Marissa had been pacing in her cell for days. Her mind wasn’t used to inactivity, and her body wasn’t used to small places. She would pace for a time in her human form, then shift into her werecat form. Agilely, she would pounce from wall to wall, claws clinging to the stone, causing indentations. She’d hang from the light fixture briefly before dropping to all fours and mewling loudly, her indignation at such small quarters. Her fur, the color of a stormy day, was thick and beautiful, and her green eyes glared out of her head with human indignity.
Human contact had been kept to a minimum; she saw the guards three times a day when they brought her food, but none of them spoke to her. She’d never really had friends; her career had been time-consuming. Besides, as the second in command, reprimanding underlings was part of her job, so very few weres liked to be around her. She was known for her harshness. Two had come to visit: the Head, to ask her what the hell she’d been thinking, and her assistant, Bobby, to bring her essential items she’d need during captivity.
“I have no answer for you, sir,” Marissa had claimed when the Head had asked her the question. Silence could sometimes save you, she had always believed, so her answers had all been noncommittal or vague.
“But to intentionally endanger another were? You’ve always been such a stout believer in protecting weres,” the Head had continued. “Please tell me this wasn’t about Nathan and jealousy.”
Marissa’s head had come up, and her face had pinched closed. She’d pursed her lips. “I still believe in the protection of weres who deserve our protection.”
The Head had shaken his head; he’d known she wouldn’t answer the question about Nathan. “Marissa, please consider what I’m offering. Banishment isn’t the worst thing that could happen. If this goes to trial, you could be imprisoned for a very long time.”
Marissa had smiled viciously. “I won’t go to prison. And I won’t leave the city.”
The Head had stared at her, brows furrowed. He’d asked himself if that statement had been the delusional belief of a woman who had succumbed to her emotions, or if it had been a threat, a warning, that she was planning something. He had said his good byes, and unknown to Marissa, had warned the guards that she might be planning an escape, to be on high alert, and to let him know if and when she had any visitors.
Now, Marissa shifted back to human form, choosing to remain unclothed for the duration of her imprisonment. As proud of her human body as she was of her feline body, Marissa, like most weres, enjoyed nudity, but city living often made it an impossibility. She stroked her hands down her waist, smiling to herself as she thought of the differences between her body and Lucy’s. She was trim, athletically so, while Lucy was curvy with a big ass, big tits, and, though she hated to admit it, gorgeous skin.
Whatever, Marissa thought. I’m so much hotter than she is. I don’t understand Nathan’s infatuation with her at all. He’s an idiot. But those thoughts didn’t comfort her; he didn’t want her, he wanted Lucy. And for that, the two of them would have to pay.
The door at the end of the hallway banged open. Marissa glanced at the clock; too early for lunch. She must have a visitor. As the thought passed through her mind, Bobby stepped into view. Marissa watched his eyes as he looked her up and down lasciviously, a smirk on her lovely face. When his eyes met hers, they were bolder than they’d been before. Her smirk changed to a seductive smile.
“Hi, Bobby,” she purred at the werebear in front of her. She sauntered closer to the door of her cell, which consisted of bars while the rest of her room was walls. “I’m glad you came down to see me.”
Bobby grinned foolishly at her. “Good morning, Marissa. I’ve brought the things you asked for.” He handed her a tote bag filled to the top. “The guards pulled everything out and shoved it all back in, so it’s a mess.”
Marissa sighed, her face that of a woman gravely injured by their lack of trust. “Do they think you’re going to smuggle in a knife or something?” She began unpacking her bag, putting her personal items in the cabinet or on the bedside table.
Bobby shrugged. “Who knows? They didn’t dig through the first bag I brought you. And they’ve never patted me down before either.”
Marissa lifted an eyebrow at him. “Hmmm. Seems someone thinks I’m planning an escape.”
“Would seem so, yes,” Bobby answered with a smirk. “Did you finish the book I gave you last week?”
