Perfect scents, p.22
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       Perfect Scents, p.22

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 20

  The emotional soup in the living room was turning my stomach. Gram sat on a kitchen chair beside Aunt Gwen’s cushy chair, while the three of us were placed in a row on the couch like the Three Stooges during an interrogation. With the help of my best friend and my boyfriend, we explained the whole story from the beginning, starting with meeting Milly at the library, Samuel spying on me in the woods, and he and the other woman following me and Chrissa on our girl’s night.

  They sat quietly after we finished our tale, but I could see the wheels in their minds turning. Gram was the first to break the silence.

  “Joey, what did Samuel do here that had Kev so angry? I thought he was going to let loose and tear into him any second.”

  “I almost did.” Kev’s words were emphasized with a bout of shaking that I was sure had nothing to do with fear. No doubt he was reliving those moments just like I was. Chrissa’s shiver on my other side confirmed what she was thinking too.

  “Joey?”

  “He looked at me, Gram.” I so did not want to talk about this, not now, not ever.

  Aunt Gwen’s snort was laced with frustration. “You’re going to have to give us more than that.”

  My fingers intertwined as I tried to find the least embarrassing way to say what needed to be said. It was bad enough it had happened, and that I felt violated from it, but to have to say it out loud? In front of Kev? No, that was not going to happen. To my great relief, Chrissa came to my rescue.

  “That creeper pretty much pictured Joey naked in the kitchen as he gave her a good going over with his roaming eyes. Then he had the nerve to follow that up with a stare down at her chest and the words ‘Yeah, I’ll have a piece of something.’ Seriously, even though I can’t smell him, he’s still gross.”

  As she spoke, I’d buried my face in my hands, not wanting anyone to see the humiliating pink I felt making its way up my neck. I never wanted to meet Samuel again, but especially not alone.

  Kev leaned close, bringing his scent with him, and kissed the top of my head. “It’s not your fault, my love. You’re not to blame.”

  My nod dislodged his lips from my hair. I couldn’t quite keep the quiver out of my voice when I responded, though I tried hard. Since my face was still in my hands, I hoped they wouldn’t hear the tremble.

  “I know it’s not my fault. I’m just scared.”

  Chrissa’s warm hands grabbed mine from my face, surprising me into looking at her. As she spoke, she cupped my face in her hands so I couldn’t look away if I wanted to. We were getting down to business, Chrissa style. Her eyes shown with a determined glint, and they held mine in an unblinking stare.

  “Dude, no one is going to let that idiot near you again. Not me, not Kev, not anyone. If he ever comes within a hundred feet of you again, I’m going to neuter him. You got that? Or I’ll have Kev do it, and we can be the peanut gallery. However you look at it, he’s not getting near you again, especially now that we know who he is.”

  Kev leaned close to my ear, and though he spoke softly, his tenor voice carried throughout the silent room. “Neuter him?”

  “Unman him.”

  “Got it. I’d be more than happy to.”

  “Thought you would,” Chrissa smirked, winking at me as she sat back against the couch and crossed her legs. The smirk grew into a wide smile that she bit her lower lip to try and hide. When that didn’t work, she gave up entirely to chuckle.

  “Mind sharing with the rest of us?” Aunt Gwen grumbled. I narrowed my eyes at her. I’d yet to see my carefree, always happy aunt in such a foul mood.

  “Nah, I’m just imagining Samuel’s face when Kev changes and attacks him.”

  “If he isn’t some sort of monster,” I muttered under my breath, taking charge and leaning into Kev’s shoulder. His scent wrapped around me as did his arm, pulling me tighter against his side.

  “Whatever he is, I can take him. You’ll be safe.”

  “I hope so.”

  I did hope so. After Samuel had baited him, I had no doubt whatsoever that he knew Kev was a weregal. If he was willing to risk being attacked by a monster sized tiger, then he was probably capable of defending himself. The theory of a werewolf sounded pretty legit at the moment. It still didn’t explain why he was fixated on me or what he wanted.

  A throat clearing across the room brought our attention back to Gram. “I’m sorry, Joey, I had no idea. When Kev talked to me in that weird way of his and told me to stop pushing you because Samuel scared you, I didn’t understand. Now I do, and I’m sorry for the way I acted.”

