Authors: Mina Khan
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #General, #Fantasy, #Horror
Rukh O’Shay, half-djinn and assassin, is used to taking out the bad guys. But his latest assignment, Sarah White, is nothing like he expected. A glimpse of her bright aura reveals her gentle spirit, while her luscious beauty clouds his mind and makes him long for only one thing—to taste her.
Sarah shares the feeling of raw desire at Rukh’s touch. He can turn her on with a glance, and satisfies desires she didn’t even know she had. But Rukh had been hired to kill her—and the only way to save her is to find out who wants her dead before someone else finishes the job…
Sarah White was nothing like Rukh had expected.
For one thing, her name was too plain, too ill-fitting for someone who had corkscrew curls that shone with a copper glow and sinfully rich skin the color of caramel. Full, pouty lips, the deep red of a good Bordeaux wine. Woman, thy name should have been Temptation.
Warmth and need stirred inside him, started at his groin and spread. Desire clouded his mind obliterating all thought, save one. The need to taste her. What had begun as a spark, flared into a desperate ache. It’d been long, too long, since he’d savored a woman.
What on earth? He wasn’t here for any of that. Rukh shifted to a more comfortable position, glad for the shadows that hid him in the almost empty newsroom of the
To distract himself, he looked around. Everywhere, but at her. Most of the overhead fluorescent lights had been turned off, except for those in the corner where a handful of sports reporters and copy editors worked on late stories. The soft click-clack of fingers dancing on keys poured from them like a techno-lullaby. So much for their investigative skills. None of them noticed him. He breathed easier now that he was dealing with the familiar, confident in his invisibility. Being a half-breed djinn had some advantages, especially to one in the business of murder.
His thoughts returned to his worries. The client was being unusually skittish. He’d sent the target’s name and a vague location: downtown Austin. No other details, except to say Rukh’s services would be used as a last resort. Yet, he’d been paid half the money up front, and asked to be in place and ready. The kill, if needed, would take place in two days.
Rukh scowled. He didn’t like working blind and he always stalked his prey. Of course, the client didn’t know about his special djinn abilities. Didn’t realize names had power. Using those sketchy details, he’d been able to mentally pinpoint Sarah White in the ethereal plane. The fact that her sunshine-yellow aura had shown up in the ethereal plane bright as a freaking spotlight had helped.
And that was the biggest issue. Rukh reached up and worked the back of his neck, trying to erase the tension knotting his muscles.
His gaze strayed back to his target. Sarah sat in a rolling office chair at the elbow of a balding overweight man. They were right at the edge of the shadows, a step or two away. Her scent, a soft, sweet lingering vanilla underlaid with dark, lush woman, tickled his nostrils. He took a step nearer, then another, and inhaled the rich fragrance surrounding her. His mouth watered, and unable to help himself, he sucked in another deep breath.
Even this close, Rukh couldn’t sense any writhing, pulsating darkness around her. Most of his targets were the lowest of lowlifes possible–drug dealers, mob bosses, rapists, illegal arms salesmen. Some would argue that as an assassin, a murderer, he wasn’t any better. Rukh’s nails dug into his skin. Life didn’t always give you options. He tried to massage away the pinch. Anyhow, it took an asshole to deal with an asshole. He did the world a favor by taking out the trash.
The problem was Sarah White was most definitely
trash. Others on his hit list had auras that rivaled the smoggy skies of Los Angeles. Hers shone with a radiant light; pastel sparks popped and fizzed through it. Just looking at her aura made him want to smile. Maybe he was losing it.
Sarah’s hair spilled forward as she leaned toward the screen. She’d left the top few buttons of her white cotton shirt undone and the movement made the opening gape. Rukh’s heart jigged as he caught a naughty peek of her cleavage.
“Hey, change that back. That’s spelled right.” Her voice, low and husky, thrummed through him like a verbal caress. What would his name sound like in her mouth?
The man shook his head, as his fingers flew over the keyboard. “Don’t you have anything better to do tonight than breathe down my neck?”
A tremor passed over her face. If he’d blinked, he’d have missed it, but Rukh’s eyes stayed fixed on Sarah. Within seconds, her easy smile returned. “What can I say, Grayson, you’re a babe magnet.”
Laughter shook the man’s soft body. Their easy banter echoed in the hollow deep inside Rukh. They talked like friends. Something he’d never had. He gritted his teeth, berating his foolishness. Assassins didn’t have friends. He drew back into the darkness again.
“I’m not leaving until my story is edited and filed.” She crossed and uncrossed her legs. The rasp of denim shuddered through Rukh, drew his eyes to the tempting V of her legs. He forced his gaze up. The shirt had shifted back in place. Shit.
Just as he could slip into shadow, he also had the gift to read minds. Of course, reading mundane human minds wasn’t anything to boast about. Child’s play really, but useful. Rukh tried to probe Sarah’s mind and encountered a wall. He searched along the nooks and crannies of her brain, looking for a split seam, an opening. Nothing.
She shifted in her seat and looked up, straight at the corner where he stood. Gazing into her eyes, Rukh saw the heart of a forest—many shades of green mingled with browns, golden flecks dancing in their depths like sunlight. He found serenity.
