Perfect scents, p.19
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       Perfect Scents, p.19

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 17

  Kev met us on the bench again after school, which was an unexpected surprise for me. I had expected to meet him in the woods again, not on the bench. After a sleepless night filled with terrifying dreams of sour smelling beasts of all kinds, I needed Kev’s scent to relax me. Even after I’d woken, I’d been unable to smell anything else because the memory of the sour odor was so strong. Even at school, the scent haunted me, forcing me to miss what was being taught as I tried not to puke during class. I should’ve gone home, but I wasn’t truly sick.

  “Well howdy, stranger. What’s the occasion? Going to the library again?” Chrissa asked Kev as she plopped on the metal bench beside him, but made sure to keep her distance and avoided touching him. She winked at me as I sat on Kev’s other side, a complete repeat of yesterday. He wrapped his long arm around my shoulders and gave a light squeeze before releasing me to lay the arm along the bench behind me.

  “Actually, I was going to ask Joey if she wanted to go on a date with me.” He turned his gorgeous blue eyes on me as his grin melted my insides.

  “Kev, you don’t even know what a date is,” I accused as I turned on the bench to face him. I knew I’d let my voice carry too far when two sophomore girls walking by cast glances at us like we were crazy. There was no need to worry that Kev would blow our cover. I was doing a fine enough job on my own.

  “I heard Chrissa ask you yesterday if I’d asked you on a date yet, and I had no idea what that meant, so today I went to your house and had a long talk with Gram. She explained it to me.”

  Behind Kev, Chrissa raised her eyebrows and gave me a “Did he say what I think he said” look. I was with her. He’d spent time alone with Gram and lived to tell about it. Maybe there was such a thing as miracles.

  “So what were you thinking?”

  “Would you like to go to dinner with me? Gram said there’s a restaurant in town that has good food.”

  “Are we walking there?” Raising my eyes to the clouds above, I tried to guess how long it would be until it started to rain, but I was no meteorologist. However, my nose smelled the approaching storm. We’d have to hurry or get stuck in a downpour.

  “Maybe Chrissa would be a good friend and give us a ride?” He turned and arched an eyebrow at her. “What do you think?”

  She sighed dramatically. “You’re lucky I like you two otherwise I’d let you walk. But those look like rain clouds coming, and I don’t want you two to get soaking wet before your first official date. Although it would probably be as good as a cold shower.” She winked at me again, and I avoided her gaze as heat infused my face. I needed to stop blushing at her comments. It only egged her on.

  “What’s good about a cold shower?”

  Kev really needed to learn human lingo.

  “Let Joey explain it on your date. For now, let’s get moving people. I’ve got homework to do while you two get all snuggly and have a grand ole time without me.”

  She headed toward the car, crossing through the busy parking lot without a care, flipping her blonde hair over her shoulders as she went. A Junior dropped his keys as he watched her pass by his car, and another boy let out a whistle. Kev and I quickly followed behind her.

  Halfway across the parking lot we caught up thanks to Kev’s long legs. He surprised me further when he reached between us to take my hand in his. The surprise must have been evident in my eyes because he blushed as he explained.

  “Gram said I’m supposed to hold your hand. I don’t know why, but she said it was important. Is this okay?”

  “It’s fine. Think of it as publically laying claim. You’re telling all the other boys I’m off limits.”

  “Off limits?”

  “They can’t have me because I’m yours.”

  “Then I’m holding your hand everywhere we go. I want them all to know you’re mine.”

  I sure did like the way that sounded.

  “Come on you love birds; I’ve got a date with a mug of hot chocolate and a sappy romance movie that I’m late for,” Chrissa called over her shoulder to us as we neared the car.

  “Oh, quite whining. You could always ask out that boy you like.”

  “Yeah, not likely. Get on in peeps while I play chauffer.”

  When we got to the car, I let go of Kev’s hand to go to my usual seat beside Chrissa while Kev moved to get in the back. Chrissa wasn’t having any of that.

