“Do you think that I like coming to you?” Sabrina Lark asked as she stared into the bright gaze of Luke Thorne. A shiver slid over her body. Anytime she stared at Luke too long, Sabrina shivered. She didn’t think she was the only one with that reaction. Smart people knew to fear the Lord of the Dark. “But I’m desperate, and I’m willing to do anything.” Well, almost anything.
Luke put his fingers beneath his chin as he peered back at her. He cocked his head to the side. “Just what is it you think I can do for you?”
Sabrina gave a bitter laugh. “What can’t you do? Every dark creature in this world jumps at your command.” That was one of the perks of being the Lord of the Dark. Luke had ultimate control when it came to the so-called “bad” paranormals who roamed the world.
Luke’s stare swept over her. “I don’t see you jumping.”
Okay, she was one of the bad ones. So sue her. “I didn’t ask for this. I never asked for any of this.”
Luke let out a long sigh. “Like I haven’t heard that line before. Same song, same old dance. Paranormals are always whining for the world to change.”
Sabrina sat a little straighter in her chair. Her hands fisted in her lap. “Are you going to help me or not?”
His expression never altered. “You still haven’t said what you need.”
“Protection,” she gritted out. “Isn’t that obvious? I’ve got a killer on my trail, and I need help.”
He gave a bitter laugh. “Inspired someone too much did you?”
Inspiration. That was kind of her gig. Sabrina was a muse, one of the last of her kind. The last, actually. She’d been around for centuries. Sabrina had seen every good and bad piece of humanity out there. She’d watched her friends die. She’d seen lovers vanish. And she’d seen evil. So much evil. That was the thing, though, even after all these centuries, evil could still fool her. She hated that she could be so blind to its true nature. “Let’s just say that I misjudged someone.”
“Are we dealing with a human? You can usually handle those fairly well on your own.”
“We’re dealing with a monster.” A monster who was stalking her. No matter where she went, he was there, following her every move. “I need a guard. Someone unstoppable. Someone to protect me 24/7.”
“Are you sure that you don’t just want a killer? Someone who will get rid of your monster problem?”
Sabrina swallowed and tried to keep her breathing nice and slow. “That may be necessary.” Did that make her sound like a coldhearted bitch? Too bad. A desperate woman would do desperate things.
“And what will you give me in exchange?” Luke’s eyes had narrowed. “Because that’s generally the way this type of situation works. I give you what you want, and you offer me something in return. Something I want.”
“What do you want?” Sabrina hated the fact that her voice trembled.
His mouth hitched into a half smile. It wasn’t a very reassuring sight. “I want the same thing that every man wants from someone like you…I want inspiration.”
At his words, the thick knot in her belly grew worse. “If you don’t help me, I’m dead.” Simple fact. “So I will give you any inspiration you want. I will inspire the fucking hell out of you…Just help me.”
Luke rose slowly from his leather chair and stood at his full, commanding height. He stretched his arm across the table, his palm open. Sabrina rose, and she stared at his offered hand.
“When the deal is set, I like to shake on it,” Luke said. His hand waited for her.
Sabrina eased out a slow breath as her fingers touched his. He squeezed her hand, and his eyes gleamed. “You just got yourself the best protection in the world.”
She tried to pull her hand from his, but his grip just tightened.
“Though I should add,” Luke murmured darkly, “that I never said the inspiration would be for me.”
Her mouth got very, very dry as she gazed into his eyes.
“The best way to fight a monster,” he continued in that low rumble that was his voice, “is with a monster. Don’t worry, I have the perfect beast in mind for you.”
Once again, Sabrina shivered.
The people in the ballroom smelled rich. The women wore glittering ball gowns as they spun around the dance floor, while the men were all clad in the same perfectly cut tuxedos. Fake laughter filled the air, and flutes of champagne were being passed out by the handfuls. Adam Cross knew how this scene worked. It was a charity ball. The drunker that the humans got, the more likely they were to donate that precious money to the cause of the night.
