The only thing in this world I loved more than a frozen chocolate shake on a hot spring day was combustible sex on a kitchen table.
“Hell’s bells,” I groaned, rubbing my forehead when a brain freeze struck me.
“You drank it too fast, Izzy. How many times have I told you to suck on it slower?”
I smirked and glanced up at Hawk, who seemed oblivious to his own innuendo.
I was born Isabelle Marie Monroe, which didn’t fit my spirited personality in the least, so everyone called me Izzy. I came from an interbred family of Shifters—something frowned upon by most Breeds. My dad was a wolf and my mother a cougar. Talk about cats and dogs. All my siblings were cougars, so growing up the lone wolf in the family was no cakewalk. Shifters don’t go through the change until their late teens or early twenties, but kids often show telltale characteristics of their animal early on. When they began to sense I wasn’t one of them, my sisters and older brother turned on me. After I went through the change, it confirmed their suspicions.
So I learned how to fight.
It took me three long years to build up enough courage to go out on my own, and when I did, I couldn’t escape that house fast enough. A charismatic young Shifter named Jericho took me under his wing. We met about twenty years ago when he worked as a roadie for a popular band touring around the country. We were two Shifters from different worlds who found each other in a rainstorm. It was a lifetime ago, but Shifters live for centuries. I still looked a graceful twenty-five.
I lived and traveled with Jericho for five years. We had a magnetic chemistry, as if we’d known each other in another lifetime. But Jericho would often ditch me in a bar and run off with some floozy who caught his eye. It couldn’t be helped; the man was gorgeous and women threw themselves at him. Except for me, because all we ever were was best friends. Then things got twisted between us, and I bailed.
Recently I’d found out my parents had divorced. A loner by nature, my mother had finally given up fighting my father’s desire to join a pack. As for him, he ended up joining a group up in Colorado. By that time, my siblings had scattered across the country, and we didn’t keep in touch.
Avoiding pack life wasn’t advisable for single women because rogue wolves were a constant threat, though a pack led by a good Packmaster offered protection. But I’d never known that life, and it frightened me. After all, my own family hadn’t looked out for me. How could I expect strangers to? Because of that distrust, I never revealed my animal to anyone except close friends or lovers. I’d never experienced what it meant to be in a pack, but the instinct called to me in quiet moments.
I bounced around the lower states for years and then moved to Texas with a friend who wanted to join a pack. She’d heard Austin was thick with Shifters, and you can bet your red panties she found a Packmaster within the second week, which left me without a job or a home.
And that’s when I bumped into Hawk. We met at a Laundromat of all places, and I sensed his Breed energy when I sat next to him. After letting his jockeys tumble with my G-strings, we decided to take it to the next level and have been living together for the past month. I didn’t know what he did for a living and didn’t care, so long as he treated me right. He’d just gotten me a job at a Shifter bar called Howlers, which is where we were headed.
When I noticed only a few slurps of milkshake remained, I hurled the cup out the window.
“What the fuck!” Hawk rolled up my window from his panel and sighed. “Why don’t you act like a lady?”
“Why don’t you treat me like one?” I quirked a brow and smiled.
He touched his mustache, and I could feel him glaring at me from behind his black sunglasses. I wasn’t really into the whole ’stache look, but it suited him in a yuppie-biker kind of way. Hawk didn’t own a motorcycle, just a red sports car. Two doors, meaning whenever one of his buddies came along, I had to squeeze into the back seat, which felt like a suitcase.
“You’re in one of your moods today, Iz. Sure you aren’t a cat? I think you might be since you’re partial to those damn hissy fits,” he said with a dark chuckle.
I hated it when he pulled out the cougar card. He knew how I felt about growing up the lone wolf, but Hawk didn’t seem to mind digging in his talons with a joke here and there.
I crossed my legs seductively and stroked my hand down to my knee, seizing his attention as the car slowed at a red light. “I do have a kitty,” I said with a provocative purr. “Want to pet her?”
