This is the second excerpt from my latest short story, The Alpha’s Edge — a prologue to my new supernatural romance trilogy. You can read the first chapter here — and download the full novella by signing up to receive my blog posts via email, using the form on the right. I hope you enjoy it! -Julie
I withdraw into the corridor. I need a moment to compose myself. I need more than a moment to quiet my inner wolf who does not want to be calmed. The beast is frolicking wildly.
I need to get away, quick. I go down the corridor, heading toward the office, trying to sort through colliding thoughts. Is the presence of my mate in the hotel the reason I’ve been having intrusive sexual fantasies since arriving? But she isn’t my mate. She can’t be.
First, she’s human.
Second, she’s a redhead.
Third, she’s a good stone overweight.
Fourth – I can’t think of a fourth with my wolf acting like a wild pup just reaching maturity. But he’s no inexperienced whelp. He’s always game for our sexual encounters and enjoys them, but now I wonder why I haven’t noticed before now my wolf has never initiated one.
Too much to take in at once.
Before opening the door to the front office, I pull myself together. When I enter, my Beta looks up from his desk, surprised, “Alpha? Anything wrong?”
I make an effort to control my expression. I thought I already had, but perhaps an odd emotion is still visible. I smile. “No, no problem. Just extra time. Your report was so well done I didn’t have much more to do than read it. It occurs to me now to have you tell me about our three new employees. I should have asked earlier.”
Bardulf seems to think this a reasonable request. He gets up and goes to the cabinet. I seat myself at my desk. Bardulf pulls three dossiers and puts them in front of me. Then he sits down in his usual club chair.
I have to suffer through the details of the first dossier. While I leaf through it, Bardulf gives me the run down on the new handyman. My wolf’s tail is thumping madly with impatience.
The second is the one I want: the bartender, Misti Shaw. Good God, even her name is wrong. Misti with an ‘i’ and an unremarkable last name. At least now I know she’s twenty-six. From my one glance at her, I would have said she was younger.
“I see she started working here right after I left the country,” I remark. “Almost three months ago, is it?”
Bardulf gives the question some thought. “Two and a half.”
Bardulf shrugs. “We have other human staff.”
“True.” I peer through the pages. “I don’t see previous bartending experience in her record.”
“She didn’t have any. Said she’d work for free for a week, and if we didn’t see an increase in either the number of customers or customer satisfaction, then we could part company, with neither party the worse off.”
Unusual. “And there has been an increase, then, of what?”
“Both the number of customers and customer satisfaction. Misti’s an excellent mixologist. Original.” He pauses then adds, “Friendly, too, just the right amount.”
As the owner of international luxury hotels, I’m aware of the importance of a high-quality mixologist. As the Alpha of the most powerful pack in Europe, I would not have guessed bartending skills would be prised in my mate. But apparently there’s no telling what physical appearance or worldly gifts my mate would have.
Bardulf continues, “The women, especially, love her cocktails. The men, well, the men just like her.”
My wolf howls so loudly I have to grip the arms of my chair to prevent myself from jumping up and running back to the barroom. I clear my throat before noting with puzzlement, “I see she lives on Montague Street.” I look more closely at the number of the address. “Didn’t I hear something about that property changing hands just before my trip?” I look my Beta in the eye. “A woman who can buy property on this street doesn’t need to work for a living.”
Bardulf nods, as if understanding where my thoughts are headed. “Wilde House will likely never come on the open market, which is too bad, but we’ve both agreed it isn’t necessary for us to own every property on the street. In any case, when old Mrs. Wilde died almost four months ago now, her only heir was a grand nephew, a Mr. Blackthorn Wilde.”
Bardulf, along with our Guardian, keeps close tabs on the goings-on in the neighbourhood. He’s doing his job.
“Turns out he was keen to get his hands on the place,” he continues, “so he hurried up the legal process. Our neighbourhood is known for being dog friendly, and he’s a dog lover. He has mastiffs.”
I smile faintly. Our neighbourhood is exceptionally dog friendly, and mastiffs are perfectly welcome. “The Wilde family has no relation to Miss Shaw, then?”
“None. I checked.”
“And where is she from?”
“Her last address was Tower Hamlets.”
Better and better. My mate is from working class London. I gesture for my Beta to continue with the story of Miss Shaw.
Bardulf says, “She moved into the neighbourhood just a few weeks before she came here to apply for a job. She’s the house sitter. Or, rather, her younger brother is Wilde’s dog sitter. Poor bloke has some kind of handicap. She didn’t say so exactly, but I inferred it. I also gather he’s a dab hand with dogs.”
