To Run with WolvesbyCaliaAnne©
The itch was terrible. It sank its claws deep into her flesh and drove her slowly crazy. It didn't seem to matter how she scratched or how many showers she took, it was always there, just below her skin.
But it was just the first of her symptoms. The itch subsided and she breathed a sigh of relief. For Kismet Anne Thomas, an eighteen year old senior at North Clinton High School, the relief didn't last long. A month later and the itch was back. There was a strange heat below the surface of her skin and her bones creaked and ached. She didn't understand what was wrong with her or what she should do about it.
She lifted her head and stared at the woman she called mother who stood in the door of her room. "What?" She ducked her head back down to her pillow and wished that just once the woman would understand without her having to go into a huge discourse of how she felt or what was wrong with her.
"Are you sick? You aren't coming down with that bug that's going around, are you?" Tabitha Thomas' litany of rage usually coincided with the level of gin missing from the bottle in the kitchen. "Wait, didn't Jimmy Mason come down with mono? You ain't been kissing that boy? It would be something a little bitch like you would do."
Tabitha's tone was harsh and she strode through the room toward Kat's bed to grab a handful of her glossy black hair. "Was it Jimmy? Is he the one you've been fuckin'? You got that mono and you'll be out of my house. I don't put this roof over our heads so that you can whore yourself around with all them boys."
Kat pushed herself up and dropped her feet over the side of the bed and stood. She ducked around the older woman. She just was not willing to listen to it today. "I'm not whoring around with anyone." She grabbed her set of keys off of her dresser and shoved them into the pocket of her jeans, then scooped up her sweatshirt off the doorknob. "I'll be back later."
"Kat! Don't you even think of running out of this house!" She followed her daughter down the stairs and to the front door. "You need to learn to show me some respect, young lady. I can't believe that I took you in and you treat me like this! You walk away now, kid, you just keep walking."
Kat spun on her heel and marched toward the shorter, plumper woman. Before she would have walked into her, the woman screeched and backed away. She held her hands up in front of her as if to ward off a blow. Kat ignored her and took the stairs two at a time. She was back almost immediately, a backpack and a roll-bag in her hands.
"Where do you think you're going?" The older woman screeched the words and reached out to grab Kat and spin her around.
With a glance down at the hand upon her sleeve, Kat turned an inscrutable glare on the older woman. "Tabatha, if you'd like to keep that hand, I'd suggest you take it off me."
The older woman, a blousy blonde whose color came from a bottle and a cheap bottle at that, shrieked. "I am your mother and you will show me the respect I deserve!"
A humorless chuckle was her answer. "Trust me, mother I am. Considering how little you've done for me, I've given you all the respect you deserve. Let go of me!" A sneer curled her lip and a flush of color tinted her pale cheeks. The itch under her skin seemed to double in intensity until she wanted to scream and to lash out at the woman who kept her in this cheap apartment. With a quick jerk, Kat pulled away from Tabitha's hands, ignoring the nails that scored her skin. "I'm leaving and I won't be back."
"I can't get that lucky." Tabitha stuck her nose up in the air and went to turn away from Kat. She'd meant it to be a classy exit, ruined only by the unsteady gate of her drink induced rage. She fell against the wall which earned her a sneer from Kat.
"Just tell me one thing, Tabitha. Why did you take me in? Why did someone consider you fit to care for a child? Where are my parents?" It was the same questions that she asked over and over and never got an answer.
But Tabitha wanted to put the girl in her place. "I was paid to put up with you. I never wanted kids." She pushed her thinning hair behind one ear and then slid her hand to her waist. "I didn't want to ruin my figure to have to chase around a screaming, obnoxious brat for eighteen years."
"So why me? Why'd I get so lucky?"
She sneered. "Money, why else? I got paid a good check for watching over you."
"Who?" Kat realized that she was playing to Tabitha's sense of the dramatic. If that was what she had to do to finally get some answers, that was what she would do.
Tabitha's lips twisted and she turned to open the hall closet door. She reached inside and felt for the light cord then gave it a tug to turn it on. Then she went up on tiptoe and pulled down a shoe box and then closed the closet door. She patted the top of the box and then held it out to Kat. "This is who. The son of a bitch brought you here and used his golden tongue into talking me into keeping you."
