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I'm So Bad at Paranormal Romance, You Guys
(You Don't Even Know)

  Abagail Wren lounged on the dusty couch in the log cabin, lips pursed as she scanned through the newspaper’s headlines. It had only been a week since she had stumbled upon evidence of the paranormal in Skyler Fitzpatrick, werewolf, and the effect had been profound. The world’s problems—politicians, starvation, religious persecution—seemed so trite when compared to a vast, hidden world that she was now a part of.

  Goddamn!

  After stumbling on Skyler, the world was different. Daylight took on a symbolic meaning of protective light, while the night was full of terrible promise. Skyler, too, had that duality—seductive and protective during the day, but alluringly dangerous come night. Her world, nay, her conception of reality and relationships had changed forever, and she owed that to the mysterious man who pulled back the veil.

  She heard the door to the cabin open, and she threw the newspaper aside. Abagail sat up and adjusted her glasses for maximum hot-but-wearing-glasses-so-she-is-apparently-not-hot-just-go-with-it effect. Turning toward the entryway, her long blond hair fell in front of her face, offering what she hoped was a playful seductiveness.

  “Hello, Skyler,” she said breathily.

  Skyler smiled nervously and swallowed. His hands were occupied with a bag of groceries. “Hey, Abagail,” he said as he kicked the door shut on his way to the kitchen.

  Miffed that he hadn’t acknowledged her attempt at flirtation, Abagail leapt to her feet and followed Skyler into the kitchen. “I keep telling you that you can call me Abby,” she said.

  Skyler set the groceries on the table and threw his gaze up at the ceiling in exasperation. “Okay, I can’t do this,” he said. He turned and looked at Abagail. “We need to talk.”

  Abagail felt her heart leap. He’s going to tell me how dangerous it is to be with him! It was an amazing moment, one she had hoped for since the moment she saw him shift between wolf and man. She yanked a chair free from under the dining room table and sat, crossing her legs, and looked at him. “Yes?”

  She hadn’t anticipated that he would look puzzled at this. “Why are you smiling?”

  “Am I?”

  “Yes.”

  “Oh. Sorry,” she said, laughing. She forced herself to take on a very serious expression. “That better?”

  He brought his hand to his scruffy face and slowly inhaled. “This needs to stop.”

  “Oh, Skyler, I know it’s dangerous, but…”

  “Whoa, wait.” His hands went up, palms toward her, and he took a step back. “Who said anything about dangerous?”

  She cast a sideways glance at him. “What are you getting at? I mean, you’re a werewolf.”

  He shook his head in disbelief and folded his arms. “What is that supposed to mean?”

  Abagail felt her face go red. “Well, you’re a mythological creature…”

  “Myth…” he said, exasperated. “Hello, Abagail!” he yelled, knocking at the table. “Myth means not real.”

  “You know what I mean.”

  He rolled his eyes. “As much as I dread this next part, please continue,” he sighed with a dismissive hand wave.

  “I’m just saying,” she said pointedly, “that I will be by your side regardless of other savage creatures of darkness.”

  Skyler’s eyebrows arched. “Wow. Wow, Abagail. That is unbelievably fucking racist.”

  Abagail stammered for a moment. “How is that racist?”

  Skyler shrugged. “Okay, well, I mean, the entire construct of race is problematic to begin with, but, yeah, I think this would count.”

  Now it was her turn to throw her hands up. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Poor choice of words, okay?” She slid forward on her seat a little bit and reached out for his hand. “I just want to be…” His hand stubbornly refused to move, so she lunged and grabbed it. “With y…” He had pulled his hand away from hers, but she was fast enough to grab it again. “You.”

  “Stop it!” he shouted, yanking his hand away. He knelt in front of her and pointed back and forth between them. “What do you think this is?”

  She looked away, suddenly sheepish. “You have taken me as your mate.”

  He stared at her, face expressionless. After a long pause of unblinking eyecontact, all he managed was a solitary, “Wow.” He stood and turned his back to her.

