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Chapter Fourteen

“What’d he say when you asked him about the letter?”

Maizie shrugged. “I didn’t ask. I just left.”

Cherri sprinkled the final bit of flour into the churning mixer. “’Course not. Why give Mr. Tall-dark-and-wonderful the opportunity to explain? I mean, he’s pretty much perfect. Gorgeous, smart, rich, romantic. Gorgeous-”

“You said gorgeous twice.”

Cherri looked at her. “Yeah. I know.”

Maizie rolled her eyes. “No one’s perfect.”

“He does a pretty good imitation.”

The smell of licorice tickled Maizie’s nose. “Too much anise,” she said with a nod to the mixer.

“You haven’t even tasted it.”

“Trust me.” She hadn’t told Cherri about Mr. Wonderful’s other attributes, like his ability to turn women into sex-crazed werewolves who could smell anise and creamed panties at a hundred yards-among other things.

Granted, he wasn’t the one who’d turned her, but still, she didn’t want to hear Cherri come up with any more excuses for the man. She’d tell her eventually. Probably.

“I just can’t believe I was right all along. I let my hormones get in the way of my brain. Dammit.” She thrashed a rubber spatula through the bowl of butter-cream icing she held, taking out her frustration. “And poor Granny. How am I going to break this to her?”

“She really likes him, huh?” Cherri dipped a spoon in the cookie batter and cringed when she tasted it.

“She adores Gray. It’ll crush her when she finds out he was just being nice to get her land.”

“I’m surprised how well you’re taking it.” Cherri added more flour and sugar to the batter. “I mean if I thought the love of my life was just using me to nail a real-estate deal I’d bawl my eyes out.”

Maizie didn’t mention she’d cried the whole way back through the forest from Gray’s house and more than half the drive in from the cottage. She felt as though it was a piece of her heart he’d conspired to steal away with those papers, not just her grandmother’s land. Except Granny still had her land, Maizie couldn’t say as much for her heart.

She was done crying. “What I can’t figure out is this other guy…Cadwick. He made a full-court press to get me to call him if Granny decided to sell. Then I saw him with Granny last night. He had papers with him. They looked official. But I don’t know if he’s working with Gray or if the two of them are competition.”

“You think Cadwick’s the guy who was tricking your Granny into thinking he was your dad?” Cherri dipped a fresh spoon into the tweaked batter. She tasted it. A smile flickered across her lips.

“I guess. When I told Gray about Granny thinking Dad was telling her to sell, he seemed genuinely surprised.” Maizie stood and plopped a spatula full of icing onto the sheet cake on her prep-table.

“Probably because he was surprised,” Cherri said behind her. “I’ve met Gray, Maizie. He didn’t set off any of my jerk alarms. Just ask him about the letter. See what he says.”

Maizie shook her head, spreading the icing as though it was paint on a clean canvas. “What could he possibly say? He used his connections to find a way to steal Granny’s land. Does it matter whether he went through with it or not?”

“That depends on you.”

Maizie glanced over her shoulder. “On whether I think he would’ve used it if things didn’t work with us?”

“On whether you’re so scared of your feelings for him, you’ll use any excuse to run away from them.”

Maizie turned back to her cake with an exasperated sigh. “Don’t start that crap again. I don’t have any deep-seated emotional scars from my parents’ death that affect my views on relationships.”

“You mean any scars you’re aware of.” Cherri came over and leaned a hip against Maizie’s prep-table, still nibbling the last bit of batter from her spoon. “Most crazy people have no idea they’re crazy.”

“I am not crazy.”

“That you’re aware.”

Maizie slanted a look at her. “Cherri…”

“Okay, okay, you’re not crazy.” She waited a half beat. “But you do have issues.”

Maizie grunted and rolled her eyes. Gawd, she hated it when Cherri played armchair psychologist. She honestly believed the one lone psych course she’d taken in college qualified her to diagnose everything from passive aggression to emotional transference.

Maizie picked up the spatula and went back to her icing.

Cherri caught the subtle telltale signs of Maizie tuning her out. “Just listen. What’s the one thing you always say you remember about your parents right before the accident?”

