The deep, hard-edged voice put Rav on the defensive immediately. The impression didn’t get any better when he turned around. The man wore a neatly pressed green uniform with a large gold Sheriff badge, and he was standing too close, like he was trying to be intimidating. He was a compact man, well short of Rav’s six two, but all muscle and attitude. The man was good-looking with thick black hair in a short, sleek cut and a strong jaw. He took off his sunglasses and stared at Rav with eyes the color and temperature of an arctic lake.
The man was as hostile as Milo had been friendly. Rav took an instant dislike to the guy. He’d been subjected to plenty of browbeating and alpha-male-ing in his old corporate life. He wasn’t going to tolerate it now. He insolently returned the man’s stare.
“Lance?” Milo said awkwardly. “You don’t know Rav, do you? Rav, this is Lance Beaufort. He’s the sheriff! Lance, this is Rav.”
“You know this person?” Lance’s voice was steely, and his gaze never left Rav’s face.
Milo tittered nervously. “Sure, I do! You remember when we went to Arizona to that shelter where Wilbur stayed? Well, Rav owned that place! All the dogs there really liked him. And that’s where I got Jack. You know Jack. My dog, Jack?”
Excited at hearing his name, Jack barked once and wove around Rav’s legs. Rav lowered a hand to skim the dog’s head but continue to meet Lance’s stare. Yeah, that’s right, asshole. The dog likes me. So fuck you.
“That’s this guy?” Lance sounded dubious. His face did not relax one iota.
“It is! So, you know, Rav helped us beat the virus and save everyone in town. Even you! Isn’t that great?” Milo squeezed Rav’s arm reassuringly.
Milo was clearly shilling for him, and Rav appreciated it. But he couldn’t imagine why it was necessary. He’d just been sitting in the park, for fuck’s sake. Yeah, he had ink and dressed like a biker, but it wasn’t like he’d robbed the bank or was wielding a machete.
Then he remembered Daisy had mentioned this guy. Sheriff Lance Beaufort—he doesn’t like strangers hanging around.
“Yeah, that’s swell,” Beaufort said curtly. “But that was Arizona. What brings you to Mad Creek, Rav? Today. Right here, right now. We’re not really on the way to anywhere. Why are you here? Huh? Why?”
The badgering was almost comical, except Beaufort was so intense. And then Rav saw it—at the collar of that neatly-pressed shirt, backlit by the sun, were strands of dark hair sticking straight up on Beaufort’s neck. Bristling. Rav’s gaze shifted to Lance’s eyes. They were such an unusual bright light blue, like the eyes of an border collie Rav had once rescued. And Beaufort’s puffed-up stance, the sharp bark of his words….
Rav had another of those mental View-Master clicks, and suddenly the man in front of him wasn’t just a man. Rav could see the dog in every angry line.
Guard dog. He’s warning me off his turf.
It was so simple and so clear. Rav smiled. The anger inside him relaxed its fist. A guard dog was only doing its job, after all. So was Beaufort. Of course, guard dogs could still be dangerous. But it was too fucking cool for Rav to remain pissed.
He shrugged casually. “Last I checked, it was a free country.”
“Didn’t say it wasn’t. I asked what brought you to Mad Creek.”
Milo had been chewing on a thumbnail, eyes going back and forth between them like he was watching a ping-pong match. He broke in with a titter. “Rav runs a shelter! For dogs. He rescues dogs. He’s a good human.”
Lance’s eyes widened, and he gave Milo an almost imperceptible shake of his head.
Milo grimaced. “I mean person! He’s a really good person. Guy? He’s a good guy.” Milo looked from Lance to Rav brightly. “Gosh, if it weren’t for Rav, we wouldn’t have the antidote. And we might all be stuck forever as—”
Quick as a wink, Lance stepped closer to Milo and slung his elbow around Milo’s neck. That put Lance’s eyes a few inches from Milo’s. Lance stared. Milo, mouth still hanging open, stared back.
“Remember, Milo,” Lance said in a low, casual voice, “Rav is new here, and he’s not one of us. You recall the talk I give at our meetings? You know the one I mean.”
Milo’s eyes went wide. He clamped his mouth shut, pulling his lips inside as if they might talk without his permission. He brought his hand to his mouth, twisted an invisible key, and threw it away. It was such a childish gesture, Rav wanted to laugh. Only Lance’s intensity kept it from being funny.
Milo’s breath exploded out in a gasp. “Sorry. I forgot. Only I was so happy to see him!”
“It’s okay, Milo.” Lance’s voice was soft and sincere for the first time. He moved his arm to rub the back of Milo’s neck like a soccer coach might. “But don’t forget again. All right? Can you do that?”
Milo nodded energetically. “I won’t forget.” He frowned. “Does this mean I shouldn’t take Rav to my house? Jason will want to see him for sure.”
This whole exchange made Rav realize something. Beaufort’s hostility wasn’t just because Rav was a random stranger. No, it was fear that he knew. It was like in the superhero comics when someone learned the hero’s secret identity. That was bad. That was a threat that had to be eliminated.
Hell, Rav would be a hard-ass too, if he were in Beaufort’s position. He’d just been slammed in the face with a truckload of awe and wonder and fuckery and possibly alien technology. Whatever it was, it was something he wasn’t supposed to know. Only now he did. Most people would jump at the chance to exploit a secret like this—for fame or fortune. His own father would already be passing out full-color proposals on how best to profit off the town and everyone in it.
Yeah, Rav could appreciate the risk. But he was nowhere near ready to be kicked down the road by Sheriff Lance Beaufort. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do about this yet, but leaving wasn’t an option.
So Rav Miller decided to lie.
He put on his most innocent expression. “I have no idea what you guys are talking about. But it would be great to say hello to Jason, Tim, and Matt while I’m in town.”
