THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.
The winner of yesterday’s prize, a copy of What Happens in Vegas…After Dark, is Kathy, who said, “I think I’d have to choose Honolulu. The water just looks so beautiful. I’d love to just sit on the beach in the sun and READ!!!” Congrats, Kathy! Please drop me an email at anyabast(at)gmail.com within two weeks of this post date to collect your prize.
Sarafina Connell is having the worst week of her life. It takes an even darker turn when an infamous playboy kidnaps her and reveals a world she never knew existed….
It’s a world where magick is real, and where Sarafina is given a chance to join a secret cabal that is bent on gaining absolute power. They could use a woman like her—a witch with an untapped gift for creating fire. But she isn’t about to get in league with the devil.
Rescued from her captors, Sarafina is introduced to a coven that is duty-bound to fight the forces of darkness. She’s pleased that her savior is the imposingly seductive Theo—until the trust between them goes up in flames. However, as the war between good and evil is waged, Sarafina and Theo realize they have no choice but to unite in the battle for supremacy—that’s getting hotter by the minute.
Sarafina might’ve been named for the angels, but she’d always known one day she’d end up in hell. Her mother had told that a hundred times while she’d been growing up. She just never figured it would be while she was still breathing. But here she was—broke, dumped, and grief-stricken. It couldn’t get any worse.
Her fingers white and shaking, she released the yellow rose she held and let it fall onto Rosemary’s casket. It came to a rest on the polished poplar top, followed by many more released by those around her. Yellow roses had been Rosemary’s favorite. They match your hair, buttercup. That’s what Rosemary had always said, holding one of the flowers up to Sarafina’s nose.
Sarafina had scraped together every last cent for that shiny coffin. She hadn’t been able to afford it. The funeral had almost beggared her. However, her foster mother had deserved the best. And since Rosemary had never had what she deserved in life, Sarafina had made sure she’d had it in death. The only problem was that now Sarafina had ninety five dollars left in her bank account and rent had been due last week. She’d make it through, though, she always did.
She couldn’t cry. It was like all the tears were caught up inside her, stoppered tight. It would be good if she could. It would relieve this awful pressure in her chest.
“Bye, Rosemary,” she whispered.
Reverend Evans droned on, but Sarafina hardly heard him. She barely noticed the others around her, either, all of Rosemary’s friends who’d come to say their farewells. They clasped her hands after the funeral was over, squeezed her shoulder and offered condolences. Her foster mother had had lots of friends.
If Sarafina had still lived here in Bowling Green, she knew she’d have half a million sympathy casseroles on her doorstep by now. As it was, she was headed back to Chicago right after the funeral. Back home.
She couldn’t wait.
Still in a daze, she turned away from the grave and came face to face with Nick. His dark brown eyes regarded her solemnly from the handsome face she’d known for years. “You’re not fit to drive seven hours today, Sarafina. Stay the night and head out in the morning. You can crash at my place.”
A smile flickered over her mouth. “Oh, really? Amanda said that would be all right?”
She and Nick had been sweethearts during high school. Although that fire had long since flickered out and faded to friendship, Sarafina had lost her virginity to Nick. Sarafina strongly suspected Amanda didn’t want her on their couch.
Robin, another friend from childhood, came to stand near Nick. “If you don’t want to stay with him, you can stay with me.” She tilted her blond head to the side in a gesture Sarafina knew meant she was concerned.
Sarafina couldn’t swing a cat in Bowling Green and not hit someone from her past. As soon as she’d arrived, she’d been beset by old friends—and other people. Those other people were why she wanted to leave so badly. Like, now.
In Bowling Green there were whispers wherever she went. Hey, that’s the girl who…. Isn’t that the daughter of the woman who… She was a walking freak show. Even fifteen years after it had happened, people still recognized her. High school had been hell.
She leaned forward and hugged Nick, then Robin. “You-all are sweet to offer, but I have to go into the office tomorrow. I can’t miss any more work than I have already.” She had a funeral to pay off.
Nick shifted and frowned. “They don’t give you grief leave?”
Damn it. Caught right in the middle of her subterfuge.
“Yes, a few days.” She pressed her lips together. “It’s just that—I don’t want to—“
Understanding came over his face. “Oh.”
Sarafina relaxed. “Yeah.”
