Hot SEAL, Midnight Magic by Teresa Reasor

 

CHAPTER 1

Afaint, unfamiliar creak woke her. Not the sound of the house settling naturally, but something else.

She lay still for several seconds, straining to hear more while her eyes adjusted to the dark. The sound of her own breathing seemed loud, so she held her breath.

She sensed something, someone in the room. Chill bumps raced along her arms. Fear shot a flood of adrenaline through her while her scalp prickled. Afraid to move anything but her eyes, she scanned the shadowed, still space.

She looked again, squinting at what might be a shape in the corner, a darker outline against the charcoal gray of the wall, the lack of light leaching away any color. Someone was watching her…foreign, threatening, his body tense, his face hidden.

Fear stole her ability to move, to scream, to do anything but drag in shallow breaths and wait for the paralysis to pass. But before that could happen, he was on her, straddling her, his hand pressing down on her throat, cutting off her air.

She clawed at his hand but could only scratch at the glove that covered it. She went for his face, but it was covered by a knit mesh mask.

She rocked from side to side, struggling to break his hold, then gripped his sleeve. Bright spots exploded in front of her eyes. Her chest hurt with the need to breathe. The spots turned to static, darkening the edges of her sight to pitch, smothering her will. Her hand dropped, limp, against his leg.

She couldn’t die like this. With one final attempt to survive, she latched onto his balls and squeezed with every ounce of strength she had left.

He screamed, and, with a fist like iron, hammered her face.

*

Mia lunged upoff the bed, panic and pain warring within her while both threatened to drop her to her knees.

She held her face while the ache nearly overpowered her—until a surge of nausea sent her staggering into her bathroom to heave into the toilet.

When she finally straightened, she grabbed a washcloth from the basket on the vanity, wet it, and pressed it to her jaw until the pain receded and finally evaporated.

In the mirror, her face looked normal, uninjured. But the vision was too real, and so intense it dragged the pain into her reality.

Who had she connected to? Someone either close by or tied to her in some way. Images of the room still lurked, cloying and dark, around her. The woman’s fear overwhelmed everything else.

Mia needed to concentrate.

Did the bedroom walls have a blue tinge? Possibly. And the room seemed far away from any light, so possibly at the back of the house.

Who did she know with a small, shadowed bedroom at the back of their house? Her mother’s was huge. Her grandmother’s was surrounded by windows and lit by a streetlight at night. Who else?

Mama Bet. A dropping sensation made her stomach lurch. Was the attack happening now, or was it about to happen? Mia never knew. But there was immediacy to this particular moment that she rarely experienced.

An urgent tremor set off her stomach again.

She needed to make sure Mama was okay. Right now. She left the bathroom and grabbed the cell phone off her nightstand, dialing Mama’s number from memory.

The phone rang ten times, with no answer. But Mama was always there at night, and she would have called Mia and asked her to water the garden and feed the cat if she had left town to visit her sister—the only member of Mama’s family still living other than the boys.

Using the illumination from the bathroom light, Mia rushed to her closet, threw on a sweater, and shoved her feet into a pair of beat-up slip-on tennis shoes. Gripping her cell phone, she snatched her purse off the table by the door and rushed out onto the metal landing. The night air eased her nausea, but, still shaky, she clung to the stair railing all the way to the bottom.

The streetlight cast a weak glow on her car parked beneath it. A sudden bark of laughter up the street startled her, and she jerked the car door open, darted inside, shoved in the key, and started the engine. The clock read 2:32 as she shot down the alley and out onto a side road, grateful that traffic was light as she wove her way through the dark streets and caught I-90 across the river.

If Mama Bet was okay, who else might it be? Who else had she come in contact with that might have triggered this kind of connection?

The twenty-minute drive to Alger’s Point and Mama Bet’s house seemed to take forever. When she turned into Mama’s driveway, Mia realized she had no way to protect herself if the attacker was still inside. But she couldn’t call the police and report a crime unless a crime had been committed.

It had. She trusted her ability.

She shoved open the car door, her breaths sounding loud in her ears as she strode up the steps to the front porch of the small shotgun house, past the pale purple passionflower clematis spiraling up the porch post at one end, its lovely scent perfuming the air. She tugged open the screen door and rapped on the door one time.

The door creaked open.

Darkness stared back at her while chill bumps raced up her arms and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. With a trembling hand, she reached inside and flipped on the light. Though cluttered, everything appeared to be in its place.

“Mama Bet?”

Her voice was swallowed by the silence. Even the late summer insects seemed to have lost their voices.

Mia took a step inside, then stilled to listen. Nothing. She moved past the living room to the tiny kitchen-dining room. Seeing nothing was disturbed, she flipped the hallway light on. “Mama Bet?”

More silence. She slipped down the narrow hall to the first bedroom. Sparsely decorated, it looked normal, as did the bathroom across from it. But before she reached Mama’s doorway, she smelled blood and something more, and pressed a hand over her nose and mouth.

She glanced inside the bedroom to the right, afraid to turn her back on the room before looking. It was empty.

She reached inside Mama’s bedroom door and brushed the light switch up. Blood splatter peppered the bedclothes Mama lay beneath, her beautifully embroidered pillowcase stained dark with it. The pillow still cradled Mama’s head. Her face, bloodied and blackening with bruises, was grotesquely swollen, and finger marks stood out red against the skin around her throat.

Tears blurred Mia’s eyes, and she blinked them away. She took one shaky step into the room.

Mama gasped in a rattling breath.

Sweet Jesus, she’s still alive.

Mia jerked her cell phone out of her sweater pocket and dialed 9-1-1 while she skirted the bloody floor and moved around the bed to the far side.

She searched for a space on Mama’s arm that wasn’t covered with blood and rested a hand on her forearm while she leaned close to Mama’s ear and said, “I’m here, Mama. I’m getting help.”

“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

“Someone broke into my friend’s house and beat her. Badly.” Mia’s voice shook. “She’s barely breathing. I need an ambulance and the police… Please hurry.”