I’ve written little extras here and there for guest posts and whatnot and thought I’d put them in one place.  As I write more, I’ll add them.  Enjoy these little snippets!

Clay and Gabby - Surprise question by Rachel

An excerpt from Hope(less).
* * * *

On one of our girl nights, Rachel asked about Clay-the-man while Clay-the-dog lay curled on the floor next to me. She sat in the chair going through her laundry.
“You are so weird about him. What is it about the guy that keeps you coming back?” She sat on the couch folding her summer clothes and packing them into a tote.
Smiling slightly, I turned the page of the book in my lap saying, “You don’t know him like I do.”
“How can you know him at all when you two don’t talk?”
“You don’t need to talk to get to know someone, you just need to listen,” I said absently trying to concentrate on my reading. My words rattled in my head for a moment before what I said clicked into place. I froze and looked at Clay. His brown eyes met mine steadily.
Damn the patient, clever dog. I never had a chance… A smile twitched my lips. And I didn’t mind.

* * * *

The following interview takes place over the phone.
Rachel: Can you talk or is tall, hot, and quiet nearby?
Gabby laughs but doesn’t answer. Clay is, in fact, sitting right next to her and can hear everything Rachel says.
Rachel: Are you ever going to go on a real date with him?
Gabby: I don’t know… life is really chaotic right now.
Rachel: What would the two of you even do?
Gabby shrugs, and glances at Clay.
Gabby: I don’t know, I guess I haven’t given it much thought.
Rachel: Gabby, you need to get out more. He needs to take you places. Treat you special.
Gabby: He does treat me special.
Clay frowns and looks down at his hands.
Rachel: Oh, really? Where did you two go on your last date?
Gabby struggles to remember anything that could count as a date.
Gabby: We went out for breakfast.
Rachel snorts.
Rachel: Based on the pause, I’m guessing it was a while ago. Come on. What would you like to do with Clay?
Gabby thinks of the night she went dancing with Rachel and her heart skips a beat.
Rachel: I can tell you’re thinking of something, spill it.
Gabby: Dancing would be fun. I liked wearing that dress.
Gabby glances at Clay, but he doesn’t appear to be paying attention.
Rachel: So you want to go somewhere fun, with music, where you can wear a pretty dress and dance with Clay?
Gabby: Why are you asking me all this?
Rachel laughs.
Rachel: I want you to have fun. You’re crazy about him, but the two of you never do anything. Just trying to help you out with some ideas.
Gabby thinks there’s something more to Rachel’s questions, but doesn’t comment.
Gabby: Just spending time with him doing the everyday things is perfect for me.
Rachel gives a long suffering sigh and Gabby smiles.
Rachel: I can see you two will need motivation. I have the perfect opportunity for you. Gabby, will you be my maid of honor?
Gabby’s eyes pop open wide and she fully turns to Clay who immediately gives her his attention. His lips twitch in amusement and he plucks the phone from her hand.
Clay: She says yes.
Rachel screams in his ear.
Rachel: OH MY GOD!! YOU DO TALK!! Clay, I can’t wait to see you in a suit.
Clay hands the phone back to Gabby, who even without heightened werewolf hearing heard Rachel’s response. Gabby smiles stupidly as she and Rachel talk dates and plans. Rachel’s wedding will be the best date. The perfect date. Gabby can’t wait to see Clay dressed up, either.

Clay - Author/Character Interview

 

A knock sounds at the door.  Melissa scrambles to tuck the latest novel she’s reading under a sofa cushion and then runs to answer the door.  The afternoon interviewee has arrived.  Melissa peeks out the door and finds a scruffy looking man staring back.  His longish hair partially covers his eyes and a beard covers his face.  Despite his dubious appearance, she opens the door with a smile.

Melissa:  Hi!  Come on in.  **steps aside and motions Clay in.**

Clay nods in greeting and enters.

Melissa:  Please have a seat.  **motions Clay to sit and takes a seat across from him in her slightly dusty living room.**

Melissa:  I was so excited you agreed to this interview.  After finishing Hope(less), I have so many questions for you.  Can I get you anything to drink before we start?

Clay declines with a shake of his head.

Melissa:  ** leans back into her chair and picks up a pad of paper to take notes.**  Tell me, what did you think of Gabby when you first saw her?

Clay smiles slightly.  His whisker’s twitch. 

Clay:  Pretty.

Melissa waits for a few seconds for Clay to say more, clears her throat, and then moves on when he remains quiet.

Melissa:  What exactly happened that night you brought her back to the compound?  I’m really curious about the leaves in her hair.

Clay shifts uncomfortably and shrugs.

Clay:  Distraction.

Melissa:  **blinks at his taciturn response.**  Let’s talk about your favorite color.  Why pink?

Clay:  **grins wickedly and shrugs.**  Bikini.

Melissa:  Oh?  **leans forward anticipating more detail, but is left waiting.  Stifling a groan of frustration, moves on to the next question.**  What made you decide to get a job from Dale?

Clay:  **gives a full grin, showing teeth.  His eyes crinkle at the corners.**  Opportunity.

Melissa:  **the sexy smile evokes memories of several scenes from Hope(less).  Melissa shakes herself, and barely avoids sighing in a dreamy fashion.**  What did you think of Gabby’s attempts to get rid of you?

Clay:  **a quick laugh escapes him.**  Expected.

Melissa:  **looks down at the blank note paper and scowls briefly before returning her focus to Clay.**  I don’t want to give anything away for anyone who hasn’t read Hope(less), but tell me… how do you feel about how the book ended?

Clay:  **the heart-melting smile returns.**  Satisfied.

Melissa:  **desperate for something to put to paper asks a simple yes or no question.**  Have you shaved for Gabby yet?

Clay shrugs enigmatically.

Melissa:  **quickly asks the next question.**  Do you have any insight what will happen in the next installment of the series?

Clay shakes his head.

Melissa:  Will we learn anything more about Gabby’s abilities?

Clay shrugs.

Melissa:  **tries a different approach.**  Now that Hope(less) is finished, what do you plan to do?

Clay:  Wait.

Melissa:  **frustration creeps into the next question.**  We can expect to see you again, then?

Clay shrugs enigmatically.

Melissa:  **makes a show of looking at her watch.**  Well, look at the time!  **Stands and extends hand.**  I appreciate your time and your succinct answers.  **leads Clay to the door.**

Clay nods and exits.

Melissa returns to the couch, digs out her Novel where the men actually speak in complete sentences, and escapes into another world.

Clay' Point of View: Finding Isabelle and Losing Gabby

Scene Extra from (Dis)content 

“She’s stopped moving,” Gabby said from beside me.

We all sat squeezed inside the car.  Tensions were still high after our run-in with Isabelle.

Gabby rested her head against my shoulder, tickling my beard with her hair.  Over the last few weeks, since she Claimed me, we hadn’t had the time to talk about where we were in our lives or what we wanted from the future.  It wasn’t something I would have normally thought of talking about, until this morning.  Seeing Gabby crumble to the ground and being unable to do anything about it had ripped me open and left me raw.  Her nearness helped ease some of the concern I still felt.  But, I knew my tension would remain until Gabby and I were back home, and she was safely going to school once more.

“I think we should give her a little while to calm down,” Bethi said from the seat behind us.

I didn’t need to turn to look at Luke to know what he was thinking.  After shaking Bethi awake, he’d repeatedly said we should leave Isabelle alone.  Bethi had been just as adamant that we get her.

“There are Urbat not far from Isabelle,” Gabby said.  “I’m not sure how long we can wait.”

