Heartglow

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Chapter 2

Valaria was fuming inside. Who did he think he was? God’s gift to every woman on this planet? Oh, look ladies, look how sexy I am, I bet you want to touch my sexy butt…

Veronica joined her at their table but didn’t sit down, “Holy Vee, what happened? You look like you could kill!”

Valaria tried to breathe deeply as she answered, “Just grab our glasses, we’re sitting back in the corner.”

Ronnie did as she was told and followed her friend back into the near darkness. When they were both seated with fresh drinks, she asked again, “What happened Vee? I take it he isn’t Mr. Right?”

Valaria was spitting nails, “He’s an asshole.”

Ronnie looked back towards the man sitting quietly on the stool, not seeing what her best friend saw, “Are you sure? I mean you sort of have a chip on your shoulder…”

“Yes, I’m sure,” she replied as she took another long drink, not stopping until the glass was empty. Finally, the soothing effect of the liquor was calming her down enough to talk reasonably to her friend, “He’s married Ron, he’s just here to pick up someone for the night. He’s a first-class loser.”

She felt bad as Veronica’s face fell in disappointment, “Shoot, I thought he might be one of the good ones. It figures that someone like that would already be married. I just can’t imagine his wife just letting him loose. If I had a man like that, he would be way too tired to go looking for some bit on the side.”

Valaria closed her eyes briefly, feeling her heart finally slowing to a regular beat.

Go back and talk to him…

Her eyes flew open as her inner voice piped up. Where was she when she was talking to him before? She was supposed to warn her of any danger…

No danger…talk to him again…

Valaria filled her glass as she growled, “Over my dead body…”

“What did you say?” Veronica was looking at her strangely.

Valaria shook her head, “Nothing at all. Why don’t we leave? I can take you somewhere where you might actually meet someone nice and…normal.”

Veronica laughed, “No, that’s okay, let’s just have our drinks and you can tell me what we’re celebrating.”

Valaria was thankful for the distraction, somehow, she just knew he was staring at her from the mirror above him. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of her looking. Instead, she reached into her purse and extracted an envelope and slid it across the small table.

Her friend scooped it up and opened it, looking at the nice spread of bills, “Wow, Vee, how much is here?”

Vee smiled, “Almost four grand. You can add it to the rest.”

Veronica whistled low, “Wow, I can’t believe you made that much! That guy you fence to doesn’t usually give you anywhere near what things are worth.”

Ever since Veronica and her had been on their own and dreamed their big dreams, the only way to find the money was relieving the rich of a few of their many baubles they kept in their mansions. Valaria never had a problem to justify being a modern-day Robin Hood. She learned very quickly that the rich usually had so much gold and diamonds lying around, they wouldn’t miss a piece or two. She was always careful to take things that likely wouldn’t be missed or thought lost. And she always gave part of her take to various group homes and agencies to help children that were like her.

Veronica had always called her a little cat burglar because she was so quiet on her feet, just like a cat. She didn’t know about Valaria’s little voice that always warned her if trouble was coming. She looked towards the bar, except it missed this one…

“So, what made him so generous…”

“I took it to Jimmy Two Shoes this time, it had some pretty big diamonds,” she replied as she glanced again at the man at the bar, still not daring to look up.

“You mean that dwarf with the one leg?” her friend broke in.

Valaria nodded as she watched Ronnie put it into her purse, “Yeah, he knows how to make them disappear and he pays better too.”

Veronica giggled as she took another drink from her glass, “Vee, how do you find these people?”

Vee emptied her own glass and topped up her friends. She wasn’t going to drink anymore tonight, she had the feeling she was going to need her senses about her. What were the odds that he was going to actually mind his own business?

“Hello, Earth to Vee, come in Vee.”

Valaria brought her gaze back to the table, “What?”

“I asked you how do you find these people? And why is he called Two Shoes if he only has one leg?”

Valaria sighed knowing her friend was feeling a whole lot happier now. She smiled, “I think when he buys shoes, he stockpiles the odd ones because he can’t bear to throw them out. Maybe he is waiting to meet someone with the opposite leg.”

They both broke out laughing, feeling the earlier tension slip away. Vee had to admit, it felt good to laugh, so much like old times. They had spent so many nights here talking about what they would do if they were rich. Where they would live…dreams that now were almost within reach…

“I’m going to get one more pitcher, okay Vee?” Ronnie stood up shakily.

Valarie rose, “No, that’s okay, why don’t we go?”