  “It’s okay, Gram. You didn’t know, and nothing happened.”

  Kev’s low rumble at my admitting nothing happened was a bit absurd but understandable. What I’d meant was that nobody had thrown a punch. I certainly didn’t mean that nothing indeed had happened. Too much had occurred for me to think that.

  “So, what did you mean a minute ago when you said whatever he is?” Aunt Gwen leaned forward in her chair; her eyes narrowed at Kev.

  Kev’s eyes narrowed back, but where Aunt Gwen was clearly upset from her rigid posture and cold voice, Kev was calculating. I could see it in his black eyes as he tried to find the words to say that wouldn’t make the situation worse. But he was also as blunt as Gram.

  “We aren’t entirely sure that they’re human,” he finally stated.

  That statement didn’t settle well with Aunt Gwen, whose eyes narrowed at Kev. “And what would they be if not human?”

  “We don’t know. That’s why I said we weren’t entirely sure.”

  Aunt Gwen wasn’t backing down. “And what evidence, pray tell, do you have besides Joey’s miraculously good sense of smell?”

  The silence in the room screamed volumes.

  “Yeah, I didn’t think you had any.”

  “Gwen, cool it,” Gram ordered. “We’ve all had a bit of a trying night, and I’m sorry Chrissa that you had to be here for this.”

  Chrissa sat forward again, tugging her blonde hair behind her ears, and took my hand in hers. “I’m not. And I’ve met all of these people so far, and you know, even if they are human after all, there’s still something fishy going on. Maybe Tom’s a part of it,” she cast a direct glance at Aunt Gwen, “And maybe he’s not. We don’t know, but I can tell you what I do know: something’s not right.”

  “All right, everyone, this is enough,” Gram spoke up before anyone else could follow Chrissa’s speech. “We’ve all had a stressful and emotional night. Now, this information is going to take longer for Gwen and me to adjust to. Until either more proof is found or something else happens, we will be watchful and careful. Now, Gwen, what did Tom want that he had to come over here and interrupt our dinner?”

  “He’s coming over Saturday afternoon to help me change the oil in my truck, and then coming back that night and taking me out on our date.”

  So that was why she was defending him. She was going on a date with him.

  “You like him, don’t you, Aunt Gwen?”

  “Yes, Joey, in fact, I do. He’s always been a kind man, and no matter what, that’s how I see him. Smelling weird or scary doesn’t make him a bad man.”

  There was no way I was going to win this argument with her, so I stayed quiet.

  As silence rang across the room, Chrissa pushed herself off the couch with slow, deliberate movements.

  “Well, I think I’d better go. Got some stuff to do before school tomorrow. It was really nice meeting you,” she directed toward Gram and Aunt Gwen, “And hopefully I’ll see you again soon.”

  “It was nice meeting you as well. Hopefully, next time will be less of a fiasco.” Gram stood as well, followed by Aunt Gwen, whose temper appeared a bit mollified with the small smile she was wearing.

  “It was nice to meet you. We’re glad that Joey is making friends.”

  The phone rang, interrupting our goodbyes. It startled a squeak out of me, which I smothered with a shaky hand. Yup, I was still a mess.

/>   No one moved, not even a single inch. We watched the phone and glanced at one another.

  “Oh, this is ridiculous,” Aunt Gwen growled, crossing the room to answer the ringing phone. “Hello? Well, hi there Tom.”

  It was time to go. There was no way I was staying in here for this conversation, so I jerked my thumb at the door as I moved ahead to let the three of us out, grabbing our jackets on the way. We didn’t say a thing to one another until we were out the door and well on our way to Chrissa’s car.

  “You smell anything else while they were over that you can tell us now that we’re away from the mafia?” Chrissa laughed at her own joke while I rolled my eyes at her. She unlocked her car as we got close, but didn’t hop in.

  “Not really. I’ve been running what happened in the kitchen over and over but still come up empty. Oh, except I did smell the woman’s scent on Samuel. He may be a creeper, but I wonder if it’s to draw Kev out.”

  “Well, it’s working. One more time like that and I won’t be able to stop myself from tearing him limb from limb.”

