The first book in my new series is releasing Wednesday! In celebration, I’m posting the first chapter. Enjoy!
STRONGHOLD Series –> The Sentries are territorial, guarded, and relentless in their duty to defend humanity from a secret, deadly menace. In order to remain vigilant, these semi-immortal men must remain aloof and solitary. No one, not even their true mate, will distract them from their mission to protect Earth from annihilation…
buy links – Evernight – releasing July 30!
Erotic Romance (MF), May/Dec, New Adult, Rubenesque, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Suspense
Word Count: 38,070
Heat Level 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing
Greyson Dark doesn’t like strangers in his territory.
Eva Waverley doesn’t like being told to keep out.
After her father’s suicide, hiking is the only thing that makes the bullying in Eva’s new school bearable. When Greyson rescues her from a tumble, she falls for him despite his autocratic demeanor. She’s leaving for college soon—what does it matter if she crushes on a man everyone else fears?
Greyson suspects Eva is his true mate, but duty demands he remain aloof. She doesn’t know he’s a long-lived Sentry, sworn to protect Earth from the Spiders, an ancient alien menace. When she leaves for college, he’s relieved, but four years later she comes back, all grown up and more gorgeous than ever.
Greyson can’t afford to care for a mortal woman, no matter how compelling. Hackers are attacking Stronghold, the Sentries’ net, and Spiders are swarming beyond the moon, but when Eva is attacked, he discovers he can’t just let her die…
Be Warned: light BDSM, anal sex.
Chapter One Teaser:
Greyson Dark watched the girl hiking through his woods, teeth clenched against the headache itching behind his skull. She shouldn’t be here, he thought, irritated. Her long red hair slid over her shoulders as she looked behind her for a moment, and then, seemingly reassured she was still alone, continued along the barely viable trail. He frowned, silently slipping through the trees in her wake. After two hundred and forty-three years in this forest, he could walk through all of it with his eyes closed and no one would ever hear him. What the hell was she doing here?
She stepped on a branch and nearly fell before she recovered—hands gripping a tree an inch from a sprig of poison ivy. She shook her head and muttered something to herself.
Greyson was too far away to hear her words, but he could imagine her berating herself for not being careful. He wanted to yell at her, scare her away from this place, but he never showed himself to anyone, not like his brother Bruno. He couldn’t stand the pain of it.
The girl sighed and rubbed her temples. He moved closer, wondering why her parents hadn’t warned her away from this place. She was clearly young, probably still in high school. Her clear, pale skin held a scattering of freckles that made his fingers twitch. His mother had once let him trace the freckles on her arms, but she’d died so long ago he couldn’t remember her voice anymore. He wished the girl would just turn around and go home.
“Is someone there?” she called suddenly.
She whipped her head around, face panicked, then abruptly took off running.
Stupid girl, he thought, keeping pace with her as she pelted through the trees. She’s going to break her neck.
As if he’d willed it to happen, she suddenly went down, twisting her ankle on a root. She cried out as she fell, hands splayed to keep her head from impacting the dirt, but not enough to keep her from wrenching her leg.
Dammit, Greyson thought, frustrated. His headache bloomed into a full-scale assault as the pain of her sprained ankle flared over his empathic gift. This is my fault. He stopped just out of sight and leaned against a tree as he absorbed and controlled the emotions careening into him.
The girl rolled over, her green eyes clouded with fear as she rubbed at her shin. A smudge of dirt marred the perfect skin of her cheek. “Go away, Frank! I told you to leave me alone. You and your so called friends think you’re so funny, but you’re not. You’re a jerk.”
Frank? Greyson rubbed his eyes tiredly. So, she hadn’t been running from him after all. He let his senses spread out, checking the land for intruders. When his internal sight found three boys stomping along the same trail the girl had taken, he growled under his breath. He glanced at the girl, but she seemed stable for the moment, so he left her and took off back the way he’d come. Those boys wouldn’t be on the trail for long.
Eva shoved her hair over her shoulders as she tried to figure out what to do. Her ankle hurt like hell and she didn’t have a cell phone, so she couldn’t call for help. No way can I walk out of here, she thought, touching her ankle tentatively. It had swollen so fast she was afraid to take off her boot.
“Drat,” she muttered, swallowing back tears. She would not cry, not again. She could handle this. She could handle anything, even the assholes picking on her at school. After everything she’d been through with her father’s death, and then having to move here with her mom, she knew she could probably survive whatever she had to, not that she’d enjoy it.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, she mused, then laughed bitterly. Or makes you more miserable. She sighed and stretched out on the ground, ignoring the itch of dry leaves against her arms. Above her, the late afternoon sunlight lit the clouds with pink and purple. The trees swayed gently in the breeze and everything looked so Zen she wished she could just relax, but the pain in her ankle wouldn’t let her. The pain in her heart, well, she didn’t think that would ever go away.
