Following the Feeling Ch. 03bycricketmuse©
Thank you all for your kind words and support. I should change my user name to Tickled Pink because that's how I feel whenever I read the comments. I'm not sure what I appreciate more: the people who care enough to write constructive criticism or the people who defend me! I hope this story continues to entertain and tantalize the reading masses!
The next afternoon Gareth found Kiera working on her laptop in the kitchen. Her white cat, Bianca, got up from her perch in the window to rub up against him in greeting.
"Is there coffee?" he asked as he dropped into one of the dinette chairs.
"There was coffee, but that was a couple hours ago. There's tea now."
"Iced or hot?"
Kiera looked up at her friend. "Sweet iced tea, but I can make hot if you want."
"No, iced is good. Is there anything to eat?"
"Chicken salad or smoked turkey, there's some provolone cheese too. Do you want me to make you a sandwich?"
"I think I can handle it," Gareth stated while going to the fridge.
The clickety-clack of the keyboard continued while Gareth made his lunch. He moved around the kitchen with the familiarity that comes with long friendship. Minutes later he had a chicken salad sandwich, dill pickle and a large glass of tea. He sat back down at the table and was instantly surrounded by Bianca and Felix, Kiera's orange tabby.
"No begging, go lay down," he admonished.
Again looking up Kiera said, "They're cats, they don't take orders. How's your sandwich?"
"And you slept alright?"
"Always. I heard you moving around a bit though."
"Yeah I tried to get more sleep, but gave up around eight. I debated between catching up on my DVR and getting some paperwork done. Responsibility won this time," she said with a smile. "Speaking of which did you call work?"
Wrinkling his nose Gareth replied, "I left a message before I went to sleep. In case anyone asks I had food poisoning. You see, I was up all night vomiting, but if they really needed me I could drag myself off my deathbed for work. Strangely no one called."
"Gross. Can't your lies be more pleasant like you had to drive up to take your Mom to the doctor or something that doesn't involve throwing up?"
"Listen to me, love, if you want to sell a lie you better make it big and unquestionable. No one wants details about food poisoning."
Nodding she agreed, "True enough, I don't even want to hear the make believe details."
Gareth finished his lunch and refilled both of their glasses. "So about last night…"
"That's right! I need you to give me a ride to the bar on your way home. I left my car there and it's pretty out of the way for the others to come get me."
"Aren't your car keys in your purse?"
Last night they discovered her purse had not made it home with them. Fortunately Gareth had a house key, but they both knew Kiera would have broken through a window instead of driving back to the restaurant. They also knew that it was only a matter of time before she would have to go back despite her desire to do otherwise. Gareth could have mentioned he had plans to go back on Saturday, but didn't. Despite her aversion she needed to face what happened and who they had met.
She compressed her lips and leaned back in her chair. "There's a spare set of keys at the bar. I'll get my purse later, but I don't want to think about it right now."
"Why not? I mean it was one of those life changing experiences, like coming out to my parents or getting drunk and waking up in San Francisco with a man whose name I didn't remember. That was, by the way, totally awesome.
"That was the same weekend," Kiera laughed. "Your parents called me sobbing about you calling them from a bar and telling them you're gay and then disappearing for two days. They called the police for Pete's sake! I had to assure them you'd come back and that you could date men and still be a lawyer."
"I miss college," he snickered.
They recounted some of the more outrageous times they spent in college: the parties, the late nights, the last minute miracle essays and all the things that brought them closer as friends. Gareth knew she was uncomfortable about last night and let the subject go. They kept the conversation light and avoided any darker or more serious topics. Gareth knew the werewolf conversation was simply postponed until Kiera felt less threatened by the situation. She was at her most stubborn when she felt at a disadvantage and meeting something more unnatural than her was a definite disadvantage.
After an hour of reminiscing Gareth announced he was going to take a shower and then would drive her to the bar. Kiera used the time to finalize some budgeting paperwork and change for the evening. She put on a burgundy tank top and blue jeans, styled her hair and brushed her teeth. Unfortunately for Gareth he had to wear the same clothes from the previous day which he made a point to bemoan.
