Excerpt: Stab at Love
SEX, MURDER AND PHOTOGRAPHY were Ashton Wolfe’s passions. Unfortunately, due to little things like murder being against the law, and because of work and travel, photography had been the only thing he’d been doing lately. He hoped tonight would rectify that.
“Ash, don’t you look handsome.” Nadine Marx, the local human-interest reporter who’d written a story about him two months ago, approached. Her short blond hair highlighted her eyes and cheekbones. When Ashton had first met her, he’d wanted to perform all three of his passions. But ‘Nads’, as some of the guys called her, was a little too pushy and ballsy for his taste. Plus, he kind of liked her too much to end her life. Which was one of the other reasons he’d agreed to play bachelor at her charity auction. “Do you have your mask?” she asked, eyeing his tuxedo.
He dangled it from his fingertip.
“Excellent.” She hooked her arm through his. “I know you eccentric, brooding artist types like to have an uber-enigmatic air about yourselves, but do you think you could be a little social and pretend you’re having fun?”
He wasn’t brooding or enigmatic. He was a serial killer, who preferred to not have friends nosing into his business. But he supposed he could pretend for her. After all, she was giving him his next victim—unknowingly, of course. Plus, he liked dogs and Healing Heroes—the non-profit organization that trained rescue dogs for veterans with PTSD—was where the charity money would be donated.
He released an exaggerated sigh. “I guess I can fake it,” he said with a smile.
He joined the others, had his photograph taken with them, then slipped the mask over his eyes. The women bidding weren’t necessarily buying the men, they were buying themselves dates for the weekend. Because of his fascination with the macabre, for his weekend date, which would begin tomorrow, he’d booked adjoining suites at Abernathy Manor, an allegedly haunted mansion located in Williamsburg, Virginia. Nadine had scoffed when he’d told her this. Worried that the idea of sleeping with ghosts might turn off the bidders, she’d asked him to choose a different location. Intrigued by any woman who shared his interest in death, he’d refused. But he had told Nads he would make sure she’d make money off him—if not from the bidder, then he’d write a check matching whichever bachelor received top dollar.
As he and the other bachelors were ushered onto the stage, he eyed the audience. The sea of women had his stomach tightening with anticipation. One of these unlucky ladies would be dead soon, and eventually their portrait would join those of the many others he’d killed over the past decade.
The auctioneer began his spiel, starting with the rock star, McKenna Low, who was offering a weekend in Colorado. The women loved that, along with the other venues being offered. As the auction went on, Ashton ignored the auctioneer’s rapid-fire words and focused on the crowd, his gaze shifting from one woman to the next. They varied in age, shape and size. Some were stunningly beautiful and would make fantastic portraits, but they weren’t right for him. His woman had to have the right eyes. That was what drew him, and what he enjoyed photographing once they’d died.
The first time he’d killed a woman, it had been by accident. He’d been twenty-five and traveling through Spain when he’d met Elena, a sexy French woman, who had been nearly twenty years older than him. Her eyes had fascinated him. They were so pale blue, he’d wondered if she had albinism and dyed her hair black. The black curls between her thighs had made it clear she was not an albino, though. Elena liked her men young and enjoyed kinky sex, which, at that time, he’d had yet to experience. Fortunately, he’d always been a fast and eager learner, and had done everything she’d asked.
One night, when he’d been deep inside her, she’d told him to wrap his hand around her throat and fuck her harder. As he’d done what she’d requested, he’d stared into those eyes, had become hypnotized by them to the point where he hadn’t notice how she’d clawed at his skin. Then those almost translucent eyes had widened in shock, in horror…just as the life had
drained from them. It had been a beautiful sight, and as he’d photographed her afterward, he wondered what those eyes had seen just before death had claimed her.
“Onto Bachelor Number Six,” the auctioneer called, taking him away from Elena and back to the present.
He’d been so deep in thought, he hadn’t realized he’d been staring into the bewitching eyes of a woman wearing an emerald dress. Even if she didn’t bid for him, he would find a way to get close to her. He needed to know the exact shade of green her eyes were, and if they were worthy enough to have her join his other portraits.
“Ladies, the winning bidder will join our bachelor for a weekend at Abernathy Manor, a haunted mansion in Williamsburg, where you will sleep and dine with specters, and explore the eerie landscape during a spooky ghost tour. Who’s ready to start the bidding?”
A hush came over the crowd. Abernathy Manor was steeped in history and mystery, and many people had died there—not always naturally—since its 1725 construction. He didn’t care that none of the women were jumping at the chance to spend the weekend with him there. He only wanted one. While no one said a word, he continued to hold the gaze of the lady in emerald. Then her full red lips curved into a small alluring grin.
Ivy Ellis hadn’t had butterflies infuse her belly for more than two years, and Bachelor Number Six was the cause of them now. She needed to make him hers for the weekend, maybe even longer.
