Monday, June 17, 2013
The truck and its attached horse trailer rolled cautiously up the wide dirt track. Its headlights were off, but Elliot Hancock saw quite well in the dark. He’d also scouted this track in wolf form earlier in the day, and marked the location of anything that might hang them up. “Stay sharp,” he advised his co-conspirators. “The fence should be right around—”
The truck rebounded off a barrier in the road and shuddered to a stop. “There?” Ewan Carter suggested.
Elliot's younger brother Dale growled something and hopped out to check on the state of the hood. Elliot cut the engine. He and Ewan climbed out and went to inspect the fence. Its twelve feet of pine slats and steel wire remained intact. So, Dale reported shortly, was the truck. Elliot sniffed, and caught a trace of elk droppings from somewhere deep in the woods. They’d picked the right paddock. At least that much luck ran in their favor tonight.
“Sturdy,” Ewan pronounced. He gave the fence a shake to prove his point. “It’ll take a while to cut a hole in this.”
“It’ll take us a while to find that herd and drive the bull down here,” Elliot said. “We’ll need an elk-sized exit when we get back. Somebody will have to stay human and work on the fence.”
“I’ll do it,” Ewan offered. “If I’m caught, I know how to slip out of handcuffs.”
“You’re a strange dog, Carter.”
“You betcha.” Ewan winked and moved to the truck to get the wire cutters. “You two better get at it. The fence isn’t electrified, but it might be wired for alarms.”
The Hancocks quickly shed their clothes and shifted to wolf form. It didn’t take the two of them long to burrow under the fence and wriggle into the paddock. Once inside, Elliot loped off in the direction of the elk odor, with Dale close on his heels.
It took them about forty-five minutes to locate the herd, which had bedded down on a sheltered hillside near the treeline. Even the lead bull dozed. These were true elk, not shifters. They might not know what a game farm was, but their dull herbie brains understood their territory hosted no predators. They wouldn't put up much of a fight. As long as they were amenable to herding, Elliot would be satisfied.
The brothers shifted for speech. “Andreas mentioned a two-year-old,” Elliot said. “You see him?”
“Just the boss bull and a bunch of cows.” Dale frowned. “Are you sure about this? I mean, technically it’s stealing.”
“Technically it isn’t. I’ll send her a check for the full price of the bull in the morning.”
“You said she told you no. Emphatically.”
“Fine, then. You tell the Hancock beta his daughter will have to chase after some spindly deer on her sixteenth birthday because some squeamish human she wouldn’t give us an elk.”
“There’s nothing wrong with human shes,” Dale grumbled. “I met this really nice one in town—”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Elliot snarled. “Scat on Turk’s old bald head anyway, selling his game farm to humans. He only did it to piss us off.” He straightened abruptly. “Hey. I think I see him.”
Two cows had ganged up on a third beast and were driving it down the hillside. Yep, Elliot figured, that had to be their immature bull. Still too small to threaten the boss but cursed with a teenager’s rampaging hormones. Since they were still months from the rut, the cows weren’t interested. They’d just done the Hancocks an enormous favor and shoved the kid outside the herd’s protection. Neither boss bull nor cows were liable to help out some stupid adolescent under a wolf attack.
“That’s our boy,” Elliot whispered. “Let’s go.”
They shifted to wolf form and headed for the bull. He let them trot right up to him before he snorted in alarm. A few nips at his heels turned him around and started him toward the woods and, hopefully, a waiting hole in the fence. As predicted, the rest of the herd didn’t even bother to get up.
Piece of cake, Elliot thought. This stupid stud didn’t even know enough to run. He and Dale ought to get it down to the fence with no trouble. If Ewan had done his part, they’d be home free in no time. Ashley would get the best birthday hunt ever, and Elliot might just get …
A stinging sensation along his muzzle as razor talons raked his face.
He stumbled but didn’t yelp. Too startled. Elliot stared around just in time to spot a small dark shadow drop out of the sky to divebomb Dale. Dale did yelp, loudly. That spooked the bull, which bolted back toward the herd.
The hawk swung skyward for another strafing run. Elliot reared up and shifted. Seeing his brother on two legs, Dale followed suit. The hawk came to earth yards away, out of reach of the wolves. He flipped in midair so that he landed on the ground on two human feet.
“I knew it,” the werehawk said. “Gimme a break, Elliot.”
Elliot rubbed his fingers along his cheek. They came away damp. “What the hell, Andreas! We’re here for our elk.”
“Which Miz Jenks didn’t sell you. I figured you’d try something sneaky. You wolves are so predictable.” He waved a hand at Dale. “Hey, Dale.” Dale shot him the finger.
“C’mon, Andreas,” Elliot said. “This is the beta’s daughter. We need that elk. Turk wouldn’t have pulled this scat.”
“Sorry, man. Orders are orders. Miz Jenks won’t put up with it.”
“Damn queasy monkeys. What is she, vegetarian?”
“Oh hell no. I’ve seen her rip into a bison burger. She just doesn’t get the Peak yet. I put in a call to Dante, see how much we’re allowed to tell her.”
“Better tell her something quick. The party’s in two weeks.”
“Then you talk to him. He’s your cousin.”
“Or,” Dale said reasonably, “you could just give us the elk.”
“No can do, wolfie. I like Miz Jenks. She bakes. Cakes and pies and stuff. And these little cupcakes, with the icing and cherries on top.” Andreas shivered with pleasure. “You squeeze ‘em in your talons and just plunge the beak right in, they’re that moist. Then the sugar rush hits. I can fly for hours on just one of ‘em. Maybe she’ll bake Ashley a cake if you ask her nice.”
“Hump the cake. What about the brother? Will he sell us the elk?”
“Doubt it. He does what she tells him, mostly. He likes to ride around and play cowboy. I’m a bird and even I think he’s flighty.”
So Toni Jenks was the brains of the outfit. There had to be a way around her human sensibilities without spilling their shifter secrets. Or they could head into the high country and find a wild elk herd and try to capture a young bull alive without them or it getting killed. Or bring back a deer for Ashley’s birthday. Elliot would rather face the elk than a teenage she-wolf. Or her sire, Damien Hancock’s right hand.
“She bakes, huh?” he murmured as the wheels began to turn.