A wolf on the run and a woman with something to prove. Can they uncover the truth before it's too late?
Wildlife photographer Tessa Anderson is fascinated by wolves, until she realizes that one might be stalking her. And to make matters worseor at the very least, weirdershe's just discovered a half-dead, naked man on her beach who can't remember how he got there.
Hunter Greymore is a lupus garou, a grey werewolf. He might not know how he ended up in this mess, but he's sure his pack had something to do with it. Intending to keep a low profile at Tessa's cabin, he quickly realizes the danger to her is much deadlier than anything threatening him, and he'll do anything to keep her safe...
Heart of the Wolf Series:
Heart of the Wolf (Book 1)
To Tempt the Wolf (Book 2)
Legend of the White Wolf (Book 3)
Seduced by the Wolf (Book 4)
Praise for USA Today bestseller Terry Spear:
"The chemistry crackles off the page."Publishers Weekly for Heart of the Wolf
"If action, romance, and suspense are what you are looking for...look no further."Night Owl Romance for To Tempt the Wolf
"Do yourself a big favor and put this book into your read now pile!"Fresh Fiction for A Billionaire Wolf for Christmas
"Tantalizing, action-packed romance...with all the magic of fantasy."The Pen & Muse for Destiny of the Wolf
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Terry Spear has written over sixty paranormal and medieval Highland romances. In 2008, Heart of the Wolf was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. She has received a PNR Top Pick, a Best Book of the Month nomination by Long and Short Reviews, numerous Night Owl Romance Top Picks, and 2 Paranormal Excellence Awards for Romantic Literature (Finalist & Honorable Mention). In 2016, Billionaire in Wolf's Clothing was an RT Book Reviews top pick. A retired officer of the U.S. Army Reserves, Terry also creates award-winning teddy bears that have found homes all over the world, helps out with her grandbaby, and she is raising two Havanese puppies. She lives in Spring, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Sucking up oxygen, the flames spread outward, devouring thirsty timber and underbrush, perfect fuel for the firestorm. The winds picked up force, and Tessa Anderson's adrenaline surged again as she snapped the last of the photos for the magazine. The summer drought had continued on through the fall and winter, leaving the California forests desert-dry, and now either a careless camper or an arsonist had turned the woods into a fiery inferno.
What in the world was she doing risking her life to photograph this disaster?
Coughing, her eyes filled with smoke, she reminded herself she needed the money to help defend her brother. Then in the haze, the silhouette of a wolf appeared-gray, like the smoke, a phantom. watching her. stalking her? Wild animals knew better than to linger with danger threatening. Only a human would be dumb enough to stay put.
His uncharacteristic actions made her back toward her vehicle. Having been fascinated with wolves all her life, she knew his behavior wasn't natural.
A tremor stole up her spine. He looked just like one she'd seen before. The one who'd attacked before.
Snapping a picture of the wolf, she bumped against the passenger's side of her Escort. As soon as she fumbled for the door handle, he crouched, readying to spring like a coiled snake.
Heart thundering, she jerked her door open and jumped inside. Before she could shut the door, the wolf's hulking body slammed against it, knocking it closed. She jumped back.
Snarling, he bared his wicked canines. She scrambled over the console and twisted the keys in the ignition, her skin prickling with panic. Tires spun on gravel as she whirled the car around and headed for the main highway.
A half mile later, she came across a home in the direct path of the fire. An SUV was parked in the driveway. its trunk lid was open and the back filled with boxes. Reassured that the occupants were leaving, she tore on past.
Her main concern now was returning to her brother's trial and praying he would be found not guilty.
Hunter Greymere shoved four more suitcases in the SUV while his twin sister rushed out of the house with another box of dishes, her face and clothes covered in soot.
The air was so thick with smoke, Hunter choked, fighting to draw in a breath of fresh oxygen. "Meara, enough! Get in the vehicle. We leave now!"
Black plumes of smoke spiraling upward indicated fire had claimed another of his pack member's homes and was growing ever closer to his own. Ash rained down like a light gray snow flurry. the smoke blocked out the sun, but the flames lit the sky with an eerie orange glow.
Meara shook her head and dashed for the house. "We have to get the safe."
Seizing her arm, Hunter pushed her toward the vehicle. "Get in the SUV! I'll grab the safe."
The look of mutiny on her face meant she would disobey him. He didn't have time to make her listen. Running in a crouch so he could breathe, he grabbed the steel box from his bedroom closet and carried it through the hazy living room. He crashed into Meara, stooping low, her arms filled with another box.
"Out, now!" he growled.
