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Jul 22

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Barking Mad

In Beware of Wolf, we met Milo Duncan. In Dogs of War, Milo returned and brought with her the pack of canidae she runs with in England. I wanted to have backstories for the pack, even if it didn’t show up in the novel. A lot of the backstory didn’t make it into the novel, of course, but that’s no reason to deprive the readers! So here’s the first story featuring Milo’s British pack in their natural habitat. This takes place between the first two Underdogs novels, before Milo moves to Seattle and runs into Ariadne.

This story features all sorts of sexual shenanigans, including human/wolf relations. Read with caution!

Summary:

A British pack of canidae meet and pair off at a pub known as The Bulldog.

CHAPTER ONE

In the morning, when the fog was still thick on the streets, Anton Clarke unlocked the back door of his bar and propped it open with a milk crate. He moved slower in the mornings, grunting and exhaling as he shuffled through the dark back room. His hair, once flowing and golden, was now ash white and thinning on top. He still had the strong jaw that made him look like a nutcracker, but these days he hid it behind a scruffy blonde beard. He stepped out into the moist morning and searched for signs of his pack.

Behind the bar was a retaining wall that was high as Ant’s shoulders, holding back the thick forest from encroaching on the town proper, and he could hear movement from deep within the brush. The loading dock asphalt was slick from the rain that had fallen overnight, and he took a moment to breathe deeply before he went back inside to begin preparing for the day.

It was a quarter to six before he heard the first arrival. Claws ticked against the tile of the kitchen floor followed moments later by the padding of bare feet crossing to the mudroom. After that first arrival, the others arrived in short order. Sometimes alone, more often in groups of two or three. Their conversation lifted from the back of the bar as he put down stools and cleaned the taps in preparation of another long day.

The first to arrive was the first to emerge from the mudroom. Ryan Currier was so lanky that the sleeves of his borrowed shirt ended between his wrists and elbows. His hair was short on the sides and shaggy on top, resulting in a curly pinwheel of brown that constantly tumbled down over his forehead. He settled on a stool at the end of the bar and smiled weakly when Ant put a glass of water in front of him.

“How was the run?”

“As good as it could be, I guess.” He drank half the water, ran his tongue over his lips, and then looked at his hands. Ant noticed some mud was still caked under the nails. The mudroom had a long trough sink where the pack could wash up, but most mornings it was a rush for time and space.

Mia Cohen and Paige O’Brien were next, chatting quietly as they joined Ryan at the bar.
Paige had fashion-model good looks, with apple-cheeks and sparkling green eyes. Her hair, almost always braided when she was at work, was loose and wild around her shoulders now. It was wet with sweat from the run. The fire department shirt she wore was baggy enough to hang off one shoulder, the hem of it stretching to mid-thigh so she didn’t have to wear pants. Mia, on the other hand, wore a pair of sweatpants under a button-down shirt with the cuffs undone to balloon around her hands.

Ant gestured at Mia’s wet hair as she and Paige took a seat. “Did you take a dip?”

“Got a little muddy,” Mia admitted.

“What’s the point of running if you can’t have a little fun?” Paige said.

Eileen de Soto came out of the back room already dressed for work, her hair pinned up and glasses on. She glanced toward the bar as she made a bee-line for the door, smiling and waving goodbye as she slipped out. Ryan watched her go, then turned to see Ant, Paige, and Mia staring at him. He hunched his shoulders and looked into his glass, cutting off any attempts at conversation. Ant just assumed Ryan and Eileen were in one of their rough patches again. He wasn’t going to offer couples’ therapy.

Owen Kiernan was the next to come out. He was shirtless to reveal the lean muscles of his chest, the waistband of his pants riding low enough to reveal the paw print tattoo an inch below his navel. He had two other tattoos – ancient canidae text, or so he claimed – that ringed both biceps. He stepped behind Paige, put his arms around her waist, and kissed the back of her neck. She squirmed against him, chuckling throatily as his hands roamed over her stomach.

“Great run.”

“Yeah, it was all right,” she said. She twisted to kiss him, then hunched her back and shoved him away. “Off me.”

Owen chuckled and swatted her rear as he motioned for Ant to make him a glass.

The last one out of the back room was Millicent Duncan, called Milo by anyone who’d known her for more than five minutes. She was cinching tight her belt as she joined the others, dropping the hem of her tank top over the buckle before she straddled the stool. She was lean and muscular, with dark eyes and a wide mouth, her dark hair feathered on her cheeks and forehead like raven wings as she took the water Ant gave her.

“You oughta come out with us one of these nights, Ant.”

“I’m too old for that shite,” he grumbled. “This wolf’s bones couldn’t even think about keeping up with the lot of you.”

Owen snorted. “You’d run circles around us, old man.”

Milo checked the clock behind the bar and quickly finished her drink. “Gotta run. Boss man wants me to pick up a couple early shifts. Paige, can I bum a ride off ya?”

“Sure.” She winked at Ant. “Owen’s right. You’re more than welcome to come with us on a run some night. Especially last night. Hannah and the boys never even showed up.”

Ant said, “If I came out running with you, who’d be here to warm you up when you got done?”

Owen said, “We’d leave Ryan here.”

Ryan picked up a coaster and flicked it at Owen’s head. Milo and Paige left together, and soon the others began to filter out as well. Soon Ryan was the only one left, and Ant tapped his knuckle on the bar.

“Everything okay with you and the professor?”

“Eileen? Yeah. Everything’s fine.”

Ant stared for a moment, hoping to prompt more, but Ryan remained tight-lipped. Finally Ant shrugged and wiped down the bar. Tarun showed up a little after seven, exhaling sharply as he came through the door. He shook his head when he saw Ant, then groaned when he saw Ryan. “Dude, I know what you’re going to say.”

“It’s fine.”

“I missed a pack run. Didn’t call. But I had a date last night. And we overslept this morning. Couldn’t exactly say ‘sorry, bud, I have to head out and run through the woods with my friends.'”

Ant shook a finger at him. “And that is why we only date other wolves.”

“Date, yes,” Tarun said. “This wasn’t a date, this was just sex.” He put his apron on. “Were the others mad at me?”

Ryan shook his head. “Maybe if you’d been alone, but we had some other no-shows. Hannah and Benji.”

“Oh, great. Now I’m grouped together with Hannah and Benji? I’m never going to live that down.” He looked at Ant. “Sorry about leaving you to open up alone.”

“I’ll let you close down tonight.”

He sighed. “Fair enough. Rye, you want some breakfast?”

Ryan almost refused, but finally he gestured. “Let me see a menu.”

#

Paige was a firefighter, fifth generation, engaged to be married to Owen Kiernan. She had a plump bottom lip and high cheekbones that could have allowed her to pass for aristocracy if they weren’t so regularly coated with soot and ash from running into burning buildings. The fingers of her right hand were tilted like trees in a strong breeze because they had been broken and badly set. The fingers of her left hand were between Milo Duncan’s thighs, rubbing furiously as Milo squeezed her breast through her T-shirt.

They were in Milo’s apartment on the basis that they both had to change clothes before going to work. But Paige was off-duty, and Milo didn’t have to be in until noon. She spread her legs and stood on her toes before sinking down on Paige’s fingers with a grunt, baring her teeth before Paige’s tongue slid into her mouth again.

She was Paige’s first female lover, the result of a drunken conversation at her birthday party two years earlier. The conversation led to a birthday kiss, which led to the two of them hooking up in the backseat of Milo’s car. The next day Paige declared that she wasn’t going to break up with Owen, it had just been a one-time thing, and she most assuredly wasn’t gay. Milo agreed that she would keep her mouth shut.

Two weeks later Paige was in her bed.

That was the destination at the moment as well. Milo grabbed two handfuls of Paige’s shirt to pull her away from the wall, growling as she walked backward toward her bed. Paige nipped at Milo’s bottom lip, laughing as they fell together onto the mattress. She lifted both arms and Milo peeled the shirt up and off, chuckling eagerly as Paige pushed herself up and arched her back to guide her breasts to Milo’s mouth.

Milo licked a figure-eight around Paige’s nipple and took it into her mouth, sucking hungrily as she dug her fingers into Paige’s hips. Paige was muscular, her big tough firefighting chick, and Milo loved to rake her nails up and down her flanks. Never too hard… Paige’s skin was fair and marked easily, and it was hard enough keeping Owen from picking up Milo’s scent. Affairs were never easy, but affairs with all-canidaeparticipants led to more problems than most. It helped that Owen was dense and never looked too far beneath the surface.

They kissed again as Milo pushed down Paige’s sweatpants. She recalled a moment during the night, when the pack had trekked through a playground. The moonlit equipment looked like ancient monuments carved out of marble. Owen had rushed into the mud chasing Mia. Paige had gone under the slide in search of an intriguing scent. Milo had followed her and, in the darkness, had mounted her.

Paige had stayed down with Milo’s weight on top of her, both of them watching through the beams of the equipment as Owen cavorted nearby. Milo had closed her jaws around Paige’s neck, and Paige had squirmed. She finally pulled free, yapping at Milo as she ran back out to join the group. Milo had shook her fur before following her.

Now it was Paige’s turn to be on top. She got Milo’s pants open, then pushed herself up on her hands and knees. “On your belly, wolf.”

Milo complied, and Paige put her arms around her waist the way Owen had done to her in the bar. Milo reached up and braced her hand against the headboard, glancing over her shoulder as Paige met her eye. Milo grinned, and Paige stretched forward to kiss her as she pressed her palm against Milo’s mound.

They thrust against each other, Paige bringing her head down to bite Milo’s shoulder as she pushed two fingers inside her. The pack run had worked out most of their physical tension, but this moment was what they needed to feel truly relaxed. Frustration and need had built up until it needed to come out in one way or another, and Milo was more than happy to share the experience with her pack mate.

She came quickly, having been on the edge since climbing on top of Paige in the playground. She wasted no time in gaining the upper hand, twisting around and pushing up to lean against the headboard. She turned Paige around, let her settle between her legs, and began to assault Paige’s throat with her lips and tongue as she reached between her legs.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I smelled last night. Very, very wet, Paige…”

“What are you going to do about that, huh?”

Milo grinned. “I got a few plans worked out.” She used her forefinger and ring finger to spread Paige’s labia, then curled her middle finger and began to move it in wide circles. Paige arched her back and pressed her shoulders into Milo’s chest, grabbing the sheet with one hand while she pressed the other against Milo’s ass. She dug her fingers in, not caring if she left marks because Milo wasn’t cheating on anyone, lifting her hips to urge Milo’s finger deeper.

When she came, she sagged against Milo and exhaled, staring blindly up at the ceiling until she got her breath back. Milo stroked her stomach and thighs, idly kissing her neck and shoulder until she recovered. She gave a post-climax shudder and chuckled.

“Am I crushing you?”

“A little. In a good way.”

Paige sighed. “That was exactly what I needed.”

“Now what you exactly need is a shower. You reek of me, babe.”

“Owen’s going to be out all day. I got time.”

Milo slapped her hip. “Yeah, but I gotta get to work. And I don’t think you want Owen to smell you all over my hands.”

“Ah, right.” She craned her neck to peck Milo’s lips once more, then shifted her weight. Milo got out from under her and took a pack of cigarettes from the top drawer of her nightstand. She lit one, offered another to Paige who refused, and then stretched out, crossing her feet at the ankles as Paige rested beside her. “Thought you were going to shower.”

