Jade Archer 
   ~ A Shot For The Heart ~

Excerpt ~ Sharing Paul

Leaning back against the wall of the club, Paul cast his eyes across the now somewhat subdued club patrons milling around. A few die-hard stalwarts and the occasional lonesome loser were all that were left of the energetic Friday night party crowd this late in the evening. Or early in the morning as the case may be. And in less than an hour even they would be gone.

Rolling his shoulders to try to relieve some tension, Paul barely suppressed the urge to start moving restlessly from foot to foot. Now that he wasn’t occupied with fucked up rich pricks who assumed the world existed to kiss their asses, he found his mind wandering to thoughts of Joshua.

Joshua was resting at the moment, but something was very wrong. It had been for a long time now. Paul could feel Joshua’s fatigue and lethargy battering at him. It was driving him absolutely insane not being able to go and check to see if he was okay. Again. Right now. But he knew he couldn’t risk drawing attention to them by ‘dropping out’ of the real world. They’d worked too long and hard to fit in here as part of the pride. Well, as least to the extent they were ever likely to fit in anywhere. He wouldn’t go back to the bad old days when people stared at them and cubs were taught to avoid them because they acted weird sometimes.

So here he stood, in a dark, smelly bar, watching the drunks and deadbeats and counting the minutes until he could kick their asses out the door. The last sixty minutes of his shift could not go fast enough.

Glancing around, Paul noticed a few of the regulars edging away from him nervously and realised he was frowning. Again. Actually, it was pretty much a permanent feature these days. Joshua’s failing health was a constant worry—like a toothache that throbbed and demanded his attention day and night.

Paul rubbed absently at one of his aching temples before running his hand back through his short, platinum blond hair in frustration. Maintaining their psychic connection had always taken a lot out of Joshua—he was the one who bore the brunt of the psychic drain it required. But he seemed perpetually exhausted at the moment, often listless and lethargic, and needed more and longer rest periods all the time. He was growing steadily weaker by the day.

Damn it all to hell! He knew Joshua was in trouble. What he didn’t know was what to do about it. Worse still, he wasn’t sure how much longer the man he loved could go on like this before he just could not maintain the link between them at all.

A cold shiver of dread crept down Paul’s spine and wrapped its icy fingers around his heart. If that thin thread that bound them together so intimately should ever break…well, without that he wasn’t sure either of them would survive.

Distracted by his concerns, Paul jumped when Luke—another cat shifter assigned to security at the club—slapped him hard on the shoulder.

“Hey, buddy!” Luke smiled broadly, obviously enjoying catching Paul off guard. “Nate asked me to come over and see if you wanted to finish up. Actually, you do kinda look like you could use an early mark. Something wrong?”

“No. Nothing’s wrong,” Paul replied automatically.

He wondered how long he’d been standing in the corner, staring off into space with a scowl on his face. As he looked over at Nate, registering the concern on his friend’s face and no sign of the little twink from earlier anywhere, he got the feeling it had been a while. So much for not drawing attention to himself.

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind knocking off early. I haven’t been sleeping all that well lately.”

That much at least was true—he was too worried about Joshua.

“Yeah, well, you should try keeping up with those littermates of mine. I tell you, David and Trent get stupider by the second. Can you believe I had to go get their dumb asses out of jail last night? I swear Mum’s going to pitch a fit when she finds out. And you know who she’s going to want to blame, don’t you? Just ‘cause I’m the oldest. You don’t know how lucky you are being an only child in your litter, man,” Luke grumbled.

Paul had heard of a species of turtle that could breathe through its ass and wondered if Luke had somehow managed to score some of its DNA in his make-up somehow. It was really quite amazing the way the man never seemed to run out of air once he started his longwinded bitch sessions about his brothers. Perhaps he was just naturally gifted. Either way, Paul didn’t respond to Luke’s comments. He wasn’t sure anything he had to say would be appreciated anyway. Luke didn’t know how incredibly blessed he was to have healthy, rambunctious siblings to mess up his life.

Paul walked away before he could say anything he would undoubtedly regret later on. There really wasn’t any point anyway. No one would ever understand about Joshua. No one ever could.

“Well, see you around,” Luke called after him—a sharp, acidic edge to his voice.

No doubt the other cat shifters in the club would be talking about him before he reached the top of the stairs. Paul found he really didn’t give a shit. He had more important things to worry about. Like whether or not his soulmate was going to survive to the end of the day.

And truly, there was no other way to describe what Joshua was to him. He was, quite simply, everything.

Paul increased his pace, bounding up the steps to the living quarters two at a time. Once he reached the private upper level of the building, he headed straight to the room he’d been assigned when he’d agreed to run security at The Cat Club.

It was a fairly basic set-up—a small lounge room, a long bench with a sink and a microwave. A connecting door led to a bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. And that was about it.

