Moonstruck: Awakening

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Chapter 4

Pushing through the swinging door to the kitchen, I pulled up short at the sight before me, Gabe nearly knocking me over as he followed close behind. Thankfully he stopped short of actually sending me to the ground, grabbing my shoulders to keep me from toppling over. We froze like that, me standing in the doorway, Gabe pressed up against my back with his hands on my shoulders. What the hell?

Across the room, James had Laura trapped against the counter where the two had frozen mid-motion when we’d entered the room. Laura leaned against the bench, one hand bracing herself on its top, the other stretched behind her, trying to protect her rump. James, his forearm braced against her back restricting her movement, had his other hand raised high, clearly about to spank her.

What made the whole situation so weird was the silence. It was clear we’d interrupted something and fairly obvious from their body language that there had been some tousling before they’d gotten to this point. Yet at no time had we heard a single peep from either of them, not even when I’d been just on the other side of the door.

“Sorry, should we come back?” I finally asked, finding my voice. Laura’s expression turned horrified and she placed both hands flat on the counter, trying to shove away and explain at the same time. James, being the annoying, shameless example of masculine arrogance that he was, took advantage of Laura’s embarrassment, completed the swing of his arm, bringing his hand down with a loud slap across Laura’s now unprotected butt. Ignoring the poor woman’s indignant squeal, he stepped back and threw what I’m guessing was meant to be a charming grin our way.

“Nope, all done,” he said with cheer.

Laura, who’d sprung up at the not so gentle tap to her rear, spun around like a scalded cat, and no sooner had the words left James’s mouth, did she launch herself at him, a whirling dervish of slapping, smacking and profanity.

James quickly lost his smug grin and concentrated on covering his head and face with his arms, trying to protect himself from Laura’s blows. With one final unexpected kick to the shin, which made me wince in sympathy, Laura stepped back, panting from the effort.

“Don’t ever do that again, you anal leakage,” she all but shrieked at the cowering man beside her, before once again proceeding to smack at him. I had to nod my appreciation for her disgusting, yet visually descriptive, insult. There was absolutely no ambiguity in those words.

Laura’s attack seemed to be the signal for normal activity to resume and as she was whaling on the cowering James, who was too busy laughing maniacally to properly defend himself, and I looked over my shoulder to Gabe.

“Is this something to be concerned about?”

Gabe snorted. “This is something to be ignored as much as humanly possible. Sadly, I’ve had a lot of practice. It’s been going on for the last twenty years or so, which is just depressing since Laura’s twenty-five and James is twenty-seven. So yeah, they’ve been going at it since they were kids.”

“And they’re not together, right? I mean this seems a little bit more intense than just friendly ribbing.”

He shrugged. “There was some speculation when they were teenagers that they might finally pair up and end the tension, but it never happened.” Gabe’s brows lowered and his frustrated disgust clearly showed. “Which part of me was glad about, you know, my best friend and my sister. Now that would’ve made my life a nightmare. Instead, they just pick at each other, torment each other and generally bug the hell out of those of us around them with their freaking ‘antics’. So we try to ignore them as best we can and hope they’ll eventually stop.”

“Uh-huh,” I grunted, casting one last glance at the two, before shrugging myself. It didn’t have anything to do with me. Giving the brawling couple a wide berth, I decided it was time to see a bit more of this place I was most likely going to call home for the foreseeable future. Heading to the glass door, I slid it open and stepped out onto the deck I’d seen during my earlier tour of the kitchen.

Stepping onto the deep porch, the first thing I noticed was the space. It was huge, running the length of the back of the house and possibly around one side. To the right, there was a big, comfy looking porch swing with padded bench cushions. Potted plants lined the railing that bordered the deck, a high ceilinged veranda ran above, closing the space off from the elements on three sides, while still being open to the view of the forest behind the house. Moving straight ahead to the railing, I leaned my hip against it and stared broodingly out at the trees.

