"You're aroused." He sniffed again, leaning slightly toward me. "Intensely."
"What are you talking about?"
"I can smell you. It's rather intense, I'm surprised you're not aware of it. Or are you and you're just playing coy with me?"
"Get away from me."
"It's natural darling - our species is trying to propagate. Let me guess, this is the week before your period."
I stared at him, not sure if I should stab him or just knee him in the groin and walk away.
"You are so disturbing."
He laughed that laugh that identified him as Tom; even if he was in the next room or on the other side of a noisy pub I always knew it was him when I heard that laugh.
Ugh he got on my nerves.
But I got on his too, so a few years back we had called fair game on each other. Torture and torment and ceaseless sass. It was fun, but neither of us would ever admit it.
A mutual friend of his was a mutual friend with a mutual friend of mine, which put us near each other on a regular basis. But we didn't consider ourselves friends - we just turned up in a lot of the same places with a lot of the same people - not to mention he tended bar at the pub we all hung out at after work. He was Chris's weird friend, I was Kady's bitch buddy. We picked at each other every time our paths crossed, although he could be nice - very nice - when it suited him. But damn he could be strange, and his unsettling turquoise eyes made me nervous.
"You should let me mark you with my scent so the other alphas in here don't try to claim you."
"What the hell, Tom? Seriously? Fuck off."
He threw his head back and laughed again. "That's the whole idea, love - propagation, remember?" He crept closer, nudging his chin against my shoulder as he edged his nose into my hair, next to my ear. I could feel his breath on my neck. "It's the nature of the species. Pair up, mate, reproduce. And the pheremones you're putting off right now are an open notice to every walking cock in here that you're ripe."
I'd heard enough. He was grossing me out, but worse, I was feeling creepily aroused by his voice and the subject matter. I shoved my shoulder against him, bumping his chin hard to get him away from me.
He was snickering, obviously enjoying my revulsion. "Think about it, Anja. I'll be washing glasses if you change your mind."
He went back behind the bar and threw a towel over his shoulder, grinning at me. I tried not to look at him but it wasn't easy; damn him, he was a sexy beast, but I really didn't like him. Not my type, not by any stretch of the imagination. Long black hair, thin face, sharp cheekbones, freakishly tall and sort of skinny, a little bit pale...the first time I saw him I'd told Kady he looked like he should be sleeping hanging upside down in the basement. She thought he was cute and the idea of him being a vampire had instantly become sort of a fetish for her after my cruel evaluation of his looks. I secretly hoped they wouldn't get together, but I had no idea why.
I took my drink and went to the back, where he couldn't see me. I didn't want his unsettling eyes on me anymore. Another of our mutuals, Eric, was there and waved me over. He was handsome and charming and a welcome diversion from creepy Tom, so I joined him at his noisy table and tried not to think too much about his hand sliding up my thigh and his hungry eyes on my breasts.
When I left the pub later that night, Eric walked out with me. I wasn't taking him home, but I'm sure to everyone in the pub it looked that way. Tom's eyes followed us, the look on his face neutral as he wiped the bar, but there was something disapproving in the way he watched us. I glanced toward him as Eric pushed the door open and saw him shake his head, just barely; so slight, in fact, that I thought I must have imagined it. Our table in the back shouted goodnight to us and we slipped out into the cold night air, Eric's hand coming possessively to the back of my neck as the door fell shut behind us.
Telling him goodnight a few seconds later didn't go so well. Goodnight wasn't what he wanted to hear, and in a space of time so short that I have no real comprehension of how long it actually was, I found myself grabbed harshly and shoved up against the wall of the building next to the pub.
"You don't get to say no after that," Eric growled against my throat, where his hand was squeezing in a decidedly menacing grip that I had no hope of prying off.
"After teasing me like that - after getting me hard like this." He grabbed my hand and shoved it down against the front of his pants. He was stiff and hot and I tried to yank my hand away, but he held me tight.
"I didn't do anything to you. Get off me Eric!" I shoved hard against him and managed to put just enough space between us to bring my knee up, making contact with his groin. I'm not strong by any means, but I know where to hit to make the most of what I do have.
