Obsession can be deadly…
Nobody knows that better than Shadow Harper. It seemed like a dream come true when a rich, suave older man noticed her during her second year of college. Stefan Stockman seemed to love her obsessively. He came into her life and swept her off her feet, seduced her, married her…and then slowly, eventually, that dream come true became a living nightmare.
Now, three years after she finally escaped him, she’s trying to put her life back together. Haunted by memories, struggling with post-traumatic stress, she spends most of her time locked away in her home on Pawley’s Island, a small town on the South Carolina coast. Her rare moments of joy come from her trips to the nearby beach.
She compulsively checks the locks on her doors, makes sure she has her cell phones—five of them—and if she misses something on her schedule, it throws her into a panic.
When she accidentally leaves a sketchbook on the beach, an anxiety attack seems imminent. Her art has become her salvation, her sanity, and losing even one sketch is like losing a piece of her soul. When she returns to hunt for the sketchbook, already fearing it’s gone for good, she’s surprised to find it still sitting there, saved by a sexy fellow beach lover—the mysterious Dillian Jenkins.
He’s brash, bold, brutally handsome…and gentle. He’s the exact opposite of the man who’d tormented her for years, and Shadow finds herself slowly, almost reluctantly, falling for him. Even obsessing over him.
When her ex-husband once again intrudes on the happiness she’s finally discovering, Shadow turns to Dillian. But will she find shelter there…or another betrayal?
The hours passed by too fast, yet it was a slow, almost pleasant crawl. I was blissfully aware of the sun on my back, the wind in my hair.
There was another reason I loved coming to the beach.
Another reason I liked sitting there.
I don’t know his name. He’s at the beach almost as often as I am and if he’s ever noticed me staring at him, he hasn’t given any sign. So I let myself stare and I let myself watch. I let myself wish.
Sometimes, just looking at him makes me hurt inside. It’s a pins-and-needles sort of feeling, as if something in me is trying to come back to life—slow, painful life.
I watch him and I think about what it would be like if I had the courage to go up to him and say hi.
If I had the courage.
But he was the kind of man who was forever out of my reach.
It was safer that way, too. He was larger than life, full of heat and energy and a raw kind of masculine beauty that made the body go almost numb.
He was too intense. Too big. Too there. And he had a way about him that made me think he could be cruel. He had a wolf tattooed across his back and since I didn’t know his name, I called him Lobo.
Big, dark and built, he looked like he belonged to the beach. Or maybe the beach belonged to him. His hair was so short, it looked like he buzzed it off with a razor every day when he rolled out of bed. Thoughts of him and bed made my heart jump around inside my chest and needs I’d forgotten I even had stirred inside me.
There was a tattoo over his left pectoral—a vivid starburst—although I’d never been close enough to see the details too clearly. On his back was that wolf. A massive, snarling wolf. It started low on his spine, stretched up across the elegant, ridged muscles and finished with the wolf’s muzzle around his left shoulder.
Maybe Lobo seemed an odd name for him, but he stalked the beach like a predator and I needed to have some name for him since I couldn’t just think him every time I saw him, thought of him. Dreamed of him.
And I did dream about Lobo.
The dreams about him were the only respite I had from my nightmares. Hot and sweaty dreams, the kind I’d never thought I’d have again. Torrid, dirty dreams that had me moaning and clenching my thighs together, longing to touch…and be touched.
Dreams that had me waking feeling empty, filled with longing.
Wishing I was anybody but who I was.
Wishing I had the courage to reach out and take what I wanted, what I needed.
And I so desperately needed.
My skin prickled and I looked up as his gaze casually brushed over me. Our gazes collided and my breath caught in my throat before I looked back down, staring at the sketch in front of me.
It was Lobo again.
He was naked…again.
My favorite way to portray men.
It wasn’t always sexual, but lately, that was how I did it. I couldn’t find any other means of satisfaction and I didn’t see that changing. The fear inside me was too great. It wasn’t that I feared sex, exactly.
After the first hellish year of my marriage, my husband had stopped wanting sex with me. He might force me, but sex, lovemaking…the intimacy, all of that had ceased.
He used to taunt me with it, because I think he knew I’d wanted it. Not necessarily with him, but…just sex. The connection. The intimacy. The feel of a body pressed against mine. I’d wanted to be wanted. But he’d denied me that. Even as he’d battered me in every other way imaginable.
There were nights when I’d wake up with my face shoved into the pillow while he tore into me and I’d bite my lip bloody to keep from crying. When it was over, he’d tell me about the whores, his mistress, even how he had more pleasure just jacking off in the shower—all things that were better at getting him off than me.
And to think I’d thought that was hell. That was nothing. That was easy. I hadn’t really known hell until—
My mind shied away. I couldn’t think about the final months.
I didn’t want to, either.
I wanted to think about here…about now.
The beach, the sun shining down on my back, so hot and intense, the wind teasing at my hair, the rhythmic lull of the ocean as the waves crashed into the sand. Voices…always voices. I craved the sound of people now, even if I didn’t know them.
Just as I craved the light, the feel of the sun shining down on me, and the sight of people. Old, young, unattractive, or so beautiful they made the heart sigh. It didn’t matter.
Right now, though, I was sketching the one who made my heart sigh and my body yearn.
Sketching out the image of the man. Lobo…the focus of all the hot and crazy dreams. The only focus. The relief from my nightmares.
