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Vampire Encounters: Second Chances

Chapter One


    "You need a real man.”

“Lurleen! Please!” Samantha’s smile was half-exasperated, half-amused.

“Well, it’s true! When was the last time you went out on a date?” Lurleen tossed a carefully highlighted
hank of ash blond hair over her shoulder. “And discussing server issues and new programming
concerns over lunch with Billy Wheaton doesn’t count,” she quickly added.

Sam sighed and pushed her more prosaic brown hair away from her face. “Billy Wheaton’s married.”

“Like I said, he doesn’t count.” Lurleen checked her reflection in the night-darkened window behind Sam. “Do these pants make me look fat?”

Sam was used to the tangents and convolutions inherent to conversations with Lurleen and just went with the flow of it. She was also used to the other woman’s preoccupation with her looks. Sam often felt mousy and drab standing beside all that flamboyance.  Still, Lurleen was her best friend and Sam was more than willing to supply the reassurance Lurleen needed.

“You weigh ninety-eight pounds with your boots on, and ten pounds of that is hairspray and make-up. Nothing makes you look fat. Fat wouldn’t even make you look fat.”

“That’s why I love you, Sammie.” Lurleen’s west Texas accent was even denser and more pronounced than Sam’s. She was also the only person alive who could get away with using that hated nickname. Anyone else who addressed Samantha as Sammie was likely to discover just how redneck she could be
when she was agitated. But Lurleen was Sam’s friend and had been since kindergarten. She’d picked up the nickname from Sam’s father. The only other person who dared use the diminutive was Sam’s brother. But she hated to hear Frank say it. It reminded Sam her father was gone. It had been three years since Jock Bailey’s death but the pain was still sharp. Frank couldn’t seem to understand her lingering grief and despite his sister’s repeated requests, he insisted on calling her by her family pet name.

Oddly, it didn’t hurt when Lurleen said Sammie. Of course, Lurleen’s voice wasn’t nearly identical to Jock’s, and didn’t call up that sense of loss and sorrow. The twinge of grief was still there but it was somehow softer and only made Sam feel wistful.

Lurleen grinned brightly at her friend, unfazed by dismal thoughts and pleased with the ego boost she’d just received. “You always make me feel good about me, Sammie.”

Sam chuckled at the blonde’s bouncy response. “That’s what girlfriends are for. So who’s got you all fancied up?”

Lurleen’s grin grew and gained a certain salacious edge. Her eyes went glassy with desire and her voice dropped half an octave in pitch. “Edmundo.”

“Lord help him,” Sam said with just a hint of sarcasm. If she was any judge of Lurleen’s intentions, Edmundo was in for a long and strenuous Friday night.

Sam glanced at her reflection in the window and firmly resisted the urge to feel jealous she had no reason to dress up. With an inward sigh she admitted she was about as far from dressed up as she could be. Her long brown hair was unfettered by styling products and hung free over her shoulders. It was tidy enough, but certainly not tinted and styled the way it would have been a few years earlier. There were no cosmetics on her face, and Sam realized she couldn’t remember the last time she bothered to put on make-up.

Her fashion statement these days was clean and neat rather than fashionable or sexy. There was a time when Friday night meant she would be just as dolled up as Lurleen, with hair fresh from the beauty parlor and lips bright with lipstick. Now it meant Casual Friday at the office and a chance to relax in jeans and a T-shirt instead of the usual business wear. It meant working late and not thinking about going home to an empty apartment.

When had she stopped caring about how she looked? When had she quit trying?

With a smile she didn’t really feel stretching her unvarnished lips, she turned her attention back to Lurleen, took a long look at her friend’s wardrobe choices, and amended her earlier thought. Edmundo was in for a long and strenuous weekend. The garish shirt and tight, starched, pink jeans Lurleen wore were new. Since she didn’t buy new clothes for just any man, Sam figured Edmundo must be pretty far up her friend’s rating scale. Maybe she had finally found the man she had been looking for since the two girls first started talking about their dream guy back in middle school. Sam hoped so.

