Authors: J.L. Weil
I managed an entire week without one run-in with Zane. That took skill. This small island was impossible to roam about without bumping into a Hunter at every corner. Lucky for me, none of them were the six-foot, moody, perfect male specimen.
Then why was a part of me bummed each time it wasn’t him?
I blamed it on lack of sleep.
Since that night, I’d been not only avoiding Zane, but also sleep. It was a lot harder to do than it sounded. My eyes and my body refused to cooperate, but that night had triggered a new nightmare where a masked man loomed over my bed. And it was the moon glinting off the gun pointed at my head that caused pandemonium to set off inside me. The paranoia might all be in my head, yet it was very difficult to wake up in a dead sweat, your heart hammering in your throat. I wouldn’t recommend it night after night. It wasn’t a look I rocked well. Baggy eyes. Dark circles. Bloodshot eyes.
There was one other explanation my brain mulled around, but it was just as frightening as the masked man. It kept me up as well, but it a different way.
Zane had snuck into my room.
It made very little sense. What reason did he have for creeping into my room in the middle of the night? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it, but that scent… It was one I knew well, and it was doubtful I’d ever forget it. I might have inhaled the material of his sweatshirt until I was high on Zane. That exact smell had been lingering in my room. Explain that?
On the seventh day, I gave in. There was an unexplainable urge to see his face, even if all we did was bicker. My heart and my head needed a reminder why Zane was bad news. Time had lessened the volume of his douchery. As I headed to Josie, keys spinning on my finger, I contemplated going the straightforward method, but asking him if he was sneaking into my room sounded nutso, even in my head.
Of course, I still had to find him.
Whenever you were looking for someone, they were nowhere to be found, but when you wanted to avoid someone, they were everywhere.
He wasn’t at work. I checked. The boardwalk. Nada. This casually bumping into him idea was turning out to be a bust. Maybe I should have just texted Zoe. It was sounding a whole lot easier, but I didn’t want to appear desperate, because it was most definitely not like I had to see him or I would die. Short of stalking him at home, which posed a problem in itself, I would actually have to know where he lived, and I didn’t.
I figured that was a sign.
Today was not the day I would run into the dark and mysterious Zane Hunter. There was always tomorrow. It’s not like I had any idea what I was going to say if, by coincidence, I found him.
I cut around a corner, taking a shortcut down a one-way street I was pretty sure led back to my jeep. The very last thing I needed was to lose my car. That would just make my day. The sun was slowly receding behind the horizon, and I didn’t want to be roaming around in the dark, for obvious reasons.
At a walk just short of a run, I came to the parking lot where I was darn sure I’d parked. Searching the lot, I found Josie easily enough, except my jeep had a new ornament that hadn’t been there earlier. A body was lounging against the rear bumper, and for a heartbeat I thought it might be Zane, but as I got a clearer look, he had shaggy blond hair, not raven black. He wore torn jeans with a muscle tee. Thick leather strands hung around his neck. His face looked slightly familiar, and I wondered if he had been at the bonfire. A curious gaze aimed my way in a not-so-friendly way. He sucked on a long drag from the cigarette dangling from his lips. The tattoo of a red hawk on the inside of his wrist captured my eye.
“Smoke?” he asked in a husky voice that led me to believe he had been puffing away since birth.
What a way to end what was turning out to be a shitty day. Let’s be real. I was having a shitty year, and today of all days I was letting it get to me.
I shrugged. “Why the hell not.” I was going to give rebellion a run for its money while I was still young. Truthfully, I didn’t want the cancer stick. I hated smoking, but I thought if this guy had been at the bonfire, then maybe he knew Zane. Okay, he definitely knew Zane, as everyone here knew everyone, but he might be able to give me an idea where I might find him. It didn’t make sense, but suddenly it became important that I found Zane.
And something told me this guy hadn’t casually ended up using my car as a resting spot. This guy knew who I was. The question was what did he want with me? I fumbled with the strap of my crossbody bag, taking little comfort that I never left home without my mace.
With a coolness as fake as my smile, I took a cigarette from the pack he held out.
“Piper, right?” he asked.
I was getting tired of walking around with a giant nametag stamped on my forehead. “And you are?” I prompted since he wasn’t offering.
A ring of smoke escaped his lips, traveling up and still keeping its shape. Cool trick. “Names really aren’t important.”
I positioned the smoke between my fingers like I’d done it a million times before. “It just seems a little unfair. You already know mine.”
“Life’s a bitch.”
He wasn’t going to get an argument from me. “And so am I.”
Bad-habit guy leaned forward, interest lighting his smoky eyes. “I hope so.”
If he wasn’t going to volunteer information, then I was going to cut to the chase, put him on the spot. “You’re a friend of Zane’s, aren’t you?”
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say we are friends.”
The hair on the nape of my neck stood on end, and a chill had moved though my blood. I had a horrible feeling that I was treading into a slippery slope with bad-habit guy.
He flicked his lighter, the orange-yellow flame jumping to life. I put the slim paper between my lips, leaning forward, never taking my eyes off him. Just before the kindle reached the tip, I heard a voice that had my skin sparking.
“I would think twice before taking a puff. It’s probably laced.” Zane stepped out of the shadows.
I blinked a few times as his form came into focus. Words couldn’t express what was happening inside me. Seeing Zane caused a chain reaction of fireworks, booming and sizzling. The cigarette I’d been holding between my fingers slipped, tumbling to the ground, forgotten. I had not taken one drag from the nicotine stick, yet I was short of breath.
Then his words registered in my brain, and my eyes bulged.
? I tore my eyes from yummy Zane to glare at bad habit guy. “Did you—?” Dumbfounded, I couldn’t even complete a sentence. I’d hung around some questionable people before, but this was a first. Drugged?
