Perfect scents, p.21
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       Perfect Scents, p.21

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 19

  After Kev had let Mrs. Huckabee know his origins through his black eyes, I’d been wary and watched her like a hawk, but I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about her actions. Since no call to arms had been cried from every rooftop, I assumed she’d kept her word, and our secret was safe. Instead, she smiled at me more, and I wondered if somehow, some way, she knew the truth about me.

  She and Gram had grown up together, from what Gram told me, so maybe it was possible she knew what my father was. I wasn’t about to open that can of worms if I didn’t have to, and since she stayed quiet about what she knew, it didn’t need to be opened.

  After school, I followed Chrissa and a mob of our fellow students out of the building to the parking lot. Honeybee sat in her usual spot, third row, sixth space. Chrissa was a little OCD about her parking space, and after a Junior had mistakenly parked in her spot, she let everyone know they weren’t ever to park there. No one ever did.

  All she’d talked about the entire day was dinner tonight at my house. She was over-the-top and overdramatic about seeing Kev interact with my female relatives. After last night, I didn’t have any worries about it. Of course, I hadn’t told her about that yet. She’d be louder than a PA system when she found out, and I didn’t want the entire student body to know any more of my business than they already did.

  My heart sunk as my smile faltered when my eyes found the empty bench that Kev had been inhabiting after school. I’d thought for sure he’d have been there today since we were having dinner at my house, and since he was protecting me.

  Trying to be as inconspicuous as I could, I refrained from lifting my nose to the air, but still took a long, deep breath to catch his scent so I’d know where to look for him. When it came back empty of mint, tears stung my eyes and my chest ached. Again I was reminded that no scent on Earth, or Fairimorr, should affect me like this. There was no way I’d let myself get weepy, moody or otherwise over a smell, even if said smell belonged to my weregal boyfriend.

  “He had better not be skipping out on dinner tonight. I’ll kill him if he doesn’t show up,” Chrissa muttered as she unlocked the car as we approached. I had to clear my throat before speaking to keep my voice from cracking.

  “He’s a wild animal, Chrissa. He’s got a mind of his own.”

  “Doesn’t mean he gets to skip the one meal I’ve been looking forward to all day.”

  We got in, and she started the car while I buckled my seatbelt in record time, preparing myself for another near death experience. I really had to get my driver’s license and a car. And soon.

  We hadn’t even pulled out of the school driveway before the interrogation started into my date. Chrissa hadn’t asked a single thing about it all day, which I’d found surprising considering I’d had a stupid grin plastered all over my face.

  “Okay, spill. I want everything. Every. Single. Little. Teeny. Tiny. Miniscule. Detail. Now!”

  My stupid grin was back in full force as I rested my elbow on the ledge of the window and propped my head up. Every little thing from yesterday had been ingrained in my memory, and I’d been replaying it over and over all day. Our kiss had been the most prevalent of the replays. If I remembered two key points from each class, then I was lucky.

  “Oh, Chrissa, you should’ve been there. It was great.”

  “I bet, now hurry it up, or I’m going to go twenty over the speed limit around every blasted curve between here and your house, and I know there’s plenty.”

  Knowing she was serious, and knowing every curve between us and home had steep drop-offs about a foot from where the pavement ended, it was time to start talking. The car steadily sped up as we approached the first curve.

  “Okay, okay. Stop it! I’ll talk. Just slow down.”

  “That’s a good girl.” Her foot let off the accelerator, so we were able to ease our way through the curve at a safe speed. She even stepped on her brake pedal, which about threw me into cardiac arrest.

  “Well, most of it was good. I kinda shoved my foot in my mouth sometimes, but overall we had a great time.”

  The story of our date took longer than I thought it would as Chrissa asked question after question. She really meant every detail. The girl needed to go into journalism or something like it because she thought of questions I’d never even considered asking Kev. One of those topics was about his mom. We’d discussed what his dad thought of him, but he’d never mentioned his mother. I’d been too concerned about how his father could treat him the way he did to think about her.

  “Okay, so I get that you had a great time, and all this info about him and you is good stuff, but I think you’re skipping over the nitty gritty juicy details.” Chrissa turned onto my road, and since we were going slow, for her, I decided to break the news to her flat out.

