Saved by the Alpha, a Stori Original
I trudge through the frost and tuck some of my stray red hair back under my hood. The sun isn't up yet, but it doesn't have a shift starting in fifteen minutes like I do.
I don't live too far from The Howl, the restaurant where I work, so I walk, even though it's below freezing. If I could afford a car I might’ve driven, but that would still probably take longer what with having to defrost it, assuming it would start at all in this cold.
In a way, I like it. The cold doesn't bother me too much, and it's totally quiet, except for echoes of the crunch of ice under my boots; there is no one else out this early yet.
Well, almost no one. I see a guy coming down a street almost a full block away. His hood is up, so I can’t see his face. I keep walking, leaving him behind as I cross the street.
I take a deep breath through the scarf protecting my face from windchill and let myself enjoy the peace. It won't be this quiet once the breakfast rush starts.
A flicker of movement catches my eye, and I look after it, alert. It would be unwise to be unwary on an Alaskan morning like this one. Polar bears sometimes come into town when they get curious enough.
I give the shadowed corner where I saw the flicker of movement a wide berth, just in case.
I continue walking, only a block away from work now, when I hear something.
Not right away.
I slowly notice that my own footsteps sound different. Heavier.
I stop and the sound of steps keeps going.
I turn and see a figure, the same guy in the hoodie I saw before. I wonder for a moment if he’s following me. When he sees me looking, he starts running towards me.
My eyes widen and a shot of terror kicks me into motion.
I dash forward, away from him, hoping I can make it to the restaurant before he catches me.
I race around the corner, but crash to an abrupt stop when I hit something.
“Oof.” I say as the air is forced out of my lungs, and fall on my butt.
“You okay, Heaven?” A familiar resonant voice asks above me, and a large hand enters my field of vision. I look up into the face of Malcolm: The Howl's bartender, and my longtime unrequited crush. The dark waves of his hair fall over his dark blue eyes draw me in as he gazes down at me. I accept the warm hand, and he helps me stand effortlessly. Even standing, I’m dwarfed by him, barely coming up to his broad shoulders.
“Yeah.” I wheeze, looking behind me, expecting my pursuer to appear at any second.
“Eager to get to work today?” He laughs and I accept his offered hand and rise to my feet.
I’m still looking behind me. Only a few yards away, footprints that aren't mine come to an abrupt halt in the snow. “Something like that.” I say belatedly. The creepy guy in the hoodie is gone, nowhere to be seen. I stare at the foot prints, wondering what the heck just happened.
Malcolm, seemingly having not noticed anything, ushers me onward, and we head into work. I get an uneasy feeling when I wonder who was chasing me and why, but I need my job, so I turn my attention away from it as the day begins, and leave troubling thoughts for another time.
The Howl is an upscale restaurant on the water. There are windows on every side, reflecting the lights of the city across the water, and the stars and moon above. From the dining floor, I can see the whole bay stretched out around me - at least when the sun is up.
I have gotten used to the view, to be honest. Working at sunset could be practically blinding, and it is cold in the winter with all that glass.
The kitchen is discreetly tucked below the main floor. As I head downstairs to start opening, I wonder, where is Daisy? but I already know the answer.
Carrying a tray of clean dishes from the kitchen, I find Daisy sitting on a stool by the entrance to the dish pit, attentively tapping away on her phone. Her long blonde hair is immaculate under a silk headband, as are her black silk pants, which flatter her long legs in all the right ways.
I snort lightly. I guess it’s easy to look perfect when you have a rich daddy and never do any actual work.
“What are you doing?” She asks, in that cloyingly bratty voice of hers.
“Your job.” I retort, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. I’ve argued with Daisy too many times to expect anything to convince her to do her own work.
“Oh, it’s you.” She says, glancing up at me for a fleeting moment as I pass. “Never mind, I thought you were Malcolm.”
“Malcolm’s setting up too.” I say dryly as I stop next to her. “Like you should be.”
She just ignores the work part. “Whatever, Heaven. It’s not like I care. Malcolm and I broke up last night. He forgot our two months back together anniversary. Can you believe it?” I dig my heel into the floor, the only reason Princess Daisy even works here is to keep an eye on Malcolm, her eternally on-again, off-again boyfriend.
