Kane opened the door to a wave of thick white smoke, the stench of stale grease, and Ted Nugent wailing from an ancient jukebox in the corner. He stood just inside the door and let his eyes adjust to the scene.
Even with his enhanced vision, it still took a second to get used to the haze and dim interior of the bar—although, he used the term bar loosely.
It technically qualified because of the long serving bar along the back wall with the various tequilas, vodkas, and Scotches filling the shelves behind it. The layer of grime and stench in this place would only draw drunks and skanks—which were plentiful in this town, from what he’d seen so far.
He crossed the room and took the only available stool at the bar. He lifted his hand to the bartender, who eventually ambled over.
“What can I get ya?”
“Scotch, neat.” He figured it would be the safest thing to order in a place like this.
Hell, when did I become such a snob?
While he waited for his drink, he looked in the mirror on the wall behind the liquor to observe the men lined up at the bar on either side of him. Men of various ages in different degrees of grubby wear, but no one really stood out. He tried to catch the gaze of each and every one of them, looking for someone who might be willing to talk to him.
The bartender returned and slid a drink in front of him. “Anything else I can get ya? You want a menu?”
“No thanks, I’m just here waiting on someone.” That nugget of information seemed to perk up the man’s attention. His eyes glinted in the dim light and his head tilted toward Kane in apparent curiosity.
“Who you waitin’ for? I know just ’bout everyone who comes in here.”
“I’m waiting for a woman.”
The bartender snorted before his face split into a big grin, revealing broken and yellowed teeth. Kane imagined the fights that broke out in this kind of place would eventually lead to a man’s teeth being damaged and more.
“Not a lot of women come in here.”
“Oh yeah, why’s that?” The guy’s smirk aggravated him. Either that or this hunt was beginning to wear thin.
“Not a lot of women come in here on account of Twin Peaks next door. They either go over there to pick up the men getting horny watching the girls dance, or they don’t come within five miles of the place because they don’t want to be caught dead near a titty bar.”
Kane laughed at the statement he understood all too well. He’d spent his fair share of time in those bars, and more. He’d even let his brother Malcolm drag him to a few fetish clubs when they were younger. Some of those clubs would be considered high class compared to this one; so yes, he could well imagine not a lot of women wanting to come near the place.
“I get your point.” He took a swallow of his drink and allowed the slow burn in his throat and belly to comfort him. The liquor wasn’t quite as smooth as he liked it, but he couldn’t complain. It would get the job done.
“So this girl of yours, she got a name?”
“Yeah, she does. It’s Lara. I haven’t seen her in a few weeks, and I’m looking forward to catching up.”
The bartender winked knowingly at him. He had no idea. Kane wanted to find her so he could kill her and go back home, and maybe then he could get her out of his head. Plus, it was never good for a Guardian to stay gone so long. If word got out that the clan wasn’t as protected, it could leave them open to attack or, at the very least, harassment from neighboring clans.
Before he could continue his conversation with the idiot behind the bar, a man stumbled through the door, yanking Kane’s attention in that direction. He was obviously drunk off his ass, but it wasn’t his state of inebriation that had Kane on edge—it was his scent. The man reeked all the way across the room, and the smell had Kane seeing red as he gripped the wooden edge of the bar to keep himself from ripping out the stranger’s throat.
He was covered in the woman’s scent.
A low growl rumbled in his throat and the bartender shot him a questioning glance. Kane turned away from the door and ground his teeth to hold in the anger. Fur rippled along his skin and his fingers underneath the lip of the bar edge partially shifted to paws and claws as he scraped into the wood.
Kane caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and willed his body to calm. Shifting out in the open was strictly forbidden and could heap a helluva lot of trouble on him and his kind that they couldn’t afford to deal with right now. Not with both of the other Guardians shunned from the clan. He sighed. He missed his brothers and it frustrated the fuck out of him that they were both gone. Especially Lucas. Being shunned for mating with a non-shifter just didn’t seem right. She carried his mark, for Christ’s sake. Sometimes who you ended up with couldn’t always be controlled. Yeah, keep telling yourself that.
Another glance in the mirror showed a man not as close to the edge as a few minutes ago. He breathed in deep, letting his lungs fill before slowly releasing the air. He no longer scratched at the bar with claws, and he raised his hand to wipe the sweat that had broken out on his forehead.
He should be happy that someone in the bar carried her scent, for it meant he was getting closer. About fucking time. The rage, though, where the hell was that coming from?
The man seated next to him threw some bills on the bar and walked out, leaving an open stool that the new drunk guy immediately occupied. Kane’s groin tightened with the onslaught of Lara’s scent, and for once he wished he didn’t have heightened senses. His cock swelled against his thigh, thoughts of her even more vivid than they had been in his dreams over the past nights. He had come to dread the time he had to sleep because he always dreamt of her.
