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Warning: The following work contains descriptive material and scenes of explicit sexual encounters between consenting male and female adults. It is intended for adult readers only.

When Priana Grey walks into a bank, she isn’t expecting to be taken hostage by a violent thief; nor, is she expecting Detective Joe Cafaris to offer his life for hers. The stepdaughter of fallen angels of the Sanctum, she has concealed her true nature to move among humans for years, but Joe’s courage astounds her. Although she knows that falling in love with a human is a disaster, she just can’t ignore what she feels.

Joe is a tough loner, cool in the most dangerous situations, but he’s not ready for the scorching desire he feels for Priana. He has a million logical reasons to walk away, but his heart wants something else.

Priana’s stepbrother, Keirc, warns that she’ll find only misery with Joe, yet he guards a perilous secret of his own. His lover, Iridea, is the daughter of Sebastien Galaurus, a ruthless vampire who leads the Demesne, a powerful supernatural haven quite unlike the Sanctum.

When a stunning crisis forces Priana into the heart of the Demesne, a maelstrom explodes in the shadow of supernatural havens on the brink of war, where fallen angels, vampires, weres and daemons call the shots and humans are viewed as critically frail – a place where men and supernaturals can die.

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt of Edenmary Black’s Sanctum Angels: Shadow Havens Book 1:

 

Chapter One

 

Four years later…

 

Priana Grey’s hands and feet were freezing. Her arms felt like wood and a thin trail of blood was snaking its way down her palm from the fine wire binding her wrists. She wiggled her fingertips but couldn’t risk moving more. The man with his fist in her hair would only yank her backward again and the gun at the end of his other hand looked as long as a bowling alley. He would use it, she knew, but she tried to stay calm by telling herself that every breath was a blessing to take her closer to surviving. Even though she was only wearing a wine-colored slip and the guy with the gun kept yanking at her head, she struggled to ignore the knot twisting her gut. The fact that she had a fifty / fifty shot at dying in her underwear in front of total strangers meant nothing now.

Less than two hours earlier, Priana had come to the First Bank of Saint Rushton to make a deposit. Her only thought had been to go to the bank before the oppressive heat and humidity that often bakes southwestern Pennsylvania in early September took hold for the day. Five other people had been in the bank, including two tellers. As she had turned away from the tellers’ counter, a young man with unkempt blond hair had entered the bank, shoved a crowbar through the handles of the glass doors and pulled a gun from the back of his jeans, before ordering everyone to stand in front of the tellers’ counter.

In that instant, she had gone from bank customer to hostage. Priana’s heart had begun hammering in her chest. The guy was strung out and rough looking, in ragged jeans and an oversized plaid jacket. The bitter disgust and hatred in his eyes frightened Pria as much as the gun he kept waving around like some kind of baton. She drew a fast, deep breath and did a quick assessment of her companions. There were two older men, both of whom were very pale. The tellers, both middle-aged women, seemed to be holding themselves together, but a pretty, dark haired girl, who couldn’t be out of her teens, had a bad case of the shakes that caught her attention.

Pria turned her options over in her mind. As the child of a pureblood vampire and an angel who’d chosen to fall, she had skills to end the situation, but putting a human life at risk was unacceptable. Unless there was a direct threat to life, she would not take the life of even someone like the man with the gun. She could try to get close enough to the thief to pull a glamour, which wouldn’t kill him, but given his agitated state, it might not work. If she were close enough to even try a glamour, she could do much more, yet she was reluctant to compromise his life if all he wanted was money. Cursing inwardly, she decided to see where the situation went. Hopefully, he’d just take the money and leave.

The robber pulled two heavy laundry sacks from his long jacket, tossing them at the tellers, with orders to empty the bank’s cash into the bags. As the tellers took the sacks and the thief’s attention followed them, Pria grabbed at the man standing next to her and whispered, “Change places with me,” so she would be next to the young girl, who was almost panting. The girl looked at Pria, eyes wide with terror.

“Cooperate,” Pria whispered. “Keep breathing.”

The tellers didn’t speak to each other as they moved from cash drawer to cash drawer, as one held the sack and the other stuffed bills into the opening. Having worked together for many years, they didn’t need to speak as they both depressed small square buttons beneath the counter. After emptying the cash drawer, they took the sacks to the vault at the left of the tellers’ area.

At the Saint Rushton Police Department Dispatch Center, a light began blinking on the black console of a rookie dispatcher, who wasn’t too sure if he was right about what he thought the light meant. Although still learning the ropes, he knew he wasn’t supposed to leave his console unless someone else covered it. Standing, he looked around a bit frantically before his supervisor saw him from her glass-fronted office. He motioned to her with his arm. She had a kid the same age and she’d already taken a liking to him.

