Someone’s watching me.
Though as hard as she tried, Eliana Reyes couldn’t pinpoint why she had the feeling. None of her fellow passengers openly stared at her. Most slept, read, or chatted quietly. She’d walked past them to use the restroom but couldn’t trace the eerie sensation on any one person in particular. Yet someone had his attention focused on her, and it gave her the creeps.
The feeling didn’t leave once the bus reached Denver. People around her jostled for bags, eager to disembark. Eliana stayed where she was, both to let everyone else leave first and to have a chance to study them as they went by. None seemed out of place. They were all tired and stiff in wrinkled clothes and in a hurry to get wherever they were going.
Eliana rose. Her right leg was one big blot of pain from the hip down after sitting for so long. She muttered a curse. The steep stairs at the front of the bus were hell. Cane hooked over her wrist, Eliana grabbed the railings and swung down to each step, landing on her good leg. The bus driver offered his arm for the final step, and she took it, though she hated needing his support.
None of the other passengers paid her the least attention, yet the eeriness followed her outside. Lamplight illuminated the snow falling in thick flakes. Her breath turned to mist with every exhale. She sucked in the cold air and tried to shake her unease. What the hell is this? More than nerves.
She could defend herself but not against a danger she couldn’t see.
Unlike the others, she didn’t have to wait for luggage. The only clothes she’d brought were the ones she wore—a knee-length skirt, blouse, thigh-high boots, and a jacket meant for cool Arizona nights, not frigid Colorado ones. She’d spent her last dollar on a bus ticket to take her as far as she could go, but it wasn’t far enough.
Cane in hand, she braced against the ever-present pain in her hip and limped through the terminal. Heads turned as she passed, and she did her best to ignore the stares of pity. A nineteen-year-old leaning on a cane wasn’t a common sight, and she did her best to hold her head high and pretend her leg didn’t ache like the devil after over sixteen hours of travel. The cane was dark, heavy wood and worn: a hand-me-down that was all the hospital had been willing to give her. She hated it, but she needed it unless she wanted to fall down every few steps.
“You poor thing,” a middle-aged, motherly woman said to her. “Here. Sit down. Rest yourself. Is someone coming to meet you?”
Sitting down was the last
thing she wanted to do. She thanked the woman as kindly as she could and kept walking. No one was coming to meet her. She had no friends, and the family she was trying to reach probably didn’t even know she existed.
She had no place to go. No money. No shelter from the cold. No food for two days, and her painkillers had long since run out. Loathe as she was to consider a homeless shelter, it seemed her only option. She fought back tears.
Gazing around the terminal, she searched for the source of her discomfort. Most were listlessly watching the television or talking to a neighbor. One shaggy man stood in the corner, rocking on his feet and talking to someone only he could see and hear. She went to a pay phone and paged through the directory for addresses and studied the map of downtown Denver to get her bearings. Satisfied, she headed out.
A man held the door for her as she exited the depot. The temperature had dropped even further. Cold air burned her lungs. As if she were a child, she stuck out her tongue to catch the falling flakes. Snow was a novelty. It fell once a year, if that, in southern Arizona and never in such quantities.
She smiled and did her best to appear nonchalant as she headed down the slick sidewalk. After a few blocks, her nose and ears burned, and her toes had been numb for so long she worried about frostbite. The snowdrifts, pretty as they were under the streetlamps, had lost their novelty.
She jumped, heart pounding at the voice that came from nowhere. Without stopping, she turned her head to see a handsome, roguish sort of Hispanic man keeping pace with her. He wasn’t someone she recognized from the bus, nor did he heighten the deep uneasiness that continued to follow her, but she remained cautious. He wore an expensive black woolen trench coat and seemed unaffected by the temperature. Eliana kept her face neutral and replied in Spanish, “Not lost. Just heading home.”
The man looked pointedly up and down the street, which was empty except for a truck salting the road. “Not many apartments around here. Kind of late to be out by yourself.”
“I just got off work.” He didn’t seem threatening, but she’d learned long ago never to judge by appearance. From the fine clothes, he had money. The thought crossed her mind that he might want some company for the night. I don’t think I’m that desperate.
Not yet. Not without trying to find some honest work first.
“I have a room at the hotel just over there. Come over for a drink and warm up.” He held out an ungloved hand. When she hesitated, he shook his hand for emphasis. “I don’t bite. Pretty girl like you shouldn’t be out alone.”