The blaze crackled, incinerating the old forest and homes in its path. The emerald green woods, already rusty with trees that had died from insect infestations and drought would soon be blackened. And the home they had lived in for two hundred years would vanish in a roaring ball of fire. No time for regret now.
The super-heated gases singed Hunter's throat and lungs, and he chided himself for staying as long as they had. After climbing into the vehicle, he turned the fan on high, but the car was already so filled with smoke, his eyes and throat burned. Meara's amber eyes glistened with tears as she covered her mouth and nose with a wet towel.
"We'll be all right, Meara." Hunter gunned the accelerator and sped toward the highway that would take them to Oregon, nearly hitting a Ford Escape in the fog-like smoke in front of them. The driver apparently had the same notion, but was not driving fast enough for Hunter's liking.
"Hell, who is that?"
"Oregon plates. Some idiot human camping out here? Who knows."
"A woman? By herself?"
He peered harder into the smoke and made out a crown of flame red hair cascading over her shoulders. Intrigued, he wondered if her face was as enchanting as the waterfall of red curls. But then he scowled. She shouldn't have been here in the first place.
He followed her as she hightailed it out of his territory in an attempt to keep ahead of the eye of the firestorm, and him. And for an instant, he felt like a predator stalking his prey. "At least we got all our people out."
Meara didn't reply.
She didn't adjust well to change. Moving from the Scottish Highlands over two hundred years ago to the untamed California wilderness hadn't set well with her. But change was inevitable for the lupus garous. Meara had been lucky they hadn't had to move as much over the years as many of their kind, hiding the fact that once they reached eighteen, they aged only a year for every thirty.
"Where are we going?" she asked, staring out the window at the vast ancient pines that would soon suffer the fate of their steadfast companions.
"To Oregon. Uncle Basil called earlier this morning while you were helping others pack. He's retiring to Florida. The cabins on the Oregon coast are ours now."
"Florida? Are there any of our kind there?"
"Real red wolves on St. Vincent Island off the Panhandle of Florida."
"Real red wolves?" Meara snorted. "I didn't think he liked mixing it up with red wolves, period. But real wolves?"
"He said he found a pack of gray lupus garous near the Everglades."
She shook her head. "So what's he going to hunt there? Alligators?" She let out her breath. "I don't want to move to the Oregon seacoast."
Hunter didn't respond. It didn't matter where they went. Unless it was back to their home in the woods, she wouldn't be happy. Not until she had time to settle in. Hopefully, it wouldn't take as long as the last time.
Hunter finished his shower at Uncle Basil's home, nestled in the woods overlooking the rugged Oregon seacoast, but couldn't get the smell of smoke out of his nostrils, and his eyes and lungs still burned. Nothing had gone as he'd planned. Not only was Meara refusing to speak with him-as he expected-but his people had mutinied as well.
As soon as he joined his uncle in the living room, he realized the day wasn't going to get any better. Not the way his uncle gave him a warning look.
Once Hunter assured himself Meara couldn't hear them from the laundry room, he settled on the leather couch. "So what didn't you tell me when you offered this territory for my pack?"
Uncle Basil sat on his suede recliner, looking like he had aged ten years since the last time Hunter had seen him, his hair grayer, longer, his beard shaggier, his amber eyes tired. Which meant his uncle must have had some real trouble.
"You have a problem you'll have to deal with. One of your neighbors has been taking pictures in our woods. It wouldn't do for her to catch you shapeshifting. I tried to buy her out, but she won't budge. First her grandparents, and now she and her brother live in the house about twelve miles south of us on the coast. You'll need to make her understand she can't trespass on our land any longer. Of course, if your pack doesn't return from where they've scattered, it'll be just you and Meara enjoying the area in your fur coats. But when you lease the cabins to other grays, the risk will become greater. Up until recently, the place has been a safe haven for them, but this woman..." Uncle Basil shook his head.
Hunter knew damn well his uncle normally wouldn't hesitate to eliminate her if she could expose their kind for what they truly were. "You mean, the woman will be at risk." When Uncle Basil didn't say anything in response, Hunter swore under his breath. "You couldn't do it, and that's why you're retiring?"
His uncle avoided looking at him.
Hell, as if Hunter didn't have enough troubles to contend with. "All right. I'll take care of it. Are you going to have supper with us before you leave?"
"I already ate. Got a ticket on the next flight. I left a couple of salmon steaks out for you. Place is stocked with food so you won't have to shop for a while." Uncle Basil stretched his six-foot-two frame. "Looking forward to sunshine warming these old bones. Hips are bothering me something fierce. Figure the cold dampness might have something to do with it."
