Elijah Abbey and his family have claimed a large tract of land that will one day become part of Colorado. They have all the room they could ever want to start the cattle ranch of their dreams. But someone else says they have a right to the same spot, and he’s not willing to go away quietly.
The land is also the ancestral home of a group of werewolves. With two groups of humans closing in on their territory, the wolves quickly realize that a compromise has to be made. One group of humans leaves them alone, but the other has only shown them violence.
Armand is told to approach one of the humans and propose a deal. If they stay out of the forest, the wolves will get rid of the other humans for them. When Elijah agrees to Armand’s idea, a bond is formed between the wolves and the humans, and also between these two very different men.
The wolves were back. Elijah Abbey stopped unsaddling his horse and turned to nudge his brother, William. The wolves—the four he could see—were too far away to shoot with his rifle, but their distance didn’t make him any less uneasy about them being around.
“I’ll let Pa know,” William said. A second later, he strolled away to do just that.
The wolves had been following them for a few days. Never any closer than half a mile, their presence put everyone on edge. Elijah had known there’d be dangers in the western frontier, but wolves had been far from his mind. He should have paid better attention when their guide had first outlined the troubles they could face on their travels. He’d been gone for two days, ever since Pa had staked the Abbey claim to a stretch of territory just east of the mountains. The land was mostly flat, good for the cattle they’d be raising. Hills and thick forest filled the area that wasn’t flat. That was where the wolves lived, far as he could tell. His family hadn’t gone into those woods yet, but they would soon. He didn’t look forward to bringing down the pack of wolves when they did, even if they made everyone nervous. There’d always been something about wolves he liked. He could understand the closeness of their families, and he loved the way they all worked together when it came time to bring down prey.
“What do you think they’re waiting for?” David, his middle brother, said as he finished untacking his horse. He laid the saddle down first, then hung the rest over the seat to keep it from getting dirty. Their horses were exhausted from the surveying the brothers had done for most of the day. Within the week, Pa would take some of the hands they’d hired and ride down south to buy a few hundred head of cattle for the Abbey ranch that Elijah and his brothers would begin building while they were gone.
Elijah shrugged and finished with his horse as well. “The horses are a mess from the travel. Maybe the wolves are hoping for an easy meal.”
David moved his hand to the holstered gun on his hip. Since they were too far away for Elijah’s rifle, there was no possibility of David hitting them. Still, Elijah felt the same as his brother did. The wolves were there first, but when it came down a choice between the wolves or them, they’d all worked too hard and given up too much to lose their western claim to a bunch of wolves. No matter how much Elijah liked wolves, he knew they couldn’t coexist with cattle.
William came back with Pa, who shaded his eyes with a calloused hand and frowned at the wolves. “There’s always just the four of them. And all they ever do is watch us. Strangest wolves I’ve ever seen.”
Elijah nodded. “I can take first watch tonight.”
“I hired six hands to help us. Let them earn their money and food doing that. You get some rest.”
Elijah wasn’t happy about taking a break. This was their land, not those strange hands’, and they should be awake to take some responsibility for protecting it. Plus some part of him wanted to try and scare off the wolves first, before they resorted to killing them. He knew the animals were smart. Maybe they’d be smart enough to figure out the horses and men were more than they wanted to tangle with.
“William can take first watch with one of them,” Pa added.
Elijah wasn’t surprised at Pa’s decision. As the youngest of the Abbey children, Elijah was used to being passed over for anything important. William gave him a sympathetic look, and Elijah knew he most likely wanted to trade places with him. William had a wife, Sarah, and Elijah figured he probably wanted time with her more than he wanted to be sitting out all night with the hands.
“Come get me when your watch is over,” Elijah told him. He hoped his brother actually would this time around, and wouldn’t just let him sleep until dawn like he had done before.
William nodded. “I will.”
David, it seemed, was happy not to have to keep watch that night at all. He busied himself with grooming his horse and never offered his help to either of his brothers.
For dinner, Sarah cooked rabbit stew and biscuits over the fire. Elijah came to get his share with the others. He continually looked back at the wolves, checking to make sure they hadn’t come any closer. While they’d changed position a few times, they remained at the same distance as before, as if they were only watching the people down the hill from them out of curiosity and not any real desire to eat them or their horses. Elijah wished he could believe that was true.
Sarah smiled at him as she ladled out a bowl full of stew and offered him a slice of bread. “You’re a sorry sight,” she teased.
“Not a lot of places to get clean out here,” he said. It was more an explanation than an apology. Four months ago, when William had married her and she’d come to live with them, Elijah had thought she was one of the prettiest girls he’d ever seen. She’d been like porcelain back then. Pretty, breakable, and something to be protected. Since then, though, he’d seen her wrestle a calf and gut a rabbit she’d shot herself. He no longer thought she was so delicate.
She handed him his bowl. “Find one.”