A bit of reality crept into her smile. She also hoped Edmundo was taking his vitamins and drinking lots of Red Bull. He was going to need them. And as long as he made Lurleen happy, Sam was pleased. “So should I call your cell phone Sunday night to remind you to get out of bed and go home?” Sam asked with a sardonic smile. It helped to cover up the empty feeling inside.

“Oh, God, I hope so,” Lurleen said fervently with a far away and happy expression firmly in place. Then she shook off thoughts of Edmundo and headed back to her earlier subject. “And that reminds me. You need a real man.”

“Lurleen!” Sam didn’t want to think about men. She didn’t want to think about finding one or the current lack of a lover in her life.

“I’m serious,” Lurleen persisted. “All you do any more is work and read those stupid romance novels.” She picked up the book lying face down on Sam’s desk and grimaced. “Good Lord. This one is the absolute worst!” She pointed to the cover. “No man looks like that in real life, not even Edmundo. And let me tell you, that boy can stop traffic when he doesn’t wear a shirt! This is, well...impossible. No one looks this good without a production crew, a makeup team, and an airbrush artist.” Her perfectly plucked eyebrows drew together in a frown of intense displeasure.

Sam nodded reluctant agreement. It was true that the art on the cover was beyond what any rational person could expect of a human male, but that didn’t matter. It wasn’t the overblown cover that kept her attention glued to the pages the cover protected. She needed the escape. She needed to feel like there was something better somewhere. And if the only place she could find that was between the pages of a book, then so be it.

Still, Sam protested softly, “He doesn’t look like that in my head.” In her imagination, he looked real and somehow that made him much more attractive than the impossible beauty on the cover but she wasn’t going to tell Lurleen that. The headache niggling behind her eyes was growing.

“You shouldn’t be looking at guys in your head, Sam,” Lurleen protested. “You should be looking at them in your bed!” She thumbed through the paperback and snorted derisively. “How many times have you read this one?”

“I haven’t,” Sam countered defensively, snatching the book from Lurleen’s contemptuous hold. “It’s new. I just started it and I haven’t gotten to read it yet.”

Lurleen rolled her blue eyes. “Wonderful. Just what you need, another story to get you further hung up on Cole Grayson.”

“I am not hung up on Cole Grayson.” Sam held her novel against her chest protectively. “I’m not hung up on anyone. And if I was, it wouldn’t be with someone in a book. I have better sense than to fall for a fictional character.”

Cole was just a diversion, something to keep her apartment from feeling so hollow. If Sam used reading as a way to escape, well it was healthier than using booze. She glared at her friend.

Lurleen wasn’t the least intimidated. “Bullshit,” she said pleasantly. She propped her denim-clad hip against the side of Sam’s desk. “You are so in love with him it isn’t even funny.”

Sam winced. Did she have to use that word? “I am not in love with anyone.”

Why didn’t her objection sound more emphatic? Her friend couldn’t be right. Cole wasn’t real and it didn’t matter how alluring and wonderful he was. He lived between the pages of a book. There was no rational way Sam could be in love with him. She glared accusingly at her friend. “Least of all, Cole Grayson.”

Lurleen snorted delicately. “Yeah, right. You measure every man you meet by his standard. Well you know what? He’s a fantasy guy. He’s perfect and no man is ever going to measure up to him.” She stared down at her bright pink nails, checking for any imperfection that might offend Edmundo. “You need to stop thinking about Cole Grayson. You need to get out. Find yourself some real guy and tie one on for about a week.” She glanced back up. “You could do it easy enough. You know plenty of men.”

