My Soul For You (In The Dark, Book 1)
You are cordially invited to have your heart’s desire come true.
For Kaitlin Claremont this is a very tall order. What wouldn’t an orphan girl living over of her aunt’s shop wish for? But when her one night of passion in the arms of sexy and completely out of her reach Kaleb turns into a nightmare, Katie realizes quickly that nothing is as it seems and there is so much more to Kaleb O’Reilly than she ever bargained for.
Kaleb has his own demons and even with all his training, he’s not prepared for the brown-eyed beauty, nor can he deny he wants her in a way that very much complicates everything. But what happens when the hunger wins and his true purpose puts Katie at risk? Can he protect her from his mistakes? And can Katie protect those she loves from a monster with no mercy?
Time is running out.
Will they kill or be killed?
“I think we may need explosives.”
“We do not need explosives!”
Kaitlin Claremont squinted brown eyes, tilted her head, stared very hard through coils of light brown hair at the mound of crap taking up most of the store front and nodded.
“We definitely need explosives and the Ghostbusters.”
Beside her, looking impeccable in her beige slacks and neatly coiffed hair the color of desert sand, her aunt shouldered her. “Stop that.” She laughed. “Explosives don’t solve everything.”
Katie snorted, turning to the clipboard on the counter. “I’d like to see a problem that can’t be solved with explosives, and this problem in particular would look very lovely in a roaring inferno.”
Still laughing, her aunt moved behind the counter and rummaged beneath the till. “Katie, where are those … oh! Never mind. I found them.” She rose a moment later holding two rubber gloves in rubber-chicken yellow and slipped them on. “Are you going to help?”
Clipboard in hand, Katie cleared her throat. “Someone needs to take inventory of all this amazing stuff, but you go ahead.”
There was amusement dancing behind her aunt’s narrowed eyes, but she didn’t push as she moved to examine their newest shipment. There were eight boxes in total and each box held musty, dusty memorabilia of a time before humanity when dinosaurs roamed the land.
“This is cute!” Aunt Hannah held up a lamp which was borderline horrific.
“It’s a hula girl with a lamp sticking out of her head,” Katie said, wondering if her aunt needed her glasses. “It’s disturbing.”
Her aunt sighed and turned her head over her shoulder to glower at Katie.
“Okay. Okay! One creepy, mutilated hula girl. Check.” She scribbled their findings on the clipboard. “Two dollars.”
“Two dollars?” Her aunt nearly toppled over. “This is at least worth five to ten.”
“Until it comes to life at night and kills the new owners,” Katie argued logically. “They’ll need the extra three to eight dollars to plan for a proper funeral.” She paused, eyebrows knitted. “Why do you think someone put fun in funeral?”
“Katie, focus!” Aunt Hannah held up the lamp. “Five dollars.”
“Five dollars, plus life insurance,” Katie scribbled onto the clipboard.
Her aunt set the lamp aside. “We don’t sell life insurance.”
“We should consider it if we’re going to offer cursed hula lamps.”
Ignoring her, but shaking her head, her aunt delved back into the boxes. She rummaged and pulled out this and that, things Katie didn’t recognize, but her aunt oooh’d and ahhh’d over giddily. It was the way of things. Every time a shipment of old junk came in, her aunt would spend hours separating the crap from the even more crap and then make Katie find room on their already overflowing shelves for it. This case was no different.
“That’s the last of it,” her aunt groaned, climbing stiffly to her feet. “I’ll crush the boxes, you put this stuff away.”
Setting aside the clipboard, Katie scooped the pile of dresses into her arms and hauled the lot to the rack in the back corner of the shop. She dumped them next to the roll rack with the plastic hangers and set to work tagging and hanging each one in their proper place. She was in her groove when the bells above the door jingled, announcing the arrival of a customer.
Katie left her task and ventured to the front just as a loud, familiar voice rang out.
Vibrant in her hot pink tights and teal sweater, Ashlee Lambert stood bathed in the sheet of sunlight spilling freely through the glass door. It shone through her mane of strawberry blonde hair, turning the riot of curls into a soft halo around her impish face. She grinned when Katie stepped into view from behind a row of shelves.
