Miri: A Paranormal Romance (Plenty of Shift Book 1) (6 page)

BOOK: Miri: A Paranormal Romance (Plenty of Shift Book 1)
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“Do you want to use mine? You could…”

“It’s okay. If I get naked in this place I can’t promise I’ll let you stay clothed.”

Once again, Miri felt a tingle between her legs.
Sex. Sex. Sex. Oh God, yes. Sex.

“Then yeah, you should probably go.” She stood up, wondering how she could utter such words when all she wanted was for him to stay. Forever, preferably.

“If you ever—ever—want to go out and do something, you know how to reach me,” he said. “I’ll never say no to you.”

“Unless you’re in a relationship,” she said.

“I won’t be, unless I find out that you’ve been snatched up.”

As he turned away, Miri felt her heart pound in her chest. She was about to say good-bye to this man, this perfect creature who’d stayed in her home? Was she insane? He was literally telling her that she could have him.

“Malcolm—wait.”

He turned back just as he opened the door.

“I…just wanted to say thanks again.”

“You’re welcome, Miri.”

And just like that, he was gone.

Chapter Seven

O
ver the next several days
, more reports surfaced of intensifying turf wars. The Kefir wolf pack was allegedly erupting in violence everywhere its members went. Unfortunately, many of the attacks occurred near Miri’s apartment building. It was no wonder she’d managed such cheap rent.

She now lived at the centre of the mayhem.

While she hadn’t seen the symptoms of the divide, it all made her wonder if even shifters would be willing to come to her place for appointments. Was any single shifter desperate enough to risk an altercation with a wolf to go in person to visit a woman running a dating service? She wondered if anyone would be willing to step foot in the territory, even if she were able to get new clients.

And yet she continued to work on her plan, with Jenn’s help. Jenn, who’d been smart enough not to talk about Malcolm.

Miri cycled regularly through all the mental excuses not to call him: it was too soon after her breakup. He was too good-looking. He was a bear shifter. He was…well, he was perfect. And the worst of it was that he was someone she could really fall for. Like head over tits over heels, fall madly in love. And love hurt like a bitch.

So maybe now was the time to focus on the love lives of others. Strangers. That way, there was no risk of hurt.

“Flyers,” Jenn said one day as they brainstormed ideas. “We’re going to put colourful flyers up in the shifter zones.”

“You think that’ll work? It’s even less high-tech than I usually am. I was thinking we could pay to advertise in the paper or something.”

“Most shifters aren’t so modern-minded,” said Jenn, echoing what Malcolm had said. “We’re an awfully down to earth crowd. And you’re not going to find shifters who are stupid enough to go online to look for dates; they know how judgmental people are. Most of them keep their abilities hidden, like you do at work. Until they start ripping each other’s faces off, of course.”

“True, I suppose. We’re not so much about the smartphones as the howling and marking territory by peeing on things. Well, at least the drunk male ones.”

“All right. So it’s settled. I say we get all our ducks in a row and have a Grand Opening two weeks from Saturday. A sort of first-come-first-served Open House. People can find out what you’re all about and sign on if they so choose. Good?”

“Good,” said Miri, smiling. Finally, a deadline. A purpose to her life. And hopefully it would keep her mind off the sexy bear shifter for a time. She only hoped that he wouldn’t walk in, looking for her to set him up with someone. That would be too much to handle.

But Jenn had other ideas. “So listen, how are things with Malcolm the Bear-god?” she asked, as though reading Miri’s thoughts.

“Things
aren’t.
They can’t be.”

“Miri, you silly twit. He’s so into you. I could see that the first time you two met.”

“Fine, he’s into me. But he’s a bear shifter. I know their kind. They’re volatile, violent. Dangerous. I don’t need another jerk in my life.”

“You know that’s all bullshit. Come on now—you bitch about your boss because he’s prejudiced against shifters. But you’re no better. You just assume that because Malcolm’s got bear genes, that he’s cruel, that he’s not the great guy that he seems to be. Well, I’m your best friend and I know you. And I’m telling you to listen to your instincts. If not your human ones, then that cougar inside of you. What does
she
say about the whole thing?”

