Jaycee leaned against the wooden column of her front porch. It was late. After midnight. Too late. She knew that she should be in bed. After a fitful evening, she had finally managed to get Angel down. She should have gone to bed then. But she needed to check on the horses one more time. Or so she told herself.
There was also work to be done for a new client. A divorce. It would not be an easy case. But this one was troublesome at best. Her client claimed domestic violence against her husband of almost fifteen years. That would be bad enough, but she also claimed that he had abused their daughters. That alone ripped Jaycee’s heart out.
But the worst part of it all was the lack of evidence of any abuse because her client had dared not call the police. After all, her husband was sheriff of the small town where they lived. Wanda Kerr had come to Jaycee because she was another woman, a divorced mother, and lived two counties over. But Jaycee knew that offered the woman or herself little protection.
Texas still had its ‘good ole’ boy’ network. A phone call or two would be all that it took for the woman’s husband to locate the domestic violence shelter where she had placed her and the children while she filed the legal paperwork for the restraining order. A restraining order that even she knew was useless against a determined abuser, especially one this powerful.
It was a dilemma that she had been pondering for days. Even if the woman could bring herself to flee, to beg the family that she had been estranged from since the early years of her marriage for help, to take the children across state lines without their father’s approval was custodial interference at the least, and possibly kidnapping.
Jaycee shook her head. Sometimes she hated her job that was nothing about justice or fairness. She laughed as she half-remembered some line from the ancient philosopher Plato’s Republic. One of her first-year law professors had written it in big letters across the blackboard on the first day of class. “Justice is serving the interests of the stronger.”
It was a lesson that she never seemed to learn. She let her shoulders slump for a moment, almost anticipating the long hard fight that would likely end in some sort of horrible compromise that kept her client under the man’s control through the children.
She should head back into the house. Climb into bed and try to sleep. But sleep had become both friend and enemy. Since Angel’s first seizure, it was nothing more than a simple necessity. One that she tried to get by on the least that she possibly could. But now as her practice was beginning to grow again, and the burdens piling higher and higher, even that necessity was becoming a burden.
If that was not bad enough, every single time she closed her eyes, she found herself caught in the silky spider’s web of erotic dreams about him. Rex Ranger. The damned man had become some fucking addiction for her. Since that first encounter in the courtroom, she could not get him out of her mind. And his visits every couple of days to check on the horses did not help.
Since she had woken up almost at dusk that night to discover, the horses safely ensconced in the corral and everyone talking and laughing on the front porch over bowls of Lupe’s mole, she had felt…
Honestly, she was not sure what she felt. On the one hand, the man was proving his point about being there. He usually managed to make his ‘animal welfare checks’ at the end of his workday. He would complete that duty, and then he would find some excuse to remain.
Angel gave him plenty. Jaycee might remain reluctant to accept his presence in their lives, but her daughter was not. The little traitor usually managed to convince him to assist her with a pony ride using the excuse that Mommy and Hector were too busy, not that she had even bothered to ask either of them earlier.
If not a ride, then she wanted to hear another of his stories about ‘Grandfather’ or his ranch. Over half of the time, those big brown eyes would turn to Jaycee and beg, “It’s okay if Rex stays for dinner, right, Mommy?”
If her daughter’s puppy eyes were not bad enough, she usually had to contend with another set of big sky-blue ones. She often wondered how a man that looked more like a Viking warrior could be Native American.
That was not all she wondered about. Because at some point almost every visit, the man would manage to sneak in a kiss somehow. A kiss? What an understatement! It was those kisses that made her whole body ache with a need that she had never thought herself capable of having, which only seemed to fuel her dreams.
They would begin almost the moment her eyes closed with a slow-motion, instant replay of the latest kiss. But they never ended there. It became a configuration of the taste of those kisses, every naughty book she had ever read, and her darkest fantasies.
Until she woke up sweating with her skin on fire, her nipples hard, and her thighs sticky from her juices that had leaked until they practically soaked her sheets. And the realization that it was more than just a dream somehow as her body still thrummed with the after-effects of the dream-induced orgasms.
