Perfect scents, p.17
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       Perfect Scents, p.17

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 15

  Hugging my arms around myself, I kept pace with Kev’s long strides as we followed the sidewalk out of town.

  “Are you all right?”

  Kev’s voice pulled me from my thoughts of Milly’s scent. The memory of the smell made me cringe and never want to breathe again.

  “I wish you could smell her. She smells so…dirty. They all do. The smell has my stomach rolling every time I smell it on any of them.”

  His snicker caught me off guard. “You want me to be tortured by the scent as well? Isn’t one of us suffering from this smell enough?”

  “Well, I’d rather not suffer the torture alone, thank you very much.”

  He mimicked the crooked grin I flashed him with his own, and my heart skipped several beats when his roaming eyes dropped to my lips. My chest tightened as my gaze dropped to his own perfect lips causing small gasps to escape me. Before I could pass out from lack of oxygen, Kev cleared his throat as he continued.

  “She may not be a weregal, but she’s certainly not human, and I’d suppose that none of those other people you’ve smelled are human either. Her movements are much too quiet, and the moment we entered the building she started sniffing the air, much like our kind and other animals do.”

  “You heard her sniffing?”

  “Yes. I can’t begin to guess what she is, though.”

  A shudder ripped through my body causing Kev to cast a worried glance my way. Now that we were in the dark and out of the public sphere his eyes were now endless black.

  “What caused the shakes? Are you scared? Because you know I’ll protect you from anything. I’m sure that whatever they are, I can keep you safe from them.”

  My body shivered again at the thoughts I had. If only Kev’s words about what she could be hadn’t started my active imagination on a rollercoaster that brought up every mythical and paranormal creature I’d ever read about. Who knew anymore what really existed now that I’d met a real werecat from another world?

  “I take it since you can’t read and you didn’t grow up human that you don’t know about vampires and werewolves and other paranormal creatures.”

  “No, I’ve never heard of them. Why?”

  “They’re supposed to be evil creatures that exist in fiction, things that aren’t real, but since we exist maybe it’s possible that those creatures do too.”

  “You think it’s possible that they are one of these vampires or werewolves?”

  “Maybe. We need more information before we can decide. I’ll have to talk to Chrissa and see how good she is at sleuthing.”

  “Sleuthing?”

  “Sneaking around and gathering information.”

  “Something tells me she’s an expert.”

  I didn’t miss the sarcasm in his voice as we turned onto the now dark trail. Kev led the way since he could see in the dark. Meanwhile, I kept a hand plastered to his back so I wouldn’t end up walking into a tree. Of all nights to have the moon hidden behind thick clouds, it had to be tonight.

  “She probably is. In which case, she can be Sherlock, and I’ll be Dr. Watson, and you’ll be our getaway car. You can carry two people on you, right?”

  “As small as you are, yes, I could carry a second person. But, please explain to me what you meant? Before we do any sleuthing, I should probably know what this Sherlock and Watson and a getaway car are.”

  It took a little time to explain so that he understood the references. When I was done, I could barely see his head shake side to side and hear his low chuckle.

  “Humans never cease to amaze me with all there is to know about them. We have much simpler lives in Fairimorr, but I wouldn’t consider them boring. Humans are far from simple, though.”

  “It’s just the differences in our culture and way of life. Not every human is like this, or knows all of this.”

  Slowing to a stop, he turned and looked down at me. “I know. Doc told me how there are many countries, and each one is different. I understood what he meant as well as I could before coming to Earth, but after seeing a small area here, I can’t imagine what the rest of Earth must be like.”

  My shoulders shrugged in response to the gleam of excitement I could see in his shadowed eyes. “I can’t say what a lot of Earth is like. Most of what I know about other countries is from books and movies. I’ve never traveled out of the United States before. Actually, I’ve never been west of the Mississippi River, so that’s foreign territory too.”

  “Why haven’t you traveled?”

