THE SCENT OF HIS WOMAN
Northern Wild, 1
Copyright © 2017
Kennedy felt like she was back in grade school.
Pressed too tightly between her two older brothers, Kennedy watched out the center of the SUV as the road whipped by. All around, her family was happy, excited to be on their way north to a remote cabin on the shores of Remi Lake for a week-long family outing. Daryl and Daniel, the twins, were over the moon that with the rental of the cabin came the keys to not one, but two Sea-Doos, several kayaks, and a pontoon boat.
“Imagine how beautiful the sunset is going to be out on the lake on the pontoon boat.” Her mother sighed, closing her eyes in exaggerated bliss.
In the driver’s seat, her father glanced quickly in the rearview mirror before responding with a suggestive, “Or on the dock with a glass of wine?”
Both the boys groaned loudly, shouting out the traditional, “Gross, Dad!” even though they were twenty-five now instead of five, while Kennedy stayed silent, not even pretending to get caught up in the joviality of the moment. She’s seen that glance, however hard her dad had tried to hide it. For her, this trip wasn’t fun and exciting, it was a planned attempt by her parents to figure out what the hell was wrong with her.
The probably thought she was doing drugs, Kennedy fought back a smile at that one. She’d had plenty of opportunity to try drugs in her twenty-one years of life, but zoning out wasn’t her idea of fun, and never had been. She didn’t blame them for wondering, she knew how weird she’d been acting lately. It was too bad she couldn’t seem to stop. The past year had been hard on her. She’d broken up with her university boyfriend, James, after he fessed up and told her he was gay, which explained a lot, really. They were friends now and she didn’t hate him for leading her on. It wasn’t like she’d complained about the overabundance of Buffy and sushi sleepover nights. She loved Buffy and sushi and had never really been all that sexually inclined.
She’d also spent the last eight months working tirelessly on her honor’s thesis, throwing every ounce of her energy and brain power into making it the best thing she’d ever written so she could get into the Master’s program and start on the path to her Doctorate. It had been her goal for as long as she could remember. Dr. Cole, the first in the family.
James had once commented offhand that he was surprised she wasn’t going to a full-on Medical Doctorate with the way she lived her life, always trying to be perfect to make up for being adopted. The words had been out of his mouth before he could stop them, and he’d apologized for hours and then brought her flowers to make up, but he was right, she realized after a lot of thought. She’s always tried a hundred times harder than her brothers to be the best, to do the best, because she was afraid of disappointing her parents.
So, when she’d received the news that her application to the graduate program had been denied, she’d been devastated. It was as if her entire purpose had been called into question and life had stopped. What was she supposed to do now? What did an English literature major do after graduation? She could always become a teacher. Her mom had reminded her of that several days ago, and it still felt like a slap in the face. Not that teaching wasn’t a noble profession, it was. Hell, she wanted to teach, just at the university level, to students who wanted to learn. She wanted to study theory and Shakespeare, to spend her days around people who could talk classics and pop-culture without batting an eye or sounding pretentious. There was no single part of her that didn’t long for that life, and now she was lost.
Getting the letter hadn’t brought about the nightmares, she knew that. They’d been happening long before that dreaded day, but it had intensified them exponentially. She’d been contemplating contacting an old psych prof of hers to discuss the significance of the primal dreams when her parents had sat her down for ‘the chat.’
“Kennedy, we know you’re disappointed, but you can’t give up. There are other programs, other years to apply. It’s not like you to accept defeat.” Her father had gone the pep-talk route.
“Sweetie, you look sad, have you been sleeping? We”—at this Sarah Cole reached over and took her husband’s hand and squeezed—“think it would be good for you to get away for a little while, with all of us, as a family, like we used to when you were small.” Her mother had gone for mommy logic.
Either way, it had worked. She was here, in the back seat of their SUV, stuck between her brothers and without her own vehicle to escape the nightmare that was going to be northern Ontario. At least she had her books. She always had her books.
