Having run all the way from SoHo, Sara could barely catch her breath as she burst through the back door of Walter Wynn Hospital. She spied the empty stairwell and took the steps two at a time until she reached the fourth floor. Dizzy, her heart throbbing inside her chest, she collapsed on the top step and put her head between her knees.
Try to get some oxygen into the rational part of your brain.
Maybe she should've gone straight to the cops, or found a hotel room and slept for the five hours her body was begging for. But no, she'd searched Alexander Roman's second floor for an unlocked window and when she'd found one she'd destroyed the screen, climbed down the rickety-ass fire escape, and run to the one place she was utterly tethered to, the one place she was sure to find her sanity.
Grabbing on to the railing, she pulled herself up and plodded over to the door, opened it wide. The psych unit was active, like a Starbucks at eight a.m. Afternoon visiting hours were in full swing, and families and loved ones were being buzzed into one ward or another, depending on the age of the patient. Just a month ago, Sara's mother had been part of that crowd, in New York on one of her biyearly visits, and just like the rest of them, she'd worn a hopeful expression on the way in, praying she'd find her son changed, healed. It was not an uncommon occurrence to leave disappointed.
Sara tried to slip past the nurse's station, heading straight for the door to the adult ward, and had her hand on the keypad when a voice called out, "What happened to you?"
Feigning nonchalance, Sara glanced back at Claire, the main reception nurse, and shrugged. "Tripped on the stairs going into my apartment. Ice was pretty slick this morning."
Claire looked concerned. "Did you get checked out by ER?"
"Yep. All good." Eager to stop the questions, Sara turned back to the keypad and stabbed in her security code. Yep, all good. Walked into the ER and told them about the patient who attacked me and the vampire who kidnapped me and they immediately sent Cameron Phelps down for a psych eval . . .
The door buzzed and Sara took off through it. Just like any other day, she headed straight for Gray's room. She found him sleeping, curled up into his pillow, looking peaceful and young. The sight should have eased her, but it didn't. Every moment since the night of that fire she'd thought of nothing else but making her brother well. Every day he'd been stuck at home with their mother, voiceless and in pain, she'd been studying her ass off, waiting for the day she would graduate from med school, waiting for the moment she could come and get him, help him, fix him.
It had been four years now, four years that she'd been working with him, at this hospital, trying to take the trauma from his mind. She had performed countless drug trials, a yearlong study into levels of anxiety, depression, fear memory versus permanent memory, memory replacement, even false memory replacement, and though some of her patients had been helped, had gone home to live what she hoped would be normal lives, Gray remained unchanged. What was wrong with her that she couldn't find the answer, find a way to fix him?
Pushing away from the doorjamb, she left his room and headed for her office. She was in immediate, real trouble here--and in her world, if you were in trouble you fixed it.
The scenario was simple: Patient broke into your apartment and tried to kill you. You didn't stop to think or consider the feelings of others. You called the police.
Her door was open and she flicked on the overhead lights and went over to her desk. She dropped into her chair and scrubbed a hand over her mouth, as if she were trying to stop herself from talking out loud.
Pick up the phone.
She stared at it.
What the fuck are you thinking, Sara? You're no idiot. Do it. You owe the . . .
vampire nothing, no loyalty.
But was that the truth? He'd saved her life. Whatever he was, whatever he claimed to be, he'd kept her alive so she could keep her brother alive, and wasn't that worth something? Some token sense of loyalty?
You know what they call that, honey? Stockholm syndrome. Yep, you studied it in school, have patients who suffer from it.
Clamping her teeth together until her jaw ached, she pressed the intercom button, then stabbed in the numbers for Precinct 23. But before she even finished dialing, the call failed.
Without missing a beat, she tried again. But the second time, though the call went through, the ringing distorted into a strange moaning sound and wasn't picked up on the other end. What the hell? She pressed the call button again, got a dial tone, and punched in the numbers. This time she heard the irritating trill of a fax machine. Frustrated, she slammed the phone down, glared at the thing, and fantasized about yanking the cord from the wall and chucking the whole thing at the door. But that would be a reactionary move, not a productive one, and today of all days she needed to pretend to be flexible and sane.
She took a deep breath, grabbed the piece of paper with the number on it, then headed out of her office and straight for the adult-care nurse's station. Without a word to the crew, Sara picked up one of the desk phones and tried again. Thankfully, this time the call connected, and she sighed as the ringing continued on perfectly normal. But as it did, she started to feel a slight panic take over her nervous system. When the cops actually answered, she'd have to report the crime, not to mention explain his involvement in it. Or did she? Maybe she could just leave him out of it--make it all about Tom and the attack.
But Sara never had to make that choice. No one picked up, not even a machine. It just rang and rang. Cursing, she hung up, dialed one last time, and when she found it busy, slammed down the receiver and told herself she'd give it fifteen minutes and try again.
But four hours and three emergencies later, it was close to the end of her shift and the first time she'd had a chance to get back to her office.
She grabbed an apple from the basket on the corner of her desk and dropped into her chair. Releasing a heavy breath, she picked up the phone and waited for it, the low hum of the dial tone. But nada. Nothing.
"You have a very solid mind for a human."
Sara slammed back in her seat, the apple dropping to the floor with a dull thud.
"No. Alexander Roman." He stood in the doorway, taking up nearly every inch of it with his massive frame. He inclined his head, his fierce merlot eyes trained on her. "I apologize for startling you."
"How did you get in here?"
"Your door was open."
"On the ward," she pressed. "How did you get onto the ward?"
One corner of his mouth flickered up. "I find every door open to me these days."
"How convenient," she said, wishing her pulse would stop the whole racing routine.
His gaze shifted from her to the phone. "Making a call?"
