Alternate POV: Liam Meets Shade
(please remember, this scene is unedited and unpolished)
Scene: Shade Renard has just shown up at Stephen’s home and come face to face with Detective Sergeant Liam Osbourne. Liam suspects Stephen of murder, and per his request, Shade has been sent by Mother Hazel with a collar that will prevent Stephen from shifting to his wolf form. No one is happy about the situation.
* * * * * *
“You must be Mother Renard. I’m Detective Sergeant Osbourne.”
The witch standing before me on Stephen’s front porch stopped breathing. Her brown eyes widened slightly, flicking over my face, then down my body and back up. A hint of arousal teased the air between us, and for a split second, the chaotic thoughts swirling around my head about my wolf sitting in stubborn silence in his study halted.
She wasn’t what I’d expected.
To hear Mother Hazel talk, Mother Renard was a no-nonsense witch who wouldn’t tolerate disrespect. I’d expected an old crone more along the lines of Mother Hazel herself.
But the woman in front of me wasn’t much over five feet tall, maybe five-two, five-three. She wasn’t exactly a spring-chicken, but she was no crone. I could smell dried sweat on her palms, a somewhat acrid scent underneath the sweeter notes of arousal. She was nervous.
Fantastic. Hazel sent me a greenhorn.
She smiled and raised her hand. “Please, call me Shade.”
“No title?” I raised an eyebrow. “Your mentor made it sound rather important that I address you properly.”
Her smile wilted at the corners. “If it pleases you to call me Mother, then by all means. Personally, I find it more satisfying when someone can show me the proper respect without the reminder of using my title.”
This time I raised both eyebrows. Someone didn’t like her title. Fine with him. It has always felt weird to him to call a witch “Mother” anyway.
“All right, then.” I stepped to the side, gesturing for her to enter. “Please come in.” My thoughts returned to what had brought her here, and my fleeting amusement vanished. “Stephen is in the den.”
She stepped inside and I led her around the large grey sectional couch that took up most of the living room, past the television that I would have thought was excessive if I didn’t know how often Stephen entertained other members of the pack.
Where did I go wrong with him? I asked myself for what felt like the hundredth time that day. How had I gone from wishing he’d show more initiative, to calling a witch to have him collared for killing a human?
You don’t know he killed the human, I reminded myself. Don’t jump to conclusions.
I didn’t notice the brush of her skin right away. I was distracted, my thoughts already in the den, when I realized Shade was pressing against me. Leaning on me as if she were about to faint. I stopped walking, concern and irritation fighting to be first as I tried to figure out if she was ill, or if this was some ill-conceived effort at flirting. For the love of all that’s furry, had that old crone sent me a sick witch?
“Are you all right?”
I tried to keep the irritation out of my voice, just in case there was a reasonable explanation for the contact. Shade blinked in surprise and opened her mouth, looking for all the world as if she had no idea what might have prompted me to ask the question. Before any sound could come out, her gaze dropped to where her arm was pressed against mine.
She snapped her mouth shut and a blush exploded on her cheeks. I sniffed the air without thinking about it, half-expecting a fresh wave of hormones.
“You’re radiating heat like a fire hazard,” she blurted out.
I frowned, sure I’d heard her wrong. “I’m sorry?”
“I get that you’re upset.” She said, giving me the same smile my aunt had used when I was a child and she was explaining why I couldn’t have cake for dinner. “It’s understandable, given the situation. But your energy is chaotic. I can feel it burning like a furnace ten seconds before it explodes. My instinct is to calm that energy before it gets out of hand, especially when I’m going to be working some fairly complicated magic. I was trying to be subtle because I don’t want to embarrass you. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
The question wasn’t whether or not she was lying.
I knew she was lying.
Just like I knew her palms were sweating again. The question was, should I point it out, or just let it go?
Again, my thoughts went to the den where Stephen sat waiting. Waiting for his last chance to come clean…or be collared.
I didn’t have time to challenge the witch.
“I apologize,” I said finally. “It’s a difficult time. I didn’t realize you were so sensitive to shifters’ energy.”
“Please don’t apologize. It’s quite all right.”
Cheeky little witch.
I watched her shove her hands into the pockets of her red trench coat, smiling at me as if to reassure me there were no hard feelings. I’d give her points for guts.
I walked another few steps, but then stopped before we crossed the threshold from the living room to the hallway. She’d been following me closely enough that she almost bumped into me. Another few feet, and she’d have been leaning on me again, I’d bet my tail on it.
She found me attractive, that I’d noticed during that initial once-over on the porch. But I didn’t think that was why she was leaning on me. She certainly didn’t seem as if she was trying to flirt. And if she was, she was exceptionally bad at it.
