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Of Love & Darkness Excerpt

Read the first chapter of the Twisted Fate Trilogy!

Sydney Amataya hated working conventions in downtown Detroit. Especially by herself. She was a damn good event planner and was even a decent salesperson. But when it came to directions, she was ten times lousy.

Getting here from the suburbs had taken two full hours, when the GPS said it should have only taken forty minutes. Yes, she’d even used a GPS and still had issues.

Then she parked her car on the street instead of in the attached parking garage. She was saving her employer twenty bucks. It always took them forever to reimburse her anyway.

When the convention was over, she packed up her tabletop display, piled her supplies onto a cart, and wheeled it down to the main lobby. She left it there to go in search of her car, with the intention of pulling it into the circle drive in front of the massive convention center, loading her supplies, then heading home.

It felt like hours since she’d wandered outside on this quest for her vehicle.

She was lost. In downtown Detroit. Alone. With the sun quickly sinking behind the towering old buildings that felt as though they were pressing in on her. Shadows appeared quickly when one was surrounded by high-rises.

She was certain she had parked her car right here. Or maybe here? Or there?

Yep, she was lost. She threw her gloved hands into the air and blew out a frustrated sigh. Her breath came in a puff of white and then quickly dissipated.

Her stepbrother William was going to harangue her endlessly when she got home. If she got home. She couldn’t even use her cell phone to call him to come rescue her, which would normally be her first choice—well, after she worked up the nerve to admit she was lost in the first place. She had stubbornness issues, and didn’t like to admit when she was wrong.

But her phone was dead. She’d taken too many pictures and spent too much time scrolling through Instagram while at the convention, and the phone charger was, of course, in her car. Which she couldn’t seem to find at the moment.

She dug the keys out of the pocket of her thick downy coat and began walking again, pushing the panic button on the key fob, as she’d been doing for what felt like hours already. Her knockoff Uggs were ruined from trudging through the gray slush covering the sidewalks. A heavy, wet snow had fallen while she’d been inside the convention center, and now the sidewalks were treacherous and sloppy. At least she could derive some comfort from the fact that she had chosen to buy thirty-dollar knockoffs instead of the two-hundred-dollar real thing. Plus, they were three years old, so she’d certainly gotten her use out of them.

Small comfort.

She stared down at said boots. Yes, it was true. They truly were no longer salvageable—

The most peculiar feeling washed over her, so intense that she actually came to a stuttering halt and lifted her head, looking around sharply. She had wandered into an alley, she realized with a spike of fear.

I’m never coming downtown alone again.

Sydney tried to decipher the source of the sensation flooding her body, the sense of…awareness. Her nerve endings tingled. Her body was on fire. In the middle of January with temperatures in the teens, she was half-tempted to shed her coat and thick woolen sweater.

She unzipped her coat but the action did nothing to cool the strange feeling. Her body seemed to be warring with itself. Run. Stay. Run.

Run?

“You lost, little girl?” The drawling voice was deep and rusty, as if the owner had just rolled out of bed and had not yet had that first cup of strong, black coffee.

Sydney turned around to face the owner of that voice, and the person whose presence was setting her nerve endings on fire. How she knew he was the source of this strange feeling, she did not know.

She wrapped her arms around her middle as she watched the man step out of the shadows of the building to her left, and into a pool of yellow light cast by the streetlamp at the mouth of the alley. He was tall and lean, had a swimmer’s build. His shoulders were wide, his waist narrow, and she could see the outline of sharply cut muscle under his dark T-shirt. Mid-January in Detroit, and he wore nothing more than a T-shirt, well-fitted jeans and a thin black leather jacket. His spiky hair was inky black, his skin olive. His eyes, strangely enough, almost appeared to be…glowing.

Sydney blinked several times and cleared her throat before saying, “I was just on my way back to the convention center.”

“From where, exactly?” The amusement in the man’s voice irritated her and helped to tamp the fire in her nerve endings.

“None of your business.” She deliberately turned away from him, praying he wasn’t a rapist or murderer, since the closest thing she had to a weapon on her person were her car keys, and she doubted they would be much use against this guy.

“Lost little girls can get eaten in this area, you know.”

An image of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf leaped into her head, and she firmly shook it to dislodge the unsettling picture. She was not helpless. And this guy certainly wasn’t a wolf.

Although he’s way too sexy to be human.

Where in the hell did that thought come from? “I told you, I’m on my way to the convention center. I’m not lost.”

The man lifted a sleek black brow in obvious disbelief. “The convention center is four blocks that way.” He shoved his thumb over his shoulder, indicating the other end of the narrow alley Sydney had inadvertently walked into.

