Try not to listen to those who whisper…
Below is an excerpt from the opening to the second Family Pack book, which continues the dark fantasy series about 21-year-old single dad Tommy Roling and his two-year-old daughter Corinne. Both of them are (wait for it) werewolves.
The name of this book is Hunter’s Moon, and it takes place a year after the first book, Family, Pack.
(Please note that the text and the cover are ALL subject to change!)
Burt Roling glanced up at the faded Miller Lite clock perched next to yet another stuffed fox behind the bar. The tavern had at least a dozen of them scattered around, all in different frozen poses. They were all creepy and more than a little bit smelly.
I don’t wait around for nobody, he thought with as much bravado as his three beers could muster. I’m not scared, not here in my new city.
He sighed and ordered another beer, knowing he would wait half an hour before leaving anyway, just as his little brother had ordered him. At least that long, if not longer. This place was a tavern, after all. The best kind of place to waste time.
The music switched over to ’80s hair band garbage, and the noise level in the bar had risen in time to the tired tunes. He rubbed his bony chest where Tommy had thumped him for no good reason before rushing off. Even if the guy had lost some weight this past year, he was still a big dude.
Burt breathed through his mouth to avoid the worst of the smells, from the various sweaty people as well as the long-dead stuffed foxes. He wished he would’ve brought some smokes with him. But like always, he didn’t have much cash, and Tommy the boy scout refused to buy him a pack.
Sipping his fresh beer now instead of gulping it the way he wanted to, Burt turned to say something to his new best friend, the seventy-something Buddy, but the older man had slipped away while Burt was calculating the passing time.
That’s just great, he thought.
He hated leaving a conversation with a new drinking buddy—Buddy!— unfinished. He’d been explaining to Buddy all the problems with his new job at the movie theater, and he hadn’t even gotten to the part about how the idiot manager cut his hours and put him on the crappy shifts. Kids’ movie time on Saturday mornings? Unbelievable.
It’s only a matter of time, he could hear Tommy saying, and you’ll be filling out more job applications.
Burt winced through another lame Bon Jovi guitar solo and wished the absent Buddy a good life. He tried to locate the two cute girls from the end of the bar who’d been checking him out earlier. But in their place now stood a trio of chunky women in their forties, drinking Bud Lites and scowling at anyone who came close to them.
Just great, he thought, rubbing his cheek through his beard. Nobody here worth a damn.
And then he noticed the intense girl at the other end of the bar.
Even though she sat right in front of the ancient jukebox as it blared out a power ballad by Whitesnake or Warrant or Cinderella (Burt could never tell them apart), she was still writing away just as fast as she did an hour ago when he first glanced her way.
Wow, he thought, impressed. How much could one person have to say?
He took a big gulp of his beer to fortify his courage, and then he pushed away from his stool to go find out.
When he stood up to walk towards the girl, he felt a looseness in his joints from all his beers, and the crappy music grew louder with each step he took down the bar. These things usually worked best if he didn’t think too much, but just did and said what came naturally to him, in the moment.
The girl was a lefty, Burt noticed, and that hand covered most of the words she was scribbling in her tiny handwriting. Before he could read any of it, she snapped the book closed and dropped the pen. A pair of intense hazel eyes now stared up at him. She smelled of jasmine and bourbon.
Burt smiled, surprised, still thinking about what he’d seen on the page for just an instant. He could’ve sworn those words were in another language. They seemed more like Chinese or maybe even hieroglyphics instead of English. Gazing into the owner of those eyes, he felt a shiver of unreality run through him.
And then he dropped himself as gracefully as possibly into the bar stool next to her.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said over the music. “Just wondering if I could buy you a beer so you can take a break.” He let out a goofy, nerve-induced chuckle that he regretted instantly. “All that writing looks like thirsty work.”
The girl looked at him, her right eyebrow slightly raised, for a good five seconds. Burt tried not to squirm in the silence that followed the end of another song.
Then she said, “Excellent idea.”
Burt hoped his exhale of relief wasn’t too loud.
The girl held up an index finger with a black-painted fingernail.
“Just hold on for a second and let me finish up this thought first.”
She reached for her trusty pen and journal again.
“Stay,” she added with a devilish grin.
Burt couldn’t have left if he’d tried. He felt glued to his seat as he watched her delicate hand put the black pen through its paces across the pages of her hardbound journal. Her pretty face, flushed red in the cheeks from the warmth in the bar, focused only on her words.
And again Burt couldn’t make out what she was writing. It made his eyes want to cross, just looking at the tiny, unreadable words.
So weird, he thought. I love it.
She wrote for what must’ve been another minute, but Burt found he didn’t mind. He used the time to take a look at her long legs in her black jeans, ending in no-nonsense chunky black boots. His gaze moved up to her short-sleeved white blouse with a nicely open neckline, then to her wrists wrapped in a series of thin black bracelets. Her fingers were decorated by rings with an array of gems on them: ruby, emerald, topaz.
The girl had stopped writing and was now staring back at Burt.
“Busted,” he said before he could stop himself.
“O-kay,” she said with a laugh. “Awkward.”
Burt felt himself relax. He hadn’t realized how tensely he’d been holding himself as he waited for her to finish writing or coding, or whatever itwas. Like she was testing him to see if he had the guts to wait her out.
As she slid her journal into a brown leather satchel, Burt caught a glimpse of two other identical journals, along with at least two dozen pens lined up inside the bag like unspent ammo. Then she knocked a knuckle on the bar.
