Immortal Dawn - Book cover

Immortal Dawn

Jennifer Brian

2: Claws Come Out

LEA

“Another gin and tonic!” Liam slurred, hiccuping as he slapped his hand against the bar.

I knew I should’ve cut him off, but he was clearly going through something, and it wasn’t my place to judge.

I made him another, heavy on the tonic water, and passed it across the bar.

Hector had knocked off about thirty minutes ago, and now it was just Liam and me.

I glanced at my phone. Almost 3 o’clock in the morning…

I’d be closing up soon, but I didn’t have the heart to kick Liam out just yet.

Despite his increasing drunkenness, I was actually enjoying his company.

We’d been talking for the past couple hours, and I’d found that we shared a lot in common.

Although, one thing we vehemently disagreed on was my veganism.

Liam’s motto was: “if it’s not bleeding, it’s not worth eating.”

We found common ground in the obvious stuff like art, music, and movies, but what I really connected with him on was boxing.

I’d been fascinated with it ever since I was a little girl. Maybe because my father had formerly been a boxer, and it was just about the only detail I knew about him.

Mom wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the man who she claimed had “ruined” her life.

Though she seemed to do a pretty good job of that on her own these days…

As for Liam, he’d told me that he had a high-pressure career in investment, and he used boxing as a way of relieving stress.

My eyes widened as he finished his drink in one monstrous gulp.

Apparently, he used drinking for that too.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. “What am I going to do?”

I wasn’t sure if he was asking me or just talking to himself.

“Listen, I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m hitting the gym tomorrow,” I said, leaning my elbows on the bar. “If you want to spar a few rounds…”

Liam looked up at me and gave me a half-smile. He placed his hand on top of mine. “You’re a really nice person, Lea. Truly. I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I realize this isn’t the greatest first impression.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I replied, very aware that his hand was on mine. “We all go through a rough time now and then.”

“I walked in on my ex giving a blowjob to my best friend,” Liam said abruptly.

“Oh…shit.”

No wonder he was drinking the bar’s entire supply of gin.

His ex-girlfriend must’ve been the world’s biggest bitch.

I poured a shot and, as Liam reached for it, I downed it myself.

“I’m taking that one for you,” I said.

Liam laughed. “Thanks. A true friend.”

Truthfully, he didn’t need any more. I glanced at my phone again. ~3:05 a.m.~

“Well, I hate to say this, Liam…you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay he—”

“I can’t go home,” he said suddenly, his expression growing somber.

Right, the cheating ex.

I sighed, knowing what I was about to do was against my better judgment.

“Come on, my place is just around the corner.”

***

Three steps into my apartment and Liam had collapsed face-first onto my couch and passed out.

It was probably for the best.

I was feeling pretty drunk myself and, as much as I had tried to force a sexual connection with Liam tonight, it felt more friendly.

Not like Grace…

There was nothing friendly about what I was feeling when she’d touched me.

I shivered just thinking about it as I walked into my bedroom and pulled off my jeans and T-shirt.

Those honey-colored eyes haunted me.

As I crawled into bed, odd scratching and grunting sounds carried in from the living room.

Was that Liam?

I cautiously crept over to my door and placed my ear against it.

He was panting heavily, almost…growling.

What the hell?

The scratching noise increased as I heard him thrashing around.

I glanced at my boxing gloves, hanging from the hook on my door.

I could defend myself if I needed to, but…hopefully it didn’t come to that.

I cautiously opened my door and peered out into the living room. “Liam?”

He was flailing wildly on the couch, groaning in his sleep.

“No…I don’t want to turn…”

He was having a nightmare. I rushed to his side and placed my hand on his shoulder, trying to calm him.

“Liam, it’s okay. You’re just—”

“NO!” he roared. His fingers swiped my arm, and I cried out in pain.

I backed away and retreated to my room, closing the door and locking it.

I’d always heard that you shouldn’t try to wake someone up when they’re sleepwalking. It turned out that applied to sleep-thrashing too.

My arm stung like a bitch, and when I looked down at it, I gasped.

There were three long red marks running down my forearm.

They looked almost like…claw marks?

Liam’s fingernails were short and manicured…but somehow they’d broken my skin.

As I washed my arm off in the sink and the red water swirled down the drain, I wondered…

Liam had muttered that he didn’t want to turn…

…But turn into what?

***

I’d woken up with a killer headache.

Damn, why did I take so many shots last night?

