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CHAPTER ONE

Just call me the crazy cat lady.

People already did. So it was time to embrace it. Resign myself to the truth and own it. Adopt a litter of kittens, or hell, go all out and sew myself a one-piece leather catsuit and call it a day. I mean, not only was I an actual real-life leopard shifter, but my life was also already heading in that direction. Down Crazy-Cat-Lady Road with a sharp turn onto Thirty-Year-Old-Virgin Boulevard. Might as well rock it, right?

Better that than turning to the bottle. A bottle I now clutched in my hands, half-drunk but full of broken promises and empty regrets.

And why?

Because men suck, that’s why.

Yes, yes, I know. Not all men. Blah, blah, blah. But damn it, all the ones I knew ranked high among the top ten douchiest assholes. Could someone please tell me why we spend our lives chasing them? Why, in the name of all things holy do we insist on finding the perfect guy with the perfect job and perfect house? It’s a fantasy—or fake news, as people like to say these days. 

“I just… Wow.” My best friend, Chloe, shook her head, her beautiful long blonde locks spilling over her shoulders. “And with your sister!”

 

Mmhmm. With my sister.

Because apparently stumbling into my boss’s office to find him screwing another woman wasn’t bad enough. No, that woman had to be my sister. Now I understood the age-old adage, never dip your pen in the company ink. I guess in this instance, I was the ink? But the rule definitely still applied.

And now he was my ex-boyfriend. And my ex-boss. And Maria was definitely my ex-sister.

“Maria has always been a little… well….”

“Selfish?” I supplied, my tone chiding. “Heartless? Cruel?”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“She’s like an evil stepsister. God, I wish she was adopted. It sure would explain a lot. I’ve often wondered if someone swapped her at birth with a monster.”

Chloe chuckled into her hand. “Really, Abby.”

“No, seriously. You’ve known Maria as long as you’ve known me and you despise her.”

“I wouldn’t say I despise her….”

No, Chloe wouldn’t say that. She was too kind to use such a strong word. Not me, though. I hated my sister. Always had. And this little situation wasn’t helping matters. Thankfully, I had two other sisters I adored. Two brothers, as well. Yes, there were six of us in total. My mother had always wanted a large family and my father had happily obliged. With that many children, there was bound to be a bad seed among us, and her name was Maria Felice Garcia. Or my preferred name for her, Satan’s Evil Daughter.

Welp, none of this mattered anymore. Because I was done with both of them. Of course, that decision had left me jobless, bordering destitution, and down to four siblings, but… worth it. Good riddance to bad rubbish and all that. Even if it meant hitting the pavement to find new employment. Anything was better than working for that cheating fuck nugget.

As for my loving sister—excuse me while I choke back a laugh—guess I’d be avoiding some family dinners for a while.

“I just can’t believe this.” Chloe leaned back in her chair and stared at me, her startling green eyes radiating concern. “To think I liked Andrew. I thought he would be so good for you. Someone to finally—” She blinked and cleared her throat, effectively ending her sentence.

“Someone to finally what?”

“Nothing.” A faint smile tugged at her lips. “I just meant, he seemed like a nice guy.”

“That’s so not what you meant.”

“Abby, come on.”

“No.” I folded my arms over my chest. “Finish your statement.”

Chloe sighed and looked away from me, her mouth pinched. I knew exactly what she’d meant to say. The same thing everyone said when discussing my love life. Because apparently, my love life was everyone’s business. At least my family seemed to think so.

“Someone to finally help bring you out of your shell,” she finally said, mincing her words.

“I don’t need someone to bring me out of my shell,” I fired back. “I need someone I can frickin’ depend on. Someone who won’t turn around and plow my damn sister against his damn desk because I wouldn’t sleep with him. Is it really so horrible to be a virgin?”

“It is when you’re about to turn thirty.”

“That’s bullshit!” I exclaimed, drawing the attention of quite a few patrons seated around us in the pub.

Chloe’s cheeks burned bright and she ducked her head, a thick curtain of hair shielding her from the curious stares. “Geez, Abby.”

“Listen.” I leaned forward, my elbows bracing my weight against the table. “Who I sleep with is my choice and mine alone. Right now, I’m grateful I didn’t sleep with any of those losers. None of them gave me a reason to take that step with them.”

“Just like you didn’t give them a reason to be patient with you.”

My brow furrowed. “Are you seriously saying a girl has to sleep with a guy in order to keep his interest?”

