Autumn stood outside the Hawthorne Hotel and shivered when a brisk, fall wind chased up her bare back. This certainly wasn’t how she’d imagined the beginning of her night. She’d barely stepped foot out of her car and people were already staring. For a moment, she debated her decision to attend stag. After she’d hung up the phone, she’d dressed and left for the party, too angry to wait for Riley and Lexi. Unfortunately, that meant there was no buffer between her and the gawkers.
A delicate chime came from the clutch she held under her arm. The third message her sister had sent her in the past fifteen minutes, not that she cared. If she intended to work tonight, she needed a clear mind, sans Riley. With a deep breath, Autumn smoothed down the front of her dress, ignoring that her fingers brushed flesh where a plunging neckline artfully draped down to her navel. Certainly not the impression she’d intended to make. At least now she knew never to trust her sister with her wardrobe again.
Now or never, she assured herself.
The doors opened, and from within came the heavy beat of music. Seemed as though the party was already well under way.
Autumn slipped into the ballroom and paused to take it in. Every year the Festival of the Dead put on a ball. This year’s theme was a masquerade, and they’d decorated accordingly. The center of the room had been cleared for the dance floor, and the tables were adorned with black fabric and grotesque centerpieces, all in the name of Halloween. Ochre lights hung from the ceiling and glimmered against the painted walls. They always outdid themselves.
She perused the crowd, watching as they moved in sync to the music, their faces hidden by a series of beautiful masks. Wonderment filled her stomach when she realized she didn’t recognize anyone. The knowledge filled her with courage. They’d know her eventually when they sought her out to summon the dead. But for now, it seemed she could enjoy the anonymity.
A few turned to watch as she entered, but she brushed their attentiveness aside and instead started toward the hors d’œuvres. She couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of the Halloween-themed snacks from pumpkin cheese balls to monster cookies.
“Quite the selection,” a voice murmured next to her.
Autumn glanced up with a polite smile. Her gaze tracked up a lean length, taking note of the pristine suit that boasted a muscular physique, but it wasn’t until she caught sight of his startling green gaze shining out from behind a golden mask that she gasped.
Hell, she’d dreamed of those eyes all night, watching her from amidst the shadows. She took a closer look, her heart sputtering against her chest when she recognized Sadie’s soul. Her hip slammed into the table when she staggered backward.
“Shh, easy now,” he murmured, his hand gripping her elbow and steadying her.
Autumn flicked a glance around the room, noting Dawson and her ex-husband patrolling the far side of the room.
His fingers tensed around her elbow. “Don’t be frightened.”
“Me,” he said, nodding.
“I thought you were detained.”
“Funny how the law works. Turns out they can’t detain you when you’re innocent.”
She blinked up at him, startled by the handsome sight. Who the hell was this man? Then his words clicked. “What?”
“I said, I’m innocent. They can’t detain me if I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“You ate Sadie!” she exclaimed, wincing when her voice rose above the music.
His face twisted into a grimace. “Wow. That sounded…”
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“For the record, I am not a serial killer.”
“No, just a soul-eater.”
He paused, shock widening his eyes as though he hadn’t expected her to put two and two together.
“Necromancer, remember? Did you think I wouldn’t know what you are?”
“I hadn’t given it much thought, truthfully.” He regarded her, his gaze unflinching. “I assure you, though, I’m not here to cause any trouble.”
Autumn’s attention dropped to his mouth, mesmerized by the enticing curve of his lips and his strong jawline. He shot her a smile, as though he knew the direction her thoughts had taken. Clearing her throat, she returned to the conversation. “I doubt that. I have a feeling you cause trouble wherever you go.”
“Ah, guilty,” he teased. “Life is too short to play by the rules.” He canted his head with a wide grin. “Well, too short for most.”
“But not you,” she said.
Autumn knew a little about his kind. Her father had come across one many years ago. She’d been thirteen at the time, so he hadn’t been willing to offer many details. The man had massacred multiple families before her father had managed to contain and destroy him. A soul-eater, her father had said, a creature so evil it fed off the souls of the living as a means of living an eternal life.
