HEAT

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I Can't Breathe

Hycinth

As the highest ranking member, Tommy, the Grimm MC’s Sgt. in Arms, rode point with Leroy by his side. Luca and I followed behind him with the Enforcers surrounding us and Frank positioned at the back.

Keeping my head tucked down in the back of Lucky’s neck, I clutched his torso tightly. Eyes squeezed shut, I let the familiar rev and vibration of the motors block out my chaotic thoughts. I had no idea how to explain to them what had happened to us.

Two hours later, we pulled into a diner. Lucky slowed and eased the motorcycle to a stop. Climbing down from behind him, I desperately worked to pull myself together, swiping my thumbs over my damp cheeks and smoothing hair out of my face. As we walked together into the diner, Lucky kept his body positioned slightly in front of mine. His frame was locked tight, stretching to his full height, chest puffed out, presenting himself as a formidable deterrent to anyone who might make the mistake of coming near me.

The diner was a traditional affair, complete with a neon sign letting us know we’d arrived at Big Al’s Diner. Rounded corners made the building appear more like an oversized vintage train car than a rectangle brick and mortar restaurant.

Entering the restaurant just ahead of us, Frank held the door open for me. Sharply intelligent blue eyes met mine. “Good to see you again, Abby.” The warmth and ease in his expression were in prominent contrast to his rough exterior appearance, tatted bald head, long beard, and burly muscles, kind of like the soft chocolate center inside a hard candy shell.

“You too.” I tried to muster up a small smile as we walked past, but I wasn’t sure I’d been successful.

If he noticed my less than welcoming response, he didn’t react.

Inside the diner, a long row of booths lined the exterior windows opposite an equally long stretch of high backed stools facing the sleek, polished-steel countertop to accommodate the many patrons who frequented the establishment alone.

Without a word of coordination, Tommy and Leroy joined Luca and me at a booth toward the back, while the other bikers spread out around us, forming a protective perimeter.

A pert blonde waitress strutted to the table, small notepad, and pencil in hand. Hip popped out, she eyed Tommy with open interest, snapped her gum and asked, “So, what’ll you boys have to drink?” I disregarded the fact she didn’t include me in her address. The men outnumbered me eleven-to-one, so it made sense she just went with the generality.

Under normal circumstances, Tommy would have been amused and enamored with her overt attention. At the very least, he would have flirted shamelessly with her, even to my embarrassment at his unrestrained vulgarity, but not now. Now, this was business, not pleasure and he barely looked up from the menu before grunting, “Coke.”

The drink orders proceeded around the table and then to the rest of the group before she tottered off behind the counter.

Pressed securely between the wall and Lucky’s imposing frame, I stared unseeing at the laminated menu. The idea of putting anything into my stomach made me want to gag.

Leroy sat across from me with Tommy facing Luca. Neither paid any attention to me until after the waitress returned with drinks and collected our orders. Once she was gone again, Tommy leaned forward and held Lucky’s gaze. “Okay, Whiskey, what the fuck? First, I watched you get kidnapped by some big motherfuckers, then I can’t find you and don’t hear anything for several weeks, and now, out of the blue, you need a ride home?”

Well, that about covered it.

“It was a...family misunderstanding,” Luca chose his words carefully. He’d explained to me earlier that neither Tommy nor Leroy saw any of the wolves shift into their fur forms. So at this point, our half-beast sides were not a part of the discussion.

“Family?” Tommy repeated flatly, sitting back in the booth. “That’s one hell of a family.”

Luca rested his arms on the table, tension pulling the muscles in his biceps tight. He nodded hard, not willing to elaborate.

Brows furrowed in contemplation for a moment, Tommy turned to me. “What’s your real name? Cuz I’m pretty sure it ain’t Abigail.”

“Hycinth,” I murmured softly. “But you can still call me Abby if you like.”

“And you were on the run...from your family?”

I tried not to cringe at the reminder of the relationship between Leander and me. Swallowing thickly, I nodded.

“But that’s over now. They let us go,” Luca interjected. “We appreciate your help, man. We didn’t have anybody else to call.”

“Of course,” Tommy blew off their assistance as though it weren’t any big deal. “So, you going to tell me your real name too?”

