A moment for tara, p.4
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       A Moment for Tara, p.4

           Tamar Sloan
 
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  Chapter Four

  It’s Decided

  Our house, full at the best of times, overflows with Weres the next day. All Channons, all angry at the threat we never considered we’d have to face. The Glade borders a national park, firmly nestled in a pocket of federal land. It’s the safest place it could be short of us owning it ourselves, which has never been possible, nor affordable.

  They all crowd in our lounge, frowns and crossed arms abounding.

  There are few females here. The Channons align themselves closely with their animal side and the power and strength of males. Mom sits behind Dad, looking even more pale than usual. There’s the odd wife, me and Adelle. Adelle is noticeable for two reasons. She’s a widow, so isn’t here with a mate, just her son Seth who’s a few years older than me. And she never left the sixties. Which is hilarious, because she’s my Dad’s age so she’s never actually been there. It doesn’t stop her from wearing a lot of crochet tops and tie-dyed skirts, or from devoting herself to any good cause she comes across.

  She also breaks conventions like they’re spaghetti sticks. Slicing through the somber mood she wraps me in incense and smiles. “Tara, the Change suits you.”

  I hug her back; when your mom is permanently tired or diaper changing, you don’t get a lot of these. “Thanks Adelle. How’s the raptor sanctuary going?”

  “Wonderfully darling girl, they do such amazing work there.”

  Seth stands back, arms crossed but the smile that you can’t help but sprout around Adelle growing on his face. “Yes well, you did raise five thousand dollars, Mom.”

  Adelle pats his cheek as she breezes past. “With the help of some very committed people dear.”

  Seth’s glance as he follows his mother into the lounge room is one I’ve seen many times before. Exasperated, willing to indulge her modesty, proud.

  With the last of us jammed into the lounge room, Dad fills his big barrel chest with a breath. It’s all everyone needs to know that he’s about to talk and the room falls silent. He looks around at the representatives of his pack. “You all know why we’re here and what we have to stop.”

  The room explodes as emotion overflows. Chris, one of the ones who was at the head of the pack when I ran with them for the first time not so long ago, snarls. “Greedy bastards.”

  Keith, an old grizzled Were, steps forward. “We can’t lose the Glade. It’s sacred.” He thumps his fist into his palm. “It’s our heritage.”

  Seth crosses his arms. “We can’t exactly list it as a culturally sensitive site, can we?”

  Adelle places her hand on Seth’s arm, but to be fair, he’s simply aired the crux of our issue. We can’t fight for what the Glade really stands for without risking our secret.

  Chris turns back to Dad. “It’s probably loggers, they’ve been trying to get their hands on any land they can for years.”

  Keith snarls. “And buying it in secret is just what the lying cheats would do.”

  Grunts of agreement rise around the room and quite a few Weres shuffle. I feel my hands fist, the fury that Dad has been venting all morning pulsing in my palms.

  Dad nods, silent as his pack vents their anger, waiting for them to say their piece.

  Adelle, the one female voice with the courage to believe its equal, asks the question we’re here to answer. “How do we stop them, Kurt?”

  The room goes quiet as everyone turns to Dad. Dad never falters under the weight of those stares and Alpha responsibility. “Adam Phelan is talking to the mayor to see if he can find any legal loopholes.”

  Seth shakes his head. “That could take months.”

  Everyone’s silent. We don’t have weeks let alone months.

  “The Phelans have always been peacemakers, negotiators.” Standing at the back of the room something tightens in my chest. Why does he make that sound like a bad thing? “But we need to act now.”

  A few feet shuffle, a couple of backs straighten but no one speaks. They’re waiting to see what we’ll do.

  Dad nods, a slow, very deliberate action. “People need to know. We’ll make some noise, go public, get the media involved.” Dad isn’t shrinking, he’s growing, practically expanding with this newfound purpose. “They’ll discover the Channons are a power you don’t want to come up against.”

  The chests around the room expand too, heads nodding, mouths tightening. The Channons have a plan. Hands come up, people offering to do pamphlet drops, Chris works at the local newspaper so he can run an article. Adelle bustles as she coordinates a day and time for us to protest. Within half an hour the testament of the power of the pack grows in my lounge room. The loggers will never be able to overcome the community outcry they’ll face.

