Security specialist Kai Axton blends into the night, a mist-like shadowy image of his human form. Because of his freakish nature, he feels doomed to live his life alone–until he meets Sian York.
Sian is not who or what she seems; her past is shrouded in a veil of mystery. As Kai prepares to make his move to claim her, Sian’s past explodes onto the scene, forcing him to reveal his darkest secrets. Can Sian accept Kai’s nature, or will he be doomed to live in the shadow world, forever alone?
Where in the blue blazes was she?
Kai Axton glared at the entrance to the bookstore-slash-coffee shop as if imagining her walking through the door could make it so.
The day had turned dark grey with the incoming frontal system off Lake Michigan. His mood matched the cold front, a mood that had gone from warm anticipation a few hours ago to icy disappointment. When he’d arrived at his usual time of three o’clock, he’d expected the proprietor Sian York to greet him with a smile, a freshly baked blueberry scone, and a cup of coffee as always. Kai’s employees teased him about his addiction to the food–and the woman. And they were correct. He looked forward to his daily fix, needed it like a junkie needed his next hit of smack. For the last six months, he’d counted on Sian being here for him. She never went anywhere during shop hours. But she had today.
Where in the hell was she?
Kai turned toward the relatively new clerk, a twenty-something female with strawberry pink hair and more metal in her face than a prepubescent teenager with braces. Now, what was her name again? Zoe, maybe?
“Zoe,” he called out. The clerk turned toward him. Zoe, it was.
A brief, narrow-eyed look of speculation swept over him. Or, had he only imagined that? He blinked. Whatever he thought he’d seen in her eyes was gone, replaced with a wide-eyed gaze of a person about to face her worst fear.
Most women were afraid of him. Fifteen years of wet work for the CIA had a way of marking a man, labeling him. His label read “predator.”
Oddly enough, Sian had never displayed one iota of fear in his presence. If anything, she treated him like a long lost and very special friend. Her presence extinguished the darkness in him. Around her, he almost felt human again, and not like the cold, hard weapon he’d been for so long–and often still was in his private security work.
Sian was magic. And Kai needed her the way he needed air, water, and sustenance.
So, where the fuck was she?
“Yes, Mr. Axton?” Zoe finally replied, her voice creaking like a door needing oil. She coughed, clearing her throat, and then said, “Do you need more coffee?” She reached for the coffee pot with a trembling hand.
Sian’s hand never shook in his presence. She had an aura of calm about her that was almost unearthly. Well, she had until recently. For the last three days, his spider sense, his third eye, his gut, or whatever you wanted to call it, had been on high alert. During that time, his imperturbable lady had displayed hidden, murky currents of unrest. Kai was concerned that her absence had something to do with whatever had upset her serenity. His sixth sense told him that there was danger out there. But from whom? From where?
“No, no coffee.” He’d drunk three cups during the two hours he’d waited for Sian to return to where she belonged. The caffeine jolt had exacerbated his edginess. “Tell me again where Sian went.”
Zoe frowned. “I told you two hours ago that she didn’t tell me.”
Just a hint of asperity tinged the girl’s tone. Not as frightened as she looked. Good, he’d rather have her pissed at him than scared. He’d managed never to hurt a woman, not even during the worst of his fieldwork.
“Just tell me what she said when she left,” he asked, then added, “please.”
The young woman’s forehead scrunched in concentration causing the rings lining her right eyebrow to clink against one another. She tongued the metal piercing in her lower lip, a nervous habit he’d noticed on previous occasions. “Said something about an appointment downtown and that she’d be back before the store closed…but if she didn’t make it back, I was to lock up and ask Gus at the newsstand to walk me to my car.”
“I’ll walk you to your car, if she isn’t back.”
He knew that Zoe parked in the same garage as Sian and he did, which was almost six long blocks away. The shop closed at six o’clock. Stores and businesses in this neighborhood tucked between Cabrini and River North never stayed open late. It wasn’t safe for any woman, or any man for that matter, to walk around alone after dark. Nightfall came early in Chicago in November. And with nightfall came the predators. His lady should not be out after dark.
