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Seduced by a Shifter

By:Jennifer Dellerman

wavering interest had begun to rattle nerves already stretched too thin between her forced exile and sleepless nights. “See you later.”

“Yeah. See you Friday,” Tim said as she quickly headed toward the woman’s locker room and out of his sight.

Willow waved a hand in confirmation before stepping into the solitude of the room and padded over to her assigned locker. Everything would be better after speaking with Jade, especially when combined with the burger and fries—long denied by her rigid diet—that awaited her at Chili’s down the street.

She worked the combination lock automatically, thinking ahead to a quick shower to rid her skin of the salt from the pool, followed by a nice, juicy hamburger. Focused as she was on the future, she had to blink several times at the sight inside her locker before it registered.

There, hanging from the top hook by their ribbons, was a brand-new pair of light pink pointe shoes, the type of shoe Willow hadn’t seen, much less worn, in over six months. Her first reaction was the curling of her toes in horror at the remembrance of standing en pointe, or on her toes, for extended periods of time.

Her next reaction was a visceral what the hell?

A slip of yellow paper was attached to the ribbons with a scrawled message. Miss these? I know I missed you.

She backed up a step, landing with little grace on one of the hard, white plastic benches scattered in front of the wall of lockers, her hip protesting at the jarring movement. Heart dancing a frantic jig in her chest, she scanned the small, narrow room. Across from the lockers were four empty toilet stalls and two shower stalls with their mold-resistant plastic curtains pushed open. At the far end of the room was a vanity with two sinks. The second exit, the one that led to an employee break room, was actually behind the wall of sinks, the backside forming a sort of entryway into the room.

Someone could easily be hiding around that corner, secretly laughing in demented glee at her reaction to their “present” or waiting to pounce on her as she exited the locker room.

Tensing, Willow held her breath, listening for breathing, or shuffling, the movement of fabric. Anything. With all the tile in the room, even the slightest noise echoed. Yet after a minute of hearing nothing but her own racing heart, she gave up.

If someone were spying on her and wanted to harm her physically, wouldn’t they’ve done so by now? If the goal was simply to freak her out, then kudos, because mission definitely accomplished. But if the individual who left the shoes wanted to immobilize her with fear and then attack, she needed to get her feet moving. But she couldn’t get past the tense of the verb in the message.

If someone missed watching her dance, wouldn’t they have written I miss you rather than I missed you? It was the missed part combined with the shoes that made her queasy. To her frazzled state, the past tense meant the shoes were from the same person who shot her that horrible day four months ago—the day her life was saved, but when everything she knew and loved had been ripped from her grasp.

Based on the evidence in her locker, the Victim Witness Protection Program wasn’t as secure as Rome made it out to be. She needed to get dressed and out of this room before whoever left those shoes decided to come back.

At that potential threat, Willow galvanized into action. Not bothering to change, she yanked jeans from the locker and tugged them on over her swim bottoms. The skirt of the bottoms, chosen to help hide the scar on her hip, made zipping impossible so she left it undone and threw on the T-shirt and lightweight cardigan she’d worn in. Grabbing her sneakers and purse, careful not to touch the hanging slippers, she slipped into the shoes sans socks. Not the most comfortable, but nothing of what she currently wore was, what with the dampness of her suit seeping into her outer clothing.

Underwear and bra were thrust into her purse and, on impulse, Willow slid out her cell phone and took several quick photos of the inside of her locker. She wasn’t coming back here without an army and didn’t have the patience to wait for a congressional act of approval for deployment. And while anyone who knew her knew she wasn’t given to an overactive imagination or paranoia, she wanted instant and visible proof of why she was about to rush into Jade’s office in disarray, soaking through her clothes.

After unearthing her very pointy nail file, she realized she had a choice to make: Go around the blind corner and possibly into unfriendly arms, or walk back out into the pool area where Tim might still be hanging out. Not that she thought he had anything to do with this.

Did she? After all, she’d just been thinking how irritatingly persistent he’d become regarding her injuries.

Willow frowned, looking from one exit to another. Sure, she could always call for help, but how stupid would she look if she was all alone? And if she wasn’t alone, dallying any longer would only give someone with evil intent even more time to attack. Not to mention what could happen to Jade if she barged in while Willow was slowly being strangled to death, or stabbed, or yanked up by the hair by some mutant super spider intent on sucking out her brains.

Okay. So maybe she did have a vivid imagination, but she sure as hell wasn’t imagining those damn shoes. “Jeez, Will! Get a grip!” she hissed under her breath. “Move!”

Wielding her nail file like a dagger, heart pounding with adrenaline, she rushed towards the second exit, her knee rebelling when she skidded to a halt just past the corner.

No one. Not one damn person was hiding behind the wall ready to slit her throat.

And now she did feel like an idiot. Except she knew she wasn’t. The shoes and note were very real. She just overreacted.

A scraping sound at the door leading to the pool area had her jerking her head around.

Or maybe not.

Not waiting another seco