The sign, Welcome to Jericho Falls, was dimly lit by a single bulb pointing up from the ground. It looked to be about a forty watt, and if I hadn't spent all day staring down at the map on my passenger seat, I wouldn't have known where I was.
I was exhausted, it seemed as if I hadn't slept in days and I prayed that there was a motel in the tiny town. Having been on the run for over six months, I should have been better at picking hiding spots by now. But I'd learned on my tour of backwoods America that you could never judge a place by its dot on a map.
The clock on the dashboard turned to ten p.m., and I groaned. Any decent places to eat would be closed, and I would be stuck with greasy bar food again. I glanced down at the slight pooch I was developing under my seatbelt and sighed. Too much time in a car, too much fast food and too much stress would kill my figure if I didn't watch it. My only saving grace had been the adrenaline that thrummed through me during every waking hour. It burned more calories than a thousand crunches a day would have done.
I rolled to a stop at the only stoplight I saw for miles down this stretch of road. It really was a small town. There was no way I could stay for too long. My scent would spread to all edges of this place, and Kevin would find me far too easily if I stayed.
Kevin Dehmer. The name echoed in my mind and made me want to vomit. Every time I thought about him and what he'd done to me, I wasn't sure if I was going to cry, scream or just be sick.
The light turned green, and I pointed my car toward the bright neon sign up ahead. No matter where you are in this great country neon lights always equal booze. I knew I'd have to find a hotel soon, but first, I needed food. As I swung into an open parking place in front of the simple red sign that read BAR, my stomach growled, reminding me that I had forgotten to eat again today.
In my situation, not eating could be dangerous. Thanks to Kevin Asshole Dehmer, I was now a Were and, even without the full moon, hunger could bring on the change. But since I had just barely escaped his detection last week in Ohio, I hadn't felt safe to stop again for a while.
It was luck really that I'd heard him asking about me at that grocery store. I'd been one aisle over when his growling voice had hit my ears. I'd walked away from my cart and headed straight to my car, jumping on the first highway I'd come to. North wasn't all that safe, since it only left Michigan ahead of me. But I'd been so scared I just had to get away.
Now, I was in Jericho Falls, barely a blip on the map, and I had no idea what to do. The best course of action would be to get back on the road, head south and get to some more open territory. The full moon was only a couple days away, and I wanted to be far away from civilization when it came. But I was exhausted, and it would be dangerous to go too much longer without a full night of sleep.
The first time I'd changed, I'd woken up alone in a field, surrounded by slaughtered cattle. I was covered in blood and could feel hair and flesh under my nails and in my teeth. It had gotten more manageable as I'd changed more. I knew now that if I ate as much protein as I could stomach in the few days before, I would be less likely to attack animals in my shiny new form.
Last month, I'd learned that not eating for days at a time could bring on the change all by itself. I could only thank God that I hadn't been near people when it had happened. Hunger had been clawing at my stomach, and before I'd realized what was happening, it wasn't just a need for food that was chewing its way out of me, but the beast that was caged inside.
I'd managed to catch a deer, and as the blood and raw meat had slid down my throat, the animal inside of me had calmed and I'd returned to myself with pieces of venison still in my mouth. I'd vomited for hours, but whatever the Were had needed it apparently had received because I didn't shift again until the next full moon.
It had been an important lesson. One of many I'd learned on my journey. The first being: don't let strangers into your house. They could shift and murder your husband then change you into one of them and try to lay claim to you as their mate. If only I had listened to that age old wisdom of don't talk to strangers. Billy might still be alive, and I wouldn't go furry once a month.
Tears stung at my eyes as I thought of my husband. As much as possible, I tried to put him out of my mind. It made my insides twist, and I became a useless wreck when he popped into my head. I'd loved him so much, and the fact that he was gone was absolutely unbearable. But if I dwelled on him for too long, I lost myself to the memories and risked screwing up. I couldn't afford to let Kevin catch me. If he got to me then he won, and I refused to ever let that happen.
I took a deep breath, blinking back tears until I felt composed enough to go inside the bar. After locking the car, I squared my shoulders and headed through the doors in search of sustenance.
The place was dark, dingy and empty except for a bartender who was wiping down the metal fixtures. He smiled at me when I walked up and took a seat on one of the cracked leather stools.
"You're not closed, are you?" I asked, looking around the deserted room.
"No, ma'am," he said. "We don't get many customers on Wednesday nights is all."
"Is it Wednesday?" I asked with a start. The days had been blurring together for a while now. My mind didn't seem to want to go by the calendar so much as the moon phases anymore.
"Please don't call me that." I cringed. I wasn't that much older than him. Well, maybe I was, but I didn't need it thrown in my face.
"Sorry," he said, grinning widely. "I didn't mean to offend you. Can I get you a beer?"
"That would be perfect," I said gratefully.
He turned around, and I watched his high, tight butt appreciatively. He looked to be about twenty-three, maybe twenty-four. His dark hair was long enough to cover his ears, but still would have been considered short. His arms were thick and muscular, but his waist was small, and his thighs filled his jeans nicely.
I was embarrassed as my pussy grew damp while I examined him. It had been so long since I'd felt a man's touch, and it was starting to make me jumpy. I'd noticed it on the few other occasions I'd stopped into local bars in random towns. One or two men would catch my fancy, and I would end up in my hotel room furiously working my clit as I imagined all of the wonderful things these younger men could do for me that Billy hadn't been able to.
I'd loved my husband dearly. It was how we'd managed to stay together even after his impotence problem had tried to drive us apart. He'd been fifteen years older than me, and our sex drives had never really been in sync. When we'd discovered that he had developed erectile dysfunction, it had just been another knock to our already dysfunctional bedroom life.
