The start of the day was never a good time for Miranda Capellarius. The were-panther hated waking up. She hated the task of having to start a new day. It just never seems to stop though. Every sunset equaled a new sunrise in a few hours, less and less time between it seemed. Miranda just was not a morning person, and it showed in every move she made. It was in the attitude she portrayed.
She climbed out of the bed, and stretched. She grabbed the fluffy, girly robe off of the chair beside the bed, and wrapped it around herself. She hated living in Colorado. The damn temperatures would fluctuate like mad. She wished she was somewhere else, somewhere where it was always warm.
She quickly jogged to the bathroom, and started the shower. She turned on the stereo. She was in the mood for something soft and romantic, so she popped in the Titanic soundtrack. She loved the movie, and even years later, still loved to listen to the music, and remember the feelings that time brought back.
She quickly showered while singing along to Celine Dion. She was so glad that she didn’t live with anyone else. Her voice, in her opinion, was scary. It, without her were-powers, could scare anyone away. As an Arcadian were-panther, she possessed a human heart, with human emotions. It hurt when someone ran away from her, especially if it was only because of her singing.
While she quickly plugged in her blow-dryer, to blow her silky black hair, she looked in the mirror, gazing into her own bright, blue eyes. She hated looking at herself. Hated seeing her own face, knowing there was an identical face that could no longer see, no longer look at her own reflection.
The sadness at the loss of her twin, identical twin, seeped into Miranda’s eyes. This was the reason she hated mornings. Every day she saw her face, and was immediately reminded of her sister, Melinda, who died when her mate died. Why did she have to bond with him, the whole shebang? What was the point? She left behind two beautiful boys, two amazing little men who were struggling now to make it on their own, because they refused to accept help from anyone else. They were so like their mother in that way. Melinda was completely the same way. Well, she had been, until the bastard that took her away came into her life.
Miranda shook her head. Leo wasn’t the one who took away Melinda. Melinda had made that choice willingly. She had found her mate, and she wanted to have babies. Babies had mattered so much to Melinda. More than anything, she wanted to find her mate, and pop out babies. That had been all she’d ever wanted.
Miranda was different. She never wanted to find her mate. She never wanted to be tied down by a male, a mate, anything. She didn’t want to have to deal with someone demanding to know where she is, and what she’s doing. Life was too short for that, even for a were-panther.
After she finished her hair, she dressed quickly. She pulled on a pair of hip-hugging, boot cut jeans that showed off her amazing figure. She slipped into a pale pink cashmere sweater that was both warm and comfortable. She slid her feet into a pair of sexy three-inch-heeled boots, and headed towards the kitchen. Today was her early shift at Youngblood, a bar and grill that was meant to be a sanctuary for all types, be it were, dark-hunter, Apollite or Daimon.
She shuddered at the thought of Daimons. Because of them her nephews had no parents. Because of them, her sister was no longer alive. Because of them, she was forced to put on a happy face, like nothing was wrong, every day. She hated Daimons. She almost wished that her were-in-law, or whatever he was technically called had called out to Artemis. Maybe as a Were-Dark-Hunter, her sister would have survived. She shook her head. No, no matter how much she had hated Leo, she would never wish that existence on anyone.
She opened up a cabinet and grabbed a bowl. Pulling open a drawer, she grabbed a spoon. She poured some sugared cereal into a bowl, along with some milk. She picked up the bowl and spoon, and brought it to the table. She sat down and ate her breakfast. It wasn’t really even a breakfast for her. It was an early morning snack until she got to Youngblood, and got a real breakfast.
She quickly rinsed out the bowl and headed towards the garage. She climbed into her brand new Chevy Tahoe, her one big “splurge”, fully loaded. She hated the way the non-domestic vehicles looked, and wanted something, while not exactly full-efficient, it at least was a hybrid. Plus, it had plenty of space, and she hated being closed in. It freaked her all out being closed into anything.
