excerpt – FIRST BITE IS THE DEEPEST

firstbiteisthedeepest-cover

available on AmazonCHAPTER 1

“Oh, Ella! You’ve got to see this.” Leanne dragged me by my arm toward the side wall of the cavernous warehouse. Dust, the smell of mold, and something else disgusting I’d probably prefer not to identify, competed for dominance of my nose. I didn’t know which was winning.

The loud, mostly incoherent spiel from the auctioneer reverberated from unseen speakers. “…twenny-five, thirty, thirty-five, thirty-five, thirty-five, do-I-hear-forty? Forty-five…”

Leanne skidded to a halt in front of a dark blue framed portrait of about thirty wolves with a full moon behind them. “It looks almost realistic, but they mucked up a bunch of stuff. Do you think it’s a painting trying to look like a photo or did someone actually photograph a bunch of wolves?” Off to the side an odd looking wolf with curly fur was slinking out of the frame. “You should buy this for over your fireplace.”

“Yeah, right.” I snorted. “It’s gotta be photo-shop, there are no brush strokes. But why would they have all the wolves facing the camera? You’d think they’d position them howling at the moon.”

“I love this weird looking one. It almost looks like a poodle.”

“Imagine getting that close to a pack of wolves to take a picture. Too scary. I love the colors, though. And it would match my couch.”

“Are you going to bid on it?” She knew me too well

“Maybe. If I can get it for five bucks, I guess. The frame is probably worth that much.”

The picture was growing on me. Although the scene was dark, you still felt like the wolves had different personalities—the grumpy big one sneering at the poodle, an old wolf lying down.

I checked around to see if anything else caught my eye. There hadn’t been much fun junk at this auction. They were probably saving up the good stuff for antique day next week. But there also weren’t as many people. We got to the photo quickly and no one bid against me. Don, the auctioneer, gave me a bemused smile as he wrote down my paddle number.After they’d gone on to auction off the big Buddha statues, I turned in my paddle and paid for my objet d’art.

“I can’t believe I bought it,” I grumbled to Leanne as we headed toward the exit.

She laughed. “You’ll thank me later. You know you love quirky crap like that.”

A sudden crashing open of the double doors had me almost dropping the picture. Two tall guys, backlit by the sunlight pouring in from the parking lot, slammed through the doorway and rushed to the side wall where the picture had been propped against an end table.

Oh frig, are they looking for my picture? They turned, scanned the room and then swiftly narrowed in on me. I glanced around hopefully, but no one was standing behind me.

The taller, more muscular of the pair, strode over and stopped in front of me, suspiciously eyeing the back of my picture. I resisted the urge to step back. Frig. I wished I was a little taller so I didn’t have to look up so much to meet his gaze. And double frig, he was gorgeous. My cheeks started to burn under his intense stare. I swallowed and tried to stand taller.

“Excuse me. Did you just buy a photo of some wolves?”

I clutched the frame tighter to my body. “Yes.”

“Damn!” He glared at the shorter guy lurking a step behind. They must’ve been brothers with their similar brown eyes and straight, perfect, noses. Wow, did they ever win in the gene pool. Even his voice was deep and sexy. “What did you pay?”

I glanced at Leanne. She tore her eyes from the two men to meet my gaze with a look of, “Jackpot!” Should I tell him?

She grinned and shrugged.
“Eight bucks.”

“I’ll give you fifty.” Something about the way he barked the sentence got my back up. Gorgeous or not, I hate pushy men. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket.

“No thanks.” I went to walk by him and he grabbed my arm. The warmth of his hand through my thin jacket surprised me. I detest physical contact with strangers but somehow I wasn’t as unnerved by his touch as I expected.

“Well, how much would you like?”

On second thought, Piss off. I stared pointedly at his hand on my arm and then at his face. He really didn’t look so handsome now. More like an obnoxious CEO or something, used getting his way. “I don’t want anything. I bought this picture and intend to keep it.” I wrenched my arm away and marched out the door. But not before noticing the shocked expression on the jerk’s face. Ha!

Leanne caught up with me by my car. “What? Are you nuts? You coulda made forty—” She squinted one eye as she made the calculation. “—two dollars in ten minutes. And he might’ve offered, God, who knows how much more?”

I beeped open my Fiat. “I like my picture.” Although making an instant profit would’ve been fun and I could’ve used the extra cash, seeing that guy’s expression when he didn’t get his way? Priceless. I smirked as I stowed my prize behind the driver’s seat.

