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Secrets and Sins Series: Chayot
By Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Naima Bryant
All rights reserved.
Aslyn Jericho swept into her third bow, and energy from the audience danced over her skin like electrical fingers.
She straightened once more, and sweat dampened her hair, face, and body as adrenaline raced through her veins, more exhilarating and powerful than any drug. Her heart pounded a primal beat, echoing the applause and cheers of the people who'd come out to the San Antonio arena to attend her concert. The pulse reverberated in her chest, belly, between her thighs ...
Hell, she was a walking, breathing orgasm.
She pressed her fingers to her lips and blew out one last kiss before waving and striding off the stage.
"Awesome performance, Aslyn!"
"Amazing show tonight!"
Maneuvering around the various coils and equipment crates littering the floor of the backstage area, she grinned at her crew's congratulations. The heavy curtains separating the stadium and backstage areas couldn't stifle the continued noise of the concertgoers. She had to force herself to keep walking down the hallway toward her dressing room. Either keep walking or spin around and return to that stage, run up to her piano, and play for another hour. She chuckled. While she would love nothing more, the other musicians in the small orchestra that joined her on tour might revolt.
God, nothing in this world could compete with performing in front of thousands of people with her orchestra and playing her music — her music. She grinned wider.
And hot damn. She got to do it all over again tomorrow night.
"Wonderful concert, Aslyn," her manager and oldest friend Liam Ahearn said, passing her a towel.
"Thanks, Liam." She patted her face and throat with the cloth. "I swear I didn't want to come off stage tonight."
"Two encores. I think I figured that out for myself," he said wryly.
She laughed, accepting a bottle of water. "Hey, did you see Jeremy Sutter in the front row?" Wriggling her hips, she did a fist pump. "The man has been playing hardball, but I think he's going to accept our offer."
Liam grunted. "He has a decent reputation, but ..."
"Decent reputation?" she scoffed. "The man is a god among agents. And think. With him on board, you'll have even more time to manage every minute of my life down to a nanosecond."
"As if you're cooperative now," he drawled. "Now, we have to make an appearance at the after party. How soon do you think you can be ready?"
She touched the damp bun at the back of her head and glanced down at her flowing, cuffed white shirt, tight black leather pants, and knee-high stiletto boots.
"Um," she hummed, lifting the water bottle to her mouth for a deep sip. "It depends. Do I have to dress up for this thing?"
Liam's eyebrows hiked high. "Well, it requires more than ripped jeans and one of those hideous graphic tees you hoard."
"So yes on dressing up." She shrugged. "Forty minutes?"
He sighed as they drew to a halt in front of her dressing room door and the massive tank of a man, Joseph, who guarded it and her.
"I'd prefer thirty, but if an extra ten means makeup, I guess I can't argue. I'll wait for you out here." Liam pressed a quick kiss to her forehead, then pulled his cell phone free to probably begin making one of his seemingly endless calls.
Shaking her head, she grinned at her bodyguard. "Hey, Joe. Has my door been behaving itself?"
The corner of his mouth quirked the tiniest bit, but the aloof expression didn't alter as he shifted to the side, unblocking the entrance to the dressing room. "I only had to put it in time-out once, Ms. Jericho."
Turning the knob, she snickered. "You're such a hard-ass, Joe." She slipped inside and closed the door. Silence greeted her, enveloped her. The quiet seemed almost jarring after the past hour. She inhaled, held the deep breath, then released it on a long sigh. Rolling her shoulders, she crossed the room and lowered to the chair in front of the brightly lit vanity table. She scrunched her face at the reflection in the mirror. Heavily lashed and shadowed eyes. Scarlet lipstick that made her mouth look double its normal size. Was there any wonder she preferred no makeup when not on stage? Hell, right now she resembled a goth burlesque dancer.
Smirking, she plucked the pins securing her bun free. Long, dark red hair tumbled to her shoulders and back. She groaned, rubbing her scalp. Closing her eyes, she massaged harder.
"Beautiful." Her eyes popped open, the reverence in the word as startling and terrifying as the voice in a room she believed empty. A cry clawed up her throat as a pale, smiling face appeared next to hers. "You're so beautiful."
She screamed, but a hand slapped over her lips, stinging her skin and pressing the tender tissue inside her mouth against her teeth. The makeshift gag muffled the shout to a strangled whimper.
"Shh." Metal glinted in the vanity's bright bulbs. Terror crawled through her veins, freezing her blood. He lowered his hand, and she watched, paralyzed, as it stroked her lips in a depraved parody of a kiss before settling at the base of her neck. "We wouldn't want anyone to interrupt us. Now that we're finally able to meet face-to-face."
He leaned farther down, and his free hand cupped her chin in an implacable grip. Cold, dry lips pressed to her temple, slid down the side of her face to her jaw. His tongue flicked over her skin like a snake's forked tongue, tasting her. Nausea churned in her belly.
