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Handsome Devil: The Prequel

By Ava Argent

Handsome Devil: The Prequel copyrighted November 2013

All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part o this boo! may be reproduced or transmitted in any orm or by any means" electronic or mechanical" including photocopying" recording" or by any in ormation storage and retrieval system" #ithout permission in #riting rom the publisher. $his is a #or! o iction. Names" places" characters and incidents are either the product o the author%s imagination or are used ictitiously" and any resemblance to any actual persons" living or dead" organi&ations" events or locales is entirely coincidental. All se'ually active characters in this #or! are 1( years o age or older. $his boo! is intended or Adult Audiences. It eatures graphic language and se'ual encounters that may be considered o ensive. Please !eep your iles in a location inaccessible to minors. Cover design copyright 2013 )aranna *e+ylde ,irst -dition November 2013 +arning. the unauthori&ed reproduction or distribution o this copyrighted #or! is illegal. Criminal copyright in ringement" including in ringement #ithout monetary gain" is investigated by the ,/I and is punishable by up to 0 years in prison and a ine o 1200"000.

Chapter One Three months ago... 2$his is going to be a piece o ca!e.3 4eah right. As drun! as 5a'' is right no#6 I #ill be luc!y i he doesn7t trip over his o#n goddamn eet on the #ay out. 8r in. Should have never taken this job. I could have had any one o my sisters--Phil" or Chris" or even babyca!es 5ules--as my bac!up. /ut noooo" I had to go along #ith my dumbass drun! o a cousin into a situation that #as a hell o a lot more complicated than he7d let on. I he hadn7t been sober #hen he #as detailing his plan I #ould have brushed him o . Instead I too! clear eyes to mean clear thin!ing and hopped on the )hoot 9e No# ship headed to#ard 8h ,uc! +e7re *ead. At least" that7s the #ay it loo!s li!e this is going. :ere #as the plan. a shipment o very valuable under#ear ;I know, I scoffed too. Should have trusted my instincts< encrusted #ith e'tremely rare gems ;I'm hunting vagina jewelry, how was that not a sign of failure?< #ould be on $ermina = or a brie amount o time. 5a'' and I #ere going to land" meet the drop o " hold a e# guns up" and #al! a#ay ree as birds. )ecurity #as almost nil" since they #ould be transporting lingerie. Not e'actly a high priority" but #hoever had their eye on the goods #ould be plastered to it. $he undies #ere made or some minor emperor7s hootchie mama" #ho really ought to reevaluate her taste in men. Anybody #ho thin!s slapping a e# sapphires on your ass #ill liven things up needs to ta!e a loo! at his idea o un. >et a hobby" is all I7m saying. Any#ay" 5a'' and I are no# standing at the gate o one o the hangar" and it7s empty. ,riggin7 empty. Not a soul" a bo'" or a booty in sight. I turn a stern eye on 5a''. 2:uh"3is all he says. /rilliant son o a bitch" this guy is. I pull out my mini blaster and start to play #ith it casually. $he message is clear. -'plain. No#. 2?oo!" maybe I got the time #rong. It happens.3 2Not to me"3 I say. 2Not #hen I could be any#here else other than the spaceport rom hell" loo!ing at the gala'y7s most lammable humanoid.3 :e ree!s o cheap li@uor. 2I #as out late"3 he murmurs" bloated and red eyed. Aeal #inner. 8h yeah. $he ladies sure must

love him. I7m going to pu!e. 8r shoot something. I can7t decide. I de initely don7t thin! anybody #ould miss him i 5a'' came up suddenly" you !no#" missing. Aunt Aosie7s the only one vaguely interested in his sorry ass. $he people milling Bust beyond the alley #ouldn7t loo! i there #as a random shot or t#o. $his isn7t the most reputable part o the spaceport. I could Bust #al! a#ay. 2$ell me again #ho gave you your intel" 5a''. I seem to be missing a e# details.3 2*idn7t I say be ore63 I start to edge closer" eeling not so generous at the moment. 2+hy don7t #e cut it" huh6 4ou got one o your pieces o ast-and-cheap to spy or you and she got everything #rong.3 I prime the pistol. :e gets nervous" #hich is hilarious" because his gun is bigger than mine but he7s orgotten that he has it. 2*on7t get your panties in a #ad" /ettyC 5ee&. +e can i' it"o!ay63 2)ee" I don7t thin! #e can.3 8h" I7m seething right no#" and I have no problem sho#ing it. I press the snub to his chin and li t it up. 2I brought out the cherry red lipstic! or this" 5a''. I e'pected some action and a hell o a lot o payout. $o have neither is un- uc!ing-acceptable. 4ou on my #avelength" co&63 24ou7re overreacting"3 he cho!es out" hands rising in the air. 2It7s probably the hangar ne't door.3 I press harder. robably is not good enough.3 2+ell" #ellD#hat have #e happened upon63 5a'' and I turn to#ard the ne# voice. A e# eet rom us is a smallish" #ell dressed humanoid #ith #ay too much oil in his slic!ed bac! hair. 9atter o act" everything about him oo&es slime" rom the sly gleam in his eye to the shiny shoes po!ing out rom under his tailored suit. I almost #ant to dab my underarms Bust loo!ing at him. No physical strength to spea! o " but ran!ly these types don7t need muscle to be dangerous. $hey7ve got charisma or charm or #hatever to bac! them up. $hey can tal!. +hich means they gather ollo#ers in a pac!" !ind o li!e the overdeveloped dudes standing behind him. A couple loo! li!e your average thugsDcheap suits and lots o Be#elry. $hen there7s him. I blin!" but it eels li!e a lot o e ort goes into it. 9y mouth parts. :e7s magni icent. Not too tall. )ome guys soar over you and give your nec! a permanent !in! rom loo!ing up. )till" he7s tall enough to dra# attention to a chest that Bust #on7t @uit. :e7s top-heavy. I love that in a man. >ives me something to climb onto.

:e7s only got eyes or me" naturally. 8r maybe not so natural. :e7s staring intently" not blin!ing. It doesn7t eel intimidating. 9ore li!e he7s committing every part o me to memory" his eyes sort o glo#ing in the t#ilight. 9y bro#s dra# together. $hat7s....unusual. :e loo!s li!e a #arrior. $he real deal that #ould have no problem clubbing someone to death and then going home to ravish his #oman. Not sure ho# I eel about that" strangely enough. :e tilts his bald head" the d#indling sunlight iltering through the buildings to highlight the blac! s#irls o his scalp tattoo. 8h yeah. /eastly. No suit or him. $rousers" boots" a green long sleeved shirt that molded to every hot inch o him" and a tool belt I #ould gladly steal. $he minute the se' is done" o course. *on7t #ant to ruin the moment be ore it even comes to ruition. $here are so many #ic!ed blades strapped to his leg" orearm" and belts that a che #ould scream in girlish delight at the sight o him. I !inda hope he !no#s ho# to ma!e a girl scream in delight o a di erent !ind. I doubt it though. >uys li!e this all short o the 7orgasm li!e a sei&ure7 mar!. $hey tend to stic! #ith the a!e porny 7oh god-4-)C7. )hame. /utC 4ou never !no# until you try. 2*o you mind63 I as! )mall and )limy. 2+e7re !ind o the in the middle o a amily ti .3 2Eh" yeah"3 5a'' thro#s in. ?i!e I need more con irmation o his idiocy. I suppress a sigh. )limy7s eyes dart bet#een us !no#ingly. 2$hat may be" my heart" but one #onders #hy you have to have it in ront o my hangar. +ith such a prodigious amount o #eaponry" no less.3 79y heart76 Is this guy serious6 5ust #hen I thought his viscosity #as at its deepest point" he thro#s in that bullshit. 4eesh. $he bit about his hangar is pretty troubling too. 2$his is a s!eevy port"3I ans#er slo#ly. I didn7t ta!e the gun a#ay rom 5a''7s chin. 2>irl can7t be too care ul.3 2And him63 :e nods at 5a''. 2Is this an interrogation or #hat6 +e7ll move a#ay rom you hangar" guy. Feep your shorts on.3 /etter to be sa e than sorry. $his once. I pull the gun a#ay but don7t holster it. 2Come on"3 I tell 5a''" care ul not to use his name. +ho !ne# #hat !ind o shit he7d gotten into in this port be ore. It #ould be the last rea!in7 thing I need

right no# to have a bunch o muscled up !notheads Bump us. -ven i it #ould neatly cap o this humdinger o a tangle. As i he7s read my thoughts" )limy put his hands in his poc!ets and s@uints intently. 2I7ve seen your ace some#here be ore" mate.3 2Please"3 I sco . 24ou really going to pull that6 +e7re out.3 I hold up a peace sign that @uic!ly changes to a middle inger. 9y o#n personal brand o goodbye. /old as brass" I #al! by. 5a'' only hesitates a split second be ore he alls in step. )limy7s hand shoots out and snags 5a''7s arm. 2I do !no# youC Starla's.3 Almost be ore the #ords are out o his mouth I7ve got my blaster pressed to his temple. 24ou7ll #ant to let him go no#"3 I say @uietly. Nobody is rying 5a''7s ass but me" 5ules" or Aunt Aosie. ,or a second all that ills the air are the clic!s o multiple blasters priming and pointing their noses at me. I don7t ta!e my eye o o )limy" the one I trust least o all. :e casts a pale" #easelly smile at me. :e ma!es a sho# o li ting his hand and letting go. 2No need to be hasty" lovely bird. 4our blo!e #on7t come to no harm.3 2Eh huh"3 I reply doubt ully. 2+hat do you say #e all Bust turn and #al! in opposite directions" never to be heard rom again6 ?ess blood that #ay.3 5a'' steps bac!" leaving the ight bet#een me and the 8ily +onder. Nice. 5ac!ass. $his close I can smell the pomade he must bath himsel in. It7s actually not that bad. )ome !ind o vague rosemary thing that I remember rom living on -arth. :ard to get #ay out here" #hich means )limy is richer than your average mastermind. I run a calculating eye over him" seeing him through a ne# lens. I7m going to remember this guy" I decide. I7m not going home #ithout a payday. I came this ar" I7m leaving #ith something. :e7s nothing close to #hat I #as e'pecting" but maybe )limy busting in #here he7s not #anted #on7t be so bad. I7m going to let him go. $hen I7m going to slap my cousin around or being a drun!en ool. $hen I7m going to ind )limy and divest him o all the party avors I can carry. I run my tongue over my teeth" pleased #ith my plan" and li t the gun a#ay #ith a smug smile. I7m going to be rich" and as an added bonus" I7m going to ind the )uper )tudmu in and test out those come hither loo!s. I bac! o a pace or t#o. $he guns lo#er by some unspo!en command. All e'cept the a#e-inspiring )tudmu in" #ho never li ted a blaster to begin #ith. :e7s got his arms crossed over his chest" #atching everything #ith a dar! amusement I can7t help but marvel at. I tip an invisible hat in a salute. 2)ee you around" )lic!.3 5a'' and I turn around and get out o there as @uic! as possible" managing to ma!e it in one

