Thrilled to have the chance to feature the first chapter of this one.Â I love Urban Fantasy and this one seems really exciting! Thanks to Gwen for letting me feature it.
Everyone has a vice Â— something they know is bad for them, but they do anyway. Since the third grade, mine had been boys. I managed to live up to my motherÂ’s expectations in every other area of my life. I was a star student and athlete, accepted to a prestigious pre-med program, and spent too much time studying and working out to get into any serious trouble. Life was going according to plan, except that I couldnÂ’t get past two dates with any of the duds Mom pre-approved. I had a craving for more edge, and it usually led me to the men that would hurt me the most.
The latest example was an on-again, off-again thrill-seeking hellion named Cody. According to my mother, he had a bad track record, bad manners, and no future prospects. According to me, he was exciting, easy-going, and we had wickedly hot sex. So it was really going to piss me off if she turned out to be right again.
He had dodged my texts and calls all week.
Most girls would hole up in their dorm rooms eating double fudge brownie ice-cream and watching a marathon of Jane Austen movies. Instead, I was spending my twenty-first birthday scouring the local freak show Â— some dark wave punk club called the Sweat Shop that featured an underground Â“dungeonÂ” Â— for my supposed boyfriend. HeÂ’d been spending a lot of time there the past few months, drawn in to the bondage scene. I had been underage, until tonight.
In an attempt to shake my homegrown look, IÂ’d dyed my forgettable brown hair a glitzy, sex-kitten auburn. Add to that three-inch spike-heeled boots, a black leather skirt, and extreme make-up. As long as I remembered not to smile and show off my dimples, I was five feet nine inches of badass babe.
Cody wouldnÂ’t know what hit him.
I emerged from the main entry of the club to find myself on a narrow grated catwalk thirty feet in the air. My hand instinctively shot out for the railing as I hissed in a breath. I could deal with a new wardrobe, a new venue, even some extra kink, but I really hated heights.
The bass beats from below shook the railing, which I clung to with a white-knuckled grip. I couldnÂ’t see the dance floor. The strobe lights and fog machine distorted the crowd, but I could smell the mass of humanity below me, almost taste the unmistakable pungent mist of sweat and sex mingled with the sour reek of alcohol.
I gulped, fighting vertigo.
A gang of people clamored towards me, most of them wearing more tattoos and piercings than clothing. The grate at my feet shivered.
With a muttered curse, I pressed my butt to the railing, holding on for dear life and squeezing my eyes shut. I didnÂ’t open them, even as hands skirted over my bare belly. I must have missed the Â“Prepare to be GropedÂ” sign on the door.
Once centered on the platform again, I kept moving, dodging to one side or the other when people got obnoxious. I was almost to the stairs at the other end. The goal was in sight. Excited to be through the gauntlet, I sped up.
One of my heels caught the grating. I took three lunging steps and managed not to fall, but then I bumped off of a tattooed hunk of muscle like a pinball, staggered back, and lost my balance. I tilted backward over the railing. My arms flailed for something to grab onto. A scream of terror caught in my throat.
For one stretched out second of panic, a flipbook of all the stupid things IÂ’d done in my life played out in my mind. This one was right at the top: death by trampy boots.
But instead of letting me become a cautionary tale, someone encircled my arm with a firm grip and righted me.
I glanced over my shoulder at the drop that had almost been my untimely finale, and gulped, my heart thumping so hard I choked on my pulse. I took a deep breath and held it as I gazed up at my tall savior.
He was bronze-skinned, with glossy black hair falling carelessly over rich brown eyes, and sculpted features more towards the severe end of the scale. I forgot not to smile. His grip on my arm eased, wide lips curving ever so slightly at the corners.
Â“All right?Â” His voice was like thick, dark honey. If I hadnÂ’t been watching his lips so intently, I wouldnÂ’t have known what he said over the blaring music, only that the tone of it warmed the pit of my stomach and made my mouth water. Adrenaline and humiliation warred in my body, making my tongue too thick to speak. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled.
I nodded, and he let go of me.
Â“Try to be more careful.Â” He dismissed me and leaned over to rest his elbows on the railing, a watered-down drink in his other hand. HeÂ’d rescued me without spilling a drop. My hero.
Â“Th-thank you.Â” I temporarily forgot the part about being suspended in midair.