Then he leaned forward. "Your mother and father would have been proud the way you've managed to keep the pack safe all these years. Your people will return. Give them time. Just be sure and take care of the woman. Her brother most likely is going to prison for murder, but the woman's still a threat, unless she decides to move. Tessa Anderson's the name. Take care of it. And soon."
He stood and gave Hunter a fatherly embrace, then said his good-byes to Meara. Hunter waved as his uncle left in his old pickup, wondering why he hated to buy new vehicles as much as Meara hated to change where she lived.
Hunter walked to the picture window overlooking the Pacific Ocean and stared out at the gray day, the cold, fog, moisture-in stark contrast to the dry, burning heat and smoke of their abandoned home. Regret and relief warred with his emotions.
Meara slipped up next to him. "I don't like being here."
"You'll get used to it."
Knowing full well she wouldn't appreciate any attempt to console her, he headed into the kitchen and tossed the salmon steaks into a frying pan. He was determined to enjoy their newly acquired cabins, even if his sister didn't like it. Not that they'd had much choice. Settling with the insurance company would take forever and most of their savings were tied up in mutual funds.
"It reeks of fish here. How Uncle Basil could have ever stood it... I didn't remember why I hated this place whenever we visited. But that was it. The strong odor of fish and rotting seaweed." She opened a kitchen cabinet door, peered in, and then slammed it closed, rattling a couple of others.
"Eventually, you won't even notice it."
She opened another cabinet door and pulled out a can of spinach. "I want a mate! How am I going to find one way out here? You've made sure there are no other lupus garous in a four-hundred mile stretch of land."
So that was some of the trouble. Not that he'd had much luck finding her a mate in California either because she'd been so choosy.
"That's a bit of an exaggeration. Besides, when we rent the cabins, the grays will come from all over the country and you can find a mate."
He hoped. Never having discussed Uncle Basil's clientele with him, he assumed his uncle advertised on the Internet and in magazines that would help draw a crowd from all over. All Hunter had to do was tweak the ad to let alpha male leaders who were without a mate know his sister needed one.
Hunter flipped the steaks, seared them for a minute, and then tossed them on the rose china that had been passed down two generations. "What did you want us to do? The arsonists destroyed the forests and moving north to Oregon was the best thing we could manage."
She didn't reply and he sighed. "So, five members of our pack moved into the vineyards in southern California. What kind of a life would that be? We're used to hunting in woods during our nighttime excursions. No other lupus garous live in the area, so no worry about encroaching on another pack's territorial rights. Besides, Uncle Basil decided it was time to retire and was glad to gift us the land and cabins. It couldn't be more perfect."
"So what's this really about? Uncle Basil never once mentioned he wanted to quit the business," Meara said.
"We were happy in California. He knew unless something like this happened we wouldn't have moved a foot out of there."
She peered out the window. Her spine straightened and her mouth dropped. "I'll be right back." She flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulders and headed outside.
He strode to the window and looked out.
It was the woman. Had to be. Tessa Anderson, the photographer. Petite, swallowed up in a white parka, she trudged toward their house with a camera strap slung around her neck. The camera bounced between her full breasts, which were accentuated by the snug fit of her pale blue turtleneck. Her jeans outlined curvy legs, and suddenly he had the most lascivious thought, wondering what was wrong with him at a moment like this, to be envisioning this woman naked with her long legs wrapped tightly around him.
A pink ski cap hid her hair, but her brows were red, her green eyes sparkled with fire, and her cheeks and pert nose were rosy from the cold. Full, sensual lips shimmered with pink gloss that begged for a man's caress. Her eyes garnered his attention again. Expressive, vibrant, full of life, yet a subtle sadness marred them.
Why was she wandering the woods alone when the night would soon cast her into darkness? Why here? Unless she had made friends with Uncle Basil and had come to see him.
Hell. No wonder he couldn't get rid of her himself.
Meara quickly confronted her, and Hunter raised the window to overhear the conversation. Even though he planned on talking to Miss Anderson, it didn't hurt for Meara to tell the woman the error of her ways. At the very least, giving Meara some control over their lands would make her feel more at home here.
Meara raised her hand to the woman in her path. "You're trespassing."
The woman's eyes narrowed and her brows knit together in a tight little frown. "Uncle Basil said I could take pictures out this way during the winter because he didn't have any B&B guests this time of year."
She had Uncle Basil's permission? What was the crafty old wolf up to?
"Uncle Basil?" Meara asked, her voice rising.
"That's what he told me to call him."
So, Uncle Basil had a relationship with the human female after all. Which wasn't like him.
