The Wolf Strikes First

an excerpt

Chapter One

Wyatt Lawson leaned his head back and let the sun's rays warm his face. He smiled as a slight breeze raked across his body. It was his favorite time of year, when spring was just starting to lose its standing to summer, and the temperature was warm but not yet blistering hot. The liquor in his body made the smile transform into a giggle.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. He and his three best friends were indulging in a daylight pub-crawl. It was something that they only got to do once every month or so when they miraculously were all off work on a Sunday together. They would meet for brunch and then hit a couple of bars enjoying hours of witty banter and checking out hot guys. There was just something about having a buzz during daylight hours that thrilled Wyatt. It felt just a little scandalous, though they were hardly the only four indulging in the activity.

Perhaps it was the fact that people seemed friendlier or that admiring all the beautiful men felt less seedy. New York City had an abundance of attractive men to peruse but doing it at night always felt like hunting, and Wyatt didn't fancy himself a skilled hunter. Sure, he had been successful here and there, picking someone up at a bar for an evening of usually drunken fun. But it always ended immediately after and Wyatt rarely left the encounters feeling anything but hollow.

During the day, it seemed people were just slightly more interested in what you had to say as opposed to just your appearance. Not that Wyatt was unattractive, but at five-eight and one hundred and fifty pounds he didn't attract the kind of men he wanted. Wyatt constantly found himself drawn to his opposite. Someone tall with dark hair and eyes and well-built muscles. Those men always went for others exactly like themselves. Wyatt rarely turned their heads, unless of course they were staring at his ass. It was the one feature that seemed to get him the most attention from men. But he knew that anyone who started a conversation with "nice ass" or even worse grabbed it before speaking was not the guy for him. They only wanted to conquer that one part of him and had no interest in laying claim to the thing Wyatt was so desperate for a man to take: his heart.

His dearest friend and roommate, Tuck, threw and arm around his shoulder and began moving him down the street, drawing him out of his reverie.

"Do you know what my favorite thing about this time of year is?" Tuck asked a little too loudly, obviously feeling the same level of inebriation that Wyatt was.

Wyatt's laugh was renewed as he quickly scanned the street in front of the bar until he found a man walking near the corner and preparing to cross, oblivious to their stares. "Tank tops?"

"Tank tops," Tuck echoed, letting his head fall back and then snap in the man's direction, punctuating his statement. His gaze fixed like radar beams on the curves of the man's exposed arm muscles.

Wyatt laughed again as he let his eyes trail up and down the man's long muscular body. He wasn't too big, but his body swelled up in all the right areas, and the tight tank top left no line of his torso to the imagination. Wyatt allowed himself that secret moment to wonder "what if," before the man crossed the street and was out of their view. The longing threatened to bubble up inside of him, but he turned his head quickly to his friends refusing to let it. He got so few of these perfect Sundays that he didn't want to spend one in the pits of despair.

"Come on, pervs," his other friend, Chance, called over his shoulder already halfway to the corner with Brett. They turned to face Wyatt and Tuck as they reached them.

"Where to next?" Brett asked, looking up and down the avenue.

"Somewhere where we can be outside," Wyatt said, not wanting to be shut in on such a glorious day.

"How about Mechanics? They are bound to have the doors open," Chance offered.

"Sounds good to me," Tuck said, a devilish grin spreading across his face as he immediately took off in the same direction as the hunk in the tank top. Tuck was a hunter.

The other three laughed loudly and Wyatt linked his arms with Brett and Chance as they began following after Tuck. It was hard to feel lonely with his three friends. They were an interesting quartet and while they got along famously, they each had qualities that made them wholly unique within the group. They often joked that their friendship was the ideal makings of a sitcom.

Wyatt loved his friends. He had met them only a few days after moving to the city from his hometown in Ohio five years prior. A friend from back home who had made the move to New York a year before he had introduced him to Tuck who then in turn introduced him to Brett and Chance. They had bonded quickly and soon formed their clique. Wyatt liked to refer to them as his Band of Brothers. He felt closer to them than anyone he had ever known before, and the word friend simply didn't seem to convey the power and enormity of their relationship. They would do anything for each other, were there day or night when one was in need of an ear or a shoulder, and each was highly protective of the rest. None of them had ever had a sexual relationship with each other, although Tuck and Chance had a mild flirtation when they'd first met. They were, in Wyatt's mind, made for each other but just not in that sense. They were the open, understanding, and loving family that Wyatt had always longed for. There was just one thing missing, and it was a special kind of loneliness that none of these friends could fill which Wyatt had shaken off earlier. With a large intake of breath, he reminded himself he had already decided that today was too perfect to let that damn feeling rob him of his glorious mood.

