"One night only!" The sign screamed. The letters, so dark a red they looked almost black, glistened in the moonlight. "Moonlight Madness! Prices Slashed!"
Rhea paused. The alley was silent except for the faint sound of water dripping from the fire escape onto cracked and dirty pavement. She had only meant to duck through here quickly on her way to the nightclub, but the promise of a bargain beckoned her.
She shrugged, looking around. The night was young. Nobody was waiting for her at the club, anyway. Nobody was ever waiting for her.
She ducked into the shop, pushing back the hood of her faded black raincoat and lifting her hair free of the collar. It was humid inside the small store, and she felt her hair begin to instantly frizz. Great.
An odd smell hung in the air. Somehow familiar, yet she couldn't quite think of what it was. For some reason it made her think of summers at her grandfather's golden retriever breeding farm.
"May I help you?" a voice came from the shadows behind the low counter along the shop's narrow side wall.
Rhea jumped, not really startled and annoyed to find herself acting like she was. "I saw your sign," she said, rather lamely and felt instantly embarrassed. Not that she had any reason to be, she told herself sternly. The clerk didn't know her from a hole in the ground.
Now, for the first time, Rhea looked around the shop's crowded interior. It was packed from end to end with clothing racks, all hung with coats of every kind of fur imaginable. That was the smell, she realized, wrinkling her nose while looking around in utter amazement. Not a bad smell. More like wet dog than anything else.
And no wonder, since it had been raining for nearly a week without pause. Everything had been damp for days, and the humidity was terrible. Other than the smell, the moisture in the air didn't seem to be affecting the garments in this store. She reached one hand out to stroke the soft fur of the coat nearest her. It looked like mink.
"A lovely choice," the voice behind the counter said, still in shadow.
"You're having a sale?" she asked, letting the sleek fur drop. Stuff like this you found in Macy's or Bloomingdale's, not some dumpy shop in an alley. Well, this wouldn't be the first time she'd seen things that had 'fallen' off the back of a truck. "What's the occasion?"
"Last night of the full moon," the clerk said. "Have to move out the inventory.
Rhea strained her eyes to see the owner of the voice, but could only make out the vaguest of forms. "Your sign said prices slashed."
"Yes," the clerk replied. "For the right customer."
"And am I the right customer?" The coquettish tone of her voice irritated her. Who knew where that had come from. Rhea had long ago learned that no matter how many times she fluttered her eyelashes or shoved out her chest, she was no bombshell.
A low, dark chuckle that made the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end curled out of the dark. "Perhaps. Step into the light."
She took two steps forward before angrily catching herself. The clerk was still shielded in darkness, but now Rhea stood in what seemed to be a theater-strength spot light. The brightness made her squint her eyes shut in protest, and made the clerk's dim form nearly impossible to make out.
"Look, buddy," Rhea said, perturbed to hear an edge of near-hysteria in her voice. "I don't know what you think you're trying to do..."
"Skinny," the clerk hissed. There came a sharp noise, like long nails tapping speculatively on the counter top. "Frizzy hair. Freckles. Some call them the Devil's Spittle. Men don't flock around you much."
Rhea flinched, throwing up one hand to cover her eyes against the brightness. She knew she was no beauty queen, but this frank appraisal of her physical appearance was like a slap. Surprisingly, and infuriatingly, she felt hot tears spring into her eyes. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Hell, indeed," the clerk's low voice rumbled, and she swore he laughed.
Rhea had enough. No fur coat, no matter how luxurious and not matter how cheap, was worth this sort of freak stuff. First the deserted shop, next the creepy clerk making her feel ugly. She had a nightclub to get to, and even though she knew she would probably spend the night dancing alone, at least it was better than this.
"Wait," the clerk said, and she saw his dim form move behind the counter. "I have just the coat for you."
"I don't want it," Rhea retorted, lifting her chin.
"Yes, you do," the clerk replied.
He moved out from behind the counter, and despite herself Rhea drew in her breath. He was magnificent, moving with a fluid grace unusual in such a powerfully built man. His dark hair was shoulder-length and shot through with grey. His eyes were a piercing, feral black. And his mouth, she marveled, was a slash of red the color of strawberries. He was the handsomest man she had ever seen, even though his over-thick eyebrows met above the sharpness of his nose, and the shadow on his cheeks was several hours past five o'clock.
