If you’re a fan of the Kurtherian Gambit Universe, then you’re already familiar with Charles Tillman and his portrayal of fan favorite character, Akio. Now he brings you a story in the Oriceran Universe. If you read his short story in the Oriceran Fans Write anthology, then you have an idea what this is about. Check out the sneak peek from Big Monster Money, Book 1 of Big Easy Bounty Hunter. Preorder your copy now! It releases Nov. 4!
Garden District, New Orleans, Louisiana
Natalia awoke screaming in total darkness. Her heart pounded fast in her chest as a weight pressed down on her face, preventing her from drawing a breath. She struggled to push the heaviness away, but her hands were immobile at her sides. Her violent roll caused her to fall and land heavily on a hard surface. She shrieked in surprise.
Distant pounding followed by a muffled voice calling, “Natalia!” barely penetrated the encompassing dread as she struggled to free herself from her unseen assailant.
“Natalia, cher, open dis door ‘fore I bust it down,” the voice called again.
A loud blast shook her body, and seconds later, she shrieked again as strong hands grabbed her shoulders and pulled her off the hard surface.
“Natalia, wake up. You done fell outta bed, cher.”
The weight covering her face disappeared, and Natalia whimpered as bright light speared into her eyes, clouding her vision with yellow and green spots. She tried to raise her hand to block the source of her pain but struggled ineffectively to free them from their entrapment.
“Hold on, you all tangled up in da covers.” The voice spoke to her softly, calming her panic enough to stop fighting against the force that held her.
Seconds later, her hands came free, and she shielded her eyes from the stabbing light. As her vision cleared, she became more alert and realized that the room and the voice were familiar.
“I got you. There you go, cher. Everythin’s gonna be all right.”
The blanket that had cocooned her slid to the floor, and she sighed as strong arms pulled her against a hard, muscular chest.
“You’re okay. You’re safe here,” Matt mumbled reassuringly. “You had a bad dream, is all.”
The nightmare’s events came back to her, and she shuddered. “It was Chauncey. I saw his spell coming at me and knew I couldn’t get away.” Natalia sniffed as tears welled in her eyes.
“Shhh, he can’t hurt you no more. It was only a dream. You’re safe here an’ can’t nobody get to you. I promise.”
Natalia stiffened when she turned her head, and her face rubbed across bare skin and solid muscle. She flushed when her hand brushed against the smooth flesh of his chest as if it had a mind of its own.
A second later, she froze when she remembered that her thin t-shirt didn’t leave much to the imagination up top and barely covered her below.
“I-I’m okay. You can let go now,” she murmured, mortified by the unbidden urge to see if his chest was the only bare part.
“Let me carry you outta here. You don’ have on shoes, and I don’ want you ta get a splinter.” Matt adjusted his grip and backed through the doorway.
Natalia glanced down. Wood fragments covered the floor. A look around the room showed a large piece of the door leaning against a nightstand and splinters littering the bed.
The events of the past few days came back as she recovered from the nightmare-induced panic. She’d run away from her family home in Lexington, Kentucky, to avoid an arranged marriage to a truly evil man.
She shuddered at the memory of her brother’s deadly spell whizzing toward her. He’d intended to kill her and would have if not for the man who saved her—a powerful wizard and bounty hunter from New Orleans named Matt Bordelon.
The man whose strong arms crushed her against him and whose hands held her…
Uh-uh, don’t you dare go there, Natalia Greymont. Forget how damned good he smells…damn it, stop it now, you foolish girl.
Natalia’s feet touched the floor, and the smooth chest that dominated her vision moved away.
“Cher, you okay?” Matt leaned down to look into her eyes.
Her breath caught in her throat. Sapphire blue eyes with gold flecks anxiously stared at her. She closed her eyes and shook her head to break the spell that held her frozen.
A large hand wrapped around one upper arm while the other frantically patted her body, searching for any injuries. “Where you hurt, girl? Talk to me, Natalia.”
Matt gently ran his hand over her head, checking for bumps. “Did you hit your head?”
She pressed a palm against his chest and pushed lightly. “I’m fine. I’m just a little shaken. You can let go of me now.” She looked at her hand and snatched it away as though it burned.
“Is that coffee I smell?” She changed the subject.
Matt nodded as he ran his fingers over the spot where her hand had rested.
“Give me a minute.” She pushed her hair back and nodded at the bathroom door across the hall. “I need to brush my teeth and do something with this mess.” She self-consciously tugged the shirt down with one hand, then blushed and covered her chest with the other arm when she saw where Matt’s wide-eyed gaze lingered. “And put on something presentable.”
“You’re beautiful,” Matt mumbled, then turned red when her eyes narrowed.
“Two sugars, no cream. I remember.” Matt nodded as he released her and backed away. “I, uh, I’ll have it in the kitchen when you get there.”
Matt turned and stumbled for the stairs without looking back.
Natalia watched appreciatively with a faint smile. His upper body tapered to his waist in a natural “V” with well-defined muscles down to his gray shorts. His bare legs with their light coating of dark hair were as well-formed as the rest, and she let out a muffled groan as his muscles flexed when he walked.
That man is fine. His muscles even have muscles. Yummy.
Her eyes widened, and she slapped her hand over her mouth. She turned and hurried into the bathroom, closing and locking the door before she leaned against it.
No, no, no! Natalia, get it together. No matter how dreamy that man is, you can’t stay here, and you damn well know it. You’ll get yourself and him killed.
She’d laid awake into the early morning hours, convincing herself that she had to run no matter what she’d told him earlier. Even if Chauncey was dead, her mother had any number of people who’d gladly hunt her down and drag her back home, or worse. Her cousins were a greater threat. If it meant Marian Greymont owed them a favor, most in her extended family would gladly sell out their mothers without a second thought.
No matter what, she had to convince Matt that staying here with him wasn’t an option. With that thought firmly in place, Natalia grabbed a pair of sweatpants and a dark hoodie from the stack of clothes he’d picked up for her the night before and quickly dressed. She was determined to be miles away from New Orleans—and Matt—by the time the sun set.