It looks like we've all suddenly got some extra free time, so I thought now would be a great time to add a second throwback book. And this one is free for everyone.
Even better: it's only available on Patreon.
Back in 2017 I participated in the Kindle World for Lisa Ladew's One True Mate series. It's a world where werewolves are cops, werebears are firefighters, and True Mates are the only thing that could save the world.
Of course I wanted to write in it!
Amazon ended the Kindle Worlds program in 2018, so the book was only available for a short time, and I never republished it.
There's no need to have read the One True Mate series for this story to make sense. And I've decided to share it exclusively on Patreon. I hope you enjoy.
Was it supposed to be one of those poop emoji? Cam tilted her head as she studied the freshly minted graffiti on the side of her bakery, the Thorny Rose. A mix of yellow, green, and red had congealed into something brownish and altogether gross looking. Just what she didn’t want her customers to see when they came in when she opened. One hour, three minutes, and fourteen seconds, her mind helpfully supplied. She tuned out the eerie internal timer before the countdown of seconds could drive her insane.
A second survey of the damage told her it would take forty-seven minutes to turn the turd into an indistinct brown blob. But her assistant wouldn’t be in until six and if Cam didn’t get to work in the next two minutes and forty-eight seconds, she’d run behind schedule all day. She blew out her breath, ruffling the blonde bangs she really needed to trim. But that, too, could wait. Her customers had seen graffiti before and it hadn’t scared them away. No one could stay away once they tasted her pastries. They’d face hell, high water, and vulgar impromptu artwork for a taste of her melt in your mouth danishes and pain au chocolate.
Cam snapped a picture of the wall with her phone and came around to the front of the shop. From the front door, it wasn’t that bad. The idiot kids who kept doing it hadn’t yet gone so far as to mar the front wall of her shop. If they did that, she just might stoop to murder.
With forty-five seconds to spare, she opened the door and locked it behind her. Blue Valley was a nice town, but that didn’t mean she wanted an unlocked door leaving her vulnerable to the empty early morning streets. No one had been murdered there in over a decade and Cam didn’t want to be the victim to break that streak.
You’re always catastrophizing. She could hear her aunt’s voice as clear in her mind as if she was standing beside her. But Aunt Grace had learned to deal with Cam’s quirks and still loved her despite her failures and eccentricities. If it meant that Cam checked the locks three times on some nights and had a habit of being too specific, well, that was just how some girls were.
Once inside, she threw herself into her work, shaping and baking, frosting and sprinkling. It was a cool morning, with fall threatening to cast its pall over town, but the news piping in through the radio told her to expect highs in the eighties. Cam wasn’t about to turn off her air conditioning, if not for her comfort, then for the well-being of the baked goods. The smells of cinnamon and chocolate swirled around her as the ovens heated and hinted at the mouthwatering goodness they’d produce.
Cam wiped down the counter and took a breath. She didn’t need to check the clock to know that her assistant, June, would be in soon. And with the first batches going, she had a few moments to think. This was the fourth time her shop had been covered in graffiti in the last three months. Blue Valley didn’t have gangs, so it wasn’t anyone marking their territory. But they did have a high school and she could remember from her days there that kids could be dumbasses with no respect for the people who were trying to eke out a living in town. The first time, she could forgive them and clean it up. The second time, she invested in a small, unobtrusive security camera. The third time it happened, she called the cops, but they weren’t much help. Her cheap camera had run out of memory before it could capture anything useful.
It had been a bit of a stretch, but Cam had invested in a new camera with better storage and a longer battery life. She left her pastries to cook and checked in her office. The computer took a minute to boot up, but when she pulled up the program with the footage she smiled.
She picked up the phone and dialed the non-emergency police number. When the automated operator told her “all representatives are busy, please stay on the line” Cam gritted her teeth. June would walk through the door any minute and this needed to be under control by then. Her assistant had been the one to insist on calling the cops and every time she saw the minor defacements, she got this trembly look, like she might break apart at any minute. Cam didn’t know the full story there. Around fifty years old, June Jackson had grown up in a city far away from Blue Valley. She didn’t talk about her past, and Cam didn’t ask. But the nervousness sparked something in Cam, made her more worried than she’d normally be. So she took it seriously and looped in the police.
After four minutes and nineteen seconds, Cam hung up. She promised herself that she’d call back later. More operators would be on shift later in the morning.
