Welcome to May's Storybook Menagerie. Enjoy and be sure to enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below!
Storybook Menagerie is a monthly blog segment in which I write the opening paragraphs to a flash fiction piece and ask fellow authors to continue the story in 300 words or less. So, let the storytelling begin!
“How could you?”
His heart crawled into his throat, beating a furious rhythm against his Adam’s apple. Curling his fingers against his palms, Nathan squeezed until the blunt nails bit into the flesh of his hands. The sting of pain did little to distract him, though.
“You don’t understand, Nathan.”
That voice—soft, almost pleading—wrapped around him like a lover’s embrace, and the way his name rolled off those full, pouty lips nearly dragged him to his knees. “Then tell me,” he demanded. “Make me understand.”
Eyes the color of purest sapphire stared back at him, somehow defiant and contrite, all at once. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“You left!” The emotions he’d bottled up for over a year surfaced like a dark, merciless hurricane, battering against the fragile grip he held on his control. “You fucking disappeared. I thought you were dead.”
“What do you want me to do, Nathan? What do you want me to say?”
As memories from the past year ghosted through his mind, recollections of sleepless nights and tortured denial, the anger and hurt faded until he was left with only a cold, dead numbness. He almost preferred the pain.
“I thought you were dead,” he repeated. “Maybe you should have stayed that way.”
“You don’t mean that.” Each word rolled off her tongue like the purr of a satisfied cat.
Lana Mitchell had a way of getting inside him, burrowing right down to his soul, and making him want things he’d never had any business wanting in the first place. Though he didn’t look, he knew she wore a vague, disinterested grin, could picture the way it curved only one side of her bow-shaped lips. He could feel her eyes on him, as though prodding his mind to ferret out every secret he’d rather keep hidden.
“I waited for you.”
|Coming June 2014|
Nathan wanted to yell. He wanted to release the tenuous grip he held on his self-control and let loose the anger and resentment that had been simmering since she’d left. Instead, his words held the undercurrent of a plea.
And he hated himself for it.
“You knew how it had to be.” Her tone contained a chastising edge, but when she continued, Lana only sounded tired. “I never tried to hide any of this from you, and I never promised you a fairy tale ending. You knew the rules, Nathan.”
“I guess I just thought what we had meant more to you.”
“Idiot,” she breathed in that exasperated way that still made him smile. “What do you think the Assembly would have done if I’d even tried to walk away?”
“They’d have killed us both.” Without his anger as a shield, Nathan didn’t stand a chance against Lana.
He’d never been able to deny her, but unfortunately, nothing had changed. Top secret deployments and undercover missions—no one could hunt rogue vampires and murderous shifters like Lana. “They’ll never let you go.”
“They won’t have a choice.”
Before he could question her conviction, Lana leapt into his arms, crushing their mouths together with hungry, fierce determination, as though she could erase the last year if she just kissed him hard enough.
And like a fool, he let her, because despite it all, he still loved her.
Turning on his heel, Nathan steeled his nerves and started walking away. The pain in his heart reminded him that he wasn’t over Alex. The last year, he’d been healing and trying to live. Moving on with his life had been harder than anything he’d ever experienced. But now, Nathan shook his head, he was reliving the pain. The scab was ripped off, exposing the delicate flesh underneath.
Robbie Robertson decides it’s time to close
up shop and head for greener pastures.
“Please,” Alex pleaded and Nathan stopped. He didn’t turn around though. He couldn’t bear to see the man’s eyes. “Don’t walk away from me, Nathan. I need you. Please…”
Closing his eyes, Nathan took a deep breath. Could he really walk away without knowing what had happened? Could he really leave the only man he’d ever loved out in the cold? He wanted to be heartless and uncaring. He wanted to walk away and never look back, but he couldn’t.
It was an internal battle, his head against his heart.
Damn it, just walk away. You don’t want to be hurt again. He’ll rip your heart out. No…no, you can’t walk away. You love him. Give Alex another chance.
It was tough, but his heart won out in the end. Slowly turning around, Nathan held out his hand and Alex’s features changed as a smile spread across his lips. He rushed toward Nathan and grabbed his hand, holding it as if it were a lifeline.
“Thank you,” Alex murmured, his eyes filling with moisture.
“Let’s go home. You can tell me what happened at home.”
Together, they walked hand in hand down the stone covered pathway. Nathan wasn’t sure what Alex was going to say, but he felt a sense of relief fill him, knowing the man was by his side.
