Miri: A Paranormal Romance (Plenty of Shift Book 1) (2 page)

BOOK: Miri: A Paranormal Romance (Plenty of Shift Book 1)
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“He’s intellectual,” said Miri. “Quiet. Probably far more wealthy than you and I combined. And he’s a shifter. Probably a black bear, though; he doesn’t have the physique of a grizzly. I’d hook him up with a fox, or maybe an ocelot. Something small, not too aggressive. A woman who won’t put up with his reading all day. He needs someone who can teach him about sex.”

“Not bad at all,” said Jenn, a look of admiration on her face. “And tell me—what do you think about the new bartender?”

Miri looked again towards the sloped backs of the customers who sat at the bar, mindlessly eyeing the television sets that were blaring soccer and baseball games in seizure-inducing flashes of action. Beyond them stood a tall, dark-haired man who was ramming a tea towel up a pint glass, grinning a friendly smile at one of the customers.

“Holy shit,”
said Miri. “That is one lucky pint glass.”

To say that he was good-looking was to give every good-looking person in history far too much credit. The guy oozed raw, unfiltered sexuality. His shoulders were broad, his torso tapering to a narrow, toned waist. The bar obstructed the view lower than his belt. But as far as Miri was concerned it was a good thing, because she might have dashed over to him and put her mouth on the front of his jeans if access were too easy.

She’d never been so turned on by someone from across a room. Or from up close, for that matter. The man was like melting chocolate that begged to be poured over a bowl of ice cream. And Miri wanted suddenly to be made of vanilla, draped in his essence so that she could lick him off slowly, consuming every drop.

“I…don’t know what to say about that one,” she said, nearly dropping her glass.

“Isn’t he amazing?” laughed Jenn. “I was wondering when you’d notice him.”

“Who the hell
is
he?”

“That, my dear, is Malcolm Byrne. A proper grizzly shifter. Handsome, to put it mildly. Smart. Fun. Nice, even.”

“And no doubt engaged to be married to some gorgeous prom queen type.”

“Nope. He’s single.”

“How is that even possible?” Miri noticed him glancing over at them and quickly averted her eyes, looking down at the table. Something told her that he might be able to read how much she wanted to throw him to the ground and do unspeakable things to every inch of his body.

“He had a long-term girlfriend, but they broke up a few months back.” Jenn teased her finger around the rim of her beer stein, as though to draw Malcolm’s gaze a little longer.

“And how do you know all this?” asked Miri.

“He’s a friend of Kor’s. They used to work together for a renovation company. And they’re in the Ulrika Clan together.”

“Of course. I always forget about the Clan, the Pride, the Pack. All the shifter business. I’m so used to doing my own thing and staying out of pack politics.”

“Well, you shouldn’t. If you’re going to run a dating agency, you need to remember that some species mix like oil and water.”

“Oh,” said Miri, turning her eyes back to her friend. “So now you don’t think the idea is insane.”

“Well, it’s kind of brilliant, you know. I mean, I did come up with it, so it has to be. Now, why don’t you come meet Malcolm? Call it research.” Jenn had already stood and begun to lead the way to the bar in spite of Miri’s weak grunt of protest.

“Jennika,” said the bartender as Jenn approached. “Good to see you.”

The two engaged in quick chatter and Miri realized that she wasn’t getting out of this. She rose with her beer in hand, her horror slowing her feet as she approached the bar. Suddenly she felt woefully inadequate; too fat, too unsophisticated. Too…everything. But it was too late; Jenn was already at their destination, deeply engaged in conversation with Mr. Tasty-Body.

“Miri,” she said, turning to her friend. “This is Malcolm.”

The bartender smiled again, a perfect row of white teeth exposing themselves against a shallow layer of dark stubble and a set of juicy pink lips that Miri wanted very much to bite.

“Hi,” she said.

“Jennika was just telling me that you’re the one who set her up with Kor,” he said, his eyes skimming over her body. Miri found herself very glad to have worn her do-me dress, though she wanted to slap herself silly for even thinking about it. It wasn’t as though a guy like that would ever be interested in her.

