"You need a real man.”
“Lurleen! Please!” Samantha’s smile was half-exasperated,
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.