Authors: Faith Winslow
Riding With Wolves, Book Two
Copyright © 2016
All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
May 9, 2003 – New Orleans, Louisiana
“You don’t actually expect me to go anywhere with
, do you?” Courtney Chambers huffed at her father. She stomped her tiny foot against the floor, and it sounded like a glass plate shattering into a thousand pieces.
at him,” Courtney went on. “I’d never live it down. I’d be the laughing stock of all of Louisiana if I showed up at a high school dance with
Teenagers can be very cruel. And the fact that Carl Struthers was standing in the Chambers’ living room, not even a few yards away from where Courtney was having it out with her parents, didn’t stop Courtney from tossing insults. Carl was well within earshot and could hear every word she said, especially since she was saying them so loudly.
“He looks like Frankenstein,” Courtney continued. “He’s got to be at least a foot taller me…and a hundred pounds heavier. People will think I’m his daughter, not his date.”
“Courtney, please,” Mrs. Chambers interrupted. “He’s not
bad. I think he’s actually kind of cute. He has a very nice-looking face, and his blond hair is quite lovely.”
Carl could feel the awkward silence as well as hear it.
“Nobody’s gonna care how
he is, Mom,” Courtney snapped back a moment later, “or care about his blond hair. They’d have to get past the rest of him first to appreciate that. But how could they? Not only is he huge, but he smells bad. He smells like shit—and I mean
, as in poop, crap. Feces. And look at his sad excuse for an outfit. His pants don’t even match his jacket—and he’s wearing steel-toed
Indeed, Carl Struthers probably didn’t appear too fashionable or handsome. He’d been raised by his father and never knew a mother’s touch, so he was definitely lacking when it came to certain things, such as personal hygiene, but to say he smelled like
was an overstatement. At best, he smelled of body odor, dirty hair, and motor oil.
Another area where Carl Struthers was definitely lacking was in having finesse or pizazz with the ladies. He didn’t know how to talk to girls, let alone win them over. And really, how could he? Not only had he been raised by a single father, but on top of that, he’d gone to an all-boys school for his entire academic career. He was now in his senior year of high school and hadn’t been on a single date or gone to a single school dance…
So that’s why, when prom time came around, Carl’s father arranged a blind date for him with one of his coworkers’ daughters.
“Honey, it’s just
night,” Mr. Chambers reminded Courtney (and himself). “It’s not like you have to marry him. The poor boy just needs a date to the prom. I asked you, and you agreed. Now…calm yourself down and do the right thing.”
“Yeah, I agreed,” Courtney responded. “But that was before I saw him. Or smelled him. Or
him. He sounds like an oaf, a moron. I know we live in Louisiana, but his accent is ridiculous.”
Indeed, Carl Struthers probably did sound like a bit of an oaf or a moron. Big as he was, he was also mighty shy and didn’t like to talk to other people that much. And whenever he did, it came out in Southern drawl flavored with Creole. He knew how to spell words correctly and put them together into effective sentences, but writing things down on paper or at a computer was different than saying things aloud—and saying them aloud was always a challenge for Carl Struthers…for many reasons.
“You listen to me, and you listen to me well, young lady,” Courtney’s dad retorted. “You told this boy you’d go to his prom with him, so you
going to go to his prom with him. Otherwise, you won’t go to
prom, or to any other event for the rest of the school year. And you can forget about driving your mom’s car anywhere for the rest of the year, too.”
“You’re kidding me?” Courtney hissed at her father. She sounded snakelike, amphibious, reptilian, and little did she—or anyone who heard her know—but her hiss was foreshadowing, as well as foreboding.
“I’m not kidding you, Courtney,” Mr. Chambers answered sternly. “I’m one hundred percent serious. So wipe that look off of your face, drop your attitude, and try to treat that boy with respect. Who knows? You might actually end up enjoying your evening.”
“Plus, honey,” Mrs. Chambers added sweetly, “you’re going to a dance at
. You probably won’t even see anyone you know—and you might make some new friends.”
Again, there was a moment of awkward silence that Carl could feel as much as he could hear.
“Whatever, Mom,” Courtney replied, breaking the silence with another of her now signature snaps. “I hate
. I hate
. And I hate
. And I’ll
forgive you for making me do this.”
Apparently teenagers aren’t just cruel when it comes to other teenagers, they can also be very cruel to their parents, and Courtney Chambers was really laying it on thick.
“I’m ready,” Courtney shouted, finally returning to the living room. Carl stood there, trying to pretend he hadn’t heard what just transpired. He reached out to hand her the corsage he’d brought for her—a delicate pink lily with wisps of baby’s breath beside it—and she grabbed the thing out of his hand quickly, nearly crushing it in the process.
me unless I say it’s okay,” Courtney told Carl. “And don’t do
to embarrass me.”
Carl nodded at Courtney, then at her parents, and then followed his date out the door. She winced when she saw the beat-up, blue pick-up truck they’d be taking to the dance—though she surely would’ve appreciated it more had she known the alternative. Carl was eighteen, and he’d been driving one of his dad’s old Harleys for the past four years or so, since before he was even legally allowed to drive—but even he, big smelly oaf that he was, knew that his dad’s truck, not the bike, was more appropriate for the occasion.
When Carl opened the door for Courtney, she slid into the passenger seat without saying “thank you” or offering an appreciative gesture of any kind, and Carl swiftly got behind the wheel for what would be an incredibly uncomfortable ride to his high school gymnasium.
Given that Boron School for Boys was an all-boys school with a somewhat small student body, the junior and senior proms were both being held at the same time, in the same place—and the place was already packed by the time Courtney and Carl arrived.
