A Family Portrait
The Montgomery Family Chronicles - Book Three
by J.J. Massa
Tracey West had a family and she would keep them safe at all costs. She didn't want another mate. She'd been married for almost a decade and had three beautiful and special children as a result. Living in and getting out of that marriage had been a nightmare. All she wanted now was peace and safety for herself and her kids. Why couldn't her sexy neighbor understand that?
Tavist Darke stood deep in the woods watching as one of his new neighbors got off the bus. He recognized the child’s scent. Her family had rented the small house just past his at the end of the road. He’d kept the agency from naming him as the owner. He would, of course, introduce himself later, if he found a reason to. Theirs were the only two houses here. Tav’s house was hidden in the trees with a short path connecting the two homes.
There were other things he’d noticed when he’d gone to check out the new family. He found that no man lived there and fear had moved into that house. One woman lived there, one girl, and two young boys, all very much afraid of something or someone.
As he watched the little girl, he saw that she didn’t walk down the middle of the road like most innocent children eager to get home. She was furtive, like a little animal. Her actions reminded him of tiny mice, rabbits, even small birds that so cautiously peek out and very carefully make their way from safe haven to safe haven.
Predators were everywhere, of course; he knew that better than most. During his short military career, he’d been stationed in Somalia and other distant, war torn places where he’d served his country. The children, the mothers, everyone would edge so carefully out of their homes trying to meet various needs and not be noticed or attacked. It broke his heart that the most innocent of the world’s citizens had to live in fear. He couldn’t help but wonder what had inspired such caution in this particular child.
Today, it seemed, the little girl was right to be cautious. She was being stalked. From behind her came two boys who were a little older than her seven or eight years. One boy pushed her down and the other grabbed her backpack and dumped it out.
“Go home, new kid! Go back where you came from,” they sneered, chanting in unison.
The larger of the boys had begun to kick at her when Tav grabbed them by the backs of their necks and lifted them into his face. They were Were pups.
“Go home. Tell your Mamas and Daddies that I was mean to you. Tell them to come and talk to me. They’d better bring the Sheriff. It’s not safe to walk down this road if you don’t live here,” he growled, dropping the two miscreants.
The young werewolf boys didn’t wait to hear more. The older of the two choked out a broken, “yessir,” as he whirled and ran back up the gravel road, toward the bus stop. His cohort dashed up behind him and soon, they were out of sight.
If the Sheriff came, that was fine. He was a werewolf, too. He and Tav understood one another very well. Tav would not interfere with his pack or issue a pack challenge. Tav’s territory began at the southern edge of town and consisted of the forty acres he lived on. He owned the only two houses on the property.
Turning back to the little girl, Tav dropped to one knee. She was struggling to hold back her tears and contain her fear. His heart melted. Without speaking, he began to gather her books, papers and pencils and stuff them back into her backpack.
Handing it to her, he noticed that her knee was scraped up with gravel from the road. He pulled out his handkerchief and began to dab at it.
“N-no, mister, I’m, I’m okay,” she stuttered, jerking away from his care. “I gotta get home. M-Mama’ll be worried!” She scrambled backward and ran.
He listened to her progress and heard her stop much sooner than she should have. If he wasn’t mistaken – he lifted his nose to the air – yep, she was standing in the trees on the right. Nowhere near her house. Was she trying to throw him off? How did a young child like this one know anything about misleading a grownup in such a way?
Tav decided to wait. He sat in the dirt at the side of the road and just listened to the rooting and chirping of small animals that lived in the woods on either side. He kept his attention on the little girl who was finally resuming her journey home from the bus stop.
Closing his eyes, he pictured her coming into her yard and running up the steps to her porch. He imagined her throwing open the door to her house and calling out for her mother.
Emotions strong and painful seemed to hit him square in the chest in an unexpected blow to his heart. He wrapped both arms around his middle and doubled over. If he hadn’t been sitting, he would have been driven to his knees.
Tate, his little boy, would have been that girl’s age if he’d lived, he realized. He would have had dark hair like hers, and pretty dark eyes. Grief overwhelmed him. In the seven years since the death of his mate and pup, the hurt hadn’t lessened. How he missed the feel of that warm little body squirming in his arms. Tav closed his eyes and imagined the last time he’d seen his son alive.
The little boy had been so proud of himself – he’d put his own shoes on that morning. His mother, Kylie, had been rushing around the house, anxious to drop Tate off at daycare so that she could meet with some gallery owners that wanted Tav’s work. She felt it was important that Tate socialize with other children and drove him every day.. Tav missed him, both of them, so much. He howled low in his throat, still mourning his family.