She drove to the bar, and quickly parked. A quick glance to the watch on her wrist told her that she had fifteen minutes to have everything set and still eat. She growled slightly. Figures! She finally got up on time, and still had no time to eat. That’s what she got for eating before she left.
She walked in the door and was greeted by the pungent smells of cooking food, animal musk, and cleaning supplies. She grinned broadly as she looked around. Several weres were sitting at a table, eating huge plates of eggs and meats. She could smell the aroma from the door, and heard her stomach growl.
Beside her, she heard a laugh, and she jumped with a start. She looked over and saw Damien, the were-panther, and brother of Leo. She smiled at him. “What’s so funny, panther?” she asked him.
“Surely you don’t mean me? Laugh? I don’t think so.” He winked at her. “Okay, mostly I was just chuckling at the fact that the whole place probably heard that stomach of yours.”
Miranda stuck her tongue out at the panther. “Oh, bite my bum,” she told him good-naturedly.
He chuckled at that. “Just tell me when and where, and I’ll make sure I accommodate you,” he told her, with a sexy gleam in his eye.
Miranda shook her head at him. She never took him seriously when he was in this type of mood. While she found the panther attractive, she wasn’t looking for anything. She never once had realized that the panther felt completely different than she did.
Damien sighed inwardly. Since the loss of his brother, he realized how much family really meant to him, and sadly, it seemed, that Miranda was the only one he wanted in that way. Of course, being her stubborn, pig-headed self, she wanted no relationships, and in that way, adamantly refused to get involved, in anyway, with any guy. Damien resisted the urge to growl at that thought. He knew that they were destined to be mates, but she refused to even find out. She didn’t want to take that chance. He hated the fact that if something did happen, and they were mates, he’d most likely end up as a eunuch pretty much anyway. Fates played an evil hand with weres in this case, when it came to mates and how things worked out. They could be cruel bitches when they wanted to be.
He grinned at her like nothing was on his mind. She was absolutely gorgeous, and easy to look at. She was also easy to talk to, and had a kind heart. He’d never known anyone like her. Her sister, Melinda, had completely turned him off, and had before she’d become his brother’s mate. She had been a total and complete bitch. She’d run around on Leo, which is one of the things that had attributed to his death. Miranda knew nothing about it, though, as far as he knew.
He put his arm around Miranda’s shoulder and gently guided her to the kitchen. Her stomach growl hadn’t been as loud as he’d made it out to be, but he knew she was hungry, and knew that she wouldn’t have much chance to eat, once the lunch rush came through.
“Come on; let’s get some food into that never-ending pit.” That was their running joke. She always seemed to be hungry, and he actually found that pretty sexy about her. Then again, he found most everything about her sexy.
Miranda gently pushed Damien away from her. “Panther, I don’t know what you’re talking about. You eat two to three times what I eat, and yet you have the balls to make fun of me?” She laughed at his face, in which his jaw had dropped at the way she put it.
“Goodness. You’re in a mood this morning aren’t you?” He knew that she got like that when she started thinking of her sister. He wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her close. “Why are you still dwelling on what happened to them? I mean, come on. It was twenty years ago, Miranda.”
Miranda laid her head on Damien well-maintained chest. She heard his heart beating underneath her ear, and it relaxed her. She took a deep breath, inhaling the wonderful masculine scent that was Damien’s, and Damien alone. The smell always calmed her, and relaxed her. She loved the smell of him. “You might be able to just get over their unnecessary deaths, but I can’t. It’s like you don’t even miss them for a moment.” Trust her, she wished she could. Life would be a hell of a lot easier.
Damien kissed the top of her head, and took a deep breath. “I miss the hell out of my brother. I’ve just gotten better at dealing with the loss.” He squeezed her gently and rubbed her back, hoping to release some of the tension. “You need to find some sort of release, Mir. This isn’t healthy. Nearly everyday you come in with this same look, the look of defeat and despair. Come on, kiddo, there are still good things in life.”