“In a minute,” Milo said. She reached down and stroked Paige’s hip. “I like you.”

Paige chuckled. “I like you, too.”

Milo took a drag off her cigarette and blew a plume toward the ceiling. Two years, off and on, they’d been fooling around with each other. Milo had been with other women during that time. She didn’t want to think about the logistics of loyalty in an infidelity situation. They weren’t going anywhere. She knew Paige would never leave Owen, no matter how much she liked flirting with the naughty side of the street.

But they had fun. Oh, they had fun. She lowed the thrill of cheating, the danger of possibly getting caught… it added something to the sex. She held the cigarette between her lips and looked down at their feet. Hers were tan, long and narrow, with ugly toes. Paige’s were the daintiest part of her, small and pink with toes that reminded her of pig tails for some reason. She was embarrassed by her girly feet, tried to hide them under thick socks and boots. Maybe that was why Milo liked looking at them so much after sex. It was the one time Paige didn’t try to hide her feet, which meant she was comfortable. And that made Milo feel like she had accomplished something.

She followed the length of Paige’s body up to her face, smiling when she saw she had fallen asleep. She settled back against the headboard and took her cigarette from between her lips.

They could afford to nap a little while before heading to work.

#

Eileen de Soto often went straight from the Bulldog to work, so she had three outfits stashed in the back of her Jeep. She didn’t know what she was doing running with such a young pack. She was in her forties, older by a decade than any of the other wolves she ran with. It was all Ryan’s fault. He invited her to be part of their group, and she’d been so lonely and isolated for so long that she couldn’t resist.

There was a lot about Ryan Currier she couldn’t resist, even when she knew she would be better off if she did. She’d been attracted to students before but she’d never given in to the urge as wantonly as she had with Ryan. Granted, none of the other temptations had been wolves. She smelled him as soon as he walked into the classroom, just a quick hint of something canidae drifting from the door to the stadium seating. She’d spent her entire lecture pacing back and forth trying to isolate the source.

When class ended, he lingered until everyone else was gone. He walked up to her desk and they stared at each other for a long moment, each confirming what the other had thought, and then he smiled. If she was honest with herself it was the smile more than the fact they were both wolves that made her cave in.

They went for a walk around campus to talk about their shared secret. He was twenty-two, almost exactly half her age, and Eileen knew there was no chance they would ever become anything. She had a harmless crush but she knew a young kid like him just saw her as a potential mentor. Every encounter was mentally prefaced by the fact that nothing would ever happen between them.

Then one day after class, he came into her cramped office and kissed her before the door was fully closed behind him. Her mind said things like how wrong it was, how young he was, how much trouble she could get into, but her hands fumbled with his belt and got his pants open before she allowed herself to be turned around and bent over her desk.

Afterward he blamed it on the wolf. She knew he was just using that as a way out, a way they could both save face and try to salvage what they’d had before. She considered taking the escape, but instead she threw her leg across his waist and climbed back on top of him for another round. He was young and eager – god, so eager – and he excited things in her that she’d never before let see the light of day. When she was in her twenties, sex was just something she did on dates. But with Ryan… sex was a game. It was thrilling and fun, and it made her feel lusty and wanton. The things they had done with each other… to each other… she blushed, but from arousal rather than embarrassment.

Their affair began in his first year. Now three years later he was nearing his BA in Classical Civilizations, and they were both all too aware of the fact he was leaving school soon. They would be forced to abandon the illicitness of what they were doing and decide if anything remained outside of it. Were they just a professor and a student breaking the rules, or was there something real underneath the rush?

She finished applying her makeup in the mirror of her private bathroom, smoothed her hands down the front of her suit jacket, and tucked her hair behind her ears. They had a few months before they had to make any hard decisions about their relationship. And they had gotten away with it for this long without getting caught. There was no reason to start panicking now and risk the life she’d made for herself.

For the moment she was just going to enjoy what they had and worry about defining things later.

#

Something wide, flat, and soft hit Hannah Milsap’s head, smothering her when she tried to sit up. Something else hit moments afterward, equally flat and soft, and she used both hands to peel it away to see what she was being assaulted with. She got her face free of the two shirts just as a pair of pants came up and hit her in the face as well.

“Mia! What the hell!”

“You missed the run last night.”

“I was up late.” She deflected a thrown sock with a slice from her right hand. “Cut it out! Stop throwing shit at me.”

Mia straightened at the foot of the bed, no longer hurling clothes but no less angry. “You’re going to be late for work. Again.”

“The beauty of owning my own business. Besides, no one wants a tattoo at nine in the morning.” She gathered all the clothes that had been thrown at her and kicked the blankets away. She put her feet on the floor and untangled the pants from the shirts. She considered the pants, then discarded them and picked up a pair of shorts instead. Mia, reassured that Hannah was actually awake and getting dressed, turned around and went into the kitchen to seek out sustenance.

Hannah put on her undershirt and tank top, stood up to shimmy into the jeans, and walked barefoot into the kitchen where Mia was pouring her a bowl of cereal.

“I don’t want cereal.”

“Then why do you have it?”

“I don’t know. You go grocery shopping, you buy cereal.” She shrugged and opened the fridge. “I want waffles. Do you know how to make waffles?”

“With what you have here? No one could make waffles.” She sighed and put the cereal box down. “We could go down to Jane’s. Do you have any money?”

Hannah barked a laugh.

“Then cereal it is.”

Hannah shut the fridge door. She put her arms around Mia and embraced her from behind, her head on Mia’s shoulder. It started out like hugging a steel beam, but soon Mia relaxed. She turned her head and kissed the peach fuzz on Hannah’s temple, then touched her arms where they crossed her stomach.

“I missed you last night. You know how much I love running with you.”

“Sorry. Thank you for coming to check on me.”

“Someone has to do it.”

Hannah let her hands skim Mia’s hips as she ended the hug. She ran her fingers over the design of Mia’s police badge – such a turn-on – and picked up her cereal bowl. It was better than nothing, and she really was hungry. “Thank you for my breakfast, Mia.”

“Sure.”

They sat together at the kitchen table. Hannah pulled one foot up into the seat, her knee bent in front of her as she held the bowl to eat. She could see their reflections in the window and once again wondered what people outside the pack thought. Mia was a tall, athletic brunette with serious eyes and thin lips. She wore tailored blouses and suits with pinstripes. Her long hair was pulled back into a bun. She was the picture of authority and strength.

Hannah, on the other hand, was dressed in a dirty T-shirt under a wrinkled blouse. Her hair was shaved on the sides but left long on top. Normally the tuft would be gelled or spiked, but she hadn’t had the time and it lay limp against her forehead. Mia was erect and Teutonic. Hannah was slumped and half-Chinese. Mia had things like ‘savings’ and ‘retirement plans,’ while Hannah had five hundred dollars and some change in a cigar box under her bed.

The only thing they had in common was their ability to change into wolves, and even that could have made them rivals instead of lovers. Mia liked having someone to take care of, and despite her stubbornness, Hannah liked to be taken care of. Somehow they had taken that initial connection and turned it into something real.

“Were the others mad I skipped out?”

Mia shook her head. “You know them. People miss days. But I felt like an odd one out.”

Hannah reached over and took Mia’s hand. “Sorry, babe. Want to go for a run tonight, just the two of us? Make up for it?”

Mia turned her hand over and stroked Hannah’s palm with two fingers. “I can think of something much better for us to do, just the two of us.”

“Hm. I kind of like the sound of that. Think you’ll get off early.”

“Depends on the criminals.”

“You’ll take them out.” She put her leg down and stretched across the table. Their soft kiss turned into something more, something deeper, and Mia groaned as Hannah grabbed the collar of her shirt to haul her onto the floor. The bed was only about ten feet away, but suddenly that seemed like nine and a half feet too far.

Mia let herself be deposited on the floor, wrists crossed over her chest as Hannah sat on top of her.

“I really have to be at work soon.”

“So we’ll make it quick.” Hannah grinned and began to peel off the clothes she had so recently squirmed into. After a moment of trying to be the grown-up, Mia began undressing as well.

“What the hell,” Mia whispered. “Not like I was going to solve any mysteries before lunch anyway…”

CHAPTER TWO

Ryan was fucking his teacher. Or at least he was, for another few months.

He lay on his bed, exhausted from a night with the pack but well aware he had classes in an hour. He didn’t have time to sleep but he could rest his body. He linked his fingers over his stomach and stared at the ceiling as he thought about Eileen, how it had started as a mentorship and then became something deeper. Wilder. They were friends as humans, but their wolves had made them lovers. He very clearly recalled the first time, both of them mostly dressed in her office. He’d come to his senses in the middle of it and realized what he was doing, but by then it was far too late to stop.

And once they had done it once, they might as well do it a second time. It helped that Eileen was gorgeous, and that she fucked like an animal. And God, could she be kinky. She liked him to call her Professor de Soto when they were having sex, and public places revved her engine. He closed his eyes and moved one hand down to his waistband, his long fingers resting over the crotch of his underwear as he thought back to the first time they’d run with the pack.

Bright moon overhead – they liked timing their group runs to the full moon, just for the mythological aspect to it – and a group of wolves weaving in and out of a group in a field lined on three sides by trees and on the fourth by a black-sand beach. They’d hit the water and drank, rolling in the water and then shaking to flick droplets off their coats.

Eileen had transformed then, standing nude in water up to her thighs as she walked over to where Ryan was standing in his wolf. She guided his head to her crotch and he licked her, getting over his initial misgivings about the bestiality of it all as he smelled her arousal. He found the angle of his neck and the shape of his snout actually made cunnilingus easier, his head fitting perfectly in the V of her thighs as he pressed his flat tongue hard against her.

She finally pushed him away, then turned and dropped to her hands and knees. He’d been running on instinct then as he mounted her, shoving his cock inside and thrusting without sense. He felt her body shifting underneath him, the skin flowing and becoming thick before her fur erupted out. She came as the wolf, and he came inside of her, baring his teeth in a grating and metallic howl.

Remembering the moment years later, in his bed, Ryan pushed his shorts down to free his cock. He stroked it slowly as he remembered the waves crashing over their joined bodies, matting their fur, hearing the sound of Eileen’s pleasure echoing off the trees. He came when he remembered how right it had felt to be with her like that, thrusting his hips into the air and then digging his heels into the mattress as he spurted weakly into the palm of his hand. He caught his breath, then reached for a Kleenex to clean up the mess he had just made.

That night, when they finally returned to their senses and detached from each other, he realized the rest of the pack was standing on the beach watching them. Paige and Owen were in the midst of their own recreation of the moment, having turned human before they started fucking, while Milo, Hannah, and Mia looked between the two couples with a jealous hunger. The next morning, Tarun and Benji hadn’t been able to look Eileen in the eye. It had been months before the awkwardness wore off, and Ant eventually had to tell them that sex was permitted while on a run, but a little discretion wouldn’t hurt.

Since then, they’d had sex with the others nearby a few more times. Milo had caught them more than once; she seemed to make it a game to know when they were doing it and finding them before they finished. Eileen had once joked about inviting her to join in, but Ryan – kicking himself for throwing a wrench into every man’s fantasy – said that Milo didn’t like cock and Eileen wasn’t gay. If they all stayed in their sexual comfort zones, it would end up being a very boring threesome.

