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By Annmarie McKenna
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2007 Annmarie McKenna
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNikki tried to sleep, she really did, it just wasn't happening. The bed was too hard, the pillow too starchy, her shoulder burned like hell and she had to lie on her bad side. The one she'd never been able to sleep on, but had to now because she'd been shot on her good side. Skinned anyway. She'd hate to know what it felt like to actually be shot.
Shot. A murderer had shot at her because she'd seen him. Thank God it had only been a flesh wound. What he'd done to her friends was unconscionable. And he was still out there. Looking for her, if the police were correct in their assumption. Nikki sniffled and gripped the blanket tighter around her chin, knowing it wouldn't protect her from the man who'd tried to put a bullet through her head.
All night long she'd cried about the senseless waste of the lives of her friends. It didn't matter that she hadn't been around much in the better part of the last year. At one time they'd all been very close. Now they were gone and she'd never see them again. Would she ever see anything past the horrific end of their lives? A sob stuck in her throat, choking her, but no tears came. There weren't any tears left to cry.
Derek had stayed through the night, staking himself out in front of the door, cracking his knuckles and frowning at anyone who opened it. As if the man would try to get at her here. As if Derek would be able to stop another bullet meant for her. They'd both be dead and it would be all her fault.
This morning her dad had shown up again and relieved her brother. The police followed shortly thereafter, asking another round of a bazillion questions, most of which she couldn't answer. Still. Things hadn't changed any since she'd gone through them last night. The most she'd had to offer had been what she'd seen of the killer's dark hair in the mirror and what her friends had said about Lou's weirdo boyfriend. Since she'd never met the man, no, she couldn't give them a description, much less a name. And no too, to the question did she think he could have done this? She had no idea. Didn't they get that she didn't know him?
Not only that, but her brain was fried from whatever the doctor had given her so she couldn't think straight. She thought it had been something for anxiety. Or pain, maybe. Both, more likely. Last night she'd been a complete basket case and she'd welcomed anything that might soften the blow of what had happened.
Today she was marginally clearer and had a vague recollection of a conversation she'd had with Lou in the hospital all those many months ago. Lou had talked about her boyfriend and how sometimes he seemed like he was far away. As if he were lost in thought or something. Lou had seemed genuinely happy with him though, and he certainly didn't seem to put too much pressure on her.
What kind of help would those shady, drug-hazed memories be anyway? She'd spent a long time in the hospital when Lou had met him. After leaving, Nikki had sort of shut herself off. Hidden would be the best word, like a coward. She should have stayed in hiding so she wouldn't have seen the gruesome-
Stop! Nikki slammed the door on the direction her brain was going. Reliving it did nothing but bring on the tears. She just wanted to sleep. To forget about what had happened for a few blessed minutes. But had she been able to do that yet? No.
When the police had finally left, her mother had asked her pastor to stop by, so she'd cried again, all the while being patted and told that it was all in God's master plan. Right now, what she really wanted was to tell God just where he could shove his master plan, because it sucked. When the patronizing pastor had finally left, exhaustion set in.
Oh God. No. No, no, no. No one called her Nikki-Raine but him. Why, God? Was it because I told you what you could do with your plan? Please tell me I'm hallucinating the deep voice behind me. Please! She squeezed her eyes shut. He could not see her right now, ever, and damn it, where had he come from anyway? Wasn't he supposed to be off guarding some head of state or something? He couldn't be here. Not now.
"You awake, baby?"
Baby? He'd never called her baby before. His big hand, callused she knew, rubbed a path down her blanket-covered leg from knee to ankle. Nikki froze and held her breath. He'd never touched her this way before, either. Her pussy flooded, creaming her panties, and her tummy jumped. She jerked at her body's response. How could she feel this way right now? Right when the world was wrong? How could anything feel this right? At any rate it made her blessedly forget the physical and emotional pain she was in, if only for a few seconds.
Do it again, she begged silently. Just once more. If this was all she could get from the man she loved, she'd take it.
He did. A tender stroke that had her swallowing back a wave of fresh emotions that threatened to choke her.
"What are you doing here?" She forced the words around the pain.
He chuckled once, the sound slamming through her system, making her whole body jerk with the deep baritone. "Your mom hired me. I talked to her after Derek picked me up from the airport."
Hired you for what? Personal security, his business, you idiot, what else. That's why he was here. To babysit her. The bed dipped behind her butt, unbalancing her just enough that she had to tighten her already crushing hold on the blanket to keep from rolling to her side. Not only would her shoulder burn like hell, but he'd also see her face.
And probably leave.
"And we need to talk." His hand stopped tracing her calf muscle and gave it a squeeze instead. "But first, you need to get up so we can get you out of here. It isn't safe." He started to stand, still holding her leg.
No way was she leaving here with the one man who could destroy her, shattering her heart into little bits with one look.
His hand tightened around her calf and she winced.
"Excuse me?" His tone reeked of disbelief, reminding her of all the times he'd talked to her as a child, back when she'd been a pest to him and her brother. "Goddamn it, look at me, Nikki-Raine."
She sighed. She hated it when he used that nickname. He was the only one who did, and he never made it sound like she dreamed it should. Like a man who wanted to jump into bed with her. Or on the floor, or against the wall, or the table. She wanted to try all those things. With him. Eight months ago she might have still had a chance. Now she no longer had that option.
Excerpted from Checkmate by Annmarie McKenna Copyright © 2007 by Annmarie McKenna. Excerpted by permission.
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