“Well, that was quick,” she said, laughing as she turned to her friend. “You just told him that?”

“I do what I can to sell you,” beamed Jenn. “And I’m efficient.”

“I think it’s great,” said Malcolm. “You sound like a gifted matchmaker.”

“Oh? So tell me, would you sign up if I started an agency setting single shifters up together?”

“That depends—would I get to sleep with the founder of the company? Because otherwise, no dice.”

Miri was in the midst of taking another sip of beer and she coughed, covering her mouth for fear that she’d spit it all over Malcolm. Jenn patted her gently on the back, trying to soothe her friend’s inner shock at the bartender’s boldness.

“I think that’s a maybe,” Jenn said, addressing Malcolm. “Forgive her—she has trouble swallowing sometimes.”

“Well, that’s a crying shame,” said Malcolm, his tone dripping with mischief. “I like women who swallow.” This time, Miri was genuinely happy to have stopped drinking. She’d probably have choked to death before hitting the ground.

“I swallow when it’s important,” she said. “And when I like what’s in my mouth.”

“So wait—are you saying that you’re choking on our beer because it sucks?” laughed Malcolm.

“I think,” said Jenn, “that what she’s saying is that
she
sucks.”

Now Miri lost any trace of doubt that her face’s hue was beginning to match that of her dress: a deep blood red. For a moment she considered shifting right there in the middle of the bar, if only to hide her embarrassment.

“Excuse me, Malcolm,” she said, pointing towards their table. “My friend and I have to go back over there now.”

She grabbed Jenn’s arm and dragged her back to the the place where they’d been seated a few minutes earlier. “You’re the devil,” Miri hissed through a tight-lipped smile.

“You love me for it. Isn’t he just delectable?”

“You’re not supposed to notice such things, little Miss I-have-a-perfect-boyfriend.”

“I’d have to be dead not to notice Malcolm. And so would you.”

“I’ll admit that he’s charming. And you know how I feel about charming. Jeff was one of them. They’re not to be trusted. Besides, the guy’s a bear. I’m a cat. We’re not meant to get along.”

“You can trust a grizzly shifter more than you think. And you can trust Malcolm. He’s good people. Besides, there’s no reason a cougar and a grizzly can’t get it on. Now, a cougar and a
wolf
…”

“Even if that’s the case, how good a guy can he be? He’s got ‘Mal’ in his name, for crap’s sake. It literally means
bad.”

“He also has ‘come’ in his name. Now tell me that’s not a good sign.”

“Well, I’ll happily let him save his coming for some other woman. Maybe a fox, or a pug. I’m taken.”

“By whom?”

“By the Invisible damn Man, that’s who. The only person I intend to sleep with anytime soon is yours truly. If I want to sleep with bears, I have a perfectly good Winnie the Pooh at the hotel.”

“All right,” laughed Jenn. “I’m sorry. I just thought you two would hit it off. And you did. Someday you need to get over this fear you have of other shifters. If I can handle one, you can.”

“I know. It’s a stupid prejudice, I guess,” said Miri. “I’m just a little afraid that someone will prove me right one of these days. All these rumours of turf wars between the packs. And the Kefir Pack is on the prowl, they say.”

“Some shifters are thugs, just like some humans are, Miri. It’s the way of the world. But don’t turn down a man like Malcolm because you think he’s like everyone else. Not all men are cruel.”

“Fair enough. I’ll try to be open-minded.” Miri turned her eyes to the bar where Malcolm stood, staring at her. His eyes were so intense that she felt for a moment as though her dress were melting off her body, exposing her every inch of flesh to him. And she liked it.

“God, he’s gorgeous,” she said quietly.

“And he seems to think you are, too. Chemistry 101.”

There was no doubt in Miri’s mind that there was chemistry. Hell, a laboratory explosion had just occurred in her panties, and she’d only spoken the guy for a few minutes.

“Jenn, I’m fucked.”

“Malcolm can only hope.”

