Indelible by Heather Ames

Kaylen Roberts stirred and flung one arm across her eyes to shield them from the harsh Miami sunlight.

Carefully turning away from the glare, she licked dry lips. Her mouth felt like it was lined with cotton, no doubt a punishment for drinking too much champagne. Last night she’d celebrated, this morning she was paying for it.

Light streamed through the windows, its reflection bouncing off mirrored closet doors. Confused and sluggish, Kaylen tried to gather her wits, but her mind refused to cooperate and scattered thoughts drifted through her head like radio waves from a badly-tuned station. As she slipped back into a dream state, a memory surfaced of her face bumping rhythmically against a man’s back as he mounted stairs, his footsteps echoing on concrete treads. Her hair caught on his jacket buttons as he laid her down, and she remembered pain as he pulled away from her. The image jerked her awake.

She found herself in her own bed, damp hair clinging to her forehead, the air conditioning blasting her. Shivering, she pulled the comforter up to her chin. Her clock told her it was 9:00AM. The photograph of her boyfriend, Tim Madison, smiled at her from its silver frame beside the clock.

“Don’t you grin at me like that,” she muttered, glaring at his handsome face. “What the hell did you help me do to myself last night?”

When she dragged herself upright, the room spun in sickening circles. Kaylen groaned. Despite a splitting headache, she refused to believe she had a hangover. She’d been so careful not to drink more than two glasses of champagne. None of her backers would have been impressed if she’d gotten drunk.

She clearly remembered the early hours of her supper club’s opening night. Drinks flowed freely, champagne corks exploded with the energy of popcorn kernels roasted over an open fire. Jammed wall to wall, her guests and patrons laughed, talked, and even shouted above the Big Band music. Waiters hoisted loaded trays as they ran more than walked between tables, bartenders filled glasses with beer on tap and mixed cocktails with lightning speed, and couples held each other close as they danced on the small wooden floor in front of the stage. Controlled pandemonium, Sam Wilson, her mentor and friend had called it, laughing as he lifted his glass to toast her success.

Kaylen allowed herself to drift with the snapshot memories. She’d been talking to Tim and Sam when intense nausea swept over her. Tim had half-carried her into the bathroom behind her office and held her head while she retched miserably into the toilet bowl. After that, she had only those dim recollections of being carried and then laid down. Otherwise, her memory was as black and fathomless as a moonless night on the ocean.

What had she done, or more importantly, what had been done to her?

Her mouth felt incredibly dry, her throat parched. Advil, she decided. And water. She moved carefully, anxious to avoid aggravating her pounding headache. What the hell?

Even her right leg hurt. Either she’d scraped it somewhere, or maybe Tim wasn’t as strong as he looked, and he’d dropped her after she passed out. She threw off the covers and discovered she was completely naked. Her black silk cocktail dress lay balled up on the floor several feet from the bed. Her shoes rested in positions that suggested they had been kicked off, one upside down beside the TV stand, the other balanced precariously on one end of the dresser.

Hers weren’t the only clothes on the floor. A pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt lay in one corner of the room. A pair of large black sneakers played footsie with her lace panties. Her strapless bra dangled from the door knob, and a pair of navy-blue boxers draped the bedpost.

A stifled moan moved her attention from the scattered clothing to a large hump on the other side of the bed. She tried to remember what Tim had been wearing the night before. A tux, she thought. White shirt. Dress shoes. She looked again at the sneakers on her bedroom floor. Tim never wore battered tennis shoes. He always dressed immaculately. And he wore briefs, not boxers. Her heart accelerated into an uncomfortable gallop.

She leaned over and pulled the comforter down a couple of inches. Spiky blond hair peeked out. Kaylen’s heart skipped a beat. Tim’s hair was black. She didn’t even know anyone with a haircut like that.

Oh shit, she was naked in bed with a stranger!

She carefully scooted away, but even the slight motion of the bed disturbed the man. He rolled onto his back, his face still covered with the sheet. Despite a strong urge to jump up and run as far away as possible, Kaylen kept edging slowly toward the side of the bed. She had to get rid of this guy. She’d never had a one night stand in her life. In fact, until she met Tim, she’d lived the life of a nun since her husband’s death. Whoever this man was, she wanted him out of her condo as soon as possible.