Veronica held the empty pitcher, “Are you coming home tonight?”

Vee had a room with Veronica, but she also kept a small place deep within the bowels of this side of the city. It wasn’t much, not that she needed much, but it gave her privacy when she needed it and a place to hide if she thought her midnight escapades might come back to haunt her. She would never bring anything down on Ronnie. She didn’t need that trouble…

She shook her head, “Not tonight, Ron, not until I make sure that stuff tonight doesn’t cause us any problems.”

Veronica hesitated and then sighed, “Ok, I understand, but can we have just one more? I mean, you usually never drink with me and it’s nice to see you laugh sometimes.”

How could she refuse her? She got up, “Okay, I’ll get it.”

Ronnie flagged her down, “No, no, you got this one, so now it’s my turn. I’ll only be a minute,” then she added, “and I promise not to talk to strangers.”

Suddenly the beer she had drunk came back to remind her that what goes in must come out, but she really didn’t want to leave Ronnie alone with that man still hanging around. But she really had to go to the bathroom…

She got up, “Okay, I’m going to the bathroom, you get the beer and come straight back to the table.”

She watched her friend nod a little sideways, “I will don’t worry…I know the rules…stranger danger, stranger danger…”

Valaria smiled again and couldn’t put it off, besides it would only take a minute. She would probably be back before Veronica could even make it to the bar…

~*~

Kaden watched as a figure in the dark made its way across the room towards the bathroom. He knew instantly it was Vee. Her smell wafted on the breeze she left behind, reminding him of the state he was in, the itch that still hadn’t been scratched.

Next to him came another voice, “Mack, fill it up one more time!” Hands began to fumble in a purse and Kaden took the opportunity to throw a twenty on the bar.

“No, no, I can pay for it. I can’t take your money,” the blond was adamant.

Kaden asked, “Why not? Did your friend tell you not to?”

The blond began to think, “Ummm, no, not really.”

Kaden pressed, “Well I guess it’s okay then.”

Kaden heard her mutter under her breath, “Stranger danger, stranger danger…”

He smiled and held out his hand, “I’m Kaden O’Connor, and your name is?”

He was hit with a smile that was warm and genuine as opposite as her black-haired friend was.

“My name is Veronica, but you probably already know that,” she stuttered a little.

He flashed her his best smile, “Yes, I do, I just didn’t understand how come you didn’t talk to me after you started to wave me over.”

Veronica looked towards the bathroom and leaned towards him to whisper loudly, “Vee thinks you’re an asshole.”

Kaden couldn’t help but chuckle as he took another mouthful of his whiskey, “And why is that?”

The little blond narrowed her eyes, “She said you’re married and are just looking for a little fun on the side.”

So, she stuck to the script she wrote…

Kaden raised his left hand, “Not married.”

His naked fingers caused a pause in the girl. He could see she was contemplating what she was told. She glanced quickly towards where her friend disappeared.

“Any other questions?” he was hoping to get to Vee through Veronica. Maybe if he could make himself look meek and mild…no, he’d never looked like that…ever…

“So, why are you here? I mean, no man that looks like you comes into a place like this,” she reasoned while her eyes shifted again to the bathroom at the back.

Kaden turned to follow her gaze and then answered her question with a question, “Are you sure you are allowed to talk to me?”

He was rewarded with a definite pursing of the lips, “I can talk to whoever I want.”

“Are you sure? I mean I would hate to see your friend disown you for a little conversation,” he reasoned right back.

She met his gaze, “Vee would never do that…ever.”

He was impressed by her steadfastness in her belief in the honor of her friend. It told him a lot about her comrade in arms.

He didn’t know how long he had before the spitfire returned and he was sure Veronica would want to be back at the table before she came out. She might be sure she wouldn’t be disowned but she would probably get pulled out of here very quickly.

He had to keep her here a little longer…the more he discovered, the easier it would be to figure out how he was going to get Vee to return with him, “You know, she told me she could kick my ass.” He allowed a small smirk to accompany those words.

Veronica didn’t even crack a smile, which said a lot. She looked at him very seriously and responded, “Yes, she can. She’s brought bigger men than you to their knees.”

His smile wavered…she wasn’t serious, was she?

~*~

Valaria wasn’t one to waste time in the bathroom, but in her haste, she didn’t realize there was no paper in the stall until she was finished. She looked under each stall next to her, hoping there was a stray square she could scoop up, not her preferred method, but she had to get back out there before Veronica did something crazy, like invite the stranger over to their table for a drink.