Well, at least she was headed in the right direction now.

Huffing out a sigh, she said, “Okay, maybe I am a little lost. Thank you for pointing out the way. Now if you’ll excuse me.”

The man glanced up at the sky. “It’s dark.”

“I can see that,” she replied tartly.

With a noise that almost sounded like a growl, he said, “Come on. I’ll give you a lift. Is your car parked at the convention center or are you meeting someone there?”

Sydney considered lying and telling him she was meeting someone. Someone with really big muscles. A hockey player. With a black belt.

“I’m fine. I can get there on my own.”

“No you can’t,” he said flatly. He took a step and as fast as Sydney could blink, he was at her side, his hand clamped around her elbow. And then he guided her toward the street. “We’ll drive. It’ll be safer.”

“I realize Detroit has a poor reputation,” Sydney complained. “But don’t you think you’re being a tad over the top? I mean, I managed to make it this far by myself. I’m sure I can walk four blocks back to the convention center.”

She found herself standing next to a shiny, new, black Camaro. The man bent at the waist and opened the passenger-side door.

“That was sheer luck. And a human’s luck quickly deteriorates when the sun sets. Get in.”

“I’m not getting into a car with a stranger.” She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes.

The man thrust out his hand and quickly dropped it when she made no move to shake. “Gavin Rowan. Now get in.”

He didn’t wait for another argument. He shoved her into the car, slammed the door, and hurried around to the other side. He slid into the driver’s seat, grabbed her arm as she started to open the door, and then pressed the locks. Sydney immediately aborted her attempt to climb out of the car and began earnestly digging around in her purse.

“What are you looking for?” Gavin asked as he cranked the engine and pressed the gas. The car slid away from the curb and the wheels spun urgently for a moment before finding their grip and rolling down the street.

“My phone. Here it is. Damn it, I forgot the battery’s dead.”

Sydney dropped the phone back into her purse and turned to face the man who was apparently kidnapping her. “I know karate. And I’ve taken a women’s self-defense course.”

“Good to know. Which garage?”

She turned back to the window. True to his word, Gavin Rowan had driven her back to the convention center.

“Er…I didn’t park in the garage. I parked on the street. It was cheaper,” she said defensively when he slid her a look indicating he questioned her intelligence.

He made a slow circuit of the convention center, as Sydney tried to find her car instead of stare at him. It was difficult to do. The man was damn hot. Stripper hot. She wondered if that was what he did for a living.

“I’m pretty sure the car’s going to be out there somewhere,” Gavin commented as he nodded at the passenger-side window.

Embarrassed that she’d been caught staring, Sydney abruptly turned and forced herself to watch out the window instead. “There it is.”

Relief washed over her when he pulled up to the curb behind her sensible gold sedan. This strange sensation of being on fire was getting to her. She felt flushed and her breathing had become something more akin to panting. What the hell was wrong with her? She’d been in the vicinity of good-looking guys before—although admittedly not often—so why was she acting like a groupie who had been given the privilege of meeting her favorite rock star face to face?

She fumbled for the door handle, desperate to get out of the car. Gavin clamped his hand onto her arm. She could feel the strength in his touch, even through the heavy layers of her coat and the sweater underneath.

“In case you haven’t noticed, it’s pitch black outside now.”

“You sure are obsessed with the dark.”

“You have no idea.”

“Something wrong?” She realized she could feel the tension, radiating off him like a living thing.

Gavin rolled his shoulders as his gaze scanned the nearly deserted street. A traffic signal flashed yellow at the next block, a steady, pulsing rhythm, over and over again. “Just a feeling, that’s all.” He gave her a stern look. “I want you to get into your car, lock the doors, and immediately start the engine. Drive out of Detroit as quickly as you can. Do not stop for any reason until you are in your own driveway.” His voice was like steel.

Sydney lifted her eyebrows. “I’m fine now, thank you. I’m not going to get molested in my car.”

“Not if you get the hell out of here in a hurry. You’re from the ’burbs, aren’t you?”

“If you’re implying that I have a little more faith in humanity than you do, yes, I do,” Sydney said stiffly. “Thank you for the ride. Have a nice life.” She pushed open the door and slid out, tucking her coat around her so it did not drag on the slushy, oily ground.

She slid one last glance back at Gavin, but he was too busy darting his gaze around the surrounding area, looking for rapists and murderers, apparently. He was certainly nice to look at, but his paranoia was over the top. Sydney told herself the renewed surge of tingles in her nerve endings when she stepped out of the car was relief to be done with the good-looking whack job.