“It’s Luca,” Lucky replied quietly.

Tommy eyed him for a moment and then grunted dryly, “I gotta be honest, it’s a damn shame it ain’t Whiskey.”

Lucky grinned, flashing pearly white teeth. He always loved his alter ego. “I’d actually prefer if you still called me Whiskey.”

“Easy enough,” Leroy acknowledged.

The waitress returned, precariously balancing several plates on her outstretched arms. Rattling off meals, matching them with patrons, she quickly unloaded the food onto the tables in front of the correct person.

Everyone began to dig into their meals of greasy burgers and fries. I picked at the barbecue in front of me, moving it around on the plate more than actually eating.

Leroy took a drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Why were you runnin’?”

Lucky finished chewing the bite he was working on and swallowed. “It was a misunderstanding.”

A muscle in Tommy’s jaw twitched. He didn’t like Luca’s answer. “My help comes with some rules. First and foremost, you tell me the truth, so that I know what I’m dealing with and my boys don’t get hurt due to my ignorance. The fuckers that took you were dangerous. They weren’t playin’ around. I’m gonna need a little more than a misunderstanding.”

Luca’s hand curled into a fist. I put mine over his and spoke before he could, “It was an ex-boyfriend.”

Tommy took another bite of his burger and chewed. “Yours or his?”

Lucky’s eyes widened. “What the fuck?”

Tommy smirked.

Leroy added to the mix, chuckling, “You always were a pretty thing.”

“Fuck you,” Luca scowled.

“Always makin’ promises you can’t keep,” Leroy ribbed him.

“Mine,” I answered, attempting to steer the conversation back on track. “I, we...,” I stumbled around my words, “It just didn’t...work out.”

“So, after going through all the trouble to kidnap you, now, Romeo’s just gonna let you walk away?” Tommy asked skeptically.

“Yes. He’s done...with me now,” my voice hitched.

Tommy set his hamburger down and swiped the napkin across his mouth as he studied me for a long moment. No doubt, he could read my torn expression and knew I was trying hard not to cry.

“And you’re so sure you’re done with him?”

His intuitive question hit me like a punch in the stomach. Was I done with Leander? The memory of Leander’s hurt and betrayed face flashed before my eyes. Yes, I was done...I didn’t have a choice, not anymore. I swallowed thickly, trying to generate enough saliva in my mouth to speak. It didn’t help. Lifting the cold drink to my lips, I took a few sips of iced tea before setting the glass down. “Y-Yes.”

Tommy’s intelligent gaze remained trained on my face. From his expression, it was clear he hadn’t missed the conflict in my response but then seemed to let it go, lifting his drink to his lips. Ice clinked in the glass as he turned it up and swallowed the remaining liquid inside.

The conversation at the tables transitioned to much less serious subjects, gruff laughter ringing out intermittently as the bikers finished their meal.

Luca’s voice carried an undertone of stress but he did his best to engage in the banter. I preferred to remain silent, comforted by the familiar voices around me and thankful for their unspoken understanding in giving me some quiet time alone with my thoughts.

When it was time to go, Tommy paid the bill and we left the diner, riding for another hour and a half before finally reaching our second-story loft and the tattoo studio beneath it.

Goodbyes were short as we dismounted the motorcycle and handed it back over to its rightful owner. The atmosphere of the group was more subdued than earlier. Similar expressions of fatigue and eagerness to return home to their families played on their faces after the long day on the road.

When they were gone, I followed Luca up the stairs. Every muscle in my body ached. Reaching the landing, Lucky took a few steps past from the door and crouched, fishing the spare key out of its hiding place behind an innocuous piece of loose siding. It only took a few seconds for him to engage the lock and open the door.

Stepping through the entryway felt like I was walking into a different world. Everything looked exactly like we’d left it, but so much had changed. I was different now...and there was no going back to the person I used to be.

Luca flipped a nearby switch. Soft-white light illuminated the interior. “Sit down on the couch,” he murmured as he disappeared into the kitchen.

Eyes blinking to adjust to the increased light, I crossed the room and sank onto a comfortable beige sofa. My thoughts were chaotic...too many...too much.

