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March 11th, 2019

Kill Switch Bonus Scene

*This scene takes place after Kill Switch and is a spoiler for the Devil’s Night series. Please feel free to come back to it after you’ve finished Kill Switch.

DAMON

“You’re insane!” Bryce screamed, walking away but then turning back around and charging up to me again. “I’m going, and I’m not coming back this time!”

‘K, Bye.

I slid the notch of the hammer onto the nail head, pulling out the nail and removing his full morning of fuck-ups. The muscles in my arms were charged and hot, and if he didn’t fucking leave, I’d remove him myself.

“I mean it, Damon!” he barked again, calling my bluff.

I shot him a middle finger, not looking at him.

I heard cans crash to the floor and guessed he’d probably kicked something as he stormed to the door.    

“Hey, what the hell?” I heard Kai burst in, the two-way door flapping as he charged in from the front office and into the warehouse where we were working. “What’s going on?”

“He’s crazy,” Bryce said. “He can’t work with people!”

I laughed under my breath.

I heard Kai sigh, because he was as much at his wits’ end as I was.

Like, seriously. No one here could think for themselves. You had to tell them every little goddamn thing, and God help you if you had to give them more than one instruction at a time, because their brains would fucking short out, because they couldn’t remember all that AND remember to breathe at the same time.

I finished removing the last two nails and pulled the two-by-four off and tossed it off to the side, getting rid of any evidence he did any work here today.

“He’s temperamental, but he’ll compromise,” Kai explained to Bryce. “We’ve been through this before.”

“Compromise?” Bryce whined. “He threw an ax at my head!”

“If I’d thrown it at your head, I would’ve hit your head,” I growled low.

There was silence, and then I heard Bryce’s voice. “I’m outta here, man.”

I knelt down, pulling up the nails on the next board he’d fucked up.

“Bryce, come on.”

“Let him go,” I told Kai.

The door swung open again, hitting the wall, and the rest of the crew around me cleared their throats, getting back to work as Kai loomed. Why was he even fucking here? If I couldn’t have Will handling shit out there, then I wanted one of the girls. Michael and Kai stressed me out more.   

“How are you going to get anything done?” Kai demanded, and I noticed a stack of papers crunched in his fist.

“A lot better without that idiot around.”

“Damon…”

But I shook my head. Just fucking stop. I needed to get the framing done on three more treehouses before the baby came in like nine days, not to mention finalize the design on the fountain in front of Meridian City’s new library and figure out what the fuck a she-shed was, because Catherine O’Reilly just loved her son’s new treehouse and thought I could build her something of her own. She was paying double to rush it before the snow started in a few months, so I couldn’t say no.

Photographers were coming by all week to get shots of “work-in-progress” for the new website that Alex was handling and thankfully doing everything to get us set up online. I just wanted people to leave me alone in the warehouse. I moved faster without help here.

But part of me knew I was part of my own problem, too. The Langston kid wanted a treehouse, but once I found out he was obsessed with pirates I chucked everything that was already done and started a design for a tallship instead. What the fuck was I thinking?

I looked over at the bow and masts already constructed, feeling a smile tug at my lips. It was going to look fucking fantastic when it was done, though. It was worth it if he loved it.  

“You are running on fumes,” Kai told me. “You just got back from Washington, and then California before that, you have a baby on the way, projects are piling up…” He trailed off, and I felt him inch closer. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think you should start smoking again.”

I arched an eyebrow. I hadn’t entirely quit, actually. I probably never would. 

Lifting up the first frame, I leaned it against the wall and then moved to the next one.

“You don’t need employees, you need a team,” Kai said, following me. “I’m not taking any more orders until we get this place in shape. With a regular staff. I’ve already put word out at the university that you’re recruiting.”

I shot him a scowl. He wasn’t wrong. I just didn’t have time to deal with it.

But Kai went on, “You need an office manager, you need a design team, and you need a receptionist, and that’s not me. I have enough on my plate.” He rubbed his neck. “Everyone is scrambling to keep you covered, but you’ll be a lot less stressed if your home base is running smoothly.”

“Fine, whatever,” I snapped. “Just take care of it. I need to stay ahead of schedule.”

Just do what you want, and don’t bug me with it. I knew they were all doing me a shitload of favors, and I was grateful they were here, because I wasn’t cut out for a lot of this. I just wanted someone else to be the face of the business and for me to stay in the background, designing and building and being left alone. If Will was here, he could do it. He’d be happy to do it.

But he wasn’t here a lot lately. He’d come home for a couple months and then fly off again, itching for space he never seemed to need before. He, Alex, and a few others were backpacking around Scandinavia over the summer, but when they came home, he stayed there, and I hadn’t seen him in weeks.

Although, he checked in regularly.

I think he was feeling left out. He saw Michael with Rika, Kai with Banks, and me with Winter, and struggled to feel like he belonged. He had Alex, but she wasn’t what he needed, and he just kept running away again and again, so he wouldn’t think or…feel. Or deal.

Kai turned and headed back for the lobby but then stopped, pulling his phone out of his pocket.   

“Ah, shit,” he said. “Where’s your phone?”

“Why?” I grumbled.

“Because it’s time.”

“Time for what?”

He stared at his phone, smiling to himself. “I guess you’re girlfriend likes to stay ahead of schedule, too.” And he looked up at me. “She went into labor two hours ago. Where’s your fucking phone?”

My heart leapt into my throat. What?! I patted my jeans, looking around me.

Shit!

I spotted it lying on a pile of boards and darted over, swiping it up. Pressing the power button, it didn’t light up.

“Fuck, it’s dead. Where is she?” I barked.

Two hours. She’d been in labor for two hours?!

But he just laughed. “At the hospital. Let’s go.”

Why was he laughing? Maybe he forgot how frantic he was when his kid came a few months ago. 

I charged out of the room, hearing Kai tell the guys to lock the place up at five, and we hurried out of the building and into my car.

***

We rushed into the hospital, knowing Labor and Delivery was on the third floor from when Banks had her kid in May. I didn’t even know Winter was in the city today. What the hell’s the matter with me? She probably texted, but I’d forgotten to charge my phone last night, and I didn’t know how long it had been dead.

We went up the elevator and bolted out as soon as the doors opened, heading for the nurse’s station, but I immediately spotted Banks sitting on some chairs, holding her and Kai’s son.

Madden.

Mads, for short. Mads Mori. Poor kid sounded like an assassin.

I brushed her face as I walked by, and she smiled big, excited for me. Mads gnawed with his toothless mouth on her jaw, making cute sounds and shit.

But then a scream pierced the air and a gasp, and I heard a man’s voice and Alex’s coaching. “I’ve got you!”

Without waiting, I burst into the room, my heart jumping into my throat. I’d never heard Winter sound like that before. Jesus. Was it supposed to sound like that?

She laid on the bed, and I rushed up to her, helping Alex hold her up as she pushed for the doctor. 

“Six, seven, eight…” the nurse continued counting.

“Baby,” I breathed out, kissing her.

“Damon,” she gasped, realizing I was here.

“Nine, ten,” they finished.

And Winter let out a breath, sucking in air.

“I was so scared you weren’t going to be here,” she said. “My water broke while we were shopping, and he’s coming so fast.”

“I was with her,” Alex told me.

I steeled my arms around Winter and kissed her forehead, cheeks, and lips, making sure she felt me close.

“Thanks,” I told Alex.

Winter shook, and I studied her face, seeing her biting her bottom lip and tears hanging at the corner of her eyes.

And just like that she was eight again, our fingers hanging on by a thread in the treehouse, and I couldn’t stop what was happening to her.

“Why is she crying?” I barked at the doctor.

“Because it fucking hurts!” she yelped, answering for him.

“Well, give her something!”

“It’s too late for that now,” he mumbled through his mask and then peered over Winter’s legs. “Plus, you wanted natural childbirth, right?”

“What the fuck for?” I burst out, looking down at her like she had three heads. “We didn’t talk about that.”

She growled and pushed back up on her elbows.

“Alright, deep breath and push!” the doctor said. “One, two, three, four…”

“Ahhh!” she gritted through her teeth, her whole fucking body tense and rigid, and I wanted to look, but I didn’t want to leave her.