  “What are you people doing?” She screeched at us, looking a mix of shocked and annoyed. She hit the lock button on her key fob before Kev or I could open our doors and turned to Kev with a look that said she was getting down to business. “Get your sorry tail over there and open the door for her. You want this to be a real date, well that’s what men do. They open the door for the lady.” She turned to me with a grin. “I knew you had to train dogs. I didn’t realize you had to train cats too.”

  As Kev grumbled about being compared to a dog, he walked over to my side of the car and looked to Chrissa to unlock the doors. When she did, he grabbed the handle but hesitated before pulling it open. Slowly, he took his hand away and looked down at me with the same hesitancy.

  “Do you want to sit in the back with me?”

  Before I could answer him, Chrissa quipped, “Boy learns fast. Got to give him credit for that.” Then she got in the car. It was a good thing because, though she was right, I was about to throw my backpack at her. Kev wasn’t the only one nervous about this date. My stomach had become the home for every extinct pterodactyl that ever existed.

  “I’d love to sit in the back with you.”

  Kev stepped away so he could open the back door for me, but before I could get in he planted a solid, warm kiss on my forehead. His breath tickled my ear as he whispered in a voice that had me ready to pass out there in the parking lot. “Thank you.”

  Chrissa was right. The boy was learning. I loved it.

  Instead of scooting all the way across the back seat, I stopped in the middle, that way either side Kev got in I could sit next to him. He took the hint and slid in after me, his long legs taking up more than their share of room behind the passenger’s seat. Since I was short Chrissa wouldn’t have any trouble seeing past me in her review mirror, not that she used it.

  After buckling our seatbelts, Kev weaved his fingers through mine and held my hand against his thigh. His thumb stroked the back of my hand as it became suddenly hard to breathe. Did he know what he did to me?

  “I guess I’d better go drop you two off before I hurl.”

  “Thanks for taking us.” There was no reason to comment on her ability to throw up.

  Kev rested his nose against my hair and inhaled a long, deep breath. “You smell amazing.”

  He needed to stop whispering so close to my ear. It was going to send me into cardiac arrest from my heart beating so hard against my ribs. The sound of his melodic voice, dropping in pitch so only I heard his words, was the most alluring sound I’d ever heard. I needed to record it and let it lull me to sleep at night.

  “Well, I did shower this morning.”

  “No, it’s not that. It’s your scent. It’s strong tonight, and I can’t resist smelling it.” To prove his point, he took another deep breath and held it. A shiver ran down my spine which had Kev chuckling as he tightened his hold on my hand. I wanted to punch him, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to give him a black eye on our first date.

  I understood what he meant, though. His minty scent was always floating in the air around us, but in the car, it wrapped itself around me with no escape. Unlike him, I didn’t need to get close to his skin or hair to get a potent dose of it. All I had to do was breathe to stay alive for it to filter into my nose and cause my brain to buzz.

  “You smell good too,” I whispered, turning my head to look at him, which dislodged his nose from my hair.

  “I’m jealous. You don’t even have to get close to smell my scent so strong.”

  With a teasing smile, I leaned into him and placed my nose agains
t the skin of his neck and breathed in deep. His responding shudder twisted my stomach and curled my toes. I liked being able to affect him since he was always making me blush.

  Chrissa jerked the car into the parking lot of the restaurant, ultimately ending our moment. This time, I braced myself with a hand against the driver’s seat so that the stopping wasn’t hazardous to my health.

  “You have got to work on your driving. One day you’re going to snap someone’s neck when you stop. Thanks for the lift, though. I’ll let you know if I need to go to the hospital later,” I quipped at Chrissa.

  “You know you love it. Makes you feel alive.” The smirk she flashed back had me rolling my eyes involuntarily.

  “If I wanted to feel alive I’d jump from an airplane. Whiplash makes me wish I’d die.”

  “Party pooper,” Chrissa grumbled playfully as Kev opened the door to step out. I was close behind and more than ready to have my feet on solid ground again. “Well, you two have fun. And behave.”

  Kev shut the door as she yelled to us, shaking his head as he did so. Taking my hand, he led me to the door and held it open. “You have an interesting choice in friends.”

