Friday, September 26, 2014

Haunted Heart by Zayne Michaels - Spotlight


M/M Paranormal, werewolves
27,700 words

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Convinced a clean break was the only way to protect the man he loved, Micah Hayden shut down, closed himself off, and spent more than a decade running from his mistakes. Twelve miserable years later, he’s come home to take his rightful place as Alpha, and if he has his say in the matter, reclaim the love that was stolen from him.
When Micah kicked him out and crushed his heart, August Tucker didn’t think he’d ever heal from the loss. Slowly, though, he rebuilt his life—a life far away from the painful memories of the past. So, when he learns Micah is back in town and wants to see him, August knows he should refuse, because even a brief reunion could destroy the walls he’s built around his heart.
Unfortunately, he may not have a choice. Someone wants him dead, someone willing to go to any lengths to succeed. With his list of allies growing thin, he has no choice but to turn to his old love for help.
But can Micah put aside his own uncertainties to be the hero August needs? Or will history be repeated when ghosts of the past resurface determined to finish what was put into motion all those years ago?

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Reclining in his office chair, August Tucker kicked his shoes off and propped his feet up on the desk with a silent groan. 
“Ok, you’re definitely going to be here Thursday, right?”
It felt like the hundredth time the question had been posed in the last twenty-four hours, and August barely bit back his sigh. “Yes, Meredith,” he answered into the phone. “My last appointment is at noon Thursday. I’ll be on the highway before rush hour.”
“I still don’t get why you’re driving all the way from Tulsa.”
Considering how little they had in common, it still amazed him that they’d ever become friends. Maybe it had something to do with the fact they were both too stubborn to let those little differences stand in their way. Whatever the reason, they’d made it work and had been inseparable since junior high, even after August had packed up his things and moved halfway across the country to nurse his broken heart.
“It’s not that far to Indianapolis.”
Most people probably wouldn’t agree, but nine hours didn’t feel like a chore. If nothing drastic happened, he could probably make it in eight.
“Besides, I like to drive,” he reminded her. August found the hum of the tires over the highway peaceful, and driving gave him the time and space to think.
“Yeah, yeah,” Meredith conceded. “Well, I’m closing the shop for the weekend, and Lucas will be at his dad’s house in Fort Wayne until next Thursday because of fall break. Starting Friday afternoon, I’m all yours.”
“Sounds like a plan, but you really don’t have to entertain me.”
“Oh, oh!” Meredith exclaimed, completely ignoring his subtle plea for a nice, quiet visit. Honestly, he should have been used to it by now. “You are never going to guess who’s back in town!”
Wincing as he jerked the phone away from his head to avoid a ruptured eardrum, August scrolled through his mental Rolodex, trying to figure out who could make his friend squeal like that. “I don’t know, Mer. Peyton Manning?” A lame guess, perhaps, but he had nothing.
“Funny,” Meredith answered, her tone dripping with sarcasm, “but no.” She paused for a long time, likely for dramatic effect, then squealed again. “Micah!”
She said it as though it should mean something to him, but he only knew of one Micah. Surely, she didn’t mean…
“Micah Hayden?” Barely able to speak through his trembling lips, August winced when his voice broke and prayed his friend hadn’t noticed.
“Yes! I saw him in the pharmacy last weekend when I was visiting Mom. I guess he’s in town for the closing on his parents’ farm out by Booker’s Pond. Remember it?” She didn’t give him a chance to respond before continuing. Hell, she didn’t even take time to breathe. “Now that they’re getting older—his parents, not Micah—they’ve decided to move to Florida. It’s cliché, I know, but there you have it.”
August blinked twice, replaying the monologue in his head, because he’d definitely missed something. “His parents are moving to Florida? What does that have to do with Micah?”
“Oh, well, they signed over the farm to him, didn’t they? He finally found a buyer over in Greenfield.”
“Ah, I see.” August drummed his fingers against the gleaming oak of his desktop and swallowed hard, trying to force his heart out of his throat and back into his chest where it belonged. “So,” he began, hoping he sounded casual, “how is he?”
“Good, from what I could tell.” If Meredith sensed his growing anxiety, she didn’t say anything. “He’s been back in Indianapolis for a few months now, and he said he just signed a lease with…”
