Leah Clearwater meets her soulmate - Double 2020 Quill Award winner Romance & Short Story!
|Leah Clearwater wrinkled her nose at the foul, bleach-like stench of vampires. Sometimes it sucked to have a werewolf's keen sense of smell. Holding her breath, she stepped deeper into the antebellum farmhouse. Even if she couldn’t smell them, she would have known this was the Cullens’ home in New Hampshire from the tastefully arranged antique furniture around the living room. The place reeked of Esme’s maternal touch.
“Hello?” she called out. “Anyone here?”
A woman darted into the room with preternatural speed, startling Leah so much that her heart threatened to escape her ribcage. “Jeez, Alice! Give a girl some warning.”
The svelte vampire giggled.
Leah frowned. “This better be important. I ran all the way from Alaska.”
“That explains the grubby shorts and torn T-shirt.”
“You try carrying your clothes in your mouth for four thousand miles.”
Alice’s expression turned serious. She perched gracefully on the side of the sofa and patted the space beside her. Leah ignored that and opted to sit in the armchair beside the ornate fireplace, as far from Alice’s stench as she could get without leaving the room. Alice pouted, and Leah sighed. Why should she feel guilty about hurting the feelings of a filthy parasite? When did her life get so complicated? Oh, yeah, right. When she decided to abandon her old pack and join Jacob Black’s ragtag rebel army of vampire guard dogs.
“Well?” Leah prompted.
“Would you like some—?”
“Get on with it.” As if Leah would accept food or drink from a vampire. Even Esme’s daintily prepared sandwiches were inedible due to the lingering leach stench.
“Okay. I didn’t say much on the phone because the vision hasn’t solidified.”
“A vision?” Her fingernails dug into the armrests. “Is Nessie in danger?” Although she generally loathed bloodsuckers, she loved her goddaughter, Renesmee. Nessie wasn’t a vampire. Not really.
“I don’t think so…”
“Spit it out,” demanded Leah.
“The future is…confusing. What I see is a newborn—”
Leah jumped to her feet. “A newborn! Here?” A memory flashed through her mind, and she shuddered. Newborns were faster and stronger than mature vampires and notoriously savage. A fight with a newborn vampire almost cost Leah her life. If Jacob hadn't stepped in to help…
Alice raised her hand. “Calm down. Seth is on his way. Jacob is on campus, keeping his eyes on Nessie and Bella. The others are patrolling. Even Sam is on standby in case we need to call in reinforcements.”
Leah’s chest tightened, and she looked away to hide the anguish she knew would be clear in her eyes. Even a decade later, her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal left a bitter taste in her mouth. All men were dogs. In Sam’s case, literally. However, she couldn’t really blame Sam. He’d imprinted on Emily. Even Leah accepted that the mystical soulmate chemistry of imprinting was unstoppable. She wished she could imprint on someone, too. Only then would her torment end.
“What I do see,” continued Alice, “is that this newborn will become intrigued by the mixed scents of werewolves, vampires, and…something different.”
“Yes. That’s why we’re taking precautions.”
“Why stay?” asked Leah. “You could pull Nessie out of college for a month.”
“She has finals soon.”
“Who cares? She can repeat the year. It’s not like she doesn’t have forever to finish her degree.”
Alice frowned. “She’s too much like her grandfather.”
“No, the annoying one.”
Leah smirked. “Since when did Carlisle annoy you?” She always did like him more than the other Cullens.
“Since he got Nessie so excited about studying medicine. She refuses to repeat a year because it would mean a year’s delay before she starts saving lives.”
Yeah, that sounded like Nessie. “So, what’s the plan?”
“Oh, it’s simple,” answered Alice. “You’ll pretend to be interested in applying to Dartmouth. That gives you an excuse to shadow Nessie around campus.”
“Er…I’m not exactly the academic type.”
“Don’t worry. Dartmouth has a strong Native American admissions program. You see reservation kids all the time. You’ll fit in better than me.”
Lean raised an eyebrow.
“You will once I’ve found you more suitable clothes.”
