Perfect scents, p.12
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       Perfect Scents, p.12

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 11

  Gram sat at the table looking through her recipes to find one someone had requested. It wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. Gram’s cooking was phenomenal, and women were always asking for her recipes. It may not have been a convenient time to interrupt, but it was now or never. If I didn’t do it, I’d chicken out for sure.

  Taking a deep, fortifying breath, I shuffled to the table and leaned against the back of my usual chair. When Gram didn’t acknowledge me, I knew she was deep in thought. She flipped between two different pie recipes several times before I squeaked out her name. After clearing my throat, I tried again.

  “So, Gram you know I’m working on this essay about weregals.”

  It was a safe route to approach the conversation. She took a moment to answer, deciding on the second recipe while I took the time to sit down. My legs were shaking, and I didn’t want to fall on my butt if they gave out partway through our conversation. That wouldn’t help me one bit.

  “Yes, I remember. Was there something else about them that you needed to know?”

  “Gram, what do you know about my dad? My real dad.”

  “How did we jump from weregals to your dad?”

  The question was innocent enough, but her facial expression gave her away. For a split second surprise and shock had registered on her face and in her eyes. To Gram’s credit, she quickly shifted it to confusion. If I hadn’t been looking at her the entire time, I would’ve missed the shock.

  “Was my dad a weregal?”

  “Joey, where is this coming from? I don’t understand how you jumped from the essay to thinking your father was a weregal.”

  “That doesn’t matter. Was my dad a weregal?”

  “You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m not following your thought process from point A to point B. You need to explain to me how you came to this conclusion.”

  Gram started flipping through her recipes again, ending the conversation unless I explained how I found out my father was a weregal. I knew coming into this I was going to have to tell them about Kev, but I wasn’t about to tell her while she avoided my question. It made the answer pretty obvious.

  While she worked through the recipes, I quickly determined I had two ways to end this. The first was to call it quits right then and walk away, taking the non-answer as an affirmative, yet getting no other information beyond that. The second avenue was to continue to push Gram. It would likely lead to an argument, but it would also give me more information…or at least that was the theory.

  “I’m not an idiot, Gram.”

  My mumbled words caught her off guard causing her to lift her startled blue eyes to mine.

  “Joey-.”

  “Mom, tell the girl the truth. They’re all dead. She might as well know.”

  At that moment Aunt Gwen was my savior. She stood in the hallway entrance to the kitchen, arms crossed with a “don’t mess with me” look on her face, her eyes never leaving Gram. With a heavy sigh, Gram leaned back in her chair and crossed her own arms. Things were about to get real.

  “I don’t know what led you to think your father was a weregal, but he was. I only met him once. It was the night your mother told us they were mates. I wasn’t happy about it, but there was nothing I could do. Meg was stubborn to a fault. Thank goodness your grandad had already passed on because I think that night would’ve given him a heart attack.”

  In all my years growing up, no one had ever talked about my real dad. They would always say it was too painful to talk about or find some other way to change the subject. Now, I knew why. They hadn’t wanted anyone to know what he was. My vision went out of focus as I tried to picture my mom with a man like Kev.

  “What was his name?”

  “To tell you the truth, I don’t remember.”

  My attention shifted to Aunt Gwen, who shook her head.

  “Sorry, honey, I don’t remember either. I don’t even know if I ever knew it. The night she told us she’d become the mate of a weregal there was a lot left unsaid. Most of what was said I won’t be repeating.”

  “What about after that night?”

  “It was a banned subject. No one was to speak of your father, though your mother didn’t always abide by that rule. After he left, she never said much about him, just that she missed him, and he was coming back, but he never did. Then she found out she was pregnant with you. We left it up to Meg to tell you, but when she brought you here before she died, she told us you still didn’t know the truth. She wasn’t sure how you’d take it, so she promised us to keep it from you unless you showed signs of changing. People around here, well the older generation, are so wound up about weregals that they wouldn’t think twice about hurting you, and she wanted you to be safe.”

  I’d been looking for more information, and though what Aunt Gwen knew wasn’t much, it was more than what I had, and a lot to digest. I had been right. Mom hadn’t told me because she wanted me to be safe, and the fewer people who knew the truth, the safer I was.

  “Did they love each other?”

  Aunt Gwen snorted and laughed as she walked a few steps to sit across from me at the table. She was already dressed for the night in her pink, flower print nightgown and slippers. Gram’s and my conversation must have interrupted her plans to go to bed early.

  “Did they ever. Gram only met him once. I saw him twice. The first was the night Meg introduced him to us, and the other was a few weeks later.”

