The Devil Upstairs
Lu heard the door close. The snick as he locked it sent a flutter through her like butterflies rushing toward an exit.
Oh, my God what if he sees me?
What the hell am I doing here?
She’d checked and re-checked Adrien’s schedule thoroughly, assuring herself that he would be away at least until dawn.
Fire rose from her feet, a mighty wave so overwhelming she nearly burst from her hiding place – but instead, she waited, silently chastising herself while waiting for his inevitable discovery of…her…in his penthouse…without his permission. Her knees trembled. I just wanted, no, needed to see what his place looked like, imagine myself in it, maybe having dinner or…Damn! I should have accepted when he offered. Why does this man get to me so easily? A small voice inside her responded, “Because he’s not just any man.”
Each of his footsteps seemed to echo, every step deliberate as he moved gracefully across the white parquet floor. He was getting closer, and with each step her stomach knotted tighter, reducing her breaths to tiny puffs of air. Unbelievable. Here I am hiding in his closet like I belong in a mental ward, and now I’m panting like a dog.
His footsteps stopped. He was mere inches away from touching her. She took a deep breath, as deep as she could with the panting, balled up her fists, and waited. Please, don’t open the closet.
But she knew he would. His place was neat, everything in place. He would never throw his clothes over a chair or anything imperfect like someone normal. Adrien Savoy was not normal.
He swung the door open and their eyes met, hers round, his narrowed.
David hit the button to start his playlist, then turned to face Katala. His speech was halting, but deliberate. “What do you need me to do before we move forward with this agreement?”
“Where did that come from all of a sudden? A moment ago, we were talking about work.”
Following the wedding, they used most of their extra time moving into a new free-standing flat. Katala had actually taken a six-week leave from work, but cried the night before she had to return. Now, she sat barefoot on the sofa in a long pink cotton gown.
“David, I don’t want to talk about that right now. I hate the way you change the subject in midstream like that. I – I’d just like to know you better. You know, feel more comfortable with you. I don’t want to just have sex because we’re supposed to.”
David’s gaze followed her as she moved closer to him. “What do you need to know?” he asked.
She gave a short laugh. She had to admit, she liked his straightforward manner. Despite her initial distrust, she was beginning to change her mind. One thing she realized she did not have to worry about with him was lies. He was so used to getting his way there was absolutely no guile in him. He simply said ‘I want this or that’, and people did whatever he wanted. She never doubted she would be any different. Honestly, he lit a fire inside her she’d never felt before, but she refused to give in just yet.
“David, I want to know how you feel, what you think, what’s important to you. You know – things that I’m sure most married couples know about each other. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
He smiled. “How about I don’t like waiting. Is that enough about how I feel and what I think?”
She lost sight of her purpose as she fell, tumbled—out of control—into the depths of her own personal Hell. There would be no sleep tonight, restless or otherwise. Brianna stepped out onto the fire escape. Tabby curled around her feet as usual while she sat, gazing and thinking back to her arrival in the city. It seemed so long ago now. So much had happened.
She remembered feeling compelled to come down from grad school. When she came to the city, she came to bury her sister. Images of her sister’s face flashed before her, scarred and bloody, a reminder of her mission, her purpose. When she arrived at the apartment, the first thing she did was shower and taxi to the hospital to make arrangements for her sister, but no one knew anything about her twin, nothing about Tatianna Denton.
Admitting had no records. Nothing in the ER. The ambulance service knew nothing. She had checked everywhere, unable to shake a strange feeling of déjà vu. Tatianna hadn’t been dropped at the doors to the ER, so where was she? She had no doubt her sister had been killed. She felt it, a deep hollow inside her, and yet there was no body. Even now, no body had been found, and Brianna was starting to believe it never would. Horror movies were too often based on true stories, and the ways to get rid of bodies were endless.
She remembered feeling exhausted. She had raced down from Davis, scared, panicked, three o’clock in the morning so anything could have been truth, she’d thought at the time, but there was one thing she knew for sure, even then – she would have to come to terms with her sister’s death, and the only way to find closure was to find her killer and make him pay.
“Dangerous Beauty, Sexy Beast”
After sipping her last drop of liquid energy, she slipped the coffee mug and prized coffeemaker back into her shoulder bag. In addition to the coffee cup, the pink leather bag held one microwave-safe covered plate, one multi-purpose terra ceramic pan, and a set of stainless steel utensils. The small bag fit neatly into a rollaway with compartments for each category of her necessities, including her 11” laptop with a hidden IP address provided by her benefactor. Since she was always packed for a fast getaway, there was no room in her life for extra baggage of any kind.
The refrigerator that had come with the furnished apartment remained empty, and with the exception of coffee, a giant Hershey’s chocolate bar, and peanut butter crackers, her white kitchen cabinets simply served as decorative woodwork. She bought fresh produce, prepared her meals each day, and gave whatever leftovers she had to the stray cats and dogs that always seemed to find her no matter where she lived.