Hawk lifted his glasses over his head and didn’t look as amused as I thought he would. “Don’t pull that shit tonight, got it? You’re sexy as sin, Izzy, but I’m getting real tired of the way you shake your ass at other wolves to make me jealous.”
I folded my arms. “Maybe if you gave me some attention, I wouldn’t have to.”
He slid his glasses back on when the light turned green. “I give you plenty of attention when it counts.”
It only counted five seconds before he had an orgasm, or if I was on my way home and he wanted me to stop off at the taco stand. Hawk took care of me and we got along, but the chemistry was nonexistent, as it was with almost all the guys I’d dated. I’d concluded that mated Shifters were all extraordinary liars. Hawk didn’t make my toes curl or my insides tingle. He didn’t make me slide down in my seat and fantasize about what I wanted him to do to me. Hawk took me to Chili’s every Friday, paid the bills, tuned up my car, and let me sleep with the remote control. I guess that’s love.
“I’m not sure that I like your work attire,” he grumbled, staring down at my long legs.
I tilted the vent away and twisted around to face him. “This isn’t my uniform, so just drop me off and keep all the snide remarks to yourself. I don’t want you coming in and picking on my customers. You know how Shifter bars operate, and I’ve done the waitress gig before. At the end of the day, I’m there for the tips, not the compliments. I may shake my ass and throw them a few winks, but I’m monogamous, and you know that.”
He eased up to the front of the building and pinched my chin. “Better be. If I hear you’re messing around, it won’t be pretty.”
“You’re right, Hawk. Nothing makes me wetter than serving a bunch of jackasses beer and nachos. Give me a kiss.”
A smile curved up his cheek, and he pulled a lock of my red hair. “Your fiery temper is going to land you in trouble one of these days.”
“It already has. I’m with you.”
And wasn’t that the truth? Hawk was a nice guy, but whatever he did was illegal. He’d come home on more than one occasion with bruised knuckles and a look of satisfaction. It seemed out of character because I’d never seen him lose his cool, no matter how much smack he talked. Hawk wasn’t the perfect boyfriend, but then again, what sense of normalcy had I ever had? The only stability I’d ever known was with Jericho, and God knows where he was. The last time I saw him, he was lying in our hotel room in my bed with a girl straddling him and rocking her hips mercilessly.
Wearing my Pink Floyd shirt.
Jericho knew how much I loved that shirt, and he gave it to some whore who probably cut it up and made it into a hideous beach-bikini top. He’d crossed a line, which led me to believe he didn’t value our friendship as much as I did.
I’d never had sex with Jericho because that wasn’t what our relationship had been about. What had once existed between us was a close bond that I’d never experienced with anyone before or since.
“Look, it’s the only Breed job I could find you on short notice,” Hawk said. “You’re the one who insisted on finding work, but I’m fine with you staying home. Actually, I like this idea less the more I think about it. Nervous?”
“First-day jitters. You know how it is.” I stared out the window. “I need to stay busy and work or else I go nuts.”
“Well, this’ll be a trial period. I make good money, so I don’t know what you’re trying to prove.”
I chuckled softly. “You’d be surprised what a girl can make in a place like this.”
Howlers was a low-key bar that catered to Shifters, and that was my kind of place. I felt more comfortable around my kind; Vampires and Chitahs made me nervous as heck. Some Breeds lacked distinct characteristics and could pass as human, so they weren’t as easy to identify. A Mage looked no different than anyone else, but as a creature of energy, their presence could be felt by a sweep of chills across your body that could easily be mistaken for the shivers. All the Chitahs I’d met were tall, had predatory body language, and eyes the color of amber or firelight.
“Last chance,” he offered.
“It’s gravy.” I opened the door and got out. “I’ll be fine driving myself to work from here on out.”
“Izzy, we talked about this. I don’t want you driving out here alone.”
“I know, but it doesn’t look so bad,” I said, glancing around the parking lot. The bar was sandwiched between a pawnshop and an open field. “It’s not like we’re in the hood.”