“Yes?” August dropped his feet to the floor and sat up straighter in his chair. “With what?”
“His partner,” Meredith answered. The glee had disappeared, replaced by a more somber tone, and perhaps even a hint of pity. “He moved into an apartment with his partner.”
If his life was a movie, August might naively think Micah’s return meant a second chance for them. They’d meet somewhere for coffee, just for old time’s sake, one thing would lead to another, and they’d stroll off into the sunset together. Roll end credits. August lived in the real world, though, with real-life disappointments, and Micah Hayden had turned out to be one of the biggest.
“I have his number.” Meredith’s voice pulled him back to the conversation. “He asked about you. Actually, he had a lot of questions about you.” Smugness saturated her voice, and August could just picture his friend’s bow shaped lips curling into a smirk. “He asked me to pass on his number. Want it?”
“Uh, Mer, I don’t know. Maybe it’s not such a good idea.” Part of him, the part that had been desperately in love with Micah wanted to say yes. A louder, more logical voice chastised him for even considering it.
“Auggie, c’mon. I know things ended badly between you, but he’s your alma.”
Fate. Soul. Heart. Intended. Mate. A sacred and cherished bond within the paranormal world, especially amongst his particular breed of werewolves. No one came between a Lobos and their mate, not without violent consequences. Apparently, that only applied to lesser beings, not to someone as self-important as Micah Hayden.
Yeah, I’m not bitter at all.
“You just said he was seeing someone else.”
“But he’s your mate!” Meredith repeated, as though that would suddenly make everything okay.
Knowing she wouldn’t let it go, August sighed as he shifted through the clutter on his desk for a pen and scrap of paper. Nothing said “I’m available and desperate” like getting wound up over the guy who’d dumped him. “Fine, let’s have it.”
Meredith rattled off the number twice, and then made August recite it back to her. After being repeatedly forced to promise he’d call the minute he left for Indiana, he said his goodbyes and disconnected. Picking up the slip of paper with Micah’s number on it, August leaned back in his desk chair and stared at the digits.
After all this time, he couldn’t imagine why Micah wanted to talk to him. They’d had little in common when they’d been together, and he guessed they had even less in common now. It would definitely be awkward.
“For crying out loud, August,” he berated himself, “you’re a grown man, not a heartsick kid.” Without a good reason not to call, he just looked like the jaded lover he was.
Sucking in a deep breath and praying for courage, August snatch his cell phone off the desk and dialed before he could change his mind. Then he sat on the edge of his chair, his shoulders back and his spine rigid, gnawing on his bottom lip while he waited for an answer.
“Hello?” a voice answered on the fourth ring in a deep, resonating bass.
Whoa. Shivering at the current that rippled along his spine, August tugged at his slacks and shifted in his seat when the tingles traveled to places they had no business occupying. “Umm…I’m looking for Micah Hayden,” he stammered.
“This is Micah Hayden. Who’s calling?”
“You probably don’t remember me,” August began but stopped when he realized how stupid that sounded. The guy had crushed his heart into a million pieces. Oh, and he’d asked about him. Either way, of course Micah remembered him. “It’s August. August Tucker. Meredith gave me your number.”
Okay, great. This is going well.
Even after all these years, the silly nickname had the ability to stretch his lips into a warm, indulgent smile. “Yeah, it’s me.” Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as he’d dreaded. “How are you, Micah?”
“Wow. It is you. I wasn’t sure you’d call, but I’m glad you did.” An echoing smile tinted Micah’s voice, and he sounded genuinely happy. “How long has it been? Twelve, thirteen years?”
“Something like that.” Some days, it felt longer. Other days, it felt like no time had passed and the
pain nearly suffocated him. “So, you’re back in Indy now?”
“Yes, sir. I bought The Garage, so that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time.”
Micah had started working for old man Aikens in junior high, cleaning up around the shop and fetching parts for the mechanics. Gods, he’d loved that place, and he’d talked nonstop about owning his own garage one day. August was truly happy his old love had fulfilled his dream.
“That’s great, Micah, really. Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” A measure of uncertainty floated over the line. “What else did Meredith tell you?”