“Keep an eye on them.  We can’t let them get to her,” Bethi said.

Gabby inconspicuously laced her fingers through mine.  I gently squeezed her hand, giving as much comfort as I was taking while I continued thinking about our relationship.

Every night when we lay in bed together, I told her that I loved her.  She no longer tensed up at the words.  She’d accepted me, despite what I was sure was her accidental Claiming of me, but I knew she wasn’t yet ready to be my Mate.

Mate.  The idea of a permanent bond with Gabby still made my heart race, as did the idea of losing her.  I turned and pressed my lips to her forehead.  This morning had been too close.

We sat quietly for almost an hour before  Gabby spoke again.

“We need to go know.  They turned back and are heading right for her.  Something must have tipped them off.”

Grey started the engine and backed out as Gabby gave him directions.  Her heart accelerated, and I knew what she saw was upsetting her.  When I gave her hand another light squeeze, she turned to meet my gaze.  Worry flooded her soft brown eyes while the scent of her fear teased the air.

“It’ll be all right,” I said quietly as we pulled into the parking lot of a hotel.

I would make sure of it.

As soon as I opened the car door, I could smell the others.  According to Bethi, these were the ones after the girls.  The same ones who had sent a wolf to challenge me for Gabby.  My canines lengthened at the thought of anyone trying to take Gabby from me.

“Two of them,” Carlos said, already heading for the hotel doors.

Grey waved for us to follow Carlos.  Reluctantly, I let go of Gabby’s hand; and she immediately followed me out of the car.  I would have rather Gabby stay in the car with Grey.

“This isn’t a good idea,” I said, walking close to Gabby as we entered the hotel.  Fear still drifted from her, clouding her usually sweet sent.

“I agree,” Luke said.

Normally, I would care less if Luke agreed with me.  I didn’t like him and doubted I ever would.  That he now had a Mate of his own didn’t erase the fact he’d hit on Gabby.

Bethi rolled her eyes at Luke but kept walking, following Carlos down the hallways.

“She only knocked us on our asses because she’s scared, Luke.  It wasn’t personal.”

“Like hell,” Luke said under his breath.

I had to agree.  Again.  I took anything that happened to Gabby very personally.

“I think they are already in the room with her.  It’s hard to tell with so many floors,” Gabby said.

“How much further, Gabby?” Carlos asked.

“End of the hall, I think.”

When we neared, I let my claws lengthen.  Gabby brushed against me, unknowingly making my possessive anger worse.  I wanted to grab her and get out of there.

Carlos pushed the door open, the wood splintering under the strength of his anger.

“Empty,” he said, turning toward Gabby.

“Then it’s gotta be the room above us.”

We hurried up the emergency stairs, and I saw Carlos inhale deeply.  I did the same, scenting the woman, too.  If she was in there, then so were the Urbat.  I nudged Gabby behind me and saw Luke do the same to Bethi.

Carlos didn’t pause.  He crashed through the door, Grey just behind him.

Luke and I had only made it into the room as Carlos tossed the first mongrel out the window.  The girl, Isabelle, hadn’t even had a chance to tug her friend toward the door when the second one cleared the broken glass.  I understood Carlos’ anger and concern as he watched her.

Bethi stepped around us.  Gabby moved to join her, gently touching my arm as she passed.  A wave of reassurance washed over our connection.  She was getting the hang of being Claimed.

“We need to leave,” Carlos said, still looking at the girl.

“Come on, son,” Grey said, moving to help lift Isabelle’s friend.  The guy didn’t look so good.  But then, humans didn’t hold up well to choke holds.

“Isabelle, I’m Bethi,” Bethi said, stepping forward quickly.  “I dream our past lives.  Mine, yours, hers.”  She nodded toward Gabby, making me want to tuck Gabby behind me, out of harm’s way.

“More of them are coming,” Gabby said, the fear in her scent spiking.

Bethi nodded to show she heard but kept addressing Isabelle.

“Gabby can see their locations and the locations of the others like us.  We need to leave.  We can’t let them find us.”

My palms grew damp and tensed, waiting for that strange feeling to wash over the group again, bringing us all to our knees.  The need to shield Gabby had me stepping closer to her.  But the bone-weakening sensation didn’t come.

“Yes, let’s leave,” Isabelle said, suddenly agreeable.

Bethi and Luke moved out to the hallway as Grey helped Isabelle’s friend.  No one seemed suspicious of Isabelle as we quickly left the building.  I didn’t like it but kept quiet, until the hair on the back of my neck started to stand up.

“How many?” I asked quietly as we trailed the group.

“It’s hard to say.  They are moving in from all over.  Twenty?  Maybe thirty?”  Gabby said softly.  Her gaze remained slightly unfocused as she continued to watch.

We followed Isabelle as she led the way to her car.  Gabby glanced at Grey and motioned for him that we needed to hurry.  He nodded and moved away as Isabelle’s friend slid into the front seat.  Isabelle tried taking the keys to drive, but Carlos took them first.

“I’ll drive,” he said.

“No thanks,” she said, holding out her hand.

“We don’t have time for this,” Gabby said.  “They’re grouping to the east.  We need to go.”

Gabby’s fear wrapped around me.  Her fear and the feeling creeping along the back of my neck had me eyeing the parking lot, watching for signs of movement.

“Fine,” Isabelle said.  Carlos opened the back door and waited for her to get in.

Gabby turned, snagging Bethi as she moved to the car.  I had to hurry to keep up with the pair.

“We need to move.  Now,” Gabby said.

Grey was already in the front seat with the engine running when we reached the car.  Luke beat me to the back seat, sliding in beside Bethi.  I quickly got in the front.

“Tell me what you’re seeing, Gabby,” Grey said as he backed up.

“They are closing in from all directions.  Turn right out of here,” Gabby said from behind Grey.  “Speed Grey.  Don’t stop for anything.”

I turned slightly in my seat.  Her eyes were wide and her face pale.  I sent a wave of reassurance and love over our link.

“How close are they?” I asked, watching her.

“Very close.  Wait.  There’s a small opening.  Here!  Grey, turn here!”

Grey jerked the wheel hard, and I faced forward to watch the trees lining the old side road.  I spotted movement to the right a second before four half-shifted men sprinted from their cover.  They ran straight for our car, the leader jumping up on the hood and hitting the window with his fist.  As the glass splintered, Grey slammed on the brakes.

All hell broke loose.  The man on the hood went flying over the top of the car as we came to a stop.  Wolves poured from the trees.  The glass beside me folded in as an arm reached for me.  I growled, my half-shifted mouth and extended canines ready for the fight.  Claws raked my skin as the owner of the arm tried to grab my shirt.  I thrust the arm down, hearing a quick snap of bone.

Glass splintered around us as more crashed upon the car.  Arms reached through the glass while others pulled at the windows to make bigger openings.  Grey growled and thrust his door open, using it to push men and wolves back.  Behind me, a passenger door opened.

Gabby screamed.  The sound tore through me.  I turned my head in time to watch her disappear into the crowd of Urbat.  My control slipped.  The change consumed me as I burst from the car.  Men grabbed at me.  I clawed and savagely tore into anyone trying to stop me from reaching Gabby.

She yelled again, further away.  I roared.  A wave of love washed over our connection.

I fought harder.  Bones snapped and blood poured.  Still they came.  A wall of bodies determined to keep me from her.  Until, suddenly, the wall was gone.  And, so was Gabby.

I howled at the same time someone else did.  Turning, I saw Grey near a gore-covered Carlos.  Carlos was shaking, the tremors so violent, I wondered how he was still upright.  I realized I wasn’t much better off.  They’d taken Gabby.  I hadn’t protected her.

