Sweaters Are a Girl's Best Friend
By: DeWinter79

Chapter 1

Portland, Oregon had its fair share of dives, but the Blue Moon Bar caught my eye.

I tapped the head rest. "Stop here."

"Here?" The driver slowed the cab. "You sure, lady? There's a lot of classier joints over in the Pearl."

I surveyed the front entrance through the raindrops on the car window. "This one's good."

The small bar seemed quiet and unassuming compared to the others we'd passed by earlier. After half a week of constant paperwork and meetings, I needed quiet almost as much as I needed alcohol. Since hard liquor was at the top of my checklist, this place seemed like the perfect spot to scratch that sucker off.

The driver shrugged and pulled toward the curb. "Suit yourself. It's your meter." He let me out on the corner of Southeast Morrison Street across from the bar, and I tipped him an extra ten bucks for not questioning my choice any further.

A chilling breeze hit me once he drove off. In the short time I had been here, I'd learned two things about Portland—one, this town was as eccentric as it was rainy, and two, it was twenty bone-chilling degrees colder than back home. Since I was used to the warmer late-fall weather, I'd forgotten to grab my jacket before leaving the hotel. I glanced up at the cloudy sky. No umbrella tonight, either. Thank goodness the rain had stopped for now. But those clouds weren't making any promises to remain dry, so the sooner I got inside, the better.

Before crossing the street, I slowed my pace. A scrawny man with a head too big for his body and ears too big for his head hovered by the bar's arched wooden doorway. He darted his eyes all around, tugging at the vest buttons that covered a hideous pin-striped shirt. All at once, he side-stepped over to a patch of neighboring bushes. Reaching into the breast pocket of his dark sport coat, he retrieved a small, green toad. In one quick motion, the toad vanished into his mouth.

I ducked behind a nearby tree before he realized he had an audience.

"Bluebeard." Groaning under my breath, I leaned back. "There goes my night."

Ziegevolk, Bluebeards—no matter what they were called, they were trouble. These goat-like creatures were chick magnets, almost literally. Bluebeards gave off a specific pheromone that had women lining up—and sometimes duking it out—to be their flavor of the night. (Flavor of the week was too much of a commitment for them.) With glands like that, even the below-average Joes didn't need good looks or six-pack abs to etch notches in their bedposts. Bar-hopping Bluebeards were a pain to be around, but toad-eating ones were the worst. Whatever was on the toads intensified their 'chemical romance,' and that guy had just swallowed a big one.

Maybe I needed to find a different bar. Glancing back at the street of parked cars, I shook my head. Not another cab in sight. If I waited out here for another one, I would turn into a human Popsicle. No, I'd just go in. It wouldn't be the first time I had fended off a Bluebeard. If I was careful, I could steer clear of him.

Edging out from my hiding spot, I caught sight of Bluey walking back after feasting on his 'toad à la carte.' He ran his fingers through his black hair, looking as smug as Mick Jagger cashing a royalty check. Just then, the guy's face contorted, sprouting bluish-gray mohair and a bona-fide matching goatee. Two short horns jutted out the top of his head. Yep, definitely a horny Bluebeard.

A few people walked by, completely oblivious that he'd just woged. Too bad no one else could see what he really was. But then again, there would be pandemonium if the world knew the truth about Wesen. People weren't always people, and there were a lot more creatures out there than just Ziegevolk—a whole heck of a lot more.

Bluey retracted back to human form, smiling to himself as he turned and waltzed through the front entrance door of the bar. Ignoring the cold, I waited until he was safely inside—more than likely schmoozing up a blonde or two. Once the coast was clear, I walked toward the door, opened it a crack, and peeked inside.

The Blue Moon Bar, small as it was, was packed in like a sardine can. So much for a quiet night. Straight ahead, the Bluebeard sat in full Casanova mode, conversing with a dirty blonde-headed woman at the center of the bar. She was practically sitting in his lap, completely entranced. Fortunately for me, he was preoccupied with her company.

Avoiding eye contact, I took an empty chair to the left of the bar, which seemed a safe distance in case Bluey was trolling for more than one partner tonight. (They were pervs like that.) But then again, he was kind of cute with his glossy, dark hair and his—

I shuddered, blinking a few times.

Oh, wow! He was potent! Even at this distance the effects of that toad wavered my judgment. I moved over a few more seats and flagged down the bartender for a tequila sunrise.