“Shit,” she said when she saw the square red light. “How long’s that been blinkin’? That’s the First Bank of Saint Rushton.”

“Just started,” the rookie answered, a little breathless and a little proud of himself for knowing the light meant that serious shit was going down at the First Bank of Saint Rushton.

“Well, let’s wake up SWAT,” she said looking at her watch. “Christ! It’s not even nine in the morning. Today should be a real kick in the ass, kid!”

By the time the tellers were dragging cash-filled sacks across the floor toward the thief, two SWAT teams, three snipers and two paramedic units were headed for the bank. One SWAT team and the snipers entered the bank through a rarely-used side entrance the thief knew nothing about. The shooters slipped further into interior areas of the bank, normally closed off from the public, including a small employee lounge to the thief’s left side.

 

When the tellers had dragged the cash-filled bags to the gunman’s feet, he motioned them back in line, yelling, “Now, everyone get your clothes off! Shoes off, too. Throw everything in a pile here,” he ordered, gesturing to the floor with the gun.

Pria heard a sharp intake of breath next to her that alarmed her more than removing her red dress, which was little more than a long tee shirt. She whipped the dress over her head and kicked her flip flops to the center of the floor. Down to her slip, she glanced at the girl, who was sliding a pair of cut offs down thin, tan legs. She wore a simple pink top with buttons and white cotton panties. Her fingers fluttered over the shirt’s buttons, unable to make herself undo them.

“Honey…” Pria whispered.

“I’m not wearing a bra,” the girl hissed, in a panicky voice.

“It’ll be okay. Keep the shirt on. Just don’t say a word, no matter what.”

In a moment, the thief’s eye came to rest on the girl, as the other hostages continued disrobing. He strode forward until he was inches of her face.

“Get your shirt off, bitch!” he screamed.

The girls squeezed her eyes closed as if to protect herself from his fury. She turned her head away, expecting to be hit.

Pria noted the thief’s hot breath and dirty, blond hair. His pale skin was specked with acne scarring. Spittle gathered at the corners of his thin lips.

Pria’s hand flew upward in front of the man’s face. “She won’t run,” she said firmly. “That’s why you want us to take our shoes and clothes off…so we won’t run for the door. She won’t run.”

The gunman looked down at Pria, as if aware of her for the first time.

Pria slipped an arm around the girl’s shoulders to pull her closer. It was a small glamour, but the most she could hope for given the thief’s almost-frenzied mental state. “She won’t run,” she repeated. “She knows you’re powerful…and strong. She doesn’t want to die, so she won’t run. You’re strong and powerful and you can allow her to keep the shirt on,” Pria insisted. “The shirt means nothing. She won’t run. Because you’re powerful”

In the thief’s mind, Pria’s voice had an odd lilting quality. It calmed him and somehow he felt her words to be truth. The girl wouldn’t run, he realized. She knew he’d kill her. Closing his eyes, he saw the girl running; saw himself shooting her in the back as she got closer to the bank’s glass doors.

“She will not run,” Pria repeated firmly.

Then, the thief knew she was right. No one would want to die with a bullet in the back. The shirt wasn’t important. He could allow her to keep it.

“Yeah… I don’t have time to fuck around with this,” he said under his breath and moved away.

The girl clutched Pria’s hand, like the lifeline it had become.

“Be still,” Pria whispered. “Don’t make a sound.”

“Everyone on the floor!” the thief bellowed, still waving the gun like a riding crop “Cells, purses, wallets…right here…at my feet!”

Purses, wallets and cell phones quickly became a small mound in front of the thief, who pulled a spool of thin wire from a back pocket. Moving quickly from hostage to hostage, he bound their hands in front of them with the wire, which was meant to hurt as much as restrain.

The next two events told Pria a teller had somehow managed to alert the police. First, the power went out, killing most of the lights, air conditioning and several computers, plunging the bank into an oddly quiet state. Within a few minutes, a phone on a corner desk began ringing. The sound brought a look of triumph to the thief’s face, as he shoved a teller to answer it.

The tiny, gray-haired teller, bright-eyed with fear, snatched at the phone, which seemed deafening. “It’s for you,” she said in a whispery croak, as if her vocal chords weren’t cooperating.

Pria felt genuine fear punch a hook into her stomach, as the thief snatched the phone’s receiver and grinned. Reports of this kind of thing were plentiful and news images often showed live hostages being taken away by cops after the fireworks were over. Until she’d seen the sick grin, she’d hoped the guy would take the cash and bolt. This wasn’t just a bank robber, but a psychotic, who was far more dangerous than someone looking for money. She also realized, with a horrible sense of dread, the bank robber hadn’t covered his face. Since everyone in the bank could easily identify him, Pria recognized their chances for getting out alive were dwindling. Although the thief kept his voice low on the phone, Pria had the sense that he was asking for someone named Joe.