But to be honest, he didn’t really give a shit what the humans did. He wasn’t there for the humans. He was there for her.
The crowd parted before him, and suddenly Adam could see his prey. Sabrina Lark. An honest to God muse. This wasn’t his first encounter with her, though she didn’t know that fact. She didn’t know about their shared past, and Adam intended to keep things that way.
She was wearing a body hugging blue gown. Probably topaz or some technical color shit like that. Her perfect breasts pressed against the top of the gown, while the material cinched in tight near her tiny waist. There was a slit along the left leg of her gown, one that revealed far too much skin. The gown had obviously been designed to tempt, and judging by the flock of admiring males near her, Sabrina’s gown was certainly doing its job.
As he watched, she tilted back her head. Her long blonde hair trailed over her shoulders, and she gave a quick, light laugh. She seemed to not have a care in the world. Sabrina hardly looked like a woman on the run from a killer. Had she lied to Luke? If so, then the lady had made a fatal mistake.
It doesn’t pay to jerk around the Lord of the Dark.
Just then, Sabrina’s head turned and her eyes met his. Her eyes…For a moment, Adam actually stopped breathing. He’d never seen eyes like hers before. So big and blue and deep. The color of her eyes matched the dress perfectly. Adam was sure that was deliberate. She knew her appeal, and she was fully using it. The human males would be helpless against her.
But as she stared at him, something happened to that beautiful face of hers. Fear. Adam knew that emotion when he saw it. All too often, people looked at him with fear in their eyes. For some reason, he hadn’t expected her to look at him that way. His mistake. One look, and she was staring at him the same way all of the others had. His body tensed, and Adam took a lunging step toward her.
As if right on cue, Sabrina turned and stumbled away from her admiring crowd of males. She rushed toward the open balcony doors, her high heels clicking against the gleaming floor. One of the men tried to stop her, but Sabrina just shrugged him way. The guy didn’t follow after her.
Adam did. When people tried to get in his way, he just brushed the fools aside. After all, he was a man on a mission. She was his mission.
He swept through the open balcony doors and felt the brush of the wind against his face. He expected to see Sabrina standing on the balcony. It wasn’t as if she had anywhere to go. Unlike him, she didn’t have the luxury of possessing her own wings. But when he stepped outside, she wasn’t in front of him. It took him two seconds too long to realize that he’d just walked into her trap. He spun around, but she’d already lunged at him. She’d been hiding right next to the balcony door, pushing her body flat against the bricks there. In a breath, she had a wickedly sharp knife pressed to his throat. Instantly, Adam stilled. After all, wasn’t that the reaction a normal man would have to this situation?
“Who in the hell are you?” Sabrina demanded. She was tall in her heels, but she still tipped back her head to stare into his eyes. “What are you doing in a ballroom full of humans?”
Very slowly, he lifted his hands. Adam wanted to show he wasn’t armed. He’d brought no weapons with him to the charity ball. It wasn’t as if he needed weapons. “I think you’re confused.” Adam kept his voice soft and calm, or as soft and calm as he could manage. His gaze swept over her face.
What a fucking fabulous face it was. A perfect oval, with those wide, unforgettable eyes. Her nose was small and straight. Her cheekbones almost ridiculously high. And her mouth…Talk about the stuff of the darkest fantasies. Red. Full. Too tempting.
“I’m not confused.” Anger tightened each word. “You think I don’t know a predator when I see one?” Her left hand fisted around the front of his tux. Then she yanked him toward the nearby wall, making sure they were away from any prying eyes. Not that there was anyone out there to watch them. All of the rich humans were inside getting drunk. Only he and Sabrina were outside.
Adam offered her a weak smile. “Predator?” He lifted one brow. “I hardly think so. You took one look at me, and you went running. I just followed you to make certain you were okay.”
The tip of the blade pressed to his throat. “Bullshit,” she whispered the word like a caress. “Your aura is the darkest one I’ve ever seen. Trust me on this, I’ve seen plenty of dark ones.”
