Lover Uncloaked (Stealth Guardians #1)
Author:Unknown

NINE



Leila hit the back of her knees against the bed frame and automatically snatched her pillow to press it against her front.

As if that were giving her any protection!

But covering her nudity wasn’t her biggest concern. What she’d just seen couldn’t have happened. Aiden, if that was really his name, had passed through the locked bedroom door as if it were made of air and not of solid wood. A sideways glance to the door confirmed that it was still closed and locked.

She shook her head. Was she having a nightmare? No! That was impossible. She knew she was fully awake. In fact, she’d never gone to sleep. Then it came to her in a flash.

“You drugged me at the bar!” she cried out. That’s why she was hallucinating. “You followed me.”

“No, Leila, that’s not true.”

She didn’t believe him.

“I’ll explain everything later.” He took a step toward her. “But we have no time now.”

Of their own volition, her eyes drifted to his jeans. The bulge was now markedly smaller, but he still sported an erection.

“Get away from me!”

“You need to put some clothes on, now.” His eyes searched the room and fell on a pair of jeans and a sweater. He took them from the chair they lay on.

As he approached her anew, she tried to back away from him, but with the bed at her back, she had nowhere to go.

“Now, Leila,” he said in a voice that brooked no refusal.

Coward that she was, she took the clothes he handed her. When she tried to put on the pants while shielding herself with the pillow, he pulled it from her hands and dropped it on the bed behind her. Heat suffused her cheeks.

“Damn it, Leila, there’s no time for modesty. The fire . . . ” He pointed to the door, where smoke started creeping in from the top.

She dressed more quickly than she ever had, fear giving her wings. This couldn’t be happening to her. Not only was he here to rape her, he’d also set her place on fire so he could abduct her. And she couldn’t even protest: it was either go with him or die of smoke inhalation. She had a medical degree; she knew how quickly that could happen.

“Please don’t hurt me,” she begged.

There was a flash of disbelief in his eyes. He stared at her, seconds ticking away. “I would never hurt you. I’m here to save you.”

Then his arms pulled her to him and all strength left her. She couldn’t do anything to protest. “Let me go.” But her demand was a mere whimper.

She didn’t do danger and panic very well. This was a situation she wasn’t prepared for, one that didn’t fit into her orderly life.

His hand connected with her cheek, but the touch was caressing, his knuckles brushing lightly over her skin. “Never, Leila. I’m here to protect you.”

Oh, God, no! He was an obsessed stalker. For all she knew, he’d been following her even earlier in the night, before they’d ended up in the bar.

From the corner of her eye, she saw the paint on the door blistering. The smell of smoke was getting stronger by the second as it crept through the crevices along the door frame. She knew it was only a matter of time until the door gave way, allowing the fire into her bedroom. It made the decision for her: she would go with him for now, but as soon as she had escaped this inferno, she’d scream for help and escape.

She nodded and saw him exhale with relief.

“We have to get out the window.”

She stared at him. “I can’t jump down there. It’s too high.” Her ankle was sprained. There was no way she could land on it. Most likely she’d sprain or break the other leg too, trying to absorb the impact of the fall with it. Landing awkwardly could result in all kinds of injuries.

She tried to pull from his arms, but he didn’t let her go.

“You won’t jump. I will.”

Her forehead creased. “But how will I . . . ?” Would he leave her here after all, to perish in the flames?

Aiden released her and pushed the curtains to the sides, yet he didn’t open the window.

“We have to get out before the fire consumes the door,” he explained.

“Oh, God,” she whispered, horror making her blood freeze in her veins.

When she felt Aiden’s arms around her, she almost felt safe: exchanging one evil for another. He pressed her to his front, his body warm and strangely comforting.

“Wait! My bag.” She pulled from his arms and grabbed both her handbag and her necklace from the nightstand. Her necklace was one thing she couldn’t let perish in the fire. No sooner had she shoved the pendant into the pocket of her jeans and slung her bag diagonally across her body, did Aiden draw her back to him.