I brush off my frustration and head back upstairs; I go around, setting tables, and as I’m finishing that task the front door opens. I recognize the tailored suit and broad shoulders of Chase Ford, the owner, from across the room.
I remember being shocked when I realized that Malcolm and Chase were brothers. Chase is the same height as Malcolm, but built more like a linebacker whereas Malcolm looks like a movie star. They don’t even look very similar – Malcolm’s dark wavy hair only adds to his seductive charm, but Chase has a no-nonsense short cut for his light brown, almost blonde, hair. They both have chiseled features that could melt the coldest heart, but on Chase it looks hard, like he’s a professional fighter instead of a business owner.
Chase has none of Malcolm’s charm or patience, though I have to admit, I had a crush on him right away. That is, until I found out what a hot-tempered, controlling ass he is. My heart was disappointed, to be sure, but my stupid fickle heart soon moved towards the never-available, way-too-hot-for-me Malcolm. I sigh inwardly.
When Chase heads towards his office, I see he’s going through some paperwork he has in his hands. I turn back to what I’m doing, hoping he won’t hassle me on his way to his office.
“Are you almost done yet?” Chase asks, stopping me mid-turn. His clear grey eyes regard me with his usual aloof arrogance. For the millionth time, I notice the slight scar across his nose, and wonder if he’s even had his nose broken. If not, I’d volunteer for the job. Chase has a way of making me want to scream and dig my nails into him.
Once upon a time, his powerful build and smoky eyes would have had me giggling nervously, hungry for his approval, but that was before I learned what an ass he is. Quick to anger and hard headed as a goat, Chase pushes all my buttons.
I take a deep breath to steady my own hot temper before I answer. I certainly don’t need to be written up again.
“Almost.” I say to the stacks of clean dishes, not wanting to even look at him. Sometimes even looking at this man, who I used to find so handsome, makes me unreasonably angry. His nagging could’ve won gold in the Olympic games. They’d probably have to invent a medal even higher than that, just for him.
“Where is Daisy?” He asks, like he doesn’t already know. Maybe he doesn’t. If I ran this place, I would have fired someone as useless as her on the first day.
“I don’t know. In the kitchen, probably.” I go back to arranging the spare clean plates so they are ready to go for the day.
“Is she washing dishes?” He seems confused. His heavy brow is pinched slightly over his piercing eyes.
I laugh lightly, with just a little sardonic bitterness. “No.” Chase raises an eyebrow before turning back to his scheduling paperwork. “There's a shift available if you want to open again tomorrow.”
Usually, I snap up any extra shift I can, but even as my mouth opens, I hesitate. My thoughts flick back to the shadowy figure who'd chased me this morning, and my mouth gets dry.
Chase looks up at me, looking confused and a little irritated. “Someone chased me this morning on my way in.” I blurt out, a bit defensively.
Chase frowns, turning back towards me. “Who?”
“I don't know.” I scowl. “Some guy. I didn’t see his face.”
“Is that why you were running?” Malcolm asks, joining the conversation from behind the bar, leaning against the countertop.
“Did you see this guy?” Chase turns to direct the question at Malcolm. I can feel steam coming out of my ears.
“Um…” Malcolm glances at me, shifting his weight against his palm and unsettling his casual lean. “I didn't but-”
Chase turns back to his schedule paperwork, raising an incredulous eyebrow, and looking at me expectantly. “Whatever. Do you want the shift tomorrow or not?”
“Sure.” I say through gritted teeth. I'm too angry to say anything else. To be honest, I’ve been wondering if I really did see someone, since they just disappeared when I turned the corner. Chase brushing my fears aside is just so high handed and demeaning that I could slap his face, but I won't. Even if he deserves it.
Chase walks away, but Malcolm comes closer. “Do you want me to walk you home tonight?”
I scuff my foot. “Sure, Malcolm. Thanks.”
I don’t notice anything strange on my walk home with Malcolm. Actually, it’s hard to notice anything other than Malcolm. I wave goodbye to him from the stoop of my loft, and he waves back as he departs. His strong back and perfect ass tantalize me under his heavy coat as he walks away.
I sigh as I watch him go, disappointing my darkest fantasies about inviting him up to my place for the night, or at least kissing on the stoop, but I’d seen Malcolm and Daisy break up too many times to ever get my hopes up that he is finally single. I sigh again.
