erotic romance that breaks a few rules
... forty stories of first loves, friends to
lovers, and the heat of the moment.
In 2014, an incredible group of talented
authors put together an anthology of
over 40 stories called "Love is ..."
Proceeds from this anthology were
donated to support the Reach Out and
Read, "an evidence-based nonprofit
organization of medical providers who
promote early literacy and school
readiness in pediatric exam rooms
nationwide by giving new books to
children and advice to parents about
the importance of reading aloud."
I was tremendously honored to have
my story, "A Pack to Call My Own" be a
small part of this collection. Now that
the anthology has concluded, I hope
you will enjoy the story here.
Sometimes love is about a family – not the one you’re born into, but the one you’re lucky
enough to find.
Bettie is a fading prostitute with no family, no friends, and no future. When her pimp cuts
her loose, she has no home, either. She’s on the streets with a bag of clothes, a box of
books, and no protection.
And a serial killer is has stabbed three hookers in two weeks.
Cold, hungry and alone, Bettie looks for help in a used book store. There she meets a
newly-disabled young man and helps him regain his sexual confidence. In return, he
agrees to store her books.
Back on the dangerous streets, Bettie comes face-to-face with the Slasher. She puts up
a good fight but is badly injured. She fully expects to lose her life. But she’s saved by
what she thinks is a pack of wild dogs.
She wakes in the Lupanara, an upscale brothel run by beautiful Lara. The women of the
brothel are friendly and happy, empowered and content. The guests are polite and well-
satisfied. No one seems ashamed to be in the Den of the She-Wolves. Bettie is
convinced that she’s too old and plain to be welcomed there. But Lara assures her that
she is treasured as a daughter and sister. The newcomer quickly learns that the women
of the Lupanara are not women at all, and in their Pack she finds the safe and loving
family she’s so desperately longed to join.
Thursday night they found the third Slasher victim.
Annie was working just up the block. She said the first cop on the scene threw up in the
gutter. News trickled out all night, gossip and rumor and truth. They said this killer was a
Like us girls on the street didn’t already know that.
He’d stabbed the first girl eight times. The second one he’d stabbed twenty-one times
and slashed her a bunch, too. This third one had more than sixty wounds. Three girls in
two weeks, and more violent every time.
We stuck together. Usually hookers protected their turf, fought for the best corners, but
with a crazy out there, we hung close for protection. It wasn’t good for business. But
none of us were much in the mood to work anyhow. Going off alone with a guy was
always chancy, but when any john might be the Slasher, it was terrifying.
We worked anyhow, of course. That’s what pros do. But we were scared.
I caught a couple late tricks, and by the time I got back to Johnnie’s place it was almost
dawn. I was cold and tired and sore. But at least I wasn’t dead.
There was a duffle bag and a cardboard box by the front door. Johnnie had his arms
folded. “Hey, Bettie.” It wasn’t my real name; I called myself that after Bettie Paige. He
didn’t know who what was, of course. “I packed up your stuff.”
I felt sick. “Huh?”
“Look, Bettie, you done some good work for me. But you’re getting older, you know?
And this Slasher guy – Angel’s scared. She needs a place to stay.”
Angel was his newest girl. She was blonde and blue-eyed and fresh. The bitch.
“Johnnie, you can’t …”
“I don’t want a big scene, Bettie. You just need to go.”
I stared at him. I was too stunned to be pissed off. Yet. “You fucker.”
“Yeah.” He shifted his feet. “You can, uh, you can keep your roll from last night.”
“You miserable fucker.” I still wasn’t mad. I was scared. Out of his stable meant out of
the apartment. I had no place to go, not much money, no other way to make a living –
and there was a killer out there who’d just cut a girl into hamburger.
“Look, Johnnie …”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Bettie.” He walked out.
I should have changed my clothes before I left. I was still in my street wear – hot pants,
tube top, bolero jacket, high heels. But I was too scared and angry to think straight. I
screamed, I swore, I stomped my feet. Then I grabbed my stuff, walked out and slammed
the door. It locked behind me.
Just like that, I didn’t work for Johnnie any more.
It’s stupid, but sometimes when your whole world comes apart, even if it was a crappy
world to begin with, it’s too big to think about. So you focus on small annoyances
instead of the big problems.
My small annoyance was a cardboard box, a carton from the Bright White Paper
Company. It was full of books, and it was heavy.
I loved books. Loved to read. I’d always told myself I was going to study up and get my
GED. It had never happened. But I still read pretty much anything I could lay my hands
on. I’d tried to get a library card, but they had an off-duty cop in the lobby and he chased
me out before I even got to the counter. So I hung out at DeAngelo’s instead. Del sold
used books, and he didn’t care if he sold them to prostitutes. I bought them, I read them,
I sold them back and bought more. Except sometimes I found a book I really wanted to
keep and read over and over. Those went into the Bright White box.
The duffle bag had a shoulder strap to carry it. But the paper box was heavy and
awkward and just generally a bitch. So instead of worrying about where I was going to
sleep and how I was going to not get cut up by a psycho, I worried about carrying that
damn box around.
That, and it was really fricking cold again.
I set the books down on top of a trash can and dug out my windbreaker. It was too big,
so it hung down past my ass. I snapped it all the way up to the neck, nerd-style.
Then I leaned against the wall and tried to think.
I had a hundred and fifty-seven dollars. I could earn maybe a hundred a night if I really
hustled and wasn’t too fussy. I knew a couple places I could get a room for about sixty a
night, no questions asked. I didn’t like the idea of turning tricks in the same bed I slept in,
but there wasn’t any help for that. I could make it work.
But it was dangerous to be out there without a pimp. Any trick could turn ugly, but most
johns knew they’d take a beat-down for getting too rough with me. But the worse danger
was the other girls. Slasher or not, they’d turn on me in a second if they found out I was
a free agent. They’d drive me off the good hunting grounds for sure.
And the Slasher? I couldn’t even think about him.
I didn’t want to be on my own. But all the other pimps I knew had enough girls, younger
and prettier. If I was too old to Johnnie’s stable, probably I was too old for anyone’s.
I should have gotten that damn GED.
Too late for that now. I was a freelancer. Get on with it. Get a room, get a shower, get
some sleep, hit the streets early. Be smart and try to stay out of trouble.
