Apache County Shifters, Book One
Copyright © 2018 by TL Reeve & Michele Ryan
Kalkin Raferty stood sentinel on his front porch, the mug of coffee in his hand long forgotten. Across the creek from him, a moving truck pulled into the driveway of an old two-story farmhouse. As sheriff of Apache County, he knew the comings and goings of all the small communities around the area. However, the house across the creek being for sale, or the fact that two cute little blondes were in the truck, had been news to him. As the Alpha of the small but active wolf pack that made their home in the town of Window Rock, Arizona, it was his job to protect the pack and the people in his community.
The town, for him, held nothing spectacular about it. It happened to be a disgustingly sweet place sometimes, especially when the older women of the pack got together to do bake sales and craft fairs. During the winter, the town usually shut down, and it could get lonely, quickly.
As the doors of the truck opened, footsteps echoed behind him. The broad palm of his twin’s hand gripped his shoulder before Caden came into view. “New neighbors?”
“Suppose so.” He grunted as a petite blonde stepped down out of the cab and walked to the back.
“I didn’t know we were getting new pack mates.” Caden crossed his arms. “Maybe it was an oversight on their part.”
“Yeah, could be.”
When the small blonde turned her face up to the moonlight, he noticed, even in the darkness, the bruise still hued in purples and blues marring her right cheek. Subtract the bruise and she was pretty. Elf-like, and curvy, she was quite honestly perfect for him. Her screen-printed T-shirt molded to her round breasts and hugged her midsection, causing his mouth to water and his dick to harden exponentially. She wore a pair of cut-off jeans that framed her ass just right, making him want to reach out and palm her silky flesh. Though only catching her profile, he could see she had bow-shaped lips and a button nose, framed by ringlets of wheat-colored blonde hair. A small growl of need passed his lips, and his brother laughed.
He cleared his throat and focused his attention on the taller of the two. Her right arm sported a black brace and a matching bruise covered her face. “I’m going over there.”
The doors to the back of the truck opened up, and the shorter woman pulled out a ramp attached to the back. After a little manipulation on both of their parts, they slid it up into the back of the truck. Pretty soon, one by one, they exited it carrying a couple of boxes each. There is no way they are doing this on their own.
“I’ll grab the guys and we’ll be there in a moment.”
Kalkin nodded while heading for the small bridge separating their properties. The sheriff part of his brain said to be wary of their arrival. They came at night. No one did so without reason. However, the fiercely protective part of him demanded he wait to cast judgment. Something about these women called to him. His wolf urged him forward to gather the answers he sought.
Packs or lone wolves didn’t move onto pack territory without first coming to meet him, but these two, he’d never seen them before nor heard word of their arrival. They could be human.Which made more sense, instead of figuring they were wolves.
“Danielle, did you want me to take that? Your arm is still healing. The doctor said you shouldn’t overdo it.” The shorter of the two tried to take the box out of the other woman’s hands.
“I’m fine, Keeley. Really.” The one called Danielle stepped off the truck and walked into the house.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” he called out, raising his hand. Keeley stilled and turned her attention to Kalkin. He caught a whiff of her nervousness, but no scent of being a wolf. What the hell happened to you?“We’re your neighbor across the creek. Would you like some help?” Behind him he could hear his brothers crossing the bridge. “We don’t mind.”
“Keeley, what’s going on? Who’s—” The other woman, Danielle, came back out of the house. “Hi.” She eyed him warily. He couldn’t blame her. From the look of both of them, they’d been through hell.
“Hi, my name is Kalkin Raferty. These are my brothers and nephew.” He pointed to the guys. “That’s Caden, Jace, and Royce. We saw you pull up. We wanted to help you guys out.” Both women looked at each other and if Kalkin didn’t know any better, he would swear they were carrying on a silent conversation. Something he and Caden did from time to time.
“If it’s not a problem,” Danielle said, stepping forward.
“Dani,” Keeley muttered.
Danielle threw a look at her sister and shook her head. “We’d appreciate the help.” She held out her good hand. “It’s nice to meet you. All of you.”
Caden stepped forward, pushing Kalkin out of the way. “Pleasure. How about you and your friend—”
“Sister,” she corrected him.
He smiled indulgently at Danielle. “Sister, tell us where to put everything.”
She gave Caden a little grin. “Okay.”
“Great,” his brother answered. “Come on, guys.”
