Night Walker's WomanbyTara_Neale©
The man stood naked among the low trees that covered the rolling hills around him. He wore only a tan and white buckskin thrown loosely about his broad shoulders. His gray-green eyes followed the dozen or so mustangs that raced and played in the soft glow of the early morning sun. His heart beat in time with theirs.
"Rex, my son," said the gravelly voice behind him.
A faint smile creased his thoughtful expression. He should have known that his grandfather would sense his presence, he always did. "Good morning, Grandfather," he replied.
The old man approached him slowly, holding two steaming cups of strong black coffee in his weathered and calloused hands. His long grey hair was pulled back from his face, secured at the base of his neck with a simple leather strap. His wrinkled face bore with pride his Native heritage. His black eyes were sharp, his nose flat and broad. Only his lighter skin tone attested to his mixed blood.
Rex Ranger reached out his equally calloused hand to take one of the cups that he held. Its rich aroma blended masterfully with the clean crisp smell of spring in the Texas Hill Country. Blue bonnets were beginning to bloom in the valleys. And although it was brisk, his body welcomed the gentle breeze.
"What brings you here, my son?"
Rex's chuckle blew softly across the surface of the dark brown liquid, making circles that expanded outward until they reached the rim of the earthen ware cup and bounced back towards the center. His grandfather never had been a man for subtly. "Just needed a break, I suppose."
His grandfather reached into the leather bag that hung across his shoulder. He drew out a pair of jeans and soft chambray shirt. "It is still cold this time of year. Get dressed and we will talk."
Rex sat his cup down on a wide limb in the tree. He took the clothes without a word and quickly donned them. While he was grateful to his grandfather for the warmth they provided, some part of him rebelled at their confines, screaming to be free again. His shrugged his shoulders trying to adjust the material where it chafed against his sensitive skin.
His grandfather stared off to a distant hill, where the last of the mustangs were disappearing to the valley below. "It has come," he said simply.
Rex shook his head, "We don't know that, Grandfather."
The old man shook his head and chuckled as he raised the cup to his mouth. He took a long sip and waited.
Rex picked up his own cup from the tree behind him. The two men watched the horizon as the sun climbed higher into the sky, beckoning another day.
"What do I do?" he asked when the last of the hot liquid was gone.
"Nothing," the old man replied. "You do nothing...until the time comes. You will know. You will have no doubt when you meet her."
Rex ran his fingers through the shortly cropped blond hair still wet from his morning run. He had known since his first transformation at the age of twelve that this day would come. The 'season' was upon him, just as his Grandfather had always warned him it would.
The 'season' was a time in the lives of all skin-walkers when they sought out and mated with their other half. The one true love with the power to draw them into the light. Without her, Rex knew the road to destruction that lay ahead. He would become the most feared of creatures, man and beast, capable of nothing but killing, even those closest to him.
"You worry needlessly. It has been many, many generations since one of our line failed in this quest. You will find her, my son. Of this I have no doubt."
Rex wished he had his Grandfather's surety. But this blessing had always seemed more of a curse to the man, who lived in a modern world with little tolerance for those who were different. From kindergarten, Rex had been labeled. Hyperactive...ADHD...trouble-maker. They were badges he knew well. His parents had brought in the best doctors, therapists and specialists to 'fix' their son. But none of it worked. He simply could not sit still. He could not focus. And the medicines they gave him only made him sick.
It was not until his mother desperate for a break from the overwhelming responsibility of parenting her 'special needs' child had given into her father's demands that the boy spend the summer with him that he had found any sense of purpose. The moment that the ten year-old boy had stepped foot onto this ranch he had known. He had felt free, something he had never felt in his young life. That summer had been the best of his life; learning Lakota lore, riding horses and sometimes just roaming the vast acres all day long.
When it ended, he had begged and pleaded with his parents and his grandfather to stay. But his parents refused. His mother had been estranged from her father since college. His mystical traditions were an anathema to her calculating scientific mind that needed logical explanations for everything.