Half an hour later, they stood on the lush green lawn outside a lecture theater. Leah fidgeted with the pleats of her gingham summer dress, unused to anything so…feminine. The doors opened, and students flooded out. Leah perked up, her keen nose and vision both focused on locating her goddaughter. An unfamiliar scent grabbed her attention. A human female, but with a woodsy, outdoors aroma that didn’t belong in this urban space. The scent was so enticing that Leah yearned to follow it to its source.
Something small and soft plowed into her, breaking the spell. A slender girl with curly, bronze hair and chocolate-colored eyes. Leah smiled and pulled Nessie into a warm embrace.
“I’ve missed you!” declared Nessie.
Leah tousled Nessie’s hair. “I’ve missed you too, kiddo.”
Nessie turned to Alice and frowned. “Any developments?”
“Nothing much. I still see a newborn arriving on campus. The strangest thing, though, is I get the impression this newborn is going to hurt someone who’s family…but it’s not one of us.”
Nessie threw up her arms. “Could you be any more confusing?”
Alice’s eyebrows narrowed in concentration. “I think it’s someone who is going to join our family. A girl. But I can’t see how that can be?”
“Could it be werewolf unpredictability clouding your sight?” asked Leah.
“No. She’s definitely going to be one of my best friends. At least, she’ll either be my friend or she’ll die.”
Leah shuddered. “Well, that sucks.”
The three of them walked across the grass toward Nessie’s next class. Enough clouds dotted the sky to prevent Alice from going all sparkly, and a gentle breeze tugged at Leah’s dress. She glanced around and took in the fancy, red-brick buildings with sandstone columns. This place was a far cry from the community college she’d attended. A familiar but faint werewolf scent drew her attention, and she waved at Jacob and Bella before they disappeared into a white building. Naturally, Jacob and Nessie's mom would stay close until the danger passed.
Just then, the breeze shifted, and a bleach stench burned her nostrils. Alice was downwind, and there was something different about this smell. It wasn’t the scent of any vampire she knew.
Leah exchanged a look with Alice. “Are there any other…friendly vampires here?”
Alice shook her head.
Alice gripped Leah's arm. “Don’t do anything rash. Newborns are unpredictable. We should go in strength to investigate.”
“And miss this opportunity?”
“I can’t endanger Nessie.”
Leah blinked. “Of course not! You two continue to class. I’ll follow my nose.”
“You should wait,” said Alice.
“You ain’t the boss of me.”
Alice pulled out her cellphone, probably to call Jacob. Leah escaped her grip and sprinted across the lawn in the direction of the stranger’s scent. She kept to human…well, almost human speed so as not to draw attention. She knew Alice and Nessie wouldn’t follow because Alice wouldn’t allow Nessie closer to danger.
The scent grew stronger as she neared one of the buildings, a squat structure with tiny windows. She tracked the stranger around to a side door almost hidden by the shrubbery. The overgrown plants and lack of any path implied this entrance was rarely used. As she grew near, Leah noted cracks in the wood around the lock. The door had been forced open. Cautiously, she entered and found herself in a dark corridor. The bleach stench was stronger here. Her quarry was close. She listened for movement. The deathly silence told her no humans were around.
A man stepped into view. No, not a man. His eyes matched the color of his red beard, and she could smell what he was.
He grinned. “So, werewolves are real.”
Giving up on stealth, she straightened. “What makes you say that?”
“You smell like a wet dog. Same as that guy who hangs around with the brunette immortal and the girl who smells different. None of you are human, and I think werewolf’s as good a guess as anything else.”
“I’d say you were smart, but you’re clearly not. Nobody smart would hang around with two werewolves on campus.”
“I never claimed to be smart. But if a wolf appeared in public, it would draw lots of unwanted attention.” He smirked. “You can't fight me in that weak human form.”
She snorted. “Who’s going to see a wolf inside here?”
He bolted away. Leah followed. She considered phasing but held back. There was a fire door at the opposite end of the corridor. He flew into the bar, and the double doors opened to reveal a crowd of students. By the time she reached the doors, the newborn had disappeared into the throng.
She threaded through the people, keeping her eyes open and following his stench. He wouldn’t get far. The scent led her into another college building, this one better lit but still empty. Wait. Not completely empty. One human heartbeat thumped upstairs. She mustn’t phase unless she had no other choice.