“Oh, please!” Sam protested. “I know plenty of programmers and scientists. Most of whom would rather be off playing EverQuest online than out on the town.” She shook her head. “You think I have issues with fantasy and reality! Spend some time with those guys and I’ll look like Miss Normality to you. I don’t feel like dressing up in a chain mail bikini and pretending to be Zena, Warrior Princess just to get their attention. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Chain mail bikinis can be fun. Remember that year we went to Waxahachie for the Renaissance festival? That was lots of fun. Besides, you of all people should understand escapism. And you know men who aren’t on the Geek Gamers Squad,” Lurleen insisted with a dismissive wave and an expectant twinkle in her blue eyes.

Sam sighed, wishing Lurleen would just give up. But she wasn’t the giving up type, and Sam knew her friend would perch on the edge of Sam’s desk until the Oilers won a Super Bowl waiting for an answer. She might as well humor her and get it over with before her headache turned into a migraine.

“Well, let me see. Men other than computer nuts...Hmm, what’s that leave? My worthless brother’s friends? Again, no, thank you. I’ve had more than my share of cowboys and ranchers. I’ve dated enough broncobusters and bull riders to start my own rodeo! Not interested. There’s too much crap attached to dating cowboys. They’re never home unless you consider a bar their home. They can be total assholes.”

Lurleen waved a hand in protest. “I don’t know. That one from Abilene was kind of sweet. And cute as a bug!” At Sam’s quelling look, she shrugged. “I keep telling you that you need to find some pretty Latino boy. Those Hispanic men are something else! Get you a Mexican man.”

Sam rolled her eyes. “I can’t take the machismo. Makes me want to hurt them, and not in a good way. Besides, I’m taller than most of them.”

“And actually you’re more macho than they are,” Lurleen added. “Most of them are afraid you’ll kick their ass.” She laughed. “They’ve heard stories from all your brother’s friends. You’ll never live down what you did to Gilbert Martinez graduation night.”

“True,” Sam conceded with a touch of regret.

“Not that he didn’t deserve everything you did!” Lurleen observed and tried to put on a consoling expression. Sam didn’t think it was working very well. Mostly it looked smug. “In fact, you should have cracked his head open instead of just taking him out to Kermit and leaving him in the Sand Hills. Naked.” She couldn’t help giggling over the memory.

“I should have killed the sorry S.O.B.,” Sam agreed. “But killing him would’ve gotten me sent to the women’s prison in Huntsville. I figured I could get out of dumping his ass in the Sand Hills and letting him walk back to Odessa.” Looking back, it was quite possibly the stupidest thing she’d ever done. Now she knew it would be called kidnapping, but back then it was justice, and at the time it made sense. A lot of things made sense where you were seventeen that made no sense at all when you were thirty.

While she regretted the action she couldn’t regret any pain Gilbert felt. No man should be allowed to treat a fourteen-year-old kid the way Gilbert treated Lurleen’s little sister and get away with it. She and Lurleen had proven to him in terms even scum like Gilbert could understand just how unacceptable it was to coerce a little girl into sex and then leave her pregnant. Because Gilbert was seventeen, the police couldn’t do anything but once the danger of expulsion from school was removed, the girls had acted. And since Sam was the one who got Gilbert falling down drunk, dumped him into the back of her pickup truck and then stripped him buck naked, it was Sam who had to live down the tale for the rest of her life. Lurleen had merely rode shotgun on the trip.

It had been a well-intentioned, brainless thing to do but dumb or not, at least Sam felt alive back then. She’d stood with her father’s crew out in the oil field grinning while they heckled and jeered at Gilbert as he tried to maneuver through the acres of broken glass left by generations of Odessa’s youth and their not-so-surreptitious partying.

It took him most of the night to make his way back to town. No one in her dad’s crew had offered Gilbert a lift. Neither had any of the other roughnecks working the rigs in the other fields on the fifteen-mile trek back to town. They all knew what he’d done to Lisa. Justice, small town Texas style, suited them just fine.

Sam sighed at the memory. She’d cared enough about something to take action back then. She hadn’t felt alive or cared about much in a while. She smiled wanly at Lurleen. “Well, I did get away with it. The police wouldn’t even arrest me when Gilbert tried to file a complaint.”

