Authors: Jordan Summers
Restlessness snaked its way through Nic’s body, leaving him edgy. The feeling was happening more and more lately, but had nothing to do with the moon and everything to do with not being bondmated.
Nic listened to the steady beat of the music and heard a crowd roar. The sound quickly morphed into howls. Blood simmered in his veins as he fought the urge to join in.
It had been two months since he’d moved off Aidan Fortier’s estate and away from the pack. Two months since he'd sworn off fickle human females.
He’d always fallen too hard and too fast for his own good. It had gotten him hurt on more than one occasion, but this time had been the worst because he’d fallen for his Alpha’s mate.
Nic couldn't bear to be around Aidan’s mate, Jenna Dane, feeling the way he felt about her. Every day he watched her belly ripen with Aidan’s child, and he couldn’t help thinking what if...
It didn’t matter that it was the man in him that wanted her, not the wolf. Pain was pain.
Next month Jenna would give birth, thanks to shifters’ short gestation periods. Pregnancy wouldn’t be possible if she wasn’t truly Aidan’s bondmate, but seeing her expectant, glowing, and happy only compounded his loneliness.
Maybe someday he’d get used to sleeping alone, but Nic had his doubts.
Once a pack animal, always a pack animal.
Being homesick for his pack was why he found himself at Sticks and not home at the little house he’d rented outside of town. The desire for a beer and to be around his own kind was a temptation he couldn’t resist. Nic drove to the tree line and threw the truck into park, then climbed out. One beer, then he'd leave. Okay, maybe one and a half. It would take a lot more than that to impair a Were.
The music pumped hard, vibrating his chest as he strode toward the bar. There wasn't a cover charge for shifters, only humans. Not that many humans came out to this place or even knew about it. And the ones that did, knew the score going in.
Weres had groupies, just like rock bands. Their animalistic, insatiable nature drew them from hundreds of miles away. The humans who partied at Sticks came here for one reason and one reason only—to hook up with a shifter.
Nic wasn't looking for company, and he certainly wasn’t looking for a fight, but he did want a beer. A nice cold one. For that, he’d put up with the loud music and the boisterous crowd.
“Hey, Derek,” Nic said. “How’s it going?”
The burly doorman grinned, flashing long canines. “Different day, same shit.”
“I hear you. Lucien Bellard working tonight?” Nic asked.
His best friend bartended most nights, but he did get off work on occasion. When that happened, he didn’t show up here. He took off for the mountains.
“Yep, he’s behind the bar, keeping a close eye on the pups,” Derek said. “A bunch of them came in earlier itching to test their claws. Remember when you were that young?”
Nic laughed. “Hell no! I was never that young.”
Derek chuckled. “Me neither.”
It was common for young Weres to come to Sticks. The place allowed them to blow off steam and test their skills. Pack life was all about hierarchy. Young wolves were constantly looking for ways to better their positions. Nic didn’t have to worry about that anymore. He’d earned his spot in Aidan’s west coast pack through blood, brains, and brute strength.
Nic leaned forward and waited for Derek to sniff him. It didn’t matter who or what you were, everyone got sniffed on their way into Sticks. It was a surefire way to keep out the troublemakers and to identify the humans. If you weren’t pack, you got your hand stamped with a wolf paw. It was an inside joke that only regulars recognized.
“You’re good to go.” Derek hiked his thumb over his shoulder. “You came on the right night. The band’s supposed to be good tonight.”
“Probably won’t stay that long,” Nic said. “Just here for a beer.”
The bouncer shrugged, then gave him a look that said “suit yourself.”
The inside of the bar was even more crowded than the parking lot. Most of the worn tables were already occupied, and the only stool available sat at the end of the long, polished oak bar. Weres lined the bar three deep. They kicked up sawdust beneath their feet as they waited to get served.
Nic made his way to the end of the bar and scanned the crowd. He didn't think many from Aidan’s compound would be there, but it didn't hurt to check. He wouldn’t mind shooting the breeze with a familiar face.
A dark head popped up above the crowd. Lucien waved to him, his green eyes glittering mischievously.
