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vol v, issue 2 < ToC
What Good Girls Do
by
Lauren Marrero
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What Good Girls Do
 by Lauren Marrero
What Good Girls Do
 by Lauren Marrero
I’m a good girl, or at least I try to be, but sometimes life gets in the way, and by “life” I mean gorgeous, half-naked bodybuilders with Australian accents. One minute I was sitting in my favorite café, sipping an insanely overpriced seasonal latte, and the next my ears were ringing with the sound of gunshots and I was being hauled across the shop by said bodybuilding thief.

A robbery.

This was sadly not unheard of in this part of Oakland, California. Being taken hostage was also believable, as was my kidnapper’s need to remove his shirt after the altercation to see to his gunshot wound--it wasn’t fatal. But what I couldn’t wrap my head around was his perfect pectorals glistening with sweat in the wan afternoon sunlight. Those made no sense. Guys like him only exist in action movies or on the covers of magazines, certainly not in ... where the hell was I anyway?

I remembered being used as a human shield, proving definitively that chivalry was dead, before being dragged out the back door and through a confusing warren of alleys. I had no idea where I was, I didn’t think the cops did either, and as I stared at his cinnamon-kissed nipples, my brain was slow to decide if that was a good thing or not.

“Oi!” he finally noticed my dazed expression. “Are you alright?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied, not knowing what else to say. “I’m fine.”

I’m always fine, even when I’m not. That’s my superpower: I’m astoundingly fine in all situations. I was fine when my parents told my 18-year-old self that I’d have to pay my own way through university--I’m currently living in a van as a result. I was fine when my ex told me he was ditching me for a cheerleader. I was even fine when a bird decided the only place to do its business that morning was on my shoulder. I am always fine.

A hysterical giggle escaped my lips. Yup. Perfectly fine.

“So, you’re a robber,” I stated baldly. That certainly wasn’t the most impressive observation. “Of coffee shops.”

“It’s been a slow week.”

“I bet.”

He stared at me for a moment, genuinely surprised that I was stupid enough to insult a man with a gun.

My fingers itched. All that skin ... All that sweat and I ... Well, what was I supposed to do, let him bleed to death?

Yes, that’s exactly what I should have done considering the situation. Letting him die would be the perfect way to remove myself from danger. If I was smarter, I wouldn’t even consider touching him, but just as I’m not a good girl, I’m apparently not a very smart one either.

“Hold on.” I finally touched him, helping to stop the blood seeping from his shoulder. With the bandage he found from ... somewhere.

“You don’t have to,” he protested, as he shifted away from my touch. “I used you as a human shield.”

“Yeah, but this is Oakland. You’re not the first.”

“If it makes you feel better, I didn’t think they’d shoot.”

It kind of did. I silently promised to call the mental health crisis hotline after this and work out my bad boy obsession.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” I surmised.

“Is it the accent?”

“That, and any local would know the cops here always shoot.”

That remark earned me a dry chuckle from my kidnapper, but instead of easing my discomfort, I felt a pang of anxiety. Despite the physical temptation, I didn’t want my kind of crazy to be compatible with his.

“Does nothing faze you?”

“Ask me again closer to finals.” I blinked weary eyes and turned away to survey our surroundings. We were in some kind of warehouse, but that observation didn’t do much to enlighten me. Outside, all was quiet. Perhaps we were in an abandoned building near the marina. “Can I go home now?”

“Not yet,” he replied as he gingerly replaced his bloody shirt. I tried not to appear too disappointed when all that skin was covered up. “It’s too dangerous.”

“Dangerous for whom?” I replied testily.

“For you if you keep asking questions. Just relax.”

In other words, “shut up and don’t make trouble, “ I mentally translated. That was probably why he chose me in the first place. A female of my small stature was definitely easier to control than say, a rugby player. I felt my lips curl in self-loathing. So far, I’d proven his judgment correct.

“Look here, mate,” I began, feeling my irritation rise as the adrenaline began to wear off. “I don’t know who you think ...”

“Quiet!” he hissed, and pressed his hand over my mouth. I grimaced at the coppery taste of blood on his fingers, but he wouldn’t let me pull away.

Gradually I became aware of the faint shuffling noises from outside, as if someone was looking around the place and trying to peer into the windows. Surely it was the same officers from the café, diligently combing the area for my oh-so-deserving self.