“Yeah, you get Joe in here,” he said smugly, leaving Pria to wonder who Joe was.

The thief concluded the conversation quickly, slamming the phone’s receiver back into its cradle. Three long strides brought him to Pria, with her legs tucked under her on the floor. Grabbing a fistful of her long, dark hair, he pulled her upright.

“Do what you’re told, bitch,” he hissed, spinning her to face the door. “Understand?”

Grimacing, Pria nodded, causing him to yank her hair harder. “You will not hurt me,” she whispered. The glamour wouldn’t work, she realized. He was too wired and she couldn’t make eye contact with her back to his chest. With one hand still fisted in her hair, he pulled her forward with him, yanked the bar out of the door handles and dragged her back to the middle of the floor. He propped his other arm over her shoulder to point the gun at the bank’s front door.

Pria couldn’t see police or anything else through the glass doors, but within minutes, they parted and a tall, dark-haired guy stepped through. He was wearing a dark suit, a pale blue shirt and a Kevlar vest. A badge was clipped to his belt, but he didn’t appear to be armed. His face showed no emotion, as he spread his hands wide in front of him.

“Hi Marcus,” the cop said calmly. “You could’ve called or sent me a text if you’d wanted to talk.”

“Wasn’t sure you’d wanna’ talk, Joe,” Marcus Whitwater, thief, gunman and ex-con answered, grinning again. He was enormously pleased to see Joe Cafaris. In fact, he almost had to stifle a chuckle because this was the cop who’d taken his freedom more than ten years ago to put him in jail. In hell, actually, but today, Joe would be the one to walk him out the door with all the cash in the bank. The situation was a delicious irony to Whitwater, who had every intention of killing the cop after they were away from the bank and perhaps not too quickly.

Joe noted the presence and position of the woman Whitwater was hanging onto. Dark, red slip, lots of dark hair, no shoes and …breathing. Her position would make the sniper’s job tougher. Had to hurt, being held by the hair, but he prayed she’d remain still and not fucking lose it now.

“Well, we’re talking now,” Joe said evenly, beginning his approach to Whitwater and Pria. “You’ve got my undivided attention, but you need to let the woman go, Marcus. I’ll take her place. That’s what you want, right?” If Joe could keep the bastard’s attention focused on him, the hostages stood a decent chance of getting out alive. Well, some kind of chance, he thought, taking another step forward. From the corner of his eye, he saw the door to the employee lounge open a crack, but he kept his face toward Whitwater. Behind the black slit, between the door and its frame, a police sniper waited anxiously.

“I can get you out of here,” Joe said, still moving toward Whitwater and Pria. “You were right about that. I’m probably one of the few people who could get you out of here, Marcus. The hostages…the woman you’re hanging onto …they’re a liability now. They’ll be too hard to move once you’re through the doors. But you already know the cops outside won’t shoot me…won’t even risk shooting at me. I’m your ticket out, Marcus. You’re too smart to blow it, right?”

Pria grimaced as Whitwater tightened his grip in her hair again. She watched Joe moving forward with a strange, powerful grace that spoke volumes to her. She sensed his anger…his determination… his intimate knowledge that death was possible for all of them, yet his approach was relentless and steady. Like the gun meant nothing.

Roughly a yard separated them. Joe knew time was disappearing fast. If the woman screamed or moved suddenly, Whitwater would start shooting. Or he’d start shooting whether she moved or not.

“Take the bag, Marcus,” Joe said, taking three slow steps forward. “Take the money and let’s go for a walk. Let me change places with her” Very slowly, he started to reach for Pria, who eyed him with horror.

For a single moment, Joe allowed himself to take his eyes away from Whitwater’s face to look down at Pria. She was breathtakingly beautiful, he realized. And utterly terrified. White hot rage flared in his chest, but he reined it. This was no time for an emotional response. He raised his hand very slowly, inching his palm forward toward her shoulder.

Pria turned her eyes toward Joe, seeing that he meant to ease her free of Whitwater’s grasp. What flooded her senses now was the intuitive knowledge that Whitwater wanted desperately to blow the cop’s head off and the robbery, the hostages and everything else revolved around that single desire. If Joe changed places with her, he would die.

“No,” she whispered. As a loud popping sound deafened her, a searing burn ignited Pria’s bicep. She raised her bound hands to her chest, squeezed her eyes closed and brought all of her energies to a tight, hot ball in her chest. She held the mental picture of Whitwater’s face as he’d screamed at the dark-haired teenager a short time ago and shot her energies outward at his image.

Standing behind her, Marcus Whitwater instantly felt like a lightning bolt had sliced through his chest as a hot pain grabbed at the very center of his body. His heart sputtered and seized causing a horrible grinding sensation to take root behind his sternum. Every nerve cell in his body tingled with electricity like he’d shoved both hands into an outlet. The gun slipped from his fingers and thudded on the floor in front of Pria. He gasped as if trying to suck a breath beneath twenty feet of water.

