8, I’m sure it’s 8… If I wasn’t so lazy to look I’d know. 😉 Anyway. Here we go! Sorry for the long delay and I’m sorry for not reading the others at the moment! I’m on a course and I can barely juggle learning, writing and everything else, lol. Tomorrow, I promise. 😉
Bitten Part 8.
What has come before…
Antonio was looking at her, his eyes laughing kindly
“I have to say Vaughn,” he said. “You’ve been acting like a lost soul for weeks.”
Vaughn – amidst packing out stock for the store – looked up and blushed, realizing that she had been staring at the same bottle for several minutes.
“I’m sorry,” she said automatically. “I didn’t catch what you just said.”
Antonio shook his head with a smile. “Ever since you stopped delivering to Francis, “he started, “you’ve been drifting around like a lost soul. Don’t you see her anymore?”
Vaughn was careful to keep her expression neutral, not sure how Antonio would react if he knew how often she saw Francis. They had chosen to keep their relationship as quiet as they could in order to protect Vaughn from the town’s scrutiny.
“I see her,” she said. “But – you know – I’ve been delivering to her ever since I came here. You get used to things the way they are. Change is difficult.” She shrugged. “I miss going up and seeing her regularly with the deliveries, things are more erratic now. I worry about her.” Antonio gave her a patient look and hunched down to help her with the box.
“Francis Mosse has been living up on the mountain for years,” he stated. “As her grandfather had before her. The mountain takes care of its own and the Mosse family is as much a part of this place as the trees and the wolves they love so much.”
Working carefully, Vaughn gave her boss a curious look. “Did you know her grandfather?” she queried. “Francis rarely speaks of him.”
Antonio nodded slowly, and shrugged. “I suspect it’s because she didn’t know him very well,” he said. “I don’t think she ever came to visit him.” He trailed off and carried on unpacking the box. When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to volunteer anymore information Vaughn carefully prompted him further.
“What was he like?” she asked. “Was he a lot like Francis?”
Her boss paused and ran his hand through his thinning hair. “No,” he said after some consideration. “No, Francis is a lot more open. Old Mos was quite mad…” He paused then, shaking his head. “Rather,” he said after a minute’s thought, “he was different. You have to understand, I saw him through the eyes of a teenager, much the same way the teenagers of this town see Francis. Children are cruel Vaughn and the poor old man was the but end of any string of gossip or joke.” He resumed his packing, not looking at her. “My father didn’t encourage me to join in, but people like Alan Donald from the Mike’s Garage were very cruel. Like Francis, Mosse used to come down to town on the odd occasion to get some supplies. Like Francis, he also had a wolf who ran with him.” He shrugged. “They say that in families, things tend to run a full circle eventually. In those years, people were even less friendly towards wolves and people like Mosse than they are now.”
Shivering suddenly despite the hot summer air, Vaughn wondered again where Romulus had come from and where Francis had found him. She had never volunteered the information, despite the fact that she had asked her repeatedly. Although she never flat out refused to answer it, she always managed to delay answering the question or change the subject. Two weeks before, Athena had not shown up when Romulus and Francis howled, and instead of being concerned, Francis had been excited, saying that the she-wolf had had a litter of cubs. When Vaughn had asked her if she had taken Romulus from such a litter she had seemed almost insulted and angry. She decided to let the subject go after that.
“I still worry about her,” Vaughn said eventually. “Despite the façade that she puts up, she’s very vulnerable Antonio. There’s… so much that people here don’t see.” Although she wouldn’t say it out loud, she wondered sometimes whether Francis was just as scared of them as they were of her. She gave Vaughn clear instructions not to ever approach her when she as in town, again because she didn’t want the people to turn on Vaughn because they couldn’t get to her. The younger woman never understood what Francis was so afraid of, but then – considering her history, she couldn’t blame the woman, only respect her wishes.
Antonio smiled at her statement but didn’t say anything as he stood up when the shop bell rang. A quick look showed Vaughn that it was just John Donald returning from his delivery round. At eighteen, he was a broody youth with carrot red hair and pale, blotchy skin and Vaughn liked him about as much as she did his father, though she tried very hard to keep a good work ethic. He handed Antonio his delivery ledger and, at his boss’s bidding came over to help Vaughn with packing out some boxes. It was only a few minutes later that one of his mates came into the shop, his dark eyes shining in contrast to his shaved head and string of piercings. The young man joined John, the two of them not paying Vaughn any mind.
“The freak show’s in town,” he said in a hushed whisper after checking to see where Antonio was. “It’s a shame she couldn’t just say on her mountain like in the winter.”
John chuckled softly and looked up. “Even wolves have to leave their den at some point,” he said as Vaughn saw Francis’s big black cob through the window. “Which reminds me, I need to tell you something.” She tried not to listen to the boys and stood up to move to another shelf, knowing that it wouldn’t do any of them any good if she lost her temper with them. She watched Francis tie down her horse and step into the shop, her green eyes alert as she looked first to where the boys where standing and then to Vaughn. She smiled at all of them, though it was a closed smile and turned to Antonio who had moved towards her, smiling as usual.
“Come for the usual?” he said by way of greeting as they embraced. “It’s good to see you Francis.”
She smiled at him and took a list from her pocket. “That and more,” she said. “I’ve brought you a list of things I’ll need to have delivered. I won’t be able to bring it on Bucephalas.”
