“Like Cats And Dogs” first chapter
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Cats and dogs don’t mix – so panther shifter Belle Simmons will never get a chance to act on her secret crush on Axel McManus, the sexiest werewolf this side of the Montana state line…right?
That’s what she thinks until the day she’s fleeing an arranged marriage with a much older panther known to have perverted desires and a vicious temper – and Axel comes to the rescue. The only way that the wealthy, corrupt Raymond Charucki will release Belle from her obligation is if she can steal a certain priceless icon belonging to a terrifying witch…and to her shock, Axel insists on accompanying her. Is he protecting the shy, orphaned panther out of pity…or out of love?
Belle Simmons lived for the beginning of summer, although not for the usual reasons. Oh, she loved the sunshine and the ripening berries on bushes, the melting of snow and the budding of flowers, and the chance to shift into panther form and race naked through the woods with the sun warming her fur.
But what she really yearned for was a glimpse of Axel McManus, in all his glory. Axel, the handsomest werewolf in Montana, came to visit his grandparents in Big Timber Falls every summer. And when he did, he frequently came into the general store owned by Belle’s aunt and uncle.
Of course there was no chance the two of them would actually get together. Axel was a handsome, popular wolf, the son of a wealthy and successful Alpha, and rumor had it that his father wanted him to take over his Northern Montana pack in the near future. Belle was a shy, quiet panther whose parents had died when she was a cub, and she was stuck behind the counter of the Big Timber Falls Mercantile.
And everybody knows…cats and dogs don’t mix. In fact, the local panther shifters and werewolf pack were increasingly on edge with each other, mostly out of stupid territorial pride.
Still…she could look, and dream.
“There he is,” Agnes Hamilton, her best friend and co-worker, said, nudging her.
“Yep. I see that,” Belle had a feather duster in her hand, and she was standing on the porch, slowly and carefully dusting the windows. She was concentrating on her job very hard.
That was because she could see Axel’s reflection in the window.
His people were descended from a tribe of Native American shapeshifters, and his coppery skin and thick, silky black hair reflected that. He was tall and broad shouldered and narrow hipped. He was wearing faded denim jeans and a tank top that revealed his smooth, tan skin and the curve of his biceps.
Axel was across the street, leaning on his pickup truck, talking to his cousins, Lucas and Nicholas Redburn. They were handsome enough, but for some reason, they’d never had the effect on her that Axel did. Every time she saw Axel, her heart raced and she tingled all over.
As Belle watched, Axel turned around and reached into the back of the pickup truck, bending over as he did so.
“Oh my God. His ass is magnificent,” Agnes said admiringly. Axel straightened up, holding three sodas. He handed two of them to his cousins, and opened up the third, taking a healthy swallow.
“It sure is.” Dust, dust, dust. Belle very slowly ran her duster over the same spot she’d just dusted. “It’s a thing of beauty.”
Agnes pretended to stare into the window that Belle was dusting so she could watch Axel too. “His ass could have been sculpted by Michaelangelo.”
“It’s like two perfectly rounded halves of a cantaloupe, covered in denim,” Belle nodded. “It’s the ass to end all asses.”
She glanced at her own reflection. She was small and slim, with straight golden brown hair and brown eyes. Nothing special. She didn’t have big poufy blonde hair or huge boobs or a badonkadonk butt, which seemed to be what the local boys liked.
“I mean, how do you even get an ass like that?” Agnes wondered. “Do you think – Oh, God. Incoming.”
Axel was walking straight towards the store now, and his cousins were leaning on the pickup truck, watching him with smiles on their faces.
“What do I do?” Belle gasped. “Should I run inside? What?”
“Uh, jeez, I don’t know – just keep dusting. Move on to another window, though; you’ve been dusting this one for like five minutes now.”
Cheeks reddening, Belle quickly moved on to an adjacent window, as Axel’s footsteps pounded up the creaking wooden front steps.
Oh, God, he was right behind her. And – he knew her name. Belle frantically tried to remember if she’d ever introduced herself to him. Usually, Axel just came in to the store and made polite conversation with her while she rang up his purchases.
She spun around to face him. He was so tall, she had to tilt her head back to look up at him. The planes of his face were sharp and beautiful, and his thick black brows framed eyes of a warm, rich brown color.
He had an earthy, masculine smell about him, and she found herself inhaling, drawing the scent of him into her. What would it be like to have that scent all over her, to bury her nose in his hair and breathe him in? Her heart pulsed in her throat at the thought.
“Uh, hello…Axel, right?” she struggled to sound casual, but her voice rose to a squeak, and cracked. That was a ridiculous thing for me to say, she thought. Of course she knew his name.