Adam blinked at her even as he kept his hands raised. “Aura?” he repeated. “You want to run that by me again?”
Her delicate jaw hardened. “Yes, aura. Yours hangs around you like a dark shadow of death.”
Adam didn’t know much about auras, but her description of his? Yeah, that seemed pretty spot on with his life. Not that he would tell her that particular truth. “You got me all wrong, lady.”
“I have enough shit going on in my life right now. I cannot deal with you, too. Go look for inspiration somewhere else.” She drew in a shuddering breath. “If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.”
Adam had to admit, the muse was impressing him. And he wasn’t one who was easily impressed. But she was doing it. Impressing him and turning him on. Sure, most men wouldn’t like it if a woman put a knife to their throats. He wasn’t most men. Technically, he was far beyond being just a man. So he offered her a small smile, then said, “You’re the muse I was told about.”
Sabrina cast a quick, nervous glance toward the open balcony doors. “Keep your voice down.”
Adam laughed. “And maybe you should keep your knife out of sight.”
It was interesting to note, Sabrina hadn’t broken the surface of his skin. Not yet, anyway. She was being very careful with her knife.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
Instead of answering, he asked, “Can you really inspire a man to do anything you want?”
For an instant, she bit down on her plump, lower lip. Then Sabrina gave a quick, negative shake of her head. “That isn’t the way it works. I don’t know what you’ve been led to believe, but that’s just wrong.”
Adam wasn’t so sure it was wrong. “Try it,” he dared. “See if you can control me.”
At his words, Sabrina gave a quick gasp. She yanked the knife away from his throat. “I want you to stay away from me. Do you understand? Far, far away. You carry a darkness…I can’t handle you now. I won’t handle you.” As he watched, she tucked the knife back into a sheath that was strapped to her thigh. Hmmm. So that was why she had such a long slit in her dress. The slit gave her easy access to her weapon.
Sabrina turned away from him. She’d obviously drawn him onto the balcony so that they could have a one-on-one chat. Only the chat hadn’t worked out so well. And now she was trying to ditch him…again.
His hand flew out and curved around her shoulder. In a blink, he’d pinned her between his body and the brick wall. Adam leaned in close to Sabrina. If any humans walked onto the balcony, they would just assume he and Sabrina were two lovers making out in the dark. The humans would be wrong. But what else was new?
His right hand slid down to her thigh. Her skin felt like silk beneath his touch. His fingers moved lightly over that silk.
“What are you doing?” Sabrina asked, her voice little more than a whisper.
He pulled the knife from the sheath and held it easily in his hand. “I’m making sure you don’t get the urge to slice my throat again.”
Her incredible eyes narrowed to slits. “I didn’t slice you the first time.”
Laughter drifted out onto the balcony. The moon was full, and a million stars glittered overhead. But even without that light, he would’ve been able to see her perfectly. Paranormal bonus. Monsters always saw well in the dark.
“Let me go,” she ordered.
Instead, he leaned in even closer to her. Barely an inch separated their mouths. He couldn’t help but wonder…What would the muse taste like? Perhaps he would find out. But not right then. “You have me all wrong. I’m not the villain. Sweetheart, I’m your hero.”
Time to seal the deal. So Adam said those few, soft words that were guaranteed to seal the deal for him, “Luke sent me.”
He felt the tremble that shook her body. Adam prepared for gratitude. After all, he was there to save the day for the muse. He was the protection she’d ordered. He was—
Just that one word. A hard, flat denial.
In response, he nodded. “Yes.”
“Luke’s insane. I won’t trade one psychopath for another.”
Her sweet scent wrapped around him. It was a light, flowery scent. Just another part of her appeal. His body pressed closer to her. “That was just mean.” And, really, did she know him well enough to decide he was a psychopath? Not yet.
She bared her teeth at him. “Get the hell away from me.”
