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TheresNoSuchThingAsAWerewolf -6

By Dana Perkins,2014-06-05 23:44
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TheresNoSuchThingAsAWerewolf -6

    There’s No Such Thing As A Werewolf

    MaryJanice Davidson

    CHAPTER ONE

    As any werewolf knows, smells and emotions and even raised voices have colors and texture. And as any blind werewolf knowsnot that there were any besides him, to the best of his knowledgeyou could

    take those smells, emotions, and conversations and do a pretty good job of seeing. Not a great job, comparably speaking, but enough to get around. Enough to have a solid sense of the world.

    “But I can‟t be pregnant,” Mrs. Dane was saying. “There‟s just no way.”

    “There‟s at least one way.”

    “But I‟m infertile! The clinic said!”

    “Accidents happen,” he said cheerfully. He knew she was stunned, but pleased. And as soon as the shock wore off, she‟d be ecstatic. He could have told her that her fallopian tubes had managed to unblock themselves over the years, but that would raise awkward questions. After all, he was just her G.P. He wasn‟t treating her for infertility.

    “I‟d say you‟re…” Thirty-nine and a half days along “…about six weeks pregnant. I‟m going to write

    you a scrip for some pre-natal vitamins, and I want you to take two a day. And the usual blandishments, of course, ease off on alcohol, don‟t smoke, blah-blah-blah. You know all this.” Mrs. Dane was an OB nurse.

    “Yeah, but…I never thought I‟d need it.”

    He heard her weight shift as she slid off the table, and thus was ready for it when she flung her chubby arms around him in a strangler‟s grip. “Thanks so much!” she whispered fiercely. “Thank you!”

    “Mrs. Dane, I didn‟t do anything.” He gently extricated himself from her grip. “Go home and thank your husband.”

    “Oh, I‟m sorry.” Now she was brighter in his mind‟s eye, glowing with embarrassment. “I read somewhere that blind people don‟t like it when their balance is thrown off.”

    “Don‟t worry about it. You couldn‟t throw off my balance.” Not without a truck. “Don‟t forget to fill

    this on the way home,” he added. He could write perfectly well, which was to say his prescriptions didn‟t look any less legible than a seeing doctor‟s.

    “Right. Right!” She darted around him, nearly careened into the closed door, and left without her clothes. The gown flapped once as the door closed behind her.

    “I don‟t think they‟ll let you in the pharmacy dressed like that,” he called after her.

    * * * * *

    “I‟m just saying you should think about it,” his nurse, Barb Robinson, argued. “I hate the thought of you going home to an empty house every night. And it would—you know. Be helpful.”

    “Put a harness around a dog and expect it to lead me around all day?” He tried not to sound as aghast as he felt. “That‟s awful!”

    “Drake, be reasonable. You get around fine, but you‟re not a kid anymore.”

    “Meaning, since I‟m looking at the big four-oh, it‟s time to check out nursing home brochures?”

    Barb‟s scent shifted—it had been lemony and intense before, because while she was embarrassed to broach the subject, she was also determined. Now, as she got annoyed, it intensified until she damned near smelled like mouthwash.

    “Very funny,” she snapped. “Pride‟s one thing. Your safety is another. For crying out loud, you don‟t even use your cane most of the time.”

    “Will it get you off my back if I start lugging the stick around?”

    “Yes,” she said promptly.

    Oh, for God’s sake . “Fine. You may now refer to me as Dr. Stick.”

    “It‟s just that I don‟t want you to get hurt, is all,” she persisted. “You bugged me about moving to a

    safer neighborhood.”

    “Repeatedly?”

    “Oh, hush up. And you‟d better get going—isn‟t tonight another one of your big nights out?”

    You could say that. “It is indeed.”

    “Well…maybe you should take it easy. You look kind of worn out today.”

    “I was up late,” he said shortly. “Give me the damned cane.”