Maizie really didn’t want to do this. It was an annoying, quasi-amusing distraction, but in the end she’d still have to figure out what to do about Gray. “I don’t know, Cherri. Let’s drop it, okay?”

“No, wait. Every time you talk about the accident, you remember how happy they were. And then it was all taken away. Your dad got too distracted by his happiness. And so now you avoid happiness to keep the same thing from happening to you.”

“They were just laughing, Cherri. Joking. My dad looked at my mom for a second. That’s how most accidents happen. The driver looks away, gets distracted, for whatever reason.”

“Exactly.”

“So if it had been his coffee cup spilling or his cell phone ringing, you’re saying I’d avoid relationships with people who have coffee in the car or talk on their cells while driving?”

“Maybe.”

Maizie couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s messed up, Cherri. Don’t quit your day job, ’kay?”

“I’m serious.” Cherri pushed at her glasses with her knuckle. “Okay, fine. Maybe that’s simplifying it a bit. But you have to admit there’s a pattern here.”

“Oh yeah?” Maizie covered the last inch of chocolate cake with ivory icing then grabbed the blue piping bag.

“As long as I’ve known you, nothing gets in your way. Nothing distracts you…especially men. You date, but most times it’s just a physical thing. Y’know, something to take the edge off, sexually.”

“You make me sound like such a lady.”

Cherri ignored her comment, pushing her hairnet off her brow. “Every once in a while someone with a little more going on upstairs comes along. He makes you laugh, makes you a little bit happy and then…BAM. You dump him. You make up some lame excuse about being too busy taking care of the shop and your grandmother and not wanting to be distracted…”

“Okay, one-I am busy. And two-none of this has anything to do with Gray trying to steal my grandmother’s land.”

“Yu-huh. Name one guy who’s ever affected you the way Gray Lupo does. One guy who’s made you smile just thinking about him, who’s had more in common with you, who’s made you feel even half of what you feel when you’re with him.”

Maizie didn’t say a word. She couldn’t. There had never been anyone like Gray in her life. Cherri was right. But Maizie kept her focus on decorating the sheet cake.

“Face it, girl, you’re wiggin’ out and it’s got nothing to do with real estate.”

Maizie slammed the piping bag on the prep-table, blue icing squirting out in an arch to the floor. “The letter was there, Cherri. On his desk. Nothing ambiguous about it. At some point he’d planned how he could steal the land.”

“But you don’t know why. Maybe he was trying to help.”

“Help? How? By taking the one thing she loves almost as much as me?” Maizie’s voice rumbled in her chest. Tension roiled through her belly, her heart beating faster and faster like a thing gone wild.

She swallowed hard, tamped down the first stirrings of her wolf. When she spoke again, her voice was calm, controlled. “Fine. You think I’m jumping to conclusions? You think I’m just trying to avoid some…some…guy?”

Maizie reached back, untying her apron. She yanked it over her head and crumpled it onto the prep-table. “I’ll ask him. Happy? And when it turns out he’s got no legitimate excuse, I’ll be back here with a big fat I-told-you-so.”

“And if he has a good excuse?”

Maizie’s jaw tightened. She pressed her lips into a flat line, breathing through her nose. She didn’t want to think about it. She was already too close to the edge with Gray, too close to falling head over heels. If he gave her even the smallest reason to admire him, he’d own her heart completely. She’d have no control, no chance to protect herself if something happened to take it all away.

She shook her head and turned toward the door. “I’ll be back.”


“I’m so sorry, Maizie. He went out for a run with the others about an hour ago. There’s no way for me to contact him. Honest.” Annette stood in the marbled foyer of the Lupo mansion, wringing her hands.

Shoot. If Maizie hadn’t stopped off at her apartment to shower and spend two hours choosing the perfect outfit before driving the forty-five minutes to Gray’s mansion she might have caught them.

“Do you know which way they went?” In her wolf form she could probably track the pack and catch up with them. Unfortunately, Maizie hadn’t figured out how to switch back and forth yet. Wasn’t completely convinced she could.

“I’m not certain, but they usually work their way down to your grandmother’s cottage. Gray’s always kept an eye on her. It’s sort of become part of their normal route.”

