DUSK releases November 11, 2014!
In celebration, here’s a little gift: scroll down to read Chapter One!
And don’t forget, DARK is on sale right now at Amazon and ARe! Get the first Stronghold book for $0.99!
Erotic Romance (MF), May/Dec, New Adult, Rubenesque, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Suspense
Word Count: 38,326
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing
Lucy Soren never expected to live through an alien attack. Months later, her nightmares won’t let her forget the pain she suffered, or her strange attraction to the man who saved her from certain death.
Sentry Solomon Dusk never wanted to heal a mortal woman, but he can’t forget Lucy’s bravery or beauty. Even though he vowed to never again fall in love, Lucy attracts him like no other woman ever has before.
When the alien Spiders again slip past the Sentries’ defenses, Solomon’s only thought is to protect the woman he refuses to love. Lucy’s only hope is to run from the danger to her heart. Unfortunately, the fate of the planet rests on their ability to work together. Will their fear of commitment keep them from saving the planet… and each other?
DUSK Chapter One Excerpt:
Lucy Soren sat at her desk, absently rubbing her right forearm. Outside, bright gold and red touched the tips of the leaves across the parking lot in preparation for autumn. Inside, her emotions slipped again into grey, jagged anxiety. Last year at this time she was still in college, enjoying her last days as a student, not a worry in the world. This year? Well, this year she spent a large portion of her time pretending to be a grown-up, while feeling anything but.
“If you keep that up, you won’t have any skin left,” Shari said, stacking the files of the next three patients near the printer. She leaned against the counter and crossed her arms. “Stop with the fidgeting and just tell me what’s bothering you.”
Lucy smiled at her friend. “It’s nothing.” She forced her hands down to her lap, eyes flicking to the door. Ever since she’d been injured a few months ago, she’d been unable to keep herself from constantly checking for the closest available exit. Just in case… her mind whispered.
“Yeah, right.” Shari sighed and sat down in the empty chair next to Lucy’s station. “We have approximately ten minutes left on break before patients start piling in here again. Spill, girl. I’m all ears.”
Lucy shook her head. “I’m just tired.”
Shari gave her a look.
“No, really. I haven’t been sleeping well,” Lucy offered.
“Why not?” Shari asked, as if just answering that simple question could solve all the ills in the world.
Lucy stifled a derisive laugh. She liked Shari. She wasn’t angry with her, just… frustrated. “I was in an accident before I started working here.” She shrugged. “Sometimes I still have nightmares.” She hoped that explanation satisfied Shari because she didn’t have the time or energy to explain everything that had happened to her.
Shari’s face melted into sympathy. “Oh, that sucks. I know how you feel. I broke my ankle in a car crash when I was in high school.” She grimaced. “I had nightmares for months. My mother had to bribe me to get back in the car.” She grinned. “I ate a lot of chocolate bars my senior year of high school. Good thing I had a fast metabolism.”
If only what happened to me had been something as simple as a car crash. Lucy forced a smile. “Yeah, it can be hard dealing with that kind of thing.”
Shari nodded. “I’m sure you’ll start to feel better soon. When was your accident?”
“At the beginning of the summer,” Lucy said. She glanced at the clock. “Listen, I have to run to the bathroom. Can I get a rain check on this conversation?”
Shari smiled sympathetically. “Of course! Anytime. I’m happy to listen. Just remember that.” She patted Lucy’s shoulder. “We were so glad when they hired you. We really needed the help. We can’t afford for you to have a nervous breakdown.”
Lucy stood up and shoved her hands in her pockets, trying not to show how much it bothered her when Shari touched her. “Thanks. I really appreciate it,” she said, quickly heading for the door before Shari could say anything more.
I have to get out of here, just for a minute or two. She hurried down the hall and practically shoved her way into the bathroom. She chose the end stall, the one in the most protected corner. She locked the door and sat down, drawing her legs up until she was huddled into a ball. Thank God the doctor’s office where she worked used residential toilets and not those lavatory ones without seats. She put her head down on her knees and gritted her teeth.
I’ve got to get over this, she told herself, taking slow, deep breaths. The smell of fake lavender filled her nostrils. She’d hidden in here so many times she was starting to associate the cleaning scent with her anxiety. Not good. At this rate, I’ll walk past a garden with blooming lavender and have a full-blown panic attack in public. She shuddered, trying to talk herself down. You’re safe. There are no Spiders here. You’re safe…
Her cell phone buzzed, jerking her out of her self-guided paranoid meditation. When she dug the device out of her pocket, she wrinkled her nose, not recognizing the number. She slid her finger across the display.
