excerpt – JUST ONE BITE

justonebite-final

JUST ONE BITE
By Nora Snowdon

available now on Amazon

 

Chapter One

“You know, at least half of the couples on the dance floor wouldn’t even like each other if they were sober.” Eva took a slug of her beer and turned her cynical gaze on Rosie. “And they say one in every ten people is gay, so you can knock out about four more of those couples as fakes.”

“Well I don’t think…”

“Plus, over seventy-five percent of marriages end up in divorce,” Eva barreled on. “So the few actual real couples out there are headed for Splitsville.” She sat back against the chair with a satisfied smirk on her face.

Rosie looked at her friend. “What’s your point?”

“My point is, we’re lucky we’re sitting here and not on the dance floor about to be dumped,” Eva proclaimed loudly.

“Right.” Rosie smothered a laugh. She loved the way Eva could turn not getting asked to dance into a positive thing. “And I’m so glad I didn’t end up marrying Johnny Depp only to have to go through all the heartache when I had to leave him for Ryan Reynolds.”

“No. I’m serious. Love is just a big lie used to prop up the greeting card industry.”

“Yeah, and the diamond industry, roses, restaurants… But what if there’s one guy destined to be the love of your life? One person you connect with almost spiritually?” God that sounded childish, but Rosie couldn’t help it. She knew that he was out there somewhere. Hopefully not so far away that she never ran into him…

“Hell, I’d be happy just to get a guy that’s skilled in the sack.” Eva paused, reconsidering. “No. I’ll tell you what I really want. I want a super-rich guy who’ll spend all his money on me. Preferably one with a short shelf life.”

“A what?”

“You know, old… about to expire. Then after, I can use his money to buy boy toys.”

“If you really wanted that, you’d be hanging out at golf courses or yacht clubs, not trendy bars.”

“I hate golf. And if you were really looking for your one true love…” Eva drew exaggerated quote marks in the air. “You’d be trying to meet someone instead of shutting guys down the second they say hi.”

“I don’t do that.” Rosie grimaced. “Much.”

“You do, too. Just because Mark was a shit and cheated on you, doesn’t mean every other guy will, too. It’s been way too long. Get over the jerk.” Eva stood up on her four-inch spikes with barely a wobble. They were cute shoes, but knowing Eva they must’ve cost half her paycheck. “I’m going to pee and then I’m gonna get me a sugar-daddy. Wasn’t that the secret? Say what you want and then you’ll get it?”

Rosie chuckled as she watched her friend slowly strut away. Eva knew how to work a room. And despite her hard talk, Eva would probably meet “the perfect guy” before the night was out. Rosie tried to remember the last time she was out with Eva and the girl didn’t end up going off with some new man. She admired Eva’s guts to go after what she wanted.

She relaxed back into her chair and let the music wash over her. At least she was out having fun and not sitting at home lamenting her lack of love life.

A strange scent tickled her nose and Rosie sat up straight. What is that? She glanced around the bar to see if someone new had sat down. The guy to her left reeked of garlic sweat and there was a strong boozy coffee drinker on the other side. Yet one faint scent called to her.

She tried to discreetly sniff the air without looking like a rabid bunny. What the hell is that? It wasn’t a cloying perfume or an over-enthusiastic deodorant, although God knew too many fragrances competed in the air. It was a soothing scent, but incredibly erotic. She was concentrating on the aroma so hard she didn’t notice the man until he tapped her on the shoulder.

“Would you like to dance?”

Rosie glanced up to see a tall, ebony-haired man standing beside her. His smile shot through her like a warm sip of brandy. Tearing her eyes from his sensuous lips, she found the rest of his face equally entrancing. Beautiful warm eyes, a regal nose, high cheekbones, and that smile again. Rosie swallowed, trying to get her voice to work.

“Sure.” Luckily, the nightclub was dark. She knew she was blushing like a teenager. How long had she been staring at the man? She stood and turned toward the dance floor trying to get a grip. Hell, she worked at a talent agency and saw gorgeous men all day. Why would this one affect her so strongly?

