Beautiful Mistake Copyright © 2014 by Nancy Corrigan All Rights Are Reserved.
Did you miss Chapter 1? Read it HERE.
“Guess that means I’m left with cleanup duty,” Xander grumbled.
Devin met his friend’s gaze. “Hey, dogs like to bury stuff. It’s a perfect job for you.”
Xander bared his fangs but waved him away. “Go. Get the kid.”
Devin nodded and climbed into the idling Barracuda they had arrived in, a classic from the era of gasguzzling muscle cars.
Kade stomped on the accelerator before Devin’s ass hit the seat. The wheels spewed chunks of grass and dirt behind them as they cut across the yard. At the end of the drive, the car bottomed out. Kade didn’t ease up on the gas. He spun the wheel and skidded onto the main road, working through the gears until he barreled down on the woman’s car.
Devin leaned forward and stared at the little convertible, unable to believe what he was seeing. No denying it, though. With the top down, he had a perfect view into the car. “Unless she’s stashed Molly in the trunk, our kid’s not with her.”
“Too late to turn back. This female’s our only lead.”
Devin watched helplessly as the human’s vehicle raced toward a railroad crossing. Red lights flashed. The safety arms lowered. Honks blared, quick short bursts. He flicked his gaze between the approaching engine and the woman. She wasn’t stopping. He held his breath, the wreck already playing out in his head.
All three predators slammed into his chest and tore at his stomach. A different emotion spurred them into trying to break free. Not rage…fear.
The female gunned it, the vehicle jerking with the increased speed. The horn blast turned into one continuous screech. His inner animals roared.
The woman’s car slid under the thin crossbars, breaking off one in its wake. He let his breath escape through clenched teeth, relief and anger warring within him.
Kade slammed on the brakes, narrowly avoiding the train thundering past.
Claws burst from Devin’s fingers. Colors faded from the world around him. And blackness hovered at the edges of his vision. Groaning, he pressed the heels of his palms to his temples.
Kade shook Devin’s shoulder. “Keep it together. We’ll get the human, and she’ll tell us where to find Molly.”
Devin nodded, unable to speak while he fought his unstable cats for control. The sound of his panting filled his ears along with the clickety-clack of the train. The noise faded. The car moved.
He unclenched his jaw and focused on the road ahead of them. No sign of the red sports car, but the woman’s fresh scent lingered in the air, guiding them like a tether to their prize.
Kade was right. They’d capture her and retrieve their lost cub. Devin refused to accept anything less.
The ’Cuda picked up speed, and Kade swerved around a slow-moving pickup. Devin braced himself against the jerky movement. His hand left a wet handprint on the dashboard. The sight of it made his failure real. He’d fought, defeated a dozen rival shifters, yet still lost the child he’d promised to save.
The animal spirits that shared his soul picked up on his agitation. They paced, their distress growing with each successive lap around the metaphysical enclosure he kept them in.
The sight of the barbed wire fencing spurred another wave of guilt. Most shifters’ animals lived freely in a metaphysical field within their psyche. Not Devin’s cats. His were caged. Devin had spent years mentally constructing their cell, and cringed every time he unlocked it. Keeping them contained wasn’t right, but it was the only way he could function without the label “feral” being slapped on him. That would guarantee his ass in a cage, too, or maybe a beheading.
In an effort to distract himself from those grim thoughts, he motioned to the bloody handprint on the dashboard. “Jazz is going to have a coronary when she sees all this blood in the vehicle she spent weeks restoring.”
A splash of color darkened Kade’s cheeks. He ran a hand over his skull. “My twin’s mate is a vicious little human. She’ll understand as long as we bring Molly home.”
Devin scrubbed at the palm print on the vinyl with the edge of his shirt. He only succeeded in rubbing the blood into the tiny grooves. “Yeah, but I don’t want to be around when she sees the state of…what did she call this hunk of metal? A sweet, rare example of what a car should be? I think she might’ve used words like beautiful and irreplaceable too.”
“You’ve got a point.” Kade glanced at the seats. He shrugged. “Leather wipes clean. It’ll be fine.”
Devin decided not to comment on how the nice white stitching was blotched pink in several spots. Instead, he pointed to the split in the highway up ahead. “Decision time. Which way?”
Kade smacked the steering wheel, the turnoff closing in on them. He inhaled, mouth parted to take in more sensory information. Devin did the same.
A hint of coconut and female drifted on the breeze. The little brown-haired human was close. He just couldn’t tell which direction her scent came from. They were moving too fast.
