Authors: Kate Donovan
Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Books by Kate Donovan
Time Travels and Paranormals
A Dream Apart
A Dream Embraced
The Untamed Beast
Young Adult Science Fiction
Game of Hearts
(A Mail-Order Bride Series)
(A Mail-Order Bride Series)
Meant to Be
(A Mail-Order Bride Series)
Night After Night
(A Mail-Order Bride Series)
Fool Me Twice
(A Mail-Order Bride Series)
(The SPIN—Strategic Profiling and Identification Network—Series)
(The SPIN Series)
(The SPIN Series)
Space Opera Novellas
Beyond the Page Books
are published by
Beyond the Page Publishing
Copyright © 2012 by Kate Donovan
Cover design and illustration by Dar Albert, Wicked Smart Designs
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
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This story is dedicated to my husband, Paul,
who would totally save me if I were abducted
by an extraterrestrial geneticist
Sara always left while Clay was sleeping. No matter how great an evening they’d had. No matter how satisfying the sex had been. No matter how entwined their bodies were when they finally fell asleep—
Sara always left.
And so when he stirred and reached for her at four in the morning after a particularly intense night of lovemaking, he wasn’t surprised to find himself alone. He also wasn’t surprised by how much it bothered him. It had become an almost unbearable disappointment these last few nights.
Then he heard her voice—muted, indistinct—and for a moment he mistook it for wishful thinking on his part. But as the final vestiges of sleep left his brain, he realized she wasn’t gone at all. At least, not yet. She was in the bathroom, undoubtedly getting dressed in preparation for her escape.
For once, he’d have an opportunity to stop her.
Jubilant, he slid out of bed, grabbed a plaid flannel robe to cover his nude form, and padded across the hardwood bedroom floor. When he reached the bathroom, he raised his knuckles to knock on the door, then hesitated.
She was talking to someone, and since Clay didn’t have a telephone extension in the bathroom, he assumed she was using her cell. His first reaction? Jealousy over the intimate connection she obviously had with someone other than him. Then he realized her hushed voice was growing slightly frantic, as though she were arguing with someone, but also as though she were frightened.
And that’s when it hit him. She might be sleepwalking. That was how her words sounded—jumbled and nightmarish. Wasn’t it dangerous to waken someone in that state? He was sure he’d heard that somewhere. But he couldn’t just stand by while she was in distress, so he rapped lightly on the door—just enough to waken her but hopefully without also startling her.
He heard her gasp. Then the whispering grew even more panicked.
Concerned, he tried the doorknob, but it was locked.
Then she called out in an eerily cheerful tone, “I’ll just be a sec!”
“Sara? Who are you talking to?”
The door opened and she stepped into view, her dynamite body completely naked. Her blonde curls were still mussed from their lovemaking, but otherwise, she looked wide-awake.
He glanced at her hands to see if she had her cell phone, but the only thing she was carrying was a fluffy white bath towel bundled against her chest.
“Sorry I woke you, Clay. I guess I was talking to myself. Bad habit from my childhood.” Flashing a sweet smile, she insisted, “Go back to bed.”
He caught her as she tried to slip by him. “Is everything okay?”
“Well, I got one of my famous nosebleeds, as you can see.” She grimaced as she patted the rolled-up towel, which looked fairly spotless to him. “I’ll wash it and bring it back tonight, okay?”
“Forget about the towel,” he ordered her. “And forget about leaving too. It’s almost time to get up, so let’s make some coffee and spend the morning together. In fact”—he felt himself smiling like a lovesick fool—“let’s spend the whole day together. I’ll call my office and give them some excuse. And you work for yourself, so you can give yourself the day off. Right?”
“I can’t, Clay. Some other time, maybe.”
Grasping her by the shoulders, he tried not to notice how pretty she was. That innocent face. Those deep blue eyes. He’d gotten lost in them countless times, and while he enjoyed the sensation, this was no time to turn into an inarticulate schoolboy. “Why not today?”
“Well, for one thing, I need my nosebleed medicine. I usually carry it with me, but I ran out. It’s important for me to take it to prevent another episode.”
