(Stealing Breath #1)
Deep in the backwoods of North Dakota, twenty-one year old Sarah Ross is searching for a missing child when she is attacked by a glowing-eyed, transparent... creature. Sarah survives, destroying the monster by using mysterious abilities she didn't even know she had. Bloody and bruised, Sarah flees the scene and runs directly into Evan Valente, a handsome, charismatic stranger who helps her back to safety. But what is Evan doing out in the forest at five in the morning? Turning to a healer, Sarah is shocked to learn her eyes bear the mark of the Indigo Child-an evolved human with the ability to feel the emotions of others. But her indigo aura also makes her an easy target for those who wish to consume her powerful essence. Soon, Sarah is falling deeply in love with Evan and wants nothing more than to follow her heart and trust that he is the man he says he is. But she can't ignore the lingering feeling that Evan is hiding a terrible secret. The deeper she digs, the more danger she faces, leading her on a course that will force her to face the darkest, innermost parts of her soul.
“You saw that Evan guy again?” Amber asked. She sucked the last of her frothy pink drink through a straw. The mischievous look on her face was mirrored in the giddy emotions she gave off, emotions that were always especially loud when she was drinking. They resonated within me like a bouncy ball flying around in my stomach.
I downed another shot of “Sex on the Beach”, hoping it would finally be enough to filter out the emotions of everyone here. Smooth at first, then tart, the booze finally burned its way down the back of my throat. The buzz-on was almost immediate, and the effect was wonderful, the way it almost obliterated all of the sex-obsessed feelings that seemed to roll off of nearly ever patron at the bar like a hot blanket being wound around me. Sick.
We sat at a booth right next to the bar. Amber held her glass up, signaling to the bartender who nodded and began to pour. He bobbed his head to the blaring country music from the loudspeaker.
Tables ringed the bar, booths along the wall and stools on the other side. Every few feet a brightly lit neon beer sign provided a dash of garish décor. Right in the middle was the dance floor, a little postage-stamp sized circle of parquet flooring that reminded me of an interlocking puzzle. Alongside it was a raised section with a few pool tables.
“Yeah, I saw him.” I proceeded to explain his land development business to Amber and Kate, who listened with rapt expressions.
“That’s amazing. Nobody ever comes to Slave Lake. People only leave,” Amber said. Our waitress, dressed in skin-tight jeans and a too-tight tank-top, brought us another
round. Behind her, the giant flat screen on the wall lit up with random explosions of fuchsia, neon yellow and acid green, perfectly paced with the lyrics of the canned music.
Kate sat across from me on the bench seating, her copper hair shimmering pink from the neon “Budweiser” sign and the black light hanging on the wall behind her. Her teeth were glowing an unnatural white in the light, and every piece of lint on her black shirt stood out like a 3D movie.
“How interesting that you both were out in the bush that morning,” Kate said.
I nodded. “I know. Quite a coincidence.”
Amber sat beside Kate in the bench seat, facing the bar. She leaned forward in one fluid motion, her black hair sweeping the table. “Sarah. Look who just walked in.” I turned in my seat. “And he’s coming right over—”
“Mind if I join you?” asked a familiar voice, before I’d even had a chance to look.
I turned and smiled at Evan. “Sure.”
He pulled a stool up to our table, his arms rippling with the movement. His very presence seemed to heat the air around me, his cologne eclipsing the bar smell of dirty jeans, stale beer and desperation.
I glanced at Kate and Amber, who both stared at him, bright-eyed. His dark fitted jeans hugged his legs, the denim slung low across narrow hips. A black t-shirt made of a material I couldn’t identify hinted of the peaks and valleys of muscle beneath and a single silver chain with a dog-tag hung at his neck, a crest emblem engraved on it with the name Valente. This guy would look good in a burlap sack. Or nothing.
“You remember Kate and Amber from the campground?” I asked. They nodded in acknowledgement and exchanged niceties. Then Amber and Kate excused themselves and hit the dance floor. They’d been dancing together since we’d become bar age, both of them with the attitude that they weren’t about to wait around for a guy to ask.