She followed the scent to the staircase and up to the second floor. There she was momentarily distracted by a familiar smell. That appealing woodsy aroma she’d encountered earlier. The bleach trail merged with the woodsy scent but failed to completely mask it. Leah picked up her pace. A human was in danger, and the Quileute wolves were protectors of humanity.
Turning the corner, she spied the newborn darting through a door. Someone screamed. Leah phased into her wolf form, fragments of gingham flying through the air like confetti. She sprinted over on all fours and barreled into the room. It was a restroom. Mirrors lined one wall, each of them reflecting images of the vampire standing beside the toilet stalls. She detected no blood, and a human heart still beat inside one of the stalls, although faster than was healthy. Thank the Great Spirit she arrived before it was too late.
The newborn snarled and kicked out at her. She dodged to the side. A second foot headed her way, but this time she caught it in her jaws. He screamed and pounded her head with his fist. White light bloomed in her vision, and her jaw loosened. He recovered his foot and circled her torso with both arms. Leah wriggled to get loose, but his grip was too strong. She was stupid to have cornered this newborn on her own. Why hadn’t she learned her lesson from last time? Unless backup arrived, he would crush her torso, and she would die. Worse, so would the innocent hidden in a stall.
A thud from that stall distracted the vampire. The smell of blood entered the air. Not strong. Just a scratch. Possibly the human fainted and fell. Overcome by his primal instincts, the newborn released Leah and jumped for the stall.
Recovering immediately, Leah leaped on his back, gripping his neck with her teeth. One quick yank, and his head detached from his torso. She couldn’t believe it. By simple luck, she’d survived the day and saved a human life.
Leah phased back to human form. She was naked, and there was a decapitated corpse on the floor, but she had other priorities. She tapped on the stall. “Hello? Are you all right in there?”
The stall door cracked open. Clearly, the human had regained consciousness. A girl’s face appeared in the gap. Leah gaped at exquisite sapphire eyes and a freckled face that contrasted strongly with her own dark looks.
Leah dropped to her knees. Thoughts she’d never entertained ran through her mind. She saw herself skipping through a forest hand-in-hand with this blonde-haired girl. Leah had seen similar visions occur through Jacob’s and Sam’s eyes via their pack telepathy when they imprinted on their soulmates. The silken threads of Leah's destiny snapped and were replaced by steel cables as she imprinted on the beautiful stranger. Finally, she had found her soulmate.
Julie’s pulse raced as she peered out from the restroom stall. On the floor lay a decapitated corpse. Only moments before, a man she’d never seen before crashed into the women’s restroom on the first floor of the Medical Sciences Building and snarled at her. Even without his bright-red eyes, she could tell there was something wrong with him. Whatever drugs he’d taken had really done a number on him. Now he lay dead, but no blood pooled between his neck and his severed head. Strange she even paused to think about that when every instinct she possessed screamed at her to flee.
A naked girl maybe a few years older than Julie stood over the body, with short black hair, bronze skin, and curves Julie would die for. Native American, she suspected. The young woman stared at Julie with a strange expression, like she knew her deepest secrets and hidden desires. She stepped closer, and Julie backed into the stall, raising her arms. “Woah, lady. I don’t know what your story is but step off.”
“I’m Leah. I’m your soulmate.” The girl cringed and muttered under her breath, “Smooth, Leah. Way to break it gently.”
Julie shook her head in denial. “Did you just walk out from the psych ward? Is that where you lost your clothes.” She glanced again at the corpse. “And what happened to him? There was lots of growling, then I blacked out.”
“I ripped off his head to stop him from killing you.”
Okay, now Julie was seriously freaked. Other people had crazy stalkers who bugged them on Facebook and Twitter. She had a psychopathic stalker who thought she was strong enough to rip off a man’s head. At least her stalker was hot. Julie gestured to the corpse. “We should call nine-one-one.”
Julie put her hands on her hips. “Excuse me? There’s a dead body right there, and it’s not going anywhere fast. We have to call the police.”
“We must protect the secret.”
