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Cora Roberts

Cora Roberts

Chapter One

Vomit, sunglasses and squids.

 

A lone water droplet slid down the plastic glass containing the scarlet slush masquerading as a Bloody Mary. I bet it the three dollars and twenty cents in my purse that the fifteenth and final guy to grace the chair opposite me would be on the nerdy side. They were nerdy and shy, or so far up their own ass they couldn’t see daylight.

I tapped the blunt pencil against the cheap clipboard to the rhythm of Miley Cyrus entering the room on a wrecking ball and glanced at the fourteen ‘noes’ accompanied by emojis. The first guy spoke in one syllable words and had a vague green tint to his pallor. I’d doodled the sick face with matching vomit. Number six sat like he was making space for the balls of Satan between his legs. He also wore sunglasses in a gloomy room at ten pm. He got the sunglasses emoji. The tenth guy had won the squid emoji, his legs were under the table playing a clumsy and unattractive game of footsie, whilst his hands behaved like spaghetti. That was the longest four minutes of my life. I would kill Sebastian. No car was worth this painful evening.

I sighed and ran through my to do list. At home, the pantry door needed straightening and the porch swing was crying out for a coat of paint and some WD40, so it ceased its incessant whining. That is what I should be doing, not speed dating in the local dive known as The Pit. It wasn’t actually called The Pit, but it’s what the residents of White Castle called it. Its official name was something flower related... The Orchid perhaps? Or Bluebell? But if you said you were going to The Pit, everyone knew you meant the dive bar opposite the town convenience store specializing in cheap liqueur and knock off perfumes. It boasted terminally sticky floors, served stale beer, and a vague sickly sweet odor clung to the air. The neon street lamps fought a losing battle against the grimy windows, leaving the room sheathed in shadows. It was the kind of place you showered off with a harsh loofah when you got home.

Metal screeched along the cheap laminate floor, which doubled as a dance floor on weekends. The sound set my teeth on edge. The chair continued its protest in a chorus of squeaky plastic as number fifteen took his place opposite me. I squinted at the clipboard and gave myself another three seconds before I won the bet with the cocktail. Three, two... he cleared his throat. I glanced up, irritated at being called out early. My breath caught as I took in a massive man sporting a five o’clock shadow. He was the epitome of masculine, and everything female inside me stood to attention. His muscles bulged under his crisp white Henley as he folded his arms and stared at me. His deep-set hazel eyes studied my face. I blinked, glared at the cocktail and prepared to lose my three dollars and twenty cents.

“Are you going to start or continue to impress me with your one man pencil band?” he rumbled.

My pencil paused, and my gaze snapped to his. A puddle of magic splashed into the surrounding air, the sensation like sizzling rain on my bare skin. Recognizing danger, mine flared in response. I fought it for control. No need to challenge him in a dive bar, how cliché. He narrowed his eyes. I stared at the stupid questions on the clipboard and swallowed. Showing weakness to shifters was like dangling a raw juicy steak in their face and daring them not to shred it. I would not be prey.

“What’s your favorite food?” I asked.

“Meat,” he growled. I smothered a laugh. Of course it was meat. Served raw and bloody would be my guess.

“What hobbies do you have?”

“Hunting.” Uh huh. I bet, just not with guns.

“What were you known for in school?” I squinted at the clipboard. Who the hell thought up these questions? And why was I only now just paying attention?

“Getting what I want.” Right, and something told me that was still the case.

“What’s your favorite color?”

He gazed into my eyes a beat too long, before scanning down my dress. Stupid low-cut neckline. I would kill Sebastian. “I’m swayed between green, copper and black right now.” He grinned, showing me a set of pearly whites and canines a smidge too sharp to be human. I was being treated to his charming side, I’m sure females usually rolled over and showed their bellies when he smiled at them. He leaned forward and caught a curl cascading over my shoulder, pulling it straight. Goosebumps erupted down my arms. “Is that your natural hair color?”

