After dinner with Mom, I headed out. It didn't take very long to get into town and find the library again. The streets, which during the few times I had been in town had always been populated, were now pretty much deserted. On the ride down, the skies had started to cloud over, too, giving the entire downtown an eerie ghost town feeling.

In spite of the weirdness that was my life at the moment and the lingering icky feeling I felt over Dee not inviting me out with her friends, I smiled as I walked into the library. Thoughts of the twins and everything else vanished as I rounded the corner of the quiet library and saw stacks of books lining the walls. As with gardening, in the stillness of the library, I felt at peace.

Stopping by one of the empty tables, I let out a little breath of happiness. I was always able to lose myself in reading. Books were a necessary escape I always gladly jumped into headfirst.

Time passed faster than I realized, and the library took on a gloomy aura. Libraries were always shadowy as daylight ended, but the unnatural darkening of the sky outside added to the creepy feeling. I didn't know how late it was until the librarian turned off most of the lights, and I was having trouble making my way back to the front desk. By then, I couldn't wait to be out of the drafty and creaky place.

A flash of lightning lit up the bookshelves and thunder rolled outside the windows. I hoped I could make it to my car before it started pouring. Clutching the books I wanted to check out to my chest, I hurried to the front desk. I was done in record time, barely having the time to say thank you before the librarian turned her back and dashed off to lock up.

"Well then," I muttered under my breath.

The impending storm had turned dusk to night, making it seem much later than it was.

Outside, the streets were still barren. I looked behind me, thinking about staying until the rain passed, but the final light in the library snicked off.

I gritted my teeth and shoved my books into my backpack before heading out. I stepped out onto the pavement, and the sky opened in a torrential downpour, soaking me within seconds.

I tried my best to keep my backpack from getting wet as I fumbled with my keys and hopped back and forth. The rain was freaking freezing!

"Excuse me, miss?" A gravelly voice interrupted my struggles. "I was hoping you could help me?"


Intent on getting the door open and the books out of the rain, I didn't hear anyone approach. I shoved my backpack into the car and tightened the hold on my purse as I turned toward the sound. A man came out of the shadows and stood under the streetlight. Rain coursed down his light-colored hair, plastering the longish strands to his head. His wire-framed glasses slipped down the bridge of his crooked nose as he stood with his arms wrapped around his chest, his thin body shivering slightly.

"My car back there," he gestured behind him, shouting a bit to be heard over the rain pounding against the hood, "has a flat tire. I was hoping you had a tire iron."

I did, but every fiber in my body was telling me to say no. Even though the man looked as if he couldn't throw a stone very far. "I'm not sure." My voice was smaller than I intended. I pushed at my wet hair and cleared my throat. I shouted back, "I don't know if I have one or not." The man's smile was weary. "I couldn't have picked a better time, could I?"

"No, you couldn't." I shifted from one foot to the next.

Part of me wanted to leave him there with an apology, but then there was this other part of me - a huge part of me - that was never good at telling people no. I chewed my lower lip as I hovered by the door. I couldn't leave him in the rain. The poor man looked about to crumple over any second. Pity for him pushed away the sense of dread that always came when you were confronted with the unknown.

I couldn't leave him stuck in the rain when I knew I could help. At least the rain was starting to let up.

My decision made, I forced a weak smile. "I can check. I may have one."

The man beamed. "You would be a savior if you did." He stayed where he was, not moving any closer, probably sensing my initial distrust.

"The rain seems to be letting off, but by those dark clouds coming in I think we may be in for a heck of a storm." I shut the driver's side door and headed to the rear of the car. Opening the trunk, I ran my hand along the carpeted bottom, searching for the release to the spare tire. "I think I may have one, to be honest." My back was to the stranger for only a few seconds when I felt a rush of chilly air stir the hair at the back of my neck. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, sending my heart slamming against my ribs and painful tendrils of fear burrowing through my stomach.

"Humans are so stupid, so gullible." His voice was as cold as the wind on my neck.

Before my brain could register his words, an icy, wet hand closed over mine in a painful grip.

His breath was sticky against my neck, striking a chord of finality. I didn't even have a chance to respond.

Using my hand, he swung me around. A cry escaped my throat as pain shot up my arm. I was face to face with him now, and he didn't seem as helpless as he had before. Actually, he seemed to have grown taller - broader.

"If - if you want money you can take whatever I have." I wanted to throw the purse at him and take off.

The stranger smiled and then pushed me.

Hard. The impact of the rough asphalt knocked the air out of me and jarred my wrist in scorching pain. With my good hand, I grabbed my purse and shoved it at him. "Please," I begged. "Just take it. I won't say anything. Just take it. I promise." My attacker crouched in front of me, lips curved in a sneer as he took my purse. Behind the glasses, his eyes seemed to shift colors. "Your money? I don't need your money." He tossed the purse aside.

I stared as little gasps of breath wheezed in and out of my lungs. I couldn't keep up with the idea that this was happening. If he wasn't robbing me, then what did he want? My mind shrunk from that line of thinking, instead echoing in terror: No. No. No.

