Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable.
See? Not your small town country girl flavor, I’d say. But dark, mysterious, damaged, and in need of love. Tell me which one of us women cannot relate or at least hunger to?
I love my hero. There were times when I’d damn near called out his name during sex! I mentioned it to my husband in a joking pass and he just rolled his eyes. Me and my books.
“You cold? Too warm?” I glanced at her, wishing she’d give me more than a profile. Her fear only subsided to a low-level terror, leaving my muscles still set to murder on demand. I turned in the direction of home, fighting for nonchalance. “Look, you can stay at my house tonight, okay?”
Two blocks of breath holding later, she finally answered. “Not right for a woman to stay at a man’s home…I think.”
I think? Sounded like she regretted the rule. Definitely. “Well, then stay at another hotel, not there.”
“Have no more money. Have paid all to them for the month.”
I shrugged. “No problem. I’ll pay for you to stay someplace else.”
“Cannot let you pay.”
I glanced at her, both annoyed and amazed with her decency. No wonder my devil wanted her so bad; she’d make quite the trophy once spoiled. The idea made me want to protect her more, but that would mean getting her the hell away from me. “Well, what then? I have a spare bedroom. It’s just me, and my handicapped friend I take care of. He’s like a brother to me.” What else? “There’s even a lock on the bedroom door, and if that’s not good enough, I’ll sleep in my car and you can have the entire house.” I shut the heater off.
She suddenly turned those annoying goggles at me. “I can sleep in the car. You take your own home.”
“What? No way, never!” I turned down the street to my home. “My mother would kill me if she knew I let a woman sleep in my car when there was a perfectly fine spare room in my house.” It was pure evil to use my mother, dead for over twelve years, but that threw a wrench in her conflict.
She stuttered a few times while I tapped my thumb against the steering wheel. You’re trying too hard. “Come on, what about this gift of yours? Helps you see…bad people? Plus I’m celibate,” I reminded. “That makes me like…a holy man. You have nothing to worry about.”
Any deeper in hell and I might be able to dig myself out the other side.
She made mouse sounds, twisted her hair, and then gave a slight smile. “I think this is fine. One time.”
“Yeah, yeah. One time. I mean I can trust you, right?” I shot her a glance. “You aren’t going to kill me in my sleep are you?”
That cute mouth of hers went slack in worry.
“I’m kidding.” I laughed. “I know you’re harmless.”
She looked away and down, reminding me about her so-called dangerous eyes. The idea of her being dangerous was…kind of adorable. She was more like a dark-haired angel with a really scarred complex and crazy, green swimming goggles.
I pulled into the driveway and led her through the main entrance of my house with the etched-glass double doors, compliments of eight years of combat pay in the marines.
“Very nice home.” She looked all around, openly amazed.
“Oh thanks,” I whispered, not wanting to wake Mr. Fifty Questions. “I got it mostly for Jeremy.” I turned and quietly clicked the lock into place. “He was kinda homeless all his life, and I thought he deserved something nice for a change.” I gestured to the sofa with a hand. “Have a seat. I’ll get your room ready.”
She nodded, still looking all around while walking to the white, leather couch. Maybe the lavish home would send all the right vibes. Successful. Responsible. Which could mean character. And character usually came with integrity. That could easily be interpreted as trustworthy. It was the first time I was glad to be OCD. Now that’s the serial killer mentality.
In the spare bedroom, one sniff of the stale air wrinkled my nose. Wait, I could offer her the master suite. Black, silver, tan decor with jade accents…all that suede and silk… Yeah, that was perfect for her.
Then you’ll have to explain why you don’t live in it. Why didn’t he? Had to be that it reminded him of his presidential suite at the coven mansion.
I regarded the khaki-colored spare bedroom, twin bed, single-drawer mahogany side table. This was neutral. Normal. I nodded at that message. That’s what her bedroom should say, not will you be my mistress.
I hurried to my bathroom down the hall, retrieved some cologne, then ran back and doused the carpet and curtains. My eyes watered, and I waved my hand in the air and coughed. “Shit.” I opened the window and used a pillow to swoop some fresh air in.
Back in the living room, I found Sheeku perched on the edge of the couch the way I had left her.
Act like she’s been here for five years. Don’t even look at her.
“Your room is ready.” I headed for the small kitchen joining the living room. Damn. It was four in the morning. “Come eat something,” I insisted quietly, getting out leftovers. I turned from the fridge with the last dish and found her at the breakfast bar. Okay…hungry? Starving?
“I will clean.” She matched my quiet tone.
I took a second to get over how exotic her voice sounded at that level. Shit, she was toxic. I pulled a plate out of the cabinet. “I will clean.” So she was a payer. I could definitely work that. “It’s a deal. I hate cleaning.” Lie number ten.
She smiled with a little nod, making me want to see her without the stupid goggles. Pulling a glass out of the cabinet, I suggested, “Why don’t you…take the goggles off now that we’re inside.”
She gave an emergency head shake.
“Okay, okay,” I mumbled, loading her plate with a soldier amount of food before slipping it into the microwave. I turned and leaned against the counter, finding her by the fireplace mantel looking at pictures. Damn, she was fast. And quiet. Hope she didn’t ask personal questions. Focusing on her meal, I got her a fork and napkin, then pulled out the pink lemonade and turned to find her back at the snack bar. “Shit.” Back again. She was goggling a five-by-seven picture in her hands.
