Romance: Undercover Panther: BBW Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (BBW, Paranormal, Werebear Romance) (Shapeshifter Romance Series by Ashley Hunter)

BOOK: Romance: Undercover Panther: BBW Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (BBW, Paranormal, Werebear Romance) (Shapeshifter Romance Series by Ashley Hunter)
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Undercover Panther

Ashley Hunter

 Copyright 2015 by Ashley Hunter

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced

in any way whatsoever, without written permission

from the author, except in case of brief

quotations embodied in critical reviews

and articles.

 

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any

person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

First edition, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

Angie was staring at the screen of her computer. It was a white sheet, not unlike the ones that write of the olden days used to face with actual pen and paper. It was the cursor in her case, but the enormity of the task was similar. She had barely written five hundred words since she sat down about two hours ago.

It’s because of the damn clock.

Her eyes darted again to the bottom right corner where the numerical digits announced the exact moment in space and time, always moving forward; before you had captured a moment, the next one was in line, ready to bring with it the uncertainty of lost happiness and moments that should have been grasped by but weren’t.

Angie was so distracted by this clock because she had to be somewhere in just ten minutes and although her heart said no (a thousand times), it was the rationale winning the argument.

Sighing loudly, Angie closed the lid of the computer without bothering to save whatever progress she had made and getting up.

She picked up the red scarf that she had put on the sofa last night and it was in the exact same place. She draped the scarf around her neck, grabbed her purse and ventured out into the night.

A night of thousand stars.

The walk to the bar was a mere five minutes from where Angie lived but during these brief moments, she had thought about a hundred different things.

She thought about all the time she spent in the bar listening to uncouth men fight over meaningless ball games, sometimes coming to blows over figures that were just numbers and did not even matter as soon as the game ended.

She had to endure the gropes of drunken men who were too inebriated to see or think or speak or listen or take a punch consciously.

She had to see desperate men drink the night away, looking at their watches even though they had nowhere to be and nobody was waiting for them. It depressed her, not only because she had to work in such conditions but because her own life had stalled.

Angie was still 25, well educated and smart but she had always been self-conscious about her body. She belonged to a generation that had been brought up on TV with ads filled with lingerie models and Victoria’s Secret to set an unachievably high bar of body image for young people all around the world. It was easy to dismiss it being shallow, but the reality was hard to live with.

She was “big-boned”, as per her grandmother; she had hips well for child bearing. Angie didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t the 1800s. Once she believed in Disney fairy tales and was of the opinion that there was someone out there for her. Some prince charming or other paper figure that could bring her happiness. Someone who would love her for who she was, rather than not look at her for who she wasn’t.              

She was in front of the bar door,
Thirsty Crow.
She hated that name. It didn’t make any sense. It was apparently a reference to some old fable but the owner even got that wrong.
What an idiot.

Angie closed her eyes for a moment outside the door, as if praying for strength and when she had braced herself enough, she pushed the door (the sign said “Pull”) and entered the dimly lit room: the scene of her nightmares, the bane of her youth.

Bob, the owner, a man with greying hair and growing belly, was standing behind the counter with a washcloth over his shoulder like all the bartenders in the damn movies.

Bob was a perfect cliché: everyone told him stories about their lonely and measly existence and he absorbed, listened everything. Bob knew everyone and anyone who came into the
Crow.

He could recite the life history, the marriages, the children, the jobs, the healthcare plans, the type of car they drove, the TV shows they watched, the beer they drank, the steaks they ate, the kind of fish they liked, of every single one of his customer.

Sometimes Angie suspected that Bob, in his leisure time, was a stalker or a night owl who would reign over his customers, gauging their life and molding his self to be their friend so that they would tell him everything when they came to his bar to drown their miseries.

“Hi,” Bob said happily. He was always happy.

“Hey,” Angie said, with a sigh attached to the tail end of that greeting.

