The Girl Who Cried Werewolf ~ Chapter 1
Updated: May 27, 2021
“Oh, hell no! You can't read a book at a bar, Romy.”
Talia’s words startle me, and I knock my book off the table as I turn to look at her and Anna. While Talia’s pale rose hair, septum piercing, tattoos, and tough New Yorker attitude might intimidate some, they didn’t work on me.
Glaring, I pick up my copy of The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride from the floor of Valkyrie.
“If there is any alcohol on this, you owe me a new one,” I say. “And for your information, I wasn't going to read it. Much. I just needed to get some good pictures for my Insta.”
I position my book at the perfect angle for a quick photo on the low drink table in front of our couch.
“Oh, sweet baby Jesus, Romy. Did I just see the words Mail Order Bride on the cover? What are you even readin’?” Anna groans before covering her face as though that will contain her embarrassment.
I narrow my eyes and point to my chest before speaking to her like she's a small child. “Romy. Reads. Romance.” I say, pointing at myself. “Don’t act like you whores aren’t aware that’s my Insta handle.”
Talia snorts, and I roll my eyes at both of them.
“I met you assholes at freshman orientation. You'd think that you would be used to my weird book shit by now. And to answer your original question, it’s about a vampire who orders a bride by mail in order to appease his grandmother. It's really good. You can totally borrow it.”
I change angles to get a new shot, and Talia arches her perfectly sculpted brow at me.
“So, you're being crazier than normal. That's fun, but how about you tell us why your book nerdiness is on full display tonight.”
“My nerdiness is completely camouflaged,” I argue. “Does your average bookworm wear three inch heels?”
“And you look damn hot in them,” Talia agrees.
“What Talia means to say is that you seem stressed,” Anna says. “We just want you to know that we're here for ya, girl. Even if it’s just to hold that book right there at a perfect ninety-degree angle. Right?”
Anna levels a pointed look at Talia, who grins. “Right.”
Anna's kind blue eyes hold no judgment as she tucks a lock of her long blonde hair behind her ear, and I smile at her peacekeeping attempts. Her Tennessee is showing again. She's far too southern to allow us to argue in public.
“Thanks,” I tell them. “Actually, I do have something on my mind.”
Talia leans in. “I knew it. Spill.”
“Professor Higgins assigned a project that starts today and runs through the end of the year.”
“Already? Professor Hottie sure knows how to start the year off as a buzzkill. My biz accounting professor just wants us to do a PowerPoint every three seconds.”
I snort, and Anna rolls her eyes before dragging my attention back to her.
“What are your requirements? Is there anythin’ we can do to help?”
“We have to increase our social media following by fifteen percent by the end of the year.”
“Fifteen percent?” Talia repeats. “That’s . . .” She pauses, doing the math in her head.
“Another twenty thousand,” Anna chimes in, frowning. “That’s a lot.”
“You’re telling me. It took me years to get to where I am now. Not only that, he expects a presentation describing how we accomplished it and how we plan to continue to grow our brand after graduation.”
The thought of graduation brings on a flood of emotion. I love attending the university where my parents met, but it also reminds me daily of what I lost.
“You guys know how hard I've had to work to gain my followers back after Mom and Dad passed. I truly love what I do, but I’m not sure I can make that big of a push.”
Talia and Anna wear matching masks of sympathy, and I can tell that they’re thinking of the girl I’d been freshman year. Broken. Lonely. Worst of all, orphaned.
“You have to prioritize your healin’,” Anna says gently, as if three years of finding my way back from the darkness wasn’t enough.
“Are you worried about your scholarship?” Talia asks, cutting right to the heart of things as usual. “Because your academic probation ended two years ago, and your grades have been fine ever since sophomore year. You got this.”
“It’s not just about keeping my grades up for my scholarship, though. Social media is my income,” I say. “I can’t afford to fail this project. Not if I want to be a successful influencer.”
Anna and Talia exchange a look.
I turn away, pretending not to see, and catch sight of the cute bartender manning the bar behind us. I take notice of the length of his long brown hair, strong jawline, and panty wetting chin stubble. I instantly deem him book boyfriend material and wonder if I can get him to take a picture with me for my feed.
“PS, that bartender is totally a werewolf,” I say, nodding my head toward said bartender as he tosses a bar rag over his shoulder and shakes a drink.
The play of his forearm muscles mesmerizes me.
“Man, I have got to get me one of those,” I say.
“You're seriously considerin’ datin’ finally? Oh, my great aunt Betsy! That's so excitin’,” Anna says.
“What? Oh.” I laugh. “I don't mean a boyfriend. A werewolf. I have got to get me a werewolf. Just look at him. He's delicious,” I sigh while propping my chin on the back of the couch so I can stare at him properly.
