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Big Bad Wolf
By Christine Warren
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Christine Warren
All rights reserved.
Abstinence wouldn't be quite so bad, Graham decided, if not for the lack of sex.
Nursing his fifth scotch and wishing it were a fifth of scotch, the alpha of the Silverback Clan of New York City spent his Saturday night in a manner no self-respecting werewolf should ever have to endure — single and celibate.
At least he didn't have to spend it alone, he reflected, although the type of companionship he could expect to find at his friends' post-wedding engagement party left a lot to be desired. A bit long in the tooth for his taste. Graham preferred women who hadn't been painting the town red back when his ancestors still thought of the cotton gin as a newfangled contraption. Plus, seeing that he'd just broken off his on-again-off-again relationship with one particular vampire, he didn't feel any great compulsion to go start a new one. Immortal women all seemed to be just a little too demanding.
Why he bothered to sulk here in the corner, rather than excusing himself and getting out there to meet the Lupine woman of his dreams, remained a mystery. He couldn't blame a fear of commitment like so many human men seemed to do. Werewolves relished the idea of a mate-bond and lived to beget lots of new generations of baby Lupines, and even Graham looked forward to the day when he would rear his own cubs in the traditions of his clan and his ancestors. Commitment sounded just fine to him. It wasn't fear that had him in this mood; it was boredom.
Graham suffered from a huge, honking case of the same old–same olds. Everywhere he looked, he saw the same faces, the same habits, heard the same gossip, and seduced the same women. Oh, their names and hair color might change, but deep down, they were all the same to him. The realization depressed him. What had happened to the carefree, rakish wolf he used to be? These days he acted more like a priest than a playboy.
He blamed the women, of course. What other reason was there for an attractive, healthy Lupine in his prime to suddenly go cold turkey from the pleasures of sex? He still enjoyed the act, after all, so his problem wasn't physical. Never in his life had he experienced any problem getting an erection when the situation called for one. He had no trouble getting it up, but lately he'd had a bitch of a time getting it back down, and that he blamed on his partners.
If he remained dissatisfied after a sweaty, breathless romp, he must be romping with the wrong woman, right? The conclusion sounded logical to him. As long as he ignored the fact that he'd been lucky enough to sample some pretty amazing women.
Take Natalie for instance. The blond vampire he'd recently broken off with made most supermodels look like sideshow freaks. With her pale hair, pale skin, and radiant blue eyes — not to mention the body of a Venus — she looked like an angel sent to earth to reward the truly righteous. The fact that she had the morals of an alley cat and the ruthless ambition of Napoléon Bonaparte explained why she'd spent the last three months writhing beneath Graham instead of singing in a heavenly choir. No one had ever accused him of being righteous, or even true.
The point was that he had no reason to be bored. Natalie knew sexual tricks to put a houri to shame and had the stamina of an undead Olympic athlete. She was willing to try anything, no matter how depraved, and if it got her off, she'd do it again until she could give lessons to the experts. How in God's name could he have gotten sick of that?
He didn't know, but he had.
He'd gotten sick of all the women, and all modesty aside, Graham Winters had had a lot of women. Some were little more than one-night stands, some recurrent companions, and some, like Natalie, had bordered on casual relationships, but none managed to hold his interest for more than a few weeks. The only reason Nat had lasted so long had more to do with his disinclination to deal with the fit he'd known she'd throw than with any real desire to keep her around. He'd tried just about anything he could think of to spice up their last few weeks together, but eventually even exotic tricks hadn't been able to keep his interest.
When he'd started leaving all-night orgies with his muscles trembling in exhaustion and his dick still hard as a pike, he had thrown in the towel. Now that he knew no woman could satisfy him, he saw no reason to keep torturing himself with sex that wore him out everywhere but where it counted. That had led to Natalie's dismissal, complete with the expected and unpleasant scene, and eventually to this — his thirteenth night of celibacy, spent in Dmitri's living room celebrating his friend's post-wedding engagement party.
Taking another sip of liquid fire, Graham glanced around the room and wondered how much longer etiquette required him to stay. He viewed Dmitri as a brother, and he genuinely liked Regina, so he was glad to share in the celebration, especially since he'd had to duck out on his best-man duties at their reception in order to deal with a fire in the kitchen of the nightclub he owned. What he wasn't so glad of was the speculative glances currently being aimed in his direction by a large number of the room's single — and some not-so-single — women. He worked at ignoring their interest, but he knew it was only a matter of time before one of them decided to lay off the staring and make a move.
