Leader of the Pack Ch. 01bysecretme©
To the brave belong all things.
Smoke thickened as the night wore on. The bar was crowded and Aislinn moved from one person to the next along the bar, filling drink orders. She had taken the job a month ago when she had come into town. Her scummy boss, Derrick, had been more than happy to hire her. He had recently lost a bar tender and Aislinn was above average in appearance even if she didn't think so. When Aislinn had applied to the job he hadn't even asked if she could mix drinks. He figured that he could teach that. She wasn't a super model but she was attractive in a strange way and she was better than the nothing that he had. Derrick was at the far end of the bar talking with some regulars. Aislinn had learned relatively quickly to keep space between herself and Derrick. At the moment she also had Luke tending bar in between them and that definitely helped.
Aislinn hated the place. Derrick was an ass. He was always grabbing her and making lewd comments. He had even attacked her once. But she had slugged him and gotten away. She needed the job. She needed the money. The other people she worked with were mostly nice. Kelly was really the only bitch and that was because Aislinn had gotten the job Kelly had wanted. In this place the best spot to be in was behind the bar where the only person who could grab you was Derrick. Anywhere else and you were fair game for all the jerks who came in the place. Kelly's main problem with Aislinn had to do with the fact that she figured she had been there longer, had done her time and deserved the bartender job. When Derrick gave it Aislinn he had made Kelly a permanent enemy for her.
Aislinn approached the new guy who had sat down at the bar near the wall. He was impressive. His approach had resulted in most of the other patrons making more than enough room for him, resulting in an unnatural amount of space at that end of the bar. Aislinn was perfectly happy to have a short lull in the number of people she had to deal with. The man was pretty big, even sitting on the stool. He had black hair and brown-black eyes and was tanned. He looked hard muscled even under the black leather duster he was wearing. But the strangest thing was this ageless appearance to him. At first look she might have said he was in his late twenties/early thirties. But at second glance he looked almost 100. Whether that was normal for him or was the fact that he looked as though he'd had the worst day of his life was up for grabs. "What can I get you?"
The guy looked up at her as if he only just realized that he was in a bar. Aislinn waited and when he didn't respond she asked again. "What can I get you?"
Cullen stared at the girl speaking to him appraisingly. She had an odd scent. It was hard to make out between the rancid smell of the bar, the smoke from the people around him soaking into everything, and some awful perfume she seemed to have bathed in. But there was something to it that caught his attention. She was attractive but she wasn't remarkable in any way. She had brown hair, blue eyes, pale skin, and medium build. She wasn't his type. I would probably break her, he thought and grinned at himself. Besides she wasn't what he was here for. The last thing he wanted was a woman tonight. No matter how intriguing her scent was.
"If you're not ready to order I can come back in a couple," Aislinn offered at his silence and the annoyed, confused look on his face as he stared at her.
Aislinn nodded, poured the beer and placed it in front of him. No sooner had she waited on the next person but he was pushing his glass toward her. She gave him another. Then another. At first she was concerned. He didn't look very friendly and adding drunk to not very friendly usually didn't end well. But he kept himself to himself, paid for each glass as he indicated his need for a refill, and didn't do anything to bother her or anyone else. He just stared at his glass and drank. Something about him that she couldn't quite put her finger on kept everyone else away.
Aislinn really wasn't sure what kept drawing her attention back to him. The smell of him disturbed her. Since she had escaped her last job she'd had a sharper sense of smell. But after everything she'd been through to this point she kept herself to herself and that included telling anyone that she could tell who she was talking to with her eyes closed. Smells always got to her very easily. When she got out into the big wide world she had started layering on perfumes just to mask the smells around her. But tonight his smell was getting through her defenses. He smelled foul or dead. At least that was the only way she could describe it. She didn't know what could possibly make that odor. But every time the air shifted she nearly flinched at the awful reek that overpowered even the smell of rancid beer in this place. God why did I decide bartending was a good idea, she thought to herself.
Cullen was still sitting there drinking as the place was getting ready to close. The girl who had been serving him all night walked up to him as she was clearing the bar. "Hey, buddy, do you need me to call you a cab or something?"
