Dakotah knocked wearily on the metal door, her flats were tucked beneath her arm and her hair was matted to her neck with blood. Gage opened the door of his tiny apartment wide when he saw it was Dakotah. "You look like shit," said a voice from inside.





“Spitting Venom”



Gage was dressed and waiting for Dakotah when she bounded through the thinning trees to the mulched playground area; he had a grim look on his face. "That was cruel," he said quietly, to no-one in particular.

She cocked an ear. Something large breathed on the back of her neck and Dakotah scuttled beneath the swing set. Brett rolled his lupine shoulders and yawned widely. He made a noise in his chest that could have been laughter. Dakotah clicked her teeth at him.

 Brett began to stand on his hind paws; he shed his pelt noiselessly and strode butt-nekked to Dakotah's truck to grab his clothes. She peered out from her hiding place and caught a glimpse of Brett's bare chest. There were thin white scars decorating his tanned flesh. Five tick marks of puckered scar tissue fanned out above his right nipple. It looked old; the same way the scar on her arm looked.

"The little vixen should know," said Brett to Gage in a hushed growl, "that I play dirty. And I play for keeps." He pulled his grey shirt on, effectively ruining Dakotah's view. She huffed. Asshat though he may be, Dakotah could certainly appreciate a body like that.

"Do you plan to stay a fox?" asked Brett.

Gage looked down at her and raised a dark brow. "Well?"

Dakotah barked once and looked from Gage to Brett. She didn't have a clue how to leave her animal skin behind. She whined softly and crawled from beneath the swing. In an attempt to mimic Brett, she tried to stand but lost her balance. After trying to do it three times, Gage got tired of watching Dakotah fail.

"Let me tell her how to do it," pleaded Gage. Dakotah looked from Gage to Brett, who had his arms crossed over his chest. Dakotah felt like a child watching her parents squabble. She snuffled.

"No. You know the rule," said Brett with a hard edge to his voice. Dakotah paused and began to listen to their conversation. "The pups must figure out the mechanics on their own."

"Good, she's a kit; that means I can tell her."

"Smartass," said Brett. "You can't give her any advice. Technicalities aside."

"That is a cruel practice and you know it," said a furious Gage. She observed that Brett was obviously his superior because it would seem that a direct order had to be obeyed. Otherwise Gage would have explained things to her by now.

Dakotah barked. Gage stared at her and Brett just turned on his heel and walked away. He shoved his hands into his pockets as he turned and gave Dakotah a sad shrug, like it was all that he could do. Walk away.

"That bastard," hissed Gage. "Look, Dakotah, I'm sorry, but Brett is higher in the pack; I have to listen to him." He bent and rubbed the black tips of Dakotah's ears and walked away with a sigh. Her clothes were lying on the seat of her recently vacated swing. In the parking lot, an engine turned over and Dakotah saw a black car like Brooke's drive away.

After pacing the park for ten minutes and scrambling over the jungle gym, she began to keen in panic; fiercely, she thought about her human shape. Black hair, green eyes, straight nose, long neck, tan skin, slight curves, tiny feet. She began to quake and shiver as her skin prickled in the insistent breeze. In the end, the change back was like climbing out of a pool—cold and naked. Dakotah stared at herself, dried blood coated her skin and cracked when she curled her lip up; it clogged her nostrils in a thick mucus and she gagged. Like a broken doll, Dakotah gathered her clothes and slipped them on, choosing to remain barefoot. Her toes were a bloody mess still.


Dakotah knocked wearily on the metal door, her flats were tucked beneath her arm and her hair was matted to her neck with blood.

Gage opened the door of his tiny apartment wide when he saw it was Dakotah. "You look like shit," said a voice from inside. It sounded like Brett.

Dakotah stepped inside and shot a look at the lanky mess of limbs that was reclining on Gage's leather couch. He was bare-chested and freshly showered.

"Can I use your shower?" slurred Dakotah. She wiggled her toes and some blood flaked off, showering the linoleum entry in rust.

Gage laughed a little and gestured toward the open bathroom.

She smiled tiredly and within moments she was standing under the stream of hot water. Quickly, she soaped up and scrubbed her scalp with the shampoo that sat on the shower floor. "Boys are so messy," muttered Dakotah, rinsing away the conditioner.

After scrubbing herself thoroughly pink, she turned off the water and reached for the towel she had left on the back of the toilet—it wasn't there, instead she felt warm skin. In a panic, she wrenched both her arm and the curtain back and squeaked in embarrassment.

Brett yelled and hurriedly finished buttoning his pants. He shielded his eyes and flushed the toilet, all the while murmuring a stream-lined apology.

"I'm sorry! I was about to piss my pants waiting for you to get out, but it had been twenty minutes, and—I'm sorry!" He flinched but Dakotah only smiled. "What?" asked a hesitant Brett.