"One sunrise coming up," the bartender replied, blue eyes twinkling while he flipped a glass in the air like a scene from Cocktail. "Anything for you, Beautiful!" Setting the glass down, he gave me a wink and a big smile, showing off his incredibly white teeth.

If Brad Pitt and Channing Tatum had mixed DNA, this guy was what you'd end up with. With frosted blonde hair straight out of a Billy Idol music video and a movie star face, he had sweet-talking the female customers and flaunting his slick moves down to a science. This wasn't his first rodeo, and he didn't need toads or a decent IQ to get a date. I required the latter. Well, I hadn't in the past, but it was back on my list.

"Just another tequila sunrise…" The slick bartender sang the tune as he finished pouring.

I paid for my drink and laid down a few extra dollars on the counter. "Here's a tip for the serenade." Music was like my second language, so he deserved it. But that was all he was getting tonight.

"Maybe I need to sing more often." Slick shot me a Crest-Whitestrip grin and scooped up the cash. "Might get some extra tips that way." How he had made that sound dirty was beyond me, but he'd managed it.

As he walked off, I reached for my drink. The pink umbrella sticking out was amusing, but a bit too frilly for my mood today. Discarding the umbrella, I took a long swallow. Not very strong, but the bar was reasonably fair with the tequila. It would do. With Bluey around, getting sloshed wasn't too wise anyway.

'Freebird' faintly played on the jukebox. Closing my eyes, I picked out the familiar chorus between the din of the bar crowd.

"I'm as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change."

The words fit like a rhythmic glove. Free as a bird in a new city. But even though I couldn't change these feathers of mine, I could still start over.

Time passed as I nursed my second drink, swiveling my chair now and again to people watch and to keep a close eye on the Bluebeard. Patrons were circling around him like buzzards, and he was affecting more than just the ladies. Straining to hear, I caught Bluey mention a garden he had while gesturing how the plants bloomed. With a gleam in his eyes, he looked like he wanted to plant Dirty Blonde's flowers right then and there.

A guy in a brown sweater— decorated with enough stripes to make a flag—had taken the chair to their left and appeared mesmerized by their conversation. He was leaning in closely to the couple, resting his hand under his chin and lingering on their every word. Sweater Guy shook himself out of the trance after a moment and took a long drink from his beer.

Impressive. Most wouldn't have been able to do that.

The bar was as busy as the guy's sweater, so I focused on the local patrons while I emptied my drink. I rolled my eyes at one couple, who were all but having sex in the booth across from my side of the bar. Their limbs tangled, clothes inched up around them, and their roaming hands kept disappearing under the table out of view.

I'd just gotten out of a relationship, so the last thing I wanted to witness was explicit PDAs. But I was single, and it was absolutely fantastic to be on my own again—I could flirt with whomever I wanted. At least that's what I'd convinced myself. But I wasn't in much of a flirtatious mood tonight. A few loutish barflies had noticed me, and I'd swatted them away one by one, declining offers for more drinks than I'd cared to count. With the type of clientele already here, who knew what else besides alcohol might be in those 'free drinks' they were shelling out.

I scoped out the bar for a glimmer of a spark, but honestly, no one here had caught my eye except Bluey, and that wasn't anything but those darn pheromones.

My eyes landed back on Sweater Guy. Despite that crazy sweater, he was appealing, unlike the hipster J-Crew creeps that had been buzzing around me all night. With his wild, curly brown hair and trimmed beard, he had a rugged, masculine look that was worth a second peek.

Sweater Guy was still focused on Bluey's hypno-show with Dirty Blonde, seeming more interested in him than with any of the women in here. Maybe there was a reason. That would be my luck. Too bad he was sitting so close to the pheromone machine, or I'd find out.

I shifted my gaze back to Bluey, who was handing Dirty Blonde his business card. Was that how dating worked now? I'd been out of the dating scene for a while, but the guys I'd talked to tonight sure hadn't been that professional with their offers. Dirty Blonde was completely smitten and held on to the card like it was made of gold.

Sweater Guy finished off his drink in one big gulp. He gave one last look at Bluey, shook his head, and stood. Tapping his phone earpiece, he hurried out of the bar.

"Oh, well," I muttered to myself as the door closed behind him. "So much for that idea."

Probably for the best, anyway. It was too soon to find someone new after breaking up with Jack. But then again, a little rebound might be nice. If Sweater Guy had approached, I wouldn't have shooed him off like I had the others.