She slammed the car door and walked around the front end toward her own, far-less-flashy and much older Chevy Malibu. Another shiver of awareness chased down her spine, much less potent than the one that hit her just before she met Gavin, but it was enough to cause her to curse him under her breath. His stupid paranoia was starting to affect her. She was five paces from her car. Nothing bad was going to happen.

She finished that thought just as the animal attacked. It leaped out of a nearby alley, growling and displaying a mouthful of razor sharp, pink-tinged teeth.

Blood, Sydney thought dully. Its teeth were stained pink from blood. Her stomach roiled and she opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out.

She couldn’t even tell what kind of animal it was, precisely. It sort of looked like a bullmastiff, although it was much larger than any dog she had ever seen before. Its fur was blue-black and matted, and its eyes appeared to be black. Three-inch claws scraped the cement under the slush, making muted fingernails-on-chalkboard sounds.

As the animal stalked toward her, its eyes began to glow.

Blinking, Sydney stumbled backward, away from the animal. But she was not imagining it. The dog’s eyes were glowing. Glowing. Her mouth opened and closed, but still no sound came out.

The dog was suddenly tackled from the side by another animal, this one with thick, jet-black fur and a lean build. Sydney saw that Gavin’s car was still parked behind her own, with the driver’s side door hanging wide open. Gavin was nowhere to be seen.

Great. He’s so chicken he just gets out of the car and makes a run for it.

Sydney turned with the intention of rushing to her car to climb inside and get the hell out of this crazy place when she heard a gravelly voice shout, “Look out!”

It sounded like Gavin, but when she jerked her head around, all she saw were two dogs, and one of them was flying toward her. She shrieked and tried to move out of the way, but she wasn’t fast enough. The animal’s front claws caught her on the arm and she felt a searing pain, as her flesh was torn open from shoulder to elbow.

She gasped and dropped to her knees, clutching her arm in an attempt to stop the flow of blood. She could hear the sounds of a scuffle behind her, but the sting was too great for her to focus on anything else. She’d never felt pain like this before, not even when she’d broken her wrist falling off the swing set when she was seven years old.

It was silent for long moments before she realized the two animals had stopped fighting. She risked a quick glance over her shoulder and saw that one of them—the larger, bulkier one—lay on the ground in a pool of blood, its lifeless eyes staring at her, unblinking. Sydney swallowed back bile and turned away from the grisly scene.

And found herself staring at Gavin’s T-shirt-covered chest, as he crouched in front of her and cradled her wounded arm with more gentleness than she would have given him credit for. She tried to wrench her arm free and let out a gasp of pain.

“Stop moving,” Gavin commanded in his gravelly voice. He gently slid her shredded coat off her shoulder, as if he meant to inspect the wound more closely.

“Where the hell were you?” Sydney demanded. “I just got attacked by a rabid dog. A really big dog. I need to go to the hospital. I need a rabies shot. Damn it, that hurts.” She hissed as he ripped off the arm of her sweater, instead of trying to tug the entire thing over her head.

“Hey,” she protested, “that’s my favorite sweater.”

Gavin gave the sweater a look that indicated he could not quite understand why it was her favorite, and then he prodded the wounds on her arm. Blood poured freely from four long slashes, dripping off the tips of her fingers and onto her now-ruined coat.

“I doubt he had rabies,” he muttered as he continued to inspect the wounds. “And I just rescued you, so you’re welcome.”

Sydney gaped at him. “Rescued me? Rescued me? You ran like a cat when somebody pulls out the water hose, you moron. There were two dogs. One jumped out at me and the other attacked him. They started fighting and I somehow got caught in the crosshairs. We should probably get the hell out of here though, because only one of them is dead back there. The other one might decide to come back and attack us.”

“He won’t,” Gavin said with an odd inflection in his voice. “But you’re right, there are others, and the scent of blood will bring them relatively quickly. Especially your blood. What are you?”

To Sydney’s utter horror, he leaned close to her wounded arm and sniffed, like a dog checking out another dog’s scent.

She gave her arm another jerk, but Gavin held her in a death grip. “What are you doing?” she asked as he bent closer still and then…licked her wounded arm.

“Ew!”

Gavin’s eyes glazed over, as if he had fallen under some sort of spell. He blinked dazedly for a few heartbeats, his hands grasping her arm in a tight enough grip she thought the appendage might go numb. And then he dipped his head and licked her wounds again, this time with earnest, licking over and over, as if he intended to clean up every last bit of blood. By the time the entire area was cleansed of all traces of blood, he was panting heavily and his eyes were still glazed. The bulge in his pants seemed to have gotten larger.