    He heard her rummaging around beneath the counter, and then she tapped the floor in front of him. He

    snatched it

    out of her hand. “There, satisfied?”

    “For now.”

    “Also, you‟re fired.”

    “Ha!”

    “Maybe next time.” He obediently started tapping his way to the front door, though he knew perfectly

    well it was

    eight feet, nine inches away. “See you Monday.”

    “And think about the dog!” she yelled after him.

    “Not likely,” he muttered under his breath.

    CHAPTER TWO

    The small gangtwo boys and one girl, not one of them out of their teensfollowed him off the

    subway. Typical thugs; they needed reinforcements to rob a blind man. He led them down Milk Street and let them get close.

    “Just so you know,” he said, turning, “in about half an hour the moon will be up. So this is a very, very bad idea. I mean—” They rushed him, and his stick caught the first one in the throat. “—it‟s a bad idea in general. There are only about a thousand—” His elbow clocked down on the skull of the second. “—more

    respectable ways to make a living.”

    He hesitated with the girl, and nearly got his cheek sliced open for his trouble. He pulled his head back, heard the whisper of steel slide past his face, then grabbed her wrist and pulled, checking his force at the last moment. She flew past him and smacked into the brick wall, then flopped to the ground like a puppet with her strings cut. “Seriously,” he told the dazed, semi-conscious youths. “You should think about it. And what

    are you up to?”

    “Nothing,” the other werewolf said cheerfully. “Just came down to see if you needed a hand. Christ,

    when was the last time these three had a bath?”

    “About two weeks ago.”

    “How‟s it going, Drake?”

    “It‟s going like it always does,” he said carefully. He had known Wade when they were younger, but it paid to be careful around Pack.

    He held out his hand and felt it engulfed by the younger man, who smelled like wood smoke and fried trout. Drake was a large man, but Wade had three inches and twenty pounds on him. If he wasn‟t such a pussycat, he‟d be terrifying. “Still keeping to your place in the country?”

    “Sure. This city is fucking rank, man. I only came in to stock up. The day got away from me.”

    “Try not to eat any of the populace.”

    “Yuck! Have you seen what they eat? I wouldn‟t chew a monkey on a bet.”

    “That‟s not nice,” Drake said mildly.

    “Yeah, yeah, pardon my un-fucking PC behavior. Humans, okay, and never mind what they originated from. No, really! They should be proud to be shaved apes.”

    “Tsk.”

    “Hey, I‟m glad I ran into you. You should head out to the Cape, say hi to the boss and Moira and those

    guys. Did

    you hear Moira got hitched?”

    “I did, yes. To a monkey, right?”

    “Yeah, well…” Wade stretched; Drake could hear his tendons creaking and lengthening. Their change was very

    close. Luckily, adolescence was far behind them both; they would stay well in control. “The new alpha gal,

    Jeannie, she heard aboutuhshe noticed that none of the Packuh…”

    “Was cursed with a devastating handicap?” he asked pleasantly. He tapped his cane for emphasis.

    Wade coughed. “Anyway, she hit the fucking roof when Michael told her the score, and they pissed and moaned about it for, like, a damn month, during which time our fearless leader was so not getting laid, and

    finally Michael said it wasn‟t an automatic, it would be up to the parents, and they both had to agree.”

    Drake was silent. For the Pack, this was forward thinking indeed. Handicaps were so rare they were nearly unheard of, and when a Pack member was born blind, or deaf, or whatever, it had been tradition since time out of mind that the sire killed the cub. The dam was usually too weak from whelping, but was almost always in agreement.

    His sire, however, had died in Challenge before his birth, and his mother had wanted him. Had hidden him away at the time so the well-meaning Pack leader, Michael‟s father, couldn‟t find him and kill him. Had raised him defiantly and heartlesslyabsolutely no quarter given, or asked.

