Alpha Province: Puppet Strings(9)

By: Becca Van

“He was crazy. He killed my family.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” Elsa replied hoarsely. She cleared her throat before continuing. “So, what’s going on with you, Sage?”

“Nothing,” Sage answered quickly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Let’s grab some coffee so we can sit and chat.”

Bladen heard the women walking away from the doorway further into the kitchen. He glanced at his brothers and started down the stairs, making sure to keep his footsteps silent, which wasn’t that difficult since he had inbuilt feline grace. He was aware of his brothers quietly following behind him. He stopped just outside the kitchen, leaned against the wall, and canted his head.

“This is a good town, Sage. The men here are all retired soldiers who have very strong protective instincts. The women you met today, Emmy, Pixie, Dusty, Kenzie, Tami and myself, all ended up here because we were running from trouble. I won’t go into their stories because that’s for them to tell, but I will tell you mine.”

“You don’t have to,” Sage said. “I can tell it’s painful for you.”

“It is,” Elsa replied, “but I want you to know what sort of men you’re dealing with here.” Elsa took a deep breath before she began. “I was going to my parents’ house to have dinner with my mom, dad, and sister, Janet. I was happy and looking forward to spending time with my family, singing along to the radio without a care in the world. I saw an orange glow in the sky just before I heard sirens coming up behind me. Of course, I pulled over to let the emergency vehicles through before I started driving again. The closer I got to my childhood home, the more dread I felt. The street was so full of fire trucks and police, I had to park near the beginning of the street. Even before I got there I knew what I’d find. I told myself my mom, sister, and dad were fine, that they’d been late getting home from wherever they’d been, but then I saw their car in the driveway.

“I tried to run toward the house but was stopped by one of the firemen. My family died that night, and the fire was ruled accidental. Long story short, the man who’d stopped me from entering the blazing house was the man who’d set the place alight. He was crazy and also a pyromaniac. He had this twisted notion that families should be together no matter where they were, including heaven.

“I don’t know why he didn’t come after me so quickly after my family died, but he didn’t. Maybe because he was insane, he couldn’t think straight. I ended up in Ambrose months afterward because I couldn’t deal with the memories or the grief. That bastard found me and set out to kill me, too.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Sage rasped out. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Elsa.”

“Thank you. I’m not telling you this for sympathy. If it wasn’t for my mates and the other men who live in this town and the surrounding county, I’d be dead. The guys may be gruff and a little rough around the edges, but their hearts and souls are as pure as an archangel.”

“Thank you for sharing with me.”

“You’re welcome.” Elsa paused for a moment or two. “So who are you running from Sage?”

“I’m not running from anyone,” Sage replied without any hesitation and with such conviction, Bladen almost believed her. If it weren’t for the sweet scent of her fear and the sound of her heartbeat and breathing speeding up, he wouldn’t have realized she was lying.

Elsa huffed out a breath. “Why did you come to Ambrose? Don’t you miss your family?”

Sage sucked air in raggedly. “I was an orphan. I have no idea who my parents are. I was left on the steps of a church in Portland, Oregon. There was, is no birth certificate. There was a note in the box I’d been placed in telling whoever found me that my name was Sage. When the police arrived, the officers decided to give me the priest’s last name of Garland, since he’d saved my life.”

“That must have been hard,” Elsa said.

“It was. The first five years of my life I spent in an orphanage, but when that ended up closing down, I went into foster care. Some of the homes were terrible, but others were okay.”