© 2019, Meghan March

Chapter 1

Scarlett

My body hits the ground with a thump. When my eyes flick open, darkness greets me.

What the hell?

Wait. No. There’s some gray mixed with the pitch black. Maybe even a glow coming from above my head?

Did I fall asleep? Roll off my bed?

I try to sit up, but I can’t move. Why can’t I move? Fear creeps down my spine because I’m 99.99% sure I didn’t fall asleep. I don’t take naps. I don’t have time.

Plus, if I’d been taking a nap, the sound of the Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” wouldn’t be blasting in my earbuds.

Wait. I was running. Not napping. So, why the hell can’t I move? I wiggle, but something that feels like carpet nap rubs against my bare arms.

What in the actual fuck is going on?

The Proclaimers go quiet for a moment before the song starts again. In that precious beat of silence, puzzle pieces snap together, and the blood chugging through my body slows like icy water in a nearly frozen river.

Oh. No. No. Just . . . No. This isn’t happening. The threats weren’t real. They didn’t get me. Even as I try to deny it, my inner voice pops into my head, contradicting everything I want to believe.

They got me. The threats were real. They’re going to kill me. I should have listened to Ryan and Christine. Why didn’t I listen?

That’s right, because I never take stuff like that seriously. And now . . . I flex my hands with my heart thundering, and my fingertips brush against what feels like . . . a rug?

My stomach plummets as reality crashes through my confusion.

I’m rolled up in a rug. Oh. My. Fucking. God. This can’t be happening.

As the Proclaimers wail in my ear, vibrations shiver across my skin. What was that? A door shutting? Are those footsteps?

Then the murmur of voices comes next. I try to listen, but I can’t make out the words over the music, until . . .

Something knocks into my side, and thankfully, the rug blunts the impact. Did someone just freaking kick me?

I’m a smart woman. Savvy. I’ve lived in Manhattan my whole life and survived three mugging attempts. I’m not a shrinking violet, but neither of the two women’s self-defense seminars I’ve attended covered what to do when you wake up rolled in a rug after being kidnapped by someone who has probably made repeated death threats.

The song’s volume dips for more chanting about all the things the Proclaimers would do for the woman they loved, and that’s when I hear the roar.

You did what?” a man bellows loud enough to suck the breath out of my lungs. He sounds furious—and powerful.

Fear unleashes a cold sweat over my skin.

“You said she could fix it!” Another voice, this one higher pitched, breaks through the Proclaimers’ voices before the song picks up intensity again, drowning them out.

Who said I could fix something? Fix what? Where? My brain races, but it’s more sluggish than normal, given the fact it's weighted down with a billion tons of dread and the urge to shrink and run.

More murmuring. More confusion rioting in my head.

Fix what? For whom? Does this mean they’re not going to kill me? Because I would really like not to be killed today. Or tomorrow. Or really ever.

Then I start rolling. Literally. Like a rock thumping over on its side when kicked.

Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God! Think! Think!

My body tumbles until I’m discombobulated and the earbuds fall from my ears. Bright light blinds me as I’m freed from the rug and land on my back, staring up at the ceiling.

The scents of leather and carpet cleaner hit my nostrils as I bolt to my feet, tilting to one side like I’ve had too much to drink. I spin around, searching for an exit, but a big hand lands on the bare skin of my shoulder.

His palm is hot, like it was just yanked from a pocket or clenched in a fist. His touch sends tingles racing down to my fingertips.

Whoa. That’s never happened before.

I jerk away, stumbling forward to catch myself on the arm of a leather chair. “Please don’t kill me. Whatever you need me to fix, I’ll fix it.”

My head bowed, I say the words to the ripped-jean-covered legs of a man standing a few feet from me, even though I have no idea when I decided trying to reason with him was a good idea. With self-preservation running the show right now, all bets are off on me behaving rationally.

Although I brace for a blow or some form of verbal assault, none comes. Other than the faint sound of the Proclaimers drifting up from my earbuds on the floor, a heavy silence blankets the room.

I wait for the ripped jeans to move. To come toward me. To kill me. But they don’t.

Fuck.” It comes out softly, like he’s speaking under his breath and doesn’t mean for me to hear it.

“Please,” I whisper, finally finding the courage to look up at the rest of the body connected to the pair of massive denim-clad legs. “Please don’t hurt—”

My voice goes silent as I stare into the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. He could make a fortune off those eyes alone. Mostly because they’re set in a ridiculously attractive face that shouldn’t be attractive at all due to a slight crook in the nose and the faint white line of a scar stretching across one of his sharp cheekbones. Shaggy dirty-blond hair hangs in his face as his lips press into a harsh line.

This beast, albeit a gorgeous one, is going to kill me.

The voice in my head delivers the final verdict, a conclusion it reached because somehow, to the bottom of my soul, I know this man isn’t afraid to cause pain to another person. Raw, savage energy flows off his body in waves, and my teeth threaten to chatter at its intensity.

Beautiful and brutal. That’s what I’d caption the shot I’m mentally taking right now of the last face I may ever see.

This is it. I should have listened. But I didn’t. This is all my own damned fault.

I bite down on my quivering lip and straighten my shoulders as tears well in my eyes, tears I won’t allow to fall.

Not yet.

First, I’m going to bargain with the grim reaper.