Perfect scents, p.20
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       Perfect Scents, p.20

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 18

  We weren’t as soaked as I thought we’d be by the time we reached the gazebo a block and a half from the restaurant. The rain had let up for a few minutes as we’d stepped outside and it started to pour again mere seconds before we found cover under the wooden structure. The rain was falling straight down in heavy droves, leaving the benches inside the gazebo dry for us to sit and watch the storm.

  Kev sat on the bench, extending his hand to me. As I took it, he pulled me down beside him and wrapped his arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer. I didn’t fight it. I was too content and giddy as his scent washed over us, still potent in the humidity that filled the air. When he kissed my damp hair, I turned my head, so my nose was closer to his skin.

  “So what would you like to know now?” Kev asked as he looked toward the road to watch a few cars drive past us.

  “You still haven’t explained to me why we don’t purr even though we’re part cat.”

  He chuckled, and the sound mixing with that of the rain had my insides tingling. “From what Doc has told me, Earth’s tigers can’t purr, however, weregals aren’t true tigers after all. For us only the males purr. Females don’t.”

  “So you purr?”

  “Let me correct that statement. Only mated males purr.”

  “Why?”

  “Humans who have heard a male’s purring say it’s beautiful, but only his female is affected by it. It’s used to comfort her when she’s upset, show’s his happiness to be with her, and what’s the human phrase…it turns her on.”

  “What?” I croaked, trying to pull away from him in shock, but unable to since his grip was like iron around my shoulders. The silly cat did that on purpose, and his twinkling eyes and sly smile confirmed it. It also gave me an idea of where his mind was drifting as his eyes fell to my lips.

  “Did I get the phrase wrong?”

  “No, I’m pretty sure you got it right.”

  “Good.”

  “So are you going to start spontaneously purring?” I asked sarcastically to get his mind out of the kitty litter box.

  “No, a male will only start purring when his female has chosen him and wants to be his mate. You don’t want me yet. I won’t start purring until you do.”

  “What happens if the female dies?”

  His smile fell as he turned his focus to the wood floor boards and rubbed his hand up and down my arm. “You want to know about your mom.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Well, the truth is that when the female dies before the male, he stops purring. His heart just isn’t in it anymore. She was the reason it all began, and it was for her that he purred. Without her, there is no reason.”

  The way Kev spoke, soft and sad, as he placed his free hand over my chilly ones and tenderly ran his thumb over them made me wonder if he was imagining how he’d feel if anything happened to me. His far off, forlorn expression said the rest. Or maybe he was thinking of how my father would feel once he learned of my mother’s death. For once a sadness for my real father found a place in my heart. If he’d loved her as much as she’d loved him, then the news would be devastating.

  “So that means that my dad has stopped purring. He’ll know my mom is dead.”

  “Because he’s in Fairimorr and she was here I doubt he’s purred since he left. While they can be separated, they need to be in the same world to purr. Your dad hasn’t purred since he left Earth.”

  “And he never will again. That’s sad actually.”

  “Yes, it is. I do feel sorry for him, but he made his choice. He left her here.”

  Like he’d said, he felt sorry for him, but I had a feeling that if we ever met my dad, Kev would not have warm fuzzy feelings toward him.

  “So mated males are constantly purring then?”

  “No, not all of them anyway. Newly mated males will because they haven’t learned to control it yet, but if a male is too upset, he can’t purr.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “If he’s worried, angry, sad, or distressed, especially if it involves his mate, then he won’t be able to purr. Only she can calm him with her scent and touch so that he can purr again. Like I said, after their female dies her male will never purr. He’s too heartbroken to find joy in it, and it was a sound only for her. Joey, if anything ever happened to you, I don’t know if I could live without you. That’s why I would do anything, and give up everything, to protect you.”

  No words could describe the emotions that were racing through me at his comment. There were utter joy and happiness, but in the pit of my stomach doubt and fear grew like a pool of lead. I still didn’t know what it was that he saw in me, especially physically. Was a mating instinct enough to keep him wanting me for hundreds of years?

  “So if I never choose to be your mate, you’ll never purr?”

  His body stiffened beside me before he answered. When he did, his voice wavered and was barely audible to me. “If you never choose me, then I really am as pathetic as my father thinks I am.”

  My stomach knotted at his words and guilt filled my heart. My statement effectively ended our date as Kev stood and offered his hand to me, helping me stand beside him.

