She woke up on the couch, holding a pillow. Amelia groaned. She hadn’t made it to the bed? God, the last month was seriously getting to her.
Then again, what did she expect? It wasn’t every day that one’s sister decided to play mad scientist—on herself, no less!—and make everyone’s life oh so very colorful for the sake of proving she could do it. Not that she hadn’t. Proved herself, that is. It just would have been nice if Hailey had managed to do it without nearly dying and giving Amelia a heart attack in the process, that’s all.
Spending months on the quaint, history reenactment planet of Torrey, where people thought it was fun to light candles instead of installing electric lights hadn’t helped Amelia’s stress, either. After countless nights spent making sure Hailey pulled through, dealing with the fallout from her escapade, and keeping it all out of the public eye for both their sakes, the best Torrey had had to offer in terms of luggage for her trip home had been a cloth suitcase, which had fallen apart the moment she got home.
Guess I should be grateful it held together that long, at least.
And after all that, she’d apparently passed out on the couch. Amelia spied an empty glass on the coffee table and sighed.
Well, that explains everything. Twenty–year-old whiskey went down smooth as butter, but it had a kick. Must have knocked her on her ass after the trip she’d had. It explained the crazy dreams too. Amelia chuckled. A huge stranger in her kitchen, with a laser gun that didn’t fire. Ridiculous.
She sat up and stretched, feeling bruised all over. Her mouth was bone dry; she needed water.
But that would have to come later, she decided, making a face. She was still in her travel clothes. Forget the bed; she’d never made it to the bath. Raking her fingers through her mess of hair, Amelia got to her unsteady feet. What time was it? Night. Late, too. It was dark outside.
“Time,” she said, surprised at how weird her voice sounded.
“Time,” the computer replied. “Fifteen minutes, 32 seconds past 11:00 p.m.”
Amelia yawned. “Bath. Hot, jasmine scent.”
Shuffling her feet out into the hallway, she felt a sense of déjà vu. She frowned, looking at the kitchen, but there was nothing to see. On her other side, the stupid suitcase was still attached to the door where it had popped open and spilled her clothes. Amelia glared at it, too tired to even pretend she wanted to clean the mess up, and moved on to her bedroom.
Something was off. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Was something missing?
She shook her head. It was probably the exhaustion messing with her.
The light was already on in the bathroom and she heard water. Ah, the luxuries of home. Amelia shrugged out of her travel shirt and rubbed her sore shoulders. Her socks came off next, which left her in a pair of jeans and a strappy tank top.
As she bent over, a shadow crossed the threshold on the other side of the bathroom door.
What the hell…
She straightened, watching the door and the light filtering out around it. Nothing happened.
Shaking her head again, Amelia reached for the door handle. Hesitated. Scowled at herself and reached again. Her fingers just brushed it when the door pulled open from the inside.
Memories returning in a rush. Laser gun pointed at her chest, not loaded. Broken glass, whiskey all over the floor, running-caught-fighting-aching-wheezing … darkness.
Amelia looked up, way up into the face of the psychopath who had broken into her home.
And she screamed. No one around to hear her. She screamed louder.
He winced and covered his ears.
Amelia went for the first thing she could reach. A pillow. In her fright, she didn’t care. She whaled it over his head again and again, until the thing tore apart and feathers rained everywhere.
When all that was left in her hand was an empty pillow case, and she was breathing hard, she looked up at him again. The guy was covered in feathers, arms crossed over his chest, glaring at her. “Feel better now?”
Amelia screamed again.
“Knock it off!” he commanded, his voice booming.
Amelia shut up instantly.
He sighed, in what sounded like relief.
“W-who are you? What do you want?” she said, still clutching the pillow case like a lifeline to sanity.
He looked down at himself. He was naked except for the white towel around his waist.
And now the feathers stuck to every wet inch of him.
What was going on here? Who the hell was this guy? Did she know him? Why else would he be in her home, taking a shower?
“Your bath is ready,” he groused, wiping at the feathers. They just stuck to him more. He swore. “Go do whatever it is you women do to stop freaking out.” And he brushed past her, padded on bare feet out of the bedroom, muttering to himself the entire way. He closed the door behind him.
Amelia was left gaping.
Amnesia? It was possible. Stress-induced selective memory loss maybe? But then why would she forget him?
No, she distinctly remembered the gun. Had there been someone else she hadn’t noticed? Had this guy actually saved her from something? He appeared to be perfectly comfortable in her home…
Oh, God, what are you trying to talk yourself into now, Chase? Look at the facts!
