The door to Drake’s office burst open and an old, black woman stormed into the room. She was tall and thin, her long, dark hair an unruly tangle of curls around her ancient face. For some reason, the look in her dark eyes made the hair on the back of Drake’s neck stand up and he automatically got to his feet as she advanced on him.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Parrish,” said his secretary from the doorway. “She just barged right past me.”
“It’s okay, Anne. I’ll take care of it.” He came around to the front of his desk, intercepting the old woman. “Can I help you?”
She didn’t answer, but instead looked him up and down coldly. Drake racked his mind, trying to remember if he’d met her somewhere, but he couldn’t place her face. Maybe she was some poor woman who had lost all her retirement money in the markets and was at Graystone and Burke looking for someone to blame. Well, she’d picked the wrong shoulder to cry on. He was way short in the sympathy department.
Drake frowned. Oh shit.
“You need a distraction. Something to relax you and get those writing pathways cleared.”
Simone was really worried now. God, she hoped Megan didn’t suggest something really strange like going to one of those fancy spas in California and getting a seaweed wrap or something equally freaky, because that wasn’t happening.
“What kind of distraction?” she asked hesitantly.
“A tall, dark and handsome one.” Her friend grinned. “Or a tall, blond and handsome one. Like our waiter.”
She should have known. Megan couldn’t go half an hour without thinking, saying or doing something sexual. Sometimes Simone thought the other woman should be a romance writer instead of a literary agent. But at least Megan hadn’t suggested she get a seaweed wrap. Her answer was still the same, though.
Walking over to the row of mailboxes on the wall, Simone unlocked hers and took out the stack of mail inside. She thumbed through it to see if there was something interesting in the pile and was just about to pull out the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog when she heard someone thumping down the steps behind her. She knew without even looking that it was Emily Holden, the elderly woman who lived three doors down from her on the fourth floor. For some reason Simone couldn’t fathom, the woman wore heavy hiking boots year-round, regardless of the outside temperature. At least Simone could always hear her coming.
Simone quickly tried to cover up the lingerie catalog with the other mail, but it was too late.
“Don’t tell me you’re looking at that trashy catalog again, Simone,” the woman reprimanded in a deep, gravelly voice. “Didn’t I tell you only harlots wear clothes like that?”
Simone bit her tongue and forced herself to smile. “Yes, you did, Miss Holden. But remember, I just get this for research purposes.” She’d given that excuse to the woman several times over the years and hadn’t budged since.
Emily Holden let out a loud “humph” as she opened her mailbox and pulled out its contents. Simone’s eyes widened. Was that a Field & Stream magazine? What kind of old woman read a magazine like that? Obviously the same kind who wore hiking boots.
Simone was about to tell the woman to have a nice day and make a quick escape when Emily Holden snapped her mailbox shut and fixed her with a penetrating look.
“Have you started that Western I suggested to you a couple of months ago? You know, the one about the rancher and the schoolmarm?”
Simone stifled a groan. “I’m working on it.”
The old woman’s mouth tightened. “Well, I should hope so. I’m telling you, books have gone to hell in a handbag since Louis L’amour died. If you wrote stories like he did instead of that pornography you’re always putting out, I might actually read it. And you might actually get a man, too, if you could talk about something they’re interested in instead of all that sex.”
Simone wondered if that’s why the woman was reading Field & Stream. She wanted to point out that on the average men thought about sex every fifteen seconds, but decided she should probably just keep that to herself.
Drake rested his forearms on the railing and gazed down at the busy street below. Even though it was well after midnight, there were still a lot of people out and about. Then again, this was New York. There were always people out and about. He shook his head. Hard to believe that in a city so crowded, he could sometimes feel so alone.
Inside the living room, his computer chimed again. “You’ve got mail!”
Drake groaned. He wasn’t sure how it could be possible, but the voice sounded more insistent than it had the first time. Sometimes he wondered if he might actually be going insane when he thought stuff like that. It was an animated voice. It wasn’t being insistent. His computer could give a rat’s ass if he ever answered his email.
“Stop thinking so damn much, get off your ass and go read your email,” he muttered.
Downing the last of the bourbon, Drake went into his apartment and walked across the living room to the counter that separated it from the kitchen. Grabbing the bottle of bourbon there, he poured himself another drink. He started to set the bottle down on the granite countertop again, but then changed his mind and put it with the other alcohol in the cabinet below instead. He’d set a two drink limit years ago. It was never a good idea for a guy like him to get too drunk or too depressed. That was all this city needed, a drunk, depressed zombie.
Drake flipped open the phone and held it to his ear. “Hey Beck.”
“Hey there, Z-Man. What do you have going on?”
Drake’s mouth twitched at the nickname. Short for Zombie-Man, it was Beck’s way of reminding him he knew what Drake was and didn’t give a shit how disgusting he looked sometimes. He was Drake’s friend, end of story.
“Not much,” Drake said in answer to the other man’s question. “Why?”
“I thought I’d stop by with some Chinese from this new place near me. The restaurant isn’t much from the outside, but I heard the food’s pretty good. You game?”
