Kristina cowered against the damp building, looking to her mother for direction. Even at eight, she could see the wild gleam in the man’s eyes.
Pepper spray in hand, her mother pushed her toward the street. “Run, baby!”
A knife glinted in the man’s hand as he held it up in front of him. “I just want the jewelry and your money, lady. Don’t make me hurt you or the kid.”
Her mother took her eyes off him for a fraction of a second. “Run, Kris—” Her words cut off as the man slammed the knife into her mother’s chest and then reached for Kristina, but she ran as her mother had instructed. As she fled, she heard her mother’s cries. How could she have left her, especially when it was all her fault? She stopped in the middle of the street. She had to stop him. Her legs felt heavy and sluggish as she ran back down the alley toward the mugger, tears blurring her vision.
A silhouette of a man landed in front of her with a soft thump. When he stood up, a sliver of light from the street revealed that he was dressed in black and much larger than the guy who’d attacked them. An anguished scream shredded the air as the new man tore the thug off her mother, slamming him into the concrete. He knelt down over her mother, checking where the man had forced the knife, but she didn’t move. The kind man lifted her to her feet and she stumbled forward.
“Mommy!” Kristina screamed, seeing the blood drip from her mother’s mouth and seep through a rip in her dress.
Her mother’s eyes and mouth opened, but nothing came out.
“Go,” the man in black shouted. His voice was deep and strong, his eyes dark as he turned to the man on the ground and pulled him up by his hair.
Kristina wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist, doing her best to hold her upright. As they staggered away, one lone wail filled the air and then silence. She hoped it was the bad guy, not the one in black. Normally his dark hair and mysteriously deep eyes would scare her, but she’d felt safe when he looked at her, as if he knew her.
Her mother collapsed in her arms. The blood had soaked through her dress, turning it bright red.
She looked back to the alley where the mugger had pushed them off the sidewalk. They’d just been going to get ice cream. “Help me,” she pleaded to the man who’d saved her. He was leaning over the bad guy, his fingers touching his neck. “My mother’s dying…”
The man in black looked up at the sound of her cry, but didn’t move. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do.”
She blinked the tears out of her eyes, and he was gone.
Deleted Scene ~ Chapter One
Eight Years Later
Kris let the screen door slam behind her, knowing that her foster parents hated it. Good, she hated them.
“Where ya going, Kristina?” Liz called from the porch.
“It’s a school night, young lady. You be home by ten.”
Kris lifted her head in acknowledgement, but then hopped in her friend’s Honda Accord. Yeah, like that was gonna happen. Tonight was the night of her first frat party. Not many sixteen-year-old girls could claim that privilege. She’d posted it all over Facebook, so her friends would be expecting some juicy pics. Her current guardians would be lucky if she came home by three.
She exhaled a long breath as she collapsed in the passenger seat of her best friend’s car. “OMG! Freedom!”
Beth shifted the vehicle in drive and drove away from the lopsided parallel parking job she’d done in front of her apartment building. She pulled her eyes off the road for a second. “Wow. I like the outfit,” her friend said, lifting a few strings of Kris’ vintage shredded jean skirt as her eyes moved up to her peek-a-boo tank. “Where d’ya get the cash?”
Kris propped her feet up on the dash, displaying her new faux fur boots too.
“Dang…girl. Did you rob a bank?”
She smiled. “Not exactly.”
Her girlfriend arched an eyebrow. “You didn’t!”
“How much did you get?”
“Two thousand dollars on eBay. Enough to take off if I want.”
Her friend shook her head, huffing out a breath. “Yeah, right! Where would ya go?
Kris shrugged. “Anywhere? Some place warm. I hate Somerville. We get a few weeks of sweltering heat in the summer, and then the rest of the year is just cold and wet.”
“I don’t know, Kris. I don’t know if I could have sold my mother’s jewelry. Didn’t you say one of the pieces belonged to your grandmother?”
“Yeah. But if my mother hadn’t been wearing that stupid ring, that dirtbag probably wouldn’t have jumped us when I was eight. I’m better off without it.” Kris reached for the stereo and cranked up the alternative rock station. “Anyway, shut up! I wanna rock tonight.”
