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“Jenny. He’s here.”
Amanda’s stage whisper was loud enough for the entire diner to hear. Jenny knew who Amanda was talking about, and without turning around, she knew exactly what he’d be doing. He’d be swinging one long, lean, jean-covered leg over the counter stool, the same motion she’d seen him use as he climbed on his bike, the day he’d ridden the big old Harley to the diner. Then he’d grab a menu—even though he always ordered the same thing: coffee, black—and run a hand through all that messy black hair, hunch his shoulders as he glanced down at the greasy plastic in his hands, pretending to read what Betty’s Lunch Box had to offer the hungry customer.
But the best part came next. A shiver of anticipation ran through her and she briefly closed her eyes.
The best part was when she’d stop in front of him, pad and pen ready, and he’d look up at her.
The first time it happened, she’d felt like she had when she was a little kid, and she’d gone ass-end over the handlebars of her Schwinn, landing on the pavement, hard. It had taken a small eternity to draw that first painful breath, and she’d sincerely believed she was lying dead in front of old Mrs. Perkins’ house, and her mom was going to kill her for tearing her new jeans. The first time she’d looked into his blue eyes—Caribbean vacation post-card ocean blue—she’d been unable to breathe, much less ask him what he wanted to eat.
She knew now to breathe in before he looked up, just in case the whole Schwinn experience replayed itself.
“Ready to order?”
He’d been coming in since Monday and she’d said the same thing exactly five times. Mentally, she kicked herself; was it so hard to think of something, anything, other than that?
He looked up at her, and the eyes did their magic.
“Coffee, please. Black.” He looked up, smiled at her. Trying to appear competent, she nodded, and made the effort to write something on her pad. The word might have been coffee.
He reached to put the menu back, but it slipped out of the metal holder on the counter. She reached for the menu, and so did he, and his fingers brushed against hers.
Images flashed through her mind: teeth, claws, black fur. She took a step back and the menu hit the floor with a slap. She looked at it lying on the scuffed linoleum, as it was responsible for what she saw, before she turned and stumbled away. Her knees were weak, her breathing all messed up again.
He was like her. He was a shifter.
“You okay?” Amanda’s hand on her elbow startled her, and she turned and blinked at her friend.
“Um, yeah. Lost my footing. I’m fine.”
She made it to the coffee pot, grabbing a cup with a trembling hand. Either she was slipping, or he had been able, somehow, to cloak what he was for the past five days. She knew damn well he had no clue she was a shifter. It was the first thing she’d been taught, to mask everything about her that might give away what she was. With humans, keeping that little secret was a piece of cake. But with other shifters, it was a different story.
Then why, suddenly, could she see what he was? Had he dropped his guard, accidentally, or on purpose? Gotten lazy, made a slip?
Or did he think he was the only shifter around? That was arrogant attitude, if you asked her.
She frowned at the coffee pot she still held. The guy was more questions than answers. She poured his coffee, slopping a little into the saucer.
“Here you go.” She set the coffee in front of him and hesitated, wavering between walking away, and the overwhelming urge to ask him who the hell he was, and why he was sitting at her station.
But before she had the chance to decide, all hell broke loose.