  “You mean the details like how Gram let him sleep in the house, and he kissed me?”

  The seatbelts locked as Chrissa slammed the brake pedal to the floor. Maybe we were going faster than I thought because I again felt like I’d received a case of whiplash.

  “What? She did what? And you did what? And you’re just now telling me? Are you kidding? That should’ve been the first thing out of your mouth this morning.” Her screeching yell hurt my ears, and I fought not to cover them.

  “Yeah, those details,” I muttered, rubbing my ear as she continued to stare wide eyed at me like I’d stabbed her in the back. “Chrissa, I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d react like this. I didn’t want the whole school to know. Your shriek is loud enough to wake the dead. Can we go now?”

  With a shake of her head, she sat back in her seat and took her foot off the brake. Honeybee coasted down the hill and took a few turns before Chrissa spoke again. From the sly grin growing on her face, there was another, more in-depth interrogation coming up, and nervous sweat broke out across my upper lip.

  “Okay, now that you’ve mentioned the juicy details, it’s time to get nitty gritty.”

  “What do you want to hear about first?”

  “How’d he get to stay the night?”

  “I’m pretty sure it stemmed from the fact that Gram felt bad for him since he’d be sleeping outside in the rain. Honestly, I think he almost wet himself from the shock.”

  “I’d have paid to see that,” Chrissa muttered as I continued, ignoring her comment.

  “She asked him if he had somewhere dry to stay, he said no, and she invited him in and made it clear he was staying on the couch.”

  “And did he?”

  Her voice’s inflection left nothing to the imagination about what she meant as she turned to me and arched an eyebrow. Before any color could stain my face and she could see it, I turned to watch the landscape pass us by out my window, or rather the trees and hills that were closing in around us. When I answered, I spoke every word in rapid succession to keep her from interrupting my explanation.

  “He did, most of the night, anyway. Sometime during the night I had a nightmare about my stalker, and I couldn’t wake up. Kev woke me, and I was terrified. He stayed with me until I fell back to sleep. Then he left and went back to the couch. Nothing happened.”

  “Well, that’s boring.”

  “Chrissa,” I growled. I’d thought this girl had boundaries. I’d thought wrong.

  Her giggle broke through my sudden aggression. “Chillax, Joey. I’m just teasing you. Now, tell me about that kiss.”

  We were so close to home I wanted to jump from the car and run the rest of the way there. Reliving the moment over and over in my head was one thing. Telling someone else about it was another.

  “It was…amazing. Short, but amazing.”

  The memory came back full force, and I breathed a sigh as my head fell back against the seat’s headrest. If I died right now, I’d be a happy woman. But I’d prefer not to die, so I could get another kiss just like it, and breathe in his heady scent, and finally get a real taste of him.

  “Okay, that’s good and all, but you gotta gi
ve me more than that. I mean was that your first kiss?”

  “Yup. His too.”

  “Huh, well no wonder it was short. Y’all need practice.”

  “I won’t disagree.”

  We pulled up the driveway as I finished speaking, so I directed her to park behind Aunt Gwen’s truck. She put the car in park and turned it off, but didn’t move to get out. Since she didn’t, and her brow was creased, I stayed where I was too. There was something she needed to say that had sobered her happy mood.

  “That sour guy’s really gotten under your skin, hasn’t he?”

  “I wish I knew what he was, then maybe I wouldn’t be so scared of him. And it’s not only him; it’s all of them. He may have stalked me in the woods, but the woman with him at the DQ was just as freaky as he was. And Milly and Tom don’t give me the warm fuzzies either.” And then add Angus on top of all of them and we could have a dog pile.

  She tapped the steering wheel as she thought aloud. Though I didn’t want to talk about them, it was a safer topic than me and Kev’s physical relationship.

  “First, we need to figure out what they are. With that information, we can come up with a broader game plan.”

  “Like what?”

  “Well, like what their game plan is. Why they’re following you. Hate to say it, but it’s not like your grandma’s loaded, so kidnapping and ransom are out of the picture. You’ve just moved back here and didn’t live here long enough as a kid to give them motive to want you for anything you might have done. Yeah, step one is find out who the smelly guy is.”