“Damn the man! I should just sleep with him to get it out of my system. There is no way in hell; he can be that good.”
Perhaps the disappointment of that reality, of making love with Rex Ranger, would free her mind and body to focus upon the things that she needed to, like her daughter and career?
It was getting later, and there was no point in delaying the inevitable any longer. Jaycee was turning to go back into the house when she heard the dog bark, followed by the high-pitched, and frightened whiny of a horse. Jaycee felt the fear shoot down her spine like lightning. She froze where she stood.
Unlike most of the state, she was not a fan of guns. At that moment, she wished she had been. She was a woman alone with a sick child and three valuable, thoroughbred horses. She tried to think of what she could use as a weapon? A kitchen knife? A heavy iron skillet? But there was nothing really.
She reached for the phone in the pocket of her jeans. Her fingers trembled as she punched in the code to unlock it. She knew she should call nine-one-one, but what if this was related to her new client? What if she could not trust the law?
Hector was just a ways down the road, but until she knew what she was dealing with, she did not want to endanger her friend. A wild animal was one thing, but the two-legged ones could be much more dangerous.
The barking got louder, and a second horse joined the other in its cries for help. Without stopping to consider why she dialed him. She was not even sure she heard it ring when his deep voice cried out over the line, “What is it, Nʉ Sʉmʉ?”
Rex had spent the whole evening pacing the small apartment that never felt like home. Something was wrong. He could feel it like bugs crawling just under his skin. But he had not known what.
The past couple of weeks had been heaven – and hell. He had loved every minute he spent getting to know her and their little girl. Genetics aside, that was how he saw his Angel. And he did not think it any coincidence that the child had been born with ‘the gift.’
He and Grandfather had probed as gently as they could into the child’s background. Her father was African-American, but that did not mean he could not also have bits of Native American as well. It had once been all too common for the minorities, who were persecuted by the ‘white man’ to intermarry. Of course, Jaycee herself was the more likely candidate for her daughter’s gifts. And she knew next to nothing about her heritage.
As Grandfather said, where the gifts came from mattered little. What became of them was the critical issue. And history was not on their side. His grandfather had been reluctant to speak of it. But in the end, Rex had convinced the man that he needed to know, if he was to protect and care for what was his now. But the truth had frightened even him. Of the handful of female children, who had been born with the gift, that they knew about from their fractured history, none had survived to adulthood.
He had bitten back bile at the idea of anything happening to the precious little girl whom her mother had so aptly named Angel. But the next thought had frozen his blood, how would Jaycee survive without her child? He had wanted to cry out at the unfairness of it all, at the nasty way that the scales of Fate were stacked against them. But what would have been the point?
So instead of getting caught up in hopelessness, Rex had demanded that his Grandfather tell him all that he knew…anything that might save his daughter. He had never more fully appreciated the gentle guiding hand of his Grandfather in his life until then. As they spoke of how to slowly train the child to accept her gifts and embrace her destiny. It seemed a gargantuan task to Rex, but he reminded himself that he of all people could understand.
But now this. This new danger. Whatever it was. He had reached for his phone where it lay with his keys and wallet on the table, even before it rang. He had known. He would always know when she needed him. He had told her that, but not even he had realized how deep that knowing went. Until now.
As he waited for her to respond, he had never felt so helpless, alone, or scared. If anything happened to either of them, he knew he would become the monster that dwelled just beneath the surface. The monster that only she could temper. “Jaycee?” He begged her to respond.
When she did, it was a low whisper that was barely audible. He strained to hear her over the noise in the background. He tried to identify the sounds. A dog was barking for sure. But was that the horses? He focused on the sound of her voice.
“I don’t know, but something is wrong. One of the dogs started to bark and then the horse. Something is not right…” Her voice trailed off. He could hear the fear in it, and that ate at his gut like a wolf who tore open the underside of its prey.
