Read Chapter 2 ~ Favorite Obsession

Favorite Obsession Copyright © 2014 by Nancy Corrigan All Rights Are Reserved.

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Chapter 2

Josh gave the bar a final walk-through, picked up the couple of napkins the waitresses had missed, then grabbed his keys. It felt odd to be the last one there. He hadn’t closed the place in weeks. Ever since his brother, Tony, had died and left him as Megan’s guardian, his priorities had changed. Spending his life in the bar didn’t hold the appeal it once had, not when he had a kid in his life who expected a bedtime story and hot breakfast in the morning.

He flicked off the lights and locked the door behind him, the automatic actions a consequence of years working nights like this one. It was a good thing too. His thoughts kept drifting to Mira, not a shocker. The woman always found her way into his mind. Hell, she freaking owned it, along with his body. He just had to figure out how to lay his claim on her when the rules made it impossible. He would. That was a given. The how, though? Yeah, that remained up in the air.

He strode across the employees’ lot to where he’d left his car parked. Out of habit, he kept pulling into the same spot he’d occupied for the past five years—next to his old apartment on the rear of the property.

“You’re a dead man walking, Josh Conway.”

Josh swung his head in the direction of the voice. Zeb stood several feet away, legs spread, hands held loosely at his sides and hatred stamped on his face. A visible tremor added to the bloodshot eyes and flushed skin, so did the chatter of his teeth.

Josh tensed. Zeb’s condition had deteriorated in the hours since Josh had last seen him. Great. Just what he needed to deal with tonight.

“Am I now? I might say the same about you, Zeb. What are you on?”

“I ain’t here to talk about me, so save your breath.”

“Okay. No talking.” Josh curled his fingers in a bring-it-on motion. “Let’s just fight.” The quicker he knocked Zeb out, the better. The cops could deal with his ass then.

“Oh, we’re going to fight, and you’re going to hurt.”

Zeb reached behind himself and pulled a gun, complete with silencer.

Every muscle in Josh’s body strung tight. “Don’t be foolish. Put the gun away.”

Zeb shook his head. “Not until I teach you some lessons.” He made a show of inspecting the firearm. “You led my baby sister on. Made her cry over you. I’m not happy you made Abby cry. Not happy at all.”

Lead her on? Josh bit back his cursed denial. The gun Zeb held turned things from a simple brawl into a premeditated assault. “I never meant to make Abby cry. Look, we hooked up once. You know how these things work.”

Zeb’s brows pinched, and the confused expression sucked the air out of Josh’s chest. Abby had been lying about him being involved with her. Either that or Zeb was delusional.

“That ain’t what Abby says. She told me you’ve been banging her for over a year, keeping it secret and all because you’re embarrassed to be seen with a farmer’s daughter.” A crazed look fell over his muddled expression. “Nobody treats my baby sister that way. Nobody.” He waved the pistol at Josh. “I’ve been patient and all. No more, not after you embarrassed her in front of everyone.”

Hands clenching and releasing at his sides, Josh reined in his temper. “I don’t know what—”

Zeb fired. Josh jumped back. Heart pounding hard, he glanced from the scattered gravel to a laughing Zeb. The other man aimed and fired off another round. Josh held his ground. “Aww, come on. Run like the coward you are.”

Another shot knocked small stones over Josh’s boots.

“Coward? I’m not the one relying on a gun. Drop it, and come fight me.”

“I will. First, I gotta use up these bullets.”

Zeb fired off another round. The bullet whizzed between Josh’s spread legs to bury itself in the ground behind him.

Josh cursed inwardly and fought the urge to cover his balls. “And how do you think Abby will feel if you shoot me?”

“Pissed, probably.” Zeb shrugged.

More shots pinged around him. The gun clicked, empty. Zeb dropped it and rushed him. Josh captured Zeb’s fist before it made contact, then spun him and kicked him in the ass, knocking him to his knees.

“Give it up. You’ve gotten too slow in your old age.”

