The last thing Melissa McCall wants to do on a Friday night is to doll up for a charity auction. But, the Children’s Ward is a nurse short, and her boss has promised her first dibs on overtime. With Scott’s growth spurt—she can hardly believe her little boy is almost ten already!—it would be foolish to say no. Plus, free dinner in one of the fancy restaurants in town.
The doctors go first. No one is surprised when the head of Children’s ward, Dr. Hale, is bought by his wife for a ridiculous sum of money. She always does that, no matter how many times the charity auction is held, and privately Melissa thinks she’d be better off just making the donation and leaving this frippery aside. Sure, other people bid to buy the honor of taking a doctor or a nurse on a date, but they don’t do it in four figures.
Of course, Melissa ends up going last because she’s the last minute addition. It shouldn’t make her so nervous, but it does, and not just because the nerves have had more time to build up. No, it’s the fact that she goes on after Janice Burton, who’s a twenty-three year old blonde with the bluest eyes she’s ever seen and legs that go on for miles. Melissa is proud of her legs but she knows that a thirty-something single mother doesn’t hold a candle to that.
Janice draws over a grand, the boys from the Fire Department bidding against some of the deputies. She laughs and twirls in her pale blue dress, and Melissa looks away, checking her makeup one more time.
“Your turn, McCall!” The grin on nurse manager Finstock’s face is diabolical. “Go on, give ‘em the old razzle dazzle!”
Tugging the hem of her designer knockoff little black dress, Melissa takes a deep breath and steps forward through the curtains.
Of all the things to do on a Friday night, accompanying his sister to a charity “auction” for the local hospital is not on top of Peter’s list. On the other hand, the alternative is babysitting and since Cora had not outgrown biting since he last saw her he’s opted to escort Talia here so she she can throw money at her husband, basking in the jealousy of all the ladies and a few of the men.
Peter’s got a critical eye on the offerings; he knows it’s not a literal meat market, all that people are bidding on is a date and that’s it. Only a few of them catch his interest for longer than a few seconds, like the doctor with the red hair or the male nurse with the broad, capable shoulders.
Only one other person besides his brother in law has even broken a thousand, and it’s all so plebian. The ex-cheerleader turned nurse, of course she’d rake in the cash. Impressive, though, considering that Talia only offered five grand for Jason. Of course there would be the discreet envelope as well, certainly at the very least matching the Whittemores and Martins. All of it so dreadful.
There’s one more nurse left, and then he’s free to go. Or at least, free to stop paying attention and get another drink—even if he can’t get drunk, he can appreciate a good vintage. He ignores what the announcer has to say and lifts his glass to take another sip of the single malt he’s chosen for tonight.
And promptly chokes on his drink.
Next to him, Talia raises an eyebrow but he doesn’t care. He is too busy letting his eyes travel over her body, taking in everything from her gorgeous legs to the bouncy curls that give her an air of girlishness despite the fact that she’s probably his age, if not a little older. There’s a sparkle in her dark eyes, and Peter wants.
But he is not crass enough to try to buy her. No, he’s already thinking about how to woo her, how to just happen to find her... at the ER, she’s an ER Nurse, her name is Melissa McCall and her scent is full of vanilla and burnt caramel under the disinfectant and cheap conditioner. His nostrils flare as he catches it across the room, tongue flicking out to taste the air.
The first bid comes from a young deputy, and is quite respectable. Peter can smell the sudden relief in her scent, the undertone of fondness and has to restrain a growl. There is a time and place for possessiveness, for making her forget all about other men.
There’s a few other bids, they go over two hundred, then over five, and he can see the tension leaving her shoulders. Did she really think she wouldn’t fetch a good price? With those legs?
“Eight hundred,” a semi-slurred voice calls from the back of the room and Melissa visibly stiffens.
The auctioneer raises an eyebrow, but goes on. “Eight Hundred from Agent McCall. Do I hear Eight-Twenty-Five?”
The young deputy immediately responds, and as Peter watches Melissa grow more uncomfortable by the second, her scent turning sour as her heartbeat speeds up, Peter knows this is not anything like Talia always making sure she gets her man. It’s clear the deputy is going to lose by the looks of it, be it the depth of the agent’s reserves or his sheer dogged stupidity.
Peter doesn’t really think it through before he calls out, “Ten thousand.”
Melissa is very proud of herself when she does not, in fact, faint and faceplant into the table that holds the mayor and her husband. Because she did not just hear that, she did not hear John and Raf— Asshole get outbid by—
“Ten thousand, going three times for Mr. Hale!”
Mr. Hale. One of the Hales. Had just dropped ten grand on her just like that.
Melissa is in a daze and she’s certain her smile is more like a DMV photo death grin when she lifts a hand to wave at the table where Talia Hale is sitting with her—brother? She’s not sure, but she thinks that’s Peter Hale who’s looking at her with bright blue eyes, a small smirk playing at the corner of his mouth. He looks a little bit stunned.
