As we pulled up to Kinsley’s mega-mansion, I was flooded with memories of the last time I’d been here: the night I had seen Genesis in the pool and found her necklace on my front porch. Since then, things had only gotten progressively worse.
I sighed and held tight to Abel’s arm as we ascended the front steps. “Any chance you think we can have a drama-free night?”
He grinned at me. “Have you met Kinsley?”
“If Kinsley-induced drama is the only thing that happens tonight, I’m going to consider it an absolute success,” I said with a laugh.
Obnoxious Halloween décor littered the front colonnade as strobe lights flashed erratically from the large front windows. Loud music vibrated from inside, muffled by the massive double-door entry. A creepy animated witch cackled at me as I rang the doorbell. Seconds later, the doors flung open and we were greeted by Galen and Hunter.
“You guys are seriously late. Kinsley’s already pissed,” Galen reported, ushering us inside.
“That’s nothing new,” Abel murmured.
My eyes traveled over Galen’s athletic frame, taking in his costume. “And you’re supposed to be?” I asked him with a raised eyebrow.
He stepped back; his long arms stretched at his sides. His dark blonde hair was swept across his forehead, immaculately held in place with gel. He looked as though he had just left the country club with his white trouser shorts and a blue, button-down polo shirt. A matching blue sweater was tied casually around his neck as he grinned sheepishly. “Ken.”
“Ahhh, so that means Kinsley is Barbie? Is that any different from her daily life?” Abel asked, snorting.
“And you?” I turned to Hunter. “An old man?”
His brown hair was spray-painted gray. A fluffy, blue robe covered his flannel pajamas and matching slippers adorned his feet. In his hand, he gripped a coffee mug, but given his glazed-over eyes, I surmised that it held a much different sort of beverage.
“Wait’ll you see Bella. We’re an ’Old Married Couple,” he said, gesturing with his mug.
“Again, not a stretch,” Abel teased.
The click-clacking of high heels upon the marble floor announced Kinsley’s arrival. She was the life-sized version of Barbie in her bubble-gum pink ball gown, flowing blonde locks, and matching tiara. Her make-up was perfect, and her teeth were phenomenally white. She threw a hand to her hip. “Ugh, finally!”
She threw her arms around my neck and squealed with delight. “I was wondering when you’d finally show up!”
“I’m here, I’m here. Calm down,” I chided gently as I untangled myself from her headlock.
“Did she come?” a bubbly voice called out. Bella came skipping toward me in her fuzzy pink slippers, pink flannel pajamas, and matching pink robe. Her brown hair sat atop her head, restrained in curlers.
“Yes, I’m here,” I said dryly. “Where’s everyone else at?”
“Scarlett and Fallon aren’t here yet—no surprise there. Everyone else is in the back parlor. Drinks are in the kitchen, of course,” Kinsley said, flipping her thumb through the doorway on our right.
Abel leaned in close to my ear, his warm breath bringing the small hairs on the back of my neck to attention. “Let’s get something to drink,” he whispered.
At that moment, he could have proposed anything short of robbing a bank and I would have eagerly agreed. We headed into the kitchen and had just cracked open our beers when I noticed Jagger leaning against the far counter.
I glanced at Abel. “Can I have a sec?”
He didn’t look overly thrilled, narrowing his eyes in Jagger’s direction, but relented. “I’ll try to find Fallon and Scarlett,” he said, brushing his lips against mine before leaving.
I walked to the other side of the kitchen, Jagger lifting his glass of bourbon in a gesture of salutation as I approached. At least he wasn’t still ignoring me. Maybe he was over the uncomfortable encounter in the pub.
“Isn’t that ironic?” he mused.
“Your Halloween face is less scary than what it’s been all week.”
Fuck, not over it yet.
“Ouch,” I said with a bitter laugh. “But that’s fine. I probably deserved that.”
“Just that? Come on, Colette. I’m not that nice.”
“Fair enough.” I paused as he downed the rest of his drink. “Are you...okay?”
He grabbed a nearby bottle of bourbon and refilled his glass. “Maker’s Mark says I’m doing just fine,” he said with a smirk.
“Is that so? How many glasses deep are you?”
“Not enough for this conversation,” he mumbled, rolling his eyes.