“Five, six, seven…” they called.

Winter looked flushed and sweat beaded her brow.

“Eight, nine…”

Her face twisted up, and she let out a small scream, and a tear fell, and I tightened my fists, unable to take my eyes off her. Jesus, fuck. Why the hell would she turn down perfectly legal drugs?

“Ok, the head is out!” the doctor told us.

My lungs emptied, and my stomach somersaulted. I moved to look, but she pulled me back. “Don’t leave me.”

I leaned back down and kissed her, but I started to laugh, and I couldn’t help it.

I didn’t know why I was feeling what I was feeling, but it was incredible. Whatever it was.

“I’ll bet it’s a boy,” she said, sucking in deep breaths.

“If you’re wrong, you have to do that bathtub thing for me,” I remined her of our bet.

We hadn’t found out the sex of the kid, wanting to be surprised.

But she just laughed despite herself. “I do it for you anyway. You know that?” she shot back.

“Ok, one more push,” the doctor told her.

Alex and I lifted her up again, and she took a few deep breaths, and then inhaled one more and held it, squeezing her eyes shut and pushing as the count began.

“One, two, three…”

I stared at her face, so much shit washing over me as I watched her, but most of all I just wanted to hold her close. I couldn’t believe this was happening.

“Four, five…”

I was going to be such a screw up. I’d do some many things wrong with her and this kid.

“Six, seven, eight…”

But fuck, I was going to love them. I didn’t care about being perfect. I just wanted to be everything my father wasn’t. I wanted this with her a million more times, and no matter all the shit that still lived inside me, I already knew I was better than him.

“Nine, ten…”

The doctor pulled back, Winter collapsed, and I heard a shrill cry fill the room.

“It’s a boy!” the doctor said.

I looked over, seeing red, little arms and legs as they cleared out his mouth and checked him, and then I watched as they brought him over and put him on Winter’s chest with a little blanket.

She smiled but started crying, wrapping her arms around him, and I just stood there, unable to breathe for a minute.

“A boy,” she said. “Told you.”

“Jesus Christ.” I smiled, lightly touching his head, almost afraid to touch him. “Holy shit.”

I checked his fingers and counted his toes, holding one of his long legs as he kicked.

“Twenty-two and three-fourths inches long, eight pounds and eleven ounces,” the nurse said somewhere behind us.

“That’s big,” the doctor commented. “He’s going to play basketball, Damon.”

I smiled but didn’t take my eyes off my girl and my kid.

I kind of wished we were fucking married now, but with the business, Winter’s dancing, and the pregnancy, we decided to take our time and do it right. I wanted to have it our way.  

Alex left, probably to tell everyone waiting that he was here and healthy, and then I remembered that Will wasn’t here.

I faltered. He should be here for this. Out of all my friends, he should be here.

“What does he look like?” Winter whispered up at me, her voice raspy. 

I smoothed my hand over both their heads. “Like next year he’ll be running around in the fountains with us,” I told her. “He’s perfect, baby. Black hair, a little pissed off…”

She snorted, and I thought about what he’d look like in a year when he was walking and running and laughing and playing. I wanted the noise. I wanted it all over the house. I wanted it filling our lives from here on out.

“Congratulations,” the doctor said as the nurses cleared up.

I kept my eyes on my kid. “How soon can she get pregnant again?” I asked the doctor.

“Damon…” Winter laughed under her breath.

I heard the doctor chuckle. “I think he likes being a father,” he said to Winter.

But I just turned my head and locked eyes with the doctor, and his face fell.

“Oh, you’re serious,” he said, realizing I wasn’t laughing.

He opened his mouth to speak, but it took him a few moments to find his words. “Um, within a few months, I’d say,” he finally answered. “It was a healthy pregnancy. But she needs time to heal.”

And then he said it again, slower and firmer, sounding like a warning. “You should give her time to heal.”

The corner of my mouth tipped up, amused.

Did he think I was a monster?

***

The night passed as they transferred Winter into another room and took the baby to get washed. When they returned him, we all held him for a while, and Banks, Kai, Michael, and Rika finally left, but I asked Alex to stay in case Winter needed something, and we didn’t want to leave her alone. I stayed by his bassinet, watching him breathe as mother and son both slept, but after not being able to get any myself, I needed to stretch my legs.

I walked over to Winter, pulling my phone off the charger as I whispered in her ear. “Going to get some air,” I told her. “Be right back.”

She moaned softly and nodded, and I left, closing the door behind me.

I went down the elevator and made my way outside, the balmy August air thick and heavy on my skin as I stretched my arms over my head and yawned. I breathed in the smell of hot asphalt and fresh bread from the bakery down the street and dialed Will, but it went straight to voicemail.

I shook my head.

I almost hung up, but then a rush of sudden anger made me lash out. “You knew my kid was coming this month,” I snapped. “Why aren’t you here? You missed it. You know, you’re just really fucking…”

But I stopped and hung up, grinding my teeth together, because I didn’t know what to say.

Asshole.

But after a moment, I felt bad. I had no right to lose my temper with him.

I dialed him back, waiting for voicemail to pick up again. “I miss you,” I said. “We all miss you. We need you, okay? My son needs you. You’re his favorite. I know it already. Just…”

I shook my head again and hung up.

I shouldn’t be angry. I’d done my fair share of shit I thought I needed to do.

This was just important. I wanted him part of this memory.  

I turned to go back inside, but a twinge of something else hit my nostrils, and I paused. Realization hit, and I smiled to myself, forgetting Will for a moment.

Turning my head, I saw a cloud of smoke drift from behind a corner and walked toward it, spotting Rika sitting on a parking stump with her legs outstretched and ankles crossed as she smoked a Davidoff.

I walked up next to her, staying standing, and without looking, she handed me the pack and lighter as if expecting me.

What was she up to? She’d been awkward as fuck the past several months, and I was half-tempted to kidnap her again, steal Michael’s yacht, and take her to sea until she had it out with me. We hadn’t gotten a chance to speak earlier, but she was clearly back for a reason.

I took the cigarettes and dug one out, lighting the tip and reveling in the welcome, familiar taste. I took another puff and blew out the smoke, handing the cigarettes and lighter back to her.  

“I’m going to tell her she has a grandchild,” she stated, still staring ahead.

So that was why she was sitting out here at four in the morning? Trying to figure out how to handle a situation that was none of her damn business?

“Tell her whatever you want.”

In the months since I’d found out that Rika’s mother was also mine, I’d neither spoken to or reached out to Christiane Fane. She saw to my freedom after my father was killed, but as far as I was concerned, she owed me that much, so no, I wasn’t grateful. Screw her.

Winning wasn’t important, but the fight was, and she didn’t fight for me at all. Having her around would bring absolutely nothing to the table.

But Rika continued to protest. “Damon, you can’t do this to her. She deserves to be in his life.”

“Do you really believe that?” I asked her even though she still wouldn’t look at me. “What if my father had never told me the truth? Would she have? It didn’t look like that was her plan.”

“Maybe once she learned he was dead, that was exactly her plan,” she shot back. And then she stood up and looked up at me. “The truth is, she wanted you. She didn’t abort you or give you away. And she wasn’t the best mother she could be, but she never hurt me. She never raised a hand to me, and she loved me.”

I shook my head, not caring.

Or trying not to care.

An image of Christiane played in my head, though. Young, crying, holding me in her arms before my father snatches me away. I couldn’t imagine the pain.

But I blinked and shook my head. No. I was a parent now, and I knew, without a doubt, nothing would stand between him and me. She was weak for far too long. My kid didn’t need someone like that.

“She’s not the only family you have, either,” Rika pointed out. “She comes with an army of relatives in Africa and Europe. Don’t you want that for your children?”

“No,” I retorted without hesitation. “My children will have Winter and me.” And then I looked over at her. “And you.”

She narrowed her eyes on me.

“And Banks, Alex, and the guys,” I added.  “And they’ll have your children. This is their family. It’s exactly the family I want for them.”

And before she could argue any more, I flicked the cigarette off and walked away, back toward the entrance.

“I will win this,” she called out, threatening me.

