A black widow hung two feet over Dean Colter’s head.
A second one perched on the nearby window seat, legs bouncing as she stalked a new victim.
He stood smack-dab in the middle of freak-house central. Tangled white cobwebs filled the corners of the windows while battery-operated candles cast flickering shadows in sharp contrast with the disco ball sparkles raining down on the dance floor.
The second weekend of October was far too early for Halloween, but one thing Dean knew was when to argue with a female and when to close his damn mouth and put on the costume.
At least his get-up wasn’t something lame like Zorro. Nope, he’d wandered through the private entrance to the warehouse fashionably late to discover he’d been left the makings for Iron Man. Nothing more than leggings and light body armor, his muscles filling out the rest. The symbolism made him grin.
The mask, however, he’d “forgotten” in the back room where he’d found the costume waiting. Screw wearing something that covered his entire face.
He glanced around the noisy room, impressed by the size of the crowd that had appeared after just a few phone calls.
The guy beside him weaved hard to his right, and Dean dodged aside with military precision, catching the man with one arm and tipping him back to vertical with a laugh. “Whoa, there, cowboy.”
The drunken partier’s date giggled loudly, bracing her hands on her hips as she arched her back and presented a well-filled jean vest in Dean’s direction.
“Thankee, pard’ner.” Her interest flashed nearly as bright as the shiny sheriff’s badge pinned over her ample bosom.
“You might want to hog-tie your man for the rest of the night,” Dean suggested, amused as the man’s hands wandered over her curves. “Maybe take away the keys to his horse.”
She stepped between them, chin rising. “You wanna come for a ride with us?”
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m not allowed to mix business with pleasure, darling.” He pretended to tip a hat, then strode off, determined to catch up with his buddies who were somewhere in the mob.
Parker Wilson and Jack Hunter were not only his business partners, but also his best friends. They’d gone through hell together during their Ranger days, but now that their two tours of duty were over, they’d all settled in San Francisco. Even with their time on foreign soil long behind them, they seemed to have little difficulty finding new ways to get in trouble.
A pair of identical Playboy Bunnies sauntered past, eyeing Dean with great enthusiasm. He offered a smile, but kept going without even a second glance at their fluffy tails as he examined the crowd for the rest of his team.
Three steps later he jerked to a halt.
God, he had to be running a fever, or dying…or something. He glanced over his shoulder, but nope. The urge to reverse direction and work on seducing one, or both, of the bunnies into his bed wasn’t there. Maybe his libido had finally succumbed to pure exhaustion from all those other times when he’d jumped in enthusiastically, leaving a trail of satisfied women in his wake.
A burst of familiar laughter rang from the corner where the refreshments were, and Dean changed course, once again struck by how many people were enjoying the haunted house around him.
It wasn’t difficult to spot the rest of his crew once he’d cornered them. Someone with a sense of humor had replicated the entire Avengers team and he was pretty sure with one guess he could name the troublemaker.
“Dean.” His buddy Jack went to extend a hand toward him, jerking to a stop as if surprised to spot the curved bow he held. Amusement filled his dark brown eyes, and he paused to sling the contraption over his shoulder. “About time you got here.”
“Had to give the other guys a chance before I appeared in all my glory and ruined their night.” Dean flexed his red-and-gold-covered arm, showing off his biceps, and an instant low squeal escaped from the group of women to their left. He raised a brow. “Need I say more?”
“Bastard.” Jack gave him a solid back-pounding and turned him to the rest of the group, dropping his voice slightly. “Behave. You don’t know how much you owe me. I’m the reason you got Iron Man. You were in someone’s bad books for saying Halloween parties were second to last on your top ten things to do after an enema list.”
Jack had recently hooked up with Pepper, the younger sister of their third partner, Parker, and this entire dress-up, drunken revelry was her fault. No matter where she went, the woman knew how to have a good time and haul others along with her. She’d joined DreamMakers, the dating service-slash-assistance for clueless bros, or simply put, the romantic Dates “R” Us company the three of them had established four years earlier.
She also bossed around just about everyone she met, including her older brother, her boyfriend, and when she could, Dean. Good thing she was cute. And hot. Damn hot, but that was a direction Dean refused to let his thoughts wander.
Instead, he did a quick recon of the area, his grin widening as he matched costumes with the rest of the DreamMakers gang.
Parker wore a red cape, the long blond hair he’d let grow out hanging around his shoulders. He held a massive hammer in one hand, and his fiancée’s hand in the other. She was the only one not in Avenger gear, her dark hair braided over her shoulder, a shimmering blue dress hugging her dynamite curves.
“Well, aren’t you the perfect princess?” Dean leaned in closer and offered Lynn a kiss on the cheek. “Anytime you want to ‘Let It Go’, give me a call.”