  “My parents weren’t big on seeing the world. We went to tourist traps close to home but never traveled more than a few states away. Plus Dad worked a lot, so he didn’t get much extra time to go adventuring.”

  “Maybe someday we could travel Earth together.”

  He didn’t wait for my response, but shifted to his tiger form and crouched for me to hop on his back. His long tail thumped against my leg as I stood staring at him. It took a moment longer than it should have for me to climb aboard, still shocked by his almost invitation to travel the world with him. Traveling the world with a weregal hadn’t been on my bucket list, but maybe it was time to add it.

  As I settled in place, he stood and began strutting down the trail as I giggled at his silliness. It still amazed me how much he looked like a tiger, only bigger and not as slender, with broader shoulders and hips and more defined muscles.

  Would you mind if I walked tonight?

  “No, that’s fine. It’ll make it easier to talk to you.”

  And I get to keep you to myself longer.

  I couldn’t be certain, but it sounded like he was smiling.

  “So, if I smell the same sour scent on Milly as I do on Tom and the other guy and woman that must mean that there are more of those creatures here. Maybe one of your people has come in contact with them before?”

  I don’t know. The meeting of the pack leaders is about to start if I haven’t misjudged time, and one of them might know the answer. If they don’t, they may assign a pack or two to find out. I can’t say for certain, though. If I went to Fairimorr, would you come with me? His voice grew hesitant in my mind as he asked. The chill air blew against my cheeks as I contemplated what to say.

  “I don’t know if Gram would be okay with that.”

  I understand, but with that man and woman following you I’m not comfortable leaving you alone in this world. I’d be more comfortable if you came with me. We wouldn’t stay. I’d report what we’ve found and bring you right back. It would only take a few days.

  “I’ll think about it.”

  The muscles along his back and sides tightened, letting me know he wasn’t happy about my decision, or lack thereof. When he spoke again, he didn’t push the subject but changed it to a new one that wasn’t quite as undesirable, though still wasn’t my favorite.

  Are you going to this party Chrissa invited me to?

  “She invited you to get Evan off her back,” I responded, still bitter about the hug, and apprehensive about my reaction to it. “But yes, I’m going. It’s a Halloween party.”

  What’s a Halloween party?

  “Halloween is a holiday. You dress up as something or someone else. Kids go trick-or-treating where they go up to people’s doors and say ‘trick or treat’ and get candy. Adults have parties where they dress up and dance and whatever else. Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday, but Chrissa wants me to go with her, and I think it’ll be fun. Did you want to go?”

  He chuckled, which was an odd sound from a tiger. No, I don’t think so.

  “Yeah, I don’t blame you one bit. I almost envy you. Chrissa’s got us dressing up as tigers.”

  Kev stopped as he began coughing up a hairball, or at least that’s what it sounded like until it dawned on me that this was his cat’s version of a belly laugh.

  “I’m glad you find it funny.” My sarcastically bland tone only encouraged him to laugh harder until he was wheezing, and his legs shook. If he collapsed to the ground fro
m this fit of laughter, I was not going to be happy with him. “Don’t make me hit you.”

  To his credit, he tried several times to pull himself together before he began walking again. The light laughter in my mind almost put a smile on my face, but I wouldn’t let him win by seeing me amused. Inside I was laughing hysterically at his reaction.

  You want to dress up like a tiger?

  “I was being sarcastic when I suggested it to Chrissa, but she took it seriously. So now I’m stuck.”

  He laughed again, this time at my expense, but not nearly as hard as before; that was until I whacked him between the ears. Then he lost it.

  “You are such a brat sometimes.”

  I can’t help it.

  “Can you run now?”

  You want me to quit laughing?

  “If you’re running, you can’t laugh at me, and if I don’t get home soon, Gram is going to come tiger hunting.”

  A low growl rose from his chest to fill the forest around us. The only warning he gave before he sprang forward was the bunching of his muscles under me. That had been all I needed to know to hold tight to the harness and clamp my legs tighter against his sides.

