Monday, March 19, 2012
Hot Diggety Dog
“Help you with something?” Laurie asked.
Her customer jumped. That answered that. From the way he’d been pouring over the seed packets she’d been pretty sure he hadn’t heard her approach. He swung around and presented her with the most gorgeous golden eyes she’d ever seen. Shifter eyes. Since arriving in Talbot’s Peak almost a year ago, she’d seen enough eyes in all shades of yellow to last her several lifetimes.
None as pretty as his, however. And he’d been nice enough to tie his glossy brown hair back in a ponytail to show them off. Laurie quickly tucked her own auburn flyaway frizz behind her ears.
What kind of shifter could he be? The garden center’s customer demographic fell into two general groups: herbivores growing their own food and human retirees. He was way too young for the latter, but something in his body language didn’t fit the former. After a couple of months she’d learned how to spot the shifters among the scanty human population. Now she was working on telling the meat-munchers from the grass-gulpers.
He gestured at the spinner rack of seeds. “What do rabbits like?”
“Greens and roots, mostly.” Laurie pointed out the carrots, radishes, and three types of leaf lettuce. “Wouldn’t you know that already?”
“So you are a carnivore.”
He narrowed his lovely and now-suspicious golden eyes. “And you’re a human.”
“With a sister who’s married to a bear. Don’t worry, I’d never tell anyone about this place. Next to plants, I love animals. You are … ” She looked him up and down. Nice broad shoulders, trim legs in dirty jeans, a scruff of facial hair. Not much to go on. Then she spotted the telltale clue. “I’ll bet you’re canine. Wolf, I think.”
“How can you tell?”
Since his manner was nowhere near aggressive, she figured he wasn’t an alpha. That gave her the guts to take his hand and spread his fingers across her palm. “The dirt under your nails. I used to raise dachshunds. They tore up my garden like you wouldn’t believe.”
He flashed a smile that put the shine in his eyes to shame. “That’s a bad habit of mine. I figured I might as well put it to good use.”
“You like vegetables?”
“No, but the bunnies do. I like bunnies.” His tongue washed his lips. “I know marigolds drive them off. What else have you got?”
“You mean flowers?”
“Yeah, flowers.” A note of defensiveness jacked his voice down to a growl. “I like flowers, but I keep digging them up.”
“We’ll get you something hardy then, with bulbs. Any favorites? Colors, blooms?”
“Something with a strong aroma. To hide my scent from the rabbits,” he added hastily.
You big liar, Laurie thought with an inward grin. “It’s okay to be a guy and like flowers,” she told him. “We girls don’t mind.”
“Maybe humans don’t. Wolves get picky.”
And probably picked on any wolf who deviated from accepted behavior, especially one of lower rank. “Well, c’mon back to the greenhouse, and we’ll find something a lady wolf would like.”
He trotted at heel like a good doggie as Laurie pointed out the spring bloom display. Definitely not alpha. That was a relief. Sandra’s husband had scared Laurie half to death at first, and he turned out to be the gentlest grizzly she’d ever met. Well, the only grizzly she’d ever met, or seen outside of a zoo.
The wolf’s nose tested a dozen blossoms before he settled on hyacinths. His face took on a rapt expression, like he’d died and gone to doggie heaven. “It smells great in here,” he said on a sigh. “I just want to roll in all the beds. You smell great too. I could roll—” He broke off, a flush creeping under his facial scruff.
“You’re not very good at this, are you?”
“Delta rank, just below beta. Of course, when an alpha swaggers in, we might as well all be omegas as far as the shes are concerned. We don’t get many dates.”
“Well, before you start rolling, maybe we should introduce ourselves. I’m Laurie.”
He took the hand she offered. “Greg. Call me Digger. The whole pack does.”
“I’ll bet you’ve got a beautiful garden.”
“I should probably plant some herbs. For cooking the bunnies.”
“I’d rather not hear about that part of it.”
"Oh. Okay." He looked at the floor. “You’re right, I’m not very good at this.”
They headed for the register. Digger dumped his seed packets on the counter. Laurie took more care setting the hyacinths down. “At what?”
“Asking shes out on dates.”
Laurie rounded the counter. “First of all, it’s ‘girls’ or ‘women’ for humans. Second, I’d rather not know I’m eating rabbit. Third, you don’t have to bring me flowers. I see enough every day.”
“Was that a yes?”
“Yes, that was a yes. I kind of figured that’s what you really wanted, after you spent almost a half hour pacing around out front.”
“Yeah.” Digger smoothed his hand over his hair. “Good at flinging dirt around. Subtlety, not so hot.”
“Me either.” He really was cute, and not an alpha. The big shifters and the aggressive shifters still made her nervous. Laurie figured she could handle a low-rank wolf. Maybe they could talk about gardening.
Plant the seed, nurture it, give it room to grow. Who knew what might sprout out of the soil?
I do love a man with dirt under his nails.
Laurie rang up his purchases, and threw in a free packet of plant food spikes. “See you tonight?” she asked.