Eternal Temptation (The Kategan Alphas #4) : chap 1
Most people wouldn’t have noticed the change in the air. The switch from comfortable silence to sharp anger. But Darien Kategan felt it as sure as he felt the weight of the grocery bags in his arms. He didn’t have to turn around to know who had walked up behind him.
“See you next week, Darien.”
Darien shouldered open the door and caught his reason for anxiety swiftly pursuing him out the corner of his eye. The bell above the door jingled brightly as the door slammed shut behind him. He headed towards his truck and wondered if he’d at least have time to set his supplies down before they got him.
He wasn’t so lucky.
The bell above the door banged loudly and footsteps bounded hard on the concrete behind him. The first shove at his back sent him spiraling into the back of his truck like he was trying to kiss it. He tightened his hold on his groceries and clamped his teeth together as he slowly turned around.
“Darien fucking Kategan.”
Darien bowed his head. “Tom.” Anger flared in the other’s eyes, white-hot and raw.
“Don’t use my fucking name, you piece of shit. Don’t you ever use my name. You have no right.” Deep breaths. There everything was all good.
Tom came closer, eyeing him up and down, assessing, as his two friends circled in closer. Darien stood up straight and hefted his groceries against his chest. He peered straight into the eyes of the man taunting him--the same eyes she’d had. A beautiful mixture of gray and blue, like God had made a special mixture just for her when she’d been born. Of course, her brother had been blessed with the same color. God was a son of a bitch like that.
Darien saw the fist coming and didn’t move. If anything, he lifted his chin enough to help the punch to catch. The first blow was like a balm to him. The second came from his right in a fast arch that caught his cheekbone. The flare of pain was hot and quick and slammed him back against the truck.
He sighed it felt so good. The next blow hit his lip and the sharp biting pain reminded him of the time he’d fallen as a kid and bit down on his lip so hard it bled. Only this hurt worse, split his lip open with burning pain.
Hit after hit assaulted him. Catching his eyes, his nose, the corner of his mouth. His grip on the groceries loosened, he couldn’t command his fingers to hold on to them anymore. They sagged then fell to the ground.
The blows pounded into his stomach and chest. Wonderful pain, delirious hurt bloomed across his pecks and deep into his ribs and organs. The bell above the door jingled and he almost sighed with regret. Light footsteps bounded close.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Tom?”
“Giving him what he deserves.”
“That’s a load of bull and you know it. Now get away from him. I said get back now!” Gentle hands wrapped around his chest and lifted him from his slouched bend against his truck. “Alright I got you now, Darien. Do you want me to call the cops?” Joe the cashier was half his height and weighed less than that. Darien wasn’t surprised when Joe’s arms started shaking trying to keep him up right.
With a sigh, Darien braced his feet and stood up straight, shaking away Joe’s thin arms. “No need to call the police, Joe. We were just taking care of some old business.”
“Yeah, right,” Tom said. He gave one last hateful glance then walked away, his friends trailing behind.
Darien bit back his sigh and bent to retrieve his groceries. The brown paper bags were torn so he just started chucking his groceries into the bed of his truck. He crumpled the paper into a big ball and handed it to Joe.
As he started for the driver’s side door, Joe sputtered, “Wait, where are you going? You need a doctor. You’re bleeding. Don’t you want to press charges?” Humans. Joe had no idea that in a few days, his face and this fleeting pain would be just a happy memory.
“Would you mind throwing that away for me? Thanks, Joe. I appreciate the help. See you next week.” Darien climbed into his truck, turned the key in the ignition, and took off.
It took him under half an hour to find the dirt road he needed. He slowed and the road into the forest. Parking the truck under a large canopy of trees, he took a second to catch his breath. His chest felt like it’d had a hammer taken to it. Each breath was like a knife jabbing between his ribs over and over again.
Wincing, he leaned across the seat and snatched a plastic bag from under the passenger seat. By the time he finished loading the groceries into the bag, a sheen of sweat covered his forehead and his breathing was labored.
He pressed his teeth together and marched into the woods. Normally the chirping of birds and the pattering feet of squirrels and deer calmed him, but today it only deepened the throbbing tempo beating at his temples.
Sometime later, he passed through the thick layers of trees and into a small clearing with a small cabin. It was a tiny, one-bedroom cabin. About the size of his bedroom and bathroom combined back at his real house. He opened the door that he never locked and set his groceries on the table.
The restlessness that had been riding him for so long itched at him, clawing its way into him until he stomped outside and picked up the axe leaning against the cabin. Walking over to a fallen tree near the cabin, he eyed the wood, looking for the perfect spots to make even cuts.