We would like that…

“No, we wouldn’t,” she spoke under her breath while she tried to come up with some inventive ways to dry oneself with no paper. Maybe if she just shook her hips it would shake off any excess liquid…

Her hips tried to shimmy awkwardly on the seat…

Nope…

“Holy hell,” she swore again. Maybe with any luck, Veronica would need to go and wander in to help her out of her predicament. In her mind, she saw Ronnie going to the bar to get the refill…

Wouldn’t she wonder why she hadn’t come out yet?

She thought again of the black-haired Adonis sitting on the stool…

She wouldn’t be talking to him after what she said about him…would she?

“Ah hell,” He was probably worming himself into her good graces right now while she was stuck here waiting for her hair to dry…

“Fuck it,” Valaria grabbed the empty toilet paper roll, flattened it and wiped herself. She threw it on the floor long enough to pull up her pants and then grabbed the roll off the floor. Quickly she opened the stall and threw the cardboard into the waste bin before scrubbing her hands and arms to make sure she had washed everything off.

Valaria cursed under her breath again and grabbed the handle to pull the door open. Her eyes immediately gravitated to the bar and of course, there Veronica was, raptly listening to whatever the stranger was saying.

Why couldn’t she listen, just once? All she had to do was get another refill, which Valaria could see was growing warm on the bar.

We should talk to him…

“No,” she whispered to herself, “that man is bad news.”

He is like us…

“He’s nothing like us,” she murmured to herself, before realizing she was talking with herself instead of trying to extricate her friend from that man.

She shook her head, trying to clear it, before slipping quietly by the tables to get to the bar. She caught their conversation as she neared.

“And I said, no, thanks, it looks like a burnt boot!” and they both laughed like old friends.

Valaria was steaming. How dare he laugh with Veronica? That was her friend! No, no, he wasn’t going to weasel his way into their twosome…

She plastered a fake smile on and casually slipped in between them, totally ignoring the brute behind her, “Hey Ronnie, why don’t we go sit down and enjoy that beer before it gets warm?”

Veronica hesitated before realizing her friend had arrived. Then she laughed, “Hey Vee, this is Kaden O’Connor, he’s from Ireland and he’s not married!”

Valaria bit her lip. Should she acknowledge him?

“Kaden, this is my friend…”

Valaria twisted quickly around and finished, “Vee, and we’re going to sit down now…”

“Great, I’ll get us another drink and I’ll join you,” the man interjected.

“Hey, yeah, come join us, that would be awesome!” Veronica added with a smile, totally missing the glare coming from her friend.

Yeah, he’s sitting next to us…

“Over my dead body,” Valaria muttered, trying to figure out how to get out of this without drawing any more attention to them.

Veronica grabbed her pitcher and sloshed it as she pointed to their darkened corner, “We’ll be right over there!”

Valaria grabbed Ronnie and hugged her close, trying to whisper loudly as she pulled her to their corner, “What do you think you’re doing Ron? I told you to get us one more pitcher and whatever you do, don’t talk to him!”

Veronica stopped, “I wasn’t going to, but he started it.”

Valaria pulled her down onto a seat and helped the pitcher make it to the table, “Listen, I think we should leave before he comes over.”

Why?!

“Why?” Veronica echoed the voice inside Vee.

Valaria glanced towards the bar and saw a new pitcher of beer and another glass of whiskey being poured. She leaned in close to her friend, “Ron, we don’t know who he is…”

“Well he’s not married,” Ronnie broke in.

“Yes, okay, he’s not married…”

“But you told me he was married,” Veronica reasoned.

Valaria closed her eyes momentarily trying to focus, “Tell me, Ronnie, what single man who looks like that would be coming to a dive like this?”

She watched a look of confusion cross her friend’s face, “Well, he is from Ireland…”

Vee glanced again at the man and saw him give money to the bartender and grab the beer and his own drink.

“Great, so he could be a part of the Irish mob,” Valaria had to get them out of there.

“The mob?!” Veronica’s eyes widened, “O-M-G! Do you think so?”

Her voice was louder than Valaria wanted, but she had to come up with something, “Who knows? Or he could be an undercover cop, I mean look at him, Ron,” she nudged her head in the direction of the man who was coming to join them, “He doesn’t fit in here, he’s not one of us.”

“Ladies, here you are,” the man placed the drinks on the table and pulled up a chair across from them, “It’s really nice not to have to drink alone.”

