Don’t Bait Me – Jackie May

I stand, frozen with indecision, in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. A strange bout of anxiety has taken hold of me. It’s unlike me to be so stressed over something so small, but then I’ve never cared about something so much that I need to get it right. Unable to make the choice on my own, I call Oliver for the fourth time in twenty minutes. “Do you think I need two turkeys?” I ask in lieu of a greeting. “Werewolves eat a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And then there’s Terrance. Turkeys are big, but maybe I still need two. What do you think?” “Nora…” There’s a pause, and then Oliver sighs over the line. “What I think is that I have a test in half an hour, and I’ve got to finish reviewing this chapter before then.” I cringe. “Sorry. You’re right. I’ll stop bothering you.

” He groans. “Sweetheart, you never bother me. I’m always happy to talk to you. I just really have to get this done.” “Sorry. I know. I just want this to be perfect. I’ve never had a real Thanksgiving before. At least not with people I actually care about.” “If you’re that stressed about it, wait until I’m finished with my test, and I’ll shop with you.

” “I can’t. Terrance will be home by then, and he’d never let me leave.” A lighthearted chuckle fills my ear, making me smile. I love the sound of Oliver’s laugh. “Snuck out, did you?” he asks. “I was going crazy. It’s been almost a week.” “Almost a week since you nearly died.” “Yeah, but I feel fine now. I’ve recovered.

Terrance is being way too paranoid.” “Well, he loves you. He wants to keep you safe.” “There’s a fine line between keeping me safe and holding me prisoner.” Oliver laughs again. “I’ll tell you what. After this test, I’m officially off for the break. I’ll pack a bag and come spend the entire weekend in jail with you. I even lucked out and have the weekend off from work.” My heart melts in my chest.

“You’re the best, Ollie.” “I know. I’ve got to run, but I’ll see you this evening.” “’Kay.” “Oh, and get two turkeys. Better to have too much than not enough. Plus, who doesn’t love leftovers?” “Very true.” I sigh. “What would I do without you?” “Let’s never find out.” The smile stays on my face after I hang up the phone.

Oliver has a way of calming my nerves. I pick up two turkeys and then slowly go down my list of other things I need. I had to google it since I’ve never made a Thanksgiving dinner before. Hopefully Terrance will help Ollie and me cook. If he doesn’t kill me for leaving the house by myself, that is. And speaking of the devil, my phone rings, flashing Terrance across the display. I answer tentatively, hoping he doesn’t hear all the noise of the busy supermarket in the background. “Hey, Tman. How was your meeting?” “Still going. Can you do me a favor?” I’m a little surprised by the request.

Terrance is the most independent man I’ve ever met. He asks for nothing. Ever. Happy to help, I say, “Sure. Anything.” “I left a folder on my desk in the office, and I need some of the info from one of the papers.” “Oh…” Crap. I’m so busted. “Um…I’d love to help, but I’m not exactly at home right now.” I pull the phone away from my ear and wait out the shout that I know is coming.

“WHAT? Where the hell are you?” “Relax. I’m just doing a little grocery shopping.” I swear I can hear his teeth grinding through the phone. “With Oliver?” he asks. “No. He had a test.” “Rook?” I sigh. “No.” There’s a long pause, and then he explodes again. “You’re out there ALONE?” Indignation rises up inside me, causing me to snap.

“I’m a big girl, Terrance. I think I can manage a little shopping by myself.” “Which store are you at?” “The grocery store,” I say vaguely, pissing him off on purpose. “WHICH STORE?” Damn stubborn troll. I want to keep arguing, but there’s no point. Reminding myself that he’s only concerned because he cares about me and is scared for my safety, I sigh and give up my location. “The Whole Foods in Midtown.” He hangs up without another word. I go back to my shopping list, and I’m not the least bit surprised to see him stomping toward me ten minutes later. I match him scowl for scowl.

“You shouldn’t be out alone,” he growls, trying to intimidate me with what I call his “bouncer” stance. I shoot him a glare. “I’m a grown woman, Terrance.” He doesn’t relent. “The glamour I placed on you only hides your looks from humans. It isn’t strong enough to cover your scent. Any underworlder with even a bit of power can tell that you’re a siren. You aren’t safe.” I stop pushing my cart and turn to stare at him. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t hide forever.

” Terrance’s anger slowly fades until only frustration remains. “We’ll figure something out,” he says. “But for now, you shouldn’t be out alone. You will keep Rook, Parker, or myself with you if you leave the house. No arguments.” I should be angry at the way he’s dictating my life, but the fear in his eyes melts away all of my annoyance. Terrance is as new to looking out for someone as I am at having someone who cares. He’s not used to feeling so out of control. I can give him this simple request if it will help him keep his sanity. He’s right, anyway.

