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     How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, p.9

       part  #1 of  Naked Werewolf Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
Page 9


“I really can’t,” I said as I dropped the garbage bags to the ground. “I can’t let anyone in after hours. ”

“We don’t have to tell anyone,” he said, winking at me. Something about the way he said “we” had me gritting my teeth. He leaned close. “Come on, it’ll just take a minute. ”

I gauged the distance to my truck, too far for me to make a break for it. “Sorry. Maybe you can pick it up next time you’re in town. ”

“You’re being awfully rude, honey. I’m not asking for a big favor here. ”

For a moment, I felt guilty. He wasn’t asking that much. How hard would it be just to let him back into the bar to look for his stupid hat? I was being sort of rude. But some organic alarm deep in my brain was telling me not to go into the darkened bar with him, to get out of the alley and get home as quick as I could.

“Come on, be nice. Just let me in,” he said, grinning widely even as I took a step around him.

Not by the hairs on my chinny-freaking-chin, my brain yelled back as his hand clamped around my arm.

My heart thundered in my chest as I realized how trapped I was. Even if I made it to my truck, if I managed to get inside before he stopped me, I would have to run him over to get out. Could I do that? I took in his huge, hulking form, his cold, dry hands, and I shuddered at the thought of either touching me. Yes, yes, I could.

I’d taken a women’s self-defense course when I moved out on my own. Somehow my dad’s safety advice, “Just try to reason with them,” didn’t seem adequate walking alone in Jackson’s darkened parking structures. I tried to remember what I’d learned, but all I could recall was the instructor’s advice for women living alone to put muddy men’s boots and a huge dog’s dish on the porch so it looked as if the home was well protected. That didn’t do me a lot of good at the moment.

“Look, I just want to leave. Leave an address at the motel, and I’ll send the hat to you. ” I tried to jerk my arm out of his grasp, but he was too strong.

He twisted my arm behind me and shoved my face against the rough brick. His voice was still so soft, even friendly, as my face scraped against the wall. “You have a choice to make here, honey. I don’t want to hurt you. But I will. You don’t want to make me hurt you, do you?”

I winced as he wrapped his fingers around the back of my neck. “Yes or no, honey?” he asked.

I whimpered. “No,” I choked out, wincing at the grinding pain in my cheek.

“You’re going to hand me your keys, and we’re going to go inside and take a look at the register. It was a nice busy day for you, right? Probably lots of cash in there. Is there a safe in the office? Do you know the combination?”

“No, I just started working here,” I said, thinking of the full night-deposit bag I’d left under the counter. Evie had said that dropping it off at the bank every morning was easier than messing with the bulky old safe at night. She said the crime rate was so low in Grundy that robbery wasn’t a big concern. I hated being the exception to a rule.

“How about I hand my keys over and you open the door yourself?” I asked, hating the tremor of fear that kept my voice reedy and thin. “I don’t have to be with you when you do this. Please, just let me go. ”

“And what? Let you run off to call the police while I’m inside? I don’t think so, honey. We’re going to spend some time together, you and I. Maybe I’ll just toss you into my goody bag and take you with me. ” He laughed so hard that he had to lean against the wall for support. Carefully, I stepped right, trying to get out of his grasp. His grip on my neck tightened. “You don’t make rules here, you got it? You don’t tell me what to do. You do what I say. That’s how this works. ”

He pulled me toward the door, loosening his hold on my head for just a moment. Swinging up with my hand, I tried to imagine my arm as a striking snake. With the last flick of my wrist, I scored my keys across his cheek, the metal teeth dragging cruelly through his skin. And while he leaned over, cursing, I turned, grabbed his head, and brought my knee crashing into his face. Biting back the urge to cry or vomit or both, I scrambled across the pavement for my truck. I felt his hand snagging the hair at the base of my neck, hooking it around his fingers, and jerking it back so hard I could see stars exploding behind my eyelids. Tears stung as my scalp screamed. My keys tumbled from my fingers.

“You bitch, you messed up my face!” he yelled, his voice wet with blood. I could feel the warmth gushing down my shoulder, soaking through my light sweater. His hands clawed their way up my torso, scraping at my throat until the fingers locked around my airway.

With everything I had, I fought the instinct to pass out. I had to put up some fight. God knew what he would do to me while I was unconscious. On the other hand, blissful ignorance might help me cope if I lived through this. Pass out and forget, or stay awake and endure?

This was an extremely shitty internal debate.

At the end of the alley, I heard a low, warning growl. In the faint lights, I could see the outline of the wolf, electric blue eyes glinting as he kept his head low on advance.

“Just stay still,” the trucker grumbled at me, twisting my hair again. I yelped. The wolf’s growl grew louder.

The trucker’s grip loosened as the wolf came closer. Panic had the edges of my vision blurring dark. This seemed an even bleaker choice. Mauled by a wolf or featured as a victim on Nancy Grace’s next broadcast? Suddenly, my self-defense instructor’s voice came back to me, clear as a bell. Kick. He’d told us that if someone had us from behind, the best way to get away was to kick back like a donkey, aiming at the knees or groin.

If I was going to die, it would at least be in a manner that I chose. And my choice of kicking my attacker seemed to startle the wolf. I kicked back, just clipping the inseam of the trucker’s jeans with my heel, catching him right in the undercarriage. The wolf huffed and darted right. The trucker howled and doubled over. I turned and kicked him in the face, knocking him back onto the pavement.