I’d have to hide the books somewhere. Someone would probably steal them from the
hotel room. The guys who would rip off a hooker were after cash or drugs or booze, but
they’d take anything they could fence. They’d get five or ten bucks and smoke it up in
five minutes …
It would probably cost a little money, but maybe I could keep my books safe.
I wrapped my aching fingers tighter around the corners of the box and started up the
The door was locked and the sign said “Closed”.
I swore. Of course the book store was closed. It wasn’t even nine in the morning. But I
was freezing and my hands were raw from carrying that damn box. Del might be inside.
I knocked on the door. Then I pounded on it.
After a minute, there was a click and the door unlocked. I looked through the window,
but whoever had unlocked it was off to the side. I balanced the box on one hip and went
“What?” a man snapped.
To my right there was an aluminum baseball bat hovering in the air. That was all I saw at
first. Then I saw the wheelchair. Then, finally, I saw the boy between the chair and the
He was maybe twenty-five. His hair was dark and very short. He had big brown eyes
and heavy eyebrows. He looked pissed. “Who are you?” he barked. “What do you
He’d obviously been in the military. I resisted the smart-ass urge to salute. “I’m Bettie. I’
m a friend of Del’s.”
“See the sign? We’re not open yet.”
“I don’t want any trouble. I just need to talk to Del.”
“Come back during business hours.”
My arms were screaming. “Look, can I set these down somewhere?”
Brown Eyes lifted the bat a little. “You can set them down outside on your way out.”
I’d been bullied enough for one morning. “Look, you little asshole, I don’t know who you
are, but I’m a good customer of Del’s and I need a favor from him. So you roll your little
bat-boy ass back there and get him for me.”
“He’s not here. He won’t be in until ten.” He almost smiled then. “My little bat-boy ass?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Tony.” He lowered the bat. “Del’s my uncle.”
“I’ve never seen you here before.”
“I been overseas. Getting my legs blown off.”
He had a towel over his lap. For the first time I looked past the bat and could tell that his
legs ended above the knee.
“That sucks,” I said sincerely.
“Yeah. What do you need from Del?”
I could not hold the box one more minute. I dropped it onto the nearest counter and
rubbed my burning hands together. “I’m kinda homeless. For the moment. I want to ask if
I can store these books here for a while.”
Tony’s face had wrinkles no boy his age should have. He was twenty-five going on five
hundred. He had too much cheekbone, too much chin, too much loose skin. He’s lost a
shitload of weight.
It truly did suck.
“Are they valuable?” Tony asked.
I shook my head. “Just books I really like.”
“I can stick them in the back room, if you want. I don’t think Del will care.”
It felt like I could breathe again. “I’ll come by later and make sure it’s okay with him.”
“It’ll be fine.” He wheeled closer and grabbed the box. His arms were huge; he acted like
it didn’t weigh anything at all. But then he had it in his lap and he needed one hand to
hold it there and he couldn’t wheel himself with just one arm. “Fuck,” he said.
“I can push you,” I offered.
“I hate that.”
“I hate carrying that damn box around, so we’re even.” I grabbed the handles of the
chair and turned him around. “This way?”
Beyond the curtain, the back room was full of boxes and papers and books. Del would
never even notice my stuff.
“Over there,” Tony pointed. I pushed him over to a cot in the back corner. There was a
tattered pillow at one end, wadded-up blankets at the other. There was a pile of books
beside it, and an alarm clock on a wooden crate. Tony slid my box off his lap and
pushed it under the cot, with a lot of dirty clothes. “Nobody will bother it there.”
“You live here?”
His eyes flashed. “It’s better than being homeless.”
“Yeah. I guess it is.”
I shrugged. “Thanks for your help. I’ll be back when I find somewhere safe.”
Tony looked me up and down. “You, uh, you a pro?”
I was wearing a windbreaker and stiletto heels. It was pretty obvious. “Yep.”
“Don’t you have a pimp or something you can stay with?”
“He kicked me out.”
“Yeah.” It didn’t suck as much as having your legs blown off, I thought.
“There’s a place on the next block,” Tony said carefully. “A brothel. It’s run by a woman.
Del knows her. She seems nice.”
“The Lupanara,” I said. “I’ve heard of it. But I’m not a lesbian.”
“I don’t think you have to be a lesbian to work there.” Tony shrugged. “Just an idea.”
“I’ll check them out,” I lied. It was an upscale place, from what I’d heard. They wouldn’t
let an old street walker like me through the door. “I should go.”
“You look cold,” Tony said quickly. “I could make you some coffee.”
“I’ll be okay. Thanks.”
I walked back through the shop. Tony wheeled after me. I went slow, to give him time to
get his nerve up. “Hey, Bettie?”
“I was just curious, have you ever … have you ever had a … a …”
“Customer,” I provided.
“ … a customer, yeah, that was, you know, handicapped?”
He looked off to the left at nothing. “Have you ever had one with no legs?”
“Nope,” I said bluntly. “Have you been with a woman since you’ve had no legs?”
Tony’s cheeks went bright red now. “Nope.”
“Can you still get it up?” I asked bluntly.
He laughed nervously. “I can when I’m alone.”
“Then you probably can with me, too. You want to give it a shot?”
“You don’t think it’s too gross?”
“I don’t know. I told you, I’ve never done it. But we can give it a try, see what happens. If
nothing else, I give a great blow job.”
He grinned like a kid on Christmas morning. “I’ve got ninety buck put away …”
“You’ve got my books stored under your bunk. We’ll work something out.”
I reached behind me and locked the door. Tony was already wheeling back to his bunk.
It was a slow trick, but I wasn’t in any hurry. First we dickered about price. I wanted a
straight-up trade: Book storage for sex. Tony thought that was charity. We settled on
thirty bucks and storage of the books for a month. He got himself onto the cot. He didn’t
have any trouble getting stiff, and he didn’t complain about wearing a condom. But he
wanted to try a bunch of different positions.
Johnnie would have had a cow, me spending that much time with a john. But I didn’t
work for him anymore. We took our time and experimented.