"Well, his real niece and nephew have taken up residence, and Uncle Basil has moved to Florida. The rules are different now. Find somewhere else to take your pictures. Don't come here again."
The woman glanced at the house. Looking to rescue Uncle Basil? Or maybe she hoped he'd come out and save her from Hunter's sister?
Facing Meara, she offered her gloved hand. "I'm Tessa Anderson, a professional photographer. I live down the coast."
Meara folded her arms. "Then you must have plenty of photo ops on your own land."
Tessa stiffened and Hunter could see now the woman wasn't going to be easily persuaded. Her jaw tightened and her eyes flickered with inflexible resolve.
"Every area along the seacoast is different. And it changes as the tides pummel the coastline. It varies with the seasons also." Tessa tilted her head to the side. "Uncle Basil never said anything about moving. He isn't ill, is he?"
Hunter shook his head. He admired tenacious lupus garou women, but a human female like that could cause real problems. So why was he checking out her package again-the way her turtleneck caressed her breasts, the camera strap pressing between the sensuous mounds, outlining them further, and lower to the jeans accentuating her long, curvy legs.
Lifting his nose, he took a deep breath. Because of the shifting breeze, despite the smell of pines and the sea air overwhelming all else, he caught a whiff of the woman's scent-of peaches and... tequila and margarita mix?
His eyes widened a bit as he smelled something else, something that generated an age-old need-a desire so strong that it could only mean her pheromones were triggering his craving. What the hell? She wasn't a lupus garou-didn't have their distinctive scent, yet sexually, she served every bit as much a magnet for a male lupus garou.
His gaze fastened on her eyes, now narrowed a little, sharp and full of mistrust.
"Did he always keep you posted on his plans?" Meara asked Tessa, being her usual snarky self.
"I was supposed to have dinner with him." Standing taller, Tessa considered the house again. "Do you have a number where I can reach him? Or an address?"
Dinner? Had Uncle Basil forgotten? Or conveniently avoided it, which would explain his warning-although cryptic-about Tessa before he left. Hunter let out his breath in exasperation.
Meara snorted. "Leave, now, or I'll call the sheriff. Don't come back here."
"It was nice to meet you, too." Tessa glanced once more at the house as if to say she wouldn't be thwarted from seeing Uncle Basil. Her breath mixed with the cold air in a puff of smoke, she lifted her chin a little, and then whipped around, and headed back into the woods.
The urge to hunt the minx filled Hunter with a craving so strong, he had to remind himself she was a threat to their existence. If she'd been a lupus garou, that would be a different story. He would have shown just how interested he was and worn her down until she felt the same for him, if she didn't automatically. But a human like her was nothing more than tempting forbidden fruit-one taste would never be enough. Best to buy her out and remove the menace from the area.
Meara stalked into the house, saw Hunter at the open window, and gave a half smile. Then she frowned. "Don't you go getting friendly with that woman, too. Jeesh. I heard you and Uncle Basil talking about her. You know, the lower your voices go, the more I listen in." She shook her head. "No wonder Uncle Basil couldn't get rid of her. Sweet and innocent. Miss Red Riding Hood in a white parka." She raised a brow. "And by the way, as petite as she is, her boobs are silicone-have to be."
No way was the woman anything but the real thing, every bit of her, and he wanted to prove to himself they were in the worst way. Hunter shut the window. "You made Tessa Anderson suspicious. She thinks we've buried Uncle Basil in the backyard. So now I'll have to take care of it." And he would, starting tonight.
"Hmpf. What about the rest of our pack?" Her spine stiff, Meara stirred the spinach heating on the stove and refused to look at him.
"The seven who took off for Portland will return when they get tired of city life."
"So they moved to greener pastures, and we're stuck in Timbuktu?" Meara's amber eyes flashed with irritation, her lips turned down.
"We'll rent only to lupus garous, like Uncle Basil did. We'll entice eligible alpha males to visit, and you'll put them under your spell." He failed to understand how she couldn't see the beauty of the area. If she would just take a run with him in the woods, work out some of her frustration, she would feel better. "We're not a city pack. The rest will tire of it before long."
"And then?" She yanked out her chair and dropped into it, fixing him with another chilling look.
"They can join us here. Plenty of game for hunting on moonlit nights. Oregon has laws to protect wolves. We won't have any problems."
"I want to go to the city." She looked up from her salmon and although she kept her expression stern, her eyes glistened with tears.
Ah, hell. What really was the matter?
"A red pack already resides in Portland."
Her mouth parted.
Hunter clarified, "Leidolf is the pack leader. I met him last spring when you wouldn't come with me to see Uncle Basil. He seemed a nice enough lupus garou for a red. As nice as one can be when he's dealing with a gray pack leader, but he won't like it that some of our pack are encroaching on his city."