  “Well, hey, kids, it’s been real, but I gotta scoot. Good luck in there, Joey.” Chrissa opened her door as she directed her eyes back toward the house. “I’ll call when I get home. See you tomorrow.”

  “Yup, I’ll be there. And now I’m more than happy I’ll be staying at your house…and that I’m being a bit rebellious.”

  “That’s my girl. See y’all later.” She backed her car up in our small turnaround space like a bat out of Hades and left the driveway in pretty much the same fashion.

  The cool night air blew hair into my face. Tucking it behind my ear, I turned to Kev, who stood right behind me. His eyes heated as he placed his hands on my hips and cocked an eyebrow at me.

  “Rebellious, huh?” Kev’s sly grin melted my insides until all that was left was a puddle. The moon’s soft, bright light beamed down on us, gleaming off his endless, black eyes. My breath caught, and it was hard to breathe as his eyes held mine.

  Panic gripped me, but I squashed it before it could break our connection, instead letting Kev hold me as he wrapped his arms around my waist. His expression grew more predatory as his face drew closer to mine, like he was about to strike and take down his prey, and anticipation filled his eyes to overflowing with the need to be near me.

  With his handsome face and delicious lips mere inches from mine he stopped, leaving me whining to myself as I weighed my options. Our eyes still held one another, but I wasn’t sure how long it would last before the connection broke.

  Taking a step forward, I closed the distance between us, and right before our lips met, I brought my eyes up to his, whispering against his mouth, “You like rebellious.” Then my lips found his.

  Without having to breathe, his alluring, minty cologne filled me, warming my body against the chill air and the fear I still held from Samuel’s aggression. His lips skimmed over mine, teasing much like the last kiss, until a hiss escaped his lips, and he crushed my body against his. Mint overwhelmed me as my knees weakened and my stomach flipped.

  Afraid he’d break the kiss off before I could get a small taste of him, I pushed fear aside and let my tongue escape my mouth to run across his lower lip. My heart skipped a beat at the pure taste of the sweet mint as it coated my tongue. I’d never tasted anything so downright wonderful and exhilarating before in my short lived life. The tingling on my tongue cascaded throughout my body, leaving every inch of me trembling against him.

  He whined in his chest as he cupped the side of my face, his fingers gliding into my hair. Before I could take another taste of his wonderful, soft, and kissable lips, he broke it off and placed a kiss at my temple and took a deep, long breath of my scent.

  “I do like rebellious, a lot, but not when Gram keeps spying on us out the window.”

  Resisting the urge to throw a toddler’s temper tantrum, I wrapped my arms tighter around him, dislodging his lips from the skin at my hairline so I could bury my face in his hard chest. My shaky legs told me I needed to back away before his scent had me tipsy, but I ignored it. Right now having his scent spilling around me was better than going back into the house.

  “Do you want to talk about what happened?” he asked, his hold on me as tight as mine was on him.

  “Yes, and no. No, we are not talking about what happened with Samuel. Ever.”

  “Then what do you want to talk about?”

  “When did you talk to Gram?”

  He chuckled while running his fingers through my long hair. No one had played with my hair since Mom died. She’d done it to comfort me. Having Kev weaving his fingers through the long strands brought the same comfort, but also sadness and homesickness. I missed Mom so much. If she’d been here, she would’ve set Gram and Aunt Gwen straight about Tom.

  “I heard when they came in the house, and when Gram brought Samuel to the kitchen to introduce you. She was being pushier than I thought she’d be about inviting him to spend time with you, and when Chrissa whispered who the man was, I shifted and told Gram to back off, that he scared you. I’m glad she did.”

  “Then you changed back and came out.”

  “Yeah. I wish I’d never gone to your room, but I never expected that to happen.” He let me go and stepped back, looking between me and the house. “I need to go now, and you need to talk to your family without me there.”

  “Why?”

  He feathered his thumb across my cheek as gently as he had his lips against mine. “Two reasons. The first is they need to talk to you, and only you. The second is that there is no way after that kiss I can go into that house where your scent is going to smother me- in the best way of course.”

  Rolling my eyes at his cheeky grin, I gave him a long hug, breathing in as much of his scent as I could, then let him go. He surprised me by placing a firm kiss on my lips, and when I thought he’d pull away just as fast as he’d started the kiss, he didn’t.

