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Authors: Melissa Haag

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy

(Mis)fortune

BOOK: (Mis)fortune
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(Mis)fortune

By Melissa Haag

 

 

 

(Mis)fortune

Copyright: Melissa Haag

Revised Edition

Published: April 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9888523-2-7

Cover Design: Indie-Spired Designs

 

All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without express written permission from the author.

 

 

Note to the Reader

This is not Luke’s story.  You can read about Luke and Bethi in Book 3, (Un)wise.  This is Michelle’s story, which starts at the beginning of same summer that Gabby meets Clay.  All the stories connect, and the characters will continue to grow throughout the series.  Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Clotted potatoes stuck in my throat when I tried to swallow.  I tried again, and they slowly slid down.  My overladen plate of food mocked me.  I didn’t want to eat.  I wanted to go hide in my room, away from our dinner guests.  I almost blanched just thinking the word guest.  It didn’t at all describe the men sitting at the table with us.

Blake asked my stepfather, Richard, a question about their latest stock investment, and I dutifully looked up.  Just as quickly, I looked back down at my plate like the meek little mouse Blake wanted me to be.  I didn’t mind playing a meek part when sitting with these men.  Blake didn’t give me any trouble, but the other ten men with him often did.  Dinners went smoother if I kept my eyes on my plate.

Blake sat at one end of the table, and my stepfather sat at the opposite end.  I, unfortunately, always took the middle seat on the side with five chairs.  It gave me more room than if I sat on the other side.  If given a real choice, I would have rather sat next to Richard.

The six men across from me stared at me through the entire meal.  At every dinner, different men stared at me.  How many business associates did Blake really have?  These dinners had been happening since my mother died four years ago.  Once a month, every month.  I hated them.  I felt like a freak on display. 
Hey, come on in!  Have dinner with the freaky girl who predicts the market and makes us all rich.  Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite.  She’ll do exactly as I say.

I thought of my brothers, who slept in their beds, and forked another bite of potatoes into my mouth.  Yep, I would do as Blake said.  He’d made it painfully clear who he would punish if I didn’t.

One of the men across from me nudged my foot under the table.  I didn’t look up.  It would just play into whatever he planned.  Probably some lewd gesture.  For business associates, as Blake usually introduced them, they dressed more like mill workers, wearing torn, stained jeans and ragged shirts.  They were sometimes unwashed, too.  I didn’t judge them by their appearances, though.  Their actions told me what I needed to know about them.

The man kicked me again, harder.  I tucked my feet under my chair in an effort to avoid his long reach as Blake asked me a direct question.

“Michelle, my dear, are you trying to withhold your latest premonition?”  He sipped his wine and watched me.  Blake’s medium build and salt and pepper hair gave him a distinguished look that hid a very mean personality.

“You know I haven’t,” I said in a quiet, biddable voice as I met his gaze.  If I tried keeping a premonition to myself, I got sick.  First, it was just a niggling headache.  However, the longer I held the information inside, the worse the ache grew until, finally, I broke down and started babbling the information with pain-filled tears.

“Sorry, Blake,” Richard said from down the table.  “Michelle gave me the information yesterday.  When I went in today, I just invested what we discussed last night.  I didn’t think you wanted me to bother you with it.”

I lowered my gaze to my plate again.  A puppet, that’s all I was.  Just then, the man across the table kicked me again.  The hard toe of his boot bruised my shin.  I looked up, eyes blazing with hate, and whispered two words—they rhymed with “pluck you”—that sealed my fate.

In a blur, Blake shot from his chair, sailing toward me over the table.  His hand curled around my throat and the momentum of his move carried me backward, lifting me up.  My long skirt tore when it caught briefly on my tipping chair.  Before I could blink, Blake slammed me against the wall.  My feet no longer touched the ground.

My stunned mind couldn’t comprehend what just happened. 
No one should be able to move that fast.

Barely breathing, I panicked and fought to pry away his hand, forgetting to be meek.  He laughed and squeezed my neck a little harder.  My eyes darted around the room looking for help.  Behind him, Richard stood, but said nothing.  No help.  There never was for me.