I began to struggle against my kidnapper, but froze as I felt his warm breath caress my ear with the low-pitched words: “Those aren’t cops.”

I tensed--once the erotic shiver finished traveling along my spine. Who else could they be and how would he even know that?

It didn’t make sense, but strangely, I found myself curious about the hot Aussie that traveled all the way to Oakland to stick up a coffeeshop. This must be some fast-working Stockholm’s, I thought in derision. But so far, he hadn’t been too violent with me, and being a good girl, or even a smart one, didn’t come naturally.

“Okay, talk,” I demanded a few moments later, when he finally removed his hand from my mouth. “What’s going on?”

“Long story, short,” he replied. “I came here looking for someone, stuck my nose where it didn’t belong, made a few enemies, and learned stuff that some folks don’t want to get out.”

“What are you, an undercover cop?” I inquired. “I guess you could be a gangster, but that accent makes me think white collar.”

“Keep an open mind,” he lightly chided.

I turned the full force of my frankly-assessing stare upon him and after a few moments’ consideration announced: “You’re not stupid.”

“Thank you.”

“That leaves crazy or desperate,” I finished, and mentally noted that the two weren’t mutually exclusive. He didn’t reply and I decided that my curiosity was sated enough and it was time to finally get off this crazy train.

“Okay. Well, I hope you find whomever it is you’re looking for,” I continued, and began inching toward the door. “Umm ... enjoy the rest of your time in the States.”

I reached for the doorknob and felt his hand cover mine, cutting off my escape.

“I need you,” he softly intoned, and I had to remind myself that he wasn’t talking about in the bedroom. “I’m sorry you got dragged into this, but maybe we can help each other.”

“We can’t.”

“I could put a gun to your head,” he pointed out.

“You already did,” I reminded him and then sighed in defeat, for although I didn’t think he wanted to kill me, I also didn’t think it would bother him too much if he did.

“Like I said, I’ve made a few enemies. Folks are looking for me, but they’re not looking for you, at least not alone. I need you to do something for me.”

“Is it dangerous?” I asked, though I could already imagine the answer to that. Of course, it was dangerous, that’s why he couldn’t do it himself, but my perverse nature wanted him to admit it.

“That sort of thing doesn’t faze you, right?” he tried to tease and earned a glare for his levity.

“What do you want?”

His hooded gaze raked up and down my slight frame, covered in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt. I had no illusions about my sex appeal at the moment. I hadn’t shaved or showered thanks to a midterm paper I barely managed to submit minutes before the deadline. Yesterday’s eyeliner had left racoon smudges around my eyes, and my deodorant had long ago lost its potency. I was delirious with exhaustion, which went a long way to explaining my cavalier attitude. With more sleep this entire encounter might have gone differently.

“You have potential,” he announced, zeroing in on my barely-there bosom.

“Potential for what?” I replied, perplexed. He had some peculiar tastes if my funky self was turning him on.

“You’re an elf, aren’t you?”

To my credit, I barely blinked at his question, but was nonetheless taken aback by his keen eye. Most humans had elaborate Tolkien-esque fantasies about elves as a race of supermodels that lived in forested palaces and danced naked in the moonlight. With my pug nose, freckles, and unruly black curls, I’m nothing close to that. Plus, I’m poor, ill-mannered, and not good for much besides studying mechanics. I’m the tinkering-type, with dreams of becoming a modest, middle-income engineer, and my ears are always hidden.

“Beg pardon?” I replied as nonchalantly as possible.

“You are,” he maintained. “I knew it as soon as I saw you. I bet all that hair really comes in handy for hiding your ears.”

“You’re crazy ...” I replied, and backed up a step. There was another reason why I chose that particular coffeeshop. It was a dive, a local hobo hangout that attracted all sorts of sketchy and questionably-groomed individuals--the types that wished to caffeinate with people that didn’t stop and stare. Piercings, tattoos, fangs ... nobody looked twice and nobody cared. But a human shouldn’t have known that.

“Don’t worry,” he tried to assure me, as if he could hear my heart hammering in my chest. I suddenly remembered my mother telling me horror stories of humans coming after our kind with flaming torches and pitchforks. They always believed we had some treasure hidden away, or the power to grant wishes, because humans always deserved to be the recipients of another’s gifts. “I’m not into the kinky stuff.”

