Sorry for the late post. It’s been a crazy week trying to wrap up edits for Kissed by Fire while also reviewing all of my audio files for Cursed by Fire. It’s amazing by the way. Nicole Poole seriously outdid herself and I can’t want for Cursed by Fire in Audio to go live! Until then….. Enjoy Chapter 4.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. After meeting with Eric, James and I called it a day, making plans to speak with Mrs. Blackmore and her husband the following morning. I knew James was itching to make some headway in the case. I was just as eager for justice as he was, but we didn’t have any leads. I was exhausted, so when he made up some excuse about needing to take care of some Pack obligation, I didn’t object.
We both knew he was lying. Whether for my benefit or his own, I wasn’t sure. But Daniel was already gone. There wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
Two weeks of sleepless nights while I searched for Daniel, only to discover I was too late, had taken its toll. That, coupled with the stress of the hunt, put me on edge, and I could feel myself burning out.
I took the bone James offered and had him drop me off at my apartment. Mike would have my car dropped off later in the evening, and I didn’t need to go anywhere else today.
It was only four in the afternoon, but my body didn’t care. It craved sleep and food in no particular order. I dragged my exhausted self up the first flight of stairs on my way to my fourth floor, single-bedroom apartment.
“Hey, Mel,” I paused to say hi to my neighbor currently perched on the metal railing near the top of the first set of stairs. Her ebony mane fell in waves down her back and blended into blue-black feathers that covered her bird-like wings.
“Hey, Aria,” she said around a mouthful of food. She clutched a small basket in her arms, with a smile spread across her face like she’d just won a prize.
“Stealing from Ryan again?” I asked.
Melody’s smile grew wider, and she took another bite from her stash. Ryan was a musician who lived on the fifth floor that Melody seemed to have a thing for. Being a Harpy, she expressed her attraction by stealing. A strange method, but it seemed to do the job because, like every time before, Ryan came storming down the stairs, the heavy footfall of his boots thundering with each step.
“Melody!” he shouted. “Where is it?”
I smiled as I brushed past Ryan. You’d think he’d learn by now.
“What is your problem?” he shouted.
“If you weren’t open to sharing, you shouldn’t have left this out for me.” Melody said innocently.
“Left it out? Left it out! Putting my food and belongings inside of my locked apartment behind locked cabinets is not leaving it out.”
I snickered. Some humans, despite living beside paranormals, still didn’t have a clue as to how they ticked, and Melody—she loved a challenge.
Ryan’s yelling and Melody’s ruse at innocence faded with each step. Their banter just like any other day.
When I reached the third flight, my thighs had begun to burn. Stupid stairs. Stupid elevator. I eyed the sliding metal doors with disdain as I took a moment to catch my breath.
A small part of me wanted to step inside the cold metal box and lean against the cool inside wall until it chimed on my floor, but I couldn’t. I knew that a single step inside, without the doors even closing, would send me into a spiraling panic.
So instead, I pushed on. One last flight to go.
I could faintly hear Melody screech that it was Ryan’s fault that she’d stolen his food. That he never should have left it out for her to find so easily if he didn’t want it taken. I’d helped him install the locks that now covered every cabinet and closet within his apartment, knowing they wouldn’t keep her out.
If anything, the added security only encouraged her. A good neighbor would have told him as much, but it was more fun letting him figure it out on his own.
With my apartment door in sight, I dug through my messenger bag for my keys. The elevator pinged, and I jerked my head up to see who’d arrived on my floor. There were only three apartments on the fourth floor, and aside from mine, the others were vacant. At least, I thought they were.
I didn’t recognize the man who stood inside, though his head was bowed. His jet black hair hid most of his features, but the military- style boots weren’t something your average Bob or Joe wore around town.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose.
He stepped out of the elevator, distracted with the phone in his hand before he looked up and his gaze collided with mine.
Startling blue-grey eyes, so clear it was like looking into a pool of water, met mine. Sharp cheekbones and a square jaw enhanced his full mouth.
I dropped my keys and cursed before bending to retrieve them.
What the hell? I was never clumsy.
The man began walking towards me, and I tried not to stare at him as he drew closer. He was as beautiful and deadly as the daggers I kept at my waist, and dammit if I didn’t want him.
“Anything I can help with?” he asked, interrupting my thoughts.
He crouched beside me and the smell of rainstorms assailed my senses. I paused longer than normal before answering him.
“No. I’m good. Thanks.” I stood to my full height, and he followed suit. I had to fight the urge to step back. He was way too close.
