He shouldn’t be in the company of humans on a night like this. It wasn’t safe.
He knew better than to put innocents at risk. Often raged at his reckless younger brother and his arrogant older brother for doing that very thing, but (tick tock) he was out of time.
Owen kicked back another slug of rich, dark lager. The beer was supposed to dull his senses, but it wasn’t working. There probably wasn’t enough alcohol lining the lighted glass shelves behind Chill’s old oak bar to shut him down on a night like this, but such thoughts didn’t help and only made him edgier. Made his vision narrow and turn every body he sighted into potential prey while his balls drew up as if in preparation for a hunt.
Which was all he needed.
A breathless run through tall pines, pounding a trail into higher elevations with his paws flying over the dense undergrowth, ears back, nose into the wind—a wild run.
What had once been a simple prescription for any complaint was now fraught with danger. He dared not shift because doing so would put others at risk.
He’d screwed up royally, and all that he’d taken for granted over the centuries of his long life might disappear.
Maybe for good.
He dragged his thumbnail along a groove in the scarred surface of the table and wished it was not the puny crescent that tipped his human digit, but a powerful claw.
His wolf wanted out.
For now, he was in control, but it was a white-knuckle, hanging on moment-by-moment thing, and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold on. Leaving the sanctuary of Lost Legacy to come to a popular bar hadn’t been the brightest idea, but when your only choices were bad ones, it was useless to rank them in order of evil from simply screwed to eternally fucked.
Success was something he now defined as surviving until the next full moon.
He looked around the bar in an effort to distract himself, allowing his gaze to linger on the half-naked bodies of women on the dance floor. Their pheromones floated through the thick atmosphere, mingling with the faint stink of sweat, the haze of tobacco smoke that drifted through the open windows, and the sweet musk that was uniquely female.
On this night, he was all nose, and that was a dangerous thing for a were who hadn’t shifted in far too long. Scent fired the deep, primitive regions of his hybrid brain and triggered, he’d been told by the only scientist ever allowed to study the pack, a werewolf pheromone designed to lure, entice and entrap prey as well as sexual conquests. It coiled around him now like an invisible sexy cloud.
The females writhed with the melody line of the music, but it was the thump of the bass that aroused them. At least, that’s what they presumed made their blood hum and their skin tingle with suppressed excitement.
Music and the presence of a predator in their clean, modern world. There was nothing neat or slick about what he felt this night.
The drive to run and rut demanded release.
A few of the braver females glanced his way, and he didn’t mind the attention. He knew what they saw: a regular guy who looked like he either worked construction or had turned gym rat to maintain his athletic physique. But it was his inner wolf that felt their interest skate over his broad shoulders—his wildness awakening some remnant of human animal nature buried beneath spandex and lip gloss.
No matter how often he encountered it, the ignorance of humans never failed to stun him.
The only thing they associated with predator were mug shots of dreary, gut-bellied men with bad teeth and long rap sheets or sleek, high-tech drones cutting the air over exotic, foreign lands.
If they even thought about elemental risk in the first place.
Owen would bet a year of his miserable life that no one on the dance floor had a clue about reality. Not here in this funky vacation town on the Pacific Coast. Not now when the breezes of summer beckoned. Not when they’d escaped the cubicles and 24-inch monitors of Portland and Seattle and Sacramento. Reality was something else entirely than what they supposed in the boring stretches of their forget-about-it lives.
A balding, slump-shouldered man in a red plaid shirt and beer-stained khakis danced alone, edging closer to a clutch of females every few measures. He jerked his head back and forth like a possessed car ornament. Every swivel of his hips made his belly jiggle. Even from this distance, Owen could smell the sweet rot of diabetes on him that overlaid a darker odor of some other disease he couldn’t identify.
Mr. Excitement leaned into a curvy redhead, wrapped his flabby arm around her shoulders and moved his lips. Whatever he’d said earned him a swift shove with the heel of a manicured hand. He stumbled backwards on crepe-soled shoes, whining in protest. The bouncer caught him and muscled him out the side door.