STEP ONE: A NOVEL
A Short Synopsis:
Clare Davis is stuck in her job, her relationship, and in a deep depression that governs her life. She has no idea she’s a powerful healer with a coldblooded enemy.
Ransom Mayes is Clare’s assigned guardian. He knows everything about her. But since she doesn’t know he exists, convincing her she’s in grave danger and needs his round-the-clock protection will take a miracle.
They meet when Clare accidentally runs over Ransom with her car. His gasp back to life makes her feel like the luckiest person on the planet, until he shows up at her work demanding a ride to a town several hours away. She owes him, he says.
Ransom’s crazy and unbelievably arrogant, Clare decides, but after she’s fired from her job, she begrudgingly agrees to drive him to see a medicine man—the first of several healers who teach her about the mysterious energy system and how it creates everything around her.
As Clare’s awareness grows, the men on her trail close in. When Ransom can’t protect her, Clare must find a way to use the powerful force within her if she hopes to survive.
Read An Excerpt:
Ransom Mayes fought a bitter north wind as he rode his bicycle up a steep, icy hill. His breathing came in raspy white bursts, and his boot-clad feet frequently slipped off the pedals, costing time he didn’t have.
To the casual observer, Ransom could pass as a college student, anxious for a warm bed after a shift waiting tables at one of the nearby pubs. Dressed in layers designed to keep out the cold, the hooded parka didn’t hide his streaked blond hair, or freakish eyes so green they were the first thing people noticed about him.
Ransom glanced over his shoulder. The street was empty, as had been the case whenever he checked, yet he couldn’t shake the feeling of being followed. A crazy thought since no one knew he existed.
Dipping his head into the wind, Ransom put his mind back on the task at hand. He knew what was at stake. A tardy minute meant a premature death for someone who wasn’t prepared. He couldn’t let that happen. Would not let that happen. He saved lives. He would save this one, too.
The street crested, and Ransom pumped the bicycle faster. A loud crack overhead dropped a large, ice-covered tree branch in his path. Skidding left, he avoided brittle limbs as they shattered on the frozen street, but overcompensated by leaning too far right. His boot caught on the ice and he spun around landing hard, face down, sprawled across the pavement. A bloody gash on his chin went unnoticed as he righted the bike and got back on, thankful it hadn’t been damaged.
Pedaling for all he was worth, the shrill wind whistled in his ears and whipped his face raw. Hugging low in the seat, Ransom tightened his grip on the handlebars, no longer able to feel his fingertips. He took a sharp corner cutting through a crowded nightclub parking lot, weaving his way between cars.
A door to the club opened, flooding the night with a rectangle of yellow light and the pulsing sound of a bass guitar. For a moment, Ransom was drawn to the inviting warmth inside. What he wouldn’t give for a steaming mug of whiskey-laced coffee and the chance to thaw his frozen feet.
Such comforting thoughts. They were his last. From the corner of his eye he saw red taillights an instant before the car’s rear bumper rammed him.
Clare Davis checked her coat at the door and peered across the packed, dimly lit nightclub taking stock of her surroundings. The space had an upscale artsy vibe with its funky paintings and exposed brick walls. Smiling, beautiful people sat in plush velvet chairs around low tables sipping imported liquors and the club’s signature drinks.
Clare pulled a self-conscious hand through her hair knowing she was grossly underdressed in leggings and a long, bulky sweater—items she’d hastily gathered from her bedroom floor. Most patrons dismissed her with less than a glance.
Not that she cared what anyone thought. Clare was on a mission. Forty minutes earlier she’d slept with her boyfriend Keith Paulson, a handsome tax attorney she’d been dating for six months. He was charming and attentive, but it bothered her that he wouldn’t stay the night no matter how much she begged. His excuse? He was a horrible sleeper, restless and wild. How could he live with himself if he hurt her?
Fair enough, Clare had thought, but it didn’t explain why he wouldn’t take her anywhere. Six months of Chinese takeout and pizza delivery gets a gal wondering what’s wrong with this picture. Was he ashamed of her? At age twenty-eight she wasn’t model perfect, not that she had ever been, but she didn’t think herself too hideous to take to a movie.