And I turned around, unable to hide the smile from my face. “I look forward to seeing your next move,” I taunted.

And I spun back around, heading into the hospital.

Honestly, I wasn’t concerned. She might win, but it wouldn’t be tonight, and it wouldn’t happen if I didn’t ultimately want it to. The prospect of having Rika back in play was just too much fun, though, so let her try.

I hated my father for everything he’d done, but even though I hated to admit it, I loved this part. Part of me always wondered why I was drawn to Rika just a little more than other women besides Winter and Banks. I wondered why whatever was between us felt natural and inevitable. How I could’ve hurt her or killed her a thousand times, but something always held me back.

Of course she was one of my own. Of course she was. It all made sense last Devil’s Night. Everything seemed to align, and I had no fear.

Like Banks—like Winter and me—Rika was unique. She was built for the wilds, and I wanted her in my family. 

Walking back down the hall and heading up it the elevator, I made my way for Winter’s room and lightly closed the door behind me. Her phone sat on the bedside table, an app playing some rain sounds as she slept, and I stepped over, looking in the bassinet at the sleeping baby, who was still swaddled up tight and warm. But now he wore a black beanie with white lettering “New to the Crew”.

I laughed quietly and looked over at Alex passed out on the chair next to his little bed. I didn’t remember that among any of the things Winter bought. I’d have to thank Alex. That was pretty funny. She must’ve woken up and changed it while I was outside.

I cocked my head, looking down at him. I expected him to be crying 24/7, but he was pretty quiet. Maybe he knew he was safe.

Or maybe he was tired, and shit would get real tomorrow.

“How is he?” I heard Winter whisper.

I popped up, looking over and seeing her sit up, her blonde hair in beautiful disarray around her.  

“Asleep,” I told her.

I leaned down and held her face, noticing how exhausted she looked. We were both running on little fuel with everything going on these days, and it was time to slow down. I’d wanted to get so much more done before the kid came, but there was no time for that now. She’d need me a lot the next couple of weeks at least. But eventually, I’d need to hire someone to help with the baby. We knew that was a reality.

For now, though, I’d enjoy it just being he three of us.

I kissed her, and she put her hand on mine. “I need a shower.”

I stood up and took her hands. “I’ll help.”

I guided her out of the bed and carefully across the suite to the bathroom, leaning down to nudge Alex on the way. “Alex?” I said, seeing her jostle. “Keep an ear out for the kid, okay? We’re gonna take a shower.”

She nodded and yawned, and we headed into the bathroom, but I left the door open a crack, just in case.

Winter wasted no time shedding her hospital gown as I started the shower, getting the water warm enough, and she wrapped her arms around my waist, hanging onto me like she was going to fall over.

“You smell like high school,” she mused.

“I had a cigarette,” I admitted, even though I was pretty sure she knew I was still smoking here and there. “I was just feeling too good.”

“I like it.”

I didn’t want it all over my clothes when I held the kid, but the prospect of looking forward to a smoke once in a while made “quitting” easier.

I stripped off my clothes and lifted her into the shower with me, closing the door behind us.

As soon as I put her under the water, I saw the blood start to rinse from her body and turn the floor pink.

My stomach turned a little. I wanted more kids, but I didn’t like putting her body through this at all. I knew she’d be fine once she healed, but it almost seemed unfair that some women did this five or six times. Sometimes more. It looked brutal.  

And I didn’t want to see her cry like that again.

We washed our hair and rinsed, and then I soaped up a cloth and washed her body, knowing she must be fucking sore to let me do it without protest.

“What will you do?” she asked as I knelt in front of her and washed her legs. “About Christiane?”

I paused, thinking. With Rika, I had too much pride to give myself away, but with Winter, I was freer.

“Do you think I should let her in?” I asked, not looking at her.

She put her hands on my shoulders to steady herself as I lifted her leg and washed her foot.

“I don’t think we have to be in a hurry to make any decisions now,” she said.

I smiled to myself. I loved how she was. She made me better, because I loved seeing her happy, but she didn’t push me, either.

“Our family comes first,” she added.

“Our family…” I repeated. My family. Mine.

I continued washing her, finishing her legs and cleaning the blood off her thighs.

“Do you ever stand at the edge of a cliff or a balcony,” she asked, “and have this moment where you wonder what it would feel like to jump?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Kind of thrilled at the idea that you’re one step from death?” She squeezed my shoulders. “One step…” she said. “And everything changes?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly. “It symbolizes a need to engage in self-destructive behavior. It’s not that uncommon.”

While driving, we think, even for just a moment, about jerking the steering wheel into oncoming traffic or leaping off the balcony of a ship and into the abyss of the black water below. They’re passing thoughts and little dares we allow our psyche, because we’re tired of not living and we want the fear. We want to remember why we want to live.

And some of us were more tempted than others at the thrill of how, in the moment, everything could change. Of how it’s not about who we are but what we are, and animals don’t apologize for whatever they need to do to survive.

“There’s a French phrase for it,” she said. “L’appel du vide.”

I looked up at her, her pink lips misty with hot water.

“That’s what binds us,” she told me.

“Who?”

“Our family.”

Our family?

“Kai, Banks, Michael, Rika, Will, Alex…” she went on. “You and me. We all hear it. L’appel du vide. The call of the void.”

I stopped, gazing at her.

“The call of the void,” I murmured.

Was she right? Was that what bound us together? Like recognizes like, after all, and we lived in that need to go a step further and feel everything we were capable of. The fear was terrifying, but coming out the other side redefined our reality.  

“I like it,” I told her.

She paused and then said, “I love you.”

A pang hit my heart like it always did when she said that. Like I was falling for her all over again.

I stood up and wrapped my arms around her, smoothing her hair back under the water.

“You’re so beautiful,” I said. “Even though you gave me a son when I explicitly asked for a daughter.”

She broke out in a laugh. “I didn’t give you anything!” she argued. “It’s the chromosome the male contributes that decides the child’s sex. This is all your fault.”

We both smiled, and I nudged her with my nose. I wasn’t sure why I thought the kid was going to be a girl. Maybe I just hoped. I seemed to be better with girls. Banks, Winter, Rika… I was afraid, I guess.

“We’ll just have to keep trying,” I teased.

She nuzzled into my neck, leaving little kisses and making chills break out all over my body.

“I love you,” she whispered. “I love you.”

My dick started to harden, and I shook my head. “Don’t…” I begged. “You’re going to make these next few weeks torture.”

We couldn’t have sex for I-didn’t-know how long.

“He’s perfect, you know?” I scaled my hands down her back. “You did an amazing job. I just hope he has more you than me in him.”

She nodded, agreeing, and I gave her a swat on the ass.

She laughed. “So what are we naming him then?” she asked.

“We didn’t decide?”

“Not that I remember.”

I closed my eyes, shaking my head. God, I had no idea. Nothing old, please. And nothing biblical.

Oh, and nothing unisex. Like Peyton, Leighton, or Drayton.

“Any ideas?” she asked.

But I just leaned her back into the wall and held her close. “Tomorrow,” I said.

Right now I was more interested in climbing into bed with her and sleeping for as long as we could.

The name wasn’t important. He had my hair, and tomorrow, maybe I’d get to see if he had her eyes.

If he had mine, then I guess nothing skipped generations, after all, and Christiane was full of it.

Couldn’t wait to find out.

***

Thank you for reading!! The horsemen will return <3


February 15th, 2019

Nightfall Teaser Scene

As promised, here is the teaser scene for Nightfall (Devil’s Night #4), the final installment in the Devil’s Night series! Release date TBD. The first three books are now available and FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

*You should be able to read this scene, even if you haven’t read all three previous books yet. It’s not really spoiler-y.

Emory

Present

It was faint, but I heard it.

Water. Like I was behind a waterfall, deep inside a cave.

What the hell was that?

I blinked my eyes, stirring from the heaviest sleep I think I’ve ever had. Jesus, I was tired.

My head rested on the softest pillow, and I moved my arm, brushing my hand over a cool, splendidly plush white comforter.

I rolled my eyes around me, confusion sinking in as I took in myself burrowed comfortably into the middle of a huge bed, my body taking up about as much room as a single M&M inside its package.

