Read Blown (Elemental Series Book 2) Online
Authors: Rose Wulf
VERNIGHT PUBLISHING ®
Copyright© 2016 Rose Wulf
Cover Artist: Jay Aheer
Editor: Katelyn Uplinger
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to my mom, Marlene Wulf.
I can't thank you enough for your support and encouragement-in writing or in life-but I hope you know that I'm grateful. More grateful than I can express in words.
I love you, Mom. Always.
Elemental Series, 2
Copyright © 2016
Madison dipped one hand into her purse as she stared through her windshield, green eyes scanning the darkened area between her parked car and her equally dark apartment.
This is completely ridiculous.
But still she held her breath, her hand now wrapped securely around a slim bottle of pepper spray.
Less than a week ago she’d come home from work late one night to discover her apartment had been broken into. Her living room window had been shattered. Her television, DVD player, and two pieces of jewelry stolen—along with her apparently poorly-hidden stash of cash that she kept on hand for emergencies. The police had yet to find the responsible party, and though she had had her window replaced and locks changed the following morning, she no longer felt safe when she came home at night.
But, at the moment, she could see no signs of activity—good or bad—so she released a breath and quickly climbed from her car. In less than a minute she had locked her Mazda and reached her front door.
Again, she paused. Her keys were poised before the lock, but she closed her eyes and leaned slightly toward the door, listening.
moment of truth.
Sticking the key into the lock, Madison quickly entered her apartment, and once again she immediately locked the door behind herself. Then she took a moment, frozen in her tiny entry, and let her eyes sweep the portion of the apartment that she could see. Nothing in the living room seemed out of place, so she dropped her keys back into her purse and carefully made her way down the hall. Her kitchen was just as she’d left it—except for the freshly-brewed pot of coffee, which she was expecting—so she continued on. Her bathroom door was still open and the room was untouched. When she was standing in the entry to her bedroom she finally allowed the relief to settle. Her bedroom was just as it should be.
Sighing heavily, Madison dropped her pepper spray into her purse as she moved into her room. “I
need to find a new place,” she mumbled, not for the first time in the past several days, as she reached up and tugged her dark, auburn hair from the messy bun it had been stuck in. She hated the idea of moving already, as she had only been living in the apartment for roughly a month, but she knew her sense of unease would plague her so long as she remained.
As she gathered a change of clothes, preparing to take a shower and wash away the seemingly permanent smell of a small, crowded kitchen, she reflected on her situation.
Madison had moved to Darien less than a month and a half ago in order to take over as the Head Chef at Earl’s Diner. She had acquired the position through the sheer luck of having one of the owners be an old friend of her mother’s, but that was all right with her—she thoroughly enjoyed her job. Unfortunately, her new job seemed to be the only part of her new life that was going right. She had had to live with her new bosses for nearly a week before finding this apartment, and she’d agreed to take it before it was ready just so she could have a place of her own. And then, the previous Sunday, she’d been robbed.
I almost wish I’d just been a little more patient. Maybe I would’ve ended up somewhere safer
. But it was too late to regret her rushed decision.
At least I have tomorrow off,
she reminded herself as she nudged the bathroom door shut behind her.
I can spend it apartment-hunting again.
That was exactly how she’d spent the second half of her Monday, as Monday was the other day she had off, but she hadn’t made any progress. She could only hope that Thursday would be different.
Thursday afternoon found Nate in a booth at Earl’s Diner, seated across from his long-time best friend, Kirk Michaels. Kirk had been on vacation, celebrating his college graduation by spending a few months with family out of state, and he’d only returned to town the week before. It was the first time the duo had been able to actually sit down together and catch up.
Kirk was four inches shorter than Nate and twenty pounds heavier, with average-length blond hair and dark, thoughtful brown eyes. Eyes that were watching the departing form of their waitress—whom he had just learned was his best friend’s future sister-in-law. And he knew Nate well enough to know how heavy that was.