“Kinky ...” I dumbly replied, for although I’d heard about the torches and pitchforks, my mother’s stories had been short on “kinky stuff.” Part of me was more than a bit curious, but a wiser part of me decided I didn’t want to know.

I was so confused, I missed his questing hand as it reached for my head, pulled back my curls, and ran a finger along the tips of my ear. Reflexively, I slapped him in the face.

“Don’t!”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I had that coming,” he replied, and actually looked contrite. “I’m just saying, you don’t have to pretend with me. I know what you are and I think we can help each other.”

“I don’t want anything from you except to be let go.”

“Look at yourself,” he insisted. “Living in squalor, barely getting by with student loans. You’re an Exalted Being. You deserve better than this. What if I told you that there was a place where folks like you lived in the open? It’s a never-ending party with only the best and the brightest.”

“A place which is obviously off-limits to a human like you,” I surmised, dryly.

“This place is unlike anything you can imagine,” he continued as if I hadn’t spoken. His excitement exploded as he got into his story, and despite my misgivings, I was intrigued. “It makes your café look like a homeless shelter. I’m talking about Shangri-La, and it’s in the heart of San Rafael county.”

“And what do you need from me?”

“Just look around, and if you see the person I’m looking for, give them a message.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

I didn’t like it. The whole thing smelled funny, and after a lifetime of hiding my identity, the idea of going to such a place filled me with dread. Elves aren’t the only mystical creatures out there, but we are some of the tamest. There are plenty of other mystical creatures that I had no desire to meet. What if he was sending me into a werewolf hunt with me as the sacrifice?

Even as I thought this, another part of me was intrigued, and knew I just might be dumb enough to go, despite the risks. The real question was: how much did I trust this guy not to get me killed? Not much, but I already said I’m not very smart. Might as well own it.

“And how will this help me?” I wanted to know.

“No offense, but these folks are way out of your league. You could live your whole life in the Bay Area and never hear of them. You’re not one of them and never will be, but I can get you in. You’ll be in the same room as the richest and most powerful folks in the world. What happens next is up to you.”

“And you think I want this?” I couldn’t help challenging the quaint notion that everyone was desirous of an advantageous position. My humble major attested that I was not that person.

“If nothing else, you can think of this as a sociological experiment. Aren’t you even a little curious? Plus, I have a gun.”

“You said you didn’t want to hurt me.”

“That doesn’t mean I won’t,” he pointed out. “But I was hoping to convince you without the threat.”

“Very well.” I sighed in defeat, licked my thumb, and used the saliva to wipe some of the smudged eyeliner from beneath my eyes. “How do I look?”

“It’s a start,” he chuckled and reached up to smudge the eyeliner a bit more. This time I managed to stop myself from punching him when he touched me. “But we have a long way to go.”

He was right about that. Immediately after agreeing, he took me on a whirlwind journey through shops I didn’t even know existed. They were mostly hole-in-the-wall establishments, where the patrons didn’t bat an eye at our disheveled and blood-stained appearance. In the heart of San Francisco’s infamous Castro district, there was a plethora of secondhand boutiques that were used to costuming everyone from drag queens to renaissance faire attendees. For me, he chose a gown previously owned by the San Francisco opera. I just hoped none of the partygoers were theater patrons.

Next came an orgy of plucking, prodding, and beating my face with makeup with all the sensitivity of a prizefighter. He seemed to take perverse pleasure in baffling me with the incomprehensible ritual of grooming until I was ready to ignore the gun he still carried and hit him again.

It was with a mixture of horror and relief that we finally sped through the hidden canyons of San Rafael in a purloined Mercedes. He looked as confident as ever, but I was fighting the urge to puke. Despite his best efforts, I felt like a teenager playing dress up for the prom. There was no way anyone would think I belonged at such a place, regardless of my blood.

We pulled up to the gates of a sprawling mansion just as the sun disappeared below the horizon. I was shaking in my seat. No doubt streaks of the liberally-applied makeup were running down my face mixed with sweat.

“You’ve got this,” he tried unsuccessfully to encourage me while dabbing my forehead with a tissue. “If you don’t find him in 20 minutes, you can leave and never see me again.”

“It’ll take them 20 seconds to call me out as an imposter.”