“You’re kidding, right? It’s after midnight.”
“Yeah, I know, but I just got back from this case I’ve been working and I haven’t eaten dinner yet. So, how about it?”
Even though Drake had eaten hours ago, he considered telling Beck to come on over anyway, but then he remembered Simone’s story. He really wanted to get his thoughts about her book down on paper. Now that he thought about it, Chinese takeout did sound good, though. Maybe he’d order some for a late-night snack.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass,” Drake said. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
On the other end of the line, Beck chuckled. “I’ll be damned. I knew if I set up that profile for you on one of those online dating sites, you’d get a woman sooner or later.”
Drake snorted. As if any woman would want to go out with him. “Real funny.”
“I think I’m going to ask for a refund, though,” Beck continued. “They guaranteed it’d only take ninety days to set you up with someone.”
Drake’s eyes narrowed. “You didn’t really set up a profile for me at an online dating site, did you?”
“Sure I did. Though I felt obligated to point out you’re reclusive, anti-social, prone to moodiness, and get downright moldy-looking sometimes. And those are your good qualities.”
“Tell me you’re not serious.”
Beck chuckled. “No, I’m not. Now that I think about it, though, it might be a good idea. They always say there’s someone for everyone. Maybe there’s a female zombie out there looking for love. You two could get together and have zombie sex.”
Drake scowled into the phone. He didn’t even want to imagine what that would look like. “You should seek treatment for that condition of yours. You’ve got a really sick sense of humor.”
“What movie do you want to watch first?” Beck held a DVD up in each hand. “Co-ed Zombies or Night of the Zombie King?”
Drake shook his head at the titles. Beck went out of his way to find the cheesiest, most low-budget movies he could and they all happened to have zombies in them. Beck must be channeling his inner Dr. Phil, figuring watching these crappy movies was some kind of exposure therapy or something. It wasn’t working. Drake was never going to be one with his inner zombie. But at least the movies were always good for a laugh. He wondered what Dr. Phil would say about a zombie thinking zombie movies were funny. Considering the zombies in the movies never seemed to have a happily ever after, he’d probably think Drake was in need of some serious therapy.
Simone was just drooling over the picture of the New York style cheesecake in the desserts section when she realized someone had come up to the table. Thinking it was the waiter, she lifted her head to give him a smile. But as her gaze traveled up a pair of legs encased in tight-fitting jeans, then on to a trim waist and broad, muscular chest, she decided it definitely wasn’t the waiter.
As her gaze continued upward, she saw that the guy’s face was just as gorgeous as the rest of him. Dark hair, a wide, sensual mouth and a chiseled jaw with a slight trace of stubble had him looking as if he’d just stepped off the cover of GQ. Or one of her romance books.
Please God, let this be Drake Parrish.
“Simone?” asked the jean-clad dream.
The words were deep and velvety, and Simone let out a little sigh as they caressed her. Megan had said his voice was as sexy as sin and she was right. This was definitely Drake.
Abruptly realizing she was sitting there looking at him like a lovestruck teenager, Simone opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. All she could do was gaze into those soulful brown eyes of his.
“Huh?” was all she finally managed.
He gave her an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
Simone’s eyes went wide when he started to turn away. Oh no, he was leaving. “I am someone else!”
He turned back to her. “Pardon me?”
She blushed. “I mean, I’m Simone. Are you Drake?”
The corner of his mouth edged up. “That’s me.”
“That’s a big leap, going from Wall Street to editing romance books. There’s got to be a story there.”
He shook his head. “Not much of one. I used to be a financial analyst for Graystone and Burke and just decided I needed a change.”
Simone didn’t know a lot about the world of finance, but even she’d heard of that place. “Graystone and Burke is a pretty prestigious company. What made you leave? Did you get tired of carrying your paycheck home in an armored truck?”
He chuckled. “Exactly. How’d you guess? No, I just came to the realization I didn’t like the kind of person I was turning into. I was too concerned with making money and
having a corner office. It blinded me to the more important things in life, so I just up and left.”
Simone knew there was probably more to it than that, but she didn’t want to pry. It seemed like a sensitive subject for him. She sat back and studied Drake, picturing him in a suit and tie, and decided he’d look damn sexy. She was more the jeans and T-shirt kind of woman, though, so she was glad he’d left the dark side and joined the world of romance. Besides, a suit would hide way too much of that amazing body of his. Like those arms, for example. If she had her druthers, there would be a law that said he had to keep those muscular biceps exposed at all times. She was tempted to lean over and give them a squeeze, but she resisted the urge and let her gaze wander over his broad shoulders instead. She bet the rest of him was just as ripped.
Drake spent the better part of the next day terrified he was going to go all zombie before his date with Simone. The possibility had him running into the bathroom to check himself out in the mirror nearly every fifteen minutes. Hoping to keep from going insane, he sat down at his computer and tried to catch up on some editing work. But he gave up halfway through the first user manual he tried to read. He was too wound up to concentrate.