“Honestly?” She slid into the passenger side. “I thought you bought it for the frame.”

“Maybe,” I admitted. “I just really didn’t like that guy.

“Even more reason to take him to the cleaners. Too bad he was such an asshat, because he sure looked yummy.”

“Not my type.” Men that attractive expect women to fall all over them. I’d rather an average-looking guy who’d treat me as an equal. I started the car and looked in the rear view mirror. The man had followed us outside and was by the auction house door staring at us. There was something familiar about him. When he glanced at his watch I suddenly realized why. “Hey! Wasn’t he on that decorating show a few years ago, you know where they designed and decorated swanky places? What was that series?”

Leanne glanced back at him. “Oh yeah, you’re right. He’s Robert Colbert from Designed by Colbert. Wow, he’d seemed so classy on that show! I guess he was just acting nice.” Her eyes widened in wonder. “And he wants your picture. Jeez, it must actually be valuable. Don’t forget, I was the one who pointed it out to you, so if you sell it for millions…”

“I’ll Google the picture when I get home. I can’t believe it’s worth much, it’s still incredibly tacky.” As I turned the corner I took one last glance at the guy. Now he looked more defeated than hostile. I stifled a wave of pity. If he’d really wanted that picture he should’ve gotten to the auction sooner and he could’ve been nicer when he offered, no demanded, I sell it to him. His brother joined him standing there. Had the brother ever been on the show? I only remembered the one host, but he’d often referred to his family’s furniture and antiquities business. They’d sounded very posh, so probably he could easily afford fifty more wolf pictures.
****

“Damnit, Lucas. If you hadn’t stopped to help that lady with her groceries, we would’ve gotten here in time to buy the picture.”

“She was struggling. You would’ve done the same.”

Robert shrugged. Probably, but at least he’d have driven faster to make up the lost time. They should’ve taken his sports car, but Lucas had wanted his big Lexus in case he bid on a side table. And even that was already gone.
Damn Janette, for letting the family portrait go to auction. He rolled his eyes. No, it wasn’t fair to blame Janette. She’d always felt like an outsider in the pack—it wasn’t her fault her mother had run off with a poodle.

“I’ll run that woman’s plates and get an address on her.” Robert headed back to Lucas’s car. “As long as she doesn’t take the picture out of the frame, she won’t see everyone’s names on the back.”

“I still don’t get why Mom wrote out our names. Did she think Janette would forget who was who just because she stopped coming out for the full moon runs?”

“I think that was the point Mom was trying for. But who’d have figured Janette would sell the pic? Since she started hanging with that Los Lobos gang member, she’s been getting more and more rebellious. Between Janette and the Parker family, this pack is really becoming divided. The sooner you take over leadership from Dad the better.”

“I know.” Lucas signaled a left as he pulled out of the parking lot. Robert pressed his right foot against the floor, willing his brother to actually use his gas pedal. He growled quietly as his brother waited for three more cars to pass.

Lucas shook his head at Robert’s impatience. “I’ll talk to Dad tomorrow. You should really be alpha wolf, if only you hadn’t had that run in with the SPCA.”

As usual, Lucas’s voice dropped to a mumble on the last part of the sentence, tip-toeing around mentioning his “accident.” God that was annoying. Saying it quietly didn’t make his neutering any less real.
Robert shifted in his seat. “At least this way I can have tons of sex and save a bundle on condoms.”

“Yeah, but not able to have pups? Doesn’t that bug you? I think I’d have gone back and peed on everything that vet owned.”

Robert laughed. “Honestly? I don’t think I wanted to be a father anyway. And my inability to procreate saved me from a lifetime of misery with Annabelle.”

“But didn’t you want to be leader of the pack?” Lucas persisted.

“Yeah. You know I like to run things.” Robert smiled. “Did I mention EL TV called and wanted to talk to me about a new show?”

“And so the fan mail and groupies all start up again.”

“I’m counting on it.”

“You dog.”

“You bet.” He grinned.

Lucas signaled right a block in advance. “I’m glad the producers on that show never asked me to appear. I know it was great publicity for the Colbert Enterprises, but I don’t know how you dealt with those crazy female fans.”
Robert chuckled. “It was a burden.” He unlatched his seat belt as Lucas pulled up to his front gate. “Thanks for the lift, and don’t worry, I’ll think of a way to get that photo back.”

“That woman sounded pretty determined to keep it.”