Everything else about our marriage had been perfect and I'd promised him, and myself, that we could work around the sex stuff. Billy had been a great man. We'd loved each other and he'd done what he could to keep me happy in bed. But I couldn't deny that sometimes my pussy ached for the feel of a rock hard cock inside of it. As gifted as he had been in the oral department, a tongue and fingers could just never replace the joy of being stretched wide around a man's erection.
"Are you still here?"
I flushed as I was snapped back to the present to find the bartender inches from my face, studying me cautiously.
"Sorry," I said, shaking the memories from my mind. "It's been a long...life."
He laughed. "Are you hungry?"
"Famished," I replied, meeting his gaze.
"Our burgers are the best in the state," he said, flashing his perfectly white teeth in a grin.
"That sounds great."
He scribbled something on his order pad and walked it over to a small window at the end of the bar, clipping it to a spindle and spinning it toward a man I hadn't noticed in the kitchen. They talked quietly for a few minutes while I sipped my beer and looked around.
The bar walls were littered with pictures of famous people I was sure had never set foot in there along with some random sports memorabilia like boxing gloves and baseball mitts. It all had a nice, lived-in sort of feel. A typical corner bar in a small town. I'd been in dozens of these places over the past few months, but none had ever felt as comfortable as this one.
"Jasen's here! Let's get this party started!"
I jumped as a man burst through the front door of the bar yelling. He saw me and stopped short a few feet from the bar.
"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't realize anyone else was going to be here."
"Don't call her ma'am," the bartender scolded him sharply. "She's not an old woman for cripe's sake."
I turned to smile at him, and he winked at me. He was pouring a beer from the tap. When it was full, he slid it down the bar where the new man, Jasen apparently, caught it and took a deep swig.
"I'm not blind," he said after wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "I can see she's not old. She's fucking hot as hell. I was trying to be polite."
My cheeks burned at the compliment. Failing to find a response, I drained my beer and went back to looking around the bar.
"Don't mind Jasen," the bartender said as he handed me another beer. "He's kind of special. We've been talking about having him tested."
The smell of cooking meat wafted from the kitchen, and my stomach growled. I was starving and couldn't even bother to be embarrassed by the sound.
"Dean, hurry the hell up. We've got a starving customer out here." The bartender turned back to me again. "My name is Nate Dunham, that moron over there is Jasen Aster and back there in the kitchen is Dean Granger. What's your name?"
"Jo Champlain," I said, reaching out a hand to shake Nate's. "Nice to meet you."
"So what brings you to town, Ms. Champlain?" Jasen asked as he moved to take the stool next to me.
"I'm just passing through," I said quietly. "Is there a motel around here somewhere?"
"Sure," Nate said as he placed a plate of food in front of me. I hadn't even noticed he'd walked away to get the burger, and when he set it down, my stomach clenched in hunger. "Don't be shy. You look like you've been on the road for days. Please eat. We can talk amongst ourselves until you're done."
I gave him a grateful smile and tucked into the burger. He had been right; it was amazing. Of course, I was so hungry pretty much anything would have tasted good at that point. Juice ran down my hand, and I sucked my fingers clean without really thinking about it.
Looking up, I saw all three men watching me intently. I pulled my finger from my mouth and cleared my throat as I set down the burger and picked up one of the golden fries that decorated the plate.
Nate licked his lips before abruptly turning away to fuss with some bottles on the shelf behind him. Dean walked back toward the kitchen, but Jasen continued to watch me unabashedly.
"You're really pretty," Jasen said before taking a drink of his beer.
"Um, thank you," I said around a mouthful of potato. I'm sure I looked insanely sexy after being in a car for two straight days and devouring a burger like a hobo.
"Jasen," Nate snapped. "Let the woman eat in peace."
"What?" Jasen asked defensively. "I was just telling her she's hot. God, you're such a buzz kill. What, you saw her first so you get dibs?"
"Please excuse him," Nate said apologetically. "He's drunk."
"No, I'm not," Jasen retorted hotly. "This is my first beer all day."
"Jasen that's enough." Dean had come out of the kitchen and walked over to join us.
He smelled like grease and meat. Without really meaning to I found myself leaning closer to him, my nose inches from his large bicep. He turned to look at me, and my face was pressed into his chest.
My hands instinctively went up to push myself away from him, my fingers curled into his shirt and I leaned back, my heart hammering.
"I...I am so sorry," I whispered, horrified by my own behavior.
I felt like a fool. An old fool. These young men had been flirting with me, and it had gone to my head. I was thirty-six years old for cripe's sake. They weren't really interested in me.
"No worries, love," Dean said.
I looked up to see his chocolate brown eyes looking down at me. A sexy smile curved on his face. "I wasn't complaining."
"I should go," I said quickly. I pulled some money out of my purse and dropped it on the bar then jumped to my feet. I turned to leave and ran straight into Nate who had come up behind me.
He grabbed my left hand and looked at the ring on it, a look I didn't really understand darkened his gaze.
"Yeah, your husband is probably waiting for you." For some reason his voice was thick with anger.
"My husband," I said softly, staring directly into his eyes, "is dead."
He flinched, and I wasn't sorry to see it. I understood now that he'd thought I was looking to cheat on my spouse with Dean.
"I'm sorry," he said, bringing the hand he was still holding up to his lips. "I shouldn't have--"
"No," I spat, snatching my hand back. "It's fine. I really do have to be going."
The men had pressed closer, and I was surrounded on all sides by hard, male flesh. My heart pounded in my chest, and my pussy flooded my panties. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so turned on.
"I'm afraid no one is going anywhere."