His hand moved to the small of her back, directing her through the crowd and a bolt of energy surged through her. The song ended as they neared the dance floor and the band started a ballad. He took her right hand and placed his other hand around her waist.

Rosie was about to apologize for her inability to slow dance when she found she was following his steps quite easily. It was as if they’d taken ballroom dancing classes together for years. She relaxed into his arms and that’s when she noticed it again. That scent. But now it was much more powerful. Rosie closed the small gap between them and inhaled deeply. My God, this man smells like heaven. Could it be one of those pheromone colognes she’d read about? But then wouldn’t there be a crowd of women sniffing him lustily and not just her?

She leaned in closer, much more and she’d be fused to his body, and tucked her face into the crook of his neck. She didn’t want the song to end or for this stranger to ever let her go. A breath tickled her hair as he kissed her temple, making her bones melt into liquid honey. His heartbeat and the rhythm of the music melded into one pulsing demand. Rosie pressed her lips against the side of his neck, her tongue flicking out to taste the warm sweet flavor of his skin. Only when she felt him stiffen in surprise, did she fully realize what she’d done.

“Oh! I’m s—” Rosie self-consciously pulled back.

“Shh.” His hand stroked her hair and she allowed herself to be lulled back into his sensuous embrace. Her breasts felt raw and sensitized as if no material separated their swaying bodies. And his jeans couldn’t hide the erection pressing urgently against her belly. Rosie closed her eyes, allowing his warmth, scent, and rhythm to fully consume her.

She didn’t notice the song had ended until he released her. When she looked up, his eyes hungrily devoured her, as if memorizing every feature of her face.

“Thank you for the dance.” His voice was low and sensuous.

Rosie reluctantly let him walk her back to the table. Could she say something to make him stay for a while? Her mind was in overdrive, but her lips were stuck in park. One more fleeting smile and he disappeared into the crowd.

“I met this really great guy,” Eva gushed moments later, throwing herself onto her chair. The table tilted and Rosie caught Eva’s beer glass before it slid off the edge. “He’s a pilot and he’s just in town for a few days, but we really hit it off.”

“Oh?” Rosie tried to shake the loneliness that consumed her as soon as her mystery man had left.

“Yeah.” Eva picked at a little piece of fluff on her tank top. “So I was wondering if you’d mind… well I mean since you’re driving, it’s not like you’re stranded, but um, I’m going home with Dave. If you don’t mind me leaving you here alone?”

“Sure, I guess. But shouldn’t you get to know him a bit first? I mean, he might be a whacko.”

“Oh no. He’s really nice. You’ll see. He’s coming over now.” Eva pointed under the table at a tall preppy looking guy heading their way. “Thanks so much. I’ll return the favor someday.”

“Hey, babe. You ready?” With his faux-hawk and over-whitened teeth, Eva’s date seemed kind of pretentious to Rosie, but Eva looked thrilled with her catch.

“Yeah, definitely. Dave, this is Rosie. She’s my best friend.”

“Great.” His smile didn’t reach his eyes as he scanned Rosie to determine if she’d be a help or hindrance to his conquest. “Let’s go, Emma.”

“Okay, see you tomorrow, Rosie.” Eva latched onto Dave’s arm and they left.

Rosie drilled her fingers on the table, the clicks of her longer nails alternating with the thumps of her fingertips. Should she have asked Eva’s date for ID or something in case he was a murderer? But then Eva would’ve killed her. And really, why would she worry more about the pilot than any of the other guys? Eva had picked him up faster, but probably with no less probing questions. “So what do you do? Do you like bulldogs? Oh my god! Me too!” For a professed cynic, Eva was incredibly gullible when she wanted to be.

Taking a sip of her now warm beer, Rosie felt suddenly conspicuous, alone in the nightclub. Then again, maybe she could pretend Eva was out on the dance floor. The band was hot and that amazing guy might ask her to dance again. Why hadn’t she at least asked his name?

The waitress came by and deposited a glass of wine in front of her. “From the gentleman at the bar,” she said, nodding to her right.