    Drake had eventually left the Pack on his own, made his way to Boston, made a life among humans. Here, at least, he could hold his own. Humans didn‟t care about Challenges. They didn‟t even know about

    them.

    “Well, maybe I will pay them a visit,” he lied. “It‟s been a long time.” Michael hadn‟t even been pack

    us brat, one of the few who‟d tried to talk him out of leader when he‟d left…Moira had been a precocio

    leaving.

    No. Done was done.

    “A long time?” Wade was saying. “Yeah, like about twenty years. It‟s a little different now. Michael‟s a

    modern

dude. No one will fuck with you.”

    “Thanks for passing on the news. But I didn‟t leave because I was afraid of being fucked with.”

    “You did win all your Challenges,” Wade admitted.

    “I left because I was never allowed to be myself.”

    “You think you‟re allowed that here? In Monkey Central?”

    He shrugged. Loneliness was such a central factor of his life, he barely recognized it anymore. “It

    doesn‟t matter.”

    “Well, think it over. I know Jeannie‟d like to meet you. If nothing else, to be proved right. She lives for

    that shit.”

    This was said in a tone of grudging admiration.

    “We‟ll see.”

    Drake heard Wade inhale, and stretch again. “Fine, be a stubborn ass, I don‟t care. Better beat feet out

    of here.

    Gonna be a long one. Last night of the full moon.”

    “Happy trails,” he said dryly. “Again, try not to eat anyone.”

    “Again,” the larger man said, loping off, “don‟t make me puke. Company coming.”

    “Yes, I—” He nearly fell down, right there in the alley. “I know.”

    “Jeez,” the girl said, coming closer. She glanced over her shoulder at the rapidly retreating Wade, then

    turned and glared at the unconscious gang. “You gigantic losers!”

    Everything was suddenly very bright, very sharp. The exhalations of the would-be attackers, Wade‟s

    retreating footsteps, the girl‟s perfume—L‟Occitane Green Tea.

    He could see her.

    Not sense her, not get an idea of where she was and how she felt by her voice. See her. Everything

    around her was shades of gray, but she stood out like a beacon.

    She was shorther head stopped right around the middle of his chest. And her hair was that light, sunny color he assumed people meant when they said blonde. Her eyes were an odd colornot blue like ice

    was blue, and not purple like people had described irisessomewhere in between.

    Her hair was brutally short and so were her nails. She was wearing six earrings in her left ear, and eight in her right. She had a nose ring, a hoop through her left eyebrow, and her shirt was short enough to show off the bellybutton ring. Her stomach was sweetly rounded, and she was wearing shorts so brief they were practically denim panties. Her black tights were strategically ripped, showing flashes of creamy skin. Her tennis shoes (what color was that? Red? Orange?) were loosely tied with laces that weren‟t any color at all.

    “Are you all right, guy? I‟m really sorry if they tried anything. I told them to cut the shit. I didn‟t think they, y‟know, meant it.”

    He gaped at her.

    “Oh, sorry,” she said, glancing at the cane. “I didn‟t realize. Do you need me to walk you somewhere?

    Did they

    hurt you?”

    “I can see you!”

    “Ooooookey-dokey.” She took a cautious step backward. “Listen, I‟ve got stuff to do tonight—last

    chance. D‟you

    need me to call you a cab or something?”

    “Holy Mary Mother of God!”

    “So, no. Well, „bye.” She turned, and, frozen, he watched her walk away. Her butt was flat, and she

    hitched up her shorts, which gaped around her waist. He couldn‟t begin to imagine her age—twenty-two?

    Twenty-five? He had at least fifteen years on her.

    He heard a crack, and dropped the cane—he‟d been gripping it too hard, and it had split down the

    middle. Why could he see her? Why now? Was it a function of the full moon? If so, why hadn‟t it ever happened before? Who was she? And where was she going in such a hurry?

    The clouds scudded past the moon, and suddenly he had twice as many teeth.

