So, this is sort of a celebration installment--and good that I'm showing the boys arriving home! Rampant Part 1 is already out, and Rampant Part 2 will be out shortly-- and for those of you new to the Little Goddess series, this could be exciting because yay! Another installment in the magic! For those of you who have been around awhile--you have been waiting for what comes after Rampant for a VERY LONG TIME. And Rampant coming out means something special to all of you-- so yes! This is cause to celebrate!
Oh-- and don't worry about Jack and Teague and Katy-- their books are getting re-released too. Because Lynn and Elizabeth at DSPP are so awesome I don't even have words.
But it's coming. Quickening is coming.
I know I'm excited.
Anyway-- if you haven't read the first parts of Scorched Haven, this little werewolfy visit to the Little Goddess world you can find installments 1-11 here:
If you like what you read, and haven't read any of the other stories, remember the magic begins with Vulnerable.
So, all that being said... where were our boys? Oh yes. I remember now.
* * *
The traffic in Sacramento sucked as always--Zeb hadn't been wrong about that. But he piloted the little Mini through the never-ending construction in Natomas deftly, and within an hour they were passing Madison and on their way up the hill toward Auburn.
And then Colton let out a little whine--and even Zeb could hear the gurgling in his stomach.
"Call Green for me again," he said, swinging the car off at the Madison exit and ignoring the honking and middle-fingers that came with that decision. Funny how driving on the lam could give a guy a sense of "I'm an asshole so what" when it came to road rules. He thought of all the useless frustration he'd spent in traffic and wished for this amount of adrenaline all the time.
"Where are we going?"
"A carnivore's last best hope--In & Out."
Colton's relieved laugh was followed by another stomach gurgle.
Ten minutes later, after ordering twelve double-doubles and animal style fries (mostly to hear Colton chuckle when he did it) Zeb pulled onto Madison cursing traffic all over again. Getting back onto the freeway was going to be a bitch. As they'd been in line at the drive thru, he'd seen five cop cars zooming onto the freeway headed east, and it didn't take a genius to figure out that something was doing up the hill.
Colton had been unable to get hold of Green when they'd been in the drive thru, and now as Zeb headed east on Madison and battled with gridlocked traffic, he had Colton pick up the phone and try again.
When the phone went to voice mail again, Zeb grunted with worry.
"Uh... this is not--"
Bad news is that I'm a little busy right now. Good news is, every wolf for miles is going to be focused on a jail break from Bell Road in Auburn. Your job is to get home without getting dead, deal?
Deal Green. Be safe.
And he was apparently too busy to respond.
"Okay," Zeb said, thinking fast. "We're going to stop for gas here, where the wolf thing isn't a deal, and then you and I are going to take the long and winding road back home."
"Snacks?" Colton asked, working on his third sandwich without slowing down.
"Snacks," Zeb agreed.
"Sex?" He asked hopefully.
"Alas, no." Zeb felt the loss keenly. They were so close to Green's Hill-- where Colton would discover a cornucopia of possible mates. The hope that had filled Zeb earlier drained out of him as he thought of the trip around Folsom Lake and up through El Dorado Hills. "We just added another fifty or so miles to our trip--and something tells me we need to get to the hill while the rest of the team is busy. If Green is called into action, then big shit is about to go down."
"So, we're the little fish sliding to safety while the whales are engaged?"
Zeb thought of the last clash of the titans he'd been there to witness. "We are indeed," he said softly. "Gear up, little fish. Shit's about to get slippery."
Once Madison passed the intersection with Fair Oaks, the scenery changed slightly. Fewer strip malls, fewer old businesses, more trees. In this moment, in the cusp of August and September, Zeb felt a little bit of peace. Cooler days were coming, bracing days with a good wind and the smell of rain.
Cory had come to the hill in the winter--the winter gave him hope.
He turned left toward Folsom, then took another left on Blue Ravine toward El Dorado Hills. Colton looked around with interest, taking in the two sides of Folsom-- the older side, the historic district of Riley Road with the old brick buildings, antique shops, and restaurants--and the newer side, the developments that had come up in the past twenty years, the new high school, bright and hopeful as a shiny penny, and the big homes built into the foothills.
"This would be a good place to live," he said thoughtfully. "Pretty. Lots of hope."
