Harry Ever After by Hollis Shiloh by Hollis Shiloh - Read Online

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Summary

Police are the enemy. But when the choice is between working with them or letting the pack starve, Clay does his duty as the alpha and takes a job he'd never otherwise have chosen. He doesn't expect to find a certain sheriff so absolutely captivating. Harry makes him want things that are dangerous. After all, everybody knows non-shifters don't make good mates...right?

A shifters and partners novel
Length: 51,000 words 
Heat level: very low

EXCERPT

I watched his hands as he fiddled with the straw wrapper, as he squeezed lemon into his water. He had particularly watchable hands, with character, deft and careful and precise. They were hands that could mesmerize. Not young and smooth, they were large, rather tanned, with prominent knuckles and with some dark hair on the back of them. They were hands that had worked hard, and also hands that were careful. He turned a salt shaker round and it was all I could do not to stare as we waited for our food to arrive. 

He'd ordered for both of us. At least, he'd gotten a burger and fries and looked at me inquiringly. I'd just said "Same." I would have even if he'd ordered the worst thing on the menu. I was hungry enough I wouldn't care. Still, I'd heard good things about the food here, and it always smelled wonderful when I was walking past.

It smelled good today, too, but even so, it couldn't distract me from my obsession with his hands. 

"So what can I do to ensure that you're happy working at with the sheriff's department?" said Harry.

I can think of a few things. My mouth was dry, but I forced myself to look up and meet his gaze. I tried my best to banish sexual thoughts...and those damnable fluttering feelings thumping around awkwardly inside my chest.

Oh, his eyes were just so damned blue.

"It's fine," I said. "As long as I get paid." And it's enough to help the pack. "Flexible hours are good, too, when I'm working construction in the summer." At least if I could get any construction work this year.

He nodded seriously, paying careful attention to me. It was a heady experience.

"That's pretty much it." It would help if I weren't targeted by anyone inside or outside the sheriff's department for my involvement, but that was probably too much to ask. No, I would have to weigh any increased risk against the decreased risk of being run down (assuming being seen with the sheriff eating in public did affect that risk in the right direction).

Harry smiled at me gently, but in a slightly scolding way. "There's something you're not telling me."

I couldn't help grinning. It felt like we were old friends, even though we'd barely met. I put a hand against my chest, miming shock. A slightly camp gesture, but one I didn't feel funny making around him. "Moi?"

He laughed: a genuine, out-loud laugh, just from my nonsense joke. It made me grin harder; it made my toes curl up in my shoes. It was a delicious surprise, his laugh.

"All right, fair enough," he said. "I suppose you're allowed to keep some mysteries. I'd just hate to see you leave for greener pastures as soon as we get used to each other."

I looked at him, and thought, That is never going to happen.

And heaven help me, but that made my inner wolf as wary as anything that had happened in months. If already I didn't want to leave...and not just because of the pack, but also because of him...then I was in a bad way.

Dial it back, Clay.

Published: Spare Words Press on
ISBN: 9781533702104
List price: $3.99
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Harry Ever After - Hollis Shiloh

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Story copyright 2017 by Hollis Shiloh. 

All rights reserved.  Do not reproduce without written permission from the author.  All characters and events are fictitious, and any similarity to real people or events is coincidental. 

Cover art by Bree Archer.  Image content is being used for illustrative purposes only and any people depicted in the content are models. 

Copy-editing and proofreading by Martin O'Hearn.

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About the story:

Police are the enemy.  But when the choice is between working with them or letting the pack starve, Clay does his duty as the alpha and takes a job he'd never otherwise have chosen.  He doesn't expect to find a certain sheriff so absolutely captivating.  Harry makes him want things that are dangerous.  After all, everybody knows non-shifters don't make good mates...right?

A shifters and partners story

Length: approx. 51,000 words

Heat level: very low

Harry Ever After

by Hollis Shiloh

An alpha provides for his pack.

I reminded myself of that as I took a deep breath, facing the precinct building for what was going to be the first day of my life working with non-shifters on the police force.

I was a paid consultant; I had passed tests to get this job.  It was local, so I would still spend nights with my pack, taking care of them the best I could.

It had become clear recently that there was not enough money coming in to keep body and soul together for us.  We were a small pack, but tough times had hit us harder than most. 

When I realized some of the pups were going to bed hungry and crying, it was too much.  We'd done all we could with the regular jobs we had, and hunting and foraging, but belts could only be tightened so far.  We needed more income, and fast.

Taking it logically, I had to set aside my desire to never, ever have any of our members relying on the police for work.  And I'd applied.  Because how could I ask anyone from my pack to do something I wasn't willing to do? 

I had to do it.  But that didn't make it any easier to swallow my pride one last time (or probably, the first of what would be many humiliating times), and walk up the sidewalk to that ugly and imposing door.