  The trail was no less dark than anywhere else since the thick layer of clouds still blocked the moon’s light. What lay before us was a mystery to me, and even though I’d ridden this trail numerous times, all the twists and turns took me by surprise.

  Eventually, I began to pick up signs that a turn was coming, or a rise and fall as we passed through hills. Kev’s body always gave away something, which put me at ease, and I enjoyed the ride as much as I did when I could see what was coming. This also served to remind me of how bad my sight truly was compared to his.

  Lean down. There are low branches ahead.

  I knew which ones he was talking about, and it surprised me how far we were on the trail. Another few minutes and we’d be on the main road where the trail crossed.

  Obeying his command, I leaned forward, burying my face in the ruff of his neck and breathed in his minty smell. It was as comforting and intoxicating as always. With my head buzzing like a bee, I kept my face in his fur. We’d reached the road by the time I realized Kev had slowed to a gentle jog, letting me lay my face against him without too many bumps.

  Heat flooded my face as I sat up, and Kev began sprinting once again. Now that we were on a well-traveled road, we needed to race to my house before anyone saw a giant tiger on the loose carrying a teenage girl on his back. Since everyone who lived on this road had lived here for years, I didn’t doubt they would know what Kev was the instant they saw him.

  It was all too soon when the lights from Gram’s small house came into view as Kev sprinted up the driveway. This had been our longest run yet, and the thrill of it had me smiling ear to ear. I wasn’t ready to go back to real life.

  The presence of Aunt Gwen’s truck next to Gram’s car told me it was nearing dinner time, or they’d started without me.

  Is something wrong?

  “No, not really. It’s just that Aunt Gwen beat me home. That doesn’t happen often, and Gram doesn’t like it because that means I’m out too late. But we were at the library, and she knew it so I should be okay.”

  He didn’t respond but took me right up to the door. Before he could lie down to let me off, I swung my leg over his back and hopped to the ground. Surprised, he turned his head to me and cocked an eyebrow, which was the most hysterical thing I’d seen all day.

  Why are you laughing at me?

  Dropping to my knees so that it was easier to reach him without having to bend over, I wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him goodbye. I didn’t know why I did it; it wasn’t like I was trying to give him hope that I’d be his mate. The reason I kept telling myself was that he was becoming my friend. If I kept lying to myself, maybe one day I’d believe it.

  “You made a funny face,” I whispered into his fur before releasing him.

  I’d managed to sit back on my heels before his large face came at mine. With a small gasp, I pulled back even more until I thought I might unbalance myself and fall over. A snort blew from his nose as he backed away from me.

  Joey, why do you continue to be afraid of me? Do you really think I’m going to hurt you?

  “No, and I wasn’t afraid, not really. You surprised me.”

  Well, hold still this time. You said goodbye, so now it’s my turn.

  Moving much slower this time, Kev took a step toward me, his face coming toward mine. The whiskers on his muzzle tickled my cheeks and lips as they passed over my skin, forcing a giggle out of me. His own rumbled chuckle kept me smiling as he nuzzled my face with his. The warm breath of his exhale filled my nose as he moved from one side of my face and neck to the other. It should have been awkward, but it wasn’t. Once he was done saying his own goodbye, he backed away to give me room.

  “Would you like to come in and meet my family?”

  I wasn’t sure who was more shocked by the question, him or me. Both of our eyes widened, and my pulse raced as I waited. We stared into one another’s eyes for several seconds before he made a move to answer.

  You said she had a gun and would hunt me.

  The thing that kept me from laughing at the thought of Gram hunting anything was the seriousness in his voice and the wariness in his eyes. I’d been joking about her hunting Kev, but from his statement he hadn’t caught on that it was a joke. But why would he? He’d grown up hearing stories about how humans killed his kind, our kind.

