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Alone Preview

1

It was after midnight—much later than normal—when I finally walked into my bedroom and flipped on my closet light and TV to start my nightly routine. I headed back to the door to close and lock it but just as I touched the handle the air in the room changed. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw a haze come in through the screen.

Not a fog.

Not smoke.

Not a mist.

The colors of that corner of the room were suddenly distorted as if they were hazy. Almost as if my contacts weren’t on my eyes or there was a film on them… But I hadn’t taken them out yet. I knew that. Just to make sure it wasn’t something on my contacts, I blinked, and when I opened my eyes again, a man was standing there.

And there was no godly way he’d gotten past me. I was a freak about checking the locks on doors, living by myself out in the middle of nowhere. I never left windows open that anyone could break into that wouldn’t make a ruckus. I glanced down the hall to where the kitchen was before I looked back to him, measuring the distance.

He tilted his head and studied me as he tugged on the sleeves of his jacket, making sure they were perfectly straight as if that was the priority after appearing from wherever. It was over a pristinely pressed Oxford white shirt that had one of those stylish collars and didn’t have a button. He wasn’t wearing a suit though, straight-legged dark jeans that looked made for his body, black belt with silver buckle that matched his round-toed boots.

“What do you keep that way that you are wondering if you can get to it before I could get to you?” he asked in a high-born sounding British accent. Yeah, I know that wasn’t the real term for it, I never claimed to have an ear for accents. He sounded more like a duke and not like Eliza Doolittle. That was all I knew.

“My car keys,” I lied. Well, technically they were, and if I could set off the alarm, that would make enough noise for someone to call the cops, or I could escape. But there was no way I’d retrieve the keys from my purse, go past the hallway again, down the stairs, out the locked door, up the front porch stairs, unlock the door, into my car, start it, and pull away without him getting me.

All while barefoot.

Riiiiight.

He smirked at me as his deep chocolate eyes twinkled with mirth. “Not the gun you keep in the kitchen drawer? An odd place for it by the way.”

“Burglars always look in the nightstand or bedroom. Who would ever look in the kitchen?” I mumbled as I closed my bedroom door and locked it. “Are you here to kill me?”

“No,” he hedged.

“Rob me? Maim me? Eat me because you’re clearly not human, seeing as you just came in through the window that has a screen and it’s still there.”

“None of the above,” he drawled.

“Wonderful. Then if you wouldn’t mind, can we continue this tomorrow? I’m exhausted.” I walked past him and into the bathroom, locking the door before turning on the water, so as to pretend I was taking out my contacts and doing a few other things. Then I peed, washed my hands, and came back out. I turned on Rise of the Guardians like normal, turned off my closet light, opened my can of Diet Sprite as I did every night, and climbed into bed.

“Are you always this rude to guests?” he asked, still not having moved from the first spot he’d shown up at.

“Guests are invited. If you want to be a guest, come back and knock on the door.”

“I did knock before. You shouted some threat out the window about using your gardening tools to sheer off my reproductive organs if I was your local prankster ditching you or something to that effect.”

“There are kids who keep playing ding dong ditch,” I explained. “They ring the bell and run.” I cleared my throat and spoke a little louder as I turned my head away from him. “Now please leave. You’re not a guest and you broke into my house. Just because you haven’t hurt me yet or—”

“Clever woman,” he hissed, suddenly on top of me and reaching to the nightstand where my phone was. I’d called 9-1-1 and put it on mute. He put it to his ear and smiled. “You’re lucky there is such bad cell service out here. The call dropped.”

“Fucking cell towers,” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “Fine, whatever. Can I just get some sleep? I’m exhausted.”

He studied me closely, not moving from on top of me as he pinned my hands next to my head. I stared at him, feeling as if I’d seen him before. “I read you weren’t feeling well online. You weren’t exaggerating. It’s not narcolepsy. You don’t randomly and inexplicably fall asleep without cause. You’re simply run-down all the time. You went to the doctor, yes?”

“It’s not my thyroid. That’s all I’ve had checked so far.” I shrugged, too tired to care how strange and intrusive this was. “I’m currently going with being burnt out with stress and grief.”

“Your dog and work problems. I am sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you?”

“I am a great fan of yours, Nina James,” he whispered as he leaned down and trailed his nose along my neck as if he was sniffing me. “The creativity in you is intoxicating. Let me help you, make you feel better.”