“Look at yourself,” he insisted, and turned the rearview mirror until I could see my face. To my skeptical eyes, I looked like a clown doing a parody of a popstar. “You look gorgeous. Now get out there and make me proud.”

“And if I take this opportunity to run away?” I felt the insipid need to challenge.

He smiled and flipped open his jacket pocket where my cell phone, money, and ID resided. “You can try.”

“Twenty minutes.” I sighed and plastered a bright smile on my face as a valet opened my door from the outside.

“Knock ‘em dead.”

I hesitantly stepped out of the car, feeling like the biggest imposter in the world. This was exactly the kind of party an international spy would sneak into to tango with a ridiculously-named criminal vixen. In this scenario, I wondered if I was the spy or the criminal.

“All I wanted was a cup of coffee,” I muttered as I made my way past the foyer.

The place was indeed lavish, and filled with the rich and famous, who felt no compulsion to hide their true natures. For the first time in my life I tucked my riotous curls behind my ears in front of a crowd. It felt terrifying, and a bit ... good.

It was inherently dangerous, and yet freeing. Vampires, ogres, and all sorts of creatures mingled freely in the sumptuous ballroom. I caught my fair share of hungry gazes from the predators, but everyone was on their best behavior. There was a tacit agreement that, at least within these walls, we were all friends.

Not for the first time, I wondered about my mysterious kidnapper and how he managed to wrangle an invitation. Had he deliberately stalked my coffee shop, looking for a creature like myself who might pass? I suppose that made more sense than him actually robbing the place. But if that were true, then who were the “cops” that tried to shoot him?

I shook my head in confusion. It wasn’t my problem. I just had to deliver a message and get out, and that’s exactly what I intended to do. For the first few minutes I had been awed by the pomp and glitter of it all, but it didn’t take long before my skin began to crawl. It was too much. This brazen display of power and beauty was too foreign to me. My blood might have gotten me inside, but I didn’t belong here, and I couldn’t wait to be rid of the place.

All I needed was to find a large man with black hair, one green eye, and one blue. That shouldn’t be too difficult, but in this crowd, making eye contact wasn’t the smartest idea. It wasn’t long before I was avoiding the advances of at least one gentleman who had mistaken my gaze for an invitation.

Exactly 20 minutes after I entered, I turned to leave. I had sincerely tried my best, but there was nothing more I could do. I had looked in every room, but the man wasn’t at the party. Unfortunately, just when I thought I was finally out of danger, I caught sight of a particularly lecherous vampire sniffing in my direction. He was big and black, but unfortunately both of his eyes were deep pools of liquid mahogany. He wasn’t the one I was looking for, but my searching gaze made me appear open to his advances.

I quickly ducked into a corridor off the main entrance before he noticed me, but he now stood between me and a quick exit. There was no way past him and I didn’t want to draw any more attention to myself with an uncomfortable confrontation. There was no choice but to follow the hallway in the opposite direction and see if it eventually led outside.

Prior to this I didn’t think it was possible to get lost inside someone’s home, but this maze of a mansion could give the Winchester Mystery House a run for its money. Twisting staircases led into empty rooms. Hallways emptied into other hallways. It was as if this place was deliberately designed to confound people, and perhaps it was, considering the dangerous secrets it housed.

It was so faint I almost didn’t notice it. A soft moan, like a wounded animal, rumbled through the air vents. I tried to follow the sound, and wondered as I did if I weren’t making a colossal mistake. In a place like this, the noise was bound to lead to something with teeth and claws. But I was hopelessly lost anyway. I figured that if I could identify the location of the noise, at least I’d have a fixed point to know where I should run away from.

It wasn’t long before I found it: a large chamber that looked like something from a medieval dungeon. I peered through thick iron bars covering a tiny window into the prison and gasped in shock. The creature locked inside was definitely big and black, but that’s where the similarity ended, for though I was told to look for hair, the thing behind the bars was covered in a pelt of thick, black fur.

I shook my head in disbelief and hastily backed away.

Nope!

There was no way I was going in there. That thing had been locked up for a reason and I would be the biggest idiot on the planet for going inside. Besides, I couldn’t possibly be expected to deliver my message to a beast, right? But everyone in this place was technically a beast, my mind corrected. It was all a matter of type.

