Ashton Grove Werewolves, Book 9
by Jessica Coulter Smith
eBook ISBN: 9781310548284
[ Shifter Romance ]
When were-tiger Cain Boudreaux takes it upon himself to “save” Allie from a handsy customer, by claiming her in front of their pack mates no less, things get a little out of hand. He’s rude, chauvinistic, and totally not her type.
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Allie Jenson swept her bangs out of her face and pulled the dishtowel from her apron. Wiping down the table in front of her, she wondered how much longer she had to be in this God awful place. With a waitressing background, she’d thought it would be easy to get a job at a diner or something, but no one in Ashton Grove had been hiring. So here she stood, in a micro-mini skirt and a skintight shirt, getting her ass pinched every few minutes. She supposed it could be worse. She could be working across town in the strip joint. If Lagoona Paradise hadn’t hired her, that would have been her next stop. She wasn’t too proud to admit that maybe she’d made a mistake coming to Ashton Grove. First demons and now demeaning jobs. If she didn’t hold out hope that her mate was in the pack, she’d hit the road and search for a new place to call home.
But then, that’s how she’d landed in Ashton Grove. She’d been bouncing from pack to pack all across the US, never finding a place that quite felt like home. The Ashton Grove pack was different from what she was used to, and it wasn’t just the two alphas. The people were friendlier and there were lots of pack gatherings. From what she’d heard, before the word demon was ever mentioned, there had been a lot of good times to be had in the pack. She wished they could go back to those days. Now they were down to one alpha while Gabriel locked himself away to mourn the loss of his mate and child.
Allie didn’t begrudge him his time alone, even understood it having lost family herself, but the pack needed him. Surely he realized that! He had a garage to run, for starters. She’d heard that Michael had taken over until Gabriel rejoined the land of the living, but something needed to give pretty soon. Word was out that Kinley, the sugar glider shifter who had just mated an angel, had been visiting Gabriel daily. At first, Allie had thought it was good news that maybe their alpha was coming around, but that had been weeks ago and still nothing new happened. Gabriel was still acting like a hermit, with the exception of Kinley and Adriel visiting him.
Allie went up to the bar to pick up an order for table three, steeling herself for the touches and pats from the men sitting there. She’d accidently used her werewolf strength the first night she’d worked at Lagoona’s and had nearly broken a customer’s hand. Ever since, she’d just gritted her teeth and put up with the grabby assholes sitting in her section. There were a few good men who came to see her, regulars who treated her civilly. Unfortunately, none of them were in sight tonight. She glanced across the room at Hunter’s table and wished her pack had come to sit in her section, but she understood why they hadn’t. She’d seen Hunter watching Holly, one of the other waitresses, and knew he’d chosen the table with the best view for his favorite pastime.
As she set the first bottle of beer down at table three, the big human with the mustache reached over and patted her on her ass. She ground her teeth together, to keep from snapping at him, and calmly set the other bottles down in front of the other three men.
“Can I get you gentlemen anything else?” she asked, trying to keep her voice sweet and light.
“Just you, honey.” The one with the mustache leered at her.
“I’m afraid I’m not on the menu, guys.”
“Aww, come on. We just want to have a little fun. We’d treat you right,” he said.
A shiver raked down her spine. They wanted to share her? All four of them? She hoped her face didn’t show her distaste. She took a step back, getting out of grabbing range, told them once more that she wasn’t interested, and then walked away, head held high. She heard them calling out to her, but she didn’t stop, didn’t look back. When she reached the bar, she set her tray down and sighed in relief. She’d thought for a moment that things would get ugly.
She might not love this job, but she needed it. The pack owned the apartments where she lived, but there was still rent to pay. A nominal amount compared to what she’d be paying elsewhere, but there were also utilities and cable. Not to mention car insurance and gas to put in her car and, with the way gas prices had been climbing, that wasn’t cheap. If it weren’t for all of her moving around, she’d wish she had a smaller vehicle. The large SUV came in handy when it came time to load up her boxes though. She hoped her days of moving around were over, she really did, but there were days when she wondered if she’d made the right decision. More than once she’d contemplated hitting the road and seeing where life would take her, what adventure would next be on her list of things to do.
What she needed was a man who would be her all-time adventure, a man worth settling down with, but she was starting to wonder if that would happen. She’d dated a few guys in the pack, but she hadn’t felt that pull that she’d always heard about. They’d been nice, and the dates had been pleasant, but other than that initial amount of lust, there’d been no spark. So she’d passed on a second date and had moved on. She’d heard rumblings that she was a tease because she wouldn’t invite her dates inside at the end of the night. It was no secret they wanted more from her than she was willing to give, but she’d made a vow when she was a kid and she’d kept it so far. No man was getting between her legs, unless he was her mate. She hadn’t led a pristine life, had even been caught stealing once or twice, but it was the one gift she could give her mate. The knowledge that no one had come before him. She would belong to him and only him.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw two males settle in her section. She adjusted her ponytail, brushed her bangs aside once more, and went to greet her new customers. It was with a great deal of relief that she noticed it was two pack members, Cain Boudreaux and Sawyer Braxton. She knew they worked together at Connor’s construction company, and usually Rex McKinnon was with them. They’d sat in her section a few times, but usually preferred one of the tables near the wall in the back. She supposed it was so they could survey the whole room.