She flinched, and Nathan immediately wanted to take back those harsh words. In two steps he was in front of Jilly, pulling her into his arms. He took her mouth in a savage kiss, filled with all the pain and longing he felt for her. Jilly dropped the duffle bag she was carrying and wrapped her arms around his waist.
|Take a journey into the future with 3013...|
God, it had been so long since he felt her against him. It was where she belonged. Every single day he held out hope that she’d come back to him. Nathan had known Jilly his entire life, and had loved her almost as long.
Sometimes it felt as if he had been born loving her.
When his arms tightened around her, he felt her wince in pain. He gentled his hold. “Shit, are you okay?”
“I am now. I love you, Nathan,” Jilly whispered against his lips.
“Fuck, I love you, too, Jilly. But I swear to god, if you ever leave me again, I’ll hunt you down and kill you for real.”
She let out a watery laugh. “That’s a deal. I’m glad you’re here today.”
“Where else would I be?”
“Nathan? Who is that?”
He pressed another, softer kiss to Jilly’s lips before whispering, “Go to her.”
Nathan heard Jilly take a deep breath before she step away from him to face the woman who had joined them in the hallway. Nora froze as she saw Jilly.
“Jilly? Is that really you?” The two women burst into tears as they rushed toward one another, and Nathan noticed that pronounced limp in Jilly’s steps. What the hell had happened to her?
“I knew you were alive. I knew you’d come back to us. Welcome home, my darling daughter.”
Jilly pulled back to smile at her. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”
“Maybe. Or you could hear me out. If it was your sister, you’d have done the same thing.”
Nathan folded his arms. He should walk away but he had to know. “I thought she ran off with her boyfriend. She was wild at eighteen.”
Smart is sexy but is he safe? This scientist has no
idea he’s built a think tank in bear shifter territory!
“That’s what my mother thought. The cops wouldn’t do anything because she was an adult. Her phone was dead. Finally I got a call from her. She said to stop or they’d kill her. Someone grabbed the phone. She was crying.” His eyes looked haunted.
“I’m sorry. Why didn’t you tell me then?” Nathan resisted the urge to hold his ex.
“It all happened so fast. Federal agents showed up at my apartment. They were monitoring the sex ring and there were insiders and a plan. Because she’d made contact with me and her captors knew, they had to erase me. My life was in danger. I didn’t have a choice.”
“She called you?” Nathan asked.
“Her phone was disconnected. She must’ve used one of her captor’s phones the Feds had a trace on. I was lucky but I couldn’t drag you into that. You and my mother had to be safe or I couldn’t take it. If you knew, you’d be in danger.” He moved in but paused and backed off. “Maybe I should’ve stayed away. Who knew it would take so long?”
“Is she okay?” Nathan couldn’t even let his mind go to what the girl had been through.
“They broke up the ring. She’s safe now. It’ll take time for all the girls to heal. You don’t have to believe me but I came back as soon as I could.” He began to walk away.
Nathan couldn’t let it end like this. “Wait.”
“We should’ve stayed away. But we couldn’t.”
We. Nathan’s heart turned to dust in his empty chest. “Who were you with since you left me?” He reached out to shake her, the woman he’d once loved. Maybe he still loved her, because instead of grabbing her he brushed a lock of blonde hair back from her stunning blue eyes.
|Take a journey into the future with 3013..|
“She’s been with me.”
“You!” Shock and fury filled him as he spun around to face the man he’d once considered his best friend. Nathan’s hand was clenched into a fist, his arm drawn back to strike, but Chris just stood there.
“Go ahead. I deserve it,” he said, meeting Nathan’s eyes. That’s when he finally saw the scars.
“Jesus. What the hell happened to you?”
Long story. I’ll tell it later, if you decide to come with us. I know you’re not big on second chances, but…we came back for you.”
The world began to tip on its axis and Tabi appeared beside him, wrapping her arms around his waist. He should have pushed her away.
“Why did you leave me? Why come back now?”
Tabi hugged him. “We didn’t want to go without you, baby, but we had to. And we’re back because we need you. Both of us.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, but it was a lie. He just didn’t believe it could be possible.
“Yeah, you do,” Chris said and hauled him roughly into his arms, kissing him the way Nathan had imagined in a thousand different dreams. When Tabi stood on tip toes to join them, the icy numbness finally faded from around his heart, replaced by joy and the simmering heat of lust. No matter what had happened, or what was to come, he was never letting them out of his sight again.