    CHAPTER THREE

    Crescent stood on the rooftop and stared down at the street. It wasn‟t so far. One measly story. Shoot,

    and besides, she wasn‟t a regular person. Probably. people fell that far all the time and survivedmostly

    If she was ever going to fly, now was the time.

    She put her hands on the ledge and started to boost herself up, when she felt a sharp tug on the seat of her shorts and went flying backward. She hit the gravel rooftop and all the breath whooshed out of her lungs. So she lay there and gasped like a fish out of water, and when she was able, rolled over on her knees.

    The largest wolf she had ever seen was sitting three feet away. She was too startled to be frightened. And he wasn‟t growling or biting, just staring at her in the moonlight.

    A dog she could almost understand, even here, in the middle of the city. But a wolf? Where had it come from? Did it escape from a zoo? And how did it get up on the roof? Could wolves climb fire escapes? Was

there a fire escape?

    If she spread her fingers as wide as she could, its paws were just about that size. And its head was almost twice as wide as hers, with deep, almost intelligent brown eyes. His fur was a rich, chocolate brown shot with silver strands, and when the breeze ruffled its pelt, the wolf looked noblealmost kingly.

    “What‟d you do that for?” she asked the wolf. “If I want an animal biting my butt, I‟ll start dating again.”

    It stared at her. She supposed she should have been scared, but had no sense of menace from it.

    “All the better to see you with, my dear,” she muttered. “Now you stay here. I have to do something.” She got up, brushed the dust off her knees, and started for the ledge. She got about a step and a half when she heard a warning growl behind her. She threw up her hands and spun around. “Jeez, what are you? Why

    are you picking on me? And why do you care? Look, I won‟t get hurt. I can fly. I mean, I‟m pretty sure. And if I‟m wrong—but I don‟t think I am— it‟s only one story.”

    Nope. The wolf wasn‟t buying it.

    “Well, hell,” she said, and sat down cross-legged.

    It had been a long day, and a longer night. Almost before she knew it, she was tipping sideways. The gravel was probably cutting her cheek, but it felt like the softest of down pillows.

    She slept.

    CHAPTER FOUR

    She was stiff, and freezing, and someone was shaking her by the shoulder. What the hell had happened

    to her cot?

    She opened her eyes to see a man down on one knee beside her. And, hello! Not bad for an old guy. He

    looked to be in his mid-thirties, and had great dark eyes, brown hair touched with gray, and smile lines bracketing his mouth. His shoulders, in the dark suit and greatcoat he wore, were impossibly broad. His thighs were almost as big around as her

    waist, and he was crouching over her like a dark angel. It was a little disturbing, but kind of cool.

    “Good morning.” His voice was deep, pleasant. He probably worked in radio. “Are you all right?”

    “Sure,” she said, but she groaned when she sat up. “I can‟t believe I fell asleep up here.” She brushed

    gravel off

    her cheek and looked around. The wolf was gone, thank goodness. “Oh, shit! I never got to—never mind.”

    “What are you doing up here?”

    “Mind your own beeswax,” she said. “You can go now.”

    “You don‟t seem suicidal,” he commented.

    “I‟m not!”

    “Then why are you up on a roof?”

    “You‟ll laugh at me.”

    “Doubtful.”

    “Also, it‟s none of your business.”

    “Well,” he said pleasantly, “I‟m not leaving you up here by yourself. So you might as well tell me.”

    “Dammit!” What was going on? First the gang decided to be dumb (dumber than usual, anyway,) then a weird-ass giant wolf tormented her, and now this guy. God hated her is what it was. “Fine, I‟ll tell. I‟m

    pretty sure I can fly. I‟ve felt I could all my life. It sort of—runs in my family. Except my family‟s all dead, so I never really knew for sure for sure, y‟know? So, anyway, last night I finally screwed up the courage to try, but I couldn‟t because—never mind, you‟ll think I‟m a nut-job. More so than now, I mean. Anyway,

    that‟s why I‟m up here. Not to die. To fly.”