"I vote for the redhead. She looks like the type who's ready for anything. Plus I don't think she's wearing panties."
His friend and beta appeared at Graham's side, carrying a dark brown beer bottle and wearing a repressed smile. Logan Hunter knew all about Graham's predicament and seemed to find it amusing. Graham shot him a narrow look.
"She never does," he grumbled. "But I doubt Shelley is going to put the make on me, not after the last time we went out."
"Did you spill a drink on her dress or something?"
Graham shook his head. "I criticized her, um, technique."
Logan winced around a chuckle. "Ouch. Okay, maybe not the redhead then." He glanced back to where Shelley stood, whispering to a couple of other women. "Could be her friend, the one almost wearing the green dress. Do you think those are real?"
"On vampires, they're always real. They can't afford to bleed out during surgery just to get implants." He gave the other woman an assessing look. "Besides, not even silicone can make tits that firm. Hildie works out."
Raising his beer for a drink, Logan rolled his eyes. "And I'm sure you'd know. But you could at least make an effort. Lady knows you need to do something to lighten your mood. What the hell is up with you tonight anyway?"
"Three guesses," Graham muttered. "I'll even spot you the first two."
Logan grimaced. "Shit. Curtis."
"Right both times."
"What's he done now?"
"Same old, same old. This week he tried to get Bill Lakeland to take an interest in examining the validity of the challenge Dad and I fought when he decided to retire and leave the business of alpha to me."
Logan nearly choked on his beer. "You've got to be kidding me."
"I don't care how many packs consider Bill an expert of the traditional procedures for alpha challenges, you took that fight fair and square. Your father wouldn't even cut your mother any slack in a challenge ring, let alone the son he raised to continue his family dynasty!"
"You know that, and I know that ..."
"And so does anyone who was there watching. You took that challenge fairly and by the skin of your teeth. For a few minutes, I wondered if both of you were going to leave the circle alive."
Graham's mouth twisted. "So did we."
"So how does he figure he can protest the outcome?"
"Beats me. I doubt he thought he'd really get anywhere with that kind of nonsense. Chances are he was just pulling my chain."
"And how long has that been his favorite hobby?"
"Let's see. I'm thirty-four and Curtis is seven years younger, so ..." Graham pursed his lips and pretended to think. "About twenty-seven years, I think."
Logan nodded. "And you did what to set him off again?" "Be born first, be my father's son, and be more of a Lupine than he'll ever be?"
"Right. So you're just going to go on ignoring him?"
"That's the plan." Graham saw the disgust in his friend's expression and smiled. "Trust me, it's easier to ignore him than it is to dignify his idiocy with a response. If I got worked up every time he pulled a stupid stunt just to piss me off, I'd be the first Lupine in recorded medical history to have to take blood pressure medication."
Logan sighed. "True enough." He took a long pull on his beer and gave the room another thorough glance. "Which means that you could definitely use a distraction tonight. So? Who's it going to be."
"I'm not in the mood for a woman."
"You know, you've been saying that with distressing regularity lately, my friend," Logan pointed out. "I don't know about your blood pressure, but you might want to talk to a doctor about your libido if this keeps up."
Graham glared at him. "There's nothing wrong with my libido. It's not me; it's the women. Haven't you noticed they're all the same?"
"Well, where it counts, I suppose. ..."
"That's not what I mean. Or maybe it is. I don't know. I just know I'm ... bored." He gestured around the room with his whiskey glass. "Not a fresh face in sight."
"Since when do you go for a fresh face? I thought you were an ass man."
"Since I realized I'd seen all of these faces a hundred times before."
"Come on," Logan chided. "There has to be a woman here you haven't slept with."
"She doesn't count. Dmitri would break your legs, wait a couple of hours for them to heal, then break them again. And after that, he might get cranky. I'm talking about the rest of them. The ones who aren't married to your best friend, and aren't from our pack, since they're all practically family."
Graham took a quick look around, followed by a longer look. On his third sweep of the assembled crowd, he stopped and pointed toward a grouping of furniture occupied by three very attractive females. "There," he said. "Those three. I haven't slept with a single one of them."
Logan followed his gesture and sighed. "Yeah. Regina's closest friends, who are probably the only human women here tonight, and we both know you don't do humans."
A grin flashed across Graham's face. "I thought about doing the one on the right. Ava. She's the one Dmitri had me staking out before he changed Regina. I came real close to watching her from the other side of a pillow, instead of from the front seat of my car. But she's human."
"According to anyone who's ever done business with her, that's just a front. She's really a shark."
Graham shrugged. "Anyway, you asked who I hadn't slept with. They're it."