“Yeah. They knew Gilbert was a worthless piece of trash. Hell, all of Midland-Odessa knew that! Over all, it was fun.” Lurleen put memory aside and went back to the subject at hand. “Still, it sure as shit messed up your rep with a certain class of men. You scare the hell out of the Texicanos. They don’t want to date you much. They’re afraid if they break up with you, you’ll get pissed and cut off their cojones or leave them in the middle of the desert like you did Gilbert.” She thought for a moment. “You know, Edmundo has some friends from Nogales. They likely haven’t heard about Gilbert Martinez. I can probably get him to fix you up. He’ll do just about anything I want him to.” She smiled toothily. “You want me to talk to him about it? I bet he could find you a good man.”

Right now, Sam didn’t want a good man. She wanted to smack Lurleen for her tenacity, but she’d gladly settle for the other woman leaving. “No, I don’t want him to fix me up,” she said. I don’t need a man in my life. I’m fine just the way I am. She couldn’t meet Lurleen’s clear gaze. Yeah, and I don’t lie worth shit. Even to myself.

Sam sighed aloud, weariness permeating the action. She was just as tired of the topic as she sounded. Tonight’s conversation was nothing but a repeat of last Thursday’s talk and the one they’d had the Friday before that. They had it at least once a week if not more often. It happened whenever Lurleen noticed Sam reading a new romance novel or rereading an old one. And God help Sam if she happened to be rereading one of The Vampire Encounters books and Lurleen caught her. The lecture could go on for hours. Sam just didn’t feel like dealing with it tonight.

Sam glanced back at her computer as it beeped again. Spam. She gave a mental sigh. She was hoping for a real email that would require her attention. Then Lurleen might leave. Sam simply wanted some peace and quiet and—she was forced to admit it privately though she’d let Gilbert Martinez get his pay back and dump her naked in the Sand Hill wastes before she admitted it to Lurleen—she wanted her new novel. But the gods who watched over west Texas redneck girls didn’t seem to be on her side tonight; Lurleen was still staring at Sam expectantly.

Sam needed to hurry her friend along and she knew just how to do it. “Aren’t you going to be late for your date with Edmundo?” she said with an innocent air. The one thing Lurleen liked more than trying to organize Sam’s nonexistent love life was participating in her own very active one.

“Oh, shit.” Lurleen looked around frantically, gathering up her purse, her lunch cooler, and the bag that contained her work clothes since God and Samantha knew she couldn’t wear those skin-tight pink jeans and a sparkly crop top during the workday. “Come with me,” she half-ordered, half-pled.

Sam smiled. “I’m working overtime, remember?”

“You work too much,” Lurleen protested.

“I’ll be fine. Promise.”

It was true; Sam didn’t mind working late. She was salaried and didn’t get paid for anything over forty hours but she’d gladly take the comp time. She almost had enough hours built up for a long weekend in Mexico. She’d like to go somewhere nice. Probably not Cancun since that took real money but somewhere down the coast or maybe on the Pacific side. A little vacation was a definite possibility as early as next month. And Lurleen was not going to be invited along! Not as long as she was on a find-Sam-a-man kick.

In fact, it was past time Lurleen left her in peace for a while. “Get out of here before Edmundo dies of longing for you.”

Her friend laughed but adjured Sam to think about finding a date just once in a while before she hurried out of Sam’s cube.

Gratefully, Sam turned back to her computer and settled in to monitor the system and maybe sneak a bit of time with her novel once the nightshift kicked in.

After Lurleen left, Sam spent several long and unproductive minutes just staring at her monitor. When the screensaver kicked in, she realized she’d sat for over five minutes doing nothing at all but thinking about her friend’s evaluation of what was wrong with Sam’s life. Lurleen was right, of course; she usually was. Sam was hung up on Cole Grayson. She wasn’t in love with him! That would be silly and more than a
little crazy. But she did think far more about him than was healthy.

