Authors: Cassi Carver
For my husband—the hero who gives me wings.
I want to thank my parents for their unwavering love and support. Bob, for reading to me at night. Diane, for kick-starting my love of reading. And Kathy, for helping me believe I can do anything I set my mind to.
Thank you to the world’s best critique partner, Melissa. Your insight and encouragement are invaluable. I’m blessed to have found you and our friends at RWASD.
Thank you, Leasha, for being my very first reader and cheerleader. How you didn’t thump me over the head with that five-hundred-fifty-page behemoth, I’ll never know.
Jennifer, thank you for pulling me out of the pile and letting my story soar. You are the best editor a girl could ask for.
Angela, you may be younger, but you are my oldest friend. Without you holding the rope, I never would have made the climb.
And thank you to my loving, patient husband. Yes, I already mentioned you, but you’re always in my heart.
“Just lie back and relax, asshole. I swear you won’t feel a thing.” Kara adjusted the bindings around the man’s wrists and plunged the syringe deep into his thigh. When the concoction started making its way through his veins, he bucked under Kara’s weight. She stood and put one boot heel against his throat to quiet him as the relaxant started taking effect. “How is she, Abbey?”
Abbey frowned and brushed her red hair out of her eyes. “She’s going to be all right, but I put a call in to 911. We need to hurry.”
Kara glanced at the man lying on the dirty pavement of the alley. His expensive slacks were around his ankles, and after all these years, it still struck Kara as odd that the assailants never fit a certain mold. She and Abbey had taken down everything from homeless men to men who drove hundred-thousand-dollar sports cars. Money didn’t matter, and it wasn’t for the sex. These men wanted power over others. They got off on the degradation and the pain they inflicted.
“He’s ready for you. Let’s help this gentleman get in touch with his manners.”
Abbey tucked a coat around the unconscious victim, shielding her lower half from view of the police officers who would shortly be arriving on the scene. She rose to her feet and walked to Kara. “Don’t bruise his throat, Kare-bear. The knot you gave him with your elbow is bad enough. His temple looks like he got hit with a baseball bat, and we don’t want the police thinking he was the victim here.”
Kara snorted and rubbed her aching elbow. “Yeah, poor little guy. He may need stitches on that pretty face of his. At least he can afford it.”
Abbey knelt and poised her hand above the man, then glanced at Kara. “Are the herbs working yet?”
Kara removed her boot from his throat and gave him a small kick in the head. He didn’t stir. “Yep.”
“Okay.” Abbey brought her hands together above his groin and began to chant.
Kara never tired of watching her best friend work. Abbey’s hair didn’t twirl around her head and fire didn’t shoot from her fingertips, but Kara could feel the energy in the air coalescing around the man.
Abbey’s voice was low and smooth, almost otherworldly in the quiet of the tucked-away street. “From the rod of man, pleasure ordained, but from this soul it gives only pain. Hear me tonight and take back desire. Punish this man and snuff out his fire.”
With the feeling of air being sucked from the space around them, the lust siphoned from the man’s body and lifted high above the alley, rising into the night like a cyclone of misty white light.
“It’s done,” Abbey said. “You can wake him now.”
Kara twisted the cap off Abbey’s water bottle and emptied the contents in the man’s face. He sputtered awake, then groaned and put his hand to his temple.
Kara dropped into a crouch beside him. “Listen to me.” He looked over at her and his gaze locked on her face like a possessed man awaiting a demon’s command. “You never saw us tonight, did you?”
He shook his head slowly. “I never saw you.”
“Good.” Kara reached down to untie his hands and placed the bindings in her pocket. “You’re going to wait here until the police arrive and then you’re going to admit to them you assaulted this woman. She fought back and hit you in the head, didn’t she?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “She fought back.”
“And when you get out of jail, you’re going to make a huge donation to the local women’s shelter.”
“I am,” he agreed.
The sound of sirens filtered into the alley from a distance. “Kara,” Abbey said. “That’s good enough. We have to get out of here.”
“One last thing.” Kara grinned and turned to the man. “When you get to jail, you may have the urge to wink at the really big guys and say, ‘I’m your bitch, baby.’ Got it?”
He held her gaze from behind glassy eyes. “I’m your bitch, baby.”
Kara snickered and stood, hearing the sirens drawing closer. She glanced at her watch. A quarter past midnight. Why couldn’t these perverts wriggle out from under their rocks earlier in the evening? “All finished, Abbs. Now let’s get the hell out of here. I have to work in the morning.”
Kara hadn’t lied to her best friend. She
have to work, but that wasn’t exactly why she’d been eager to get to bed that night. It had been after one in the morning when she finally shut her eyes. When she awoke with a throb between her legs and her naked body spread across a tangled mass of sheets and blankets, she turned her face into the pillow and smiled.
What a dream.
And judging from the dark sky, the night wasn’t over yet.
Her core pulsed as memories of the dream burned in her vision, the way the man had teased her nipples with a black feather before running it over her belly and then lower, to her aching pussy. Images of molten lava singed her mind, crackling red at the seams as black crust hardened around it. She took another breath, clearing her lungs of the salty tang of the ocean and the humid moisture of some exotic place.
As dreams went, this one had been amazing. Dangerous and tangled and hot as hell. Her only complaint was waking up alone, realizing none of it had been real.
She dragged the tip of one finger through her slick folds, drawing an involuntary shudder from her body. It felt so good, but at the same time, she wished it could be her dream lover touching her like this, doing the things she only allowed in fantasies.
She wasn’t ready for the fantasy to be over yet.
Kara dipped a finger inside her moist heat. First one, then two, as she rocked against her palm. “Ohhh…” she groaned, using her free hand to cup her heavy breast. The need between her legs was so strong, choosing to satisfy it was almost like deciding whether or not to jump in a lake when you were on fire. She didn’t have a choice.