Adam took his time. His very sweet time. The fingers of his right hand trailed down her arm. He slowly stepped back.
“Give me my knife.”
He tucked the knife inside his tux. “Not happening.” Maybe they should get to the introduction part? “I’m Adam Cross. Bodyguard protection, at your service.”
“Luke is a sonofabitch.”
That might be true, but…
“I ask for help, and he sends someone like you? No, no, this can’t happen.” She lifted her hand and pointed at him. “You aren’t the kind of man I want.” Her hand fell back to her side. “What am I saying? You aren’t even a man. I knew it the first moment I saw you.”
He wouldn’t let her piss him off. Okay, he would. Anger pulsed through him. “Hate to break it to you,” Adam told her quietly, “but you aren’t exactly an angel yourself.”
Just then, a human couple walked onto the balcony. The woman staggered a bit, and the man’s arms wrapped around her. The guy pulled her close, and their mouths met in a deep, hungry kiss.
Talk about shit for timing. “Get a room,” Adam muttered.
Sabrina took the opportunity right in front of her, and she jerked out of his reach. She marched off the balcony, not bothering to glance back at Adam.
He didn’t race after her. Didn’t follow her like a lost puppy. That wasn’t his style.
He’d made contact. He’d told her who he was and what he would be doing. Protecting her.
The human couple stumbled back inside. Maybe they were off to get that recommended room. Good for them. Adam stalked toward the balcony’s wrought iron railing. His hands lifted and curled around that railing. He gazed out into the night. The night was his time. He lived for the darkness.
The muse hadn’t been wrong when she said that he carried a shadow with him. He’d carried that shadow for centuries.
The air was crisp and cool. Adam took a few deep breaths. And he gazed down below. Some of the humans were leaving the ball. The valet attendants were bringing up their fancy cars. As he watched, Sabrina appeared below him. She handed her ticket to one of the valets. Moments later, she was climbing into a black convertible. The top was up, so he couldn’t see her after she slid into the car. She drove away with a screech of her tires, moving way too fast.
As if she feared that something bad was chasing her.
I’m not hunting you, sweetheart. I’m protecting you. Not usually his gig, but he owed Luke.
Sabrina’s car turned right at the stop sign. Then she squealed away. But…Another car followed immediately behind her. A big, dark SUV that almost seemed as if it had been waiting for her.
Adam spared a quick glance around him. No one was watching. Typical. Humans were always fully involved in their own lives. He lunged up and over the balcony railing. He hurtled through the air, and seconds later, his feet touched the ground. Adam’s knees didn’t even buckle. He brushed off the shoulder of his tux, straightened his tie, then he handed his own ticket to the valet. Soon, his ride was ready. A dark beast of a bike, its engine growling like a wolf. The motorcycle was totally out of place in the middle of all those expensive rides.
Like he gave a damn. Adam climbed onto the bike. His fingers reached for the handle bars. He revved the engine a little more. Then he gave chase as the motorcycle shot forward into the night.
The muse needed protection. She was going to get it.
Whether she wanted him or not.
Luke was jerking her around. Sabrina should have expected it. Luke and his games…He never stopped. She’d been foolish to think he would actually help her.
Her hands tightened around the steering wheel. Her heart wouldn't stop racing.
Adam. The stranger had said his name was Adam. Adam Cross. She’d never heard the name before, and Sabrina didn’t remember ever meeting the mysterious Adam in her very long life. He would be a hard man to forget.
Why did she always fall for the bad ones? Why did she take one look at a guy like Adam and think yes, please? He was definitely tall, dark, and handsome. His hair was thick and a little too long. His eyes…gazing into them had been like looking straight into darkness. His nose was a bit hawkish, and his lips oddly sensual. His jaw had been perfectly square and cut, and a faint cleft had been placed right in the middle of his chin. She’d wanted to lick that indention. Such a wrong response.
A much better response? Her urge to flee as soon as she saw his aura.