“We’ll find her, but we need to move, now,” Grey was shouting at Carlos.

Bodies littered the ground.  Sirens howled in the distance.  With a shudder, I pulled back the change.

“Here,” Bethi said, thrusting a package of baby wipes at me.  “I’ve learned it pays to start carrying something for cleanup with you guys around.”  Her voice warbled as she spoke, and I noted the long bloody blade in her other hand.

I took the package and quickly swiped the blood off my face.  Luke tossed some clothes at me.  I tugged on the pants then finished dressing as we moved away from the scene.

Carlos moved beside me.

“Where are they?” he asked.

I concentrated on the connection Gabby and I had.

“East of us.”

He nodded.

We stayed within the cover of the trees as we jogged east.  The sirens were a distant wail when we stepped out onto another street.

“We need to move faster,” Carlos said.

I glanced at Bethi, the one slowing the group down.

“Go.  Get them.  If you don’t, everything we’ve done so far will have been pointless.  They can’t have them.”

The girl was shaking hard now.  Seeing it scared me.

“Let’s go,” I said a second before I took off.  I didn’t care who witnessed my unnatural speed.  Only Gabby mattered.

*    *    *    *

My heart nearly stopped when we found a van pulled over on the side of a road.  Two men lay on the ground, and the redhead was slowly crumpling to join them.  Carlos rushed to her.  I barely paid attention.  My focus was riveted on the interior of the van.  In the shadows, Gabby lay still on a bench seat.

“No.  Gabby.”

Moving into the van, I gently lifted her into my arms.  Her heartbeat reassured me, but only a little.  She was so pale and still, her shallow breathing barely moving her chest as I carefully stepped out of the van.

“What happened to her?” I said, looking at Isabelle.

The redhead had puke stains on her shirt and looked just as pale.  She also looked guilty as hell.

“Is she breathing?”

I nodded.

“I happened to her.  We couldn’t go with them.”

She sounded like Bethi.  I glanced at the men on the ground, the ones who had taken Gabby.  I wanted to kill them.  One of them moved, and I growled but before I could even think of setting Gabby down, Carlos stepped forward and finished him.

“Thank you,” I said softly.  He nodded once and went back to Isabelle.

It took some persuading, but once he had her in his arms, we ran back to the group.  The whole time, Gabby didn’t move.  Not even a twitch.  Fear clawed at me.  Would she ever wake up?  Just what had Isabelle done to her?

I’d watched Gabby lay sick and motionless too frequently in the short time we’d been together.  The helpless fear that consumed me the first time it had happened hadn’t eased with each occurrence.  It had only gotten worse.  How often could she lay in my arms like this before there came a time when she wouldn’t wake up?

Sam.  Gabby’s out again.

What do you mean?

Like at the Compound.  She’s breathing but not waking up.  She doesn’t look good.

We’re close, son.

A few seconds after we joined the rest of the group, three vehicles pulled up.  Winnifred and Sam both rushed over to check on Gabby.

“What happened?” Sam asked.

Before I could answer, Isabelle spoke up.

“I couldn’t kick open the door without help.  She’s not hurt.  Just the opposite.  She’s floating so high, it’ll be awhile before she’s back.  As long as she’s still breathing, she should be fine.”

Fine?  I didn’t like Isabelle’s attitude or the fact that she was walking toward us.  She’d knocked Gabby down twice now.  It was hard to be mad at her, though, when I knew she’d saved Gabby by also knocking out the men who’d taken them.

“She’ll be okay.  I promise.  I accidentally did this to my parents a ton of times while growing up.”  She absently swiped at her bleeding nose, watching me with pain-filled eyes.

I nodded, realizing she felt guilty about what had happened to Gabby.

“We need to go,” her friend said.

“Clay, put Gabby in the back with you,” Sam said.  “Bethi and Luke, there’s room for you, too.”

While the rest figured out a new seating arrangement since we were down a vehicle, I climbed into the SUV.  Cradling Gabby in my arms, I waited for the rest to join us.

We drove for an hour before pulling over.

“What’s going on?” Bethi asked.

“Ethan is saying Isabelle needs to stop.”

Bethi quickly exited with Luke right behind her.  I stayed where I was, watching Gabby’s peaceful face.  I couldn’t feel anything over our link.  If she was “floating high,” shouldn’t I feel something?  Gently, I brushed a piece of hair back from her cheek.

“I need you, Gabby.  You need to wake up.”

She continued as she was.  Unaware and unreachable.

Several minutes later, everyone was moving back to the vehicles.

“We need to listen to him,” Bethi said.  “I know Carlos is thinking he knows best for her, but in this case, he doesn’t.  Ethan is her friend.  When it comes to her ability, he obviously knows how to help her.  Carlos needs to chill out and start paying attention or she will die.”

I lifted my head to glance at Bethi.  She was talking with her hands, and Luke was doing his best to contain most of the wild gestures.

“We understand,” Sam said from the front.  “Carlos is trying to be patient.”

“No, he’s not.  He’s going all caveman on her.  He can’t do that.  This Mate crap isn’t what’s important here.  Hasn’t anyone been listening to me?”

“Luv, of course we have.  Come here.”  Luke wrapped his arms around her, and she started to cry.

Turning away from them, I went back to watching Gabby, looking for any sign that she was ready to wake up.

*    *    *    *

We are in trouble and need a place to stay for the night in North Carolina.  If anyone is willing to help us, please reach out to an Elder.

Winnifred’s message to all of our kind surprised me.  Joshua hadn’t been the only Urbat to infiltrate the pack.

“Isn’t that a big risk?” I asked, glancing at Sam.

Bethi, who’d been quietly resting her head on Luke’s shoulder, popped up.

“What’s a risk?  What’s going on?”

Grey turned to look at Bethi.

“Winnifred sent a message asking for a place to hole up in North Carolina.”

“No!  Why would she do that?”

“We need a place to stay that’s out of the way.  Gabby’s out, and Isabelle and Ethan don’t look good.”

“Joshua wasn’t the only one who—”

“We know,” Grey said kindly.  “That’s why we’re saying yes to each person who is offering.  Only we’ll know which one we’ll take.”

Bethi calmed a little.  I did, too.  It didn’t feel any safer.  But with Gabby still out, nothing really did.

The place the Elders chose was an old farm in the country.  As soon as the car stopped, I was out and carrying Gabby to the door.  Sam helped me with the lock and held the door for me.  The scents of the family still lingered faintly.  Most families had gone into hiding when the Elders had sent out the warning weeks ago.

I followed a hall to a set of steps leading up.  There, I found a bed in the middle of an open room.

Kicking off my shoes, I settled on the bed, keeping Gabby in my lap.  I hated the waiting, the worrying.  It was twice as hard because I knew this wasn’t like the last time.  It wasn’t a simple twelve to fourteen hour wait for her to wake up and ask for water.  She’d be out until whatever Isabelle did to her wore off.  If it wore off.

As the sun faded in the sky, my worry grew.

At some point, everyone came inside, and I could hear their quiet conversation in the kitchen.  Bethi introduced Isabelle to the group and gave her a rundown of each of the other girls’ abilities.

Then the conversation quieted when Isabelle went to shower.  Downstairs, I heard Carlos asking if any of the girls had something Isabelle could wear.  Michelle offered up some of her clothes.

Each second that ticked by, each word that Gabby missed of the conversation downstairs, crawled under my skin.  Why was she still unconscious?  How long had Isabelle knocked her parents out?

The sound of footsteps on the stairs barely penetrated my worry.

