Authors: Carter,Beth D.
VERNIGHT PUBLISHING ®
Copyright© 2016 Beth D. Carter
Cover Artist: Jay Aheer
Editor: JC Chute
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Thanks to CR Moss who is always there to read my stories.
For Mike, who said “My girlfriend is awesome”.
A MAN AFTER MIDNIGHT
Beth D. Carter
Copyright © 2016
Caroline hit the button on her phone to check the time. Just gone midnight and she sat all alone, sipping a banana-flavored martini in a darkened hotel bar. The muted music from the club next door filtered in as sharp staccato beats pulsed through the grey walls. The bar held the overflow of scantily clad women trying to cool down from the frenetic synthesized techno-music, so naturally there were many middle-aged men trying to find a bit of tail to seduce.
As much as she didn’t want to be there, the strange restlessness inside prevented Caroline from following her friend, Aldy, back to their shared hotel room. Aldy worked for a large cosmetics firm that had sent her to New York City for a weeklong convention. When her friend had invited her along, Caroline readily agreed. She had needed a fun weekend, but exploring the sights and pounding the pavements of the city hadn’t been as much fun as she had envisioned. Times Square was busy, noisy, and the crush of people almost overbearing. After her arrival she had taken a two-hour shuttle ride from La Guardia to her hotel right off Times Square, and by the time she had checked in, hunger was gnawing at her stomach. After a quick slice of cold, overcooked pizza, she tried finding David Letterman’s hangout, only to walk down the wrong street and about fourteen blocks out of her way. Finally, she had given up doing the ‘touristy’ thing and had returned to her hotel.
Aldy had an early meeting to attend, so she left to catch a few Z’s––her last words still rang in Caroline’s ears.
“I invited you along to relax,” Aldy admonished. “To forget your soon-to-be-ex-husband, whose name forever after shall be ‘Asshole’.”
“And I thank you,” Caroline replied, taking a quick sip of her fruity drink. “I’m hoping tomorrow’s excursion as a tourist in the Big Apple goes better than today.”
“Caro, you don’t need souvenirs and photographs of famously random buildings to have a good time! That’s not why you’re here. I think you should pick up a man and have a little fun.”
Aldy swept her hand around the bar. “There are so many hot guys in here. Pick one. And don’t come back to the room tonight!”
Caroline arched a brow at her. “A one-night stand? Sex with a stranger is dangerous.”
“Oh, please.” Aldy harrumphed. “Like sleeping with a cheating husband was safe? At least with a stranger, you know protection is first and foremost.”
“You do have a point,” Caroline agreed reluctantly.
While it had been her husband Greg’s lack of fidelity that had broken their marriage up, for Caroline the biggest issue had been the respect and trust he had destroyed. She’d asked him point blank if he had been having an affair, and he had stared into her eyes and lied.
Looking around the room again, she wondered how many of these potential one-night stands were, to someone else, cheaters and liars.
The bartender placed another full martini glass in front of her, snapping her out of her mental musings. Liquid sloshed over the rim. She wiped her fingers off on a small napkin.
“I’m sorry,” Caroline said. “I didn’t order another.”
The bartender flashed a smile. “The gentleman in the back ordered it for you.”
When he walked away to answer another drink call, Caroline lifted her gaze to the mirror that lined the entire bar. Her own reflection stared back at her, surprising in detail even through low lighting. The new, brighter highlights in her short bob stood out among the dimness, making her a platinum blonde. The color paired perfectly with a strapless black dress that emphasized her pale shoulders. In the mirror she searched for her drink benefactor through the thick swell of patrons, and almost missed the small wave coming from a table stuck in the corner. He lifted his glass to her in a salute, but he didn’t move. He simply sat there, head cocked to one side as if waiting for her to join him. The darkness made it impossible to make out his features clearly, but his actions and clear expectations turned her off. Despite Aldy’s prompt to find a one-night stand, Caroline wasn’t interested in having sex with a stranger. Not to mention with a man who couldn’t even bother to approach her, using the bartender to deliver a drink. She looked away from the man in the corner and slid out a twenty from her clutch purse resting in front of her on the bar counter.
