Jessica Coulter Smith
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Copyright ©2013 Jessica Coulter Smith
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My name is Bale, and I'm a demon. A guardian demon to be exact. Blue skin, small black horns jutting from my forehead, and my teeth a bit sharper than a human's. We all resemble one another, and carry the same intricate tattoos, winding down from our necks, down our arms, and covering our torsos. Each guardian demon has a charge to watch over.
In my case, it's the most exasperating creature on the planet. Beautiful, sarcastic, and a magnet for trouble, Alia keeps me busy.
Blending with the shadows, I watched as she walked down the darkened alley. If the sway of her hips didn't have me mesmerized, I probably would have ground my teeth in annoyance. The woman never learned. I'd saved her countless times from her folly, but this time was going to be different. This time she'd feel fear before I rescued her.
A man watched her from a dark corner. I could smell his stench and hear his wretched thoughts. Even knowing the vile things he wanted to do to Alia, I refused to get her out of the alley, not until she'd seen the error of her ways. It was time for the reckless behavior to stop once and for all, before it got her killed.
He pulled himself away from the corner after she passed and crept up behind her, quiet as a mouse. While she was oblivious to her surroundings and the danger she was in, he reached around and grabbed her, pulling her against his filthy body. Placing a hand over her mouth, he stopped her from crying out for help and dragged her into his dark corner, away from prying eyes.
"Such a pretty little thing," the man slurred. "We're going to have us a grand ol' time."
Alia struggled, but couldn't break free. My hands clenched into fists, but I refrained from rushing to her side. She had to learn that her behavior was irresponsible, that it would get her killed, and this was the only way I could think of to get the message across.
The man kissed the side of her neck, and I saw the revulsion and fear written across her delicate features. He unfastened his pants and slid a hand under the edge of her skirt, caressing her thigh as he pulled the material up higher.
I could practically see her heart pounding and knew that finally she understood she'd made a colossal mistake. I would have never let it go any farther, but I was hoping her fear would teach her a lesson.
Materializing from the shadows, I made my presence known. "Let her go."
I saw Alia's eyes go wide, and the man glared at me. "This isn't any of your business. Go away. Go find your own woman."
I grinned. "But she is my woman."
The man looked from his prize to me and back again. When his eyes settled on mine, his hold loosened just enough for Alia to slip away. Instead of running down the alley as I had supposed she would do, she slipped behind me and rested her hands against my back.
She was trembling, but I knew her well. While she might have been scared when the man held her captive, now that she was free and felt safe her anger was beginning to build. If I didn't get her out of here soon, she'd do something that could get us both killed. The difference was that I would return from the grave, while she'd be gone permanently.
The man glowered at me and I knew he was trying to decide what to do, trying to decide if the woman was worth the trouble. His gaze traveled down my muscular chest and arms.
My markings should've been enough to dissuade him from pressing the issue -- everyone knew to be wary of guardian demons -- but this one didn't seem to be dealing with a full deck. I could tell the exact moment when he realized he would lose a fight against me. With a shrug of his shoulders, he shuffled away, moving slowly down the brick wall, searching for another victim.
"Too much trouble anyhow," he mumbled.
I turned to give Alia the lecture of a lifetime, but she took me by surprise, slipping her slim arms around my waist, hugging me.
"Thank you. If you hadn't shown up when you did, he would have... have..."
"I know what he intended. What possessed you to walk down this dark alley to begin with?"
She lifted her head and her topaz eyes met mine. "It was a shortcut. I've used it before and nothing has ever happened. I guess it just didn't occur to me that I could get into trouble along the way."
I snorted and rolled my eyes. Exasperating creature! "Alia, your carelessness is going to get you killed one of these days."
She stiffened a moment. "How do you know my name?"
"Because I was sent to protect you. I'm your guardian."
Her gaze skimmed across my chest, taking in my intricate tattoos. I saw heat flare in her eyes, and it was all I could do to control myself. I'd be lying if I said I didn't desire her. Who wouldn't? Her eyes were expressive and full of life, her lips were plump and were perfect for kissing, and her long blonde hair had inspired many a fantasy. And if her curvy good looks weren't enough to draw me in, that spark of fire in her soul would be my undoing. Never one to sit on the sidelines, Alia was always into everything, even if it meant going toe to toe with someone twice her size.
"You certainly don't look like a guardian angel."
Now there was something no one had called me before. "I don't recall saying I was an angel."
"But you're my guardian?"
"Yes. Your guardian demon."
Her eyes went wide and she took a step back. "Excuse me?"