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Excerpt for No Faerie Tale Love by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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No Faerie Tale Love

By Mercedes Jade

Copyright 2018 Mercedes Jade

Smashwords Edition


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Endnotes

Falling Into Faerie After Excerpt

Chapter 1:

It happened on Friday.

The roller rink had no single cohort it served, making up for declining interests by offering something for everybody. There were the fifties and sixties nights that had now morphed into the seventies and eighties nights as the age of the skaters made a broken hip and lawsuit a bigger concern. Ladies night and rock party were popular and the under eighteen crowd owned the Saturday night dance fever that was more modern than it sounded, mostly tweens and pop blasting from an updated speaker system.

Fridays were left for freaks like me.

The rink played what they generously termed variety music that was supposed to reflect all comers but was mostly top forty with the odd top ten oldies thrown in from a decade or two in the past. People usually had somewhere better to be on a Friday, so the rink didn’t try too hard. I enjoyed the relative solitude.

Although I would rather listen to metal or rock than the latest pop group, I didn’t come here for the music. Once I had my skates on and pushed off onto the rubber floor, I could glide mindlessly amongst the rest of the misfits that didn’t suit the other theme nights. No one tried to talk to me or asked to hold my hand for a couple’s skate.

If the odd rock song I liked came on and I really got into it, then I could veer into the center and do a couple spins or backward crossovers until the rink referee came over and hollered at me to skate in an orderly fashion. He was a grumpy ass that thought anything more than putting one skate in front of the other was fancy tricks.

Nothing was the same as skating.

I had a car, had bought it myself last year and called her Baby, but it was used and the Civic needed to save its miles for getting me around town instead of going for a long drive to relax. I loved to read and did it voraciously, sometimes downloading books only based on intriguing titles and staying up to read until three AM because I’d been drawn in by a new author that kept my attention for a few hours. That kind of distraction while pleasant lacked the lasting power of physical exertion, the hard pounding my muscles needed. Running might come close, but gyms had become the new social meeting place and streets were crowded with cars and people walking all sorts of dogs and wanting to tell you about the last cute thing their darling pet did for your entertainment.

I felt bad for the dogs leashed to their yapping owners.

Skating on freaky Friday was my salvation. Not that I was religious, but I’m sure the zoning I achieved spinning wheelies with my red roller skates was as good as whatever prayer or new age meditation did for other people.

Naturally, I didn’t respond well to anything that interfered with this weekly enjoyment. I might be a tad fractious on purpose, speaking as little as necessary and downright curt if need be to discourage any conversation longer than asking me about a coat check. It wasn’t them, it was me.

At my job, I worked alone in the clean room in the middle of the night to avoid my colleagues, although I’m sure my boss prefers it that way as well as technically he shouldn’t be letting a high school dropout in his Ph.D. lab. I even ordered my groceries online and picked them up at Walmart, parking Baby in the spot intended for busy mothers but that was also perfect for agoraphobics.

People mistook me as shy, even mentally disordered at the Walmart when I refused to lower my window fully to talk to the delivery clerk. Whatever. His cologne had been overwhelming, even if that hadn’t been why I was avoiding him. Habits were hard to break.

No eye contact was rule number one. I won’t smile and thank you for opening the door. I don’t want to know how you are doing. Please, let me walk past you with my hoodie pulled up or quietly stand alone in line looking at trashy magazine covers and chocolate bars as you talk to anyone else.

Most people look around me, don’t even notice as I go about the everyday errands I can’t avoid. I keep my appearance very average, no makeup, medium length, black hair with a few natural waves that I bind in a simple ponytail and have cut straight across every twelve weeks, framing washed-out, pale skin and a sprinkling of freckles -pretty much everywhere- that make me look a bit younger than twenty-one.

I wear jeans every single day. The dresses in my closet are so old that I’ve outgrown the hemlines, but mom bought them for me, so I’ll never throw them out. I mostly topped the jeans with t-shirts almost as old as I was, and I had a hoodie collection for when I had to go out. Nothing pierced or tattooed, and I didn’t dress all in black like a little goth reject, mainly because that would draw attention. All black certainly was easier to coordinate.

He looked at me. Alarm bells should have gone off.

Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters was a surprise offering from the booming speakers. If the rink was going to play Metallica, then the expected song would be more Sandman. I had been sitting on one of the benches to loosen my laces. They were new, and I had accidentally gotten the waxed kind that gripped like, well, wax.

He sat down beside me. In retrospect, he still had his street shoes on, which was strange for the middle of a four-hour skate. The rink didn’t give refunds or discounts.

I hadn’t startled, more intent on getting the circulation back into my foot than the other freaks taking a break on the benches. It wasn’t like I owned the area in a five-foot radius around me, no matter how I wished it.

I think he tried to talk to me. He was quiet, and Metallica was on and they are never played on a Friday night. I had to fight back a smile of happy pleasure at hearing the slow, building intro that could be misinterpreted if someone else saw me grinning, hurrying to fix my skates until one of the girls in a group that sat next to me squealed.

“Couple’s song,” tween one announced.

I gritted my teeth, half smile forgotten. This was not a couple’s dance. They didn’t play them on Fridays and the tweens were clearly here on the wrong night.

“Ask him. Ask him!” shouted tween girls two and three, in high-pitched unison.

“Excuse me,” said tween girl four. Her sickly-sweet voice was the most poisonous of all to my ears. “Do you want to couple skate with my friend?”

She had shouted over me to the guy on the other side, who’s shoed feet hadn’t been noticed yet. We weren’t together or anything, but it still was rude. Oh, she could embarrass her friend all she wanted to try to score her a dance, but couldn’t she wait until I was gone, so I didn’t have to be in the middle of it?

