There was something about Adam Vance that scared me. In fact, there was something about Adam Vance that scared everybody.
I watched him from behind the bar, while he sat in his booth, with his group of friends. They’d been coming into the town bar since before they could legally drink and no one said a damn thing.
They were laughing and talking so loudly, I could hear them almost clearly above the country music my manager insisted on blaring on a Friday night. The guys in the group were riling Adam up about his recent trysts at the ski lodge in the next town.
I’d known most of these guys since before high school and for the love of me, could not see the appeal of some of them. They’d been friends since I could remember. Some of them were older and some younger than Adam. I remember starting school with Adam. He was sure of himself, even back then. Five years old and not afraid of a thing! During our first week, he had fallen from the monkey bars, breaking his arm. He didn’t even cry.
He was always polite, but almost reservedly so and we never really had much interaction. His brown eyes were slightly droopy on the ends, giving him this permanent puppy-dog look. It drove the girls wild in high school. Luckily for me, I was completely immune to his pull because I was so focused on just saving enough money to move to Washington and join up with my best friend, Michael. He was on a dance scholarship at the Cornish College Arts school and his parents had set him up in a great little loft just outside Seattle.
I was planning to apply to a few of the theatre schools in the city, while Michael started with his dance company.
That said, my interest in Adam Vance had stirred. To the point of where I found myself still trying to catch the smell of his cologne after he’d ordered drinks at the bar. Perhaps it was because he’d recently moved back home. He’d been away since we finished high school. I imagined he’d gone to Denver State like most of my graduating class.
Somebody must have said something to him as he suddenly boomed with laughter, making me jerk upright and shake off the feeling of stalker I was clearly giving off.
“Still as hot as he was three years ago.” Meg, my manager sighed from behind me.
“Geeze, Meg! You scared me.”
“Why? Cos I caught you staring at the frat pack? They’re like a hot boy band you have on your walls in middle school, you know?”
I smirked, “Kind of like they’re almost too hot, right?”
We both laughed and moved along to the bar counter where some tourist types were waiting for service.
“I’ve got this, Maddie. You can check on the hottie at the end of the bar.” I turned to see where she motioned with her head. Adam was leaning on the bar counter with his elbows, but somehow he was still imposing in size as I drew closer.
His eyes lifted up as I stood in front of him. He smiled, not fully, but enough to expose the dimples in his cheeks, “Six shots of Jaeger and four crafts.”
“Sure. Put it on your tab or you paying now?”
“I’ll pay now. I’m heading out after this round.”
“OK.” I rang up his bill and handed it to him. He stuck a fifty dollar bill on the counter. I quickly rang up and got his change, but by the time I had turned around and had his drinks ready, he had gone back to his table.
“Shit.” I muttered. Now I’d have to go over there. I looked for one of the waiters. None of them were free. Eurgh! I placed everything on a tray and walked over to their table.
“Hi.” I said as I stopped in front of them. Everyone went dead quiet and I swear I heard what sounded like a growl. Almost immediately, one of the younger guys began clearing the glasses and plates that had piled up. God! Josh was their waiter and boy was he lazy. Now I’d have to clear this shit.
The guy just kept clearing and got up with all of the dishes cradled in his big arms, almost as if he were going to take it back to the kitchen. He kept walking and before I could protest, he was behind the bar, depositing the plates and glasses on the counter. I looked at him in disbelief and then back at the group, who were completely still and dead quiet. None of them looked my way either. It was almost eerie how they all had their heads down, only now and then glancing up at Adam or one another.
I placed the drinks on the table and put his receipt along with his change in front of him, “Here we go. Have a good evening guys.” I smiled briefly at him, his eyes fixated on me. He didn’t say anything, except what sounded like a thank you. His eyes went from their usual puppy-dog, to one of curiosity and before things got more awkward, I turned on my heel, trotting off.
The guy who had helped with the dishes, stood to the side as I passed him.
“Thanks for that, but you really didn’t have to do that. I’ll speak to Josh about the service.” I said as I touched his arm without really thinking. His eyes were kind as he smiled at me, but then almost as if remembering something, he gently shook my hand off his arm and looked everywhere, but at me.
“Sorry.” I muttered, shaking my head.
“No, I’m sorry, Lu-. I mean, Maddie.” he shook his head as if embarrassed and quickly shuffled by me back to his friends.
I couldn’t get Adam out of my head that night as I stood behind the bar, cleaning up before heading home. Meg was sitting in one of the booths, splitting the tips. For some reason, all I could think of was Adam since he’d walked in that evening. True to his word earlier, they’d had their last drink, in record time and marched out, less boisterous than what they had been all evening.
“Maddie!” Meg called from where she sat, “Don’t forget your tips. By the way, Josh is pissed at you.”
“The frat pack table.”
“How come? Cos I served them?”
“Not really, but he is pissed they insisted you take the tip. Well, that wall of a guy. One with the dimples.”
I rolled my eyes, “No one should get a tip any way. The table was a mess when I took their drinks over.”
“Either way, guy left you a hundred bucks!” she rolled her eyes, “Must be great being the rich kids in town.”
