The sound of the clock chiming out the late hour startled me from the dismal trance I was in. Funny how staring at row upon row of numbers could numb a person so thoroughly. Glancing up at the blaring timepiece, I was slapped with the blatant reminder that I truly did not have a life. As a single (meaning no husband, boyfriend or, for the past 10 months, lover) twenty-six year old female bookkeeper, I'd been told this repeatedly by family and friends, but I'd adamantly refused to admit it.

"Two a.m. Dear God, Cara, they're right. Just say it!" My voice echoed as it rang throughout the small office at the back of my brother's book store, but I was used to that hollow sound. Most of my time was spent locked up in confined areas, and far too often to be normal, spent talking to myself as well.

"I don't have a life!" Sitting back in the comfy, oversized chair, I blew out a breath, actually feeling somewhat relieved by what I'd just done. I'd let myself speak the truth out loud. It didn't matter that nobody was around to hear it, it was the first step, I hoped, in changing what others said was a very sad situation. What deep down, I knew was a very sad situation. That sad situation being my life.

Slamming the ledger closed, I stretched my arms overhead to work out the stiff muscles in my shoulders and back. I really needed to get to the gym again. Not only to stay in shape and relieve stress, but maybe I could meet someone interesting there. Someone tall, handsome, muscular and sexy who could...

The mournful wailing of a siren interrupted the blissful path my thoughts had taken. My pulse began to race. Such big city sounds used to be uncommon in my small hometown of Cider Mills. The operative phrase here - 'used to be'. That all changed four weeks ago. Oddly enough, in one very short month, there'd been 3 murders in this nondescript, middle of nowhere town. And not just murders - though no murder was to be taken lightly -but gruesome, gory ones that had shaken our community and had everyone quaking with fear. Especially men between the ages of 25 and 40. So far, that described all of the victims.

Hopping up, I rushed to the front of the store and got to the glass door just in time to see two police cars speed past. It had to be another murder! Not what this town needed with the near hysteria it was already caught up in, but it didn't appear likely to end any time soon. A killer was terrorizing our community. Our very livelihood.

Now, I'm not a stupid person, but I will admit I sometimes react before thinking, which is what I did in this situation. Without hesitation, I unlocked the door and peered out, angling my tall frame in the direction of the fleeing vehicles. Of course, they were moving fast and I could no longer see them from the doorway, so I did what any other react-before-thinking person would do, I let go of the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk for a better view.

And I immediately felt it. A presence behind me that came out of nowhere. Shivers shot along my spine and I started to turn around, but a pair of large warm hands wrapped around my upper arms, preventing me from moving. A blast of hot breath heated the back of my neck.

"I'm not gonna hurt you. I just need your help."

The voice was deep, surprisingly calm despite his heavy breathing, and didn't sound like that of a psychotic serial killer. But then, I'd never actually met a serial killer before so what did one's voice sound like? I mean, just because he was wandering the streets at 2:00 am, in the very same place at the very same time that police cars were streaking by, and was breathing as if he'd just been running to - or from - something, it didn't mean he was the serial killer. Right?

"Well if you're not going to hurt me, how about letting me go back inside so I can call 911? They can send someone to help you." Surprisingly, my words came out in an even tone, though my heart was thumping louder than a symphony's entire percussion section.

The stranger's fingers curled into the nonexistent muscles of my biceps (which might have been useful to have in this situation, thus another reason I should have been working out) and he leaned into me, allowing me to feel the heat and power emanating from his wide chest. "Sorry, sweetheart. No can do. Inside. Now."

My eyes closed for a brief moment as I sent up a silent prayer. After all, if I was going to die tonight, I wanted my soul to be absolved of all my sins. Not that there were many; sadly, I'd led an extremely dull life. I received a rather rough nudge that got me walking and suddenly that dull existence didn't seem so bad.

After entering the store, we stopped just inside the door where I heard the click of the deadbolt as he locked us in, then he walked us forward to stand at the edge of the large storefront window. He pulled me up against him, my back pressed to his solid chest; my butt nestled into the juncture between his thighs. His body reacted upon contact. Oh my! Why in the name of all that's holy was I suddenly feeling a surge of pleasure between my own thighs? I automatically cringed, not at this faceless man's touch, but at my erotic response to it. What the hell was wrong with me? This was a lunatic right? Possibly a killer! I should feel ill, not sexually excited.

But sexually excited was exactly how I felt as we stood there. Intense body heat was rolling off him in rippling waves, and it was quickly pulling me under a sea of burning need. He shifted a little, bringing his face close to mine. So close I could feel his stubble-roughened chin against my temple.

Needing to break this perverse spell I was falling under, I tried to find out what he was doing. "What are you..."