This wasn’t my bed.

I looked around the lavish bedroom—white, gold, crystal, and mirrors everywhere, palatial in its opulence like I’d never seen in person—and my breathing turned shallow as instant fear took over.

This wasn’t my room.

Was I dreaming?

I pushed myself up, my head aching and every muscle tight like I’d been sleeping for a damn week.

I dropped my eyes, taking inventory of my body first. I laid on top of the bed, still fully clothed in my black, skinny pants and a pullover white blouse that I’d dressed in this morning.

If it was still today, anyway.

My shoes were gone, but on instinct I peered over the side of the bed and saw my sneakers sitting there, perfectly positioned on a fancy white carpet with gold filigree.

My pores cooled with sweat as I looked around the unfamiliar bedroom, and my brain wracked with what the hell was going on. Where was I?

I slid off the bed, my legs shaky as I stood up.

I’d been at the studio. Byron and Elise had ordered take-out for lunch, and—I pinched the bridge of my nose, my head pounding—and then…

Ugh, I don’t know. What happened?

Spotting a door ahead of me, I didn’t even bother to look around the rest of the room or see where the two other doors led. I grabbed my shoes and stumbled for what I guessed was the way out, and stepped into a hallway, the cool marble floor soothing on my bare feet.

I still went down the list in my head, though.

I didn’t drink.

I didn’t see anyone unusual.

I didn’t get any weird phone calls or packages. I didn’t…

I tried to swallow a few times, finally generating enough saliva. God, I was thirsty. And—a pang hit my stomach—hungry, too.

“Hello?” I called quietly but immediately regretted it.

Unless I’d had an aneurysm or developed selective amnesia, then I wasn’t here willingly.

But if I’d been taken or imprisoned, wouldn’t my door have been locked?

Bile stung my throat, every horror movie I’d ever seen playing various scenarios in my head.

Please no cannibals. Please no cannibals.

“Hi,” a small, hesitant voice said.

I followed the sound, peering across the hallway, over the bannister, to the other side of the upstairs where another hall of rooms sat. A figure lurked in a dark corridor, slowly stepping into the landing.

“Who is that?” I inched forward just a hair, blinking against the sleep still weighing on my eyes.

It was a man, I thought. Button-down shirt, short hair.

“Taylor,” he finally said. “Taylor Dinescu.”

Dinescu? As in Dinescu Petroleum Corporation? It couldn’t be the same family.

I licked my lips, swallowing again. I really needed to find some water.

“Why am I not locked in my room?” he asked me, coming out of the darkness and stepping into the faint moonlight streaming through the windows.

He cocked his head, his hair disheveled and the tail of his wrinkled Oxford hanging out. “We’re not allowed around the women,” he said, sounding just as confused as me. “Are you with the doctor? Is he here?”

What the hell was he talking about? ‘We’re not allowed around the women.’ Did I hear that right? He sounded out of it, like he was on drugs or had been locked in a cell for the past fifteen years.

“Where am I?” I demanded.

He took a step in my direction, and I took one backward, scrambling to get my shoes on as I hopped on one foot.

He closed his eyes, inhaling as he inched closer. “Jesus,” he panted. “It’s been a while since I smelled that.”

Smelled what?

His eyes opened, and I noticed they were a piercing blue, even more striking under his mahogany hair.

“Who are you? Where am I?” I barked.

I didn’t recognize this guy.

He slithered closer, almost animalistic in his movements with a predatory look on his face now that made the hairs on my arms stand up.

He looked suddenly alert. Fuck.

I searched for some kind of weapon around me.

“The locations change,” he said, and I backed up a step for every step toward me he took. “But the name stays the same. Blackchurch.”

“What is that?” I asked. “Where are we? Am I still in San Francisco?”

He shrugged. “I can’t answer that. We could be in Siberia or ten miles from Disneyland,” he replied. “We’re the last ones to know. All we know is that it’s remote.”

“We?”

Who else was here? And where were they?

And where the hell was I, for that matter? What was Blackchurch? How could he not know where he was? What city or state? Or country even?

My God. Country. I was in America, right? I had to be.

I felt sick.

But water. I’d heard water when I woke, and I perked my ears, hearing the dull, steady pounding of it around us. Were we near a waterfall?

“There’s no one here with you?” he asked as if he couldn’t believe that I was really standing here. “You shouldn’t be so close to us. They never let the females close to us.”

“What females?”

“The nurses, cleaners, staff…” he said. “They come once a month to resupply, but we’re confined to our rooms until they leave. Did you get left behind?”

I bared my teeth, losing my patience. Enough with the questions. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, and my heart was pounding so hard, it hurt. They never let the females close to us. My God, why? I retreated toward the staircase, moving backward, so I didn’t take my eyes off him, and started to descend as he advanced on me.

“I want to use the phone,” I told him. “Where is it?”

He just shook his head, and my heart sank.

“No computers, either,” he told me.

I stumbled on the step and had to grab the wall to steady myself. When I looked up, he was there, gazing down at me and his lips twitching with a grin.

“No, no…” I slid down a few more steps.

“Don’t worry,” he offered. “I just wanted a little sniff. He’ll want the first taste.”

He? I looked down the stairs, seeing a cannister of umbrellas. Nice and pointy. That’ll do.

“We don’t get women here.” He got closer and closer. “Ones we can touch anyway.”

I backed up farther. If I bolted for a weapon, would he be able to grab me? Would he grab me?

“No women, no communication with the world,” he went on. “No drugs, liquor, or smokes, either.”

“What is Blackchurch?” I asked.

“A prison.”

I looked around, noticing the expensive marble floors, the fixtures and carpets, and the fancy, gold accents and statues.

“Nice prison,” I mumbled.

Whatever it was now, it clearly used to be someone’s home. A mansion or…a castle or something.

“It’s off the grid,” he sighed. “Where do you think CEOs and senators send their problem children when they need to get rid of them?”

“Senators…” I trailed off, something sparking in my memory.

“Some important people can’t have their sons—their heirs—making news by going to jail or rehab or being caught doing their dirty deeds,” he explained. “When we become liabilities, we’re sent here to cool off. Sometimes for months.” And then he sighed. “And some of us for years.”

Sons. Heirs.

And then it hit me.

Blackchurch.

No.

No, he had to be lying. This place was an urban legend wealthy men told their kids to keep them in line. A secluded residence somewhere where sons were sent as punishment but given free rein to be at each other’s mercy. It was like Lord of the Flies but with dinner jackets.

But it didn’t exist. Not really. Did it?

“There are more?” I asked. “More of you here?”

A wicked smile spread across his lips, curdling my stomach.

“Oh, several,” he crooned. “Grayson will be back with the hunting party tonight.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, lightheaded.

No, no, no…

Senators, he’d said.

Grayson.

Shit.

“Grayson?” I muttered, more to myself. “Will Grayson?”

He was here?

But Taylor Dinescu, son of Dinescu Petroleum Corporation I now gathered, ignored my question. “We have everything we need to survive, but if we want meat, we have to hunt for it,” he explained.

That’s what Will—and the others—were out doing. Getting meat.

And I didn’t know if it was the look on my face or something else, but Taylor started laughing. A vile cackling that curled my fists tight.

“Why are you laughing?” I growled.

“Because no one knows you’re here, do they?” he taunted, sounding delighted. “And whoever does, meant to leave you anyway. It’ll be a month before another resupply team shows up.”

I closed my eyes for a split-second, his meaning clear.

“A whole month,” he mused.

His eyes fell down my body, and I absorbed the full implication of my situation.

I was in the middle of nowhere with who-knew-how-many men who’d been without any source of vice or contact with the outside world for who-knew-how-long, one of them who had a great desire to torture me if he ever got his hands on me again.

And, according to Taylor, I had little hope for any help in the next month.

Someone went to great lengths to bring me here and make sure my arrival went undetected. Was there really no attendant on the property? Security? Surveillance? Anyone with control of the prisoners?

I ground my teeth together, having no fucking idea what the hell I was going to do, but I needed to do it fast.

But then I heard something, and I shot my eyes up to Taylor, barks and howls echoing outside.

