It was always mystifying when the park seemed absent of life, while far away sounds of the city clamored, and buildings sprouted, lifelike, above the tree line.
Two contradictory landscapes hammered together. Neither belonged with the other, yet they coexisted nonetheless. It was an odd kind of clash that somehow worked harmoniously in its opposition.
Kyra sat on a cool bench, taking in the early morning sun that gleamed off the infinite high-rise windows. Around her, the soft chirping of creatures hidden within the lush greenery, mingled with the distant honking.
It was as if this place was unsure of what it was, and had yet to make up its mind. This was a place that moved, defiantly, at its own speed, while chaos wound around it. Where one could be odd and unnatural, and no one would notice, or care.
A place to be alone.
She loved it here.
Occasionally someone would stroll by, or stop for a moment to appreciate the splendor of the pond at her front, and then they would move on. She’d pay them no heed, and they likewise.
Some might think it unfathomable to find a refuge where one could feel alone in a city so populated. But then, being the only one of her kind, it wasn’t a difficult endeavor.
She sighed when it was time to leave and slung the strap of her satchel over her shoulder. Zoey would be waiting and wouldn’t appreciate if she were late again. For Kyra, working as a barista was nothing more than a distraction, a means to pass time. But for Zoey, it was a livelihood.
Kyra walked slowly, reluctant to leave her sanctum. But it would be here tomorrow, and the next day.
After a short jaunt, the scent that was distinct to every good coffee shop hit her as she entered Little Jitters. The door chimed. From behind the register, Zoey peeked at her through a curtain of straight black hair.
“Morning,” they said in unison.
Then Zoey did a double take. “Oh, I love those wicked contacts you wear.”
Kyra smiled, knowing that her eyes were a unique mix of color: bright green near the pupil, and fading outward to a deep aqua blue, with faucets of yellow throughout. It was her natural coloring. She often wore contacts to disguise them as a very normal brown, which Zoey had mistaken for her real shade. Today she’d gone au naturale.
Kyra pulled back her hair and slipped on the tacky, black Little Jitters cap shaped like a coffee bean. Then she flipped the sign on the door before joining Zoey behind the counter.
Little Jitters was what some would call a hole in the wall. The waiting area consisted of a row of bar stools on one side of the door, and a single small table on the other. Behind the counter, there was enough room for Kyra and Zoey to work their stations, but that was it. And behind that, a door led to a cramped storage room, with a second exit that opened to a dingy alley, which they shared with other surrounding hole in the wall businesses.
“Did you remember to bring a change of clothes?” Zoey counted the money in the register as she spoke.
Kyra shoved her satchel, harboring a scandalous outfit, makeup, brush, and dangerously high heels, into the small cupboard under the espresso machine. “I did. How about you?”
“Yeah.” Zoey’s low tone made her take notice.
“What’s up? Do you need a pick-me-up? You know we work in a coffee shop, right?”
“Yeah,” she said again. “It’s not that. I broke up with Kevin last night.” She closed the register harder than was necessary.
“Oh.”—Thank god!—“I’m sorry.”
Zoey raised a dubious brow.
“Well, I’m sorry you’re sad.” Kyra said defensively and turned to check the regular and decaf coffee pots. “All the more reason to be excited for a full night of reckless clubbing. We’ll find you a rebound. Hell, we’ll find you two or three rebounds.”
Zoey smiled at that. They each had the day off tomorrow, the plan being to change here and go directly to Element, on the lower east side. Maybe stop in at Mercury Lounge, dance all night, meet some guys, and get crunked. Not necessarily in that order.
“I’ll feel better later, I’m sure.”
However, through the day, Kyra could see signs of her inner turmoil. Kevin had been nice to Zoey, at first, and had even managed to fool Kyra for a time. But the closer Zoey and Kevin got, the more controlling Kevin became. Without much doubt, Kyra had predicted what would follow. She had tried to force herself to butt out. However, even with only two years of working together, Zoey had become a good friend, despite Kyra’s resistance. Probably the closest friend she had ever allowed herself.
A few weeks ago, Kevin had started acting paranoid and accused Zoey of cheating on him. He began calling and texting her, demanding to know where she was and whom she was with. He would “surprise” her while she was working and linger in the shop far too long for comfort.
Finally, Kyra had warned Zoey where the relationship was headed. But like most people who fancied themselves in love, she hadn’t listened. There was still a hint of a shadow under Zoey’s left eye. A large bouquet of flowers had appeared the same day the mark had.
