Marital Secrets: The Conclusion
Part 1 Summary
After a relaxing evening home alone, Clarinda is startled awake by a wolf who wandered in through the doggy door. After shooting the wolf three times, she is shocked to find him transformed into her husband and she’s certain she just killed him.
“Shit,” she repeated her earlier phrase before looking him over. “Dane?”
“I think I better call an ambulance.” She moved to get back up when Dane’s hand wrapped around her wrist. She gasped and tried to pull away. She couldn’t. Then she thought she heard him say something so moved in cautiously, toward his head.
“No,” he whispered. “Don’t call an ambulance.”
Clarinda pushed the hair back from his face and looked into his visible eye—mossy green like the growth on an old tree branch. “You can’t even get up, Dane. You’re probably bleeding to death. Not to mention you were a wolf about sixty seconds ago.”
“Help me roll onto my side,” his voice still a whisper.
She did as he asked, only because she wanted to see the damage. She was scared, shocked, and a little pissed off. She wanted to know what the hell was going on. She still couldn’t believe what she had just seen happen in her own house and with her own husband. Sure, they had only been married a little over a year but she thought she knew him. Apparently, she was wrong.
Together, they got him onto his side and then propped him up against the wall in a sitting position. The first bullet from Clarinda’s gun had grazed his right arm, just above the elbow. The second had hit his head but she couldn’t make out the damage through all of his gummed-up hair.
The final shot had been the one that brought him down. He had taken the hit in his left shoulder, just below the collarbone. It didn’t look so good. Amber pushed her way over to it and began licking. Clarinda shooed her away, shivering in disgust. “Gross, Amber. Knock it off.”
“Enough, Amber,” Dane commanded. Amber stopped and lay on the floor next to him.
All three of them looked toward the stairs when they heard the other two girls make their way down. The hall became crowded. Unable to help herself, Clarinda took charge, moving everyone into the kitchen. She had to help Dane up and into a chair at the bar. Then she gathered the first aid basket and started organizing the necessary items onto the counter, waiting for Dane to explain his secret side.
He began with, “I wanted to tell you.”
Clarinda started cleaning his forehead. “Dane, we’ve been a couple for over two years now. Don’t you think you should have said something before we got married?”
“Ouch!” he complained when she used the cloth to emphasize her frustration by rubbing a bit harder on his wound.
“Don’t be a baby, Dane. It’s just a scratch, like your arm.” She finished bandaging it and the arm and then moved on to the shoulder. As she cleaned the wound, she noticed the skin almost pulse and the bullet push out and into the cloth. “What the hell?” She backed away.
Dane grabbed her arm again. “It’s supposed to happen. My body’s healing itself. That’s why my temperature has increased.”
It was true. He felt like an oven. It was incredible. If it were anyone else, she’d say that person would most likely die from the fever, but it seemed to be helping him—healing him.
She moved back over and finished cleaning and then bandaging his shoulder. “How long will it take to heal?”
“Well I’ve never been shot before, but I’m going to guess a few hours. It’s not that bad. You didn’t hit any bone or arteries.”
Clarinda bit her lip. Usually, she was full of questions, but right now, she wasn’t sure what to say or where to start.
Dane tried again, “I’ve wanted to tell you since the day we met.”
“But you didn’t, Dane.”
“I know. I—”
Losing her patience, she asked, “What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know. A million things. I was afraid to tell you. Afraid of how you would react. When we met, it was different from other relationships. I didn’t want to just dump on it. I wanted to nurture it, make it stronger. And then I kept thinking, what if you found out and left me. I didn’t want to lose you, lose what we’ve built.
Maybe you’d accept me but there was always a chance you wouldn’t. A chance you’d walk away. But it isn’t that simple once you know. You’d know about me. There were just so many risks if I told you that I convinced myself it was better and safer for the both of us if you just didn’t know yet. I wanted to give us a chance first, before,” he held his hands out, palms up, “this!” He was naked, on a chair, with three bullet wounds.
“It never would have come to this if you’d told me?”
“You don’t know that, Clarinda.”
“If I wanted to walk away, I’d have walked away. I wouldn’t have shot you.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you’d be horrified and just react.”
They saw movement toward the mudroom and followed the dogs to check. Another wolf, similar to the one Dane had just been, limped through the dog door and collapsed. Dane moved over to the door and slid the lock in place. The wolf began to convulse and then shift. For the second time that night, a shot, naked man lay on Clarinda’s floor.
“What the hell is going on here, Dane?” she asked.
“Oh my God.” He looked from the man to Clarinda and back again. “It’s Seth.”
“Your brother Seth? I thought he was out of the country.”
“So did I.”
A banging on the front door started everyone, getting the dogs barking and drawing everyone to the foyer.
“Don’t answer it,” Dane said, walking past the dogs to the side window next to the door. “It’s not safe.”
“Do you know who it is?” Clarinda asked trying to ignore the second bout of banging and barking. She was beginning to feel like she had joined the circus.
“I don’t recognize them, but I’m going to bet it’s the two men who shot Seth and started me earlier in the backwoods.” He moved from the window and then hustled them back into the mudroom to help Seth.
