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BLOOD AND BITE



LL BROOKS





Blood And Bite

Copyright © 2017, LL Brooks

Published by Painted Hearts Publishing

Smashwords Edition


About the Book You Have Purchased


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Blood And Bite

Copyright © 2017 LL Brooks


ISBN 10: 1-946379-39-5

ISBN 13: 978-1-946379-39-9


Authors: LL Brooks

Publication Date: July 2017

All cover art and logo copyright © 2017 by Painted Hearts Publishing

Cover design by E Keith


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.





Chapter One



“Are you dead, mister?”

Edging forward an inch at a time, Caleb knew he’d asked a stupid question. If the naked man was dead, he couldn’t very well answer him. He looked dead, with blood all over his back. Some dripped down his sides to spread out in the dirt on the road beneath him. Something about a man being dead maybe was different than an animal. Caleb wouldn’t hesitate in pulling a rabbit from one of his snares and breaking its neck, like the one he held in one hand. He did hesitate in touching the man and pulled away after his fingers brushed over the cool skin. As cold as the skin was, Caleb would have pushed back and hurried away if what he touched hadn’t quivered.

“Reckon not, but I figure you’re sure enough close to it.”

Caleb sat back on his heels, chewing his lower lip, mulling over what he’d do. No one could accuse him being the one who attacked the man. He’d been shot. Everyone knew Caleb was too poor to own a gun. They might think he was the one that stripped him, though, right down to his naked glory. Glory seemed a fit description, too, not that Caleb had ever been privy to seeing other men naked. Most he’d ever seen was a few in the summers, shedding their shirts to work when it was certain no womenfolk were around, and few of them had never been as pleasing to look at the man laid out before him. If he was to roll the man over, he’d have an unhampered view of a fine and fit body, including his man parts, except for the bullet holes, of course. Without permission to look, ogling the man’s privates didn’t seem right no matter how curious Caleb was.

“Don’t know that you can hear me, but I’ll go on into town and tell the sheriff you’re out here.”

“No,” the man moaned to make Caleb start in surprise. “No sheriff. No town.”

“Well, heck, mister, you just wanna lay there and die?”

“Help me. I’ll pay you.”

“You don’t got nothin’ to pay me with,” he said with a light laugh. “’Sides, I don’t know no doctorin’, and you need it bad.”

“I’ll heal without. Just need shelter, food, and water. I can get you money later.”

Caleb stepped over him and knelt in front of him, to look him in the face. “Look at me, mister. Do I look like I got any of any of them things decent to give you other than creek water? This here rabbit is the first meat I’m gonna have in a week, and I ain’t got much more than shriveled up taters to go with it. Don’t get me wrong. I got nothin’ against sharin’, but you’re gonna need more than I can give you.”

The man didn’t open his eyes to look at the sorry sight Caleb knew himself to be, skinny, clothes in rags, and a ragged pair of suspenders the only thing keeping his trousers up to cover his privates. A ragged remnant of a blanket was the only thing he had for a coat, and his feet were bare even thought it was coming on to chilly autumn. Caleb didn’t have any shoes or socks, and the only haircut he ever got was when he hacked at it with his homemade knife.

“It’ll be enough. The rabbit… put it up to my mouth. It’s still warm. I can feel it. I can drink the blood to start.”

Puzzled, and a bit repulsed, as to how the man even knew about the rabbit when he had yet to open his eyes, Caleb did as asked. “Reckon that’s somethin’ easy enough.”

Using the scape of iron he’d ground down on rock to make himself a knife, Caleb slit the rabbit’s throat and pushed the seeping cut to the man’s mouth. He grimaced, and his stomach did a turn over the sucking, gulping sounds, but he could swear the man grew stronger with each swallow. He took enough that when he finished, he rolled up to his side. Caleb saw his face full on for the first time and deemed it handsome, one he wouldn’t mind looking at for a long time. He was a biggen, too, one of the biggest men Caleb had ever seen. When the stranger opening his eyes, Caleb’s breath stuck somewhere in his throat, staring back at the palest blue eyes he’d ever set sight on.