She walked behind the bar. The night was still young and only a couple of people were in the bar. Sinclair, an old man who looked like he walked out of a Clint Eastwood western, was a regular who came on the dot every night and left on the dot, ordered exactly the same thing, sat in exactly the same spot and talked to nobody, not even Bob.

Apart from him, there was a young man sitting in the corner, wearing a cowboy hat. It was horribly out of place and time, but he pulled it off. It was bent low over his head and a matchstick dangled from his lips. He sat facing the door and the bar.

His one hand was on the top of the table, holding the mug holding his beer and the other hand was under the table. He was wearing a long black coat. He looked terribly rugged and handsome.

Angie’s breath caught in her chest. It didn’t happen often that a mysterious, strange and sexy stranger came to the
Thirsty Crow.
It was a place for has-beens and people who wanted to wash away their sins. It was not for people who belonged in the real world.

“Hey, Bob,” Angie said, nudging the old bartender.

“Yeah?” he said, turning to look at her.

“Who’s he?” she said.

“Who’s who?” Bob said.

Angie looked at him.

“I am asking about the old man who comes here
every
night.”

Bob looked sheepish.

“Hey, don’t be snippy. I don’t know.”

Angie widened her eyes.

“The sun must have risen from the west,” she said.

Bob rolled his eyes.

“Don’t get cocky, kid,” he said.

“I have never seen him before. Just give me till the end of the night and I will have his dog’s name and his doctor’s address on my napkin.”

“Don’t be so sure, old man,” Angie said, still looking at the stranger.

“I know a guy who doesn’t like to be seen or known.”

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Angie was tending to the bar and it was nearing ten. The bar had been busier than usual, and Angie had not yet deciphered a pattern to people’s drinking habits. Though she had noticed that two occasions garnered the heaviest drinkers: Valentine’s Day and Christmas.

She had not been able to look at the stranger in the corner for some time now but she was sure that he was sitting at exactly the same place that he was when she had come in.

At the back of her mind, there was a certain knocking that prodded her now and then to look in his general direction without giving the indication that he was totally ogling. Add to the fact that he was dangerously handsome, Bob’s ignorance about his identity made him mysterious and sexy.

Just then Angie was directed from her unholy thoughts by a knock on the counter. She turned to see another oddity in the dingy bar at the edge of the street, in a town on the edge of the world: a married couple.

They ordered two drinks and Angie’s eyes followed them to their booth in the corner. They both entered the same side and as soon as they were seated, the woman leaned towards her husband and planted her lips on his.

Angie was now blatantly staring at the couple that seemed to give no consideration to the outside world as they embraced and kissed.

“I see you have met the Garys,” Bob’s voice floated from behind and he joined her in her vantage point.

“Who are they?” Angie said, taking her eyes off for a moment from them.

“Just two regular people, like you and me,” Bob replied.

“Don’t go Buddha on me, old man,” Angie said, rolling her eyes.

“He is Michael and she is Martha,” Bob said and paused without any reason.

“I guess I know all about them now,” Angie said.

“They have been married for seventeen years. I have seen them in here after a long time. They used to come here a few years ago but then stopped.”

“Why?”

“What do I know? Maybe life got in the way, maybe kids.”

“Maybe…”

Angie again got lost in her thoughts. All she wanted was in front of her: someone who loved her from the bottom of his heart, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and all that jazz. Day by day, she felt little chips of her will power breaking away.

She imagined time exactly like what most writers elude it to: like grains of sand slipping through the fingers, your grasp unable to contain the moments no matter how tight it might be.

These grains that constitute eternity, yet so miniscule in their individuality, made her think about how she was spending the best years of her life. Her feelings must have shown on her face because Bob was looking at her funny.

“What’s up?” he said.

“You phased out or something?”

Angie came back to the real world with a snap.

“Nothing,” she said.

“It’s nothing.”

Instinctively, her gaze moved in the direction of the mysterious, hat-wearing stranger, but he was no longer on the table. His black cowboy hat was still there, covering the ashtray from which smoke still emanated.

