As a second-place finalist in 2012’s New Year New Story Writers’ Competition, What The Darkness Proposes, by Kirsten S. Blacketer sets the stage as her first official publication. The short story was hosted on RomanticShorts.com previously. Although her writing has evolved and improved, this story showcases her improvement over the years and remains a crucial component to the foundation of her later works.
What The Darkness Proposes
by Kirsten S. Blacketer
The note would do the trick. Donald Baranski was nothing if not tenacious. He slipped the folded paper into the briefcase that luckily sat open on Brad Martin’s desk. As he sauntered back to his office, he offered a wink and a smile to the secretary. She blushed prettily, but his tastes ran a little richer these days. He spied the boss’s daughter coming towards him and straightened his tie. Speak of the devil, he thought with a wicked grin.
* * * * *
Evangeline Martin walked towards her father’s office. She noticed that her father’s secretary, Miss LeDeux, gave her a jealous scowl. Then she saw her father’s partner Donald Baranski staring at her. His eyes were as dark as his mahogany-colored hair. He was a handsome man, but there was something unsettling about the way he leered at her.
Evangeline was more than the rich daddy’s girl many people believed. She prided herself on her savvy business sense and her killer shoes. Nothing else mattered to her, least of all people’s opinions. She was too busy making a name for herself in the fashion marketing industry to take time for her private life, which was sadly lacking.
Relationships were superficial. Her last boyfriend had been so obsessed with her that she found herself working longer hours and finding excuses to break their dates. When he confronted her about it, she ended the relationship. She had no friends to speak of. Men or women, it didn’t matter; they all brought drama.
If there was one thing Evangeline despised, it was drama. When it came to business, she could charm the pants off a priest. In the business world, negotiations and deals were part of a game she could easily manipulate to her advantage. But outside of these office walls, when she was merely Evangeline, not Miss Martin VP, she felt inadequate.
She shivered as she brushed past Mr. Baranski. An odor of overpowering cologne and faint cigar smoke wafted off him. “You look lovely today Miss Martin.” His voice was pleasant, but Evangeline wanted nothing more than to be away from him.
“Thank you,” she replied, smiling sweetly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to attend to.” She entered her father’s office and shut the door behind her.
Making her way to his desk, she saw her briefcase sitting on the top. Her father had given her that briefcase for Christmas last year; it was identical to his. It wasn’t the first time her father had been in such a hurry that he’d grabbed the wrong case. She smiled at the thought of her father.
She was about to close it when she saw the small folded note. Evangeline opened it and felt the blood rush to her head as she read it. The note was one sentence:
Mr. Martin. If you want continued safety for your daughter, you will meet my demands. ~ X
Blackmail? Evangeline stared at the note in horror. Her father was in meetings all afternoon, and she needed to know the meaning behind this. She would leave a message for him to meet her for dinner. He’s not telling me something. I have to know. She scrawled a quick note and left it on his desk. Then grabbing her briefcase, she returned to her office and buried herself in work, ignoring the foreboding creeping up her spine.
* * * * *
Cedric snapped his cell phone shut and placed it back in his hip holster. This job was wearing on his nerves. The rich old man was paranoid, but he paid good money to have his daughter taken care of. He had hired Cedric several weeks ago to keep a watchful eye on his protégé, his little girl.
He scoffed. Little girl, he thought, hell, she is a full-grown woman with a full-blown attitude. The first time he saw Evangeline Martin, his heart had nearly stopped. She was a looker with a mane of long black curls framing a deceptively angelic face. He knew from his research that she was a lion in this industry. Thanks to Daddy and his deep pockets, he figured.
After shadowing her for nearly three weeks, he knew everything about her. She didn’t have a social life, worked all the time, and had a sweet spot for delicately crafted expensive footwear. Tonight, he thought, as he waited outside her office building. Tonight.
* * * * *
Evangeline glared up into the evening sky. A faint glimmer of starlight beamed back, mocking her. “Freakin fantastic,” she cursed under her breath. She bent down to pick up what remained of her three-inch Manolo Blahnik heel, which was torn off her shoe and now sat lodged in a sizable crack in the sidewalk. “I just bought these yesterday!”
