"A Wolf in Period Clothing" Excerpt!
Below is the first chapter, in its entirety, of A Wolf in Period Clothing, the next book in my Cœur de Lyon Renaissance Flaire series, which I'm currently working on! Contents are unedited and subject to change during the actual editing/re-write process! Let me know what you think!
His tone was implacable, delivered in a low, mean monotone. A demand; nay, it was an order. An order Athena ignored.
“Don’t do it,” Angus warned, his voice rumbling in a threatening growl, accompanied by a fierce glare promising dire consequences. And again, Athena had no problem ignoring the implied danger.
Hiding her smirk behind the fall of her thick hair, the riotous rainbow of pastel watercolors screening her actions from his fierce threats, Athena flicked her finger over her phone and smoothly hijacked the Jeep’s Bluetooth. The throbbing industrial music that her brother preferred was suddenly replaced by the distinctive beats of classic Lady Gaga.
“Fucking bitch,” her twin brother barked angrily, his knuckles whitening on the steering wheel as his lips twisted in a snarl. Yet, she could already see that he was weakening. “My car, my rules, my music! You know that!”
Trying to control her mad urge to break into giggles, Athena looked up, giving him her best, wide-eyed innocent look even as she replied, “Ah, but even the mighty Gus cannot resist my Puh-puh-puh-Poker Face!” Then she began singing along to the music, her high, sweet soprano a startling contrast to the lower mezzo-soprano of Lady Gaga’s.
Angus managed to last until the first chorus; then, with a gusty exhalation and grudging reluctance, he added his surprisingly deep baritone, blending his voice automatically to intertwine with hers until, by the end of the song, he belted out the lyrics with more gusto than even she was.
Of course, when the song ended, Angus went back to scowling, but it had been fun while it lasted!
“Thanks, Grumpy Gus, for taking me to meet my new supplier,” Athena said as she turned down the music, twisting in her seat so she could fully regard her big brother. With the sunlight glinting off his short, messy blond hair, she couldn’t help but grin at the clenching of his scruffy jaw at hearing one of his hated nicknames, before he gave a reluctant huff and nod.
“Not a prob,” Angus once more canted a sidelong look at her, his eyes the same unusual shade of blue-gray she possessed, with silver flecks catching the early morning light slanting over the indigo-blue mountains. She caught the hint of a smirk, her only warning before he too unleashed her dreadful nickname, “’Thenabelle.”
Yeah, that’s the problem with having a sibling—particularly a twin—they not only know your greatest weaknesses, but were absolutely ruthless in exploiting them!
When a wild whip of pale indigo hair lashed out, carried by the wind streaming through the open window of the Jeep to strike at Angus’ cheek, he jerked back with a hiss, “Dammit, get that shit under control woman! You’ll put someone’s eye out with that!”
Breaking into peals of bright laughter, Athena pulled her hair back under control, sliding the scrunchy from off her wrist to tame the lashing tendrils into a single, thick tail and tucking it safely behind her.
“Sorry, Gussy,” she apologized, and even tried to sound properly apologetic.
“So why are we heading out to bumfuck northern Colorado for this? I mean, you can order leather and shit from online nowadays, thanks to this incredible invention called the internet. Hell, you can even order from your phone! No internet connection required, just a signal!”
Athena shook her head and sighed in exasperation, hiding her amusement at her brother’s perturbed tone. He always sounded pissed at the world; he had been born grumpy! According to their mother, he came out scowling and grumbling, while Athena had emerged giggling and squirming. Gus always claimed it was because Athena had kicked him to hurry up and get out of her way. He was probably right.
“Because, I make a concentrated effort to use only ethically sourced leather and wool in my creations,” she explained for the umpteenth time, not that she really expected it to sink into his dense, stubborn head, “And I’d rather see where I’m getting what I need instead of just accepting what I get in the mail or from one of the big box stores isn’t ethically sourced.”
“Ethical leather? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
“Yes and no,” Athena rubbed her forehead. “Look, most of my trade comes from not only Medieval Reenactors, but I get a lot of business from the anachronistic set, those ancients who still prefer the styles and fashions of what they grew up with. While I do some work with synthetics, most of my clientele are ‘naturalists,’ of one kind or another, so I try and at least make sure my leather isn’t coming from a slaughterhouse or my wool from non-commercial sources that use harmful chemicals and all that.”