“You’re such an idiot,” she told herself aloud. “Frank and the others probably weren’t even behind you.” Not even a half hour ago, she’d run into the woods near the high school after Frank and his gang of losers had cornered her by the tennis courts. He’d grabbed her arms and mashed his lips to hers while his cronies jeered him on. She’d swiftly kneed him in the groin and had watched him go down, all the while thinking: That’s the last thing my dad taught me before he hung himself in the backyard. Before Frank could recover or his friends could do anything, she’d taken off.
“You shouldn’t be here,” a quiet, gruff voice said, scaring her to death.
Eva choked back a gasp and looked up, heart pounding as she tried not to freak out. A man stood over her, frowning. He had dark hair and deep brown eyes shot through with specks of silver. He wore a tight black t-shirt that clung to every muscle in a way that let her know he was not a small man. He was movie-star gorgeous, except for the part where he looked like he wanted to yell at her.
Oh shit, she thought, swallowing hard. I’m in trouble. She tightened her fingers around a rock, not that a puny stone would do much good against this guy. He stared at her for so long, unmoving, she thought maybe he was going to turn around and leave, but then he sighed and dropped to his knees. He reached for her leg and she scooted back, ignoring how much it hurt to move. “Don’t touch me!”
He rested his hands on his thighs. “Those boys are gone now. They won’t be back.”
Eva stared at him. “What do you mean? What boys—” She cut herself off. Dammit. Frank’s friends probably had followed her. She glanced down the trail reflexively and saw nothing but dirt and trees.
The man lifted a shoulder. “Everyone knows not to come into my woods.”
His woods? Great, now I’ve been caught trespassing when all I wanted to do was get away. Her throbbing ankle wrecked her ability to think. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone owned this land.”
“You aren’t from around here,” he said after another long pause.
Eva eyed his hands. He wore a silver ring on his right thumb, etched with some sort of geometric design. He hadn’t moved a muscle since she’d pushed away from him. Maybe he wasn’t going to hurt her. She hoped not.
His thumb twitched.
“My mom and I moved here a couple months ago,” she offered tentatively.
“I assumed as much.” His eyes went to her injured leg. “Will you let me see to your leg?”
She chewed on her lip. She was already screwed. He could do whatever he wanted and she couldn’t stop him. She thought about her dad telling her she was strong and could deal with anything and had to choke back a laugh. Or a sob. She wasn’t sure which. Her dad certainly hadn’t taken his own advice. Whatever. Wasn’t the fact that this guy was asking permission to touch her a good sign? “Yeah, okay,” she muttered.
He leaned closer, then touched his fingers to her shin. He didn’t move her jeans away or try to take off her boot. It was… weird. “What are you doing?” she asked, more confused than frightened, now. “Do you have a phone? I can call my mom. She’ll come get me.”
“Shh.” He grimaced, and suddenly he looked a lot older. Forbidding. His fingers went taut, digging in a little.
Eva shivered and almost pulled away, but then warmth tingled through her skin, easing the pain a little. She licked her lips. What was he doing? She looked at his hair, then at his cheekbones. He had a bit of stubble, as if he’d shaved yesterday, but couldn’t be bothered to do it again today. He was really gorgeous. And very much a grown-up. Not like the boys at school. She wished she had the nerve to touch him, but no way was she going to do that. His eyes glittered as he moved his hand in a small circle, as if he was feeling around for something.
“There,” he muttered, sliding his fingers down to her foot. The warmth followed.
Abruptly, Eva realized that the pain was gone. Whoa. “What did you do?” She rolled her foot. It felt fine.
He sat back. “Go home. Don’t come back. These woods are dangerous.”
She stared at him. Was this guy for real?
He held out a hand. “Come on, then.”
Eva put her palm in his and he hauled her up as if she weighed nothing, which couldn’t be further than the truth. Her hips were the bane of her existence. The only thing worse than being the girl whose dad killed himself was thefat girl whose dad killed himself. She took a deep breath and shoved those thoughts away. Her therapist told her she had to stop tormenting herself with negativity or some bullshit like that. And Mr. Gorgeous was looking at her, waiting for her to do something. “I thought I’d broken my ankle,” she said, standing carefully. The last thing she wanted was for her leg to give out again.
He shook his head. “Just a little strain. Don’t go running on it tonight and you’ll be fine.” He stepped back, looking angry again. The silver specks in his eyes flashed. “Go straight home.”
