“Do you see him yet?” Brandy craned her neck, but the corner table she and her sisters had chosen in the back of the roadhouse didn’t offer much in the way of views.
Actually, the whole town of Angels Rest—plopped down in the high desert scrub at the base of brooding Mesa Diablo—didn’t offer much in the way of views anywhere.
“I can’t see anything,” Gin grumbled. She peered out through the crimson fringe of her overgrown bangs like the rebellious baby sister she’d always been, even though she was the youngest by a mere ten minutes. “Who made these guys so big?”
“You know why they’re big,” Rita said with the serene poise she’d cultivated as the eldest of the triplets. Her sleek auburn bob framed her deep brown gaze as she scanned the wall of broad shoulders and tight asses aimed their way. The males to whom the shoulders and asses belonged were focused on a TV over the bar—some sports-ball-testosterone-fest that interested Brandy about as much as the display of physiques.
Which was to say, not at all. She’d already had the finest shoulder-asses-and-everything-in-between combo to be found in Angels Rest the first time—and last time—she was here.
And look where that had gotten her.
Right back in the same podunk town, after she’d told herself she’d never see its dusty, dinky like again. But returning to Angels Rest—just until she got what she wanted—was the only chance she had left to get her life back on track.
And not just her life…
She rubbed her damp palms down the skirt of her sundress, warping the cheerful flowers across her thighs. “He’s not coming,” she fretted.
“He did before,” Gin muttered, stirring her cocktail counterclockwise with needless vigor. “Repeatedly, from what I hear.”
Brandy shot her sister an incredulous look. “You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“That’s why we’re here,” Rita soothed. “So you can forget this whole thing ever happened. That is what you want, right?” She fixed her too-perceptive stare on Brandy.
Who forced herself not to squirm. “Not forget, exactly.” She rubbed at the back of her neck under her messy-cute bun. The wide-open land around here seemed to be forcing some truths out of her. “Just…change things.”
“Oh, you’ll definitely get change,” Gin said. “We’re in a town full of shapeshifters, after all.”
Brandy and Rita hissed her to silence, casting cautious looks at the men—and a few women. Though the Four Corners region had equal quadrants of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, Angels Rest wasn’t exactly a hotbed of gender equality. It was, however, crawling with shapeshifters.
And at least one of them had a very hot bed, as Brandy knew from personal experience tearing up those sheets…
Nope, no peering longingly into the way-back machine. What had happened was in the past, which couldn’t entirely be forgotten, but she needed a way forward. And if that way went through Angels Rest—and right through Mac Montero—she’d do what she had to do.
But attracting the attention of all these hollering males, knowing at least some of the drinkers at Gypsy’s Roadhouse could change themselves into wolves or bears or other deadly predators, wouldn’t be smart. Most people didn’t believe shapeshifters existed in real life, and that was exactly the way the shifters of Angels Rest liked it.
Brandy, however, knew the truth, and she’d told her sisters.
Not that Mac had told her.
That betrayal curdled in her gut, more sour than the lemon in her overpoured Sidecar cocktail. He’d been willing to take her home, take her to his bed, but he neglected to mention one leeeeeettle detail: the fact he had a tail. Oh, not a long one, probably. Not that she’d actually seen it. She’d been too entranced by the wagging appendage on the front side of his oh so very nice body…
Dang it! No way-back machining, she’d promised herself.
Well, whatever. She hadn’t told him all her secrets either.
“He’ll be here,” Rita said.
Gin sniffed. “Did Aunt Tilda see it in her magic mirror?”
At the thought of magic mirrors, a sense of inevitability, as strong and stomach-churning as the mix of alcohol in her glass, swept through Brandy. Goosebumps prickled at her nape and fled down the skin of her bare arms, as if trying to shift her into a silly goose as punishment for what she was about to do. “It’s Friday night in Angels Rest,” she murmured. “There’s nowhere else for him to go.”
There was nowhere else for him to go.
If he was going to redeem the clan’s reputation in Angels Rest, he needed to walk the walk. He had to show up in front of them, show the town how steady, trustworthy, and honorable he and his cousins were, that the bad days were behind them since the clan had banished its corrupt leaders.
But even without the guarded animal inside him, Mac would’ve sensed the serious side eye cast his way as he shouldered through the open door at Gypsy’s. Memories in Angels Rest were as long as Mesa Diablo’s shadow edging toward the roadhouse as the summer sun descended. The town—its shifters and their allies—had been badly hurt by the troubles with the Kingdom Guard zealots who’d wanted to destroy all non-humans.
After stealing their secrets.
Eyes slightly dazzled from the evening glare, nose twitching from the heavy scents of hops and yummy fried things, Mac stuffed the wariness deep as he gave out a few chin-up nods. And got a few nods back, at least from those not focused on the Friday night game.
Baby steps. As frustrating as it was, he’d take what he could get.
“Can I get a beer?” He pushed a five across the bar toward Gypsy.
She slid a tall boy back, not returning his smile as she went back to polishing glasses, her full-sleeve tattoos twisting as she moved. She was the third “Gypsy” to run the roadhouse, and all the women of the line had the same ropey arms that looked as ready to wring necks as dish rags. The various eyes in her tattoos watched him with more friendliness than she did.
She’d been on the front lines against the Kingdom Guard.
He stifled a sigh that was only the barest whisper of the angry roar he wanted to let loose. What did he have to do to prove the clan’s innocence? No shifters were good at rolling over and exposing their bellies.
Resting his elbow on the bar, he angled his body away from the aggression on the TV screen and the more immediate threat in Gypsy’s stare. He was a good, upstanding shifter citizen of Angels Rest. He would not start a bar fight while hollering that they needed to be nice to him now, dammit…
He lifted the beer bottle to his lips, determined not to make eye contact with anything that might trigger him.
As his gaze locked on the last person he ever expected to see again.