She flipped onto her stomach, her long brown hair catching in her mouth as she ground against her hand.
, she thought, moaning into her pillow as though it were her winged vision’s chest, imagining it was
inside her, ramming against her sensitive nub. “Oh yes!”
A loud, menacing hiss rent the air from somewhere behind her. Her pussy spasmed around her fingers with the beginning of a powerful contraction, but she gasped and rolled to her back, casting her hands out beside her as the walls of her channel fluttered helplessly.
She glanced back and forth in the dark room until her eyes came to rest on the white fluffball perched on the foot of the bed. “Aw, shit, Pibby! Bad boy!” she hollered at the cat. “Very. Bad. Boy.”
Kara was about to sweep her foot out and shoo the little voyeur off the bed, but something in Mr. Pibb’s stance and the way his white canines reflected the moonlight changed her mind. “What’s the matter, Pibb?”
She’d be pissed later, right now she was too busy getting goose bumps from the way the cat was doubled up like a bobby pin, long hair standing on end, his mouth emitting a low, threatening yowl.
“Come here, baby. What’s the matter?”
When she sat up and leaned across the bed, his hiss grew more insistent. As she reached out to soothe his ears, he reacted in a loud swirl of motion. She shrieked when Mr. Pibb launched himself at her hand and dug deep with his claws fully extended. He held on long enough to bite her thumb with his razor-sharp teeth before jumping from the bed and taking off down the hall like he was being pursued by a pack of hungry dogs.
She clutched her bleeding hand to her chest and gaped at Pibb’s retreating form. “What the—?”
The words caught in her throat when a large shadow passed over her balcony window.
Acting on pure instinct, she rolled to the floor and landed in a crouch, hunkering down on the far side of the bed as she peered over the mounds of purple bedding at the window beyond. A long, dark shape hung at the edge of her curtains. She couldn’t make out what it was even with the moonlight filtering in around it.
Blood pounded through her veins as she tried to think it through. She lived on the tenth floor. What in the hell was big enough to make that kind of shadow on her window? Nothing. Not a bird on the railing. Not a bat. A kite, or a balloon maybe, but those didn’t send off dark vibes like she was picking up now.
She slipped a hand under the mattress and felt around for the dagger she had hidden there. She’d never needed it in the safety of her own home, but when she reached out with her mind and felt a strange, foreign presence near, she tightened her grip on the hilt.
Kara had never been accused of being a coward. She took a deep breath, rose and walked slowly to the balcony doors. Every step closer she could feel the oppression increase, the twisted glee flooding in from the other side of the glass. She steeled herself and adjusted her grip on the dagger in her right hand while she grasped the edge of the curtains with her left.
One, two, three…
She yanked the fabric aside and blinked hard, shocked to see nothing but her withering houseplant and two patio chairs on an otherwise empty balcony. The shadow had dissolved with the rustle of the cloth, as though it were merely a trick of the full moon and the pleats of the curtains, and the ominous presence she’d felt sputtered out quicker than a flame doused in water.
Kara stumbled back and sat hard on the edge of her bed, bringing one hand to her chest to calm her raging heart. “Damn it.” Her cat threw a fit and all of a sudden she was imagining things that went bump in the night.
She knew better. When bad things happened, some
was the cause, not some
. And in keeping with her current obsession with winged men, what better to imagine at her window than the dark version of her dream lover.
She looked down and stared at the flat side of the knife resting on her bare thigh. “Nice, Kara. Really nice.”
She’d been about to battle a shadow naked.
After the ridiculous window incident, nothing could help Kara doze off again, but she did better than most people on four hours of sleep. Once she was up and about, the day passed in a blur. She never had time to get bored with so much to be done around the damned apartment building.
At some point, the owners were going to have to get real plumbers and electricians to take care of the aging pipes and wiring, but until that day came, Kara would continue to spend her days with a tool belt around her hips.
She thought about how much she loved her home as she zipped up her tall black boots and pulled her leather skirt a little lower. Even though the apartments kept her busy, a two-bedroom/two-bath in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter was worth whatever grief the old lady on the fourth floor put her through.
Growing up as a foster kid and moving from house to house her whole life, Kara didn’t like the idea of being displaced again. So what if the nasty old man on the second floor kept thinking up reasons to get her to check his pipes? He was harmless compared to the men she and Abbey pursued at night. And besides, managing the apartments left her nights open to pick up hours at The Hoolecha Inn. Covered rent was great, but the small stipend they gave her didn’t put much food in the cupboards or pay for those new suede boots she’d found online.
She slipped on her black lace shirt and checked herself in the mirror, catching the reflection of the full moon through the sheer curtains covering the windows. Her hair cascaded down her back in brown waves, and she’d done smoky eyes for tonight. The whole ensemble was a biker-chick cliché, but she’d discovered if she looked like a tramp, she got better tips. She grabbed the syringe Abbey had prepped for her and a small knife from the top of her dresser and slipped them into her purse as her cell phone rang.
Kara glanced at the unfamiliar area code and frowned. “Hello?”
“Hello…Miss Reed?” a deep, masculine voice answered. “This is Gavin. I wanted to let you know I’m in the lobby, waiting.”
Kara scrunched her face, glancing at the phone as if the man had spoken a foreign language. “Waiting for…?”
“Our eight o’clock appointment. It’s eight thirty.”
“Oh, crap.” She grabbed her purse and ran to the kitchen, glancing at the level of food in Mr. Pibb’s half-full dish on the way to the door. “I’m late.” She was planning to get to work early tonight to talk to her boss about more regular hours. She still had time if she walked fast.