Vision Fulfilled Chapter One

          Chapter One
 “Are you serious about this?” Josh Bard gave Thad Pierce a look as if he’d lost his fucking mind.
  And maybe he had. “Sure am.” Thad looked around at the office where his sire had probably spent a lot of his time. The air smelled stale and, with only one window, it reminded him too much of a fucking cage. “I’ve got to do this. This was my sire’s lair, more so than his home. Trust me, it’s going to take a while before I get the lair cleaned up so that I can live there. It doesn’t look like he spent much time there.”
“You don’t know anything about running a bar.” Josh scratched his wind-blown curls and frowned at the dark, damp office. “You’ll be pinned down to this place. Do you have any idea if it even makes a profit? And what if you’re called to hunt?” He asked the last question quietly, sniffing the air as he glanced at the open door that led down a short hall to the back room used for storage.
Thad respected Josh, possibly more than any other leopard alive—or dead. Maybe if he’d spent more time with Jacob Pierce, his sire, while he’d been alive, he wouldn’t be so riddled with guilt right now. But his sire never howled for him, and Thad never took time to sniff the older leopard out. Other than the fact Jacob sired Thad, they didn’t have much else in common, and neither of them seemed bothered by that. But this, leaving Pierce’s Lair to Thad, bothered the crap out of him. Sure, his sire wanted Thad working in the bar when Thad was younger, but it wasn’t for him and they both knew it. Maybe Jacob struggled running the place without Thad. But if so, why didn’t the old leopard howl for Thad when he’d been alive?
Thad knew the answer to that question without having to sniff out a thing. The old male was stubborn as hell. He would never admit wishing his cub remained by his side. Even if Thad ran for their kind, protecting all, the most honorable of jobs a leopard could have, his sire would be too obstinate to ask Thad to come home.
He rubbed his boot against the dull wooden floor and then looked at the sign hanging on the wall. Pierce’s Lair. The two words said it all. Thad barely remembered his sire hanging a new sign over the door outside and putting this one in here. He’d been a cub at the time. But the place was Jacob Pierce’s lair, not Thad Pierce’s lair.
“I’m thinking about giving up the trade,” he grumbled, regretting the many things he didn’t remember about his sire.
“Giving up the trade?” Josh snarled, his jaw dropping in disbelief.
“Yeah. No longer being a hunter.”
“Whatever. You might as well drain the blood that flows in your veins out of your body.” Josh shook his head, walking slowly in front of the large desk that was too big for the small room. “So now you’re going to walk in your sire’s paw prints? If you’re stabbed with guilt, making your life miserable isn’t the answer.”
“I’m not miserable.” There wasn’t any point in feeling guilty either. His sire was dead and Thad’s actions wouldn’t affect him now. “Although I admit being confused as hell. If my sire wouldn’t howl for me to return here when he was alive, why the hell would he want me to be here now?”
“Maybe he just didn’t know what to do with the place.”
Thad didn’t buy it. “That’s not how it smells to me. My sire loved this place. It was his life. And he knew running a bar, or owning any business for that matter, never appealed to me. I doubt he gave it to me because he didn’t care about it anymore. There’s got to be another reason.”
The swinging doors outside the office squeaked when someone pushed through them and footsteps tapped against the wooden floor. Thad smelled the female who did his sire’s books before she appeared in the doorway. He knew her name from the letter his sire left him. Megan Porter was one hell of a hot little female.
She glanced from Thad to Josh, glaring at both of them. “What the hell are you doing in here?” she snapped, lunging forward and trying to grab papers off the desk. “Get out of this office now!”
Thad moved to block her. “This is my office now,” he said, lowering his voice to a growl as he stared down at the sexy little red-head, who damn near panted with fury.
“Like hell it is.” She shifted her gaze from him to Josh and then pointed to the door. “Out. Now!”
“Red, we can bare our teeth and play rough, or we can be civil. Your call,” he said, shrugging as he breathed in her outraged scent. “The paperwork clearly shows I now own Pierce’s Lair.”
Her heavy breathing forced her breasts to press against her shirt while her nipples hardened to distraction against the material. “Don’t talk to me about some bullshit paperwork.”
“You’re more than welcome to look at it.”
“If you don’t get out of this office now, I’ll call in Max,” she spit out at him.
“Go ahead.” Thad crossed his arms, deciding her beauty outweighed the fact she was pissed at him. She would make for a good distraction to take on while trying to figure out what the hell to do with this place. “He at least is civil enough to look over paperwork that a leopard presents when he enters an establishment and calls it his own.”
“I don’t need to see any paperwork.” Something changed in her scent. Hesitation mixed with her anger. She fought hard to hide it though. “I want you out of this office.”