They drove past the side road. Her fragrance faded. His heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t lose her. “Turn around. She went the other way.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded, unable to speak as his cats roared their displeasure. Every minute more Molly spent with her kidnappers was one too many. He closed his eyes and sent his agitated felines calming thoughts. It didn’t help. They still prowled restlessly. Nothing he said would ease their worry until Molly was safe.
Kade did a one-eighty, backtracking to the turnoff. The smell of burning rubber overpowered the human’s lingering scent. They took the turn so fast the tires on his side of the vehicle lifted.
Devin grabbed the ‘oh Jesus’ bar as the car bounced. “You’re going to get us killed.”
“Nah.” Kade flashed a crooked smile that showed off one glinting white fang. “This is nothing. Just a little off-road fun.”
Devin narrowed his eyes but held back his smartass retort. Up ahead, the human’s flashy red sports car was visible on the side of the road. The vehicle was stuck, hood first, in a ditch. A dust cloud hazed the air around it.
The tiny motes caught the rays of the setting sun, making the whole car sparkle like some sort of gift from the gods. If he gave two shits about cars, he’d drool over the expensive two-seater. Yeah, he didn’t. It was the woman driving it he wanted.
For the second time, he leapt from the ’Cuda before it came to a complete stop, then ran the few feet to where the open door revealed nothing but a discarded shirt. No female and no little platinum-haired girl.
He snatched the human’s hot-pink tee and brought it to his nose. The rich scent of woman invaded his lungs and spiked his primal drives, a completely inappropriate response. Damn if he could stop the surge of lust. As a multi-feline shifter, he lived with the wants and demands of the animal spirits existing within him. At the moment, his cats found something they liked. A lot.
He rubbed his face into the damp shirt. Although annoyed with his visceral response, he parted his lips and drew her personal fragrance into his mouth. The lush scent coated his tongue as if it were a rich drink he could savor. His mouth watered. He dragged in another deep breath to assuage the sudden craving for more.
With an embarrassing moan, he closed his eyes. The throbbing in his shaft required a relief he couldn’t give. Not now. Any other time, he’d welcome such an intense reaction to a female. Today he hated his sexual appetite and the woman who smelled like sin.
Kade cursed, drawing him back to the problem at hand. “We’ve been followed.”
Devin peered over his shoulder at the approaching sedan. With each foot the vehicle crawled closer, his rage grew, killing the arousal the human’s fragrance had stirred.
“Fools. Didn’t they see what happened to their pride mates?” Devin balled the shirt he held. “No matter. They die.”
Kade blocked Devin from charging the car. “Not so fast. You have the female’s scent. She’s your problem. I’ll handle the lions.”
The order grated on his nerves. He was strong enough to head a pride. The shitty circumstances surrounding his youth had ensured he never would. He’d forever be an alpha forced to submit to his pride’s leader. At least he liked Kade.
Devin nodded, then stripped and wrapped the female’s shirt with his so as not to lose it. He tossed the rolled pile into the ’Cuda and embraced his tiger’s form. The change flowed over him like an exhaled sigh, a release of tension. No pain, no contortions. Simply the flickering of one image for another, a flip of a coin that displayed one of the other spirits who shared his body and soul.
Bonded with his cat, they were the ultimate fighting machine—the strength of a predator, the reasoning of a man. When both shared a common goal, they were unstoppable. At the moment, they did: the female. He would capture her, and she’d tell him where to find Molly.
The world around him took on new depths. The vibrant hues became shades of gray. The dim woods brightened as if it were high noon. Sounds reached him he hadn’t heard in his human form—the scuttling of mice in the underbrush, the individual pinging of rocks hitting metal as the other vehicle skidded to a stop. But it was the increased sense of smell he valued most. It would help him capture his prey.
He dragged in a lungful of air. Information seeped into his brain—the stench of manure from a nearby field and the decaying flesh of an animal. Both pungent smells filled his nostrils. He shook his head to clear it.
Another inhale brought her fragrance. It pushed everything else back, clearing the horrid odors from his lungs. He focused on its richness and let it become a part of him so he’d know it anywhere. A shiver raced down his spine. He ignored the intimate response and leapt into the pond, following her trail.
The water masked the female’s scent. An odd sense of pride rose that she knew enough to camouflage the direction of her escape route, not that it delayed him. The wet tracks on the other side of the pond showed her direction. Still, her actions suggested intelligence, and smart women were incredibly sexy. On the other hand, those who messed with his family had to have a few screws loose.