Athena unconsciously rubbed her hands against her jean clad thighs as she continued, her eyes straying towards the eastern ridge of the Rockies that dominated the skyline. “Since a lot of Uncannies buy my stuff, you never know when an empath or a sensitive is going to touch my clothing or gear, and even some shifters can pick up lingering scents from the materials, so…” she shrugged and looked back over at her brother, trailing off when she noticed his stubborn jaw was set as he glared at the road ahead as if the 125 had stolen his candy and spit in his eye after kicking his puppy!
Reaching out to flick his ear, Athena chided, “Dude, stop glaring! What’s wrong with you? You’re even grumpier than usual! Don’t make me break out the Britney, because I will.”
Shying away protectively, Angus huffed out an angry sigh, “Sorry. Sorry! Stop, please!” Letting his shoulders relax, Angus scrunched his face up before he gave her an apologetic glance. “It’s been a rough few weeks. Decided to leave the Cirque because of…” He shrugged again, trailing off as a flash of anger once more crossed his face.
“Because you broke up with that dumb bastard who cheated on you with one of the bosses, yeah…that’s…” Athena heaved a heavy disgusted sigh, shaking her head, “Totally fucked up.” Reaching out, Athena squeezed her brother’s strong arm, feeling the tension radiating from him as a palpable heat that battered her senses. “But they’re both mortals, and not worth either the time or the energy. You’ve spent the last five years pretending to be human, trying to fit in. You need a break anyways.”
He gave her a rueful smirk, “Oh yeah, a break. So instead of performing in Vegas in front of adoring fans, I’m out here in the back mountains of the Midwest, crashing with my little sister and trying to ‘rediscover’ myself. Thea, I’m too damned young to have a midlife crisis!”
“In gay years, aren’t you like a Daddy now or something?” Athena asked, eyes dancing in merriment.
Mouth falling open in outrage, Angus sputtered, “Bitch! I’m not even thirty yet!”
“But you’re too old to be a twink any more, even a muscle twink!” She continued to twist the knife.
His eyes narrowed threateningly, but before he could even unleash that retort loaded on the tip of his tongue, Athena parried it, “And I’m still younger, and a virgin, so don’t even think about calling me a Mommy or a Cougar!”
“Thea, we’re fucking pixies, you know, the Shining Ones? The Fae Folk? We’re expected to live for-damned near-ever, so don’t go putting me in old man diapers yet!” He paused, then snarked, “Well, I was a fucking pixie, not so much with the fucking any more, and you’ve never fucked, so ignore that part.”
“Stop acting like a grumpy old man then! I mean, I know you were born with a stick up your ass, but gay means happy, doesn’t it?”
“Really? Really?” Gus managed to get out before he burst out laughing, his face lighting up and his eyes glowing with true amusement for the first time since he’d shown up at her door two weeks ago. “You are such a bitch.”
“Yeah, I know,” she replied smugly, buffing her nails on her shirt as she grinned, “But you love me anyways.”
“Love truly is blind,” he intoned sagely, in mock-seriousness, as he pulled off the highway on to one of the side roads. “Looks like we’re here,” he announced, nodding his head to indicate the massive head gate looming ahead of them.
Athena gawked as Angus slowed the Jeep to a stop.
Like just about all ranches and farms in the Americas, the main entrance to the ranch was fronted by a gate, ranging from simple wooden logs supporting a beam with a sign proclaiming the name of the property to huge, stone edifices right out of a Gothic romance, or even more modern structures reminiscent of a military base. Apparently, though, the owners of Red Walker Ranch were into making Statements, with a capital S!
Barring the road, a huge gate of thick, charcoal gray planks towered even above the roof of Gus' Jeep. Each plank was intricate carved with strange, unfamiliar symbols, silvery-white scars cut deeply into the wood. Flanking the gate on either side were tall, pillars of dark black-and-gray stone, worn smooth with time. From the top of the pillars, stone wolves faced one another, like furry gargoyles—wolf-goyles?--with their heads turned up as if they were howling, while a wrought-iron arch connected the two pillars, with a large, mirror-bright full moon suspended at the highest point and swaying in the crisp spring breeze. Worked into the wrought-iron arch, the words "High Moon Ranch" were backlit by the rising sun.
