Perfect scents, p.15
Perfect Scents, p.15Heather Karn
“I thought you weren’t going to be gone too long.” Aunt Gwen scolded as I trudged into the kitchen after hanging my coat up.
She and Gram were finishing up making dinner, which smelled divinely of baked chicken. My mouth watered as I lifted my nose in the air, making an approving noise. Gram stared me down intently like she was checking for a hickey or something, and went back to assembling her tossed salad. Since her back was to me, I let my eyes roll. Aunt Gwen caught me and shook her head instead of ratting me out.
“I got carried away reading, and Kev fell asleep, so he was pretty useless to make sure I got back here at a reasonable time.”
Gram stiffened at the mention of Kev’s name, but she didn’t turn to look at me. Though I felt the need to apologize, I couldn’t quite figure out what for. Well, besides lying to them. My pride kept me from saying anything as I dropped my book on the table and went to wash my hands so I could set the table and help finish dinner.
Grabbing plates from the cupboard, I turned to watch Gram dice tomatoes while holding the plates against my chest in an effort to protect my emotions. The tomatoes were taking a beating from Gram’s rigid movements. That was it. I needed to put my big girl panties on and end this standoff.
“Gram, I know we differ in opinions about weregals, and I know you worry about me. I’m not trying to cause problems, and I’m sorry that I lied. I was scared, and for the first time in my life my weird quirks made sense, like how I can smell that the chicken is about to burn.”
Aunt Gwen didn’t question me but grabbed hot pads to remove the chicken from the oven. It was slightly crispy but not burned. The heavenly aroma saturated the room as I continued apologizing to Gram, who’d moved on from the tossed salad to mashing the potatoes.
“I don’t want you to be angry with me, Gram, and I don’t know what to say to make this better. All I know is that right now I can’t take your anger along with everything else going on.”
“Joey, I don’t want to see what happened to your mother happen to you. And after all they’ve done and what I’ve told you, I don’t understand why you keep going to see him,” Gram argued, taking the mashed potatoes to the table. That was her queue for me to set the table, but I didn’t move. Somehow I had to make her understand the position I was in.
“Gram, do you know what I am?”
She sighed as she placed her hands on the chair in front of her, looking old and tired for the first time since I’d moved in with them. With her shoulders slumped she appeared older than I expected. The stress of caring for Mom, and worrying about me was taking its toll on her, though she rarely let it show. Guilt pierced my heart, but I pushed it away. She needed to understand me.
“Yes, Joey, I know. Your mama assumed you’d be just like them. Since you hadn’t turned into one yet we figured maybe she was wrong.”
“You want to know why I go see Kev, Gram? It’s because he explains things to me, like why I haven’t changed.” Both women perked up, stopping what they were doing to stare at me. “Apparently, we don’t change for the first time until puberty. I’m a bit late, but he says not to worry because it’ll happen, but I can’t help it. He told me it takes days to change the first time, and that it’s extremely painful until you complete the shift. I’m scared, and I need you guys.” I hugged the plates tighter as if they could shield me from my life’s burdens. It didn’t help.
“Oh, Joey, come here.”
Gram walked toward me with her arms outstretched. I placed the stack of plates on the counter and went to her. She held me tight, rubbing my back to calm me. It helped a little, but there was so much I couldn’t tell them that weighed on my mind. When Gram released me, Aunt Gwen took her place, and I was wrapped in another long hug.
“All right, you two, let’s finish getting the food on the table and start eating. We’ve got leftover pecan pie for dessert if you two are good.”
As we ate, Gram and Aunt Gwen peppered me with questions about Kev and weregals. Gram was still tense when I mentioned Kev by name, but I gave her credit for trying to act normal. Maybe if she met him, she’d feel better. I’d have to think on that.
I cleaned up the dinner dishes after dessert, while Gram and Aunt Gwen went to the living room to do their nightly yarn projects. It occurred to me while I was wiping down the table that I hadn’t told Kev about Angus, but then again he’d told me not to tell anyone, and Kev had dropped a rather large bomb on me. Instead of thinking about them I hopped on the couch next to Gram and delved back into my book.