And suddenly, I realized I had my back turned to the other predator. I turned slowly, expecting the wolf to be crouching, preparing for an attack. But the huge black creature wasn’t even looking at me. His focus was on the trucker. He edged around me, the fur of his tail brushing my leg as he crept toward the barely conscious man.

I plucked my keys from the ground as the trucker came to. He screamed at the sight of the wolf and skittered backward across the blacktop like an injured crab. The wolf lunged, snapping his jaws and just missing the trucker’s face as he scrambled back against the alley wall. His strangled screams as the wolf snapped into him were almost enough to make me feel pity. But I had my truck backing out of the alley in less than a minute. My last image of the trucker was my headlights sweeping over him as the wolf lunged at him.

I’M NOT SURE HOW I drove home. The next thing I remembered was running through my front door. I wanted to hide in my shower forever. The smell of the trucker’s blood on my clothes had me stumbling to the bathroom to vomit. My stomach empty and my throat raw, I carefully stripped off the coat and sweater. I peeled my tacky, dried-out contacts from my eyes. I looked in the mirror and saw faint purpling bruises, on my throat, dappling my breasts. One of my favorite bras, white eyelet lace with little pink ribbons sewn at the straps, was stained and ruined. There was a large patch of bloody, raw skin on my left cheek where the bastard had scraped my face against the brick. I took a deep breath and, with shaking hands, called Buzz and Evie’s number.

It took a couple of stops and starts to explain what happened, but it took Buzz only a few minutes to arrive on my doorstep with his official law enforcement hat in place. He tried to stay calm and professional as he asked me those first few basic questions, then threw his arms around me in a crushing hug. Despite the horrific events of the night, I found myself chuckling into Buzz’s polyester uniform coat. I hadn’t realized he cared.

A pajama-clad Evie, who was supposed to be waiting in the truck, gently pushed Buzz aside and wrapped her arms around my neck. I blew past the lump in my throat, burying my good cheek against her warm skin, and felt better for it.

“Did you check the alley?” I asked Buzz when I finally came up for air.

“There was a little smear of blood, but you said you popped this guy in the nose pretty good, right?” He paused, and I nodded.

“But the wolf attacked him,” I said, my brows furrowing. “There should have been a lot of blood. And maybe some . . . parts. ”

Buzz looked a little uncomfortable. “Mo, I didn’t see any tracks in the mud, anything to show that a wolf was there. And they don’t normally go all the way into town . . . ”

“I’m not crazy,” I told him. “The wolf was there. ”

“No one’s saying that, Mo. If you say the wolf was there, it was there,” Evie said gently, giving Buzz a stern look. “But why were you there all alone? Where was Ben?”

“Ben got sick, so I covered the rest of his shift. And Lynette was there, or at least she was until I looked up around ten and realized that she and Leonard had disappeared,” I grumbled. “I didn’t want to bother y’all, because I wanted to prove I could handle it. Obviously, I was wrong. ”

“Next time, you call us,” Buzz said. “There’s a reason we don’t let people close up alone. ”

I nodded, knowing that this wouldn’t be an issue, as I wasn’t going to think about closing alone again.

“I stopped by the motel. The clerk said one of the guests, a trucker named John Teague, matched your description. His stuff’s still in his room, but his rig’s gone,” Buzz told me. “He probably just took off. I called the state police, gave them his name and vehicle info. I’m going to need to send them your statement. And I’m going to need to take some pictures of those bruises and your face. ”

I nodded, silent. Buzz was exceedingly gentle, asking Evie to take me into the bathroom with his Polaroid and get pictures of my face and neck. It was over in a few minutes. Evie quietly handed the pictures to Buzz, who put them in a sealed black plastic bag.

“A trooper might be stopping by tomorrow to talk to you,” Buzz said. “I can sit in if you want. ”

I smiled, grateful.

“I’m going to call Dr. Gordon and have him drive in to the clinic to check you out,” Buzz said.

“I’m fine,” I protested. “Just a couple of scrapes and bruises. There’s no reason to wake him up. ”

Evie shook her head. “Mo—”

“I said I’m fine,” I insisted.

Something in my voice must have convinced Evie that I was close to snapping. She sighed and pushed my hair out of my eyes. “I can stay with you tonight if you want. ”

“No,” I told her. “Besides, Buzz needs you at home in case he has to brush his teeth or something. ”

Laughing now, Buzz made a rude gesture with his bandaged hand.

“Well, take the morning off,” she said. “Believe it or not, we can run the place without you. ”

“No, you can’t. ” I laughed.

“Yeah, you’re right, we can’t, but take the morning off anyway. We’ll manage. ”

“I just want everything to be as normal as possible,” I said. “And that means following my routine and going to work. I can’t let this make me afraid of the saloon. I like working there too much. ”

It took another hour to persuade them to leave. I forced myself to take a long shower, to slip into my fluffiest jammies, to drink some chamomile tea. But I still jumped at every little sound. My hands shook as I tried to find a book to read before bed. Every time I passed a window, I looked out into the trees, expecting to see a hulking male shadow outlined against the moonlight. And some part of me hoped for blue-green canine eyes to wink out at me from the darkness.
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