How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf

       part  #1 of  Naked Werewolf Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
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“He’s like that with everybody,” Darby assured me. “Don’t take it personally. Some people were just born with a pinecone shoved up their butts. In Cooper’s case, it’s lodged sideways. ”

“Well, that is an entertaining mental picture, so thanks. ”

“You know what would really make him mad?” she asked, her eyes a-twinkle. “Dating Leonard Tremblay. ”

“Nice try, Darby. ”

“Well, you can’t blame a girl. ”

I TEND TO bake when I’m upset. Or bored . . . or premenstrual . . . or if it’s a Tuesday. I’ll use any excuse.

When I got home, I unpacked my groceries and baked six dozen chocolate chess squares to take into work the next morning. Chess squares are a Southern delicacy, derived from chess pie, a custard pie that uses cornmeal instead of flour for thickening. And when I used Reba Reynolds’s secret recipe, they turned out a sort of combination of brownie and cheesecake. Grown men have wept upon tasting my chess squares.

I’m a little cocky about my kitchen skills.

My plan was to use them as a sort of opening volley to persuade Buzz and Evie to change the Glacier’s menu. It wasn’t that the Glacier’s food was bad, it was just a little bland.

Fine, fine, I was hoping to get them to change the menu because I was bored. But Evie had already let me change a few things, such as adding spices other than salt to the burger mix. While she’d never admit it to Buzz, who sat at the counter every day with a slightly sulky expression, Evie said the customers were happier with my cooking than with his.

My plan was to suggest small alterations, soups, omelets with lots of fillings, an expanded dessert menu. We would serve good, wholesome diner food that wouldn’t leave me smelling like Ronald McDonald at the end of the day.

While my last batch of squares was cooling, I turned on my computer and found that I’d finally gotten Internet access through the local phone company. It was surprisingly fast considering the distance the lines had to stretch. I had thirty-two new messages in my Hotmail in-box. Four of them were from Kara.

“Mo, I know you won’t have e-mail for a few days, so it’s sort of pointless to write, but I miss you already. It’s weird. We’ve lived hundreds of miles apart for years now, but it seems worse now that there’s an entire continent between us. I keep thinking, ‘I should call Mo and tell her this,’ and then I remember that (a) you’re not at your house anymore, and (b) not only are you no longer in residence, but you chose to move your sorry behind across the freaking hemisphere.

“So, here’s how I’ve spent the last few days: Terrible first date on Tuesday night with that guy from the gym. Turns out his sweating issues were not related to treadmill time. I thought I was going to have to towel off when he hugged me good night. Book club on Wednesday night, which I failed to read the book for. Let’s be honest, I joined the club for the free wine and readily available men. Thursday night, I quit the book club and joined a new gym. So, really, it was a very productive week.

“Dad’s birthday is this weekend, and I’m heading home, which will give me a chance to break the news about your move. I’m sure Mom and Dad will be thrilled for you, though.

“Please call or write when you can. Love, Kara. ”

I snorted. Kara’s mother used to call us the Tortoise and the Hare. We moved at different speeds, but we usually arrived at the same place eventually. Kara was the tiny blond dynamo. I was the freakishly tall observer. You would think that sharing most of our classes, working together, and spending all of our spare time together would sow discord, or at least occasional cattiness, between two very different teenage girls. But Kara and I skipped over those friendship growing pains. She never seemed to mind that I basically took up residence in her home, taking up her parents’ time and attention. For her part, Kara insisted that I didn’t know what I was getting into, that her parents were intrusive and overbearing, too, but on a less obvious scale than mine. Still, I will never forget John and Reba Reynolds’s willingness to bring “that hippie girl” into their home, despite dire warnings from gossipy neighbors. I’d spent a lifetime among people who extolled the benefits of sharing and giving, and I was still awed by the Reynoldses’ generous souls.

Scrolling through her increasingly manic missives, I clicked on the message she’d sent me that morning.

“Mo, I am assuming from your lack of e-mail either that you have had trouble getting Internet service or that you have been devoured by a grizzly bear. Come on, woman, I want all the details. How was your drive? What’s your house like? What’s Grundy like? Are you meeting any nice people? Are there any stores in town? Do I need to have the National Guard airlift Diet Coke and Twizzlers to you? I’m dying here. If you don’t respond by Friday, I’m going to call you, long-distance charges be damned. Love, Kara. P. S. Don’t make me give your new address to your mother. ”

Giggling, I dialed Kara’s number on my cell phone. My carrier provided nationwide long-distance in every state but Hawaii and Alaska, so it was going to be expensive. But at this point, I didn’t think an e-mail would soothe Kara’s wounded pride.

The phone rang maybe half a beat before it was clattering off the receiver. “Mo?” she demanded.

I felt a mile-wide smile stretch across my face. “I did explain that I was moving here to get away from whiny emotional blackmailers, right?”

Kara blurted out, “I’m so sorry, Mo. ”

Instant alarm zipped down my spine at Kara’s voice. “What’s wrong? Are my parents OK?”

