Excerpt from Seduced by the Wolf:
Except for a couple of cars
parked outside the town hall, the lot was empty, and it appeared the wolf biologist speaking here tonight wouldn’t have much of an
audience to lecture to.
Oregon air surrounding him felt damp and cool, not like the drier, much sunnier
weather Leidolf Wildhaven had left behind in Colorado. He kept telling himself
he’d get used to it. Old-time brass lanterns cast a golden glow over the
sidewalk. A steady breeze stirred the spring leaves of the massive white oaks
that lined the brick walk leading to the two-story building. An antiquated
clock chimed seven times in the center of the tower on top, announcing to
everyone in the listening area that the time had arrived for the lecture to
let out his breath and headed for the building.
to do with wolves concerned him, and even though the “doctor” couldn’t say
anything that he didn’t already know, he wanted to see how others reacted to
her talk concerning them. At this rate, it looked as though no one was going to
took two steps at a time up the brick stairs and strode into the building, his
gaze focusing on the empty chairs and the speakerless podium. Dressed in a gray
suit, Millie Meekle, the woman in charge of tourism and special events in the
area, wrung her hands nearby and shook her head, her stiff, glued-together
silver hair not moving a fraction out of place.
Mr. Wildhaven, this is a disaster. Dr. Roux had a flat tire at the place she’s
staying, and my husband dropped me off here, so I haven’t any vehicle to go get
her.” She waved at the empty seats. “And no one has even shown up yet.”
men sauntered into the town hall, their boots tromping on the wooden floor,
their expressions annoyed.
the doc?” one of the men asked gruffly.
quickly spoke up. “She’s stuck at the Cranberry Top Bed and Breakfast. Mr. Wildhaven’s
kind enough to offer to get her. She’s staying in the Blue Room, first door on
the left down the hall from the entryway,” she directed Leidolf.
man snorted. “We don’t need no damned wolf biologist telling us how we should
reintroduce wolves into the wild out here.”
Mr. Hollis,” Millie said.
‘Now, Mr. Hollis’ me, Millie. You know I raise sheep, and if any damn wolf
slinks onto my land, I’ll
kill him dead. That’s what I’ll do.”
go get her,” Leidolf said. He stalked out of the building with its oppressive
heat and back into the cool out-of-doors. He hadn’t figured any of the
livestock owners would bother to come to the meeting, but after seeing the
burly men, he was afraid the professor was bound for trouble.
into his Humvee, he assumed the woman probably wouldn’t get a whole lot of
lecturing done but instead would be faced with a barrage of condemning remarks.
He still couldn’t figure out why in the world she’d come here instead of
lecturing to a more intellectual crowd in the city of Portland, two hours away.
the vehicle in drive, he headed to the Cranberry Top, a quaint little
red-roofed home with white siding and a white picket fence. Like many of the
homes in the area, the place had been turned into a bed-and-breakfast inn
because it was situated on a creek perfect for fishing and picturesque Mount
Hood could be seen way off in the distance. Great for a Portland getaway.
Leidolf arrived at the inn, he saw the vehicle in question, a green pickup with
California plates that was tilting to one side. Women. Probably didn’t know how to change a tire or
call for someone to come and fix a flat.
barely opened the door to his Humvee when a woman hurried out, red hair in
curls down to her shoulders and bouncing with her every step, eyes sea green and
wide and hopeful, brow furrowed as she clutched a leather satchel tightly
against her chest and headed straight for him. Dr. Roux? At least he presumed
that’s who she was, only he’d expected someone a lot less leggy and less
stunning to look at.
he’d figured he’d see was a gray-haired older woman, her hair swept back in a
bun, with oval goldrimmed glasses perched on her nose. Instead, this woman
looked to be in her midtwenties and in terrific form, with shapely legs and a
body to match. He envisioned her hiking through woods on wilderness treks to
observe wolves, dispelling the notion that she was strictly a classroom
Roux?” he asked, feeling more like a knight in shining armor now.
didn’t smile but looked worried as hell as she chewed a glossy lip and then
gave a stiff nod. “Did Millie send you for me?” She didn’t wait for him to
answer and motioned to the truck. “I changed the tire already.”
frowned and glanced back at the flat tire.
was nice enough to ruin the spare also when I ran inside to clean up,” she
added, her tone peeved. “It was too late to have the spare fixed before the
that any of the townspeople would treat her that way, he bit back a curse. Yet
he couldn’t help being surprised for a second time. First, by her appearance. Now,
by how capable the little woman was.
motioned to his Humvee. “I’m Leidolf Wildhaven, rancher south of town. I’ll
take you to the meeting and have one of my men fix the tires while you’re
rancher,” she said softly, her voice slightly condemning.
cast her a smidgeon of a smile. “Yeah, but cougars are the only animals that
bother me of late. Wolves? They’re
my kind of animal. Protective, loyal—you know, like a dog, man’s best friend.”
prefer you call me Leidolf.”
Cassie. Never met a rancher before who liked wolves.” She sounded as though she
didn’t believe he would care for wolves. Maybe even worried that he might cause
her trouble when she lectured.
climbed into his vehicle, took a deep breath, and her eyes widened again. He
swore if he hadn’t blocked her in as he held the door ready to shut it for her,
she would have escaped. He heard her slight intake of breath and her heartbeat
accelerate. Her gaze swiftly swept over him as if he was suddenly someone of
swallowed hard and smoothed her skirt over her lap, drawing his eye, and then
she pulled away from him as much as possible. She took another deep breath and
met his gaze. “Wolves are wild and unpredictable. But you’re right. They’re
also protective and loyal. Thanks for coming to get me.”
smiled in response, appreciating that she was a wolf advocate yet understood
wolves well enough to realize how dangerous they could be, and felt a slight connection
to her right away. Before he could shut her door, she quickly added, “You… are taking me to the town hall, right?”