My head wasn’t the only thing that was hurting this morning, though…

I looked down to see the red scratches lining my arm.

I still wasn’t quite sure how that had happened.

I got out of bed and hastily pulled some clothes on before nervously peering into the living room.

Liam was already gone. But he’d left behind a nice little surprise.

“My couch!” I shouted, my eyes widening.

The leather was torn to shreds. Scratches and gashes in every cushion.

This was what I got for bringing a drunk and distraught stranger home for the night.

Next time, I’d just mind my own damn business.

I slumped down onto the ruined sofa and sighed.

My couch had gotten more action last night than ~I~ had.

Liam’s emerald-green eyes and Grace’s honey-colored ones flashed through my mind. I felt a tingling between my legs—especially as I thought of Grace.

I think I just needed to admit it…

I was sexually frustrated.

I walked into my room and grabbed the boxing gloves from the back of the door.

And I know just the cure.

LIAM

I sat in a diner, sipping a cappuccino and hoping that all the bad decisions I’d made last night weren’t going to come back and bite me in the ass.

I can’t believe I almost shifted.

I’d treated Lea’s couch like a scratching post in my sleep.

When I woke up and saw my couch cushion massacre, I knew I couldn’t stick around to try and explain.

I felt bad because I actually liked her, and she’d put me up for the night when I was too wasted to even walk.

But if she found out what I really was…

A werewolf.

The consequences would’ve been dire.

It was forbidden for our kind to reveal ourselves to humans.

Normally, I had better control over my shifting, but my breakup with Jeff mixed with too much alcohol was a lethal combination.

I should never have let myself be that vulnerable!

With Lea…

Or with Jeff.

My phone began to buzz in my pocket, and I pulled it out.

Speak of the devil…

Jeffbabe COME HOME
Jeffthis is ridiculous
Jeffyou’re overreacting
Jeffdon’t you think it’s kind of unfair to not give me a chance to tell my side of this?

I was so pissed that I could’ve crushed my phone in my hand.

That asshole was trying to play the victim now?

As my fingernails started to shift into claws, I knew I needed to get control of my aggression.

Or better yet…

I needed to release it.

LEA

WHACK!

I punched the bag as hard as I could, trying to release my pent-up frustration.

I was finally starting to feel a bit better. Boxing always did the trick.

The gym was mostly empty this early in the morning, but that was how I liked it.

I punched the bag over and over as I drowned out the background noise of the news anchor on the TV in the corner.

It was better than therapy and, honestly…cheaper.

“Hey, I owe you an apology,” a familiar voice suddenly said from behind me.

I whipped around to see Liam approaching. Despite how drunk he was last night, he still looked like he had just stepped out of a Calvin Klein ad.

“You owe me a new couch,” I replied, crossing my arms.

“Fair enough,” he said sheepishly. “My nightmares can be a little…intense.”

No fucking kidding.

“Down to go a couple rounds?” he asked, nodding to the boxing ring in the center of the gym.

“Sure, but I should warn you…” I said, giving him a sly look. “I’m going to treat you the same way you treated my couch.”

His emerald eyes widened, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Liam was about to find out just what it meant to go toe-to-toe with me.

I might’ve made a mean gin and tonic with an extra kick, but…

My punch was what he really needed to watch out for.

***

Liam’s technique wasn’t terrible, but I still wiped the floor with him.

I probably should’ve taken it easier on him, given that he was dealing with both a breakup and a hangover, but it was too fun to spar with someone twice my size and have the advantage.

When Liam left to hit the showers, I pulled my boxing gloves off and ran my fingers across the scratch marks on my arm. They were still tender.

An intense musical cue on the television suddenly demanded my attention.

“Breaking news,” an anchor said as he read from a teleprompter. “Sara Jones, the twenty-four-year-old woman who’s been missing since Friday, has been linked to an animal attack at Schmitz Preserve Park. Police say it appears she’d been hiking alone.”

My stomach twisted as a photo of a campsite appeared onscreen.

The ground was covered in blood, and her tent was torn to shreds.

“Authorities say they’re still searching for her body.”

The next image that appeared onscreen was a paw print—from a paw the size of a baseball glove.

“Large prints were found in the mud surrounding Ms. Jones’ campsite. The police have issued a warning to all potential hikers visiting the area…”

I looked down at my scratches again, and my heart raced as the reporter continued.

“…Be on the lookout for wolves.”

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