December 4, 2020
Christmas Gargoyles #4
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Vivian is near the end of her rope and her means. After doing the right thing and alerting the authorities to the Ponzi scheme her bosses are running, she finds herself without a job, low on savings, and the target of someone who wants to make sure she can never testify against them.
Discovering she’s acquired a protector who saves her life a couple of times should be a plus, but then he tells her he’s a shape-shifting gargoyle, causing her to doubt her sanity and wonder if she isn’t being set up to discredit her testimony.
But Glen is also a gorgeous, caring man, an excitingly dominant lover, and a great companion. Too bad what he wants from her in return is nearly impossible.
Cold wind slapped her face as she made her way up Wisconsin Avenue to home. Vivian Halloran huddled in her coat and struggled to keep her shoulders from sagging.
“How’d it go today, Missy?” She stopped and looked up sharply. She’d sunk so deep in her melancholy she’d almost walked past Robert, the street saxophonist. Normally she stopped to listen to him for a few minutes and dropped a bill in his hat.
She tried to suppress a sigh and failed. “Not good. Three job interviews today, but I probably won’t get any of them. Nobody wants someone with a load of scandal baggage trailing their name.” She put a five-dollar bill in his hat. “I may not be able to help you out much longer. My savings are running out.”
“Keep your money today,” he said. “You given me plenty already. It’s time for me to go to my sister’s place for the winter. She hates thinking of me out in the cold, so’s I let her put me up.” The elderly man stared hard at her for a moment. “You gonna be okay. Weren’t your fault your bosses was crooked. Mark my words. Things gonna break for you. Holidays will be good to you.”
Vivian’s optimism level had just about bottomed out. “I hope you’re right. It doesn’t look hopeful right now.” Four weeks to what promised to be the un-merriest Christmas ever.
“You got a good heart. You’ll be okay. They’ll be lookin’ out for you.”
“Who’ll be looking out for me?”
“You’ll see. Can’t say more now, Missy. You go on. I see you shiverin’.”
She nodded and said, “Good luck. Stay warm yourself.”
When she looked back a few steps later, he was gone. She blinked and sighed. She’d miss seeing him, though she wasn’t sure why. Something about the blues he played found an echo in her soul.
Another half block and she wished again he were behind her because something surely was. Footsteps echoed on the pavement, though when she turned to look, she didn’t see anyone there. Twilight had faded quickly into darkness, hiding whoever might be pursuing her. A strange whooshing noise had her searching the vicinity for the source, but she couldn’t find that either.
She’d never felt threatened walking from the Metro station to her apartment before. Washington, D.C. was a big city, so she took reasonable precautions, but this neighborhood wasn’t a high crime area. Still. A shiver slid down her spine.
She sped up, her pulse hammering and breath heaving in harsh pants. The footsteps echoed hers again. Another glance behind still showed no one there.
The attack came from another direction entirely. She reached the next corner and stopped to check traffic before crossing the street. Nothing coming. But as she arrived at almost the exact middle of the intersection, the screeching of tires froze her. A car shot around the corner, headed straight toward her. Its headlights were dark and she could barely see it.
Before she could decide which way to jump, a solid force hit her from behind, driving her to the ground at the far curb. The car roared past as Vivian struggled to pull air into her lungs. For a moment, breathing was all she could manage. Then awareness of aches and pains and discomforts intruded. Her knees, left hand, and forehead all stung, and her left arm ached. A heavy body still lay atop her.
She wriggled to get free and the weight lifted off her as her rescuer stood.
“I’m sorry,” a deep, rough voice said. “Are you hurt? I had to get you out of the way quickly. There was no easy or gentle way to do it.”
“Understood,” Vivian answered, gasping, as her breath still hadn’t settled back into a normal rhythm. “You saved my life. I appreciate it. I hope you’re not hurt.” She looked up at the dark figure that hovered over where she lay on the pavement. A tall, slender man in black clothes from top to bottom, including a hoodie that shrouded his head, loomed.
“I’m fine.” His voice had a rough edge that made it at once sexy and scary. He got down on one knee beside her, but she couldn’t see his face. “Do you need medical help? Shall I call someone for you?”