miraculous piece. $he entire time #e7re #al!ing a#ay" I eel a pair o ta#ny eyes boring into my bac!. '''' I am an ac@uisitive being. 5e#els" treasures" accolades" a reputationDthere is nothing too big or small that I #ill not go to great lengths to ac@uire. 8ne might call me a hunter at heart. 4et I enBoy ar more than the hunt. I cherish all my possessions #ith as much ervor as I pursued them #ith. /ethina 5enner is neither an obBect nor an achievement. As a matter o act" she is some#hat o a thorn in my side. I run my hands over my scalp" massaging the s!in as I stand beneath the sluicing #aters o the sho#er. It is one o the touted eatures o the hotelG nothing but the best. )ho#ers and baths o mineral #ater imported rom the inest springs around the universe. 8ne might merely press a button to indicate #hat sort o sho#er one desired. $he dense #ater o ,erissia is a #elcome change" in used #ith minerals and vitamins I did not reali&e I missed until no#. It is #orth every shiny credit I pay" and that is a lot o credit. 9y ban! account #ill not even notice the absence. I am not materialistic. I am" ho#ever" possessive. It is or that reason I have laid this trap or /ethina 5enner" #ho has relieved me o no less than three items I am !een to retrieve. 9ore than that" tonight I am going to restore my tarnished honor. 9y brother 97anu is annoyingly amused by the ease #ith #hich /ethina surged through my security. I consider it a personal a ront" a slight that must be returned in !ind. And it #ill" I thin! #ith a sly smile. $onight. I press the 7stop7 button and e'ist the sho#er into the steamy bathroom. It is large and opulent" something many can barely imagine" let alone a ord. I have built my #ealth through care ul planning and a e# strategic battle plans. I have a #ell earned reputation or being ruthless" i some#hat more charming than the average ,erissian. A acade" o course. 8nly a ool #ould provo!e me. I run the lush to#el do#n my body" #ondering Bust #hat prompted /ethina to steal rom me. $he thrill6 >iven #hat my intelligence probes have gathered" it is in !eeping #ith her personality. )he is ho#ever not particularly !no#n or ta!ing stupid ris!s. )he values her o#n nec! ar too much or that" #hich circles bac! to the stic!y @uestionD#hy6 $he only possible ans#er is that she does not !no# ho# deeply she has dug hersel into her hole. )he did not recogni&e me today. Certainly i she had done ade@uate research she #ould have shot irst and as!ed @uestions later. Instead her green ga&e slid up and do#n my body in blatant appreciation. I returned the avor" naturally. Pictures li ted rom security eeds and lo# grade photos did not

do her body the remotest Bustice. /londe hair tied bac! in a #ispy pony tail" an oval ace and healthy" rec!led s!in. Cherry red painted lips. $its that could barely be contained by her shirt. I ind mysel gro#ling in appreciation o the memory. )he #as a lush one. :ips" ass" and a so t belly I antasi&ed running my hands all over. Not an inch #ould go untouched on that emale. -verything about her attracted the deepest part o me" leaving me #anting more. 5udging by the heated" la&y perusal she delivered me" the eeling #as mutual. $oo bad I have to punish her. 8r is it good ortune6 I drape the to#el la&ily over the drying rac! and stroll rom the bathroom" my eet padding on the thic! carpet. Com ortable lu'ury radiates rom every part o the suite. A built in bar. A balcony vie# o a teeming" nighttime city" a bed large enough to it three ,erissians in" and a dining room #aiting to be used. -verything I could #ish or is at my ingertips" either #aiting or a button to be pushed or a call to be made. None o it is as tempting as the in ormation I have spread across my table. Na!ed" I stop be ore it and rest one inger mere centimeters rom the irst o many photos. -verything /ethina 5enner has ever done lies be ore me" in blac! and #hite te't. +hat a varied and interesting history. $he third daughter o the great 9oiria 5enner" she appears to be every bit as #ild and untamed as her mother once #as. /e ore the human male Aichard 5enner claimed her a ections" o course. ,erissian males still mourn that pairing. 9oiria 5enner #as bloodthirsty and ruthless" per ect or a ,erissian male to ta!e to mate. ?ess bloodthirsty but certainly no less ruthless" she appears to have settled into a good li e #ith her chosen. Pity. /ethina" on the other hand" sho#s no signs o slo#ing do#n. ?arceny" attempted murder" battery" assault #ith a #eapon" arrests or bra#ling and inciting to rebel. A pirate at heart. -yes hooded" I trace my ingertip over the pictured curve o her Ba#. *elicious. It is both delight ul and a shame that she has angered me. +e ,erissians revel in con lict. $he coming battle heats my blood" and that is #orth nearly as much as goods /ethina stole rom me. A #oman o her @uality #ill be per ect as an opponent. As a lover as #ell" but the die has already been cast. I recall her calculating e'pression #hen she bid /enny goodbye. )he #ill be here soon. I am certain o it. :er larcenous heart #ill not be able to pass up the opportunity or gain" Bust as it drove her to $ermina = in the irst place. It #as shoc!ingly easy to engineer. A e# #ell placed #ords in a

drun!en cousin7s ear" via a planted call girl. $hat #as all it too!. I smile in anticipation" eagerly loo!ing or#ard to our rec!oning. It is not long be ore the !noc! comes. Perhaps i teen short minutes6 )he certainly is eager to get her recompense. !s am I. 2-nter.3 $he door opens and she strides in" then comes to an abrupt halt as the door shuts behind her. $he e'pression on her ace is priceless. At no point did she e'pect to see me" and her reaction to my na!edness is more than enough to stro!e my ego. I rest my hip on the table" crossing my arms over my muscled chest" letting her loo! her ill. And she does" #ith a slac! Ba# and slo# perusal. 29other o mercy"3 she breathes. 2$here7s a curveball or you.3 I tilt my head but say nothing. 2Not that I7m complaining or anything"3 she tells my lat abdomen" 2but I #as e'pecting the little guy.3 2As you can see"3 I rumble" 2there is nothing little to be had.3 2I7ll say.3 )uddenly she sha!es her head. 2Almost ma!es me hate to do this.3 )he reaches into her Bac!et and pulls out the blaster" priming and pointing it at my chest. 2$urn over all your valuables" :ot )tu .3

Chapter Two )ure shoc!ed the hell out o me #hen I #al!ed into )limy7s room" only to discover it #as )tud 9u in7s. And he #as #aiting. Na!ed. $hat is a sight that7s burned into my brain or all eternity. -very part o him is a sharpened piece o #eaponryG an animal in humanoid orm. *o you !no# ho# hard it is to rob a man #hen he7s that gorgeous and clearly interested6 ,riggin7 distracting. I give it a damn good go though. I s#ear he7s going to laugh #hen I point my blaster at his chest. $hat really pisses me o " you !no#6 I may not be as amous as 9om" but I7m no #iener people can get a good chuc!le out o . I decide to prove Bust ho# serious I am by iring mere centimeters above his le t shoulder. Close enough to leave a burn. :is head Ber!s to the side" staring at the spot. )lo#ly his head turns" eline in a #ay I can7t describe" and he stares me do#n. It7s li!e I7m lunch. +hen he smiles again and sho#s o those shiny teeth" my 8h )hit meter starts to ping. :e7s a ,erissian. 24ou7re better than I e'pected.3 :e snaps his teeth aggressively. ,uc! me in a handbas!et" those are deadly loo!ing suc!ers. Call me sic!" thoughDI don7t thin! they negatively impact his loo!s. /ut I don7t appreciate the :e-9an display so I snap bac!. Nobody is outdoing this chica. 2/aby" I am the best you7ll ever have.3 :e could ta!e that to the ban! too. 2$hat is #hat I am counting on.3 :uh. $his is not going the #ay I e'pected. All I #ant is a truc! ton o money and or my previously thic!" gorgeous loc!s to gro# bac!. Is that too much to as!6 +hat is #ith the thin tresses and empty poc!et6 $he na!ed" cut ,erissian is a positive" though. 2?et7s try this again"3 I say. 2$urn over any valuables you have in the room and I7ll thin! t#ice about shooting your amily Be#els o .3 In case he7s dumber than average" I cast a meaning ul glance at his sac. I7m proud o mysel #hen I don7t give in to the urge to linger. I7m not !no#n or my ama&ing po#ers o sel -denial. :e li ts his chin" uncrosses his arms" and pro#ls to the right" seething beneath his sharp" humorless smile. 2*o you !no# #ho I am" /ethina 5enner63 2)#eet chee!s" i I had seen your gorgeous mug be ore I7d de initely remember.3 )till" I have this eeling I am missing something. I hate that. I eye him #arily and search my memory" but nothing

rings a bell. :e !no#s me" though. Name aside" I can see it in his ace. 2:ave I shot you be ore63 I in@uire politely. 4ou never !no#. 28h" I am a raid this is the irst time you have had the dubious pleasure.3 :e moves the other #ay" li!e a tiger pacing its cage. I have the gun" and he7s the one that loo!s li!e a hunter. $hat gets my bac! up. Cold s#eat builds on my nape. )uddenly I7m #ishing I7d #orn a lot less than my utility vest and empire blouse" and or all the #rong reasons. I ollo# his movements. 2Feep moving. I7ll up my count or the night.3 I li t the blaster or emphasis. :e stops" his smir! letting me !no# ho# seriously he ta!es my threat. 2$he daughter o 9oiria 5enner ought to do more o her home#or!"3 he practically purrs. 2I am ,eru& o the :ouse o $ipprov.3 "h" I thin!. $hen" "h damn. $his dude" no #ord o a lie" is bad ne#s. -verybody #ho is anybody !no#s #ho he #as. #onder how many of them have seen him in the buff, though? It7s a cheap thrill" but hey" I decide to enBoy it or the mini second be ore @uestions pop up. 2+hat7s that got to do #ith me" :ot )tu 63 2I believe you have a e# things o mine" /ethina. A precious Be#el. A e# bits o valuable cargo.3 2Are you !idding me63 I burst out. 2I7ve never stolen rom you in my li e.3 I7m no rea!in7 idiot li!e 5a''. )tealing rom a man as reputed as this is signing your death sentence" #ith a side o pain ul torture to round out the pac!age. :e ma!es this animal-li!e curve in his nec!" eyes unblin!ing. 28h63 9y arm is getting tired...and a very bad eeling is gro#ing in my stomach. Never ignore the stomach eelings. 2$ell me" /ethina" do you not remember the Bob on :erocles63 :eroD8: ,ECF. I have stolen rom this guyC $hings have Bust gone rom bad to #orse. Aeali&ation hits. 24ou set up a!e cargo and planted the in o in 5a''7s ear.3 I am going to !ic! my stupid cousin7s ass. /ut hell" I #asn7t an innocent bystander. I should have chec!ed his intel #ay be ore stepping on the ship to $ermina. )atis action t#ists his lips. 24our cousin should be more care ul #ith his in ormation sources.3 +hen I get through #ith him he7d never have a chance to. )uddenly I am so concerned #ith getting out o here rich. 9y last heist ;unintentionally<