Parker poked him in the chest. “Hands off. Go find yourself some Pepper.”
Dean jerked upright. “What the—?”
Lynn’s eyes widened as Parker realized what he’d said. “Pepper Potts,” he hurried to clarify. “Jeez, not my sister, you hound dog. It’s bad enough I have to watch Jack make googly eyes at her.”
That’s not all Jack and Pepper were doing. Or Lynn and Parker. And suddenly, even as he was entertained to discover the other two full-time DreamMakers employees were dressed as Captain America and a female Hulk, Dean felt a little out of it.
How, over the course of one summer, had they gone from three single, much-in-demand bachelors to two sets of nearly-weds and him, one lone ranger, a shining example of virility for men everywhere?
And he’d eat his fucking man-card before he’d confess to anyone, even himself, that at moments? He fucking hated that he didn’t have someone in his life.
He had plenty of women, only not a special someone. There was no one who he saw on a regular basis except for Suz, who totally didn’t count. Theirs was the first platonic relationship he remembered having with the female species since he’d figured out what to do with the equipment. Maybe he should reconsider their no-hook-up stance and make a play for her.
Maybe he should sign up for an online dating service.
Maybe he should…
Maybe he should go back and seduce the fuck out of Thumper One and Thumper Two, that’s what he should do.
He was about to excuse himself and put action to thought when he ran out of time. If Jack was Hawkeye, then the curvy redhead crossing the floor at high velocity toward them was Black Widow, a far more kick-ass and gorgeous version than the other two Dean had spotted when he’d first walked in.
And far more deadly.
Pepper marched straight up to him and shoved the god-awful mask he’d abandoned earlier against his chest.
“Hey, Iron Man, get your game face on,” she ordered.
“Good to see you, too, Pepper. I hope you don’t plan on ending your evening in a typical spider fashion,” Dean drawled, dangling the mask on one finger as he swung it back and forth.
Her eyes flashed. “I don’t know. You think Jack would object to being eaten?”
Jack choked on his drink, pulling himself together quickly. “Sweetheart, anytime you want to put your teeth into me, go for it.”
Pepper curled under his arm, winking mischievously before turning back to Dean. “Enjoying the party?”
“It’s great,” he lied, a huge smile on his face. Christ, he was going to sneak the hell out as soon as…
A goddess walked into the room.
And a god, but he barely glanced at the female Loki sashaying toward him. Dean peered around her, hoping for another glimpse of the woman in the low-cut silvery robe who had entered the room from the back door. She was in the middle of a group of laughing people, and he lost sight of her as the bunch of them turtled up and moved en masse toward the staircase leading to the second floor.
“Hey, Dean. You were supposed to be here earlier, you ass.” Loki, otherwise known as Susanna Jones, got in his face. Her blonde hair was braided into two long pigtails, and perched on her head was an exact replica of the enormous horned headpiece from the movie. For the rest of her costume she’d wrapped her enticing curves in black leather. Hell, if she’d had a whip she could have been many a man’s wet dream.
Dean was far more interested in the mysterious woman inching her way through the crowd and up the narrow staircase. At closer examination, her get-up looked more elfin princess than goddess. Her face was covered by the deep hood of her costume, but her body. God. She was draped from head to toe in silver, flashes of smooth olive skin strategically showing as her limbs moved, but the image was more enticing than if she’d been naked. He itched to strip away her layers. To find out what benevolent promises he could pull from her lips after he’d done a bit of worshiping.
Hmm. It was good to know he wasn’t completely broken, not if the rapid response of his cock to his wandering thoughts was any indication.
Dean turned to Suz and offered his full attention so he could finish this conversation and track his quarry. “God of Mischief. Why am I not surprised?”
“I was shocked when Pepper suggested it. Shocked, I tell you.” Suz laid a hand on his arm, one brow rising as she discovered there was no padding under his costume. “You, on the other hand… Tell me again why we’re not fucking like it’s going out of style? You are pumped, dude.”
“We’d set the world tipping off its axis if we started anything.” Dean motioned toward the last of the party disappearing up the stairs. He had to tread carefully, because Suz was just mean enough to mess with him if he let her know he was interested in one of her friends.
Ah, friendship. So many layers of love and torment all mixed up into one bundle of pain in the ass.
But it was safe to ask one question. “What’s happening upstairs?”
She pulled the Iron Man mask from under his arm and slipped it over his head. The damn thing covered not only his face, but also his ears and the back of his head. He felt like a frickin’ mummy.
“Haunted house. You do a loop, get freaked out, then come down at the front stairway. You should try it.”
“I won’t be scared,” he said. His voice echoed strangely under the solid plastic contraption before escaping through the breathing holes.