Mr. Tall, Dark, and Beautiful nodded once and then scanned the room at large as if it presented something far more interesting than me. I noticed a curved scar over his right cheekbone, and he instantly down-shifted from sexy to sexy-and-dangerous. Bad combination for me.
My heart went pitter-pat as I tried to think of something more to say, but he proceeded to ignore me. As the rush of adrenaline wore off, my body remembered I was still three stories up. I grabbed my pride by the boot zippers and slinked away. The twisting grated staircase down had me sweating, but I kept it together through sheer willpower.
When I finally got my feet on solid ground, I collapsed against a wall plastered with concert posters and panted out the rest of my nerves. What the hell was I doing there?
Oh right Â— Cody. Bastard.
If he hadnÂ’t been the only guy IÂ’d ever almost-loved, I could have hated him just then. Why hadnÂ’t he just answered my calls? I peered through the fog of bodies and black leather. How was I going to find him? I suddenly felt like a rabbit caught in a clearing, surrounded by hungry wolves. I had too much of my virgin flesh out on display. My jacket helped some, but my skin kept trying to crawl away from me and hide.
I glanced up at the catwalk Â— I couldnÂ’t help myself. My savior still leaned in his ankle-length black coat. A world away, yet part of the scenery. How did people not notice him? I couldnÂ’t decide if it was his looks or just how he projected himself, but to me he was the sort of eye-candy that could rot my brain out. As if heÂ’d heard me, he turned his head. The intensity in his dark eyes, even from fifty feet away, made my neck prickle again. It could have been the danger part, or the sexy part. They both tingled the same to me. The feeling dissipated when his gaze slid away.
I shook off the feeling and shouldered my way up to the bar, searching for CodyÂ’s blue eyes in a sea of studs and rings and mohawks. Maybe a drink would help. Maybe several. Coming alone hadnÂ’t been one of my more brilliant plans. I should have pulled the female solidarity card and made Theresa come with me, but I knew she would turn it into an opportunity to point out what a waste of time Cody was. I got enough of the what-are-you-doing-with-your-life lectures from my mother. It was my birthday. I was supposed to be cutting loose. As the lightning-fast bartender zipped past me for the third time, I hollered for a tequila shot. It was the only alcohol IÂ’d ever tried before.
Â“SheÂ’ll have a Pit Viper.Â” A guy behind me slapped down a ten. His other hand slid under my jacket and across my bare lower back.
I gasped and jerked away, breaking out in goose bumps as I turned toward the newest target for my pent-up frustration. Â“No thanks!Â”
Â“Cody!Â” I threw myself against him. He caught me in a halfway hug, his fingers dancing over my sides. I gazed up at him, my brush with death forgotten. He looked gorgeous, as usual, in a tight black t-shirt and dark jeans. That mischievous smile. Cornflower blue eyes, with the familiar crinkle at the corners.
Â“Nice digs, sweetness.Â” He looked me up and down and twisted a lock of my new red in his fingers. Â“Do something with your hair?Â”
Â“YouÂ’re such an ass.Â” I hid my smile by burying my face in his chest. He deserved my ire for leaving me to dangle myself out on this limb, but now that he was here to catch me, I was so relieved I couldnÂ’t be mad at him anymore.
Cody laughed. Â“Did you come all the way down here just to tell me IÂ’m an ass?Â”
Â“Yeah.Â” My hands slid into his back pockets, feeling the ass I was really interested in. Â“You wouldnÂ’t pick up your damn phone.Â”
The humor dropped from his face. He pulled away from me to pat himself down, then shrugged. Â“Must have lost it.Â”
Â“You lost your phone? Seriously? When did that happen?Â” Maybe he hadnÂ’t been avoiding me like IÂ’d thought. I grabbed the Big-Gulp sized cup from the bar and took a sip of the vibrant red concoction. An explosion of sour fizzyness with a bitter cherry chaser rioted down my throat.
Cody took my hand and dragged me through the outskirts of the main dance floor.
Â“You do realize itÂ’s my birthday, right?Â”
Â“Of course.Â” He squeezed my hand. Â“I have a surprise for you.Â”
I was still coughing as Cody guided us into one of the side tunnels of the club, leading to a set of attached rooms and several smaller dance floors. He pulled me down a narrow cement stairway.