Some things didn’t work at all. Full missionary was bad. Tony didn’t have enough leg left
to get the leverage. But I rolled us onto our sides and that was okay. Doggie style didn’t
work either, even with me flat on my stomach. Cowgirl, me on top, was good, but he
didn’t like being so out of control. I taught him how to hold my hips, with his thumbs over
my pelvic bone and his fingers spread on my ass. It let him set the pace. That one finally
I was already naked by then, so I dug into my duffle bag and got some jeans and a
sweatshirt. Tony sprawled on the cot, panting.
“You better get dressed before Del gets here,” I said.
He grinned. He looked a lot younger than he had. “Yeah.” He reached for his pants.
“The stumps … they’re not too gross?”
I looked over at his bare, abbreviated legs. “It’s grotesque that a man your age should
have stumps. But appearance-wise, they’re not bad.”
“Thanks.” He put his pants on. “When they heal up some, I’m going to get prosthetics.
And then I’ll have to learn to walk all over again.”
“You’ll do fine,” I promised. “You’re a quick study. Just like riding a bike, huh?”
Tony’s cheeks turned red. “I wasn’t sure. I was so scared.”
“You’re just fine in the sack, Tony.”
I stood up and put my ridiculous heels back on. “You want a repeat, give me a yell. I’ll be
He looked away. “I got this girl,” he said quietly.
“You must think I’m a total asshole.”
I shook my head. “You didn’t want to get in bed with her until you were sure it would
“She’d be so upset. And embarrassed. And she’d feel sorry for me … it would be awful.”
“Then you did the right thing. Now you can go to her and be confident.”
I kissed him on the cheek. “See you around, sweetie.”
I found a cheap hotel and paid for two nights. I took a shower, which was only lukewarm.
Then I slept. At sundown I put on my street clothes and went out for the first time in eight
years without a pimp’s muscle behind me.
I stayed away from my old streets. I knew Johnnie’s girls would run me off. All the other
streets in the neighborhood were claimed, too, but there were places where the
territories overlapped. If I stayed on the edges, they might ignore me.
I turned a couple easy tricks, oral on the wall and a quickie in a back seat, before
midnight. More girls came out then and the competition got tougher.
I felt exposed and vulnerable. I felt like someone was watching me.
It was just the other girls, I decided, and their pimps, making sure I didn’t get onto their
turf. Nothing more.
I got too timid. I stayed in the shadows. I didn’t catch any more tricks. I froze my ass off.
The bars started to close, and I caught one more quickie. By the time we were done, the
street was pretty much empty.
I knew some after-hours clubs uptown. I walked in the shadows and kept away from
There was someone behind me. I knew there was. But I couldn’t spot him.
There was a drug store on the corner. Just as I got there they shut the outside lights off.
Something moved and I spun around. “Who’s there?” I called, sounding as tough as I
A plastic bag rustled down the street.
I faked a laugh. “Damn it, Stella, are you done with the guy already? You’re too quick,
you got to at least let him unzip first. Come on, we’ll go see what we can catch uptown.”
“Fuck you,” I said softly. I turned and walked toward brighter lights.
“Hello?” a man said softly.
I spun around and he was right fucking THERE, not three steps from me. “Shit!” I said.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
He looked like an ordinary guy. Balding, a little pudgy. Maybe fifty years old. He wore a
nice overcoat, the kind businessmen had, but cheap sneakers. Sky blue. There was a
hole in one toe.
“I’m sorry,” he said meekly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
They didn’t go together, the overcoat and the blue sneakers. The hair on the back of my
neck stood up. “I was expecting Stella,” I lied. “She’ll be back any minute.”
“Of course.” His voice was ordinary and smooth and dark.
He took a step closer. I hesitated for one instant. I needed another trick. I needed the
money. But my instincts said run.
He chased me. I had stiletto heels and he had sneakers. But being scared shitless gave
me a little extra speed. I got almost a whole block.
He caught my arm. I fell off my heels and lurched against him. He wrapped his other arm
around my shoulders. Big damn arms under that overcoat; he felt stronger than Tony
even. His breath smelled like raw hamburger. He stepped on my foot with his floppy
sneaker, square on the arch. I screamed and tried to get my hands up. Tried to claw his
I couldn’t think. I could only fight and claw and scratch and try to get away. I don’t
remember if I even saw the knife, but I remember thinking PROTECT YOUR FACE and
throwing my arms up and then I thought, GREAT, NOW HE CAN GUT YOU –
It was loud, like a big dog about to bite, and it was coming toward us fast.
The Slasher tried to turn around without letting go of me. Something yanked him away. I
fell backward and cracked my head against the corner of the building. Everything went
black for an instant. My mouth tasted like brick dust. I thought I was going to puke.
There were dogs everywhere. Big. Shaggy. White and gray and black. Fast and loud.
There was blood. The man screamed. The knife blade flashed. A paw met it and there
was more blood and the knife flew away. There were snarls and yips and more screams.
Then it was quiet, except for the slurping sounds of dogs feeding.
The blackness started to make my vision smaller and smaller.
I felt an arm around me. A woman said, “There, love, you’re safe now, come with me.”
Another arm on the other side. They helped me up. I couldn’t see clearly, but I could feel
them. Women. Warm and soft and strong. Women’s voices all around me. I blinked, but
we were in shadows. I walked between them, half-carried, supported.
“My arms,” I muttered.
“You’ll be alright, love.”
I tried to pull my arms down. “I’ll bleed all over you,” I apologized feebly.
There were chuckles around me. How many women were there? “It doesn’t matter. We’
They were leading me somewhere. I wasn’t sure I should go with them. But my head
was pounding. I was confused and bleeding. And they seemed so kind.
They were probably going to cut my throat and steal my money. But I didn’t care.
I woke up in Grandma Jilly’s bed.
For a sweet moment before I was all the way awake I was sure that’s where I was. The
bed beneath me was soft. The sheets were smooth and smelled like flowers. There
were warm heavy blankets. I wanted to snuggle deeper in Grandma’s bed and go back
Grandma Jilly had been dead for twenty years. The night of her funeral was the first
night my stepfather had –
I sat up angrily. I was not going to think about him, or THAT, ever again. And absolutely
not in Grandma Jilly’s bed.
Except, of course, it wasn’t her bed.
A young woman sat me. “Oh, you’re awake,” she smiled. “I’ll let Lara know.”
She was gone before I could ask where I was, who she was, who Lara was.
