The Beautiful Ashes Page 2

I paused. Had I? I didn\ remember getting away from Mrs. Paulson. What if I\d done something else I didn\ remember? Maybe something that had scared her so much, she\d hit me in self-defense? The idea that I might be having blackouts in addition to hallucinations soured my already bleak mood. I got out of the car and went to my hotel room. Once inside, I dropped my purse as though it were a fifty-pound anchor, then flicked on the light.

Everything in me stiffened. The couch should\ve been empty, but a guy with hair the color of dark honey sat there, his large frame taking up most of the space. Strong brows, a straight nose, high cheekbones and a sensual mouth made up a face that was striking enough to adorn billboards. He didn\ look startled by my appearance, either. In fact, if I didn\ know better, I\d swear he\d been expecting me.

Gorgeous guys do not spend their evenings waiting around for me. That\s why I thought he was another hallucination until he spoke. My hallucinations had never spoken to me before.

’’Hi,’’ the stranger said, his deep voice tinged with an accent I couldn\ place. ’’Sorry to tell you, but you\ e about to have a really bad night.’’

I knew I should turn around, open the door and run, preferably while screaming. That was the only logical response, but I stood there, somehow unafraid of my intruder. Great. My survival instincts must\ve secretly made a suicide pact.

’’If you knew the week I\d had, you\d realize that whatever you had planned could only make it better,’’ I heard myself reply, proving my vocal cords were in on the death wish.

Then again, I wasn\ wrong. My sister? Missing without a trace after texting me ’’help’’ and ’’trapped!’’ last Monday. Parents? Died in a car accident two days after they arrived in Bennington trying to retrace Jasmine\s steps. Me? In addition to losing my whole family, I\d nearly gotten my head bashed in. By comparison, being robbed sounded like a vacation.

A grin cocked the side of my intruder\s mouth. Whatever response he\d been expecting, it hadn\ been that.

’’If I win? Probably. If I lose, things are about to get much, much worse,’’ he assured me.

’’What\s the contest?’’ I asked, wondering why I was having a conversation with my intruder. Brain damage from the head wound?

He rose. Despite my baffling lack of fear, I flinched as he came nearer. He had to be a foot taller than my five-six height, with shoulders that would fill a door frame and muscles no bulky overcoat could hide. The only thing more striking was his eyes: a deep blue rimmed with gray so light, it almost gleamed.

’’The contest is to see who walks out of here with you,’’ he replied, that silver-and-sapphire gaze sliding over me.

’’What if I don\ want to go anywhere?’’ I countered.

’’It\s too late for that,’’ he said softly, reaching out and drawing my attention to the fact that he wore leather gloves.

I darted away. For some reason, I still wasn\ consumed with terror wake up, survival instincts! but I wasn\ about to let him grab me. He didn\ try to stop me as I ran past him into the bedroom. Then again, I realized with an inner groan, why would he? Now he stood between me and the room\s only door.

He came toward me, and my heart started to hammer. Why hadn\ I left when I had the chance? And why wasn\ I screaming for help right now?

Three hard raps on the door startled me. Then I couldn\ believe it when I recognized the voice.

’’Miss Jenkins, could you let me in? It\s Detective Kroger. We met this morning at the police station.’’

A cop when I needed one? Miracles did happen!

To my shock, my intruder turned around and opened the door. The two men stared at each other, and though the intruder had his back to me, I saw Detective Kroger size him up.

’’He broke into my room,’’ I said, making a ’’do something’’ gesture.

Kroger\s brow went up. ’’Is that so, mister?’’

’’Guess you\d better take me in,’’ my intruder drawled.

I expected Kroger to reach for his handcuffs. Instead, he came inside, shut the door, and turned off the lights.

’’What are you doing?’’ I gasped.

’’Move over to the couch,’’ Kroger said, and I didn\ know if he was talking to me or my enigmatic intruder.

I wasn\ going to remain in the dark to find out. I felt around the bedroom until I reached the nightstand, then turned on the lamp. Light flooded the room, showing that my intruder was still in the mini lounge area with Kroger. In fact, it didn\ look like either man had moved an inch. What was going on?

’’Why aren\ you arresting me, Detective?’’ the intruder asked in his silky, accented voice.

’’Good question,’’ I added.

’’Shut up, bitch,’’ Kroger said harshly.

My jaw dropped. Before I could respond, Kroger\s fist shot out, punching the bigger man in the shoulder. Then he frowned, as if surprised that it had no effect. The intruder caught Kroger\s fist when he swung at him again.

Kroger stared, disbelief creasing his features as he tried to yank free and couldn\ . Then, understanding seemed to dawn.

’’You must be Adrian,’’ Kroger spat.

’’In the flesh,’’ my intruder responded lightly.

I was about to ask what the hell was going on when shots rang out. I dropped down right as one of the men hurtled toward me, too fast to see who. I managed to leap away without getting flattened, though I took out the nightstand in my wild lunge.


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