The sudden curiosity to discover which description—smart or crazy—applied to her didn’t make sense. He shrugged it off. The extended chase appealed to his animal’s instincts. That was all. The longer she evaded him, the more intriguing she became. Her capture would be that much sweeter.
In his tiger’s body, he crawled from the water and pressed his nose to the bushes along the bank. She’d rubbed against the leaves, leaving her unique scent all over them. He inhaled, and a chuffing grunt crawled up his throat as her personal fragrance overloaded his senses.
He’d never encountered a woman whose scent was so sweet yet heady. It left him lightheaded and unsteady on his paws. He dragged in another lungful, just to feel the tingle run through his skin. A sense of contentment settled over him. The response shocked him, yanking him out of his contemplative state.
While he stood, enjoying her scent, the female was getting away.
He shook the water from his fur and followed her trail. Within minutes, he caught sight of her. She fled across the woods, appearing as attuned to the natural landscape as any shifter. Selecting the path with the least undergrowth, she leapt over a fallen tree, arms out to the side to keep her balance. She grunted as she landed but fell into the rhythm of her run without missing a beat.
Mesmerized by the sight she made, he stumbled. His paws slid in a pile of wet leaves. Without a good grip, he skidded down a small embankment. At the bottom, he sat on his hind legs. He couldn’t move. The wave of awe gripping him left him shaky.
He swept his gaze over the female, searing her image into his mind. She was tiny, yet she used every inch of her petite frame to her advantage. Her sleek muscles flexed and bunched as her ground-eating pace propelled her forward.
Sure, he could easily outpace her in his tiger form, but he didn’t close the distance. He let her run. The rage choking him faded the longer he watched her. Maybe it was the sight of her tight ass molded in the shorts she wore that accomplished the feat, but whatever the cause, he didn’t want the moment to end.
A few twigs and dried leaves were stuck in her long brown hair. His ears perked up. The female must’ve fallen. He drew her lingering scent into his lungs. Blood. She’d hurt herself escaping him. Kidnapper or not, that was unacceptable. She was female. If she had thought to sell Molly, her punishment could be meted out in the human’s jail, not with her blood. Never with her pain.
Snarling at her foolishness, he pushed off with the strength in his hind legs and took off after her.
She peered over her shoulder, and her brown eyes locked with his. An odd sense of recognition passed over him. Other than the glimpse he’d gotten of her standing with the lion shifters, he’d never seen her before. He didn’t understand what the sensation meant but pushed the response aside to figure out later and gave chase.
The female ran faster, stumbling and slipping along the forest floor. She tripped over a rock and fell. Her scream rang out, the cry echoing in his ears.
Instead of trying to stop her downward roll, she tucked her head, letting gravity guide her. She splashed into a stream at the bottom of the small hill, then hopped to her feet. Swaying only slightly, she reached for a crevice on the rock face in front of her.
He shifted to his human form, knowing he couldn’t follow her as a tiger, but didn’t move. He watched her climb, expertly traversing the surface. Her stamina shocked—and yeah—excited him. Humans were generally weak. Not this one. She was a sight to behold. Strength in a compact package. Already halfway up, the female’s sweat-slickened skin stretched over taut muscles as she strained to hook her fingers into another crack.
Yeah, she might be the loveliest creature he’d ever laid eyes on, but she also had a hand in trafficking cubs, whether firsthand or by association. She was important to the Krisban pride. Had to be. The strongest of the males had been holding her hand as if she were precious to him. Of course, she probably was. Devin doubted they’d take a sex slave along to a trafficking deal.
As if he’d conjured them up, five Krisban lion shifters approached from the side. He glanced from them to the woman climbing the wall. The trap his cats had sensed earlier had found Devin, and the woman had sprung it.
She’d tricked him, separating him from his pride, exactly as his human nanny had done when she’d locked him in the basement of his father’s keep with his favorite snack. His nanny had wanted to kidnap his twin, Mira. Sell her. Ruin her life exactly as the woman in front of him was trying to do to Molly.
He’d been duped by another human. Another female.
His vision clouded as thoughts of the past came roaring back. He fought the memories. It was too risky to allow them to surface. There was nobody around to stop him from lashing out at everyone and everything within striking distance.
Why had Kade sent him out here alone? He knew Devin was fucked-up. Kade had even warned him to get his shit together. He’d seen him struggling and sent Devin to face his horrors anyway.
No. Kade trusted him. That was why he told Devin to go after the female.
The thought helped but it didn’t stop the shadows slipping over his vision as the past tugged at his mind. He scrambled for something else to think about besides his failures. Megan’s voice came to him, overcoming the roars in his head.
