To prepare for the launch of my new Mystic Bay novel, Cherished by the Cougar, I wanted to share some material I decided to cut from the finished manuscript. These chapters seemed to me to delay Claudia and Ryan’s first meeting too long. On the other hand, they do provide background to their story, and give us another glimpse at Robin Fairchild and Skipper Gordon (Sully) Sullivan’s relationship.
Tell me if you agree with this edit. It’s too late to put them back – that manuscript has gone to publication, but I am interested in your feedback. Comment below!
Lighthouse, West Haven Island, September
“Don’t even try to deny that Jimmy is a hunter,” Tom Peterson thundered. “All I want to know is, who’s his damned father?”
“Dad,” Claudia attempted to regain her composure and keep her voice low. “You’ll wake Jimmy. I just got him off to sleep.” Her son was her whole life, but unquestionably he was exhausting. She lived for his bedtime.
Tom loomed over Claudia, hands in pockets, a scowl distorting his face. Fury in every line. He turned to his wife in exasperation. “You explain it to her, Virginia.”
“Your father is right, honey.” Mom’s plump face was puckered with sorrow and worry. She was practically wringing her hands. Although she wasn’t a hand wringer by nature. “Being a single parent is one thing. But you can’t possibly raise a hunter by yourself.”
“Stop calling Jimmy a hunter,” Claudia objected fiercely. “He’s a cougar shifter. And your grandson. You’ll just have to accept that there is no possibility of a marriage between me and his father.” Which was perfectly true. Not that a little thing like a wife and family had prevented Dominic from pursuing a relationship.
“Who is he?” Dad lowered his voice, but his tone remained fierce. He marched restlessly around Claudia’s little sitting room, ran into the narrow writing table under the window, and paced over to the scarred dining table. He was going to wear out the threadbare carpet. Claudia had no idea what color it had originally been, as time had faded it to a sickly mustard.
“A guy I met in Portland. We had an affair.” Claudia gave her parents a modified version of the truth. “He wasn’t in a position to marry me, and frankly, I don’t want to marry him.” Not now that she knew he was and had been married for years. “Now that I’ve returned to West Haven, Jimmy and I will manage fine.”
West Haven was one of the many tiny islands that dotted the San Juans. The natural harbor of Mystic Bay was the island’s only town. The entire island boasted almost three thousand year-round residents, which rose to nearly nine thousand when the summer people arrived. The year-round residents were sensitives, or married to sensitives.
Claudia had been raised on West Haven and had brought her child home where he would be surrounded by people of paranormal talent. She had hoped having her family close by would make being a single mom easier. She certainly hadn’t expected this kind of attack from her parents. After all, she had been a single mother for three years.
Dad gave a crack of laughter that did nothing to lighten the tense atmosphere. He was a man of middle height and average good looks. His weather working talent enabled him to make a good living leading whale watching tours out of the Mystic Bay Harbor. A life aboard small vessels had given him the impressive physique of a much younger man.
Right now he looked ready to unleash a typhoon on someone. Probably Dominic Rutherford. And no one had ever deserved high water and gale force winds more. But Claudia knew better than to give away her greatest secret. Dominic was a rich and powerful man, married to a senator’s daughter. Outing him as Jimmy’s father would be staggeringly stupid.
She did not want the immensely wealthy Rutherford clan claiming her son. Nor did she want to spark a vendetta between her extended family and the Rutherfords who had been summer residents on West Haven for over a century. And she certainly did not want Dominic’s father-in-law the senator to put her on his radar. Virginia crossed the room to sit beside her daughter. Her arm around Claudia’s shoulders was a comfort, but it changed nothing. This was not a secret she could share even with Mom.
“Claudia!” Mom was practically wailing, “It’s not that simple. I agree that giving Jimmy more time out of doors and finding him friends who are also sensitives has made a good start in settling him down. And he seems to be doing well at daycare. But if he’s a handful you can barely manage at three, what will you do when he’s thirteen and turns into a mountain lion?”
