The entire Desired By the Wolf series in one complete package!
A plain grocery store clerk in a small town never expected to find love and adventure, but for Lenore Anderson it it comes walking into the store one night with a handsome face and a mysterious past.
Lenore Anderson didn't consider herself a loser, but she was a bit on the pudgy side. She would have been glad to be considered a loser, at least when it came to her weight, but she was one of those people who ate what she wanted, in moderation, and weight be damned. Her hips always hated her for that mindset, but she tolerated all the usual complaints. Thick thighs, a buxom chest with a healthy belly, and no remorse whatsoever.
After all, what did she have to regret? She was the closing manager of her small, hometown grocery store and didn't have a care in the world, financially or otherwise. She also didn't have a boyfriend, a care that sometimes reared its ugly head when she saw couples together browsing the diaper aisle. They would be expecting a baby, and she would be expecting a hunger rumble. She wasn't jealous, just envious.
Some nights she'd dream of something exciting, something magical, something that didn't involve bagging items and asking if the customer needed help out with that cart.
It was on a slow night in the store when she first met him. There was only Becky Stout and herself on duty and it was nearing ten o'clock. That was closing time in a small-town grocery store, and they both looked forward to it. Lenore stood by one of the end-caps near the check stands watching the second hand tick time forward on her watch, and Becky was in one of the aisles defacing and facing the shelves to keep herself from going mad with boredom. Each prayed no customer would stagger in, pick up a case of beer, drop that case on the floor, pick up another one, and stagger over to their check stand.
Becky finally gave up her strange chore and wandered down the aisle to her superior. She was eighteen to Lenore's twenty-five, and still had the itch to leave the town. "You think there's something more to life than this? Something we're missing out on because we won't leave here?" she wondered.
Lenore sighed and dropped her watch hand. "Probably, but I'm too old to leave this place. Save yourself before it's too late for you."
Becky smiled. "You're not that old."
Lenore shrugged. "I guess not, but this long night is making me feel like I've aged another quarter of a century."
Becky's eyes flickered around them as though someone would overhear what she had to say. There were no customers, and none of the cameras had sound to them. She leaned toward Lenore and lowered her voice. "How about we close early tonight?" she suggested.
Lenore smiled, but shook her head. "Rules are rules, and if we closed-" she glanced at her watch, "-five minutes early then the world might stop turning and civilization as we know it will come crashing down."
"So that's a no?" Becky guessed.
"It's a no, so let's try to look busy and-" At that moment the electric doors slid open signaling the arrival of a late customer.
Lenore plastered a wide smile on her face and turned on her heels to greet the person she wished she could boot out. Her smile faltered a little when she saw it was not only a stranger, but a young, handsome one. He was about five-eleven with raven-black hair and pale skin. His clothes were clean, but wrinkled and a little worn. His brown eyes sparkled as they brushed over the store and fell on them.
Becky was likewise flabbergasted to find a handsome young man standing there instead of an old drunk. The stranger grabbed a basket and walked over to them. "Good evening," he greeted them.
Lenore coughed and regained her composure. "Good evening, sir." Becky just nodded her head.
The man turned his head to the left and glanced down the aisles. "I was wondering if you could point me to the meat section. I'm new in town and this is my first time in the store."
"It's at the back. Were you looking for something in particular?" Lenore asked him.
He smiled and shook his head. "No, just something to wet the appetite. See you in a bit." He strode down the aisle and to the rear of the store.
When he was out of sight Becky whipped her head to Lenore and squealed. "He's so cute!"
Lenore clasped her hand over Becky's mouth and scowled at her. "Not so loud! He can hear you!" Without any other voices the store was an echo chamber.
"Mphme," Becky replied.
Lenore took her hand off her mouth. "What?"
"I said sorry, but isn't he cute?" Becky persisted. She was so tense Lenore wondered if the girl would start bouncing off the walls and ceilings. That would knock down the aisle signs.