“I ain’t that much older than you.” Zeb panted.

“You’re right. We’ve known each other a long time, haven’t we?” Josh waited for Zeb to nod. “And have you ever known me to get involved with anyone?”

“Only Jazz, but—”

“But nothing. I made it clear to Abby that we weren’t ever going to date. It was a one-night thing.”

“You calling my baby sister a liar?”

That and more. “I’m saying things have gotten blown out of proportion.” Josh motioned behind him in the direction of the bar’s employee entrance. “Let’s go in, have a drink, and talk.” A nonalcoholic one. Zeb needed to sober up.

Zeb shoved his hands in his pockets. “Talk, huh?”

“Yeah, then I’ll call you a cab.”

“I want to know why you’re hurtin’ Abby. Are you going to talk about that?”

“Look, I’m not intentionally hurting her. Abby might be reading things wrong.”

“You’re sayin’ she’s nuts?”

Nuts, desperate, fucked-up. He could think of a dozen more terms for her. “No. I’m saying she might need some help understanding why we’re not going to go out again.”

“Might need some help,” Zeb repeated with pinched brows.

What the hell was he doing? He knew better than to reason with a drunk, especially a high one. “Look, let’s just go inside.”

After a moment, Zeb cracked his jaw. “Sure, let’s go talk.”

Josh stepped next to him. “Great, I—”

The sharp pain piercing Josh’s gut stopped his words. Zeb grunted and jerked the knife upward. “Sorry, Josh. Changed my mind. Don’t feel like talkin’.” Zeb yanked the blade out, turned, and fled across the lot.

With his hands pressed over his stomach, Josh groaned. The world spun, and his legs gave out. He dropped hard to his knees. All his strength seemed to gush out with the blood drenching his clothes. He swayed but reached for his cell and found an empty pocket. He’d been too distracted with thoughts of Mira and left it charging in his office.

Regret rose. He pushed aside the useless emotion. What was done was done.

He tried to stand. Shooting pain whipped through him. He coughed. Blood filled his mouth. He spit it out. Not willing to give up, he crawled forward and reached for the door handle.

His fingers fell short, and he toppled to his side. His head bounced off the ground with a smack that radiated through his bones.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He took shallow breaths and tried to assess his situation. Only one conclusion he could come up with—if he didn’t get his ass up, he was going to be in trouble, more than he was in already. Too damn bad he couldn’t find the energy to move. His limbs had turned to lead.

He didn’t know how long he lay there bleeding, but the world around him brightened. Soft music drifted to his ears along with the sounds of people singing.

Well, shit, he was dying. This wasn’t how he wanted his life to end. Of course, everybody who faced an early death probably thought the same thing.

The lulling voices wrapped around him and took away some of the anxiety seizing him, but after a moment, the angels’ exuberant refrains of welcome turned into murmured whispers of goodbye. Their chorus faded until only his heartbeat echoed in his ears.

Son of a bitch. They shut him out. Had he lived that bad a life? He’d tried to do his best. Apparently, not good enough.

A sudden breeze filled his lungs with the scent of fresh-baked apple pie before he could consider what awaited him in Hell. He forced his heavy eyelids open and looked in the direction it came from, hoping to find his gran waiting to lead him to Heaven since the angels had abandoned him.

The beautiful woman walking toward him was definitely not his ninety-year-old, white-haired grandmother. Golden from head to toe, she reminded him of a goddess, one of those gilded statues he’d seen in a museum. Her skin shimmered, eyes glowed, and hair gleamed. An iridescent glint of soft yellow light emanated from her as if she carried her own inner sun.

The golden woman knelt next to him. He wanted to tell her to get back or else she’d get blood all over her sparkling gown. The words wouldn’t form. Up close, she didn’t exactly look human. Her eyes were too wide and up-tilted, her nose too flat, and her lips too full. No, not human, not even an angel, unless angels had fangs and talon-tipped fingers.