Pria felt Whitwater’s body cave into itself, as he released his hold on her hair. As his struggling heart sent his blood on one final lap through his veins and arteries, she stepped forward to Joe, who caught her shoulders and pulled her close. She grabbed at the pain in her arm awkwardly, but her knees were suddenly loose and the floor seemed to be on its way up to her face. Hot, thick liquid was running down her arm over her fingers. As Joe’s arms closed around her, two more shots were fired, but Pria couldn’t tell where they were coming from. She moved into Joe’s chest, letting him break her fall. Someone was screaming.

Still clutching Pria, Joe saw Whitwater hit the floor and an ocean of blood forming beneath him. He yanked his jacket off to wrap her in it. The sleeve went wet and warm in his hands. “You’re going to be okay…we’re going to get you out of here…,” Joe reassured her. “What’s your name?”

“Pria…my name’s Pria,” she replied.

Within moments, they were engulfed in a swarm of cops and paramedics. Still clutching her to his chest on the floor, Joe picked up Pria’s bloody, discolored hands. He yelled for something to cut the wire with.

“I’m Joe,” he said quickly. “You were very brave, Pria. Stay with me. We’re gonna get you out of here

Pria looked up at the stranger who had offered his life for her own. The man Whitwater would have happily killed. Even frowning and more than a little pissed, he was gorgeous. She had the strangest thought that, she would come to know him in the ways a female knows a man. And would struggle with all that would bring, but faces began swimming before her eyes, pulling her away from the thought. Someone was tugging her from Joe’s arms to lift her. She was being plopped on something hard, flanked by several enormous paramedics. Her legs were being covered. Someone was asking her name. One of the paramedics, a woman with a kind, round face, asked her about medical problems. Did she take any medications? Was she allergic to anything? Pria shook her head. Loud voices and the sound of at least one woman weeping clogged her ears but it all seemed to be moving away from her now. She struggled to keep her eyes open. Someone was cutting the wires around her wrists, which stung like hell. A paramedic in a blue uniform was wrapping something thick and white around one of her wrists.

“Sorry we have to hurt ya’, sweetheart,” a rusty-haired paramedic said, lifting her hand. “We’re gonna put an IV line in, honey, so we can give ya’ fluids and other stuff.” The paramedic raised one of Pria’s hands, eyed her discolored fingers and shook his head. He pulled her right arm straight at her side, wrapping a tourniquet in place and shoving a needle into a vein, which burned a trail down to her mottled hand. Pria jerked away involuntarily. And jerked again as her wounded arm was maneuvered and wrapped.

“Easy with the fucking needle, Mike” Joe said tightly, across her body.

“Sorry Joe. I gotta put a line in,” the paramedic said apologetically.

“No…no hospitals,” Pria whispered to no one particular. “No hospital…” Her voice was literally falling on deaf ears, but Joe’s face filled her eyes for a moment. His eyes seemed endless and so filled with concern, as he frowned.

“You’re going to be okay,” he promised. “You’re going to be fine.”

“Hospital…no…,” Pria replied, trying in vain to sit up.

“Yeah, you’re going to the hospital,” Joe assured her, pressing her shoulder gently to the gurney. “We’re going to take care of you.”

“We’re ready to go, Joe,” the rusty-haired paramedic said. “The gunshot wound…we just stabilized her. It’s best if the docs deal with it at the hospital.”

“Where’s she headed?” Joe asked, as the paramedic adjusted a thick belt across Pria’s middle to keep her from falling as they moved her.

“Saint Rushton University General. They’re prepped and waitin’,” the paramedic said, without looking up.

Joe looked down at Pria. God, she was really gorgeous, even bloody and half conscious.

Pria’s eyelids were so heavy, so hard to keep open, yet she knew he was staring at her, needed to say something more. He touched her shoulder through the white sheet the paramedics had wrapped her in. His jacket was somewhere under it with her.

“I’ll see you again, Pria,” he said. “Just lie back. Try to relax. Let these guys do what they do best.”

“Fuck…,” Pria murmured although the surrounding noise prevented anyone from hearing her. The gurney was moving and she was suddenly dizzy, moving past so many faces turned in her direction. As she slid into darkness, she wondered when Joe would find her.