Still. The most boring threesome in the world was still a threesome. Maybe for his birthday…

He sat up and tossed the Kleenex, standing up to pull his jeans on. He wondered about the basis of his relationship with Eileen. They still dated, they sat up late and talked about discussions from class. She was a brilliant woman, and he loved having access to her whenever he wanted. It wasn’t just about sex with them. If he called her at two in the morning, it was just as likely to be with a question about the Trojan War as it was to be for sex. From time to time she asked him to call her Helen when they were in bed, and she called him Paris. Those were the nights she liked to be tied up and pretend she was being forced from her home in the dead of night by a strapping enemy soldier.

God, she was a great teacher. But she was more than that. He wasn’t just fucking his teacher; he was having sex with a woman he found absolutely fascinating. If they ended things, he would never find anyone else who fit him so perfectly. They were intellectual twins, even if she was light-years smarter than him, they enjoyed the same things in bed, and they were both wolves. For three years he’d been lying to himself, saying he was just fucking his teacher. But when school ended, when she was just Eileen rather than his professor, he was going to be a man who was madly in love with a woman who was perfect for him.

Ryan smiled and finished dressing. He had to be in class soon, and Professor de Soto did not like it when he was tardy.

#

The cell phone chirped again and, even though he knew who it was likely to be, Benji Wood picked it up and looked at the display before deciding not to answer. The call came from the Bulldog, so it would either be Tarun asking where he was or Ant chewing him out for missing the run. He didn’t need to hear either one of them, not today. He had dropped onto the couch after dragging himself out of bed that morning, but further movement seemed out of the question.

He’d been fired up for the run all week. He had a speech planned and everything, a casual but momentous reveal that he’d finally made it. He’d pictured them standing in the mud room, sweaty and tired from the night’s big run. Maybe Owen would mention that Benji had been a little wilder than usual.

“Well, yeah, actually… about that–”

And then, four hours before they were due to meet up, he’d gotten a call. The director. Going in a different direction. He didn’t know how many different directions there were in the movie business, but they all seemed to be opposite the place Benjamin Wood was standing. For three shining days, he’d had the lead role in the movie adaptation of Ben Aaronovitch’s novel, Rivers of London. PC Peter Grant, London cop and fighter of the paranormal. It would have been his big break.

Then a “different direction” beckoned, and he was back auditioning for anyone who would sit still long enough to hear his monologue. Fucking hell.

He couldn’t face the pack. Granted, they hadn’t even known about the role, but he would still feel like a failure in their eyes. He should have told them right off, so at least they would have seen him as a potential star for a few days. Now he would have to bring it up from a place of defeat. “Almost got it, but guess for me it’s back to local theatre.”

Local theatre. “Fucking hell,” he said out loud into his ratty apartment.

He didn’t want to talk to Tarun or Ant, but Owen… he could talk to Owen. He picked up his phone again and dialed, ignoring the novels sitting on his coffee table. He’d bought them as research and ended up loving the damn things. He had the part before he knew how much he wanted it. And now it was gone again.

Owen answered on the third ring. “Benji! We missed you last night, man. It was just me and the girls. And Ryan.”

“Sorry. Something came up. Are you working today?”

“I could take an early lunch. What’s going on?”

“I just gotta talk about something. I figure you’re the only member of the pack who won’t just spew platitudes all over me.”

Owen laughed. “I’ll try to refrain, m’man. Where do you want to meet?”

Benji named a deli he liked and hoped it wasn’t too far out of the way. Owen was an electrician, so he didn’t really work out of a single office. He could have been anywhere in London at the moment. Owen didn’t object to his choice and they arranged to meet there in half an hour. Benji got off the couch and put on his shoes. Owen would tell it like it was. He would say quit moping, there’d be some other project down the road he’d want more, and he’d get that one. And coming from Owen, it wouldn’t be blind optimism or empty enthusiasm.

He left the apartment already feeling better.

CHAPTER THREE

Tarun went into the mudroom where the rest of the pack gathered to transform and change into clothes they kept in a small bank of lockers. The tile floor was streaked with mud and grass the others had brought in with them after their run. He went to fill the bucket and find the mop. It wasn’t technically part of his job at the bar, but cleaning up was the least he could do after skipping the run. He hadn’t lied about his reasons for missing their run, but he also hadn’t been entirely truthful. He knew full well accepting Jake’s offer to hook up would mean he’d miss a planned run, but that was one of his reasons for agreeing.

Back when the group first got together, he knew he was the odd one out. He was gawky and geeky, Indian and awkward. Paige was a firefighter, Mia was a cop, Hannah… hell, Hannah’s arms were covered with tattoos that told her life story. He was used to being the dorkiest person in the room but when even the women could kick his ass, he started looking for the exit.

But he couldn’t just leave. Ant paid way too well for him to just quit. And the animal in him did enjoy having a pack to run with. Then there was the matter of his glasses. He wore horn-rimmed glasses that caused Milo to call him Ward Cleaver for the first few months of their acquaintance. A few people thought they were just an affectation, but he truly needed them. That fact became apparent the first time he transformed from the wolf in a public park and couldn’t see three inches in front of his face. The wolf had perfect eyesight, which he supposed was a good thing. Couldn’t exactly blend in with the local pet population if he was a wolf wearing prescription lenses. But the second he changed back he was back to blind. He couldn’t count the number of nights he’d have spent in jail if it wasn’t for the pack.

But as much as he relied on them, he was also uncomfortable with how casual the others were about their nature. Yes, he was canidae and he’d been changing into the wolf for longer than he’d had chest hair. But that didn’t mean he had to like it. The first time he saw the Seinfeld where Jerry howled, “I am not an animal! I am a human being!”, he had cried. It wasn’t until later he found out it was from The Elephant Man, but it was still Seinfeld’s voice that sounded in his head every time he came to crouched naked in a field with his fingers sinking into mud, blind and confused about how he’d spent the last few hours.

He finished mopping up the mess and put away the mop and bucket. Ant was in his element, hanging in the smoky haze with the regulars who always showed up around mid-day and congregated at the far side of the bar. He saw Tarun and lifted two fingers to get his attention, then indicated his friends.

“Burgers with the works. Four.”

He gave a thumbs-up and went into the kitchen. He cooked up the burgers, buried the nearly-charred meat with lettuce, pickles, onions, and mayo before placing the plates on a tray and hauling them out. When he placed them in front of Ant’s people, the men grumbled gratitude to Ant as if he’d been the one to make them. Tarun was beyond caring about their casual indifference to him because of his skin color. He could tell from one sniff that they weren’t canidae, so he didn’t give a shit about their opinions. He just offered a smile and looked to see if there were other customers more worthy of his attention.

Owen and Benji were in a booth near the door, and he crossed to join them. Benji saw him coming and held out a hand, which Tarun slapped as he slipped in next to Owen.

“Sorry ’bout missing last night.”

Owen shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Getting laid is always a good excuse. Even if it is with another fella.” He winked to show he was joking as he took a sip of his beer.

Tarun noticed that Benji only offered a wan smile. “What’s up with this one?”

“Lost out on a big job.”

“Ah, man.” Tarun bumped the side of his sneaker against Benji’s under the table. “This just means you’ll be free for the next thing that comes along. It’ll be bigger and better.”

“Sure, sure. I’m just getting sick of being free. Know what I mean?” He looked toward the bar. “Owen convinced me to come here instead of sulking in a deli.”

“I’m glad he did. What good is a pack if you can’t get some commiseration out of ’em? When the movie you lost comes out, we’ll all head down to the theater and mock it for you. Toss popcorn at the screen, hurl obscenities at the hack they got for the role. We’ll get kicked out of the theater. All for you.”

“Don’t do that. You know how much ticket prices are these days? Wasteful.” But at least now he was smiling, which made Tarun feel victorious. Hannah was the only one who knew about his futile crush on their pack mate, so he was glad she wasn’t there to silently mock him with a knowing look.

Owen, oblivious to Tarun’s awkward attempt at flirting without flirting, suddenly pointed at Benji. “Hey! You know, they haven’t changed Doctor Whos in a while. It’s about time they had a black Doctor Who. You should try for that.”

Tarun said, “His name is just the Doctor. It’s not Doctor Who, like he’s a man named Who that went to medical school.”

“Well, whatever. That’s international. People in America watch Doctor Who. You’d be famous for real.”

Benji narrowed his eyes. “So I’m only famous if I’m famous in America?”

“If you can make it there,” Owen half-sang.

The door opened behind them and Milo wheeled her bicycle inside. She was dressed for work, sweating a little from the ride, and the two straight men at the table twisted to glance at her rear end before she caught them. Ant whistled through his teeth and pointed her to push the bike back outside. “Don’t track mud all over my floors, Duncan.”

“I gotta keep an eye on my deliveries,” she said, tapping the packages in the basket hanging under the seat.

“Nope.”

Milo rolled her eyes and compromised by leaving it next to the door. She gave Ant a ‘happy now?’ hand gesture and spotted the men in the booth.

“Oi, wankers.” Her gaze lingered on Owen before suddenly cutting away. She put her hand on Tarun’s shoulder and leaned down to faux-whisper in his ear. “I’d blow you for a burger.”

“Promises, promises,” he said as he slid out to take her order. Milo hesitated before she took his seat, sliding in next to Owen and linking her hands together on the table. “So what are we talking about?”

“Benji lost another role.”

“Ah, bloody hell,” Milo said. “Sorry, mate.” Owen bent down and sniffed Milo’s shoulder. She cringed away from him. “We’ve really got to talk about appropriate public behavior, pup.”

“Is this Paige’s hoodie?”

“Yeah, yup.” She pinched her thumbs and forefingers together and tapped them against the tabletop. “Borrowed it from her. I’m going to move my bike ‘fore Ant tosses it into traffic.” She escaped the booth and grabbed the bicycle, wheeling it through the door and out of the bar.

Benji watched her go and then pursed his lips, shaking his head. “Talk about a tragedy. Yowch. Wasted on other ladies.”

“Like you’d ever have a shot with her.”

“Hey, she’s seen me naked. She knows what I bring to the party.”

Owen laughed. “If that’s your top quality, you’re in trouble.”

Milo came back and casually took Benji’s side of the booth. He scooted over to make room for her and Owen pointed between them with his pinkie.

“Careful, Milo. He’s planning to entice you to switch teams with his magic John Thomas.”

“Aw.” Milo rubbed his thigh. “Sorry, Benji. I got one of those. Runs on batteries.”

Tarun came back with Milo’s burger and a bottle of water. He put them down in front of her as he dropped into his seat. “You owe me eight,” he said.

“I’ll pay Ant Saturday.” She stretched past Benji to get the ketchup.

“Hey, I already put mayo on it.”

“I know.” She squirted the ketchup under the bun, squished the burger back together, and took a massive bite. She was still chewing when she pointed between Benji and Tarun. “You know, we gotta go for another run soon ’cause of you two. It’s never the same when people are missing.”

“Don’t pin it on us,” Tarun said. “Owen said Hannah skipped out, too.”

“And I’m sure Mia’s giving her what-for on that, too. You boys don’t have a gal to scold you, so it falls to me.” She took another bite, the shape of her face distorted by her full cheeks. When she brought the burger back up, a dollop of ketchup dripped down onto the front of her hoodie. “Aw, cripes.”

Owen hissed through his teeth in mock terror. “Careful with Paige’s clothes. She’ll straight murder ya.”

“What? Oh. Right, Paige’s hoodie.” She wet a napkin with a Kleenex and dabbed at the stain. “I’m sure she won’t mind.”

