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My nice, long run should have tired me out. Instead, meeting Piter had just keyed me up. At first, I just stayed awake, excited to have met a shifter, maybe even a friend, who wouldn’t awkwardly treat me like a princess. Unless he was from Glenhela, I wasn’t his princess anyway. And there was a very slim chance he was actually from Glenhela. There were only a handful of wolves in the kingdom.
Somewhere along that train of thought was when I realized that Caernen was the closest wolf kingdom. The odds were good, too good, that Piter was from Caernen.
After that, I just stared into the darkness, up at the ceiling above my bunk. I couldn’t decide if making a friend from Caernen would be good or bad. It could be quite positive. Becoming friends with Piter could give me a look into Caernen that I couldn’t get from Danica, or even my brother. Piter would be a source outside of the palace. Heck, he could even talk to Danica and my brother and help them understand what the people of Caernen were thinking.
Or it would be terrible. If I announced my brother’s wedding to the future Queen of Caernen and people opposed to it found out I had gone to school with someone from that city. Would they think it was a conspiracy? What if Piter himself was against the wedding?
It was just all one massive headache. So much for escaping to school…
I felt like I was up the entire night, head spinning. I was almost dreading our next romp.
“You look tired,” Amanda said to me, while we waited in line for breakfast.
I nodded in agreement. After our plates were loaded up, we joined Olga and Janice at what had become our “usual” table. Partway through breakfast, a couple of male humans and a female came over.
“Mind if we join you?” one male with blond hair asked.
“Of course!” said Janice. “This is Devon,” she pointed to the blond. “And Alan and Edith. They’re in my English class. Guys, this is my roommate, Olga, and our friends Amanda and Lani.”
Devon sat down next to me and smiled.
“What are you studying?” he asked me.
“Undeclared,” I said. “I’ll figure something out eventually.”
“Laid-back, I like it! I’m doing Computer Science.”
“Sounds tough.” Shifters kept it simple. We had access to the same technology, but had kept our lives much less advanced than humans. I liked it that way.
Devon nodded. “Worth it though, I think.”
The two of us talked for the rest of the meal. He seemed like a fun human. The university had an Ultimate Frisbee club that Devon had joined. They met every Thursday and he convinced me to give it a try.
When breakfast was over, all seven of us walked across campus together, gradually splitting off for our classes. As chance would have it, Devon and I had class in the same building.
“Three hour class?” he asked me. When I nodded he said, “Me too. Wanna get lunch after?”’
I assumed he meant at the dining hall, but when we met up after class, he started walking the other direction.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“There’s a little shopping center up here, right off campus,” he said. “They have a good pizza place.” Devon stopped walking and turned to me nervously. “If you… like pizza.”
I laughed. “Yeah.”
“Great then, okay.” He kept walking and I hurried to catch up to him.
It was the first time I had left campus since the semester started. Although the shopping center was literally right next door. We crossed a street that led into campus from the main road and boom, we were there in the parking lot. The restaurant was a small, family-owned pizza parlor. Cozy, in fact. The walls were painted with scenes from Italy, mostly obscured by university memorabilia. It looked like the place had been open nearly as long as the university had existed. They had tons of black and white photographs from old college events and things like old jerseys and pennants. They even had a retired crew boat hanging from the ceiling.
Lunch was served by an extremely friendly woman who insisted we call her Mama. She asked our names and I had a feeling that she’d remember them if we came back. When the check came, Devon snatched it and paid for both meals.
“You don’t have to pay for me!” I cried.
“I invited you,” he said with a smile.
Had I just… wasn’t that what people did on dates? Had I just gone on my first ever date? And with a human at that! Could I ask if this was a date? Would that be weird?
“Fine,” I said instead. “I’ll just owe you.”
His smile turned shy. “You can pay next time… if you want to do this again.”
A second date? If that’s what this was. Well, why not? “That’d be great.”
Devon’s shoulders visibly slumped with relief. It was a date! “Awesome.”
We walked back to campus in comfortable silence. Was I crazy to go on a second date with a human? I half expected a kiss when we split up for our classes, but it didn’t happen. I couldn’t decide if I was disappointed or not. It would be my first kiss, after all. Did I really want to share that with a human? Did it matter that much? Maybe first kisses weren’t all they were cracked up to be.