“I did. Could you bring me another tomorrow? I’m bored out of my mind,” Marissa told him. She grabbed the book off her bed and handed it to him, her eyes conveying the message he expected.
“Will do. Anything else you need?”
“Nothing but a new book,” she replied with a smile.
He returned the smile. “Ok, then, I’m going to go ahead and go. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned to leave, his mind urging him to open the book, but he couldn’t until he was out of the prison area. Really, out of the building. He marched out quickly without speaking to anyone. He climbed in his car and turned it on before opening the book.
Inside were the detailed plans of Marissa’s escape. He read the simple ideas, marking changes as he did. He smiled and headed to the book store. The book he bought would have the time, date, and any changes needed. Soon, he thought, she’ll be free again and we can continue with our plans.
Lucy smiled at the old couple as she deposited their chocolate cake with two forks on the table. She made small talk with the businesswoman seated at the table behind them, and refreshed the coffee of the pair of college students studying together for whatever final they had coming up. Overall, not a bad afternoon crowd. Her tips had been solid, but she looked forward to the end of her shift. She had a date with Nathan tonight.
“Lucy!” Her best friend and coworker, Kayla, called her name. “Come here! Hurry!”
Lucy’s eyes widened at the urgency in Kayla’s voice, and she scurried behind the counter and into the backroom. Kayla stood in front of her cubby, pointing with a mile-wide smile on her face.
“Look what just got delivered to the back door!”
Lucy’s eyes widened even more; a huge vase filled with an assortment of roses in different colors sat near her cubby. They were too large to fit inside. She gasped at their beauty and the lovely smell filling the air around them. Kayla was practically bouncing up and down with excitement as she handed Lucy the card. Lucy opened it and nearly teared up.
“What’s it say? Tell me,” Kayla exclaimed.
“To Lucy, The woman who has changed my life by making it brighter. I look forward to years of brightness with you. Love, Nathan.”
“Oh my god, I am so jealous!” Kayla squealed as she leaned over the flowers to breathe in their heavenly scent.
Lucy was at a loss for words. No one had ever sent her roses before. She shook her head, a dreamy smile on her face. She’d only just met Nathan, but she knew she loved him already. And she was pretty sure he felt the same way. She joined Kayla and breathed in their beauty, and her smile grew to fill her whole face. She opened her mouth to speak, but their boss, Jeff, walked in before she could utter a sound.
“What the hell is that smell?” Jeff muttered. He looked at the two of them standing there, their noses over the roses and grimaced.
“Look, Jeff. Lucy’s boyfriend sent her roses. Aren’t they gorgeous?” Kayla asked, excitement still tinging her voice.
Jeff snorted. “I guess.” He looked at Lucy. “How much longer are you on shift? Those things reek.”
Lucy rolled her eyes at Kayla; Jeff had turned his back and walked into his office. She raised her voice and answered, “About an hour.”
Lucy and Kayla looked at each other as he grumbled to himself, not quite loud enough to hear. “Go home now and take those things with you. I can’t stand that smell.”
Lucy’s eyebrows shot up; she’d been hoping he would say that but hadn’t actually expected him to. Kayla giggled and mouthed “Lucky” at her. “Ok, boss. I’ll be out in ten. Have to take care of my tables first.”
“Hurry up,” he growled at her. “And Kayla, get out front. You’ve got tables.”
“Yes, boss,” Kayla called, mock saluting his crassness. As they walked back out front, Kayla mumbled to Lucy, “What an ass.”
“Yeah. Who doesn’t like the smell of fresh flowers?”
“An ass who likes the smell of shit,” Kayla quipped. They laughed loudly as they re-entered the dining area. “You’ve only got that one table left. Clear the other two and I’ll handle the last one until they leave or Tiffany gets here.”
“Thanks, babe. I owe you one,” Lucy said as she grabbed a tub to bus the two tables. She stopped at the table with the two college kids one last time, although they hadn’t asked for anything but endless coffee refills. After she’d cleared the tables, she called to Kayla to let her know she was leaving and left quickly before Jeff could change his mind.