I bet. “Thanks, Annette. I’ll drive around and wait there. Maybe I’ll catch them before they head back.” Maizie turned to leave, but Annette’s words stopped her.

“He loves you. You know that, right?”

Maizie glanced over her shoulder. “I don’t know anything.”

“Wolves mate for life, Maizie. Even though you’re his true life mate it took a lot for him to let go of his bond with Donna. It went against everything he is, but he did it for you. For both of you. To give you the soul-deep connection you both need.”

Maizie shook her head. “Like I said, until I see Gray, until I talk to him…I don’t know anything.”


It was full dark by the time Maizie got to the cottage. There was a limo parked out front, empty. Gray. Who else? He’d likely ordered the car be left for a comfortable ride back home. The lights were off in the cottage, the door dead-bolted from the inside. She hadn’t used that lock in years. Wasn’t even sure she still had the key.

The hairs at the nape of her neck bristled, invisible fingers thrummed down her spine. Maizie ignored the sensation, her mind racing with what she’d say when she saw him. After trying two wrong keys she found the right one and opened the door.

“Hello?” Her muscles coiled, she peered into the pitch-black living room, ready for anything. She could hardly breathe.

But she could see. Being a werewolf had perks. Maizie forced herself to relax, trust her body. Her night vision was incredible once she chose to believe it. And what she could hear and smell filled in where her vision left holes. Her heightened awareness was still too new though, constantly feeding her information. Everyone who’d been in the house the last few months left scents behind. She struggled to sort through smells and sounds, tell old from new, familiar from foreign.

The downstairs was lifeless, filled with deep shadows and the yawning silence of night. She closed the door behind her, a soft click when the latch snapped into place. The floorboards above creaked, made her shift her gaze upward.

Gray would likely want to stay in Granny’s good graces just in case seducing Maizie didn’t work out the way he planned. And what better way to charm Granny then to offer up another old trinket she’d forgotten about.

Maizie could feel in her bones he was near. He was probably up there sifting through Granny’s boxed-up belongings looking for more memories to ply her with. At least this one wouldn’t be taken from a death scene.

Moment by moment Maizie worked to harden her heart, prepare for the painful truth. What excuse could he have for that letter? Her chest pinched. Anxiety tightened the muscles across her shoulders. What would it mean for her now that she was a werewolf? Would she have to stay with Gray and the pack regardless? Would she have to leave? Neither option offered her comfort.

She took the steps, rounding the first landing as the swooshing sound of leather shoes scraping over a hardwood floor reached her ears. Leather fringed the scent of sweet male cologne, mixing to create a fragrance that was expressly masculine, unmistakably extravagant.

Maizie wasn’t purposely quiet, but the slightest breath seemed to echo like a gale wind in the silence. She reached the top of the landing on the balls of her feet, sidestepping the old floorboards she knew would squeak.

She glanced to the right at the dark wood door of Granny’s room, then to the left at the matching door of her own room. The bathroom door was directly in front of her and not even a sliver of light showed underneath. Why hadn’t Gray turned on any lights?

A small gasp and the tiny click of a door being closed made her look toward Granny’s room. He’d been watching her. The tension knot across her shoulders tightened, anger boiling away caution and reason.

Maizie cleared the distance to the door in three quick strides, turning the knob so hard and fast the cheap lock broke with a little snap. A split second passed for Maizie to consider why the door had been locked to begin with. She threw open the door.

Light from the tall dusk-to-dawn lamp out front streamed through the side window, creating contours of light and darkness across the wood floor. The room was empty expect for the bed and several boxes stacked in the far corner. The closet doors were gone. The space had once been so full with Granny’s things, doors had just gotten in the way. Now the closet stood empty and dark.

Maizie stepped into the room, her senses flaring, her gaze searching for Gray. Someone’s panicked breaths filled the dark silence, fear sweetened the air. It wasn’t Gray.

No sooner had the thought formed in her mind than a hand latched around her upper arm and the door swung shut behind her. A hard yank stumbled her backward into Anthony Cadwick’s big chest.

“Where is it?”