It was hard not to; he was fascinating. He was beautiful and intelligent and sweet. And not real. With a sigh, Sam got up and wandered to the break room to refill her Save a Horse - Ride a Cowboy mug. Lurleen had given it to Sam for Christmas saying she hoped it would give Sam ideas. It had, but they all involved bopping Lurleen on the head with the heavy porcelain cup. However, Sam liked the song the cup celebrated and it kept her coffee nicely hot, so she kept it. And right now she felt a serious need for coffee. Maybe some caffeine would help Sam’s headache.

Two Tylenol and a fresh cup of heavily creamed coffee later, Sam returned to her desk and tried to lose herself in the last half of Volume Eight of The Vampire Encounters. After less than a chapter, she decided it might be the book exacerbating her headache rather than continued worries about Lurleen’s observations. Normally she adored the world of Marie Desiree’s vampires and their various tribulations. She had been a fan of the series since the first book. There was just something so compelling about the characters and world in the novels that she forgave its various and occasionally numerous literary shortcomings. Several of Ms. Desiree’s characters had a spark of life inside them that drew the reader to them and gave them a reason to actually care what happened in their lives. Sometimes Sam wanted them to succeed and sometimes she wanted them to fail miserably. It depended on the character. It was pretty much how she reacted to people in real life. Sometimes she loved them, and sometimes she wanted to kick their asses. She grinned at the parallel. It was a pity she didn’t have some nice vampire to help forget some of the more irritating people in her life. It would be lovely to have someone as understanding as Cole Grayson to talk with.

She wrinkled her nose. That sort of thinking led to long lectures from Lurleen. She firmly tried to put thoughts of how understanding and wonderful Cole was away and didn’t entirely succeed.

With that happy fantasy niggling unwanted at the back of her mind, she went back to her book and sank deeper into the world the author had created. As she read, the characters’ emotions and longings rolled off the page. Their fears and ambitions were real and something she could identify with—especially Cole Grayson’s. As the resident anti-hero, his ethics occasionally appeared ambiguous but there was a core of morality to the man that had grown as the series progressed.

As his motivations and history were revealed, he progressed from the apparently cold, emotionless near-villain of the first book into a misunderstood hero with a soft heart whose popularity among fans of the series nearly eclipsed Wynnston Matthews’ appeal as the author-acknowledged hero of the books. All the fans agreed that Cole was a big marshmallow far more likely to rescue a kitten than drown it. There was controversy over whether the hardness portrayed in the first book was an act or just bad characterization and writing on the author’s part. Sam detected signs of the gentle and caring soul in the first book and personally thought Cole’s characterization had gotten out of Ms. Desiree’s control. The core character was just too nice a guy and it kept showing through the veneer of iniquity she tried to cover him with.

And Marie was too in love with Wynn to ever show her hero in an unflattering light so those duties all fell to Cole. Whenever the author needed a backhanded good deed performed that was beneath Wynn’s exalted state and moral superiority, Cole was perfectly suited to do what was wrong for all the right reasons. When she needed someone to get their heart broken, Cole was a convenient choice for whipping boy and dupe. Wynn was never shown easily tricked just because he wanted to believe in someone. Wynn didn’t let his heart and emotions rule his good sense.

But Cole did.

In the process of saving Wynn from appearing as less than perfect in all ways, Marie Desiree had made Cole much more human than the other characters. He was flawed. He cared too much and sometimes did stupid, impulsive things because of it. His loyalty and capacity to love were immense. He was the nasty vampire with a classic heart of gold. And utterly beloved by hundreds of fans. They bought the novels for his sake.

As Lurleen so frequently pointed out and Sam freely admitted, Sam was one of those who kept buying the books just to read about Cole.