  I waved back at Chrissa, who gave me two thumbs up through her windshield. Her tires squealed on the pavement as we stepped inside and waited at the door to be seated. The building smelled as it always did when Gram, Aunt Gwen and I came to eat, like greasy burgers, salty fries and a mix of various human smells.

  “She means well. I think she’s trying to live vicariously through us. She gets as excited as we do about what we’re doing because there’s nothing nearly as exciting happening in her life.”

  He nodded his understanding as a young woman approached to seat us at a table. She took us down a row of tables and booths, sat us at the last table next to a window, gave us our menus, and left. Only a few booths were occupied this late in the afternoon, which was probably a good thing considering who my date was.

  Kev didn’t bother to look at his menu since it didn’t have any colored pictures of the food to help him decide. I skimmed down the menu for both of us.

  “What are you in the mood for?”

  “I don’t know. I’m assuming they don’t have raw squirrel as an option.”

  I flicked my eyes up to his, staring over the menu at his mischievous smile. The reminder of him wanting to share his snack was not lost on me, nor was the image of a dead red squirrel.

  “Sorry, squirrel’s not on the menu, nor is rabbit.”

  “Too bad. What are you getting?”

  Pointing to the menu, I ran my finger across my hamburger of choice. “I’m thinking about this bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce and french fried onions on it. I’d don’t know if you’d like it, though.”

  “What do you think I’d like?”

  He stared at me, his deep blue human eyes shining in the last light of the fading sun which was disappearing behind the mountains and incoming clouds. My insides went all squishy as his gaze pulled at me. I was about to tell him to cut it out when he blinked, releasing me from the hold he’d had.

  “You’ve got to stop doing that,” I grumbled in exasperation as I eyed the menu again.

  “Why? It’s harmless, and it’s fun.” He laughed at the glare I threw him before I went back to the menu. “All right, all right. Honestly, I don’t mean to. I get to thinking about how I love spending this time with you, and that I can’t wait for us to be mates, and it just happens. It’s not intentional. I don’t even realize I’m doing it.”

  Shaking my head, I turned back to the menu to find something that Kev might like. It didn’t take me long to find a half pound burger. That was his best option.

  “Do you want all the extra stuff on your hamburger or do you want a plain burger and bun?”

  “What’s a bun?”

  “It’s like a roll. It’s cut in half, and the meat’s in the middle.”

  “That sounds good,” he replied as I sat the two menus on the edge of our table so they would be easier for the waitress to grab. “Are you angry with me for what I did?”

  “I’m not mad, Kev. It’s always a bit surprising when it happens because I’m not expecting it, and I feel like an idiot afterward. That’s all.” If I was honest with myself, the somersaulting of my stomach felt nice. It reminded me that there was at least one boy out there who could like me.

  As Kev opened his mouth to respond, our waitress, a short, heavyset woman in her early fifties, brought over two glasses of water and introduced herself as Kelly. I ordered for both of us; then, she left to take our orders to the kitchen. Feeling a little awkward after our last exchange, I opened my straw and took a long swallow of water so I could avoid Kev’s gaze.

  “You should not feel like an idiot,” Kev said quietly after I set the glass down but still wouldn’t look at him. “I know what it does to you, and I love the way you look at me, but I’ll try harder not to do it.”

  “Thanks.”

  He nodded. Then his subtle smile grew wide until his white teeth were showing in a wicked grin. “Are you ready to explain your growling yet?”

  Letting out a gusty sigh, I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. No, I was not ready, and of course, he’d remember that we still needed to talk about it, and he’d choose our date to do it. My own smile formed when I remembered I had a counter attack ready.

  “If you’re ready to talk about your dad.”

  His smile faltered momentarily, but he recovered as he placed his elbows on our small table and leaned toward me. “Fine, but you first. Then I’ll talk.”

  “Fine. Yes, I growled at Chrissa. No, I didn’t mean to. I have no idea why I did it. It just sort of happened. She was hugging you, and I obviously didn’t like it.”

  He nodded and tugged his full lower lip like he always did when he was lost in thought. As usual, watching it did crazy things to my stomach. While I waited for his response, and to take my attention from his gorgeous lips, I took another sip of the cool water. After a few minutes, his eyes focused on me again.