Â“Where are we going?Â” The Pit Viper had less venom once your tonsils adjusted to the assault. Cody ignored me, moving through a maze of dark, sticky-floored hallways like he had a destination in mind.
Thumping bass shook the walls around us, but the crowd thinned. The music grew distant. We passed by two rooms guarded on the outside by club bouncers. I peered into one of them through a crack in the doorway and glimpsed a half-naked man chained to a wall, his bare back covered in welts and small cuts. The snap of something sharp hitting skin made me grip CodyÂ’s hand tighter. Where was he taking me? What sort of place was this, really?
My stomach fluttered with a punch bowl of nerves, excitement, and alcohol. I finished the drink and set the cup down.
Cody took me around another blind corner and then ducked behind heavy curtains and into an alcove. Shackles dangled from the wall. One bare red bulb glowed from the ceiling. My heart raced a little faster, my ears ringing. I wanted this, wanted Cody so much, but for a second I thought I might be in over my head. It wouldnÂ’t be the first time my libido had led me astray.
He yanked me forward and pressed me against the nearest wall, his breath hot against my skin. Â“IÂ’m so glad you came, Lex. ItÂ’s such a rush. YouÂ’re gonna love it.Â”
His mouth on me was all the rush I needed. Cody was nothing like the Polo-wearing, tennis-playing bores my mother wanted me to date. He was all passion. Desire. Intensity. No consequences Â— he saw what he wanted and he took it. IÂ’d never been with a guy like that before, and heÂ’d uncovered a part of myself I wanted to taste more of. I felt like a different person when I was with him. Someone unpredictable and exciting. Free.
Now, with him so close, I didnÂ’t care if I was in over my head. IÂ’d wanted to celebrate my birthday with a bang, and I knew with him this would be a night IÂ’d never forget.
I pressed my hips against his. Â“I missed you.Â”
Â“I knew you would come to me.Â” His smile darkened in a way that made me shiver with anticipation, and maybe a little fear. Was I ready for this?
His lips slid over mine, a teasing caress. CodyÂ’s kisses were like a drug, and I was a junkie getting her first fix in weeks.
I ran my fingers through his soft, feathery hair, and hiked one leg around him. His tongue swirled in my mouth, a wash of tangy bliss. He pulled back, leaving me breathless, my lips tingling. His pupils dilated as he looked down at me. There was only a faint ring of blue on the outside, made violet in the red light.
That smile again, as his hands slid over my shoulders, shoving my jacket off, then smoothed across the tops of my breasts. Â“Have you ever had that dream where youÂ’re falling?Â”
Â“Yeah.Â” I moaned as one of his hands dipped into my top and caressed me. The other grabbed my thigh and hauled me closer. So ready.
Â“ItÂ’s like that, but you donÂ’t have to wake up, or ever hit bottom.Â” He ground me into the wall. I could feel how hard he was through his jeans. His licking and kissing grew into a devouring of my flesh, sucking and nibbling until I cried out and pressed back against him like the wanton sex creature I was pretending to be tonight.
Â“God, Lex, youÂ’re making me so hard,Â” he growled.
All the heat in my body rushed to front and center at those words. My head swam, and I couldnÂ’t tell if it was the Pit Viper or the Cody-high. Either way, I wanted more. I pulled him closer. He throbbed against me through a scant two layers of clothing, still too far away.
His next kiss wasnÂ’t meant to tease. It was full of the demanding intensity that walked the razorÂ’s edge of obsession Â— exactly what IÂ’d been craving. I whimpered as his grinding became more insistent. The sudden desire wracking through me bordered on an actual physical withdrawal. I didnÂ’t care about anything else in that moment but getting as close to Cody as humanly possible. Maybe I should have been scared by the thought, but my logic was unraveling too fast under the influence of that drink and CodyÂ’s attentions.
Not to mention the rush of giving myself over to it, of not thinking. That was the release I really needed. I usually thought too much. Never with him.
He reached under my skirt. One finger slid along my thong, and his palm pressed against me. The room spun. His touch had never felt so good before, like I was on fire inside and would burn up if he stopped. Any leftover inhibitions Â— not that I had many when it came to Cody and sex Â— disintegrated to ash.
In a move that surprised even me, I took hold of the chains on the wall and wrapped both legs around him, arching my back.