His voice had a sexy undertone that raised her hackles. He’s definitely after what I think he’s after.
“I’m fine. I don’t need an escort.”
“I won’t hurt you.” The man grabbed her free hand.
The warmth of his skin surprised her, though it might have been only because her fingers were numb. “Let go.” She yanked her hand back. He didn’t release her. “Asshole. I said let go
.” She raised her cane, prepared to crack it against his extended arm if need be.
The man tugged her forward. Eliana lost her balance and stumbled, falling against his broad chest. For a moment she froze, stunned and intoxicated by the heat emanating from him. By the time she tried to right herself, one of his arms encircled her waist and brought them together. With his free hand, he tilted her chin up so she had no choice but to look into his dark eyes. “I’ll take care of you,” he said.
An odd tingling filled her head and drained away any thought of resistance. She was so tired and cold and hungry she didn’t give a damn where she went or with whom as long as it was warm and allowed her to get off her feet. “Is your hotel far?”
“Not far at all.” His smile continued to thaw her reluctance. “I’ll even let you order room service.”
The offer of food did her in. His warmth eased her shivers and made her drowsy, and for a while she didn’t notice he’d turned off the main street and into an alley. Except for a dim bulb over a doorway, the alley was pitch black. Fear overcame the languor. She planted her feet on the asphalt, which sent a jolt of pain through her hip. “I don’t think—”
“That’s right. Don’t think.” His voice was soft and supple, urging her to comply. A wave of fatigue overcame her, and she slumped against him. He slid one hot hand up her leg and beneath her skirt to her thigh. Unwilling, she shivered, and deep down something within her craved more of his touch. “That’s right, sweetheart. Just relax. This will be a night you won’t forget.”
Right. I’ve heard that before.
Yet she couldn’t make herself move. It was as if he’d woven a spell of heat and comfort that kept her paralyzed.
He turned her so that her back was against the rough brick wall. Then he grasped her wrists and forced them above her head. The cane dropped to the ground, the clatter deafening in the otherwise silent night. She ought to fight—she meant to—but her will had vanished beneath her body’s need for his touch. He unzipped her thin jacket and swiftly unbuttoned her blouse. Chill air hit bare skin, and she gasped.
Hips against hers, he cupped one breast and kissed her. His hardness probed between her thighs. Then he shifted, putting too much pressure on her sore hip.
The pain instantly cleared her mind. Wrong. This is all wrong.
With a cry of rage, she raked her fingernails across the man’s cheek.
The man gave a low, inhuman moan and shook his head. Blood spattered onto her face and neck. She was disgusted—until the stuff started to burn. Biting off a cry of pain, she tried to scrape the stuff from her skin, but it was already too late.
She scooped up the cane and headed toward the alley’s entrance, but the man appeared again directly in front of her.
“How the hell…?” She backed up, turned around, and again he was there. No matter which way she went or how fast, the man stood before her. His eyes held an eerie orange glow. Shit. Who the hell is this guy? The devil?
She swung the cane, but all she managed was an ineffective blow to the man’s arm.
He grabbed her wrist and slammed it against the rough brick wall. Pain streaked through her hand and wrist. She dropped the cane. The man kicked it into the darkness. “Don’t try that again.”
He thrust her onto the asphalt. She landed sideways on her bad hip. Blinding agony shot through her body, and she screamed. The man rolled her onto her back, then stood straddling her. He unbuttoned his pants to expose an erection which seemed far too large to be real. A salacious grin crossed his face, too much like those Eliana had seen before.
Pain or not, she’d be damned if she let the man fuck her. She let out another scream.
of bullets came before her cry ended. When she dared to look up, the man had gone stiff, eyes wide as he rocked on his feet. Blood leaked from several wounds in his chest. Slowly, he dropped to his knees astride her. Gritting her teeth against the pain in her hip, she dragged her body out from under his just before he keeled over.
In horror she watched as the man’s body seemed to contract and crumple in on itself. Rivulets of blood fed a pool which quickly spread toward her. Steam rose from the liquid. She tried to crawl away but the slightest movement in her right leg sent shots of agony straight to her hip. She gagged, both from the rancid smell and from the body decomposing in front of her eyes. She groped around in the dark, desperately searching for her cane, but her fingers met only cold, wet asphalt. Damn it.