  This time, I pulled away first, breathless, but I didn’t go far. We rested our foreheads together, looking each other in the eyes.

  “Goodnight my rebellious little mate. Sleep well and sweet dreams.”

  “Can I ask you a favor?”

  “Anything.”

  “I’m worried about Aunt Gwen and Gram. I’ll be at Chrissa’s all day Saturday, so I’ll be safe. Can you watch over them while Tom is here, and follow Aunt Gwen on her date to make sure she’s okay? I don’t want anything to happen to either of them.”

  He closed his eyes, and with his face being so close to mine, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking by facial expressions. “Saturday is that party, correct?”

  “Yeah, but we’ll be fine.”

  His sigh was deep and long as he backed away from me a step. “Against my better judgment, I’ll do it.”

  “Thanks.”

  I jumped toward him, wrapping my arms around his waist in a tight hug. Letting go, I put some space between us. I’d gotten a good dose of his scent, and I had to agree that it was in both of our best interests that he not go back into the house.

  “I guess I should do favors for you more often,” he laughed, winking at me with the most alluring and seductive expression on his face. Man, the cat could flirt when he wanted to. My heart was beating so hard in my chest I was sure it would pop out any minute, and if I didn’t take a breath, I’d pass out for sure.

  “Good night, Joey.”

  “Night, tiger.”

  He placed a kiss on the top of my head and squeezed my hand, then walked down the driveway. If he felt like I did, he needed a run, but I wasn’t going to get one, so I envied him, running or not. When he was out of sight, I trotted back to the house to escape the now cold breeze blowing down my neck and on my face.

  As I let myself inside, I could hear Gram and Aunt Gwen’s voices in the kitchen, but their words were too quiet for me to understand. I hung my coat up in the closet and made my way to them, hoping I didn’t hear something I didn’t want to. Luck was on my side because the
y stopped talking before I reached the kitchen doorway.

  “Everyone get off okay?” Gram asked while she dried a pan that Chrissa and I hadn’t gotten to before Samuel came into the kitchen. That explained why they were in here and not in the living room for the evening.

  I nodded and took the pan from her to put it in its rightful place. “Yup, Chrissa left, and then Kev and I talked for a little bit. He wanted to make sure I was okay.”

  “I understand. Joey…how do you feel about him?” Her hesitancy in asking could only mean one thing: she’d seen us kissing.

  Studying the glass Gram handed me to put away in the cupboard, I knew what I needed to tell them, and it was overdue.

  “Before I answer that, I have something to say. Aunt Gwen, I’m sorry if I upset you tonight, but I can’t shake this bad feeling they give me, and maybe I’m just paranoid, but please be careful. I can’t lose you and Gram, not now. I love you.”

  Aunt Gwen turned so fast that water in the pan she was washing flew across the kitchen, and Gram almost dropped the plate she’d started to dry. They both stared at me, and I knew what they were thinking.

  “Yes, I said I love you, because I do. Now I’ll answer you, Gram. How do I feel about him? Well, he’s growing on me. I never expected someone like him would show up. I’m still not ready to be his mate, but I think it will be sooner than I was telling myself it would be. He’s an amazing person under all the fur and fear people have of his, our, kind. And…I think I love him too.”

  I wasn’t sure how they were going to react to that statement, so by the time I was done talking my eyes were studying the floor like it held every answer for a college midterm. Gram’s slippered feet came into view at the same time she used two fingers to lift my chin so I would look at her. My stomach sunk as I tilted my head up.

  “You sound just like Meg after she met your dad, and I wish the situation had been handled better by all of us, but now we have the chance to try again. He’s a good man, and he wants to learn how to take care of you. He’s got a long way to go, but in time he’ll fit in quite nicely around here. I’m happy for you.”

  She pulled me into a warm, tight hug. Before she let go, Aunt Gwen wrapped her own arms around the two of us and gave a light squeeze.

  “We love you too, Joey. Now, why don’t you help Gram and me finish drying these dishes so we can go to bed? We’re all tired and cranky. I think it would be a good idea for all of us to go to bed early and get some sleep.”