She folded her arms. "Fine. You're bigger than the reds. Push them out and we can start over there."
Leaning back in his chair, he studied his sister's stubborn expression. She'd always been so predictable, so agreeable. What was wrong with her now?
"Quit looking at me like I've lost my mind. I'm in my first wolf's heat and I... want... a... mate! Damn it. Don't you ever feel the pull? No, of course not. You have one-night stands with human women who want the same thing and then you're satiated, for a time."
But he suspected her first wolf's heat wasn't the only thing making her so unreasonable. Damned if he could figure it out.
"Of course I want a mate. Nevertheless, you know as well as I do the males outnumber the females in any given pack. If I can't find one of our kind..." He shrugged. "I'll have to find my pleasure elsewhere."
Not that he had been with a woman in a very long time, or was often with one. Running a pack took priority and searching for an eligible lupus garou female was impractical since he didn't have a sub-leader who could watch over his people in his absence. He couldn't even trust Meara for now.
"I miss Genevieve and the others," she said softly, avoiding looking at him.
So that was the problem. "They'll come back, Meara. Trust me in this."
"And I miss our home." She poked at her food, then she looked up at him. "You're right about one thing, dear brother. I should fetch a pretty important alpha male, don't you think?"
Important? Try more headstrong than his sister, or her mate would never have any say in their relationship.
Hunter gave her a small smile. "That's what I've been saying."
"So find me one." Her gaze sharpened along with her voice. "Or else I'm joining the others."
Hunter's twin sister was his to protect until he could find a suitable mate for her. Meara was not going anywhere without him. The pack would return. Damn it. And he wasn't about to chase after them.
Already past midnight by the time his sister fell asleep, Hunter threw open the front door and took a whiff of the breeze. Winter, pine, the smell of the sea. Fish. And sea kelp. Time to mark his territory, indicating he was taking the area over from his uncle, and check out Tessa Anderson's place. Not only that, but running through the woods-seeing them alive and green after the flames had devoured the California forests, leaving ashes in their wake-he hoped it would settle his troubled thoughts. At a wolf's pace, he would reach Tessa's home in a couple of hours, less if he ran. Although he needed to leave his scent along the way.
Painlessly, he allowed the change to come over him, stretching his limbs, feeling the power fill his legs and body. His face elongated into a snout, his curved canines extending until they were deadly weapons that could crush bone, if he'd felt in the mood for a hunt. A double coat of banded gray fur covered his skin, keeping out the bitter cold as he loped outside in his wolf form and headed into the forest, his black nails digging into the pine needle covered floor.
At once, he enjoyed the oneness he felt with the wild out-of-doors, instead of being an intruder on the land the way he felt when he was in his human form. Now, he was a predator, more in tune with the feral side of his nature.
Yet, he felt a trifle unsettled as he headed south on their property.
Maybe Meara was right. Moving was harder than he'd expected. Part of him enjoyed the newness of being here at his uncle's place a couple times a year, but part of him longed for his familiar hunting grounds.
Time to put aside regrets and concentrate on business.
While he was traversing the area for a few miles, the chilly, crisp air ruffled his fur, and the sound of the ocean crashed down below the rocky cliffs. The sweet fragrance of fir trees looming overhead mingled with the fishy odor of the ocean and the seaweed rotting on the beach, nearly masking the scent of a rabbit nearby. But then another smell came to his attention-not a welcome odor, either.
He twisted his head to the south. Male gray lupus garous-three of them-their smell wafting in the air. And not any of his pack either. These three shouldn't be here.
Listening for any sounds of them, he paused. Nothing. Yet the adrenaline surged through his veins, preparing him for the confrontation.
He had marked his territory well, brushing his tail and face against tree trunks and branches. Even his toes pressed against the earth left his unique scent, showing beyond a doubt he had claimed it, as his Uncle Basil had before him. What gray would be fool enough to trespass on another's lands without permission in the dark of night?
Meara! In her wolf's heat, she must have caught their attention.
Hunter sprinted back toward the cabin. The closer he drew to his quiet home, the more his chest tightened. The grays had been here and could still be here. The transformation swift and painless, he quickly changed from wolf to human form and stood naked on the front porch where the door was still wide open. His blood burned so hot, the cold didn't touch him. "Meara!"
The door to her bedroom was open. The smell of the three males lingered heavy in the air. A deathly silence pervaded the place.
Hunter stormed into Meara's bedroom. She was gone. His heart racing, he roared, "Meara!"