What would he possibly gain from drugging me, other than violating me? My mind went off on a tangent, envisioning all sorts of slasher-quality scenarios.
He pushed off the frame of my jeep with his foot, closing the distance between us. “Don’t get your panties in a wad, little Raven. It’s not personal.”
I’d say trying to slip me a drug was kind of personal. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I demanded, mortified that I had been naive enough to trust this asstard.
He leered. “How much time do you have?”
Zane growled at my side. “I’d back up, Crash. Unless you want me to break your nose.”
“Interesting.” He threw the half-smoked cigarette to the ground, smashing the cherry out with the heel of his boot. “Took you long enough,” he said to Zane.
The two of them sized each other up, clearly not BFFs. Zane stiffened and tension crackled between them, thick and volatile. No long lost love, that was for sure. Sandwiched in the middle quickly seemed like a bad place to be.
“Since when did the hawks give a rat’s ass about our summer girls?” Zane barked.
My mind couldn’t process the situation, Zane’s close proximity screwing with my already confused brain cells. And don’t get me started on what the texture of his voice did to my innards, until he called me a summer girl.
That really ruffled my feathers, so I pinched him. “I am not some summer girl,” I snapped.
Zane groaned. “Will you just keep your mouth shut? I’m trying to help you.”
Crash laughed. “No, little Raven, you are most definitely not one of those flighty summer girls. Is she Zane?”
I gave them both my best bitch face.
“Why don’t you get the hell out of here before I make you eat that pack of cigarettes in your hand?” Zane suggested very persuasively. Or more like threateningly.
My hands flew to my hips, irritation spiking. “How about one of you tell me what the fuck is going on?”
They ignored me, only fueling my temper. I was Irish. It didn’t take much to stoke that fire.
Whatever was going on between them, I couldn’t help but feel like I was involved, which made absolutely no freaking sense.
“How cute. She doesn’t have a clue, does she, Hunter? Afraid I might spill the beans?” Crash pushed.
Zane flashed in front of Crash, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and hauling him off his feet. Zane’s eyes darkened.
Crap on a graham cracker.
Just when I didn’t think things could get any more f’ed up, I noticed something on Crash that my mind couldn’t explain. His eyes… I blinked. And blinked again but his eyes looked the same.
The veins around them darkened a deep crimson like blood, spidering down his cheeks. “Should I tell her or…?”
Zane’s back was to me, but I saw his fists tighten. He didn’t strike me as a guy who reined in his anger. Kick ass now and who cared about taking names.
After a count of silence, Crash said, “That’s what I thought. Take your bloody hands off me, mate.” He jerked, breaking out of Zane’s hold.
Now that they weren’t in each other’s faces, I got a glimpse of Zane’s profile. Nothing prepared me for what I saw, causing me to suck in a sharp breath. There was a brief moment that I was positive I was sleeping and in the throes of a nightmare, because everything I was seeing was inconceivable.
Zane, too, was sporting some creepy-veiny eyes. Different. But, nonetheless disturbing. I should have been scared, running-for-the-hills-screaming-for-help scared. The sight unnerved me; however, I was also curious.
Averting his face, I swore Zane heard my gasp of surprise. I tried to get a better view, but he cleverly kept himself angled away from me. It was enough confirmation for me. He had secrets. And they weren’t the I’m-cheating-on-my-girlfriend kind of secrets. This place was off-the-grid freaky.
Regardless of what I had seen, Zane’s presence gave me courage. Explain that. I could have blamed it on adrenaline, but really, it was just me. I asked the first thing that popped into my head. “What is wrong with your face?”
As Crash’s smirk grew, the lines began to diminish. “Better ask your guard dog. I’m not dumb enough to risk Zane’s wrath twice in one night.” He rubbed the side of his jaw. “I’ll be seeing you around, little Raven.”
Zane blocked his path, towering at least four inches over Crash. “You come near her again and I promise, you won’t walk away a second time. Hit the road, before I change my mind and smear the sidewalk with your face.”
Crash leisurely lit another smoke before sauntering down the road. As I watched him go, I was riddled with a gazillion questions. So I turned to the only person left to answer them. “What the hell is going on?”
“A thanks would suffice,” he mumbled, facing me as he ran a hand through his midnight hair.
My eyes ate him up like a bag of flaming Cheetos, searching for a shred of evidence, proving I hadn’t been seeing things. Naturally, there were no traces of the unusual ink-like marks. “Thanks for ruining my night,” I replied, giving him a dose of attitude. He didn’t need to know I had been looking for him. I would admit to nothing of the sort, not now that he was right in front of me and after what I’d seen.
“You are something else,
,” he said cynically.
To set the record straight, I wasn’t ungrateful that he might have saved me from a very unpleasant experience; it was that he made my palms sweat. He made my nerve endings tingle. He made my brain cells mushy. All of the above put my back up. I rubbed the inside of my slick hands on the pockets of my shorts. “What was up with your eyes?” I knew I was being forward, but he deserved it for calling me princess.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, brushing me off.
I snorted. “Don’t play coy with me. I know what I saw. You and astray both had some kind of freaky eye action going on. Different, but similar.”
“I think we better get you home.” He grabbed me under the elbow. “You are suffering some kind of shock. Let’s go.”
I despised being manhandled. “Shock? My ass! Do you make a point of walking all the girls home?” I asked, attempting to wiggle out of his grasp. And failing.
His clipped response drove me bonkers. “Why did he call me little raven?” I asked, sincerely curious.
He opened my passenger door. “How would I know?” Then he more or less lifted me off my feet to get me inside. “Don’t think about getting out of the car. I don’t have the patience to chase you right now.”