When she called him a pussycat, she didn’t mean it literally.
There comes a time in every man’s life where he’s got to choose: settle down or get smacked by his mom for not giving her grandbabies. After all, he’s not getting any younger, although age isn’t why he retired from the military.
After the incident they had no choice but to medically discharge him. Probably for the best because something inside him is struggling to break free.
Adrift and on the prowl, he runs into his high school crush, Anika. She’s still as beautiful as before, meaning of course he puts his foot in his mouth, down his throat, and out his…
Yeah, he’s still an idiot around her. He can’t help himself despite knowing he should stay away. The blackouts have started up again, resulting in a loss of clothes and a raw diet.
Discovering he's a giant freaking cat isn’t easy to accept, especially since his family’s idea of sympathy is offering him a can of tuna and dangling a string.
They won’t laugh for long once they realize he can’t control the beast.
Only love can tame him.
“Eat that cookie and die.” The threat paused Dominick’s hovering hand.
How had Mom heard him reaching for the cooling treat? To this day, Dominick envied her stealth skills. Even tried to emulate her and thought he’d done a fine job of sneaking.
Ninja-eared Mom heard him and now threatened with a metal spatula. From previous encounters with that lifter, he knew she would slap his hand if it moved.
Question being, was it worth the sting and her ire?READ MORE
“Can’t I have just one?” Yes, he whined. Anyone with taste buds would have begged for a cookie made by Nanette “Nana” Hubbard. His adoptive mother, giver of hugs, baker of cookies, currently in her avenging-kitchen-goddess mode.
Metal spatula in one hand, fingers curled around her cane with the other, at under five feet, Mom might be tiny, but she would still whoop his ass. No one made the mistake of thinking the tight gray curls and laugh lines made her weak. Nana Hubbard was a force of nature, and Dominick knew better than to ignore a warning.
But a cookie.
Hot from the oven.
Chocolate raisin oatmeal.
He needed one.
Needed. He almost growled the word. He’d had issues with his emotions lately. Too much pent-up energy inside.
And hunger. Add in a lack of impulse control, and he went for it!
The cookie he popped into his mouth burned and hurt almost as much as the whack. He’d endured worse abuse in his life, but never from his mom. She might give them the occasional slap when repeated warnings were ignored, but she never truly hurt Dominick or the other children. Nana barked more than she bit.
The worst trouble he’d ever gotten into happened in grade nine when he put that Smithers kid in the hospital. Call his sister a rude name? Like hell. Dominick never did tell his mom why he hurt the kid—Pammy didn’t deserve having it repeated—and he bore the yanking of his ear and the yelling as she sent him to his room.
It was worth it. His sister hugged him and cried as she said, “Thank you.” No thanks required. Adopted or not, Pammy was his sister, and he protected his family.
Later that night, Mom brought him up his favorite dessert and said, “Next time, don’t get caught.”
He didn’t. But that violence, that outlet for his inner frustrations, pulsed more fiercely than before. It wanted an outlet. He found it in the military.
From the age of eighteen until two weeks ago, Dominick had served his country. Needed the structure. Learned to control the throbbing inside. As if something tried to crawl out.
For years, he’d thought he had it under control, and then once he hit his thirties, he found himself constantly battling inexplicable rage. Picking fights. Constantly in the gym when not in the field. But the black eyes and loose teeth weren’t why people noticed that he had a problem.
Blame some shitty pot laced with something.
Dominick woke up about ten kilometers from camp, naked and covered in animal blood. Especially around his mouth. Just his luck, the military police for the camp found him, and they didn’t sweep it under the rug.
It wasn’t long before he found himself medically discharged. The doctors claimed PTSD, and that was it. Military career over.
Crushed, Dominick returned home because he had nowhere else to go. Given his constant deployments, he’d not bothered renting an apartment in a while.
Even now, home almost two weeks, and his shit remained boxed in the basement where it’d sat for years. Dominick only had the bare minimum in his old room, once shared with his brothers Stefan and Raymond. Now, it was just Dominick in the top bunk, which groaned ominously every time he climbed in. He really should dismantle it and turn the frame into something that could fit two singles side by side. He didn’t, though, mostly because that would imply his situation was permanent.
Not really a bad thing, as it remained way more comfortable than some of the places he’d stayed. Under the faint glowing constellations on the ceiling, he slept more soundly than he had in years. If he ignored the strange dreams of running through forests and the hunting that didn’t involve a gun.