So tonight, after Keith left her bed, Clare got in her car and trailed him. As she searched the crowd, part of her felt like a criminal. Where was her trust? But the uncertain side needed answers, especially after catching him glance at the clock while they made love. A large chunk of her world got shaky when she saw him enter the club.
Shouldering her purse, Clare threaded her way to the bar and tried to suppress the sinking feeling in her gut. Don’t jump to conclusions, she reminded herself. He’s probably doing someone’s taxes.
Customers stood two deep waiting for drinks. The bar’s blue under lighting cast them in ghostly elegance. Clare scanned the lineup. No Keith. At six foot three inches tall with linebacker shoulders, she didn’t imagine he’d be too hard to find. The problem was what to say when she found him? She’d left her apartment in a hurry and hadn’t thought things through. Maybe she could tell him she was meeting a friend.
She shook her head. No good. Lying wasn’t her strong suit. She’d turn red-faced with guilt, and he’d see right through her. She couldn’t even call in to work if she wasn’t sick.
She had to tell Keith the truth. Not that telling the truth had worked in her favor with her last boyfriend. A pang of regret tugged at her heart. Shaking off the dark thought, she squared her shoulders. Keith was different, and hopefully—fingers crossed—he’d view her being at the club as testament to how much she cared for him.
She let out a groan. Who was she kidding? She knew how much he valued his privacy. Was she willing to destroy everything they had together for her silly insecurities?
An anxious, gnawing sensation wormed its way from her belly to her throat. Rapidly, everything became clear. She loved Keith and he loved her. Whatever reason he had for being at the club was none of her business, and she needed to leave now. Spying on him was a bad idea.
The back exit was a short distance from the stage. Clare pushed her way through the bystanders toward the door, praying she wouldn’t run into Keith. Halfway there, she was struck in her tracks by the sight of her boyfriend on the dance floor with an attractive woman. Plastered together, they swayed to the music, barely moving, gazing soulfully into one another’s eyes. The woman’s hair fell in shimmering gold down her back, and her leather skirt was shorter and tighter and considerably more expensive than anything in Clare’s closet.
She watched as Keith’s lips slowly slid over the blonde’s slender neck, pressing tender kisses at the sensitive nape—the spot he knew made Clare shiver with need for him. Wrapped in the moment, Clare knew neither had a clue she was less than ten feet away staring in horrified disbelief.
People and noise blurred. Clare felt like she was going to be sick, but she couldn’t turn away. The woman tipped her face to Keith’s, and he kissed her with a passionate urgency that made Clare’s face flame with humiliation. Obviously, neither gave a flying fig they were in the middle of a packed dance floor making out like horny teenagers in front of everyone. In front of her.
Something inside Clare snapped. With hands fisted at her sides, she marched over to Keith and sharply tapped his shoulder. Turning his lustful gaze on her, he was all lipstick-smeared smiles until his sex-hazed brain came into focus. His eyes went wide. “Clare?”
Rage climbed in a hot flush up Clare’s neck. The urge to slap that perfect face was fierce. She said, “Thought you had an early morning client meeting. Since when does tax research involve fifty ways to jam your tongue down someone’s throat?”
Puzzled, the blonde in Keith’s arms arched her brows at him. “Babe? Who is this?” she asked.
Clare’s eyes narrowed. Yes, Keith, tell Miss Leather Skirt who I am.
Keith’s face turned ashen as he looked from Clare to the woman. A fake laugh gurgled from his throat ending in a coughing fit. The thought he might choke cheered Clare some. How dare he mess around on her with this woman!
Recovering, Keith smiled sweetly at the blonde, planting a reassuring kiss to her palm. “She’s no one. A secretary from the firm.”
Clare couldn’t believe her ears. What a liar! She clenched her teeth. “I am not a secretary. Keith, tell this woman who I am.”
He stared at Clare as if she were demented. “Oh. Right. Executive assistant.”
Keith rolled his eyes at the blonde as if to say “see what I have to put up with,” and hustled her off the dance floor away from Clare.
Couples swirled around Clare as she watched Keith guide the woman out of earshot, his hand possessively at the small of her back. This intimate gesture felt even more devastating than the make-out session she’d witnessed. Jealousy pricked Clare’s heart. Why was he treating her like this? Who was this woman?
