The Coyote’s Chance
©2017 Holley Trent
Author’s note: This is bonus material that absolutely contains spoilers for the Masters of Maria series and also Desert Guards. It does not stand alone, so you won’t get much enjoyment out of it until you’ve read The Coyote’s Chance!
Before Willa could open her mouth to greet her visitors, Ellery Foye breezed past and called blithely over her shoulder, “First things first, did you change it?”
As Ellery’s sister-in-law Miles passed in front of Willa, wearing an apologetic smile and carrying a basket filled to the brink with styling accessories, Willa furrowed her brow.
“Changed what?” she asked as she gave the practically antique door of her midcentury kit house a lift and a slam. The door didn’t quite fit in the frame the way it was supposed to anymore. It needed fixing—much like everything else in the house—but she’d had neither time nor the funds to commit to the project. Although her financial situation had improved significantly since committing to Blue, the condition of her house was a back-burner concern. She had other priorities to contend with, and besides, she was in the process of moving out, anyway. Blue was waiting for the paint fumes at the new house to dissipate before he could give her the go-ahead.
“Your name,” Ellery said with a laugh. The wife of Maria’s Cougar group alpha laid her infant son on the sofa, and then quickly pulled her riotous mane of curls back into a bun. Before she could reach for baby Len, Miles had set the basket down on the table, grabbed him up, and draped the wide-eyed babe against her gravid belly. She ignored Ellery’s outstretched hands and sat, whistling softly into his little ear.
Len made a little chirp of annoyance at being disturbed, but then his lids drifted down over sleepy hazel eyes. He smacked his lips and went back to Slumberland.
“I’ll just hold onto him, thanks,” Miles said softly.
Willa smiled and twined her fingers in front of her own swollen belly. She wasn’t nearly as pregnant as Miles but hadn’t been able to hide her state for long. Apparently, there was a trope about women like her. She’d gotten pregnant losing her virginity.
Blue had found that was hilarious until he realized they couldn’t live in her little house. In the hundreds of years she’d lived in Maria, she’d never seen a construction crew erect a home so quickly.
So, not only was she gestating twice the amount of offspring as Miles, but probably also at a much faster rate. Blue was a Coyote shifter, and Willa was a child of Apollo. She’d accepted her obstetrician’s due date prediction with a smile and a nod and immediately dismissed it. There was no way to guess when the babies would be ready to make their grand entrance.
Ellery sat in the shabby armchair adjacent to the sofa and, eying Miles and Len speculatively, crossed her legs at the knees. “The naming issue was the holdup, right? Of you and Blue getting married?”
“Oh.” Grimacing, Willa perched on the edge of the sofa next to Miles, afraid to wake the baby. Len slept like his father—a cat who woke at the slightest provocation. Supposedly, he’d be able to put himself back to sleep at some stage, but Mason’s mother had warned all of her daughters-in-law not to hold their breaths. Nothing shifter babies did went according to norms.
“Well, there were lots of reasons we didn’t immediately get married,” Willa said, arching her back to work out the kinks. If she had any magic at all besides having an open-ended lifespan, she’d do something about aching back and wobbly joints. She suddenly had the grace of a walrus. Blue thought it was cute, but Blue wasn’t the one who had to carry all that baby weight.
“It’s important to Blue that we make our arrangement a legal one in case anything ever happened to one of us or the children,” Willa said.
“Knock on wood,” Miles said softly.
Willa nodded. “Naturally, there have been some difficulties with my paperwork. I don’t have an official birth certificate. Just a baptism record.”
From turn-of-the-century Spain.
Turn of the sixteenth century.
Most people didn’t know her precise age, and she preferred that. They didn’t judge her for not having her life completely together if they didn’t know.
She shrugged and peered down into the basket of grooming tools on the table. “Mostly, I’ve gotten by okay with bogus records and people don’t dig too deeply, but this is different. We’ve had to create a paper trail where none existed, and had to get some help.”
“From who?” Ellery asked. “One of the angels?”