But in good news, no blackouts. He remained drug and alcohol-free. Wouldn’t even have a cigarette no matter how many times Stefan offered. Nicotine was a drug. He needed to remain in control.
Being home helped with that. There was tranquility in the familiar surroundings. It eased him to be around his family. Especially his mom, who loved to cook.
A good thing, too, because he found himself with a huge appetite. Since his return, Dominick was hungry all the time. Which was why, staring at the fresh cookies, the pain in his mouth and hand faded. He forgot all about the repercussions if he stole another.
Forget resisting. Those round, blissful bites would now be the perfect temperature.
He reached again and endured another smack.
One bite was all it took to find heaven. He groaned as his mom admonished, “Brat! Those are for the bake sale at Tyson’s school.” Tyson being his much younger brother. Sixteen going on attitude.
Dominick pulled a bill from his pocket and handed it over. “Will that buy me a third one?”
“You can have one more. And not the biggest,” she added with a shake of her head.
Dominick snared a midsized cookie with lots of chocolate chips and took his time enjoying it, taking smaller bites as he watched Mom bustle around the kitchen.
Despite the cane she kept handy, she moved quite well, the stiffness in her right leg not slowing her down at all. But he worried.
They all did. He and his other siblings. More than most people had. At last count, nine, including him, with the youngest aged nine.
What would they have done if Mom had died in that car accident a few months ago?
“Stop staring at me.” She caught him and chided.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“Would you stop worrying? I’m fine. I’m just old. It takes longer to heal.”
“If I ever get my hands on the person who ran that stop sign…” He growled. Deeply. Startlingly.
His mom eyed him. “You’ll do nothing. Because the cops will do their jobs, and the culprit will be arrested and jailed. Don’t you dare do anything that screws up our Thanksgiving dinner.”
At the mention, he played aloof. “Depends. What are you making?”
“As if you care about anything but my tourtière,” Mom scoffed.
She was right. He loved tourtière, the Quebecois version, with chunks of meat, potato, onions, and diced carrots. Cooked into a flaky crust that burst in the mouth along with the flavor of the spices and the gravy. The chunks of meat melted in the mouth. Mmm.
“You’re dreaming of food again,” Mom cajoled as she flipped cookies into a container.
“Fuck yeah, I am.” Too many years of field rations had whetted his appetite.
That brought a tilt to his lips. “Please, I’ve heard you use worse.”
“What happened to do as I say and not speak as I do?” Mom arched a brow.
“I think I’m old enough now to use whatever language I like.”
“Oh, really?” his mother drawled. “We have young, impressionable ears in the house.”
He snorted. “Have you heard Tyson when he’s gaming online with his buddies?”
“Are you tattling on your brother?” More like an uncle given the age gap between them.
“The boy needs a firm guiding hand. Are you slipping, old lady?” He ducked before she could throw something at him and grinned at her snort.
“Don’t you start. You know Tyson had a rough year. Last thing he needs is me harping on him all the time. Or are you telling me you’re a better parent, Mr. Doesn’t-even-own-a-dog?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Never will, either. And I guess you’re a mostly awesome mom,” he teased. His family was the only thing that could draw out the gentler side of him.
“Only mostly awesome?” she queried.
“Another cookie might change my mind.” He tried and got shot down.
“Ha. See if I bake you the good stuff.” She poked him in the belly. “From now on, only healthy options for you.”
“So long as they have chocolate in them.”
“Even the chicken I’m making for dinner?”
“Chicken?” His eyes lit. “What kind?” Because Mom made a mean deep-fried version with buttermilk batter that crunched with each bite. But she also had this version with a lemon sauce, ooh…and the one with the stuffing—
“Stop drooling. I haven’t even put them in the oven yet.” A massive, industrial-sized appliance that rarely didn’t have something cooking. With nine kids, she’d learned to have massive amounts of food ready to eat at all times. Not a single leftover ever went to waste. Sunday was kitchen-sink day. All leftovers in the fridge had to go, and if there were none left? They had a pizza place on speed dial because Sunday was Mom’s day of rest.
“How many are you expecting for dinner tonight?” It could vary wildly because, on any given night, his siblings might bring boyfriends and girlfriends. Mom always rose to the challenge, and no one ever left her table hungry. It helped that they lived on a farm with a few animals and some crops. Still, it didn’t provide for everything.