“Sounds more serious than just a nosebleed,” he murmured. “Is that why you sounded so upset in there? What kind of condition is it?”
She arched a disapproving eyebrow. “Sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable discussing my medical history with you. We hardly know each other.”
“You’re kidding, right? We’ve been dating for three weeks.
for three weeks. I’d say we know each other pretty darned well by now. We can talk about it in the car. Let’s go get your medicine.”
“Wait!” She cleared her throat, then softened the interruption by saying, “I’m fine going alone.”
“Yeah? The problem is . . .” He leaned down to nuzzle her neck. “I’ll miss you too much. Let’s go to the drugstore. Then we’ll find someplace that serves breakfast at this hour.”
“You aren’t listening to me.” She backed away, her expression cooling. “I want to be alone. Please respect that.”
He nodded, finally angry—at himself for acting like such a fool, and at her for being so unreachable. “Fine. I’ll call you later.”
“Good.” She crossed to the pile of neatly folded clothing she had left on the top of his dresser. Slipping into her skirt and then her blouse, she began working a row of tiny pearl buttons. “Sorry if I sounded cranky. I’m a bitch until I get my first cup of coffee in the morning.”
“So I noticed.”
He didn’t really mean it. He simply wanted her to react—with anger, or hurt or explanation. But to his chagrin, she just gave him that damned impersonal smile as she stepped into her four-inch heels and gathered up the rest of her things. “Thanks for a lovely evening, Clay.”
“This is crazy!” He strode over to her, blocking her path. “We’re going to talk.”
“No!” She fumbled to gain control of the towel, which had unrolled in the confusion. Gathering it back into a bundle, she told him mournfully, “I’m so sorry, Clay. Don’t look at it, please? I’ll get it clean. Or I’ll buy you another one. I promise.”
He stared at the spotless terry cloth. Then he suggested gently, “Maybe you should sit down, Sara. I think you might be sleepwalking or something.”
“Humor me.” He led her to the bed. “You were having a full-blown conversation in the bathroom. With no one. But you sounded scared to death. And now this towel business—”
“I told you I’d wash it.”
“Like I care about a freaking towel?” He sat beside her, resisting an urge to put his arm around her shoulders. “I’m worried about you, Sara. Because I care about you
She patted his cheek. “That’s silly. You’ve never even
the real me.”
The remark stung. It also frustrated the hell out of him. “Why do you say things like that?”
“Because it’s true.” Her smile grew playful. “
the one who should be angry, you know. We made a deal the night you picked me up in that bar. No strings. Just sex. Remember?”
“But it turned into more than that. We’re falling for each other—”
“Clay!” She shook her head in warning. “I don’t know where all this is coming from—”
“Yeah, it kinda snuck up on me too.” He gave her a confident grin. “So here’s what we’re gonna do. We’ll get your medicine. Then we’ll play hooky the rest of the day. We’ll talk and eat and drive up the coast and make love in the backseat of my convertible like schoolkids. And at the end of all that, if you still don’t think you’re falling for me, we’ll go back to our sex-only policy.”
To his relief, she actually seemed to be considering the proposition.
Then she said, “How about a compromise? I really want to go home, take my medicine, shower, and check in with my doctor. After that, I’m yours for the day. We could go on a picnic. That actually sounds awfully nice.”
Clay wanted to take the deal, but had to ask first, “Is your condition that serious? You know, my brother’s a doctor. And if half of his bragging is accurate, he’s the world’s greatest. We could stop by the hospital where he works—”
“Don’t be silly. I just want to see if my specialist wants to adjust the dosage. It’s nothing, Clay. But you’re sweet to worry.” Jumping to her feet and still clutching the white towel, she hurried across the room and grabbed her purse again. “I’ll be back in two hours. How’s that?”
“It’s perfect,” he admitted, his voice unexpectedly hoarse. Crossing to her, he pulled her against himself, then kissed her soft lips, trying not to pressure her, but loving how she tasted.
To his relief, she curled one arm around his neck and responded without hesitation. Then she pulled free and gave him a flirtatious smile. “Save something for the backseat, handsome. I’ll see you in a bit. Don’t shave,” she added, her blue eyes twinkling. “I like you this way. Very primitive.