Most women might think it was creepy to have a man stare at them as if they were his prey. On any other day, she might agree. But there was something in the bachelor’s gaze that called to her, invited her. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was, but knew she had to discover what lay beneath this man’s mask. Besides, she loved being scared, loved horror movies and books, and anything supernatural. She also loved a man with a beard. His wasn’t lumberjack-long, but neatly trimmed, and she’d bet it would be soft against her inner thighs.
When his mouth slid into the tiniest of smiles, she raised her hand. “I bid two thousand dollars.”
Female murmurs rose through the crowd as the auctioneer gaped at her. Let them look and stare. She’d lost her brother in Afghanistan six years ago and had planned to make a donation to Healing Heroes even if she didn’t land a date.
The auctioneer glanced to a blonde with a short pixie cut. The woman, who was running the auction, gave him a quick nod and the man turned to the crowd. “Sold!”
The brunette next to Ivy nudged her arm. “You could’ve gotten him for five bucks.”
“Yeah,” the brunette’s skinny friend added, “no one wants a date like that. I heard that place is seriously haunted.”
Ivy finally looked away from the bachelor to stare at the women around her. Shut the fuck up and don’t talk to me sat on the tip of her tongue. The only women she’d ever truly liked were her mom and grandma— but unfortunately, they had passed on many years ago. Because of horrible experiences with female friends, she preferred the company of men or to be alone. However, instead of telling the bitches off, she gave them her sweetest smile. “This room is filled with so much pussy, it’s turned everyone but me into one,” she said, then left them with their mouths hanging open so she could find the restroom and check her lipstick.
By the time she’d finished, the final bachelor had been sold and the men were about to take off their masks. As the short-haired blonde revealed and introduced the bachelors, part of her didn’t want her man to remove his mask. She liked how it made him seductively mysterious. The other part couldn’t wait to see who was taking her away for the weekend. During the past two years, the men she’d dated had all ended up being duds. The only one who’d had any interest in marriage had been the one guy who—unbeknownst to her—had been using her to cheat on his wife. That had been one of the reasons she’d come here tonight. She wanted to find someone who was marriage material. Since online dating hadn’t been working, she figured taking an unconventional route could be a fun and possibly successful way to meet her soulmate. Even if nothing happened after their weekend together ended, the man in the mask’s hungry gaze, which kept drifting to hers, promised he would take care of the cobwebs in her vagina and that she would go home satisfied.
When the blonde approached Bachelor Number Six, her heart rate quickened and she held her breath. Incredibly tall and muscular, with dark hair and that sexy beard, she suspected her date was good looking. Although, with her luck in love, he might be missing a nose.
“And this hunk of a bachelor,” the blonde began, “is the world-renowned photographer, Ashton Wolfe.”
When he removed his mask, his sole focus was on Ivy, and she thanked God she’d not only bid on him, but that he had a nose to match his handsome face. Before she went to him to introduce herself, she turned to the brunette and skinny girl. “I bet you two wish you’d bid for him now. Because while you’re giving yourself facials this weekend, I’m going to pretend to be scared and find my way into that man’s bed.”
And maybe his heart.
As butterflies danced in her belly, she beelined for him. His long strides were quick and sure as he did the same, and when they finally came together, she offered her hand. He took it, and with his intense, gunmetal gray eyes never wavering from hers, he kissed it. “Ash Wolfe,” he said.
Her cheeks heated. Her nipples hardened and her sex ached for his touch. She cleared her throat. “Ivy Ellis.”
“Thank you for bidding on me,” he said, still holding her hand. He had big strong hands and she could easily picture them caressing her body, pressing into her, making her come.
“Your date was an unusual choice. You had to know you were taking a risk.”
He guided her toward the French doors leading to the outdoor gardens. Along the way, he snagged two glasses of white wine. “I’m unusual and not a fan of average. I was hoping to meet a woman who was likeminded.” He handed her a glass. “Have I?”
When her grandma had discovered her secrets before she’d died, she’d told Ivy she wasn’t an average girl. She was abnormal. But Ash didn’t need to know what her batty old granny had thought. Why was it abnormal to love having a case of the butterflies, or to love love and the idea of marriage? “Most people would say I’m average looking. I have an average job doing medical transcriptions and live in an average home. But I do love when things go bump in the night, mysteries and the unknown. So why don’t we spend the weekend together and find out if I’m too ordinary for you?”
He grinned as they sat on a bench near a hardy lilac shrub that gave off a wonderfully sweet fragrance. “All I have to do is look into your eyes to know there’s nothing ordinary about you.” He studied her face, her hair, her lips and throat, where she wore a simple gold chain with an even simpler charm. “You’re a beautiful woman and I’m looking forward to getting to know you.”
Her cheeks warmed again. “Me, too.”
He gently tapped his glass against hers. “Cheers to us and a fun weekend. I have a feeling it’s going to be a life-changing experience for both of us.”
Maybe it was the moonlight, but she swore his eyes took on a sinful glint as he watched her over his wine glass. The hair at her nape prickled a warning. She ignored her intuition. After all, she liked a good scare and to be sinfully bad. If this guy could give her both, and eventually an engagement ring, then she’d just met the man of her dreams.