Miranda shoved him away, hard. “You didn’t just call me ‘Kiddo’ again, did you?” she growled, warningly. That nickname always pissed her off. She hated when he called her that. He’d always treated her like she was some fucking cub, someone who needed guidance. “Damn it, Damien, I’m an adult, and I can take care of myself. Would you stop, just for once in your damn life, just stop, treating and calling me a damn child?” She spun on her heel and stormed off towards the rest of the waitresses.
“Sure have your work cut out for you, don’t you,” a voice said in Damien’s ear. He looked quickly to the left and saw Eamon Joline, the Irish were-Raven.
“Fuck off, Raven,” Damien told him. He wasn’t in the mood to get razzed by the weres who called Youngblood their home.
“Easy, Damien,” Eamon told him. “I wasn’t trying to push your buttons, just stating a fact.” The raven grinned. “She’s an amazing girl, and if I wasn’t already mated,” he said, as he looked at the intricate design on his hand, the mark signifying that he had finally found his match, chosen by the Fates, “she’d be one I’d like to check out.”
Eamon ducked the fist that shot out at him, and chuckled. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He put him hands in false surrender. “Dude, I was kidding, but good to know that she’s got someone who’ll watch her back, someone that actually cares for her. She deserves that.” He did a mock salute to Damien, and went back on his way.
Damien cocked an eyebrow at the raven’s attitude, wondering what he’d meant by that. He shook his head and continued on his way, though still thinking on what had been said.
Did the raven mean that someone had attempted to use Miranda in some way, or did he mean it some other way or form?
Since he wasn’t paying attention to where he was going, he ran with a loud SMACK into Miranda.
“Damn it, Panther. Would you get off of my ass?” she growled at him.
He jumped when he realized that his hand actually was on her delectable and firm rear, and slowly slid his hand around it, before removing it, slowly. “Whatever you say, sweet cheeks,” he said with a saucy grin. “Claim all you want, but I know you enjoyed it.” He could smell the slight hint of arousal coming from her.
“Oh, and what makes you think it’s because of you, Panther?” She was lying, and she knew that he knew.
He proved it by grabbing her shoulders and putting his lips on hers. Miranda melted into the kiss, letting the feelings sweep into her. She tunneled her hands into his hair, and held on tight. She pulled him closer, wanting more, needing more, and craving more. She felt like she couldn’t get enough. There just wasn’t enough, almost like there would never be enough.
She heard someone clear his or her throat, and pulled away. Slowly, as if in a daze, she looked towards the sound. Who she saw caused her to pull back quickly, and nearly fall to the ground. Damien’s arms around her was all that kept her from landing promptly on her buttocks. She gently pushes his hands away, wishing she didn’t have to deal with the situation that just cropped up on her, totally unawares. She stepped away from Damien and faced the throat-clearer. She hated being in uncomfortable situations and this situation couldn’t get more uncomfortable than it was now.
She took a deep breath. “Ryan.” She longed to reach out and give her youngest nephew a hug, but knew, in her heart, that it would be rejected. Ryan, and his brother Richard, blamed her, for absolutely no reason, for his parents’ death. She could never understand why she was blamed. She didn’t force, nor even encourage Melinda or Leo to do anything that they did that lead to their unfortunate and untimely deaths.
“Aunt Miranda,” he sneered. He looked her up and down, as if she wasn’t worth even breathing the same air as him.
She squeezed her hands together in tight fists. She refused to look away, and stared him in the eyes. She felt Damien keeping himself from attacking his nephew, but she held him back. Let me handle this, please, she told him telepathically.
“What do you want, Ryan?” Miranda just wasn’t in the mood to deal with whatever Ryan and his brother felt like dishing out. She looked around at the thought of Ryan’s brother. “And where’s your brother? Aren’t you two usually attached at the hip or something?”
Ryan just rolled his eyes at her. “Wow. I’m surprised you’d even notice. You never gave a damn about either one of us before.” To make the intended, even if unfounded, dig deeper, he added, sarcasm dripping from ever syllable, “You always have been more for personal pleasure than worrying over your family.” He gave Damien a disgusted look and folded his arms. It was obviously intended to make him look confident, but he looked more like a scared little boy, in which he was little more than.