  “I’m prepared to be yours for life,” she said. She felt compelled to stand for dramatic effect. “No matter what gets in our way!”

  “Jesus!” he shouted at the ceiling. “We just met, Abagail!”

  “And you’ve chosen me as your Alpha!” she helpfully suggested.

  He turned around, squinting in disgust. “What? Alpha? Don’t be gross! We’re people, not pack animals.”

  “B-b-but you chose to reveal yourself to me…”

  “No,” he said, drawing out the vowel carefully. “You took a picture of me and proceeded to follow me home.”

  She considered what he said for a moment. “Surely there’s a vast world of darkness…”

  “Could you stop?” he asked petulantly. “With the whole ‘world of darkness’ thing. It is really starting to get offensive.”

  “Why?”

  He sighed, bringing his hand to his face. His eyes shut, and he put a thumb and forefinger on his eyes. “Do you think, for even one second, that we wouldn’t like to be able to be all out-and-about if we could?” She didn’t respond. “The whole ‘creatures of the night’ thing blames us for the fact that you people–”

  “You people?” she asked, now sharing a degree of annoyance.

  He leaned on the table and muttered, “This is impossible…”

  “I know that it must seem scary now, but I’m yours. To have, to hold, to protect…”

  “From what?” Skyler yelped. “What on earth do you think I need to save you from?”

  The back door to the kitchen slammed open. A pasty woman wearing a loose t-shirt and large sunglasses gave a whoop as she entered. Her brunette hair cascaded around her shoulders in a tangle from lack of attention. She threw her arms up, case of beer in one hand and her keys in the other. “Marley in the house, muthafuckaaaaaa,” she shouted, only to transition to a more subdued, “oh, hello there,” when she realized Abagail was now watching her, bug-eyed. She cleared her throat and let her hands fall to her side. “We have company.” She walked toward the table and set the case of beer down.

  Skyler gestured to Abagail. “Marley, this is Abagail. Abagail, Marley.”

  “S’up?” asked Marley. Abagail just stared. “Okay.”

  Skyler turned to Marley. “How was the cruise?”

  “Ha!” She gave a thumbs down and blew a raspberry. “Fuckin’ lame. Bunch of idiots and tons of watered-down booze. Threw myself overboard two hours in and ‘haunted’ the ship for five days. That was hilarious.” She put her hand in the air for a high five, which Skyler returned. “There was this one couple who started talking about talking to an agent to show up on some ghost hunter show until I was all, ‘Dudes, I’m solid. Poke my face!’ I laughed my ass off, and now she’s really starting to creep me out.”

  It took a moment for Skyler to realize she was talking about Abagail. He turned to his guest, her eyes locked onto Marley. “Abagail?”

  She snapped her head right toward him. “What is she?” Abagail asked.

  “Wow. Rude much?” Marley grumbled, folding her arms across her chest.

  “I know, right?” Skyler responded.

  “Like, is she your mate and you’ve been lying to me?” came the clarifying question. Marley and Skyler looked at each other, then burst out laughing. “I’m serious!” she shouted above the noise.

  “Oh, honey, no,” Marley said between gasps. “I’ve known him since he was like, four.”

  Skyler jammed a thumb in his friend’s direction. “She was my babysitter for most of my childhood.”

  Abagail didn’t seem to quite grasp what was going on. “She’s, like, twenty.”

  Marley cocked an eyebrow. “Try three hundred and twelve,” she said, turning to the case of beer. She pulled open the top of the box and removed a can.

  “Three…” Abagail muttered.

  “She’s a vampire,” Skyler explained.

  Marley did a little bow at the introduction. “Yes, indeed.”

  The reaction was immediate: Abagail squeaked and pulled her limbs up onto the chair. She pointed toward Marley.

  The vampire froze in place and stared, wide-eyed, at the girl. “What’s going on?”

  “That! You’re supposed to protect me from that!” Abagail shouted at Skyler.

  “Whoa! Whoa!” Marley yelled back, slamming the beer on the table. “I am not a that, you fucking zygote!”