I’d been on a crowded subway once when a man and women came in arguing and then sat down on either side of me and continued to make snide remarks. I had cranked the music on my earphones so loud that the couple had to start shouting again, clearly not getting a clue. I could tell that tween girl number four was going to be just as clueless.

Giving my laces a final yank and my numb toes a wiggle, I got up. There was a wall of male in my face.

Damn.

He was tall enough that I could totally avoid eye contact and talk to his chest. The words were pulled out of me like rusty nails. I’d have to get a drink after this skate.

“Move.” The chest stayed immobile. “Now,” I added, saying my magic word.

His shirt was unbleached cotton with simple, wood buttons and hand-stitching clearly visible, probably some anti-designer, organic-cotton chic that people forked the big bucks over to replicate a third-world peasant look. He’s obviously been too cheap to buy the bigger size his chest needed.

“Eloden,” rumbled the chest.

Did he not speak English? His voice was deeply accented. I remembered how frustrated Ms. Chang had been trying to get her superintendent to fix the leaking tap in her bathroom. She only spoke Cantonese with a few terrible words of English. The leak had been minor, but the drip-drip-drip noise had been driving her daughter, Ai Lung, crazy as she grimaced and grunted on the bed. I had to get a wrench and Googled the faucet fix myself because her prick of a superintendent wasn’t only unilingual, he was prejudiced, too.

I felt a tiny sliver of doubt crack my frozen heart and looked up.

Brown eyes met my green ones and didn’t let go. Hair as black as my own hung in loose, thick waves to his shoulders that should have made him look feminine, but the five o’clock shadow gave maturity to his strong jawline and left no doubt to his masculinity. Dark, thick brows slashed down dramatically to draw attention to his eyes and the merriment that he couldn’t hide, tanned skin showing paler lines that crinkled around his eyes from a genuine smile that was repeated often enough to leave its mark on him.

He was the hot, young professor all the girls wanted to meet after school to discuss their year-end paper alone in his office, especially if you added glasses. Those soulful eyes really needed some shielding. Clark Kent knew to keep dangerous weapons like that locked up.

“He’s going to skate with the goth, Jen. Let’s find someone who’s not into anorexic, death chicks,” wrong-night, tween girl number one said, breaking my stare. My plump derriere didn’t care about some jealous girl’s comment about my state of health. She hadn’t seen someone dying, but I knew it too well.

I blinked as I lowered my head. Two rules were broken in under thirty seconds. Our eyes met and there was a smile. He’d even spoken something to me, which I could only presume was his name. I didn’t care if he came here right off the boat. This was way too dangerous for me. He could find some other sympathetic soul to appreciate his deep, chocolate eyes while communicating with hand signs.

Using some fancy moves the referee would whistle if I was on the floor, I tried to back up and turn to get myself to the closest no-male zone. The ladies room was a straight shot down my right.

Eloden stopped me and not by grabbing. He spoke again, still heavily accented but I understood him, freezing halfway through my escape maneuvers and foolishly catching my skate on the side of a back wheel.

“Eve, are you ok?” he said, repeating my name as he caught me before I hit the floor.

I head-butted him. He was staring down at me with concern and I was trapped in his arms. It was either fight and flight, or I fainted. If you knew me, my choice was a no-brainer.

He smiled at me again with a big, stupid, red mark on his forehead that I’m sure matched mine, and his grip tightened. “Sweetheart?” he asked, accented but deep voice carrying.

My ears heated with embarrassment. Everyone was staring at us and I’m sure all the wrong night tweens girl clique were pointing and laughing. This would be a nightmare if only I was completely naked and trying to do some sort of public speaking, but unfortunately, this was all too real. I was the center of attention and bombing it.

Eloden stared at my red ears, which only made them tingle and heat more. His hair blocked out the rest of the rink like a dark curtain as he bent over me, lips inches from my own. I tried to wiggle out of his grip, but my roller skates kept sliding without purchase at the awkward angle, his hands clamped on my ribs like a vice on my torso. He wasn’t quite hurting me, just short of squeezing too tight, but there was no way I would suddenly drop to the ground. It should have made me feel safe, may have even looked romantic to others that had witnessed his quick rescue as I had fallen.

Only I knew it was really a trap.

“Try to kiss me and I will chew your face off like a rabid chihuahua,” I threatened him in my best get lost and die voice.

He definitely understood English, hesitating to close those last crucial inches.

“You don’t look canine,” he said, sounding puzzled like he made some sort of translation error or misheard me.

“Arf. Arf,” I barked at him. May as well. I had been completely humiliated anyway.

He looked more confused.

So much for the hot professor. His lack of sparkling conversation was dropping him to the high-school phys-ed teacher and rapidly plummeting.

“Your ears are showing,” he whispered, reaching out to touch one. Then, he said something much too pretty to be English and my one ear cooled down.

A loud, intrusive whistle interrupted our touchy-feely moment. I had never been so glad to hear that rule-nazi rink rat whistling me down for an infraction. Come and get me ref, send us to the penalty box, our corners, time out, whatever, but please, separate us.

I sighed in relief as Eloden straightened up, putting me back upright on my skates.

“You’re obstructing the aisle,” the referee complained. He bellied up beside us, his impressive girth doing its best to put some G-rated distance between our bodies and forcing Eloden to release me from his grasp.

“She slipped,” Eloden said in that lovely, accented baritone. I could appreciate it more now that he wasn’t imprisoning me.

I chose not to speak at all, examining the fluorescent orange stripe that clashed with the referee’s maroon leisure jacket with rolerz rule emblazoned on it.

“It’s hand holding only during a couple’s skate and no backward skating or tricks,” the referee said, wagging a finger at us.