“What is that?” I asked.

Wolves? The sounds were getting closer.

He shot his eyes up, looking at the front door behind me and then back down to me. “The hunting party,” he replied. “They must be back early.”

The hunting party.

Will.

And how many other prisoners that might be just as creepy and threatening as this guy…

The howls were outside the house now, and I looked up at Taylor, unable to calm my breathing. What would happen when they came inside and saw me?

But he just smiled down at me. “Please do run,” he said. “We’re dying for some fun.”

***

Thank you for reading! The horseman will return!!

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𝐂𝐎𝐑𝐑𝐔𝐏𝐓 (𝐃𝐞𝐯𝐢𝐥’𝐬 𝐍𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 #𝟏)
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February 11th, 2019

KILL SWITCH is LIVE!!

NOW LIVE & FREE with Kindle Unlimited!!
“𝗜’𝘃𝗲 𝗱𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝗳𝗮𝗿 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝘀𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝗻 𝘄𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗜 𝘄𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝘁𝗼 𝗽𝗿𝗶𝘀𝗼𝗻 𝗳𝗼𝗿. 𝗦𝗵𝗲 𝗵𝗮𝘀 𝗻𝗼 𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗮 𝗵𝗼𝘄 𝗯𝗮𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗰𝗮𝗻 𝗴𝗲𝘁.”

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WINTER

Sending him to prison was the worst thing I could’ve done. It didn’t matter that he did the crime or that I wished he was dead. Perhaps I thought I’d have time to disappear before he got out or he’d cool off in jail and be anything but the horror he was. 

But I was wrong. Three years came and went too fast, and now he’s anything but calm. Prison only gave him time to plan. 

And while I anticipated his vengeance, I didn’t expect this. 

He doesn’t want to make me hurt. He wants to make everything hurt. 

DAMON

First thing’s first. Get rid of her daddy. He told them I forced her. He told them his little girl was a victim, but I was a kid, too, and she wanted it just as much as I did. 

Step two… Give her, her sister, and her mother nowhere to run and no fuel to escape. The Ashby women are alone now and desperate for a knight in shining armor. 

But that’s not what’s coming. 

No, it’s time I listened to my father and took control of my future. It’s time I showed them all—my family, her family, my friends—that I will never change and that I have no other ambition than to be the nightmare of their lives. 

Starting with her. 

She’ll be so scared, she won’t even be safe in her own head by the time I’m done with her. And the best part is I won’t have to break into her home to do it. 

As the new man of the house I have all the keys.

Kill Switch is a romantic suspense suitable for readers 18+. It is advised to read Corrupt (Devil’s Night #1) and Hideaway (Devil’s Night #2) prior to reading this book. 

*It is recommended to read Corrupt (Devil’s Night #1) and Hideaway (Devil’s Night #2) prior to reading this book. Both are now available on Kindle Unlimited.

𝐂𝐎𝐑𝐑𝐔𝐏𝐓 (𝐃𝐞𝐯𝐢𝐥’𝐬 𝐍𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 #𝟏)
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February 3rd, 2019

Kill Switch Excerpt #1

Kill Switch (Devil’s Night #3) releases February 11, 2019.

***

WINTER

I shook my head, fighting the memories that raced through my mind. “I won’t let you have anything else from me,” I told him. “You raped me. And it wasn’t statutory rape. It was rape.”

“I can see why you might want to believe that. Maybe you feel ashamed or guilty, because you liked it.” He paused and then continued. “But be careful, Winter. I can still put you through quite a lot.”

“Oh, I’m scared,” I shot back.

There was nothing else for him to take.

He stood there for a moment, quiet and still, but then his hard voice pierced the silence.

“Mikhail?” he called.

And I jumped.

“Ke nighg-ya,” he ordered.

What?

My dog yanked out of my grasp and trotted away on his command.

“What are you doing?” I darted forward. “Give me my dog.” And then I called, “Mikhail!”

But I didn’t feel either of them near me now. Where did they go? What was that he said? Was that Russian? Mikhail didn’t know any commands in Russian.

I heard the dog’s collar and tags jingle from a few feet away, and a lump filled my throat.

“That’s a good boy,” I heard Damon coo to him. “He’s smart. He knows who his master is.”

Mikhail went to him?

“Mikhail,” I gritted out. “Mikhail, come here.”

“Now the question is…” Damon continued, and I heard him approach again. “Do I keep him or give him to my father. I haven’t kept a dog as a pet in years. Not sure I have the knack for it.”

My nerves fired. “Give me my dog.”

“You want him back?” he asked, getting closer. “Then beg me.”

“Fuck you!”

He grabbed the back of my neck, fisting my hair. “A dog is a dog and a bitch is a bitch,” he bit out. “Neither of you is very much use to the world, so I don’t care either way.”

I planted my hands on his chest, trying to pull away.

Mikhail.

Please.

“Beg me,” Damon taunted. “Beg. Just whisper it. Just say please.”

He couldn’t take my dog from me. What was he going to do to him?

My face started to crack as I thought about Mikhail, and I wouldn’t know where he was or if he was okay. If he was hungry… Would Damon send him away?

Damon kneaded my scalp, still gripping my hair. “Whisper it,” he said, his breathing turning ragged. “Whisper it like I did your name the morning they found me in your bed and arrested me, Winter. That’s all I want to hear. A little whisper.”

His hand shook where he held me, and my stomach knotted so hard, I was in pain. Please stop. Don’t do this.

“Killing him would probably be more merciful than giving him to my father,” Damon added. “He’s not good with dogs—”

“Please,” I burst out, a tear falling. “Please just give me my dog back.”

“On your knees,” he ordered.

I closed my eyes.

Goddamn him. He knew exactly what to do. Every time.

God, I hated him.

But slowly, I lowered.

I fell to my knees, my teeth clenched but still shaking as his hand stayed in my hair.

“Please,” I whispered, tightening every muscle in disgust at myself. “Please.”

“Again.”

“Please,” I begged.

And I waited. Waited for him to say something—to say I could have my dog back—but he just stood there, holding me by my hair.

He just stood there.

Was this what he wanted to see? Me degraded on my knees? Me scared?

He loved me scared. It got him excited.

I almost thought I liked it, too, once.

And as the seconds passed, and he held me there as my heart thumped in my chest, it was like we were teenagers again for a moment.

When I liked the games he played with me.

Before I realized I was the toy.

The terror and the dread. But the exhilaration and the safety I’d felt in his arms.

How I’d never hated anyone as much as I hated him, but how I loved what I felt with him more than I loved anything I felt with anyone else, either. I was so stupid.

His fingers started to move, caressing me so softly as his breathing turned heavy and strained. “Winter…”

My clit throbbed once, and I broke, silently crying as shame heated my cheeks.

No.

What the hell had he done to me?

He pulled me up, pushing my hair behind my shoulder and his voice suddenly normal.

“Good girl,” he told me. “Of course, you can have your dog. Did you think I was a monster?”

I jerked away from his hands. “It hardly matters. You already ruined my life. Long ago.”

“In the treehouse when you were eight,” he finished my thought for me. “I remember that party. It’s funny, though. That’s all you do remember, isn’t it?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The fountain,” he pointed out. “Do you remember what happened in the fountain before we went to the treehouse that day?”

The fountain? I searched my brain through my confusion, not coming up with anything that stood out as out of the ordinary. I was eight, so I couldn’t remember every detail.

“Nothing happened,” I told him.

I wasn’t letting him take what happened that day and turn it around on me. I was nice to him. Nothing I did or said deserved what happened after. Nor did anything I did or said years later in high school deserve what else he took from me.

He sighed. “I’m out of my own control, Winter,” he said “There are no choices. We are who we are, and we do what we do. It’s nature. Like game pieces, I will play my part, because I can’t resist. I can’t be what I’m not.”

I frowned. He sounded resolute. Like this was the end for me.

“I hope you won’t disappoint,” he finished.

So this was it then? He was going forward with whatever ugly desires that simmered inside his twisted brain, because he was determined to not understand the pain he caused and that crimes have consequences? He’d gotten what he deserved.

I won once. I’d do it again.

