Survival Instinct by Janie Crouch

SNEAK PEEK: Come Away With Me by Kristen Proby

Here's a SNEAK PEEK of Come Away with Me by Kristen Proby!

The light this morning is perfect.  I hold my Canon to my face and press the shutter.  Click.  The Puget Sound is covered in color; pinks, yellows, blues, and for once the wind is almost still.  Waves gently lap against the concrete barrier at my feet, and I’m lost in the beauty before me.
Click.                   
I turn to my left and see a young couple walking along the sidewalk.  Seattle’s Alki Beach is pretty much deserted, aside from a few die hards, or early morning insomniacs, like me.  The young couple is walking away from me, hand in hand, smiling at each other, and I point my lens at them and click.  I zoom in on their sneaker-clad feet and locked hands and shoot some more, my photographer’s eye appreciating their intimate moment on the beach.
I inhale the salty air and stare out at the Sound once again as a red-sailed boat gently glides out on the water. The early morning sunshine is just barely beginning to sparkle around it, and I raise my camera again to capture the moment.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
I twirl at the sound of the angry voice and gaze into blue eyes, reflecting the bright morning water. They are surrounded by a very, very pissed off face.
Not merely angry.  Livid.
“Excuse me?” I squeak, finding my voice.
“Why can’t you all just leave me the fuck alone?”  The handsome-really handsome-stranger in front of me is shaking in rage and I instinctively step back, frowning and beginning to get pissed right back at him.  What the fuck are you doing?
“I wasn’t bothering you,” I respond, happy that my voice is stronger with my anger, and retreat back another step.  Clearly Mr. Beautiful Blue Eyes and Sexy Greek God Face is a looney toon.  Unfortunately, he follows my backward motion and I feel the panic start to take hold in my gut.
“I have had it with you following me.  Do you think I don’t notice?  Give me the camera.”  He extends a long-fingered hand and my mouth drops open.  I pull my camera into my chest and wrap my arms around it protectively.
“No.” My voice is amazingly calm and I want to look around for a means of escape, but I can’t stop looking into his angry sea-colored eyes.
He swallows and narrows his eyes, breathing hard.
“Give me the fucking camera, and I won’t press charges for harassment.  I just want the photos.”  He’s lowered his voice but it’s no less menacing. 
“You can’t have my photos!”  Who the hell is this guy?  I turn around to run and he grabs my arm, whipping me around to face him once again, grabbing for my camera.  I start to scream, not believing that I’m being mugged practically outside my front door, when he lets go of me and braces his hands on his knees, bending at the waist, shaking his head and I notice that his hands are shaking. 
Holy hell.
I take another step back, ready to run, but with his head still down he holds up his hand and says, “Wait.”
I should run.  Fast.  Call the police and have this whack job arrested for assault, but I don’t move.  My breathing starts to calm, and my panic recedes and for some reason, I don’t think he’s going to harm me.
Yeah, I’m sure the Green River Killer’s victims didn’t think he’d harm them either.
“Uh, are you okay?”  My voice is breathy and I realize I’m still clutching my camera to my chest almost painfully and I relax my hands and start to lower them when his head snaps back up.
“Do not take my fucking picture.”  His voice is low and measured, controlled, but he’s still shaking and breathing like he’s just run a marathon.
“Okay, okay.  I’m not going to.  I’m putting the lens cap back on.”  I do as I say, not taking my eyes from his face and he watches my hands carefully.
Geez.
He takes a deep breath and shakes his head and I get a good look at the rest of him.  Wow.  Beautiful face, chiseled, stubbled jaw and those deep clear blue eyes.  He’s got messy, golden blond hair.  He’s tall, much taller than my five foot six, lean and broad shouldered.  He’s wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt, and both hug that lean body in all the right places.
Damn.  He’d look fantastic naked. Ironically, I’d love to get him in front of my camera.
He looks me in the eye again and he looks vaguely familiar to me. I feel like I should know him from somewhere, but the fleeting recognition is gone when he speaks.
“I’m going to need you to give me the camera, please.”
Is he serious?  He’s still going to mug me?
I let out a short laugh and finally break eye contact, looking up to the now blue sky and shake my head.  I close my eyes then look back over to him and he’s staring at me intently.
I find myself smiling as I say, “You are so not getting this camera.”
He tilts his head to the side and narrows his eyes again.  Muscles low in my belly clench at his sexy stare and I silently castigate myself.  No getting turned on by your sexy early morning mugger!
“You are not getting this camera.  Who the hell do you think you are?”  Now my voice is rising and I pat myself on the back.
“You know who I am.”
His response throws me and I narrow my eyes, staring back at him again, and get the strange feeling once more that I should know him, but I shake my head in frustration.
“No, I don’t.”
He raises an eyebrow, puts his hands on his lean hips, and he smiles, showing off a perfect line of teeth.  The smile doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Come on, honey, let’s not play this game.  Either give me that camera, or delete the photos, and we can get on our way.”