“Molly can make everything better. She can fix their mistake. Help me save my wolf. You just need to bring her home. Promise me, Uncle Devin. Promise me.”
Not the right memory. It was too late to think of something else. His rage grew. Fangs filled his mouth. Claws sprang from his fingers. He trembled and shoved at his cats as all three big predators slammed into him at once.
They didn’t like the shadowed gloom that descended over them. Bad things happened to them in the dark.
No, no, no.
He clenched his jaw and pushed hard against the animals living inside him, trying to force them back into their cage. He sent them soothing thoughts—they were fine, they weren’t little cubs anymore. He was mature. He could protect them. Make sure nobody hurt them.
The abyss opened up, wiping out their cage, and his comforting words drifted away. Blackness crept over his vision. His legs gave out, and he fell to his knees.
No! He couldn’t lose control. If he did, the woman would get away. That couldn’t happen. He’d promised Megan he’d bring her twin home. He needed the human to do that. The reminder gave him strength.
He fought the blackout, inhaling deeply to ground himself in the present. The scent of heaven drifted to him. It pushed back the darkness and cleared the fog. He opened his mouth to draw in more of the calming fragrance. The rich scent was familiar, intoxicating, and so damn delicious his body burned with need. He ignored everything else and focused on the image of the woman who went with it.
Long brown hair flowing behind her as she ran, soulful brown eyes, and lips he wanted on every inch of his body. He knew her yet he didn’t. No matter. With her image held in the forefront of his mind, the constant guilt plaguing him lessened. Peace filled him.
It meant something important. He couldn’t figure out what. The sudden quiet in his head confused him. There were no growls from his cats. No images shoved into his mind displaying their rage. No swipes of their claws as they tried to dig their way out of his body.
Had something happened to them?
He stepped into their metaphysical field. The cage he’d worked so long and hard to erect was gone. His cats sat on their haunches, relaxed. Why? It didn’t make sense, but their peace flowed through him too. He joined them on the ground. His tiger leaned against his side, and Devin wrapped his arms around the animal. He wanted to hold on to the feeling overwhelming him, never let it go.
A woman’s piercing scream cut through the tranquil state.
The female. The lion shifters.
He let the connection to his cats fade and opened his eyes. The scene playing out across the small valley in front of him stopped his heart.
One of the males had a hand wrapped around the woman’s ankle. She kicked blindly at his head, and her heel hit his forehead with a satisfying whack.
The lion shifter stumbled backward. “Fucking bitch! You dare double-cross us. I’ll kill you.”
Snarling, Devin pushed from where he’d fallen. Before he could take a step, another male leapt on to Devin’s back, knocking him to the ground. The shifter dug his sharpened nails into Devin’s sides and gnawed on his shoulder.
Devin reached behind him, dug his own set of talons into the shifter’s chest, and flung him away. A shout rang out then the loud crack of bone sounded. The scream stopped.
The male at the rock face glanced over his shoulder. He cursed and yanked the female from the wall. She shrieked. The horrifying cry cut through Devin. He lurched forward with an arm outstretched. She hit the ground before he could get to her, and the smack of her body on to the hard-packed earth resonated in his ears.
His vision wavered, and pain radiated up his spine as if he’d been the one tossed. His legs gave out. His knees connected with the rocky soil. The world darkened, spreading dots over his vision and fuzzing the female’s face.
No. He had to keep it together. Couldn’t lose control. Not now.
Sensations returned. The black faded. He glanced at where the female was sprawled on the ground. Her arm was bent at an unnatural angle and blood covered her temple. She was hurt. She needed him.
He ran toward her. A foot away from her prone body, a fully shifted lion rammed into his side, knocking him away from her.
He rolled with the big cat, and its hot breath bathed his face. Devin locked his elbows and pushed at the animal with talon-tipped hands.
The woman screamed. The sound cut at his heart.
With the strength in his legs, he threw the lion off and jumped to his feet. Another male was dragging the female by her uninjured arm. She dug her feet into the dirt and fought him. The shifter backhanded her. Her head whipped to the side under the force of the blow. She crumpled to her knees. The male yanked her to her feet, and her shrill cry accompanied the sound of crunching bone.
Black edged Devin’s vision, stealing the image of the female’s eyes.
Rage, guilt, fear—the emotions whipped through him, unraveling the tight control he kept over his primal side. His inner animals swamped him with their desires. The swirling emotions condensed into one.