“I know you,” I muttered and then let out a hysterical giggle. “Elijah. Wait, his real name is Dave. No, Dan something.” I laughed louder and shook my head. “I’m sleeping. The guy from The Originals just flew in my window and joined me in bed. Great. Night.”

“My name is Conall.”

I glanced at the TV and realized the movie wasn’t distorted, and I remembered thinking that was one of the signs of being in a dream. A person couldn’t actually see stuff on a screen accurately. I shoved the man off me roughly and rolled from the bed, falling to the floor in a heap, twisting my ankle. He blinked at me as he sat up.

“You’re quite strong for a human.”

“Fear will do that,” I muttered, holding up my hand and counting my fingers. All five were there—no more or less. Not dreaming.

I scooted into my closet and pulled a promotional rack card I used for signing off the shelf and read it. I could. Not dreaming.

“This isn’t a dream,” I whimpered as I stared up at him. “You’re real.”

“I am,” he chuckled as he easily slid out of my bed and squatted on the floor before me. “Nice of you to catch up.” He held out his hand, but I batted it away.

“Fine, I’m going to bed. You won’t be here when I get up.”

“But I will.”

“No. Leave my house.”

“Don’t be rude.”

“Don’t break in before bed,” I snapped as I stood, wincing at the pain in my ankle. I hopped over to my bed, quickly taking out my contacts and not caring that they fell to the floor. There was no way I was making it to the bathroom again with the way my foot was feeling and how exhausted I was. “Get out.”

“I can help,” he cooed as he lifted me into bed. I didn’t even get a chance to ask before he put his finger to my mouth and pushed it past my lips. It took me a second to realize that there was blood on it and by then it was too late—it was under my tongue and there wasn’t any way I was spitting it back out.

Fuck it. I rolled over and his finger slipped out of my mouth as I snuggled under the covers, hoping I was just hallucinating from something I’d eaten. That could happen, right? Extreme reaction to bad meat or something?

But it wasn’t. He was still there when I opened my eyes—staring at me.

And it wasn’t that actor. This guy was bigger. His shoulders broader, more muscular. Hair longer, hanging in his eyes and past his ears. I’m sure there were other differences as well, but it wasn’t like I had a side-by-side comparison opportunity right then.

Maybe another fucked up day.

My pulse throbbed in my ears as I stared into those eyes. “I asked you to leave.”

“You demanded I leave actually.”

“You didn’t do that either.”

“I don’t want to,” he informed me.

“Do you always get what you want?”

“Yes.”

This was getting us nowhere so I tried a direction other than childish. “What do you want…”

“Conall. Conall Brightmore. And I want to help you. Make you your best so I get more of what I love.”

“And what’s that?” I hedged, knowing there had to be a catch.

There was always a catch in life. I was old enough to know that. I might not have been old at thirty-five, but old enough to not be stupid and naïve.

“Your books. I want more. There was a lapse in them for many months and it upsets me. I was going to come sooner to help but then you had a loss in your life, and I thought it rude to put myself first and wanted to give you time to heal. I read you weren’t feeling well and knew you needed my help. I can help you if you let me, lovely Nina. You should be feeling better already with the drops of my blood.”

I sat up slowly and took stock of my body. Sliding out of bed, I stretched before walking to the bathroom. I did my morning business and headed to my office—which was on the way to the kitchen—grabbing a pair of contacts as I turned on my computer before continuing on, still not answering him. I started the coffee as I put them in before brushing my teeth, everything I would do if the strange man weren’t there.

It wasn’t until my coffee was done and I was doctoring it up that I saw he was leaning his hands back against the counter studying me, impatience in his eyes.

“Yeah, I feel great. About as close to wanting to go out and run a marathon as I’ll ever get. My heads clear, not a twinge or stiffness in my body. No stress, no worry, nothing. I feel light and happy, nothing weighing me down, but not drugged, high, or drunk.”

I took a sip of my drink and glanced at him over the top of it, noticing finally that he’d lost the suit jacket and his shirt was open, his perfectly toned eight-pack making me hungry for something else. It hadn’t affected my sex drive—that was always high around hot men… Even ones that were obviously not human apparently.

“How is that possible? I mean, you liked the smell of me so I’m thinking you eat my kind, right? You said I was strong for a human. So we’re really going with you not being human.” He smiled widely and two of his teeth extended out complete with sharp pointy tips. “No. No, not human at all.”