Her eyes lit up. “Oh, that’s cool. Say something else.” She sounded weird, too.
“Anything you want, baby.”
She gave a full-body shimmy and her smile widened. “Okay, I know we’re not fooling around, but if you want to call me sometime while you’re wearing that thing, I’d have no objections. I think you could make a woman orgasm just with your voice.”
“Dean is talking women to orgasm now?” Lynn was there, curling her hands around Suz’s arm. She eyed him for a moment. “Doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.”
“The mask makes him sound like he’s got an accent. Maybe British,” Suz insisted. “Very Cumberbatchy-like.”
Neither of them could see him roll his eyes. “If you don’t mind, I’m off to track down the ghosts and goblins upstairs.”
“See?” Suz crowed in delight as Lynn slapped a hand over her mouth. “Verbal foreplay at its finest.”
He was still shaking his head as he broke away, but instead of heading toward the start of the upstairs tour, he jogged to the front door. He took the steps two at a time, dodging through the costumed guests as he moved against the flow to the end of the haunted house.
Sneaking through the door the next time it opened put him into near total darkness. He inched along the wall, ducking into alcoves so he didn’t ruin anyone’s spooky surprises, but the entire time he kept his eyes peeled for one person.
Sound effects of moaning and blood-curdling screams echoed off the walls, but he was too primed to take notice of anything or anyone but her.
A glowing vision in the middle of a fog-filled marsh.
He’d walked into a wide space lit with dancing fireflies. People drifted at random through the room, gasps of fear escaping along with the occasional squeal of delight. His goddess stood near the wall, not moving. She’d pulled her cowl up so the only thing he could see was the shape of her under the robes, her delicate hands clutched together over her chest.
He was two steps away when the lights went out.
Dean froze, waiting for something to leap at them, but nothing happened for a full minute. Then static, before Pepper’s voice rang over DreamMakers’ battery-operated backup sound system.
“Holy blackout, Batman. Sorry, guys—we’ve got a power outage. Looks like the entire block, but don’t worry, I’ve got someone going for the emergency switch. It’s pouring rain outside, so if you just stay put, you can avoid getting soaked. And everyone up in the haunted house, take a load off and sit yourself down. Don’t try to get out—there are too many booby traps, and we don’t want anyone hurting themselves. It should only be a couple minutes.”
The message ended with a high-pitched screech from the system.
Great. Maybe this was punishment for being an ass for most of his life. Then something bounced off him, and a feminine gasp floated past his ears. He reached out instinctively and caught an armful of silky softness.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
It was her. His goddess. Holy shit. He needed to offer sacrifices to the Great Pumpkin or something for this. “No problem. You okay?”
“Sure. I like being stuck in the dark.”
He laughed as he reluctantly released her. “It won’t be too long.”
She caught his arm before he could put some space between them. “Can I stick with you?”
An enormous crash sounded from across the room, followed by the sound of tinkling glass. Curses rang out, then an unapologetic male voice. “Crap. I bumped a fucking lamp or something.”
Jeez. Idiots. “Stay in one place,” Dean ordered the man. “Otherwise you’re putting everyone in danger.”
“Fuck you,” the man snapped, shuffling forward in the dark.
Another crash, and something wet sprayed over Dean’s legs. He hoped to God it wasn’t acidic. People were using their cell phones to light up spaces around the room, but he’d had enough. He caught his princess by the hand and stepped two paces back the way he’d come, where he was sure he’d passed a door.
“Come with me,” he whispered.
The pungent scent of cleaners greeted him, but he didn’t care. At this moment, a broom closet was far safer than out there with the jackasses.
She came willingly. “I thought we weren’t supposed to go anywhere.”
“That was before Dumb and Dumber tried to light us on fire.”
Her soft laughter tickled the side of his neck. The closet was so tiny there was absolutely no room to move. They stood side by side, their arms touching, the heat of her skin searing through his spandex sleeve.
“Why is it that people always turn into morons in an emergency?” she asked wryly.
“I don’t think they turn into that so much as it’s their true nature coming out.”
“I guess.” She paused. “This one time I was staying at a hotel in London when the fire alarm went off, and you should have seen the chaos that erupted. Turned out to be a false alarm, but twelve people got injured during the evacuation because everyone was pushing each other out of the way.” She heaved a glum breath. “The world is nuts.”
Was it? Because his world seemed pretty damn fine right about now. Standing in close quarters with a woman whose body could only be described as sin? Bring on the next emergency, please.
A brief silence fell over the dark space, as Dean tried to find a non-sleazy way to segue from we’re stuck in a closet to goddamn, I think you’re hot.
But his goddess beat him to it.
“So…” Her tone rang with humor. “Wanna make out?”Return to Don’t Walk Away