Nate had his BLT in his hands, already lifting it from the plate, when Kirk suddenly asked, “How is it that I leave town for a little while and
when your brother meets the woman he wants to marry?”
Setting his sandwich down, Nate grinned and shrugged as he said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure all Blake was waiting for was you to leave town. I mean, think about it, what if you’d had a bad first impression of her?”
Kirk rolled his eyes, chuckling, and said, “You know what I meant. Blake’s been perpetually single for practically his entire life, it’s just weird.”
Nate laughed now as he reached for his lunch again. “I suppose it is,” he began. He took a large bite, taking his time with it, before he finally added, “But you’ll figure it out pretty soon, I’m sure. Brooke’s good for him. And if you don’t wanna miss the rest of our life changes, you’re just gonna have to not spend months on end visiting that family of yours.”
“‘That family of mine,’ huh?” Kirk repeated with a grin. “Don’t be a hypocrite.”
Chuckling around his latest bite, Nate met his friend’s laughing eyes and opted to say nothing.
And then Nate’s phone began buzzing in his jeans pocket, startling him as he reached for his soda. He redirected his hand to his pocket, tugged the slim device out of the confining denim, and frowned at the screen.
“Anyone important?” Kirk asked curiously as he set down his own drink.
“Not sure,” Nate replied. But he answered it anyway and put it to his ear, adding, “Hello?”
The voice on the other end was female, unfamiliar, and hesitant. “Hi,” she said carefully. “Is this Nate Hawke?”
Something in her voice piqued Nate’s interest immediately and he straightened in his chair, his free hand landing lightly on the table. “Yeah,” he replied, keeping his tone casual.
“My name is Madison Price,” she continued, a bit faster and a bit more confidently. “I saw your ad in the paper, for the rental house, and I was wondering if it’s still available?”
Eyebrows lifting curiously, Nate couldn’t quite stop his lips from tipping up at the corners as he replied, “It is, yes. Did you want to see it?”
A faint layer of relief tinged her voice as she replied, “Yes, please. When is the soonest I can come over?”
Glancing at his mostly uneaten lunch, Nate said, “I can be there in half an hour, does that work for you?”
“That would be great,” Madison assured him. “Thank you.”
“Not a problem,” Nate replied.
Kirk was giving him a strange, not-quite-grinning, look when Nate set the phone down on the table. “I think there’s something you forgot to tell me about, buddy.”
Nate lifted his eyes back to his friend, stared at him for a beat, and then laughed. “I did!” he exclaimed. He took a moment to swallow some of his soda before he added, “Yeah, Mr. Perkins finally decided to move down to Santa Rosa to be closer to his daughter. He left, uh, near the end of February, I think.”
“And you still haven’t rented the house back out?” Kirk asked, a level of amazement in his voice. “What, did you decide to be competitive this time?” He was referring to Nate’s tendency to rent his guest house for significantly less than his would-be competitors, reasoning that it wasn’t as if he actually needed the money, anyway.
“Nah,” Nate replied with a grin as he picked up his sandwich again. “I was just a little distracted, so it took me a while to get it all ready and start advertising.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Kirk allowed with a nod. “So I take it you’ll be heading out soon?”
“As soon as I finish this sandwich,” Nate returned with a grin, before promptly taking an oversized bite.
Madison pulled into the gravel driveway exactly on time. It was early afternoon, and so far she had been striking out on her apartment hunt. But she was genuinely hopeful about this one, even if it wasn’t actually an apartment at all. According to the ad in the paper, the rental was actually a small, one-bedroom house; but the price was what concerned her. Every one bedroom rental she’d encountered so far had been over six hundred a month (most over seven), and this one was listed as five hundred fifty.
But confusion was her predominant emotion as she put her car in park.