involving this man #as ages ago. I he7s spent this much time and e ort to get me in the same room as him" then I need to split and soon. $here is no telling #hat !ind o t#isted revenge he has plotted or me. +here e'actly the na!edness comes in handy" I am not going to guess. )e' #ith this male #ould have been a#esome" but not i he plans to torture me a ter#ard. No orgasm is #orth losing a inger over. $ime to haul my bubble butt out o there. 28n second thought"3 I say" 2I thin! I le t the ship running.3 :e sha!es his head slo#ly. 2I do not thin! you are going any#here.3 $ust watch me. I start to inch bac!. 24ou !no#" ,eru&" I7m lattered you7ve gone through all this trouble to meet me. It7s not every day a guy puts in so much e ort. I I #ere more certain o coming out o the encounter alive" I7d suggest some na!ed gymnastics to mar! the occasion.3 :e hums" amused. 24ou crossed me" /ethina.3 ''''' 2I thought ,erissians li!ed that.3 I doubt she !no#s the ull truth o that statement. 2+e do. En ortunately you pic!ed one especially avaricious ,erissian.3 2Ava-#hat63 2Possessive. Covetous. I #ant things" /ethina. I #ant #hat is mine.3 9y ga&e trails do#n her igure o its o#n accord. 2I7m o limits" )#eet Chee!s. /etter luc! ne't time.3 2I do not believe in luc!.3 I advance" pro#ling closer one step at a time. $he blaster never #avers. Neither does she retreat" though I do catch a lic!er o reasonable apprehension in her green eyes. )o /ethina 5enner is not a ool. $his pleases me. 2I have debated ho# our encounter should play out. I con ess that I am still torn bet#een scenarios.3 I trail a inger along the top o the table as I #al!" noting the !een interest she sho#s in each muscle moving beneath my s!in. No" /ethina is not immune to my charms. $hat is very good to !no#. 2$here #as the standard interrogation scene" o course" #ith you strapped to a chair" delight ully helpless and at my mercy. I #ould @uestion you irmly concerning the #hereabouts o my possessions. Naturally I #ould punish each alse ans#er you gave.3 2Naturally"3 she echoes sarcastically. 2Ah" so you see that it is clichH as #ell. >ood. +e are in accord.3 I reach the end o the table. I #atch her bristle at my nearness but do not care. $his is my territory. I am the predator here. -very

luscious inch o /ethina 5enner is my prey. 2$hus I #as orced to discard it and imagine a ne# situation.3 2?et me guessD#hips and chains63 $he image that loats into my head is stirring. 2+ell" you are a delight ul surprise" /ethina. I shall have to consider your #ishes.3 2I didn7t reali&e ,erissians #ere this chatty"3 she retorts" shi ting her #eight on her eet in preparation or attac!. At this I turn my head slyly. 2I am more charming than most.3 And then I spring" catching her completely o guard #ith my speed. I ta!e her to ground #ith ease" caging her against the plush carpet #ith my body. I have her #rists in hand" her torso pinned bet#een my legs. )he is helpless" the blaster gone" all in the blin! o an eye. I grin do#n at her" allo#ing her to see every sharp tooth I possess. 2I am also aster.3 )he pales at the sight o my smile" so stunned that she orgets to struggle. 2No#"3 I say" 2ho# shall #e entertain ourselves63 2+hoa there" )#eet Chee!s" let7s not be hasty"3 she interBects @uic!ly" recovering her composure enough to cast me a coy glance. 2I #as Bust Bo!ing #ith the blaster. >irl can never be too care ul.3 2Aeally63 I in@uire la&ily. 2I #as under the impression this #as yet another robbery.3 2$otal misunderstanding.3 )he is grasping at stra#s" o course" but I must admire her acting ability. 8ne might almost believe the blatant invitation she is proBecting" complete #ith do#n-s#ept lashes and pursed lips. $hey are @uite tempting" those lips. Almost enough to ma!e me orget my original purpose. 2+here are my goods" /ethina63 I lean do#n to inhale her scent. Not close enough or her to attac!" o course" but certainly enough to memori&e the smell o mint. $here is something else" something I have smelled be ore" yet it is pure /ethina. Arousal. )he does not pretend. 2I sold them. -verything is long gone.3 2$hat is a pity.3 4et e'actly #hat I suspected. $he chase is ar rom done. $his #oman has caused me no small degree o agitation. I plan to e'act every second o that rom her" one #ay or another. I had not" ho#ever" anticipated ho# her physical orm #ould a ect me. :er so tness cradles me per ectly. It gives birth to an idea. I tilt my head" e'amining her closely as I shi t my hips deeper. 9y coc! is nestled against her belly" enBoying the stimulation.

:er se'y e'pression abruptly disappears. 2Not a chance.3 I arch a bro#. 9y ,erissian sense o smell says other#ise. 2?et us stri!e a deal" /ethina.3 2Nope.3 2Ene'pected.3 2I don7t do Bac!asses.3 2I very much doubt that.3 2?et me clari yDI don7t do Bac!asses #ho go through the trouble o trapping me or ne arious purposes.3 I hum. 24ou are very unyielding or a #oman in your position.3 2Can I tell you a secret63 )he #aits a beat. 2I never come unprepared.3 )he li ts her hand Bust enough in my grip to slam it bac! do#n again on the carpet. $here is a clic!" and suddenly smo!e erupts rom the ring on her thumb. It billo#s into my eyes" obscuring my vision. I rear bac! to avoid it" reeing her #rists. $hat is all the opportunity she needs. $here is a blo# to my stomach and again to my side" pac!ing enough orce to cause pain. )he lurches to a sitting position" displacing me. $hrough teary eyes I de lect the ist aimed at my aceDbut another blo# lands on my ear" the smo!e cho!ing me. )he is une'pectedly strong" dislodging me and scrambling to her eet or the blaster. I snag her an!le and trip her. )he spins" leaping over her o#n leg to !ic! me in the ace #ith her combat boot. Agile little viper. 9y blood sings even as the pain e'plodes under my s!in" eliciting a laugh. $hat is not #hat she #ants to hear. )he hisses at me as I drag her bac!" my strength still outstripping hers. I s#ipe an arm over my eyes to clear them. )he lurches to her eet again" !neeing me in the chest. I encircle her hips and surge to my eet" li ting her high o o the loor. )he screeches in surprise" clutching at me unconsciously. $he smo!e has di used rom her ring" leaving the air coated in a !ind o og. I Ber! and she alls" lopping over my shoulder in a most attractive manner. 24ou asslic!ing sono abitchC Put me do#nC3 )he punches me in the liver. It barely leaves an impression. I laugh again" deep" rolling chuc!les. 2$he rules o prey and predator are clear" /ethina. 4ou are mine.3 2Not today" ,erissianC3 +ith that little declaration she #raps her arms around my torsoDand

sin!s blunt little teeth into my lesh. I arch my bac! #ith a roar. $he ierceness startles her into releasing me" but it is ar too late. /lood immediately sti ens my coc!" hard and proud rom bet#een my legs. 9y vision dims slightly. 9y pulse races. $he damage is done. I toss her to the loor #ithout care" ignoring her as she scrambles a#ay. En ortunately she has chosen the #rong direction and pinned hersel bet#een my body and the table" ar a#ay rom the escape route. /reathing hard" I s#ipe a hand over my bac! to the meat belo# the shoulder blade" Bust above the ribcage. I loo! at the ingers. /lood. 9y mouth lattens. I stare at the evidence" a variety o emotions rushing orth. *isbelie . Anger. ?ust. $hen tangy smell ills my nose and tugs at an instinct I have never elt be ore. 9ate. $he last is une'pected" giving me pause. ,uc!ing /ethina #as almost al#ays the plan" but mating6 $hat had not entered my head. $he act that it occurs no# is...note#orthy. ,erissians are not compelled to mate. +e choose. 8nce the decision is made" there is nothing and no one that can brea! the covenant. +e cannot" #ill not be deterred. Nor can #e be orced. $he bite does not direct our actionsG it is merely a re lection o #hat already e'ists. I peer at /ethina" seeing her as i or the irst time. )he does not tremble. Nor does she have that coc!y attitude #ith #hich she entered my @uarters. )he is" @uite simply" vulnerable. *esirable. I turn. )he #atches me #arily. Aubbing my ingers together" I consider her. 2*o you !no# #hat you have done" /ethina63 ,or once she is silent" tensing" but her ga&e alls to my coc!. It s#ells urther under her regard" hard and ready or her. )he sti ens. It #ill do her no good. I bare my teeth at her" sho#ing my dominance as I pro#l over the carpet. 25esus"3 is her response. I smile. It has no humor. 2Not so charming no#" am I" emale63 :er composure still sha!en" she nevertheless does not linch rom my regard. :er eyes narro#. )he balls up her ists and brings them up. 24ou #ant it" )#eet Chee!s6 Come and get it.3 )he glares at me. 9y smile #idens. I am #ell a#are #hat I loo! li!e. 9y veneer has been stripped" revealing #ith a piti ully thin varnish it #as. Enderneath is a ,erissian as primal and eral as any o my !ind. 9y primitive heart

thrills at the smell o the chase. )he has done this to me. :er bite #iped out any thought o materialistic revenge" leaving only the truth o my i'ation on her behind. )he is a larcenous" violent" bold" and morally s!e#ed emale. Interesting. )tubborn. 9y body #arms. She is %erfect. I arch my nec!" stretching the muscles" eeling more mysel than I have in months. $ime in space ma!es me orget ho# beauti ul the basic nature o my !ind can be. $here is only the emale on my loor and mysel . :er s!in has lushed. :er eyes cannot stay a#ay rom my coc!. I eel it li!e a physical touch" but it is not enough. I crave the reality. I #ill have it. )he is ready to run" and #hile I #ould greatly enBoy the chase" I have no more patience or it. 9y ga&e never leaves her. +hy should it6 )he is mine. 2Come here.3

