If you missed it, click here to start at the beginning….
“Cut it out,” I muttered, grabbing my keys and wallet and stealing one quick glance in the hall mirror. I needed to be on time. I needed to look professional…
…And I needed to rebutton my blouse. Because, despite my best efforts, I’d still managed to mismatch the rows.
My day. My choice, the wolf inside me grumbled. She forced me to drop the car keys back into the bowl by the door then bent our body double until clean cuffs dragged against grubby floor tiles. Run. Hunt. Come, Adena.
The raven responded to our body language with a caw and a rustle of feathers, hopping off the coat rack to land on our curved spine. Both bird and wolf were willing to blow off the most important lecture of the semester in favor of stalking rabbits in the empty lot three blocks over. Unlike me, they had no concerns about losing our job and winding up homeless when we failed to pay the bills.
Wolves don’t need houses, my inner beast scoffed. Wolves need pack.
“How about blood?”
The body she commanded froze, knees pressing against unyielding floor tiles. We sank back onto our skirted bum, the welcome mat managing to scratch our skin despite the fabric in between.
My wolf was listening.
“Hot blood,” I elaborated, pressing my index fingernail against the pad of my thumb to measure sharpness. The claw had receded but my human nail was longer than it had been when we’d started our morning power struggle. Still, my nails weren’t so claw-like that I’d have to rush back to the bathroom and clip them. If the wolf accepted our humanity, we didn’t have to be late.
“Salty. Tasty,” I continued. Testing my muscles, I rose into a more human posture. “Look.”
Flicking open the drinking spout of the insulated coffee mug, at first I smelled nothing. Then, my wolf’s interest piqued.
Colors dimmed. Scents sharpened. Saliva pooled in our shared mouth.
I hurried through the locking of one door and unlocking of another. But my wolf didn’t stay distracted long.
Now, she demanded as my hand made contact with the cool metal of the car door handle.
I tried to clench my fingers sufficiently to pull up on the lever, but my left hand was the one that moved without my permission. The mug lifted to my lips. Drink, the wolf demanded.
I couldn’t bait and switch, so I swallowed the thick liquid I’d bought in the butcher’s freezer section yesterday then primed in the microwave moments earlier. The notion of what I was sucking down repulsed me. The taste was vile.
The wolf disagreed. Pleasure suffused us. Was she or I the one being strengthened by the liquid some poor cow had lost while being processed into hamburgers?
The demand that followed was most definitely lupine. More.
“Once we get there,” I countered. This time, I managed to slide into the car so we could speed toward campus. It was only a three-minute drive and my lecture wasn’t scheduled to begin for another four minutes. I wasn’t yet officially late.
More! Furry fingers clenched around the steering wheel, swerving us sideways. The car’s fender narrowly missed a pedestrian, who yelled something I was glad was blocked by the closed window. Adena responded from the passenger seat with a round of avian swearing as I turned into the closest lot.
“We’re almost there.” I needed both hands to park and grab my laptop case, but I rolled my tongue around in my mouth to capture the final molecules of blood.
The effort was a sop to my wolf and she responded with a minuscule relaxation sufficient to allow me to exit the vehicle. Our knuckles were hairless—mostly. And I found myself able to juggle the mug and the laptop once Adena abandoned me in favor of her customary tree branch.
Sunny March weather meant the raven preferred to stay outside while I lectured. My wolf had similar inclinations. But the salty liquid on my tongue soothed her. She hummed her satisfaction as I swallowed one last particle of blood.
The bell tower chimed, knocking me off my stride. Shoot. I’d forgotten that my car clock ran two minutes slow.
Sprinting, I clung to the mug while rebuttoning my blouse and trying not to let the laptop strap bounce off my shoulder. The halls were empty. Everyone must have already settled into their seats.
I burst through the door, gazing up at the packed lecture hall. My eyes slid over the back corner, hiccuped as my wolf struggled for dominance.
She wanted to greet him. She wanted to lick him. She wanted to….
Squashing her interest, I moved on to assess the room professionally.
I was late, but the turnout was excellent. I could still make this appearance work.
“Ah, here she is now.” The new department chair turned to greet me, only a faint twitching in her cheek denoting her disapproval of my tardiness. “Please give a warm welcome to Dr. Olivia Hart.”
The clapping was effusive. I smiled then leaned over the nearby table, setting down my bag in preparation for hooking my laptop up to the projector.
And my wolf pounced.
“Blood.” Her words. My mouth. A titter from the audience.
Not now! This time I was the one speaking silently. She was the one grabbing the travel mug and upending it over our tilted face.
Ruby red liquid poured out the hole in the top, glinting in reflected sunlight before gushing over our taste buds. Most we swallowed—after all, the wolf thought this treat was delicious. But some overflowed onto our chin, the table, the neck of our blouse.
White no longer, my work attire was now streaked with crimson. I glanced down, cheeks heating at the way blood puddled between my breasts.
This wasn’t how I’d intended my lecture to start.