And he was too far away. Much too fucking far to help. To get to them in time. Damn it! He should have claimed her days ago, made her his, once and for all. Then he would have been there to protect them, to care for his girls. But he had wanted to give her time to get to know him, trust him, and perhaps even begin to love him as he loved her.
Now, all that may have been futile. His own undoing. Suppose he could not get to them in time. But he refused to think like that. Now that he had found her, he would find a way.
“Listen to me, Jaycee. You stay in the house. Lock yourself in the bedroom with Angel. Call the cops. I will be there as soon as I can,” he promised even as he reached for the keys to his truck on the table. He gathered them and his wallet. He was about to walk out the door when he turned back towards his bedroom.
Her voice trembled as she spoke, “I can’t, Rex. I have to check on the horses. See what is spooking them.”
He cursed as he crossed the room to his gun safe and punched in the combination. He knew that these were the least powerful of the weapons at his disposal. But if he could use them instead of the ones that lived inside of him, he would. He was not ready yet to explain all that to her. Not yet. She needed more time.
“The horses be damned. You need to take care of you and Angel. Do you hear me, Woman?” he demanded as he lifted his shotgun and grabbed a box of ammunition from the safe.
He slammed the door and headed back outside. He knew he could probably get there faster if he stopped somewhere outside the city and transformed, but again he did not want to have too many questions to answer. Yet.
“I can’t, Rex. I am responsible for them. I promised the Judge and your boss.” He could hear how torn she was, but he could feel it even more potently.
“Jaycee, listen to me. They are animals. Animals can take care of themselves better than people can. Lock yourself in the bedroom with that little girl until I get there,” he pleaded.
“I’m hanging up now, Rex. I will call the police before I go check on them, though.”
There was a pause as he sought words that would stop her, but he knew there were none. His Nʉ Sʉmʉ was a strong and stubborn woman. His woman.
“Be careful. I love you, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. I will be there as soon as I can.” Rex climbed into the cab of his truck. He pounded the steering wheel in pure frustration as the line went dead.
He was too far away, but he knew someone who was not. He found the number among his contacts and dialed it. He was surprised when the man answered on the first ring. “The dog woke us up. I am dressed and going there now.” Hector tried to reassure him.
Rex swallowed back the gratitude. There would be time for that later. Right now, he needed to let the man do what he could not. But not again. Never again would he be too far to protect what was his. Never again would another man need to do what was his responsibility…his pleasure.
“Be careful,” was all he said as he gunned out of the apartment complex and broke every speed limit, there was to get to them.
Once he was on the Interstate and racing towards them, he made the other call that he needed to. “Come now and bring the horse trailer,” was all he needed to say. He knew that his Grandfather would do what he asked without question. Explanations would come later.
That final task completed, the moments seemed to drag out into eternity as his skin itched uncomfortably. The demon was clawing its way to the surface, demanding to be released. Urging to do what he could not. Protect what was theirs.
But he kept it caged, just barely. And he prayed. To his ancestors. To his mother’s Christian god. To Fate. To anything that was out there, if anything was. He prayed that he would get there in time. That his woman and child would be safe. That was all that mattered.
Each breath burned in Rex’s oxygen-starved lungs. Each mile that had become so familiar these past weeks seemed longer and slower than ever. Each passing moment was a struggle to keep the beast raging within him leashed. He debated over and over parking the truck and taking off across country on hoof or paw. But he was not ready yet. Not ready to reveal all to Jaycee.
His senses were so bombarded and on edge that he almost missed the turn-off to her home. He knew he took it too sharp and too fast, but his muscles that strained against their human constraints welcomed the challenge of controlling tons of metal, plastic, and glass. It helped him to remain focused, just long enough to come to a shrieking halt as close to the house as he could get.
Which was not that close with Hector’s truck and three police cars with flashing lights and sirens parked out front. His eyes scanned the crowd quickly, looking for just one thing. One person. Her. His Nʉ Sʉmʉ. But he did not see her. His heart that had been beating too fast came to a sudden halt as if it might burst from his chest into his too-tight throat. Where was she?