I’m extremely vulnerable without my old glamour. An added layer of protection wouldn’t hurt. I surprise the big lug when I step forward and wrap my arms around him. He’s so tall my head doesn’t even come up to his chin. “Okay, T-man.” I rest my head against his chest. “I promise I won’t go anywhere without a bodyguard until we can do something about my glamour.” Terrance hesitates a moment but then brings his arms around me, and he holds me in a comforting embrace. Hugging is new for me, but I’ve discovered that it’s easier to touch people when I initiate it, especially if it’s one of the people I trust. Consequently, I’ve started forcing myself to make more physical contact with people.

I’m practicing in hopes that I can overcome some of my triggers in that department. I’ve also decided that I like giving hugs as long as they don’t throw me into a panic attack or give me a flashback. Terrance clears his throat and grumbles, “Damn right you won’t.” I know he’s not mad. That’s his I’m-trying-to-hide-the-fact-that-I’m-a-nice-guy-who-cares-forpeople voice. The grumpiness makes me smile. My troll loves me. After soaking up his affection a moment longer, I let go of him and head down the aisle once more. Terrance falls into step beside me, content to let me shop. “You got here fast,” I say.

“I thought you were in a meeting.” “I left.” He shrugs, like skipping out on the meeting was no big deal. “You didn’t have to—” He cuts me off with a look. “It was just a lunch meeting at the casino with the new GM of my dealership. I forgot the papers I needed anyway. Turns out my last general manager wasn’t just dealing with demons on the side; he was cooking the books, too.” He sighs. I pat his arm gently. “You’ll get it all worked out soon enough—wait.

You went to the casino? The Casino Henry owns?” Terrance grumbles. “It wasn’t my suggestion.” “How’d that go?” The big man side-eyes me with a smirk. “Wasn’t in the building more than ten minutes before Henry found me. He says hello, by the way. He heard about the werewolf attack and was very concerned. He sends his regards.” I scoff. “Did you tell him to go to hell for me?” Terrance’s smirk grows into a full-fledged grin. “I told him you were recovering nicely, and that you were enjoying being pampered by all of your men.

” I stop pushing the cart to stare at Terrance. My eyes bulge, and my face heats up. “My what?” He continues as if I hadn’t spoken. “I promised him they’re taking real good care of you.” I snort a laugh despite myself. “I bet that pissed him off.” He shrugs again, nonchalantly, but his eyes sparkle with amusement. “He almost kicked me out of the building. I don’t think I’ll be welcome back anytime soon.” Shaking my head with a chuckle, I consult my shopping list again.

Terrance eyes my cart full of stuff as if just realizing it was there. “What’s all this for?” “It’s for Thanksgiving dinner.” When Terrance’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise, butterflies explode in my stomach. “I hope you don’t mind, but I sort of invited Oliver and Parker to have dinner with us since neither of them have anywhere to go. And then I realized Rook and Wulf would be on their own, too, so…” I glance away and shrug, feeling strangely vulnerable all of a sudden. “I just wanted to do something nice for the people I care about.” “Trouble,” Terrance says softly. He waits for me to meet his gaze again before saying, “You’re too good for the lot of us.” I blush from the compliment. Terrance so rarely gives them out.

Feeling awkward, I bump his shoulder with mine and tease, “You only say that now because I haven’t cooked dinner yet. I’ve never roasted a turkey in my life.” Terrance lets out a boisterous laugh that startles everyone around us. Then, with a promise to teach me how to cook a turkey, he helps me finish up the shopping. Of course he insists on paying for the groceries and takes the cart from me, saying he’ll pack the food in his car and I just need to worry about driving myself home. Straight home. Like I’m going to get myself in trouble between here and the den. I’m surprised he doesn’t escort me to my car and lock me in himself. “At least you have enough faith in me to let me walk across a parking lot by myself,” I grumble as we part ways at the front door. He frowns at me.

“Just get home, Trouble.” I head to my car with another sigh of defeat. I start to dial Oliver’s number before I remember he’s probably taking his test by now, so I decide to bug someone else instead. “Hey, little temptress,” Nick greets me. “You know, I think I prefer spitfire.” “And I prefer Gorgeous, but we don’t always get what we want, do we?” “Fair point.” I start the car and will the heater to warm up fast. It’s freezing outside, and since those rogue werewolves shredded my new coat, I’m still wearing Rook’s jacket. “What’s up? You never call me unless you’re in mortal danger.” “I’m in danger of killing a troll.