  “She won’t hurt you, Kev,” I told him, standing up so I was no longer kneeling in the dirt. With his back chest high, we could almost look eye to eye; only he was still shorter than me by a few inches. “She knows you’re important to me and that you’re teaching me. Unless she had a reason to fear for her life, I don’t think she’d ever hurt you.”

  He stared at the house behind me, still unsure. I could see the wheels spinning in his mind as he weighed his options. Go inside and risk certain death, or risk offending the female he wanted as his mate. Though those weren’t true, I read his cat expression like a book and that’s what it told me.

  “Would you feel better if I asked if they’d like to meet you? You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I don’t mean to be pushy about it.”

  I think you should ask. I don’t want to surprise them. They’ve had enough trouble with our race.

  “Okay, I’ll be right back, and I’ll let you know either way what they say.”

  He nodded, and I headed toward the house, wringing my hands as I went. This could go good or bad, and it all depended on the moods of the females I lived with.

  Gram and Aunt Gwen were in the kitchen, their voices carrying through the house as I shut the door behind me. I didn’t bother to take my coat off in case I had to say goodbye to Kev again.

  Nervous butterflies began having a party in my stomach as I shuffled toward the kitchen. If I was this nervous, Kev must have been a wreck. His hesitation made all the sense in the world.

  “Joey, is that you?” Aunt Gwen called to me as I rounded the corner to the kitchen.

  Gram was already sitting at the table ready to eat, and Aunt Gwen was grabbing me a bowl and silverware from the cupboard.

  “We weren’t sure when you’d be home,” Gram acknowledged in a tone that had me curious if she was upset I was late or only worried. When her eyes settled on my coat, they narrowed as her brows furrowed. “Are you going somewhere?”

  Aunt Gwen set the bowl and glass down before I spoke, which was a good thing because if I shocked her too much, I didn’t want to be cleaning glass shards off the floor.

  “No, I’m not. Do you guys want to meet Kev?”

  Both women gawked at me, and silence hung in the air. Neither moved as the same shock I’d given Kev settled over them.

  “He’s here?” Gram sputtered, breaking the silence.

  I nodded, to which she let out a long, loud sigh and stared at the food on the table.

  “Sure, w
hy not. At least this way I can give him a piece of my mind and tell him to watch his P’s and Q’s.”

  Mentally groaning, I turned and went to the front door. When I opened it, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Kev standing on the front mat as a man. His jacket was zipped against the biting wind that had grown continuously stronger during our ride home.

  “Ready?”

  “If I say no, do I have to come in?”

  “No. I won’t make you do this if you don’t want to.”

  He nodded and took a deep breath. “I’ve done things that have made you uncomfortable, but you trusted me. Now it’s my turn to show that I trust you. I’ll do it.”

  It wasn’t his trust in me that he needed to worry about. It was my trust in my grandmother to act civil and keep the gun in her room.

  Opening the door wider, I motioned him in and closed the door behind us. Taking his coat, I hung it beside mine in the closet, all the while hoping that the scent of mint would rub off on mine. Then I led the way to the kitchen where my relatives waited.

  Kev hesitated before following me into the room. Gram still sat at her place at the head of the table while Aunt Gwen leaned against the back of my chair. Neither smiled, but they weren’t quite glaring either.

  “Kev, this is Gram and Aunt Gwen,” I told him, motioning to them in turn. “This is Kev.”

  “Hello.” Kev gave a slight nod of his head to each woman and tried for a small smile, which could have passed for a grimace. His hands fisted at his side as the dark pools of his eyes kept a close watch for danger. There was nothing I could do to comfort him. Anything I could think of would give Gram the wrong impression.

  A sigh, which sounded more like a moan, filled the air as Gram stared down her nose at Kev, who was trying not to fidget under her scrutiny. He was doing better than I did when Gram gave me that look, which was about the time Aunt Gwen always became the referee between us. Kev would get no help from my aunt today. Her eyes were still narrowed at him.