"I look like a slob," he complained as they got in his car.
"Don't worry, Gare-bear, no one is looking," Kiera retorted and stuck out her tongue.
He dropped her off in front of the bar with a kiss and a promise to stop by later. Kiera looked up at the sign that always made her smile, "A Typical Oasis." The place was her pride and joy and anything but typical. The front door opened and there stood one of her friends, Amber.
"I saw you in arms of a beast," she said simply.
Kiera's smile fell off her face.
Grayson's day was packed full of the usual responsibilities. He resolved some pack disputes, oversaw the redecorating of their dance club, Moonlight, completed some paperwork and sent an email out to the surrounding packs about the attack. It pained him to mention the few details they had about the attack, but he had hopes that one of them would have some information. Each pack worked like an independent nation, but there was still an information network in place. It kept packs that shared boundaries from stepping on each other's toes and aware if any disturbances threatened their way of life. Still, any aggression that exposed a possible weakness within a pack could open the doors to additional attacks. Grayson had beefed up security within the city limits and sent out additional border guards. His initiative went a long way to assure the pack that everything was under control. Derek was released from the infirmary, though still showed signs of healing, and Grayson offered him the enemy's corpse. Derek wasted no time in gorging on what he could before sharing with the rest of the pack. A kill was a kill after all and nothing went to waste. Lena expressed the activity was beneficial for Derek. He was relatively new to the pack and was still establishing position.
Relieved of his most pressing concerns, Grayson sat alone in the security room. Even though he had a set of monitors in his suite he preferred to stay close by. That was until the door opened.
"And they called it puppy lo-ove!"
The booming voice belonged to Alistair, Beta of the pack and mate of Lena. He was one of the few who would dare mock Grayson, but was wise enough to do it in private.
"Shut the door you ass," Grayson grumbled. He had almost thought the previous night's strangeness would pass by unmentioned.
"Yes, Sir," Alistair mock saluted. "I just wanted to confirm some of the additional security measures we're putting in place and ask who you want to send after the girl."
Grayson looked quizzically at his friend. "Lena and I agreed not to put a watch on the humans. They seemed sincere in their promise to keep quiet. In fact, she said Gareth was coming back on his own cognizance and that you were having dinner with him on Saturday. We have no further interest in the woman."
Alistair sensed the lie in that statement, but was wise enough not to point it out. "True enough, but we still need to send someone to her."
Smiling Alistair said, "We have the center of her world, the portal to her feminine being, that which will answer all her mysteries in our possession."
"Explain yourself without the obscurity," Gray growled.
Tsking Alistair stood and opened the door, "Temper, temper, Chief. I meant she left her handbag behind and I'm sure the little lady will want it back ASAP."
Gray stared at the bag hanging from the tips of Alistair's fingers. It was nondescript black, small sized and brought back everything he'd suppressed throughout the day. Not special, but special. It was a loose end and an open door to possibility.
"Consequently," Alistair was saying, "I'm having a background check run on her. You know, just to make sure she is who and what she says she is."
"That's unnecessary," Gray replied. "Kiera was just an innocent bystander last night who unwittingly stumbled into our world."
"Quite the change in tune, my lord Alpha," Alistair noted with a sly smile. "The pack has been buzzing with rumors of your shouting at the little 'innocent bystander' and following her around like she was making off with the silver."
Alistair fell silent at Gray's dark scowl. Tweaking his Alpha's temper was only fun when he wouldn't face retribution. From what his love confided the little human stirred up some strong feelings in their mighty Alpha. Known as a firm, but fair leader who had exemplary control over his temper, Gary's outbursts yesterday were singular indeed. Lena worried about the distraction, but as a red blooded mail Alistair was more amused by the possible development. A werewolf and human connection was not unheard of, but certainly rare among the higher ranking wolves. And it was unheard of an Alpha pursuing a paranormal. Sometimes witches were welcomed by the pack as advisors, but never considered as a romantic possibility.
Then again, Alistair mused, Gray may just be after the tail rather than the woman. Even an Alpha needs variety away from the panting bitches around here.