She bent closer and kissed him. He didn’t want to kiss her. Mira’s lips were the only ones he wanted on his, but the woman’s touch didn’t feel sexual. Her mouth merely felt warm, her tongue as it parted his lips, soft. She cupped the back of his head, and the tension locking his muscles faded as if her touch drew away his anxiety. The breath she exhaled into him soothed some of the pain too. He sighed in relief, but her gentle touch changed in the next moment.

Something crawled out of her mouth and into his. It slithered down his throat, leaving a burning path in its wake. He choked and fought to get away as more and more of the oily sludge poured into him. It was no use. She held him too tightly. Her sharp nails bit into his scalp. Blood ran down his neck while the wormlike thing worked its way into his gut.

The sensation intensified. His stomach churned. The tightness in his chest increased until he felt as if he were going to burst apart at the seams. On and on the pressure built while he writhed under the woman’s hold. He dug his fingers into her shoulders and shoved as hard as he could. He couldn’t break her grip or stop the flow of gunk she forced into him.

Pain strung his limbs tight. He dropped his hands and arched his back. For the first time in his life, he screamed, the sound garbled against her mouth. Still, she didn’t relent. She tightened her grip and forced him to accept it all.

Fear mixed with the agony seizing his body. He thrashed, desperation fueling him. He needed to get away. He didn’t care if he had to die to make it stop. She growled against his lips and tugged him closer.

After what felt like an eternity, the woman broke the kiss, ending his torment. He sucked in a rough breath. His body expanded like a balloon. A wave of her hand across his face and all the pain disappeared. His exhale left him limp, and he lay there too weak to move, to speak, to breathe.

She brushed his sweat-slickened hair off his forehead, fisted the short strands, and jerked his head up. His mouth opened on a groan he couldn’t stop. She held her free hand over his parted lips. Golden blood oozed from her gilded skin, but there was no wound.

The first drop hit his tongue and a soundless shriek echoed in his head. More fire, more pain consumed him, only this time the taste of chocolate accompanied the suffering. Finally, the endless flow stopped, but relief never came. The flames inside him flared up and ate him alive.

She stood and peered down at him with a smile on her face. Seeing her pleasure in response to his anguish chilled him. Not wanting to look at her anymore, he curled into a ball. A fresh wave of agony rolled through him. He moaned, except no sound came out. Black dots spread over his vision. His mind grew fuzzy.

Hell, he really was dying. If he had to go, he didn’t want his last memory to be of this woman. He conjured Mira’s image and shoved away the one of his torturer. Her golden light faded, and blackness took its place. It stretched out as far as he could see. In the center of the inky mist surrounding him, Mira’s kaleidoscope eyes shone. He focused on them as his heart took its last beat, and let them lead him to Heaven.

* * *

Mira paced from one end of the room to the other. She ignored the sympathetic look Lena wore, along with the muffled voices drifting from outside, and focused on the path her feet took. As with most pride issues, she didn’t get included in the discussions. This time, she should’ve been. Kade and Devin’s heated argument involved her. The message left on Kade’s voicemail spun another complication in the mess her life had become.

If she’d wanted, she could’ve allowed her cats close to the surface so she could use their enhanced senses to hear the debate. She didn’t bother. No amount of arguing would change anything. The Shifter Council had dropped the gauntlet in a thirty-second message informing Kade that if she refused to pick a mate in the allotted time, they’d pick one for her. Never. She wouldn’t allow it to come down to that. So she simply had to decide which of her friends she hated enough to mate.

For three hundred years, she’d avoided taking a mate. After Edmund’s attempt at claiming her, she wanted nothing to do with the bond. Hatred had festered within her for many years. She’d despised Edmund. Still did. He had no right to force her into a mating, but he’d paid her human nanny to make sure nobody could stop him.

