Professional animal trainer, Carmen Rockwell, is happy living her life on the edge of society. She owns a high profile business that is run by her best friend, Lissy, the only person she thinks she needs in her life. Because of an unusual gift, she is the best in the country at what she does.
She goes away for work and finds herself suddenly drawn into a new world- one that she never knew existed and against her will, it follows her home, demanding that she enter into the life she was destined to live.
An important date is approaching fast, but will she turn away from this new world and hide or will she face her fate head on? One man could make all the difference- but does he love her or is she only a means to an end?
North Georgia 2005
Gabriel Vorrian was miserable. His business was steady, but boring. His surroundings were just a little better than spartan, and his quality of life was less than stellar; but he supposed it was his own fault. He had given up on ever finding true peace and happiness. When someone had been around as long as he had, day-to-day life just became one, long stretch of monotony. He was nearing his nineteenth decade; and although his body was just as healthy and strong as the day he turned twenty-nine—exposing his timeless, Xandrian heritage—his mind was worn out.
He looked around his modestly-sized home and grimaced. He could live in a much nicer place, but why bother? The small, two-room cabin was livable and suited his needs, providing him with the basic necessities, even if they weren’t exactly comfortable. Not aging in a typical fashion dictated a move every ten years or so, but this place was his solution to that. There were no neighbors, and only the most intrepid visitor would attempt to trek the steep, two-mile hike of the driveway—if one could call it that. It was more of a narrow trail with massive overgrowth which barely accommodated one compact car. There was a dangerous, rickety bridge that went over a furious river about three-quarters of the way up. Once there, if the solitude didn’t turn someone away, the interior would perhaps convince all but the most well-meaning to leave.
There were no family photos, no pieces of artwork, and no signs of a person with a life - just wood and the most basic of amenities. He moved in eleven years ago and had never taken the time to unpack. The place was a realm of utter chaos and disorganization. There were clothes everywhere and stacks upon stacks of papers. Sighing, he bent over one stack and began sorting it into piles at a languid pace. He stopped when one particular piece caught his attention.
It was a postcard with peaceful waters on one side and a note on the other. His hand shook as he read the familiar script:
Even the faithless deserve the peace that all people crave and would die for. You still have time; continue your search.
He set it down in the to-be-thrown-out pile, sighing and rubbing his face with both hands. With a sudden spurt of anger, he sent the whole thing flying across the room with one, tormented swipe of a large, long-fingered hand. Didn’t they realize that he had lost hope a long time ago? The grim reality of his situation rooted him to the spot, until he caught sight of himself in the mirror which hung over his desk. Underneath the dark, uncut hair and rugged beard, he was still young and strong. Though his outward appearance pronounced his youthfulness, he could feel the bending of time in his mind. He didn’t have much time left, and he had lost all faith that he would ever find his saving grace.
Amber eyes stared back at him with indifference. Resigned, he moved around to the large, leather chair and sent off the email he was working on. The mundane details of his human existence kept him moving forward when nothing else did. Minutes later he stood up from his desk, stretched to his full height, towering over the room. He then shifted into his favorite form—a gray wolf—and shed his clothes.
Gabriel’s mind eased as he shook out his thick coat and stretched out his lupine body. When he shifted, he was calmer. The anxious energy he kept contained while in human form, dwindled away, and contentment took its place. He needed to run and burn off some of the built-up energy he had stored; but, he had to wait for the cover of darkness, so as not to be shot by a hunter.
The unexpected, familiar scent of his brother, Elijah, infused his senses. He could hear thundering noises in the kitchen—as if being made by an elephant, not a six-foot-four-inch, two-hundred-pound man. Without a sound, Gabriel padded across the plush, chocolate-brown carpet and through the maze of unpacked boxes. He followed the sounds and crouched down in the shadows, lurking, waiting for his brother to realize he had been noticed.
Gabriel looked on as Elijah froze in place and scanned the room with his eyes—obviously sensing that he was being watched. He made a slow pivot and saw Gabriel.
Elijah placed his hand over his chest and blew out a dramatic breath of relief. “One day, brother, you are going to sneak up on the wrong person and get your fluffy ass beat.”
Gabriel let out a low, warning growl, baring his fangs.