"Do you know where to find her," Grayson asked his Beta.
"Yup, she owns a bar not too far from here; a place just a mile or so north alongside Riverstone Park."
In a casual tone Alistair continued, "Lena and I think we should send someone nonthreatening over, like one of the Omegas or Donny. Derek volunteered to go, he seems to have developed quite an attachment for the girl, but I think it's best to keep him indoors for a few more days. What do you think?"
"I'll go," Gray announced. "There's no need to bother others."
"Well that's generous of you, but I don't think the task requires your Alpha personal touch," Alistair replied while suppressing his smile. It was playing out just as Lena supposed. "Donny can zip over and back with plenty of time to get ready for work tonight."
But Gray had already grabbed the bag out of Alistair's hand. "Just tell me where to find her."
"If you insist. The twins have the directions; they'll be your escort this evening."
The two men walked through the halls towards the basement garage. Along the way Grayson argued against having bodyguards escort him off grounds, but Alistair insisted.
"This isn't for your protection so much as the pack's peace of mind. Everyone is on high alert and the last thing they want is to risk the lives of their beloved Alphas. Lena has guards assigned to her too and she's not even leaving the grounds."
"Fine," Grayson huffed when they reached a dark blue SUV.
Standing next to it were his two assigned guards, twins named Zachary and Zane. They stood with identical impassive expressions which belied their true amicable nature when off duty. Nevertheless they were expert fighters and well versed in armed combat. If Grayson felt he needed protection the pair would have been his top choices. At his nod the trio piled into the SUV. He rolled down the passenger's side window at Alistair's knock.
"Try to remember to play nice with the little human this time around," Alistair teased, "we'll call your cell should anything come up."
With that he waved good-bye and the SUV drove out of the garage. The sun was setting and the streets were lined with rush hour traffic. Gray knew he could have walked, but trusted Alistair in regards to security. At the truck crawled through the streets he felt both excited and then angry at himself for his excitement. He wanted to handle this delivery so he could assure himself the feelings last night were transitory. Once he proved to himself that he felt nothing towards the human he could move on with the business of running the pack without distraction.
The closest parking they could find was a couple blocks from the bar's entrance. They were silent as the three walked through the darkening streets back towards the bar.
"A Typical Oasis" the sign read. Grayson smiled a bit at the cleverly hidden joke. A bar owned by an empath was "atypical" indeed. Though it was fairly early in the evening the bar was busy. Men and women mingled throughout the space, some were clustered along the long wooden bar and others were either sitting at bistro tables or dancing to the music that pumped through the surrounding speakers. As a business owner Grayson admired the layout and variety of clientele. He saw people in suits talking with people in jeans, ladies in dresses flirting with guys wearing polo shirts and shorts. Grayson made his way to the bar intending to ask for Kiera. Zane followed, but Zack started a circuit around the interior.
Squeezing between people Grayson motioned for one of the bartenders. A statuesque woman with sleek black hair and dark blue eyes came up to him.
"I need to speak with the manager," he said over the din.
"I am," she replied, "what can I do for you?"
Gray was taken aback, "I'm looking for a woman named Kiera, and I was told she owns this bar."
"Co-owner actually. A group of us own the place. Kiera will be out on the floor in awhile, but she's not available right now. Have a drink while you wait."
"I need to see her now," he insisted.
The bartender's pretty eyes widened dramatically at the statement. She looked him over again, her eyes trailing from his dark brown hair tousled from the walk to his intense gray eyes and roaming over his strong facial structure. He didn't look like he was there to talk business with Kiera and the prospect was as surprising as it was welcome. Had Kiera been keeping delicious secrets from them?
Smiling seductively the bartender said, "Wait here just a sec."
She walked down to the other end of the bar and spoke to a man who was busy making a martini. They both looked over at Gray who stood impatiently and then the woman returned.
"Kiera's working on inventory in the back. I guess it would be okay to let you back there. Just come around the end of the bar and I'll let you in the storeroom."
Grayson told Zane to stay put and walked around the end of the bar. The woman met him and opened up a door to the back marked Private. They walked down the hallway passed two other doors and then she opened the one on the end.