They had just reached the bar when Wyatt glanced at the shop next door and stopped. His abrupt halt forced Brett and Chance to stumble and turn towards him slightly since his arms were still linked in theirs. Tuck was already at the door showing the bouncer his ID, casually trying to scan the crowd inside for Tank Top Guy.

"I have an idea. Hey come back!" He called to Tuck, who turned and whimpered slightly as he retrieved his ID and came over to them.

"But arms...big arms," he said with a fake pout. He must have spotted Tank Top Guy inside.

"Let's go in here," Wyatt said, staring at the neon sign, its glow barely visible in the sunlight.

"A psychic? You can't be serious." Brett groaned.

"I've never been to one. Come on it will be fun!" Wyatt persisted as he grabbed Brett's hand and began walking up the steps. "First round on me after."

"Okay!" Chance exclaimed as he and Tuck followed Wyatt and Brett up the steps.

Wyatt opened the door and a little bell above their head jingled as they all stepped inside. The place was small with a little round table directly in the middle covered in several sheer looking cloths. A set of shelves off to one side contained an assortment of what Wyatt could only assume were mystical objects such as crystals and small vials of liquid. Curtains hung in the one window behind the neon sign shielding most of the room from the bright sunlight. Incense burned on one of the shelves giving the room a hazy quality and filling their lungs with a heady lavender scent. A woman appeared from a doorway in the back of the room, pulling aside the beaded curtain to enter.

"Cliché," Brett whispered in a singsong fashion drawing out the last syllable.

Wyatt elbowed him in his side to quiet him. The room was not large enough to even whisper without all of its occupants hearing. The woman obviously heard him as she glared at Brett, drawing her eyes over him and focusing finally on his hand still held in Wyatt's.

"Ah, a love reading?" she asked in a haughty tone that Wyatt was sure she was using to help complete the ambience of the place.

"What?" Wyatt asked.

"Boyfriends looking to find out if their love will last?" She gestured with her head to Wyatt and Brett's joined hands as she made her way to the table and took a seat.

"That sounded like a question. Shouldn't you already know?" Brett asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Again, the woman eyed him with disdain. She obviously took what she did seriously. Wyatt had to agree with Brett. If she wanted to be seen as genuine, she should probably dispense with a lot of the stereotypical accouterments. She picked up a deck of Tarot cards from the table, taking in Wyatt, Tuck and Chance before she returned her gaze to Brett, a bit of defiance sparking in her eyes.

"No, not boyfriends, although there is a strong bond of love amongst you. Not family by blood." Something shifted in the woman's face. She scanned the four of them again and when she spoke this time her voice was softer, almost as if she were speaking to herself. "A Band of Brothers, built, not born."

Wyatt felt the attention of all three of his friends land on him. He stole a quick peek at Brett. How weird was it that she'd just used the phrase that he himself had so often used to refer to their tiny group? The woman rose from the table and walked behind the counter that housed the cash register and other devices for procuring payment. She left the deck of cards in her hands on the counter as she ducked down behind it and disappeared out of sight. They used this opportunity to glance around at each other. Wyatt saw that the woman's words had affected each of them. It had to be just a coincidence. It was a well-known phrase.

She rose again, after a moment, holding what appeared to be an extremely aged leather case. She set it on the table as she returned to her seat. She then opened the lid, its contents hidden from their view.

"Uh, miss..." Chance said, trying to regain her attention.

This felt weird. Should they go? Wyatt looked back at Tuck and Chance, trying to ask them silently what they thought they should do.

"Magda. My name is Magda." Her voice was now light and friendly. "How about a special reading for such a close group of friends?"

"That's an excellent attempt at upselling us. Wy's the only one who wants a reading. You're not going to quadruple your sales on us lady." Brett seemed to have recovered from her unexpected turn of phrase if this barb was any indication.

"No, no. One price for all of you."

"Works for me," Tuck said as he took a step closer. Wyatt moved and took a seat. Brett stood directly behind him as Tuck moved to his left and Chance pulled to his right. They watched as the woman took another deck of cards out of the case and placed them on the table.

