Blood for Wolves - By Nicole Taft

Chapter 1

“Come on.” I stared at the wolf from my hiding place. She was so close to being in my sights. “Just a little more.”

The alpha female scanned the area before encouraging her pups to leave the den. No doubt she smelled me, but I’d set up the blind long ago to ensure that my scent became commonplace. She shook her head, the radio collar jostling around her neck. I tried to shift without making too much noise. I didn’t want Isabeau to hear me. If she did, I’d never get to see the newest addition to the Blue Royal Pack.

One by one the pups padded out of the packed earthen den, gazing around in interest. They were so fuzzy and new, blinking in the early morning sunlight. I bit my lip in excitement. It was all I could do not to squeal in delight. I scribbled down notes on identifying marks and emerging personality traits. Isabeau had done so well nursing them—they all looked healthy with plenty of energy. Not one underweight pup among them. I started formulating names for them based on their marks and actions. One black pup stumbled over anything he could get his paws on, the spitting image of Navarre, the alpha male. A shy little female, a dark chocolate with white paws, hung back in the den and watched her siblings.

At length, Isabeau corralled them together and trotted off to introduce them to the rest of the pack. The pups obediently followed, bounding along behind her. Once they were gone I stood and stretched, turning my face into a patch of sun and grinning with utter joy. How many people could say they loved their job?

“I do, I do,” I sang to myself. My sisters Sasha and Brittany could have their high-end city jobs. All I’d wanted was a little cabin in the woods and an occupation that allowed me to study wolves. When I’d finally gotten it I was thrilled. I shouldered my pack just as my radio crackled.

“Caroline? You there?”

Good thing Isabeau had already left with her pups. No surprise that Alex would call while I was at work. “Yes, I’m here, and no, hunting season isn’t open yet.”

“Haha, very funny. I just wanted to know if you were bringing anything to your mom’s birthday party.”

Only Alex would radio me for something like this. I made for the little stream that eventually ran into the hiking path. The hike was an easy five miles, all downhill.

“I am working you know. Is this some sort of annoying step-brother protocol?”

“C’mon Care.”

“Ham casserole. Now get off the frequency sheriff.”

I giggled to myself, imagining Alex getting all pissy about being called sheriff. I never understood why he didn’t like it. After all, he was a Park County sheriff. He preferred being called a cop or Officer McKenna. My guess was that sheriff made him think of old-timey men with long mustaches, or maybe bumbling guys from old 1950s television shows.

“Fine,” Alex said. “But first, what’d you buy her?”

Oh my gosh. “A pearl bracelet. A baroque one.”

“The hell does ‘baroque’ mean?”

“Alex, get off the damn frequency. I have to—”

A flash of gold amidst the trees caught my eye. Bouncing, heading in the opposite direction, following the stream upriver. It looked like…hair. Frills of blue appeared and disappeared between the tree trunks and brush. I brought the radio up to my mouth.

“Alex, is there a bulletin out for a missing child?” I followed it, only able to catch glimpses through the forest. It looked like a girl in a dress. Was she running? Skipping? Was she lost? Even stupid parents that took their kids hiking didn’t bring them in little blue dresses.

“Negative on that,” Alex finally responded. “Why?”

I emerged from a patch of bushes. The stream apparently came from a little pond. I’d never bothered to find out. It must have been a spring. Beside it stood a little girl, her hair in the most perfect golden curls I’d ever seen on a human being, tied into two perfect pigtails. Sure enough, she wore a dainty blue dress, socks decorated with pink flowers, and laced-up black boots. She stared at the pond, looking as though she might cry any minute.

“Hey there honey,” I said quietly, hoping not to scare her. “Are you lost?”

“I thought I would be safe here,” she said.

I blinked. What did that mean?

“But there are wolves here too,” she continued.

“Oh honey, it’s all right. The wolves won’t hurt you,” I said, stepping closer. “They steer clear