Authors: Misty Simon
Garrett Blackwell is not a superhero, and his tattoos aren’t just ink. They’re the weapons he uses to hunt those who hurt the innocent as he tries to atone for his dark past of violence and crime. And he pays a price every time he uses his gift to summon the darkness around him.
Dory Miller has lived beside Garrett for two months and is torn by her feelings toward her sexy, reclusive neighbor. He’s the hottest man she’s ever met, but as more women in her building become targets of a stalker, she doesn’t know who she can trust—especially after she finds Garrett bleeding from a knife wound. Despite her fears that Garrett might be the one responsible for the violence, she feels compelled to help heal his wounds.
Garrett reluctantly lets her, and is shocked to discover that she can heal not only his physical wounds, but also the darkness brought by his powers. But if letting her in means putting her in danger, Garrett may have to keep his distance to keep her safe.
As always to Daniel, my super hero and cohort.
Table of Contents
Dark glass shot out from Garrett Blackwell’s palms as he ran down the alley behind his apartment building. The college student from 4A screamed at the top of her lungs, grappling with the man in the black ski mask who held her by the throat. Garrett’s shards of glass struck true as they bloodied the assailant’s hands, giving the girl a quick second of release.
“Run,” he yelled to her, but she was already sprinting down the narrow road without looking back.
“You son of a bitch.” The girl’s attacker shook his bloody hands in front of him, splattering crimson against the brown brick walls.
“Truer words were never spoken,” Garrett said.
Drawing from the darkness around him and in the man opposite him, he mentally called up a long, double-edged blade into his right hand. A black tribal tattoo from his right biceps slithered down his arm, wrapped around his wrist, and pooled in his palm, materializing as a dagger. He readjusted his shoulders to soothe the crawling sensation as the tattoo did what he’d asked of it. The blade shone midnight-black in the dim light of the quarter moon above them.
The perpetrator started to back away before Garrett had fully gripped the dagger. “Oh no, you’re not getting away that easily,” he said.
Garrett launched himself toward the man, and felt a surge of satisfaction as the dagger sliced through the man’s arm. His blood slicked the blade and was absorbed into it within seconds. The man feinted to the right, then lunged to the left. They had reached the end of the alleyway, where bright streetlights gleamed against the night sky, chasing away the shadows that fueled Garrett’s power.
A car came careening around the corner and glanced off the man in the tattered ski mask. He went down, but was back up faster than Garrett would have anticipated. He ran into the middle of the street, loping painfully and cradling his arm against his side.
Before Garrett could follow him and finish this thing, the same car screeched to a halt and the man jumped in, shouting obscenities while the car zoomed off in a heartbeat.
Leaning against the brick building, Garrett dragged in a deep breath and absorbed the dagger back into his body, his tattoos reforming around his biceps. Later, he would need to find the shards of glass he’d sent shooting into the assailant’s hands. He could live without them, but he didn’t like to leave pieces of himself lying around. There would be enough fallout from this brawl without the added complication of making a trip to Lissa for a new tat.
He dug his fingers into the bricks, trying to ground himself so he could find the strength to fight the darkness swirling through his blood. His head swam with nausea and his knees almost gave out. Somehow he had to get back upstairs so he could detox. Right about now, he wished he could fly like the mythical Superman. He’d take Kryptonite over the purging any day.
Each step was painful, though no one would be able to tell from his outward appearance. He might look slightly drunk to the casual observer, his dark hair tousled, his T-shirt untucked from his worn jeans, but that suited his purpose. Hopefully it would keep his neighbors from being too nosy.
He made it to the third landing without coming across anyone. Staggering down the hallway, he only hoped he could make the last three steps without attracting notice.
This was not his night, though, in more ways than one. He snapped to his full height a breath before 3A’s door opened.
“Hey, Garrett,” his next-door neighbor said. “I’ve been working on a new recipe. Have you had dinner yet?”
He stifled a groan, not knowing whether it was from the unwelcome promise of another meal cooked by someone who shouldn’t even have a kitchen, or from the pain coursing through his body as the darkness sank deeper into his cells.
“Hi, Dory. Thanks for the offer, but I already ate.” The urge to bolt into his apartment was nearly overwhelming. But running from Dory was not going to do him any good. He’d realized the hard way that the more fodder you gave people for speculation, the more questions they tended to ask.
“Well, I’ll just bring some over in a container then. I’ve been trying out some new spices and I think you’ll like it.”
If only she knew how her wild concoctions never sat well with him. Maybe he was a bland-food kind of guy and she a woman of differing tastes. But after he’d eaten—or attempted to eat—the first meal she’d brought over, he hadn’t known how to turn down the many offers that followed.
He laughed because she was expecting it. “Sounds like a crowd pleaser. But you don’t need to send any over, I have plenty of food in my refrigerator.”
Her smile fell quickly into a frown. “You’ve liked everything else I’ve brought over, and this stew is supposed to freeze well. I bet you have plenty of room in your freezer.”
Yeah, right next everything else she’d brought him over the past two months—things he couldn’t stomach but would have felt rotten about throwing away. “Not a lot of room in there, either. Why don’t you freeze it for yourself?” The pain was racing throughout his entire body, making his vision narrow to near pinpricks. He had to get into his apartment soon or the darkness inside would burst out. “I have to go. I’ll see you later.”
“You need to eat something more nourishing than that fast food I see you carrying home all the time,” she said with a smile.