“This is for the drink,” she told the bartender when he came over to her. “Thank the gentleman––but I’ll pay for my own.”
It might have been her imagination, but she thought she saw approval in the barkeep’s eyes. He took the twenty, gave her a nod and rang her up.
Caroline eyed the new drink and debated whether or not she wanted to drink one more. She snuck a peek at her phone again. The numbers had just clicked over to half past twelve. Once again, restlessness snaked its way through her. Caroline wasn’t quite sure what to do about it, but she damn well wasn’t going to sit there and fend off unwanted advances.
Aldy had talked her into dressing up a little and relaxing with a drink. Or two. Maybe three.
She eyed the newly bought drink once more.
“Now, that wasn’t nice,” a smooth voice said toward her left.
Caroline turned quickly and saw the man from the corner table sliding into the seat next to her. She gave a mental groan. “Excuse me?”
“I said that wasn’t nice,” the man repeated. “Turning down my drink.”
He flashed her a smile that she had to assume he thought was charming, but the predatory glint in his eyes made him seem oily and pretentious. He had slicked back dark blond hair and strong handsome features, but instead of turning her on, his practiced seduction only turned her stomach.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not sitting here to be picked up,” Caroline said, her tone dismissive. She turned her head away and looked into the mirror, her gaze sweeping over everything in the reflection to make sure she didn’t look at the person next to her.
“My name is Gil,” the man continued, heedless of her cold shoulder. “Would you like to go dancing next door?”
“No, thank you,” Caroline replied firmly.
“I find it hard to believe a beautiful woman like you isn’t looking for a little company,” Gil said. The words dripped off his serpent’s tongue like honey.
Caroline gave a little huff, her breath brushing her bangs. She hopped off her seat and grabbed her purse. She looked at Gil. “
, thank you,” she repeated, emphasizing the first word. The bartender walked by and gave her a wave. She nodded her goodbye and turned to walk stiffly toward the door.
Caroline absolutely hated men who didn’t take the hint. There was a fine line between sexy and downright creepy, and Gil pushed all her danger signals. But just as she reached the door, Gil came up behind her, sandwiching her and using their combined bodies to force the door open.
Outraged, she stumbled out of the bar and onto the sidewalk, swinging around in anger. In her hurried exit, she had used the door that emptied to a deserted cul-de-sac, where large green trash receptacles sat stinking in one dark corner.
“How dare you!”
“Come on, baby.” Gil’s hands came up to grab her shoulders. “The hard-to-get act isn’t really working for you.”
“Get your hands off me,” she spat, trying to push him away from her. Her clutch purse flew, landing somewhere behind her with a thud.
He stood a good six inches taller than she and his fingers felt like vise grips. Terror washed through her. Caroline yanked her arms, trying to break his hold.
“Let me go!” She looked wildly around for help, but the emergency exit was hidden from the busy sidewalk. She stood out of sight with this madman. “I’m going to scream!”
“Sure,” he agreed mockingly. “Scream all you want … no one’s going to hear you here. And besides, we both know you want it.”
Want it, no. But he was right when he’d said no one could hear her, not with the thumping beat from the dance club drowning any cry of help. Panic took over and she brought her knee up in pure instinct. Instead of falling back in pain, though, anger contorted his features.
“Listen here, you
,” Gil grated, shaking her.
Suddenly, the door burst open and before Gil could react, a large hand gripped the front of Gil’s collar, forcing him to break his hold.
“Release her!” a harsh voice commanded.
Caroline stumbled back, halfway collapsing against the building. Her terrified gaze landed on the bizarre scene in front of her. A tall, heavily muscled man dressed in a tailored suit gripped Gil’s shirt front in his hands. He seemed to be muttering to the man with clipped significant words, but the blood pounded so heavily in Caroline’s ears she couldn’t hear a thing.