The older couple, as usual, had left her a sizable tip, so she decided to spring for a cab since the flowers and vase would be difficult to carry the two blocks to her apartment. Five minutes later, she was climbing out in front of her apartment and pushing the door closed with her butt. She balanced the roses precariously on her thigh as she opened the door to the building and again when she pressed the button for the elevator. At her door, the only option was to set them down to dig out her key and unlock the door.
Once inside with her beautiful burden, she decided they needed to be in her bedroom on her dresser. Her phone pinged as she put the flower food into the vase after having checked the stems to make sure they’d been cut at an angle. A text message from Nathan awaited her response.
Nathan: Hey babe. I’ll be there around 7. OK?
Lucy: Sounds good. I just got home. PS. I love the roses. They’re perfect!
Nathan: Perfect like you.
Lucy: You smooth talker, you!
She imagined him laughing at her comment and smiled to herself. This man had somehow worked his way into her heart in a very short time. Being with him felt right, like she’d met her other half. She’d always thought that saying was stupid, but now she understood that it was true. She glanced at the clock on her phone and gasped. It was already 5:30, and he would be here at seven. She needed a shower to wash the café food smell off her and she still hadn’t decided what she was going to wear.
Lucy locked her door before rushing to the bathroom to get ready.
Lucy wiped her lips daintily with her napkin. She and Nathan had shared a sumptuous meal at her favorite hibachi grill. She watched him as he scooped more rice mixed with veggies and chicken into his mouth and smiled when he dribbled some down his chin. She leaned closer and wiped his chin with her napkin.
Nathan grinned at her. “Thanks, babe.”
“I swear you’re the cutest thing,” Lucy commented, admiring his blonde locks and tanned skin. He was All-American good looking, and he was hers.
“Thanks, I guess,” he laughed. “You kind of make me sound like a little boy.”
She giggled. “Yes, but an adorable one.”
He shook his head and took her hand in his. He lifted it to her lips and smiled at her as he kissed the knuckles. “So, I have something important I want to talk to you about.”
Lucy’s heart jumped just a little. “Ok.”
“The Head and I were talking about you yesterday,” he began.
Her heart calmed immediately. A sliver of disappointment crossed her mind, but she pushed it aside as silly. You’ve known him less than three weeks! she chided herself. Lucy lifted her eyebrows at him in question.
Nathan cleared his throat and took a sip of his wine. “He asked me what you are going to school for, and I explained that you planned to be a journalist. Isn’t that correct?”
Lucy was wary now. “Yes,” she said, dragging the word out. “I still have two semesters left before I graduate.”
“I told him you weren’t finished, but I wasn’t sure how long you had to go,” Nathan replied. He still held her hand; he squeezed it gently and smiled. “He wants to talk to you about working for the Guard.”
Lucy tilted her head, a quizzical look on her face. “The Guard? What kind of journalistic job would he have to offer me at the Guard?”
Nathan shrugged. “Some kind of media liaison-type person. There really isn’t anyone to handle that kind of stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Like the Austin going to the press kind of stuff.” Nathan’s answer jarred her. Austin had attacked her with the intention of assaulting her, but she’d shifted and frightened him away. A few days later, with the encouragement of Marissa, he had gone to the press about being attacked by a were. “That could have been handled by a media liaison, right?”
“Sure,” Lucy replied, her mind on the possibility of working for the Guard. Finding a job as a journalist was difficult, and sometimes unpaid internships were the only jobs available until you proved yourself. “But I still have two semesters. Is he willing to wait for me to finish?”
“I have no idea. He asked me to talk to you about seeing him and talking to him about it,” Nathan said. “So are you interested in talking to him?”
Lucy frowned. “What do you do for the Guard?”
“I work in security, I guess you’d say,” Nathan offered. “My job is to keep an eye on new weres and make sure they’re behaving, visit with weres who have not been following the rules, sometimes arresting them, things like that.”
