Here’s the first chapter from TOUCHED, a lighthearted fantasy romance.
He might have just saved her life, but pinned to the freezing concrete by some wannabe hero was not her idea of fun. Cami Wilson shoved the unyielding wall of his chest, fighting not only him but the rising panic. ‘Get the hell off me!’
The guy remained on top of her, using his large frame to protect her from the chunks of smouldering metal hurtling to the ground around her. Icy air met with fiery heat and smoke infused the atmosphere like the fifth of November, but there were no sparkling fireworks to admire, only the flaming inferno, which seconds earlier had been her car.
Maybe if she hadn’t been so intrigued by the antique brooch she held in her hand or distracted by the weird, periodic buzzing emitting from it, she might have seen him coming at her in full, rugby tackle mode.
He lifted a little, easing the crushing pressure on her ribs, but remained inches from her face. Glacier-blue eyes met hers, captivating and intense. ‘Are you hurt?’
His gravelly voice did something tingly to her insides. She went to speak, but no words came. Nothing came to mind. Not the explosion. Not the contents of her shopping trolley strewn all over Morrisons’ car park. Not the fact she could have been killed. Somehow, none of it registered.
She gawped back at him like a doe-eyed teenager, taking in the angular sweep of a jawline peppered with dark stubble, and well-defined lips that parted invitingly as he drew in his breath.
His gaze lingered on her mouth in a breath-taking moment right out of one of those soppy rom-coms she liked to watch.
Forget burning cars and curious brooches… hel-lo, future husband.
Somewhere to her left, an engine revved loudly, and he turned his head towards the sound. Overlong, tousled hair tickled her cheek, and she got a faint whiff of citrus shampoo.
A second later, his attention returned to her. His grave expression burned with an urgency that brought her down from the clouds. ‘Dammit! I asked if you were hurt.’
In a move so swift it wasn’t humanly possible, he leapt to his feet and hauled her up beside him. The brooch slipped from her gloved hand and landed on the ground.
The man cursed under his breath and stooped to retrieve it. With an exasperated look, he waved it in front of her as though she were a baby dropping her dummy for the hundredth time. ‘You need to take more care of this. Don’t you know how important it is?’
Sudden indignation flared. Cami snatched the jewel from his grasp and slipped it back into her coat pocket. Okay, the guy rocked the sexy, just-rolled-out-of-bed look, but his patronising attitude set her teeth on edge. What right did he have to tell her what to do? And what on Earth did he know about a weird, vibrating brooch she’d been given by her adoptive mother, the only clue she had to her past?
The sound of screeching tyres forced her thoughts elsewhere. A large van headed at speed straight towards them. The stench of burning rubber competed with the acrid smoke from her smouldering car.
‘Follow me.’ He fisted the sleeve of her padded parka in his bear-sized hand and dragged her across the car park towards the supermarket.
Was there no end to his man-handling, macho behaviour? She did not need him to tell her what to do—the danger registered now. Big time.
People gathered outside the entrance, gasping shocked responses to the scene before them.
‘Is there a back door out of here?’ he yelled to a man wearing a Morrisons’ uniform.
The man pointed to a bakery at the back of the store, but his attention stayed on the van skidding to a halt in front of the crowd.
Three men jumped out, dressed head to toe in black combat gear and brandishing ancient swords.
Someone screamed. The crowd fled like rats scurrying from a house fire; the ensuing chaos allowed Cami and the guy holding her to enter the relative safety of the supermarket.
An elderly woman stood glued to the spot in the middle of the snacks aisle, her eyes wide as saucers. Cami knocked her shopping basket as they sped past, which sent a packet of Rich Tea biscuits rolling across the floor. Another glance at the frightened old dear and her steps faltered. Oh great. Mrs. Montgomery, the village gossip. Of all the people to bump into while running through a supermarket with some drop-dead gorgeous guy with an attitude, it had to be her.
In a rapid move of her own, she tugged the man’s arm backwards, forced him to stop. The gossip Mrs. Montgomery would generate from this encounter would give her enough fuel to last well over a month, the least she could do was pretend everything was normal. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Montgomery. Are you all right?’ she asked, bending to pick the biscuits up with her free hand.
With apparent disregard for anything other than a mission to get out of there, the guy tightened his grip on her coat sleeve and jerked her back up, almost splitting the cheap padded fabric. ‘There isn’t time,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘They’re after you, not her.’
He continued to drag her along the aisle, ignoring her confusion.
A black-clad figure appeared from behind a display of cereal packets, wielding his sword like a Samurai warrior.
The guy stopped abruptly and Cami collided into his broad, granite-like back.
Their attacker lunged forward. The sword’s polished, two-foot long blade glinted in the supermarket’s harsh fluorescent lighting.
Cami’s blood rushed to her ears, pulsated inside her head, but the rest of her froze.
Once again, her knight in shining armour shielded her with his own body. With the confidence of someone who was clearly no stranger to such violent confrontations, he dodged to the side, but made sure he kept her behind him. In less than a beat, he used their attacker’s unbalanced stance to deliver an upward blow directly to his nose. The ancient weapon slipped from the thug’s hand as he grabbed his face; his broken nose oozed with blood and dripped circular splats onto the tiled floor.
