I’ve been hard at work on the edits for my new novel, DARK ANGEL…but I can’t say that I’ve spent every second working on it, because I’ve also joined Facebook! I’d love to be friends with you, so just add me there! I’m excited about being on there, because I get to connect with new friends and old ones, and we get to talk about great television shows and the best thing in the world: BOOKS. 🙂 So I’m happy to be there!
The thing I’m most excited about though is how DARK ANGEL is going. It’s such a romantic, sensual book, and I love the characters so much. It’s about Casey, who is saved (arguably) from death by an ancient vampire woman named Elle. Casey doesn’t know why she can’t stop thinking about Elle…Elle wasn’t even particularly kind. There was a cruelty to her, but also a deep connection that Casey can’t ignore. When the men who were after Casey won’t give up the chase, Elle makes Casey an offer she’d be a fool to refuse…and a fool to accept.
Below is the entire first chapter of DARK ANGEL–I’m so excited to be sharing it with you! Hopefully DARK ANGEL will be released sometime next week from Rose and Star Press!
Chapter 1: After Last Call
I should have never stayed out until last call.
Two o’clock in the morning, while it’s late for everyone else, seems so…early when you want to forget everything in a wonderful booze-y stupor. But regardless of how much I wanted to forget, I should never have stayed out that late that night.
I wasn’t drunk. I was tipsy. That’s a pretty vast difference when you’re trying to make your way back home in Boston in the not-so-nice parts of town. I’d kept my wits about me, and I had a can of pepper spray in my little backpack purse. I didn’t walk like prey does, you know? I kept my shoulders back and my chin up, because no one was going to take me on that night, I thought in a haze.
But somehow, someone did, anyway.
I was drinking alone. There, I said it. I know it’s sad—really kind of pathetic, actually. It was Josie’s fault, of course, what with her having broken up with me a mere few hours earlier, the pain of it still burning brightly in my heart.
I know I should never have dated Josie. She was the kind of girl who used me up and “tried me out” while she was “finding herself.” Yeah, she actually pulled that line on me. Our sex was “great” and our chemistry was “awesome,” but in the end, she wanted a more “normal life” with that asshole Travis, apparently, who she worked with. Adding insult to the worst and most painful injuries, she left me for a jock.
Fresh out of college, damn degree framed and nailed onto the wall just last week and somehow I’ve never felt stupider in my whole life.
I never thought I’d fall for a straight girl. Who really wants someone they can’t have? Honestly, I even went to Bentley University with this sort of weird promise to myself that I wouldn’t date while I was in school—which, I realize now was a stupid idea. You can’t help being attracted to who you’re attracted to, and there were a lot of women I’d been attracted to at school. But no matter how many pretty heads turned mine, I was still doing pretty good with my rule about not dating until I graduated. It’s because I wanted to be able to get the best grades (in the terribly boring degree of business finance. Hey, it may not be fancy, but at least I had a couple of options after I graduated). But I could never have planned for that semester with the English Lit class I needed to complete my requirements.
I could never have planned for Josie being in that class.
She had long blonde hair, and dimples in her cheeks when she smiled, which was almost always, and this mischievous glint to her eyes. She had long legs, and always worse these pretty short skirts and flip flops to class, even when it was freezing out.
I was smitten immediately. And there were sparks between us right away—you know the type. It’s because they were so bright that the sparks were the only thing I really saw. We were passionate together, and right away I knew we argued too much for my own comfort level, but everything else was so right. So right until it was terribly, terribly wrong.
I was feeling very sorry for myself, on top of being upset and unhappy. So yeah, I didn’t even call any of my friends to go out drinking, because I didn’t want to talk about all of the painful parts of the break up yet, or even the fact that we’d just broken up. I didn’t want to go through the entire harsh and terrible conversation Josie and I had had all over again and right away, only hours after Josie had told me all of that hard, painful stuff that I’d probably relive every time I second-guessed myself or was feeling down on myself.
Like that one point where she told me she’d wished she’d never met me…
I should probably have just gone out and bought myself a couple of six packs and come back home and drunk them while watching Buffy re-runs or something in my jammies, with a gigantic tub of ice cream in my lap and my cat Tanya purring like a motor beside me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to stay in the apartment. The self-same apartment where, earlier that day, Josie and I had had sex on the sofa and a little bit on the kitchen stool and counter.