“Hey, cocoa puffs,” Talia says without glancing up from her phone. “You do know that werewolves aren't real, right? I mean, if I'm going to have to visit you every other Saturday at the looney bin, I need to know now so I can allow time in my schedule.”
“Funny.” I force my attention away from hottie. “Look, I don’t have time for dating, okay? Even without my crazy final assignment, I have to focus.”
“It’s okay to take a break sometimes,” Anna says.
“I take breaks.”
“Look, you guys know I love books. I even love being an influencer, but I'm not going to be able to do it forever. Nobody is gonna want to see me in my underwear and long socks, holding my favorite books when I'm forty. I need to build a name for myself in the book community. If I do everything right, eventually I’ll transition to repping books for film and TV or maybe work for a publishing house.”
“Honey, you can do anythin’ you set your mind to.” Anna pats my arm.
I shake off my heavy thoughts and give them my best reassuring grin. “Graduation is still months away. I know I’ll think of something, but thanks for volunteering to be my book bitches.”
“Hey now, I don’t recall sayin’ all that,” Anna says with a laugh.
“Okay, enough of all this. Too much adult talk. Let's get sloppy,” Talia shouts, turning to wave to the bartender.
“I think I heard the word sloppy screamed in my direction,” a deep voice says. I turn to find my werewolf bartender standing behind me. “My name's Travis. How can I make that happen for you ladies?” he asks with a smirk.
Talia and Anna place their orders, and then Travis’ warm chocolatey eyes are trained on me.
“What about you, gorgeous?”
“I’ll take a Church, no ice. But before you go, would you mind snapping a picture with me? My followers would love you,” I say before I can change my mind.
Anna turns pink, and Talia chuckles.
“That depends. Do you ask all of your bartenders to pose with you?” he asks, raising his brow.
“Only the ones who look like sexy werewolves,” I answer earnestly, making the sign of the cross over my heart.
He throws his head back and laughs a deep belly laugh before tossing his arm over my shoulder and motioning for me to take a selfie. I snap a few of us together, and he humors me further by doing a couple of different poses before heading back to make our drinks.
I flip through the pics on my phone, noting how the lighting has made my freckles more pronounced. I’ve never exactly hated my features, but the smattering of dots across the bridge of my nose and tops of my cheeks has always been a thorn in my side. I was, however, gifted with well-behaved hair, and tonight my long ginger locks are rocking that perfect beach wave. My new favorite bartender, however, looks flawless. My followers are going to eat him up.
“Damn, girl! Look at you working that sexy bookworm thing! Make sure you ask him if he has a safe word. Everybody knows that werewolves like it a little rough,” Talia says while pantomiming spanking.
“You girls could make a preacher cuss,” Anna mumbles, and I notice the tips of her ears starting to turn pink, too.
“I've got a final project due, and sexy Travis over there is gonna help me score an A,” I say with a shrug before swiping through my pictures. I pause on a black and white shot of my laptop, its Boys In Books Are Better sticker on full display, and smile before continuing my perusal. I'm surprised to see how many keepers I have from tonight.
“Ladies, I come bearing libations,” Travis says before handing Talia then Anna their drinks. When he turns to hand me mine, he slides an extra napkin my way. “Just in case you want to tag me or something,” he says with a wink. “It’s on the house, ladies,” he adds before heading back to the bar.
Talia whistles. “Cheers to that.”
I smile and reach for the napkin, surprised to see his name, phone number, and social media handle scribbled messily across the front. I slip it into my bag and lift my drink as Talia shouts, “To bookworms!”
I clink glasses with them both, adding, “To werewolves!”
Two drinks later, I’m a little dizzy and a lot exhausted. Between school stress and work stuff, my head has begun to pulse to the beat of Meet Virginia that’s blaring through the speakers.
Anna and Talia are not so inclined to end the night.
“We should head over to Club Majestic,” Talia says. “I want to dance off these drink-carbs.”
“Guys, seriously. I have a million things to do before bed,” I say.
Talia shakes her head. “Anna and I worked her dessert truck until midnight last night. I had powdered sugar in unmentionable areas and still got up early enough to make it to the sorority meeting before our morning class today.”
That small reminder has guilt bubbling up inside me. Talia and Anna have given up a lot for me, including leaving their sorority house and moving into my apartment halfway through freshman year so I wouldn’t be alone.
“Listen.” I hold up my hands. “In a competition of badassery, you win, Tal.”
Talia smirks. “You're not tired. You just don't want to people anymore. Admit it,” she demands, tossing back the rest of her drink.
“Fine! I'm lame and would rather read a book than hang out at a bar. Are you happy?”