“He didn’t hit me again,” Zoey suddenly blurted as she scrubbed down the counter. Kyra looked up from filling the sugar bin. At the moment, the shop was empty of customers.
“So what did happen, Zo?”
Reluctantly, Zoey lifted her sleeve. An unmistakable bruise in the shape of a hand peeked out at Kyra. “I said I needed to run to the store for something, and he yanked me. He accused me of going to go see another guy.”
Kyra listened quietly, cleaning the same spot over and over. It would be easy enough to take Kevin out. Humans were so fragile.
No. Just butt out, she told herself.
“So,” Zoey continued, “I asked him to go to the store for me while I fixed dinner, and as soon as he was out of sight, I packed as much as I could and bolted.”
“Good. Wait, does Kevin know you’re broken up?”
“I left a note.”
“Has he contacted you since?”
“Some texts. Same stuff as last time.”
“I’m sorry,” Kyra repeated, with nothing better to say.
“I know I should have listened to you, but…I liked him so much. And he was helping me pay Mom’s medical bills.”
Zoey’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer last year. In the same month, her father had died—whether it was from natural causes or not, Kyra didn’t know. Zoey wouldn’t speak of it, and she didn’t push. Now Zo struggled to take care of everything by herself.
A young couple entered the shop. Zoey lowered her sleeve, and they both got to work. Kyra prepared the medium sized, double shot espresso and caramel mocha, while Zoey tended the register. After taking their drinks, the couple claimed a seat at the table, chatting quietly between themselves.
Beyond the front glass entrance, across the street, a man passed by. For some reason, Kyra’s gaze was drawn to him. She thought she’d seen him before, not too long ago—or at least, someone in a similar black tank, stylish jeans, and old-world gangster hat. But then, this was New York. Hundreds of people passed by every day.
The customers left, giving a brief wave of thanks as they went. Zoey delved back into private thought. Kyra wanted to say something comforting, but decided against it.
It was never a good idea for her to get involved in a particular human’s life. History had proven as much.
Before modern technological advances, and the slow disintegration of ancient superstitions, she’d had a hell of a time staying inconspicuous in the world of man.
In the beginning, she’d tried to integrate herself into society, masquerading as one of them. The venture had been next to impossible, at least for any length of time.
For reasons beyond her understanding, people she’d known for years would develop an irrational desire to remain close to her, to the point of unhealthy obsession. Not all of them though. She’d once estimated that it was about one in a hundred. What’s worse, there was never any warning. No sign above their heads that said, “Look out Kyra, I’m about to go mad and try to lock you in my basement.”
When that happened, her magic responded…with a vengeance. It was the only time she let it free, and she was reluctant even then. She was never more vulnerable than just after an episode. As a result, she’d done a lot of running back then, and even more hiding.
Now, in the twenty-first century, it was cake to hide in plain sight. There were no societal expectations to mingle with your neighbors, or make conversation in the street. She could keep to herself and no one would gossip about the odd lonely girl with the strange eyes—a birth defect, she would say.
And if a human got any strange impulses toward her, they were rarely acted upon. If someone saw the rounded points of her ears, they’d just ask when she’d had it done, and if it had hurt. Though, most of the time she kept them hidden by her thick hair to avoid conversations like that. She hated lying. Yet, it was the only way she could live.
No doubt, if the government found out there was an honest-to-god alien living among them, she would be strapped to a gurney for the rest of her life while they dissected every inch of her.
But despite all this, Kyra had allowed herself to form an attachment to Zoey that she knew would only end in a sorrowful departure. She’d been living in New York for far too long now. Soon it would be time to move, change her last name, and become someone else. L.A., London, Paris. She had domiciles all over the world.
The door chimed. Angelo had arrived for his shift. Kyra looked at the clock, amazed at how quickly the day passed.
“Gurl, did you see Project Runway last night? Those outfits were hideous! I’d be sendin’ all those mofo’s home.”
Kyra couldn’t help but chuckle. Angelo had on a pair of bright green skinny jeans and a black and white patterned top that was painful to look at.
Zoey laughed. “You’re just mad ‘cause you applied and they rejected you.”
“Hello, they called me vanilla!” He motioned from his stylish, burgundy Mohawk to his brightly decorated combat boots. “Is thisss…vanilla? I don’t think so.” Chin lifted, he sauntered past them into the back room, to change into the standard black on black work attire.