“No, not human at all,” he chuckled as he moved closer, slowly, like a predator. At first I stood my ground, but then, when he was close enough to touch me, my instincts kicked in and I did take a step back until I bumped into the other counter. “Relax, Nina. If I wanted to hurt you, I had more than enough chances already. I want to help you feel better, write more, which you love to do. I want you to be happy, and all I ask is you feed my need.”

“For what?” I panted as he took my coffee and set it on the counter behind me, his body pressed firmly against mine.

“Nothing is more intoxicating as intelligent, creative blood. I will tend to everything you need in life, nurture your talent, keep you safe and healthy, prevent illness or aging from your body and all I want is more stories from your mind and blood now and again from your body.”

“And if I say no?”

“You asked me earlier if I always get what I want,” he reminded me as he lowered his mouth to my neck. I moaned as his fangs pierced my skin, the most intense and overwhelming bliss shattering my senses. His arms wrapped around me as he pushed his leg between mine. The next thing I knew, I screamed as I climaxed out of nowhere like a teenager who’d never had a boy shove his hand in her panties before. “That was merely a taste of what it can be like.”

“Okay then,” I panted as he kissed my neck where he’d just bitten, the innuendo and implications vivid and quite clear.

“Still want to say no?” he purred as hands moved down my body.

I cleared my throat and stepped away. “Never said I did, just asked my options.” That doesn’t mean I want to say yes either. But I really got the feeling I didn’t have much of a choice without a huge fight… One that would land me in an insane asylum since this involved a vampire in my house.

The sane part of my brain really did think it best to see how this played out. After all he was offering me the moon and stars for a little orgasmic bite now and again. How bad could that be?

 

* * * *

 

I found out by lunch that there was no point in telling Conall no. Not if I ever wanted to keep my sanity. He called his “man” over, which seemed to be his pompous British boy-club kind of way of calling the guy his personal assistant. His name was Tim and the guy was a skeeze. It also made me think Tim—no last name given—didn’t always do everything legally.

“No. No, no, and no. Is that any way unclear?” I growled as Conall cornered me in the kitchen as I emptied the dishwasher. He turned me around, and I pushed him away with the Pyrex cooking dish I’d just emptied. “Abso-fucking-lutely not! I am not giving your PA all my tax shit to turn over to your accountant so my taxes get done. You want to help me. Then help me, Conall. That won’t help me. That will freak me the fuck out and you said I was intelligent. That is not something an intelligent woman does.”

“Because you do not trust me yet,” he ground out, clearly telling me that wasn’t acceptable.

“Put yourself in my shoes, Conall,” I sighed, setting down the dish and rubbing my forehead, a major migraine coming on. “This is crazy, okay? You’re going too far too fast. Helping me is having your guy check out accountants that you vet and I go meet with and turn it all over to.”

“You don’t give an inch, do you? You don’t compromise ever.”

“Conall, that is the compromise,” I whispered as I shook my head. “Normally I do most of it myself, turn over the final numbers for the accountant to certify and fill in the blanks on the tax forms. I have a finance degree. I used to work for a bank, hand-in-hand with the fraud department and credit companies. One of the biggest ways for an accountant to embezzle from a person or to commit fraud is if a client turns over all the account records, passwords saved in accounting software files, and whatnot.

“You want me to hand all of that over to Tim No-Last-Name, who I’ve not even done a background check on, who gives it to your accountant that you’ve given me no name for and trust it all gets done right. I met you last night. I am not insane or stupid. If you want me to trust you, you have to earn it and not do things that seem shady, stress me out, or seem like you’re trying to rob me blind or hurt me.”

He opened his mouth and then immediately shut it. “Tim, I want you to research accountants in the Omaha area with the highest ranks according to the Nebraska CPA licensing board. Look into reviews, the Better Business Bureau, and any pending litigation. Get me the top five by tomorrow and set up meetings with all of them. Use my name and make it happen.”

“Yes, sir,” he agreed, taking down notes.

“Thank you,” I breathed, sagging against the counter.

“I’m sorry. The goal is to help, my Nina,” Conall whispered as he boxed me in and leaned his forehead against mine, showing me just how many inches he had on my five-ten. At least eight, which given how broad he was as well, really did make him larger than life.

And kind of scary when he was upset. Couldn’t forget that.

“Don’t ever let my pigheadedness and thousand-year-old habits stand in our way of that,” he murmured in my ear, his breath warm, the gesture incredibly intimate.