  Skyler leaned forward and looked into Abagail’s eyes. “Vampires and werewolves get along. She's not gonna hurt you.”

  “She calls me ‘that’ again, and I sure as hell will,” Marley growled, snatching her beer from the table. She pulled the tab, sending sudsy beer burbling out of the can, over her fingers, and onto the floor. “Fuckin’ hell,” she grumbled, quickly bringing it to her mouth to slurp at the contents.

  “This is not how this is supposed to go!” yelled Abagail, standing up.

  Skyler looked over at Marley, who refused to acknowledge him. He returned his attention to his guest. “How what’s supposed to go?”

  “You are supposed to reluctantly reveal a world of supernatural danger and intrigue to me, all the while trying to protect me at arm’s length!” She pointed at Skyler dangerously. “You are supposed to want to ravish me and keep me to yourself!”

  Marley snorted and began sputtering. Abagail and Skyler looked at the doubled-over, coughing vampire as she struggled to laugh without choking. “Ravish?” she managed to gasp.

  Abagail folded her arms. “What?”

  “No one says ravish. It’s a funny word.”

  “What the hell is with you, anyway?” Abagail asked. “For someone born in the 18th century, you’re not very refined.”

  Marley made a confused face. “Um, I lived through, like, all the suffrage movements,” she said, clearly intoning that she felt such a fact should be self-evident. “And the sexual revolution.”

  Abagail’s eyebrows arched. “I guess that’s why you dress like a skank.”

  The earlier confusion returned to Marley’s features. “I’m sorry, were you just trying to slut shame me or something? Is this your first day at misogyny?”

  Abagail threw her hands up in the air. “What is going on?” she roared. “How can the supernatural be so fucking boring?” Her hands collapsed to her sides before she weakly gestured to Skyler. “Do you even have a tortured past?”

  He shrugged. “I was teased in middle school. Nothing major.”

  “Oh, come on!” She stopped to think about something. “An ex-girlfriend? Like, some psycho who’s gonna want to get back with you and you’ll have to defeat her to save me?”

  Skyler shook his head. “My last girlfriend moved to Australia for a promotion and she is quite content with the decision.”

  “Well, what about you?” Abagail asked so quickly as to make it entirely one word.

  “I’m… fine,” he responded carefully.

  Now Abagail was bouncing in place as her eyes darted off to the side. After a moment, she clapped her hands together. “Othere weres?” she asked.

  Skyler looked confused. “Excuse me, other ‘weres’?”

  “‘Were’ is Old English for ‘man’, Abagail. Hence ‘werewolf’—or literally ‘man wolf’,” Marley explained. Skyler nodded and gestured to his friend, although Abagail did not share the same deference. “What? If you’re gonna say something stupid…” Marley trailed off.

  “Anyway, other shape-shifters don’t care. We’re not all deep wells of psychological trauma.”

  “Well, someone needs to be!” Abagail loudly decreed. Her eyes snapped to Marley, who was at that point in the middle of a swig of alcohol. “How about you? Why are you drinking at 9:30 in the morning?”

  Marley smiled and pulled the can away from her lips. A small drop of beer rolled down her chin before wiped it away with her wrist. “Oh, I don’t sleep. It literally makes no difference what time it is, it’s party time if I want it to be.” She threw up the devil horns with her free hand.

  “So, now. Now is party time?” Abagail asked, pointing to the floor in emphasis.

  “Well, not now,” Marley joked. “At the moment it’s ‘life isn’t Twilight’ or whatever.”

  Abagail laughed self-consciously at the comment. “What? N… no. What? Twi… who said anything about Twilight?” She was slowly turning red. “Th… that’s stupid. You’re stupid.”

  A pause. “Right,” Skyler said.

  “No!” Abagail said, drawing out the vowel long enough to reach over to his arm and give him a playful shove. “That’s like… so dumb…” Her face momentarily got serious. “Right?”

  Skyler and Marley exchanged looks. “I handled the last one,” Skyler said after a moment.

