Come on, come on, come on. Kelly was not a patient woman. None of the Maloys were. It wasn’t in their genes. She tapped out her irritation on the steering wheel. The plane was late, and she was tired of waiting.
Fin is paying you crazy money to wait. He’s also paying for your apartment with the nice soft bed. Yeah, there was that. Besides, the job was pretty straightforward. Nothing complicated. Pick up the guy that Steve was bringing in from Ireland. Then drive him around wherever he wanted to go until he left Houston. A few weeks, tops. The best part? Once he was gone, she’d have enough money to finally get her degree without eating peanut butter crackers for dinner every night. It was worth taking off a semester to play chauffeur.
She stopped tapping as she thought about Fin. She’d never actually met him. His assistant, Shen, who ducked and dodged all meaningful questions about his boss, handled the face-to-face stuff. But Fin’s money was very green, so she was very satisfied. And if she had a few unanswered questions about what her boss was doing in his big penthouse condo, well, she wasn’t being paid to ask questions.
A few minutes later Steve walked out of the building, and she sighed her relief. But she had to suck her breath right back in again when she saw the man behind him.
Whoa! He rang the bell on her personal demigod meter. Tall, muscular, dark hair, with a great face, and...
She didn’t get any further. Unusual, because she was a detail person, and she hadn’t gotten anywhere close to an inch-by-inch appraisal.
Something was coming. Something big. Kelly sensed it on a level that didn’t answer to logic. It was the moment between the lightning strike and the thunder. You knew the boom was coming, but you didn’t know how loud it’d be.
It struck. An emotion so raw she wanted to clutch her stomach and scream, a darkly erotic punch in the gut that was more about pain than pleasure. What the... She tried to crawl free, but the images and impressions followed her—heat, hunger, violence, sex.
Kelly gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white, but it didn’t help. Her common sense was trying to drag her battered psyche to its feet when the second emotion flattened her.
Terror. If black was the color of fear, then the black crow of panic was perched on her shoulder. She’d never felt this scared in her whole life.
Don’t open the door. Don’t run away. She pried one hand free of the steering wheel and reached for the door handle. In the fight or flight mode, flight was a winner. She was getting the hell out of Dodge.
Steve knocked on the closed passenger window, and whatever weirdness had a stranglehold on her loosened its grip. Thank you. She shook her head, trying to clear away the residual whatever. What was that about?
“Unlock the damn door.” He didn’t sound like the goofy Steve she knew and avoided.
She blinked. When had she locked the doors? “Sure.” Keeping her eyes carefully averted from the man still standing a short distance behind Steve, she released the locks.
Steve yanked the door open, but he didn’t bother saying anything about the locks as he leaned into the car. “Look, I’m not riding back with you. I’ll get home some other way.” He hooked a thumb at the man behind him. “He’s all yours.”
Hers? Until she untangled her emotions, she’d like a buffer in the back seat. As Steve started to turn away, she leaned across the seat to shout at him. “Wait. You can’t just go off. Why aren’t you riding back with us?”
He stared at her, his face pale with eyes that showed a lot of white. “I flew across the ocean with him. Felt like I was sitting next to death the whole way. By the time we landed, everyone around us had moved.” He held up a hand to ward off questions. “Don’t ask. I don’t know why. The dude just scares the crap out of me. Scared everyone else too.” His smile was grim. “And don’t tell me you don’t feel it.”
Shocked, she watched Steve drag his bag to the taxi line. They didn’t make white knights like they used to. Warily, she cast her soon-to-be passenger a glance before waving him over. What she felt was primal, instinctual, and didn’t make one bit of sense. She’d either overcome it or lose her job. She’d take steak over peanut butter crackers every time.
Still, she had to renew her grip on the steering wheel when the man slid in beside her and slammed the door closed. His presence filled the car, and she fought the return of her panic, her need. She pressed her lips together as she tried to mentally wall off her feelings until she could figure them out.
“No bags?” She forced herself to turn her head and meet his gaze.
“I travel light.” His voice was a soft, sensual rasp. He could use that same tone to say, “I want to have sex with you,” or “I’m going to eat you, little girl,” and Kelly would’ve believed both statements.
She didn’t think she had any breath left in her lungs, so she just nodded as she drove away from the airport. Once on the freeway, darkness wrapped around them. And if someone didn’t say something soon, she was going to pull the car over and do her gazelle act across someone’s field.
“Fin said your name is Ty. Ty what?” A last name would make him seem more real, more solid, less dangerous. Maybe.
“Endeka.” He clenched and unclenched his hands as he watched traffic whiz by.
Maybe he wasn’t used to busy highways. That tiny glimpse of vulnerability helped dispel some of her fear, but didn’t do much for her other problem. It waited, dark and threatening, in a shadowed corner of her mind. It didn’t have a reason for being, it just was. Sex. Not just ordinary sex, but a craving so powerful she knew taking him inside her would never be enough. Only absorbing every single cell of his body would quiet the need.
She almost snorted. Great. Kelly the human amoeba. She beat that stupidity back and tried to bury it under who she was—a woman who chose her men based on a whole bunch of sensible criteria. I-want-your-body wasn’t one of them.
“That’s Fin’s last name. You guys related?” She smiled. Okay, so it was a little shaky around the edges.
He didn’t smile back. “Cousins.”
Kelly took her attention from the highway long enough to sneak another glance. Less dangerous? Maybe not. For the first time, she really took stock of what he looked like.
About six four, broad shoulders, with a muscular build that came from real work and not a weight room. Dark hair that was a little too long, and a hard face with gray eyes she didn’t think she wanted to study closely right now. He had a sensual mouth, his only softening feature. Jeans, a dark gray pullover, and a short leather jacket completed the picture.
