Estrella sat in the waiting room of her alpha's auto repair garage and tried not to throw up her lunch.
It was just nerves causing her stomach to churn , but that didn’t help matters. She perched on the edge of the plastic chair, sipping water from a Styrofoam cup and trying to distract herself from the sense of helplessness she felt.
A shadow fell over her . A pair of jeans and workman's boots moved into her line of vision, and Estrella almost choked on her water. She looked up and saw Vic towering over her seat. Massive, hulking Vic, who never failed to intimidate despite the fact that they were both the same height - six foot two. She always felt small around Vic, though. Maybe it was the immense breadth of his muscles or his thick arms sleeved with tattoos. Or maybe it was the fact that his usual expression seemed to be a displeased frown when she was around.
That frown was on his face at the moment as he wiped his fingers with a greasy rag.
"Morning, Estrella," he said casually, his attention more on his hands than her face. "You wanted to see me?"
She got to her feet, ignoring the eyes that glanced in her direction when she unfolded her legs and stood to her fu ll height. She was a tall woman, healthy and muscular thanks to her liger background, but she wasn't dainty like human women. She never would be. Most men were intimidated by her size, which made it difficult to get a date. Add in the liger thing and she seemed doomed to live a life of solitude.
Well, until now , she thought, her gut clenching again.
Of course, why she was obsessing over her appearance at a time like this made no sense. It just went to show how incredibly distracted she was by...her situation. Oh, god, she had a situation .
She felt like throwing up all over again.
"Yes. I did. I...need to talk." When he continued to look at her with that patient-only-because-I-have-to-be gaze, she added, “In private. Please."
He gestured to the back office and she headed there.
Estrella didn't come in to visit Vic often. The were-tigers were a more loosely-formed clan of shifters than most, but they still got together several times a month for meetings and just general bonding. Being the only liger in the vicinity - hell, in the entire state - she didn't exactly 'blend' with the rest of her temperamental, fierce clan. She was only half tiger, but she fit in more with them than with the lions, who didn't welcome her at all. But even at the gatherings, Estrella hung back, quiet and watchful. The tiger clan didn't mind her around as long as she didn't cause trouble.
And she went out of her way to not cause trouble.
Vic's office was a small, glass-walled room at the back of the shop. It boasted a desk covered in scattered, smudged paperwork, a fan, and the world's oldest computer monitor. He moved to the far side of the desk and sat. "Let's make this fast. I've got someone dropping off an engine rehaul, and I'm going to need the time."
"This won't take long," Estrella said nervously, sitting down in the chair across from him.
He picked up a pencil, grabbed a stack of paperwork, distracted. Vic waved a hand in her direction, indicating that she should begin.
She swallowed hard. The words stuck to the roof of Estrella's mouth, and she stared at him mutely as he checked over a purchase order. His dark hair was sweaty at the temples but attractive. He was tanned, and his jaw (and neck) were wide. He looked like a big, mean bruiser. He wasn't, but that didn’t make her feel any better.
When she didn't speak, he glanced up and gave her an impatient look. "Well?"
Now or never. She forced the words out of her throat. "I'm going into heat."
The pencil snapped.
Estrella didn't wince. She didn't even flinch. She just sighed, heavily. "I know."
He rubbed his jaw for a few minutes, saying nothing and clearly trying to compose himself. "Well. This wasn't the conversation I was expecting to have this morning."
Now she was