Darien lifted the axe over his head and let it fall in a hard arch, cracking into the waiting log and splitting it halfway down the middle. He lifted the axe and let it fly again and again. Until sweat dampened his shirt like a wet rag and his hand cramped around the axe’s wooden handle. When the last blow fell he stopped.
Pulling his shirt off he used it to wipe the sweat off his face. The pain in his arms was just dull enough now that he could feel it every time he bent his elbows. His stomach and abs felt battered and his face burned swollen and hot where he’d been hit. The burn was better than any amount of relief whiskey or drugs could ever provide.
Inside the cabin he tossed his dirty shirt in the bin and grabbed a bottle of water from the counter. He downed the entire bottled until it crinkled in his hand.
Suddenly, he stilled, his head cocking to the side. The water bottle crinkled loudly as he set it back on the counter. There it was again. The mush of leaves and dirt...like steps.
Darien snatched his knife off the table and silently sprinted through the trees. Hunching down against a tree, he was grateful nighttime was pouring in and darkening the forest. It’d be hell for anyone to see through, except he had fantastic night vision. With a deep breath, he let his beast out to the surface.
More of that noise like the soft rustling of leaves but constant and with weight to it. And it was headed his way. Sprinting to the right, Darien turned left and headed north with the intent to box in whoever it was. The steps grew slower and slower, and he followed, too far back to see who it was. Though now he was certain it was a person and not a deer. He wished like hell there was some wind tonight, something to send their sent to him, but damn if he wasn’t an unlucky son of a bitch.
Darien crept closer, but it was unnecessary because a loud curse blew through the forest and then a solid thump. He kept his ear poised towards the sound. Had the person walking just dropped something heavy or did they just drop? He listened but heard no other sound except for the voices of insects.
Darien tightened his grip on his knife and tracked down the perpetrator. He broke through a low canopy of branches and his gut tightened at what he saw. Sniffing the air, he caught the person’s scent. Goosebumps shivered over him at the smell. Flowers.
What the hell was a damned woman doing out here in the middle of nowhere? A woman with a full head of dark hair and an ass that had him quickly looking away from it. Double fuck.
Crouching down at the woman, Darien gently pushed the hair back from the side of her face. His eyes narrowed on the dark circle surrounding her eye and the dark red sheen on her cheek. He gnashed his teeth together. It wasn’t any of his business. Yeah, right, like he could ignore the shiner someone had given her.
She’d fallen on her stomach and face for that matter. He pressed his fingers to her throat and found a steady pulse. It wasn’t until that moment that he realized a pressure had been wrapped around his heart. It eased more and more at the feel of her skin pulsing against his fingertip.
He rolled her over gently and went to inspect her for wounds. He didn’t get any further than her face.
The black and red bruises that marred the side of her face couldn’t begin to take away from her beauty. Fuck, he felt like he’d just been punched in the gut again. Her jaw was soft and pointed, her lips pink with perfect points on her top lip, and her brows and nose were dainty. Talk about the last thing he needed.
Gently he wrapped his arms underneath her and lifted her to his chest. She was so damned light; the woman must not eat a thing. Yet as he looked down at her in his arms, he saw the full flush of her curves, rounded thighs, and press of her breasts against her shirt.
His cock twitched in his pants. The sensation was so shocking that he stumbled a step and nearly dropped her. Breathing erratic, he closed his eyes until he had his body back under control. It was just a fluke. His body was just having a spasm—it wasn’t her. He hadn’t been sexually attracted to a woman since Dana. He couldn’t be, even if he wanted to.
He kept his gaze forward as he carried her back to the cabin. What the hell should he do with her? If he trekked with her to his truck, he could take her to a hospital. His gaze slowly lowered to her face and he jerked it back up. He had no business looking at a woman when she was unconscious, and he certainly had no fucking right eyeing a woman who’d been hurt. Guilt nagged at him. And doesn’t Dana have a right to be in your thoughts?
He kept his gaze straight for the rest of the trip. When he reached the cabin, he set her down on his bed. She sighed a little and snuggled into his pillow. He bared his teeth at some unseen foe as his chest tightened.
Was living with the pain of Dana not enough? Did life really have to send another complication into his life right now? Of course it did, because life was a brutal bitch with a gun-wielding vendetta against wrongdoers.
Darien pulled a chair up next to the small cot. At once he wished he had a clean, big bed to put her in and not this lousy half-a-thing he’d dragged through the woods to get here.
Swallowing hard he quickly felt over her front pockets, then moved her side to side to feel her back ones. No wallet. No ID. Well, the one plan he’d had just kicked the bucket. So much for calling her family.
He’d have to wait until she woke up. The thought sent him pacing across the cabin.