Rosie looked hopefully to the bar, but it was a stocky man with blond spiky hair, smiling and raising his glass to her. What is it with men? It’s either feast or famine. She nodded her thanks at the guy, hoping he wouldn’t take it as a hint to join her. No such luck. He wandered over with a broad smile.

“Hi. I couldn’t help noticing your friend ran out on you and thought maybe I could keep you company.” His smarmy grin was a definite turn off. “I’m Elliott.”

“Well thank you, Elliott, but I’m not staying long. Just ’til the end of the set.” Rosie felt like crying in frustration. Now her intoxicating sex god wouldn’t come back.

“Can I give you a lift home?” He leaned in too close and Rosie shifted away. If she moved any further she’d fall off the damn chair.

“No thanks. I drove.” Rosie didn’t want to be rude, but this guy wasn’t getting the hint. She put her purse on her lap and contemplated her choices. “Excuse me. I need to use the ladies’ room.”

She got up, quickly made her way to the front of the club, and flew out the door.

Walking down the steep stairway to the street, Rosie decided she was better off going home. Even if her fantasy man had come back, other than the strong physical attraction, she didn’t know anything about him. There she was worrying about Eva while she practically drooled over a man she hadn’t exchanged more than five words with.

The sound of heavy footsteps behind her made her turn around.

“Hey, that’s not polite, leaving without saying good-bye.” Elliott caught up with her, looking pissed off.

“Well… I realized… I’d promised a friend I’d feed her cat.” That sounded lame.

“You shouldn’t be walking out alone in this neighborhood. It’s not safe.” He grabbed her wrist and Rosie snatched it back.

“I’m fine.” God, what was wrong with this guy?

“You could be beaten and raped and no one would even blink an eye.” It sounded like a threat and the half-smile on his face didn’t reassure her. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

“No. I’m fine. Please go away.” Rosie raised her voice, hoping someone from one of the nearby buildings would come out. Just as Elliott went to grab her arm again, she heard a growling sound and sprang back. A huge dog barreled out of the alley and landed with all four paws on Elliott’s back sending him sprawling on the sidewalk.

“What the fuck?” Elliott scrambled backward on the cement.

The dog stalked him, snapping his jaws, just missing his target. Elliott finally lurched to his feet and fled with the dog growling and loping behind him.

Rosie didn’t know whether to call the cops or the pound as she sprinted to her car. Damn these heels. She turned the corner and there, sitting by her car, was the dog. When he saw her, he lay down and put his head between his paws. The thick, bushy coat resembled an unmarked German shepherd, but his face was less defined and eyes more wary.

“Hey there, buddy,” she called out softly. He wagged his tail. Was this the same vicious beast? Maybe the animal had just reacted to the fear in her voice earlier. She squatted beside him and cautiously offered her hand. “Please don’t eat me.” The dog edged closer and rubbed his head against her hand. His fur was rough, but the dog was appreciative as she scratched behind his ears.

“Thanks for saving me.” Rosie patted him one more time before she stood and reached in her pocket for her keys. “I wish I had a dog treat or something for you.”

Bemused, she watched as the dog stood up and gracefully trotted away.

****

Friday mornings were the worst. Rosie stared at the clump of messages that had piled up in front of her. It never failed. Just before the weekend her boss Peter always came up with a new slew of things to do. Sometimes it was crap that had been sitting around for weeks. Like that designer, should she even bother to call him back? She knew her boss wasn’t going to meet with him. Rosie would spend hours hashing out dates and times then when the appointment time came, both men would claim to be too busy. A stupid male dissing contest. Rosie casually slid that memo into her recycling bin as footsteps echoed beside her cubicle.

She looked up guiltily then relaxed. Thank God it was only Eva.

“So did you have a good time last night with your pilot?” Rosie watched her friend dump a new stack of photos and resumes in front of her.

As junior receptionist, Eva was the first line of defense aspiring actors had to get past at the Peter Mann Agency. Eva was supposed to pass along all the headshots and resumes, but if she didn’t like the look of an actor, he was instantly shredded. And if the guy was too good looking, he’d often end up on Eva’s bedroom wall instead of going to the casting director.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”

“Well he doesn’t actually fly much. He’s still getting his license.” Eva thumbed through Rosie’s outbox.