Facts. Like the fact she was exhausted to the point of passing out on the couch. Or the fact she’d spent the last month either sitting at her sister’s death bed, or travelling coach on the cheapest interplanetary flights possible, because everything else had been booked. Or the fact her life was turned upside down lately with telepaths, and beyond-unhinged killers, and genetically engineered shape shifters, or that she’d had a hand in the latter.
Long and the short of it: Amelia was losing her mind.
It was a liberating thought that made her smile. Right now, a hot bath and aroma therapy sounded like just the thing. She put the naked stranger anomaly on hold for a moment, nowhere near equipped to deal with that at the moment, closed and locked herself in the bathroom, stripped down, and crawled into her bath.
The warm goodness soaked into her immediately and she felt her muscles relax. She sighed, wincing only slightly at the ache in her ribs. The scent of jasmine filled the hot air; she felt like she was in a sauna.
Amelia lathered and rinsed out her hair, then soaped up her entire body to wash off the last six months. Everything was back to normal now. Or as normal as her life could get, apparently. Her sister was now half snow leopard, but at least she wasn’t dying anymore. And Amelia was back home, surrounded with familiar things. With the exception of an unexpected … house guest?
She glared at the sink where someone had set out a man’s shaving kit. He’d come out wearing a towel, but there was her customary set of pastel green ones hanging untouched on the rack. He’d made himself at home here. A disturbing suspicion arose. Had he slept in her bed?
He wouldn’t dare!
Then she remembered what had been out of place in her bedroom. The bed was turned down. She always tucked it perfectly neat before she left in the morning. Oh! The bastard was going down. She’d wait until he fell asleep and skewer his ass with the purely decorative fireplace poker in the living room.
Seething—was that blood underneath her fingernails?—she leaned back into the water up to her chin and breathed in deep to calm herself. “Music,” she said. “Classical.”
The computer beeped softly as it sorted through her extensive collection of music and arranged a playlist.
The heavy drum beat and bass guitar that blared through the speakers made her slip completely into the water. She surfaced with her hair plastered over her eyes and bath water up her nose. “Stop!” Coughing, sputtering, she drained the tub and got out, wrapping a towel around herself.
That was it! No more. This was the last straw and something was about to break big time.
Amelia stabbed her feet into her fluffy slippers and marched out of the bedroom. “Where the hell are you?” she demanded.
He was sitting at the kitchen table again, dressed in a pair of pants that had seen much better days, and feathers. He was picking them out of the angry scratches on his arm, but when he saw her, his hand froze above them, clutching feathers.
“How dare you!” she said, coming right up to the table. “You break in here, make yourself at home, attack me, and then you reprogram my music? I am going to kick your ass to Hell and back, you son of a bitch, you hear me?”
He didn’t move. What the hell was he staring at? Amelia looked down, ire draining out of her in lieu of shock. Oh, right. Towel and fluffy slippers. Her rosy skin blushed deeper. She crossed her arms over her chest to keep the towel firmly in place. “I’m going to get dressed. You do not move a muscle until I get back.”
His expression didn’t change and neither did the direction of his gaze. Without blinking, he shook his head. “Not going anywhere,” he said to her thighs.
Amelia swiveled and hurried back into her bedroom. Heart in her throat, she leaned back against the door after she slammed it shut. Moron! Where the hell was her superior intellect now? Quite possibly drained out of the tub along with the bath water and the last of her sanity.
She locked the door and quickly dressed in a pair of sweatpants, clean tank top, and shirt. Her hair was still dripping, so she toweled it as dry as she could and finger brushed it back. Her extra pair of glasses was on the night stand. She snatched them up and put them on. Sharp eyesight couldn’t hurt in a situation like this. Maybe it was time to do the vision correction procedure she’d been putting off for years now. Doctors couldn’t be trusted. Amelia was her own physician, with the help of some very sophisticated equipment, but these were her eyes, and no matter how safe she knew the procedure to be, it still gave her the willies thinking about performing it on herself.
Taking a deep breath, she set that aside for the time being.
Okay, nothing to it. Just a stranger in my house. Be rational. Talk to him. Find out what he wants. Stall for time and get some kind of SOS signal out.
Nothing to it.
She’d dealt with worse dregs of society than this guy. Okay, so for all she knew, he was one of them, but he was one man. He hadn’t tied or gagged her, which was his mistake and her very good fortune. She could get out of this on her own.
Had to. No one else was currently available to come to her rescue.
Amelia checked the clock. Midnight, exactly.
Squaring her shoulders, she unlocked the door and walked back to the kitchen.
What a way to start a new day…