He put a stop to my question by slipping a powerful arm around my waist, his long fingers splayed out across my belly as he held me even tighter. My breasts began to tingle, my nipples tightening in response and that surge of pleasure was now a tidal wave.

I hated to admit it, but that was not the first time in my life that opening my mouth worked against me.

"Sssshhhh!" he rasped against my ear. He was watching out the window. Waiting. I had no idea why until I heard the blaring of more sirens. They drew closer and closer, then passed right on by - two more police cars and an ambulance - but still he waited. Then a dark shape appeared, trailing after the cars, but it was far too big to be a bird and far too small to be anything else. It slowed some, just enough for me to determine that its head was angling toward...Oh God! Toward us! My blood ran cold as I sensed its evil, angry eyes on me. Then it was gone, streaking down the road as if it had never happened.

And I instantly began to doubt myself.

Stunned, I had to know that it was no hallucination so I asked him about it, hoping he'd seen it, too and maybe even knew what it was because I sure as hell didn't.

He remained quiet for so long that I was certain he wasn't going to answer. Then he finally said, "It's what's killing the people in your town."

Not what I expected to hear. All the reports I'd read concurred the crimes were committed by a human being, not some sort of animal. Although they did say, without too much detail, that the bodies had been pretty, well, torn up.

"What makes you so sure? And what exactly is it? A...giant bird?"

"No, not..." he hesitated. "Look, you wouldn't believe me if I told you what I think it really is. But I can tell you that I am here to get rid of it."

Before I could sort that out in my head, I felt his grip ease up. His arm slipped away and I berated myself for the sense of disappointment at the loss of his touch, his warmth. I should be glad he'd released me. After all, I hadn't seen his face, didn't recognize his voice. If he was lying about all of this (other than the 'bird' which I was pretty certain I'd seen) and was actually the killer, he could leave now because I couldn't...

"Do you have a first aid kit?" he asked.

"You're hurt?" My immediate response was concern, and I spun around to face the previously unidentifiable man who'd dragged me into the store, was hiding from the police, and just claimed some sort of giant birdlike thing was the real killer running (flying?) around town.

We now stood facing each other and was my first thought "What have I done?" or "I'm so dead!" or hell, even a simple "Oops"? No. My first thought, as my eyes widened and my breath caught in my throat was "My God, he's beautiful!"

Standing directly before me was a tall man with the solidly built body of a warrior and the face of a heavenly angel. Though the lights at the front of the store were off, I could see him clearly in the moonlight that streamed in through the glass plate window. With close-cropped brown hair, large green eyes that were fairly glowing and a mouth that...

"A little." he said, the words slipping from that very mouth I'd been about to swoon over. The most sensuous mouth I'd ever seen on a man. Full and soft, yet masculine in every way. Perfect. Kissable. Tantalizing.

I'd almost forgotten what we were talking about. Right. He was hurt, idiot! And, of course, now that I'd seen him, I had become 'expendable'. Brilliant, Cara! I forced my gaze up to meet his and proceeded to say the dumbest thing possible.

"Are you going to kill me now?" Was I looking to die?

Those alluring green eyes traveled over my face, down along my body and then back up again. Slowly. Seductively. Sending my pulse off the charts with his easy perusal. My entire body was thrumming, methodic pulses radiating out from between my legs. The morbid thought that at least I'd die happy crossed my lust-laden mind. Pathetic, I know.

"Kill you?" that deep voiced hummed. He took a step forward, which put his hard body right up against mine once again. I inhaled sharply. This time we were breast to chest, thigh to thigh and...well let's just say that the way our more intimate parts lined up, it was obvious he was still just as excited as I was.

"Darlin', if I wanted to kill you," he continued casually, "you'd already be dead." Since my eyes were level with a strong chin (which bore an irresistable cleft), I angled my head up to gaze somewhat dazedly into his magnificent eyes.

He let his words sink in before stepping away, then held up his right arm and for the first time I noticed the slash marks across his muscular forearm. I also noted that his dark gray t-shirt, which was stretched taut across his wide chest, was blood stained and had slashes as well. "I know how this looks, but I'm not the one you should be afraid of. I didn't kill those men. I'm just a guy hunting what is and the nasty little bitch got it's claws in me. So, you can either help me out or..." For the first time, he seemed uncertain as he paused. I held my breath, wanting to know what sort of threat was going to follow. "Or, I can tie you up and help myself."

I nearly fainted, and not in fear. Bondage? Not death or bodily harm, but bondage? Was he kidding? Did he seriously believe a 'threat' like that, coming from a God-like being such as himself would be frightening? Tie you up and help myself? Those highly provacative words had sparked more than a few hedonistic images which in turn sparked a 4-alarm fire in the most intimate regions of my body. The intimate regions that had only seconds before been pressed snugly to his.