  I couldn’t have agreed more with my aunt, so without further argument or discussion, we finished cleaning up the remains of the dinner dishes before each going our separate ways.

  Aunt Gwen had already left for work when I crawled out of bed. She’d never done that before, so I replayed everything from last night over and over in my mind and how she might be feeling. Gram was pulling into the school driveway when I let out the breath I’d been holding and asked the question I’d been putting off.

  “Is Aunt Gwen okay? Is she mad at me?”

  Gram glanced at me as she stopped us in front of the school. “No, sweetheart, she’s not mad at you. I think she’s worried after what you and your friends said last night that you might be right. Maybe not about them not being human, but that something’s wrong. Neither of us are convinced about it, but she’s worried.”

  “She’ll be careful?”

  “Absolutely. Now, run along inside before Chrissa starts worrying you’ll be late, and have fun this weekend and make good choices.”

  If Gram only knew the truth she’d have locked the car doors that instant and driven home like a maniac to barricade me in my room. Lying to her and going to a party was the stupidest idea I’d ever come up with. I would never have lied to Mom. It was too late to back out, though.

  The moment I opened the door, my skin crawled, and I flinched at the new sour scent hovering in the air. How many of these people were there? It wasn’t a fresh scent since many other smells lingered with it, but it couldn’t have been over an hour old either. My hesitation had Gram narrowing her eyes at me, but before she could comment on my odd behavior, and my paling face, I climbed from the car and wished her goodbye. Slamming the door shut, I turned away and lifted my nose into the air.

  I’d never come across this scent before. I was sure of it. This odor was a dry, sour smell if that was a way to describe a smell. No matter how many times I sniffed, I couldn’t pinpoint where the source was coming from.

  Gram hadn’t moved her car as I stood there inhaling sourness, so I gave up after the fourth try and headed for the building, not looking back. No doubt I was worrying her with my odd behavior.

  The foul scent followed me into the building, and I was half way to my locker when I realized that it hadn’t followed me. It was in the building too. One of them had been in the school.

  My heart raced as I fought my way through the crowded hall to our lockers, but Chrissa wasn’t there. She never left our lockers before I joined her, unless it was after the bell. Her car had been in the parking lot, so I knew she was in the building somewhere. Adrenaline raced through my veins as my eyes swept the halls for her tall, blonde head. Where was she?

  Bubbling laughter caught my attention as I spotted her further down the hall, talking to none other than her crush, Logan. My heart lightened as he laughed along with her, although it was quiet enough, or rather the hall was still too loud, for me to hear him. His ear to ear smile was genuine as he spoke.

  As Chrissa’s eyes met mine, I raised my eyebrows in question to her with a crooked grin. Her answer was a wink, which had Logan turning to see who had the attention of the girl he was talking to. When he recognized me, he smiled and gave a small wave, which I returned.

  Now that I knew she was safe, my heartbeat slowed as I turned away and found my locker. The eerie smell still hung in the air, mixing with the other human and breakfast smells that lingered around us. There was no way I’d be able to pinpoint where the owner was in the maelstrom of odors. And that was if the owner of the scent was even nearby anymore.

  “So, what happened after I left last night?” Chrissa appeared at my side as I slammed my locker shut. Her smile was brighter today, and it had everything to do with Logan. Looking over her shoulder, I found him watching her with his own excited grin. Something had happened, and I wanted to know what.

  “Nothing much. Soooo Logan, huh? What’s up with that? I saw that over there.”

  “I asked first.”

  “Ask away, darlin’, because I’m not opening my mouth until after I get an explanation.”

  “Flowers kiss you again?”

  “Wouldn’t you like to know? Hey, before I don’t get a chance to tell you, I smell one of them.”

  Her eyes widened, and her face grew ashen as she stared at me. “Right now?”

  I nodded. “Well, I can smell the scent, but it’s older; maybe an hour. I can’t tell where it’s coming from with everyone else’s scents flying around. Be careful today, and let me know if you see something weird. But anyway, you were talking about Logan?”

  My quick change in topic distracted her as the first bell rang. We groaned together, neither of us ready to start the day, but both wanting it to be over. Chrissa moved through the halls effortlessly, with me on her tail. She never had to wade through people; they always parted for her.

  “Joey, you have got to start getting here earlier.”

