Wolf with Benefits
By Shelly Laurenston
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. Copyright © 2013 Shelly Laurenston
All rights reserved.
"Are you my daddy?"
Ricky Lee Reed, originally of Smithtown, Tennessee, and only replanted to New York City a few years back, gawked at the child who'd asked him the question for a mere moment before he turned his attention to the adult female who held the child.
He'd admit it wasn't a question he expected to get, you know, ever. For a bunch of reasons, too, but mostly because he didn't know this woman. He wasn't one of those guys who nailed so many females he forgot their faces or names. So then ... why was this child asking him this question? And even stranger, why was the female raising her brows and suddenly asking, "Well ... are you?"
Wait. Wouldn't she know? Shouldn't she? Good Lord, this city. Maybe he'd never get used to living here. Ever. It was surprisingly safer than life in Smithtown, Tennessee, but it was weirder. Maybe because there were way more full-humans in Manhattan — he'd found full-humans were much stranger than shifters — and Smithtown was filled with shifters. Wolves, mostly. A few bears on the outskirts too old and big for the Pack to bother trying to make move. But all those wolves in one place with enough 'shine to take down the Russian army meant there was a lot more danger around those hills of his hometown than there ever could be on the mean streets of this city. No matter what the movies said. And yet life in Manhattan could be so strange in comparison to what he'd left behind.
He'd only come over to this bench inside the giant Sports Center, home to all of New York's shifter-run sports teams, so he could chat with the pretty female sitting there. Perhaps get her number. She was real cute, probably because of all that curly hair. Most of the females in his Pack had straight hair, but this one had blondish-brown hair with lots of black streaks that was just kind of a curly mess. Just these wild, soft curls that nearly covered her eyes and reached to her shoulders. Yeah. He liked her hair. And the fact that she was a jackal didn't mean much to him. She was still canine, like him, and he wasn't looking for his mate. Just a few dates, maybe a little fun ...
Fun. Not fatherhood.
"No," he finally told them both. "I'm not your daddy."
The female hugged the boy on her lap and kissed his forehead. "Sorry, Denny. Maybe we'll find your daddy someday."
Now Southern politeness would dictate that Ricky Lee should just leave this whole thing alone. Not ask questions, not suggest that maybe she should keep better track of her past lovers. But he just couldn't bring himself to walk away. He was too curious.
She glanced at him. "Oh ... are you still here?"
Before he could ask why he couldn't keep sitting on this bench, without being glared at, several more children walked up to the female. A teenager with her big brown eyes glued to her cell phone, a young boy, and a toddler female holding the boy's hand. They surrounded the She-jackal, the toddler trying to push the boy Denny aside so she could take his place on their mother's lap.
That sure was a lot of pups for such a young female.
"Who are you talking to?" the jackal demanded of the teenager. Wait. Was she old enough to have a teenager?
"That's a lot of typing for no one."
Sighing dramatically as only teenagers managed to do, the girl asked, "Do we have to hang around here much longer?"
"I'm not leaving until I get what I want," the eldest boy said with a lot of confidence for what looked to be only a nine- or ten-year-old. "So suck it up already."
"I've got shit to do, you little brat."
"More toe shoes to buy? More positions to contort your body into until you hit thirty or so and have to resign yourself to the fact your career is over? If you want to call it a career."
The teenager almost had her hands around her brother's throat — and he knew they were all siblings, no one else could annoy a body like a sibling — when the She-jackal snapped, "Leave him alone!"
"You always protect him."
"Perhaps that's because I actually have talent bestowed upon me by the gods, which is better than mere genetics that allowed my legs to grow impossibly long."
"I hate you," the teenager hissed at her brother.
"I live for hatred," the boy replied. "It rejuvenates my creative fire." It was a really strange thing for a young boy to say. Really strange. But even stranger was when he glanced over at Ricky and abruptly asked, "Are you our daddy?"
And before Ricky could say in no uncertain terms, "Absolutely not," the doors that led to the main training rink burst open and Ricky's hockey-playing brother, Reece Lee, flew through them.
Ricky instinctively grabbed the child in the most danger — the toddler — and moved. The She-jackal still had the boy on her lap, so she quickly stood, her arms tight around him. But she also jumped to the side, using her body to shove the older boy and his teenage sister away.
As an impromptu team, they seemed to have perfect timing as Ricky's younger brother rammed into the wooden bench they'd been sitting on, completely destroying it in the process. Ricky didn't bother to rush to Reece Lee's help, though. He knew better. A few seconds later, a seven-one, nearly four-hundred-pound hybrid barreled through those rink doors and stalked over to Reece.
The hybrid grabbed Reece by his training jersey and lifted him up, only to slam him back down again. Reece bared his fangs and started to fight back, claws out. It wasn't a pretty fight, like one of those choreographed ones you'd see in an action movie. Instead it was more like watching a couple of pit bulls go at it in someone's yard.
