Humanity for Beginners
Gloria did not intend to start a halfway house for lesbian werewolves. It just sort of happened. Between running a small bed-and-breakfast with her friend Nadine, helping one young lycanthrope adjust to life after the bite and soothing ruffled fur when the other brings home an unexpected cat, Gloria has more than enough to keep her busy, but one thing is definite: she is not nor ever will be an alpha, whatever Nadine says. And the ever-expanding circle of misfits in her guesthouse is certainly not a pack...
The thing no one warned you about when you became a werewolf―apart from the whole ‘becoming a werewolf’ in the first place, because it was hardly a popular lifestyle choice―was how your sense of proportion would get hijacked by a constant low-level grumble of ‘why don’t we just kill it’, like having a homicidal toddler grizzling away at the back of your brain.
That was the worst part, as far as Gloria was concerned: determining which emotion was you, the human, and which was the wolf, and whether either of them had a point or if you really were just a seething mess and couldn’t trust your judgment until you’d had a nap and a cup of tea. Or killed something. That worked too.
Everyone coped in their own way. In hindsight, it should not have been a surprise that Lissa brought home the cat, any more than it was surprising that she still drank milk straight from the carton and forgot to change the toilet roll. She was not so much thoughtless as thinking on a completely different track that only occasionally converged with the main network. Certainly, it should not have been surprising after that weekend in April when she took off to a music festival and didn’t think to tell anyone where she was going, so that by the time she got back everyone was so sick with relief to see her alive and well that the secondary (though still almost overwhelming) urge to throttle her was successfully repressed.
Unfortunately, however, it was Nadine who found a ginger stray eating sausages on her kitchen floor and not only was she surprised, she was furious. When Gloria pulled up outside the guesthouse an hour later, it was a battleground of shouting werewolves and Lissa had locked herself in the laundry with her new pet.
The chief shouters were Nadine and Louisa; Damien was an enthusiastic supporter of Team Nadine until he caught Gloria’s eye and remembered urgent chores elsewhere. The other two presented their cases loudly and with an equally passionate sense of injustice.
“All right, just shut up a minute,” Gloria interrupted at last. “Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Lissa found a cat?”
“A stray,” Louisa said at once. “A homeless cat. We have a moral duty.”
“Cats smell wrong,” Nadine snarled. “They make me sneeze. Do you want a sneezing chef?”
“You’re just pissed off Lissa didn’t ask you first!”
“She should have asked! She’s not a loner any more, she can’t do whatever she wants. And she’s thrown off my menu, I’ll have to plan it again from scratch―”
“That’s enough,” Gloria said, injecting enough force into the words to quiet both women. Nadine flinched instinctively at the commanding tone; a few years ago she would have bared her throat in submission. Louisa just pouted like a moody teenager, despite being a year into her twenties.
“I’ll sort this out,” Gloria continued, gentling her tone for Nadine’s benefit but fixing Louisa with a pointed look. “We have six guests to feed tonight, so pull together for a few hours, okay? Nadine, be a love and bring in the groceries. Louisa, get the tables ready and for pity’s sake don’t poll the guests about us adopting a cat.”
Louisa went pink. “I wasn’t planning on it,” she said with great dignity, and stalked off to the dining room, dark ponytail swishing.
Gloria had had some idea of what she was taking on when it came to Lissa. The girl had been a loner long before she was turned and wasn’t aware of half the defense mechanisms that drove everybody else mad. Domesticating her reminded Gloria a lot of renovating her grandad’s old B&B―time-consuming, confusing, and with the very real danger it would all fall apart in her hands.
The laundry door was locked. Gloria leaned against it for a minute, making sure Lissa knew she was there, before knocking lightly. There was no answer. Gloria gave it a couple more minutes before knocking again and saying, “You can’t stay in there forever, you know. Louisa needs to get at the linen cupboard.” She paused, then added reluctantly, “And I think I should meet this cat of yours.”
The door creaked open a crack, just enough to see one suspicious green eye.
“I won’t throw him back out,” Lissa said. “No matter what you do.”
“If he stays,” Gloria warned, “he’s all your problem. He’s not allowed in the guest wing, definitely not in the kitchen, and if you feed him Nadine’s sausages again you’re doing dishwasher duty for a month. Understood?”
Lissa pulled the door all the way open and stood there with that wide happy smile that made her look about five and also irresistibly adorable. It got her out of more trouble than she knew. “Really? I can keep him?”
“If you swear not to do this again,” Gloria said resignedly. “And mean it.”
Still beaming, Lissa held up her pinkie finger. “I promise, Gloria.”
The cat was a foul-tempered tom with a scarred nose and a gutter mouth, crouching in the sink and swiping if anyone got too close. After the kerfuffle in the kitchen, Gloria didn’t blame him. Probably the smell of werewolf was no help. He was hardly a bouquet himself, but Gloria supposed she would get used to a feline scent around the place and Nadine would too, if it stayed out of her kitchen. It would be good for Lissa to have something of her own to ground her here, Gloria reflected. Maybe it would discourage another festival episode.