Chapter Three 2$he hell I #ill"3 I toss bac!" edging or the door. 2A raid" /ethina63 $hat ma!es his ta#ny eyes glo# #ith humor. I don7t thin! it7s unny. 22*arlin7" I am positive those teeth aren7t Bust or sho#.3 :e lo#ers his chin. 2Is that a hint o racism63 2Admitted ignorance"3 I reply honestly. 2I !no# ne't to &ip about ,erissians. Not many o you running around.3 $he door is getting closer" and I am eeling an ever increasing need to get through it and Bet. Call it survival instinct. Call it being a chic!en. Call it strategic retreat. +hatever. I don7t care. As long as I get a#ay rom the male #ho7s loo!ing at me #ith the same hungry ga&e o a Baguar in the -arthen Bungles. ,eru& comes closer" the savage grace o his body undeniable. 2Allo# me to enlighten you.3 :e is putting me on edge" li!e a cat on the lip o a ull bathtub. I am so out o my league here" and that doesn7t happen o ten. I can handle mysel in nearly every situation. A girl doesn7t gro# up as a 5enner #ithout developing s!ills and cunning. Nobody mentioned na!ed" intent" tattooed" sharp-toothed" predatory ,erissians. !lthough come to think of it, knowing &om... I sha!e my head to clear it. 2)ave it. I7m not interested.3 2?iar.3 $he hell6 *id he Bust call me that to my ace6 Alright" I7m less than truth ul about certain things" but I am dead serious this very second. 9aybe. 9ostly. 8!ay" he has me pegged. I am lying through my teeth. I really" really #ant to !no# everything there is to !no#. $he problem is that I don7t trust this guy any arther than I can pitch his heavy" shapely ass. Not an unusual occurrence" but I have no idea #hat I am dealing #ith. Not really. 9om is going !ill me or barreling into a situation hal -coc!ed again. 2I thin! I7ll Bust buy the boo!.3 I reach behind me" grab the papers I sa# earlier" and ling them at him. :e steps bac!. I run. I get pretty ar too. I can move #hen I7m motivated" no matter #hat my sister 5ules tells anybody. I7m Bust rarely motivated. I don7t o ten have na!ed ,erissians gunning or me either" #hich can really put the pedal to the metal" let me tell ya. I go through the door and dash do#n the hall" #ith enough presence o mind to curse my boobs

as I run. *ashing uc!ing hurts #hen you7re bustyC I hear him behind me. :e barely ma!es a noise e'cept or the steady thum% thum% thum% o his eet slapping the e'pensive carpet. No stranger to improvising" I start screaming or all I7m #orth" sure that a s#an!y Boint li!e this #ill go on ull alert. $urns out I7m right. People start thro#ing open their doors to see #hat #as going onDwhy do %eo%le do that, anyway? Totally unsafe %racticeDBust seconds be ore he gets me. :e hits me li!e a being #ho can crush a bric! #ith his bare hands. ull orce and mercilessly. +e go rolling. I had envisioned that scenario in a totally di erent #ay earlier this evening. +e hit the #all #ith an audible crac! o the cherry #ood. +ell" he hits it. I eel the impact. :e grunt. +ith no choice but to get physical" I start #haling on his chiseled abdomen #ith every bit o strength in me. I7m not hal human li!e 5ulesG I can pac! a punch. I belt him across the ace. :e roars. I ree&e" not e'pecting that shit. I'm in way too dee%. :is mouth #ide open" I can see every canine and ra&or molar he has. :e loo!s li!e a hot version o the gorilla I too! 5ules to see once #hen she #as little" his chest thrust out and his muscles bulging. A#e-inspiring. And able to tear me apart #ith no e ort at all. I lace my ingers together in a ist o doom and slammed it into his chest. Pain radiates through my arms up to my elbo#s. )hitC $hat hurtC )o I hit him again and again" panic lur!ing in the bac! o my head at the sheer amount o e ort that has to go into each blo#. :e bac!s o enough or me to slip out rom under him. I #riggle li!e a #orm on a hoo! and end up rolling to the side. )ome #oman screams ;way to hel% me, bitch< Bust as t#o sets o hands snag me by the arms" hauling me up. 2+hat the hell6 >et the uc! o o me" you moronsC3 2Calm do#nC3 an authoritative voice orders. ?a# en orcement. Pro essional too" it seems. 2:e #as attac!ing meC3 2$hat7s not #hat I sa#" lady.3 Is heD$he rea!in7 inhumanity is so ama&ing I am momentarily speechless. ,eru& is standing" bloody and loo!ing a lot #orse or #ear than #hen #e started" totally ignoring his o#n nudity. +ith all the damage I7ve done to him" I reali&e there isn7t a scratch on me. *ammit. It really does loo! li!e I #as the aggressor. Enbelievable.

$he #ay he is lo#ering his head and gro#ling" ho#ever" he doesn7t loo! much li!e the victim. 2?et her go.3 2)ir" I understand you7ve had a di icult time--3 2I said"3 the ,erissian interrupts" sounding li!e doom incarnate" 2let her go.3 -verybody stills" including me. :e is literally deadly serious. $hat is some tric!. *id I thin! he #as mad be ore6 I #as #rong. I loo! at the cop. 2*on7t let me go. :aul me in. $hro# the boo! at me.3 2$hat #ould be very ill advised"3 ,eru& #arns. 2)he7s mineG #e ,erissians do not ta!e #ell outsiders interrupting our love play.3 I goggle. ?ove play6 I #as Bust beating the shit out o him" and he7s putting that on the same level as ma!ing out6 No. No #ay. I re use to believe it. Nope. :e is lying through his pointy teeth to !eep me out o the clin! and in his strong" manly" homicidal clutches. :e comes closer" one hip rolling out a ter the other in luid motions. Ama&ing. :e7s outnumbered 20 to 1" and the t#enty are terri ied o him. 2:ave you ever seen a ,erissian ight or his mate6 It is a bloody e'hibition. Aipped limbs. >ouged eyes. +e are a combat race" a ter all.3 :is ta#ny eyes glitter in the arti icial light. +e may as #ell be standing in the middle o the Bungle" at the mercy o the biggest animal around instead o in a rit&y hotel #ith more irepo#er than !no#-ho#. :e has them in the palm o his hand" radiating lethal charisma" and I am no di erent rom anyone else. I am mesmeri&ed. 9y heart thrums in my chest. 9y blood vessels eel too thin" ma!ing my #hole body eel alive in a #ay that has nothing to do #ith ear or the ight. :is eyes meet mine and his nostrils lare. :e !no#s. $he cop is less impressed. :e must have been on the Bob or a e# years. 9aybe even e' military o one planet or the other. No #ay he could have ignored the primal challenge rolling o o ,eru& in #aves else#ise. An upscale hotel on a less-than-savory spaceport #ould hire nothing but the best or its protection" a ter all. 2)ir" do not ta!e another step. +e are #aiting or bac!up and then #e7ll get to the bottom o this.3 :e Ber!s his head at his partner. 2>ive him your Bac!et so he can cover up. $here are ladies present.3 A gentleman or a prude6 I don7t have time to decide. ,eru&7s shoulders go straight bac!. $he aggression ratchets up ive million times. 8h boy. Not good. Not good at all. 2$his is your last #arning" human.3 2*on7t listen to him"3 I interBect almost desperately. 2I7ve never seen this guy be ore in my li e.3 $he cop" young and possessing that bu&& cut they all seem to have" arches a bro# #ithout

ta!ing his eye o o the big and bad man in ront o us. 2$hen #hy #ere you beating on him and raising holy hell63 +ell" he isn7t as!ing di icult @uestions or anything. 2+ould you believe I #ent o o my meds63 +hat6 Am I supposed to tell him I #as robbing the guy and that I7m #anted in a e# systems or minor ;o!ay" sometimes maBor< in ractions6 4eah right. I #ant out o here. I don7t #ant to actually go to Bail. )o much or outside assistance. ?oo!s li!e I am going to have to do this the hard #ay. In a lightning @uic! move I7ve practiced a hundred times" I slam my head bac! into the nameless partner7s. :e Ber!s" his grip loosening Bust enough. 9y hand dives into the poc!et o my trademar! cargo pants and snatches up the homemade smo!e bomb I !eep or emergencies. I thro# it at the loor. $here #as a lash and a pop" and suddenly it7s pandemonium. I !ic! at the bac! o the irst cop7s !nee" sending him lying into the #hite. $here are people running and bumping" so I head or the #all and thr## mysel against it. 8ne #ay or the other" I am getting out o here. All I have to do os ollo# the #all. $hat #or!s ine or a minute" despite the number o bodies that are getting in my #ay. I don7t !no# #hich #ay I am actually traveling" but I need to get moving aster than I am. I things things are going #ell until a hand shoots out o the depths and lands on the #ood Bust t#o inches rom my ace. It7s ollo#ed by a bare arm and an e@ually bare shoulder. $hen there is his ace" thrusting to#ards mine until there is barely any space bet#een us. 2>oing some#here" /ethina63 24ou could say that"3 I retort be ore I !nee him. :e bloc!s #ith his thigh. $he arm that #as on the #all sna!es around my #aist and hauls me up into his roc! solid bod" my boobs s@uishing against his chest. 2Not today.3 :e7s all dar! intent. $hen out o no#here someone cloc!s him on the bac! o the head. :e goes do#n li!e a bric!" on his !nees and blin!ing. It7s the cop" his blaster dra#n. I don7t hang around. I run out o there" spurred by a body ull o adrenaline and a healthy amount o 'what the fuck just ha%%ened?'. $he cop doesn7t shoot me. I ma!e it out and got all the #ay to my ship" #hich I prime and Bet out #ith as soon as humanly possible. I don7t even notice I7ve le t 5a'' behind until I7m #ay out in space and the danger is ar behind. $hen I sit bac! in my seat" the shoc! #ashing over me. +hat. 5ust. +ent. *o#n6 9y control panel beeps" ma!ing me Bump three miles into the air. 2,uc!C3 Panting" I loo! at the

