So are you back? Did you read chapter 1? OK, drum roll please!
Here's chapter 2!!
[Excerpt from The Curse of the Black Swan, coming in ENTHRALLED, by Alyssa Day, copyright Alesia Holliday]
Brynn raised her backpack to show him she had a purpose under that bench and wasn’t trying to pounce on him, and then she walked a few feet away, ducked behind a large flowering bush, and yanked on her clothes. After that, she stopped to hyperventilate a little bit, because he’d seen her transform. Catching her naked wasn’t nearly as worrying as catching her turning human, because this was Bordertown and sometimes people who were different enough found themselves sold on the black market to collectors.
This guy, though, he’d seen her, and now she had to wonder why it was that she hadn’t noticed him sitting there, when she was usually so very careful, why the moon magic hadn’t shielded her from his view, and what the consequences might be. The only clue offering her even a little rational thought was the BFTD fire helmet sitting on top of a pile of what looked like firefighter gear next to him. Even she, self-proclaimed hermit that she was, knew the insignia of the Bordertown Fire Department. Maybe he was one of the good guys.
Or he’d killed and eaten a firefighter and stolen the guy’s uniform. Again, this was Bordertown.
The man was seriously beautiful. Even in the dim light from the decorative lanterns lining the square, she could see that he was an amazing specimen of sheer male virility. He had long, muscular legs and broad shoulders that tapered down to a narrow waist. He was no poster-perfect model, though. His dark hair was too long, his face was too stern ever to be called pretty, and she could have sworn his eyes had gleamed briefly with a spark of hot orange-gold, but in spite of all of that—or maybe because of all of that—she’d felt a bolt of interest that had registered as pure sensation the minute she’d completed her transformation and seen him sitting there.
But he’d seen her as a swan, and that was a problem. She stepped out from behind the bush and stared him down, evaluating which step to take next. None of her options were good. He sat with the perfect stillness of a hawk or a falcon, and like those creatures, he gave off the impression of leashed power that could explode into action in a fraction of a second.
It amused her that she sometimes thought in terms of other avian species, after the early years when she’d rejected everything about the curse. Defiance and stubbornness had sometimes been the only supports underpinning her hold on sanity. Curses did not travel lightly on their victims.
“Maybe we could talk,” he ventured, holding his hands out, palms up, at his sides.
She realized he’d been careful not to stand, and he wasn’t making any gesture or movement which might startle her, and the knowledge calmed her a little more. On the other hand, psychopaths were usually good at luring women in with a false sense of security.
A breeze coming from behind him teased her senses, and she sniffed the air. “Why do you stink like fire?”
He smiled, probably laughing at Brynn and her abrupt question, especially since the firefighter outfit was right there next to him on the bench. Normal people tended to mock her for her lack of social skills, anyway. She was better with animals. They didn’t mind her shyness, her long silences, or her general inability to tell the little white lies that oiled the wheels of polite society.
Right. She didn’t need another source of pain in her life, even if it happened to come from the hottest guy she’d seen in years. She wheeled around to head out.
“Stay,” he said, and the word came out like a command, which freed her from indecision.
Commands were easy to ignore.
She took a step toward home but, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him lift a hand as if reaching out to her.
“Please.” His voice was hoarse when he said the word, as if it were one he rarely used, and something about it made her stop when nothing else would have.
She’d been alone for so long, and part of her yearned so desperately to make a connection that it loosened her determination and left her wavering--indecisive and unsure--simply because he’d used the word please.
He sighed, and the mere exhalation of air carried more meaning than it should have. It told her that he, too, might be lonely, or at least sad. For some reason, she wanted to know what had caused it. She took a breath of her own and turned, clutching her backpack tightly in her hand as if it contained a weapon with which to defend herself from crazed killers or from an incredibly hot man who carried his sorrow in his deep, dark-chocolate eyes and slumped shoulders.
“I just want to talk,” he said, and she could almost taste the richness of his voice.
As a woman who spent every third night singing, she was exquisitely, almost painfully attuned to nuances of tone and pitch. His voice was beautifully low and deep; a calming baritone that stood out from the symphony of cracked altos and drunken sopranos she was forced to endure every third night.
“Look at the swan!”
“Do you think it’s lost?”
“Maybe it thinks the statue is its mate!”
If they knew her real story, maybe they’d quit laughing at her. But if people quit laughing, they might begin to pity, and Brynn knew that would be worse.
“I understand if you want to go. A beautiful woman, alone in the middle of the night with a strange man,” he continued, but now he’d sunk his head into his hands, and she could tell he didn’t hold out much hope that she’d stay.
She should go. She should. Two things stopped her, though: his voice when he’d said please, and the BTFD insignia on the pile of smoke-drenched fabric next to him on the bench. She decided to conclude that he was a firefighter. If he’d killed the original owner of the uniform, there would have been less smoke and more blood.