When my eyes began to blur, I laid my head down on the arm of the couch to give them a momentary rest. I didn’t realize that I’d fallen asleep until a gentle hand shook me awake. The minty smell from my dream followed me until my head cleared.
“It’s time for bed, Joey,” Gram said, flicking off the floor lamp beside the couch. Lifting my groggy head, I found that Aunt Gwen was already gone, and the only light came from the kitchen.
“Goodnight, Gram.” I stood and headed to my room as Gram turned off the kitchen light and headed down the hall.
The moment I stepped out of Gram’s car Monday morning I about gagged up breakfast and had a surge of panic at the same time. Every hair on the back of my neck stood at attention as I skimmed the tree line and the student parking lot. Nothing stood out, so before Gram could get suspicious, I slammed the door, waved goodbye and jogged to the building. I’d be safe inside; I was sure of it. There was no way that Angus could get to me in a locked down building. At least Angus had introduced himself to me and wasn’t nearly as creepy as my stalker. For some reason, he didn’t give me weird vibes like the others did, but his scent still gave me goose bumps.
My panic ceased the moment my eyes found Chrissa at our lockers. She was cornered by Evan, a kid from our Math class and didn’t appear too pleased about it from her deep frown. He was intent on keeping her attention by standing in front of her and leaning on one arm against the lockers, essentially blocking her in. His tall, thin frame towered over her as he ran his free hand through his dark chocolate hair. It was shaggy and always fell where it wanted, but it fit him. He did need to pull his pants up though since they sagged on his hips, and he so didn’t have the body type to pull that look off successfully.
Chrissa’s eyes wandered to her free side and under his arm, ready to bolt for freedom in any direction. When she saw me dodging bodies through the mass of students traversing the hall, her eyes lit up as a sly smile tugged at her full lips. Evan looked like he wanted to pass out while he spoke to her as she bit her lower lip to hide her excitement, but it didn’t work. Her pearl white smile was back in a flash.
“Joey! You have got to tell me what happened this weekend,” she called, completely interrupting whatever it was Evan was saying. From the way she was already ignoring him before I showed up, I doubted she cared.
“Excuse me, Evan,” I told the boy as I finished making my way to them, “I need to get to my locker.”
He ignored me, keeping his eyes on Chrissa as he started talking again. It seemed like he was trying to ask her to the Halloween party as his date, but she was having none of it as she sent a glare up at him that would have made a weregal run for cover. Evan didn’t have time to run before she let into him.
“Hey, Joey asked you to move so she can get through. Don’t act like you didn’t hear her because I know you did. If you want to ask me out, don’t disrespect my best friend, especially in front of me. Now get out of here.”
He didn’t get a word out in argument or apology before her eyes narrowed, which sent him scuttling through the masses like a thoroughly disciplined puppy with his tail between his legs. I almost laughed at the sight of him shuffling as fast as he could but opened my locker instead. If either one of us deserved to be a weregal, it was Chrissa, not me. She had the attitude for it.
“Soooo?” Chrissa asked, drawing out the word so there could be no mistaking her unspoken meaning. “How was your weekend?”
“Gram and I got into a fight Saturday night.”
Her hands flew into the air as she let out a completely human growl.
“Oh, come on, Joey, you can’t give me that, not after the hunk of eye candy I met Friday night! If that’s all you’re going to give me I might as well get Evan back over here and accept his invite to the party, and I really don’t want to do that.”
“Somehow I don’t believe you. Nothing on earth could make you call Evan back and accept, so don’t even try to blackmail me.”
“Girl, you’re killin’ me! I need details, so I can live vicariously through you. No details and I die!”
My responding snort was unladylike, but since I wasn’t interested in any of the guys walking by, I didn’t care. They all smelled like they’d bathed in cologne to hide their dirty gym shorts smell anyway, and that wasn’t attractive whatsoever.
Closing my locker, I leaned against it and whispered so that we wouldn’t be overheard, not that anyone could hear much with how loud the hallway was. “The fight was about Kev. I told Gram about him when I asked about my dad.”