name o the incoming call. Aelie loods me. I accept the communication. 2:ey" Aich.3 2:ey"3 my step ather greets in that typical -arthen #ay o his. 2+hat are you up to63 I tense. 2Ep to6 +hat ma!es you thin! I7m up to anything63 :o# could he possibly !no# this ast63 2)top #ith the #ide eyed innocence. +hy is 5a'' calling me every three seconds" screaming that you le t him on $ermina =63 I s@uee&e my eyes shut and curse. )hitshitshit. 2+hat a pussy"3 I grouse. 2Can7t he get himsel out o there6 ?ush.3 Aich snorts. 4ou !no#" I love this guy. I really do. $here #ere ive o us !ids #hen he sho#ed up. None o our athers had the balls to handle my mother. Aich" he7s good people. *re# the line #here #e needed it" but other#ise didn7t treat us any di erent rom any other amily" not even #hen the other ive girls arrived on the scene. 2In the interest o ma!ing sure your Aunt Aosie doesn7t put ra&or blades in the $han!sgiving tur!ey" I7m sending a ship or him.3 I roll my eyes. Enbelievable. 8ver thirty" and 5a'' is getting parent detail. :e7s the #orst pirate in the history o pirates. +orse even than 5ules" #ho at least has computer s!ills to ma!e her legit. 2-'plain" /etty. No#.3 Part o me #ants to argue that I7m a gro#n #oman. $he other part o me !no#s nobody argues #ith Aichard 5enner and gets a#ay #ith it. ?i!e I said" he7s good people" but he7ll raise holy hell i you don7t !eep him in the loop. 2I #as dumb enough to all or one o 5a''7s stupid plans #ithout ollo#ing through. It turned out to be a big uc!ing trap by a guy I7ve crossed be ore.3 I hate admitting that to him" especially #hen it gets e'actly the reaction it deserves. ,or i teen solid seconds Aich clogs up the line #ith a string o s#ears that is nothing short o impressive. 2*ammit /ettyC +hat have I told you about chec!ing your home#or!6 4ou can7t !eep relying on other people to do the planning" especially not that dumbass.3 I close my eyes" embarrassed to the my core. 2I !no#.3 Please don7t as! #hat I #as loo!ing or-2+hat #as the ta!e63 *amn. It. $o. :ell. I7m never going to live this do#n. 2Ender#ear. 5e#el-encrusted under#ear.3 )ilence. 2Are you uc!ing serious63 I #ant to sin! into my seat and disappear. 24es"3 I grind out. $he silence continues. $hen a cho!ed" 28h god.3 I can practically see him burying his ace in

his hand" e'asperated and amused at the same time. 24ou cannot tell the others" Aich. 4ou can't.3 I7m pretty desperate by this point. $here7s a ton o other stu to be #orried about right no#" but suddenly nothing is more important than preserving my reputation in my ruthless amily. 2-specially not 9om.3 28h" I7m telling your mom"3 Aich says" cho!ing on a laugh. 2$hen I7m letting her ta!e over the lecture rom there. 4ou deserve every second o it.3 2*adDAich" I am begging you--3 $oo late. $he communication lin!7s been cut. 2*ammitC3 I beat the armrests o my chair in rustration. $his has been the day rom ever-loving hell. Agitated" I undo my hair care ully rom the ponytail" my movements @uic! but considerate o the ragile strands. It loats around my head li!e a messed up halo" no#here near the thic!ness that it used to be. >enetics are a bitch. A couple o years ago I Bust started shedding. Nothing I could do about it. I #ent rom luscious loc!s to thin but manageable hair. I spend a lot o time caring or it" trying to !eep #hat I have. 8ne day I might Bust end up shaving it all o and start #earing #igs" but or no# I7m going to go comb it. :ope ully the repetitive action #ill soothe my Bangled nerves. I7ve got a ,erissian #ho may or may not have a thing or me" my cousin is screaming bloody murder" I still have thin hair and I didn7t get one single ne# credit to add to my personal stoc!pile. $oday #as not a success. No" be ore I brush my hair I7m going to do #hat everybody is ho#ling or me to do. research. $ime to see #hat ,erissians are all about. I may not have the s!ills that 5ules does" but I can access the general database #ithout loo!ing li!e a total ool. $#enty minutes later I stare at the screen" slac!Ba#ed. I cannot believe this. I Bust can7t uc!ing believe this. ,eru& #as totally on the up and up about the mate thing. :e rea!in7 pic!ed me" the cra&y sister" and decided I #as a peachy !een match or his space #arlord sel . 9y orehead thumps against the display. +ell" this is Bust per ect. $here7s another beep" and I slap at it be ore it inishes the second tone. 2+hat63 2'ou left.3 I sit bolt upright. 2,eru&63 :o# the hell did he get this number6 )uddenly his ace appears in the vie#er" bruised" scraped" and set in an e'pression that is as hard as stone. I didn7t give permission or the vie#er to go to visual. :o# theDNever mind. I don7t care. I7ll Bust orget the in o in ten seconds any#ay.

2$urn around"3 he orders coldly. I let out a short laugh. 2:aC No.3 2/ethina.3 I sit bac!. 2:ey" don7t say my name li!e you !no# me"guy. I7m scarred or li e no# because o you" and no amount o uc!-me-beastliness on your part is going to convince me to turn this boat around.3 :is chin comes up. :is ta#ny eyes" brighter than any I7ve ever seen be ore" practically glint at me over the transmission. 2Are you going to ma!e me come a ter you" /ethina6 4ou are only delaying the inevitable.3 2I pre er to thin! o it as ma!ing my position clear. I don7t do relationships. I7m in it or the se' or nothing.3 :e7s amused. 2)omeone decided to do her home#or! a ter all. /etter late than never.3 24eah" ,erissians declaring to everybody in hearing distance that I7m his girl tends to turn on the old research impulse" !no# #hat I mean63 2$hen you !no# Bust ho# ruitless running is.3 I sit or#ard" olding my arms on the panel. :is ga&e alls and stays glued to my chest" #hich is practically spilling out o my shirt. Intentional6 No. Ese ul6 Iery. 2?et me lay it out or ya" ,eru&. I come rom a amily o pirates. Aunning is a #ay o li e. 4ou could even call it an art orm. /ut this6 $his is not running. $his is me not engaging you in a game I don7t #ant to play. )imple.3 :e smiles. $here7s no humor in it. 24ou started the game #hen you stole rom me. $hree times.3 I7m not amused. 2/ullshit. $hat7s larceny. /ut i it7s that important to you" I7ll send you something rom my collection and #e7ll call it s@uare.3 2*o as you li!e.3 8h" he7s Bust going to sit there and act li!e everything7s already a done deal6 :e pic!ed the #rong girl to pull that on. 2,uc! you" ,eru&.3 I slap at the display again. It ta!es me a couple o tries" #hich he loves" but I inally get the screen to go blan!. Considering ho# easy it #as or him to get the number in the irst place" I better get someone on computer detail lic!ity split. 8nly one girl in the universe I !no# good enough to do it #hile !eeping her mouth shut. I press a preprogrammed number. 2/A/4CAF-)C I need a drin!.3 ''''' 2Phil7s got hersel a ne# man"3 5ules says" ta!ing the shot o te@uila li!e a champ.

27) that right63 I7m less than enthused. 2+hat7s #ith the attitude6 $his might be the one.3 2Please. I give it ive months.3 I li t my shot to her and !noc! it bac!. It eels good to be #ith my babyca!es. )he7s un #hen she7s not being all responsible. 9y little party girl is all gro#n up #ith a pub o her o#n. )o proud. I snic!er to mysel . 2+ell" I7m rooting or her.3 )he sits the shotglass bac! do#n on the bar #ith a decisive snap. I snort. 2$hat7s because you believe in happily ever a ters and all that rainbo# Bun!.3 )he groans. 28h here it comes. 4ou are such a sourpuss #hen it comes to romance that you ma!e me #orry or the universe. $he #orst part is that you don7t even have a tragic bac!story to support it. 4ou7re Bust grinchy.3 2:eyC I7ve got nothing against Christmas. )tu Number 8ne avorite activity. It drives her up the #all. 2+hy are you so convinced things #on7t #or! out or Phil" then63 2/ecause she al#ays pic!s the same typesC ?et me guess" he7s a bas!etball playing human #ho doesn7t !no# aliens e'ist" or that Phil is one63 )ilence. I !ne# it. 2)he7s going to bounce around bet#een here and her ship or a couple o months. $he ne#ness #ill #ear o " the guy #ill get suspicious" and she7ll try to tell him the truth. $hen he7ll dump her or being nuts. It7s the same pattern" babyca!es" over and over.3 :er bro#s climb into her curly blonde hair. $he ne# perm is loo!ing good. 9a!es her loo! lu y and cute. 2)o nobody in the gala'y #ill ever ind their soulmate" ever" because that7s Bust the #ay things are.3 $he sarcasm" it is thic!. 2$hat soulmate crap is or pussies. 4ou shouldn7t buy into it either. It ma!es it loo! li!e relationships are easy #hen that shit is hard #or!.3 )he tuc!s a curl behind her ear" one elbo# on the bar. 2:o# #ould you !no#6 4ou7ve never been in one.3 I pour us ne# glasses. 2,or that very reason" )herloc!.3 2)o #hat you7re telling me is that you7re too la&y to ma!e some poor schmuc! happy63 I purse my lips. 2+ell" anything sounds bad #hen you say it li!e that.3 I cut her o be ore she can get all righteous. 2?oo!" it7s not Bust that. /esides people developing all these e'pectations or you" the ights" and the same old com ort se'" relationships are Bust not appealing" you !no#6 $a!e the or me6 I7m all about that.3 $easing 5ules is my

