Excerpted from MARKED
April 27, 2010
She should have been shocked to see him again, but Casey was too numb to feel anything other than irritation at the interruption. “We’re closed early due to the
“I—” Theron cleared his throat. “I’m looking for Acacia Simopolous.”
He didn’t even know he was looking for her? Wonderful. Her day was sooo getting better.
“You found her.” She refocused on her task and shoved a book on the shelf harder than it needed. “And for the record, the only person allowed to call me Acacia is my grandmother, who, thanks for reminding me, is dead. Now, if that takes care of the reason you’re here, you can head right back out the way you came in.”
He let out what sounded to her like a frustrated breath.
As if she cared.
“I’d like a few minutes to speak with you—”
She turned to flick a withering look his direction from above. “My friends call me Casey. Since you are neither a friend nor relative, you can call me Ms. Simopolous. Assuming, that is, you can remember my frickin’ name.”
When he continued to stare up at her with a befuddled expression, her last shred of patience broke. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. What the hell are you doing here, Theron? You made it perfectly clear the other night you didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
“You remember that? I didn’t—”
“Trust me, buddy. I’d like nothing more than to forget I ever met you.”
She waved a hand and continued to roll right over him as the pressure in her chest intensified and every one of her worries hit full force like a Mack truck. “So there’s really no reason for you to be here now, is there? Just turn around and go, because I don’t want you to . . . be . . . here right . . .”
Oh, God. She was gonna lose it. The pressure built until it felt like a ten-ton bomb was sitting on her chest. Tears pushed at her eyes. She would not cry in front of this man. She wouldn’t give him a single reason to think it was about the way he’d treated her, because it wasn’t. It was about everything else. Everything Jill had just told her.
She climbed down off the ladder quickly and pressed a hand to her chest.
“Meli.” He advanced on her.
“Don’t!” She held up a hand to block him. There must have been enough panic in her voice to get through, because he stopped two steps away. She focused on taking several breaths, on clearing her head, and when she felt calmer, she opened her eyes and looked up.
His skin had healed so well, there were no remnants of the accident he’d been in. He was, she noticed now, just as rugged and dangerous and sexy as he’d seemed that night in XScream. The stubble on his jaw, the dark, silky hair brushed back from his face, the strong square chin and those deep-set black eyes. But he also looked tired. Worn. As if he carried the weight of something mighty heavy on his shoulders.
Well, that made two of them. And she didn’t have the time or energy to worry about what the hell was up with him.
“I asked you to leave. I’d appreciate it if you’d do at least one thing I asked.”
“Are you all right?”
Was she all right? What a joke. She wanted to scream, No, I’m not all right. I’m never going to be all right again, you idiot! But she knew it was useless and childish, and she had just enough self- respect left to keep from making a fool out of herself in front of him. She’d already done enough of that the other night, when she’d nearly gone to bed with a complete stranger.
“I’m fine,” she snapped, jerking her hand away before he could touch her. Why wasn’t he leaving?
He glanced around the store as if taking it all in. “How do you . . . ?” He gestured to the stacks of books. “I thought you worked at that club.”
Oh, that’s right. She’d not only almost gone to bed with this guy. She’d almost gone to bed with him after meeting him at a strip club. Yeah. She got the gold star for brains this time around.
“I do,” she huffed. “Part time. Not that it’s any of your business anyway.”
What could only be described as pity crept into his eyes. Pity that fueled her temper. “I’d really hoped I was wrong.”
Wrong? Oh, now he was gonna get it. “Look, buddy. I’m not completely sure what the heck is going on here, but—”
His spine stiffened. “I have something very important I need to talk to you about, Acacia.”
The clip to his voice stopped the argument on her lips. “What could you possibly have to talk to me about?” she asked hesitantly.
Okay, she’d been wrong. Seeing him again wasn’t the biggest shock of her life. This virtual stranger had just dropped the f-bomb on her.
“My father?” she asked in stunned disbelief. “My father’s dead.”
“No, he’s not. He’s very much alive. At least for the moment.”
Casey eased back against the shelf and steadied her hand on a stack of books. Paperback novels pressed into her spine, but she barely felt them. For the first time since Jill had told her of the test results and the extra battery of tests they wanted to run, she wasn’t thinking of herself. “Wh-Where is he?”
“Far away. But he’s asked for you. He’s a man of great importance where I come from. There isn’t much time left.” Theron held out his hand. “If you come with me, I’ll take you to him.”
Casey looked from his strong hand up to his intense, midnight eyes and back again. He could take her to her father. To the man who’d known her mother. To the man who should have been the one to raise her and love her and take care of her. To the one who could put together the broken pieces of her family and answer all her questions about who she really was.
Slowly she extended her hand. Warmth and electricity zipped along her skin even before their palms met. She looked up, surprised, and that’s when she saw it. Just a flicker behind his hard eyes. A window into his thoughts. And what she saw there chilled her.
She jerked her hand back before he could touch her, and closed her fingers into a fist. “Before I agree to anything, I want to know what’s going on. Who are you?”
A menacing chuckle came from the doorway. “A hero who’s about to die.”
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