She watched as her rescuer hauled back a fist and punch Gil across the jaw. Gil flew back, landing on the dirty road in a heap, like a broken ragdoll that had been tossed out.
“Get up and get out of here,” the stranger snarled to Gil. “You’re done.”
Gil shook his head and rose to his feet. He glared for a second at Caroline, until the stranger stepped between her and him, and then the smaller man scurried away like a rat deserting a sinking ship. Her guardian angel’s fists clenched as he stared after the retreating filth, an aura of raw power radiating around him. She blinked as he turned toward her, recoiling a bit as she saw the hard slash of his mouth and the tightness of his face. She melted a bit more into the hard wall, until the rough cement bricks bit into her bare shoulders.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said quietly. “Okay?”
The past few moments shattered her faith that she could trust anyone. After all, she was still stuck in an alley with a strange man, and she couldn’t see his eyes in the dark to determine if they were gentle or cruel. As she deliberated over the pros and cons of taking his help, gentle hands steadied her. His expression changed to one of sympathy.
“Are you okay?” he asked. The deep baritone of his voice soothed her frazzled nerves, and she decided to go with her gut instinct that
man wasn’t here to hurt her.
She took a deep breath. “Yes,” she replied, though her body couldn’t seem to stop shaking.
“I think you might be suffering from shock.”
“Yes.” She nodded vigorously. “I’m definitely shocked that man had the audacity to touch me like that!”
Her rescuer gave a rueful grin. “I saw him corner you in the doorway and followed. I’m sorry I couldn’t reach you sooner, but there’s a lot of people in that bar.”
“No.” Caroline shook her head. “Thank you so much. I’ve had the day from hell, and it didn’t help having Satan’s spawn come pawing at me.” She brushed at her arms, trying to brush off the memories.
“My name is Wren.” She watched as he walked to where her clutch purse lay, bending down to gather the few items that had flown out of it. Then he walked back to her and held it out. “Wren Calder.”
“Caroline,” she said with a tentative smile, reaching for the bag. “Caroline Grace.”
Their fingers brushed. Such a small gesture, but it ignited a whole world of sensation along her arm. Tingles, as if she touched a live wire, danced over her skin. Caroline jerked her hand back, taking her bag with her. Her eyes flashed to his. His gaze narrowed, his brows slashing together and his body tensing. Her heart thudded in her ears and she concentrated on forcing her suddenly erratic breathing to settle.
He stepped back, allowing her room. She moved away quickly, flashing him a nervous smile. She could feel her dimples digging into her cheeks, a typical sign of nerves as she grinned like a fool.
“Are you staying at this hotel?” he asked.
“The door is locked. Let me at least escort you to the lobby.” He elegantly gestured to the street, inviting her to lead them out of the alley, and followed her as she proceeded down the sidewalk.
Caroline was acutely aware of him walking behind her. Her heart still thudded in her chest, as if she was a young girl on her first date, and no amount of deep inhalations seemed to ease her excitement. She didn’t know what to make of him, the situation, or her reaction.
Maybe Aldy had been right. Maybe she
need to get laid.
They turned the corner, and Caroline could see the entrance to the club, the music from within resonating loud through the open doorway. A bouncer sat checking the IDs of the people waiting to get in. The hotel lobby lay just a short distance away, where the sidewalk curved around to allow for the arriving cars. People passed by them, either going to or from the hotel, but even on the busy sidewalk Caroline felt as if she and Wren were all alone, her body conscious of him and only him.
As they approached the lobby entrance, she felt Wren’s hand rest against the low curve of her back as he escorted her past the concierge. And unlike the disgusting feeling that Gil had instilled in her from the get-go, Wren’s touch burned through her clothing and sent lustful thoughts straight to her brain.