  Marley rolled her eyes and slammed her beer can into the table. “Ugh. Fine.” Skyler moved aside as the vampire approached Abagail.

  “Hey, wait,” Abagail said on the other woman’s approach. “Shouldn’t you have burst into flames in daylight?”

  Marley gave a dismissive puff of air. “Please. Vampires are just prone to sunburn.”

  “Do you still drink blood?” Abagail asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Will you drink my blood?” Abagail’s hand defensively flitted to her neck.

  “Don’t flatter yourself,” Marley said, growing rapidly bored with the conversation. “Look, Abagail…”

  “Abby,” the woman corrected.

  Marley looked at her pointedly. “Abby, then. What did you go to college for?”

  “Journalism,” came the response.

  “Sweet,” Marley said, nodding in approval. “I got that one in the early nineties.”

  “Marley,” Skyler groaned in annoyance.

  The vampire cast a glance at him. “Right,” she sighed, returning her gaze to Abagail. “Are you a journalist now?” The younger woman nodded. “And do you like being able to… I don’t know… go out and do things without someone smothering you with their ‘protection’ and ostentatious physicality?” Abagail thought about it for a moment, then nodded her head again. “Alright, cool. Do you really, really want to give that all up?”

  Abagail’s mouth worked soundlessly as she processed Marley’s comment. Finally, she stammered, “W-what about… you know, like…” She trailed off. “No, that’s…” The woman shook her head, ran her hand through her hair, and puffed out air. “It’s just that supernatural things can’t realistically be handled by…”

  “Well, shit,” Skyler mumbled while he kicked defeatedly at the air.

  “Hush, you!” scolded Marley. “New approach!” Marley announced. “Look at me Abby,” she commanded. The other woman obliged. “Okay. You’re a journalist. Consider you sources.”

  Abigail blinked a couple of times. “Books?”

  “Right!” Marley said. “Fiction! And fiction is made by…” She trailed off as she gestured as though she was trying to physically draw out the answer. “By?”

  “Authors,” Abagail responded, her tone flat. She was certainly far from amused.

  “And authors are a product of our culture, and our culture’s views on gender roles tend to be…”

  It took a moment, but Abagail’s eyes betrayed her response as they widened in horror. “Oh, my god…” she said, bringing her hand up to her mouth. She looked at Marley and Skyler, mouth agape. “God damn it.” She made a face like she was going to throw up, but managed to force it down. “Fucking hell…” She staggered backward and thumped onto the chair.

  “Kinda sorta yeah,” Marley said sympathetically. She took a couple of steps to reach into the case of beer. “Beer?” she offered.

  Abagail nodded. “It’s just… I don’t get it,” she said quietly, eyes scanning the floor. Marley handed her a can, which she took. She pulled the tab and shook her head. “It’s like they’re all just trying to put women on a pedestal and it’s super fucking creepy.”

  “Tell me about it,” Skyler said. He walked over to Abagail and knelt in front of her. “If it makes you feel any better, you aren’t the first.”

  “Promise?” she asked quietly. He nodded. “I’m sorry. I bet I came off really weird.”

  “You haven’t left my house for a week. We said goodbye to merely ‘weird’ a long time ago.” He shrugged.

  Abagail sniffed. “I’m sorry I said all that racist stuff.”

  “We’ve heard worse, kid,” Marley said, pushing herself up onto the table.

  “No hard feelings, okay, Abby?” Skyler smiled, trying to reassure his guest. Abagail didn’t look up at him, but did nod meekly. “Still feelin’ a bit silly?” he asked. After a pause, Abagail nodded. Skyler looked around his kitchen trying to find something to help.

  “We got Scrabble, yo,” Marley said. “You wanna play Scrabble?”

  Abagail took a moment to consider the offer. “Yes,” she said.

  And so the werewolf, the vampire, and the human played Scrabble without the least bit of sexual tension between them. But the word ‘triangulate’ was played, which caused some manner of consternation among the three.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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