After several cups of coffee and the sun cresting the horizon, all of the boxes were off the truck and the girls were moved in—in theory anyway. “Are you sure you don’t have another load we can help you with?” Kalkin didn’t want to leave them just yet. Keeley seemed oddly nervous around him, while her sister Danielle was relaxed. So much so, she opened boxes with Jace and Caden while Royce brought the empties outside.
“N-n-no, we’re f-fine.” Keeley wrapped her arms around her midsection.
“I’d beg to differ,” he murmured. “Can I ask what happened to you and your sister?”
Close up, he could see the bruises were still fresh. The blood vessels around her iris were blown, and blood marred the sclera. She also had a bruise the size and shape of a man’s hand wrapped around her wrist.
“You can ask all day. Doesn’t mean you’ll get an answer.” Keeley lifted her chin. “We don’t even know you.”
“You’re right. I only told you my name. We’ve been so busy getting you girls settled, we didn’t get to talk about what we do or anything. I’ll start. I am the sheriff for Apache County. My brothers and my nephew are my deputies. We’re safe.”
“Hey.” Caden stuck his head in the room, breaking the ever-mounting tension. “Sorry to cut this short, ma’am, but we’ve got a call.”
“Shit.” He glanced at Keeley. “This isn’t over. We’re neighbors, you and me. I’ll be seeing you around.”
“Yeah, sure.” She followed them out. “Next time, call or text before you come over.”
Kalkin spun around, almost knocking Keeley on her ass. “I would love to, sweet cheeks. But I’d need your number first.” He tilted his head. “You going to give the sheriff your number?” An indignant expression crossed her face, and he laughed. “Have a good afternoon, Keeley.” He nodded at Danielle. “Danielle. If you ladies need anything, feel free to come across the bridge. Someone is always at the house.”
“Thank you, Sheriff Raferty.” Danielle stepped out of the kitchen as they filled the foyer. “You saved us hours of work.” Though her answers were easy and polite, they hid something. It didn’t mean a damn thing in the long run, especially if they were getting away from whoever beat the shit out of them.
“It was no problem.” Caden put his hand into hers and murmured something to make her blush. The horndog. Now was not the time to try to hook up with the new neighbors. It became quite obvious after being around them for a few hours, they weren’t wolves. But, there’d been something special about them, besides the fact Danielle was a veterinarian, who liked to work from home. They all felt it. Later,he told himself. Later he would get with his family and figure it out.
“We’ll be seeing you,” Jace said with a smile. “Danielle, I’ll let people know about your clinic. We could always use a good vet around here.”
“Sounds great. My equipment will be here in a few days.” She waved at them with her good hand as they left the house.
“Dani, what the hell were you thinking of telling them—”
Kalkin listened in on the last bits of their conversation as he stepped out the door. It seemed their new neighbors had a few secrets of their own.
“So, what’s this case you got for us, Caden?” Kalkin’s question brought his brother out of his thoughts as they made their way back across the creek.
Caden slid into the passenger seat of their county vehicle. “There was another break-in at the consignment shop. Mrs. Martin said this time she saw who did it.”
Kalkin climbed in behind the wheel then started the Jeep. “Shit. The elder is going to get herself hurt if she’s not careful.” He put the vehicle into gear before backing out. “What the hell do you have going on with Danielle already? You don’t know anything about her.” He could say the same about him and Keeley, yet the woman’s scent grabbed him by the groin and wouldn’t let him go.
“She’s hurting, bro. How could you not feel something for both of those women? They’re both fragile and scared.” Caden rolled his shoulders and checked his side mirror as Kalkin pulled out away from their house. “Besides, it sounded like you were getting along splendidly with Keeley.”
He laughed. He didn’t know if getting along would be what he would call it. The moment he crossed the creek and went onto their property, the connection seemingly slipped into place for him. As if an invisible magnet pulled him to her, no matter how much venom she spewed at him. With each challenge she threw down at his feet, his dick grew harder. Never had he met someone so confounding, yet so beautiful and entrancing. “I don’t think you and I were looking at the same woman.”
“The full moon festivities are coming soon,” Caden stated matter-of-factly.
“And your point?” Kalkin made a right turn onto Main Street. Though they lived in the valley of the mountains, their home wasn’t but a few miles from town, making it a prime location to live. Mrs. Martin’s store sat just beyond the sheriff’s station, and next to the little park they’d made for the pack pups to play in.