“I’m going to need help getting up,” he stated.

Caleb nodded and asked, “To go where?”

“Your home.”

“Mister, all I’ve gots is a shack, and it barely keeps the wind out.”

“It’ll be fine. A few days rest and I’ll be fine.”

Looking at a chest covered with mud made from blood and fighting not to let his eyes drift lower, Caleb doubted it. The man had three holes in him, two in the chest and one in his shoulder. Though not bleeding anymore, he’d already leaked out plenty. Had to be hurting, too, something awful, but he didn’t show it.

“You’ll be wantin’ the sheriff.”

“No sheriff.”

“You don’t want them what shot you to get arrested?”

“I’ll take care of those who shot me.”

With the cold chill the words gave him, Caleb didn’t doubt the man would do just that, if he lived. He helped him up as far as sitting and held him steady by the shoulders. “I got nothin’ against helpin’ you, not even carin’ why it is you don’t want the sheriff to know about you, but you got to understand, I don’t have what a sick man needs to get well. I cain’t do a thin’ for you but maybe clean you up some. I ain’t even got enough rags for bandages.”

“All I need is a safe place to rest and heal,” he insisted. “What’s your name?”

“Caleb. What’s yours?”

“Nathan.”

“I hope you can walk some, Nathan, ’cause you’re near to a full head taller than me, and I cain’t carry you.”

“I’ll walk. Just don’t forget your rabbit. You’ll want it for your dinner.”


* * * *


“Shack” was, in Nathan’s opinion, giving more credit than the falling down structure Caleb lived than it in deserved. The bed was a wood frame with rope supports for a grass-filled mattress smelling of mold, and if not for offending the generous nature of the young man, Nathan would have preferred the dirt floor. The blanket Caleb had draped over his shoulders and tied around the waist for a coat was the only blanket he had, and Caleb covered Nathan with it. A fireplace, of sorts, in the corner provided the only heating and cooking, with a branch caught on hooks the only way to hold what little food he might have to cook.

“How long have you lived here?” Nathan asked.

“Going on about five winters now. When Pa died, they took the farm we worked on shares, but Master Gibbons allowed me and Ma to live here. Ma died the next year.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen, I think. Maybe twenty now. Hard to keep track sometimes.”

Stacking up deadwood, he prepared a fire, small for which Nathan was grateful. Anything larger would probably set the shanty on fire along with it. He didn’t, however, see how what little fuel Caleb had would last long enough to cook the rabbit he drove a branch through to suspense over the merger flames.

“Didn’t you… when you moved here, weren’t you able to bring your household things with you?”

“Some, but…most got stole or broke.” He stood, picking up a small battered pan. “I’ll go get you some water to wash you up. I gotta go on down to the creek. The well wall fell in a couple of years back.” He stopped at the door to ask, “You sure you don’t want me to go to town for help for you?”

“I’m sure.”

“If you’re—don’t mean to pry none—but if you’re hidin’ or somethin’ is why, I don’t care. Ain’t none of my business.”

“You have nothing to worry about.”

“Wasn’t worryin’. Just sayin’.”

“It would be better if you didn’t mention me to anyone, if that’s what you’re asking. The men who attacked me wouldn’t like knowing I’m still alive.”

“Don’t reckon. Probably the Gibbon boys. Them and their pa, Cecil, come in when the war ended, takin’ up land for taxes. They figure whatever they see and want, they take.”

“Like your household items?”

“Naw, they just busted most of it up one time.”

“Why?”

“Cause they’re mean. They like hurtin’, too.”