“Oh, come off of it, Ryan. You and your brother pushed me away, not the other way around. I did everything in my power to try and get you two to come and stay with me, but you two refused. Now it’s my turn to refuse. I refuse to let you talk to me like I’m beneath you, like I’m some piece of trash. You’re lucky to be alive, you dumb fuck. You and your brother both tried to go after the Daimons that killed your father. What would have actually come out of that, instead of your intended revenge? I would have just had two more people in my family gone.”
Ryan scoffed. “Whatever. You’re not worth even getting into right now.”
“If that’s true, then why the hell did you bother me? Is it just part of your normal routine to dig into the only family who actually gave a damn about you?”
Ryan didn’t answer. He just spun on his heel and walked away. Miranda’s shoulders slumped sadly as she watched him walk away. She had no idea why her nephews hated her so much. It drove her mad trying to figure out why.
Damien reached out and put his hands on Miranda’s shoulders. He rubbed gently, helping to ease the tension out of her shoulders. “Don’t worry about Ryan and Richard right now. They’re still reeling from the loss of their parents, and are looking for any excuse they can to make someone hurt as much as they are. They just deem you as an easy target because you’re already hurting as it is.”
Miranda leaned slightly into Damien’s chest. She took the support he was so freely offering. “Why they continually feel the need to dig into me, I’ll never understand. I’ve done everything I can to make their lives easier and happier, even before Leo and Melinda’s deaths. What more can I do?”
“There’s nothing you really can do. Those two are so warped and twisted, courtesy of my asshole brother, no resting of his soul. That male, because I can’t come to calling him a man, always made everything and everyone out like it or they were out to get him. He never took responsibility for himself. And, I’m sorry, but Melinda wasn’t much better. She walked all over Leo, constantly, not that he didn’t let her get away with it.”
Miranda pulled away from him and twisted around to face him. “My sister did not walk all over Leo,” she stared, in defense of her sister. While she knew her sister wasn’t innocent in all things, she refused to believe that she’d walk over anyone, not realizing that Melinda had, in fact, walked right over her own sister many times.
Damien grabbed her shoulders and held her still, gently, but firmly. “Your sister walked over everyone, including you. You just refused to see it. You saw what you wanted to see.” Damien seriously didn’t want to have to go into the bitch that her sister was, but it was starting to look like he wasn’t going to have a choice in the matter. “Your sister’s main goal in life seemed to be to make everyone and anyone miserable. The way those boys treat you is identical to how she treated you. You just refuse to see it.”
Miranda tried to pull back, and violently shook her head. No, it wasn’t true. Her sister loved her, and never treated her badly. She had had moody days, yes, but never did she intentionally hurt her. She just refused to believe it. It had to be lies. It just had to.
“No, Miranda, I’m not lying, and you know it, no matter how hard you try to ignore it or deny it.” He gently stroked her silky, gorgeous, black hair as he tried in vain to comfort her, show her that he understood why she had to deny it, why she had to refuse to believe it could even possibly be true.
“Let go of me, you bastard! It wasn’t like that.” She shoved away from him, and stormed off towards the bathroom.
She slammed open the door to the ladies room. She stormed in, breathing erratically, and closed it quickly. She slipped the lock, and leaned her back against the door. Slowly, ever so slowly, she slid down the door, until her butt landed on the ground. Then she curled her legs to her chest, and wrapped her arms around her knees.
Damien knocked on the door of the bathroom. “Miranda, are you in there? Are you okay?”
“Go away,” she called to him. “Just leave me alone. I need to be alone right now. Please. For the love of god, just leave me alone!”
“If that’s what you want, Miranda, that’s what I’ll do. I won’t be far away, though, so please, if you need me, please holler for me.”
Miranda heard Damien’s footfalls as he walked away. She dropped her chin to her knees, and let out a shaky breath. She felt the tears on her cheeks as they started to fall, and pushed them away, hurriedly. The time for tears was not at hand, and had long since past.
