From the first moment I saw him, I knew that Rainer Engel was like no other man. Dangerously sexy and darkly mysterious, he both enticed me and terrified me.
I wanted to run–to fight against the heat that was building between us–but there was nowhere to go. I needed his help as much as I needed his touch. And so help me, I knew that I would do anything he asked in order to have both.
But even as our passion burned hot, the secrets in Raine’s past reached out to destroy us … and we would both have to make the greatest sacrifice to find a love that would last forever.
Order Caress of Darkness - Story # 1 in the Dark Pleasures series.
About this StoryStory Type Novella Primary Characters Rainer (Raine) Engel Series Dark Pleasures Place in Series Story #1 Genre Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance
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“Who the fuck are you?”
I jump, startled by the voice—deep and male and undeniably irritated—that echoes across the forest of boxes scattered throughout my father’s Upper East Side antique store.
“Who am I?” I repeat as I stand and search the shadows for the intruder. “Who the hell are you?”
There is more bravado in my voice than I feel, especially when I finally see the man who has spoken. He is standing in the shadows near the front door—a door that I am damn sure I locked after putting the Closed sign in the window and settling in for a long night of inventory and packing.
He is tall, well over six feet, with a lean, muscular build that is accentuated by the faded jeans that hug his thighs and the simple white T-shirt that reveals muscled arms sleeved with tattoos.
His casual clothes, inked skin, and close-shaved head hint at danger and rebellion, but those traits are contrasted by a commanding, almost elegant, presence that seems to both fill the room and take charge of it. This is a man who would be equally at ease in a tux as a T-shirt. A man who expects the world to bend to his will, and if it doesn’t comply, he will go out and bend it himself.
I see that confidence most potently in his face, all sharp lines and angles that blend together into a masterpiece now dusted with the shadow of a late afternoon beard. He has the kind of eyes that miss nothing, and right now they are hard and assessing. They are softened, however, by long, dark lashes that most women would kill for.
His mouth is little more than a hard slash across his features, but I see a hint of softness, and when I find myself wondering how those lips would feel against my skin, I realize that I have been staring and yank myself firmly from my reverie.
“I asked you a question,” I snap, more harshly than I intended. “Who are you, and how did you get in here?”
“Raine,” he says, striding toward me. “Rainer Engel. And I walked in through the front door.”
“I locked it.” I wipe my now-sweaty hands on my dusty yoga pants.
“The fact that I’m inside suggests otherwise.”
He has crossed the store in long, efficient strides, and now stands in front of me. I catch his scent, all musk and male, sin and sensuality, and feel an unwelcome ache between my thighs.
Not unwelcome because I don’t like sex. On the contrary, I’d have to label myself a fan, and an overenthusiastic one at that. Because the truth is that I’ve spent too many nights in the arms of many strangers trying to fill some void in myself.
I say “some void” because I don’t really know what I’m searching for. A connection, I guess, but at the same time I’m scared of finding one and ending up hurt, which is why I shy from traditional “my friend has a friend” kind of dating, and spend more time than I should in bars and clubs. And that means that while I might be enjoying a series of really good lays, I’m not doing anything more than using sex as a Band-Aid.
At least, that is what my therapist, Kelly, back home in Austin says. And since I’m a lawyer and not a shrink, I’m going to have to take her word on that.
“We’re closed,” I say firmly. Or, rather, I intend to say firmly. In fact, my voice comes out thin, suggesting a question rather than a command.
Not that my tone matters. The man—Raine—seems entirely uninterested in what I have to say.
He cocks his head slightly to one side, as if taking my measure, and if the small curve of that sensual mouth is any indication, he likes what he sees. I prop a hand on my hip and stare back defiantly. I know what I look like—and I know that with a few exceptions, men tend to go stupid when I dial it up.
The ratty law school T-shirt I’m wearing is tight, accenting breasts that I’d cursed in high school, but that had become a boon once I started college and realized that my ample tits, slender waist, and long legs added up to a combination that made guys drool. Add in wavy blonde hair and green eyes and I’ve got the kind of cheerleader-esque good looks that make so many of the good old boy lawyers in Texas think that I’ve got cotton candy for brains.
And believe me when I say that I’m not shy about turning their misogynistic stereotype to my advantage, both in the courtroom and out of it.
“You’re Callie.” His voice conveys absolute certainty, as if his inspection confirmed one of the basic facts of the universe. Which, since I am Callie, I guess it did. But how the hell he knows who I am is beyond me.
