Authors: Jackie Ivie
Tags: #paranormal romance, #vampire assassin league, #short story, #vampire romance, #anthology
“The fitness business has some unfortunate connotations attached to it. Just like masseuses. Romance writing. Some people tend to think they’re skin industries, selling nothing more than sex.”
“I fail to see the problem.”
“My clothing was ripped off, and just look at this room. We destroyed it.”
He craned his neck up, lifting her from a berth atop him with the motion. She watched as he looked out at the mess. Even the tanning bed they were in was cracked at the top. It widened as he smacked his head back down on it. And then he closed his eyes, dusting his cheeks with dark lashes. Wow. Again. He was such a beautiful man! It was almost worth the loss of her career. He opened his eyes, caught her gaze, and then winked.
“Looks like I shall need the 4-D Team after all. And I was doing so well.”
“I believe Team Yellow was assigned to me tonight. I hope it isn’t Red. I know them too well.”
“What are you talking about?”
“4-D. Deploy. Destroy. Disinfect. Disappear.”
“Destroy? Did I hear destroy in there?”
“They’re very quick. Efficient. User-friendly. If you’ll just let me up, I’ll get my cell phone, and…what?”
He’d moved; rolling her to one side before crawling from her and then stopped with the question, one leg on the floor, the other curled beneath him. And he had to ask about the look on her face? She’d never seen anything to compare him to. Not even a really sexy ad campaign.
“You need to uh…dress.”
He found and slid his shorts back on, tying them low enough to give everyone a pretty good view of perfect male. Then he rifled his pockets, pulling a credit-card sized thing out, slid his thumb along it, opening a wafer-thin panel, moving sigh-worthy muscle as he did so. Wow. She was right. Rafaele was incomparable. She wasn’t allowing him to take one ounce off his frame. There wasn’t a bodybuilding title in his size range that was safe. All of which was probably easy to read on her face.
He cocked an eyebrow at her before turning sideways, giving her another perfect view, this time of his profile while he spoke some gibberish she couldn’t follow unless she’d taken Spanish rather than French in Junior High. Actually, as fast as he spoke, she doubted schoolroom lessons would help, anyway.
He flicked the phone closed and launched it into a little trash receptacle in one corner. And after making it, he actually put both hands up in the air, miming a version of scoring.
Oh brother again
. And if he wasn’t the most striking thing on the planet, and arrayed in nothing but gym shorts, she’d have been able to look at him with something beside awe.
“You just…threw your phone away.”
“One use only. Company policy. No. You are right. I’ll retrieve it. It might not be destroyed.”
“I can’t even afford to replace mine, and you’re chucking them?”
“Oh yes. Your phone. That reminds me. Here. Put on my shirt.” He tossed it at her.
“No way. You probably sweat in it.”
“Me? Sweat? Impossible.”
He was right. He hadn’t done anything to raise a sweat. Not while wearing clothing, anyway.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Lenna had the shirt held to her while he cracked the door open, craning his neck, and moving back muscle, giving her another perfect view before looking back at her.
“Oh no. You can’t.”
“I’ll be quick. A flash of time.”
“I am shirtless often. It is no big thing.”
“I can see that.”
“You have a tan line…which is strange, considering you’re terrified of sunlight.”
“I am terrified of nothing! I am Rafaele de Jesus y Santiago. Scourge of the Barbary Coast! Pillager and Plunderer—oh. You jest.”
“Barbary Coast?” she asked.
“Can we speak of this later? We don’t have much time. 4-D teams are known for speed once called.”
“Are you part of some covert operation or something?”
“Something like that,
“Take your shirt, Rafaele. Please?”
“A 4-D team will be here momentarily, and you wish to be naked? Oh, no. That is not happening, my love.”
Her heart constricted at hearing it. From the most stunning man she’d ever seen? The man who’d turned her entire world upside down? In one day? And it was said with such a low tone, it seemed to hang in the air. She couldn’t find words to answer him.
“You are mine, Lenna. Mine. No one is ever to see you as you are now.”
“You go too fast, Rafaele. I—.”