Kat reached out an eager hand to take the box from Tabitha. She pried the lid off of the small box and stared at the papers that made up only part of the contents. She jerked back when Tabitha stuck a hand into the box and pulled out a many times folded piece of paper.
"Here, this is what you want. Now take it and the rest of your shit and get out. You are eighteen, I have no more obligation to you." She turned away from the girl and moved toward the kitchen, the thick glass tumbler already to her lips as she swallowed what was left in the glass.
Kat stared at the paper in her hand and down at the cases at her feet. With a quick nod, she pushed the paper back down with the rest and stuffed the box into her roll bag. Then she picked up the bag and her backpack and left the house.
The street that she walked out to could only politely be call squalid. The trash built up in the scrub grass and dirt that comprised the area between the sidewalk and the road. The side walk was pitted, parts crumbled away and blades of yellowed grass pushed through the concrete. Houses were built too close to both the road and each other and gave the area a feel of badly crooked and rotting teeth in a mouth too small to comfortably hold them.
She didn't notice the road or the crumbling sidewalks. Instead, she walked with a natural grace up the street, ducking into the small diner she'd been lucky enough to get a job at. Jo Beth's Diner was like an oasis to a traveler parched for water. It was clean, almost painfully so, each of the old tables scrubbed ruthlessly. Signs dotted the walls, one of which proclaimed today, Friday, as being Jo's meatloaf special day. The smells of that meatloaf was mouth watering and Kat couldn't help but feel her stomach cramp with hunger.
"Kat honey, what are you doing in here today? You ain't on the schedule..."
Kat moved toward the tall redhead that had spoken to her. "I'm moving on, Jo. I was wondering if you got paychecks done yet?"
"Moving on to where? You and that mama of yours fighting again?" Jo reached out and easily enveloped the thin girl in her strong arms. "Now you know she'll be sorry when she sobers up, Kitty. You can't take anything she has to say at face value. That woman could out mean the devil."
"She's an evil bitch." Kat barely got the words out before tears were streaming out of her eyes. She tried to pull away from Jo but the woman refused to let her back away, rubbing Kat's back while she fought for composure. "I just...I can't stay there anymore."
"No, of course you can't." Jo reached down and picked up both of Kat's bags in one hand and wrapped her arm around the girl with the other. With a tug, she gently led the girl toward the kitchen.
"Jo! Them orders are stacking up!" Pete, the cook at Jo's diner, was a huge man, each of his arms wider around than Kat's waist. They were decorated in obscene tattoos, the most decent was a large one on his left arm that was an image of a fist with its middle finger sticking up. Under it, the words—I Salute You—were printed in bright red. He had two outfits he wore to work. Dirty white shirts and khaki or green draw-string pants.
"Geesh Pete, give me a minute, would you? Have Frankie take them orders out for me. Our Kitty had another fight with her mama." Frankie was their busboy. He was a man in his late thirties. He wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box, but he was earnest, and he never turned his nose up to whatever jobs Jo and Pete might have for him.
"No, Jo, you can't do that to Pete. If...If you don't have the checks ready, I can come back when I figure out where I'm going and get it then." She rubbed at her cheeks, viciously ridding herself of the trails of tears that didn't want to stop leaking out of her eyes.
"Don't be ridiculous, Kat. That boy is perfectly capable of handling the couple orders we got in." Jo gave Pete a telling look and continued to drag Kat through the kitchen and down another hallway. Across from an ancient time clock, a door was open that led to the miniscule manager's office. It was barely big enough for the desk and two chairs as well as shelves along the back wall. A big, ancient safe sat in the corner next to the visitor's chair. Jo pulled Kat in and pushed her down in the chair. She closed the door to the office and sank her lusciously curved ass down on the desk. "Okay, baby girl. Tell mama Jo what happened."
The whole story bubbled slowly out of her.
Jo was quiet until Kat finished. "Well, hell. That's a relief. I never figured out how such a sweet girl as you could possibly come from that frigid bitch, Tabitha. So...What's in the box?"
Kat stared up at Jo for a moment and then she burst out laughing. "I love you, Jo. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Jo grinned. "I love you right back, baby girl. Have you looked at any of the papers?"