Nic nodded in acknowledgment. It had been a while since he and Lucien had had a chance to catch up, but it didn’t look like that would change tonight.
Two pups knocked younger Weres aside as they pushed their way to the front of the crowd. Nic didn’t recognize them, which didn’t mean much since the west coast Moonlight Kin were spread out over several states, but he did recognize the type.
Impatience oozed from their pores. Some pups naturally fell into their pack position. Others fought for purchase. These two fell into the latter camp. Their stance screamed aggression. In a shifter bar, that was a good way to get your ass kicked.
Nic watched dispassionately as they stopped at the bar and waved money in front of Lucien’s face.
I wouldn’t do that if I were you,
he thought. His best friend didn’t have a lot of patience for assholes.
Lucien’s lip curled and a growl rumbled out of his wide chest. The Celtic tattoos that started at his neck and encased both arms rippled as he tensed. Smart pups took a step back to give Lucien space. The two with the money in their hands didn’t move.
Some pups just had to learn the hard way.
A claw came out and speared the money, yanking the bills from the closest pup’s hand. Lucien tossed the money into a tip jar, then yelled, “Next!”
The startled pup opened his mouth to complain, but must’ve got a look at Lucien’s expression and changed his mind.
Nic sighed. He wasn’t in the mood to put up with this kind of crap tonight. He turned to leave, but before he could go, a beer slid down the bar and stopped in front of him.
He looked over in time to see Lucien grin, then his friend went back to filling orders. The two pups who’d been flashing money glared at him. Nic raised his pint glass in salute, then took a deep swig. The cold, crisp flavor of hops and barley exploded on his tongue. He leaned his back against the edge of the bar and scanned the crowd.
Several groupies had already snagged a table near the front, close to the band. The location put them in the position to be seen by everyone, which Nic supposed was the point.
The band was still setting up their equipment. He couldn’t tell if they were human or not. He spotted a few wolf paw stamps in the crowd, but not many. Nic made a mental note to avoid them and went back to enjoying his beer.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the bar. Nic turned to find Lucien smiling at him.
“You look miserable as ever,” Nic said.
His friend had a perpetual smile on his face and took delight in the little things, especially if those things came in the form of aggravating a friend. But there was more to Lucien than that. Every once in a while the mask would slip and Nic would glimpse the darkness he kept hidden from the world.
Nic had never asked what caused the shadows. He figured if Lucien wanted to let him know, he would. Until then, he’d be there whenever his friend needed him and would continue to keep up pretenses.
“You’re the one lurking at the end of the bar, my friend. How do you expect to meet anyone with that sour expression on your face?” Lucien asked.
“I don’t,” Nic said. “I’m just here for the beer and your stellar company.”
Lucien laughed. “Then you’re in luck, because tonight I am in rare form.”
“I can see that.” Nic indicated to the pups jockeying for position.
Lucien followed his gaze, and his green eyes glittered with deadly intent. “The problems they present can be easily solved with a quick trip around back.”
“Is that what you plan to do later?” Nic asked, eyeing his friend.
, I’m a lover, not a fighter. You know that.” Lucien winked.
Nic snorted. Lucien was definitely a lover. He
women. Nic had seen him with an endless string of ladies. One look from the dark-haired, green-eyed Frenchman and women fell to their knees. None of them stayed long, and that suited Lucien just fine. In that respect, they were polar opposites. Nic wanted nothing more than to have a mate to go home to at the end of the day.
As for not being a fighter, there was no way in hell his friend could ever convince him that was the case. The darkness in his green gaze was no illusion. He hadn’t come by it from anything other than pain.
“What do you have to do to get a drink around here?” someone shouted.
The muscles in Lucien’s arms flexed and his hands tightened on the bar. Lucien’s nails lengthened, burrowing into the grainy fibers. Nic heard the wood groan under the pressure.
“You’d better get going, Lover Boy, before the crowd turns on you,” Nic said.
Lucien glanced at him. “It wouldn’t be the first time.” His smile returned, but with a touch of melancholy. “
Au revoir, mon ami
* * * * *
Mindy stared at the lights in the distance and debated whether to turn her car around. Coming here had seemed like a good idea.