  Now that my fear was coming back, it was time to get inside and hope that Kev was there. If not, I was going weregal hunting. Only he and his wonderful scent could calm me after thinking about Mr. Sour Guy. It was weird that I hadn’t seen or smelled Kev yet since I’d gotten so used to him following me around, but I reminded myself that I wasn’t the only one who’d enjoyed our kiss. He’d be back.

  “Well, are you ready? I thought you were hungry.”

  Chrissa giggled. “Oh, I’m hungry all right, but I’m not eating a thing until Cat Man shows up because this I’ve got to see.”

  I grabbed my backpack from where it sat on the floor and got out of the car. It was so nice to open a passenger door and not cringe as it squealed all the way open.

  The moment I’d stepped from the car I’d smelled him. Wanting to bask in the scent, I lifted my nose to the air, not caring who saw, and breathed in deep. A part of my soul that had been missing all day filled me as I giggled my relief. Going to school without smelling him and not getting a whiff of his scent afterward was doing crazy things to me. If I ever got the chance, I needed to mention it to him. Maybe this was actually something normal, especially since he liked to smell me too.

  “I think you’re in luck, my friend. He’s here.”

  “Oh, goodie.”

  Chrissa followed me from the car to the house, stepping on my heels multiple times in her hurry to observe Kev with my relatives.

  As we walked inside, Aunt Gwen’s voice reached us from the kitchen. She was giving instructions, and it didn’t take two guesses as to who they were directed at. The scents of three people filled the house, and Gram knew how to set a table.

  “Look here, the fork goes on the left side and the knife and spoon on the right. Fork has four letters and so does left. Spoon and knife have five just like right. Does that make sense?”

  “Fork on the left, knife and spoon on the right. Got it,” Kev’s melodic voice replied. “Now, what about the glass and the napkin?”

  Before Aunt Gwen answered, Gram cut in. “Oh, for heavenly days you two, just make sure each place setting has one. It’s a simple dinner. No one really cares if they’re in the right spot. Our company will be here any minute so hurry it up.”

  Chrissa slapped a hand over her mouth, and I bit my lip. Neither of us wanted to announce our presence with gut-busting laughs. While we kept our laughter under control, we took our coats off. Kev didn’t let us off the hook, though, and chuckled as he spoke.

  “Company’s already here.” A small, smacking sound from the kitchen met my ears as Kev whined, “What was that for?”

  “For not telling us they got here in the first place, knucklehead,” Aunt Gwen chastised as Chrissa and I rounded the corner.

  There stood Kev, tall and handsome as ever, wearing one of Gram’s pink and blue floral print aprons. Hysterical laughter escaped me before I could stop it this time, and I brought my hands up to cover my mouth to muffle my squawking.

  “What are you wearing, boy?” Chrissa shrieked, moving around me to see what I found so funny.

  His puzzled expression was so cute I wanted to kiss him on the spot. He turned an arched brow from me to Aunt Gwen. “What did you call this again?”

  “An apron,” she replied, hiding her own smile by taking a long drink of water from the glass in front of her. How she managed to drink and not choke must have been pure talent.

  He turned back to Chrissa, who still looked a mixture between appalled and amused. “I’m wearing an apron. Why?”

  “Why are you wearing an apron?”

  “Gwen was teaching me how to cook and said I needed it.”

  Chrissa snorted and muttered, “I bet you did.” I’d finally gotten myself under control when she whispered to me, “Flowers over there is all yours, Joey.”

  Hysterical laughter hit me as I shrieked, doubled over and covered my mouth once again. It didn’t take but a few minutes for my abs to ache from the convulsing fit of laughter, and my lungs burned for air. Chrissa patted my back to make it stop, but that only made it worse.

  Two minutes later I was still doubled over, laughing and squealing in pain, when Aunt Gwen splashed cold water on my face. That brought me around, and the laughter died, though I was still amused. It had been so good to laugh, truly laugh, again. It had been too long.

  “Good Lord someone couldn’t have thought of that sooner,” Chrissa muttered, now sitting at the table, holding her head in her hands.

  “Sorry. I must be overly tired or something.”

  Long, muscular arms wrapped themselves around my waist from behind as Kev leaned over me, resting his chin on my shoulder. His scent called to me, so I leaned back against his chest, wanting to be as close to him as I could. “Maybe I kept you up too late last night. I’m not sorry, though. It was fun.”