If I was honest, I’d admit I had mixed feelings about the view. It was without a doubt a beautiful vista. A well-maintained yard sloped gently downward to meet the treeline that enclosed it on all side, creating a small meadow of manicured lawn in the otherwise untouched wilderness. Due to the decline of the yard, the deck I stood on was level with the canopy of the tree line showcasing the stunning view of lush green foliage and vivid blue sky dotted here and there with fleecy white clouds.

The silence of the place was all-encompassing, though not in an uncomfortable or oppressive way. More, it was the absence of artificial noise that was typical in day to day life, so you could simply stop and concentrate on the purity of nature instead. Yeah, it was a picturesque scene.

But it also sent a chill down my spine. Because when I looked at those trees, leaves softly rustling in the warm spring breeze, all I could think was how hard it’d been to run through a forest very similar to the one in front of me. How the fallen sticks and branches had shredded my feet and the playful shadows thrown by the sunlight through the trees became downright menacing when you happened to be running for your life with no idea where you were going.

Gabe came to stand beside me, hip cocked against the railing, watching me as I looked out at the trees.

Sighing, I turned to face him.

“So what now? What exactly is it I’m supposed to do right now? I have no clothes, no money, no memories and nowhere in particular to go.” Wow, after giving that great speech earlier about being in charge of my own destiny and making my own decisions, it was a huge let down to be standing there with no freaking clue what to do. I wanted to get vengeance but had no clue how to even start. It’s hard to be a kick-ass, independent woman when you don’t even own the underwear you were wearing.

I must’ve looked pretty pitiful, either that or Gabe was a rather touchy-feely guy, because he raised his hand and cupped my shoulder in a supportive gesture. Probably figured it was too soon to try for the hug again after my less than warm response only minutes before.

Argh, more conflicting emotions poured through me at the contact and my brain threw its metaphorical hands up in despair. I wanted to both move closer and further away at the same time. I was sending mixed messages everywhere and felt like a power board that had short-circuited, sparking at random intervals. If I was taking Emma as my first name, maybe I should take indecisive as my middle one.

Sick of myself and my roller-coasting emotions, I decided to take back control and do something for me. Sucking in a deep breath, I stepped forward, wrapping my arms around Gabe’s waist and resting my cheek on his chest, letting out a heavy sigh. Blocking out my negative feelings with a force of will, I made a conscious decision to concentrate on enjoying the warm, voluntary contact with another human being.

Gabe hesitated for barely a moment, before wrapping his arms around me and resting his chin on my head. I heard him let out a small sigh of his own, then there was nothing but his heartbeat, strong and steady under my ear and the birds chirping off in the distance.

“There’s no escaping it. This situation sucks big hairy gonads.” Gabe’s sage summation had a snort escaping me at the descriptive, yet accurate outline of the situation.

“You know, for a forensic accountant that’s gotta be pushing, what, thirty?” I leaned back to see the indignant look on his face.

“Hey, I’m twenty-seven I’ll have you know.” Wow, someone was touchy about their age.

“Sorry! Well, for a forensic accountant that’s in his late twenties, are you aware how often you and James sound like teenage boys rather than full-grown men?”

With a pained expression on his face, he gently, but firmly, guided my head back to his chest.

“What can I say, you bring out the pubescent boy in me. By the way, can I expect an end to the accountant jokes any time soon?”

Considering it for a moment, I shook my head, rubbing my cheek against his warm shirt in the process. “I’ll stop making them when they stop being funny. So probably not.”

“Right,” he drawled, clearly not seeing the humor I did. “Anyway, if you don’t mind, I was trying to have a moment?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, not the least bit contrite. The banter between us had made it possible for me to relax in his embrace, but I could muster a fake apology if he needed it.

I felt his sigh in the expanding of his chest, his warm breath on the top of my head as he exhaled. He seemed to be doing that a lot, sighing. I wondered it if it was a normal thing for him, or it was dealing with me that had brought it on? I probably didn’t want to know the answer to that. “Please continue,” I invited.