“So, this is your plan then? Just to drink yourself into a stupor?”
He laughed and tipped his glass toward me. “Cheers to that.”
“Jagger, look. I am sorry-”
“Christ’s sake, Colette! Why do you keep saying that? What are you so sorry about? Because you enjoyed it? Because you enjoyed me?” he asked, pushing off the counter to test the boundaries of what one might consider socially acceptable personal space.
I eased backward, the smell of alcohol on his breath enveloping me in a nauseating cloud of bourbon.
“Hey, Amigos! How’s it going in here?” Galen strode into the room with a goofy-ass grin plastered across his face and threw his long arms around our shoulders.
I was beyond grateful for his interruption. “Having a good time, Galen?” I poked him playfully in the ribs.
He poured a shot and held it out to me. “Probably not as good as the time you guys had in the auto shop, but we’re still pretending like that never happened, right?” His eyes flickered between me and Jagger briefly before continuing. “Right, well, the night’s still young and with Kinsley’s folks gone till Sunday, I’m up for the challenge of topping the show you two put on for Jagger’s uncle.”
I glared at Jagger. Nothing was sacred with these folks. “Well, that information will be filed away as TMI, but I appreciate the enthusiasm toward your relationship.”
Galen cackled and lifted one of the coolers. “Ten inches, baby!”
“Again, TMI. I think you’ve fulfilled your quota for the day, Galen.”
“Not even close, Coe.” He nodded down at the cooler. “I’ve got to get this out back before Kinsley wrings my neck. You guys coming?”
Jagger grabbed his bottle of bourbon and fell in step behind him. Galen jerked his head in my direction. “What about you, buttercup?”
I wrinkled my nose at his term of endearment. “Be there in a bit. I’ve got to hit the ladies.”
“Across the foyer, down the hallway to your left.”
“Ah, thanks. I couldn’t find it last time.”
I heeded his directions and with each step, the noise of the party dwindled. The hallway veered to the left and as I rounded the corner, a pair of golden eyes peered out at me from the darkness, causing my breath to catch in my chest.
Under his penetrating gaze, I felt vulnerable and fully exposed, as though he had provoked me to share my most intimate fears and was now subjecting me to them. I tried to coerce my eyes to look away, but the fuckers disobeyed. Instead, they traveled over his statuesque physique, drinking in every feature. He was unnaturally pale, veins coursing through his translucent skin like some sort of intricate road map. His black hair was slicked back from his forehead in defined sophistication, amplifying the aura of aristocracy he bathed in. Each time his eyes fell upon me, it felt as though he were silently chastising me for being in his presence without permission.
“A vampire?” he asked, his lips curled over his teeth in amusement.
“Wh-what?” I stammered.
He nodded at me. “Your costume.”
Of course, dumbass, I chided myself. What the hell else would he have been referring to? “Oh, yeah. Abel dressed as Dracula and I-”
“Charming. Really. I quite like the hair,” he said, grazing my cheek as he tucked a loose strand behind my ear. As his fingers touched my skin, his lips wavered, and a growl rumbled from his mouth. He quickly withdrew his hand as though I had burned him again.
I wanted to ask if he was okay, but his eyes warned me not to. His body shook as if fighting for control over some unseen force, desperately trying to restrain himself from lashing out. I decided to not ask questions of this man that I certainly didn’t want answers for. I nodded at his costume, assuming that was a ‘safe’ topic of discussion. “And you’re a priest?”
He relaxed and leaned closer, his voice barely audible. “It’s some‐ thing, isn’t it Colette? Both of us pretending to be what we’re not.”
I didn’t like the way he said my name. Or maybe it was simply the fact that he knew my name that made me nervous.
“Isn’t that the point of Halloween though? To dress up and be something that you typically aren’t.”
He balked at my assertion. “Wearing a costume only masks one’s identity. It fails to suppress it. Despite that I’m currently dressed as a man of God, believe when I proclaim that I’m still very much a monster underneath.”
I gulped. He didn’t need to proclaim shit for me to believe him. And why did he speak like he was from some other decade? Or more appropriately, century! What a goddamn loon!
He began to circle me, like a hawk stalking its prey. “I know what vexes you my dear...the visions you see, the ghosts that keep you company.” He stopped abruptly and smiled, his eyes gleaming through the shadows. “And now I know why.”