I focused on Blake.  The calculated look in Blake’s eyes reminded me of his expectation.  Swearing at his “associate” hadn’t been a bright move.  Still trying to wheeze in air, I stopped clawing at his hand and instead wrapped my hands around his forearm for support.  His hold loosened, and I gasped.  The air burned, but I didn’t stop pulling it in greedily.

All the men at the dinner table watched us, and the one who had kicked me, smirked.

“The time for niceties is at an end.  We’ve amassed our fortune.  It’s time for the next step.  You will choose one of us and evolve your abilities as you were born to do.”

I barely heard his words.  His teeth claimed my attention.  As he spoke, they grew.  Elongating.  Already panicked because of the hand at my throat, my racing heart kicked into overdrive at the sight of his canines.  His face changed slightly, his jaw expanding to accommodate his teeth.

He can’t be human.  What is he?

He tightened his grip with his next words.

“You will allow each male here, and every male I bring from this night forward, to scent you.  If we decide you are his Mate, you
will
bite him and establish your Claim.”

His hold loosened.  Still gasping for air, I didn’t immediately register that my feet again touched the ground. 
Bite one of them?
  He dropped his hand and moved away from me, but his piercing gaze continued to hold me in place.

“Frank, since she offended you, you can go first.”

Frank quickly leapt over the table, his teeth also abnormally long and pointy.  Swaggering toward me, he leaned in close and licked my neck.  A shiver of revulsion ran through me.

“You’re mine,” he whispered before he moved to allow the next man close to me.

I turned my face from them and pressed myself against the wall.  Despairing, I closed my eyes.  Tears fell from their scrunched corners.  I couldn’t escape.

After the last man leaned in close to my neck and inhaled deeply, Blake commanded me to leave.  I fled to my room and locked the door behind me.

*    *    *    *

When I woke, I found a manila envelope shoved under my bedroom door.  A Post-it decorated the front of it.  I easily read Richard’s scrawl.

Run as fast as you can.  Everything is in your name.

I gazed at those words with a growing feeling of dread.  Somewhere in the house, a phone rang.  I quickly stashed the envelope in my pillowcase without looking at the contents and started to make my bed.  Before I finished, a key rattled and the door swung open.

David eyed me as I stood next to the bed, tugging the quilt into place.  I still wore my pajamas.

Since Blake needed Richard in the office and didn’t trust me home alone, he’d brought in David as my keeper.  Well paid, David did as Blake said.  I wondered if David knew about Blake’s teeth.

“You’re not supposed to be in here until I knock,” I said, repeating Blake’s rule.

“Today’s an exception.  Blake’s on the phone.”  David held out a cell phone.

I stared at him a moment before I approached to take it.  What game did they play now?

“Yes?” I said, putting the phone up to my ear.

“Richard’s dead.  This changes nothing.  We’ll be back tonight.”  The line went dead.  Richard’s scrawled message ran through my head.

David walked further into my room a suspicious look on his face.  He moved past me and pulled back the quilt.

I looked at my shelf where my softball participation trophy from middle school sat.  When he lifted my pillow, I quietly lifted the trophy.

I could hear my brothers’ muffled voices on the other side of the wall, still locked in their own room, waiting.

David never heard the envelope crinkle.

*    *    *    *

In just over forty-eight hours, the spark of hope, ignited by the escape from my bleak life, grew dim.  I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going as I pulled into the almost empty parking lot of a small town diner.

Parking, I glanced at the mirror and cringed at my reflection.  Naturally olive-skinned—thanks to my mom—I would never look pale, but I did appear ashen.  My light blue and brown-flecked eyes looked bloodshot and glassy from lack of sleep.  My long, warm brown hair that I’d pulled back into a ponytail, needed to be washed and brushed.

I shifted my attention to the passengers I also saw in the mirror.

Liam and Aden stared at me from the backseat of my mom’s car.  The means of our escape.  I was thankful Richard had held onto it after she passed away, letting it sleep peacefully under a dust cover in the third spot in the garage.

My brothers’ solemn faces hadn’t changed since we’d left.  They were taking their cues from me.  Barely holding myself together, I leaned my head against the steering wheel.