  “I should be getting you home. Gram will start to worry about you.”

  “It’s still raining. How are we getting home?”

  The grin he flashed sent my stomach to my toes, and not in a good way. There was wickedness in his eyes. This fur ball had a plan, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. “You haven’t seen me run full speed yet. I want to show you.”

  “All I have is this jacket. I’ll freeze to death.”

  “And that’s why I’m giving you mine.”

  As he spoke, Kev unzipped his fleece lined, waterproof coat and slid it off. Under it he wore a black shirt that I was certain was the same as the day we’d met. With his coat off, he helped me into it, and zipped me inside, flipping the hood over my head.

  “Well?” I asked him, spreading my arms out for him to inspect.

  “It’s a bit big, but it’ll do.”

  Though he laughed and played with me, I knew I’d hurt him with my question. It wasn’t like I was never going to accept him as my mate. I’d only been curious. It had come out wrong, though.

  He turned from me to the gazebo entrance, ready to shift. I needed to clear the air between us before he did. “Kev, wait.”

  “What is it, Joey?”

  “Kev, I’m sorry for what I said. I didn’t mean it like that.”

  He smiled down at me as he pushed the coat’s hood back and laid a soft kiss against my hair. When I felt his chest expand, and he didn’t back away, I knew he was breathing in my scent. As he spoke next, his lips brushed my hair, muffling his words.

  “I know you didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but my heart aches like it’s being torn to pieces knowing that I want you as my mate so badly, but you don’t want me nearly that much. You growl, but that’s instinct more than you. I know one day you will see me as your mate. I’m having a hard time waiting that long.” His body trembled as he laughed softly. “I keep forgetting that you’re only seventeen, and to you, I’m an old man.”

  “I don’t see you as an old man.” I sighed as I wrapped my arms around him and held him in a tight hug. “Give me time and I promise I will do my best not to make hurtful comments like that.”

  “I’ll give you all the time you need. I just may not be the most patient person while I wait.”

  I loved how he could make me laugh, even when I was sad or mentally kicking myself. “Well, you did pretty well tonight.”

  “Liar. You had to scold me.”

  “But you were good after that.”

  “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you’re so cute, and always beautiful. I can’t help but want to pull you to me, and help you see that I’m your mate. The only problem is you know it, and you fight it.”

  “I’m a horrible perso
n, aren’t I?”

  He looked down at me, his expression stern. I had to remind myself not to wipe my fingers over his eyebrows to ease the frown there. I still wasn’t a fan of his frowns. I liked his smiles a million times better.

  “You are a wonderful person, and that’s why I care for you. You’re so smart, and I want to learn from you. But first, I need to be patient. Now are you ready to go?”

  The sly grin was back and my stomach knotted in anticipation of this new experience. He may have been old in human years, but he was still a kid at heart, and he wanted to play.

  He didn’t wait for my acknowledgment but shifted. Where a tall, gorgeous man had been standing now stood a mammoth tiger, watching me with evil gleaming eyes. Maybe it would’ve been safer to call Gram for a ride, but after hurting Kev’s feelings I couldn’t back out of this. Who knew? Maybe I’d enjoy myself.

  With Kev crouched on the wooden planks, tail skimming across the damp boards as he waited for me to climb aboard, I pulled the coat’s hood back over my head and drew the drawstrings tight and tied them to keep the hood on. If we were going to be flying through the woods, having a hood on the coat wouldn’t do squat if it flew back and exposed my head.

  Hold tight, he told me as I climbed aboard and wrapped my hands in the harness loops and squeezed me legs against his sides.

  The boards under our combined weight creaked as his muscles tensed, giving me a moment’s notice before we sprang from under the gazebo into the rainy, dark night. Kev bolted behind the row of buildings lining the main street, running at his top speed.

  Okay, forget running. We were flying. I’d never moved so fast in my life, except in a car. This was more like riding a motorcycle that had a mind of its own and couldn’t be controlled. I had to remind myself to breathe as we sprinted behind the restaurant where we’d eaten.

  As the silly cat wove through the junk behind the strip of buildings, he shifted his course to launch us over the restaurant’s dumpster. If I hadn’t been gagging on the smells coming from within, I might have screeched. Instead, I cringed when I thought of what could have been if he’d tripped or I’d let go and fallen in. That would have literally stunk.

  We were beyond the city limits before I believed it was possible. As the streetlights faded behind us, a smile tugged at my lips. This was more than enjoyable. It was fantastic.