Miri knew the answer, of course. At least she thought she did. Malcolm had been—mostly—a gentleman at her place. It wasn’t his fault, after all, that his cock had thrust itself at her as though a hungry dog looking for breakfast. And inside her was a large, wily cat who purred when he came near. Everything in her wanted to mark him, to claw him, to take him into herself. To possess him. Already she had feelings for him that she’d never had for any man.

So maybe Jenn was right; she was just as bad as Mr. Leech, assuming the worst of Malcolm. He’d been nothing but generous with her. His greatest crime was being attracted to her, and it was she who’d drawn the conclusion that his intentions were less than noble, even though she wanted him just as much. Maybe, after all, he deserved a chance.

“Okay, Jenn,” said Miri. “He’s gorgeous, he’s funny, he’s intelligent and I like him. A lot. So what do I do?”

“Well, Kor and I are going over to the Bear Bar tonight around nine. Why don’t you come join us? Malcolm’s working tonight and I have a feeling that he would be very happy to see you there. Leave the past behind. Don’t let it ruin your future. Don’t let a good thing slip through your fingers.”

“Fine. I’ll come.” The truth was that she wanted nothing more than to see him again. He was like a drug that had addicted her, and one that she wanted permanently in her system. It was all but impossible to get the image of his delicious face and body out of her mind, let alone the delicious, perfect cock that had tried so desperately to escape his shorts.

Bad guy or not, she wanted him. So much that it literally hurt.

“Good,” said Jenn. “We’ll see you then.”

Chapter Eight

M
alcolm was preparing
himself for a typical busy Friday night in the Bear Bar. Things had been relatively quiet all week, with the usual clientele hanging about; solitary drinkers, mostly, avoiding heading home too soon after work for whatever reason. A wife they didn’t enjoy; children they didn’t have the energy to deal with. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, a house that was empty.

That was the great irony: people either avoided other people or they avoided solitude. No one seemed terribly satisfied with what they had, and maybe that was why relationships tended to implode with such regularity.

He wondered, as he lined up the liquor bottles for the evening, if Miri was avoiding him now. Ever since their little moment of mutual nudity he hadn’t seen her or heard from her, aside from a very brief thank-you text.

And he couldn’t blame her. Shifters were generally comfortable in their skin, but they still didn’t want to be checked out while unclothed, particularly by a man in the next room who also sported a raging hard-on. He wanted to feel guilty about it, but couldn’t. She was glorious. Every line of her curvaceous body screamed “Fuck me. From on top, below, behind me. Just fuck me.” So he caught himself smiling—an act he’d been guilty of about ten thousand times since that incident.

His only regret was that he hadn’t done more to assure her of his gentleman-like nature. Something in that woman set off the animal inside him, the bear that wanted to tear her clothing off and to take her against a wall. To have those thighs of hers hook around his waist and to feel her take him inside, her hips easing her onto his rigid length until she’d consumed every inch of him.

But he’d probably been too forward with her, and no doubt she thought that he was just another player in a world full of them.

Normally, women were impressed when they discovered his intention to be a doctor. But Miri didn’t strike him as the sort who would compromise her values for a rich man. She was the sort who wanted honesty.

And he’d been honest. Nothing but. It was possible that he’d concealed a little of his past; his violent battles, the things he’d seen. But no one could blame him for that. A man trained in the art of killing didn’t generally want to talk about what he’d done. He wanted to walk away and somehow convince his brain that it had all been a dream.

At around eight o’clock, some new clients wandered in. Wolf shifters: tall, thin, blue-eyed and wary. They could have been brothers for the way they seemed to move in synchronicity. This was a rare sighting in Bear-Town, though things hadn’t gotten so bad that shifter species were forbidding others entering their businesses.

The men claimed a table in a corner, far from the windows, and one of them rose to walk to the bar.

“What can I get you, friend?” asked Malcolm, leaning over the bar, his palms flattened against it so that his generous muscles—his weapons—were on clear display.

“Tequila,” said the man. “And four glasses.”

“Fine.” This was never good. Tequila made men into idiots, and wolf shifters weren’t the greatest at holding their liquor. Why the hell did they have to walk into his bar?