  “Would you like to join us for dinner?” Gram asked Kev, causing each of us to widen our eyes and stare back at her in shock. Even Aunt Gwen was giving her a dumbfounded stare.

  “Umm, no, thank you. Joey thought you might like to meet me, and I wanted to meet you since she talks about you often. But I don’t want to intrude on your meal.”

  “Boy, you aren’t intruding if I invite you to sit down. Joey, set him a place, will you?”

  Gram’s firm tone was not to be argued with, so I threw Kev a shy smile and did as I was directed. Grabbing a bowl, silverware and a glass, I set them at the last empty chair available, which was where Tom had sat when he’d eaten with us…directly across the table from Gram. The aroma of beef stew wafted through the air as I moved to take my seat, my mouth watering the entire time. If tonight didn’t go well at least I would be able to enjoy a good meal; I hoped anyway.

  After Gram said grace, she instructed me to dish the stew out to each of them. I had no idea if Kev had ever eaten at a table before, let alone used bowls and silverware. What did he usually eat? He was a tiger most of the time, so did he eat his meals in that form? If so, this might be more than a bit interesting.

  After I’d served Gram and Aunt Gwen, I looked to Kev, who offered his bowl with a timid smile. “Thank you,” he told me as I handed the steaming bowl back. Then I quickly dipped my own bowl and sat down.

  “Would you like a roll?” Aunt Gwen offered Kev a basket filled with them. Instead of answering, he stared at them as his cheeks flushed.

  “What is it?”

  “It’s bread. Here, take one.” She handed him a roll, and he graciously accepted it. “If you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it.”

  “I’ll eat it,” I volunteered before thinking how that might sound to the two women.

  “Just like that popcorn?” His crooked smile had my stomach dropping to meet my toes and my pulse racing. Not a good combination at the moment.

  “You don’t know what’s good for you. There is very little in this world that is better than movie theater popcorn. You’re just too picky.”

  “Maybe I am.”

  He eyed the roll a second longer before taking a small bite, which was closer to a nibble. The three of us watched as he chewed, but his face gave nothing away.

  “Well?” Gram sounded perturbed as she waited for his verdict. She was proud of her cooking, and not knowing if Kev liked the roll was grating on her nerves.

  He raised startled eyes to the audience he’d been oblivious to. “It’s different, but it does taste better than the popcorn.”

  Leave it to Kev to answer a question, but not answer it at the same time. “Did you like it enough to eat it? Because if not you might as well give it to me.”

  As an answer, Kev stared me in the eyes and took a large bite of the roll before place the remaining piece on his napkin. Aunt Gwen chuckled at his antics.

  “At least this one has a sense of humor.”

  “And that’s what worries me,” Gram grumbled, looking Kev square in the eyes.

  His brow furrowed as he watched Gram, matching her stare with his own. He swallowed the rest of the roll in his mouth and gulped down some water before addressing Gram. The nervousness he had shown earlier was gone, and in its place was an undeviating confidence.

  “Joey told me about her parents and what happened between them and how this has affected how you feel toward my kind. I didn’t come here to find a mate. I came here to help fix the relations between our species. I didn’t expect to meet someone like Joey.”

  “Will you answer me honestly?”

  “Yes.”

  Gram’s eyes flicked to me for a moment before settling back on Kev. That look alone told me I should start preparing for indigestion because she was going to bring up a topic I wasn’t going to like. Knowing Gram, there was only one topic that would be: mating. This had been a bad idea.

  “Do you want my granddaughter as your mate?”

  “Yes, and she is aware of it.”

  Both Gram and Aunt Gwen stared at me, eyes wide with shock. Why had he added that last part? I’d guaranteed them that Kev only wanted to be friends. That had been before his “mate” talk, though. I felt the need to get out of my chair and slap him silly, but he continued talking, which kept me in my seat for the moment.

  “However, Joey has made it clear she doesn’t want me as her mate, though, I am trying to convince her to change her mind. Until then, all I want is for her to be happy and safe.”

