Friday, May 30, 2008

I Heart You by Aurora Black

Rachel sat alone at the guest table in the large bookstore, her entire being filled with wariness. She scanned the crowd of fans gathered on the other side of the shop, people who had braved the bitter cold of the night for an autograph from their favorite romance author. She searched them for outward signs of malice, but she noticed only appreciation on their faces.

Her breath caught, and she directed her gaze to the red heart balloons that filled the room in honor of Valentine's Day, now less than a week away. At any other time, the sight of the decorations would have made her smile, but not today.
That morning, she'd received a threatening note when she checked her PO box. It read: I'm coming for you, whore. No matter where you go or what you do, you will pay. You like writing about bondage? Wait until you're strapped down and at my mercy, you cunt!'

She frowned at the memory of the letter, which had been constructed from newspaper clippings. The police warned her to cancel the event, but she couldn't afford to lose the opportunity to promote her novel, and she sure as hell wasn't going to let some psycho drive her away from her priorities.

Who the hell does this asshole think he is?

Rachel sighed, wishing she could go home and rest. Scribe's Pen was a major chain of bookstores, and she was honored to have been invited to make an appearance. Of course, she also had an obligation to her loyal readers. They had given her so much, and it was only fair that she gave something back. Signing autographs was the least she could do for them. She had taken the cops up on their offer of a police presence during the event, and the bored officer lounged around the far side by the crowd.

A click and flash of light startled her out of her thoughts, and Rachel let out a cry of surprise before turning around. Disoriented, she couldn't see anything at first, but she heard a warm, masculine laugh coming from somewhere in front of her.
She kept her eyes closed, waiting for the lingering traces of the flash to fade. Her tone reflected her annoyance as she addressed the stranger. "You find this funny?"

The voice sobered, the deep timbre making her shiver. "I'm sorry—I didn't mean to scare you. I was setting up my camera over by the podium when I looked over here, and I just couldn't resist taking a candid shot. There was something in your expression that I just had to capture."

His husky timbre was like a massage, penetrating her fear and working to ease the tension which, until then, had held her prisoner. Her vision finally cleared, and she opened her eyes to see the man whom she had been talking with. Oh, holy God.

The first thing she noticed were his silver-gray eyes, dark like clouds before a thunderstorm. His hair was sable black, the rich locks falling to his shoulders. He tossed his head and a strand fell against his sculpted jaw, directing her gaze to his full, sensuous lips. She admired his powerful throat, and her own went dry at the expanse of golden flesh. He looked good enough to eat, and he knew it.

A brilliant smile spread across his handsome face, and she realized that she had been staring. Rachel averted her eyes. "I'm sorry."

His gaze never left her, and Rachel wondered if it held desire. "Are you really sorry?"

Despite her earlier mood, she relaxed in the man's company. She tilted her head back to get a better look at him as he stood next to her chair. "Not really, no."

The stranger's eyes glinted with amusement. "Then why did you say you were?"

Rachel flushed, her face hot. "Because I'm not in the habit of ogling people I don't know."

He laughed again, holding out his hand. "Let me fix that. My name is Lucian Drake. I was sent here to cover this event and blind you with my flash."

She reached out and took his hand. It was warm and strong as it enveloped hers, and she wondered how he would touch her body. She cleared her throat. "Nice to meet you, Lucian Drake. Sounds like the name of a notorious English rogue."

It was Lucian's turn to look embarrassed. "Well, my mother loved romance novels, so it wasn't a surprise that she named me after some hero or other. I caught hell over it in school, so now I just have everyone call me Luc for short."

With reluctance, Rachel let go of his hand. "I like the name Lucian. It suits you."
He sat down in the chair next to her, his interest clear. "How so? I'm curious."
Her heart pounded at his nearness, and dizziness assailed her. Rachel's imagination kicked into overdrive, and her mind filled with images of him fighting in a duel to save his lady's honor, or swinging a sword on the battlefield for the greater good. She pictured him rushing into a burning building to save his true love, his muscles flexing as he lifted her, carrying her to safety. Indeed, his name fit him well.

Rachel wet her lips as other scenes danced in her writer's brain: the warmth of his breath against her neck while making love, the intoxicating scent of sandelwood and man on her skin, and the sight of their bodies entwined on satin sheets.

With effort, she distanced herself from her erotic daydream. "You have a bit of the Devil in you, but you wouldn't hesitate to help a damsel in distress."

Lucian leaned forward, giving her a sexy grin. "Perhaps I do." Then his face turned serious, his voice low. "I think you have a naughty streak as well, Rachel Malone. You pen your wildest fantasies, teasing millions with glimpses of your sexual soul. Women read your books and envy your talent and imagination. They want to be you. Men wonder if you're as passionate in real life as you are when you're writing your love scenes."

The policeman assigned to guard her approached the table where they sat, his scrutinizing gaze on Lucian. "Everything all right, Ms. Malone?"

Rachel nodded to the officer. "I'm fine, thank you."

The officer returned to his post just as the event began. Lucian slowly rose from the chair beside her and bent to retrieve his camera bag from the floor. He turned towards her, and she thought she caught a hint of regret in his eyes. "Well, duty calls. It was lovely to meet you."

She smiled at him. "Likewise."

He walked away to blend in with the crowd, and Rachel prepared for the night ahead.