I can’t believe we’re down to 50! You ladies know the drill: Post the next line by midnight this Friday, Pacific time!
1. “Who—What—oh God!” Susan shouted, bolting up in bed. “Why are you here?”
Goddamn it—she wasn’t supposed to wake up. He reached for the knife on his belt.
2. Even after he was dead, my father’s obsession with magic continued to color my life. He hadn’t been dead so long that I didn’t have many memories of him, but my strongest were of sleight of hand and illusion. I still had a perfectly clear picture, even at seventeen, of being four and my father reaching behind my ear for a coin, myself laughing in delight.
Those were good times, but they weren’t enough to erase this.
3. Megan Trent jerked out of a deep sleep at the sound of her clock radio turning on and off by itself in a rapid beat of white noise and eerie silence. She watched as the red display numbers flickered in and out with a frantic Morse code lightshow. Gasping in an ice-cold breath, goose bumps pimpling her skin, she knew he had come again in the deep, pre-dawn hours of the night.
4. The piercing pain in her chest grew worse, but she couldn’t stop running. A flash of lightning split the darkness once again, temporarily blinding her as thunder roared in her ears and her racing heart felt as if it would burst. The pounding of the horse’s hooves continued to beat the dirt path behind her, closer this time. Oh God, he was closer.
5. “I am the Keeper of Paradise, Purgatory and Hell.”
John Parker realized his tone was over-harsh when the shipping clerk backed away, stammering, at his response.
He wasn’t used to being challenged. Well, not these days.
6. “Zeus has summoned you.”
With a growl, Markus rolled over on the giant four poster bed and scowled at Octavious, who stood at the entrance to his chambers, arms crossed over his chest like the arrogant bastard he was. As usual, he wore a long blue velvet robe that trailed to the floor, and his white-blond hair fell straight to the middle of his waist, giving him the appearance of a serene and youthful Merlin.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Markus snarled, closing his eyes again.
7. Thick clouds of steam puffed out of manhole covers and sewer grates, making it extra hard for Henry to see while driving in the dark. The radio sputtered and he reached outside the cab’s window to give the bulky antenna another twist.
“Damn new-fangled gizmo has more kinks than a pad of steel wool,” Henry told Mystic. The static cleared and a sultry melody of band music hummed through the Victrola horn protruding from the dash.
8. It was feeding time and humans were the only thing on the menu. Krystoff’s acute vision took in the deep crimson that covered the gray cracked sidewalk, the smell of blood thick on the air. Krystoff stopped to inhale, “You can’t hide” he said mockingly, his words echoing off the cold concrete. He knew he was close; the signs of their victims’ struggles were still fresh.
9. Sitting in a graffiti-smeared cell on a Sunday afternoon wasn’t what Molly Hicks would call a good way to end a weekend.
“Dammit, Molly! Even if you believe I deserve being shot, it’s against the law, a federal one for that matter.” Sheriff J.T. Rogan held his arm across his bare chest, babying the wound in his shoulder.
10. She was going to die.
What cruel twist of irony would take her life at the hands of the very people she’d tried to save? It wasn’t fair, certainly unjust, but as she dropped her head to her knees, she knew it was the truth.
The hard jungle ground beneath her rumbled with the pounding of the natives dance.
11. They had been in the interrogation room for twelve hours straight. He hadn’t left, not even to get coffee or a donut or to tag team in his partner for that whole good cop-bad-cop game. Mia’s eyes were dangerously heavy and though she had propped her chin in alternate hands for the last few hours, both of her biceps were beginning to feel like three day old spaghetti. Across the table, the detective stared that same level stare, the green of his eyes striking her like a backhanded slap.
12. The culinary Casanova was at it again. No way would she go next door for breakfast no matter how tempting the fare. And damn, but Cory Traven surpassed enticing. Meg didn’t have the strength to face him after she’d been screwing him all night—in her dreams—and had been every night for the past three weeks.
13. It came to Nick Holloway, gradually, that he was lying on cold, hard concrete. Something above held him fast. His shirt was hooked on the undercarriage of a car.
He managed to get loose—tearing his new Rag & Bone combat shirt in the process—-and crawled out from under.
14. The man holding the gun to her head didn’t know what she was capable of.
Tess Damon braced herself in the open doorway of the airplane while shivers raced up and down her body. The frigid temperature stole precious air from her lungs. Her eyes watered.
