| Author T.M. Cromer AI-FREE! 100% certified organic author-created content. No artificial intelligence was used in the writing of this book.

Lucifer Excerpt

Book 1: Angels of Legend

Heavy fog made the abandoned street eerier than it already was. The change in weather had rolled in right about the time Nadia began searching for the address scribbled on the paper. The hushed quality in this particular area seemed peculiar. Why the hell was an ordinarily bustling city dead before eight p.m.? It didn’t make sense.
A cool wind kicked up and shook the trashcans gathered on the sidewalk’s edge. Their rancid odor carried on the breeze and would offend anyone unfortunate enough to catch a whiff.
The soft swish of rubberized soles hitting cement drifted to her.
Nadia shuddered.
The chill in her bones had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the echoing footfalls behind her.
“This is every horror film come to life,” she muttered.
She inched her hand inside her bag and fumbled for one of three potential dumbass deterrents she kept there. Her shaking hand closed around a bottle of pepper spray.
Good enough.
Not the taser, but it would do.
A dull gray mist had created deep shadows along the sidewalk, forcing her to squint at building numbers as she hurried past.
Whoever had been dogging her for the last three blocks had made her a nervous wreck. She toyed with the idea of cutting down a side alley, but unfamiliar with the area, a decision of that magnitude seemed foolish.
Nadia sped up.
The trailing footsteps matched her pace.
If she didn’t find the coffee bar soon, she would faint from anxiety. At this point, she’d welcome any lit store. Preferably a place with tons of people.
Should she turn and confront whoever happened to be there?
Christ, no!
She wasn’t that brave. In fact, her picture hung in the Chicken Shits Hall of Fame.
Screw it.
She needed to run for it before she ended up a statistic on some police spreadsheet. If she didn’t trip over air—her standard habit—she probably stood a 1:100 chance of getting away.
Once more, she eyed the number of the closest building. The boarded-up, puke-green exterior spoke of abandoned buildings or flophouses for drug addicts and the unfortunate homeless. Not a damned solid pane of glass among the lot of them. Nothing she could use to check how close the stalker was to her person.
No doubt about it, she was hopelessly lost.
She took off at a gallop, arms and legs pumping in time to her rapid heartbeat. Her pulse thundered in her ears and made her deaf to all else around her.
A quick check over her shoulder showed an empty sidewalk. Maybe he’d detoured down a side street? Or it could be the intent was to head her off.
She ran faster.
A giant beast of a man appeared out of nowhere. One second, her low-heeled sensible shoes were pounding the pavement, and the next, she’d plowed into a six-foot-six brick wall.
Her ass promptly hit the ground, and the wind was knocked from her already straining lungs. Arms out to her sides, chest struggling for a breath, she sprawled at the human wall’s feet. The clanking of her little metal canister rolling along the bumpy sidewalk in the opposite direction from her took with it her last hope of defending herself.
She was going to die. Right here, right now, in the dregs of the city.
How undignified!
A feline screamed, and a metal trashcan crashed to the pavement somewhere off to her right.
When her attack didn’t seem as imminent, she risked a peek. She lifted one lid to peer at the man who leaned slightly over her.
Black brows raised, he smirked down at her.
What the hell? How was he still standing?
At five feet nine inches, it wasn’t like she was small. Wasn’t there some cosmic law about an object in motion tending to stay in motion? Apparently not when it impacted this guy.
“Are you all right?”
His deep, raspy voice had a do-me-now quality and caused a tingling in her toes that quickly spread the entire length of her body. It felt remarkably like the beginning of an orgasm, and Nadia waited a heartbeat to see how it would turn out.
The stranger cleared his throat and bit the corner of his lip.
“Miss?”
She scrambled to her feet and dusted off her slacks before hastily smoothing her—sticky?—hair. Suppressing a shudder, she sighed. She didn’t want to think about what might be residing there.
“Yeah, I’m good.” She checked behind her again. “Or I would be if I wasn’t lost.”
She gasped at her own stupidity.
Way to go, Nadia! Tell a total stranger you’re lost and make yourself a sitting target.
“Perhaps I may assist you.” Once again, his hypnotic voice had an immediate effect on her body. She shivered with appreciation.
“Assistance would have been great ten seconds ago,” she said with a grimace. He hadn’t even offered a hand to help her up. However, given that she’d run into him, she’d let bygones be bygones if he could provide her with directions to the damned coffee shop.
Headlights from an approaching vehicle highlighted him.
Nadia’s breath caught in her throat. Yeah, she was staring, but the guy was divine!
Black hair styled a little longer than what was currently en vogue, an aquiline nose, high cheekbones, and a generous mouth that flashed perfect, white teeth when he grinned—as he currently was doing.
And that was just above the shoulders.
Those broad, glorious, glorious shoulders.
Her weakness.
Male gymnasts, with their large, rounded deltoids and well-muscled asses, kept her glued to the television whenever the Olympics came around. Crikey! Who couldn’t appreciate an athlete’s beautiful body when they were in top form?
Her thoughts returned to the stranger and what he might look like in the bright light of day. There hadn’t been enough time or illumination to see the rest of him before they were once again thrust into the darkness, but she’d bet her last dollar his body would be smoking hot.
He snorted.
For one horrified moment, she feared she’d uttered the words aloud. His twitching lips indicated she had, yet she was almost positive she hadn’t opened her mouth.
Nadia closed her eyes and sighed.
How did one ask if they’d said something inappropriate?
They didn’t.
They pretended nothing untoward took place and moved on.
“I’m sorry.”
