You’d be really hot if you’d just lose some weight.
My fingers curled around my car keys as I stormed out of the bar and into the thick, muggy air of July. The jagged edges dug into my palm as I resisted the urge to walk back and shove the keys into one of the jackass’s over-inflated muscles.
From the moment Rick asked me out, I knew the date was going to be a bad idea.
The second I’d stepped foot on the elliptical at the gym that was a part of the Lima Academy, I’d seen Rick buzzing from one chick to the next, wearing his nylon sweats and babyGap shirt, so tight I always expected it to burst at any given moment. I hadn’t even realized he worked for Lima Academy until tonight, employed in their sales and marketing department, and I felt like I knew everything about him because that was all Rick did.
He talked about himself.
God, why did I even agree to go out with him? Was I that lonely and sad? The clicking of my heels across the sidewalk was my only answer. Parking in the city on a Friday night was ridiculous. It was going to take a year to get to my car.
You’d be really hot if you’d just lose some weight.
My lips thinned. I couldn’t believe he actually said that to me, like it was a compliment. What in the actual hell? It wasn’t like I didn’t know I could stand to lose a few pounds or thirty, but in my twenty-eight years of life, I had long accepted that I would never, in the history of ever, have a thigh gap, my butt would always have strange dimples in it, and no amount of sit-ups were going to counterbalance my love of cupcakes.
Deep down, I knew why I agreed to go out with him. I hadn’t been on a successful date in two years, and my last serious relationship had evoked the “to death do us part” clause.
I was twenty-eight.
A twenty-eight-year-old widow who needed to lose weight.
Sighing, I turned the corner as I reached up, tucking my hair back from my face. A fine sheen of sweat dotted my brow. I stuck close to the edge of the sidewalk, walking under the street lamps and staying away from the dark shadows that bled out from the numerous alleys. I could see my car up ahead, at the end of the silent block. It was early for a Friday night, but I was going to go home, crack open that can of BBQ Pringles that had been calling my name all evening, and forget about Rick while diving into the latest Lara Adrian romance.
Why couldn’t alpha vampires with a heart of gold be real?
A sudden pained grunt snagged my attention as I was halfway to my car. Instinct flared alive, a burning fire in my gut urging me to keep walking, but I looked to my right. I couldn’t help it. My head turned on its own accord, a reflex, and I stumbled.
Horror seized me, freezing my muscles and shooting darts of ice through my blood. Terror slowed time, throwing the scene into stark detail.
Dull yellow light formed a halo over the three men in the alley. One stood further back from the other two. His hair bleached blond and greasy, sticking up all over his head. He had a scar. A thin slice across his cheek, paler than his skin. Another man was leaning against the brick wall of the building, crowding the alley. I couldn’t make out his features, because his head was hanging from his shoulders, and he appeared barely able to stand, obviously injured. The other man, his head completely shaven, stood directly in front of the injured man, and even though I only saw his profile, it was a face I’d never forget.
Hatred bled into every line of the man’s face, from the dark slash of brows and squinty eyes, to the hooked nose and distorted, curled upper lip. He was a big guy. Tall. Broad in the shoulders. He wore a white tank top, and as my gaze tracked down his arm, I could tell his skin was shadowed with markings. A tattoo. But I wasn’t thinking about the tattoo when I saw what he held in his hand.
The bald man was pointing a gun at the injured man!
Instinct was screaming like a five-alarm fire. Run. Get away. There’s a gun! Go. But I couldn’t move, torn between shocked disbelief and some inherent, possibly suicidal urge to do the right thing, to intervene and to—
A small light burst and thunder cracked overhead. The injured man crumbled as if some grand puppeteer had cut his strings. He hit the ground with a fleshy smack, and for a moment, all I could hear was my heart beating fiercely, pushing blood through my veins.
That popping snap wasn’t thunder. The burst of light was a spark.
Reality slammed into me as I stared at the fallen man in the alley. A dark puddle formed, spreading from where he lay face first on the dirty pavement. My heart seized in my chest as I opened my mouth, dragging in air.
No. No way.
The man with the scar was talking to the one with the gun, his voice an excited, high-pitched squeal, but I was beyond hearing the exact words. My hand spasmed, and the keys slipped from my grasp. They clattered off the sidewalk, as loud as me trying to run on a treadmill.
Bald man’s head swung sharply in my direction, and if I had felt like time had slowed before, it stopped right then. Our gazes locked, and in an instant, a horrifying connection was formed. He saw me. I saw him.
I saw him shoot someone in the face.
And this man, this killer, knew that.
His arm started to lift. All my muscles reacted and unlocked at the same moment. Pulse pounding, I spun around and started running back toward the bar, my lungs burning as a scream tore out from me, a sound I was sure even in my darkest moments, I’d never made before.
Brick exploded to my left, showering wickedly sharp chunks into the air. Flashes of pain erupted along my cheek, and I stumbled. The heel on my shoe snapped and slipped off, but I kept running, leaving the shoe behind.
I needed to find someone. I needed to call for help. I needed—
Rounding the block, I slammed into someone. A startled scream was cut off as I bounced back. There was a grunt, and I felt a hand grasping for my arm, but it was too late. I went down, landing hard on my side. A flash of pain jarred my bones, knocking the air out of my lungs.
“Holy shit,” a male voice boomed above me. “Are you okay?”
I gulped and wheezed air as I flopped onto my front as I heard a woman say, “Of course she’s not okay, Jon. She kamikazed into you!”
Lifting my head, I peered through the hair that had fallen into my face. I saw them—the one with the scar and the bald man, the cold-blooded murderer, running away, down the sidewalk, beyond where my car was parked. I watched them until they disappeared.
“Miss?” the man asked. “Miss, are you okay?”
Hands shaking, I pushed up onto my knees. The whole world took on a startling clarity. Cars driving by sounded like airplanes. Nearby doors closing sounded as if they were being repeatedly slammed, and my own heart was beating like a steel drum.