My eyes lingered on the door. I could still take a chance and go outside. Perhaps he left to take a phone call? Shaking off the idea, I swirled the ice in my empty drink.

Slick beamed at me while he poured a beer for a customer, making a gesture that he'd get me a refill soon. The gesture soon turned to flexing his pecks, which I'm sure the old guy he was serving really appreciated. His muscles danced in time to the music, and I pulled my eyes away from them.

Bluey whispered a few more words in Dirty Blonde's ear and left shortly after. I breathed out a sigh of relief. Thank goodness he was gone. Fighting off his attraction wasn't easy. Darn toads. Dirty Blonde was still in a pheromone daze, re-reading his card and grinning from ear to ear like she'd just won on The Bachelor.

As I turned, the PDA couple across from me had upgraded their PG-13 make-out session to re-enacting a porno in their booth. Both were horizontal and it was plain to see where their hands were going this time. They knew people could see them, right? I shook my head. That was too much, so I moved to the middle of the bar. Once I changed seats, Slick headed over with the tequila bottle ready.

"Another sunrise?"

I nodded.

"Rough day?" he inquired further, pouring the tequila into the glass with less gusto this time.

I let out a long sigh. "Rough year."

The bartender laughed, but then stopped, looking unsure if I was joking or not, which sadly I wasn't.

"Well, I'm here if you need anything, Beautiful. I can make any day better." He winked again, adding an extra splash of tequila in my cocktail.

Maybe hanging around for a rebound with Slick wouldn't be so bad after all. I gave him a smile as he stepped away. He twirled the tequila bottle in his hands, checking out the backsides of two ladies as he went by.

No, I wasn't that desperate.

(*)(*)(*)(*)(*)

Halfway through my third drink, I caught another glimpse of that crazy sweater by the door. There it was—that spark. I was sure of it. It hit me like a pound of frilly pink drink umbrellas.

Sweater Guy meandered past the PDA couple, who were shrugging on their clothes while making their way to the exit. He headed back to the bar and approached Dirty Blonde. Maybe he wasn't interested in Bluey after all.

He leaned in close while she signed off on her tab. "You know, if you like gardens, I happen to, uhh—"

"Piss off," Dirty Blonde snapped back, sliding off her chair in a hurry.

"Okay…" he mumbled, but she ignored him and walked out with the business card still clutched in her hand. She was probably off to meet up with Bluey and earn the nickname I'd given her tonight.

Sweater Guy turned back to the bar, signaling for Slick. "One more, please."

With my drink loaded with more alcohol than the last two, a wave of chatty tipsiness came over me, and I wasn't about to pass up a second chance to talk to Sweater Guy.

"Did you really think that line would work?" I asked, startling him out of his thoughts.

He turned in my direction and took the seat next to me, beer in tow. "Well, it sure seemed to be working for that other guy." He removed his earpiece and tucked it in his pocket. "I guess he just told it better, huh?"

"Between you and me, I think he cheats. It's more than just his lines." I smirked, but then pursed my lips. "But it's definitely not his looks," I added quickly.

Sweater Guy smiled, taking a drink from his glass. "Yeah, well, it didn't hurt to try." His smile was genuine, not like the practiced one Slick the bartender had. He didn't seem the type to use corny lines. But he also didn't seem the type that picked up women in bars, either.

"I can't believe how smitten she was with that oddball," I commented almost to myself. "I half expected her to make out with his business card."

Sweater Guy shrugged. "You know, I hope she finds poison ivy in his garden." He chuckled loudly and took another swig of beer.

I laughed. It was the first real laugh I'd had in a while. "With that type of guy, it might not be the only rash she gets tonight."

"No kiddin'." He turned my way, grinning under his beard. "So, umm, you don't like gardens, do ya?"

"I adore them." I finished off the last of my drink. "I practically have a green thumb."

"There, ya see? I'm one for one."

"So... When the girl says, 'yes,' then what?"

"Hmm..." Sweater Guy furrowed his brow. "I, uh, hadn't gotten that far yet. I suppose I could say—"

"Are you ready for another?" Slick asked, wedging in between us. He eyed my empty glass and then eyed Sweater Guy, looking him over and seeming convinced there was no competition.

Slick and arrogant. Nice combo there, buddy.

"Actually, let's do a shot this round," I replied. Now that the blue-bearded Ziegevolk was gone, I could up my intake. "Patrón with lime, please."