“What does he do if he doesn’t fly?”

“He’s a car mechanic.” Eva’s pout said it all.

“Well at least he has a job.” Rosie tried to cheer Eva up. “And you could use a good mechanic with that clunker of yours.”

“Yeah, I could use a good mechanic, but I sure as hell don’t want to date one.”

“But if he’s nice and you like the guy…”

“No thanks.” Eva turned to go back downstairs to reception. “In fact, if you like him so much I’ll give you his phone number.”

“I’ll pass.” Rosie quickly added, “But not because he’s a mechanic. He’s just not my type.”

“From what I’ve seen, you don’t have a type, unless it’s the Invisible man type,” Eva called back from the elevator.

“Ha-ha.”

Rosie plowed her way through the morning drudgery, even fishing the dreaded designer out of her bin to set up the appointment. At noon her desk was clear and she grabbed her lunch before buzzing her boss. “I’ll be out for lunch. The proofs are ready and on my desk. I’ll be back at 1:30.”

Bon appétit.” Peter’s disembodied voice carried over the intercom.

Outside her office building, Rosie found the perfect spot. The cement structures doubled as benches and flower containers and she sat on one with a view of the popular concourse. She scarfed her sandwich and apple and then leaned back to let the sun gently kiss her face. Her mind drifted to the night before and the handsome stranger. She could almost smell that luscious scent again…

Her eyes snapped open and she scanned the wandering crowd, but he was nowhere to be seen. Someone else must be wearing that incredible cologne. Or she was hallucinating? She sniffed again but could detect no trace of the elusive scent. Wishful thinking? Maybe. Men that gorgeous never came onto her, only Eva.

She’d only met him briefly, but in that short time he’d dredged a response from her that no man had been capable of in over a year. Okay, forever, if she was being honest with herself.

She’d actually licked his throat. Her. Queen of the Repressed. And it had been amazing. She sighed, recalling his gentle kiss on her temple. Not to mention the feel of his erection pressing against her. He was turned on by her. And he hadn’t been drunk or sleazy. And now she would never see her mystery man again.

Forcing herself back to reality, Rosie gathered up the remnants of her lunch and returned to the office.

The afternoon was busy with a couple of new T.V. pilots casting and a music video. It was certainly more fun phoning the actors with directions to auditions instead of consoling them on the lack of opportunities. By five o’clock, she was tired and her throat hurt from talking. She packed up, grabbed her purse and ran for the door. If you dawdled at all, the clients would drag you back into working until your night was shot.

The drive home was harrowing with her little Chevy stalling at, not one, but two stop lights. Relieved to finally be in the safety of her apartment, she threw a frozen dinner into the microwave and plunked herself in front of the television. After a couple of goofy sitcoms, she found herself getting wired and anxious.

At nine, fully on edge, she pulled on her running gear.

For the first block, with Jim Byrnes singing on her iPod, her arms pumping purposefully at her sides, she felt good. But the night encroached as it never had before. She jumped at every rustle of bushes, every car that brushed too close. What was wrong with her?

A strange clicking noise came from behind her.

She caught her breath then whirled.

The dog from the other night? She blinked at it, certain she was seeing things. No, his coat was the same, distinctively marked. He stopped as well. It must’ve been his claws on the pavement she’d heard.

She let out her breath. “Hey, buddy, what are you doing so far from home?”

He trotted up to her as if he’d been waiting for an invitation. She started off again and they jogged in companionable silence for a few blocks.

“You know, buddy. It doesn’t seem fair. Every time I go out with Eva, she ends up going home with some guy. So last night I finally meet a man but do I go home with him? No. Instead I end up with some mangy mutt. No offence.” She bent over and patted him midstride. “Still at least I don’t have to worry about STDs.”

“Hey,” she continued after a while. “You could be my psychoanalyst. You’re almost as talkative. Maybe you could just throw in a, Hmm, and what do you think about that? occasionally.”

The dog made a sound—a sneeze or something.

Gezhundheit.”