Dory and her cooking were going to be the death of him. He clenched his fist against the door frame. When her gaze flew between his clenched hand and his face, he immediately opened his hand and drummed his fingers against the wood. “You know what, go ahead and bring some over in about an hour. I need to take a shower and decompress from work, but then I’m sure I’ll be ready for some stew.” He tried hard not to gag on the words and was rewarded with an even brighter smile.
She tucked a strand of honey-colored hair behind her ear, glancing up at him through the lenses of her rectangular glasses. “If you’re sure.”
“Absolutely. Now I really have to go so I can wash this grime off. See you in an hour.” She had the classic look of the good girl next door. If he had been anyone but the worst guy in the neighborhood, he might have entertained thoughts of pursuing her. But he would never taint anyone with all that he was and would always be.
“Okay, Garrett, bye,” she said, waving as she popped back into her apartment. He waved back and then stepped inside his own door, collapsing against it with an exhale that sounded more like choking.
He crawled up the secret staircase he’d built into the coat closet and climbed out onto the floor in apartment 4B. No one knew he owned this apartment, as well. He preferred to keep it that way. After a few deep breaths, he dragged himself over to the custom-made wooden chair that resembled an electric chair from old prison movies. He fought the urge to kill, maim, wreak havoc on this world he had spent the past eighteen years protecting. As he strapped himself in, his thoughts flashed to tearing out Dory’s throat, slicing up the college student he’d just saved and bathing in their fear and horror. He prepared to purge the darkness that was fast taking over his soul. Again.
* * *
Precisely an hour later, Dory Miller straightened her top and smoothed a hand down her pants. She hadn’t changed from work yet, but that was okay. She would much rather have Garrett see her pressed and presentable from work than in her comfy sweats that had lost all elasticity about two years ago. Impressions were everything to her now that she had turned her life around.
Her stew would warm him after the long day he’d put in at work on the construction site downtown. He’d looked more worn out than usual, and it definitely wasn’t like him to pass up a meal. Her own work had been stressful lately, and the more stressed she was, the more she cooked. After only recently discovering the joys of cooking, she’d realized that most recipes were geared toward feeding multiple people. Though she took food to almost everyone in the building, she got the most satisfaction out of feeding her very hot neighbor.
Raising a hand to knock on his door, she first used it to pat the French twist she’d fixed before coming over. She’d see him for only a minute when he opened the door to thank her for her offering, but it wouldn’t do to be sloppy. Besides, he was just about the hottest man she had ever come across, not to mention that he positively radiated with the need for someone to take care of him. She might not be that person, but she would do until someone else came along.
The sound of a heavy tread echoed through his apartment. Thank goodness she had a hot bowl in her hands or she would have started fidgeting.
He opened the door, wearing fresh jeans that still looked worn and a different T-shirt—this one bright white. His hair was wet, as though he had just stepped out of the shower. An image of him in a towel flashed through her poor brain, making her almost bobble the bowl of stew.
“He-here…here you go, Garrett,” she managed to stutter.
“Thanks.” He took the bowl, blocking her view of his apartment with his body, his forearm leaning against the top of the door frame. She knew better than to try to sneak a peek around him. She’d done that once, and he’d almost immediately excused himself. It hadn’t been worth losing the extra minute of his company.
“I heated it back up for you. It’s a pretty cold night out there, so I figured this might help warm you up.” Now that the bowl was out of her hands, she did start fidgeting. She wrapped her hands around each other, then knotted them at her waist.
“Thanks. It smells delicious. I’m sure it will go down fine.”
“Okay.” She frantically searched her mind for something more to talk about. They weren’t exactly friends, but she didn’t feel like he was just marking time by talking to her. He always had a kind word for her. She knew little about his past, but there was an aura about him that said he was rebuilding himself, too.
“Um, did you hear anything about those two muggings in the neighborhood?” she asked. “I heard they were both women from the building. One was a single mother and the other a stripper. They had nothing in common besides living here, the paper said, but they were both okay when the guy ran off without getting anything from them. I thought this was a safe neighborhood. That’s why I moved here.” She clamped her mouth shut. His hunter-green eyes were getting darker and darker with every word she uttered. She knew she was saying too much, but she tended to have diarrhea of the mouth when she was nervous.
“Yeah, be careful out there.”
“You don’t think the guy would come back to the same place again after being thwarted twice, do you? At least I get home every day by four, so there’s not much chance I’ll be caught out after dark. But still, I don’t like feeling trapped, and it’s getting dark earlier and earlier now that winter’s on its way.”
Shut up, Dory!
“If you’re out after dark, just make sure you have someone with you, okay? I should go eat this before it gets cold. I’ll see you later. Thank you.” He closed the door before she could squeak out another word, sending her back to her apartment with a flutter in her stomach and one near her heart.
Interacting with Garrett always made her fluttery. She knew she was not the kind of person he would see as more than a neighbor, but that was okay. She was just testing out her romantic wings after years of ugliness. She was a plain mouse to Garrett’s magnificent hawk, so he was safe to be dreamy over. And dreaming was all she would do. For now that made her content.
The stew came back to haunt him at two o’clock in the morning. Garrett had given in and taken a bite of the stuff, hoping he’d like it enough to give Dory a genuine compliment about her food. No dice. Next time she caught him out in the hall, he’d have to lie about how much he liked the stew. He couldn’t imagine that she really was a terrible cook. She ate her own food, after all. It was probably just his palate. He hoped so, or she might just be poisoning herself every day.