She looked back at the road. Nothing about him should cause the suffocating fear she’d felt, still felt. But logic wasn’t a passenger tonight.
“Your name? Fin forgot to pass that info on.” He stared out the side window at the darkness rushing by.
Kelly frowned. Tension rolled off him in waves. She didn’t have to be particularly sensitive to feel it. “Kelly Maloy. I’ll be your driver until you leave Houston.” When in doubt, ask. “Is something bothering you?”
He paused, and for a moment she thought he’d tell her. He didn’t. What he did do was fumble for the button to lower the window and then stare into the woods they were passing. “Stop.”
Startled, she put her foot on the brake and eased the car to the side of the highway. “What? Do you feel sick?”
Mr. Scary didn’t answer. He shoved the car door open and leaped out. While she watched open-mouthed, he raced into the woods.
“Well, hell.” No matter how terrifying this guy was, she couldn’t go back to Fin and say she’d lost him. She needed this job. Besides, she knew how miserable carsickness could make you feel. He probably ran into the woods to throw up. She should make sure he was okay.
Grabbing the pepper spray and her cell phone from her purse, along with the flashlight she kept under the seat, she locked her car and followed Ty into the trees.
Kelly heard the screams first, followed by what sounded like the roar of some animal. A big animal. And not one she recognized.
Common sense explained that bad things were happening when people screamed like that, and whatever animal was out there would probably snicker at her pepper spray right before it swallowed her whole.
Her common sense suggested she go back to her car and lock herself inside until Ty came back. But what if he didn’t come back? What if he was in trouble? With a muttered apology to her common sense, she kept going.
A wild thrashing in the underbrush was her only warning as four men burst from the trees. Kelly planted herself and readied the pepper spray. Wasted effort. They ignored her, racing past and disappearing into the darkness.
She exhaled the breath she’d been holding. That had gone well. But where was her missing paycheck? She found him a few seconds later.
Kelly stepped onto the old dirt road and froze. Her mind checked off the obvious—white Honda, windows up, two terrified faces pressed against the back side window, Ty standing a few feet from the car, and...
Her mind refused to put a check beside the last item. It looked like there was some huge ghostly shape dissolving around Ty. Whatever it was, it disappeared even as she stared. She shook her head. No, she hadn’t seen that. It was just her stress, fear, and the night playing games with her senses.
Before she had a chance to ask what was going on, the faces disappeared from the window. Kelly could see the two teens, a girl and boy, scrambling into the front seats. A minute later, the boy started the car and they raced away, leaving a cloud of Texas dust in their wake.
She took a deep breath and forced herself to walk over to Ty. “Explain.”
He shrugged. And then he smiled.
Kelly felt her fear ease into that other emotion, the one she wouldn’t give a name because it didn’t need any encouragement. He had a great smile, if you liked your smiles laced with promises of danger and secrets. Evidently she did.
“The men that probably passed you on their way out were trying to rob the people in the car.” His smile widened. “They changed their minds.”
The logical question was why? Kelly didn’t ask. She was too busy fighting the fear and sex thing. Besides, she’d had about all the strangeness she could take for one night. And she had a suspicion his explanation might involve the ghostly image she definitely had not seen. Hey, denial was her friend.
“We need to get moving. Fin will be calling to find out what happened to us.” She turned and headed back to the car. Even though she couldn’t hear him following her, she sensed Ty with every primitive instinct remaining in her modern human body. She controlled the urge to run. Never run from a predator. Where’d that thought come from? Kelly pushed it away.
They spent the rest of the long drive from Bush International in silence. Questions stood shoulder to shoulder in Kelly’s mind. How had he known something was happening in the woods? What was the animal she’d heard? Why were those men so terrified? Why hadn’t the two in the car at least rolled down their windows to thank Ty for saving them? And what was... No, she wouldn’t think about that again.
She didn’t ask any of those questions because, well, he might answer them. Maybe tomorrow she’d be ready for answers.
There was one comment she felt safe making. “Rushing in to save those people in the car took guts.”
Ty threw her a puzzled look. “I wasn’t trying to save anyone.”
Uh-oh. Maybe she didn’t want to hear this. But she couldn’t drive with her hands over her ears.
“I was there for the hunt. Too bad you interrupted.” He smiled again. “I could like Texas. A lot.”
His smile sent icy worms slithering and wiggling down her spine. Okay, small talk done for the night. They didn’t exchange anymore conversation for the rest of the trip. He seemed fascinated with Houston, and she didn’t try to distract him.
By the time she turned off Memorial Drive and stopped at the front entrance to Fin’s high-rise condo, her muscles ached from the tension. She nodded toward the door where someone was already headed their way. “That man will make sure you get up to Fin’s condo.” She watched Ty climb from the car and then turn to stare back at her. “I’ll wait for you.”
Tonight as she lay in bed, she’d have to come to terms with her feelings. She couldn’t let phantom fears derail her plans to get her degree. And the sexual thing that was totally not her? That was a curiosity she needed to lay to rest.
She worked up a real smile for him. “I’ll see you in a few hours.” She’d end this on a light note. He wouldn’t want someone around him who radiated fear every time he looked at her. “And I’ll be ready to drive you to hell and back if you need me.”
His expression gave nothing away. “Remember that promise.” And then he strode away.
When would this freaky night be over? She’d park the car in the underground garage, take the elevator up to the condo’s lounge where she could get some caffeine in her system, and wait for him.
A short time later, she settled onto a leather couch with her cup of coffee and one of the books strewn around the lounge. A serial killer mystery. Good. She needed something simple and ordinary to calm her down.