"No, I just wanted to get out of there before Tabitha decided to strip search me or started yelling that I was stealing her possessions. I...I planned to look at them tonight. I was going to get a room down at the Ho Jo on Fifth Street for the night and then figure everything else out tomorrow."
"Is that still what you want? Reason I'm asking is I have that room above my garage that's set up like a little apartment. It's not real big and the furniture is second hand but..."
Kat pushed her silky bangs off of her forehead. "What...How much rent?"
Oh, I figure we can come up with an amount we will both be happy with, Kitty. I just can't let you walk out of here and disappear, baby. It's against everything inside of me."
"If you're serious..."
"As a heart attack." She winked at the young girl. "You got to promise to stay in school and stay away from that rancid bitch Tabitha." Jo held her hand out to Kat when the girl nodded. "Then we shake on it. You can stay in here if you want to check out those papers or I can give you the key to the garage and you can head over there now. I have some stuff in the house, bedding and such, that you can have and we'll see about cooking utensils and all of that later, okay?"
Kat nodded and another tear slipped from her eye and rolled down her cheek. She hated the tears but didn't seem to be able to stop them. "Thanks, Jo."
Jo reached down to where her purse was and pulled out her huge keychain full of keys. She spun them around until she found the set of keys that would unlock the garage and then the door at the top of the stairs. She pulled them off and handed them to Kat. "You know where it is, right?"
She nodded and felt just a bit of the fear she'd been feeling ebb away. She hadn't realized how afraid she'd been, how up in the air she'd felt when she'd walked away from Tabitha. Now, even though she would never take advantage of Jo, she felt as if she wasn't alone, that someone actually cared about her. Once more, she blessed the day she'd walked into Jo's diner and asked for a job. She stood when Jo did and then reached out and hugged her again. "Thank you. I just couldn't stay there anymore."
Jo grinned and hugged her back. "Oh baby girl, it was nothing. My ex decided to build that room and he actually did a half way decent job of it. Now, you go and get some rest, unpack and get settled in." Jo ushered her out of the office and groaned when she heard the unmistakable sound of dishes shattering against the old linoleum floor. "Dammit Frankie! How many times do I have to tell you to just take two plates at a time? Pete, put a rush on that order." She glanced down at the shards of plates mixed with food and flatware. She glared at Frankie who had enough smarts to look sorry. "Clean this up."
Kat said her goodbyes and left. She hitched her bags up further on her shoulder and shook her head, a smile on her face. Jo's house was only a couple of blocks away and she hurried, her mind on the box and what it might contain. Her thoughts were chaotic and she paid little attention to what was happening around her.
She stepped off the curb and the sound of brakes squealing made her head come up and her eyes grow wide. A bright red car, one of those low slung foreign jobs that cost more than national deficit was bearing down upon her. She gasped and dropped her bags.
* * * *
Caleb Lucas Sterling threw his hands up in the air and growled in frustration. "This is not that hard to understand! I'm not going to do it!"
He rose and glared as a few of his pack burst out laughing, then he stormed out of the basement of his family's home and cursed the air blue. "I don't know her, I don't want to know her. Dammit, why can't they understand?!"
Cal was the second son of the Alphas in the pack. As second son, he didn't have as many huge expectations laid on him from birth. His brother, Rufus, had been the oldest and as such when their father stepped down, the running of the pack had fallen to him. Cal had thought to go to the city, to enroll in Monroe City University and study medicine then come back to his pack as a doctor.
But that wasn't to be now. "Dammit, Rufus. I didn't want this!" He slammed out of the house and jumped into his car. Turning the key, he barely glanced up as his father raced after him. Before Rafael could reach the car, Cal jammed it into reverse and spun out. He backed down the long drive and ignored his father's orders for him to stop, to quit being such an ass and to do what was right for the pack.
Cal didn't doubt that his father was concerned for the pack and for its welfare under Caleb's rule. Hell, Cal was worried about it as well. He'd grown up so much more relaxed while Rufus had followed his father around on a daily basis. He'd been trained and shaped, given every bit of the knowledge he would need to care for the pack and keep them on a self-sustaining basis.