  “And well worth the laugh,” I replied, turning my head toward him. I hadn’t realized how close his face was until I turned and our noses almost touched. Instinctively, my eyes dropped from his teasing eyes to his soft lips. They were inviting, and if I didn’t look away now, I’d be in trouble. So I did, and my cheeks flushed at the thought of kissing him in front of Gram and Aunt Gwen. That wasn’t going to happen.

  Kev chuckled softly, placing a warm kiss against my neck, which I enjoyed way too much as my stomach squeezed itself in giddiness. Before I could scold him for doing it, he pulled me closer into a brief hug and whispered in my ear, “One day you will be mine.” Then he let me go and crossed the room to lean against a counter. It was a good thing because I needed a reprieve from his intoxicating scent.

  “So, Flowers,” Chrissa said, using her new nickname for him, “What’d you make us for dinner then? It smells good.”

  “Don’t worry, it wasn’t too difficult,” Aunt Gwen replied. “He’s not a bad helper, and we might make a cook of him yet.”

  “But first, he learns to read,” Gram put in without turning around as she scrounged in her recipe book, probably for some cookie or pie recipe.

  “That’s the plan,” Kev told her before crossing his arms over his chest while wearing a proud grin. He kept his eyes on me as the grin grew into a wide smile. “It’ll take time, but I’ll learn. Gwen and Gram already taught me a few words and letters while we were cooking.”

  “Like what?”

  “Rice, salt and pepper.” He then spelled them aloud for me and handed me a paper he’d written the words out on.
“It’s only three words, but it’s a start.”

  “It’s an amazing start,” I told him as I stared at the page, thoroughly amazed. Had he ever even held a pen before today? His letters started off wavy and mismatched for size, but at the bottom of the page they were almost normal shaped and nearly the same in size.

  “I’m glad you think so. Gram invited me to come over in the mornings while you’re at school and she’ll help me learn too.”

  I turned to my grandmother with narrowed eyes. Patience was not her middle name when she was teaching. “You’re going to help him learn to read?”

  Her wide, shocked eyes met mine as she shook her head and scoffed. “Are you crazy? I don’t have the patience for that. We’re going to be learning practical human behaviors. He’s going to be helping me with things around the house. It’ll be nice to have someone with strong muscles around to help me. And since he’ll be here, he’s going to help me clean.”

  “You poor soul.” I shook my head at him in sympathy. He had no idea what he’d gotten himself into, but from the grin on his face, he didn’t care.

  Chrissa spoke up again, reminding us her question was still unanswered. “So what exactly is for dinner then?”

  Aunt Gwen laughed, “Chicken and rice casserole. It’s one of my favorites.”

  “Sounds great. I’m Chrissa by the way.” She held out her hand to my aunt who reached across the table to shake it.

  “Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry.” With that, I quickly introduced Chrissa to Gram and Aunt Gwen.

  “It’s nice to meet you, young lady,” Gram told her as the kitchen timer began dinging obnoxiously. Kev flinched as it went off and hurt his sensitive ears. I knew it hurt mine.

  “All right then.” Aunt Gwen turned to Kev after stopping the timer, “You get to check it and pull it out of the oven.”

  With a few instructions, such as using hot pads and how to tell if the casserole was done, Kev had it out of the oven and cooling on the table. They’d also cooked corn and more rolls.

  “I’ve never done anything like this before,” he whispered to me after he’d put the casserole on the table. His excited grin warmed my heart. He deserved to be proud of himself.

  “It looks delicious, and it smells amazing.” His light flush at my praise and shy smile turned my stomach again in the best possible way. One kiss and I was completely done for. It didn’t hurt his scent had my head buzzing already.

  As we all moved to take our seats, Kev pulled a chair out from the table, and motioned for me to sit down. My eyes flew to Gram, who nodded approvingly in Kev’s direction, though he didn’t notice. He was getting more than help with cooking and reading that was for sure. I sat, and he scooted the chair closer to the table and took his seat beside me while Chrissa sat across from Gram.

  After Aunt Gwen had said grace, we dug in. Chrissa, Kev and I finished our plates first, way before Gram and Aunt Gwen were done. I blamed it on being growing teenage girls and one large, energetic cat.