Zoey called after him, “Just so you don’t hear it from somebody else, and get mad at me for not telling you, I dumped Kevin.”
Dramatically, Angelo poked his head out. “Whaaat?”
She rolled her eyes and showed him the mark. The previous incident hadn’t exactly been a secret.
“Gurl, you just send him my way. I’ll strap him to my bed and teach him a thing or two about how to treat a lady. Okay.” He snapped his fingers several times in succession.
When Angelo disappeared again, Kyra asked, “So where are you staying?”
“Well, I was wise enough, at least, to keep my old apartment.”
“Okay, good.” She hesitated. “But if you needed…you know, for a couple of nights or something…you don’t even have to ask.”
Zo’s head snapped up, and her lips pressed into a grateful smile. “Thanks.” She looked at the clock. “Where is Joe?”
“You know he’s always late.”
“Grrr. Well, do you mind if I go get changed now?”
“Go ahead. I think I can handle making a cup of coffee by myself if I need to.”
Twenty minutes later, Joe was tapping his code into the register. He had his usual California surfer haircut in perfect disarray.
“Hey Jo-jo-cup-a-joe,” Zoey greeted as she traipsed out of the women’s restroom. Her straight black hair fell over a tight, strapless, glittery dress.
A gurgling sound bubbled out of Joe’s gaping mouth.
“Aw, thanks, Joey.”
Kyra clocked out and retrieved her satchel. The bathroom light flickered a dull blue.
She pulled out her black heels and set them aside, then traded her plain black T for a gauzy top that stayed with nothing but a thin tie in the back and happy thoughts. Her jeans sat low on her hips and were factory torn in all the right places, making them look effortlessly sexy. After strapping her shoes in place, she fluffed her long hair and applied a touch of make-up.
“Voilà,” she said to the mirror.
Stepping out of the bathroom, she found Zoey on her cell phone, frown in place. She was muttering so no one else could hear—or so she thought. Joe and Angelo were scowling.
“No…I don’t want to see you again…I’ll manage…I don’t care if you’re…just stop…I won’t be treated like that…it’s over…No…”
Kyra stopped listening. When Zoey finally hung up, she asked, “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. If I didn’t answer he would have just kept calling all night.”
“Zo, you could just turn the phone off.”
Zoey frowned. “The hospital might call.”
“Yeah, I haven’t told anyone yet. Mom went into surgery yesterday.”
“They said the tumor was spreading so rapidly that if they didn’t try to get it now, it would be too late.”
“And she’s still in the hospital?”
“She hasn’t woken up yet. They found a second tumor, wrapped around her spine. They said it was too advanced to…” Zoey’s jaw clenched, her eyes glistening.
Kyra put her arms around her while Zoey silently shook. “We don’t have to go out if—”
“No, please. If I don’t get out, I’ll just sit at the hospital and lose it.” She wiped her eyes. “They said they’d call as soon as she woke up.”
Kyra nodded, knowing what it was like to want to forget your problems for a night.
Outside, they scarfed down a couple of fully loaded dirty-water dogs from a nearby vendor and then hailed a cab.
The club was already packed when they arrived. Zoey headed for the bar to order their first round of drinks, while Kyra found the dance floor. Music blasted from the surrounding speakers. Each harsh beat vibrated through her feet, making it impossible not to move.
It wasn’t long before a small group of guys were inching closer, testing the water. Others looked on to see how they fared. All she’d need to do was smile, and they would be putty.
She didn’t smile.
Not that she wasn’t interested. She’d had her share of temporary relationships. A couple of guys had caught and held her interest for a time. She thought of them fondly now, but she had never found a deep connection with any of them.
Zoey joined her on the dance floor and handed her some kind of orangy-red drink. It tasted fruity. They danced a couple of songs, club-whispering about which guys they thought were cute.
Unfortunately, Zoey had the absolute worst taste in men. Though not when it came to looks. When it came to looks, she was a spot on hottie detector. But when it came to personality, the girl was intuitively-challenged.
Like something out of Night at the Roxbury, two dark haired guys presented themselves, separating the girls with their bodies. Zoey gave a thumbs-up and went with it. Kyra rolled her eyes and snorted, which couldn’t be heard over the music.
The song changed into something a little more rhythmic, and she let it speak through her movements, allowing the guy his chance to impress her. At least he had the guts to try—a rare quality these days.