“This island is full of shifters. I’ll get our friends to help. And maybe by the time Jimmy hits puberty, I’ll be married.” Claudia held up a hand. “Not to Jimmy’s father. That ship has sailed. But to a decent man. My fated mate. You know the old saying, A match made in West Haven, is a match made in heaven?”
Mom brightened at the reminder that West Haven had a long tradition of happy marriages. But then she looked discouraged and her shoulders drooped. She glanced at Dad. “You tell her, Tom.”
Dad dropped into the weary oatmeal-colored armchair opposite the couch. Claudia considered herself fortunate to have rented the lighthouse fully furnished. Even if the furniture had endured decades of tenants with sandy feet and wet backsides. It was clean and cheap.
Dad clasped his hands between his legs and tried to explain. “You haven’t thought this through, Claudia. Jimmy is a hybrid. When he comes into his talent he will be both hunter and sorcerer, probably more powerful than either of his parents. We have rules on West Haven, just to prevent this sort of situation. No interbreeding without marriage. When the Town Council finds out, they are going to toss you and Jimmy off the island.”
“Aunt Robin and Uncle Sully are going to vote us off?” Claudia asked skeptically. Aunt Robin was the current mayor and Sully her deputy. She rolled her eyes. “For interbreeding? Really? In the twenty-first century?” “I don’t know,”Tom said carefully. “But who do you think asked us to talk to you about this?”
“Robin and Sully told you Jimmy was a cougar cub?” she cried. She felt betrayed. She loved Robin Fairchild and Gordon Sullivan. They both had been friends of her family and courtesy aunt and uncle as long as she could remember. Sully had been taking her and Jimmy for rides on his charter boat every weekend since she had come home. He hadn’t so much as hinted he knew Jimmy was a cougar.
“How did they find out?” Claudia asked.
“They feared it. They asked us to check. Apparently there are a number of councilors who have expressed concern over Jimmy’s hybrid vigor.”
Hybrid vigor was a euphemism for antisocial tendencies. Claudia swallowed hard. “Why are they picking on me? I’m not the only single mom on West Haven. What about Madeline O’Connor? Her son is plainly one of the Fae, as well as a shifter. And what about Quinn and Moira Drake?”
Mom shook her head. Her green eyes were sympathetic. “You know it’s not the same. Madeline is a unicorn not a hunter. That makes all the difference. Quinn may be a dragon, but he and Moira are married*. People are getting worried about Jimmy because they think his father is a predatory shifter and you are raising him on your own.”
“It can’t be everyone,” Claudia responded. “Brian Spicer asked me to have dinner with him on Friday night.” The Spicers were all sorcerers, as fabulously rich as the Rutherfords, and like them summer residents. They too had been coming to West Haven since sensitives had established the town of Mystic Bay on West Haven in the early nineteenth century. They had a palatial spread overlooking the Strait of San Juan. Of course, none of the Spicers had a seat on the Town Council. Those were open only to year-rounders.
Virgina drew in a sharp breath. “Has he met Jimmy?”
Claudia rolled her eyes. “Of course not. Brian and I have been having coffee occasionally at the Bean. I don’t want Jimmy to be confused by a stream of strange men walking in and out of his life.” The Bean and Bran was the best coffee shop in Mystic Bay and the hub of island gossip.
Virginia patted her hand. “Do you think Brian is the one? Your fated mate?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Mom. But every time I see him, I like him more and more. After falling hard and fast and getting singed, I want to go slowly.”
“The Spicers think they do the world a favor by existing,” Dad declared flatly. “Those stuffed shirts would never accept a hybrid. I’m surprised Brian is even giving you the time of day.”
“I don’t suppose that now that he’s moved here permanently, he has a lot of choice,” Mom said. “If he wants a date, Claudia is about it. West Haven isn’t very big and there aren’t a lot of unmarried women. But I hardly think he can have marriage in mind.”