She wrinkled her forehead. He might be handsome, but he was weird. And cranky. “What do you care about where I go?”
“I don’t. I just don’t like people on my property,” he growled.
“Grumpy,” she muttered, vaguely offended.
He turned his back on her. “Ask around. Everyone knows not to come here.”
Eva tentatively put more weight on her ankle. It didn’t hurt at all. “Fine. Whatever.” The only reason she’d come here in the first place was to get away from Frank and his asshole friends. “I’ll try to keep away from your precious trees.”
“Good,” he said calmly, melting into the woods like some kind of ninja assassin.
“Jerk,” she muttered, heading back the way she’d come. She walked slowly this time, not wanting to trip again. So what if he’s gorgeous? she thought. He’s not very nice. And she certainly didn’t need that kind of drama in her life. She’d already had enough to last a lifetime.
A week later, Eva walked into the woods again, this time deliberately. She’d had a shitty day at school. Her calc exam had been a disaster. She’d had a terrible morning, too. When she’d come out of her room, her mom had been sitting at the kitchen table nursing a cup of cold coffee, hands on her temples. Eva could tell she was in the middle of one of her migraines again, though her mom tried to hide it. Eva had made her some oatmeal and tried to talk her into taking a sick day, but her mother was nothing if not stubborn.
Which is probably a good thing, since Dad was a total loser, she thought, angry all over again. Neither she nor her mom had any clue why he’d done it, not that it mattered anymore. He’d wrecked their lives. They’d had to move to a completely different town in the middle of Eva’s senior year of high school because her mom couldn’t afford to keep the house on her salary. And don’t forget how everyone at school began to treat you like a leper. Ugh. At least moving to a different town had solved that problem, sort of. Everyone at her new school disliked her because she was moody and strange, not because of her dead father. That was a vast improvement over being pitied.
“So Dad was an asshole, so what,” she said aloud, just to hear the words. She stopped hiking and stared at the root that had tried to eat her foot last week. It wasn’t very big. She kicked it. It didn’t budge. She kicked it harder and kept going until her boot tore a large chunk of bark from the top. That made her feel better. She sat down, breathing heavily.
“I told you not to come back.”
Eva twisted around and looked up, heart knocking on her ribs. There he was: Mr. Tall, Gorgeous, and Grumpy himself. She’d asked about him at school and everyone told her not to go anywhere near the mean old guy in the woods. This man did not look old. She’d also been told that the woods were cursed. She didn’t believe a word of it. Mr. Gorgeous might be cranky, but he’d been mostly decent to her. One of the girls who was becoming sort of a friend had freaked out when Eva had told her she’d gone hiking here, but she’d refused to explain anything. Because everyone in this town is crazy. Truth was, she’d come back here hoping he’d show up again. She’d reasoned that once she saw that he wasn’t as hot as she remembered, she’d be able to stop daydreaming about him all the time. Looking at him now, she knew that her plan wasn’t going to work. He looked great.
“So you did,” she said, finally answering his statement. She wasn’t going to apologize. Instead, she let her eyes take him in. Today he wore another tight shirt, this one grey. It made the silver specks in his eyes stand out even more. His jeans were worn. He even had a rip in the one knee. Most of the adult men she knew wore khakis. Her dad had worn khakis.
He frowned at her. “So why are you here?”
Of course he’d ask. She blinked back sudden tears and looked away. “Because.” What the heck was wrong with her? She had to get a grip. She took a deep breath and told herself to stop being a freak.
“Didn’t they tell you not to come here?”
She snorted. “Yeah. Whatever. What are you going to do, arrest me? You don’t look like a cop.”
She looked up. He’d crossed his arms over his chest, making his muscles bulge like a fitness trainer. It’s kind of weird that he’s a real person. Most guys who look like that are on television.
“You’re not going to leave, are you?” he asked.
She shook her head. No, she wasn’t. Why should she? She liked it here. “What did you do to those guys? Frank hasn’t come near me all week. It’s been awesome, so, thanks for that.”
He tilted his head. “They bothered you a lot?”
She nodded. “Yeah. At school. I just moved here with my mom a couple months ago and they think I’m weird.”
“What did they do?” he growled.
She wrinkled her nose. “The usual. Grabby hands. Nasty words.” She shrugged. “Whatever. I can deal.”
Unexpectedly, he sat down next to her. “They won’t be bothering you again.”
“What did you do to them?” Eva could feel the warmth coming off his skin and shivered. It was a cool night. She should’ve brought her jacket.
“Nothing permanent,” he said gruffly, loosely twining his fingers together.