He pulled out into traffic and the rear end of his car fishtailed until he hit the accelerator. He had a lot of thinking to do and his own conscientious to search. He'd thought he would be able to step into Rufus's shoes and do what was best for the pack but those shoes might be a tad bit hard to fill.
He slammed his hand down on the steering wheel of Rufus's car and then spun the wheel. He sped past another car and then turned down another road. The driver of the car he cut off slammed on his brakes and hit his horn hard. Caleb ignored him. He glanced in his rear view mirror and then back at the street.
With another curse, he stomped down on his brakes. A girl was crossing the street directly in front of him. She heard the squeal and looked up, eyes wide with shock. She back peddled and dropped both of her bags in the process.
The shiny silver bumper stopped so close to her, it brushed against her jeans. Her hands went to her throat and she stared at him through the tinted front window. Shock had her shaking and she pressed one hand to her mouth as if to muffle a scream.
She wasn't the only one shocked. Cal stared at the young beauty in front of his car and his eyes grew wide. She was a beauty, lovely in his eyes. A golden glow, a brilliant aura, surrounded her.
That aura meant something more to him than the beauty it surrounded. It pulsed and reached out to him, drew him in like the surest catch. He reached for his door handle, unable to stop himself. He had to talk to her, he had to know her name.
When he stepped from the car, she jerked in surprise and then bent to pick up her bags, readying herself for a quick getaway. He held out his hand, he had to stop her. There was nothing else he could do.
His voice was deep and she looked up. Her green eyes seemed to glow from her heart-shaped face. Ebony hair, well past her shoulders, was tousled by the wind and the events of the afternoon. Her lips were lush and he watched as her pink tongue slicked over them.
A groan was strangled in his throat. He wanted to lick those lips, to chase that tongue back into the warm confines of her mouth. He wanted to hear her moans and whimpers and listen to her cry out his name in pleasure. He'd never felt this way about any woman and he knew he had to have her.
"Why?" Her voice was low, husky and breathless and it just made him want her more.
"I didn't hurt you, did I?" He moved toward her, wanting to touch her. Even the most normal of touches seemed like the sweetest thought and he felt his wolf howl inside. It wanted more and so did he.
"N-No. I-I'm fine."
Caleb stepped closer and raised his hand toward her face. His thumb skimmed across the ridge of her cheekbone, his fingers threaded into the hair near her ear. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you."
Her eyes met his, startled by the glowing amber gaze. He was direct, unfazed by the fear he could see. He exuded confidence and she could do nothing more but stare up at him.
When she didn't answer, he reached out and took her hand, bringing it up to hold it against his cheek. "Please, tell me you're all right."
"I-I am. I wasn't thinking and I stepped right in front of you. I-I should be the one to apologize."
Caleb smiled and his eyes caressed her face. "What's your name, little one?"
She didn't think, she just answered. "Kismet."
He chuckled, the sound low and husky. He felt her tremble under his hands and he stroked his thumb over her cheek once more. "It's a beautiful name, Kismet. I'm Caleb."
Kat nodded. "Thank you. I'm not hurt, Caleb." She glanced back at his car.
Cal knew exactly what that glance meant. She was uncomfortable and was giving him an out. But he wasn't ready to let her walk out of his life yet. "Can I drive you somewhere?"
She pulled away from him and crossed her arms under her breasts. "No...No, thank you. I'm fine."
He sighed and then reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He extracted a card and handed it to her. "That's my name and phone number, Kismet. If you need anything, anything at all, you call me."
She took it and glanced at the cream colored card with his name and phone number on the front. The print was bold.
"Promise you'll call." He bent closer and tipped her chin up so she would meet his eyes. "Yes?"
She nodded and then pulled away and picked up her bags. Without another glance she crossed the road and hurried on down the sidewalk.
Caleb watched her for a few moments and then sprinted back to his car. He twisted the ignition and then turned down the road she was walking on. He caught up with her just in time to see her walk around the side of an aging house. He nodded to himself and then grinned. The grin turned to a frown as he thought of what he faced when he returned to his parent's home.
"Well, can't be helped. I've met my mate, now I only have to convince her of that. Their little princess will have to find someone else to save her." He twisted the knob on the radio and cringed as his brother's hiphop music blared from the stereo until he managed to turn it off. "Kismet...it fits. She is my future, my fate."