Kitty Rocks the House Page 24

“Okay, okay, fine,” he said, glancing away, letting his shoulders slump. As if he had to consciously think about showing signs of submission the way I had to think about showing dominance. “You’re right, if I want to be here I need to follow your rules. I’m sorry. I really didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

“If you’d shown up when and where you were supposed to and hunted with the rest of the pack, you’d have known what the rules are.”

“I thought you had a reputation for being different. For being more free-spirited than other wolf packs. ‘Don’t be stupid’ left it pretty wide open, I thought.”

“Disappointed?”

“Maybe surprised. I guess I didn’t really know what to expect.”

“Well, now you do. We have rules, just like grade school.”

He tensed for a moment, maybe getting ready with another snappy comeback. I’d have had some words for him then. Ben and Shaun probably would have had a little more.

But he lowered his gaze and said, “Okay. I understand.” He slunk away, to where Becky was getting dressed near a stand of trees.

He knew what he needed to say to get me off his back, even if he wasn’t entirely submissive about it. Same thing in the end, and did it matter when I got the result I wanted? This was going to take some negotiating if Darren really wanted to stick around.

And we were all still naked, like some weird low-intensity Lord of the Flies re-creation. I could tell my human self was slipping back into place, because my skin prickled in the breeze, and I suddenly wanted to put clothes on.

“Let’s get out of here,” I muttered.

The rest of the pack seemed happy to abandon the standoff. The tension in the space faded as people retrieved their clothes, spoke in low voices, and moved back toward the road. Wearing a wry smile, Ben held my shirt and jeans out to me.

“You look like you need coffee.”

“I need coffee,” I muttered, pulling the shirt on, not caring if it was inside out or straight or what, and hopping awkwardly to get the jeans on. Then came the epic debate that I had with myself every morning after a full moon: coffee first, or shower? Which one would make me feel more human? Which did I need more: to clear the morning fuzz, or to feel clean? Some months the coffee won, some months the shower did. I still hadn’t decided what I wanted this morning.

Side by side, Ben and I turned to make our way to the road. We stopped, though, because Trey was standing there, in rumpled T-shirt and dirt-streaked jeans, his frown taut, wary.

Our talk. I’d said we could talk. I closed my eyes and turned my gaze to the sky. I was juggling. Been juggling for a while. This was what it felt like to watch balls drop to the floor in front of me with a thud. Nothing for it but to pick them up and try again.

“You up for coffee?” I asked him.

He blinked, surprised. “Sure.”

“You?” I said to Ben.

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

“The coffee, or me trying to dig myself out of this hole?”

“Yes?” he said, smiling.

The predictability of his answer was somehow comforting.

* * *

WE HAD a favorite diner that we ended up at mornings like these, the kind of place that had coffee cups already on the table and poured without asking if you wanted some. I breathed in the scent—hot, bitter, rich—and felt my skin settle over my body a little more comfortably. Wolf curled her nose at the scent and retreated even further into the background, calm after her night out. Sleeping. Staying human would be easier for the next week or so.

Trey held his cup but didn’t drink. His gaze darted, his leg bounced under the table. He was nervous. I did what I could to set him at his ease, trying not to seem too earnest and demanding. Ben was doing a better job of not looking worried, slouching back against the booth, expression bland. He’d ordered a plate of bacon. Along with coffee, bacon made everything better, right?

“So,” I prompted. “Your girlfriend. Sam.”

His smile was strained. “We talked. I told her.” He sighed.

“And? How did she take it?”

“That’s just it, I don’t know. She said she had to think about it. That she wanted some time alone and she’d call me when she was ready. That’s a bad sign, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know that I’d jump to that conclusion,” I said. But he was right, this certainly didn’t sound good. “Telling her what you are, that’s a pretty big deal. She probably really does need to think about it.” I hoped I sounded confident.

“I’m worried I’m going to mess this up,” he said, putting his head in his hands, despairing. “I think I’ve already messed this up. She’ll never talk to me again.”

“If she’s really the one, she will. You won’t mess it up.”

“But if she’s really okay with it … with me…” He clamped his mouth shut, looking away, struggling for words, then said, “Wouldn’t she just say so? But I scared her off, I know I did.”

“Not really,” I said. “Not until she really doesn’t call you back.”

“I can’t wait that long. I have to call her.”

“When did you talk to her?”

“Yesterday.”

I grimaced. “You probably shouldn’t have waited until the day of the full moon to talk to her.” We were at our worst on days of the full moon, stressed and irritable. He must have looked slightly mad to her eyes.

“I know,” he moaned. “I just kept putting it off.”

“Give her time, Trey. For real. More than a couple of days. If she hasn’t called back in a week…” Then what? Give up on her? Call her back? Stalk her? “Try giving her a call. Don’t crowd her.”

“That’s your advice. That sounds like something you’d say to anyone.”

“Yeah, it kind of is,” I said. “Why should my advice to you be different? You’re both still people.”

He huffed. “I’m not exactly normal.”

“You are for us.”

He seemed startled, sitting for a moment with his gaze turned inward, eyes looking blankly at the surface of his undrunk coffee. The bacon arrived, its fatty scent cutting across the coffee. Another wake-up call, a summons to humanity. Ben nibbled on a piece. Trey looked at him, maybe for confirmation, maybe for a different opinion.

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