“Just pick new tactics,” I told him. “I don’t appreciate you ambushing me like some pervert in the bathroom.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Bridge Bay Theater,” I prompted. “I was alone in the bathroom today. You came in and messed with me. I thought you would’ve learned how to up your game in prison.”

He laughed once, took a drag of his cigarette, and exhaled. “I have no idea what fantasy you were concocting in your dreams, but I was in New York all day,” he said. “I just got back an hour ago.”

“Yeah, of course you were.”

“Why would I lie?”

I paused, realizing he might have a point. He had no motive to deny it. It was no secret he had it out for me and my family.

With just us, here in this room alone, he’d take pleasure in doing and saying whatever he wanted with no one else to hear.

He stepped up to me, and I could smell the tobacco on him, as well as the fragrance of his clothes, the expensive fabric and the leather of his shoes.

“I’m better than that,” he whispered down on me, and I could feel the ice on his cool breath from the drink he’s just had. “Why would I corner someone in a public space when anyone could walk in and interrupt me? I would need privacy.”

His fingers brushed my hair off my cheek, and I jerked away.

“Like a big house?” he told me. “With miles of empty forest outside and no neighbors. No traffic. Nothing.” I heard the sick smile in his voice and didn’t miss his meaning at all.

He already had it all planned out.

“Everyone else is gone, leaving her alone,” he continued. “No one to help. No one to hear her. No one to stop me. A whole night. Just the two of us.” His breath was on my lips. “In the house together. So much space to run, and only so many places to hide.”

I curled my fingers into fists, and if I didn’t know it before, I knew it now. He had changed, after all.

He’d gotten worse.

And in his head, he did the time, may as well do the crime.
Dread curdled my stomach as he brushed past me.

“Goodnight, Winter,” he said.

And I didn’t mistake the hint of excitement in his voice.

***


April 17th, 2018

Birthday Girl is Now Live!!

?FREE with Kindle Unlimited!!?

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March 26th, 2018

New Book Coming!

Sooooo… I’ve been up to something. 😉

BIRTHDAY GIRL is a stand-alone, taboo romance I’ve been secretly working on, and it’s finally done!!
It releases April 17th, so mark your calendars!

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October 2nd, 2017

★.•*°★ HIDEAWAY is LIVE!! ★.•*°★

Live-Graphic-HideawayThank you to everyone who’s waited and been so patient! As a thank you, the book is currently only $2.99 during release week!! Grab it before it goes up to its regular price!

 

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Are you ready? Hiding places, chases, and all the games are back!

BANKS

Buried in the shadows of the city, there’s a hotel called The Pope. Ailing, empty, and dark—it sits abandoned and surrounded by a forgotten mystery.

But you think it’s true, don’t you, Kai Mori? The story about the hidden twelfth floor. The mystery of the dark guest who never checked in and never checks out. You think I can help you find that secret hideaway and get to him, don’t you?

You and your friends can try to scare me. You can try to push me. Because even though I struggle to hide everything I feel when you look at me—and have ever since I was a girl—I think maybe what you seek is so much closer than you’ll ever realize.

I will never betray him.

So sit tight.

On Devil’s Night, the hunt will be coming to you.

KAI

You have no idea what I seek, Little One. You don’t know what I had to become to survive three years in prison for a crime I would gladly commit again.

No one can know what I’ve turned into.

I want that hotel, I want to find him, and I want this over.

I want my life back.

But the more I’m around you, the more I realize this new me is exactly who I was meant to be.

So come on, kid. Don’t chicken out. My house is on the hill. So many ways in, and good luck finding your way out.

I’ve seen your hideaway. Time to see mine.

*Hideaway is a romantic suspense suitable for ages 18+. While the romance is a stand-alone, the plot is a continuation of events that began in CORRUPT (Devil’s Night, #1). It is strongly recommended that you have read Corrupt prior to reading this.

And CORRUPT (Devils Night #1) is currently only $0.99! 

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July 22nd, 2017

Taking Requests For HIDEAWAY ARCs!!

You’re seeing it here first!

Thank you to anyone interested in reading early and helping with the release blitz of HIDEAWAY (Devil’s Night #2) on Aug. 22nd. I am so grateful for the support of my work and look forward to finally letting you dive in.

Please Note: You do not have to have a blog to review, but I would appreciate anyone interested in reading early to have a Goodreads account AND have read CORRUPT (Devil’s Night #1).

Thank you again and BRING ON AUGUST! (More because it’s closer to fall, and I’m ready for candy corn 😉 )

Pen

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March 7th, 2017

HIDEAWAY Chapter 1!!

HIDEAWAY releases soon! Here’s Chapter 1, edited. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Kai

Rain was like night. You could be different in the dark and under the clouds.

I’m not sure what it was. Maybe the lack of sunlight and how our other senses heightened or the subtle shroud hiding things from our sight, but only certain times were acceptable to do certain things. Shrug off your jacket and roll up your sleeves. Pour a drink and lean back. Laugh with your friends and scream at the basketball game on TV.

Follow a girl you’ve been eye-fucking for an hour into the pub bathroom and have your friends nod in approval when you come back out.

Try doing that during the day with the intern at the office.

Not that I’d want the freedom to indulge in anything at any time anyway. Things were more special when they were rare.

But every morning, when the sun rose, the coils in my stomach wound tighter in anticipation.

Nightfall was coming again.

Letting my mask dangle from my hand at my side, I stood at the top of the second-floor landing and watched Rika sitting in her car. She kept her head down, her face visible by the glow of her cell phone, despite the downpour of rain hitting her windshield as she typed.

I shook my head, my jaw flexing. She doesn’t listen.

I watched as my best friend’s fiancée finished up, the light from her phone disappearing, and then she opened the car door, stepped out, and broke into a jog, dashing through the pounding rain. I darted my eyes, taking inventory of her. Head and eyes cast downward. Keys wrapped in her closed fist. Arms shielding her head from the rain and hindering her line-of-sight.

Completely unaware of her surroundings. The perfect victim.

Grabbing the harness at the back of my mask, I stretched it out and slid the silver skull down over my head, the inside hugging every curve of my face for a tight fit. The world around me shrunk to that of a tunnel, and all I could see was what was right in front of me.

Heat spread down my neck, seeping deep into my chest, and I drew in a long, cool breath, feeling my heart pounding, getting hungry.          

All of a sudden, the rain, like a waterfall in the alley outside, filled the dojo, and the heavy metal door downstairs slammed shut.

“Hello?” she called out.

My heart dipped into my stomach, and I closed my eyes, savoring the feel. The sound of her voice echoed through the empty building, but I stayed planted on the dark landing, waiting for her to find me.

“Kai?” I heard her shout through the large space.

I reached back and pulled the hood of my black sweatshirt up, covering my head, and turned to look down over the railing.

“Hello?” she asked again, more urgent. “Kai, are you here?”

I saw her blonde hair first. It’s what you always noticed about Rika first. In her black penthouse, in this black dojo, in the black alley outside, in dark rooms and on black streets…. She always stood out.

I rested my hands on the rusted steel railing, keeping my feet planted on the grates, and watched her step slowly into the main room below, flipping up the switches on the wall. But nothing happened. The lights didn’t go on.

She jerked her head left and right, looking suddenly alert, and then darted out her hand, flipping them off and then on again.

Nothing.

Her chest moved up and down quicker, her awareness peaking as she clutched the strap of her bag tighter.

I fought not to smile and cocked my head, watching her. I should show myself. I should play fair, let her know I was here, and that she was safe.

But the longer I waited, and the longer I stayed quiet and hidden, the more nervous she appeared. And as she walked farther into the room below, I couldn’t help but want to feel this moment. She was confused. Scared. Timid. She didn’t know I was here. Right above her. She didn’t know that my eyes were on her right now. She didn’t know that I could run at her, get her in a hold, and have her on the floor before she even knew what had happened.

I didn’t want to scare her, but I did. Power and control were addictive. And I didn’t want to like it, because it made me sick.

It made me Damon.

I started breathing harder and tightened my fists around the railing, growing scared myself. This wasn’t normal.

“I know you’re here,” she said, looking around with her eyebrows pinched together.