The way he ducked his head and hurried out the door, Nathan had a pretty good idea Caleb had been on the receiving end of that hurting. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn they were the cause of the limp he’d become aware of while Caleb struggled to help him walk. Whatever caused the limp, gave Caleb pain as well. Nathan sensed it just as he sensed Caleb’s fear in merely mentioning the Gibbon boys. Both made Nathan aware of the fact that Caleb, for all his fear, had an unselfish bravery. If it was the Gibbon boys who attacked and robbed him, they wouldn’t appreciate Caleb helping him.

The way Caleb came running back, water splashing out of the bent up pan, Nathan thought they’d already found out he wasn’t dead.

“Someone’s coming. Got no place to hide you.”

“Find me a weapon.”

“Ain’t got nothing but this.” He held out the scape of metal he used for a knife. His hand shook, but he didn’t run. “Maybe they’ll just go away. Don’t many come around here. Could be he’s just a lost stranger.”

“You don’t know him.”

“I’ll go—”

Jumping back when the door slammed open, Caleb tripped on his weak leg, falling to his butt. Equal to Nathan’s size, the doorway filled with a man who had to duck down to keep from striking his head on the frame. His broad shoulders reached side to side, and a look of threat on his face promised violence. His scent, however, told Nathan he had nothing to fear, and the angry expression eased at what the man saw.

“Followed your blood trail,” the invader said. “You’ve come for the gathering?”

“I did.”

“Who was it attacked you?”

“Locals robbing me.”

He stepped farther inside, a look of distaste creasing his fine features as he looked around. “Name’s Jacob. Myself and a few others have been watching for those coming. You would be?”

“Nathan from the North Ridge in Kansas.”

“You’ve come a ways. Poor welcome for you.” He moved closer to Caleb. “This is your home?”

“Yeah,” Caleb answered, pushing back to get his feet under him. “He’s bad hurt.”

“So I see. If you’ll fetch my saddle bags, I’ve some things to help. The canteen and bedroll as well.”

Standing beside Nathan, Jacob waited until Caleb was out of sight before saying, “I’m assuming the human doesn’t know what you are.”

After biting into his wrist, Jacob offered the seeping bloody wound to Nathan. Shaking his head at Jacob’s question, Nathan didn’t take the time to speak before locking his lips over the wound and sucking hard. Rabbit blood was a poor substitute to wolf blood when it came to accelerating healing, especially when the blood was an alpha’s. Jacob was definitely an alpha with strong, rich blood Nathan hadn’t had as much of as he wanted or needed, before Jacob pulled his wrist away, licking at it quickly to stop the bleeding before Caleb opened the door.

Nathan wiped the blood from his mouth, running his tongue over his lips for the last drops. Already he could feel his own blood rebuilding.

“Those wounds need to be cleaned,” Jacob commented, taking the saddle bags Caleb held out to him.

Caleb, not hiding his curious interest in both men, said, “I seen you around. You’re from up on the mountain, where they’ve got a mine.”

“I am, but I don’t recall seeing you before.”

“I don’t go to town much. Only when I got some pelts, then only as far as to the trader’s place.”

“What do you trade for?”

“Flour and cornmeal. That’s all the trader’s got.”

With a short nod, he asked, “Have you a pot to boil some water in to clean his wounds?”

Caleb pointed to the pot he’d dropped when Jacob pushed open his door. Jacob picked it up without comment, poured the water from his canteen into it, and handed the canteen to Caleb. “If you’d be kind enough to fetch more water, it would be appreciated, and bring back more wood to have a larger fire, outside perhaps.”

“I’ll look, but there ain’t much deadfall left close by.”

“Or inside,” Jacob said softly once he was sure Caleb couldn’t hear. “You can see where he scavenged what he could to keep warm in the winter.”

“Pitiful but with a good heart. It pains him to walk.”

“Standing still as well, I suspect, and he’s full of disease. I can smell it in him.”

“I as well, but he keeps himself clean.”

“I can see that, but there’s only so much one can do without soap. That bed will be full of vermin.”

Nathan smiled slightly. “I can feel them crawling. Lucky for me, they don’t care for our taste.”