She thought about that. Gruesome, but her logic seemed pretty sound, so she dropped down to sit on the end of his bench. “What was on fire?”
He glanced up, clearly surprised that she’d decided to stay. A glimmer of a smile crossed his face, and it transformed his face from ruggedly handsome to a startlingly dark beauty. She realized that, if he ever flashed a real smile at her, her legs might collapse out from under her. Before she could even suspect him of flirtation, sadness dropped back over his features like a dark cloak, and she realized that seduction was the last thing on his mind.
“An apartment building, an ice cream shop, and Ancient City Antiques,” he said.
Brynn’s heart jumped into her throat. Too much of Bordertown was built out of wood, and too much of it had been around since the 1800s. Fire in an apartment building would be devastating.
“Did—did everyone get out?”
“This time. But what about next time? We can’t seem to catch him.” He clenched his jaw so hard she was surprised his teeth didn’t shatter, and she was sure that she saw a gleam of orange fire briefly light up his eyes.
What he’d said, though, shocked her into stunned disbelief. “Somebody did that on purpose? To an apartment building?”
He aimed a long, measured stare at her before he finally answered. “This is Bordertown. What haven’t you seen done on purpose around here?”
She flushed, feeling naïve and a lot like a fool, but she didn’t jump up and run away, no matter that it was her first, second, and third instinctive reaction. Something about his attitude—his anger at the arsonist who’d shown so little consideration for human life—caught at her and made her want to know more about him.
Anything about him.
Like his name, for instance.
“I’m Brynn Carroll, and I can’t believe you haven’t asked me about being a swan. That’s usually a big topic of conversation with me and new people,” she said, lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders. Ready for the barrage of questions.
She could do this. She could meet a new person. She firmed her lips and then found the courage to hold out her hand. Normal people shook hands.
“Sean O’Malley, and I figured you’d tell me when and what you wanted to tell. This is Bordertown, after all,” he said, and then she caught what had only been teasing the edges of her senses before--the slightest lilt of Ireland infusing the music of his voice.
When his big, strong hand carefully enfolded hers, a gentle wave of warmth spread over her. She was glad to be sitting down, because she suddenly knew her knees would have gone weak and wobbly if she’d been standing. He was big, and he looked rough and scary and dangerous, especially here in the dark, illuminated only by the glow of the lanterns, but he’d taken her hand so carefully, as if it were something to be cherished.
As if she were someone to be cherished.
She pulled her hand away, banishing the fancies as she did. Loneliness was her only companion most nights; that didn’t mean she had the time or inclination to transform a chance encounter into a romantic interlude. Not even in the privacy of her deepest yearnings.
She already knew that love never, ever would be an option for her.
“I have to go,” she blurted out, jumping up and ready to run.
As with please, the single word stopped her when a dozen might not have.
“In a brightly lit, public place, I promise,” he said, holding his hand over his heart and smiling that almost-smile again.
She started to shake her head. He was too tempting, too intriguing, too . . . too everything.
“Unless you only eat bird seed.” He finally stood, stepping back so as not to loom over her, which was good, since the top of her head came to about his nose.
Her lips quirked into a smile, almost in spite of herself. “No, I don’t eat bird seed. I’m more of a pumpkin pancakes girl, actually. With bacon. Lots of bacon.”
He groaned; a deep noise that sounded like it came from the depths of his being, and it made her wonder what noises he’d make in the middle of love-making. As soon as the idea danced into her mind, she blushed so hot that she was glad for the darkness.
“Bacon. And eggs. And hash browns. Coffee. Lots of coffee,” he said. “I think I’m going to like you, Brynn Carroll.”
“I am very likable,” she dared to say, as if she’d suddenly become a woman who knew how to flirt with an unbelievably gorgeous man. Now he’d make fun of her, surely.
Instead, he grinned, and his smile felt like a gift he’d given her to unwrap.
“Breakfast,” she agreed. “Where should we go?”
“Anywhere but O’Malley’s,” he said cheerfully, and she suddenly made the connection.
“You’re one of those O’Malleys? The O’Malley’s Pub O’Malleys?”
Everybody knew at least one of the O’Malleys; well, everybody except Brynn. Until now. They were big and brash; quick to anger and quicker to forgive, everybody said. They’d owned the pub for more than a century, and everybody in Bordertown drank there or at the Roadhouse. O’Malley’s had Irish music on the weekends, and Brynn had lingered outside the pub on occasion, listening to the lovely sound and wishing with all of her heart that she’d had the courage to step inside and join the fun.
Sean reached out to take her hand, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to hold hands with a woman he’d only met mere moments after she’d transformed from waterfowl to human.
“Yes, I’m one of those O’Malleys, but don’t hold it against me. I like to pretend I’m adopted,” he confided.
For the first time in a very long while, Brynn laughed out loud.
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