  “What happened?”

  Aunt Gwen gave me a sly grin and a wink as she answered. “I caught them canoodling.”

  My cheeks went hot, and I tried to get my brain to stop thinking about my own mom “canoodling” with anyone. That was not something that I wanted to think about, ever.

  “So what really happened to my dad?”

  “We don’t know for sure. He was supposed to go back to wherever it is they come from for a few weeks and then come back. He never did.” Gram’s voice was sadder than I’d expected for a woman who didn’t seem to like the guy. Though her eyes brimmed with tears, they also glowed with suppressed fury.

  “It broke your mama’s heart,” Aunt Gwen said as if explaining my thoughts about Gram’s behavior.

  “So he didn’t know about me?”

  “No. Meg found out she was pregnant with you a few weeks after that. It took her meeting Gerry to finally admit your pop wasn’t coming back, and she needed to move on. I know she always wondered about him, though and worried about what would happen if he ever did come back.”

  “I bet that would’ve been awkward.”

  Awkward would’ve been the understatement of the year. I wasn’t sure if Gerry knew about weregals, and if he didn’t, meeting my father would’ve been a nightmare for him. Heck, I couldn’t imagine how I’d have reacted if Mom had introduced us and told me my father wasn’t human. It would’ve been a toss-up how whether I’d faint or go spastic.

  Gram and Aunt Gwen let me stew in my thoughts for a few minutes before Gram interrupted them. By the tone of her voice, I wasn’t going to like what was coming. It held a great deal of suspicion with a heavy dose of anger lying underneath. Instead of looking at her, I kept my eyes glued to the table. I had no doubt we were about to cross into touchy territory.

  “Since we’ve answered your questions, you need to answer mine. How did you make the connection between your father and the weregals?”

  “Umm, I met one.”

  When neither of them responded to my statement, I tore my eyes from the table to see what the problem was. I’d expected something close to yelling and screaming. Instead, they were both staring at me. Gram’s face was a look of horror while Aunt Gwen’s eyes were wide with surprise.

  My aunt came out of the paralysis first. “Please tell me it’s female.”

  A little voice in the back of my head whispered for me to lie, to keep my secrets, but I squashed that thought the moment it came. They were going to find out about Kev eventually, and if I lied now it woul
d come back to bite me. Plus Kev had been the person to tell me that I was a weregal. I owed him honesty for that.

  Gram opened her mouth when I hesitated, but I cut her off before she could comment.

  “He’s male. His name is Kev.”

  “Is he your mate?”

  My cheeks burned at the idea of Kev being my mate. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure if it was because my grandma had implied I had a mate or because the part of me that was warming up to Kev as a crush would have been completely happy with him as my mate. That part of me had my heart pounding so loud I could hear it in my ears.

  “No, we aren’t mates. He’s my friend.”

  “Then what does he want with you if you’re not his mate?”

  “He’s teaching me about our kind.”

  “And that’s why you’ve been sneaking around and lying to us?”

  Swallowing hard, I answered. “Kind of. We met the day I stayed home from church. I skipped school on Tuesday so I could meet with him, but it was only to warn him to be careful. Tom had come for dinner, and I didn’t want him to find out about Kev. I’m sorry I lied, but I was afraid of what would happen when you found out about him.”

  “And he told you you’re a weregal?” Aunt Gwen asked when Gram didn’t respond.

  I nodded. “Yes, he told me. He thought I knew what I was. I didn’t believe him at first, but the more I learned, the more I was convinced he was telling me the truth. Why didn’t either of you tell me what my father was when I started asking about weregals for the essay?”

  “Does it make that much of a difference? He left and never came back for you.”

  “Gram it makes all the difference! He’s my father, and I have a right to know even if you don’t like him.”

  “Of course, I don’t like him. He’s a monster, a creature out of myths, and my daughter decided to go and get knocked up by him, and then he takes off. What part of him is there to like?”

  She was yelling by the time she finished her rant, and I was about to lose the fight with my temper. Instead of yelling back, which is what I wanted to do, I stood and marched around the table. Neither woman stopped me from going to my room. My teeth gritted as the door slammed shut behind me.

  Standing in the middle of my room, I took several long, deep breaths to calm myself. I even counted to ten, which didn’t help in the slightest. What finally drew me out of my angry haze was the tingling of my fingertips and the skin around my nails. It wasn’t painful, but it was annoying.

  Instead of punching a wall, which is what I wanted to do, I grabbed my jogging shorts and t-shirt and changed for a run. I locked my door before climbing onto my bed and opened the window. The last thing I needed was for them to come check on me and find an empty room. That argument would make this one look like a small scuffle.