"Cullen," he said before he knew that he had said it.
"What?" Aislinn stopped what she was doing and started reaching for a phone. "Is there someone I can call for you?" she reiterated.
"My name. Cullen. Not 'buddy'. And no, I don't need a ride. I'll walk." He started to get up and then realized that he had drank more than he originally thought. It's been a long time since I managed to get drunk, he thought with a measure of amusement. Well that's what I came here to do wasn't it? He sat back down on the bar stool.
Aislinn sighed and looked over at one of the other girls. Nikki just shrugged. "Alright, Cullen," she said haltingly. "Look, we're closing, you're too drunk to move. You've got to have a friend somewhere who'll come get you."
He looked up at her and grinned with wry amusement. "Yhea," he said, "a whole pack."
Normally a guy who said something like that and looked at her that way would have scared the crap out of her. But there was just something about the smelly guy that told her he wasn't a threat to her. If there was one thing she had always been pretty good at, it was reading people. That was half the reason Derrick didn't really bother her. She had known what he was like the minute she took the job. So, obviously it was her own fault she had to put up with him. Aislinn picked up the phone. "Give me a number."
Cullen rattled off a number and she dialed. It rang twice and then a gruff, sleepy voice picked up. "Hello?"
"Yhea hi, sorry to wake you," Aislinn said.
"Yhea, who is this?" the voice said.
"Um, I tend bar. Do you know some guy named Cullen?"
A shocked, "huh?" came from the sleepy voice. Cullen was watching Aislinn with amusement. His eyes sparkled a bit and he had a grin that reminded her of a kid playing a great joke on someone. He was taking note of everything about her. For a human she was rather impressive or very stupid. There wasn't another person in this bar who had been willing to be within two feet of him, but the girl didn't seem bothered at all. At least not by his appearance or mood. He got the feeling that there really wasn't anything he could have said or done to have made her afraid of him. And more than any of that she was able to make eye contact with him and stare him down. It had been a long time since anyone had enough balls for that.
Aislinn growled her annoyance at the situation. "Look, I'm sorry I woke you up, buddy. But there's this guy in my bar and we're closing. He's too drunk to leave on his own. He says his name is Cullen and he gave me this number when I asked him if he wanted me to call someone for him. Can you come get him or not?"
Keith rubbed his face. He thought he was having a crazy dream. He looked at the cell phone and then put it back to his ear. "Cullen?"
"Yhea, Cullen." The female voice at the other end of the line was sounding more agitated by the minute. "Are you coming to get him?" she insisted.
"Yhea fine. Where is he?"
"The bar's called the Blood Pit. It's on the corner of Elm and Oak. Do you know it?"
"No," he said. "But I'll find it." Then there was a click.
Aislinn stared at the phone. Cullen chuckled. "He hung up?"
"Yhea, but he said he was coming." Aislinn went back to cleaning up.
Cullen reveled in the feeling of the spinning room. As he waited he watched the girl move about. The drinking had done precisely what he wanted. It drowned out the look, smell, and feel of that bitch he wasn't interested in being mated to. He was trying to figure out what that scent was on the girl when one of the other girls walked up to her. That annoyed him to no end. Now there were two obnoxious smelling perfumes in addition to the rest of the odors in this room covering up the girl's scent.
"Ais, I've gotta go." She lowered her voice and looked over at Cullen uncertainly then back at Aislinn. But Cullen's ears were better than most and he heard every word she said. "I want to wait for you but Jeremy's outside already and he's being impatient. I don't know who to be more concerned about. Derrick or this guy you're looking after. It's not real bright of you."
Aislinn looked back toward the offices then over at Cullen. "I know. Maybe I can talk Derrick into watching him til his friend gets here."
"Fat chance on that. How's he gonna stalk you if he's gotta stick around here for some guy. Nope, he'll say that you didn't just kick him out so this guy's your problem. Then when he's gone and you don't have me around to give you a ride home, Derrick offers you a ride and guess how he'll expect you pay for it. Not to mention, the jerk's been drinking tonight. He's checked his brain at the door."
"It's okay Renee. I'll be fine. I've taken care of myself for this long." Cullen noted the tired, lonely sound in her voice.