The bartender grabbed the Patrón from the top shelf and poured the spirit into a shot glass. I kicked it back effortlessly, following up with the lime he held out for me.

"One more."

Slick replenished the glass without missing a beat.

I repeated the kickback and felt eyes on me as I held the lime to my mouth. I turned to Sweater Guy, who had furrowed his brow.

"You're finishing those off pretty fast."

I held out my glass in his direction. "Care to join me on a shot?"

"Hope you're not driving tonight," he continued with a hint of concern.

"I have the cab company on speed dial," I assured him. "But you didn't answer my question. Care to do one with me?" I shook my shot glass in his direction again. "My treat."

Sweater Guy palmed his bearded chin, staring at the glass.

"I promise not to take advantage of you."

He grinned at me. Yeah, the tequila was kicking in. I'd caught myself saying that aloud.

"Sure I'll take one," Sweater Guy finally replied.

Slick frowned at me a bit for buying him a drink and gruffly reached for a second shot glass, pouring the two and stomping off. I laid twenty-five dollars down to pay for the shots. He returned and took the money.

"No change," I said, and his frown turned back into a smile.

"Don't ask her on a straight tequila night…" Slick sang again and then wandered off to help another customer.

Sweater Guy raised an eyebrow. "What was that all about?"

"He just loves to sing." I chuckled and we reached for our drinks. "To gardens filled with poison ivy!" I clinked my shot glass against his.

He laughed. "To poison ivy!"

Our eyes met as we both drank our shots in unison.

Sweater Guy had mysterious, deep brown eyes—the kind of eyes I could get lost in. Jack's eyes were green like mine, which I'd taken as a sign from the universe that we were meant to be. Oh, how naive that was. But those brown eyes of Sweater Guy's had a story behind them, and I was itching to read a few chapters.

I blinked back my longing stare. The earlier shots were catching up to me. Wow, maybe a third shot wasn't such a brilliant idea after all.

"I, umm, didn't get your name," said Sweater Guy as I weaved a bit in my chair.

"Renée." I set the glass down and reached for my lime. "And you are?"

"Monroe," he replied with a wink. Hopefully he wasn't taking cues from Slick.

Discarding the lime, I beamed up at him. "Good to know your name." The 'Sweater Guy' nickname was becoming comical.

"Sweater Guy?" he asked, sounding confused.

Oh, no. I was speaking aloud again. I really had to watch that.

"Sorry, but that sweater is hard to miss." What was on it anyway? Aside from the stripes, there was some type of animal printed on the front. Buffalo or an elephant perhaps? Either way, it gave his rugged look a bit of charm. "But I like it," I added when the expression on his face turned sour.

Was it cotton or wool? I ran my finger across his sleeve to find out. It was soft, but—

Monroe looked up with a surprised grin, and I quickly let go. "Well, umm, I'm glad you approve." He chuckled as I dropped my hand to my lap.

Oh, crap. I was getting past tipsy. I had moved into touchy-feely drunk.

"Sweaters must be a Portland fashion statement," I continued, attempting to mask my embarrassment as I surveyed the bar. I gestured toward the sea of knitted blues and grays throughout the crowd. "Everyone seems to be wearing one."

"Not from around here, huh?"

"Nope. I'm on a road trip... sort of," I told him. "Driving cross country and taking a much needed adventure."

"Sort of?" He propped his elbow up on the bar, resting his chin on his hand. "How's that work, man?"

"Well, it's for my job. I just got promoted, and the new position is here in Portland instead of at home," I said, slurring slightly as I skirted my finger from one side of the bar to the other. "Instead of flying, I rented a car and just drove it. I'm here this week to finalize things and look for a place to live, and then I'm headed home again." I traced my finger back, stopping at the lime on my napkin. "By the end of January I'll be packing things up and moving here permanently."

"How's it been so far?"

"It's been..." I paused to thumb through my inebriated mental filing cabinet for the right word. "It's been liberating."

Well, it had been liberating once Jack and I had come to an impasse on my career change. After a few fights, I'd discovered he'd been cheating on me the past year with his friend Sam. He and Sam went bowling a lot. He and Sam would stay late working at the bar. Obviously, I'd never met this friend of his—who knew Sam was a girl?

