Christmas is coming, but Natalie isn't feeling the cheer. She's just discovered she's a werewolf, and she's afraid that the police officer who's trying to make friends with her has ulterior motives.
Natalie had awakened cold and hungry—really hungry. The only food in her refrigerator was a quart of milk. She stood in her kitchen and drank it directly from the carton, then pulled on her clothes and coat and went out looking for something to eat.
She wound up at the restaurant in the mall and wondered why until she realized she wanted a steak—a very rare steak. She had to be persuasive to get the waiter to serve her a rare steak at 8 a.m., but she finally convinced him by ordering eggs and toast with it and telling him she worked nights and this was really her dinner. The other diners seemed to be avoiding looking at her plate as the red juices flowed from the meat and soaked into the bread.
As she ate, she considered last night. Had she really seen what she thought she had? She remembered something about fangs in a strange, wild face, but she didn’t think she turned completely into a wolf like most of the werewolves in the movies.
Unless she was hallucinating like the psychiatric patients in the books she read, she could not deny that she was far from being an average human. She really was a werewolf, no matter how absurd it seemed, and she could not deny she had killed those two men. But they had been planning to harm her. She was sure of that.
Alexei thought his soul was lost because he killed, and Nikolai emphasized that it was self-defense, as if killing was a rare thing for them, not a monthly occurrence as the movies showed. So while her ancestors might be the reason for the werewolf legends, she couldn’t believe she was the stuff of those legends.
“Good morning. Would you mind if I shared your table?”
Natalie jumped, startled out of her reverie, and looked up to see a policeman’s uniform. “Yes—I mean—no—I guess not.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. My name’s Michael Clary.”
Natalie knew she had seen him before, but couldn’t place where until she connected the uniform he wore to the officer who’d approached her at the lab the morning after the first episode. Yes, this was the same policeman. She had been too nervous to notice detail, but this was the same muscular body and gentle blue eyes. Why is he here? Please God, they can’t know I killed those men.
“That’s a strange breakfast,” he continued.
“I woke up hungry.” Natalie knew her voice sounded strained.
“You must have had quite a night.” He was one of those rare people who smiled with his entire face. Even his nose, which was fairly prominent and looked like it had been broken at least once, crinkled at the bridge. Natalie felt herself blush.
“I got involved in a project and forgot to eat yesterday.”
The waiter brought him a menu and he waved it away. “Just give me what she has. But make it medium.”
Surely he wouldn’t be ordering a meal if he was here to arrest me. “You said it was a strange breakfast.”
“It is. But I just got off duty. It’s my supper.”
His dark blond hair was creased above his ears as if he had been wearing his hat a long time, and his uniform shirt was rumpled. Still... She looked around the restaurant to see several empty tables.
“Do you eat here often?” she asked.
“On a policeman’s salary? No. I just thought I’d get a cup of coffee or something while I waited for the mall to open.”
“You didn’t order coffee.”
“You whetted my appetite.”
His steak came, and they ate in silence as Natalie turned his last statement over in her mind. If Jack the Jock said that, it would be accompanied by a leer. But Jack the Jock wouldn’t know the word whetted. If he wasn’t here to arrest her, then why was he here? “What were you going to buy?”
She must have looked surprised.
“I read! I read a lot!” He looked so hurt she had to smile.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile. You should do it more often. Why are you always so serious?”
All her fears poured back. “Things haven’t been going according to plan lately.”
“That bad?” He looked genuinely sympathetic.
To find out that you’re a creature of evil, that your responsible, moral life, your wishes and your will mean nothing at all? A Sunday school lesson flashed through her mind. “I feel a little like the Psalmist. ‘Will the Lord reject us forevermore and never again show favor? Has his unfailing love now failed us utterly? Has God forgotten to be gracious, has he in anger withheld his mercies?’ Something like that.”
When she looked up, he was staring at her with a thoughtful expression, and she was suddenly embarrassed. “My grandmother dragged me to Sunday school every week when I was growing up.”
“My mom and dad dragged me, literally sometimes, to Sunday school, too. What is it? Boyfriend trouble?”
“Oh, no, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
He looked as if he was filing that away somewhere.
Natalie took the last bite of steak and blood-soaked bread off her plate. “It’s been nice meeting you, Michael, but I have some movies I have to return.”
He stood up with her. “See you around. Merry Christmas.”
As Natalie walked back through the mall to the parking lot, she mulled over their conversation. The evidence suggested that he had, indeed, been on duty all night. She decided he might have been telling the truth, that he had just accidentally found her there. The police station was across the street, after all. But why did he choose to sit with her when so many other tables were empty? Her heart began to pound again. Please, God. I didn’t mean to kill those men. Please don’t let them find out about me.