“Lenna, please. If you look at me that way, I cannot think. I wish only to return to your arms! I have waited so long. Centuries of time! You do not understand! And I waste time. I must go.”
She gulped. Wow. The view was spectacular and the words he said were running a close second. She put up a hand.
“Now what?” he asked.
He slid out the door before she could argue. Lenna sighed and scooted to the end of the booth, making it teeter with the movement of weight. They’d more than destroyed the room. There was even a chunk of tile missing from where the tanning beds had been secured to the floor. She’d retrieved her spare clothing, shoved them on, and was just finished when the door burst open. A bag came flying in, Rafaele right behind it. He slammed the door shut behind him, and then locked it. And then he was backing from it as if it might chase him, too.
“Trouble?” Lenna asked. It was hard not to giggle.
“Those women. They—!” His words cut off.
“You get mobbed, did you?”
“They do not take no for an answer. They blocked me. And they wished pictures of me. With me. Poses! They wanted me to pose with them. Or for them. You would not believe what they asked of me!”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have stopped to talk to them.”
“I couldn’t just fly off. They’d see.”
“Aren’t you doing this rather brown?” Lenna shoved her sports bra and the destroyed pants into her bag, retrieved a comb, and worked at tangles without regard to pulling. She was angry with herself. She’d forgotten how dense he’d acted back before she’d attacked and then ravished him. Since then, she’d thought they’d gone past resorting to faked stupidity. It was a shame to think he’d still try it.
“Come on, Rafe. Any guy who looks like you causes a stir. Women probably come out of the woodwork when you’re around. This can’t be abnormal. They probably need security for you to go anywhere in public.”
“I am never in public.”
“Right. And this never happens.”
“It doesn’t. Oh. Except for…uh. I see what you mean. I have been out before. It has been a problem.”
“How much time do I have?”
“Your new fan club gets here. You know they’re chasing you. And they’re going to find you with me…and then they’ll get really angry. I’ll be lucky if I’m not escorted off the premises.”
“Still doing the innocent bit? Okay then. I’ll spell it out. You’re young. You’re gorgeous. You’re ripped. You’re a lot of man, and you just had to go and show it off by running around shirtless and sans jockstrap. Talk about presentation. You practically called them on.”
“I did no such thing!”
“Even if you didn’t dress like that on purpose, it wouldn’t take much. You’re the best looking thing to hit this club, and look. You’re with me. And they’re already jealous of me.”
“Women are jealous creatures, especially the older ones. Fitness clubs are full of them. So is my client list. I have to be very careful what I say and how I act. The beautiful ones are the worst. Some don’t age well. They work really hard and pay a lot of money to hang onto their youth and looks. Just wait. You’ll see. Here. You’ll need this.”
She handed him her comb. He took it.
“You want a mirror?”
“Never use them.”
“Okay. Now, I know you’re full of it.”
He slid the hair-band off and combed through long locks, looking even sexier in a wild man sort of way. His hair was glossy and black. Thick. Near mid-back length. Much longer than hers. She watched the muscles moving about on his upper chest and arms as he refastened his queue. She cleared her throat.
“Because narcissistic men need mirrors. They have to look at themselves. In every position. All day. All night. All the time. You probably have your walls and ceilings plastered with mirrors. Tell me I’m wrong.”
The look he gave her was indescribable. Dark. Angered. Creating trills all along her arms and then shoulders at solid menace. He took a step toward her and the next second an explosion rocked the room, sending her into the back wall. Rafaele disappeared upward, jettisoned by the blast right through the ceiling. The hole he made enlarged as she watched, adding dust and debris onto the scene. Acrid smoke filled the room, making her eyes water, adding to the blur, and making her head hurt.
The lights still worked.
How was that possible?