“Wrap your arms and legs around me,” he ordered.

Fear made her comply without protest. She clung to him like Velcro, his breath hot at her ear.

“Don’t lose your hold on me. I’ll jump, and I promise you, you’ll be safe.”

Something in his voice settled her pounding heart and slowed her breathing. For a moment she remembered him telling her how he’d saved his sister when he was a boy and it gave her comfort. Or had the story been a lie? But oddly enough, she thought she’d heard tenderness in his words. She must be out of her mind if she assumed that. “Yes.”

Leila buried her face in his neck when she felt him kick the window out with one foot.

Simultaneously, the flames broke through the door, the force of the blast catapulting them outside. She prepared for the inevitable hard impact on the sidewalk, but it never happened. Either she was dead or Aiden had landed on his feet.

“You can open your eyes now.”

Hesitantly, she peeled her face from his neck and blinked. As if nothing had happened, they were suddenly standing on the pavement in front of her building, not a scratch on them. She had to be still drugged, because a landing like this was impossible, particularly after practically being tossed out the window by the flashover.

“How—?”

But she didn’t get to ask her question, because his lips prevented her from speaking. As if he’d done this a hundred times before, his mouth slid over hers. His kiss was one of pure possession, exploration, and desire.

To her surprise, she responded to him without thought. She blamed the fact that she’d just escaped a burning apartment. Or the drugs he’d somehow managed to spike her drink with at the Irish bar. Perhaps she was in shock. There was no other sane reason why she would kiss back a man who’d clearly broken into her apartment, set it on fire, and was about to kidnap her.

Right, no sane reason, other than the fact that he tasted so male and so virile. His hands on her back pressed her against his rock hard chest where she felt his heart beating as fast as hers, while his tongue forged into her mouth, ravishing her as if he hadn’t kissed a woman in years and was starving for a taste. Maybe as starving as herself, for she couldn’t stop stroking her own tongue against his, dueling with him, exploring him like he explored her. It was madness, and wrong on so many levels.

But her body didn’t listen to her brain, which tried to tell her to push him away. On the contrary, just as she’d felt aroused when she’d fantasized about him earlier, liquid heat now pooled at the juncture of her thighs. And he could probably feel the heat through his clothes. It was madness.

The distant siren of a fire engine brought her back to her senses and made her pull her head back, severing the contact. He stared at her, his eyes hooded, his lips red and moist from the passionate kiss they’d shared.

Then he suddenly turned his head as if he heard the siren only now. “We have to go.”

Above her head, she glimpsed the flames shooting from her apartment window. She tried to free herself from him, dropping her legs to the ground and pushing against him, but he was stronger. “Let me go,” she begged.

He shook his head, his expression dark. “No. Twice somebody tried to kill you tonight. I’d be crazy to let you out of my sight.”

What had he said?

“Kill me?” was all she could echo, darting nervous looks around her, desperately hoping for the fire engine to shoot around the corner, so she could find help from them or the police that would surely arrive instantly.

“I’ll explain everything later, but we’ll have to leave now. You’re not safe here. They know where you are.”

Ignoring her protests, he carried her to a parked car across the street. A click and the car lights flashed briefly, indicating that the doors were now unlocked. Without ceremony, he dumped her into the passenger’s seat and slammed the door shut behind her. In the darkness, her fingers fumbled for the handle, her shaking noticeable now. Before she could open the car door, he was already in the driver’s seat and yanked her hand toward him.

His dark eyes bored into her. “You might not trust me right now—God knows, the circumstances don’t speak for me—but if you want to live, you have to stay with me.”

Without waiting for an answer, he engaged the engine and pulled the car into the street. In the back mirror, she saw the fire engine careen around the corner. They’d finally arrived to save the building from total destruction, but it was too late for her. She was at Aiden’s mercy now. And who knew what his plans were.