 

For the first moments Pria was awake, she didn’t understand why the lights were so blinding or where so many loud voices could be coming from. For that brief time, she remained still and flat in the hospital bed, unsure of where she was. With a blinding speed, the details overtook her, jolting her into brutal reality. Launching herself upright, she saw the pale, yellow privacy curtains around her bed…a bed with safety bars, which could only mean she was in a hospital for humans, probably an emergency department with lots of doctors and nurses who were completely used to treating humans. And she’d probably been there for hours. Her red slip had been replaced with a hospital gown and her bicep was bandaged. Her wrists were covered with white dressings as well. Prodding the bandage on her upper arm she felt a tingling sensation A bag of clear fluid hung over her on a stand connected to the needle in her hand. What she knew almost instantly was what she didn’t have.

 

No cell… no purse… no clothes…no car.

 

“Relax,” Joe said quietly. “You’re okay now. You’re in the ER at Saint Rushton University General Hospital.”

Joe’s voice startled Pria, as he’d been sitting almost behind her, on a hard plastic chair that felt like it had become part of his ass. He’d planted himself there about an hour ago, simply waiting for her to wake up. He’d used the time to talk to his supervisor, Cy Kent, and learned that Marcus Whitwater had died, although it would take a coroner to figure out exactly why. The thief had taken the second and third shots fired in the bank; one had fractured his hip and the other had traveled through his ass. Neither should have killed him, but Whitwater was parked in the morgue.

The first shot fired had wounded Pria, a fact likely to cause a massive problem for the Saint Rushton Police Department. As a result Cy had ordered Joe to remain with her, promising to stay in touch, but orders were only one reason he’d remained. Something had just annoyed the hell out of him about her being alone there, even though the ER was a place he knew as well as a staff member. Of course, he’d tried not to stare at her, but he couldn’t seem to pull his eye away from the fall of dark waves framing her too-pale face. He’d had time to notice that although tiny and wrapped in the ugliest garment in the universe, commonly called a hospital gown, her curves were impossible to miss. He’d also had plenty of time to call himself a bastard for thinking like this about a woman who had survived being a hostage and a gun shot.

“I’m sorry I frightened you. You’re safe now,” he said, rising to move to the upright bed rail.

“You were at the bank,” Pria said. “I remember… you offered to change places with me.”

“Yeah, I was in the bank. I’m Joe Cafaris,” Joe said, taking in her eyes, which were the same wild green as the ocean just before a storm.

“I’m glad you were there. I’m grateful for what you did,” Pria said, amazed at his courage. She knew she was staring. Staring kind of hard, but damn, he was breathtaking, with his wide shoulders and dark eyes. Mentally she slapped herself for going in that direction.

“Your name’s Pria, right? Can I get you anything? I should get a doctor or a nurse. They told me you’re going to be fine in a couple of days,” he said, aware that he was talking too fast. “A doctor should really tell you…whatever you need to know. I think they’re admitting you for the night anyway.”

Being admitted to a hospital for humans was so not going to happen, as far as Pria was concerned, but she knew she’d have to move cautiously. She really didn’t want to have to glamour Joe or black him out entirely.

“Looks like they already took care of my arm,” Pria said, lifting her bandaged limb, as if offering proof. “I don’t need to see a doctor really. Do you know where my clothing might be? I had a slip on, but when I got to the bank, I had a dress… shoes.”

“Your clothing is evidence for now actually, but you can’t leave yet,” Joe replied, surprised she’d think of doing so.

“Damn,” she swore, looking at the hospital gown. “I really do have to leave. I mean, I am all right.”

Joe’s face showed the amazement he felt. Usually people who had been shot weren’t in a dizzy rush to leave a hospital. And although her eyes were…well…spectacular, he couldn’t tell her that leaving was a great idea. “You were wounded in a rather traumatic event and it would be kind of foolish…crazy really…. to leave the hospital so soon afterwards. The other hostages are being checked out here too.”

“Are you calling me crazy or just foolish Officer Cafaris?” Pria asked, smiling

Joe had seen bigger people than this little brunette insist they were utterly fine, just before they kissed the floor. “Neither,” he said, instantly regretting his choice of words. “You displayed a lot of courage in the bank. Everyone got out okay, but if you had started screaming or struggling with Whitwater, he’d have started shooting. Frankly, leaving here is a bad idea,” he insisted. “You should stay for your own good. And, it’s detective, by the way.”

“Whitwater? That’s the guy’s name…that had me?”

Joe nodded. “He was taken down.”

“You mean dead?” Pria asked, feigning a lack of knowledge. Damn, she hated lying, when she knew the bastard had been dead before he hit the floor, even before he’d been shot.

“Yeah, dead.”

“He wanted to kill you,” Pria said, before she could stop herself.

Joe wondered how she could know that, but maybe Whitwater had said something to her about it. He nodded again. “We think that was the idea. He was definitely looking for revenge.”

“For what?”

