Stacy?" Kelly's mother, Alice, called from the foot of the stairs.
"She isn't up here, Mom," Kelly called back as she felt for her sneakers beneath the bed.
"That girl," her mother muttered so loudly Kelly heard her from a floor away.
A glass bottle brushed Kelly's fingertips, and she frowned at the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels she pulled from beneath her bed. She threw her sneakers on and grabbed the bottle. It seemed like Stacy was getting into trouble every time she turned around, but she wasn't taking the rap for her stash.
A quick peek showed an empty hallway, so she darted to Stacy's room across the hall and slid the bottle beneath her bed where it clinked against others. Kelly winced as she dropped to her stomach to peer under the bed.
"Jeez, no wonder it was under my bed; she's got no room left." A scowl lined her brow as she thumped down the stairs.
"What's got into you?" Her mother tweaked her ponytail and handed her a paper bag.
"Nothing." She pasted on a smile and gave her mother a hug.
"Go past the Palmers old place and see if your sister is there. If she is, shoo her home."
Kelly grabbed an apple from the bowl on the worn countertop and shined it absently against her shirt as she spoke. "I'll check, but you know she won't listen to me. Abby and I will be back for dinner. She can sleepover, right?"
Her mother's frown changed to a smile, and she took the apple from her and cut it in half. "You eat half, and yes, Abby can sleep over. Stay off the roads though and stick together!" her mother called after her as she darted out the door.
Her pony, Flit, greeted her with a happy whicker from the corral right beside the main barn. She rubbed his nose and feed him his half of the apple before saddling him.
"I'll be too big to ride you soon," she said as she pulled futilely at the stirrup. The buckle was already in the lowest hole and all her yanking just produced an annoyed flick from Flit's tail.
She bit her lip and glanced back at the house. Money had been tight since her mother was laid off, and while she liked having her mom around, it meant no new horse for her.
"Not that I want to replace you." She patted the horse's neck and led him from the paddock before swinging up. Her feet dangled almost to the ground. She was tall for thirteen and stick thin.
For sure this would be the last summer with Flit, she thought sadly as the pony ambled down the narrow path behind the barns.
Cows milled beside the pasture gate, hoping for a handout, but she ignored them and headed west to the trail that cut through the state forest.
Flit balked at the beginning of the steep path that led past the tumbled down house. She urged him forward with soft words. She didn't like this place either. It smelled of stale beer and cigarettes, and the boys that came here were rude and scary. Kids came from all over to hang out here, usually at night though.
Flit stood, flicking his ears and sidling when she dismounted to stick her head in the door, hoping the entire place wouldn't come crashing down. The back half of the building had already fallen in, and the roof sagged with a gaping hole above the front room.
Broken bottles glittered in the dim light beside a stained mattress to the right of the front door. Kelly didn't go any further, but she called her sister for a minute before running back into the sunshine. No one was around, but the quiet made her uneasy. Flit still stamped and sidled, so she hurriedly checked his feet to make sure he hadn't stepped in glass or picked up a needle before leading him forward.
"What's gotten into you, silly boy? Smell a snake or something?" She kept her gaze on the path, hoping it wasn't a snake, and yanked Flit forward. "Probably better to walk you anyway. I'm getting too big to lug up these hills, aren't I?"
Flit followed easily for a minute before sidestepping and shaking his head hard. He jerked to a stop and reared on his hind legs.
Shocked, she jumped away from his slashing hooves. Flit screamed an equine cry of fear and strained hard, lashing out with both front feet. The reins slipped from her grasp, and he bolted back down the hill, crashing and snorting through the brush.
Uneasy now, she glanced around.
A low coughing snort came from her left. The hair on the back of her neck rose at the odd sound. She'd never heard anything like it. Pine scent filled the air as a low branch rustled, and her wide-eyed gaze caught on the shine of an animal's eyes. She began backing away one slow step at a time.
She screamed as the beast leaped, seeing only brown fur and long teeth as she turned to run. White-hot pain grabbed her leg, and she screamed again as she fell, catching herself with her hands and scrabbling back.
A wolf slavered and snapped at her face, then ripped again at her leg. Sobbing and crying, she smacked at its head as it ripped a hole in her jeans, taking a hunk of flesh with it. Blood sprayed in a hot arc, and the wolf growled savagely.
She kicked at it with both feet, and it bit down hard before releasing her to lick the bloody wound. Pain raced up her leg, but she knew she would die if she didn't get away. Forcing herself against the pain, she thrashed wildly as she searched the ground for a weapon.
