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by Marie Treanor
Description: How many times can one man die? To professional assassin Joe, life is cheap, and crash researcher Anna just another hit. Until his own unplanned car crash changes everything. Dr. Anna Baird, dedicated to the point of obsession, suddenly finds her state-of-the-art crash test dummy haunted by a weird and exciting stranger--who seems doomed to repeatedly experience the fate he'd intended for Anna. Lost in a reality only he and Anna inhabit, Joe finds himself falling in love with his intended victim, and ultimately fighting to save her life--because whoever hired him still wants her dead. Product Warnings Warning: This title contains explicit sex, occasional bad language and extreme violence perpetrated against crash test dummies.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2008
eBookwise Release Date: February 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [147 KB]
Reading time: 87-121 min.
A faint movement sounded, something brushing on the floor only a foot or so away from her, with only the half-open door between them.
A mouse? A rat?
But no, you'd never hear a rat breathe! And there it was again, a faint, ragged breath, difficult, uneven, but definitely human.
Anna swallowed. She could run and phone the police. She could make a complete fool of herself. Again. Or she could think like a person of sense. It was only just past six o'clock. There could easily be workers still around--and it sounded to her as if one of them was in there. And hurt.
"Who's there?" she asked firmly, pushing open the door and reaching at once for the light switch. "Are you all right?"
The harsh light from the bare bulb bathed the cramped room in a cold, yellow glow. There was no one there, no axe murderer waiting to do her in, no typist crying over her private troubles. Only shelves full of equipment, instruments, spare computer monitors, protective clothing, helmets, the crash test dummies. Slowly, Anna dropped her gaze to the newest, most prized dummy, which they'd left sitting on the floor, its back propped against the wall by the door.
The open, pain-wracked eyes of a man stared back at her.
* * * *
It was the same face she'd imagined in the test: lean, strong, almost harsh-featured, with a straight, narrow nose, broad cheek-bones over shadowed-hollows, lips thinned now with pain. His skin was a beautiful nut-brown, warmed, clearly, by far hotter suns than ever shone over Scotland. A lock of black, straight hair fell forward over one side of his forehead; more clustered damply around his neck. Slumped against the wall, his legs stretched out in front of him, he shivered violently.
No wonder--he was totally naked.
Many questions clamoured in her head--like, what are you doing here, how did you get in, why did you take your clothes off and where's my crash-test-dummy?--but instinct drove her at once to her knees by his side.
"What's the matter? Where are you hurt?" she asked urgently.
He continued to stare at her, some fierce intelligence behind the clouded agony in his dark eyes. And surely...recognition.
"You," he uttered. There was disbelief in the deep, faint voice and then, astonishingly, she thought he tried to laugh. "Shit, did we take each other out in the end? This just gets better and better..."
"Take each other out where?" Anna asked, totally bewildered. He must have a concussion, some sort of brain injury--I need to get an ambulance...
His frown deepened. "Out of life. Don't you believe that you're dead?"
"Not unless you just killed me with an axe and I didn't notice."
"An axe? Lacks finesse."
"Oh dear. Listen, don't talk, I'm going to phone for an ambulance..."
"There's every point," said Anna, already discovering her mobile phone in the side pocket of her bag. She stood up, holding it high above her head. "Damn, there's no signal down here. I'll need to go upstairs. First, where are your clothes?"
"Clothes?" This time, it was he who sounded bewildered.
Slightly embarrassed, and trying not to look below his face, Anna flicked her wrist toward his body. With an obvious effort, he shifted his head and glanced down at himself. Anna glanced, too, for despite the shivering, it was an impressive body, lean and thickly muscled across his broad shoulders and chest. An uneven scattering of dark hair above his waist and a well-defined, tantalizing line below. Even in this unflattering position, his stomach looked flat and hard, his thighs long and strong. And between them...
Hastily, she dragged her eyes back up to his face. The man is hurt, probably brain-damaged and you're inspecting his manhood credentials? Get a grip, woman!
"No clothes," he observed. "Suppose I don't need them. Though I always imagined it would be a bit hotter."
Anna stared. "In Scotland?"
He looked at her, frowning. The pain in his eyes seemed to have lessened, as if he had forgotten about it. Disconcerted, she set about finding his clothes. There was no obvious sign of them in the storeroom, so she grabbed an overall from the pile and shook it out.
"Would this fit you?" she asked doubtfully, walking back toward him. She crouched down, holding the overall out to him. "Do you need help?" she asked awkwardly.
Slowly, without answering, he lifted his hand, touched the fabric. His eyes dropped to inspect it. Anna released it, and abruptly, his hand moved, seizing hers.
She gasped, staring at him as the fear galloped back with a vengeance. His grip was strong, inflexible, like warm steel bands around her wrist. His eyes, cold and pitiless, bored into hers. They were so dark they looked black.
Christ who is he, what the hell is he doing here, and in this condition, and...
"Where is my crash test dummy?" she demanded.
His brows snapped together. Bewilderment drifted back into his eyes. As suddenly as he'd grabbed her, he released her, his hand falling back to his lap as he stared around the room.
"Crash test dummy," he repeated. "Anna, where exactly is this? To you?"
"To me? To everyone who works here, it's our storeroom! And how the hell do you know my name?"
He ignored the question. Slowly, as if giving himself time, he shook out the overalls and began to draw them over his feet. Scattered across his tanned skin, several pale, jagged scars stood out on his left thigh, his chest and shoulders, his thickly muscled right arm. It seemed the man was subject to accidents.
"Fuck, this is weird," he observed.
"You're telling me."
"Anna, have you done many bad--really bad things in your life?"
She blinked, then looked away as he stood a little gingerly and pulled the overalls over his hips.
"I've had bad thoughts," she confessed, trying to stave off even more of them concerning him. The knots of tension and fear in her stomach were getting all mixed up with the butterflies of sexual arousal, for now that he seemed to be recovering, she was very aware of a strong animal attraction to him, a magnetism that went beyond the splendidly fit and all-but-naked body. He didn't seem to be shivering anymore either. It was she who trembled now.
"No, I'm talking bad deeds. Bad enough to send you to hell."
"Christ, I hope not. Why?"
"Because I don't think you have, either. We shouldn't be in the same place. Maybe I'm dreaming."
"Not unless you're having the same dream as me. Look, what's going on here? Who are you and what do you want?"
"What do I want?" He stared down at her. He hadn't troubled to fasten the overall across his chest. "I rather think that one's out of my hands."
Hastily, she rose to her feet once more, but it didn't make him less intimidating. She could feel the heat from his hard, lean body, smell his faint, earthy scent tinged with sweat. He stood a foot taller than her, big, physically impressive. And strange.
She drew in a breath that wasn't quite steady. "Look, you need help I can't give. I'm going upstairs to phone an ambulance. I'm sure the hospital will be able to answer all your questions." I just wish they'd answer mine...