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Larkin wrestled out of her red jacket, hating that it was tailored so snugly. Though that’s exactly how she’d wanted it when the world wasn’t falling down around her. The fabric slipped from her fingers as she pushed toward the raised ledge. A chill kissed her bare arms and neck. She yanked the blouse from the prim tuck at her waist and pulled the pins from her conservative chignon. Wind carried her hair away from her face. Why not her troubles too?
The low wall stopped her momentum with the unforgivingness of a thousand-foot concrete barrier. Her hands trembled so, and she dared not look over the ledge. Instead, she stared at the soldered bands of gold and diamonds on her right ring finger. It called her a fool. Bile and panic churned her insides.
She ripped her mother’s wedding set from her hand and clutched it in the center of her fist. A scream, long and brutal, ripped from her throat. It cursed the sky and the stars, the land and the water, and the blood flowing through her veins.
With rage came not only tears but also sure hands. Larkin slapped the streams from her cheek, hiked the pencil skirt as high as it would go, and hopped her almost exposed ass onto the ledge. The concrete threatened to freeze her to the spot. Carefully, she turned and faced the city. In her palm, the rings burned a hole.
Time to release the past, but first, she had to confront it.
Larkin lifted her fist into the air, reared back, and--
Imposing arms banded Larkin’s waist and yanked her from the wall. Skin and patent leather scraped across the gritty surface. The torso her back slammed into was as unrelenting as the concrete. Her replenished supply of oxygen exited her lungs in a whoosh … without so much as a goodbye.
A fresh form of panic took hold. Larkin screamed, but no sound left her gaping mouth. She put the fancy shoes to work, kicking indestructible shins. Her fists met with muscle-hardened brawn. His free hand pinned her right arm to his side.
“Lady, you picked the wrong rooftop.” The stranger shook her.
If only she’d brought her purse, she’d have her gun. But no. Maybe she could play cooperative until an opportunity to escape presented itself. Christ knew screaming wouldn’t do any good, even if she had the breath for it. That was why she came up here when the world got too rough—so they couldn’t hear her release.
She could see inside a thousand windows—and if someone in any one of them looked, they would see her—but they wouldn’t hear her. Her office and apartment had spectacular views, but she never took the time to study or truly appreciate them. Not until she came up here. And look where that had gotten her.
“Stop fighting,” the man’s low voice demanded.
The cold suddenly imposed a threat to her life. Who the hell could survive a frozen spine? It must have frozen because, as he commanded, she stilled. Her mind continued to run rampant, calculating angles and dismissing them in rapid fire.
“I have money.” Larkin’s throat hardly allowed the words to pass.
“Well, thank you.” He stepped away from the edge of the building, carrying her along with him.
“You reaffirmed my lifestyle choices.”
Then the madman laughed, and her hope died.
“Let me go.” Larkin poured as much demand into her voice as she could muster.
“So you can splat your brains on the pavement and the cops can pin it on me? No thanks.”
“What are you talking about?” Larkin tried to turn her head, to get a better read on the crazy person who held her in the unbreakable grip of his arms, but shadows shrouded his features. “Who are you?”
“Your guardian angel, sweetheart.”
His deep baritone rumbled in her ear. He didn’t feel like a guardian angel. And then a far-off bulb lit. Larkin’s hair smacked her cheeks with every vehement shake.
“I’m not trying to kill myself.”
“Are you going to rape me?”
He scoffed, and the heat of his breath coursed down her neck. “Lady, I just saved your life. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Then let me go.”
The stranger turned away from the view. His heavy boots took another step in the direction of the manhole. He lowered her what seemed like three feet, and her quaking shoes hit the ground. The cuff of his arm slid from her waist.
Larkin held perfectly still, afraid it was a trick. Her knees conspired against her, shaking and rattling her bones together.
“I hope your night gets better,” the stranger said from just behind her.
On wobbly heels, she turned her head to look up at the man who scared the shit out of her and could have done her real harm. Her gaze lifted higher and higher, shot wider and wider still to encompass the mountain behind her. The collar of a leather jacket flipped up points to a stubble-covered jaw. Dark, almost black eyes studied her from under the brim of shaggy onyx hair. A jaw made for crushing bone flexed.
His head tilted, and light caught the edge of his face. Bubbles and recesses lined the other side of his face from the point of his dark eye to the hinge of his jaw. The red scar was the stuff of horror movies. But the intensity of his gaze forced her heart into her throat, blocking her screams yet again.
Larkin eyed the manhole, twelve feet away, and ran for her life.