But when he started mentioning cars and going for rides, she’d had enough. She wanted to make sure Zo wasn’t getting the same sweet talk, but she saw Zo smiling, and her partner keeping his hands in the safe zones, so she decided to head to the bar for a refill instead.
While waiting for the bartender, she took in the euphoric atmosphere. Multicolored lights snaked over gyrating bodies. On the balcony, a DJ watched over the crowd, manipulating them through melody like a puppeteer.
Next to him, a man caught her eye. His stance was bored, his manner cool. Arms crossed in front of him, he leaned on the banister, looking down at her. She couldn’t read his expression. His biceps weren’t huge but there was obvious power in them. His eyes were piercing, and even from where she was standing, she could tell they were steely blue.
But all this wasn’t what had snared her attention. It was the familiar black hat and tank top, and the fact that he didn’t look away when she’d caught his gaze.
She swallowed, realizing the scrutiny unnerved her. But why should it? Another quick sweep revealed more than half a dozen men sneaking glances at her. It was not unusual. She understood that her features appealed to humans. Usually it was flattering. But she couldn’t shake the sudden sense of alarm.
Maybe it was his riveted, unwavering gaze, when anyone else caught staring would have pretended to look elsewhere.
Glancing back at him, she met his gaze once more, curious how long his would linger. Then his lips quirked in an amused grin, and he raised a brow at her. She narrowed her eyes, instantly irritated. A strange reaction, but she didn’t fight it.
“Can I get you something?” The bartender broke her focus.
“Yeah, a hurricane, please.”
She paid the outrageously bloated price and sipped the sweet beverage. Then she glanced back to the balcony. The man was no longer there. A couple of women had taken his place, dancing as if they were on a stage rather than a crowded balcony.
Kyra chewed her straw, surveying the rest of the club. She told herself it wasn’t for that mysterious man, but she knew it was a lie.
Zoey continued to dance. She’d managed to catch the attention of both Roxbury brothers. As long as they didn’t start bumping their chests against Zoey, Kyra would leave them be.
The music transformed again, and she pushed back onto the dance floor, letting it take over. Each beat was like a physical pulse to the crowd, making them all move as if of one mind. The songs played out, morphing smoothly from one tune to the next. When its story became a little more frenzied and sensual, the dancers responded in kind.
The feel of a hand on her hip surprised her. She spun around to find the man in the dark hat, amused expression still in place. He didn’t give her much time to react before pulling her into his personal dance space with a palm to the small of her back.
Unused to the show of aggression, she froze, but not for long. He expertly maneuvered her. An outside viewer would probably not recognize her awkward stiffness.
He stood only slightly taller than she, but seemed to loom over her nonetheless, his eyes just as intense as before. She could tell that his blond hair was cut short under his hat. His jaw was smooth and shapely, and…nibble-able. He was too handsome for his own good, and obviously knew it.
She sensed there was something different about him. This man was in no way unsure of himself or deterred by her stunned reaction, and there was an undercurrent of danger. Her instincts were going haywire.
Despite herself, she smiled. It wasn’t often that someone took her by surprise. And as unusual as his actions were, they were a welcome relief from the stagnant repetitiveness of her life. She could use a little excitement for a change. Even if it was just an insignificant dance with an overconfident stranger.
She relaxed as the music changed again. There had been a little gap between them, but as soon as he felt her relent, there was no gap at all. The heat of his body and smell his masculine scent appealed to her, and she leaned closer. His breath on her skin tingled, and she shivered.
She turned in his arms, so that her back was to his chest, and rolled her hips to the beat. His arms came around her stomach as their bodies crushed together. They were both now at the command of the puppet master.
Zoey caught her eye with a look full of implications and fake fanned herself. The guy Kyra had been dancing with gave her new partner a disdainful glare. The man either didn’t notice, or didn’t care. She could practically feel his attention on her alone, even though she wasn’t facing him.
Stirring her hips, Kyra lifted her arms around his neck, and he buried his nose in her hair. His hot palm found the front waist of her jeans, and he ran the tips of his fingers under it, while his other hand trailed down the underside of her arm. The sensation was drugging.
Then he moved aside her hair and chuckled.
Her body reacted on instinct, breaking away and twirling to face him. For the second time, he’d caught her off guard. But then, how would she have known he would go for the ears?
She was ready with her usual explanation, but he didn’t ask about them like most people would. But why? She knew he’d gotten a good look.
