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Stillwater, CA, November
The door of La Quemada chimed, and Lane turned. As if pulled by an invisible string, his focus shifted from the delicious taco al pastor on his plate to the tall brunette who had just entered. He couldn’t help but stare as she smiled and waved at the patrons sitting at the table next to him.
Her scent told him she was a werewolf, and he briefly wondered why one of her species would hold his interest. The thought was soon set aside when she moved.
Walking on long legs and with a purposeful stride, the woman strutted to the counter, exchanged a few words with Miguel, the taqueria’s owner, grabbed her food and turned to leave. Her elegant bearing made him compare the stranger to a goddess—it seemed right.
As she crossed the room, her eyes and Lane’s locked. His panther roared in his mind. The woman’s expression changed, her mouth opening in a silent ‘O’. It felt like the world had shifted on its axis, sending Lane tumbling and grasping for purchase even though he was still sitting. Her next step faltered. Lane’s hand shot to steady her.
At the touch, the rest of the world disappeared altogether. Lane’s panther demanded to be let out.
“Thank you,” the goddess whispered. An adorable blush pinkened her face, drawing attention to her high cheekbones. Her long, auburn hair was tied in a high queue. Warm, brown eyes, fleshy mouth, and a small upturned nose completed the picture. She was stunning.
When she took a step toward the door, Lane realized he was still holding her elbow. He mumbled his apology and released her, forcing himself to sit back as she walked out of La Quemada and his life.
Lane wasn’t in Stillwater to ogle women. No matter how beautiful the she-wolf was, he had other plans, and none of them involved hooking up with locals. His priority was to lay low and move on as soon as possible.
If life had taught him anything, it was that women were trouble at the best of times, and life-altering disasters at the worst. Having experienced the worst, he wasn’t eager to repeat the mistake. Like any hot-blooded were-panther, he assuaged his needs when the tension became unbearable, but always with partners who were looking for the same emotionless thrills. He never accosted women looking like the stranger. She had written all over her serious-relationships-only, and it wasn’t Lane’s thing.
Miguel raised a white, plastic bag and spoke to the waiter in rapid Spanish. Lane knew the language and overheard the conversation. The man had mixed orders, giving the mysterious goddess someone else’s dinner.
Surprising himself, Lane hurried to say, “I’ll take it to her.” He grabbed the bag from Miguel’s hand before the man could object and was out of the door in the next breath. All the reasons it was a terrible idea to pursue the stranger forgotten behind along the taco getting cold on his plate.
“Miss!” he called, eyeing the woman at the end of the alley. He ran after her. “Excuse me,” he said when he was closer. “Miguel realized he gave you the wrong order.”
The she-wolf stared at him, remaining silent.
Taking the last few steps dividing them, he raised the bag in front of him. “Your food.”
She blinked, her chest moving rapidly under the coat as if she had problems breathing. Lane could relate to that. “Thank you,” she finally said, reaching for his hand.
When their fingers brushed, Lane’s heart slammed against his ribcage. His panther paced the cage in his mind, snarling for him to release her. Usually, the animal didn’t take an active interest in Lane’s women. The detail should’ve warned Lane to step back and run in the opposite direction as fast as he could. He didn’t.
As they stood, facing each other, the energy shifted again, filling him with longing to make this goddess his. It was madness. The feeling only grew stronger with his next breath, and stronger yet with his next, until he could’ve sworn he would expire from want if he didn’t have her in his arms in the next few minutes.
“I know it’s going to sound crazy,” he said, taking her other hand in his. When she didn’t jerk away from his touch to slap or mace him, he continued, “I am not sure what this thing is between us, but I can’t deny it.”
She nodded once.
Her reaction emboldened him to utter the most outrageous of requests. “You have to let me make love to you.”