“I don’t answer to you,” Thad snapped.
Megan Porter barely curled her lip, but her anger made the small office smell spicy within seconds. “Those are my books. And unless you’re suddenly gracing this place with your presence to shut it down, keep your paws off them.”
“At least you acknowledge the place is mine,” he said smoothly.
“Like hell I do!”
Megan spun around and stomped back to the bar. It wasn’t hard to hear her snapping at Max, the bartender, as she demanded to know why Thad and Josh were in her office. The oversized leopard’s low baritone tickled Thad’s ears but it was harder to pick out what the male said. More than likely, he was used to dealing with the female, who was obviously unreasonable.
Thad stood there, fuming and replacing the smell of her anger with his own. “My sire must have kept her around simply to look at because talking to her causes one hell of a stench in the air.”
“She resents you for being here. That much is obvious.”
“You think I want to retire as a hunter for this place?” Thad snarled, feeling his teeth grow before he could stop them. Talk about fucking resentment.
The silence weighed heavily in the air. For the past seven years, since he was twenty, Thad worked hard mastering the art of being a hunter. Being a hunter was the most honorable position a leopard could fulfill. Hunters protected the entire species, ensuring their safety against all others, and against themselves. Hunters kept a low profile and were viewed as more dangerous—and more cunning—than all other leopards. If someone howled for a hunter, it meant the situation was beyond help from the litters involved, and only a trained and skilled hunter could resolve the problem.
A situation more devastating than anything Thad had sniffed out in his entire life went down less than a year ago. All five hunters were howled for at the same time by a leopard named Leo Pard to gather twenty leopards together who were deemed to be special due to telepathic gifts. The smell in the air quickly changed though, and Thad and Josh ended up fighting with their lives to protect the gifted leopards from Pard.
The assignment was the most challenging Thad had experienced in his life, and it left him exhilarated and anxiously sniffing the air in anticipation of being howled for again. Josh had taught him the art of being a hunter, just as Josh’s sire taught him. For Josh, it was a craft passed from sire to cub. But for Thad, it was a blessing, and he was forever in Josh’s debt for bringing him in to the very small, exclusive and private group. There were only five hunters in America. The last thing Thad wanted to do was give any of this up and chain himself to some fucking bar.
His sire knew Thad loved being a hunter just as much as Jacob loved running his bar. If Thad could only understand what was in his sire’s mind when he wrote that note right before he died and announced Pierce’s Lair would belong to his cub after his death. Why the hell did his sire have to go and get himself killed?
“My sire was very proud of this place,” Thad grumbled, breaking the silence and exhaling heavily, willing the stench of his self-pity and anger to go away. He walked around the desk and straightened a pile of receipts then glanced at a stack of invoices, the paperwork he’d just been ordered not to touch. “It was everything to him, his lair and his domain,” he said, managing to get his teeth to recede to their human size and shape.
“And you two were very different leopards,” Josh said quietly, his calm tone probably meant to be reassuring but only aggravating Thad more.
“I never tried to know him.” Thad left the paperwork alone and walked out of the office. Kegs lined the wall in the storage room. There were shelves stacked with a variety of supplies—wrapped stacks of plastic cups, napkins, bags of things that Thad didn’t have a clue what they were. The variety of smells wasn’t unappealing. “Other than the fact my sire spent every minute of his time in this place, I don’t know a damn thing about him.”
“Did he hate you for that?” Josh asked.
“Hatred is such a foul stench, although you know damn good and well I haven’t seen him in almost ten years.”
“I never saw him either. There wasn’t ever reason to come to Wheeler’s Point.”
Thad nodded. “The only reason to come here would have been to see my sire. I followed the howling though, just like any hunter would.”
“You think your sire resented you being a hunter?” Josh glanced toward the swinging doors that led out to the bar. “Maybe he’s trying to force your paw in death.”
“I have no idea.” Thad pushed his way through the double doors and ignored Megan’s frown when she scowled at him as she wiped tables. He hesitated in walking behind the bar and instead headed around the other side and took one of the barstools at the counter. “How many leopards break their fucking neck jumping off a cliff?” he growled under his breath.
Josh didn’t take the barstool next to him but instead leaned against the counter and declined the beer when Max, a very large leopard who bartended, approached them. He faced Thad but looked past him toward the door. “It’s been known to happen. You can’t beat yourself up because your sire died. Trust me, it doesn’t bring them back.”
Thad knew Josh lost his sire when he was a cub. Josh had it rough growing up, but still managed to keep Thad out of trouble when otherwise Thad would have run wild without a litter to sniff after him.
“Yeah,” Thad said. He accepted the tall bottle of beer Max brought him and took a long swallow. “I guess I’ll go fight with Red over there and see if I can’t make sense out of the books for this place.”