“Is this Lucy?” a man’s voice asked.
She frowned. He sounded familiar. “Yes. Who is this?” She heard a faint rustling noise, and then he responded.
Lucy’s heart almost stopped. Solomon Dusk? The Sentry who’d saved her life a few months ago? Why was he calling her? Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. The thought of the bug-like aliens attacking Earth had her clutching her phone until it creaked. She couldn’t go through that, not again. “Sentry Dusk, please tell me, is something wrong? It’s not the Spi—” she managed to blurt out before he cut her off.
“No, no. Nothing like that. I’m just calling to see if you are well,” he said calmly. “After your injury and Eva’s pairing with my brother, you must have been very overwhelmed.”
He’s calling to see if I’m okay? That makes no sense, she thought. The Spider attack was months ago. She stared at the stall door, confused.
She took a deep breath. “I’m okay. I talked to Eva a couple days ago,” she said, referring to her best friend. Eva was married to Solomon’s brother, Sentry Greyson Dark. Her lips quirked into a half smile. The thought of her best friend married to a Sentry still bemused her.
“Good,” he said, voice smooth and sexy.
Lucy licked her lips. Her mouth was so dry she could barely speak. “Sentry—”
“Call me Solomon.”
Lucy shook her head. “I’m at work.” The more he said, the more worried she grew. After the last Spider attack, the Sentries had given a final press conference about the aliens and then gone silent again. They still protected the planet, but they were very private men. And from what Lucy’s best friend, Eva, had said, they continued to monitor the Spiders as they had always done. So there’s nothing to worry about, she told herself, rubbing her arm lightly.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you at your job,” he said, voice going low. “I’ll leave you to finish your day.”
“No, wait!” Lucy exclaimed, sensing he was about to hang up. “Wait.” She listened to him draw in a breath and hurried to speak before he disconnected. “Solomon. I have to ask you something.” She tried out his name for the first time. It felt weird, to be talking to him as if he were an ordinary human. He wasn’t. He was near-immortal. He was over two centuries older than her. She was twenty, barely an adult, and he was older than everyone.
“I am here. Ask.”
She swallowed, gathering her courage. “We’re safe, aren’t we? I mean there aren’t any more Spiders on Earth, right?” She had to ask. She couldn’t help it, even if she sounded like a little girl. The nightmares came too often for her to ever fully forget what had happened all those months ago. She rubbed at her arm again, then forced herself to stop. When the Spiders attacked her and Eva in early summer, the only thing she clearly remembered in the midst of the blistering pain was Solomon Dusk’s steady gaze. His light brown eyes specked with silver calmed her. He’d held her, wordlessly reassuring her that everything would be all right.
How she she’d been able to see him clearly enough to remember his face, she didn’t know. Eva told her she’d passed out when one of the aliens had burrowed into her arm, hooking onto her nerves and destroying her from the inside out. It’d felt like someone had poured molten lava into her body. She vaguely remembered Eva’s Sentry, Greyson, taking her hand. She could sort of recall him murmuring to her, but Solomon’s eyes staring steadily into hers was what truly kept her sane throughout the entire, wretched experience.
“You are safe, Lucinda,” he said quietly. “I would never allow the Spiders to harm you. Not ever again.”
After that extraordinary statement, the faint click on the line told her he’d hung up. Lucy stared at the phone in her hand, and then slowly tapped the icon to dismiss the call.
How does he know my full name? She shook her head and tucked the phone back into her pocket. She was out of time.
“Idiot,” Solomon muttered, staring out the window several hours later. He’d almost called Lucy a half-dozen times since lunch, only to slide his phone back into his pocket. He wanted to try and explain what he’d meant when he said he’d protect her, but even after several hours’ thought, he still had no idea what had made him promise her she would be safe.
He strode to the opposite side of his tower. The view here was no better. Clouds and fog obscured the mountains to the north. “Too late now to take the words back,” he said, smoothing a hand over the stone that formed the side of his tower. “You will only confuse her more if you try.” And he didn’t want her to be afraid. He sighed as he watched the wind strengthen beyond the glass, swirling the white into random patterns. Not for the first time he questioned his wisdom in moving his Stronghold to the top of Mt. Washington several years ago. He’d wanted a better vantage point to keep track of his territory, and preserving the fragile ecology of the mountain had helped him make his decision, but the dreadful weather was a definite drawback. “Not that it matters,” he murmured.
