Chloe Masters’s world changes in a heartbeat and all she did was touch a doorknob.
James Nightshade has been on Chloe’s mind since the day she met him. Arrogant and frustrating, she thought she had put him behind her when she chose Michael Slade.
When the secret she is seeking leads to questions about the death of Nightshade’s former girlfriend, she has no chose but to bring him into the investigation. A move she will come to regret.
Danger awaits them around every corner as they search for answers. In the end a choice will need to be made, but is Chloe strong enough to make it?
We stood outside the arched wooden door while Jess texted Nightshade that we were there. The cold night air was starting to take a toll and I wrapped my arms around myself rubbing my sides to keep warm. Slade stepped behind me, placed his hands on the sides of my arms and ran them up and down warming me up until I wanted to melt against him.
The door creaked opened, Nightshade stood framed in the archway. He wore jeans with his ever present skeleton key belt buckle. He was shirtless; his chest was not as thick as Slade’s though well-defined with a natural cut of muscles and with a patch of hair running across it. He lifted his hand sliding it through his messed hair. He glanced lazily around to each of us until he rested on me —or more precisely— Slade’s hands on me and then he shifted his attention to my face and I could have sworn I saw annoyance in his eyes.
“Jess, you didn’t tell me you were bringing Paladin’s cutest couple.” He laughed and stepped aside waving us in.
Slade’s hands tensed on my arms and I grabbed one squeezing it gently and held on to it.
“Sorry, Jimmy.” Jess smiled and stood next to Nightshade after entering
“No problem, beautiful,” he said. His fingers slid across her cheek and she blushed.
He swung the door closed after Edgar, the last one to enter. We followed him up the stairs to a large open room that contained a couple of couches, a small kitchen tucked off to one side, and a breakfast bar and two stools protruding at the end.
“We need some help, Jimmy,” Jess said as he walked to the fridge, pulled it open and pulled out a can of soda. He turned and flipped it in the air toward Eddie who caught it and smiled.
“Thanks, Nightshade.” Eddie popped the top and drank.
“Anyone else? Lovebirds, I could give you two straws.”
“That’s it, Nightshade, one more comment…” Slade headed for him his hand pulled back in a massive fist.
Nightshade laughed and leaned against the kitchen counter and smirked. “Anytime you want to try Slade you go right ahead.”
His mocking grin made my blood boil. “This was a mistake.”
“What’s a mistake?” Nightshade asked.
As much as I wanted to leave, I needed Nightshade’s help. I grabbed my phone, clicked the photo of the list of names and slid it across the breakfast bar to him. He picked it up and looked over the list.
“The SKG member on the list do you know him?” I stared into his strange colored eyes and waited for an answer, hoping and praying it wouldn’t be some lie to further his own ends.
“I recognize the name.”
“Can you help us find him?” I asked.
“No,” he said not even giving it thought.
“What? Why not?” My frustration leapt but I caught it before it reached my tongue and I spit words at him that I’d regret since I desperately needed his help.
“Jess.” He turned away from me to her. ‘What’s going on? Why are you helping non-guilders?”
“They took… Gran.” As soon as Jess mentioned Gran her control slipped. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she started to tremble.
I moved to comfort her but Nightshade was there before me. He wrapped her in his arms and pulled her against him. She buried her head in his chest and sobbed. He pressed his cheek against hers whispering something in her ear that I couldn’t make out. He stroked her hair as he did, and I watched in amazement at how caring and loving he could be when I had known only his sardonic side.
Nightshade looked directly at me. “Give us a minute.” He then took Jess and they walked out of the room and I heard a door close down the hallway.
“What was that all about?” Slade asked.
“She’s upset. It’s been a rough night,” I said as I slid down on the couch beside Edgar.
“I guess,” Slade said as he sat on the opposite couch. “Though I doubt it hurts that Nightshade’s half naked.” He laughed.
“What are you talking about?” I snapped annoyed at what his humor suggested.
“Didn’t you see the way she looked at him? I think Jess was angling for more than some comfort.” Slade winked.
“She’s just upset.” I got even more annoyed when Slade raised his hands in mock defeat. I didn’t like what he was implying. We’d been through a lot and I doubted Jess was thinking about getting James alone. And it’s not like Nightshade would fall for that anyway, his conniving nature would see right through it.