“So you and I wouldn’t be working together?” she asked.
Nathan cocked an eyebrow at her. “Don’t want to work with your boyfriend?”
Lucy giggled. “It’s not that. IF, and I’m staying with if right now, but if I were to work there, I don’t want anyone thinking I’m getting preferential treatment because my boyfriend has been there for a million years.”
Nathan guffawed, causing a few heads to turn his way. “I have absolutely no power to give anybody preferential treatment.” He shook his head, still chuckling.
She playfully punched his shoulder. “Shut up. I don’t know.”
He caught her hand and brought it to his lips again. “My apologies, love.”
She sniffed. “Apology accepted, but only because I want to get into your pants later.”
“Babe, why do you think I apologized?” Nathan wiggled his eyebrows at her and ran his hand up her thigh. “If I were your boss, I’d sexually harass you every day.”
Lucy laughed loudly. “I’d let you, handsome man.”
He sat back and returned to the subject. “So what do you think? Will you go talk to him tomorrow?”
Lucy sighed, thinking. “Yes. Tomorrow afternoon?”
“I think that will work,” Nathan smiled at her. He lifted his hand and signaled the waiter to bring the check. “I’m ready to get you home and sexually harass you.”
“Oh no, boss man, don’t do that,” Lucy playfully responded. “I’ll tell.”
“Sure you will,” he sarcastically agreed. Her hand snuck under the table and rubbed over his crotch slowly while she looked at him. He shifted in his seat. “I think I’m more in danger of being harassed by you.”
The next morning, after saying good bye to Nathan and promising to meet him at the Guard headquarters at two, Lucy decided she needed to speak to her mother about all this. About Nathan and about the job with the Guard. Her mother would be happy about Nathan, mostly. Her saying had always been if Lucy was happy, she’d be happy too.
The job with the Guard might take a little convincing. Her mother had been banished from the city after attacking a criminal who ran a child sex trafficking ring. Although she could have been imprisoned or even executed, the Head at that time chose to only banish her because the man had been causing harm to others. However, her mother still harbored ill feelings towards the Guard because they hadn’t helped her get the man arrested. They’d ignored the issue because, in her opinion, he wasn’t harming weres, only humans. Weres came first for the Guard, her mother believed, which was despicable.
Lucy considered the matter from all angles. Should she call her mother? Should she see the Head first, and then talk to her mother? She cursed under her breath. She wished she had a friend in the city who was a were, other than Nathan of course. Kayla was human, but knew the truth about her and loved her anyway, but she didn’t know anything about the were underworld in the city. She could call Chopper, the weird werewolf recluse who had offered his assistance at any time. He had a prejudice against the Guard as well, though a lot less pronounced than her mother’s. He wouldn’t like the idea of her working for them anymore than her mother would, she assumed, so she decided her mother should be her first option.
Sighing, she picked up her phone and waited for her mother to answer. On the third ring, her mother picked up. “Hello, sweetheart!”
Lucy smiled. Her mother’s voice sounded so close; she missed her so much. “Hi, Mom. What’s going on?”
“Oh, you know, same old things.” Lucy heard her father’s voice in the background. “Your father says hi.”
“Tell him I said hey,” Lucy replied.
“So, what’s going on with you?” Maryann asked. “Your voice tells me there’s something on your mind. Is it school?”
“School’s great, actually. Only two more semesters and I’m done,” Lucy proudly proclaimed. “I’m actually thinking if I take some classes this summer, I can graduate in December rather than May.”
“That’s great, sweetheart,” her mother replied, then moved her mouth away from the phone to repeat the information to her father. She came back and said, “Your father sends you two thumbs up.”
Lucy laughed. “Tell him thanks.”
“But that’s not it, is it?”
“Not really.” Lucy took a deep breath and plunged in. “So I’ve started seeing someone.”
