I think I may have mentioned that I’m a dog person. Even if it’s a breed with a bad reputation, like pit bulls, a dog that has been raised right will be a sweet, loving creature that will happily tear the face off of anyone who tries to attack you while it’s around. I like dogs.
But a wolf is not a dog.
Yes, the first time I’d ever seen wolves I’d thought they were adorable. I’d also been at a zoo, safely on the other side of a fenced-off and recessed enclosure. When there is a wolf in your living room, however, all of the primal beauty inherent in a wild and untamed predator is eclipsed by the fact that it is a wolf and it is in your living room.
Hans-the-wolf tilted his head and looked at me. I think he was trying to judge my reaction. “Terror” just about summed it up… but I’ve always been good at concealing that. It’s second nature to me, now. I did my best to keep calm.
Hans made a low whine and stretched his head toward me. He sniffed the air twice and then stood. He padded closer.
There was a wolf. In my living room. Coming toward me. I figured he could probably kill me with one bite and consume the evidence in two more. Terror won.
I was backed up against a locked door. I’d already realized I couldn’t run away when Hans had still been a man. Now all of that adrenaline funneled from ‘flight’ to ‘fight.’ It might not have been the smartest response, but I grabbed the nearest thing I could and swung it hard.
Unfortunately I was backed up against my front door and the nearest thing to hand was the mail I’d dropped off earlier. Specifically: the complimentary local newspaper. It was still rolled up from when it had been stuffed in my mailbox.
I’m pretty small, and the newspaper didn’t really improve my reach – but I did clip Hans-the-wolf across the nose. He yelped in surprise and jerked his head back.
“That’s right, stay back!” I yelled. Possibly hysterically. I hoped not, though. I’m pretty sure showing fear in front of animals is a good way to get mauled. When Hans didn’t move fast enough I raised the newspaper and stepped forward menacingly. He scrabbled back to the foot of my bed.
For a minute I stared at him. He looked back at me reproachfully.
“This cannot be for real,” I told him.
Hans snorted, an oddly high-pitched snuffle. He started to move, and my panic spiked again.
“No: stay,” I snapped. Hans froze. “Uh… sit?” To my surprise, Hans settled back on his haunches. “This is so unreal,” I whispered incredulously.
Hans tilted his head inquisitively as I crept forward a step.
“Can you… understand me?” I asked.
“Can you talk?”
Hans made a low growl that ended in something like a bark. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end.
I swallowed. “Not in English, huh?” I took another step forward. I was still holding the newspaper defensively in front of me. “I’m, um… I’m going to try to touch you, okay?” The prospect was terrifying, but I had to know if this was real and I was already way past the point of not believing my eyes.
Hans nodded again and I hesitated.
“You’re not going to bite me or anything, are you?”
Hans shook his head.
“Okay,” I said. I lifted the newspaper threateningly. “But if you’re lying, so help me God, I will smack you hard,” I warned him. “So, uh, keep those paws and teeth where I can see them, mister.”
Hans grinned wolfishly, and no one can do a wolfish grin like an actual wolf. There were teeth everywhere. But it was almost worse when he stretched out his front legs, showing off massive paws that included proportionately enormous claws.
“Uh… on second thought, maybe you should put all those away,” I said weakly.
If anything, Hans grinned bigger. But then he laid down, crossing his paws and settling his head over them. He closed his mouth and his teeth were blessedly taken out of view.
“Thanks,” I said. Then I crouched down and stretched out to tentatively poke him in the forehead with one finger.
I snatched my hand back as soon as I ascertained that he was, in fact, solid. I laughed nervously. “Holy crap,” I said. Then I reached out again. This time I wasn’t tentative. I scrubbed my hand over Hans’ head, ruffling his fur. It was really soft.
“Hans!” I practically shouted. “You’re a werewolf!”
He sat up and barked in agreement, and grinned a big, doggie grin. It wasn’t scary at all – in fact, now that the shock was wearing off, I think I was more comfortable with the presence of Hans as a large canine than I’d been in the presence of Hans as a large man. How big a freak am I?
I ran my hand through his fur again. It really was very soft, and just… wow. Wow! Hans was a werewolf. He started wagging his tail again, and I realized I was scratching behind his ears. I stopped. Five minutes ago he had been a very attractive man I had wanted to do very bad things with. And that made petting him now really weird… as though the whole ‘werewolf’ thing wasn’t surreal enough.