Great! This crazy lady—Leah she called herself—believed she killed the man, though that was clearly impossible, and didn’t want to get the authorities involved. Worse, whatever did kill him was probably still around. An escaped lion, maybe. She’d heard growling but couldn’t identify the animal. But where did it come from and how did it get inside the Medical Sciences Building? There was a petting zoo in Sanborton, but she doubted they kept any big cats. Wherever the animal came from, Julie didn’t want to wind up as cat food. She surreptitiously reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone.
Leah moved faster than Julie would have thought possible and snatched the phone from her hand. “Sorry, but I can’t let you make that call.”
The restroom door opened, and a petite, pale woman entered. She looked more like a fashion model than a student or lecturer.
Julie turned to her. “Please, help me. This woman’s insane, and there’s a body. Call the police.”
The newcomer smiled. “Hi, I’m Alice. I’m a…erm…friend of Leah’s.”
Julie gaped. The woman—Alice—who looked like she’d just walked off the catwalk in Milan was friends with the crazy naked girl?
Leah handed Julie’s phone to Alice, which disappeared into her Gucci bag, and gestured to the corpse. “What do we do about the lea…body?”
Alice produced a lighter. Crouching over the corpse, she flicked on the flame, and suddenly the man was alight. Within seconds, the whole body disintegrated leaving behind less ash than you could fit in a crematorium urn. Julie opened and closed her mouth like a fish.
Leah grabbed her hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
Julie attempted to reclaim her hand. “I’m not going anywhere with you. You’re both insane.” She jabbed a finger of her free hand at Alice. “And she just destroyed crime scene evidence.”
Leah’s grip was unshakable. “I’m sorry but you must come with us. Newborn vampires usually run in covens, and I can’t take the risk of them following this dead one’s scent and associating his death with you.”
Vampires? Sheesh, these people just grew freakier by the minute.
The restroom door opened again, and a man entered. “Man” wasn’t a big enough word to adequately describe this behemoth. He was larger than The Rock, but his skin, hair, and features suggested he might be related to Leah. No point asking him to call the police. He pulled crumpled clothes from a backpack and handed them to Leah. “Here. You can use my spares.”
Leah released Julie to accept the clothes, but the man in the doorway prevented escape. Leah tugged on some over-sized shorts then secured them with a belt. The “La Push High” T-shirt she pulled over her torso was so long it covered her shorts like she was wearing a minidress. Even dressed in “boyfriend” clothes, this crazy girl looked stunning. She gestured to the man. “This is Jacob, my Alpha.”
Alpha? What the hell was that? Some kind of priest in their cult.
The man glared at Leah. “Why are you telling…?” His eyes widened. “Is she? Did you?”
“With a girl?”
The man smiled and grabbed Julie’s hand, shaking it like an old water pump. “I’m delighted to meet you.”
Great. Now she had two stalkers. Possibly three. And this guy looked tough enough to take on a whole biker gang alone.
“We’d better get back to the house,” said Alice. “Carlisle will know what to do.”
Carlisle? Who was he and would he be as crazy as the rest?
Leah put an arm across her shoulders and led her out of the restroom closely followed by the other asylum escapees. Julie anxiously scanned around, looking for someone normal who might phone the police and report her abduction. While being hurried along, she noted that Leah wore a musky perfume she couldn’t identify that was rather mouthwatering. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. No matter how attractive Leah was or how good she smelled, she was still insane. But why did her warm arm across her shoulders feel so comforting and…right?
As they left the building, they were joined by another three people: a young man and woman who looked like they just walked off the same catwalk as Alice and a slightly younger woman who looked a perfect blend of the other two. Their sublime beauty and obvious resemblance to Alice told Julie she would receive no aid from that quarter. Despite the milling crowds around the campus, she was now surrounded by six strangers who all, she had to admit, scared her. She didn’t think escape was possible. Another small voice in her head told her that she didn’t want to escape if that meant losing the comforting touch of Leah’s arm on her shoulders.
“These are Nessie, Edward, and Bella,” introduced Leah. Julie couldn’t help but note how Leah caressed the two syllables of “Nessie” while practically spitting out “Bella”. Nessie was the blended, younger woman, and Julie felt an unexpected pang of jealousy. Where did that come from?