“Ready for another day of stimulating torture?”
Katie chuckled. “Let me wash old people off my hands.”
From Dawn Till Dusk was her aunt’s baby. It was her way of feeding her addiction for other people’s used junk without becoming a hoarder. The thrift shop was the first real purchase she had made fresh out of university. She converted the two story Victorian into a shop and apartment with big bay windows in front and an open concept main floor. The set up made for convenience and cut down on transportation costs, but it was dirty. You never know just how disgusting some people were until you were wading through their filth.
Leaving her friend to wander the shop, Katie hurried to the back of the store and the wall separating the shop from the rest of the house. The doorway led into a cramped kitchen with a set of stairs leading to the apartment upstairs.
“Ashlee’s here,” she told her aunt, walking around the wooden table taking up most of the space to get to the sink.
Bent over a pile of books and papers, her aunt nodded. “Okay. Have a good day at school.”
Katie washed her hands all the way to the elbows, dried off, and reached for the backpack on the floor next to the table. She kissed her aunt’s cheek and hurried out.
“Dude, this set up is hot!” Ashlee pointed to the mannequins Katie had put together the night before.
It wasn’t often they got anything cool, but when a shipment arrived and it was things people her age would like, Katie did her best to showcase them. It drew in a younger crowd and made the place seem less cheesy. It was the one place her aunt was not allowed to touch with her antique obsession. The window display was Katie’s domain.
“I am totally digging this tee!” Ashlee picked at the hem of a genuine Guess top.
“It’s yours for twenty,” Katie said, hoisting her bag over her shoulder.
“What’s that with the best friend discount?”
Katie laughed. “Fifteen.”
Ashlee contemplated this with pursed lips and narrowed blue eyes. “Make it ten and I’ll throw in my Pentagram CD.”
“I already have your Pentagram CD. I borrowed it last week,” Katie reminded her.
Ashlee blinked. “Oh, well, you can keep it.”
Katie smothered a grin. “Deal.”
With a squeal of excitement, Ashlee dug into her back pocket for her cash while Katie climbed into the window display and stripped the mannequin of the shirt. She tossed the top to Ashlee over the velvet black curtain separating the window display from the store and quickly snatched up one of the tops she’d folded across the floor for showing. She redressed the armless and headless doll and hopped back into the shop.
Ashlee was holding the top, her eyes glowing. “It’s going to look awesome with my green tights.” She passed Katie the ten dollars and stuffed the shirt into her backpack.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” Katie said, opening the register and tossing the money inside.
Ashlee was still bouncing as they broke into the crisp, autumn morning air. There was a skip in her step that was born from shopping. She chattered on as they climbed the hill to Main Street.
Fall swept around them in a flurry of brittle leaves and brought the scent of cinnamon as they passed the bakery. They piled inside for their morning coffee and blueberry muffins. Mrs. Broil had their items already bagged when they stepped through the door.
“Good morning, girls!” the ninety year old grandmother of fifteen grandchildren and a hundred more great grandchildren squeaked from behind the gleaming case of cakes, cookies and pies.
“Morning!” Ashlee bounded forward, her money already in hand.
Katie followed with a smile on her face. “How are you today, Mrs. Broil?”
“Miffed!” the woman said. “Someone moved my dentures this morning and I can’t find them anywhere.”
When her back turned to grab their things, Ashlee and Katie exchanged amused glances, biting back grins.
“That’ll be five dollars,” she said as she did every morning, placing two bags and two cups on the counter.
It never ceased to amaze Katie how the woman could remember everything they liked in their coffee, right down to the amount of sugar, but couldn’t remember she had her dentures in her mouth. But she paid for her things, thanked Mrs. Broil again and left the bakery.
“I wonder if I’ll be like her when I get older,” Ashlee pondered, digging out her muffin.
“Oh, that will never happen to you,” Katie assured her. “You can’t bake worth a damn.”