“I was just here to deliver some damn groceries. Quit acting so territorial,” Eli snapped. He placed the half-gallon of milk into the mostly-empty refrigerator and threw the plastic shopping bags into the overflowing trash can. He leaned against the sink and watched them fall to the floor, annoyance stamped on his face. “If you keep up the attitude, you grouchy son-of-a-bitch, I’m going to muzzle you. You need to get out of this house. Go drink a few beers or chase some piece of ass around. Quit being a whiny bitch. Quit wallowing in self-pity and live a little.”
Gabriel lunged for his brother, looking for a fight; but, Eli teleported away before he could get close enough to tear a chunk out of him.
Gulf Coast Florida 2008
It had been a long, exhausting day. Carmen was a well-known, animal trainer on the east coast—one who just happened to have a special ability that made her better at her job than anyone else in her field. She could speak with animals, feel their emotions, and with just a little bit of mental conversation, she could completely rewire bad habits in one session. Her clients knew she was worth the money. They just didn’t need to know the exact why. She was with the last client of the day and was beyond ready to go home.
The German Shepherd stood in front of Carmen, alongside its annoying, bossy, human. The dog tilted its head with affable curiosity, trying to figure out for sure what she was seeing. Carmen kept her face blank and sent peaceful thoughts its way, and the dog lay down with a sigh. Carmen linked her mind to that of the dog and asked, “So, why are you being so destructive?”
“I get so bored when she leaves me alone and I can’t help myself. She doesn’t mean to be so busy, though,” Athena answered without hesitation. It was obvious she adored the debutante on the other end of the bedazzled leash. The old adage, “Love is blind” had never been truer than in that moment in Carmen’s estimation.
Carmen couldn’t change personality traits in an animal any more than she could change them in a person. If Athena was suffering from boredom caused by neglect, then the only thing Carmen could do was make Athena’s owner aware of her failures.
“Miss Hall,” Carmen spoke in clipped tones, unsure of why this client got under her skin with so little effort. She always did her best to remain professional with whatever situation her job tossed her into. But this particular woman made her want to throw away all of her hard-earned manners and just go back to what felt was natural—throat-punching any uptight pain-in-the-ass who got in her way.
She let out a long, dramatic sigh. Maybe the job was finally getting to her, or perhaps it was the heat and humidity. She had felt a storm brewing ever since she had woken up that day. Or, it could have been linked to the feeling of being watched that she’d experienced that morning while getting dressed. Whatever the reason, something was off.
“German Shepherds are a working breed. Their innate temperament will not allow them to become couch-potato pets. You need to give Athena a task.” Carmen nodded toward the dog while adding, “She needs to be exercised, too.”
A young blonde with perfect teeth and a very expensive manicure—Miss Hall seemed to be the essence of everything that equaled an overindulged princess living in Panama City on Daddy’s money. Carmen almost hated her at first sight, almost. Her dislike was cemented as she wondered how the princess kept her hair stick-straight when the humidity did nothing but turn Carmen’s into a constant waterfall of flaming curls.
“Miss Hall, if you do not put in the effort that it will take to teach Athena anything, she is going to continue eating your Jimmy Choo’s. She will chew on your couch, your adorable dinette set, and shred all of your magazines. You need to take her out to run more often. You also need to take her to obedience classes. Athena is not the problem here, you are.”
Damn. Carmen winced a bit inside. She was losing her patience, and she was sure that Miss Hall had become offended. Oh well. Carmen sighed to herself and narrowed her eyes. Too bad. I’m not done. Miss Hall would, no doubt, never refer her to one of her friends, but Carmen didn’t care. She abhorred clients like this one; although, she usually had more patience with them.
“How dare you speak to me in that tone?” Miss Hall shrieked, as her blemish-free, tanned complexion began to mottle. “I did not pay you to come in here and disrespect me. I paid you to fix her. She is the problem, not me,” she snarled while jabbing a flawless, manicured finger toward the dog and eyeing Carmen with almost-feral intent. “I do not have a problem, and I do not appreciate you taking that tone with me.” Her ranting had changed her at-first-pleasant face into one of a grade-A she-bitch.