I couldn't keep my head afloat in the rush of thoughts and images that flooded me. But my body was moving, and I was scooting away from him, banging into the curb. Fear swamped me. I knew I needed to scream. I felt it welling up in my throat. I opened my mouth.

"Don't scream," he warned, his voice a biting command.

I felt the muscles in my legs tense. I twisted, pulling my knees up, getting ready to run. I could make it. He wouldn't expect it. I could make it. Now!

His arms shot out in a blur, grabbing both legs and yanking. My left arm and that side of my face hit the pavement, skin grating against rough cement in blinding pain. My eye started to swell in a matter of seconds and warm blood trickled down my arm. My stomach heaved. I tried to pull my legs out of his grip, kicking when that failed. He grunted, but held on.

"Please! Let me go." I tried again to kick my legs loose. The road scraped my arms, sending more pain and something stronger.

Anger coursed through me, pushing at the fear, trying to overcome it. The combination sent me into heady action. I kicked and bucked, pushed and shoved, but nothing seemed to budge him. Not even an inch.

"Let go of me!" This time I yelled, the sound torn from my throat until it was raw.

He moved quickly, his face fading in and out like I'd seen Dee's hand do. And then he was on top of me, his hand covering my mouth.

His weight was unbearable even though he'd appeared so small before, so helpless. I couldn't breathe, couldn't move. He was crushing me, but the thought of what was to come next nearly destroyed me.

Someone had to have heard me. It was my only hope.

He lowered his head, sniffing my hair. A shudder of revulsion rolled through me. He hissed. "I was right. You have their trace." He moved his hand from my mouth and gripped my shoulders. "Where are they?"

"I...I don't understand," I choked out.

"Of course you don't." His face contorted with disgust. "You're nothing but a stupid, walking mammal. Worthless."

I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn't want to look at him. I didn't want to see his face. I wanted to go home. Please...

"Look at me!" When I didn't he shook me again. My head cracked against the ground. The fresh new pain startled me and my one good eye opened against my will. He grabbed my chin with his icy hand. My gaze flickered across his face and finally settled on his eyes. They were vast and empty. I'd never seen anything like it.

And in those eyes I saw something worse.

Worse than being robbed, worse than being degraded and abused. I saw death in them - my death - without an ounce of remorse.

"Tell me where they are." Each word was bitten out.

His voice sounded muffled, as though underwater, or maybe that was me. Maybe I was drowning.

"Fine," he spat. "Maybe you need a little encouragement."

Within a second, his hands wrapped around my throat and he squeezed. Before I had a chance, the last breath that I'd taken for granted was cut off. Panic clawed through my chest as I tried prying his fingers off my neck, my legs kicking out in a vain attempt at freedom. His grip dug into my fragile windpipe.

"Are you ready to tell me?" he challenged.


I didn't know what he was talking about.

My wrist was no longer throbbing; the torn flesh of my arms and face no longer seemed to sting with such fierceness as before, because new pains were replacing the old. There was no air, no more air. My heart pounded in my chest, demanding oxygen. The pressure in my head threatened to explode. My legs were going numb. Tiny lights danced through my vision.

I was going to die.

I would never see my mom again. Oh God, she would be devastated. I couldn't die this way, for no reason. I begged silently, prayed someone would find me before it was too late, but everything was fading. I slipped into an inky abyss. The pressure wasn't bad now. The rawness in my throat seemed to ease. The pain was leaving. I was leaving, fading into the darkness.

Suddenly, his hands were gone, and there was a fleshy sound of a body hitting the road in the distance. It felt like I was at the bottom of a deep well and the source of the noise was too far above.

But I could breathe again. I gluttonously ate each breath, drawing the beautiful air down my bruised throat, already feeding my starved organs. I started to cough as I gulped air.

Someone cried out in a soft, musical language I'd never heard before, and then there was another curse and punch being thrown. A body landed next to me, and I rolled slightly.

Pain caused me to wince, but I welcomed it. It meant I was alive.

They were fighting in the shadows. One of them - a man - grabbed another, holding him several feet into the air. The strength was shocking, brutal. Inhuman. Impossible.

Rolling up, I was wracked by another round of coughing. I leaned over, putting weight on my wrist, and yelped.

"Dammit!" a deep voice exploded.

There was a flash of intense red-yellow light. Streetlamps down the street exploded, casting the entire block in darkness. I doubled over as I heaved. Gravel crunched and tips of hiking boots came into view. I threw my arm out to keep whoever it was back.

"It's okay. He's gone. Are you okay?" A gentle hand was on my shoulder, steadying me.

In a distant part of my brain, I thought his voice sounded familiar. "Just sit still." I tried to lift my head, but dizziness nearly stole my breath. My vision blurred and then cleared. My left eye was now swollen shut and throbbed with each beat of my pulse. "Everything is okay." A warmth started in my shoulder, flowing down my arm and circling my wrist, easing sore muscles and delving deeper. I was reminded of days lying out on white beaches, basking in the sun.

"Thank you for..." My words trailed off as my rescuer's face swam into focus. High cheekbones, straight nose, and full lips formed before my eyes. A face that was striking and so cold that it could not possibly belong to the same heat that was slowly swallowing my entire body.