Normally a new Marie Desiree novel was a bright spot in Sam’s week but this book was different than the ones that came before it. Sam frowned unhappily as she read. The writing quality was much the same as ever. Parts were almost lyrical while other bits seemed haphazard and thrown together. Sam could tell which passages really claimed the author’s passion as opposed to those that were tossed in just to link the sections that held Ms. Desiree’s interest. It wasn’t the quality that disturbed Sam. She was used to Marie Desiree’s style and literary short comings. It was nothing so easily ignored as that. This was much more troubling and struck Sam as insidious. It was the overall direction the novel was taking. The entire tone of the book struck Sam as sinister and the current plot line was not being particularly kind to her misunderstood hero.

Estranged from Wynn and the rest of his vampire family, Cole had been forced to destroy the woman he loved in the previous installment of the saga. Now he was dealing with the fall out from that action and no one in the story seemed to understand that he had no choice but to kill Falcon Matthews, Wynn’s evil daughter, to save a group of innocent people. Instead, the few people he’d counted as his friends and family deserted him, leaving him completely alone.

Cole truly loved Falcon and discovering that she was malicious and unfeeling was a horrible blow to him. Finding out that she never loved him and was simply using him to further her own plans devastated Cole. The previous book left him broken-hearted and alone. It was all just heartrending, and Sam sniffled a bit as she reached for a Kleenex. She felt so bad for him. It wasn’t fair that someone with so much goodness inside them was so utterly miserable.

And now the author was completing the destruction of Sam’s favorite in high style and what Sam considered a completely malicious way. She was rapidly losing all patience and what little respect she’d once had for Marie Desiree.

In Sam’s opinion, the most awful of the author’s actions was telling the book from Wynnston Matthews’ point of view. Marie Desiree had returned to the format of the first novel, showing Wynn as the flawless but tragic hero and Cole as the heartless ‘evil’ brother. It didn’t seem to matter that she was contradicting at least six of the previous books. She was probably hoping to lure back the readers she’d lost due to some of the stranger literary techniques she’d experimented with in later installments. She wanted Cole to be the villain. Sam mentally gagged at the very idea. She hated Wynn and now Ms. Desiree had decided to show Cole as a monster and portray it all though Wynn’s eyes?

Sam growled and swore softly before she sighed. Oh well, she’d just have to deal with it. It couldn’t get much worse. An hour later she wasn’t so sure of that. She wiped her streaming eyes, took a sip of her now lukewarm coffee and began the final chapter reluctantly. She confessed silently that she was afraid of what might happen next. There had been nasty rumors for months that the author was planning to kill off Cole, since he was in danger of becoming more popular than Wynn. Ms. Desiree reportedly didn’t like writing for Cole and wanted to focus on her beloved hero. She believed taking Cole out of the series would free her to pursue the plot lines she was really interested in and she felt the best way to do so was to kill the character permanently.

Sam thought it the most demented idea she’d ever run across. She also believed it highly unlikely. Surely no one was that insane. But now she realized she was wrong and Ms. Desiree really was insane - stark raving mescal-drunk crazy!

She certainly didn’t like what she’d read so far. The author spent the entire novel trying to show Cole in the worst possible light, attempting to return him to the villain of the original concept. Shown through Wynn’s eyes, Cole was meant to appear as a horrible person.

But it wasn’t working. Well, perhaps he would look like a fiend to someone who’d not read any of the other novels, but to someone like Sam, who’d followed the whole series, it only made Wynn and the others look like complete monsters blaming their own shortcomings and mistakes on an innocent man. That was some small comfort to her but not much. Even portrayed as the bad guy, Cole was miserable. She snarled and sniffled and cursed Marie Desiree as a heartless bitch. How dare that woman say Cole was a self-serving user? Her eyes narrowed as she read.

On top of trying to establish Cole as the villain, the author made Wynn and most of the other characters treat him worse than a stray dog. Sam hated them all. If they were not the monsters they appeared to be then they were certainly blind and stupid at the very least.