Her boyfriend and the blonde stood together a moment talking; the woman’s disapproving eyes on Clare the entire time. Keith pulled his wallet from a back pocket and when he handed it to her, Clare caught a glint of light off her third finger. The woman was wearing a wedding ring! Three karats of he’s-totally-married-you-idiot. The air left her lungs in one gasp. How could she not have known?
Keith bent to give the woman a kiss, but she pulled away and set off for the bar with nose in the air. Men’s heads swiveled in her wake. Keith watched her settle in before turning cold eyes on Clare. A shiver went through her. No one had ever looked at her with such hate.
Suddenly the club noise was unbearable, the walls too close, the lights too bright. Dark spots floated in front of Clare’s face and panic erupted in her chest. She was minutes away from a full-blown migraine.
She tried to pull herself together, but people were staring. A couple danced close to her and smirked, their silent message told her she was too pathetic for words. Clare turned from them, the neon exit sign straight ahead. As she stumbled toward the door, Keith caught her roughly by the elbow and hissed in her ear. “We need to talk.”
Shoving the door open, Keith yanked her with him into the freezing cold of a lighted alley, a space designated for smokers. But tonight there were no smokers. The brutal windchill kept them away.
Keith released her and spun on his heels, his handsome features hard with contempt. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Withering under his harsh stare, Clare silently cursed herself for her weakness. She was not the one at fault here. He was. She lifted her chin. “I followed you.”
“You followed me.” He shook his head. “Not cool.”
“Is she your wife?”
His nostrils flared. “That’s not your concern.”
“Not my concern? I fell in love with you, you jerk. You made me think our relationship meant something.”
Angry tears sprung from her eyes and Keith’s glare softened. Good. Let him see the pain he’s caused.
He tenderly thumbed a tear from her face. “We do have something. I don’t want to lose you.”
She slapped his hand away. “You disgust me.”
He snorted, cruelness in his expression an hour earlier Clare wouldn’t have thought possible. Eyeing her as if she were a rabid dog, he took a step back and adjusted his tie. “It didn’t have to be like this. We had a good thing.”
“You had a good thing. You told me I was special.”
His voice dropped. “Oh honey, you are special. No one gives head like you do.”
With a quick tug on his shirt cuffs, Keith strolled through the door without looking back. Clare clasped a hand over her heart. She couldn’t believe how much his meanness hurt. The pain was unbearable. Maybe she’d luck out and have a heart attack.
The swiftness of the thought stunned her, and yet boosted her spirits. A year of therapy and there it was—the truth. She wanted to die. There were a thousand reasons to shut her eyes and not wake. Why keep struggling? In fact, the more she thought about dying the more peaceful she felt.
The door banged open, caught by the wind. A scrawny guy in a rumpled suit stepped into the bitter cold, a cigarette pressed between thin lips. He gave her a quick nod before putting his shoulder to the wind, wasting no time lighting up.
Clare shivered, her knees weakening as adrenaline waned. Dying was one thing. But it was unthinkable to die in front of a guy hacking out a lung in an alley where her boyfriend dumped her. No, she would be warm at least. And she would be wearing something other than wretched black leggings. She’d have to forget about her coat. No way could she go back inside and risk running into Keith and that woman.
Walking briskly through the alley toward her car in the lot, Clare’s purse bounced at her hip. The muffled music from inside the club provided a beat for her silent mantra:
I want to die.
I want to die.
I want to die.
Clare spotted her Camry beneath a brightly lit security lamp. An hour ago she cared about her safety. How freeing not to give a rat’s ass about that now.
Numb fingers fumbled in her purse for keys. Unlocking the door, she crawled inside huddling behind the steering wheel. Getting the key into the ignition took patience, her shaking hands nearly uncontrollable. Thankfully, the engine turned right over and she shifted into reverse with one thought in mind: God, help me die.
A loud thud from behind her made Clare stomp on the brake. Her eyes flew to the rearview mirror, certain she’d backed into another car. Not seeing anything, she got out to check. She’d noticed broken glass on the ground earlier. A flat tire would be perfect for this horrible night.