“Your father talks about you a lot,” Raine says, apparently picking up on my confusion. His eyes rake over me as he speaks, and my skin prickles with awareness, as potent as if his fingertip troked me. “A lawyer who lives in Texas with the kind of looks that make a father nervous, balanced by sharp, intelligent eyes that reassure him that she’s not going to do anything stupid.”
“You know my father.”
“I know your father,” he confirms.
“And he told you that about me?”
“The lawyer part. The rest I figured out all on my own.” One corner of his mouth curves up. “I have eyes, after all.” Those eyes are currently aimed at my chest, and I say a silent thank you to whoever decided that padded bras were a good thing because otherwise he would certainly see how hard and tight my nipples have become.
“University of Texas School of Law. Good school.” He lifts his gaze from my chest to my face, and the heat I see in those ice-blue eyes seems to seep under my skin, melting me a bit from the inside out. “Very good.”
I lick my lips, realizing that my mouth has gone uncomfortably dry. I’ve been working as an assistant district attorney for the last two years. I’ve gotten used to being the one in charge of a room. And right now, I’m feeling decidedly off-kilter, part of me wanting to pull him close, and the other wanting to run as far and as fast from him as I can.
Since neither option is reasonable at the moment, I simply take a step back, then find myself trapped by the glass jewelry case, now pressing against my ass.
I clear my throat. “Listen, Mr. Engel, if you’re looking for my father—”
“I am, and I apologize for snapping at you when I came in, but I was surprised to see that the shop was closed, and when I saw someone other than Oliver moving inside, I got worried.”
“I closed early so that I could work without being interrupted.”
A hint of a smile plays at his mouth. “In that case, I’ll also apologize for interrupting. But Oliver asked me to come by when I got back in town. I’m anxious to discuss the amulet that he’s located.”
“Oh.” I don’t know why I’m surprised. He obviously hadn’t come into the store looking for me. And yet for some reason the fact that I’ve suddenly become irrelevant rubs me the wrong way.
Clearly, I need to get a grip, and I paste on my best customer service smile. “I’m really sorry, but my dad’s not here.”
“No? I told him I’d come straight over.” I can hear the irritation in his voice. “He knows how much I want this piece—how much I’m willing to pay. If he’s made arrangements to sell it to another—”
“No.” The word is fast and firm and entirely unexpected. “It’s not like that. My dad doesn’t play games with clients.”
“That’s true. He doesn’t.” His brow creases as he looks around the shop, taking in the open boxes, half filled with inventory, the colored sticky notes I’ve been using to informally assign items to numbered boxes, and the general disarray of the space. “Callie, what’s happened to your father?”
It is the way he says my name that loosens my tongue. Had he simply asked the question, I probably would have told him that he could come back in the morning and we’d search the computerized inventory for the piece he’s looking for. But there is something so intimate about my name on his lips that I can’t help but answer honestly.
“My dad had a stroke last week.” My voice hitches as I speak, and I look off toward the side of the store, too wrecked to meet his eyes directly.
“Oh, Callie.” He steps closer and takes my hand, and I’m surprised to find that I not only don’t pull away, but that I actually have to fight the urge to pull our joint hands close to my heart.
“I didn’t know,” he says. “I’m so sorry. How is he doing?”
“N-not very well.” I suck in a breath and try to gather myself, but it’s just so damn hard. My mom walked out when I was four, saying that being a mother was too much responsibility, and ever since I’ve been my dad’s entire world. It’s always amazed me that he didn’t despise me. But he really doesn’t. He says that I was a gift, and I know it’s true because I have seen and felt it every day of my life.
Whatever the cause of my disconnect with men, it doesn’t harken back to my dad, a little fact that I know fascinates my shrink, though she’s too much the professional to flat out tell me as much.
“Does he have decent care? Do you need any referrals? Any help financially?” Raine is crouching in front of me, and I realize that I have sunk down, so that my butt is on the cold tile floor and I am hugging my knees.
I shake my head, too to realize this stranger is apparently offering to help pay my dad’s medical bills. “We’re fine. He’s got great care and great insurance. He’s just—” I break off as my voice cracks. “Shit.”
“Hey, it’s okay. Breathe now. That’s it, just breathe.” He presses his hands to my shoulders, and his face is just inches away. His eyes are wide and safe and warm, and I want to slide into them. To just disappear into a place where there are neither worries nor responsibilities. Where someone strong will hold me and take care of me and make everything bad disappear.