She studied the four of them and then instructed Tuck to shuffle the deck. When he was done, he laid them back on the table. Next, she asked Chance to cut the deck into two stacks. When he was finished, she focused on Wyatt. He was taken aback by the anticipation that he saw burning in her eyes. She broke the gaze, letting her focus fall to the two stacks and told him to select one of them. He hesitated, trying to get into the moment and see if his instinct or some other force drew him to one deck over the other. He didn't feel anything, so he just picked one. He felt Brett give the tiniest squeeze on his shoulder when he made his selection. Did Brett want him to pick the other stack? Why? Brett was the one that seemed the least into this. She picked up the stack he had chosen and looked at Brett.

"Yes or no?" Again, she did not break their gaze. She offered no more to her question. Wyatt wanted to see Brett's reaction, hoping to share in this moment of confusion but before he could turn his head, he heard Brett respond.

"No." He sounded so sure, but his voice was laced with something else that Wyatt couldn't quite make out.

Magda nodded her head and placed the stack Wyatt had selected aside and took the other one from the table. She turned the top card over and laid it in the center of the flat surface. Wyatt leaned a little closer to view the image on the card. It was a large brown wolf that appeared to be leaping forward but then had changed its mind and leaned toward the right, one bright yellow eye gleaming towards him. There were no words on the card, just the picture.

"The wolf strikes first," Magda said as she turned the next card over and set it to the right of the first card slightly closer to the four of them. This one had a sleek white horse raised onto its hind legs. Magda called it the Stallion. The stallion was followed by an upside-down bear at the six o' clock position and then finally a large cat or cougar according to Magda, was situated at nine o' clock. She stared at the cards for a long time, not saying a word. Wyatt tried to read her face, but it was stoic and loyal to her secret thoughts.

She finally raised her eyes to meet Wyatt's. "The wolf is--"

"I thought Tarot cards were all about numbers and cups and swords," Brett interrupted her, and Tuck snorted. Wyatt jabbed his elbow back into his friend, but his gaze never left Magda's. Something told him this was not a moment for jokes even if none of the rest of them felt it.

"The wolf," Magda continued as if Brett had not spoken, "is fierce and protective. It sees with all of its senses not just the eyes. There is nowhere that you can hide that the wolf will not find you. Run from him and you will only end up destroying yourself."

Wyatt kept staring at her even after she broke their gaze and began telling Chance about the Stallion. Wyatt's chest tightened; he could still feel the power of her stare burning into him even though she had broken the connection. Her words were mysterious and said nothing about him really, and yet he couldn't shake the feeling that they were perhaps the most important ones he would ever hear. Her voice seemed far off as she talked about the strength of the bear, admitting that its upside-down position indicated a reversal of some kind. Wyatt knew she was saying this to Brett because he was watching her eyes shift to each man she spoke to. He only caught bits and pieces of what she was saying to his friends. Tuck was told that the cougar was cunning but if there was more Wyatt didn't comprehend any of it. He was unsettled by the feelings rushing through him. A wolf? That didn't make any sense. He shook his head when Magda stopped speaking and once again focused on Wyatt. The heavy smell of incense must have gotten to him.

"They will need you to help them," she said, again looking directly into his eyes intently. The gesture of her hand seemed to mean that the ‘them' she was speaking of were his friends.

"What I need is another drink, come on fellas." Brett's tone made it clear he was done with Magda and her unoriginal psychic parlor.

"That will be twenty-five dollars," Magda said, her voice light and almost chipper.

"For that? What a rip off!" Brett shrieked.

"No, it's okay. I got it." Wyatt said as he pulled out his wallet. "You guys go ahead. I'll pay here and meet you over at the bar." He wanted another drink too. Magda had unnerved him.

"That sucked," Chance said as he eyed Magda and made his way to the door.

"Yeah, Oda Mae, I've got a message from Sam. He says ditto!" Tuck quipped as he followed the other men out. Wyatt went with Magda to the counter and handed her his credit card. He signed his receipt and slid it back to her.

"Sorry about my friends," he offered with a smile as she picked up the signed copy and gave him the other.

"I am not concerned with it. Neither should you be. They will believe when the time comes," she replied cryptically. He walked out the door and made his way down the steps over into the bar. He didn't look back.