Big Bad Beast Exerpt
Ric paid the cabbie and stood, Dee-Ann glaring at him from the front stoop of his family’s restaurant.
“What did you want me to do?” he asked.
“Tell them no.”
He shrugged. “I liked the idea. Besides, we should all be working together to stop this — don’t walk away from me, Dee-Ann.”
His stern warning ignored, Dee kept walking but Ric caught up with her and pulled her into the alley between the restaurant and the deli next door.
“Don’t you find it curious,” he asked, standing in front of her, “that suddenly felines who are so into pure bloodlines they could be British royalty are suddenly concerning themselves with hybrids?”
Folding her arms over her chest, Dee did that thing he hated where she looked right past him. Then again she only did that when he was right about something and it pissed her off.
“If you’re really adamant about not working on this, I can put someone else on it.” He tried to think of the one person who’d really set Dee off and he realized that one person was waiting for him right inside one of the private dining rooms. “I’ll give it to Blayne.”
Ric took a step away but Dee’s hand shot out and caught hold of his arm. “Pardon?”
“I said I’ll put Blayne on it since you don’t want to — ”
“Teacup? You’re going to put Teacup on this?”
“She’s a great ambassador for the Group, gets along well with felines and bears, and she already knows Dez MacDermot.”
“She babysits for Desiree.”
“She’s also taken on bigger responsibilities with the Group and that’s worked out just fine.”
“With the hybrid pups and cubs. It’s not like she’s ever been in the field.”
“But she handled herself just fine in Ursus County.” Ric still had a hard time believing that his goofy, loveable wolfdog buddy was the same She-predator he’d seen decimate a gang of full-human males trying to kill them. And she’d done it with nothing more than a couple of blades in her hands and sheer willpower. Then again, Blayne’s knife skills only made a real appearance when she was backed into a corner with no way out. Of course… he didn’t have to mention he knew that to Dee.
“Ursus — ” The She-wolf gritted pearly white fangs and snarled at him like he was trying to take her favorite chew toy. “The only reason she lived through Ursus County was ’cause of me. The only reason she has a job with the Group is ’cause of me. The only reason she breathes my precious, precious air is ’cause of me!”
It was true. The one person who could really set Dee-Ann Smith off was and perhaps always would be Blayne Thorpe.
“I understand that, but — ”
Dee’s head dipped low, bright gold eyes looking up at him through dark brown lashes. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Not if you’re just going to use this as an opportunity to beat up on Cella.”
If it was possible, Dee-Ann’s expression turned even angrier. “That’s true. I wouldn’t want to hurt your girlfriend.”
Ric blinked. “My what?”
“Forget it.” She stepped around him, ready to leave, but Ric caught hold of her wrist, keeping her in place.
“I promised you food.”
“I don’t need you feeding me, Van Holtz. I’m not some charity case.”
“I never said you were. And what happened to Ric? It sounded so nice when you called me Ric. And you have to eat, Dee-Ann.” He gripped one of the loops of her jeans, tugging at it.
“One good tug and these will come off. You’re too skinny.”
“When did you become my mother?”
“See? Even your mother is concerned.”
“No, she’s not.”
He led her to the backdoor. “Come on. You have to eat, otherwise I’ll be up all night worrying you’ve passed out somewhere. Unable to take another step due to lack of nutrition.”
Ric had his hand on the doorknob, giving Dee a wink over his shoulder. But the door swung open from the inside, shoving him back and right into the She-wolf. He slammed into her, his body pushing hers into the wall behind them.
“Sorry, boss,” one of his crew said, tossing a bag of trash into the Dumpster. “Didn’t see you there.”
Ric didn’t reply, he was too busy being seriously aware of the woman he had pressed against the wall.
“You planning to get off me anytime soon, supermodel?” she asked.
“Or we can stay this way forever. That’s an option.” One he was more than willing to explore.
“Good Lord!” Dee pushed him back and walked toward the alley door. “If Cella’s not your girlfriend, we need to get you one.”
“Cella’s not my girlfriend. She works for me. It would be inappropriate.”
Dee-Ann stopped in the open doorway and faced him. “So do I, but that hasn’t stopped you from demanding I get naked every other day.”
“True, but I don’t sign your checks.”
“Which means what exactly?”
“I don’t know, but if you give me some time I’m sure I can come up with something completely logical that could be argued in front of the Supreme Court.”
“Ya know… I bet you could.”
Dee didn’t know why she should suddenly care if Ric was going out with Malone or not, but she’d admit to herself that she kind of did care. Maybe she was just feeling moody. Maybe a little homesick. Whatever. She’d get over it.
She stood outside the kitchen while Ric went back in and got their food. It seemed to take longer than she thought it would, which meant that he was cooking it himself. But when he finally came out, he smiled at her — back to his happy-go-lucky, goofball self because he’d cooked something up in a pan — and motioned down the hall toward the private dining rooms. Figuring he probably wanted to discuss next steps before she had to deal with Malone on a daily basis, Dee started walking. One of the waiters slipped past her carrying a big tray piled with more food.
“Here,” Ric said, when the waiter stopped at one of the rooms.
That seemed like a lot of food for the pair of them, but maybe he was hungrier than she realized.
Once at the door, Ric reached around her with his free hand and pushed it open. The waiter went in and Dee followed, but she froze at the doorway and snarled, glaring back at Van Holtz.
“What?” he asked, trying to look innocent.
“I really should have killed you when I had the chance, supermodel.”
“And where would the fun be in that?” He pushed her into the room before she could make a break for it, and that’s when she was noticed.
“Deeeeeeee-Annnnnnnnnnnnnnn!” she heard seconds before a crazed wolfdog female wrapped herself around Dee and held on, hugging her tight.
“You’ve been missed,” Van Holtz whispered in her ear before he walked into the room, grinning at the table filled with a small group of people she tolerated but didn’t necessarily want to spend much time with.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” the wolfdog said, arms tightening so that Dee’s air was almost cut off.
“Get off me, Blayne.”
“You’re staying, aren’t you?”
“Get off me, Blayne.”
“You have to stay so we can eat and talk. It’s been ages!” She rested her head against Dee’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you so much.”
That’s when Dee reached for her bowie knife but Ric caught her hand before she could clear the sheath and held it behind her back.
“Why don’t we all sit down and eat before the food gets cold?” he offered.
“Okay!” The wolfdog released her death grip on Dee’s neck and skated back to the table — why she was wearing roller skates in the middle of a restaurant, Dee didn’t want to even hazard a guess — unaware as always how close to death she came every time she insisted on the touching.
“Put it away,” Van Holtz whispered in Dee’s ear, “or I’m taking the whole hand.”
With a grunt, Dee shoved the knife back. “There, supermodel. Happy?”
“Thrilled.” He released her but not before she felt his fingers slide across the skin of her forearm. “You have the smoothest skin,” he murmured, looking down at her arm.
“Yeah. It’s the scar tissue from all those knife fights. After a few years, it heals up real soft.”