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Shifters of Silver Peak

By:Georgette St. Clair

Shifters of Silver Peak
Georgette St. Clair

       Chapter One




"Valerie, is there a human cub hiding in this office?" Morgan Rosemont  growled, standing in the doorway and glaring at his secretary. There was  a dusting of snow on his thick, dark hair and on the broad shoulders of  his wool overcoat.

A chill wind whipped past him. He stepped inside, followed by his  construction foreman and packmate, Arthur Handley, and slammed the door  shut with a bang.

Valerie looked up from her desk and batted big, innocent eyes at her  boss. The cold had made her thick, round glasses fog, which ruined the  effect a bit. "Whatever do you mean, Mr. Rosemont?"

He looked around impatiently. "You heard me. A human cub. Somebody distracting you from working."

She pulled her black sweater tighter around her generous figure and  maintained her wide-eyed expression of denial. "First of all, I am not  working right now because my lunch hour just started. Secondly, we  humans refer to cubs as ‘children'. And why would there be a child in  your office? I don't have any children. Or any life whatsoever, but  that's a different story," Valerie said. "Anyway, you got some messages  while you were out, and I put them on your desk. Some of them look  rather urgent. You should go check."

"Where is it?" Morgan demanded, stamping the snow off his feet.

She met his gaze unblinkingly. "Where is what?"

Morgan let out an angry, frustrated breath and walked over to Valerie's  desk. He stared down at her, all six foot three inches of him. "You know  how I know you're lying to me, Valerie?"

"You're psychic?" Valerie suggested. She knew he wasn't, of course.

There were some strains of shifter that were psychic. Thank God Morgan  wasn't one of them, because if he could read his human secretary's  thoughts, she'd have been bounced out of the office on her very  well-padded rear long ago.

"I know because, number one, you're answering my questions with  questions, and number two, I'm a wolf shifter. I have an amazing sense  of smell. You smell it, don't you, Arthur?"

Arthur maintained an expression of polite interest. "If you say so, sir."

"Get that child-cub thing and remove it at once," Morgan said to Valerie. "This is an office, not a daycare."

The coat closet door banged open, and a small, dirty-faced child dashed out, ran over, and bit Morgan on the ankle.

"Valerie! What the hell?" Morgan yelled, shaking his leg in an attempt to dislodge the child.

"Morgan! Watch your language! Don't hurt her!" Valerie ran over and knelt down next to them. "Teddy, come on."

"Me don't hurt her? She's the one who's biting me!"

"Oh, don't be such a baby." She pulled Teddy off him and set her on her feet.

Teddy was eight, but small for her age, and for a human she was awfully  feral in her behavior  –  like her tendency to bite when she was annoyed.  She had long, uncombed, dirty-blonde hair, her face was always grubby,  and her clothes were faded and two sizes too big for her. The hem of her  moth-eaten wool overcoat brushed the floor.

She glared up at Morgan ferociously through a curtain of filthy hair that covered her face.

"You're a bad wolf," she informed him.

"Valerie?" Morgan raised an eyebrow at her, his ice-blue wolf's eyes glimmering with annoyance.

"Her mother is at the mineral springs today and she doesn't have anyone to watch her," Valerie said to Morgan.

The mineral springs had amazing healing properties for humans with  dementia and a number of other ailments. Before an earthquake created  the springs, the shifter town of Silver Peak, and the nearby human town  of Juniper, had been dwindling in population, with shuttered businesses  and empty stores. But since word about the springs had gotten out, both  towns were bursting at the seams with people desperate for their  curative powers.

"And this is my problem why? I have a business to run."

"Fine," she muttered. "You weren't even supposed to be here today. I thought you'd be on site until this evening."

Morgan's company, Rosemont Resorts, was expanding its newly built resort  hotel and spa, and also building luxury condominiums, due to  overwhelming demand. Morgan was planning on working right up through  Christmas Eve. Just bubbling over with Christmas spirit, he was.