  The trees and branches that we rushed passed were blurry silhouettes in my vision. The cool wind whipping against my face left my cheeks and nose tingling, and the raindrops that fell from above stung as they hit my exposed skin. I let out a giggle as I clung tighter to Kev’s harness and lifted my nose in the breeze we made. The aroma of the rain lingered over everything, but the scents of worms and moss mixed with it to create a symphony of moist smells that left me longing for more nature scents.

  Did I scare you when I jumped in town?

  Kev’s voice dragged me back to reality. The ups and downs of his stride were smooth, making it easier to bend closer to his ear so I wouldn’t have to yell for him to hear me over the wind.

  “You surprised me. I think I caught air back there.”

  Hang on.

  He gave the order right before jumping over the trunks of two trees that lay side by side on the forest floor. They weren’t small trees either, or I wouldn’t have been able to see them. Though my vision was adjusting to the lesser light available, I still couldn’t see much around us, but I could tell we weren’t on the trail.

  “I hope you know where you’re going.”

  Just hold on, my love. It’s going to get better.

  My love? Before I could dissect the meaning of the new pet name, Kev swerved to the right and forced my concentration back to the moment. It was either that or fly off a high-speed weregal, and more than likely hit a tree. Concentrating was safer, so I tightened my knees against his sides and let out a holler as his powerful legs sent us airborne over a large creek.

  We climbed boulders, ran down steep inclines and leaped high over logs. Kev avoided hitting any trees or large rocks, but he had to warn me to duck several times so my head wouldn’t collide with low hanging branches. The last time he warned me I figured he wanted me to lay close to him since there hadn’t been any branches after all, so I stayed draped across his shoulders as he slowed to march up another steep incline.

  Did you have fun?

  We were nearly to the top of the hill when I saw a familiar mailbox standing next to the potholed road. We were already home. I wanted to groan and whine and tell him to keep going, but I was soaked enough for Gram to give us both a scolding. Though the coat had kept me warm and my upper half dry, my pants were wet from the rain and mud.

  “That was amazing, Kev. We have got to do that again.” I sat up and watched the house draw closer with each step he took.

  I was hoping you’d say that. You make the funniest noises as I run. I want to hear them again. But for now, you’d better go inside. I will see you tomorrow, Joey.

  As I dismounted from his back, the house door swung open, revealing Gram dressed in her housecoat. With narrowed eyes, she took in our wet and muddy appearances and shook her head.

  “I was wondering how you were going to bring her home in the rain without her getting wet. I see that wasn’t a concern for either of you. Come inside, Joey, before you catch cold.”

  Giving Kev a quick kiss on the top of his head, I ran my hands along his soft, fuzzy ears. They were damp, just like every other part of him. When I stepped back, he nuzzled his head against my abdomen in his own goodbye.

  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

  Have a wonderful night, my love.

  Gram’s voice cut us off before we could move a step.

  “Kev, do you have somewhere warm and dry to stay tonight?”

  He shook his head at her. It was almost laughable to watch an animal do that. When I arched an eyebrow at him, he snickered in my head.

  I haven’t spoken in her mind yet, and I don’t want to scare her.

  Well, that needed to be handled as soon as possible.

  Gram was unaware of our private conversation, so she continued with a loud sigh.

  “Against my better judgment I’m letting you stay here tonight, but you get the couch and no funny business.”

  We stood frozen to the ground, too shocked by Gram’s invitation to do anything but stare at her with dumbfounded expressions. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kev’s mouth hanging open. He turned his head toward me as I turned to meet his gaze.

  What do you think? Would that make you uncomfortable?

  If Gram was inviting him in, that meant she was okay with it, and that she trusted him to behave. It was supposed to rain all night, and the thought of lying in my warm, soft bed knowing he’d be out in the cold rain and wind didn’t set well with me. If he was going to be watching over me, he might as well do it from inside a warm house.

  “It’s okay if you want to, but don’t sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night and eat all my brownies,” I warned him with a wink.

  He chuckled, but while I heard it in my mind, all Gram heard was a tiger making weird grunting sounds. When he pulled it together, he again looked between Gram and me with hesitation.

  How does she want me? Am I supposed to be a human or a tiger? I don’t want to offend her.

  “Gram, do you want the man or the cat?”

  “Either one. Hurry up and get in here before you get any wetter, and you’ll need to dry off before you get water and mud all over the house.”

