“Owowowow!” I yelled, my eye watering as she pulled the lid away from my eyeball and crimped the hairs. “You’re a damned liar, Kara Reynolds.”
“Beauty is pain, babe,” Mo advised me. I snaked my hand around Kara and took a swipe at my sister-in-law. Since she could freaking move, she just danced out of the way.
“Well, just focus on your breathing, and you should be fine,” Kara said wryly as she went for the other eye.
“You stay away from me, you psycho.”
“You can’t just walk around with one set curled. It looks weird,” Mo protested.
“It can’t make that much of a difference,” I shot back. Mo rolled her eyes and thrust a hand mirror in front of my face. “Oh, I guess it does.”
Since the lift and curve of my newly pressed eyelashes really did make them look bigger, I dutifully sat still while they put three shades of gray eye shadow on my eyelids, followed by eyeliner . . . then they wiped the whole thing off and started from scratch because it was “too much.”
“What’s that called?” I asked as Mo painted a bright, bold red across my lips.
She checked the little label on the end of the lip-gloss tube. “Cabaret.” I frowned, so Mo added, “As in, ‘life is a’?”
“When you wonder why we don’t always understand each other, it’s because of jokes like that,” I told her. Mo huffed and slicked my lips with gloss.
I wasn’t allowed to see a mirror. Kara kept muttering under her breath about killer cheekbones and “lucky bitch who doesn’t even appreciate her teeny-tiny pores.” Finally, they stood staring at me, trying to figure out what to do next.
“Maybe we could. . .” Kara trailed off.
“No, she’s perfect,” Mo said, stopping Kara’s hand as she reached toward me with the powder brush. “Doing anything else would make her overdone.”
“I think I hate her,” Kara said. Mo shrugged.
They turned me around to face the mirror.
I was me but different. My hair looked as if I actually planned for it to fall around my face in dark waves, instead of all messy and wind-blown. My eyelashes felt all stiff and goopy, but they looked damn good. The cinched-up dress showed off the few curves I had, and the satiny red scarf Mo had tied around my dress made my waist look tiny. Don’t get me wrong, I like me. But seeing this hotter, femme incarnation of myself was very cool.
“Let me get this straight. You guys spend an hour scrubbing and polishing your faces, putting on three layers of makeup, and fiddling with your hair so you can like me after I take most of the makeup off ?” I asked, grinning at them.
“Yep, definitely hate her,” Kara decided.
Mom gasped and scrambled for a camera when I emerged from Barbieville, USA.
“Mom,” I moaned.
“Oh, hush, you’re gorgeous. And it’s not like you went to your senior prom. Give me a chance to fuss.”
“This is why I didn’t go to my senior prom!”
Mom snapped picture after picture, from every angle conceivable. Only Eva’s spitting up in my mother’s hair persuaded her to stop. I mentally doubled the amount I’d budgeted for Eva’s first Christmas present.
“Mom, it’s just a party. There’s no reason to make a big deal out of it,” I told her. “It’s just another Friday night at the Glacier.”
AND I THOUGHT so, right until we got to the edge of town and I lost my nerve. I wasn’t about to change for some stupid guy. Even if he was hot and available and a werewolf, I didn’t want Clay to think he had that kind of power over me. Screw this; the minute Mo was in the door, I was going to phase and run home.
Eyeing the way I was gripping the truck door, Mo warned, “You do that, and I’m telling Samson you were too chicken-shit to go to a silly dance.”
I grunted, growling at her and shoving a couple of warm, cheesy mini-quiches into my mouth.
“I hate you,” I muttered as Cooper parked his truck in front of the Glacier. “I hate the both of you.”
“And me, too?” Kara asked.
“You, too,” I muttered. “Welcome to the family.”
“I’m so touched.” Kara sighed, with her hand over her heart.
“Well, hate me while you’re carrying in that tray of mini-egg rolls, OK?” Mo asked, handing me one of a dozen carefully wrapped parcels of appetizers for the party. “But eventually, you will agree that you look hot and I am right, I have always been right, and I always will be right.”
“It’s best not to argue with her when she’s like this,” Kara told me. “She literally remembers every single occasion she was right. She still brags about warning me against fluffy bangs in tenth grade.”
“But you went ahead and did it anyway,” Mo snickered. “And now, who hides her sophomore yearbook like it’s homemade porn?”
“I’ll pay you ten bucks to see the yearbook,” I offered Mo.
“Done,” Mo said, grinning. Kara scowled at us both. And it struck me that, other than the facial torture devices and hair shellac, hanging out with girls wasn’t that different from hanging out with the boys. They didn’t care if I cursed at them. We called each other names and threatened each other regularly. That was pretty much my top three activities with my male packmates. I wasn’t ready to let them paint my toenails, but maybe I wouldn’t respond quite so rudely the next time Mo asked me over for a movie night or something.
As we came through the door, goodies in hand, Alan sidled up to Kara and kissed her cheek.
“Hey, sweetheart, who’s that with you—” Alan started as I took off my coat and turned toward him. “Holy shit!” he exclaimed. The room got quiet as everyone turned to see what had made straight-arrow Alan curse. I heard glass crashing to the floor and looked to see Buzz holding a dishrag in one hand and a shocked expression on his face.