Chapter Three

W
hen Miri arrived
the next morning at her cubicle outside of Mr. Leech’s office, she pulled the latest newspaper out, opening it to the real estate section in the Classified ads.

She’d stopped on her way to work for a pumpkin latte, a rare treat to celebrate her freedom—and to wake herself up after one too many beers the previous evening. An evening during which she’d spent about four hours quietly and stealthily staring at Malcolm: his dark, thick hair, the coating of stubble that lined his jaw.

And the more beer she’d consumed, the more she’d begun to wonder about his taste, and whether it matched his scent. The moment she’d approached him, it had sent her mind reeling into oblivion: savoury, smooth, raw, pure sex. A scent that had seemed to slip in invisible tendrils over her body even as she’d moved away from him. As she recollected it, her eyes closed and she had to force herself not to let out a moan of pleasure.

Miri found herself stroking the latte cup’s rim along her lips as she inhaled its aroma. Nothing like as good as Malcolm’s, but it would have to do for now.

But sadly, the tasty-smelling beverage didn’t even begin to conceal the smell of her boss as he stepped off the elevator a moment later, destroying Miri’s fantasies about the grizzly shifter in one fell swoop. Though Mr. Leech was thirty feet down the hall, a rank fanfare of stink was announcing his imminent arrival. And a fouler smell there had never been; Miri would even have taken the Whore’s perfume over his questionable ideas of personal hygiene.

As her boss approached, she held the latte under her nose, attempting in vain to cover up what was coming at her.

“I can think of better things for your lips to do than fondle that cup, Sugar-buns.”

“Good morning, Mr. Lech—Leech,” Miri said without looking up.
God, did he bathe in two-month-old halibut this morning?

As she turned to face her far too pervy superior, she saw that he’d positioned himself next to her, at a perfect angle to look down her shirt. Miri grabbed her collar, forcing the material to seal over her cleavage.

Leech’s hair, which may have been light brown or even blond, was so filled with product and grease that Miri had never managed to work out its natural colour. Over time it had simply taken on the appearance of string soaked in used engine oil, adhered in repulsive strands around his pasty face.

“Good morning to you,” he said. “Oh—real estate rentals, is it? Listen, if you need a place to crash, there’s a whole half of my bed that would love to have your shapely behind imprinted on it.”

And there’s a whole half of your face that I’d love to see with a giant fucking claw mark imprinted on it, you foul, weasel-faced pig.

“No, thank you. I’ll be just fine.”

“Oh, my. I just realized—this must mean you’ve broken up with that boyfriend of yours. Well, I never thought he was good enough for you, anyhow.” Miri wanted to wash the words off her skin even as he spoke them. The man’s voice had the quality of sweaty cheese; the sort that had been sitting on the counter for about eight hours too long.

“I’m afraid I just don’t know what to say to that,” she replied, gritting her teeth. “You’re too kind.”

From any other human it would have been a compliment. From him it was like rancid milk being poured down the front of her blouse.

“Let’s just say, Miri, my darling, that you deserve someone who will light your pants on fire.”

“Actually, I’m more likely to be the one lighting pants on fire,” she growled, before realizing that he would take it as a come-on. For clarity, she added, “And I do mean that literally.”

“I’ll bet you do, you little sex-kitten.”

Dear God. Why couldn’t I have bought more lighter fluid?

“I really do need to get to work. So good-bye, Mr. Leech.”

“Not good-bye. Only
until I see you again
.” He shot her a snaggle-toothed smile, forcing her to wince out a brief attempt at friendliness before willing him towards his office.

His smell receded as he turned and walked towards his door. But as he pivoted to face her, he ran the back of his disgusting hand over the front of his pants, directly in Miri’s sight line.
Good lord. I need out of this hell-hole,
she told herself as she resisted gagging up her last sip of latte.
Like, yesterday.
The idea of the dating service was becoming more and more appealing.