Willa smiled. “Good guess. I was afraid to ask, but Noelle asked Tamatsu. It’s not really his bailiwick, but Gulielmus has always had a knack for manipulating people’s perceptions of history.”
Ellery rolled her eyes. Of course, she knew all about the rakish fallen angel’s exploits. Her sister was cohabiting with one of his multitudinous sons. “And I imagine Gulielmus owes Tamatsu a few favors, anyway.”
Willa shrugged. “Maybe so. I try not to be too interested in the affairs of people that powerful.”
Especially since she had no power or magic of her own. She may have been a daughter of Apollo, but Willa’s talents were few. She’d come to terms with that, and Blue—the local Coyote pack’s alpha—loved her in spite of relative mundaneness. Or maybe because of it.
She sighed and tugged her knit cap down lower on her brow. It was hot and itchy, but it matched her clothes, at least. “So, now I have a birth certificate that states I was born here thirty years ago to an Ynes Matheson and an unknown father.”
Miles crinkled her nose. “I thought Matheson was an alias you picked up when you moved to England.”
“It is, but it didn’t make sense to use the true family name. It was too rare and specific to a small group of Moriscos. I didn’t want anyone to do any deep digging into it. Anyway, I sent the paperwork last week after the civil ceremony to change my name.”
“Congratulations! But…” Ellery furrowed her pretty brow. “You changed it to…”
Willa let out a breath. “Shapely. We went back and forth about it. Blue loved the idea of shedding his father’s name. He even considered taking Matheson as his surname, and then we tossed around the idea of switching to his mother’s maiden name, but decided in the end that would be confusing.”
“Why?” Miles bussed her lips over her nephew-in-law’s fine auburn hair, eyes narrowed with concern. That was Miles, though. Concerned about everything and everyone, even when people didn’t deserve it. Due to the historic rivalry between the Coyote pack and the Cougar glaring that both she and Ellery had married into, they’d stayed in their respective lanes until recently. The groups weren’t exactly buddy-buddy, but they were at least cordial thanks to Blue and Mason putting a cork in all the unproductive battling.
A tacit truce of sorts.
The overall crime rate in Maria had mysteriously taken a tumble in recent weeks.
Miles hadn’t been a friend to Willa for very long, but she was quickly becoming a good one and Willa had long had a huge hole in her life when it came to friendships. She’d been afraid her father would hurt anyone she got close to, but not anymore. Her aunt Artemis had some tricks up her sleeves to keep her brother in check if she needed to.
“It would be confusing because his mother’s maiden name was Blue,” Willa said.
“Oh,” Miles mouthed.
“Yeah. We decided that would make things too unclear for some folks. They’d probably think his name is Blue Blue. Technically, he’d be Barrett Blue, but—”
“You wouldn’t want to have to explain that to every-damn-body,” Ellery said. “I get you.”
“Exactly. His real first name’s not commonly known.” Willa shrugged. “In the end, we ended up consulting with his mother and sister about it, and we all thought keeping Shapely would be best for family tree continuity. He’ll have to do some work to distance himself from his father’s troublemaking in Sparks, but as Diana put it, that’s all a matter of aggressive public relations work. She’ll happily do it just to thumb her nose at her father.”
“Well, I’m glad you got that settled,” Miles said quietly. “And I have to say, Willa Shapely has a certain ring to it.”
Willa cringed. “Safya Shapely, technically, but … again. Not something we plan on going around and explaining to everyone. It was the secret name my mother gave me, and I wanted to honor her by reverting to it.”
“Safya,” Miles said, smiling gently and bracing a forearm beneath Len’s little bottom. “It’s pretty.”
Staring down at her hands to hide her blush, Willa muttered, “Thank you.” There was a lot of pain in that name, but it was high time she embraced it and who she was. She was tired of hiding. Tired of being ignored.
“So.” Ellery rubbed her hands together and grinned a bit manically. “Are you ready for your next big change?”
“You mean my hair? No.” Willa tugged her hat down even more.
Miles giggled. “You’re going to have to let us see it. I don’t think I’ve seen your hair since May.”
