April / 2009
When Noah pulled up to the Twilight Motel later Monday morning, it was almost two. He killed the engine on his motorcycle and dismounted, slinging the duffel bag over his shoulder.
The mission had officially gone to hell in a flaming hand basket.
Not only did Joel get away, but since the microphone in Noahâ€™s shirt had malfunctioned, the police didnâ€™t have enough evidence for a conviction. What a colossal waste of time. I should have just beaten a confession out of him.
Noah unlocked the door to his room and reached for the light switch. Nothing happened. Too late, he remembered he hadnâ€™t paid the rent yet. This was the motel managerâ€™s way of reminding him to pay up or do without. He crossed the stained carpet and grimaced when his boots crunched over a roach. He shed his shirt and started unbuckling his jeans as he stumbled into the bathroom.
Right now, all he wanted was to clean up, then fall into bed and forget tonight ever happened. The showerhead gurgled, then spat out a stream of icy water that quickly turned scalding. Noah ignored the pain as he thrust his head under the spray.
His mind returned to the fallen star. Joel had a dozen hunters tracking its energy trail. They would probably make a capture by dawn.
And I will have another innocent life on my conscience.
The knowledge weighed on Noahâ€™s mind. After toweling off, he pulled on a pair of gray sweatpants and a black cotton T-shirt. On his way past the window, something in the motel buildingâ€™s pool caught his attention. He looked closer and gasped.
A naked woman floated facedown in the water, long black hair spread around her. Instincts took over as he leapt onto the fire escape and rapidly descended the stairs. Water soaked all the outdoor furniture and chunks of concrete littered the ground.
Something more than her must have fallen in the pool to cause that much damage. He dove into the water and gasped. It was freezing. Grasping the woman around the waist, he pulled her to safety and stretched her body beside the pool.
Ignoring her nudity, he scanned her for injuries. She couldnâ€™t have been in the water long because her cuts were still fresh. Blood trickled from a gash on her forehead and she sported a black eye. He checked her arms and relaxed slightly when he didnâ€™t find the usual needle marks he saw on jumpers. At least this isnâ€™t drug related.
â€œHey lady, can you hear me?â€ Grasping her wrist, he felt for a pulse. Sluggish, but it was there. He pinched her nose and blew air into her lungs. He started chest compressions, but she didnâ€™t respond. â€œCome on, fight!â€
He lowered his mouth to continue CPR. The soft lips came alive beneath his as the woman sputtered. Her body jerked, and she rolled onto her side, expelling water from her lungs. Noah reached out to steady her. He blinked in surprise when she shrank away from his touch.
â€œI wonâ€™t hurt you. Donâ€™t move. Iâ€™ll go call an ambulance.â€
Thick lashes fluttered and hazel eyes pinned him before he could move. She had the largest pupils he had ever seen, like those sported by characters in anime cartoons. When she tried to sit up, he overrode the effort by placing a hand on her stomach.
With the immediate danger over, Noah suddenly became aware of the intimacy of their position. His eyes drifted down her body, lingering on the swells of her breasts and the dark areolas of her nipples, visible through the cottony curls plastered to her chest.
â€œIs this heaven?â€
Her voice, husky and rich, rolled over his senses. It took a moment before the question registered. It surprised a laugh from him. Noah shook his head. â€œFar from it, sugar. This is Neptune.â€
â€œOh. What constellation is that in?â€
His blood froze. â€œWhat did you say?â€
She touched her temple, drawing his attention to the ring glittering on her left hand. â€œSomething hit me when I was leaning out the window. I must have fallen.â€ Her expression morphed from confusion to terror as she stared at him.
â€œWhere do you live?â€
She pointed a trembling finger at the sky, cementing his suspicion: she was the star. His eyes closed. Of all the places she could have landed, why here? Should he contact the police? At least they would place her in protective custody. Then again, that was worth about as much as Confederate money these days. Noah knew from experience that Joel didnâ€™t mind spilling a little blood to get what he wanted.
â€œWhere am I?â€
â€œEarth. I guess youâ€™ve heard of it?â€ he said drolly when she gasped. He got the feeling that she would have run if sheâ€™d had the strength. He purposely gentled his voice. â€œDonâ€™t worry; youâ€™re safe with me. Whatâ€™s your name?â€
Leaning forward, he captured a tear as it slid down her cheek. It shimmered on the tip of his finger and crystallized. Amazing. â€œMy name is Noah. Whoa!â€ He caught her as she fainted. He scanned the area, realizing for the first time how exposed they were. â€œCome on, sugar. Letâ€™s get you inside.â€
He carried her up the fire escape to his room and settled her on the bed. Moonlight streamed over her body, highlighting her delicate features. Unbidden, a memory leapt forward, that of pale eyes begging him for help. With grim resolve, he focused.
Ten years ago, he failed to protect a star. He would not fail again. He would protect this one no matter what. His lips ghosted over hers.
â€œYouâ€™re safe with me. I promise.â€