He hadn’t counted on the teenager he’d raped being strong enough to fight back. Mira had been, though. She’d ripped his throat out, but not before he’d bitten her, marking her as his mate, at least in the eyes of the Shifter Council. Biologically and mystically, the scar on her shoulder meant nothing. In those regards, she was unmated. That truth didn’t change the way the Shifter Council or the majority of shifters had treated her. Quite simply, the scar on her shoulder had ruined her.

And Devin.

Her twin had suffered for her, taking her punishment for killing Edmund. Thirty years of it. Devin had lived through hell and had emerged crazed. For him and the sacrifice he made for her, she swore she’d never take a mate unless she found a male she could love. Devin wanted her to have that. So did she. Without the emotion, all she had to offer was her body. And an eternity of regret and resentment.

She pushed aside thoughts of her pathetic future and focused on those involving the male she wanted but couldn’t have. Why did Josh have to be so stubborn? Or so damn sexy? He’d captured her attention with a lopsided smile and no amount of avoidance had dimmed her fascination.

Every thought led back to Josh. She woke in the morning thinking about him and fell asleep with his name on her lips. The only thing she didn’t understand was why.

She hadn’t even kissed him. Tonight’s little encounter was the closest they’d gotten.

For months, they’d danced around their mutual attraction. They’d been ordered to stay away from each other. For their own good, of course. Better not to know what it was like to be with him. The rational side of her understood, but her heart…

“For the love of god, Mira. Go back to him and tell him you’re sorry.”

Mira stopped her restless steps and glanced at her new sister. It still amazed her the tiny female had been able to soothe her brother’s broken mind. For three centuries Mira had lived with the guilt of her actions. She’d never once regretted killing Edmund. The remorse she carried was for allowing Devin to take her punishment.

She should’ve stopped him before he left their familial home to go to the shifter prison, but her heart and body had hurt too much. That was her weakness, her shame. And Devin had suffered for it. Not anymore. He’d found his true mate and could finally live.

“No, it’s better this way.” If she kept repeating that maybe she’d believe it.

“You love him, don’t you?”

Did it matter? Mira shook her head, refusing to give life to her emotions. “Honestly, I don’t know. I crave him. That’s not the same thing.”

“You’re as stubborn as your twin.”

Mira crossed her arms. “I do not—”

“Whatever, Mira.” Lena leveled a hard glare on her worthy of any alpha shifter. “I’m not going to argue about the L-word with you, but I will say this—if you let Josh go, you’re a fool.”

“Then I’m a fool because—”

The ringing phone stopped her words. With a sigh, she grabbed the house line. “Hello?”

“Mira? It’s Sara. I’m…I’m one of the waitresses at Josh’s bar.” Her voice sounded high and panicked.

Mira tensed. “Yes, I know who you are. What’s wrong?”

“Josh’s parents are out of town and”—the woman choked back a sob—“I didn’t know who else to call.”

“Sara, calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”

“I forgot my wallet at the bar so I came back and found Josh lying there bleeding. There was a gun on the ground, and I couldn’t find a pulse. I thought—”

Mira’s heart skipped a beat. “Dead. He’s dead?”

“No! I was wrong. He started groaning. I called an ambulance. They’re on their way.”

She tightened her grip on the phone. “How badly is he hurt?”

“I don’t know. He’s on his stomach. I’m afraid to move him.”

“I’m coming.” She dropped the phone and ran for the front door. Kade and Devin turned at her sudden appearance. “Josh has been hurt.”

Devin cursed and glanced toward his mate.

“Go, go. I’ll stay with Molly,” Lena called out.

Mira hopped into the backseat of Kade’s Barracuda while the males took the front. They pulled out, tires squealing. She listened to the engine’s rumble, ignored Devin’s demands to know what had happened, and prayed they weren’t too late. She wanted to get to Josh’s side before the humans did. He was hers to protect and cherish. She’d made sure of it when she claimed him as her beloved human.

Once she knew he was safe, she’d hunt down the human who’d attacked him and make the bastard pay for his crime, slowly and painfully until he begged for mercy.

No one harmed what belonged to her. No one, not even her.

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