by Teresa Cain



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They call me Red - for obvious reasons, I suppose. The nickname probably came from the mane of thick, dark red hair that fell around my shoulders, so dense that it scoffed at every comb and brush. I have to pick the tangles out of it every morning with my fingers before I can even scratch at its surface with the brush. I've found ordinary brushes just won't do. I actually have to use a dog brush - can you believe that? The same sort of brush that grooms pissy little poodles tames my mane. But my girlfriends have sighed and cooed over it since high school. Hah, what do they know? Do they have to fight with it every morning? No! I'd shave my head, but it wouldn't do any good. It would just grow back obscenely fast. Of course, I know it's also a shortening of Little Red Riding Hood...a nickname that comes from the coat I wear. It's more of a cape than a coat, actually - it has sleeves in it, but that's the only reason I call it a coat. Otherwise it's a flowing, ankle-length cloak with a draped hood large enough for two heads. It's also a bright, shocking scarlet. You can see me coming a mile away. I made it myself. I had to buy natural wool and dye it myself to that color. This coat is the only domestic act I've ever performed. I still don't know how I managed it.

I'm a cook in a little bar and grill tucked just on the borders of the forest that covers most of the small town of Ivy Springs, famed for the beautiful natural springs deep in the heart of the forest, surrounded by the thicket of kudzu-covered trees. The springs are just a fifteen-minute walk from the grill... or five from the tiny stone cottage where my family has lived for the past 5 generations. I usually just walk to work. Sometimes I ride my bike, which is a really old Schwinn: only one speed, pedal brakes, big long seat that two people can ride on. It had been my mother's when she was eight, and it hadn't been new then.

Little Red, that's me. The only time I remember my real name is when I have to sign it on something, and then it's Jeanette Broussard. But mostly it's Red. I actually prefer it.

"Order up," I yelled, slamming my hand down on the bell, and sliding the plate with its thick cheeseburger and fries onto the ledge of the window. It was the only glimpse I had of the bar and tables outside of the kitchen unless I just wanted to leave my post at the grill. I rarely did. I just kept up my post there in the kitchen, slapping handmade patties on the grill, sometimes steaks. I watched the deep fryer with a practiced eye. That kitchen was an extension of my body, and I ran it with an almost psychic connection. Everyone else in the grill entered my domain at the risk of great bodily harm.

Jake took the plate and added another order to the small silver wheel, giving it a spin while he grinned at me. "I don't know how you keep up with the lunch crowd all by your lonesome in there, darlin'."

"I'm just that good, Jake baby. I'm just that good."

I pulled the new order off the wheel and quickly ran my eye over it. Steak - rare. Penciled in underneath were the words "And he means that. Rare. Just slap it on the grill long enough to take the chill off." Plus he wanted fries.

It should have sounded like a disgusting order, but my dad had liked his meat like that. He'd hated his meat burnt. I took a good thick steak out of the freezer and slapped it on the grill.

When I set it on the ledge a few minutes later, I watched Jake take it and slide it in front of a young guy sitting at the bar, nursing a Miller. He had a shaggy shock of white hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, most of it escaping its elastic bond to hang in his strong featured face. He was rather large and hard with muscle easily shown under the moss green T-shirt he wore, the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders. When he cut off a large pink, bleeding bite of his steak and raised the fork to his mouth, I saw big white teeth emerge from behind lovely, generous lips.

"Shit," I hissed, jerking my gaze away as the smell of burning meat assailed my nostrils. I snarled and quickly flipped the ruined patties into the trash and set another couple of them on the fire. It was the first time in years I'd ever burned anything.

By the time I had another chance to risk another glance, he was gone.

The sun had long set by the time I left the bar. I worked the grill from seven in the morning to eight at night. After that Jake took over and just let his stocky woman of a wife work the tables and bar. There wasn't really all that much business after eight... not in a town this small. So I wrapped up in my coat against the late night chill, pulled the hood low over my head and struck out for home.

I could walk the path to my childhood home blindfolded. My feet knew the path better than my eyes. I walked along the moonlit trail, face turned to the sweet silver light and took in the night. I listened to the screech of an owl, the call of cicadas, the rustling of a fox in the brush. I smelled pine and oak and kudzu, plus the clean night air that only the countryside can provide.

"Y'know, wearing a red cloak in the middle of a forest at night is just asking for it."

The words were not so much spoken as growled. Slowly, I turned on the path and faced the shadows, pushing back the hood as I stared at the creature crouched on a fallen log. It was huge and shaggy, with a mane that trailed over broad shoulders and grew in a line down its back. In its muzzle, lips were pulled away from sharp white teeth in a wolfish grin, and a long tail wagged slowly over the dead trunk.

Werewolf. But familiar. I stepped back, cocking my head to stare at him curiously. "Oh my, Grandmother. What big teeth you have."

Then I whirled and ran into the forest, leaving the path behind me.

I heard him jump from his perch and come after me, but I knew this forest - he did not. I had lived in these trees all my life. He was a newcomer. So I ran, knowing instinctually that it was a stupid thing to do. You never run from wolves... it only makes them chase you. But yet I ran, jumping tree roots and ducking branches with practiced ease.

And then I tripped.