David’s knees buckled, and he tipped forward as he crumpled.  My broken trophy fell from my hand.  The top half of David’s body landed heavily on my mattress.  With my heart seizing in my chest, I grabbed the envelope from the pillowcase and quickly broke the seal to look inside.  Keys, cash, and a few important documents fell to my bed when I shook out the contents.  Nothing else from Richard to explain what I needed to do to escape.

The keys I recognized from my mom’s car.  But how did I drive it?  Since I hit fifteen, I’d been locked in Richard’s house.  A secured house.  I didn’t know how to disarm the alarm.  As soon as I opened the door to the garage, it would go off.

Run as fast as you can...

I inhaled a shaky breath.  We’d done it.  We’d run.  But where were we going?  I lifted my head and smiled tremulously at my brothers.  Neither smiled back.

Liam looked a lot like Richard, with sandy blonde hair, light blue eyes, and a stubborn chin.  At five, he could negotiate a deal like a pro when David wasn’t in the immediate area to intimidate him.  Most of his deals involved a later bedtime or more dessert.  Aden, at four, had my mom’s coloring and looked more like me with medium brown hair, deep blue eyes, and a dimple.  When given the chance, they both had a smile that could light a room.  I wondered if they would ever smile again after the scare I gave them.

Initially, my driving almost killed us.  I didn’t know how I managed not being pulled over.  Since squealing out of the garage in a cloud of blue smoke, I’d tried keeping a low profile, sticking to the back roads, and stopping only when absolutely necessary.

I twisted in my seat.  Empty snack bags littered the seat between the two.  “Are you guys hungry for some real food?”

Liam looked out the window at the red and white paint-faded diner across the blacktop expanse.  Large windows dominated the front of the squat building, allowing the diners to look out.

“Is it safe?” Liam asked.

“I hope so, buddy.  I need a break.  My eyes keep closing on me.”

He nodded and reached over to unbuckle his brother.  I let him help Aden while I fumbled with my own seatbelt.  I would never again take a good night’s sleep for granted.  My head felt fuzzy, and my ears rang.  I got out of the car and stood for a moment, waiting for a wave of dizziness to pass.

When I opened the back door, they spilled out of the car in a rush.  They ran around chasing each other in the open parking spot next to ours.  I let them.  I’d parked us in one of the furthest places from the door.  Two parking spots away, a motorcycle sat parked in the otherwise empty part of the lot.

I leaned against the closed driver side door and watched them have their fun while I let the fresh summer air clear my head.  After a few minutes, I pushed away from the door and had to pause until another wave of vertigo passed.  I eyed our destination.  It suddenly seemed like a long walk.  With a sigh, I herded them toward the diner.

As we neared, I noticed a man.  He sat in one of the booths against the large, front windows.  Dressed in faded denims and a t-shirt, something about him caught my eye.

He had cropped his dark hair so short I could see his scalp on the side of his head.  A five o’clock shadow covered his strong jaw and upper lip, making him look a little scruffy despite the haircut.  He had nice ears—why did I notice that?—and my stomach did a tiny flip just staring at his profile.  I rolled my eyes at myself.

How could I stand in a parking lot window-shopping a cute guy while on the run from some fanged monster who had kept me locked up for four years?  I needed to get a grip on life.  Sleep deprivation had robbed me of common sense.  Yet, I didn’t look away.

The man sat slightly bent over his plate, eating a hearty breakfast.  It was just after three in the afternoon.  His long legs folded under the table with just barely enough room, and his t-shirt hugged his biceps as he reached for his drink.  A black leather jacket lay on the seat next to him and matched the sturdy black work boots he wore.  Then I saw the helmet set on the table near his coffee.  The owner of the motorcycle.

When we were within a few feet of his window, he glanced up and froze when our gazes locked.  The fork he held remained suspended in the air part way to his mouth.  My stomach started going crazy doing little flips, and my heart stuttered out an odd pattern before returning to normal.

It was a moment more before he moved again and brought the fork the rest of the way to his mouth.  He finished chewing and lifted the coffee to his lips, not once looking away.  I forgot to breathe as he studied me with an unnerving intensity.  It vaguely reminded me of how Frank watched me at dinner, minus the creepiness...and the kicking.  The man held me spellbound.  I couldn’t look away.

BOOK: (Mis)fortune
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