Clay stared for a moment, not quite believing his luck. Then he chuckled and nodded. “Sounds like we’ve got ourselves a brand-new deal.”
* * * *
Hoping Clay had jumped into the shower before doing anything else, Sara Kent used her cell phone to call his office as she drove the deserted streets back to her apartment. Then she left a message on his voice mail.
It was short and not-so-sweet:
Clay, I’m afraid things aren’t going to work out between us. I wish you luck finding the right girl. Just be grateful things didn’t go any further. And take care, okay? Bye.
She knew he would try to call her back, but she intended to change her cell number immediately. And she hadn’t given him her home number in the first place, much less the address of her apartment, so eventually, he’d have to give up. He’d be upset, but he’d get over it.
And he’d never know how close he’d come to getting himself killed.
Pulling into her assigned parking space under her building, she sprinted up five flights of stairs rather than taking the elevator. She needed to burn off some of the anger she was feeling toward Ga’rag so she wouldn’t lose her temper with him. Not until she was sure Clay Ryerson was safe.
By the time she reached her front door, she had calmed down a little and decided not to initiate contact with her tormentor. He would come to
, wouldn’t he? He had to know how angry she was at him for showing up in Clay’s bathroom and causing that embarrassing nosebleed.
she repeated to herself silently.
There’s a euphemism for you. It was more like a full-blown hemorrhage!
It had been Ga’rag’s favorite means of disciplining her when she was a child. He rarely used it these days, but at Clay’s apartment—in Clay’s bed, no less—that telltale pressure in her sinuses had woken her straight out of a sound sleep and sent her flying to the bathroom just seconds before the gushing commenced.
Dropping her keys and purse on the Bombay chest that served as her entry table, she headed for the laundry closet and dropped the towel into her washing machine, trying not to dwell on its blood-soaked condition. How awful that Clay had had to see it this way. To see
this way. Poor guy. He simply hadn’t known what he was getting himself into when he hit on her that first night. Luckily, he wouldn’t ever know.
She would return the towel to him by untraceable messenger, assuming she could get it clean. Or maybe she would just buy him a brand-new set and have them delivered—again by messenger. Wouldn’t that be best?
Steeling herself for the worst, she turned to confront the speaker. He was wearing his lab coat, not his uniform, which was always a good sign.
And he didn’t have a whip in his clawed hand, which was a
y good sign.
Ordinarily, she would have been grateful, but she was still reeling from the humiliation he had caused her. “Back off, Ga’rag. I took care of it. Broke up with him over the phone. I’ll never see him again.” Jutting her chin forward, she dared to add, “All you had to do was tell me this phase of the experiment was over. Why humiliate me by showing up at his apartment in the middle of the night?”
Ga’rag’s huge black eyes studied her for a moment. Then he explained. “If I hadn’t stepped in when I did, you might have endangered him the way you endangered the other one. Have you forgotten?”
Sara was honestly confused. “That’s what you said in Clay’s bathroom, and it’s so unfair. I know I messed things up with Daniel. But with Clay, I followed your instructions to the letter. All it ever was with him was sex. ‘Primitive intercourse,’ to use
term for it. He and I barely conversed with each other, and when we did, it was completely impersonal.”
“You were developing feelings for him. Affection. Dependence.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Sara forced herself to adopt a mocking tone. “He’s a total stranger, just like he was three weeks ago. A human science experiment, nothing more. Sure, he’s nice. And good-looking. You told me to pick someone I found attractive, and quite frankly, I’d have trouble having quote-unquote intercourse with someone who wasn’t. But otherwise, he’s no one to me. I don’t want him to die, but otherwise I couldn’t care less about him. It was a relief to end it, in fact.”
Ga’rag’s thin blue lips drew into a taut line. “Your behavior last night contradicts that claim. I saw how you kissed him, and it was not lust. It was love.”
know about that?” She glared. “It’s bad enough that you watched!
. But don’t lecture me on love and lust, because
was the one doing the kissing. Clay’s healthy and attractive, but not really my type. Just a nice, safe specimen. That’s why I chose him in the first place.”