Lowlander SilverbackBy: T. S. Joyce
(Gorilla Shifter Royalty 1)
Layla Taylor put on an extra layer of pink lip gloss using the fold-down mirror in her old Civic. She fidgeted with her black tank top with the red and orange lettering of Sammy’s Bar and let off a long sigh.
She could do this. She saw him every weekend at the bar, and this was no different.
Scrunching up her nose, she flipped the mirror up and sank into the cushion of her seat. Aw, who was she kidding? Sure, Kong’s eyes followed her around the bar when he was there, but he hadn’t ever given her the time of day. Hell, sometimes he was downright rude to her, so why was she all fluttery over a man like him? Mac had taught her more self-respect than to chase a man who didn’t want to be chased.
Of course, Kong probably didn’t know he was being chased because…well…she sucked at chasing. Her game with men wasn’t awesome, which was ridiculous since she was a bartender. She talked to people for a living and could be charming when she wanted to, but when it came to Kong, she turned into a complete mouse.
Her cheeks heated just thinking about the last time she’d tried to talk to him. It hadn’t gone well. She’d only found her bravery that night because while she’d worked her shifts, Kong had watched her constantly with something akin to hunger in his eyes, but when she’d approached, he’d shut her down immediately.
But there was something about the way he watched her that she found so attractive. Alluring even. Unless she was reading him completely wrong, the intensity of his gaze said he wanted her on some base level, but he hadn’t acted on it for three years. His silent attention was such a turn-on and now the strength of the build-up had turned monumental. For her at least, because again, Kong was completely indifferent when she tried to start up conversations with him. The man was an enigma.
The little green numbers turned to 8:00 on the dash clock, so she pushed open her creaky door with the toe of her black boot and unfolded from her car. After straightening her ripped-up dark-wash jeans, she pulled the hem of her tank top until her girls peeked out just enough. Those were her real “tip getters.” And she needed lots of those tonight. Bills were piling up, and Mac was depending on her.
She strode across the gravel parking lot and pushed open the back door.
“Hey, there she is,” Jake said. At five-foot-four with an easy smile and one helluva beard, he gestured her toward his office.
Jake was the new owner of Sammy’s, and he’d only been running the place for the past six months, but Layla liked him fine. He’d changed a few things in the transition, but the big stuff was still the same. Like the Beck Brothers playing every weekend and Beer Pong Tuesdays. He was even sponsoring a booth at the Lumberjack Wars in a few weeks.
She ducked into his dim office and tried not to stare at the signed pictures of registered shifters on the wall as she tucked her purse into the bottom drawer of his desk. He was also a shameless shifter groupie, which was why he’d moved to Saratoga and bought Sammy’s in the first place.
“Okay, I’m toying around with a new idea,” he said excitedly. “Tell me what you think.”
Jake pushed a stack of multi-colored flyers toward her, and she picked up the neon orange one off the top. Front and center was a big, burly man in plaid chugging a beer, shirt sleeves rolled up to show muscular forearms. On either side of him were two fearsome grizzlies. Shifter Night, when single bears drink free, the flyer read in arching bubble letters across the top.
Layla’s eyes went wide. “Uh, Jake, you know how much one of those boys can drink, right? Copious amounts of beer. Gallons.” She could almost hear money flying out of the register.
“Yes, but the Boarlanders are the only singles left, and I think it would be worth it to attract more shifter groupies to the bar. They make up the bulk of our income now, Layla. Think about it. It’ll be the opposite of Ladies Night. If we do it every week, say on Thursday or Friday, shifter groupies will be lining up out the door if they know the single bears will be coming in. It won’t be the hit or miss that it usually is with disappointed tourists not getting a glimpse of the tail-chasin’ shifters when they show up on the wrong night.”
“Okay.” Layla nodded, seeing the merit in his idea. “The Boarlanders aren’t the only single crew left, though. What about Kong and his two guys?” Because they were definitely single. She’d checked for rings, and they didn’t entertain human ladies much.
“Oh, I don’t think Kong is a bear.”
“Wait, what?” she asked, her eyes drifting to the picture of Kong and his crew that was nailed to the wall behind Jake’s desk. “Of course he is. I’ve seen his eyes glow bright green, and he’s the size of a small shrimping vessel.”
“I didn’t say he wasn’t a shifter, just that I don’t think he’s a bear like the others. Why wouldn’t he have registered with the rest of them?”
Layla shrugged. “I don’t know. Lots of reasons. For example, the government is full of shit for making them register in the first place, and maybe it’s his way of saying ‘Damn the man.’”