Treasured Find Copyright © 2013 by Nancy Corrigan All Rights Are Reserved.
Did you miss Chapter 1? Read it HERE.
Jazz hurried across the Black Widow’s parking lot. She returned waves to those who called her name, but she didn’t stop to chat. She had to run damage control before it was too late. The call she’d gotten an hour ago was one she’d never expected. Tony, her confidant, had died in a fire.
She didn’t know the details. The fire chief hadn’t finished his investigation. She wanted to know how the blaze had started, exactly as the rest of the town did. What concerned her most, though, was Tony’s brother, Josh. He was now part of a world he never knew existed and one that would change his life. It had certainly redirected hers.
At the front door, she paused to mentally prep herself to break the news to Josh that the child he’d become responsible for wasn’t really a child…at least not by human standards. Jazz didn’t look forward to the conversation, but it was necessary. Luckily, he didn’t have to face it alone. He had her.
She opened the door and slipped inside. On her tiptoes, she scanned the crowd for Josh. He wasn’t at his normal spot behind the counter. Maybe she’d missed him. Shit. She really didn’t want to have this conversation around Megan. That was why she’d come out tonight. Josh needed to know about Megan’s shifter status—the sooner, the better—but he’d ignored every one of her calls. Not surprising, really. His life had been turned upside down, and here she was about to give it another spin.
Too short to see over the people milling around, Jazz climbed on a nearby chair and scanned the room. Josh stood in the far corner talking to another man. She couldn’t see the new guy’s face—his back was facing her—but the details she could pick out were enough to form an initial impression—tall, blond and built like a body-builder. A little shiver ran down her spine. Jazz shook off the weird reaction and waved her arms to get Josh’s attention.
Josh looked in her direction. Anger tightened his features. After a moment, his scowl and narrowed eyes lessened. She pointed to him then herself. He nodded, and the man with him glanced her way. Her breath caught.
His face was all hard angles, and his skin appeared golden in the wash of light from a nearby beer sign. Shoulder length blond hair went with his sun-kissed skin. A surfer. That was what he reminded her of. She could easily picture him on the beach with a following of bikini-clad women.
Jazz skimmed her gaze over the length of a body she wouldn’t mind seeing in a pair of swim trunks…or less. His chest rose and fell with quicker breaths as if he’d just run a mile. Maybe barefoot and naked across the sand? Oh yeah, she liked that image.
Was he a friend of Josh’s? Maybe he could introduce her and…
And what? It didn’t matter who he was. Hot guys had no place in her life.
“Hey, Jazz, what are you doing here?”
She broke the stranger’s stare and faced the person who’d spoken. Cindy, a childhood friend and Tony’s next-door neighbor, stood a couple of feet away with a bottle of beer in her hand.
Jazz hopped off the chair. “I came to see Josh.”
Cindy cringed. “You might want to wait to offer your condolences. I offered mine and got a grunt in response. Actually, I’m surprised he’s even here.”
“He didn’t want to close the bar. His staff needs the work.” That was the explanation Jazz had gotten from Josh’s mom. “But as soon as his head waitress gets here, he’s leaving.”
“It’s a shame what happened to Tony, isn’t it?” Cindy shook her head. “And poor Megan. She’s lost both her adoptive parents in less than two months.”
“I know. That’s why I’m here.”
“You must’ve rushed right over.” Cindy motioned to her feet. “You’re not even wearing matching sandals.”
No, but they were both black. At least she’d tossed on a semi-decent skirt. She could’ve come in her ripped jean shorts. Besides, it wasn’t as if she had anyone to impress. Except maybe that guy with Josh.
“I did rush over. I need to talk to Josh about Megan.”
“What about her?”
Cindy was nosy. She always had been. That was one of the things Jazz had warned Tony about. Secrecy was a must. Close neighbors, especially overly attentive ones like Cindy, were a threat to Megan. Tony had blown off her worries, saying nobody in town would dare hurt his daughter, especially not Cindy. Jazz wasn’t so sure. Fear of the unknown made people do crazy shit. Hopefully, Josh would heed her advice.
“Nothing in particular.” Jazz shrugged. “Just stuff.”