Millie Meekle said you needed a lift.”
still looked a little alarmed when Leidolf climbed into the vehicle, and he
supposed he could understand her wariness. Millie should have called to let Cassie
know he was coming to get her.
never figured I’d have trouble out here.” She snapped her seat belt in place
and pressed herself against the passenger door, almost as if she was attempting
to keep as far away from him as she could.
someone who studied wolves, she seemed a tad skittish. Which made him wonder if
she’d had trouble with men before. Instantly, that thought gnawed at him, no
matter that he’d just met her.
glanced at her as he drove back to the meeting place. “Why not lecture in
Portland? You’d have had much more of a draw.”
long silence filled the air.
need to be educated in places like
this,” she finally said.
didn’t respond, but he was already bothered by where this was leading. And he
had a sneaking suspicion it was the very reason she had come here.
looked out the window and didn’t say anything further.
cleared his throat. “Why in places like this?”
prolonged silence filled the space between them, elevating his concern.
her head in his direction, she gave him a sad kind of smile. “Because unless
the wolf is in the Oregon Zoo, the people of Portland are unlikely to see any
wolves running around their fair city.”
felt her observing him while he concentrated on the road. Like she studied
wolves? Wouldn’t she be surprised to learn he was one also, whenever he had the
urge to shift.
might be out here, some day.”
don’t seem the type who wastes time talking about future events. Have you seen
a wolf in this area?” he
asked, very much to the point. He had to know. Had she seen one of his pack
members running in his or her fur coat in the woods around here?
looked back out the window.
Hell. “Cassie, have you seen a wolf in these parts?”
been spotted in several different locations all over Oregon. People everywhere
need to be educated. That’s
what I do,” she said evasively.
about what she’d observed, Leidolf pulled into a parking space at the town
hall. Several vehicles now filled the lot. He hoped that most of the good
citizens of the area would behave themselves. And if she’d seen what he
suspected she had, he hoped the hell she didn’t mention it in the lecture. He
suspected that she was worried he might want the wolf eliminated if she told
him she’d actually witnessed it—because he was a rancher, despite saying he
he could climb out of his Humvee to get her door, she hopped out, thanked him,
and hurried up the brick walk. “Sorry,” she said, in a rush to get to the front
door. “I’m fifteen minutes late.”
thought she hurried to stay away from him for some other reason. He couldn’t
fathom what that reason was. He had brought her here safe and sound and would
have one of his men fix her tires. So why would she fear him? The fact he was a
rancher? Or maybe she was so used to being around wolves—the real kind—that she
wasn’t equipped to deal with the wolfish human kind. On the other hand, maybe
he was making something out of nothing. Maybe she was just anxious because of
being late to her own speaking engagement. That was all.
stalked after her and opened the door before she reached it. “It looks like
most everyone just arrived, so I’d
say you were right on time.”
gave him a tight smile, but the attempt at a friendly response didn’t reach her
eyes. She hurried inside, her heels clicking on the wooden floor, and the conversation
died to absolute silence. Leidolf took a seat in back where he could observe
everyone. As attractive as the woman was, he’d have preferred watching her, the
way she slid her hands gently over her notes, the way her full, glossy lips
parted as she spoke, the sweet tone of her voice, even when she was worried
about being late or annoyed that someone had ruined her tires.
forced his gaze from her and glanced at several kids, who appeared to be
high-school students, seated to one side of the room with pens and notepads in hand.
Probably would receive some kind of special credit for coming here tonight.
Even a couple of twin girls from his pack were in the audience, although pack
members home schooled their own. Their father must have made them come. Alice
and Sarah glanced back at Leidolf and smiled. He bowed his head in acknowledgment.
the other side of the hall, he recognized most of the men, ranchers all of
them. One man raised pygmy goats; six others, cattle like him; and the
sheepherder. The man who really caught his attention was a blond who also
garnered Cassie’s. Her eyes widened, and she fussed over her notes, but she
looked back at him as he grinned broadly. Someone she definitely knew but
apparently wasn’t overly happy to see. She didn’t seem to be from the area. In
fact, her bio said she was from California, and Leidolf didn’t remember seeing either
of them here before. So had the man followed her here?
studied the man again. Tall, thin, wearing hiking boots, jeans, and a
camouflage jacket. He looked like a hunter. Leidolf already didn’t like him.
his cell phone out, Leidolf texted his second in-command, Elgin, telling him
which vehicle to have repaired, what needed to be accomplished, and to take his
time in getting it done. And then Leidolf sat back to listen to the little lady’s
speech. After she finished her talk, he meant to speak to her again and learn
kind of wolf had she seen, and where?
couldn’t believe all of her rotten, bad luck.
the idiot or idiots had to ruin not one, but two of her tires. Then the absolute
hunk who comes to rescue her was one of her kind. How could she get so lucky? And
to top all that off? Fellow wolf biologist Alex Wellington
had to track her down again. What was his problem? What part of I work alone did he not get? Not
that he wasn’t cute or good at his job, but sometimes she liked to shift while
she was working, and she sure as hell didn’t want him studying her as one of his wolf projects.
(c) Terry Spear, 2009