Her bedcovers were tossed aside, but it didn't look as though there had been a struggle. Bile rose in Hunter's throat. Had the grays forced her to leave with them, or had she gone willingly? He couldn't be sure, the way the wolf heat-particularly the first one she'd had to experience-was making her so crazy.
Either way, they were dead men. Nothing less than a gray alpha male of his choosing would do for his sister. And no one would steal her away in the middle of the night without facing the devil over it.
His face extending into a wolf's snout and his torso and limbs changing as fur covered his body, he became a wolf once again and raced out of the cabin. He smelled the intruders' scent on the turbulent sea breeze and followed them as they headed south.
Once he found them, he would deal with them wolf to wolf, teaching them to take care when stealing a leader's sister.
Hunter's breath mixed with the air, an ice storm threatening.
Mile after mile he tracked the three of them and his sister. They were either so arrogant they didn't worry about him, or just too stupid to care. They left a trail a brand-new Cub Scout could follow-broken branches and clumps of fur rubbed against trees; two even urinated a few times as if taunting him-or maybe they had weak bladders.
He growled low.
When the sun illuminated the gray clouds, brightening the day just a little in the early morning hour, he sensed the wolves had marked this new territory for their own. Trespassing or not, he wouldn't allow them to stop him from freeing Meara and taking care of the menace.
Out of the mist, a blackened pine tree, like a soldier bitterly scarred, stood at the edge of a cliff that gave way to the ocean below. Like the forests devoured in flames they had recently escaped, except this silent soldier had been here for a very long time, the remaining forest again green.
Branches rustled west of Hunter, and he whipped around. Three hefty grays stared him down, their tails straight, the hair on their backs standing up. Hunter took a whiff of the breeze. They weren't the ones who had taken his sister. And there was no sign of her now. But the way the leader of this group crouched low and curled his lips back, exposing his teeth, Hunter had no choice. He wasn't backing down. If they were protecting the others who had taken his sister, they'd pay, too.
Fresh adrenaline charged through his system, preparing him for battle as he growled low, stiffened his tail like a flag of warning, and rushed the biggest of the three wolves, his muzzle wrinkling as he bared his killer canines.
The Oregon temperature was thirty-one degrees, but the knowledge Tessa Anderson's brother might not go free made it feel colder still. On top of that? An ice storm was imminent.
Her back rigid enough to cause it to spasm with the building tension, she sat on the wooden bench in the courtroom, her fingernails biting into her palms. She clenched her teeth, fighting tears as she waited for the foreman to make the announcement.
She prayed she and Michael could return to their cabin on the coast and weather the storm like their grandparents had. Only this time, she feared her prayers would go unanswered.
The look Michael cast Tessa pleaded for her to save him from this nightmare. He appeared pale and gaunt in his black suit, the same one he'd worn to his last art exhibit in Portland. How had their lives turned so upside down?
She, who had always gotten her younger brother out of scrapes since their parents had died five years ago, felt like an avalanche was crushing her heart. She'd spent all her savings and some of their inheritance trying to prove his innocence and only wished the rumors that gold was buried on their property was true-and that she could find it-to use to help save her brother.
She let out her breath. Michael was innocent. Damn it.
God, please, oh please, find him not guilty. Set him free.
"Michael Anderson, on the count of first-degree murder of Bethany Wade, the jury finds you guilty."
Barely audible, the words melded and faded. The breath she'd been holding whooshed from Tessa's lungs, and her head grew fuzzy. The bright lights in the courthouse blinked out.
The next thing she knew, her head was resting in a stranger's lap and a man and woman were shaking her. "Miss Anderson? Miss Anderson?"
Her mind cleared and she looked around at a sea of concerned faces. Her heart began racing again. Guilty. The jury had found her brother guilty.
The police were escorting her brother from the room in handcuffs.
She hurried to mouth the words, "I love you, Michael. I'll get you out."
His green eyes filled with tears, he gave her a slight nod. He knew she would try. No matter what, she'd exhaust every avenue before she let her brother rot in prison for the rest of his life for a crime he didn't commit.
A new lawyer, new evidence, appeals. Where could she find a good lawyer to start all over again?
Her heart encased in ice, she realized the only way to prove him innocent was to find the real murderer. Unfortunately, in the Oregon coastal community, the sheriff believed in only one suspect, Michael. Now that the jury found him guilty, no way was the sheriff's department going to look any further into the matter.
Her family's home, the townspeople, the community-all the things she held dear since her parents perished-now meant nothing. No one she knew had sat with her to offer solace during any part of the trial. She felt betrayed, isolated from those who had been her friends.
