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By´╝ÜChristine Pope



The ceiling above me was unfamiliar, cool white crossed by dark wood beams. I blinked up at it, but this wasn’t like one of those books or movies where the heroine wakes up in a strange place and has no idea of where she is.

Unfortunately, I knew exactly where I was.

I sat up in the narrow bed and glanced over at the clock sitting on the table a few feet away. Nine-twenty. Usually I was up long before that, but since I hadn’t managed to fall asleep until nearly five, I knew I shouldn’t be all that surprised by the hour.

The door to my room was still closed and locked, the way I had left it the night before. Obviously, Connor Wilcox hadn’t done anything to disturb me as I slept. Was he even up yet? I had no idea whether he was the type to wake up early, or whether he slept the morning away.

So much I didn’t know…so much I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

After pushing back the covers, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the door. In the duffle bag Connor had given me the night before, I’d found flannel pajama bottoms and a thermal top to match, so I was mostly covered up. Whoever had done the shopping for me hadn’t bothered with providing any frilly babydoll nighties or lacy teddies, the sort of thing I imagined Damon Wilcox might have preferred for his captive prima. Maybe he’d envisioned me not wearing anything at all.

I shivered then, pushing back the dark memory of his mouth on mine. Things were bad, yes, but they could have been so much worse.

Barely daring to breathe, I cracked open the door and peered out into the hallway. The window I’d noticed the night before was uncovered, letting in a flood of brilliant white-gold morning light. It felt somehow incongruous to me, as if the weather should be dark and stormy so it would be a better match for my current situation.

I went to the window and looked down onto a street already clotted with vehicles, most of them splattered with mud. The road was clear enough, although snow was piled high on the curbs. Plows must have come through sometime during the night. People bundled in hats and scarves and heavy jackets moved along the sidewalks. All the buildings looked fairly old, possibly as old as those in Jerome, which told me my guess of the night before had been correct — Connor’s apartment was in the historic downtown section of Flagstaff.

From downstairs I caught the rich loamy scent of fresh-brewed coffee and a faint drift of music, a steel-string guitar playing a complex melody that was somehow wild, compelling, as if evoking the dark forests and high snowy mountains of the landscape just beyond the city’s borders. The tune also sounded strangely familiar, like I’d heard it somewhere before. Maybe I had; lots of local bands played small clubs everywhere from Flagstaff to Jerome to Prescott. They weren’t bound by the same constraints I’d suffered my whole life. After all, normal people could go where they pleased without worrying about which clan ruled which particular territory.

The smell of the coffee and the sound of the music told me one thing — Connor was definitely up and about. Looking down at my flannel pajama bottoms and thermal top, I wondered if I should hurry back to my room before he realized I was awake. Did I really want him to see me like this?

Why should you care? I scolded myself. It’s not like you’re trying to impress him….

True enough. I was doing my best to forget the sweet fire of his lips against mine, the heat that traveled through every limb and vein as we made the prima and consort bond. I couldn’t want him, no matter what my body might be telling me. No, I had to get out of here, even though escape didn’t seem very likely at the moment, not with the wards that had been set on the windows and doors.

I had just turned to go back to my room when I stopped, freezing like a deer in a hunter’s sights. Connor stood at the end of the hall, a dark-glazed mug of coffee in his hand.

Unlike me, he was already dressed, hair combed, although a faint dusting of dark stubble along his cheeks and chin indicated that he hadn’t bothered to shave. “I thought you could use this,” he said, extending the hand with the mug toward me.

The coffee did smell divine. Without meeting his eyes, and careful not to touch his fingers, I took it from him. “Thanks.”

He was being careful, too, I could tell. After all, it would have been easy enough for him to slip his fingers over mine, to wake that unwelcome heat in my core. But he held his hand still, letting me extract the mug from his grasp without making any movement until it was safely cradled in my own hands.

Maybe I should have been worried that he’d doctored it or drugged it somehow. But I had a feeling he hadn’t. It would have been all too easy for him to come to me as I slept, to touch me before I even knew what was happening. Instead, he had let me sleep unmolested. Whatever was going on here, I had begun to get the feeling that Connor was no more a willing participant than I.