Second Time Charm by Hollis Shiloh - Read Online
Second Time Charm
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Summary

I've wanted to work with a wolf partner for as long as I can remember.  This is my third — and final — chance of being chosen by one.

You know what they say.  Be careful what you wish for. 

I had no idea wolves could be as broken as my new partner is.  He has an intense phobia of dogs, his attitude reeks, he barely knows how to take care of himself, and doesn't care about much of anything — except having lots of sex.  

That's the best thing about our partnership, the sex.  But sometimes I wonder if it's worth it.  I don't know how to fix this.  He's difficult, annoying, handsome as hell...and I don't want to give him up.

My dream come true is starting to feel like a nightmare.  But the one he's living turns out to be far worse.

A shifters and partners novel
Heat level: medium
63,000 words

Published: Spare Words Press on
ISBN: 9781386579052
List price: $2.99
Availability for Second Time Charm: shifters and partners, #13
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Second Time Charm - Hollis Shiloh

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O'Hearn.

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(or write me at Hollis.shiloh@gmail.com)

––––––––

About the story:

I've wanted to work with a wolf partner for as long as I can remember.  This is my third — and final — chance of being chosen by one.

You know what they say.  Be careful what you wish for.

I had no idea wolves could be as broken as my new partner is.  He has an intense phobia of dogs, his attitude reeks, he barely knows how to take care of himself, and doesn't care about much of anything — except having lots of sex. 

That's the best thing about our partnership, the sex.  But sometimes I wonder if it's worth it.  I don't know how to fix this.  He's difficult, annoying, handsome as hell...and I don't want to give him up.

My dream come true is starting to feel like a nightmare.  But the one he's living turns out to be far worse.

––––––––

A shifters and partners novel

Heat level: medium

63,000 words

Second Time Charm

a shifters and partners novel

by Hollis Shiloh

––––––––

They say the third time's the charm. 

They're full of shit.

One time, you're rejected, fine, you move on.  The next time?  Well, you're still holding out.  So that third time is going to hurt all the more.

I always figured, if you get past the third time, you're either too stubborn to ever give up (and will probably get what you want eventually from sheer cussedness) or you're just too stupid to give up and will get the heartbreak you probably deserve.  No way to know which is true about yourself, probably.

But that seems pretty harsh when I'm the one looking down that barrel. 

It was my third time.  And it would be my last, if I couldn't snag a partner to bring back with me. 

I didn't get it.  On paper, I had the right qualifications.  I'd sailed through the course the first time, and the second time it had been even easier.  This time?  I could've done the work in my sleep.

But so far, I hadn't caught the eye of a wolf who wanted to work with me. 

I suppose I didn't stand out from the crowd.  I was motivated, hard-working, well-trained, and fairly level-headed.  I even played well with others, which was more than could be said for some of the applicants here.  But everyone here seemed to be at least as qualified as I was. 

Some indefinable quality of personality made others stand out enough to find a wolf partner.  Apparently I had all the personality of a turnip or a rock.  I'd always thought I had a decent personality.  Maybe I was too quiet, and didn't tell many jokes, but I hadn't had to face just how utterly boring I was until now, when I was looking down the barrel of my third time charm.

The first two times, I'd done my best to spend time with every single wolf in the program, hoping I'd click with at least one of them.  It hadn't happened.  Or at least, I'd liked most of them well enough, but none of them had really liked me.

I was starting to wonder if the rumblings and rumors I'd previously dismissed were true, or could be.  That many of the wolves who went through the program were secretly hoping to find a mate.  A human they felt was worthy of them, to get married to and live happily ever after.  If so, I foresaw even less hope for me this time.

I'd only barely been let back into the program a third time.  It was my last try.  I was already a laughingstock back at the precinct.  Apparently I was Mr. Big Shot, who thinks he's going to swan off and find himself a wolf partner to shower glory on the precinct (and himself, because of course in this narrative I'm a selfish, vainglorious asshole), coming back to boos and sneers, a failure.

I was hoping that didn't happen.  On paper, I had all the qualifications.  I should be able to find a partner.  But there were always more humans than wolves in the program, because it was important the shifters had plenty of choices and weren't pushed into anything.  They needed to be the ones to choose, otherwise the program could quickly become coercive. 

The wolves who entered these programs tended to know less about the world, come from a poorer background, and not have a lot of experience with policing.  On top of that, they'd be leaving all they knew to join a partner on a job at a precinct they'd probably never even heard of before.  They needed to feel (and be) safe with their partners, because these wolves were changing their whole lives for them.  In practice, though, I wished there were a few more wolves, so maybe one of them would choose me. 

This is the last time, Sinclair, the captain had told me as he'd signed the final paperwork to let me attend one more Shifters and Partners training course.  If it doesn't work out this time, it's just not meant to be.  The universe has something better in store.

Yes sir, I'd agreed.  The captain was kind of a hippie.  He doled out philosophical life advice sometimes.  Not what I was used to, when I got out of the military and joined the police force — an aging captain with a mellow manner.  But I'd come to appreciate him in time; he was competent in his job, and he went to bat for his people when needed.  He also didn't tolerate the old boy's club and was a pretty decent guy overall.  I still found it odd when he told me things like the universe has something better in store.