She is very carefully not thinking about how gorgeous his mouth is when she gets off the stage, her legs shaking. She nearly falls over when Finstock claps a congratulatory hand on her shoulder, loudly proclaiming Melissa as a supreme shaker of the money maker.
“You look like you need this.” There’s a glass being pushed into her hand and Melissa shakes her head, doesn’t want a drink .
“I’m not drinking,” she says, her voice firm despite the fact that she’s shaking.
“It’s just water,” Charlie from the office reassures her, and wraps her trembling fingers around the cool glass. “Come on, let’s sit you down for a moment so everyone can congratulate you.”
It’s surreal, absurd, like a dream: even Dr. Hale appears to shake her hand, to gently joke about being upstaged and how she should not worry—that his brother in law won’t bite.
Somehow, the look in his eyes makes her doubt it.
She draws a deep breath and stands up; before the night is over she has to go and talk to Mr. Hale, to make tentative arrangements for their date. It’s going to be a sponsored event, dinner at the nicest restaurant in town and Melissa is suddenly very aware that it’ll be evident to her date that she planned on wearing the same dress. John would never have noticed.
Her legs are no longer shaking as she makes her way to the side room where the formalities are taking place. She sees Mr. Hale—Peter, she supposes, standing there, looking every inch the rich and handsome charity donor who just dropped such a ridiculous amount of money on her.
Melissa tugs at the hem of her dress self-consciously and hopes her smile is at least passable as she approaches him.
“Hi.” She is proud of herself, of how her voice doesn’t waver.
From up close, she is even more gorgeous than she’d been on stage. There’s still an undertone of anxiety to her scent, but the sourness it held while she was on stage is gone. She’s intoxicating, and Peter inhales deeply before he catches himself.
“Hi,” he responds almost belatedly. He’s slightly unsure of his footing, which hasn’t happened in a long time, but he’s also never done this before.
She extends her hand and although he knows she is expecting a handshake, he can’t help it, he takes hold of her hand—rough and calloused, a working woman’s hand—and bends down to brush his lips across her knuckles; this close, he can smell the latex and disinfectants, but it doesn’t deter him. When he straightens up he can see how her eyes have dilated, picks up the slight speeding up of her heartbeat.
He’s about to speak up again, to compliment her on her dress—he can tell it’s a knock-off but it suits her perfectly. She looks better in it than many of the tailored designer outfits he’s seen tonight, but before he can speak up there’s a commotion behind them.
“Oh there she is.” Peter recognizes the voice.
Slowly, he turns around, putting himself between Melissa and what he’s now quite certain is her ex—or soon to be ex—husband.
At first glance, Agent McCall comes off as tall, handsome, arrogant and drunk off his ass. He’s swaying slightly, a red tint to his cheeks and his tie loose. But his eyes sparkle dangerously, and Peter has to stifle an instinctual urge to growl. Melissa is—his. (Not yet, but soon. Something dark and possessive is welling up inside him, far beyond his initial desire to simply woo her, to entertain a gorgeous lady. Being challenged, it’s getting to him in a way he has never felt before. He doesn’t quite know what to make of it, but one thing is sure; he will suffer no interlopers. )
“So you bought her.” The agent’s breath reeks of alcohol, his words slurred.
“We have a date,” Peter corrects him sharply. Behind him, he can feel Melissa stiffen, steeling herself to speak up.
McCall looks past Peter, at her. “Shoulda known you were a whore, but you sure as hell aren’t worth—”
“Apologise. Now.” Peter interrupts him, his voice close to a growl. Anger is welling up inside him, the urge to maim and tear and kill, and he is only peripherally aware of the fact that Talia has shown up, the presence of the Alpha somewhat helping with his tenuous control. He’s never suffered fools gladly but this is—
McCall snorts and tries to move past Peter. “She’s my wife, I—”
“I am not your wife!” Melissa’s eyes are blazing with fury, color high on her cheeks. She looks magnificent and Peter’s wolf howls with unexpected possessiveness.
McCall raises his hand, and Peter breaks his wrist.
It’s not what he intends to do: it’s an instinctual reaction, in response to a wild gesture rather than an attempt to harm but McCall loses his balance, takes a fall. It’s all very anticlimactic after that; security shows up, McCall is swearing up and down he’s going to get Peter charged for assaulting a federal agent, only to be told to shut up by the very same deputy who had also bid on Melissa.
Peter turns back to her, only to find her gone.
The brick wall is cold and scratchy against her back. It might have torn the back of her dress but Melissa doesn't care. A few feet away, there’s people bustling through the service entrance, a few feet further someone is sneaking a cigarette behind the dumpster and she thinks about it longingly. But she never started smoking before, and R— the Asshole won't be the reason she starts now.
