David Mercer answered his cell on the fifth ring, which didn’t help my mood any. I skipped past the pleasantries and proceeded to chew out my on-again, off-again, currently way off, boyfriend. “Did you even talk to Malone before giving her my number?”
“Of course I did,” he said evenly. “How do you think she got your number?”
I squeezed my eyes shut and slowly said, “Did you. Physically. In the flesh. Get a look at her first?”
“Oh yes, I did get a look at her. She’s a bit pregnant.”
“She says she’s a month along. Come on. You know that can’t be right.”
“She says it’s right. That makes it strange, yes? You said you wanted the strange stuff sent your way.”
“Strange as in X-Files,” I said. “Not strange as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“Being a bit close-minded for a werewolf, aren’t we?”
“David, listen. She admitted to having the occasional one-night stand. So, maybe she got knocked up, oh, I don’t know, nine months ago. And here comes this guy, and maybe she thinks he’s loaded, so she’s setting him up. I don’t want any part of that.”
“That sounds a bit far-fetched.”
I laughed. “And being only a month along doesn’t? She shouldn’t be showing this early.”
“Aaaannnd we’re right back to why it’s strange.”
I began to pace in a tight circle in front of the restaurant. The thing was, even while I was thinking it was part of some wack-a-doodle plot to get child support, even while I was thinking it was a gross tumor, I was also thinking that my bullshit detector wasn’t going off. I was thinking that she was telling the truth.
I was thinking that I didn’t like that.
I asked David if he believed her. She’d waddled into the sheriff’s office a couple of days ago, looking for this mysterious man with the super sperm, and after the deputy manning the desk had brushed her off, David had abandoned the report he’d been writing and had followed her out.
“Yes,” he said, with no hesitation. “I do believe her. I know it sounds fantastic, but I do believe her.”
“I was afraid of that,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Hell, I believe her too.”
I ended the call. I was putting my cell phone back inside my jacket when the back of my neck began tingling. It’s a sort of danger sense, and usually it means I’m about to get bashed in the skull. I turned around. No one threatening me with a baseball bat or a beer bottle. No one around me, as it turned out.
I scrubbed my neck. Hairs were standing up. Something was freaking me out. What?
I turned in a slow circle. The parking lot was nearly deserted; the restaurant was in the lull between lunch and dinner. The few cars in the lot were empty. I started walking to my car, which I’d parked far from the building. My nose worked the area, drawing in scents, disregarding them as no threats as quickly as it smelled them.
Until I came to the parking space next to the one that had held Jennifer Malone’s car. The tingling on my neck ramped up. Felt like millions of tiny ants marching up and down my flesh. Both spaces were empty, but a smell lingered. A smell the werewolf inside me hated.
I heard growling, realized it was coming from me. I left the area, puzzled by the smell. I didn’t recognize it, but it made me think of something . . . I couldn’t put my finger on what, though.
Not until I was safely inside my Mustang. Then I had it. The smell reminded me of the snake house in the Houston zoo.
Reptilian. The smell was reptilian. It was scales and vertical slit eyes and cold blood.