Clarinda set up one of her folding craft tables in the kitchen while Dane carried Seth in. Together, they rolled Seth onto his belly and then took stock of the wounds. There was a flesh wound to his back, and deep wounds to his left calve and the fleshy part of this gluteus maximus. Together, they cleaned the wounds and then Dane ran upstairs for clothes for the three of them.
Clarinda soothed the aggravated dogs while she waited for Dane to return. When they finally settled, the dogs took turns sniffing out their new visitor.
Dane had changed upstairs and checked outside through windows in different rooms while Clarinda dressed. He returned to the kitchen, tossing her cloths and updating her. “I’m not seeing a car or anyone on foot anymore. I think they left.”
Clarinda let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Good. So how are we going to do this?” She held out the sweat suit. Together they struggled with dressing Seth—Clarinda working at pulling the cloths onto him while Dane lifted Seth where necessary to make it work.
“How long do you think he’ll be out?” she asked.
Dane gave his brother another once over. “Probably another hour or two but it will take a day or two to heal, depending on how much he’s fed.”
“Fed? What do you mean? Fed?”
“We need more energy than most. We hunt in wolf form. And when we’re healing, we need a lot more energy. Our metabolisms kick into high gear and burns through food pretty quickly.”
Gross, Clarinda thought. “Oh,” she said aloud.
“Everyone hunts, Clarinda,” Dane responded to her look. “Some just happen to get only as far as a grocery store.”
She chewed at her bottom lip again, thinking. “So, I guess it’s cool that you can heal so quickly.”
Dane raised a hand to silence her and tilted his head slightly. His movement reminded her of the dogs.
After what seemed like a long time, Clarinda spoke. “What is it?”
“Do you smell that?”
Clarinda closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Wood burning?” she asked, opening her eyes.
“Stay here,” Dane said before disappearing. He returned a few minutes later carrying their two emergency bags. He set them in front of her and then picked Seth back up. “We have to get out of here.”
“What’s going on Dane,” Clarinda asked again. She could feel the adrenaline return.
“Just grab the bags and open the garage door. I’ll explain when we get out of here.”
Clarinda grabbed the car keys and her purse, while struggling to get the door and hold onto both bags. She managed and sat the bags down next to the old Land Rover while the dogs and then Dane, carrying Seth, entered the garage. That was when she smelled it. Fire. She moved back to toward the door.
Dane blocked her. “Where are you going?”
“I need to call 911. I think the house is on fire and I need to get my cell phone.”
“It’s too late, Clarinda. It’s not safe. They set fires in at least three areas of the house. We have to get out of here. Help me get Seth in the back seat.”
“Right.” She focused on the immediate task of helping Dane get Seth situated and then loaded the girls into the back with the bags while Dane hit the garage door opener and started the car.
Once Clarinda buckled in, Dane backed out slowly, looking around. Neither of them saw anyone so they continued out the driveway and onto the dirt road, heading toward the freeway.
By the time they were northbound on I-75, Clarinda could no longer hold in the emotion and burst out crying. Dane was silent while she cried it out, handing her some tissue from the center console. He pulled into the first rest stop, parked in the back of the lot near a seclusion of trees, and cut the engine. He did a quick check on Seth and then turned to Clarinda.
After several minutes of silence between them, he spoke. “Look. I know things just went to hell. I know some of it was my fault, but this attack. This wasn’t me. This wasn’t Seth. Something’s going on here that neither of us understands.”
He took her hand. “I love you. I know this. And I know you love me. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have reacted the way you did tonight. I know I have a lot explaining to do. I owe you that.” He paused, taking a tissue from the pack she held in her lap and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “But I’m going to ask you to do something for me. I need you to do something for me.”
Clarinda’s voice came out in a squeaky, “What?”
“I need you to trust me.” He held up his hand to stop her response. “No. I mean REALLY trust me.” He brushed a strand of hair from her face. “I need your help getting through this, Clarinda. He motioned toward Seth. “Whatever THIS is. Are you willing to do that for me? For us?”
So many things were racing through Clarinda’s mind. The day they first met at a local bookstore. His proposal. Their honeymoon. When they finally found the perfect land to build. The first night they camped in their unfinished home. Him lying shot on the floor. His brother. Leaving the home they loved so much.
She had never felt such a strong connection to anyone until Dane. She doubted she ever would. She couldn’t leave that. She couldn’t walk away from a love that made them both stronger. And the wolf thing. Well, she guessed she’d have to put that on hold. For now at least. One thing at a time.
She took a shaky breath and then gave him a weak smile through the tears. “I’ll do this Dane.”
He smiled too.
“But,” she paused. “I have a condition of my own.”
“You have to start trusting me too.”
He stared at her for a long time. “I know I made a mistake. I won’t make the same one twice,” he agreed, kissing her.
“Full disclosure,” he confirmed. After starting up the engine, he looked over to her. “Are you ready for this?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for this one, Dane. But I’ll give it a try.”
“I love you, Clarinda.”
“I love you too.”
“Oh, one more thing,” Dane said while steering out of the lot and back onto the freeway.
“You’re beautiful when you’re angry.”
Clarinda slapped him in the arm and rolled her eyes. She knew he was trying to lighten the mood. And he did, at least a little bit, and that’s what mattered. “And you’re a dog,” She said, laughing at her own bad joke and then hiccupped causing him to laugh too.
They would get through this. She was certain.