Wolves of Hunter’s Rock
Chris couldn’t look away or answer, because when Albert said shitty car, the dark-haired guy’s lip curled back to show white teeth. He didn’t like that. Which was ridiculous, because how could he have heard it from so far away?
“Come on.” Albert walked around the car and pulled at Chris’ elbow. “Cheeseburger’s calling my name. Rein in your hormones.”
Chris let himself be pulled a step backward as he stared across the parking lot. The man tilted his head back, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. Then snapped them open and glared at Chris again.
“Foooood,” Albert said, pulling Chris off-balance enough he couldn’t right himself before he toppled sideways, taking Albert with him.
“Jesus!” Albert shouted. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to fall.” He helped Chris up, patting him and looking around as if embarrassed. “You okay? How can you run like a cheetah and still be such a klutz? I hope Elizabeth didn’t see that.”
Chris peered at the empty driver’s seat where the dark-haired man had been. He scanned the lot, but the man was gone.
“Chris, you okay?” Albert gripped his shoulders.
“Yeah.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah. I’m . . .” He didn’t feel fine. More . . . unsettled. Excited. He punched Albert in the arm. “Be more careful. You should buy my burger, make it up to me.”
“I bought it last time.”
“You could have killed me just now.”
Albert stopped in front of the restaurant door. “Okay, but do me a favor? Look at my butt as we walk by Elizabeth’s table. Like it’s a great butt. A grabbable—”
“I will make pie-eyes at your butt in front of the girl you don’t even like anyway, you weirdo, just go.” Chris frowned at Albert’s butt like it was a horrifying curiosity as they passed Elizabeth’s table, but put his fingers under his chin and cocked one eyebrow when Albert turned to see, as if he’d been admiring it all along.
As they waited for their order, he kept losing track of Albert’s meandering conversation about various girls. Of course, Albert had picked a table near the back. Chris wished he could see out the window and keep an eye on that car. Watch for its driver.
His stomach muscles fluttered every time he remembered the intensity of the man’s stare.
Each second the young man looked at him made Lukas’ skin feel too tight and restricting. He wanted to puff up his chest, shift, preen for him. His brown hair and brown eyes, the firm jawline, full lips—everything about his face seemed perfect, exactly the things Lukas would have picked if he’d been asked to gather features together to create something beautiful.
And those eyes. Even from this far away, Lukas sensed them on him. The stirring between his legs made him want to run, to rut.
To leap across the parking lot in a few strides, grab him and—
The guy fell over, pulled down by his clumsy friend. Lukas wanted to leap from the car, pick him up, and toss his friend as far away as he could. Fortunately, the break in eye contact let him come back to his senses.
He did leap from the car. But instead of following the delicious scent, Lukas ran across the side street into the sea of cars parked at the other half of the strip mall. He crouched behind one and didn’t look up until a bell chimed above the door of the ice cream shop, signaling that they’d gone in.
The way the dead teenagers in Lorton and Paleyville had been mangled couldn’t have happened with potential witnesses nearby. Any witness to either murder would have been mangled right along with them, or they’d have hurried to get help. So this one—Chris, his friend had called him—was probably safe as long as he wasn’t alone.
He still didn’t understand how Chris or the others smelled like pack. The wrongness twisted Lukas’ insides. At least with this one, he could get close while he was alive and try to figure it out.
Lukas went back to his car. He drove down the street and pulled into a convenience store parking lot to wait until Chris left the ice cream place, then he’d follow him home.
Chris couldn’t be alone anywhere until Lukas figured out what the hell was going on.
“Chris,” Lukas whispered, trying the name out loud as he pictured his face and amber eyes.
The name vibrated through him.
Whatever happened in those other towns wasn’t going to happen again in Hunter’s Rock. Lukas would keep Chris safe, no matter what.
Albert bought Chris’ burger, fries and milkshake, making Chris feel guilty about looking at his butt like it might belong in a sideshow. Chris would have to make it up to him later.
He ate with gusto, in a bigger hurry than usual. He was eager to get back outside and see if the man was back in his car, maybe make eye contact. That had been . . . something.
Albert was only halfway finished with his massive banana split, though. Chris slowed down so he wouldn’t be sitting there with nothing to do but watch Albert eat and think about the dark-haired stranger in the parking lot.
“Oh, goodie.” Albert tilted his head toward the door. “Roger Dodger’s here.”