Why does he want my photos? Suddenly it occurs to me that he must think I’ve been taking pictures of him.
“I don’t have any photos of you on here, honey,” I reply.
His eyes narrow again and his smile slips away.  He doesn’t believe me.
I take a step toward him.  I stare deeply into his widening blue gaze and speak very clearly. “I. Don’t. Have. Any. Photos. Of. You. On. My. Camera.  I’m not a portrait photographer.”  I feel my cheeks flush and I look down for a moment. 
“What were you taking photos of?”  His voice is level now, and he looks confused.
“The water, the boats,” I gesture out toward the sound with my hands.
“I saw you point your camera toward me when I was sitting on that bench.”  He points to the bench behind me. It’s sitting near where I shot the photos of the couple holding hands.  I pull my camera in front of me again and I see him tense up, but I ignore him, turn on the camera and start flipping through my images until I find the ones he’s afraid are of him.  I walk over to him and stand next to him, my arm almost touching his and I feel the heat from his sexy body.  I make myself ignore it.
“Here, these are the photos I took.”  I point the screen toward him and start to page through them, showing him all of the images.  “Would you like to see the others I took as well?”
“Yes.”  He whispers.
I continue to show him the images of the water, the sky, the boats, the mountains.  I can’t help but smell his clean scent as he intently looks at the photos, scrutinizing each one while pulling his lower lip through his thumb and forefinger.  His brow is furrowed.  
Sweet Jesus, he smells good.
I’ve taken over two hundred photos this morning, so it takes a few minutes to page through each one.  When I’m finished, he looks up into my eyes and I see his embarrassment and I’m not sure, but he looks almost sad.
My heart gives a flip as he smiles, a true full-blown, no holds barred smile, wiping away the sadness, and shakes his head slowly.  He could melt glaciers with that smile. End wars. Resolve the national debt crisis.
“I’m sorry.”
“So you should be.”  I turn the camera off and start to walk away from him.
“Hey, I’m really sorry.”
“You must be awfully full of yourself if you think that everyone with a camera is taking your picture.”  I continue walking and of course he’s caught up with me, matching my stride.
Why is he still here?
He clears his throat.  “Can I ask your name?”
“No.”  I respond.
“Um, why?”  He sounds confused.
Hell, I’m confused.
“I don’t give my name out to my muggers.” 
“Muggers?” He stops mid-stride and pulls me to a stop beside him, his hand on my elbow.  I look down at his hand and, raising my eyes back to his, pin him with a glare.
“Let go of me.”  He does immediately. 
“I’m not a mugger.” 
“You tried to steal my camera.  What do you call it?”  I start walking again, realizing I’m heading in the opposite direction of my house.  Shit.
“Look, I’m not a mugger.  Stop for a minute, will you?”  He stops again, rubs his face with his hands and looks at me.  I face him, put my hands on my jean-clad hips, my camera hanging harmlessly around my neck and glare at him. 
“I don’t know who you are,” I say in my best no-nonsense voice.
“Clearly,” he responds and a smile tickles his lips and I can’t help but feel my stomach clench, hoping he gives me that big grin again.  My not knowing him seems to make him happy, but it’s pissing me off.  Should I know him? 
“Why are you smiling?”  I find myself smiling back at him.
He looks me up and down, taking in my dark hair, currently tied up in a haphazard bun, casual red t-shirt that hugs my breasts, jeans, curvy hips and thighs, and returns his deep blue gaze to mine.  His smile widens and I lose my breath.
Wow.
“I’m Luke.”  He holds his hand out for me to shake and I look at it, still not fully trusting him, then back up to him.  He raises a brow, almost as a challenge and I find myself putting my small hand in his big, strong one and clasping it firmly.
“Natalie.”
“Natalie,” he says my name slowly, looks down at my mouth and I bite my lower lip.  He inhales sharply and looks back into my eyes.
Fuck, he’s beautiful.  I pull my hand out of his grasp and look down, not knowing what else to say, and still confused as to why I’m still standing here with him. 
“I… I have to go,” I stammer, suddenly nervous.  “It was… interesting meeting you, Luke.”  I start to walk around him toward my house, and he steps in front of me.
“Wait, don’t go.”  He runs a hand through his already messy golden hair.  “I’m really sorry about all this.  Let me make it up to you.  Breakfast?”
He frowns slightly, like he didn’t mean to say that, and then looks at me hopefully.
Say no, Nat.  Go home.  Go back to bed.  Mmmm… bed with Luke… All sweaty bodies, tangled sheets, his head between my legs, my body writhing as I come…
Stop!
I shake my head, trying to push the fantasy aside, and find myself saying, “No thanks.  I should go.”
“Husband waiting at home?” he asks, glancing at my ringless finger.
“Uh, no.”
“Boyfriend?”
I give him a small smile.  “No.”
His face relaxes.  “Girlfriend?”
I can’t stop the laugh that comes.  “No.” 
“Good.”  He’s giving me that big smile again, and I want desperately to say yes to this beautiful stranger, but my common sense kicks in and I remind myself that this is not safe, I don’t know him, and as swoon-worthy as he is, he’s still a stranger.


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