Well, I did it. I hit 1,000 followers on Twitter. Just me and my words.
So, here’s a few more words. A brand new story from Pittsburgh.
Watering eyes glued to the television, reading the curves of the digital road, Dean’s jaw felt about to dislocate when he yawned. The short snores announcing that Rick had passed out in his recliner nearly yanked out a second one. “What time is it?”
Matty’s voice came out absent and distracted from the far side of the couch. “After midnight.”
Dean blinked, trying to focus on the blurry pixilated cars on the screen. “When did it get so late?”
“After the second beer. You couldn’t drive for an hour.”
Dean snorted a laugh as he set down his controller on the scuffed coffee table, not at all concerned with winning anymore. “It was one beer.”
Matty paused the race, eyes serious, face concerned. “It was two, and you only had to wait one hour, not three.”
Ask him out.
Dean stared into those big brown eyes, froze, swallowed, and finally found his voice. “I know this great pizza place–”
“Pizza?” Matty blew his hair off his nose and settled back on the arm on the rose-covered upholstery, one black-painted fingernail idly tracing a crack on the wall, the very picture of indolent relaxation, as always. “Nah, man. You need something more… East Coast.”
“Really?” Laughter bubbled up. “What’s more east coast than pizza?”
Matty’s words came out simple and complete, though his eyes stuck to the ceiling. “Loaded fries.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“French fries, garlic salt, bacon, and tons of cheese.” A tight smile curled up Matty’s face. It wasn’t his normal self-satisfied smirk, but it highlighted the thin, pointed features that had haunted Dean for the last month, ever since he discovered the man naked and bleeding in that basement.
Dean’s mouth dried, and he covered his cracking voice with another yawn. “I save your life and you try to give me a heart attack in return.”
Long, thin fingers raked through black hair, bringing out the blue shimmer. “One plate of fat and grease won’t kill you.”
Dean nodded absently, still entranced by the man’s simplest actions. “It does sound good.”
Please don’t let that have sounded as dirty as it felt.
“Then next time you come over I’ll make some for you.” Matty stood up and stretched, thin arms pulling his shirt tight across his back. “But you have work, right?”
“Next time, loaded fries, absolutely.” Oh, sweet baby Jesus, there would be a next time. “And yes, I do have a client to meet in a few hours.” A sudden disappointment settled over Dean as he realized that, somehow, Matty had managed to talk him out of a date. Again.
Maybe I should take a hint… but he did invite me over again, so…
Matty held out a hand, eyes dark and intense. “Thanks for coming over. I mean it. You did more than enough… I mean you literally saved me. I never really expected…”
Dean took it, savoring the soft, warm skin. Thin, nearly skeleton fingers, but the grip was strong and sure. A strange but intriguing mixture of opposites, so like the man himself. Matty pulled him to his feet, and Dean couldn’t bring himself to step away or let go.
For a heartbeat they stood, saying nothing, hands still pressed together. Then Matty gave the same tight grin, jammed his hands in his pockets, and sauntered toward the front hallway. “You can crash upstairs if you want. Sam finally finished the second floor. Maybe now we can get to the living room. Of course, we have to get Rick to stop passing out in his chair first.”
Take the hint, Stanton.
“Nah, I’m good. You don’t get far in my profession if you can’t take late hours.”
Matty looked him over. It wasn’t Dean’s imagination. Yet there wasn’t anything in body language or his eyes. Matty might as well be reading a book. Then, finally, that thin face broke into Matty’s real smile, all-knowing and asking you to laugh with him. “Good to know.” He opened the front door.
“Goodnight.” There was nothing left to do but leave, so Dean walked out.
“Night, man.” Behind him Matty’s voice quivered, thick and full of some emotion. “And seriously, thanks for coming over.”
Dean had to swallow to speak, and he was sure Matty heard the effort. “Of course. I told you, I wasn’t going anywhere.” The heavy silence behind him seemed to hold something. As if Matty was just about to speak. Then the door clicked shut behind him and the bolt slid into place. Dean sighed and headed for his car.
When the red taillights of Dean’s car faded into the night, Matty’s knees finally gave out. His head slammed into the door, and he hit the hard, wooden floor, boneless.