He embraced their instincts and closed the distance between him and his prey. The male released the woman and scrambled backward to avoid the blow from Devin’s clawed hand. Devin grabbed the male’s ankle and jerked him close, exactly as the shifter had done to the female. The guy’s eyes widened. Fear shone in them.
Good. Devin wanted him afraid. Let him feel what the woman had. Devin twisted the male’s arm, snapping it. The shifter’s scream echoed around him. Devin fisted the male’s hair, exposing his neck, and bit.
The hot blood gushing over Devin’s tongue fed the primitive instincts, ramping up his need for retaliation. His tiger pushed against the inside of Devin’s chest. It wanted to be released. To kill. To punish. There were more males in the woods. They needed to die. Devin agreed. He gave himself up to his primitive side, allowing his tiger freedom.
The big cat tortured and toyed with the Krisban males, showing a ferocity Devin had never known before. Edmund’s descendants suffered, exactly as Devin wanted.
Finally, the last male fell. Devin shifted back to his human form and stared at the bloody body, but instead of enjoying the defeat of his enemies, his thoughts kept drifting to…coconuts. All he could think about were the lazy days of summer—the warmth of the sun on his skin, the sweet taste of fruit in his mouth, and the sensation of his lover’s skin under his on a hot sultry night. Yearning built with each breath he took. He wanted that—to feel relaxed, sated…
It wasn’t something he’d ever thought to experience. In this moment, he did, though. It settled over him. The reason why skittered across his mind with some life-altering significance, but he couldn’t get his mind to work.
Why would he be thinking about peace or holding a woman’s body close? Cuddling with her? He only touched females long enough to get off before hightailing it in the other direction. He’d never wanted to simply hold one. But it wasn’t just any woman he craved. He wanted a special one.
Her brown eyes filled his vision and became his world. He knew her from somewhere. But where?
Confusion surfaced and with it another wave of dizziness. No. Not again. He latched on to the other sensory information seeping into his mind. He had to get his shit together and fix his mistake. The idea took hold. He’d done something horrible. His breathing quickened. He forced his eyelids open and scanned the area.
The early evening left the world around him blanketed by shadows. It didn’t hide the aftermath of the fight. He barely glanced at the body parts littering the ground. He focused on the female lying facedown in the midst of the slaughter, blood soaking the ground beneath her. Her muffled sobs twisted his gut.
Another memory surfaced, one that chilled his soul. Chocolate eyes, an angel’s eyes, locked on to his. They widened, so did her mouth. No scream escaped, only a garbled grunt. A haze spread over her eyes and replaced the shock. She fell.
He shook his head to clear it of the image. It didn’t help. The betrayal in her brown eyes haunted him.
He lifted his partially shifted hand and stared at the blood coating it—human blood, the scent unmistakable.
He’d blacked out, lost his precarious control, and hurt a woman. The significance of what he’d done hit him, but there wasn’t time to wallow in self-pity or berate himself. She needed help.
He jogged closer but stopped after a couple of feet. His gaze landed on the female. She dug her fingers into the dirt and dragged her beaten body forward.
Away from him.
He swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. “Stop moving.”
She halted her forward crawl but stretched out her hand, straining to reach a small rock. The sight of her dainty fingers wrapped around the pathetic weapon did something funny to his chest. He pressed a fist hard against the feeling centered there.
“I won’t hurt you.” Not again.
A soft hiccup came from her, the only indication she’d heard him. He blew out a rough breath and knelt. His knuckles brushed against her side, barely touching her.
He hadn’t jarred her. Fear drove the reaction. He moved his hand. “I said, I won’t hurt you.”
A tremor racked her frame, but she didn’t speak.
He cursed. He didn’t want her to be frightened of him. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, but he had. Probably grabbed her broken hand or knocked her over.
Yeah? Then why did he have her blood on his hands?
He swept his gaze over the rest of her small frame. Minor cuts and bruises covered her limbs. He didn’t see any wounds that would account for the amount of blood soaking the ground beneath her.
His pulse kicked up. Trepidation squeezed his chest and robbed him of breath.
“I need to roll you over.”
She trembled, but didn’t offer any other response.
Gently, he gripped her shoulder and hip. “Ready?”
He rolled her into his arms. His gaze zeroed in on her torso. The confirmation of his sin stared up at him.
He flicked his gaze to her face. Beautiful. More than just beautiful. Gorgeous, with the biggest brown eyes he’d ever seen. At the moment, pain hazed them, but intelligence and the force of her will burned through the glaze. He watched them close and one thought took hold.
He’d lost his sanity, once and for all.
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