The harsh jangle of the security bell cut through the night air as Warren turned his attention to his late night customer.
Great. A tweaker.
If the pale skin, hollow eyes, and twitchety attitude hadn’t tipped him off, the acrid smell of sweat and illicit drugs would have. He wasn’t surprised. Frankly, tweakers and drunks made up the majority of his customers at the Stop ‘n’ Rob. Hell, what else could you expect when you worked the graveyard shift?
He suppressed a sigh as he drew his lanky form upright, prepared to watch Mr. Twitchy’s every move. He wasn’t afraid--the superior strength, speed, and healing abilities his wolf gave him allowed little room for fear. The problem was, his boss would be a mite upset if the place was robbed on his watch. Again.
As Mr. Twitchy headed for the beer case, Warren thought back to the last robbery. His bad luck that there had been other customers present and he’d had to play vulnerable human afraid of the gun pointed at his nose. Thanks to that little exploit, he’d been pistol whipped and the till had been stripped of 100 bucks.
Adam and Mercy’d had a field day ribbing him over that one. If he never heard another “clean up on aisle five” joke again, it would be too soon.
Mr. Twitchy was heading his way with a 6-pack of Colt 45, so Warren plastered a smile on his face and prepared the mandated greeting.
“Howdy, sir, welcome to—“
A wavering gun appeared under Warren’s nose as he unsuccessfully suppressed another sigh.
“Listen, son, you really don’t want to do this.”
“Fuck you!” the jittery man blurted out. “If you don’t wanna bullet in your head, I suggest you do what I say.”
Screw this. Warren allowed a bit of the wolf to show in his eyes. “I really don’t think you want to do this.” A hint of growl reverberated in his words as the tweaker’s eyes widened with the beginnings of fear.
“W-what are you doing? Stop th—”
The jangle of the security bell broke the moment with a jolt. Mr. Twitchy spun to face the new threat, his finger tightening on the trigger. Warren had a split second to notice the shock on the new guy’s face before he sprang into action. Leaping over the counter with preternatural speed, he batted the gun from the would-be robber’s hand like a cat with a toy. Letting the forward momentum take him, he continued the roll, taking Mr. Twitchy to the floor. It was only after he had his prey pinned to the ground that Warren heard the reverberation of the gunshot. Jerking his head up to look at the stranger in the doorway, he took in the guy in one comprehensive glance. Well-dressed, preppie, cute…hmmm, no time for that. The important thing was, he was all in one piece.
“You aren’t hurt?” Still amped up from the action, his inner beast made his voice emerge deep and husky.
“Nope. But you sure are.”
“What?” Looking down, Warren finally noticed the bullet hole in the shoulder of his shirt. A bullet hole complete with blood.
* * * * *
An hour later, after giving his statement to police, refusing to get treatment for his “graze”, and calling his boss to break the bad news about another robbery, Warren was itching to get the hell out of Dodge. Making his way to the exit, Stetson firmly pressed onto his head, he swung the door wide, enjoying the cold pre-dawn air.
Spinning toward the voice, Warren knew he was beyond tired. To not have scented the waiting human before now was indescribably stupid. A reaction time like that would get him beaten in a pack fight in no time. And he intended to keep his status as the Tri-Cities Alpha’s third, thank you very much. After all his years as a lone wolf, the friendship he had with Mercy, and now Adam, meant everything to him.
Making up for his lapse, he took a deep breath to gauge the intent of the man waiting in the shadows.
Mmm. Leather, heat, concern, desire…? Warren realized belatedly that he’d been staring at the shadowy figure for a beat too long. “Yeah?”
“Listen, I wanted to make sure you were okay. I know you told the paramedics that it was just a graze, but that sure as hell didn’t look like one from where I was standing. That bullet went straight through your shoulder.”
So the shadowy figure was the witness. Great. “Well, you were mistaken. It’s not even bleeding anymore.”
“Oh. Well, then. I guess I’ll leave you in peace. I just… I guess I wanted to say thank you.”
“For what?” Warren was genuinely puzzled.
The man gave a sharp laugh. “For saving my life, dumbass. I saw that guy’s fingers tightening on the trigger when he spun around to face me. He would have shot me for sure if you hadn’t played the hero back there.”
“Oh. Well. Your welcome, I guess.”
Light laughter greeted his begrudging words. “You really know how to accept thanks gracefully, don’t you?”
The humor-filled words were suddenly the last straw. He was tired, hungry, cranky, and horny, and he wanted to get the fuck out of there. “Listen, partner, the only thanks I like to receive is the heartfelt thanks I get after a great fuck. So unless you’re offering me more than your gratitude, why don’t you just leave.”
The silence that met his rash statement was fraught with tension. Fuck. Why had he even gone there?
“Man, I’m sorry that was out of—”
“Maybe I am.”
“What?” Warren knew he probably looked like a landed fish, but he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Maybe I am offering you more than my gratitude.” The man’s words were soft and husky as he stepped forward into the bright glow cast by the security lights.
He was medium height and slim build, with short, messily spiked hair, but the kind of messy it took hundred dollar haircuts to achieve. He was wearing an expensive business suit with…was that a lavender pocket square?