“Your funeral.”

They talked about random things as they finished eating, with Milo eventually putting a napkin in the collar of her shirt to catch any more drops of ketchup so Owen would shut the hell up about it. When she was done she wiped her hands on a napkin and pushed the empty plate toward Tarun.

“Smashing. Absolutely tops. But now I have to go burn off the calories with a few deliveries. Ta.” She kissed Tarun on top of the head when she got out of the booth.

“I’ll walk you out,” Benji said.

“I think I know the way, but come on.”

She unhooked her bike from the pipe she’d chained it to, bending down to check the basket underneath. She only realized after she stood up that she’d given Benji another chance to ogle her buttocks. She decided it didn’t bother her; let the boys look so long as they didn’t try to touch. She took her helmet off the handlebar and smashed her hair down with it.

“So honest, Milo. What would it take?”

“What?”

“To, you know… toss everything out the window and give me a go?”

She smiled at him. “Castration? Nah, even then…” She shook her head as she fastened the helmet in place. “What would it take for you to blow Tarun?”

“That ain’t the same.”

“Cause it’s a boy, and gay boys are gross but lezzies are hot?”

“Well. Yeah.

She put her hands on his shoulders and looked him square in the face. “You’re a sweet guy, Benji. A sweet… guy. You deserve a girl who won’t have to make a massive allowance just to get into bed with you. And I’ve seen what you’re carrying around. Some lucky girl is going to appreciate that.”

Benji stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed. “You know how I feel about you, Milo.”

“Yeah. I wish you didn’t.” She patted his shoulders and climbed onto the bike. “Look at the bright side. You still get to see me naked every time we change. Put it in the spank bank. You have my permission.”

He smiled. “Right. Thanks, Milo. For lettin’ me down easy, I guess.”

She put her finger against her helmet and saluted him. “Next straight girl that shoots me down, I’ll send her your way.”

“Appreciated.”

He watched as she rode away, then turned around and saw Owen and Tarun’s faces in the window just as they pulled back out of sight. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, silently imploring the heavens to give him just one non-humiliating moment that day. He didn’t have high hopes as he walked back into the bar where he was sure the guys would make him relive Milo shooting him down until some other amusement grabbed their attention.

#

Eileen tried to avoid looking at Ryan during class, but it was like trying to unsee a celebrity at a crowded restaurant. Her eyes kept betraying her, drifting to where he was sitting at his desk, spine straight with one arm draped over the back of his seat. He exuded confidence, sexiness, and when he caught her looking at her he smiled in that way he had that made the backs of her knees sweat. He’d passed by her desk when he came into class and she’d smelled the sex on him, knowing he had masturbated recently and feeling her body’s response to the knowledge.

She made it through her lecture by rote, occasionally glancing down at her written notes to ensure she was on the right track. It was as if she’d set a recording to play and just had to check every now and then to make sure it wasn’t skipping. No one seemed to notice the robotic nature of her voice, although she sensed Ryan knew and assumed he’d done it to her. In reality she was thinking about the end of their relationship, whether she should prepare him for the end now or if she should wait until graduation for the “well, that was fun, but–” conversation.

The first way would be more honest, and it would give him a chance to get over her. Even if they stopped screwing and he graduated out of her class, they would still see each other in the pack. She wanted to ensure it went as smoothly as possible for that reason alone. She thought about her off-the-cuff offer to have a threesome with Milo. If she could suggest the same with another straight woman, and then direct Ryan to focus more on the new lady, his young male libido would do the rest.

That could actually work. If she could make Ryan see her as the older woman, the much older alternative to a firm young co-ed…

No. She was too vain for that. She loved that Ryan found her sexy, and changing his mind would be a blow to her own ego.

I want him to desire me, but be okay with leaving me. You’re a real catch, Eileen.

Ryan lingered when she dismissed the class, and she stood behind her desk gathering her things and pretending not to notice he was still at his desk. Once the room had emptied around them she finally looked up.

“Was there anything else I could help you with, Mr. Currier?”

“I think you could help me a lot, Professor de Soto.”

She felt hot under her collar, tried to ignore it. The best, truest, most honest thing to do would be cutting it off early. It would give them time to have a few post-breakup fuckings before they finally separated for good. But instead she closed her briefcase and snapped the locks shut with a loud click.

“I have a very busy schedule. You can tell me what you need while you walk me to my car.”

He slung his bag over his shoulder and came down the bleachers to join her at the desk. God, but he was beautiful. Young and lean and so eager to please. She’d been with younger men in the past, but none young enough to be her student. Hell, he was practically young enough to be herchild. Best not to think on that too much, not unless they decided to make it kinky. They’d done role-play before; was Ryan up for a little game of incest?

God, you’re a sick woman, Professor de Soto.

Thank you… I should be punished.

She tightened her jaw and rolled her eyes. Now she was even flirting with the voice in her head. She needed to get this under control. She wasn’t even this randy when she was in heat. She slung her bag over her shoulder and indicated Ryan should lead the way out of the class. She locked the door behind them and walked him through the quickly-emptying hallways. Other classes were due to begin soon, so they had the parking lot mostly to themselves when they arrived at her car.

“Get behind the wheel.”

“Am I driving you somewhere?”

“Oh, you’re going to take me somewhere,” she said.

He got into the car and she looked around as she quickly reached under her skirt to peel her panties down. She stepped out of them and followed Ryan into the car. She threw a leg across his lap, her back hunched against the roof as he moved a hand between them to unzip his pants. She stroked him to hardness as his hand disappeared under her skirt, and she grunted as his middle finger pushed inside her. She closed her eyes and moved against his finger, the steering wheel digging into her back as she brushed his hand aside and then guided him to her.

Ryan lifted his hips as Eileen sank down onto him. She was well aware that a faculty member could come out and catch them, that a vindictive student could spot the car rocking through a window and report them. She hoped for that, not just for the thrill of being caught but because then it would be the University telling them to cut it out. She would be absolved of guilt.

She put one hand against the roof, the other on his shoulder, and moved herself against him. He kissed her breasts through her blouse and bra, and she pushed her hand up his neck and into his hair. Come on, she whispered to the universe. Professor Bird, I know you like to sneak out and have a fag during your last class. C’mere. See me fucking this goddamn beautiful student. Turn me in.

“Spank me,” she said out loud.

“What?”

“Spank me, Ryan.”

He looked down, twisting his head one way and then the other. “I-I don’t… think the angle… I don’t have–“

“Spank my ass, you little bitch.”

He managed to get his arm around her and awkwardly swatted her through the thick material of her skirt. She rolled her eyes; it had stung more sitting on a wooden stool.

“Come on, give it to me.”

Ryan pushed up her skirt, grabbed a handful of her bare ass until the skin stung, and then he gave her a glancing blow that made her back arch. She bumped her head on the roof and moved her hand to rub the spot where she’d made contact.

“Good boy!” she laughed. “Yeah, dig in there.”

He pressed back against the headrest, lifting his body as she pressed down onto him, squeezing his cock as it began to throb. She met his eye and nodded, giving him permission, and his eyes closed as he came. Her jaw dropped as he filled her, and she moved a hand under her skirt to touch her clit with two fingers. As he finished, his body sprawled under her, she bared her teeth in a primal growl as she came. She patted the side of his head as she caught her breath, his cock still fully inside her, and she sagged back against the wheel. She was careful to keep her back arched so she wouldn’t accidentally press the horn as she tucked a few loosened strands of hair behind her ears.

“Did that answer your question, Mr. Currier?”

“Yes, Professor de Soto. It was very helpful.”

She grinned. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, screwing around until graduation. He was a young kid and she was an old woman. As soon as he got his degree and looked out at the big wide world, he would pull away. He would jump ship and swim as fast as he could for shore. Some twenty-something bimbo with fake tits would crook her finger and he’d–

“We should get married.”

She stared at him. “We should what?”

“Married. When I’m graduated.” He reached up to touch her face but she twisted away and put her palm against his to gently push it away.

“Are you mad?”

He sat up. “Madly in love with you, Eileen de Soto.”

She could only stare at him. “You’re serious.”

“Of course I’m serious. Marry me, Professor de Soto.”

Eileen suddenly wanted off of him, out of the car. She opened the door and stumbled out, tugging down her dress as she felt a horrible trickle down the inside of her thigh. What had she been thinking, screwing in a car in broad daylight? Dozens of classrooms looked down on the parking lot, an L-shaped gallery of potential witnesses. She motioned for Ryan to get out of the car and he tucked himself back into his pants before he complied.

“What’s wrong? I thought things were going well.”

“They were! They could have gone perfectly fine, you ass. Marriage. Marriage? I don’t want to marry you, you twit.”

Ryan recoiled as if slapped. “What… I thought you loved me.”

“I loved fucking you,” she sighed in defeat. “You’re a great lay, and you’re willing to try anything, and that was fun. And you’re young. And I liked the way you looked at me like I was still desirable. But I’m not going to marry a child.”

He was blushing furiously, looking everywhere but at her.

“Guess I was wrong about a lot of things.”

She slumped against the car, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m not entirely blameless. Could have made sure you knew what this was going in. I’m sorry.”

“I should go.”

“Ryan…”

He shook off anything she was about to say and turned around, skulking between the cars until he disappeared around the corner of the building. Eileen pushed both hands through her hair and growled in her throat again, looking up into the overcast sky before she kicked her foot against the asphalt. Her eye was drawn to the right by movement in one of the windows, and she spotted a student looking down at her.

She raised her middle finger to the wanker, who returned it to her. She turned her back and opened the car door, sliding into the seat that was still warm from Ryan’s body. She slapped her palm against the top arc of the steering wheel and rolled her neck. She needed to go home, have a hot bath, read a book or watch a movie… she just needed to relax. She’d gotten what she wanted, just not in the way she would have chosen.

It would be fine in the long run. Ryan would get over his hurt feelings and life would go on. She just hoped she hadn’t lost the pack when she rejected his proposal.

CHAPTER FOUR

Milo undid the strap on her helmet but left it on as she strolled across the lobby to reception. Justine was there as always, pert and ginger and with a smile wide enough to show all her teeth when she saw Milo walking toward her. Even in her hoodie and bike pants, Milo felt like a starlet as she placed the package on top of the chest-high desk that separated her from the cute receptionist. She crossed her arms on top of the desk and rested her chin on her hands like Linus at the brick wall in those Charlie Brown cartoons.

“Confess. You make these dull lawyers order things just so you can see me.”

“Oh, no,” Justine said in her sweet Scottish brogue. “I tell ’em to use one of the big delivery companies so I don’t have to deal with your shameless flirting.”

Milo puffed out her bottom lip. “How can you say such awful things to me?”

“It’s easy.” She took the package, checked the recipient, and punched a code into her phone. “Chelsea? Mr. Donnelly has a package at the front desk. All right, dear.” She hung up and put the package in a cubby hole, then faced Milo again. “What are you still doing here, bike girl?”

“Watching you. You’re gorgeous.”

“Stop.”

“Ravishing.”

Justine laughed and shook her head. “You’re a bloody liar, Milo Duncan! Now get outta here ‘fore I have security kick you out.”

Milo pressed her fingers to her lips and blew Justine a kiss. “Until next time, darlin’. I’m wearing you down a little at a time. I will have you yet.”

“You’re a bad person, Milo!” Justine’s cry echoed off the walls of the lobby.