He motioned to her with a smile that showed the whiteness of his teeth. "Come. Back here."
She followed him silently, weaving through the racks of fur that brushed her on every side. As they neared the back of the shop, Rhea cast a nervous glance over one shoulder. The guy, handsome though he might be, was weird. And they were alone. And nobody knew she was here.
"Ah," the clerk said, stopping finally at the back wall. "Here. Perfect."
Though the wall had been hung with enough hooks to hang a dozen coats, only one garment adorned the plaster. Rhea took a long, slow breath. She had not ever imagined a coat like that.
The coat was fashioned from what appeared to be the entire pelt of the largest wolf she had ever seen. The fur was thick and shaggy, coarse yet with a luxurious sheen that made her want to run her fingers through it. Black, shot through with grey, just like the clerk's hair. The wolf's head formed the hood, so that when the wearer pulled it up the jaw would frame her face. Crimson satin lined the inside.
"It's gorgeous," Rhea said, moving forward to touch it.
"It's yours," the clerk said. Again, he flashed his teeth at her.
She shook her head, pulling away reluctantly. "I couldn't possibly afford anything like that. It must cost a fortune."
He named a price that made her laugh out loud.
"You're joking, right?" she asked bitterly. She knew about jokes, all right. She'd had them played on her many times, mostly by frat boys or business men who bet each other on who could find the homeliest girl and trick her into thinking she was something. Oh, yeah, she knew all about jokes.
"I never joke about my coats," the clerk said. He took the coat down from its hanger and held it out to her. "Try it on."
Though on the wall it had looked far too large, Rhea found the coat a perfect fit. The crimson satin caressed her bare arms. She twirled in front of the mirror, trying to see herself from every angle.
"It's like it was made for me," she whispered, enthralled by the sight of herself.
"Perhaps it was," the man said, and pulled the hood up around her face.
Twenty minutes later, Rhea and the coat were on their way to the nightclub. Giddily, she hugged it around her, unbelieving. The man must have been crazy, she thought. Selling the coat to her for a price like that. Well, his loss and her gain. It must have really been midnight madness, after all.
The bouncer took one look at her and the coat and let her right in. Rhea, who was accustomed to waiting in line for hours, didn't question the man as he waved her through the doors. She wasn't about to tempt fate.
Inside, she was blasted with a wave of icy air that made her nipples peak against the thin cloth of her dress. Of course, after dancing for an hour or so, she'd be glad of the air conditioning that kept the humidity from kinking her hair and making her sweat. Right now, though, she was grateful for the wolf coat's heavy warmth.
There was a room, a closet really, where you could check your coat for a buck or two. Rhea glanced at it, but hesitated. Her old black raincoat had been worn and shabby enough to trust to the dubious safety of the coat room. This wolf coat, though, was something different entirely. Though she had spent less to own it than she would to buy drinks tonight, the coat's value was priceless. She could not leave it in the care of the sallow-skinned, shifty eyed clerk, who might be tempted let it go to someone else with more than a dollar to spend for its retrieval.
Rhea turned. The blond man towering over her was impeccably dressed and groomed, and smelled strongly of Drakkar. He smiled, his teeth glinting extra white in the blacklight accenting the nightclub's ceiling. He was handsome, she had time to realize, before he had taken her hand.
"Dance with me."
"My -- my coat," she began, already cursing her stumbling tongue. A hot flush crept over her chest and throat, and she blessed the dim lighting which obscured her embarrassment from his view.
"Leave it on," the Adonis before her said. "I like it."
Apparently every man at the club that night liked it, too. Rhea found herself passed from one gorgeous man to the next in dazed disbelief. They wanted her. Never had the snide looks of other women seemed so sweet, for now they stemmed from jealousy and not disdain. It was Rhea who was belle of the ball, Rhea who bumped and ground with one or several men at a time, and Rhea whose drinks were always fresh, always cold and always free.
Through it all she wore the coat, expecting to be overcome with heat. There was heat, all right, but it came from the men pressing their lean, muscled bodies against her, not the weight of the fur. The crimson satin was cool and smooth against her skin, the fur soft and coarse at the same time.