I was still feeling a little torn when dinner time rolled around. Devon wasn’t in the dining hall, which didn’t help my indecision whatsoever. As I ate, I glanced around. It had become habit to look for the guy who had been staring at me the first night. I hadn’t seen him since. At first, I looked for him because he made me nervous. I wanted to catch him staring again. But, as time went on, I felt more like I was keeping an eye out just to be sure I hadn’t imagined him. Where was he? One paranoia-fueled possibility was that he was deliberately staying out of sight. I hoped not.
No sign of him. Now, I was free to start thinking about my upcoming run with Piter. Great. One more thing to worry about; a wolf who might have been from Caernen. Less than a month and I had a potentially imaginary stalker, a human who might want to date me, and a shifter who could be from the worst kingdom he could possibly be from.
“Only me,” I muttered.
When I got back to my room, I called my brother.
I opened with, “I need advice.”
“So, there are three guys.”
“Good lord, Lani. You’re skipping the love triangle and going straight for the square?”
“Larkin,” I groaned. “Not like that… not all of them.”
“Then, like what?”
“Well… one I only saw once.”
“He was staring at me. Like, creepy staring.”
I could hear concern in my brother’s voice. “You think he recognized you?”
“I don’t know. But I haven’t seen him since. It was only one time. I just… I dunno, I can’t forget it.”
“Keep your eyes open, I guess. Don’t let Mom’s paranoia rub off on you though.”
“Yeah,” I laughed.
“He’s human and… I think we went on a date today.”
“Is that a bad idea?”
“Why? It’s not like you’re going to marry the guy.”
“So? Date. Have fun. Isn’t that what college is all about?”
I flopped back onto my bed and smiled. Talking things over with my brother always made me feel better. Sometimes I just needed a second opinion. I hoped that wouldn’t change when we got older. Once I was Queen, I’d need him more than ever.
“You really are helpful, Larkin.”
“I know.” We both laughed. “Sooo?” he finally drawled.
“He’s a shifter.”
“Ouch. Does Mom know there’s another shifter there?”
“Where’s he from?”
“I didn’t ask! I know better.”
“What is he?”
I sighed. “He’s a wolf.”
“How far from you is Doreva?” Another wolf kingdom.
“Further than Caernen.”
“What do you guys… do?”
“So far we just shifted and went running. Doing it again tonight.”
“Remember what I said about a love triangle…”
“No! He is not on the table. He’s just another shifter.”
“What if he wants more?”
“I’m the Princess of Glenhela. I can’t get involved with him, especially if he’s from Caernen.”
“He doesn’t know that.” Larkin hesitated. “Uh… does he?”
“Well, then that’s what your human boyfriend is for. Now you have an excuse to not date the wolf.”
“I don’t know if I want a human boyfriend either.”
“Sucks to be you.”
“Butthole… don’t tell him you’re from Glenhela, Lani.”
“And I know it’s hard, but don’t do anything stupid.”
“Aww, it’s almost like you care, Larkin.”
My door opened and Amanda came in with Olga.
“Gotta go. Love you.”
“Yeah, you too.”
I hung up and smiled at them. “Hey.”
“Who was that?” Amanda chirped.
“Ahh, I thought it was Devon.”
“I saw how he was looking at you during breakfast,” she teased. “You guys would be a cute couple.”
I laughed nervously. She and Olga exchanged a knowing look. I considered just skipping running. How had things gotten so complicated so quickly?
In the end, I decided that I needed the exercise. I met Piter back on the stairway.
We talked, briefly, as we walked toward the woods. Just about our classes and how we were enjoying school. Nothing about where we were from. In fact, we could have been humans for all we talked about being shifters. And then, we ran. No words at all. Sometimes we kept pace, other times we spread apart. Wolves were marathon runners, lions were sprinters. When it was over, we walked back to the dorm together.
I felt relieved. This was the level of relationship I could safely maintain. Maybe even a bit more friendly. I hoped that Piter felt the same way. With any luck he didn’t want to get too close to a lion.
“I don’t think we should risk this three days in a row,” he said when we reached the stairway.
“Perfect,” I said in relief. Nothing as humans. Keep it shifter-business. I liked it.
I lay awake again, tumbling it all around in my head. Maybe I was overcomplicating things. I didn’t know the guy was staring at me. And, even if he was, what were the odds that it was because he knew my identity?
