Alexia Raine stood frozen from fear or shock or disbelief, unable to move or scream as she stared
down at the bloody heap that was her fellow surgical intern and boyfriend. For all of her training, she
couldn’t even reach down to feel for a pulse. She only gaped at his eyes staring back—fixed, dilated,
“Out of my way, kid.”
The disturbance jolted her out of that horrific memory and back to the present. She might’ve even
thanked the obnoxious Cretan cutting in front of her in the Starbucks line for it, except the bulky, smelly
man nudged in front of a teenager as well.
“Hey, you can’t cut in line!” the boy protested.
“I was here just a minute ago.”
It was the end of a grueling week medical assisting for her uncle who had a general practice in the
outskirts of San Diego. She was just grabbing a vanilla latte before heading to her apartment a few blocks
away. Now she wished she hadn’t even stopped at the coffeehouse.
“No, you weren’t,” the kid.
“I was, and now I’m back. Get over it.”
Alexia might’ve let it pass like everyone else in line. Until the boy nudged his way ahead of the man
who then physically shoved him aside.
“Hey, jerk face, leave the kid alone and go to the end of the line,” she yelled at him.
The man snarled back at her. “Shut up and mind your own business, girl.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Look, Bad Grandpa, if you don’t step back, I’ll give you a shove in the right
“Just keep your godda—Arrh!”
His arms shot out as steaming coffee splashed down his polo shirt as a four-pack of Grande drips was
dumped onto him.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” the lady who lost her load raced out, frantically dabbing his shirt with a bundle of
napkins. “Really, I don’t know—!”
“Just get off me!” he shot back, pushing her away.
Alexia should have felt bad for him, but the guy really deserved it. The look on his face was
priceless too, making her snicker.
He splashed her with a rough shake of his arms. “What, you think this is funny, bitch?”
One of her worst traits—she didn’t take insults well. And no one called her the B-word who didn’t
want to pick his dentures out of the glass entrance door.
Fury prickled her eyes and ears as heat flooded her face and radiated all the way through her veins
and down to her fists now clenched at her sides.
“Have a nice fall on your way out,” she stated hard and deadly through gritted teeth.
Instantly the old man was airborne.
There was a thud and airy “oof” as he landed flat on his back in a puddle of coffee. Two seconds
later he was yelling bloody-murder.
The baristas went into action, two picking up phones as the others circled around the counter. He
thrashed about in his liquid mess like an overturned turtle while threatening legal action as a few do-
gooders tried to help.
Panicking, Alexia shoved through the crowd as fast as she could, then locked herself in the restroom.
Within seconds she vomited everything but her socks, the dry heaves leaving her flushed and sweaty.
Slightly better, she splashed icy water on her face, rinsed the sour bile from her mouth, then breathed
deeply several times as she gripped the edge of the porcelain sink.
“Just a coincidence, Alexia. Not your fault,” she whispered.
Not that it alleviated her guilt any. Not that she had even touched the guy. So, of course, it wasn’t
her fault. Of course not.
Just because she wanted to humiliate the old man for being such an obnoxious, entitled jerk and hot
coffee happened to dump all over him at that very moment, it didn’t mean anything.
And okay, she also wished that he would fall on his butt after that nasty crack, and he did, hard, it
didn’t mean…He probably just slipped on the wet floor. Just a coincidence, that’s all.
Unfortunately, Alexia Raine didn’t believe in coincidences.
And this hadn’t been the first time.
She squeezed her eyes shut for a long moment, then reopened them to look up at her reflection in the
dim mirror, gasping at the swirling kaleidoscope of color in her irises—blue, green, gray, lavender, pink.
She blinked hard and pinched her eyes until the weird prickly sensation calmed down. When she checked
them again, they were light gray as normal.
Okay, what the Sam frigging Hill was that?
An optical illusion maybe?
Probably. Of course.
Brought on by stress mixed with bad fluorescent lighting and the dark walls all Starbucks stores insist
on painting themselves to appear trendy.
Alexia leaned closer to the mirror for a better look when spotting another dark, silvery streak of hair,
this one framing her right cheek. Added to all the recent others, it looked like she had highlighted her
shoulder length blond hair.
The first one appeared six months ago, but the others started a few weeks back after her twenty-fifth
birthday. Too minor an issue to ask her uncle about. Too weird to completely ignore though.