Her heart pick up pace as it registered something that her brain was only now figuring out.
His stance was too casual and relaxed. He didn’t look confused or curious. In fact, he didn’t look surprised at all by her sudden movement. The way he stood said he’d expected it, and she didn’t like the knowing curve to his lips.
The music shifted again, becoming something sinister—or perhaps that was just her interpretation—as they stared at each other.
Zoey must have noticed, because she appeared by her side with her entourage, brandishing the proper look of confusion on their faces.
“Ky? What’s going on?” she asked.
Kyra wasn’t sure how to answer that. What was going on? Instead of saying anything, she just gave Zo the signal. The one they would use to alert the other, “time to go, don’t ask questions.” A very useful tool they had borrowed from a popular sitcom, though Kyra never thought she’d be the one to actually use it.
Without question, Zo waved goodbye to the Roxbury twins and headed for the exit. Kyra tailed her. She glanced back once, to make sure he wasn’t following, but the empty space where he had been was quickly engulfed by the oblivious crowd.
In the cab, Zo inquired about their hasty retreat, but could only reply, “I just didn’t like that guy. He gave me the willies.”
“Damn. It’s always the hot ones, isn’t it?”
Later, after a few more hurricanes at their second club destination, Kyra considered that she might have overreacted. He probably hadn’t meant to scope out her ears. Or, if he had, it was more likely that he had a weird fetish, rather than some prior knowledge of what he would find.
Some guys like feet. Suffice it to say, some might have a thing for ears. She’d heard of a website dedicated to clown sex for crying out loud. Anything was possible.
Anything except for the concealed understanding she’d seen behind his eyes.
Calic leaned casually against a tree across the street from her apartment building. The shadows of night kept him hidden.
He’d arrived on Earth more than a month ago, on a mission to find and protect the Faieara princess, Kyra. While searching for her, he’d educated himself on the ways of this planet.
It had been the opposite of what he’d expected. Marada’s database had detailed this planet as primitive and archaic. Instead, what he found was evidence of multiple space-culture colonization.
He’d walked the streets for weeks surprised to find dragon blood in the veins of these humans, or denaloid in their mannerisms, Serakian beliefs in their Wiccan religion, among other characteristics from the many races he’d encountered while traveling as a space merchant.
There were also signs of his own people making their mark here, which was even more interesting. However, the general consensus of demons was inconvenient. Somehow, his kind, or a race that resembled his kind, had carved their way into the worst parts of human mythology. To these people, demons were without morals, abhorred, feared. He could foresee it making contact a pain in the ass.
But, whatever events had transpired to bring so many unrelated factions together on one little planet had obviously happened ages ago. Humanity had no memory of it, and the bloodlines had become so diluted, any one human’s true lineage was no longer clear.
And there were so many of them!
The planet was practically over populated. When he’d first arrived, Cale had been shocked by their numbers, and worried that he would never be able to find Kyra.
Luckily, fate had been on his side.
By chance, he’d found her three days ago when he came across her scent in the park. It was instantly familiar to him. Kyra’s younger sister, Anya, had a similar fragrance, though not as intriguing.
He’d followed it to her apartment complex. Her location couldn’t have been any more blatant than if she’d rubbed herself over every inch of matter leading up to the entrance.
Thank the gods he’d gotten here before the Kayadon.
Fortunately, that was one race he hadn’t detected in this melting pot of DNA, although that didn’t mean they weren’t here somewhere. The land was massive.
Shortly after discovering where Kyra lived, he’d figured out which room was hers. Fifth floor, on the corner. He figured she’d chosen it because only those apartments offered balconies, and early this morning she had lounged on hers with a steaming cup in hand, gazing into the park.
Currently, her windows were dark. She hadn’t returned yet.
He’d expected her to head straight home after their encounter, but five hours later, here he was, still waiting.
At the club, his intentions had been to verify her identity and finally present himself as her temporary protector until Marada came. But when she’d first looked up at him on the balcony, he saw a spark of intuition flash over her features. Ever so subtly, her mood had become suspicious, guarded. Any little movement on her part seemed defensive. She’d assessed her surroundings, as if expecting an ambush.
At that point, he couldn’t help but to have a little fun.
Her reactions had been entertaining and told him more about her than she probably realized. She’d gone straight into a fighting stance when he’d peeked at her cute little ear.
He thought back to Anya’s training. She had been all but helpless, and he was glad to see that might not be the case with her older sister.