“It’s too bad, but I get it, Sarafina,” Robin said, her brown eyes sad.
“I’m glad you both understand. The other reason why I don’t want to stay is because I don’t want to wallow, you know? I need to stay busy, get my mind on something else. If don’t do that, it’ll be worse. The grief, I mean.”
If she lost her momentum now and allowed herself to be mired in the loss of the only true mother she’d ever known, Sarafina knew she’d just dissolve.
“This fall I’ll come to visit.” The words popped out before Sarafina realized it. She’d wanted to appease Robin, but they both knew that had been a lie. Sarafina only came back here when she absolutely had to.
“Will you, really?” asked Robin suspiciously.
“I-I promise to think about it.”
Robin patted her back. “Will you at least call when you get home? I’m going to worry about you all day.”
Sarafina nodded. “I will.” She paused, swallowing hard. God, she wished she could cry.
It wasn’t that she wanted to leave her friends. Sarafina loved them, as she’d loved Rosemary, but the town itself held too many bad memories. Once she’d turned eighteen she’d saved up her money, bought a car and had driven away. Spending time here now, just breathing the air, it made her feel suffocated.
“Why didn’t Alex come with you, anyway?” Nick asked.
Sarafina looked down at her toes. Ugh. “Alex and I broke up.”
“What? When?” Robin exclaimed.
“About a week before Rosemary died. It just wasn’t working out.” Alex had dumped her, actually.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” said Robin, cupping her shoulder.
Sarafina probably should’ve broken up with Alex first, a long time ago. Selfishly, she hadn’t wanted to be alone. She’d been afraid to be alone, to be perfectly honest. Because of that fear she’d stayed with him long after the fire had gone out, up until Alex had decided to give the relationship the axe. He’d done them both a favor. It’d been like pulling a dying plant out by its roots. It was a relief not to have to watch the leaves wilt anymore.
“Honestly, I don’t miss him much. I do miss you guys though,” she finished, her voice breaking.
Robin hugged her again, making Sarafina let out a small sob. “Well, then, come back,” Robin whispered.
Sarafina shook her head and held onto her friend for another long moment. “I can’t.”
Robin drew back and smiled sadly. “I know.”
Sarafina turned and walked away, toward her rusty Honda Accord. “I’ll call you when I get home,” she called over her shoulder. That was, if her phone service hadn’t been shut off.
Robin and Nick stood at Rosemary’s grave, waving.
She might be penniless and on the verge of bankruptcy, she might have no family left, and she might be newly dumped, but at least she had good friends. There was always a spot of light in the dark if you looked for it.
The Accord started with a little hitch that made her heart pound.
“God, please, no,” she whispered. The last place on Earth she wanted to get stranded was Bowling Green, Kentucky. “If you’re going to have trouble, do it far from here, okay?” she crooned at the vehicle. “Or better yet, don’t do it all. My bank account can’t take it.”
Holding her breath, she guided the car away from the curb and out of the cemetery. She’d take the long way back to the highway, avoiding the subdivision where she’d grown up. It was a pretty drive from here to Louisville, full of hills, gorgeous exposed rock walls and green trees. Kentucky was a beautiful state, but Sarafina couldn’t wait to get back to Chicago—where the scent of car exhaust filled her nose and the honking and voices of humanity constantly filled her ears. Where no one knew her on sight. No one knew her bizarre family history.
Where there were no whispers.
As she drove, a swell of memory assaulted her. Images her brain were able to suppress in Chicago reared their nasty heads here, so near her childhood home. In her mind a memory of her mother flickered. The middle-aged redhead stood on the lawn of their home brandishing a grilling fork, insane words pouring from her lips. Flames licked and the scent of burning…
Sarafina lunged for the radio and found a good station that played loud, hard rock music. She opened the window of her car and threw herself into the song, singing the lyrics out loud. She wouldn’t allow her mind to go back there, she just couldn’t.
Instead, she thought of Grosset, her Pomeranian. She’d left him with her neighbor for the trip south and couldn’t wait to see him again. Sarafina smiled. See? Life wasn’t so bad. She had friends, a job, and, most importantly, she had the love of a good dog.
Then there was that guy who kept asking her for a date. His name was Brian. No… Bradley. Cute, too. He was a UPS guy, came into the office every afternoon and sought her out specifically to sign for the deliveries. What was it about UPS guys? He flirted with her every day, cajoling her to go to dinner with him. It was flattering. She’d been turning him down because of Alex, but now she was free. Maybe the next time he asked, she’d say yes.