Before Morgan could answer, the front door banged open again, letting in  more wind and snow. She breathed a sigh of relief as two of her friends  barreled in and quickly shut the door behind them. They'd help her with  Teddy.

"Hey, Valerie! Who's your little friend?" It was Eileen, a wolf shifter  friend of Valerie's. She was accompanied by their friend Erika, who  belonged to the same pack as Eileen.                       
       
           



       

The little girl looked at the women, then looked at Morgan with a scowl.  "I'm Teddy, and he's the Big Bad Wolf," she said of Morgan.

"And don't you forget it," Morgan said, returning the scowl with one of his own.

The girl walked over to Eileen and Erika and looked up at them. "You're a  wolf, and you're a wolf." She jabbed a dirty little finger at both of  them. "And I'm a human. Are you in a pack? Did you know that some wolves  can't turn into people? Where do those wolves live? Where do you live?"  The fact that she was firing off a volley of questions at them meant  she liked them. It was preferable to her alternative mode of  communication  –  ankle-biting.

"Erika, I need a favor," Valerie said. "Can you take Teddy here back to  Juniper? She's staying in the shanty town at 372 Winthrop Drive. Her  mother is at the mineral springs, and she'll be back around five. There  should be some church volunteers at the rec center there today who can  watch her until her mother gets home. If not … " Valerie's face puckered  in concern, and she glanced at Morgan, who shook his head decisively.

"Motherffff … " Erika glared after Morgan, then glanced at Teddy and  stopped herself. "Mother of pearl is my favorite jewelry," she finished.  "I got this," she said to Valerie. "Hey, Teddy, want to go to the town  square, make a snow-fort and throw snowballs at people?"

"Erika!" Valerie protested, scandalized.

"What?" Erika flashed a wicked grin. "Basic self-defense skills should  be learned at a young age. We can also practice making swords out of  icicles."

"No swords!" Valerie said.

"Okay, icicle spears. We'll go to the coffee shop and get some hot  chocolate first," Erika said to Teddy. "We need fuel if we're going to  go start a frozen-water war." Erika was a tomboy and an infamous  mischief-maker. Great. So Valerie's choices were leaving the child by  herself, sending her off to stab someone, or … well, those were her  choices today.

Erika led the happy child out, and Eileen sat on Valerie's desk. "Other  than the fact that your boss is an ass-face, isn't it a beautiful day?"  she said, gesturing at the window, which faced Main Street.

It was December 10th, and the village of Silver Peak, Montana, was a winter wonderland.

Freshly fallen snow blanketed the streets and parked cars and fire  hydrants in sparkling white. Christmas garlands twined around the lamp  posts, and every store window was framed with twinkling red-and-green  lights. A pack of Christmas carolers was strolling through the streets,  singing. They were led by their parents. Several of them were in cub  form, trotting through the snow wagging their tails and wearing wreaths  as collars. They howled in tune to the singing.

"Breathtaking," Valerie said.

"Stunning." Eileen nodded contentedly.

"I really hate Christmas," Morgan growled.

He looked at the carolers. "It's one p.m. Don't they have somewhere to be? Why are they walking around singing like that?"

Eileen and Valerie exchanged amused looks with each other, and Eileen stifled a snicker behind her hand.

"What?" Morgan snapped.

"I, for one, am shocked," Eileen said. "I mean you could knock me over  with a feather. A season that's all about togetherness and happiness and  love, and you hate it?"

Morgan stared at her. "You don't work here anymore. And yet you're here." He glanced over at Arthur. "She's still here."

"Yep, she is." Arthur, a tall, lean wolf shifter in his fifties, nodded  placidly. His method of getting along with Morgan was to agree with  whatever Morgan said without really paying much attention to it.

"I miss you too," Eileen said drily to Morgan. She plucked a crumpled-up  ball of paper from the garbage and threw it at him, and it bounced off  his head and fell on the floor. "Oh, look. I don't actually miss you.  I'm right on target." She and Valerie exchanged high-fives.

"Valerie?" Morgan's tone said that he was losing patience.

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