The roar of a motorcycle in front of the bar drowned out the jukebox stuck on a classic rock song. Everyone in the place turned to the door. Living in a small town, you knew who belonged here and who didn’t. And we all knew no one around here had a motorcycle.
When the door opened, I nearly swallowed my tongue. In walked my every fantasy. He removed his helmet, revealing eyes so dark they looked black from where I stood behind the bar. They matched his hair, brushing along his shoulders as he shook it out and ran a hand through it. He took off his leather jacket, and I whimpered. Tattoos ran from his fingers up his arms and underneath his white t-shirt, peeking out around his neck. He had bad boy written all over him, and I wanted to climb him like a tree.
I wasn’t the only one to appreciate this God who walked in. Quite a few sighs went around the room, even as someone kicked the jukebox to move it to the next song.
“Holy shit,” I whispered. He raised his nose in the air and gave a subtle sniff. No one seemed to notice but me since I couldn’t peel my eyes away. His gaze locked on mine as he strode through the crowd toward me. People milling about parted like the damn Red Sea—whether by instinct or magic—as he continued his path toward me.
Saturday nights drew a larger crowd than the rest of the week. Men and women lined up at the bar, hoping to catch the eye of someone, if only for one night. Some loved the camaraderie of the other bar patrons, playing a friendly game of pool or darts. Others just didn’t want to be alone. They all had a story to tell, and I listened to every single one when they spilled their secrets.
“One more, Jamie.” Stacy plopped her tray on the bar, causing me to jump. She turned her exhausted eyes to mine. “Is it closing time yet?” The noise picked back up as everyone lost interest in the newcomer.
“Two more hours. If the crowd dies down, you can leave early. I’ll close up by myself.” I grabbed a pint glass from the shelf and poured a microbrew from the tap.
I knew how she felt. Owning a bar had a particular set of challenges. One being staff. Cody called in with the flu, Marie had a sick baby and Michael refused to work Saturday nights. Thinking about him reminded me I needed to have a talk with his momma. I did her a favor by hiring him since he was down on his luck, but I needed him to work.
“Excuse me.” Everyone within hearing distance turned toward the gruff, almost guttural voice, Stacy and myself included. “Can I have a beer?”
“Where you from, boy?” William, one of our regulars, responded. He came in every Saturday and sat at the bar, nursing a Scotch until we closed. Only one, no more. It had been his weekly ritual way before my grandmother sold me the place.
“William! You’ve no manners. Leave him alone before I tell Ethel to send Will Junior for you,” Stacy scolded. He huffed and took a sip of his drink.
I glanced at the stranger. A feral smile spread across his face, giving him wolf-like qualities. His unnatural countenance only added to his looks. A shiver ran down my spine as his eyes followed a path up my body. I didn’t know whether to be scared or flattered by his attention. He looked like he wanted to eat me. Oh my! I shook my head to clear my thoughts. Sage, the town librarian, had talked me into one too many shifter romances lately. Especially since Officer Wilson and he started dating.
“Coming ri-right up,” I stammered and fumbled with one of the beer taps. When I looked over at Stacy, she quirked an eyebrow at me, and I gave a subtle shake of my head.
It took three tries before I could pour his beer with less foam and more liquid. I didn’t know why he made me nervous. It wasn’t like strangers hadn’t passed through town before, but something about him set off every alarm bell in my head—good and bad.
I set his beer in front of him and watched as he wrapped his tattooed fingers around the glass and brought it to his lips. When my eyes met his, a flush of heat ran through me. I didn’t think I’d ever been on the receiving end of such an intense stare before. His eyes flared brightly for a second, like when headlights hit an animal’s eyes on the road. It could only have been a trick of the bar lights. Right?
“Hmmm...good.” He licked his lips and stared at me, and somehow I knew he meant more than the beer.
“Y-yes. It’s a local brewery.” What about this man had me in knots? I’d seen good-looking men before—even dated a few—but something about him drew me in like flies to honey. Or Red to the Big Bad Wolf.
“Is there a place nearby to stay overnight?”
Stacy chose that moment to pop her head up behind me. “There’s a bed-and-breakfast right down the road about two miles. Jamie lives right across from it.” If she wasn’t my best friend, I’d bop her on the head with her tray.
The stranger pinned me with his gaze. “Is that so, Jamie? Maybe you could show me the way. You know, since I’m new in town.”
“I’ll close up tonight. You work too hard anyway. Take the rest of the night off.”
I whipped my head around and stared wide-eyed at Stacy. “Have you lost your ever-loving mind?” I whispered.
A dark chuckle drew my attention back to the stranger. “I won’t bite. Much.” He snapped his teeth at me.