"This is the first time I've seen any emotion out of you," answered Dakotah as she held the shower curtain against her nakedness. "Now, I'm freezing my ass off; could you hand me that towel?" Brett blushed and shyly handed her the towel.

Awkwardly, he shoved his hands in his pockets and apologized once more. He was kind of adorable until he opened his mouth.

"Took you long enough to figure the Shift out, didn't it," he smirked and Dakotah immediately towel-whipped him, forgetting how sweet he had been a moment before.

"Get out."

He slanted his eyes to where she stood, dripping, and smiled deviously. He ducked out of the door before she could hurl the razor.


"Your friend is a pig," said a damp Dakotah to a snickering Gage. "And he hates me."

Gage stopped and looked to where Brett lay, asleep on his couch. His hair flopped in front of closed eyes in a dark brown sheet. The scars on his chest stood out glaringly in contrast to his browned skin. She tore her eyes away to stare at Gage. She was waiting for him to defend his friend.

"He doesn't hate you—"

"He does," interrupted Dakotah.

"—he likes you, actually. That was bullshit, about peeing."

"So he's a perv…?"

"It's possible, I wouldn't know." Gage smirked and hugged Dakotah to him. "Give him a chance, okay?"

Dakotah nodded into his shoulder, before clearing her throat. "Could I, uh, crash here tonight?" Gage stared at her quizzically.

"Where'd you think you were going? Your brother's? Your dorm? Brooke would be suspicious." He looked away. "I grabbed a bag of your clothes from the dorm before I left but I'm not sure what I put in; I was trying to do it while Brooke was out of the room."

He scratched the back of his neck and pursed his full lips. He snatched her old bag from inside the coat closet; various articles of clothing spilled over the edges. She giggled and went into the bathroom to change. She came out in a faded tank top and a pair of athletic shorts.

Gage gestured to a blanket and some pillows that were perched on the back of the couch. "If you can get him up without losing your nose," whispered Gage with a bit of dark humor. "It folds out into a queen bed."

Dakotah hooked a hand around Gage’s elbow. “Brett wouldn’t happen to be the guy you told Brooklyn about, would he?”

 Gage smiled and toodle-dooed. He shuffled into his bedroom for some deep sleep. Dakotah glared after him and braced the wool blanket and pillows on her hip. She walked to where Brett lay, spread across the couch and poked him in the side with her toe.

A strong hand clamped around her ankle and sent her thumping to the floor. "Ow!"

Brett bolted upright and winced at Dakotah, "My bad." He tripped off the couch and helped her up, frowning at the bundle of bedding. "What's this?" He gestured at the pillows.

Dakotah rubbed the back of her skull gingerly, "It's a pillow." She began to pull the cushions off of the couch and piled them on top of one another.

"No shit. Are you trying for Princess and the Pea?"

"No," replied Dakotah. "It's called,” grunt, “a,” grunt, “fold-out,” grunt, “—couch!" She grunted as she struggled to open it. Brett sighed and yanked the fold-out down and into place with a single movement.

Brushing a wisp of hair from her face, Dakotah nodded a thank you. "Normally," began Dakotah, "I'd take the recliner, but lately, it hasn't been inclined to recline."

Brett chuckled and flicked the blanket over the mattress.

"Well, normally," said Brett with a wicked gleam in his eyes that implied how untrue his next statement would be. "I don't bed a girl on the first date."

Dakotah flushed and turned away to grab the pillows.

"I'm sorry, that wasn't—that came out really bad, didn't it?" Brett smacked his forehead comically and Dakotah snorted, tossing one of the pillows at him. He caught it with ease and fluffed it like an accordion.

When the two had gotten situated under the woolen blanket, they began talking at the same time.

"I can't figure you out," said Dakotah as Brett apologized for being such an ass.

"Ha-ha, you go," he said.

"Exactly, I can't figure you out!" She turned on her side to face Brett who was lying on his back, hands clasped behind his head. He turned his face to look at her. She dropped her chin in her palm and studied him. "I don't understand why you act so bipolar around me," she whispered. "One moment, you're criticizing my timestamps, the next you're apologizing!" Brett chuckled and mimicked Dakotah's position so he could look her in the eyes.

"I think we should start over," he said quietly. "Hi, I'm Brett Fields, and it is nice to meet you." He smiled wide, showing bright teeth and sharp canines, and held out his free hand.

She couldn't help but laugh as she shook it. "Hello. I'm Dakotah Riley. Pleasure to meet you Mr. Fields," she grinned. "Any relation to Mrs. Fields?"

"Why, are we a fan?"

"I've always been partial to the little elves." Dakotah lay back down and folded her hands on her chest. Brett followed suit. "Why were you so hard on me earlier tonight?" she asked, with genuine curiosity.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I think we should get some sleep; I have work in the morning.”

Dakotah smiled and turned over, putting her back to him in a way that made her feel vulnerable but not submissive.