“When I came to, she had my head in her lap,” Isabelle said softly as she crossed the room.  “She was stroking my hair like my mom used to do before I broke her.  It was dark in the van.  I could feel we were moving, driving further away from help.  I felt Gabby’s fear and her barely contained panic.  Not far away, I felt the pitiless lust and eager aggression of the men who drove.”

I’d known she’d saved Gabby.  But hearing what she’d saved her from made swallowing difficult.

I glanced up at Isabelle, ready to thank her.

“I’m so sorry for what I did to her.  But what they would have done…”

“I know,” I said.

“If there would have been another way, I would have taken it.”

I nodded and looked back down at Gabby.  There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her.  If keeping her safe meant hours of worry, I would deal with it.

“Give her a few more hours.  She’s sleeping off the best high of her life.  And when she comes to, keep her away from me.  I’m crack.  Highly addictive.”

I nodded.  I’d keep her far away.  When Gabby woke, I’d convince her we needed to go somewhere else.  Not home.  At least, not yet.  But when the Urbat stopped looking for her, we’d go back.  I knew how much finishing school meant to her.  Until it was safe, maybe I would be able to convince her living in the woods wasn’t so bad.

Isabelle left me and joined the others in the kitchen.  Her voice carried when she started asking questions.

“How long are we staying here?”

“It’s not safe to move until Gabby’s awake,” Bethi said.  “But, for all we know, the Urbat could be closing in around us now.”

Smoothing a hand over Gabby’s hair, I hoped she would wake before that happened.

“We should be fine,” Winifred said.

“If you need her awake, wake her up,” Isabelle said.  “A good slap will do the trick.  However, she’ll still be loopy.”

Jerking my head up, I glared at the stairs.

No one slaps, Gabby, I sent to Sam.

“Clay can hear you and doesn’t appreciate your advice,” Sam said.  “Neither do I.”

“I’ll be outside,” Isabelle said after a few moments of silence.

The tension that had gathered at her words didn’t leave with her presence because I knew the group was concerned about the location of the Urbat.  It was only a matter of time before the idea of how to wake Gabby was mentioned again.

When someone walked past the stairs, my worry escalated.  Sam was on my side, I reminded myself.  He loved Gabby, too, though they didn’t see eye to eye lately.  Yet, I could feel the high emotions of everyone downstairs.  Their worry was climbing.  They needed Gabby awake.  So did I, but when she was ready.

I heard Isabelle come back in and pulled back my lips.

“Who the hell is worrying so much?” she said.

I took a deep breath and pushed my worry down.

“Gabby still hasn’t woken up.  We’re trying to decide if we should move on without her guidance or continue to wait.”

“I’ve seen people sleep twelve hours after that kind of hit,” she said.

I glanced at the clock beside the bed.  It had almost been almost ten hours.

“My dad slept, what?  Eighteen?” Ethan said.

Sheeeet.

I dropped a kiss on Gabby’s forehead and pulled her closer to my chest.  The group wouldn’t want to wait eighteen hours.  I could already feel the tension in the air after that comment.

“Okay, just hold tight for a minute,” Isabelle said.

I listened to her approach the stairs.  As much as I wanted to stand up and fight her, I knew it wouldn’t end well for me.  Or Gabby.  I wasn’t about to leave her side, and fighting with Isabelle while close to Gabby would mean that whatever Isabelle did to me would also affect Gabby.  Isabelle had said she was addictive.  I didn’t want Gabby craving what Isabelle could do.

I angrily watched Isabelle clear the stairs.

“What do you think’s safer?” she said.  “Sitting here and waiting, or finding out if the bad guys are getting closer?  I already told you what they mean to do to us.”

“You’re not touching Gabby,” I said.

She smiled.  I didn’t like it.

“You’re right.  I won’t need to because you’ll do it.”

What?  I glanced down at Gabby, unable to imagine slapping her.

“You’ll be gentler,” Isabelle reasoned.

She was right.  I would be gentle.  Because I wouldn’t do it.

“Here’s the thing.  When she wakes up, she’ll still be high and loopy.  She won’t act like herself.  But don’t let her go back to sleep.  The effect will wear off faster once she’s awake and moving around.”

Not happening.

“You have ten seconds before I start pulling from you.  I can’t aim, so it’ll just hurt her more.”

I looked up at her.  She knew she had me.

“Ten.”

Glancing down at Gabby, I fought against my anger and revulsion.

“Nine.”

With a gentle touch, I stroked her cheek.  Hopefully, she would forgive me.

“Eight…seven.”

Inwardly cringing, I tapped Gabby’s cheek.

“Pathetic.  And six.”

I growled.  From downstairs, I heard Grey tell Carlos to settle down.  If Isabelle didn’t knock me flat, Carlos would try to.  Didn’t they understand I was trying to protect Gabby?

Son, I don’t want to see her hurt any more than you.  That’s why you need to wake her.

“Five.  Better hurry.”

I closed my eyes, knowing Sam was right.  There were so many threats here.  I needed her awake so she could help us get away from all of it.

“Four.”

Forgive me, I thought before I slapped her.

Her eyes flew open, but I could tell right away that she wasn’t herself.

“Gabby,” Isabelle said loudly.  “Check your sonar.”

Gabby turned her head and tried to focus on Isabelle.

“Check your sonar,” Isabelle repeated.

“Is Clay safe?” Gabby asked softly.

I sent a wave of love over our connection as I gently stroked the red mark on her cheek.

“You’re sitting on him.  He’ll be safer if you can tell us if there are any bad guys around.”

Gabby blinked again and looked at me.  She reached up and ran her fingers through my beard.

“So handsome,” she murmured, a tiny thread of desire drifting over our link.

“Focus, Gabby,” Isabelle shouted.  “Check your sonar.”

Gabby sighed, and her hand dropped tiredly to her lap.

“They’re netting again.  None are close.”  Her eyelids fluttered.

“Keep her awake, Clay,” Isabelle said, heading toward the stairs.

As soon as she reached the bottom, I tapped Gabby’s cheek again.  Her eyes opened, and she smiled at me.

“I was worried,” I said.

She reached up and brushed my hair back from my face.

“You are so handsome.”

The small, secret smile that curved her lips sent a ball of need right to my gut.

“I can feel that, Clay,” she said, lifting her head and offering her lips.

Normally there’d be nothing I’d want more than to kiss her; it was only my worry for her safety and the sounds of conversation downstairs that stopped me from happily giving her what she wanted.

“Gabby, you’re not safe here.”

“I’m safe with you.  Always with you,” she whispered, nestling closer to me.

Her hand brushed over the width of my chest, distracting me enough that I almost went for her lips.

“No.  I mean, yes.  You’re safe with me.  But, you’re not safe with this group,” I said softly, knowing full well anyone paying attention in the kitchen might hear me.

“Clay, I want your lips on mine.  Now.  I need to feel you.”

Hell.  Her hand roamed over my chest once more, and I knew I was lost.  When her head cleared, we’d talk more.

I claimed her lips, meaning to kiss her sweetly.  Her tongue didn’t agree with sweet intentions.  She kissed dirty, and I lost all thought.  The slide of her tongue against mine did that to me every time.  With my last shred of willpower, I fisted the sheets with my claw-tipped fingers.  She had no idea what she did to me; how much I adored her.

Her small hands threaded through my hair and held tight as she directed the kiss, pressing her mouth firmly against mine a moment before she pulled away.

“Not good enough, Clay,” she whispered against my lips.  “Don’t you want to touch me?”

