I watched her run from the battered, 1970's Mercury Bobcat in the parking lot, cursing under my breath.
"Shit," I hissed, wishing that the rain would've eased off and not forced her to cover her head with the cheap, faux leather jacket she clung to like a lifeline.
I figured she must've spent hours curling her long raven hair into smooth, silky spirals. I bet she covered her caramel skin with inches of pointless makeup and stood back as she admired her artistry in the mirror. Maybe it was just me, as my perverted eyes admired her from afar, but I always thought women looked much prettier without all that crap.
The wolf inside me sang with the thrill of the chase. We knew our target through scent and touch alone, despite never having seen her face. The damn, lacy masks that the dancers wear in the strip clubs, is solely to protect their own identities. Some are running two, maybe three jobs alongside this one and don't want to risk being recognized. They take to the poles in nothing but string underwear and sky-high heels, give topless private dances, but it's against the rules to take off the masks. At each interval, they disappear backstage and douse themselves with perfume, in an attempt to mask their own unique scent.
As my dark-haired beauty approached the entrance of the seedy, gentlemen's club, she shook her jacket, ridding it of the rain. The more burly of the two security guards was a bear shifter, originally from Bear Creek. He eyed the round curve of her ass as she strolled by in her tight, black, PVC mini-dress and matching thigh-high boots.
He'd pay for that. I thought, grinding my teeth together.
Dangerous thoughts flashed through my mind as I considered where I would stash his body, once I was through with him. I gripped the corners of my eyes, squeezing my eyes shut, trying to get my shit together before I raised holy hell on Hawcroft. I couldn't go around wanting to rip the limbs off every guy who appreciated her, whoever the hell she was. She was a stripper for God's sake. One who went by the name of 'Femme Fatale'. That was her alias. When I asked for her real name she hesitated, spinning me some bullshit about rules.
But I was a persistent motherfucker, dropping my guard and letting my dick take over my brain. Offering her a roll of notes in exchange for the name she kept a secret. One that I'd be breathing against her lips as I drove myself into her.
"Humour me," I said to her. She gave a breathy laugh, then told me that her name was Catalina. Quite befitting of a feisty feline like herself, I thought.
My boots hit the tarmac as I exited my new toy: a Lamborghini Hurricane in Nero Noctis black. The fast tempo from the club music made up the background noise, growing louder each time the doors opened.
One press of my key fob and the gullwing doors slid back into situ. The lights flashed, arming the alarm. Dark nights had started creeping in these past few weeks, which was a blessing in disguise. It meant that I could sit and wait like a predator in the shadows, following her around like prey.
Fuck! What was I thinking? Stalking a stripper that I'd become obsessed with...and I hadn't even fucked her yet.
So it was decided then?
My wolf and I wanted to pursue her and then what? After I was done with her was I going to cast her aside like all the rest?
My head was saying yes but the wolf in me was howling no, scratching from the inside of my chest, desperate to get out and give chase. Hunt our female down and lay claim on her.
Man, I had it bad. My inner voice would've been enough to have me committed to the nearest mental hospital. I was fucked seven ways from Sunday, and I knew it too. Not knowing if this was the real deal or because she was the first piece of ass that had ever turned me down, my ego had taken a kicking. Our female was one tough nut to crack. Parting ways from our last encounter by delivering a painful slap to my left cheek.
I can still remember the burning sensation as her palm made contact.
There was no doubt that I didn't deserve it. I may have done a pretty good job of breaching the 'no touching' rule. Especially when I thrust my tongue down her throat. But she teased me, see, and that's rule number one when it comes to our kind.
Never tease a wolf because if you do, then you had to deal with the consequences.
If we just backtrack to a couple of weeks ago; summer had been a blast, from what I could remember of it anyway. Ridding myself of a pain in my ass mate that I didn't want nor choose, but the mating was necessary to protect someone important to me: my little sister, Leah. Having not been there for most of her life, it was the least I could do. I was an all-out asshole. A bonafide man-whore. I was a lousy boyfriend and an even lousier brother.
The one thing I was good at was filling my father's shoes as Beta. From an early age, I stood side by side with my Alpha, Alec White. I was fulfilling pack duties back when kids my age were still in high school. Eat, sleep, work, and party. Every single day for as long as I could remember. That was my life. Now someone like her just has to come along and rock the boat, disturbing the calm waters and whipping up a storm. She was a head-fuck in high heels and an itch I had to scratch, or maybe I wanted to mate with her, who knows?