  Dad stands at the door as the representatives of each family leave. Adelle slips her arm around my shoulder. “Tara, I need you to do something for me.”

  I look at her expectantly.

  “I need some placards.”

  I nod, happy to be using my skills. “What do you want them to say?”

  Adelle drums her fingers on her chin. “Weres were here first?”

  I smile. “Which would be great if it wasn’t for those secrecy laws.”

  “I thought you’d say that. How about ‘protect what you love’?”

  “I like it. I’ll start on it tonight.”

  Adelle pats my arm as she moves away. “I knew I could depend on you.”

  It’s only once everyone is gone that Mom speaks. She’s so quiet, the proverbial wallflower, her voice a strained whisper. “Kurt?”

  Dad, his head still with his pack, doesn’t hear her at first. Maybe it’s my quick footed walk to her side that catches his attention, maybe he registers the strain in her voice when she says his name again, but he’s instantly beside her. “Lara.”

  Mom looks up, the significance of what’s about to happen shining from her soft blue eyes. I’m just not sure if it’s the fact that this is the last pregnancy she’ll have to go through, or that this could be the time she finally bears him a son. “It’s time.”

  Dad, that solid exterior actually a little ruffled, practically carries Mom to the car. Mom’s last labor was only three hours — her body knows how to pop ‘em out by now.

  “Tara.” He races past, grabbing the bag that’s been sitting by the front door for the past three weeks. Packed with what it’s always been packed with — Mom’s clothes, diapers, the hand-me-down pink grow suit, the never-been-used blue one.

  “I’ve got it Dad. The little ones are in bed, we’ll be fine.”

  His hazel gaze catches mine for a moment, strained and so, so plainly heart-wrenching. This is his last opportunity for the Alpha heir he’s always wanted to prove he could have.

  Once the door is shut I look at it, not knowing what my heart is wishing for right now, but not willing to look too closely to find out. I turn and head down the hall, typing as I walk. Soz, can’t come over tonight. Mom just went to the hospital.

  Mitch, Noah and I had agreed to meet up after our respective pack meetings to compare notes. There’s a bling almost simultaneously from our group chat. What are you going to name your all girls baseball team?

  Then another bling. The Channon Chooks?

  And another. Although if any of you take after your dad it’ll be the Channon Chewbaccas!

  I shake my head, Noah’s having an entire conversation with himself. Mitch’s response has my eyes widening. Great news. We’ll come to you then.

  Crapbuckets. My heart rate picks up a notch. I learnt many years ago, right about the time we were six and I gave Noah a haircut, that I’m really bad at lying. But I don’t get a chance because my cell dings again.

  Can’t little bro, found out I couldn’t hang out anyway. Dad needs me.

  Which is code for Alpha duty, probably something to do with this latest development. My sigh of relief bounces off the hallway walls. That would have meant just me and Mitch. Alone.

  As I stand at the back door I type quickly. A
ll good, I’m all settled in for a quiet one anyway.

  Cool, let us know when you’ve got the last member of the Channon Cheetahs.

  On the back patio I wait, but there’s nothing. No response from Mitch.

  When I don’t hear anything back I tell myself it’s a good thing.

  I head to my easel, letting the familiar feeling of being centered wash over me. I’ve created with color since the moment my chubby fingers could wrap around a crayon, but discovering the marvelous invention they call paint was a life changer for me. I never got into the abstract — there’s no existential, metaphysical level to my paintings. I use nothing but the colors of life, I paint what I love. Try it peeps - capturing the beauty that makes up the world onto a canvas calms your farm like nothing else.

  I start on the placards, I really do. But once the colors start talking to me, pointing out how the browns love to connect with greens, that capturing the color of sunlight is a challenge I love to step up to, I swap canvases. The image of the Glade, on THE day, is still so bright and strong in my mind. Within the space of a breath I’m lost. Lost in a world of possibilities that I can create, in a world where I am master…in colors like citrus and cinnamon.

  “I like it.”

  “Holy snap dragons!” My paintbrush goes flying and I almost drop the glorified piece of wood I call my palette. Mitch is leaning in the door way, arms crossed, hot bod leaning against the door jamb. “What are you trying to do, scare the Were out of me?”

  He grins and steps forward, making me wonder how long he’s been there. “Sorry.”