“I couldn’t say, Mom. We’ve had all our conversations under the watchful eyes of half Mystic Bay. To say nothing of Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Martha.” Lloyd and Martha Furlong owned the bakery and coffee shop. Aunt Martha was Dad’s older sister. “But Brian does seem interested. And he’s been after me for a proper date for a month.” Call her shallow, but being pursued was flattering.
“And he knows you have a child?” Virginia persisted.
“I’ve mentioned it,” Claudia said dryly. “More than once.”
Dad shook his head. His hair was still thick and shiny and dark. But lines she had never noticed scored his face tonight. “I don’t think marriage to another sorcerer would satisfy the Council. Especially not to a low wattage specimen like Brian.”
“Now, Tom, don’t be a snob,” Mom chided. She herself was a very powerful healer and one of the town’s three doctors. “Brian may not be the most powerful sorcerer on the island, but he has a great deal of charm.” She meant money.
Not that Brian wasn’t charming, but so had Dominic been. These days, Claudia’s preference was for blunt straight-shooters. Charm be damned. Honesty was way, way better.
“When he finds out about Jimmy, he’ll be out of here,” Dad said gloomily. “Anyway, nothing will satisfy the Council but a hunter.”
Seattle, early October
“Have you heard a single word I’ve said?” Susan Rutherford demanded.
“Huh.” Ryan pulled himself away from his all-day pity party. “Sorry, Mom, I was distracted.” Pain was the ultimate distraction.
“Shouldn’t your leg be healed by now?” Mom’s youthful face looked aged by worry, but she was as sleek as any other queen in the clan. No one would have looked at her slim, athletic body and chic blonde hair and thought grandmother, but she was the proud Nana of twelve.
“Maybe you should see a doctor?”
Ryan laughed humorlessly. “I’ve seen a flock of doctors. Including two excellent shifters. The non-sensitives want me on antibiotics until the wounds close, the shifters think it’s better to let them drain naturally.”
“You are running a fever,” Susan said. “Maybe antibiotics would help.”
As if his heart hadn’t been pumping hellfire for a month. “I’m on my second course. Not that they are working. I don’t think antibiotics are likely to be any more effective against cobra shifter venom than ordinary cobra antivenin was.” No point in sharing the prognosis of doom he had received from both shifter doctors.
They had separately concurred that he would have to deal with the poison running in his veins until he died. Decades earlier than cougars usually did. Unless it killed him in the next couple of months. He was damned if he would distress Mom any more than she already was.
“Maybe you should spend some time on West Haven,” she suggested. “Perhaps taking cougar would help you to heal?”
Usually shifting was an aid to good health and recovery from illness or injury. But both shifter physicians had been concerned that it might make the effects of the venom worse. After all, he had been bitten in cougar. The shifter docs thought going cat could speed up the effects of the poison churning through his bloodstream.
Even in human, it felt as if his veins were full of acid. He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep, and he couldn’t focus. Sure as hell felt as if he was a dead man walking. But if he was going to die, it would be far worse never again to enjoy his cat even once before he went. West Haven sounded good. Better than good.
West Haven Island, mid-October
The Nightingale had been repurposed as a charter boat at least a decade ago, but it remained an authentic fishing vessel. Including the smell. The wheelhouse reeked. The padded bench to which Charles Rutherford was being directed was stained brown with who knew what, but he sat down anyway.
He was used to being in control. The one in charge. Gordon Sullivan the captain of the Nightingale had insisted on having this meeting aboard his scruffy boat in order to drive home the point that Charles was not in control. Not today. Nevertheless the cougar shifter produced his most confident smile. The one that made his business partners quail.
The ethereal woman sitting across from him regarded Charles with unmoved green eyes. She struck an incongruous note in this stuffy, shabby cabin. Robin Fairchild was elegance personified. Charles’ own wife Leona was as sleek and sophisticated a woman as ever chaired a fund drive, but Robin raised chic to new levels. That was a fundamental difference between cats and fairies.
