How to flirt with a nake.., p.5
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       How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, p.5

         Part #1 of Naked Werewolf series by Molly Harper  
Page 5

 

  “John Matthew DuChamp, are you trying to tell me that after getting through two tours of duty unscathed, you’ve maimed yourself trying to cut a beer bottle in half?” Evie demanded.

  Buzz was looking rather sheepish at the use of his full name . . . and green.

  “It’s pretty bad,” Pete told her. “We need to get him to the clinic right now. ”

  “I’ll take him,” Evie said, whipping her apron over her head and reaching for her purse.

  “It’s the middle of the lunch rush,” Buzz protested queasily. “You two can’t leave. I’ll drive myself. ”

  “You can barely stand,” Evie told him. “I’ll take you. Pete can handle the counter. ”

  “Alone?” Pete squeaked, sounding panicked. “You know what happens when you leave, Evie. Homer Perkins picks apart his food, yells that I got his order wrong, and throws stuff at me. ”

  “Oh, it was one time,” Evie said, patting his arm.

  “It was an ax handle!”

  Evie kissed Buzz’s forehead. “Fine, I’ll stay here, but Pete’s going to take you to get that looked at. ”

  “Well, if I take Pete with me, who’s going to cook?” Buzz asked.

  Evie chewed her lip.

  “Evie’s a disaster in the kitchen,” Pete explained to me, a conspiratorial note in his voice. “She started a fire boiling eggs once. ”

  “But Cooper said to try her pie,” I whispered. Evie was too distracted with Buzz to pay either of us any attention. “He said it was a life changer. ”

  “Well, being trapped on the can for a week probably would change your life,” Pete conceded. My jaw dropped, and I glared at Cooper. Well, that cinched it. He was an asshole. I was definitely going to end up sleeping with him.

  From what I recalled of the menu, it was very basic all-American diner food with little embellishment. Burgers. Fries. Pancakes the size of hubcaps. Bacon. Eggs. Steak, steak, and more steak. I’d done all that and more manning the stove at the Tast-E-Grill.

  “I can do it,” I told Evie. The words had left my lips before the implications of taking on such a task settled heavily in my chest. I scanned the kitchen and saw hamburger patties already shaped, veggies already chopped. There were several orders close to burning on the grill. “I worked my way through school at a drive-in. It looks like most of your prep work is already done. And I can do short-order stuff. ”

  Evie’s face flooded with relief. “Would you?”

  Buzz was not so eager to relinquish control of his grill. “Really, Evie, I think I’ll be fine in just a—” He stood up, turned two shades paler, and little beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. He leaned heavily on Pete and said, “Yeah, I need to go to the doctor now. ”

  Cooper, who’d had difficulty getting around the determined Lynette to help immediately following the accident, managed to steal around the counter before Buzz slumped to the ground. He caught Buzz’s elbow and held him upright, sort of dangling by his good arm.

  “You want me to go along, Evie?” he asked in his gruff baritone. “Pete won’t be able to hold Buzz down when they try to stitch him up. ”

  Evie chewed her lip. “Would you, Cooper?”

  “Buzz is scared of needles,” Pete confided in me. “Just about loses his mind over getting shots. He threw Dr. Gordon halfway across the room when he had to get a tetanus booster. ”

  Cooper ignored Pete, shrugging in Evie’s general direction. “Sure. Otherwise, I’d just end up bailing Buzz out of jail later, after he tears up the clinic. ”

  Buzz was packed off to the clinic with another kiss and a stern look from Evie. She returned to her place behind the bar with a fresh apron and a serenity I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few minutes before.

  Except for the pooled blood, the kitchen was meticulously clean. I got out the rubber gloves and disinfectant and carefully wiped down any area that might have been affected by Buzz’s accident. I washed my hands carefully and turned the heat down on the monster griddle, hoping I could save most of what Buzz had been cooking. In keeping with his haircut, Buzz also had a military eye when it came to organization and ordering. In bulk. So it was easy to find my way around the kitchen.

  I eyed the waiting tickets and turned out two plates of steak and eggs and a tuna melt. The next few hours were a blur of filled plates and pleasantly popping grease. It was funny how quickly my hands recalled those summers at the grill. The sounds and smells hadn’t changed. Only now, there was a murmur of conversation, which had been contained behind car windows at the drive-in. Several customers praised their lunches and asked Evie about “that new girl behind the stove. ” Occupied by constant orders, I was able to keep my head down and pretend I couldn’t hear.

  Pete called to report that Buzz had severed a tendon in his finger and would have to go to the nearest hospital, 127 miles away in Dearly, for surgery. Evie took this in stride, considering, and asked me if I wouldn’t mind working through the dinner shift. They ran a brisk business for lunch, but Evie said the crowd would lull from two to four before the dinner crowd came in. The grill was scheduled to close around six, when the lunch counter became the bar. The nighttime regulars were far more interested in booze than in burgers.

  By the time Ben, the night bartender, arrived to relieve me, my feet ached, my sweater was ruined by splattered grease, and I was up to my elbows in dishwater. Evie sank against the pallet of chili beans, took a bottle of iced tea out of the stock, and sighed. “I love Buzz, but honestly, what the hell do men think when they do things like this?”

  I grinned, wiping down the counter. “I don’t know if thought is really part of the ‘this is going to be so cool’ planning process. ”

  Evie smiled and closed her eyes. They popped back open a few seconds later when the phone next to her head rang.

