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“I’m good, thanks,” she said, immediately reaching up and mentally smacking her own forehead in her mind. And this is why I’m still single.

He didn’t falter, his smile setting in place with a wry little gleam of mischief in his eye. “Okay, okay. But if you don’t mind a little company, maybe I could join you for a cup. If you’re up for a little talk, or something.”

The way he said something both creeped her out and excited her at the same time. It had been so long since she’d had a mindless fling, and what a story this one could be. Picking up a handsome stranger on the road home?

Wait a minute, Dar. That’s how you wind up on This Weeks Missing Persons Report, and that’s not the kind of story you want to be in.

“Thanks for the offer, but no thanks,” she said, declining but still more than a little conflicted.

He flashed a warm smile and chuckled. The rusty timbre of his laugh gave her a little tingle in her belly. He just oozed testosterone.

“Well, if you change your mind, I’m filling up over at pump number three,” he said, giving her a little nod and heading out to his car.

Truck, actually, she noted, and a big one at that, all flared fenders and gleaming chrome. It suited him. An overt statement of masculine confidence in steel and rubber.

Darla paid for her coffee and walked back to her car, contemplating the handsome stranger whose gaze she could feel admiring her ass without even needing to look. At least in this instance the attention wasn’t totally unwanted. The gas station was well lit, and the man doing the looking wasn’t some drooling meathead cat-calling with his buddies.

She turned and gave him one last look before sliding back into her car. It would be so easy to take him home. To let him do all sorts of wonderfully naughty things to her. But then cruel reality raised her ugly head. She had work in the morning, and if she was to take him home, there would be a very real chance she’d spend the next day suffering for it.

With her luck, it wouldn’t even be worth it.

She gave the stranger a little nod, then fired up her engine and pulled out into the night.

It was still going to be nearly a half-hour drive home, and on dark roads to boot. Darla sipped her cup of bitter brew and sighed.

There’s just a serious lackof good men in this town, she mused. Hell, it’s hard to even find one who’s good enough for something less than serious.

Her gaze shifted to the car stereo, her hands fumbling with her phone, which was stubbornly not connecting to the car’s speaker system.

“Come on, you son of a bitch, I need music,” she grumbled.

Making the drive with coffee helped, but tunes would make it much better. Finally, the devices linked up and music began thumping from her speakers.

“That’s more like it.”

Darla reached down and grabbed her coffee, but as she was raising it to her lips, her stereo blasted out loud static and a bright light filled her vehicle with blinding illumination. She swerved. Or at least she started to, but in an instant Darla’s world went black.

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CHAPTER TWO

Darla’s head was slowly pounding, a steady thump thump in time with her pulse filling her ears. Everything was dark, though she tried her best to orient herself to her situation.

Did I crash my car? she wondered. If I fell asleep at the wheel, I’ll never hear the end of it.

Memories of hot coffee and a scruffy, sexy stranger at the gas station flickered through her mind, but the taste of her coffee was nowhere to be found. In fact, her lips were feeling a bit dry and chapped. And that taste in her mouth? Definitely not the nectar of the gods.

“I need a toothbrush,” she muttered, trying to force her eyes open. They stubbornly refused, glued shut by a thin crust of nasty gunk. “What the hell?” she grumbled, rubbing at her lashes with the back of her knuckles, slowly loosening them up until blurry traces of light made an appearance on her retinas.

She felt at her waist, reaching for her seatbelt. If she crashed, she’d need to get out of the car and see just how bad it was. Shit. My insurance is going to go up, she realized.

To her surprise, there was no trace of her driver-side restraint to be found. She fumbled around and realized this wasn’t her car at all. Had someone pulled her from the wreckage? Was this an ambulance?

She listened to the quiet muttering of voices. Male and female, and quite a few of them from the sound of it. Was this a rescue squad? What happened to her?

Oh no. Am I in a hospital? How badly am I hurt?

Darla began feeling around her with a more frantic air. This wasn’t a hospital bed. It felt like some sort of cot, but the telltale railing wasn’t there. Also, she didn’t have any IV lines running into her arms, and there were no beeping monitors and electrodes wired to her chest, keeping tabs on her heart.

She shifted to her side and pushed herself up, banging her already pounding head on the cold metal above her with a soft gong.

“Ouch! Motherfucker!”

“Hey, the new one’s up,” a less than thrilled woman’s voice commented from not far away.

The sound of others murmuring and coming closer filled Darla’s ears. With an unpleasant wet smack she forced her eyelids to part, blinking away the blurry bits and rubbing her eyes. What she saw was not remotely what she’d anticipated.

“What in the actual hell?” she gasped.

This wasn’t a hospital. Not by a long shot. And she wasn’t on a gurney. No, Darla was tucked into some sort of bunk set into an indentation in the wall. And about that wall, it was metal, like everything in the large, round chamber. Not steel, or any other metal she had seen before. This was a blue metal that seemed to give off a faint light. The ceiling was a lighter toned section, illuminated but without visible light fixtures, radiating a cool glow to every part of the compartment.

Not every corner, though, for this room was completely round, and as she forced herself to sit up and swing her legs out of the bunk, Darla noted there were at least two dozen identical bunks all evenly spaced, rising two high. It was almost like the catacombs beneath some ancient cities, only instead of the dead, these little nooks housed the living.

Darla needed a better look at this place. She twisted and glanced down at the floor. At least she was on one of the lower bunks. With the way her legs and head felt, she really didn’t want to have to climb down from any height.

Thank God for small victories, she morbidly chuckled to herself.

Darla carefully slid off her bunk and onto her feet, grateful whoever had brought her to this place had left her shoes on.

“You’ll want to go slow for a few minutes,” an extremely fit brunette with bleached blonde tips said, walking closer. “It’ll take a little before it wears off.”

“Before what wears off?” Darla said, stubbornly attempting to walk.

She found herself rudely introduced to the floor a moment later.

The woman chuckled and squatted down to meet her gaze. “Yeah, like I said, you’ll want to go slow. I’m Maureen,” she offered, reaching out a hand.

Darla accepted, gripping firmly as her new friend helped her to her feet. She wobbled a little but stayed up.

“I’m okay. Just gimme a minute.”

“Take all the time you want. Not like we’re going anywhere.”

Darla focused like she learned in that yoga class she took last summer. Breathe in, breathe out. Center yourself and connect with your body. She was already starting to feel more like herself. She moved her head slowly, avoiding sudden movements that might upset her equilibrium, and surveyed the faces staring at her.

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ЛитМир: бестселлеры месяца