I loathe Alastor Shaw.
The city of San Francisco thinks we’re rival artists.
In truth, we’re predators battling for hunting ground.
We never chased the same prey. Until the night we both laid eyes on Mara Eldritch.
Shaw wants to use her as a pawn in his twisted game.
I’m fixated on her for a different reason…
She makes me feel things I never thought I could feel. Want things I never wanted.
Only she can make me lose control.
I don’t know if I should protect her at all costs… or destroy her before she ruins me.
Mara knows I’m no saint. But she has no idea she’s dancing with the devil…
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We’re about to enter the junior studio on the opposite side of the building when Mara catches up with me.
“Excuse me!” she pants, her cheeks flaming pink. “Could I speak to Mr. Blackwell for a moment?”
The other panel members turn to look at me, to see if I’ll comply.
Sonia is particularly curious. She knew something was up the moment I told her to offer Mara the studio. The discounted rate was a fabrication, invented by me on the spot. The same with this grant. It’s all leverage to get Mara right where I want her: completely at my mercy.
“Of course,” I say quietly. “The rest of you go on without me. I’ll join you momentarily.”
I lead Mara down the hall to an empty studio several doors down. I step into the clean, deserted space. She hesitates in the doorway, afraid to be alone with me.
“Are you coming?” I ask, eyebrow raised.
Pressing her lips together, she marches into the room, closing the door behind her.
I wait for her to speak, watching the rapid rise and fall of her chest, thrilling at the hectic spots of color on her cheeks.
She’s illuminated with fury, eyes blazing, cheeks flaming. Her dark hair swirls around her face, defying gravity from the pure electric tension between us. Her thin hands tremble, and she digs her nails into the thighs of her jeans.
“I know it was you,” she says, her voice low and hoarse.
I’m enjoying this so much I can hardly stand it. Her rage, her fear, and the delicious predicament I put her in, all mixed together in a potent cocktail. Her expression of shock when she saw my face, and the awful struggle as she had to discuss her work with the panel, while her brain must have been twisting and turning inside her skull . . . I’m so glad I have it all recorded. I can’t wait to watch it over again tonight.
“What was me?” I say mildly.
“You know,” she hisses. Her whole body is shaking. I’d like to hold her against me, to feel those tremors vibrating through my frame . . .
Her eyes glint with tears of fury, but she refuses to let them fall. Her lips are swollen and chapped, as if she’s been biting at them . . .
“Someone snatched me off the street. They tied me up, cut my wrists, and left me in the woods. You were there. I saw you. You stood over me, staring at me. You saw I needed help. And you walked right over me. You left me there to die.”
“What a bizarre accusation,” I say. “Do you have any proof?”
I know she doesn’t. I just want to see how she’ll respond.
“I saw you,” she hisses. “I’ll tell the cops.”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” I tuck my hands in my pockets, tilting my head as I look at her. “That would cause a lot of problems for you. You’d lose the studio, of course. The grant, too.”
“Are you threatening me?” Her voice rises, the edge of hysteria sharp as razor wire. “Why are you doing this? Why did you do this to me?”
She holds up her arm so her loose bell sleeve drops away, revealing the long, jagged scar across the wrist. The scar is still healing, raised like a welt on the skin.
“I didn’t do that,” I scoff.
Mara falters, her upraised hand dropping an inch.
Interesting—she doesn’t actually know who cut her.
“You were there,” she insists.
“So what if I was?”
She startles, shocked that I admitted it.
“Then you did this!” she shrieks.
“No,” I growl. “I didn’t.”
In one swift step, I close the space between us. Mara tries to turn and run, but I’m much too fast for her. I seize her by the arm, yanking her toward me, holding up that accusing hand and branded wrist.
I look down into her terrified face, pinning her in place with my gaze as much as my fingers locked around her wrist.
“There’s no limit on predators in the world,” I hiss. “And no lack of damaged girls to attract them.”
Sophie Lark is an Amazon Bestselling author who writes intense, intelligent romance, with heroines who are strong and capable, and men who will do anything to capture their hearts. She lives with her husband, two boys, and baby girl in the Rocky Mountain West.
She has a slight obsession with hiking, bodybuilding, and live comedy shows. Her perfect day would be taking the kids to Harry Potter World, going dancing with Mr. Lark, then relaxing with a good book and a monster bag of salt and vinegar chips.
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