A Midlife Supernaturals Short by T.J. Deschamps
Author’s Note: This is a short story from the Midlife Supernaturals verse and a meetcute for one of my favorite couples in the series. It is from Princess’s perspective and will give you insight into why she is not so keen on Miriam in the Eastside Hedge Witch. However, you needn’t have read any of my books to enjoy the story.
The mood in the kitchen sucked.
When you were in a pack, your alpha’s wellbeing mattered most. We all felt him when he didn’t shield. Gloom and grief suffocated the air with the anguish of one person, a hulking figure set aside from the others gathered at the table.
Gabriel, our alpha and Archangel of the Pacific Northwest, leaned against the kitchen counter, grimacing at his mug.
He was tall and dark haired like me. We both had light eyes, too. His were green and mine were blue but were close enough to be similar. We were both attractive in the way shifters usually were, muscled and chiseled were tossed about as descriptors. Those who didn’t know us assumed we were biological siblings instead of step siblings. He had a little extra in looks from his father—not that that had ever mattered to me. It did matter to a whole lot of shifter women. Hell, women in general. They didn’t care he was a mopey mess.
I did. He used to be the gregarious one and I was the sarcastic one. I’d liked our dynamic. Now, he didn’t do much but scowl and mope these days, and I sometimes came off as cruel instead of snarky.
Gabriel hadn’t been happy since he had to abjure his wife for cheating. Not just cheating but betraying the guardians and the angels by sleeping with an incubus.
I got why he was a sad sack but didn’t know why he didn’t challenge her. If my bonded mate had done what she’d done, I would have wanted blood. It was the shifter way. A challenge would also have the added benefit of exercising all that grief and anger. He could just draw first blood and get over her.
Instead, he brooded and wallowed, wishing Kirsten was someone she was not. I didn’t know who that person was, but his ex-wife was not the mate my stepbrother needed.
“Want to get started?” I asked Mr. Broody.
He lifted his head, blinked a few times as if registering he was here in the kitchen, not far away in Mopey Alpha land. He shook his head and plastered on his angelic grin. “Yes, of course.”
It freaked me out when he shifted moods that suddenly, but the rest of the pack didn’t seem to mind the clouds of doom parting for the smile set to high beam.
I got out the cream and sugar while Gabriel doled out assignments until it came down to three of our best trackers, a burly grizzly shifter named Sid, a wolf shifter named Lance, and a wolf shifter that got on my nerves, named Nate.
“I’ve heard some complaints from the Kennewick pack. They think their alpha is getting up to some shady business with a crossroads demon. I want you,” he said to Lance. “To take Syd and Nate, and head out to the Tri-cities. Announce yourself there as looking for mates. Sniff around and see if there’s any truth to it, but don’t get into any sort of confrontation without my go ahead unless forced. He’ll know someone reported him. I’m asking you to do this as the Archangel, not Ilpha’ We don’t want a pack civil war’over angelic business.”
I set my mug down with more force than necessary, coffee spilling over the edges. Hot liquid stinging my fingers, I glared at Gabriel. Another alpha accused of betraying his people required a visit from him, or at the very least, me. What the Hell was this cloak and dagger business? Sometimes his angelic upbringing made him more like them with their machinations and subversions. That was fine for dealing with other supernaturals, or if he were only the archangel, but he was also alpha of a larger pack. Like it or not, the unwritten protocol of shifters called for him to handle this like an alpha.
I sucked in my outrage and wiped up the mess, all the while seething inside because I wanted so very badly to call him on this. However, unlike Gabriel, I kept to protocol and my mouth closed until the others left. When they were gone, however, I let loose.
“Did I do something to piss you off?”
A muscle in Gabriel’s cheek feathered. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “Why would you ask that, Princess?”
He’d used a casual tone but tension, not my own, coiled within me. As alpha, he’d forgotten to shield his emotions from the pack lately, but nobody felt comfortable telling him. Except me. As beta and his half-sister, it was my job to keep him in check when he was being a jerk.
“Fine. Play stupid.” I opened the fridge pushing around the condiments to get jam for some toast, making a lot of noise in the process.
He exhaled loudly behind me. The tension uncoiled as he shielded his emotions. Thank God. The oppressive weight of his gloomy mood also lifted. I could breathe easier.
“I know how it would be handled if I were just another alpha under the orders of an archangel. However, I’m both. It takes away autonomy of the alphas for me to come in. I’d rather send scouts with good intentions, than come in and interrogate everyone. If the alpha of the Kennewick pack is pulling shady business, we’ll come down on him through a trial of alphas. If I handle this any other way, it’ll make other alphas distrustful of me, of our pack.”
