Authors: Dara England
By Dara England
Copyright © 2011 Dara England
Edited by Ink Slinger Editorial Services
Formatted by LK E-Book Formatting
Cover art by Dara England
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Excepting brief review quotes, this book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written permission of the copyright holder. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, real events, locations, or organizations is purely coincidental.
ONE GIRL, ONE SECRET … Teagan Grant is homeless and on the run from her family. Things get worse when she takes her fate into her hands by agreeing to a mysterious assignment from a sinister stranger calling himself “Sir”. With no idea she’s about to find herself in more peril than she can imagine, Teagan enters Sir’s shadowy world of beastly curses and clandestine rituals.
From murky alleyways and sparkling penthouses to menacing midnight forests, she pursues the answers her new employer will do anything to conceal. But as her relationship with the enigmatic Sir grows closer, so too does a new enemy—one with plans to destroy them both. Will Teagan and Sir learn to trust one another in time to join forces against this looming threat?
“I might have work for you tonight.”
The remark was offered by a dark stranger with a clean, sophisticated look about him. Everything from the full-length charcoal coat and gloves he wore, to the light briefcase he carried spoke of money. His black hair was longish but slicked back in a tidy style. The toes of his shoes sticking out from beneath his black slacks were shiny enough to reflect the glow of the single streetlight overhead.
Teagan drew her eyes from those fancy shoes and returned them to the stranger, who still loomed over her expectantly.
“What kind of work?” she asked warily.
“The sort that pays well for someone who knows how to keep her mouth shut.”
He leaned forward, and for the first time, the light from the overhead lamp fell across his face. Teagan couldn’t help staring. He was younger than she’d first thought, probably in his thirties, but still had a good ten years ahead of her. His face was darkly attractive with strikingly chiseled features that went well with his broad shoulders. A pair of thick, black brows arched over deeply set eyes that were all but lost in shadow. Teagan thought she caught a glimpse of a steely glint within those shadows, and then he tilted his head and his features were lost to her again.
“I haven’t all night to await your answer. Are you interested in earning a little money or not?” His voice was deep and easy, belying the emotions Teagan sensed lurking beneath the surface. Although his posture and words were smooth, she somehow felt there was a nervous energy beneath his controlled movements, some unnamed feeling rattling and trying to escape the emotional prison he had constructed for it.
Teagan didn’t want it to get out now. She shivered under the bite of winter wind. Uneasily, she cast a glance up and down the empty alleyway, looking for a casual passerby. Even a cop showing up to tell her to move along would be welcome just now.
At her nervous gesture, the stranger laughed—a low, chilling sound Teagan thought held a ring of malice. Unexpectedly, he dropped into a crouch beside the bundle of rags and newspapers making up her bed. Taken aback by the sudden motion, she would have scrambled to her feet immediately had not some inner sense warned against it. When stalked by a dangerous animal, the worst thing to do was break into a run.
The stranger must have read something of her thoughts. When he spoke his voice had lost any trace of humor. “I can assure you that you won’t be asked to do anything dangerous or difficult. The task I have in mind for you is something of a simple yet very secret nature.”
“I don’t keep secrets so good,” Teagan said stiffly.
The stranger seemed amused. “Forgive me. I didn’t think in your position you’d be choosy about how you landed a roof over your head and a bite of food in your stomach.” His mocking gaze took in the cardboard box that provided her temporary shelter, along with the bulge of crumpled, discarded newspapers she’d shoved inside her sweater for insulation against the bitter cold.
Teagan was in no condition to take offense at his boldness. Besides, his reference to food and shelter had caught her attention. Her belly ached from having had nothing all day but a half eaten cheeseburger from a garbage can.
“What kind of chore did you have in mind?” she asked, meeting the stranger’s gleaming gaze with an effort. There was something about those black eyes that made her own want to slide away from them. What was she getting herself into?
At her question, he smiled craftily, as if he already knew he had her. “The kind of task that pays five hundred dollars.”
“Five hundred—” Despite herself, Teagan’s eyes bugged out.
“Caught your interest, have I?” he observed coldly. “Good. No doubt you’re wondering why I offer so much.”
Teagan held her tongue. She was wondering exactly that.
He continued. “You might say the extra amount is for the tricky part of the job—the silence. If you and I were to enter into a little…business arrangement, it would hinge on the stipulation there are to be no questions asked. Not now. Not ever. And you could speak of our deal to no one else. Is that clear?”
It wasn’t. “Do you want me to help you rob a bank or something?” she asked. “How much trouble am I risking for this money?”
He raised dark brows. “That remains to be seen,” he said, straightening. “But if you can’t handle not knowing, this won’t be the job for you. Again—”
“I know,” she finished. “The no questions asked clause.”
“You catch on quickly,” he said. “Good. Do we have ourselves an understanding?”
No. She still had no idea what she was agreeing to. She didn’t speak her reservations aloud however. The promise of those five hundred dollars drew her in like the scent of food to a starving man. She had the uncomfortable and vaguely alarming sense the stranger knew it too.
She took a final moment to contemplate his expensive clothes, his cultured accent, and the faint scent of high-priced cologne drifting from him. He looked like a wealthy and influential citizen, for all his aura of darkness. Surely whatever he had in mind couldn’t be anything too terrible. He was giving her time to think, she realized, but she had no doubt he was already confident of her response. He had chosen his victim—or maybe his accomplice—well.