She jerked it free and removed both shoes, seating herself on a nearby bench. Fortunately, Evangeline always carried a pair of ballet flats in her purse; luck favors the prepared. She slipped them on and glanced around the deserted park. She knew better than to cut through here after dark. Who knows what kind of people congregate here at night? Her brain screamed to keep moving, yet her slightly swollen ankle and the torturous instruments that passed for shoes had sucked the last of her resources. The things one does for beauty.
This shoe debacle was beginning to grate her nerves anew. Rubbing her ankle, Evangeline forced herself to breathe deeply, to quell the rising tide of frustration. Could this day actually get any worse?
“Do you need help?” The velvet voice was like a caress, smoothing her ruffled feathers. Evangeline looked up, startled by the sensuality of his voice, and his sudden appearance.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied, “just broke my damn shoe.” She muttered, “Contemporary torture device,” glaring at the offending accessory. His soft chuckle caught her attention.
“What are you doing here so late?” he asked, searching her face.
A bit confused at his question, she rubbed her ankle one last time and slowly stood, stooping over to pick up her belongings. “Short cut. Bad idea,” she confessed, finally taking a full, measured look at the stranger. He was well over six feet, his body a collection of shadows here in the dimly lit park. A faint, flickering streetlamp glowed nearby, providing just enough light for her to see his face.
Sinful. That was the first word that popped into her head. The second was dangerous. A close third was delicious. All in all, he was the perfect example of the man mothers warn their daughters about. His hair glistened as he cocked his head, the streetlamps catching shades of auburn among the deep mocha coloring of his hair. A shadow of a beard sharpened the angles of his cheeks and chin, while his cool grey eyes sparked with intelligence. She was going to make sure she didn’t underestimate that.
He stood with his hands in his pockets, relaxed, watching her. “Can I walk you home?”
She heard him say it but still couldn’t believe it. She took a step back, hesitant. Her mind protested, but something about his silver tongue melted her reservations. A distant warning in her mind burned like a neon sign. It said, Be careful what the darkness proposes. There was not a doubt in her mind that he was the antithesis of light. It was as if the night amplified him in some way. She would have bet right then and there that, had she met him in the daylight, he would still be just as dangerously handsome, but without the presence the darkness gave him. She took a moment and studied his face.
He did not look like a serial killer. He did not look like anyone she had ever seen before. Evangeline prided herself on her gut instincts when it came to first impressions. In her line of work, she had to make split-second decisions sometimes moments after meeting someone for the first time. No amount of pre-introduction research could ever prepare a person for a face-to-face meeting. Everything hinged on that gut feeling. At least it did for Evangeline, and right now, it was telling her to trust him.
“I don’t normally allow handsome strangers I meet in the park to walk me home.” She smiled. “But I can make an exception.”
His eyes glimmered with amusement. They walked in the general direction of Evangeline’s apartment. She was burning with questions, but fortunately, her tongue decided to cooperate with her tonight and not blurt out the first things that popped into her mind.
“Do you make it a habit to pick up strange women in the park?” she joked.
“No.” He glanced at her. “Just you.”
“Can I ask why?”
She frowned slightly. “Why did you ask to walk me home?”
“You’re going to need help.”
Evangeline froze. “What do you mean?” She took a small step away from him.
He stopped and turned to face her. “Evangeline, at some point, you’re going to need my help.”
She shook her head, the very marrow of her bones beginning to tremble. “Who are you? What do you want? And how the hell do you know my name?” The questions raged from her lips. Evangeline was two seconds from bolting into the trees if it meant she could escape this man. But part of her sanity held her fast as if that small part knew that if she tried to run, it would only make things worse.
“You have no reason to fear me.” His voice was calm and soothing.
She wanted to believe him, but the whole situation made her uncertain. The memory of the note flashed into her mind. She closed her eyes, squeezing them tight. She shook her head then opened her eyes focusing all her energy on the devastatingly handsome man watching her. “Okay, you’re seriously creeping me out. Either you start explaining or you start walking.” She pointed in the opposite direction of her apartment.
For a moment, Evangeline almost thought he was going to answer her. He took a deep breath. But just as quickly as he opened his mouth, she saw a blur as he grabbed her arm and pulled her against him. His hand had covered her mouth and his other arm held her tight. He backed swiftly and quietly into the closest copse of trees, keeping her flush against his body.