She stared at his ring. She didn’t care about Frank and his gang, especially not with this guy sitting next to her. “Where did you get that ring?” she asked. “It’s cool.” She barely kept herself from clapping her hand over her mouth. Did she really just ask him such a stupid question? Apparently, close proximity to the monster in the woods turned her into a twit.
He rubbed a finger over the engraving. “It was a gift.”
As if someone else had taken over her body, Eva watched her hand reach out and touch it. The metal was warm and his skin even more so. “It’s pretty.”
He pulled away. “You shouldn’t be here.”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t you ever say anything else?”
He stood up and walked away. “Go home.”
Eva watched him disappear. “Huh. Story of my life,” she whispered. She stayed until the first stars appeared above the treetops, and then she walked home. Just because.
“Why do you keep coming here?”
Eva spun around, not surprised to see him. He showed up every time she ventured into his woods, after all. “I like it here.” She was happy today. Only one week until graduation. Yay.
“Doesn’t your mother worry about you?” He leaned against the tree. So far, he hadn’t yet cracked a smile.
“No. She’s working.”
“On a Saturday?”
Eva shrugged. “Since my dad hung himself she’s had to work more. I have a job, too.” She watched his face as she said the words, wanting to see if he’d react. He didn’t so much as twitch.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself,” he said, unexpectedly.
She went still, her gut clenching. “What do you care?”
“The sins of the father never pass on to the children, no matter what anyone says.” He pushed off the trunk and headed off trail.
“What. The. Fuck,” Eva said, angry. “You’re an asshole!” He disappeared into the trees. She hoped he fell and broke his neck.
“You misunderstood me,” he said a week later.
Eva jumped, but didn’t turn around. “I’m not in your stupid woods. This is my own backyard. See?” She waved a hand around the unmown lawn. So what if his damn woods butted up against their rental property? She didn’t care, especially not after he was such a jerk last week. When he put his hand on her shoulder, Eva tried really hard not to care how nice and warm his palm felt on her skin. “And normal people don’t pick up conversations weeks after the last sentence, you know.”
He snorted. “It’s barely been a week. And who said I was normal?”
She spun around. He didn’t look any different. Still annoying. “Maybe I meant I wasn’t normal.”
He let his hand fall. “You didn’t.”
Eva looked away, toward the yard. The house her mom had found for them really needed work. Whole chunks of old paint peeled down the siding near the back door. She rubbed her palms over her arms. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Happy graduation,” he said, putting something in her palm.
What the—? She looked down. He’d given her a stick? “You’re really weird, you know that?”
Eva’s breath caught, despite her irritation. She’d forgotten how insanely gorgeous he was because he’d pissed her off so badly she’d been thinking of him as that annoying man in her mind. But now, looking at him smiling, she felt like someone had taken a bat to her head.
She curled her fingers around the stick. “I’m going away to college at the end of the summer.”
He nodded and began to back away. “Good.”
Eva couldn’t think of anything more to say, so she just stood there, watching him disappear yet again.
“I planted your dumb stick. Nothing’s happening,” she said to the empty air around her. The trees rustled in the breeze. She crossed her arms and kicked at the root again. It was definitely looking worse for wear after all her abuse. “I think it’s dead.”
“That root never did anything to you.”
Eva’s heart skipped. There he was, grumpy as ever. Lucy said that everyone was afraid of these woods and that sometimes people didn’t come out. Total bullshit, she thought, staring at him. “It tripped me the first time I came in here.”
He lifted an eyebrow.
Eva blushed and looked away. “So, your stick isn’t growing.”
He chuckled. “Patience.” He walked closer, then put a finger to her cheek. “It’s a willow. They’re known for their toughness and tenacity for life.”
Eva’s breath picked up. Oh my God, is he going to kiss me? she wondered, dazed from his touch. She’d been daydreaming about him for weeks, but never in a million years did she think he’d be interested. She was too fat and he probably thought she was just a kid, but now… He stepped back, his habitual frown reappearing. Her hopes plummeted.
“It will grow. It just needs water and light.” He pivoted on his heel and walked away.
Eva swallowed. He’s way too old for you, anyway.
“Are you still letting that girl wander around your woods?” his brother asked with an annoyingly bland tone.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Bruno leaned forward. “You know, you’re going to regret this.”
“Says the man who allows mortals to roam all over his territory,” Greyson growled, irritated.
“I live in the middle of Manhattan, Greyson. It would be weird if I didn’t have other people in my building.” Bruno’s blue eyes glittered, the silver specks barely visible through the viewer screen. “Besides, I like people. The rest of you are crazy, isolating yourselves the way you do.”
