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Fat Cat
Author: Rachel Vincent





“Charley!” Grinning broadly at me, Doug Myers slid onto his favorite barstool with the familiar creak of well-worn leather. I rinsed lime juice from my hands and grabbed a clean towel, then I headed toward him from the service side of the bar. I could smell smoke on his clothes before I even got close. Wood smoke, not cigarettes. Doug had a small cabin in the Lakeshore complex, deep in the woods outside of town, and though he had electricity and running water, like most of the other Lakeshore residents, he both cooked and heated with wood.

I’d always found the scent to be comfortably nostalgic.

“Whiskey!” His shout was half request, half expletive, and I grabbed a bottle of middle shelf on my way. And for the millionth time I wondered what Doug, or any of my other regulars, was like before he was infected.

My gut—from being a bartender, or a shifter, or maybe both—told me he was an alcoholic. Not a social drinker. Not a weekend binger. My best guess was that before Doug Myers found himself on the wrong end of a set of claws, he was a liver-damaged, chronically dehydrated, perpetually inebriated drunkard. Possibly a bit of a legend in whatever small southern town he hailed from, but also consistently around three shots of whiskey away from falling over dead.

These days, though, his color was good—no sign of jaundice—and like most of my patrons, he hung out in the bar not to get drunk, but because this was his spot. The place where he belonged.

I’d worked hard to make sure they could all count on that.

“Caught a couple of new scents in the woods today,” Doug said as I set a shot glass on the worn-smooth bar in front of him and poured.

“Oh yeah?” I lifted one brow as he threw the shot back, but I didn’t bother to close the bottle. Doug was in his early 40s—a decade too young to be my father—and like most werecats, he had a hard time getting drunk.

Shifter metabolism foils the effort; our bodies process alcohol too quickly for us to feel its effects, short of guzzling straight from the bottle.

But like most werecats, Doug never gave up trying. Which was why the Fat Cat Bar and Grille, the only shifter-friendly bar in the territory, enjoyed a steady stream of regular customers, most of whom ran up large tabs.

Without spouses or kids, they had little else to spend their money on anyway. May as well spend it at my place.

“Yeah.” Doug tapped the bar, and I poured him another. “Out in the common run.” The large, heavily wooded acreage behind the Lakeshore cabin complex, which was open to shifters around the clock as a recreational area and hunting grounds.

Our Pride owned the land through the magic of shell corporations and limited liability companies, though I could never claim to understand exactly how all that worked. What mattered was that it did work. That the “private property” signs kept humans away and out of danger.


“Well, the common run is called that for a reason. All shifters are welcome.” Whether or not they lived at Lakeshore. I visited the common run myself, regularly.

“I know, but I thought you’d be interested.” He threw back his second shot, and I poured one more.

Interested? Yes, because it was my job to keep tabs on how many and which shifters live in the zone. Concerned? No. Our territory attracted newcomers regularly. Some were just passing through, out of curiosity. Others decided to stay. “Thanks, Doug. Let me know if you catch their names or figure out where I can find them.”

“Will do, boss!” he called as I walked back to my tub of uncut limes.

I was not Doug Myers’s boss, but like many members of our Pride, he was a little fuzzy on the meaning of my title.

My position—Marshal of the northern zone of the Mississippi Valley Pride—had existed for less than three years. Our Alpha, Titus Alexander, had created the job around six months after our Pride was officially recognized, when he’d realized that though ours was geographically the smallest territory in the US, we had the largest population by far. Which meant we also had the densest population.

All but two members of our Pride were strays. All but four were men. Basically, we were all sitting on a powder keg of testosterone and newly minted shifter strength and speed, neither of which came with any instructions or any truly helpful instinct.

“Doug, you want anything to eat?” I asked as I sliced the last lime. He’d been munching from the peanut bowl but hadn’t touched his third shot yet.

“Um… Is Davey cooking?”

“No, we’ve officially removed food prep from her job description,” I told him. “Billy’s at the grill.”

“Billy the Kid!” Doug grinned. “Thank God.”

“I heard that.” My sister pushed through the swinging door from the kitchen carrying a plastic rack of clean tumblers, her human arms straining beneath the weight. “And for the record, I never wanted to be in the kitchen in the first place.” She stuck her tongue out at Doug, and as she turned on her square-toed boot heel to set the rack on the counter, one blond pigtail swung over her shoulder to trail down her back, beneath her cowboy hat.

“No offense, Davey,” Doug called from his barstool. “You’re great on this side of that swingin’ door.”

“None taken, hon.” She set two still-steaming glasses on a shelf beneath the bar. “So, you want a burger or somethin’?”

“Steak, if you got it. Rare. Fries on the side.”

“You hear that, Billy?” Davey shouted toward the swinging doors.

“Got it,” he said from the kitchen, but it was clear from her frown that she couldn’t hear him.

“He’s on it,” I told her with a smile.

“Shifters, with their freaky hearing,” she grumbled.

“You’re just jealous,” I said as I grabbed a couple of glasses to help her finish off the rack.

“Of course, I’m jealous. You think I like being the token human in this place?”

I winked at Doug as Davey lifted the empty crate. “I think you thrive on it.”

“Oh, come on, you know we love you, Davey,” Nolan Blake called from the other end of the bar, where he was finishing his third beer.

Other customers whooped in agreement from various tables, and Davey tipped her hat at them. “Love you guys, too.”

A little too much, maybe.

Normally, a shifter bar would be the last place you’d expect to find a human female bartender/waitress/bookkeeper. Especially considering that it was against shifter law to reveal our existence to a human. To any human. But Davey had found out about shifters accidentally, and that couldn’t be taken back.

And the truth was that the closer I kept her, the less I worried about her safety among the dense population of male strays in the Mississippi Valley.

Davey brushed by Vance Cooper on her way into the kitchen. Vance was one of six enforcers under my supervision, two of whom also worked as both security and jacks-of-all-trades at the Fat Cat. The other four enforcers lived spread throughout our zone: the western third of Tennessee and the western tip of Kentucky.

“Hey Davey,” Vance said as he held the swinging door for my sister. “You closin’ tonight?”

“Is this a day that ends in Y?” She smiled up at him. Way up. Vance was six foot five, barefoot, which made him a good thirteen inches taller than my baby sister.

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