Nobody went roller skating anymore. At least not in Tempe, Arizona. Yet, here she was, waiting on a pair of old brown kicks with orange wheels. At one point they had probably been neon, but now they were the color of dirty pumpkin. Pumpkin reminded Penelope of Cinderella and nothing made her feel less like the Disney princess than the failed prince she had standing on her right.
I’m being a bitch. He’s a nice guy. I could grow to like him.
The truth was, she’d tried. She really had. When she’d visited the Happily Ever After Dating Agency, she’d known they’d set her up with someone magical…someone out-of-this-world. She’d imagined vanishing in a cloud of vampire smoke or howling her night away with a wolf shifter, but instead she’d been outfitted with a guy who looked like he’d stepped out of a cheesy seventies disco video. His shiny gold jacket had nearly blinded her the moment he came strutting through the rink’s front door.
At first, she’d laughed, and thought maybe he was an employee in charge of 70s Night Fridays. His chest hair peeked out of his jacket zipper which was pulled down way too low, and that unruly tuft of thick hair was in desperate need of trimming. It was like he was bear hugging Burt Reynolds beneath that jacket. The sunglasses he wore at night and the toothpick dangling from his lips seemed more like Halloween accessories than anything a guy might normally wear out of the house. When her date made his way toward her, she’d been almost a hundred percent sure he was going to breeze right past her, but then he stopped and said, “Hey toots, you Penny?”
Toots? Do people really say that nowadays? Did people ever say that?
It was that word, toots, that immediately flipped her bitch switch. She no longer felt the need to be nice to this douchebag. If she hadn’t gotten dolled up for her date, she would have left him there where he stood. Yet, she had, and she decided to go ahead and hang in there. She would take one for the team, as if there were an actual team. Like there was a group of her girlfriends sitting somewhere watching in front of a wall of monitors, cheering her on, and thanking God she was remaining on the date, so they wouldn’t have to fill in for her. Penny decided the best solution was to have some fun with this and pretend she was on one of those TV reality shows where she would only win the big bucks if she remained on the date.
Stay inside your head, Penny. You can do this. Deal with this guy and win the big bucks.
“I’m Penelope,” she said. “Penny.”
“Rico,” he replied. “You ready to do this?”
Do this? Are we about to set out on some 70s movie ending where we have to race an opposing couple around the rink to a soundtrack sung by Air Supply or Chicago? And of course, his name is Rico. Why would it be anything else?
Penny glanced up at the ceiling and looked over her shoulder to make sure there weren’t hidden cameras somewhere. This seemed way too concocted to be real. It had to be a joke.
“Let’s do it,” she replied, doing her best not to laugh.
Suzanne at the dating agency had said this guy’s name was Richard. Dick might’ve made sense, but Rico? Seriously? Penny wasn’t a bitch. She really wasn’t. She’d only wanted to find a guy who made her limbs flimsy. She wanted to be weak in the knees, but with Rico standing in front of her, she only felt them knock in dread. She wanted to feel her heart race with passion, but instead it did loop-de-loops in anxious frustration. She wished the date were over long before it began.
No way this is my happily ever after.
Rico’s paranormal secret was a complete mystery to her since he’d shown no ounce of extraordinary skills. If she had to guess, she’d say garden gnome. Yes, Rico could totally be a garden gnome.
Maybe if I kiss his cheek and leave him standing outside my apartment tonight, he’ll turn into one and stand guard out on the front lawn. Wait…he’s not a fucking gargoyle. Do gnomes even keep people safe? Or do they only make sure your carrots grow? What the hell do gnomes do?
Looking at his slicked back auburn hair, she thought he might possibly be a leprechaun. Leprechauns were paranormal, at least she was pretty sure about it. Did myths and legends count as paranormal? Besides, she’d specifically asked for a shifter. She’d seen enough movies, and shifters were always hot. Rico so didn’t fit that mold. Penny heard her inner voice whine as she mentally stomped her foot in protest. Rico was not the shifter she’d signed up for.
Once she had her skates laced up, her date took her by the hand and led her toward the wooden oval rink. She’d forgotten how difficult it was to stand in shoes with four wheels. And she’d thought heels in the city were tough.