Chrissa’s mouth formed an O as she leaned toward me like we were sharing the juiciest bit of gossip in town history. We probably were. “I bet she was so not happy to hear about him. Oh, this is great. Was she fuming mad?”
“We didn’t talk for twenty-four hours. She barely even acknowledged me. We made up last night, though. She still doesn’t like the idea of Kev being around, but I think she realizes it’s a losing battle for her to try to keep us apart.”
“I’ll say,” Chrissa replied, wagging her eyebrows at me. “You two are like the perfect couple.”
“Don’t get me started on that,” I muttered, suppressing a small shiver that wanted to creep down my spine. We’d never make it to class if she saw that.
“So when are you going to introduce him to your grandma?” she asked on the way to our first class.
“Not anytime soon. Just because there’s nothing she can do to stop him from being around doesn’t mean she’ll actually be okay letting him into the house. By the way, he and I are still going to the library after school in case you were planning on coming along.”
“I was going to tell you I can’t make it tonight, but oh, honey, I may have to stop by. Either that or the fire department will. You two will have burned it to the ground, and I don’t mean by fighting.” She winked and the responding heat rose from my toes to the top of my head. Every time she mentioned him I thought about him wanting me as a mate. I should have skipped school today.
“You need to be nice,” I told her with a laugh, “or I’m never telling you another thing. I’ll even go find Evan and set you two up on a date.”
“Then I’ll go ask your boy toy on a date.”
“Ask away, but that ain’t going to happen.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because I know something you don’t, and I’m not telling.”
Her eyes widened as her mouth popped open, but whatever she was going to say was cut off by the sound of the bell and our teacher starting class. Seriously, I’d been saved by the bell. I don’t know why I’d thrown that last bit in her face, but it was going to come back to bite me. I could only hope she’d forget about it, but knowing Chrissa, that wasn’t going to happen.
During lunch, I’d planned to tell her about Angus, but Carolyn, a tall, heavy-set brunette from our math class sat with us to study. Though it may have ruined my opportunity to mention the new sour-scented man, it also protected me from having to explain why Kev wouldn’t go on a date with Chrissa.
The day passed faster than I’d thought it would, especially when my gut twisted whenever I thought of Kev, and if I closed my eyes I could still feel his warm lips against my skin, and his scent wrapped around me. That I’d been dreaming about it when Gram woke me last night to go to bed was a bit unnerving. Perhaps I was already addicted to the smell. My hands trembled at the very thought of his scent and how I wanted to smell it on him.
“So are you still coming over after school tomorrow to work on our costumes?” Chrissa asked as we followed at the back of a wave of students heading to the student parking lot. She was still planning on dressing as tigers. The fact that we knew a weregal only made the costumes that much more funny to her.
My eyes scanned the edges of the school property as I watched for Kev. On the way back to my house last night I’d told him to meet me at school, and that he needed to be a man, to which he’d changed his eyes and given them a dramatic roll. Though I’d wanted to glare at him for his sassiness, I’d nearly ended up rolling on the ground in a fit of laughter.
Now I wasn’t laughing. The situation this morning with Evan had eased my tension about the sour scent on the air, but now that I was back in the open my muscles were tightening with anticipation, and my nose was on alert. The scents that reached my nose were students, squirrels, a feral cat, and a handsome weregal who was up ahead, but impossible for me to see through the crowd. My shoulders sagged in relief at the revelation that there was no sour odor on the wind, which brought my attention back to my friend.
“Yeah, I’m still coming, though I haven’t found anything to wear yet.”
“Oh, I meant to tell you. Don’t worry about it. My mom’s got it covered. She loves to sew, so she’s making us the costumes. And before you tell me she shouldn’t or not to or whatever, she volunteered. My mom’s always looking for a new project.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. She needs you there to get your measurements and whatever else she needs. Then we’re going upstairs to my room with a crap load of junk food, and you’re telling me every itty bitty little detail of your time with cat man the last few days.” Her feet stopped as a giggle escaped her. “Speak of the devil.”
Ahead of us, sitting on a bench in front of the parking lot sat Kev, his legs crossed, arms stretched out the full length of the bench, staring down everyone who came too close. The students passing the bench gave him a wide berth like there was some invisible line they couldn’t cross.