  Chrissa pushed her plate away with a groan of unadulterated pleasure and contentment as she leaned back in her chair, folding her arms across her full stomach. “I don’t know about y’all, but that was amazing.”

  “It was pretty darn good,” I told Kev, nudging him with my elbow so he’d know I was talking to him. His answering smile and gleaming eyes warmed my face. His wink sent my stomach to the floor.

  Aunt Gwen glanced around the table at our empty plates. “Okay, since we’re all done eating, let’s clear up. Gram and I will handle the dishes while you young folks find something to do. Why don’t you teach him the ABC song?”

  “Someone’s here,” Kev whispered before anyone could move. “A truck is pulling up your driveway.”

  “Why are you whispering?” Aunt Gwen whispered back.

  “Because I don’t know who it is.”

  She nodded slowly, her arched eyebrow acknowledging she still didn’t understand what he was talking about. It didn’t matter because someone was here, and so was Kev. The tension in the room increased until it was hard to breathe as we all tried to contain our worry and near panic. Okay, maybe it was only me almost panicking. Gram’s movements to grab her glass and drink were robotic, and Aunt Gwen gripped the edge of the table, waiting for something to happen. No one spoke again until a knock sounded at the front door.

  “I wonder who that could be,” Gram said as nonchalant as only Gram could be. There wasn’t a hint of worry or concern to give away that we’d known company was coming.

  She stood to answer the door, and the rest of us exchanged worried glances. My heart was about to beat out of my chest, and it took concentration to keep breathing. Having a guest wasn’t abnormal for our house, but having a guest while Kev was here was.

  As if he’d heard my thoughts, Kev stood before Gram made it to the door and hid in my room. The door clicked behind him as Gram opened the front door.

  “Hey there, Edith, how are you?” a man asked Gram, making me cringe. Aunt Gwen stifled a gasp as she stood, no doubt heading toward the front door to do damage control since the man standing outside our home was none other than Tom Hildebrant. This was so not good.

  Quick as lightning, and with shaky hands, I grabbed me and Kev’s plates to clear the evidence that we had more than one guest for dinner. Chrissa followed behind me, unaware of the danger since she had no idea who was at the door. Our eyes met as I dumped the dishes I held in the sink, and she brought hers and Aunt Gwen’s over. Her worried eyes at least let me know she knew this wasn’t good.

  While I washed the dishes to keep my hands busy and my mind occupied, Chrissa continued to clear the table and bring me dirty dishes and the empty pots. Tom’s horrendous scent wafted through the open door on the breeze that trailed through the house into the kitchen. But it wasn’t his scent, but another eerily familiar scent that stilled my hands and made my heart race and skin sweat as my extremities went numb.

  To keep my panic in control, I let the water continue to run, but listened to the conversation at the door. I needed to know what they were doing here because if they tried anything stupid, I’d have seconds at best to call for Kev, though he was no doubt listening from my room.

  “Howdy, Tom, what brings you out this way? And who might this young man be?” Aunt Gwen asked as the front door closed leaving everyone in the house.

  “Hi, Miss Gwen, Miss Edith, I’m Tom’s nephew, Samuel. I’m in town for a few days, and Uncle Tom is showing me around.” Mr. Man Bun told the two women.

  Houston, we had a name.

  There was no third scent, so they hadn’t brought Samuel’s female companion with them. That was just as well because my nerves were already shot as it was with only the two of them standing in my living room. What I would have given for Kev to be standing next to me so I could rid my nose of the putrid scents.

  Chrissa reached for a pan in the drying rack, but before she picked it up, I grabbed her hand. Her eyes whipped to mine and grew wide as I mouthed “Man Bun” to her. I could almost smell her fear as her gaze flicked from me to the kitchen doorway, to my bedroom door, then back to me. She let out a small whimper, and I was glad to see that I wasn’t the only one terrified by the danger that Gram and Aunt Gwen had unknowingly let into the house.

  It was hard to hear their conversation as it was, so before they could say anything else, I turned the faucet off. Doing the dishes had been to keep my hands busy, but now that wasn’t important. I’d end up dropping a plate and draw more attention to Chrissa and me, and if they didn’t know she was here, that would be even better.

  Tom’s voice cut through my fear as I dried my hands on the towel hanging from the fridge handle.

  “I was hoping to talk to Gwen for a few minutes if that’s all right.”

