Today's Reading

Dr. Carter places her hands on the edge of the break room table, her slim fingers tapping along the edge while I give her a second to try and compute what I'm saying. Time is not something I have the luxury of, but I've been told (repeatedly) throughout my life that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and if there was ever a time to test that theory, it would be now.
 
"Mate is...a pretty big upgrade from me asking you for a selfie."

I nod. "Yes, but...think about it. A picture buys you, what? A week? Two, at most? My cooperation could buy you much longer than that. Months, even, if it suits you."

"But I'm trying to snag a fake boyfriend to avoid mating," she says with distaste. "Not exactly looking to saddle myself with the real-life personification of Oscar the Grouch to avoid more bad dates." She has the good grace to look slightly apologetic. "Sorry. No offense."

"None taken," I tell her truthfully. "Trust me, I'm not interested in biting you."

Her nose wrinkles as if she's offended, which seems to contradict her earlier objection, or perhaps it is some general offense. I can't be sure. "Well, me either," she huffs. "From you or anyone else."

"Then I think we stand to benefit each other well," I tell her. "I don't need to bite you to pull this off." She still looks unsure, and I scrub a hand down my face, sighing. "There is...something about me that I have put a great deal of effort into keeping hidden. Something that would threaten my position here, and I find myself suddenly...exposed."

"What, did you maul a hiker or something in a rut?"

I press my lips together in a frown. "Hardly. I am the picture of control."

"Clearly," she deadpans.

I think she might be poking fun at my expense, but I overlook it, given that her refusal could cost me my job. "There are... hindrances, for people like me. Ridiculous archaic notions that might have kept me from advancing to the position I hold now, and because of that...I might have failed to inform the board of my status when I was hired on."

"What status? A shifter? There are plenty of shifters working here, me included."

My nostrils flare, the idea of my carefully guarded secret crumbling to pieces making me all the more irritated. "Not like me."

"I don't follow." "I'm...an alpha."
 
She narrows her eyes at me as if I might be teasing her, but then I see the suspicion fade as she seems to study me, no doubt looking for signs of the fabled Big Bad Wolf behavior that is so often associated with my designation. Alphas are rare, to be sure, and perhaps that is why there are so many outlandish notions associated with the status. In another time, it would mean that I was destined to lead a pack, to carry on a clan...but in our more modernized society, it simply means that I am a little stronger, a little faster, a little...more than the average shifter.

Which might be why there are so many stigmas tied to the label.

She's still regarding me carefully, but she doesn't look at all put off by the idea of what I am. There is even something in her expression almost...curious? It's very different from how I expected her to react. In the past I have been met with wariness and sidelong glances when people discovered what I am, which is why I decided in college it would serve me to do my very best to keep anyone from finding out. And yet here I am, spilling my guts to a coworker I barely know in hopes that she might be the answer I'm looking for.

"You don't...Hm." Her nose wrinkles again—it seems to be a habit of hers—like she's thinking. "Actually, you know what? I could see that. Now that you mention it. It explains your sparkling personality."

I narrow my eyes. "Most of the rumors surrounding alphas are grossly overexaggerated."

"I heard you made a CNA cry once."

"Also grossly overexaggerated."

"I don't know, my friend Priya in Anesthesiology swears people saw the poor girl running out of the room with—"

"Listen, I'm actually pressed for time. The point is, I have managed to successfully do my job here for years now without going into any fits of uncontrollable rage or without biting orderlies or whatever other stories people tell one another to keep people like me from entering high-pressure professions—and a damned anonymous tip shouldn't be the thing that takes it all away from me."

Her eyes widen. "Someone turned you in?"
 
"It would appear so."


This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Phoenix Bride by Natasha Siegel.
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