Cody hissed, rubbing my own wetness against me. Â“I want you so bad.Â”
Â“Then take me.Â” I threw my head back, pressing my breasts against him.
Please! I think IÂ’ll die if you donÂ’t.
Â…What the hell was in that drink?
One finger slid inside me as his mouth latched onto my neck.
A burst of sparkles exploded behind my eyelids. Fire raged through my veins, and only CodyÂ’s ministrations seemed to cool it. I needed more of him, more than his mouth on my skin, more of him filling me up. I gulped for air. The room felt stifling. My skin broke out in a sweat. But all I could say was, Â“More.Â”
He dug his teeth into me harder. I felt a pinch of pain, and then the biggest head-rush ever pounded me. I was sucked through a vacuum into an alternate dimension of ecstasy. It was a full-body orgasm that echoed through every cell. And he was still wearing his pants.
Gravity ceased to exist, so did sound. Cody was everywhere. His cool, salty smell filled my nose. I felt him inside and all around me. My toes and fingers tingled until they went numb. I dropped the chains, but he held me there, his mouth locked on my throat. My head lolled to one side and I moaned, completely content, blissfully detached from everything that wasnÂ’t Cody. I blinked my eyes open a couple of times, but the room blurred and faded from black, to white, to red.
Â“Cody.Â” It wasnÂ’t a question or a statement, just the only thought I could form. All strength seeped from my limbs. My heartbeat echoed loud in my ears. I tried to tell him when I saw a silhouette in the opening to the alcove, but then my vision flashed white again.
A loud voice struck my ears and bombarded the inside of my skull. Cody dropped my leg and backed away. I slid down the wall, slumping sideways.
My breaths were shallow and fast as I sat there wondering why I was on the filthy floor, and why it was tilting back and forth.
Â“You damned fool!Â” the voice rumbled overhead. Someone picked me up and propped me against the wall. One large hand pressed against my chest, another lifted my chin. I blinked my eyes open and found my mystery man from earlier studying me, an unreadable look on his face.
Â“Fancy meeting you here.Â” I smiled, lazy and euphoric. The rest of my body tingled now, not just my fingers and toes. Tiny shocks prickled over my skin, everywhere except where the warmth of his palm seeped into me. My stomach gave a giddy flutter.
I followed the strangerÂ’s gaze to see my sort-of boyfriend eyeing him with a mixture of anger and worry. Cody. He was so pretty, with his frosty hair, purple eyesÂ…red, red lips.
I didnÂ’t realize IÂ’d spoken out loud until the stranger said, Â“SheÂ’s in shock.Â”
Â“Nah, I think IÂ’m just wasted,Â” I slurred. Â“ItÂ’s my twenty-first birthday and IÂ’ve never been drink-drankÂ…drunk before.Â”
Â“I could have your SponsorÂ’s head for this. I suggest you inform her of what youÂ’ve done before I do. The punishment will be less severe.Â”
Â“I can take care of Lex.Â” CodyÂ’s lip curled. Â“SheÂ’s mine now.Â”
Â“Cody?Â” I looked from one to the other of them.
The stranger wrapped an arm around my waist and hoisted me up higher, grumbling something too low for me to hear. I instinctively started to relax into his strong arms, and then snapped slightly more alert.
WaitÂ…who? What sponsor? Was Cody in AA? And why were we wasting time talking to this guy? I wanted to speak up, to reach out, but my voice was as wispy and thin as my train of thought, and my arms felt like Jell-O.
Â“ItÂ’s okay, Lex.Â” Cody glared back, the two of them locked in some silent macho bullshit. Â“HeÂ’ll get you home.Â”
He ignored my huff of protest and backed towards the curtained doorway.
Â“Home? But I just got here! We didnÂ’t even dance yet!Â” A giggle erupted from my mouth at the thought of what weÂ’d been doing instead. Damn Pit Viper. Why would people drink those voluntarily?
Â“I have to go, Lex.Â”
Â“Go?Â” I closed my eyes, swallowing hard as the world warbled. What the hell? Why did he always leave me hanging? When I opened my eyes again, Cody had gone. The mystery man pressed his hand to my forehead. Concern didnÂ’t look as sexy on him as mysterious and brooding.