Josh grunted and then slapped Thad’s back. “Keep a low profile for now, and don’t make any hasty decisions. Just smell things out and keep me posted. You’re doing the honorable thing by being here.”
Thad nodded. Giving up being a hunter would kill him. But he couldn’t just let this place go. Other than the little female with her pale red hair that flowed wildly down her back and was as unrestrained as her temper, there wasn’t much about the place. It was a plain-looking square building on the edge of town. Inside, the walls were bare and the handful of square tables and barstools that lined the counter were scratched and worn-looking. But it was all his sire owned and all he had to show for his life. Every bit of this place belonged to Thad now.
“And that’s the only reason I’m here,” Thad admitted, keeping his voice low as he watched the large leopard work at the other end of the counter. “I wouldn’t dishonor my sire’s memory, or myself, by running from the dying wish of a leopard.”
“I feel your pain, man,” Josh snarled, and then slapped Thad on the back of his shoulder. He pushed away from the counter. “Good hunting, and remember, we’re still a litter and you’re welcome up at our cabin any time you wish.”
“Tell Chan I said hey.” Thad followed his cousin to the door.
“I will, if I can talk to her.” Josh stopped before leaving and looked over Thad’s shoulder at the bar behind him. He smelled concerned when he whispered, “She went into heat last night. I’ve already been away from her for a couple hours.”
Thad laughed, probably the first time he’d seen humor in anything in the past few days. “I never thought I’d hear you complain about having too much sex.”
Josh shook his head, although his smile was genuine, as was the thick aroma from his happiness. “You have no clue. She went into heat after supper last night, and I think she probably made me come at least five times. I didn’t know I could do it. And then this morning…”
“Don’t share all of your misery with me,” Thad interrupted, waving the leopard on. “Go home and keep your female happy. I’ll be here suffering under the vicious claws of Red over there.”
“I live with proof that any female can be tamed.” Josh barely glanced in the direction where Red continued working tables. “There’s no way that one is worse than my Chan used to be.”
Thad used his better judgment and didn’t comment that it was Josh’s mate who had him coming on demand. “I don’t want to tame her. I just want to get a good look at my sire’s books without getting my sides sliced open.”
“Then I wish you good luck and good hunting.”
“Give me a howl when you’re through servicing your mate and I’ll head up that way,” Thad said, unable to let his cousin go without giving him at least some shit.
Josh grunted and then headed out the door, letting it slam closed behind him. Thad got this eerie sensation that turning around, facing the bar and the leopards in it, would mean turning his back on his previous life. He faced the bar, immediately smelling his own irritation. He couldn’t dishonor his dead sire’s wishes, and he couldn’t give up being a hunter.
There was always a way, he thought, as he returned to his beer and watched Max talking quietly to an older leopard at the other end of the bar. Megan brought several empty glasses up to the bar and exchanged friendly words with the two males. There were others in the bar, all older male leopards. Thad guessed the place would get rowdier once the sun went down, which gave him a few hours.
He nodded at one of the older males who acknowledged him with a slight toast of his beer bottle. Megan placed a couple of bottles on her tray and turned from the bar when he walked past her.
“Red, meet me in the office when you have a minute,” he instructed.
Megan stiffened, her hostile nature possibly her natural scent. “What did you call me?” she hissed.
Max quit leaning against the bar, his expression serious and wary as he gave both of them his attention. The entire bar grew quiet as the air stiffened with anger. His guess was that most of it stemmed from the fiery little female glaring at him. She looked ready to scratch his eyes out. Her pale red hair made her light green eyes stand out. Petite, like many female leopards, she probably stood just over five feet tall. The sweater she wore fit snug over large, perfectly round and perky breasts. He let his gaze drop to them and swore her nipples puckered while he watched.
“Would you prefer I choose another nickname for you?” he growled, lowering his voice and lazily dragging his gaze back to her eyes.
“I’d prefer you not give me a nickname at all.” She tossed her long hair over her shoulder, copped a haughty expression and walked away from him as if he didn’t matter to her at all.
“Meet me in the office,” he said to her back, and then started toward the back room.
“You better be ready for a fight.” Max had a deep barrel laugh, which didn’t make his hardened expression change when he pinned Thad with his beady eyes.
“I’m not in the mood for fights.” But he wouldn’t turn one down if anyone crossed him. Thad paused at the end of the counter, staring down the large leopard. He wasn’t in the mood for bullshit or little females trying to tell him what to do.
“No one pushes Megan around,” Max said, keeping his voice to a low growl. “You might have shown your paperwork to me, but know now, I saw how she and your sire interacted. Megan will shred that paperwork you have before she’ll read it. Jacob let her run the place and I’m sure she’s willing to fight you to the death to keep her rank.”