As the day wore on, she dutifully answered phones and replied to the requisite emails, avoiding eye contact with the boss each time he left his office. Miri’s computer was ancient, but its virtual uselessness had never bothered her. High-tech gadgets were one area in which she’d never been comfortable; if she’d had her way, people would have used carrier pigeons to communicate. Or howls, like the Kefir Pack might do. She wondered for a moment what bears did. Growl?

Which led her to think of Malcolm. Again. The bartender who’d been designed to torture women like her, his body made for biting, licking, kissing and fucking. As her fingertip went to her lips, Miri asked herself what sort of sound a grizzly shifter might make in bed.

Well, it was obvious: A good one. A great one. A “keep sucking that, sweetheart” sound. He was probably the sort who would feed her instructions, telling her exactly how he liked for his cock to be stroked and licked. How fast, how hard. “Yeah, baby. That feels so fucking good,” he’d tell her as she slid both palms over his rigid length…

Oh, dear God. What was she doing?

It didn’t matter what he sounded like. She’d never find out. He was off limits to her; too handsome. Too smooth. Too attractive for words. And no doubt so good in bed that she’d never want to stop fucking him. How the hell would a woman get anything done if she had a boyfriend like that?

But as she thought of him—that face, that smile, those broad, muscular shoulders and the shirt unbuttoned just enough for his chest to scream, “Sit on me with your pants off, please,” her mind went back to the conversation with Jenn. Anything to distract from the bear shifter who’d settled into her consciousness long enough to make her panties wet on an hourly basis.

Okay,
she mumbled.
A matchmaking service. How the hell do I start a matchmaking service?

There were all sorts of them online, she knew. But she didn’t want to run one like the big online companies did. No way was she ever going to touch the internet, or be able to hire someone to design one of those…what were they called? Apps. What was that word short for, anyhow? Appendage? Appendectomy?

Nope. Miri was old school, if nothing else. If she were going to set people up together, she wanted to meet them in person. The only reason she was any good at the set-up process was her ability to read personalities quickly, and to assess what might work well between two candidates. Like she’d read Kor’s, before setting him up with Jenn. And like she’d read Malcolm’s the evening before. At least she thought she had.

But what was he, really? Handsome was a no-brainer, as was sexy. Strong? Check. But personality-wise? Well, he was quick-witted. He was a little dirty-minded. Both positives in her book.

But there was something else, as well. Was it that he was a good man? Miri had the impression that Jenn was right; that he was a genuinely decent guy. But how on earth could any man who looked like
that
be decent? He looked like walking sex, and he must have been hit on by at least a thousand women a day. How could he ever maintain profound kindness in the face of so much potential pussy?

Not to mention the nature of grizzly shifters as a rule. His sort was trouble. He was the kind of guy who blinded a woman, convinced her that he had all the best intentions and then, once he’d satisfied himself inside her body, he took off to look for the next young thing to trick. She’d seen it before. Hell, she’d just broken up with it.

Miri wasn’t looking for a man. But when she was ready, it would be best to go for someone safe. Boring. A squirrel shifter. A possum would do even more nicely. The ability of men to transform into snoring corpses within seconds after ejaculation had always been astounding to her, and a possum would be even better suited to the role; weren’t they experts at playing dead?

As her hands went idly back to the newspaper, her eyes fell on the Grayson City Post’s front headline:

War Brewing Between Rival Packs.

A full-colour photograph revealed a couple of shifters in wolf form, fighting violently in the middle of Central Square. Apparently there’d been some sort of betrayal. The Kefir Pack had split apart and its various members were now going at it in full force.

“Great,” Miri muttered. “Wolves fighting in downtown public areas. That’ll help the tourist industry.”

“God damned shifters, am I right?”

Oh, jeez.

Once again, the perv was standing over her shoulder, looking at the paper, or, more likely, going for another glance down her shirt.

“Yeah, god damned shifters,” said Miri quietly. “They sure are a violent bunch.”

“I tell you, the day I find out that one of those freaks works for me is the day I move to the Arctic.”

Please. Oh, please do that
.

So he really didn’t know that she was a shifter. It figured; he was the most clued-out man she’d ever known. On the plus side, she could eventually tell him, and then maybe he really would take off for Nunavut or some other remotely northern territory. The whole office would celebrate and hail her as a hero.