Valaria watched his big frame fold itself neatly into the wooden chair. She was impressed that the chair could hold his weight.

She warily watched him smile at Veronica before turning his eyes to her. Her heart thumped wildly as his eyes dropped to her lips.

We want him…

Valaria’s mouth went dry. Her voice had never said anything like that before…

“Would you like me to pour you a drink?” his voice was velvet as it slid into her ears.

Before Valaria could stop him, he had refilled both glasses sitting on the table. She watched her friend grab one and salute before downing half of it in one breath.

Valaria opened her mouth…

“So, Vee, is that short for something?” his words caressed her ear before sliding down her stomach to a place deep inside her body.

She shook her head, “No, just Vee.” She felt like she was being hypnotized by the sound from his throat…the throat nestled inside the collar of his shirt…

She watched it move as he talked, “Do you have a last name, Vee?”

Valaria broke the hold over her, “Nope, just Vee,” she wanted to trip him up, just to prove he was not who he said he was, “so say something Irish”

The smile he bestowed on her made her legs turn to jelly as he held her gaze and spoke deeply, “Ba mhaith liom teagmháil a dhéanamh leat nuair a dhónn tú.”

Valaria’s nose flared as she caught his heated scent. She wanted to ignore what he said, sure that she wouldn’t want to know, but she couldn’t resist, “And what does that mean?”

Before she could move out of reach, his hand wrapped itself around her naked wrist and he hauled her towards him until her face was next to him as he whispered, “I want to touch you where you burn.”

Her mouth went dry as she felt dampness between her legs. She felt the brush of his beard against her smooth cheek, knew if she turned her head, her lips would be captured…she would be captured…

“You can’t hide from me, little preshift.”

For the first time in a long time, she was afraid, not of him, but of herself. The inner voice inside that should be screaming for her to get away was now rubbing itself along her back and deep within. Who the hell was he? And what did he call her?

“Hey guys?” a voice broke between them and they both turned to look at the other person at the table.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Veronica teetered on her chair.

Valaria uncharitably was glad that her friend had drunk way over her limit. She needed to get out of there. She felt like she couldn’t breathe…like she was drowning and couldn’t get to the surface…

Vee jumped away, yanking her arm loose as she moved to her friend, “It’s okay Ron, I’ll get you home,” she began to put her friends’ arms into her jacket.

“Let me help you,” large hands reached towards them.

Valaria glanced up quickly and shook her head, “No, we’re fine!”

“Let me…”

“No, thank you, I’ve got this,” Vee grabbed her own coat and wrapped herself deep inside. She needed far away from this man. Something wasn’t right here, he talked like he knew her. How could he? She would have remembered meeting someone like that.

She grabbed her friend as she swayed, “Come on Ron, let’s get you home,” ignoring the man standing there…maybe he would finally take the hint.

“But Vee, I don’t feel very good, can you please stay with me tonight?” her friend swayed back towards her.

Valaria wrapped her arms around her, grabbing her friend’s purse that contained their dream cash, and started towards the door. She felt him following and hoped that he would just return to the bar. She just wanted to get her friend home without any more drama. This night did not go according to plan, but with luck, what started out as a strange encounter would just fizzle out and she would be back on track. Valaria didn’t like surprises, she liked to plan everything.

In the cool night air, she looked up and down the block for a taxi. Sometimes it was hard to find one when you needed one…and she needed one now…badly.

She heard a piercing whistle behind her and out of the darkness, a yellow cab pulled up to the curb. Should she just ignore him and take it? Maybe it was meant for him…

“Here,” she saw him step around her to take the wobbling burden that was her friend and scooped her up.

“Wow, I’ve never been swept off my feet like this before,” Veronica wrapped her arms around her saviors’ neck.

A deep growl resounded inside Vee. She stood still as she tried to understand what was going on with her sixth sense…was it finally acknowledging danger now that the stranger had picked her friend up and was carrying her towards the waiting cab?

Well, better late than never…

He is ours…

Valaria broke her trance and moved quickly to open the door of the taxi so the beast could put her in.

Beast? Now, why did that idea come into her mind?

He is ours…

Vee muttered under her breath as her friend was put inside, “I don’t think so.”

She watched the man straighten, “Where are you going?”

Vee quirked an eyebrow, did he really think she was going to tell him?

Well, he had another think coming as she smiled, “We are all good, thanks, I will tell the driver when we are on our way.”