"Just those three."
"I think so." Draining his glass, Graham scanned the room one last time, dismissing each of the women he passed. His eyes never seemed to pause more than half a second on any of them, no matter how attractive or how skimpily dressed, until they drifted over one curvaceous female bottom and skidded to a grinding halt.
He could almost smell rubber burning.
His eyes caressed the full, generous lines of her backside encased in a formfitting skirt of some clingy black material. The fabric draped over that delectable tush, showing him each rounded curve in heart-stopping detail. To his surprise, he couldn't tell if she was wearing panties, but unlike Shelley's lack of lingerie, the idea of this woman bare beneath her dress aroused more than just his curiosity.
"And her," he growled, all his attention focused on the woman whose face he still hadn't seen. If it looked half as good as what he had seen, he'd be a very happy man. "I haven't had her. Yet."
Missy sidled into the party more than two hours late, but the way she figured it, Reggie was lucky she'd come at all. Especially in this dress.
She tugged surreptitiously at the hem, trying to make it fall more than four inches below her crotch. No dice. Every time she pulled, the hem sank, but so did the neckline. She could flash the world from either above or below, and neither held much appeal.
How in God's name did I let them talk me into this? she wondered for the gazillionth time. Not even threats and bribery should have induced her to put on this poor excuse for a dress and let her friends serve her to her latest fantasy fix on a silver platter. She'd barely escaped the last two rounds with her pride intact. She should have run screaming at the idea of round three. Unfortunately, it was way too late for that.
Missy supposed it had been too late the very minute the five friends had experienced their brainstorm during a particularly enthusiastic — and alcoholic — episode of their biweekly girls' night get-togethers. After much too much wine, one of them had made the fateful observation that despite their status as single women, they each had a decent-sized pool of male friends, family members, and co-workers who could be counted as potential dates. Just because one woman didn't find her dream man among her own male acquaintances didn't mean that one of her friends wouldn't. So they had come up with the brilliant idea of setting one another up on a series of blind dates called fantasy fixes; more than just regular dates, the fixes were supposed to be opportunities for each woman to live out her sexual fantasies with a man her friends had prescreened for safety and discretion.
It had sounded like a great idea at the time, filtered through about a bottle of sauvignon blanc, but as soon as she had sobered up, Missy had experienced some misgivings.
Translation: she had panicked.
Always the shyest and most conservative member of their clique, Missy wasn't the type to live out sexual fantasies with men she'd barely met. She was the kind to plant daffodils along the bottom of a white picket fence while her enormous brood of children were in school and her banker or lawyer or accountant husband was at his office winning the family bread.
Unfortunately, her friends had devious natures and insidious stubborn streaks, and with Missy's own compulsion to please on their side, they took ruthless advantage. They knew Missy harbored an intense reluctance to go on her fantasy fix dates, but she'd done the first two rounds because they'd asked her to, and because she didn't want them thinking she was an even bigger coward than they already believed.
But a soft heart and a latent sense of determination only went so far. Two rounds had been the limit of Missy's good nature, and they must have guessed that, because this time they had arranged for her to meet her fix at an event she couldn't avoid — Reggie's engagement party.
Never mind that Reggie's wedding had taken place two weeks ago. It had all been arranged with so little notice that it had left the officiant with a bad case of whiplash, hence the post-ceremony engagement party to include all those left out of the wedding itself — which turned out to be most of the combined acquaintances of the bride and groom.
Missy had not been one of the people left out of the ceremony; she'd been the maid of honor. But that didn't mean she'd had even the slightest chance of wriggling out of attending tonight's function. Reggie and Missy had been best friends since high school, and Missy could never skip a party in her friend's honor. So here she was, dressed like a French whore and trying desperately to come up with a way to make this third fix turn out just like the other two, because she had the hideous feeling that this time luck would not be on her side.
She gave up tugging at the front of her dress and wormed her way into an alcove where she turned her back to the room and yanked the dress down over her ass. It pulled the neck down until her breasts threatened to fall out of the clingy material, but if she just kept her face to the wall, no one should be able to see that and what they could see would be almost decently covered.
She didn't think Ava, Danice, and Corinne had spotted her yet, but she knew it was only a matter of time. They would be keeping an eye out for her, since she was so late and had refused to answer any of their calls to her cell phone thanks to the blessing of caller ID. Once they realized she had arrived, her reprieve would be over and she would have to face her latest fix, whoever he happened to be.
Excerpted from Big Bad Wolf by Christine Warren. Copyright © 2009 Christine Warren. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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