She gasped. Cool steel pressed against her neck, the sharp point of his knife pricking her skin. She hissed against the pain. Her heart stuttered. “No. Don’t. Please.”

He kept his mouth close to her ear, his voice a low grumble. His breath warmed the side of her face, moist and rank with fear. “How’d you get in without it tearing your throat out?”

Maizie worked fast to get her surprise behind her, to slow the gallop of her heart. She tried to think, to understand what was happening. “What are you doing here? This is private-”

“This dump’s mine now, so shut up about the trespassing shit. Who cares? I gotta get out of here, and if you made it in, that means I can make it out.” Anthony pushed her forward, his fingers digging into her arm, leading her to the window.

“What do you mean you own this place? Granny-” She stumbled, but Anthony kept pushing her forward. Before she could finish her sentence, they reached the window.

He leaned their shoulders against the frame, their bodies angled to face the door across the room, her body in front of his like a shield. His gaze darted over the front yard, the driveway and into the darkness of the forest. His rapid-fire pulse hummed through his chest into her back. He was desperate, near crazed with fear.

“What’s going on, Anthony?”

His grip tightened around her arm. “Did you see it?”

“See what?”

“The wolf. A big silver son of a bitch.”

Relief washed over Maizie like a warm blanket. Gray was here. How had she missed him? She must’ve slipped inside before he’d gotten a chance to stop her. But where was he now? What had he done to cause a man like Cadwick to behave like a frightened rabbit? “I didn’t see anything. What happened?”

“It chased me, that’s what happened. The fucker tried to kill me. Barely made it inside. Can’t say as much for Frank.”

“Frank?”

“My driver. The thing chased him off into the woods. God knows what happened to him.” Anthony’s whole body shuddered against hers. “I think I heard him scream. Shit, this is bad.”

Maizie remembered the deadbolt on the front door. Frank didn’t make it inside because Anthony hadn’t let him in. Of all the things Gray might be, he wasn’t a killer, but Anthony didn’t know that. In his mind, he’d sacrificed another human being to save himself. And he was good with it.

Her stomach roiled at the thought. She squirmed, but Cadwick pressed the knife, drawing a warm trickle of blood. She winced, the tiny stream raced down her neck, hot against her skin. “He won’t hurt you, Anthony. Just let me go.”

“Right. You didn’t see the size of its teeth.”

The better to eat your selfish heart out with, you bastard. Maizie had had enough. She grabbed his wrist, pulled his knife-wielding hand from her neck and stepped out of his hold. He didn’t seem to notice. She wasn’t sure if he’d let her go or if she was just that much stronger than him now.

“You’re being ridiculous. Letting your imagination get the best of you.” She went to the door and flicked the light switch. “Pull yourself together and tell me why you think you own my grandmother’s property.”

The room flooded with light. Anthony squinted, though the enormous black pupils in his eyes showed his panic. He raced past her to the light switch, slammed into the wall and clawed at it until the room went dark again.

“No lights, no lights. It’ll come back.” He was panting, leaning his side and face against the wall. “Those eyes. God damn, I’ll never forget those big pale eyes.”

The better to see lying swindlers like you. She folded her arms across her belly. “Fine. But I want answers. Why are you here? And what did you mean you own this place?”

Anthony swallowed loud enough for her to hear. He turned, pivoting on his shoulder against the wall. His head leaned back, his chest swelling and falling with deep breaths as he dug into his breast pocket. He pulled out a small stack of neatly folded papers. “Ester signed the deed last night. The house, the land…it’s all mine.”

He held the papers out to Maizie and she took them. Even in the dark she could read the word “deed” perfectly. Below it, typed along the lines provided, was the address of the cottage.

“That’s not possible. Granny would never-”

“She’ll do whatever her little boy tells her to do,” Anthony said, his voice steadier, edged with a smug humor.

Maizie snapped her gaze to him. “So you were the one pretending to be my dad.”

He pushed up along the wall, got his feet under him. He tugged the hem of his suit jacket, straightened his tie and smoothed his shirt. “Nobody’s going to believe the old lady didn’t know who I was. Can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting a magazine or newspaper with my face on it. It’s just business.”