The tires on the driver’s side looked good. As she approached the rear, her heart lodged in her throat. On the ground was a young man in a crumpled heap, a bicycle next to him. He wasn’t moving. A dark streak on his chin looked like it might be blood.
Frantic, Clare ran for the club and rushed the first people she saw—a young couple pulling on coats. “Help! A man in the parking lot is hurt!”
The couple glanced at each other and quick understanding passed between them. Handing her his cellphone, the man said to Clare, “My wife will call an ambulance. I’m a paramedic. Show me where he is.”
Darting from the nightclub, Clare raced to her car with the paramedic a step behind. Kneeling beside the young man, he felt for a pulse at the neck while white clouds spewed from the Camry’s exhaust.
“Shut off your car,” the paramedic told her.
Obeying, Clare killed the engine. When she returned, he was gently rolling the man onto his back. Hugging her arms, Clare stood off to the side, her teeth chattering. “I-I was backing out and I heard a noise. I got out to look… oh, God.” Tears pricked her eyes. She swallowed hard. “Will he be all right?”
Glancing up at Clare, the paramedic’s expression was serious. “I’ll do what I can. Do you know him?”
“No.” She shook her head. “He looks so young.”
The paramedic listened close to the man’s mouth, brows drawn in concentration. Clare saw white breath coming from the paramedic, but nothing from the man lying on the ground. Everything about him was still. Too still. Fear seized her. She had to look away to keep from screaming.
The paramedic’s wife approached, followed by a panting, heavyset man. “An ambulance is twenty minutes away,” she told him.
He shook his head. “Too long. I can’t get a pulse. We need to move him inside where it’s warm and start CPR.”
“I’m the club manager,” the heavyset man said to the paramedic. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Can you lift?”
“Yes. Where do you want me?”
“Opposite me. We’ll each take a side.” The paramedic looked at his wife. “Can you hold his head?”
She nodded and knelt at the man’s head.
The paramedic turned to Clare and she shrank back, bile rising. She couldn’t stop shaking. “H-he’s d-dead, isn’t he? I know he’s dead.”
Shrugging out of his jacket, the paramedic helped Clare into it. “Better?” he asked.
Her whole body shook, but the warmth of his jacket did make her feel better.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
The paramedic placed a firm hand on her shoulder, his calm eyes held hers. His tone was straightforward as he explained what he wanted to do. “Clare, we’re going to move this man indoors so I can help him. You hold his feet, and we’ll do the rest.”
Marshalling what courage she could, Clare let him lead her to the man’s feet. She studied the black treads on his boots, anything to keep from thinking about what she was doing.
Taking position near the man’s chest, the paramedic gave instructions. “On the count of three, we’ll lift.” He looked around the group. “One. Two. Three.”
Without warning, the young man’s eyes flew open. Sucking in a loud, gasping breath, he bolted upright into a sitting position. Clare screamed, jerking away, and so did the paramedic’s wife. The manager fell onto his backside clutching his chest. “Christ. What the hell?”
Eyes wide, the paramedic grabbed the young man’s arm. “Whoa, there. Easy, buddy.”
The young man rolled his neck, stretching, and moved his jaw a couple times. He blinked at the people circling him. “What’s going on?”
“You were in an accident,” the paramedic said. “The ambulance is on the way. Why don’t you lie down?”
“Why? I feel pretty good. Jaw’s kind of sore is all.”
Looking around, he spotted his bicycle. Before the paramedic could stop him, the young man was on his feet and straddling the bike. About to push off, the paramedic stepped in front of him and held onto the handlebars. “Let me take you to the hospital. You weren’t breathing. You didn’t have a pulse. Technically, you were dead.”
The young man grinned warmly at the paramedic, his clear green eyes sparkled. “I’m okay, I promise. You can let go.”
Reluctantly, the paramedic moved back. “Your life.”
Along with the others, Clare watched the young man ride away, barely able to believe her remarkable luck. The guy was alive! Not only was he alive, but healthy enough to ride his bike. He hadn’t even asked for her address or her insurance information or anything. She wanted to dance with relief, until she remembered her death wish. A shudder went through her. This night could have ended so differently.
The young man turned onto the street, and gave them a wave. Before disappearing into the night, he called from over his shoulder. “See you later, Clare.”
At his words, her stomach lurched. How did he know her name?