I found the jam, rested my hand on it and closed my eyes. As usual, when it comes to matters of the pack, he was right. Sending me would have been suspicious. Everyone knew I didn’t want anything to do with finding a mate to bond with. It was bad enough I had my alpha’s moods to deal with. A mate would only complicate my position, too.
I remained silent while I poured my creamer. Reaching for the sugar shaker, I asked, “So, what’s my assignment?”
Gabriel’s shoulders relaxed. “I have this idea I’ve been mulling over. What do you think about forming something like an alpha council but invite any supernatural who seems like a leader to their people?”
I chewed my bottom lip, thinking it over. “Why do we need a council?”
“I was thinking of making community connections. It’s unfair that we serve as Guardians to a community that has no say in how they are ruled.”
My jaw hit the floor. Gabriel had kept a tight hold on being both alpha and archangel. We did as we were bid by the Angelic Anocracy and didn’t ask questions. Was he talking about forming something that wasn’t sanctioned by his Heavenly father? I didn’t know what to say or do. He was my alpha, but we answered to the angels. What was he thinking? We’d seen what happened to supes who didn’t fall in line. The Unseelie fae were nearly wiped out of existence.
He placed his hand on mine, tak’ng the sugar from my hand. He grinned. A bit of the old, playful Gabriel danced in his eyes. “When the coffee escapes the onslaught of sugar, you’re overdoing the honey badger shifter stereotype of loving sweets.”
My coffee and creamer had indeed spilled over the edges, leaving behind a sugary sludge in my cup. I frowned at the mess.
“I’m concerned,” I admitted, taking the cup to the sink and dumping the contents.
Gabriel grabbed a dishrag and mopped up the mess while I rinsed the cup. “I got that. Look, it’ll be a great way to take care of the problems of the community with input from the community. It’s more democratic than the way things have been, but society is changing. Cameras are everywhere. It’s going to become increasingly difficult to keep the mundane world veiled from the supernatural. I want to be proactive in adapting to these changes before it slips out of our control of how and when supernaturals reveal themselves.”
I started the process of making my coffee all over again.
Knowing forcing the issue wouldn’t work, he cleaned up the kitchen table and let me consider his proposal in silence.
He had a point. Supes were having a hard time hiding their nature. Viral videos of every manner of magical creature were coming out. Guardians, under their archangel’s direction, did their best to discredit them as conspiracy theories and highly edited work. The thing was that was bringing a lot of attention to the shifters who were doing the debunking. He seemed happy about this. There was a light in his eyes I hadn’t seen in a long time. Maybe, just maybe the council could pull him out of the long funk he’d been in.
“So, what’s my assignment?” I asked for the second time.
“I have one low fae who works for me, two demigods, and siren who have agreed to take a role on the council. That leaves cryptids.”
I sighed. “Do we have to include them? They’re so varied and don’t like people, even their own kind.”
He spread his hands. “With Seattle’s suburbs expanding, we have to. It’s better that we come to them through a person who they trust.” He pulled out his phone. “I’m sending the website and GPS location of a business run by a bigfoot named Aurora. I need you to convince her to come to the first meeting, Princess.”
“If you’re pulling this council together, why don’t you ask her yourself? You’re better at peopling than I am.” I took a sip of my coffee.
“What happened?” This should be good. Cryptids were elusive and didn’t form packs or covens, or anything that bound other groups together.
Gabriel wiped a hand over his face and blew out his breath.
A snort escaped. I couldn’t help it. This was hilarious. “She hid?”
He spread his hands. “I went to her shop. She took one look at me and ran into the back. I waited for fifteen minutes and left before she called the cops on me for loitering or did something else rash.”
“Did you try calling Olly Olly Oxen Free?”
A hint of grin touched his lips, giving way to a full smile. “No, but perhaps you could employ that tactic.”
The forecast said it would be a sunny and warm for the time of year. A perfect day for a ride. If Gabriel was going to task me with the boring business of recruiting a hippie dippy Bigfoot, at least I’d make the most of it. If you were a motorcyclist in Western Washington, you never took a car on the days the mountain is out. I grabbed my helmet, boots, and leather jacket and headed out.
There was a lot counting on this council thing Gabriel wanted to do. Mainly, his mental health, but also the health of the pack. There was a reason the Kennewick pack asked for his help. Alphas carried the burden of their pack’s wellbeing.