Moving to Portland was going to be a fresh start for other reasons, too. Aside from the new job and leaving Jack, relocating gave me an opportunity at obscurity. Sometimes this gifted vision I had of a whole 'other world' that no one else could see was more of a curse than anything. Unlike back home, the Portland Wesen community wasn't aware of my secret, so it was going to be nice to be one of the normal ones for a change. Fortunately I'd seen enough in my life not to react when I saw someone's 'true colors' take over, so blending in would be easy-peasy.

Monroe the Sweater Guy seemed interested in my rambling. Oh, my. I talked way too much when I was drunk. What the heck had I said already?

"So, where's home?" he asked.

Good, I'd kept the 'other world' thoughts inside my head.

"Kentucky." I held my temple as Sweater Guy's face blurred a bit. "Louisville, Kentucky."

"Wow, that's a long distance there, man." He lifted his chin, watching while my chair seemed to dance the hokey-pokey under me. "Hey, are you doing okay?"

"Oh…" I shook my head, which only made it worse. "Lesson learned—three shots are too much."

"Maybe I oughta stick around." Monroe glanced across the bar as he spoke. "It's not safe for you to be here, you know, umm, like this."

In the far corner, a burly man began cursing at a guy over a game of pool. He had a quick woge into a Reinigen—rat whiskers twitching—as he threw his pool stick and some cash on the table and stormed out. Maybe Monroe was right. This place seemed to be going downhill. Perhaps it was time to head back. If another Bluebeard came in, there'd be no way to fend him off in this state.

"Actually, I think I'm gonna call it a night." I tried standing, but my knees buckled, so I held on to the chair.

"Let me give you a ride," Monroe offered. "Consider it payback for the drink." There was no lewd undertone in that statement. He'd honestly meant it.

"Thanks, but it's all right." I stumbled once again in my black Jimmy Choos. "I'll just get a cab."

"Dude, you don't need to be standing." He scrambled off his chair and moved in behind me, guiding me back to my seat before my heels were the death of me.

Thank goodness Monroe had come back to the bar. That spark resurfaced, and it was all I could do not to grin, but I tampered back the urge. One-night stands weren't good for me.

As I managed to sit back down, his cologne drifted near my nose, all inviting. Jack never wore cologne—he thought it was silly. The scent of cloves with a woodsy aroma underneath lingered all spicy and warm in the air. What kind was it?

"Thanks," I said, taking hold of my shoulder bag and rummaging for my cell phone. As I held it out in front of me, the buttons read like Greek.

Monroe stood close. "The cab companies take forever around here. Seriously, I can drive you. I'm parked out front."

"You're sweet," I replied, glancing back, "but getting into cars with strangers whilst intoxicated isn't always safe either." Yeah, I was using the word 'whilst.' I was trashed.

"And a cab driver is…?" He raised his eyebrows and gave me a 'think about it' look.

I smiled up at him, returning my phone to my bag. "Touché!" Okay, so he had a point. The driver from earlier hadn't been all that delightful, and at least this guy seemed nice. But I needed to play it smart. "Hey, do you have your ID on you?"

Monroe gave me a puzzled look, but he searched his back pocket and produced a wallet. He pulled out his driver's license, handing me the card. "Umm, I will get this back, right?"

I nodded with a grin and then flagged down Slick, passing him the ID. "This chivalrous gent is taking me back to my hotel." I hooked my thumb over my shoulder, pointing to Monroe. "Will you photocopy this, so in case I'm murdered, someone will know who did it?"

Slick scowled, but he did as I asked. When he returned, he said to Monroe, "Don't go murdering her, bro." He winked at me while handing Monroe back his ID. "She's too hot to die."

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind," Monroe replied, fumbling for his wallet again.

Slick motioned me closer, and I swiveled my chair to lean against the bar. "If this guy doesn't work out, you come back and see me, Beautiful."

I held back a laugh while shaking my head more slowly this time. "Oh, you know I will."

Slick smugly grinned and walked off to refill someone's beer.

Yeah, like that was gonna happen.

Monroe let out a short chuckle, and I turned back in his direction.

"At least you didn't tell him to piss off."

"No, I'm not tactless." I smiled widely. "So, I guess if you're ready to go, Monroe, I'm all yours."

"O…kay?" Monroe raised an eyebrow and shot me a sly smirk.

Crap! That had sounded more forward than I'd intended.

The heat immediately crept up my cheeks. "Please disregard that."

His smirk remained. "Officially, umm, disregarding." He held his arm out to me. "Let's just get you back to your hotel… safe."