“Shit! You okay?” Rick appeared beside him, concern etched in the wrinkle between his sleep encrusted eyes.
Matty rubbed at his aching forehead. “Yeah, I just…”
Matty shrugged, then let his mouth run. Rick had seen him in worse states. “Kinda. Not really. I think it’s more the lack of sleep than anything.”
“Or the lack of food.” Warm, strong hands lifted him easily from the floor and set him on his feet. “Mina’s worried.”
Matty forced his hands into his pocket. He had painted his nails that morning to stop gnawing at them, but right now he knew wouldn’t resist if he saw one. “So am I.”
Rick wrapped a strong arm around him and headed down the dark and dusty hall towards the kitchen.
And my basement.
Matty leaned into his Speaker and best friend, letting the big man carry some of his weight. “Your silence is ominous.”
“Not intentional, just tired and trying to decide if I’m worried.”
“I can’t eat or sleep. I have the shakes. I haven’t left the house in weeks. And you aren’t worried.”
“You’re also chewing your nails again.”
“Sorry I missed one.”
Rick laughed, but quickly turned serious as they walked through the cavernous kitchen. “You were kidnapped and tortured by the bastard who gave you brain damage. I’d be worried if you tried to brush it off. Instead, you’re letting yourself be upset and sharing that with us. So, I’m going to err on the side of progress and let you and Mina do the worrying this time.” He stopped at the door to the basement. “You need help getting down?”
Matty studied the narrow, wooden steps and then turned to his Speaker. “Dude, you really think we can fit? Mina and I would have trouble taking these things tandem.”
Rick stood up straighter, deliberately towering over Matty and puffing out his thick chest. “Like I can’t carry you, one-handed.”
“You’re just trying to make me feel little.” Matty floated down the stairs on Rick’s laughter, wishing he could wrap himself in the man’s certainty and optimism.
The chill of autumn had permeated the basement air and the cement block walls kept all light and sound from his tiny bedroom. In the cool, silent blackness, behind a locked door, he could almost sleep. The fugue state between awake and dreaming couldn’t be described as restful, but the past few weeks had shown him it was the best he was going to get.
He tossed and turned until the lock on his door clicked. A crack of light in the darkness sparked a shot of adrenaline. Mina’s calm voice immediately smothered it. “It’s just me.” The mattress sank as she stretched out beside him. “I’m heading into work in a bit. Want some breakfast?”
He rolled toward her. The dark hid her face, so very much like his own, all pointed features and sharp edges. “Not hungry, sis.”
“You haven’t been hungry since you got away from Dzubenko.” The quiver in her voice said his sister was fighting tears.
Hating himself for worrying her, he could only shake his head. “Eating makes me feel too heavy.” And everything still tasted like cardboard to him.
That man fucked me up so many ways. I only wish I could kill him again.
She wiggled closer and kissed the top of his head. “Rick already left for work. Need me to stay home? I could make picadillo.”
He shook his head, refusing to acknowledge his anxiety over Rick leaving without saying goodbye. He had probably wanted Matty to get whatever sleep he could. “Since when do you cook? Let alone cook picadillo.”
“Fine.” Her smile sparkled in her voice. “I’ll teach Sam how to cook picadillo. We’ll look it up online anyway.”
Matty laughed with her, snuggling closer. She wrapped an arm around him and rested her sharp chin on his head. “Do need me to stay?”
“Nah. I’ll be fine. Besides, Sam and Sonja are here.” He hated that someone might have to calm him down, even as relief that he wouldn’t be alone washed over him.
“Remember to shower. Dean is coming over tonight.”
Matty sat up, rubbing at his greasy hair. “He texted already?” He reached for his phone, looking for confirmation, his stomach tightening for some reason.
Maybe I’m actually hungry.
Mina gave a laugh. “No, I texted him. I’m not sure why he feels the need for an invite for his daily visit, but he keeps fishing for one, so I took the initiative.”
“You finally giving up on that asshole Trojan?” He gave a sorry and fake laugh as he settled back into bed. Maybe he could get some actual sleep after she went to work.
Her teeth squeaked behind her clenched jaw. “Dean is my friend, too.”
