Authors: V. Vaughn,Mating Season Collection
© 2015 by V. Vaughn
All rights reserved.
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Editing by Jodi Henley and Red Adept Publishing
an installment from V. Vaughn. Sign up for her
never expected to end up in Winter Valley for good, but when she returns for her fifth reunion it’s easy to stay and avoid the aftermath of a bad relationship. Landing a teaching job alongside her lifelong secret crush makes it even more attractive. While the popular girls didn’t date guys like Ergan Wakefield in high school, there’s nothing stopping Kayla from giving it a shot now. Except her past.
rgan Wakefield knows
Kayla Hayward is his true mate, and he thought he’d lost her forever when she left for Boston. When she lands back in Winter Valley, he jumps on the opportunity to realize their destiny. But fate has other ideas, and Ergan must find a way to fight the evil that threatens to ruin his chance at happiness.
down my back as I catch my breath. While I’ve stayed in decent shape for the five years since I graduated high school, I’m not seventeen any longer. And I’m definitely not in soccer shape like most of my team. The three-mile warm-up I’ve chosen to run with them each day might kill me. I call out, “Ladies!” I point as I speak. “Two lines, across from each other!”
I’m the new Winter Valley High girls’ varsity soccer coach. When I stuck around after my fifth-year reunion to lick my wounds, I hoped to get a teaching job near home. I never expected to land it at my old high school. And it must have been fate when the soccer coach decided to quit only two days ago, because the boys’ varsity coach is the taboo object of my sexual fantasies, Ergan Wakefield.
I glance over at the field next to us, and like a heat-seeking missile, I find my target. Ergan was part of the truck club in high school. The bad boys in flannel with big trucks weren’t the kind of guys popular girls like me went out with. So I pretended to ignore the fact we caught each other staring on a regular basis. I finally got up my nerve on graduation night to approach him, and the one stolen kiss we shared was so steamy no man has ever matched it.
I hoist the mesh bag of soccer balls and walk toward the girls on the right, and the leather globes thump to the ground when I release them. “Grab a ball, ladies, and guard it with your life. First one to get a goal gets a free pass on planks.” The net is beyond the opposite line of girls, and my whistle sounds as I blow it to start.
I glance back over at Ergan, but he’s busy doing his job. When he combs his hand through his dark hair, I imagine the silky strands in my fingers. I sigh as I watch him with his team. Ergan played football in high school, but the local community college where he went didn’t have a team, so he took up soccer. And I’m told he was really good.
When cheers erupt, I focus on my players and run them through a series of abdominal exercises. Our opening game is this Friday, and the girls are nervous. Yesterday was their first day with me as a coach, and we’re going to take time to adjust to each other. But I’m probably more anxious than they are, because the team we play is away, and we travel with the boys’ varsity players. I’ll have four hours on a bus sitting next to Ergan. That should be plenty of time to win him over with my charm.
I shake my head at myself, because a few months ago, we shared pie at a diner after our class reunion, and while we flirted, nothing came of it. Perhaps it was because he thought I was leaving again. Or more likely, he’s just not that into me anymore.
When practice is over, the girls walk slowly from the field toward the locker room. I worked my ladies hard, and I opt to carry the bag of balls back instead of grabbing one of them to do it. A male soccer player jogs over to me. “Miss Hayward. Let me carry those for you.”
I gaze at him in surprise. “Thank you. What a sweet thing to offer.”
He shrugs. “Coach Wakefield told me to.”
I glance over at Ergan and smile as he approaches me. He’s in loose shorts, and the muscles in his thighs are defined and ripple as he walks. I’ll bet he had no trouble keeping up with his boys during warm-up. He says, “You’re supposed to make the kids do all the heavy lifting.”
“I may have worked them too hard. Did you see the way they practically crawled off the field?”
He grins, and straight white teeth gleam. They seem to emphasize his plump red lips, and if he could read my mind, he’d know how badly I want to kiss them. He says, “That’s good coaching. They look strong. You could win Friday.”
My whistle is cool in my hand when I remove it from my neck as we begin to walk. “I hope so. Coming in so soon before the season starts is tough.”
“Well, they couldn’t have found a better replacement than the former Winter Valley star forward.”