  “That’s fine,” Gram told him in her happy matchmaking voice. “Samuel, why don’t you come meet my granddaughter and her friend. They’re cleaning up dinner in the kitchen.”

  “Yes, Ma’am.”

&nb
sp; All the air in my lungs escaped me, and they refused to drag in more. I wanted to scream at Gram to make them leave, but I was already the center of local gossip so freaking out now wouldn’t be good.

  My human ears heard them stepping toward us, and that got my lungs back to working and my heart to restart. Chrissa continued to stare wide-eyed at me as I crossed the kitchen to her. We needed a plan, but there wasn’t time to make one, let alone discuss it. When I reached her, I had enough time to whisper two words, “Act natural,” into her ear before I had to back away as our guest entered the room.

  Her nod as Gram ushered Samuel into the kitchen was almost imperceptible, but I caught it. Samuel did too as he leered at us from behind Gram like he had at the Dairy Queen. When Gram turned to introduce us, it widened to a smile of welcome, but the damage had already been done. Not only was his smell filling my home with its repugnant odor, his very presence in my sanctuary made me feel violated.

  “Samuel, this is my granddaughter, Joette, and her friend Chrissa. Girls, this is Samuel, Tom’s nephew. He’s in town for a little while so I thought it would be nice if you all could do something fun together,” Gram said in introduction.

  I opened my mouth and almost gagged as his sour smell entered my mouth. Coughing cleared my throat and hid my reaction to him, but his scent’s residue remained on my tongue. “Hi, Samuel. I’m sure it would be fun to hang out, but I’m sorry we can’t. Chrissa and I already have plans for the weekend and during the week we’re busy with homework.”

  Gram’s eyes narrowed as she watched me, and her voice held the same gruff tone it always did when I was about to be scolded. “Can’t you adjust your plans to include Samuel?”

  “Sorry, Gram, but if we include him, we have to include Chrissa’s brother.”

  Gram started in surprise, but Chrissa didn’t miss a beat.

  “That’s true, and please don’t make us do that. And speaking of Drake, I should probably check on him to see if he’s feeling any better. That headache he had should be going away now that he’s had a chance to lie down for a bit.”

  Chrissa crossed the kitchen and let herself into my room before Gram could think to stop her or make any comment. To Chrissa’s credit, she moved at a normal pace. If she was feeling half the nerves I was, she wanted to run as far away from here as possible.

  Samuel’s silky, deep voice brought the conversation back to me as the door shut behind Chrissa. “Joette’s a pretty name.”

  “Thanks.” I ground the word out as I waited for Kev’s reassuring presence.

  “You sure I can’t hang out with you? I think we’d have a lot of fun.”

  I doubted our ideas of fun were in the same realm. “It’s girls only. Sorry.”

  “Now, Joey,” Gram cut in, “Surely you two can do whatever it is you’re going to do another weekend.”

  Why couldn’t Gram read minds? Right then, I wished I could talk to her mind like Kev could in his tiger form. I’d tell her to get this guy out of my house because his stench was suffocating me and he creeped me out.

  “It’s Halloween, Gram. We can’t postpone our Halloween plans. Maybe another time.”

  I’d hoped by adding that last part the subject would be closed. Gram opened her mouth to respond, then closed it just as quickly. For a moment she seemed at a loss for words, then smiled like nothing had happened.

  “I think we have some brownies in the fridge. Who wants one? Samuel?”

  “No, thank you, Edith. I appreciate the offer, though.”

  “I’ll take one,” Kev announced, as he and Chrissa exited my room. She closed the door behind them and tried to smile at me. It didn’t reach her eyes. Kev’s eyes never left Samuel, who was eyeing Kev up in return. The testosterone battle had begun.

  “I think I’ll have one too.” Chrissa chirped as she shuffled around the table, keeping a wary eye on Samuel.

  Kev laughed at Chrissa in his usual melodic voice. “You girls and your sugar. One day it will catch up with you.”

  “That’s what I tell Joey all the time,” Gram muttered as she opened the fridge to grab the brownies.

  My gaze focused back on Samuel, who was yet again leering at me. His pupils had dilated and grown much larger than they had been moments ago. Whatever that meant, it wasn’t good. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and goose bumps rose along my arms as Gram spoke again.