Greyson wished he could reach through the communication device and grab his brother by the neck. Choking him to death would amuse him. “I can’t scare her away. I tried.”
“You mean, you won’t scare her.” Bruno chuckled. “You like her.”
“She’s a child. Just out of high school.”
“Not forever, she won’t be,” Bruno said, his voice going quiet.
Greyson knew what he meant. “It’s too dangerous. Remember what happened to our father?”
Bruno rubbed his face. “True.”
“Look, I called you so you would know to keep an eye on her for me. That’s all.”
Bruno gave him a long look. “She’s coming here?”
“For college. And I found out her mother’s moving, too.” Greyson tried not to think about the implications of that. If her mother moved away, she’d never come back. He didn’t want to believe that he might never see her again.
“What’s her name?”
“Eva Waverley. She has red hair. She’s smart and feisty.”
“Of course she is.” Bruno smiled. “I never expected otherwise.”
“Just do it,” Greyson said, frustrated. He knew his brother was on the verge of laughing at him, but it didn’t matter. He needed this favor.
“If she gets caught in the crossfire…” Bruno trailed off.
“She won’t.” Greyson tapped his ring.
Bruno’s eyes widened. “You’re not seriously going to give her that?”
Greyson nodded. “She’ll never know.”
“You’re playing with fire, brother.”
“She will never know,” Greyson said again, more emphatically this time.
Bruno put his hands up. “Fine. Don’t blame me when everything blows up in your face.”
Greyson nodded shortly, not trusting himself to speak.
“I’ll speak to you in six months.” Bruno touched the corner of his eye with his finger.
Greyson did the same. “Six months, brother.” He tapped the control and the viewer went dark.
“I’m going away, so you’ll never have to be grouchy about me trespassing again,” Eva called out to the silent woods. Nothing. She sighed, looking around. The breeze mocked her, making her think he was there, but there was nothing but the leaves tricking her with their occasional rustle. “Whatever. I don’t suppose it matters. I’m out of here.” She started walking. It was already getting dark and she needed to finish packing.
She stopped and took a deep breath, staring at the ground. When she looked up, there he was. Dark. Handsome. Totally unapproachable. It suddenly occurred to her that they’d never introduced themselves. She’d spoken with him more than a dozen times now, and she didn’t know his name. He shouldn’t know hers. “How did you know my name?” she asked.
Instead of answering, he strode forward.
She fought not to step back as her breath caught. She struggled to keep her hands still. She shoved down her attraction for him. He’d never given her the slightest indication that he felt the same. She shouldn’t be doing this to herself, anyway. He had to be at least twenty years older than she was, or more. And she was leaving. It’s just a stupid crush, she told herself.
“I have something for you,” he said, voice low and rumbly.
“I came to say goodbye, but you weren’t here,” she forced out past her frantically beating heart. He’d come close enough for her to feel the warmth radiating off his body. He smelled fresh and musky, like a pine forest just after a hard rain.
“I know.” He touched her cheek lightly, then pulled something out of his pocket.
Eva looked down. His ring lay nestled in his palm with a silver chain strung through it.
“Here.” He undid the clasp, then slid the chain around her neck. “Don’t ever take this off.”
Eva licked her lips, twisting her hands together so they wouldn’t tremble and betray her nerves. “What are you doing?”
“This will keep you safe.”
The chain was long enough to slide down her shirt between her breasts. It tickled.
“I don’t understand,” she said thickly. He’d left his fingers against her neck. She couldn’t breathe with him this close. He felt like a storm: dark and overwhelming. She wanted him, badly, not matter how much he might hurt her.
“Don’t take it off,” he repeated, then he cupped her cheeks with both hands, tilting her face up.
Whoa, she thought, when she finally deciphered the complicated look on his face. He was attracted to her. Shy, overweight, screwed-up Eva. How was this possible? As she tried to understand this miracle, he moved in and lightly touched his lips to hers.
Eva held her breath for a split-second, then her hands drifted up to his biceps and she held on for dear life. He deepened the kiss, tongue sliding inside her mouth. Eva shuddered. He tasted like mint. He felt like danger. He gathered her close and kissed her harder, teeth nicking the outside of her lips. Eva didn’t care. When he finally lifted his head, she thought maybe she was dreaming, but the taste of blood in her mouth told her otherwise.
“Stay safe,” he murmured, then backed away.
Eva touched her lips. “Wait!”
He paused, dark eyes glittering in the deepening twilight.
“I don’t even know your name,” she whispered.
He looked at her, face harsh. “My name is Greyson.” He touched his finger to the outside corner of his eye, then nodded and backed away.
As before, he abruptly disappeared into the forest before she could say another word.