Continued from Part 1 -- And dudes, this is ROUGH! A rough draft, that is.
“Finally!” Bianca exclaimed when her gaze fell on Harry. He did his best to conceal his flinch and regretted the fact he’d already given Annette the menu because he couldn’t duck behind it.
“I’ll go get your tea,” Annette said. “If your friends want to order anything, maybe you could let them know that around here we tip the waitstaff.”
The three female weres swaggered through the tea room, attracting a good deal of attention from the other diners. The ladies at the table next to Harry bent their heads together, whispering, but thanks to his sharper-than-human ears, Harry could still hear them.
“Those are the ones I was telling you about,” the blondest lady said. “Dating that lowlife who robbed the Webster place.”
“All three of them--at the same time?” one of the other ladies gasped, both horror and delight evident in her voice.
Harry cleared his throat, and when the ladies turned, he nodded his head politely and smiled. Bianca liked to pick fights. Interrupting the gossip session before Bianca overheard it was in their best interest.
Bianca might be a wolf shifter, but when she talked, at least when she was in a good mood, she purred. “Harry,” she said, lingering over the r’s. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”
Harry didn’t want the nice folks here associating him with the other weres. Not that humans knew about shifters, but the local werewolf pack had a bad, and deserved, reputation in these parts. They lived way back on the Hartsell river and only came into town to run their businesses--bar, bike shop, convenience store--and terrorize the populace.
“Well, you found me, Ms. Braxton,” he said to Bianca. “Is your truck giving you trouble?” The pack did bring their business to him, so it was plausible Bianca had engine issues.
“Now, Harry, there’s no need to be formal. We’ve known each other for years.”
Yeah, years of him distancing himself as much as he could from the local pack. They had coexisted in uneasy accord after the alpha satisfied himself Harry wasn’t going to make a play for his territory. But then the skeevy bastard had gotten himself arrested, and a pack needed a leader.
Which was part of what made pack life highly undesirable. Harry didn’t want to be a leader--or follow one.
Bianca slid into the chair across from him while Violet and Gert hovered behind her. The lace-topped cafe table only seated two. Over Bianca’s shoulder, Harry saw Annette peek through the round window of the kitchen door, glance his way, and disappear. She probably wouldn’t come back out here while Bianca and Co. were here. So much for his tasty beverage. Damn, he was thirsty, too.
He did have water. He sighed and crunched some ice, wishing it was Miss Sandie’s delicious fruit tea. “What seems to be the problem?”
“You know what we want, Harry.” Under the table, her boot nudged his calf, inching up his leg. Her long, black hair was pulled into a sleek tail, and her dark eyes were made darker by the addition of a lot of make-up. “The clock is ticking, and the...party is tonight. The night of the full moon.”
“I sent my regrets weeks ago.” On fancy stationary, no less. Harry crossed his legs under the table, careful to kick Bianca’s probing foot aside as he did so. “I’m busy tonight.”
“Busy with what, bunco with the grannies?” Violet asked with a snide laugh.
Bianca chuckled for a moment but then snapped her fingers, silencing the other female. “We can’t take no for an answer. I won’t take no for an answer.”
“You’re going to have to take no for an answer.” Harry kicked Bianca’s foot away again, and this time his knee banged the underside of the table. The luncheon ladies, pretending not to listen, jumped in their seats when the silverware rattled. “Excuse me.”
The Millington wolves were classic conservatives in the larger world of shifters. They followed traditional roles and Darwinian survival practices. They lived in packs, ruled by an alpha male and female, and survived in this predominantly human world with much hostility. Odd jobs, disreputable establishments, and borderline criminal activities were their mainstay. Both sides of the borderline, obviously, in the case of the pack’s recently incarcerated alpha. This also meant any ceremonies, such as severing a member from the pack or selecting a new alpha, were tied into the cycles of the moon, even though it had been proven by shifter scientists that werewolves were no more connected to the moon than any other primate.
Tides, yes. Howling at, optional.
Shifters did have some unique biological constraints, but moon madness wasn’t one of them.
Bianca rubbed her hands through her hair and thunked her elbows on the table. “Harry,” she said, in a totally different voice, one that almost seemed rational. “I am begging you. I don’t like to beg. You know what we’ve got to choose from, and they haven’t got...what you’ve got.”
“It’s called a brain,” Harry said, refusing to be swayed. “This being the twenty-first century, the last I heard, all sorts of people have them.”
In truth, when he’d moved to the area and discovered a large pack here, he’d considered moving back to the city, but he was tired of concrete and skyscrapers. He might be a liberal, some said a humanist, but he did like to run free on occasion, and that was hard to do in DC.
“So your final answer is no?” Bianca asked, her eyes narrowing.
“Then I guess we’ll have to kidnap you and force a good time on you,” Bianca said in a way that let Harry know it wasn’t an idle threat. She was desperate, and he knew it.
“You’re welcome to try.” He straightened his silverware and tried not to growl. Not a good time for his primitive side to claw its way to the surface. Human men had to deal with testosterone, too, but when they got pissed, they didn’t sprout fur and fangs. “Right now, if you don’t mind, I want to eat my lunch.”
“I don’t mind,” Bianca said. “We’ll wait. I hate to leave your side for a minute now that we’ve found you.”
He did not want to subject the people here to a wolf-style throw-down. Well, that probably wouldn't happen, but he still didn’t want to fend off Bianca's innuendoes, her threats and her stupid pointy boot. His omelet deserved better than to curdle in his stomach. However, he also knew he was going to have to face Bianca, and by extension the pack, soon.
“I like to eat alone,” he lied. “I’ll be back at my shop by 3. Meet me there.”
“If I trust you,” she said, “and you don’t show up, I might find some other guy to party with. Some nice, normal guy, maybe that kid who works for you.”
“Leave him out of this,” Harry ordered, because his assistant was as human as the day was long.
“If I can’t find you,” she repeated, and let her voice trail off ominously. She rose, and the three of them sauntered back out the door, but he had a feeling they were going to hang around outside until he left.
A pack leader had to be a certain type, and the alpha hadn't encouraged anyone else of that type to hang around, so now they were screwed. They were in a tough jam, but why should he care? The pack’s traditional ways were confining. Delimiting. Prehistoric. Despite the fact shifters weren’t controlled by the moon and could go years without changing form, pack bonds did exist.
They just weren’t necessary for a shifter to have a perfectly satisfactory life.
In fact, Harry had no idea why would anyone would voluntarily choose a bonded pack over independence. Why commit to one group of people, one set of faces, one geographic location, when there was a whole world to see and millions of people in it? There was no way he was tying himself to that kind of existence.
And there was no way he’d allow Bianca to tie him to that kind of existence.
But short of running like a terrified puppy, he just wasn’t sure how he was going to avoid it.
Yeah, at this point, I'm not too sure how ole Harry's going to avoid it, either! Should we find out next week?
SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST--Available now, Samhain Publishing