My Forbidden Desire

Second Edition

Chapter 1

An icy sensation prickled across the back of Alexandrine Marit’s neck and raised gooseflesh on her arms. The significance of that ripple of cold should have penetrated, but she was distracted and not thinking clearly. Instead of doing something, she just stayed on her couch and looked around for an open window while absently rubbing her prickling skin. Her crappy apartment wasn’t big, so that took all of two seconds. No open windows.

The reason she was distracted was right smack in front of her. Harsh Marit. Dr. Harsh Marit, actually.

She’d spent the last ten years of her life believing her brother was dead. Only guess what? He wasn’t.

He’d just taken a call on his cell and was now standing with his back three-quarters toward her. Like that was going to make it harder for her to overhear.

She wasn’t over the shock of him being here. Alive. She still had the shakes, and her emotions continued to seesaw between elation and disbelief, interspersed with a humiliating urge to cry. While he was on the phone she tried to calm herself down and did not succeed.

“Yes,” he said to whoever was on the other end of the call.

The chill hit again, rolling along the surface of her skin. She resettled herself on the couch and adopted one of those I-am-politely-not-listening faces. Of course, she heard every word her brother said. But Harsh wasn’t doing much talking. He was listening mostly.

He kept talking and listening on his phone The talking part he carried out in a low voice: very cryptic because, doh, she was sitting right there with functioning ears. He did the listening intently. She got another prickly roll along the back of her neck and up and down her arms. This time—third time being the charm?—she realized her goose-pimply skin had nothing to do with an open window somewhere in her apartment or with being stunned to have her brother here.

Her reaction was something else entirely.

Alexandrine’s stomach fell to her toes. Why now? Like she didn’t have enough on her mind already.

Harsh glanced at her once while he talked into his phone, and the odd prickling along her arms stopped, as did her feeling of uneasiness. Strange. Her premonitions didn’t usually come and go. They were unpredictable as hell, sure, but when she had one, her physical reactions remained until the situation resolved itself. One way or another. So the fact that she now felt perfectly normal made her wonder if she’d gotten it wrong.

Her brother went back to listening, and her goose bumps returned, crawling along her arms to the nape of her neck and down her spine. The back of her head felt cold. From the inside. Which pretty much cinched things. No mistake. Something bad was coming her way.

“Fine,” Harsh said into the phone. He disconnected his call and for about ten long seconds stared at the phone’s screen. Must be nice to have a fancy phone like that. The chill in her head didn’t go away. It got worse.

Oh, shit, she thought.

Several years ago when she was a teenager still living at home, she’d spent several minutes talking with an older guy who had seemed perfectly normal. But as they talked—and admittedly, she’d been using half her brain to decide whether she wanted to flirt with him, which was probably why she’d missed the signs at the outset—she’d met his gaze, and whoa. One look into the guy’s eyes and she’d just known. Rock solid: He wants to kill me.

That time she’d had all the symptoms at once. He was trolling for a kill, and if she didn’t leave—right that minute—she’d be next. So she’d left. Pronto. Two days later, a girl’s body turned up a block from where she’d met the guy, with all the usual media hoo-ha over women killed in brutal fashion.

Nothing happened, though, because the murdered girl was a runaway and poor and turning tricks to support a habit, and not enough people in authority cared about girls with no money. For three weeks afterward, she’d had nightmares about would have happened to her if she hadn’t lit out.

Premonitions were her thing. If there was anything reliable about her limited ability to use magic, that was it. Some things she just knew. It was no big deal to look into someone’s eyes and realize sanity was lacking. Any loser with half the empathy doled out to regular folks could do that. Her premonitions started with prickling skin and an uneasiness that curled into her guts and kept going until she had to do something. Decide. Act. Something. Like don’t go to the store after all. Or don’t take the shortcut. Or leave right now.

Now, just like that day with the killer and a dozen times since, Alexandrine knew something bad was going to happen and that the bad thing involved her. Always did with her premonitions. Harsh Marit was back from the dead, and her life was facing a bifurcation. Go one way and she was dead. Go the other way, she stayed alive.

A binary set of possibilities. Zero or one. How she would get to the point where she knew which way was dead and which way wasn’t was anybody’s guess. This wasn’t one of the more useful that-guy’s-looking-to-kill-me kind of premonitions where her course of action was perfectly clear.