Needing something else to distract him, he decided to exercise instead. He lifted some weights first, then ran ten miles on the treadmill. Even though he was dripping with sweat afterward, he was still so geeked up he could barely sit still. So, after checking himself in the mirror again, he knocked out two hours on the Bowflex. Thankfully, that left him too exhausted to think about anything but taking a long, hot shower.
While standing under the spray, he finally found the perfect way to keep himself from worrying about turning into a zombie—he thought about Simone and how nice it would be to have her there in the shower with him. The image of her standing there naked while the water poured over her slender curves had him sporting a raging hard-on in no time.
Groaning, he reached down and wrapped one hand around his cock. He moved it up and down, imagining it was Simone touching him. Back when he used to be normal, the simple fantasy would have been a nice way to get his blood pumping, but now it was almost enough to make him explode right then. He hadn’t had a woman as beautiful and sexy as Simone to fantasize about in a long time, though, so he’d be damned if he was going to rush it.
“Do you always eat ice cream half dressed?”
Drake’s voice was a husky caress in her ear and Simone blushed at the question. “Actually, I usually eat ice cream completely naked, but I’m not quite there yet.”
“Oh really?” He sounded intrigued. “That’s quite an image. Now you’re making me really wish I wasn’t such a dedicated columnist. I can only imagine what you’re wearing.”
She chewed on her lower lip, suddenly feeling the urge to tease him. “Well if you hadn’t rushed off to write your column, you wouldn’t have to imagine, would you?”
He let out a groan. “I know, I know. I’m kicking myself over my misplaced work ethics, believe me. But you could at least take pity on me and describe what I’m missing.”
Even though he was on the other end of a phone and couldn’t see anything at all, the thought of describing what she was wearing to Drake had her pussy purring and she squeezed her legs together to ease the ache there a little.
Telling Drake to have a good night, Simone hung up and lay back on the bed, using her fingers to slowly coax the last little tremors of orgasm from her clit.
He traced a path of hot kisses back up to her mouth, capturing it in another searing kiss before lifting his head with a groan. “I want you, Simone.”
She moaned and rubbed herself against his hard-on. “I can tell. I want you, too.”
He kissed her again, suckling gently on her lower lip. “Which way is the bedroom?”
Simone was so hot for Drake she was tempted to ask him to take her right there on the kitchen counter. But the thought of hot, sweaty sex in her big, comfy bed with the eight-hundred thread count sheets she’d splurged on was too inviting to resist.
Rather than answer, she gave him a naughty smile, then took his hand and led him out of the kitchen. Halfway down the short hallway that connected the living room to the bedroom, Drake gave her hand a tug and pulled her into his arms for another kiss.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, turned on even more by knowing he couldn’t seem to wait until they reached the bedroom. As he pressed her up against the wall, his mouth moving over hers urgently, she decided sex up against the wall would be just fine with her. The sheets would have to wait for round two.
She ran her hands down his chest and past his belt to the sizeable bulge in his jeans, then gave it a firm squeeze. Oh yeah, he was definitely packing some serious heat down there. She wondered if he had a license for that weapon. This was New York, after all, and concealed weapons were strictly prohibited. Apparently, no one had ever told Drake that. Thank God.
Drake groaned against her mouth. “Do you know what you do to me?” he rasped.
She let out a husky little laugh and gave him another firm squeeze through his jeans. “I think I have a pretty good idea.”
Waking up beside Simone the next morning seemed like the most natural thing in the world to Drake. God, he could definitely get used to this.
He turned his head to look at her. She was curled up on her side, her back to him, her hair spilling over the pillow, her beautiful ass pressing up against his hip beneath the blanket.
His mouth curving into a smile, he rolled on his side and put his arm around her waist. He was just about to get a little closer, maybe nudge her cute ass with his rapidly hardening cock, when he noticed the skin on his arm was completely black.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Resisting the urge to immediately jump up and run into the bathroom, Drake forced himself to slowly and carefully slide out of bed so he wouldn’t wake up Simone. The last thing he wanted was for her to see him looking like a zombie. She snuggled into her pillow, but didn’t stir. Thank God.
Grabbing his jeans and T-shirt from atop the chest at the bottom of the bed, he went into the bathroom and quietly closed the door, then locked it. He held his breath as he switched on the light.
Drake had hoped the discoloration would be limited to his arm, but as he looked at himself in the mirror, he saw that the ugly decayed skin was covering his shoulder and half of his chest as well.
He ran his hand through his hair and paced back and forth across the tiny room. After a moment, he stopped in front of the mirror and stared at his reflection again. What the hell was he going to do?
His gut told him to get the hell out of there before Simone woke up and saw him. He could leave her a note saying he’d run to the grocery store to pick up something, then go somewhere to hide until he was back to normal. And what if he didn’t go back to normal for days? Abruptly, he remembered the thought that had occurred to him before Beck had gone down to Louisiana to find the Voodoo priestess. What if Beck had pissed her off so much she made the zombie curse permanent? What if he never turned back to normal again?
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