“You are not what I was expecting.”
I hadn’t meant to say it, but I didn’t try to take it back. I didn’t question my instincts, and right now, my instincts said to clear the air. If she had a problem with werewolves, better to know now. Before we walked into Stephen’s den.
Her smile wilted with the speed of someone who’d had this conversation before. “Oh?”
“Not at all, in fact. When I spoke to Mother Hazel initially, I thought she would handle the situation herself. When she said she was sending you…”
“You had a different image in mind,” she guessed.
I looked down at her leggings. The emerald and black abstract design hinting at diamond shapes in a paint-slash grid pattern. They showed off the curves of her legs in a way that was admittedly flattering, but not what I’d call professional.
She snapped her fingers in front of my face. I stared at her, more than a little shocked at the audacity.
“Let’s get one thing clear, shall we?” She straightened her spine. “I am a witch. And I am a damn good one. I don’t have to prove that to you. The fact that Mother Hazel sent me should be sufficient. I’m sorry my leggings perturb you, but they are comfortable, and I like them. Since they are my clothes, my opinion is the only one that matters.”
I opened my mouth, then shut it. This wasn’t the hill I wanted to die on. “I apologize. I meant no disrespect.” I paused. “But I have to ask…have you ever dealt with a feral werewolf?”
She swallowed hard, and her pulse fluttered in her throat. “Yes.”
She clenched her teeth. “Yes.”
I waited, but she didn’t elaborate.
So I waited some more. Most people would talk if you let the silence drag on long enough. There was no reason to push.
She took a few slow breaths, then seemed to come to a decision.
“I was still an apprentice, living with Mother Hazel,” she started quietly. “Two hours past sundown, a young man knocked on the door. He was covered in blood. He said a wolf had eaten his parents. He’d been running through the woods when Mother Hazel’s hut appeared before him—which isn’t as strange as it sounds.”
Her voice was cold and steady, but that didn’t fool me. I could smell her fear. Her pain. She was reliving the memory as she shared it. I worked with a lot of new wolves—a lot of feral wolves. Rogues who’d been without a pack for too long. The expression on her face was as familiar to me as the sight of my own eyes in the mirror.
Suddenly I felt like a horse’s ass for making her go into detail. I almost told her she didn’t have to, but she continued before I could speak.
“I’d been her apprentice for over a decade, and I’d gained just enough confidence to think I could do anything.” She snorted. “Sad that an influx of knowledge is so often accompanied by grand stupidity. When she told me to wait in the cottage, I ignored her. I followed her.” She swallowed hard, but managed to maintain eye contact. “He was eating the mother’s body when we got there. It was… Mother Hazel bound him.” She dropped her gaze to the floor. “The boy was wrong. A wolf didn’t eat his mother and father.”
“The wolf was his father,” I said quietly.
She nodded. “The boy had seen him go into the woods, heard a wolf howl and snarl, and he’d assumed his father had been attacked. His mother screamed at him to run, so he did.”
“It is unusual for a shifter to be feral only in one form,” I said. “Usually, the madness leaks into the other form, wherever it starts. But it’s when it affects only the beast that it is truly terrifying. The disparity between man and wolf, the complete separation… That’s why balance is so important. Without it, you have a man and a monster, separate creatures instead of two parts of a whole.”
She peered past me into the hall and toward the den. “Do you believe he’s feral?”
“No.” I followed her gaze. “It would be easier if he were. There’s protocol for feral werewolves, steps to be taken to attempt rehabilitation. My path would be clear. But Stephen shows no signs of being feral. Even that night, when I found him with blood all over his face, he didn’t fight me.”
“And yet…” she prompted.
I clenched my teeth. “He’s withholding. He respects my authority, and he does what I ask, but his story… He is not telling me the whole truth. And that is unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable.” I shoved a hand through my hair and stared at her coat as if I could see the collar I’d asked Mother Hazel to send with her. “This is not something I do lightly. This collar…it’s very serious.”
“I understand,” she said gently.
“If you’d asked me twenty-four hours ago if Stephen were capable of this, I would have given an unqualified no.”
“You asked me if I’d ever dealt with a feral werewolf, but you don’t believe Stephen is feral.” She let the question hang in the air.
“Feral or not, Stephen will understand what that collar means.” My tone was grim. “It’s one thing to be told it’s going to happen. It will be another when it’s happening, when his wolf realizes it’s happening. That collar is a sentence worse than death for some shifters.” I held her gaze. “I will protect you. But you should prepare yourself for the worst.”
I tried to tell her the rest with just my look. And if the pheromones rolling off her body now were right, she was remembering that night she’d told me about again.
I opened the door to the den.
I hope she’s ready.