“Just a minute.” Vivian tested her limbs and digits. All seemed to be in working order. Protests erupted from a few segments, but none refused to function. “I think I’m okay,” she told him. “Could use a hand up, though.”
He straightened, then extended an arm to her. She reached out with her less damaged right arm. A large, strong hand curled around hers and lifted her upright.
“May I escort you home?” the deep voice rasped.
She debated. She had no idea who this was or what he wanted. But he had pushed her out of the way of the car and… That didn’t guarantee anything about his motives. She’d let him escort her to the building anyway.
“I’d be grateful.” As they set out on the additional block to her apartment building, she appreciated his presence even more. One of her knees was bruised as well as scraped, leaving her limping. He noticed and put an arm around her waist to help. It took longer than normal to get to her building.
When she unlocked the outer door, he reached for the lever to open it for her. Red smeared the back of his hand. “You’re hurt,” she said. “Did that happen when you dragged me out of the path of the car? I’m sorry. Come in and I’ll clean it for you.” Being stupid? Maybe. But he was bleeding, and she was the cause.
He hesitated. “On one condition. You let me do the same for you.”
This time she paused but finally said, “Deal.”
Vivian was more eager than she cared to admit for a better look at her rescuer. The deep voice and hard lean body exerted a pull on her, one that might be dangerous.
She led the way up two stories of the staircase. “I’m sorry there’s no elevator. It keeps the rent down. It’s worth it.”
A throaty chuckle. “I’ve ascended far more steps than this at a time.” He didn’t sound winded.
He waited while she unlocked the door to her apartment and flicked on the light. Just in case, she pulled her phone from her purse and dropped it in her pocket before she turned to face him. The dark gray hoodie over a black tee shirt hugged his form, outlining the breadth of his shoulders and the flat stomach. Worn jeans encased long slim legs. He pushed back the hood, revealing a narrow face with large dark blue eyes, a long, mobile mouth, and wavy dark brown hair neatly trimmed. She realized she was staring and looked away. But wow. Who wouldn’t stare? He was damned handsome, even with a scrape along his temple that oozed sluggishly.
“Introductions,” she said, holding out a hand. “I’m Vivian Halloran, and I do appreciate you pushing me out of the way of that car.”
His solemn expression lightened as he shook her hand. “Glen Dorvik. And it was my pleasure as well as my duty.”
Vivian puzzled over his words as she went to her bedroom and took off the shredded tights, wincing when the fabric clung to her scraped knees. The suit jacket, torn at the elbow, and the blouse went, too, replaced by a tee shirt. She stopped in the bathroom to pick up clean towels, bandages, antiseptic, latex gloves, and a basin of warm water. When she got back to the living room, he’d removed the hoodie. He had worse scrapes than hers along his forearms. Blood stained the sleeve of the black tee-shirt that hugged a muscular chest and biceps.
He nodded for her to take a seat. “You might have to tell me what to do. I’ve never done much of this…patching.”
“I can take care of it myself, you know.”
“I’m sure you can. But would you let me help? Didn’t we have a deal?”
Given the events of the past few months and what had happened this evening, trust didn’t seem like a great idea—even if he had possibly just saved her life. But an agreement was an agreement. He wouldn’t let her clean him up if she didn’t reciprocate.
“All right.” She handed him a pair of latex gloves and said, “Put these on.”
He looked puzzled but snapped them on. “Take a seat,” he suggested. He had a remarkably gentle touch as he began to wash her scrapes and spread soothing antibiotic ointment on them. Following her directions, he put bandages over a couple of the most raw areas at her elbow and one knee.
Once those were done, she stood. “Your turn.”
He gave her a devastating grin that set her pulse racing and sat in the chair she’d just vacated. She pulled on another pair of gloves.
“Do you know why someone tried to run you down?” he asked as she began to wash blood from his arm.
“You don’t think it was an accident?”
“Do you? That car followed you with its lights out from the time you came out of the Metro station.”
“It did? I didn’t even notice.”
“I did. And when you started to cross the street, it suddenly accelerated around the corner.”