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Chapter One: Take Me Home, Werewolf Pack

Colin knew they were going to cause problems the moment they walked in the door. It was so obvious, in fact, it transported him to some Old West movie full of clichés.

Two men swagger into the tavern. They approach the bar and start harassing the little lady in charge. No one realizes there is a lone gunman in the corner. Cue twangy yet suspenseful music.

Except, of course, it wasn’t at all like that. The tavern was instead a quirky well-lit cafe in a busy tourist town. The kind frequented by locals who knew what they liked and ordered it quickly, and tourists who got confused by the awesome power of daily specials and were a pain to everyone except the bottom line. The cafe was called Bean There, Froth That, because the owner was an idiot. Everyone else called it the Bean. It was early evening – one of those chilly fall nights that descended suddenly in the Bay Area. No warning, no wind, just penguin-ass-nipping cold because, unlike the East Coast, the West has never learned to do autumn properly.

The two men who swaggered into the cafe bumped Colin’s table. Which was on point for Old West baddies. They both wore double-breasted pinstriped suits. No hats. Colin was disappointed – baddies should wear hats. Also, neither shirt nor tie appeared under said suit. Just suit jackets over hairy chests.

They bumped him on purpose. Yes, Colin did like the small table near the door, but it was well out of normal foot traffic, so they’d jostled him on purpose. The newcomers smelled like briny prey – browned butter and kelp – yet they were big enough to be threatening. Colin hadn’t met any face-to-face, but he still knew selkie blubber when he smelled it. So these were not really men at all, but shifters.

They didn’t act like regulars but they sure weren’t tourists. Which meant they were infiltrating pack territory – his pack’s territory. Colin really didn’t want to get involved, but selkie tended to have mob connections. Besides, his textbook on The Reality of Sense Perception wasn’t addressing the shifter sensory experience. He hated human-centric philosophy. So he marked his spot, set it down, and watched.

One of the selkie (Colin decided to call him Blubber Bozo One) leaned over the counter in a film-perfect loom.

“Yo, fag,” was his charming opening statement.

“What can I get you, sir?” The barista, Trick, dove into his role of little lady in a Western shoot-‘em-up. Trick’s attire was relatively understated for the part. He was wearing a long-fringed scarf and one dangling feather earring, which was good, but otherwise jeans and a t-shirt. Colin liked Trick because it was really hard not to like him. Colin was annoyed by this, as he tried not to like anyone. The fact that Trick had made it through his defenses was really… well, tricky of him.

“Get me? You can get me the goods. Now!” Blubber Bozo One loomed  even more loomy-like.

Trick was barely over five feet, always cheerful, with never a bad word to say against anyone. Through the relentless application of a crooked smile, sweet greeting, and always remembering Colin’s order (decaf latte with whipped cream on top) he’d endeared himself, despite Colin’s best efforts.

Colin knew Trick was some kind of shifter, because he smelled of wet riverbanks and fresh hay, but he didn’t know what kind. Trick’s scent was closest to that of a kelpie, but Trick was far too small to be a water horse. He wasn’t a merman either – no salty pong. Plus Colin’s pack had contact with the local kelpie (there could be only one) and the local merfolk pod, and Trick certainly wasn’t either. He was, in fact, a bit of a mystery.

“I’m sorry, what?” Trick batted his lashes at the bozos. Colin suspected this was a defensive mechanism.

Colin wasn’t supposed to get involved. Wolves do turf, not surf, his dad often said. But Colin hated his dad almost as much as he hated the word fag.

“Listen here, you slimy little shit, you’re Inis, aren’t you? Inis is holding our goods and owes us. Took forever to track your ass down.”

“Inis? You’re after my family?” Trick’s dark eyes went even rounder than normal. “I don’t speak to them. Or, more properly, they don’t speak to me. Whatever. We don’t speak!”

“I don’t care if you’re in with ‘em or not. They vanished with our goods and you didn’t vanish good enough.”

Trick backed away from the counter, hands up in front of his chest. “Dude, I’ve not seen them in, like, forever. Even if I did, I don’t have any money, let alone goods. Whatever those may be. I work as a barista. Come on!”

Colin ached for the little guy, he looked so scared.

“You’re still Inis.” Blubber Bozo Two was even more intellectual than One.

Colin wondered if he had any kind of weaponry in his bag. Does a half-eaten peppered salami count?

Trick tossed his one earring back as if it were a lock of hair. “You want me to change my name? I’ll go down to DURPS tomorrow and fix that right quick. I never liked it anyway.”

“Don’t be cute. Just be paying us back with goods or cash. We ain’t picky, slimy little fag.”