  Gram and Aunt Gwen’s voices came to me through the wall as I climbed through the window and hopped to the ground. The moon was hidden behind clouds, and the sun was pretty much set, but I could still see a few feet in front of me. It was enough that I wouldn’t run into anything or trip in a hole. If I sprained an ankle out here, I would be in about the same position as punching the wall. Neither would be effective for relieving my anger.

  My pace started off at a slow jog. The route through the woods wouldn’t be a safe journey to make in the dimming light, so I followed the dirt track of the mountain road. It took some concentration at first to avoid the potholes, but that didn’t stop me from picking up my pace.

  Where most days running emptied my emotions, tonight it gave me too much to think about. What I needed was a run with Kev. It would keep my mind on the race instead of letting it wander, which served to build the emotions inside of me at the same rate I was burning them off.

  What bothered me most of all about the conversation was Gram’s last outburst. She’d never let on as I grew up that she’d disliked my father. Now that I knew the truth I understood her dislike of him, but by calling him a monster and a creature she was also calling me one. I was his biological daughter after all. Sure I couldn’t turn into a giant cat yet, but there were obvious differences that showed I wasn’t human. Who could smell a squirrel half a mile away and know what it was burying?

  A question popped into my thoughts which slowed me to a walk. Did Gram hate me too? I was as much a monster as the man whose DNA I shared. If she hated him because of what he was, then the truth was that she hated me. With my shoulders slumped and feet dragging, I let my heart break, and the homesickness for Mom engulf me.

  Pain along my gum line pulled me from my depressive thoughts as footsteps scuffed the ground behind me. I’d been too wrapped up in my thoughts to pay attention to the smells around me, which was a huge mistake. It had allowed someone close, too close. Again.

  Without thinking, and with a pounding heart, I pivoted, bringing myself face to face with my shadow as my fists came up, ready to strike. My stalker was bathed in shadows as the fading sunset loomed behind his head. It was his familiar, melodic voice that stayed my hand from punching him. If it had been up to my racing heart, I’d have beat him anyway just for scaring me yet again.

  “It’s okay, Joey, it’s me.”

  His minty scent overpowered my senses as I threw my arms around him. I needed the comfort his smell brought me. Yes, I was using him as a crutch, but right then I didn’t care. His scent was putting me back together, and I needed it. One more time wouldn’t hurt.

  As I held him, he wrapped his long arms around my shoulders, sheltering my body as his scent continued to surround me. With slow hesitation, he rubbed a warm path up and down my back. It took a few minutes for my aching heart to calm its racing, and when it did, embarrassment flooded through me. His grip on me tightened a fraction as I loosened mine, ready to run away and hide from him.

  “Hey, what’s wrong?” Kev asked softly, his breath mingling with my hair which sent a quiver through my stomach. It wasn’t enough to dull the emotional ache inside my chest, though. That was a hollow pain that would take more than a sweet scent and hot guy to fix.

  “I can’t cry.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  A burst of hysterical laughter escaped me before I even knew it was coming. It wasn’t a fun laugh but showed how close to insanity I was. It would have been easier to be emotionally dead than to have so many emotions clamoring for attention inside of me, all of them needing to be released.

  “What can I do?”

  “I don’t want to talk about it,” I admitted, pulling away from him. I hadn’t wanted to. It was so nice being held by someone who wasn’t Gram or Aunt Gwen at the moment. It hadn’t bothered me either that I’d been in the arms of one of the hottest men I’d ever known, even if he was part animal. “Didn’t you hear what happened?”

  “No, I didn’t. Since the women were home with you, I left to take care of something personal. When I got back, I smelled your scent leaving the house and followed you here.”

  “Oh.”

  “Was I supposed to listen? I didn’t realize that.”

  “No, you weren’t, but with your hearing, I thought you would. I didn’t know you weren’t there. It’s okay. It’s best you didn’t hear it.”

  “Asking about your father didn’t go well?”

  I shook my head as he wrapped me in his arms once again and rubbed circles against my back. The scent of the river clung to Kev’s skin and mixed with the smell of the woods and his minty scent that flavored his clothes.

  “What can I do to help you?”

  “Nothing. I’ll be fine.”

  “No, well, yes, you will be fine, but there must be something I can do to help you.”

  Enlightenment dawned on me as he stepped back, waiting for me to respond. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, wanting to be free, but I wasn’t ready. Kev was right; there was one thing he could do. As I thought of it, he placed his fingertips under my chin and tenderly lifted my face so I could look up at him.