Matty held in a sigh. He knew to bite his tongue when he was in a funk. He didn’t mean to lash out, but he’d apparently hit a soft spot harder than ever intended. Best to just change the subject. “I promise I’ll clean up for company, including changing my clothes.” Pretending to be normal was the best part of his day. Video games and snacks, with nothing more important than Dean’s reaction. The ultracool private detective with the pleasant, unwavering smile. It was fun getting him to swear at losing a game or even talk smack on occasion. Thinking about this evening lifted some of the weight from his mind.
Mina bounced out of bed and turned on his light. “Do, please. And see about some snacks. And don’t trick Sam into doing all the work.”
Matty snorted as he started gathering clean clothes, blinking against the sudden brightness. So much for more sleep, but Mina hanging out with them tonight was all the motivation he needed to get moving. “You do remember that he’s not our actual father, right? I mean I know he calls us his kids, but…”
She paused at the door a smirk on her face. “At least I didn’t slip up and almost tell Dean that I was a werewolf.”
“I can believe Rick told you about that.” Heat rushed to Matty’s face as he remembered the joke he’d had to cut short from last night. Punchlines weren’t worth the freak out or losing Dean’s company. “I mean, it’s probably fine. He did somehow miss the claw marks on the wall and my actual transformation when he rescued me.”
Mina rolled her eyes. “He didn’t see you go from wolf to human, therefore anything weird or unusual he might have noticed was rationalized away. Same as most normal people.”
“Still, detective. Then again…” The t-shirt under his finger strained and stretched. “The brain is so delicate and easy to fuck up.”
Before his tears fell, Mina’s arms were locked around his ribcage. “I love you. I wish I could do more than say that, but I do love you and will always be here for you.”
Matty squeezed her back and wished love was enough to fix him.
Sam tried his best not to make any sudden movements as he finished putting away the dishes. The creaking of stairs had announced Matty creeping up from the basement, finally. The last thing he wanted was to send Matty scurrying back to his room. They’d gone three days since the last time.
“Hey, Sam.” The scrape of chair on floor came before the low squeak of Matty seating himself at the table. “What do we have in the way of snacks?”
Sam shrugged as he turned around. Matty seemed so out of place. The kitchen was warm and soothing as always. The only completely finished room in the whole house, since no one wanted to eat in a dirty kitchen. They had chosen cream and pale blue for the decor, and the miles of glass cabinets reflected the late afternoon sun from the wide windows over the sink.
Matty sat alone at the huge round table, smaller than ever. He perched on his seat, chin resting on the skinny knees that poked through the holes in his baggy jeans. The voluminous black hoodie swallowed the rest of him; tiny and dark in the open warmness. Sam already knew that whatever Matty wanted as snack was going to happen. “Nothing special. Chips, dip, some veg. What’s up?”
Matty’s thin shoulders barely moved the heavy shirt when he shrugged. “Dean’s coming over tonight.”
“Dean? Again?” Sam covered his grin by running a finger over the scars that crisscrossed his face. Matty had been oddly receptive to Dean’s doting for a man who had no interest in dating.
And he still might not. Don’t make assumptions. He does love being the center of attention.
Matty clutched at his knees, eyes on the newly polished floor. “Mina wants some company.” His knuckles went white, stark against the giant black hoodie.
The sudden burning desire to kill every person responsible for the werewolf’s current condition washed over Sam. From the first Speakers who abused him to Dzubenko who had damaged his brain.
Dzubenko is dead, at least. As to all the others… someday.
He forced his voice to stay steady, for Matty’s sake. “What kind of snacks are we talking about?”
Matty nibbled on a thumbnail. “I’m thinking loaded fries.”
“You want to kill Dean or feed him?”
A smile sneaked past the obvious stress as Matty’s answering middle finger peeked out of the cuff of his shirt. The shiny sliver of black nail polish had too much flesh above it.
“We have the bacon, but nothing else. We’ll have to head to the store.”
“We?” Matty’s voice shook.
Sam shrugged. “Figure of speech. Unless you’re up for it.”
Matty sighed. “I’m not, but I should be.” He swallowed and pushed himself to his feet. “Let’s do this.”
“Son.” Sam put a hand on Matty’s shoulder. The muscles were rock hard. “You don’t have to go. You know that, right?”