I’m such a hopeless fool.
I kick off my shoes and drop down into my chair. My apartment is a one room loft above the convenience store below. It’s affordable enough that I can save up a little when tips are good.
I massage my aching feet with a pained sigh, and go for a shower. I consider skipping it and just dropping into bed, but catch a whiff of myself and think the better of it.
When I emerge from the bathroom, I waste no time putting on my comfiest pajamas and sliding into bed. I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow.
Heavily, I realize that I’m back in the apartment I grew up in.
I remember this particular closet. I used to hide here while my parents were working, but in the dream, it feels like it’s happening all over again.
The knock on the door is heavy and invasive, but it’s muffled in the bedroom closet. Sitting with my back to the far wall, I can peek through the crack in the door and see the living room, where my parents have a guest.
My parents have guests a lot. They always send me to the closet when the guests come over, but this time is different. I recognize this one; he chased me in the street on my way to work, he’s dangerous…but that seems like a lifetime ago.
The man under the hood is arguing with my parents. He’s getting angry. I can’t hear what he says - the words roll off my ears - but it sounds serious.
The sounds become louder, and more incomprehensible. A sudden movement, too fast to see, sends something crashing through the back wall. I gasp, clutching my stuffed puppy a little tighter.
All sounds stop, except for the beating of my own heart.
The stranger stills in his advance. I cower deeper into the shadows, but I can still see his head, as it slowly turns in my direction.
His face is cast in deep shadow, his hood covers all but his quiescent smirk. His smile widens as his unseen eyes find me. His teeth gleam, shards of white that chill me with the threat of death.
I leap up, tangled in the sheets, and topple to the floor. My phone is flung across the room, cracking the screen and silencing the alarm.
I collapse onto the bed, fighting to detangle my legs. I’d tossed and turned in my sleep to the point that I’d ended up at the foot of the bed, tangled in the sheets, pillowcase in one hand and pillow on the floor.
And this is how I kick off my day.
My phone is broken. Great. I have no way of check the time and see if I’m late or not. I make time for a hurried shower since I’m covered in sweat from my nightmare, but I forget to start the coffee maker, so I’m beyond agitated by the time I rush to work.
Most days I don’t really think about my parents anymore. I doubt they think about me either. But at times like this, I can’t help but resent my parents for the nightmares. They’d made my childhood a fraught struggle for daily survival. They’d shown me every day that I was not important to them, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t need them or anyone else.
I can take care of myself.
Inevitably, I’m stuck taking the trash out at the end of the night. As usual, Daisy is nowhere to be found.
I have a nervous thought as the back door closes behind me, the last bags of trash in hand; I think of the unseen eyes of the creepy man who’d followed me yesterday.
It’s quiet in the alley. I shake my head and hasten my steps, starting to feel really foolish. I hadn’t actually thought about the nightmare all day: I’d been too busy with work. Getting nervous about it now just seems dumb.
Down the alley, just outside the lights on the restaurant’s lower ‘back’ door, I unlock the dumpster and start tossing bags in, careful to not let them drip on me. I heave the bags in, and clap my hands together to brush off the dirt.
The hair on the back of my neck stands up, and I’m struck by the feeling of being watched. I try not to panic, and make a show of casually stretching my back as I take a look around me. I curse myself under my breath. Just because I was wrong about one guy chasing me, doesn’t mean it’s safe for a woman in a dark alley, alone and unaware.
Keeping my wits about me I turn to head back in, walking with a wooden grace and quiet, balances strides.
A sudden burst of sound and movement on my left, around the corner of the building, scares me despite my wariness.
“Boo!” Daisy shouts, and immediately starts laughing. I wanna deck her.
She laughs like a little kid, savoring her ‘victory’. “I got you!” She squeals.
“Whatever.” I sigh, and release some tension to make space for my suppressed rage. “I already got the trash.” I meet her eyes meaningfully. We both know she was supposed to be the one to take it out. “You’re welcome.”
Daisy rolls her eyes, shifting gears from giddy to bratty. “I know you take things you’re not supposed to.” She holds her hand out to me expectantly, “and I want it back.”
I stare at her outstretched hand, confused. “You…want the trash back?”
Daisy stomps her foot like a child. “No, stupid. The tips.” She thrusts her hand at me again, and my irritation ratchets up.