That woman. A vision of her pale face and bright blue eyes peering up at him came to mind. He’d just assumed she’d sell him the picture. Then her face had hardened and she’d suddenly dug her heels in. Strangely enough he’d been turned on by her steely determination. For a moment he’d wanted her even more than the damn portrait. “If it comes down to it, I could steal the picture and replace it with a copy that Mom hasn’t scribbled on.”

“I can see the headlines, ‘Robert Colbert, millionaire TV star, caught stealing photo sold at auction for eight dollars.’ Then all the dealers would think the picture was worth something and we’d never get it back.”

“Have faith.” Robert reassured his brother before closing the car door and turning to disarm his security system.
No point both of them stewing over the damn picture.
****

The phone nagged me from the other side of my door as I jiggled the key, then punched in the four digits on my alarm pad. Five-thirty on a work day? Probably a salesman. Despite the temptation to let it go to voicemail, I ran into the living room to catch it before the fifth ring. Jeez, I wish I hadn’t lost my cell phone. Yet another frigging expense and annoying as all hell.

“Hello?”

“Congratulations, E. Wilton. You have been selected—”

I disconnected with a grumble. How could anyone be so stupid as to be duped by those computer phone scams? Dropping my purse and scarf onto my navy couch, I contemplated which frozen entrée to pull out for dinner. I should cook something healthy for a change, but after a day of dealing with whiny editors, I didn’t feel like expending extra thought on cooking. I should also get a better job. Then I could at least afford better fast food.

The wolf photo resting on my mantelpiece caught my eye. I guess I could’ve been fifty or a hundred bucks richer if I hadn’t been so stubborn. There hadn’t been an artist’s name anywhere and no indication on Google that it could be worth anything. So why had I clung onto it? Was I just being snarky because that guy was too good looking and self-assured? Wow. That was childish. After all, it was a silly picture. I stepped closer to study it again. I’d become
fascinated by the interactions between the wolves. And the grumpy big wolf looked familiar.

Ha! As if I’d ever seen a wolf up close.

I might as well hang the picture. It’d been leaning in place for almost a week since the auction while I dithered about whether or not it should stay in the living room. I can always take it down later if I find a better one. Forget that. Who am I trying to impress? No one else is ever in here anyway. I rooted in my kitchen drawers for ten minutes before remembering my picture hanging stuff was in the garage.

Unlocking the door to the garage, a strange tingle of warning shot up my spine. Of what, I hadn’t a clue. But inside the darkened garage, even the air smelled a little off. Hostile? Frig I wished I’d gotten around to changing the light bulb. As I walked toward my shelving unit, my foot connected hard with something solid, warm and fuzzy. A yelp, followed and then some fierce teeth dug into my calf.

“Ow!” What the hell? Jumping back I saw a pair of shiny eyes glaring up at me. I did a double-take as my own eyes adjusted to the darkness. The bloody thing looked like a wolf from my picture, but heaven knew there weren’t any wolves in Seattle.

I backed up slowly, keeping my eyes locked on the dog. My leg hurt like the dickens, but I didn’t dare look down to check it out. Probably couldn’t have seen anything anyway. The dog sat and blinked as if just waking. He didn’t appear ready to spring at me again, but I wasn’t going to give him the chance either. Jeez, the thing must’ve snuck into my garage in the morning when I took out the garbage.

I punched the key code into the automatic door opener. As the door opened I finally had enough light to see the thing. Man, it really did look like a wolf with its wiry, black-tipped, golden fur and its hard yellow eyes. And the frigging size of it? Maybe it’s one of those wolf crosses people keep advertising on Craigslist. As if we don’t have enough scary breeds of dogs. People should keep cats instead. They’re much nicer, safer and cleaner. The dog hesitated and then slowly loped outside and down the street, seeming incongruous amongst the neatly manicured lawns and gardens.

It shot me one last glance, almost looking apologetic—that’s a good one—and then ran into the park on the left and disappeared out of sight.

I closed the garage and limped my way back into the house to see if the damn dog had done any damage. If it broke skin I’d need a rabies shot. Hmm, would I have to report a dangerous animal to the police?
I pulled up my pant leg to see. Crap. I had a bunch of bleeding holes in my leg and the frigging dog had ruined my new Peter Nygard pants. Yup. I was going to call the police now. I’d only worn those pants twice, fer crying out loud! In the bathroom I threw some hydrogen peroxide on the wounds enjoying the fizziness—it always seems like it must be curing something—and then turned on the shower. If I was going to hang around a hospital emergency room then I might as well be clean and comfy.