Thad looked into the large male’s eyes, sniffing the air for any lack of integrity. “As long as she didn’t do that to my sire,” he growled.
Max’s expression remained blank for only a moment. Then understanding hit him and he curled his lip, sticking his thumb in the direction of Megan. “Your sire loved that little female. Or he wouldn’t have let her run this place. You’re the outsider in her book. Whether you see it that way or not, she will expect you to fight for any rank, not the other way around.”
Thad didn’t comment, but pushed his way through the swinging doors, deciding possibly the first task on his list as new owner was getting rid of their annoying squeak. He scanned the shelves in the back room, found what he needed then returned and squatted in front of the doors to squirt oil on the hinges.
“Jacob liked them squeaking.”
Thad looked up and then rose slowly, enjoying the way Red’s jeans hugged her slender legs. Her hips were narrow and her waist small enough he bet he could wrap his hands around it and get his fingers to touch. Overall, she was one hot, fucking little female. Her sexy aroma suddenly drowned out her spicy, angry scent.
Very interesting. Red was aroused. Either she liked what she saw too, or fighting turned her on. He tested one door and then the other. The squeak was gone.
“I don’t like it squeaking.” He headed into the office, guessing she’d follow. She would worry he might touch some of her precious paperwork.
Megan stopped at the doorway and then leaned against it. “How long will you be here?” she demanded, crossing her arms over her chest.
The V-neck sweater she wore showed off distracting cleavage.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly, moving around the desk and sitting in his sire’s chair. He inhaled sharply, willing himself to smell his sire. Thad wasn’t sure when his sire was last in this office and he’d been dead for three days. All he smelled was Red’s growing anger, which mixed with her aroused curiosity. It made for a rather spicy, musky scent that wasn’t altogether unappealing. “You handle all of the books here?” he asked, touching the stacks of invoices and then glancing at the pile of receipts.
“Everything.” She looked as if she might pounce if he fingered anything else on the desk.
Thad opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a checkbook and a hardback ledger that was underneath it. He’d noticed them earlier and hadn’t touched them. Somehow flipping through the pages while Red snarled in the doorway proved rather entertaining. He stared at the neat rows of numbers handwritten in each column. “Do you enter any of these figures on a computer?”
Megan practically flew across the room, grabbing for the ledger and checkbook, but then slapping her palm on the desk when he pulled them out of her reach before she could snag them.
“You’re not going to go through my records and fuck things up,” she hissed, leaning over the desk and curling her lip as she growled with outrage.
Thad lowered his gaze to her breasts, which were now nicely on display for him. Her light red hair fell in waves over her shoulder and parted around her full breasts.
“I take it that’s a no.”
“What?” She held her hand out. “Give those to me now.”
He ignored her demand. “So nothing is entered on to any kind of accounting or bookkeeping program?”
“Everything is entered and in perfect order in ledger books.”
Thad leaned back, taking his time glancing over the numbers. It would take a while to set all of this up on his computer, but once he did, it would be a hell of a lot easier to see a profit or loss, do payroll and figure taxes. This wasn’t the first time Thad came across a leopard who didn’t know shit about computers. It wasn’t his nature to insult anyone’s intelligence, or lack there of. Not that Red smelled stupid. And if she took such meticulous care of this business using paper and pen, she was probably pretty damn smart. Maybe she didn’t have access to a computer, something he could fix easily enough.
“Do you do the taxes as well?”
“I do everything,” she said, drawing out each word. “And I’m going to keep doing everything. Do you understand?”
“Listen here, Red. I need to know how the books are run so I can better transfer them into a bookkeeping program,” he said quietly, keeping his tone steady as he glanced up at her. One look at the snarl on her pretty face though, and he knew there was going to be a fight. “What I understand is that you’re demanding and out of line.”
“Like hell I am,” she snapped. “You’re the one who is out of line. This isn’t your lair.”
Thad slapped the ledger shut and tucked it and the checkbook under his arm then marched around the desk. Red didn’t budge one inch. She was half his size and it would take nothing to toss her out of his way, but he would play nice—for now—just to see if the little female knew how to be civilized or was beyond training.
“My sire owned this bar. He’s dead. The place belongs to me. If any part of that isn’t clear, I’m sure we could easily have it straightened out for you.” When she didn’t say anything, simply glared at him with light green eyes that almost glowed with golden embers while she stood there fuming, Josh moved in closer so that his face was close enough to her that he picked up something that smelled like peaches under her spicy temper. “Now I suggest you be a good little female, before your new boss decides Pierce’s Lair is better off without you.”
Megan pulled back and slapped him so hard across the face that Thad almost fell backward.

Read more about Vision Fulfilled.