This sketch was a bad one to be doing here.
He was standing, his back braced against a wooden post, the sand under his feet, waves washing up around him. And his hands were fisted in my hair. I was on my knees in front of him, fully dressed, while I took his cock into my mouth.
Drawing it was the most arousing sort of foreplay, and the most frustrating, because there would be no end, no way to fulfill this aching hunger. Heat gathered in me as I imagined taking that cock inside my mouth, wondering how close I was to really capturing how he would look naked. A pulse of hunger throbbed deep inside me and I bit my lip to stifle a groan as I imagined how his hands might tighten to urge me on.
He wouldn’t be a gentle lover.
I don’t think I needed a gentle lover.
What I needed, what I craved, was a lover, period.
Somebody who wanted me. Needed me.
My face was flushed and hot as I finally finished the sketch. I was going to embarrass myself if I tried another one like that out here. Embarrass myself or just leave myself too shaky to make the walk back home. Unless I took a plunge into the waves crashing against the beach.
I flipped to a fresh sheet of paper and started a new sketch.
His hands this time. Just his hands.
They fascinated me. Long fingers, broad palms.
Were his hands rough? How would they feel rasping—
I flinched and cowered, instinctively curling in on myself and not even a second later, pain licked across my cheekbone, spreading up. Numbness hit a second after that and the fear, always hidden so close under the surface, crept out.
The football lay on the ground next to me and I stared at it, my eyes tearing as my head started to ache and pound.
The familiar wisp-wisp-wisp of footsteps falling across the sand caught my attention and I jerked my head up, watching as two of the college boys who liked to hang out at the beach came running toward me.
“Hey, are you okay?”
The haze of confusion started to clear and I pieced together what had happened. He wasn’t here—my ex. He hadn’t found me. Hadn’t hit me. I wasn’t in danger. It was a football. It had hit me. I was okay. My head hurt and my face hurt, but I was okay. I’d taken so much worse.
The sound of that worried voice almost shattered me and I realized it didn’t matter if my ex-husband wasn’t here. I was going to fall apart soon.
I jerked my head around and started to gather up my supplies.
Leave. I had to leave.
A hand touched my shoulder and I jerked back, falling on my ass onto the sand.
Now, the slow, hot rush of blood started to creep up my cheeks and those two boys stood over me, watching me. One had a smirk on his face and he didn’t bother to hide it. The other looked bewildered. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” he said, lifting one hand and then letting it fall helplessly to his side. “You…your face is red.”
“Leave the freak alone, Tony,” his friend said, nudging him in the shoulder. “She looks like she’s going to scream rape all because you touched her. Come on, let’s—”
The kid turned and stopped in his tracks.
I stopped as well, my breath frozen, everything in me frozen, as horror slammed into me.
He was there, too. Just a few feet away and he had a grim look on his face.
Lobo. Whatever his name was.
“Ah…hey, Jinx.” The long, lanky college kid guy smiled, but even despite my fear, I could see the strain on his face. “How are you?”
Jinx? His name was Jinx? Or maybe it was short…for…for something. Staring at my knees, I tried to get my legs underneath me so I could move, get to my feet, get away. But my limbs were frozen. I was frozen, all but locked in place with shock and fear and horror. Get away. Get away.
I tried so hard to deal with the panic attacks. But sometimes, they crept out to bite me in the ass, and this one was so close I could already feel its teeth.
“How am I?” Lobo asked, his face drawn tight as he took a step toward the kid who’d been mocking me. “You don’t want to ask. You pull a shit thing like that and then be an asshole about it? Get the fuck out of here.”
As they got the fuck out of there, the fear that had frozen me finally loosed its grip and I was able to move. Needed to get out of there. I felt exposed.
So exposed, kneeling on the sand to pick up my sketch pad. The sketch I’d just drawn was right there and I hurriedly snapped the book shut. A blush scalded my cheeks red as I turned and snatched up my charcoal pencils, the eraser, everything I’d dropped as fast as I could. As I reached for one of my smaller sketchbooks, a shadow fell across the sand in front of me. A bronzed hand closed around the book.
The lump in my throat was going to choke me. I couldn’t breathe around it, and I couldn’t swallow. But I couldn’t stay there, staring at my knees either. Slowly, I dragged my gaze up and met his.
He had pretty eyes, I noticed inanely. Too pretty for that rugged face of his. The dark brown was velvety, almost soft, and spiky, curly lashes framed that velvety brown. Right now, he was watching me with an assessing stare. His gaze roamed over me before shifting to my cheek. Bluntly, he said, “That’s going to bruise if you don’t ice it.”
I don’t know why I blurted it out, but the words came rushing up my throat and I couldn’t stop them.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been bruised.” Absently, I reached up and touched the mark on my face, felt the tenderness of it under my questing fingers. Nothing was broken. Sadly, I knew how that felt, too.
His mouth went tight around the corners and his eyes flattened. He carried a lot of emotion in his eyes. I couldn’t really decipher what those emotions were, but they were there. One straight, thick black brow arched. “Yeah? You do anything about it?”
“Not much.” I clambered to my feet and shook the sand out of my skirt before I turned back to get the rest of my stuff off the table. “I got away from him. That’s about it.”
“That’s more than most do.”
I didn’t look at him as I headed off. I didn’t run. But it sure as hell felt like it.