I’m posting the first few scenes from my new novel The Zookeeper’s Dilemma which is currently fundraising over at Inkshares. If you enjoy this teaser, please share, review, or pre-order a copy for yourself.
“We need to get together more often,” said Felicia. “I’d almost forgotten how much fun this is.” She took a sip of her sangria and laughed as the straw poked her in the nose.
“Yeah, thanks again, you guys,” said Lucy. “I really needed this.”
“I think we all needed this,” said Bonnie.
“It’s been a bad couple of days for me,” said Lucy. “With a pregnant tiger, the fighting snow leopards, and now Ani’s infection, it feels like all I do is work and sleep.”
“And what about you?” asked Felicia. “You’ve been kind of out of it for the past few weeks.”
“I don’t know,” said Lucy. “I’m not tired or sick. It’s hard to explain. More like restless and unfocused. I probably just need a vacation.”
“There’s an idea,” said Veronica, “You should go sit on a beach somewhere and read a trashy romance novel or two.”
“Ooo, I can give you a list,” said Kiala.
“Okay,” said Lucy. “As long as it’s not about vampires or werewolves. I’m kind of burned out with them.”
“What’s wrong with vampires and werewolves?” asked Kiala.
Lucy shrugged. “Nothing, intrinsically. I just think they’ve been done to death. Like zombies. It’s hard to get excited about zombies anymore.”
“You were getting excited by zombies before?” asked Veronica. “You really do need a vacation.”
“The problem with zombie romance is their parts are always falling off at the worst possible times,” said Bonnie.
“And the smell,” added Kiala. “Nothing kills a lady boner faster than the stink of rotting flesh.”
“Gross,” said Lucy. “I only meant that I was looking for something different.”
“I think we need a new monster,” said Felicia. “They’ve all been rehashed so many times.”
“I say mermen,” said Kiala.
“Maybe something with tentacles,” said Bonnie.
Felicia laughed. “It’s always comes back to tentacles with you, doesn’t it?”
“I’m a woman who knows what she likes,” said Bonnie, grinning wildly.
“Speaking of knowing what you like,” said Veronica, “check out the guy by the bar.”
“Which one?” asked Bonnie, leaning forward to get a better look.
“Geez, don’t stare at him, Bonnie,” said Kiala
“You mean the tall dude with wavy hair?” said Bonnie. “Let’s buy him a drink. Hey, barkeep…”
Lucy grabbed Bonnie by the arm to hold her back. “Whoa, easy there, tiger.”
“Veronica started it,” whined Bonnie.
“She shouldn’t even be looking,” said Kiala.
“Hey, I’m engaged, not dead,” said Veronica.
“I think Lucy’s the one he’s been checking out anyway,” said Kiala.
“Whatever, dude,” said Felicia, taking a quick glance. “Deny it all you want.”
“Forget about him,” said Lucy. “This is supposed to be a girl’s night. So what about…shape shifters?”
“I thought we weren’t doing werewolves,” said Veronica.
“There has to be something besides werewolves,” said Lucy. “What about were-cats?”
“There’s a were-everything,” said Bonnie. “I was just reading a graphic novel about a were-platypus.”
“Can I have that when you’re done?” asked Kiala.
“Absolutely,” answered Bonnie. “There’s even dinosaur erotica.”
Lucy wasn’t sure whether Bonnie was kidding or not. “How is that even…no, never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“The point is that there’s all kinds of shifters,” continued Bonnie. “Maybe you should stay away from animals though. It would be kinda like a doctor watching a medical drama. You’d be too busy pointing out all the mistakes to enjoy the show.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Lucy.
“What you need is a real bodice ripper,” said Felicia, “with some beefy, shirtless highlander on the cover.”
“To shirtless highlanders!” cheered Veronica, raising her glass in a toast.
After they had clinked their glasses and had taken sips of their cocktails, the music changed to an upbeat dance number. Felicia’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, I love this song. Who wants to dance?”
“I do,” said Veronica.
“Me too,” said Lucy.
It was good to let loose after such a stressful week, and she always enjoyed spending time with her friends. She still felt off, and the alcohol probably hasn’t helping, but it was good to go out for a change. Having all four of her best friends were in the same city at the same time was a rare treat. She wouldn’t have missed an evening out with them even if she’d had Ebola. So despite feeling like she was fighting off the flu, she danced through the next few songs like she didn’t have a care in the world.
