Thursday, April 10, 2014
Maureen stretched, rolled over, and tumbled onto the floor. She came awake at once, fully alert. The dubious perks of a life on the road, hunting scary things with people who sometimes scared her even more.
She took in her surroundings: cushions, gauzy curtains, walls painted cream with lurid red accents, a bowl of plastic fruit heavy on the apples, bananas and dates. Another bowl held condoms. That one looked like it hadn’t been touched in a while.
Oh yeah, and the sleeping wolf curled up on the cushions.
Memories rushed back like a flash flood down an arroyo. Mutual kidnappings, ditching her team, the blow to her hopes when she learned Talbot’s Peak was home to shapeshifters and not actual werewolves. Their bites couldn’t give her the abilities she wanted. She’d have to start over from scratch.
And Ewan. Mostly Ewan.
When she looked at him, even only thought about him, everything else drained out of her head. New imaginings crept in, and drained to other parts of her body. Her nose, for one. And that other insistent spot between her legs, currently sweating up a storm.
She cautiously crept toward him. He’d switched to his coyote form, perhaps as a promise he’d take no liberties with her while she slept. After less than a day with him, Maureen already knew with certainty he’d wait until they were both wide awake for any liberty-taking. From the indentations in the cushions she realized she’d been using his flank as a pillow.
He really was impressive in his beast form. She’d seen coyotes in the wild. They were runty things compared to Ewan. He had a wolf’s size and muscular build, but now that she looked more closely she could spot his mixed heritage in his tall ears, narrow muzzle and tawny fur. A bit of drool wet the satin cushion under his jaw. He smelled absolutely delicious.
Maureen thought, Oh dear God.
When Maureen was ten years old, her mother had given her “the talk.” Even back then she’d figured most little girls didn’t get the version Mom had imparted to her. “Wolves know their mates by scent. Like hormones aren’t messy enough. You’re showing all the signs of wolfiness, so you’ll probably get this too. When you meet the right one, you’ll know. He won’t smell like anyone else you’ve ever met. He’ll smell right. That’s why I married your dad. I can’t explain it any better than that. You’ll just know.”
She recalled thinking her mom and dad might have rapped their skulls against the headboard one too many times. That was before she drove through the dark with a naked shapeshifter sitting next to her, cute as the dickens and smelling … just right. Maureen wasn’t much of a wolf, but her sense of smell knew what mattered, and it had never let her down.
“Crap,” she said. “What do I do now?”
Whatever actions she decided on would have to wait. First and foremost, she urgently needed to use the can. But even before that, there was something about werewolves, and by extension shapeshifters, that she absolutely had to know.
She reached a trembling hand toward the sleeping werecreature and scratched him at the base of his tail. Ewan grunted in his sleep. His rear leg kicked spasmodically. Grinning to herself, Maureen slipped out of the room.
Now that she had a better idea of the Pleasure Club’s layout, she found the ladies’ room with no trouble. Business attended to, a quick splash in the sink and she felt marginally human again.
That was the trouble, wasn’t it? Maureen was only marginally human. She had just enough wolf shifter in her blood to make her a target to the people she palled around with. Just enough to recognize her one true mate when she found him. One drive through the night in a van later, topped off with a dinner of leftovers in the kitchen of a shapeshifter sex parlor, and she was in love.
She examined her reflection in the restroom mirror, her haunted but beautifully made-up eyes. Less than a day and she’d already gone through enough romantic angst for a lifetime. Never let it be said the Starkeys dawdled in the matter of relationships.
Whatever her next move, it wouldn’t be made in this flimsy piece of tissue paper trying to pass itself off as a dress. If she was going to fall in love with a shapeshifter, it would be in her own comfortable if unflattering clothing. She was pretty sure she’d left her duffel in the van.
She found the stairs back to the above-ground biker bar part of the building. The crew was already setting up for opening. The manager stopped her before she could get to the door. “Sorry, miss. You’re not allowed to go outside. Boss’s orders.”
“I just need to get some stuff out of my van. I’ll only be a minute.” She made herself face the guy down. If her nose was correct, he was a beta. Alpha body language ought to do the trick. “C’mon. We’re miles from anywhere, and I can’t shapeshift. How far am I going to get?”
He quirked a grin at her. “With a head start, about three feet. Okay, you get five minutes, but we’ll be watching you. Oh, and don’t bother looking for weapons. We swept it clean last night.”
“You got rid of the pizza boxes?”
“Not in my job description. Oh yeah. That bologna in the cooler? That’s gone too.”
Ted would be crushed. Though she’d probably never know. Then and there she decided not to seek out her teammates. They’d never been her friends. Heck, Cochrane teetered on the brink more often than not, and Atcheson could be downright creepy. Put ‘em in the rearview and never look back, as Uncle Ellery used to say.
The van was still parked where she’d left it last night. Her duffle was still crammed under a seat in the back. Maureen pulled out a blouse and made a face at it. Nothing she owned was fit for trying to capture a cute guy’s attention. Given the company she kept—used to keep—she’d always dressed for the opposite effect.
If this place had performers, it must have dressing rooms. Maybe the chorus “girl”—or whatever—was still around. Maureen was willing to take in all the pointers she could get.
She stuffed the blouse back into the duffle and climbed out through the back. She shut the door and turned around, and bumped right into Atcheson.
“Well, well,” he said. He probably thought that twisted look on his face was a kindly smile. “So this is where you got to. Starting the party without us?”