Cindy pointed toward the door. Jazz followed her outside. Better she face Cindy’s questions than allow her to think Jazz was hiding something. Of course, she was. Cindy didn’t need to know it, though.
The familiar sounds of the bar spilled out from the open door behind them. It was 80s night, a big draw for the area. Hair bands still lived strong among the locals.
Eye of the Tiger, one of her all-time favorites, started playing, but even hearing the song she used to dance to with a toddler on each hip didn’t ease her anxiety. She was a wreck. Just the idea of telling Josh about Megan had her stomach in knots.
It wasn’t so much that she worried about his reaction. Josh loved Megan. He’d accept her uniqueness and protect her with everything he had. It was the anticipation of one question that left Jazz sickened.
How did she know what Megan was?
Cindy faced Jazz. “Would this stuff have to do with your involvement with Tony?”
She tensed. Did Cindy know more than she should? Maybe she’d found out about Megan? “What involvement?”
“That the two of you were lovers.”
Taken back by the announcement, Jazz blinked hard. “Lovers? We weren’t lovers.”
“Yes. Really. We were friends. Nothing more.”
“Just friends?” Cindy narrowed her eyes. “For just being friends, you’ve spent a lot of time at his place over the last couple of months.”
And why would Cindy care? Jazz huffed. “His wife died days after they adopted Megan. He needed help. I gave it to him.”
“And that involved going over to his place in the middle of the night?” Cindy flashed her a knowing smile. “Without your boys?”
“What?” Jazz curled her fingers. “Are you keeping tabs on me or something?”
Cindy laughed. “No. Don’t be silly. I happened to be coming home and saw you leaving Tony’s place. You were dressed in a nightshirt with your hair mussed. What else was I supposed to think?”
Jazz blew out a slow breath and gathered her thoughts—a necessity considering all the lies she had to keep straight. “Megan woke up crying. Tony didn’t know how to calm her down, so I went over.”
“Ahhh…” Cindy nodded. “Tony had mentioned Megan didn’t sleep well.”
“Which is what I want to talk to Josh about.” As an excuse, it was a pretty good one. “I want to give him some suggestions if she has nightmares.”
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.” A contemplative look settled on Cindy’s face. “And Mr. Wilkins is watching your kids, right?”
For a second, Jazz considered lying. Cindy didn’t need the details. But what was the point? Cindy probably already knew the answer. Mr. Wilkins, Jazz’s elderly neighbor, was the only person who watched her kids. Jazz relied heavily on him, more than she should. It wasn’t as if she had a lot of babysitter options. She hadn’t shared Seth and Levi’s secret with anyone else. Well, Tony. He took the knowledge to the grave, though.
Sadness rushed over her. Tony had been a good man. She hadn’t realized how much until she’d spent the last couple of months helping him adjust to being a single parent. His warm personality shouldn’t have surprised her. His younger brother, Josh, was just as nice. She would know. She’d dated him for years.
Of course, then she’d dumped him over the phone.
Next to a “Dear John” letter, a phone breakup was about the most cowardly way to end things. Yet he’d still reached out to her when she’d returned home, two babies in tow. Two kids he’d assumed were conceived when she’d cheated on him while at college.
She caressed the edge of the retro gas pump standing next to the entryway. Josh had it custom-made with Jazz’s garage name on it—Classic Wyns. He’d given it to her that first Christmas after she came back. She’d refused to accept it, so he’d put it on display at his bar. It was the first thing people saw.
“Yes. Seth and Levi are hanging out with Mr. Wilkins, watching movies.”
Cindy’s smile widened. “So you’re free to have some fun?”
Jazz gave the shiny red pump one last, loving caress, then met Cindy’s hopeful expression. “No. I came to talk to Josh, then I’m going home.”
“You never go out. Your life revolves around your garage and your kids.” Cindy leveled a hard look at her. “You know, if you’re not careful, you’re going to end up alone. You’re not getting any younger.”
Jazz glanced heavenward. “Don’t start, Cindy. I am in no mood to discuss my love life.”
“Please. You don’t have a love life.” Cindy waggled a finger at her. “Last date you went on was over three years ago, and that was only because I set you up.”