When she glanced over at the bar, she saw that same guy was still watching her. Having men hit on her in bars was certainly nothing new for Lucy. She was tall, five-foot-eleven in bare feet, with a slender athletic build. Her mother had been a model, among other things, and Lucy had inherited her stunning jawline, full lips and piercing, dark eyes. Unlike her mother who had deep, dark skin from her Ethiopian heritage and thick, braided hair, Lucy had a lighter mocha complexion with rosy undertones and black hair that cascaded down past her shoulders in loose spiral ringlets. Her looks were one of the reasons she seldom went out anymore. She was tired of the constant catcalls and awkward pickup lines.
Part of her just wished this guy would get it over with already and make a pass. It was even possible that he wasn’t the creeper she thought he was. He certainly didn’t look like a deadbeat. In fact, he looked more like an underwear model or a pro athlete than your typical underground club dweller. He wore simple black slacks and a white shirt open at the collar which hung off his broad shoulders like it was made especially for him. On his feet were black leather boots, polished to a shine. Fashionable, but not too cowboy.
Lucy needed a break. She couldn’t keep up with Felicia on the dance floor – no one could – so parched and a little winded, she headed back to the table. She took a sip of her drink and fanned herself with a coaster, hoping that she wasn’t sweating too much. She asked Bonnie, “Is he still looking at me?”
“Yup, and now he’s coming this way.”
“No, he really is,” said Kiala.
Lucy took another sip of her drink and dabbed her forehead with a napkin as she waited for him to make his way across the floor. Lucy suddenly felt self-conscious and shy. Close up, he really was remarkably handsome. He had those stunning movie star good looks that light up a whole room. He could have any woman in the club. It made her wonder why was he so interested in her.
When he finally spoke, his voice was deep, rich, and heavily laced with a French accent. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I couldn’t help noticing you’re not here with anyone. I was wondering if you would care to dance with me.”
“Actually, I’m here with my friends. We’re having a girl’s night.”
“That’s okay,” said Kiala and smiled. “We don’t mind.”
“Yeah, go right ahead,” echoed Bonnie.
Lucy gave them a sneer as the man took her hand and led her back to the dance floor. Felicia gave her two thumbs up as they walked by, but Lucy just shook her head. She figured one dance wouldn’t hurt. She might even get the chance to figure what this guy’s deal was. “I’m Lucy,” she yelled over the music.
“I am called First.”
“Wait, I know you,” said Lucy. “You’re the guy who’s always showing up in the comments section.”
He seemed to pause to consider what she was saying. After a moment he flashed her a smile that was equal parts amused and condescending, the kind that only the French can pull off as charming. “I like that. You’re funny. That’s good.”
So, he wasn’t the greatest conversationalist. With a body like his, he didn’t have to talk at all. As Lucy watched him dance, she noted the supple movement of his muscular frame. He knew he was good-looking and wasn’t afraid to show it off. And she had to admit the guy had some moves. Lucy was trying to remember everything she’d picked up in those Zumba classes that Felicia had dragged her to just to keep up with him.
There was more there than just his physical appeal though. It was like she had a deeper connection with him, as if she’d known him all her life. The uneasy, restless feeling she’d been carrying around for days evaporated only to be replaced with a flush that spread from the center of her chest out to her extremities. The sudden explosion of heat caught her off guard and left a tingling sensation in her cheeks, her fingertips, and between her legs.
Lucy spun around so her back was towards First, worried that her face would betray what was happening to her. She could feel his eyes on her back and knew that she wanted them there, checking out the curves of her body and the gentle swaying of her hips to the beat of the music. When he moved forward and put his hands on her waist, the fire erupted through her again, only this time it was worse.
She turned to face him again and saw that same passion in his face, but instead of exciting her, it scared her to her wit’s end. If she didn’t get away from him now, she thought that she might jump him right here on the dance floor. On the verge of a panic attack, Lucy pushed his arms away and strode back to the table with Felicia and Veronica close behind her. First stood in the middle of the dance floor watching her go, a crooked smirk on his face.
“Are you all right?” asked Felicia. “Did he do something to you? Do you want me to get the bouncer?”
“Forget the bouncer,” insisted Veronica. “I’ll kick his ass.” She looked back at where he had been standing, but he had already disappeared into the crowd.
“No, it wasn’t him,” said Lucy. “I think I just overdid the partying is all.” She drained the last of her drink and held the glass of ice against her neck to cool herself down. Whatever it was that she had felt was slowly ebbing away, but she still didn’t trust that it wouldn’t flare up again. “I’m sorry to be a party pooper, but I’m going to head home. I think I might be coming down with something.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?” asked Felicia. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“No, stay and enjoy yourself,” said Lucy. “I was planning to take a cab anyway. I’ll be fine. I just need a good night’s sleep.”
“Okay, but you call me as soon as you get home,” said Felicia. “I’m not going to sleep until I know you’re all right.”
to be continued…