Out of the Blue

By: Elise Noble

CHAPTER 1



THE HEAT OF the sun on my face woke me, and for a few seconds, I couldn’t remember where I was. Certainly not at home because the converted attic I slept in didn’t have any windows. I cracked open one heavy eyelid. An expanse of opulent plum carpet stretched out in front of me all the way to a pair of glass doors, the gold railings around the balcony beyond glinting as the light caught them. The sun itself blazed high in a cloudless sky, a ball of fire that caused me to squint.

It all came back to me then. An airplane ride, Las Vegas, the sales jolly—sorry, symposium. My asshole of a fiancé. In daylight, the strip didn’t look so impressive. The hotel opposite looked dusty rather than glitzy, the gaudy lights that lit it at night an illusion of glamour that didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

This was my last night in the city, and the three-day trip had been a chore rather than pleasure. But at least the bed was comfortable. I cocooned myself under the quilt, hoping for another half hour of sleep in a bed far more comfortable than my lumpy mattress back home.

Getting up would mean a return to reality, or rather, to Norsville, Texas. The tiny town perched on the edge of the mainland just across from Galveston. In high school, the jocks called it Snoresville, and the geeks called it Nowheresville. Two very different groups of people with one thing in common; they both left the moment they could.

Some took jobs in Galveston or even Houston—anywhere with a bit of nightlife and neighbours who didn’t get all up in your business. Others moved further away to attend college, only returning for the holidays, when family customs dictated it was their duty to visit.

Not me. I stayed put. My life was going nowhere, or rather staying there.

Because in a little under three weeks from now, I’d be marrying Wade Bruckman. Twenty days until my life got flushed well and truly down the toilet. Four hundred and eighty hours, 28,800 minutes, 1,728,000 seconds.

I’d hated him from the moment I met him, long before he blackmailed me into going through with this charade. The arrogant son of a bitch took after his father, who by some fluke of genetics had ended up owning half of Norsville and part of the neighbouring town too. His grandparents had bought the land up cheap decades ago, and now he used his birthright to make other people’s lives a misery.

Including mine, although my step-daddy helped him out there.

The thought of my upcoming nuptials made my stomach turn. I’d had a recurring nightmare for the past few weeks where I walked down the aisle and flipped my veil up, only to find Wade had turned into a grotesque monster with horns and a tail. Not too far from the truth, really. I screwed my eyes shut again, trying to block out the sun. Had I dreamed of the devil again last night? I couldn’t remember.

An image flashed through my mind. Not Wade, but another man—muscular, toned, blond hair instead of brown. Clearly, I’d been reading too many of my sister’s romance novels. I shook my head to erase the picture, and the faint throbbing in my temples indicated a killer headache just waiting to burst onto the scene. And that damn guy still lurked at the corner of my subconscious. I couldn’t help licking my lips, but my mouth was drier than Death Valley itself, and the bottom half of my face felt like somebody had sandpapered it.

Water. I needed water. And aspirin. I spied my purse on a chair in the corner of the room, an industrial-sized bottle of pills hidden safely within it. I’d been getting a lot of headaches recently—no prizes for guessing why.

A sigh escaped my lips at the thought of getting up, but it was no good. I needed to do it. I stretched my legs out under the quilt until my knees clicked then did the same with my arms, reaching up until I hit the headboard behind me. Then I rolled over.

Or at least, I tried to.

A warm lump blocked my way, and I didn’t know whether to hit it or run. What was it? Or rather, who?

Not Wade, that was for sure. I’d cited traditional values and refused to share a bed with him until our wedding day, even though it was only putting off the inevitable. He was safely ensconced in a deluxe suite on the twentieth floor while I was stuck in a “tier one” room on the eighth, which basically meant I got a bed and bathroom.

Natural instinct took over and I screamed. Seconds later, a tousled head of blond hair popped out from under the quilt, a lazy smile quirking at the corners of its owner’s mouth. My eyes widened as I recognised the man I’d shaken out of my head a few moments ago.

Could I be seeing things?

His smile faded. “Well I have to admit, that’s not the usual reaction when a woman wakes up next to me.”

Unless I was hearing things as well, he was real. I scrambled into a sitting position, clutching the dark purple quilt in front of me like a shield. “How did you get here? Why are you in my bed?”