Roger Sinclair was their 6’2”, 300-pound classmate who, despite having been teased a lot in grade school because he was one of the few black kids in the area, never missed an opportunity to point out Albert’s ancestry.
“Hey, Jackie Chan.”
“Oh good, nobody’s been racist at me all day. Was starting to miss it.”
Roger touched the corners of his eyes and stretched them sideways. “Jackie Chan, my man.”
“He’s Chinese, dumbass. For the hundred-thousandth time, I’m Korean.”
“What’s the difference?”
Albert sighed as Roger spun a chair around and straddled it. “What you guys up to?”
Albert shrugged. “Hoping you were abducted by aliens or joined the Peace Corps or something.”
“Oh my god,” Roger said. “You are too funny, and I cannot take that kind of mirth in my life.”
“We’re not doing anything. Just hangin’ out,” Albert said. “What’re you doing? Circus leave without you?”
“You’re fun.” Roger spied a fry still in Chris’ basket, grabbed it and shoved it into his mouth. “Can you believe it’s October already?”
“I hadn’t eaten that because I dropped it on the floor.” Chris pretended to be shocked, and Roger looked back and forth between them, shaking his head and smiling like he didn’t believe it. Then he frowned.
Albert elbowed him. “Nah, he’s messing with you. And yes, I can believe it. This happens every year, right between September and November, not exactly a mystery that defies understanding.”
“I know, it just seems unreal it’s here already, dumbass. What’re you guys doing tonight? Wanna grab a movie or meet up in Warcraft?”
Albert swallowed the huge mouthful of banana and ice cream he’d shoved in. “I’ll play later, yeah.”
“Cool. See ya . . . One Hung Lo.” He clapped Albert on the back before he walked away. Chris braced himself for shoulder slap he knew was coming. Roger hit a little harder than he meant to.
“Later,” Chris said. An outsider looking in would probably wonder why he or Albert had anything to do with Roger. But he was harmless, and he had a good heart under all the layers of bullshit. He and Albert were two of the few people who’d ever bothered to look that deep. They got along, and had each other’s backs, and aside from Roger’s need to call Albert Chinese names, they were friends.
Albert threatened to start calling him Denzel Washington or Martin Luther King from time to time, but agreed it wasn’t the same.
If Albert was going to play World of Warcraft, he wouldn’t be coming over. Chris was okay with it, because he wanted time alone to reflect on the man in the parking lot. Reflect, he thought, grinning at how his reflection might require tissues and a locked bedroom door. He shifted in his seat, and drank his milkshake.
Albert finished his banana split, and sighed when he noticed Elizabeth had left without glancing their way. Chris tried not to look too disappointed that the beat-up car he hoped to see was gone, too.
Well, there was always reflection.
He dropped Albert at his house and headed home, the sky a deepening gray when he pulled into the driveway. His dad’s truck was gone, but light shone out the kitchen window on the side. He hoped his mom hadn’t cooked a big dinner, because he’d forgotten to warn her he might stop for a snack.
His stomach rumbled. He could actually eat again. What was with his appetite lately?
Chris stepped onto the porch. The skin at his nape tingled.
A soft voice said, “Chris?”
He turned, and the backpack he’d carried on one shoulder slid off with a thump. The man from the parking lot stood at the bottom of the three steps, close enough to touch. How had he gotten there without Chris hearing him? How had he gotten that close?
Chris’ mouth dropped open as he took in the dark hair that shone despite the fading light. The man’s intense eyes made Chris’ blood heat up, and the stubble accenting his face tempted Chris to reach out, trace the sharp angle of his jaw. Chris’ gaze went where his fingers couldn’t, down the man’s corded neck to the strong shoulders, the chest. He guessed the guy was over six feet tall, and his black leather jacket didn’t hide the strength beneath that Chris wanted to press his palms against.
This guy was perfect.
He swallowed and cleared his throat. “You—”
Chris grunted as the guy grabbed his upper arms, then pushed him backward until he came up against the house, next to the front door. It wasn’t violent, it didn’t hurt, but it was fast and unexpected.
And then the man pressed his face against Chris’ neck, under his ear, and inhaled.
Chris’ body molded to the hard form pinning him against the house, their bodies fitting together. He couldn’t get his wits about him to speak or move or shout for help, dumbass?