“Tricks?” Eloden repeated, pitching the question a little higher. I looked away from the referee’s orange stripe to his limp mustache. “No tricks to see here,” Eloden said beside me, hand sneaking up to brush against my still warm ear closest to him. “Right love?” Eloden asked me, turning to pinch my ear and whisper the same pretty, not-English words as he had the first time into my flaming appendage. I doubt the referee heard him. The cool sensation repeated.

My whole body shivered. He had cold hands, big deal. There was no need to get freaked out. I had plenty of air to breathe and he was not smothering me with his presence.

My first instinct was to slap Eloden across the rink and tell him to could shove his sweetheart and love endearments where the rest of the shit goes while I made a hasty exit off the heated, crowded rink isle, but that would cause a massive scene. Rule number three was never cause a scene if you want to go there again. Keep the neuroticism to a minimum at the grocery store, the library, and the rink.

I twisted out of Eloden’s grip. “Gotta pee,” I announced, risking a fancy move to turn around and head towards the washroom. I ignored the referee’s shout to slow down. Not with tall, dark and mysterious behind me and my first-ever panic attack chasing my heels.

Squeals accompanied my wheels-smoking exit into the pit stop, which I mistook for fear of collision until I made out one of the glass-shattering screams to include a shocked, “Boy!”

Turning one-eighty on my abused skates, I met Eloden’s bewildered brown eyes and pointed to the bench outside the washroom.

“Out! Girls only!”

He smiled at me and waved.

I skated towards him and bravely gave him a push, two hands on his chest and the outraged feminine cavalry behind me. Newton’s second law of motion proved itself to be unchanged by the degree of feminine fury, Eloden’s solid mass not shifted much by my tinier mass as I collided with him. Also, if you hit something hard on skates, then you’re going to rebound.

Quick reflexes caught me again before I fell as I stumbled backward, skates hitting a loose floor tile. I screamed inside really, really loud.

Can you have a silent panic attack? Yes, you can.

“Falling into my arms again,” Eloden teased as I sucked air like a drowning victim.

We were going to get kicked out if the referee caught us embracing again after his warning. I did not want to get banned from skating. I needed to get this situation under control. No screaming, no punching and no using my skates to roll over Eloden like a freight train. Some people had their nicotine or caffeine habit and this place was my drug addiction.

I desperately grabbed onto Eloden’s arm to pull myself up, my fingers gripping something so hard it had no give. Nobody had literal rocks for muscles. At first, I thought I had grabbed a weapon in an arm sheath, and I dropped his bicep like a hot potato, but security guys were here on weekends, even if they were more fat than muscle at a third-rate gig like this. He couldn’t be carrying, right?

What about the kids present? Well, tweens that would resent being called kids, but still minors legally, and way too young to be exposed to weapons in what was supposed to be a safe place for them to play. Eloden was leaving sans his accessories if I had it my way. I started rubbing and patting down his upper arm again like a cat in heat, obsessively touching him to any witness, hissing when he dared to grab me back.

“Nice ladies don’t scratch,” Eloden said, ignoring my hissing to pick me up right off my sliding skates and throw me over his shoulder.

No fucking way he just pulled that Neanderthal move.

My bladder impacted on another hard lump near his neck in the weirdest necklace ever - what was it made of, a lump of steel - and I got an upside-down view through his short-sleeved shirt of a metal band above the large bulge of his biceps. The band was weird, but I didn’t see a weapon. I quickly took advantage of my position to finish my weapons frisking and coming up with nothing more other than Eloden was now a hot, Irish professor that cosplayed as a Celtic warrior, torc around his neck and bicep band part of his props.

Just another Friday night freak.

My choices ran through my mind with each step towards the exit. I could scream and shout, making a huge scene and hope that I didn’t end up with a lifetime ban like Eloden. The police would be called, and I might even have to go down to the precinct. I could let Eloden get us outside to the parking lot and past troublesome witnesses and then break free, running to my trusty Civic and escaping.

Could I drive with skates on? My keys were with my coat and checked anyway. So were my purse and the can of hairspray that could spot as mace in a pinch. It was more useful than the screamer my stepfather had got for my keyring when I moved out of home. The only thing in danger from the screamer was my eardrums if that stupid thing activated one more time while I dug around in my purse for my keys.

Like thinking about ear-shattering wails made him turn up, the referee’s whistle put a hitch in Eloden’s step. I looked up and got an eyeful of the ref dropping his orange whistle to finish zipping his pants as he came out of the men’s washroom. I bet he hadn’t taken the time to wash his hands, either. I didn’t care. My hero could consider his maroon jacket his cape if he got me out of this situation.

I pinched Eloden’s butt when he tried to keep walking, using my nice girl claws on him and what do you know, he stopped. He hissed like a cat, too. Men were such wimps.

The referee blew his whistle again about half a foot from us for no other reason I could determine other than he could since Eloden had frozen. I snidely wondered if he slept with the damn thing, tweeting his snores.

“There is no carrying, lifts or… putting anyone over your shoulder,” the referee said, running out of steam. Well, I’m sure I was the first shoulder carry he had seen in the arena. This wasn’t exactly an Olympic sport.

Eloden turned with me still in his arms so the referee got a face full of my ass. He dared pat me on it while he made some sort of soothing noise. “She’s not herself. I should take her home in case she becomes more indisposed,” Eloden explained.

“You could put someone’s eye out with her skates swinging around like that,” the referee said in the most asinine complaint ever about round wheels. I kicked my pokey skates around anyway. Maybe, I could at least break Eloden’s nose.

He smacked my ass. That was it.

I made an unmistakable retching sound, calling out, “I’m going to hurl,” in case my threat wasn’t clear. He wanted a sick girlfriend? I could deliver.