She watched the security video with narrowed eyes. The timestamp said it was just after two AM, when the streets were most deserted and even the cops were asleep. There was a blur of movement and a flash of lights, and fifteen seconds later, the side of her shop was covered. But that couldn’t be right. Even the most experienced artist would need a few minutes to deface her wall.
Cam checked the playback speed to make sure everything was working correctly. Even though it said that it was, she slowed it down to four times slower than its normal speed. There, she thought, that’s better. Two people wearing bulky hoodies walked into the alleyway. They both started spraying, keeping their backs to the camera as if they knew it was there. They did their deed and walked out as if they hadn’t just committed a crime. It wasn’t much, she knew, but maybe this time the cops would take her seriously.
She picked up the phone to try the police again, but the bell over the front door rang as June let herself in. Cam closed out of the security program and set the phone back down. The cops could wait. The pastries wouldn’t.
Allspice tickled Dom’s nose as he walked into his favorite coffee shop. At just past seven AM, he was finally off shift and his eyelids were as heavy as boulders. At least the sun was shining. He dreaded the days in the coming winter when he would arrive after dark and leave before sunrise. He didn’t have any illusions that his citlali would take him off the night shift before then. Fuck Brenner. He didn’t dare say the words out loud. His captain had ears on every street and had long ago decided that Dom was made of piss and insubordination.
He longed to shift, to fight, to do anything that didn’t involve rounding up a few drunk and disorderlies or breaking up fights between humans. The night shift would be bad enough in a real city, but in Blue Valley, Oregon it was hell. There was no Khain hounding them right now, none of the great battles that the KSRT fought in Illinois. Here he was just a regular cop… who happened to shift into a wolf when the mood struck.
But with so many humans around, that mood couldn’t strike. He waited in the short line between humans dressed for office work and ordered his coffee and a bagel when he made it to the counter. Hunter’s Cup was the best coffee place in town. It was the one bright spot in Dom’s dreaded shift work. If he worked regular hours, he wouldn’t have the time to enjoy the best brewed cup in town or their great food.
But today something was off. As he took his food and drink to his table, he looked back at the counter and realized that he didn’t recognize the girl working there. She was young, probably fresh out of high school. Blue Valley was too big for Dom to recognize everyone on sight, but he knew the regulars at his local haunts. And only about half of the normal crowd was there today.
He tilted his head back and took a deep breath, sifting through the scents all around him. Coffee and sugar hung heavy in the air, almost overwhelming enough to blot out everything else. But Dom was a wolfen, so nothing as inconsequential as a little coffee was going to defeat him.
Discerning scents was almost like sifting out sounds in a cacophony. If he listened to everything, he'd drown in a sea of noise. But if he instead teased out a single thread and gave his entire focus over to it, he could understand. And so Dom ignored the coffee and the cinnamon and every other sweet scent that tried to seduce him away from his prey.
The sour note sticking to the student two tables over almost tricked him, but Dom spared the kid only a second's glance. The kid had clearly stayed up all night studying or partying and hadn't bothered to bathe. No threat.
There. Dom straightened, and if he'd been in his other body, his ears would have twitched. As it was, he froze, his whole being focused on the acrid, slightly burnt scent coming from somewhere behind the counter.
If he was human, he might have thought it was something burning in the kitchen. But Dom's senses were keen enough to tease out anything as mundane as that. No, this was something much more sinister.
Inside, his wolf stretched, ready to pounce. The scent of the foxen wrapped around him, teasing him, calling him to hunt. Of course, most foxen were normal citizens, not agents of Khain, but old instincts sang through his blood, and Rhen only knew what trouble those shifters were up to.
They were normal citizens, but foxen loved trouble.
Dom left his drink at the table and followed his nose toward the kitchen. When the barista eyed him warily, he detoured down the narrow hall to the bathroom and the back exit, sneaking out and circling around to the kitchen door. It was propped open with an old brick and he let himself in on silent feet. But the kitchen was tiny and no matter how deep Dom breathed, the smell of the foxen was too weak for him to find a trail.
He left the kitchen before anyone could find him and went back to his drink. But Dom's appetite had fled. He tossed the rest of his food and left, letting the puzzle of the foxen scent circle around his mind. He'd crack it. He had all the time in the world.