I hardly know what to say. I’m having difficulty taking in the unexpected outlines of my mate’s life – if she is, indeed, my mate, which I’m not yet willing to accept.
“Bottom line, Alpha,” Bardulf says, “I don’t think she’s one of those rich werewolf rumor chasers who sniff around our side of town from time to time.”
I crack a laugh accompanying the thought It might have been for the better!
“If she were,” Bardulf goes on, “I would have caught a whiff of it and sent her packing. I vet every employee thoroughly from every angle, especially the humans.”
“I know you do,” I say, as calmly as I can, “and I’m glad to hear Miss Shaw checks out in all respects. Well, then, on to the next.”
Questions concerning Miss Shaw remain. However, I can hardly ask them without giving offense, as if I think Bardulf has not properly done his job, or without giving my own thoughts on her away, which I’m not yet disposed to doing. I try to turn my attention to the particulars of the third new employee Bardulf is describing. It’s difficult to do so, torn as I am between wanting to hightail it to the barroom and wishing for a travel replay where my return to Hanover House would be mate-free.
Apparently Bardulf finishes what he has to say, because a small pause falls before he breaks it by asking, “Any concerns about the new valet, Alpha?”
I gather my thoughts. I turn my lips up and shake my head. “None. You’ve taken care of everything as impeccably as usual. I thank you.” So saying, I rise. I push the employee files to one side. “It’s almost nine o’clock, so I’ll be off.”
“When I’m done here, I’ll stop by the barroom and say hello to Pyotr.”
My human side toys with the idea of moving my meeting with Pyotr to anywhere other than the barroom, but I decide this hard-drinking Russian werewolf would balk at the suggestion, even if I assure him alcohol would flow wherever we were. Besides, the barroom, with its soft ambient lighting, dark wood paneling, and graceful semi-circular marble bar, has the perfect atmosphere for friendly negotiations.
And friendly they are. The weres around the world feel no need to align themselves to the geopolitical landscape governing human affairs. European and Russian werewolves aren’t adversaries, we’re strong allies. I consider Pyotr one of my best friends outside my pack, and I trust him completely.
In addition, my wolf is frisky and wants our mate. So, the barroom it is. I text Rudolf to send down the folder Bardulf prepared for this meeting. Several steps before reaching the threshold to the entrance I catch her scent. I close my eyes and breathe in blueberries and raspberries and a riverbank at the moment of the spring thaw. My wolf is ecstatic. My human is mighty curious. I open my eyes and remember what Bardulf said about men liking her.
I look into the bar area and scan the scene. Alarm courses through me when I detect how many men are sniffing around her. My wolf wants to run in, knock her down and claim her here and now. I can’t do that, but I have to find a way to protect her and mark her as mine. The plan I come up with isn’t ideal. Normally I wouldn’t violate the privacy of one of my employees, but my mate is my mate, and I have to get my wolf under control before he overpowers my human side.
I retrace my steps, go through the dining room and push through the green baize door opening onto the kitchens and staff rooms. I go into the female locker room, am happy to find it empty, and easily sort through the multitude of scents to find her locker. I pick the lock, open the door, and take out the fresh white backup shirt to her staff uniform. I run my hands over the front and back, rub the sleeves against my neck. I make sure to leave no wrinkles. When my scent is on it enough to mark her as mine, I put the shirt back, relock the locker, and leave the way I came in.
Now to meet Miss Misti Shaw.
I enter the barroom and quickly scan the patrons sitting on the high chairs at the bar. I look for a patsy. I choose a man who’s sitting with his back toward the entrance and who’s perched in a way to suggest he might be on the verge of having one too many. I go straight to the bar and take the space next to him. He’s drinking red wine. Perfect.
Miss Shaw is turned away, with her hands on her hips, surveying the backlit shelves of alcohol. Her hair is plaited in a braid that falls halfway down her back. The light from the shelves catches bright filaments of copper and bronze among the soft rusts and russets. I have to admit her hair is beautiful even though I’ve never been partial to redheads. With one hand she grabs a bottle of vodka. Her other hand closes around a bottle of American bourbon. As she reaches, the straight knee-length dove grey skirt of the hotel uniform stretches over her shapely backside.
She turns and registers my presence as a newcomer with only a glance and a fleeting smile, as if to say she’ll tend to my order in a second. Then she works on both drinks at once and, with deft turns of her wrists, serves them up to the patrons seated several chairs away.
