Authors: Rose Pressey
When I looked back at Jack, I realized he barely noticed the waiter’s presence. Instead he studied me. Which made me happy. I could get accustomed to being the object of his attention.
“All right, a burrito it is for me. You persuaded me with your strategic selling techniques.”
“Yeah, right. I doubt your arm needed twisting.” I laughed.
“Do I need to ask how the margaritas are? Or is it a given?” He put the menu down.
I shook my head. “Nope. It’s a given. They’re the best I’ve ever tasted.” I flashed him a grin. His gaze held mine, and I soon realized his eyes were filled with hunger. But not just for Mexican food.
Somehow all the noise seemed muted, even with the mariachi band playing “
” in the background and the voices of the crowd. What seemed like an eternity slipped by as our gazes held. I couldn’t have stopped myself from grinning if someone had a gun to my head. Visions of our bodies intertwined and our clothes scattered around my bedroom floor flashed through my head.
The heat from his stare was enough to make me melt. I had to break the gaze, or we needed to leave the restaurant. Unfortunately, I had to opt on staying and devouring fajitas instead of consuming Jack. Don’t worry, I didn’t mean actually “devour” him, as in making him a werewolf snack. I may be a lycanthrope, but I’m not that gross.
“So tell me, what brings you to New Orleans? What made you leave Texas?” I had to break the intense silence between us. If I didn’t, I’d jump across the table and tackle him.
“Actually, my mother lives here.” He let go of my gaze, grabbed a chip, dipped it into salsa and popped the salty treat into his mouth.
“Really? That’s great. Is she the only family you have in the city?”
“Yes, she’s the only one. Everyone else is back in Texas. She moved here after she and my dad divorced. She just packed up one day and took off. I suppose to get away from my father. Soon after she got here, she became lonely and depressed, so I decided to come and be near her. I couldn’t let her deal with the loneliness on her own.”
Aw, how sweet was he? Unless he was a mama’s boy. Then that wouldn’t be so cool. Uh-oh. I’d have to keep an eye out for any clingy behavior with his mother. Who was I kidding, though? It didn’t matter if he was latched on to her apron strings. I had to remind myself that three dates, maximum, was all I had.
“Where’d you go to school?”
“University of Houston.”
“What made you decide on your profession?”
“I was always fascinated by the human mind. Doesn’t sound great, I know, but I wanted to know more about behavior and why we do the things we do. You know, I’m the only one in my family to attend college. Naturally, my mother is ecstatic that she gets to introduce me as her son, the doctor. My mother worked hard to provide for me, but her one regret was she couldn’t afford to send me to college.”
“What about your dad?”
“He didn’t work much.”
“Oh. So what did you do?”
“I can’t believe I’m telling you about this.” He paused. “I was a stripper. So I, um…” He cleared his throat. “I performed a dance with you know, a female audience. It allowed me to pay for college and make it on my own without adding a burden to my mother.”
I stuffed a couple of chips in my mouth, then gulped my water. “So you, um, were nude?” I stuffed another chip in my mouth.
“Oh no, it wasn’t full nudity.”
Oh dear. Please let him show me his dance moves. Where was that pitcher of ice cold water when I needed it? I wondered if he wore a bikini or thong.
“How does one get into something like that?” I asked.
“I saw an ad for auditions and it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Well, I guess it was a good idea. It paid for your college, right?”
“It did.” He nodded.
If I didn’t change the subject soon I’d overheat.
“Do you miss Houston?” I munched on a chip while eyeing him.
“Sometimes, but so far I’m really enjoying New Orleans.” He gave me a look that made me want to melt into the vinyl seat. Heat from his sexy gaze created a warm feeling that easily spread throughout my body. I didn’t need a road map to read his signs. He might actually be enjoying my company. Yes, by the smile on his face, I’d say he might even like me. Crazy behavior and all.
“Are you originally from Louisiana?” he asked.
“Can’t you tell by my accent?” I busied my hands with my napkin.
“Yes, now that you mention it, I guess I can. What about your family? They here in New Orleans too?” He popped another chip.