“Gross,” she snapped. “Now I have to get a rabies and a tetanus shot. I hate shots. Can you get hepatitis this way? I bet you have some sort of sexually transmitted disease, and now you’ve given it to me.”

“No disease,” he managed between pants and licks.

“I’m supposed to take your word for it? Get away from me.” She twisted her shoulder, and slid her arm out of a grasp that had gone slack. She was startled that she only experienced a twinge of pain, and when she looked down at her arm, she stared at four long gashes that were no longer bleeding, and in fact, appeared to actually be healing right before her eyes.

“What the…?”

“Chala,” Gavin whispered, his eyes still glazed and—were they glowing? It was the third time that evening she thought she saw glowing eyes. Sydney glanced up at the darkened, cloudy sky and wondered if it wasn’t some trick of the lights in downtown Detroit.

“Chala,” he whispered again.

Sydney frowned. “My name isn’t Chala.”

“You are a Chala,” Gavin said. The glazed look faded from his eyes, and while they still appeared to glow faintly, they had taken on a far more calculating look. Despite her current situation, she couldn’t help but think he had lovely silver-blue eyes.

“And you are my mate.”

While she mulled over the color of his eyes, he sat on the cold pavement and pulled her into his arms. She was so startled, she didn’t struggle out of his grasp quickly enough and ended up in his lap. As he stroked her cheek and murmured suggestions that involved hot, sweaty sex, Sydney stared up into an unshaven face covered with scratch marks that looked unnervingly like the ones even now fading from her arm. There was also a wound on his neck that appeared as if an animal had bitten him.

“Where were you when those dogs were fighting?” she asked as she struggled to climb out of his lap. It felt good there, too good. His body temperature was elevated, as if he had a fever, and she hadn’t been crazy a short time ago when she imagined the bulge behind his zipper had gotten bigger. She could feel it pressing into her backside, and it was certainly…large. Sydney’s experience with sex was embarrassingly limited, but she was knowledgeable enough to know that size really does matter.

“I was one of those dogs,” Gavin said as calmly as if he were explaining that two plus two really did equal four. “The one that won, obviously.”

She shot out of his lap with a speed that surprised even her. “Oh my God, I just let a crazy man lick my arm. Gross, gross, gross!” She tugged her shredded coat sleeve back over her arm. She didn’t feel nearly as cold as she should, given the fact the outside temperature hovered in the teens.

“It wouldn’t be gross if I wasn’t crazy?”

She held out her arm, palm facing him. “Stop. Do not come any closer. I am going to get into my car now, and go straight to the nearest hospital. Do not follow me. If you do, I’ll tell the hospital personnel that you’re stalking me.”

She slowly backed toward her car, and gave a little shriek when she nearly tripped over the body lying on the ground next to her car.

A human body?

“Ahh! That’s a dead man! A man! He’s dead! A dead man! Ahh!”

In the blink of an eye, Gavin stood in front of her, wrapping his arms around her back and shoving her face into his chest to muffle the sound of her shrieks.

“If you keep screaming like that, even that one will wake up and come after us. Damn, woman, can’t you shut up?”

Sydney abruptly stopped shrieking and gave him a shove. He relinquished his hold and let her out of his arms. She jabbed a finger at the dead man at her feet.

“There was a dog there five minutes ago.”

Gavin nodded. “We usually revert back to human form when we die.” He shrugged, as if his words made any sense at all.

We?”

“Yeah. We.”

“You are absolutely crazy. And I’m still talking to you. Which means I have, apparently, gone crazy too. Probably you infected me with your craziness when you licked all the blood off my arm. Which, by the way, was really, really gross.” She wrapped her arms around herself, dimly aware that she felt no pain whatsoever anymore. As if she had never gotten slashed by a dog that was no longer there.

“I’m not crazy, although I’ll admit I do not normally go around licking people’s wounds. Unlike most of my kind, I no longer have a taste for human flesh. But your blood smelled so…tantalizing, I suppose is as good a word as any. I couldn’t help myself. And now I know why. You’re my mate. You are the vessel through which I will repopulate the world with Light Ones. We’ll finally be able to get the Rakshasa population under control, if not destroy them entirely.” He spread his arms wide and grinned, clearly pleased with himself.

Sydney paused for two heartbeats, and then, without saying a word, she turned and strode to her car, wrenched the door open and climbed into the driver’s seat. She dug around in her purse until she found her keys, shoved the car key into the ignition, and cranked.

Nothing.

“Shit.”

Read the book practically everywhere: OF LOVE & DARKNESS

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