Hopefully his actions hadn’t put her too on edge. He chuckled, remembering how wide her eyes had gone. They were the oddest color. For a strange moment he’d gotten lost in trying to decipher the best name for it. Coupled with her smile, she had the power to bring any man to his knees. Well, any man but him.
Pulling him from his musings, he noticed one of those yellow vehicles had stopped in front of her building. He watched her step out with a little less grace than she’d shown earlier in the night before paying the driver. Her little black-haired friend was nowhere in sight.
Her step faltered, and a random giggle escaped her as she headed toward the entrance guard. Cale snorted, realizing she was drunk. She paused before reaching the guard, who patiently held the door open, and turned to adjust the strap of her bag. While she was at it, her gaze scanned the edge of the park.
Had she felt him watching her? She had never sensed him before. Not even this morning, when he had been so close. He’d followed her to the pond, where he had originally detected her scent.
Perhaps he should have approached her then, but there had been something oddly private in the way she sat there next to the water, her stare hard and distant. He’d stayed hidden, feeling as though he’d be interrupting some ritual of hers.
Or maybe that was just an excuse.
He was acutely aware of something inside him that was screaming to stay away from her. Warning bells had shaken his brain with the first discovery of her feminine fragrance. Even now, he was hesitant to follow, but at the same time, oddly eager. The conflicting desires made him debate whether it might be better to stay at a distance, keep an eye on her without her knowing.
His gut relaxed at the thought, and then tightened in protest—as if it too was unsure of the best course.
Her gaze swept past him without pausing. The thick foliage covered him well. He was sure she couldn’t see him. Again, she swayed on her feet and took a moment to balance herself. When she finally entered the building, her left shoulder bumped the door frame.
A few moments later, the light behind her curtains flicked on.
His instincts were at war. His usual curiosity seemed to be his biggest enemy. That and his desire for her. There, he’d admitted it to himself—why he’d been denying it so vehemently, he didn’t know. But he wanted her. Badly.
Not really a surprise, considering how drop-dead gorgeous she was. Yet even so, he shouldn’t be as unnerved as he was by wanting her. He took females like he took his meals; frequently, and with everything on the side. Emotions were never involved…on his part. He couldn’t care less where the females came from, or where they were going. Hell, he hardly cared what they called themselves, only that he got what he needed from them.
However, there was something different regarding Kyra.
Whatever it was, he blamed Anya. That damn girl had made him soft! Somehow, she had forced him to love her, albeit, as a sister. But, before her, he hadn’t allowed anyone new into his heart since…
His teeth gnashed together. Thinking of his mate was always painful. Holding himself together after he’d lost her was a challenge he’d given up on long ago. He waited for the burning that felt like acid under his skin to subside, eager to embrace the emptiness that always followed.
Before Anya had entered his life and mated his brother Sebastian, Cale had been drifting through life as a shell. Faking his way through every day.
And it had been fine! He had been just fine.
No one had really known how thoroughly he suffered, how much pain he kept to himself. He’d been able to hide it from his brother and sister, from everyone, all this time.
The way she’d look at him made him wonder if she saw right through him. No, he knew she did. With her gift, she could sense his every incriminating emotion. She understood probably better than he.
Though, the chit had been sweet not to bring it up.
He thought of the last time he’d seen her, just before leaving Marada. She’d been unconscious, barely breathing. Sebastian, distraught, looked ready to join her in death if she didn’t wake up.
Kyra’s light flicked off, reclaiming his attention. From where he stood, he could see that the sliding door curtain was not drawn all the way. The buildings were so tightly packed together; it would be a breeze to climb to her balcony…just to make sure she was alright.
The justification was a lame one, but to hell with it.
As he scaled the wall, he tried to deter his desire by reminding himself of another reason he should stay away from her.
Her future was his future.
Meaning, if he got involved with her, as he always tended to do with women, he couldn’t just send her on her way and be done with it. Where she went, he would have to go. And vice versa. At least until Marada rescued them from this backward planet.
But the impending ramifications did nothing to sway his course.
Damn, but he shouldn’t have danced with her. Sebastian was right. He had no self-control. And she held too much attraction for him. By marking her as forbidden, he’d managed to make her that much more appealing.
But if he just got another look at her—a glimpse—then he could distance himself once more, and be at ease for the remainder of the night.