"Follow the stairs down and then turn right. She's in there somewhere. My name is Jasmine, by the way. And you are?"
"Grayson," he answered while looking down the dimly lit stairs. The woman talking to him was attractive and had an interesting accent, but he was suddenly anxious to see Kiera again.
"Nice purse," Jasmine winked and walked away leaving him alone at the entrance of the storeroom.
Grayson took a deep breath and walked down the stairs. The storeroom seemed to run the whole length of the floor upstairs and was full of stacked chairs, tables and liquor stores. He heard humming and walked towards the source. Soon he picked up Kiera's scent telling him he was on the right track, and that she was alone. He spied her standing in front of boxes filled with liquor bottles. Her back was to him so he took a moment to look her over. He sighed in relief that the strange feelings that plagued him last night didn't surface. It was just as he thought, a momentary intrigue perpetuated by extreme events.
"Oh where, oh where, has my 151 rum gone? Oh where, oh where could it be," Kiera sang to herself.
She knew suddenly that she was no longer alone, but didn't turn around. She expected it was Mason or one of the other guys either taking a break. Kiera wasn't about to turn around to face a fresh bout of teasing for singing to herself. She found what she was looking for, checked it off the list and moved to the next box.
Gray realized the longer he stood there watching the more awkward it would be when she realized who he was. It was time to give her the handbag and then head home. Intending to make his presence known he cleared his throat.
Nothing. Just more humming.
He tried again, but again there was no response. It was a novel experience to be ignored and not one he enjoyed. Grayson wondered how he could get her attention without startling her when she finally spoke.
"If you're going to hover at least make yourself useful. Take a case of lager upstairs to chill. Last weekend we couldn't keep up with demand."
"Uh," Grayson was at a loss. In the old days he had worked in a pub, but hadn't been ordered to do manual labor in many years.
Kiera stiffened and whipped around. The deep voice belonging to that one syllable was familiar, but unexpected. She realized too late that the presence was not one of the employees and that she was cornered in the storeroom with a werewolf. She stumbled into the boxes behind her in the instinctual reaction to escape.
Grayson rushed to put her at ease and held up her purse, "I just came here to return your bag. You left it in the restaurant. Jasmine said it would be okay for me to come down here."
"Oh," Kiera said stared dumbly at the handbag he offered.
"Oh," she said again then reached for her purse, "thanks."
They stood that way for a few moments while Kiera assimilated the situation and Grayson waited. He could hear her heart begin to slow from its startled pace. The predator in him thrilled at the fluttering heartbeat, but the man tried to appear as nonthreatening as possible. He stood quietly as she clutched her purse to her chest and continued to stare at him. He met her wary green gaze and smiled calmly.
At his smile Kiera jerked and rushed into speech, "Thanks so much, you saved my life. I was going to go to the restaurant to get my bag, but I didn't have time today and then I had to work so I thought I'd get it tomorrow or Sunday. I was lost without my keys, but I have a spare set. It would have been harder to drive without my license and of course no one wants to be without their credit cards, so thanks again. Oh and in case you're wondering, I haven't told anyone about last night. I promised and I always keep my word."
Grayson's smile broadened as she rambled. "I didn't come here to check on you; I was informed that a woman's purse was the center of her universe so I knew I had to get it back to you as soon as possible."
"True enough," she agreed.
Grayson noticed she didn't return his smile, but was slowly relaxing. He also noticed the longer they talked the more the spark of interest grew within him. He decided it was time to make a graceful exit.
"You have a nice place upstairs," he said instead. "How long have you been in business?"
Kiera frowned slightly. She had hoped he would leave after she thanked him, but now he was complimenting her bar and making small talk.
"Well, I guess it's been just about three years," she answered.
"It seems to pull in good business," he said.
"We do alright. Friday and Saturday nights are the most crowded. It's not as elegant as the bar in your restaurant, but we seem to stay busy."
"That bar is mostly for patrons waiting for a table. We also have a British style pub that caters to a more casual crowd. And of course the night club draws in an assorted clientele."