Antonio made a considering sound as he looked at the list and then at Vaughn. “I’m sure I can arrange that,” he said with a smile. “Making some repairs?”
The older woman laughed and nodded. “Catching up with everything I let go last season. How is Denise?”
Vaughn missed her boss’s reply when she saw John’s friend nudge his mate and take a bottle of ketchup from the rack. Without paying for it, he slipped out of the shop and disappeared round the corner. Feeling her irritation increase, Vaughn tried to see where he went and gave John a dirty look. The young man rolled his eyes and mouthed. “I’ll pay for it,” to her. Frowning at him, Vaughn turned her attention back to Francis. The woman was still talking to Antonio, but she could see that her attention wasn’t with the man, her body alert. Realizing that it might look suspicious if she continued staring at the woman, Vaughn quickly went back to her work, all the while glancing at Francis when John looked away.
She felt sorry for her lover every time she came to town. Although she never said anything, she could see that Francis was tense, like a wolf on edge. As open as she was at her cottage, she lost all of that the moment she rode in on her horse. She wondered whether the violation that had caused Francis to move here had left her with a form of social anxiety. She rarely spoke of her life before she lived on the mountain and the only thing that Vaughn had gathered was that she had been a literature lecturer from the work and papers that she worked on.
Her train of thought was cut off sharply when Francis turned around surprised, seconds before they heard a panicked shout and cry from outside the shop. Francis moved first, cursing softly as she rushed to the door with Antonio and Vaughn hot on her heals. There was another cry and a fierce growl that could only be Romulus. He had pinned John’s mate to the floor and was standing over him, growling fiercely. To Vaughn’s horror she saw that the boy was covered in blood and screaming at the top of his voice. Francis moved like lightening, her face tight with fear as she grabbed Romulus and pulled him off of the lad while Antonio grabbed the boy by his shoulders and pulled him away.
“John!” He snapped as the young man came out of the shop. “Get some towels for Benjamin and…”
The young man in his arms began to laugh with delight, a sound in such sharp contrast to the continued growling of Romulus. Francis looked at her animal and then suddenly, fixed a look of pure anger on the boy with Antonio. She let go of Romulus and took a threatening step towards Benjamin as he pushed himself away from Antonio and rubbed at the fake blood on his clothes and neck, the smell of ketchup slowly filtering towards them.
“Chill woman,” he said. “And get that beast on a leash; you saw what he did to me.”
Francis took another sharp step towards him but Vaughn quickly jumped in between them put her hand on Francis’s shoulders. The woman ignored her though and balled her firsts, Romulus still growling though he was standing behind her.
“You provoked him!” She snapped. “And, when he didn’t react immediately you tried to hurt my horse! You wanted him to make a scene!” She was so angry that she was shaking against Vaughn’s grip. “I don’t care what you say about me or do to me but heaven help me you leave my animals alone!”
Antonio looked at her surprised and then down at Benjamin who looked very smug. With an angry grunt he grabbed the boy by the collar and shoved him against the shop wall. “Is that true mate?” he snapped.
Benjamin chuckled and tried to shove Antonio away but the older man didn’t budge. “Hey,” he said. “I don’t know where she got that idea. Admittedly, I wanted to see what you guys would do when I ran into the shop covered in blood but I didn’t expect her wolf to just attack me.” He looked past Antonio at Francis, his dark eyes wicked. “He’s dangerous, I’m gonna tell the Sherriff of this incident. He should be shot.”
Francis ground her teeth but abruptly stood back from Vaughn and glared at the young man. “You little lying coward,” she snapped. “I’ll…”
“Easy Francis!” Antonio said quickly as he turned around to look at her. “I have a security camera out here. This matter can be sorted out very quickly.” He glared at the young man. “If you wish to involve the law.” He pushed him away and turned to the people who were starting to gather around. “If not and your story won’t quite hold up to the evidence I suggest you get a move on.” He pushed the boy away and turned to everybody else. “You can all move along, there’s nothing to see here!”
When they didn’t leave, Antonio turned to Francis, schooling his face to sympathy and calm as they heard someone whisper loudly, enquiring whether Romulus had bitten someone. “I think you should go Francis, before people get too pushy and the wrong idea, I’m sorry love.” He walked to her to comfort her but she took a wild step back which gave Romulus a chance to move in between them, every hair on his back standing upright. Antonio didn’t seem phased but kept his distance.
“Go home Francis,” he said softly. “I’ll send Vaughn up with your stuff, no charge. I think you need to get your friend’s settled.” He glanced at the horse who was also looking at him, the white’s of his eyes showing as he tried to reach out and pat him. “I’m sorry about this.”
Francis didn’t say anything, but stepped towards her horse and patted him soothingly. Without looking at anybody, she untied him from his post and mounted smoothly. Romulus remained between her and everybody else until she was seated and ready to go. The gathered crowd quickly moved out of her way when she turned her horse around sharply and smoothly, with no visible signal, pushed him into a canter.
Vaughn watched her leave with an icy grip in her heart, until she heard Antonio snap at Benjamin to get away from his shop and at John to get back to work. He then came to stand by her and lay a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Give her some time,” he said softly. “Then please go up tonight and see if she’s alright. I’m sorry that you had to see that Vaughn.”
She turned to him, not sure if she should feel sad or aghast.
“I’m sorry that it had to happen at all,” she said softly and pulled away from him, back to the shop, wondering how she was going to manage to remain civil with John for the rest of the afternoon after she saw what his friend had done.
To Be Continued…