“Quiet.” He whispered the word, his breath caressing her ear.
A pair of masked men bolted into the clearing, approaching where she and the man holding her had just stood. Evangeline’s blood pounded in her ears as she watched, helpless. What have I gotten myself into? She started to struggle, but Mr. Sinful was much stronger than she had anticipated. I’m going to die. They’re going to kill me. A sob caught in the back of her throat, and she struggled to hold back the threatening tears. This is the shittiest week EVER!
The masked men looked around for a few seconds, stopping on the path where she had stood just moments before. “Where did they go?” the tall one asked.
“Damned if I know.” The shorter one spat. “You were supposed to be keeping track of her.”
“Don’t start that shit now. C’mon, we’ll get her soon enough. Let’s get out of here before anyone sees us.”
The two men jogged back the way they came. Evangeline sagged a little in his arms when she realized that he was not in league with them. As the adrenaline rush slowed, she was immediately aware of the man holding her. Aware of every solid, muscled inch. She could feel the tension and movement in every twitching muscle. He slowly lowered his hand, but he didn’t let her go.
“Th-thank you.” Her voice sounded raspy in her ears.
His voice was a low baritone that gave her immediately dirty thoughts. Someone just tried to attack you and your brain is in the gutter. Something about this whole situation did not sit well with her. Deep in a dark recessed part of her brain, reason was trying to shove its two cents forward.
She spun on the man holding her. “What the hell is going on?” she exploded. She looked at the stranger expectantly, but he stood staring into the dark patch of woods where the masked men had just disappeared. When no answer was forthcoming, she turned; throwing her hands up in the air, she stomped away from him. Good riddance. She chewed on her lower lip, feeling the anxiety as it began to weave through her synapses. Evangeline was tired and frustrated. She longed for nothing more than to be safely tucked behind two deadbolts and a chain, sipping a comforting cup of spiked cocoa and vegetating in front of cable reruns.
“Where are you going?”
She looked up, seeing that he had caught up with her. His eyes weren’t hard or angry, just amused. Evangeline stopped. Putting her hands on her hips, she hoped she sounded confident. “I am going home,” she snapped.
“You know you can’t do that,” was his calm reply.
“The hell I can’t.” Her patience cracked in half. “Listen, I don’t know who you are or what you want from me. But I’m about this close to losing it. I want a hot drink, an even hotter shower, and then a date with my remote. And no one, least of all you, Mr. Dark and Sinful, is going to get in my damn way.”
His laugh gave her pause. It was melodic and honest. She blinked twice, mesmerized by the sound of it. It ended on a long sigh, and then he spoke.
“Evangeline.” He paused, thoughtful, and then shook his head. “Let’s go.”
She stood there staring at his back as he walked away. “Wait, who do you think you are just barging into my life by moonlight and barking orders at me?” She caught up to him and tossed what she hoped was an intimidating glare out of the corner of her eye.
“I asked you a question,” she ground out between clenched teeth. Still nothing. She had had enough. “Alright!” She put her hand on his arm and pushed him. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me who you are. I at least deserve to know that!”
Evangeline hadn’t even dropped her hand when suddenly he had her by the arms and spun her in front of him. His grip was hard and unyielding, but not painful. His grey eyes darkened like a storm cloud as they bore into hers. She felt as if he was reading pages torn from her soul, listing all of her deeds, and every one of her desires. She looked away, ashamed at her thoughts.
“Cedric Deveraux,” he murmured. She looked up at him again. His grip softened, his fingers released her and slowly caressed her arms as he dropped his hands. She shivered, feeling disappointed at the loss of contact.
“Come with me,” he said quietly. “I will explain everything.” The shadows danced over them as they wove through the park under lamplight and trees. Evangeline studied him from the corner of her eye.
“What kind of name is Cedric?” she asked, breaking the silence.
“A very old and distinguished one.” His answer was brisk.
“Old? How old are you Cedric?” Cedric’s silence annoyed her. She liked having all the information she wanted at her fingertips. Her nerves were already frazzled. He was just adding tinder to the fire. “I thought you were going to explain everything.”
“I’m just trying to make conversation here unless you want to skip the foreplay.” She mentally smacked herself for using those words. His eyes caught hers and smoldered. She decided to change the subject.