I was a big deal in high school when it came to soccer, but I didn’t realize Ergan was impressed, too. “Yeah, well, once I got to college, I discovered what a tiny star I was.” My ex’s voice sounds in my head.
You’re nothing without me.
A breeze flows around us, and I tuck an errant strand of hair from my ponytail behind my ear.
“I thought you got a scholarship,” he says.
A rush of warmth spreads in me. “I did. And I played for four years, but let’s just say nobody was chanting my name.” I flash to the night Ergan and I were together and his low groan as he said my name when we made out.
Ergan says, “Well, we’ll…”
When he doesn’t finish, I ask, “We’ll what?”
We’ve reached the locker rooms, and he shakes his head before pushing the boys’ door open. “Nothing. See you tomorrow.”
The door squeaks open when I enter the girls’ locker room, and the strong scent of floral body spray trying to disguise female musk floats toward me.
What was he going to say?
Whatever it was, the word “we” was part of it. I smile to myself as I turn the corner.
A tall blonde who is one of my best players asks, “Coach Wakefield?”
“That’s why you’re smiling, right?” Taylor’s braiding her hair and pulls an elastic off her wrist with her teeth.
“Why do you say that?”
Her best friend, Alexis, says, “Because he’s totally into you. That’s why.”
I cross my arms. “And how do you guys know this?”
“He was watching you stretch after warm-up,” says Taylor.
Alexis says, “And he was so distracted by it he got hit in the head with a ball.”
“What?” I ask.
“Yup,” says Taylor. “Totally into you.”
“There’s nothing going on between us.” I turn to walk to the office, and a huge grin covers my face as I do. Friday can’t come soon enough.
Alexis yells, “Yet!”
y parents own
a rental property on Silver Lake, which is on the edge of town. When I decided to stay instead of returning to Boston and my creepy ex, they offered it to me. Other than securing a teaching job, I spent a lazy summer lying on the dock as I wrote my great American novel. I didn’t get many words, but I did get a golden tan.
Water laps the shoreline as I gaze out over the lake. I’m on my dock and in shorts and flip-flops. We’re having an unseasonably warm spell, and if it weren’t almost dark, I’d take a quick spin on my paddleboard. Orange-and-pink color glows over the smooth surface as I catch the last bit of sunlight before going inside. I glance down at my bare toes and notice my tan is fading. I have essays to grade and still need to sort out dinner, so I make my way back to the house. The wooden walkway creaks as I step, and a howl sounds in the distance.
It’s probably a wolf. I’d been taught to stay away from Silver Lake at night when I was a teen. The rumor is that wolves think of this area as their territory. I think it was started by the lake residents to keep their oasis peaceful. My father doesn’t think much of the rumors, either, but he did give me a pistol so I could protect myself.
I recall my first week here. Warren, the man who lives next to me, came over to warn me to stay in at night. I laughed but quickly sobered when I realized he was serious. I’m sure it worried him when I would go down to my dock in the darkness to admire the moon as I drank a glass of wine. I didn’t bother to tell him that I usually carry my friend Sig Sauer. The gun makes me feel safe in ways I can’t describe.
When I get inside, I rummage through my pantry and fridge, but I don’t find anything suitable for a meal. Fortunately there’s a corner market about a mile away, and my keys jingle when I grab them to go.
The roads that lead to the houses around the lake are dirt, and my economy SUV’s springs squeak as I bounce toward the paved street. By the time I get to the store, night has fallen, and I glance at the moon as I walk to the building. It’s full, and I smile, thinking I should go down to the water when I get back. It’s a beautiful sight and conducive for fantasies about Ergan.
The plastic strips designed to keep the cold in the refrigerated display bin are slick in my fingers as I move them out of the way and grab a container of lasagna. I notice cherry pie, and it reminds me of the night Ergan and I went to the diner after our class reunion. We were with my friends Raven and Berch, who recently got engaged. Berch teaches in our town, too, and while he and Ergan couldn’t have been more opposite in high school, they’re friends now. According to Raven, Ergan Wakefield had turned out to be a respected citizen of Winter Valley. The kind of guy girls like me can be with.
I pick up the dessert, too, and make my way to the wine section to grab a bottle of red to go with my dinner.
When I get to the register, lights in the back of the store go out. I say to Leah, the cashier, “Wow, I didn’t realize you close so early now.”