A shiver shook the young werewolf and he shoved his fists into the pouch on his shirt. “I have to leave the house sometime.”
Sam wasn’t sure he liked that answer. “You want to wait for your sister or Rick?”
“I can’t wait around for them the rest of my life.” He pulled the hood over his head, shadowing his face. “If we hurry, I have enough time to recover before Dean shows up.”
Recovery meant locking himself in his bedroom. Those times terrified Sam. If Matty were to have one of his episodes, and only Mina had a key to his room… well, Sam was more than prepared to chop down a door. “Head to the car if you want to but I think I can remember four ingredients.”
Matty snorted as he shuffled toward the back door. “Three ingredients. We already have the bacon. If you’ve already forgotten that, I’d better not let you wander around alone in public. Senility can come on suddenly.”
You little shit…
Still, Sam chuckled as he grabbed the car keys from their peg on the wall. Matty almost sounded like his normal self.
The numbers didn’t add up. Somewhere, somehow the endless rows of numbers weren’t right. But numbers didn’t do that. That’s why Terry liked numbers. They didn’t just up and take off.
Her boss’s voice flowed across the small room, dark and languid. “Terry, hun, did you find that invoice yet?”
Terry waved a hand at her screen. “It’s not an invoice. It’s something more basic than that. I think the interest on the late fees is off.”
Jenelle twisted her full lips. “Then kick it back to Jason.”
“But I can do this.” Terry glared at the columns. She could start plugging in numbers, but she should know what was wrong. It was just math.
“Never said you couldn’t, hun, but it’s not your job.” Jennelle laughed as she leaned against Terry’s desk. “Your job is to make sure people pay what we say they owe. It’s Jason’s job to get you the right numbers.”
Beside her hand came a buzz. “Terry the Billing Assistant” disappeared and “Mina the Werewolf” took her place. Matty might need her. The text message from her brother wasn’t a call for help, though. “Heading to the store w/ Sam. Wish me luck.”
Warm relief flooded over her. Matty had left the house and of his own volition as far as she could tell.
“Good news about your mom?”
Mina pulled up Terry’s shy smile and suppressed her guilt at lying to her friend. “She’s having a good day.”
Jennelle beamed at her. “Those are rare during chemo. Enjoy it.”
Guilt burst past the dam. A sick mother might be a perfect excuse to miss work whenever she needed to hunt monsters, but she hated lying to Jennelle. “I really have to get back to this.”
“You aren’t going to kick that back to Jason are you?”
She glared at her screen. “Not yet. I have to make up an hour anyway.”
“Well, you might be taking on issues that aren’t yours, but I’m out.” Jennelle gave a pout. “I’m consoling myself with that busboy, since you stole Rick.”
A tickle of unease joined the guilt in her stomach. She and Rick weren’t dating. It was yet another convenient lie that built a convincing fake life for her office.
And the Trojan still hasn’t come back.
Mina focused on her computer screen and forced herself to think like Terry Jones. “Have fun.”
Jennelle gave her low laugh as she sauntered out of the office, her barely-long-enough for-work skirt sliding silkily along long legs. “One of these days, you are going to tell me everything about him.”
Only if you are unlucky enough to be attacked by a monster.
After the distraction that was her boss left, Mina focused on the numbers. It felt good to have a problem that had an answer waiting. Unlike her love life and her brother…
Anger burning in her veins she pulled up invoices and starting do the math by hand. It only took a few to convince her that the percentages on the fees were too low. She emailed her findings to Jason. Jennelle was right, it was his job to fix the software.
I’ll call Mayfair on Monday. They owe us quite a bit.
That settled and her anger mostly abated, Mina logged out, shut down her computer, and headed for dark back stairs that led right to the parking garage. She wanted to get home, to be there for Matty, who would be a mess when he got home. A grocery store full of strangers… he’d be lucky if he didn’t zone out walking around.
At the door to the garage, Mina paused. A tall and wide figure stood in the shadows near her car. She reached in her purse for her taser. She would be as easily taken as Matty.
“About damn time.” Sonja sauntered out of the shadows, a modern-day Amazon goddess in a flannel and jeans. As tall as Rick and nearly as muscular, her long, black braid hung over one shoulder. “I was at Rita’s and I got a heads up on a floga in our literal neighborhood.”
