One month ago, I moved in with a troll. It’s been surprisingly mundane, if you forget that first week where I helped find a dozen missing underworlders and consequently got kidnapped and stabbed by a crazy sorcerer. Other than that, it’s been a very quiet month. Well, figuratively quiet. Literally, my troll roommate snores like a chainsaw on steroids, which is quite loud.
Terrance and I are on opposite sleep schedules, so we don’t see each other much. He owns a nightclub, among a few other businesses in the not-so-lovely city of Detroit, Michigan, while I work in a motorcycle repair shop doing oil changes and tire repair. It’s not bad work, now, but in a few weeks when the temperatures start to really drop, I’m going to wish I did anything else.
I get home just after four p.m. and head down the stairs into our underground house beneath the Ambassador Bridge—yes, the troll lives under the bridge. It’s okay to laugh. I did, when I found out. I shake off the chill of a cold and cloudy day. I need a new coat. My threadbare, old hoodie isn’t going to cut it much longer.
Terrance is awake and eating pizza in front of the TV when I reach the main living room at the bottom of the stairs. At seven and a half feet tall, with a shiny, bald head, a face full of piercings, watermelon biceps, and tree trunk legs, most people find the surly man intimidating, but I adore him. He’s got a weakness for me, too. He takes one look at my pink nose and cheeks and frowns. “You need a coat.”
I smile as I snag a slice of his pizza. Meat Lover’s, of course—trolls are on the carnivorous side. That works perfectly for me, since I love all things meat. “I was just thinking the same thing,” I say around a mouthful of cheesy, greasy goodness. “Don’t worry. I’ll go get one this week.”
“A good one,” Terrance grumps, knowing—and hating—how I operate. “Not some used thrift store garbage.”
I roll my eyes. “I’ve survived my entire life on used thrift store garbage. It’ll be fine. And it’s cheaper.”
“It’s poorer quality. You don’t need to live on used things anymore. I’ll leave you some cash. You can go get a new one tonight.”
I try not to sigh. The thing about living with a troll—Terrance has claimed me as clan, and as head of the clan he feels responsible for me—he’s always buying me stuff. I’m a foster kid from Detroit. To say I’m not used to people buying me things is a gross understatement.
“I don’t need you to buy me a coat.” I plop down on the couch close enough to reach the pizza. “But speaking of cash…” I stick my pizza in my mouth and pull a wad of bills out of my front jeans pocket. I set it on the coffee table between Terrance and myself before grabbing my pizza from my mouth and taking a large bite. I wait until I swallow before saying, “I got paid today, so here’s some rent.” When he slants me a look, I add, “Don’t worry. I kept enough to get myself a coat.”
“Keep your money.” Terrance gets up with a grunt, heading for the kitchen without picking up the cash. “And get yourself a good coat. A new coat.”
I’ve never bought myself a new anything.
“If you don’t, I will.”
While he’s shuffling around in the kitchen, my phone dings with an incoming text message.
Parker: Nora, please. Just give me a chance. One dinner. Not even dinner. Coffee. It doesn’t have to be a date. I just miss you.
I miss him a little, too, but I still ignore the text and slip the phone back in my pocket.
Parker is the only decent vampire I’ve ever met. We went on a quasi dinner date last month, when we were both trying to find the missing underworlders. It went well, but I’ve been avoiding his texts and calls ever since. I fear him and don’t entirely trust him, but at the same time, there’s something about him that gets my blood pumping. I almost can’t resist him. That’s a recipe for disaster, so I’ve been ghosting him hard.
Terrance comes back with a beer for himself and a soda for me. I stamp down my guilt for ignoring Parker and take the soda from Terrance.
“Thanks.” I gulp down half of the Coke quickly, washing down that spicy sausage Terrance and I both love. “Don’t buy me a coat. I’m not a mooch, Terrance.”
“You’re clan. Head of clan provides for those in his care. There’s no need to pay rent, and if you need a coat, it’s my job to get you one.”
“That’s nice of you, T-man, but—”
“No buts. This is how trolls live. You are my first clan member. Please let me do this my way. It is an honor.”