“Are you a vampire?” she blurted.
“A warlock?” He gave her a strange look.
“Time traveler? Sorcerer? Werewolf?” she asked in quick succession. She covered her mouth, a giggle escaping her lips. “Sorry.”
“You sound amused.” He eyed her solemnly, then stopped to turn and face her. “Tell me, Evangeline, do you begin happy hour at noon or as soon as you get up?”
Her giggles stopped. “I’ll have you know I haven’t imbibed a single drop of alcohol today!”
“Yet,” he finished her thought. “Fear does that to some people. Most of the time it makes them insane, seeing things that don’t exist. You, however, use humor to cover fear. Try to pretend it’s no big deal.”
Her eyes locked onto his. She hoped he was getting her hate-filled message loud and clear. “Who are you?” She glared at him.
“I told you.”
“No,” she pressed, “I know your name. I want to know who hired you.”
“Ah, you think someone paid me to be here.” His mischievous grin deepened. “You’re right.” He began walking again.
She caught up to him. “Well, since you’re not going to tell me what I want to know and just admitted that someone paid you to be here, then go.” She pushed past him and stormed off in the direction of civilization.
“And pass up this lovely opportunity.” She could hear the amusement in his voice. Just the tenor of it made her limbs turn to jelly. “Your problems are far more complicated than just having me trailing your skirts.”
How could he be so cavalier? She was having by far the shittiest week of her life, and he waltzes in and starts barking orders. Work was an absolute nightmare. Donald had been hitting on her for weeks after Daddy had let slip about her recent breakup. Her gaze lingered on Cedric for a moment. I wonder if he’s married. Why am I even having these thoughts? Cedric was another matter altogether. Sure he was as decadent as a midnight chocolate binge, but he was dangerous. And off limits, period.
As if he read her mind, he caught up, catching her arm in his. She looked at him and his eyes flickered with an emotion that could be interpreted as either desire or intense dislike. It was hard to tell in the poorly lit park. Good, I hope he hates me. She chewed her lower lip. His eyes watched her mouth.
“What?” she snapped.
“Nothing,” he replied tersely. He took a moment and surveyed the park around them. The street was a hundred feet away. She could see the twinkle of the Starbucks and the glowing neon of Cantori’s, her favorite bar. “C’mon, let’s get a drink.”
She didn’t argue. But she vaguely remembered that she had somewhere to be. Although, right now, she didn’t want to admit to herself that she felt safer with Cedric. It’s nice not being alone.
* * * * *
Donald leaned against the tree, scowling at the couple that walked on the path no more than a stone’s throw in front of him. The tall, shadowed stranger by her side had been following Evangeline for weeks. He had thought his note might have scared the old man into locking his little girl at home. She would have been an easier target there. His frown deepened.
For far too long he had taken the old man’s lead, played second fiddle to the master. Since he won’t listen, I will remove my competition. Donald smoothed his hands over his hair and straightened his jacket. He was going to make sure Evangeline knew that her career was over, permanently.
* * * * *
This woman is a pain in the ass, Cedric thought to himself watching the sassy little brat push past him and burn a direct path to the neon-lit bar. His head cocked to the side as his eyes zeroed in on her posterior. What an ass! He shook himself mentally. This job was making him lose his mind.
Evangeline was a walking contradiction. She was smart, funny, and successful in her career. But away from the bustle of the job, she rarely left the house and never went out with anyone. Here was a sharp sophisticated business woman with every modern convenience who shunned friends and love. In Cedric’s mind, a professional life was a means to money for the relaxing comfort of a personal life. Yet from watching over her for the past three weeks, he had seen the two distinctly different sides to this beautiful woman. The VP Miss Martin who goes after what she wants and the quiet pretty Evangeline who has no idea what her heart truly desires.
Speaking to her tonight had been partly a lark. He’d toyed with the idea for days. This morning it was in his plans to run into her, get a bit closer and wedge himself into her life. All for the job, he tried to convince himself. By that afternoon he had talked himself out of it. What if the old man fires me?
He shook his head and darted across the street after her. Her glossy black curls bobbed against her shoulders as she looked back catching him off guard with a smile. She’s hot.