Her mean girl facade crumbles, and she snorts at my honesty. “Whatever, nerd. Go home before midnight, but you’re responsible for buying the supplies for our next Midnight Kisses.”
I hold up what I think is a Girl Scout symbol. “Done! I love you guys, and I’ll see you at home, okay?” I hug them both before they can change their minds.
“Be careful,” Anna says. “I hate it when you walk around by yourself at night.” She frowns with worry, and I smile at her concern before assuring them I'll be vigilant.
I push my way through the too small bar and breathe a sigh of relief as I step outside into the blissfully cool autumn air. My skin is overheated from the alcohol and crowded bodies. The slight breeze feels like heaven to my skin.
Valkyrie is in an area of Reverence known as Bricktown because all of the streets are paved with, you guessed it, bricks. As I concentrate on walking and not getting a heel caught in the cracks, I curse the idiot who thought paving a road frequented by drunk college students with uneven bricks was a good idea. It doesn’t help that Valkyrie is one of the oldest bars set at the farthest end of a narrow street off the main road. This time of night, the alley is deserted. Everyone who’s out is already tucked inside the bar until closing.
“Fine. You want a name? It was me!”
I jump at the raised voice and almost lose my footing thanks to the impractical road. I look around, trying to find the man who yelled.
A drunk frat guy, maybe? Wouldn’t be the first time.
“In that case, allow me to personally congratulate you. And dole out your retribution accordingly.”
I creep closer, swearing under my breath when my heel gets caught between two uneven bricks. I bend down and slip off the sparkly gold shoes, determined to pry it free without breaking the heel. A low growl echoes from nearby, and I jerk up in surprise. The heel snaps off my shoe, and I curse the drunken idiots whose brawl just cost me my favorite heels. The low growl echoes again from nearby. It sounds absolutely feral, and I shiver as I peer into the alley on my left for some sign of a four-legged animal.
The streetlight only illuminates a few feet into the alley before the darkness swallows the light, making it impossible for me to make out anything clearly.
I think of the two drunk idiots I’ve overheard and dig through my purse before I remember I left the mace at home to make space for my books. Cursing myself, I grab my phone instead. I have no intention of being that heroine every reader yells, “Look behind you, idiot,” at. A quick swipe turns on the flashlight feature. With the narrow beam aimed forward, I let my thumb hover over the emergency call button. I toss my broken heel into the bottom of my bag, keeping the good one out in case I need a weapon.
“Hey, guys,” I call into the darkness. “I'm pretty sure there’s a dog on the loose, so you guys should probably measure your dicks some other time and just go back inside before you get rabies or something.”
No one answers me.
I inch forward, shining the flashlight on the way ahead. On a hunch that I can’t even explain, I hit the button to start recording and then point the camera toward the alley. The moment I hit record, the flashlight flickers off.
It’s one or the other. I’ve made my choice.
My eyes trained on the screen, I watch as the scene ahead comes into view. The moment it comes into focus on the small screen, the haze of alcohol leaves my mind in an instant.
I realize with absolute certainty that I've made a mistake. Because the guys are obviously long gone. At the end of the alley are two of the biggest dogs I've ever seen. A brown one lies pinned to the ground by a monstrous black dog, its massive jaws clenched around its victim’s neck.
In a moment of panic, I throw my shoe at it.
“Hey! Get! Bad dog,” I yell as my heel bounces harmlessly off the black dog’s rear before landing nearby with a pathetic clatter.
The black dog abandons its kill and stalks towards me.
Nice, Romy. You just annoyed the thing. And now you’re weaponless.
My gaze shifts to the dead dog behind it. But it’s not a dog anymore. A scream lodges in my throat as my brain tries to compute what my eyes are telling it. The naked body is still and lifeless–all except for the steady stream of blood still leaking from his torn throat.
My phone slips from my limp hands and clatters to the bricks at my feet. I turn and run, only looking over my shoulder once I've reached the street.
My jaw falls open, and I skid to a stop, my bag falling down my arm and spilling some of its contents onto the road.
The giant dog is gone. Vanished.
In its place, in the middle of the alley stands the sexiest man I've ever seen—completely naked and dripping in blood. He starts toward me then stiffens suddenly and stops. The violent look is gone, replaced by an intensity I can feel low in my belly. He opens his mouth like he might speak but then quickly shuts it again, his interest turning to confusion.
Behind him, the bloody human corpse remains a very dead man.
Every sane and rational thought slides out of my mind as I struggle to compute what just happened. There was a dog. Then it was gone.
That isn’t right.
There were two dogs. Now the dogs are both dudes.
One of them is dead. The other is staring me down like I’m next.
Holy. . .
Werewolves are real.
And this one looks ready to eat me.
Rather than wait around for my turn to come, I turn and run like my life depends on it since, apparently, it actually does.