Whoa! Hold on. Drag your mind out of the gutter for a second, Cara. What did he just say? He was hunting the killer? And that killer was some sort of strange animal that had clawed him? Damn! Had that been a huge bird that flew past? I'd never seen anything like it and had seriously doubted my vision. After all, it was late and dark and I'd been a tad more focused on the sensations my body was experiencing from Hercules' touch. Maybe the thing had been brought in illegally from another country. Who dealt with that sort of thing, anyway? The FDA? Customs? Maybe this guys was one of their agents tracking it down. Could a bird really have been responsible for the death of those men?

With all those questions running around my head, I began to wonder if I was going insane. Maybe this was all a bad dream. I'd just fallen asleep at the desk and none of this was real. And just my luck! I'd finally met the first man I'd willingly let help me out of my ten month long sex slump and he was just a dream. Ha! And at that, even in my dream the hot guy was either a deranged killer or a deranged person chasing after a killer giant bird!

Feeling more than a bit confused at this point, the thrill of his earlier threat to tie me up had waned. I decided it might be best to remain unfettered anyway. Just in the off chance that one, I wasn't dreaming and two, he was telling the truth. If that flying thing was real and decided to come back, I sure as hell wanted to be able to defend myself.

"Okay, I'll help. Let's take care of those cuts. There's a kit in the back office. I'll go get it." I managed exactly two steps in that direction before I felt his touch again. Instantly, more shock waves throughout my body. Surprise, surprise.

"Not without me." he warned. That voice, it was so smooth. So entrancing. It would be much, much easier if he'd been vile looking and sounded like a croaking toad. I wouldn't be in such turmoil right now, shifting back and forth between being overwhelmingly turned on and frustratingly addled.

"Fine. It's this way." I said, leading him toward my brother's office. He held onto my arm, keeping our bodies close as we made the short trip. The room was small, containing only a desk, two chairs and a few book cases. The space seemed tight enough with me in there, let alone with the bulk of his body thrown in. And what a magnificent body it appeared to be.

"The kit is right there, on the shelf." I told him, giving him no reason to question my movements. At his nod, I skirted past, trying to avoid touching him, but it was impossible. My breasts brushed his chest and I felt another zing of sexual energy, one so strong that if I didn't know better, I'd swear I'd been struck by a bolt of lightning. He jerked back, and I had high hopes that he'd felt it, too. I grabbed the small box, feeling a bit dazed by the fact that I was conscious of only a raw hunger for this man instead of a deep fear of him. Everything pointed toward his being the person the police were looking for. The person who had ruthlessly killed three, correction - four, men. Yet everything within me said he was exactly what he claimed to be. Some sort of unique bird hunter.

"Okay," I said as I faced him. "let's get...holy shit!" My perfect hunter with the deep sexy voice, dreamy eyes and heavenly mouth had stripped off his form fitting t-shirt, to reveal yet another piece of what I now knewwas a perfect body. His chest was smooth and wide and tanned and toned. Broad shoulders, firm pecs and cut abs. My eyes didn't know where to look first so I simply let them wander at their leisure. From the corded muscles of his neck, to the flat brown nipples right on down to the light trail of hair running from the bottom of his navel to the top of his low riding jeans.

My face flushed. I could literally feel the heat in my cheeks. I don't blush. EVER. My body seemed to spasm with unsullied pleasure and the kit slipped from my hands, clattering to the floor. We both dropped down on our haunches to pick it up, our fingers brushing as we reached for the small box. Our eyes met, held, and I realized at that moment that I'd never wanted a man more in my entire life. A raging, unbridled need filled me. One I'd only read about but had never experienced until right this moment.

Pure, unrefined lust.

There was a darkening within those green depths that I prayed was the same hungry desire. A soft breath escaped him, drawing my attention to his sinful lips. They were parted slightly and I leaned in closer, wanting just a small taste. He inched closer as well and I knew I was about to experience heaven.

Then the clock chimed out the quarter hour and the spell was broken. He drew back, appearing a little startled.

"I have to," he swallowed hard. "figure this out first. But afterwards."

I tried not to sigh out loud. He wanted a taste, too, and I would have sworn he'd be the type to go for it, but he had work to do - serious work. And I really did like that he was trying to keep his priorities straight. Of course, whether or not he was sane still remained to be proven, but I, myself, was too far gone to care. He believed there was some odd animal to catch in order to stop the killing and I...well, I wanted to believe him. And I had seen something moving through the air behind that ambulance.

Now I just had to get him to tell me exactly what it was because that would help make this crazy situation a whole lot more believable.