Before Cami could react, the guy took hold of her arm yet again and made his way to the bakery, pushing over tall trolleys of bread behind them to create an obstacle course. Then, escaping out the back door, he released his grip on her coat sleeve to heave a heavy dustbin against the door, jamming it shut.
Cami gasped for breath, her heart pounding so fast she thought it would burst through her ribcage at any second. What the hell is going on?
Things like this didn’t happen in real life, not to her, a freaky-eyed Plain Jane who lived with an eccentric old lady in the flat above her antique shop. This morning’s crazy series of events—right from when she opened the ornately carved box and found the brooch—made Nana’s witchy antics seem normal.
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled with what should have been fear, but something more akin to excitement would be more accurate.
Macho guy spun to face her, and she blinked back. What now, Adonis?
He took a phone out of his jeans pocket and spoke into the receiver. ‘I’ve got her, but Dmitri’s half-wits have found her too.’ Piercing eyes framed with enviable, thick lashes held her riveted while he listened to the reply, nodded, then returned the phone to his pocket.
Someone tried to open the bakery door from inside and the metal groaned. The dustbin budged a fraction but held firm—but for how long?
Without a word, he lifted her off the ground as if she weighed less than a small child, swung her fireman-style over his shoulder, and headed for an overgrown embankment behind the supermarket. He slipped several times on the muddy track as he carried her through the undergrowth, but even so, her efforts to wriggle free were useless, her slight frame no match against his size and strength.
They cleared the bushes and came to a quiet road. He stopped to put her down, but still held her arm.
Cami glowered at him, willing her dignity to return. She was not some wilting maiden from medieval times who needed a hulking, alpha male to rescue her. She could take care of herself, thank you very much. She elbowed him in the ribs, hard. Despite using considerable force he didn’t even flinch, but he did let her go.
‘Thanks for saving my life and all that,’ she declared, brushing leaves and twigs from her coat and noticing the mud on her new, fur-lined boots, ‘but I’m more than capable of using my own two feet.’ She shot a glance back at the embankment; no one followed. ‘I can manage from here.’
He vented an exasperated groan. ‘No, you obviously can’t,’
To add to her irritation and her already-dented pride, the bitter February wind decided it would be the perfect moment to whip her long hair over her face. She could barely see through the unruly tresses. Great. As if she wasn’t coming across as an incapable, bedraggled idiot already. ‘Damsel in distress’ came to mind. Maybe it was the swords.
Swords? What is this, an episode of Game of Thrones?
Sarcasm seemed her best option. ‘Neanderthal.’ She tucked the loose strands behind her ear—an action which, thanks to the woolly gloves, only made it static, stuck her hair to her cheeks like she’d rubbed a balloon over her head.
A sports car skidded to a halt in front of them and the passenger door opened.
‘Get in,’ said the man behind the wheel, similar in handsome looks to her infuriating saviour.
Cami tilted her chin forwards and stood her ground. They had another think coming if they thought she was going to get into the car with them. ‘No way,’
The driver ignored her attempted bravado and gave her a cheeky wink. ‘Show her your tattoo, Joseph.’
The first guy did as the driver asked and pushed up the sleeve of his leather jacket to show an inking on the inside of his wrist.
Her mouth dropped open and the hairs on the back of her neck prickled again. Exploding cars and sword-wielding nutters aside, she was in serious trouble now.
His tattoo’s design matched her brooch.
The brooch’s translucent, emerald-green jewel appeared in the exact hues and shading on his wrist. Cami inched closer for a better look. Even the intricately crafted silver coils that clawed across her brooch like the branches of a mystical tree were depicted in perfect detail on the inking.
‘Hey, babe,’ said the driver, his upbeat tone dragging her attention away from the tattoo. He unbuttoned his shirt cuff and showed her the same tattoo. ‘Matching set, me and my bruv.’
Cami regarded first one brother then the other. Confused, hesitant, but oh so intrigued, her head spun with unanswered questions.
Whatever was going on with the tattoos put a whole new perspective on things. Coming from a sleepy Hampshire village where nothing remotely exciting ever happened, a visit to Morrisons in the nearest town, with the fear of bumping into her ex, was as risky as it got. Dealing with Shaun’s roving hands would have been a doddle compared to this.
‘We’re not going to hurt you,’ explained Joseph. ‘My brother Daniel and I bear the mark of your guardians. We’re sworn to protect you.’
A hundred butterflies took flight in her stomach. Guardians? What the heck was that supposed to mean? On a scale of one to ten, her curiosity piqued to ninety-nine.
The van from the car park appeared at the far end of the road.
‘They’ve found us!’ shouted Daniel. ‘Get her in the damn car. There isn’t time for introductions.’
Joseph gave her another glacier-blue stare that she was rapidly finding absorbing. ‘Please get in the car. Your life is in danger.’
Clearly the elder brother, the one nobody said no to. She raised an eyebrow and opted for sarcasm again. ‘No kidding, Einstein.’
What choice did she have? Get run over by a speeding van driven by sword-carrying pyschos, or get in a car with two guys? Did she mention two hot guys? One of whom had proved—despite his apparent annoyance towards her—he had at least a small amount of concern for her safety by saving her twice already.
Cami stepped towards the car.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed this free first chapter!
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