*** It’s release day! ***
ASSASSIN’S MARK releases exclusively today on Radish Fiction! Seven chapters are live, and new chapters will appear every Tuesday and Friday. Not sure you want to check it out? How about the opening chapter to get a little taste of what you’re in for?
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– Download the radish app from your phone/tablet’s App Store. (It’s free!)
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Head over to my Facebook page for your chance to win!
I’m not sure what I expected. I’d been to bars, but not the kind of bars with pool tables and smoke haze and men on the prowl for a one-night stand. The bars I’d been to specialized in cocktail hours and old men in business suits. The Full Moon wasn’t refined or elegant or quiet.
It was everything I was not. Exactly where I needed to be tonight.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked. He was staring at Candy’s breasts, but she didn’t seem to mind, just flashed him a sexier version of her friendly smile. Had she slept with him before?
It was Renee who answered. “Pitcher of strawberry margaritas, Dave.”
“Make that two,” Candy tacked on.
Dave the Bartender nodded at her cleavage. “I’ll send ‘em right over.”
I followed my friends through the crowd toward a table Sarah had snagged while we ordered. The three women obviously had a routine. I’d known they were close, and the fact that they’d extended their little circle to include me from the first day we met in Nursing 101 class had touched me in ways they couldn’t possibly understand. They were normal girls with normal lives and normal homes. I wasn’t, but if they’d noticed, they didn’t mention it. No flicker of recognition at my name, no questions about where I lived or why I never went out when they invited me. Just basic friendship, no strings attached.
They had no idea how rare that was.
“So, Abby, see anything interesting?”
Too much, actually. Heat flushed my cheeks. “Um…”
Sarah giggled. “Wait till she’s got at least one margarita in her, Renee. Then ask.” She bumped my shoulder with hers. “The selection always looks better the later it gets.”
The selection already looked pretty good to me. Most of the men were our age—early twenties—and not a suit and tie to be found. Jeans and half-buttoned shirts and messily styled hair were the go-to. A tattooed forearm or the wink of an earring wasn’t rare. Beers in hand, the men joshed each other while prowling the room, hungry gazes assessing each woman they came to. One by one they’d peel off with their choice, either to the dance floor or a table or the front door.
What was it like to be the women they chose? In the circles my family required me to frequent, the barrier of my father’s name and status kept men away from me. Here, there were no barriers except my friends and my own insecurities. The idea that I could choose to ignore both and do whatever I wanted quickened my breath. Either I was excited or about to hyperventilate; I wasn’t certain which.
I refused to let the terror win anymore.
The margaritas arrived and we each poured ourselves one. The fruity yet tart liquid set my tongue alight like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, a pleasure I hadn’t experienced before. I savored it as I listened to the girls’ giggling commentary about each man who walked by. It wasn’t long before the room went hazy with something other than smoke and I found myself joining in the conversation without reservation.
I was pouring my second margarita when my phone vibrated in my back pocket. Two shorts, one long: my father. A healthy gulp helped bolster my confidence before I pulled the cell out for a look.
I shouldn’t respond, shouldn’t care, but I clicked on the message anyway, just to see. Maybe he’d changed his mind. Maybe he was worried about me. Maybe he wanted to apologize, tell me he loved me for once in twenty-one years.
Where the hell are you?
Or maybe not. I returned the phone to my pocket.
Sarah leaned close, her voice low. “Everything okay?”
Renee and Candy were focused on the table of men to their right. I gave Sarah a wry smile. “My dad.” I took another drink. “It’ll blow over, I’m sure.”
Sarah laid her hand over mine on the table and squeezed. The gesture mesmerized me. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched me because they cared. How sad was that?
My phone buzzed again. I ignored it.
Sarah’s hand left mine to grasp her drink. She took a gulp, her gaze trained somewhere over Candy’s head. I followed it.
Holy shit is right.
The man was tall, dark, and dangerous with a capital D. I’d never seen anyone like him, anyone who made my insides clench just looking at him. Thick dark hair, long on top and shaved close on the sides, highlighted perfect ears and a jaw chiseled from granite. His eyes seemed too light for that hair and his olive skin, shining like spotlights beneath dark brows, almost too intense to bear. And those lips. God. They hinted at sensual pleasures I could only guess at.
He prowled across the room, a lean, muscular panther intent on prey—every woman’s fantasy, including mine.
And he was headed straight for us.
My gaze dropped to my drink. The tables around us held either men or couples, so I wasn’t mistaken about his focus. Which girl was he interested in? Sarah with her sweet smile? Or maybe Candy, with her unabashed sensuality?
An empty glass stared back at me. I reached for the pitcher.
My hand froze on the handle as the words quivered through my body. Look up! Look at him! But I couldn’t; I could only sit there like a dumbass holding the pitcher in my shaking grip and praying I didn’t make a fool of myself.
No fear, remember?
No fear. I tightened my grip, lifted. So far, so good. Somehow I managed to pour a fresh drink without spilling, replace the pitcher on the table. Despite the sick pounding of my heart in my throat, I made myself glance up.
Gray eyes locked with mine.
Lord, he’s beautiful.
I expected him to look away, to focus on one of the other women. He didn’t. He stared—at me. Until the urge to squirm crawled up my spine and my cheeks burst into flames.
Was that my voice, all breathy and…suggestive? It must’ve been; the other girls were staring, silent, their round eyes just as awed as I’m sure mine were. I looked back to the man looming over our table.
He reached a hand out to me. “I’m Levi.”
My fingers settled into his grip like they had been created to fit him. “Abby.”
My voice cracked. I cleared my throat.
“Hi, Abby.” He didn’t let go of my hand, didn’t glance around. Just held me captive with those intense eyes. “Would you dance with me?”