    “Mmmm.” He put a big hand on her face and peered at her pupils. “Well, you‟re not on drugs. That‟s

    something.”

    “I quit doing drugs when I was seventeen,” she snapped, and batted his hand away. “I‟ve been clean for

ages.”

    “And you‟re not terminally ill,” he finished.

    “How d‟you know that?”

    “I‟m a doctor, it‟s my job to know.”

    “What, did you do a blood test in my sleep?”

    He ignored that. “What‟s your name?”

    “Why do you care?”

    He looked at her soberly. “I care.”

    Weird. But cool. Okay, fine. “It‟s Crescent.”

    “That‟s it?”

    “No, I have a last name, but I‟m not telling.”

    “Why? Are you a fugitive?”

    “I wish. It‟s just that everybody laughs. You‟ll laugh.”

    He raised his hand, palm out. “I promise I won‟t laugh.”

    “It‟s Muhn.”

    “Crescent Moon?”

    “The h,” she said with as much dignity as she could, “is silent.”

    “That‟s all right,” he told her. “My last name is Dragon.”

    “Doctor Dragon?”

    “Doctor Drake Dragon.”

    “Oh dear.” She giggled. “We‟re both cartoons.”

    “You realize, of course, that we must get married.” He said this with a perfectly straight face, which

    made her laugh harder.

    “It‟s just too good a story to tell our grandchildren,” she agreed. “But first I have to do this. So,

    good-bye.”

    “Come down and have breakfast with me instead,” he coaxed.

    Interestingly, she was tempted. He really was a stone fox. And she hadn‟t been on a date in… Let‟s see,

    she had

    been able to legally drink for three years, and there was that guy who took her to the rave right after Wait a minute.

    “Wait a minute!” God, she was slow this morning. “You‟re the blind guy from the alley!” Except he

    didn‟t seem

    blind. He‟d checked her pupils, for crying out loud.

    “Yes,” he confirmed.

    “You don‟t seem very blind.”

    He hesitated, then said again, “Have breakfast with me.”

    “Why?”

    “You might as well. I‟m not going to let you jump.”

    She sighed. “Well. I am hungry.” And I can ditch this guy after I cadge a free meal off him. “Okay.

    Lead on,

    MacDuff.”

    CHAPTER FIVE

He offered her his arm when they were at street level, and her smell shifted to amusementripe

oranges. After a moment, she grasped it.

    “Cripes, I can‟t even get my fingers around your bicep. D‟you work out, like, nine times a day?”

    “No. But I like to keep in shape.”

    “Y‟know, we don‟t have to go anywhere fancy,” she said. “We could just get a cup of coffee.”

    “You‟re underweight for your height. We‟ll get a proper meal.”

    “Bossy,” she coughed into her fist.

    He smiled. “Yes.” It was all he could do not to gape at her like a schoolboy. He had no idea why he

    could see her, but the effect hadn‟t worn off with daylight…she was like a flame in a street of shadows. “I‟m afraid it runs in my family.”

    “Can I ask you something? How come you don‟t use a dog? And where‟s your cane? Didn‟t you have

    one last night?”

    “I get around pretty well,” he said, avoiding her question. “I‟ve been blind all my life. It‟s all I know.”

    “Oh. Well, like I said, you don‟t seem blind.”

    He shrugged. Humans always told him that.

    * * * * *

    Over a breakfast of three pancakes, six pieces of toast, and two cups of coffee (hers), and a bowl of

    oatmeal (his), they talked.

    “Don‟t you want some ham or bacon? Please, order whatever you like. I can assure you I‟m good for

    it.”

    She shuddered. “No, thanks. I‟m a vegetarian.”

    “Oh.” Hmm. That could be interesting. “You know, that‟s really not the best diet for an omnivore.”

    “Dude, I‟m not chomping on dead flesh, and that‟s the end of it.”