Ashlee sighed, taking a bite of her breakfast. “True. I suppose I better marry rich, a husband who can afford to hire someone to find my dentures for me.”
They reached the towering structure of Stony Creek High and meandered through the metal doors. Students bustled through the maze of corridors, rushing to make the first bell. Katie and Ashlee parted ways in the foyer, both going in opposite directions to their lockers.
Because someone thought it would be funny, Katie’s locker was in the total opposite direction to all her classes, which gave her two minutes to get to her locker and two minutes to run to class. To save time, Katie juggled her coffee in one hand while pulling books out of her backpack with the other while simultaneously not tripping or colliding with anything. Normally she was pretty good at the task. She kept along the walls where most people didn’t normally venture, so she wasn’t expecting the figure that lurched around the corner at the same time she did, until she blinked and found herself staring at flashing stars and swaying lights.
“Ow…” Groaning, she placed a hand to her brow and tried to figure out why she was on her back, staring at the ceiling.
“Are you all right?” A face appeared in her line of vision, a black smudge against all the white.
“Did you get the number of that truck?” She rubbed her throbbing nose. “I think it broke my nose.”
There was a sound that may have been a chuckle, then warm fingers were moving aside her hands to examine her face.
“I think it’s okay, but let’s get you to the nurse’s office.”
“Oh, I don’t—”
But long, strong arms had already slipped beneath her and she was being scooped into a broad chest with such ease she barely felt it. The rich scent of earth and spices mingled with turpentine and paint. It enveloped her, cocooning her in the powerful fragrance. The heat of him soaked into her, making her shiver.
“Hold on.” The cool, minty whisper caressed the side of her face. It compelled her, coaxing her arms to lift and wind around wide shoulders.
“I … I really don’t need the nurse,” she whispered, painfully conscious of her lips brushing the taut warm skin along the side of his neck. Heat crept into her cheeks and she pulled back an inch.
“This is for my piece of mind,” he said, moving fluidly down the hall in the direction of the nurse’s station.
Now that some of the fog had lifted from her blurred vision, Katie was acutely aware of her rescuer. His hair was long, layered wisps the color of night that glinted with hints of blue beneath the sharp fluorescent lights. The strands framed a face much too beautiful to be real. It was rugged perfection, yet somehow being nothing else. It was too chiseled, too sharp, the angles were hard as though every inch was carved from stone. It should have made him awkward, a bit unreal, but instead he was breathtaking. His features were dramatic, a flawless gold that spoke of European or Hispanic descent. Katie, who possessed not a drop of artistic ability, longed to capture him on paper. He was made for paintings, the old kind with princes and knights next to their majestic horses.
Her gaze dropped to his mouth and her heart tripped in her chest. His lips were as sculpted as his high cheekbones, square jaw and the hard slash of his nose. They were firm, perfect bow-shaped bottom and thin upper. They were surrounded by just a hint of stubble, like he hadn’t had the time to shave that morning. But it worked on him. The faint shadow darkening his jaw was as perfect as his prominent brow and dark eyebrows.
I’m in the arms of a supermodel, was all she could think.
“I can walk,” Katie insisted.
He nodded slowly. “I am very glad to hear that.”
“I mean, you can set me down.”
He nodded again. “I thought that’s what you meant.” He turned rich, brown eyes the color of burnished gold in her direction. They danced with amusement. “But I’m excruciatingly thorough. Plus, I like holding pretty girls.”
Katie was too stunned by the gravity of his eyes to react quickly enough and, by the time she got her senses back, they were stepping through the doors of the nurse’s station and the moment was over.
“Goodness!” Bony Ms. Miles hurried out from behind her desk. She motioned for him to take Katie into one of the examination rooms. “What happened?”
He set Katie down on the cot and stepped back. “We ran into each other. She might have hit her head.”
Ms. Miles went to work checking Katie as her companion moved out of the way to hover by the door. Katie tried to focus on the questions Ms. Miles shot at her, but her attention kept getting sucked towards the gorgeous man leaning against the doorframe, hands lost in the pockets of his black jeans. He wore a glossy leather jacket over a black t-shirt and scuffed motorcycle boots. On his shoulder, hung a satchel.