But the stubborn set to her eyes was forced, and I lifted the corner of my mouth in a smile behind my mask.

Her long, gray t-shirt fell off her shoulder, and rain glistened across her chest and neck. The downpour pummeled Meridian City outside, and at this time of night—and in this neighborhood—the streets were empty. No one would hear her. No one probably even saw her enter the building.

And by the way she began backing slowly out of the dark room, it looked like she was just beginning to realize that.

I took a step.

The grate flooring creaked, and she snapped her head left, following the sound.

Her eyes locked on me. Keeping my gaze on her, I walked toward the stairs.

“Kai?” she asked.

Why isn’t he answering me? she probably wondered. Why is he wearing his mask? Why are the lights out? Because of the storm? What’s going on?

But I said nothing as I walked slowly toward her, her pretty, small form getting more defined the closer I got. Wet strands of hair I didn’t notice before stuck to her chest, and the diamond studs Michael gave her last Christmas sparkled on her ears. The points of her breasts poked through her shirt.

Her blue eyes looked at me warily. “I know that’s you.”

I smirked behind my mask, her rigid body betraying her confident words. Do you?

I circled her slowly, caging her in, while she remained stubbornly still. Are you so sure it’s me? I might not be Kai, right? I could’ve just taken his mask. Or bought one just like it.

Stopping behind her, I tried to keep my breathing calm despite the way my heart was pounding. I could feel her. The energy between my chest and her back.

She should’ve turned around. She should’ve been preparing herself for danger like I taught her. Did she think this was a game?

“Knock it off,” she barked, turning her head just enough so I could see her lips move. “This isn’t funny.”

No, it wasn’t funny. Michael was gone—out of town for the night—and Will was probably out getting drunk somewhere. It was just us.

And with the way my goddamn stomach was flipping right now, it wasn’t funny or good or right how much I needed to constantly push myself over the edge to feel in control anymore. It wasn’t good how much I didn’t want to stop.

I grabbed her, wrapping my arms around her and burying my nose under her ear. Her perfume made my eyelids heavy, and I heard her gasp as I tightened my hold, keeping her body against mine. “It’s just us, Little Monster,” I growled. “Just how I want it to be, and we have all night.”

“Kai!” she shouted, tugging against my arms.

“Who’s Kai?”

She twisted, fighting my hold and struggling. “I know you by now. Your height, your form, your smell…”

“Do you?” I asked. “You know how I feel, huh?”

I buried my masked face in her neck and tightened my arms around her. Possessive. Threatening. I breathed out in a whisper, “I miss you as a little high school girl, Rika.” I moaned, acting like I loved the feel of her squirming against me. “You didn’t give any lip.”

She stopped, every part of her body freezing except her breathing. Her chest caved and then began to shake under my arms.

I’d gotten to her.

Someone close to us said those exact words once, someone who scared her, and now she was doubting whether or not I just might not be him. Damon had disappeared last year, and he could be anywhere, right, Rika?

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” I said, hearing the thunder crack outside. “Get this shit off.” I yanked down her shirt, exposing her in her tank top, and she let out a scream. “I wanna fuckin’ see you.”

She gasped, pulling away and throwing her arms at me. She immediately stepped back—the first countermove I showed her when someone grabs her from behind—but I pushed off my back foot, knowing what she was going to do.

Come on, Rika!

And then, all of a sudden, she dropped, the full weight of her body slipping through my arms straight to the floor.

I nearly laughed. She was thinking quickly. Good.

But I kept up my assault. She scrambled to her hands and knees, getting ready to scurry away, and I lunged out, grabbing her by the ankle.

“Where do you think you’re going?” I taunted.

She flipped over and kicked my mask, and I reared back, laughing. “Oh, God, you’re going to be fun. I can’t fucking wait.”

A whimper escaped her as she crawled backward and pushed herself to her feet again. She twisted around, fear etched across her face, and broke into a run toward the locker rooms. Probably going to the exit at the rear of the building.

I raced after her, grabbing hold of her shirt, my whole body on fire.

Fuck. I felt a trickle of sweat glide down the back of my neck.

It’s just a game. I won’t hurt her. It was like tag or hide-and-seek as a kid. We knew nothing bad would happen when we got caught and we’d bring no harm when we chased, but the irrational fear excited us anyway. That was what I liked. That’s all it was. This wasn’t real.

Twisting her around, I wrapped one arm around her and lifted her knee up with my other hand, picking her up off the ground. She threw up the other knee, but I twisted my hips before her jab landed between my legs. Flipping her back, I threw both of us to the ground, coming down on top of her.

“No!” she cried. Her body thrashed under me, and I forced myself between her legs, bringing her wrists up over her head and pinning them there.

She fought against my hold, but the steel in her arms began to shake, and her strength started to weaken.

I stilled and stared down. Damon and I both had dark hair and eyes, although his were almost black. She wouldn’t be able to tell the difference under the shroud of darkness around us. But she could feel me. Handling her, forcing her, threatening her…just like him.

I slowly dropped my head to her breast, hovering an inch above her skin, and she’d stopped fighting. Her chest heaved so hard it sounded like she was having an asthma attack.

Looking up at her, seeing her body mold easily to mine and her hands bound helplessly above her, I saw her tear up. She knew this was it. No one to stop me, no one to hear her scream, a madman in a mask who could hurt her, kill her, and take all night doing it.

Her face suddenly cracked, and she broke, crying out as her fight was swallowed in the horror of what was happening to her.

Goddammit. I yanked back my hood and threw off my mask, furious. “You’re a fucking baby!” I bellowed, slamming my hand down on the floor at the side of her head. “Get me off you!” I got in her face. “Now! Come on!”

She growled, her face turning red, and she launched up and wrapped her arm over the back of my neck. Squeezing me into a headlock, she reached her other hand under her arm and dug her finger and thumb into my eyes.

It wasn’t much, but it got me to loosen my hold long enough for her to slam me in the side of the face, and when I reared back, she scrambled upright and grabbed her bag, swinging it at my head.

“Ugh!” I grunted, yanking it out of her hands.

But quickly, she scurried to her feet and ran to the wall, grabbing one of the Kendo swords and assuming her stance, bamboo shanai raised and ready.

I sat back on my heels and pulled my hand away from my face, checking for blood. Nothing. I let out a sigh and raised my eyes to her, my body growing cold as the fear left her eyes and was replaced with anger.

The adrenaline still coursed through my limbs, and I took a deep breath, all of a sudden my body ten times heavier as I pulled myself to my feet.

“I don’t like being ambushed like that!” she gritted out. “This is supposed to be a safe space.”

I blinked, fixing her with a scolding look. “Nowhere is safe.”

I walked toward the stairs, pulling off my sweatshirt as I climbed. “You’re not alert.” I picked up the water bottle I’d left by the window earlier. “I watch you. Your face was in your phone out on the street. And you could barely budge me. You waste too much time panicking.”

I gulped down the water, so thirsty from more than just the exertion. Too much thinking and worrying and plotting. I’d needed this.

I missed all those nights, years ago, when I had a release. When I had friends to get lost with.

Her footsteps fell on the stairs, and I stared out the window, the bright lights of Meridian City on the other side of the river glowing bright, a sharp contrast to the darkness of this side.

“I’ve absorbed everything you’ve taught me,” she said. “I trusted you, and I wasn’t taking it seriously. In the moment, if it ever happens again, I’ll handle it.”

“You should’ve handled it this time. What if it wasn’t me? What would’ve happened to you?”

I glanced down at her, seeing her pained eyes staring off out the window, and regret curled its way through my stomach. I hated seeing that look. Rika had been through enough, and I’d just shaken her again.

“I think you liked that,” she replied quietly, still staring out the window. “I think you enjoyed that.”

My heart skipped a beat, and I turned away from her, following her gaze out the window.

“If I did, I wouldn’t have stopped.”

She looked up at me, and I heard a car passing by below, its tires sloshing through the rain.

“You know, I watch you, too,” she told me. “You’re quiet, no one gets to see where you eat or sleep…”

I twisted the cap to the water bottle, the plastic container crackling in my fist. I knew what she was talking about. I knew I was distant.