My jaw dropped; my mouth unable to form words for a response. He watched me with those golden eyes as he retreated down the darkened hallway.
THE MUSIC PULSATED through the parlor, reaching its crescendo and spilling into the other rooms of the mansion. I was trying to enjoy myself, but Cassius’ words haunted me, replaying in my head like a broken record. It unnerved me that he seemingly knew so much about me and I knew so little of him. I watched Scarlett fawn over him, trying to ascertain what she found so appealing. He was attractive, sure, but he was also dangerous. And not the thrill-seeking kind either. No, his was more typical of an emotionless incubus primed to extort your ever-loving soul straight to hell.
I decided right then that if it was my soul he was after, I wasn’t going down without a fight. However, I hoped he’d take a raincheck if his diabolical plans were set for tonight; My self-awareness was quickly deteriorating with every Fireball shot I tossed back.
I felt a hand encircle mine around the shot glass and gently set it on a nearby table. “I think you’ve had enough of those,” Abel declared.
As soon as I looked over at him, my head started spinning. “I don’t feel so good,” I mumbled, trying to stifle nausea that consumed me.
Kinsley saw me about to blow chunks on the travertine floor and rushed over. “Bathroom. Now!”
Bella and Devon assisted me to the bathroom as I wobbled unsteadily down the hall.
“We’re almost there. Hold on!” Bella assured me.
It seemed like forever, but we made it without incident. Devon reached for the door handle but murmured moans just beyond caused her to stop mid-motion.
“Who’s that?” Bella whispered.
Devon snickered, putting a hand over her mouth to stifle the noise. “I don’t know, but it sounds like they are having one hell of a good time!”
The moans intensified, accompanied by heavy breathing that streamed from underneath the door. My head bobbed forward, and I started to gag.
“Christ, we don’t have time for this!” Devon snapped. She pounded on the bathroom door. “Hurry up, please. We’ve got one out here about to hurl!”
Peals of laughter tickled our ears as the door was flung open. Harlow stood there, adjusting the top of her Wonder Woman costume, and pulling her skirt down as she stared at us wide- mouthed. Fallon’s bare bum was planted on the vanity countertop, lipstick smeared across her face, and her angel costume in serious disarray. Her ripped pantyhose served as further evidence of her indiscretions.
Harlow cleared her throat and exchanged a glance with Devon. “I was um...just helping Fallon with her costume.”
Bella’s bright blue eyes were as big as saucers. “Oh...my...Gawd. I think I’m going to be the one that hurls!”
I’M NOT sure exactly how much time passed, but I finally started to sober up. I had lost consciousness shortly after the Harlow-Fallon fiasco and fallen asleep on the red velvet chaise in the living room. When I awoke, the party crowd had dwindled, and Abel was sitting next to me. I heard the incessant ringing of my cell phone and slowly sat up, blinking my eyes a few times to read the caller ID.
I cursed before accepting it. “Hello,” I said shortly, bracing myself for the inevitable tongue lashing I was about to receive.
“Colette? Will Kinsley be bringing you home tomorrow? Or will I need to come get you?”
My brows furrowed in confusion. Tomorrow? What the hell was my mom babbling about? “Huh? I don’t-”
Abel put a finger to my lips. “You’re staying at Kinsley’s tonight,” he whispered.
O—kay. I had retained zero recollection of asking my parent’s permission for that. “N-no, mom. I’ll get a ride.”
I hung up and looked at him. “So, I’m lost.”
He stood up and grabbed my hand, kissing it softly. “I told you I had something else planned,” he said coyly.
We quickly said good-bye and headed outside to Abel’s truck. A cool October breeze swept through the trees, causing branches to sway and leaves to rustle as the blood-red moon cast an unsettling hue over us. He guided the vehicle down the hill as I leaned back against the headrest.
“Well that was almost drama-free,” I muttered.
Abel snickered. “Well, at least it wasn’t Kinsley or paranormal events this time. Simply good old-fashion underage drinking and teenage hormones.”
“Speaking of teenage hormones, you knew about Harlow and Fallon, didn’t you?”
“Yep,” he said, not taking his eyes from the road.