Not as the vicious bitch he knew her to be. Oh, no. In his dreams Lara was a lush, naked temptress whom he ached to get his hands on. He thought about licking each and every sweet inch of her, night after night.
“Bartender, bring me a drink. Something strrrrong.” The man slurred his words as he ordered, and it brought Kane back to the present. It was the man sitting next to him, a stranger, not the woman.
He had a job to do, and it appeared his luck had finally turned. He had a lead on finding her in the form of a young and stupid drunk.
Kane took another swallow of his drink and grimaced this time over the burn. He would sit here and finish his shitty Scotch and wait. Either this man would start talking or Kane would make him talk when he left the building. He struggled not to groan when some Creedence Clearwater Revival blared from the dusty old juke in the corner.
Could this place be more stereotypical if it tried? He didn’t think so.
When the bartender set down a shot of tequila in front of the man, he picked it up and turned to Kane. “Here’s to good alcohol and hot women.”
At the man’s words, Kane felt an honest to God tick in his eye and an overwhelming urge to smash his glass into the man’s face and wrestle him down to the ground. Somehow he resisted.
“Here, here.” He raised his glass in a mock toast. After they had both taken several more drinks he opted to move in. “Have a good night with a good woman, then?”
“Hell yeah, I did. Fine piece of ass if I do say so myself.”
Kane had to bite his tongue as hatred for this man burned through his veins. He had asked for it, so the least he could do was play along.
“Lucky man. I’m waiting on my girl now. Your girl got a name?”
The man hesitated with the rim of the glass perched on his bottom lip. His eyes were bloodshot as hell and glazed over to the point that Kane wondered how the man could see in front of his face.
“Yeah—uhm—” He hesitated after every word.
“She does or she doesn’t?”
“Well, I’m sure she does, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.” He snorted as he tossed down the last of his tequila. His face screwed up at the taste and Kane wondered for a moment if he was going to throw up. Either way, he was prepared to move fast.
“Well, bud, I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. Guess it depends on if you want to see her again. A woman doesn’t like a man who can’t remember her name.” Kane swallowed back his own urge to vomit at the sight of this lowlife who sure as hell didn’t deserve to even breathe the same air as Lara, let alone fuck her.
Whoa, where the hell did that come from?
His words must have hit home as the man turned away from him and called after the bartender again. He even turned to his other side and struck up a conversation with the man sitting there. Damn it!
This wasn’t going to work. Kane obviously couldn’t play nice, and the longer he sat there the stronger the urge became to kill him and put him out of everyone’s misery.
Kane threw down some bills and headed to the parking lot. He could either wait outside and take care of things the old-fashioned way or go next door and wait in the strip club. Either way, he was out of there.
* * * *
Kane paced along the tree line that surrounded most of the bar parking lot. Two hours had passed and the little shit had yet to come outside. He had leaned against the building wishing for a cigarette, then sat in his Jeep listening to some rock music, and when he finally tired of doing nothing he hit the edge of the woods and shifted. The brush was dense and the parking lot not all that well lit, so it was easy for him to hide without losing sight of the entrance doors to both clubs.
More than once he’d considered the other club. He could slip in, find a nice girl to take him home, and maybe then he would finally stop having all those fucked up thoughts about a woman with a death wish. Strippers were usually a lot of fun, always willing to try new things. Not so uptight like most of the feline bitches in his clan.
A couple of times the door of the club opened and he’d gotten a glimpse of naked flesh wrapped around a silver pole, long dark hair that brushed the ground with every dip, and long, long legs that seemed to go on and on. He shook his muzzle. Yeah, he needed an outlet real bad.
A run would help; it wasn’t as if this idiot would be hard to track later. He wanted to talk to him now, though, while her scent was fresh. Kane would give him another ten minutes and then he was going in. He took a few more minutes to enjoy the cool grass underneath his paws, and even scratched at the tree, stretching his legs and sharpening his already lethally sharp claws.
He envisioned being back in human form and he thought of Lara. His body shifted from cougar to human and he looked at himself. It irked him to see his arousal jutting out from his hips. He couldn’t understand how thoughts of the woman he’d been sent to kill could make him harder than he’d ever experienced in his life. It wasn’t right to want to fuck the woman who’d been trying to kill his brother for weeks. The day Lucas had left the clan he’d received orders to hunt her down and eliminate her. The council didn’t like the idea of a witch on the loose who was not only willing and able to use black magic, but had made several attempts on the Guardians. An offense punishable by death.