soulmate thing. People believe that there7s a per ect one or them. $hat some#here out there is their other hal " the person that #as created to be their complement. )o they have these unrealistic ideas about #hat li e #ith someone #ill be li!e. $hey get disappointed" and then they move on to the ne't potential soulmate. It7s sic! i you as! me.3 I Ber! a thumb at my chest. 2I Bust !eep e'pectations real" the un short but intense" and then I suc! all the Boy I can out o the moment be ore moving on. Feeps things at a nice pace" actually.3 )he sha!es her head" giving up on me. 24ou7re going to regret saying that. ,ate7s gunning or your ass" /etty. 5ust #ait.3 ,eru&7s ace pops into my head despite mysel . :e7d ta!e me on in a heartbeat. 5ust sho#s ho# much he !no#s. 2It7s not li!e I haven7t tried.3 2+haaaa63 I sco#l at her. 2+hat7s #ith the disbelie 6 4ou don7t !no# everything about me. $here #ere a couple o times #hen I considered it.3 2)o #hat happened63 I shrug. 2>ot bored. *idn7t stay interested long enough to even ma!e the e ort. I guess you could say I #as the one that ended up being the disappointment.3 2I7m impressed. I didn7t !no# you #ere such a heartbrea!er.3 2Not as much as someone I !no#.3 I li t my shot to her and #iggle my bro#s. 2)hut up" /etty. It7s the 21st century.3 24eah" yeah"3 I singsong. I don7t really care #hat 5ules7 number is. I7m !ind o proud o her" actually. 9y sister ain7t no ainting #all lo#er. I slant a glance at her. I don7t !no# #hen it happened" but she got gro#n up on me. 2It7s nice" you !no#6 )eeing you all responsible and dedicated.3 I indicate the bar. )he loo!s around" pride gleaming in her eye. 24eah. ,inally settling do#n.3 2Eh huh"3 I intone. 2)ure about that63 )he blin!s. 2+hat does that mean63 2+hat #ould I have to tap to get into your secret escape tunnel63 +o#" that sounded dirty. 2+hat has that got to do #ith anything63 2It means you7re not as settled as you thin! you are.3 5ules al#ays has an escape route. Al#ays. It7s encoded into her *NA. /eing the daughter o a amous pirate isn7t easy. Enli!e the rest o us" though" 5ules !eeps a loop open or hersel . I Bust shoot the uc! out o #hoever challenges me. It7s better than Calista. )he7s !ni e happy. 2+hy don7t you set a torch to this place and get your butt bac! in space" babyca!es63

2/ecause those people up there are psychos" and nine o them Bust happen to be my sisters.3 2$rue"3 I allo#" 2but #e7re un at !arao!e.3 I raise a bro#. 2)pea!ing o . ?et7s ditch and go dancing.3 )he glances around the closed bar. 2I don7t !no#.3 2Come on.3 I #as raised on delivering peer pressure. 28ne night. I #on7t see you or" li!e" months a ter this. And I have to ta!e you out to than! you or the computer thing.3 8 #hich she did in ive seconds" super genius that she is. I bat my eyelashes. 2Please6 /e ore I bring out the blaster and shoot your ass or being boring63 )he snorts. 2,ine. 8ne night. I7ll loc! up" #e7ll go out" and roc! on.3 I grab the te@uila bottle and raise it. 2$o good times.3 2And the #ild ride"3 she inishes" li!e the good little babyca!es she is. I drin! to that. To be continued....

,ind out #hat happens to the 5enner sisters in (andsome )evilC

Handsome Devil
Available October !"#
5udith A. 5enner has got a good thing going on -arth. $he ormer party girl has turned in her club dress or the respectable li e o pub o#ner. )he has a amily that loves her and a li e that7s on trac!. -verybody thin!s she7s Bust another citi&en. Nobody !no#s that aliens e'ist" or that 5ules7 mom is one" or that her nine sisters are mildly unhinged. $hen one night 5ules7 normal li e is blo#n to smithereens #hen a tall" hot" sharp-toothed alien named 97anu sho#s up on her doorstep. )uddenly li e is all about space" pirates" shootouts" and a very se'y male #ho !eeps misunderstanding her signals. >uess the universe is going to have to learn a valuable lesson. *ever mess #ith a 5enner.

Sneak Peek
Chapter One I used to thin! that all a couple needed to ma!e love #or! #as poetry and promises. I #as #rong. I7ve had plenty o both. /adly ripped o sonnets rom old +ill )ha!espeare ;seriously" the man #rote #ay more than +omeo and $uliet. $a!e a hint.<. >uarantees that ranged rom turning my library boo!s in on time or me to allusions to marriage. None o that #or!ed out. Instead I have a bar and more e' boy riends in my past than I care to admit. 8h. I also have an e' girl riend. It #as an e'periment that #or!ed or a #hile. )he #as great. 9e6 Not so much. $he bar is more li!e a pub. I traveled a little instead o going to college ull time. 8ne thing I could nearly al#ays count on #as an Irish pub to hang out at" no matter #hat city I happened to be in. *on7t as! me #hy that is. It Bust happens.

I li!ed that #arm" living room eel you could get in a pub. I you stay in one long enough you7ll #al! out #ith a riend. A big di erence rom the hoo!ing up I #as becoming bored #ith in bars. )o here7s #hat happened. I #as #ith a e# people. 8!ay" a lot o people. *on7t BudgeDit7s the 21st century. $hen I got burned out. /urned out led to Baded. 5aded led to cynical. 4ou get the idea. No# I7m bac! in the good old E) o A" and it7s not so bad. I7ve got riends" a business" and a past. I ma!e money enough to live and I7ve ta!en a brea! rom romance. I thin! the guys in my age group need to mature a little be ore I dip my toe bac! into the #aters. 8r I could go or an older guy" i I could ever ind one that #anted more than a one night stand or a substitute daughter. Find o over the one night stand thing and my ather is very much alive. *ad is the promises and poetry type. $he di erence is that he ma!es it #or!. )ets a pretty high bar or his !id" i you !no# #hat I mean. +hich reminds me. I have to )!ype him. I7ll do it #hen I7m closing up or the night. It #ould be one in the morning my time" but he7d be up and he li!es to !eep me company via video chat. It7s good. It7s $uesday night and the regulars have done their rounds. 9ostly #or!ing class and retired guys #ho #ant a beer and a chance to shoot the bree&e. A couple o the ones #ho #or! odd hours #ill probably head out to !arao!e later. :ave to !eep themselves entertained someho# in the #ee hours o the da#n" right6 I am already gathering the glasses and getting the computer tablet set up and ready to go. 9y name is 5ules" by the #ay. 5udith A. 5enner. *on7t as! me #hat the A stands orDi I told you I7d have to !ill you. Aeally. /ecause my mom is !ind o important. *ad7s your average i ty-something American Boe. 9om is a little bit more complicated than that. ?et7s Bust say that even i I don7t #hac! you" there are more than a e# people #ho canDand #ill. I !no#. I try not to thin! about it either. 79om7s gonna !ill me7 is not a phrase lightly uttered in my amily. I #ipe do#n the counter and call out the hour to let the customers !no# it7s time to be moseying on. I7m !no#n or letting one or t#o stay over past closing time" but tonight I7m Bust not into it. I #ant to get the metal shutters rolled do#n over the #indo#s and the place put to rights. A ter I tal! to *ad I am going to sur the internet or #atch a movie. 4ou !no#" single girl stu . $here might even be ice cream involved. #hoa mama, am I a hot,to,trot lady. I sha!e my head at my o#n thoughts and #ave at the last e# guys that meander their #ay out.

I grab the !eys rom the hoo! ne't to my mini ridge and ollo# *obs" one o my regulars" !eeping up the small tal! #hile I7m at it. $hese are good people. I get a cra&y or a drun! here and there" but mostly I7ve got a decent clientele #ho Bust #ant to hang out or a #hile and sociali&e. I loc! up @uic!ly. I7m not one o those people #ho leaves things to chance. +hen I say I loc! up" I mean it. $here are t#o deadbolts" a chain" and a !ey pad in addition to your standard door loc!. $hose !inds o precautions have been drilled into me since I #as old enough to tal!. 9y irst #ord #as 7care ul7. 4ou laugh" but it7s true. $hat7s ho# o ten my dad said it. I #as !ind o a hand ul as a !id. I7m !eying in the last o the activation se@uence #hen my mobile starts to ring. -lvis and his 2/ig /oss 9an3. *ad7s al#ays been impatient #hen it comes to me. It7s !inda cute. I dig the phone out o my Beans7 poc!et and loo! at the display #ith my ather7s handsome mug lashing on the screen. I accept the call and hold the phone to my ear. 2:ey *ad. I #as Bust about to get online--3 2+here are you63 9y bro#s shoot up to my hairline. 2At the pub. +hat7s #rong63 2Are you closed up or the night63 I haven7t heard him sound this stressed sinceDa cold tric!le drips do#n my spine. 2+hat7s going on" *ad63 2$here7s a ne# bounty on your head.3 )hit. $his is #hat happens #hen your mom is a badass. -verybody #ants a piece o the action. I stride out o the small oyer" slamming the inner door shut and hitting the button on the #all ne't to it #ithout even loo!ing. $he aint #hirring o triple-en orced shutters rolling do#n ills the air. 2:o# much63 2-nough to give me nightmares"3 my ather bar!s. 2>et the hell out o there and ollo# the plan.3 $here is al#ays a plan. $here has al#ays been a plan. $here are plans or plans or other plans that go #rong. It7s a uc!ed up universe I have to deal #ith sometimes. I !ic! a chair that7s hal out rom under a table" pissed that my internet sur ing is going to ta!e a bac!seat. Is one night ogling Alan Aic!man as Colonel /randon too much to as!6 -'actly. $he chair Bumps and there7s a crac!ing sound ollo#ed by a s!itter" and the chair collapses" missing a leg. ,ric!. I guess I orgot to temper my strength. Another thing that my mom passed along.