Panic flared in my chest the moment I thought about what color his eyes were. Since there wasn’t outright mayhem, I assumed they were human, but to be sure I grabbed Chrissa’s arm and hauled her with me in the direction of the bench. If his eyes were black, we were having tiger for dinner.
Kev glanced our way as we dodged the few remaining students ahead of us. The moment his deep blue eyes met mine his cocky grin transformed into the most devastating smile I’d ever seen in my life while his scent hit me like a brick wall, taking my breath away.
Breathless, and in momentary shock, I openly stared until someone started patting my cheeks. Chuckling, Kev closed his eyes and turned away, breaking the spell he’d had on me. Darn tiger. Though his eyes hadn’t been as intense and heated as yesterday, he’d still held me in a trance. Or maybe it had been my obsession with his scent after thinking about it all day that had stopped me short.
“Dude, girl, breathe. Yeah, he’s hot and drool worthy, but you gotta let me go.”
Chrissa’s voice drew me to where she stood at my side, free arm raised so her hand could tap me. She winked as I released her, and my face flushed as the ground drew my eyes from both of them.
“You’re lucky. I was just about to start slapping you silly to get you to let go. Now come on, let’s take a seat next to this nice looking specimen.”
“Are you all right?” Kev laughed, sitting forward as I shuffled closer, still refusing to look at him as Chrissa crossed to sit on his other side.
“I’m fine. You ready to go?”
“You’re a horrible liar, Joey. You are not all right. I think you need to sit a minute.”
Reaching toward me, he twined his fingers through mine to tug me onto the bench beside
“Did you do that thing with your eyes again, or was that me freaking out?” I whispered so Chrissa wouldn’t hear, but she was too busy watching the passing students, still laughing at my reaction to Kev.
“That would have been you. Though, I have heard that I have remarkably gorgeous eyes, so maybe I should take part of the blame.”
“You’re flirting.” My voice held a warning. I’d figured after he’d seen my reaction and groveled yesterday that he’d back off a bit, not get worse.
Leaning close to my ear so that his breath caressed my skin, leaving tingles and goose bumps along my arms, he whispered words that had my stomach flipping with happiness and dread simultaneously.
“Last night I made a decision as I watched over your house. You may not be ready, and I respect that, but I’m not going to give up. Since I’m not leaving any time soon, I’m going to use every minute I’m with you trying to convince you to change your mind.” He laughed softly as his nose brushed against the outer shell of my ear. “Get used to it, Joey.”
Leaning back, he laid his arm along the bench behind me with a wink. His scent had been so potent as he’d breathed beside me, and it took every ounce of willpower for me not to crawl into his lap and place my nose against the skin of his neck and inhale like I’d never breathed air in my life. Chrissa’s panicked voice brought me out of my near scent induced frenzy before I did anything stupid.
“If I paid you, would you put your other arm around me?”
She spoke to Kev, but her eyes were on something over his shoulder. I didn’t need to look to know that Evan was making his way out of the school. He’d approached her no less than five times throughout the rest of the day and each time had asked her to go with him to the party. The last time he’d practically begged her on hands and knees.
“You won’t need to pay him. Kev, put your arm around her. Quick. And act like you want it there. Please.”
Without questioning either of us, Kev stretched his free arm around Chrissa’s shoulders and hugged both of us close to his sides. His scent overwhelmed me, and for a moment I let my guard down. Turning my head as I closed my eyes, I let it rest against his shoulder so that I could breathe in his scent without the smells of everyone passing by mixing with it. Pure mint reached my nose. Just before I moaned with pleasure I remembered where I was and snapped my eyes open.
Kev’s grip around my shoulders tightened when I would’ve pulled away. His attention was on Chrissa, but he let his fingers roam along my arm. Though I wore a long sleeved shirt, he could have been touching my skin for how warm his hand felt, or maybe it was my skin that was heating from his touch. His attention may have appeared to be on Chrissa, but to me, it was obvious that it was elsewhere.
“You mentioned plans for this weekend. What’s going on?” Kev asked Chrissa as Evan’s scent drew closer to us. I’d obviously missed the beginning of their conversation while I’d been sniffing him.