Renee looked at Cullen again, just as some big football type poked his head in the doorway. "Renee," he yelled. "Are you coming or what?"
"Yhea," she answered. "I've gotta go," she said in that abused, manipulated, will-answer-to-any-jerk-that-pretends-he-cares-about-her way. She hugged Aislinn. "Be safe," Cullen heard her whisper.
"You too," Aislinn said knowingly. Renee blushed and then hurried away. As she reached the door the guy grabbed her by the arm and led her out.
Cullen held himself back. She was just another human in an abusive relationship and it wasn't any of his business. He growled under his breath and tried to stand up. Suddenly the room began spinning again and he sat back down on the stool with a grin and a chuckle.
"Aislinn!" The voice that called the girl's name was slurred and angry sounding. Cullen looked up to see the girl hurry to some greasy looking guy who was standing in a doorway on the back wall. He tried to get her back into the office but the girl was smart enough to not let him draw her in. "Haven't you gotten rid of that guy yet?" His tone was annoyed and drunk.
"He's got a friend coming to get him. If you want to go I'll lock up behind me."
"And leave you here in my place?" He grinned luridly at her. "The only guy you get to stay here alone with is me." He tried to grab at her but she stepped back and he missed. That earned her a glare.
"You know that I don't work that way, Derrick. You wanna fire me go ahead. But I don't play touchy feely with any guy."
Cullen grinned again. She was amusing. Her tone was assertive and she seemed to be in control so he let her protect herself. It was nice to see that some people could. Cullen missed the end of their conversation to his swimming brain and his own thoughts. The guy disappeared back into his office and Aislinn was walking toward him when he looked up.
"So where is this friend of yours anyway?" She said. He could hear an edge of concern in her voice when she said that. She stared at Cullen and then over at the door.
"You know what," Cullen said and eyed the office door. "If you need a ride home or something…" His voice trailed off as he looked at her.
Aislinn's eyes meet his again. She couldn't help see there was something in there. He was just one of those people she knew could be trusted in the same way she knew that Derrick couldn't be. At the same time logic dictated that she not accept rides from drunken strangers. "No thanks." She walked over to the main doors and looked out. There wasn't anyone there and the parking lot was abandoned except for a large black SUV and Derrick's crappy red Honda. Presumably he SUV belonged to this Cullen guy. She was considering calling a taxi. It would cost her but at least that was safer than any of her other options at the moment. Aislinn turned around to find Cullen standing directly behind her with a confused, appraising look on his face.
He just couldn't put his finger on it. He wasn't sure what she smelled like. But he was starting to think that he liked it, whatever it was. He figured that if it weren't for the alcohol he probably wouldn't be being so introspective or even care. The worst part was that he wanted a closer inspection. Not that she'd submit to that. She wouldn't even let him give her a ride. She was standing there looking at him cautiously. He closed his eyes and smiled good-naturedly, shaking his head. He could just imagine her reaction if he said something like, I'll give you a ride home, you can take a shower, then you can let me smell you. He chuckled again. Alcohol hadn't felt this good in ages. And he didn't even feel that good. It's pretty sad with a little bit of amusement caused by a random female and alcohol beats out everything else in your life, he thought.
Aislinn could see the thoughts spinning through his head. He was amusing himself with whatever it was he was thinking. She couldn't help wondering what it was. He certainly had a pleasant smile. As he was standing there she finally saw what was making him smell so foul. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans under his duster. Everything he was wearing was black, so in the gloomy bar with all the smoke and him sitting behind the bar she hadn't noticed. But now that he was standing, with the coat open in the light from the main entrance she could see what appeared to be blood all over the front of him. She wasn't an expert but she was pretty positive from the smell that it wasn't human blood. That had a more coppery smell to it. She had caught that smell coming from people a number of times. People were always getting hurt. The smell of human blood wasn't pleasant but it wasn't this foul either.
Cullen saw the look on her face and followed her gaze to the front of his clothes. When he realized what she was staring at he pulled the duster closed and looked up at her again. That had sobered him up a bit. He had nearly forgotten the fight with the vamp he'd gotten himself into on his way home. Then he didn't manage to make it home. This time when their eyes met they seemed to be staring into each other, trying to read the other's mind. That was when another large black SUV pulled into the lot.