Continuing her daily ritual, she pulled the laminated, aged magazine article from a hidden compartment in her bag, sliding her fingers over it reverently. The encapsulated picture of her mother, father, and three brothers always pulled her right back into that moment, a whirlwind of loss, pain, and upheaval, yet she returned to it regularly, as if she needed the reminder:
Renowned archaeologist, Daniel Evers, his wife, Kiswanna, and their three sons, Daniel III, Knight, and Kamau, were found dead in their Pensacola, FL home yesterday at 4:30 p.m. Daniel was known for his contributions to the British Museum, the Smithsonian, and a number of others. Dr. Kiswanna Ungoji Evers gave up a high-level position as a physicist and geologist to start a family. She worked as a librarian. The case is under investigation…
Her favorite ocean sounds CD, also on automatic timer, blared to life, drawing her attention back to the present, and she assumed a scissor-like supine position on the hardwood floor to begin her 60-minute evening drill. She had developed the drill over time to strengthen every muscle and joint in her body. From this position, even her pinky was forced to gain strength and hold its own. She had always been small in stature, and she’d trained long and hard so every pound would exert more force than its actual weight.
She remembered sparring with her older brothers. Treva smiled as she thought about them teasing her. Daniel, the eldest, lovingly called Trey, along with Knight and Kamau, would take turns lifting her upside down with one arm, then force her to free herself from their grips. Later in life, their embarrassing pranks had paid off time and time again, as she had yet to find a situation she couldn’t get out of.
Ignoring stiff muscles, sustained injuries, and groaning sore spots, she allowed the sounds from the CD to take her mind elsewhere. Ever since the day she had returned to find the remains of her family, ripped apart and strewn from one end of their home to the other, the course and purpose of her life had been determined.
Long before the consideration of dreams, desires, or interests, this reality had become hers, and the thought of her quest being over, having choices and possibly finding some semblance of normalcy, left her confused and lost—a lion with no pride, a shell of whomever she was to become.
Without the mission to avenge the massacre of her family, Treva had no purpose.
He slid his tongue across his pointed incisors…
While the world changed outside, he had undergone a secret metamorphosis inside these walls, and searching for answers about who and what he was had turned up absolutely nothing.
Whatever the explanation, the sense of something lying in wait was always with him, ever present, and it had been a part of him as far back as he could remember. Everyone around him felt it, their fear of him instinctual. The reaction he received from most people reminded him of deer sensing the presence of a lion, but Helen, his adoptive mother, had been different. She had accepted him, even when she saw his skin instantly knit together seconds after being wounded.
Andreus closed the door on his memory of her again, putting it away safely until later when he needed her image to help him get some much needed sleep. Playbacks from his nightmares haunted his days as well, hounding him with swords clashing, molten rocks exploding, deep chasms filled with fire splitting the Earth, multi-timbre voices of war, and huge wings rushing toward him, claiming him. Even now, Helen’s image held the power to offer him a measure of peace. She was the only one who had ever cared for him.
He walked over to one of the exercise bars in the prison yard, set his playlist to a classical mix of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy, and inserted his earbuds. When he looked up, the group of inmates who’d been hanging around the bars just seconds ago had sauntered off, giving him a wide berth. He had no interest in getting to know them or sharing their company for that matter, but being left alone within these four walls with nothing but his own disturbing thoughts made the maintenance of sanity a challenge.
Like most of his possessions, he had purchased the electronic device with ‘gift’ money he’d earned for keeping another inmate safe. Easy money. All Andreus had done was to allow the bullied prisoner to sit with him in the mess hall and hang with him in the yard for a few days. He maintained a calm demeanor, never advertising his services, but business always came his way, particularly since the casinos had opened.
Andreus heard footsteps approaching from behind as he contracted his muscles and continued his daily exercise routine. He already knew exactly who approached before turning around, so he didn’t bother to stop what he was doing.
“Shannon, you too. The warden and the social worker want to see you.”
As if he hadn’t heard the guard, Andreus took his time finishing his last set of pull-ups, then leapt down from the bar. He snatched his t-shirt from the concrete bench and pulled it over his head. The moment he turned to face the guard and four other inmates, he saw and smelled their fear…
He mouthed her name again – Malina. The simple act recharged something inside him like a new battery to a stalled engine. A life-long veil lifted as he took a deep, satisfying breath for the first time in his long life, his ever-present restlessness subsiding. His entire essence focused on her, receptive to the way she moved, the sway of her hips, the slight spring in her step, and the soft curve of her back as she tilted to slide into her car, all causes of many a warrior’s fall. What the hell? I have to complete this mission, and fast, before I…
She looked up, and Asriel held his breath, quieting his thoughts and remaining as still as possible when her amber eyes seemed to lock on him. The moment grew into seconds, surreal, as if nothing else existed.