I sigh. Terrance has a way of making it impossible to argue with him. “I guess.” I chug the rest of my soda and grab a second slice of pizza. “It still doesn’t feel right.”
“I’m not saying you can’t work and buy yourself things. Do whatever you want—work, go to college, learn a trade. Just let me provide for your basic necessities while you’re under my roof.”
College. Trade school. A real career. I shake my head, overwhelmed at the thought. Those are things I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to experience. It’s crazy how much my life has changed in the last month, how stable it’s become for the first time ever. I’m still trying to process it. “Wow. That’s…definitely something to think about, I guess.”
I know Terrance is up to something when he starts fidgeting. I wait him out, finishing off my pizza. Finally, he clears his throat and mumbles, “I was thinking…you should come work at the club.”
“Underworld? Doing what?”
“You’d make a great bartender.” Terrance lifts a heavy shoulder and lets it drop, refusing to look at me. “You’re friendly, chatty, pretty—plus, as a human, you’d be a bit of a novelty.”
Did I mention the club Terrance owns is strictly an underworlder club? It’s the main hub for all paranormal creatures in Detroit. I used to be terrified of it, and of all the monsters that frequent it, but I’ve learned they’re not all bad. In fact, all of my friends now happen to be underworlders. Of course, I’m not your average human. I’ve got a few psychic abilities that give me more in common with the paranormal world than the human one I come from.
His smile tells me everything I need to know. He really wants me to do this. I’m not sure why. The underworld can be dangerous for a human like me. Maybe he wants to keep me close, or maybe he’s lonely and wants us on the same schedule. From his sudden good mood, I almost suspect he wants to show me off. He’s beaming like a proud dad.
“You think it’ll be safe for me?” I hate to question his judgment, but after some of the stuff I’ve been through at the hands of underworlders, I’ve got to know.
His face turns serious. “I’ve thought a lot about that. I think it’ll be safer for you than anything else. The underworlders in this city are curious about you after the whole mess you got into last month. I think having you around where they can meet you, and quench their curiosity under my watchful eye, will help ease some of the tension and dispel the rumors. It’ll let people know that you’re really under my protection.” His smile turns wry. “Seems not many people believe I’ve claimed a human as clan.”
I snort. “I wonder why.” He’s only the first troll in history to claim a human.
Terrance raises his brows, waiting, so I nod. “Okay, sure. Why not?”
Terrance beams at me. “Thanks. Wulf could really use the help.”
“Wulf, the werewolf bartender?”
Terrance smirks. “Get your giggles out now, because he hates being asked about that.”
“I’ll try my best.”
“Don’t you go starting any trouble in my club now, Trouble.”
I grin at the nickname. “No promises. You sure you want me there?”
Terrance tries not to laugh, but his lips twitch until he starts to chuckle. “Heaven help us all, but I really do.”
. . . . .
Underworld perfectly fits its name. It’s in one of the roughest parts of Detroit, in a large converted warehouse that’s surrounded by abandoned buildings. It has a reputation among the humans for being dangerous and run by gangsters. Gangsters, no. But dangerous? Hell, yes. To humans, especially. Because they don’t know that monsters exist and that they’re walking into their den when they come to this place. I’ll likely be the only human here most nights. Like Terrance said, a novelty.
We come in through a back entrance off the employee parking lot. It brings us down a dim hallway past a few offices where Terrance makes me fill out all the proper paperwork before dragging me out into the club. He may be an underworlder, but he’s still a law-abiding citizen. Underworlders don’t like to call attention to themselves. Not paying taxes or running illegal businesses in the city would definitely raise a few eyebrows in the human world.
After I’m an official Underworld employee, Terrance gives me a tour of the place. We’re early, so it’s not open yet. There are three different dance halls that each play different styles of music, but the main one is where I’ll be working with Wulf. (I’m to be by his side or Terrance’s at all times.) It’s a large room, with dance cages at the front on either side of the DJ stand. The room is black, with plush, red couches and chairs scattered around the dance floor. There are a few red booths, too, with black tables, but mostly the room is sparse, encouraging people to be out dancing.