  “I take it you’ll be staying no matter if I ask you to leave.”

  “Yes. I won’t leave her. If Joey and I had been in her parents’ place all those years ago, I would never have left her here. I would have stayed or taken her with me. I don’t know why her father left her mother here, but that’s not something I could ever do. I could never leave Joey.”

  Tenderness filled his voice causing me to pull my eyes away from the bowl of stew I’d decided was easier to look at than Gram’s stare. My eyes met his watchful gaze, and the tenderness of his voice was nothing compared to the emotion that filled his endless eyes.

  Time lost all meaning as we gazed at one another, but the moment was ruined when Gram cleared her throat, drawing us back to reality. My face heated as Kev chuckled and I stirred my stew around the bowl to keep from having to look at anyone.

  “If we’re going to go through this again, things are going to be different this time. Joey, look at me,” Gram ordered, and I met her eyes with hesitation. “I want you to be honest with both Gwen and I. Though, I’m not happy about having him around; I want you to feel like you can come to us for anything. Now, I have a question for you, and I want you to answer as honestly as he did,” she nodded in Kev’s direction while never taking her eyes from mine. “When he says you don’t want to be his mate, does this mean you never want to be his mate, or you want to be, but not yet?”

  My eyes widened at the question, and I had a hard time believing she’d asked it, especi
ally in front of Kev. With every second that I hesitated, I became more and more aware of his attention on me. Aunt Gwen was watching me too, but I wasn’t nearly as interested in her reaction as I was his.

  “Gram, I really don’t know.” I was being as honest as I could. “Can we talk about this later?” Like when he’s not here watching me? With his hearing, he’d hear every word I said later, but he wouldn’t be in the same room, and especially not at the same table.

  “We could, but I think he has a right to know.”

  “He and I have talked about it. I’m not ready, and I don’t even know if I want a mate.”

  “Why not?” Aunt Gwen’s surprised voice asked as she joined the conversation.

  “Because I’m tired of hurting. Starting a relationship will only bring more pain. I don’t want it.”

  Gram extended her hand to me and rested it on the table. Knowing she wanted me to take it, I did. “Joey, not allowing yourself to build relationships won’t stop the hurt. It will leave you empty. For all the pain and loneliness I’ve felt since your grandad died, and all I’ve felt since we lost your mom and Gerry, I wouldn’t trade all the love they brought into my life for anything. If I hadn’t let myself love Grandad, I would have missed out on more love than you believe possible. Even after your mom lost your father, she still would have chosen him and gone through that pain again.

  “Life isn’t fair, but we can’t close our hearts off from everyone because we’re afraid to be hurt. Life becomes meaningless after that. If you’re not ready to be his mate now, which I hope you aren’t, don’t give up on it and don’t give up on love.”

  Gram had never given such a long, powerful speech to me, and it took me so off guard that I didn’t realize she was done speaking until the room was quiet for several seconds. It wasn’t the length of the speech she gave that touched me, but her love that could be felt in each word she spoke.

  “So, you’re saying you want me to be Kev’s mate?”

  She shook her head. “No, Joey. I want you to be happy. If it’s with him, then so be it. I’ll deal with that. He cares for you, and I can see that you care for him even if you deny it. Is there a chance that you could eventually love him enough to become his mate?”

  For the first time since meeting Kev, I felt the wall I’d built to keep everyone out start to crumble.

  My answer to Gram was one whispered word. “Yes.” Then my brain to mouth filter broke and honest words I’d kept bottled inside spilled out as I timidly raised my eyes to Kev. “I want to love you the way you want me to, but it’ll take me time to learn to love again.”

  “I’ll wait forever for you to love me. Now that I’ve found you, it’s enough to know my mate exists.” Unshed tears shown like gleaming stars in his eyes, and his voice broke with the emotion it carried. “And if you let me, I will help you heal in any way that I can.”