Melissa closes her eyes against the sting of unshed tears. She won’t cry, she won’t add tears to the humiliation and anger coursing through her. The scene her ex had caused, on top of the absolutely ridiculous amount of money Hale had bid on her, it was going to cause so much talk, so much trouble... She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, heedless of her smearing makeup.
“Here, take this.”
The soft words startle her; she gasps and her eyes fly open. Peter Hale stands next to her, holding out a handkerchief. She’d bet anything it was monogrammed.
“Oh no, I can’t, I’d get dollar store mascara all over it and this stuff stains.” She tries very hard not to sound like she is on the verge of tears, that she ought to really blow her nose.
“I insist.” Peter’s eyes are eerily bright in the low light—they almost glow, that’s how blue they are—as he takes a step closer. “Please.”
There’s an intensity to his voice, his expression and Melissa caves in. He sounds so sincere like he actually gives a damn about the hot mess that is Melissa McCall at this very minute.
“Thanks,” she says, her voice a bit more clear as she takes the kerchief. She half expects it to be silk but it isn’t, it’s linen, but she doesn’t doubt that the little piece of fabric she uses to dab her eyes would have put gas in her car for a week.
Oh, damn it all to hell. She blows her nose for good measure and crumples the kerchief in her hand.
Melissa looks up at him, at Peter, and blinks wearily. “I’m sorry, I, I didn’t mean for him to cause a scene, this must be so awful for you being stuck with me like this when you didn’t want to—” Because she knows the only reason he bid on her was because Rafa— Because that asshole was causing a scene. “To be stuck with me. I mean look at me—I might have killer legs in these heels but I’m a complete mess and I’ve ruined your night and your handkerchief—”
She knows she’s babbling, that she should shut up before he loses what’s left of his patience and demands his money back—can you even do that at one of these things?—when suddenly he’s standing right next to her and she can feel the heat of his body radiating through his perfectly cut tuxedo—
And then his hand cups her face and he’s kissing her.
She tastes divine; her scent fills her nostrils and all he wants is to devour her, to posses her. It takes effort to not to deepen the kiss forcefully, to let her lips soften and yield under his on their own volition.
For a heavenly moment it feels like she is melting against him, letting him lay his claim now that he’s caught her and then there is a burst of anger tainting her scent and despite his werewolf reflexes, Peter doesn’t react fast enough to avoid the stinging slap.
She is glorious when she is angry, even when that anger is directed at him. There’s a sour note to it, and Peter could kick himself because of course she would take it the wrong way. After what that absolute waste of oxygen had said— Peter’s anger flares, but it’s not directed towards her.
“I’m sorry.” To his surprise, he actually means it.
“You should be,” she hisses. “What makes you think you could do that?”
“To show you you didn’t ruin anything.” As her expression falters, Peter continues smoothly,
“You’re right, I didn’t plan on bidding at all until your ex clearly made you uncomfortable.” That is a lie: it had been only her scent alerting him that something was wrong. He takes a deep breath, filling his nostrils with her scent again. “I didn’t want to take you on a date you were obligated to go to.”
His distaste at the idea is evident in his tone; he can see her relax a fraction.
“You. You wanted to take me on a real date. Me. You, Peter Hale wanted to take me, Melissa McCall, on an actual, proper, honest to God date.” She looks around like she’s expecting an audience, like this is some juvenile prank or a reality TV stunt.
“Is that so hard to believe?” He tilts his head, slowly reaching out towards her hand.
She lets him take it. “Yes, yes it is.”
“Why? You’re gorgeous. Vibrant. Amazing.” You make my wolf howl with want. I want to take you and make you mine; bite you, mark you, fill your belly with my seed and drown you in my scent. “When I saw you I thought I wanted to woo you. Now, I know I do.”
Her eyes are hard. “Peter, you hardly know me. You don’t know anything about me other than I have really shitty taste in men.”
“I know enough.” He doesn’t know how to explain it to her in human terms, but he tries, because he doesn’t want to let her slip away. Doesn’t want to chase her unwilling. Not when he thinks she could be so much more than just a date, just another woman in his life. “You’re smart, strong—courageous.”
She still looks unconvinced, but he can tell some of the tension is fading. “I’m also a divorced single mother who came here because I was promised overtime, not because I fit in with people like you.”
Peter squeezes her hand gently. For once, Jason has been useful. “You’re also the woman my brother in law said, and I quote, ‘Don’t fuck this up, Pete, she’s one of a kind’ before I came over.”
“And do you always do as your brother in law tells you?” Melissa arches an eyebrow, and most of the anger is finally fading from her scent.
“Never,” Peter admits with a shrug, “but I am willing to make an exception.”
Melissa smiles and squeezes back. It’s like the clouds have parted in front of the full moon. “You’re not getting your kerchief back.”
In that moment Peter knows he's gone.