Sunday afternoon meant most of the shops were closed and wouldn’t be open until Tuesday. A tradition he didn’t change when he adopted the lands and became Alpha of the pack.
“You’re not getting any younger, and the rest of the pack is beginning to talk.”
“We’re the same age, asshole. I could be saying that to you since you’re the pack beta.” Kalkin pulled his Jeep into a parking spot and shut it off. “Look, I don’t want to discuss the full moon or the festivities. Let’s go talk to Mrs. Martin.”
“You should give Keeley a chance,” Caden muttered while getting out.
“Drop it.” While he liked to think about finding a mate and having pups of his own, the time had passed, or at least he’d thought it had passed. Seeing the woman climb out of the truck, the way her long, blonde wavy hair bounced with each step she took, called to the baser side of him. The wolf had been more than a little intrigued.
His brother held his hands up. Before he could grab the handle on the door, Mrs. Martin filled the entryway with two plates of food and a smile. The elder of the pack seemed close to eighty years old, but in reality, much older. “Boys,” she said cheerfully. “I have some breakfast for you.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Kalkin took one of the plates from her, while Caden took the other. “You called and said the shop got broken into?” From the outside, it looked fine. There were no outward signs of a break-in or vandalism.
“Oh yes.” She signaled for them to follow. “It’s back here.” They wound their way through the shop and walked out back. There, spray-painted on walls, were crude pictures of dogs and humans. “This was what I found this morning when I came downstairs.”
“When I talked to you on the phone, Mrs. Martin, you said you had some proof of who did this?” Caden snagged a piece of her famous bread out from under the napkin and popped it into his mouth. “Mmm, so good, Mrs. Martin.”
“Oh you.” She blushed, patting Caden’s arm. “Yes, I do. He’s back here.”
“He?” Kalkin hurried after her. “Ma’am, you didn’t say you had the person. You said you had proof.”
“The person is proof, Kalkin.” She pulled a key out of the front of her apron. “He’s in there.” She pointed to the small room after unlocking the door.
With a shrug from his brother, Kalkin and Caden walked into the room and found the Collins kid sitting on the floor. “Well, I guess she was right.”
“Hello, Jeremy. You want to tell us how you ended up in here?” Kalkin lifted the kid up and walked him out of the room.
“Man.” He smacked his lips together, making a disgruntled noise.
“Nothing a little community service won’t cure.” Caden grabbed the kid’s other arm.
“I believe you’re right,” Kalkin agreed. “It’ll start bright and early tomorrow morning, after you’ve seen the judge.” Together with his brother, Kalkin walked Jeremy out to his Jeep and shoved him into the backseat. Mrs. Martin handed him the plate of food. “Thank you, ma’am. You have a good day. We’ll see you in the morning.”
“Kalkin. Caden!” The excited chirp of their nephew surprised both of them.
“Bodhi,” Kalkin answered. “What are you doing down here? Shouldn’t you be upstairs helping Mrs. Martin with the other children?”
The boy belonged at home with them, but after the pain and degradation Jace took because of his natural abilities along with him being a shifter, he couldn’t bear the sight of his son. No one really knew what happened, but when their brother stumbled back into town, broken and battered, carrying a small bundle in his arms, Kalkin didn’t question his brother’s decisions. Ten years later they were still waiting for Jace to open up and tell them of his time with the PBH—Paranormal Bounty Hunters.
So, for the most part, they avoided the subject and visited Bodhi every chance they had. He knew Kalkin and Caden as what they were, the sheriff and a deputy, like the rest of his family. The black-haired, blue-eyed replicate of his father stared up at Kalkin with such wide-eyed wonder.
“I should,” he answered with a sigh. “When I grow up, I want to be like you and Caden.”
“Nah, think bigger, kid,” Caden said, ruffling his hair. “Much bigger.”
“You coming to the festivities?” Bodhi’s eyes lit up, silently hoping they’d say yes while changing the subject.
The county began calling it the Strawberry Moon Festival about fifty years ago. It occurred during the first full moon of the summer solstice, as a celebration of “harvest” and “new life.” The truth was, they used the name to cover for what really happened. It had been a hell of a lot easier to explain to humans who happened to stumble upon or those who came forthe activities—mating. For three days, shifters felt the pull the strongest to find their mate and consummate their newfound relationships.