As I stripped I noticed the wounds had already stopped bleeding and didn’t hurt any more. Wow, that was fast. Maybe they were just superficial. Under the water, I watched in amazement as the skin healed together. The redness paled until it was totally gone. WTF? I glanced at my pants on the floor to ensure I hadn’t hallucinated the whole thing, but no, my green dress pants still sported tear marks and blood stains.
What now? I obviously wouldn’t need a rabies shot but what if there was something weird under my skin? I also couldn’t report the vicious stray as nobody would believe me. Hell, I don’t think I believed me.
****

“Oh hell, Lucas. Now I’m really screwed.” Robert had barely finished transitioning from wolf form before speaking. He grabbed the spare sweatpants he knew Lucas kept stashed behind his Lexus for emergency use. The matching grey t-shirt was folded neatly on the shelf next to the spare can of motor oil. Knowing Lucas, it surprised him his brother hadn’t organized his garage alphabetically.

“What? And where’ve you been all day. Mom was trying to reach you.”

Robert rolled his eyes as he threw on the clothes. “Is Mom ever not trying to reach one of us? I swear that woman lives to meddle.” The shirt was a little tight. He looked down. God, he looked like those jerks at the gym trying to show off their muscles.

“True, but that doesn’t answer my question.”

“I accidently got locked in the woman’s garage.” Robert headed into Lucas’s house, avoiding his brother’s eyes.

“What woman?”

“The one who bought the photo. I figured I’d sneak in to her house through the garage, but I hadn’t considered her having such good security from inside. Turned out I needed a special code to unlock the garage door to exit.”

“So how’d you escape?”

“She eventually opened the door but…” Robert rubbed his jaw with his hands. Sometimes with quick transitions it felt like his face was still furry. No, just the usual five o’clock shadow. He glanced around Lucas’s kitchen for any good snacks. Nada.

“What happened?” Lucas’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Robert sighed. “I’d fallen asleep, and, well, she tripped over me, and you know I’m crabby when I get woken up…”

“What did you do?” The horror in Lucas’s voice indicated he’d already guessed the problem.
“Yeah. I bit her.” Robert stared at his brother waiting for the long lecture to begin.

“Oh shit. And you drew blood?” Lucas groaned when Robert nodded. “You’ve got to go warn the poor woman. And fast. She’s probably already scared out of her wits about the instant healing.”

“But how do I tell her she’s going to become a werewolf? She’ll probably freak, thinking she’ll get hairy and long claws like Wolverine. What did you tell your wife after Annabelle bit her?”

“She didn’t believe me about me being a werewolf until I actually transitioned in front of her. Then she threw up and ordered me out of her apartment.”

“Great.” Robert eyed Lucas’s liquor cabinet in the next room until he noticed Lucas shaking his head. “Okay. I’m going. Hope she doesn’t scream or cry. Hate it when women do that.”

He started to leave when Lucas’s voice stopped him. “Be nice. It’s not her fault you bit her. And if she does freak out and go to the police, it’s gonna cause a lot of problems for the whole pack.”

“I know. You don’t have to remind me.” Robert patted his pocket for his cell before remembering he was wearing Lucas’s clothes. “Call me a cab, will ya?” With a desultory wave, Robert ambled out the door. He sure hoped the pack wouldn’t pressure him into marrying the woman. It’d been different with Lucas, he’d been in love with his human. Jesus, what a bloody mess.
****

Only this morning Robert had been so optimistic sneaking into the cluttered garage on Euclid Avenue. Now here he was ten hours later trudging up the front steps to face the consequences. It felt even longer having been incarcerated in the garage for almost nine hours. The house was a cute, simple two storey in a not-expensive neighbourhood, so why the heck would the woman have a high tech security system in place? Probably for the same reason she’d clung so fiercely to his damn family photo. She’s whacko. Funny how the crazy ones all seem to be short and cute. Probably why he steered clear of that type.

Robert pasted a friendly smile on his face before pushing the doorbell. A series of descending chimes rang inside. He hadn’t even realized they still sold doorbells like that. There were no other sounds inside and he was contemplating leaving when the door opened seven inches. Odd, usually he would’ve picked up on her footsteps.

She blinked. Then her eyes scanned down his torso before she caught herself. Damn he forget he was still wearing Lucas’s too-tight clothes. He probably looked like a male stripper.

She cleared her throat and stared pointedly at his eyes. “Hello. What can I do for you?” Her voice was decidedly guarded and her face not much friendlier.

He forced his smile even more. “My name is Robert Colbert and I need to talk with you.”