"Are you just going to stand there?" the She-jackal demanded, her glare on Ricky.
"That was my plan."
"But I saw you with the smaller one earlier," she said over the snarling, growling, and roaring. "You know him."
Her eyes narrowed. "You're brothers, aren't you?"
"According to my momma, but I still want DNA tests to prove it."
The older boy tried to shoot past the She-jackal toward the fight, but the teenager grabbed the back of his T-shirt and held on.
"Are you insane?" the teenager demanded of her brother.
"Toni promised me I'd get to meet him!"
"I promised I'd try," the She-jackal shot back. Huh. The kid called her "Toni." Not "Mom" or "Mommy." Then it hit Ricky ... these weren't her kids. At least not all of them. They were her brothers and sisters.
The teenager caught hold of her younger brother by the back of his neck, the extra flesh every canine predator child had there giving her a better collar than some strip of leather. "Toni's not about to let you get in the middle of a predator fight."
"I keep telling you, Kyle," the She-jackal reminded him, "we're scavengers. Wait until the vultures arrive. Then you can go over and maybe get a little lunch."
When Ricky raised a brow, the She-jackal only smirked and gave a small shrug.
Deciding not to ask too many questions, Ricky focused on his brother and the hybrid — who was a damn talented hockey player — that had Reece on his back, big bear-lion hand around the wolf's throat.
Reece was putting up a good fight, though. Desperately trying to get the crazed hybrid off him. Too bad it wasn't working.
After landing a few blows to the hybrid's face, Reece glared at Ricky. "You going to do somethin'?" he squeaked out.
"Didn't you tell me yesterday to stay out of your business?" Ricky asked, grinning.
"Son of a —"
"Hey," Ricky cut in. "There are pups here. Gotta watch your mouth."
The She-jackal sighed. "Seriously?" she demanded. "I mean ... seriously?"
"He's getting the holy hell beaten out of him by a man whose hair just suddenly grew."
"That's his mighty mane. Only comes out when he's really mad."
"And you're comfortable with him basically pummeling your brother?"
Ricky thought on that, but he must have taken too long to answer because the She-jackal handed off the boy in her arms to the teenager.
"It's like I have to take care of everything," she snapped at Ricky before walking around to the two fighting males and yelled over the roaring, "Excuse me, Mister ... uh ..." She glanced back at the oldest boy, Kyle.
"Novikov," Kyle prompted.
"Right. Mr. Novikov? Mr. Novikov!"
The hybrid stopped, his hand still gripping Reece's throat, his massive body still pinning the wolf to the ground. Slowly, he looked up at the jackal, mane nearly covering glowering blue eyes.
"Hi." She pressed her hand to her chest. "I'm Antonella Jean-Louis Parker. Toni for short. That's Toni with an 'i,' not a 'y.' Anyway, Ulrich Van Holtz may have mentioned that I was going to stop by today. And this is Kyle." She snapped her fingers and the boy quickly moved to her side. "Kyle really wants your autograph and although I'm sorry to interrupt your ... wolf-pummeling, I am on a bit of a schedule." She tapped the sturdy-looking diving watch on her wrist. "So is there any way we could speed this up? Maybe you could assault the wolf later? Kyle would really appreciate it."
The boy grinned. "I would!"
The hybrid studied the jackal for several long seconds before he nodded. "Schedules, I understand." Then he looked down at Reece and roared in his face, "Schedules! Learn the concept!"
He released his grip on Reece and got to his mighty big feet. By the time Novikov stood, his mane had lessened considerably, something the She-jackal noticed, her eyes narrowing a bit. The hybrid faced her, his back now to Reece. That's when he mule-kicked him, sending Ricky's brother flying until he slammed into one of the many pillars around the building.
Ricky cringed. He sure bet that hurt.
"What do you want me to sign?"
"Get the shirt, Kyle." The boy took off his backpack and quickly dug out a hockey jersey and a permanent marker. Based on the jersey's colors it looked like it was from the Washington shifter hockey team. A team that the hybrid had once belonged to. That guy had belonged to a lot of teams, and to this day many of his past teammates still hated him.
The boy handed over the shirt and marker to the hybrid. As Novikov signed, he asked the boy, "So do you play hockey?"
"Really? How come?"
"Because I plan to use my brilliance for something real and important, not something petty like sports."
The She-jackal cringed, her head dropping while Novikov's head snapped up.
"See, what I like about what you do," the boy explained, his hands accenting each word, his voice intense, "is the raw rage and violence. I can use that in my work. And while you'll probably be forgotten soon after you retire, which is the way of you athletic types whose happiest years are usually when you're in high school" — he glanced back at his teenage sister and she rewarded him with the one-finger salute — "my legacy will live on for centuries. People will study my work, copy it. My work will start a new art movement, a new wave of creativity born out of blood and violence and rage. And you ... you, Mr. Novikov, will be my David."
