Listen, we get a lot of pitches for book coverage here at RT, so it can be hard to really snag our attention. But when this email came in, proclaiming Claire Wallis's New Adult Push to be "Gone Girl meets Beautiful Disaster" well, we had to know more. (This is why our TBR piles are always out of control.) We thought you might be similarly intrigued, so we asked the nice folks at Harlequin to provide you with a sneak peek.
I open the rest of the boxes in the living room and finish filling the bookcase with my favorite novels and some college textbooks I can't bear to part with. David is still working in the kitchen when the door buzzer rings.
"Ah," he says. "That'll be the cupboards then. Would you mind letting them in? I've got my hands full of spackle in here."
"Sure." I head over to the intercom just as the music ends and slide the door release button. I walk over to the apartment door and open it to wait for the deliveryman, who I can hear walking up the steps. I am looking back into the apartment waiting for David to come out when I hear a voice.
My head whips around, and Michael is in my face. That filthy fucker. The moment I see him, my heart drops into my gut, sinking me deep into a well of fear and rage. The sick, burning taste of bile rises up in my throat, and a surge of hate-fueled adrenaline rips through me, causing an instant rush of panic to streak across every nerve in my body. I immediately step backwards into the apartment and try to close the door on him, but his hand is sprawled out on it, holding it open. He is standing just inside the doorway.
"Nice place, Emma." His eyes quickly scan the room. Then they examine me from head to toe, and a split second later, they land on my eyes. It makes me sick.
"What the fuck are you doing here, Michael?" I say with forced calm.
"I just wanted to see you. Did you get the boxes I sent?" His voice is cold.
"Yes." I know he wants me to thank him for sending them, but my mouth is refusing. He wants me to say "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." But I am not a ten-year-old anymore, and he can't make me.
"Were you going to thank me for going through all that effort?"
"No, Michael, I was not." Oh, that is not going to make him happy. "You need to leave now."
"But I just got here, Emma. Aren't you going to invite me in?"
"Michael, you are the last person I would ever invite into this apartment. Get the fuck out of here." My skin prickles with energy, and the anger in my throat is fueling my words, making them sound far stronger than I feel. I promised myself I would knock him in the balls if he ever showed up here, but even though I am no longer a child, I can't bring myself to do it.
Michael steps inside defiantly, closing the door behind him. He is walking toward me. "Emma, your mom told me to look out for you and your brothers after she died. How can I do that if you won't let me in?" He pauses and looks at me with his twisted-up smile. "God, you know, you look just like her. Except you...you don't act like your mother at all. She was a woman who knew how to be a lady. She knew when to shut up and do what she was told. You, on the other hand, you are a fighter, Emma. You never do what you’re told. You’re too strong for your own good, and I know you're already aware of precisely what kind of trouble that can get you into." He raises his hand and skims his fingertips down the length of my arm. It sends a wave of nausea through me. "I miss her, you know."
"Get out." I spit at him. I push his hand away and straighten my body.
A snarky chuckle escapes from his closed mouth, and he grabs my arm with his hand. My other hand immediately starts to claw at him as I try to pull away.
"Come on, Emma. You don’t want to fight with your dad now, do you?"
"You are not my dad, Michael. Fuck you. Let me go." My voice is no longer steady. It’s cracked and weak. I want to scream.
Then I hear a slow clicking noise behind me. Michael looks over my shoulder and lets go of my arm immediately. I turn to see David leaning casually against the kitchen doorway with his arms crossed over his chest. He’s taken off his shirt, as if he’s ready for a fight. David is shaking his head gently and clicking his tongue as if he were softly scolding a naughty child. His dark eyes are pinned to Michael's. There is absolute control in his every move. A smile begins to form on Michael's lips, and I'm not quite sure what it means.
David drops his arms, steps away from the wall, cocks his head to the side, and narrows his eyes. But he doesn't take them off of Michael's. He stops the clicking and starts to smile himself. His moves are so deliberate and slow. I think he is calculating something.
Michael raises his eyebrows, his eyes remaining on David. "Jesus, Emma. You’ve only lived here what, three days, and already there’s a man in your apartment? Isn’t that a little quick, even for you?"
David is walking leisurely towards me, still looking only at Michael. When he reaches my side, he very slowly snakes his hand across my lower back, curling his fingers around my waist and pressing me to his side. It is a sign of possession. Michael recognizes it immediately and steps back.
"She asked you to get the fuck out," David says, almost peacefully. "I think you should listen. And if you have half a brain in your body, you will stay the fuck away from her."
Michael smirks in acknowledgment of David's threat and raises his hands in capitulation. He walks to the door, opens it and steps out. He turns to David and says, "Whoever you are, young man, I want you to know that you are getting what you deserve. That girl and her stupid fucking attitude are all yours." I can hear Michael going down the steps and out the front door.
David releases my hip and strides over to the apartment door to slam it shut. By the time he turns back around, I have dropped to my knees. My mouth is open, and I am staring at him. He is standing above me, his arms sheathed in birds and his chest nothing but bare flesh.
"Turn around," I whisper, and he does. His entire back is covered with the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. A magnificent phoenix, with gnarled wings and a crooked body, reaches across his shoulder blades and down his sides. Its feathers are saturated with color. Its sinewy tail wraps under David's arm and curls into the flesh at his side. Brilliant flames emerge from the waistband of his jeans and lick the bird's talons. I have no words for the creature twisting and writhing across his skin. I stare at it, soaking it in.
David turns around to face me. I am on the floor in front of him, and I want nothing more than to weep. He reaches for my shoulders and helps me up. Once I am standing, he wraps his arms around me, lifts me up, cradling me like a child. I take my eyes off his, and my face sinks into his bare shoulder. He carries me down the hallway and lays me on the bed.
Standing next to the bed, he leans over me, his hands braced on the mattress.
"I will not let him touch you ever again."