She was not going to have her former father-in-law pollute her only child with his 'voodoo rubbish.' It had been two more long years before she had succumbed to his pleas and allowed him to return. In fact, it was only his psychologist's concerns that he was so despondent he might attempt suicide that had finally forced her to accede.
Again, Rex had found the freedom he longed for. But this time, he found more. In a trunk in the tack room of his Grandfather's barn, he found an old pelt...a coyote. His hands had tingled as he ran them across its soft fur. His mind had cleared as he saw a vision; himself running through the woods. But not as a boy, as the coyote. He had jerked back his hand as if burned only to hear his Grandfather chuckle.
Just as he was now. "What is so funny, old man?" he asked as he passed the empty cup back to his Grandfather.
"Your mind still battles. Even after all these years. Even knowing who you are, what you are. It is still like hers."
Rex did not bother denying the words. As always his grandfather had gone straight to the heart of the matter. His mother might have worried that his grandfather's teachings would pollute his mind, but the truth was that he feared her science had polluted his soul. His intelligent mind still sought answers. Answers that he knew modern science would never provide. But without those answers he feared he would never find the peace he sought.
"Peace is not as hard to find as you think, my son. It is all around us. We have simply to accept it within us."
Rex shook his head. Why he should still be surprised that this man knew what he was thinking was beyond him. Telepathy was one of the gifts that came with skin-walking. Even as untrained as his own gifts were, he had on occasion caught glimpses of other people's thoughts, especially when strong emotions such as anger, hatred or fear were involved. It always made him uncomfortable.
"Go. Run for a bit more, child." The old man said as he turned back towards the house with both cups in his hands. "We will talk more when you have worn your troubled mind out."
Jaycee Riley pushed the disconnect button on her cell phone. She shrugged her shoulders. Her auburn hair fell in gentle waves down her back, its ends coming to rest between her shoulder blades. Her hazel eyes took in the austere dark wood paneling of the court house waiting room. The heavy mahogany doors to the court room were shut.
She turned to scan the hallways once more. Her client was late. If she did not get her butt into the court room soon, it would be too late. This case was not at all to her liking. Family disputes were never easy, but this latest run-in between her client and his father was particularly distasteful. Animal cruelty was not an area of the law that she had experience in, but in her new practice she took whatever case came her way. Her livelihood and her daughter's health depended upon it.
With one final survey of the area, she squared her shoulders and pushed open the heavy doors. She walked determinedly towards the podium on which the judge sat. Her client's father, his attorney, the prosecutor and a man she did not know all looked up from their conservation.
"Your honor, Jaycee Riley, for Thad Marshall. He is the defendant's son and an interested party in this case," she kept her tone crisp and business like even as she felt all the eyes on her.
A shiver ran up her back. Discomfort hung on her shoulders like a coat. If she had been leery of this latest development before, now some deep instinct screamed at her to run. Run as fast and as far as she could.
But Jaycee had never been the running type. Her flight reflex turned off from birth it seemed. Instead, she did as always. She squared her shoulders, spread her feet a bit and braced for the fight. She scanned the faces.
Marigold Clement was the prosecutor. Although she had never battled her in a courtroom they had met once or twice at social events. The older woman was austere. Her gray hair pulled back into a bun at the back of her head. Her dark blue suit was so tight that Jaycee wondered how the woman managed to breath. The woman might be a tough opponent, but she had a reputation for being a fair one. Jaycee dismissed her as the source of her discomfort.
As for Tybor Marshall and his good-ole-boy attorney Mitch Taylor, she knew the animosity that they bore her. This war of wills had been dragging on in civil court for almost a year now. So while she recognized that she was not their favorite person that could not explain her situation.
That left only the stranger. Her eyes locked with his. She drew in a deep breath at what she saw there. For a moment she felt like prey and this man the consummate predator. Something so primitive arced between them as they stared unflinching at one another. For once, Jaycee was the first to back down, breaking eye contact.