“No idea. It’s not like any of you give me any warning.” She wrinkled her nose, but the grumble was half-hearted.
“You need a hand with anything?” he asked.
“Glad you asked.” His mom gave him a smile that suddenly made him scared. So very scared. “I need a few things from the store.”
Having played this game before, he knew a few things most likely meant a dozen, with specific brands. He held out his hand. “Give me the list.”
“And waste paper?” She snorted. “I thought you were about saving the planet?”
“From bad guys.”
“Well, now you can save it from waste and pollution.” Mom whipped out her phone and began typing.
His cell dinged. “I assume that’s the list.”
“Yup. You can take my van.”
“Lucky me.” Because nothing said big, bad, retired military guy like driving a sky-blue minivan with a bumper sticker that said: If you can read this, I hope you have a nice day.
“You’re welcome. The shopping bins are stacked in the back.”
“Bins? How many groceries we talking about?” He pulled out his phone and tapped, opening the text she’d sent with a link. His eyes widened. “What the ever-loving fuck is this?”
“The grocery list. And because I’m nice, I’ve placed the items in a spreadsheet separated by store, included the aisle, price, and quantity.” The organization took her craziness to a new level.
“Are you sure this is right? It’s massive.” As in might as well just toss a store on top of the van and drive it home big.
“Are you not up to the challenge? Perhaps your little brother is better suited for the task.”
Despite recognizing the insult, he still bristled. Dominick straightened. “I can handle this. It’s just groceries.”
“A few days before Thanksgiving. And you, a rookie.” She shook her head. “Maybe I should go myself.”
He tucked the phone away. “How hard can it be?”
Harder than expected when the cranberry shelf only had two dented cans left, and three people vying for them.
Surely, the can of cherries would suffice. He also didn’t get pumpkin pie filling, and this despite being in his third grocery store.
According to someone who heard him muttering about it, shelves had been harder to keep stocked since the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses went under. Shipping had slowed.
It might be why he’d gone a little overboard buying boxes of treats at his last stop. In his defense, it was hard to decide. Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting or vanilla cake? What about the one with coconut or the honey-glazed donuts? He bought two of each. By having his own sweets stash, he could avoid getting his hand slapped.
The line to the checkout was a snaking affair with spots marked for social distancing. Most people followed them, but a few crowded. When someone touched the backs of his heels with their cart, he turned and bared his teeth. His ankles didn’t get an apology, but the buggy didn’t hit him again.
As Dominick neared the checkout with his overflowing cart, he saw a woman behind the Plexiglas shield for the cashier. Her dirty-blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her nose and cheeks as freckled as ever.
His heart literally skipped a beat.
“Holy shit, is that you, Anika?”
Her hazel gaze met his, and it took a second and a frown before she muttered, “Dominick?”
“Yeah, from high school. Remember me?”
Her lips quirked. “I do.” Her gaze dropped from his face to his gut, reminding him of the time she’d slugged him. He’d gotten drunk at a party and suggested they have sex. Actually, what he’d said was, “Hey, honey, you look good enough to lick.”
She’d declined. So, he’d doubled down and said, “Well, if I can’t taste you, then feel free to suck me.”
She’d gut-punched him and said, “You’re disgusting.”
Well-deserved. And he’d been contrite when he sobered up. Even tried to make amends. She’d flipped him the bird.
That’d led to him having the biggest crush on her the rest of his time in school. A crush unrequited.
To this day, she didn’t appear impressed. She ignored him as she ran his items over the scanner.
“So, what have you been up to?” he asked.
“Me too. Military.”
“Good for you.” Mumbled without looking up.
A glance at her hand showed no ring, but that didn’t mean shit. “How you been?”
Rather than answer, she kept scanning. Within Dominick, a familiar frustration bubbled. What the fuck was her problem?
“You always this happy, or did I catch you on your period?” Regret hit the moment the words left his mouth.
She cast him a glare. “You always a big jerk, or is this my lucky day?”
“I wouldn’t be a jerk if you weren’t being a bitch.”
Her gaze narrowed. “Wow, with a shining personality like yours, it must cost you a fortune to convince hookers to date you.”
His jaw dropped, and in that moment, something odd happened.
The rage within flipped to lust. Which led to him saying, “A thousand bucks for the night. I’ll even pay for the room.”