I turned to take the fall on my back, skidding through the fallen leaves and soft earth. But before I could even raise my head, the wolf pounced and landed atop me. His claws dug into my shoulders as he straddled my lower body, his fangs bared in the muzzle pushed close to my face. I shoved my hands into his furred chest, straining as I tried to push him away. He snarled angrily -

- and I snarled right back, unable to hold it in.

It was an unexpected sound for him, perhaps. His head jerked back as he stared at me, puzzlement clear in his eyes. Then he lowered his muzzle again, nostrils flaring as he sniffed a line from my breasts to my scalp. He drew back again, head cocked with curiosity much as mine had minutes before.

"Wolf," he growled, giving his head a dog-like shake. "I smell wolf in you, girl. Not much wolf, but there."

"Not much wolf," I agreed, teeth still bared in a snarl. "Not even enough to change. Enough to smell, enough to run... enough for instincts not quite human. But not enough to change."

He pulled away further, shaking harder. It took him no time at all to shake the beast back into a human form, and I found myself staring at the young guy from the bar. His shaggy white mane was loose over his shoulders now, and he wore nothing but his skin. He was close enough to smell now, and he smelled like fur and skin, even now. Coupled with the sight of skin, it was enough to give him a new scent to sniff. He lowered his face and nuzzled at my neck, making me gasp.

Big, strong, handsome... good smell. Other instincts flared to life within me. Here was a good mate, better than the weak, smelly, all too human males I encountered in town. My father had fought against the wolf in his blood and would have been most displeased to see me find this one so pleasing to my eyes and nose. The human in me was horrified to see me fall so readily into a perfect stranger's arms. But here in the night, under the moonlight, the wolf - no matter how small a piece within me - was master.

I snarled again and shoved with a surprising show of strength, flipping him off of me and over onto his back in the leaves. Then I caught his mouth in a kiss that was as much an assault as anything else as I clawed at the coat and clothes beneath it.

Soon our mingled howls were added to the music of the night.

I felt him laughing as I lay on my stomach with his face pressed into the small of my back. One arm was draped over my hip, tracing lazy patterns on the skin there. I rose up on one elbow, disturbing his game. "What's so funny, fur face?"

"I was just thinking - maybe the wolf in the old fairy tale was a werewolf. Maybe they changed the story so they could have their moral about premarital sex, which is, let's face it, the whole point of the old legend. But maybe Red didn't get eaten by the Big Bad Wolf - "

"Not in a bad way at any rate," I mumbled, lying back down and resting my face on my arm. I yawned hugely. "That's the way my granny used to tell me the story. No woodcutters, no axes. The grandmother was eaten and Red found herself the mate of a wolf - well, werewolf. She never told it as a fairy tale... just plain fact. Like telling a story of how her and grandpa met. Of course, the wolf in my family is older than that. Older than Charles Perrault, older than Grimm. Old story, old old old. Old to the world and older still in my family."

He nuzzled the small of my back then licked a warm, wet line to my neck, making me squirm. "So I have the joy and honor of fucking a descendent of the original Red Riding Hood? I am a lucky wolf."

"Mmm," I mumbled in what might have been agreement or otherwise. "And here I thought I'd have to leave my forest to find anyone worth fucking. Will you stick around for awhile, wolf? Share my hearth and bed?"

"I can stay for a bit. These are good woods to hunt in."

"Then you may have my nights," I told him, rolling over beneath him and tracing a finger over his lips. He grabbed my hand in his and bit the finger gently, eyes fixed on mine. "But I'll keep my days."

"Nights are all I care to have," he replied airily, lips brushing over my palm. He sank his teeth into the palm of my hand, hard enough to hurt but not to draw blood. The pain caused a breath-taking flutter in my stomach, making me gasp. "My days are my own as well."

"Well and good."

He followed me to my bed eagerly enough, but he was gone with the morning light. I didn't much care. I stretched away the well-earned pains and padded off to the bathtub for a soak. Then I dressed, brushed the leaves from my coat and donned it, and set off for the grill. I worked my hours quietly, my mind dwelling on nothing but the patties and steaks and fries and whatever else needed my attention. Then at eight I walked the path to my home, barely heeding the sights and sounds of the night around me.

The front door was open when I arrived. I shut it behind me as I came in, then hung my coat on the peg by the door and took off my boots. I shed the rest of my clothes piece by piece as I walked to my bedroom, leaving a trail that got naughtier by the moment. By the time I reached the doorway of my room, I was wearing nothing but skin and the air around me.

And there he lay, his nudity a match for mine, stretched out on my bed with his chin resting on his folded arms. He saw me enter, then yawned hugely and gave me a wolfish grin.

"I was half-hoping you'd be wearing that coat of yours," he said with a trace of disappointment.

I gave an inelegant snort and pushed my hair out of my eyes. "We'll leave the bedroom fantasies for after we've learned each others' names. But for now - "

He grinned again and rolled onto to his back, flinging his arms wide. I went into them eagerly enough and gave a little growl as he rolled me under him.

"You tripped on purpose, didn't you?" he asked, nuzzling along my jaw.

I just grinned and bit his shoulder in reply. He gave a little yip and bit back. And then it was nothing but howls and nips and tangled limbs until well into the night.


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Red ©2001 by Teresa Cain

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