“Get her to the washroom, man. It’s carpet out here,” said the referee, sounding panicked. Did he have to do cleaning duties, too? I made more retching sounds, really getting into it. Good thing my stomach was cast iron.

Eloden complied with the referee’s request, but I could tell by his stomping gait that he wasn’t happy about it. We had been about ten feet from the exit.

Well, I still had my ass in the air, so we were both pissed off.

More female shouts accompanied our return. Eloden sighed, turned and lowered me to my skates. I coughed and retched right on his chest, hunching over like I was going to lose my supper on his feet. He didn’t back off like any normal person would in order to save themselves the disgusting mess, strong hands grabbing my upper arms to support me.

“Let go,” I hoarsely whispered to him. “I need a toilet,” I added, bravely pretending to hold back my vomit. “Please,” I said, letting misery bleed into my voice. I had enough crap in my life to be able to use the real pain to fake it.

Eloden bent over my hunched body and wrapped his arms around my back like he was giving me a hug or holding me up. His mouth whispered inches from my ear, “Liar.” He let me go with that declaration.

I didn’t dare raise my head and look him in the eyes even to spit another insult. Keeping a hand on my supposedly sick stomach, I skated hunched over into the ladies room, grateful when the other girls directed me to the bigger, accessible stall. I still locked their sympathetic gazes out before sitting on the toilet and making a few more realistic noises. I really wish I had gotten a drink earlier. My parched throat was burning with all this gagging.

Of course, there’s always somebody that won’t go about their own business and let me mind my own, and that somebody knocked on my stall after about five minutes.

“Are you okay?” Too Helpful asked.

I was going to hack up a lung if I kept fake gagging.

“Is he still out there?” I asked, knowing that Too Helpful had probably seen everything.

“He’s sitting on the bench by the guy's washroom,” she said. “Do you want me to tell him something?”

“No,” I quickly replied, letting the panic out. “Please, don’t. I can’t see him right now.” I let out a few choked sobs.

“I don’t think he’s going to wait much longer. He already asked two other girls about you,” she said. She must have been girl number three.

“I n-nev-never w-want to s-see h-him,” I sobbed out. I could barely understand myself stammering but Too Helpful must have practice.

“Do you want me to get you-”

“He cheated on me!” I shouted. “B-bas-bastard.”

Too Helpful gasped and gave me a moment of silent condemnation. It hadn’t even been a good swear word. Great, I had some stuck up, goody-two-shoes to convince to help me sneak out of here.

“Made m-me s-s-sick to my s-stom-stomach,” I whined, reverting to babble. “I w-was s-saving my-myself for mar-marriage,” I added, hoping I was right about Too Helpful also being a Miss Righteous.

“It’s a blessing you found out about his sinful tendencies before it was too late,” Miss Righteous said.

Bingo.

I sucked back another sob. “I guess you’re right,” I said. “I’m coming out,” I told her, unlocking the stall door. Miss Righteous was just as I pictured her, prim and proper, with ironed grey slacks and a sweater twinset. Her soft, brown eyes were wide in her face as she took in my red, tearstained face. I had done a good job pinching myself and the hands-free sink in the accessible stall had been a bonus.

“Do you want a tissue?” she asked me, offering a single piece of tissue from her purse pack. If I had a full on snotty nose and tears from a real break-up that little tissue would be completely inadequate, but it was fine for a fake break-up.

“Thanks,” I told her, then I met her eyes and smiled. It was that secret commiserating look every woman knew instinctively. Men were insensitive pigs, it said, but we ladies will get through their boorish behaviour if we stick together.

I blew my nose rather loudly. I didn’t want her to try to hug me to make me feel better. She settled for patting my shoulder lightly. I held it in. Slapping the poor sap, I was about to trick into helping me, wouldn’t be smart.

“Can you do me an itsy-bitsy favour?” I asked, pulling my coat check ticket from my pocket. I handed it to her before she could refuse. “If you could get my coat and purse, I won’t have to spend any more time around him then necessary. I can just leave and go home to, um, pray on what happened.”

She clasped the coat ticket like I’d given her manna bread. “I’ll be right back,” she told me, eager to get me home and praying. I had a suspicion I was going to get an invite to her church group or whatever before I left.

She was back within a few minutes. Most people stayed the whole four hours so there wouldn’t have been much of a lineup. I had used the time efficiently, calling and then finally texting my twin stepbrothers when they didn’t answer. They were eighteen and didn’t have a car of their own, but our parents both had cars, so usually, the boys could wheedle one of them into lending them a vehicle. It was the weekend, so I hadn’t bet on my brothers answering, but like the rest of our generation, our phones were like a fifth limb and they would respond to me eventually.

The text I had to think about for a minute to make sure it struck the right balance. I told them that the Civic was giving me trouble starting at the rink and I was outside and cold and alone in the dark, and I added a quick mention that I thought I saw something moving in the bushes, because it was Friday night and my call for help had to be more urgent than whatever else they were doing. It was typical bullshit that any sister knew would get her protective brothers running, even if they were three years younger than me, without alarming them unnecessarily enough that the parental units were notified. My little brothers were built as big as Eloden, in other words, tank size, and the sight of the two of them together should be enough to frighten off anyone bothering me.

I held my hands out eagerly to take my leather jacket from the dainty hands of Miss Righteous, overflowing with my boots, purse, and coat. The leather was comfy, soft and worn just right, a little thinner in the elbows so I could flex easier and tougher over the shoulders where I would want more protection from the heavy backpacks I carried most of the time. I pulled the zip-attached hoodie over my head, big enough to hang down my forehead almost to my eyebrows and shadowing the rest of my face to obscure my features. I felt more anonymous already.