On her stomach, she dragged her leg behind her, reaching for a broken limb. The wolf grabbed her by the shirt and dragged her back, but she'd managed to grab the branch and turned to hit it. It snapped at her face, then ripped the stick from her hand.
Tears blurred her vision as it knocked her back and stood on her chest. She lifted both arms and tried to strangle it while blocking the teeth gnashing for her throat, but it was so much bigger than her, she couldn't budge it. Warm breath, smelling of her blood and rotten meat, wafted her face. Salvia and blood dripped to her cheek as the wolf licked her, its warm tongue scratching from her chin to her forehead.
She shrieked and heaved with all her might. The wolf bounded away, leaving fur in her hands, tail wagging, almost prancing. Bile rose in her throat.
It's playing with me like a cat with a mouse. As she thought that, it spun and pounced, knocking her back and rolling her over. Pain made her head spin, and when it cleared, the wolf was eating her leg. The pain was like nothing she'd ever imagined, and she screamed shrilly and kicked feebly with her good leg.
A gunshot made them both jump, and she screamed again, this time for help. The wolf whirled and crouched as if prepared to pounce at whoever approached, then whirled back to lick her face again.
Loud voices called, but Kelly couldn't distinguish the words through the blood pounding in her head. The wolf stared into her eyes a moment before bounding away.
She stared after it, still clutching a handful of its reddish-brown fur. Her leg had stopped hurting, and a tingling warmth suffused her body. Her eyes fluttered shut.
When she opened her eyes again, her leg throbbed, and her mother leaned over her crying.
"Oh, thank God."
"Flit?" she managed to ask.
Her throat felt raw, and her head pounded.
"Safe at home," her father said and kissed her brow. "You had us so worried."
"My leg?" Pain burned the length of her leg, pulsing into her hip, growing brighter every second.
"You'll need another operation, but the doctors think you'll walk just fine. Maybe a limp for a while but we can worry about that later."
She began to cry, and her father hugged her tightly.
"It tried to eat me. It was going to eat me alive."
Her crying became hysterical, and the doctor came and gave her a shot. The world drifted away.
Her last thought was she hoped someone killed that damned wolf.
Two and A Half Years Later
Sunlight filtered through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Richard's office, giving the dark, hardwood furniture a rich luster. The room smelled of books and old leather, and Mark stopped to sniff appreciatively.
Richard waved him into the room and pointed at his computer screen. "That makes six girls now. I'm certain it's our feral. I've sent teams to the neighboring states, but I want you to head to Minnesota. From his pattern, he's heading straight north. The Dakota packs are on alert, but won't be leaving their territories. You smell another wolf, it's our bad guy."
Richard frowned irritably at his computer screen as he said, "If he sticks true to form, he'll avoid cities and head for the nearest state park. My guess is he'll head to Sibley State Park. It borders a large lake with miles of forest and is surrounded by farmland. Plus, he might be familiar with the area from his childhood. Delmont's pack ran there for a few years when the feral was young."
Mark perched on the edge of the desk. "All his victims were attacked while hiking or riding in the woods in broad daylight. Witnesses took pictures at two of the attacks, but I wasn't able to get them."
Richard tapped the screen, and Mark leaned closer to peer at the blurry images of a hundred-and-twenty-pound reddish-brown wolf. He didn't ask how Richard had gotten the pictures. His gaze caught on the terrified expression of the little girl.
"Jesus!" Mark turned away from the screen.
He'd been to each crime scene but hadn't seen the victims. He'd followed the scent, but the wolf wasn't stupid and always lost him by heading to water. He avoided bus stations and airports.
Only once had Mark caught his scent at a rental agency but he'd lost him again when he found the abandoned car at a train station. He knew the feral had jumped a train, but he could've jumped off anywhere.
Richard spoke, bringing Mark back from his reminisces.
"My guess is he wants a mate younger than himself. He has a type he goes for; thin, tom-boyish types with long dark hair. Two of the girls he killed were thirteen, three fourteen, and one was twelve. She looked older though, so maybe he thought her mature. Who knows what this sick fuck thinks? Stop him permanently. The attacks are escalating in violence too. The last two girls were raped and partially eaten. The police think they might have a serial killer using dogs to terrorize and dispose of his prey, and they wouldn't be wrong. He is a serial killer whether he means to be or not. The feral hurt them bad enough they never regained consciousness until they died of the injuries. The doctors called it massive infections."