“And that’s what you used to blackmail Devon into helping you?Threatening to reveal her best friend’s lesbian tryst to the school?”
He grinned but shook his head. “Nah, I just used it to get Devon riled up. I could give a shit less whose pussy Fallon is after, and Scarlett already knew about ’em too. But Devon didn’t know that, so I played it to my advantage to gain access to the hospital’s medical records.
“How’d you know Devon would have connections though?”
He scoffed. “Her mom’s a surgeon and her dad’s the hospital administrator. If she got caught with Cole’s key card, she’d have just gotten a slap on the wrist.”
“Wow, you’re a manipulative asshole,” I said with a laugh.
“I’ve been called worse,” he said with a shrug.
Before long, we had left Kinsley’s opulent neighborhood behind for the desolate and winding stretch of Greenwich Cemetery Road. Confused, I looked over at Abel.
“Are you taking me home?”
“No,” he replied solemnly, offering no further explanation.
We rode in silence for a few moments, nervous anticipation building inside of me. Hopefully, it wasn’t another romp through the cemetery. I held my breath as we drew nearer, then exhaled with relief as he turned away from the graveyard and onto a bumpy, gravel drive. Surrounded by a grove of Spanish Oak trees, a small cabin came into view, its porch illuminated by the glow of a single exterior lightbulb. A massive hill loomed just opposite the cabin, separated by a wooden dock and the serene waters of the Wilmington River.
“Where are we?”
Abel grinned and climbed out of the truck. He walked around and opened the passenger door, gallantly offering his hand. “My lady,” he teased.
I took his hand and exited the cab of the truck. I gazed out over the river, peacefulness settling over me. “Wow, it’s beautiful out here.”
His green eyes were penetrating, cutting through the surrounding darkness like two shimmering emeralds. “I’ve seen better,” he murmured, placing tender kisses along my neck.
I melted into his strong arms, eager to surrender completely to his masculinity. I was enamored by everything he was: strong and prideful, yet sensitive and protective of the ones he loved. He was flawed for sure, yet somehow imperfectly divine. His lips caressed my neck, then traveled over my shoulders and down my chest, blazing a trail towards uncharted territory. His hands ravaged my body, working their way under the thin material of my blouse and up the slit of my skirt before slipping inside my panties.
He slipped two fingers inside me, working me over with concen‐ trated precision. My body writhed with uncontrolled ecstasy and I couldn’t suppress the moans that escaped my lips. With every flicker of his finger, I was pushed closer to the peak of my orgasmic roller coaster. Every nerve tingled with electricity, surging through my body until I could withstand no more. I fell apart with his fingers deep within me, my eyes rolling into the back of my head as I leaned against him for support, certain I would collapse. Good lord! If that was his idea of an appetizer, I couldn’t wait to see what he served up for the main course!
“Let’s go inside,” he whispered, taking my hand.
Good thing it wasn’t the bank-robbing suggestion because this time I wouldn’t have had the resolve to turn him down.
He led me into the cabin and immediately, my euphoria washed away. The living room itself was a goddamn shrine to the entire Campbell family. Framed photos were proudly displayed on the walls, boasting of better days gone by. I walked along the perimeter of the room, studying each one as I passed. I paused next to one of a smiling Sebastian and Abel posing on the dock overlooking the river.
“This is your family’s cabin,” I remarked softly.
Abel said nothing but squeezed my hand in confirmation.
My eyes continued to wander, noticing a huge stone fireplace along the far wall. Directly in front of the hearth were candles surrounding a makeshift bed of pillows and blankets. A bottle of wine chilled on ice nearby. I broke into a smile and my heart soared as I glanced back at Abel. “Wow, this is nice.”
He smiled. “Yeah, well, Sebastian used to bring Genesis out here all the time. I just never really cared about anyone that much to do the same...until now.”
His words filled my soul with a blissfulness I had never known. “Abel, I-”
Before I could finish, he had pulled me to him, his lips pressing upon mine, discovering me all over again. I tousled my hands through his hair and over his broad shoulders. His skin was like silk: soft, soothing, and irresistible. He reciprocated my actions, sending shock waves throughout my body. I felt my heart flutter under his intense stare, his green eyes drinking all of me in. His hands traveled to the small of my back and over my ass before hoisting me into the air and pushing me against the wall. I wrapped my legs around his waist and dug my heels into his ass, forcing him closer. He pressed his body into mine. Oh, dear Lord! Did I feel what I think I felt? Yeah, that was all him.