Want to touch her?  No, I needed to touch her.  I burned for it.  But I hadn’t thought she would welcome it.  Not yet, anyway.  I’d been wrong, though.  That or I’d died and gone to heaven.

When she moved, shifting position so she no longer lay cradled in my lap but straddled it, I gripped her waist.  She was my lifeline.  I claimed her mouth once more, possessing her lips and tongue.  She stayed on her knees for a moment, making a soft sound before slowly settling on my lap.

I groaned.  She moved her hands from my hair to my shoulders.  Holding me, she tilted her hips against mine.  The explosive pleasure that should have robbed me of thought, instead, set off warning alarms.  She moved against me again, and I tore my mouth from hers to look at her.

Her lips were wet and puffy, begging for more kisses.  Man, I wanted to kiss her again.  Lifting my gaze from her mouth, I saw her glazed vacant stare.

Sheeet.

“Gabby, baby.  I can’t.”

“No,” she said softly, rocking her hips against mine again.  “You can.  I can feel it.”

Ten seconds ago, I’d been in heaven, now I was certain I was in the seventh ring of hell.  Yes, the way she was arching into my lap guaranteed she’d feel just how much I wanted to touch her…and more.  But she wasn’t herself.

I dropped my head back against the metal bed frame, shaking and barely in control.  She pressed her advantage and kissed her way along my neck, tracing her tongue over the place where she had Claimed me.

“I love you, Clay.  Don’t you love me, too?”

“Gabby…”  It wasn’t her name but a growl that came out.  I let go of her waist and curled my hands into fists.  Closing my eyes, I started listing off all the parts in a Ford Escort’s exhaust system.  There weren’t enough to distract me from the feel of her, though.  I cleared my throat to try speaking again.

She hummed as her lips skimmed over my adam’s apple.

“Gabby, baby, I need a drink.”  My words were desperate, and if she would have been paying attention to our connection, she would have known it was a lie.

“Okay,” she said sweetly.  She moved off my lap.  I wanted to sigh in relief as much as I wanted to cry at the loss.

I didn’t mentally kick myself long before I realized she hadn’t moved far.  In fact, her hands were busy tugging at the edge of my shirt.  The touch of her fingers on my stomach had me groaning again, and I couldn’t make myself move away.

“Gabby, I’m thirsty.  Remember?”

Her lips curved as she tugged my shirt higher and stared at my exposed stomach.

“I really like your muscles,” she said.

When she tried tugging the shirt higher, I didn’t resist her.

“Especially these,” she said, running her fingers over my chest.

I swallowed thickly and let my head drop against the headboard again.  The metal made a hollow sound.  Empty, like my head.  If I were smart, I’d get off the bed and convince Gabby to walk somewhere with me.  Where?  We weren’t safe.  I needed to talk to her about—

Her tongue flicked over my right nipple, and I grunted at the needy sensation that gripped me.

When her mouth closed over it, I was off the bed and across the room before she could blink at me.  I shook with need.  I wanted her in my arms.  I wanted her biting my neck as I pushed my way—

Rubbing a hand over my face, I dropped that line of thinking.

“Clay?”  Gabby looked at the mattress, then both sides of the bed as if I might have fallen off.  When she didn’t spot me, she sat back on her heels and looked down at her hands with such sadness that I stepped forward.

“You’re not yourself, sweetheart.”

Her gaze found me, but the sad frown didn’t clear.  Her stare returned to her hands, and I knew that I’d hurt her by leaving.  She had no idea what she was doing to me.  I wanted to make her happy, to give her what she wanted, but she’d hate me later for it.  However, seeing her unhappy now was just as bad.

Crossing the room, I stood beside the bed and opened my arms to her.  She looked up at me, uncertain and hesitating.  Distrust and unhappiness drifted over our link.  My chest ached for causing those emotions.  Leaning forward, I scooped her up in my arms and settled onto the bed once more.

I knew what I needed to do.  Suck it up and make out with my woman without going all the way.  There wouldn’t be a shower cold enough to help me when we finished.

“I swear I will do my best to give you a reason to be happy…today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of our lives.”  I pressed a kiss to her temple, and she sighed, a thread of contentment touching my mind.

She snuggled into my chest, and her hands started roaming once more.

It would be a long night of heaven and hell.

*    *    *    *

Gabby leaned into me further, and I gripped the counter tightly.  Doing that was the only thing stopping me from taking her back upstairs and just finishing what we’d started over an hour ago.  If I allowed myself one touch, one tiny caress, tomorrow’s anger be damned.  I’d have her tonight.

I’d thought begging to come downstairs for a drink would have cooled her off a little after she’d managed to get under my shirt and undo my pants.  She’d given into my begging and let me leave the bed without becoming upset again, but she’d touched me in some way the entire time.

My blood was boiling, and I could barely think.

“I want you,” I whispered against her lips when she pulled away to breathe.  “Claiming isn’t enough.  I want you as my Mate, as my forever, Gabby.”

She smiled her beautiful secret smile that made my knees weak, then threaded her fingers in my hair.  I knew I was in trouble.  I couldn’t take any more.  I’d give in.  She pressed her lips to mine at the same time she arched into me.  The ache riding in my pants turned to fire.  My hold on the counter tightened, and I arched back into her.

The kitchen door opened.  I couldn’t decide if I wanted to growl at whoever it was or beg for help.

“Just give in to her already,” Isabelle said.

I pulled back to look at her, and Gabby made a small sound of protest and started to kiss my neck.  That same damn sensitive spot where she Claimed me.  It was like there was a target painted on it now.

Doing my best to remain focused on Isabelle and Carlos, I shook my head.  With them present, there was no way I’d give into Gabby.  A public Claiming she could handle.  A public Mating…she’d kill me.

“Fine,” Isabelle said.  “Then this is going one of two ways.  I can rip that lust from her, which would keep her high; or you can man up and walk away.”

I almost growled at her.

“Believe it or not, I’m trying to be helpful.  I just can’t stick around with all this emotion.  And according to grandma, I can’t leave either.  What Gabby’s broadcasting needs to stop.  Now.”

She was right.  It did need to stop.

I kissed Gabby’s forehead and tried to move away, but Gabby wasn’t having any of that.  She pressed against me firmly and nipped my neck, weakening my resolve to walk away.

“Bethi,” Isabelle yelled.

A minute later, Bethi joined the crowd of voyeurs.  Gabby was going to be so mad at me.

“Help Clay,” Isabelle said.  “I can’t touch Gabby.”

Bethi stepped forward and laid a firm grip on Gabby.

“Come on.  Clay needs to go, and you need to make Sam some coffee.”

As soon as Gabby’s hands loosened from my hair, I bolted.  Gabby made a small, upset sound; and I wanted to howl as the screen door slammed closed behind me.

With all the crap going on, I should have just given into her.  Bethi had said the only true way to protect Gabby was to be Mated, that the Urbat couldn’t break that if they ever took her from me again.  Why had I hesitated?  Because I couldn’t have taken advantage of her like that.  She wasn’t herself.  As much as I wanted her forever, I wanted her on her terms.  I didn’t want her having any regrets when it came to our Mating.

And where did my nobility leave me?  Pacing by the damn cars, so stiff I could barely walk.

The kitchen door opened again.

“Now you can help me,” Isabelle said, waving for me to follow as she strode toward the barn.

It was only then that I noticed everyone else waiting in the opening of barn doors.

I followed Isabelle and listened to her speak to Winifred.

“Bethi won’t be able to handle Gabby on her own, and I can’t take any more emotions.  I need you all to go back inside, help Bethi and Gabby, and stay away from me.”

