[Note: The Cheapery St. Heroes will be released late May or very early June! This chapter, the second, was written by my partner, KJH Cardinalis. It's one of my favorites.]
COUGHING ON the burning air, Annabel stumbled backwards, her ankle twisting. The ground was breaking up, the lava flow widening, bright orange blood welling out of the lesion in the earth. The undergrowth beside her combusted, blooms of hungry fire consuming crackling leaves.
There was nowhere to run. Behind her, a steep cliff rose up behind the impenetrable tangle of jungle. There was no way she was going to be able to scramble up that vertical face, let alone get to it. The trees would soon be torches, like the bracken flaring up around her.
This was it. Already the heat was burning her legs. She was going to die here, thousands of miles from home, in unspeakable agony.
Sebastian! His voice surged up out of the heat and light like wings of hope.
No, Sebastian, no! Go back … it’s too dangerous!
There he was, across the widening gap. Sebastian, the love of her life, who would never know it, because she’d never found the courage to tell him how she felt.
Now it was too late. She was going to die alone, alone!
I’m not going to let him die with me.
“Sebastian, run! You can’t save me! It’s too late!”
“No, I can make it!”
He gripped the vine they’d used earlier to jump across the stream—before the volcano erupted.
“You can’t! We’ll never make it back across!”
He didn’t listen. Her heart in her throat, she watched as he made the leap, swinging through the roiling air—
—And then he was there, sweeping her up in his strong, sure, bunched arms. Suddenly it seemed like the whole world was contained right there between them—no lava flow, no raging fire, no jungle swamped with dangers, no sinister German agents sent to retrieve the lost treasure of the Incas—
Hanging to him for all she was worth, they leapt as the rock crumbled beneath their feet into the hungry lava.
Touching down on the other side, her feet on firm ground again, she went to pull away. She would swallow up her feelings again, because things were just too complicated—
But Sebastian wasn’t letting go.
“How did you know you could save me?” she asked breathlessly.
His answer made her heart light up brighter than the sinister glow of the lava.
“Because I love you, I love you!” he whispered, pulling him tightly to his sculpted chest.
“I think we need to run,” she breathed. “You must let me go.”
“Never. I’ll never let you go!”
Melissa groaned and made to re-bury her nose between the pages. Not now! This book is just getting good…!
Madge’s voice was quite a bit louder now. That was probably because she was standing a foot away, glaring down at her like a thundercloud.
Dropping the book next to her half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich, five uneaten carrots (neatly aligned from largest to smallest), and three-quarters-full milk carton (two percent), Melissa cringed and pushed her glasses back up her nose.
“I’m on my lunch break,” she protested. “And my book is—”
“And there’s a permanent lunch break called unemployment for daydreamers. I’ve told you not to eat at the desk! It makes a bad impression! The least you can do is take care of this gentleman.”
The “gentleman” in question seemed a little too rough around the edges to warrant the word. His jeans were scuffed, his shirt buttoned only about halfway under his open leather jacket, the fabric rumpled. Long, dark blond hair hung on either side of a chiseled face with just a tad too much stubble. And dirt.
Unkempt. Melissa did not approve.
The “gentleman” shrugged impatiently, and her dislike of him instantly deepened.
“Well, c’mon Mary Sue!” he urged through his teeth with a thick Southern accent.
Mary Sue …! Who’s he calling Mary Sue? So rude.
Nose in the air, she calmly collected herself. She approached the desk and scanned his DVDs, one after the other.
“Ain’t you even gonna say hello, Missy?”
“My name’s not Missy,” she answered, glaring in his blue-grey eyes. “And you didn’t say hello.”
“Sure it is.” He pointed at her name tag. “Missy’s short for Melissa, en’t it?”
She shrugged, fighting irritation. She’d be through with this hassle in just a minute. And then she could find out what was going to happen to Annabel and Sebastian.
“Whatcha readin’?” he asked conversationally.
Josh Trevor was the name on his library card. Sounded like somebody who belonged in Grand Theft Auto, not in a library, and not interrupting her lunch hour.
“A book,” she answered unhelpfully. She gave him a closed-lipped smile and smoothed back her hair. “You’re all done. Thank you.”
She handed him the DVDs.
Reaching out, he closed his hand over the discs, but didn’t take them. “Wanna grab a cup of coffee sometime?”
She gawked at him stiffly.
He has GOT to be kidding. Pffft. He doesn’t want coffee. He wants a quick lay. And he’s rude to boot.
“Well?” he demanded.
“I don’t think so.”
“ ’Cause you’re rude. And you’re not my type.”
“What’s your type then?” His eyes shifted to the cover of her book. “That your type, Missy? Someone like that, built like a brick sh*t house?”
Melissa’s brain automatically put an asterisk in the profanity, and added “foul-mouthed” to the list of charming adjectives to describe Josh Trevor.
“Yes,” she answered pointedly. “Someone not you.”
“You don’t know a damn thing about me, Missy. If you knew what I’ve had to do today, you wouldn’t be so quick to think as you do. But I know something about you.”
“Oh, and what’s that?” she shot back, and was surprised to feel her cheeks burning with anger.
“You’re wound up. You’re never gonna get with a guy like that. Not ever. Not with that.” He gestured at her hair.
“My hair? What’s wrong with my hair?”
“And that blouse … and your lunch tray over there. Did you actually organize your carrots?”
“What’s my lunch got to do with it?”
“Ah, hell.” He gave her a dark look out of the corner of his eye and snatched the DVDs off the desk. “You figure it out,” he muttered, and marched for the door.
Melissa stared at his receding back, speechless.
What an ***hole.