I shifted my weight back and forth on my toes in indecision, and finally, after a lengthy internal debate on foolishness, I shuffled back to the door and peeked inside again. This time my gaze was met by one green eye and one blue.

Crud. The heterochromia iridium confirmed this was the fellow I was supposed to find.

Life wasn’t fair. Perhaps I could lie and say I couldn’t locate him, but I’m a terrible liar. As a child, I hadn’t been able to get away with anything. The hot Aussie would definitely see through my ruse, but which was more terrifying, being threatened by a gun or teeth?

The creature was definitely aware of my presence, but so far hadn’t uttered so much as a growl in my direction. Somewhat emboldened, I looked around the darkened cell and spied a silver chain anchoring the beast to a wall. A silver chain for a werewolf? I suppose Hollywood was right about that at least.

“Excuse me,” I whispered through the bars. Not so much as a pointy ear flicked in my direction. Nonetheless, I continued. “I’m supposed to deliver a message to you and I need you to confirm receipt. Could you please change back to human for a minute?”

Nothing.

“Excuse me,” I began again, and then stopped with a sigh. That blasted chain probably had some sort of gimmick that kept him in beast form. Either that or he was an asshole.

Greatly daring, I picked the door lock and then tiptoed inside. According to my calculations of the length of the chain, he shouldn’t be able to reach me if I stayed near the door, but in my current state, I was likely to do him the favor of dropping dead from fear anyway.

I inched a little closer and studied the chain. Yup. It definitely kept him in fur and teeth. That Aussie was lucky he had snatched the tinkering kind of elf because, despite having no cultural finesse, I was actually perfect for this job.

“I can get you out of this,” I offered, and one piercing green eye finally rolled in my direction. “But I need you to promise not to eat me.”

No response.

“Honestly, I’m all bones and gristle anyway. It’s much more trouble than it’s worth. You should just immediately turn back into a human and confirm receipt so we can both be on our way.”

This time he uttered a long-suffering sigh at what I assumed was my lack of intelligence. I was frankly getting sick of being belittled by men today.

“Look asshole,” I growled, and finally got him to turn completely in my direction. “I don’t want to be here, and from the looks of things, neither do you. Give me 5 minutes of your oh-so-precious time and then you can go back to languishing in peace.”

That finally got a single tail thump from the beast, which I took as a sign of agreement.

“It had to be a werewolf,” I growled, uncaring if he heard me. “Of all the creatures in Grimm’s grimoire it had to be a werewolf. Unbelievable! Next time a hot Australian tries to force me into helping him, I’m gonna let him shoot me.”

The chain was a bit trickier than the door, but there wasn’t a lock on this planet that I couldn’t figure out. The banks of the world were lucky I decided to focus on engineering instead of theft.

When the device came loose, I quickly stepped back, though if this guy wanted to attack me, there was little I could do about it.

“You gave a tail thump,” I hastily reminded him as he laboriously climbed to his feet. He must have been chained for quite a while, for he moved as if all of his limbs had fallen asleep. He gingerly limped back and forth across the cell, thankfully staying as far away from me as the small space allowed. “So that means you won’t eat me.”

He groaned again and finally, painfully began to transform.

I had never seen anything like it--and frankly never wanted to do so again, yet I was transfixed in a mixture of awe and horror. Bones popped and crunched into shape while his fur changed from a thick, luxurious coat to a light sprinkling of hair. Frankly, I didn’t know whether to weep or vomit.

Faster than I thought possible, the strange show was complete and a man stood before me, gloriously and unashamedly nude.

“Pardon me,” he finally spoke when all I did was stare at his penis. “But who are you?”

“Mm ... mmm ... Maggie,” I managed to stutter, though I didn’t raise my eyes. “Wait a sec, you’re Australian, too? What the heck is going on? Is this an invasion?”

“What other Australian are you referring to?” he inquired, and strode past me to the door. As he passed, I switched to watching his firm buttocks. It was a bit small for my tastes, but nicely-shaped.

“An annoying one, though that’s not much of a distinction, is it? He has a message for you. Confirmation required.”

“I’m frankly more concerned with getting out of here. Any chance you could help me get past some locked doors?”

“Any chance you could cover yourself?” I ripped one of the luxurious hangings off the wall and waited for him to wrap it around himself like a toga. “It’s seriously distracting.”

