As he stepped inside the bar, Kat’s scent grew stronger. Even among the stench of perfumes, booze, and other body odors, her sweet rose aroma tickled his nose and wrapped around him. Embracing him like a gentle caress.
“Would you like to be seated in our dining area or would you prefer to find a seat at the bar?” A bubbly blond female wearing black pants and a black T-shirt held a menu in her hand as she looked at him.
“Bar’s fine,” he said, brushing past her.
A burst of annoyance rolled off the human, but right now all he cared about was tracking Kat down. After a quick lap around the place, he followed her trail out a side exit door.
Once he was outside in the crisp night air, the strong scent of roses enveloped him. She was close. Frowning, he looked around the area behind the restaurant. A Dumpster was to his left, which gave him cover as he scanned the small gravel parking lot, where a few cars were parked. Employee vehicles, he guessed.
And that was when he spotted Kat.
She was leaning against the passenger side of an extended-cab truck with her back to him. Tall, lean, drop-dead gorgeous. Her long dark hair was pulled up into a ponytail that hung halfway down her back. She wore formfitting jeans and a skintight long-sleeved black T-shirt. If she’d still been human, she’d have needed a coat, but thanks to her transformation from human to shifter, she had a higher body temperature now.
Sticking to the shadows, he moved behind the Dumpster and slid along the wall of the restaurant until he was at the edge of the building, twenty yards from where Kat stood talking to a human male.
A growl rose inside him, but he tamped it down and listened to their conversation. As the human talked about heading back to his place to “party,” Jayce nearly lost control of his beast. His inner wolf clawed at him with razor-sharp aggression, tearing and stripping away his insides, begging for freedom.
When the human opened the passenger door for Kat and she actually got inside, Jayce’s claws extended and dug into his palms. The tearing of his flesh jerked him back to reality. Ducking behind the Dumpster, he somehow managed to keep himself under control as the vehicle pulled out of the parking lot.
As the truck drove past the left side of the restaurant, Jayce raced around the right side and headed for his bike in the front.
Whatever Kat thought she was doing with that guy tonight, she’d better think again.
* * *
Kat glanced over at the dark-haired man with the buzz cut next to her. He shot her a quick look and winked as he steered his truck out of the parking lot of Kelly’s Bar and Grill. She wasn’t sure what she was doing with him and was tempted to tell him to stop, but something held her back.
He was one of the bartenders at Kelly’s and had been getting off work just as she’d walked in. The moment she sat down, he’d started flirting with her and buying her drinks. Too bad the alcohol couldn’t numb the pain inside her.
Nothing could do that. For the past month it had festered inside her, growing like an out-of-control vine. It twisted and expanded with no regard for anything in its path, least of all her heart or emotions. If she dwelled on the ways she’d been tortured a month ago, she tensed up and her inner wolf wanted out.
Aiden, her friend and the wolf who’d changed her into a shifter, had explained that it was a protective thing. Her inner wolf didn’t want her to suffer, so it tried to take over whether she wanted it to or not. Some kind of coping mechanism.
Taking a deep breath, she forced those thoughts from her mind. Tonight she was taking control of her life again. Maybe sleeping with a stranger wasn’t the smartest way to go about it, but she needed to be in charge of something. It wasn’t as if the guy next to her could hurt her. He was human, and sure, he had a sexy edge to him, but she was still a hundred times stronger. He couldn’t hurt her physically or sexually.
That was something she kept reminding herself of. She was the one in control tonight.
“Surprised I haven’t seen you in Kelly’s before,” the guy, Scott . . . something, said.
She’d been there a few times when she’d been human, but she’d usually been so busy working at the ski lodge—where she’d been an employee until a month ago. Shrugging, she smiled and shifted in her seat, crossing her legs in his direction. She didn’t want to make bullshit small talk. That wasn’t what tonight was about.
The man’s dark gaze drifted down to her covered legs, then back up to her chest. Even though she was clothed, the way he looked at her made her feel practically naked. That should be a good thing, she told herself. She needed to be exposed in front of another person and she hadn’t been since that awful night. Maybe this would help with her nightmares. Anything to help her get rid of the nausea-inducing memories she couldn’t seem to outrun.
So why did she feel so guilty being out with someone else? She and Jayce had broken up nearly a year ago. He’d made it perfectly clear that she wasn’t good enough for him. Oh, sure, he’d loved her in the bedroom, but that was all he’d been willing to give her. He hadn’t been willing to make her his bondmate when she’d been human and she sure as hell wasn’t going to give him a second chance now that she was like him. Not that he’d actually asked for one. He’d just been calling a lot since her attack.