Kor and Jenn would be showing up in an hour, but aside from Kor, Malcolm was the only powerful shifter in the place. A raccoon and a couple of foxes were hanging around the joint, but they would never get into it if there were an altercation. Malcolm had only to hope that the men wouldn’t succumb to the after-effects of whatever brain cells the tequila destroyed.

But things stayed relatively calm. The wolf shifters watched a boxing match, arguing a little over who should win and why. Each time a voice rose, Malcolm felt himself bristle, his inner grizzly preparing itself. But after each rise in decibel level came a welcome fall.

Finally, around nine, Kor and Jenn wandered in.

“How’s tricks, buddy?” asked Kor, approaching the bar. Like Malcolm, he was tall and broad-shouldered. His hair was sandy brown, his eyes dark and mischievous. And like other bear shifters, he was strikingly handsome.

“All good. Glad you’re here, though.” Malcolm’s eyes strayed to the corner table.

“I smelled them when I walked in,” said Kor, not even bothering to turn. “Four, right?”

“Yep.”

“There’s been a lot of activity lately—shifters deliberately putting themselves into others’ territory. I think it’s the beginning of a power play, though don’t ask me what the end game is.”

“Well, I don’t like it much, but if I kick them out it’ll precipitate all the negativity that’s running rampant lately.”

“Agreed. I’ll keep an eye on them. Just give me a G and T for Jenn and I’ll have a soda.”

“You don’t need to do that, to stay sober,” said Malcolm. “You should enjoy yourself.”

“Fine.
One beer
. Then soda.”

Malcolm laughed and poured him a dark ale then mixed a gin and tonic for Jenn, who’d sat herself down at her favourite table by the window. She draped her jacket over a chair, claiming it, and strode over to the bar.

“Malcolm,” she said, smiling. “Your favourite inaccessible puma-shifter is coming by tonight.”

“Miri?” He felt his skin prickle in the best possible way. “Really?”

“Aw, look at you. You’re like a kid waiting for Santa to show. Yes, really. I thought she should get her head out of work and enjoy life.”

“Well, good,” he said, more visions of her naked body moving through his mind. “It’ll be nice to see her.”

“Pfft,” said Jenn. “Nice to see her. You’re so freaking polite.”

“I am. I’m a nice boy,” he said, grinning. “Here, have your drink and stop teasing me.”

Jenn gratefully took the gin and tonic and headed back to the table, where Kor joined her a moment later.

Malcolm was torn between watching the door and eyeing the Kefir Pack members, who seemed to be growing more animated as the minutes went on. Their eyes moved about the room on occasion as though they were sizing up the other inhabitants of the bar. Malcolm recognized this behaviour; they were assessing threats. And he didn’t like it one bit.

One of them rose after a time, approaching the bar with an unsteady gait.

“Another bottle,” he said.

“You sure?” said Malcolm. “You guys are looking about eighteen sheets to the wind, to borrow an old expression of my mother’s.”

“Well, we want to be at least thirty sheets to the…whatever you said,” retorted the man.

“All right.” Malcolm knew that at least if they were drunk, they wouldn’t be able to do so much harm. There would be one sober grizzly shifter in this place until it closed, and he’d defend it with his life.

As he handed the bottle over, though, the man took it, examined its label, and smiled.

“You know what?” he said. “This stuff is shit.”

“So give it back. What do you want?”

The wolf shifter took the bottle by its neck and in one swift motion dropped it on the hard floor, shattering the glass and sending streams of tequila flying in every direction.

“What the hell?” said Malcolm. “You’re paying for that.”

The man shot him a look that said, “Make me,” and headed back to his table.

“Everything okay?” said Kor, approaching the bar once again.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” said Malcolm, wiping down the bar with a towel. A moment later he stepped out from behind it to gather up the broken glass that lay strewn on the floor.

His eyes shot to someone moving across the room: in that instant, Jenn, who seemed unconcerned with what had just occurred, was making her way to the ladies’ room, beyond the table of wolves.

“Kor, stop her,” said Malcolm. “She shouldn’t go near those assholes.”