Within half-an-hour, Leah guided Julie along a tree-lined track toward an antebellum farmhouse. She gaped at the impressive, three-story structure with its wrap-around veranda and rustic wooden exterior. The super-hot crazy people were super-rich, too. Once inside, she blinked at the contrast between the antique furniture and modern, open-plan living space she hadn’t expected. The living room they entered smelled of beeswax polish and old leather.
Nessie turned to Julie and Leah then smiled. She had dimples that Julie wanted to crush with a fist. Why did she feel such aggression toward a stranger? She shouldn’t be jealous of the crazy people being close to one another. What had it got to do with her?
“Leah, I think you’d better take Julie for a walk in the woods,” suggested Nessie. “You have things to…talk over.” She reached over and squeezed Leah’s shoulder. “Seeing is believing, Godmother.”
“Besides,” added Alice. “You're not noted for your verbal skills.”
Leah glared at Alice.
Godmother? Leah was only a few years older than Nessie. How could she be her godmother unless they all belonged to some kind of cult? A crazy, “vampire-killing” cult. Strangely, Nessie’s pronouncement that Leah was her godmother eased a tension in Julie’s shoulders she hadn’t realized existed. Their relationship was a family one and not romantic. But why should Julie care?
She allowed Leah to lead her through the house, into the backyard, and then into the woods behind. Maybe Julie was the one who was insane? That would explain why she felt excitement rather than fear when a potentially violent stranger had taken her into the deep dark woods and nobody else knew she was here. She didn’t even have her phone to text someone her location.
Leah halted and turned to face her. Her beautiful brown eyes narrowed in concern. “I have to show you something. It might scare you, but it will answer any questions you may have. I don't often agree with Alice, but she's right that words aren't my strong suit.”
Julie licked her lips. Something that might scare her? She should be running for the hills, but somehow she felt a pressing need to stay and see whatever mystery it was that Leah wished to reveal. She looked the other woman in the eyes. “Show me.”
Leah pulled off the T-shirt and tugged down the shorts so she was naked again. Julie tried not to notice her firm breasts, muscular thighs, and that tight stomach a gymnast would kill for. The woman could be a film star or an Olympic athlete, yet she claimed Julie was her soul mate? Impossible.
“Here goes nothing,” said Leah.
Julie blinked in disbelief as Leah’s body somehow collapsed in on itself to be instantly replaced by an expanding bundle of brown fur. The bundle further transformed into a huge wolf that whined like a puppy fearing punishment.
Julie’s heart pounded, and she took a step back. “H-How? What?”
The wolf whined again, edged forward, and pressed its wet nose against Julie’s hand. She tentatively stroked the soft fur along the wolf’s muzzle and then alongside its neck. The wolf made a satisfied-sounding, rattling noise and pushed against her hand. Julie should be terrified, but this felt right. Somehow, she knew that this wolf would never hurt her. In fact, the opposite was true. If anything bad happened, this wolf would die before letting Julie suffer. She instinctively knew that to be true.
The wolf stepped back. It collapsed in on itself, and a naked girl took its place.
Julie stood transfixed. After a moment, she took a deep breath. “Y-You’re a werewolf?”
“You’re all werewolves?”
“No. Alice and her family are vampires. Good vampires, I suppose.”
“Er…okay.” Then a thought occurred to her. “Wait! You mean that guy in the restroom really was a vampire, and he was going to kill me?”
The blood drained from Julie’s face, and she trembled. She’d brushed close to death and hadn’t even realized it.
Leah edged closer and placed a hand on Julie's shoulder. The shivers instantly ceased, and warmth flowed through her body. She felt safe and loved. Leah's puppy-dog eyes begged acceptance and understanding. Julie could no longer resist those eyes. Sure, this hot girl was a werewolf, but Julie came from Montana. Nobody was perfect. Besides, Leah had saved her life, and Julie felt safe with her. Safer than she’d ever felt before in her life. More than that, Leah somehow felt like the home Julie had never had. She stepped into her soulmate’s embrace. The embrace turned into a kiss. The kiss turned into something more. Within a few minutes, there were two naked girls in the woods.
WORD COUNT: 3970
Plugged in "Fantasy Newsletter (August 12, 2020)" "Romance/Love Newsletter (October 28, 2020)"