Vibrant, rare green eyes met mine.

"Kat," Daemon said. Concern was etched in his forehead. "Are you still with me?"

"You," I whispered as my head lulled to the side. I vaguely noticed it was no longer raining.

He arched a coal-black brow. "Yes, it's me." Dazed, I glanced down where he was holding my wrist. It wasn't throbbing any longer but his touch was doing something else. I jerked my arm back, confused.

"I can help you," he insisted, reaching for me again.

"No!" I shrieked and it hurt.

He hovered a moment longer and then straightened, his eyes glancing down at my wrist. "Whatever. I'll call the police." I tried not to listen to him as he spoke to the police on the phone. Eventually, I was able to catch my breath. "" My voice was hoarse, and it hurt to speak.

"Don't thank me." He dragged his fingers through his hair. "Dammit, this is my fault." How was this his fault? My brain wasn't working correctly yet, because that didn't make much sense. I leaned back carefully and peered up - way up - and I immediately wished I hadn't. He looked fierce. And protective.

"See something you like, Kitten?" I dropped my his clenched hands.

His knuckles weren't even scratched. "Light - I saw light."

"Well, they do say there is light at the end of the tunnel."

I shrank away from the reminder I'd almost died tonight.

Daemon crouched down. "Dammit, I'm sorry. That was thoughtless. How bad are you hurt?"

"My throat...It hurts." I touched it gently and winced. "So does my wrist. I'm not...sure if it's broken." I lifted my arm gingerly. It was swollen and already turning an attractive shade of blue and violet. "But there was a flash...of light." He studied my arm. "It might be broken or sprained. Is that all?"

"All? The man...he was trying to kill me." His eyes narrowed. "I understand that. I was hoping he didn't break anything important." He stopped for a second, thinking. "Like your skull?"

"No...I don't think so."

He let out a breath. "Okay, okay." He stood and looked around. "Why were you out here anyway?"

"I ...wanted to go to the library." I had to stop till the rawness in my throat subsided. "It wasn't that...late. It's we are in a He said he needed help...flat tire."

His eyes were wide with disbelief. "A stranger approaches you for help in a dark parking lot and you go and help him? That has to be one of the most careless things I've heard in a long time." He crossed his arms and stared down at me. "I bet you think things through, right? Accept candy from strangers and get into vans with a sign that reads free Kittens?" I gasped.

He began to pace. "Sorry wouldn't have been helpful if I didn't come, now would it?" I ignored the last statement. "So why out here?" My throat was finally feeling slightly better. It still hurt like a bitch, but at least every word wasn't like being pulled across concrete.

Daemon stopped pacing and ran a hand over his chest, above his heart. "I just was."

"Geez, I thought you guys were supposed to be nice and charming."

He frowned. "What guys?"

"You know, the knight in shining armor and saving the damsel in distress kind." I stopped at that point. I must've hit my head.

"I'm not your knight."

"Okay..." I whispered. I slowly pulled my legs up and rested my head on my knees.

Everything hurt, but not as bad as it did when that man had his hands around my throat. I shivered at the thought. "Where is he now?"

"He took off. Long gone by now," Daemon assured. "Kat...?"

I lifted my head. His hulking frame loomed over me as he stared at me. His gaze was unnerving, piercing. I didn't know what to say. I didn't like how Daemon's body cast a shadow from the moonlight, and I made a move to try and stand.

"I don't think you should stand." He kneeled again. "The ambulance and police should be here any minute. I don't want you passing out."

"I'm not pass out," I denied, finally hearing the sirens.

"I don't want to have to catch you if you do." He examined his knuckles for a few moments. "Did ...did he say anything to you?" I wanted to swallow so badly, but it hurt too much. "He said...I had a trace on me. And he kept asking...where they were. I don't know why."

He hurriedly looked away, drawing a sharp breath. "He sounds like a lunatic."

"Yeah, but...who did he want?"

Daemon turned back to me, a deep scowl on his face. "A girl stupid enough to help a homicidal maniac with his tire maybe?" My lips pressed into a hard line. "You're such an ass. Has...anyone ever told you that?" He flashed a genuinely amused smile. "Oh, Kitten, every single day of my blessed life." I stared at him in disbelief again. "I don't even know what to say..."

"Since you already said thank you, I think nothing is the best way to go at this point." He stood with fluid grace. "Just please don't move.

That's all I ask. Stay still and try not to cause any more trouble." I frowned and it hurt.

My not-so-charming knight stood over me, legs braced apart and arms at his sides as if ready to protect me again. What if the guy came back? That must be what Daemon was worried about.

My shoulders started to shake, my teeth quickly joining in the fun. Daemon whipped his shirt off and pulled the warm cotton over my head, careful not to let even a whisper of cloth touch my damaged face. His scent wrapped around me and for the first time since the attack, I felt safe. With Daemon. Go figure.

As if my body recognized I didn't need to fight anymore, I started slipping sideways, and I knew I was going to black my other eye when my head hit the pavement because I was most definitely about to pass out for the second time in as few days. I briefly wondered why I was cursed to always faint in front of Daemon, and then folded to the ground like a paper sack.

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