What a disaster that had turned out to be. Her date had walked her home, and she’d ended up purposely tripping him so he didn’t see the two small tigers sleeping on her porch with Mr. Wilkins’ dogs. She’d decided then and there she wasn’t getting involved with a guy. How was she supposed to explain to her boyfriend that not only did she have kids, they weren’t human? And they weren’t even hers, legally or otherwise.
“I don’t have time for a relationship.” They’d had the same conversation so many times over the past few months it’d begun to feel as if they were rehearsing for a play.
“You can make time. Your restoration business is booming. Hire an extra hand.”
“I don’t want anyone else touching the cars I’m fixing up. Each one is special to me.” And her garage was on her property. The chances of her new helper learning her kids’ secret was too great. She couldn’t risk it. Besides, when she needed help lifting something heavy, Mr. Wilkins was always a phone call away. He was tough for his age. And most of her work was cosmetic, anyhow.
“Yeah, and just think where your life would be if your pappy hadn’t taken you under his wings and taught you the ropes. That fancy Physics degree you spent years getting hasn’t done anything for you. Your garage has saved you from getting some dime job.”
“You’d be surprised how much that fancy degree has helped me in my job.”
“Well at least you had the money to go to school. A lot of the local kids don’t, and they’re being forced to move out after they graduate high school. Most don’t want to. Give one of them a chance. Help them learn some valuable skills.” Cindy gave her a stern look as if she had all the answers in the world and Jazz was only being stubborn.
Jazz’s gut twisted more. She hated the secret world she had to live in. Time to lie and move on. Cindy would never understand. “Okay, you’ve got a point. I’ll look into it.”
“Perfect. Now you have time for a relationship.” Cindy yanked her back inside.
Jazz chuckled. It was impossible not to. Cindy looked so happy. “Don’t get any crazy ideas. I am not going out with any of your husband’s friends. No more blind dates, thank you very much.”
“You don’t need any help from me. Once you drop the ‘stay away from me’ glare you usually wear around members of the opposite sex, you’ll have no problem picking up a guy.” Cindy tapped a single finger against her chin. “We might even have to beat them off you, especially if you display your goods a little more.”
She tugged at Jazz’s shirt until the lacy edge barely covered her nipples.
Jazz gasped and slapped away her friend’s hands. She quickly righted her top and glared at Cindy. Jazz hated her goods. Her breasts were too big for her frame, but genetics was a crapshoot. You got whatever the DNA mixing bowl dished out.
“Stop it. I am not enticing any lewd perverts with a showing of my goods.”
Cindy raised her hands. “Just promise me you’ll keep an open mind.”
Jazz bit back her sharp retort. Cindy meant well. It wasn’t her fault Jazz had to keep men at arm’s length. It wasn’t Jazz’s either, but those were the facts. Time for another lie. What was one more?
“Fine. The next hot guy who shows any interest in me…” She’d ignore just like she did with the blond hunk Josh was talking to. “…will be the one I take home.”
“Now that’s an offer I can’t resist.”
Jazz pivoted. A wide expanse of muscle filled her vision. She followed the ridges of his stomach lower. His narrow waist met lean, denim-covered hips. Openmouthed, she stared at the growing bulge in his pants. An answering spark of arousal lit within her. Shivers of awareness, the same ones that had skipped down her spine a few minutes ago, traveled from the hardening tips of her breasts to her clit. The bundle of nerves took on a heartbeat of its own.
She glanced into his face. Exotic, uptilted honey-brown eyes were framed by long blond lashes. Specks of color floated in those oddly bright eyes—gold, blue, green. Beautiful and downright captivating.
His full lips, parted slightly, glistened as if he’d licked them. She swiped her tongue across her suddenly dry ones.
“Am I hot enough for you?” He rubbed his thumb over the corner of her mouth. “Because I’m interested. Very, very interested.”
No words would form. Up close, he mesmerized her. She dragged in a steadying breath, and the tempting scent of man filled her lungs. The world tilted, but the hand holding her chin kept her righted, anchored to this stranger.
He brushed his lips over hers, back and forth, coaxing her to accept him. The gentleness of his touch wiped away any thoughts she might’ve had of resisting him. She parted her lips on a sigh.