“Huh? That’s insane!”
“Seems the Vances have more money than sense.” She carried on counting out my tips for the night, “Just enjoy it. Put it in that moving-on fund of your’s.”
“Thanks. Listen, can I pick up some extra shifts next week? I want to try and leave immediately after peak season. Otherwise, I’ll be bleeding money.”
Meg smiled at me, her dark hair falling over her eyes. She pulled it back into a top-knot, frustrated with the raven mane, “Sure. I’ll send out the roster on IM on Monday.”
Meg was great. She had worked at the bar since I can remember. She was more sisterly than maternal. “OK, now get outta here and have some semblance of a life.”
“Gee, thanks!” I laughed. I slipped on my down- feather coat and pulled the hood over my head, “You sure you don’t need help locking up?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
“OK. See ya tomorrow night.” I was going to sleep well into the afternoon, considering it was close to three in the morning. Little did I know that my dreams would be vivid and filled with images of Adam Vance.
As I pulled my auburn hair into a ponytail, I sighed, tired and cranky. More so than usual. My patience had worn thin over the last few years, while I tirelessly saved for Seattle. Speaking of, my phone vibrated, almost angrily on my nightstand. I rushed over to it, seeing Michael’s face flashing on the screen.
“Hey, tiny dancer!” I teased.
“Oh my God, must you always tease?”
“Only because I resent you for leaving me behind.”
“That’s not true and we both know it won’t be long until you move up here. Have you decided on a date?”
“I told Maddie last night that I needed extra shifts so I could look at just after peak.”
“That’s April, isn’t it? Well, we have five months and I’m dropping in between Christmas and New Year’s.”
I smiled at the thought of having my best friend home over the holidays, “Yes! Although, I’ll be working for most of it.”
“It’s OK, I think the parents have my time mapped out in its entirety already.”
“So your Mom is still trying to set you up with everyone gay she meets?”
“Oh no, everyone gay she hears of!”
We laugh some more about Michael’s over-bearing mother and about our plans for when I join him in Seattle. I miss him terribly. My life for three years was mainly spent working at the bar, first as a waitress and recently as the bar server.
The town was what you would call a mountain town. We were next to a busy ski town and shared a lot of the tourists as they explored the region. My parents ran a small guesthouse. They couldn’t compete with the bigger lodges, but the income was decent. Just not decent enough for college and I had refused to take out a loan for my first year of college. I also didn’t get in on my first try. I was uncertain at the start of my senior high school year and had been in that rut until I watched Michael head off to Seattle.
So, I hung out at home, helping at the guest house where I could and also working at the bar (because Meg actually paid me).
My parents were at the front desk when I got downstairs and into the guesthouse section. It had always been a treat watching the guests come and go. The house had six bedrooms and at capacity we could house about 14 people. This season was looking good. So far, we’d taken in about eight people this weekend.
November was when it all began. After Thanksgiving, the colder weather would start to kick in and the snow bunnies would start to roll into town.
I waved at my parents, who were speaking to a couple of guests as I passed them on my way out.
As I got into my car, I felt the strangest feeling, as if I were being watched. I looked around the driveway and the front yard, but didn’t see anything and then there it was! A flash of russet whirred by the shrubs on the edge of the front yard and into the woods that went into the mountains.
“Jesus!” I breathed out, clutching my chest. I was convinced it was a wolf. My heart still pounding, I managed to get back into the house and got my dad to come back out, rifle in hand.
“Honey, I doubt it was a wolf. Also, not this close to people.” my dad was practically laughing and said it was probably the neighbour’s golden retriever that had gotten out.
“Whatever, Dad. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” and waved him back in the house.
The poor guests must have thought they’d made the worst choice after seeing my rush in, asking my dad to grab his rifle. Being against the woods, a rifle was necessary. We’ve come across a bear or two over the years, but never a wolf, until today, even if my dad thought I was crazy.
All I could think of as I drove in to work, was what I thought I saw and then thought about how I was potentially going to have to wake my dad up to come and get me outside when I got home.
As I pulled into my normal parking spot, I noticed the shiny black Rubicon parked next to me, in Meg’s spot. Cheeky customer. The spot had staff only painted in bright yellow.
I walked into The Gold Rush bar and started taking my coat off. It was one of those crisp,clear evenings and thankfully the heating was on when I walked in.
Then it hit me, the soft, soothing smell of sandalwood and citrus. I inhaled deeply, hungrily. The smell almost intoxicatingly decadent. It brought me a sense of comfort; a sense of peace. I let go of all anxieties I’d been clinging to, let go of the fear I felt about getting home to a starved wolf in my driveway and then the feeling disappeared just like that.
I opened my eyes, which I hadn’t even realised were closed and looked straight into Josh’s steely grey eyes. His top lip was pulled back, baring his teeth as he bit down on his bottom lip.
“What?” I asked, deadpan.
“The hundred bucks from last night. Can I have it back?” he seemed so sure that I would just hand him the cash.
“Josh. I’d like to get ready for my shift please.”