  Our audience faded into the background leaving Kev and me in a world all our own. Slipping from my chair I moved around the table to Kev, who backed his own chair away from the table as he extended open arms to pull me onto his lap. He was mine, and his scent wrapped around us, consuming me.

  His lips brushed against my hair at the same time I heard a quiet sniffing. It wasn’t the sniffle of someone who was crying, but that of an animal taking a whiff of the air. My future mate was smelling me, much like how I breathed in his scent. My heart burned with joy as I buried my face in his shirt and his hands rubbed gentle circles on my back.

  When Kev’s gripped loosened around my waist, I leaned away from him, ending our quiet moment. He placed a kiss on my forehead before releasing me.

  “Our dinner is getting cold, and it would be rude not to finish it after your grandma and aunt so kindly invited me to join you.”

  Though I’d pulled away, when I turned to face him I found his face inches from mine, so close that it would be more than easy to kiss him if I wanted to. With that thought, my eyes dropped to his lips, and I wondered what it would feel like to touch my lips to his. Hands rested on my hips as Kev’s scent permeated the air, leaving me dizzy as I fought to be brave enough to touch my lips to his. His fingers twitched at my sides, sending warmth throughout my body.

  As I leaned closer to Kev, Gram cleared her throat as she had before, once again bringing me back to reality and heat to my face. Kev’s mouth twitched at the corners as he fought not to smile at my embarrassment. He lost the fight as I climbed from his lap, noticing the grin and wink he sent me.

  When I was back in my own chair, still thoroughly embarrassed by what I’d been about to do, Gram leaned on the table and looked between Kev and I. “Well, if that’s how it’s going to be, then so be it, but it will not be like last time. Boy, you’ve made your intentions clear. I don’t want any sneaking. We don’t have to broadcast this, but I’d like for you to come around so I can get to know you. It’ll give me some peace of mind.”

  “I will not sneak. I give you my word.”

  “And if you hurt my granddaughter in any way, I’ll skin your hide.”

  “I understand.”

  “Good. Now finish your supper.”

  Kev’s food held his attention until his bowl was empty. I wasn’t much better. Stew was a close second to meatloaf on my favorite foods list. Now that the awkward part of the conversation was over, it was easier to enjoy what I ate since I could concentrate on tasting it.

  “That was delicious,” Kev complimented as I cleared the dishes from the table. “I’ll eat this instead of popcorn any day.”

  “Glad you liked it. Now, I made brownies today for dessert and Gram picked up some ice cream. You ever have either one of those?” Aunt Gwen’s eyes gleamed with curiosity as she waited for me to bring the items she’d listed to the table.

  Kev shrugged his shoulders while shaking his head. “No, I don’t believe I have.”

  “Here’s the rule,” I told him with a sly smile as I waved the knife to cut the brownies in his face, “If you don’t absolutely love these, then I get your piece. Understand?”

  “Yes.”

  “Good.”

  As we ate our dessert, Gram asked Kev questions about himself, his world, and the closing of the passage between Fairimorr and Earth. Though she never smiled at him, she appeared satisfied with his answers and honesty.

  “Well, I should be going. I’ve intruded long enough into your evening. I truly appreciated the meal.”

  “I’m glad you joined us,” Gram told him as she stacked the plates we’d used for the brownies. “I was worried when Joey told us that she met you. I still am, but I feel better about you than her father.” She hesitated with a small sigh. “I’m worried about this and what will happen if anyone finds out. I need you to be extra careful that no one finds out you’re here, and I don’t mean in this house.”

  “I’ll be very careful. I don’t want to bring your family trouble. To me, Joey is family, which means you are too. I don’t hurt my family.”

  “Good. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you ever need anything, come talk to me.”

  “Wow, Mom, I’d wonder what someone put in your food if I hadn’t made it myself.” Aunt Gwen laughed, standing up from the table and pushing her chair underneath. She’d taken to Kev easily, which I hoped was a good sign. Maybe she’d side with me about him if Gram changed her mind about Kev.