2I7m on it"3 I tell *ad bris!ly" still glaring at the remnants o my chair. 2Are #e going to rende&vous63 2Not this time. $his shit is blo#ing up bigger than an implant on a Playboy /unny.3 *ad7s a little crusty. -' military. It happens. 2I7m doing containment be ore your mom inds out #hat7s going on and it really hits the an.3 I can hear *ad hu ing a little and the aint echo o ootsteps. 2>oddamn stairs"3 he mutters under his breath. $hen" 2/etty7s got your detail.3 /etty is my third oldest sister. I7ve got nine. Nine cra&y" sociopathic sisters" and /etty7s the meanest one o them all. $hin! shoot irst" shoot again" shoot a third time or un" then maybe thin!ing about as!ing a @uestion be ore changing her mind. )he loves me li!e a rabid chihuahua on steroids. I I hadn7t learned to beat her up #hen I #as eleven" I7d be literally stuc! in a harness and a leash so I don7t get lost on the #ay to the bathroom. Is it my ault I #as born the baby6 Nope" but I am reaping the bene its and the mis ortunes all the same. It occurs to me that i /etty7s on my si'" this is a lot more serious than anything I7ve dealt #ith in the past. 2+ho did #hat and #hen63 25ust ollo# the plan" 5ules.3 I turnDmy pub is an ? shapeDready to head to the bac! and grab my purseDand I ree&e. 24eah" *ad"3 I say through lips that suddenly eel cold. 2I7m on it.3 I slo#ly lo#er the phone and slide my thumb over the disconnect button. :e7s standing Bust inside the #ide door#ay that leads to my very e'pensive pool table. :e7s #atching me #ithout blin!ing" the !ind o ga&e you see on a predator that !no#s he7s a lot bigger and stronger than you. -ven in the mood lighting I can see that his eyes are a supernatural shade o blue. It7s deep and dar!" #hich is not unusual in itsel " but the gold la!es that shimmer in the pupil sure as hell are. ?oo!ing into his eyes is li!e loo!ing into deep space. I space #as blue. :e7s pretty. :e7s got the !ind o ace that should be delicate but isn7t. It7s Bust... inely ormed. )tone-cut Ba#. No acial hair on his chee!s" not even a hint that it can gro#. :e has a straight nose and ull lips. I thin! this is #hat Aomans are supposed to have loo!ed li!e. I don7t thin! Aomans #ould have had short hair and long" sides#ept bangs #ith %ink strea!s in the blac!" though. :e tilts his head" still not blin!ing" as i he7s interested in the act that I7m chec!ing him out. +hat" li!e I7m not going to6 $here is no #ay he7s a orgotten patron. I #ould have noticed him #al!ing

in. 8r maybe he assumed I #as going to run screaming or the hills. ?i!e there7s any#here to really go. I7m not going to as! ho# he got in. I already have a pretty good idea. :e7s Bust so still. It7s li!e he7s not really breathing. :e7s standing #ith his arms at his sides" his hips more narro# than his shoulders" legs spread apart Bust so. :e7s a runner and" unless I miss my guess" he7s used to ta!ing people on in a ight i he needs to. :e7s covered rom chest to toe in blac!" the !ind o suit somebody in an action movie #ould #ear i he #as about to blo# a place up. 24ou didn7t cry or help.3 :oly mother o god" #as that his voice? It #as rea!in7 deeper than Alan Aic!man7sC I li t my chin and #et my lips. :ey" I7m calm" not stupid. :e7s not here to stac! chairs. 2I don7t thin! I7ll need to.3 :e blin!s or the irst time" his lips @uir!ing in a !ind o nonsmile. 28h63 I step to the side and he trac!s the movement" still not t#itching. $hat7s not humanly possible. I his eyes hadn7t already given it a#ay" that much #ould have sealed the deal. 25ust one @uestion"3 I say" slipping my phone into my poc!et. 2Are you an assassin or a bounty hunter63 $he nonsmile gro#s but doesn7t sho# teeth. $hat7s more than a little creepy and de initely not reassuring. 9y heart rate pic!s up. 2*oes it matter63 he rumbles. 2+ell"3 I admit" 2no.3 I slap at the underside o the bar" hitting the hidden light s#itch #ith li e-saving accuracy. $he place goes pitch blac!De'cept or his eyes" t#o orbs o gold lec!s in blue oceans loating in the dar!ness. 8h uc!. :e can see in the dar!.

Handsome Devil is now available $rom Ama%on and All&omance'boo(s)

Bonus *nea( Pee()

+hat happens #hen a girlD#ho doesn7t !no# #hat she isD alls in love #ith a guy...#ho is more than he seems6

Chapter One
disJplace KdisLplMsK ;v<. 1. $o ta!e over the place" position" or role o ;someone or something<. 2. Cause ;something< to move rom its proper or usual place. $uly 2:ey 9om. +hat are you up to63 I go ishing or my !eys" trying to Buggle t#o grocery bags and my bac!pac!. $he phone is #edged to my ear. No #ay am I missing 9om7s call. I mean" yes" there7s )!ype" but 9om is not too !een on it. )he li!es the mobility o the cell. )he li!es mobility o any !ind" actually. )he and her husband )teve moved to Atlanta about a year ago. 8n the sur ace it #as because )teve got a ne# Bob" but really6 9om #anted an adventure. I inally snag the !eys and manage to insert the right one into the loc!. $he house belongs to 9om" but since it7s paid or she7s letting me stay #hile I go to college instead o selling it. I got luc!yG student housing is un but cramped. 2I7m headed to my yoga class and I thought I7d chec! in #ith you.3 9om7s voice comes over loud and clear despite the Atlanta tra ic. -ver since she igured out that she could hoo! up her phone to the car7s spea!er system" there7s been no stopping her. Considering she7s on the road 2NKO" that7s a lot o phone calls. 24oga63 I get in the door and drop the bags. $hey aren7t ull o anything ragile" so they7ll !eep #hile I get rid o the bac!pac! and close the door. 28h yeah" starting the ne# :ot 4oga class. $he instructor is as gay as can be" but the ass on that man is a thing o beauty.3 9om7s al#ays been about the butts. >ym rats too. )teve #as a decent loo!ing middle aged man #hen they met" but he7s an accountant through and through. *on7t as! me ho# that came about. All I !no# is that she adores him and that7s good enough or me. :e7s a great guy. $he irst in a very long string o dudes #ho couldn7t igure out #hat to do #ith a youth ul spirit and t#o !ids. :e #as never

#hat I #ould call a dad" mostly because Charlie and I #ere already sel -su icient teenagers #hen he sho#ed up" but he loves 9om and #e7re riendly. $hat7s a gold star in my boo!. 9om deserves to have good things happen. 2:ave you heard rom Charlie63 I come to a standstill in the hall and sigh silently. Charlie. 2Not lately. 4ou63 2No.3 $here7s a #ealth o emotion in that one #ord. :ere7s the story. Charlie is three years older than me. +hen #e #ere little our parents ;#ho #ere apparently #eird Aenaissance anatics< abandoned us in a ield. 9om ound us. I #as t#o and Charlie #as ive. I don7t !no# #hat possessed a single #oman in her mid t#enties to adopt a couple o oddball !ids" but she did it. Charlie has al#ays been that @uintessential protective older brother" but in a cool #ay" you !no#6 :e #as al#ays loo!ing out or me. It7s because o him that I learned $ae!#ando or sel -de ense and !no# hal the random acts that I do. Ep until three years ago Charlie" 9om" and I #ere a pretty close !nit unit" even though )teve and she #ere married by that point. Charlie #as in college" studying business and doing e'ceptionally #ell. I #as in high school. Not a cheerleader" not necessarily popular" but #ell li!ed and #ith a lot o riends. $hen Charlie started acting o . :e Bumped at nothing. :e got angry at nothing. :e started closing himsel up in his room. I thought it #as drugs but didn7t #ant to believe it. 9om thought it #as either that or something le t over rom being abandoned. I never got the impression rom Charlie that he missed our parents" even though he #as old enough to remember them. It #as li!e he bloc!ed that part o his li e out e'cept or a e# bits and pieces. +hen he started acting out" I didn7t !no# #hat #as going on. :e #ouldn7t tal! to us. It got so rustrating that #hen he suddenly up and le t in the middle o the night" I #as relieved. Aelieved. 4eah" than!s" teenaged angst" or blinding me to the act that he #asn7t !idding around. Charlie #as gone. $#o #ee!s later" it inally da#ned on me that he #asn7t coming bac!. 9y brother. $hat guy I relied on or almost my entire li e. $he !id #ho made sure that t#oyear-old me never got separated rom him" even #hen our parents Bust le t us out in the open" unprotected against the elements. And I #as relieved #hen he le t6 >od" I #as such a Ber!. 9om lipped. I rea!ed. +e thought he #as dead. It7s ama&ing #hat goes through your head #hen you don7t have all the in ormation. ?ots o tears and lots o sleepless nights. ,or the irst time in my li e I reali&ed #hat it #as li!e to be le t behind.

Isn7t that dumb6 I7d already been abandoned once. )till" I !ne# #hatever it #as that #as dogging Charlie #asn7t Bust going to go a#ay. I he #as alive. +hen he inally sent that one email" I almost didn7t !no# #hat to do. 4ell at him6 Cry because he #as alive6 $hreaten to chop him up into little pieces because o #hat he7d put us through6 $ell him to come home6 It #as all an option. I 9om had her #ay she #ould have dragged him home by the ear. $he only thing Charlie #ould say #as that he #as o!ay. :e never did tell us #here he #as. :e called once or t#ice" but mostly it7s been emails and pictures rom random places. 9y big" dependable older brother Bust too! o . Naturally cheer ul" gee!y" and laughing Charlie Dgone. I thin! part o me hated him or a #hile. $he part that inally understood nothing is permanent or sa e or 7dependable7. I don7t !no# that I7ve orgiven him or #hat he7s done" but he7s alive and he7s not on drugs. :e seems o!ay" #hatever he7s gotten himsel into. I thin! 9om #ill never stop hoping he7ll Bust sho# up on her doorstep one day. I can7t blame her. It #ould be totally li!e him. $o be honest" I thin! she #ould have moved sooner i not or that possibility. I stare at mysel in the hall mirror" not really seeing as I strive or a normal tone. 2:e7ll call"3 I tell her. I even manage to sound convincing. 24ou !no# ho# he is.3 24eah.3 ?ots o doubt in her voice. +ist ulness too. )ammit, -harlie, I curse silently. -ouldn't you call her, at least once? #hat the hell is u% with the te.t,only communication? /ut I !no# the ans#er. :e7s a chic!en. :e !no#s she7ll rip him a ne# one be ore she #elcomes him bac!. :e #on7t be able to stand her disappointment. :e never could. :e loves 9om more than li e. I bend my head" searching my brain or something to say that #ill ma!e her eel better. +hen I loo! up again" though" something7s di erent in the mirror. 9y eyes go #ide. 9y heart stops. Instead o seeing mysel Dgray tshirt and shorts" green eyes" dirty blonde hair in a ponytailDI see a man. :e stares bac!" mouth parted in surprise. :e7s beauti ul. )hort bro#n hair" almost military style. :igh chee!bones" serious bro#" a mouth made or...#ell" serious things. In one loo! you !no# all about himDa guy #ho can carry the #eight o the #orld and ma!e it loo! easy. #hat the hell is a beautiful man doing in my mirror? 9y heart lurches bac! into action" going into overdrive. I #hip around" panic!ed" ready to brea! out the $ae!#ando in a secondDbut the hall is empty. I duc! into the dining room cautiously" vaguely