Something bad was going to happen. But she didn’t know what. Not yet. She didn’t even know if Harsh, specifically, was involved or if it would happen today or a week from today. Not yet, but she would.

“Alexandrine,” Harsh said.

“What?” Like her, he was adopted. They weren’t genetically related and didn’t look anything alike. He was tall, dark, and incredibly handsome, and she was tall, platinum-blond, and a little above average in the looks department.

They might not have a blood relation, but everything else that mattered said they were brother and sister. They’d lived enough years in the same household that she loved him like the big brother he was. That hadn’t changed even though he had let her think he was dead all this time.

Harsh tucked his phone into his front pocket. “Sorry for the interruption.”

She tried not to let her awareness show, but it wasn’t easy, and from the look in his eyes, she wondered if he sensed on some level how she’d gone cold inside. She was practically shivering from it. She didn’t think he was the reason she was freaking out like this. But she’d bet real money he was the catalyst for whatever was coming at her. The question right now was whether brother had any idea what she was. If he didn’t, she’d really prefer to reveal that never.

“I need you to do something for me,” Harsh said.

“Like what?” The icy chill in her head went off again, but it wasn’t bad. Just enough to know the choice was still out there.

“Does it matter?” His shoulders tensed up. Beefy shoulders. He had more muscle than the last time she’d seen him.

“Yeah,” she said, “it does.”

“Don’t be difficult, Alexandrine. I don’t have time to explain.” His eyes went hard. “Just do it, all right?”

“Just do it?” she said. “Who the hell you think you are? ‘Just do it.’ ” Actually, that was a pretty good question. Who the hell was he? Didn’t every adopted person eventually ask that question? She had.

Harsh folded his arms across his chest. He didn’t look like he’d been dead at any point during the last ten years. Ergo, he must have been alive the entire time, including all those times she was crying about losing him. Which, come to think of it, kind of pissed her off.

“I’m your brother,” he said. The set of his mouth softened, but his eyes stayed hard, and that was downright creepy. “What else could I be, Alexandrine?”

The question was softly put, even fondly. But she didn’t doubt there was more to his question. She wished Maddy were here. Maddy would know what to do. More importantly, Maddy would probably know what not to do. Her best friend knew a hell of a lot more about this stuff than Alexandrine did.

The security doorbell buzzed and shocked the hell out of her, because she thought it didn’t work. They both looked in the direction of her door. Then his phone went off. Again. This ringtone was a series of sonar pings.

“Don’t answer, Harsh.” She knew him. He was her big brother, and she just couldn’t believe he’d doing anything to hurt her. If he was here to kill her, her premonition would almost certainly have been more urgently specific. Wouldn’t it? It was also possible, she had to concede, that her premonition had nothing to do with Harsh. This could be one big coincidence. Only, she didn’t think so. “Please, don’t. Just this once.”

“I have to.” He slid the phone out of his pocket, touched the screen, and said, “Five minutes.” Then he tapped the screen again, looked straight at her, and said, “I am your brother, Alexandrine. Nothing has changed that.” He met her gaze straight on. “Nothing.”

“My brother,” she said as he swiped his phone again. Another series of icons appeared on the screen. “Right. My brother. The long lost one.” All of a sudden, she felt like she was six instead of twenty-six with all the emotional maturity that implied. She tried to get a handle on herself, but so far her evening had been a bit too stressful for that.

“Alexandrine…” He gripped his phone. Hard. “I’m not here to hurt you. You have to believe that.”

She did believe that. She really did. “Where have you been all this time?” she asked. He didn’t answer.

“Mom and Dad had a service for you. It was nice. Very refined. You would have liked it. Lots of crying. Tears. Emotion.” At the time, Alexandrine had been, what, barely sixteen? The age of attitude with a capital A. But she sure as heck remembered missing her only brother. After the police decided he must be dead, even without a body, their lives just… stopped. Losing Harsh like that broke the family into little tiny pieces. None of them had ever really recovered.

“I’m sure it was very nice,” Harsh said in a voice that was just a little too flat.

Alexandrine jabbed a hand in his direction. Since she’d know if she was in immediate danger from him, she decided they ought to get on with the surface business of him reappearing in her life. “You can’t just drop back in without a word of explanation.”

He sighed, but when he spoke, his eyes were just as hard as before. “I’m trying to save your life, Alexandrine.”


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