Auras. Most folks didn’t believe in them. Sabrina wasn’t most folks. She’d been seeing auras since she was a child. It was kind of a muse thing. She saw the auras that clung to people, and those auras told her things. Things like…
If a guy named Mike had insane artistic vision.
Or if a fellow going deaf could actually make the most incredible music imaginable.
Auras showed her passion. They showed her promise. They showed her what could be. But they also showed her pain. Loss. Fear. Everything that a person felt? It was in the aura.
Good. Bad. All that crazy stuff in between? In the aura. Madness. Brilliance. All there.
Most auras gleamed with lights. But Adam’s had been different. No light for him. Just darkness. So much darkness.
A human would never have an aura that looked like his.
The bright glow of headlights suddenly filled the interior of her car. Automatically, her gaze flew to her rearview mirror. “Jerk,” Sabrina muttered, but the word was more reflex than anything else.
If anything, the lights seemed to grow brighter. Or maybe…The other car was just coming closer. Her hands tightened even more on the wheel and her foot pressed down harder on the gas pedal. But she heard a revving growl, and before she could escape, the other car slammed into her from behind.
Sabrina screamed. Again, it was a reflex action.
In the next breath, she was hit again. Even harder. She couldn’t keep her car on the road. Her headlights flashed across the nearby trees, and then Sabrina’s convertible was slamming into one of those trees. The impact was jarring. Hard and brutal. Her airbag exploded and sent a cloud of white toward her face. The seatbelt jerked against her, and Sabrina heard the sound of shattering glass. Then…
Silence. Just the frantic pounding of her heart, filling her ears. Her breath raced from her. She shoved against the airbag and turned to peer out of her window. The other driver…Was he still there? Was he coming for her?
Adam had taken her knife. She was alone. She’d been hunted for so long. Tonight, she’d made a fatal mistake. She’d run from Adam, fearing what he could do to her. Maybe…Maybe she shouldn’t have run from him. Maybe she should have run to him.
Sabrina could see nothing in the dark. She didn’t hear the other vehicle. Didn’t hear the other driver. She grabbed at her seatbelt, fighting to get free. She was a sitting duck in the car, and she knew it. She had to get out. She had to get away.
Did she smell gasoline? Oh hell, she did. And the seatbelt was stuck. It wouldn’t unhook. The front of her car was smashed into a tree, and the back had been smashed by that asshole driver. “Help!” Her cry was too low. She tried again. “Help!”
But she feared the only help out there…It might be the other driver.
Was it him? The man who’d made her life hell recently? The man who’d made her so desperate that she’d turned to Luke for help?
Then she heard it. A low, deep growl. One that seemed to be getting closer. Her breath heaved from her lungs as fear iced her body.
The growl died away. Then…
I’m being hunted.
Sabrina wasn’t like other paranormals. Most of them could see perfectly in the dark. Not her. When it came to night vision, she was pretty much on a human’s level. Probably had something to do with her seeing auras. Since she saw auras, she didn’t get any other vision bonuses. So she couldn’t see who was out there. Only the dark. The dark terrified her.
Where was a cop when she needed one?
The car shook around her. And then, above her head, there was a low, grinding sound. A ripping. A tearing? She looked up and saw what appeared to be knives cutting through the fabric of her convertible top. She didn’t waste her breath on a scream, not then. Sabrina leaned across the passenger seat and strained, trying to reach for her glovebox. She had a big, heavy duty flashlight in there. Not much of a weapon, but it would work. Maybe. It would—
The top of her convertible was torn away. She hadn’t reached the flashlight. The seatbelt held her trapped. Oh, dammit, in terms of paranormal strength, she was physically weak. She was—
“Sweetheart, I thought you said I wasn’t the man you needed.”
Adam’s voice. Adam was the one who’d just cut through the convertible’s top. Only he hadn’t used a knife. He’d used claws. Those same claws were cutting through her seatbelt. They were heavy claws, wickedly sharp.
“Shifter.” That was what he was. Mystery solved.
His claws came at her.