Wulf is here early, getting things ready behind the long bar that spans the entire length of one wall in the room. He’s not the only bartender, of course, but he’s the manager of all of them. And he’ll be my trainer, since he’s the only guy in the joint Terrance trusts fully with my safety.
The ruggedly handsome man with the thick brown hair, light green eyes, a nice, deep tan, and a sexy five o’clock shadow smiles as we approach. “Ho! So your feisty little human decided to take you up on the offer,” he teases Terrance while shooting me a friendly wink. “This should make the nights more interesting. Welcome to Underworld, Nora.”
Wulf holds out a hand to me. I nod, opting not to shake hands. I don’t touch people skin to skin, if I can help it. It’s part of those psychic abilities I mentioned. I can read people’s minds. It’s really not as fun as you’d think, and I avoid doing it as much as possible.
“Make sure you keep a close eye on her.” Terrance scowls at Wulf in warning, then looks at me. “You okay here? I’ve got some stuff to do.”
I nod again. “I’m good. Go do your thing, T-Man.”
When Terrance disappears, I turn back to my new supervisor. The smile he gives me is all wolf. It’s toothy, shows his pointed canines, and screams predator. And it makes me laugh. “It’s nice to officially meet you, Wulf. Thanks for being willing to watch the feisty little human’s back.”
“Eh.” He shrugs, but it’s a farce. “Things could stand to be a little livelier around here, and Terrance is right that you’ll be a big draw.” He eyes me from head to toe and shakes his head, huffing out a breath like I’m going to be trouble. I’m not dressed in anything spectacular—Terrance had me put on a black T-shirt and black yoga pants—but they’re form fitting and make my tall, slender frame look curvier than it really is. I also have long, shiny brunette hair, pouty lips, and haunting green eyes. I tend to get looks.
“Every underworlder from here to Chicago is going to want to buy you a drink and take you home.”
Unfortunately, he’s right. I have a natural allure about me. It’s got something to do with my weird powers, I think, but it’s more than just my decent looks. Men are drawn to me. Some worse than others. It gets dangerous. I’ve had some horrible experiences because of it, and now I don’t date. At all. Ever.
My anxiety kicks up, dissolving the playful atmosphere. I swallow hard as I look at Wulf, beseeching him with my eyes so that he knows how serious I am. “You’ll be able to keep me safe, right? Because men will be a problem for me.”
Wulf grows serious as well. From the storm in his eyes, I’m pretty sure Terrance has let him in on a little of my history. That’s okay. The more he knows, the more he’ll watch over me. I’m all for being a strong woman, but I’ll never turn down a knight in shining armor, either. He clenches his jaw and glares fiercely at nothing in particular. “Anyone who touches you will answer to me,” he growls. “And then Terrance will rip them to pieces.”
He means that literally. I’m also fairly certain that Terrance would not be alone in the ripping-people-apart category. If I had any question about Wulf’s alpha status as a werewolf, I don’t now. He’s so dominant that I’m shaking, and I don’t have an inner wolf. If I did, I think I’d be belly up at his feet right now.
“Okay.” I choke the word out. “Um, thanks.”
Wulf takes a breath, and the glow of the animal in his eyes dims. “Just stick close to me, never sample the merchandise, and we should be fine. I mean that last part. We serve underworlder drinks here. Most of them would have severe consequences for humans.”
“No worries. I don’t even drink human alcohol. I’ve been through too much shit in my life to ever want my judgment impaired.”
“Good girl.” He nods his head down the bar. “Come on, I’ll give you a basic rundown before we open, and you can just watch me tonight until you learn how to mix the drinks.”
“I know a lot of human ones already—had one foster father who was just better off plastered. I used to mix his drinks for him.”
“That’ll help. We do sell a lot of human drinks, and beer on tap isn’t complicated. Still, I want you right by my side at all times until people get used to seeing you here.”
I nod. “Not a problem. I’ve got no intention of wandering off on my own.”