  I snort as I bend to pick up the paintbrush that’s now left a green splatter on the floor — he doesn’t sound sorry. I grab a rag and swipe at it and as I stand two things hit me. Mitch’s eyes telling me that he watched the bending over, possibly almost as intensely as I watch him, followed closely by the knowledge that we’re alone.

  As in no one else, unaccompanied by the protection of a chaperon, as in I think everyone else just disappeared off the face of this planet kind of alone.

  My heart starts to thump and I’m forced to swallow before I can speak. “What are you doing here?”

  “I wanted to know what’s wrong.”

  That has me freezing. He’s guessed? “Nothing’s wrong.”

  His head quirks as even two words can’t pass my lips with the ring of truth. He holds up his phone. “You wanted a quiet night in? Just tell me, is it terminal?”

  Relief has me smiling. “I’m not sick. Just tired.”

  Mitch’s eyes crinkle with concern. “The stuff about the Glade?”

  I blink, knowing that’s what’s supposed to be on my mind. The images of the Channons in the lounge, angry and unsettled, plants my brain firmly back with my pack. “It’s not good.”

  “We’ll stop them, you’ll see.”

  I look back at the painting. What part of me was preserving our heritage, and what part was preserving the memory of when I fell for Mitch? “It’s too important not to.”

  Mitch takes the final steps in and even though I’m on the back porch without the boundaries of walls the air around me shrinks. I step away, towards the placards Adelle requested. “I’m making these. It looks like we’ll be protesting.”

  Mitch rubs his lower lip in the same way his father and brother do, but somehow it only manages to look sexy on him. “Great idea.”

  “Yeah, I might need to borrow some of Adelle’s outfits and start living in trees.” I whip up a smile a game-show hostess would be jealous of. Keep it light, kick him out. Then I’m not tempted to find out if those lips are as delicious as they look and destroy what I know has been my fate from the moment the Phelan boys were born. Unless Mom has a girl…I have to consciously throw that thought from my mind. I won’t be the person who wishes away my father’s only desire.

  But the thought is like a freakin’ boomerang. Unless it’s a girl…

  Mitch moves over to one of my older paintings. It’s a scene of the river we canoed in spring through summer. It’s when I first started experimenting with wet on wet, a fascinating technique that creates layers and eddies of color. Where you can show how deep water can run, how much mystery it holds.

  “I love your paintings.” He turns to me. “I can spend ages thinking I’ve figured them out, and then bam,” those blue eyes hold me hostage as he takes a step closer. I need him to stop but I can’t find the words to tell him, “You get hit with something you didn’t see before.”

  Jeepers. Not light, not light at all. I swallow. “Ah, thanks.”

  Mitch takes another step and there really isn’t enough air in this outdoor room. “Have you ever had that?”

  I blink. “Had what?”

  Mitch moves, filling my senses as he closes the distance between us. Citrus and cinnamon. Deepwater blue. Lips twitching like they’d like to smile but there’s a bigger, deeper emotion taking over. “See something in a new light?” His voice dips and drops. “Or someone.”

  I swallow, wishing I could run away and knowing I’m lying. Mitch’s eyes are searching mine and in that moment, I forget to hide, I glory in the heat and passion that’s leaping and surging between us.

  “Tara.” Sweet snapples, my name sounds good on his lips, colored by the emotion I can see mirrored in his eyes. “I need to ask you —”

  My phone rings, practically puncturing the tension that has built up around us. The breath that had dissolved from my body finds life again. I step back, my mind whirring with how close I just came to betraying my father, every other cell screaming for me to go back. “I need to get that.”

  Mitch’s lips purse but he nods. I step back again, trying to make sure I sever the emotions that had been twining around us. I glance down at my phone, my eyes stinging with the physical pain. Dad’s name is flashing like a digital warning bell across my screen.

  Unless…

  I swallow, not knowing what I’m wishing for anymore. I’m pretty darned proud that my voice is almost normal when I answer. “So I’m a big sister again, huh?”

  “Tara.” Dad chokes up, at a loss for words.

  My hand slackens and I have to consciously tighten it so I don’t drop the phone. A second later I have to do the same thing with my knees. Dad doesn’t need to say anything else.

  His tone says it all.

  I now know what my future will be.

 
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