That statement made him finally stop and look at me, and I mean really look, as if I was a curiosity on display. Under his intense regard I felt even more aware of my unsophisticated self. He gazed at me as if I was a broccoli salad when he’d ordered steak. Well, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the events of this day, either.

“You’re exceptionally honest,” he finally announced, but the words didn’t sound like a compliment. “What are you anyway?”

For the first time in my life I proudly thrust my shoulders back and proclaimed, “Elf.”

“Well, Maggie the Elf,” he replied. “How are we going to get out of here?”

I’m going to walk out the front door,” I answered truthfully. “Please don’t confuse this for a rescue mission.”

“So, you’re just going to leave me here? Don’t you need confirmation of your message?”

“Not if I say I didn’t find you,” I pointed out. “I mean, I did get you out of that cell. Can’t we just call it even?”

Instead of answering, he once again turned the full force of his luminous eyes upon me. I could lie, I could totally lie, I tried to convince myself, but the only person I had successfully lied to was myself when contemplating a Brazilian-cut bikini.

“Alright,” I grumbled in defeat, and was genuinely perplexed at my newfound charitable nature. “We’ll get out of this together, but if I see even a hint of fangs, I’m ditching you.”

“Mac.” He held out one large, tanned hand. “Lead the way.”

I raked my mind, trying to put together a mental map of this warren. I had a pretty good idea of the size and layout of the exterior of the mansion, and thanks to my confused wanderings, I could sense a vague pattern to the interior construction as well.

I determined that the mansion had been built in phases over time, with major renovations throughout the years to upset anyone that managed to get ahold of the original blueprints, but with careful attention I could just make out subtle changes to the structure. As rooms were divided and enlarged, different materials created variations in shape and texture. Squinting in the dim light of the corridor, I could see the faint gradation of a newly-painted wall where a doorway used to be, or an abnormally-shaped corner where a room had been divided. Not for the first time I wondered what kind of people were paranoid enough to go to such lengths for privacy.

“Okay, Mac. I believe If we continue in this direction, we’ll eventually reach the southwest parking structure,” I replied, pointing in the correct direction. “The difficult part will be to find the path that leads there. How good is your nose in human form?”

“Good enough,” he replied confidently. “Why?”

“There’s some wisteria in bloom there. Can you smell it?”

“Maybe?” He gave an experimental sniff and then grinned. “I got it. Let’s go.”

It was strange to realize, but an elf and a werewolf actually made a pretty good team. I was the analytical side of the partnership and helped to keep us on the right path, while his nose and superhuman strength were invaluable. More than once he was able to rip through a wall where I would have backtracked or taken a detour. And could smell different construction materials that were indistinguishable to my eyes.

We were making steady progress until, right as we reached the parking structure, our luck finally ran out. Five creatures suddenly stepped out of the darkness as we approached the annexed building.

Where the partygoers had been intimidating in their disregard for concealment, they were still clothed in the thin veneer of respectability, if only by their fancy dress and adherence to the house rules. These animals, however, had no such coverings. They were beasts in the most literal sense of the word: werewolves in animal form with teeth bared and ready to attack.

One man stepped out from the shadows to stand proudly in front. He was also dark and hirsute, but unlike Mac’s heterochromia, this man’s eyes glowed like two shimmering beads of amber.

“Hello cousin,” he addressed Mac. “Going so soon?”

“Marcus,” Mac replied. “I told you I’m not here to fight. Just let me go.”

“Do you really expect me to believe that?” Marcus spat on the ground. “I bet you couldn’t wait to come back and challenge for alpha.”

“I don’t want it!” Marcus growled. “But if you want to fight, I’m more than willing.”

As the two werewolves growled and traded insults, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to sneak away. Message be damned, I’d more than done my part, and if my kidnapper had a problem with that, then he could come and jump in the middle of this brawl himself.

I began shuffling backward into the shade of a wisteria, hoping the darkness and scent would conceal my movements. It would have worked if one of the werewolves hadn’t been so eager to protect the space. He grabbed the hem of my gown in his teeth, threatening to rip the delicate silk off completely, and tugged me back toward the courtyard.

“Listen,” I tried to reason. “I don’t know who you are or what’s going on, but I’m not part of this. I don’t want to be here, and I’m planning to treat this whole thing as nothing more than a nasty nightmare.”