I got to the training camp early.  I always like being early, rather than late.  It was almost twenty-four hours before anyone else arrived, and from the way the check-in woman looked at me, I could see she thought it was overkill, that I was one of those people who would never learn.  She probably thought the third time definitely wouldn't be my charm.

Well.  She might be right.  Maybe the captain was right, too, and it wasn't in the cards for me to work with wolves. 

Maybe I shouldn't have cared.  Shouldn't have devoted so much of my time to getting here.  Should have moved on with my life.  I'd had this image in my head, ever since I was a little boy, actually: me and a wolf, side by side, facing the dangers of the world together. 

At the time, I'd imagined the Alaskan wilderness, or a desert's windstorm, or the setting of whatever adventure book I'd been reading or video game I'd been playing.  I'd had an active imagination, and the wolves varied in looks and abilities (sometimes they talked; sometimes they had scars, and sometimes they were dogs instead of wolves, when I was trying to be grown up and more realistic), but there had always been a companion on my journey. 

When I got out of the military and joined the police, I'd had three choices.  I could be a regular cop, working my way up the ladder as far as I could.  I could throw all my efforts towards making the K-9 Unit.  Or I could try to get myself teamed up with a wolf shifter in the Shifters and Partners program for police officers.

I chose the wolf.

But so far, no wolf had chosen me.

#

I'd finished unpacking my things, remade my bed to military standards, and changed into running clothes.  I might as well get a run in, since I had the extra time on my hands.  Maybe getting my body active would make my mind shut up.  I didn't need to contemplate all the ways I could fail this time.

It would either happen or it wouldn't.  Let's see what the universe decides, I thought, smiling a little at the thought of a universe that actually gave a shit about me.  It seemed unlikely at best. 

I put in my ear buds and went for a run through the woods, falling into a good pace for me.  The sun shone past and through the leaves above.  There was a breeze strong enough to move them.  It felt like the forest was nodding its head along with the music in my ears.  I fell into a steady pace, got into the zone, and a kind of peace washed over me.  This was good, this feeling of being in tune with my body, with the world, with music and no worries.  There were challenges ahead; I would meet them.  Everything would be okay, whatever happened.  In that moment, I believed it.

I crested the hill back towards the compound.  I was ready for a cold shower and some lazing around before supper.  It would be a relaxing evening.  Tomorrow, the others would start to arrive; I would meet my competition and my possible new partners.  I would coast through the training, and I would put in extra effort to be friendly and get to know all the wolves.

It was a good day, and I was strong enough to do this: third time was my time to charm.

The cafeteria felt empty, with only a few staff members and teachers there.  I stayed at my own table, not wanting to intrude.  I felt rather out of place, but nobody was whispering and pointing at me or laughing, at least.  Then one of the instructors got up and walked over to me, a grin on his face.  Hey, some of us are going out for drinks later.  You're invited if you want.  Since you're a regular.

I kept my wince internal, and accepted the invitation.  I'd certainly been too busy to drink during the previous times here, but if I was turning over a new leaf of bonhomie, this was as good a time to start as any.

Although I didn't much like being called a regular.

Still, I could suck it up and play the part. 

I went along with the six (two teachers, four other staff members) who went to the bar.  It was not a very populous area, and I suspected there was only one bar in the whole town, probably something with tables that never got washed, but I would be fine if I didn't overdo it and make a fool of myself.  Sticky tables, I could handle.  Too much to drink and dancing on said tables, I couldn't.  I'd learned that a while ago. 

If I drank to excess, I didn't handle myself well.  I could lose control, and get either weepy, over-exuberant, or combative, and always ended up hating myself the next day.  These days I paced myself much better, and rarely drank other than socially.  One beer and I would stop.

#

I'd stepped outside for some fresh air.  To be honest, I'd begun to regret coming.  Bars weren't much fun if you were neither drinking nor spending time with friends.  These people were pretty much strangers to me, and I didn't feel I could let down my hair with them. 

After one beer that hadn't been very enjoyable, and I'd spent a lot of time trying to be pleasant to people who weren't sticking to one beer, well, I was regretting life choices.  Surely it would be okay not to be sociable with the teachers, especially since they thought of me as a regular.

Now I stood outside and wondered whether it would be worth the cost and bother to get a cab back.  But probably not, since I was almost certainly going to be the designated driver at this point.  I had nothing against the instructors, but I wasn't sure how I felt about hearing their favorite dirty jokes, etc.  I'd probably have preferred to keep a more professional image of them in my head.

A man sidled up to me in the alley.  I turned to watch him — something about the way he was walking looking untrustworthy.

Want a blow job? he asked.  Only ten bucks.

How old are you? I said sharply.  I hadn't expected this in a sleepy little town.

He flinched visibly.  Old enough.

You sound like you should be in school.  My hands started to shake with anger and frustration.  I couldn't tell his age in this light, and with the hoodie leaving his features in shadows, but he walked and sounded like he was young.  I reached for my wallet, fumbling, while I continued to lecture.  If you need ten bucks, have ten bucks.  Don't offer to blow strangers.  I pulled out two fives and handed them over.