She waved over her shoulder as she walked back to the doors. Justine was straight, but she’d noticed Milo wearing a Radiation Canary t-shirt one afternoon and commented on the lead singer being out. Milo said that was why she was wearing it, because she liked supporting out celebrities, and that led to her revealing she was gay. Justine confirmed she was an ally, and Milo joked that otherwise she would have had to start flirting with her. Somehow that threat had turned into a game between them. Milo pretended to be a leering, predatory lesbian while poor straight Justine had to fend off her advances. As long as Justine wanted to keep playing, Milo was more than happy to do her part.

Of course the game was much more fun when played for real stakes. She hadn’t intended to seduce Paige. She liked Owen, and a part of her felt bad about what she was doing to his relationship. Not bad enough to stop, of course. Paige was a good little straight girl, eager to please. But she dreaded the inevitable fallout when Owen discovered the truth.

Once outside Milo took out her phone to find and plot her next destination. She saw that it would take her past Hannah’s building and sent a text update to Home Base that she would be making the next drop-off in half an hour. She climbed onto her bike and pushed off the sidewalk, slipping back into the groove as she started pedaling. Her thighs burnt, and she knew by the end of the day they would be like stone. Her back would ache and her head would pound from all the exhaust fumes she’d inhaled, but she wouldn’t trade the job for any other. She was out in the city, riding her bike, occasionally dropping in on real life and the nine-to-fivers.

Her skin smelled like sunshine, her exposed arms baking to a crisp brown in summer. She liked tracing through the lines of the city like a rat in a maze, bouncing from one destination to another. At one point she reasoned she had been in more of the city’s buildings than anyone else. Well, except for other bike couriers, of course. And finding her way during the daytime made it easier for her to navigate at night when she was the wolf. Cycling gave her an innate sixth sense about where things were, and she was able to access that information even when the wolf was in charge of her mind.

She swept around the back of a bus, holding her breath as she passed through the cloud of exhaust, and hopped her wheels up onto the next sidewalk. She figured it would take her ten minutes to reach the next destination, plus three minutes to make the detour to Hannah’s apartment. That left her at least fifteen minutes to stop and say hi-missed-you-last-night-we-need-to-do-it-again before she had to be back on the road.

#

“Tell me a story.”

“Which one?” Hannah lifted her arms into the air above them, letting the sleeves of her peach-colored T-shirt fall back to fully expose her arms. Her tattoos trailed from wrist to shoulder, weaving in and around each other. They were multi-colored, intricate, and filled with details that were easy to miss unless one happened to get right up close. Mia did just that, curling her legs up so that her knees were tucked against Hannah’s hips. She bit her bottom lip, scanning the hieroglyphic ink. She took Hannah’s arm and turned it slowly, then pointed at a small shell-shaped swirl.

“Tell me that one.”

“Ah. That one is actually these three.” She touched them with her forefinger, middle finger, and pinkie to indicate the shell, a Chinese character, and the silhouettes of an adult and a child holding hands. “Once upon a time there was a little girl who was half Chinese, even though she’d never been to China. One day her wai po, her mother’s mother, took her to the beach. She pointed into the distance and she said to the little girl, ‘That is where you came from.’ She picked up a shell, a perfect and shiny thing the girl had never seen before, and she said, ‘this came all the way from your home shore, and it has a message for you.’ She put the shell to the little girl’s ear and said, ‘These are the whispers of your people. When you can hear them, they’re never far away.'”

Mia smiled. Then her smile wavered and she lifted her head to look at the shelf above the nightstand. She’d seen the shell before but had never really paid much attention to it.

“Is that the same shell?”

“No. I lost that when I was very little. But I got a new shell. Now when I listen to it, I imagine it’s wai po‘s voice.”

Mia stroked the line of the shell on Hannah’s arm. “I love that story. Are they all true…?”

“Not all of them. Some are myths, and a few of them represent stories from books I love.” She touched one on the backside of her arm, a shining door with a London tube sign next to it. “This is Neverwhere.”

“Mm. Good book.”

Hannah nodded and pointed to a rabbit. “This–”

“Don’t. I don’t want to know them all right now. I want to learn them slowly.”

“Okay.” She put her arm around Mia and kissed her forehead. “You’re going to be late for work.”

“Fuck work,” Mia grumbled. She dragged her fingers over Hannah’s stomach. “I want to sit around the apartment with you all day. Learning your stories.”

“But the criminals. If they win, you’ll never forgive yourself. And then you’ll have to don a costume and take to roaming the streets at night as a masked vigilante of… of justice.”

Mia laughed. “You could be my Lois Lane.”

“Fuck that. I’m no damsel.” She touched Mia’s jaw and tilted her head up so she could kiss her. “Go to work. Only one slacker bitch in this relationship, and I called it a long time ago.”

Mia groaned and pushed herself up. “You’re no fun.”

“I’m loads of fun. You just have to earn it.” She put her hand on Mia’s back and dragged her fingers down to the small tattoo just above Hannah’s hip. She remembered giving it to her, before they were sleeping together, sitting in the booth with only the hum of the needle gun breaking the silence. Hannah with her shirt pushed up, bent over the padded chair, the waistband of her pants pulled down just enough to show the curve of her buttock.

The tattoo was the Chinese character for wolf outlined in gold, a color representation of the badge Mia wore on her other hip.

“Why Chinese?” she had asked.

Mia had shrugged, her chin resting on her folded wrists. “I dunno. It’s the done thing, right? Chinese tatts that no one can translate. At least with you I know it’s actually the right word and not some trick.”

“The Chinese symbol for Drunk Party Girl.”

Mia laughed. “I like you, Hannah.”

“Good.” She pursed her lips. “I thought you didn’t trust me or… whatever. You’re a cop and I’m a shiftless tattoo artist covered in ink. I always thought you were giving me the side-eye.”

“I was. But not because I was suspicious of you.”

“No?”

“I’m intrigued by you. I wish I was more like you.” She turned her head so that her cheek was on her hand. “Free. Fun. Eh, beautiful. But not much I can do about that.”

“You’re gorgeous. Are you kidding me?”

Mia sneered. “Nah.”

Hannah sat up straight and put her hand on Mia’s hip, letting it linger long enough for the warmth to transfer from her skin to Mia’s. Mia turned to look at her, and Hannah leaned in so she could whisper.

“You’re beautiful. And knowing you looked at me with any kind of interest? That makes me feel good. Real, real good.”

They held the stare for a moment and then Hannah looked away. She put her hand on Mia’s shoulder to keep her down, then leaned in to finish the tattoo.

After the artwork was done, Mia hitched up her pants and buttoned them again. She reached for her billfold and Hannah stopped her with a wave of her hand.

“On the house. Pack discount.”

“You sure?”

Hannah nodded and gestured at the empty store. “We did it after hours, you didn’t take me away from any other customers, so yeah. Wear it well.”

“I will.” She rubbed her hand over her hip. “Have dinner with me?”

“Yup.”

Mia smiled. “Great.”

Now Mia slipped on her panties and bent forward to retrieve her shirt, still buttoning it when there was a clatter from the living room window. Mia was already up, so she reached the window first. She had a fairly good idea who it would be and was unsurprised when Milo waved at her from the fire escape. She undid the latch and pushed the pane up.

“Are you chiding her for missing the run last night?” Milo ducked her head into the apartment but remained perched outside. “Because if your punishment includes you being pants-less, you’re doing it wrong.”

“She apologized. Like, really well.”

“Yeah, I bet. Hannah.”

Hannah waved as she entered the living room, also pants-less under her baggy peach T-shirt. “Sorry I missed the run. Next time, though.”

“Benji and Tarun missed, too. I was thinking we could put together another run sometime really soon. Like maybe… tonight really soon?”

Hannah and Mia exchanged looks.

“Come on. It’s been ages since the all of us got together as a pack. We need to refresh our mojo. Remember what it’s like to chase each other ’round. Hannah… come on. You know you’re itching for it.”

“Who elected you camp leader?” Hannah said.

“Some have greatness thrust upon them. If I can get everyone else on board–”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll make sure I’m free tonight.”

Mia nodded. “Me too. Been a while since we did a two-fer. I’m actually already looking forward to it. Say nine?”

Milo reached in and slapped her palm against Mia’s. “Great. I’ll let you know if the others are on board before nightfall. Put your pants on and go to work. Crime is a-foot.”

“Aye, gremlin at the window.” She put her hand on Milo’s face and pushed her out, waving goodbye after she had pushed the glass back down. Milo stuck her tongue out, twisted, and descended the fire escape ladder like a monkey skimming down a tree. Mia watched to make sure she reached the ground in one piece, backing away from the window only when Milo was back on her bike and underway.

“Now you have to do it,” Mia said. She slung her arms around Hannah’s hips and swayed with her, leaning in to kiss her lips. She affected a sloppy American accent. “I wanna run wild with you, baby.”

“Mm. You know what you look like in the moonlight? Like the first canidae ever let loose on the world. You’re ancient and you rule the countryside.” She bared her canines and then touched the tip of her tongue to her upper lip. “I love you, but your wolf? I worship your wolf, baby.”

Mia grinned and kissed her again. Hannah slipped her tongue into Mia’s mouth, and Mia released a frustrated groan and twisted away from her.

“I really, really have to get to work, and you have to get to the shop. As much as I’d rather stay here all day with you–”

“I know. I’m a bad influence. But that’s why you love me so much.”

“And for the record, Hannah? You have a gorgeous wolf, too.” She winked and pinched Hannah’s cheek before turning to get the rest of her clothes out of the bedroom.

#

The bell over the door chimed as Owen entered Hannah’s shop. She was at the counter with a customer, going through a book of images. She lifted her chin to greet him, then held up a finger to ask if he’d wait. He nodded and wandered to the pictures on the wall. She leaned toward wolf and moon-themed art, naturally, but she could make a beautiful tattoo out of just about anything. He’d been thinking about a new one for a while, but he wasn’t quite sure about the design. He was tempted to just tell her to do whatever she thought would be right. He trusted her more than he trusted himself when it came to body art.

She approached him when she was done with the customer. “Where do you want it, boy?” she asked in a Western drawl.

He reached up and slapped his right shoulder. “Not sure what I want, though.” He pushed out his jaw and raised an eyebrow, glancing at her. “Any suggestions?”

Hannah rubbed the side of her nose next to her right eye. “What do firefighters call that thing? That symbol, the… badge or whatever?”

Owen had to think for a moment. “Cross… some kind of cross.”

“You could get one of them, with Paige’s initials.”

He considered that and then nodded. “Could, could.”

Hannah glared at him. “How long have you been screwing that girl? Three years? It’s time for some kind of commitment.”

“Yeah. She’s probably getting tired of waiting.” He crossed his arms, hands cupped under the opposite elbows as he pictured the cross on his right shoulder. “All right. I think that’ll be the next one I get. I can always count on you, Han.”

“Thanks, Chewie. I’ll look at some pictures and practice drawing it a little. We’ll do it Saturday, cool?”

“Cool with me.” He held out his hand and she hooked her fingers over his and they snapped apart. “I gotta get back. Boss is hounding me.”

“Wordplay.” He started to step around her to the door, but she remembered something and grabbed his sleeve. “Oi. Milo wants all of us to try getting together tonight for another run since me and the other boys skipped out. Whole pack this time. You in?”

“Sure. Always up for an extra run. What time?”

“Mia and Milo thought nine.”

