This Monday my novella, Monsters of Pittsburgh: Humans, will be available for purchase.
So here’s the opening:
The bar was loud and crowded despite it being a Thursday night. Mina sat on a stool, trying not to glare at the people who jostled her. She was here with her boss, Jennelle, who knew her as ‘Terry’. The cover persona was an affable, thoughtful, and above all, meek woman.
Sometimes, it’s fun to pretend.
Jennelle ordered another round of shots before leaning in close, her long chestnut hair swinging between them. “Ter, hun, let’s establish this right now. You’re getting wildly drunk tonight, because tomorrow I expect you to wake up and get the Mayfair file in order. You’re officially out sick.”
Mina smiled and clinked her shot glass with her boss before they both downed their tequila. “What about you?”
Jennelle shrugged. “Hangover be damned, I’ll be calling your butt at nine and every hour thereafter until it’s done. And if that’s before six, we should go shopping. I saw the cutest top for you in Shadyside.”
Mina put her empty glass beside her boss’s. This wasn’t the first time Jennelle had done something like this. Last Christmas Eve, she’d walked in at nine in the morning to inform the entire office that they had the flu, and could work from home.
There wasn’t a birthday, graduation, marriage, or birth missed in the department. Lunches were as long as they needed to be, and smoke breaks were frequent, whether you smoked or not.
Jennelle knew everybody’s business and treated them all like extended family. ‘Terry’, however, was a special case, even for Jennelle. She had all but adopted ‘Terry’ at her job interview. Somehow, the older woman saw past the bland facade Mina put out to the civilian world. Or maybe she’d been moved by Mina being new to the city and alone. Whatever it was, Jennelle had treated her like a younger sister from day one.
Jennelle waved to the bartender. “So when did you and Rick break up?”
“What?” Mina’s heart skipped a beat. This was not what she was expecting. She and Rick hadn’t been dating, but her boss thought they were. It was the easiest way to explain why they spent so much time together. It also kept Jennelle from hitting on Rick when he was around.
Jennelle handed her the amber liquid. “I try not to interfere with your love life, even if I really, really want to know what’s under that brown uniform of his. But you haven’t let the Mayfair people get the better of you since you took the account. Now they have ten thousand dollars due past thirty days. And he hasn’t been by in weeks.”
Mina shrugged, her mind racing. A large part of her cover story was falling apart, and she was going to have to improvise.
“You seemed happy with Rick.” Jennelle’s voice dripped with sympathy.
“I was.” Sometimes, Mina was still a little surprised at how well they got along, but she’d never been attracted to him. Not until that damned succubus hunt. For the last month, he crept into her thoughts when she least expected it.
To some extent it felt wrong to think of a Speaker as sexy. They’d both been raised by the Tribes to believe that humans shouldn’t mate with werewolves.
I am a human. Just one with a cool ability.
She clung to the thought. Rick didn’t appear to be at all bothered by her being a werewolf. As a Speaker, she’d have assumed he’d have serious issues. He’d been trained to control werewolves, by force or with the Voice if necessary. Mina shivered and banished memories of her own time with the Tribes.
Jennelle’s shoulder bumped hers. “Thinking about that tattoo crawling off his ass?”
Mina laughed. “Yeah, a little.” It wasn’t a total lie. The abstract black and red design that covered Rick’s back from shoulder to hip was a Speaker rite of passage.
“What is it, anyway? You never did tell me.”
“It’s very stylized air, representing the sacred breath.” She finished the explanation silently, the sacred breath of life and magic that controls the wolf.
Unbidden, the catechism came to her: Werewolves crave blood like demons. Werewolves have healing abilities like demons. The difference between werewolves and other demons is a human Voice.
And Giorgios, your cousin, the Speaker, is in love with his werewolf. There is nothing wrong with dating a Speaker.
Mina downed her shot. “Next round is on me.”
Jennelle shifted on her barstool as she watched the bartender bend over. “I didn’t even realize you two had broken up. I mean, a few weeks ago, you ate lunch together almost every day. So what happened?”
Mina lifted the now full shot glass and swallowed the tequila quickly, as she planned exactly how to lie to her boss and best friend. “We wanted different things, I guess.”
It wasn’t Rick she’d broken up with, or who had wanted something different. She tried not to think about the Trojan’s dark eyes. They had indeed wanted different things. She’d wanted to see him again.
“He seems to have changed his mind.” Jennelle slammed her glass on the bar, and waved to the bartender.
“What?” Mina’s heart beat faster.
Mina shook her head. For a moment, she had completely forgotten that they were talking about Rick. The Trojan had left, and he wasn’t coming back. He’d been very clear about that.
And Rick’s been very clear that he is interested.
Jenelle grinned at her. “Jessie told me that Rick came up to our floor today. He had a bakery box and some flowers, but he never came in the office. He just stared at the door for awhile and then left.”
Mina swallowed the tequila. It didn’t burn enough. Rick wasn’t just a Speaker. He was Matty’s Speaker and best friend. Her brother said he was okay with them dating, but Mina wasn’t sure she believed it. And since Matty had just broken up with his boyfriend, she was even less inclined to upset him.
“Terry, hun, please talk to me.” Jennelle’s bright blue eyes sparkled with concern.
For a moment, Mina wished she could just tell Jennelle the truth about werewolves, monster hunters, and all the rest of her crazy life. She knew only too well how civilians handled the supernatural, though. Finding out that all ‘the stories’ were true, if wildly different from popular media, resulted in a breakdown. How long and how violent depended on the person. Not to mention that she’d been lying to Jennelle for years now. Hiding was just easier, and always had been.
Mina nodded to the bartender as he poured them each another round. “Maybe he has changed his mind, but I’m not sure I’m ready to date again.” She wasn’t sure she was ready to date Rick ever. “I mean, yeah, he’s literally the nicest person in the world—”
“And sexy as hell.”
Mina nodded, thinking over chiseled muscles, expressive gray eyes, golden hair, and a dimpled chin.
Somewhere a comic book is missing its hero.
“Have you considered a rebound guy at all?”
“A rebound guy?”
Jennelle swallowed her tequila. “Yeah, a nice guy, who’s good in bed, but you aren’t really serious about. After all, the best way to get over someone is get under someone else.” Jennelle winked. “That and handcuffs.”
Mina laughed. “What?”
“It’s the tequila talking, woman. I’m just imagining your man, in those brown shorts, all tied up like a Christmas present.” Jennelle licked her lips and the bartender spilled liquor on the bar refilling their glasses. “But you, we’re talking about what you need.” Her face lit up. “What about that guy? What was his name? Uly?”
“What about him?” Her heart pounded in her chest. She’d forgotten that Jennelle had met the Trojan. He’d been going by the name Uly Stone at the time.
“Well, he was sexy, rich, and funny. How about kicking his legs out from under him?”
Mina shrugged, forcing back tears. “I haven’t seen him in awhile.”
“That’s a damn shame.”
“Yeah, it is.” She tossed back another shot. “Next two are on me.”
“Next two? Hun, I’m not sure I can keep up with you tonight.”
“Not many can.”