"I told you my love would find you," he murmured, a frightening warmth in his soft gaze.
My love would find you ...
Oh Christ. Quinton Lakes.
As soon as the name bloomed in her head, shivers coursed through her body. Her number one fan, as Quinton Lakes claimed to be, had closed every one of his letters with the same phrase: My love will find you. Over the past year, those five little words had come to spark an instant deep terror. After thousands of letters, a barrage of calls to her record label and Liam's office, and an attempted burglary at her Los Angeles home, she'd believed the restraining order issued a week ago would finally grant her a reprieve.
God, how wrong she'd been.
"Mr. Lakes," she rasped. Stopped. Swallowed and wet her parched throat and mouth. "Mr. Lakes, what are you doing here?"
"So formal, Aslyn." He chuckled, his mint-flavored breath teasing her nostrils. The acid in her stomach roiled faster, harder. "There's no need to stand on ceremony. Not between us."
She cleared her throat. "Mr. Lakes — "
"Quinton," he snapped, his grip on her face tightening. "Say it."
"Quinton," she whispered. "W-why are you here?"
"For you, of course." His smile returned, and the only thing missing from his explanation was the "silly." As if she should've expected him to show up in her dressing room. "I know your lawyer and manager were responsible for filing that restraining order against me. At first I believed it was your idea, and I thought I'd have to punish you. But then I realized, no, you were innocent. But I still have to remove you from their negative influence. They can't be allowed to continue to control you and try to keep us apart."
Oh Jesus. He sounded so sane. So reasonable. Her heart thudded in her chest. Calm. You have to stay calm.
"Quinton, I can't leave right now. I have a concert tomorrow." She tried to smile, to reassure him, but the mirror confirmed she failed miserably. "People are depending on me — "
"Users. Takers," he spat. "Every one of them. All they do is pull on you, suck you dry. They're parasites. That's why I'm taking you away. Someone needs to take care of you for once. Someone who loves you." He smoothed a hand down her hair, his touch glancing off the top of her breast. She shrank from the caress, bile racing for the back of her throat. Yet Quinton didn't seem to notice her aversion. With an adoring regard that scared the shit out of her, he buried his nose in her hair and inhaled. Sublime pleasure etched his plain features, curved his thin lips. "Someone like me," he murmured.
"Please, Quinton." She licked her dry lips, and cringed when his pale eyes tracked the movement with avid interest. With his deranged mind, he'd probably decipher the nervous gesture as an attempt at seduction. "I-I appreciate your concern ... I do. But I can't leave with you. It's impossible ..."
"You're going," he said, voice flat and matching the flint in his unblinking stare. His fingers curled under her arm and tightened in a cruel grip. He hauled her to her feet, his hold surprisingly strong as he steadied her, when the heel of her boot caught on the chair rung. "Don't make me hurt you, Aslyn," he murmured, whirling her around. "I don't want to, but for your own good, I will."
Every self-defense move she'd learned flashed in front of her eyes, but her body didn't respond to the screaming demands of her mind. Push! Kick! Block! Instead, she remained frozen. Paralyzed. Terrified.
"Please, you don't have to do ... Oh God, no." A low moan escaped her, and her knees buckled at the macabre image in the corner of the dressing room. She closed her eyes. "Please, God, no. Please, God, no." But when she reopened them, the same grisly sight stared at her. Horrified her.
Jenna, her personal assistant for three years, lay slumped against the far wall, blue eyes blank and frozen open. Crimson splattered her chest. Dripped from the deep slice in her neck. An animalistic cry scraped Aslyn's throat, and she scrabbled at her own neck as if trying to ensure the skin was intact.
"Shh, shh," Quinton hushed, petting her hair. "I didn't intend to hurt her, but she surprised me. She would've tried to keep us apart. I had no choice."
Mute with terror, Aslyn shook her head.
Rage twisted his thin lips, narrowed his eyes. "Let's go, Aslyn." He gripped her arm again, his other hand brandishing a knife, making agitated slices through the air.
"Aslyn." Liam swung the dressing room door open and strode inside, his attention focused on the object in his hand. "Cara sent over this dress for you. I'll leave it —" He screeched to a halt. His wide, stunned gaze jumped from her to Quinton. "Joe!"
Her bodyguard charged into the room, almost knocking Liam out of the way. With an outraged scream, Quinton leaped behind her, the deadly edge of the blade at her throat.
"No!" he shouted, sounding almost as if in the throe of a temper tantrum. "No, no, no!" He dragged her backward. She stumbled over his feet but quickly recovered her balance. "She's mine. She's mine!"
Fire. Freezing, biting fire pierced her back. Seared her flesh. Excruciating pain bloomed, consumed her.
Then ... nothing.CHAPTER 2
Six months later
"You need to call 911."
Those were the memorable first words she'd shared with her next-door neighbor Chayot Grey. Not "Welcome to the neighborhood." Not "Do you have some sugar I can borrow?" Just an order to call the police.