Within minutes, Beth pulled up in front of the red brick manor with gray trim and made a phone call. “We’re here…” Her voice took on her silky, sweet voice she reserved for her boyfriend. She clicked end and turned to Kris. “Jason said he’d meet us here and park the car.”
Kris faked a swoon against the passenger door. “You’re so lucky. Jason’s soooo sweet.”
“Well, from what he tells me, his suitemate can’t wait to meet you, so I’m sure he’ll be just as great.”
“Squee! So cool! I’m so excited.”
“Chill, girl. We’re supposed to be smooth and calm. Know what we’re doing, you know? Act like college girls.”
Jason ran across the grass and pulled Beth’s door open. “Go on up to the front door, and I’ll be right back.” He pecked Beth on the lips and then jumped inside the Honda and peeled off.
Beth and Kris sauntered up the front stoop, staring up at the four-story dorm, which looked like a mansion. Most of the students who walked by didn’t give them a second glance, but Kris caught the glower from a few girls. She’d always stood out among the dark-haired girls in Boston with her long blond hair, especially since she’d added streaks of eggplant and fuchsia.
Jason took the front steps two at a time and then swung Beth around in his arms. He turned to look at Kris, as though studying her from head to toe; well, maybe he didn’t get past the hem of her skirt. “Looking hot, ladies. Come on, Greg’s anxious to meet you.” He held the door open and they followed. The inside of the old brick manor was spacious with red leather sofas and even a grand piano. He smiled as their mouths dropped open. “You think this is nice, wait’ll you see our suite.”
When he opened the room to their apartment, Kris understood what he’d meant. One side of the room had a full bar built into the wall, and the other side had a terrace overlooking the courtyard. The sun had set within the last half hour, and the sky was ominous looking with its oranges and deep blues, making her wonder whether Boston would get a final snow before springtime. God she hoped not.
A tanned hottie with dark blond hair combed to one side, wearing skinny jeans and a black t-shirt, stepped into the room. She crossed her fingers behind her back, hoping the guy was Jason’s roommate Greg.
He fist-bumped Jason and walked right up to her. “You must be Kristina,” he said in an accent that didn’t fit New England, as didn’t his hair and clothes. Yummy, she thought. He was exactly her type—different. He lifted her hand to his lips and she felt lightheaded.
“Call me Kris,” she said. “Only my guardians call me by my full name.”
One side of his lip quirked up. “I wouldn’t mind being your guardian. I’ll keep an eye on you all night.” He dropped her hand and strolled behind the bar. “So, what would you ladies like to drink?” Greg looked at Jason. “You already checked their IDs? They’re twenty-one, right?”
“Of course,” Jason said, kissing Beth. “Give them our house specialty.”
Greg reached behind him without taking his eyes off her and pulled down two bottles. One with green liquid, the other clear. He flipped the bottles once and poured equal amounts into a short glass, twirled again, and poured another few shots into a second glass. “Two house specials.”
Jason grabbed one and handed it to Beth and then walked over to a stereo and cranked up some tunes, pulling Beth to the middle of the room. As soon as the music started, college students funneled into the apartment.
Kris’ blind date—she’d have to thank Beth later for setting her up with him—stepped around the bar and handed her the green concoction.
She touched a tiny bit to her lips, tasting the drink. It was strong, but good. “Melon?”
“Yep…and a few secret ingredients. If I told you, I’d have to kill you though.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Careful, they taste so good they can sneak up on you. I wouldn’t want you getting drunk and falling asleep before the party’s over.” He lifted her hand and directed her out the French doors to the terrace. “So tell me about yourself, Kris. Where do you go to school?”
She opened her mouth, but then snapped it shut as she’d almost said the name of her high school. Jason knew she was a junior. Had he really not told his roommate, she wondered. “Hmm…there’s not much to tell. I live in Somerville.”
“Yeah, I know, but I’m leaving soon.”
He stuck out his bottom lip. “Really? Where? We just met.”
“I don’t know. Someplace warm.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Me too. Back to Cali as soon as I graduate.”
She licked her lips and smiled. “I like the sound of that.”
“Well, Kris, maybe we should get to know each other better before you move away then.”
Kris’ entire body tingled at the fact that this hotter than hot college boy was interested in her. Heck, she may even get to L.A. faster than she thought. His parents probably owned a beach house in Venice.