She’d told Celina that she knew how to have fun. It still irked her that Izzy had made Celina promise never to bring her here. Despite her irritation with the women, it had still taken Mindy two weeks to work up the courage to come.
Not that it mattered anymore. Izzy was gone and Celina no longer cared what Mindy did. She was too preoccupied with her new boyfriend, Slade. They’d been dating for a little over a week, which was positively long term for Celina. Every time Mindy saw them together, which wasn’t often, they appeared to be joined at the tongue.
She was genuinely happy that Celina had finally found a steady guy, who liked her for who she was, but it also drove home the fact that Mindy went home to an empty house every night.
Mindy stared out the window. The only parking spaces left were by the woods far away from the entrance. Not the safest of locations. She should just go. This was insane.
No one in their right mind went to a bar alone, especially a woman. Wasn’t she always telling Celina that? Yet here she sat outside of Sticks, considering whether to go inside.
Mindy tried to remember the last time she’d hit the bars. Between college classes and work, there hadn’t been a lot of time to socialize.
If her calculations were correct—and they were—then it had been a year since she’d painted the town red. Okay, mauve. With her sister gone, she couldn’t use Izzy as an excuse for not having a social life anymore. The music thumped and her body automatically swayed in her seat.
Just one dance
, a little voice in her head whispered.
One dance won’t hurt anyone.
Neither Celina nor Izzy would ever know that she’d been there. Especially if she didn’t stay long.
The music called out to her with its siren song. Mindy wanted to be the fun person she used to be before everything changed. She wanted to experience that kind of freedom again, if only for one night. Was that so much to ask?
She parked her car and climbed out. Gravel crunched under her shoes. Mindy glanced at her vintage pumps. They weren’t made for traversing rock, but she saw no other way to get to the bar, unless she suddenly sprouted wings. Mindy apologized to her favorite pair of shoes, then toddled to the entrance.
Her footsteps faltered when she caught sight of the man checking IDs at the door. Barrel chested with arms the size of telephone poles, the man wore faded blue jeans and a ripped T-shirt that had some kind of biker emblem on it that she didn’t recognize.
When his gaze landed on her, his light green eyes appeared to glow in the dark. The illusion only lasted a moment, but it was long enough for Mindy. Stories of monsters flooded her mind. She wanted to turn tail and run, but she wasn’t dressed for sprinting. Mindy’s knees locked in place.
How many years had she put her own wishes aside to cater to her sister’s whims? How many lies had she told on her behalf? Mindy couldn’t allow Izzy’s dark fantasies to prevent her from living her life. Not anymore.
Instead of running, she forced herself to focus on her clothes. Mindy tugged at the skirt of her vintage red dress, though it already dropped below her knees. The nice outfit usually made her feel pretty and confident. But right now she’d willingly trade the dress and her favorite shoes for a comfy pair of jeans.
The doorman came out of the shadowed entryway and slowly approached.
Mindy quaked in her pumps and craned her neck to look at him.
“You lost?” he asked.
It took her a moment to find her voice. “N-n-no. A friend told me about this place. She thought I-I-I’d like it.”
One dark brow rose as he stared at her clothing. He didn’t believe her. “What exactly did your friend tell you?”
Mindy’s confidence wavered. Sweat laced her palms. She rubbed her hands along her skirt and swallowed hard. “Just that Sticks was a fun place.” Her voice cracked.
He stared for a moment more, then shrugged. “Let me see your ID.”
Mindy retrieved her license from her purse. Her fingers shook as she handed it to him. He sniffed, then returned her ID. The man settled back onto his stool and took out a stamp.
“How much is the cover charge?” she asked.
“Hold out your hand,” he said.
She did as he asked.
He stamped a glowing wolf paw beneath her knuckles. “Have fun.” The cheerful sentiment was ruined by his anxious expression.
“Thank you.” Mindy put her license in her purse and stepped through the door. Her legs quivered when she saw the worn tables scattered around the room and sawdust on the floor. On the other side of the dance floor, a band was setting up their equipment.
Mindy tugged at her skirt again and waited for someone to greet her. After a minute, it was obvious no one was coming to show her to a table.