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The Beast in Him (Pride #2)(8)
Author: Shelly Laurenston


To be honest, Jess didn’t know why she bothered anymore. She’d been dating wild dogs solidly for the past year. Some of them coming from Europe and Asia to take her out. Most of them were nice, but none of them got her all sweaty and squirmy. And the thought of breeding with any of them left her cold. Jess would admit it, she was ready. Ready to have her own pups. Her own mate. She’d helped raise her Packmates’ kids for fifteen years, and it was time she had her own little nightmares to contend with. But the thought of Sherman Landry’s obsessive-compulsive nature helping to raise any of her kids did nothing but make her feel a little ill.

“I’m going with my Pack.”

“Of course,” he said, his disappointment evident. It wasn’t the first time he’d had that tone when talking about her Pack. As much as they didn’t like him, Jess sensed he didn’t like them either.

Too bad for him. Her Pack meant too much to her to bring in someone who’d cause nothing but problems between them.

“Yeah... well.” Since she had nothing else to say, Jess wiped her mouth on a linen napkin. “I’ll be right back. Need to go to the ladies’ room.”

She stood up, forcing a smile when he stood up as well. Say what you would about Sherman, he was definitely polite.

Jess walked toward the back until she hit the ladies’ room, which she always called “the marble palace.” She brought nearly every date to this restaurant because she knew even if the date sucked, the filet mignon was always perfection.

As she washed her hands and used the thick paper towels to dry them, she realized she couldn’t put in another hour on this date. She’d finished her steak, now Sherman wanted dessert. And all she wanted was to get back to the office. The last week of preparation for Friday night’s party had put her behind, and she realized now this Saturday date had been a huge mistake.

She pulled her cell phone out of her way too small purse—she’d give anything to have her backpack with her—and sent Phil a text message. It was a simple one:

GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!

Confident her friends would come through with no further prompting, Jess dropped her cell back into her bag and spun around—right into the brawny chest of some guy. A guy in a ladies’ room.

Letting out a strangled scream, she started swinging. As usual, it wasn’t pretty, much more a flailing wildly. She’d never been a very good fighter when human.

But the man caught hold of her, pinning her arms to her sides. Her fangs slid out and she started to go for his neck when she heard, “Jessie Ann! Would you calm down!”

Shocked, she leaned back and stared up into the face of Bobby Ray Smith. Damn him! Why did he have to look so freakin’ good?

“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded. “Why are you in the ladies’ room?”

“Can’t a man use a ladies’ room if he feels like it?”

“No, he can’t. And do you mind getting your paws off me?” He did and Jess stepped back, but her ass hit the sink. Trying to look casual and not fall on her ass, she sauntered around him and tossed out her paper towel.

“How long were you standing there anyway? Or is this some weird kinky shit you’ve started doing since you joined the Marines?”

“The Navy, Jessie Ann. I joined the Navy.”

“Whatever.”

Bobby Ray looked at the door, then back at her. “Did you not know I was in here with you the entire time you were washing your hands—and mumbling to yourself like my crazy Aunt Ju-ju?”

Dammit. She really had to work on the talking to herself thing. “I knew.”

“But not until you turned around.”

“Look, I’ve got a lot on my mind. I can’t be aware of everything constantly.”

“But... ” He looked so adorably confused all she wanted to do was punch him in the face. “You’re one of us. How could you not know I was right behind you?”

“I—”

“You couldn’t scent me? Hear me? Are you still that oblivious?”

How did he manage to do it again? Turn her into a sixteen-year-old? She clearly remembered getting these long lectures from him about being safe and aware of what was going on around her. “You can’t live your life in them books, Jessie Ann,” he’d always tell her. Like she’d want to spend a second of her day facing her reality. She usually received these lectures while she hid under bleachers or up in trees. The leopard family that lived near Smithtown territory thought she was “just the cutest thing” because she actually knew how to climb trees.

But that was a very long time ago. She wasn’t that battered little girl hiding from a bunch of ravening She-pups. She was Jessica Ann Ward, CEO of Kuznetsov Security Systems and Alpha Female of the Kuznetsov Pack. And yet, here she stood, getting lectured to by this giant-headed mangy wolf.

Sure, she could yell at him. Scream at him even. But that wouldn’t register with Bobby Ray Smith. No, there was only one way to get under a Smith’s skin. Especially this Smith.

“Look, Bubba Ray—”

His eyes narrowed to glowing-amber slits. “It’s Bobby Ray, as you damn well know. My daddy is Bubba.”

“Bubba. Bobby.” She gave a dismissive wave. “Sweetie, does it really matter?” For a brief second, she though he might hit her.

When he didn’t, she patted his shoulder. “It’s really sweet of you to care. Really. But I actually have someone waiting for me and,” she wrinkled up her nose and whispered, “not to tell you your business, but shouldn’t you be watching the front door? I wouldn’t want you to get fired.” When he stared at her with his mouth slightly open, she innocently asked, “You are restaurant security, right?” Frighteningly entertained, Jess rubbed his sweater-covered bicep a bit. “Well, I do have to go. You take care now, Bobby Joe.”

Jess walked to the door and pulled it open. As she stepped into the hallway, she heard him growl, “It’s Bobby Ray.”

Smiling and feeling like she’d won the lottery, Jess sauntered back to the table. Before she could sit down, her cell phone went off.

She flipped it open. “This is Jessica?”

“I’m calling to rescue you from a fate worse than death. Dessert with Sherman the Dull.”

“Oh, my God. Are you sure?”

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