My skin was on fire as his lips coursed over me, feverishly traversing every inch of my body.
He briefly pulled back and stared into my eyes, his voice deep and husky. “Colette, we don’t have to-”
I brushed my lips over his and undid my blouse, tossing it aside. “Just shut up,” I said with a laugh.
We undressed as though our lives depended on it--our bodies molding cohesively to one another like it was the most natural feeling in the world. He entered me slowly, tenderly brushing my breasts with kisses as he awaited my reaction. I hissed at the first sensation of him inside me, my hands fisting the blanket as I willed the sharp pangs of pain to subside. He pressed in further, easing us into a slow, but passionate rhythm. I brought my hips up a few times as the move‐ ments became more familiar, our bodies moving in sync as we explored each other. I wanted to close my eyes and lose myself entirely in the process but doing so was such a disservice to womankind. His body was god-like, sculpted by muscle and well- defined abs. His eyes glowed within the dimly lit room, subtly seducing me with unbridled passion. My loins burst with sexual arousal, sensitive to each stimulant he provoked: his hair, the woodsy scent of his cologne, the salty-sweet sweat that glistened from his body. Sweet Lord, why hadn’t we done this sooner?
With each sensation, my breathing intensified, and my throat burned. My body arched up to meet his, melding against his strong frame. The passion between us spread like liquid fire through the small room of the cabin. I dug my nails into the muscles of his back and let out a soft moan. The impressions rippling through my body were life-altering. He was Heaven on Earth—an irresistible blend of sweet and sultry sin. When the cadence increased, I could withstand no more. I closed my eyes to white-hot heat that scorched my body with sensitivity and felt him spasm within me, his hands gripping onto my hips for dear life. Exhausted, we both fell onto the floor— satisfied, content, and complete. Abel wrapped me in his arms, placing tender kisses against my exposed neck that sent shivers down my spine.
“I think it’s safe to say that I like your surprises,” I murmured.
He laughed and traced a finger playfully up my thigh and over my bare hip, sending a flurry of goosebumps over my flesh. “Yeah, if there are two things I’m good at, it’s gotta be fucking up and making up.”
I snickered and rolled over to face him. “Well, that’s a short list of accomplishments.”
Abel smiled wryly. “I didn’t say those were the only things,” he said, pressing his delicious mouth against mine.
I propped my head upon my arm and marveled at his sexual prow‐ ess. Running my hand over the magnificent dip his lower hips made, I swore that that inverted V served as the coveted gateway to Heaven. Right then, I solemnly vowed to never sin again.
“Is it difficult coming here?” I asked him.
He sighed. “It’s different for sure. Sebastian and I, we practically grew up here. We’d spend our summers fishing off the dock and throwing the football around. Then he met Genesis and she became like a sister to us—until we all got older of course. Eventually, their friendship turned into a serious relationship...and then you know the rest,” he finished, swallowing hard.
“Sounds like a fairytale with a tragic ending instead of the happily ever after.”
Abel shrugged. “But maybe being together now is their happily ever after.”
“If that’s the case, then why torture me?” I snipped, Sebastian’s menacing words still fresh in my mind. “He um...he told me I was the key to everything.”
Abel’s jaw set and his eyes narrowed. “No, some pissed off ghost in a vision you had told you that. I wish you could have known him, Colette. He would have adored you.”
With a burst of fury, the locked front door of the cabin swung open, clanging against the wall. A furious wind swept through the room, knocking each picture to the floor in an explosion of shattering glass. Abel shielded me with his body, then quickly grabbed his boxers and pulled them onto his muscular frame. He leaped to his feet and bolted the door shut. As his eyes met mine, his face filled with despair and his shoulders sank in defeat.
“What is it? What’s wrong, Abel?”
I followed his eyes to the wall behind me, my body growing cold despite the intense flames of the fireplace just feet away. I took in the spectacle, not certain that I wasn’t dreaming. Scrawled in blood were three bone-chilling words: SET ME FREE.