He tapped the screen again and smiled in grim triumph. "Within two days of every attack, police were called to bar fights within ten miles of his victims. Fights that ended in robbery and death. I think that's how he's funding himself, picking fights in bar parking lots. He kills the men quickly and with weapons. He isn't looking to make a friend."
Richard tapped the screen again, and the picture changed. On the right, a smiling, freckled-faced boy of about twelve with reddish-brown hair and a mocking grin; on the left, a wolf with the same reddish-brown hair and the same devilish grin beneath narrowed, golden eyes.
Richard leaned back in his swivel chair and stretched. "That's the last official picture we have of him taken five years ago. Audrey has convinced me to send teams to make sure he left no living victims, but I've been combing police reports from the last two years, and no other bites were reported that I'm not certain were domestic dogs. This last attack was only one month from the last. He's escalating rapidly, and I'm afraid he's left more dead behind him, girls reported as missing."
"I better get going then." Mark hitched his pack higher on his back and headed for the door.
"Shoot his ass. Don't take stupid chances," Richard called after him.
Leah, Richard's mate, stopped him at the door. Mark breathed deep of her scent and held her close for a minute. She smelled like home.
"Take care of yourself, Mark. He's just a pup, but a dangerous one. Rainy called me. He was one of Delmont's pack. He left, they thought to seek out a new pack because theirs had no young females, but, except for his parents, they were glad to see him go. Word has it he had a temper and was vicious, liked to play with his kills, lost himself in the scent of blood. Rainy offered him a place in her pack, but he turned her down. She's worried he's going to come back and make a stab at killing her mate to become Alpha and force one of the young girls to be his mate, and she thinks he might do it the coward's way and shoot him. She won't let any of her pack leave. They've closed ranks and are patrolling their territory. This isn't a shocked human, but a boy who knew what he would become and is reveling in it."
"I'll stop him." Mark kissed Leah's brow. "And don't be so worried. I'm not looking for trouble."
She stroked his hair. If he'd been a cat, he would have purred. Leah's touch soothed like none other. He pushed her away before longing for a mate of his own overwhelmed him.
Human lovers are good enough for me, he told himself firmly.
* * *
Mark patted the holster beneath his navy-blue windbreaker with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks emblazoned in white on the left breast pocket and across the back. He showed the stewardess his badge and handed her the lockbox containing his gun before settling into the first-class window seat.
"A bit far from home, no?" the man beside him asked.
Mark opened his briefcase and withdrew a stack of maps. "We occasionally leave our jurisdiction to help our fellows. I'm on the trail of a serial poacher." He handed the man a stack of photos, most of endangered species, but all had been beheaded and the bodies left to rot. "The bastard is a headhunter, and I think he's moved on to Minnesota."
The passenger handed the grisly photos back and wiped his hands on his pants. "I hope you catch him."
"Oh, we will. Arrogant bastards like him always slip up. We're real police and take this kind of thing very seriously."
That was true. Mark was a real game warden, and that was his real badge. But he wasn't hunting a poacher. Donald, another werewolf, and a good friend, would be covering him on his job at home. Not that he really cared if he lost it. He enjoyed the job, it let him live peacefully on the ranch, but he'd done many things in his long life.
"I envy you that job. It must be nice to spend your time outdoors instead of in an office."
Mark chuckled and opened his laptop. "Everyone says that until the first day they go to work and it's five below. Rain or shine we're out there, and believe me, there seem to be more lousy days than nice ones."
The passenger laughed politely and turned to his own laptop. They didn't speak again until the plane landed.
"Good luck, young man." He offered his hand, and Mark shook it, trying to keep the grin off his face. He had a good hundred and fifty years on the man.
The stewardess returned his gun, and Richard, or maybe Leah, had arranged a jeep for him. He was on his way to the state forest in minutes. This time, the little shit wouldn't get away. He'd know his scent, and now he knew his pattern. Richard would call him the second the boy killed, and Mark would be on his ass. The wolf within him wanted to run and sink his teeth into their enemy.
Soon, he promised and stepped hard on the gas.
He slowed when he reached town. An shiver of excitement rippled his spine. This was exactly the type of place the feral preferred. A small main street with houses set far apart and well back from the road.
He slowed further as he reached the state park and pulled into the gravel lot of a bar that sat by itself on the outskirts of town. Forested hills behind the bar were the edges of the state park.