“You know it, squirt,” Kalkin answered.
“Awesome. I’ll see you then!” He gave a wave then scurried up the stairs to the second level of Mrs. Martin’s shop.
“Dumb kid,” Jeremy popped off.
Kalkin growled. “What did you say?” Anger coursed through him. No one spoke about his nephew like that.
“If he thinks he’ll become a sheriff or deputy when he gets older, he’s wrong. No one wants an orphan.” The kid smirked.
The urge to wring his scrawny neck had been tempting. Way too fucking tempting. “That’s where you’re wrong. He’ll be anything and everything he wants to be when he grows up.” Kalkin started the vehicle. “Let’s go.”
Caden handed Mrs. Martin some money to take care of whatever the orphans might need for a few days while he belted Jeremy into the backseat. Once his brother slid into the passenger side, they drove back to the station.
Jeremy wasn’t a bad kid. He hung out with the wrong group of boys. A faction of the young pups from the old Quincy pack in Rio Rancho, New Mexico were beginning to show back up in town and were trying to recruit. Kalkin caught them a few times and sent them home. A few times, it had nearly come to blows, but he didn’t beat children already abused by their parents. “You know, Jeremy, you keep going down this path and it’ll only cause you problems you don’t want to be involved in.”
“The Quincy pack is making a comeback. They’ve got the lowdown. They’re our future,” Jeremy shot back. “The time of Raferty rule is at an end.”
“The Quincy pack is nothing but trouble.” Kalkin gripped the wheel tight. “They—”
Caden pressed his hand firmly against his brother’s chest. “Kid, you got another think coming if you think Quincy is the right move for you.”
“You just watch.”
Kalkin pulled up to the front of the station and got out. He didn’t want to hear about the Quincy pack. If it wasn’t for them, Mackenzie, their older brother, and Royce’s father, would still be with them. As it stood, he’d been missing for over fifteen years and no matter how many leads they followed, it always ended up at a dead end.
Damn it, Mac. Why the hell did you have to go after her?
Mackenzie followed his “mate,” Marjorie, on the night of the full moon festivities. The eyewitness reports had their brother heading north, out of pack lands and into Quincy territory. When he didn’t return three days later, they found out that the girl Mackenzie believed to be his had mated the Alpha of the Quincy pack. No one had seen hide or hair of him since. All the hiding spots, the dens they made on the property, and beyond into the little bluffs were empty. It had been as if he’d completely disappeared off the face of the planet.
“Come on, kid.” Kalkin grabbed the boy by the arm and dragged him into the station. Loraine sat at the front desk, while two other deputies milled around. The sheriff’s department encompassed not only Window Rock, but all of Apache County, like his pack. He hadn’t always planned on being the sheriff and the pack Alpha; it just sort of happened.
“Look alive, people.” He stopped in front of Loraine. “We’re taking Jeremy back to a cell. Call Judge Roderick Benedict. We want him arraigned by tomorrow morning so he can begin cleaning up Mrs. Martin’s shop.”
“On it, Sheriff.” Loraine’s chocolate-brown hair swayed as she grabbed the phone, while also picking up the booking clipboard. “Cell three is open for you, Kalkin. Hal over there brought in a drunk driver last night.” She flipped through her rolodex—the only woman he knew of who didn’t like having a cell phone, nor did she have any kind of digital device to make her job a thousand times easier. She was completely old school. She didn’t even own a computer. All their reports were typed out with an old IBM Wheelwriter.
Kalkin nodded. “Let me know when you get in touch with the judge.”
After Jeremy had been processed and put in the cell next to the DUI suspect, they walked back out to the front. Loraine informed him Judge Benedict would be in chambers by eight a.m. and Jeremy would be the first case on the docket. She then placed a few reports in front of him, which required his signature. Part of Kalkin wanted to run out of the building and race home just so he could get a glimpse of Keeley, and make sure both women were safe, of course. The other part of him told him he was a foolish idiot who had no claims on either of the women. Yet, even though he had been focused on his job the whole time they were with Mrs. Martin and while booking the kid, his mind had drifted back to the woman who remained a mystery to him. Tuesday, he promised himself. Tuesday he would go talk to the only realtor in the area. Hopefully the older man would tell him a little bit about Danielle and her sister, Keeley. “It’ll be nice having a vet in the area again,” Caden said, breaking Kalkin from his thoughts while driving home. “Especially if something happens to one of us while we’re shifted.”