“What are you talking about?” I move to cross my arms, regard my dirty hands, and think the better of it.
She stamps her feet harder, and I can see a tantrum coming on. “The tips! You-”
“What’s going on here?” Malcolm interrupts, coming through the back door, and walking up to us. His broad frame shelters us from the light snowfall, but even his distractingly tight shirt isn’t enough to stop the fight.
“She stole the tips!” Daisy whines. Suddenly there are tears in her big eyes. My temper flares and I want to punch her in her dumb prissy face.
I clench my fists angrily. “I didn’t steal anything, you lazy-”
“Woah! Woah!” Malcolm holds up his hands, trying to intercede. We ignore his mediation attempts and keep hurling accusations with ever increasing volume.
“What’s going on out here?” Chase joins us, looking at each of us like petulant children. His usually incredulous brows are knitted together angrily. “I could hear you carrying on from inside.”
We all go to answer him at once. Daisy starts shrieking accusations, I try to defend myself, and I can’t even hear what Malcolm is saying over Daisy’s shrill tone. Chase tries to silence everyone with his crushingly authoritative presence, but the last thing I hear Daisy say is something about me “taking more than my fair share” and I lose it all over again.
I step towards her, certain that this will be the day I finally murder her, but something hot and solid is wrapped around my middle and it stops me mid-step. I come up short, blinking stupidly, and look down to see what’s holding me. I don’t see anything, but I feel it, dangerously hot and burning me, even through my apron.
The rapidly increasing heat penetrating my clothes distracts me enough that I stop paying any attention to Daisy and our argument, but before I can find and grab the thing around my middle, it pulls sharply and I lose my footing, falling on my face in the middle of the alley.
I feel something hot disturb the air above me. It shoots over me, hits the wall behind Chase and explodes. The heat is too much; I look away from the inferno and cover my face protectively with my arms.
Chaos breaks out. Daisy screams, scampering out of sight. Chase and Malcolm leap forward like caged animals ready for a fight. They reach for me with their combined physical prowess, but before they can grab me, I’m pulled back.
I slide across gravel and asphalt on my stomach, away from the lights of the waterfront. My hands scramble for anything to hold onto. I’m pulled over a pot hole, at least four inches deep, and my ankle catches painfully before I grab the edge with all the strength I have in my fingers. It’s enough to stop my backwards slide. The thing around my waist tightens and tries to pull me deeper into the alley, but I hold on despite the pain.
Whatever is back there, my gut tells me, is worse than some road rash.
I look up. Chase looks battle ready, his practically short, blonde hair makes him look like a fighter, especially since his suit jacket is gone and his bulging muscles are literally ripping through his shirt. Meanwhile, Malcolm’s apron and shirt sleeves are gone entirely. His dark waves are swept back, and his usually casual vibe is gone.
Both Chase and Malcolm running towards me, but I’ve covered an impressive distance in only a few seconds and they’re further off than I wish they were. A sound behind me draws my attention, and I look over my shoulder.
My eyes make out figures behind me, at least three; they step further into the light: men wearing hoods that hide their eyes. Beneath the shadows of their hoods their teeth shine, drawing my eyes to how disconcertingly sharp they look.
My terrified brain calls them vampires, but that’s just the panic talking.
“Duck!” I scream.
One of the hooded figures lunges when Chase is near enough, gripping him and biting into the meat of Chase’s shoulder. Chase thrusts his attacker off of him, and I could swear I hear him growl. I want to question that, but there is too much going on, especially as Malcolm, a beat behind his brother, joins the fray.
I hear sounds behind me, and turn to look. I identify the sounds of running footsteps, echoing down the alleyway coming towards us. The cloaked figures hear it too. They vanish an instant before the newcomers race around the corner.
The tension and burning heat around my waist disappear suddenly, and the force pulling me back is gone. I’m finally able to push myself off the ground.
At first, I’m wary of the newcomers, but Chase greets them by name, obviously relieved by their arrival, so I relax a bit. They gather around me protectively, and help me stand but stay in their defensive formation. Chase and Malcolm both check on me cyclically, all talking to each other in quick, furtive bursts.
“What was that?” I interject. The men look at me, then at each other. None of us have the answer, but we’re all wondering the same thing.