When Dakotah woke up at seven, Brett was gone. She yawned wide and rubbed her sore muscles; she had to be at work too. After scribbling a note to Gage, Dakotah snuck out. It took her a few minutes of rummaging in her bag to find her keys before she could leave. In that time, she’d found a folded piece of paper with a phone number on it. “Call for a good time?” Dakotah scoffed and turned it over so she could read the rest: Just kidding! But seriously, call me when you get a chance; we have things to discuss. Brett.

Her stomach jumped a little. What did they need to discuss? Dakotah sat in her truck when she parked outside of her dormitory. Brooke would still be asleep. She could pop in and grab her uniform and brush her teeth and still be at work by 8:30 if she was quick.




“Is this your first visit to Beignet’s?” Dakotah beamed at the two young men, wishing she’d remembered to wear makeup. One had brown hair and the other had a pale crew cut and a ring through his lip.

“It’s been a few months,” said the brown-haired man. The other man smiled shyly, keeping his eyes on the menu.

“Well, my name is Dakotah, and I’ll be your waitress this morning. What can I get you boys to drink? We just got some hazelnut creamer if coffee is your thing.”



“I didn’t know whether to slap him or give him his food!” Dakotah ranted to the cook, Benny, whose brows slowly lowered into a mean frown.

“Honey, let me handle this.”

She saw the look in his eyes and grabbed his arms quickly, “Ben, no. They’re just stupid boys. And it was only the one guy. Thank you, really, but I didn’t mean for you to do anything, he just got me all riled up.” Dakotah pouted until Benny softened and pulled her into his huge chest for a squeeze.

“Next time it happens, ain’t no amount of doe eyes gonna stop me from decking some fool. An’ if I see it happen, so help them,” Benny growled and patted Dakotah’s shoulder protectively.

Sometimes, Benny Foret was the only reason she liked working at Beignet’s. He was a sweetheart and looked after all of his waitresses in that Cajun way he had. He was a big Louisiana man, born in New Orleans and raised as a southern gentleman. He had moved to Seattle after four years at LSU to open up his own restaurant, leaving behind his mother’s tiny bed and breakfast.



“Here are your checks, boys.”

“Still say no to dessert, Dakotah?” sneered the brunette nastily.

“Dude, back off. The lady doesn’t like that,” the other boy frowned at his friend before apologizing to Dakotah. “Thank you for breakfast.” His lip ring shone silver when he smiled and it mesmerized Dakotah. “Here,” said crew-cut.

She blinked and took his card with a smile, “Be right back.”

When Dakotah returned she grinned slyly at the rude boy. He smiled back. “Thanks for coming, I hope you enjoy dessert. Our chef and owner, Benny, makes them special. Have a brownie.” She winked at the other boy before striding off into the kitchen. Benny and Margaret were giggling, watching the prick stuff the brownie into his mouth before he left.

“I still can’t believe he actually propositioned you!”Margaret squealed and Benny turned to stir the gumbo for the Monday afternoon crowd.

Dakotah rolled her eyes, “I know.”

“Hey, Kody,” Benny whispered. She turned around and was met with surprise. “Happy late Birthday, cher!” He held out a beignet impaled with a flickering candle. Margaret hugged her around the waist, saying, “It’s too bad you’re only twenty, otherwise we’d have brought out the Mimosas.”

“You guys are great.”




When Dakotah got off at one, she stood outside and dug in her purse for Brett’s number.

“What’s up, stranger?”

“It’s Dakotah.”

“Right. We need to talk.”

“So you said.”

“Meet me at Beignet’s. You know where that is? I work across the street and I get off in a half hour.”

“I know the place. I’ll be on the patio.”

“Good.” Brett hung up without a goodbye, not that Dakotah cared. She looked back at door and shrugged out of her apron, stuffing it in her truck. She popped inside and gave Benny a head’s up.

“We’ll be on the patio, Ben.” She busied herself with a coffee pot, and poured herself a big to-go cup. “I left you a five in the register,” Dakotah grinned sweetly before ducking back outside. Brett was lounging on a bench near the window.

He sat straighter when Dakotah sat beside him.

“What do I need to know?”

With a frown, Brett looked at her sideways. “You cut to the chase, don’t you?”

Sighing, she closed her eyes. “Brett, I’m sorry.”

He laughed at her then, placing his hand on her thigh and patting it. “Don’t be. I was like this after my first time, too. What we need to talk about, when you finish your coffee, is what happens next.” Dakotah shifted uncomfortably at the warmth from his hand. A cold breeze blew her hair into her eyes and she heard Brett splutter when he got a mouthful.

“Maybe we should just go inside,” suggested Dakotah.

“Nah, my Jeep is right over there. Let’s go.” He offered his hand as they stood. With a glance over her shoulder, she smiled at Benny through the restaurant window.

Brett’s hand was warm as he helped her into his red Jeep; electricity sparked where their skin touched.

“Where do you want to go?”

She looked over at him, surprised. “What about the park?”

He smiled. “Sure.”


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