“That’s because the moment school let out for summer, I haven’t had to worry about dress codes. I immediately covered it and kept it that way.”
But since the school year was starting up in a week, Willa had to do something with her hair. She couldn’t wear hats and scarves in the classroom without good reason, and the fact she was growing out a buzz cut wasn’t good enough. Nor was the fact that she was something akin to allergic to looking at her reflection when she had enough hair for it to curl.
She was terrified of looking into a mirror and seeing so much of her father, but she also missed having hair. She’d been shearing it short for far longer than doing so had been fashionable for women.
“Come on,” Ellery pleaded. “Let us see it.”
“It can’t look any worse than mine did when I was growing it out,” Miles said.
“But you wore all those cute, quirky headbands to work,” Willa said. “I don’t have the panache to pull that off.” Or even the personality. Willa had never really developed much of a sense of style. Lately, her sister-in-law Diana had been restyling her wardrobe, but it didn’t really matter since none of the clothes fit. Willa was swelling up faster than Violet Beauregard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after she ate that experimental gum.
In a month, she probably wouldn’t be able to see her feet.
“Within a year, I was able to scrape it all back into a tiny ponytail,” Miles said.
And now her hair had grown to the length that it didn’t even look all that curly anymore, unlike with Ellery’s tight curls. A bit of weight had stretched Miles’ hair into loose waves. Willa’s hair wasn’t going to do that. It was thick and a bit coarse, and there’d be no hiding the curl pattern—no matter what length it grew to.
Ellery, ever the efficient nurse, made a “get on with it, coward” gesture.
Willa sighed, tucked her thumb beneath the hat’s band, and lifted it off. Wincing, she closed her eyes.
“Huh,” Miles said under her breath.
“Hmm,” came Ellery’s voice.
Willa opened her eyes and found the take-charge lady pensively tapping her chin.
Willa winced again. She didn’t know if pensive was a good thing where her hair was concerned. “I washed it this morning, I swear. It just gets compacted by the hat.”
“Hmm.” Ellery stood, walked slowly around the table, and then muttering incoherently to herself, fluffed Willa’s hair.
“Well?” Willa wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but she’d had to ask.
“Well, first of all, you need a decent haircut.”
“Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? I just want to be able to grow it out long enough to put it in a braid.”
“Like your aunt?” Miles said.
“Yes. Artemis has hair like mine.” Only in a different color. Willa’s hair was a brown that hinted to her father’s sunshine-and-bronze coloring. Artemis’s hair was dark, providing a lovely contrast to her moon-gray eyes. “If it’s in a braid,” Willa said, rubbing the small of her back, “I won’t see him in the mirror. Just me.”
“Okay, well, getting a decent cut may seem contrary to our goal, but you’ve got to put a shape in it to make it more manageable as it grows out,” Ellery said. “It’s been ages since I’ve had short hair, but I remember all the mistakes not to make. We’ll make you an appointment at Val’s. In the meantime, we’ll work on smoothing it down.”
Ellery started rooting in the supply basket just as the front door opened and sultry laughter reverberated through the foyer.
Willa couldn’t help but to smile and turn toward the entryway.
Diana strode in carrying a box under her arm and with Blue on her heels.
Blue’s sensual mouth curved into a grin as his gaze fell on her, and he moved toward her with his usual lack of patience where his wife was concerned. “Hello, ladies,” he said, before planting a kiss on her forehead that couldn’t be construed as chase by any stretch of the imagination—especially not with the way he laid one of his large hands on her belly and gave it a possessing rub.
Willa’s cheeks blazed and she tittered nervously seeing Ellery and Miles smirk at her.
“Well, hello, Mr. Shapely,” Ellery said.
Blue pulled away and leafed through the stack of mail on the cluttered side table. “Happy to see you. Does your husband know you’re here?”
Ellery snorted. “You still don’t trust him?”
Looking up from the Express Mail envelope he was ripping open, Blue lifted a brow. “You’re a witch, so you should know what it feels like to have natural rivals.”
