Read An Excerpt From BirthMarked By Maria Violante
I tried to swallow against the pressure building in my chest. Shawn had been sexy before, but now, with adrenaline and hormones racing through my body, I was struck by the force of his physicality. Everything, from his stance to the way he held his hands, spoke of confidence, of a man used to being obeyed. And he had just saved me from falling back into the truck and hauled me out without breaking a sweat.
Yes, niggled a little voice at the back of my mind. But how did he climb up the side of your truck without you noticing?
And then I saw the dark splotches on his shirt—splotches that looked an awful lot like blood—and I realized that something wasn’t right here.
I shivered and took a step back, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“You’re not going into shock, are you? Are you bleeding? Let me help you down.” He indicated a shining contraption that ran down the floor of the truck, next to the tires.
My God. The man had brought a ladder. How had he known I would need one? How had he gotten here so fast? My mind was spinning.
It could just be luck. Maybe he’s a passing repairman?
“I have a blanket for you down there, and a first aid kit.”
I eyed the ladder, and then my mind flipped back to the creature I had seen through the dash. I glanced around, trying to spot some sign of it.
Which of the two was the larger danger?
When I looked back at Shawn, I flinched. He was observing me carefully, and I got the feeling he knew a lot of things he wasn’t telling me.
“Did you see … what happened?” I was stalling for time.
He nodded. “Yeah. I was in a Kenworth a little ways back. Drunk driver crossed the median and slammed into your trailer. Knocked the tandems right out from under it. That’s what caused the roll.”
I nodded, and my head swam. The explanation was logical and made sense, but I got the feeling that it was covered in tiny holes, too small for me to see—but they were there, if I could just find them.
“Well, I’m going to help you down, and then I’m going to go.”
I coughed. “You can’t go! That’s illegal, and what about the drunk driver—”
I felt a rock drop in my stomach. Sure, there were lots of ways Shawn could have figured that out. He could have checked on the driver first, before me. He could have seen the wreck and just written the man off.
Or that could have been the gunshots I heard.
Which meant that not only was there a creature at large—but Shawn was a murderer.
He stared at me for a second longer, and then he sighed. “Crap. What did you see?”
I swallowed. “What do you mean?” Something in his demeanor told me to act casual, but his haunted gaze was slowly morphing from drop-dead sexy to something far darker. I shuddered again.
“What did you see?”
I swallowed, trying to figure out how much to tell him. He rubbed at his chin. Even in the low light, I could tell it was covered with a shadow of stubble that only served to emphasize its strong lines.
“Something … ran in front of my truck. It wasn’t human.” I tried to keep it vague, but my voice trailed at the resignation that bloomed in his eyes.
He held my gaze for a long moment, and then he shook his head. “I’m sorry. I thought you could be spared.”
There was a slight click and a rustling, and he reached into his coat. When he pulled it out, I found myself staring down the barrel of a very large gun.
“What are you doing?” I could barely force out the words. Diesel’s ears went back and he started to growl.
“I have a job to do.”
I saw his finger jump as it flexed slightly on the trigger. I tensed up at tried to remember the distance to the ground. If I jumped and rolled right, I might not hit it too hard.
My legs wouldn’t move, though. Maybe I was going into shock. All I could do was close my eyes.
Five second later—at least, I thought it was, but who can tell time in moments like these?—the shot had still not come. My heart beating in my throat, I opened my eyes. He had lowered his hand ever-so-slightly, and his face was turning white. He pointed at my neck. “Is that … real?”
My head swam. I followed the line of his finger with my eyes, bending my neck so that I could see the spot he indicated.
Somehow, my shirt must have been torn in the fall. Half of the collar hung down at an awkward angle, looking sad and listless. The movement of the fabric had exposed my birthmark. No larger than a dime, it was a perfect crescent sliver, several shades darker than my own skin.
“What? That?” I swallowed again. “I’ve had it ever since I was born.”
“Does your father have one?”
Did my father… I tried to spin through my memories of the man, but they were sparse. Worse, I didn’t know which were real, and which my mind had constructed based on the stories of my mother.
And now that she was dead, it wasn’t like I could call her and ask her for details.
Is he going to shoot me or not? I mean, seriously, what in the hell was happening here, and what did my father have to do with anything? Was I unconscious and dreaming this all?
How hard had I hit my head?
I felt a slight, soft pressure at my ankles, and I knew Diesel was here, protecting me—which meant that this was real. “I don’t know. He left when I was still a baby.” I felt like an idiot for admitting something so personal to someone that was clearly insane.
It was Shawn’s turn to swallow. The Adam’s apple in his neck bobbed, a movement I would have found attractive, had he not had a gun to my head. “Did you father drive, too?”
And just like that, somewhere, in the midst of my fear, there was a spark, so sudden and so filled with emotion I thought I might fall over. Need. Longing. Curiosity.
Goddamnit. Luke had been right. I did have daddy issues.
“Yeah, although I don’t know who for. Like I said, he left when I was a baby.” I tried to figure out where this was going, but I had nothing. “That’s what my mother says, anyway. He left one day for a load, and he never came back.”
Something flashed over Shawn’s eyes, and the spark grew deeper. “Why … do you … do you know something?”
He was quiet, maddeningly quiet. And then he looked like he was going to say something, and my heart leaped—
“And what is your name?”
The hiss of a deflating balloon. I sighed. “Charlie.”
“That’s a man’s name. Is it short for Charlene?”
I cringed. Even here? Really? Were those going to be the last words I ever heard? Maybe they could put it on my headstone. “I don’t know. It says Charlie on my birth certificate.” I glanced down, trying not to move my head. This man was obviously deranged, and a ten-foot jump to the ground was starting to look really good. Was he sharp enough to hit a moving target?
Would I be able to stick the landing? Or would I just make it easier to shoot me? How would I bring Diesel?
In response to the call, the gun flew back up, level with my head. I glanced down at the other side of the truck. The newcomer was an old man. Was he a cohort, or my savior?
I decided to risk it. “Help! He’s got a gun!”
Shawn gave the new man the briefest of looks. “We got a situation here.
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Charlie Kale knows life isn’t easy. But for the first time, this truck driver might have finally found her little piece of happiness. She’s got it all—her big rig, friends, a great mentor, and a man about to join her on the road.
That is, until the good things in Charlie’s life all fall apart, and she finds herself at the mercy of a sexy but mysterious gunman who claims to be a member of a secret order dedicated to fighting the supernatural monsters that filter over into our world.
She’s given a choice—join up or die, and while the gunman might be insane, Charlie’s hell-bent on not dying.
Too bad it looks like that might not be an option.
About The Author:
Well-traveled and uncoordinated, Maria Violante is the best-selling author of several books in the realm of speculative fiction–all of them crossovers that require hyphens in the genre description (see: gladiator-dystopia-rom-sci-fi, shifter-western-historical, or gunslinger-mercenary-urban fantasy.)
She enjoys a well-roasted coffee, Bell’s Winter White Ale, and lives in Michigan with her Chihuahua, Beau, also known as “Piggy Wiggy”.
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