Jesus. Aslyn crossed her arms and briskly scrubbed her chilled skin. A Peeping Tom. At her window. Watching her without her knowledge. She hadn't seen the bastard, but her neighbor had spotted him at the side of her house before he'd hauled ass across her backyard. Now the police were in her living room, questioning both him and her about the incident.
Her stomach dived for her feet before reversing its course and screaming toward her throat. She battled the fear back down until it was a small knot in her belly instead of the suffocating fist in her windpipe.
Get a grip. She peeked out of the dark window as if she could spot and catch the pervy son of a bitch. Odds were the person peeking in her house had been some pimply faced, over-sexed teenager bored with his video games and hoping to glimpse real-time tits and ass. Or even a dirty old man with an open trench coat and his penis in his hand. The peeper could've been anyone ...anyone but another Quinton Lakes. A shudder rippled through her at just the thought of the lunatic who'd broken into her dressing room, killed her assistant, and attacked Aslyn six months ago. Terror and revulsion crawled across her skin. She stopped breathing. Because if she inhaled, she could still smell the oily pomade in his hair. Could choke on the overwhelming lemon verbena odor of his cologne. Could gag on the cold, wet glide of his lips down her face ...
She moistened her lips and glanced her fingers over the thick, three-inch scar on her lower back. Even through her tank top, she located the ridged flesh. A shiver skated over her arms and down her spine. A flash of ice-coated fire flashed through her, tearing skin, puncturing organs ...
No. She jerked, inhaled a sharp breath. The loud, angry retort reverberated in her head, snapping her back to the here and now. No. Stop borrowing trouble. How could she ever expect to heal, to reclaim the independent, fearless life she once led if she kept imagining boogey men where there weren't any?
Besides, what were the chances she would have another obsessed — crazed — fan? She was a concert pianist for God's sake, not Rihanna.
She turned away from the window, arms still wrapped around her torso. As if the cold assaulting her originated from the central air instead of from inside her. Not that the scene currently playing out in her living room inspired any warmth. Two uniformed officers with their notepads out, their shoulder walkie-talkies occasionally squawking as they conferred with her next-door neighbor. The same next-door neighbor who'd appeared on her doorstep quietly ordering her to call 911 because he'd witnessed someone sneaking outside her house and staring into her window.
A slow, sinuous heat wound through her body, chasing away the chill that had taken up residence in her bones. The curious melting softened and evaporated the metallic bite of old memories and fears. Chayot Grey. Shay-oht. Unusual. Unique. As unusual and unique as the man. Lord, he stole her breath away. Like he should be handcuffed, read his Miranda Rights, and carted away for pilfering the air from her lungs.
He was huge. Not cauliflower-ears-and-steroids huge, but tall. Basketball-player tall with wide shoulders, slim hips, and long, muscled legs that his lightweight summer sweater and dark blue jeans emphasized. But it wasn't his height or lean frame that'd had her gaping up at him like a demented Kewpie doll when she'd first opened her front door. Nope. That honor rested solely with his face. She blinked, as if even now she couldn't accept what her 20/20 vision perceived. She'd traveled the world, seen her fair share of good-looking men. Hell, she'd dated one for nearly two years. But Chayot Grey — with his jaw-length, gold and brown waves, beautiful hazel eyes, and full, sensual lips — made her cheating, I-hope-you-get-warts-on-your-dick-and-it-falls-off ex-boyfriend look like he should slap on a mask and stalk an opera house.
As if sensing her study of him, Chayot lifted his head, his steady gaze meeting hers.
Holy freaking God, the man is gorgeous.
Chayot's stoic expression never changed, but surprise flashed in his eyes. Low snickers punctuated the room, and her eyes widened.
"Oh shit. Did I just say that out loud?"
More chuckling. Chayot slowly dipped his chin.
She cringed. Flames scorched her neck and cheeks. Jesus H. Christ, they must all think I'm a bubble-headed idiot. They were in her home responding to a peeper call, and she was ogling the witness. Where was that floor-opening-up-and-swallowing-you-whole wand when you needed it?
Flipping their pads shut, the officers thanked her neighbor for his cooperation, then approached her.
"Ms. Jericho," the younger of the cops said. "We'll put out a BOLO with the description of the man Mr. Grey gave us. We'll also have officers on patrol drive by your house, keep an eye out for suspicious activity. If you hear or see anything, please don't hesitate to contact us."
She nodded. "I will. Thank you so much for your help."
Both officers nodded before leaving. She stared at the closed door for a long moment, avoiding the man standing silently in her living room. Swallowing a sigh, she gathered her courage — and pride — and faced Chayot, a strained smile and apology on her lips.
"Listen, I'm sorry about" — she twirled her fingers — "that. Believe me, I've been told I have no filter. I didn't mean to embarrass you."
Excerpted from Secrets and Sins Series: Chayot by Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2014 Naima Bryant. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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