Which I guess was pity sex since she was breaking up with me for a guy a few hours after that.
You can see why I was more than a little upset.
So I’d put on my leather jacket, grabbed my car keys and wallet from the counter filled with memories that no amount of bleach or other sanitizing products would ever remove, and slammed the door behind me on the way out.
I was angry, so I actually walked all the way to Queenie’s, my favorite bar in the South End, which was a good two miles away, but it was May, so it was pretty warm out considering, and I was fuming most of the way, so I didn’t even notice the little hint of chill in the air.
Honestly, I was glad to be fuming. I knew what would come next in the grieving process, probably, which was intense pain and sadness and these terrible feelings of loneliness which would probably result in my calling Josie up at four in the morning to cry pathetically while I left another voicemail message about how much I wanted and needed her in my life. I’m not really the kind of person who leaves messy, pathetic voicemails, and I promise I’m not always this pathetic, but I really thought that Josie and I had had something special, and I knew booze was going to make me do rash things involving voicemails that I would really regret.
I’d thought what we had was really special.
I would never have spent the last ten months of my life falling in love with her if I hadn’t believed it would last.
I guess maybe it’s old fashioned, but I really always wished for a forever sort of love with someone. You know, finding and meeting and falling in love with an amazing woman who wouldn’t see all of my faults, or maybe would, but would love me in spite of them. Who would dance around in the kitchen with me to Janis Joplin and wear stupid aprons embroidered with sayings like “World’s Best Chef!,” when we weren’t even really anywhere close to “World’s Most Mediocre Chef!” Someone who would spend Sunday mornings lazily wrapped around me in bed while we drank cream-filled coffee and planned our grocery list for the week. Someone who would go to every Red Sox game with me, or at least quite a few of them, who would maybe get excited about hotdogs in the park.
Someone who would love me unconditionally.
But that person, I now knew, could never have been Josie. Because Josie had had too many conditions, conditions that I’d been too blinded by love to pay as much attention to as I should have. Conditions like not telling her family about me (“I will soon!” she’d been promising me for months). Conditions like not even telling her friends about me. She called me her roommate, for Christ’s sake. We’re not in the Stonewall era anymore. She didn’t have to be out and proud, but I would have been so, so happy if she was, at the very least, not ashamed of me.
So I went out to Queenie’s, and I began to drink, and I didn’t pay that much attention to how much I was drinking, and I got tipsy. Maybe more than a little tipsy. And I left the bar at last call at two in the morning with a heavy heart, and I began to make my way back home.
The streets were almost as bright as day, what with all the blazing street lamps and many shop signs still lit up, and overhead there was a blazing bright full moon. There were a couple of people milling about on the sidewalks because last call had just been announced. Cigarette smoke mixed with the cool air, and I could hear laughter and talking, and somewhere far distant, the sound of a harmonica. I shivered a little, because in the packed bar, it had been pretty hot, but now that I had a few drinks in me and had been pushed back out into the night, I was finally noticing the cold.
I walked along the sidewalk stuck in my own little world. I paid attention to things like the “walk” and “don’t walk” signs, and the intermittent traffic on the streets, but other than that, my thoughts looped around what I’d been doing that morning with Josie, and how I would never touch her, kiss her, or hold her again.
I’d never told her I loved her, I thought. Maybe if I had…
I was pushed out of my sad, downward spiral by a little shiver. What was kind of weird was that I had this pricking sensation at the back of my neck. You know the one, where you’re in a crowded room, and you can feel someone’s eyes on you, but you can’t place, really, who might be looking at you—you only know that you’re being watched. It was a really insistent feeling all of the sudden, and I’ve lived in the city long enough to know that at two o’clock in the morning, eyes on you can be less than friendly. So I kept going, throwing back my shoulders, lifting my chin a little higher and putting a slight swagger in my step to look like I wasn’t one to be messed with. There were people around, and I was only fifteen blocks away from my apartment. There was no reason to get jumpy.
But the pricking sensation along my skin continued at a really insistent, shiver-inducing rate until I couldn’t take the insistency anymore. Finally, I turned to glance over my shoulder really quickly. It was just a quick duck of my head when I reached an intersection and had to stop for a light.
But there was no one behind me.