“Yes, that’s right.” He took a sip of soda, just standing there and looking at her, so handsome it was unreal, with his silky hair streaming over his shoulders. The sunlight bounced off it, highlighting glints of blue. His gaze travelled over her slowly, from head to toe, and his sensuous lips curved up in a smile. “You look good. I see you’ve pierced your ears.”
“Oh, ahhh…yes. Agnes made me these earrings.” Self-consciously, she touched the feather earrings dangling from her lobes.
“Very nice. And I like that perfume. Rose with undertones of oak moss?” At her startled look, he added “Wolf, remember? We have a great sense of smell.”
“You know what else wolves have?”
She stared at him, baffled. “Uhhh…sharp pointy teeth, when they turn?”
He grinned. “A great sense of hearing.”
She stood there for a few seconds, letting that sink in. Realizing what it meant.
Oh. Good. Heavens. He’d overheard her and Agnes, from all the way across the street.
And now, his two cousins were walking towards them.
Belle felt the blush on her cheeks roar into overdrive, spreading over her face, down her neck, and throughout her whole body. She didn’t dare look at her reflection; she’d be a giant glowing red Christmas bulb of humiliation.
“So, I’ve got the ass to end all asses, is that right?” He grinned down at her. “I’m flattered.”
“Uhhhhhh…” her mouth hung open. She glanced frantically at Agnes, who had both her hands pressed over her mouth to stifle squeals of hysterical laughter. No help there.
“I mean, I’ve noticed yours, too, but I didn’t want to come out and say anything,” he said, grinning hugely. “At least, I didn’t want to be the first one to say anything.”
“Oh? Uhhh…what did you notice, exactly?” Her voice cracked at least twice as she spoke. She was frozen in place. She couldn’t have moved from the spot if her life depended on it.
“About your ass? Its shapeliness. Small but perfect.”
“Why…thank you.” She forced the words from her lips. If her face got any hotter she might actually spontaneously combust.
Axel McManus was flirting with her. This couldn’t be happening, but it was happening.
His cousins walked up the steps to the porch, big smiles on their faces.
“So, I understand you turned 18 last fall. I guess you’re nearly 19 now, right?”
“That’s right,” she said slowly. Was this leading where she thought it might be leading? She folded her arms across her chest and furtively pinched herself, hard. It hurt. Okay, so she wasn’t dreaming.
“I’ve been wanting to ask you out for years now, but I made myself wait. Didn’t want to be the creepy guy asking out a high school student.”
“Oh, I don’t go to school. Never have,” she blurted out without thinking.
“Never?” His brows shot up in surprise.
Of course, he wouldn’t know that, because he only came to town for six weeks every summer. He left every year before school started.
“Well….” Her blush had faded, but now it flared up anew. She glanced at the floor, scuffing her foot self consciously on the wood. “My aunt and uncle needed the help here at the store.” Her aunt and uncle had put her to work as soon as she came to live with them on their farm, after both her parents died of a mutated strain of rabies which had wiped out dozens of panthers in the town she’d once lived in. She’d been eight years old; she’d worked on the farm all day, every day, until she was 12. Then they’d put her to work at the store.
“Their kids go to school, right?” He asked, frowning.
“Oh, sure, of course.” And they’d go to college. And she wouldn’t. That wasn’t even a question.
He shrugged, a frown creasing his brow, but didn’t pursue the subject.
“Anyway, I was thinking maybe I could come by your house and pick you up some time this week. Dinner and a movie? And another chance to admire each other’s perfect asses?”
Agnes let out a yelp of laughter.
“Uh, Axel…” his cousin Lucas tapped him on the shoulder, looking concerned. “Maybe it’s not the best idea for you to go onto panther territory.”
“He could pick her up here, after work,” Agnes said boldly.
“Oh really?” his cousin flashed Agnes an admiring glance. “That’s not a bad idea. You know, a double date would be twice the fun. If you don’t have a problem with werewolves, that is.”
Agnes giggled. “Only shy werewolves. I like a werewolf who’s not afraid to let his inner animal out, know what I mean?” Lucas’ eyes lit up at her innuendo.
Axel let out a low growl of displeasure, scowling at his cousin. “Maybe I want to enjoy an evening with her all by myself.”
His cousin smirked at him, unfazed by his annoyance. “Well, isn’t that just-“
“Belle! Agnes!” Aunt Edith’s voice cracked through the air, from inside the store. “Are you planning on getting any work done this afternoon, or were you going to stand outside and bother the customers all day?”
Belle went pale. “Oh, no,” she said, and rushed inside the store with Agnes hot on her heels.