There’s that word again. Sure, Trick looked super gay but Colin admired that. Even envied him a little. If Trick had the guts to wear makeup and earrings, Colin should have the guts to act like the werewolf he was and defend the poor thing. Wolf the fuck up, you wuss. Colin shut his laptop, then tucked it (and the disappointing Reality of Sense Perception) away in his messenger bag.

It was a Tuesday night, after dinner, and in a suburban town, so it was only locals at the cafe. At the opposite side of the front section sat the straight couple who came for date night and made moony eyes at each other over Mexican hot chocolate. Against the side wall sat dour old Floyd who liked to knit, and blessedly never tried to make small talk. (Colin supposed he could nick the man’s knitting needles and stab the selkie with them, only that’d get blood on the guy’s knitting, which was probably rude.) In the back was the lesbian couple who’d recently added a third and came in to play board games.

They were all regulars who probably loved Trick, but they were also all human, and this was shifter business.

So Colin stood and picked up his empty coffee cup − it’d work to bash a head in a pinch.

Colin was one of the world’s least threatening werewolves. Even as a wolf he wasn’t big or vicious. As a human he was the opposite of butch – a lackluster mild-mannered nerd who disappeared into the background so well he’d once considered a job in espionage. One of his older brother’s super-hot college buddies described Colin as a washed-out twinky stick figure. To be fair, the buddy hadn’t known Colin overheard him say it. And while cruel, it was accurate. Or maybe Colin had simply turned into that person from then on. He envied Trick, partly because he himself hadn’t the guts to be a true twink – flashing skin and taking names. He wore baggy clothes, his face was inclined to petulance, and his temperament towards silence. At twenty-two, he was insipid in coloring and timid in personality, not the type to go up against blubber bozos.

Still, someone had to help Trick.

So he sent a 911 text to his Alpha and jumped into the fray like a piece of wilted lettuce – AKA he slouched into line behind the selkies. Speaking of which, the word selkies sounded wrong. He wondered if selkie was like the word sheep, both plural and singular.

Blubber Bozo One turned to glare at him. “Who the hell are you?”

Fucking A, sea folk had horrible noses. Couldn’t the man smell a shifter when he was standing next to him in a coffee shop?

Trick looked at Colin, eyes swimming in hope. “Can I get you another latte, Col?”

“You doing okay, Trick? These guys aren’t bothering you?” Colin could see the confusion in Trick’s eyes. That Colin, of all people in that café, would attempt a rescue. Quiet, grumpy, fragile-looking Colin. The shy student who barely said anything, just studied by himself in a drafty corner.

“Uh, no man, I’m cool, I promise.” Trick didn’t mean a word of it.

Colin turned his attention back to the bozos. They were big, outweighing him by a hundred pounds each, at least. But he bet they were slow. Plus he’d have some advantage if he shifted into wolf.

He pulled his gray hoodie off and tossed it back to his table. He liked that hoodie and didn’t want it to get torn when he went to wolf. Of course, it slithered to the floor. Now it was all cafe-sticky. Sigh.

“I really hate shifting form, but if you guys won’t leave off harassing the staff, I guess it’s gotta be done.”

“This ain’t your business, whatever four-footed fuzz-butt you are.”

Colin huffed. “Hell it ain’t. This is pack territory. You can’t come in from offshore and just start harassing my favorite barista. I don’t care what arrangement you have with his asshole family. You got a legal complaint, you take it to DURPS. You got something locally vested, you bring it to my Alpha.”

“Pack? Alpha? You’re a werewolf? You sure don’t look like one.”

Blubber Bozo Two added the profoundly eloquent but apt “Fucking werewolves.”

Colin thought of his mild-mannered marine biologist Alpha, who was the strongest wolf he’d ever met. “Looks can be deceiving.” They weren’t in his case, but the selkies didn’t need to know that.

Trick was staring at him with wide eyes. “You’re seriously a wolf shifter, Colin? I’d no idea. Cool beans.”

Colin grinned. “I’m a pathetic one, Trick, but I’m still made for fighting on land. Selkies sure aren’t.”

“Which is why we carry these on turf, to even the odds.” Blubber Bozo Two pulled out some kind of gun.

Colin didn’t like guns, so he had no idea what kind it was. It was a big, metal, loud surrogate for a tiny dick – like all guns. He pulled his gaze away and back to the selkies. He’d read that victims of gun crime got fixated on the weapon too easily.

“Well, aren’t you smart selkies? You shoot me and bring the whole pack down on your head, not to mention our local allies. Brilliant move.”

Blubber Bozo One only crossed his arms, pretending to relax. “Bullshit. You’re a loner. There are no packs in the Bay Area.”