Well, then I just felt silly. I even chuckled at myself as I waited for the pedestrian light to flash “walk,” my hands deep in the pockets of my old leather jacket, the cold breeze blowing over my flushed cheeks and tugging at my ponytail, sending long wisps of brown hair across my face. I tossed my ponytail back over my shoulder, rocked on my heels, waiting for the light to change.
I felt a strong hand close around my upper arm.
There was not even a heartbeat where I assumed it was a friendly hand. I knew, immediately, from how tightly the fingers gripped me—painfully and hard—that something was very wrong. I’ve taken some self-defense classes, but I was too inebriated to do anything more than what came instantly and instinctually, which was to elbow back as hard as I could. And my elbow connected with hard force against a rib cage, which I don’t think was expecting the elbow. There was a low, guttural “oof” behind me, and then that terror-inducing combination of two words you never, ever want to hear at two o’clock in the morning when you realize that you really haven’t seen people on the sidewalk for a few blocks, and all of the traffic you thought you were seeing is now gone since you’re walking through a more abandoned section of town.
Because a man’s voice behind me, in a chilling growl, said, “Get her.”
I didn’t bother to look over my shoulder. I took off, sneakers pounding against the broken concrete of the sidewalk in staccato timing with my heart. I’m not the best runner (heck, I’m not even a good runner), but adrenaline began pumping through me faster than my blood, and I ran as quickly as I could along the sidewalk, hoping that I’d get through the more abandoned section of town, edge closer to the blocks that were near to my street. I knew there’d probably be some people out, maybe, and that’s all I needed: people. You don’t get attacked or mugged around people, right? No one wants to commit a crime where there are witnesses.
But I only got a couple of steps before strong fingers curled around my arm again, jerking me to a standstill like I’d hit a brick wall. That self-same arm flung me around, and then I was staring down four men.
Four men, all taller than me, bulky in long, black trench coats. I stared them down, my nostrils flaring as I tried to keep my gasping to a minimum, gulping down air.
One of the men stepped forward. He had close-cropped black hair, a cruel hooked nose and dangerous blue eyes.
“Over there,” he said, jutting out his chin toward an alleyway.
That’s when it began to sink in that something really terrible was about to happen to me.
I began to scream my head off, kicking back with my legs, gritting my teeth and swinging my fists around. They connected with nothing: the man holding tightly to my arm simply sidestepped each violent jab coming from me. A rough, wide hand clamped over my mouth, and then I was pressed back against his body that reeked of cheap cologne that smells like nail polish remover as I was dragged toward the alleyway.
He was impossibly strong, like a steel girder or concrete barrier, his body as hard and immovable as a wall. I’d never felt a human being like that in my life; it was like he was made of armor.
I was afraid. Terrified, really, the kind of terror that made every single thing in that horrible moment stand out to me. How strong his body was, and how not even the worst of my struggles could dislodge him. How the men around me reeked, and also smelled of cigarette smoke, I realized. How the flickering street lamp overhead went out as the men walked beneath it.
I was so afraid. But there was, deep within me, a bright, hot seed of anger that was making me react, making my body push against his, lashing out, even when none of my other struggles worked.
Instinct roared up within me again, and I bit down on his hand, hard.
And he actually…chuckled. It was a surprised laugh, like he thought my attempts at struggle were hilarious. And even though my teeth bit against his metal-tasting skin, he didn’t move an inch. He really did taste like metal, like he’d been holding keys for a long time. I bit down harder, and when nothing happened, I stopped, panting through my nose because he was pressing his palm down tightly against my lips, and I needed more oxygen than I was getting: I was starting to see stars.
“Personally,” said the leader—or the person who I was assuming to be the leader, the guy with the black hair and the hooked nose. He chuckled, a deep, velvety sound that sent chills through me: “I enjoy it so much more when they’ve got a bit of life to them.”
“Yeah, don’t let her black out,” said the guy to my right, wagging a finger. “That’d spoil things.”
Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
I was all animal at that moment, all feral, kicking, screaming, biting animal. I didn’t want to die or be raped or anything else their sadistic minds could come up with. I wanted to live. If you’d asked me earlier, at the bar, I might have—in a more-than-tipsy stupor—told you that I really didn’t have much to live for at the moment. But right then? With the hand over my mouth, the men laughing around me, their strength—their immovable, steel-girder strength—dragging me to a situation I was fighting tooth and nail to avoid?