Carmen took a calming breath. It didn’t work. “Listen to me, you shallow, vapid little girl. You called me. You needed me. I do not need you as much as you needed this reality check. If you cannot wake up and realize that you are in the wrong here, then you need to find Athena a new home. A home with people who understand what she needs and will provide for those needs. Don’t you dare punish this beautiful creature for acting the way you have made her. You created these issues. She is just responding in a natural way to the confines you have created. She’s only eighteen months old. In human years, that is just shy of ten. You wouldn’t treat a ten-year-old child the way you have treated this poor dog, would you?”
Miss Hall stepped back, aghast that anyone would speak to her that way. Carmen wasn’t just anyone, though. She was a woman who had lost her entire family at a young age, had grown up in and out of the foster system, and still managed to come out on top. She had worked hard for everything she had. She didn’t let anyone or anything stand in her way. Carmen wasn’t afraid to get dirty or ruffle a few feathers, and she could tell by the shocked look on Miss Hall’s face, she had figured that out.
Miss Hall smoothed her hair down in frustration. “I will take what you have said under advisement. You are free to go now.” She straightened her clothes in a dismissive manner.
For the first time all day, Carmen felt amused; but, she refused to allow her smirk to cross her lips. She didn’t want this woman to sense any weakness in her. She needed to drive her point home first. “You call me and tell me what you decide to do. If you decide to keep her and train her, I know some local people who can help. If you decide to find her a new home, let me know as well. I may be able to help. Either way ... you will let me know what happens. I don’t want to have to call animal control.” Carmen locked eyes with her, daring the unpleasant woman to contradict her.
“Fine,” she huffed. “God, you sound just like my mother.”
Carmen walked out before she could let the obscenities taking up space in her mind escape her mouth. She took her keys off of her belt loop and unlocked her little car. It was a red 1994 Mazda Mx6. There was something special about this little car. It was older, but something about it made Carmen fall in love with it. She started it up, pressed the clutch, put it in gear, and made herself proud by controlling the urge to spin the tires as she drove away.
Driving fast evened her temper most of the time, but in that moment, a jet plane at Mach three wouldn’t have soothed her. Uncooperative clients, jerk ex-boyfriend, the constant feeling of being watched... it was all beginning to wear on her. Carmen turned the radio off and suppressed the urge to fly around the puttering car in front of her. She hit the steering wheel with the palm of her hand instead.
“Maybe I need a vacation?” she said aloud to the empty car, as she expelled a frustrated sigh. Her stomach roared, reminding her she hadn’t eaten all day. Or maybe I just need to eat.
She pulled into the Waffle House four blocks from her house. “Hi, Carmen!” the staff and handful of regulars chimed at her. Several of the male customers looked her up and down with unwelcome appreciation. One of the braver ones called out, “Hey, baby.” Another one whistled and grinned. “I wish I was whatever you’re ordering.”
Carmen didn’t even spare a glance. “I wish you were, too. Because then you’d be deep-fried and quiet.”
He threw his fork down as his buddies erupted into bellows of laughter.
As she strolled to her regular booth, Carmen passed Penny—another regular—who was seated at the bar. The lady’s button-down shirt and demure demeanor refreshed Carmen’s memory. She was the librarian from the library downtown.
“Heya, Penny. Hiding out from your grandmother today?”
The petite brunette nodded, offering a shy laugh. “Yes, sometimes I just need a break, you know?”
Carmen laughed but didn’t break stride. “Yeah, except I need a break from people every day.”
She found the waitress behind the counter. “Hey, Tiff. Can I just get my regular?” Tiffany nodded and wrote down the order to call it in.
Carmen smiled. She was a part-time fixture there. She couldn’t help it. Hash browns soothed her, and anytime she had a dumb client, bad day, or craving; she ate hash browns smothered with almost everything. She was sure that one day her thighs and ass were going to pay the ultimate price for her indulgence, but it hadn’t happened yet. Carmen went to her favorite booth in the corner and sat with her back to the wall while she waited, with the smell of wonderful, greasy food teasing her. It almost helped her relax.
About the Author:
Allaina Daniels is a sassy domestic goddess from Georgia whose addiction to caffeine is surpassed only by her passion for the written word.
Her debut paranormal romance, Infinity, was released in August 2015; and, her second novel is expected to be available by summer 2016.
Allaina is an avid reader and reviewer of all genres and enjoys connecting with her readers on social media.