Copyright © 2011 Jennifer Colgan
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
The blinding beam of a single headlight swept the alley. Palmer and Melodie both put their hands up to shield their eyes, which did little to increase visibility. The strong scent of diesel accompanied the belly-rumbling thunder of a six-cylinder on low idle.
Fortunately, the rider cut the light, leaving Mel blinking at the phantom color dots that swirled in front of her eyes. When her stunned retinas recovered, she focused on the movement of leather-clad arms reaching up to remove a gleaming black helmet.
Next to her, Palmer drew his sword and shoved one broad shoulder forward in a move that said, “Get behind me, wench.” Annoying as it was, though, the attitude suited him.
A masculine wave of dark hair tumbled from the helmet, and Hell’s angel revealed a face that could stop traffic. A day’s growth of sexy stubble shadowed a granite jaw. Sculpted lips curved in a humorless grin, and deep-set hawk eyes zeroed in on the puddle of Gogmar evaporating around their feet.
“Oh, crap, it’s DeWitt,” Palmer muttered near Melodie’s ear. She might have commented, but she was currently bewitched by a stare that made her palms slippery on the broom handle and her heart beat triple time.
Here was a man who sizzled.
She’d never been the type to be rendered speechless or weak-kneed by a show of testosterone, but Sugar Honey Iced Tea, this man was fine. Correction: This leather-wearing, Harley-riding, ally-skulking thug was fine.
He tucked his midnight black helmet under one arm and cocked a perfectly arched brow at Melodie’s sword-wielding savior. “You killed the Gogmar, didn’t you?” His words held an exotic lilt, just the hint of a Scottish brogue.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was making out with my girlfriend. We didn’t see anything. Right, sweetheart?”
Palmer wrapped an arm around Mel’s shoulders, and the weight of his embrace nearly knocked an inch off her height. “Huh? Oh…right.”
She assumed she was protecting them both by agreeing with him. Nevertheless she wasn’t fully comfortable with Tall, Dark and Dangerous thinking Palmer was her boyfriend, or—and more importantly—that she was the kind of girl who would make out in an alley.
“You do realize you’re standing in Gogmar guts,” the mysterious DeWitt said.
“Umm…” The smell in the alley had grown into something no skunk could hope to emulate, and Melodie’s desire to flee before she started to melt had become unmanageable. She decided to rat Palmer out and ducked from under his arm. “He did it.”
The back door of Gleason’s was two steps away, and she could have had it slammed, locked and dead bolted in a heartbeat if only she could have torn her gaze away from DeWitt’s piercing stare.
“So what if I did?” Palmer stepped up, sword ready, while Mel inched back.
Leather God shrugged. “That’s fine with me. All I want is the cabochon it carried, and I’ll be on my way.”
“It had no cabochon,” Palmer replied.
Skepticism lit those fathomless eyes, and DeWitt smirked. Mel conveniently forgot her desire to flee when he lifted a massive thigh and swung himself off the seat of his Harley.
Leather boots, stone-washed jeans, black T-shirt, and a scuffed bomber jacket completed his bad-boy ensemble. As he stretched to his full height, her gaze dropped to his silver belt buckle, which looked big enough to hold tea service for four. She wondered guiltily if he were compensating for a small…id. Nah. A guy like this had the goods to back up that swagger. No doubt about it.
“I’ve been following it since sundown. I know it had the Cabochon, and I want it. Now.” His demand held no room for argument, and the commanding tone of his rich, slightly accented voice made Mel want to give him whatever he asked for.
While Palmer postured, though, she slid another inch toward the door.
“You’re welcome to search the remains, but trust me, there’s no cabochon here.”
“I can feel it. It’s here.” DeWitt advanced, Palmer brandished his weapon and Mel bolted again, figuring she’d just be in the way when they came to blows.
Rather than go for the armed opponent, though, DeWitt lunged for Melodie. Palmer ran interference, for which she was grateful, and she ducked inside the shop, cringing as a scuffle erupted behind her.
Once inside, she turned to shove the door shut behind her, but a booted foot wedged in the sliver of space between the door and the jamb, preventing her from closing it completely.
She screamed and thought about stomping on the intrusive instep, but her rubber-soled Keds wouldn’t do much damage, so she ran. The door banged open, and the clatter and clang of armed combat followed her through the kitchen.
“She’s got the Cabochon, I can sense it. Get out of my way and you won’t get hurt, Van Houten.” Blake concentrated on keeping the door to the bakery wedged open while behind him, the demon hunter took aim with his still somewhat bloody weapon.
The tip of the sword jabbed Blake in the ribs, and he momentarily forgot his preference not to harm humans in his quest. He whirled around, forgetting his prey, and wrapped his hand around Van Houten’s sticky blade. Ignoring the bite of steel into his palm, he yanked the weapon out of the demon hunter’s hands. It wasn’t a move any man could get away with, but Blake didn’t have to worry about scars, and physical pain had little meaning for him when his entire life was hell.
Disarmed now, Van Houten reared back. His fancy boots found no traction in the spreading puddle of rapidly disintegrating Gogmar entrails, and he went down on his denim-clad backside with an embarrassing yelp. With a disdainful glare at his nemesis, Blake flipped Van Houten’s sword in the air, caught it by the hilt, and turned his attention back to the lissome brunette who, by the sound of crashing cookware, hadn’t gotten very far through the bakery.
She possessed the Cabochon. Why and how were questions he could ruminate on later, when he was free. For now he had to get it from her before she had the chance to pass it on to a demon queen. He flung himself after her.
She slipped away from him, swift as the wind, and dashed through the bakery’s stainless-steel kitchen on deft feet, her chestnut ponytail swinging.
Blake lunged, grabbing for the silky rope of hair, but missed. She skidded on her rubber-soled shoes and swung herself through the narrow door that separated the kitchen from the front of the shop.
He could have slung Van Houten’s confiscated sword at her legs and tripped her easily enough, but she reminded him too much of a frightened doe, both skittish and curious, graceful and untried.
Even in his darkest hours since inheriting the Witch Hunter’s curse, he’d remained loath to hurt anyone unnecessarily. He didn’t want to consider what he might do if the day came when he had no choice.