15. Guilty or not, Leonardo faced a death sentence.
Alone in his father’s house, he paced his room, fearful that any moment the Governor’s guards would pound upon the door, drag him to Florence. His knees buckled at the thought, and clammy hands grabbed the doorway for support.
“Damn you, Jacopo!
16. The best thing about being an heiress â€“ the low expectations. Dad still ran the company, and the stockholders would freak if she even started to show an interest. And forget the concept of drawing “more” media attention â€“ she’d maxed out. She could crash the party, dis the party, smile for the camera, flip-off the camera… it was literally impossible to disappoint anyone.
17. The warmth of the desert vanished under a shroud of bone-chilling twilight. And Jackson Neale, cautious now after four bloody years of war, slipped deeper into its murky, concealing cloak. Anyone he’d befriended on the trek westward from Virginia could be counted on one hand, and he knew with absolute certainty that the person riding into his camp tonight wasn’t one of them.
Only a fool would enter another’s camp without hailing first, and this brazen bastard displayed a boldness that truly amazed him.
18. I hissed when I saw it, my gut coiling, hide crawling in alarm. Skin, damn it, not hide; I hadn’t transformed yet. But the increase in my symptoms and the arrival of this innocuous looking envelope meant it wouldn’t be long. Even now a rush of heat suffused my limbs, and I lifted sweaty hair off my hot, aching neck, thrusting away the craving for raw steak, the tangled images of wings and tails and tongues.
19. Nadia Reynolds’ cheatin’ SOB of a husband had dumped her for a twenty-something with plastic tits, telling Nadia he didn’t find her attractive any longer. Whatever. She had a brand new divorce decree, would turn forty in a month and was ready to move on.
Jax Madison arrived at his office at Goodman & Brady, grabbed a cup of coffee and took a few minutes to savor his future.
20. The blood on her hands trickled down between shaky fingers. Slowly, Marisol curled her fingers into fists, resting them on her knees, and looked down at the dead man before her. The spent gunpowder from the pistol still singed her nose.
No pity would be spared for the likes of him, a paltry criminal.
21. “Even Jane Eyre found her Mr. Rochester.” Lucy Bennett caressed the spine of Charlotte Bronte’s novel and released a sigh.
“I thought you wanted hot and uncomplicated. Are you now saying you’d settle for dark and moody?”
22. It may sound odd, but sometimes moments in life seem to have a distinct smell. At any moment, of any day, a plethora of aromas can summon a wealth of emotions and memories. To Grace Riley, life’s happy moments were tinged with the perfume of sunshine and fragrant grass. During the moments of sorrow, sadness polluted the air with an oily, suffocating smoke, and even danger caused a detectable metallic scent.
23. That’s where the body is.
Amelia’s stomach knotted as she trudged toward the recovery site, carefully watching where she placed her feet in the snow. She yanked on the sides of her wool hat and tucked her chin into her scarf as she strode through the fluff, blinking away the swirl of snowflakes.
This weather was for skiing, sledding, and snowball fights, not for investigating old bones in a frosty tent in Boondocks, Oregon.
24. The man slouched on the edge of the bed, his fingers clutching the deadly syringe hidden in his jacket pocket. Despite the timpani drum pounding in his chest and echoing in his ears, his face was expressionless.
He stared at the naked, unsuspecting woman asleep on the bed, her slender body seductive even in slumber, her blonde hair a halo on the pillow.
The guilt gnawing at the man’s gut did not spring from having been inside her, making love to her earlier in the night, but from what he knew was inside her heart and mind and soul.
25. Lacey knew the moment she opened her eyes that something was wrong. The fact that the sun was coming through a window where there should not have been a window, was her first clue, the black cotton sheets covering her naked body was the second. She looked over at the man that lay beside her, a very naked, dark haired Ewan Stevens and that was her final clue.
She lifted the sheet to see Ewan’s well-toned white butt, her heart skipped a beat.
26. Traveling through time hurts, at least for the broker. But I’ve grown resistant to the pain and that makes my bounty hunting services invaluable.
Mickey, my apprentice, and I have tracked our latest time-jumping fugitive back to the year 2010, which is why we’re hoofing it around New York City in the dark.
“Ava, I think the jump was easier this time,” Mickey said, tucking his trembling fingers inside the front pockets of his blue jeans.
27. He brought four items to their first date: a spray of orange roses, because he knew they were her favorite flower; a duffle bag containing a change of clothing; three condoms to capture any stray DNA; and a freshly sharpened hunting knife.