Courtney hoped that her parents were right—that no one she knew would see her. There was only a slim chance that another person from her school would be there—though, only moments after they got there, that slim chance was busted.
“Damnit,” Courtney said under her breath, talking more to her own chin than to Carl. “Jessica Taylor is here… of all people!”
Evidently, Jessica Taylor was one of the “in” girls at Courtney’s school. She was eighteen, very cute, very popular, and—rumor had it—came from money. And no sooner than she saw Courtney, she came over.
“Hey, Courtney,” Jessica said, smiling. “I didn’t know
were gonna be here… Who’s your date?”
Courtney refused to look at the boy beside her. “His dad works with my dad,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Who are
“My cousin,” Jessica giggled, motioning her head toward an average-looking, average-height, average-weight teenager sitting alone, pissed off, at a table. “He couldn’t get a date, so his parents asked my parents… But,
, don’t tell anybody. I think he’d rather keep it a secret.”
Courtney glanced over at the boy, gave him the once-over, and turned back to Jessica. “At least
wearing a proper suit,” she said snidely. “And I bet he isn’t wearing steel-toed boots like my date.”
Jessica gave Courtney a disparaging look, then gave Carl a kind one. “Nothing wrong with steel-toed boots,” Jessica smiled. “Where we live they sometimes come in handy.”
Carl smiled back at Jessica. It was the first time he’d actually smiled that evening, and Jessica was the first person to actually treat him like a human. Even when they were battling it out with Courtney, Mr. and Mrs. Chambers had mostly talked about Carl as if he were an object, not a person.
“My name’s Jessica,” Jessica said, reaching out her hand and lightly grazing her fingers along Carl’s hand and faded jacket sleeve.
“Carl,” Carl replied. He was moved by her touch. It was so soft, but also so very tender.
Courtney rolled her eyes again. “Let’s just go sit down,” she instructed.
Carl, Courtney, and Jessica made their way back to the table where Jessica’s cousin, Henry, was still sitting alone, looking as if he held a grudge against the world. He seemed to let go of it a little when the group came near, however, and his spirits seemed almost completely lifted when another boy named Raymond also joined them at their table. Raymond didn’t have a date, but that didn’t matter, and as much as Henry’s spirits were lifted, so were Courtney’s. He may have been dateless, but Raymond was what a girl like Courtney considered “hot” or “perfect,” and having
at her table almost made up for having Carl at it too…
After a disappointing meal of shrimp scampi, tiny baked potatoes, and field greens salad, the catering staff passed out the dessert (tiramisu prepared without the liquor), and the DJ started pumping out tunes.
Jessica started bopping around in her seat, moving to the rhythm of the music. “I love this song,” she said. Courtney, Henry, and Raymond were chatting to themselves and didn’t reply to her, but Carl did.
“Me too,” he said, even though he’d never heard it before.
a dance,” Jessica replied, “but it doesn’t look like either one of our dates feel like dancing. So…what do you say?”
Jessica stood up and tilted her body toward the dancefloor with an air of confidence that lifted Carl right up out of his seat. He followed her to the center of the gymnasium effortlessly and silently, until they arrived near a cluster of their dancing peers.
Though Carl had never shaken his booty to any song before, he started doing it posthaste, and he looked no more awkward than the other teens who were twisting and turning in place to the fast pop number.
Just as Carl was getting into the swing of things, however, the fast pop number ended and was immediately followed by a slow alternative rock ballad. Carl gazed down at Jessica from his massive height, and Jessica gazed back up at him in delight.
Without a word, Jessica leaned into Carl, and Carl’s arms instinctively reached out and wrapped around her. She buried her head in his chest and held her body close to his, and Carl couldn’t believe what was happening. He’d just had his heart trampled upon, like the floor Courtney stomped her foot on—and like the floor, it seemed like his heart had shattered into a thousand pieces. But there Jessica was—picking the pieces up and putting them back together in ways Carl could never have imagined.
Jessica had shown Carl kindness and compassion when they were introduced. And
was the one to ask
was the one who leaned into him when the slow song came on. And
was the one, despite her much smaller stature, now taking the lead in their dance—just like she had since the moment they met.
Remember, Carl wasn’t accustomed to interacting with girls. So this all was both very exciting and intimidating for him. But nonetheless, he did his best to just go with the flow and enjoy it… which he did, until Courtney came by and ruined it.
“We’re leaving,” Courtney said, tapping Carl on the shoulder. She still seemed so repulsed by the thought of even touching him, though Jessica seemed entranced by the thought and, even more so, the feeling.
“All of us,” Courtney went on, giving Jessica a disparaging look of her own. “Raymond stole a bottle of whiskey from his dad’s liquor cabinet, and
wanna leave this shitty dance and go party somewhere.”
Jessica looked up at Carl and shrugged her shoulders. And Carl’s response wasn’t much stronger. They both knew it wasn’t such a good idea to leave the prom and go party, but they both succumbed anyway and—in a matter of minutes—snuck out of the prom and into their vehicles headed for Lady Tanya’s Tour Dock, an abandoned business on the outskirts of New Orleans’ swampland. In its heyday, Lady Tanya’s had been a combination psychic shop and swampland tour operator—but now it was just a decrepit building and dock where teenagers went to make out, get drunk, and party.
Once the group made it to Lady Tanya’s, they parked their vehicles and met up at a spot in the dryland clearing just before the dock. Raymond spread out a blanket on the ground, which Courtney immediately sat on. There clearly wasn’t enough space for all five of them on it, especially when one of the five was a big as Carl, so Carl went off on his own and sat on a large rock several yards away.