“You’re doing great,” Rico said. “At this pace we should get around the rink before it closes.”
Oh hell no. Did he just…did he? Should I?
Penny had to look to her left to see if the guy was grinning or showing any other sign that he was playfully picking on her. No smirk grew on his lips. In fact, she thought she saw the slightest semblance of annoyance, as if she were the only thing preventing him from sailing around the rink with the wind blowing back his hair. Annoyed, she pulled her hand away from his and wiped the sweat from his grip on her jeans.
“This is a bad idea,” she said.
“What is?” he asked. “You don’t like roller skating?”
“I love roller skating,” she shot back. “Or at least I did once upon a time. The date would be fine if the guy I was with wasn’t acting like a douche.”
“Ouch,” he replied. “That was a little harsh, don’t you think?”
“Whatever,” she said. “Let’s call it a night. You go speeding around in circles and I’ll beeline it for the parking lot. I think we’ll both be happier that way.”
As she said it, she made a mental note to call up Suzanne and tell her she’d never use her dating agency again. Penny was quite sure this was the end of the date until she grabbed the wall and turned to scoot herself back over to the cutout in the side of the wall that allowed her to escape to safety. That’s when Rico grabbed her arm.
“I know you aren’t planning to leave me out here by myself like this,” he said. “Not after I drove all the way here to meet you.”
“I drove all the way here too,” she snapped back. “And if you don’t take your hand off my arm…”
“Are you about to threaten me?” he interrupted her. “That might be a bad idea. You see…I have this other side of me.”
For the first time in a very long time, she felt fear kick in. Again, she had no idea what kind of shifter this guy was, and she’d never really experienced anything with a shifter before. Her best friend, Sylvia, used to date a wolf kinda guy and she swore he was the best she’d ever experienced in bed. Since then, Penny had been toying with the idea of trying to hook up with one. The problem was, most of these guys weren’t out on the street cruising around in their animal form. Humans knew they existed, but to keep a happy balance between worlds, shifters usually did their best to keep to themselves.
And now she had one gripping her arm and warning her about his wild side.
“Please,” she said. “This obviously isn’t going to work. Let go of my arm so I can go.”
“I came out here for a date and I’m not leaving until I get one,” Rico said.
Something flashed in his eyes. It was a green shimmer that cut through his pupils like a laser sight, but only for a second. It happened so quickly she wasn’t completely convinced it had happened at all. It was a final warning. He was close to losing it.
Will he actually shift right here in front of all these people? Would he be that stupid?
Penny wasn’t sure it was worth taking that chance. She could finish this date, but the new question was what Rico expected to happen at the end of it. Of course, she wasn’t planning on fucking him now. Not that she’d ever planned on it. Yes, she’d left the house hoping to be pinned down on her back by a strapping stud, but this guy wasn’t the stuff dreams were made of.
“I really want to go home,” she said.
“Look into my eyes,” he said.
She knew some shifters held strange powers that might seep into her subconscious, but still she did as she was told and looked into his gaze. The green shimmer flashed across his eyes again.
“You will take my hand and you will skate around this rink with me,” he said matter-of-factly. “Then you will take me back to your place, you will get naked, and you will bend over the arm of your sofa, so I can feed that needy pussy of yours.”
Penny wasn’t sure whether he truly believed he was Dracula or if he was simply so daring he thought he could speak to her that way, but whatever spell he thought he’d cast on her clearly didn’t work. What did work was her fight technique, because she slapped the shit out of him, and boy did it leave a mark. Then her flight technique kicked in and she desperately tried to roll her way toward the door. Turned out, it was hard as hell to run on roller skates.
Rico was on her fast. He grabbed her shoulder and yanked her backward. She bounced across the wooden floor on her ass and was about to scream when a new face came into view. This guy was gorgeous. He had long, curly blond locks and piercing blue eyes. He was built like a fucking freight train. His hand was much larger than Rico’s and his grip seemed so much stronger as he grabbed the smaller man’s wrist and held it a foot from Penny’s face.