    “Drake,” he corrected.

    She mopped up syrup with the last pancake. “Yeah, whatever. Can I get more coffee?”

    “Of course.” He signaled the waitress, then asked, “Why are you so thin?”

    “Why do you ask so many questions?”

    “I‟m interested in you,” he said simply.

    “Uh-huh. Dude, you‟re, like, twice my age.”

    Yes, that was annoying. But it couldn’t be helped . “Stop calling me dude. And it‟s probably not twice. I‟ll be forty this year.”

    “Oh.” She seemed surprised. “You look younger. I‟m twenty-four.”

    “You look younger, too. If I may ask, where are you staying?”

    “There‟s a shelter on Beacon Street,” she said without a trace of embarrassment. “I lost my job—the

    economy, you know—and couldn‟t make rent, so I‟ve been bouncing around a bit.”

    “Is that how you fell in with the little gang who attacked me?”

    “I didn‟t know they were going to do that,” she said earnestly. “I thought it was just talk.”

    “I believe you. What about your family?”

    “Don‟t have one.”

    “I‟m sorry.”

    “It‟s all right. I never really knew them. Like youI guess—being by myself, it‟s all I know.”

    “Why don‟t you stay with me for a while? I have a big house in Cambridge, and there‟s plenty of room

    for a guest.”

    She snorted into her coffee cup. “Right. Go home with the strange guy who showed up out of nowhere, who says he‟s blind but doesn‟t trip over anything. Not too creepy.”

    “What‟s the worst that could happen?”

    “You could kill me in my sleep.”

    He tried not to show offense. “That‟s ridiculous. In your sleep? I would never.”

    She laughed at him. “Oh, okay, so, we‟ve established you won‟t kill me in my sleep. That’s promising.”

    “The homeless shelter is preferable to my home?”

    “Well…no offense, dudeDrake, I mean…but put yourself in my shoes.”

    “I understand. But consider this, you could have pancakes every morning,” he coaxed, “and all the coffee you could drink. Until you get back on your feet.”

    She shook her head, but looked tempted. “Jeez, I can‟t believe I‟m even considering this. If this was a horror movie, I‟d be yelling at the screen. „Don‟t do it, you dumb bitch!‟”

    “That‟s nice. I would really enjoy your company. I live a…solitary life. It would be nice to have aa

    friend over.”

    She stared at him for a long moment. “Well. I have to admit it‟s the nicest offer I‟ve gotten all year. But

    here‟s the thing. I‟m getting these „take-the-poor-waif-home-and- take-care-of-her‟ vibes from you, but I‟m

    not sure you get it. My family died when I was a toddler, and I left the foster home when I was ten. I‟ve been on my own a long time. I can take care of myself.”

    “Of course.”

    “And the thing is, there‟s nothing I‟ll…uh…do for you. You know. In order to stay at your house.”

    “No, I wouldn‟t expect you to.” And, fortunately, she was a good two weeks from ovulation. He‟d be

    nowhere

    near his change then. It could be problematic when a roommate‟s cycle coincided with a male werewolf‟s, but he didn‟t have to worry about that, at least. “There aren‟t any strings, Crescent.”

    “Well.” She finished her coffee. “I can‟t believe I‟m saying this. But we‟ll try it. For a while.”

    “All right, then.” He smiled at her, and she smiled back. He‟d never seen a smile before. Hers made

    him dizzy.

    CHAPTER SIX

    They walked in and she was instantly dazzled. Like the big colonial house hadn‟t been impressive

    enough on the outside. “Wow! How many windows do you have?”

    “I have no idea.”

    “Right. Sorry. It‟s so bright in here!” She was staring; she couldn‟t help it. Her first, jumbled impression was lots of light, a soaring living room ceiling, a loft, and lots of hardwood flooring. “You don‟t

    even need to turn any lights on during the day. Not that you would.”