Time seemed to slow down as we waited. Eddie rested his head back on the couch and was asleep within minutes. Slade was next stretching out on the other couch and drifting off to sleep. I sat alone with my thoughts, growing ever more frustrated that Jess and Nightshade had disappeared on us. I mean seriously, people, we’re running for our lives and she goes off with some guy and why? Because he’s hot with his shirt off?
After an hour I heard the click of a door and approaching footsteps. Nightshade entered still shirtless, his hair messier than before if that was possible. He looked around the room at the others sleeping and waved his hand for me to follow him. I got up quietly trying not to wake Eddie, who snored and rolled over on his side into a ball on the couch.
We left the room and at the end of the hall he touched a skeleton key on the wall and it fell away revealing a spiral staircase. James headed down; I took a deep breath and followed.
The staircase ended in a massive room filled with various makes and models of cars while several images of skeleton keys hung on the walls. In the middle of the room sat an old-fashioned car. It was deep blue and had red flames on the hood. James was standing by a workbench and grabbed a t-shirt off it and slid it on.
“What’s all this?”
“My garage, it’s quiet down here. We can talk and your friends can rest.”
“Talk about what?” I asked leaning up against the old-fashioned car. Nightshade stepped toward me, reached out and took hold of my arm. I looked down at his hand and back at him, and then he pulled me forward. My breath caught and I didn’t move.
“That’s a classic Hudson Hornet, please don’t lean on it.”
I pushed his hand off me and stepped away. Men and their stupid cars. “Whatever, are you going to help us or not?”
“Jess, told me what’s going on. It seems pretty serious and it’s a damn bold plan, I give you credit for that.” He grinned.
“But?” I knew something was coming, though I didn’t know what.
“I don’t know if I’m willing to stick my neck out for the lot of you.”
“Jess is your friend and so is Edgar?” I reminded, trying the guilt tactic, hoping it might convince him.
“But I can’t stand Slade, and then there’s you.” His half smile taunted me.
“I know you can’t stand me either, I get it.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty obvious.”
“I hadn’t realized. I should work on controlling my emotions better.”
“Sorry, I’m not a shrinking violet like my cousin. I didn’t come here to weep on your naked chest. I came here because I need help and you’re the only one I could turn too. If I couldn’t work up tears for my lost father or injured grandmother, I doubt I can do it for you. Okay, I’m broken, and you can’t stand me. I get it, alright!” I took a deep breath angry at myself for letting him get under my skin again.
He stared at me with those damn intense eyes. He didn’t say anything just stared, making me feel uncomfortable and stupid. Why do I always seem not to be able to shut up around him?
“Quit staring at me and say something.”
“I’ll help you on one condition.” He didn’t smile or smirk and he didn’t stop staring. It was as though he stared straight inside me and that made me more nervous than if he had worn one of his evil grins.
“You and I have to go see him alone.”
“He isn’t going to talk to a bunch of people from the different societies. He knows me and he doesn’t really like anyone other than Guilders. It will be safer that way.”
“Jess is a Guilder?” I questioned unsure of going alone with him.
“You and I that’s the deal take it or leave it.”
What choice did I have and so I wouldn’t debate my decision I quickly said. “Fine we go alone.”
He nodded. “You’d better get some sleep. We’ll head there tomorrow.”
I didn’t bother to ask him where, he wouldn’t tell me anyway. I followed him up the stairs and part way down the hallway he stopped, opened a door, entered and waved me in.
“I’ll stay with the guys,” I stammered, though I entered the room.
“I don’t think so, they each have a couch. Take the bed; you’ll have it all to yourself.”
“Oh,” Did I really think he’d been inviting me to sleep with him? “Okay thanks.”
“I’ll be in by Jess.”
He turned and left through another door closing it behind him. I was glad he didn’t look back and see me flush red at his comment. I wanted to slam the door that opened onto the hall shut but didn’t want to wake the guys so I shut it quietly and turned into the room. I threw myself on the bed and took my frustration out on the pillows punching them several times. So what if James Nightshade and my cousin spent the night together… let them. They deserved each other, they only thought about themselves anyway.
I pulled my hoodie off and slid it into my bag .My hand connected with a small metal object. I took the locket out and turned it over in my hand. When this was all over I was going to need to figure out what it was that I deserved.
About the Author, M.J. Fletcher:
MJ Fletcher is the creator of the comic book series Adam Zero: The Last Man of Earth published by Ronin Studios. He's also been published in Hope: The Hero Initiative and Digital Webbing Presents. The Doorknob Society series is his fist book series and he's thrilled about it. He lives near the beach with his wife, daughter, dog, and a crotchety cat.
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