These were the only signs that this chair was occupied just a few moments ago, other than that the owner of the said chair had been able to disappear into thin air, like a figment of Angie’s imagination.

Maybe she did conjure him out of thin air.

Bob was still looking at her. Angie scampered to find a topic to distract Bob.

“What are they doing
here?”
she asked and couldn’t keep the derision out of the word
‘here’.

Bob noticed.

“Be thankful for the place that keeps the fire in your house burning,” he said dramatically.

“I didn’t say anything.”

Bob squinted at her and then continued telling her about the Grays. Bob loved stories.

“Michael has been away for a few weeks and only just came a couple of days ago. It is their anniversary. They are in a celebratory mood.”

“You know an awful lot about the specifics of their lives,” Angie said.

“I am a bartender. I’ve got trusting eyes. People talk to me.”

“I bet.”

Angie got occupied in day dreaming again, but at that exact moment, an unpleasant voice from the other end of the bar caught her attention.

“Hey, baby doll, look here. Look at me.”

She closed her eyes in a mixture of anger, frustration and exasperation. She tried to ignore the loud voice.

It was Patrick, the one drunk at every bar that had too many drinks and couldn’t hold his liquor. Most nights, he would just fall off his seat and someone would drag him in one corner until he woke up and was sober enough to walk (or strut) home.

But there were some nights, some bad nights, when he would wolf whistle at the few women in the bar. More than often, the lack of women in the bar meant that Angie was the unfortunate victim of his catcalling.

On days when she was suitably angry, she would give him a good old punch if he crossed the line, but mostly he just spewed random sentences from the end of the bar and nobody paid him any attention.

“Come on, don’t be like that,” he said when Angie ignored him.

The people around the bar had seen him do this enough times not to be too worried. Angie had talked several times to Bob about banning Patrick but Bob was too much of a softy to do anything.

Angie was pointedly trying to look in any direction other than Patrick. The trick with him was not to give him any attention. He was a pathetic man clinging to the bottle as a means of going through his life and in the meantime harassing bartenders.

Angie got busy with other customers and filtered the sporadic comments from Patrick when there was a loud thud and every neck in the bar, or at least those sober enough to move their necks with agility and register sudden changes or sounds in their surroundings, turned to look at the source of the noise, which was the door.

Out of the corner of the eye, Angie saw that Mrs. Gary’s lips were not on Mr. Gary’s anymore and she, like everybody else, was taken aback.

The door to the
Thirsty Crow
was open and the doorway was illuminated from the light inside. A huge figure stood in the light and his silhouette was framed something out of an old school noir. Angie’s breath caught in her throat.

There seemed something out of place with this man. He crossed the doorway and entered the bar. Angie saw his face and gasped. It was the stranger from earlier.

A strand of hair fell over his eyes, and his face was framed by a stubble, thicker around the mouth. He towered over everybody else, as if he belonged to a different species, a superior breed to this lowly crowd here.

He was better looking than all of the people put together in the
Crow,
Angie noticed.
And probably more dangerous, too.

He entered and, without looking at anyone, made his way to the bar. Angie was rooted to the spot.

She had never had the undivided attention of a man this handsome before. The fear that he might do her harm may have paralyzed her, though. Angie could feel Bob a foot behind her and even at this distance she could feel him shaking.

“You, the barkeeper,” he said in a commanding voice to Bob, looking past Angie. Their eyes met briefly for a second and lightning sounded outside, just like in the movies.

“Y-yes,” Bob stammered.

“Where is it?” he said in a low voice, which nonetheless carried all the way to the farthest corner of the world.

He could have dropped a pin and the person in the next building would have heard it.

“W-where is w-what?” Bob said.

Angie couldn’t blame Bob for all the stammering. Bob, in the time that Angie had worked for him, had never raised his voice to anyone, not been rude to anyone, not been in a fight, not broken any fight.