“Thank you,” I muttered to Alan.
Clay looked very nice, if not uncomfortable, in a crisp white shirt and red tie. He’d obviously taken time to get his sandy hair in some order. Clay and Cooper eyed each other and gave each other a distant but not unfriendly nod, which I thought was pretty normal for brother-date interactions. At least, Cooper didn’t start cleaning a firearm in front of him.
“Clay,” I said, waiting for some comment as he eyed me from head to toe.
“Wanna get a beer?” he asked, having to shout a little now that the band Evie and Buzz had brought in from Dearly had started a bad rendition of “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” People were moving toward the dance floor in twos, doing dance steps I knew I was in no way qualified to execute.
“Sure,” I said, a little taken aback that he hadn’t even mentioned that I wasn’t wearing jeans and flannel. Was he setting me up for some sort of joke? “So, uh, you don’t have anything to say, something smart-assy about my dress or the stuff on my eyelids?”
He shrugged. “You always look this good.”
“Oh, I like you,” I said, smiling at him as he put his arm around me and walked me to the bar.
Across the room, Nick was talking to Alan, Kara, and Darby Carmichael, a checker at Hannigan’s Grocery. Darby was a tall brunette with a heart-shaped face and big caramel-brown eyes. I’d never really paid much attention to her before, but now, given the way her fingers were curling around Nick’s arm, I sort of hated her. With the fiery passion of a thousand suns.
Nick saw me with Clay and frowned. He looked down at his beer, and I could see his hand flex around the bottle.
Ha, right back at you, Doc.
“Wanna get a table?” I asked. “I’ll grab the beers.”
Clay grinned and waved at Mo as he claimed one of the booths near the pool tables.
“Maggie, what are you doing?” Mo asked, smiling around the question and waving back at Clay.
“I’m here with Clay.”
The line of her mouth did this weird pretzel thing, which was pretty funny. “I thought you were going to meet Nick here.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Well, Cooper mentioned that you two were getting close. Or ‘got pretty close to something.’ I don’t know. He flushed beet-red and started to mumble about concussions. I love him, but I don’t always understand him,” she said, frowning.
“Well, he neglected to mention the part where I told Nick that us getting close was a hallucination brought on by head injury.”
“Yeah, he did leave that part out,” Mo said, chewing on her lip. “This is why we need to spend more time together. I need unfiltered information.”
“Well, I’m sorry your makeover efforts for Nick were in vain.”
“Oh, honey, that wasn’t for Nick. We’ve been itching to do that for a while. It had to be done, for the good of mankind,” Mo told me. I frowned. Mo made a gesture toward her upper lip. “Mustaches are for porn stars and Tom Selleck, not young ladies.”
“Fuck you very much, Mo.”
“Don’t kiss my daughter with that mouth. I’m afraid of what she’ll pick up.”
I made a sour face at her as I sauntered back toward the table. As I was walking past the restroom corridor, there was a yank on my arms. I was rather proud that I didn’t spill a drop of beer as Nick pulled me into the little hallway.
“Hands! Hands!” I exclaimed, shrugging out of the hold he had on my arms. He held up his hands in a defensive position but didn’t step away. He kept his voice low, quiet, as he murmured, “Sorry, I didn’t know how else to get your attention.”
“How about ‘Hey, Maggie, how about we have a conversation that doesn’t involve lurking near a men’s room?’ “
“That probably would have been better,” he agreed. “So, I wanted to tell you, I’m in.”
“I really don’t know how to respond to that.”
He rolled his eyes. “I mean, I’m willing to give up the possibility of ever telling anyone about your family, if you let me study your pack. I want to know everything there is to know about you. It would be worth it, just to have my questions answered. I give you my word, it would be for my own personal enlightenment. I will never tell a soul.”
The intensity of his voice, the close proximity of his mouth to my ear, sent a shiver down my spine. I cleared my throat, backing away as much as the wall would allow.
He continued, “We don’t even have to tell your family what I’m doing. In fact, their behavior would probably be more natural if they didn’t know why I was there. You can always tell them we’re dating.”
“I can’t tell them that, because they know that I’m already dating Clay.”
The confident nonchalance he’d been using melted away, and he seemed honestly bewildered for a moment. “You were serious about that? I thought you were just trying to put me off at the clinic.”
“I was trying to put you off at the clinic with information that’s true. We’ve been out a few times,” I said, shrugging. “He’s a nice guy, a member of the pack. And that’s important.”
I looked down the corridor to make sure none of the other guests was within earshot. But given the head-splitting volume at which the band was playing, it wouldn’t matter if they were. “Fewer and fewer of us are mating with werewolves. We’re basically breeding ourselves out of existence. There are more dead-liners—that’s what we call our relatives who can’t phase—living in the village than pack members.”
“Hold on, hold on,” Nick muttered, patting his pockets for his little notebook. He settled his glasses on his nose and found a pen. He took a deep breath and smiled at me. “Explain.”