“I won’t if you promise to listen to me. I’m not stubborn for shits and giggles, Conall. There’s normally a reason I dig my heels in if you just pay attention to what I’m saying. The rest I let go and don’t care about. But don’t push me or I won’t let you do any of it because you set off my alarms and I’ll shut down on you.”

“And that would break my heart forever.” He stepped back and slowly traced his fingers down my arm before taking my hand. “A truck has pulled up on the street. Who are you expecting?”

“I have a company that mows every week. The owner is coming to give me a quote about some extra landscaping and putting in a garden.”

“That would be a waste of your talents and—”

“Something I love to do and relaxes me,” I cut in, giving him a look. “I plotted several of my books digging in my last garden in Colorado. Even watering it, playing in nature, and just sitting there watching the sprinkler calms me and lets my brain decompress.”

He smiled widely and immediately agreed. “I do like fresh vegetables.”

“You eat?” I gaped at him, feeling rude when he frowned.

“We are not so different, Nina. I simply cannot produce my own platelets as your body does.”

“Sorry,” I muttered as I stepped away, trying to drop his hand, but he kept hold of mine and came with me. Okay, guess he was joining me. Great. That was going to be fun to explain.

Sure enough, the very nice owner of the local lawn company I’d talked to a few times shot me some strange looks when the pompous Brit took control of the conversation and negotiation. I shot Conall a dirty look, and he finally took the hint and backed off, but it was still embarrassing. I had been doing my own dealings for a long time after all. It wasn’t as though I was fresh out of college and living on my own for the first time.

He really needed an attitude adjustment and fast if this was going to work.

But then he made up for it by doubling the owner’s asking price if the guy could fit in my project in the next few days and put in the plants I already had and would be purchased by the time they would be there. I practically skipped back into the house after that.

“I take it I’m forgiven then,” Conall chuckled as he slid his hand into mine as we entered the garage.

“I’m starting to come around to your way,” I teased, shooting him a smile. “You just have to remember I’m not some ditzy maiden or whatever you’re used to. I’m competent, just with too much on my plate. I’m not denying I need help. I don’t need a master though.”

“I understand. I will learn to make the distinction.” He stopped and tugged on my hand so I halted as well. “Let’s start in here. What do you need done here? I see this is your thinking space. What can I have done in here to help?” I glanced around and winced. My garage was a mess, still in winter chaos, spring cleaning, and a bunch of other stages all wrapped into one.

Conall called Tim out, and the man came with his little notebook, shooting me a dirty look that Conall didn’t see. Oh goodie, the man didn’t like me. That wasn’t uncomfortable in my home or anything. I listed everything, even cleaning and checking out the lawn mower. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t using it this season, because I’d decided to pay a crew, power tools and machines still needed proper maintenance.

After that, I went back to writing. I could tell Conall was trying not to hover like a groupie, and after I finally threatened to throw my big ass all-in-one computer at him, he finally made himself scarce.

Dinner came in the form of Tim picking up Olive Garden which was well over forty minutes away but I wasn’t complaining. I never went that far for it and it was a nice treat. And while we ate, Conall had me list everything I had been needing to do in my personal life that I either hadn’t had the time or energy to do and Tim would see it done. I really didn’t like the man hanging around but he behaved like an angel when Conall was there.

And since Conall didn’t seem like he was leaving my side anytime soon, I didn’t foresee a problem. If he did, there might be, but hopefully soon I might feel comfortable enough with Conall to tell him that I didn’t feel comfortable with Tim. Only time would tell.

That night Conall crawled into bed with me and had another sip from me as he called it. Turned out he could have a few small drinks from me a day, but all I needed was several drops of his blood a week to be at the top of my game.

“Why is that?” I panted as I came back down from my orgasm. “I mean, how weird is it that you need our blood to survive but your blood is like our cure-all?”

“Why does a carnivore need both nutrients from plant life and animals but plants only need the sun and water?” he chuckled, running his fingers through my long blonde hair as he laid on his side, smiling down at me. “Or that carnivores get sick if they only have meat or only have plants? I do not know, my Nina. I only know that this is what it is. I am the yin to your yang as you are to mine.”

He leaned down like he was going to kiss me, and I so wasn’t ready for that. Call me crazy but this was still way too precarious of a situation for me to let it become any more sexual.

Yeah, any more sexual. I beat him to the punch and kissed his cheek before rolling over, already uncomfortable enough that he was sleeping in my bed. He was at least a gentleman and took the hint and moved to his side of the bed. Moments later, I fell into the best sleep of my life—even if it was with a stranger in my bed.