  “Why?” I asked, dropping my science book on my desk.

  “So we actually have time to talk.”

  “We have time to talk, but you aren’t talking.”

  “Fine, come here.”

  I scooted my chair right next to hers and sat. She did a quick scan of the room then leaned in close. “We talked, okay? Not about anything important, just talked. He mentioned the party tomorrow night, and I told him we were going, so we’re meeting up there. Then I asked him out.”

  “What?” I screeched and slapped a hand over my mouth. “You asked him out? What’d he sa
y?”

  “He said yes!” she squealed in my ear, and I flinched away to save my bleeding ears any more pain.

  “That’s great. When? Any idea what you’re going to do?”

  “Not yet, but I’ll come up with something fun. Maybe we could make it a double date.”

  “I’ll have to talk to Flowers about that one.”

  “Speaking of Flowers…you two have fun last night? Hmm?”

  Would the teacher start class already? How’d we get this back to me so quick? That’s right, I didn’t ask for details and Chrissa always did.

  “Not so fast. I want to hear what you asked Logan and his answers.”

  “Seriously?”

  “Yes, or I don’t tell you if Kev did or did not kiss me last night.”

  “I know he did.”

  “Do not.”

  “Fine. I asked him how he was doing on his English essay. He said it wasn’t too bad and then asked about mine. So I told him I was almost done. I asked where he lived, and he told me. It’s actually a few miles from my house, so not too far. Then we talked families, and the Halloween party and before you know it, I ask him out, and he tells me he’s been trying to get the courage to ask me. You were right; I needed to step up my game. Now, you. Did Flowers get a little something special last night?” she asked, wagging her eyebrows at me.

  “We kissed, yes.”

  “And?”

  “He tastes good.” I slapped a hand across my mouth in complete horror as I stared at her, both of our eyes wide.

  “Miss Joey, I think you’ve got some explaining to do.”

  The teacher decided then to start class, and I both blessed and cursed his name for it. It was a good time to start, but five minutes earlier would have been preferred.

  By the time lunch came around my stomach was settling from the noxious odor filling the halls and rooms of the school. It had begun to dissipate in the variety of smells that littered the hallways, which eased my tense muscles. Whoever owned the scent was gone, but it still creeped me out that they’d been here in the first place, and I had no idea why or who.

  “Okay, so he tastes good?” Chrissa sat in her usual seat across from me, staring me down for an answer, which I ignored and moved on to one of my own.

  “So what do you think Samuel is?”

  “I don’t know. Werewolf?”

  “But we don’t know that he changes into anything.”

  “And that’s where we have a problem. We don’t have enough info. We could always skip the party and go spy on him.”

  “I’m sure Flowers would love to hear that I did that.”

  “Won’t he be with us?” She pulled a turkey sandwich from her lunchbox as well as some carrots, celery and a water bottle. It was a good thing we binged on junk food because she never ate any at school.

  “I asked him to watch over Gram and Aunt Gwen for me on Saturday. I don’t think we’ll run into any problems. Neither of them knows our plans.”

  “Dude, nobody knows our plans. Except Flowers. He knows.”

  “And he won’t tell anyone.”

  “So are we spying or going to a party?”

  “Let’s hit the party and spy another weekend when Flowers can come with us. He’s a fast get away, and we may need it.”

  “I thought I wasn’t supposed to get a ride.”

  “I’ll make an exception.”

  “Good. So let’s see, Flowers said they sniff like weregals do, so they have to have a good sense of smell.”

  “They’re really quiet because I never heard Samuel approach in the woods. I only smelled him.”

  “Do we know how good they can see or hear?”

  “I’m not sure. I don’t think I’ve noticed anything that could answer that.”

  “I’m telling you; he’s a werewolf. Why else would he hate Flowers so much? Tom’s been here long enough to know about weregals, and he hates them. Well, cats and dogs hate each other. What if he wants to get rid of all the weregals so they don’t expose him? Maybe that’s why they smell bad to you.”

  “It’s a pretty decent theory. Now we have to prove it.”

  “I hate proof,” Chrissa muttered to her uneaten sandwich. “It’s like having references and quotes for your essay. It’s a pain in the behind.”

 
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