Beeps sound as she taps buttons. “Yup. But we are open year round. Are you staying on the lake all winter?”
“I am. Even though everyone thinks I’m going to get eaten by wolves.”
A plastic bag rustles as the girl puts my things in it. “I haven’t heard of it ever happening, and I’ve lived here all my life.”
I swipe my card in the reader. “Oh, good. It’s nice to meet someone who doesn’t believe the rumors, either. I can’t imagine the wolves around here are dangerous, you know? They probably just want to keep to themselves as much as we do.”
“I think you’re right.” She stuffs my receipt into the bag and hands it to me. “Have a good night.”
When I get to my car, a flash in the woods behind the store catches my eye. A shiver runs down my spine as I imagine it’s a wolf wanting to let me know I’m being stupid. I chuckle when I don’t see anything and get behind the wheel to drive home.
My road is pitch black as I drive down it. Except for me and Warren, the rest of the houses near me are now empty, and I imagine it’s going to get lonely here. Warren isn’t much of a talker, and I don’t think he’s about to become my source of social interaction. The thought reminds me to text Raven. While we got together quite a bit over the summer, the past few weeks have had me too busy for socializing. She lives with Berch on the other side of the lake, and I’m glad to know I’ve got a friend close by.
Once my lasagna is heated up, I sit down to my table with a stack of essays, a glass of wine, and my hot food. My teaching schedule is as close to perfect as I could get. I continued on after my bachelor’s to get a master’s, and it gave me enough status to get a few honors classes.
I asked my creative writing students to write about their dream job, and it doesn’t surprise me to discover one boy wants to be a werewolf. I chuckle as I read about how he’d win over the girl of his dreams with his superhuman strength and charm. When he goes on to describe the way he saves her from the evil pack that has begun to infiltrate Silver Lake, he gets extra points. This kid could write romance.
I finish his essay about the same time I do dinner and decide to take a break. Since wolves have been on my mind tonight, I venture down to the dock with my dessert to listen to the wolves howl. I sit on my lounge chair, and the seat is cool under my bottom. The temperature has dropped, and I kick off my flip-flops to lift up my knees and tuck my oversized sweatshirt under my feet. With my pie set out before me and my refilled glass of wine in the cup holder, I scan the shoreline.
Multiple lights from houses across the lake shine out over the water, and it occurs to me people on the other side can see mine. The warm yellow glow reminds me that I’m not alone. I place a forkful of pie in my mouth, and the cherry flavor is tart on my tongue. Heaviness settles over me. I’m lonely, and it’s my own fault.
The rich flavor of merlot chases away my sweet dessert as I take a sip of wine. My ex, Gary, did a number on my self-esteem. I thought I’d found a man who would take care of me. But it ended up he wanted more than that, and over time I lost control of my life. I kick myself for not recognizing what I was involved in sooner. Fortunately, I managed to break things off, but it took months to get rid of him. Moving here put an end to the relationship once and for all. But I’m shy about putting myself out there and probably spend too many nights at home when I should go out and try.
A howl sounds off to my right, and I listen for the answering cry. I discovered that often wolves will call to each other over the water, and my romantic heart imagines they’re lovers trying to unite. My writer’s mind makes up stories of passion and adventure similar to my student’s essay. I speak out loud. “If only it worked that way.”
The answering howl is a higher pitch, and it sends chills through me when I realize it’s close. I slowly put my hand under my sweatshirt, and the metal of my gun is warm on my fingers as I grip it. Because I was an only child, my father made me his son as well as his daughter. I learned to shoot a gun at the age of twelve and have spent countless hours picking off tin cans in the woods behind our family home. If a wolf is coming after me, I’m confident I’ll win.
The cry sounds again, and I swear the wolf is somewhere behind my house. I hold perfectly still as I fight the urge to pee, and I flash back to my last year with Gary. I lived with him and remember hiding in a closet while he trashed our apartment in a rage over me going out with my friends and coming home later than I had planned. That was the day I knew I needed to end things. He didn’t take it so well, and I spent a good year on the gun range building up my confidence to pull away from him. A shiver runs through me, and I push away thoughts of Gary as I focus on listening.
When the howl sounds farther away, I relax and pick up my fork again to finish my pie. I was right: the wolves have no interest in me. When the two howls join in together, I lean back and return to the story in my head of their lupine love affair.