Gabriel had taken that seriously. We had everything we needed to sustain ourselves here. Wild game in the acres of forested land that he owned. A dairy barn, greenhouses to grow our own produce, and stables. We barely needed the outside world for much. In the massive garage filled with pack vehicles, I spied my motorcycle. Sleek, black and built to look like a classic 60’s bike but with modern engineering, I loved my bike.
I threw a leg over the seat, balanced, and booted the kickstand back. If this council was what my alpha needed to get better, I wasn’t about to let a shy cryptid ruin that. She would talk to me.
A woo woo looking shop was situated between a marijuana dispensary and a comicbook store. The scent of patchouli and incense made it into my helmet. Inwardly, I rolled my eyes and mentally prepared myself to drown in odors. Out of the three, I’d rather be headed into the comicbook store. Maybe this entire trip wouldn’t be wasted. I could stop there next and see if they have any Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel vintage issues while I’m in there. I wasn’t a D.C. or a Marvel purist. Since I was a kid, I had a thing for femme superheroes. Something about a good girl who could pack a punch did things for me.
I bet Gabriel parked right there at the open space in front of her shop. He was smart, but he wasn’t exactly street smart. The Bigfoot, used to the stink of her place, probably got a whiff of predator and booked it into the back of her store, or into the alley behind it. I would play it smart. I’d be in her space and demanding her presence before she could scent me.
After parking a couple of blocks down so she wouldn’t sniff me out right away and hide, I rested my helmet on the handlebar. I figured it was safe because there were a few more motorcycles parked with helmets there too. Muffled music played inside the bar. I didn’t mind bikers and hit a biker bar now and then. Not this one. There was a whole lot of masculine energy coming from this place and that wasn’t my vibe. Mundanes didn’t have the same sort of respect drilled into shifters—part of the reason I didn’t like Nate. He flirted despite me turning down every shot he took.
Two dudes, heavily pierced and tatted, walked out of a bar. One lit a cigarette and the other sucked on a vape. The combined odors hit my sensitive shifter nostrils, followed by the musk of something supernatural. They hid it under a glamour or spell, but it was hard to get past my nose.
I eyed them and lifted my chin, letting them catch my scent. Some supes were territorial. Some didn’t like shifters because we served as law enforcement of a sort for the Archangels. What were they that they didn’t mind polluting their bodies? Most cryptids didn’t get together as a group—not on Earth. However, if they had a problem with my kind, I wanted to get it over with, so I waited for them to speak.
The one with the cigarette pointed at my bike. “Nice ride. Your boyfriend let you borrow it?” He had an east coast accent. New Jersey or New York, maybe? I couldn’t tell.
“It’s mine.” I sank as much menace I could muster into my voice so they would take the hint and leave me be. Also, so they wouldn’t piss on my wheels while I was in Aurora’s shop.
“Are you some sort of hard ass?”
The two exchanged grins. The one with the cigarette took a drag on the exhale, he asked, “Kind of far from your pack to be starting trouble, aren’t you?”
“Don’t touch my shit and don’t mark my shit, and there’ll be no trouble.”
“Mark? What do you mean mark your shit?” the one with the cigarette growled.
“You know what I mean. Don’t piss on my bike.”
The quiet one with the vape breached the distance to my bike. A too-wide grin spread on his face as he held up his hands. “Don’t worry. I won’t touch it.”
I got a stronger whiff of his musk. Goat and bat? What the heck was he? While I pondered what kind of supe was messing with me, he kicked my front tire hard enough to knock my motorcycle onto me.
With shifter reflexes, I caught the bike. It was a distraction.
The dude with the cigarette lunged at me, letting out a bleating sound close to laughter but not anything a human could produce. I elbowed him in the solar plexus. His buddy roared. Something hard as iron connected with my face.
Soon both cryptids were pummeling me. I fought back, biting, clawing, and punching. It seemed to last forever. I gave as good as I got, tasting blood—mine and theirs. If I were in my honey badger form, I could take them. Maybe. Whatever they were was just as strong and fast as a shifter. Faster and stronger.
At least more than I was in human form.
They got me on the ground. I fought with all my training, but I was losing. They were right. I’d learned to fight with my pack. They knew I couldn’t handle both of them when they started this.
Would I die right here on the street? Surely someone would call the police. How many women went missing every day? All the statistics piled up in my punch-drunk head. I was going to die if I didn’t shift. I tried but couldn’t.
I’d vowed to never reveal my shifter nature to mundanes. Only Gabriel could lift the magic that bound me to that vow, and he wasn’t there.
I was going to die so mundanes wouldn’t have to learn they weren’t the apex predator. They were nowhere near close to being top of the food chain.