Flickering lights, half of them out, lit a faded sign proclaiming, 'Moe's.' Pines grew right up to the back door, and the lot was narrow and wrapped around the building. From the worn marks in the grass, customers parked along both sides of the street and in the scrubby lot across from Moe's.
The perfect place for a slash and grab, Mark thought as he stepped from the car. He hadn't taken two steps when he smelt wolf.
"Fucker is already here." Shocked, he snatched his cell and called Richard.
"He's here already. Have there been any murders within the last week?"
"Jesus." Key clicks filled the line. "None. I figured you had at least a month, maybe more. You sure it's him?"
"I'm sure. And the scent is fresh. He's likely scoping the place out. He'll smell me too if I go nosing around. I'm going to follow from here."
"I'm sending backup. We can't afford to lose him."
"I won't fucking lose him."
Mark slipped his phone back into his pocket and headed toward the scent. A scent he shouldn't be able to smell so clearly. He eyed the dried urine on the side of the building thoughtfully. The feral was marking his territory. He was getting cocky. He had to know there would be hunters on his trail. Mark squatted to sniff the stain. The feral was aroused. The thick scent of male musk and a hint of blood underlay the stronger urine smell.
He sauntered to the door and pretended to drop his keys so he could sniff the handle. His eyes narrowed, and he straightened and headed to the forest at a jog. The feral hadn't gone inside. Whatever had aroused him had been outside, and it had been less than two weeks since his last kill. The speed at which the feral was moving worried him. It seemed to Mark as if this punk had a plan and knew exactly where he was going. A full moon loomed, and he wondered if the feral had decided his odds were better if he attacked while the moon was full. That meant he had mere hours to find the bastard.
He knows hunters are tracking him. Maybe he thought he could lure me in?
Mark slowed his advance and stepped off the trail to strip. He stuffed his clothing in the bag and with a practiced wriggle positioned the pack on his shoulders, keeping the strap in his mouth. The ground felt cool and moist beneath his knees, and he welcomed his wolf.
Fur rippled over his body, his muscles twisted and his bones reformed with a feeling of release. He shivered in delight. Some hated the feeling of being remade, but he loved it.
He yanked the strap with his teeth, and the pack settled to his back. The smell of earth and leaf decay wafted from his paws as he stretched and dug his claws into the earth. Claws longer and harder than any natural wolf sliced deep furrows into the leafmold. He had to resist the urge to roll, not wanting to dislodge his pack, but he scratched hard, enjoying the ripple of his muscles before lowering his nose to the ground.
Gotcha, he thought with savage satisfaction and raced after the tantalizing smell.
Branches caught in his fur and the smell of pine deepened. The feral didn't look away from the girl in his arms. He didn't appear to sense the danger, and the wolf almost couldn't blame him. From thirty feet away she smelled delicious.
Mark eased closer and glanced up. The full moon had risen, and he could smell the boy's sweat as he fought the change. The girl in his arms kissed him then pushed away.
"My father will kill me. I got to get home."
The boy tightened his hold and pushed her to the ground.
"Stop," the girl said, sounding scared now.
And she should be scared, the wolf thought, but it was too late for her. From her smell, she'd already been bitten. His golden eyes narrowed as the boy roughly yanked her jeans to her knees while she struggled and pleaded with him to stop.
But, if she'd been bitten, how was she resisting the change? A new wolf would have no control. The moon would call her, and she'd have no choice but to listen.
Mark snapped at a limb beside his face, breaking it in his teeth with a sharp crack.
The boy rose his head, and even from where Mark hunkered in the trees, he could see the animal shine in them. The feral released the girl who ran away crying. Already shirtless with his shoes off, the boy let his jeans fall to his ankles and embraced the change.
Mark waited for the boy to shift, it was easier to hide a wolf corpse than a human one. His eyes narrowed at the speed with which fur sprouted across the boy's torso. If he could already shift so quickly, he'd grow into a powerful wolf, an alpha for sure. And a ruthless one with no humanity. He was the type to kill every other alpha in his pack and steal unmated females, just like Mark's father's alpha had been.
A low snarl burst from Mark's lips, and he hoped the girl kept running and didn't look back. The feral whined and crouched.
Mark clamped down on his pity. It wasn't the boy's fault he was the way he was, but it sure as shit was his fault for not accepting the pack's help.
His first snap missed. The boy was limber and twisted away, but Mark's second snap connected. The boy snarled when Mark ripped away a chunk of fur and muscle. A coppery odor of fresh blood covered the scent of pine and rotting leaves.
