“Nothing really exci— wait. That’s a lie. July and I went on a real stakeout the other night!” I whisper-hiss the last part.
“A… stakeout?” He laughs. “What, like, with sweet catsuits and snacks and stuff?”
“God, you know me way too well.” I roll my eyes.
“Over a decade of friendship, Crazy One,” he reminds me. He calls July “Crazy Two” when I’m telling him about our epic adventures. There have been quite a few over the years. She’s my partner in crime.
“Fair enough. So. Someone has been leaving these poor injured… no, not even just injured. These dogs are basically taking their last breaths when this person leaves them at the door of our clinic for us to find the next morning,” I confide quietly.
“Wait… like, it’s happened more than once?” His eyes go wide.
“Several times now. It’s obvious they’re being fought, ya know, like for money. Anyway, so we had a stakeout and caught the dude dropping off a dog. We followed him, and—”
“Two American burgers all the way with fries?” We’re interrupted by the waitress.
We lean back, realizing we were practically in each other’s face in the middle of the table as I told him the exciting but heartbreaking tale.
“That’s us,” Eric replies, rubbing his hands together.
I wiggle in my seat, a happy dance as I reach for the ketchup to soak my fries. Eric’s chuckle makes me look up at him. “What?”
“I want a girl who reacts to me the way you react when someone brings you food,” he tells me, and my face softens.
“Same, homie. Same.” And that’s when Z’s face appears in my mind’s eye for the first time in the last twenty minutes. But it’s not just Z’s face. It’s the expression he wears whenever he looks at me. He looks at me like he wants to devour me, like I’m his prey. Probably exactly how I’m looking at this burger in front of me.
“So what happened after you followed him?” Eric asks a few minutes later, after we’ve inhaled half our meals without a single word between us.
I wipe my mouth with a napkin and swallow my bite of food with a sip of sweet tea. “We followed him to this biker bar. Super sketchy.”
“In your catsuits, no less,” he inserts with a chuckle.
“In our sweet-ass catsuits.” I nod. “But our plan was thwarted!” I raise my fist in the air dramatically.
“Thwarted?” He raises a brow.
“Freaking. Thwarted.” I sigh. “July’s stupid hot biker was there and made us leave. So we never got to question the guy who’s been dropping off the pups.”
“Damn. Stupid hot bikers. They ruin everything,” Eric says, shaking his head.
“Right?” I agree, thinking of Z and how he’s ruined my brain, making me unable to think of hardly anything but him.
We’re so full by the time we’re done eating that we decide going to see a movie would be a waste of money and would end up being an expensive nap. He takes me home instead, promising to send me pics of the new kitty obstacle course he’s been building the last several weeks. I don’t care what anyone says. I have the coolest friends ever.
I have a smile on my face as I unlock my door, my belly nice a full, and my Jacuzzi tub is calling my name. I can hear LeFou barking inside, so as I enter my house, I coo a “It’s just me, little guy” as I close the door behind me.
As I reach for the switch on my couch-side lamp, I’m suddenly grabbed from behind. I don’t even have time to scream before I’m slammed against the door, right next to the window Z came through nights ago. It knocks the breath out of me, and fear consumes me, knowing my gun is in the other room.
“What happened?” July asks shakily, pulling me into the house after I somehow made it here in a daze and banged on her door.
I didn’t know where else to go. My eyes fill up with tears and she helps me over to the couch, barely registering Wes is on his phone behind July.
“Talk to me,” she urges, and I lower my head, trying to find the courage to relive the most terrifying experience of my life.
“Wait ‘til Z and a couple of the guys get here,” Wes interrupts, getting down on his haunches next to July and handing me some tissue.
“Why do we need to wait for them?” she asks him, looking into my watery eyes. I know I must have a black eye and a cut lip. It stings when my tears run across them.
“I only want her to tell us once, and then you’re going to go clean her up,” he explains gently.
She nods then moves to sit down next to me, wrapping her arm around my shoulders. I lean into her, her familiar presence comforting as we wait.