Next, I pulled on the fingerless leather gloves that I absolutely loved for driving. Some people like to wrap leather around their cars on the steering wheels or seats, but I preferred it on my body. I had already taken off my skates, so I slipped my Star Wars socked feet into leather boots with a thick, chunky heel that gave me some desperately needed height. There were metal loops for fake buckles that did nothing to hide me but gave my walk a little jangle that I liked. It was too quiet for most people to notice except for me.

My new friend was looking at me like she realized she had opened the door to a trojan horse. It wasn’t enough to get me by Eloden yet. He had said my name, which I still don’t know how he knew me, but I had to do something more drastic. The old me needed an emergency makeover.

I picked up my purse, which is a glorified backpack with a single shoulder strap that was too sack-like to call a messenger bag and dumped the contents on the bathroom countertop. I sorted hairspray, mouse, lip gloss, a pressed powder compact, three shades of very red lipstick, all of them still wrapped in plastic, and a tube of black mascara. The rest I shoved back into my purse. I was a little embarrassed by my whore of Babylon lipstick habit. I would never wear it in public, but I couldn’t stop myself from buying the metallic twist tubes of sex in a stick.

Okay, I had two drugs of choice, skating and fire-engine red lipstick.

“Disguise,” I explained.

I lowered my hood and examined my pale, freckled face. Way too recognizable. I undid my ponytail and used a bit of mousse to scrunch my natural waves into curls. It took a lot of product and water but the riot of curly waves that could almost belong to an eighties movie was very different from my slightly wavy ponytail. Next, I opened a tube of lipstick and smeared it on my cheeks and then layered it thickly on my lips. I rubbed my cheeks and then powdered that down, pleased by the heavily made-up look. Not a freckle could be seen. The mascara I let gunk on without wiping the stick before applying. Miss Righteous had a comb when I asked, of course, so I used it to backcomb and tease the hair around my face, gluing it all in place with hairspray, which sputtered as I finished, almost empty.

I shook the can again with dismay. At least, it still looked like it could spot for mace.

I dug through my purse and found some grape-flavoured Bubblicious gum and stuck two whole, oversized pieces in my mouth, chewing to make a big wad I could pop and snap. I pulled out the screamer keys carefully and clipped them to the bag’s strap. I put the empty hair product cans in the bottle holder, stretching the elastic at the top of the open net pocket to hold them both. My red skates barely fit into the big sack part, popping out of the top a little as I pulled the ties to shut my purse as well as I could given I usually carried my skates, but they were too distinctive to leave out for my disguise to work. There was no room for anything else, so I swiped all the makeup into the trash bin, regretting the lipstick only. I promised myself I could go to the drug store and buy a new tube in the morning, like an alcoholic thinking about the bar’s opening time at last call.

“So, I’m ready,” I told Miss Righteous. She had guts, handing me a little white card with church and bible study group times in plain black font. There was an outlined dove surrounding all the text. At least it wasn’t a cutout. I took her card.

“Remember, all sin can be absolved in his eyes and with his hands. You need only ask for he loves us all the same,” she told me, obviously quoting, but I didn’t think directly from the bible. Probably her group leader or whatever guy she was crushing on that made her believe in narrow-minded views of women’s virginity. A hymen did not equal a marriage ring and it didn’t guarantee happiness in a consecrated union. Nobody’s hands were getting on me, not even blessed ones.

“I’m Jewish,” I told her, picking up my purse to throw over my shoulder. “I appreciate everything,” I said, and I gave her a rare smile, turning and walking out.

I didn’t look for Eloden on the benches. I used a trick I had learned from working convenience store jobs, checking the surveillance mirrors that had been set up in the rink to show blind corners to the referee and skaters. He wasn’t there. I walked around the center snack bar, bending down to check out the chocolate bars locked behind glass like packages of cigarettes, sneaking a real glance across to the empty benches. I had felt like a real detective dick for the first thirty seconds of my walk-out of the washroom, but now, I had to fight the panicked urge to spin around and find where Eloden was hiding.

Did he give up? The thought was a bit anticlimactic, but I reminded myself that boring was safe.

My phone buzzed. I pulled it out and saw one of the twins had gotten my message.

Matthew: OMW

Matthew: U r such a grl

Matthew: Lock the doors

I hated short form in text, but I knew this one well, OMW: on my way. Usually, the twins hung out together, but there was a chance it would only be the older one coming. Matthew was the softer one, more likely to give up a hot date if his sister needed him. I bought a Mars bar from the snack stand, hoping I could sweeten my brother’s temper when he found out the Civic was sputtering along just fine. He sounded worried by the end of his texts. Feeding his secret sweet tooth might help.

The door guard-slash-cashier gave me a second look as I hurried outside to get into my Civic before my brother arrived. The longer it took Matthew to figure out I lied, the better. It was too bad my other brother, Jackson, had shown me how to change a flat, the oil, windshield washer fluid and my wipers last summer. Would Matthew really believe I didn’t turn the key far enough, or I had left the lights on, but somebody else gave me a boost before he came?

“Eve?”

Crap. I had found Eloden.

Chapter 2:

The problem with leaving early during a four-hour skate? No traffic to fight because the parking lot was deserted, except for me and my stalker.

“Eve,” he called again, accent drawing it out like Ev-ah. There was no mistaking it was him despite our short acquaintance.

I pulled one of my fake cans of mace from the side pocket of my purse and shoved the Mars bar in to replace it. Holding the hairspray carefully like a live grenade, I swung the can to find my target with my right index on the trigger. My left hand covered the label, hopefully. I better be pointing the sprayer in the right direction.

“Eve.”