The two wolves circled each other, snapping and snarling. Countless fights both playful and real over the last century gave Mark the advantage. The boy's head hung low, and he darted glances around, seeking an escape.
There would be no escape, the older wolf thought in satisfaction and leaped.
He made it quick, ripping the throat out in one swift move. Blood gushed over his face and chest as the boy's paws scrabbled at the earth and his bowels voided.
Mark dropped the corpse and howled. Then he dragged it away beneath a dense stand of pines where he dug a deep hole, grateful for his sharp claws and strong muscles that made it easier.
It took him a few hours to satisfy himself no one would stumble on the corpse or notice a fight had taken place. Not that it should make much difference if they did find a wolf corpse but if the girl brought searches here it was better to avoid questions.
No human man could dig beneath the pine branches like he could. His scent would discourage predators from digging up the corpse, but he painstakingly gathered rocks, and half dragged, half carried them in his jaws to lay atop the grave. He added some loose pine limbs and peed over the top. Not in desecration, but to embellish his scent to discourage predators.
Back in the clearing where they'd fought, he gathered the bloody leaves with his teeth and stuffed them in the boy's sweatshirt. He wished he could shift back to human form to better gather the leaves, but the full moon still rode the sky, and he would be stuck a wolf until the moon set.
He shredded the boy's boots with his teeth and claws and slunk beneath a low-growing hemlock to bury them along with shirt-fulls of bloody leaves. Once he was satisfied only light traces of wolf blood remained, he snatched the shirt and jeans in his teeth.
The pants snagged on limbs and brush as he loped through the woods. He let them fall and continued to a small trickle of a brook he'd crossed earlier in the day to dump the sweatshirt. Tepid water barely reached his shins, and it took him ten minutes of rolling in the water to wash the blood from his fur.
He returned to the clearing and scattered fresh leaves before finally letting himself follow the tantalizing aroma of the girl. He doubted she would be able to send police to this exact spot, but even if they came, they'd find nothing except light traces of animal blood.
Head to the ground, he wrinkled his nose and inhaled deeply. The scent of fear hung heavy about her obscuring the earlier scent of her arousal. He tracked her through the woods and across a hay field. The cows in the next field lowed and scattered from him. He barely spared them a glance.
She'd run straight home. The lights in the downstairs windows of the two-story farmhouse remained off. He didn't think it likely she'd told her father about the would-be rapist. The faint sound of running water drifted through the open windows when he circled the house, and he wondered if she showered. He circled the house three times before he was certain she had neither left again or shifted and killed her entire family and was snacking on the corpses.
Now he wasn't sure what to do. Maybe the boy hadn't bitten her yet? Maybe the delicious scent of her had drawn the boy, and she was safe. The chances of another wolf finding her were slim. As far as he knew, there were no packs in Minnesota. Sure, a rogue wolf, like the boy, could stumble across her, but the chances of that were small. Pack law forbade taking humans without their consent and the consent of your alpha. Only a feral would try it, and normally a feral kept away from pack territory.
Some wolves preferred to live alone, but they asked for permission to cross pack lands. A strong alpha could force a feral or unbonded wolf to become pack, and an alpha would kill to protect the unmated females in their packs. Ferals lacked the control to be around female wolves. Wolves without packs might be tempted to steal a female and force her to mate to start their own pack, which was why if you didn't want a pack to kill you, you told them you were coming.
Sharp branches caught in his coat again as he wriggled beneath a coarse scrub brush in her backyard. He lay there until dawn lit the treetops. The house had remained quiet, and he was still perplexed as he headed back to the woods.
The cows again mooed and shuffled away from him when he leaped the fence. It was a simple matter to retrace his steps and find his clothes and pack, and it only took him a few seconds to resume his human shape. He grabbed the cell phone from his bag and made a call before he dressed.
Richard answered on the first ring.
"Mark, everything go okay?"
"I caught him, and took care of it, but there's a problem."
"He bit someone?"
"I don't know. He was with a girl, and I never smelled anything like her."
"When you say a girl, do you mean literally, or was she a woman?"
"I'd say fifteen or so."
"Fifteen?" Richard sounded puzzled now too. "And she didn't change? Were they having sex?"
"Kissing. I interrupted him. She didn't want him, and he was going to force her."
"Jesus, did she see you?" Richard sounded angry now.
Mark winced, half annoyed and half worried. The more he thought about this impossible girl, the more worried he became.
"Of course, she didn't see me! What do you take me for? The boy will disappear, and she'll be grateful to never see him again."