Yet, every time he closed his eyes he saw images of her. He couldn’t deny she was a beautiful woman, even with the constant scowl on her face when looking at him or his brothers. Her eyes, well, they haunted him day and night. She may have been a tough bitch, but if the eyes are supposed to be the windows to the soul, then she hid far more about her than what she allowed on the surface.
He’d seen flashes of anger, distrust, and pain, but there had been even more if he wasn’t mistaken, and his instincts usually weren’t. She hated them, and he wanted an answer to that. Hatred like he’d seen didn’t come from nowhere. There was a lot more to her story and he planned to get to it sooner or later. Once he captured her, the council could afford to wait a few days for him to carry out her sentence. He would have his answers first.
He crossed to the rock he’d stowed his clothes behind and donned his jeans, button-down shirt, and shit kickers. His patience had run out and it was time to go inside and drag the little fucker outside. He stormed across the parking lot once again and the door popped open, and the man Kane had been waiting for stumbled out. If Kane had thought the man was drunk a couple of hours ago, he was positively loaded now.
This wasn’t going to be any fun. While he’d been spoiling for a fight, the stumbling, bleary-eyed man could barely walk let alone take him on. Still, when Lara’s scent overpowered the reek of alcohol and sweat, rage bubbled in Kane’s blood. This man had done more than just touch her, and for that he should die. She was his.
Fuck! He couldn’t keep having stray thoughts like that. It wasn’t right. She was a dead woman.
He grabbed the man by the collar of his shirt and threw him back against the building like a rag doll. The sound of his body crashing might have been loud, but Kane heard nothing beyond the blood rushing in his head. He let out a cry before pouncing against the guy and pinning him to the wall.
“What the—” The man’s eyes widened to huge orbs. Shock glared from his face.
“Tell me about her.”
“Her? Her who? What the hell?”
Kane shoved his arm across the man’s throat and applied hard pressure against the windpipe, cutting off his air supply. “Do not fuck with me. Not if you want to wake up tomorrow to your pitiful existence in this shithole town.”
Hands frantically clawed at his forearm as the man struggled for breath, but Kane couldn’t be budged. It would be so easy, even in human form, to just kill him. Precious seconds ticked by and he removed his arm, the man falling unconscious to the ground at his feet.
Kane grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and dragged him to the woods. This conversation would be best had in private, and he didn’t want to have to take care of someone else who might exit the bar at a really bad time.
He didn’t have to walk far before he found a small clearing that even had some light from the near full moon above. He shook the man awake and had to restrain himself from laughing out loud at the fear written all over his face. Served the bastard right.
He took a few steps away. “Don’t even think about running. You could never move faster than me and you’ll just piss me off even more.”
“What do you want from me? I don’t have any money.”
Kane released a sigh of frustration. “Focus, you idiot. This is not me robbing you. The girl. I want to know everything about the girl.”
Kane crossed back to the man in one big stride and slammed his fist into his face. The man cried out and stumbled back a few feet. His hand cradled his face as drops of blood ran from his nose.
“The girl whose scent is all over you. What do you know about her?”
The man hesitated. He was probably afraid to say the wrong thing.
“You mean the hot chick I met at Junior’s earlier this evening?”
Kane glared, waiting for the man to go on.
“Why didn’t you just say so, dude? I’m more than happy to pass on her information. She was all over me earlier tonight.” When Kane made a move again towards him he raised his hands in resistance. “Whoa, hold on. It was the dance floor. We just danced. She your old lady or something?”
“Well, you might want to have a chat with her, ’cause she was all over every man there. Flirting and rubbing up against them. Hard to resist such a fine, fine woman, you know?”
Kane wondered if this idiot had any brain cells at all. It should have been obvious to anyone by now that he was holding onto control by a thread, yet the asshole kept babbling on about Lara in a way that incited him.
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know. Last time I saw her was over at Junior’s before he kicked me out. Stupid bastard, I wasn’t even doing anything.
“Yeah, I just bet you weren’t. Did she say anything at all to you?
“Just that she wanted to fu—” The man’s few smarts must have finally kicked in, or maybe the warning snarl that had escaped Kane’s mouth unbidden woke him up.
“That’s it. Really, she wanted me to meet her at the Happy Hills Motel for some uhm—further discussion.”
“Yeah, I’ll just bet she did.”
Luckily Kane already knew where the motel was. It sat just a few miles outside the center of town secluded in the woods except for the blinking sign out on the roadside. Perfect.
The man stood frozen to the spot, looking confused.
“Leave now or die here.” Kane’s words finally sank in when the man shuffled past him and headed for the parking lot. Kane waited until he heard a car screeching before he dug into his jeans and pulled out his keys.
He had a bitch to corral.