“Geoff, are you sure we shouldn’t stop in the next town for a few more supplies before we head to the cabin?” Sarah looked up from the map on her cell phone and frowned.
Kennedy bit back a smirk. Her mother was infamous for overthinking everything. A simple weekend away had often required a week’s preparation. They were booked here for ten days, and it had been a last-minute decision. If she knew her mother at all, and she really did, the woman was going nuts right now.
Luckily, her father wasn’t easily swayed.
“Sarah, you made lists, your lists made lists. We have everything we need and full tank of gas, plus a spare can full, if we need to come back into town. We have enough food to feed a village, medical supplies for every emergency, blankets, books, games, and everything else you carefully planned for us to take. You’re perfect. There isn’t a single thing missing that we could possibly need.”
“I forgot sugar.” Sarah huffed out, only half indignantly. Kennedy was sure she was happy about half of what her husband had said.
“No you didn’t,” Daniel said absentmindedly while checking his Facebook. “I got that bag from the grocery store like you asked on the way over. Put it in the back right before we left.”
“Oh.” Her voice sounded slightly sad and resigned, but also a little relieved. Kennedy wondered what it was like to live inside her mom’s head. She’d never know, since they didn’t share the same genetics, but it was still fascinating to contemplate.
They drove in silence for a while, allowing Kennedy to quietly watch the wilderness passing by without needing to explain her reluctance to talk. Since coming home from the dorms, her parents had been hovering, checking in on her regularly to chat or bring her a snack. The snacks she appreciated, the chats not so much.
She knew they were worried about her, hell, she was worried about herself. The dreams had been getting steadily worse and it was to the point now where she barely slept anymore. Dark circles had taken up permanent residence under her tired eyes. She’d gotten bloodwork done, but there was nothing to find, so the doctors had chalked it up to stress and reassured her that a summer off was exactly what she needed.
She prayed they were right.
A small part of her, the stupid part that was still a twelve-year-old girl reading a book she wasn’t supposed to read yet, kept whispering that she was becoming a vampire and regardless of how intelligent she was, the exhaustion was making her give the idea credence. She looked paler than usual, which was saying something since she was a classic redhead. She was also gaunt all the time, now, and constantly starving. And while any food was good to satisfy the constant gnawing at her backbone, what she really craved was meat, very rare meat. Which was strange, because she’d been a vegetarian since she was sixteen.
She wasn’t pregnant, that much she knew for certain. Besides the reassurance of the five pregnancy tests she’d peed on, Kennedy knew she couldn’t be pregnant because she hadn’t had sex in forever. She’d done the tests anyway, just in case she’d immaculately conceived.
Speaking of starving, she leaned forward. “Mom, do you have any snacks in here?”
Sarah immediately began digging through a cooler set between her feet that Kennedy hadn’t noticed. “I’ve got mixed nuts, dried fruit, pudding, sandwiches, and juice. What would you like?” She glanced over her shoulder with a stunning smile, apparently happy to provide for her children.
Kennedy’s mouth watered at the thought of the sandwiches. She’d bet anything that her mother had made Montreal smoked meat and cheddar on rye with hot mustard. The other snacks, the nuts and fruit, were for her, thoughtfully packed with her dietary concerns in mind, but Kennedy couldn’t help it, she needed meat.
“Okay,” she hedged, “don’t freak out or anything, but can I have one of the sandwiches, please?”
“Are you pregnant?” Her mother whipped around in her seat, practically strangling herself on the belt and screeching the words so loud they echoed off the walls of the vehicle.
Kennedy sighed. “No, Mom, believe me, I’ve tested. I’m not pregnancy, but I am low in iron.” Technically, she wasn’t. The doctors had called her iron levels “borderline,” which wasn’t anything a few more spinach salads wouldn’t fix.
“Is that why you look like crap?” Daryl knocked his shoulder against hers.