On her balcony, he crouched next to the wall. A sliver of moonlight seeped in to her apartment, but it was not enough. He could only see the edge of a table. Testing the door, he found it unlocked. He guessed there weren’t a load of humans who could climb as well as he.
He slipped inside and his vision adjusted to the dark. The room was about the size of his quarters on Marada. A plush white couch faced a flat, black screen. Draped over the arm was a strip of familiar fabric. Her top? He swallowed, thinking he should turn around and leave. It would be the logical thing to do.
He stepped forward. A few large pictures—black and white landscapes—hung against walls that sucked up the blue hue of the moonlight. To his right, a wide bar with a dark counter top separated the kitchen from the living area.
Across the room, he spied a door cracked open. Bunched at its base was another clump of material and a single heel. He traveled lightly over the beige carpet and peeked through the opening, already suspecting what he would find.
His breath caught.
She hadn’t quite made it under the covers.
She lay face down, head cocked to the side, arms sprawled above her. Her legs were slightly askew and looked pale against the dark sheets. The only bit of fabric she wore was a tiny strip that sank into an ass that couldn’t have been more perfect if it had been shaped by an artist.
“Mercy of gods.”
Her body jerked at the sound of his voice, and she gasped, rolling over the side of the mattress. The rustle of a drawer being yanked open should have been his queue to skedaddle, but he’d been momentarily frozen by the sight of her. At the last second, he moved, and the bullet whizzed past his head.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! I’m not here to hurt you.” He backed away from the door.
“Shopping for apartments, are you?” She hissed, barging into the living room, gun aimed true, and still nearly naked.
His mind went blank for another moment.
“I’m here to protect you.”
“You broke into my place to protect me.” Her tone was sarcastic. Then her eyes narrowed as recognition took hold. “You’re that guy,” she said.
* * *
Kyra swayed, feeling nauseous.
Seeing his face between the two other blurry figures reminded her that she was three sheets to the wind.
“I’ve come to keep you safe from the Kayadon.” His arms were up, showing he was unarmed, but he wasn’t meeting her gaze.
“From what?” she replied a bit slurred. “Do you mean people who follow girls home and sneak into their rooms when they’re unconscious?”
“Not exactly.” His words were slow, as if he wasn’t really paying attention. She followed his line of sight.
Huh, when had she removed her clothing?
“Get a good look? It’s the last pair you’re ever going to see.”
His smile was cocky. “I doubt that.”
Kyra squeezed the trigger three times. The long silencer at the end of her nine millimeter muffled the sound.
“Shit!” he bellowed and stumbled back, clutching the open wounds in his torso.
Even wasted, she was a spot on shot. The trick was to aim for the middle one. If that didn’t work, just shoot ‘em all. Bound to hit something.
“You crazy wench.” His expression was incredulous, and she mused that psychos were always surprised when their prey fought back, and won. Though he probably didn’t realize it yet, she’d mortally wounded him. Lung, liver, kidney. This one was proving tough, however. He was still steady on his feet.
“Get out of here, or I’ll put one in your head, you sicko.”
He grumbled something she couldn’t hear and still shamelessly ogled her. She tensed her arm for another shot.
“Alright, I’m going,” he said, as if she were merely inconveniencing him.
But instead of heading toward the door, he went to the balcony, and she registered now that the sliding door had been open this whole time. He hauled himself up to balance on the banister. Gun still trained on him, she took a step forward, about to either make the kill or demand he leave again. When he flung himself over the side, her jaw dropped.
She rushed forward, expecting to see a splattered body on the street and the sound of honking horns, maybe some screaming from passersby, but there was none of that. She ignored the chilled morning air as she leaned over the edge.
Her heart, which she hadn’t realized was racing, began to slow, and a low gust of wind reminded her that she was naked. It didn’t matter. No one from below could really see her. It was still dark out, but the coming sun threatened to leach the night away at any moment.
Leaning farther out, she checked to see if he’d landed on the balcony under her, but he wasn’t there either.
Then movement across the street demanded her attention.
It was him!
He leaned against a thin trunk behind the waist-high wall that separated the park from the sidewalk. Blood trickled from where she’d shot him, but he looked casually unaffected. Almost relaxed.
Their eyes met. He smiled. All she could do was gape at his smug expression. In the next instant, he was gone, disappearing into the park.
Stunned, she stood there for a long while. Eventually the black of the sky mixed with navy. Car engines rumbled below. Brakes squealed. The gun was still in her hand, growing cold.
Had that really just happened?
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