Inching out of my seat, I took his arm graciously. Standing was difficult, but walking was an even bigger challenge. We maneuvered toward the front door.

"So, do you really think I'd, you know, murder you?" Monroe asked with hesitation.

"There are heroes, and then there are villains," I replied, holding on to him tightly as we moved forward. "I'm hoping you're a hero."

He seemed lost in thought at my comment.

"Does the silence mean you're a villain?" I asked jokingly once we were out of the bar.

"We all have dark sides," Monroe responded in a low tone.

Before I could reply to his cryptic remark, the cold night air whisked against my arms and legs, and I shuddered. I'd worn a black skirt and a sheer purple blouse. Not Portland attire at all. Oh, if only I hadn't left my jacket at the hotel. Not that it would've helped my legs any, but half-warm was better than nothing.

"You're gonna freeze out here if you wear things like that," Monroe said, and I caught him eyeing my chilled legs. I was drunk, but I wasn't stupid. He looked up and asked, "Didn't you bring a coat or something?"

"No, I forgot to grab it," I said. "Do you happen to carry an extra sweater for out-of-towners?"

"Nope, no sweaters." He lightly chuckled. "But I have a heater that works some of the time. It's a roll of the dice, though."

We walked toward a vintage, yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked by a large tree across the street.

"Cute," I commented aloud.

He looked down at me. "What, the car?"

"That, too," I quickly replied before thinking.

Stupid tequila.

"Why is the tequila stupid?" he asked, and his smirk returned.

Crap, I wasn't talking in my head again. I really had to be careful.

"The drinker of too much tequila is actually the stupid one," I replied, concentrating on the words.

"Dude, I don't think she's as stupid as she thinks she is." Monroe laughed and helped me into the passenger side of his VW. "That ID thing was kinda clever, you know?" he added as he made sure I was securely inside before closing the door.

I tugged on my skirt to keep it down while positioning myself in the seat. Wow, it was really short. No wonder he was checking out my legs. A wardrobe upgrade was definitely going to be in order when I moved here. I managed to buckle the seat belt, and I rubbed my arms, trying to find some warmth.

Monroe walked around to the driver's side and got in. "So, where are you staying?" he asked, starting the ignition and turning on the heater.

Lovely warm air sputtered out the vents. The luck of the dice was on my side tonight.

"The Hotel Westin on Southeast Alder," I replied over the cricket-like chirping sound of the VW's idling engine. "We went over a bridge to get here." I pointed left. "That way."

"I know that place." Monroe smiled. "And it's actually this way." He pointed right. "Southwest Alder."

Okay, so I was completely backwards. I'd chosen wisely not taking the cab.

We started to move forward, and the heater did its job as I defrosted a little. I glanced over at my volunteer chauffeur, who was keeping his eyes on the road. While he wasn't the typical guy I was interested in, there was something about him that kept that spark blazing. Maybe it was the tequila… No, it was something else. The streetlights illuminated his face as he took the next right. He was cute—definitely cute. But it was more than just that. He was genuine, which was unusual, but darn attractive.

He looked over, startling me. "Genuine?"

I was doing it again. Crap.

"Is that why you wanted my license?" he continued in an amused tone. "Because you thought I was genuine?"

"No. That's not why." I tilted my head against the seat. "That was just common sense." Monroe's ID had been a back-up plan in case my people radar was on the fritz. Police usually lost time getting the description of a suspect in a homicide—at least this way if I was totally wrong about this guy, they'd have his photo and address in one fell swoop.

"Okay, 'cause I gotta admit, I was feeling like Jack the Ripper back there for a minute." He shook his head. "I mean, like you thought I was Jack the Ripper. Not that I was actually—" He groaned. "Never mind."

"No, I don't think that at all," I told him. "Just the opposite actually. It's nice to find a genuine person in this world. There are a lot of messed up 'people' out there." I'd used finger quotes on the word 'people' without thinking. I shoved my hands in my lap.

Double crap.

Alcohol made me such an open book. If I kept this up, I was going to tell him everything I knew. Yes, Sweater Guy, there are monsters, creatures, and things out there that would make your head spin. You can't see these Wesen, but I can. This guy would think he'd picked up a psycho, for sure.

"Well, I don't know if genuine is the right word," Monroe replied, "but if you're judging me on my rectitude, then yeah I try to do what's right."

"You don't think you're genuine?"