Five minutes into the first date and I was already reminded of my dysfunctional family. There was no way I wanted to get into that topic. What was I supposed to say? My family comes from the old country where they enjoy frolicking madly by the light of a full moon while covered in hair? My immediate family lived here, and that was all he needed to know.
“My parents are here, and I have a brother who lives in Baton Rouge as well. Then an uncle and some cousins.”
“Are you close with your family?”
Closer than I wanted sometimes, but I wasn’t telling him that. No need to share every abnormal detail.
“Yes, I guess you could say we’re close.” Where was Emilio, anyway? I needed an escape from the topic. “What about you? Are you close to yours?” I’d throw the ball back at him.
“We’re close. I still talk to them often. What do your parents do?”
Ugh, what was with the twenty questions? If he expected my parents to be normal, then he would be greatly disappointed. Other people had normal parents--doctors, lawyers, dentists, and such. Me, not so much.
“Um...” I sipped my water. “My mother is a massage therapist and my father owns a little art shop.” In other words, they were eccentric. I knew what the next question out of his mouth would be before he even spoke it.
“Art, really? Wow. What kind?”
Nope. No way would I answer his question. What was I supposed to say? Werewolf paintings? Wolf sculptures and other weird supernatural stuff? My parents were paranormal freaks to the human world. Heck, and maybe to the paranormal world too. Thankfully, Emilio approached the table before I had to reply. I’d have to leave an extra tip for his perfect timing.
“Ready to order? The usual for you, Rylie?” Emilio asked in a chipper tone.
“Yes, please.” Maybe I did eat at Emilio’s too often.
“And for you,
?” He placed two cocktail napkins on the table.
“I’d like the smothered burrito. And can you bring us two margaritas?” Jack held up two fingers and glanced at me for approval. I signaled yes with a grin.
“Two of our best coming up.” Emilio grinned devilishly and scampered off to start the drinks.
After he left our table, I didn’t want the conversation to turn back to my parents, so I excused myself to slip off to the restroom. Changing the subject wasn’t the only reason for going. I wanted to check out what damage the humidity had done to my makeup and freshen up a bit. Plus make sure I didn’t need to shave. Sometimes I get pesky whiskers without warning--not sure why. I learned the hard way that makeup won’t cover a five o’clock shadow. Glancing over my shoulder, I spotted Jack watching me as I walked away. He was checking me out, and I decided to give an extra sway with each step--no harm in showing off my assets. No pun intended.
Passing several booths, other couples appeared to be on their first dates too. I wondered if Jack and I had the same gushy-eyed look. I hoped we did. On the inside, I certainly felt all gushy and stuff. As I made my way to the back of the restaurant toward the ladies’ room, I noticed the side door to the alleyway was ajar.
That wouldn’t have been a big deal normally, had it not been for the bushy, ugly-brown tail almost hidden beyond the trash can right next to the exit. The fact that Lily had followed me on my date astonished me. She had some nerve.
Jennifer had warned me to watch my back, and I’d shrugged off her advice. I could almost hear her “I told you so” rant from where I stood. I had a quandary on my hands and needed to make a decision, pronto. I could ignore the problem and go to the powder room like I’d originally intended. I knew I’d come back to the table to find Lily in a cozy conversation with Jack. That was at the bottom of the list of things I needed or wanted.
My only option was to confront Lily Friedman once and for all. She needed to understand the little games she played had gone far enough. I had visions of my customers rushing away with each stunt Lily performed. Sometimes people had a change of heart. Surely she’d listen to reason this time.
I glanced over my shoulder. No one watched me. Please let that extra-large margarita keep Jack entertained until I kicked Lily’s ass.
“Lily, get your butt out from behind there right now. I can see you. Your ugly tail is sticking out,” I whispered. I tapped my foot, signaling my impatience with her.
Nothing. No movement, not even a twitch of her tail. She had a lot of nerve to show her shifted form in the daylight like that, and not to mention in the middle of a busy restaurant.
The space was small, without a lot of room to move, but I walked forward and peered down. Lily wasn’t alone. Huddled behind the trash can were two hairy beasts. They whispered to each other while I watched. Probably plotting their attack against me.