“An elf?” Marcus sneered derisively, as I caught his attention. “You really are slumming.”

I flared my nostrils at the insult and tossed my curls so that the tips of my ears were more clearly visible. “This elf managed to get through your locks and your maze of a mansion,” I pointed out. “And I managed to free him.”

My mouth snapped shut as soon as those provocative words left my mouth, but it was too late. For about the hundredth time that day I wondered why I couldn’t be just a bit smarter. Seriously, what kind of idiot was I to upset the leader of a pack of werewolves, even if he’d insulted me? “I ... I mean ...”

“Where did you even come from?” Marcus demanded. “How did you get in here?”

“She’s with me.”

Just then my kidnapper, and the target of most of my internal cursing, appeared. We were close enough to the parking lot that he must have heard the commotion and decided to investigate. I was miffed to realize that if he had managed to sneak in this way, he could have also snuck into the cell and rescued Mac himself.

“Of course, she is,” Marcus scoffed. “An elf and a human. This gets better and better.”

“I was good enough for your party,” I pointed out.

“Yes, you have your uses,” Marcus gave a lecherous grin. “Dexterous, little fingers.”

“You sonnova ...”

“Maggie, Tom!” Mac interrupted me before I could completely lose my cool and tell this A-hole exactly what I thought of him. “Get out of here. I’ll handle this.”

Tom, so that was the name of my kidnapper. After all that happened, this was my first time hearing it. He’d been deliberately sparse with details, and I’d been content not to deepen our relationship even that much.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Marcus replied. “Nor is your pet human. I’m going to eliminate you once and for all, and that includes your freaky little harem. It doesn’t matter if you want the title or not, you are of the blood, and no matter where you go or what you do, you’ll always be a threat to me. ”

“Then let’s do this,” said Mac, resigned. “Just you and me. Leave them out of it.”

“Gladly.”

With that, Marcus charged across the courtyard. It was my second time witnessing the werewolf transformation, and it was just as fascinating and horrifying as the first. I wasn’t naive enough to think that Mac was fighting for me, yet in freeing him from the cell, I had somehow become part of his crew--at least in Marcus’ eyes. Therefore, Mac’s downfall would also be my own.

For one brief moment of lunacy I wondered if it would be better to be shot by my kidnapper or mauled to death by werewolves. Both scenarios sucked.

Unfortunately, the overzealous wolf still held my dress in its jaws, preventing me from slipping away during the fight, but I wasn’t entirely helpless. In probably my smartest move all day, I had decided to purloin the magic chain while helping Mac escape and now slipped it around the wolf’s neck before he knew what was happening. I honestly had no idea what it would do, but I had the vague impression of Mac being more docile while wearing it, so I decided it couldn’t hurt.

To my great relief, the beast’s shoulders immediately sagged. He shook his head as if his brain had suddenly turned to mush. Whatever the chain had done to him, it probably saved my life.

“Are you going to walk all the way back to Oakland like that?” whispered Tom beside me. He, too, had taken advantage of the fight to slip away, but unlike me, he didn’t look like he was running. Instead he’d found a stout tree branch in case his gun proved ineffective and he had to fight his way out with a club.

“That’s safer than staying here with you.”

“Here,” he pulled out another gun that had been tucked in the waistband of his jeans and handed it to me. “There’s no way they’ll just let you walk away. If Mac doesn’t make it, we’ll have to fight our way out. Like it or not, we’re in this together.”

I definitely didn’t like it, but I didn’t have much of a choice. I had never fired a gun before, but it looked easy enough in movies. Recalling an old cop drama that I used to watch, I opened the action to look into the chamber and discovered that yes, my kidnapper had indeed given a loaded weapon to a terrified novice like me. With my inexperience and frayed nerves, I was likely to shoot myself just trying to figure out how to use the stupid thing.

The noises from the fight were getting pretty intense. I looked back at the werewolves and saw that both Mac and Marcus were wounded with blood dripping from their teeth. Marcus was definitely the more aggressive fighter. He kept advancing on his opponent, trying to goad him into making a mistake.

Mac was the more cautious of the two. When Marcus attacked, he usually backed away, saving his energy to strike at strategic, soft tissue targets. Mac might have more wounds, but Marcus was beginning to show signs of exhaustion.