“It’s not business.” She hated how her emotions thinned her voice. She swallowed. Calmed herself. “It’s trickery. It’s theft. It’s taking advantage of an old woman who misses her son. It’s…despicable.”

The insults seemed to put Anthony in his right mind, as though the normalcy and familiarity of it calmed his fear. He shoved off the wall and sauntered past her, snatching the papers back as he went. “It’s also a timely turn of events for you.”

“Excuse me?”

“What with your loan application rejected, I’d imagine the income from the sale will come in handy.”

She hadn’t heard from the bank yet. No one knew she’d even applied. Without the loan she wasn’t sure she could manage everything, the business, her rent, Green Acres, the taxes on the cottage…food. How could he know?

Anthony turned, catching her gaze. “I paid a fair price, Ms. Hood. More than fair. She couldn’t have gotten a better deal. And with your financial situation, you really can’t be choosy.”

“I didn’t want to sell.”

He shrugged. “Another poor business decision. Lucky for you, your grandmother has provided the means to save your business.”

“I didn’t want to sell.” How had this happened? She’d let herself get distracted, let her heart cloud her focus. Granny counted on her, Cherri and Bob counted on her. She thought she could do it all, take care of everything all by herself if she just kept focused. She’d failed.

A shrill howl pierced the night. Cadwick’s whole body flinched. He crouched as though something might swoop down and snatch him. “You hear that?”

Maizie nodded, the sharp tang of Anthony’s fear infusing the air. She couldn’t care less. He’d won. He’d beaten her.

Anthony snagged her arm again, pulling her in front of him, knife to her throat. Apparently he hadn’t realized how easily she’d escaped him before. Maizie didn’t bother to try this time. Gawd, she’d made a mess of things.

“You’re gonna show me how to get out of here the same way you got in.” He pushed her toward the door and Maizie stumbled into step.

Anthony dropped the knife level with her kidney as they passed through the bedroom doorway. His hand slid to her shoulder, keeping the distance between them at arm’s length. They crept down the stairs, Anthony’s fingers digging in at the slightest sound.

Maizie jerked her shoulder, made him lose his grip, but she didn’t try to escape before he latched on again. She knew she could if she wanted to. That was enough. She was more desperate for time than freedom.

She stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Anthony leaned over her shoulder to look into the kitchen then the other way into the living room.

“My grandmother will be devastated once she realizes you tricked her into selling.”

“Ssshh. It’ll hear you,” he whispered. “Probably hears us thinkin’. I’ve never seen ears that big.”

The better to hear your lies, you heartless coward. Maizie jerked her shoulder and Anthony lost his grip again. She spun around, leaning out of reach of his groping hand. “Granny didn’t know what she was doing when she signed it. You had no right.”

“Ssshhh…ssshhh…” His eyes wide, Cadwick pressed a finger to his lips, then tried to cover her mouth.

Maizie flinched away. “Stop it.”

“Then keep your voice down.” He went to the door, palms flat, peering through the arched window at the top.

“What can I do to get my grandmother’s property back? How official have things gotten?”

Cadwick glanced over his shoulder, his dark brows tight. “She signed the deed.” He turned his attention back through the window. “It’s done. I’m taking it to the courthouse Monday.”

“You mean the papers in your pocket are the originals?” Could it really be that easy?

He looked at her again, eyes narrowing. “Whatever you’re thinking, Red, you can forget it. I’ve waited too long to get one over on Gray Lupo. I’m not turning back now.”

She heard something scratching and flicked her gaze toward the door. It was soft, like a padded foot in the gravel driveway. She could barely hear it. She looked back to Cadwick, still staring as though he might read her mind. He hadn’t heard anything at all.

The pack was outside. She could sense them-now that she knew to try. Maizie exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She wasn’t alone. She closed her eyes for a minute, opening her mind to them. A deep breath brought the scents of the pack into her body, the musk of their fur, the earthy smell of the forest, the wild tang of their breath.

“What’s with you?” Cadwick said, and Maizie opened her eyes.

He straightened, turning his back to the door, studying her. “You look like…like you just got hugged or something.”