    He was hanging his greatcoat in the closet. “I like to feel the sun on my face,” he said simply.

    “Did anyone ever tell you, you live in a pink house?”

    “A few have mentioned it.” He shrugged. “What do I care?”

    She laughed. “I s‟pose. It‟s just sort of funny. I mean, you‟re this big, super-masculine guy, and your

    house is the color of a faded pink sweatshirt. It‟s a little weird.”

    He smiled. It was disconcertinglike he was looking right at her. But of course he wasn‟t. He probably

    knew she

    was standing by the door because of her voice. “Super masculine?”

    “Dude, you‟re about the biggest, boldest guy I‟ve ever met.”

    “Thank you. And stop calling me dude.”

    He was the sharpest “handicapped” person she‟d ever seen. He paid for breakfast with cash…and she

    noticed the twenty-dollar bills were folded into triangles, and the ten was a rectangle. Of courseit made

    perfect sense. He couldn‟t see the denominations, and the bills would all feel the same. Did he get them that way from the bank? Or did he have a helper to fold his money? Maybe she could fold his dough, earn her keep

    But it was just so weird, because he always seemed to know where she washe caught her before she

    started to trip on the curb, for God‟s sake.

    “Why don‟t I show you to your room?”

    “Yeah,” she said, kicking off her sneakers and following him. “Why don‟t you?”

    She expected a simple guest room with a utilitarian twin bed and an empty bureau. Instead, he escorted her to paradise. The bed, a mahogany four-poster, was against the window, and sunlight was splashed all over the Shaker quilt. Through the open door on the opposite side of the room she could see a gleaming bathroom with tiles the color of the sea, and the bureau beside her was almost as tall as she was.

    “Uh…you sure you don‟t have a cot in the basement or something?” she asked nervously. The room was so clean, so beautiful, she was afraid to move, lest she destroy it all. “Or maybe a blanket I could spread out on the kitchen floor?”

    “Nonsense. This is your room now, for as long as you like. I‟ll leave you to get settled.” And, abruptly, he was gone.

    “Get settled?” she asked the empty room. “How?” She hadn‟t wanted him to see the shelter, so she had no extra clothes. Well, she‟d sneak out tonight and go get them. And she‟d find Moran and his little gang of retards, and give them a piece of her mind. Imagine, trying to rob a blind guy.

    She wandered back out to the living room and eyed the loft.

    Hmmm

    She noiselessly climbed the stairs, and had time to notice the loft was actually an officedesk,

    computer with big-ass speakers, bookshelvesbefore she clambered up onto the railing. This would be

    even easier—this was only one story. Less, actually. Just a few feet. Piece of cake. If she couldn‟t fly here, she couldn‟t fly anywhere.

    “Something for lunch?” Drake called from the kitchen. Good, he was a couple of rooms away.

    “I‟m still stuffed from breakfast,” she called back, and dived off the railing.

    She flopped over in mid-air, and had time to notice the living room doing a one-eighty around her, and then she fell into Drake‟s arms.

    “Wow!” she gasped. “How‟d you do that? You were, like, fifty feet away!”

    “Will you stop that?” he snapped. “Stop climbing things and leaping off of them, before you give me a heart attack.”

    “But how‟d you know I—?”

    “Promise, Crescent. As long as you‟re in this house, no more crazy jumps.”

    “But I won‟t be hurt,” she explained earnestly, resisting the urge to snuggle into his arms. He was holding her like she weighed as much as a bag of feathers, like it was nothing. And the way he was scowling down at herit should have been scary, but instead, she wanted to smooth out the frown lines with her fingertips. “Really! I‟m sure I can do it.”

    “Not in my house,” he said firmly. “Now promise.”

    “Or what?” She wasn‟t being sarcastic. She was curious.

    “Or I won‟t put you down.”