I pulled my hand away hastily. “You aren’t getting off on that, are you?” I asked. Or maybe accused. I’ll admit I was a little out of sorts, and there was probably some overlap.
Hans pulled his head back and gave me a confused ‘what the… no’ look. He wuffled and shook his head.
I nodded slowly and stood up. “Okay,” I said, “Can you, um, turn back into a man or something? Because I have a lot of questions.”
Hans nodded. Then he stood up, stretched, and shook himself out. I hastily turned around. Watching a man turn into a wolf had been freakish enough – I didn’t think I’d be able to watch the process reverse itself and still eat tomorrow. Listening was bad enough. Hans didn’t scream or howl or anything like they do in the movies – but that meant I could hear bones cracking and flesh stretching and his labored breathing… and all the quiet, painful noises were far worse than any overdone cinematic depiction.
Finally, I heard a grunt – a purely human grunt – and I risked a glance over my shoulder. Hans was a man again. He picked himself up off the floor, using the edge of my bed as a prop.
He was still naked, too.
A naked man. In my apartment. Practically in my bed. How the hell was that better than the wolf?
I snapped my head back around and stared into my kitchen. I’d just kicked back into panic mode, and it really didn’t help that Hans was a huge naked man moving around somewhere behind me, but I couldn’t make myself look. My thoughts were about four parts ‘holy shit, Hans is a werewolf!’ to one part ‘holy fuck, that thing would split me in half!’ and I didn’t know which was freaking me out more.
I reached down and scooped up Hans’ t-shirt, then held it out behind myself. “And could you get dressed, too?” I asked.
I heard him moving around behind me, and then the shirt was plucked from my hand. I took a deep breath and waited, even though the paranoid part of me was screaming that if he was close enough to grab his shirt, then he was close enough to grab my wrist and then do God knows what else.
After a minute I turned around. Hans was sitting on the edge of my bed. He looked… embarrassed? But still sexy as hell. He wasn’t wearing his shoes, but his shirt and pants were in place. The only evidence of his transformation was how mussed his hair was, and hadn’t it been like that before? He was looking down and refused to meet my gaze. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought you knew.”
Oh, God. He sounded embarrassed, too.
But I just stared at him harder. “How could I know?” I yelled. “You’re a werewolf, Hans. That’s impossible.” Except that apparently it wasn’t. Because Hans was a werewolf.
Hans hunched down smaller. “But… you told me to turn into a wolf,” he explained. Sheepishly, I might add. “And you knew about Salvatore.”
My mouth opened and closed a couple of times before I could respond. “Hans,” I blurted, “I wanted you to wolf out like a man. I thought you were going to pin me back against the wall and tear off my clothes and make me feel like the heroine in a dime rack bodice ripper until I couldn’t take it anymore and begged you to stop!”
That made Hans look up. “Oh,” he said, stunned. Then: “Oh.” The second one was in a tone of voice I’ve heard guys use around Megan when they’ve been flirting and suddenly realize they’re about to get a lot luckier than they have any right to be.
“Oh, no,” I said – heading that one off at the pass. “Hell no. You’ve used up my ability to cope with new things for the rest of the year, and we’re not even done with the whole ‘werewolves are real’ thing.”
Hans grinned. As shocking as this had been for me, at least his confidence was bouncing back fast. “Alright. I can wait until tomorrow night to try again,” he said.
I blinked at him. Oh, yeah, tomorrow was New Year’s Eve. Cocky bastard. “Nope,” I said, even though a little part of me wanted to let him have that point. “I’m hanging out with Megan, remember? You won’t even see me.”
Hans tilted his head and arched his eyebrows. “But Megan heads your department,” he pointed out. “So I imagine she’ll be coming to the after midnight office party, and bringing you with her.”
I glared. I didn’t want Hans to be changing the subject, but he was – and he was right. Megan was good about social obligations. After the ball dropped at Club Luminescence she’d definitely want to swing by the office. Especially since it was also Mr. Salvatore’s early retirement party, and…
I felt my eyes go really, really big. “Hans,” I asked in a voice that seemed too tiny to be mine, “What do you mean, I knew about Mr. Salvatore?”