I slowly backed up towards the safety of the rink, blinking at the gloomy parking lot, but I still didn’t see him. They really needed to fix the broken lights out here for the sake of safety. I guess it wasn’t an issue until somebody got jumped. Don’t make me into a warning example, I thought, almost back onto the cobblestone entrance.

“Eve.”

My heart was still lodged in my throat, so I dry swallowed. Was there an echo out here? “Get bent,” I muttered, anyway.

“Eve.”

Eloden’s dark form slid out of a shadowed light post and in front of me as I swung my can back around. He strode toward me without caution, big, asphalt-eating strides quickly bringing him into sharper focus.

“I have mace that will melt your eyeballs, asshole, so back up,” I told Eloden in my threatening voice reserved for spiders that got into my apartment. The spiders always defied my eviction notice, too.

I heard a gasp. We were not alone.

I swung around with my mace because that gasp had been right behind me and was considered the enemy until proven otherwise.

“Do not disfigure Eloden for his offence,” begged the prettiest man I had ever seen. Seriously pretty. My can of hairspray may have dropped a little as I stared at him, gobsmacked.

Long, platinum hair hung halfway down his back, bouncing with more vitality than every shampoo commercial ever made as he swung his head to look between me and Eloden. That was a mane. His fine-boned features and slender nose would suit a model and gave him a metrosexual vibe that was accented by the three-quarter, black-wool dress coat and white turtleneck he wore like he came off the runway. His honeyed voice was still deep enough to be male, smooth but thickened with testosterone that edged him away from too pretty to be straight.

Not that I cared if he was gay, I reminded myself, shaking off the holy hotness batman trance. I didn’t even like long hair on a guy. I raised the hairspray back up at blinding range, wondering if it would give away the contents if I shook the can first.

“Back up,” I told Pretty and Eloden. I took a menacing step forward, swinging my can between the two of them in a hyper pendulum. It would take a miracle to hit guys this tall square in the face. They were cutting off my exits. My only choice was to hold them off until I got to Baby and locked myself in the relative safety of her aluminum and glass cage.

“Orin, maybe you should touch her,” said another voice, much deeper, from my left. “Skin-to-skin contact would be best,” he suggested as I wrenched my neck around to find my flanks were being closed in.

“The first one to touch me gets a kick in the nads while you’re scratching your eyes out,” I threatened, trying to fight the shaking in my hands.

I was surrounded. Two more tall blondes came out of the shadows. I must have walked right past them in my rush to get to the parking lot. They were nearly twins, a few inches difference in height between them and more muscular than pretty Orin. Neither was dressed appropriately for the cool evening, long-sleeved tunics that hung to mid-thigh and were belted at the waist with actual weapon belts. The taller one had a dagger and a sword on his belt, sheathed but very close to hand. The shorter one had a sword and another leather band wrapped diagonally across his right shoulder to his left hip, where I saw something peeking up over his shoulder that he had to be carrying on his back. I suspected arrows, possibly spotting a feathered end.

These freaks should be cosplaying at a convention. Why were they here harassing me and how did they know my name?

“Get back, or your eyes are all going to melt,” I reminded them, but none listened to my too often repeated threat.

I shook the damn can, so it wouldn’t sputter, and started spraying it wildly around, only to have it plucked out of my hands by another guy that appeared from behind me. He reached right over me and grabbed the can from my hands, throwing it away to the night. I went for the mousse, twisting from the newest, presumably tall, unseen threat.

“Falin, gentle!” warned the deepest voice yet, belonging to the can thief.

I found out who Falin was as I twisted myself right into the arms of the most delinquent looking thug of the bunch. He had pierced everything, eyebrows, nose and lip, all on the left side of his face, and both ears with half a dozen rings and studs each. I had no doubt there were other piercings covered by clothing. His black hair was shaved short at the sides and scruffy, loose curls with longish bangs that would look beach-boy normal if he didn’t also have shocking contacts in, drawing all the attention after his piercings, lizard green that looked over my made-up face with disgust.

I would have panicked if he wasn’t so obviously hesitant to hold me longer than necessary, recoiling so I bounced off his chest and was held at an arm’s length.

“She smells, Dain. We’ll have to bathe her first,” Falin insisted as he sniffed me from a distance, then slowly moved in. I tried to pull away from his steely grip.

He picked me right up off my feet as Eloden had with no effort at all. He sniffed closer and closer to my mouth until I could just lean forward and nip that lip ring of his and give it a punishing tug. I chewed my grape Bubblicious to soften it and stuck my tongue in the wad, starting the biggest bubble that was guaranteed to blow up right in the face sniffing me.

“Arrg!” came Falin’s aggrieved cry as he dropped me to my feet.

That had worked better than I hoped. He was going to be spending hours getting the purple gum out of his eyebrows, eyelashes, and piercings. Who needed hairspray-mace?

I was grabbed from behind before I could run. The hands that took me hostage swallowed my shoulders and pulled me hard against his chest, the back of my head slamming against his sternum so hard I saw stars. Forget Eloden’s bicep band, this guy’s entire chest was made of rock.

“That wasn’t nice, girl,” growled out a black as midnight voice. Dain and my can thief, I identified. “I’ll make you clean Falin off with your sassy mouth,” he threatened, hands tightening as Falin screamed his skin was melting.

Pretty Orin was hysterical, too, until he touched Falin, and then he told Falin to shut the hell up. The language coming out of that pretty boy’s mouth was enough to heat even my ears.

“It’s harmless foodstuff,” Orin declared to the group, pulling some gum off Falin’s cheek and licking it off his finger.

Okay, super gross. The drama queens could keep my Bubblicious. I didn’t want it back.