“You came a long way to say hello to people you met once,” Beaufort pointed out, still rubbing Milo’s neck.
“Actually, Milo, I forgot you guys lived here. I was camping in Yosemite when my assistant called me and told me one of our missing dogs was here. I thought I’d see if I could find him while I was in the area.”
Beaufort raised one eyebrow. “How did you know this missing dog was in Mad Creek?”
“GPS microchip. I’ll show you.” Rav pulled out his phone. He was taking a chance. If Sammy was nearby, Rav could hardly point him out. But when he started the app, there was, in fact, no GPS signal at all. He zoomed out, but there was nothing anywhere in Mad Creek. Had Sammy taken off?
Rav looked up and shrugged. “Weird. The signal’s gone now.”
Lance took the phone out of Rav’s hand without so much as a by-your-leave, and looked at the app. “You were following a microchipped dog using GPS?”
“That’s what I said,” Rav replied coolly.
“Why?” Damn. Lance’s blue eyes were merciless, like they could suck the truth right out of you. But Rav had faced some real sharks in the business world, not to mention his entire family. He kept his cool.
Rav shrugged. “Well, I normally wouldn’t have, but since I was in Yosemite anyway, why not? I wanted to make sure he was okay, take him home if he was still a stray.”
“Sammy. He’s a chocolate lab. Sweet dog.”
“That’s so like you!” Milo gushed. “Oh, Lance, that’s just like Rav! He has a whole shelter full of dogs he saved from being put to sleep. How many do you have now, Rav? Like, one hundred?”
“Uh… I have fifty-three at the shelter right now.”
“Fifty-three dogs! And Rav is very caring about each and every one of them, aren’t you, Rav?”
“I do my best.” Rav kept his face solemn.
“So of course he would check on a lost dog if he was in the area! He’s honestly a good guy, Lance. All the dogs that lived at his shelter told me how much they liked him. And you can trust their opinion. Right? Dogs don’t lie.”
Lance elbowed Milo.
Milo coughed. “I mean. Of course they don’t lie, because dogs can’t talk! What I mean is, dogs don’t like a person if they’re mean. You have to trust instincts. Right?”
“That’s very true,” Rav agreed, thoughtfully nodding his head. “I always trust a dog’s judgment over a person’s.” He raised an eyebrow at Lance while stroking Jack’s head.
“Exactly!” Milo grinned at Lance happily.
Lance visibly relaxed. He pulled his mirrored sunglasses out of his breast pocket and made a show of unfolding them and sticking them on his nose. He looked like a film cop in them, like he should be in Baywatch or CHIPS.
“Very well, Mr. Miller. Sorry you went out of your way. But since you didn’t find the dog you were looking for, guess you’ll be heading out soon. Back to Yosemite and your vacation. Enjoy it.”
Rav scratched his beard. “Yeah, I will in a bit. But I’m here now, and it’s getting late. It’s a cute little town. Thought I might spend the night.”
“Oh, do!” Milo clapped his hands together. “I’d let you stay at our house, but our guest bedroom is already taken. And our couch.”
“You have those friends visiting from out of town,” Beaufort said leadingly.
“Yes, friends! From out of town.”
“Well, I appreciate the almost-offer,” said Rav. “I’m sure I can find something.”
“Actually, the motel’s full. Best to drive down the road to Bass Lake or Oakhurst. There’s a Motel 6 there,” Beaufort suggested helpfully.
Rav folded his arms over his chest. “I can sleep in my van. I’m not picky.”
“That’s illegal on Main Street,” Lance growled. “No loitering.”
“Ah. No problem. I’ll figure something out.” Rav gave an easy smile.
“But you will come for supper, won’t you?” Milo insisted. “Lance, will you come? And bring Tim? Tim would love to see Rav.”
Rav wondered what Beaufort and Tim—a cute young twink from the group who’d visited from Mad Creek—had to do with one another. But he didn’t ask.
Lance gave a heavy sigh, as if resigning himself to something awful, like a dinner of blood sausage and brussels sprouts. “Fine. We’ll be there.”
Dinner worked for Rav too—as long as it wasn’t his balls on the menu.
Rav Miller looked into the terrified, intelligent eyes of the chocolate Labrador on death row, and knew he’d do anything to save him. When the dog, Sammy, escapes and heads to Mad Creek, Rav follows. Mad Creek. The town had become legendary in Rav’s mind after he’d met that bizarre group last year. Rav dismissed his crazy suspicions back then, but when he arrives in Mad Creek, he knows it’s true. Dog shifters exist, and apparently they all live in the California mountains. It’s enough to blow a bad boy’s mind.
Sammy has something in common with Rav—neither one of them trusts people. After Sammy’s abuse as a dog, he particularly dislikes tough-looking men like Rav. But when Sammy gets a chance to work with rescued dogs at the new Mad Creek shelter, his deep compulsion to help others overcomes his fear. Rav and Sammy bond over saving strays. If they can each find the courage to let someone else in, they might find their way to love.
Sheriff Lance Beaufort doesn’t like humans moving into Mad Creek, especially not the tattooed and defiant Rav. When Rav starts a rescue shelter, the town thinks he’s wonderful! But Lance isn’t fooled. He doesn’t buy Rav’s innocent act for one second. How much does Rav know about the quickened? What is his game? And why did he have to show up now, when Lance and the other town leaders are overwhelmed by all the new quickened pouring in?
Rav knows how to save a life. But can he save an entire town? Can he rescue Mad Creek?
Howl At The Moon Series
Eli Easton has been at various times and under different names a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, an organic farmer, and a long-distance walker. She began writing m/m romance in 2013 and has published 27 books since then. She hopes to write many more.
As an avid reader of such, she is tickled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, two bulldogs, several cows, and a cat. All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest fiction writing.
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