You knew it was coming—admit it. There is now an actual movement to nab Prince Harry. In the last week, he’s been listed as one of the most eligible royal bachelors, “Harry-hunting” has become a favorite pass-time of the Paris Hilton set, and the paparazzi is foaming at the mouth in hopes he does something they can trash him over. I admit, I also chase news of Prince Harry, but I’m not hoping or wishing anything on him. He’s always been, to me, everyone’s ornry kid brother. I don’t know if that’s what he’s really like, but I have fun pretending it is and even based one of my characters on the Prince Harry who lives in my imagination. If you ever read any of my Wild Lords stories, just switch “Eddie” for “Harry.” I’d like to think he’d approve of being cast as a royal pain in Rhys’s ass, but alas, it’s just wistfull thinking. Then again, I do like to write fantasies! (I did forget, though. You guys don’t know yet that Eddie drives Rhys up the wall. You’ll find out in my next book.)
So anyway. Enough of my waxing poetic about what a great model Prince Harry makes for fantasy characters. Here’s the continuation of Mooney and his mange:
“Come again soon!” Marissa said brightly as she waved off her last customers of the day. Still smiling, she flipped the lock mechanism, shut the door firmly, then flipped the dead bolt and pulled the string to shut off her neon “open” sign. It had been a busy day, no thanks to yesterday’s bitch fight with that Maggie chick. The town’s shifter population had never really come in to her little coffee shop, snubbing it as they did most human businesses. The occasional non-carnivorous high schoolers would come in for a place to meet that was safe, but almost never any adults. Now that she—a lowly monkey—had picked a fight with a coyote shifter over a beta wolf and won, they were flocking to Java Joe’s en mass.
Oh lord, those shifters could gossip! Marissa thought she’d known a thing or two about shifters after spending most of her life with Lex. Just watch Animal Planet and MTV’s line-up of reality shows and you’d have the jist of shifter society, right? Well, yeah, but the gossip she’d over-heard and been dragged into today hinted that the sophomoric outer shell of shifter society was a thin film over much deeper waters. And she’d blundered her way right into it by fighting Maggie. She thought she had been brawling over a nasty bitch for being rude to her. The town’s wolf population had seen it as an attempt to claim Mooney, a beta wolf from a prominent local pack. Since they all knew Maggie but not her, they came to check her out before deciding which one they wanted to win him. Apparently they jury was still out.
Marissa shook her head and chuckled as she gathered the trash from bins tucked strategically around the sitting area. Mooney was a nice guy to hang out with once he got over his need to act like a jock. She also had to admit that she had the major hots for him. Who wouldn’t? Six foot plus of muscular wolf, a head of luxurious hair and bright blue eyes that were always twinkling from some mischief he’d been up to. Just because the man, er, wolf could fill out a pair of jeans to perfection didn’t make him boyfriend material, though. And it sounded like this claiming him stuff was more serious than just boyfriend/girlfriend.
She dumped all the little bags of trash into the big, mostly empty one behind the counter, pulled the big liner out, and began tying it as she headed for the door that opened into the alley behind her shop. Besides, she mused, if she’d won the fight—and everyone agreed that she had—where was he? Mooney usually spent a good portion of his mornings at Java Joe’s and she hadn’t seen him all day.
A whimpering sound caught her attention as she dropped the huge black trash bag into the dumpster. Marissa spun around trying to find the source. Not seeing anything, she closed her eyes to slits and opened herself up. She didn’t need a spell to find out who was whimpering. The kind of natural magic she specialized in came from the life energy of all things living. If there was anything living around her, She’d see their life energy as a glowing halo around them. What she saw was… unexpected, though.
What was a wolf doing at her back door?
“Mooney?” she asked tentatively. She crouched down when the ragged bundle of fur flinched away at the sound of her voice. “Mooney, is that you? Why are you cowering away from me?”
The wolf, who would normally be beautiful, she suspected, inched twodrs her carefully. He wasn’t moving like he was injured but he wasn’t moving with any confidence, either. She waited patiently while he slowly worked up the nerve to come closer. When he was no more than a few feet away, the scent of mange hit her. Ah.
“So you went home with Maggie last night,” she said disgustedly, guessing.
“How did you know it was Maggie?” the wolf, speeking with Mooney’s speech paterns, though the voice was too low and gravelly.
“Because I hit her with a mange curse when we fought yesterday,” Marissa said, a little startled that he could talk. Maybe all those people who swore up and down they’d had conversations with animals weren’t as nuts as she’d always thought they were. “You didn’t have mange yesterday.” He bowed his head and tried to roll over onto his tummy.
“Don’t be acting all ashamed now, mutt. My shop was chock full of shifters today wanting to see the human who’d beaten a coyote in a fight over you. I had no idea where they got the idea that you were mine, but the fact you went home with her tells me you don’t think you’re mine, either.”
“Nick made me,” Mooney whined, wiggle like he was trying very hard not to scratch. Marissa looked down at him and shook her head.
“You’re a big boy, Mooney. Your brother may have told you to go with her someplace but you chose to sleep with her.” Marissa stood up and turned back to the door. She looked down at the scruffy wolf and sighed. “Come one. Let’s get you a bath before you infect the whole town.”
“I tried a flee bath,” Mooney grumbled. He did stand up and follow her inside, though he was hunched over and had his tail tucked in tight.
“You don’t have flees,” Marissa snipped. “You have a modified version of demodectic mange.”
“Hey! That a puppy illness!” Mooney huffed, clearly affronted. “I’m not no puppy!”
“No, you are a roving dog who will hump anything in site,” Marissa replied sarcastically. “Demodectic mange hits those who have a week or immature immune system. As a shifter, you are susceptible to Demodex magius, a type of mite which is very easy to conjure.” Mooney said nothing, just followed her as she finished locking up. He said nothing as she led him to her apartment in the basement beneath the coffee shop. He still said nothing as she ran a bath in the huge old claw-foot tube she’d installed shortly after moving in.
“I can stop being a roving dog,” he finally muttered as she was working tea tree oil shampoo through his pelt. Marissa said nothing that time. She drained the water from the tub and began rinsing his fur with the hand held shower attachment.
“I really can, you know,” Mooney said, as if he was expecting her to say something. Marissa had no idea what he expected of her. She shrugged. She guessed this answered the question of if everyone thought she’d been fighting to defend her claim on him. That answer was yes. Now she needed to decided what she was going to do about this situation. She didn’t make many plans for the future but what plans she did have, didn’t have any wolf-friendly contingencies build in.
“Can and will are two different things,” she replied. “Ok, now shift back to human form and take normal shower—“
Before she could finish, he shifted. Where she’d had her hands full of soapy wolf fur a moment ago, she now found her hands full of sexy man.
“I will if you give me another chance,” he said as he took the shower handle from her.