“My name’s Kyle, by the way.”
“Um. I’m Warren. Nice to meet you.” He couldn’t help laughing as the ridiculous words came out of his mouth. Nice to meet you? Pathetic.
“Well, Warren, as I was saying. Maybe I want to offer you my gratitude in other ways. Better ways. Maybe I want to…show you my appreciation by… taking you out to dinner.”
Oh. Warren suppressed a twinge of disappointment before the full meaning of Kyle’s words sunk in.
“Are you askin’ me out on a date?”
Kyle grinned at Warren’s open astonishment. “Yup. I certainly am.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his trench and moved closer. “Listen. If I’m out of line, just say so. But I’m a pretty good judge of people and something tells me you don’t mind.” He laid a gentle hand on Warren’s arm and looked up into his eyes.
Warren swallowed. It had been a long time since he’d felt this zing of attraction. Too long. The wolf rose in him strongly and he quickly lowered his eyes to hide the golden tone that had no doubt appeared.
“Did you just…growl at me?”
Shit. Shit shit shit. Get it together, man! “Just…clearing my throat. Um. Well, I… Dammit! I’m no good at this.” Warren tried to turn away from Kyle but his grip on his arm just tightened, forcing him to stay unless he wanted to use force.
“No good at what? Dating? Talking? Being out?” His words hung in the quiet night, charged, waiting for Warren’s response.
“Everything. Nothing. Gah. I’m no good at explaining things either. Useless as teats on a boar, that’s me. I’m still not used to openly acknowledging attraction to another guy, I guess. Where I come from…” When I come from, he silently corrected. “It’s forbidden. Perverted. A man could be hanged for it.”
“Are you going to let that stop you from being you? From doing what you want? Being what you want?” Kyle’s earnest face shone with the passion of his feelings. “Warren, believe me, you can’t live like that. I know. I tried for years. In the end, I decided, fuck it. I gotta be me. And you know what? Coming out hasn’t destroyed me. To the contrary, it’s helped my career, and it’s sure as hell helped my social life.” He laughed and shook his head. “Listen to me, it’s like I’m some sort of evangelist for the gay cause.”
Warren smiled. He couldn’t help but be charmed by Kyle’s earnestness. “I’m not letting it stop me. I’ve dated men openly, still date men openly. I don’t want to hide what I am anymore. In any way. It’s just that it’s hard. No matter how much time passes, it’s still hard to live in a society that doesn’t respect or understand your choices. So I’m sorry if I’m not smooth or cool or blasé about these things—”
“Shh.” With a simple step forward Kyle halted Warren’s increasingly emotional flow of words. Pressing his firm chest against the line of his body, he leaned forward slowly, giving Warren plenty of warning as to his intentions. When he didn’t back away, Kyle swooped in for the kill.
Warren had somehow expected Kyle’s kiss to be soft. Gentle. Delicate. Boy, was he wrong. Kyle attacked his mouth like a thirsty man would water. Sucking, lapping, drinking him in with long gulps. His tongue demanded entry, plunging into Warren’s mouth and taking possession of him like he had every right to do so.
Heat flared through him as he returned the favor, eating at his lips, pressing his body against the smaller man. He wanted more. Needed more. His hands swept down Kyle’s shoulders, reaching for the taut ass he knew lay under the loose trench. He needed a good grip to ride this bronc.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on, cowboy!” Kyle was pressing on his shoulders in an effort to win his freedom as Warren did everything in his power to hang on. “Are you…growling at me?”
Warren took a deep breath and attempted to regain his shattered control. “Sorry ‘bout that.” Crap, was he blushing?
Kyle laughed again. “No need to apologize. I like knowing the effect I have on you. I stopped because A) it’s butt crack ‘o dawn, B) it’s freezing, and C) I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about me.”
Warren froze in place as he tried to figure out what the hell Kyle was saying.
“Don’t give me that look! You know I loved what you were doing. At least I hope you could feel it.” Warren had to suppress a chuckle at the sly wink Kyle shot him. “Ahem. Anyway. The reason I stopped is that I am not that kind of boy. I demand at least dinner from a date before I give up the goods.”
This time Warren let his laughter free. Damn, but he liked this guy. “All right, all right. Heaven forbid anyone think me a cheap date. Although you’d think saving a guy’s life would give me a little something in return.”
Kyle grinned. “It did get you something.” He paused for emphasis. “It gave you my undivided attention.” He reached into the pocket of his trench coat and handed Warren a card. “Here’s my information. Call me when you wake up and we’ll plan our first…no. Our second date. One hopes the next one won’t be as….adventurous as the first!” And with that, he sauntered away, with a little extra swing in his step.
Warren shook his head in disbelief. Who’da thunk an exciting night at the Stop ‘n’ Rob would result in a potentially exciting night for him?
Grabbing his cell phone, he called the one person he knew he could confide in unreservedly. “Merc? Did I wake you? Sorry, but I have news. I met a guy. His name’s Kyle and he’s…” He glanced down at the card he still gripped in his hand. “Fuck me! He’s an attorney. Christ, Mercy, what am I gonna do with a lawyer? Stop laughing!”