The smoke wafted into tendrils by bits of raining ceiling. Lenna forced herself upright. She touched her forehead, came back with blood. She’d hit her head. Not enough for a concussion, but she wouldn’t turn down an acetaminophen. Her left thigh hurt. Probably bruised. She’d scuffed her knees, and had a skinned knuckle, but everything else seemed fine. She had to move. Rafaele needed help. She had to get help! Her heart felt like a huge hand held it and was squeezing. Hard. Cruelly. Worse than when she’d left home. She couldn’t feel such a sense of loss. She’d just met him. He wasn’t her type. And he was delusional. Thinking she was his mate.
. Her head hurt. She could hardly think around it. And barely see. Figures stirred the fog, moving at each other’s heels. Lenna watched as one of them turned into a vivid red light and then sent a blast of air right at her. That air turned into thousands of tiny spikes, stinging as they propelled her backward, and then stuck her to the wall like an insect. Her face wasn’t even spared the pressure of tiny, interlaced threads, the whole making a net that was impossible to move against. She tried. Yanking and twisting only made the netting tighter. And then it started to cut. Lenna stopped moving.
“Damn it! Missed!”
“Son of a bitch!”
The figures joined, grouping together in a mass of six. Maybe seven. Each one a carbon copy of the next. It was hard to tell with the way the net had flattened her head to one side. She had to look at them through the corner of her eye. Nobody was in yellow. Or red. They were dressed in some sort of black and gray colored camouflage outfit, wore eerie-looking goggles, and carried all sorts of weird-looking weaponry. Compound bow-things. Short spears with nasty-looking spikes atop them. Large guns equipped with laser-sights. At least, that’s what the red lights intersecting the smoke had to be if movies were correct.
The smoke smelled terrible. She was getting dizzy. Nauseous. And this netting wasn’t just painful, it was dripping wet, saturating her clothes, and making the minute cuts sting worse.
“Six point four seconds, everyone!”
Someone yelled it, and then one of them approached, held up a can of something to her face and sprayed, fogging her with choking fumes.
Her mind cried the name just before it went black.
The moment she was cognizant the name screamed through her mind, bringing total recall and with it, pain. Lenna scrunched into a little ball with her arms wrapped tightly about her knees, and rocked in place, just like she’d done ever since she was little. Insanity wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Wasn’t mental illness supposed to be a mindless, happy state? Huh? There wasn’t supposed to be sorrow and hurt, and especially not this anguish getting pumped through her body with every heartbeat. She’d thought it hurt to leave her home. She’d been wrong. This ache was much more intense. More personal. More real. And total madness. She’d just met the guy. Traded some words. Had fantastic sex. He’d called it mating. Lenna blinked at the sudden blur of tears. That wasn’t enough time to fall in love with someone. She couldn’t. They’d just met. It was lunacy.
If only there was such a thing! She’d tried to find it back when they’d locked her in that wing of the hospital and taken everything personal from her. They’d even pulled the underwire out of her bras. Embracing insanity seemed like such a good idea. She wouldn’t have to deal with self-disgust because of Chet, the memory of her mother’s face over the accusations, or even worry about sugar levels and if she’d injected enough insulin, and the right kind. She’d tried to find insanity back then. For all she knew, schizophrenia might run in her family, as well as diabetes. Her adoption was closed, but if she cared, she probably could’ve tracked down her DNA donors and found out.
She hadn’t cared. She’d decided to move on, use what assets she’d been born with, and never be a victim again. And then love came into her life. Just like that.
Her mind screamed the name, and got nothing but silence. Again. And then it got punctuated by more heart-thumping ache. It was unbelievable. Fantastic! Love really did occur at first sight. It wasn’t just a fairy-tale. She was in love! That was really insane. It wasn’t feasible. It wasn’t smart. It was still true. She loved Rafaele de Jesus y Santiago. That’s probably why fate had taken him from her.
Lenna moved her head toward the voice, sliding her cheek along cool satin sheet. How could anyone tell? She wasn’t awake. She was in hell. Or a version of it. Recessed lighting from all along the tops of the walls barely lit dark wood paneling that was interspersed with shiny panels painted alternately jet black and blood red. And over at one section, a disembodied head nodded at her.
“Yep. Definitely awake.”
“Bring her…to me.”
The answering voice was old and feeble. That was an interesting twist. The devil was an old guy?