My arms were bandaged from the wrist to the elbow in clean white gauze. It looked very
professional. I remembered the knife, remembered covering my face. I remembered the
blade slicing my bare skin. My stomach roiled and I tasted brick again.
“Oh, there, love, don’t be afraid.” A tall woman came into the room. She had long dark
hair and big gray eyes. She was absolutely the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
She moved to the bedside with such grace that I held my breath. She was like an angel.
She wore what looked like a white toga with one shoulder, belted in gold at her waist. It
clung to her, revealed her breasts and her thighs and that she wore nothing under it.
She was barefoot. She didn’t seem to care that she was nearly naked. It seemed natural
that she was dressed that way. She was stunning.
She sat beside me on the bed and reached up to stroke my hair. I drew away from her. I
wanted her touch so badly it scared me. She lowered her hand. I was afraid I’d offended
her. But the angel just smiled at me, calmly, warmly. “Of course you’re frightened, love.
But you’re quite safe here.”
I swallowed hard. “I … where am I?”
“You are in the Luparana.”
The lesbian brothel. Tony had mentioned it just that morning – or was that yesterday? I
didn’t know how long I’d slept. It felt like a long time.
“It’s an old word,” she went on, “Latin. It means 'Den of the She-Wolves'.” She smiled.
“Their phrase for a brothel.”
“Oh,” I said. My voice sounded coarse and stupid.
“I am Lara. What should we call you?”
“Bettie.” I shrugged. “They call me Bettie.”
“But that is not your real name.”
The disapproval in her voice was very mild and stung like crazy. I wanted her to like me.
“It's Shell,” I answered, very quietly.
“Shell?” she repeated.
I nodded. Pumpkin Shell, Egg Shell. Empty Shell. That was the real me.
“Michelle,” Lara said softly. She had a faint accent and it came out Mee-shell-ah. Three
syllables, with the last one soft and fading. No one had ever said my name so
wonderfully. Not even Grandma Jilly.
“Yes,” I breathed.
Lara smiled, and became even more beautiful. “I shall call you Michelle, if you don't
mind. It suits you.”
“All right.” I would have agreed to anything she asked.
“Belle will be back shortly with some dinner,” she continued. “I'm sure you must be
My stomach growled in agreement.
“There is a washroom just there.” She gestured with one elegant hand. Her nails were
not colored, but elegantly short and shiny. “Please, rest, eat. Be comfortable.”
I lifted my arms. The pieces were coming together slowly. “The man … the Slasher…”
“He is no threat to you now.” She reached into a drawer and brought out a little silver
bell. “If you need anything, anything at all, just ring.”
“You saved my life!”
Lara stood up, unconcerned. “Pretty Michelle. I am so glad you are our guest.”
She left the room. I stared after her for a long moment, trying to make sense of her. Of
everything. She'd saved my life – how? why? – and brought me into her brothel,
bandaged my wounds and put me to bed. I looked around the room. This was not a work
room; that much was certain. The bed was much too nice. The sheets were clean.
There were fresh daisies in a vase.
I wondered if it was Lara's room, if I was actually sleeping in her bed.
I shook my head. It wasn't like me to have such a girl-crush. I’d only had a few sexual
encounters with women, all of them customers. Janes, I called them. They’d been okay,
though they were more work than men. But this was different. It wasn't even sexual,
exactly. I wanted her to stroke my hair, maybe to kiss me. To cuddle me in her arms. I
just wanted to be beside her. Whatever happened after that was just gravy.
I was completely smitten.
“It's a damn mommy-crush,” I said out loud. It was nothing I'd ever felt before. I was used
to standing on my own two feet, not needing anybody, not even wanting anybody. Now
suddenly I was all squishy and warm inside over this woman.
Also, I really really had to pee.
I swung my feet out of the bed and onto a ridiculously soft rug. I was wearing a white
cotton nightgown and nothing else. Well, it wouldn't have taken much to get me out of
my hooker clothes. And I was sure they'd been covered with blood. But how was I going
to get back to my hotel room in this little nightie?
I shrugged. Lara would have a coat or something I could borrow.
The idea of leaving this house made me feel sick.
The bathroom was small, but it was very clean and there was another vase of daisies on
When I was done, I went and opened the wardrobe. On one side was a big TV. On the
other was a closet bar with shelves beneath.
On one hanger were my hooker clothes, freshly washed, with no blood stains. On the
hanger next to it was a toga thing like Lara wore. There was a third hanger with a long
navy scarf or wrap.
There was a soft knock on the door and the girl who'd been with me when I woke up
came in. I hadn't noticed before, but she was dressed the same as Lara, in a toga and
belt, barefoot. She also wore a blue scarf, like the one in my closet, draped over her
She carried a tray.
The smell hit me; my mouth watered and my stomach growled. She put the tray down
and got a TV table from beside the wardrobe. While she set it up, she patted the bed.
“Lara says you're to stay in bed until you've fed. Eaten, I mean.”
I jumped back into bed and pulled the blankets over my legs. “It looks wonderful.” The
tray held a sandwich of thin-sliced roast beef, medium rare, stacked two inches high.
There was a platter of steak fries. There was a slice of apple pie with whipped cream on
top. There was a huge glass of milk. “I hope you didn't go to too much trouble.”
The girl beamed at me. “We like to fuss over guests. It's fun.” She paused. “I'm Belle. I
should have said that before.”
“Bet – Michelle,” I answered. I stuck my hand out, and for the first time I noticed that her
right hand was neatly bandaged. She leaned to give me a little hug instead of a
handshake. I felt sick. She’s been injured by the Slasher, I was sure. While she was
Belle saw my face and completely misinterpreted it. “I should have brought a vegetable.
Or a salad. I can fetch one …”
I shook my head. “I'm not really big on vegetables.”
“Oh, good.” She grinned broadly. “Me, either.”
She gestured to the bell. “Ring when you’re done. I'll be just downstairs.”
I didn't know how she expected to hear such a tiny bell from downstairs. I didn't ask. I
could barely think, beyond that she’d been hurt protecting me. This beautiful girl, Lara’s
She left on silent bare feet. I exhaled, then turned on the sandwich like a wild animal.