He hesitated, then accepted them, head hanging down.  Thanks, man.

Stay in school, I said.  And don't get an STD.  I felt like an old fart saying it, but I needed to say it anyway.  Perhaps so I could feel like an old fart, too.

He nodded miserably and walked away.  I looked after him, breathing hard, feeling like shit, although I wasn't sure why.  I shouldn't be so flustered by that kind of thing.  But I was.

Even as an ex-soldier and a cop, there were things in this world that could shock and upset me.  Even if he was truly older than he'd looked and sounded, he wasn't very old.

I headed back into the bar, where at least I wouldn't be accosted by kids.

Twenty minutes later I emerged again, my skin feeling itchy from the close proximity to strangers.  I was getting very fed up and had called a cab.  It would supposedly take fifteen more minutes to get here.

I guess I really was unsociable. 

I was not going to be the designated driver if it meant staying for another two hours while certain people grew progressively drunker.  I told the bartender to please call a cab for them when they were ready to leave, and he looked at me like I was an idiot, because of course that's what he would do.  They do this all the time.

Great.  Thanks.  I put down some money for the ever-growing bill, then left them to their own devices, feeling irritable.  I waited outside, wondering if I'd just gotten too old or something.  Nothing about this evening had been enjoyable.  And seeing that young guy had left me shaken.  It made me feel both old and unhappy to see someone so young out doing that for a little cash.

He was probably going to blow whatever he got on drugs, too.  Maybe I shouldn't have given him anything.

Outside, I thought about lighting a cigarette, then remembered I'd quit smoking years ago.  Cravings came back at the oddest times.

There was a sound in the alleyway.  I turned, before even thinking about it, and headed over there.  Kid, I growled.

Yes, it was him again, and another man, someone older and bigger, towering over him, intimidatingly large, crowding him back against the wall.  What do you think I am, a faggot? he snarled at the cowering boy.

Hey! I snapped.  Move along.  Leave him alone.

The bigger man whirled.  What are you, his pimp?  Here.  He caught the boy by the shoulder and swung him around, full-bodied, throwing him against me.  Keep the little bitch away from real men.  He spat on the ground and walked away with an angry swagger.

I caught the kid as he was thrown, and didn't release him, even though it nearly made us both fall.  I held him by his skinny arms.  He was trembling through the hoodie. 

You're not very smart, are you, kid?

G-guess not.  He reached up and wiped at his face, where a trickle of blood ran from his split lip.  Sorry.

You need to quit this.  I didn't release him.  He obviously couldn't be trusted.  I made an executive decision.  I'll drive you home.  Where do you live?

He tensed as if hit.  No.  You can't.  My — my parents kicked me out already.  They won't—

You could be arrested for solicitation, I said severely  You need to go home.

But they don't want me, he said miserably.  They said I had to leave.

Because you're gay?

He nodded, head dropping low, shamed.

I'm sorry.  I squeezed his shoulder cautiously, but didn't release his other arm.  How old are you?

Eighteen, he mumbled.

If he was telling the truth, then he was just old enough the parents couldn't be charged with neglect for kicking him out.  I sighed.  Where are you staying?  There had to be a homeless shelter here.  Didn't there?  As soon as I thought it, I realized, probably not, and groaned inwardly.  It was not a big town.  It had one bar. 

Just...around.  He scuffed his feet.  Come on, let me go.  My arm hurts, he whined.

I haven't decided how to handle this yet, I told him seriously.  Have you been in trouble with the law before?

He shook his head quickly, with a sharp intake of breath.  You're — not going to turn me in?

I snorted.  Kid, I'm a cop. I should.

He began to tremble harder, tensing up, ready to run.

I'm not going to, I added.  I'll book you a room tonight, but you need to figure out some other options, and quick.  You can see what kind of life this would be, and probably what kind of death.  If I spoke harshly, it was only the truth.  Homeless gay prostitute was not a good lifestyle choice if you wanted to be healthy and have a long life.

You should just let me go, he said seriously.  If you book me a room, they'll think you're hiring me for sex.

Well, I'm not, so they can think what they like.  Now.  Are you hungry?

He scuffed his feet and hung his head. 

Chin up, kid.  Answer me.

Kinda, he said in a cracking voice.

Wait here, and I'll get you a burger from the bar.

If he didn't wait, I'd know it wasn't worth the effort of finding him a room and trying to help him.  It was a good test.

He hung his head, but didn't argue.  All the fight seemed to be knocked out of him.  Not that he'd had much to begin with.

I went back inside, ordered their shitty house burger to go, and went back outside with it shortly.  The kid was waiting.  He leaned against the wall and crouched over the burger, eating too fast.  I ran things through my head, trying to figure out how to deal with this best...and not ruin my third time charm.

What's your name, by the way?

J-Jared.

Brakes squealed.  Come on, Jared.  That's my cab.

I told the cabbie to recommend a hotel.  He looked at me sharply in the mirror, and I showed him my badge.  It had to