The girl either had no idea to whom she spoke or didn’t give a damn.  I figured it was probably the second; Isabelle had guts.

The interior of the barn was lit.  She continued inside as she gave orders.

“Ethan, can you grab our new bags from the car?  Carlos, can you ask around for some blankets?  If we have to stay, I can’t sleep inside the house tonight.”

She turned and looked at me with a grin.

“You look like you need to burn off some energy.  How are you at fighting?”

*    *    *    *

An hour later, I walked back to the main house, more relaxed and a little sore.  Isabelle was a fighter through and through.

The house was quiet when I entered.  Thomas and Charlene were lying on the couch.  Jim and the Elders spread out on the floor.  Michelle and Emmitt and Luke and Bethi were missing, probably in a bedroom.  I followed Gabby’s scent upstairs and found her asleep on the bed.  Just seeing her was enough to heat my blood again.  The remembered feel of her lips on my neck hit me hard.

I paced for a few minutes before I joined her on top the covers.

“Clay?” she murmured sleepily, reaching for me.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“I missed you.”

“I missed you, too.  Are we safe to stay the night?”

She yawned and nodded.

“Nothing close by.  The Urbat are netting out from where they almost had us.  We’ll need to leave in the morning.”

I wrapped her in my arms and pulled her close to my side.  She sighed and laid her had on my chest, sleepily nuzzling me.

“Go to sleep, Gabby.  I’ll be here for you in the morning.”

Thankfully, she listened.

I didn’t sleep; I just held her.  When the sun started to rise, I went downstairs and checked the refrigerator.  It was well stocked as I figured it would be.

Setting out three dozen eggs, I started breakfast.  Those in the living room started moving, and after a few minutes, Sam joined me.

“Gabby herself yet?”

“She’s not up, but she seemed better when I came in last night.”

Sam nodded and started making coffee.

“I’m going to talk to Gabby about leaving,” I said, cracking the last egg into the bowl.

Sam stopped his coffee preparations to look at me.

“You’re not talking about checking the way this morning to get back on the road, are you?”

“No.”

“It’s not safe out there for her.  She’s safer with us.”

“Is she?  She was pulled from a car yesterday.  If not for Isabelle…”

Sure Isabelle had saved her, but she’d probably almost killed her too.

“According to Bethi, we need Gabby.  We need all of them to finish this.”

“Sam, I’d let the world go to hell to keep her safe.”

“I know, son, but she would resent you for it.  Gabby isn’t the type of person to let people suffer just to save herself.  And neither are you.”

“What are you saying?”

Sam sighed and rubbed his chest.

“I’m saying we all need to be ready to make sacrifices, son.”

I stared down at the eggs for a moment.

“I’m still asking her.”

“Fair enough.”

When Charlene came into the room and took over cooking, I used the bathroom to clean up then went upstairs.

Since Gabby was still sleeping, I joined her on the bed and managed to rest.  Her disquiet woke me sometime later, as did her attempt to try to sneak from the bed.

“Morning,” I said, opening my eyes.

She blushed red.

“Morning.”

I watched her stand and smooth her hair.  Her gaze was alert, but she was acting oddly.  I studied her, trying to get a read from our connection or her body language.  When that didn’t work, I inhaled subtly. Was she mad?  Should I apologize for yesterday?

“I’m going to use the bathroom,” she said at the same time I caught a hint of her shy confusion.

I nodded and stayed where I was, giving her time to sort out whatever was going on in her head.  After giving her a two-minute head start, I put my shoes on and went downstairs just in time to see Gabby head into the kitchen.

Gabby sat next to Sam.  She stared at her hands as I sat next to her.  I didn’t know what to say or do.  If she was confused, so was I.

Charlene set a loaded plate and a glass of orange juice in front of both of us.  I thanked her and started eating.  Gabby did the same but with no enthusiasm.  Ethan came in to use the bathroom then went back outside.  Carlos watched the man closely from the doorway.  Everyone else went about their morning as usual, eating and packing up.  Gabby didn’t.  She ate slowly and didn’t look at anyone.  Especially me.

Long after we’d finished and Gabby still toyed with her juice, Isabelle walked in and went straight for the stove.

When Isabelle turned to the table, her determined gaze fell on Gabby.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” Isabelle said.

Gabby lifted her head and nodded.  A blast of shame and guilt surged over our connection.  She felt shame?  For what?  It wasn’t her fault she’d been taken.  It was mine.  I sent a wave of love over our link and felt a wave of love and guilt return.  Guilt?  I wished Gabby would just look at me and help me understand what was going on.

With a sigh, Isabelle pushed her chair back and stood.

“Come on.  Let’s go for a walk.”

When Gabby stood, I stood too.

“No boys allowed,” Isabelle said.

I kept my gaze on Gabby, hoping for a clue about what was going on in her beautiful head.

When Isabelle moved to leave the kitchen, Gabby followed, and I stayed put.  Ethan moved Isabelle’s plate to the stove and made a new plate for himself, grinning the whole time.

Watching the clock, I leaned against the kitchen wall and waited.  After a few minutes, a random wave of love washed over me.  Then a thread of guilt followed.  She was killing me.

She walked in a short time later.  Her face was still flushed, but she moved straight for me and gave me one of her small smiles.

I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding.

While Isabelle threatened Ethan for eating her breakfast, I led Gabby from the kitchen and out to the barn.  Carlos paced in the yard and nodded to us as we passed.

In the barn, I pulled Gabby to an out of sight corner.

“I’m not good at guessing what you’re thinking,” I said.

She grinned slightly.

“I disagree.  I think you’re really good at guessing.”  She wrapped her arms around my waist and leaned her head against my chest.  “You do make me happy, Clay.  Every day.”

I hadn’t been sure she’d remember everything.  But, I was glad she did.  What I felt for her wanted to consume me, and I knew I needed to tell her.

“Before I met you, I thought I wanted a family, kids.  But now…it’s you, Gabby.  Just you.  You’re all I want.”

“So no kids?” she asked as she lifting her head to look at me.

“I’d love kids.  Little pieces of you running around.”

She grinned and set her head back on my chest.

“I want to leave, Gabby.  We can’t go back home, but there are some places I know where we’d be safe.  Safer than if we stayed here.”

She was quiet for a long time.

“I want kids, too, Clay.  Someday.  I know what happened yesterday scared you, and I’m sorry for that.  But I don’t think I can leave.  I don’t think there will be anywhere safe for me to hide.  You heard Bethi; they hunt us down.  Her dreams, her memories of dying…they’re too real.”

She lifted her head and met my gaze.

“I have to stay and see this through to the end.  And, I hope we’ll get our someday.”

Her eyes were sad when she said it, and I felt how shallow her hope was.  Yesterday hadn’t just scared me.  It had scared her, too.

Deleted Scene Hope(less) - Gabby meets Sam

Unedited! The actual first time Gabby meets Sam.

My life hasn’t exactly been what I would call normal, though I tried hard to keep it as normal as possible. At least, that’s what I told myself as I walked down the hospital hall, passing under the buzzing fluorescent lights. The squeak of my white sneakers echoed around me as I pushed a supply cart across the waxed tiles. Nurses passed me, smiling, on their way to check on patients or to do paperwork.

Since as long as I could remember, I could see where people were without looking. It was as if my head came equipped with a giant fish finder, but it worked on people instead. When I focused my mind, a vast darkness filled with tiny sparks of light opened. The sparks I saw matched the locations of the people around me. Although the darkness stretched on forever, the lights only shone in the area immediately around me. I figured it meant my sight had limits.