So what? His brain argued, trying to justify his body’s revolt. He wouldn’t admit it aloud but he was more than attracted to her. She’s a job, and that means NO TOUCHING!
Once she understood what was going on, he was sure that she would be pissed. If personal experience had taught him anything, he was prepared to take the brunt of her ire. She had a right to know the truth, even if it meant getting fired. The old man wasn’t going to like it, but Cedric was the best at what he did. To flush out this rat, he was going to need Evangeline to be on the same page with him.
He followed her into the bar and noticed her wave to the bartender, holding up two fingers. The bartender nodded. Cedric watched with mild fascination at the brass this girl had. They wove through the crowd and snagged the last booth tucked in the back corner. The bar was filled with people laughing and enjoying what was left of happy hour. In this town, every hour is happy hour, he thought.
Evangeline slid into the booth, and he sat next to her. Her green eyes sparkled as she peered sideways at him through her lashes. Cedric immediately thought of a cat with a bowl of cream. He had the feeling he had lost control of the situation the minute they’d entered the bar. The waitress stopped by long enough to deposit two highball glasses on the table, and then sauntered back off into the crowd. He sat there waiting for the green-eyed cat to pounce.
“My father hired you.”
It wasn’t a question, he knew that much. “Yes,” Cedric kept the reply short, waiting.
“Someone is blackmailing him and using me as the leverage.” She wasn’t speculating, and there wasn’t an ounce of humor in her voice.
“You have no idea who it is, and you want to keep me close because it’s easier to protect me that way.”
Cedric’s brow furrowed. He was beginning to wonder how much she knew. “Yes.” Before he could ask her anything else her eyes flickered to a spot just past him.
“Oh shit,” she grumbled, and then Cedric saw the panic hit her eyes. She moved closer, turning fully towards him, and her lips connected with his. The touch sent sparks to his fingertips and toes. His arms instantly went around her, hands roaming her back. When she opened her mouth, he slipped his tongue inside touching his to hers. At that moment, he lost all coherent thought.
* * * * *
He tasted of cinnamon and home. It went to her head, making her dizzy for want of him. Kissing him had been for self-preservation, but now she completely forgot why she had done it. Her hands slipped under his wool pea coat, molding the linen of his shirt to the warm expanse of skin underneath it. He was so close and yet not close enough. She had not intended to do it, but when she touched him he felt so damn good. He growled and slipped a hand down grabbing a handful of her ass and squeezing. Her gasp made him smile against her mouth. That tiny fraction of reality reminded her why she kissed him and she opened her eyes.
The spot where Donald had been standing was now vacant. She buried her face in Cedric’s coat, too embarrassed to face him just yet. He had ceased all movement but didn’t push her away. They sat there for a moment, their breath synchronizing. She pulled away slightly and looked into his face. His eyes had deepened in color, his unshaven jaw locked. He looked as if he was waging some kind of internal battle. She waited for him to speak. He didn’t.
“Cedric,” she whispered, afraid to say anything else. She wanted to kiss him again, and that kind of thought could prove dangerous.
“What was that about?” he asked with what sounded like mild curiosity.
“I saw someone from work who I didn’t want to talk to,” she said, completely honest. “He’s an ass and has been trying to ask me out for months.” She shivered.
“So you kissed me to warn off this guy.” He sounded amused.
“Yes, is that a problem?” She pulled away from him completely, crossing her arms. He reached for his drink and took a healthy swallow. She watched him drink, the muscles in his neck moving. She licked her lips, suddenly dying of thirst.
“Who?” His question squashed her budding fantasy.
“Donald Baranski, my father’s partner.” She shivered again. “The guy might be as handsome as Brad Pitt, but he gives me the creeps.” She took a sip of her drink. “He was hanging out by Dad’s office again today. He’s forever bothering Dad, following him around the office. Typical brownnoser. He’s starting to become a pain in the ass.”
Cedric was staring at her. Evangeline smiled but he seemed to be lost in his thoughts.
“Excuse me, I need to go to the restroom.” She needed to put some distance between them. This man-made her heart and stomach want to do the fandango. A few minutes out of his presence should air the lusty thoughts swimming through her mind. She pushed past him when he stood to allow her out of the booth. When she cast a glance over her shoulder, she saw him watching her, a thoughtful smile playing on his lips, and her cheeks warmed.