It wasn't that our pack had had many problems with the police; we hadn't recently.  But I didn't trust them.  Maybe wolves remember longer than others, I don't know, but it was only a generation ago we were regularly hassled by police, if we didn't stay underground.  My own father was taken into a backroom and beaten for the crime of being a wolf.

It had been hard applying for a job at that very same police station, humbling myself that way.  It felt like begging, even though I knew it wasn't.  They'd accepted my application, after a brief talk with the sheriff, and I'd headed off for the training course.  It wasn't long or particularly difficult, but it hurt to be away from my pack when I knew they needed me so much.

But I had to provide.  There was little choice.  My wolves couldn't keep going hungry, just because I wasn't wolf enough to step up and do the hard task of working with the police.  It might always feel a bit like I'd sold my soul to the devil...but I'd have done worse to keep us alive if I'd had to, and it wouldn't be right to turn to crime when I had another choice open to me.

Before, I'd worked two construction jobs, as had some of my other pack members.  We were good at such work, at least when the foremen weren't dickheads to wolves (or in general).  Give us a task and we'd do it to the best of our ability, even if it was dangerous or difficult.  But construction work, always slow over the winter, had dried up completely in the new year.  The few jobs available were all well-filled, and nobody around here hires wolves if they don't have to.

We had one steady income for the entire pack, and a few part-time minimum wage jobs.  That, even along with hunting, foraging, and practicing extreme thrift, was just not enough to keep body and soul together.  Because when it comes down to it, wolves have to eat.  We require more energy than non-shifters, and there's only so much we can do about that.  As well, the cheapest foods were not always the healthiest: even big meals consisting of mostly white rice or stale bread were just not going to cut it for long, especially for the youngest wolves, who really needed good nutrition to survive and grow.

It was this, crime, or applying for welfare benefits.  And I'd heard from a pretty reliable source that welfare benefits had such a backlog in this area that it would probably take a year or two to get anything, even if we were approved.  In the meantime, the pups would probably starve to death.

So, while I was away getting training (and plenty to eat, all on the company's dime), my pack scraped and scrounged and humbled themselves by asking for handouts at food pantries.  Sometimes they were denied; usually they got at least a bit of food, and the pups could eat something.

I'd been as philosophical as I could about the food I was getting, the nourishing, calorie-rich, meaty and hearty food I had more than enough of.  It galled me every meal, to see so much here when my pack lacked so much, but I made use of it.  I ate as much as I could at every opportunity, and put on the ten pounds I'd dropped since my the last regular-paying job.  I didn't have to cinch my belt so tight now.  I looked stronger, with more muscle, and I felt fit enough to do whatever the job required of me.

If only the mental part of it wasn't so difficult.  Standing on the step in front of the door, for some reason, I couldn't make myself take that last step, grasp the door handle, and go inside. 

I'd already made the decision.  I'd interviewed, trained, and headed here specifically for this job.  Why was this last step so hard?  It felt like I was crossing over into the enemy camp, and becoming one of them. 

Do you want your pack to starve?

I was still there, hesitating on the front step, when the door opened from the inside.  A familiar figure stepped out, the broad-shouldered, non-shifter sheriff.  His name was Harold Something.  I'd remember it in a minute.  He was pretty big for a non-shifter, shaped like a football player putting on weight in his middle.  He had brown hair and a square jaw and he had dark blue eyes. 

Mr. Woodley? he said, holding the door open.  His eyes were cautiously welcoming as he tried to read my facial expression.  Come on in.

Well, I couldn't keep hesitating with him holding the door open for me.  It was either face the music, or walk away now.  I took a ragged breath and went inside with him.  The door shutting behind me felt far more momentous than it had any right to: the enemy gates, and I was on the wrong side.

Do it for the pack.  Do your duty!

I shuddered inwardly.  Even the voice of duty—which sounded very much like my father's voice—didn't make this feel any easier.

The sheriff was talking to me, but the words flowed past; I couldn't concentrate on them.  The building was not terribly large, and it smelled a little different than the last time I'd been here, less floor wax or something.  I felt his eyes on me, and turned to meet the stare.

It wasn't unfriendly, but he was a big man, historically one of my enemies, and I don't like being stared at.  I met the gaze hard.  But he seemed to be waiting for an answer, expectant and patient, not confrontational.

I reeled back the words that had flowed over me, and remembered the gist of them.  You changed things, I finally managed.

He nodded.  Yes, we changed to some new cleaning products and implemented a policy about perfumes and aftershaves, per regulations.

Thanks.  The word tasted like granite dust in my mouth.  I hated being grateful to him, but even so I could see it would have been a big deal to change the whole sheriff's office to make it more wolf-friendly.  It was always a lot of work for us to find things we could tolerate, with fewer chemicals and no overly loud smells to clog the senses and create allergies.  The pups in the pack had been known to miss a lot of school days just from the overwhelming odors in their classrooms.  Cleaning products were enough to hurt the more sensitive ones...while body spray and heavy, lingering chemicals could hurt almost any of them.  It was a real issue.