“I—I’ll do it,” she said, forcing herself to voice the decision before she had any more time to think. “I’ll accept the—the work, and I’ll keep all the conditions.” Why did she have the ominous feeling she was agreeing to her doom?
He didn’t allow her time for second thoughts. “Very good.” His tone was so even it was difficult to tell whether he was pleased or surprised by her decision.
His fingers were tapping rapidly on the handle of his briefcase. They had been doing so since he’d first approached her and began this odd conversation. Now he cast a brief glance overhead, to where the last of the evening twilight was quickly fading from the sky. Down in the alley, beneath the shadow of the city’s towering skyscrapers, dusk had already fallen. Again, Teagan sensed a pent-up energy inside him. What, she wondered, could be making a man like this nervous—if indeed fear was the powerful emotion she sensed surging within him.
“We’ve little time to waste,” he announced, snapping his attention back to her. His attitude was so cool she could almost believe she was mistaken in thinking him preoccupied with internal concerns. “Come,” he said, rising to his feet. He offered a gloved hand, but seemed unsurprised when Teagan pretended not to see it, scrambling upright unaided. “Follow me,” he ordered simply and turned away, leading her toward the mouth of the alley.
Teagan’s palms were sweaty and her heart thundered as she followed slowly after him, feeling as if she were walking toward some unreal fate. She’d just sold herself. She knew that. But for what purpose?
Out on the street, the dark stranger hailed a cab. Teagan thought this seemed an odd way for such a well-dressed man to travel. Somehow she’d had an image of him climbing into the back of a sleek black car and gesturing a chauffeur to carry them to their destination. They were silent for the duration of the short ride. Teagan wasn’t sure if the stranger was mindful of the extra pair of ears in the front seat, or if he simply had nothing more to say to her.
She cleared her throat abruptly. “What, uh, what can I call you?”
His tone was bored. “My name isn’t important. If you have to call me something, sir should do well enough.”
Sir? Teagan had never encountered such arrogance. She hadn’t called her own father sir. Nevertheless, for five hundred dollars, she supposed he was calling the shots…
He didn’t seem interested in learning her name. In fact, he displayed no curiosity toward her whatsoever as he leaned toward the front seat. “Turn in here,” he instructed the cab driver.
Teagan peered out the window to see they were turning into the parking lot of one of the most luxurious apartment houses in town. In fact apartments hardly seemed the right word to describe these towering residences. They were for the fabulously wealthy. The city’s elite. She glanced in awe at her companion before turning her attention to the imposing structures ahead. Who was he anyway, this Sir? A politician? A wealthy businessman?
She had little time to take in the full effect of the landscaping and architecture. She only had a brief impression of its grandness, and then they were pulling to a stop before the doors of the nearest building. Sir stepped out of the car, Teagan scrambling after him. When he opened his wallet to pay the cab driver, she caught a glimpse of the thick wad of cash inside. The bill he handed the man was a fifty, yet he didn’t even wait for change. Suddenly she knew what a paltry sum the five hundred dollars she’d been promised was to him. She should have held out for more.
The lobby of the building they entered was brightly lit from within. A doorman in a blue jacket held the brass double doors for them as they stepped inside. Teagan couldn’t remember anyone ever holding a door for her in her life. She knew if she’d tried to enter this elegant place in any company but that of the wealthy man called Sir, those fancy doors would have been slammed in her face and locked.
Indoors, she looked with wonder at the marble tiled floor and the luxurious furnishings arranged around the lobby. Sir stalked past it all with the disinterest of someone who was so accustomed to opulence he had long since learned to take it for granted.
Teagan was trailing behind and scuttled to catch up to his long strides. They stepped into an elevator that was like a fancy little room of its own, with a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling and a potted plant standing in one corner. The walls of the elevator were glass, offering a view of the levels below as they were swiftly carried to the top floor.
She felt briefly dizzy, looking down from such a height while moving, and closed her eyes, waiting for the nausea to pass.
When the elevator arrived she expected to find herself looking out into some sort of corridor. Instead, the doors opened straight onto what looked like a living room.
She couldn’t hide her astonishment. “So, like, just anybody could jump into the elevator and take a ride up to your living room?” she asked.
“It doesn’t work quite that way,” he said, but failed to explain further. “You can get out now,” he added, as she stood in the doorway, staring.
Teagan had been frozen in place long enough that the elevator doors were about to close again. She advanced just far enough forward to enter the room, but didn’t move in any further as, with a soft
, the elevator doors closed behind her. Awe at her surroundings left her immobilized. She had never seen a penthouse before, let alone been invited into one. The entire living area seemed almost as large as the downstairs lobby and could have easily held a hundred people. What parties he could hold up here, Teagan thought.
Fancy white leather sofas formed a square in the sunken center of the living room, and other luxuriant furnishings were tastefully scattered around the room. Teagan found herself marveling at imaginary price tags on everything she looked at and made herself stop. Decorative art was displayed in niches along the walls, much of it under glass. She couldn’t imagine owning anything valuable enough to keep under glass in your own home, and so supposed these pieces must be priceless.
Maybe art was a passion of Sir’s. Or, possibly, he was just fond of using it to show off his wealth. Either way, there were several low tables arranged throughout the room, holding wooden carvings or small statues. A life-sized sculpture in black marble of a pair of lovers entwined in one another’s arms stood just to Teagan’s left.