“Works for me. Have time for dinner. Maybe I won’t eat anything disgusting this time.”

Hannah stuck her tongue out, remembering the last time Owen had eaten something wild and alive on a run. The mudroom had been like a deleted scene from Saw. “That would be good for all of us. Spread the word.”

He snapped his heels together and saluted. “I’ll let Paige know.”

“Right. And I’ll see you Saturday for your new ink.”

“Can’t wait.”

He left, and Hannah returned to the customer at the counter. “Sorry ’bout that. Have you found something you like? Ah, gorgeous…”

#

Paige was hiding. She knew if she stayed at home Owen would find her, and she liked to put a few hours between fucking Milo and hanging with her boyfriend if at all possible. She went to the firehouse, her safe haven even though she wasn’t on-duty. The lieutenant was surprised to see her, but he was happy to let her do some of the scut-work that no one else wanted to do. She changed into her uniform pants and a dark blue T-shirt, hair pinned back, and set to washing the engine. She was lost in the hypnotic swirl of soap on the side of the engine when a hand slid up between her shoulder blades as an arm snaked around her waist.

She tensed and twisted away, swinging the sponge around as a weapon. “Wanker…” She relaxed when she saw it was Milo, and then her body tightened for a different reason. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I was riding past and saw your truck out back.” She gestured toward the parking lot with her chin. She was dressed for work in her bike gear, helmet canted rakishly to one side, sweat glistening on her throat and face. Paige squeezed the sponge in an effort to restrain herself, but damn if the wolf didn’t look tasty. Milo noticed the reaction and dragged the back of her hand over Paige’s arm.

Paige twisted away and growled through clenched teeth. “Stop. Owen’s mates work here. You can’t be playin’ grab-ass like that. What if someone sees you?”

Milo pouted, but withdrew anyway. “I just wanted to see if you were up for another run tonight. Hannah and Mia are both in, we’re seeing if everyone else is available. It needs to be the whole pack again.”

Mia nodded slowly and looked out the open garage doors. “Yeah. Know what you mean. Benji and Tarun in?”

“Haven’t talked to them yet, but they were feeling pretty guilty at lunch. Bet I could convince them to show up.”

“What time?”

“Nine o’clock.”

Paige nodded and turned her head at the sound of a heavy engine. Her eyes widened when she recognized the logo of Owen’s electric company on the side of the truck.

“Bollocks. It’s Owen. You have to hide.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s weird that you’re here.”

“Only because I’m fucking you on the side,” Milo said under her breath. “If he doesn’t know that, nothing’s weird about it.”

Paige pleaded with her eyes, and then said, “Milo… come on. Don’t do this.”

Milo sighed and moved quickly around the back of the truck. She had only just concealed herself when Owen got out of the truck and strolled into the garage.

“Hey sweet stuff. I thought you were off today.”

“I was. But I got bored, so I thought I’d come make myself useful.” He slipped his hands under her arms and bent to kiss her. She closed her eyes until he pulled back, then smoothed her hands over his chest. “So, um, what are you doing here?”

“Apparently Milo is trying to get us all together for another run tonight. We were all pretty bummed about Hannah and Tarun and Benji skipping last night, so she’s trying to make up for it. Hannah and Mia are in, Milo of course… I’ll be there if you will.”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” It was the truth; she was apparently a rare canidae who loved being the wolf as much as being human. There were days when she would transform just so she could curl up on the couch and nap. It was like meditation to her. Shutting off her brain, giving up human responsibilities, and just giving in to the most primal parts of her mind. It was damned freeing, and she always felt rejuvenated when she returned to human form. She couldn’t understand wolves like Tarun that seemed to be ashamed of their ability.

Owen kissed her. “I’ll let you get back to work. If you get off in time, I’ll take you out to dinner before we meet up at the Bulldog.”

“Italian.”

“It’s a date.”

“And we’re running at nine?”

He tilted his head to the side. “Yeah. How’d you know?”

Shit bollocks bloody fuck shit. “Seemed as good a time as any.”

He kissed her lips and then her forehead. “All right. I think everyone’s in except Ryan and his professor. I’ll see if I can catch ’em.” He took out his phone and looked at the screen for a moment, then cupped her cheek. “All right. I’ll let you get back to scrubbing. Make it shiny for ’em.” She grinned and kissed his wrist before he pulled his hand back. “Later, Po.”

“Bye.”

She watched him walk off, once again swinging back to the ‘shame’ side of the spectrum in regards to her affair. He was so sweet, so adoring of her. Yeah, he could be a little oblivious sometimes. He wasn’t the world’s greatest lover. And it seemed like sometimes she just needed to be with another woman. Milo wasn’t a bastion of emotional support, but she fucked like she invented it.

Milo came around the back of the engine when she heard Owen’s truck pull away. “So you’re in?”

Paige didn’t turn around to look at her. “Yeah. I’m in.”

“Which of us you planning to go home with in the morning?”

Paige winced at the question. “Maybe you should see if you can find Ryan or Eileen.”

“Maybe I should,” Milo said. “See you tonight, Paige.”

“Yeah.”

She watched Milo go, then looked down at the sponge in her hand. She’d squeezed it so hard that it had spilled soapy water all the way down the side of her pants. A pool had formed next to her shoe, trickling toward the drain. “Shit.” She turned and tossed the sponge back into the bucket and found a towel so she could dry her hands and at least blot the wetness on her pants. Maybe two years was long enough to sit on the fence. The time had come to make a decision, one way or the other, before she ended up hurting two people she really cared about.

CHAPTER FIVE

Ryan sat on the floor in front of his couch, one fist gripping his hair as he held his phone with the other hand. His thumb swept across the screen, moving from one picture to the next in the “EdS” album. He was in the middle of the London set, when they’d packed the bags and headed down for three days of relaxation after the semester ended. They didn’t have to worry about people spotting them, reporting their relationship, getting in trouble… Eileen had been so loving the entire trip, so bright and shining. At the time he thought it was a glimpse of how things would be once he graduated. Now…

He stopped on a picture taken in the hotel room moments after Eileen woke. She was staring up at the phone with bleary eyes, no makeup, her hair still fanned out behind her on the pillow. The only light was from the gold-tinted light on the nightstand, and it cast unusual shadows across her body. Her necklace was askew, the pendant resting on her collarbone. She had never looked more gorgeous to him.

“What are you doing?”

“Preserving for posterity.”

“Posterity…”

He smirked over the top of the camera. “For our grandkids.”

“Grand… kids. Ryan. Off.” He lifted off of her and she rolled to the side, sitting up and bending forward to rub her face without taking her elbows off her knees. He sat behind her, legs tucked under himself, cock at half-mast due to where he’d been sitting moments ago.

“Everything okay?”

“Peachy-keen,” she said. “I’m going to take a shower.”

He smiled. “Want some company?”

“No.” She hadn’t looked back when she crossed the room, shutting the door behind her.

At the time he’d taken it for an end-of-vacation depression. Now, though, it was obvious that her mood had been ruined by his idiotic comment about grandkids. But for fuck’s sake, three years! Surely he couldn’t be faulted for thinking that meant something. He knew she’d been faithful because he had no doubt he would have smelled any other lovers on her, just like she could smell when he smoked pot.

He was still drying his hair when he came out of the bathroom. Eileen was in bed in her slip, glasses riding low on her nose, and she pointed at the door without looking up from her book. “Nope. Another one.”

“I stink of apples!”

“You’re not getting that skunk-ape stink on my sheets! Again!”

He rolled his eyes and went back into the bathroom for his third shower.

Now he could see it all clearly. What he’d taken as signs they were settling into a nicely domestic pattern were indications she wasn’t quite as enamored with him as he was with her. He’d just been a lark, a random distraction. He wondered if she would have picked any student at random as a lover and he got the nod because he also happened to be a wolf. Luck of the draw. She was attracted to his scent, not anything about him in particular. He was a fool.

He jumped when someone knocked on his door, and he jumped up – like the fool he’d just discovered he was – and rushed to it. “Eileen?”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Owen said, arms up and fingers hooked on top of the door frame. “Can I come in?”

“No. Not in the mood right now.”

“Come on. I’m not gonna tease you. We’re getting the pack together again tonight. All of us, even Hannah. And I’ll get Benji there if I have to get a collar and leash, drag him to the Bulldog myself. Don’t make me drag both of ya.”

Ryan sighed and stepped back, letting Owen in. “Eileen dumped me.”

Owen dropped his hands from the door and went inside. “Already? Damn. I’d have figured she’d wait ’til you left her class ‘fore she gave you the old heave-ho.”

“You knew she was going to dump me?”

He shrugged. “What’s the alternative? You guys stick together, get married, have a bunch of little pups?” He looked back and widened his eyes. “That’s really what you thought would happen?”

“Is it that crazy?”

“Pretty crazy. She’s twice your age!”

“But we had something special.”

“You had a dick and she had a place to put it. La-di-da, happens thousands of times a day. You were her student! She was your professor! What you had was a porno script.” He dropped onto the couch. “Here’s what you do, son. Enjoy what you had, then move on. ‘Cause once a woman like that decides she’s done with you, she isn’t going to change her mind. Crawling and crying and begging will only make things worse.”

“I love her. I proposed to her.”

Owen laughed. “No wonder she dumped your sorry ass.”

Ryan tried to rein in his anger. “Why’d you come here, Owen?”

“Wanted to let you know about the pack’s plans.”

“Well, now I know.” There was a knock on the door and he cursed, rolling his eyes as he turned and answered it. “Milo.”

“Hey. Wanted to–” She saw Owen and tensed. “Oh. Hey, Owen. Seem to be running into you a lot today.”

He looked at her, thought, and then said, “Just at lunch, right?”

“Right. Once too many if you ask me. So I guess you already told him about the pack getting together tonight?”

Owen nodded. “Yep.” Then his frowned deepened. “Hold on, how’d you know I knew about that? Hannah told me. Did Paige tell you we talked?”

“Hannah did. I swung by her place to let her know, uh, I’d recruited Benji.”

“You’re losing your mind, Millicent. All those fumes.”

She coughed into her fist. “Yeah. So, uh, I guess you’re covered. Will you tell Eileen?”

“Eileen.” He rubbed his bottom lip. “When you say ‘whole pack,’ I should’ve figured you mean her too.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“She dumped me today.”

“Fucking hell!” Milo stepped into the apartment and hugged him. “You all right? Hanging in there?”

“I… y-yeah, I’m trying to. It’s tough. I thought things were going well.”

“Then you weren’t paying attention.”

Milo said, “Haul your ass out of here, Owen. You’re not helping.” She patted the back of Ryan’s head. “I’ll put it up to you. You want Eileen to stay in the pack? We can kick her out.”

Ryan thought about it for a moment, the vindictive side of him cackling evilly at the thought. But eventually he shook his head. “I don’t know what I’d do without the pack. I couldn’t do that to her.”

“What I hear, the bitch deserves it,” Owen muttered.

Milo said, “Whyn’t you stow the relationship advice, huh?”

“Those of us in stable relationships owe it to you poor pathetic individuals who can’t manage to find someone to stick around to share our wisdom.”

Milo stared at him without blinking for a long moment, obviously debating whether to say something or keep quiet. Finally she closed her eyes and focused her thoughts before she spoke.

“Man just got out of a three-year relationship, Owen. Imagine if Paige left you. Broke your heart, left you wondering where the hell you went wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong between me and Paige.”