With anticipation fizzing through his veins—as effervescent as the finest batch of imported champagne—he plowed through the sprinkler mist dampening the walkway and took the steep steps to her porch two at a time. The sheath strapped to his ankle pinched with each step. Trying to ignore the irritating sensation, he concentrated on the sprinkler mist cooling his face.
28. Even two hundred yards away in near-whiteout conditions, Locklen Roane saw the red Accord careening too fast down Highway 145. Had to be a tourist—who else would risk driving in this blizzard? He shook his head, about to continue trudging the steep hill home when the Honda lurched once then slipped sideways on the highway. He stiffened, squinting through the dense snowflakes and mist of his breath as the car now faced backward but skated forward, gathering momentum as it slid straight for the guardrail and the San Miguel River beyond.
29. Darkness did not fall gently this day.
It scourged the land like a rolling plague, leaving shadow where there had been shapes—a predatory hunger not unlike his own.
He smiled at his conceit, cradling his cracked rib with one arm, and plunged into the heart of the night. They’d never catch him now.
30. She expected the ragged skeletons that thundered through the orchard on their will o’ the wisp chargers, expected the slow parade of pale eyed ladies with their gossamer hair and butterfly wings, expected even the raven with the broken tail feather that flew among them, darting and swooping through their insubstantial forms to send them whisking skyward like so much smoke, but the heavy hand on her shoulder, the warm breath tickling her ear and the soft, masculine voice whispering “Jane” â€“ these were the trappings of nightmares, the first indication that her life was about to change for the worse.
“It’s done,” he said. “Your uncle is dead and Edward has inherited all.”
Her fingers tightened around her dagger, small comfort against ghosts or the treacheries of kin.
31. My name is Isadora Macleod and I am haunted. Take it from me, a life where the dead are your regular clientele is nothing like Hollywood would have you believe. I’d love to claim some saint-worthy purpose, that it’s my calling to guide lost souls to a better place, but that would be a lie. I didn’t choose this life — it chose me.
32. The mansion loomed eerily through the swirling mist, a sinister shadow against the backdrop of a storm darkened sky.
Destiny Ryder hunched over the steering wheel and stared through the car window in awe even as apprehension skittered down her spine.
“This is beyond insane,” she muttered as she put the car in gear and coasted through the beckoning wrought iron gates.
The crunch of tires on gravel was the only sound as she pulled up in front of the ghostly yet captivating manor and leaden legs carried her up the cracked marble steps leading to the scarred wooden doors.
33. The Lord of Harmeswood was a madman and a murderer, and Alexandrina Whitsett was headed straight for his house.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true — she and her brother, James, were returning from a weekend house party in Kent and were about to drive past Harmeswood’s ancient moldering pile, but even that was too close for comfort. In dread, she glanced out the carriage window at the ominous scenery.
The dark forest that covered most of Harmeswood’s land barely let in any light from the late-afternoon sky, and the tangled tree limbs reminded her of nothing so much as spindly arms that had a stranglehold on everything within their reach.
34. Jackson Taylor’s toes clenched as he came abruptly awake, the left side of his body shivering. A soft weight held his shoulder down, the feel of a woman’s curves pressing hard against his chest, keeping the right side delectably warm. Cold water tickled his feet, wet sand dug into his butt and the tangy, salty smell of the ocean filled his nostrils.
A flash of red hair, spinning lanterns and Latin dance music raced through his mind before it went blank.
35. Fate had painted a bull’s-eye on my back. The ironic thing, I didn’t believe in fate or karma before my brother left a message on my office’s answering machine that was the equivalent to Armageddon dropping a line just to say hey. Being the self- designated birdie-flipper of fate I had to know if listening to the message would be like Darth Vader—Phoenix, I am your brother.
After six years of silence, only one thing would have made Samuel call me.
36. “We have a visual on the boat,” Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jake Carver reported. Her gloved fingers tightened around the helicopter’s control stick and she increased air speed. The chase was on.
Counter-narcotics had become her reason for existing and she was damn good at it.
37. “That man would have taken you off my hands had you shown one iota of intelligence.” Every one of Uncle John’s hate-filled words was a lance piercing Desiree’s flesh and she didn’t have the armor necessary to withstand the pain.
“I-I am s-s-sorry.” Desiree bowed her head, unwilling to struggle through any more vowels and consonants that would not come out right no matter how hard she tried.
38. “You want me to do what?” Ainsley asked, nearly choking on her tea at her mother’s announcement. She knew the invitation was not for a pleasant chat, but she had no idea her mother would stoop to this.