“Hey guys.” She smiled. “Two beers?”
“Bring a pitcher of whatever’s popular tonight,” Sawyer said. “Rex should be joining us soon. I think he was going to see if Adriel wanted a night out. He stays glued to Kinley so we try to get him out every now and then for some time with the guys.”
Cain laughed. “Yeah, dude’s whipped.”
Allie frowned. “So, because he loves his mate and wants to spend time with her, he’s whipped? I feel sorry for your mate, Boudreaux. Women like to feel wanted, needed, as if they’re the most important thing in your life. Seems like Adriel already figured that out.”
Cain shook his head. “Not gonna happen. No woman is gonna grab this tiger by the tail and lead me around by my whiskers. My mate is going to know she’s important, but she’s also going to know her place.”
Allie’s eyebrows arched. “Her place? As in what, barefoot in the kitchen?”
He shrugged. “I make a comfortable living. No sense in my woman working if she doesn’t have to.”
“Need I remind you that every mated woman in this pack works? Marin works with Cole at Sabin Bio-Med, Chloe works with Matt in real estate, Aislinn helps Connor with his office work, Kendall works from home but she does have a job. Even Kiera… she helped Gabriel with office stuff when he needed her assistance Her main job was helping take care of the pack though.”
“You forgot Harper.” Cain said with a grin.
“Harper decided to be a stay-at-home mom,” Allie conceded. “But you’d better believe Ramsey would let her work if that’s what she decided she wanted to do. I can’t see him ordering her to stay home and clean house every day.”
Cain held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. You’ve made your point, cher.”
“Don’t you ‘cher’ me you overgrown Cajun carpet.” Sawyer snickered and she narrowed her eyes at him.
“I can’t wait to meet your mate,” Sawyer said. “He’d better have a sharp wit and a strong will. Otherwise, you’re going to run right over him.”
Allie rolled her eyes and strolled off to place their order. Sawyer was nice, but if he were her mate, she’d probably run screaming into the night. He thought he was God’s gift to women but, thankfully, he hadn’t hit on her. And then there was Cain. The stoic were-tiger, who was apparently something of a chauvinist. She couldn’t believe him! Her place, indeed. She hoped he mated a lioness, a woman who would beat him over the head with a skillet for even suggesting her place was in the kitchen. If anyone deserved to be henpecked by their mate, it was Cain.
The bartender slid the pitcher on her tray and she carried it back to their table, along with two mugs. Along the way her not-so-favorite table stopped her, with mustache guy reaching his grubby paw out and gripping her arm.
“Hey, sweet thing.” He smiled and his breath was bad enough to make her wrinkle her nose. “We’re ready for another round.”
She nodded. “I’ll bring it over in a minute. Have to deliver this first.”
He released her, only to pat her on her ass again. She gritted her teeth and continued on her path to Cain and Sawyer’s table. Don’t kill him. He tips well. She repeated it over and over, trying to calm herself. Really, she’d put up with most anything if the man tipped well enough. It was how she made her money, after all. Not that she should have to put up with grabby men like Mr. Mustache, but it was just part of her job. Be nice to the customers, and they’ll tip you well. At least, in theory. She had a few that left her a dollar or two on a sixty dollar tab. Cheapskates.
Cain was staring at Mr. Mustache when she arrived at their table. She placed the pitcher in the middle, and then gave each of them a mug. Rex and Adriel still hadn’t shown, but she’d bring more mugs when they did.
“Why do you put up with that?” Cain asked.
“It’s part of my job.” She sighed. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Yeah, might as well place a food order. How about two orders of wings, some chili cheese fries, and some of those potato skin wedges?” Sawyer asked. “I think that will stave off our hunger for a bit.”
Allie tucked the tray under her arm and scribbled the order on her notepad. When she went back to the bar, Mr. Mustache grabbed her ass again. She shrugged it off, best as she could, and kept going. A loud rumble from behind had her turning around. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw Cain leaning into the man’s space, a snarl on his lips.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” Cain growled.
“Or what?” Mr. Mustache smirked. “You gonna make me? You a big tough guy? What’s it to ya anyway?”
Cain leaned in closer and, in a voice that carried across the room, said, “That woman happens to be mine. If you want to keep your hands, you’ll keep them to yourself.”
Allie gasped in outrage and glanced toward Hunter’s group. Yep, they were looking, and seemed rather intrigued by the scene. Damned tiger. He’d really gone and done it now. She watched as Cain backed away and she followed him back to his table, where she smacked him on the arm with her tray.
“What the fuck!” He narrowed his eyes at her.
“You just claimed me in front of the pack, asshole.”
He glanced around and shrugged. “We’ll get it cleared up at the next pack meeting. I wasn’t going to stand back and watch that ass hat harass you. You’re welcome, by the way.”