Does that count?” Nick chuckles. “Terrance is driving you crazy?” “He won’t let me out of the house alone. He’s glamoured me to hide my looks from humans, but he isn’t strong enough magically to cover my scent.” “He’s right. Trolls, for all their strength, aren’t very magically powerful underworlders.” “So how do I get a stronger glamour? I have to do something. I can’t hide forever.” “Honestly, Nora, the best person to put a glamour on you is you.” “What?” “Most fey have an affinity for glamours. The stronger the fey, the stronger the glamour—and sweetcakes, you’re one of the strongest fey around.

I’d even bet it was your own mother who put your old glamour on you.” “Huh. I guess that’s something to look into.” Filing that info away for later when I can ask Terrance and Oliver about it, I throw my car into reverse and back out of my spot. “So anyway,” I say, getting back to the reason I called him, “Do you have dinner plans tomorrow?” There’s a short pause, and then Nick gasps loudly over the phone. It’s a totally exaggerated, fake gasp. “Why, Nora, are you asking me out on a date? Be still my heart.” I snort. “Please. As if I need another man in my life looking for a date.

” “True. You do seem to collect men like trading cards.” “Shut up, or I won’t invite you to Thanksgiving dinner.” I expect a witty retort of some kind, but I’m met with silence. I pull out of my row and head for the exit of the parking lot. When Nick finally speaks, there’s no hint of play in his voice. “You mean an actual Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and stuffing and pie and all that?” “Well, yeah.” I’m suddenly overwhelmed with self-consciousness. I don’t understand Nick’s reaction. It’s almost as if he’s battling emotions.

I start babbling because I’m nervous. “I know it’s last minute, but I’ve never had a real Thanksgiving, and I thought—” I slam on my breaks as a black SUV screeches past me and peels out of the parking lot like it’s got hellhounds on its tail. “Son of a bitch!” “Nora?” “I’m fine,” I grumble. “Just some asshole who really needed to get out of the parking lot before me.” I look down the aisle to make sure there is no one else waiting to cut me off and slam on my breaks again with a startled cry. Terrance is slumped over the back of his open trunk, with three arrows protruding from his back. The half-empty grocery cart is beside him, and a bag of food is spilled on the ground at his feet. Phone forgotten, I speed over to his car and jump out. “Terrance!” I’m searching for a pulse, when he groans. He’s alive.

I remember to breathe. “Terrance! What happened? What do I do? Are you okay?” I get no response to my questions. Blood is spilling everywhere, and I begin to panic. “Shit! Shit! Shit! Terrance, we have to get you some help. I can’t call 911, can I? Where do I take you? What do I do?” Terrance coughs out one word with a mouthful of blood. “Enzo.” Right. I need to call Enzo. But first, I need to get him in the car and out of sight before any humans try to call the police. He’d never fit in my little sports coupe on his best day, so I park in the space next to his and open the back door of his Cadillac.

After fishing the keys from his pocket, I duck down and pull one of his huge arms over my shoulders. “Okay, T-man. I need your help. I can’t get you into the car by myself. I need you to stand up with me. On the count of three. One. Two. Three!” Thankfully, Terrance is coherent enough to try to move with me. We get him into an upright position, but he can’t seem to hold himself up.

I nearly collapse beneath his weight. Nothing but sheer determination on my part gets him into the back seat of the car. He falls in on his stomach across the bench, with the arrows still sticking up out of his back. I have to bend his legs to fit his massive body in and shut the door behind him. I’m covered in blood by the time I’m finished, but I can’t think about it. I can’t panic. Terrance needs me. I slam the trunk shut and grab my phone and purse off the passenger seat of my car. Tears pour from my eyes as I screech out of the parking lot almost as fast as the jerk who cut me off before. “Hang in there, big guy.

Don’t you dare die on me.” I reach for my phone. Nick is still on the line and shouting angry questions at me. “Nick?” There’s a sob in my voice. “Terrance is hurt. He’s been shot by arrows. Arrows! He’s unconscious now, but he said to take him to Enzo before he passed out.” Nick stops yelling immediately. His voice is hard but calm. “Where are you?” “Midtown.

” “Good. That’s not too far. Listen, honey, stay calm. Terrance will be fine.” “Nick, there are three arrows sticking out of his back. There’s blood everywhere!” “He’ll be all right,” Nick assures me again. “It takes a lot to really hurt a troll. We’ll get him all healed up. Just take a deep breath and relax. Won’t do anyone any good if you crash the car.

” I sniffle and swipe at the tears in my eyes. “Good girl,” he says soothingly when I take a deep breath. “I want you to bring him to the Agency. I can help with the arrows. I’ll call Enzo now and have him meet us here. You going to be okay if I hang up?” I take another deep breath and nod my head even though he can’t see me. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay.” “Good. I’ll see you in ten minutes.

.

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