Leila glanced to her side, her eyes falling onto his groin once more. The bulge in his pants was barely noticeable now. Not that it was any consolation. Once he brought the car to a stop somewhere, once they’d arrived at whatever destination he had in mind, he would do what he’d planned all along. Forcing her . . .

Would she react the same way she’d reacted to his kiss? Would she simply let it happen without giving any resistance? Would she allow him to take her without putting up a fight? Hell, she’d allowed the kiss; not just allowed, she’d participated with more enthusiasm than she’d ever kissed a man with before. It could only be the drug that had made her react like this, dulled her defenses so he could do with her what he wanted.

“What did you drug me with?” Maybe if she knew what it was, she could somehow fight its effects.

He didn’t take his eyes off the street as he weaved through traffic. “I didn’t drug you.”

“The drink at the Irish pub,” she insisted.

He shook his head. “It was pure whiskey. The bartender poured it for you. You saw it. He brought you the glass. I couldn’t have put anything in it even if I wanted to.” He paused and gave her a sideways look. “Which I don’t. I want you in possession of all your faculties.”

So she would feel pain? Humiliation? “Why are you kidnapping me?”

“I’m not.”

“Could have fooled me,” she mumbled under her breath, her lips trembling nervously.

“I heard that.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“To a safe place.”

Suddenly he removed his hand from the steering wheel and clasped it over hers. Her entire body coiled in tension. Was he going to fondle her here in the car? Then maybe she could grab the steering wheel and cause an accident. It would give her occasion to escape.

Yeah, if you survive the accident.

Shit, why was she such a coward?

“Leila,” he said so softly, she whirled her head to look at him, trying to make sure he was still the same man, because for all she knew, she could be hallucinating. As she had earlier when she’d thought she’d seen him pass through the locked door.

It looked as if he wanted to say something, but then he didn’t. Instead, he pressed a button on his steering wheel. She heard a dialing tone, then the sound of a speed dial. The call was answered on the first ring.

“Aiden? What do you need?” A male voice came through the loudspeakers.

“My charge’s apartment went up in flames,” Aiden explained.

Charge?

“Shit!” the man cursed.

“Listen, Manus,” Aiden continued, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Anything on the car yet?”

“Negative, Pearce is running the plates right now. Another half hour or so.”

“Good. I need you to listen in on the fire department. They just arrived at the scene and are putting out the fire. I need to know what they think the cause is. My guess is arson.”

Leila felt as if a fist clamped around her heart. Arson? Somebody wanted to kill her? No, that couldn’t be true.

“I’m on it. Is she hurt?”

“No, thank God, I got her out in time.”

He’d saved her, yes, he really had. So did this mean, he wasn’t the one who’d set her apartment on fire? Could she trust what she was hearing now?

“Where are you taking her?”

“To a safe place.”

“Call me when you get there,” the other man said.

“Later.”

He pressed a button, and the call disconnected.

“What are you? FBI? CIA?”

He gave a slow shake of his head. “Not exactly.”

If he wasn’t with the government, he had to be something else, something more dangerous. “Mafia?”

She knew her voice was laced with fear. Aiden had heard it too, because he gave her a long look before his lips parted once more to speak. “By the life of my parents, I promise you one thing: I’ll never hurt you.”

At his words, a single sob tore from her chest. She’d completely forgotten about her parents. Oh, God, what would happen to her parents if she was gone? Who would make sure they continued to receive the care they needed? Who would make sure the caregivers didn’t mistreat them? She had to fight to get away. Her parents needed her. They counted on her, even though on their bad days they didn’t always know who she was. Yet there was still a chance for them to at least gain back part of what Alzheimer’s had robbed them of—if only she was able to finish her research in time.

She had to fight for them. Besides, she wasn’t brave enough to face death. There was so much more she needed to do, so much more of life she hadn’t experienced. No, she couldn’t allow this stranger to kidnap her and take her away from everything that was dear to her. She had to bargain with him.