“Ohhh,” she growled, stomping her foot. “You think you can just clear it up at the next get together? What about until then? You just declared me off limits to every guy I know.”
“You mean there were some you hadn’t dated yet?”
“I’ve gone out with exactly three wolves,” she said through gritted teeth. “That’s hardly the whole pack. Can you say the same? Weren’t you out with Jenny just the other day?”
“It wasn’t a date,” he said, taking a sip of his beer. “We were just hanging out – as friends.”
“Whatever. If I’ve lost my tip because of you, I’m charging you double for your beer.”
She stormed off to the bar, setting her tray down with a bang. The manager stepped up beside her.
“Are we going to have a problem, Allie? Your boyfriend just harassed one of my best customers.”
“He’s not my boyfriend. And no, sir, we won’t have a problem.”
“See that we don’t. Another mishap and you’re out on your delectable ass.”
If she ground her teeth any tighter, they’d crack. She was seriously going to skin that tiger and use him for a rug! He’d look perfect stretched out on the floor in front of her sofa. An image of a very naked Cajun tiger stretched out in front of her sofa, hard in all the right places, beckoning her closer, flashed through her mind. No! Bad Allie! He’s trouble, a man’s man who doesn’t believe women should work. He probably doesn’t even think they should vote!
She grabbed a fresh round of drinks for her troublesome table and went to deliver them, anxious for her shift to be over. The sooner she could get out of Lagoona’s, the better off she’d be. She had just set the drinks down on Mr. Mustache’s table, when he snaked an arm around her waist and hauled her into his lap. Her skin crawled from the contact and she struggled to get up. When a grubby hand cupped her breast, she fought like a wildcat. Grabbing her ass was one thing, but you just didn’t touch the girls without an invite!
The table went flying as Allie was freed. Her jaw dropped when she saw Cain had grabbed Mr. Mustache, hauling him up against the wall by his throat. The man’s feet kicked at the air as he struggled to breathe, fought to get free. She took a moment to admire the muscles bulging in Cain’s arms before she swooped in to save the poor schmuck who’d grabbed her. The tiger was causing all sorts of trouble today. Obviously, someone needed to put a leash on him.
Cain, kneeling at her feet with a collar around his neck, ready to worship her, was a heady thought. One she shook right out of her head as she moved forward to pull him away from Mr. Mustache. The two of them in a bed would never happen. It would be like oil and water. Her being the pure clear water, him being the nasty slimy oil.
“Cain, let him go.” She pulled on his arm, not budging him an inch. The muscles under her fingers felt like steel bands and she wondered what he did to work out. Toss boulders the size of small cars?
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Mustache croaked. “Won’t touch her again.”
“I told you if you wanted to keep your hand, you’d keep your paws to yourself,” Cain said. “I should rip your arms off and beat you with them.”
The man gasped, his eyes widening.
“Cain, he isn’t worth it. Just let him go.”
Ignoring her, Cain slammed the man into the wall again. When he released him, Cain landed a solid punch to the guy’s stomach, knocking the wind right out of him. Allie thought that would be it, but Cain grabbed a handful of the man’s hair, pulled his head back and planted his fist into his face. She winced at the man’s busted nose and tried once more to get control over Cain, but he brushed her off.
“You don’t treat women like they’re toys, here for your amusement,” he growled at Mr. Mustache. “She’s working her ass off to pay her bills, not so you can grope her.”
Allie’s eyebrows shot up. For a man who didn’t believe women should work, he was doing admirably well defending her job. A noise at the front of Lagoona’s drew her attention and she winced when she saw two police officers heading their way. She pulled on Cain’s arm again.
“Come on, Cain. Let him go.”
Cain landed another punch before dropping Mr. Mustache to the ground. Allie was pried away from Cain by one of the officers. It took both men to get Cain under control and in cuffs. She was a little surprised the pack didn’t try to interfere. Allie tried to follow Cain out the door, but one of the officers pushed her back.
“You need to wait here, Miss. An officer will be in momentarily to take your statement.”
She didn’t want to wait; she wanted to find out what was going to happen to Cain! No, he shouldn’t have hit that man; he really shouldn’t have, but he’d done it to protect her. No one had ever done anything like that before. If there was anything she could do to help him now, she would. She felt bad that he was being hauled off in cuffs.
She scented Hunter a moment before his hand landed on her shoulder.
“Never mess with a shifter’s mate,” he said.
“I’m not his mate.”
Hunter smiled. “Are you sure? He did claim you, after all. Something tells me he wouldn’t have reacted so…enthusiastically if that guy had manhandled anyone else.”
“Cain and I don’t make much sense. He was just helping me out is all.”
“If you say so.” Hunter smiled again, looking as if he knew something she didn’t. She hated that smile.
An officer came in and spoke with her and the man now holding an icepack to his nose. It took longer than she would have liked, but it couldn’t be helped. And wouldn’t you know it, thanks to Cain, she’d lost her job. While there was a twinge of relief, at the thought of not being groped anymore, there was also the bitter taste of defeat in her mouth. How was she going to pay rent now?
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