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CLOSE CONTACT
by Katherine Allred

Genre: Futuristic, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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I rounded a corner, too busy to reply, and saw a door ahead with a lamp shimmering over it. That door was my only chance. If it were locked, I was doomed.

Still functioning on an adrenaline high, I grabbed the handle and wrenched. To my stunned amazement, there was a splintering reverberation and the wood tore loose from the hinges.

Holy scritch, had I done that? Maybe the wood was rotten.

“Stop gaping and go!” Lillith yelled at me.

The sound of feet hitting the cobblestones, mixed with loud yells had me squeezing through the gap between the door and the frame. Once inside, I paused long enough to see that the hallway made an upside down T with the stem stretching out directly in front of me. Since that was the obvious choice, I turned right, for all intents doubling back in the direction I’d come from.

Peri zipped by over my head and darted into a smaller side passage just as the yells of my pursuers were answered by others already inside. They seemed to come from all directions at once, and I slowed as I followed the dragon bird into the dimly lit corridor, trying to determine where the soldiers were located so I wouldn’t run straight into them.

“Lillith, which way?”

“I can’t see you anymore,” she wailed. “Try to find an empty room you can lock from the inside. Maybe you can hide and wait them out.”

Wonderful, just wonderful.

There were three doors along the hall and I tried each in turn. All were locked, and for a second I was tempted to try tearing one of them from its frame. Unfortunately, that would be a clear indication of where I was hiding.

The castle was like a maze, halls extending in every direction with no rhyme or reason. I chased Peri through three more turns, by now so disoriented I didn’t have a clue where I was. But I had to go to ground, and soon. The noise of the soldiers was getting closer, and it came from both behind and in front of me. Somehow, they had neatly boxed me in.

Only one more door lay between me and the next hallway, and I could hear the sound of many feet coming from just out sight in the passage. Peri was hovering anxiously in front of the last door as though urging me through.

Taking a deep breath, I silently lunged the remaining few feet and tried the handle. Hallelujah! It opened.

Keeping one eye on the end of the hall, I slid through and held the door just wide enough for Peri to follow me inside. Gently, I eased it closed, ignoring Peri’s satisfied squeak while I looked for a lock.

There! A metal latch was positioned on a pivot in the center of the door. When swung down, it would fit perfectly into a corresponding notch on the frame.

I lowered it softly and then turned to face the room. And came to a shocked halt, my gaze locked on the naked man who was frozen in the act of stepping from a tub of bath water.

Standing before me in all his unabridged glory, mouth watering rivulets streaming down his bare, lusciously bronzed skin was the one man I was supposed to avoid at all costs.

Reynard du’Marr, commander of the King’s guard.