A light dusting of rain glittered the sidewalk and the smell of damp foliage clung heavily to the air. Stonevale lay in ruins, but here in Hawcroft, it was like a mismatch of communities all rolled into one.
Shifters usually stuck to their own kind but after the attack, it sort of united us under one banner. My Alpha had established the United Shifter Council, amongst other projects he had going on. My Sister was busy preparing for motherhood, which meant, yet again, I had to step up and shoulder the responsibility of the pack.
I was like a caretaker of sorts, taking on all kinds of pressure and shit that'd make a grown man's gut twist. It wasn't a walk in the park, rebuilding the town from the rubble, honoring the dead, and making sure their orphaned kids were taken care of, but at the end of each shitty day, a man's gotta wind down somehow.
The glow from the red neon sign that had the image of a naked woman and the words 'live nudes' reflected along the rain-splattered pavement. A group of young-looking guys outside the strip club had just been stopped and asked to produce some identification.
Alongside the bear who checked out my girl, was a wolf shifter from my own pack. He gave me a nod in acknowledgment.
"Beta Grayson," he addressed me, formally, stepping aside for me to pass. "Back again?" The look of deep conflict smoldered like burning embers in his eyes.
I returned his gaze, wild-eyed and deadly. "Don't worry, I'm not here to make trouble tonight. I've just come for what's mine," the words left my lips, sounding almost foreign to me.
He gave a heavy sigh. "Sofia ain't gonna like that, boss."
Sofia? Ah, so that was her name. Fuckin' minx lied about that too. A roguish grin pulled at the corners of my mouth.
"Yeah, well, Sofia wasn't complaining last night when she was happily grinding herself against my cock for cash," I retorted.
I barged between them, heading down the darkened staircase with hasty steps. Soft, red lighting lit the corridor and a misty haze clung to the air from the fog machines in the club. There was a strong aroma of beer, sweat, and arousal—mostly male.
Hell-bent on seeking out my prize, I followed the one scent that had branded itself into my memory: clove and gardenia with a gentle scent of musk.
As I stepped into the busy club, my predatory eyes scanned the room, searching amongst the sea of faces. I strolled through the crowd, making my way over to the bar. From back here, I got a good view of the podiums.
"Can I get you a drink, honey?" A scantily clad barmaid with red, curly hair that hung all the way to her ass, asked.
Her green eyes roamed over me with appreciation, drinking in the sight of my tight-fitted shirt and a black leather jacket. She was a bear shifter, I guessed right.
You could easily spot the difference between shifter women if you knew what to look for. Bears were tall and stocky, wolves were slender and athletic, whereas, cats had feline curves in all the right places, thick thighs, a full, rounded ass, and generous bosoms.
"Double whiskey, thanks," I responded, straight-faced.
Any other time I would've played along, flirting back, but tonight I had more important issues on my agenda. Bear wasn't on the menu. Tonight was all about a certain Kitty that had gotten under this wolf's skin.
"Coming right up," she replied, getting straight to it by flipping the bottle and catching it just right. She then poured the amber liquid into a glass over ice.
She slid my drink across the table and I exchanged the cash.
"Keep the change, doll face," I responded in my usual playboy manner. It was more absentmindedly than anything else.
Force of habit, I guess.
From there, I delved into the corner of the room that was hidden by shadows. With my back lounging lazily against the wall, I sipped the smokey liquid and waited.
The volume of the music lowered in sync with the circling spotlights that illuminated the podiums.
"Here she is, the one you've all been waiting for!" The announcement from the DJ filled the room and every male in the club jeered.
I sucked in a breath, my heart pounding fast and hard as I waited. "Miss, Femme Fatale!" He yelled, finishing the grand reveal.
There was a change of tempo as a sexier song began to play: Maneater by Nelly Furtado.
My body fused to the spot, standing there awestruck with parted lips. Sofia stepped out from behind the dark curtain, wearing a see-through lacy bra and panties, peep-toe stilettos, a face mask, and a horsewhip clasped in her fist.
Men from all angles thrust out dollar bills as she made her way around the stage, performing her sexy act and allowing them to stuff the notes into her panties. Her brown eyes blazed fierce and hard. There was pride there too, like a lack of choices must've forced her hand but she wasn't going to be defined by that.