Mina stood up straighter as she fought for words to express her indignation. “No fucking way.”
Sonja flashed a sinister smile. “Wanna do some grocery shopping?”
“Do they let dogs in?” Mina unlocked the doors and tried not to snicker as Sonja folded herself into the tiny sedan. “Who asked for help?”
“Since when do we need to be asked? Not to mention, the bounty is decent. I could use some cash. But the dog thing is super inconvenient.”
Mina shrugged and pointed the car toward home. “Yeah, being a werewolf is super inconvenient most of the time. I don’t even know how to fight as a human.”
“Well, Troy could teach you. He taught me.”
Throat suddenly thick, Mina focused on making her exit. “He’d have to come back here first.”
“He’s coming back.”
There was no good reply to that, so Mina didn’t bother to think of one. Matty might not have meant to pour salt in her wound, but the Trojan had left as soon as he could and hadn’t called in the weeks he’d been gone. Some part of her knew beyond a doubt that he had sent Sonja because he’d never be back.
I told that son of a bitch I wouldn’t wait for him How much longer is he going to take?
The harsh fluorescent lights buzzed and hummed. Matty tried to ignore them, but the sound ate at his already fried nerves. Sam’s ambling wasn’t helping either. The old man did all the shopping. How did he not know where the ingredients were? Especially since they only needed three things.
As Sam heaved his bulk and crazy, dark curls down yet another aisle, a young girl’s giggle pierced the air. “So, did you see Tony? I think he tried to get one of those eye tattoos. His entire right eyes was blue!”
A blue eye?
A second girl answered the first one. “Yeah, he did. Stupid junkie. He was so good-looking too. Now’s his hair’s fried and he’s lost so much weight. Add in that dumb-looking eye tattoo and he’s just trash. And I’m stuck working his shift, ‘cause he can’t even be bothered to call off in advance.”
Coincidence? Could be, but that’s a lot of…
Matty didn’t realize he had stopped walking until Sam shook him. “Son, are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He sucked in a quavering breath and lowered his voice. “I wasn’t zoning out… there’s a floga demon hunting around here.”
“Well, no… maybe… those girls… they described the effects of a floga demon, or a junkie. Either way…”
Sam gave his wide, lopsided grin. Yellowed, crooked teeth and face full of scars somehow became warm and friendly. “You wanna sniff around.”
“Let’s pay first.”
Despite Matty’s insistence the wait at the checkout line had him fidgeting and wanting to gnaw on his fingernails. The cashier’s friendly banter grated, and the bagger took entirely too long to get everything situated.
Luckily, Sam had parked away from the front doors and most of the other cars. Still, Matty checked all the windows before laying down on the back seat. “Let’s do this.”
Sam’s rough voice made sure to ask a question, as always. “Matty, wanna show me some fur?”
That it was a question didn’t matter. Or that the change only lasted a minute. That was one minute too long as far as Matty was concerned since he didn’t have any choice but to obey. Dzubenko hadn’t used the Voice to make him change, but he had used the Voice. Giving up his freedom to any Speaker did not appeal to Matty at the moment. Not even Sam. Not even Rick.
But I’d have to change sooner or later. Better to do it now, when I can freak out, than be forced during an emergency.
As soon as his fur sprouted, Matty heaved himself out the door, ignoring his frantically pumping heart. Sam pulled off his clothes before shaking a leather collar at him. Matty slipped his head through the loop. Once Sam had a leash in hand, Matty put his nose to the ground. The infected kid worked here. He might get lucky.
If not, I’ll have to hack their records and find his address. Can’t let floga start breeding.
A mélange of smells assaulted his nose. The pollen of early fall, thousands of vehicles on the highway, and the hundreds of people who had walked into the store that day. Under the layers and layers of scents lay the slimy, greasy smell of a floga. Matty followed it, Sam huffing behind him. The back of the grocery store sat heavy with the smell of rot, garbage, and mildew. He’d smelled worse.
He was so intent on filtering out everything but the floga that he completely missed the people clustered around an open door, clearly on break.
“He’s so big.”
“Can I pet him?”