I moved to go around him, and he shifted his stance to let me pass.
“Are you visiting someone in the building?” I asked as I approached my door. I stood with keys in hand and waited for his response.
He shook his head. “No. I just moved in.”
“On the fourth floor?”
He nodded, his gaze curious as if he were waiting to see my reaction.
I kept my expression bland and did my best not to scowl. Sure, he was hunky, but I liked my privacy. I’d enjoyed having the fourth floor all to myself for over a year now.
“Well, welcome to the neighborhood. It was nice meeting you …”
“Inarus. Inarus Ryholt”
“Inarus.” I repeated the name, liking the way it sounded. “What is that? Libyan?”
“Egyptian.” He corrected.
I was half Iranian, and I’d always had a fascination with Middle Eastern countries. Though Egypt was largely situated in North Africa, it was still considered a part of the Middle East. I didn’t think Inarus was strictly Egyptian. His complexion was a little too fair. But that did explain the exotic lift to his eyes and the chiseled jawline.
“Hmmm.” I didn’t know what else to say after that, so I fumbled with my keys and gave him a wave. God, I was an idiot. A wave? When he was two feet in front of me.
I struggled to insert the right key into the deadbolt without further added to my humiliation. I didn’t even have that many keys on my key ring. I could feel his gaze on my back, which seriously was not helping. Neither was the fact that he hadn’t moved. Shouldn’t he be going to his own apartment?
Inarus looked like the kind of man who cracked skulls for a living. I wasn’t one to judge, being in my current line of business, but his proximity put me on edge. Instinctively I called my fire close to the surface.
Good looks and a muscular body didn’t earn you any trust points in my book.
“Seriously, what the …” I muttered aloud and then cursed when I realized I was putting my key in upside down.
Dammit. Today was not my day. Finally unlocking the mechanism, I pushed the door open. I looked back over my shoulder to see Inarus still standing in the same spot. Not creepy at all.
I gave him one last wary look before stepping into my apartment and quickly shutting the door. I threw the deadbolt, then locked the doorknob too, just in case, before checking the windows and making sure they were all locked. You could never be too safe.
Once my quick assessment was complete and I confirmed that my apartment was secure, I tossed my keys and messenger bag on the small dining room table and headed straight into my bedroom at the end of the narrow hallway.
My apartment was simple. I was a bit of a minimalist.
On the right was the living and dining area with a small open kitchen. I’d managed to decorate my humble abode with a variety of flea market finds that included mismatched wood dining room chairs, a circular steel-topped table, and a navy blue sofa.
To the left down a narrow hallway was my bedroom and the single bathroom, sectioned off from the rest of the apartment. It was a strange layout, but it suited my needs, and the rent was dirt cheap in comparison to others in the area, so I couldn’t complain.
Once in my room, I kicked off my military-style black leather boots and peeled off my leather jacket. I pulled out a soft pair of grey yoga pants and quickly put them on.
I gave my boots a cursory glance. When I was at home, I preferred to be barefoot, but meeting Inarus in the hall made me question if I should slip them back on.
He hadn’t done anything overtly threatening, but you never knew when you’d need to run for the hills or kick someone in the balls. And combat boots did a heck of a lot more damage than bare feet did.
I looked down at my toes and wiggled them in the carpet. The purple polish on them did me no favors in the kick assery department.
“Don’t make a big deal of this,” I chided myself. He was a neighbor. Neighbors were totally normal to have. For once I would try and refrain from being the paranoid nut who thought everyone was out to get her.
I padded softly on bare feet to my kitchen. My cupboards were sparse, stocked with only the essentials. My refrigerator was equally bare, but I had what I needed to make a sandwich. I wasn’t home often, and when I was, it never seemed to make sense to cook for a party of one.
A lot of the time, Marian would send leftovers with Mike for me to take home. She was a godsend, because without her, it would have been years since I’d had a home-cooked meal.
My stomach growled as I pulled out the lunchmeat, mayo, and loaf of bread from my fridge and assembled a turkey sandwich, cutting the crust off. It was an old habit from my childhood I’d been unable to curb.
Sandwich in hand, I ate it on my way back to my room, practically swallowing each bite whole. Finishing off the last few bites, I crawled into my bed, unconcerned by the crumbs now dotting my olive green comforter. I’d shake them off come morning.
Curling into myself under the covers, I closed my eyes and allowed sleep to pull me down into its warm embrace, doing my best not to think about the sexy new neighbor who was probably bad news.
The good looking ones always were.