  “Buzz?” she said, an edge creeping into her voice, as if she were finally allowing herself to absorb the panic of seeing her husband injured. I turned my back and let her have her moment. I heard the soft rush of conversation, the endearments, the threats against Buzz’s most delicate manly parts if he ever did anything like that again. I smiled to myself but focused on washing the dishes. Evie hung up the phone with a sigh.

  “They’re staying in Dearly for the night. Buzz is good and looped on pain meds. The doctor told Cooper it’s going to be months before Buzz has full use of his hand. ” Relief and worry were stark on her straight, even features. “He’s not going to be able to dress himself, much less cook. ”

  “Oh, Evie, I’m so sorry. But I’m sure Pete can handle the kitchen until Buzz is ready. ”

  “Pete’s a good general dogsbody. He can crack eggs and chop vegetables, though considering today, I’m thinking about taking all sharp objects away from both of them. But he can’t run the kitchen by himself,” she said, a faint line creasing between her eyebrows. “He’s not consistent. He gets flustered when there’s a rush of orders, and he’s been known to walk out of the kitchen crying. ”

  I shrugged. “Well, maybe if Buzz is there to direct him . . . ”

  “Buzz’s style of direction is why Pete has been known to walk out of the kitchen crying,” Evie told me. “Mo, do you think you might like a job here? Full-time, while Buzz is out? Maybe take over the baking?”

  “But you barely know me,” I protested. “You just met me this morning. ”

  “And I like what I’ve seen. You don’t faint at the sight of blood. You’re willing to help out a near stranger. You’re a solid, consistent cook. And you had several opportunities to swipe tips out of the jar and you didn’t touch a cent, which is more than I can say for a few of my employees. ”

  I pressed my lips together and considered. Despite my plans for an idle life in Grundy, I’d had a good day. I liked being in the kitchen. I felt like a part of the room, but I wasn’t in it. I had privacy. And I liked the saloon. I liked the friendly voices, the chatter. I liked being near Evie. It felt as if I was taking a baby step into the community.

  My mother had always told me that everything happens for a reason. Of course, she’d also told me that dyeing my hair and using commercial laundry detergent would mutate my chromosomes. But I’d embraced her resistance to the possibility of coincidence. Maybe I was supposed to be in Grundy. Maybe I was supposed to be sitting at the lunch counter when Buzz pulled his bone-headed Ginsu demonstration. Maybe this was my place.

  I turned to Evie and smiled. “I think I would like that. ”

  4

  Drinking the Kool-Aid

  I’D FORGOTTEN HOW MUCH my feet hurt after a cooking shift. Or that eventually even your contact lenses feel as if they’re filmed in grease. I started keeping my work clothes in the hall closet so I could keep my good clothes smell-free. But I was happy.

  I was building a routine. I got up every morning, put on my most comfortable boots, threw whatever leftover baking scraps I had into the backyard for the birds, and drove Lucille into town. Word traveled in Grundy much the way it had traveled back home, in kitchens and school hallways and the town’s lone beauty parlor. The saloon was the social hub of the town. When word spread that there was a new girl there, our dining-room crowd almost doubled.

  Buzz had hovered over me at the stove the first day or so. He obviously resented being replaced in the kitchen but couldn’t do much beyond stirring with his bum hand. I’d only gained his trust on my third day, after one of the customers paid his tab in elk meat, which was his usual monthly custom. I didn’t bat an eyelash at the strange-smelling, almost purple cuts of meat. I asked Buzz whether he’d rather I grind it for meat loaf or marinate it in Coca-Cola to eliminate some of the gamey taste in a roast. Buzz stammered that a meat loaf would be a good daily special, then supervised as I prepared two huge pans.

  “How do you know so much about cooking wild game?” he asked after he took a test bite of the finished product and declared it “all right. ” From Buzz, that was practically gushing.

  “This is nothing. Call me when you’ve tried deep-fried gator. Or chitlins. Actually, I don’t recommend the chitlins. ”

  Buzz shuddered. “No thanks. ”

  He ambled away to sit at the counter, drink coffee, and talk to Evie. She kissed his forehead, then turned and winked at me.

  I had a place here, my own space. After a few days, my Grundy neighbors called me “Mo from the Blue Glacier. ” I found myself coming out of the kitchen more often, taking orders, pouring coffee, eager for conversation and new faces. I wasn’t identified by my parents’ needs or beliefs. I wasn’t invisible. I was Mo, a contributing member of the community and frequent target of good-natured romantic overtures. There were those who didn’t speak to me, because I was still too “new. ” It wasn’t outright rudeness, just an unwillingness to acknowledge my presence until I’d proven my mettle. But most of the unattached men in town had made at least a halfhearted attempt to flirt with me. It was kind of sweet, a sort of inappropriate initiation.

  The town’s female population seemed divided between women who saw me as competition for prime male stock, such as Lynette, who didn’t have much to say to me beyond barking orders, and those who seemed happy to “share the burden” of the attention. In fact, Darby Carmichael, a checker at Hannigan’s, responded to Evie’s introduction by sighing and saying, “Another one? Thank God!” Darby immediately pledged her undying friendship if I got Leonard Tremblay off her back. She seemed to understand when I declined.

  Among my furry, fervent admirers, the most persistent was Alan Dahling, a U. S. Forestry ranger who oversaw the massive Evanston Game Reserve that surrounded the town. If Nate Gogan were to run an ad campaign featuring Alan titled “Move to Alaska, and you will meet men who look like this,” there would be a flood of single women into Grundy. Alan was blessed with a headful of sandy, wavy hair, big blue eyes, and sooty lashes most women would kill for. And the crisp green uniform molded to a fit, trim, and very tall body didn’t hurt, either.
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