But that’s impossible, and so I draw another breath in time with his words and try once again to formulate a coherent thought. “He’s—he’s got good doctors, really. But he’s not lucid. And this is my dad. I mean, Oliver Sinclair hasn’t gone a day in his life without an opinion or a witticism.”
I feel the tears well in my eyes and I swipe them away with a brusque brush of my thumb. “And it kills me because I can look at him and it breaks my heart to know that he must have all this stuff going on inside his head that he just can’t say, and— and—”
But I can’t get the words out, and I feel the tears snaking down my cheeks, and dammit, dammit, dammit, I do not want to lose it in front of this man—this stranger who doesn’t feel like a stranger.
His grip on my shoulders tightens and he leans toward me.
And then—oh, dear god—his lips are on mine and they are as warm and soft as I’d imagined and he’s kissing me so gently and so sweetly that all my worries are just melting away and I’m limp in his arms.
“Shhh. It’s okay.” His voice washes over me, as gentle and calming as a summer rain. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
I breathe deep, soothed by the warm sensuality of this stranger’s golden voice. Except he isn’t a stranger. I may not have met him before today, but somehow, here in his arms, I knowhim.
And that, more than anything, comforts me.
Calmer, I tilt my head back and meet his eyes. It is a soft moment and a little sweet—but it doesn’t stay that way. It changes in the space of a glance. In the instant of a heartbeat. And what started out as gentle comfort transforms into fiery heat.
I don’t know which of us moves first. All I know is that I have to claim him and be claimed by him. That I have to taste him—consume him. Because in some essential way that I don’t fully understand, I know that only this man can quell the need burning inside me, and I lose myself in the hot intensity of his mouth upon mine. Of his tongue demanding entrance, and his lips, hard and demanding, forcing me to give everything he wants to take.
I am limp against him, felled by the onslaught of erotic sparks that his kisses have scattered through me. I am lost in the sensation of his hands stroking my back. Of his chest pressed against my breasts.
But it isn’t until I realize that he has pulled me into his lap and that I can feel the hard demand of his erection against my rear that I force myself to escape this sensual reality and scramble backward out of his embrace.
“I’m sorry,” I say, my breath coming too hard.
“Callie—” The need I hear in his voice reflects my own, and I clench my hands into fists as I fight against the instinct to move back into his arms.
“No.” I don’t understand what’s happening—this instant heat, like a match striking gasoline. I’ve never reacted to a man this way before. My skin feels prickly, as if I’ve been caught in a lightning storm. His scent is all over me. And the taste of him lingers on my mouth.
And oh, dear god, I’m wet, my body literally aching with need, with a primal desire for him to just rip my clothes off and take me right there on the hard, dusty floor.
He’s triggered a wildness in me that I don’t understand—and my reaction scares the hell out of me.
“You need to go,” I say, and I am astonished that my words are both measured and articulate, as if I’m simply announcing that it is closing time to a customer.
He stays silent, but I shake my head anyway, and hold up a finger as if in emphasis.
“No,” I say, in response to nothing. “I don’t know anything about this amulet. And now you really need to leave. Please,” I add. “Please, Raine. I need you to go.”
For a moment he only looks at me. Then he nods, a single tilt of his head in acknowledgment. “All right,” he says very softly. “I’ll go. But I’m not ever leaving you again.”
I stand frozen, as if his inexplicable words have locked me in place. He turns slowly and strides out of the shop without looking back. And when the door clicks into place behind him and I am once morealone, I gulp in air as tears well in my eyes again.
I rub my hands over my face, forgiving myself for this emotional miasma because of all the shit that’s happened with my dad. Of course I’m a wreck; what daughter wouldn’t be?
Determined to get a grip, I follow his path to the door, then hold onto the knob. I’d come over intending to lock it. But now I want to yank it open and beg him to return.
It’s an urge I fight. It’s just my grief talking. My fear that I’m about to lose my father, the one person in all the world who is close to me, and so I have clung to a stranger in a desperate effort to hold fast to something.
That, at least, is what my shrink would say. You’re fabricating a connection in order to fill a void. It’s what you do, Callie. It’s what you’ve always done when lonely and afraid.
I nod, telling myself I agree with Kelly’s voice in my head.
And I do.
Because I am lonely.
And I am afraid of losing my dad.
But that’s not the whole of it. Because there’s something else that I’m afraid of, too, though I cannot put my finger on it. A strange sense of something coming. Something dark. Something bad.
And what scares me most is the ridiculous, unreasonable fear that I have just pushed away the one person I need to survive whatever is waiting for me out there in the dark.