“I’ll take that drink now,” she said and waved at the bartender.
“Wait,” Burt said, desperate to regain control of the situation. It didn’t help that the jukebox was now blasting out Huey Lewis and the News and totally killing his buzz.
“Let’s start over,” he said, holding out his hand. “My name’s Burt.”
“I’m Lilly. Nice to meet you.”
They shook. She had a surprisingly strong grip. Burt liked that, though it made a part of him feel a little less confident, somehow.
He waved at the bartender, and then he nodded at Lilly’s satchel. It rested next to her feet, the strap hooked protectively on the toe of one boot.
“That’s some serious work you’re doing here. Most people just come to a bar to relax, not get in some overtime. What’re you working on, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I do mind,” Lilly said, and then made Burt squirm a bit longer before she laughed.
Burt drained the last of his beer, savoring the sound of her laugh.
A beautiful sound, he thought.
“I just get lots of ideas, sitting in a bar. I can never keep up with them or write them all down fast enough. I keep thinking I will one day, and when that happens, I won’t have to do it anymore.”
Burt nodded, as if this happened to him all the time. He much preferred meeting new people and just talking to them rather than writing anything down. His few experiences with writing had consisted of some painful term papers back in high school. He liked to live in the moment instead of being all thoughtful and putting things into written form.
“Oh wait, I’ve heard of people like you,” he said, forging ahead without letting his brain slow him down. “Are you part of that writing program at the University?”
Lilly gave him an As if look, and then shook her head.
“Nah, not my style. Not much of a joiner. I don’t need a workshop to find inspiration. If you wanna call it that.”
The bartender set a glass tumbler filled with some ice and what appeared to be a large amount of liquor in front of Lilly. Burt tried not to wince at how much that drink was going to cost him.
“In any case,” he added, rolling with it now, “I felt like you would appreciate my company. I’m incredibly witty, and according to many ladies in the Iowa City area, I’m not too hard on the eyes. You may have noticed my beard.”
“I did,” Lilly said with a half-smile that leaned towards a smirk. “Impressive.”
Burt rubbed his chin and cheeks as if deep in thought.
“What can I say?” he said with a shrug. “It’s a gift.”
They spent the next half hour drinking and discussing music and where they were from. Burt left out most of the gory details about his abrupt departure from Dyersburg that had lead him to Iowa City last year. Some things didn’t need discussing again, especially when talking with such a pretty and sharp and funny young lady as Lilly.
He kept trying to steer the conversation back to whatever it was she was writing in her journal, but she danced around that issue easily.
Before Burt knew it, the bartender rang the bell for last call, and they finished up their final set of drinks. Then the jukebox wound down for good, and it was just the two of them at the suddenly quiet bar.
“Walk me home?” she said.
Burt started nodding vigorously even before she finished her sentence. He slid the bartender his worn credit card and said a silent prayer he hadn’t yet hit his spending limit. The prayer worked—this time—and he walked out of the tavern with an amazing woman on his arm and a swagger in his step.
He risked a look at the side street where Tommy had parked his Grand Am. Still there. He stifled a shudder and let Lilly pull him down the road.
Be careful out there, bro.
“My place is just two blocks away,” she said. “And my roommate’s out of town until the fall semester starts. Also, I’ve got wine.”
“Huh,” Burt said, scarcely able to believe how this night had turned around for him. It made him speechless, if only for a moment or two, which for Burt was saying quite a bit. “That’s… nice.”
“You bet your ass it’s nice, Burt!” Lilly said with a sharp laugh.
Burt let out a laugh as well. This girl was a bit odd, and he liked that. He saw his opening and took it, unable to let go of those weird words and shapes in her journal.
“So be honest here. What makes you write like that? I mean, you must’ve filled a couple books already with that—”
He was going to say “stuff” but didn’t want to push his luck. He just let his cut-off sentence hang there in the dark as they walked. At some point she’d taken his hand, and now she squeezed it, hard.
“Is it like some kind of code? Some other language?”
They crossed a road and stepped onto an uneven sidewalk that led to a split-level house broken up into apartments. The streetlight in front of the place had burned out, and the screen door hung crookedly on its hinges.
“I have a lot of catching up to do,” Lilly said. “I may never get it all down.”
“What do you mean? Get all of what down?”
“All the facts of the situation. Someone has to record them all. It’s gotten worse lately.”
They stopped right in front of the beat-up screen door, which was swaying the tiniest bit in the cool breeze. The door made an irregular squeaking sound that made Burt want to stick fingers in his ears.
Lilly looked up at him—she was a foot shorter than him, though she’d seemed taller back on her stool at the bar—and shook the brown curls on her head.
“That’s some seriously boring stuff to talk about at this point in the evening. It’s just my work. We all have a job to do, you know?”
Burt nodded at that, a slightly confused half-smile on his face. He could listen to her talk all night long. But it appeared they had better things than that in store for them this evening.
“I’d better go inside,” Lilly said. She touched the side of Burt’s mouth, and he felt an electrical pulse run through his body. “It’s pretty late…”
“Yeah,” he said. He was already backing away on his traitorous legs before he caught himself.
What the hell am I doing? he thought in a panic. I can’t let this night end!
Lilly let out a laugh as she pulled open the crooked screen door and unlocked the wooden door behind it.
“Oh, I’m just messing with you, dude,” she said, and then her voice lowered the tiniest bit. “Get your ass in here.”
Burt nearly ran her over in his eagerness to do exactly as she’d ordered.