“That’s what Ryan thought yesterday. Are you sure, absolutely positive, that Paige is a hundred percent happy with you?”

Owen stared at her, then held out his hand to Ryan. “Sorry, mate.”

“It’s fine.” He quickly grasped Owen’s hand, then let it fall. “Just trying to get me back in the game, right?”

“Yeah. What are friends for?” He rubbed his hand on his hip and then gestured at the door. “I’ll go find the Professor. Tell her what we’re up to. Nine o’clock.”

“Nine,” Milo said. “Go. Get.”

He left, and Milo took off her bike helmet.

“You have other deliveries to make, don’t ya?”

“They can wait. I can give you half an hour of shoulder time. Sympathetic ear. Whatever you need.”

He sighed heavily. “Sounds good.”

She put her arm around her. “So where are you on the spectrum? Boy, What Good Times We Had, or I Hope the Bitch Rots in Hell? ‘Cause I have plenty of material for both.”

#

Eileen was in her office with a CD of instrumental strings playing when Owen came to the door. She looked up just before he knocked, shaking her head as she motioned him inside. He looked toward the ceiling as if the music was coming from there, then moved two fingers as if conducting an orchestra. “It’s got a good beat, but you can’t dance to it.”

She paused the song with her remote control. “Did Ryan send you to yell at me?”

“Nah.” He bent at the waist and let gravity haul him down into her guest seat. “Although the kid is broken up about it. However you told him to hit the bricks, it must’ve been epic.”

“You want epic? He proposed to me. We’d just finished fucking in my car, and he decides it’s the perfect time to ask me to marry him.”

“Some might think that was sweet.” She looked at him over the tops of her glasses and he smiled. “I didn’t say I did. Just people. Sops might.”

“Are the others pissed?”

“Milo’s commiserating, but I don’t think anyone will blame you too much. All of us thought it was weird, the two of you. I never saw it lasting. I just thought you’d leave it ’til the end of the year. Here’s your cap and gown, your diploma, and good luck with the singles’ circuit.”

“That was the plan. But he didn’t leave me much choice now, did he?”

“Nope. And the others are gonna see it that way once things simmer down a little.” He leaned forward. “We’re going for another run tonight. Whole pack. Give you a chance to start the healing process.”

She shook her head. “No. Count me out. Sorry.”

“That defeats the whole purpose. We’re trying to make up for the past couple of times. If you’re not there…” He held out his hands. “C’mon. Me and Milo have been running around all afternoon trying to set this up. We got everyone but you and Benji–“

“Benji’s not in?” She gave him a skeptical look.

“He’ll be in. Trust me. I already told Milo he’d be there if I had to get a leash. And Ryan’s coming–” She inhaled sharply and pushed back from her desk, already shaking her head. Owen stopped any protest she might make by speaking first. “You two need to be civil if you’re going to stay in the same pack. Might as well start early.”

She rolled her eyes. “All right. Hell, I could use another run after today anyway. I’m in.”

“Great. We’re meeting at the Bulldog tonight at nine. Don’t be late.”

She turned the music back on and he stood, conducting with two fingers again as he left the office. He waved to her through the rectangle of glass, and she couldn’t help but smile as she shooed him away so she could focus on her work.

#

Tarun finished his shift at the Bulldog a little before five. He went home to shower, nap, and grab a bite to eat. When he got back to the bar, Owen and Paige were already waiting in the back booth. Paige lifted her hand to wave him over and he slid into the booth next to her. “Did everyone agree to show up tonight?”

“Yep.” Owen checked his watch. “But I’m giving Benji another twenty minutes ‘fore I head out to find him.”

“Give him twenty-five,” Paige said. “He’s sulking.”

“That’s why he needs a run more’n any of us. Well, maybe not as much as Ryan.”

Tarun said, “What’s wrong with Ryan?”

“The Professor dumped him. Like, while he was still coming.”

Paige wrinkled her nose and slapped his chest. “God, have some decorum.”

Mia and Hannah showed up hand-in-hand, sitting on Tarun’s side of the booth. They were quickly informed of Eileen and Ryan breaking up as Milo arrived. She had changed into baggy jeans and a sweatshirt, the shoulder of it falling down to reveal she wasn’t wearing anything underneath. The others had dressed in equally break-away outfits; normal enough that they were suitable for public, but outfits that could be quickly doffed and thrown back on in the morning. Benji arrived and pulled over a stool, eyeing Milo’s bare shoulder with barely-disguised lust.

They shared some appetizers that Ant brought over, and Owen angrily checked his phone as the clock eased toward nine. Ant started shuffling his customers toward the exit, and soon the bar was empty except for the pack gathered around their table in the back. Ant bussed one of the tables and pointedly looked at his watch when he passed their table.

Owen gave a disgruntled sigh. “I knew it. Neither one of ’em is coming.”

“So we’ll be seven instead of nine,” Paige said. “That’s still a pretty good turnout.”

Owen said, “I thought the whole point was to be a pack again. Not just a random group of wolves out runnin’ ’round. Milo…”

“Seven is fine,” Milo said. “Give ’em a break. It was a bad day for ’em. Part of being a pack is understanding that. Right?”

Owen didn’t have a chance to answer, since Eileen chose that moment to arrive. She wore an oversized hockey jersey and jeans, making her look like someone’s mother arriving at undercover at a party. Tarun got up and gave his seat in the booth to Eileen, and she nodded her thanks as she sat down. She glanced around the table and smiled tightly.

“Guess Ryan hasn’t shown up yet, huh?”

“Could just be running late,” Paige said.

Owen rubbed his nose and nodded. “Sure. Yeah…”

Hannah said, “I know I’m one of the reasons we’re doing this, but… how long are we going to wait for him? I’m itching to get out there.”

Milo sighed. “Yeah. I agree.”

They had started to get out of the booth when the front door opened and Ryan hurried in. “Oh.”

“Ryan,” Owen said. “We’d given up on you.”

“Yeah. I went back and forth on it.” He looked past the group to Eileen, who was trying to hide behind Mia. He cleared his throat and said, “The pack is more important. Right?”

The others turned to look at Eileen. She nodded slowly. “For the pack.”

Ant, behind the bar, nodded once. “Nice to see you kids all together again. Go on, get changed. I’ll let you out.”

They moved to the mudroom and began undressing. They were all accustomed to seeing each other in the buff, but Eileen felt a new level of awkwardness thanks to what she’d done and how she had done it. When her shirt cleared her head and her hair dropped into place she saw Benji quickly looking away. She fought the smile, glad she still had the ability to attract the gaze of young pretty men, and arched her back as she felt the wolf pushing at the corners of her mind. She closed her green eyes and opened golden ones. Darkness spread through the sockets as if a bruise was spreading, and she dropped her jaw as the shape of her skull began to alter itself.

Milo arched her back as her shoulders splintered and twisted to make her torso leaner. She dropped down as her knees came up close to her sides. Her skin thickened and exploded in thick fur, and she ran a tongue over her sharpened teeth.

Hannah’s fur spread over her arms, obscuring her tattoos but keeping their coloring. The fur on her forepaws mimicked the designs despite the rest of her body being covered in chocolate brown fur. Behind her Mia stretched her neck out and worked her head back and forth, eyes closed as she snapped and contorted herself like a dancer.

Tarun braced his feet apart and dropped forward, his jaw extending out as his nose flattened and stretched into a snout. Beside him Owen remained upright as long as possible, finally dropping to all fours when he was almost entirely changed. The men transformed faster, a snap of bone and twist of muscle as they exploded in a coat of fur. The women had a much more fluid change, easing from one form to the next in rapid-fire changes. Paige jumped at Owen and knocked him off-balance, causing him to bite her tail as she tried to escape.

Ant was waiting by the back door, which he pushed open to allow a burst of cold air into the store room.

“Don’t get into too much trouble out there, pups.”

Ryan, last to arrive, was the first out the door. The rest of the pack followed him, jockeying for position. The last one through the door was always mercilessly teased and ostracized for the rest of the evening. Tonight it appeared the victim would be Hannah, but Ant knew that Mia would stick by her side no matter what. When they were gone, he stepped out into the alley with his hands on his hips and watched as they scrambled into the woodlands and disappeared with a chorus of joyous yips and howls.

For a moment he remembered himself as a younger man, a wanderer who found a small bar to rest his weary legs for a while. The bar reeked ofcanidae and it was the first place he’d felt at home since leaving his own hometown so long ago. The friendly bartender – Beatrix – had coaxed his life story out of him. Her husband Victor invited him to stay in their spare room until he knew where he was headed next, and he’d tried not to appear too eager when he agreed.

That night Beatrix came into his bedroom and teased him through his bedclothes. He made quiet entreaties to her, swore he wasn’t a cheater and that he wouldn’t help her betray her vows. She’d left, and he’d been relieved until she came back with Victor in tow and assured him that everything was on the ups before she started to tease him again. That night he had surrendered to her charms while Victor watched. The next night Victor had joined in, and by the end of the week Trix had coaxed Ant and Victor to be with each other while she watched them. Afterward he had been offered the spare room on a permanent basis, and he hadn’t been able to resist.

Twenty-five years later, and both of his friends were gone. It was why he rarely transformed anymore, and why he would always stand guard for this young pack. If someone had been watching and waiting for him and his lovers, fate may have been different. One or both of them might still be alive and he wouldn’t be so very alone.

He sighed, hands in his pockets, and went back inside to begin the long night’s wait.

CHAPTER SIX

The world changed when seen through the wolf’s eyes. Things that were out of the question from a human point-of-view became a sliding scale of possibilities to the wolf. Was it possible? If yes, would it be fun? If yes, then why resist? Eileen didn’t realize she was thinking through these questions as she raced between Mia and Benji, huffing out each breath and feeling the invigorating jolt every time her paws hit dirt. She remembered Benji’s glance in the mudroom and looked over at him. He was sleek and dark-furred, taller than her in this form. He was longer than her as well, and she changed her trajectory and slammed into him.

Benji corrected himself and looked at her, yipping and biting at her snout. Eileen picked up the pace and got in front of him, forcing him to stumble. The rest of the pack continued on, weaving between trees, exuberant in their freedom and the nearness of their makeshift family to notice the games being played behind them. Eileen raised her shoulders and stared at Benji, then pointedly turned around and flattened her forepaws to the ground.

Benji hesitated, but not long. He pounced, covering her body with his and pressing against her. Eileen felt his cock against her and lifted her snout to the air. Benji was heavy on top of her, and his panting grew more ragged as he entered her and began to thrust.

A blur of brown and white slammed into them from the left, disengaging Benji and sending Eileen sprawling. When she got up she saw Benji and Ryan’s wolf forms facing each other down. Ryan’s forehead bulged over his eyes, his snout wrinkled in a low grumbling growl. Benji’s body was bowed and his hairs stood on end as he met the challenge with equal anger, his cock still hard and swinging under his body as he waited for Ryan to make his first move.

Eileen changed, her toes sinking into the mud as she straightened up. “Stop this right now!”

Benji looked at her and then quickly back at Ryan, retreating a step as if expecting him to have attacked during his moment of distraction. She reached down and gripped the scruff of Ryan’s neck, squeezing until the aggression faded from his posture. She pulled him up onto his hind legs, his forepaws dangling, and he was forced to either be lifted or transform. Eileen’s hand smoothed over his neck as the pelt and fur vanished. His legs extended until his feet touched the ground, and he straightened his posture to stand at his full height. Benji, not willing to be the odd one out, transformed as well.

