How to flirt with a nake.., p.42
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       How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, p.42

         Part #1 of Naked Werewolf series by Molly Harper  
Page 42

 

  “What about his family?” I asked.

  “Eli’s sort of the last of his line,” Maggie said. “His dad died when we were in high school. He takes care of his mom, our Aunt Billie. She’s been really sick lately. Alzheimer’s. The pack will take over for him there. We take care of our own. ”

  “No regrets,” I told Cooper when I found him staring at the ground. “No torturing yourself. No guilt. ”

  “None,” he agreed, wrapping his arms around me. “I guess I’m going to have to marry you now,” he muttered, his chin tucked over my shoulder.

  “My parents aren’t even married,” I scoffed.

  His warm hand closed over mine, skimming it over the belly that would be full and round in just a few weeks. He sighed, snuffling at my neck. “Please marry me, Mo. Raise our baby with me. ”

  I leaned into him, nuzzling his neck. “I have one condition. ”

  He sighed again, much more content this time. “Shoot. ”

  “We pick a normal, traditional name for this kid. The baby is going to have enough to deal with, what with the whole half-werewolf deal. So, no flower names, no tree names, no gemstones, no names of musicians who asphyxiated on their own vomit, no intellectual ideals as middle names—”

  “How about Noah for a boy and Eva for a girl?” he suggested, his hands up in a surrendering gesture.

  “I agree,” I said, thinking of how happy Evie would be.

  “What, we’re not naming the baby after a favorite aunt?” Maggie demanded testily. When I arched a brow at her, she rolled her eyes. “All right, too soon. You could at least put me in the running for the middle name. ”

  “We are not naming my son Noah Margaret,” Cooper told her.

  “Why are we making up again?” she asked grumpily.

  “No idea,” he replied, wrapping an arm around each of us.

  I made a sudden conversational lane change. “How do you have the big bad evil confrontation moment with a naked guy and keep a straight face? I didn’t know where to look. ”

  Maggie shrugged. “It’s a matter of eye contact. ”

  “Blech. ”

  Molly Harper

  23

  Smothering at 20,000 Feet

  “TAKE IT EASY, SWEETHEART,” Cooper said as my parents’ little puddle jumper of a plane landed at the Dearly Airport. We were waiting at the airport’s single gate, watching through the glass doors as the plane taxied down the tarmac. I found myself wanting to rush out toward the plane, eager to set eyes on the very people who’d driven me to Alaska, to Cooper.

  “I’m fine,” I promised as he buttoned my light jacket, skimming his fingers protectively over the ever-growing bump of my belly. It was hard to believe I was only four months along. If this were a human pregnancy, people would have guessed at least seven or eight. Other than the accelerated timeline, I seemed to be having a normal, healthy pregnancy. Well, almost normal. Dr. Moder had sworn that the baby wouldn’t be born with a tail, though a full set of teeth was a distinct possibility. This had me seriously reconsidering breastfeeding.

  My stomach was quite the topic of conversation when Cooper and I had married a month before in a small civil ceremony in my front yard, overseen by a beaming Nate Gogan. People ribbed us good-naturedly about shotgun weddings and pretended to be highly offended by my fallen state. But there were worse reasons to get married, and most people forgot the “scandal” of an expectant bride by the end of the reception. Heck, some of the guests had forgotten their own names by the end of the reception.

  I’d wanted our wedding to be traditional, as traditional as the union between a werewolf and his pregnant bride could be. I wore a white dress and flowers in my hair. Kara had made what she called a “once in a lifetime” trip from Mississippi as planned and served as my maid of honor. She hadn’t left yet. She and Alan started making goo-goo eyes at each other during the ceremony and hadn’t stopped since. Having learned his lesson from taking his time with me, Alan was more overt in his attentions to Kara. He asked her to stick around for the Big Freeze party, which was still months away. They were currently shacked up at the ranger station, only emerging for occasional trips to Bulk Wonderland for mega-packs of condoms. I was ecstatic for both of them.

  As a wedding present, Evie and Buzz had offered me a twenty-percent share in the saloon, since I’d increased the receipts by at least that much since my arrival. They’d already set up a little nursery in the office at the Glacier, so I could keep working after my maternity leave. As wrong as it seemed to have a baby in a bar, I knew there would always be a patron there to cuddle or coo . . . assuming that his or her father wasn’t already there, in Cooper’s words, “showing off his son. ” I asked him what he would do if the baby was a girl. Cooper turned a little green and started muttering about setting traps around the house when she turned thirteen.

  Cooper still had no interest in being the pack’s alpha, but in the wake of Eli’s loss, he did visit the packlands more often. After an all-night meeting, the pack finally decided on a more democratic process of selecting an alpha: secret ballot. Maggie won by a landslide.

  Samson had been nominated, but none of the wolves believed he would take the job seriously. Maggie stepped into the job and was handling it all beautifully. Even without the genetic conditioning required, she had the authority of a true alpha. Because most of the pack was terrified of her. Her judgment was surprisingly fair, swift, and, generally, in the best interests of her people. And she was finally happy. She’d actually smiled at me during my last visit to the valley.

  Well, it was more of a lip twitch, but it was devoid of face-melting hatred, so I’m counting it.

