Copyright © 2013 Anne Hope
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Another seedy motel room with a stained yellow ceiling and a greasy carpet. Another night lying on a lumpy mattress listening to the wind hiss through a loose windowpane.
Emma sighed, struggling to stay awake. Fatigue pulled at her lids, but she knew the moment sleep claimed her she’d see the monsters’ faces in her dreams. She’d see them squeezing through the ravaged window, rounding on her mother…
Her tears had dried hours ago, but the painful throb in her chest had yet to relent. She doubted it ever would. A lethal blend of guilt and regret poisoned her blood.
She’d run. Run, like a goddamn coward. How could she have left her mom behind? Sure, they’d agreed years ago as to the right course of action should the creatures ever back them into a corner, but this was different. This was real. What kind of person left her mother at the mercy of soul-thieving demons?
Because there was no doubt in Emma’s mind that these things were demons, an evil unleashed upon the world to suck the light from humanity the way a dark cloud sucks the light from the day. They were everywhere, walking among humans, and no one could see them for what they were.
No one but Emma.
She felt the black energy they gave out, saw how it stole the joy and hope from people’s souls and replaced it with anger and despair. Only she seemed immune to the dark power they emitted. For some reason, her soul could not be manipulated or controlled, and the demons knew that, which was why they kept coming after her.
The wind howled, and a branch whipped at the window. Emma shot up in bed, wrapping her arms around her legs. She flung a reassuring glance at the switchblade by her bed. A blade she’d coated with blood and placed on her nightstand, within easy reach should she need it.
Holding her breath, she waited for the familiar sound of glass shattering. But all she heard was the sigh of the wind and the gentle rasp of shoes scraping the pavement. It was probably one of the other motel guests, but Emma had been on the run long enough not to discount a potential threat. All her instincts went on red alert.
She grabbed the switchblade, flipped it open and slid across the wall toward the door. It was nearly dawn, and fog drenched the budding day. Drab gray light trickled through the window, peeling back the shadows.
There were only two points of entry to the room she occupied—the window and the door. Emma stood between the two, gripping the pitiful blade, trying to calm her racing heart. She couldn’t move, couldn’t so much as breathe. If she did, they’d hear her.
She closed her eyes, mauled her lower lip and waited. Branches tapped at the window again, and her stomach folded.
Just the wind.
A bird serenaded the imminent break of day, then grew suspiciously silent. Nature had a way of going mute whenever a predator drew near. Emma’s fingers tightened around the switchblade. Her lungs began to burn, and she had no choice but to inhale.
She hated this. Hated the clench of fear that gripped her, the dreadful anticipation coursing through her veins, the sense of helplessness that inevitably followed each attack.
What would it feel like to know peace, if only for a day?
The doorknob jiggled, and her muscles turned to stone.
Here we go again.
There was a time when weeks—even months—had elapsed between incidents. In the past year, however, the attacks had escalated.
The lock clicked, and the door swung open. Emma’s palms grew damp around the handle of the knife.
Come on. What are you waiting for? Show yourself, you bastard.
Just as she was about to burst out of her skin, a man’s elongated shadow spilled through the open doorway. Then he was standing in her motel room, his wide back turned to her, his dark head angled in concentration. Hatred saturated her bloodstream, fueled by pain and anger.
He was one of them.
She sensed the darkness inside him, the emptiness. No soul beat in his chest. Emma was sure of it.
With a sharp intake of breath, she gave in to the fury and pounced. The man sensed her and turned, skillfully deflecting her blow and sending her stumbling backward. Raising the switchblade, she launched herself at him again.
She wanted to hurt him, badly. She wanted him to pay for all the years his kind had stolen from her, for all the sleepless nights she’d endured, for all the worry and pain she’d suffered these past few hours. But above all, she wanted to punish him for being the inhuman creature he was.
His iron grip closed around her wrist, prying the blade from her fingers as he immobilized her against the wall. His hard body pressed into hers, a living barrier boxing her in, knocking the very air from her lungs.
Emma struggled, striking his broad chest with her fists, knowing she was no match for him but unwilling to surrender yet. She growled like a cornered animal, raising her leg and attempting to knee him in the groin. Anticipating her move, he took a step back, and Emma missed her target.
“Take it easy.” He wedged his forearm over her sternum, nailing her to the wall again. “I’m not here to hurt you.”
“Don’t lie to me.” She exhaled in short, quick puffs. “I know what you are.”
Her assertion surprised him, and his hold on her slackened. Taking advantage of the opportunity, she dropped to her knees and scrambled to retrieve the switchblade he’d wrestled from her grasp. Her fingers brushed metal just as he flung her around on her back and flattened her wrists against the grimy carpet.
“If you didn’t come here to hurt me,” she challenged, “what the hell do you want?”
“To help you.”
Dawn slowly swept in, and soft, pink light spilled from the window to illuminate his face. Emma’s lungs squeezed in surprise. He looked like an angel—a dark angel, with an angular jaw, sharp, chiseled features and eyes as blue as the midnight sea. Tousled black hair brushed his forehead and curtained one of his brows. His sensual lips hovered a few inches above hers, and she could feel the heat emanating from them…from him.
For a moment she lost the ability to form a coherent thought. He was beautiful, hard and defined, a Greek sculpture pinning her to the ground. His muscular leg was slung across hers, his fingers encircling her wrists like a pair of steel shackles.
She couldn’t stand feeling trapped, even if a dark angel was doing the trapping. “If you want to help me, let me go.”
He hesitated, his gaze capturing hers. Confusion pinched his brows as he studied her face. Then he did something so unexpected, so tender and intimate, Emma’s next breath snagged in her throat.
He reached up and caressed her cheek. Shock and affection gleamed in his navy-blue eyes, roughening his voice. “Angie?”