Sam heaved a sigh. “He’s–”
Matty cut him off with a wag of his tail and a peppy yip as he stretched towards reaching hands. They rushed him. Mina hated being petted, but Matty actually kind of liked it. Happy pheromones drifted off the workers as they rubbed at his back, neck, and ears.
A familiar giggle rang out. “I love that mask around his eyes. What kind of dog is he?”
“Mutt.” Sam said it proudly, with a little amusement layered in. “Found him half-starved in an alley.”
C’mon man. Did you have to tell them the truth? Couldn’t I be a puppy you loved and raised?
Giggle girl scratched at his ears. “Tony loves dogs.”
“Girl, let that junkie rot in peace.”
The other workers laughed and settled back to their break. Matty trotted on, following the floga’s scent. Past the dumpster and loading docks, it grew stronger. Matty wondered briefly if they should wait for his sister and Rick to get out of work, but he kept walking anyway. Behind him, leather creaked as Sam readied his ax.
The trail ended at a fenced hill. Beyond that, traffic hummed on the overpass. Matty followed the fence until he found a hole and a worn path, thick with the smell of floga and a human. Sam followed, huffing quite a bit now.
The path took them under the highway. Matty let the fur along his spine rise. The smell of human blood and floga lay thick in the air.
“Hey man, this is my place.” A man, maybe in his twenties, maybe in his fifties, stumbled out of the dark. Matty didn’t need to see the blue-stained corneas or the brittle hair. A floga’s slimy, green tentacle was attached to a dirty ankle, turning the skin blue.
Matty’s lips pulled back in a snarl, but it didn’t last long. Two familiar scents filtered through the air moments before his sister hurried up beside him, the fur on her neck on end. Sonja’s heavy work boots came into the corner of his eye as the hum of electricity from her scythe hit his ear.
His anxiety died. Matty had no doubts that he and Sam could handle a single floga demon, but his sister and Sonja appearing made victory a fact instead of an opinion.
Mina darted to the right, so he went left. Sonja charged up the middle, war scythe weaving in a figure-eight in front of her.
The human’s head whipped between them. Matty ignored him. The writhing tentacles that slithered in the dark concerned him more. One lashed out, aiming for his sister. He sprang into action and snatched it. Mina dashed over, her teeth shredding the muscles he held stiff.
The man screamed behind them, but Matty didn’t wait. Sam and Sonja could handle one floga-sick human. In the darkness, a hissing came. Matty knew the sound. Tentacles on concrete.
With practiced ease, he and Mina darted past flailing flesh. The center of the monster, the single silvery eye and hard beak signaled the area where the brain lay encased.
Matty aimed for the thickest appendage and yanked. The floga groaned, lashing at him with the poisonous tips of its many legs.
Good thing that shit doesn’t work on werewolves.
Mina grabbed the attacking tentacle. Matty adjusted his jaw and pulled. The beast squealed as it changed tactics, flinging out limbs, trying to find a grip on anything to stop its progress into the light. Matty yanked harder as Mina battled more invading tentacles, shredding the muscles. He tugged, slowly but steadily, moving the monster past the beams and girders that supported the highway above.
“Hold on, hold on.” Sonja rushed over and planted her humming blade in the single eye. Matty dropped his limb as quickly as Mina, wary of the current in the electrified weapon.
Flesh seared and popped, but no blood came from the cauterized wound. The floga shuddered and curled, then went limp.
Sam’s panting voice came from behind. “I’m gonna call Rita’s and have some hunters pick this thing up. We’re not carrying it past a grocery store in broad daylight.”
Mina yipped her agreement as Sonja nodded. “And that guy, maybe Jeff can do something for him. Let Rita know about him, too.”
Matty doubted it, but hedge doctors had worked miracles before. He turned and trotted back toward the grocery store and the SUV. With his part of the fight finished, he wanted nothing more than to be home, safe and secure behind locked doors. Besides, there were loaded fries to make. He flopped on the ground, closed his eyes, and tried to relax. His shivers only registered when Mina settled on the ground beside him with a whine.
I handled the fight just fine. Why I am bothered now?
It was being in public. It was the people. It was fighting the anxiety and panic.
I am so sick of being broken.
Broken he might be, but at least he had a night with Dean to look forward to.