Chloe’s eyes shot wide. “Oh my God, no!”

“Cuz that’s what it sounds like. Like you’re saying Andrew cheated on me because I refused to sleep with him. What the hell kind of person would that make me? Sleeping with someone just to hang onto them.”

“Seriously, that isn’t what I meant.”

“Good, because that’s complete and utter bullshit. If anything, all Andrew did was prove he wasn’t the right guy. He probably would have cheated on me even I had slept with him.”

Chloe blew her bangs off her face and took a sip of her gin and tonic. “That isn’t what I was saying. I only meant you’re so guarded. I’m not saying you have to sleep with a man to hold his interest. But I am saying that you have to give him something. And I don’t mean physically or sexually. Just something. A piece of yourself. Open up to him emotionally. Take a chance on him. You go into these relationships closed off, waiting for the exact moment he lets you down.”

“Because he always lets me down,” I snapped.

“Or maybe it’s because you’re setting them up to fail.”

I snapped my mouth shut and slumped back against my chair, my pulse fluttering in my ears. Chloe’s words echoed in my head. Words that had no grounds to stand on. Because it wasn’t true. I didn’t set anyone up to fail. Yes, maybe I was a little guarded. But I had good reason to be. My dating history was an anthology of tragedies. One after another.

Jacob Summers, my high school boyfriend, had dumped me at prom for Lisa Tarleton, Little Miss Prom Queen. He’d skipped out on me the second she’d batted an eyelash at him.

My college boyfriend, Roger Willison, had peaced out on me the second Mommy Dearest rolled into town. She’d thrown a fit when she’d learned I wasn’t the white-skinned princess she’d wanted for her precious son. That one had stung a little. If my Latino heritage wasn’t good enough for her, I couldn’t imagine how she would have reacted to my shifter ancestry. Thank goodness I’d never revealed that little tidbit to Roger. She might have had me burned at the stake for tainting her precious little boy.

There’d been a few other guys in between, none worth mentioning. Until Andrew Hamilton, Esquire. For once, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Kind, charming, attractive, everything a girl wanted when considering bringing a boy home to meet the parents. We’d been dating for five months and not once had he shown any impatience regarding my virginal status. He’d seemed quite willing to wait until I was ready.

And now I understood why. Twenty bucks said my sister wasn’t the first woman he’d screwed behind my back. Why worry about sex from your “girlfriend” when you were getting plenty of ass on the side, right?

“Abby, I’m sorry,” Chloe finally said. “It wasn’t my place to say something like that. I’m sorry. It’s your choice who you date and sleep with.”

“Damn right,” I mumbled.

But still, there was this little voice inside my head questioning all my life’s choices. It didn’t seem like I’d set Jacob or Roger up to fail. Hell, Jacob had barely given us a chance before skipping off with the prom queen, and Roger—well, his mother never would have approved, so why bother worrying about that one? He hadn’t even bothered to fight for me. He’d simply glanced my way, shrugged, then left with his mom in her cherry-red Ferrari.

I signaled to the bartender for another shot, then fished my phone out of my purse. I had no idea what to expect, but seeing six missed phone calls from Andrew was like a splinter in my already broken heart. My damn sister hadn’t bothered to call, though. Not even to leave an apologetic voicemail, a text, anything to suggest she’d royally screwed up.

My mind flashed back to that horrid moment tonight when I’d stumbled in on them. The worst part was Andrew and I had gone out to dinner tonight to celebrate our five months together. He’d taken me to Nova, the hottest restaurant Vancouver, Washington had to offer. Month-long reservations were needed to get in, which meant he’d thought about this in advance. I’d been so touched when he’d announced our dinner plans. I’d dressed up, put on makeup, and invested in a new pair of shoes that had cost me an entire month’s rent. I’d done everything right. We’d shared a meal, a few drinks, some laughs, some cuddles, and on the way home, Andrew had held my hand. I could still feel his thumb running along my knuckles. Everything with him had been so easy.

Too easy.

Cut to me, two hours later, realizing I’d forgotten to send an important email to one of Andrew’s clients. All the information was on my work computer, so I hadn’t been able to send it from home. So, in I went at ten at night, because I was a dedicated employee, to send off a damn email. I’d been more than surprised to see the lights on in his office, but that surprise had been nothing compared to when I’d opened the door and found my sister’s bare ass on his desk, her long, lean legs straddled around his naked waist, and him, buried hip-deep inside her.