She finished her five mile route faster than usual and realized it was more fun jogging with company, even of the silent sort. She wondered if she’d have to figure out where the dog belonged, but when they got back to her apartment he disappeared as quietly as he’d appeared.

****

Trotting back to his house, Lucas felt both exhilarated and disappointed. He was glad he’d caught up with her for the jog and her scent still lingered in his brain, but every time he saw her he wanted more.

What the hell was happening to him? Last night he’d just gone into the nightclub for a quick drink. Then as soon as he’d walked in, all his senses had instantly honed in on her. It was as if everything else in the club had been muted grays and there she was in vibrant colors. He’d circled her, knowing he couldn’t have her, but unable to resist the longing she evoked in him. Just one dance, he’d told himself, sure that afterward he’d be able to dismiss her into the background where she belonged. She’d felt so perfect in his arms, it’d almost been his undoing.

He’d left the club quickly before he became more emotionally entangled. Still he couldn’t help watching from a distance until she’d left, too. If it hadn’t been for that drunken playboy, he would’ve made a clean escape. Then he’d had to see her safely to her car and noted her license plate. His friends at the DMV had provided her address. This was crazy. He couldn’t see her again. It was against all the rules. He would forget where she lived, he would not lurk outside her building, and he would forget he’d ever seen her. Final answer.

He turned the corner and loped up the driveway into the garage behind his Lexus. As he stretched into his downward dog position – ironically he’d discovered it was the most comfortable position to transition in – Lucas grumbled to himself about his neighbor’s blaring music. Shouldn’t certain districts be zoned as Manilow-free?

Concentrate.

He always felt it first in his haunches, the stretching and cracking as his bones and muscles elongated, his back creaking as he straightened. His paws were a much more contained transition; the bones and claws melding, separating and then reforming. His face and head compressed and tightened as the cranial bones shifted. The final movement – so to speak – was the disappearance of his fur. He often felt vulnerable after the shift to human form. From such a luxurious coat of fur it was hard not to feel especially naked in bare skin.

Lucas reached under the front of his car and pulled out the clothes he’d stashed there earlier. He entered his house and froze in his tracks. His nose and ears frantically trying to detect what his eyes could not see. Then he relaxed.

“Robert. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Hey, little brother.” Robert stepped out from behind the doorway. “Mom was worried about you. You missed Sunday dinner.”

“She’s worried because I missed her obvious set up with Laura. I wish she’d stop trying to find me a mate.” Mate. His mind immediately shifted to the woman he’d left moments before.

“Well it is time and you‘re not settling down on your own.”

Et tu, Robert?” Lucas chuckled. “I thought you’d understand.”

“I do. But the clan’s getting restless. Dad’s ready to retire and as the next leader, you must have a wife. What about Annabelle?”

“But you love her.” Lucas shook his head in disbelief. Robert had loved Annabelle for forever.

“I can’t give her children. You can.” Robert looked out the window, his placid expression negated by his clenched fists.

Lucas felt a twinge of guilt as he remembered his last encounter with Annabelle. “I can’t commit to a mate I don’t love just for the pack.”

And maybe that was part of the lure of the mystery woman. She came without obligations. She was free of entrapment. Running alongside her, he’d felt more connection in silence than he had in speaking to the dozens of women his mother had set him up with.

“That stupid hope of finding your perfect woman is childish, Lucas. You dreamt up that ideal woman when you still thought marriage meant just eating cookies together in bed. Choose a good mate, work on the relationship, and you’ll grow to love her. Mom and Dad had an arranged marriage to bring two feuding packs together and they’re happy.”

“I know, I know.”

“There isn’t someone else you’re attracted to, is there?”

“No.” Well, not that he could have, Lucas thought grimly. If he concentrated he could still faintly recall the sweet scent of her hair and the feel of her soft skin pressed close against his body during their one dance and the touch of her hand when she petted him as a wolf.

“Lucas?” Robert looked at him strangely.

“There’s no one else.”

There was no point dreaming about a human. Even if she wanted to convert, the pack would never accept her. Years ago rogue werewolves would bite unsuspecting humans to bring them into the fold, but it was too risky now. It would never be allowed.


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