    Now she did smooth out the frown line over his eyebrow. Weirdlybut nicelyhe leaned down and

    nuzzled her nose. She felt her nipples tighten and fought the urge to squirm in his arms.

    “You‟re just going to carry me around all day?” she teased.

    He smiled down at her. “It wouldn‟t be much of a hardship.”

    “Okay, okay. I promise. No more jumping off stuff in your house.” But I can’t promise I won’t jump

    anywhere

    else

    “All right, then.” He set her on her feet, gave her a warning smack on the ass which stung like hell

    “Hey!”

    and walked back to the kitchen.

    CHAPTER SEVEN

    He heard her as she tiptoed past his room. Actually, he heard her when she opened her eyes and sat up in bed. He knew from her smell she hadn‟t slept, and made sure he didn‟t either.

    When she stole out of his house like a thief in reverse, he was right behind her.

    * * * * *

    Bags were always in short supply at the shelter, so she just gathered a few changes of clothes to her chest and stole back outside. Unfortunately, she caught Maria‟s eye on the way out. Well, it couldn‟t be

    helped. The woman gobbled speed like it was Tic-Tacs, and she never slept.

    Crescent crept down the alley behind the shelter, thinking she still had time to catch the Red Line back to the bus stop near Drake‟s house, when she heard running footsteps and turned to see the Asshole Brigade.

    “New crib?” Maria asked. She was one of those women who always smiled—who smiled when you

    knew they were screaming inside. “New man?”

    “Yes, and no, and mind your own business.”

    “Hold up, Cress.” That was Nick Moran, the leader of the incredibly lame group. “You got something for us?”

    “It‟s Cress-ent, and no, I sure don‟t. What‟s wrong with you?” She shifted her weight and clutched her clothes a little tighter. She did not want to let these three put her in the middle of their nasty little circle. Her gut almost always led her rightwhy else was she staying with a stranger?and maybe it did this time, too.

    Maybe when she fell in with these idiots, they didn‟t really know how bad it could get. Her gut was good,

    but it couldn‟t foresee the future. “Robbing a blind guy? Trying to, anyway. You couldn‟t even pull that

    off.”

    “Shut up,” Nick said roughly. He was a tall, cadaverously thin man with the bare beginnings of a

    mustache, and a scar that bisected his left cheek. “We had it under control.”

    “Sure you did. „Bye.”

    Jimmy, the other schmuck, clawed at her elbow and managed to grab it. “Whyn‟t you take us to his

    place?” he

    asked. His tone was reasonable, but she wasn‟t fooled. “Cute piece of ass like you, bet you‟ve already got a key.”

    As a matter of fact, she did. As a further matter of fact, she certainly wasn‟t going to let them have it.

    “Forget it,” she said, trying to pull away. “Fuck off, you three, before I lose my temper. I can‟t believe I ever felt sorry for you.”

    “Sorry for us?” Nick echoed, expression darkening. “Be sorry for you. Because when we get done, you won‟t be

    so pretty no more.”

    “It‟s any more. For God‟s sake, Nick, you went to private school before your folks kicked you out.”

    Nick blushed—he hated being reminded he hadn‟t been born to the streets—but Marie‟s smile widened, if that was possible. Crescent observed that the woman had a nodding acquaintance at best with toothpaste. “We can do this the easy way—” she began.

    “Oh, spare me your thug clichés.” Crescent was more annoyed than frightened, which she supposed was something. She‟d been a moron to come back here by herself—and for what? So Drake wouldn‟t see

    the shelter? Who cared what he thought? Big overprotective dope. And she wasn‟t going to be winning any College Bowls, either, unless she starting relying a little more heavily on instinct and less on pride.

    Jimmy‟s other hand—the one not squeezing her elbowdarted forward like a pale spider and grabbed

    her nipple. Then he started to pinch. Hard. Crescent could drop her clothes all over the filthy alley floor, or she could stand there.

    She stood there. Never in a thousand years would she show these three how much he was hurting her.

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