The driveway, which had a slight uphill slope because the property was very near a small cliff-edge that overlooked the ocean, led to a good-sized house that was obviously well cared for. The house itself was only one story, but it had several large windows that she could see, and a nice-sized front porch. The driveway split just ahead of where she’d parked, one part curving in front of the house, and the other continuing past it, toward another, smaller building. It was the smaller building that she assumed was the rental in question.
Taking a deep breath, Madison gathered her purse and climbed from her car. Nate Hawke, the man who owned the property, had agreed to meet her and let her see the rental. She would reserve her final judgment until after she’d learned and been able to consider all the details.
As she locked her car, the front door of the main house opened and a tall, lean man with lots of dark hair stepped out. He was far younger than she’d pictured, and Madison couldn’t help but wonder if she had the wrong address.
Oh, that would be embarrassing.
Still, she adjusted her purse strap over her shoulder and started toward him confidently.
He descended the four steps that led up to his porch, walking toward her at a casual pace. He held his hands loosely at his sides and, despite the chilled breeze in the air, he wore only a t-shirt and plain blue jeans. An easy smile was curving his lips, adding extra light to his striking blue eyes.
“You must be Madison Price,” he called as he neared her. He held out one hand, smile broadening, and added, “Nate Hawke. It’s nice to meet you.”
I guess I
have the wrong address,
Madison reflected as she shook his hand and smiled politely. Her smile was far from forced. Nate Hawke was immediately endearing, and not at all hard on the eyes. “Likewise,” she said. As her hand fell back to her side, she added, “Thank you so much for meeting with me so quickly.”
Nate’s smile remained. “Like I said earlier, it’s not a problem. So, you wanna see the house?”
“Yes,” Madison assured him with a nod.
He turned, slightly, and gestured for her to follow him as he led the way toward the smaller building she’d noted earlier. “Now, technically, the rental is my guest house. But I have no need for it, since all of my family is local and I live by myself, so I rent it out. It has everything you could need, and I promise everything’s working right.”
Madison’s lips twitched and she nodded. They were passing the main building—his house, apparently—when she asked, “And what about parking?”
With a grin in his voice, Nate said, “I’ve got a two-car garage. You’ll see it in a second. We have to share it, though.”
“Well,” she said, “I only have one car, so that wouldn’t be a problem.”
They passed the house, and Madison’s eyes moved around the newly exposed area. The driveway actually curved all the way around the house on the other side, which she hadn’t noticed before, and the far drive led straight to the aforementioned two-car garage. It was exactly parallel to the rental house, only on the other side of Nate’s home. And in between was a large, well-kept yard. She also noticed a decent deck across the back of Nate’s house, bordered with a simple railing.
“Now,” Nate began again, noticing her gaze. “To be fair, I like to let the renter have the backyard for theirs, and I take the front. But that’s not exactly written in stone, so don’t feel like you can’t use the front area, too, if you should want to.”
“I don’t tend to need a lot of space,” Madison assured him. “This yard would be more than I’d ever use on its own.”
He turned his grin toward her, then, as they stopped in front of the rental house, and said, “Then it doesn’t sound like that would be a problem.” He pulled a key from his pocket before he added, “And now for the main event.” Within moments he was pushing the door open, and then he stepped back, gesturing toward the open doorway, and said, “Go on in and look around; I’ll wait out here for you.”
Madison nodded, smiling appreciatively, and let herself into the house. The front door had opened, unsurprisingly, into the average-sized living room, and to her immediate left was a hall closet. She took a deep breath and stepped forward, noting curiously that the air in the building even smelled fresh. The paint on the walls was bright and new, and the hardwood beneath her feet was smooth and polished.
She crossed the living room, making her way toward the kitchen—her favorite room—and walked around the small island that separated it slightly from the living room. The appliances in the kitchen were all fairly new and just as clean as everything else that she’d seen. The countertop was dark granite, and the cabinets had obviously been recently polished. Despite the fact that it was somewhat small, it was a good kitchen.
And, really, I don’t need a giant kitchen for just me.