“Is there a reason your sorry ass is trying to intimidate this lovely lady?” the new guy asked, his voice strong and stern.
This was the man she’d wanted for her date. She wondered if the HEA Dating Agency had this guy in mind all along. Maybe this was all part of the experience.
“You don’t know what you’re getting involved in, friend,” Rico said.
The new guy sniffed the air next to Rico’s face and then laughed.
“I think I do,” he said. “And I’d love to see you show the world.”
Penny worried this stunning man coming to her rescue might not understand that Rico could quite possibly flip out at any moment, and if he did, they could all be in great danger. She looked up at her sleazebag date and saw a smirk that told her shit was about to go down. However, while Rico was busy showing signs that he was about to get aggressive, her white knight was having none of it. He opened his mouth and showed canine’s much larger and sharper than any common man would have. A growl rumbled in his throat and then a whimper escaped Rico’s. It was like seeing a pit bull intimidate a terrier.
One moment Rico was standing his ground, but then in an instant, he disappeared, and his clothes fell to the rink floor where they landed in a crumpled-up pile. Two squeaks emitted from somewhere in the pile and then a small, furry creature scurried out of one pant leg and darted across the rink and toward the exit.
“Was that a fucking ferret?” she asked.
The blond man laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
“Looked like a rodent to me,” he said.
Badass Rico, the guy who’d nearly scared the life out of her, had shifted into a fucking ferret.
Is that even possible? How could his bones shrink like that? How could he?
Then she remembered that men changed into wolves and bears and even giant cats. If they could super-size on demand, why couldn’t they downsize the same way?
The big hunk looming over her reached out his hand and then hoisted her back up to her feet as if she were weightless. Her chest hurt as her insides twisted into a brewing storm, one-part fear of the unknown and the other part hope that this guy might be the one to turn her night around. The truth was, Penny had spent a lot of time lately fearing that her condition would finally put her six feet under. She knew she would die soon enough, but she’d never felt an immediate fear of death, like it might happen right now.
The adrenaline that had kicked in and having this gorgeous specimen come to her rescue made her pussy cramp with desire. She squeezed her legs together the best she could on roller skates.
“Thank you,” she said. “I can’t believe I was so afraid.”
“You knew he was…different?” he asked.
“I was aware,” she said. “But not that he was…not that he was that thing.”
“Ferrets are cute,” he said. “Right?”
Cute how? Cute as in, “Oh my God, that kid has a pet ferret…how adorable!” Cute in that way, yes. Not cute in an “I want him to take me home and fuck my brains out” kind of way.
Penny stayed quiet too long to not make the situation awkward. She was torn between focusing on the incredible hue of his eyes and trying to figure out why this manly guy had just referred to ferrets as cute. In all honesty, she didn’t give a shit. She only wanted to get the rest of her date started. She’d been single far too long and had gone without sex nearly as long. Aside from a couple of drunken encounters over six months ago, she’d been in quite the dry spell. She’d always been the nerdy, quiet type. She would much rather spend her nights at home reading or binge watching a TV show rather than hitting the bars and trying to be the sex kitten she clearly wasn’t.
Tonight, Penny had been filled with hope, but then she suddenly wasn’t. A dart flew through the air and popped her inflated balloon. The dart came in the form of an equally handsome Latino man with biceps the size of her head. He, too, screamed sexual energy, but none of it was pointed in her direction. As his arms reached around the blond man and his heavy hands rubbed at the hunk’s shoulders, Penny realized there would be no going home with this hot alpha tonight. He had an alpha of his own.
Nothing was hotter than two gay men and the thought that they might include you in their upcoming rendezvous, except for them not being gay of course. These two men weren’t willing to dip their toes in the straight pool long enough to let her leap in and meet them in the deep end. She was not their type.
“Well,” the blond said. “I hope you learn to pick a better man next time.”
The guy behind him added, “Don’t worry, babe. You’ll know him when you see him. I did.”
They were absolutely adorable. They were ferret-cute. And just like that, Penny gave up on dating again. Maybe she’d try again on the next full moon, when wolves were hungry…not rodents.