Evangeline turned the corner leading towards the restrooms. She looked up as she brushed past someone. “Sorry, excuse me.”
“Now, isn’t this a surprise,” a familiar voice exclaimed. She looked up at the person she brushed past. Donald! Her heart began to race. Her brain searched for an excuse to be rid of him. “Donald, what are you doing here?” She smiled, but deep inside she was not at all happy.
“Oh, I heard you mention that this place had fantastic wings!” he said with a charming smile. She vaguely remembered mentioning it to Miss LeDeux. Of course, Donald would hear every word; he rarely missed an opportunity to loiter outside her father’s office.
“So they do.” She wished herself back to her cozy booth with Cedric.
“Oh, by the way, I have some papers you need to sign as soon as possible.”
“The Murphey contracts?”
“Yeah.” He smiled. “I know you’ve been working hard on their deal for weeks. You’ll probably want them before the weekend? They’re just in my car. Do you mind terribly?”
“Absolutely.” She needed to get that deal in ink as soon as possible. This was her biggest client to date. The sooner it was done, the better. “Where are you parked?”
“Just through there.” He gestured toward the back door. “I always park in the alley to avoid the traffic.”
Evangeline walked out into the dim alley and spied Donald’s car. She followed him. He opened the back door and pulled out a binder. As he handed it to her, the binder slipped from his hand and fell to the pavement. She bent over to pick it up. A sharp pain shot through her head. Everything went dark.
* * * * *
Cedric kept a close eye on the hallway where Evangeline had disappeared. It had only been a minute since she’d left him to go to the restroom, but a chill had settled in her absence. He looked around the bar once and then picked up his glass. Downing half the drink, his eyes settled on her briefcase. He picked it up and opened it. He sifted through the paperwork organized neatly in the manila folders, but it was the small folded note on top that caught his eye. He read it.
A wheel clicked and began to whirr in Cedric’s mind. It was another note. Just like all the other blackmail notes her father had received. God damn it all! She’d seen the note. That would explain how she knew what she did. Cedric slammed the briefcase closed and stalked off in the direction of the restrooms. He stopped in front of the women’s room and, when a petite blonde emerged, he asked her if there was anyone else inside. At her negative response, he glanced at the back door. Where was she?
He burst into the alley in time to see a black sedan disappear around the corner. A flicker of white caught his attention. A binder lay open on the pavement, its pages fluttering. He picked it up and read the name inscribed on the cover. Donald Baranski.
Cedric recognized the name. It was the man Evangeline was avoiding in the bar, her father’s partner. A thousand thoughts rushed him all at once. He knew now that she was in trouble. Baranski had been far too interested in sidling up to the boss’s daughter.
He pulled out his cell phone and dialed. “Sir, I know who has been blackmailing you.”
* * * * *
The pounding headache throbbed mercilessly. Evangeline did not open her eyes. She tried not to even breathe, for fear of making it worse. Her brain slowly began to function over the pain. She remembered nothing after the alley. Her eyes shot open. She tried to open her mouth, but it was taped. She jerked her arms and feet. But she was tied to a chair. Her eyes searched the room frantically. Her brain searched for answers.
“I’m glad to see that I didn’t kill you.” Donald’s voice floated from beside her. She struggled to turn and look at him. She froze when she felt the cool kiss of the gun barrel on her cheek. “It’s so nice to see that you have at least a hint of sense in that pretty head.” Donald’s eyes gleamed with hate as he walked into her line of vision. He leaned against the mahogany table. “This would have been much cleaner had those two idiots succeeded in the park.” He nodded toward the two thugs guarding the door. “Or at the very least at your home, had you followed your routine.”
Evangeline glared at him. He had stalked her like a predator with its prey. He’s going to kill me, her inner voice screamed.
“Your father will be so distraught over your disappearance.” His dark good looks were charmingly deceptive. Evil was oozing from his soulless eyes. Deep inside, Evangeline knew she was as good as dead.
“That old bastard should have taken the hint.” His face was thunderous as his grip on the revolver tightened. “I was more than qualified to run that company!” He tossed his arms up, waving the gun in the air. He brought it down aimed at her head. “But he chose you.”
