Celeste tiptoed past her friend’s cubicle. The last thing she wanted at the end of her crappy day was for Julia to see her sneaking out of the office like a thief. On her birthday, she only wanted some peace and quiet. It was too bad that tonight would be a full moon and her wolf senses were on high alert.
“There you are!” Julia jumped up, her curly hair bouncing up and down as she tried to steal a glance from over the thin barrier separating the cubicles at Lyon & Lyon Law Associates.
Celeste inwardly sighed and stepped back. “Hey, Julia.”
“What are you doing tonight?” Julia asked.
“You know me, same old, same old.” Celeste looked out the window, and the same bleak view she had been staring at for the last two years stared back at her: a gray brick wall with not a window in sight, almost a metaphor for her life.
“Nonsense!” The brunette stood and wagged a finger in warning. “You only turn twenty-five once. We are going to properly celebrate tonight—”
“Thank you, but I really don’t feel like going out,” Celeste said, regretting not having skulked all the way around the other side of the office to reach the exit.
“Absolutely not.” Julia puffed out her considerable chest and shook her head. “You will have fun tonight, and that’s final.” She smiled. “Mark my words: It’s going to be legendary.”
Shutting her eyes, Celeste fought the urge to grimace. When Julia had an idea in mind, she was like a bulldozer. Her friend’s idea of “legendary” involved drinking and flirting with strangers. She means well, Celeste reminded herself, not wanting to snap.
“Maybe you’ll find someone special tonight,” Julia added.
“I don’t date,” Celeste said. “And you know it.” Now she was pissed. After Celeste’s ordeal with Royce, Julia had been the one to scoop up the pieces of her shattered dreams. She should’ve known better than trying to set her up at every turn.
“I’m sorry.” Julia raised her hands in the international sign of peace. “But it has been so long,” she said, “And I thought that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for you to start contemplating the idea of seeing someone again.”
Celeste growled, warning her friend she’d had enough already.
“Okay, tonight we go to a bar, we have a drink, you make a wish over a cupcake, and we go home, alone. How do you like that?”
“Better.” Celeste turned, eager to leave. “Now, if you don’t mind, I want to go home and change for the big night.”
“There’s something I need to tell you first,” Julia said, stopping Celeste’s progress.
“What is it?” Celeste didn’t turn and didn’t bother to hide the frustration from her voice either.
“I meant it as a surprise.” Julia sounded sheepish. “But given your mood, I might be better off by telling you right away—”
“What have you done?” Celeste roared, spinning around to face her friend.
Julia was one of those women who took life by the horns, never hesitating before anything. She now looked guilty.
“Spit it out.” Celeste crossed her arms, her heel tapping the gray vinyl floor.
Julia lowered her eyes. “I’ve booked a consultation with Gerri Wilder for you,” she whispered.
If it weren’t for Celeste’s werewolf hyper-hearing, she wouldn’t have heard her.
The hair on Celeste’s arm rose. She had a bad feeling. “Who the heck is Gerri Wilder?”
“She owns the Paranormal Dating Agency my cousin Eileen used. She found her beau thanks to Gerri, and they are going to marry in two months—”
“You did what?” Now it was Celeste’s turn to whisper. She was too angry to shout.
At Celeste’s dangerously low tone, Julia finally looked up. “Don’t be mad. I only want what’s best for you.”
“What happened with Royce was horrible. He’s horrible. You can’t let him win.”
“You don’t have the right to encroach on my life.”
“You know I love you like a sister and can’t simply watch you fade because of that poor excuse for a man.”
Celeste shook her head. Her temples throbbed, announcing a headache in her near future. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Celeste,” Julia whispered, her hand tentatively reaching for hers.
When Celeste didn’t say anything, Julia continued, “Please, forgive me, but you can’t let Royce win. If you don’t give yourself a chance to be happy again, that’s what happens, he wins. I don’t want that for you.”
“Oh, Julia…” Exhaling a long sigh, Celeste opened her eyes. Julia’s had swelled with unshed tears. The sight made her feel like the most awful friend on earth. “I know your heart is in the right place, but you always act impulsively,” she finally said.
“But you are still going out with me, right?” Julia asked, sniffing out loud.
“Yes, I’m still going out with you,” Celeste said. “But only if you promise not to mention that dating agency ever again.”
The night out with Julia went better than expected, and they had a lovely time at the bar Julia suggested. It was a karaoke place that catered to an older crowd that wasn’t interested in hooking up. It suited Celeste just fine.
After feeling like someone had been breathing on her neck for the last few months, a few hours of freedom from the memories of her past was just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes, she thought it was all in her mind, but other times, her wolf senses told her that Royce was stalking her again. If only the police had listened to her and issued the restraining order she had begged for two long years ago.
“Admit you are having fun,” Julia said with a wink, bringing Celeste back to the present. Her friend was on her third margarita, but the woman could hold her alcohol.
The same couldn’t be said for Celeste, who was feeling giddy and hadn’t even finished her first one.
“I am,” she admitted.
They had been singing eighties classics, her parents’ favorite musical era. Celeste had grown up listening to those bands. After losing her mom to cancer when she was in middle school, and her father soon after in an accident, anything that reminded Celeste of them made her happy. Julia was the only pack left to her after Celeste ended up in the mortal foster care system because of a clerical error.
“You are a wonderful friend,” Celeste said. “You know that, don’t you?”
Julia shrugged and gave her a small smile. “I thought I was the worst for scheduling a call with Gerri.”
Celeste took a sip from her hurricane glass. “You are the worst for that, but I love you too much to hold a grudge.” She would never confess the truth to Julia, but her friend’s words about not letting her ex win had stuck with her throughout the rest of the day. Even now, her mind kept going back to their conversation.
“I think it’s the margarita speaking.” Julia laughed. “You are such a lightweight, woman.”
Celeste sipped from her glass, feeling the pleasant buzz reaching her head. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Of course, I am. Another gulp and you’ll start slurring.” Julia reached for Celeste’s glass.
Celeste swatted her friend’s hand away. “No, not about that. Well, you’re right about me not being much of a drinker, but I meant that you might be onto something. Maybe it’s about time I put the ghost of my almost-marriage to rest.” Her hand went to her opposite wrist. Consciously, her fingers caressed the silver scar that no amount of shifting could ever heal.
Julia’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”
Celeste lowered her hand before she drew Julia’s attention to the ugly mark on her skin. Julia would feel terrible for Celeste, and the night out would be ruined. “I’m serious,” she finally said before slurping from the long straw.
This time, Julia removed the margarita from Celeste’s hold before she could stop her. “Say it again.”
Celeste threw her head back, eyes staring at the industrial ceiling made of cables and steel ducts. It looked like a labyrinth. Her head swam.
“Say the words or I don’t believe you.” Julia squeezed her arm.
“Right.” Celeste scooted on her chair and looked back at Julia. “I think I should call that dating agency and give it a try.”