She took a deep breath, and slowly stood up, balancing herself with her hands on the floor, and then the door. She walked over to the several sinks, and quickly washed her hands. She knew who and what walked on those floors. She might not get sick easily, courtesy of being were, but others could. Plus, it was just nasty and gross.
After drying her hands, she walked to the door and unlocked it. With a quick breath, she opened it and walked out of the bathroom. She smiled, and sagged a little in relief when she saw her friend, Kelsey Macintire standing guard, and waiting for her to come out.
Kelsey was decked out into her normal garb. She was wearing a tight, black turtleneck that emphasized every single little curve that Kelsey could have, and Kelsey had a lot of them. She wore a cute dark pink, pale green, and white striped hand-sewn vest that was unbuttoned and hanging loose. She wore her normal boots, as well. They were black, spiky, and sexy. Her long, wildly curly hair was pulled up into a ponytail, just a little off center. Her make-up accented, perfectly, her golden brown eyes, that were just a little too big for her face, but totally suited her.
Miranda walked over to Kelsey and gave her a hug. “How are you always here right when I need you?”
Kelsey squeezed quickly, and let go. “How am I always here, you ask? That would be because the guy that you keep saying ‘no’ to seems to have me on his speed dial or something. He’s the one who keeps calling me and telling me that you’re upset and need a friend. You should really consider taking him up on his offer, you know. He’s totally freaking gorgeous, and I bet he kisses great.”
Miranda sighed, a half frustrated, half dreamy type of sigh. “Yeah, he can definitely kiss,” she said, deadpan.
Kelsey’s jaw dropped at Miranda’s words. “You guys kissed? When? Where? How? What?” The words were flying out of Kelsey’s mouth in typical Kelsey fashion, rapid and quick.
“Yeah, we kissed. It was just about twenty or thirty minutes ago, I guess. We were making out, right here, in the middle of the bar, right before Ryan interrupted us to spew his filth. That’s what started everything.”
“What, the kiss? Or was it when Ryan showed up?” Kelsey wrapped her arm around Miranda’s shoulder and guided her to a secluded table towards the back of the place.
Miranda let Kelsey lead her towards the table as she thought about the answer. In all honesty, she wasn’t sure what caused the mini meltdown. Was it Ryan showing up and spewing his hate, or was it the kiss between her and Damien. The hot, melting, soul burning kiss was burned into her memory. She took a long, deep breath to soothe and smooth her nerves, nerves that felt shattered and electrified at the same time. She sat down, with a quick and soft plop, as the soft red leather that covered the seats gave way, and cushioned her seat. She watched as Kelsey followed suit, immediately crossing her legs Indian-style, and got comfortable.
“Honestly, I have no idea which bothered or worked me up more.” She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “The kiss; let’s just say ‘oh god’. The kiss was amazing, exciting, and steamy; too many adjectives could be added to the list. All of them add up to me being hot and bothered, and not thinking clearly at all. Then Ryan shows up, and starts spewing hate about how I never cared about anyone but myself.”
Miranda slammed her fist to the table and looked at Kelsey. There was misery and pain in her eyes as she asked, “But is that even true? Could it be true? Why would he say something like that me? I did everything I could to keep those two boys happy and safe. I always got it thrown back in my face.”
Kelsey shook her head, disgustedly. She hated the way those boys treated Miranda. She loved them with all of her heart and they did nothing but throw that in her face, over and over. It seriously pissed her off seeing Miranda hurt repeatedly. “No, Miranda, you’re an amazing aunt, and an awesome person. Those boys, especially Ryan, need to pull their heads out of their asses and grow the fuck up.”
Miranda smiled at Kelsey vehement defense of her best friend. “I know you’re right, but there are times when I’m just not sure which end is up, when it comes to Ryan and Richard.” She dropped her forehead to the table and took a deep breath. When she lifted her head, her eyes showed some significant signs the she was calming down. “For fuck’s sake, why do I keep letting them get to me like that? They’re my nephews, yes, but they don’t have the right to even attempt to try and make me feel like shit for something I didn’t do.”