She stumbled to her feet. Her legs were like melted wax, but she clutched her purse and headed for the courtroom doors, her head held high. A weariness crept through her, as the adrenaline rush from her anticipation of the verdict fizzled into oblivion.
People quickly moved out of her way as if avoiding a communicable disease. Some of them watched her, their eyes narrowed in contempt, acting like she was the reason for the crime in their once secure and sleepy little community.
A tall, thin man observed her from the other side of the room. His dark brown hair curling about his shoulders, the angular planes of his narrow face, the way his shoulders stooped forward, made him seem somehow familiar. He shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced at the exit. But when his gaze zeroed in on her again, this time she caught his eye. He quickly looked away as if he couldn't decide what to do-approach and offer condolences or scowl at her, too.
Another of Bethany's relatives? He might have been. She'd been dark-haired, too, and tall and willowy. Plus tons of her cousins from back east were here for the trial.
Bethany's parents hesitated at the entryway as if wanting to say something to Tessa, but then, maybe thinking better of it, Mr. Wade quickly escorted his teary-eyed wife outside.
Tessa blinked back her own tears. But as soon as she left the courthouse, a lone newspaper reporter targeted her with a photographer in tow.
She groaned inwardly. Rourke Thornburg. Once an on-again/off-again boyfriend in high school who had tried to renew their relationship after she'd finished college and returned to the coast, now just an annoying waste of time.
As usual, his dark gray suit was impeccable and his manicured hair had not a strand out of place-making him appear like a big-time-news-reporter wannabe. From the high-school paper to this-his first big story in the coastal town-other than reporting the weather, new storm rolling onto the coast, or crab season's arrival.
She hurried down the courthouse steps and headed for her Ford Escape, hoping to avoid the inevitable.
Like a used car salesman with the deal of a lifetime, Rourke dove in front of Tessa. "Any statements, Miss Anderson, now that the jury found your brother guilty of first-degree murder?"
Taking a stand, she drew taller and looked Rourke squarely in the eye. "My brother is innocent. He loved Bethany. The murderer thinks he got away with the crime, but I won't give up until he or she has been brought to justice."
She shouldn't have said anything to the press. She knew it, but she couldn't stop the words.
"Do you think the sheriff's department is guilty of a cover-up?"
Out of the corner of her vision, she saw Sheriff Wellington watching her, his blue eyes hard as ice. "I think the sheriff only saw Michael's involvement with Bethany, overlooking the possibility someone else was the killer. I wouldn't say it was intentional."
"How do you propose to find the real killer, supposing Michael is innocent?"
"You'll be the first to know." She squelched the tears, unable to offer anything close to the truth.
Rourke knew her better. However, she also realized he wouldn't let go of the story. So what would he do? Report on her progress, sensationalizing her failures to bring the true murderer to justice to make a name for himself? She could see the report now: Sister Seeks Killer to Free Her Brother. When Will She Recognize the Truth?
Rourke motioned to the cameraman to quit taking pictures and walked Tessa to her car, his hand supporting her elbow.
She wanted to jerk away from him, to show she wouldn't allow his attempt at placating her, but too many people were watching. For now, she had to be the proverbial pillar of strength for her brother. Anything less would show defeat.
"I know how upsetting this has to be, as much as you care for your brother, but the jurors were right."
Without responding to Rourke's remark, she unlocked her car door and climbed in. But then she reconsidered. Maybe, just maybe, she could solicit his help. Who else did she have? Nobody.
"If you really want to be a reporter, you might investigate this case yourself. Look at the guys who dug into the Watergate mess and how much dirt they uncovered. No one else did. Ever think you could put your talents to good use?"
A spark of interest flickered in his gray eyes, but he was far from being convinced. Like everyone else, Rourke believed Michael was guilty of the crime. End of story.
He leaned against her door and sighed. "All right. Here's the deal. You and I can get together over dinner, and you can tell me what makes you believe Michael didn't do it, other than the fact he's your brother."
"How about you look into it, and when you discover some other leads, you give me a call. Then we'll do dinner."
"Shrewd." Rourke offered a coy smile. "Not one person could verify Bethany was seeing some other guy. Michael made up the whole story. No evidence points to anyone else."
"Not if you don't bother looking for it. Gotta go, Rourke. Later."
Nearby, Sheriff Wellington gave her a warning look as if to say she had better not stir up any more trouble. Nevertheless, to prove her brother's innocence, she'd do whatever it took.
Mist covered the winding coastal road on the long drive home, and although Tessa usually felt comforted by it, late this afternoon it seemed gloomy, warning of impending disaster. The last time she felt an overwhelming sense of doom, she had learned her parents had died in a car accident earlier on a day just like this one, her last year at high school. She shuddered, despite telling herself the disquieting feeling didn't mean anything.