Whoever had killed the man was no doubt going to come for her next.
“Looking for this?”
A dark-haired man crouched nearby, but other than a thick ponytail, she could make out few of his features in the dim light. He held her cane in one hand—and a gun in the other. Eliana froze.
“Easy, honey. I’m not going to hurt you.” He shifted and hid the gun inside his coat. “What’s your name?”
Either the cold or the sharp drop in adrenaline finally did her in. She was freezing. Her teeth clattered together so badly she couldn’t speak. “That— He—”
“He’s gone. He won’t hurt you again.”
didn’t seem like the right word. The man had evaporated right in front of her.
A second man joined the first, this one thin, blond, and frowning. “Damn it, Kon, I wish you wouldn’t run ahead. You could have been killed.”
“I’m fine. Make sure the mess is cleaned up. We need to get her to the enclave. She’s in shock.” The first man jerked his head in the direction of the steaming puddle. He switched to Spanish to address Eliana. “Tell me your name, sweetheart.”
Sweetheart. That was one word that galled her to the core. “Call me that again and I’ll whack you like I did—” She shuddered.
“Tell me your name and I’ll have something to call you besides sweetheart.”
He had a point. She also noticed something odd in the way he spoke. The words were Spanish but the accent wasn’t Mexican. “Eliana.”
“Eliana. Pretty name for a pretty girl. My name is Kon. My friend Evan and I are going to get you taken care of, all right?”
“I don’t want your help.” She edged away from him, gritting her teeth to keep them from chattering.
“Maybe not, but you need it unless you’d prefer to sleep on the ground tonight.”
“Don’t you dare take me to a hospital.” She didn’t have money, and if she spent another night in one, she’d go loco.
“All right. No hospitals. I promise.” He leaned forward and extended a hand.
She grabbed it and twisted it around so his wrist bent at an unnatural angle. His mouth tightened, but he made no effort to break away, even though she was sure it must have hurt.
Frightened, she stared at him, certain fate had cursed her with not one but two crazy men—except this one wasn’t unnaturally warm. Neither was he trying to overpower her. He merely sat there, watching. After a while, he said, “I can’t help if you don’t let go.”
The words broke her immobility. She released him.
He rubbed his wrist and edged back far enough that the light from the streetlamp hit his face. The sight of his face, pale with an almost feminine beauty, held her transfixed.
I’m dreaming. Angels don’t exist.
But he was as close to angelic as she’d seen a man get. I’ve seen him before.
But her mind was too frazzled to recall where.
For a long time, neither of them moved. Kon waited, apparently in no rush to leave. Eliana became increasingly aware of the stabbing in her hip, along with several scrapes and bruises. Her hand burned. She yawned, and her face stung like a bad sunburn. How the hell did that happen when it’s freezing outside?
“We could hang out here all night, but I’d rather have a warm bed and a cup of hot chocolate, wouldn’t you?” He raised his hands, palms out in surrender. “I know you’re afraid. I know you don’t trust me, and that’s okay. All I mean to do is get you in the car and take you someplace warm. No funny stuff. I promise.”
Right. And then he’d drug her and pay her a visit in the middle of the night. “No one’s ever made me a promise I could believe.”
“I have.” He held out his hand again.
Idiot, willingly setting himself up for another attack, but he spoke with a sincerity she’d heard from few others. By extending his arm, he trusted her not to hurt him. She grabbed him again, meaning to show him she meant business, but her strength failed before she’d managed to do more than a light squeeze. Tremors racked her body both from the cold and dropping adrenaline.
He gripped her instead, firm but not overpowering. “Please believe me.”
If he’d been the first man she’d met that night, she might have taken him at his word. She wanted to. She just…didn’t. “One step out of line and I’m leaving. You have one chance.”
“I’ll take it.” He scooted to her side without letting go. “I’m going to have to move you, and I think it’s going to hurt.”
“That’s nothing new.”
He helped her sit up, then took off his coat and wrapped it around her. It was too large but mercifully warm. “Ready?”
Gritting her teeth, she nodded. Gentle as he was, he couldn’t prevent the bolt of pain which had her using the most colorful swear words she knew.
Instead of taking offense, Kon laughed. He tucked her carefully in the backseat of a large, comfortable sedan and climbed in the opposite side. She huddled against the door, as far away from him as possible, and hoped like hell she wasn’t getting herself into deeper trouble.