Once, when I was younger, I’d made the mistake of telling my mom about my ability to find people. At first, she hadn’t believed me thinking it was a tall tale made up by an imaginative four-year-old. But when I found her unerringly no matter where she hid in the apartment, she’d looked at me different afterward. I knew she still loved me, but she saw me as an oddity. Since then, I’d kept it to myself, using it discretely fearing someone might catch on and I’d be treated as a pariah.

For whatever reason, in addition to seeing life-sparks, I seemed to have a certain pull on men. It seemed to affect them as soon as they hit puberty and mellowed as they aged. I’m talking aged to the point of grey hair and a stooped walk. And it wasn’t like there was anything so special about me physically that would explain it either.

I had straight shoulder length ash blonde hair, medium complexion and hazel eyes. My nose fit my face well enough, I supposed, and my mouth wasn’t so generous it’d give a guy dirty thoughts. So I didn’t think it was my looks. No, there was something else that pulled at them. For some men, it was a strong attraction they couldn’t seem to ignore. For other men, it was an odd puzzle they forgot as soon as I walked away.

Stopping the cart outside of a patient’s partially opened door, I checked my chart and then my pale blue volunteer scrubs to make sure my nametag was clearly visible on my chest. The hard white plastic tag with ‘Gabby’ embossed in black hung from the fabric for everyone to see. Satisfied, I raised my hand to knock on the door taking a deep breath. A male patient. This wouldn’t be fun.

“Mr. Brandt,” I called softly peeking into the room.

Mr. Brandt, a sturdy man with blonde hair and blue eyes who I estimated to be in his mid-twenties, was sitting up with the help of his inclined hospital bed. Wrapped in a white, green and blue hospital gown, and covered by the bleached hospital blankets, he looked away from the T.V. he’d been watching. As soon as his eyes found me, they lit with pleasure.

“Come in,” he said motioning me into the room.

The room, decorated in the same green and blue tones as on the hospital gowns, was a carbon copy of all the hospital rooms. A green fabric recliner, typically positioned close to the bed, and medical cabinets lining the walls to house many of the supplies and equipment needed for the room, were the only other furnishings.

I stepped just inside the door so he could see me. “Would it be alright if I checked some of the supplies in here?”

His blue eyes swept me from head to toe. “Sure thing,” he answered with a flashy smile.

I struggled not to roll my eyes. Why couldn’t there have been a woman in here? I could tell by his look that he felt my pull already. Nothing to do about it, but hurry and get my job done.

Leaving my cart outside the door, I moved to the locked cabinet near the bed and opened it with the key around my neck to count supplies. The cabinet door opened toward the bed, blocking the supplies within from Mr. Brandt’s view along with me. Sometimes, it helped to block their view of me.

Despite the door, he strained forward in an attempt to watch me and asked, “So, Gabby, how old are you?”

It was a typical question. At 5’ 5”, with a slight build and few curves to speak of, I looked pretty young. The freckles sprinkling my nose didn’t help me look any older either.

“Sixteen,” I said, pausing so I wouldn’t lose count.

When he was quiet for a few moments, I started counting again. Telling them my age usually confused them for a few minutes. This guy recovered pretty quickly though.

“So you work here?”

The cabinet door moved a little, and I knew he’d reached over to try to open it a bit to get a better look at me. I pressed closer to the shelves to stay out of view.

No matter how hard I tried to convince myself my life was normal, these incidents proved otherwise.

“No, I volunteer,” I answered his question briefly, trying to finish my counting as quickly as possible.

“That’s really cool. So when do you turn seventeen?” I could hear him shift on his bed.

“I just turned sixteen, so not for a while,” I said wishing he’d stop talking to me. As a rule, I avoided talking about myself because men usually took it an invitation for a full conversation. And that was what I was trying to avoid, because when you had conversations with people, for some reason they took it as a sign you liked them. It wasn’t a problem for most people. But for me, sending them any type of ‘I like you’ signal was not in my best interest.

He interrupted my thoughts and my count with another question. “So, you must still be in high school then. What grade?”

“Sophomore,” I answered. Also, as a general rule, I tried not to be rude. It didn’t pay to be rude. It tended to ruin a person’s day. I mean, if they were in the hospital, they might not be having the best day to start with.

“You dating anyone?”

Hidden behind the cabinet door, I rolled my eyes. He was a good looking man but close to twice my age. What was he thinking? Who was I kidding? What did any of them ever think? It was apparent he was going to be one of the more persistent ones. Thankfully he was connected to an IV. It’d act like a tether if I needed a quick getaway.

“I’ll be right back Mr. Brandt.” I left the room to grab the supplies for the cabinet without answering his question, hoping he would realize he’d crossed a line. In the hallway, I took my time taking what I needed from the secured supply cart in no rush to get back to his uncomfortable attempts at flirting. After a few minutes, I couldn’t delay any longer.

“Hey,” he smiled charmingly at me when I walked back in, “I’m being released tomorrow. Would you want to go out for a coffee or something?”

With difficultly I refrained from rolling my eyes again. The man perceived no boundaries. When I ran into these types, safety in numbers was my best defense.

Using my sight, I checked the location of the charge nurse, who should have been at the scheduling desk now. No life-spark there. I was on my own until I finished restocking.

I placed the supplies in their appropriate containers and relocked the cabinet before answering his question. “Thank you for asking, but I can’t,” I said walking toward the door as I spoke, hurrying to leave before he could say anything further. “Have a good night, Mr. Brandt.”

I left Mr. Brandt’s room in a rush, hoping his IV would act as a tether and collided with someone coming from my left. The force of our impact knocked me into the supply cart. I caught the edge of it preventing a complete crash to the floor as a hand clasped around my arm. The cart rocked against the collision, but held me up. I was glad I’d locked the wheels.

“I’m sorry about that, Gabby,” a deep voice said from above me as the hand released its grip on my arm.

Straightening away from the cart, I looked up at an older man with kind brown eyes, a friendly smile, and grey hair. Grey hair was a good thing in my book. The odds were he’d been unaffected by me, unlike Mr. Brandt who I could hear through the door calling me back.

“I wasn’t watching where I was going,” the older man continued as he bent to pick up the coat he’d dropped.

How did he know my name? I tried placing his face, but was sure I hadn’t seen him before. Then, it hit me. Duh. My nametag.

I gave him a weak smile. “Sorry,” I said. “Me either.” I should have checked the hallway as I left Mr. Brandt’s room, but I’d been too distracted trying to make a quick escape.

“Not at all,” he said looking at me intently. He seemed like he wanted to say something but then hesitated. Finally, he said, “You look familiar. Do I know you?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think so.”

“Hmm… Well, it was nice bumping into you.” He laid his jacket over his arm, smiled and walked away.

My eyes followed him as he made his way to the elevators. Dressed in jeans and a button-up shirt open to show a white t-shirt underneath, he looked like an older man who kept up with the times. He didn’t look back. He was one of the reasons I was in the hospital. I liked working with older people.

Hearing movement in Mr. Brandt’s room behind me, I quickly unlocked the wheels of the supply cart and moved on. I continued restocking supplies for the next hour before turning in my keys and heading for the elevator that led to the lobby. Exiting the elevator, I noted the dusky sky beyond sliding glass doors. Waving goodnight to the receptionist at the admission’s desk, I stepped out onto the sidewalk. It was a five-minute walk to the bus stop from the hospital.