When I first glimpsed her, I judged her figure to be ample. I see now it’s also hourglass. She’s curvaceous. I admire the way her dove grey vest fits over the crisp white shirt. The peach-and-grey striped tie enhances the delicate glow in her cheeks and the pale pink of her lips. She wears no make-up. I’m beginning to understand my wolf’s taste. Too many men in the room are on the prowl, and my wolf is understandably anxious. I firmly suppress a desire to growl as a way to warn the prowlers away.
She moves back to stand in front of me and asks with a professional smile, “What can I get you?”
I look into gorgeous green eyes and have to swallow the sudden lump in my throat. “Hello,” I say, stretching my arm over the bar, “I’m Egon Hanover.”
She takes my hand, shakes it, and immediately lets it go. Her pretty lips smile with pleasure. “Mr. Hanover, how happy I am to meet you!”
“I’m glad,” I say, maintaining eye contact, waiting for her pupils to dilate with arousal and her translucent skin to blush.
“I know you’d left just before I started working here,” she says, “and I’ve heard a lot about you in your absence. I was told you’d make an effort to meet the new employees first thing, and you didn’t disappoint!”
“Every person who works at Hanover Enterprises contributes to our success, so it’s a privilege for me to get to know everyone. I understand from Bardulf – ah, you probably call him Boss – that you’ve settled in here.”
“I have,” she says, glancing around. She catches the eye of her fellow bartender standing at the other end of the bar and trills her fingers at him. She turns back to me and says, “Thomas is ace. I’ve learned a lot from him, and the servers on the floor are the best.”
I’m puzzled. Her sparkling green irises remain fully green. Her skin keeps its milky glow. She’s responding to me as nothing more than her employer.
A moment later she says, a bit too cheerfully, as if she feels something awkward between us, “So, what can I get you?”
I really do need to pull myself together. “A single malt, two fingers,” I say, pointing at the bottle of my favourite Glenlivit.
Before she turns away I knock my foot against the chair legs of my patsy. The patsy obliges by wobbling and tipping his glass. Red wine pours over Miss Shaw’s sleeve.
“Oh!” she says in surprise and dismay. She looks up at me, with a quick, apologetic glance, as if she were responsible for soiling her uniform.
The patsy makes some noises to the effect that he doesn’t know how he came to be so clumsy, and he looks down at the floorboards, as if they hold the answer. I pat the hapless man on the back and tell him not to worry. To Miss Shaw I say mildly, “There’s no harm. Accidents happen. They’re the reason we supply everyone with a back-up uniform. You have a fresh shirt in your locker, do you not, Miss Shaw?”
She brightens at that. “Of course,” she says, with relief. She looks at me for instruction.
“Go now and change,” I say. “The bar isn’t very full at this hour, and Thomas can handle anything in the ten minutes you’ll be gone.”
She nods, clearly happy with this solution. “I’ll give him your order and then I’ll go change.” She goes off, without a backward glance.
I select a table in the corner with the best view of the entire barroom as well as the entrance. I sit down to consider the unusual situation I now find myself in. I don’t like manipulating my mate, but I also can’t deny the heat and happiness flooding through me at the thought she’ll soon be wearing my scent. I watch the men eyeing her departure. Hyenas, all of them, as far as I’m concerned. I know I’m right to mark her, to protect her.
If someone had ever pressed me to describe my likely mate (which no one would dare do), I would have said she’d likely be a sophisticated Continental werewolf or even werevixen, slim and muscular, either blonde or brunette, and the Alpha female of a classy pack. I would have also guessed she’d recognise me as her mate as quickly as I’d recognised her as mine. Until this moment my hazy ideal remained unarticulated.
Although I’m having difficulty revising my mate’s social profile, I have no difficulty revising my bodily ideal. I can easily imagine holding handfuls of soft flesh rather than sleek muscles. Her scent is already enough to let me know she’s luscious. In addition to which, my wolf has never been so exuberant. However, my human cannot help but note that her accent is working class, her educational history is far from distinguished, and I wonder whether she has family beyond a possibly dodgy brother who likes dogs. Pack is important to me. Call me a snob, but I have my standards.
The real problem is her lack of immediate response to me. Perhaps, being human, she needs something stronger than my presence to arouse her. Being surrounded by my scent on her shirt is sure to bring results. For the short term, however, I’m still more concerned to protect her.
This post was written by Julie Andresen