  Standing back, she held the door open so Kev in his giant tiger form could fit through the doorway. His broad shoulders almost didn’t clear the door frame.

  I let him go first to be sure he fit, and as I moved to follow, a slight breeze kicked up the smells around the house, freezing me in place. Dragging in a long, shaky breath, I analyzed what I smelled. Less than a quarter mile away and moving closer was my stalker. He wasn’t alone either. The female was with him. Their movem
ents were slow, but their direction was clear. They were coming here.

  Ice filled my veins as I fought to breathe past my panic. I couldn’t let Gram see, or I’d have to explain that yes, indeed, I did have a stalker.

  Kev’s searching eyes met mine from inside the house, dampening my fearful paralysis. He was staying in the house tonight. I’d be fine. His minty scent would calm me.

  What’s wrong?

  Without answering, I hustled past Gram, ready to slam the door shut and lock it. However, I stayed in control and let Gram close it herself.

  As she closed the door, I got my first real look at the two of us. We were a mess. Kev’s legs and belly were brown with mud, and my jeans from the knees down were soaked and brown. Even my shoes had a layer of mud on them. They’d need to be washed before I could wear them again. Maybe I was better off pitching them instead.

  “Gwen, we’re going to need a towel in here. And, young lady, take those shoes off and leave them by the door. You don’t need to be tracking any more mud into the house than we’re already going to have. It’s a good thing we need to clean the carpet anyway, or you’d both be sleeping in the garage tonight.”

  As I took off my sneakers and laid them on the mat by the door, Aunt Gwen came in carrying a large blue bath towel. It needed to be huge for the task it was about to perform. How much water could the hair of a giant tiger soak up? We were about to find out.

  “Well, who gets to dry the giant cat off? Hmm?” she looked at me with teasing eyes as she handed the towel over and inspected us from head to toe. “Yeah, you two are quite the sight.”

  Taking the bath towel from her, I unfolded it to dry the wet fur on Kev’s front legs and paws. The towel didn’t stand a chance against him. Half of it was soaked by the time I’d finished with both of his massive paws, and since this was the first time I’d examined them I took my time cleaning the dirt from his fur.

  “You have big feet, mister. And I think I see a bath in your future.”

  The damp white fur on his chest was still tinged brown when I pulled the towel back, having scrubbed it against Kev to soak up as much water as was possible. The towel was nearly saturated, and I still had over half a cat left to dry.

  I was about to move so I could dry his belly when he leaned his nose into my face. His breath against my skin tickled, as did the whiskers that stuck out from his cheeks. They made me giggle until Kev’s long, sandpaper tongue jutted out from his mouth and left a wet trail on my skin from my jaw all the way up my cheek.

  “Yuck,” I squawked as I slapped his side. There wasn’t any force behind it since I didn’t want to hurt him. “Cut that out you overgrown furball.”

  I thought you liked when I kissed you. He turned away from me in mock devastation, but his mouth curved up at the corners in a feline smile. The honey that laced his voice didn’t make him sound repentant in the least.

  “Yeah, in human form, not as a cat. That’s gross.”

  When he turned back to me, his eyes smiled with hope.

  Will you let me kiss you like that after you change?

  I thought about it as I continued to dry his belly and back leg closest to me. “After I change I suppose I’ll let you. Until then, keep that tongue away from my face. I’m wet enough without you adding your saliva to the mess.”

  I make no promises.

  “Is that right? Why’s that?”

  Because you taste delicious.

  The only response that statement deserved was the snort I gave it.

  With him dried off the best I could manage, I shuffled back to examine my work. He was still dirty and damp, but as he dried, more of the dirt would pull loose from the fur. If I put a sheet over the couch, it would protect it. As for me, I needed to change my pants before I got mud anywhere else in the house. If Kev hadn’t been standing in my living room, I’d have stripped out of my jeans the moment I got inside. As it was, I was not going to let him see me in my skivvies.

  Standing, I turned to find Gram and Aunt Gwen openly staring at us.

  “You were talking to him as if you were having a conversation.” Aunt Gwen’s eyes jumped between the two of us. “How’s that possible?”

  I turned to Kev with a crooked grin. Paybacks were a killer. Maybe he wouldn’t lick my face again after this. “I’m leaving this one for you to explain, fuzz bucket. I’m going to change out of my wet clothes. Good luck.”