My heart did a somersault in my chest. He tilted his head to the side in an animalistic fashion, as if he could hear it, and grinned.
“Here.” Stacy shoved my red hoodie into my hands and pushed me from behind the counter.
The stranger stood from his seat and grabbed his helmet and jacket lying across the bar. “I’ll follow you.”
I gulped, and before I knew it, he was leading me outside to my car. How’d he know which one was mine?
He held the car door for me and shut it behind me, tapping the top. Every instinct I had was on full alert. My grandma didn’t raise no fool, but any intelligence I had flew out the window when I looked in my rear-view mirror at him mounting his bike. Oh. My. God. That was the hottest thing I’d ever seen.
Even with the windows closed, the rumble of the motorcycle rattled through my car. Another shiver worked its way down my spine as I pulled out of the parking lot. He followed me to the bed-and-breakfast and parked alongside me. I rolled my window down when he approached. “Here you go. Have a nice night.”
“You’re not going to make sure I get a room? They may be full.” That wolf-like grin of his spread across his face again.
Sweat rolled down my back. What the hell is wrong with me? “I-I think you’ll be fine.”
“Which house is yours?”
His abrupt question caught me off guard, and before I could get my mind and mouth in sync, the floodgates opened as I pointed across the street. “Right there. It’s my grandma’s house.” Seriously? I did not just tell a stranger where I lived. “Uh, I mean…” Quick! Think of something. “Used to live. She used to live there. Now I do.” I mentally slapped myself. How did he have me so addled? Usually I had my shit together.
“Well, Jamie, I’m sure I’ll see you...around.” He grabbed a backpack out of his saddlebag and sauntered to the door.
I reached over and turned the air conditioning full blast to tame some of the heat spreading through me as I watched him climb the steps. “Oh, man. I’m in so much trouble.”
He stopped on the landing and looked back, grinning as if he heard me. I slammed the car in reverse and raced across the street to my house. When I got out and glanced over at the bed-and-breakfast, he still stood there, staring at me. I quickly rushed up the steps, unlocked the door, and ran inside, slamming the door behind me. What a strange night.
A noise startled me awake. The remnants of a dream I couldn’t quite recall sat along my subconscious. I closed my eyes and willed myself to relax. I’d almost drifted back off when I heard it again—a howl in the distance. Moonlight peeked through the curtains, lighting the room in an eerie glow. A shadow passed by the window, sending adrenaline rushing through my body. My pulse raced, and the blood whooshed in my ear even as I strained to listen for any noise outside.
Just as I convinced myself it was my imagination, another chilling howl rang out closer to the house. I couldn’t decide whether to make a run for the bathroom and lock myself in, or stay perfectly still and hope it was only a wild dog passing through. I closed my eyes and slowed my breathing and tried to relax.
The first ray of sun slipped across the bed and warmed my face, waking me. At some point, I’d drifted off with dreams of sexy men and wolves hunting me through the woods. My sweat soaked sleep pants clung to me, and the sheets lay pooled at my feet. I groaned and turned over, glancing at the clock.
Since I worked late on Saturday nights, Sunday was my lazy day, and I usually took my time getting out of bed. But the early hour this morning was a testament to how poorly I’d slept the night before. The stranger was probably long gone now, and life could go back to normal. I chalked it all up to my wayward dreams.
As I headed to the bathroom for a quick shower, a motorcycle revved its engine outside. I rushed to the front window, pulling back the curtain for a peek. The stranger from last night cruised into my driveway. Oh shit! He was still here.
A knock on my door sent my heart racing. I debated whether to answer or ignore it and pretend I wasn’t home, but his low growl through the door pushed me into action. “I know you’re in there.”
How did he know? Could he hear my heart trying to break through my chest? Could he smell my sweat soaked body? I took a tentative sniff. Yuck! He could probably smell me from across the road.
“I saw you peek from behind the curtain.” Could he read my mind, too?
“Come on, Jamie. Answer the door.” He knocked again.
A few deep breaths later, I opened the door. He looked as good as he did last night, still ticking all my boxes, even if he was strange. In the daylight, he looked more human.
He flashed a radiant smile at me. “Good morning.”
I flushed when he scanned my body. His smile got wider. I looked down and realized I was still in my damp pants and no shirt.
“Uh, I didn’t sleep well. I had a lot of strange dreams, and thought I heard an animal.”
He cocked his head to the side. “What kind of animal?”
“I’m not sure. A wild dog maybe? I heard howling.”
“Like a wolf?” He smiled again, showing more teeth, and I gulped.
“What a big mouth you have.”
He leaned in close to my ear and whispered, “The better to eat you with.”