Some indefinable emotion colored the young woman’s face. “Thank you, but it’s too much trouble…”
He interrupted her protest with a growl. “I said, I’ll walk you to your car.”
Zoe’s tongue worked the lip piercing faster, then she nodded, resigned to her fate.
Sian would never forgive him if her sole clerk got mugged. Kai hadn’t labored for the last six months, stretching even his unlimited patience to the limits, to gain Sian’s trust only to lose it over something as simple as walking Zoe to her car. Especially not when he’d planned to make the move to the next, more intimate, level in his relationship with Sian.
He’d see Zoe safely on her way and then he would wait for Sian to arrive. He’d trail her home, making sure she got safely into her flat above the shop. Then, he’d call and ask her out to dinner–to talk. To let her know he wanted to get to know her more intimately. And to get answers, if he could, to some questions that had nagged him for months.
Questions like: Why had Sian opened a shop in this borderline neighborhood, and chosen to live above it? He’d asked her that once, but Sian had just smiled, shrugged, and said it was all she could afford. But that was bullshit. She had money. Her clothes, her car, this business, and its inventory, all screamed a comfortable income. Yet, she didn’t make enough sales in a day to support any of that. So, where did the money come from? And why did he catch a glimpse of a haunted look in her eyes as she evaded giving him a straight answer? Finally, why didn’t she ever go out of town to visit anyone? Or, have anyone visit her?
None of it added up, arousing all his digging instincts. He’d made it his business to seek answers to the conundrum that was Sian. Not that he really cared what he found one way or another. His soul had recognized his perfect mate. No, Sian was his no matter who she was or where she’d come from. She completed him, made him whole.
But even with all his resources, both legal and not, he’d hit a blank wall.
Prior to last year, Sian York hadn’t existed.
Oh yeah, someone had tried to set up a background for her, but Kai had been in the business long enough to recognize a fake identity. Hell, he’d had at least ten identities himself when he’d worked for the Company.
Sian York was a fake. But there had to be a valid reason for her hiding behind a false identity. He knew that if she shared that with him, he would be at third down with only inches to go to score on the more intimate relationship he needed from her.
For the hundredth time since Kai had entered the shop, he glanced at the door then at his watch. With each sweep of the second hand, his nerves and muscles readied his body for the unknown battle ahead. That there would be a fight to protect his lady was as certain as he knew his own name. That certainty and his ability to wait for approaching danger, then act instantly and decisively, came from his past training. The skills had been learned in some of the most dangerous jungles in the world–some urban, some not–skills that never went away, but merely camouflaged themselves under a veneer of civilized behavior, lurking until they were needed again.
The forced inactivity ate at him like acid. He needed to do something, but couldn’t until he had the intel–or something happened. The feelers he’d put out and the favors he’d called in had yet to produce any information. Sian York, for all intents and purposes, did not exist, but he’d already known that. So, he’d urged his sources to dig deeper.
He had the sense he was running out of time. Something had happened three days ago that had upset Sian–no, had scared her. Was it notice of this damned meeting she’d gone to? Did the meeting involve something, or someone, from her secret past? Had some long ago trouble raised its ugly head? He’d get the answers tonight at dinner. She had to tell him. Had to trust him. Had to.
Whether she was ready to accept him as a lover or not–Sian was his. God and all the deities in the Otherworld knew she’d become his from the first time she’d greeted him with a smile–and really looked at him. For too many years, he’d been invisible, a specter lurking in the shadows of a dangerous world.
But Sian had changed all that with a smile, with her warmth. She’d looked him directly in the eyes, eyes that he’d been told were dark, deep, and pitiless, and still had invited him to share her world, to share the humor in the life around them. It was as if the sun had reached deep into his soul and melted the icy fortress around his heart.
He’d start his claiming of Sian tonight and hope to God he didn’t scare her away with his all-consuming passion. Sian was his sole chance at a future that he’d once thought might never come. A home. A woman to love. Children.
He’d be damned if some unknown danger would take that away.