a#are o 9om saying something in my ear" but there7s nobody in the dining room either. Nobody could move that ast. Nobody. I spin bac! on my heel. :e7s still there. :e7s still in my mirror" ro#ning. I can7t see mysel . It7s li!e I don7t e'ist. *i&&iness s#eeps do#n over my head" graying the edges o my vision. 9y arm alls to my side as I clutch my orehead" s#aying on my eet. Is this ear6 Is this ainting6 I7ve never ainted be ore in my li e. I don7t li!e it. I don7t li!e it one bit. NoC I7m not one o those too-stupid-to-live girlsC I close my eyes and give mysel a good sha!e. I #ill get it together" dammit. I snap them bac! open" ready to ta!e on the #orld. :e7s gone. It7s Bust me" pale and loo!ing li!e a heroine in a horror movie. +hat Bust happened here6 2CarolineC3 9om7s voice rings out over the thic! silence" reminding me o the phone in my hand. I put it to my ear" still reeling. 24-4eahC )orry. >ot distracted by something.3 Something. )omeone6 )ome...#hat6 2I7ve got to go" 9om. I7ll tal! to you later o!ay6 ?ove you.3 I barely #ait or the reply be ore I disconnect" clutching the phone to my chest. 9y blood is still lo#ing thic! in my veins. 9y heartbeat is still pitterpattering against my ribcage. )omething de initely happened. Aight6 I listen to the sounds o the house" trying to pic! out anything that might not belong" my ga&e ocused totally on the mirror. All I can hear is the @uiet hum o the ridge in the !itchen" the tic!tic!tic!ing o the cloc! in the living room" and the subtle rustle o my o#n clothes. Nothing loo!s or sounds out o place. *id I Bust rea!in7 hallucinate that6 8!ay. Nothing to be a raid o . It7s Bust a mirror. I ta!e a deep breath" gathering my courage. I lean or#ard" not even enough to bend my !nees" and peer into the re lection. 9y eet ma!e a so t shi ting noise in my ballerinas" the so t crea! o the hard#ood loor the only nod to movement. I reach out gingerly" biting my lip Bust be ore I touch the sur ace. )mooth. Endisturbed. $here7s not even a smudge on the glass. +hat7s going on6 I loo! at the door. It #as loc!ed #hen I came in. All the #indo# panels loo! untouched. /ut #hat about the bac!door6 8r any o the other #indo#s6 >od" I #ish I had my baseball bat" e'cept that it7s upstairs in my room. I turn. )top.

$he baseball bat is propped against the oyer shoe cabinet" the #ood gleaming innocently in the Cali ornian sunlight. I have to close my eyes again" consciously ordering my heart to calm do#n. )o it7s here. No big deal. I7m orget ul lately. )tu sho#ing up in places I don7t remember putting them. Nothing to #orry about. 5ust a guy in a mirror I7ve never seen be ore and a baseball bat in the hall#ay t#o seconds later. I7m ine. $otally ine. I s#allo#" grab my !eys and the baseball batDand go outside to call the police. :ey" I7m not a co#ard" but I7m not an idiot either. I there7s someone in my house" I #ant people #ith guns to be the ones that chec! it out. I have no interest in ending up on the ne#s as a tragic side story #ith heaping helping o cautionary tale thro#n in. 8n my la#n" I dial =11. 2:ello6 I7d li!e to report a possible brea! in...3 !ugust 9y copy o $ane /yre isn7t in the boo!case. I set it there three minutes ago" remembered my boo!mar!" and no# it7s gone. I can7t call the cops again. $here7s no #ay they7d believe someone is in my house moving things. $hey never ound anything the irst time. $hey didn7t ind anything the second time either. I I call them a third time they7ll thin! I7m cra&y. :ell" I7d thin! I #as cra&y too" or loo!ing or attention. I stand there" staring at the boo!case" right at the slot #here the paperbac! is supposed to be. I7m starting to get a sic! eeling. It7s not in my gut" but right underneath my ribs" s#irling around li!e a lot o mucous. It clings to my insides and #on7t let go. Am I losing it6 Is this the early stages o Al&heimer7s6 Aobin Peterson #as only N( #hen they diagnosed him. I7m t#enty-t#o" but terrible things can happen to good people. Aobin lost time" hours or days at a time. $hey gave him t#o years" I remember" tears misting my eyes. It got to the point #here he couldn7t remember meeting people. :e !illed himsel . ?e t a note saying he didn7t #ant to end up on a toilet" pants on the loor" #ith no idea o ho# he7d gotten there or ho# long it had been. $hen he shot himsel . Is that me no#6 I s#ipe at the one tear that manages to escape" telling mysel to snap out o it. $here has to be a reason or the things going missing and sho#ing up someplace else. I don7t care #hat it is" but there7s a reason. I have to thin!. I have to igure out a pattern. I grip the edge o the shel " staring at the empty space li!e it has all the ans#ers. I I Bust stand there long enough" loo! hard enough" it7ll all un old be ore me. /ut my mind Bust can7t clear through the gibberish it sei&es on. :o# many other things have

moved6 I7m inding it harder to sleep at night. )ometimes I nap during the day because I can7t bear to lay a#a!e" trying to hear i someone is in the house. I7ll go nuts i this !eeps up. I turn and leave the room. I need a drin!. Co ee" alcohol" I don7t care. I need to ind my 5ane /yre. I need to igure this out. I clomp do#n the stairs" heading or the !itchen li!e it7s the ultimate endgame" passing the do#nstairs bathroom as @uic! as a bat out o hell #hen a bit o color catches my eye. I come to a total halt" that heavy eeling settling over me again. No. It can7t be. I ta!e one step bac!. $hen t#o. I7m a raid to loo!. I have to see. )lo#ly I turn my head" ocusing on the sin!. $ane /yre is sitting there" its distinct blac! and gray spine bent and creased rom a million reads. $he sight de lates me li!e a pinpric! in a tire. All o the pressure leaves me at once" lo#ing out in a long" dra#n e'hale. $he tears that didn7t really leave me sting harder. I #al! into the bathroom as care ully as I #ould a mine ield" pic!ing the boo! up #ith both hands. :o#6 +hy6 +hat7s happening6 +hy can7t I come up #ith ans#ers instead o @uestions6 $he hair on the bac! o my nape stands on end. It7s that eeling. $hat sensation that someone is #atching me. I loo! up" still holding the boo! tight. :e7s there. In the mirror. $he beauti ul man. :e7s #atching me as intently as a lion studying its prey" but his eyes aren7t malicious. :e loo!s...intrigued. )ince I can7t see mysel " I can only guess at #hat he7s loo!ing at. I7m terri ied. $here7s no doubt about that. $his is not normal. $his is not everyday stu " not really" even though it sort o is happening every dayDto me. I7m at a loss as to protocol. *idn7t someone once say never to engage spirits6 I that7s #hat he is. +e7ve never had problems in this house be ore. I don7t see #hy he7d sho# up no#. Enless I7m imagining things" and this is all in my head" and I really am going cra&y. I #et my lips nervously. 2:-hello.3 :e tilts his head. I7ll be damned. :e heard me. A little encouraged" I try again. 2+ho are you63 $hat comes out better. Not too sha!y.

:e says nothing. :e doesn7t even blin!. $hen he7s gone. 2+-3 I cry" but too late. It7s Bust me in the mirror" boo! in hand. I e'hale again. I tal!ed. :e heard. $he boo! moved. 8ther things move. 2I7m being haunted"3 I reali&e #ith total surprise. 2I7m being haunted.0 It ma!es total and complete sense. Find o . It sounds a hell o a lot better than 7Caroline needs to see a doctor7. /ut ho# to !no# or sure6 $ime. $hat7s the !ey. I I7m imagining stu " then I should be losing time li!e Aobin did. I have to !eep trac! o this. -'cited" on a mission" and glad to have the direction" I bolt to the !itchen and thro# open the cabinet doors. 2-gg timer" egg timer" egg timerD>otchaC3 I raise it high in triumph. It7s the most beauti ul thing I7ve ever seen. I7m armed and ready no#" I decide #ith rene#ed con idence. I7m ready to tac!le this head on. I #ill not be de eated. Se%tember $he haunted thing #as a beauti ul theory. It even #or!ed or a #hile. $hen ugly reality set in. It7s been t#o months since everything started. $hings move. $hey end up in strange places. $he man in the mirror sho#s up randomly. :e never tal!s or engages. I7ve lost my ear o him. I try to put a name to the ace. )omething masculine and strong. Nothing I ever come up #ith seems to it" so I Bust call him 9irror 9an in my head. $here is no doubt that he #as all man. $here isn7t a scrap o boyishness in his ace. No play ul glint in his eye. No teasing grin. $hat is too care ree or him. 8ver time I get enough glimpses at him to !no# that 7care ree7 #as not a #ord I can apply. )till" I thin! o him as a gentle soul. Considerate. +atch ul. $he !ind o guy #ho7s seen enough o the #orld to try and protect someone else rom it. 9aybe not terribly tal!ative" but there #hen you need him. Aeliable. I !no# I7m tal!ing him up in my imagination. $here is no #ay o !no#ing i any o this is true. It Bust ma!es me eel better at night" !no#ing he7s 2around3. Not in a creepy stal!er type #ay. 9ore li!e those 5apanese house spirits that guard the place. $hat doesn7t mean I don7t ma!e sure to drape a scar over my ull-length mirror at night" o course. I don7t need anybody staring at me #hile I sleep. $hrough care ul documentation" I have reali&ed I7m not losing time. According to my non-

medical mind" that proves I don7t have Al&heimer7s. )o maybe it is Bust a ghost. $his is Cali ornia. I7ve heard o #eirder things. I am Bust relieved that I could at least pretend to have an e'planation. ?i e has returned to normal" i a slightly altered version o it. I7ve gone about my daily li e. )chool. >oing out on a date or t#o" not that those panned out. $al!ing to 9om. >etting that one email rom Charlie. -verything has been mostly ine. Entil today. /ecause t#o minutes ago I decided I #as cold. I #ished I had house shoes. $hen they #ere there. 8n my eet. A pair o plain navy blue slip on booties" the !ind you can buy at any discount store around the country. I don7t o#n house shoes. 8 any !ind. 8h god.

To be continued in +inter !"#,s


Author Biography

I7m a li elong story teller. I7ve been #riting romances since I #as introduced to the 4oung Adult genre at the tender age o ten. It7s a habit I7ve never bro!en. -'posure to di erent cultures gave me an appreciation or language nuances. I love the emotion behind #ordsDtheir ability to ma!e a person sad" happy" angry" and relieved. +ords give us clues about #ho someone is and #hat they believe in. It7s a beauti ul thing. Interested in dropping me a line6 -mail me at. ,or in ormation about uture stories and updates" riend me on >oodAeads or send me a riend re@uest on my ,aceboo! page. ###. aceboo!.comKava.argent.=

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