“Do you even hear yourself right now?” Kalkin shook his head. “How do you plan on explaining what we are to Danielle, if one of our wolves shifts back to their human form while she’s treating them?”
“Well, we both know there is something different about Danielle and Keeley, so maybe it won’t seem weird for them.”
“Yes, because humans have been supportive of shifters after we came out. You’re completely nuts, brother.” Kalkin pulled back up to their home and threw the Jeep into park. “Look, for now we watch them, and figure out what the hell they’re doing here.”
“They’re not the enemy, Kal.” Caden opened his door and got out, before heading toward the house.
“No?” Kalkin questioned, getting out on the driver’s side. “Does Mackenzie ring a bell?”
“Don’t, bro. We both know something more happened and we may never really know the whole truth.” Caden stepped onto the porch. “Don’t talk about it in front of Royce either.”
They had one strict rule when talking about Mac. Never say a word about him in front of Royce. Any time they’d brought up his father in front of him when he’d been younger, he lost it. The boy missed his father immensely. There’d been only so much the brothers could do for Royce. A boy needed his father. Something not even their parents provided for them.
They never wanted them, in fact. There were always ways to prevent pregnancy for wolves. Don’t fuck during the full moon or use protection outside of the full moon. But, somehow the drugged-out hicks, i.e. their parents, didn’t get the memo. A ten-year-old Mackenzie, five-year-old twins and a two-year-old Jace were dropped off at a local shelter as pups for adoption. It would be nearly two years later before they were brought back to pack lands and shifted from their wolf form. Thank fuck Mrs. Martin and her husband Russell found them and brought them home. Had anyone else, he was sure they would have died. Maybe it’d been what their parents hoped for—their death.
“Yeah, you don’t have to worry,” Kalkin snapped. “Tuesday, I’m going to do a little digging on the girls. I’ll start with the realtor.”
“You attract more bees with honey.” Jace came around the corner at them from the kitchen. “Danielle is definitely the talker of the two. I bet if a certain someone”—he looked to Caden—“got her to talk. You’d find out everything.”
“Who asked you anyway?” Kalkin stomped into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He grabbed a beer for himself, then tossed one to his brother. They’d earned them.
“Oh and I have an interview with a new deputy applicant.” Jace gave his brother a quizzical look. “Are you sure we need more officers on the force?”
“Right about now, the more the merrier.” He sighed. “Looks like Quincy might be back up to their old shit. We just arrested Jeremy for vandalism. He’s adamant they’re growing stronger and coming back.” He had a couple people he could question, but he’d have to be sneaky about it. He couldn’t risk Everett’s life trying to get the information he needed on Raymond nor could he blow the guy’s cover.
“Shit.” Jace leaned against the door jamb. “Did he say anything else?”
“Nope. He shut up the minute he sat down inside the cell. The boy thought he’d talked back to us and been a bad ass, but the minute I locked him in, he reverted to being a baby.”
“I thought he’d start crying.” Caden shrugged. “I expected it.”
“Anyway, we need all the help we can get, just in case.”
“On it. This guy’s name is Logan Wagner. He’s from Arizona. He’s been a detective for Phoenix PD for five years, and he needs a change of scenery,” Jace supplied.
“Human or wolf?” Not that it mattered. Knowing from the get go made it easier on them.
“Wolf. He specifically said he knew about our pack, and he’d been with us as a teen, ten years ago.”
Wagner…Wagner,it would drive Kalkin crazy until he could remember the kid. “Well if you think he has what it takes, sign him up. I’ll approve it.”
“Thanks.” Jace nodded. “I’m heading out in a little bit. I’ll be back tomorrow night late. I have some stuff I need to take care of.”
“Yeah, man. I understand. Just be careful.” Kalkin knew exactly where Jace needed to go. They didn’t question him. If he wanted to talk about it, they’d be there, waiting for him.
Kalkin walked back into the living room and looked out the bay window toward Keeley’s place. It would seem he, too, had some work to do. “What is it about you, Keeley, that calls to me?” He took a sip from his beer. “What are you hiding from us?”
His wolf paced below the surface, waking from his almost dormant state. Mate.The word shocked him to his very foundation. Raferty men didn’t have mates. They were destined to be alone. His wolf harrumphed him. Mate.Well shit. Now what?