When she finally pulled into the curved driveway at her redwood home overlooking the rugged coastline, she couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. A winter-chilled breeze played music on her wind chimes as the contorted pines stretching next to her house stirred. She glanced at the gray clouds. As cold as it was, if it rained, it would turn to sleet or snow or a mixture of the two soon.
She climbed out of her car, shivered, and locked the doors. The place looked foreboding now that her brother was gone. Not the welcome refuge it had always been.
She hurried into the house, the air as chilly inside as it was out, and rushed to change in the bedroom.
After laying her wool coat on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed, she turned on the floor heater, and pulled off her black dress. Black as if she were in mourning. Which she was all over again. The house seemed so empty without her brother's presence, his laughter, the sound of his video games playing in the background as he fought another epic fantasy battle before he settled down to paint.
Now, except for the howling wind and the waves crashing on the beach down below the cliffs, everything was quiet. Too quiet in the isolated cottage. For the first time ever, she felt-spooked.
There wasn't any other way to explain the reason goose bumps rose and the hair stood on end on her arms.
She kicked off her pumps, slipped out of her panty hose, threw on a pair of heavy socks, black denims, and a turtleneck. If she didn't quit imagining all kinds of horrible scenarios, she would lock herself in the house until the storm passed. She wasn't normally a cowardly person, but she had never felt so alone before, like she'd fallen into a parallel world where she had no family or friends. And now even her good friend Uncle Basil was gone. But she couldn't believe he'd leave so suddenly without a word. First chance she got, she was checking further into the matter.
An animal howled in the distance. A shudder stole down her back. A wolf. Had to be.
She peeked out the window, but didn't see anything except tree branches swaying briskly in the growing wind.
She wanted to believe it was just a dog. But she knew better. Wolves from Idaho's reserve had crossed the Snake River and were roaming the northeastern part of the state. Visitors to the Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness area had also reported sightings of wolves. She'd even snapped a picture of one near La Grande and more recently, a hunter killed a wild wolf there. So why couldn't a wolf have made it to the Oregon coast?
Despite there not having been any sightings, she was certain a wolf had been roaming the area. Worse, she couldn't explain how she felt compelled to discover the truth, but on the other hand was afraid of learning any were living here. Neither her underlying fear of them or compulsion to seek them out made any sense to her. Except as she stalked them, she was sure they stalked her. Which was plain crazy. Or was it? She'd had more than one experience like when she'd been taking pictures of the California wildfire. A phantom gray watching her, waiting, an unnatural standoff between man and beast. And then the sudden unprovoked attacks.
She yanked on her snow boots. After slipping her favorite pink ski cap on her head, covering her hair, still pinned up in a bun, she threw on her parka and grabbed her gloves.
She had nothing to fear. Nothing-except the fact someone had murdered Bethany Wade, her brother was going to prison for it, and the real murderer was on the loose.
But worse than that?
She had challenged him-which would now be in the local newspaper, no less-that she would uncover who he was and clear her brother's name.
She glanced at the bedside table where she kept her gun and took a deep breath. "Firewood, or else you'll go without."
If an ice storm knocked out the electricity, she would be in a world of hurt. A quick walk on the beach to gather driftwood for a fire would have to suffice. She shouldn't have put it off so long, but all she had thought of lately was how to get her brother cleared of the charges. She needed a new lawyer. Someone who was a lot more determined. And a new private eye, someone who would find something that would help Michael, instead of just running up a bill.
After locking the back door-although normally she wouldn't have bothered, but she couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching the place-she traversed the narrow and steep path through the woods and boulders down to the small sandy beach below.
From one of the mills up north, lumber floating on the current piled up on the beach, littering it. No sense letting the wood go to waste. She shoved some over on its side and considered how wet it was. Very wet. All of it would take too long to dry. But if she didn't hurry and the rain began, it wouldn't matter what she gathered-the wood would all be too wet to burn.
She trudged through piles of seaweed-hating the smell and unsightly mess it made as the storms churned it up on the beach-and made her way around a cluster of boulders where she spied a stack of wood. Far enough from the tidewater, it would have had more time to dry.
Skirting around to the other side, she figured the timber would be the driest there. But what she saw next made her gasp and her heart nearly quit beating.
The body of a veritable Greek god lay naked on his stomach, his skin, slightly blue, stretched over tightly toned muscles, his dark, wet hair draped across his face, his eyes sealed shut.
Not dead. Please, don't be dead.