  My parents hadn’t been able to make it up for the wedding, but I didn’t resent that the way I thought I would. They did things in their own time. I sent pictures, and they sent a long, heartfelt letter filled with good wishes. This visit was to be the first step toward a happier balance.

  Cooper and I waited patiently while my parents’ plane slowed to a stop. After a few minutes, the door opened with almost frantic pop. The two pilots and a handful of passengers scrambled over one another to get down the little staircase and onto safe ground. They cast frantic glances over their shoulders as they rushed to the gate’s entrance.

  “I see my mother is being her charming self. ” I sighed, keeping a determined smile on my face.

  “She’s not going to talk about my colon, is she?” Cooper asked, grimacing.

  “I can’t make any guarantees,” I said. “But I am not responsible for her or to her. ”

  Cooper pursed his lips, keeping a careful eye on the plane. “Meaning?”

  “If you two have a problem, you’re going to have to work it out between yourselves. ”

  “Coward,” he snorted as my parents made their way down the stairs and onto the blacktop. Mom had some poor tourist by the arm. I could only imagine that she was regaling the poor woman with a sermon about the mood-enhancing benefits of a daily Saint John’s wort regimen.

  “It’s a process,” I whispered as Dad waved from across the tarmac. My parents had on winter clothes that would have been fashionable in 1984. It had been that long since they’d needed anything heavier than T-shirts and shorts. My dad, however, was wearing sneakers instead of his usual flip-flops, so I appreciated their efforts at sensibility. They burst through the door and stared at me, as if they were trying to memorize every detail before I bolted.

  “Hi!” I exclaimed as my father put his arms around me, awkwardly reaching around my swollen middle to hold me close.

  “Oh, my little Moonflower. ” He sighed into my hair. He leaned back and took in the sight of my swollen belly. His eyes swam with tears. “Look at you. I guess you’re not my little girl anymore, huh?”

  “Daddy, this is Cooper, my husband,” I told him as Mom bid good-bye to her poor, harried Saint John’s wort convert.

  “So, you’re the young man who had the nerve to steal my daughter’s heart and make me a grandfather without even talking to me first?” Dad asked, his voice suddenly stern. Cooper looked stricken. I gaped between the two of them, stumbling for a response. Dad guffawed, wiped at his eyes, and pulled Cooper in for a hug. “Just kidding, man. Welcome to the family. ”

  Cooper gave a nervous laugh and shot me a nervous glance, which only grew more panicked as my mother’s attention focused on me.

  “Oh, baby, look at your hair!” my mother exclaimed, clutching my face in her hands. “It’s so pretty, grown out like that. It’s just the perfect length. ”

  I shook my head. Never once had my mother complimented my hairstyle. She’d never even mentioned it. I was the only person alive who’d never had to worry about her mother criticizing her appearance.

  “And look at you!” she said, taking my hands in hers so she could get a better view of my stomach. “You look so healthy and happy! How have you been feeling?”

  “I’m fine, Mom. The doctor says I’m the picture of health,” I promised as the four of us made our way to the luggage claim.

  “Well, you know, you have to keep a constant vigil while you’re pregnant. Have you been eating organic? Getting enough vegetables? You’ve cut back on your processed-meat consumption, haven’t you? I brought you some special tea for nausea; it’s in my suitcase. Oh, and the most wonderful book on putting together an eco-friendly nursery. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to use cloth diapers now!”

  Sensing a tangent coming on, I squeezed my mom’s hands and said softly, “Mom, we have it covered. ”

  And while I could see the struggle rippling across her face, instead of taking offense, miraculously, she smiled and kissed my cheek. “Of course you do. You’ve always been my sensible girl. A complete pain in my ass, of course, but sensible. ”

  “Oh, yes. ” I snorted. “I was the pain in your ass. ”

  “You were always hassling us to pay our taxes, take you to the dentist, sign permission slips. You were more of an adult at twelve than we ever were. It made me feel guilty. And if I was . . . controlling or manipulative, maybe it was because I was trying to prove that you still needed me. ”

  I wrapped my fingers around hers. “It’s not important now. And by that, I don’t mean you’re invited to continue. Let’s just not worry about it. ”

  I watched as Dad and Cooper gathered not one, not two, but three huge secondhand suitcases and several boxes marked “Perishable Foods—Organic. ” My heart started to hammer a bit. “Mom, isn’t that an awful lot of bags and supplies for a one-week visit?”

  “Oh, well. ” Mom gave a tinkling laugh. “Your father and I have talked about it, and we’ve decided that it would be best for us to stay until the baby’s born. You should be surrounded by family right now, Mo. And the bed-and-breakfast practically runs itself with all the help we have. There’s no sense in us staying home. We’re here for you, honey, for as long as you need us. Oh, wait. Ash, that’s the box with the wheat germ in it. I’m afraid some of it might have spilled during the flight. I thought I heard something crack. ”

  I stood speechless as my mom dashed over to direct my dad on the proper handling of spilled wheat germ. Cooper ambled over to me, a suitcase in each hand. He hadn’t looked this gray since I’d pried the bear trap off him. “Did she say they were staying until the baby is born?”

  I nodded, my expression frozen in horror. “That’s two months. ”

  He dropped the suitcases and jostled me gently. “Breathe, Mo. Breathe. It will be OK. I love you. ”

  “It’s a damn good thing, because I love you, too. ” I looked up at him. “How quickly do you think we could move to Australia?”
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