Yeah. I wanted to live. I wanted to live desperately.
I dragged my feet, black spots beginning to poke at the corners of my vision. I wasn’t getting enough air, but it didn’t matter; I had to get out of this before whatever they were intending to do happened to me. If I could just get away from them, struggle out of this guy’s hold, I could sprint, run toward a more lived-on street, run toward people who would, by their very presence, save me. I could get home, and I would call the cops, and I would be alive.
But we were in the alleyway. We were at the end of the alleyway, the dead end.
And the guy let me go.
They were fencing me in, the four men, but at least I staggered forward and stood, able to breathe, in the center of the dead end, the old, crumbling brick behind me covered in scrawled graffiti in all the colors of the rainbow. They weren’t physically restraining me anymore, but that didn’t mean anything. I panted and pressed my hand to my jaw; it ached from how roughly the guy had been holding me.
I stared with wild eyes at the men.
And I began to scream again, screaming at the top of my lungs, a haunted house scream, the kind of scream you make on a roller coaster, but more guttural and deeper and quite a bit more insistent.
And, all at once, all four of the men smiled.
I took a step backward, gulping for air, the scream stuck and silent in my throat.
It wasn’t possible, what I was seeing. The men in front of me—all of them…their teeth were sharp. As sharp as a shark’s, all of them needle sharp, as if each of the individual teeth had been filed down to points.
Were they a cult, a gang? A weird gang who filed down their teeth and wore trench coats and murdered women? Oh, my God, I was about to become a bulletin on the morning edition of the news. I was going to die.
I didn’t want this. I would do anything to avoid this.
I wanted to live.
I took another step backward, and my foot connected with a loose brick. It’d probably dropped from the top of the wall behind me. Not even thinking, I snatched it up, and I let it fly.
Any other day, I probably wouldn’t have hit anything. But adrenaline works wonders, and I managed to hit the main guy, the guy with the black hair and the scariest and most intense of the smiles, square in the face.
There was the sickening sound of something extremely hard connecting with skin. His nose was instantly squashed sideways, the angle painful and extreme; his nose was definitely broken.
But, as I watched, his nose moved slowly right back into its hawkish curl, like his face was made of putty and could snap right back to attention from anything.
I stared, open-mouthed. This wasn’t happening. Things like that don’t happen; broken noses don’t instantly heal themselves. It was like I was in a horror movie, or—more believably—a really terrible and awful and unforgettable bad dream.
The main guy stepped forward. He opened his mouth, his eyes narrowing and his teeth glinting in the gray, dirty light that managed to reach back here in the alleyway.
This was it. They were going to kill me or rape me, or both. It was all over. My life was over. Anger and terror pumped through me in equal amounts, and I didn’t know what to do, but I gulped down air, curled my hands into fists. No matter what, I wasn’t going down without a fight.
The guy stalking toward me, with the cruelly and unnaturally smiling mouth full of sharp, glinting teeth—he just…stopped. He paused in mid-step, his boot connecting to the pavement. He cocked his head a little, closing his mouth.
His head was smashed in by a steel girder. Literally. A steel girder connected with his skull, and it caved inward like a rotten melon. He crumpled instantly to the broken pavement like all of his bones had been turned to mush, and he lay, convulsing, his black trench coat fluttering around him like bat wings and the steel girder sticking out of half his head until the person who had put it there yanked it out.
“That warning was painful, but not quite deadly, boys,” she said in a soft, rich growl. “Do you want me to get deadly?”
She had long, straight, dirty blonde hair that spilled over her shoulders. That’s the first thing I noticed, how her hair moved in the slight wind that found us there in the alleyway. The second thing I noticed was how her long-fingered hands held the steel girder, like it was made of Styrofoam and not solid steel as she hefted it upward.
She had such dark eyes that, in the dimly lit alleyway, they looked more black than brown. Her face was flawless, with full lips and a wide nose that made her large eyes look even bigger. Even though her face would make it seem like she had a soft beauty, her eyes didn’t complete the package: they were hard and dark and angry, and when she sneered at the men just then, tossing the steel girder a little into the air and raising a single eyebrow, I knew I’d never seen a more cruel expression on anyone in my entire life.