Can’t they see what he’s really like? She blew her nose. Heartless unfeeling bastards, every last one of them! And the ones who didn’t fit that description were idiots.

She read on.

By the end of the book Sam was quite ready to do Marie Desiree a lasting injury. What she’d done to Gilbert Martinez wouldn’t even compare to what she’d do to that crazy women if she could get her hands on the bitch.

She snarled soundlessly as she reached the finale. Desiree had killed him! That cruel, uncaring, evil excuse for an author had killed Cole in an absolutely horrible way. And it was clear this wasn’t some cheap literary trick and he wouldn’t wake up in the next novel. There would be no Bobby Ewing shower scene, no returning from the dead to save this tragedy. It was obvious that Cole was permanently gone. She was a little taken aback by the intensity of her unhappiness. Still she couldn’t say she was completely surprised. Cole was her favorite character ever and now he was dead. He’d been treated horribly for the whole book and then cruelly killed. It just wasn’t fair.

She sat staring at her own reflection in her window with the book still in her hand. This couldn’t be the way it ended. Anger ignited in her stomach and spread throughout her body. She stilled the trembling of her hands when she unconsciously clenched her fingers into fists.

She’d be damned if she ever bought another book that woman wrote as long as she lived. What the hell was Marie Desiree thinking?

As some of the rage dissipated and the intense sadness deepened, Sam started to cry again. She thought of all the ways she’d save Cole if she had an opportunity. In Marie’s place, she would write it very differently. She would see Cole got the sort of life he deserved, not the constant angst and pain Ms. Desiree doled out to him. Given the least chance she’d make Cole’s life happy.

Sam blew her nose again. It was silly to be this upset, of course. Cole Grayson was just a character in a book but she couldn’t help feeling as though a dearly beloved friend had just died. Drops of sorrow spotted the pages of her novel, wrinkling the paper in neat, perfectly round circles. She cursed softly and blotted the pages of her book. Maybe Lurleen was right. Maybe she did love Cole Grayson just a little. Why else would she feel so devastated? She tried to get her emotions under control.

Bereft and heartbroken, she wiped at the tears that wouldn’t stop flowing. “I wish there was something that would make this all better,” she murmured to the book. “Oh, Cole, I wish there was some way to change all this.”

The usually quiet sound of equipment from the lab located just the other side of the wall from Sam’s cube increased suddenly. A violent shockwave rocked her cube, throwing her from her chair. A large binder fell from a shelf and landed painfully on top of her stomach before bouncing away. Her coffee mug shattered beside her head, sending sharp shards into her cheek. She felt the sudden coolness of blood evaporating on her skin and knew the broken porcelain had cut her face.

Moaning and disoriented, she slowly raised her head and started to sit up. One moment she was lying on the carpet and the next she was falling off the floor toward the roof. Either gravity had reversed itself or the room had flipped. Whatever the case, she was now plummeting toward the ceiling. Instinctively she closed her eyes and threw out her arms to ward off the impact. She was completely startled when she hit something soft and yielding rather than crashing through the white fiberboard ceiling tiles into the concrete floor dividers above them.

She blinked a couple of times as her brain sorted out that she was alive, unhurt, and lying atop another human being. Sam struggled to retain some kind of composure as her mind fought to process what had just seemed to happen to her. She took several slow, deep breaths and looked directly into eyes of a peculiar shade of blue. The closest word to fit that color was lavender. She couldn’t see much of him—the body beneath her was definitely male—only those blue-violet eyes ringed by long black lashes. Blood from the cut on her face dripped onto his pale skin and into his mouth as he opened it to speak.

She presumed he was going to ask a question since that would be a sensible reaction to having a strange woman land on you but he never had the chance. The instant her blood touched his tongue the room turned upside down again sending them both plummeting through space. Sam could do little more than cling to her companion and scream into the void.

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Copyright © 2006 T.D.McKinney. All Rights Reserved.