“If it’s about the picture, you might as well save your breath.” She started to close the door.

“No!” He shot his hand out to stop it. “It’s about the dog bite.”

“What?” Her jaw dropped and she let out a surprised huff. “How the hell do you—?”

“I know you’re probably feeling weirded out about it, I mean the instant healing and all that, and I can help.” God, he wished he’d asked Lucas more about how he’d broached the subject. “Can I come in?”
She stared at him in silence for a moment and he watched intrigued, as a series of thoughts and emotions crossed her face. She shook her head, but then opened the door and nodded her head toward the living room.

The sight of his family portrait on her mantelpiece unnerved him. Then again if he handled it right, soon she’d be part of the pack, too. Where to start?

“I’m sorry, I didn’t actually get your name.”

“What, the auction house gave you my address but withheld my name?” She sniffed. “How discreet of them.”

“The auction house? Oh. No, it’s a little more complicated than that.”

“Then how did you get my address?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Maybe not to you, but I’d still like to know.”

Jesus, she wasn’t going to let it go. “I got a friend in the DMV to run your licence plates. He gave me your address.”

“But not my name?”

“Okay, Emilia Carol-Ann Wilton, yes, he gave me your name too. I was just trying to be polite and let you introduce yourself.” He shook his head at her truculent expression—if she’d only smile, she wouldn’t look half-bad. Actually she’d look pretty damn good. He shook his head. Given her stubbornness, he’d probably never know for sure.
He continued, “And you’re thirty-two, five feet, five inches tall, astigmatism in your right eye, one hundred and thirty pounds, never married, studied at NYU in your early twenties, your family resides out east in Pennsylvania, and you work at LoveLifeStyle as a freelance journalist. Happy now?”

Her mouth dropped open and she gasped. “The department of motor vehicles has all that info on me? And they gave it out? Jeez almighty.” She dragged her hair back through her fingers. It looked silky. His hand twitched as he imagined touching the long blonde strands. He shoved his hand in his pocket.

“I had other sources, too. But what we need to discuss is your dog—”

“What other sources?”

“Never mind! Focus, woman. You were bitten by a werewolf and now you’re one too!” Man, that was a gentle way to break the news.

Strangely her face relaxed. He’d expected his revelation would make her tenser. He waited. Maybe she needed a few seconds to process what he’d said.

“This is some sort of joke, right?” She glanced around, a smile sneaking onto her face. “Is there a hidden camera somewhere?” She eyed his body as if he might be wearing a camera and he was again reminded of his ill-fitting clothes. Hell, two could play that game. When her eyes returned to his face he raised his eyebrows and she blushed.

“No joke.”

“Yeah right. So how would you know?”

Robert looked up to the ceiling and took a deep breath before facing her again. “I was the wolf that bit you.”

She just stared. Had she even heard him?

“I didn’t mean to bite you. But you kicked me first.”

“I didn’t kick you—I mean the dog. I tripped over it. And what was it, or you…” she shook her head looking decidedly frustrated. “…doing in my garage anyway?”

“I was just—” Damn, don’t mention the photo. “I got trapped in there and so I decided to nap. I woke up when you tripped over me. The bite was self defense.” Great, now he sounded like a crazy guy who bites anyone in the morning.

“You’re a werewolf?” She started laughing. If it wasn’t directed at him it would’ve been a cute laugh—high pitched with the occasional snort. “B-but you’re like some rich TV guy.”
Hah! She did recognize him. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I don’t know. It just seems funny.”

“So you believe me?”

“No. Would you believe me if I told you I was a sphinx?”

“A what?”

“A mythical half-cat creature.”

“You’re just making that up.”

“And you’re not? Okay. Prove you’re a werewolf.”

“Right.” Robert stood and removed his shirt. She raised her eyebrows, almost daring him to continue. Okay. He peeled off his sweat pants and hunkered down into the downward dog position. Don’t think about the woman now staring at my naked body. Bloody hell! I’m getting an erection. Concentrate!

The creaking and popping of cartilage, bones and muscles rearranging within his body erased any erotic thoughts, although as he neared his completion he wondered whether she’d be repulsed or turned on by his ability. None of his human lovers had ever known of his other form. After the final fur coated his tail, he turned to face the woman. Her face was ashen, but she didn’t seem to be running to upchuck or anything.

“Wow.” She tilted her head and stared some more. “Amazing.” She raised her voice and spoke slowly. “Can you understand me?”

Robert nodded.