Her solid black combat boots shifted on the pavement, and she began to slowly tap her right foot. “I’m waiting for an answer, gentlemen,” she murmured softly, the low tones of her voice making every hair on my body stand up to attention as I shivered.
“This is our territory,” said the guy who’d been holding me and covering my mouth. He sounded almost whiny as he added, crouching backward like he was a dog who’d just been kicked, “You have no right.”
The woman didn’t even consider the objection. She took a single step forward, and faster than I thought anyone could move, she swung the steel girder again.
It connected with the man’s face with a sickening thud and a slurpy crunch.
I made a little sound in the back of my throat as the man fell down, crumpled next to the first guy, blood leaking out onto the pavement in a gush. I had to be sick, I realized, as my stomach began to boil all of its boozey contents with a fierce nausea at what I was seeing before me.
The two remaining men standing glanced at each other then shook their heads. “Magdalena will hear about this. You can’t do this shit and get away with it anymore. There are rules,” said one of them, almost petulantly. But then the two of them were picking up the fallen guys, hefting them upward like they were lumpy sacks of flour. Weren’t the men dead? How could anyone survive a steel girder to the face? How could anyone have a caved-in skull and still live? But, no, their bodies were twitching as they were slung over the men’s shoulders, and one of the guys uttered a bubbly moan out of a smashed-in face. “Magdalena—” the guy started to say again. But he was cut off.
“Tell Magdalena that she can go fuck herself,” said the woman in a low, almost conversational, growl. “And, knowing Magdalena, she’s probably done exactly that ten times already today. Tell her I’m sick of the bullshit, of the rules she put in place. Tell her,” said the woman stepping forward slowly—the two men who actually towered over her scurrying backward as if she was the most dangerous creature they’d ever seen—“tell her,” the woman repeated, dark eyes flashing, “that I’m no longer in exile. Tell her Elle has returned.”
The men made a whimpering noise in the backs of their throats, and then they ran down the alleyway faster than I could see. I tried to watch their blurred forms move impossibly fast, faster than I’d ever imagined human beings being capable of running, my hand over my own mouth, trying to swallow down the rising bile.
There were two wet spots on the pavement where the men’s heads had been. Sticky, wet spots that looked like a very large amount of blood had been spilled. And yet, it had seemed somehow, impossibly, that my assailants, being carried off on the shoulders of their companions, were still…alive?
The woman in front of me lifted her chin and let the steel girder drop to the pavement at her feet. It made such a loud, metallic series of clangs that I jumped, my breathing coming quicker as I let out a long sigh and the girder came to a rest practically in front of my toes. The stranger wiped her hand that had been holding the girder along the long, muscular thighs of her pants—leather pants? It was impossible to tell in the dark. Her black coat had fallen open, and it seemed she was wearing black underneath as well, but again, in the dark, it was difficult to make out discerning features other than two facts: this woman had saved my life. And she was really gorgeous.
Adrenaline makes you notice the strangest things. Who knew.
“Thank you,” I said haltingly, then cleared my throat, realizing that my teeth were chattering because I was shaking so hard. “Thank you for saving me,” I told her then, taking a deep breath to try and stop the shaking. The gulp of air didn’t do much, and I wiped the sweaty palms of my hands together, trying to warm myself.
“Why are you thanking me?” she asked, her voice so soft in the now still and quiet alley that it seemed to echo eerily in the quiet off the Dumpsters to my right, and off the brickwork around us, coming back to us like a slow, soft hiss. I furrowed my forehead, opened my mouth, not understanding for a long moment.
What she’d said…it was a genuine question. She was staring at me with narrowed, dark eyes and didn’t seem to have a clue as to why I would be thanking her.
“You…you saved my life,” I explained haltingly. My teeth clattered together in my skull, and my jaw was aching as severely as if I’d been punched.
She stared at me for a long moment, then breathed out with a sigh herself. “No,” she told me simply, taking a step forward. Her boot clacked against the pavement as she lowered her head, staring at me with intense eyes. “I didn’t.”
I blinked, and from where she’d been standing, she was simply gone. Because she was now right in front of me, and her strong fingers were gripping my wrists. In one smooth, fluid motion, she’d flipped me, and my back was against her front, my hands held tightly and expertly behind me and sandwiched between us, like she’d just performed a martial arts movement to incapacitate me.