“Thanks,” he said, his voice drier than a desert before he got serious. “What I’m trying to say here is this; as bad as the situation is, you’re not alone anymore. You’ve got me. You might not understand it, or be ready to hear it, but there’s a connection between you and I. I have a vested interest in not only making you safe but also happy. We’ll get through this together.” He must’ve felt me draw in a breath to speak and figured I was about to argue, because he cut me off before I could even open my mouth.

“Yeah, I know, message received earlier. You’re in control of this quest. Just consider me the Gandalf to your Frodo. The journey’s yours to take, but I’m here with what info I can give you and whatever protection you need.”

With my arms still wrapped around him, I leaned my shoulders back till I could look him in the eyes. “There are so many holes in that analogy; I don’t even know where to start. So I’m just going to leave it alone. But now I know you’re a nerd and a geek, and that I also get that book reference, so all of that combined has definitely lightened my spirit somewhat.”

Gabe’s brow buckled over his eyes as he frowned down at me. “Hey, I’m not a geek or a nerd,” he said defensively.

Pulling my right arm from behind his back, I held up my hand and counted off on my fingers. “Accountant. Can quote Tolkien. Nerd. Geek.”

Forensic accountant. Anything that has forensic in it is automatically cool. And once something’s made into an international blockbuster movie, it moves out of the geeky fantasy realm and straight into the mainstream, so your logic fails on both counts.” At my raised eyebrow, skeptical. He growled his aggravation and closed his eyes with a pained expression, muttering “Why am I even engaging in this argument?”

Chuckling, I settled back against him and studied the trees again. Strangely, standing there against him, being so close and enfolded in his strength, seemed to steady me.

Smiling against his chest, I tightened my arms, just a bit. “What I was going to say before you jumped to conclusions, was that I appreciate that you’re here. I can feel there’s something between us, but I’m so messed up, not just from what happened, but also from the total absence of me because of this amnesia, I don’t know which way is up. I’m not shooting you down, but I think I need to learn who I am before I go too deep with you.” Pulling back again, I looked him in the eye. “Do you get where I’m coming from?”

Looking grave, Gabe nodded his head. “You’re not ready for any deep emotional connections at the moment. I can respect that.” Smiling, I was warmed by his understanding acceptance. Until he spoke again.

“So for now, we’ll just keep it light with wild, sweaty sex then.”

I chuckled and shook my head. “Well, I’m glad you understand then.”

Flashing me a cheeky, charming grin, he murmured, “I’m all about being understanding,” as he lowered his head and took my lips again in another slow, searing kiss. Wow, who knew fireworks were more than just a metaphor when kissing. God this man was sinful, the chemistry between us electric. I couldn’t remember if I’d ever felt this way before, I only knew I had no desire to try this with anyone but Gabe.

“Okay people, break it up, don’t make me get the hose,” called James as he came through the glass door from the kitchen. Gabe and I separated, breathing a little heavily, both turning our heads to glare at the other man. James, who completely ignored our ire, sauntered over to the porch swing and plopped himself down. Laying his arms along the back of the chair, he slouched down, spreading his legs wide in an arrogant, lazy pose that was probably as natural to him as breathing.

“So,” he said after he’d made himself comfortable. “What did I miss?”

“You mean while you were inside having the shit slapped out of you by my sister? None of your business,” came Gabe’s less than friendly reply as he turned to face James. Leaning his butt against the railing, Gabe snaked one arm around my shoulder, pulling me close to his side.

“Hey, we both know who the winner of that battle would be if we ever went head to head, so I give her the illusion of doing damage. It’s a delicate balance that works for us,” James replied smugly.

“Are we talking a fair fight? Or a fight with how things stand now? Doesn’t matter, my money’s still on Laura.” Gabe got credit for sticking up for his sister with that statement, though I’m sure if it’d been Laura present, he would have stood up for his best friend instead. Men were complicated, apparently.

“Not to be conceited or anything,” I said, butting into their teenage antics. “But do you think we can focus on me again? Every time we start to focus on my situation, shit hits the fan. I’m really hoping we can come up with some kind of game plan soon. You know, before those whacked out bastards track me down and take me back to hell.”

