Authors: Stacey Marie Brown
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #New Adult & College, #Paranormal & Urban
My lids opened and I found myself staring at rafters of the old dingy warehouse. It was solid metal with a few large rollaway doors. The only light came from the windows that were at the very top. At least three stories up.
“Damn it, Torin.” Standing up, I quickly evaluated everything around me. There were no dark Fae standing over me, so they hadn’t found me yet, which was always a good thing. But how long had I been out? Time was different in the Otherworld. Had hours passed here or merely seconds?
Leaving my hiding spot wasn’t the brightest idea, but I needed to know if the men had left or were still outside waiting for me. Moving up to the roof would give me a better idea and advantage. Decision made, I slunk down, staying close to the wall, headed for the stairs.
Only a few steps from the stairs, I came to a grinding stop. A gun cocked. “Where do you think you’re goin’, lass?” A man moved in closer behind me and pressed the barrel to the back of my head. “You’re worth a pretty penny.” His buddy stepped around to my side. He was tall and lanky; his face long and narrow with a tuft of hair covering his chin. When I peered at him all I could think was he looked like a goat. Not a goat you’d find in a petting zoo, but like one you’d find in the Andes Mountains—tough and bouncing from boulder to boulder. Goat-like or not he had a gun pointed at me.
I tried to swallow my panic. The disadvantage of hiding out in iron buildings was coming to bite me in the ass. There was too much of it for my powers to be strong enough to fight both of them. My magic could destroy an entire city, killing thousands. But here I was defenseless, and officially screwed by a dark Fae with a pistol.
“Move it.” The man pressed the gun harder against my head, encouraging me forward. His partner-in-crime pulled out restraints from his pocket. No doubt iron, giving them more assurance they would get their prisoner to the drop-off point for payment.
“I don’t think you want to do that,” a deep, familiar voice declared from the doorway, his large silhouette leaned apathetically against the door jam.
“And my night only continues to get better and better,” I muttered, annoyed at myself for missing my internal warning system that alerted me when my biggest threat was near.
I heard a small scoff. “Now is this how you treat your savior? Your liberator, your rescuer, the redeemer?”
It was my turn to scoff. “Oh, hell. Are you and your ego done preening?”
“Knight-in-shining armor then?”
“Please. Goat-boy here is more likely going to be my knight-in-shining armor than you.” I pointed to the guy with handcuffs.
“Ouch,” Eli’s voice stayed level. He didn’t even pretend it hurt his feelings. “Now you're just trying to be mean.”
“You haven’t seen me even get close to being nasty.” I crossed my arms.
“Threat or promise?”
“That is a pro—.”
“What the shit is going on?” The man behind me cut me off. I jumped. Eli had a way of making me forget there was anybody else in the room besides us. “Who the hell are you?”
“Someone your mommy told you not to mess with,” Eli said calmly. His coolness scared me. I knew this tone and it meant nothing good. A shadow fell across my vision from above. Looking up I saw Cole and a blond guy I didn’t know come in the top window.
Moonlight, streaming through the windows, was the only light. But when Eli stepped out from the shadows, I couldn’t stop the gasp of air at seeing him again. My traitorous heart slammed against my ribs.
The dark Fae beside me prickled. “This is our take. Get lost.” He clearly didn’t know who he was dealing with.
“I don’t think so. You have something belonging to me, and I’d like it back now.”
I bristled at his words. I was merely a piece of property Eli could sell off to the Unseelie King. It hadn’t solely been the Queen's minions who had kept me on the run for the last several weeks. Eli’s blood, which ran through my veins, had kept me constantly moving. His blood allowed me to sense when he was near. It had become my warning system but also his beacon—it never let me get too far or him too close. It had turned into a tiring game of hide and seek.
The running had been pointless. There wasn’t a place on Earth where he couldn’t track me down. So why did I keep doing it? Because the only thing I had left was my tiny slice of false independence. And it now seemed even this was coming to an end.
“Sorry, we found her first. She’s worth a big reward and we're gonna be the ones to cash in.” The man behind me shifted, pointing his gun at Eli.
“You really think that’s going to stop me?” Eli nodded toward the gun.
“It will hurt like hell and slow you down enough.”