He refused to move out of my way. I was more annoyed than afraid as he widened his stance, trying to intimidate me. I tried moving around him, but he blocked me at every turn.
“I will have that money before we leave tonight.” For creepy measure, Josh smiled and patted me on the shoulder.
I shook off the feeling of his hand still on my shoulder. Focusing on getting into my shift, I went over to the bar and chatted to Dave. He was finishing up as I rolled up the sleeves of my bodysuit and picked up a box of beers from the floor, depositing them onto the back counter.
Dave sighed, slightly annoyed at me, “Told you not to lift those, especially when you don’t lift properly. You’ll have a bad back in no time.”
“Yes, Dr Kiehl.” I teased. Dave was our resident smart kid, who’d just finished his chiropractor’s license and was headed for Denver in the next few weeks to start his new job.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m not actually a doctor you know.”
“I know, but it sounds cool.” I teased him.
“OK. I’m out. Oh, and some guy asked for you.” he said as he stuffed his things into his backpack.
“That guy.” he pointed to the tall, auburn-haired wall of a man sitting in the booth close to the T.V. in the corner of the bar. There he was, all six feet and four inches of Adam Vance. He had his back to me and was sitting with a guy I think I recognised from high school. Tall, olive skinned, floppy dark hair. He was one of the guys that was with Adam the night before.
I hadn’t even realised that Dave had left as I fixated on Adam. The other guy, Liam, I think, looked up at me and I quickly tore my eyes away, embarrassed at being caught.
“Shit.” I muttered as I busied myself with wiping down counters. Convinced they were probably laughing at me, I felt my cheeks heat up. Why now, was Adam having this influence over me?
Not long after, Josh was at the bar, his annoyance with me evident as he slammed a try on the counter to get my attention.
“What?” I asked him, ready to hit him in the head with his tray.
“Vance wants you to serve him.”
“No.” I said evenly and carried on wiping down an already pristine counter, while my stomach did somersaults.
“I’m not your errand boy. Tell him yourself.” With that, Josh slugged off to the kitchen, where he usually spent most of his time hiding from Meg and the customers,
I glanced over at where Adam and his friend sat again. The guy looked over at me again and smiled in acknowledgement. It was Liam Harris. He was a couple of years older than Adam. I remembered him. If I’d have taken a liking to any of them back then, it would have been Liam.
Adam turned around, he didn’t smile. He raised his hand and bent his fingers, as if summoning me over. I stood there, looking around for Josh, for anyone else to head over there. Anyone, but me.
I sighed and slowly made my way over to their table. What awkward hell was this turning out to be?
As I got closer, that delicious scent of sandalwood and citrus filled the air around me. I inhaled deeply and allowed the calming feeling I’d felt earlier, to wash over me again. Before I could say anything, Liam rose from his seat and nodded at me, “Madeline.”
“Maddie.” I corrected him, shyly.
“Maddie, sorry.” he smiled, the scar on his chin adding to his charm.
An almost growling sound came from the table. I nearly jumped.
“You OK?” Adam asked, concerned.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry, did you hear a growl?” I felt distracted and my thoughts drifted to the wolf I thought I saw earlier.
“Uh, no.” They chorused.
“Nevermind. What can I get you?”
“Two crafts please.” Liam answered when Adam just kept staring.
“Ohhhkay.” I dragged out, still unsure as to why Adam specifically asked for me and then can barely speak to me. I remember the tip, “Oh, thanks for the overly-generous tip.”
“It was nothing.” he said dismissively.
Rude, I thought to myself.
I shook my head at the odd interaction and walked off to get their order. I felt irritable and couldn’t shake it after that. I sent their drinks over with one of the busboys. This warranted a visit at the bar counter from Adam. I had no idea what was beginning to unfold.
“I need to pay for my tab.” he said evenly as I turned to face him.
“Uh, yeah. You can settle it with your server.”
“I thought that was you.”
I rolled my eyes at him, “No. It’s actually Josh.” he didn’t look pleased.
“What’s the deal with you?” I ask him, impatient. “You know what? Don’t tell me.. If it’s some stupid frat prank, just move on, please.”
He looked almost wounded, “What? No!”
“Then what?” I asked, my words dripping with impatience,
“I, I don’t know. Sorry.” With that, he stormed off and before he even reached his table, Liam was up and at his side and they left.
“Madeline West?” Liam asked, a small smile on his smug face. I felt like punching him.
Yes, Madeline West, I thought. What the actual fuck? After being around her since kindergarten, barely any interaction between us and now, just when I was ready to embrace my role in the pack, this happens.
“How come you never realised in Senior year?” Liam asked, his tone almost accusatory. It deserved a punch to the nose, but his question was valid. Dad did say it was perhaps because she wasn’t one of us and the fact that I only turned eighteen after I’d left town.
“Think it’s because the mate urge only kicked in once I’d started college.” I said, standing on the edge of woods outside the West is Best guesthouse.
I heard voices coming from the front of the house and instinctively, my bones began to shift and the soft russet fur sprouted from my skin. Seeing her made me want to howl out loud and claim her as my own. She was mine, mine to have forever, my mate.