Man, this woman had a lot of questions, but then she had a weird right to know. “Several years ago, he committed a crime a lot like what happened today at the bank and I arrested him,” Joe explained. “He went to jail for about ten years. While he was there, his wife divorced him. He basically lost everything and I guess he had a lot of time to think it all over and come up with me as the reason for his troubles. Then, he got out. Turned out, life on the outside wasn’t to his liking either. In his mind, I guess it all came back to me and so this stuff that went down at the bank. This was his insane idea of revenge. Getting me to walk him out of there with all the money was like some crazy symbolic way for him to turn me into a criminal. People like Whitwater aren’t usually too smart. He was operating on straight emotion and probably a dose of a few recreational chemicals so he didn’t think about the bank’s cameras or the back entrance we used to get in after the panic buttons were pushed. As I said, I think the idea was to kill me. And as many other people…cops…as possible.”

“And you walked in anyway,” Pria pointed out.

“When the tellers hit the panic buttons, we had to assume it was a hostage situation, since it was happening during the bank’s business hours. Walking in wasn’t a choice,” he said calmly.

“How did you know he wanted you to come into the bank?” Pria asked.

Joe smiled. “He asked for me. Said he’d start shooting people if I didn’t.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “You were remarkably brave at the bank. I want you to know that. It’s unfortunate you were wounded, but… ”

“I can’t say I feel particularly brave just now, but I appreciate what you’re saying,” Pria said, interrupting him. “It must have taken a lot of courage for you to do what you did, knowing about this guy already. Offering to take my place. That was pretty amazing.”

“Well, the point is that you’re gonna be okay and everyone else is okay,” he replied, deflecting the praise he didn’t feel he deserved anyway. “I apologize for the fact that you were accidentally wounded. It’s very unfortunate when hostage situations sometimes go this way.” In truth, she was lucky she hadn’t been killed, something Joe didn’t mention.

“I really have to go now,” Pria said again. Although she wouldn’t have objected to staring at Joe for a few more hours, the realities of the situation were intruding. “I forgive you for calling me crazy and foolish and I will swear you tried to prevent me from leaving the hospital, but I need to find some kind of clothing.”

Silence hung between them, giving Pria time to notice again that Joe had really wide shoulders and probably had a gorgeous chest to go with them. And beautiful dark eyes that looked tired in the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights hanging overhead.

“So, what’s the rush?” Joe asked after a moment. “Do you need to be somewhere? I mean…can someone bring you clothing at least?”

“I just don’t like hospitals,” Pria admitted. The fact that she’d ended up in one was going to be problematic enough. In ways the detective could not even begin to imagine. “Do you think I could borrow a set of scrubs or something?”

“Look, let me find a doctor to look you over. Just wait here,” Joe ordered. “If one of the docs say you’re okay, I’ll drive you home myself.” Joe’s plan was to find some sane nurse or doctor to tell Pria that she needed to remain in the hospital. He could not quite get her need to go, but the hospital had no authority to hold her against her will. As he whipped the curtain aside, he found himself face to face with a group clearly headed for Pria.

A tall man dressed in black, with wavy, blond hair that brushed his shoulders was right behind an enormous, dark haired guy, dressed in denim and a tall, elegant blond woman in dark glasses moved past Joe to Pria. The blond immediately lowered the bed bar, pulled her dark glasses off and drew Pria into a loose hug.

“We’re taking you home, Pria,” she said, plopping a gold tote bag on the bed. “I brought you something to wear.” Holding Pria at arm’s length, the woman looked her over critically. “Are you in pain?” she asked.

“No, Miri, no pain,” Pria answered. “This is the police officer…detective…from the bank,” she said, nodding in Joe’s direction. “He came into the bank to save me.”

The woman and both men turned to Joe. The blond man shook hands with him quickly, as the woman moved to the other side of Pria’s bed to disconnect the IV line and remove the needle from her arm. Joe noticed that she seemed to know what she was doing.

“We are extremely grateful for what you did,” the blond guy said. “We’re Pria’s family. We’ll care for her now.”

“She seems very eager to leave the hospital,” Joe said. “Maybe it would be best if….”

“No,” the woman called Miri said firmly. “We will care for her, but I thank you for saving her life. Everyone out now, so I can help Pria dress,” she said shooing the men, who walked out into a busy corridor within the emergency department.

“I’m Keircnan,” the blond man told Joe. “This is Monroe,” he said gesturing to the other man. “What happened to the man who was holding Pria? Was he killed?”

“Yes, he died at the scene,” Joe answered, without going into the details of an apparent lack of a cause of death for Whitwater. Plunging ahead, he said, “In fact, Marcus Whitwater…the guy that took Pria as a hostage… didn’t shoot her. She was accidentally wounded by a police sniper, who was aiming for Whitwater.” Joe paused to let that one sink in, before continuing. “The department apologizes for the fact that she was wounded in what went down at the bank and the medical bill….”