As if sure of his welcome, he twined his tongue with hers, guiding her, urging her to open farther. She bent her head and matched his rolling movements, drawing him deeper.
She swayed, but he didn’t steady her. He released her chin and kissed her harder. A low groan spilled from him to her. He slanted his head, changing the angle of the kiss, and his sweeping exploration quickened.
Her pulse kicked up, and she matched the increased passion. It was impossible not to. A slow burn spread through her the longer they kissed. He fed the fire he’d ignited with each rolling thrust of his tongue. He made her hot. Hungry. Crazed.
She fisted his shirt. Pulled him closer. She didn’t want to let him go. Ever.
Hands on her hips yanked her away. No! She didn’t want the sensations consuming her to end or lose the man who’d awakened her. He was hers.
Her back collided with a wall of muscle before she could take the thought further. She inhaled sharply. Josh’s scent, a mix of cocoa butter soap and his favorite shampoo, filled her lungs. He spun her. His thinned lips and narrowed glare betrayed his mood.
She couldn’t blame him for being pissed. He hadn’t exactly made a secret of his desire to rekindle their romance, and she’d dismissed him every time claiming she didn’t have time for men or sex. And here she was kissing a stranger.
“Josh, I…” Unsure of what to say, she bit her lip.
After a moment, he exhaled slowly, and the same warm expression he often wore around her returned. He skimmed his finger down her cheek. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Seems she’s the topic of the day.” Josh grunted. “What about her?”
Jazz glanced from Josh to the stranger and finally to Cindy, who stood off to the side watching the exchange with interest. “Not here. I need to talk to you in private.”
“Not tonight, Jasmine. I’m in no mood.” Josh set her away from him. “I’ll call you tomorrow. Okay?”
She couldn’t let him leave without some words of advice. According to Tony, Megan hadn’t shifted yet. Her boys often did, especially while they slept. She didn’t have a clue if either was normal behavior. It wasn’t as if her babies came with an owner’s manual.
What was she supposed to say? Her mind went blank. “Umm…Megan is special. She…” Jazz groaned. She was acting like a fool. “Look, I really need to talk to you in private. Give me five minutes.”
Josh frowned. “Why?”
She peeked over her shoulder at the stranger who watched her intently. Another shiver skipped across her skin.
“Because.” She shrugged. “Just trust me.”
“Sure. Let’s go back to—” Josh’s cell rang, stopping his words. He pulled his phone out and answered.
“Hello?” After a long moment, he sighed. “Tell Megan I’m okay, and I’m coming home now.”
He ended the call and shoved his phone in his rear pocket.
She touched his arm. “Is Megan okay?”
Josh nodded. “Just her nightmares. This time she woke up hysterically crying for me. She said the bad lion was going to get me if I didn’t come home.”
“Bad lion?” the stranger at her back asked.
“Yeah.” Josh crossed his arms over his chest. “She’s got an active imagination.”
Jazz grasped Josh’s wrist. “Which is what I wanted to talk to you about. I—”
“Whatever it is, talk to me about it in the morning.” Josh cupped her cheek and bent to give her a kiss on the forehead. “Okay, love. Megan needs me.”
“Of course. Call me. Day or night. About anything. I understand more than you know, and I can help you with her.” She swallowed hard. These next words would hurt. She never thought she’d be saying them tonight. “Oh…and Josh?”
He raised a brow.
“I’m sorry about Tony. He was a good man and a wonderful father.”
Josh dipped his head in acknowledgement, then slipped out the door. She wanted to go after him. Comfort him somehow. She didn’t have the right. Because of the secret life she’d had to live, she’d cut him out of it. She’d cut everyone out of it.
But she made her bed. Now she had to lie in it. Alone.
Dammit. She didn’t want to be alone. It was time to start making amends and rebuilding the friendships she’d ignored. She knew how. In the morning, she’d sit Josh down and tell him everything she’d learned about shifters. If that went well, she’d share the story of how she’d ended up a mother. Once her tale was revealed, maybe, just maybe she wouldn’t feel so guilty about raising kids that weren’t hers.
Or leaving their mother in the hands of monsters.
A lump landed hard in her gut. No. Nothing would erase that particular sin.
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