He would know. Surely, he would know if something had happened to her. Even as on the edge as he was, the unthinkable would have torn him apart. He held on to that thought. She was there somewhere. She was alright. She had to be.
Still, worry and fear beat inside every cell of his being. He was not sure if it was his or hers. Or if that even mattered. He only wanted to find her in this crowd. Touch her. Hold her. Reassure himself that she and their daughter were safe. Nothing else mattered. Nothing.
He threw open the door of the truck and headed out. He was not sure where to go. The house was ablaze. It seemed every single light was on. But he did not see his Angel either. All these lights and noise must be a living hell on his daughter’s senses. If she had woken to this, he only hoped that she had not had a particularly bad seizure. She had been doing a bit better lately.
He had taught her a couple of the ancient chants that his grandfather had once taught him. As they had him, it helped to calm and center her, keep her mind focused until her tiny brain could cope with the sensory overload. He had begun to hope that…
But now? What now? He was just about to shout in rage at the skies. He did lift his head to the deepest, darkest part of the night sky. He closed his eyes and opened his other senses. Allowed the beast as much reign as he dared. He smelled for her, turning slowly in a circle, stopping and filling his lungs with deep inhalations each time.
Finally, he detected her. Or what he was almost certain was her. But her familiar scent was laced too heavily with adrenaline. She smelled of fear. He sensed something else also. Something that he could not mistake…blood. He sniffed again. He thanked all the gods of his people that it was not her blood. That was something, at least.
He shook his head, anger and disgust laced with his own fear and worry. His Nʉ Sʉmʉ had faced this all alone. That ate at him like cancer that grew in his gut. How had he allowed this to happen? Why had he not stayed closer? Why had he not claimed what was his by all the rights of ancient customs and Fate?
But he would deal with all of that later. Right now, he just wanted to find her. Hold her. Know that she was well and truly safe.
He opened his eyes. He was facing the barn, which seemed to be the center of most of the activity. He scanned the small crowd. He saw Hector’s face. It was drawn into a deep furrow. The older man looked almost ashen in the bright lights of the police cars, which were aimed in that direction.
Rex noted that Hector was talking with a deputy. The man was busy scribbling in a small black notebook. Their heads kept turning towards the half-closed barn door. Light could be seen through the cracks there as well. He took a step in that direction. He stopped when the door opened a bit wider.
There she was. Framed in the soft glow that came from the flashlight that both she and the sheriff held in their hands. The high beams of the police cars made her appear almost translucent. She was so pale. He could even detect a slight tremble in her fingers as she held the flashlight.
Most of all, he could see the bright sheen of tears that were gathering in her eyes. His heart splintered into a thousand pieces. He had done this. He had let her down. Something he had sworn he would never do. But he had.
He wanted to go to her. He needed to go to her. To wrap her in his arms. To hold her close and just know that she was safe. Guilt and shame ate at him. What right did he have? What right did he have to even think of her as his? Let alone as his Nʉ Sʉmʉ?
He loathed himself as he never had. Not even as that little ten-year-old boy who everyone, even the teachers, made fun of. Never had he felt so inadequate. Such a failure.
She suddenly stopped whatever she was saying to the sheriff. She looked up. Almost as if she could felt him as much as he sensed her. He knew that was not possible, not yet anyway. Her eyes searched the crowd, scanned the dark. Then her gaze captured his.
His breath caught in his lung with fear. She must hate him for letting her down like this. He did not blame her. He could never blame her for anything.
Instead, her mouth curved into a smile. A half-smile anyway. Nervous. Tired. Uncertain. But a smile nonetheless, and that was all that mattered. She shook her head and turned back to the sheriff to say something. He nodded slowly and turned towards the inside of the barn.
Then she took a step towards him. And another. Suddenly she was running towards him. And nothing else mattered.
His heart came back together in an explosion of light and began to beat again. His own feet were released from the manacles of fear and self-hatred that had bound him to this spot. He was racing towards her as well. Towards his future. Towards his destiny. Towards his Nʉ Sʉmʉ. She was safe, and that was all that mattered.