“Ms. Claremont!” Ms. Miles scolded.
“I’m sorry, but I forgot my backpack…” Katie said, trying to wiggle off the cot.
“I’ll get it,” her rescuer offered and vanished out the door before she could say another word.
“Now hold still.” Ms. Miles flashed a light in Katie’s eyes.
Ms. Miles left Katie a moment later to grab a chart for her when her rescuer returned, her backpack in hand.
“I’m afraid I couldn’t save your coffee,” he said.
Katie grinned, taking the bag from him. “That’s okay. I didn’t really feel like waking up this morning anyway.” She set her bag down by her feet.
His lips twitched. “How are you?” he asked. “Anything broken?”
She shook her head. “Mostly my ego, and there’s a dent in my dignity, but Ms. Miles is confident we can repair it with some spit and duct tape.”
He chuckled, showing off brilliantly white teeth. “I’m glad you’re okay.” He pushed a hand through his hair, sweeping wisps back from the face Katie couldn’t stop staring at. “I guess I better go.” He pivoted on one heel towards the door, but paused. “I’ll, uh, see you around.”
“Wait!” she called before he could get out the door. “What’s your name?”
He glanced back over his shoulder. “Kaleb.” He turned fully to face her. “Yours?”
His lips bowed into a small smile. “See you around, Katie.”
With an inclination of his head, he slipped out of the room and disappeared from sight.
“Working here is like Christmas all year round.” Ashlee delved into the new shipment the shop had received that morning. “Look at all this cool junk.”
Brandishing her clipboard and a pair of gloves, Katie smacked her friend’s hand. “Stop touching! I have to get all this logged.”
Ashlee pouted, but craned her neck to see. “How are you not a hoarder yet? I would be like stowing all this stuff up in my room.”
“Because,” Katie began, making note of a set of dishes. “Unlike you, I’m not impressed by all this stuff and I see it all the time. Also.” She raised a wad of material out of one box to shake open. “If I kept everything, we would be broke.” She tossed the bright, red Hawaiian shirt aside into the trash pile.
“Yeah, but look how awesome this stuff is!” Ashlee snatched up a chunky stone necklace from one box and held it up. “This would look epic with my sequin top.”
Katie gave the necklace a once over. “It’s yours for five.”
Ashlee’s shoulder’s dropped. “I don’t get it. You’ll share your lunch, your books, your notes, your music and even your laptop. But as soon as I ask for anything in the shop…”
“That’s different.” Katie took the necklace and set it in the pile to put away. “This is a business. If I give stuff away…”
“Yeah, yeah, your aunt would be broke. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.” Ashlee slumped back against the counter, stretching her legs out in front of her. “You want to go see that new Zac Efron flick with me this weekend?”
Distracted by a silky, sleeveless top with fat rhinestones sewn across the U-shaped bodice, Katie mumbled incoherently.
Ashlee kicked her. “Hey!”
Katie blinked. “What?”
“You, me and sexy Mr. Efron, this weekend. You game?”
Still rotating numbers in her head, Katie shrugged. “Okay. Sure. What would you pay for this?”
Ashlee eyed the shirt. “Fifty cents.”
“You’re no help,” Katie muttered, tossing the top into the undecided pile.
“Sorry. My area of expertise lies more towards nice clothes and boys, and speaking of which,” she kicked Katie again and earned a glower, “tell me about this tall, dark stranger that swept you off your feet today.”
Talk of Kaleb pulled her out of logging mode.
“How did you hear about that?”
Ashlee shrugged. “I have my sources. So, tell me.”
Katie set aside her clipboard and slipped off her gloves. “His name’s Kaleb.”
Ashlee oooh’d. “Kaleb what?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”
“Okay. Go on.”
Katie hesitated a split second before speaking. “He’s gorgeous. I mean, so beyond any guy that has ever gone to Stony Creek.”
“Wow!” Ashlee looked like Katie had just pulled an incredible magic trick. “Coming from you, he must be like part God or something.”
“What do you mean?” Katie asked.