I cleared my throat. “Excuse me. I said I can see you. Don’t ignore me.” I spoke through clenched teeth. “You’re not very good at this game.” Trying to keep my voice to a whisper wasn’t easy. My anger escalated.
In that moment, both of them stood, and I stumbled backward a couple of steps when I took in their size. For a second, I wobbled on my feet until I finally righted myself. Something was different.
The Martin necklace was missing from around Lily’s neck, and her eyes glowed a different hue. Her usually shiny fur wasn’t clean and pretty as it normally was. The other wolf had an overbite and wore a thick gold chain around his neck. Yes, the beast was a
--and don’t ask me how I knew, because I don’t want to talk about it.
All right, if you must know, one word would describe it.
. He seriously needed to wear pants. And how the hell he got a necklace around his thick, hairy neck I had no idea. More than likely I wouldn’t want to know.
Anyway, like I said, a different vibe came from them, and I got the sinking sensation Lily wasn’t one of the mangy mutts standing before me. I never thought I’d be happy to see her, but this was one time when I would have welcomed a visit from Lily instead of the scruffy animals facing me.
We stared at each other for a few seconds and I worried Jack would come to find me. Undoubtedly, he wondered what could be taking me so long.
“What do you want? I don’t have time to play these silly games.” I sure as hell wasn’t going to let them spoil my date.
Overbite-wonder-wolf winked at me and stared as if I was the only steak in a vegetarian restaurant. My stomach churned. The other one with short, multicolored fur let out a growl and in a split second slashed the front of my shirt with a claw.
“You stupid...” Temper. Temper. I had to control my temper. After all, I was in a restaurant.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Apparently they wanted to rumble, but I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to Jack why my clothes looked like I’d shoved them through a paper shredder, then put them back on. There was only one thing to do: I’d have to duck into the ladies’ room, take off my clothes--fighting lupines would ruin my outfit--and change into my werewolf-self. Then I’d kick some werewolf butt, put my clothes back on and continue my date. Easy peasy. But if I didn’t get busy, that margarita glass would be dry before I could even say
I dashed toward the ladies’ room, hurried in and slammed the door shut behind me. With fumbling fingers, I locked the access. Thankfully, I moved too quickly for them. They scratched at the wood as I secured the latch. The knob jiggled. Drawn-out scratches echoed from the other side, down the length of the door. More jiggling, followed by pounding. Would anyone hear and come save me? I moved away from the door, staring at it and wondering if they’d knock it in. Then silence. I needed to hurry.
I pulled my ripped blouse--I’d get them for that--over my head, and then shimmied out of my jeans. Scanning the room, I didn’t see anywhere to stash my clothes. Finally, I settled on stuffing them under the sink and prayed no one would steal them before I annihilated the dirty wolves. Jennifer had been right about the matching underwear thing--a werewolf in granny panties wouldn’t be cool. Another “I told you so” could be heard in the distance. I had no alternative but to strip off everything.
So there I stood in the middle of the women’s restroom of Emilio’s Mexican Restaurant without a stitch of clothing on--what had happened to my life? Where had things gone so terribly wrong?
I had thought running a matchmaking service would be a stress-free career. At least I thought finding people’s soul mates sounded like an easy, fun job. Possibly I was wrong. I tallied the figures in my head. Yep, a lot of money to lose just because Lily wasn’t happy.
And being involved with the paranormal world was chaotic. My business had gone from werewolves and normal people to all sorts of supernatural beings. I had vampires, aliens, psychics--you name it, they came to me for help. Of course the normal folk were oblivious to the otherworldly things going on right under their noses, and at that moment I wished I was one of them. I should have been a dog trainer as my mom suggested. Other beasts sit up and take notice of me, you know. I’m practically the Dog Whisperer.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out, I tiptoed to the door. The thought of how nasty my feet were from the dirty floor made my skin crawl, but there was no way to avoid it. I’d begun my transformation to wolf. Hair developed over my body, and I felt my eyes change. My plan was to run out of the restaurant and into the alley, because the dimwits would follow me and we could fight there. Even though my nerves seemed to be a bit on edge, I felt the wolves were no match for me. No matter there were two ready to wrestle me. I was strong for a she-wolf. Plus, I had no other options. Jack would be looking for me soon.