"Cute, yes, available, maybe not, so why don't we get the store ready to close and get the cute gentleman out the door?" Lenore suggested.
A grin slowly spread across Becky's face. "I can check the aisles for other customers."
Lenore frowned. Becky never volunteered to check the aisles unless she had an ulterior motive. "All right, but don't go checking out our new customer. We don't want to spook him by stalking him," she warned her.
A little bit of Becky's air went out, but she scampered off to check the store for loose customers. A minute after she left the stranger walked down the aisle toward Lenore. He had a basket full of meat and that bewitching smile on his face. The man stopped in front of her and held up the full basket. "Care to ring me up?" he requested.
She gestured with her hand for him to follow and led him to her checkout stand. "Sure thing. Just step this way into my parlor-" she teased.
"-said the spider to the fly," he finished.
Lenore raised an eyebrow. "So you know that one? Most people think I'm taking them to a tanning parlor," she told him.
He chuckled. "They sound like the perfect victim," he commented as he placed his basket close to the scanner.
She pulled his food items out of the basket and found it was completely full of steaks and raw hamburger. "Did you find everything you wanted, and is there anything left in the meat section?" she teased.
His eyes flitted over her body and he smiled. "I found all the meat I could ever want."
Lenore blinked. Had he just made a pass at her? "W-well, that's good."
The man reached his hand across the belt in a gesture of handshake. "I don't believe we've introduced ourselves. My name is Nick Connor."
She stopped scanning the meat and shook his head. "Lenore Anderson."
Nick pulled his hand back and raised an eyebrow. "Lenore. That's an unusual name."
"My mom was fond of Poe," she told him.
"Do you have any sisters named Raven?" he teased.
"No, but I have a brother named Stan."
He furrowed his brow. "I don't believe I recall that name from Poe."
"You wouldn't. My dad thought of that one," she replied.
"I see. Any other siblings?"
She bagged his items and rang up the bill. "Nope. You?"
He shook his head. "Not a one."
At that moment the sound of the doors opening caught their attention. Lenore noticed Nick whipped his head around and narrowed his eyes. Whatever he expected, it wasn't the old lady who shuffled into the store. Lenore cringed and turned to Nick. "Debit, cash or credit?" she asked him.
"Debit," he replied.
She pressed the button to accept the card, but Nick was slow to go through the questions on the card machine. The old woman noticed the pair and shuffled over to them. She had a bright smile, but small, shrewd eyes. "Good evening, Lenore," the elderly woman greeted her.
"Good evening, Mrs. Brown," Lenore replied.
Mrs. Brown looked over Nick. "And who do we have here?"
Nick turned to her and held out his hand. "Nick Connor. I just moved into town recently."
Mrs. Brown's eyebrows shot up. "You're not the new owner of Morley Manor?" she guessed.
Nick smiled and nodded. "Just the one, but I wouldn't call it a manor just yet. It's more of a termite factory with potential."
"Do you plan to rebuild it yourself?" Mrs. Brown wondered.
Nick laughed and shook his head. "No, I don't know a thing about construction. I was actually hoping somebody could suggest a contractor or reliable handyman to do the work. Any ideas?" he asked the women.
Mrs. Brown turned her shrewd eyes on Lenore. "Why not your brother, Lenore? He is a good carpenter."
She vigorously shook her head. "I don't think he'd-"
"Does he have a project right now?" Mrs. Brown interrupted her.
Mrs. Brown waved off Lenore's objections and turned to Nick. "Then it seems you have available to you one of the best workers in town. He redid my kitchen a few years ago and I don't have any complaints."
Nick looked to Lenore. "Any way I could get his number?"
Lenore cringed. "I don't know about that. . ." she hesitated.
"Please?" he pleaded.
Lenore sighed and pulled out a card. "Here's one of his cards. You can call him most any time. He works any hour you want," she told him.