Greg touched his fingers to the bottom of her glass. “Drink up, babe. There’s a lot more where that came from, and we have a lot of partying to do.”
She tilted back the glass, savoring every drop. He left her on the terrace to greet more students filtering into the suite, all carrying dishes of food in one hand and a bottle of some kind of liquor in the other.
Kris wandered around the apartment, meeting new people, but kept her mouth shut and mostly just let them talk about professors and what they were gonna do for spring break. Every time she turned around, Greg was close by, offering her a sweet smile. She’d been so lucky that he’d chosen her as his date with all these older college girls around.
When she walked back into the main living area, all the couches, chairs, and tables were back against the walls of the apartment, leaving space in the middle for swaying bodies. An eighties’ dance song belted out of the Bose speakers, and Beth squealed in response, pulling Kris into the middle of the room. Within seconds, Greg handed Kris another drink and moved up behind her, pressing her closer to her friend. She tipped the glass back and drained it. He handed her his glass and she pounded it too.
The warmth that surged through her body felt de-lish. She’d needed a release from the strains of her life. A day didn’t go by that thoughts about the night she’d lost her mother didn’t plague her, and every evening, nightmares inundated her sleep as she attempted to rewrite the events of her past. She had no parents, no siblings. And every six months, or less sometimes, she ended up with new foster parents when her current guardians were finally able to adopt a baby or have their own child. No one wanted a troublesome teenager. Beth was the only person on the planet who even cared about her worthless existence.
Greg slid his hands around her waist and pulled her closer. The room blurred for a second, and she stumbled backward into his arms, feeling as though she might fall.
He steadied her. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Just hot, I guess.”
He lifted her hand and pulled her toward the door. “Let’s go get some fresh air.”
Kris followed behind him gratefully. “That sounds good.” Beads of sweat dropped between her shoulder blades even though she could feel the air was cool.
Greg led her down a staircase and outside to the courtyard behind the building. He crossed the common area, walking until they were in the shadow of two buildings. He dropped down into an Adirondack chair and pulled her onto his lap.
Kris’ heart immediately thumped out a nervous rhythm. She’d only known him a couple of hours; she wasn’t ready for this.
He slid one hand up her shirt and the other between her legs.
She jumped off his lap and staggered backward; he hadn’t even kissed her and was already trying to feel her up. “What are you doing? We just met.” A wave of heat flashed through her body, and the world seemed to twist and bend around her as she tried to steady herself. Her mind was clear, but the ground felt as though it was moving beneath her as if she were rocking in a boat.
Greg’s face distorted, and she wasn’t certain if she was imagining the devilish sneer or if she was hallucinating. He stood up. “I thought this is what you wanted. To get to know each other.” He approached her and pushed her back against the brick wall. The grainy material pierced through her thin t-shirt, scraping her back.
She clawed at his hands and arms. “I mean it! Stop it!”
He smashed his hand over her mouth and slammed her harder against the wall. She tried to scream, she tried to push him off, but his body against hers was too strong. It felt as if her arms were floating and her legs could no longer hold her weight.
The loser must have put something in her drink. He tugged up her skirt as she struggled to free herself, but he pulled her body back away from the wall and then bashed her head back into it. White stars filled her vision as the world began to close around her. She couldn’t pass out; she had to fight.
Greg’s body soared backward, hitting the wall of the building opposite her. She blinked in an attempt to clear her head, trying to register what she’d just seen. Then her body felt weightless as cool air rushed over her skin. Strong arms cradled her body, but they weren’t hurting her; someone was carrying her.
She barely had the strength to keep her eyes open. “Who…are…you?”
“You stupid girl.” A familiar deep voice filled her ears, resonating through her body as he held her against his chest.
Hearing his voice sent a thrill through her soul. Every time she’d tried to convince herself that she’d made him up as a child, her heart argued that he existed. She tried to focus on his face, but she couldn’t open her eyes enough to make out his features. She needed to see his eyes, those deep and mysterious eyes that filled her good dreams when she had them. The ones where he whisked her away, as opposed to the nightmares when the thief returned to kill her.
He set her down inside what must be Beth’s car.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” she struggled to speak through the haze that threatened to steal her into unconsciousness.
“Yes, it’s me.” He brushed her hair from her face, and her world went black.