“Wow,” James said, looking at Gabe, “I’m guessing someone’s going to be high maintenance.”

Even though he was joking, I retaliated by walking across to stand in front of him. Raising my leg, I bent my knee and sent the sole of my foot flying directly between his legs. Lucky for him, he was sitting far enough back on the bench that my foot connected with wood and not his favorite man bits.

But my new strength, along with the unexpectedness of the attack, meant the seat lurched back at an alarming velocity, tipping the unwitting James onto his ass on the ground, before swinging forward to smack him on the back of the head when he didn’t move out of the way fast enough.

Covering my mouth in shock, and also to cover my laughter, I stared at James where he was sprawled on the deck, as he looked back at me with wide eyes. Gabe’s laughter bordered on hysterical at his friend’s misfortune and I didn’t need my new ultra-sensitive hearing to pick up Laura’s cheering filtering through the kitchen window. Feeling bad, I extended my hand to help him up.

Warily, he reached, accepting my help, but it was more for show, as I barely felt a tug on my arm as he pulled himself off the ground.

Still looking a bit wary, James cautiously nodded his head. “Okay, okay, I get it. No more taunting the mutant until we know your powers.” As soon as those words left his mouth, James winced. “Shit, I’m sorry, being a smartass is so ingrained I swear I can’t control it sometimes.”

Finally managing to contain his laughter at his friend’s misfortune, Gabe stepped up behind me. “Try,” he ordered sharply. For the first time since I’d met him, James acted like something other than a carefree, easy going jerk.

With his eyes respectfully lowered, he nodded his head. “Absolutely,” he said seriously.

At Gabe’s hand on my shoulder, I turned to see his grin. His, “Nice going champ,” had me rolling my eyes.

“Oh, stow it. See, this is exactly what I’m talking about,” I said, gesturing to James and the porch swing that still swayed gently. “Forget not knowing my own name, apparently I don’t know my own strength. This does not bode well for me going out in public. What if I do something wolfy? In one day I could be responsible for bringing down thousands of years of secrecy.”

Gabe’s expression told me clearly he thought I was being a dramatic. “Well, there’s a simple solution to that. I was going to suggest something similar anyway, but we can roll it into one.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Is telepathy is some superpower that you guys have and I missed? Cause if not, you’re gonna have to open your mouth and share those plans, Gabe, because I’m not following.”

“Training, right?” At James question I glanced between the two men, still waiting for one of them to give me an explanation.

“What’s the first thing you do when you get a new tool?” James asked.

“Read the instruction manual?”

He snorted, “Not if you’re a guy. No, you learn how to use it. Like it or not, you have tools, weapons, at your disposal, but before they become useful, you gotta learn how to use them. We do something similar when the teenagers change for the first time; we take them out and teach them how to control their new wolf body. With you, we’re going to find out what you’re capable of as you learn to control your new abilities, which means practicing.”

“And self-defense,” Gabe added. “The weapons you now have are only going to work if you can defend yourself long enough to get in an effective strike. It’s not going to be easy, or fun, but it’ll be worth it.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, nodding. It wasn’t going to be fun, and I really wasn’t looking forward to it. Still, it was a necessary evil I’d endure if it gave me a chance track those bastards down and make them pay for what they did to me. So I’d suck it up and do what needed to be done. “It’s definitely the path to take, for now. I’ll need all the training I can get, if for nothing else than the control. So I’ll give it my best effort, but there are no guarantees that I won’t bitch the entire time. I’m giving you fair warning now. Just because I know it has to be done, doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.”

“Well then, because James has been such a dick-weed lately, and he’s also hands down the most annoying SOB we can find, he’s going to be the one training you. If anyone deserves a few accidental scratches, it’s definitely you, my man.” With that, Gabe slapped James on the shoulder and grinned good-naturedly.

James, for once, had no smart comeback, though it did look like he’d paled, just a little. It was about time someone was intimidated by my new abilities. That’s right, tremble before the mighty wrath of my soft and furry fingers. Huh, just didn’t have the scare-factor somehow.

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