I took advantage of everyone’s distraction to grab for my can of mousse, finger brushing my keys instead. The screamer.

I pulled it before I could think myself out of it. All the noise we had made hadn’t gotten the attention of anyone in the area with the music pumping in the rink. Maybe, the ear-shattering shriek of an old-fashioned rape alarm would work better.

I had tensed before I pulled it but really there was no way to prepare yourself for the sheer volume and pitch of the alarm. Dain said something I was sure was as dirty as the back of a gas station toilet, but it wasn’t in English, so I ignored it, twisting hard at his shock-slackened grip. I’m sure he wanted to clap his hands over his ears. Fighting the instinct was almost overwhelming for me, and I had been the one to pull the alarm, knowing what to expect.

The rest of them, a whole gang of the most motley crew I’d ever seen outside of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, caved to the pressure to cover their ears. I kneed Dain and told him I wasn’t a nice girl, but I’m not sure he heard me. He felt me, though, clapping his hands over his groin instead of his ears.

I ran.

I used to run in elementary school. At first, it was because the teachers made everyone do it to encourage involvement in track and field because kids in elementary didn’t dream of doing boring sports like shot put. We had to try everything on track day and that’s when I found out I could run. The wind couldn’t have caught up until life tripped me.

Guess, it was like riding a bike.

I sprinted to my car. Big-heeled boots were not made for running but my legs compensated, getting as much bounce and rebound as I needed to fly. I fiddled with the snap-lock clasp of my keyring to get it off my purse strap, finally getting it when I had almost slammed into my car’s rear bumper. I hit the two-footed brakes, pivoting to the left in a move I knew my knee would pay for later, finding the door key for Baby by feel alone. I had the key in the slot already when two big hands slammed on either side of my head.

Dain’s dark voice sounded like it was out of a nightmare.

My key shook in the lock. The shaking only got harder when I heard more voices behind us telling Dain he couldn’t kill me. It was official. I was being jumped by some seriously bad dudes no matter how ridiculous they dressed. Where the hell was Matthew?

“I’m sorry,” I told my reflection in the driver’s window. The pissed off visage of Dain over my shoulder was so black it looked like a demon in the tinted windows. I hadn’t gotten a good look at him earlier in my rush to escape, but big, dark and dangerous seemed to cover it.

Fiery breath baked my ear from behind. “Turn off that infernal noise,” Dain demanded.

His hard body was pressed up so close behind me there wasn’t an inch between me and the car to maneuver. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and Dain was the rock.

“Need room, keyring, hands,” I said stating my wants. I could add air to that list if Dain didn’t back off.

Dain removed his hands from the car and grabbed my hips, pulling me with him as he took a few steps back to give me my requested space. This was not what I meant, but I figured I could give a little, and maybe the rock would relax his dominant posturing a bit. Dain didn’t need his lizard friend’s piercings to look like a badass, he had that down pat with the attitude he wrapped around his body like personal armour. If the whole gang of them had walked in the room, Dain would be the one you looked at first and the last one you would take your eyes off when they left.

The silence that followed when I disarmed the screamer was almost deafening. I could feel the pulse of the noise echoing in my head with each thump of my heart, my brain not yet accepting that I still had hearing.

Dain grabbed the disarmed keyring from my fingers like he had the hairspray grenade, reaching right over me and using his long arms and superior height. He tossed the keys to one of the blonde, lookalike brothers, which I hadn’t heard names for yet.

I was good at remembering names, especially if I had a face to go along with it. Not quite photographic memory, which was a myth, but close enough to count when my boss asked me to get a specific plate out of hundreds in the growth chambers. I kept good documentation, but the boss had stopped nagging me to take notes during processing and let me do it at the end of the shift, realizing I never forgot the details and could get things done faster, hence do more work for less pay.

The shorter blonde brother caught my keys and said something rough and likely foul. It wasn’t English, reminding me more of German, with a harsher cadence than Eloden. After he complained, he tossed my keys to someone to the right, like bullies tossing a toy over the shorter kid’s head.

I made a sound of protest. That was my only set of keys.

Eloden caught my keys with a grumble and told the prancing light fairies to wear gloves next time and speak English so as to not frighten me. The scared train had already left the station. I didn’t really get the insult, either. Maybe Eloden was implying they were gay? If so, I hoped they weren’t a couple because being stepsister to a pair of handsome twins made me sick and tired of all the twincest obsessions out there.

A jealous girlfriend of Jackson’s had even dared speculate on a threesome with me and my brothers since we weren’t technically blood-related. I had told Jackson his girlfriend wanted to suck Matthew’s dick and laughed when he stopped taking her calls. When Jackson found out from Matthew what really happened, I foolishly confessed to Matthew while puking up vodka and he held my hair off my face, Jackson threatened to find me a set of twins to date and explore my fantasies. Last time I tried to protect my brothers from horny girls. To be honest, at eighteen, my brothers probably don’t want my protection.

Dain’s lips on my skin cleared my thoughts of my brothers. What was he doing? Just like Falin, he sniffed me, right at the nape of my neck, making all the little hairs stand up with a shiver. I tried to squirm loose, but Dain walked me back up to the car door again, crowding me.

“I don’t know what your problem is,” I said, hissing the last word as Dain licked my neck. “I don’t know what the hell you all want with me, but my answer is no, “I yelled loud enough for the rest of them to hear.

“Quiet. Going to Mark you, bad girl,” Dain told me. I couldn’t complain about the nickname, I had been the one to tell him I wasn’t a nice girl, but the marking part was not happening.

“This is assault,” I gritted out, trying to elbow him. I stomped on his feet with my booted heels as hard as I could.

Eloden’s gentler voice interrupted before Dain could respond. “It’s too soon.”