  I bolted out of the room before Kev or either woman could stop me. They didn’t even try. Their attention was on Kev.

  His voice in my head as I closed the bedroom door surprised me enough that I jumped at the sound of it, but his gentle scolding gave me a good chuckle.

  That wasn’t very nice. You had to leave me with them, didn’t you? If you hear screaming, know that I’m running because Gram’s getting the gun.

  “You’ll be fine,” I replied, knowing he’d hear me even though a door separated us.

  Just hurry.

  Laughing, I took off the layers I wore, the first two being his coat and my jacket. Then I stripped out of my wet jeans and threw on some sweat pants and a short sleeved shirt. It was warm in the house after being outside in the cold, and if I were lucky, maybe I’d be able to cuddle with Kev for a few minutes before I went to bed. He was always warm, even when his fur was waterlogged.

  Since I hadn’t heard any yelling or screaming, I was confident that Kev was still alive. However, when I left my room and heard Aunt Gwen laughing, I was a little taken aback. That wasn’t the reaction that I’d been expecting from either of them, so I hurried to the living room to find out what was happening. Aunt Gwen was wiping tears from her cheeks when I walked in to find Gram scolding Kev.

  “What happened?”

  “Gram’s upset because you didn’t tell us he could talk like that. Seems he showed up this morning as a tiger and wouldn’t talk to her like that, so she had to ask a lot of yes and no questions before he finally turned into a man.”

  Kev was staring at me with a helpless expression when I turned back to the free entertainment Aunt Gwen was enjoying. Heck, I was enjoying it a bit myself seeing a cat of his size being put in his place by a little old human who could stare him in the eyes as he sat on his haunches.

  Help me. He pleaded inside my head where no one else could hear him. I wasn’t going to let him off that easy.

  “Well?” I asked him, interrupting Gram. “What’s the story?”

  Gram quieted for him to answer. Kev let out a sound between a sigh and a grunt as he laid down on the carpet, taking up more than his share of the room with his large body.

  You are cruel, woman.

  I tapped my foot in a show of impatience, but my grin was playful.

  I didn’t want to scare Gram like I did you when I first spoke to you like this. I should have had you explain it before today, but I didn’t think of it.

  “And why didn’t you come as a man when you talked to Gram?”

  I’d spent hours in my human form. My body was tired, and I needed to rest to be a man tonight. I’m sorry, Gram.

  He looked straight at her as he spoke. She sighed softly and patted his head. My jaw hit the floor at the same time as my aunt’s did. I’d never expected that. Was this really the same Gram that had told me how bad weregals were a few weeks ago?

  “You’re not all bad, kid. A little rough around the edges, but we’re fixing that. Now, it’s my bed time. You two got back late. Don’t stay up too long, Joey. It’s a school night.”

  She finished telling us good night then disappeared down the hall to her room. I glanced at Aunt Gwen who was still amused by what had gone down. When she caught me staring, she winked.

  “Do you kids mind if I crochet for a bit longer? I’m not quite ready to go to bed yet.”

  If she knew that Kev was as much a kid as she was, and that he was indeed older than she was, she’d flip.

  I looked to Kev. “I don’t mind if you don’t.”

  It’s not my house.

 
“Good. Then you two do whatever and I’ll be in my chair.” With that, she sat down and pulled out her most recent project and began working.

  “I’ll be right back,” I told Kev and headed for the linen closet for a sheet to cover the couch. It was pale pink, but it was the first one I saw, and it was clean. His ego could handle the color if weregal males even had hang-ups over colors like some human men.

  After throwing the sheet over the entire couch, I neatly tucked it in where I could to hold it in place. Once Kev set his large body on it, I doubted it would stay where it was, but at least I could tell Gram we tried. Kev helped move the sheet around with his paws and teeth as much as he could without putting unnecessary holes in it.

  With the couch safe from any leftover dirt that clung to Kev’s fur, I sat down on one end and waited for him to join me. Confident I was settled, he bounced onto the couch with as much gentleness as a cat his size could muster. It took him a minute to arrange his large body in the small space provided, but once he was comfortable, he laid his massive head in my lap and closed his eyes. I’d been right. He was warm, and I was comfortable.

  Closing my eyes, I leaned back against the couch as my hands ran through his coarse hair and rubbed behind his fuzzy ears. It was odd not to hear him purr, and something deep inside me longed to hear the sound.