She rolled into the northern Chicago suburb in the early evening and parked in front of the beautiful eighteenth century home where her apartment was located. It was only a few blocks from her office downtown, though she always took the EL in to avoid parking problems.
Stopping the car at the curb, she turned off the engine and stared up at the beautiful, huge windows. Sarafina loved this place. The neighborhood was quiet and older, the street lined with stately old trees. Hopefully her landlord would give her an extension on the rent. Most likely he would. After all, this would be the first time she’d ever been late.
She knocked on her downstairs neighbor’s door and Alexis, a college girl, answered. “Grosset? Oh, he’s already at your place. Your boyfriend came and picked him up? He’s cute!” she squealed, then said, “Your boyfriend, I mean. Grosset’s cute too, though. Ta!” and closed the door in Sarafina’s face.
Boyfriend? God, she hoped Alex wasn’t having second thoughts. She stared at the closed door for a moment, anxiety making her stomach muscles tighten. Then she stalked up the stairs to her apartment, her mind whirling about she would say to him. Now that he was gone, she wanted him to stay that way.
Her apartment door squeaked open and she started down the hallway, hearing someone cough in the living room. “Alex, listen—“
She stopped short and her keys clattered to the floor. Shock held her immobile as she stared at Stefan Faucheux standing in her living room…holding her dog. Her mind stuttered.
Everyone knew who he was. The rich playboy and CEO of Duskoff International, had been the media’s darling for a long time. He was everything they loved—handsome, interesting, intelligent and monied. Then one day he’d disappeared. For a year the world had wondered where he’d gone. Foul play had been suspected and investigations undergone. All the entertainment shows had been atwitter with the mystery.
Then suddenly six months ago he’d simply popped back into existence, taking up where he’d left off as if he’d never been gone. He’d been traveling, he’d explained. Mostly he has been in Costa Rica surfing. No one had been able to find him because he hadn’t wanted to be found. If you had enough money, Sarafina guessed you could do that, just disappear without a trace. Personally, she wouldn’t know.
Most people thought it had simply been a publicity stunt. Maybe they were right. Stefan seemed to like attention.
Right now he really wanted hers.
The bigger question was why? Why was he standing in her living room?
“Wha—” she started and then snapped her mouth closed as Bradley stepped out from her small hallway and stood next to Stefan.
What the hell was the UPS guy and Stefan Faucheux doing in her apartment?
Stefan inclined his head. “Sarafina Connell, it’s a pleasure. I think you’ve already met my associate.” He took a step toward her while Grosset panted and smiled a happy doggie smile at her. “We tried this easy way, but you were more resistant than most to Bradley’s charms. Women normally just swoon right at his feet, boyfriend or not, making our job so much easier.”
“What’s going on? What are you—”
“Since Bradley couldn’t get you alone, I’m afraid we’ll have to do it the less pleasant way. Trust me, we’re doing you a favor.” He clucked. “Data entry, Sarafina? You’re wasting yourself. We’ll make the most of your skills where we’re taking you. I just wish your initiation could have been nicer.”
That was a threat. Stefan Faucheux had just threatened her in her own living room, and he was holding her dog!
Sarafina opened her mouth to scream and someone grabbed her from behind, a big meaty hand clamping down hard over her lips. A needle bit deep into her hip and a thick drowsiness almost immediately closed over her. Her knees buckled and someone lifted her. Her head lolled to the side, unconsciousness closing over her in a slow wave.
Stefan tilted his head to the side and petted Grosset’s silky head, while the Pomeranian panted happily. “Now we have you and your little dog too.”
Stefan Faucheux was one of my favorite bad guys. Suave, sophisticated, handsome as all get out, he was like writing the devil, if the devil was a wealthy playboy. Right now, in my Dark Magick series, I’m writing Gideon P. Amberdoyal, who is definitely one of my favorites too. Gideon is deliciously creepy and twisted character who believes every nasty things he does is for the greater good. I like my bad guys to be layered, to have nuance to their personalities. I want to know their motivations, their family history, and to make them human enough for the reader to relate to them. I LOVE my bad guys.
How about you? What qualities do you like best in the bad guys you read?
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.