  “Joey, you’re hurting,
and I don’t know how to help. I’m not human, so I don’t know how a human would help you. You have to tell me.”

  “I don’t need you to be human, Kev. I need you to be you. Run with me. Race.”

  A sad smile crossed his face, and his tenor voice trembled as he spoke. “Will that help you?”

  “It’s the only thing that will.”

  “Then I will run with you for however far or however long you wish. I will run your entire world if it helps you.”

  “Why, Kev?”

  “Because you’re my friend, and I care about you.”

  Heat flooded into my stomach and encompassed my heart. He may have meant that he cared as a friend, but I was taking what I could. No matter how hard I was fighting not to feel anything for him, my body wasn’t listening. The mixed signals I was giving Kev earlier today were nothing compared to the mixed signals I was giving myself.

  “Where are we running?”

  Stepping away, I continued running up the road. He caught up and ran in step with me as the trees closed in around us and the shadows lengthened. We didn’t race this time, but I still felt my emotions draining away, leaving me empty and happy by the time we reached the highway. It was farther than I should have run, but I’d been so content to keep time with him that I hadn’t stopped us to turn around.

  Content did not mean that I wasn’t out of breath, though. I was a hot, sweaty mess while he was barely breathing heavy, and in the moonlight from the open space around us, I could tell he’d hardly broken a sweat. To say I was jealous was an understatement, and I wanted to hiss at him for being so much more physically fit.

  I came up short as I turned to walk back down the road. Now that I knew I was part cat, hissing as a response seemed like a fairly funny statement to make, but when I’d thought it my body had wanted to respond to my thoughts. I’d almost hissed at Kev, a real animal hiss, or as much of one as I could muster in my human form.

  My lungs constricted as I fought to breathe, and for a moment the world spun, and my legs quivered. When my ears rang, I knew it was time to sit down before I fell down. At least if I passed out already sitting, I wouldn’t have far to fall.

  Plopping my butt on the ground, I put my head between my knees and waited for the ground to stop trembling, or maybe it was my body that was trembling. I couldn’t quite tell the difference.

  “Joey?”

  “Give me a minute, and I’ll be fine.”

  Kev strode away a few steps, the gravel crunching under his boots. Those couldn’t be comfortable to run in, but again he hadn’t complained once about it.

  When the rocks in my vision stopped spinning, I gave myself another minute before standing back up. Kev had been walking in a circle around me, but the moment I started to rise he was there taking my hand and helping me to stand. Confident I wasn’t about to fall over, or pass out, he let go of me.

  “We’re walking until we’re out of sight of the road, and then I’m shifting, and you’re riding the rest of the way home.”

  Weak from my near passing out experience, I clung to Kev’s arm as he led us down the gravel road, and once we couldn’t see the highway anymore, he shifted and crouched. Getting on his back wasn’t usually a problem for me, but tonight was an exception. It took a half a dozen attempts for me to get my leg over him without falling off the other side.

  What’s wrong with you? Kev asked once I was settled and holding tight to the harness.

  “I think it was a mix of running too hard and having a panic attack. I’m fine now.”

  Right.

  “Honestly, I’m fine. I’m not panicking now.”

  What were you afraid of?

  “Nothing. It’s nothing. If you don’t mind, I’m going to lay down.”

  Somewhere between where I’d gotten on him and my house I fell asleep across his back and shoulders. When he woke me, we stood beside my bedroom window. He crouched, and as I got off he shifted to help me back into my room.

  “The next time we’re together you need to tell me what happened.” His voice was a command, but it was soft and gentle as he cupped my face in one of his large hands and trailed a thumb along my cheek. “And don’t scare me like that again.”

  Closing my eyes, I leaned into his open palm before he withdrew it to lift me into his arms and settle me on the windowsill. I took a moment to listen for sound in the house as I slid through the open window. The TV was on, so Gram was still awake. Aunt Gwen may have already been in bed as she’d planned.

  Kev was still standing outside my window when I stuck my head back out.

  “I’ll meet you tomorrow. Good night, Kev. Thanks for running with me.”

  “Anytime. Like I said, don’t scare me like that again.”

  “I’ll try not to.”

  “Goodnight, Joey. Sleep tight.”

  He placed a kiss on my forehead before he shifted and ran into the trees behind the house, leaving me speechless as I closed the window and shut the curtains. My head couldn’t be happier, but my heart was scared to death. I was falling for him, my first crush, and someday he was going to leave and go back to his world. Slipping into my pajamas, I crawled into bed and began formulating a plan of how to keep him at bay. In the back of my mind, I knew it was useless.

 
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