“Everybody’s fine,” she said quickly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. But . . . I screwed up. I’m so sorry. I told you I was going to tell my parents that you were moving? Dad said it was about time and to consider that your birthday present to him. And Mom said she was sorry she couldn’t help you pack. ”

This made perfect sense. From what I remembered of high school graduation, Kara’s mother offered to dress in black, paint her face in camouflage, and smuggle me into my college dorm in the dead of night. “And?”

Kara sighed. “Well, my mom ran into your mom at the library yesterday, and she couldn’t help but rub it in a little bit that you’d finally escaped. And then Mom made some comment about how difficult it would be for your dad’s van to make it all the way to Alaska for a visit. Your mom fell on the information like a lion on a zebra carcass, and the next thing my mom knew, Saffron had dragged the town name out of her, too. I’m so sorry, Mo. Your mom has some sort of evil hypnotic power. And my mom has a big mouth. ”

I took a deep breath. Oh, please, I begged silently, just let me have this a little while longer before Hurricane Saffron and her destructive wake suck me under. The breath I was holding hissed out through my teeth as I pried the Tums bottle open. “It was going to happen eventually, Kara. Don’t worry about it. And tell your mom not to feel bad. It’s not like she gave them GPS coordinates or anything. ”

Kara let out a relieved sigh. “Thank you. Mom feels terrible. ”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said while crunching the antacid tablets.

“Now that we have that out of the way. ” She squealed. “Oh, my God, tell me everything. Is it beautiful there? Have you seen a moose yet? Is it horribly, horribly remote and desolate? Are the people anything like the cast from Northern Exposure?”

“Yes, no, no, and sadly, no. Because every girl could use some John Corbett. ” I sighed.

“Well, what are they like?”

“They’re just people, Kare. I mean, they’re a little eccentric and independent. But no weirder than anybody we knew in Mississippi. Some of our classmates’ parents were carnies, for God’s sake. For the most part, they’ve been really kind, and I’ve been welcomed with open arms. Of course, I think it’s because they want me to enter some sort of contract marriage and breeding program . . . ”

“I knew it. ” Kara hissed in mock triumph. “You drank the Kool-Aid. Thirty years of resisting your parents’ indoctrination, and you fall victim to a breeding mill. I’m just going to have to move up there and scope out the prospects for myself. ”

I broke down laughing and told Kara about the Glacier and Buzz’s accident, about Evie, Alan, Nate, and Abner, about my marketability as a marriage prospect in Grundy, about my little house, which was becoming ever more habitable. I left out descriptions of Cooper’s surly hotness. I didn’t want Kara to seize on hostile locals as a reason for me to come home.

“So no close encounters with bears yet?” she asked. Kara had a secret phobia of bears, particularly grizzlies, which was sort of ironic, as the only specimens within a thousand miles of her lived in zoos. She was the only person I’ve ever known who was creeped out by the Snuggle the Fabric Softener Bear.

I sighed, knowing that what I was about to say might keep Kara from ever visiting my new home. “The closest I’ve come is a wolf chasing down an elk right outside my door the first night I was here. ”

“Oh, my God!”

“It was nothing,” I assured her. “I haven’t seen it since. ”

“Well, just remember that yeah, the animals are majestic, beautiful, and noble and all that crap, but they’re still dangerous. Look at what happened to that grizzly guy. He spent his whole life trying to protect the bears and ended up feeding them. Literally. ”

“I will not try to live among the wolves,” I promised.

“I have to admit I’m just the teensiest bit disappointed. I was sort of hoping you might not like it there. And move, I don’t know, back into the same hemisphere as me. ”

“I think I’m happy here, Kara. ”

“I know, I can tell by your voice. ” She sighed. “Damn it. ”

IT TOOK TWO more Tums, an hour of yoga, and a chocolate chess square before I felt mentally prepared to call my mother. I’d put it off for too long, and now that she had a general search area, I needed to take preemptive action before she did something drastic. I dialed my parents’ number and prayed that they were outside in the garden or that maybe my dad would pick up. Ash wasn’t exactly the reasonable parent, but he was a rank amateur when it came to lecturing and guilting.

“How could you just run away like this?” my mother demanded the moment she picked up the phone.

“Mom. ”

“Do you have any idea what this is doing to your father? Or how we felt when we came to your house and found it empty?”

I’d noticed that my mother did manage to sound a lot like a “normal” parent when she was upset with me. But that sort of observation, or commenting on the fact that they’d gone to my house unannounced to find it empty, wouldn’t be helpful at this juncture. “Mom. ”

“You know how important it is for us to be able to visit you. You know we need to spend time with you. How could you move in the dead of night without a word?” She sniffled, her voice thickening with tears.

“Mom. ”

“I don’t understand what would make you do this!” she cried. “What did we do to make you hate us this badly? All we ever did was love you too much. ”

“You’re right, Mom. You do love me too much!” I exploded. “You love me so much that you go through my kitchen and throw away half of my food because you’ve decided it’s bad for me. You called my boss to discuss me taking days off for Burning Man, which I never agreed to attend. And I had to explain to my boss what Burning Man was, which was a humiliation all its own. You tried to get the receptionist at my doctor’s office to give you the results of my annual gyno exam—”

“I’m just a concerned parent. I never mean to get information I’m not supposed to have. If they aren’t supposed to tell me something, how is it my fault if they tell me anyway?”
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