Asriel finally allowed himself to breathe again when Malina shook her head, then started her vehicle and sped out of the parking lot, ending his self-admonishment and drawing his attention to more urgent matters.
According to what he’d read, Malina would lead him to his wayward charge, Joseph Ward, a man who had not been seen nor heard from in over twenty years. He cloaked himself to avoid being seen, and followed her, lifting his wings again to fly high above her so as not to cast a shadow when she drove away. He frowned, something instinctual rising to protect her when the man she had been speaking to outside the office building followed.
The encroacher’s disregard for Malina’s obvious distaste for him put Asriel’s senses on alert. He squinted, puzzled by his sense of connection to her, and his instinctive reaction to the man’s unwanted attention, his teeth grinding again, urgency and fury warring inside him for first place. Catching her would not present a challenge, but he had no idea what to say to earn her trust once they stood face-to-face?
Daitre stepped into the bedroom bath and dashed cold water on her face to keep from crying, Auriel’s words running through her mind. The fear of being captured, poked and prodded by her father’s enemies haunted her.
She hit the light switch, stepping out of the bathroom with every intention of going straight to her bed for a much needed nap, but as she passed his make-shift bed, she couldn’t help stopping. Daitre sat, tentative at first, but the deafening silence in the room urged her on.
She lifted his pillow to her face and rested her cheek against it, his cinnamon and woods scent prompting her to inhale deeply, eyes closed. The mere scent of him triggered a reaction in her body, causing her to stretch, savoring the pleasant tingle zinging straight to her clit and flashing outward again, a delicious warmth infusing her body – arousal.
She dropped the pillow and jumped up, eyes wide. Joban stood in the doorway, his expression unreadable until his mouth covered hers. She knew he’d used his time-bending ability because she hadn’t seen him move. One moment he watched her embarrassing display from the doorway, the next he was on her, his huge arms wrapped around her waist, lips claiming hers.
Her mind raced but her body responded on instinct, clinging to him, writhing to be free of every and anything separating her from him. As if he heard her plea, Joban released her long enough to respond in his usual dictatorial manner.
“Take these off.” He used his eyes to stress his meaning, stoking her fire with a head to toe gaze, stormy gray depths offering a glimpse of yet another side of him she longed to explore further.
Sable heard his wolf growling to be released. This woman enthralled him with her dancing brown eyes as she spoke, prattling on non-stop as if she knew he and his wolf were the same, and when she smiled, his heart answered. She had no idea of his internal battle, how every part of him wanted to possess her.
The dress she wore accentuated every voluptuous curve as she swiveled her full hips, enticing him to forget pretense. He’d nearly whipped her around to face him, and tasted her lips as they entered the restaurant, but he knew if they tasted anything like she smelled, he wouldn’t stop there. She seemed so comfortable with him, and her desire for him was even more obvious now that she was away from her office. The combination of her scent, her beauty, her…sweetness enveloped him, curling around him, claiming his appetite.
“…so odd. I always keep it in the same place. I always…”
Her phone. She was talking about her phone. He’d returned it when he picked her up, dropping it behind her foyer table. Borrowing it had been necessary in case he couldn’t make it back to his hotel room – at least that’s what he told himself, but his reason didn’t make him feel any better about it. This enthralling woman had already reached him on an instinctual level, driving him to keep something that carried her scent.
For a split second she heard the voices of critics, but reminded herself that it wasn’t as if she would have ever met an eligible sentinel shifter without going to extreme measures. She shook her head. Syreena Adler had no intentions of dying a spinster, and due to her high standards, she’d never met another male before Cord who stood a chance.
She watched the street signs as the taxi driver took her into what appeared to be the heart of the city’s downtown business district. She raised a trembling hand and ran it lightly over her ebony hair, crossing and uncrossing her legs to keep from bouncing in her seat.
He wouldn’t be expecting her, but she simply couldn’t wait any longer. Every part of her recognized him on a level beyond time or distance. He belonged to her, and she had to see him, touch him. They’d never shared pictures–her idea, but her instincts had never led her wrong so far.
Gray walls closed in on her as soon as she stepped through the heavy glass doors and entered the office building, and she wondered how Cord managed to spend so much time here, even if it was a temporary contract. Just a few more feet to the elevator and she could be face to face with him in moments – her reason for trekking all the way from Washington state to Georgia.
She hit the up arrow and consciously stopped her right leg from trembling. There wasn’t much she could do about her shaky hands. They’d gone from a nearly imperceptible tremble to shaking like a loose motor. Damned nerves. Syreena’s wolf scented him too – sexy sentinel, all alpha male, and she didn’t care who she had to go through to get to him.
As soon as she stepped off the elevator, she recognized his deep, sexy drawl. His raspy baritone seeped under her skin like warm molasses and forced her to stand still, seismic waves challenging every ounce of her control. She took a deep breath and glided toward the sound prompting her to move hell and high water, her feet moving of their own volition, stilettos clicking lightly on the linoleum.