Read an excerpt of TOXIC, Nicole Blanchard's new standalone dark romance!
As a prison nurse, I knew the rules: do my job, don’t get involved,
and never let a prisoner get under my skin.
I broke all three.
“What's wrong?” I ask, and I hope it deflects from this line of conversation. “Did I hurt you?”
He breaks eye contact and looks down to where my hands are touching his skin. The moment his eyes land on where our bodies connect, it makes me want to drop my hand. How close he always manages to get to me whenever I let curiosity—or stupidity—get the better of me is astounding.
"Would take more than that to hurt me, little mouse."
I feel his words like dark secrets. They unfurl inside me, a molten mixture of pleasure and shame, a heady combination that invites me to ask for more. He's a craving I can't quite shake. A disease slowly spreading through me. My head tells me I should walk away, but my greedy heart begs for more of his illicit attention.
"Little mouse?" I keep my focus on my fingers. Otherwise, they'll betray my nerves. I swipe antibacterial cream over his skin and realize resistance is practically impossible. Not when I can feel his muscles flexing underneath my hands, the heat coming off him in waves, and my body's answering thrum.
It has been so long since I’ve felt anything other than violence and fear. The two have become so tightly intertwined that I was certain until now I'd never feel this again. Never feel warmth pooling low in my belly and radiating through my core or the answering wetness slicking between my legs.
Horror accompanies the rush of pleasure, and I want to fling myself backward, but I know I can't let this dangerous man see my reaction. I can't let him know the effect he has on me. Can't let him have that kind of power over me.
"Yes,” he finally says. “Because you always look like you want to scurry away into a corner and hide."
His words make me want to do exactly that. My eyes dance to the door and then back to my hand as I swipe away another smear of blood from his skin. It would be so easy to escape him and his all-too-knowing stare. The reaction I can't deny. The yearning. Ten steps would bring me right back to my dreary life where I can drown in the day-to-day misery and the pain that blots out my unfortunate reality.
They are ten steps I don’t take. I refuse to let King get the better of me again and return to doctoring his wounds, trading the wipes for clean, white bandages. Unlike Vic, when this man pressures me, tests my boundaries, I find myself wanting to fight back, wanting to go at him with teeth bared and fists balled.
He lays a big, scratched-up hand over mine, pinning it to the heated flesh of his well-muscled chest. I peer up through my lashes and find the corner of his mouth tipped up in a half smile that would look pleasant on any other man.
On King, it's a warning.
Or a threat.
My heart thumps in my chest, a rabbit trying to escape the pursuit of a predator. I take deep breaths to try to calm its frenetic pace, but it's futile while in his presence. I finish the bandage on his chest without taking the bait. Despite how alive he makes me feel, or maybe because of it, I won't encourage him. I won't go down that road. I did it once before, and it cost me everything.
I'm waiting for him to throw out another challenge as I finish with his chest and arms, dump the trash into a bag, and set it by the door.
"Can you stand for me?" I gesture with a roll of gauze I grabbed from my bag of supplies. "I need to wrap your ribs until they can get you in for an X-ray."
He obliges, reminding me of a half-tame animal submitting to human attention only to turn around and rip the person’s throat out seconds later. His abdomen ripples, and the low hum of desire that I've steadily been trying to ignore roars back to life made sharper by the edge of danger.
Like fucking in public.
It's wrong and dirty and you sort of hate yourself for enjoying it so much, but you come harder than you ever have in your life. It makes my breathing grow ragged, and I'm afraid he can hear me but can't find the willpower to back away.
I have to lean close to wrap the bandage around his chest, which doesn't help. His scent fills my nose like a drug. My fingers brush against his stomach, and I'd give anything for five minutes to explore the line of muscles that disappears into his waistband.
The fact that I manage to finish binding his ribs is a small miracle. He doesn't make a move to touch me the entire time, even though I spend it wishing he would. When I’m done, I can feel his eyes on me, patient and predatory as I pack up the rest of my supplies.
"Stop doing that!" I bite out, revealing just how badly he has my nerves frayed.
He gives me that half-grin again. "Doing what?"
"Staring at me like that. Are you trying to piss me off? Do you want me to have you reassigned?"
As though daring me, he takes a step forward. "You won't do that," he challenges.
"No?" I retort though I can hear the flimsy note to my voice.
His grin widens. "No."
I shake my head and feel my body drift closer to his. "I don’t know what you want from me, I don’t know what you think we’re doing here, but we shouldn’t. Let’s just get that clear right now. Also, I appreciate your concern for my safety, but there isn’t anything you can do to help me, and this sort of attention is only going to make my situation worse."
He shifts, and my whole body stiffens as he brings his lips to my cheek where the memory of the bruise throbs.
"Don't," I protest, but it comes out sounding more breathy than firm.
"I'll make you a deal," he says as he closes a bit more of the distance between us. I nearly whimper from frustration, fear, and need. "One kiss. One kiss and I won't bother you again. No one will have to know."
"You can't be serious," I whisper, but I know from the determined look in his eyes he's serious. “Why?”
His lips return to my cheek, surprising me with his gentleness, and I'm almost ashamed that my initial instinct is to flinch away from him. He seems to recognize it, and he sighs, pausing long enough to meet my eyes. We wait . . . watching each other. But when he doesn’t follow through with a slap or a biting comment, my traitorous body relaxes.
My body is clearly an idiot.
"C’mon," he coaxes as his lips grow bolder. "Let me give you this. One kiss. I promise you'll enjoy it. Let me show you a little something sweet to take away from the sour. One kiss, and if you want me to walk away after I will."
He's the devil incarnate, the snake that tempted Eve. Though, I'm sure as hell not in paradise. I hate myself for even considering it. Loathe the way my body shouts at me to say yes.
"You won't bother me again?" The responding triumphant gleam in his eyes screams that I've taken a step off a precipice. There will be no going back after this.
"Scouts honor." I snort, causing him to grin. "So, is that a yes?"
"You asked me earlier if I wanted to know your name."
He nods, but it's a quick, jerky movement. For the first time, he's the one caught off guard.
"I think I'd like that." It'll be like saying goodbye, or at least that's what I tell myself. Goodbye to the rush of desire, the feeling of being alive. It was fun while it lasted but this level of craziness leads nowhere good.
For a moment, I think my ears are tricking me, but no. King makes a deep, satisfied groan in the back of his throat. I'm so distracted I don't notice he's been slowly moving closer until his body is pressed fully against mine. My hands go to his shoulders, and I'm grateful for the bandages separating us. Too much contact with his skin and my brain would surely short circuit.
"Gracin," he says, his lips so close they graze the shell of my ear. "My name is Gracin."
Then his mouth covers mine.
John Doe" was just another patient. A criminal.
As a prison nurse, I knew the rules: do my job, don’t get involved, and never let a prisoner get under my skin.
I broke all three.
My passion, my obsession, my addiction. I risked my entire life so we could be together.
I thought helping him escape from prison would be the hard part.
It turns out when you fall in love with a villain, you also turn into one.
Nicole survives on a diet of too many books and substantial amounts of root beer and slim jims. When not reading, she’s lavishing attention on her family or inhaling every episode of The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory.
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