Eli’s eyes blazed, the pupils shifting into vertical slits. “No more than a pinprick.”
Cole and his partner silently walked the rafters, positioning themselves above our heads. This fight would be over before it started. I had a limited window of opportunity to get away. Surprisingly, it seemed no matter how many things were stacked against me my self-preservation wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Through the dark shadows, I saw Eli’s body start to shift, lowering closer to the ground, his eyes now turning from their bright green to flaming red.
“Holy shit! You're a Dark Dweller,” the man yelped. “The Queen led us to believe you were all dead.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Eli’s voice growled, his words garbled as his form shifted. The gun went off. The bullet hit the cement at Eli’s feet, deafening me. Sensing movement from above, I felt the whooshing air as Cole and his companion dropped silently down. Like a brilliantly executed plan, the moment their feet hit the ground, I dropped to my knees, getting out of the way of both gun and men.
My feet scrambled underneath me as I scurried towards the exit. The fight behind me was deafening with gun shots, bones crunching, and frightening, deep growls. Taking a quick glance over my shoulder, I could see the outlines of them fighting. Dark Dwellers clashed with shapes of large, spikey-horned goats.
Damn! They actually were goats.
I ran for the door—their reward money was fleeing out the door. I sprinted out the entrance and around the corner, toward freedom. With a piercing shatter, glass flew out from the window next to my head, raining shards down on me. A body hurled through the window taking me to the ground. I thrashed against the unrelenting force of my assailant.
“Stop fighting me,” a deep voice growled.
I looked up into his face as fierce, green eyes locked on mine. They were still vertical, in his Dark Dweller state, but his body was all man and pressed up against me. My heart instantly tripped over itself, while my mind tried to look at him as no more than another enemy.
An exceedingly exposed enemy. Eli was naked . . . and on top of me.
I wrestled against his hold on me. “Let me go.”
“Get off of me.”
“Nope, not that one either,” he replied icily.
“Do you have her, Eli?” The blond guy stuck his head around the corner. There was something about him I recognized. Had I met him before?
Eli sighed deeply against me. “Yeah.”
Oh Holy Hell.
I could feel every inch of his body moving against mine.
The blond guy smirked, shaking his head. “Yep, I would say you definitely do.”
“Get. Off. Of. Me. Now!” Embarrassment and anger burned deep. Eli had become the bane of my existence—when I didn’t want to kiss him, which was more often than I cared to admit. I hoped I was now cured of this since I’d found out he had only been faking an attraction to me. He wanted to get closer to learn more about me and my capabilities before turning me over to the Unseelie King.
Eli’s eyes narrowed, his grip only becoming tighter as he pushed off of me, pulling me up with him. There was no barrier now between me and all of Eli’s glory. And, wow, was there glory. My eyes darted to the side, looking away from his unclothed body. “You’re naked.”
“And you’re observant.” He led me around the corner where a black Cadillac Escalade Hybrid was waiting. “Now get in.”
“Are you kidding me?” I tugged against his grip. “You think I’m going to get into the car? I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“It is not a choice.”
Cole came from behind tugging on some jeans. “We've got to go, Eli, before those Phooka assholes come to.”
“A Phooka. An Irish goblin that turns itself into a goat. Prone to violence, stealing, and vicious pranks. Not nice guys.”
I looked around. All the other Dark Dwellers were moving toward the car. By the dim moonlight I could make them out. They were all naked.
Damn . . .
Eli grabbed my arm and hauled me into the backseat of the SUV. “We don’t have time for this.”
“Watch it,” I protested as I fell in. He pushed me over, sliding in next to me.
The magnificent, blond specimen who, thank God, had pulled some jeans over the lower half of his god-like body, climbed in on my other side, boxing me in. “Cooper.” He nodded.
His name confirmed he was the beautiful, surfer-looking guy whom I had overheard talking after being attacked by Lorcan over a month ago. Then I had thought it was a dream. Cooper had said things at the time I didn’t understand. Now I did.
“She nearly died. Now how useful would she have been to us dead, huh? Lorcan almost killed our only way out of here.”
Cooper’s voice still echoed in my ears. As their ticket back to the Otherworld, they would do anything to keep me under their watch.