Zeb laughed and took a left that would lead them to Coloma. "Hold on to the hope, buddy-- the next stretch of road is haunted as fuck."
"Haunted? As in ghosts?"
Colton's voice pitched, and Zeb took a moment to appreciate that this he seemed to take seriously.
"Oh yeah. Green's Hill is like a giant ghost-free zone in the foothills. The rest of this place was made by miners or entrepreneurs coming to seek their fortunes. When shit went south and their bodies did too, their souls hung around for a bit. There are some scary assed places down this little country road--believe you me."
"Does being a werewolf, does that let us... you know, see them?"
Zeb grunted. "No. Just the opposite, actually."
"I don't understand?"
"We talked about the Goddess?"
"Well the idea of a spirit and an afterlife--that's sort of God's purview. Most of these spirits--they believe what you learn in church, so they suffer and they twist and they get pissed off. The pagans went on to become part of the earth, or part of a larger consciousness, or to a happy field to fuck and fight and do it again--whatever afterlife turned their key. So these guys, these ghosts-- we might believe in them, but odds are, they don't believe in us. So we can't see each other--but we can sure sense their moods. So, like, a pissed off spirit might actually be visible to a tourist on the side of the road--but one of us passes through it, and we just get..." He shuddered--it had only happened once. "Like a blinding flash of pain behind our eyes. We're two beings not meant to occupy the same space, you understand?"
"This happens to everybody?"
"Only were creatures. Not the vampires--I think because they're technically dead. Not the elves, and no, I don't know why. Just the shapeshifters. It's like our special curse."
"And we're driving down a haunted road? For real?"
Zeb watched as the houses dwindled, the stretches of property getting bigger and bigger, the age of the buildings getting higher and higher.
"That farmhouse over there?" he said, pointing to a recently renovated white clapboard house with red trim.
"We came up here when I was a kid, and I saw a woman in a bloody dress. Scared the shit out of me. My parents thought I'd come unglued."
Zeb took a deep breath and resolved to keep his eyes open on this stretch of road. "Five, four, three, two..."
They both screamed together, but while Colton doubled over, moaning in pain, Zeb kept his eyes open and on the road. The Mini cleared the cold spot and he sagged against the leather seat, whimpering, covered in sweat.
"Oh Jesus, that sucked," Colton moaned, leaning his head against the window. "One more like that, I'm going to have to throw--"
Zeb was too nauseated to even scream--but he kept it locked inside. Werewolves. There were werewolves on their tail with a shitty smell and crazy eyes. Green was busy with big fucking goings down. And Colton trusted him to get them home.
They encountered five spirits through Highway 49, and up the canyon under the Foresthill bridge. Colton had to roll down his window at the third one, and Zeb had pulled over to the side of the road, while both of them tried to breath through the spirit-induced migraine.
When Colton had finished emptying his stomach--and drinking some water and rinsing off the car--he got back in and asked the obvious question. "How do you people live so close to this bullshit?"
"We never take this way," Zeb told him. "The last time someone went down here was sometime before the bridge was even built. One of the elves, I think--and a vampire. Green just sort of laid down the law--off limits. People listened. Besides this road--and, oh, yeah, a scary fucking house down off of Foresthill Road, we mostly stay away from graveyards. I'm not sure Cory even knows about this glitch-- it seems to me like it might not even effect her."
"Not a shapeshifter?"
"Yeah, well, she's got--"
"Her own problems. Okay, are we read--"
And that was number four.
They got to the top of the hill near sunset, Zeb feeling nauseated and wrung dry. As he sat idling at the stop sign that--oh God--so close--allowed them to merge onto Foresthill road proper for the final mile before the magic little turn-off, he saw three black SUV's coming over the bridge--followed by what looked like half a dozen cop cars.
Normally, Zeb being the good citizen he tried to be, the invisible boy he'd worked his whole life toward, he would have let all of that drama just pass him by.
But watching that bullshit head toward him, two things happened.
One, was he recognized the SUV's-- they were Green's.
The other was that a shaggy form stuck it's head out of one of the cop cars.
On the driver's side.
And Zeb realized that once, just once, he was going to have to put himself first.
He stepped on the gas and prayed.
Behind him he heard the squealing of brakes and probably the blue curses of the people he loved best, but he didn't care. He stood on the gas, taking that Mini to 110 before he saw the turn-off.
