The crack spread like a spiderweb, reaching every corner of the door. Beyond the glass, on the balcony was a shadow so dark it seemed to eclipse the sun.
The glass shattered, falling to the floor like tinkling wind chimes, and the shadow drifted inside the apartment.
Frost — mother-freaking frost— spread along the kitchen walls, a thin, icy coating.
The man let go of me.
Hitting the floor on my knees, I doubled over, dragging air into my bruised throat.
“Arum,” said the man.
I rolled onto my haunches, lifting my head as my lungs worked overtime to replenish the deprived cells. What I saw… oh God…it had to be a hallucination.
The shadow rushed the attacker, solidifying as it flew through my kitchen. It slammed into the guy with the force of a freight train, knocking him over the couch.
Scrabbling back against the wall, I lifted my gaze.
A cyclone of shadows swirled in place, revealing a form underneath with each vicious turn. Loose papers flew into the air.
The curtains covering the windows billowed. Cheap pictures rattled on the walls.
Underneath the black cloud, two legs, a torso, arms, and broad shoulders formed.
Everything in the room stopped. Papers fluttered to the floor like doves.
Curtains drifted back to the windows. The shadowy cyclone stilled, revealing a man.
My gasp shattered the silence.
Hunter stood where the shadow had been, a tall and imposing force. And he was smiling, a deadly smirk that said he welcomed a fight that he knew he would win.
The other man was on his feet, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.
The golden complexion of my attacker was now a ghastly white.
Terror filled those diamond-colored eyes.
“You really want to do this?”
Hunter’s deep, smooth voice rolled like thunder.
The man’s lips pulled back in a snarl, and I almost expected to see fangs protruding from his mouth. There weren’t any, but then the man flew at Hunter, his form blurring around the edges. His whole form flickered in and out like an old TV station losing reception.
Bright light flooded the room—it came from the man. He was still there, but…but he was made of light. A solid, humanoid form made of light.
Just like Mel had said, I thought dumbly. Like a walking, fucking light bulb.
Light Bulb reared his arm back.
Whitish-red light crackled and spit into the air, spinning down his arm.
I recognized the same action from the parking garage and I stopped thinking. Lurching to my feet, I grabbed the bat.
Everything happened so fast.
I flung the bat at Light Bulb with all my strength. It shot through the air like a dagger, flipping over and over.
Light Bulb’s head whipped in my direction.
Light Bulb lifted a hand, catching the bat, handle first. The metal smoked and then collapsed into itself, incinerating into ash.
“Shit,” I said, taking a step back.
He waved his hand, and I was off my feet before I could blink.
I sailed backward like a rag doll, smacking into the wall.
Pain sliced through me. I hit the floor, unable to break my fall.
I heard the two of them crashing into each other as oblivion washed over me. I fought to stay conscious, knowing that if Light Bulb could blow up cars, incinerate bats, and fling me across the room without touching me, there was a good chance Hunter would fall to him.
An image flashed among the disjointed thoughts that were colliding in my brain —my mom. I didn’t know why I saw her. Maybe it was because I had always thought of her as being the strongest person I’d known. Mom had hung on to life after the robbery.
She was a hell of a fighter.
I held on to that image of her as my fingers dug into the carpet. Aching deep in my bones, I pulled myself up, hurting all over.
Light Bulb and Hunter were still fighting, the latter delivering blows so fast that Light Bulb had a hard enough time just staying on his feet. They went at each other in a macabre dance; Light Bulb’s light blinding while Hunter, still looking like Hunter, casting deep, unforgiving shadows.
Spinning around, Hunter caught Light Bulb by the back of the neck and flipped him over his shoulder, pile driving him into the floor. Hunter was astride Light Bulb within a heartbeat.
Under him, Light Bulb’s form flickered and then the light faded, revealing the man. “Do it, you leech. But you can’t—”
Hunter gripped the man by the throat, forcing his head back.
“I’m not interested in last speeches. Time to kiss your ass good-bye, Lite- Brite.”
Then Hunter lowered his other hand to Glow Stick’s chest. From my huddled position, it looked like half of Hunter’s arm had suddenly turned to smoke and then disappeared, but then, as I pushed up into a sitting position, I saw what Hunter had done.
His arm had become less solid, and the hand — HOLY SHIT—the hand went through Glow Stick’s chest and was inside it.
I smacked my hand across my mouth, muffling my scream. I wasn’t sure what to be more freaked out about in this whole fucked-up situation—that Light Bulb wanted to kill me? Or that he was a Light Bulb? Or that Hunter could apparently shadow poof and put his hand inside someone?
The options were limitless.
Light Bulb reared off the floor, his mouth gaping in a silent scream.
Hunter leaned over him, keeping his head in line with Light Bulb’s. It seemed like he was inhaling. Whatever he was doing had Light Bulb flickering in and out.