Acting all concerned.
Well, he could take his concern and shove it. She didn’t need him or his help. She would take care of her own problems, the way she always had. By herself. Unfortunately she couldn’t seem to keep her head on straight. For a moment back in the parking lot she’d thought she scented Jayce, but she knew it had to be a figment of her imagination.
“So how far from your place are we?” Self-loathing bubbled up inside her as she asked the question.
Scott’s dark eyes glanced her way and he grinned before turning his gaze back to the road in front of him. “Not far, baby. Not far.”
Baby? She hated that term. Before she could dwell on it she sniffed the air. Something sensual rolled off him and it took her a moment to realize it was lust. She was still getting used to tapping into her extrasensory abilities and deciphering one smell from another. This was like a sweet wine, clean and refreshing.
It reminded her that even though she might not care about this guy or plan to see him again, he wasn’t a bad person. It was the reason she’d chosen him tonight. Before she’d been turned into a shifter she’d been a human but also a seer. Just like her mom. Back then she’d only been able to see the true faces of supernatural beings. She’d been able to see the wolves or jaguars or whatever kind of animal lurked beneath the surface of shifters. And with vamps, she’d been able to see their teeth and their hunger for blood. After being turned into a shifter she could also see the truth of humans’ nature. It was a weird addition to her psychic abilities. With the ability to see the truth about people, she could see Scott’s “real” face. He was just a horny guy looking to get laid. No darker intentions or freaky sexual proclivities.
As they pulled into the driveway of a cottage-style house in a normal-looking middle-class neighborhood, she took another deep breath. She could do this. Couldn’t she?
When he put the truck in park, she fought the growing dread inside her. It moved like molasses, weighing her down and making it hard to breathe. With a numb hand she opened the door and slid out of the vehicle. The second her boots hit the pavement of the driveway she knew she couldn’t go through with this. Not if she wanted to look at herself in the mirror the next morning. One-night stands weren’t her style, and while she desperately needed control in her life, the thought of this guy’s hands on her body made her nauseous. Not because he was bad-looking or gave her bad vibes, but because she didn’t want this from a stranger. Not truly. As she started to walk around the truck to Scott’s side, she turned at the sound of a motorcycle pulling into the driveway behind them.
Fury popped inside her at the sight of Jayce. Well, fury and something else that she refused to define. It might have been relief, but she wasn’t going to go there. Not tonight. Not when anger was so much easier.
Stalking toward Jayce as he slid off the bike, she tried to keep her gaze from trailing down to those incredibly muscular legs. Didn’t matter that he was wearing jeans. She’d seen every inch of his naked body and the image was seared into her brain. He moved with such fluidity—it had always amazed her.
Even now, when she wanted to pummel him for having the audacity to follow her, she still had to admire the strength and power he radiated. He would never be called handsome, or even good-looking, but there was something dangerous about Jayce that was incredibly sexy. Without even trying, he exuded a raw sexuality that made women stand up and take notice. With his shaved head and a scar that crisscrossed over his left eye, he had . . . a presence that refused to be ignored. The scar only added to that edginess. And he was directing all of that at her with a very heated stare.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she practically shouted.
Before he could answer, Scott was next to her, in front of her actually, partially blocking her from Jayce. “Can I help you, buddy?”
Kat smiled haughtily at Jayce. At least Scott wasn’t a total wimp.
But then Jayce trained his gaze on the other man. Jayce was scary when he wanted to be, and as she watched his normally gunmetal gray eyes turn to black, she actually had to force herself to stand her ground. He growled low in his throat. “You can go inside your fucking house and leave us alone.”
Scott cleared his throat nervously, then looked at her. “You, uh, know this guy?”
She could smell the fear on him. Bitter and acidic, it stung her nostrils. So much for not being a wimp. Ignoring Scott, she turned back to Jayce and set her hands on her hips. “Did you follow me here?”
“What do you think?” he practically purred as he took a step closer.
Now she scented something dark and rich, like chocolate. Lust. As a human she’d never had a clue that lust or desire actually had a smell, but now . . . this was addicting. She inhaled and for a moment she felt light-headed. But when she saw the knowing look in Jayce’s eyes, she snapped. “I think it’s pathetic that you’re following me around like a little puppy dog.” She knew he still wanted her and the knowledge made her feel powerful. Even if she was playing with fire by taunting him, it gave her perverse pleasure to see the anger flare in that newly darkened gaze.