Evan and I watched as they twirled each other around, the only people dancing in the whole bar. Then they attempted to two-step, each of them fighting to lead. Goofballs.
I turned back to Evan. “How are you?”
He flashed that thousand-watt smile. “I’m great. You?” He inched closer and the atmosphere around my head seemed charged, like a swelling electrical storm. A shiver traveled through my body.
“Fine, thanks.” I smiled.
“You look great.” He gestured to my outfit.
I looked down at my jeans and a loose white shirt and glanced back up at him, cocking my eyebrow. “Thanks?”
“What? Not used to compliments?”
“Not when I’m dressed like a slob, no, not really.”
He rolled his eyes. “You look awesome. Seriously. Want to dance?”
I stared at him, half-expecting he was kidding. But his face showed no trace of a joke. I glanced at the dance floor where Kate and Amber had begun to dance hip hop to the country beat.
I turned back to him. He held out his hand, across the table. Reluctantly, I took it and he led me to the dance floor where Amber and Kate made room for us, their expressions barely-muted surprise. People rarely danced in Slave Lake. Except for Amber and Kate, of course.
Evan placed his palm in my right hand and set his other hand on my waist. I glanced up at a set of smoldering eyes and immediately looked away, his gaze too intense. Unfortunately, by looking away, I realized that every single person in the bar was staring at us. Some people, who should have had their backs to us, had actually turned around on their stool to gawk. I felt like a fish in a fishbowl.
Evan leaned down, his breath caressing my cheek. I caught a silky coil of his scent, a rich, musky fragrance of expensive cologne, soap and his own unique smell. It was addictive. The hand on my waist snaked around to my back, pulling me closer. Heat radiated over my entire body as we began to move in slow, gentle circles. When the song came to an end, my arm fell from his shoulder. His hands didn’t move.
“One more?” he asked as the music transitioned to a faster song, modern country with a dance beat. Kate and Amber were already dancing to it in a way that looked more fitting for a city club, Amber’s arms reaching up and over her head, hips swinging. Kate had her own little groove going alongside her.
“Sure,” I said.
He smiled and set his hand back on my waist, and suddenly we were in the fastest two-step I’d ever danced in my life. We moved around the dance floor at a dizzying pace, spinning circles around Kate and Amber who were laughing out loud watching us.
He twirled me several times, only to end up back in that break-neck, two-stepping pace once again. Now I was giggling to the point of breathlessness, my head spinning from the four shots I’d just downed and my racing pulse. He spun me three more times, and when the song ended, he lowered me into a long dip.
With his arm around my back, I was gently pulled up, our bodies touching from torso all the way down, so that even the tips of our shoes connected. I looked into his face, expecting to see a grin, but was met with a burning look that made my heart stutter and my breath catch. The whiskey on his breath was all I could think of, the heat of his mouth, so close to mine.
Then a sensation folded over me. A soft lethargy, like I was levitating, weightless. My eyes closed, and explosions of purple and blue light flashed behind my eyelids. I relaxed into the feeling.
“Are you okay?” Evan asked. I opened my eyes. He peered down at me, forehead wrinkled with concern. His skin was flushed bright pink.
My lungs began to re-inflate as my entire body tingled like I’d just had the best orgasm of my life.
Had he even kissed me? I licked my lips, but there was no taste of whiskey, no evidence of his mouth on mine. Obviously I’d had one too many shots. And yet, I felt perfectly lucid, his gorgeous face crystal clear before me.
“Uh…I’m fine,” I said, my voice breathy. There had to be an explanation. Like maybe I was losing my mind. Or maybe my fainting spells were starting to happen again, ever since the stressful Skinwalker incident. Whatever it was, right now I had to make sure this perfect specimen of a man in front of me did not think I was a raving lunatic. I forced myself to speak, my mind scrambling for small-talk. “I…I had no idea you could dance like that.”
The concerned look faded, and he flashed his perfect teeth. “Thanks. You’re not too bad, yourself.”