  “Kev, what happens when I decide I want you as my mate?”

  He shifted under my hands, moving his head closer to my stomach and gently nudged me.

  Once you decide you want me as your mate and no one else, I’ll begin to purr. It’s really that simple.

  “Yeah, but then what?”

  The weight of his head on me disappeared as he lifted it. When I opened my eyes, I had to stifle a squeak. His nose was inches from mine with his narrowed eyes boring into mine. The way he stared at me had my stomach rolling in a not so pleasant way.

  What do you mean?

  “Well…what about, you know?” Did I have to say it aloud? He was a guy, wasn’t he supposed to read instinctively into that?

  You mean mating?

  I nodded, unable to form any words about the subject. It occurred to me then that we weren’t alone. Heat flushed my cheeks as I glanced over at Aunt Gwen, who was still busy crocheting. She didn’t look up, but I knew she wasn’t oblivious to what I’d asked. Kev settled his head back in my lap and let out a loud, contented moan as I resumed petting him.

  You choosing me as a mate and mating are separate things. Choosing a mate ends the mating instinct that other males have on you, and allows you to build a relationship with the male you have chosen. Mating will come when you are ready. Doc explained the difference to me like this: when the female chooses her male it’s like a human engagement and when they mate it’s their wedding. I don’t completely understand what a wedding is so I’m not sure how accurate a comparison that is.

  “It makes sense. But you’ll start to purr when I choose you?”

  Yes. It’s how a male knows he’s been chosen. He can be anywhere when she chooses. As long as he still wants her, he will purr.

  “What if he doesn’t want her anymore?”

  Then she cannot choose him to be her mate. It happens sometimes if the female is considering multiple males and one doesn’t think he has a strong chance. He’ll move on and find a new female.

  My hands stilled in the fur of his neck as a thought sickened my stomach. “Will you give up on me if I take too long?”

  He nuzzled his head against my abdomen again, which I assumed was to comfort me.

  Never. What I’m telling you is for other weregals. Remember, I told you that we are different. You are special and the only one for me. I feel no attraction for any other female, weregal or human. Others feel the mating instinct at varying levels for every female, at least until the female chooses a male. I don’t feel that anymore. I will never give up on you, even if it takes you a hundred years to choose me.

  He paused. Please don’t take that long. I can wait that long for you, but I may die of anxiety and stress before then.

  I laughed at his playful words as I played with one of his soft ears. “I won’t take that long. I just need time to learn to love again.”

  Can I ask you something?

  “Sure.”

  Do I embarrass you? I’m not like the males of your world.

  As he asked, he laid his ears back against his head in self-depreciation. My heart sunk from the worry and sorrow I heard in his voice. He would wait forever for me to choose him, but would he be the same person by the time I did?

  “No, you’re not like human males, but you want me as your mate. None of them have ever shown me any attention. And no, you don’t embarrass me. In fact, it’s nice to have you around and show you off to the boys at school.”

  I held back a laugh remembering Evan’s face when Kev had stared him down the day he’d kept bothering Chrissa. Then there was Michael, who Kev had put in his place when he’d tried to make a move on me that I was sure had nothing to do with attraction. He probably wanted to hook up with how determined he’d been at the theater. He’d looked ready to wet himself on the spot when Kev saved me from him, and for that, I’d be forever thankful.

  Kev let out a long, tired sigh. Living in your world and blending in is proving to be more difficult than I thought it would be, though I do like it here. And if that wasn’t enough, I met you. You’re different from our kind. What I’ve grown up knowing about convincing a female to accept a male doesn’t work for you. You hate when I pull you in with my eyes or when I bring you snacks.

  “So the rabbit and squirrel were you sharing your snacks like a male would to a mate?”

  Yes, it’s what a male does for his female. It shows his interest and that he cares for her. I never wanted to move from where I laid watching while you buried the rabbit, but I reminded myself you were raised human so you may not know. It was after that when I found out you didn’t know what you were. But as I was saying, I need to court you your way. You may not be human, but you expect things to be done in a human way. I’m trying to learn what that means and what I have to do.

  “Well, you did good tonight. I had a lot of fun. You want the truth, Kev? Tonight was my first date. Ever.”

  Kev lifted his head to look at me, and from the corner of my eye, I caught Aunt Gwen turn her head in my direction. Since I had both of their attention, I decided to spill my pathetic life story.