I was older, not terribly sensitive, and could handle it better.  Still, it was considerate of them to change things.  Surprisingly considerate.  It would make survival here easier on me.

Sure thing, he replied.  We have to follow the regulations.

I was glad to hear it, because we'd been over a lot of the regulations in the training course, and they were pretty good for me.  Things like a good wage, no unpaid overtime, good health insurance and dental (maybe I could finally get my teeth cleaned), extra breaks for eating, and a few other things like that that would make a world of difference.  I'd never had a job with benefits this good—or pay this good.

Reminding myself of that helped.  I took a deep breath, of the pretty-clean air, and looked around slowly, taking in what was to be my new joint territory, sharing the world with non-shifters, working alongside them...doing my damnedest to earn the money to keep my pack going.

Do you have a desk for me? I finally thought to ask.

He was just waiting, letting me adjust, watching me but not in a confrontational sort of way.  Now he nodded.  Yep, over here.  He led the way.

We don't have enough room to give you your own office, he said in the sort of voice that made it sound like he would have been glad to, if there had been room.

I surveyed the desk in the corner, kitted out as well as every other desk in the room, and grunted, It's fine.

Of course you don't have to come in every day, said the sheriff—I'd remember his name in a minute, of course I would.  You are, after all, a consultant, rather than an hourly employee.

I had the feeling he was talking out of nervousness, but that couldn't be, could it?  I cast him a quick look, trying to judge the emotions on his face.  He gave little enough away.  But once again, I was struck by his dark blue eyes.  They were friendly eyes, and it surprised me every time.  I was used to non-shifters who squinted in disapproval, distrust, or just plain dislike.

We hope you'll like it here, he added, when I said nothing at all.

You and me both, I thought, but really, I was going to be here whether I liked it or not, at least until some other prospects for providing for the pack appeared.

Thank you, I finally remembered to say.  It still galled me to be subservient to these men, but I could tell he was trying.  That had to count for something.

He nodded, looking satisfied—perhaps even pleased.  His eyes held a smile, even though his face was still serious.  Odd that I couldn't seem to stop noticing his eyes.  They really were very interesting.

He cleared his throat and looked away first, rubbing a hand under his nose.  Of course we do need your expertise today.  There's evidence to go through.  We've been saving it for you.

Glad to hear I'm needed, I said, not quite joking.  If they'd changed their mind right away, I'd have been in an even worse bind, because I could've spent the last few weeks looking for other opportunities to take care of the pack, instead of wasting time with classrooms and procedures I was never going to use anyway.  Lead the way.

He nodded, and did so.

As I followed him, I kept wracking my brain to try to remember what his name was.  I knew I'd heard it at least a couple of times. 

It was an uncomfortable position to be in, but the lack of respect from not knowing his name as we began to work together—and trying to fake it—was worse than the lack of respect in asking.  I must humble myself and ask, even if it was not easy or fun. 

Before we start, could you remind me of your name?

He blinked, but didn't look offended.  Sure.  I'm Harold Sinclair.  Sheriff.  And you're Clay Woodley, is that correct?  He was asking to be polite...he hadn't forgotten.  His manners really were not lacking.

I nodded.  Wolf, I added, offering my hand to shake.  The barest hint of a smile touched my face, which surprised me.  I hadn't expected to get along with him.

We shook hands solemnly, but his blue eyes gleamed with a hidden smile.  It was strange, but in that moment I could have sworn I felt something pass between us, not quite like static electricity, but oddly similar, a feeling that traveled up my arm and changed something.

He had bagged evidence for me to sniff, in some cases identifying a substance (to me, a lingering odor) faster than a lab could have, in others ruling out a specific substance.  It was easy work, and I'd been trained for it.  It wasn't yet routine and old hat, but it wasn't hard, either.  He stuck with me the whole time, making notes himself, recording the process. 

We were both strictly professional, yet a feeling of comradeship flowed between us, surprisingly easily.  I could hardly believe I was getting along with this man so well.  True, he hadn't done anything unpleasant, had been accommodating and welcoming so far, but I'd come here expecting adversarial relationships at best, certainly nothing like this quietly in tune feeling, that we were in sync in some silent, fundamental way.

I marveled at it, at how easy it was.  Was he good with wolves?  Was it the feeling of being on an even level with him—even though I knew he was sort of my boss—that made it easier, even a relief?  I didn't feel like he was in charge of me, and I didn't feel like he was looking down on me.  At the same time, it was a nice break from my responsibilities, to not have someone relying on me to make all the big decisions and carry that weight of alpha. 

It wasn't that I minded being alpha of our small pack, or that I didn't feel suited to the task.  Of course I was.  But there was, undeniably, a weight to it, a certain pressure in the back of one's mind, always knowing