Rush of Pleasure

By: Rhyannon Byrd

Chapter One

The hotter the pleasure…

the sweeter the burn.

Destiny is what you are supposed to do in life.

Fate is what kicks you in the ass to make you do it.

—Henry Miller

Sacred, Louisiana

The end of the world was a strange motivator, providing the kind of impetus that could make a man do things he’d sworn he would never be caught doing. Like coming back to places he’d vowed he’d never return to… Or seeking out people and memories he knew were best left to the past. The problem, of course, was that the past had ways of sneaking up on a guy.

In cases like this, it could even make you feel as if you were making the biggest mistake of your life.

As Noah Winston walked inside Broussard’s, the rickety bayou bar where he’d worked as a teenager, that’s exactly how he felt. Like a man walking the plank, heading toward his doom. And in Noah’s case, that doom came in the form of a woman. A woman who just so happened to be from one of the craziest families the state of Louisiana had ever known, and who, incidentally, also happened to be a too-powerful, too-stubborn, pain-in-the-ass caste of witch.

His best chance of surviving this visit in one piece was to get the information he needed, and then get the hell out of Dodge before that particular hellion ever set eyes on him. The faster, the better. If he were lucky, she’d never even know he’d been there.

Despite that comforting thought, a clammy, uneasy feeling crept over his skin as he made his way into the dim interior of the bar, the door sliding shut behind him. A bead of sweat snaked slowly down his spine while chills spread over his arms, the whirring blades of the ceiling fan swaying precariously over his head doing little to battle the oppressive heat. At one o’clock in the afternoon, the business was deserted but for the two beer drinkers playing pool near the back wall and the towering brute lurking behind the till, polishing shot glasses that looked absurdly small in his beefy hands. The bartender eyed him with a look of bored indifference, until he caught sight of his pale blue eyes. Noah took a quick sniff, his heightened sense of smell alerting him to the fact that the guy was no more “normal” than he was. A grizzly-shifter, if he was reading the scent right.

Noah might have been more or less human, but that “less” part of the equation was becoming more evident with each day that went by. With every passing hour, his senses were becoming sharper, allowing him to interpret the world around him in a way that was more monster than man. His human self, it seemed, had become another casualty of the war that he and his friends were currently waging against an ancient evil named the Casus. Fortunately, Noah and his buddies, a group of shape-shifters and vampires called the Watchmen, had finally managed to defeat the majority of the monsters nearly two months ago back in May. But the Casus leader, Anthony Calder, had mysteriously disappeared at the height of the battle, before Noah could kill him. They didn’t know where Calder was, but Noah had a good idea of who he was with. He also knew the bastard wasn’t going to stop until he got what he wanted, and Noah was willing to die to keep him from getting it.

But that was going to be a battle for another day. For the moment, he was after the solution to a different problem. One that was less personal, but no less important. And one he knew he could help with, if he managed to stay a step ahead of Calder.

As if aggravated by the thought of that particular Casus, his arm ached with a renewed wave of pain, the scar left from Calder’s fangs throbbing with a dull pulse. Though the injuries he’d sustained on the day Calder had been snatched from his grasp were nearly healed, Noah still didn’t feel…right. Too many changes were taking place inside him, his system in a constant state of flux that often left him jittery and tense. Or maybe that was just his current bitter outlook on life. Either way, he was a guy who others went out of their way to avoid these days. One who no longer even tried to hide the raw, constant burn of worry weighing heavily in his gut.

Heading toward the bar, Noah kept his gaze locked on the giant behind the till. The guy set down another shot glass, slapped the dish towel over his shoulder, then braced his beefy hands against the scarred but gleaming wooden counter. Thick, graying brows drew together in a deep scowl over his suspicious gaze. “You thirsty, Casus? We don’t welcome your kind here, but you can take something to go.”

“I’m not a Casus.” Noah fought to keep his tone easy, knowing it wasn’t going to do him any good if he started shit with the shape-shifter. “And I don’t want any trouble. I just need some information.”

“Not Casus?” The guy snorted. “You looked at your eyes in a mirror lately, son?”