October 28: 10:00 AM
How do I get myself into these situations?
The shadowy ceiling offered no answers, not that Kimberly could have read them anyway in the flickering light of the torch. But of course she didn’t need the ceiling to point out a few home truths. She was in this situation through her own foolhardiness: a stolen identity, swiped from her best friend who bore a striking resemblance to her; a reckless, half-assed plan to find her father, whom she wasn’t even sure was missing; and falling in love with the wrong man—she always fell in love with the wrong man.
She shifted on the unyielding stone surface, and the links of her fetters clinked like chimes. She was caught as surely as a rabbit in a snare; chewing her arm off seemed a drastic step to free herself, although if her bladder wasn’t given relief soon it would seem like a fine idea.
He would come for her, of course; nothing would stop him. The thought of losing her to the machinations of evil would draw him as surely as a porch light drew a moth. She wished he wouldn’t. She wished he would resist the commanding sense of duty that came with the commitment of love. And what would be waiting for him? Death, that’s what. Definitely his; he would be given no reprieve this time, no eleven-year moratorium on visits from the Grim Reaper this fine day. But hers as well? That remained to be seen. There were things worse than death; he had been right about that.
It was her fault her father was missing as well. Had she begged off gathering his requested research—after all, she had deadlines of her own and little time to spare—perhaps he wouldn’t have had the information that led him to his suspicions about this town.
But that was only supposition, and a bit of her habit of taking the blame for things that weren’t her responsibility. Todd must have already suspected what lay behind the strange animal attacks and unexplained disappearances or he would not have asked for the particular information she’d collected for him.
And finally, she had to acknowledge the fact that she’d been warned away; the danger was real, the potential for mortal disaster unequivocal. And yet here she was, strapped to an ancient stone altar in the bowels of the house of the devil himself, lying in a pool of blood still tacky to the touch. The blood of a friend.
Quiet footsteps brought her head around; her hair stuck to the altar and she fought a wave of nausea as she pulled it free. She’d grown used to the scent of blood over the last two hours, but when she moved its scent wafted strong and cloying on the air and coated her tongue—coppery, like licking the end of a battery—and her stomach rolled.
The raven-haired man appeared out of the gloom like a violent apparition: her captor, the man who held her fate in his bloodstained, murderous hands. He moved with a fluid grace common to his family, as though he were liquid contained in a human shape. The darkness didn’t seem to bother him, and not for the first time she wondered what gifts he’d been given in exchange for his soul.
“How are we doing?” His soulless eyes held a glint of mocking laughter.
“I don’t know about you, but I could really use the restroom.”
“Just came from there myself, but thank you for the invitation.” He extended no offer of relief to her, she noted, which was what she had expected. He seemed determined to drive her to such a point of discomfort that she would release her bladder to mingle with the blood on the stone. But damned if she was going to add further humiliation to her already significant embarrassment.
Which brought her to another of her failings: she should have been more cautious, more suspicious of everyone. She’d been bagged easily—too easily, almost as if by complicity she’d been placed exactly where he could catch her.
She turned her face away, her eyes going back to the dark shadows hovering above her, silently communicating her refusal to beg. He chuckled.
“It’s simple, Kimberly. You know what I want—you have what I want: a simple bit of truthful information. Then I’ll let you go.”
This brought her head back around. “You won’t. You’ll keep me captive until it suits you to either kill me or…worse. And being in your captivity won’t be pleasant, I’m sure. I’ve already experienced enough to deduce that much.”
Involuntarily, her hand came up and massaged her throat, leaving sticky prints of blood behind. At his widening smile, she damned herself for showing weakness. Another of her failings.
He leaned close. He smelled heavenly, like the woods after a heavy rain. How vile that such an evil man could smell so divine. She tried not to breathe in his scent; it clouded her mind with a hellish desire to fling herself at him and satisfy her carnal urges. It would be exquisite, she knew. Exquisite and satiating and shameful and damning. He would be cruel in his passion and passionate in his cruelty, and worse, he would own her then, body and surrendered soul. And what would come of Aaron? Two faithless lovers, stolen by the same man, would surely drive him irrevocably into the depths of misanthropy.
His lips brushed her cheek as he spoke. She couldn’t stop her shudder, and she told herself it was simple revulsion. But why, oh why, did her pulse go wild and her feminine regions flare with sudden heat?
“Why did you say it? Who told you to say it? How did you know what she said before she died?”
“I don’t know,” she replied dully. It was not the first time he’d asked. She did not have the answer; she hadn’t been aware of speaking at all. She only remembered him catching her by her hair as she bolted for the back door, and him pinning her to the floor, his elegant fingers around her throat.
She was certain she had died, but perhaps that had been a dream while she had been unconscious. Otherwise she would have to accept the fact that she had been brought back to life by the breath of an angel, and that meant she would also have to accept that the driving force behind this man, behind his circle of black magic, was nothing short of Lucifer himself.
He offered no comment; she knew he had expected her answer. His finger traced an indecent line down her cheek and over her throat, jumping the inadequate barricade of her collarbone, and coming to rest in the valley between her breasts, hovering just above the first fastened button of her shirt. Another of her failings: never dressing appropriately for the occasion.
Her heart galloped like a wild horse, and his smile grew predatory. His eyes held her paralyzed; she’d never encountered someone who could hold one’s gaze unflinchingly, unblinkingly, for such a long time. She felt exposed, x-rayed, stripped down and distilled to her core by those icy eyes.
“You might not appreciate the destination, but you will surely enjoy the journey.”
“Physical satisfaction isn’t everything.”
He straightened. “You’re taking this rather well, much better than most do. No weeping or begging. Very noble of you to accept your fate so philosophically and matter-of-factly.”
“Will fighting you make any difference?” she wondered, more than a little rhetorically.
He leaned in again swiftly, startling her. She pressed back into the stone and instantly regretted it as copper scented the air. “Don’t make me kill you, Kimberly,” he whispered urgently. “Women like you are exceedingly rare. Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll let you live.”
“As your captive,” she guessed.
“As your consort?” She lifted a brow.
“That goes without saying.”
She turned her face away again, forcing her expression to lapse into careful indifference. “I’d rather die.”
His rage could not be contained behind his impassive reaction. While he simply straightened from her and squared his shoulders, the very air around them vibrated with his fury. He pressed a finger painfully against her lips and took a step away from the altar.
“So be it.”
©2007 Sharon Gerlach