He pocketed the card and took his plastic bags full of meat. Mrs. Brown peered into the bags and her eyebrows raised. "Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Anderson," Nick replied. He turned to Mrs. Brown. "And you, also, Mrs. Brown." He bowed his head at each of them and walked out of the store.
"What a strange man," Mrs. Brown murmured. She turned to Lenore. "You know, he paid cash for that old Morley place."
She shrugged. "He probably got it at a good price. The place has been abandoned for years," she pointed out.
Mrs. Brown pursed her lips and shook her head. "It was a pretty penny, let me tell you. The house may be terrible, but the lot is still good." At that moment Becky came down the aisles and joined the other two.
"No one in the store except us," she reported to Lenore. She looked around at the checkout stands and her shoulders slumped. "Did he leave already?"
"In and out like a shadow," Lenore replied.
"A very mysterious young man," Mrs. Brown spoke up. Becky grinned and glanced at Lenore who hid her smile beneath her hand. Mrs. Brown was not only the biggest gossip hound in town, but she always liked to have people ask her the latest news.
Lenore coughed and glanced at her watch. "It's just about time to close the store. Did you need anything, Mrs. Brown?" she asked the old woman.
Mrs. Brown straightened and frowned. "Just a jar of mayonnaise. Lionel complained about being low when he made his tuna sandwich for lunch today."
Lenore looked to Becky. "Could you get Mrs. Brown's usual mayo jar? I'll lock the doors."
"Sure thing." Becky hurried off to the condiments aisle while Lenore pulled out her keys to lock the sliding doors.
She walked over to the doors with Mrs. Brown close at her heels. "This man is most mysterious, or so I've heard. What have you heard about him?" Mrs. Brown asked the young woman.
"Nothing except what he and you told me," Lenore nonchalantly replied. She reached the doors and locked them so no one else could get inside.
Mrs. Brown smirked. "Then perhaps you want to know about the man who will employ your brother?"
That was the bait needed to catch Lenore. She pursed her lips and glanced at the old woman with a furrowed brow. "Why? He's not dangerous, is he?"
Mrs. Brown waved her hand and chuckled. "No, nothing of the sort. At least, not that I've heard. Know one seems to know what he does for a living, only that he has plenty of money to buy the house and hire your brother to repair it."
"I have the mayo!" Becky called from the check stand.
Lenore steered her elderly customer toward the checkout. "I'm sure he'll turn out to be no more strange than any other young, handsome bachelor."
"A handsome man like that as a bachelor! That's strange enough!" Mrs. Brown argued.
Lenore slipped behind her register and rang up the purchase. "Cash, as usual?" she asked Mrs. Brown.
"Of course." Mrs. Brown handed her the money and looked over the young woman. "Have you ever thought of settling down?" she spoke up.
Lenore smiled and counted out change. "The only settling I do is on my couch, and that's not likely to change until I'm settled in my grave. Here's your change, and let me help you out with that. Becky and I are closing up shop, anyway."
The three women shut off most of the lights behind themselves and the two employees hurried out of the building dragging Mrs. Brown between them. They dropped her off at her car. Mrs. Brown turned to them and wagged her finger. "You fine girls stay away from that strange man. He could be trouble."
"We'll try our best, but goodnight, Mrs. Brown," Lenore promised with a smile.
"Goodnight," Mrs. Brown harumphed, and slipped into her car.
The pair strolled to their own cars at the far corner of the small parking lot. Becky cast a side glance at Lenore.
Lenore noticed. "What?" she asked Becky.
"You think that cute guy'll be back soon?" Becky wondered.
Lenore snorted. "He stocked up on enough meat to last a few nuclear winters, so who knows?"
A dreamy smile slipped onto Becky's lips and she gazed forward with a far-off look in her eyes. "He was pretty handsome. Maybe he's tormented and looking for a quiet life to forget the past."
"Then he's found the right place," Lenore quipped. They reached their cars and got out their keys. "Anyways, see you tomorrow."
"'Night," Becky replied.