Ryan glared at Benji, who looked apologetic but wasn’t backing down. “She asked for it, mate. It was her idea.”

“You could have said no.”

“Maybe. Not the wolf, though.”

Ryan swallowed hard. Eileen smoothed her hand over his chest and then reached out her hand for Benji. She put her hand on his hip and drew him forward, standing on her toes so that her height matched the men better. She twisted toward Ryan with her hand still on Benji’s hip, kissing him as her hand moved to his cock. She gripped it as her tongue slipped into Ryan’s mouth. His body remained rigid for a moment but then he began to react to her kiss. She stroked Benji to full erection with a loop of her forefinger and thumb, dropping her other hand over Ryan’s stomach to grip him as well.

Meanwhile the rest of the pack had noticed their absence and turned back in the hopes of stopping any incipient violence. Milo, Owen, and Mia transformed to their human forms to make it easier to pull the wolves off each other. Milo was the first to reach the clearing and stopped in her tracks, eyes wide as Eileen switched from kissing Ryan to kissing Benji. From her point of view she could only see Eileen’s bare ass, but the movement of her arms left little doubt as to what she was doing to the men.

Owen came to a stop next to her and straightened slightly, eyes widening as he tilted his head to one side. “Oh. Oh. Well… guess we don’t have to break that up.”

“No,” Milo agreed. She felt moisture building in her mouth and swallowed it, wiping a hand over the lower half of her face as her human mind told her to turn around and let them have their fun. The wolf side of her, however, kept her eyes locked on Eileen’s naked back as she got down on her knees and began to do with her mouth what she had been doing with her hands. She touched her tongue to the corner of her mouth, her eyes golden with the wolf as her heart thudded against her chest.

She looked at Owen, similarly transfixed, and then at Mia on her other side. Her face was dark and her jaw tight with what a stranger might dismiss as disapproval. Milo, and any other wolf, would recognize it immediately as a primal want. A hunger. Milo knew that if she made a move, Mia would respond, and she knew they would both hate themselves for it. Mia was more her style, more curves and fewer cocks, but Hannah would kill her. She looked at Owen again. She pivoted on the ball of her left foot, grabbed his head, and pulled him to her. He yelped as if still in wolf form as she kissed him, thrusting her tongue into his mouth. He turned to face her and she instinctively angled her hips away to avoid his cock touching her.

Hannah brushed against Mia’s bare hip. Mia looked down and met her lover’s dark-hued eyes, her fur soft and luxuriant against her skin, and she put her hand on the side of Hannah’s head to walk her around. She moved her legs apart and Hannah tilted her head back, pressing her snout to Hannah’s sex and pressing the flat of her tongue against her labia. Hannah grunted and put her hands on the back of Hannah’s head, fingers spread on her flat skull as she rocked her hips.

In front of them, Eileen alternated between the men, sucking Ryan before letting him fall out of her mouth to take Benji’s. Occasionally she would take them both at once, letting them rub against each other in her mouth before she pulled back. She stroked Ryan, her other hand upside down to cup Benji’s balls when he was in her mouth. Above her Ryan and Benji tried to look at anything but each other. They watched as Milo pushed Owen to the ground and mounted him, grimacing as she sat on him. Mia was leaning against a tree with Hannah’s wolf between her legs.

Paige came out of the woods in human form, curiously undisturbed by the sight of her lesbian friend humping her boyfriend. She grabbed a handful of Milo’s hair to pull her head back and kissed her passionately, a sight that made Owen lift his head off the ground to stare in dull shock. His lips twisted in an appreciative smile as he thrust faster, his hips slapping against Milo loud enough that they could hear it over the sound of Eileen’s moaning and slurping.

Tarun lurked at the edge of the proceedings in his wolf form. His head slowly swept from one group to the next, settling on Eileen’s dual blowjob before moving back to watch Hannah’s tongue flittering over Mia’s mound. He lowered his head and slunk toward Hannah, obviously intending to mount her, but Mia stopped him with a quick hiss between her teeth. She shook her head with a determination that brooked no argument, and Tarun retreated.

Eileen pulled back and held their cocks together in one hand, stroking them at the same time. Benji looked at Ryan. Neither would admit which of them had moved first, but they both agree their first kiss was experimental. Eileen, Milo, Mia, and Tarun watched as the two men kissed, and Eileen guided their hands to take over for hers. They linked fingers and stroked.

Tarun approached cautiously. Eileen felt him approach and shifted her position, arching her back and lifting her ass off the ground. He lifted himself and settled on her back, and she closed her eyes as his cock pressed against her ass. He growled and groaned into her ear, and she ran her tongue over the tips of Benji and Ryan’s cocks as Tarun pushed inside her.

Paige straddled Owen’s head facing Milo, caressing Milo’s small breasts as they kissed. Mia came and transformed into a wolf, pouncing playfully on her lover and wrestling her into the fallen leaves and other debris. Milo dismounted and let Paige take her boyfriend over the edge, standing next to them to kiss Paige and stroke her breasts. When Owen came, Milo pulled Paige away in an almost possessive display, dropping her to the ground and kneeling between her legs. Owen stood up, cock still hard as he watched his friend go down on his girlfriend. His gaze wandered to Eileen, Benji, Ryan, and Tarun and he found himself oddly transfixed. He walked over almost in a daze and stepped behind Ryan. He ran his hands over Ryan’s shoulders, down his back, and Ryan looked back. His face was confused rather than offended, and Owen closed his eyes as he pressed his cock between Ryan’s ass cheeks.

“Oh, God…”

Ryan and Benji were pulled apart by Owen’s entrance. Eileen took Benji’s cock into her mouth, Tarun’s wolf still fucking her from behind. He put his hand on the back of her head, heaved a breath, and gave one final mighty thrust as he came in Eileen’s mouth. Tarun came a few seconds later, throbbing inside of her as her tongue massaged the sensitive glans of Benji’s cock for every last drop of his orgasm.

Owen’s hands were tight on Ryan’s hips, fucking him with vigor now, teeth bared as Ryan stroked his own cock. When he came, the pale white spurts arced away from his body and landed like ribbons on Eileen’s shoulder. It dripped down her arm and Benji, who had transformed back into the wolf after his transformation, lapped it up as an excuse to lick and nip at Eileen’s neck.

Paige was flat on her back, and Milo had settled against the crux of her thighs. Paige’s left leg was extended along Milo’s chest, her foot behind Milo’s head, while her right leg was curled underneath her. Milo’s body rolled with a natural, tidal rhythm, thrusting eagerly against her lover. Owen watched them over Ryan’s shoulder, red-faced and panting as Paige writhed and twisted in the mud and moist leaves, her body streaked with dirt and mud as she pressed her sex against Milo’s.

The thought it’s almost like they’ve done that before passed through his mind and faded before he’d given it any life.

Mia and Hannah lay to one side, Mia’s wolf spooning Hannah’s, both breathing heavily as they watched the proceedings through half-lidded eyes. Tarun came with a howl of pleasure, then pulled out and bowed his head to lick Eileen’s back along her spine. She remained on all fours, enjoying the gracious attention, and smiled over her shoulder when Tarun’s weight finally lifted off of her.

Soon the sated pack, those still in human form glistening in the moonlight, were gathered around Milo and Paige. Their grunts and moans of pleasure filled the air, and Ryan and Owen began to slowly masturbate as they watched the scene. Even Eileen found herself oddly intrigued. Milo looked up and met Owen’s gaze, holding it until she threw her head back and howled her orgasm to the stars, the wolf coming out just enough that her skin seemed to shudder and the shape of her face wavered as she moved her hips in a wide circle against Paige’s sex.

Paige came quickly after, then sagged limply on the dirt. Milo disengaged and stood on shaking legs, leaning against a tree for support. When she looked up, Owen was standing in front of her with murder in his eyes. She stared back without blinking. Paige got to her feet, brushed the smashed leaves and smeared dirt from her ass, and stepped between them.

“I went to her.”

Owen shifted his gaze to his girlfriend, and she shrugged.

“Don’t blame Milo. I went to her.”

“Why?”

Paige looked at Milo. “Because I wanted her. And I knew she’d take me.”

Owen rolled his shoulders and bared his teeth, pulling away with a low growl. His body twisted into the wolf form in an almost painful display. He dropped to all fours and looked up at his girlfriend and her mistress, then turned and ran. The others gave up their human form, once again a pack of wolves, and Mia stood with Hannah. As one, the pack took off into the darkness in pursuit of their errant member.

#

Ant had breakfast waiting for them when they got back. The bar had the cold, quiet feel of a public space awaiting the start of a day. While he waited for the pack to return he took the chairs down off the tables and wiped down the mugs that had gone through the wash overnight. He was preparing to reheat their meals when he heard the click of nails on tile and knew the run was over.

Owen was the first through the door, and he transformed in what had to be record time. He threw on his clothes and stormed out, not even giving a look at the row of plates sitting along the edge of the bar. Ant stared after him and thought about pursuing, but the others arrived soon after. Ryan and Benji avoided each other, sitting as far apart as possible and tucking into their breakfasts without a word. Milo and Paige acted the opposite, practically sitting on each other’s laps. Paige had her head on Milo’s chest, refusing to touch her food. To Ant’s surprise, Ryan and Eileen seemed to be the most at-ease of the group. Scratch that. Mia and Hannah were their usual, loving selves. It was nice to see there was some constants he could count on with this group of young fools.

“Everyone… copasetic?”

Grunts and murmurs, averted gazes and bites of food taken to avoid having to answer. Not exactly the most convincing pack of liars he’d ever seen in his life.

“And Mr. Kiernan?” He nodded at the door.

“He got some bad news,” Milo said.

Ant nodded slowly. “Will he get over it?”

Paige said, “Hope so.”

Ryan finished his meal and pushed his plate away. “I have to go get some sleep.” He hesitated and then looked over at Eileen. “See you in class?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded and slid off his stool. Eileen smiled wanly, wetting her lips as she finished her meal. Hannah left with Mia when they finished eating, and Mia gave Ant a kiss for being there to give them shelter when they needed it. Benji waited until they were gone before he quietly dismissed himself. He was almost to the door when Eileen told him to wait, quickly finishing her breakfast and rising to walk out with him.

“Another one bites the dust,” Tarun muttered.

Milo smiled and looked down at Paige. “Want me to take you home?”

“Yeah.” She sat up and took Milo’s hand.

“See you later, Ant.”

“I’ll be here.”

When they left, Ant was left alone in the bar with Tarun. He put the dirty dishes in a tub to be washed, then stood in front of his bartender. He braced his beefy arms on the bar and leaned in, eyebrow raised, face stretched so much that his wrinkles almost disappeared. Tarun looked up, feigning innocence.

“Well? What the hell happened out there?”

Tarun shrugged. “You know. Pack stuff.”

“Pack stuff,” Ant muttered. “Pack stuff, yeah.” He picked up the dirty dishes and propped it against his side as he headed for the kitchen. “You pups need to be careful. That pack stuff can be some of the biggest minefields you’ll ever walk through.” He pushed through the door and left Tarun alone at the bar.

Tarun picked up his water glass and tilted it so he could see his reflection in the water. “Boy, ain’t that the truth…” He shook his head and downed the water, setting the glass back down to finish his breakfast so he could go home and get some sleep.

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/barking-mad/

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