Kelsey smiled, and nodded. “Hell yes, that’s right. Girl, you did nothing wrong. You gave those boys everything you could, and they took and took, and then threw it in your face. Don’t worry on them. Now, back to Damien and the kiss you two shared. So, was it really as amazing as you said before?”
Miranda looked over towards the other end of the bar. She caught Damien looking at her. He grinned, broadly, and waved, and then went back to work. Damn, that male looked absolutely amazing in those skin tight jeans, and button-up shirt. And the way those jeans hugged that perfectly shaped butt? Enough to drive any woman, human or were, wild with desire. She looked at Kelsey and nodded, enthusiastically. “Yes, it was as amazing as I said it was. It was like a fairytale kiss, the one that wakes up Aurora or Snow White from their sleeps, or the one that tells Cinderella that Prince Charming loves her for her.”
Kelsey’s jaw dropped when Miranda mentioned love, even as an analogy. She cleared her throat a bit. “Did you just mention love? Little Miss ‘Love Sucks and isn’t worth mentioning’ uses love in an analogy. No freaking way. The world has ended. I’m telling you, it had to have.”
Miranda crumbled up a napkin and threw it at Kelsey. “Oh, bite my ass, will you?” She laughed at herself a little. “Okay, yes, I brought up the subject of love, but not because I believe in it. No, I just mentioned it as, like you said, an analogy. Analogies do not equal true confessions of feelings.”
Kelsey rolled her eyes, and threw the napkin back. “Me thinks you doth protesth to mucheth.”
“What the hell did you just say? You so totally screwed up that quote, idiot. The correct line is ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ It’s from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’.”
Kelsey waved that away with her hand. “Anyways, you know I’m right.”
“No, you’re not. I’m not in love with Damien. I don’t want to be in love with Damien. I don’t want to get involved with Damien. I work with him and that’s enough. That’s plenty.”
“Yeah, you’re protesting way too damn much, girl. Admit it, please. You find him sexy, and you want to jump his bones, or his tail, as the case may be,” Kelsey added with a laugh.
“I never once said that I wouldn’t sleep with him, did I?” Miranda looked right at Kelsey, daring her to refute her.
“Actually, you’re the one who refuses to sleep with him. You’re so freaking worried he’s the one the Bitches, I’m sorry, the Fates picked out for you. Here’s a little suggestion: fuck the Fates. Your life is your life. You live it the way you want to.”
“Easy for you to say, Miss I Take No Prisoners. Wait until you meet the guy who you’re sure the Fates will demand you be with.”
“What do you mean by ‘demand’? The Fates might mark you and some other person as mates, but the choice is still ultimately up to the two of you. Screw them, and don’t think of them. Honestly, Miranda, learn to live your life for yourself.”
Kelsey glanced at the watch on her wrist. “Oh shit, I was supposed to be gone a bit ago.” She looked at Miranda. “You’re going to be alright, aren’t you? I can call out, if need be. There’s nothing pressing that I need to do.”
Miranda stood up, and pulled Kelsey up. She wrapped her in a huge hug, and held her tight. “Go, go to work. Have some fun for me while you’re at it,” she told her, as she released Kelsey. After a little wave, she watched Kelsey walk out the door.
She felt a presence beside her and looked. At the side of her, she saw Damien. She smiled at him, and turned towards him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him, willingly, into a hug. “Thank you for calling Kelsey, and being with me when I need you. Thank you for dealing with me, Damien and my incessant whining. I seem to be having some sort of mental breakdown or something, because I can’t stop wanting to cry, or do some thing insane.”
Damien laughed as he wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. “No problem, Miranda, as long as you repay the favor at some point,” he said with a chuckle. “Now, I think it might be time for us to get to work. Breakfast crowd is done, but we have to start getting ready for the lunch crowd. So, come on, let’s get to work.”