What's more? High, stone walls stretched out to either side, as far as the eye could see, and topped with dangerous-looking loops of barbed wire.
It was intimidating and, to be quite frank, more than a little ominous.
“Dorothy,” Athena muttered, sotto voce, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“It’s Toto, half-pint,” Gus corrected in his big brother voice. “And we’ve never even been to Kansas.”
Tearing her eyes away from the ominous gate, Athena graced her brother with a haughty roll of her eyes, “And you’re a son of Dorothy, not a son of a bitch...” She paused thinking about their female parental unit, then admitted with a shrug, “Okay, so you’re both a son of Dorothy and a son of a bitch!”
“And you’re just a bitch,” he retorted quickly, giving her a droll look as he continued, “And it’s friend of Dorothy, not son of Dorothy. Get your gay lingo right if you’re going to use them.” Because of course, he had to have the last word. Or try to, anyways. It’s a Big Brother Law or something!
Just as it’s a Little Sister Law to try and preempt the last word and score the last point, for the win!
Puffing up her chest, flashing him her biggest, brightest, most airheaded-ist smile, Athena chirped brightly, “Why thank you, brother dearest, for your instruction! You know how difficult it can be keeping up with the ever-changing and cunning linguistics of your deviant lifestyle!”
Gus snorted, refusing to rise to the bait. “Please. You might still be a virgin, but I know what books are on your e-reader, and that you make more money from your BDSM lines than you do from your Ren Faire stuff. Deviant, my hairy ass!”
“Why yes, yes, I don’t doubt that your ass is extremely deviant and just as hairy, but I definitely don’t want to hear about it! Or see it! Or even think about it! Ugh!” Athena scrubbed her hands over her eyes in a futile attempt to scrub the mental image of her twin’s ass from her mind.
The squabbling twins both jumped when a sudden, unexpected burst of static blared from a hidden speaker, followed by an imperious, coarse voice shrieked in a nearly indecipherably thick Scottish brogue, “Wail? Arr ye jus’ gunnae be lollygaggin’ ‘til the Second Comin’ oor arr ye gunnae skedaddle aff? ‘Cuz ahm dun scunnered waitin’ on yer!”
Thankfully, Athena had spent the last five years hanging around Medieval Reenactors, whose abilities to speak with brogues and accents ranged from spot-on to miscast American actor attempting to play Robin Hood bad.
Roughly translated: ‘Well, are you just going to sit and gawk until Doomsday or go away? Because I’m bored waiting on you to decide.’
Ignoring Angus’ confused expression as he struggled to translate the accent, Athena elbowed him back out of her way as she leaned over, ignoring his grunt of displeasure as she yelled out the window, “Sorry, hello! My name is Athena Zaxen! I called about checking out the leather and wool?”
“Och! Wail den, Miss Sassenach, ahm prayin’ yer brought plenty o’dosh!” The older woman’s voice crowed as a loud buzzing sound announced the gate unlocking. “Come right along in den, lassie, come along!”
When the cackling voice cut off, drowned out by the creaking of the heavy wooden gates as they swung open on mechanized arms, Athena leaned back in her chair and caught Angus’ look.
“You understood that?”
Laughing, Athena shook her head, “You’re the one named for a Scottish god of love, how could you not understand that?”
“Um, because I’m American? And remember, our ancestors came from Cornwall, we’re about as ‘Sassenach’ as they come! Although, looks like your Outlander obsession is finally paying off...”
A sudden clanging sound startled them both, interrupting another argument. Turning wide eyes back towards the now open gate, they stared.
Finally, Gus shifted his Jeep into gear and in a gruff voice said, “Well, let’s go get you leathered up, wool-brain.”
Feeling an odd sense of trepidation totally at odds with the cheery morning sunlight casting golden light on the packed dirt road before them, Athena reached up and nervously began rubbing the back of her neck, trying to soothe away a strange prickling sensation.
Exhaling, she shook herself and painting on a cheery grin. “Yeah, right...okay, let’s go!”
And she desperately tried to ignore the portentous sound of the gates slamming closed behind them as they entered the ranch.