“Oh, you remember. It’s that Halloween party I told you about. The one up in the hollow by Rabbit Run Road.”
“That’s right. I forgot it was this weekend. You’re coming with Chrissa and me, aren’t you, Joey?”
He looked down at me as Evan passed by. There was a fleeting glimmer of jealousy in Evan’s eyes as he glared at Kev from under his bangs that were now falling in front of his face. The kid had no idea what he was dealing with if he wanted to open that can of worms. Chrissa may have been the girl every guy wanted, but it wouldn’t be a good idea for Evan to challenge Kev for her, even if it was a hoax that they were together. That thought riled me up enough that my voice was a bit harsher than I’d planned.
“As a third wheel? Why not.”
Kev arched a brow at me, the phrase lost on him. Reading was going to be important, but the basic knowledge of human lingo was going to have to trump that otherwise he’d be found out the moment someone said something he didn’t understand.
Chrissa’s laugh over my comment covered his confusion as she leaned forward to look at me. “Don’t worry, Joey, I think he’s man enough for both of us.”
Maybe he was man enough for her, but he was animal enough for me. Though I fought myself to keep the man at bay, I was finding it harder and harder to keep the animal from my thoughts. The night before I’d dreamed of riding on Kev’s back through the woods, and leaning against his warm, furry body to read. It had been a good dream until I’d realized I couldn’t smell him, and my mind woke me up in a panic. Now that I was close enough to smell him, my mind was put at ease.
As Chrissa spilled the details of the party and Evan’s stupidity to Kev, who was paying more attention to me than to her, another familiar scent reached my nose. Though it wasn’t as freaky as the sour smelling people, it wasn’t comforting like Kev’s scent either. At least Michael no longer smelled of burned popcorn and sweaty money. His usual scent of sweaty teenage boy and spearmint gum reached me the moment he stepped out of the building.
He’d avoided my gaze all day, and I hadn’t tried to say anything to him. If anything I’d tried to avoid any contact with him as much as he was with me too. The closer Michael got, the tighter Kev held me to his side. Now his episode of almost ripping the poor boy’s head off at the theater made sense. He’d been protecting me as a mate would, even if I didn’t know it.
Michael’s steps faltered as he reached the parking lot. From the corner of my eye I’d seen him walk up, staring at his phone, until he’d seen the three of us sitting on the bench. As he openly stared, I returned the look, and I hoped my face told him to get lost.
With the grip on my arm getting tighter, I had no doubt that Kev would draw blood this time if the boy tried to talk to me. My inner animal felt pleased by this, which threw me for a loop. I’d never been okay with violence before, and I didn’t like feeling okay with it now. Kev was rubbing off on me.
A feral growl started off as a low rumble in his chest and gained volume. The sound stopped Chrissa mid-sentence as the two men stared each other down in a highly charged testosterone battle, and neither wanted to look away first.
“Dude, you’re shaking. That can’t be a good thing.” I heard Chrissa mumble to Kev, but he made no move that he’d heard her.
My hand had gone to Kev’s thigh before I understood what I was doing, and my breath caught in my throat as the growl changed. It was still a growl, only now it held no malice, but sounded more like contentment. Kev could be content, but I couldn’t. I’d seen a flicker of recognition in Michael’s wide eyes that I didn’t like, especially when they zipped between Kev and me.
That couldn’t be good, but he was jumping off the curb into the parking lot before I could move to stop him. Not that I’d have been able to since the werecat beside me was gripping me tighter still like he knew what I’d planned.
“Let him go, Joey. He’s trouble.”
“Kev, he saw something.”
Chrissa snorted as she stood. “Or he heard something. Dude, you gotta blend. Growling is not blending.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” Kev grumbled back as he stood and pulled me to my feet. “Are all human males like this?”
“Like what? Rude, obnoxious and unable to take no for an answer? No, not all males are like that. Mostly it’s just teenagers.”
Chrissa stepped back as Kev moved forward to watch Michael get in his car. Evan was already heading toward us to leave the parking lot in his Ford Ranger, his glare toward Kev still plastered to his face. Silly boy had no idea what he was dealing with.