Oh my God, he’s insane! Her eyes darted to the door praying for a miracle.
“A spoiled princess.” He seethed. “As if you could run that company!”
At the thought of her father, tears sprang to her eyes. Evangeline pushed past the horrible things Donald said. She remembered she was to have dinner with her father to talk about the note. The note! She glared at Donald. He was behind the note.
Cedric. If her father had hired Cedric, then he must know that she disappeared from the bar. But how would Cedric know she hadn’t just ditched him? Hopelessness returned. She slumped in the chair. She didn’t even know where she was. She looked around the room and saw a picture of Donald on the mantle with a pretty redhead. We must be in his apartment. But no one knew he had taken her. The tears started silently.
“Such pretty tears,” Donald droned on. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to make this as painless for you as possible. Even though you don’t deserve it.”
“Mmm mmm mrhhmph!” She swore at him, the tears blurring her eyes.
“Did you say something?” He leaned in closer. “Speak a little louder next time.” His breath was hot on her cheek. “It’s a shame you never came around. We could have had a good time.” He leaned down and his tongue touched her neck. She cringed at the contact. He brought himself eye level with her. “Such a waste of a woman,” he murmured.
Evangeline waited for the right moment. Then leaning away from him, she let the powerful thrust of her head flow from her spine as she jerked it forward cracking his skull with her own. The force threw him backward, knocking the gun from his hand, but he caught himself before he fell. He glowered at her, blood streaming from his broken nose.
“Stupid bitch!” The back of his hand collided with her face. Suddenly, his hands were around her throat, squeezing, suffocating her. As she struggled to breathe, her eyes grew heavy and she slowly felt herself giving into the darkness.
A loud crash and shouting broke through her oxygen-starved haze. She opened her eyes. Donald was standing over her, his grip released. He scooped the fallen revolver off the floor and aimed it at the man fighting the two thugs. Donald couldn’t get a clear shot, so he put the gun to Evangeline’s head.
“Stop! Or she’s dead,” he shouted over the scuffle.
She recognized Cedric as he turned to face Donald, dropping the smaller thug to the floor. The two men quickly scrambled out of the apartment. “Get your goddamn hands off of her!” Cedric growled.
Donald’s hand was steady as he shifted the gun, aiming at Cedric. “Make me,” he sneered and the gun exploded.
Evangeline’s heart stopped when she saw Cedric’s body sway from the impact. He twisted and stumbled backward, collapsing to the floor. A cry lodged in her throat. Her body thrashed as she struggled. As she twisted her legs, she felt the rope give. She pulled her foot from its bonds.
Donald took a step toward Cedric. Evangeline thrust her foot out catching his legs causing him to crash to the floor.
“Freeze! Don’t move!” She heard the command as a swarm of armed police invaded the apartment. One of them stepped toward Donald, kicking the gun from his reach. Another one told him to put his hands behind his head and began to pat him down roughly.
They led Donald from the room in handcuffs.
Evangeline felt the tug of someone releasing her from the chair. She ripped the tape from her mouth and threw herself down on her knees beside Cedric. A medic had arrived and turned him over to apply pressure to a large bloody wound in his left shoulder. Relief and concern flooded her simultaneously. She could see him struggle against the pain. Evangeline took his hand in hers, kissed it, then held it to her heart.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
She smiled at him, tears dripping down on his hand. She leaned down and wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you.”
“For doing my job?”
“For caring enough to finish the job.”
He smiled. “I should have quit weeks ago.”
She pulled back a moment and looked at him. His eyes were dark and intense. “Why?” she asked confused.
“So I wouldn’t have felt so damn guilty about wanting to do this,” he said as his right arm came around her crushing her down against his chest and capturing her lips with his. The kiss deepened briefly and he nipped her lower lip with his teeth. She sighed, sinking into him. He broke the kiss and looked into her eyes.
“I don’t think your father would have approved of my methods, but it would have kept you close.” He smiled at her when she laughed.
“I knew my first impression of you was right,” she said still laughing.
“Do I want to know?” he asked as they lifted him onto a gurney.
“I knew you were sinfully delicious, darkness personified. You came with a warning label, Be careful what the darkness proposes.”
His wicked grin was all the encouragement she needed.