"Like Michelangelo's David? But instead my piece will be called Jean-Louis Parker's Novikov, and it will be the greatest art anyone has ever seen. And you ... you, Mr. Novikov, will be my muse."
The hybrid blinked and then finally asked exactly what Ricky was thinking. "How old are you?"
"Eleven. But I don't allow my age to hold me back from my future. Only those weak of mind do that."
Novikov sighed and handed the signed shirt back to the boy. "I wish I could say you disgust me, but I understand you more than you'll ever realize, kid. So go forth and kick ass."
"I will. Thank you!"
He nodded at the boy, then the jackal. "Ma'am," he said before he started back toward the rink.
But that's when the kid threw out, "And is there a chance I can sketch you naked?"
Novikov stopped walking, his entire body jerking a bit. The Shejackal's eyes popped open wide at the child's question, her hand slapping across his mouth and yanking him against her body as Novikov faced them.
"He's just kidding," she quickly said before Novikov could ask. "He's just kidding."
The boy struggled against the jackal, his muffled words sounding like, "No, I'm not!" But the jackal didn't release her grip, merely smiled. "And thanks for the autograph."
Novikov nodded, grunted, and walked back to the rink, the big doors slamming behind him.
That's when she released the boy, and using the hand not still holding the youngest brother, spun Kyle around so he faced her.
"Have you lost your mind?"
"It was just a question. He should feel privileged. The greatest artist ever known found his physique worthy of my precious attention. He should be bowing at my feet for such an honor."
The She-jackal stared at him for several seconds before announcing, "You're an idiot. And if you ever do that again, or I find out from someone else that you did it again, I'm going to kick your ass from here all the way back to Washington."
"Yeah, but —"
"Do you understand me?"
"As a matter of fact, I don't —"
She grabbed the boy by the back of his neck and yanked him up with one hand. He dangled a good four feet off the ground, his gaze locked with the She-jackal's. "Do you understand, Kyle?" she asked again.
She released him and shoved the signed shirt back into his hands once he landed on firm ground.
The teenager sighed. "Can we just go already?"
"We have to see Ric first. Here. Take Dennis."
The jackal handed off the youngest boy before turning to stare at Ricky. He gazed back. Smiled.
After a few moments of that, she asked, "Are you going to give her back to me?"
That's when Ricky realized he still held the little pup he'd pulled out of the way of Novikov's rage.
"Oh. Sorry about that." Ricky handed the pup over. She'd fallen asleep with her head on his shoulder, her fist shoved in her mouth. She whined a little as the transfer was made, but settled back to sleep once the jackal had her.
"Thank you," the She-jackal said, and gave him a small smile.
It was the smile that did it, more than the politeness.
"You know," Ricky began, "if you're not busy tonight —"
Pointing at Ricky with her cell phone, the teen asked, "Are you our daddy?"
Disgusted, Ricky stated to the jackal, "Woman, there has to be an easier way for you to get rid of a man."
"Perhaps, but I've found that there's nothing quicker." She winked at him, then gestured behind him with her chin. "And you may want to check on your brother — he's still bleeding."
"Yeah. I think Novikov nicked an artery ... again."
She stopped, glanced back at him. But with a little snort-laugh, she walked off without another word.
Antonella "Toni" Jean-Louis Parker shoved her eleven-year-old brother inside the office by using her foot. It wasn't really a kick, though. It was more a shove.
Holding her three-year-old sister, Zia, on her hip, she followed Kyle inside while her fifteen-year-old sister Oriana pulled their five-year-old brother, Dennis, in and laughed hysterically at the same time.
"Stop condoning Kyle's inappropriate behavior," Toni ordered her sister. The pair stared at each other, then began laughing together.
"You are such a freak!" Oriana told Kyle. "I can't believe we're related."
"I don't see what the big deal was," Kyle complained, dropping into one of the office chairs. "It was just a request to sketch him naked."
"A request that should never come from an eleven-year-old anything. And it better not come from you again."
Kyle sighed dramatically, as he liked to do, and reminded Toni, yet again, that, "I'm an artist, Antonella." And what always annoyed Toni about these conversations with Kyle was his tone. Since he'd been four, he always sounded like a fifty-year-old snob explaining the difference between the rich and the poor to a struggling street vendor. A lot of people wondered how such a young boy could sound so mature and intelligently rude. They often assumed he was just mimicking his parents. But the truth was ... he'd developed that tone all on his own. Like his skills as a sculptor, his rude, condescending attitude seemed to be God-given. "I don't have time for these ridiculous rules that average people like you have about what you can and cannot ask." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Wolf with Benefits by Shelly Laurenston. Copyright © 2013 Shelly Laurenston. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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