“Jeez. You are the dog that bit me. Or I guess wolf?” She leaned over to peer into his eyes. “Could you change back, please? This is creeping me out.”

Robert returned to his yoga position and switched back. Surprising how vulnerable he felt transitioning in front of a human. And even more vulnerable standing naked in front of a woman he wasn’t sleeping with. He feigned nonchalance as he threw on his sweats.

“What happens now?” She was still remarkably calm.

“You’ll be fine until the next full moon and then you’ll have to shift into a wolf as well. Since I accidently turned you, I’ll help you through your first transition.”

Her facial expression was blank as she seemed to be absorbing the news. Then she slowly shook her head. “Gee, thanks. I think I’ll pass.”

Great. She was in denial. “You won’t have a choice, but I’ll make it as easy as possible. The next full moon is in six days. Do you have any questions?”

“So your whole family are—? Oh my word! Is that your family?” She pointed at the wolf picture.

“Yup.”

“And the people behind Designed by Colbert were werewolves? I can see vampires might be good at decorating, but wolves?” She laughed, but it was a friendlier sound. “I’m surprised you didn’t turn everyone’s homes and businesses into dark caves or forests.”

“First of all, no, the producers and crew on Designed by Colbert were not werewolves, just me. My family runs Colbert Enterprises where we make and import fine furniture, and yes that company is made up of mostly werewolves. And secondly, what makes you think vampires would have any better design sense? They’d probably paint everything red and black. And zombies would be too slow to ever get any decorating jobs finished, if we’re going for stereotypes.” He shook his head and chuckled. “I, for one, don’t believe in vampires or zombies. But if you’re game for bloodsucking bats and braineaters, then more power to you.”

“Interesting.” She tapped her top lip with her forefinger and his eyes followed. “One mythical character doesn’t believe in other ones.”

“Obviously I’m not mythical. I’d pinch you to prove it, but having already bitten you, it seems redundant.” Robert tried to recall the last time he’d had a real conversation with an attractive woman without wanting to get into her pants. It was fun. Of course, now that he thought about it, he would like to have sex with her. Damn. That would complicate things. “But we’re getting off topic. The main thing we need to discuss here is how to ease your first and subsequent transitions into a wolf.”

She placed one hand on her hip. “I told you, I’m not doing it.”

He grumbled in frustration. Determination was one thing, but this woman was delusional if she thought she could avoid her fate. “Tell you what, Emilia. I’ll pick you up for dinner tomorrow night and inform you what to expect. It’s not that scary. And once you’ve tried running at midnight with the gang, you’ll love it.”

“I doubt it. I hate jogging. And my friends call me Ella. Emilia sounds like some old doddering aunt.” An odd spark appeared in her eyes. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll go out with you and let you try to convince me to be a werewolf—” Her hand shot up, palm toward him to stop him from interrupting. “—if you’ll agree to let me interview you for a magazine article.”

“Are you nuts? You can’t out me for your magazine!” Holy Christ. Now he was wishing she’d just barfed and thrown him out. It would’ve been simpler. “What else will it take for you to let me teach you how to transition into a wolf?”

“Not an article on your wolf thing. Obviously.” Disdain dripped from her words. “I’d interview you for my article on using sex to sell business.”

“Colbert Enterprises does not use—”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah right. But the TV show sure did. Women didn’t only watch Designed by Colbert to get expensive designing tips. They were also watching for those days when you took your shirt off and pretended to actually work.”

Robert’s jaw fell open. “Huh?”

“Come on. You knew. Otherwise why did the shirt come off more often as the show continued?”

“It was hard work.” Robert stifled the smile sneaking onto his lips. He wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of knowing she’d won. “Back to business. What time should I pick you up tomorrow?”

“Six-thirty? And somewhere nice, please.”

“You drive a hard bargain.” He chuckled. “I guess that’s good if you decide you want to join Colbert Enterprises.”

“We’ll see about that.” She walked to the door. “This has been…interesting, but it’s been a long day. Goodnight.”

Robert took several long strides to catch up to her. Jesus, he couldn’t remember when he’d last been given the bum’s rush, but this woman took it to a higher art form. She reached out to shake his hand. Screw that. He took her hand and brought it to his lips. She trembled at the unexpected feel of his lips brushing the top of her knuckles. He’d regained control. “I’m sorry I bit you, Ella. I’ll make your entry into the werewolf society as painless as possible.”

She pulled her hand back, a blush creeping up her face. “Hey, crap happens.” She smiled as she ushered him outside. “Goodnight.”

“Goodni—” The door had already closed.