“You do not have hair in this picture.” Curiosity colored her voice another shade of exotic, if that were possible. She aimed her invisible gaze at me.
I leaned and looked at the picture of me and my buddy, Dexter, fresh in the marines. “Nope, no hair there.”
“Now you have such long hair.”
I scratched a nonexistent itch on my cheek and shrugged. “Yeah, that I do.”
“You are very beautiful…with long hair.”
I busted out laughing. “Then I guess it’s time to get a haircut.”
She didn’t find this funny. “Why?”
I turned up my brain volume, trying to think around the sweet offense in her tone. “Because I don’t…want to be beautiful?”
I chuckled at how her offense raised a notch. And how she obviously believed it totally cool for a guy to be beautiful. “’Cause I’m a guy.” How stupid that sounded.
“And you think…it is not good for a guy to be beautiful?”
I folded a dish towel into a perfect square, keenly aware of the illogical urge to be whatever the hell she wanted. “Well, it’s…” I shrugged. “You’re free to think guys can be beautiful. I mean it’s a matter of opinion, really.”
She studied the picture. “I think it is very nice for a man to be beautiful.”
I crossed my arms over my chest, calming my guts. “I see that. I guess I’m glad about it, then.”
She goggled me, lips tempted with laughter. “But I also think you are beautiful without hair. Especially your smile.” She looked back at the picture.
Smile? I leaned to look at what she saw. “But I’m…not really smiling there.”
She spoke lilting Chinese and flashed perfect teeth, perfect joy.
Was it possible for Chinese to feel like honey coating your insides?
“What did you say?”
“Say it reminds me of the sun peeking out of the clouds after it rains for so long.”
I looked down to hide my grin. “Oh.”
“Ahh, but that one is my favorite smile.” She shyly pointed her finger at me. “Like a sun that warms all things it touches.”
I shook my lowered head, face getting hotter by the second. My smile warmed her? “Okay, that’s enough about my beautiful, sunshine smile and hair. I’m starting to feel like a woman.”
Tinkly laughter brought my gaze up. “Impossible to look like a woman with your warrior body. I am very sure.”
The microwave dinged, saving me from more embarrassment. I got her food and set it before her, trying to hide what her words did to me. “It’s hot. Be careful.” I slid her pink lemonade and napkin next to her, focusing on not dumping it all.
She sang something in Chinese and picked up the fork, leaning to take a long sniff that produced more amazed sounds.
“I’m gonna…take a shower. You okay by yourself?”
She paused, her face square with mine, beautiful lips slightly parted. “Need to help with your injury. I forget about this.”
Oh yeah, me too. I reached up and felt for the gash, all pain blocked out by my shield. I found the sticky mat of hair. “I think it’ll be fine.”
She stood and held her hand out to me as if she wanted to lead me like a child to the doctor’s room. I looked down at her hand, fighting a smile at how sweet that was. And tempting.
“You cannot see,” she said. “Must help you.”
“Well, then, how about…I shower and you can look at it after?”
She dropped her hand, seeming to consider. “This is good.” She gave a permissive nod that made me feel like I should thank her.
“And you can eat.” I hitched my thumb at her food behind me. She looked too skinny, but it was difficult to be sure with her baggy clothing.
“Good. I’ll…go now,” I said.
“Yes, yes, so fine.” She seemed to sense my hesitancy and sat back at the snack bar.
While I was gone, I half worried she might turn into a figment of my imagination, so my shower was lickety-split. I hurried to my room in only jeans and had the misfortune of running into Sheeku, who stood like a blockade in the middle of the hallway. I took hold of the towel around my neck, trying to hide the giant demonic scar on my torso.Just…be normal. What a fucking joke. “Hey.”
Like a deer caught in headlights, she stood there, goggles locked on my body. Nothing like a six-foot dude in jeans with a multihorned demon burned across his front to make you feel right at home. By the gape of her mouth, I assumed her eyes were wide. It didn’t help that my muscles gave the monster a scary, real appearance.
I felt like a fucking abomination and that it was blasphemous for her to see it. “You can take a shower if you want. I can loan you some…”
She reached a hand toward me, and I held my breath. Her finger touched the side of my left hand and pushed.
I hesitated, wondering at the pulling, bubbly sensation that flooded the space between us. I didn’t wonder long. When I shut my eyes, I met her lavender aura. I opened my eyes, not wanting to miss anything, then obliged her and slid the towel off my neck. Flutters ripped through my stomach as she approached my scar with a fingertip. I stared at her face, trying to figure out what, or why…
I flinched at having her slender finger on my bare skin. She drew it back, but only barely. Scared, yet determined? Then I felt it. A pressure inside me right where her finger aimed again. She was seeking an opening. But to what? I focused my gaze on the trembling fingertip, watching her lower it down onto the mouth of my demon. I resisted the instinct to slap her hand away, not wanting her ever to touch him, worried he would somehow enter her.
Then she carefully traced the scar.
I watched the rise and fall of her chest. It soon sped up, and I clenched my fists, feeling the agony of my past gather inside me and answer her silent call.
Come to me, she seemed to call to it. Show yourself.
There was no denying her. Like a lost child, my pain ran to her, eager for her gentle, safe spirit, knowing she was a place it might find justice and finally rest.