Her eyes widened and darted side to side, before centering on his spot. He could smell her fear, acrid and smoky, on the stale air-conditioned air. Could she see him? Not possible. But he faded himself more, blended further into the inky dark. His shoulders eased back down when she turned away and scooted closer to the computer screen.
A few more clicks and the jiggle of the mouse later, the balding man turned to her with a curt bow. “Done. Will you leave me in peace now?”
Laughter, like the silver music of wind chimes, escaped into the room, slipped under his skin, rushed through his essence. Rukh shivered at the sound.
What was she? He’d been around humans long enough; even fucked some of the women occasionally, but none of them had affected him like this. None could keep him out of their minds.
“Your wish is my command,” Sarah said, snagging her purse from the chair as she rose. “Good night, Grayson. Thanks for putting up with me.”
The editor waved and turned back to his work.
Rukh slid along the dim edges, keeping pace with her, eyes on the sweet sway of her perfectly-curved ass. He’d tag along and find some answers. Of course, even if she’d been completely normal, he’d have followed her…to sniff out her routine, find breaks in her security that he could use. If she’d been completely normal, her darkness would have been revealed to him and this would be just another job.
An icy chill invaded Sarah as she jogged down the stairwell. Had some of the lightbulbs burned out? The place looked darker, more grimy than usual. The shadows in the corners scurried forward like spiders, almost catching up with her. Invisible eyes stared holes into her back. A sob caught in her throat. She should have taken the elevator for a change.
For one week now, she’d been plagued with nightmares of being chased through a burning corridor, stalked by an unseen menace. The fear had leached into her days, leaving her jumpy and fragile. She’d be going about her business one moment, then the next she’d get that weird hair-standing-on-ends feeling of being watched, followed. Sarah shuddered. Her imagination would be the death of her.
Heart thundering, Sarah raced toward the gray metal door. The overhead exit sign spilled a splash of neon-red light on the floor like blood.
Focus, focus on the door.
Her gaze fastened on the shiny metal bar. One push and she’d be free.
Ragged breathing filled the stairwell. It seemed to come from behind her, almost at her neck. In spite of the fear clawing at her, Sarah glanced over her shoulder. Nothing. Her chest tingled and tightened as she pulled in one desperate breath after another. The noise must be coming from her.
She slammed up against the cool door, pushing down on the bar until the exit swung open. Despite it being a balmy night in April, Sarah shivered as she stumbled into the parking lot. The tall lights scattered across the empty distance cast intermittent circles of brightness, but for the most part the shadows prevailed. Her pale blue Beetle sat by itself at the far end, facing the shrubs and trees of Lady Bird Lake Trail. The greenery looked almost pitch-black. “Man oh man,” she muttered.
The plan had been to get out while daylight still remained and go for a run. Of course, then she’d gotten lost in work—as usual—and forgotten to even move the car closer. Weariness weighed her bones down as she considered the long hike, the stifling heat, the grasping dark.
Well, moaning and groaning wouldn’t get her any closer. She straightened her shoulders and gripped her keys in a tight fist, with the poky-end of the car key sticking out like a weapon. Then she took off at a fast clip. The air grew heated and thick. Her steps echoed in the emptiness, like gunshots, breaking up the soft noise of traffic and cicadas in the background.
The hair at the nape of her neck prickled in awareness. Sarah stopped herself from turning her head. Instead she cast her gaze sideways and backwards, searching for shadows. Only hers stretched on the ground amidst crumpled candy wrappers and cracks in the hot asphalt.
Breath strangled in her throat as the heat threatened to suffocate her. A forgotten memory pushed into thought. Ghosts. Could there be a ghost or an elemental spirit behind her? Panic welled inside and she stumbled. No, no, no. She hadn’t seen any of those since she was six years old. They’d left her alone twenty years. Why would they return? They wouldn’t,
, be back.
She took a deep breath of steamy air and visualized the solid walls inside her head. They stood. Unbreached and ivy-covered. Yet her blood ran ice-cold and she couldn’t stop the march of goose bumps along her skin. Hugging herself tight, Sarah hurried toward her car. She could make out the “Keep Austin Weird” sticker. Almost there.
A rustle of movement caught her ear. Then the darkness seemed to shiver and two shadows peeled away from the inky depths of the trees and shrubs. As if the night had given birth. Sarah blinked and slowed. Was she hallucinating?
The shadows solidified into men as they moved forward into the light and leanedagainst her car. Her relief that the figures were real and human was short-lived as she took in their details—messy stringy hair, black jackets with patches sporting skulls and flames, black jeans with silver-buckled black boots. Walking, breathing ads for biker-dude toughies. Or wannabes. Great. Her hand dipped in her bag and fingers searched for pepper spray.
“Lookee here, what do we have?” The larger man on the right swaggered forward, stopped a few feet from her, thumbs planted in the waistband of his jeans.
The other guy, she nicknamed him Skinny, flashed a gap-toothed grin and pulled out a switchblade. Where the heck was her spray? The soft snick of the knife popping out cut through the air.
Stupid. She’d been so busy imagining monsters, she’d walked right into real danger. A whimper escaped Sarah’s lips, a second before her fingers wrapped around the smooth cylinder. “What do you want?” She hated the quiver in her voice.