He was still standing in front of the open door, preventing her from getting in. Now, what was his game?

“Vee? I am going to be sick!” her friend called out to her.

Vee looked up at the stranger, “That’s my cue, sunshine, I don’t think the driver would like to be cleaning up puke tonight.”

She thought he was going to call her bluff but suddenly he stepped out of the way.

~*~

Kaden stood to the side fighting against a nature that demanded a claim to this woman. Her smell had smothered him until he felt he couldn’t breathe. He was thankful that his own coat offered some concealment to the bulge in his pants. He had been hiding his arousal since she walked into the bar and his life.

He had hoped that maybe her drunken friend might have provided an address before the woman could stop her, but no such luck. And he couldn’t just block her way until she relented. He also didn’t think the driver would appreciate a mess to clean up either.

And if she thought she was going to just drive out of his life…that wasn’t going to happen…there was no way he was going to let Cassidy’s sister disappear…

She is ours…

His cat growled as he watched the door close. He ground his teeth as Vee smiled widely and waved her hand. He could see the satisfaction in her face as they left the curb.

Kaden smiled too as his eyes searched the darkness and then whistled for another ride. He was still smiling as he sat down in the backseat and said to the driver, “Drive.”

~*~

Valaria gave instructions for her driver to take the scenic route around the city as she continued to glance out the back window to make sure they weren’t being followed. Veronica was now resting against her, snoring like a sounder of swine, oblivious to her late-night (early morning?) ride through the back alleys of the city.

After twenty minutes of meandering around in loose circles, she was satisfied that their mystery man was well and truly gone. Her heart felt strangely heavier at the thought she would never see him again.

She gave the driver the address for Veronica’s flat and settled down in the seat. She thought back to her inner self actually growling as she watched the man, Kaden, pick up her friend and watched her friends’ arms encircle his neck. What was up with that? Why would she care?

He is ours…

Valaria blew her breath out quietly, “Yeah, well not anymore…”

Her stomach clenched hard and Valaria found herself holding her next breath as pain ripped through her insides again. She bit her lip as she tensed inside, trying to stop the monster trying to get out. And it did feel like a monster, one with claws and teeth…

Soon…

She heard the single word echo through her and for the first time she actually started to worry about her inner self…was her personality trying to split? What the hell was going on?

Luckily, the pain subsided shortly, and she could breathe again. Unfortunately, with the path that she had chosen, going to a hospital was out of the question. She simply didn’t exist. She didn’t have insurance, she didn’t pay taxes and she had never worked a real job in her life. She had liked the idea of simply vanishing and leaving no trace anywhere. Veronica had all that necessary paperwork that allowed them to save the money she made until they could realize their dream of a ranch out in some backwoods far away from anyone. And she meant it when she said that they could raise some children who had no one…like they had been…

Valaria glanced out the window as Veronica’s flat came into view. She roused her sleepy friend as she paid the driver and stepped out onto the sidewalk. She quickly looked up and down the street looking for any car that shouldn’t have been there.

Veronica groaned as she swung her feet to the pavement, “Can you help me, Vee? I am so tired.”

Vee pulled her out of the cab and shut the door, “Come on Sleeping Beauty, let’s get you home.”

She pulled her in the building door and made her way to the elevator, “Just a little more Ron, don’t fall asleep yet.”

She hauled her in and hit the button for the fifth floor, “Gee Ron, I didn’t think you had that much to drink.”

Veronica raised her head sleepily, “Well, I might have had a couple of shots before I went to the bar.”

Vee nodded her head, “That explains that.”

The door opened and they both staggered down the hall. Vee fished out her key and let them in. She kicked the door closed as they came into the livingroom. Sure enough, a bottle of vodka and a shot glass was sitting on the coffee table. Vee rolled her eyes as she helped her friend into the one bedroom. She let her fall gently onto the bed and bent to slip off her shoes.

“Vee?” her friend whispered from the bed.

Valaria shook her head, “What Ronnie?”

“That man was gorgeous, wasn’t he?”

Vee turned away and went to the window to check the dark street, “Yeah, he was.”

“We’re not going to see him again, are we?”

Valaria shook her head as she glanced up and down the deserted road, “No we’re not.”

~*~

Down below deep in the dark shadows, Kaden saw his prey stare down at the vacant street. He stared at her, knowing she couldn’t see him. He watched her glance up and down the darkened street and smiled to himself.

Now that he knew where she lived, things were going to get a lot easier…

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