And then Hunter reared back, pulling his arm out of Light Bulb. Fully solid, his arms fell to his side. The hollows of his cheeks were flushed as if he’d been sun-kissed. Hunter opened his eyes.
I let out a ragged breath, pressing against the wall. If he could do that to Light Bulb, what in the hell could he do to me?
On the floor, Light Bulb wasn’t moving. The light had faded, leaving a pearly shell that had human form but reminded me of jellyfish. Networks of veins were visible on the arms and legs. Light Bulb even had fingers.
Light Bulb was also most definitely dead.
Hunter rose fluidly, his pale eyes fixed on mine.
Yep. He was inhuman.
That might have been the exact moment when I decided I’d blown past the acceptable level of bizarreness for the day, but I was there, knee-deep in it.
He stepped around the body of Light Bulb and stopped in front of me. “I do believe I told you to go straight home, Miss Cross.”
I struggled to my feet, swaying to the side as I inched away. Every part of me ached and it hurt to stand. “Don’t come near me.”
One single brow went up. “Wasn’t planning on it, but I at least thought there’d be a ‘thank you for saving my life’ statement thrown in.”
“You’re not human,” I said slowly.
“And that obviously has nothing to do with the fact I saved your life,” he replied.
Maybe not, but I was beyond caring. There was a dead… something on my floor and a whatever standing in front of me.
“Thank you, but please—”
“That didn’t sound sincere, but it doesn’t matter. We—”
He had taken a step toward me, and I shrieked, “Don’t touch me!”
Hunter exhaled loudly.
“We really don’t have time for this.”
All I could see was his hand disappearing into Light Bulb’s chest.
Pressure clamped down on my heart as I continued to make my way toward the hallway.
“You’re not human,” I mumbled again, because I needed to hear it to process it.
He closed his eyes, face tight with impatience; and when his eyes reopened, the obsidian pupils seemed to expand. “I’m pretty sure we’ve covered that.”
My chest rose and fell rapidly. “What…what are you?” My gaze dropped to the other thing. “What is that?”
There was a pause, and then he nodded at the prone form on the floor.
“That’s an alien. I’m an alien. We’re aliens. Aliens everywhere, actually, which is why we have to leave. I’m sure someone has called the police by now.”
I stared at him. “Aliens?”
Hunter nodded. “Aliens.”
My mouth opened and I was pretty sure I was going to scream, because at that moment, it seemed like the only logical thing to do. Scream. Why not?
There were aliens everywhere apparently.
Hunter shot forward, gripping my shoulders. “I really don’t have time for this. We don’t have time for this.”
He tugged me against his chest and lowered his head, angling it in a way that his mouth lined with mine. For a wild second, I thought he was going to kiss me. The funny thing was what flashed through my mind in that moment was that I didn’t know him.
Not that I was about to be kissed by an alien—or a murderous alien.
The problem was that I didn’t know him. Yeah, I was officially cracked.
Hunter’s lips didn’t touch mine, but it almost felt like they did. I could feel their coolness, and in the back of my mind I wondered how they would feel and taste. And then, his mouth was on mine. His lips were cool and firm. My startled gasp opened my mouth to his. He tasted like winter snow and something dark and rich, like chocolate.
But he wasn’t kissing me.
It probably made me a son of a bitch to do this to her, especially considering I was in charge of keeping her safe, which by the way was ironically laughable, and in her vulnerable state, it wouldn’t help things. Not to mention this just proved my whole lack of self- control issue. Patience was a virtue I found pointless.
But we really didn’t have time for her dramatics.
The stir of energy around her was a deep violet, which meant she really was about to go off the deep end. Totally understandable—there was a dead alien on her floor. But when I’d grabbed and pulled her close, there was something else swirling in her energy fields. Thin slivers of red broke through the violet; the hallmark of arousal. It wasn’t a lot. Serena wasn’t going to drop her panties and jump me, but it was there. And that made me very curious.
My kind did like to covet pretty, little things.
She was frozen in my arms, eyes wide, when I brought my mouth down.
Her full lips, shaped like a pouty bow, were incredibly soft and warm. I wanted to investigate that, discover if they could be demanding and hungry, but there wasn’t time.
I slid a hand to her chest, my palm resting just below her breasts. The tips of my fingers brushed the heavy swells.
Very distracting. To most the move looked like one of pure dominance, and in a way, it was. But it was also necessary.
Fed as I was off the Luxen, taking from a human would be like getting a cheeseburger off the dollar menu when you just had filet, but…damn.
Serena’s taste—the heightened emotions and adrenaline pumping through her—was exquisite.
Warmth poured into me.
Unlike with Luxen or hybrids—humans mutated by the Luxen—I didn’t pick up any memories or emotions. With them, one never knew what you were going to get. Usually it was something the Luxen or hybrid was stressing over, a memory they kept rehashing. The one I just killed had been smart.