“Just that you have never labeled any guy gorgeous … ever.”
Katie frowned. “That’s not true. I thought…” She snapped her fingers rapidly, wracking her brain. “What was his name? Jason? Jack? Bill?”
“Andrew,” Ashlee muttered dryly.
“Right! Andrew was totally cute, and don’t forget Dylan.” Something Katie wished she could do. “He was nice looking.”
Ashlee sighed heavily, as though her patience was being tested. “Katie, dogs are cute and nice looking. Kittens are cute. The beauty mark on my butt is cute. Guys are handsome, hot … gorgeous!”
“Well, Kaleb is several degrees north of gorgeous.”
Ashlee shook her head slowly, a look of complete confusion drawing her face. “How is such a specimen of a man prowling our halls and I have never seen him?” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you didn’t imagine him?”
Katie laughed. “Have you met me? I have absolutely no imagination.”
Ashlee sat back, lips pursed. “True. Wow. I need to find this guy.”
Katie was about to agree when the bells jingled and the door opened. A tall, pale woman emerged, cradling a box against her chest the way some women cuddled babies. Her face was paper white, contrasting harshly against the crimson rings around her damp blue eyes.
Katie leapt to her feet. “Hi! Can I help you?”
“I … I…” The woman’s voice faltered. She cleared her throat. “I brought some things for donation.”
“Oh! Great.” Katie moved to take the box from her. But her step forward was met with the woman’s panicked step back.
“These … these are …. were my daughter’s things.” She bit her lip. “Will you promise to take care of them?”
Wishing her aunt was there to save her from saying something stupid and awkward, Katie nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll take very good care of them.”
The woman inhaled shakily. “I have a few more things in the car if you could…”
Ashlee leapt to her feet. “I’ll help.”
With some hesitation, the woman relinquished her grip on the box to Katie and followed Ashlee outside. Ashlee made eight trips before all the boxes were brought inside. She slumped against the counter, breathing hard and sweaty.
“I think I want to go home and shower now.”
But Katie was staring at the new shipment with heaviness in her chest. “What do you think happened to her daughter?”
Ashlee shrugged, prying open the nearest box. “She didn’t say and I didn’t ask.”
Ashlee stopped, eyebrows furrowed. “Why not? I thought you wanted to log all this in.”
Katie grimaced. “I do, but … I don’t know. Never mind. Let’s finish the pile on the floor before we make an even bigger mess, okay?”
Ashlee shrugged, flopping cross-legged on the floor. “Let’s get cracking.”
There was a haste in which Katie finished cataloging that she normally didn’t have when logging items. She barely registered most of the things she marked or tossed. Her focus kept shifting to the new set of boxes and the things they might contain, which was unusual for her—the excitement of the unknown. She wondered, not for the first time, what she would find. So when they finally reached the new shipment, she was practically shaking with anticipation as she lowered the first box to the ground.
Tufts of soft purple silk spilled free. Katie unfurled the most gorgeous gown she’d ever seen from its bed of cardboard. Sunlight caught the black sequins tracing the square bodice and rained down the full skirt in a halo of black lace and purple satin. Thin strips of black ribbon wove in diamond patterns across the corset front, matching the lace knotting the back. The sleeves were short, frilly around the shoulders, and the same soft material as the skirt.
Breath lodged in her chest, Katie gave it a light shake and held it up for better viewing. Something slipped from the folds and dropped into her lap.
“Hey, look at this.” She set the dress carefully back into the box and picked up the envelope.
Ashlee watched as Katie turned the card over.
Rebekah Lauffer was written in elegant loops across the front. Gingerly, she slipped the card free of its stiff casing and flipped it over.
“I think it’s an invitation,” Katie said, eyeing the front with its gold script intricately woven through fine patterns of glossy black.
“Open it!” Ashlee urged, shifting closer to see.
Lip caught between her teeth, Katie flipped open the card and peered inside.
“What does it say?” Ashlee pressed, when she took too long to respond.
Katie moistened her lips. “You are cordially invited to have all your wishes come true.”