  “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a piece?”

  His eyes raked over my body, and they didn’t hide the lustful thoughts running through his head. While Kev had looked me up and down before, it never felt dirty or inappropriate. And Kev wasn’t a creepy stalker.

  On their way back up, his eyes lingered on my chest. “Yeah, I’d like a piece of something.”

  My stomach dropped as the taste of bile filled my mouth, and I fought the urge to cross my arms over my chest. At the same time, Kev shoved himself around the table, ending up toe to toe with Samuel. They were matched in height, but Samuel was the bulkier of the two with broader shoulders and more muscle mass. If Samuel was human, Kev could win a fight if one broke out between them, but since we didn’t know what Samuel was, there was no way to judge who would come out on top. Thankfully Gram chose that moment to stand up out of the fridge.

  “We have half a pecan pie left if you want any,” Gram said, before looking up from the pie plate she held to discover the fight about to go down right there in her kitchen. “Boys, what seems to be the problem?”

  Neither acknowledged Gram, but Kev was the first to speak, never breaking eye contact with his opponent. He was shaking violently as he leaned in closer to Samuel, his voice deep and threatening.

  “Don’t you ever disrespect Joey like that again. You do, and I’ll tear you apart.”

  Instead of threatening Kev back or throwing a punch like I thought he would, Samuel laughed in his face. “She yours?”

  “She’s my sister’s best friend and not an object for you to leer at. I think it’s time for you to go.”

  “I think you’re probably right.”

  “Break it up, boys,” Tom’s gruff voice ordered from the kitchen doorway where he and Aunt Gwen stood. “Whatever’s going on here isn’t worth a brawl. Samuel, outside.”

  “Yes, Uncle. See y’all around.”

  Before he left, Samuel swept his gaze over me, Kev and Chrissa. As his eyes settled on me, his wink sent a shudder of revolution through me. Kev’s hands balled into fists, ready for the first swing but Samuel pivoted and headed toward the kitchen doorway, a deep, evil chuckle following him. Kev’s body tensed, ready to go after the other man, but he stayed rooted to where he stood. If he left, that would leave Chrissa and me in the same room as Tom, and he wouldn’t do that.

  “I’m sorry about whatever my nephew may have done to upset everyone,” Tom apologized. “He’s trouble sometimes. I’d best be going. I’ll see you on Saturday, Gwen. I’ll see you around, Edith.”

  “See you later, Tom,” Gram told him as Aunt Gwen walked him to the door.

  No one in the kitchen moved, even after the front door shut behind Tom, and Aunt Gwen came back. Kev stood with his eyes closed, taking deep, slow breaths. With each breath, his shaking began to subside until his body’s trembling was a slight tremor. When he opened his eyes, everyone let out the collective breath we’d been holding.

  “Does someone want to explain what happened in here?” Gram asked when all we did was silently stare at one another.

  Chrissa and I looked to Kev. We were all under the same assumption: if these were different creatures, maybe they could hear as well as Kev could. With that impression, we waited for Kev to make the first move. Only when he spoke would we be safe.

  His black eyes watched me unceasingly, worry creasing his brow and around his eyes. “Joey, are you all right?”

  My house wasn’t the only thing that felt violated anymore. As unshed tears stung my eyes, I ran across the small space between us, throwing my arms around his waist and burying my face in his c
hest. His long arms wrapped easily around my body, holding me close. His scent and warmth surrounded me, easing my tense muscles and calming my frazzled nerves. After a few more reassuring moments in his arms, I backed away.

  “Why is he so obsessed with me?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Chrissa shuddered, stepping closer to us. We’d all but forgotten the two other women in the room. “It’s like he’s fixated on Joey. He barely noticed I was here and only looked at me when we were introduced. It was like he was playing with Kev. He wanted to get a rise out of him.”

  “He wanted to make you react,” I said slowly, thinking aloud. “But he doesn’t know we’re together, right? How could he?”

  Kev shook his head. “Until we know exactly what they are, we won’t know what they know about us for certain.”

  “And you still don’t smell them?” Chrissa asked taking yet another step closer.

  “No.”

  “Okay, you three,” Aunt Gwen directed, her voice firm. “Let’s go to the living room and you can explain to us exactly what’s going on from the beginning.”

 
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