Hans’ good humor faded. He sighed, obviously resigning himself to the conversation ahead. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I really thought you knew. Salvatore is a vampire, Abigail.” He watched me closely, then closed his eyes and shook his head. “How was I supposed to know that you didn’t know?” He looked at me again. “You told me he was, yourself.”
“Because he isn’t!” I yelled back. “That’s just something I say because I’d rather give an irrational reason that everyone can laugh at than explain that I’m genuinely afraid of the man because I’m irrationally afraid of authority figures and he’s my boss.”
I was starting to hyperventilate. Mr. Salvatore was a vampire? What the hell?! I was trying to suck in deep breaths, but they kept getting shorter and shorter until I was spending so much time exhaling I was barely breathing at all. I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. My world was unraveling, and the worst part was that in my panic I was admitting things that I’ve never even said out loud to Megan.
I felt dizzy. I think I started to fall over, but somehow Hans was off the bed and at my side before I could hit the ground. He caught me and picked me up as easily as if I were a doll. The next thing I knew I was being deposited in my bed. That was good. My bed was a safe place. I wanted to curl up under all of the covers and shut out the world, because the world was fucking insane. I didn’t, though. I didn’t have enough self-control to uncurl and pull myself under them.
“Abigail?” Even though Hans was right there he sounded really far away. He seemed worried. Oh, hell. It had been years since I’d melted down in front of someone. I didn’t want to make him worry. I was going to feel really, really wretched about this later.
“Can’t breathe,” I managed to gasp. Hans disappeared. I don’t know where to, I was barely aware of anything outside myself, the bed, and the newspaper I was still clutching.
The newspaper. Had I really smacked a werewolf on the nose with a rolled up newspaper? I didn’t know which was crazier: myself or the world it seemed I lived in. All of my earlier adrenaline had bottomed out, leaving me with just the terror. I’d smacked a wolf on the nose with a newspaper! But Hans apparently didn’t want to kill me, and he was the wolf. And my boss was a vampire…. Or would be until Mr. Salvatore retired, and my boss became a werewolf.
Oh God. Hans was going to be my boss. My boss had pinned me against a door and had his way with my mouth and neck. I’d made out with my boss. My boss was a biter – and I’d wanted him to tear off my clothes and sink his teeth into me. Oh, God, I’d smacked my boss in the face with a rolled up newspaper.
I started breathing harder. Or it started getting harder to breathe. It’s the same thing, really, when you’re hyperventilating.
Hans reappeared. He took away my newspaper. So I guess now I really was defenseless. That didn’t help. Then he replaced the newspaper with the smaller bag from the steak house. I started breathing into it. It crinkled loudly when it inflated, and smelled like French fries when I breathed back in. That helped.
Hans sat on the edge of the bed next to me, hovering worriedly. The last time I’d had a panic attack in front of someone, it had been in front of Megan. She’d been worried about me, too. And taken care of me. It had been back in college, and we’d barely known each other then. She’d convinced me to go to a frat party with her – she’d even done up my makeup and everything. But when we’d gotten there, there’d been these guys… and Megan must have caught someone’s eye, because his buddy had swept in to take the grenade.
The wingman had been a really big guy. You know, the football scholarship frat boy jock type. He’d smelled like beer, even though the plastic cup he was carrying was full – he must have emptied it a few times before we’d gotten there. It didn’t matter. He’d still been fast enough to catch a shell-shocked me about the waist and pull me away from Megan one handed.
But Megan had rescued me and taken me back to the dorms, and when I hadn’t been able to keep it together long enough for her to go away she’d stayed and taken care of me. Even though we’d only known each other for a couple of days, and even though I’d ruined her evening. And we’d ended up becoming best friends, even though I’d fallen completely to pieces just because some drunk frat guy had swung me into a corner and squeezed my ass and tried to make out with me but ended up just slobbering on my face because I’d been trying to get away, and he’d asked – with a voice that slurred and breath that reeked – how many shots it would take to get my panties on the floor, and…
But that had been then, and this was now. And Hans was taking care of me. Even though I’d ruined his evening, and even though he barely knew me, and even though I’d just fallen completely to pieces just because he was a werewolf and my boss was a vampire and I was a neurotic ball of anxiety and fear.
So, hey, maybe this would turn out okay, too.