He grunted and bent double for a second, cursing me. In that brief moment while I decided whether to go back into the pub or wait and see if he had sobered up enough to be harmless, he stood back up and gave me a heart-withering glare that said you're going to regret that.
"You fucking cunt."
And then my vision exploded in a blinding spray of white lights that splashed across my periphery, blotting out everything else but the nauseating pain as his knuckles made contact with my cheekbone.
I didn't see what happened next, but I heard it. Eric grunted in pain and crashed to the sidewalk with that stomach turning sound that bodies make when they hit the ground; there was a scuffling of boots and the sound of trashcans being knocked over. My eyes cleared just enough for me to make out the shape of a tall, dark man drawing back his foot and kicking him in the ribs. Not just once, but several times. And then a deep, menacing voice giving a warning that left no room for misinterpretation.
"Don't you ever fucking touch her again."
The pain in my face was starting to throb so intensely that I sank to the sidewalk and leaned back against the building, suddenly dizzy and feeling like I would pass out. I felt hands on both sides of my neck and a voice telling me to look at him; I obeyed, and through stinging watering eyes I saw Tom.
"Can you walk?"
I nodded, but it was a lie. I could barely see and my head was spinning - no, there was definitely no way I could walk.
"Yeah, I'm okay."
"Are you hurt anywhere?"
My hand went to my eye; the pain really was getting violent. "No, just this."
His arm slipped round my waist and he pulled me up slowly. "I'll take you in through the back. There's a room you can rest in."
I thought I would make it, but we'd gone less than a dozen steps when I stumbled. He lifted me easily and carried me the rest of the way.
"I told you the other alphas would give you trouble tonight," he scolded me. "You should have listened."
The room was dimly lit but warm and blissfully not the alley. Tom stood me on my feet and moved a stack of beer crates from an armchair so I could sit. I sank into the chair, my hand over my eye. God it hurt.
"Convenient thing about getting punched at a pub - plenty of ice available." He opened the big cooler and dug out a handful of icecubes, wrapping them in a towel. "Move your hand sweetheart."
I reluctantly removed my hand from my face and he gently pressed the cold towel to my cheek. It was unbearable for a few moments until my bruising skin got used to the pressure. "Keep that there, it'll help with the swelling."
"It's swelling?! Dammit, I have to go to work in the morning. Is it going to be bad?"
He lifted the towel briefly and frowned. "Afraid so."
There was a soft knock at the door and he left for a few minutes, coming straight back to me when he returned and crouching in front of me. "How's it feeling?"
"Ugh." I felt something tickle my upper lip and touched it. My fingers came away bloody. "Oh what the hell?! He didn't hit me in the nose!"
Tom moved the cold towel from my cheek to my nose to sop the blood. "It's okay. It's just a natural reaction to any kind of trauma to the face." He leaned forward, hovering over me for a moment, and I realized with a distinct chill of weird-vibe that he was sniffing me again.
"Are you sniffing my blood?"
His eyes snapped open and he just stared at me. For a moment he didn't really look like himself - or rather, he looked like himself but not quite the Tom I was used to seeing. This Tom looked capable of biting, or possibly snaking his tongue out to lick the dripping blood from the little trough leading from my nose to my lip.
"This is one of those alpha things you've been on about all night, isn't it."
He moved away and sat down heavily, drawing his breath in deeply and slowly.
"We're all wolves, darling. We just like to pretend we're more civilized than wild animals." He leaned in close and gave me an unwavering stare. "We're not." He gestured toward my bruised cheekbone. "This will make it even worse for you now."
"This? It's just a bruise."
"No, it's an outward sign of weakness. It tells every male who sees you now that you're injured, you're weak, you'd be all that much easier to claim, you need to be taken care of. It excites our primal instincts to overpower - you're an easy target, at least based on perception. And if a male realizes he can't mate with you, he'll still exhibit aggressive behavior toward you." He leaned back again. "Thus the violence you just experienced."
I stared at him. "You were that weird kid in junior high that was obsessed with wolves, weren't you."
He laughed and his face melted into a sweet smile. "I'm a bartender, I've had a lot of time to study human beings. We're not so human as we're trained to believe."