“Anyhow, back to work, Miri,” he said, slipping a hand along her back before he left. She hoped with everything in her that it wasn’t the same hand that he’d used to stroke his less than impressive pant-bulge earlier.

After she’d double-checked that he was gone, Miri open the Classified ads once again, this time scanning for anything with a home office. One ad jumped out at her and she wondered how she’d missed it at first glance.

“Two bedrooms, home office, near subway stops,” it read. “And Central Square.”

Of course it was right where last night’s wolf fight had occurred. But that would sit badly with potential renters, and give her a better chance to grab it. The place sounded perfect. As for the price, maybe the owner had already heard about the brewing shifter war. It was a steal.

She picked up the phone and called.

The female voice on the other end sounded shocked to hear that she was calling about the apartment.

“I want to take the place you’re advertising.”

“But you haven’t even seen it. Didn’t you hear about the fight in the Square last night?”

An honest landlady. That was a good start.

“It doesn’t matter. May I bring you a cheque for first and last month’s rent today?”

“Sure. Six o’clock?”

“Great.”

Miri hung up after jotting down the address and exhaled at length, a weight easing off her shoulders. Scanning the room again for the awful Mr. Leech, she clicked open her web browser and typed in “Shifter Personal Ads.”

The search engine found all manner of things: ads for people selling gear shifts. Ads for people using car parts in their love-making, apparently. Ads for “personal enjoyment units.” But absolutely nothing for those women and men who wanted a creature other than a mere human to hold at night.

Well, that’s it,
she said under her breath.
I’m going for it.
It was time to spring to action. She pulled out a notebook and began to jot down ideas. Even if she had no clue how she’d get such a business off the ground, she may as well give it a name.

Match-Shifter.

Shifting Singles.

Sifting Shingles.

Lions, Tigers and Dogs.

Plenty of…
Shift.

That was it. It was simple. And it referenced that expression that every woman in the history of the world hated. How did that go again? Oh, yeah.
Don’t worry, dear.
There are plenty of fish in the sea.
What woman had
ever
wanted to hear that? Who the hell had ever uttered the words “If only there were more fish to fuck?” Other, she supposed, than a mermaid. But surely even they would be sensible enough to find a nice sperm whale. At least he’d be well hung.

Now that she’d given her prospective business a name, she shut the notebook and tried to focus on the job she was being paid to do. As she’d told Jenn, the dating service idea was all a pipe dream. But the notion that she could work out of her home, even in a downtown area now populated by snarling wolves, was so damned appealing. She could get up at eight o’clock, or even nine, lounge around in a robe, start talking to clients at ten…

One thing at a time. For today, she’d finish her work load, drop off the cheque and see about moving into her new place. Once she had an address she’d ask the movers to bring her things over. She could begin her new life. A clean slate, a fresh start. And no more cheating bastards.

She deftly avoided Mr. Pervypants when she left the office that afternoon, embracing her own broad smile as she charged down the street towards Central Square.

Things were looking up.

M
iri wasn’t
sure what she’d been expecting when she wandered up to the building that would potentially become her new home. It looked directly onto the now quiet Central Square, which the locals seemed to be avoiding for fear that another wolf fight would break out. That could be bad for business. But hell, she was going to be inviting shifters over; most of them didn’t have much fear of others of their kind. It was only humans who would stay away, and after her experience with Jeff, that was just fine.

The building’s exterior was quite nice: a brownstone walk-up, well maintained, if a little on the old side. When Miri rang the bell, the woman who greeted her was young—maybe twenty-eight, well dressed and friendly.

“I’m Miri—the one who called this morning.”

“Yes, of course. I’m Naomi. And ah, you’re a shifter,” said the woman, who was clearly more astute than Mr. Perv-boss.

“I am. Is that a problem?” Miri was puzzled; picking up Naomi’s scent, she could tell that she was also one.

BOOK: Miri: A Paranormal Romance (Plenty of Shift Book 1)
2.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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