Her fingers touched the antique silver rose locket hanging on a thin tarnished chain around her neck,
a family heirloom given by her mother on her eighteenth birthday.
“Always wear it against your heart,” Rebecca Raine told her when she opened the gift box. “Use it
as a talisman, your protection from the blues.”
Her mom was always saying sentimental, Hallmark channel type of things like that. The locket was
so old the two halves were fused together and wouldn’t even open. Still, it was kind of pretty, and it did
give her a sense of security. She usually wore it underneath her clothing hidden from view, her secret
armor against the monsters of this world.
Alexia stayed in the restroom a few more minutes until she heard the paramedics rush into the
building. When she walked out and saw the man sitting upright on the ground, she almost felt bad for
him. Until he angrily batted at the female paramedic, demanding only to be aided by her male partner.
Misogynistic old coot. Hope he broke his ass-bone.
The earlier crowd had thinned out now, the only reason Alexia considered still buying a latte before
heading home. That’s when she spotted them—two very large, rough looking men, one redhead and the
other with curly brown hair and a thick moustache. They were hovering at the furthest end of the store
near the pickup counter.
She wouldn’t have cared much, but they were way out of place in their black leather jackets, black
shirts, black jeans and biker boots. All they needed were the dark sunglasses to be classic Arnold
Schwarzenegger Terminators. Sunny San Diego natives wore light, loose clothing, even in mid-April.
Not that there weren’t tourists who soon reversed their error after sweating their family jewels off.
Somehow, though, they didn’t seem to be the typical Southern California visitors on a fun family
The two men continued to scan the crowd, their duplicate expressions serious, robotic. It was the
redhead who froze when locking eyes with Alexia’s, and her stomach did an anxious backflip. He
elbowed his partner, jutting his chin in her direction, and the other guy narrowed his dark eyes when
honing in on her.
Just my imagination, Alexia told herself.
She looked over her shoulder, expecting to see someone waving them over to confirm her paranoia,
but no one was there. She turned back to them. Both now had their bodies shifted away while carrying
on a conversation.
Okay, fine. Maybe she had just imagined things. Wouldn’t have been the first time.
Her need for a latte vanished now. All she wanted then was to be home in her apartment a few long
Quickly Alexia pushed out the front entrance, venturing a last look behind her shoulder. The two
men didn’t move from their spot, both still talking, and she exhaled heavily, everything within her
Good. She had enough drama for one night.
Quickly she headed down the twilight darkened street lined with various interconnected shops and
cafés. Sometimes she walked to work as a way to force a little exercise on herself. Now she wished she
had taken her car this morning, just wanting to be home. Behind a locked and bolted door. With a chair
jammed against the knob.
She was only a few hundred yards away from the Starbucks when Alexia ventured a quick look
behind. Her stomach dropped when both men exited and turned in her direction.
Swallowing hard, she faced forward again, picking up her pace.
Okay, no big deal. This wasn’t some cheesy action flick. They had every right to leave the building
like everyone else. Even walk in the same direction. There were several pedestrians between them in any
case, so no worries.
Still, her fingers lightly felt for the cellphone in her blue scrub shirt pocket, ready to call her Uncle
Paul who was still at the office. She could casually double-time it back to the Starbucks and have him
pick her up…
No. No, she really didn’t want to pull him away from the mound of paperwork he was rifling
through before she left.
Plus, Aunt Carla would be majorly miffed at him for coming home even later than normal if he was
forced to make a pitstop by her place. Alexia knew she was already a prime source of contention in their
stormy marriage—his kid brother’s flaky kid he bailed out of jail and hired a lawyer for six months ago.
Things were better now that Alexia had moved from their place into her own apartment, but not by
much. So she refused to inconvenience her uncle and possibly ignite another marital battle just to soothe
her ridiculous imaginings.
Poor, sweet Uncle Paul. Alexia tried convincing him that he wasn’t responsible for her after her
parents’ fatal car accident two years ago, but he took up the paternal mantle anyhow. Which is why after
being forced to leave the intern program because of that horrific incident at the hospital, he took her in
and offered her a medical assistant position that bored her to tears. Still, she didn’t look a gift job in the
Alexia ventured another glance back.
Drat, those men were still behind her. Not far, in fact. Fewer pedestrians between them now as well.