"Are you not an alpha? I notice you're not having any trouble refraining from mauling me."
He grinned, holding my gaze brazenly.
"I have a respectable level of self control. Also gained from studying humans."
"What about Eric?"
He bristled a bit at the mention of him.
"What about him?"
"Are we leaving him out there?"
"He's been taken care of."
"Oh well that doesn't sound ominous at all. Taken care of? What does that mean?"
"It means Chris put him in a cab while I was out front just now."
I stared at the floor between us. "You kicked him. That was a pretty impressive rescue."
"He would have raped you."
I looked up and his eyes were intent on my face. I felt shocked at his words - up till that moment I hadn't even thought about the implications of mine and Eric's interaction on the sidewalk. But he was right, and I felt embarrassed that I'd taken such a foolish risk. Eric was in our group of friends, I never considered the fact that he might try to drunkenly attack me. Not seriously. But he had.
"Shit. Thank you Tom."
He looked angry for a moment and I knew he was holding himself back from telling me off. I trust people, especially people in our extended group. I didn't know Eric that well, but had assumed our membership in the same set of buddies granted me a level of safety with him. Obviously I was wrong.
"You should go home. Straight home, no stopping anywhere, no interacting with anyone. I meant what I said, Anja. Your scent is strong and every male in sniffing distance is going to be affected by you, whether they realize it or not." He stood up and held his hand out to me. "Some males are affected more strongly than others. Like him." He nodded his head toward the door.
I looked at his hand but didn't take it.
"And what about you? Are you not affected by me?"
What happened next sent a rush of heat and moisture to that place between my legs that we try to ignore until we have no choice but to pay attention to it. Tom's eyes darkened, his pupils dilating to cover the turquoise of his irises completely; his nostrils twitched and his jaw clenched. The hand he had extended to me trembled, just for a moment, before he balled it up into a fist and let it drop to his side.
"Go home Anja."
I did as I was told, even though I had a horribly uncomfortable desire to stay with Tom. Something about him sniffing me, the way his eyes went almost black with some weird primal desire thing that I didn't understand, the way he controlled himself despite his obvious discomfort...the disturbingly dominant vibe that he put off...why hadn't I noticed that before?
And more importantly...why was it affecting me this way when I didn't even like him.
When I got home I locked the house and climbed into bed without showering. I knew I'd regret it in the morning, but I was tired and I suppose a bit of mild PTSD was setting in the more I thought about what had almost happened. God, being raped by Eric. Not on my list of to-do's. I turned on my rain app and let the soothing storm sounds lull me to sleep.
I started dreaming almost immediately; at least it felt like a dream, though I was uncomfortably aware that I was in it. Eric was there, shoving me into the alley behind the pub, tearing at my clothes and threatening me, overpowering me easily...knocking me to the filthy concrete while he stood over me, looking down at me with twisted desire marring his handsome face while he opened his pants and showed me what he was going to do to me.
And then a dark shadow fell over him, darker even than the blackened alley, blocking out the moonlight. A flurry of movement that my eyes could barely perceive. The sound of boots on pavement.
A dark figure came from nowhere, taking Eric from behind. In a heartbeat it was on him, ripping his throat out with its teeth, Eric's blood spurting in a steaming blackened spray in the darkness.
I should be screaming, I thought. I should be running. But all I could do was sit there on the cold pavement, watching as this shadowy something took my attacker down right in front of me. So close that when he fell, Eric's hand bumped my foot.
I stared at it. It wasn't moving. An ominous black puddle was spreading toward me.
I looked up.
Tom was standing over Eric's still body, his face covered in blood. It was pouring from his mouth, dripping off his chin, dribbling down his chest in rivulets that ran to his stomach where they were finally soaked up by the front of his jeans. The entire crotch was black with it. He was breathing hard, his face contorted in a mask of fierce primitive bloodlust that didn't appear to be sated by the taste of Eric's blood.
He was staring at me, panting like an animal, his intent obvious.
He advanced on me, his movements fluid, like an animal stalking prey. He stopped when he was close, dipping his head low and inhaling deeply, his nostrils flaring as he took in my scent. Then his eyes flew open and his face twisted in anger.