Still dressed in my scrubs, I shouldered my messenger bag loaded with my homework, popped in my earbuds, and set out. It was an easy walk with very few pedestrians. Even though I wasn’t in a dangerous area, I walked with my head up. I didn’t want to look weak or like I’d be an easy target. Although I used my extra sense to check behind me occasionally, I continued casually looking around. The earbuds, clearly visible, were just a deterrent for conversation and worked really well once I was on the bus.

Late for the pick-up that would’ve gotten me home before dark, I stood next to the bus stop waiting. Two people already sat on the long grey bench of the bus stop shelter. Being under the matching protective awning had its benefits, but I didn’t mind giving up the backless bench. As I stood waiting, I continued to look around, taking advantage of the structure’s clear sidewalls. Recently replaced, they were once again smooth and shiny.

Glancing at the two people in the shelter, I did a double take. In that brief look, I thought I saw seen the reflection of the old man from the hospital, I but when looked back, there was nothing there.

I stretched out my senses to identify the location of the people around me. The tiny lights were always the same color; a yellow center, with a dark-green green halo. I could see the two people sitting on the bus stop bench glowing gently. Other sparks moved nearby. One in particular, moving just out of my range, caught my attention. It was an odd shade I’d never seen before, not the typical yellow and green, but a pale blue light with a bright green halo.

The squeal of the light grey city bus stopping beside me jarred me from my private world. For a moment, I stared at the ad for a local lawyer, which decorated the side of the bus, calming my racing heart. Stupid bus scared the crap out of me. I moved back letting the other passenger’s board first. Being last, I could choose my seat meaning I could sit alone.

Showing my pass, I climbed aboard. It wasn’t late enough for drunks or punks, but I still sat close to the driver, a regular driver on this route who had stopped trying to talk to me long ago. As soon as I sat, he pulled away from the stop.

I watched familiar buildings pass by the window, thinking about what waited for me at home. My foster home actually. When I was a kid, I’d lost first my mom and then my grandma. The only two people I had in the world. It was because of my grandma that I wanted to work with the elderly. She’d been so sick at the end.

Deleted Scene Hope(less) - Gabby remembers Grandma

Unedited deleted scene.  This was written in the original draft before March 2011.  Wow…I wrote Hope(less) a long time ago!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I was eight, my mom had died in a car accident leaving me to with my Grandma. I’ve always been quiet and serious. Being a product of a one night stand that my mom couldn’t recall, I had no father, absent or otherwise, to count on. My mom had done the best job she could do, but after I’d told her about what I could do, she’d distanced herself from me. She’d worked and put herself through school, graduating shortly before dying. She’d told me, she was working so hard, trying to give us a better future. I went along with it, never questioning why I needed to get ready for school myself or why I had to walk home alone and let myself in with the key I wore on a necklace. Deep down I knew it would have been different if I would have been normal.

Living with my grandma had been different. I never told her my secret. In her small two-bedroom white house with the standard tiny city yard, I found the comfortable home life I hadn’t had with my mom. When I’d moved in, Grandma had converted her tiny, 8 x 10 sewing room into a bedroom for me. Decorated with soft white eyelet lace curtains and a matching bedspread on my old twin bed, with some of my mom’s old dolls on the shelves lining the walls, it’d given me the stability my world had needed.

At ten, I’d learned the only one I had left was going to die. I recall sitting in my grandma’s hospital room, studying the pattern in the wallpaper border while waiting for the nurse to bring grandma back from her tests. Just the pink and blue pattern in the border that repeated again and again. When they’d brought Grandma back in, pushing her in a wheelchair, she’d smiled at me, tears running down her soft weathered cheeks and told me we’d needed to talk. I volunteered at the same hospital and was glad they’d redone the décor to green and blue.

Alternate Epilogue for (Sur)real

Alternate Ending to the Judgement series for those who do not want a spin-off series about the Judgement children…

UNEDITED!!! (Read at your own risk!)

15 years later…

 

Gabby…

Carlos’s niece laughed and nudged, Clay Jr. with her shoulder.

“They look pretty cozy, don’t they?” Isabelle asked.

“They do.  Does it make you nervous?”

“Nah.  I already bullied Jim into telling me if there was anything more than a common pull between them.  We’re safe.  More than likely, they’ll both fall for some random human.”

I looked over at Paul and Henry who were both talking to their human wives while their children ran around with the rest of ours.

So much had changed since the Judgement passed.  The werewolves were still a minority.  Compared to the human population, theirs could be considered endangered.  But, that was fast changing.  More cubs than adults crowded the Compound’s main room this Thanksgiving.

It was good to see so much prosperity.

“Any news from Michelle?” I asked.

“They should be here in a bit.  Winifred wanted to wait until Aden was home so they could all drive together.”

The number of pack safe zones had increased over the years, but the Compound and Michelle and Emmitt’s Montana place remained the primary locations.  No longer were werewolves forced to live in the trees or sleep on floors without bedding.  There were homes ready for any family who wanted one thanks to Michelle’s premonitions and generosity.

A brush of love swept through my mind, and I turned to find Clay talking to Luke, who held a toddler in his arms.

“Think they’ll have any more after this next one?” Isabelle asked.

“I heard Bethi threaten to neuter Luke if he didn’t stay away from her.  She said she wasn’t a Pez dispenser.”

Isabelle chuckled.  “She might complain, but we all know we’re still doing our parts to finish the Judgement we started. Where is she, by the way?”

 

Bethi… 

I watched my mom play cards with my oldest and shifted uncomfortably in my chair in our private apartment at the Compound.

“A nap works better when you close your eyes.”

“I hate naps.”

The moment the Taupe Lady had removed the pull of the dreams, I’d stayed up for three days straight while I searched for my mom.

“Careful, that next one might not want to sleep either.”

“That’s why I have you,” I said with a grin.

Since the moment the human police had released her, she hadn’t left my side.  And, I thanked the stars for that.  With a sixth child on the way, I needed all the help I could get.

“That’s why you have me, your friends, and your wonderful husband,” she said.

She loved Luke, although it had taken some time for her to warm up to the idea of her daughter marrying so young.

“Speaking of my friends, let’s give up on this whole nap idea and just join the party.  If we’re not there before the turkeys come out, Jim will eat them all.”

 

Olivia…

Jim held Oliver as they both peeked into one oven after another at the twenty birds still baking.  I shook my head and continued slicing rolls, the last thing on my list.

After learning that Charlene had insisted on celebrating the American Thanksgiving holiday at the Compound, I’d taken up that calling in her absence.  I found it gratifying to cook for so many hungry mouths and loved spending time with the wives of the werewolves.  They were nothing like the Urbat wives.

Everyone here conveyed welcome and warmth.  I knew it was the lasting echoes of Charlene’s influence.  Even after all these years, she and Thomas were thought of often and missed.

“I think that’s it,” I said, wiping my hands.  “We’re done.”

Jim and Oliver cheered, then Jim met my gaze.  I let all the love I felt for them flood the link in my mind.

“Send that to all the werewolves for me,” I said.  “Let them know we give thanks for each and every one of them.”  I hugged the men who meant so much to me.  “And, today, I’ll remember those who fought for us and give thanks for the sacrifices they made.”

Charlene had given me a husband, a family, and a future.  The werewolves were growing stronger and the world now knew they existed.  We changed the future just like the Taupe Lady had wanted.  And, now, we could finally enjoy the lives we’d made for ourselves.

29 Comments

  1. Daisy

    Awesome! I love all this extras!!! Now lef me hear the “mating scene”deleted scene xoxoxox “winks at Melissa* for Clay and Gabby. And maybe isabelle and carlos. Lol 😂

    Reply
  2. Wendy

    I want Jim to be the next mated!! I need more and fall can’t come soon enough!!

    Reply

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