Keeping up her act, my new best friend threw her arms around Kev’s waist and held him tight against her while his arms went around her. Though I couldn’t see her face since she was facing Evan, I knew she was smiling from th
My own rumbled growl started building deep in my chest as natural as breathing. It didn’t stay a rumble long but grew into a deep growl that escaped my lips as they pulled back in a snarl. Kev’s head whipped around as shock stole my breath and had me choking on what remained of the warning sound.
This couldn’t be happening. I was not an animal. I was not an animal. I would not start acting like an animal. And Kev was not my mate. Sure he thought of himself as my mate, but I’d already told him I didn’t want one. Then why did some inner voice in my brain keep telling me he was my mate?
Still coughing with heat rising to my face from my embarrassment, I turned and walked a few feet away, hoping that Kev wouldn’t ask me about what I’d done in front of Chrissa and that she hadn’t noticed. That was the last thing I needed today. We really should have left to go to the library as soon as I’d met up with Kev, then none of this would have happened.
“Joey, are you all right?” Kev’s voice asked from behind me as I fought to catch my breath.
“I’m not sure,” I whispered back, knowing he’d be the only one to hear me. Then because Chrissa needed an answer since she was standing right behind him, I spoke louder. “Yeah, I’m fine. I must’ve choked on my spit or something. I’ve got some water in my backpack that should help.”
Unable to avoid turning around to face them, I dodged Kev’s hands before they could rest on my shoulders and took the few steps needed to reach my bag beside the bench. There was no way I wanted to meet Kev’s eyes. The look they had given me when I growled wasn’t any comfort. He’d been shocked, that was for sure. I didn’t need black, emotion filled eyes to tell me that much. The raised eyebrows had been enough for me to know I was, yet again, the strangest female on the planet.
Of course, the water bottle was at the very bottom of the bag, which only served to frustrate me further. I couldn’t hide behind it if I couldn’t get to it. Ready to start dumping the contents of my backpack onto the sidewalk, my roaming hand finally found it. The cool water coated my tongue and gave some relief to my irritated throat. It did nothing to cool my face though or give me the courage to face what I knew was coming.
As I took a long swallow, Chrissa knelt beside me, placing a hand on my back. “Are you upset because I was hugging him?”
The water in my throat went down the wrong pipe as I inhaled from her bluntness…and because I knew for certain that Kev had heard her. Knowing him, he’d be wearing that cocky grin of his in triumph. Or he’d have some sensual smile plastered to his face. That could almost be worse than the grin.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not that.” My voice was raspy from coughing again, and I downed more water to help stop the cough. A few long swallows drained the bottle.
“Positive. There’s nothing to worry about. But we need to get to the library before it closes and I can get home before dinner. Gram won’t be too happy with me if I miss it.”
“No, I bet she won’t.”
Chrissa’s smile was genuine, but it didn’t reach her eyes, which were still watching me expectantly. She may have guessed I was lying to her, which I was. She needed to be patient. I’d tell her everything soon. I owed her that much, and I didn’t want to upset her by growling again if she touched Kev.
The rumble of a growl started again in my throat, but I swallowed it while I stood and threw the empty water bottle back in my bag. There was a garbage can several feet away, but I didn’t want to get any closer to it. Kev’s scent blocked most of what I’d smelled on my way past earlier, but I wasn’t about to go back over. It was raunchy.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, and we can finish our plans for Saturday.”
She nodded, and this time, her smile reached her eyes. “This is going to be epic. I can’t wait.”
“Well, that makes one of us.”
“Hey, the costumes were your idea. Take credit where credit is due. Now, you two have fun, but not too much fun.” She winked and began skipping through the nearly empty lot to her car.
“You ready?” I asked Kev as I swung my bag onto my back.
“Let’s go.” He motioned for me to lead the way, so I stepped off the curb and began walking down the long driveway away from the school. Being the perfect gentleman, he walked in step next to me on the road side.
Perfect Scents by Heather Karn / Romance & Love have rating 2.4 out of 5 / Based on34 votes