I had been careful to stay silent as I backed away from the battle, and Tom had kept his voice down lest we come to the attention of the remaining wolves, but suddenly Marcus was able to grab Mac and throw him painfully to the ground. He looked up in triumph and spotted us far away.

“Get them!” he yelled, before turning back to his opponent. Immediately the remaining wolves turned to attack.

Aside from a few judo lessons in elementary school, I’d never learned to fight. I certainly had no idea what to do against four charging werewolves. For a second, I even forgot I held a gun in my hand until I heard the loud bang of Tom’s second weapon. That small explosion was enough to shake me from my stupor.

“Please stay away!” I raised the weapon with shaky fingers and prayed that I wouldn’t have to shoot. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even a bloodthirsty werewolf, but that didn’t mean I was going to let them kill me.

I closed my eyes and fired.

For a full five seconds there was no other sound. I cautiously opened my eyes and saw that although the bullet had clearly missed, the wolf sat placidly nearby. It no longer concerned itself with me and instead stared at the fighters with rapt attention.

Mystified, I looked around and saw Mac once again in his human form, though winded and bleeding profusely from several wounds. At his feet lay the eerily-still body of Marcus.

“Is he ...” I couldn’t finish the question. This whole situation was bonkers and I just wanted to go home.

“Yes,” Marcus replied. He picked up the discarded length of his toga and used it to dab at his wounds.

“I guess you’re Alpha now,” Tom announced. “Sorry about that.”

“Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” I demanded. A dead body lay a few feet away, I’d just tamed a werewolf with a magic collar, and the other wolves eyed my freaked-out self as if I was the crazy one in this situation.

“That’s my brother,” Mac explained with absolutely no fondness in his voice. “I went lone wolf years ago, but he’s always been worried that I’d come back and try to take over the pack. He lured me here under false pretenses and would have killed me if you hadn’t come along.”

“And the incident in the coffeeshop?” I demanded, turning to my kidnapper.

“They were after me,” Tom replied. “They knew I followed Mac here and wanted to keep me out of the way. I’m sorry to put you in danger, but I needed you. You’re an elf of the tinkering-type. I knew that from the insane textbooks you were reading, and I had to bust Mac out of a cell.”

“You could have told me the truth.”

“That I needed you to rescue a werewolf? What would you have said to that?”

This family drama was too much. I rubbed my hands down my face, uncaring if it smeared my carefully-applied makeup, and called upon my superpower: I was fine in all situations, I mentally repeated the mantra. But there was a big difference between a bird soiling my shoulder and fighting monsters.

“Okay,” I groaned in exhaustion. “So, what now? You’re Alpha? What does that mean?”

“It’s a giant headache,” Mac returned.

“Better than death,” Tom pointed out.

“I’m not so sure ...” Mac’s voice trailed off as he glanced from the dead body of his brother to the surrounding wolves currently eyeing him expectantly. It seemed they were more than willing to trade one leader for another.

I hadn’t known him very long, but I was convinced that Mac would make a much better Alpha. While Marcus had belittled his friendship with a human, it was the loyalty of that human which allowed his escape and later victory. Plus, Marcus had been a jerk and I was a fan of anyone that disrupted the status quo.

“Don’t worry about the body,” Mac assured me. “We’ll take care of it. None of this will come back to you. I know you were forced into this, but I still owe you my life. If there’s anything I can do ...”

“My tuition,” I immediately replied. It was a lot of money, and I mean a lot, but I figured his pockets were deep enough to afford it and having that financial burden lifted from my shoulders would go a long way towards making up for the trauma of this night.

“Done.”

“How about an invitation to our next party?” offered Tom with a grin.

“Not even in my worst nightmare,” I grimaced. With that I turned and began walking toward the exit. All of the partygoers had long since departed. Most of the lights were off, as was the music. If I thought the structure was intimidating before, now it looked like something from a horror movie. There were also several miles of dark roads and forests to pass through before returning to the city. “But I could use a ride home.”

As we sped away, I turned back to capture one last look at the sprawling mansion. From the moment I entered, I had felt out of place. The opulence and ostentation of the inhabitants created a world in which I didn’t belong. And yet I had played an integral part in the drama that unfolded. It had been terrifying, but also kind of exciting. I wondered if I could return to my normal, boring life and pretend like none of this ever happened.

Tom had teased about an invitation to their future events and maybe, just maybe I might reconsider.

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