“Arrangements have already been made for the bill to be paid,” Keirc said quickly. “I was simply curious about this man, Whitwater. I can assure you, Pria will not be interested in suing the police department or speaking to the media about any of this. She has no wish to embarrass the police department. Her privacy is important as she will be recovering at home.”

“I didn’t know she’d spoken with her family,” Joe said, surprised again. She’d been out cold when he’d been with her and the hospital personnel had not contacted them, because they hadn’t known exactly who to call. “I wasn’t aware the hospital had called anyone. Are you her attorney?”

“Pria is my stepsister, but we are close,” Keirc replied. “I can assure you, her desires are as I have told you. Will the police department need to speak with her, do you think?”

For a fraction of a second, Joe thought he saw Keirc’s palm up near his face, but when he blinked, he saw the man’s hands at his sides. “The district attorney’s office…,” he said, struggling for a moment to recall the question.

“I see,” Keirc said. “She will be with us for a few days. I think I can convince her to stay with us that long, before she insists on returning to her business. If you need to reach her, leave a message at the Maidenheart Bakery. Pria is the owner.”

The sound of a cell phone interrupted the conversation. Monroe pulled the phone from his jacket to answer.

“Miri and Pria are in the car,” Monroe advised Keirc, ending the call. He shook Joe’s hand quickly, murmuring, “Thanks,” before turning to leave.

As the men left, Joe wondered about the odd conversation. A family that appeared from nowhere to take a woman with a gunshot wound home from a hospital that hadn’t officially discharged her. A beautiful victim who couldn’t get out of the hospital fast enough. A stepbrother who seemed to be doing the talking for her and nobody seemed to have any desire to hang the cop who’d shot her. And how in the hell had the women gotten out of the ER so fast? Without him seeing them?

Joe was still thinking about Pria as he headed through the hospital’s exit to his car. Jogging for the parking lot, he walked directly into Georgia Hudsis, TV anchor and professional pain in the ass. Seeing him, she whipped a hand through her blond bob, pulled her dark glasses off and moved in like the predator she was.

“Hey, gorgeous, “she breathed, standing a little too close. “Miss me?”

“Not really, Georgia, but how are you anyway?” Joe lifted a hand toward the reporter’s cameraman, who was already hoisting the large camera to his shoulder to start shooting in Joe’s direction. “No pictures,” he said firmly.

“You look camera-ready to me.”

Joe fixed Georgia in a hard stare, as her cameraman dropped the bulky camera to his side again.

“So, what happened at the bank?” she asked.

“Talk to Cy Kent yet?” Joe asked, referring to his supervising officer. With any luck he could dump the reporter in his lap and move on from Georgia’s relentless clutch. Looking around he saw no other news teams had appeared at the hospital, a good thing for the other hostages who were still being checked over inside.

“What would Cy know anyway? You were there,” the reporter said, moving a little closer to Joe.

“Yeah, I was there but you know how it goes. Can’t release any information that might compromise any investigation .blah…blah…blah. I’m not who you need Georgia. Talk to Cy.” he advised.

“What investigation, Joe? The guy went into the bank. He took hostages. He wanted money. You guys shot him and he’s dead.” Georgia put her hand on a cocked hip.

“Not much of a story, when you put it like that, huh?” Joe pointed out, beginning to move away from the blond.

“I heard there was bad blood between the two of you,” she said keeping pace with his long strides. “You and the guy at the bank, I mean. Any truth there?”

“Really? That’s what you heard?” Joe said, dodging the question.

“How are the hostages?”

“Well, probably happy they’re not hostages any more, Georgia, but do humanity a favor and give them some space huh?” Joe stopped walking to nail her squarely in her big blue eyes. “They’ve been through something traumatic. Your questions and the whole camera thing won’t help them.”

“Killjoy,” Georgia accused. “What about the woman who was shot? She’s still in there?” she asked, realizing she wasn’t going to get anything worth broadcasting from Joe.

“A woman was shot?” Joe knew this tactic of firing questions, as she shot her own in his direction, was especially annoying to her, but he considered it entertaining as hell.

“Yeah, that’s what I heard. One of the hostages was shot. She was wearing a cute red slip.”

“Well, Georgia, I think you could be right about her still being inside,” Joe said, lifting a dark eyebrow and looking over his shoulder at the hospital exit. As odd as his conversation with Pria’s family had been, he was suddenly glad they’d taken her from the hospital, even if he had no idea how they’d managed to do it so damned quickly.

Georgia’s interest in Joe evaporated like a tiny puddle on a suffocating afternoon. She started moving back toward the hospital exit as if she’d never seen him before in her life.