"I've been trying to, but there's something wrong with ..." She froze, looked up at him. "It's you, isn't it? You've been--"
His brows lifted. "As I said before, no police."
Fear flickered inside her chest. "You screwed with my phone?"
Alexander moved into the room, the door closing behind him. Unable to process the obvious, Sara pretended she had seen his hand on the wood, pushing it closed.
"Actually it was my brother Lucian," he said, coming toward her, the black wool of his coat snapping against his legs. "I couldn't leave the house until it grew dark--"
She stood up. Had to. Even with the anxiety snapping through her, she had to show him she wasn't about to cower. "Your brother's been watching me?"
"I had to make sure you were safe."
"If you really cared about my safety, you'd let me call the police."
"The police can do nothing."
"Spoken like a true renegade or a--"
He lifted one dark eyebrow. "Or a what?"
"Someone I should be treating with a good deal of meds."
He said nothing, just stood there, across the desk, dark as night, towering over her with a lethal grin playing about his mouth. Sara tried like hell to control her response to him, to that anything-but-sweet smile, but the traitorous, seductive heat that moved through her veins and sped up her heart was irrepressible.
"Do you really think the police can catch your skinny human?" he asked, coming to stand at the chair in front of her desk, his large hands closing around the metal top.
"You think they're even going to look all that hard for him?"
Sara forced out a solid, "Yes." But honestly, she wasn't sure of anything at the moment.
"That little scumbag will not stop until you're dead," Alexander said. "And while he's trying, your officers will be pushing papers around their desks."
"You need to stop trying to scare me, Alexander," she said tightly.
"No, I don't think so. Sometimes fear is necessary to bring clarity to the mind."
"Where'd you get that? Oprah?"
He nodded to the wall of books behind her. "Psychology in Today's Modern World."
Turning around, Sara glanced at the bookshelf, then faced him again, confused.
"Third shelf, halfway in, gold binding, page sixteen, middle paragraph."
She stared at him. "You've read that book?"
"Just now. The line jumped out at me. Seemed appropriate."
It took her a moment to process what he was saying, but when she did, she shook her head and said slowly, "No way."
His eyes held a bitter edge. "It's new to me as well." He reached out to her. "Come with me."
Sara's pulse kicked. "What? No!"
"I need to show you something."
She shook her head. "I'm not going to walk out of here with you to God knows where."
"All I wish to do is protect you."
"Protect me, kill me . . . potato, patato."
He was around the desk and in front of her in seconds, his voice low, menacing.
"If I wanted you dead I could have done it back at my house, or at yours. And it would've taken an instant." He lifted his hand, touched her face. His palm felt warm against her skin. "I want you alive, Sara. And safe. I cannot allow that human to get close enough to hurt you again." His hand dropped to her chest, his palm resting just above her breast.
"Just breathe now. Slow your heart. You have nothing to fear from me."
Sara wanted to hate herself in that moment, hate the feminine lust that ran through her blood and made her want to arch her back and touch her mouth to his, but instead she felt her heart slowing with each beat and warm desire filling her veins. If she tilted her chin an inch she could do it--feel his lips, maybe even the tips of his fangs. As she stared into his eyes, her breath slid into synch with his and her mind played back the events of that morning--how he'd protected her, how easily he'd lifted and carried her, how his fearsome manner only erupted when he spoke of the ex-patient who wished her harm.
She brought her hand to his cheek, let her thumb brush over the key-shaped brand.
The surface of his skin was hot, rough, complicated--like him.
Alexander closed his eyes, sucked in air through his teeth, a low growl escaping his throat on the exhale. Sara couldn't stop staring at him, at his mouth, the one thing that was remotely soft about him. Would his kiss be harsh, demanding? Would his fangs cut her, scrape her bottom lip, draw blood? Would he grab the back of her skull, his fingers threading her hair, fisting her scalp as his passion grew?
"Come with me," he said in a husky whisper. "Now. Before I answer the question on both our minds."
Oh God. Her cheeks flushed and the quiver in her belly inched perilously lower.
"I don't do this," she whispered in a pained voice. "Whatever it is we're doing here."
"I know," he returned just as softly, his breath a sweet, tantalizing breeze against her mouth. "Neither do I." He took her hand in his, opened the flap of his coat, and curled her body next to his.
As they left the office, walked down the hall toward the exit, Sara waited for the staff to notice her and the huge man with the brands on his face beside her, but they didn't. It was as if they were either invisible or shielded from view.
"Your doing?" she whispered to Alexander as they left the ward behind a visitor and passed by the nurse's station, again completely unnoticed.
"Nothing to explain this way," he said, guiding her into a waiting elevator.
Sara was silent as the elevator groaned and took off. Her entire adult life was built on rational answers to complicated questions, and right now she had nothing. Magic, invisibility, vampires--none of these things existed. And yet here it was . . . here he was . . .
The elevators opened abruptly, and through a blast of freezing night air, Sara saw that they were on the roof, the helipad and dark chopper waiting on the raised dais for an emergency call.
Alexander pulled her closer. "Come, Sara. It is very cold tonight."
But Sara eased away from him, stepped out of the elevator on her own, and embraced the cold air, desperate to clear her head--if only for a moment. She didn't like this--being out of control, allowing someone to lead her into the unknown and the potentially dangerous--even him. She turned. "Why are we up here?"
"I need to show you something," he said, walking calmly toward her, toward the edge of the roofline, "at your house."
"Cabs are down there," she said, backing up, backing away from him.
His eyes flashed. "This will be faster."
Sara barely had time to register the sudden, powerful strength of his arms around her or the comfort of his warmth. One moment they were at the edge of the roofline, the next they were airborne.
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