“Just that you found a buyer for your parents’ farm. Are they really moving to Florida?”
“Well, Mom is moving down there to be closer to her sister. Dad passed a couple of months ago. I’m not selling the old place, either.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I know you two were close.” It seemed callous to ask, but August did question what that meant for the pack. He also wondered how Meredith could get her facts so horribly wrong. “Are you living at the farm, then? I thought you’d just signed a lease on an apartment?”
Silence hung over the line before Micah groaned under his breath. “Some things never change, huh?”
“If you’re referring to the fact that Meredith hears a quarter of the conversation and makes up the rest, you wouldn’t be wrong.” Gods, Micah had a great laugh, and even through the phone line, his voice washed over August in all the right—er, wrong?—places.  “Okay, so what am I missing?”
“Well, I just terminated the lease on my old apartment. Mom did sign the farm over to me, but I’m not selling the house or any of the land. Seems like it would be a waste of resources to turn over seventy acres of pack lands.”
“You’re converting the farm to pack lands?” August sat up a little straighter and cocked his head to the side. The pack had never had a place of their own to run, not that August could remember, anyway. “Why now? Why the sudden change?”
Micah cleared his throat, and when he spoke, he sounded a little too casual for it to be authentic. “It’s just time for some changes.” He paused, a little hesitation that anyone else probably wouldn’t have noticed. “You’re living in Oklahoma now, right?”
 He was definitely hiding something, but after so long apart, it wasn’t really August’s place to ask. So he ignored the tightening in his gut and pasted a smile on his lips when he answered. “Yes, sir, I have my own office here in Tulsa.”
To date, it was his biggest accomplishment, and he’d worked his ass off, scrimping, saving, and sacrificing to be able to open his own practice. It hadn’t been easy in the beginning, but he’d seen steady progress, especially in the past couple of years. His exclusive clientele required a certain level of…discretion, and they were willing to pay top dollar to protect their privacy.
“Wow, I’m impressed.” Micah’s tone held just the right amount of sincerity without being over the top. He didn’t quite pull off the same subtlety with his next question, though. “I guess that doesn’t leave a lot of time to make it back home, huh?”
“It’s not my home, Micah. It hasn’t been for a long time.” It had been fourteen years since his parents had passed, and with no other family, August had no reason to return to Indianapolis permanently. “However, I’ll be in town this coming weekend to visit Meredith.”
“You’ll be in town for your birthday? We should celebrate.” Micah stopped and swallowed audibly. When he continued, some of the enthusiasm had vanished. “I mean, if you’re not busy, of course. If you’d rather not, I’ll understand.”
August didn’t know how he felt. The part of him still hopelessly in love with the guy wanted to move back to Indianapolis, buy a house, build a picket fence, and live happily ever after. The rational part of him, however, knew that would never happen, and being near Micah without actually being with him sounded plain miserable.
“I’d love to see you.”
What? Wait. I would?
“I look forward to it.” Micah’s reply felt more intimate than his previous excitement, and August clenched his fist on his thigh as his breath quickened. “I should get back to work.”
August glanced at the clock on his computer and opened his schedule of appointments for the day. “Yeah, same here. My four o’clock will be here any minute.”
“What is it you do, Ant?”
“I’m a therapist,” August answered distractedly as he pulled his patient’s file from the bottom drawer and placed it on top of the desk. “Sex therapy to be more specific.”
“Right then.” Laughter colored Micah’s voice, and he paused for a heartbeat before composing himself. “Well, you have my number now. Be sure to use it.”
“I’ll call when I get into Indy.” Gods, he didn’t know how he’d convinced himself it would be a good idea to see Micah again, but he blamed Meredith. If she hadn’t been so quick to gossip, none of this would have happened. “Take care of you.”
Their old goodbye came without thought, rolling smoothly off his tongue as though he’d uttered it a thousand times in the last twelve years. In truth, it was special, and he never used that parting line with anyone except Micah.
Thankfully, Micah didn’t comment on his Freudian slip. “Goodbye, August.”

1 comment:

  1. Mmmm...this definitely has me intrigued. Must check it out. Thanks for sharing! I love M/M.