The intensity in his gaze was unnerving. “You.”
“Me?” I squeaked out.
“I’m here because of you,” he said. Unfolding his arms, he leaned forward, placing his hand on the car beside my shoulder.
Tipping his head down, his face was inches from mine.
“You should probably go home.”
Not what I was expecting him to say. “Excuse me?”
With his other hand, he picked up a piece of my hair, and I froze. He held it up between us, inspecting the light blond strands. “I said you should go home.
Maybe take the rest of the week off…month maybe.
Coming here to get your car wasn’t smart.”
I watched him spin the strand of hair around his long finger, and then my eyes flicked up, meeting his. My breath felt short, cheeks warm. This man, with his deep voice and odd eyes, had to exude some kind of epic sex pheromones because I had a sudden image of us in a bed, our bodies twisting and rocking together. Typically I didn’t develop fantasies about random strangers, especially ones who were touching my hair like some kind of freak.
This was weird.
I swatted his hand away, reining in my obviously stress-induced hormones.
“Don’t do that.”
One side of his lips tipped up higher.
“Touch my hair.” The shadowy parking garage was still empty. Good God, I really shouldn’t be here. I looked him over again, taking in the leather pants and biker boots. Didn’t most government law enforcement officers wear suits, or at least pressed khakis? And where was his gun? And the other officers hadn’t touched my hair.
This guy was all kinds of inappropriate.
I really should’ve asked for a badge before I let him get so close, because now I was trapped between my car and an immovable wall of muscle.
Icy fear lanced through as a bone-deep realization seized me.
This man wasn’t with the Department of Defense or Homeland Security. Panic unfurled in my stomach, I tightened my grip on my keys, wondering if I could use them as a homemade shank. God, listen to me.
Talking about using keys as weapons and shanks?
As if that would stop this guy anyway. He could swat me into next week with barely any effort.
“If you don’t have any questions, I’m…I’m going to go home.” My voice trembled and lacked the authority I wanted.
Hunter didn’t move for what felt like an eternity.
My heart thundered in my ears, but then he stepped back, his gaze never leaving my face. “Then go home.”
I let out a shaky breath.
He didn’t have to tell me twice. Whipping around, I slipped inside the car and closed the door. Hands shaking, I shoved the key into the ignition and— thank God—the engine roared to life. Casting a quick look out the window, I didn’t see Hunter. Anywhere. It was as if he’d never been there. Throwing the car into drive, I peeled out of the parking spot, tires squealing and rubber burning.
But the intoxicating scent of spice and soap still lingered with me.
I didn’t go straight home. I didn’t know why, but I was reluctant to do so. My hands trembled on the steering wheel, which caused me to grip the thing like an old grandma way past acceptable driving age.
Who in the hell was this Hunter guy? Definitely not an officer within the Department of Defense, unless the organization traded suits for leather pants and buzz cuts for really soft-looking hair. And man, he did have nice hair.
Why was I thinking about his hair?
If Hunter didn’t work for the DOD, then who did he work for?
And what happened to Homeland Security? Did those two groups work together?
God, I was so confused I wanted to bang my head off the steering wheel. Like that would help.
No matter how convoluted my brain felt right now, my memories of Monday night were clear. I had seen a man who came out of nowhere, moved inhumanly fast—faster than my eyes could track —and then radiated some kind of supercharged light that was strong enough to blow up a car and end my friend’s life. I felt crazy, probably just like Mel had felt after seeing Phillip turn into a…light bulb, but I knew what I saw.
After driving around aimlessly, I started back to my apartment as the fading afternoon sun beat down on the Boulder city roads.
The four-story apartment complex I lived in housed mostly middle-aged working-class tenants.
Very few had kids, so the place was usually quiet.
Sedate. Mel had always said it reminded her of one of those retirement apartment buildings. She kind of had a point.
Parking my car in its designated spot, I headed into the open hallway, taking the first metal staircase. Proud that I wasn’t looking over my shoulder every five seconds like a paranoid freak, I rounded the fourth floor and made a mental note that when I moved I was so getting an apartment on the first floor.
Carrying groceries in was a real bitch.
It helped to focus on those kind of mundane bitches as I started down the long, narrow hallway.
Possibly the only way to maintain some sort of resemblance of normalcy was by thinking about insignificant things. That way, it didn’t feel like my life was crumbling apart like a pastry.
Stopping in front of the apartment door, I tipped my head as I put the key in the lock, causing my hair to slide forward into my face. I pushed it back, tucking the mass of tangled waves over my shoulder as I lifted my head, letting out a sigh.
Things would be okay.
They had— A sharp shiver shot across my shoulders. It was a feeling so strong that I couldn’t ignore it. It was menacing, heavy and dark. Choking. I was being watched again. As my door inched open, I looked over my shoulder, down the hall.
There he stood, the man — OH MY GOD! —the man from the parking garage.
