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"Sorry, sweetie, we're out of porterhouses." Harry's gray-haired waitress slid a stemmed water glass onto the table in front of him and flipped her receipt book to the next page.
Out of porterhouses? How could Miss Sandie's Tea Room run out of steaks when he was the only customer who ordered them?
Harry stared at the frilly, blue-checkered menu as if another werewolf-friendly item were going to appear among the scones and scotch eggs. Miss Sandie's was his customary lunch spot, but he'd rather fire up the grill himself than settle for a fruit plate.
Which was saying a lot. Harry hadn't gotten a culinary gene, just a furry one.
"Are you sure, Annette? Did Sandie order T-bones?" He sniffed the air but couldn't detect much beyond the fresh flowers on his table and apple-pie odor that saturated the dining room. He didn't have the greatest nose in wolfdom, but it wasn't as dull as a human's.
"Your friends from earlier cleaned us out." Annette slipped into the chair across from him, clearly intent on a chat. The café wasn't busy at this hour. "Sandie doesn't mind keeping you in steaks, Harry, but this isn't a greasy spoon."
"Which friends?" He peered around the pastry cabinet next to his chair, but a table of female diners blocked his view of the café.
"Your lady friends." Annette smoothed a wrinkle out of the tablecloth. "I use the term lady loosely, you understand. No ladies I know behave like that."
He didn't like the sound of that. Harry had a number of lady friends, and none would give Annette a sour face. Or order steak at a tea room. He liked his women sweet, talented in the kitchen and one hundred percent human. He also liked them roughly his own age, which left Miss Sandie and her staff out of the running. Too bad. Miss Sandie in particular had a great sense of humor, an open mind, a big heart, and was one of the best cooks he'd ever known.
The question was, why would Annette connect some random, steak-eating women to him? "My friends, huh. Did they mention me by name or something?"
Annette tapped her pen on her receipt book. "They said they knew you. They looked familiar, but I haven't met every single person in town."
"Maybe they weren't from around here." Millington, West Virginia, wasn't big, but it was close enough to Wheeling that they did get tourist traffic. It was possible some of the independent shifters he'd known in New York City were visiting.
"Could be." She leaned toward him. "I certainly don't know anyone in Millington who thinks dog collars make good fashion accessories."
"Not even pink ones?"
Annette rolled her eyes, so Harry changed the subject. He'd been in Wheeling all morning buying supplies for his garage, and he was starving. "What are the specials today?"
"Same as every Thursday, kiddo," Annette teased, but she told him anyway.
While she talked, Harry cursed inwardly. These "friends" sounded like local pack members. He frequented the tea room and befriended humans as part of his strategy of pack avoidance. If the pack invaded his sanctuary, he'd be severely put out. It had taken years to cultivate Sandie and her staff, trading discounted automotive repairs for steaks cooked the way he liked them, friendly faces and the occasional heated bunco session.
This was his place. His. Why did they have to ruin it? Couldn't they just leave him alone?
He could just hear the alpha female, Bianca's, coaxing tonesBert agreed to accept you, Harry. Wolves aren't made to live by themselves, Harry. Join the pack, Harry.
The pack could kiss his hairy butt. Contrary to popular werewolf belief, shifters could be as human as the next human if they wanted. Pack life was a choice, not a necessity.