  “Can I tell you how the mating instinct makes me feel?”

  Not sure what this had to do with what I’d told him, I nodded slowly.

  He picked up his straw wrapper and fiddled with it as he spoke, but kept his eyes on me. “Remember I told you that males feel a mating instinct with each female and how the stronger the instinct, the better the connection between the two? Well when he decides to court a female, the male becomes very defensive and protective of her until she has decided whether to be his mate or not. He doesn’t want any other males near her, even close friends or family. I know you don’t want to be my mate yet, but I’ve got this instinct to keep other males away, like that boy at the movie theater. It’s why I growled at him yesterday. He had tried to convince you to be his mate, and I couldn’t let him near you again.”

  “So I feel what a male should feel? That’s why I growl every time Chrissa starts making a move, or my brain thinks it’s a move?”

  “Yes, that would be what a male would feel.”

  “So, I guess as a female I shouldn’t think that you’re mine?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Like out of nowhere my brain tells me that you’re mine, and I have no idea where it comes from. It’s why I panicked at the library.”

  His eyebrows drew together as his lips turned down in a frown.

  “I guess it’s not a female trait,” I mumbled and picked up my straw wrapper. I wasn’t one to mess with them once my straw was open and resting in my drink, but right then crumpling something was better than sitting doing nothing as I learned I was even weirder than I’d first thought.

  A large hand covered mine as I was trying to make the paper wrapper into the tiniest ball possible. “Joey, don’t be upset. No, it’s not what you should think, and no, it’s not normal for you to feel protective or defensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It means you’re different from most females, and that makes you special.”
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  “I don’t feel special. I feel weird.” I couldn’t tell if I was grumbling or whining. Maybe a touch of both.

  “Please don’t feel that way. You’re amazing.” He leaned over the table and as he did, his fingers rubbed over the back of my hands. “What you’re feeling, Joey, with those thoughts is what I feel and hear all the time. Every time I look at you or think of you.”

  “So this really is what males feel? I’m so weird and don’t tell me I’m special. Only weirdos feel what boys feel.”

  His light chuckle put a smile on my face, even though I fought it. The sparkle in his blue eyes made my heart happy. “I’ve never heard of a female feeling a male’s instinct before, but that’s not to say it has never happened. To be honest, I like it. At least I don’t have to suffer those thoughts alone, and now I know how you really feel about me.”

  Before I could respond and tell him that it made me want to hit him, the waitress came back with our food. I’d smelled it as she left the kitchen, but I was strange enough that I didn’t want to point it out any more than usual by announcing the food’s arrival, even if it was to Kev.

  “What if one day you don’t like that I feel that way? That I feel the way you do?” I asked after Kelly had left.

  “Never going to happen,” he replied absently as he eyed his burger. “This looks amazing.”

  Typical man. “But what if you do?”

  “Joey,” he told me sternly, looking up from his meal to stare directly into my eyes, “it won’t. Why? Because I’m never going to stop feeling this way toward you. And how could I not like that your instinct tells you I’m yours and that you get defensive toward other females when they get too close? It’s like me holding your hand. It tells other males that you’re mine. Your growling tells other females to back off, and no one argues with a growling female.”

  Put like that I guess it didn’t sound so bad. It still sounded strange, but that was probably because of my human upbringing.

  “So there’s nothing seriously wrong with me?”

  He shook his head and laughed. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. Now eat your dinner before I do.”

  To prove his point, he took a massive bite out of his gigantic burger. My puny little patty on a bun was a snack compared to his meal, so yeah, if he tried to eat it, I wasn’t going to get any. To protect my meal, I started eating. The irony of that thought was not lost on me as I groaned with satisfaction after swallowing the first bite.

  “I think I died and went to heaven. This is divine. There is no way I’m letting you touch this, so don’t even think about it.”

  Shaking his head at me, he pointed to something on his plate. “What are these?”

  “The French fries? They’re potatoes. If you don’t like them, too bad. You’re going to eat them. They’re really good with ketchup.” I grabbed the ketchup bottle, shook it and squeezed a large pile of it onto his plate. After setting the bottle back down on the table, I snagged one of his fries, dipped it, and held it out for him. “Try this.”