Charles could feel Robin’s power across the table. He knew that she was a member of the Fae. A powerful member. She looked about forty, but was probably closer to his age of eighty-two than not. Maybe far older. To the best of his knowledge, while she had a family on West Haven, she had never married.
In her shimmering lavender dress Robin looked untouchable and untouched. Her silvery-gold hair was piled into a French twist. Discreet pearls and diamonds flashed in her earlobes. The three strands of matched pearls around her neck could have bought the Nightingale three times over. A faint aroma of wild flowers surrounded her like a delicate force field. He was sure it protected her from experiencing the Nightingale’s rank odor.
On the other hand, Sully matched his boat. He was wearing the ancient and greasy clothes in which he had fished the waters of Puget Sound. His gray hair stuck out around the edges of his greasy cap and a bushy white beard covered his jaw and neck. But despite his faded eyes and weathered skin, he had lost none of his muscle. His broad-shouldered form dominated the small cabin.
Charles had known Sully all his life. Considered the elderly sorcerer a friend. Respected him and deferred to his status as the unofficial head of the West Haven sorcerers. But things were decidedly unfriendly today. The old fisher cleared his throat. Brought the meeting to order. There had been precious few amenities when Charles had requested permission to come aboard. Now there would only be hard bargaining. “I assume you brought the DNA results,” Sully held out a large calloused hand.
Charles removed the letter from the DNA lab from the breast pocket of his navy blazer. Sully opened it without haste, pulled out a pair of gold-framed readers from one of his many pockets, and peered at the typescript. He snorted. “Here, Robin, you take a look. I can’t make head nor tail of this scientific gibberish.” Robin smiled faintly. She took her time perusing the lab report, nodded once or twice without disturbing her air of serenity, and returned the letter to Sully. “It says it is statistically highly probable that A is the great-grandfather of B.” Her eyes met Charles. “Are you A?”
Charles nodded. “I am. And the boy is B.”
“Jimmy.” Sully corrected.
“Jimmy,” confirmed Charles. “James Mitchell Peterson is my great-grandson.” He decided to lay his cards on the table. “I want him. The Rutherfords are prepared to accept full responsibility for James Mitchell. Financial and custodial.”
Sully’s beard split as he gave a great crack of mirthless laughter. Robin’s tranquil face flashed a microsecond of frown. The silence grew.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Charles demanded.
Robin lifted one finger. Sully’s mouth closed with an audible snap.
“Claudia is a sorceress rearing a cougar cub alone,” she said softly. “Already she is experiencing the predicable difficulties of raising a hunter. But despite his behavior, she loves her son dearly. She is not just going to hand Jimmy over to your clan. What she needs is a husband. A cougar who can take some of the burden from her.”
Calling the boy a hunter was throwing down the gauntlet with a vengeance. Charles might as well have called Sully or Robin magicians. He bit back his instinctive growl and kept his tones mild. “She just needs to be firmer. There’s nothing vicious about cougar cubs.”
“Charles, you know damn well Jimmy is a cougar-sorcerer hybrid,” Sully said firmly. Charles gave in. He had known going in that they wanted a husband for Claudia. “Did you have a candidate in mind?” Best to know who they thought had sired her bastard. Last month, they had refused to name the father. “Ryan,” Sully dropped the name into the silence.
Charles stiffened. “Impossible.” The word came out on a roar. Of all his descendants, his grandson Ryan was the one for whose character he would most unhesitatingly have vouched. Ryan would never have seduced and abandoned any woman. Never.
“Ryan,” confirmed Robin. Her voice was still as soft and as sweet and musical as fairy bells. But also implacable.
Charles didn’t believe it. Not for a second. However, he had come intending to sacrifice Ryan anyway. All of his other grandsons were married. It made no sense to ask them to divorce one wife and abandon their children, to marry Claudia and take on her son.
But he had to know. “Tell me why you’re so sure. From what you told me, Claudia claims she met Jimmy’s father in Portland.”