  “Boys have never been interested in me. Maybe it’s that weregal thing we have going on where I’m meant only for you. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s because I have this weird quirk where I’m able to smell everything. Maybe they didn’t like that I read a lot, or I don’t party, or maybe I’m just not attractive.”

  It wasn’t the first time I’d considered that to be my problem. There had been many nights throughout my short life where I’d worried all night without getting any sleep because I was scared that I wasn’t pretty enough, or that my personality was boring. Michael had all but verified that fact for me when he’d interrupted my lunch a few weeks ago. It had been humiliating.

  My eyes stung, so I closed them. Though I knew no tears would fall, I wasn’t brave enough to look at Kev and see my worst fears in his eyes. Beyond the mate instinct that he had for me, was he physically attracted to me?

  Kev’s weight shifted from the couch until I knew I sat alone. He’d left. That was answer enough for me, and my heart began ripping itself to pieces, along with every other part of my body that could hurt. Now I knew I’d been falling harder for Kev than I thought I had been. No matter how hard I’d tried to avoid it, it had happened, and I could only blame me for setting myself up to be hurt. Gram had been wrong. Loving someone wasn’t worth the pain in the end. Nothing was.

  The couch dipped beside me as long, gentle arms wrapped around me, lifting me into his lap and pulling me into a strong body in a tender embrace. Kev’s minty scent clung to him, and it calmed my aching heart as I laid my head against his wide chest, the rest
of my body shaking. His words rumbled in my ears, thick with emotion that I couldn’t describe.

  “Joey, you are more beautiful than any female I’ve ever met in my whole life. I’m old, so I’ve met plenty of females. None compare to you. If a human man doesn’t find you attractive then so be it. I would call him an idiot, except if he thought you were beautiful, I would have to fight him for your attention. It may upset you that human men don’t find you attractive, but I’m happy for it. It means that I have the most gorgeous woman all to myself, and I don’t have to share her attention or affection with anyone.”

  How was it possible that the man who’d moments ago unknowingly tore my heart to shreds could in the next breath put it back together like it had never shattered? In my life, I’d never been spoken to like that, with love and tenderness that I didn’t know was possible for someone to feel. Dad had loved Mom, but I’d never heard him speak to her with the tone that Kev spoke to me. It had me wrapping my arms tight around him and clinging tighter, hoping I’d never have to let go.

  “Joey, now that I’m human, may I kiss you?”

  “Why are you asking?”

  “Because I thought it would be polite, and I wasn’t sure if you were ready. I didn’t want you to be angry with me for presuming it would be okay.”

  The meaning behind his intention had my eyes popping open as my heart skipped several beats. He meant on the lips. Stupid me. His emotions and scent had slowed my thought process or something. My palms were sweating, and my heart raced as our eyes met. There was hesitancy in his, but with the way his own heartbeat had sped up he was full of anticipation.

  “Joey, may I kiss you?”

  “Yes,” I squeaked as my eyes dropped to his lips. They were perfect, and even more so when he smiled, and he was smiling the sexiest smile known to human or weregal.

  Every nerve ending in my body went on high alert as he moved his hands, sliding one up my arm and shoulder, moving ever so slow and tender, to cradle my face. His fingers wove themselves into my hair like they belonged there. My brain went on sensory overload as Kev’s other hand slid down to my waist, and then around to the small of my back, supporting me against him. It was a good thing because every muscle in my body had grown weak and useless at his touch.

  Kev leaned forward, resting his forehead against mine as his scent assaulted my already hyperventilating senses. Tilting his head, he let his lips brush over mine in a fleeting kiss that sent a shockwave to my heart, and left me wanting more.

  Then he was back, crushing his lips against mine and pulling my body closer to him. My head was buzzing from his scent, and the longer his lips caressed mine, the more I longed to not only smell him but to taste him. His lips were there, ready to be sampled.

  I’d made up my mind to try a taste when he pulled back and rested his forehead once again against mine, as breathless as I was, ruining my chance to run my tongue along his lips. I’d never been so bold, and I blamed it all on my sense of smell.

  “Cinnamon is my new favorite spice,” he whispered. “It tastes amazing.”

  Blushing, I opened my eyes as he kissed my forehead and leaned back. With the sensations the kiss had brought to me fading ever so slightly, it left me unable to look Kev in the face as I spoke.

  “Mint isn’t that bad either. Only I didn’t get to taste it.”

  His laugh was light as he rubbed circles along my back. “Lick your lips, my love.”