Aislinn turned to look at who was pulling in. "This your friend?"
"Yhea, I think so," he said, still looking at her. He didn't want to be done with this yet. She had obviously seen the blood. Didn't she even care?
Aislinn looked back over his shoulder, and then sidled past him. "Excuse me." She half jogged, half walked toward the bar and jumped over it in one motion. Cullen noted the athletic ability that her non-athletic build masked. She grabbed some stuff from behind the bar and then came around the side, all the while watching the office door. As she came back toward the main entrance she called back to the office, "Derrick, that guy's ride's here. I'm leaving."
Before Derrick could get out of the office to stop her she had moved passed Cullen again and out into the parking lot. "Have a good night," she waved and walked hurriedly toward the street.
The guy from the office came trotting across the floor and stared out the door after her but she had managed to get out to the road and was on her way toward town. "Shit," he said and glared at Cullen.
Cullen could see the look in the man's eyes and knew that whether it was tonight or some other night Aislinn was in danger. Something in Cullen was outraged at the thought. But the alcohol was making it difficult for him to think beyond doing something unfortunate to the man right then and there.
Keith walked up to Cullen as Derrick ushered him the rest of the way out the entrance and closed the door and locked it without a word. Derrick would never know how close he came to being ripped to shreds that night.
Keith followed Cullen's gaze as he watched Aislinn walking quickly down the road. "Hey, you alright?"
"Yhea," Cullen answered and looked over at his friend as he was led toward the SUV. "Congratulate me. I'm engaged to be mated."
Keith understood. He shook his head. He couldn't believe that Cullen was going along with this. It wasn't the way the Arnauk operated. As they neared the SUV Liam stepped out. Cullen threw Liam the keys to the truck that he'd driven here and Liam headed for the other vehicle. Keith headed for his side of the car. As they were getting in Cullen saw Derrick appear out the side of the bar and head for the beat up car at the other side of the lot.
"Do me a favor," Cullen said. "Consider it a condemned man's last request. Follow that guy."
Keith stared at Cullen a minute and then shrugged. Putting the truck in gear he headed after the guy. It didn't make any sense but who was he to argue with Lord General Cullen Arnauk. "You gonna tell me why we're following him?"
Cullen smiled sardonically. "Cuz he's an ass and I want a reason to rip his throat out."
"Alright." Keith wasn't used to Cullen being like this. Firstly, he didn't get drunk. Secondly, he didn't disappear and then need rides summoned by strange girls in the middle of the night. Thirdly, he didn't show interest in human females. And if that wasn't enough, he didn't chase human males around regardless of his intentions on them. Keith looked over at Cullen appraisingly. He knew that being forced into mating with Jenna Tairneach was the last thing in existence that he wanted.
"Faigh muin," Cullen swore vehemently and brought Keith's attention back to the situation. Keith slammed on the brakes and Cullen dove out of the car before Keith could see what the problem was.
Aislinn had been walking as fast as she could. She was just praying that she could reach her crappy apartment before Derrick could get his act together. It was only a ten minute walk from the bar but if he got in his car relatively quickly he'd be able to catch up.
When Derrick pulled in front of her, cutting her off, she knew that she was in trouble. Aislinn headed for the other side of the road as Derrick got out and followed her. "Hey Ais, are you sure you don't want a ride?" he slurred.
God, I wonder how much he drank tonight? Aislinn's mind raced. He was between her and her apartment. Just one more block. Momentarily she thought she might be able to get around him. She was rather quick. Then there was the other option. He had tried this once before. She had cold cocked him and he had left her alone for a week. "Do you want me to hit you again?"
"You bitch," he said with a wicked glare. "You really do think you're too good for me. I'll teach you this time."
Aislinn set herself up in a defensive stance. As Derrick got closer she balled her hands into fists and punched him square in the face. Derrick grunted, but managed to catch himself just before he fell over. "Damn bitch!" he said, spitting out blood. "You on steroids or something?"