“Oh, I do. Trust me, when I met Mason, he was one of them.”
Miles giggled. “They’re hilarious together, but they somehow work.”
“What’s happening here?” Diana asked. She walked to the center of the room, tossing wadded paper out of the box she’d brought in.
“Oh, well, since Ellery and Miles both have curly hair, they’re helping me figure out what to do with…” Willa sighed and pointed to the top of her head. “This.”
“Hey. Quit stressing. I told you not to worry about it.”
“You tell me that about a lot of things.”
“Yeah. I know it’s hard for you, but maybe you should listen more. I may not confess that I have ideas…” Diana sidled over the box, set it on the table, and removed something from within. “But I always do.”
Before Willa could quite grasp what was happening, she yelped at the startling tickle of material against her neck and cheeks, raising her hands to swat it off whatever it was.
Laughing, Blue grabbed her hands and kissed them.
Diana hummed as she adjusted the thing atop Willa’s head and fluffed the strands.
Hair strands, Willa realized, seeing the dark brown swaths in her periphery.
“Hey! Good idea,” Ellery said appreciatively, nodding.
“I have a few sometimes.” Diana took a step back, put her hands on her hips, and admired her work. Then she nodded with finality and looked to Blue. “Mom picked it. She suggested no one would look twice if it were chin-length. Much longer than that and it’d be obvious the hair was fake.”
“I like her real color better,” he grumpily, tenderly kissing the backs of Willa’s hands again.
“But the point was for it to not look like her real hair, yes?” Miles said. Len had stirred, so she was rocking a bit side to side.
Willa could see Ellery twitching with the evident compulsion to take the baby, but she was trying to get better at letting people help her. Willa knew the feeling.
Diana fluffed it some more, running her fingers through the bangs. “That’s right. We can get them in gradually longer lengths until she’s ready to wear her natural hair out.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Willa said, turning slowly to look, eyes widening. “How…does it look?”
Tenderly, he notched her hair behind her ears. He said nothing as he stroked her cheeks, his dark eyes steady with loving concern.
“That bad?” she whispered, frowning.
“No, sweetheart. It’s not bad. I think you’re beautiful no matter what you put on. It’s just a change. The dog in me likes things to be constant. I’ll get used to it.” He caressed her cheeks some more and curved his mouth into a smile again. “Can’t wait to see it long.”
“It’ll be a lot to handle,” she whispered.
“Then give me a comb and I’ll figure it out if you want me to, sweetheart.” He gave her another kiss on the forehead and smoothed her shirt over her belly before backing away.
Ellery frowned. “I don’t think Mason’s ever volunteered to comb my hair.
“Why would he, when he’s so enthusiastic about messing it up at every possible opportunity?” Miles asked without a hint of humor.
Ellery gave her a slow blink. “You can’t fault a cat for being a cat. You know how amorous they are. You’re married to one, too.”
“I know exactly how they are, and that’s why I said it.”
“That’s more about those Foye brothers than I ever wanted to know,” Diana said from the kitchen she’d retreated to.
“Same,” Blue said, following his sister out of the room. He stopped in the doorway, though, and looked back at Miles and Ellery. “So…our housewarming party’s in two weeks. Kenny didn’t convey your RSVP to me.”
“Mason thought you were joking and told me not to respond,” Ellery said, crossing her legs in the other direction. “Personally, I never say no to beer and barbecue.”
“Ditto,” Miles said.
“Cool,” Blue said, departing. “See you there, then. Bring all the kids if you want. Things shouldn’t get too raucous with Mom there.”
“We’ll bring our mother-in-law to keep her company.”
“She’d like that,” Diana called from the kitchen.
After a few moments of comfortable silence, and Willa fidgeting the ends of her new hair, Ellery said with a smile, “You got a good one, honey.”
“You think so?” Willa whispered.
“Oh yeah,” Ellery said with certainty and then laughed. “Any man who’ll look at you like that and tell you with sincerity that you’re beautiful even before your wig has been fluffed is most definitely a keeper.”