When she whispered into my ear, her breath was as cold as the grave, drifting over my skin and eliciting a violent shiver from me.
“No,” she repeated with a low growl. “I saved you from them,” she explained softly, her cold breath washing over my skin, even as her firm body pressed against the length of me, her stomach tight against my hands. “But I did not save you from myself.”
What? I blinked, taking another ragged breath, my adrenaline—only a little bit soothed—began surging through me again.
“What are you talking about?” I began, but she shook her head, and while her left hand still effortlessly—and tightly—gripped my arms behind my back, her right hand drifted up to caress my throat.
Her fingers were so strong as she held my neck gently but firmly. I had the sudden, cold realization that she could have snapped my neck if she wanted to. Someone who hefts around steel girders like they’re pool noodles could probably snap about twenty necks before dinner. But her fingers stayed confident and strong around my throat, her pointer finger gently drifting up and down my throbbing jugular as if she was trying to soothe me.
The moment was as clear as crystal to me as my blood pounded in a panic through my body, as my heart struggled with about a million conflicting emotions. I was aware of so many different things: how muscular her body was against my back. How my arms, crossed painfully at the small of my back and held tightly by her, were pressing against her firm, taut abs. She was cold against me, like she’d just walked out of a deep freezer, and she smelled sweet, and a little metallic and a little deep and dark, like a blood-red flower that’s been left in the winter wind too long.
Her finger paused against my jugular, and then I was aware of a sharp sensation pressing into my skin, against my throbbing vein. Was it her fingernail? It was impossibly sharp if it was. Impossibly sharp…
“What are you doing?” I whispered, trying—and failing—to keep my voice calm.
She nuzzled the back of my neck, pressing her open mouth against my skin, eliciting a bone-deep shiver that raced through my body like a fever. Her mouth, her tongue against my skin, was bitterly cold and so soft.
“Tasting you,” she whispered.
Every sense I had was heightened, every beat of my blood through my body could be felt, it seemed, in every single one of my atoms.
It was so unexpected, this moment of steely tenderness, after the terror and the running and the screaming.
My breath hitched in my throat as she kissed my neck again, as her tongue laved against my skin in one soft, sweet arc along the curve of my neck.
The spell was broken when the woman stepped away from me, still holding tightly to my arms. But her body was no longer against mine, holding it up, and I staggered under that loss, turning with wide eyes to take her in. But she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking back down the alleyway, the way the men had gone.
“We have to go,” she said, one brow up as she glanced back at me. “They’re going to bring reinforcements. Magdalena doesn’t like it when I don’t play by her rules.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, frustration sharpening the words. I stared back at her, and such a strange thought came into my head. I didn’t know her name.
Wait. Yes. I did. She’d told the men something…
Tell her Elle has returned.
Her eyes narrowed as she glanced at me, and then she let go of me, taking a step back.
Her name was Elle.
“I could leave you to them,” said Elle, lowering her gaze to me. She was a few inches taller than me, and she was glancing down at me now as if I was more an inconvenience than a woman whose skin she’d just traced her tongue across. I shivered at that open, blank indifference. “Or,” she said, and she took a step forward. Her hands grabbed my hips with one possessive yank, and then my body was pressed against hers again, and her fingers were digging into the skin along my hipbones with such familiarity, like she’d touched me a million times. A billion.
I gasped as she pressed her mouth to mine.
I wasn’t expecting a kiss, even after her mouth had been on my neck, even after she’d held me tightly, pressing against me. I wasn’t expecting the kiss, or the chillness of her mouth, or how much she tasted like mint and metal, so cold, so overpoweringly cold. I wasn’t expecting how my mouth immediately conformed to hers, even as the small-but-still rational part of my brain as yet unaffected by the booze told me that what I was doing was absolutely, positively crazy.
It was the way she was gripping my hips, like she knew my body intimately already. It sent flutters through me, through my heart, over the spot between my legs, flutters that shouldn’t have existed after the ordeal I’d just been through.
She drew her head back, searching my eyes with her own narrowed ones, her mouth curling up at the corners cruelly.
“I could leave you to them,” she repeated. “Or I could save you from them again,” she whispered, leaning down and mouthing the words against my bare clavicle. I shivered against her.