"You smell like him. His scent is all over you!"
A dark smile claimed his mouth right before he hurled himself at me, ripping at my clothes, biting and snarling as he bent me forward and forced me onto my hands and knees, his hot breath burning my skin as he hissed "You are mine - I can see that I'm going to have to mark you so that you don't forget it."
His hands were hot and rough as they shoved my skirt up and yanked my panties down. I screamed his name over and over, but I wasn't sure if I was begging him not to hurt me or imploring him not to stop. I felt him against me, the heat radiating off him like an inferno against the backs of my thighs and bottom, and then his engorged cock shoved into me so violently that I screamed in agony; his teeth were on the back of my neck, biting down hard, breaking the skin, forcing me to submit as he marked me, spurting his own scent into me and across my back, forcing me to turn and swallow him so that his pheremones would mix with my own.
By the time he was done with me, I knew I wouldn't be forgetting who I belonged to.
I woke up a sobbing mess, my face wet with tears and my hands between my legs, one trying to protect myself, the other drenched with my own come.
"What's up girly?"
I tried to act nonchalant, but I felt genuinely messed up. That dream was screwing with my head and, despite the little voice telling me to stay away from Tom, I went to the pub anyway. I needed to see him, if for nothing else than to thank him for looking after me. Rescuing me. That sounded silly and romantic, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was exactly what he'd done.
"Nothing. I'm good." I flinched a little when he leaned across the bar to get a closer look at my bruised cheekbone. My eye was swollen and turning black as well. He shook his head but didn't say anything about it.
"You've been side-eyeing me ever since you walked in. Did you have a bad dream about me?"
My head jerked up and I stared at him in shock. "What makes you think that?"
He grinned and started putting cheese and chips on a plate.
"Because you've got the look of a woman who's had a disturbing dream about a guy whose relationship to her is ambiguous. Do you like me, do you hate me, are you indifferent to me, do you want to fuck me? You're confused about what exactly we are to each other so your mind is trying to make some sense of it, in the context of what happened the other night."
I tried to remain noncommittal. "Okay."
He grinned and I tried unsuccessfully not to look at him.
"Did I howl at you?"
"Howl? Um...no. No, you didn't howl." Not that I could recall, anyway...or maybe he had, but how would I know? My own screams had drowned out almost everything else.
"Did I bite you?"
I flinched again. "Yeah, there was biting." I closed my eyes for a second to drive out the picture in my head of Eric with his throat ripped out.
"Where? On the back of the neck?"
"Did I bite you on the back of the neck?" He was moving around behind the bar, heating things in the microwave, putting a plate of food together. I was getting distracted watching him. He moved very gracefully, for someone so tall and long-limbed.
"Uh, yes, yes you did. Why? Is that important?"
He smiled, laughing a little. "Darling, the back of the neck is where male wolves bite females during mating. It's a show of dominance and keeps the female in submission during copulation."
I felt a flush coming up my neck, making my ears go hot. Yeah, that was definitely how it had gone down. I decided it was time to change the subject.
"What are you doing?"
He popped some cheese into his mouth as he was arranging things on the plate. "I'm putting together something for you to eat. You don't look like you feel too well." He slid the plate over in front of me and wiped his hands on the towel over his shoulder. "There you go girl, eat up."
He went on about his business while I ate in silence, tending to the other customers till he went off duty about a half hour later. When he was off the clock he grabbed his coat from the hook and came around the bar to sit beside me.
"So tell me about this dream where I bit your scruff."
I finished my glass of water and raised an eyebrow at him. "What's scruff?"
His hand came up to the back of my neck, up under my hair, his fingers brushing lightly against my skin for a moment before giving me a firm squeeze. "Back of the neck. Dominance, submission, all that Discovery Channel stuff. Or HBO, depending on the species."
I picked up my coat and purse from the stool next to me and turned to him. "Not here. Too noisy."
His eyes were intent on mine as he removed his hand from my neck and took my coat from my hands, standing to hold it open for me. "Let me walk you home?" I nodded and he smiled, and for the first time I noticed how undeniably wolfish his grin was.
Against my better judgement, I walked out with him.
To be continued...