“It’s very simple, Ainsley,” her mother answered calmly, tapping her Montblanc pen against her leather planner. “You have the perfect man right here, and yet you persist in rejecting his proposals.
39. “I suppose there’s no turning back now,” Lady Emma Caulfield whispered.
“You should have thought of that before you put the story in the Post,” Mary Lambert whispered back. The two young women peeked between the fronds of a potted palm in the corner of the Markingham’s crowded ballroom.
“I merely let slip a bit of gossip around a certain society matron,” Emmaâ€¨ said with an innocent shrug, “and, well…now the rumor of the engagementâ€¨ is printed for everyone to see.”
40. The young prince was going to die. When the angry mob of outlaws and outcasts finally realized who it was that had fallen into their clutches, they would tear the young nobleman to shreds, and there was nothing Shallah could do to prevent it. Blood caked his face and hands, obscuring his features, mute testament to the fact that he had not been captured without a fight. One wrist was manacled to the wall at the far end of the cavern; in the chains that were reserved for criminals among criminals, those who had somehow betrayed the tightly woven structure of this band of misfits.
41. Cold trembling fingers reached out to trace the letters engraved on the headstone, the chilly marble slab the only tangible link to the family Jolene still missed. Ten years hadn’t even begun to numb the pain or take away the gaping hole in her heart. Or answer any of the questions still screaming to be answered.
Set back from the rest of the graves, the stone sat under a shady tree.
42. Ephraim MacNeill would kill anyone who stood in his way. Still not believing his luck at locating Elizabeth’s current place of imprisonment, he feared the rumor a ruse, or worse—a calculated attempt to draw him into the spider’s web. Then the sight of a woman paralleling his path in the deepening shadows drew his attention. She fled across the rain-soaked valley, her red curls whipping behind her in the breeze like a proud knight’s banner.
43. Jill tried to stand straighter, though the handcuffs bit into her wrists. If this was to be her last moment alive, she was determined to go bravely. Panic clawed at her throat, but she refused to cry out as the huge machine bore down on her, its massive treads sending a stomach-clenching, teeth-gritting tremble through the earth beneath her.
Her heart drummed against her ribs as she convulsed in a violent coughing spasm, her lungs burning from the acrid stench of diesel and east Texas red dust swirling in the air.
44. If she’d been a bad girl when she had the chance, she probably wouldn’t be dying right now. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. When she sucked in a breath, the metallic scent in the air made her gag. The queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach told her it wasn’t just her blood.
45. Looking back, my mid-life crisis began on a Tuesday in March, right there on aisle twelve of the local supermarket between the laxatives and the condoms. That’s the day I confronted an assortment of tampon boxes and wondered if my diminishing egg production warranted the forty-eight count economy size. See, I worried about a future when the half-empty box, now faded and kinda tattered around the edges, still sat beneath the sink ready to mock me every time I reached for a hair dryer or fresh roll of TP.
“Can I help you find something, ma’am?”
46. Seven lockers down, my boyfriend was making out with Cheryl, the way-too-perky head cheerleader.
I tried not to stare, but when his hand slid past her waist and over her hip, I slammed my locker shut and stormed off in the opposite direction. Not that anyone noticed. The problem â€“ not only was I that gorgeous jock’s secret girlfriend, I also had a secret power.
47. A handâ€“oh God, she hoped it was a handâ€“gripped her ankle like a vise and tugged. Tina clung to the rope for dear life and winced when its nylon thread chafed her leather gloves, but her grit and determination was no match for the sheer force pulling her downward. Silently swearing and left with no other choice—other than a crash landing to the rain-deprived ground which would bruise more of her than just her ego—Tina loosened her hold and did a half-slide, half-fall down the rope and right into the arms of—well, hell—Kent Nicholson.
“What in hell do you think you’re doing?”
48. The hate mail started Monday morning.
If Parker Kennard had known about it, she might have just stayed in bedâ€“or at least stayed away from the office.
She’d woken early, partly because she always woke early. She squinted at the alarm clock and groaned.
49. “What do you mean, ‘You can’t be alone with me?'” Saari planted her hands on the edge of the desk and leaned closer to her laptop’s webcam. “Start explaining, Brogan.”
“I don’t mean I can’t ever be alone with you.”
50. “Oh, hell,” Brit Roberts snapped when the ringing phone on her kitchen wall stopped her in her tracks at seven AM. Already late leaving for work, she turned away and reached for the doorknob, then paused at the second ring. What if the call is important, like Julie in a panic, a sick car, or a family emergency?