Someday, maybe, I’ll be close to normal.
Matty closed his eyes, leaned into his sister, unsure, exactly, what normal meant for him anymore.
Dean pulled up to the house on the hill and rubbed at his eyes. The headache wasn’t due to lack of sleep. It was the thought of another few hours on edge and being shot down that had put the tension between his eyes.
How many more nights can I do this?
One more, as always, it seems.
Sighing, Dean exited the car. He had sworn to himself on the drive home last night that he wasn’t coming back over until Matty invited him, without a prompt. But then Terry had texted him an invite and he hadn’t even hesitated.
I am hooked on this man. How the hell did this happen?
Matty opened the door as soon as Dean raised a hand to knock. The wide smile that graced his face had Dean struggling to breath, but Matty turned away with a wave to follow. “We made loaded fries.”
Dean swallowed a sigh. “I can hear my arteries clogging just thinking about it.”
Matty settled on the flowered loveseat, hair hanging in his eyes as he lounged. “Try a Rochester garbage plate. Then you can talk about artery clogs.”
A laugh escaped Dean as he sat on the navy couch across from Matty. He wanted to settle in beside the other man, but he couldn’t be sure if Matty wanted that as well.
I should say something. Let him know, beyond a doubt, that I want a date.
Before he could decide what that something might be, Terry Jones strode through the door carrying two plates and a pile of napkins. Looking enough like her brother that Dean felt a little guilty being attracted to either one when they were in the same room, she eyed him in a way Matty never did. Dark eyes searched and lingered, with a small smile that proclaimed the view was more than pleasant. He couldn’t help but return the grin and even preen a little under her gaze.
They had bonded when Dean nosed his way into the search for Matty, much to Terry’s initial annoyed amusement. He’d been both attracted to and intimidated by her from the get-go. She was funny and smart, not to mention super-hot, but she wasn’t Matty.
She nudged Dean aside and set the plates on the coffee table before joining him on the couch, her leg resting warm against his. “Loaded fries, huh?”
Matty nodded, a string of mozzarella already dangling from his lips. “With winter coming, I thought California boy could use some East Coast, stick-to-your-ribs food.”
Dean suppressed the urge to touch Matty’s lips, either with his own or his fingers. “C’mon man, I’m not even a vegetarian. And what’s your obsession with feeding me?”
Terry laughed, low and liquid, as she reached for some fries. “You know, there are some great restaurants in this city. Places that even serve food that doesn’t stick to your ribs.”
The promise and flirt in her voice tore Dean’s eyes away from Matty’s lips.
Her smile gleamed at him, sharp and mischievous. “Yes, I am asking you out.”
Matty snorted a laugh, his eyes hidden by his hair. “Finally.” He turned away from them, picking up his controller, shoulders slumping as he turned back the TV. “Have fun, you two.”
Dean wait a beat, hoping for more, but as usual, Matty’s attention was fixated squarely on his game. Disappointment threaded through his soul, but Dean had to return Terry’s grin. She waited with a calm acceptance of a yes, a sure knowledge that she was getting her way.
It’s a lifeline… and I’m going to take it. Guess it’s my turn to get rescued.
Dean rose to his feet and held out a hand. “So, dinner.”
“Let me change first.” She gestured to her long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, before accepting his help to her feet. Warm fingers caressed his hand as she looked him over once more. “Give me thirty minutes.”
This could be good, real good.
She had barely hit the stairs when Matty held out a second controller. “We have at least an hour. She’ll have to do her makeup too.”
He’d just accepted a date with Terry and this crush on Matty was hopeless. He really should make an excuse and head to the kitchen or something. Hang out with Sam. Sucking in a deep breath, Dean sat back down. “So, what’s it tonight?”
Matty shot him the smile of a naughty boy. “Racing again. I haven’t driven in years, and I can’t let Rick beat me at a video game. I’d never live it down. Think you can save my vanity as well as my life?”
Laughing as the cars revved up, Dean settled into the same awkward place he’d so briefly escaped. And damn, did it feel good.
Set between stories six and seven in the original Uncommon Animals, ‘Dogs and Snacks’ is a brand new, original story that shines a light a few little mysteries the original series left uncovered.
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