She couldn’t stop her smile if she’d wanted to. “I can’t let you leave here with those papers, Tony.”

His glower deepened. “It’s Anthony and I don’t know how you’re gonna stop me, Little Red.”

The door suddenly shook with a loud boom. They both jumped and turned in time to see the wolf charge again. His huge face snapped at the window, drool splattering the glass. His eyes flashed for an instant, big and furious, before he fell out of sight below the window.

“Shit.” Cadwick grabbed Maizie’s hand, yanked her along behind him. “Back door. Let’s go.”

Maizie could’ve pulled free, could’ve broken his arm if she wanted. She didn’t. She wanted those papers, so she went with him through the living room into the sunroom to the back door.

Cadwick crouched as he passed along the wall of windows, watching the darkness as he went. He pulled Maizie in front of him when he reached the door, slipped his arm around her waist and opened the lock.

“Go,” he said.

“What if that thing’s out there?” She knew he wasn’t. Ricky was still out front with Shelly and Joy. There was only one wolf waiting in back. But Cadwick didn’t know that.

“Guess we’ll find out. Now, go.” He brandished the knife at her and Maizie stumbled backward, narrowly avoiding the sharp point. She pushed through the door and made it beyond the arbor before Cadwick followed.

Movement to her left caught both their attention, a flash of blonde-tipped fur among the moonlit flowers. Poor Lynn, her dye job didn’t transfer forms the same.

A low growl raised the hairs at the back of her neck and had Cadwick scampering up beside Maizie. “You hear that?”

Maizie nodded, allowing Cadwick to cower behind her again. He held her above the elbows, using her body to shield against whatever watched from the high flowers.

“Christ, what kind of fucking beasts does Lupo keep in these woods?” He squinted into the darkness. “Not that it matters. They’ll all be roadkill once I get through with this land.”

Lynn’s growl went primal. She leapt from a patch of towering sunflowers, teeth bared. Cadwick’s girlish squeal deafened Maizie’s ears a split second before he pushed her into Lynn’s path.

It was too late for Lynn to stop. Her heavy furred body slammed into Maizie, chest to chest, knocking her off her feet, driving the air from her lungs. Maizie’s head smacked the patio brick, starbursts lit her eyes.

Lynn writhed on top of her, trying to find her footing. Her long wolf legs and sharp bones poked Maizie’s stomach as she launched into the chase. She followed Cadwick’s trail through the flowers in the opposite direction, her blonde-tipped fur disappearing in the thick foliage.

Shaking off the dizziness, Maizie followed, leaves and stems sticking to her clothes, smacking her face despite the shield of her hands. She broke through the edge of the garden at the corner of the house, already angling her body for the turn and nearly toppled over Gray before she could stop.

She threw her weight backward, landing hard on her ass, her feet sliding into Cadwick’s outstretched legs. He lay spread eagled on his back, Gray’s snarling face inches from his, one thick paw pressing his chest.

Maizie scrambled backward, got to her feet before Cadwick’s wide frightened eyes found her.

“Help me. Please. Help me.” His voice was breathy, panicked.

Lynn gave a hard snort from a few feet away, her tail snapping once against her rump. As if on cue, Ricky, Shelly, Joy and Shawn jogged around from the front of the house, forming a circle around Maizie, Gray and the pleading Cadwick.

Maizie threw a glance at Shawn, his darker fur and larger body a nice contrast with Lynn’s. He rubbed his muzzle along her neck, taking his place at her side. He was new to the pack, new to being a werewolf, but he seemed to fit seamlessly. Could it be that way for Maizie? Could she forgive and forget?

She stepped nearer to Gray, his low growl vibrating the silvery fur along his back. She dug her fingers in, closing her eyes at the luscious feel of his fleece. His scent filled her lungs, wild, earthy forest and the barest hint of sweet male cologne. Gray leaned into her touch, the shift almost imperceptible, but enough to send a warm shiver straight through Maizie, from her head to her toes.

She dropped her gaze to Cadwick. “Give me the deed.”


Chapter Thirteen | Little Red and the Wolf | Chapter Fifteen