"You are driving me wild," the blond man, the one who had first drawn her onto the dance floor said. His name, she had learned, was Ted. He dug his fingers into the coat's lush thickness, stroking it. Stroking her. He pulled the hood up so that it framed her face. "God, you're like an animal!"
She didn't want to think about why being like an animal turned him on so much, because that was just too weird. Instead, Rhea simply enjoyed the feeling of his mouth working against hers and his (very prominent) erection nudging her stomach. Ted pulled her close to him, nibbling on her ear.
"Let's get out of here," he whispered huskily.
The scent of Drakkar nearly overwhelmed her. Or was it the invitation? Ted's green-eyed gaze burned into hers, his meaning completely clear. He wasn't talking about going down to the corner store for an ice cream soda.
Rhea was no virgin. She had had her share of lovers, most of them picked up at this nightclub or others just like it. Sometimes the men she went home with were good looking, even attractive, though there had not been a Keanu Reeves among the lot of them. And they were always drunk.
Ted, on the other hand, could have been a Baldwin brother. He had been drinking, but if he was drunk he hid it well. His hands slid up from her waist to squeeze her breasts beneath the shelter of the wolf coat. He wanted her, and badly.
Rhea had always known her looks would never win any awards. What had the fur store clerk said? "Frizzy hair. Freckles. Men don't flock around you much." That had always been true, before tonight.
"Your place,' Rhea said, and was surprised to hear the sultry, smoky tone of her own voice.
Now, with the wolf coat swirling around her ankles and Ted's lips against her throat, Rhea felt a thousand miles away from the woman who had ventured down that dripping alley just a few hours ago. She arched her chest against Ted's questing fingers and rubbed her belly against the bulge in his pants. He had said she was like an animal, and didn't she feel like one? Fierce, and passionate? And -- pretty?
Ted drove a Jaguar, a dark green one, and he drove it fast. Rhea opened all the windows, letting the night hair whip her hair and the fur of the wolf coat together until it was impossible to tell where she ended and the coat began. She felt a howl rising in her throat and let it out, amused at how the noise made Ted squirm in his seat. She pressed her fingers to his crotch and felt the throb of his arousal, and Rhea laughed, free like the animal he had called her. Free like a wolf.
Ted proved to be as skilled at lovemaking as he was at dancing and driving. Rhea, who in the past had counted herself lucky if her paramour let her use the bathroom before she left, wasn't surprised. It all had something to do with the coat.
"I want to make love to you on top of it," Ted told her, stripping off the heavy fur and tossing it down on his bed.
The fur on their naked bodies seemed to spur them both on in ways that Rhea had never even imagined. On and on through the night they rutted like beasts, up and down and in positions she bet the Kama Sutra hadn't heard of. She had orgasm after glorious, mind-blowing orgasm, and Ted's cries of ecstasy let her know he was feeling the same.
How lucky to be a woman, Rhea thought drowsily when at last Ted had thrust his final thrust and screamed his final scream, collapsing on top of her in a cloud of Drakkar and sweat. Surely multi-orgasms were God's way of making up for the hassle of periods and childbirth and all the other indignities which women faced. Yes, she was lucky to be a woman, especially after a night like that.
She woke to see the light of morning streaming through the windows. Somewhere a shower was droning on and on. She heard singing. That would be Ted, Rhea thought with a lazy stretch. He didn't sing as well as he screwed.
She rolled to her side, meaning to fling out her hand and caress the coat which had changed her whole life. Instead of the plush, rich fur, however, Rhea's fingers slid across skin. If it was Ted in the bed with her, then who...?
She blinked twice, slowly. It was not Ted in the bed with her. It was still the coat, but it had changed.
The hood was still there, and the arms, and even the crimson lining. Now, however, the red cloth was sewn to a different sort of skin. A man's skin. His hair was black shot through with grey. Whoever had processed the skin had done an excellent job, for he was still in one piece from head to foot. The arms had been hollowed and stretched cleverly to form the arms of the coat. The only imperfection in the skin was where the jaw split to form a hood, which when pulled on the wearer's head would frame the face. All in all, a magnificent piece of craftsmanship, and an incredibly unique garment.
"Shit," Rhea said. She fingered the coat's rear end, upon which Sally Mae was inked rather inexpertly in shades of blue and red. It was just her sort of luck. No wonder it was on sale.
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