“Do you want anything to drink?” Luca called from the kitchen.

“Um...n-no,” I muttered.

Lucky reappeared and settled into an oversized chair next to me, comfortably resting his knees apart and elbows on the armrest. He held a bottle of beer in his left hand.

I waited for him to speak because it was obvious he had something on his mind.

“Cinn, now that we know our pack exists, we have to make a decision. Do you want to go home?”

Home...what would that be like? We’d been gone for more than three years. Everything must have changed by now...including the leadership.

“You said Leander had loyal wolves there, ready to capture us if we returned?”

Luca nodded and echoed my thoughts, “Adamant Moon wolves must be in charge. There’s no way Leander would have left the Diamante hierarchy in place.”

I shook my head slowly. “I’m just not ready...for that.”

I didn’t want any reminders of the pack who clearly didn’t want me anymore. No one had been there to say goodbye. After everything I went through for them...the Claiming Ceremony...I guessed none of that mattered now.

Luca ran his free hand through his hair and stared down at the bottle of beer. “Okay. I get it.” His attempt to cover his disappointment caused my heart to twist. I knew him too well...and I couldn’t continue to do this to him.

Just because I didn’t have a pack I could truly call home didn’t mean Luca had to go without. The Adamant Moon wolves weren’t angry with him, and certainly, the Diamante wolves would be thrilled to have him back.

Reaching out my hand, I placed it on top of his to capture his absolute attention. As expected, his deep absinthe gaze lifted and locked on mine.

“But I think you should go.” The words killed me, but they had to be said. Taking a deep breath didn’t ease the pit in my stomach. “I’ll be fine on my own now—”

“Stop,” he interrupted, eyes narrowing. “I’m not leaving you.”

His words said he wanted to stay with me, but the raging conflict in his expression conveyed another truth altogether. He was desperate to find the Wolf meant for him.

“Lucky,” my voice hitched, “you need to be around other wolves so you can find your mate.”

His brows furrowed, lips set in a tight line. After a long moment, he sighed, “Why don’t we just wait and see what happens? We don’t have to decide anything right now.”

I nodded. It seemed like the best choice.

We sat in silence for a few minutes before I stood to my feet and mumbled, “I’m going to go to bed.”

Lucky glanced up. He swirled the beer and took another swig. “Okay...night.”

..........

It had been six days, seven hours and fourteen minutes since I’d said goodbye to Leander...and the hole in my heart wasn’t getting any smaller. Every moment felt like an eternity. If anything, I felt flayed open, chest torn apart, raw and bleeding.

I lay curled in a ball beneath the covers. I needed to get up for work but had already hit the snooze three times. I just couldn’t function...not yet. Even getting enough air in my lungs hurt like hell. I just couldn’t breathe.

Without warning, Lucky didn’t bother knocking before barging in and swiping the blinds open. Sunlight flooded the room, causing me to snap my eyes shut and throw the covers over my head as I hid from the overbearing light.

“None of that, little sister,” Lucky ordered. He’d been like a slave driver, making me get up every day, and get dressed and eat. I both loved and hated him for it.

“Fuck you,” I grouched from beneath the covers.

He had the nerve to chuckle, and abruptly the covers were rudely torn from my grip.

“Hey!” I yelped, sitting up in bed.

I expected him to laugh or joke or at the very least, chastise me into getting ready, but the new expression on his face made my heart stand still. He had gone pale, no color in his skin. He stood frozen and stared at me like he’d seen a ghost.

“Lucky...” I whispered, pulling my knees to my chest and wrapping my arms protectively around them. “W-What is it? What’s wrong?”

He still didn’t move. Instead, his nostrils flared. He inhaled slowly, the expression on his face pained.

“You’re scaring me,” I whimpered. I’d never seen him like this.

Letting the blanket drop from his grip, he sank onto the bed next to me and clutched my trembling hands. ”Fuck, Cin...I-I don’t know how to tell you this...”

My anxiety was reaching a breaking point. “Just tell me...whatever it is.”

He dropped his head and stared at the bed for a moment and then lifted to meet my gaze again. “I’m sorry...but y-you’re pregnant...”

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