He looked out into the white, angry with himself for calling her at all. I should have kept to myself. Isn’t that why you built your tower here? Away from everyone? He’d constructed it near the original observatory on the summit. Researchers still worked there, but on his terms and with his support. He’d shut down the cog railway except for one month in the summer, when he allowed tourists to visit. The rest of the year, solitude was his only company.
“Which is exactly what you wanted,” he reminded himself. He didn’t like people intruding when he needed to work. He was the Sentries’ scientist, their computer programmer and engineer all in one. Their ability to defend the world from the alien Spiders largely rested on his shoulders through the technology he created.
He trailed his fingers along the stone as he circled the glass-enclosed tower. The fog had rolled in from the west very quickly after the clear skies of this morning. He leaned against the stone, still thinking about Lucy. He wondered what she’d think of his living quarters. He’d brought her here once, several months ago, but she’d slept the entire time as her body replenished the energy it had taken to heal the damage the Spiders had caused.
Right now he stood within the second-highest level, which he used as his living quarters and research station. The stone pillar in the center of the floor was structural and technological—part of the tech bequeathed to him and the other Sentries by the Others. The material mimicked natural stone, but it was actually a complicated matrix of nanotechnology, quantum circuitry, and organic filaments. He used it as a communication viewer, a research computer, and as one of the nodes in the Stronghold quantum network that held together a sensor array that shielded the planet from alien incursions. The top floor he used as his bedroom.
“Which she will never see,” he told himself. He frowned, and turned to the pillar. An indicator glowed, letting him know that Greyson wanted to speak with him. He strode over and passed his hand along the blank surface. The stone wavered, and then his brother’s image appeared, almost as if he were standing in Solomon’s tower. He knew that for Greyson it looked as though he were standing in the heart of his stone house in the woods.
He touched the corner of his eye with his finger and inclined his head. “Greyson.”
“Always dutiful and all-seeing,” Greyson teased, smiling as he returned the gesture. The Sentries used it to show their dedication to duty.
Solomon frowned. “There is no need to mock our customs.”
Greyson lifted a shoulder. “I’m not mocking them. I’m mocking you.”
From somewhere behind Greyson, a light female voice called out. “Greyson, stop picking on your brother. It’s not nice.”
Solomon smiled, despite his irritation. “I see Eva keeps you on your toes.”
Greyson scowled, even as his eyes twinkled. “Women are so tedious.”
“Speak for yourself,” Eva laughed.
Greyson shook his head. “I heard you called Lucy.”
Solomon nodded. “I wished to assure myself of her health.”
Greyson cocked his head. “I’ve told you numerous times that she is fine. Eva sees her almost every week, as do I.”
Solomon firmly suppressed the urge to fidget. “Even so, I wished to check for myself.” He didn’t like the thought of Greyson seeing Lucy every week. It unsettled him. He didn’t want his brother near her. That is irrational, he told himself firmly.
His brother looked at him for a long moment. “You are welcome to come visit. It would be nice to see you again after so long.”
“Tell him I’m cooking dinner on Friday and he’d better be there. I’m making steak,” Eva called out again.
Greyson smiled wryly. “She’s cooking dinner on Friday. You’d better come, or God knows what she’ll do to me.”
“I heard that!” Eva yelled.
Solomon smiled faintly as he looked away from the viewer to the windows. White enshrouded his tower like a tomb. Maybe some fresh air and a clear view would help resolve this unnatural fascination with a mortal woman. “Very well. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Excellent. Five o’clock on Friday,” Greyson said. “Until then.” He touched the side of his face and then the viewer went dark.
Solomon stared at the stone for a moment, then headed to the spiral stairs that led to the upper floor. He climbed them quickly and walked to the dresser nestled against the pillar in the center of the room, set opposite the bed. For a moment, he just stood there, hand hovering over the small drawer tucked between two larger ones, but then he steeled himself and slid it out. He slowly extracted an old wooden box and eased it open. Nestled inside, on frayed velvet, sat a small silver ring. The flat top held an abstract design carved into its face. It was too small to fit on his fingers, but he drew it out anyway, clenching his fist around it.
If you do this, there is no going back, he thought, but then he recalled Lucy’s voice on the phone. The fear she carried around with her had struck him to the bone. Slowly, he unclenched his fist and slid the ring into his pocket.
It’s already too late.