I hurried down the stairs of my apartment building, buttoning up my uniform top and cursing under my breath.
I hated to be late more than anything, and I really hated that sick to your stomach, panicky feeling you got when you woke up late and realized your alarm never went off, and it was already eight fifteen when you were supposed to clock in at eight.
I was currently a waitress who longed to be more. Of course, there wouldn’t be any promotions in my future if I couldn’t even make it to work on time.
Being a waitress hadn’t been my dream job, it just sort of happened.
I meant to go to college, but I’d fallen in love and decided to stay home, hoping that the man I loved would love me too, would claim me as his mate, and I’d spend my life giving him a family and living a life of happiness.
That hadn’t happened.
No, instead he left, never to return, and I’d taken a job waitressing, ending up stuck in this rut.
I had friends, my family, the pack… but I’d never found another man that made me feel the way Grayson had made me feel. Obviously, he hadn’t felt the same way about me, but I just couldn’t get my heart to move on.
“You’re late,” my boss yelled when I hurried in the back door and punched in.
“Sorry, overslept,” I muttered, grabbing my apron and tying it around my waist.
“Get to station four,” he said, but that was it.
I sighed in relief that he wasn’t going to yell at me or worse, fire me.
“Hi, Shonda,” Ricky, our cook, called as I passed through the kitchen.
I shot out my hand in a wave and continued on to my station.
“Here, this is from table 14. I already got their drinks,” my co-worker Karen said, handing me an order slip.
“Thanks, Karen, you’re a lifesaver,” I told her with a smile.
“You cover me, I cover you, right?”
“Always,” I agreed with a smile, then went to check my station.
When I saw my friend Katja and her stepdaughter Sloane sitting at a booth, the last of my funky feelings evaporated, and I felt the first genuine smile of the day cross my face.
“How are my two favorite ladies doing this morning?” I asked as I approached their table.
“Shonda, imma get pancakes,” Sloane said excitedly, her dark pigtails swinging as she bounced on her bottom.
“Mmmm, that sounds yummy,” I told her, kissing the top of her head briefly before turning to Katja, “How are you doing?”
“Great,” Katja said sunnily.
She had recently been claimed by Bane, a member of the pack and my unrequited love’s brother. They were still in that sickeningly happy, touchy-feely, always kissing phase. I was thrilled for them.
“Were you going to eat as well, or do you just want coffee?” I asked, wanting to talk, but aware that another couple had just been seated in my station.
“Can I get the veggie omelet with wheat toast?”
“You got it,” I said, shooting them a smile before I moved to welcome my new table.
When I delivered their food, Katja caught my eye and said, “There’s something I wanted to tell you.”
“What’s that?” I asked, wondering if she was already pregnant or something.
“Well,” she began with a giddy grin. “You know how I met Bane because of that mating app I signed up for, and he only signed up for it because it worked for Mal, Kai and Tori?”
“Yeah,” I said, a little distracted as I mentally calculated my next steps.
Check on table fifteen, refill waters on twelve, and see if sixteen is ready to order yet.
“Gray asked Bane about it…”
“What?” I asked, my head popping up at Grayson’s name. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, Gray had Bane help him set up an account. He’s interested in finding a woman to come out and do a trial with him,” Katja said, eyes twinkling.
“Like to stay and mate with him? There? Permanently?” I asked, my heart pounding at this new, and frankly unexpected, information.
“Yeah, someone to settle down on his land with him and be his mate.”
“Oh my God,” I whispered, my hand coming to my mouth.
“And I think you should set up a profile to try and set it up,” Katja said, dropping another bomb on me.
“But Katja, he could have had me years ago. If he wanted me, or anyone from the pack, all he’d have to do is call… Women would be driving up there in droves.”
“Hmmmm,” Katja muttered, then snapped her fingers and said, “You just need to set up a fake account. We’ll make up a name and put up a fake picture… he won’t know it’s you until you get out there, then he’ll have to give you a shot.”
“He’d just tell me to leave,” I said dryly, my heart clenching painfully at the thought of him rejecting me again.
“Not if Bane drops you off and says he won’t come back to pick you up until the end of the trial,” Katja said. “Grayson won’t leave his land, so he won’t be driving you back himself. You’ll be stuck there for the duration. He’ll have to hear you out and give you a chance.”
“Catfishing? I don’t know. It seems pretty sneaky and would probably really piss him off,” I replied, but I couldn’t help but feel all tingly at the thought of seeing him again.
“Look, I know it’s risky, but this might be your only chance,” my friend said softly, and I knew she was right.
If he was ready to settle down and was willing to allow a strange woman into his life, this might be my only chance to find happiness with the man who already owned my heard.
“Meet me at my place at seven?”
Katja’s grin widened and she said, “I’ll be there.”