If she was a cat from Ridgeland, then she was bound to be dirt poor. My heart clenched with pity, then remorse for dishonoring her like that. She wasn't the type of girl who wanted my pity. She did what she had to in order to survive. Maybe she didn't want nor need me, but she had sure as hell earned my respect.
She crouched in a low squat, then crawled forward like a cat on the prowl. My breath hitched in my throat and my cock thickened, tenting in my jeans as if it knew what it damn well wanted and was telling me to go get it.
She paused, her face relaxing into a look of shock as she subtly scented the air. Then, before I had time to react, she glanced up and over to where I was standing, shrouded by darkness. I gulped hard, knowing that she sensed me and understanding what this meant.
Meaning, I had been right about her being mine from the start.
All these nights I came here for private dances, only ever requesting her presence. Behaving myself impeccably up until last night. She was mine. I knew it from the second I touched her and she must've damn well known it too.
"Shit!" She swore, scooping up the crumpled up notes and balling her fists against her chest to cover herself.
"Wait!" I called out as she turned on her heel, bolting back through the curtain. She was lightning fast but I was hot on her heels, pushing my way through the crowd, thrusting my glass of whiskey at some random guy.
I fought my way through the heavy black curtain. It served as a minor decoy, slowing me down as I struggled to find the parting in the center. Instead, I dove under it, scrambling to my feet backstage. Following the heavenly scent, I pursued her to the cluttered dressing room where I was greeted with frantic screams from semi-naked women.
"Get out!" One angry female pelted me with a riding crop, which I would've been down for any other time. Another threw a stiletto shoe my way. It flew straight past my ear and stuck into the wall behind me.
"Fucking crazy bitches!" I roared, shielding my head with my arms.
My foot sank straight through a pink patterned cardboard box and I fell forwards, bursting out through the back door and into the open air, stumbling down the three concrete steps at the rear of the building.
"Fuck!" I cursed, scrambling to my feet and ridding myself of the obstacle around my shoe.
I gave chase at wolf speed, making it back to the parking lot just in time to see her tailspin the car around in a cloud of fumes and dust. The tires screeched as she sped away.
"Shit!" I dragged my fingers through my hair and a gripped handful in both hands.
My chest heaved with huge ragged breaths as I watched her drive out of sight.
"So this is how it's gonna be, huh?" I muttered to myself.
Something golden, shimmering on the tarmac, right where Sofia's old orange Bobcat had been moments prior, caught my eye. I stalked over to retrieve it, bending down to rest against one knee and I picked up the chunky, golden pendant. It must've fallen from her purse or something. The bastard in me held the cold metal firmly in my fist, feeling euphoric with the discovery.
She may not have wanted me, but I knew that she would want this back. I opened my hand after feeling the edges of the heart pendant bite into my palm. On one side the inscription read: Daddy's little kitten. On the other side, there was a message which read: No other love in the world is like the love a father has for his little girl.
"Boss?" The doorman, John, approached me where I was standing. "What the hell happened back there?" He asked.
Straightening my jacket and stuffing the pendant into the inner pocket, I turned to him. "Beats me." I shrugged. "I didn't so much as lay a finger on her and the girl just split."
His brows dimpled in the middle. "If you're thinking of going after her, then don't." He warned, sparing a backward glance towards the bear shifter who was now scowling at us both. "You'll find nothing but trouble if you go looking."
Tapping my hand twice against his shoulder, I flashed him a mischievous smile. "I don't need to go looking for trouble, John. Trouble has a habit of finding me, all on its own." I chuckled, walking away, back to my car.
And that was the truth. I was like a magnet for trouble. Upon relaxing into the seat of my car, I started the engine, hearing it roar to life then settle down to a more contented purr. My minx was a lot like my car in that respect. She held all the promise of a fast, hard ride, rocking a killer body, but unlike my four-wheeled baby, she was so much harder to please.
What did stay etched in my mind was how those soft, sexy purs rumbled through her chest as she rubbed up against me the other night. And just like my engine that gave a roar at the start, she'll soon settle down when she realizes the effect she has on me.
I may have her heart-shaped pendant as the excuse to see her again, but although she doesn't know it yet, it's her name and only hers that branded itself across my heart.
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