Mooning Over a Monster
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Levi pauses, his fingers pinching the nipple-like top of his bishop piece. I bite my bottom lip to keep from smiling as I watch the consternation envelop his handsome features.
“Are you going to explain?” he asks.
I shrug. “Where’s the fun in that?”
My friend scowls at the chessboard between us, trying to discern if my advice was honest or a trick to throw him off his game. The chances are fifty-fifty.
As Levi takes more time deciding, I ponder over how, even put out, he’s a sight worthy of an audience. Inky locks frame a well-carved face with a prominent nose that somehow fits perfectly with the rest of his features. Classically handsome, which is a good thing, as he dislikes taking on his other shape.
Nice for him to get that choice.
Levi’s random roll of genetics allowed him a human form and a monster form. He can move freely through the world in a way I cannot. But I don’t resent him that option. Especially because he seems to be having a harder time accepting the label our society has given us.
“You’re trying to trick me,” he mutters, still fingering the chess piece while his other hand fiddles with his full lower lip as his brows dip with doubt.
“Guess you’ll find out,” I sing back to him, all innocent tone.
Yes, the monster is gorgeous. And yet he doesn’t stir anything romantic in my chest.
We tried once. Not long ago, Levi and I decided to give dating a chance. The sex was good—not that I had a lot to compare it to—but outside of the bedroom, there was only ever friendship. The passion, when it arose, felt forced. Like blowing on smoldering kindling underneath a pile of wet wood.
Luckily, Levi felt the same, and we ended things on a mutual note and have successfully maintained our friendship. Thank the gods because I already have a limited number of offline acquaintances. No need to chip away at the miniscule group.
Although the number might have recently increased by one.
“Not falling for it.” Levi scoots his bishop diagonally across the board, and I smother a grin of triumph.
Three moves later, and he’s muttering curses as I checkmate his king.
“Told you so.”
“No one likes a cocky winner.” His long fingers work to meticulously place the pieces back in their wooden case.
“If I remember correctly, you twerked last week when you won in Scrabble.”
“I did no such thing.” He affects an affronted tone, even as the corner of his mouth curls. “And I would’ve won this time if I wasn’t distracted.”
“Hmm. Distracted by me? Or by some council issue?”
Last year, all the monsters living within Folk Haven’s town limits voted on who would represent us on the town’s Mythic Council. Levi won with more than eighty percent of the votes.
“Oh, wait. Maybe you were distracted by a council member.”
When my friend glowers at me, I can’t fight a grin anymore. He’s too easy to rile. Besides, I’m positive I know what’s had him off his game. Moira MacNamara. Fellow council member and Calder’s older sister. My guess is, Levi is half in love with the selkie woman even if he won’t admit it.
One more reason I’m glad we’re not an item.
“My mind is on my business,” he retorts, standing from the straight-backed chair he always sits in at my house. The least comfortable chair I own, as if he thinks he’s not allowed to relax. “Nothing else. Or have you forgotten that I’m opening my own spa in less than a month?”
Sure. And hopefully, that place has some comfortable chairs to sit in.
“Ah, yes. How silly of me.” I stroll with him to the door, tucking my hands in the pockets of the linen shorts I wore because I knew he was coming over. Same with the loose black halter top that covers my itty-bitty titties while leaving a gaping opening for my wings.
“Let me know when you want to come by the spa.” Levi’s grumpiness from my teasing fades as he opens my front door and smiles down at me. “I’ll set up a private room for you. And all the employees are monsters, so it’ll be no problem.”
Yeah, no problem. Not like usual, where simply my existence is an issue.
I keep those sharp words to myself.
“I’ll think about it.”
Levi’s enthusiasm dims. “Satine—”
“Hi!” The booming greeting has me jumping backward, ready to lunge inside and separate myself from the new arrival before they can comprehend the oddity of my appearance.
Then, I spy the red beard, and my panic evaporates.
“Mahon.” I step to the edge of my porch. “Hey.”
The bear shifter lingers in my driveway, looking rugged when compared to Levi’s business casual appearance. The big man has on heavy working boots, faded jeans, and a gray T-shirt that’s worn on the edges. He clutches a scuffed-up cooler in one hand and a blanket in the other.
But his expression is what catches my attention. The normally jovial man glances between Levi and me, brows raised, eyes … sad.
“Sorry. I should’ve called. Only I don’t have your number. So, I showed up.” Mahon raises his shoulders but doesn’t let them fall in a full shrug. Like he’s trying to brace himself for a blow.
My heart aches, and I stroll forward without thought.
“Don’t worry about it,” I say.
The shifter blinks, as if surprised to find me at his side. I wrap my hand around his wrist and tug him forward, strangely worried that he’ll barrel off into the woods and I’ll never see him again.
“Have you met my friend, Levi Abadi? We play chess sometimes, and I just beat him mercilessly.”
Mahon glances at my hold and then into my face, his lighting up with a grin. “Of course you did. No one compares to you.”
Warmth flushes through my body, and when I look at Levi, I can tell my friend is doing his best to suppress a smirk. Suddenly, I’m regretting my shortsighted teasing from earlier.
“Levi …” I put a warning in my voice. You’d better not embarrass me in front of the adorable bear. “This is Mahon Vernon Deepcave the third.”
When I release my hold on Mahon, he drops the blanket on the ground and reaches out to shake the monster’s hand.
“Nice to meet you, Mahon the third.” Levi keeps a cordial tone that tells me I’m in for it during our next hangout session.
“You too, buddy. Are you guys dating?”
My friend covers a laugh with a cough while I wonder if Mahon is this up front all the time.
“We tried that a while back,” Levi answers. “Didn’t work out. We’re friends now.”
The bear gives his hand a vigorous shake. “Good for me!” Then, Mahon turns his beaming face my way. “Want to go on a picnic?”