“Really?” Her mother’s voice was both surprised and excited. Since Lucy had entered her twenties, her mother hadn’t hidden the fact that she was ready for grandchildren. Lucy reminded her continuously that her mother hadn’t gotten pregnant until her late twenties, but her mother ignored that. “Tell me every detail.”
“His name is Nathan. He’s a werecat.” Lucy waited a moment to see if Maryann would comment, but she didn’t. “He’s fantastic, Mom. Bought me roses and takes me to dinner. He visits me at work just to say hi.”
“Wow. Sounds like a great guy,” her mother mused. “What does he do for a living?”
Lucy hesitated. This was her way of seguing from Nathan’s position with the Guard into her potential position. “Well, he works for the Guard.” Silence loomed across the country through the phone lines. Lucy could almost hear her mother’s thoughts racing through her brain. “Mom? Are you there?”
“I’m here. I’m walking to another room so we can discuss this without your father’s ears listening,” Maryann replied.
Lucy’s heart sank. Leaving the room meant her mother wasn’t going to say nice things. Before she had an opportunity to give her opinion about Nathan’s profession, Lucy jumped the gun and said, “The Head wants to talk to me about working for them as well.”
A clatter told Lucy her mother had dropped the phone in astonishment. When she had picked the phone up again, Maryann’s breathing was loud in her ear.
“Are you out of your mind? Dating a man who works for that group of Nazis is one thing, depending on what he does for them. But actually working for them? Lucy, I don’t think that’s a good idea at all.”
“I knew you’d react this way, but I want you to listen before you make any rash judgments, especially about Nathan.”
“All right, I’ll listen first.”
“Thank you,” Lucy murmured. She gathered her thoughts and tackled the lesser of the two issues. “Nathan is a member of security, a high ranking security person. He helped me a lot when I had some issues with a human claiming I’d shifted in front of him.”
“Why do I know nothing about this?” Maryann hissed in her ear.
Lucy cursed herself silently. “Um, yeah, sorry. It’s been handled, so there’s nothing really to talk about anymore.” Lucy prayed that was true. “Anyway, that’s how Nathan and I met. I really like him, trust him more than any man other than Dad, and he makes me happy.”
Maryann remained silent for a brief moment. “All right. I understand. I’d like to know more about him later, but first, tell me about this job they want to hire you to do.”
Lucy cleared her throat and reminded herself to keep her temper under control. It wouldn’t help matters to get in an argument with her mother, and she truly did want her opinion about the job.
“Well, I haven’t actually gone in to talk to the Head. I’m going later today,” Lucy began. “But it’s a media liaison position, which is exactly the type of job I want after I graduate.”
Again her mother was silent a moment longer than was necessary. She breathed in and said in the exhalation, “Well, Lucy, I have to be honest with you. I don’t like the idea of you working for those people. They make hasty, uninformed decisions.”
“Mom, the Guard has changed. The new Head is very open-minded. I don’t think he makes uniformed decisions.”
“How do you know that?”
“Mom, you haven’t had any dealing with the Guard in over twenty years. How do you know what you’re saying is true anymore?”
Maryann let out a huff. “Damn, that’s a good point.”
“However, you know nothing about this group except what your boyfriend has told you, am I right?”
Lucy thought about Marissa and the problems she’d caused, the kidnapping she’d ordered for Lucy, the fact that Austin had only gone to the press because of her. If Lucy was being honest, she’d seen more negative than positive things about the Guard. But she wouldn’t admit that to her mother at this time. She wanted to at least speak to the Head about the job.
“Ok, you’re mostly right. Here’s what I’m thinking,” Lucy offered. “I’ll go to the meeting this afternoon and see what’s what. I’ll call you tonight and discuss again.”
Maryann nodded on the other end. She had already decided she would be contacting her friends in the city and ask a few questions of her own. But that was information her daughter did not need right now.
“All right, sweetie. I guess that’s a good idea,” Maryann conceded. “But I want to hear from you as soon as you get home.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lucy answered, feeling as if she’d won this particular battle. “I’ll call you before Nathan and I go to dinner.”
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