Free again, Joe jogged to his car. Once inside, he placed a call to the hospital to talk with the ER’s charge nurse, a guy Joe respected for his ability to get things done quickly. After explaining his conversation with Georgia Hudsis to the nurse, Joe suggested that any hostages leaving the hospital should be escorted out by hospital security or cops and taken through a back exit from the ER to the parking garage. He’d already arranged for each of them to be driven home by cops if no family members showed up to get them.

 

As Joe was dumping Georgia and hopefully preventing her from wreaking emotional havoc with ex-hostages, Pria dropped her head on the backseat of Keirc’s SUV, looking forward to reaching the Sanctum, a haven for supernaturals a little less than a hundred miles from Saint Rushton, where she’d been raised with Keirc by her step-parents, Miri and Andrieu. Keirc was behind the wheel, with Monroe riding shotgun. Miri was next to Pria in the back seat.

“So, Whitwater’s dead,” Keirc said breaking the silence. “Your kill?” he asked Pria.

“Yes,” she answered. “My kill.” The thought nauseated her slightly even though she’d killed before. As her mother had been a fallen angel, she had the abilities to preserve life or end it. In some circumstances, ending life was a noble calling, but she wouldn’t have taken Whitwater’s life had there been an option. With Joe Cafaris facing a certain death if he’d taken her place, she’d had no choice. If Whitwater had only wanted money, she’d have done nothing to prevent him from taking it. “How did you know what happened?”

“Monroe heard a news report at the bakery. The initial report said a number of police vehicles were at the bank, but he knew that was where you’d gone, so he called Keircnan,” Miri answered. “Keirc tracked police scanners and then hit the hospital databases. That’s how we knew where you’d been taken. All of the hostages went to Saint Rushton University General.” Miri covered Pria’s hand with her own. Knowing her stepdaughter, she could sense Pria’s uneasiness as well as the pain in her arm. Miri also knew that if Pria had killed, there had been no alternative. “Tell us what happened,” she said.

Pria outlined the events at the bank, including the fact that Joe would have died if he had taken her place as Whitwater’s shield.

“Well, I think the humans should be thanking you, although I still can’t for the life of me see why the hell you want to live or work among them,” Keirc said, unearthing a conflict that had existed since Pria had made the decision to move from the Sanctum years ago. “The Sanctum is your home, Pria. You’re safe there. Much as you might wish otherwise, you are not a human and humans…”

“Keirc, please don’t start…,” Pria said, trying to cut her stepbrother’s rant before he really got rolling.

“You descend from an angel and a vampire, for Christ’s sake, and what happened today could prove to be a risk for everyone at the Sanctum, which is where you belong, Pria.”

“Keirc, the Sanctum…”

“Is a safe haven for all supernaturals, Pria,” Keirc continued. “Your own mother was a founder with your father. And, now, I’m going to have to do a hack and scrub on a lot of records to prevent problems.”

The sound of Keirc’s voice was becoming unbearable to Pria, as she cut him off again. “Keirc just shut the hell up!”

“What of this detective, Pria? What did you tell him?” Miri asked.

“Nothing,” Pria answered.

“I told him that Pria owns the Maidenheart Bakery,” Keirc said. “He would’ve ended up knowing that anyway, if he doesn’t already. He’s very bright, Pria, and very strong willed. It was tough to glamour him, while you were leaving the hospital.”

“He offered his life for mine,” Pria said. “I know we may be facing problems but he deserves respect for that.”

Problems? Ya’ think?” Keirc said sarcastically. “We do all we can to avoid anything that would reveal who and what we are to humans, Pria, and when something like this goes down, it’s a headache. Still, it was a very righteous kill. You should be proud of that at least.”

“Thanks Keirc. I’m so glad you’re proud of me,” Pria replied, her voice oozing sarcasm to equal his.

“Keirc complains about your choices but he loves you Pria. He’ll do what needs to be done once we reach home,” Miri said. Her voice was firm but soft, an order for Keirc in disguise. “You should stay at our home until you are healed, of course.”

Pria agreed wearily and closed her eyes against the fading warmth of the afternoon landscape moving past the car windows. The sound of Miri’s cell broke her light doze briefly, but she only listened to Miri’s voice relating the details of her ordeal to her stepfather, Andrieu, for a moment before letting her thoughts coast. She knew Andrieu would be waiting when they arrived at the Sanctum.

“Don’t worry about anything Pria. I’ll take care of things at the bakery, Keirc will do what he does and you’ll get better,” Monroe said.

A werewolf of few words, her business partner and best friend, his advice warmed her heart. “Thanks Monroe,” Pria said smiling. As the conversation died, she put her head back against the leather seat and thought about what Joe’s hair would feel like against her fingertips. His dark, soft curls had brushed his collar but his eyes had really drawn her. He might be human, but walking into the damned bank had taken balls, she thought. His arms felt so strong as she’d collapsed against him. The thought drifted as she fell into a light sleep.

 

Continued….

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