Copyright © 2013 Shelli Stevens
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Son of a bitch.
His jaw hardened and he jerked his gaze away to the other side of the room. His attention snagged immediately on her.
Maybe because she’d already been watching him with a look of dismay.
Was she alone? It certainly seemed like it. The curvy twenty-something was somewhat plain, and she gave off a straitlaced vibe.
Maybe a cross between a librarian and hippie type. She wore a long, multi-colored skirt and a thin, black tank top that hugged an impressive chest.
But it was her hair that fascinated him. Long and red, it fell in loose curls down her back.
As if she’d just realized he’d caught her staring, she jerked her attention back to the stage and the singer on it.
Her head tilted in a way that sent a cascade of curls to block her face from him.
His lips quirked, and he had the feeling she’d done it on purpose.
This time gut instinct told him she was alone.
He glanced around the bar again, seeing if there might be a better target, but beyond the handful of couples and occasional group of girls, there was no one.
It would have to be her. Curls girl.
“Can I get you a drink?”
Damn, he’d been so focused that he hadn’t realized a waitress had approached from behind.
“I’ll have a PBR.” He paused, hoping like hell he had enough money. “And whatever Curls over there is drinking, I’ll buy her another.”
Though the waitress was going to be pissed when she realized he didn’t have enough for a tip.
“Curls?” The waitress glanced across the room. “Oh, Sage. She’s just having seltzer water. But you got it.”
Seltzer water? So much for hoping he could get her buzzed. She seemed small enough that it wouldn’t take much. At least the waitress would get a tip now.
He waited until he had the can of beer in hand and the waitress had delivered the seltzer water to Curls. Or Sage. Unique name.
Sage glanced up sharply, glass in hand, her brows drawn together as she looked at him.
When she started to shake her head at the waitress, he stood and made his way over to her.
He’d only taken a few steps when a wall of realization slammed into him. He froze, drawing in another deep breath of her scent and the sweet shifter blood coursing through her veins.
Fuck. How had he not realized she was a shifter? How had it taken being nearly on top of her to sense she was one of his kind?
Her scowl vanished and her mouth rounded into an O of shock—her eyes widening. She’d figured out exactly what he was as well.
This had just gone from shit to shittastic. She’d had a clear look at his face now, and if his image was being splashed around the shifter communities as he suspected it was, she would remember him.
Cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck. There was no going back now. When she walked out of here tonight, he was going with her.
Amping up his resolve, he forced another smile and continued his approach.
“This seat taken?” He gestured at the empty chair beside her.
She didn’t blink. Didn’t look away from him. “Yes.”
He paused a moment. Keep it charming, Larson. “By me?”
“No, and excuse me if I don’t say nice try.”
“Well, technically, you just did.”
Again she just stared at him, those big blue eyes full of wariness.
Knowing he wasn’t actually going to get an invitation, he grabbed the chair and sat down in it anyway.
Her mouth tightened. “Can I help you with something?”
“Aren’t you going to thank me for the drink?”
“No. In fact, let me give you back the two dollars you’ll have to pay.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Did you realize you were going to strike out with Esther and decide maybe someone closer to your age was a better bet anyway?”
“I wasn’t hitting on her.”
“Kind of looked like you were from where I sat. And you know what? That’s just weird.”
The unfamiliar sensation of heat stealing up his neck had his jaw clenching. What the hell? She’d looked so quiet. So docile.
“Why are you talking to me?”
“Why not? Do you have a jealous husband at home?” Or mate. He didn’t sense she was mated, though. Hmm, maybe the fact that she was a shifter as well could work out to his advantage.
Bingo. He’d be willing to bet she lived alone too.
“What are you doing here?” Her hand clenched around the glass in her hand, and her gaze dipped to the table.
“I came to hear some music.”
“Not the bar. Here. Central California.” Her voice dropped half an octave so only he would hear it, and she glanced at him again. “If I’m not mistaken, you have Pacific Northwest pack written all over you.”
She was good. Smart. And direct as hell. This wasn’t boding well for him.
“Just passing through town. Sensed we had something in common and thought I’d have a drink with you.” All while spewing that bullshit, he kept his expression friendly. Or tried.
“Hmmph. And you know what? You smile weird. Almost as if you’ve never done it before or something. Like it hurts.”
Well it kind of did hurt keeping a smile up for this long. A surly frown tugged at his mouth, but he held it back.
“This next song goes out to Sage.”
Her gasp was nearly inaudible, as her head spun exorcist fast toward the stage.
“You look lovely tonight, my little sunflower.”
Nathan frowned. Sunflower? What the fuck?
“I can’t believe it.” Sage’s whisper drew Nathan’s attention away from the pretty boy musician on stage and back to the female shifter across from him.
“He’s never done that before. He’s never acknowledged me like this.”
Secret lovers or something? Irritation slid through him. That wouldn’t do.
“It’s you,” she continued, casting him a quick glance. “It’s you being here, talking to me. I think he got jealous. Oh, thank you so much. I don’t even know your name.”
“Stan.” The lie slid past his lips without a thought.
“Well, thank you, Stan. For the drink and for everything.” Her attention was once more on the stage. Her eyes glittered with adoration as she stared at the musician.
She had a crush on the guy, and big time. Which wasn’t good no matter how you looked at it. She was a shifter. Why was she looking outside her own kind? If he were her alpha he’d have pulled her aside a while ago and woken her ass up to reality.
But she wasn’t in his pack. Hell, she looked as if she preferred hanging solo and avoiding the pack. There was no one else around who had shifter blood that he could sense.
“He’s amazing…” Her whimsical sigh had Nathan glancing at the stage again.
The musician was nothing to write home about. Nice enough voice, maybe, but a little too pretty. Hair that could use a cut, a little on the skinny side, and just overall kind of tepid looking.
The words to the song registered. Something about a woman’s beauty being comparable to a sunrise over snow-capped mountains.
And this Sage girl was eating it up. Every last note that came out of his mouth.
He leaned back in his chair and her gaze darted to him, flashing with panic.
“You’re not leaving, are you?”
Deciding to milk it a bit, he gave a small shrug. “Well, I was thinking about it, but if you’d rather I stay—”
“Please do. I don’t mind anymore…” She gave him a small grin. “You’re turning out to be good luck.”
She didn’t have a clue. Not a single fucking clue. Give it a few hours and she’d be eating those words.