Today's Reading

Noah turns, that perplexed expression still etched into his features as he's probably realizing that this is the longest conversation he and I have had in at least the last six months; I can't actually remember the last time he returned my polite hello when I pass him in the corridor, now that I think about it. Not that anyone would blame me. I think the last time we spoke, he told me my shoe was untied without even slowing his pace. I'm not sure that even counts as conversation.

He's looking at me with annoyance now, like I'm wasting his precious time. "Yes?"
I can't believe I'm considering asking the Abominable Ass of Colorado to help me. It might be the worst idea I've ever had, but I'm in it now.

"I was wondering"—I know I'm going to regret this—"if you would take a picture with me."

Noah looks utterly confused. "Pardon?"

"A picture. Maybe you could smile in it too? I'm willing to pay. In better coffee, or snacks—" He looks like he doesn't know the definition of the word, and honestly, that tracks. "Okay, so no snacks. Whatever you want. I just need a picture."

"Explain to me a situation where taking a picture with me helps you somehow."

"Well, you see, that's complicated." Noah blinks at me for about three seconds before he turns to leave, seemingly done with the conversation, and I call after him again. "Okay, okay," I sigh. "Look. I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I need to use you."

His eyebrows nearly shoot into his hair. "Excuse me?"

"It's not a big deal, it's just, I needed someone from work, and I kind of blanked when she asked, and your name sort of spilled out since you were right there, and all I need is a picture, really. I think that would buy me some time at least to—"

"What on earth are you talking about?"

I take a deep breath, regretting this already. "I need you to be my fake boyfriend."

He lingers in the doorway for a good number of seconds, ones where I can feel my stomach churn in embarrassment. I know that I should have given Gran a random name. I know that I could have told her I was fucking a random colleague on the side and properly silenced her with a blush—but I didn't do any of those things, and if I can't buy myself some time, I'm looking at a fun-filled Friday night with some egghead explaining cryptocurrency to me. (Did I mention that I have been on some really bad dates?)

Noah takes a sip from his mug, swallows it, then closes the break room door. He crosses the space to pass the other little wooden tables that fill the room, his considerable bulk settling into one of the padded chairs on the opposite side of the one I'm occupying. For a moment he says nothing, studying me with a mercurial look as the old wall clock to my right ticks the seconds away, but then he takes another sip from his mug, swallowing it with a bob of his Adam's apple before he sets it down on the table.


* * *

"So." Noah's cup is almost empty, his expression hardly any different than it had been ten minutes ago when I began to explain my horrible dating history and my aversion to experiencing even one more bad date—all leading up to my lie. "You want me to pretend to be your that you don't have to get a boyfriend?"

"You don't even have to do anything." "I fail to see the need for me at all then."

I'm pretty sure I've never been this close to Noah. At least not for this long a time. I can sense a sharp tinge of suppressants rolling off him, which I find odd; most male shifters choose to forgo them, too hung up on their ego to miss out on clouding a room with their scent in the hopes that a female shifter will come running. Maybe it's a professional decision? His scent might not be pleasant. Although, I think I can discredit that theory, given that, strangely, I can faintly make it out even under the chemical tang of his suppressants, making me think he needs a stronger dose. Not that I'm complaining, since I think it might be a nice scent. It's woodsy. Like pine needles and crisp air. It reminds me of running in the snow on all fours.

But this isn't what I should be focusing on.

"Well, a picture, maybe. So I can prove you're real. That will hold her off for a few weeks, at least, with my schedule. Surely you know how to smile, right? You can think of something you enjoy, like glaring at small children or criticizing baristas at Starbucks."

"I don't do either of those things," he snorts. "Thank you very much."
I shrug. "It was a guess. Come on, it will cost you nothing, and you'd be helping me out."

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