They’d scrambled off his desk, Andrew had given me some cockamamie excuse about how he’d thought she was me—as if—and begged me not to leave.

I’d left all right, in record time, then immediately descended upon this fine establishment, where I planned to drink my weight in vodka, stagger home, and sleep until Monday. Sounded like one hell of a plan. Chloe, however, seemed to have another plan. One that involved making me think.

I didn’t want to think.

I wanted to drink.

“So, what now?” Chloe asked, interrupting my inner tirade.

“Now? Now I get shitfaced.”

“Abby.” She grabbed my hand, steering it away from the shot glass. “You can’t drink away your problems, you know.”

“What would you know about it?” I brushed her hand aside and downed the shot without hesitation. “Everything in life has always been so easy for you. The perfect family, the perfect looks, the perfect boyfriend—”

“My life is hardly perfect,” she bristled.

“Really? How’s David?”

She blinked, startled by my question. “He’s… fine. This isn’t about him.”

“No, it really isn’t,” I mumbled around the rim of my glass, licking off the errant drops of vodka.

Damn my shifter metabolism. I’d finished an entire bottle already and barely felt a buzz. As a species, we burned everything off too quickly for any sort of narcotics to take effect.

Didn’t mean I couldn’t try, though.

I waved the bartender over and ordered three more shots.

“Abby,” Chloe snapped. “Don’t you think this is overdoing it a little? Come on, this isn’t like you. You don’t wallow in misery and you certainly don’t drown your sorrows.”

Except, maybe that was exactly what I needed. My own little pity party.

Three more shots appeared in my periphery. As did Chloe’s scowling face. I was being a complete ass, I knew that. Chloe was the best friend I could ask for. Always there when something went wrong in my life, which seemed to happen a hell of a lot more often than hers. She was always there to help me pick up the pieces.

“Just drink with me, okay?” I asked, sliding her a single shot.

She sighed and glanced my way, her disapproving frown telling me exactly what she thought about this.

“Unless you need to leave. I’ll understand if you do. David’s probably waiting for you at home. It’s a Friday night, too. You should be out with him.”

She shoved her hair back from her face and stared straight ahead. Seeing as she was my best friend, I knew the wheels were spinning in her head. Likely considering whether to stay or go. I wanted her to stay, but I didn’t want her to feel obligated to do so.

“Seriously, Chloe, I won’t be mad if you want to go home.”

“It’s not that. I just don’t agree with this.” She waved at the shots in front of me. “If you’re upset, do something about it. Start making changes in your life.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, Abby. That’s for you to figure out. You need a new job, right? How about finding something new? Something that doesn’t require you waiting hand and foot on someone else?”

“I’m a personal assistant. That’s what I do.”

“But it isn’t the only thing you can do. You’re incredibly talented at web graphics, you’re quick behind a keyboard, sharp as a tack, and full of spunk. What does that all add up to?”

I blinked, totally clueless. “I don’t know, what?”

Laughter slipped past her lips. “I don’t know, either. But it’s up to you to figure that out. I don’t know. Maybe you need a vacation or something.”

I chuckled under my breath. “I’m currently unemployed, in case you forgot. A vacation costs money.”

“Oh, please. You have money.”

I shrugged, not denying it. Maybe I did, but I’d busted my ass to build up that savings account. It was my nest egg in case the worst happened. Like, oh I don’t know, having to leave my job because my boyfriend was screwing my sister.

“Take a chance,” Chloe continued. “You have more than enough to survive on until you find new employment. Go for an adventure. Experience this wacky thing called life. Who knows, maybe a vacation will help you figure out what you want to do with your life.”

“You seem to have this all worked out already,” I commented.

She shrugged, then reached for one of my shots. “One of my friends recently went on a vacation to Hawaii. It helped clear her mind after the death of her mate.”

I winced. Finding your mate was magical enough, but to lose them like that? I never wished that upon anyone.

“Anyway, she had a great time and met the new love of her life.”

“I’m not looking to meet another guy.”

“Then don’t. But who’s to say the vacation won’t still be exactly what you need?”

I stared into the bottom of my shot glass and considered her suggestion. I’d never been on a vacation before. Too busy working and saving money. Money I’d intended to use to buy a house or save for when I started a family. Not to blow on a sunny vacation.

But maybe that was exactly what I needed?