“Yep. Boobs are real too,” I said without missing a beat. The idiot glanced at my cleavage. It was a fair question. The deep copper tone looked enhanced, but he should be able to sniff out that no chemicals were used to achieve it. “What’s your favorite TV show?”

He released my curl, letting it spring back. “The nature channel.”

“That’s an entire channel, not a show.”

His lips twitched. “Finally, she sways from the questionnaire,” he drawled. Placing a giant hand on the clipboard, he pushed it to the table and leaned forward. He could shovel graves with those babies. Or lift a woman and wrap her around him like a burrito. Ugh. He scanned the fourteen noes I’d checked and a wicked grin split his face.

“Nobody catch your eye?” He pointed at the squid. “Not even squid boy?”

I fought not to squirm. “No.”

He tapped the number fifteen. “Still?” Arrogant asshole. At least he still fell into one category. Maybe I’ll just give the cocktail half the money.

“No.”

He sat back and ran a hand through his dark hair, the tips lighter from the sun. His brow furrowed as he regarded me. That’s right, I’m not falling for your uncharming ass. Hotness would only get you so far. A golden green rolled over his hazel eyes, so fast if I’d blinked I’d have missed it. But whilst he was assessing me, that move allowed me to peg him.

“Witch,” he finally said. Well, if we are going for insults.

“Kitten.”

He threw his head back and laughed. The deep booming sound caught the attention of the patrons of The Pit, and a stupefied silence coated the room. Figuring they had heard the practical roar from this male incorrectly, the humans shook themselves and restarted their conversations. It was human nature to rationalize the unnatural, to ignore the impossible, and they were adept at it.

We stared at each other, examining and weighing up strength, intelligence and ability. He was excellent at hiding his alpha status, if not for the unintentional magic splurge; I wouldn’t have known he was anything but human. A burly overgrown human with sharp teeth, but still just human. I managed my magic in a similar way. He would assess me as significant, but not a threat. 

Never let them see you coming. That was my grandmother’s advice, and when you finally showed your cards - be the biggest, baddest person in the room. Own your power and everyone else will follow you. Staring at the guy opposite me, I was sure this master plan would fail. Alphas liked challenges. Whilst I didn’t want to be prey, I also didn’t want to be a challenge. Indifference was my aim.

The buzzer sounded, signaling the end of this torture. I shot out of my seat and grabbed my borrowed pink Gucci handbag. “Nice to meet you,” I said in a weird goodbye. He swiveled in his chair and watched me walk towards the exit.

“The pleasure was all mine,” he rumbled. I shot a glare at him over my shoulder, expecting his eyes to be lasered to my ass. His stare collided with mine, I sucked in a breath and thrust my clipboard at Karen, the owner and organizer of The Pit’s answer to speed dating.

“No one you like?” she asked, scanning the sheet and glancing back at Mr. Big and Burly. I shook my head, slid one last glance at him and hurried towards the exit as he stalked my every move.

I flew out of the building into the sticky, late summer Louisiana evening and found Sebastian waiting in the silver Bugatti. I flopped into the driver’s seat next to him and sighed.

“You made it,” Sebastian said with a throaty chuckle, showing he knew exactly how difficult the last few hours had been.

“And you just lost your car for another month.”

“At this point you’ve driven her more than me, it’s more your car than mine.”

“I don’t want your handouts.”

“Did you meet anyone?” Sebastian asked, his Nordic blue eyes searching mine.

“I met fifteen someones.”

He sighed. “It wasn’t meant to be torture, Cora. You were there to enjoy yourself and maybe meet someone worth your time.” I spun the car around in the opposite direction and dropped the gear to speed away from The Pit just as the alpha stepped out into the car lot. Sebastian glanced at him, his lean body coiled and a growl curled up his throat. The alpha’s eyes flashed cat and a ripple of power skimmed over his flesh. For a second I wondered if he would pounce on the bonnet and challenge Sebastian. That would make for an entertaining end to a dull evening. I subdued an eye roll. Your first lesson, ladies and gentlemen: vampires and shifters loathed each other.

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