  “Tell me about it,” I replied and shoved my last bite of brownie in my mouth. Kev had liked the brownies, I could tell, but he’d given me half of his. I assumed it was because he’d seen how much I loved them.

  “Well, good night, then.”

  Kev stood with a warm smile and waved to them. They returned his farewell as I followed him into the living room to walk him out.

  “Do you really need a coat? Aren’t you always warm?” I asked him as he zipped up his jacket before heading out the door. He always felt warm to me, so I assumed he never got cold, and that the coat was a front. Maybe I was wrong.

  He shook his head. “I’m warm
in my fur, but not in my skin. I’ll change when I’m hidden in the forest so no one happens to see me. I don’t want to cause your family any trouble.”

  Yup, I’d been wrong, but the jacket was fitted perfectly for his body, so I wasn’t about to complain.

  “It’s windy and cold tonight so hurry so you can change before you freeze.”

  “I will.” He hesitated with his hand on the door knob. I was a second from asking him if something was wrong when he released it to cup my face with his hands. Slowly, he leaned toward me; my pulse raced wondering if those perfect lips would kiss me. They did, but they landed on my cheek. I wasn’t about to complain. They were soft and warm and left my skin tingling.

  “So does this mean we’re dating?” When he groaned and dropped his forehead to mine, I grinned wider.

  “What’s dating?”

  “It’s where you hang out and do things together and get to know each other.”

  “I thought we were already doing that.”

  “Yes, but now it would be official.”

  “Official with who?”

  “You’re hopeless.”

  His laugh was rich and melodic, like his voice. “Then it’s a good thing I have a patient teacher who can help me learn the human ways.”

  “Good night, tiger.”

  He leaned in and pressed his lips to my cheek again. As his lips touched my skin, I longed to reach behind him and run my fingers through his long hair. They itched to feel the silkiness that teased me, but I wasn’t brave enough yet. I was still too new at this relationship thing, but I was liking it more and more.

  And now that I was honest with everyone and myself, I didn’t want to keep pushing him away. Sure I wasn’t ready for a lifetime commitment, but if he was going to be here, I wanted him here with me.

  “Good night, Joey.”

  He kissed my hands before leaving the house and jogged down the driveway. I watched him go until I couldn’t stand the biting wind anymore and closed the door.

  Gram was putting the leftover stew in a container, and Aunt Gwen was washing the dishes when I returned to the kitchen. Grabbing a drying rag, I started clearing out the clean dishes to make room for the next ones. Dinner dishes always made me miss the presence of a dishwasher.

  “Well he seems like a nice young man, for a weregal anyway,” Aunt Gwen commented as she placed a plate in the drying rack.

  “I didn’t know if you guys wanted to meet him or not, but I thought I’d give you the option.”

  “We’re both glad you did.”

  After putting the pot away that I’d dried, I turned to Gram, who was now washing the table. “Gram, be honest. Are you mad at me?”

  “For choosing him and being with a weregal? No. Like I said, I don’t like it, but I’m not mad at you. He’s kind, and from what I can see already, nothing like your father. If he’s what you want, then I’m happy for you.”

  “Gram, no human is ever going to want me.” I’d realized that fact shortly after I’d accepted my weregal heritage. It hadn’t been a happy thought, but I’d known it was true.

  “I know, Joey, and it’s their loss. Just make sure to bring him around. Like I told him, I want to get to know him and none of this sneaking around like your ma did.”

  “I won’t. I want you to know him, and I think now that he’s met you he wants to get to know you too. He’s sweet, Gram.” I couldn’t stop my blush. I’d never talked about boys with these two women, and it felt weird, so I readily changed the subject. “Oh, do you remember I’m going to Chrissa’s tomorrow night to hang out?”

  “That’s fine. When will you be home?”

  “I have no idea. I’ll call this time if I’ll be too late.”

  “Just remember it’s a school night.”

  “I know. Thanks, Gram.”

 
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