Hounded:A Steamy Shifter MysteryBy: Tasha Black
He scanned the shop, taking in the wooden floors, art prints and trendy clientele. There was a private table in the corner, and one seat had its back to the wall.
“Come on,” he took her arm and led her back to the table, pulling the chair opposite the wall out for her, so he’d be able to keep an eye on the place from the other seat. He’d had enough surprise visitors for one day.
When he leaned on the table to talk to her, he caught her examining his tattoos - a jumble of images he’d collected in his travels. They seemed random, but each one had a special meaning to him, and a few had some pretty good stories behind them.
“You should get one,” he said.
She looked at him quizzically.
“A tattoo,” he offered.
She wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“I see,” he said.
“No,” she said, “It’s not that. I just…”
“It’s cool,” he replied. “My life is basically one big series of bad choices, all stacked up, one on top of the other, ready to come tumbling down the next time the wind blows the wrong way. So I make it a habit never to judge anyone.”
“Oh,” she said softly.
When he smiled at her, she smiled back, and he heard her heartbeat pick up its pace.
“What would you like?” he asked, nodding toward the coffee counter.
“Iced pumpkin spice latte?” she asked, pulling a few bills out of her pocket. “Extra, extra sugar, please.”
“My treat,” he said, walking away before she could try to order, and trying not to resent her poor coffee judgment.
When he returned a few minutes later with his plain black coffee and her… whatever it was, she was gazing out the window, as dreamy as ever.
“You okay?” he asked, setting the creamy concoction in front of her.
“Oh, sure,” she smiled at the plastic cup like it was Christmas morning. “I thought about it once.”
“A tattoo,” she replied. “When I was in college. I had it all picked out and everything. But then I chickened out when I saw the needle.”
“Let me guess…”
He watched her fingers flutter over the straw, unwrapping it swiftly, then stabbing it into the coffee like it had offended her.
He held his breath for what was next. But, just as she parted her lips to draw it in, someone opened the coffee shop door and rushed up behind her. Van had been so absorbed in Dulcie, he almost hadn’t noticed.
Van’s inner dog lifted him to his feet, and he stepped forward to put himself between her and the intruder.
Just as Dulcie was about to take a sip of pumpkin-y ambrosia, Van leapt to his feet, his gorgeous features marred with aggression. If she hadn’t known better she would have thought he was growling.
“Uh, hi, Dulcie,” came a voice from behind her.
Before Dulcie turned, she recognized the voice, and the scent. Axe body spray and death hung about him in equal measures.
She turned to greet Seth Cho. He stood there nervously, dark, close-cropped hair, thick rimmed glasses magnifying his inquisitive eyes, and a fearful look on his face.
Why would Van react so defensively to Seth?
She hurried to introduce them.
“Van, this is Seth from the coroner’s office. Seth, this is Van…” for the life of her, she couldn’t think of a single description beyond the hottie with bad credit who is also a personal trainer that bangs his clients. “…he’s my client,” she finished lamely.
Van seated himself again slowly, never taking his eyes off poor Seth. He indicated the chair beside him, but Seth shook his head.
“Dulcie,” Seth said. “I kind of need to talk to you. Privately.”
Seth always had some crazy theory about things down at the station. He was basically the only active member of Woodland Creek Library’s Mystery Menagerie besides Dulcie herself. Unlike Dulcie however, he didn’t stop at enjoying a good novel. He saw endless signs of mysteries and conspiracies being played out in his day-to-day work.
And since his work brought him into contact with every fresh corpse in Woodland Creek, he had no shortage of sparks for his overactive imagination. Being totally oblivious to the magical nature of the town only fueled the fire.
Dulcie glanced at Van as he sipped some coffee as dark as his eyes. She wasn’t really in the mood to entertain one of Seth’s half-baked theories.
“Seth, can I track you down later?” she asked hopefully.
“Dulcie, this is very important… life and death,” he said, significantly.
Saying no wasn’t one of Dulcie’s strong points. Being kind and polite was important to her, and the habits were so ingrained she found them hard to buck.
“Sure, Seth,” she said. “Van, would you excuse me for just a moment?”
Van leaned back in his seat, watching her with a bemused expression. He gestured with one hand, indicating that she should feel free to leave.
Dulcie wanted to groan. Could any guy be half this sexy? Her mind told her she’d be better off with timid Seth Cho than a guy like Van, who probably wasn’t really interested in her anyway. But her body had other ideas.