The judge cleared his throat. She forced her mind back to the business at hand. "Your honor, Mr. Marshall and his son are engaged in a civil matter the outcome of which relates directly to this case. As you realize, the horses in question are not just any animals. They are pure bred race horses, some of the finest stock in the country. My client's mother, Mr. Marshall's wife, left the animals and the bulk of her estate to their son, Thad. But for personal reasons, Mr. Marshall is contesting his wife's will with the intent of disinheriting their only child."
Jaycee looked at the defendant. Her distaste for the man had grown to new bounds. "We believe that Mr. Marshall starved the animals in an attempt to circumvent the court system."
"Miss Riley, I am aware of the civil court proceedings, but that really has nothing to do with this case. The only thing at issue here is the welfare of those animals."
"I understand that, your honor. And I am as disgusted as anyone at what these animals have gone through. But they are also property. Property involved in a civil matter. Property worth close to one point two million dollars. Property that his mother left to my client. It would be judicious of the court to consider how its actions might bear upon the civil proceedings and ultimately upon the value of the estate. For this court to award animals of this quality to the ASPCA would be precedent setting."
The man turned and stared at her once more. "Perhaps your client should have thought of all that before now, Miss Riley. Those animals were without feed for weeks. Where was your client then? How often did he check up on his inheritance as you call them?"
Jaycee shifted her weight from one foot to the other, aware that her client's absence at this proceedings spoke louder than her words. "My client is a business man. He travels extensively. He was unaware of his father's intents and had assumed that the animals would be safe in his care while this matter worked its way through the legal system."
The man reached into the file he held and drew out a picture. Holding it up, he replied, "This is what your client's assumptions did to these animals."
Jaycee could not stop the flinch that shook her body as she looked at the picture of the emaciated horses. She was an animal lover and an equestrian. Instinctively, she brought her hand up to cover her mouth as she fought back the rising bile. She feared that she would completely lose control, rushing from the courtroom to vomit would not be in her client's best interest. But what she saw in front of her turned her stomach.
Suddenly a cool glass was pressed to her lips, "Drink this," it commanded.
Rex did not like this latest turn of events. His cursed and snorted as he held the glass to the frail woman's lips. He wanted to throw her over his shoulders and race from the room. Her distress rolled over him like the roughest of seas, plummeting and pounding at his mind, his heart and his very soul.
He could hear each of her disjointed thoughts in his head. Louder than his own. She fought to control her disgust with what had been done to the beautiful animals. She wanted to do what was right for them, but she had been hired to do a job. And doing that job was about more than just the law. It was about her very survival.
And her survival meant more to him than his own. It always would.
He stepped forward, his large body acting as a shield, guarding her from their prying eyes, giving her a moment to compose herself. "Breath deeply, Mitawa Naya," his mind slipped naturally into the language of his ancestors. He inhaled deeply, held her eyes for a long moment, willed her mind to be silent and then exhaled. He did it again before turning back to the others, who were all staring at them.
"Your honor, it is clear to the ASPCA that Miss Riley's client had no part in the neglect. Would it be possible for a small continuance while we negotiate a compromise that is in everyone's best interest?" he stared at the judge, who knew him well, had over seen hundreds of these cases with him.
The man cleared his throat, "Rex, I don't have to tell you how unusual this is."
He nodded, "I know, your honor, but as the woman says the case is unprecedented as well."
The judge turned to his friend Marigold, who prosecuted almost all the animal cruelty cases for the District Attorney's office. "Miss Clement, do you have any objection?"
The older woman looked to him quizzically. He shrugged and mouthed the word, 'please.' She nodded and turned back to the judge. "As you know your honor, the District Attorney works closely with the ASPCA on these types of cases. I have no doubt that my colleague and I can work something out in the best interest of these animals."
The man nodded, "All right then. This case is bound over for review. One week from Thursday. Ten days, Mister Ranger. Miss Riley. You have ten days to present this court with a viable resolution or these animals become the property of the ASPCA. This court is adjourned for lunch."
Rex sighed. Ten days was not long. Not long to broker this kind of deal. He knew that his boss back at the ASPCA was salivating over those animals. They would not be put up for adoption as other animals were.