Most of the cat shifters working in the club or one of the other nearby businesses the pride owned had similar accommodation arrangements. Being social creatures, they tended to spend most of their time together in the club or in one of the large communal areas. And if they wanted a meal, they ate in the kitchen downstairs. There didn’t seem much point in going overboard with the apartments. Besides, they were a damn sight better than what most of them had been used to before they’d escaped.

Still, looking around, Paul doubted any of the other rooms were quite as Spartan as his. He had an ugly threadbare lounge, a dilapidated side table, a battered old television he hardly ever watched and a standard-issue single bed. And that was it. A few of the others, especially those who were mated or stayed in the city on a more permanent basis, had larger, more elaborate apartments. But he had noticed even the warriors and labourers who were on rotating rosters, and were often happy enough just to have a place to sleep, had made more of an effort to make the small spaces their own. Little individual touches here and there that said ‘home’. Most maintained even better places back up at the compound out of town where the main pride lived. But he had never bothered much with setting up a place at either location. All he needed to do to make it home was to close his eyes and concentrate.

Paul took off his boots and stowed them neatly under the bed. He stretched out, making himself comfortable on the bare mattress that had come with the room and closed his eyes. Clearing his mind, he concentrated on slowing his breathing and heart rate using a series of meditation exercises he had learnt before he could even walk. Soon, everything around him faded away and the ‘room’ came into focus—a place he and Joshua had constructed together when they were little more than cubs.

Clean, ivory coloured walls and crisp, white light filled the huge space—accents of warm, honey colour wood preventing it from looking too stark. Through the open French doors, he could see their pretty little Japanese-style courtyard garden—complete with the sweet sounds of a trickling waterfall and tiny songbirds in the cherry trees. The air was lightly scented with the slightly spicy tang of kazarina flowers—one of the few things they’d brought with them mentally from their home world. In short, it was beautiful. Peaceful. And in the middle of it all, fast asleep on a soft white divan, was the very heart of his existence.

Joshua was so thin now, Paul noticed sadly. The dark circles under his eyes stood out starkly against his pale skin. His shock of white-blond hair—all ruffled and messed up with sleep—only emphasised his increasingly frail condition. Curled on his side as he was at the moment, Joshua looked incredibly young and vulnerable—even though, in a psychic sense, he was as strong as a lion. Which was just as well too, or Joshua would never have survived at all.

Paul shook his head and sighed sadly at the miserable hand life had dealt Joshua. He would never understand how or why the two of them shared one perfectly normal body between them. They were like…some strange sort of Siamese twins—linked mentally and emotionally rather than physically. It defied all explanation.

It wasn’t even as if the two of them were anything alike. Paul was an introvert. Joshua an extrovert. Paul enjoyed wild open spaces and running. Joshua was more intellectual and loved nothing more than curling up with a good book. It made for some very interesting compromises at times, but at the end of the day, while he didn’t know where Joshua had come from or why, Paul found he really didn’t care. Joshua had just…always been there—his forever friend.

The truly cruel twist was that Paul—a quiet introvert—‘owned’ the body they lived in, while Joshua, who was naturally vivacious and outgoing, was pretty much confined to the ‘room’ and could only maintain short bursts of time as the one in control of their physical form.

Unfortunately, Paul had to admit it was probably all for the best. Of the two of them, Joshua was the only one who could maintain their special psychic link. Gods knew Paul would never have been able to do it. It took time and effort he didn’t have while he was constantly dealing with the outside world. More importantly, it took patience—something Paul had never had a lot of—and an incredibly powerful natural psychic ability he just didn’t possess. Not like Joshua.

But, while Joshua might be better suited and incredibly strong mentally, right now it looked like the effort was slowly killing him.

Paul watched as Joshua stirred and slowly opened his beautiful hazel eyes. If the eyes really were windows to the soul, Joshua was an angel. But then Paul already knew that. Of course, he was incredibly biased, because he loved the man with all his heart and soul.

Paul stroked the soft pale curls of Joshua’s hair back from his face. He felt his heart melt when Joshua closed his eyes again and began to purr as he nuzzled closer.

“Hello, beautiful. How are you feeling?” Paul asked softly, unable to hold back the concern in his voice, even though he’d promised not to fuss and fret.

“Better,” Joshua reassured, before opening his eyes once more and slowly blinking up at him.

Paul couldn’t help but remain sceptical. Joshua still looked too pale and not his usual energetic self. In the past, Joshua would have pounced on him as soon as he appeared in the room and wrestled him to the floor. Paul wondered sadly if he would ever have that special joy again.

Apparently, Joshua knew him far too well. He reached up and returned the tender caress—gently stroking Paul’s cheek. “Really, Paul. I’m fine. Everything will work out, you’ll see.” Joshua raised himself up onto one elbow and placed a sweet kiss on Paul’s lips. “Love you,” he whispered.

Resting his forehead against his lover, Paul looked deep into Joshua’s lovely green flecked, golden-brown eyes. He desperately wanted to believe everything really would be okay. But it was hard to ignore the evidence to the contrary right before his eyes and his own growing sense of fear.

“Love you, too,” Paul whispered back, and stole another soft kiss.

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