But she had to get her bathrobe on before waking him up and telling him to get out. She swung her legs off the bed and tried to stand. Her head swam. She staggered, her feet becoming entangled with the comforter. Powerless to stop herself, she fell. An involuntary scream ripped from her throat, and the hump in her bed shot upright. Frozen by panic, she stared in horrified fascination as her unwanted guest turned his head in her direction. Her own dark gaze met blue eyes deeply flecked with gold, like sun streaks. Blond eyebrows drew together as he stared at her. She discovered her limbs weren’t frozen after all and bounded for the door.

Her flight ended in an undignified tackle. Before she knew what had hit her, she was lying on the floor, her nose level with her discarded shoe. She lashed out with her good leg, her foot catching her attacker square in the stomach. He swore and released her. Kaylen grabbed her aching thigh and clenched her teeth.

“Christ,” the guy said. “Where am I? And where the hell are my clothes?”

Kaylen drew in a deep breath.

“Don’t you dare start screaming again,” he said.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him grab the comforter to cover himself. Careful, she told herself as she sat up to face him.

“Sorry I grabbed you,” he said. “That was a reflex. Long as you don’t make any sudden moves, I won’t do it again.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I’d like to stay in one place for the next few minutes. I’ve got a splitting headache, and thanks to you kicking the crap out of me, a pain in my gut.”

Kaylen had expected assault, not sarcasm. Anger overwhelmed fear. “Bastard,” she said. She grabbed her cocktail dress and held it against her.

“Hmm.” He raised one eyebrow. “I don’t think you’re in any position to start insulting me.” He offered her the other end of the comforter. “Here. This’d be a whole lot better than that rag.”

Kaylen shook her head. She’d have to move closer to him, and she wasn’t going to do that under any circumstances. “This is a designer dress, not a rag,” she said. With as much dignity as possible, she pulled her crumpled dress over her head and zipped it up.

“Well, excuse me for not noticing,” he snapped, his voice rising. “Damn it…” He stopped and took a deep breath when he saw her recoil. “Look,” he continued in a kinder tone. “I told you I’m sorry I tackled you. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

“Apologizing’s a start,” she said. “But that’s not nearly enough.”

 “Okay...what if I tell you that you don’t need to be afraid of me?” He watched her intently. “I’m not going to rape you, if that’s what’s scaring you.”

If he thought that was going to make her feel any better, Kaylen decided, then he was an idiot.

“You’ve got some nerve, telling me not to scream or be frightened,” she said, testing his truthfulness by getting up and limping over to a chair. “What do you expect me to do when I wake up in bed with a naked stranger…offer you a cup of coffee?”  She glared at him. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

He glared right back. “Rudeness isn’t going to get you anywhere, lady,” he assured her. “Neither is firing questions at me that I can’t answer. I don’t have any damned idea what I’m doing here.”

He sat propped against the bed, one hand clutching his stomach while the other gingerly explored the back of his head. Aged somewhere between his mid to late thirties, with a day’s growth of stubble covering his hard, angular chin, he didn’t look like a deadbeat. His hair was clean and well-cut, and he didn’t reek of sweat or alcohol. Despite the battered condition of his tennis shoes right at Kaylen’s feet, they didn’t smell, either. When she looked at them, she saw her panties again. She tried to slide them under the chair with one foot, but he was watching her, damn him, and she saw the corner of his mouth quirk, as though he thought her fear and embarrassment were amusing.

She glanced surreptitiously at the bathroom door. Ten feet, she thought. She might make it if she could get up fast enough. But Kaylen wondered what advantage she would gain by locking herself in a room without either a window or a phone. The condos were well-built. She doubted anyone had heard her scream or whether they would pay attention even if she pounded on the wall for help.

“I wouldn’t try running again if I was you. I might not be such a gentleman the next time.” He folded his arms and gave her a slow, lazy, and very annoying smile. “I’m still waiting for you to explain yourself.”

“Explain myself?” Kaylen pushed strands of tangled chestnut hair out of her eyes and shook her finger at him. “Listen, I’m not the one who needs to do the explaining. I live here. I’ll ask the questions. Let’s start with ‘who do you think you are, breaking into my home,’ and then we’ll move quickly onto a damned good reason for you being in my bed!”

A scowl replaced his smile. “I’ve already told you I didn’t break into your place, and princess, I have no idea why I was in your bed. With a temper like yours, I sure wouldn’t climb in there by choice.” He held up one hand when Kaylen started to protest.  “You’ve got more explaining to do than I have. I bet you were the one who hit me over the head and dragged me into your bed. The last thing I remember about last night was getting out of my car in the parking lot.”

Buy Indelible and its sequel, A Swift Brand of Justice

Copyright 2019 Heather Ames