Chris was frozen, and as the man pressed harder against him and took another deep breath, a shudder went through him. The scent of leather was the next thing Chris noticed, then the warm skin against his. He smelled musky in the best possible way—male and earthy and fresh.
The man lifted his face long enough to grind out, “How? Who are you?” before inhaling at the other side of Chris’ neck.
He squeezed the man’s upper arms, a part of his brain telling him to push and get away while another, louder part urged Chris to pull him closer. He imagined lifting his legs and wrapping them around the man’s hips.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Chris tilted his neck to the side, and the guy growled against his skin. He shuddered again, and found the only thing holding him upright was the body against his.
The porch light snapped on, jerking Chris back to reality. He pushed at the man’s arms to get him to back up.
The guy flinched at the light, but didn’t move. When Chris shoved, he let go and took a step back.
Chris’ dad opened the door and stepped out. He was a little taller than Chris, but not as tall as the leathered-up guy who’d just sniffed his neck, so the stranger was definitely over six-feet tall. His dad wore khaki pants and a blue and green plaid shirt, his idea of casual wear. It made his reddish hair look even redder under the light.
“Chris. You’re home.”
Chris leaned against the house, his mouth open, his face too warm, and before he could answer he started sliding down as if his legs couldn’t support him anymore.
Lukas reached for him, but Chris’ dad did, too. Lukas let go and took another step back.
“Whoa, Chris.” Chris’ father held his arm and looked back and forth between them. “What’s, uh . . .”
“Nothing, Dad.” Chris straightened and brushed off his shirt. “Just got a little dizzy. Long day.”
Lukas hadn’t meant to grab him and back him against the house, but Chris’ scent was better than the woods after rain. That alone might have compelled him do it. Yet the scent of pack that was there but couldn’t be there agitated him to the point he had no choice but to do whatever he could to figure it out. He thought an up-close sniff might help him decipher it.
He hadn’t expected to have such trouble letting go, and to have to fight with himself so hard to keep from tasting the warm skin that smelled so good.
And he certainly hadn’t meant to be caught by his father.
Chris’ dad crossed his arms in front of his chest, one corner of his mouth curved up. “Nothing? I saw you two, making out on the porch right in broad daylight.”
“It’s nearly dark, Dad.”
“It’s a figure of speech, son.”
Chris laughed. “Yeah, for things done during the daytime.”
At least Chris’ dad didn’t seem angry. Lukas held his hand out and used it as an opportunity to step closer. “Lukas Vance. Chris has told me a lot about you.”
Lukas inhaled. Inexpensive aftershave used a little too liberally, cigarettes and an apple he must have eaten recently.
Not a hint of pack.
“He has, has he?” Chris’ dad said as he shook Lukas’ hand. “Tyler Keenan, at your service. If you ever need a comprehensive whole life plan, let me know. But you young fellas think you’ll live forever, so I won’t hold my breath.”
Lukas smiled at the peculiar man, then cut his eyes to Chris, trying to convey the need for Chris to play along. His mouth still hung open. Lukas was tempted to put his fingers under Chris’ chin and close it.
“So, how old are you, Lukas?’
“Oh, slightly older man.” Tyler clasped his hands together. “Well. Ahem. It was nice to meet you, Lukas. I’ll let the two of you . . . I’ll let you . . .” He waved his hands a bit, then laughed. “Well, goodnight.”
Chris slumped against the house as Tyler opened the door. But Lukas stepped forward.
“Actually, Mr. Keenan, Chris had invited me to come in for a while . . . if that’s okay, of course.” He glanced at Chris and willed him to agree, just nod and agree.
Chris gaped and shook his head. He ran his fingers through his soft-looking hair and glared at Lukas like he might be the craziest person he’d ever known. But after a few tense moments, he said, “That okay, Dad?”
“Why, sure! You know,” Tyler said as he held the door for Lukas, “Chris hasn’t brought a guy home since high school, none but the usual friends. Though maybe I shouldn’t be tell—”
“No, Dad, you really shouldn’t.”
“Sorry.” He turned to Lukas. “My wife ran out for a few things, but I’m sure she’ll be happy to meet you, too. I’ve got some paperwork, but make yourself at home. Good night, then. Right.” Tyler clapped him on the shoulder before he disappeared down the hallway.
Chris grabbed Lukas’ arm and tried to pull him back to the door.
“I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but you need to get out of my house, now.”