  Instead of taking it from me, he leaned forward and ate the fry from my hand. His lips grazed my fingers, and I nearly drop what little bit of the fry I still held. His playful eyes teased me as he chewed, and my cheeks heated.

  “That was good, different, but good,” he said and reached for the little piece still in my hand.

  “I don’t think so,” I told him and popped the remaining fry in my mouth.

  We ate quietly, both of us enjoying our meals. Kev polished off his food in record time while I ate slower, mostly to draw out our date. I wanted it to last forever. There was still so much I wanted to talk to him about, and I liked spending time with him. The problems were that the restaurant would start getting busy soon and what we needed to talk about was too private for casual conversation among the masses.

  “So now that you’re done eating, you can do the talking,” I told him as he wiped his hands on his napkin. Maybe Gram had mentioned to him the use of a napkin because he hadn’t learned it being a tiger most of his life.

  “You want me to explain why my father and I don’t get along,” Kev stated, leaning back in his seat, folding his arms across his muscular chest while I took another bite of my cheeseburger. He thought a few seconds then began his explanation.

  “I have three older brothers and an older sister. My siblings are all strong weregals. They mated young, and they agree with all that my father asks. I don’t. I question him, not his values, but why he asks me to do things, or why he believes what he does. It’s not that I’m trying to defy him or be difficult. I want to know why I’m doing what I’m doing. He’s a good, fair leader and I respect that. He knows it, but it still bothers him.”

  He took a quick drink of water and continued. “I’m also unmated. There are few unmated males in my pack, and I am the oldest. When I turned forty, Dad and I got into an argument about why I was still single. He thinks it’s a sign of weakness that I haven’t found a female. He doesn’t want any weakness in his family line. He’s a strong leader. But none of the females that I met were right. I never felt the instinct to make them my mate. A few times I considered just choosing a female, but that wouldn’t have been fair to her. There’s a female who’s been trying to convince me to ask her to be my mate for some time now, but I’m not interested. All she wants is to be mated to one of the pack leader’s sons. That would give her a chance to be the mate of a future pack leader, making her the lead female of the pack.”

  “Two questions,” I said, interrupting him when he would have continued. “First, what’s her name, and second, you’re a future pack leader?”

  His responding laugh was bitter rather than joyful. “Her name is Angie, and no, I’m not a future pack leader. As Derek’s son, I have a claim to it, but it’s up to him to choose one of us. He will never choose me, but I have the right to challenge the one he chooses if I want to. I don’t.”

  “So the problem with your dad is that you question him, and you’re unmated?” I asked, wondering to myself what the big deal was. Being raised human was a huge cultural barrier.

  “Even when I was a cub he never thought much of me. I changed earlier than my siblings had, and I thought it would help him see me as strong, but it didn’t. I was always too small. By the time I’d fully grown he’d stopped paying attention to me. That’s when I gave up.”

  “Gave up what?”

  “Trying to please him. I’m his biggest disappointment,” Kev whispered back as he stared out the window. “He and others feel that I must be weak if I can’t find a female that I have a strong mating instinct for.”

  “But that’s not true. You have me.”

  “You’re right. I do have you, and you’re special. I hope that helps him see me for who I am. Anyway, I’d heard stories growing up of your world, and I wanted so badly to see it. I learned your language, and I tried holding a human form for more than minutes at a time. Several older weregals I knew had been here, so I learned your ways from them, or tried to.

  “When father left for your world the last time, I wanted to go with him. He wouldn’t allow it. After he got back, he said I could come the next time. I’d never been so excited, and for once I felt accepted by him. But then the passage collapsed, and my hope died with it.”

  He stopped as our waitress came over to take his plate and fill our water. We declined dessert, and she left. After she was out of hearing, Kev picked up where he’d left off.

  “Dad went to the Hall to meet with the other pack leaders to come up with a plan to clear the passage. Since Leon and my dad don’t get along, you can imagine how that meeting went. It was decided that only members of the territorial pack would work on clearing it. It wasn’t a popular decision, but it was the best.

