Authors: Kate Goldman
Published by Kate Goldman
Copyright © 2015 by Kate Goldman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems – except in the case of brief quotations in articles or reviews – without the permission in writing from its publisher, Kate Goldman.
Table of Contents
Lucie Walters was tired. Her soft blue eyes were almost red raw, her fingers throbbed from all the stories she’d been eagerly typing up that day, and her jaw ached from the hours she’d spent on the phone following up potential leads. Pulling on her long trench coat over her petite frame, she tossed her golden hair over her shoulder and prepared herself for the cool night air outside.
“You’re working late again?” Deena, the receptionist at The Standard’s offices, had noted with dismay as Lucie signed out. Deena job-shared with the receptionist who worked until 4, with Deena picking up the evening shift until 10. Staff at The Standard often kept long hours and the reception desk had to be manned accordingly.
“Yeah,” Lucie had sighed as she hastily scribbled down her name. “A big story broke just after five that I had to get ready for the morning edition.”
“I’m seriously starting to think you are a vampire,” Deena had stated, not impressed. “You get here before dawn and creep out after dark. You’re very pale, even with those big baby blue eyes. So, don’t lie to me now, Lucie, what with us being friends and all. Are you a vampire?”
Laughing, Lucie put down the pen she’d been holding.
“Deena, I can assure you that I’m not some bloodsucking immortal being. I’m just overworked.”
“I’ll say!” Deena agreed enthusiastically. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you leave this place at a reasonable hour. Guess there’s no one waiting back home for you, huh?”
Lucie thought of her small, empty apartment where she had a microwave meal for one and her favorite show from the night before recorded and lined up for her evening.
“No,” Lucie admitted. “There’s no one waiting.”
“What you need is a man!” Deena enthused, pointing a long, brightly painted nail at her. “Let me fix you up with one of Jasper’s friends.”
“I’m not looking to date anyone,” Lucie shook her head and gave a faint smile. She certainly didn’t want to be set up on a blind date with one of Deena’s husband’s friends.
“Because you don’t have the time?” Deena asked, raising one perfectly shaped eyebrow and pursing her lips.
“Bet you still have the time to be lonely though, right?”
Lucie was pushing her way through the revolving doors as Deena shouted after her, “We all have needs, Lucie! We all need to be loved, girl! Don’t you forget that!”
The brightly lit offices of The Standard newspaper were now behind her as she quickly walked towards the multi-story parking garage at the end of the block which she always used. The sharp click of her heels against the sidewalk bounced around the empty street around her.
It was late. Shadows hugged the edges of nearby buildings, making them seem even more ominous than usual. Using the cool evening air to blow away some of her fatigue, Lucie pushed a strand of blonde hair out of her eyes and tried to walk at a brisker pace. The center of the city was no place for a woman alone so late at night.
Head down, Lucie walked in the direction of the parking garage. She moved with fast, purposeful steps, her purse clutched tightly against her chest. But it had been a particularly long and intense day. Somewhere between the office and the parking garage her pace began to slow and her movements became more sluggish.
By the time Lucie reached the parking garage she realized that she was exhausted. Normally she took the stairs in an effort to keep fit but she decided instead to wait for the painfully slow elevator. She nervously glanced around as she waited for it to descend to the ground floor. A few solitary cars remained in the shadows of the parking garage, the neon strip lights on the ceiling did a poor job of removing the darkness which clung to the edges of each floor.
With a groan the elevator doors parted and Lucie stepped inside. She kept telling herself that in less than an hour she’d be on her sofa, in her favorite pair of pajamas, drinking a glass of wine and eating noodles from a bowl. First she just had to drag herself to her car and drive the twenty minutes to her apartment on the outskirts of the city.
Lucie was parked on the third floor of the parking garage. With another groan the elevator doors opened with a worrying amount of effort. Lucie stepped out and began heading in the direction of her car. Her footsteps were exceedingly loud as her heels clipped against the hard ground. Lucie tried to focus on the steady sound of her own footsteps but she heard something else – a deep, dense thud on the other side of the parking garage.
She froze. Suddenly all her senses were on fire, she was no longer sluggish and tired. The sound she’d heard was the closing of the metal door which was connected to the stairwell. It meant that someone else was on the same level as she was. Lucie cast a few anxious glances around. There were about a dozen cars spread throughout the vast area of the parking level but she couldn’t see anyone else around.
With her heart pounding in her chest Lucie hurried to her car. She didn’t like being in the parking garage so late at night, it always made her so uneasy. She was almost running when a strong hand grabbed for her shoulder and yanked her back just inches away from her hatchback vehicle.
The hand which had grabbed her shoved Lucie down to the ground. She connected with it with a hard thud which made her wince. Everything seemed to be happening so quickly
“What the hell?” Lucie instinctively clutched at her purse as she looked around. Two burly men were now standing over her. She could smell the cigarettes and booze on their breaths. When they looked at her their eyes were filled with a hunger which turned her stomach.
“Evening, sweetheart,” the tallest man said, grinning to reveal two golden teeth. He was completely bald and somewhere between overweight and stocky. The second man was leaner and had black hair flecked with silver. They both regarded her the way a cat regarded a mouse it was about to play with.