And Piter… I’d deal. I came to college to get away from the worries about the future. Who cared, really, if he was Caernen? One lone college friend wouldn’t affect the fallout from the marriage one way or the other. If we even stayed friends. Maybe he’d transfer after this semester. Maybe our schedules wouldn’t line up. Maybe another wolf shifter would show up and they’d become best buddies and forget all about me.
As for Devon… who cared? It was just as uncertain as Piter. And what was the harm of having a human boyfriend?
Feeling much better, I snuggled under my covers and fell asleep.
Breakfast was just me and Olga, until Janice’s classmate Edith joined us.
“You cool if I sit here?” she asked.
“Of course,” said Olga. “So, where are you from?”
“The northwest,” said Edith. “Little podunk town that nobody has ever heard of. This is the big city for me.”
“Some big city,” said Olga, who I knew was from Boston. “You’re likely to get eaten by a coyote here.”
I bit back a snicker. Or a lion.
“Come to my town, you’ll get eaten by a bear,” Edith said.
“Bears?” Olga cried. “Not like in town?”
“Yeah, they go through the garbage and stuff. See ‘em all the time.”
Edith grinned. “So, either of you have a homecoming date yet?”
Olga snorted. “No way. Dances aren’t my scene. I’ll be at the football game though!”
I was excited for homecoming. Not so much the dance, but the entire package of celebration and school pride.
“Not yet,” I said.
“Going to the dance?” Olga asked, wrinkling her nose.
I shrugged. “No reason not to.”
“Except for the dance part,” she said dryly.
Olga’s reaction didn’t seem to dim Edith’s enthusiasm. “It’s going to be fun! Just gotta get my guy to ask me…”
“Ask him,” I suggested.
“He doesn’t even know I exist,” she sighed.
“You have two weeks,” Olga told her.
Edith nodded. “I do. I’ll just bide my time and wait for the right moment.”
We finished eating and headed off to our classes. My stomach was a nervous knot by the end of class. Lunch, English, and then Ultimate Frisbee… I counted down in my head.
Ultimate Frisbee, as it turned out, was nothing to be nervous about. In fact, it was a blast! Devon showed me the basics before the game started and then we weren’t even on the same team. I was a little stronger and faster than the average human, but none of that was an advantage in the unfamiliar game. I thought that, at first, I’d have to act more normal. By the end of the game I was using my supernatural skills just to keep up! Some of the humans made the most incredible catches. Devon, in particular, was quite agile.
Tired, but giddy, I accepted Devon’s invitation to dinner after the game ended. We ate a quick bite in the dining hall, much later than I usually had dinner. We were heading toward the doors when they opened and Piter walked in.
“Oh, Lani,” he said, looking surprised.
And then he walked in. The guy who had been staring at me. His eyes widened. If he didn’t know who I was, he sure looked stunned to see me. He stopped in his tracks, then his shocked expression cooled into a neutral one.
For a moment, none of us spoke.
“Who’s your friend?” Devon finally asked. Did I hear a hint of jealousy in his voice?
“Sorry, this is Piter,” I said. “And this is Devon.”
They shook hands and I was glad to see that Piter didn’t display any tell-tale signs of possessiveness. My brother’s love triangle joke seemed like just that. What a relief.
“This is my roommate, Jory,” Piter said. “This is uh…” He cleared his throat. “Lani.”
Jory looked at me with piercing dark blue eyes. They flicked to Devon, narrowed, and then burned back into me.
Undeterred by Jory’s reaction, or perhaps unaware, Devon stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same,” said Jory flatly. He pushed between us and stalked off into the dining hall.
Piter smiled awkwardly and hurried after him.
“Great guy,” Devon said.
“Piter is,” I said, compelled to defend another shifter. “His roommate… not so much.”
“Is he now?” Devon asked. “How uh… how great?”
He was jealous!
“Well, I mean. A friend.”
“Just a friend?”
“Hey, you wanna…” Devon sighed and trailed off.
Devon laughed nervously. “Homecoming. Do you want to go with me? To the dance?”
I hope you liked Chapter Three!
I’m currently snowed in with a record breaking snowstorm, so I’m running some sales! The 2nd book in my More than Magic series is currently free from Smashwords, using the coupon code WK67M (Book 1 is 99 cents) AND the first book in my Curse Collectors series is on sale for 99 cents as well! If you’re enjoying Lion’s Pride and haven’t read my other books, you’ve picked a great week to start!