"No. Well, I mean, yeah. I mean, it depends on what you're adding with it, I suppose."

Monroe furrowed his brow. "What I mean is, I assure you I'm not a bad—" He paused a moment. "I'm not one of those kinds of 'people,'" he finished, mocking my finger quotes before settling his hands back on the steering wheel.

I chuckled. "Good to know." If he only knew how meaningful that statement really was. "And genuine is the right word for you. I have a good sense about people."

Monroe didn't reply, but he smiled, and I settled into the seat. As I got a bit more comfortable, I closed my eyes, willing myself to hush before anything else came out my mouth that could get me in trouble. The hotel was… Well, it was somewhere close by. Surely I could contain myself for a few more minutes. But I couldn't be silent when I was drunk, so I hummed softly instead.

"Are you humming 'Freebird'?"

I opened my eyes slightly. "Guess I am."

"Interesting song choice."

"Just thinking about the nature of people," I replied. "Lynyrd Skynyrd said it best. Some of us can't change who we are." I pursed my lips before I said anything more.

"And some of us try too hard to change," Monroe mumbled back as we continued down the road.

(*)(*)(*)(*)(*)

Minutes later, Monroe pulled up to the front of the hotel.

I sat up in my seat. Somehow I'd managed to hold my tongue during the rest of the drive.

"Thanks for the ride," I said as my head spun slightly from sitting upright.

"Want me to walk you in?" He cleared his throat. "I mean, uh, just to get you to your door?".

I gave a slow nod. "Yeah, I think I could use a hand."

Raindrops trickled down the windshield. Did I have to go back out in the freezing rain so soon? The weather was just dreadful, and Monroe's heater in the VW was warm and wonderful. Regardless, I forced the door open, unbuckled my seat belt, and attempted to lift myself up. Monroe was already on the passenger side, extending out his open hand. I took it and was fast on my feet, grabbing my shoulder bag as I went.

I fought through the drizzling cold again while I clung to Monroe's warm arm. We hurried toward the main entrance and entered the hotel. The clerk behind the counter gave me a knowing look as we strode through the front lobby. Great, now the staff was going to think I was a whore.
Fortunately, I had a room on the first floor, so we didn't have to go far. Room 148 was just down the hall.

I hunted through my bag for my card key, eventually finding it near the bottom. The light on the door turned green as I passed the card through the slot. Swinging the door open, I leaned against the frame to steady myself.

"It was nice to meet you, Monroe." I gave him a teasing smile. "Thank you for the ride and for not murdering me."

He chuckled, drawing in closer. "Umm, you're welcome, I think?"

"I'm glad you were there to come to my rescue." I leaned up, my balance swaying as I planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. Kissing him elsewhere would've been so much better, but I refrained in spite of my condition. After all, I didn't want the hotel staff to be right about me.

Monroe blushed under his beard. "Anytime." His eyes twinkled with a hint of red, or perhaps that was just my drunken vision making the effect—I wasn't sure.

He took my hand and kissed it, keeping his soulful, brown eyes on mine.

I softly sighed, the sparks edging me on. Thankfully I had the door frame to support me. "And they say chivalry is dead."

"Nah, it's not dead." He smirked. "It's just playing possum."

"Maybe it just needed someone to call its bluff."

Monroe smiled at my remark. "Maybe so."

Great, I'd moved from touchy-feely drunk to witty drunk. That genuine smile of his made me a little giddy. I was a witty, giddy drunk. I bit my tongue, but Monroe didn't comment. At least I'd kept that last thought to myself.

He took a step back and let out a short breath. "Well, umm, goodnight."

I grinned up at him. "Goodnight, Hero." Before I changed my mind, I stumbled into my room, closing the door behind me.

"Oh, Sweater Guy..." I fell back on my bed. "Where have you been all my life?"

As I lay there, grinning, Rihanna's song of the same name danced through my head.

"Where... have you been... all my life...?"

Sweater Guy was sweet, and valiant, and cute, and—

I immediately shot up. And I didn't get his number! I didn't even know his last name!

Well, crap!

How stupid are you, Renée? You find a great guy, and you don't have any way of reaching him again. Just perfect!

I dropped back on the bed with a sigh. No use trying to hobble out into the hall to look for him.

Two lessons learned tonight—don't do three shots of Patrón, and for goodness sake, get a nice guy's phone number!

As my eyes closed, those were the last thoughts that passed through my brain.