These animals would become the center piece of their annual fundraising auction. Usually the event was nothing more than a big party, a chance for their largest benefactors to pay far more than they normally would for some poor animal that they had rescued. But with those horses, Tim Masters was sure they could attract the type of buyers, donors, that they had only dreamt of.
He watched the woman drain the rest of the water from the glass. He felt her mind shift. Readied himself for battle, before she could speak, his hand took he elbow. He heard her heart, listened as it skipped one, then two beats. It began to pound in his head like the drums of a Lakota war drum.
But it was the smell that left him weak in the knees, threatened to overpower what vestiges of man remained in him. He was so close to his animal self, so close to losing control. Closer to it than he had ever been. And his body knew why. That smell told him that the woman did too. His woman. His.
He managed to formulate only a few words, "We should go now."
Jaycee shook her head. This man did things to her that none ever had. It was not just his size or those All-American boy good looks either. Something about his eyes. She could not quite figure out what color they were. But they did things to her stomach that she had only read about in the trashiest of her romance novels that filled her e-reader. And that voice. Just the sound of his voice caused her nipples to scrap painfully against the lace confines of her bra. And what happened inside her panties did not bear thinking about.
His grip on her elbow tightened as he propelled them towards the doors at the back of the courtroom. "Think of those damned horses. Count fucking sheep. Do anything except think about what I do to your body. Or we are both going to embarrass ourselves, Mitawa Naya."
She nodded as she caught the occasional side-ways glance at him. He led them out the doors, down the marble tiled hallway and out the glass doors into the Houston's mid-day sun that glinted off the city skyline.
"Over there," he commanded, pointing to the silver railing of the steps leading to the glass doors. "Wait for me."
She nodded, but could not figure out why. Sure, she probably owed the big oaf for saving her ass in there. She could not afford to get a reputation as a softie, not this early in her resurrected legal career. She needed clients and wins if she were to re-build their lives. So she could not afforded to piss off any potential ally.
But this man did not feel like an ally. All right, he might not exactly feel like an enemy either. But he was dangerous. At least to her sanity. That much was for certain. Jaycee Riley was not the type to just obey an order. Let alone one from a sexy stranger, she thought as she watched him where he stood some fifteen or twenty feet away, on the other side of steps.
He seemed to be doing some type of deep breathing exercises, those stunning eyes closed as he drug in deep breaths and then exhaled them. Just as he had instructed her to do back in the courtroom. At least the man practiced what he preached, she could give him that much.
He looked up at her and for a moment she swore that he actually growled. Growled like a bear. His eyes locked with hers, "Think about something else," he ordered.
It was hard to think of anything else than this man when he was so close. Too close. Closer it felt than any man ever had been. But that was not what she needed right now. Men were off her to-do list. Trouble, nothing but trouble.
Her nasty divorce proved that. Sean Riley had fought her for every dime that their once profitable Dallas practice brought in. Money had been what was important to him. And in the end she had let him have it all. Her interests lay in their daughter, Angel.
"Angel," she cried out reaching for her cell phone inside the pocket of her best suit. She pushed a button and the screen flared to life. No missed calls. That was a good thing. She pushed the speed dial button and waited as it rang.
"Hola, Senora Riley," said the accented voice.
"Lupe, como esta Angel?" she asked nervously.
"Bene, bene. She is good, Senora. She has been playing with the new gato, the cat."
Jaycee breathed a sigh of relief. "No seizures, Lupe."
"Nothing major, senora. A couple of the petite ones, but she came out of them very quickly. Less than a minute, Senora."
Jaycee nodded, "I am done in court, but I need to meet for a bit with," she sought for the right word. "Meet with a colleague to discuss things more. Then I will head back to the farm, but it might take me a while. If I hit rush hour traffic, I could be late getting back."
"No problem. Hector and I will manage, Senora Riley."
"Call me if you need me, Lupe. And thank you. Thank you again for everything. I don't know what I would do without you," she replied.