A roar as loud as thunder clapped my ears. I saw one dude’s eyes bulge as his body lifted from the ground. The other dude kicked me as he also went airborne.
A giant blonde woman smashed the two knuckleheads together. She dropped their unconscious bodies on the sidewalk. By this time, supes poured out of the bar.
“What the heck, Bev?” The blonde groused at a woman wearing an apron and a towel slung over her shoulder. Low fae by her smell. “You’re letting patrons harass women now?”
Bev shrugged, “They’re new to town. I didn’t know they’d be trouble.”
The blonde clucked her tongue. “Now the Archangel is going to show up again.”
“Funny that,” I said. Correction. I’d attempted to say. Between swollen lips and a likely fractured jaw, I’d spewed gibberish. I rolled onto my stomach wishing I hadn’t. The movement made the world spin. I retched my coffee.
Everyone gave me a wide berth. Movement indicated bodies being dragged away. I needed to detain them and bring them before Gabriel, but I was in no shape to protest.
Gentle hands pulled my hair away from my face. “Oh, sweetie. I think you’re concussed.” All the gruffness left her voice.
I believed she was right since the corners of my vision folded in on itself, leaving me in silent darkness.
When I woke, I found myself on a cot in what appeared to be a storeroom, surrounded by unfamiliar odors. Except one, the scent of the woman, no, the Bigfoot who saved me.
Her scent grew stronger along with the gentle clatter of beads, announcing her passing from the front of her store into the back with me. The willowy blonde was so tall she had to duck to miss the six-foot-high door frame. She wore an oversized, crocheted sweater and a broom skirt. Real flowers, daisies, decorated her golden hair. She carried a tray with a tea service.
“You’re awake.” She flashed a genuine smile that made my stomach do unfamiliar things. Then she set the tea service down, pouring a cup and handing it to me.
“Chamomile. Thank the Goddess you’re a shifter! Those Jersey Devils would’ve killed you for that insult if you were mundane. Then, we’d have to kill them to make it right. Let’s see if you can tolerate something to drink while we wait for your pack to come get you.”
When I accepted the tea, our fingers brushed. Hers were warm and soft. The glamour was a good one. Aurora looked and felt human. Before I took a sip, I asked, “You know I’m a shifter?”
She touched her nose. “Yup.”
“Jersey Devils, huh.” No wonder they kicked my ass. Jersey Devils had wyvern bodies and wyvern strength, and goats’ heads. That would explain the bleating and the roar, which they could do. “Where are they now?”
“Bev called the Archangel.” Her eyes grew large, and she covered her mouth. “Oh, I hope you don’t get in trouble for fighting in public. We’ll vouch for you, but you really shouldn’t have insulted them with that stereotype.”
“Nah.” I rubbed my head. That was the second time she’d said I’d insulted them, but I couldn’t remember saying anything personal or about cryptids. They stank, but I kept that to myself. “Wait. What stereotype?”
“That they piss on a female’s things to show interest. They’re sensitive about it.”
I sipped the tea. It was good. “Thanks for the tip and the tea. It was my first run in with Jersey Devils. Now I know.”
She flashed straight white teeth. “Maybe we can go to Bev’s and have a drink sometime? I can fill you in on cryptid culture.”
My heart thrummed in my chest. What the heck? Wait. Was she asking me out? More importantly, did I want to go out with her? She did save my bacon back there.
“Sounds fun. First round is on me. I owe you.”
She exhaled loudly as if relieved and then adamantly shook her head. “No. The first round is on Bev. This neighborhood owes you for not stopping that from happening. We look out for each other around here.”
I set the teacup on a shelf and sat all the way up. Time to do what I came for. “I wasn’t going to the bar.”
She frowned. “You weren’t?”
“I was here to see you, actually.”
Her face flushed prettily. “Oh! Were you interested in essential oils or candles?”
“Neither. I’m the Archangel’s second.” Then, I explained what Gabriel was trying to do. “I think we could really help each other so diplomatic issues like today won’t happen.”
She heard me out, but I could feel her pulling away. It was like clouds hiding the sun. Aurora looked at her hands. “Will you be at these meetings?”
Her face lit up. “Okay then. I’ll go.” She held up a finger. “Only to hear what he has to say. If I don’t like what’s proposed, I reserve the right to leave.”
I held out my hand. “Deal.”
Aurora hesitated for a moment then shook. Her touch was gentle and strong at once. She smiled.
My stomach did that odd fluttering again as I smiled at my hero; the hippie Bigfoot named Aurora.
For more books with Princess and Aurora: https://books2read.com/Eastside-Hedge-Witch