't know the entire story behind the guy's death, but I can't be sorry he's gone."
Ulrich scraped his hands over his face. "I'm surprised we've maintained our anonymity this long. Luc, right now, Tianna is my only weak point, the only way anyone can get to me short of outright killing me. She's beautiful, she's brilliant, and she's vulnerable."
"She wouldn't be so vulnerable if she knew the truth." Luc's soft words practically echoed in the quiet room.
"That's exactly why I've asked you to stay this evening." Ulrich finished his brandy and set the glass on the mantel. He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I know you're right. I trust you, Luc. If I've learned nothing else over the years, I've learned you are an honorable man who tells the truth. As for me, I will always see Tianna as a little girl. That's wrong, and it's unfair to her but that's the way it is with fathers and daughters. Some day I hope you have a daughter of your own so you'll understand what I'm saying. Tianna's a woman now. I want you to get to know her as a woman, find out her strengths and her weaknesses. See if you think she'll be able to handle the truth. Help her accept who she is. Luc, I want you to find a way to tell her."
"You realize what you're asking, don't you?"
Ulrich nodded, but at least he was smiling. "I know. Don't make me come right out and say it. I'm her father and she will always be my little girl. I'm not ready to think of her in a sexual relationship with anyone, including you. I'd rather just pretend it's not happening. You haven't seen her for a long time, Luc. She's beautiful. She's so much like her mother it breaks my heart, but she's an innocent."
At Luc's look of surprise, Ulrich smiled. "Hell, I don't know if she's a virgin or not. That's her business and, like I said, she's a grown woman. I mean she's innocent of her heritage, of her birthright. She's twenty-six now. She's all I've got left of her mother and I want her safe."
"Okay. Let's get this straight." Luc poured himself another snifter of brandy and took a long swallow, coughed, and sipped more cautiously the next time. Anger roiled in his gut and he fought the Chanku sense of hackles rising.
"You want me to keep your daughter safe. She probably doesn't remember me, she has never heard of the pack, she doesn't have a clue that she's not even a normal human, much less what Chanku is. She thinks you're a retired cop dabbling in detective work with Pack Dynamics, not the commander of a top secret government agency, and on top of that, she doesn't know that I'm the man who shot and killed her mother while Camille was running around Golden Gate Park in broad daylight as a wolf. Okay. Fine. And you expect me to do this how?"
"Calm down. I know you, Lucien. You'll think of a way to get through to her. You have to make her trust you. Take your time. Get her comfortable with the idea of Chanku, let her know her connection gently. You can do it."
"Yeah. Right. Before or after I tell her about her mother?" Luc definitely felt his hackles rise this time, a strange sensation in human form and not nearly as satisfactory.
"Lucien, dammit! Calm down."
"How does she think her mother died?" Luc sat heavily on the couch. He'd known this day would eventually come. He'd never been able to get the vision of that beautiful little girl sleeping in her father's arms out of his mind. Some day she would find out exactly what part Lucien Stone had played in her mother's death.
"She believes the story we fed to the papers, that Camille was the victim of a sexual assault and in her attempt to escape she was shot and killed by her attacker."
"How the hell did you manage that?" Luc stared at the carpet between his feet, reliving the horror of that day almost twenty years ago as if it had occurred this morning. "The entire time after it happened is a blur to me. It wasn't until years later I realized I'd never even been questioned by my supervisor after I gave my initial report, much less any form of investigative panel. It was as if I'd never been there."
"As far as public record is concerned, you never saw my wife. I called in some markers, Luc. Leave it at that. You left the force, I retired. We made it all go away. I was a captain with twenty years' service and times were different then. It was easier to keep things under wraps. Hell, now there'd be half a dozen videos from as many angles showing how Camille died."
"Those must have been some markers, Boss. Tia's going to hate me when she finds out."
"Then don't tell her." Ulrich stood up, grabbed Luc's coat and threw it at him. "I certainly don't intend to. Go home. Get some sleep. Tomorrow my car will be unavailable and you're taking me to the airport to pick up my daughter. It will give you a chance to get reacquainted."
"Still calling in those markers, Boss?"
"Do I have to?" Ulrich stared straight at Luc, one alpha wolf challenging another.
Luc shook his head. "You know you don't. What time?"
"I'll see you here at ten. Her flight's due in at SFO just after eleven."
Wolf Tales II available NOW from Kensington Books.
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