“What do you want?” Lucie asked, trying to stop her voice from shaking. She felt helpless at their feet, certain that if she tried to get up they’d push her back down.
“Nothing,” the stocky man shot his associate a wicked grin. “Just a bit of fun.”
Lucie tried to scramble to her feet. It was a foolish decision. The lean man kicked her squarely in the chest, knocking the air out of her lungs as she landed back on the ground.
“We didn’t say you could get back up,” he told her with a malicious grin.
“Please,” Lucie offered her purse up towards them. “If it’s money you want just take it, there’s about fifty dollars in there.”
“We don’t want your money,” the first man sneered.
“Then…” Lucie felt her blood run cold. “What do you want?”
“We told you,” the lean man laughed, “we just want a bit of fun.”
Lucie’s heart was beating madly in her chest. She’d heard about attacks such as these, had herself reported on them for the paper. And now what, she was about to become a statistic, a victim? The thought of either of the men laying a finger on her made her entire body shudder with revulsion.
“Step away from her,” a voice as deep and dark as a mine shaft shouted. Lucie managed to turn her head and see a figure quickly approaching from across the parking level she was on. He wore jogging pants and a hooded top which was raised up, concealing his face.
“Hey man, get lost!” the broad man barked angrily at the stranger. “This isn’t none of your business!”
“I said step away from her.” The stranger was close now, standing just behind Lucie.
“Hey,” the lean man took a menacing step towards the hooded stranger. “Back off before this gets nasty, okay?”
The lean man reached into his pocket and retrieved a pocket knife. With the press of a button a dirtied blade popped up. Lucie felt her lungs tighten. She’d never seen someone get stabbed before. But each time she interviewed a witness to a violent crime there was always a look in their eyes which told her that what they’d witnessed continued to haunt them.
But the hooded man wasn’t afraid of the dirty blade. He high kicked the lean man square in the face, causing him to stagger backwards, clutching at his nose as blood spurted from it like an angry fountain.
“What the –” the broad man barely had time to register what was happening. The hooded man punched him three times in quick succession. Once in the chest, winding him, second in the jaw and third once again in the chest. Gasping like a demented duck, the broad man staggered back. As he fell back he madly wielded the dirty blade before him. Lucie shuddered as she saw it, imagining how it would have felt against her own throat, cutting through her skin…
“My nose!” the lean man cried out in agony. “You’ve broken my fucking nose!”
“Get out of here before I break something else, like an arm,” the hooded man threatened in that same deep, gravelly voice.
Lucie’s attackers shared a quick glance and then nodded at one another. They disappeared into the shadows of the parking garage before the hooded man was able to make good on his threat of breaking more than just a nose.
“Hey, miss, are you alright?” The hooded man watched the thugs leave and when he was certain they were gone he looked down at Lucie and extended a hand towards her.
“I…” Lucie realized that she was shaking. She wasn’t sure exactly what had just happened. Was the hooded man some sort of inner city vigilante who went around rescuing damsels in distress at night? The newspapers had certainly covered such stories. They were deemed positive press. Though the police viewed it much differently as there was little difference in their eyes between a vigilante and a nuisance.
“Here, let me help you up,” the hooded stranger gallantly offered. Lucie accepted his hand and let him help her up onto her feet. She wavered unsteadily in her heeled shoes, her heart still racing from the attack she’d almost just experienced. She didn’t dare to imagine what would have been happening to her had the stranger not shown up when he did.
“Thank you,” Lucie gasped breathlessly as she ran her fingers through her hair and smoothed down her skirt. She imagined that she must look a frightfully bedraggled mess.
“You…you saved me from those guys.”
“Those monsters, you mean,” the hooded man replied coldly.
“Still, I can’t thank you enough,” Lucie was casting her eyes over him, taking in the designer labels of his sports clothes. The journalist in her was instantly trying to suss him out, to decide what sort of a person he was. If he was a vigilante he must have a day job that paid very well. But as she looked him over she saw a dark stain growing from beneath his hoodie.
“Oh my God!” She stepped towards him, her blue eyes wide with concern. “You’ve been stabbed!”
“Oh that,” the hooded man’s gaze dropped to the darkening stain on his top. “That’s just a scratch.”
“That’s a lot of blood for just a scratch,” Lucie objected. In the chaos of the attack the lean man must have swiped at her savior with his dirty blade and got one good hit in.
Lucie was standing so close to the hooded man that she could smell the cologne he was wearing. In spite of the intensity of the situation she was able to note that he smelled exceedingly good.
She could make out his strong features within the shadow of his hood. He had chestnut brown eyes and dark skin and high cheekbones. There was something familiar about his face.
“Can you…can you pull down your hood?” Lucie nervously requested. With a soft shrug the man obliged, pulling down the hood to reveal short dark hair which was gelled and pushed up at the front in a trendy style. He was insanely handsome. He looked like he belonged on a poster for designer underwear. Even concealed in his sports clothes, he obviously had a great body. Lucie’s mouth fell open. But it wasn’t because of how insanely handsome he was, it was because she recognized him.
“Wait!” she pointed at him, no longer shaking. “You’re Dalton Hughes.”