"Unless he bit her. Then she won't be so grateful. We lost him for over three years when he first ran away, and bodies only started showing up two years ago. Fifteen is old, but some girls mature late. He could have bitten her when he first ran and been waiting for the change. God knows it's what I would do."
"So, what do I do?"
"Make friends with her. Find out if he bit her, and if he did, bring her to us— before the next full moon."
"Sure, I'll just walk up to this kid and ask if she wants to be friends."
"Jesus, Mark, we don't have time for this shit. She changes without a pack, and she'll rampage. You want to have to track her down and kill her? Yeah, it'll suck for her if she was bitten and you have to kidnap her ass, but she'll understand, and she can go back and work something out with her parents when she's in control. You think she'll thank you if you let her kill them or some random stranger?"'
"Fuck, I know that…" Mark closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose hard.
The problem was her scent. She smelled so fucking good Mark was afraid he might bite her himself, and he sure as shit would bed her if she gave him a chance, and she was too damn young. In the pack, young girls who were about to hit puberty spent the full moon with their wolf parents far from anyone unless they'd already chosen a mate.
"Can you handle this?" Richard asked. "If she's turning, she can't mate."
"I fucking know that."
"Not just with a wolf, dumb ass."
"I know," Mark growled. The thought of her mating with a human boy rose his hackles. She was meant to be a wolf. She was meant to be his wolf. The thought shocked him speechless for a moment. When he next spoke, a growl laced his voice.
"What do I do if she does?"
"Does what? Changes or mates?"
"Stay with her. I'll send—"
Richard chuckled. "Bring her home first." He faltered and then said in a hesitant voice. "You're an old wolf, and I thought a confirmed bachelor. To pick a woman who doesn't even know of us… A mate is a lot of work at the best of times. They change your life in ways that can't be explained. She won't be like your human lovers."
"I get that. I'm not stupid. If she's going to change, she's mine."
"Look, Mark, don't do anything stupid. If she's going to change, bring her home, even if there's just a chance."
"She's mine," he growled again and snapped the phone closed.
He'd left his rental car a mile away in Moe's parking lot. The closest motel was twenty miles away. He took the room; he had no choice. He dumped his bag, taking only his cell phone and headed to the nearest high school.
Lurking outside the school proved harder than he'd thought it would be. He wasn't there five minutes before three teachers approached his car and asked his business. They left when he told them he had car trouble but stared from the doorway.
He finally resorted to laying a toolbox on the curb and crawling beneath the car. He smacked his head hard when she walked by in a gaggle of other girls. Her scent mingled with theirs but still pulled him like a magnet. From where he lay, he couldn't see her face just her worn white sneakers and equally worn jeans. He didn't know if it were a fashion statement or if she was just poor. Half the kids wore ratty clothes. All the girls she stood with wore jeans with holes in them and all except her wore tight tops. She wore a baggy pink sweatshirt with her long brown hair caught up in a ponytail. He wished she'd turn so he could see her face.
He growled and banged his head again as a group of boys stopped to talk to the girls. The girls laughed and flirted, tossing curled hair and batting made-up eyes. Somehow, he had a feeling she didn't wear makeup. He grinned at her shyness. She didn't join in the flirting, and he wondered how the boy had talked her into a kiss. She couldn't have known him long at all. His grin died, and a frown replaced it.
Or maybe she wasn't shy but traumatized from last night.
She disappeared inside the building, and he crept out from beneath his car.
He slapped a sign on the front window, 'broken down went for a part please don't tow.' And jogged to the nearest diner. This was a hick town with few stores and fewer strangers.
The waitress asked his name and made small talk as if she knew every customer, and she probably did, he thought ruefully.
He'd need an excuse to be seen around town, something that the girl would believe. He pursed his lips and considered his flannel shirt and white t-shirt.
While he didn't look his true age by any stretch, he didn't look eighteen either. He glanced around the diner, and his frown deepened. He could pass for early twenties, but here, in this town, he'd be arrested for sure if they suspected he was after such a young girl.
"Fuck," he muttered and dropped a twenty on the table.
It took him a week to find a reason to be near her. He'd debated trying to get a job at her school as a janitor or something, but people would notice if he singled out a student to talk with.
For that same reason, he gave up on the idea of hanging out where her friends did. Not that she hung out a lot. In the week he followed her, he learned her name was Kelly Anderson and that she spent two hours in the library and three at a mall with five girlfriends. The rest of her time she spent at home. She had a pony she spoiled to death, and it inspired him.