Dain growled out something angry and flipped me around, so I could see the discontent all over his face. Honestly, I had been better off facing the car.

He was inhumanly monstrous. Logically, I knew men could grow that tall and filling out an oversized frame was simply a matter of eating as my brothers did for football, but my eyes and brain fought to accept this wasn’t the dark demon my fears had imagined in the car window. Miss Righteous would know exactly what I meant if I said Dain looked like Lucifer, not the red-hoofed demon in caricatures, but the seductive angel that represented sin and ruled his kingdom with an iron fist. His black hair was so dark it seemed to absorb all the light around him, thick strands hitting high, broad-bladed cheekbones that hinted at mixed ethnicity and shadowing the black eyes that matched. I reached up, mesmerized by the flash of yellow in his gaze as car lights shone through his bangs. Deep, golden brown then, I thought, fingers learning the feel of his rough jaw, not quite bearded but it had been days since it had seen a razor, the masculine prickle I’ve never felt before just enough to startle me as he leaned into my touch and I tried to shrink, pulling back.

I really did not need to move Dain’s hair out of his eyes. It was like he cast a spell to bedazzle me. I shook it off as he said something. It wasn’t English, so all I recognized was my name on his lips and the same, lyrical cadence Eloden used, but deeper.

The rest of the gang had gathered around my red Civic. Normally, my Baby didn’t feel small, especially compared to the smart cars and minis out there, but with all these big men surrounding me and Baby, I felt like the Civic was a toy. It was like standing at midfield and staring down the offensive line. They could probably bench my weight three times over.

I pulled the mousse from my purse and wrangled the cap off. The skinny can was a lot less threatening than the hairspray and the nozzle was obviously different, but it was dark out here. A couple cars pulled into the parking lot as I brought the mousse up to Dain’s face. He still wasn’t giving me much room, so it was a direct shot.

“You don’t want to do that, darling,” said one of the blonde brothers. I don’t think I heard his voice yet, so it must be the taller, younger looking one. He seemed the same age as the twins, making him less dangerous in my mind. Foolish, I knew, but I kept my finger on the trigger. All of them were close enough to grab me in an unguarded moment.

“No, sugar, but I will if I don’t get my keys back immediately,” I told him, adding the mocking endearment in retaliation.

The twins called me baby because I was so much smaller than them, although I was the oldest sibling. Jackson’s nickname was cuddlekins and Matthew ‘s nickname was sugarkins. They deserved the nicks even if they protested they were neither sweet nor cuddly. I was no baby. Like most arguments we had, it ended in stalemate.

“We just wanted to meet you, Eve,” explained Eloden, slipping my keys back into my hand that wasn’t threatening to style Dain a goatee. I didn’t need to look to know they had stolen the screamer, feeling the difference in the weight of my keyring.

“How do you know my name?” I bit out, taking my attention off Dain for one, little second to look at Eloden. That fast my mousse was plucked from my fingers. Damned light-fingered thief.

“Evie-baby? Are you okay?” called out Matthew’s voice as car doors slammed.

“Are those guys bothering you, Evie-baby?” called out Jackson.

Double damn. Jackson had come along as well. The second car must be a friend’s because I didn’t recognize the Hummer. Matthew had driven my mother’s Caravan. I tried peering around the wall of men to see more, starting with Dain.

“I’m fine,” I called out to my brothers before a bloodbath could be started. I never had trouble with guys, never brought anyone home before for the twins to torment. We all knew it was because I refused to date. Protective instincts I didn’t even know my brothers possessed until this moment seemed to come to the fore as they saw me surrounded. I had to do something fast.

So far, nobody had hurt me. Frighten, yes. Illegal assault that could possibly bring charges that would stick, not really. The best thing to do would be to walk away.

I put a hand on Dain’s chest, gently pressing as I asked, “Could you move, please.” I was so polite and sweet that my teeth ached.

Shockingly, the mountain shifted. It might have had something more to do with the younger blonde brother saying something to Dain in his harsh, Germanic accent.

Pretty Orin and freaky Falin parted ways like the Red Sea as I hurried to cut off my brothers before they got too good of a look at my so-called help. I wasn’t fast enough as Jackson had started counting. The twins were always good at math.

“How many guys does it take to fix a broken Civic, Matt?” Jackson asked.

“I dunno, Jack. Maybe one guy under the hood and five others to chat up our sister,” Matthew answered, sounding more aggressive than his usual demeanour. It was Jackson that got into all the fights.

A couple other guys followed behind Jackson, some of the twin’s football buddies that I recognized from homecoming. They must have been at a party together after the game. I’m surprised that Matthew hadn’t been with him, taking advantage of the opportunity to flirt with girls. He might not bring as many girlfriends home as Jackson, but that didn’t mean he was shy, quite the opposite. Matthew had a reputation as a ladies man. The twins were blonde, buff and had sweet brown eyes that made them the target of many broken hearts.

“Stop it, both of you,” I told the twins in my older sister voice, cutting off their path to my Civic and the motley gang.

“What are you wearing?” Jackson asked, snagging my chin to look at my excessively made-up face. I had totally forgotten my disguise, as useless as it had been. Matthew took advantage of my distraction to walk around me.

“It was a cosplay night,” I lied, shrugging off Jackson’s hand. I turned to catch Matthew. His long strides had almost reached my car, so I couldn’t stop him, but I did manage to get beside him as he came face-to-face with Eloden.

Thank goodness it wasn’t one of the others. I could see why they picked Eloden to approach me first. He was a smooth talker and looked normal until you got a handful of his biceps. I still thought his non-threatening façade would be improved by glasses, but perhaps it was only a female thing to get lost in his gaze.


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