Colin rolled his eyes so hard the world tilted on its axis. It was a phrase people kept parroting at him like it was a mantra. There are no snakes in Ireland. There are no werewolves in San Francisco. “You mean, there weren’t any werewolves in the Bay Area. Now there are. Your information is out of date. My pack moved in over the summer. Now you’re stuck with us.”

“No,” said Blubber Bozo One, pulling out his own gun and pointing it at Trick, “we aren’t.”

“Well, this escalated quickly.” Colin pretended extreme boredom and examined his fingernails. “Just so you know, our pack allies include a kelpie, several powerful kitsune, and one sublimely bitchy Magistar. Not to brag or anything.”

“Now I know you’re lying out your ass. Ain’t been a Magistar in these parts in my lifetime.”

“You really need to keep up with the local news. Max hates being dismissed as purely hypothetical,” replied Colin.

Trick, suddenly oblivious to the danger, was now staring at Colin with his mouth slightly open. “You don’t mean Max? Morning blue-eyes Max? Hotness with the snark and Asian god prince come down to preach the gospel of running in tight leggings for the good of all mankind? That Max? I love Max. Terrible taste in coffee, but I try not to hold that against people.”

Colin nodded. “He’s Beta-mate in my pack.”

“He is? Cool. That the big hunk who comes in with him sometimes?”

“Bryan. Yeah, that’s our Beta. Also Max’s familiar.” Colin let himself be proud of that. Bryan and Max were something to be proud of. Special. Unique.

“Nice. I didn’t know I was surrounded by wolves.”

“Pack house is just up the hill.” Colin gestured with his mug towards the back of the cafe, away from the ocean.

The bozos did not like being ignored. “Good little faggots, now that you’ve got that cleared up. You still owe us, Inis.”

Trick glanced at them as if he’d momentarily forgotten they were there. “How much?”


“How much was my idiot family in it, before they ran?”

“Two hundred grand.”

Trick cast his hands up to the heavens. “Two hundred! What the fuck? Well, I don’t have that kind of money. I can’t even make rent. You can threaten all you like, nothing will come of it.” Trick gave one of his patented half-smiles. “Beat me up, you might get blood outta me, but you can’t get blood from a stone.”

“Impasse,” added Colin. “Because I’ll sure try to get blubber out of a selkie. You two smell delicious.”

“You think you can move faster than a bullet, asshole?” Blubber Bozo Two asked, cocking his head as if in admiration.

“He can’t, but I can sure try,” said a deep rumbling voice from the entrance to the cafe.

Colin glanced back even though he really didn’t need to. He knew the voice.

Judd had managed to open the door without the bell sounding, because he did things like that. He could move unbelievably quietly for such a big dude.

Judd was everything Colin was not in terms of threatening and werewolf. He was massive, rippling with muscles, full of scowls and teeth and power. He smelled wonderful, because he was pack and enforcer, which meant the scent of safety and protection, but also because he was Judd. And Judd had smelled like the pinnacle of yummy from the moment they met. Judd was also the hottest thing in Colin’s universe.

Trick seemed to agree. “Ohmygod, whothat?”

“That mine,” Colin hissed back, hoping Judd was too far away to hear such an unsubstantiated claim. It was only an impossible wish, a fantasy, but Trick was so cute and bold and charming that Colin couldn’t let him even think of pursuing Judd.

“Share?” suggested Trick, hopefully.


Kevin pushed into the cafe after Judd. This time the bell jingled. Kevin was the other pack enforcer. He was as tall as Judd and almost as muscled but somehow less threatening. Probably because he was always smiling and cheerful. He was also a true redhead – disgustingly jock and inexcusably hot about it.

“How about that one?” asked Trick.

“That’s related. Don’t even.”

The selkies were focused on the two enforcers, as they should be, much greater threat. Which allowed Colin and Trick to pretend to relax with banter.

“Well, wasn’t your family blessed genetically.” Trick leered at Kevin.

“Stop, please, that’s my brother you’re drooling over.”

“So. That’s your problem.”

“He’s tragically straight.”

Trick pouted. “Well, fiddlesticks. So they’re basically the cavalry?”

“More like the musculature.”

Trick nodded, tossing his earring and grinning happily. “Oh, I see, enforcers. Goodie!”

Colin may not know what kind of shifter Trick was, but now that Trick knew he was in the presence of werewolves, he could guess at pack dynamics. Sometimes it sucked being the face of shifters in the modern world, everyone always knew werewolf business.

Still, at least Colin wouldn’t have to test his wilted-salad fighting skills. “Yeah. Enforcers.”

Wanna read more? That’s in The Enforcer Enigma.

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A werewolf without rank or hope and an enforcer who has lived too long go up against the selkie mob.

Yours (scrambling madly),

Miss Gail

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