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â€œGarret, you need to stop scaring the help away.â€ Ellie Halcon scowled at her brother, an odd expression on her normally sweet face.
Sweat dampened her brow as she stood beside him in the hot kitchen, tapping her foot in an annoying rhythm. Garretâ€™s sister worked as the manager of his restaurant and normally kept the place running with an efficient hand. However, right now she was bouncing on Garretâ€™s last freaking nerve.
Garret shrugged, indifferent to her concerns. Heâ€™d been running the family restaurant for ten of his thirty years and knew what staff they needed to succeed. There would always be people who were willing to work for him. He didnâ€™t have to put up with crappy employees.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t be compelled to scare them if they could do their jobs. Besides, if he canâ€™t deliver a plate to a table without spilling it on a guest, he doesnâ€™t need to work here. We do still have some standards, donâ€™t we?â€ he snarled.
He wasnâ€™t trying to be an asshole, but the waiter heâ€™d fired had been completely incompetent. Garret didnâ€™t care if the human waiter wasnâ€™t used to shifters and startled easily. If the kid planned to live in a shifter town, he had to learn to adapt.
â€œWhat crawled up your tail feathers?â€ Ellie asked, tilting her head in a motion reminiscent of her hawk form. â€œYouâ€™ve been cranky for the past month.â€
â€œNothing is wrong,â€ Garret snapped. â€œNow why donâ€™t you head home and go psychoanalyse your goldfish. Iâ€™m creating.â€
He waved her away with an impatient motion of his hand. He didnâ€™t need to chat or discuss his feelings. He wanted to be left alone.
Garret returned his attention to his new pasta dish. If it tasted half as good as it smelt theyâ€™d sell out the first night. After a few more minutes of trying to glare a hole through Garretâ€™s head, Ellie gave up.
â€œAt least my goldfish is interesting!â€ Ellie shouted as she walked away.
The door slammed behind her as she left the kitchen. Garret knew sheâ€™d do a final pass-through in the dining room and lock up on her way out of the front. She might be an emotional, touchy-feely person, but she could be counted on.
Garret sighed and drizzled a bit of truffle oil across his pasta. No way would he admit to being heartbroken. No one would believe he had a heart anyway. He still didnâ€™t understand how that little fox shifter could have fallen for a coyote. The look of adoration in KCâ€™s eyes while he dined with his coyote shifter mate had made Garretâ€™s chest ache with the poignancy of lost opportunity. Heâ€™d never even had the chance to ask KC out. At first his schedule hadnâ€™t allowed it, then the fox shifter had found his mate.
After finishing off his dish with a handful of fresh herbs, Garret filled a bowl with pasta then snatched a fork off the counter before sitting down and taking a bite. The flavours combined into an amazing medley in his mouth, but it might as well have been ash. He poked his food around with his fork, unsatisfied. Moping about wouldnâ€™t get him anywhere except to make everyone else around him miserable.
â€œMaybe I need a vacation,â€ he muttered. He hadnâ€™t found joy in any of his usual pursuits even before KC had met his mate.
Garret polished off the rest of his food then dumped his dish in the dishwasher. After pulling off his chef jacket, he dropped it in the laundry chute then snatched his motorcycle jacket off the hook by the door.
In order to save all the parking spots for paying customers, Garret kept his Harley in the alley behind the restaurant. He only parked out front on trash day.
Garret opened the back door. It slammed behind him with a thud. After checking the lock and setting the alarm, he headed for his ride.
Maybe he wouldnâ€™t come back tomorrow. He let the fantasy roll about in his head for a moment. Surely his family could run things without him. Hell, the restaurant almost ran itself. Garret needed a new challenge. The cold night air slid across his skin, a welcome relief after the stuffiness of the kitchen. Maybe a change of scenery would solve the problem of his stagnant, lonely life.
A soft, shuffling noise behind the dumpster had him spinning around. Maybe the alley cats had returned. Damn things. He knew his cousin Markus sometimes left scraps out for the felines. Markusâ€™ soft heart melted easily over the homeless kitties. Garret just wished heâ€™d stop feeding them. He disliked felines. The small version tried to trip him on the way to the dumpster and the big cat shifters came and ate everything in his restaurant. Heâ€™d finally had to force them to make reservations or he wouldnâ€™t have enough food when they came to dine.
Movement behind the dumpster had him approaching more cautiously. Definitely not stray cats. Anything large enough to move a trash container that large had to weigh more than a few pounds. As he approached, someone tumbled from behind the dumpster then lay still on the ground. Garret rushed over.
â€œHey, are you all right?â€ he called out foolishly, as the manâ€™s eyes were closed and he wasnâ€™t moving. The strangerâ€™s golden skin had Garret suspecting lion shifter, but it wasnâ€™t someone he recognised. He knew most of the local big cats since they came into the restaurant on a regular basis. This gorgeous man didnâ€™t belong to Talanâ€™s pride. Garret hoped the unconscious shifter wasnâ€™t an interloper hoping to challenge the pride alpha. So far no one had survived any battle against the pride leader and if someone eventually did beat Talan, theyâ€™d better sleep with one eye open. Talanâ€™s sisters were scary.
The smell of blood coated the alley like sticky cotton candy, sickly sweet. Garret dropped to his knees to get a better look. â€œWhere are you injured?â€
Not trained in medical care, Garret didnâ€™t know what he could do, but the compulsion to help in some way prodded him to investigate the shifterâ€™s injuries. He pressed his fingers against the manâ€™s throat, letting out a sigh of relief when he found a steady pulse. Not a super strong one, but a solid rhythm.
The manâ€™s long golden lashes fluttered up revealing bright blue eyesâ€”an unusual colour for someone Garret suspected of being a lion. All the lion shifters he knew had golden eyes. Garret wondered if his alley occupant was only a half-breed.
â€œShotâ€¦â€ A rough, faint voice emerged from the manâ€™s chapped mouth.