  “When the packs merged about fifteen years later, it gave us access to the collapsed tunnel. Dad knew I still wanted to come here, so he put me in charge of a group to finish clearing it. It took far longer than anyone could have believed, bu
t two years later we cleared away the last boulders. Some of the humans in our world taught us how to stabilize the passage as we cleared so that there wouldn’t be another cave-in.

  “When I told Dad that the passage was clear he created two teams to go through. There was a team to locate the families of weregals that were left behind and a team to find out how humans now felt about us. I requested to lead the second team, but he declined my request, instead making my next older brother leader. He wasn’t even going to allow me to come.”

  “So how’d you end up here?”

  “I convinced him not to send Aaron because his mate had a little one on the way. It was their second. Why send a mated male, especially one who would be a strong pack leader? It was better to send me, an unmated male who would never be a pack leader. No one would care if humans killed me, and no one would miss me if they did.”

  He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “When I explained that to him, he agreed. That was just about a year ago.”

  His sudden glowing smile surprised me as my heart cried for him. “I was on my way back when I met you. Even though he’d ordered me back after a year, I couldn’t leave you. I tried, but you were all I could think about. You were mine, and I wanted a chance after years of being alone, to convince you that you belonged with me. I didn’t realize at first that you had no idea what you were. I couldn’t leave after that, and I didn’t want to try.”

  At that moment I realized that Kev was as lonely as I was, only he was looking for someone to fill that void while I was pushing everyone away.

  “You said you led a team? Where are they?”

  “They went back already. I was to be the last on Earth to make sure that they all made it back to Fairimorr. I gave the last one through instructions to tell my father that I was looking into something and would be late.”

  I went to take a drink of water but paused with a thought halfway to my straw. “Are they going to try and set up a pack leader here like they were going to do before now that the passage is open?”

  “If my timing is right, the pack leaders should be meeting already at the Hall. I believe they were to discuss it, and I was to report on our findings here. If I don’t make it in time, one of my men will report.”

  “So you don’t know if they will choose a leader then?”

  “Not for certain, but I believe they will. Dad can hold the passage, but there will be others from the different packs who will want to come here, and there may be problems with him only allowing certain people through.”

  “Did you want to be the pack leader here?”

  The question was out of my mouth before I knew I wanted to ask it. It only made sense since I was here and not planning on moving to his world. He also seemed to like humans, so I was sure none of his pack would ever be allowed to hurt a human.

  He stared at me open-mouthed for a few seconds before recovering. “Honestly, Joey, I’ve never thought about it. If I request it, they must consider me; only I’d have to go back to request it in person, and I’d have to be there before they chose.”

  “Couldn’t you challenge whoever they choose?”

  “Yes, but I don’t like challenges. If I don’t get it, I’ll ask the new pack leader for permission to live here since my mate is here.”

  “Future mate,” I clarified.

  “To me, you will always be my mate, whether you accept that or not.”

  I was opening my mouth to respond when the hostess brought two older men to sit in the booth across from our table. All privacy was now gone.

  “Do you want to go outside for a walk?” I asked him, not ready to be done with the date yet.

  “It’s raining outside.”

  “How can you tell?” It was black as Kev’s eyes outside, and even the few street lights didn’t offer enough light to see much.

  “The men’s clothes are wet.”

  “Oh.”

  “But I believe there’s a little…what’s the word? It’s the building up the road with the roof but no walls.”

  “The gazebo?”

  “I guess that’s it. We could go there. We’d be wet when we got there, but I wouldn’t mind.”

  Yup, here we were about to get that cold shower Chrissa had mentioned. That was just lovely.

  “Well, I guess I’d better go pay the bill,” I told him, getting ready to stand.

  “I thought the male was supposed to pay?”

  “You have money?”

  He smiled wide, a triumphant grin on his face. “Gram needed some help today, so she told me she’d pay me if I did what needed to be done.”

  Either Gram was off her rocker, or she liked Kev more than she let on. Or she wanted me to be happy no matter what.

  We stood and walked to the register to pay for our meals.

 
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