It had been a long time since I’d had a meal that big or that good. I was uncomfortably
full by the time I got to the last steak fry. I ate it anyhow. I didn’t know when my next meal
I glance at the bell. It felt like I’d be treating Belle like a servant. But I didn't want to go
wandering around the halls uninvited, either.
For the first time in a very long time, I wanted to be on my best behavior.
Fortunately, as I drained the last of the giant glass of milk, there was another polite
knock on the door and a new woman came in. She was dressed like Lara and Belle, and
seemed to be between them in age. She had gorgeous blonde hair and blue eyes.
Normally I would have hated her on sight just for being so pretty. But she smiled and I
liked her. Just like that.
“I’m Ravenna,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Stuffed,” I admitted. “That was incredible.”
“Oh, yes. We eat well here.”
“You must spend some serious time in the gym, or you’d all be big as houses.”
She nodded. “We run a lot. Would you like me to show you around?”
“Yes!” I said. Then I tried to tone down my enthusiasm. “I mean, if you think it’s okay.”
“Of course it is.” She opened the wardrobe, glanced at my clothes, pursed her lips.
Gently, she said, “Perhaps you should wear the tunic for this evening.”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“I'll be right back.”
She left with the tray. I slipped off the nightgown and put the tunic on. It was very soft
and smooth against my skin. There was a narrow black sash on the hanger beneath it. I
tie it around my waist.
Ravenna came back. “You look beautiful,” she said. She drew out the blue scarf and put
it over my bare shoulder, the same way Belle had worn hers. “This will tell the
gentlemen that you aren’t available.”
“God forbid,” I murmured.
She opened the top drawer and brought out a new-looking hair brush. I managed not to
pull away. She brushed my hair quickly, gently. Sweetly. “Good enough,” she said. She
took my hand like we were little girls. “Come on.”
Outside my room was a wide hall with many doors. “These are the girls’ rooms,” my
guide said. “There are more bedrooms around each corner.”
In the middle was a set of double door. “What's that? I asked.
“That’s the den,” Ravenna answered briefly. “Let’s go downstairs.”
On the third floor there was a big kitchen, a bigger dining room, some offices, and the
biggest living room I'd ever seen. There was one area for video games, another with
couches and cushions strew in front of a massive TV. There was a stereo and a little
square dance floor. There was even a delicious corner with bookshelves from the floor
to the ceiling. There must have been a thousand books there.
“This is where we play after hours,” Ravenna said.
“You all live here?”
She shook her head. “Half a dozen of us, plus Lara, right now. Sometimes there are
more. The other ladies just come in during business hours. We have an excellent cook,
and two maids, and then the spa people – oh, you must stay until morning, tomorrow is
“A good massage makes life worth living, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never had a good massage.”
“My poor girl! Then you must stay. I insist.”
“I … don’t you think we need to ask Lara?”
“Oh, Lara will agree, of course. You might as well consider it settled.” She hooked her
arm through mine. “Come on, I’ll show you where we make the money.”
As we walked, I asked, “You have a cook?”
“Oh, yes. None of us can cook worth a dime.”
“In a brothel. You have a cook.”
Ravenna was very amused by my disbelief. “My dear girl, you’re in the good life now.”
I nodded. The brothel felt warm, even in my scant toga – tunic – and my stomach was
achingly full. I was clean and felt safe. I was happy.
But it couldn’t last.
I bit my lip. No, it couldn’t last. But clearly they meant for me to stay the night. That
would be enough. It would have to be. This time tomorrow I needed to be back on the
corner if I was going to make my rent.
The second floor had two doors on each side of the hall. “These are our group rooms,”
Ravenna said, gesturing.
“Do you have a lot of big parties?” I asked. Visions of tasteful orgies filled my head, with
elegant music, grapes and wine. Not the drunken, drug-fueled grope-fests that went on
at Johnnie’s house.
“A couple times a year,” she answered. “Halloween’s a big one, of course. New Year’s
Eve. Fourth of July. Sometimes clients want to entertain a group. And sometimes Lara
just decides to invite a lot of friends.”
We continued down the stairs. The upper stairways had been simple, useful, but from
here to the main floor there was a wide, sweeping staircase, suitable for making an
Ravenna tucked her arm through mine again and we made an entrance.
No one much noticed, sadly. Lara was sitting on a love seat next to an older man in a
three-piece suit; she smiled at us, then returned her full attention to him. Belle was near
the front door, chatting with two casually-dressed younger men. I saw her bandaged
hand and felt awful again.
There were two other young women, without blue scarves. They were twins, beautiful
red-heads with milky white skin. They chatted and primped each other gently.
The lobby was a large, elegant room with wing-backed chairs and love seats in tasteful
groupings. There were statures of really beautiful nudes and paintings on the wall. Soft
music played in the background.
There was no evidence of a bouncer or any other muscle.
The boys who’d been flirting with Belle went out. Through the door, I saw a small desk
with another woman behind it, and then a door to the street. Probably that door had a
big lock on it, and the girl at the desk could simply lock out anyone who looked too
I wondered if they took the money at the desk, too. It seemed likely; keep the seamy side
out of the elegant sitting room. Heck, as swank as this seemed I bet they took credit
A girl, I gathered, could make a very nice living here.
I wanted to stay. Oh, God, I wanted to stay. But I was too old, too faded. I was not nearly
as beautiful as the women already here. Five years ago, maybe, but not now.
I could have cried.
“Michelle, love, come here,” Lara called.
I went to her side.
“Are you sad, my love?”
I shook my head. “I’ve just never seen such a beautiful house.”
“I’m glad you like it. This is Mr. Tompkins. Jeremy, this is Michelle.”
The john actually stood up to shake my hand. “Very nice to meet you, Michelle.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Tompkins.” I was confused. When in doubt, I thought, shut your
mouth. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation.”
“I had to be going anyhow.” He turned to Lara and kissed her hand. That should have
been cheesy, but somehow it just seemed proper. Then he turned and kissed my hand,
and my knees went weak. “I hope I’ll see you again.”
I looked to Lara. “I hope so, too,” I said uncertainly.
Lara walked him to the door. Another woman came in from a side door, followed by a
middle-aged man. That door probably led to the work rooms. The man brushed his hair
back to make sure he looked respectable when he hit the street. But he didn’t rush out;
he stayed to chat.
“Huh,” I said out loud.