But I had to keep everything inside or risk the wrong things slipping out. It was better this way.

And it was worse lately. Everything was fucked. She and Michael were so consumed with each other, and Will was only sober a few hours a day anymore. I’d been on my own more than ever.

“You’re like a machine.” She drew in a long breath. “Not like Damon. You’re unreadable.” She paused. “Except just now. Except when you’re wearing your mask. You liked it, didn’t you? It’s the only time I see you feel anything.”

I turned my head, softening my eyes. “You’re not with me all the time,” I joked.

I held her eyes for a moment, both us knowing exactly what I was talking about. She didn’t see me with women, and a slight blush crossed her cheeks. She gave me a half-smile, abandoning her line of questioning.

I cleared my throat, moving on. “You need to work on your counter-attacks,” I told her. “And your speed. If you stop, you give the attacker a chance to get a good hold on you.”

“I knew I was safe with you.”

“You aren’t,” I replied sternly. “Always assume danger. If anyone other than Michael grabs you, they get what they deserve anyway.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, and I could feel her aggravation. I understood it. She didn’t want to live her life always on guard. But she was barely taking basic safety precautions, and there was no limit to how sorry she was going to be taking the wrong chances. Michael wasn’t always around.

But when he was, at least he was with her. It had been weeks since I’d really talked to him.

“How is he?” I asked her.

She rolled her eyes, and I could tell the mood was shifting to something lighter. “He wants to fly off to Rio or somewhere to get married.”

“I thought you both decided to wait until after you were done with college.”

She nodded, sighing. “Yeah, I thought so, too.”

I narrowed my eyes on her. So, what was going on then?

Michael and Rika’s parents expected a wedding in Thunder Bay, and as far as I knew, the couple was fine with that. In fact, Michael had been very adamant about making a big deal out of it. He wanted to see her in a dress, walking down the aisle toward him. He grew up thinking she would marry his brother, after all. He intended to show everyone she was his.

And then it hit me.

Damon.

“He’s afraid a fanfare wedding will entice Damon to return,” I guessed.

Rika nodded again solemnly, still staring out the window. “He thinks if we get married nothing bad will happen to me. The sooner, the better.”

“He’s right,” I told her. “A wedding—hundreds of people and Will and me at his side—Damon’s ego couldn’t take it. He wouldn’t stay away.”

“No one’s seen or heard from him in a year.”

I flexed my jaw, anticipation curling its way through my gut. “Yeah, that’s what scares me.”

A year ago, Damon wanted Rika to suffer unimaginably. We all did, actually, but Damon went a little further, and when we didn’t stick by him, we all became his enemies. He attacked us, hurt her, and helped Michael’s brother, Trevor, try to kill her. Michael was smart to assume that Damon’s anger probably hadn’t dissipated. If we knew where he was, that would be one thing, but the detectives we hired to find him and keep tabs on his whereabouts hadn’t been able to locate him.

Which explained why Michael wanted to take measures to keep Rika out of the limelight, as such a grand wedding in our affluent, seaside hometown would put her.

“You don’t care about a large wedding,” I reminded her. “You just want Michael. Why not go off and just do it like he wants?”

She was silent for a few moments and then spoke quietly, her eyes in a far-off place. “No.” She shook her head. “Just behind St. Killian’s, where the forest ends and the cliffs give way to the sea. Under the midnight sky…” She nodded, a beautiful, wistful smile touching her lips. “That’s where I’ll marry Michael.”

I studied her, wondering about that far off, dreamy look in her eyes. As if she’d always known she would marry Michael Crist and had been seeing it in her head all her life.

“What is that building?” Rika asked, jerking her chin, gesturing out the window.

I followed her gaze, but I didn’t have to look to know which building she spoke of. I’d chosen this location for our dojo for a reason.

Gazing out of the glass, I stared at the building on the other side of the street, about thirty stories higher than ours, the gray stone darkened by the rain and the broken street lights.

“The Pope,” I answered. “It was quite a hotel back in its day. Still is, actually.”

The Pope had been abandoned for several years and had been built when there was talk of a football stadium being constructed over here as a way to bring more tourism to Meridian City. And a way to revitalize Whitehall, the rundown, urban district in which we now stood.

Unfortunately, the stadium never happened, and The Pope went under after struggling to stay in business.

I scanned the darkened windows, the shadows of drapes just barely visible inside a hundred rooms that now sat quiet and empty. It was hard to think of such a large place not having an ounce of life in it anymore. Impossible, in fact. My leery eyes watched each dark void, my sight only taking me a few inches into the room before darkness consumed the rest.

“It feels like someone’s watching us.”

“I know,” I agreed, surveying each window, one after another.

I saw her shiver out of the corner of my eye and picked up my sweatshirt, handing it to her.

She took it, giving me a smile as she turned to go back down the stairs. “It’s getting cold. I can’t believe October is here already. Devil’s Night will be here soon,” she sing-songed, sounding excited.

I nodded, following her.

But as I cast one more glance behind me, chills spread down my body thinking about the hundred haunting, vacant rooms at the abandoned hotel across the street.

And a Devil’s Night, so long ago, when a boy who used to be me hunted a girl who might be like Rika in a place that just may be that very same dark hotel out the window right now.

But unlike tonight, he didn’t stop.

He did something he shouldn’t have done.

I walked down the stairs, inches behind Rika and matching her steps in perfect time as I gazed at the back of her hair.

She didn’t realize just how close danger was to her.

 

Thank you for reading!

 


February 21st, 2017

I’m Working On It

Hey, everyone!

I wanted to touch base with you all, because I know so many of you are anxious for any news on Hideaway or when to expect the Fall Away spin-off series to start releasing. I appreciate your patience, and I’m really grateful ANYONE is excited about ANYTHING I have coming in the future. It tickles me pink.

HIDEAWAY is coming next. I’m working on it now, but I don’t have a release date yet. I know that’s the last thing you want to hear, but it’s the truth. Good things take time. If you loved Corrupt, remember that it took a year and half of dreaming before I even started writing it. That think-time is important. Believe me, I wish I could just spit this out and get it done, but I also know that many readers are getting burnt out. I see reviews for other books, discussion threads on Facebook, comments in groups, and many of us are only finishing one out of five books we start anymore. I don’t want to be one of the four you tossed aside in search of your next escape. In order to get a great scene that keeps you flipping pages and soaking up something you truly love, it may take three days of staring at my computer screen, an hour of spinning in my desk chair, 3 bags of Twizzlers, or doing make-believe snow angels on my office floor to get that great idea for that kick-ass scene. For example, last week I was writing Hideaway and this great scene started to stale. It was falling flat, and if I’m bored, you’ll be bored, right? I stopped writing, rather than forcing it, and a day later I had it. I was smiling and excited again. But for a day, I didn’t write. And sometimes, it’s three days.

I know waiting is hard, and I know waiting for the spin-off series is frustrating, too, but time makes a much better book. I’m only on my tenth novel, but I’ve learned at least that so far. And while I write Hideaway and Kill Switch (Devil’s Night #3), I’m adding pins to the new Fall Away Pinterest boards (still secret, sorry) and adding music to the playlists, so I’m plotting and thinking on those even now.

My hope if for HIDEAWAY to be out this spring, Kill Switch in October, and the Fall Away spin-off series to start releasing next year some time. Believe me, I wish I could snap my fingers and they’d be done for you. I’m as excited for you to read them as I am for them to be done. When I have more information, you’ll know. You’ll be the first to know the release dates. And yes, all of the Fall Away kids will be getting books.

Now I know many of my readers will say no worries, no need to explain, but I do see readers getting angry with an author when they feel they’ve waited long enough. Some readers even feel that three months is too long to wait for a book. This is just letting you know that I’m here, I’m writing, and writing is HARD! Lol. I’m going to give you a good book, but that’s not easy, and it takes a while. (Don’t let me tell you about the crying fit I had on my hotel bed when I hid myself away to work through Corrupt edits). In the end, all you’ll care about is that the book is good 😉 You won’t care how long you waited.

Thanks for your excitement everyone, and I’m on it. As soon as I have more info, I’ll let you know.

xoxo Penelope