“He won’t live the winter as weak as he is now. How humans care for their ill and injured is disgusting.” He blew out a breath and dismissed it, saying, “Not our affair. We do not interfere in the business of humans.”

“I feel I owe him. Had he not found me before any others, they may well have finished killing me before I could heal enough to move myself.”

“One of us may have come along, but you are right. He deserves a reward. We will see to some comforts for him before we leave.”

“Your pack laws forbid taking a human in?”

“It is always safer not to mix with humans.” He raised a hand for silence, hearing Caleb returning. “As soon as we get some hot water, I’ll clean those wounds out.”

“Not something I’m looking forward to.”

“You’ll rest easier once it’s done. Did you see the men who did this?” he asked as Caleb came in.

“Yes, three, all of a similar appearance, tall, skinny, two with mustaches, one a goatee.”

“The Gibbon boys,” Caleb stated. “Their pa owns most everything around here, and they think whatever they want is theirs to take.”

“Including a life?” Nathan asked.

“Don’t seem like others’ lives count for much to them. You must have had somethin’ they liked.”

“I had a nice horse, but hardly worth killing a man for. Once they got through shooting me, the clothes weren’t worth anything, yet they stripped me bare.”

Caleb shrugged slightly. “Told you, they’re mean.”

“Did you speak with them before they attacked?” Jacob asked.

“Briefly, good day, where you headed, that type of thing. They rode on past and shot me in the back.”

“Are you the only one your pa-family coming?”

“I came ahead. Other will arrive in the days to come, one and two at a time. Ten in all.”

With a nod of acknowledgement, Jacob asked Caleb, “Were you able to find firewood?”

“Some bigger pieces I cain’t use in here. I’ll go back for more. I cain’t carry too much at one time.”

“Take my horse out of sight when you go and loosen his chinch. Do you have an axe?”

Shaking his head, Caleb pointed at the partially cooked rabbet over his dead fire. “Did you want some?”

“Thank you, no. I ate just before I arrived.”

Nathan shook his head, watching Caleb limp out while chewing on the only partially cooked rabbit. “From what he’s said, they’ve taken everything of use from him.”

“Yet they would, if they knew of us, call us animals.”


* * * *


“As soon as it starts steaming, bring it in,” Jacob told him.

Caleb nodded, pushing another thick branch into the fire, waiting for Jacob to get out of sight before he shifted weight, easing the strain on his leg. Sitting flat on his butt in the dirt didn’t help much. He’d walked too much today, pushing the normal ache in his knee to throbbing. Aside from the pain, it was nice having a fire big enough to warm him, something he couldn’t accomplish by himself. He didn’t have the strength to snap the thicker branches into useable pieces the way Jacob had, making it look easy. Caleb couldn’t have snapped those he dragged in, even jumping his full weight on them. Enjoying the warmth, he hoped there’d be some pieces left over once the water heated.

“What’re you doin’, boy?” a voice asked from behind him.

Caleb spun on his butt and crawled backward, fear knotting his gut and choking him.

“Tryin’ to set our fields on fire?”

“I’m careful.”

Scrambling to his feet, Caleb ran, knowing it was useless. Tyrone always caught him. The best he could hope was he got far enough to keep Tyrone from dragging him into the shack and seeing who was in there, making everything worse. Taking him wherever he found him wasn’t unusual for Tyrone, but Caleb didn’t get far. Tyrone caught him by the hair, jerked him off his feet, but held him. Keeping him from going to the ground, Tyrone shook him, dragging him toward the shack.

“You know better than to run from me.”

Caleb made a frantic effort to free himself, pulling his own hair out by the roots and feeling like he’d scalped himself. Because he’d surprised Tyrone, he made it into the tree line surrounding the shack before Tyrone had him by the back of his shirt, ripping the rag off with one hand, clamping his hand down on the back of Caleb’s neck with the other.