I dropped my hand from around his shoulder and backed up. He let go of me slowly, as if with reluctance.
“Come on. I need a drink,” I said, motioning back to the bar where Amber and Kate had just sat down. We veered toward them.
Evan made eye contact with the bartender who nodded at both of us. “Scotch, on the rocks, please. What are you drinking?”
“I’ll have a Long Island Iced T—”
“Who’s he?” A guy’s voice said, close enough that I cringed from the volume. I whipped around.
Jeff Hansen. Town drunk that never seemed to do much of anything, other than sit in the bar, hit on locals and look pissed off. And boy, did he look pissed off. Emotions rolled off him like jagged pieces of glass, hurt and anger all twisted up into one gigantic ball of irritation.
“He’s cool, Jeff. He’s with me,” I said. My heart started to pound as I remembered the last time Jeff had picked a fight. He’d bitten a guy’s ear and torn part of it right off.
Jeff stared at Evan, his teeth exposed like he was snarling.
“Is he treating you right, Sarah?”
“It’s all good, Jeff,” I said.
“You think you’re pretty tough?” Jeff said through gritted teeth. He stepped forward and poked Evan in the chest. Evan was pushed slightly off-balance, and he took a step backward.
My stomach clenched. “Jeff, I said it’s cool.”
Evan straightened up. He had at least four inches on Jeff and well over thirty pounds. Jeff stepped back, and the sickly-sweet smell of weed came wafting off of his ratty jean jacket.
Evan looked down his nose at Jeff. “Back off, man.” His jaw muscles popped in and out, and his hands balled up at his sides. The only thing Jeff had going for him was a bad attitude and liquid courage.
“Shut up, asshole!” Jeff slurred, a fine mist of spittle burst from his mouth and rained all over us. Jeff turned his head and flashed a snide grin, probably to impress his buddies who watched the spectacle along the sidelines of the bar.
“Jeff, stop it!” I said. Jeff ignored me completely, staring at Evan. I reached for Evan’s hand, wound my fingers through his and tugged. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
Evan nodded, and we strode toward the exterior door. I glanced back to see Jeff running. He ran straight into Evan, knocking him forward.
Evan hit the crash bar of the metal door, his body weight forcing it wide open so that it squeaked when the hinges were pushed to their limit. My heart jumped into my throat as he stumbled and fell onto the cement outside. Immediately, he righted himself and jumped back to his feet.
Jeff smiled, eyes flashing. “I bet that hurt, didn’t it, tough guy?”
I ran toward Jeff. “Stop it! Just leave him alone!”
Jeff smiled at me. “Aww, you’re getting your little bi-otch to fight for you.” Then he turned back to Evan. “Tell you’re ho to shut her pie-hole, or I’ll shut it for her.”
“You’re going to wish you’d never said that,” Evan said, his voice a low, warning growl.
Jeff snorted. “You’re in my town. You’re gonna regret having a mouth.” His arms rose above his head in some kind of attempt to look intimidating, but to me he looked like a bird about to take flight.
“Stop it, Jeff.”
Stepping forward, Jeff hurtled his fist toward Evan’s face but Evan snatched his clenched fist mid-air. I lunged toward them, placing one hand on Evan and the other hand on Jeff’s jacket.
Instantly, the atmosphere around my head changed, filling with static.
The lights above the entryway flickered, humming like dying bees before building into a sizzling pulse. With a bang, the lights exploded in a rainfall of glass shards. I ducked to shield my face.
I opened my eyes and gasped. Jeff lay crumpled on the ground, his torso folded inward, his limbs pulled into a fetal position, moaning as he clutched his stomach. Then his face went slack, and his eyes rolled back into his head. Why was he on the ground? And why did he look like he’d been knocked out cold?
I glanced around, but all I could hear was the retreating sound of footsteps running outside, the parking lot no longer lit up by the overhead light.
“Evan?” I called out.
About the AuthorJoanne Brothwell lives in the country on the Canadian prairie with her family where her stories are inspired by the dead things that appear at her doorstep on a daily basis.
Facebook: Author Joanne Brothwell
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