It was the best bit of driving he'd ever done in his life, taking that car at a ninety degree turn into the turnout to home, and he kept gunning that thing until he was at the garage, when he spun off, giving the SUV's a chance to jam in behind him.
They didn't. Instead, the doors to the last one swung open and five people spilled out--and if Zeb had any words, he would have used them all in curses.
A tiny woman with wild red-blonde hair, two medium sized men, and one who was humanly tall, all three with the rangy builds of people who burned a lot of calories really fast. And one beautiful neanderthal with wild black hair and eyes that threw amber sparks, even from fifty feet away.
Cory, Bracken, Nicky, Teague, and Max-- it was like the president's cabinet and the speaker of the house getting out of the same car. Most of the time the secret service wouldn't let it happen.
Cory--no less tiny than she had been when Zeb had left four days ago--turned to Teague and Max and snarled, "Stand back!"
Then Nicky went bird, lofting into the air with a squawk, and Cory and Bracken--oh, holy Goddess, he knew they could do this, but it was usually saved for when shit got real-- lifted up in tandem.
They were flying, and shit was real.
Bracken wobbled-- he wasn't great at this.
But Cory had been practicing, and her course stayed true.
"Jesus fuck us," Colton whispered.
Zeb still didn't have words.
Cory held out her hands and screamed, a giant power flare coming from her hands aimed at the point where the turnout met the road. Zeb held his breath and then--
Heard it. The screech of metal, the scream of people trapped inside, and another, and another. The final sound was a car stopping just in time, before Cory sank to the ground. Bracken fell gracelessly next to her--and then wrapped his arms around her as she wobbled now, and fell.
"What just happen--" Zeb held up a hand.
Green got out of the car and waved his arms. Tall and regal, a blonde braid falling down past his hips like liquid sun, he was just as kind, just as protective as Zeb remembered. Zeb's heart hurt, seeing him like this--a leader in wartime once again, but just as determined to keep his people safe. As he waved his arm and spoke quickly, an army of... well, people just like Nibbles, as well as walking rock piles and some teeny tiny little metal people all went scurrying to the front of the gate--the clean up crew.
From the driver's side of the SUV Green had cleared, Arturo got out, and Green nodded to him. Without a word of protest, Arturo strode toward the entrance, where Lady Cory had just wrecked five cop cars, and assisted with the clean up.
Green strode toward Cory then, but Bracken had already scooped her up, in spite of protest they could hear from where they stood.
"Dammit, Brack--I'm fine. Put me down!"
Nicky squawked from above them, obviously still supervising cleanup.
Green murmured something over her, and she relaxed into Bracken's embrace, and then the three of them came striding toward the stairs that led up to the main floor entrance. The other SUV opened up, followed by a host of people Zeb knew only by reputation, and they followed, leaving the vehicles outside, probably to be serviced and parked by people like Nibbles, who adored the task.
Green peeled off from the main group though, walking toward Zeb and Colton, and opened his arms. Zeb's throat grew tight.
"After all that, he's coming to see you?" Colton asked, awed.
"That's why he's our home," Zeb whispered. "That's why we're here."
He walked toward Green--and then he ran toward him--taking his embrace and all the comfort, all the warmth it offered.
"Sorry I wasn't there at the last," Green said quietly.
"You obviously had some other shit to sort."
Green laughed and kissed the top of his head. "You want to introduce me to your friend? And then, inside, both of you. Bath and food and comfort, I think. We've got you set up in the same room for tonight. I hope that's okay."
Zeb nodded, his heart sinking and rising at the same time. It was almost over. But he and Colton, they'd have one night to say goodbye and part as friends.
"Green, this is Colton. Colton, this is Green. Welcome to Green's Hill."
Colton--Goddess, that kid. He came around the car, and before Green could embrace him, he sank to one knee.
"It's an honor to meet you," he said, head bowed. "Zeb has told me so much about you."
* * *
Whew! Okay-- that's it. Just the epilog to write, and then this little adventure is all through.
Now, folks, I do have a disclaimer to make. That last scene does NOT appear in Quickening per se. So when Quickening comes out, just imagine what kind of adventure they could have been having before Green and company came crashing through the gates of Green's Hill :-)