“What is it?” Ravenna asked.
I shook my head. “Nothing. Just … the johns I know, once they’re done, they can’t wait
to get away from me. You know, thanks-bye.”
“Oh, we do get a few like there. Usually the theatre crowd, they want to get a good
parking space. But generally our guests linger for a bit. Mr. Gage is a regular. We want
him to be comfortable.”
No one seemed embarrassed to be here.
Oh, God, but I wanted to stay.
Belle came over with the other woman. “Zelda, this is Michelle.”
Zelda wrapped me in a big hug and kissed my cheek. “Michelle? How do your arms
“A little sore,” I admitted. They felt ugly and awkward, too. All these beautiful women
with their graceful bare arms.
“I’m not surprised. They were terribly cut.”
“I suppose they’ll be scared.”
“Not the way Zelda bandaged them,” Belle answered. “When they heal, you won’t even
know you were injured.”
Zelda blushed. “I don’t know about that. But they should be tiny scars, anyhow. If they
start to hurt too much, let me know.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you all. If you hadn’t found me and brought me here …” I
frowned, trying to remember. “There was this pack of dogs, I think ...”
The women giggled in amusement. “We didn’t see any dogs,” Ravenna said gently.
Belle looked toward the door. “Oh, no,” she said softly. A moment later the door opened
and an elderly gentleman, nicely dressed, came in. He wore thick glasses and had a
newspaper tucked under his arm. Lara went to greet him.
“He doesn’t look like a freak,” I whispered to Belle.
“Oh, he’s not. He just wants someone to read to him.”
“Read? In the nude or something?”
The girls giggled again. “Nothing like that,” Ravenna assured me. “He’s losing his vision
and he likes to have someone read him the paper in the evening.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It’s not,” Belle said. “But there are so many big words.” She shrugged. “I don’t really
like to read.”
Ravenna went over join Lara in greeting the old man. They treated him like he was a
special favorite. The same way they treated everyone.
“We usually rotate turns with him,” Zelda told me.
“But since I’m injured …” Belle finished.
I looked around quickly. This beautiful brothel, these beautiful women. The clean white
bandages on my arms. And on Belle’s hand. “Could I take him tonight?” I blurted.
Belle and Zelda both turned to look to Lara. She was much too far away to have heard
what I said, but she glanced over and nodded as if she’s heard every word. “Go,” Zelda
As I crossed the room, Lara held out her arm to include me in the group. “Here is our
Michelle,” she said. “Mr. Eshelmann, I’d like you to meet Michelle. She’s our guest
tonight, but she’s quite a dedicated reader. Might she read to you?”
His tiny eyes twinkling behind his huge glasses. “Oh, yes, that would be very nice.”
“Ravenna, would you get them settled, please?” Lara gave me a reassuring smile and
turned to greet more customers.
Ravenna led us down the hall and into a clean, comfortable room. It had a big bed with a
satin comforter, neatly made and smelling of flowers. I imagined it would put a fancy
hotel to shame. At the side of the bed were two armchairs. Ravenna turned the lamp on
and we sat down.
Beside the lamp was a bell, identical to the one in my room. “Ring if you need anything,”
When she was gone, the old man said, “Michelle. How long have you been here?”
“Just today.” Somehow telling this proper gentleman the whole sordid story of my rescue
seemed improper. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be here.”
“And what do you like to read?”
This was safer ground. “Everything I can get my hands on. I’m one of DeAngelo’s best
“DeAngelo’s.” He pondered. “Oh, yes, the used book store. I’ve been past there many
“You should stop in. Their selection is amazing.”
Mr. Eschelmann sighed. “With my eyes so bad, it would only be torture for me. It’s
enough if I can get through the daily paper.”
“I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. “I can’t imagine how I would feel if I couldn’t read any more. It’
s my escape.”
“Yes. Oh, yes.” He handed me the newspaper. “Well, let’s begin. Start at the top of the
front page, please. And if a story is continued later, please finish that and come back to
the next story.”
I sat back, unfolded the paper, and started reading.
We were in the room for nearly two hours. I read him all the news stories, the weather
forecast, the obituaries, and the funnies. Half-way through, Belle brought us tea. I
needed it; my mouth was dry. But I thoroughly enjoyed those hours. And Mr.
Eschelmann seemed to, too.
When he left, I returned to the sitting room. I felt better now that I’d been useful. I helped
to greet the clients. I was introduced to the ginger twins, Suzie and Sarah, and several
other ladies. They all seemed unhurried, happy to be there. And happy to meet me, too.
They weren’t like any hookers I’d ever met.
At two-thirty in the morning, just when business would pick up on the street, they locked
the front door of the Luparana. “The bars close now,” Lara explained. “The customers
who come in will likely be drunk or in a hurry, or both. Not the kind of gentlemen we like
“It must be nice to be able to be so picky.” I bit my lip, wishing I could take those sassy
words back. “I mean, I … pretty much take what I can get.”
Lara nodded, not offended. “Come and have dinner.”
I’d eaten a huge meal, but that had been hours before and I was hungry. We went up to
the third floor. The cook was just setting a huge platter of turkey drumsticks on the table.
There were probably ten side dishes, too, all wonderful, but it was the meat that seemed
to draw us all. The ladies were eating with their bare fingers before they even sat down.
They didn’t seem to care about their togas; Belle and Suzie both wiped their greasy
fingers on the cloth. Lara was a little more delicate, but I got guessed that was because
it was her nature, not because she worried about laundry issues.
We ate and we chatted and we laughed.
It was wonderful.
Too soon, I could feel my eyelids growing heavy. I didn’t want to go to bed; I was having
too much fun. It was like being a kid at a family reunion. I didn’t want to miss anything.
Then I was leaning against Ravenna’s shoulder and she was walking me to my room.
“Sleep well,” she said as she tucked me in.
Lara was there too, whispering, kissing my hair. “Sleep well, love. Dream of running
under the moon.”
It sounded like that was the most wonderful dream she could wish for me.
I thought I woke up and heard running in the hall outside my room. Not feet, but paws,
as if a pack of large dogs was running loose in the house. But that had to be a dream.
Lara would never allow an unruly pack of dogs in her beautiful brothel.
I snuggled in and dreamed that I fell back asleep.