“Lying about such things is traditional,” Sully said dryly. “I think all the proof we require is in the dates and that big splashy wedding in Mystic Bay four years ago. Our Claudia was home for the weekend and snapping sheets at the inn that weekend. Your kinsfolk were gathered to celebrate Adam’s marriage to Paige Delmonte.”
Sully continued checking his points off on beefy red fingers. “Nine months to the day of that wedding, Claudia has a baby boy. Turns out the boy is a hunter. A cougar. And a Rutherford. Who’s your choice, Charles?”
One of his married grandsons. Perhaps even Ryan’s brother Adam. What a confounded mess. But still Charles hesitated. Forcing a shifter to marry for convenience was one helluva step. He had the authority as head of the clan, but it would be the first time he had ever enforced such a draconian edict.
Sully set his jaw. His beard jutted. “Just so you know, Charles, there’s no wriggle room here at all. None. Either Ryan does right by Claudia, or you lose that parcel of land you’re so proud of. “He waved a yellowed handwritten envelope. “You know what the deed to your land says.”
Charles knew. When his great-grandfather had purchased five hundred acres of West Haven in the late 1890s, he had agreed that the land would remain in the family in perpetuity. If no Rutherford wanted it, it reverted to the town of Mystic Bay. The Rutherfords also held their title entirely at the discretion of the Mystic Bay Town Council.
What that meant was that they could legally be stripped of their land at any session of the Council. If it came to a vote on the issue of a hunter seducing a sorceress, the present members were all likely to vote against the rich Rutherfords. Both Sully and Robin were members of the Council. No summer family had ever held a seat, and only non-hunter shifters had been invited to run.
Unless he gave Robin and Sully what they wanted, with the stroke of a pen, every Rutherford would be deprived of the land where they had let their cougars run free for generations. The sprawling mansion that had been the summer home to dozens of Rutherfords would go. As would the smaller modern cottages built within the compound. Adam and Paige, who had just bought the old lighthouse, would also lose their property. And for all their wealth, there would be nothing the family could do to prevent this injustice. The courts of Oregon would uphold that deed. It was as ironclad as the best lawyers in Oregon had been able to make it. This was blackmail.
Charles saw his duty and did it. “Ryan will make things right.”
Robin suddenly had a long white envelope in one tiny hand. MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE was emblazoned on the outside. She passed it to Charles. “You’ll need this,” she said. Energy pulsed in the air.
“You were a little precipitate, weren’t you?” he asked as he opened it. As he read it, his eyes widened. “I don’t believe it.”
“No?” Robin’s smile was steely. “As the officiant, I can assure you I recollect the wedding of Claudia and your grandson in every detail.”
“It’s a forgery!”
Robin’s smile did not waver.
“Robin is the best,”agreed Sully genially. “Can I see?”
Charles handed the envelope and marriage certificate over.
“Signed and witnessed,” Sully said with satisfaction. “And backdated four years. Excellent work, Robin. It’s a nice touch to have made Charles and Leona the witnesses.”
Robin just smiled.
“What about the boy’s birth certificate?” Charles demanded.
“All taken care of,” Robin assured him. “Don’t you have a copy?”
He did. It stated that the father was unknown. Charles took it out and looked at it. It now listed Ryan James Rutherford as the father of James Mitchell Rutherford. Sully was correct. Robin was very good. “Does Claudia know she’s married?” Charles asked. “I hear she’s dating.”
“We haven’t told her yet.” For the first time there was uncertainty in Robin’s dulcet tones.
Sully snorted. “As if we’d let her marry that charlatan Brian Spicer.”
“Spicer?” Charles murmured. “Why charlatan? Surely the Spicers have been on West Haven for generations? Isn’t he a sorcerer like the rest of his people?” Perhaps this was the out he and Ryan needed.
“Exactly like the rest of them.” Sully set his jaw.
Robin patted his filthy sleeve with one dainty hand. “Let’s not worry about whether Brian Spicer is or is not a suitable husband for Claudia. She’s already married to Ryan Rutherford.” She turned her smile on Charles and his skin chilled. “We thought Ryan could break the news to her.”
This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2018