Black Magic

Chapter 2

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Wasn't the first time his appearance had drawn a comment like that, and he didn't care. Now they had everyone's undivided attention. Glancing past the jerk, he saw that Mackenzie and her friends had spun around on their barstools and sat gaping at the scene. Fantastic. Returning his attention to the mountain in front of him, he kept his expression neutral and spoke evenly.

"Then you and your fuck buddies might want to leave."

It took the guy a few seconds to get it as he stared at Kalen. When he did, his lip curled, all traces of false humor gone. "I'm gonna give you to the count of three, boy-"

Ignoring him, Kalen made to push past him, not really believing the asshole would let it go. He didn't.

A beefy shoulder connected with him, hard, knocking him back a couple of steps. The man was still planted firmly in his way. Clenching his fists, he forced himself to remain calm-and to not turn the guy into a fat slug, right in front of the entire bar.

"Mister, trust me when I say you don't want to mess with me," he said calmly. The jerk and his buddies thought this was hilarious, hooting and clanking their longneck bottles together, then turning their avid attention back to the coming fight.

There wouldn't be one if he could help it. Mackenzie was staring at him, eyes wide and worried. More than anything he didn't want to disappoint her by getting into a brawl, but he wasn't about to let a sack of shit run him down in front of her, either.

"I'll do more than mess with you, boy! I'll pound you into the floor."

"Bigger sons of bitches than you have tried."

Some had actually succeeded. Best not to think of that now, when he couldn't afford the distraction.

Again, Kalen attempted to step around the man, but two meaty hands landed on his chest, giving him a hard shove. He staggered backward, managed not to fall-but his tight control over his temper snapped.

"No one touches me," he snarled.

And took two steps forward, unloading his fist into the bastard's face. The man's head jerked back and he stumbled into a nearby table. The couple sitting there jumped up, the woman letting out a shriek as they scrambled out of the way. Kalen's nemesis lost his balance as the table tipped, and was dumped into the floor.

Kalen's body tensed as the man brought a hand to his nose and wiped away a trickle of blood. He knew he was in trouble when the man's lip curled into an ugly sneer and his friends stood, chairs scraping in the silence, beers abandoned and amusement gone.

"Fuckin' kill him!" the bastard shouted, lurching to his feet.

Kalen had about two seconds to brace himself before a wall of pissed-off rednecks buried him in a sweaty, stinky dogpile. A fist slammed the side of his head and more found his ribs. The air rushed from his lungs and he bucked, pushing at the closest one, to no avail. He wasn't going to be able to budge them without using his magic-and at the moment, his actions were concealed from the crowd.

Quickly, he summoned a bit of power and channeled it, letting the stream of energy flow to his fingertips. A whispered word fell from his lips and the weight suddenly disappeared as the four men flew off him and landed like dominos pushed by an invisible finger. The sight would've been funny except he'd only succeeded in pissing them off even more.

"You little fuck!" one of the men bellowed.

"How'd he do that?" a nearby patron asked in awe.

The question would remain unanswered. As he pushed to his feet, the bully who'd started the confrontation smashed a heavy fist into his mouth, and pain exploded in his face. He landed on his ass, thinking he just might get it thoroughly kicked when a booming voice brought the fight to a screeching halt.

"What in the motherfuckin' hell is going on here?"

The crowd parted to make way for a tall, blond man just this side of thirty who looked like he might've spent time in the military. His back was ramrod straight and he had the bearing of a man used to giving orders, and having them followed. His gaze immediately found Kalen's tormentor and his buddies, and if the clenching of his jaw and expression of distaste was any indication, he'd located the source of the problem.

Beer Gut went on the defensive. "Aw, come on, Jack. We was just havin' us a little fun with the fruitcake is all. Didn't mean no harm-"

"Save it, Billy," the man said coldly. "This was your last chance. Now get out of my place and don't come back. Any of you."

Billy blinked at Jack, whom Kalen figured was the owner. "You don't mean that! We buy a lot of booze, keepin' you in business-"

"And you think that gives you the right to terrorize my other customers? Get out. Now. I won't need the sheriff to take out the trash, either." The steel in his tone brooked no argument. The man meant every word, and had the toned muscle to back it up.

Billy swallowed, backing down like the coward he was. "Fine. We don't want to hang out in this dump anyways."

Throwing Kalen one last glare, the man shuffled out, his buddies following behind with a few muttered curses. A hand appeared in front of Kalen's face and he saw that Jack was offering him help up. Despite his aversion to being touched, he sensed no threat from the Grizzly's owner and took the assistance, allowing himself to be hauled to his feet.

"Thanks."

"No problem. I knew it was just a matter of time before Billy and his band of dumbasses gave me an excuse to ban them for good." The man's light gray eyes twinkled with humor.

Kalen found himself smiling back. "Glad I could help."

"You did. In fact, I'm so grateful, your drinks are on the house." Clapping Kalen on the shoulder, he steered him toward the bar. "What's your poison?"

"That's an offer I won't refuse. Bourbon and cola, if you don't mind."

"You've got it. Lonnie?" he called.

"Heard it, boss," the bartender yelled back. "Bourbon and cola, coming up!"

Jack turned back to Kalen. "Do you need medical attention? I'd be glad to call for the medics, or drive you to the emergency clinic."