He cocked his head and studied her as if she were a foreign species. Perhaps to him, she was. Based on his light accent, he wasn’t American by birth. Although, for the life of her, she couldn’t place where his origin might be.
Another set of headlights swept the two of them. A soft red glow reflected back from his shadowy gaze. All the terrifying images of being murdered where she stood flooded back. The red flare had to be a trick of the light, right? Her mind immediately went to vampires and other horrifying things that went bump in the night.
She had to stop watching horror flicks. Pronto!
She fought not to freak right the fuck out but was quickly losing the battle.
“Um, if you d-don’t mind, I need to be g-going,” she stuttered.
“I thought you were lost,” he replied, his voice heavy with amusement.
Well, yeah, there was that one pesky detail.
“What is the address you are looking for?” he asked kindly.
“Sixteen-eleven Livingston Street.”
“I was heading that way. I would be happy to escort you there.”
Should she stay in this man’s presence for another second? What she could see of his wicked smile was doing weird things to her system. Surely, anyone who looked like him wasn’t a serial killer, right?
Remember Ted Bundy, Nadia. He had charm as well as looks.
His lips tightened, and he cast his eyes skyward.
Heat flooded her cheeks. She’d always been told her thoughts were written all over her face, and she was reasonably certain her serial-killer conflict had been reflected there as well.
No doubt, he was having an inward laugh at her expense.
“What’s your name?” she demanded.
He tilted his head. The action caused his hair to swing forward. It brought with it the scent of apples, cinnamon, and cloves.
She inhaled a deep breath.
The man smelled like warm apple pie—her favorite.
“Luc.”
“Huh?”
“My name is Luc.”
“Oh! Yeah, I’m Nadia.”
“Nadia.” He tried her name on for size, and she liked the sound of it on his lips. His accent made the three-syllable name into two. It sounded more like Nahd-ya. “Come, Nadia. I will see you safely to your destination.”
“Thank you.”
“The Blend is very popular. Am I to assume you are new to the city since you don’t know its location?”
Should she tell the truth? There’s nothing like identifying yourself as a newbie. She might as well tell him she didn’t know anyone in town and set herself up as the perfect murder victim while she was at it.
“You are smart to be cautious,” he said warmly, correctly guessing the reason for her silence. “I only inquired because if you haven’t found permanent lodgings, I can direct you to my realtor. I have recently relocated here myself.”
She smiled for the first time since meeting him.
“A kindred spirit,” she quipped. She liked the idea of forming a bond with someone else in the city. “And I haven’t yet. The few places I’ve looked at should’ve been condemned long ago. I’m still staying at a hotel.”
Luc smiled but, unlike her, didn’t slow his pace.
Nadia increased her speed to keep up with his long stride. “Have you already found a place through your realtor?”
“I did. The complex was recently completed, and the flats are leasing fast. But I’m sure I can put in a good word for you,” he offered. He shot her a sideways glance and arched a brow. “One kindred spirit to another.”
“I don’t want to trouble you.”
“It’s no trouble, I assure you.”
He stopped and nodded to the lit storefront across the road. “The Blend is behind you, just there.”
Nadia looked up into Luc’s beautiful face, no longer in shadow. He was breathtakingly handsome, and she couldn’t seem to stop staring. They stood locked in the moment, each studying the other silently.
With a flick of his wrist, he produced a business card. “Gloria will take good care of you.”
“Gloria?”
“My realtor.”
“Oh! Yeah. Right. Thanks.” She accepted the card, and if she hadn’t already looked like a complete tool, she’d have smacked her forehead.
“Goodnight, Nadia. No more running down dark, abandoned sidewalks, all right?”
“That’s a sound plan. One that I intend to follow,” she assured him with a light laugh. “Thanks again, Luc. I’d still be wandering, lost and terrified if you hadn’t come along.”
“My pleasure.” He leaned against the lamppost and crossed his arms over his chest as if he had no intention of leaving. The casual pose strained the shoulders of his suit jacket.
Nadia barely curbed a girly sigh.
Oddly, she wanted to linger, but she was already late for an interview. At this rate, she’d never get a job. “I have to go,” she said.
His curious gaze traveled the length of her body and settled back on her face.
“Why?”
“Excuse me?” Had he really asked her why she had to go?
“Why do you have to leave? Do you have a date?”
“In a manner of speaking. It’s a job interview.”
He frowned. “At quarter to eight? What company interviews candidates in the evening hours?”
Nadia glanced over her shoulder at the coffeehouse.
He’d asked her the same question she’d asked herself when she set out to find the place a half-hour earlier. “It does seem shady, doesn’t it?”
“Did you research your potential employer, Nadia?”
“I didn’t have time. The call came as I was having dinner. I walked straight here.”
He sighed heavily, as is she were the veriest of morons.
“Tell me. Why were you running earlier?”
“I heard footsteps behind me. I’m sure it was only my imagination, but I got spooked.”
Luc straightened and cast a critical eye over the storefront window across the way. “Were you to meet a man or a woman?”
“Man.”
“Description?”
“He said he had sandy-brown hair and that he’d be wearing a blue suit.”
“I see no one fitting your description, Nadia.” He gave her a troubled look. “Do you think it’s possible you were set up?”
She spun and frantically searched the seating area of the coffee shop.
He was right.
Moisture burned her eyes, and she closed her lids against the sting of the tears. What an idiot! She’d wanted a decent-paying job so badly that she never questioned the bizarre circumstances.
“You must think I’m stupid,” she whispered.
“No. Eager to find employment, and perhaps a tiny bit naive, but not stupid.”
The sympathy in his voice caused her stomach to hurt.
Silly, silly Nadia. Always doing foolish things.
“I’m always trusting the wrong people,” she admitted. “For all I know, you could be the Devil himself, and I’d be here making friends.”

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