Four Cowboys & A Witch|
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Copyright ©2012 Cheryl Dragon
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Ben Richner paced the family-room-turned-command-center of his Houston ranch. The proper living room was still decorated to the hilt, ready to receive and entertain guests in proper Texas fashion. The tucked away command center was stocked with laptops, maps, and reference books on the paranormal.
Being pagan in Texas felt like being a kitten surrounded by western diamondback rattlers -- you didn't stand a chance except to hold still and hope they didn't see you. Of course, Ben's crazy old aunts never cared. He'd learned it all young: Loving nature was okay here, but the good Christian ladies grew very uncomfortable with the pagan label.
As talented as this group of men was, only one had any spark of a magical gift, and it barely registered against the vampires they'd fought. A key piece of their group eluded them.
"Quit staring out the window. Trey and Rodney will get back when they're done." Sam Gradar stood and made his way to the kitchen with his coffee mug.
"I know," Ben said.
He had grown so used to Sam's limp he barely noticed anymore. Today, however, it grated on Ben: the pain in Sam's green eyes, and how that long sandy hair swung more when the limp hurt him.
Guilt never went away. They'd been warned and couldn't get to Sam in time. The rodeo accident in high school had been truly cruel harassment of a gay man. Seven years hadn't healed Sam's leg. Nothing could. It was good to be rich and own land in Texas. Ben had flown in specialists but there were no fixes.
Pagan and gay, the group had some strikes against it, but technically they weren't gay. The missing piece was the right woman. The fact that the four of them had plenty of muscle from working a horse ranch meant others rarely harassed them.
Ben shook off the history running through his head. The case needed attention, yet his brain kept flashing back to high school when he'd fallen in love with Trey, and they'd both had a crush on that pesky Danielle girl.
Danielle Embers' name had come up when her father's aunt died last week. Since then, the group had kept their ears open for word that Dani'd returned to Houston. The very gifted woman had left for college and never returned. Her looks haunted him, long blonde hair and dark eyes that hinted of the power she tried to hide.
Finally Trey and Rodney pulled up in Trey's loaded silver pickup. The two climbed out. Ben met them at the door. The sight of Trey's handsome face, short brown hair and brown eyes comforted Ben.
"You're hyper today." Trey kissed Ben.
"It's Dani. She's in my head. Her aunt wanted no funeral and was cremated so maybe she won't come back. Someone has to claim the ashes and her possessions. What if Dani has them shipped?" Ben hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his worn out jeans.
"We've put feelers out all over town. If she shows at the retirement apartment complex, the funeral home, or any of our usual haunts, they'll call us." Rodney shrugged.
Ben smiled at the ever practical and overly smart man of the group. Black hair and dark eyes made him look like the magical practitioner he wanted to be. Finding that online coven for pagan men was Rodney's genius. He'd learned a lot, but they could really use Dani's gifts.
A hand slapped Ben on the back. He looked over.
"You okay?" Trey asked.
"Yeah, fine. What did you find at the attack site?" Ben rubbed his eyes.
Rodney turned on a laptop and hooked up his smartphone. "I got pictures. The property owner swears he didn't hear a thing all night. No howls or noises from the herd. There were no footprints or tire tracks."
"After that rain yesterday, the ground is still damp. There should've been some impressions." Trey moved over as Sam returned with his coffee.
"Another pricey cow killed?" Sam asked.
Trey nodded. "It was bloated from the sun this morning already, but the blood was gone. We cut the neck and the legs, barely any blood."
"Wolves? Coyotes?" Ben suggested.
Sam studied the pictures. "No, packs tear up the body. This one is pristine. I can't believe the coyotes didn't go after the meat."
"They didn't. You know animals. There must be a reason. Some scent they don't like. We took samples from the wounds, but the holes are so small it'd take forever to drain a heifer that way." Trey walked away with a shrug.
Ben loved the experience dynamic. Trey and Sam knew animals and ran a tight ranch. Rodney had the book smarts while Ben had the quirky ideas. "Did you put it to the online coven guys?"
Rodney shook his head. "I'll do it now that we've got evidence. The other two reports this week were shredded by predators by the time we got there. Vultures were circling when we arrived."
"See what they say online. Could be kids being dumb or something paranormal we don't know about." Ben nodded.
"Vampires haven't been a problem since we made them toe the line six months ago," Sam said.
"Who says it's vamps?" Trey asked.
"Who else wants blood?" Sam replied.
"There's too much blood in a huge cow. How'd they keep it fresh? Pump and store? Come on, they can raid the blood banks or hospitals instead of doing the work for cow blood. It's something else." Ben liked the surge of fighting the unknown and helping people.
"I'll put it online to the coven and start researching similar cases." Rodney settled in with the computer.
Ben's phone beeped and he looked at the text message. Dani Embers at retirement complex now.
"Put the cows on hold, guys. Dani's in town." Ben turned and headed for the door. The other three followed. He could feel the group lighten up. As good as they were together,
Ben knew they'd never be civilized without the right woman. Pagan warriors for good needed a goddess to connect them to the feminine powers. In Texas terms, there was no home without a woman in it.