Cooper’s huge, soft brown eyes looked me over. He was definitely sexy although he didn’t take my breath away like Eli did. Even so, he did make me whimper with aggravation. Did every one of these guys have to be sex-on-a-stick? It was ridiculous how extraordinarily hot this whole group was. If more kept popping up like this, I’m sure I would instantaneously combust from overheating.
A boy of about sixteen opened up the back hatch and jumped in. “Hey, I’m Jared.” His excitable voice was at odds with the rest of the guys in the car. I nodded, craning my neck to get a better look at him. I wanted to laugh, but I shouldn't have been surprised at this point. He was just another hot, young, toned guy. They obviously didn’t allow anyone in their group who couldn’t also model for some rugged, outdoorsy, men’s magazine.
Jared had dark, brownish-red hair, hazel eyes, and freckles sprinkled across his cheeks and nose. He looked sweet and endearing next to Eli’s rough and tumbled look. At least Jared was fully clothed. I also had little doubt he was related to Cole and Owen. He looked like a younger version of them both.
Cole, leader of the Dark Dwellers, had the same rugged bad-boy look as Eli. There was also little doubt as to his relation with Owen. They had the same coloring, eyes, and nose. The difference was Owen was the opposite in everything else: neat and tidy with short hair and a freshly shaved face. He was the medic in the group and had operated on me, saving my life after Lorcan attacked me. Cole jumped into the driver’s seat, tearing out of the port area, barely allowing Owen time to get into the passenger's side.
“That was awesome,” Jared exclaimed from the back.
“Good job with lookout, J-man,” Cooper turned back, praising Jared.
“Oh, here you go, E.” Jared threw a pair of jeans over the seat.
“Thanks, man.” Eli grabbed them and started to tug the jeans on in the tiny space between the car door and me, his elbows jabbing into me as he moved. Trying to avoid looking at him directly, I couldn’t stop from sneaking quick snapshots every so often. I couldn’t help it—every inch of him was on display, inviting me to look. Particularly when he pushed his hips up, pulling his jeans over them, putting him way too close to my eye line for comfort. I tried to focus on the digital clock blinking rhythmically on the dashboard in front of me.
The surrealism of my life peaked at that moment; a giggle burst from me. Everyone in the car turned to stare at me. I cleared my throat, letting the quiet and tension in the car fill the space again. No one talked as we headed to our destination.
Since the “Electrical Current Storm,” now known simply as the ES (the E should have stood for Ember), I had spent the last four weeks rendered by guilt and disgust. So many lives had been lost. So many dead, murdered by me. Shame and disabling guilt kept me from staying in the shelters most nights. The first time I tried, I had been starving and cold, but when I saw all the frightened homeless children and heard people crying during the night, it was all too much to endure. I left and spent the night in an abandoned gas station instead. Hunger led me back every once in a while, but I tried to avoid people at all costs, especially being a target of the Fae world. I would have preferred to go out into the forest and stay away from people all together, but then I might as well have handed myself over to the Queen. Both the city and humans were my shields, and I needed to be near them.
As we drove through town, I took everything in. Seattle had taken the brunt of the devastation, but the towns within a hundred mile radius were also affected, including Olympia, my home town. People were mystified as to what really happened and how it was possible. Not for a moment did they think it could be “Otherworldly.” Scientists came out saying it had been a freak lightening super storm. The conspiracy theorists were certain it had been aliens. Funny, they were closer to the truth than the scientists.
Seattle’s airport and seaports had been affected, crippling trade. I read in the paper they had moved the trade ports to Vancouver and San Francisco, overworking them. All of this influenced technology and electronics around the world. The Seattle area had no lights, TVs, refrigerators, or heat. Anything running off satellites, like Internet and cell phones, worked but only if you had electricity or generators to keep batteries charged. None of us realized how much we relied on electricity until it was gone. Gas stations were shut down, too. People siphoned it out of the pumps, quickly drying them up. If you hadn’t filled up before . . . you were up shit creek, no paddle.
Most people who could get out did, knowing it wouldn’t be long before everything went to hell. Everyone else either stayed in their homes and locked the doors or went to one of the shelters. Panic led to looting, and gangs had quickly established dominance, taking whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, turning the city into chaos.