Mate's Appeal(5)

By: Robbie Cox


“Call me tomorrow,” Arlin said as he turned to the door. “And make sure to apologize to Jed for me.”

“I will. Promise.”

Arlin stepped out of Shades and into the night air of Draven Falls. The atmosphere that seemed so peaceful just a short while ago now seemed heavy with his screw up. He knew people would be talking about it if they haven’t texted all their friends already. News like this spread faster than a wildfire in dry woods. He ran a hand through his dark hair as he stood on the sidewalk staring at the gazebo across the way in Circle Park. Draven Falls had been a home to him when nowhere else felt safe, and he suddenly feared that he had screwed it up. Where else could he feel this safe? There was no other sanctuary for people like him. He was stuck now and may have just cost himself the only place he ever felt like he could be himself.

He took a deep breath. Well, nothing for it but to sit tight and see where the chips fall. He started toward his car, his fate now in Jed’s hands for better or worse.





Three



“When are you going to stop dancing around Josh and just give in to him?” Eve Hartlow asked her friend as they wandered the dirt roads of Bull Creek. The Florida sun was high overhead, bringing the stifling heat to the wooded community and a sweat to her brow. Still, Eve would take it over the frozen winters up north any day of the week. “I’m not a shifter, and even I can smell how the air changes when you two are around each other. Why keep the poor guy at arm’s length?”

A couple of days had passed since Eve’s self-pity party at Everglades, and she had managed to give herself a couple of pep talks that rustling bushes didn’t scare her anymore. Alanna had been right. There are too many noises in Bull Creek to start jumping at each one now.

“Arm’s length? Trust me, he’s been a lot closer than that,” Alanna Bradbury said with a wink and a laugh. Then she shrugged. “I’m just not ready for that type of commitment yet. I’m a wolf without a pack, still feeling my way around.”

Eve chuckled. “From the sounds coming from your cabin the other night, seems like you’re doing a lot more than just feeling around. Besides, that poor boy has been panting to get you into his cabin since before I moved here. You really should cut him some slack.”

Alanna giggled as they walked. “I know, but making him pant is half the fun. He’s so cute when he’s being teased.”

Eve Hartlow rested her hand on the hilt of the knife sheathed at her waist as they walked, the oak handle giving her a sense of calm when nothing else did lately. “Is that another shifter thing? Some rite of passage? I’m have a hard time keeping it all straight.”

“Nah.” Alanna gave a shake of her head. “It’s an Alanna thing.” Both ladies laughed, Alanna shoving her hands into her back pockets as they continued walking. The breeze, which did nothing to cool them off, tugged gently at their hair. When the laughter died down, Alanna gazed at the knife at Eve’s side. “Sort of like wearing that blade is an Eve thing. What’s the deal anyway? You trying to pick up a hunter? You’ve worn that thing ever since you arrived in Bull Creek, and I’ve barely seen you pull it out of that fancy holster you wear. You do grip it a lot, though, like right now. I know we ladies like to accessorize our outfits, but I think you went the wrong direction for wooing a man.”

Eve took a deep breath through her nose in a vain attempt to calm the jitters that churned in her stomach. As the breath escaped past her lips, she shook her head. “I’m not trying to woo anyone. God, what a weird word.” She laughed, the tension leaving her shoulders. “I’m pretty much over men. I prefer the quiet, unattached life.”

Alanna nodded as if she understood, but Eve knew there was no way her friend could comprehend what she was talking about. She probably thought Eve was jilted by some lover and pined away over a man back home. Eve Hartlow didn’t pine away for anyone. She preferred her simple life.

Overhead, mallards flew to the east, heading to the St. Johns River. “Is it because of the bruises that painted your body when you first arrived in Bull Creek?” Alanna asked, her tone cautious as if she knew how sensitive the subject was for Eve. Alanna was also skirting very close to the unspoken rule of Bull Creek—Don’t ask personal questions.

Yet, Eve didn’t call her on it. She appreciated Alanna’s kid gloves with the topic she didn’t understand. While she knew something lurked behind Eve’s self-imposed spinster-hood, that something would remain a secret as far as Eve was concerned. Needed to stay a secret as a matter of fact. Eve didn’t want someone else knowing how weak she once was, regardless that it was a weakness she was determined never to experience again. “I just think it looks good,” she lied with a feeble shrug, sidestepping the whole issue. “Besides, it’s practical. When you’re in the woods, a knife comes in handy. Bane and his coyotes may be gone, but who knows what else is around the corner?”

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