Mine to PossessBy: Nalini Singh
Talin McKade told herself that twenty-eight-year-old women—especially twenty-eight-year-old women who had seen and survived what she had—did not fear anything as simple as walking across the road and into a bar to pick up a man.
Except, of course, this was no ordinary man. And a bar was the last place she’d expected to find Clay, given what she had learned about him in the two weeks since she’d first tracked him down. It didn’t bode well that it had taken her that long to screw up the courage to come to him. But she had had to be sure.
What she had discovered was that the Clay she’d known, the tall, angry, powerful boy, had become some kind of high-ranking enforcer for the dominant leopard pack in San Francisco. DarkRiver was extremely well respected, so Clay’s position spoke of trust and loyalty. The last word stabbed a blade deep into her heart.
Clay had always been loyal to her. Even when she didn’t deserve it. Swallowing, she shoved away the memories, knowing she couldn’t allow them to distract her. The old Clay was gone. This Clay…she didn’t know him. All she knew was that he hadn’t had any run-ins with the law after being released from the juvenile facility where he had been incarcerated at the age of fourteen—for the brutal slaying of one Orrin Henderson.
Talin’s hands clamped down on the steering wheel with white-knuckled force. She could feel blood rising to flood her cheeks as her heart thudded in remembered fear. Parts of Orrin, soft and wet things that should have never been exposed to the air, flecking her as she cowered in the corner while Clay—
She couldn’t think about that, couldn’t go there. It was enough that the nightmare images—full of the thick, cloying smell of raw meat gone bad—haunted her sleep night after night. She would not surrender her daytime hours, too.
Flashing blue and white lights caught her attention as another Enforcement vehicle pulled into the bar’s small front parking lot. That made two armored vehicles and four very well-armed cops, but though they had all gotten out, none of the four made any move to enter the bar. Unsure what was going on, she stayed inside her Jeep, parked in the secondary lot on the other side of the wide street.
Sweat trickled down her spine at the sight of the cop cars. Her brain had learned young to associate their presence with violence. Every instinct in her urged her to get the hell out. But she had to wait, to see. If Clay hadn’t changed, if he had grown worse…Uncurling one hand from the wheel, she fisted it against a stomach filled with roiling, twisting despair. He was her last hope.
The bar door flew open at that second, making her heart jump. Two bodies came flying out. To her surprise, the cops simply got out of the way before folding their arms and leveling disapproving frowns at the ejected pair. The two dazed young men staggered to their feet…only to go down again when two more boys landed on top of them.
They were teenagers—eighteen or nineteen, from the looks of it. All were obviously drunk as hell. While the four lay there, probably moaning and wishing for death, another male walked out on his own two feet. He was older and even from this distance, she could feel his fury as he picked up two of the boys and threw them into the open bed of a parked truck, his pure blond hair waving in the early evening breeze.
He said something to the cops that made them relax. One laughed. Having gotten rid of the first two, the blond man grabbed the other two boys by the scruffs of their necks and began to drag them back to the truck, uncaring of the gravel that had to be sandpapering skin off the exposed parts of their bodies.
Those unfortunate—and likely misbehaving—boys would feel the bruises and cuts tomorrow, along with sore heads. Then the door banged open again and she forgot everything and everyone but the man framed by the light inside the bar. He had one boy slung over his shoulder and was dragging another in the same way the blond had.
“Clay.” It was a whisper that came out on a dark rush of need, anger, and fear. He’d grown taller, was close to six four. And his body—he had more than fulfilled the promise of raw power that had always been in him. Over that muscular frame, his skin shone a rich, luscious brown with an undertone of gold.
Isla’s blood, Talin thought, the exotic beauty of Clay’s Egyptian mother vivid in her mind even after all these years. Isla’s skin had been smooth black coffee, her eyes bitter chocolate, but she had only contributed half of Clay’s genes.
Talin couldn’t see Clay’s own eyes from this distance, but she knew they were a striking green, the eyes of a jungle cat—an unmistakable legacy from his changeling father. Set off by his skin and pitch-black hair, those eyes had dominated the face of the boy he had been. She had a feeling they still did but in a far different way.
His every move screamed tough male confidence. He didn’t even seem to feel the weight of the two boys as he threw them into the pile already in the back of the truck. She imagined the flex of muscle, of power, and shivered…in absolute, unquenchable fear.
Logic, intellect, sense, it all broke under the unadulterated flow of memory. Blood and flesh, screams that wouldn’t end, the wet, sucking sounds of death. And she knew she couldn’t do this. Because if Clay had scared her as a child, he terrified her now.