He was the most laid back person you could imagine. He sucked at confrontations and tonight he was getting thrust into one by his absolute opposite: young, virile, commanding and dashing, the Stranger. He was the kind of man that women swooned over and men wanted to become.

“Don’t play games with me, old man,” he said, and though his voice was low, there was menace in it.

“I swear I don’t know what you are talking about,” Bob said and Angie almost applauded that he didn’t stammer once during that sentence.

The stranger smashed his fist on the bar so abruptly that Angie flinched and a couple of shrieks sounded from the crowd.

Angie was afraid that Bob might have a heart attack.

“Listen, old man,” he growled. “I don’t have much time.”

“Then I suggest you don’t waste it here.”

There was utter and absolute silence. It was a little too late when Angie realized that it was her who had said those words.

Everybody hushed. Bob’s breath was coming in gasps. The stranger was astounded. He seemed to be as taken aback by this, as were the others. This was without a doubt the most interesting night in the
Thirsty Crow’s
history and it was now about to slow down.

“What did you say?” he said, his eyes drawn into slits.

“I said that he already told you that he didn’t know what he was talking about and I think he is telling the truth. Either tell us what it is or you are just wasting your time.”

Bob put a hand on Angie’s shoulder to calm her down. Angie didn’t know where she was getting the courage to talk to a man that looked as if he could smash a hundred beer bottles on his head and not feel a thing.

“I was not talking to you,” he said.

“And he’s lying.”

“I’m not,” Bob said defiantly, gaining courage, no doubt, from Angie’s resolve.

The stranger swung his left arm and hit three unopened beer bottles placed on the tabletop. They instantly flew across and hit the wall, shattering into a thousand pieces.

Angie flinched and Bob shrieked.

“Maybe now you will take me seriously,” he said.

“Where’s the package?”

Bob didn’t even reply this time.

“I am not going anywhere until you tell me where it is. They can’t hide it.
You
can’t hide it,” he kept on talking, confounding Angie more and more with every word he said.

“I can’t tell you if I have it or not if you don’t tell me what it is,” Bob said and Angie felt he was trying to sound braver than he felt, which usually worked. It was working for her right now.

“Did you get a package today? A black box?” he said, darting his eyes from Bob to Angie and back to Bob.

“No,” Bob said shaking his head.

“Liar,” the stranger snarled.

“Why would I lie to you?” Bob said exasperatedly.

“Because you’re one of them,” he said.

“One of who?”

The stranger was on the verge of saying something but checked himself just in time. Instead, he picked up a stool from the bar and threw it at the window beside the main entrance.

The window shattered with a deafening roar and the chair fell outside. A sudden cool burst of wind entered the bar and everyone shivered, or at least those who were not shivering before.

The stranger picked up another stool and brought it down hard on the bar top. The wood pieces flew in every direction and Angie had to duck to avoid one hitting her in the eye. She was now terrified and praying that the lunatic got out of there as soon as possible.

“I will NOT leave without the goddamn package!” he shouted and Bob cowered.

“I-I can’t help you,” he stammered.

“Then I have no choice,” he said.

Angie had gotten up from her ducking position and as soon as she stood to full height, a hand grasped her neck. The stranger pulled her around the bar.

“I am going to take her until you see some sense, old man, and give me the package,” he said.

Angie’s eyes were bulging and she was having trouble breathing, the grip of the stranger was so strong on her neck.

“Do not think that I am beyond hurting a woman,” he declared, dragging Angie to the door.

“I will do anything to stop them.”

Angie gave one last terrified look to Bob and all the drunken men of the bar. Martha had tears in her eyes and was clutching Michael. Michael looked frozen.

Soon Angie was put in the back of a car and her hands were handcuffed. The stranger got in the driving seat and started driving.

Angie screamed but the thundering clouds drowned her voice.

BOOK: Romance: Undercover Panther: BBW Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (BBW, Paranormal, Werebear Romance) (Shapeshifter Romance Series by Ashley Hunter)
5.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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