"Nah, there's already a doctor in the house," he said, giving Mackenzie a pointed look. "I'm betting she can take care of what ails me."

Jack followed his gaze to where the doc in question sat, and chuckled. "I'll bet she can at that. Say, you might want to hit the men's room anyway," he said, gesturing to Kalen's bleeding mouth.

Kalen stopped short of where Mackenzie sat with her friends, and felt the weight of their stares as he thanked the bar owner. "I appreciate the save, and the drink."

"No big. You did me a favor." With a nod at Kalen and a wink at the gaping trio, he walked off to tend to whatever business was pressing.

"Kalen," Mackenzie gasped, sliding from the stool to stand in front of him. "Are you all right?"

"Sure," he said. "Never better." His grin felt lopsided, his lip already a bit fat with the swelling. Shit, this wasn't how he'd wanted her to see him-with his face bruised, lip split and bloodied. "I think I'm going to take Jack's advice and hit the restroom, wash up some."

"Jack?"

She didn't know the Grizzly's owner. That small fact made his heart sing. "The owner who tossed out Billy Beer Gut and his friends."

"Oh. Well, hurry back." She gave him a smile that damned near buckled his knees.

"I will."

As he hustled to the men's room, he held on to the image of her pretty face, how those blue eyes sparkled with warmth when they regarded him. As though he was special, even if he knew he wasn't. How her pert nose crinkled when she grinned, the musical sound of her laugh.

God, he was an idiot.

A classy, educated woman like her would never look at him with real desire. She was a doctor, could have any man she wanted. And he was too much of a head case lugging around way too much baggage. But he could dream.

In the men's room, he checked his face in the mirror and winced. A bruise was forming near his temple and was sore to the touch, but at least it was mostly covered by his hair. As he'd thought, his lip was split and a little swollen. Not as bad as he feared, however, once he'd splashed it with water and dabbed it with a paper towel. The wound had already stopped bleeding and it wasn't too terrible. Too bad he couldn't heal it, but his magic didn't work like that.

Throwing away the paper towel, he left and made his way back to the bar where Mackenzie waited with her two girlfriends. Their chatting was more subdued this time, and he hated that the incident with the rednecks had put a blight on their evening. It wasn't the worst he'd dealt with, not by a long shot, but these women shouldn't have been subjected to the crap that followed him wherever he went.

Their attention turned to him as he walked up and stood next to Mackenzie. "Hey, ladies. Sorry about the trouble."

"It's not your fault," Mackenzie said, frowning. Gently, she pushed aside a lock of hair and examined the bruise on his temple. "We need to get some ice on that and your lip to keep the swelling down."

The attention from the woman of his fantasies both pleased and embarrassed him. "I'm good. No need to draw more attention to myself than I've already had."

One of the doc's friends, a skinny blonde with big breasts, leaned toward him from her perch on her barstool. Lifting a brown longneck bottle, she reached out, attempting to touch it to his lip. "Poor baby," she crooned, raking him from head to toe with a heated look. "I've got something cold right here to make it better."

Kalen eased back, avoiding the woman's touch. The last thing he wanted was to encourage one of Mackenzie's friends to flirt with him. The blonde's eyes widened in surprise at his withdrawal, and he gave a laugh, thinking that she definitely wasn't used to being refused. "Really, I'm fine, but thanks . . . I'm sorry, what's your name?"

"Amy," the blonde said, recovering a bit from his blatant rejection of her attentions. "That's Shannon, and it seems you already know Mac."

"Hi," Shannon, a brunette, said shyly.

"Yes, I know Mackenzie," he affirmed, deliberately using her full name, then giving her a warm smile. "We work together. I'm Kalen."

The blonde nodded. "Oh! So you two are coworkers at the research place. Cool."

"Yeah, cool," he muttered. Christ, he hoped he hadn't blundered. He no more looked like a scientist than Criss Angel would. The few locals who knew about the fenced and well-protected compound situated deep in the Shoshone believed it to be a government-run medical research facility. Period.

Only the Alpha Pack's and the doctors' most trusted family and friends knew the whole truth; that the compound housed a team of shifters whose job was to be called anywhere in the world on a moment's notice, to eliminate the world's most lethal human and supernatural enemies. Nor did folks know that the "medical research" facility housed there was actually the Institute of Parapsychology, and their role was to learn all they could about shifters and other paranormal beings in order to keep them mentally and physically healthy.

To his relief, Amy and Shannon seemed to accept his "job" without question and moved on to new subjects, probably because being a "medical researcher" just wasn't that interesting. Soon, Amy and Shannon became engaged in a lively discussion of the available man-booty in the bar, leaving Kalen free to lean over and whisper in Mackenzie's ear.

"We need to go."

Pulling back, she eyed him in concern. "Why?" she asked in a low voice, making sure they weren't overheard. "Has something happened?"

He knew she was referring to an emergency at the compound, perhaps with injuries she needed to attend. "No, nothing like that. It's just this feeling I have." The urgency of his message gave him an excuse to touch her arm, stand so near that her light, floral scent drove him crazy. His cock threatened to roar to life, and he took a deep breath, fighting to regain control. "Something bad is hanging around. I don't know what it is, but when I heard you'd gone out I got worried. I came to make sure you got back safely."

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