Â“What a killjoy.Â” I threw my arms over his shoulders in rebellion. Â“I guess youÂ’re my dance partner for the night.Â”
He shook his head and tried to slide away. Â“There wonÂ’t be any dancing, IÂ’m afraid.Â”
Â“YouÂ’re afraid?Â” I teased, locking my hands around his neck. Â“Of little olÂ’ me? I donÂ’t bite.Â”
He paused, frowning down at me, his chiseled features gone stern.
I realized too late that I was rubbing against him, my inhibitions and common sense still on hiatus. Good riddance, I thought, leaning closer to my sexy rescuer. He felt warm, and smelled like whiskey and leather, with an under-layer of spicy male deliciousness.
His hands gripped my waist, and my stomach did a happy flip, but then he pushed me away and stared at my face.
Â“IÂ’m not afraid of anything,Â” he answered in a low, warning tone, Â“but you should be.Â”
Â“YouÂ’re probably right. But I donÂ’t feel anything at the moment.Â” Which was what I had wanted, wasnÂ’t it? To escape my predictable little world for a night? I leaned my head against the wall and slumped down. A part of me still wanted to party all night and burn off the tempest of un-tapped lust Cody had conjured, but my body was clearly not going to cooperate.
He caught me and slid a knee between my legs to brace me up. His hands brushed lightly up my arms, making me shiver, then pinned my shoulders. He turned my head to the side, baring my neck. I felt a dull ache with the movement, but stayed boneless in his grip, like a kitten grabbed by the scruff.
Â“Maybe it didnÂ’t take,Â” the stranger whispered from inches away. Â“You havenÂ’t passed out yet. You might make it.Â”
I tried to open my eyes and look at him, to ask him what was wrong, and what that meant. It was too much effort. I slumped forward onto his shoulder.
He shook me back upright. Â“Lexi, is that your name?Â”
Â“Alex.Â” The answer fell out of my mouth. I felt like my head might roll off my body if he shook me again.
Â“Alex, you have to get out of here and go home. Can you walk?Â” He let go of me in experiment.
I started to sink down the wall again. Â“Maybe later. I just need to lie down for a minute.Â”
He caught me and hefted me into his arms.
I wrapped mine around him, tucking my head under his chin. My whole body was shivering now, like I was burning up with fever. Where was my jacket? I squinted, only half-aware of the music growing louder. I let my eyes flutter closed and swallowed down the dizziness as we wound our way up and up the curvy stairs. Had there been that many stairs on the way down? The rumble of my saviorÂ’s voice lulled me as he carried me through the bustling crowd, across the catwalk of death, and into the cold fresh outside air. I didnÂ’t know what he was saying, but just the tone could put me in a trance.
He set me down on a soft, comfy cushion, and then searched through my pockets.
Â“Prewitt Hall in the university district,Â” he said from far away. I heard a loud bang.
Â“Hey, thatÂ’s where I live.Â” I snuggled deeper into the musty-smelling cushion and fell asleep.
Â“Prewitt Hall, miss. Miss.Â” A cold hand shook my knee. I shot awake and scrambled back from the driver who was leaning over his seat. Both of his heads swam in my vision.
Head Â— ouch.
I squeezed mine, feeling like two hot pokers had been embedded in either side. I fumbled for the door handle, lurched out onto the sidewalk, and fell flat on my ass.
Pit Viper? They should call it the Sledge Hammer. I was going to kill Cody for giving it to me, and for leaving me like that. Dirtbag.
The door slammed, and I opened my eyes just as the black sedan screeched away from the curb.
Â“Jerk.Â” I crawled on hands and knees towards the dormitory steps. I only made it halfway before puking my guts up in a bright red puddle.
This was one of those moments where youÂ’re supposed to re-think your choices in life. Unfortunately, I was too close to passing out to think about anything but my bed. An eternity later, I reached the second floor hallway and sank to the matted carpet outside my dorm-room.
I searched my pockets, banged my head against the door, then regretted it.
Â“Fuck!Â” No keys on me. They were in my jacket, lost somewhere in the den of depravity. I either had to wake Theresa up, or sleep in the hallway. I would never hear the end of this.
Happy Birthday to me.
Check out Gwen Mitchell’s other Awesome Indie, Rain of Ash!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Gwen-Mitchell/e/B00T3FXT3I
Book Links: http://myBook.to/RainofAsh