Kor turned to look for his girlfriend, but too late. One wolf had already grabbed her arm and was pulling her down on top of his lap, the expression on his face lascivious as he leered at her. There was no doubt that he was intentionally attempting to antagonize the grizzly shifters. Jenn was fighting him off, too weak to do anything other than worsen her situation as he pinned her arms to her sides, speaking into her ear.

Kor and Malcolm were on the men in a flash, Kor pulling his girlfriend away with strong human hands. When she was safely behind him, Malcolm said, “Get her out of here. Now.” Without protest, Kor guided her outside. Everything inside him wanted to fight, except for the strong instinct to protect the woman he loved. There was no way he’d let her so close to a potentially bloody altercation.

Malcolm, alone now, shifted into his impressively enormous grizzly form. His clothing fell to the floor, torn to shreds as the large, dark brown beast advanced.

And then four wolves faced him: large, arched grey backs and heads the size of a small horse’s. Each of them snarled at him, readying itself for the attack.

But he was far larger than any of them. And so when he lunged, the wolves cowered. Malcolm fully expected them to retaliate with aggression, but each in turn simply recoiled from him as though terrified.

And for a moment he felt manly, strong, powerful
. Yes,
he thought.
That’s right. You should be scared.
But then he thought of Miri. She would hate this—the machismo of fighting, of hurting one another. And she would be right. It was animalistic, vicious. It was everything that he’d grown to hate in their kind.

He backed away for a moment, ready to surrender his bear form. To inhabit his human skin and ask them to leave and never come back. But in that instant, one of the wolves leapt at him and Malcolm turned his head, grabbing it around the throat and throwing it to the ground, its neck pierced, bloody.

I didn’t want to do that, buddy,
he thought.
I really didn’t.

And it was at that moment that things got worse.

M
iri strode quickly
down the street, cursing herself for having forgotten to charge her now-dead cell phone. She could only hope that Jenn and Kor would still be at the bar to help save her from the potential of an awkward moment alone with Malcolm.

Malcolm, who had taken up permanent residence in her mind. Still etched on some place in her chest. And she might never be satisfied, she knew, until she had a taste of him. As she opened the bar’s door, she smiled, her insides giddy with some sort of teenage excitement. So undignified for a grown woman, but a refreshing change. It was nice to know, at least, that she was still capable of falling for someone. And maybe, after all, he was the right guy.

She expected the same bar she’d stepped into twice before: relatively quiet, aside from music pulsing gently through the hardwood floor. The gorgeous bartender behind the counter.

What she didn’t expect was to find the place in a state of tequila-drenched pandemonium. Jenn and Kor were nowhere to be seen, and Malcolm—Malcolm was a grizzly.

Miri’s heart shattered inside her chest in that moment. She’d wanted to see his shifted form, but not like this. This was the opposite: this was what she’d feared all along.

Violent, thuggish behaviour.

So, he was just like the rest of them.

The wolves whimpered, cowering at his feet as he let out roars, his teeth coated in the blood of one of their kind. It took Miri only a moment to see the form lying before him, its neck soaked, red with its own blood.

Oh, God. The grizzly was on a rampage.

She froze in place even as Malcolm’s head snapped around to look at her. For a moment it seemed as though his face settled into an expression of remorse, if such a thing were possible for a grizzly. But it didn’t matter.

Miri turned and left.

With a solid jab in her chest she told herself that she must never set foot in that bar or speak to Malcolm again.

“Miri!”

She was all but running down the street, escaping that voice. That face. That
everything.

But then a hand was on her shoulder, swivelling her around.

“What?” she said through hot tears. He was a blur in front of her, a towel loosely wrapped around his waist. “What do you want?”

“You. I want you.”

“Well, it seems that you want to beat up shifters more than you want me,” she said. “It seems that you do like fighting. You do like hurting people. So tell me—what the hell would make you think twice before hurting me?”

He was silent, his shoulders slumped.

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “You’re just like everyone else. Just like the worst of them. You’re a fucking thug. Good-bye, Malcolm.”

Without another word from either of them she turned and walked away. And this time, he didn’t follow.

BOOK: Miri: A Paranormal Romance (Plenty of Shift Book 1)
2.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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