When I woke again, it was late morning. The house was silent around me. Lara and the
others would still be sleeping; we hadn’t gotten to bed until after five and it was only
This place still felt like a dream. I wondered if it actually WAS a dream. Or maybe it was
the after-life. Maybe the man with the knife had killed me. Maybe this was heaven.
Or hell, more likely. That’s what I’d been led to expect. “You’re going straight to hell
anyhow,” my step-father had said. “I might as well be the one to start you on your way.”
I shook my head, hard. He was far away. Whatever else happened to me, he would
never be able to hurt me again.
I grabbed the remote and turned the TV on. All the channels seemed to have nature
shows, reruns or cartoons. I kept flipping through the channels, hoping for an old movie
or something. Instead, I caught a local news break.
The solemn man at the anchor desk said that a man had been found dead by the river.
Police thought he’d been mauled by large dogs.
I sat up. The reporter went on to say that the man had been wanted in connection to
three murders, prostitutes who had been stabbed. They’d found a knife in his hand with
fresh blood on it.
Local workers had seen had seen a pack of wild dogs running away from the area.
I shut off the TV. Then I pulled the blanket over my head. I didn’t want to see or hear any
more. I didn’t want to know.
The man with the knife had been killed by a pack of dogs.
There really HAD been dogs. They had rescued me, and they had killed the Slasher.
In the stillness, I could hear a memory I’d buried, the snarls, the yipping and screams,
the sound of tearing flesh.
The sound of the dogs feeding.
Dogs. Here in this city, a pack of dogs bold enough to kill a man with a knife …
… to save me …
I started to cry. I tried to be quiet; I pressed my face into the pillow. But I cried. In thirty
seconds there was a soft knock on the door. Then Belle climbed into the bed and
snuggled under the covers with her arms around me.
I cried harder. She just hugged me. It was wonderful.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered when I quieted.
“The man who cut me,” I whispered back, through sniffles. “I saw him on TV.”
“He won’t bother you again.”
“I know. He’s dead. They say he was torn apart by dogs.”
“Dogs,” Belle repeated softly. She kissed my forehead. “Don’t worry, Michelle. Nothing
will hurt you here.”
I started to sob again. “I know. But I can’t stay here forever.”
Why not? But why would they want me?
“You don’t have any family, do you?” Belle continued. “And your pimp kicked you out.”
“How did you know that?”
“Tony told us. From the book store? Well, he told his uncle, and Del told us. He thinks
you’re wonderful, the way you helped Tony. We all do.”
“Even Lara?” I asked hopefully.
“Of course Lara. It’s her pack. You wouldn’t be here if she didn’t like you.”
I sniffed again, comforted. Lara liked me. That meant the world. Belle liked me, too, and
that was sweet, it was like snuggling with my sister, but Lara, Lara was the sun and the
moon, and she liked me.
“But you’re all so pretty,” I said hopelessly.
“You’re pretty, too, you dummy.”
“Not like you. Not like Ravenna or Sarah …”
“No, you’re pretty like Michelle.”
It was too much to hope for. I’d been disappointed by too many people. It was enough
that I was here, now. It had to be.
“It’s lonely here,” Belle announced. “Come sleep in the den.”
“The den. C’mon.”
She slid out of bed. When I followed, she took my hand and led me down the hall to the
double doors. We went inside.
The den was a single open room with platforms and cushions everywhere. There were
no windows, but there was a huge round skylight. The bright midday orange of the sun
flooded the room. There were blankets and furs scattered around. On the walls were
graphic pictures, but these were not sexual like in the lobby. They were of the hunt.
Wolves tearing at the neck and flanks of a moose. Wolves taking down a bull, a dozen
terrified sheep. Wolves and blood, on all walls.
Fifty women could have slept comfortably in this room, but only six were there at the
moment: Ravenna, the twins, Zelda, a woman I’d met only briefly named Chastity, and
beautiful Lara. They slept close together at the center of the room, some curled up,
some sprawled. Like a pile of puppies.
The Den of the She-Wolves.
Belle curled on a cushion just to Lara’s right and held one arm out to me. It was very
warm here, in the sun. There was no need for blankets. I crawled up next to her, held
her hand lightly in mine, and fell back to sleep.
My stepfather was coming for me.
Grandma Jilly was dead. At her funeral I had cried and cried. I’d cried at home, too. Half-
asleep, I’d heard him and my mother and glass and ice. But now it was silent except for
his footsteps. I trembled in the dark. I wrapped my nightgown tight around my legs. It
wouldn’t help. He would come into the room, with his strong arms and his foul whiskey
breath, he would tear my pretty nightgown, the one with the pink rose buds …
And this time he would have a knife, and he would stab me and kill me.
I tried to run, but my nightgown was tight around my legs and my heels were too high. I
tripped and fell.
The footsteps were closer. He would hurt me, he would kill me, he was coming, he was
so close …
Everything around me moved.
The scream broke the dream. I sat straight up. There was fur grasped in my hand, and
there was a huge dog snarling ferociously in my face.
Not a dog. A wolf.
She was gorgeous, dark and sleek and powerful. Terrifying and beautiful.
The beast’s lips curled back over her gums. Her fangs were sharp and bright white. I
could see the fur on the back of her neck standing on end ...
To my side, something whimpered. I glanced that way. Where Belle had been, holding
me hand, there was now another wolf. I was holding her paw, crushing it in my grip. She
squirmed to get away, but she didn’t want to hurt me. She licked my fingers.
I release her paw. Her wounded, bandaged paw. My poor Belle.
The wolf in front of me stopped snarling and sat back on her haunches. Her fur
smoothed over her shoulders. She huffed, then regarded me with calm, serious interest.
I glanced at Belle again. She was Belle, the woman.
When I turned back, Lara had become human again, too.
“I … I …” I said brilliantly.
“You were dreaming,” Lara said mildly. “Your scream startled us.”
“I’m sorry.” It seemed both inadequate and ridiculous. “You’re … you’re …”
“Werewolves,” Bell supplied.
“Werewolves,” I repeated. As if I’d believed in such things for my whole life, instead of
just the past ten seconds. “Werewolves.”
Behind Lara, there was still someone in wolf form. I did a quick head-check and
determined it was Ravenna. She licked her flank, now quite unconcerned.