“Who are you?” I asked her, practically panting against her. Elle. She was Elle. But that single name didn’t cover a single thing about her. Why were the men afraid of her? Why…
She took a single step back, shaking her head, her grin deepening. “You ask too many questions. And you’re not very good at taking orders. Whatever will I do with you?”
“The hell?” was my articulate response to that. I balled my hands into fists as this impossibly intoxicating woman took another step away from me, tilting her head to the side and chuckling lowly, like she’d just heard the funniest joke.
“They’re coming for you,” she whispered, her words like dangerous velvet drifting over my skin. “Do you want me to save you?”
There was too much moving through me, too much adrenaline—and, anyway, I rebelled at that thought. I rebelled at the way she said it, like if she didn’t save me, I’d be lost without her.
I didn’t know who she was, but I already knew the truth that I was telling her so impetuously, even before it was out of my mouth:
“No, thanks,” I said, taking a ragged breath in and curling my hands into fists. “I can save myself.”
I blinked, and again, when I opened my eyes, she’d moved impossibly fast in that literal half a second. She was right before me, gripping my hips again with sharp-nailed, strong fingers, and she was searching my eyes as she stared down so deeply into me that every part of me, every secret part of me, seemed utterly open to her scrutiny.
I’d never felt so exposed in my life as she stared into the very heart of me.
“You know what?” she said, her voice a low, almost shaky growl that caused me to shiver. “They were right,” she said, drawing out the word into a low hiss. “You are feisty. But that much empty bravado is meaningless when faced with the reality that you are in very deep over your head. Do you understand me? Do you know what those men were going to do to you? What they were?” She narrowed her eyes further, her smirk increasing. “Better yet…do you know what I am?”
“No,” I told her, keeping my voice steady. I’d been faced with everything but explosives tonight. I wasn’t exactly certain where I was getting all this courage from, but as long as I had it, I might as well use it.
And if there was something I’d known but couldn’t put into words from the first moment I’d seen that woman…I’d finally found the words for it now.
The men were dangerous, yes.
But this woman? She was more dangerous than all of them combined. It was something I knew in my gut as surely as I knew that the sun would come up tomorrow, that I’d wasted my time with Josie.
I knew it as surely as I knew that no moment in my life had ever been more risky.
And that I’d, somehow, never felt more alive.
She took a step back from me, her hands—regrettably, I realized—leaving my hips. Her nostrils flared as she sighed out for a long moment, shaking her head and rubbing the back of her neck as she rolled her shoulders. “Right. Well, realize that now that they weren’t successful…they’re not going to forget this. You’re in danger. And you’re in over your head.”
Like I hadn’t been thinking that for the extremely busy and violent past twenty minutes. I glowered at her; I didn’t like her superior attitude, how she was acting like she was God’s gift to me. Yes, she’d saved me. But what was all this nonsense? I’d go home, call the cops, and I’d probably never see those men again—if the two severely injured ones even survived the steel girders to the head.
And what had she meant…that she hadn’t saved me from herself?
I opened my mouth, about to angrily ask her to explain herself—saving me or not, she had no right to talk to me like that, I wasn’t going to stand for it—when the corners of her mouth turned upward, and she leaned toward me.
She didn’t say anything. Only bent her gorgeous head and brushed her lips against the skin of my neck.
She was so cold, her mouth freezing against me. But then the coldness of her skin disappeared in an intense moment of heat as pain blossomed on my neck where her mouth touched me. It was like a bee sting, but worse, how crystalline and sharp that sensation was against me, against sensitive skin.
I opened my mouth, I tensed my muscles to take a single step back. But I blinked. Like any normal person, my blinks are almost instantaneous. But from one quarter of a second to the next, in that tiny flutter of time that my eyes were closed…
The woman disappeared.
Absolutely disappeared. Vanished into nothingness.
I breathed out slowly, realizing I was shaking. I lifted my hand to my neck, wiping my frozen fingers over my skin, surprised that there was a touch of warmth against my fingertips. I brought my hand away from my neck, looked down.
There was a single drop of blood on my finger.
I opened and shut my mouth. I walked slowly and stiffly out to the mouth of the alleyway, glancing up and down the street.
But there was no one there.
She had disappeared into the night like she’d never existed.
Elle was gone.