  I followed his direction and slowly let my tongue slide across my lower lip. The strong taste of mint covered it, leaving it tingling and me craving more. His lips were calling me back. Maybe kissing him hadn’t been a good idea. I’d started out getting high on his scent. Now I was craving his taste as well as his smell. The next step was becoming an addict for both.

  “Well?”

  “I’ve always loved mint, but I think I love the taste better now.”

  “Good. Now I’d better let you go to bed before Gram comes out and skins my hide like she’s threatened several times, and I don’t want you getting sick or falling asleep at school tomorrow.”

  I wanted to argue, but he lifted a hand to my mouth to stop me. That put the pure scent of his skin right next to my nose. It was heaven.

  “We can talk tomorrow.”

  Resigned, I nodded and stood when he slid me from his lap and pulled me to my feet. It was then I noticed we were alone. Aunt Gwen was no longer in the room, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. Just thinking about her witnessing my first kiss sent embarrassing waves through me.

  My first kiss. Wow, I hadn’t seen that coming tonight.

  “Kev, was that your first kiss?”

  He looked down at me with a huge, playful grin. “Yes, and it was perfect.”

  Without another word he led me to my bedroom door and placed a kiss on top of my head.

  “When did Aunt Gwen leave?”

  “Before I changed to my human form I asked her if we could be alone.”

  “Oh.”

  “Good night, Joey,” Kev whispered and kissed my forehead again. I loved it. He was close enough I could get a whiff of his potent smell without having to lean in or find an excuse. Forget it, I was already an addict. I was smelling him and needing more at the same time. That couldn’t be healthy.

  “Good night, Kev.”

  Sleep didn’t come easy. The kiss we’d shared replayed in my mind over and over. The feel of his lips moving against mine and my reaction to it had me wishing he’d have kissed me again. Then there was the taste of mint that lingered on my lips, and my tongue prickled at the memory of that first taste.

  When sleep did come over an hour later, it wasn’t a restful sleep. Nightmares bombarded my subconscious. At first, they didn’t make sense, and I had no idea where I was. Then an eerie, familiar scent entered the dream and had dream me trembling in fear and panic.

  Something chased me, or rather someone. I knew who it was, but I didn’t know what it was. He wasn’t human, and I couldn’t see him, but his sour scent was coming for me. No matter how hard I tried to wake myself up, I couldn’t.

  He continued to chase me down a wooded trail, but like all running dreams, my legs wouldn’t move fast enough. The scent was growing stronger as he grew closer, and though I tried to scream, nothing came out of my mouth.

  Something cold and wet pressed against my cheek, but it wasn’t enough to draw me out of the dream. Then warm, wet sandpaper dragging across my face did the job.

  My eyes popped open to a dark shadow directly above me, and as I sucked air into my now working lungs to scream, the shadow shifted to a man’s form, and the scent of mint stayed my cry for help.

  “Joey, it’s me.”

  “Oh, Kev.”

  He was close, but not close enough. Wrapping my arms around him, I pulled him closer until he was forced to climb onto the bed beside me. My body trembled against his as he held and soothed me, comforting me with his touch and scent.

  “He was chasing me, Kev,” I explained when I could speak again, and the shaking had all but stopped. There was no need to explain who I meant. I knew Kev would know who it was.

  “I won’t let him hurt you; that I can promise you. I will die before I let that happen.”

  “Don’t say that.”

  He lay beside me, rubbing my back and chasing away the foul scent of my nightmare. When his weight shifted on the mattress, panic flared in my chest.

  “Don’t go, please don’t leave me.”

  My voice broke as the fear I was trying to squash broke free. Kev’s arms tightened around me in response.

  “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here until you fall asleep. Then I’ll go back to the living room. I’d stay longer, but Gram will kill me if she comes in and finds me.”

  Though terror still ate at me and hung in the background of my tense emotions, I laughed at that. “Kev, she’d skin you alive if she ever caught you in my bed.”

  His chest rumbled with his laugh. “At least my clothes are
on.”

  Did he really feel the need to go there?

  “Go to sleep, Joey. I’m here. No one will get to you. I’ll protect you.”

  “Okay.”

  It didn’t take long to fall back to sleep. Kev’s scent and presence eased me into a state of comfort and safety. He was true to his word; he stayed until I fell asleep. At least he wasn’t in my bed when I woke up in the morning.

 
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