I had screamed in their den, and they had turned before they were awake. Ready to
defend themselves from whatever the threat was.
Ready to defend me. Again.
“Oh.” And then I said again, “Oh.” I didn’t know what else to say.
Lara smiled gently and held her hand out to me. I went to her, unafraid, and we settled
back into a heap of comfort. “The original Luparana, the first Den of the She-Wolves,
was in the city of Pompeii, two thousand years ago.”
“Like volcano Pompeii?”
Ravenna changed back into a human; it was quick and apparently painless.
“A true wolf pack,” Lara explained, “has an alpha male who’s in charge, and his mate,
the alpha female. But we aren’t animals. We have little need for males. And the need we
do have is easily – and profitably – filled. As a society, we don’t need them. We’re strong
enough to defend ourselves, smart enough to manage our lives.”
“You’re lesbians,” I said.
“I am,” Sarah answered brightly.
“I’m more bi,” Suzie echoed.
Lara chuckled. “Some of us are. Some are not. But regardless of our sexual identities,
most of us have had difficult relationships with men. We find it easier not to deal with
them on an every-day basis.”
“Except as customers, of course,” Ravenna amended.
My mind processed all of this like it was the most reasonable thing in the world. I was
probably in shock. “You’ve been here … thousands of years.”
“Not here, of course,” Lara said. “But in this business, yes.”
“It is the oldest profession,” Chastity offered with a smile. “Since the time of mud huts.”
“All six of you?” I asked.
“Lara’s the oldest,” Ravenna said. “And I am the oldest of her daughters.”
“Sometimes the pack is larger,” Lara said. “We’ve had as many as thirty in the pack.”
“What happened to the others?”
“They found mates,” Sarah said with a playful sneer. “Breeders!”
Lara laughed. “Some find mates. Some start their own packs. A few are killed. The hunt
is dangerous, even for us.”
The hunt. “The Slasher. The man who attacked me. You killed him.”
“He needed to be killed.”
“No, I know, but … why did you save me?”
“Because Tony told us you were a good soul. Our pack is small just now. We were
watching you, waiting to see if you’d be interested.”
I probably should have taken some time to think about it. But Belle had been right
earlier: I had nothing to keep me in the world I knew. “Can I stay with you? Can I be one
Lara made sort of a purring, contented noise in her chest. “Are you sure you don’t want
to think about it, love? Once you’ve turned, there’s no going back.”
“I have nothing to go back to,” I said with certainty. “Oh, please, I’ll do anything. I know I’
m not pretty, but I’ll cook or wash dishes or do your laundry. I’ll read to Mr. Eschelmann
until his ears fall off, anything …”
She shushed me. “Who told you you weren’t pretty, love? My Michelle will be a most
And it was decided.
The conversion was unpleasant. There were a lot of unfamiliar sensations, learning to
reorganize my whole body into a new shape. My pack mates made it as painless as
possible. My lack of panic, they said, made it easier.
Two days after I’d been brought unconscious to the Luparana, I was Lara’s newest
That night we went after Johnnie.
Lara said we could kill him if I wanted. I was tempted. I was pretty pissed off at him. But
honestly, he’d been pretty decent all the years I’d worked for him. So I vetoed the
actually killing. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t get a little revenge.
He was standing in a doorway, keeping watch over his precious Angel. Belle went out in
human form and flashed a little thigh. She crooked her finger at him and he followed her
into a dark alley. Funny what a little piece of ass will do to a man’s judgment, even a
man who should know better.
An overhead light made a little circle of illumination. Johnnie followed Belle around the
dumpster. I jumped out, all fangs and fur, in the center of the light. I wasn’t nearly as
scary as Lara, but I didn’t have to be for a punk like him. He screamed like a little girl
and turned to run.
The pack stood between him and the street. They all did their best growling and snarling
and fur-up fierceness. It was pretty scary, especially since Johnnie didn’t know they
were all stuffed with pork roast and not really interested in eating him. They advanced
and he backed up. I bit him on the ass.
Johnnie pissed all over himself, and all over me.
He ran away, past the pack. They couldn’t chase him. They were too busy laughing at
me. I just stood there, shaking my head and pawing at my eyes because the piss stung
and the smell burned my nose. The pack howled with laughter, and I had to laugh, too.
I desperately needed a breath mind. But it was totally, totally worth it.
I woke up slowly. It was nearly lunch time; soon the pack would stir and go down for a
big communal meal. It was warm in the den, and sweet with the smell of the others.
I moved slowly, not wanting to disturb them. Lara was awake when I reached her side. I
snuggled against her. “What is it, Michelle?” she asked quietly.
“I love the way you say my name. Mee-chell-ah.”
“A beautiful name for a beautiful daughter,” she answered fondly.
I was quiet for a time. Lara stroked my hair and waited. Finally, I said, “You asked if I
wanted to kill Johnnie.”
“Have you changed your mind?”
“No.” I breathed her scent deeply. “But there is another man, from a long time ago …”
I trembled, and she held me closer. “All right.”
“He’s far away. In Indiana.”
“Then we’ll make a road trip.”
I smiled, though I was crying now too. “You can’t close the Lupanara. The clients would
die of grief.”
She chuckled softly.
“He’s old by now, and weak,” I assured her. “I can take him myself.”
“We do not hunt alone, my daughter. Never.”
“Michelle,” she said firmly, “it is not our way.”
In an odd way, I loved even the obedience she insisted on. “Yes, Lara.”
“You are young in the pack yet. You are still learning. But if you can wait a month or two,
learn to hunt, learn to hide, then you and I will go together and see this man who harmed
I cried even harder. “Really?”
“Of course, my daughter. If we do not avenge our wrongs, what’s the point of being a
pack at all?”
I lifted my head to look at her. “Lara – is that all there is? Vengeance and the hunt?”
She smiled. “No, love. There are also beautiful days of sleeping in each other’s arms.
And beautiful nights running in light and shadow, strong and afraid of nothing. There is
family, always. And there is love.” She considered a moment. “Vengeance is simply the
salt that makes the sweet all the sweeter.”
I sighed and put my head back down on her shoulder. She was my mother. This was my
family, my home. This was my pack.
I had never been so content in my life.
|A Pack to Call My Own
Lyra Marlowe 2015 - All Rights Reserved