“I won’t fight what you’re going do,” Caleb cried. “You don’t have to hurt me.”

“I like hurting you.”

To prove it, he jerked Caleb around and drove his fist into his belly. Hunched over, gasping for air, choking on the stench of Tyrone’s liquored up breath, Caleb couldn’t have stopped him if he had thought to fight. Jerking his suspenders from his frail shoulders and shoving his pants down around his ankles, Tyrone slammed him face first into a tree trunk. That fast, Tyrone was on him, humping his still-covered stiff thing against Caleb’s butt, huffing his foul breath in his face. With nothing else he could do, Caleb grabbed hold of the tree trunk and clamped his jaw to endure the pain, humiliation, and shame.

Tyrone’s arm pressed against the back of his neck, holding him tight, smashing his face against the rough bark while he swung his hips back to open his pants. Then he was gone, just gone. No more weight pressed against Caleb, nothing held him, and Caleb dared a look over his shoulder.

Jacob stood behind him, holding Tyrone from going to the ground with a hand on each side of his head.

Caleb couldn’t take in what he saw, not right away. The limp way Tyrone’s body swayed and the empty, set stare of his eyes didn’t register as dead until Jacob let the body flop to the ground.

“Are you hurt?” Jacob asked.

Sliding down the tree to sit, legs drawn up to hide himself, Caleb shook his head, too much in shock to speak.

“Take the water in and wash Nathan’s wounds. I’ll take care of the body.” He heaved the body up and slung it over his shoulder. As he walked away, Caleb found his voice, stopping him to listen.

“You could have stayed inside. He’d never have known you’re here. Now they’ll kill you, sure as shooting.”

“You’d have let him do that to protect us?”

“Wasn’t something he ain’t done before. I don’t like it, but it don’t kill me.”

“He won’t do it to you again.”

He walked off, stopping when Caleb told him, “Ain’t no one never done nothing for me before. I’m grateful.”

“Once you get Nathan’s wounds clean, you go down to the creek and wash up. There’s a change of clothes in my saddlebags you can put on and soap.”

“I’ll use the soap and thank you, but I cain’t take your clothes. They’d be asking me where I stole them from.”

“You could go away from here.”

“Got nowhere to go. May as well die where I was born.”

“You figure on dying soon?”

“Course not,” he said, lying through his teeth. He may not be the smartest man around, but he knew enough to know Tyrone Gibbon gave him a slow death the other times he’d took him.


* * * *


Jacob caught Caleb coming up to the tree line and blocked him from breaking into the open. Seeing the tattered remains of Caleb’s shirt hanging from skeleton-thin shoulders turned his heart. The only thing holding the rag on was his suspenders. Caleb also shivered, his shirt remains and his trousers wet.

“You washed your clothes?” he asked.

“I-yes, the soap. I don’t have soap and—is that okay?”

“Using the soap, yes, but you’re freezing.” He removed his own long coat, draped it over Caleb’s shoulders, and stepped to the side, leaving his arm around him. “Move up against me for warmth.”

“Better I don’t.”

“Oh?” Jacob turned him. “Why is that?”

Dropping his head, he mumbled, “I got lice and stuff. I try keeping them off me, but you might get them.”

“I doubt it, and you’re freezing.” Jacob picked him up in his arms, appalled at how little Caleb weighed, and rushed him to the cabin.

Nathan, having sensed something wrong, waited at the door, leaning against the door frame for support, but with Jacob’s blanket that had been over him ready to wrap Caleb. “Why is he wet?”

“He washed his clothes. Are you fit enough not to need the bed?”

“Yes, put him down.”

While Nathan leaned against the wall for support, Jacob stripped Caleb down, pushing away all of Caleb’s effort to stop him. He pressed him down to his back and tucked the blanket tight around him. Caleb didn’t say a word, staring at them, his teeth chattering.

“Blanket’s not enough. I’ll get some firewood,” Jacob said, nearly out the door before he finished.


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