Excerpts from "The Hunted Series"
“Hey, girl!” With a wink and a smile, a tall, olive-skinned woman of Japanese ancestry stepped out from behind the doorjamb. “Long time no see, sweetie!”
Gray’s mouth turned up into a tiny smile. Then she swung the heavy bag of cat litter at the woman. The forty-pound bag slammed into the woman, sending her reeling. She stumbled backward, arms wrapped around her middle, but maintained her balance.
“Is that really--” she began, but Gray slammed the door closed and locked it.
“Call 911,” she ordered. “And take Picante to the bedroom. Stay there.” Without a word, Simon dragged his cell phone from his pocket and dialed while hustling the carrier into the bedroom.
A boom rocked the door, sending it shuddering in its hinges. Gray stepped back from the door, grabbing Blondie’s knife from her jacket pocket. “You got a gun?” she called to Simon.
“I’m not big on guns,” he called back.
Fabulous. Locked in a house with a pacifist while a maniac kicked down the door.
The pacifist reentered the living room, brandishing a baseball bat. “Go back in the bedroom,” Gray hissed at him.
Simon shook his head, giving her one of his now-familiar, tight-jawed looks. “This is my house and my life, and I’m not letting--” Another crash shook the door. “--someone else fight my battles.”
“God save us from chivalry,” Gray muttered, glaring at him. Boom! The door shuddered and one of the hinges made a quiet, squeaking noise that she imagined were its death cries. “Simon Romero, if you don’t get back in your bedroom, there will be no one to take care of Picante. I’m here to protect you, but I can’t ensure the safety of your gato travolta, and I guarantee the Leeches won’t leave him snug in his carrier if they get through me.”
Simon scowled furiously at her. He knew he was being manipulated, but she imagined he could also hear the ring of truth in her words. He pointed a finger at her, and she expected him to argue. “It’s gato travieso,” he said accusingly, scowling, and left the room to tend to his fatherly duties. Hey, they all had their charges.
Serena stared dumbly at the smiling, twinkling woman, unable for a moment to arrange into some kind of coherence the panicked caller from before and the beautifully smiling woman sitting before her now.
“Mia?” she asked again, feeling like a parrot.
“That’s me,” the woman said, smiling, and stood up with a dancer’s smoothness and grace.
“Are you okay?” Serena asked.
Mia nodded and leaned toward her. “Never better,” she said cheerfully. Her breath, cool against Serena’s cheek, smelled like baking soda toothpaste and milk chocolate. “Much better than you’re about to be, I’m afraid.” She grinned and raised her eyes to the ceiling.
Without pausing to think, Serena also glanced upward at the shadowed ceiling. Not twenty feet above their heads, clinging like giant, malicious spiders to the concrete ceiling, hunkered four people. As she opened her mouth to ask, or maybe shriek, for some kind of explanation, all four of them dropped down beside her.
Mia, still smiling serenely and looking like some kind of Degas sculpture come to life, nodded to someone directly behind Serena. Strong hands grabbed Serena’s arms. Shouting in surprise, she struggled to wrench loose. She mule-kicked backward and felt an immense, hot crackle of satisfaction when she landed a cracking blow on someone’s shin or knee.
“She’s strong,” a deep, feminine voice complained, and her fingers tightened on Serena’s arms until she cried out. The woman behind her shuddered briefly. Another hand grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her head back.
With her eyes rolled downward, she could barely see Mia laughing as she drew a hand from behind her back. Twinkling in her hand was a small, thin knife with a six-inch blade. “I told you I had a knife, Serena,” she said, and winked.
“This is your world,” he said, “not mine. I’m just a bit player. Somehow you pulled me into your subconscious playground.”
She drew her breath in sharply, and her nostrils flared. “Are you saying this is a dream?” she all but whispered.
Surprised, Reed nodded. “Yeah. Didn’t you know?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t know where this was. I considered a dream, but why don’t I ever wake up?”
Forgetting the sword, Reed took a step toward her. She threw him a cautious look but didn’t say anything. “It’s just a dream,” he said. “You do wake up. You just don’t remember it. You’re sleeping right now, just like me. The only mystery is how you dragged me into—”
“You’re wrong,” she said hoarsely. “I don’t wake up, not ever. I just flow from one scene to another.”
“Girl, you’re dreaming,” he soothed. “Dreams make us think weird shit, forget the waking world. In ten minutes you’ll move on to another sleep stage and forget all about this conversation.”
She tilted her head at him, and her strong jaw had clenched around a teeth-baring snarl. The movement caught a ray of light, and he could see her eyes sparkled with a haze of tears. “I’m not wrong or crazy. If this is a dream, I can’t wake up.”
Jade liked the way he found strength in helping others. He had a freshness, a sweetness about him she found unusual and, well, kind of inspiring. Truth told, she also liked the way he stood before her, a thin, mildly handsome guy with full lips, heartbreaking eyes, a dorky hairnet, and that endearingly straight-laced tie.
His eyes drifted downward and stared at her lips. They snapped quickly back up to her eyes, remained a moment, and glanced back down at her mouth.
She knew this dance. Jade smiled at him, not her usual cocky grin but a gentler turning up of the lips. She drifted closer, until their breaths mingled. They closed their eyes, and she pressed forward.
Before she heard or saw anything, she felt the change in the air. One moment she was inhaling Jensen’s minty breath, and the next she found herself instinctively jumping backward as a body dropped from the ceiling and onto the floor where she’d stood only a half-second ago.
The Leech, a super thin woman with lanky red hair and shockingly pink lipstick, thrust out an arm and shoved Jade backward. She tap-danced briefly before falling on the same backside Jayson had earlier admired. Her head struck something metal, bringing her some serious ouches but luckily no injury.
Stupid, she cursed herself even as she sprang back to her feet. She’d let her guard down, violating rule number one of bodyguarding.
As Jade moved toward the woman, Jensen jabbed a pair of metal salad tongs into the Leech’s stomach.