Not Hunter. The other one.
The man’s sandy-colored hair appeared lighter in the hallway.
He looked harmless standing there, hands shoved into the pockets of his khakis, his polo shirt pressed and tucked into his pants. He was a walking—er, standing—and breathing ad for Sears’ menswear.
The man caught my eye and smiled tightly.
A cold breath of fear trickled down my throat.
Moving quickly, I pushed the door the rest of the way open and locked it behind me as I reached into my purse, digging around for my cell phone. I needed to call the police and I needed to get the hell out of here. My fingers flew over the keypad— A hand clamped down on my shoulder, spinning me around. I shrieked as my bag slipped from my arm, hitting the carpeted floor.
I was face to face with the man from the hallway.
My brain couldn’t process anything for a second because it was impossible that he was in my apartment. I’d seen him at the end of the hall. No one could move that fast. No one human.
He’s not human.
The man’s arm snaked out, knocking the cell phone out of my hand. It hit the nearby wall with enough force that it punched a hole into the plaster and shattered.
“Sorry,” the man said.
“Can’t have you calling the police.”
Panic poured into me as I backed up, hitting the tiny bar/island of my kitchen counter. “What…what do you want?”
The same strange, tight smile never faded from his face. “I think that’s obvious by now.”
It was. Every part of me recognized that this was a life-or-death situation. It didn’t matter how this man had gotten into my apartment so quickly, only that he was here to kill.
And I knew why—because of Mel, and because of what I’d seen in the garage.
My muscles locked up as adrenaline pumped through my veins. Instinct took over. Hell no, I wasn’t going to die in this crappy apartment. Screw. That.
I reached behind me blindly, fingers hitting the edge of a four-slot toaster.
Not the best weapon, but it would have to do. I tore it from the wall and launched it at the assailant. Not a girlie throw, either. I played softball all through high school and even coached a rec league a few years in college.
That kind of throw would do some damage.
Except the toaster…it didn’t hit the man. It…it stopped in midair, frozen there as if someone pushed pause on time.
My breath punched out of my lungs. “Holy shit.”
“Throwing isn’t nice.” He waved his hand to the side, and the toaster bounced off the wall harmlessly.
I shot away from the counter, grabbing the base of a thick lamp. I swung it like a bat. Crying out, I felt it ripped from my hands by some unseen force. It hit the couch.
No. No. No. What was this thing?
Pressure clamped down on my chest as I darted into the kitchen, going for the baseball bat that had been propped against the kitchen counter for years.
The man appeared in front of me, grinning now, as if he enjoyed this. I skidded to a halt. Backing up, I was gripped in mounting terror.
“Fighting is really pointless, Serena.”
He prowled forward, each step slow and precise. The fact that he knew my name wasn’t surprising. “But it is entertaining.”
I spun toward the door, knowing that getting outside was my only hope of survival.
He appeared before me, blocking the exit. The outline of his body blurred and flickered, like he was moving so fast that even his body couldn’t keep up with him.
I stumbled back, eyes wide. Horrified, I watched the man’s eyes dilate and his pupils turn white, shining like cut, polished diamonds.
“This isn’t personal, babe,” he said, his voice so casual it was like he was asking me directions.
“More like wrong friend, wrong place and time.”
I opened my mouth to scream like holy hell, but the man was suddenly right in front of me. His hand clamped down on my throat, cutting off my cry.
He lifted me off my feet and shoved me backward.
My head cracked off the wall. Starbursts exploded across my vision.
His fingers dug into the flesh of my neck, pressing into my windpipe.
I went wild.
Clawing at the hand around my throat, I kicked out and thrashed, but he was unnaturally strong. I couldn’t get my fingers between his and my skin.
The kicks didn’t seem to faze him as he dispassionately watched me struggle.
Pain splintered the back of my head, spreading to become an unholy burn in my throat as I gulped at air, but I couldn’t drag any in. My movements slowed as I smacked at his hands, refusing to give up, to go down like this.
He leaned in, pressing his forehead against mine.
“It will be easier if you stop struggling,” he murmured.
“Just let go. It’ll be over sooner that way.”
I begged with my eyes, pleaded really, but the man —this thing—shook his head slowly, clucking his tongue. He was playing with me. Considering what he was capable of, he could just incinerate me or snap my neck, but he was dragging this out.
My vision was dimming at the corners, an unrelenting, terrifying darkness encroaching. I knew if I succumbed there was no coming back. In a last-ditch effort, I swiped out with my hand, clawing at the assailant’s eyes.
He dodged the attack easily and laughed— he laughed. I believed in that moment it would be the last thing I ever heard— that cold, unflinching laugh.
Except it wasn’t the last thing I heard.
A loud pop reverberated through the apartment, making my attacker whip his head to the side. Over his shoulder, I saw a fissure slice down the middle of the glass door of the soapbox-sized balcony.