Her brow furrowed as she studied the man in front of him. Was he the same as the other? “Did you not notice all the police here tonight?”
That sinful mouth crooked. “Of course I did. Did you not notice my mask?”
Oh, she had. How could she have missed it? As though he wasn’t enigmatic enough, the ebony threads woven up into a beautiful leaf added a mysterious appeal. He’d darkened his skin beneath the mask, highlighting his emerald gaze.
He braved a step closer, and Autumn’s heart skipped a beat. She wanted to believe it was the primal rush of fear that had her pulse going, but if it were, she would have made for the nearest police officer. Instead, she tipped her head back and watched as he closed the distance between them.
“Dance with me.” Not a question, but a demand.
Autumn blinked. “What? You’re insane.”
“Possibly. But insane would be not asking you to dance.” He leaned in toward her. “You look so beautiful tonight.”
His words warmed her stomach, but still, she narrowed her eyes. “As opposed to every other night?”
Most men might have balked at such a response, but this one merely tilted his head as the corners of his mouth pulled up in amusement. “I don’t know, yet. Ask me again tomorrow.”
Autumn couldn’t help but chuckle. “A smooth talker, I see.”
“The original smooth talker,” he assured her. “Now, about that dance?”
Before she could protest, his hand ghosted up the length of her back, and he led her out onto the dance floor. Autumn’s breath caught as they moved, the rich scent of his cologne teasing her nose. She should have been afraid, especially after last night, but for some reason, she was more nervous than anything else. She was safe here with half the city’s police force on patrol. Not that she was looking at them. She could barely tear her eyes away from her dance partner.
“Shall we?” He turned toward her and offered his other hand, brow arched as though daring her to resist.
“On one condition.”
His other brow rose.
A smooth chuckle rose to her ears. “Ah. Forgive me. Here I thought your police friend would have told you everything about me.”
She shook her head.
“Caleb Jensen,” he said after inclining his head in an old gesture she’d only seen in the movies. He stepped up flush against her and wound an arm around her waist. “And you, my dear, are Autumn Kane, necromancer extraordinaire.”
Her breath caught the moment his fingers grazed the small of her back, as though his touch awakened her entire body. She cast a demure smile, then slid her hand in his and gazed up at him from under her lashes. “Am I supposed to be impressed that you know about me?”
“Hardly.” On the next beat, they started to dance.
He moved with singular purpose, and their bodies harmonized as he led them around the room.
“How did you know I’d be here?”
He eased her out into a gentle spin before guiding her back into his chest. His head bent low, his breath brushing against the shell of her ear. “Amazing the things one can learn from the Internet.”
Autumn’s eyes fluttered shut, her heart hammering in her chest as she inhaled his scent. “You realize you’re stalking me, right?”
“I like to think of it more as studying an investment.” He leaned back and draped her body against his side, bracing her weight without breaking stride. “As I tried to tell you last night, I require your help.”
He tsked her, then spun her once more before leading her through the room. “Can’t we finish our dance before discussing business?”
Yes, please. The man certainly knew his way around the dance floor, and though surprising, she was enjoying herself. The feel of his body shifting against her, of his hand warm against her skin as he led her in circles. The logical part of her brain scolded her, told her she shouldn’t be enjoying this. The man had practically abducted her the night before. But the darker half of her soul yearned for this, to come alive beneath someone’s touch again.
A frightening notion that almost had her running home.
This was not the one to come alive for. He’d snatched her off the streets and dragged her into an empty house. He’d devoured Sadie’s soul. He’s the villain, her head screamed at her.
He brushed a hand through her hair and down her jaw. “Keep dancing with me, Autumn.”
Holding his gaze, she nodded.
She’d done the whole white knight in shining armor thing. Hell, once upon a time, she’d married a police officer, and it had been disastrous. Maybe it was time for a little evil in her life.
Gwen Knight is a Canadian girl currently living in Edmonton, AB. She graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a degree in Archaeology and Geography. Her interests consist of playing in the dirt, designing elaborate snow forts, boating, and archery.
Come to the party!