Chuckling, Kennedy bumped him back. Daryl had always been the saucier of the twins and they’d always shared a deeper connection than she and Daniel had. His insults were made out of love. If he didn’t love someone, he didn’t talk to them at all. “You aren’t exactly winning Miss Universe, jerk face.”
Their father tittered from the front seat and glanced at her in the rearview mirror again. This time she saw hope shining back from his eyes. He smiled and she returned it easily. Maybe getting away was going to work, after all.
“Fuck!” Trace roared and slammed the cupboard shut. No matter how times he looked, hoping that each time would be different, there was nothing there. It was time to make another run into town.
Frustration seeped from his pores, filling the air with his scent. Trace’s nose twitched at the unpleasant smell. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on calming himself the fuck down and accepting the inevitable. There was only so much he could harvest from the forest. If he were just the cougar, he’d be fine out here, but he was also human, and he needed some essentials.
Trace caught sight of himself in the mirror and grimaced. He also needed a shower and a shave.
Thirty minutes later, freshly washed and shaved, he climbed into the front seat of his old, half-broken down Chevy and started toward town.
Trace lowered the windows immediately, letting the hot breeze that encouraged the mosquitos and dragon flies away flow through the cab of his truck. Despite the intense heat, he hated being cooped in, hated having to leave the peace and quiet of his forest, and especially hated having to interact with humans.
They smelled weird, spoke too loud, and said stupid things. They were smallminded and hateful, terrified of anything or anyone slightly different from them, and only too eager to pull out a gun and shoot first before asking. Trace gritted his teeth and refused to let the memories that tried to shove their way violently into his conscious mind have their own way. Humans had taken too much from him already, he wouldn’t allow them to take his mind, too.
The distance sped past too quickly, bringing him closer and closer to the one destination he tried to avoid as much as possible. Still, if he wanted to be able to make bread and have coffee two or five times a day, he needed to go grocery shopping.
The first signs of life met him as he pulled into Moonbeam. It was a small town, populated by very few people in the winter. The problem was, it exploded in the summer time, with tourists from far and wide, and locals coming to Remi Lake to enjoy the water and sun. There were plenty of people in town today, most greeting each other warmly even if they were complete strangers. It was the Canadian way, after all.
Trace scowled at the first person who greeted him, and he had to hold himself back from actually growling at the second. He pushed past a group of teenagers walking too slowly and ignored their shouts of, “Excuse you!”
“Flour, yeast, butter, sugar, coffee…” Trace muttered his list to himself, pulling item off the shelves as he saw them, choosing things that were in no way on his actual list. “Oranges, bananas, I’ve got plenty of vegetables, steak…” He paused in front of the steak display and eyeballed the too-red meat there, shuttering in disgust. Humans didn’t know what good meat tasted like. They injected their meat with dyes and hormones until they were eating nothing but lies. He kept walking.
A can of custard and a tray of canned milk joined his essentials, along with a tray of beans and a new pair of scissors. Deciding he might as well, Trace walked to the freezer section and threw a tub of chocolate ice cream in the mix, too.
The line wasn’t long, thank God, so he was feeling decidedly better by the time he walked out of the store with his groceries in reusable bags. The sweltering mid-day heat struck him as he exited, immediately drawing beads of sweat from his body. His cougar twitched impatiently, wanting to slip into its own skin and the cool of the lake. Trace’s home was located on the north side of the lake, which was quieter and scarcely visited. He had freedom there, to be his cat or his human side, whichever he felt like being at the moment.
Trace loaded the groceries into the backseat of his truck and then climbed in, wishing for once that he had air conditioning. He was definitely going to need a swim when he got home. Thank God he had brought a cooler, or else his ice cream would have been a lost cause. A genius idea hit him.
“Ice cream.” Trace grinned and started the truck up, turning it toward the outskirts of town where a local couple sold the area’s best ice cream from a little stand beside the lake.