rubberducky

Who would be stupid enough to try and get into a fight here?

Answer: Me.

In my defense, I hadn’t planned on the fight.

It was the crazy-eyed shifter who’d crashed into me at the buffet—she started it.

The buffet was loaded with everything from raw cuts of meat—for the shifters—to the most beautiful sugar-spun pastries you could imagine. I was staying far away from the area where things were still bleeding and focusing on the sweets. The sparkly little ball of puffy dough should have looked too pretty to eat.

I’d eaten five of them before I could stop myself and was pondering a sixth when she moved in front of me.

She was so close, I could feel the ripple of her energy on my skin—way too close and I didn’t like it.

I backed up two inches before I realized what I was doing and then I wanted to kick myself.

I already recognized the feel of shifter—and the feel of bitch.

A smug smile curled her lips and I knew I’d just broken one of the cardinal rules when dealing with shapeshifters.

Never back down until they throw you down or your life depends on it.

I could brazen it out, though.

I can brazen my way through anything. With a bright smile, I met her gaze. “Hello.”

She just continued to stare.

A chill raced down my spine, but I ignored it and selected another sweet, this one a delicate cake that resembled a miniature pumpkin—complete with the grinning jack o’ lantern.

She caught my hand before I could pop the cake in my mouth.

“You weren’t raised very well, were you?”

Her voice grated across my nerves.

The words, too, rubbed me raw, but while I can’t lie and say I’ve accepted my less than desirable upbringing, I had come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t me who screwed up.

With an easy smile, I said, “Nope.”

Then, moving into her grip, I waited and when her grip slackened just the slightest, I twisted away. People never expect you to move in when you’re being forcibly restrained.

Once her hand fell away, I backed up—fast.

She’d already tried to grab me again, but now there was five feet between us—and eyes on us.

Instead of advancing, she flared her nostrils and scented the air. “Human,” she pronounced and she said it the same way I might say dead mouse—with utter distaste.

“Guilty.” I gave her a wide grin. “At least, partially guilty. There’s something more in the bloodline than just human.”

“All that matters is the human,” she said, shaking her head. “No wonder you have no manners. I’m curious just what the Alpha sees in you.”

A few more gazes slid our way. Most people only glanced out of curiosity before looking away, but more than a few started to watch us and the low murmur of voices in the immediate vicinity went quiet.

“I don’t know.” I still held my plate. I dragged my finger through the sugary powder that had fallen onto it, and then, still watching her, I popped my finger into my mouth. “Maybe he likes human.”

“For meat.” She all but purred it.

Meat. What the more asshole shifters called those they considered prey.

“If that was what he was looking for, I think he would have moved on by now.”

“Oh.” She gave a condescending laugh. “Precious, it’s only pity that holds him. Pity. Fascination. He’ll tire of you.”

A heavy, familiar tread came to my ears and I knew he was near. Near enough to hear us both and it sent a twist through my gut.

“He’ll tire of you,” she said again and now she smiled. “You can’t even satisfy his hungers now. Your fear is like a stink in the air. You aren’t even a woman.”

“Alice,” a low voice said.

It wasn’t Damon.

I didn’t bother to look from her to Chang. I just put the plate down and leaned closer.

“Maybe I’m not a woman, but at least I’m not a hyena,” I said, curling my lip at her.

A low, ugly growl escaped her and I saw Chang catch her arm. “Enough,” he said, his voice a biting command. “You will leave.”

She tensed, like she’d ignore him, but then she inclined her head.

I saw the promise of retribution in her eyes, though, as she headed down the buffet, her back turned to both me and Chang. That was a look that promised pain.

I guess that’s why I wasn’t surprised when she circled the far end and slid me a cold smile—then she lunged.

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