THEY SAID SHE WAS GOING TO BE MY RUIN...
THEN LET HER RUIN ME.
He had everything—wealth, adoration, a brilliant future. Until one chance encounter changed everything.
The moment Caleb Lockhart spotted the mysterious woman in her siren red dress, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
For the first time in his life, he wanted something. Something he knew he could never have.
The unforgettable stranger he dubs RED.
I closed my eyes and inhaled the refreshing air as I stepped out of the club. I had parked my car at the end of the lot and walked hurriedly to it, afraid someone would see me and drag me back inside. I’d rather chew my arm off than go back in there.
My steps faltered as I spotted the silhouette of a woman leaning against one of the filthy brick walls of the club parking lot. She’d probably had too much to drink. I would have been happy to leave her in peace, but when I glanced at her again, I noticed a man leering at her from a few feet away. My protective instincts kicked in as the man straightened and walked toward her.
The woman shifted, and the dim light from the streetlamp touched her face. My pulse kicked up a notch as I recognized her—Red.
I didn’t need to think twice and went straight for her. The man hadn’t noticed me yet because his gaze was concentrated on her. On the prize. The only prize he was getting tonight was a bloody nose if he didn’t stop and turn his ass around.
When his hand closed around her wrist, I nearly growled. The anger surprised me, but I had to shake it off or this night would turn into a shit show. I took a few steps forward, and the man froze. He finally saw me.
“Hey, baby! Where have you been?” I exclaimed, fighting to keep my voice light as I approached. I refused to look at her face for fear of what I’d see there. If she looked even remotely scared, I was going to hit this dumb shit in the face. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” I touched her shoulder and nodded at the dirtbag, meeting his gaze straight on. “I got her now.”
When he refused to let go of her, I straightened to my full height, widened my stance, and turned my hardest do-not-fuck-with-me gaze on him. The pervert let go and moved back a step, two, three, until he whipped around and started running in the opposite direction.
“Dumb shit,” I said under my breath.
“What d-did you call me?”
Surprised that she’d heard me, I studied her face. How drunk was she?
“Not you. Although I guess dumb is debatable. What are you doing here alone?” My hands shot out to hold her up as she swayed on her feet again. “Whoa. You all right?”
It had been too dark inside the club to notice, but now I could see her face was pale, her eyes glassy. Without waiting for her reply, I scooped her up in my arms. She let out a weak protest.
“Do you need to throw up?” I asked, shaking her a little when she didn’t respond.
She moaned in distress, covering her mouth with her hands. That wasn’t a smart move on my part, I realized as I headed to my parking spot. When she looked like she wasn’t going to puke, I settled her carefully inside my car.
“I just got this car. You’re not going to throw up in here, are you?” I started the ignition. She looked like she’d passed out already. “Where do you live? I’ll drive you.”
“H-homeless,” she whimpered, surprising me that she’d responded. “Kicked out of my p-place.”
Leaning against the headrest, I took a deep breath and rubbed my face. Homeless? Now what? I could drop her off at a hotel and pay her lodging for a few days so she’d have a place to stay while she found a new place. It was more than a stranger would do. But then I glanced at her and that plan evaporated.
Her eyes were closed, her breathing even and shallow, but even in sleep, she looked troubled. This girl who was so fierce on the dance floor looked so vulnerable now. Her face seemed familiar to me, like a barely remembered picture from a long time ago, but I couldn’t place where I’d seen her before. I wouldn’t forget a face like hers.
My brother, Ben, always liked to point out that I was a sucker for damsels in distress, and when I decided to take her to my apartment, I proved him right. I told myself she would not be safe in a hotel, especially in her current state. God knows what would have happened outside the club if I hadn’t shown up.
It was spring, but the temperature was still dropping a few degrees at night. Fog covered the windshield and the windows of my car. When she shivered, I turned the heater on full blast, shrugged out of my jacket, and covered her with it. She was going to have a hell of a hangover when she woke up in the morning. We were a few minutes away from my apartment when she suddenly jerked up in her seat, covering her mouth.
She threw up all over my car.
I nearly cried. My brand-new car! The sound of her retching was bad enough, but the smell was so putrid I nearly gagged myself. Desperately opening the windows and sunroof, I let out the breath I was holding and frantically gasped for air.
“Damn, girl. One good deed and—”
She threw up again.
Pissed, I debated if I should drop her off at a hotel. I didn’t know this girl. Even my savior complex had a limit.
But I knew I couldn’t do it.
Resigned, I guided my car into my apartment building’s garage, parked in my spot, and warily approached the passenger seat. Holding my breath, I cleaned her as much as I could with an extra towel I kept in my car for basketball practice, then picked her up in my arms. She stank to high heaven.
I carried her through the lobby, and the concierge pressed the elevator doors for me since my hands were full. “Your girlfriend had too much to drink, sir?”
“Now, you and I both know I don’t do girlfriends, Paul.”
As soon as I keyed in the code to my apartment, I went straight to the guest bedroom. She whimpered when I gently laid her on the bed, curling up like a little kitten. “Mom,” she sobbed.
Glancing at her face, I hesitated beside the bed. Whatever this girl had gone through hadn’t been pleasant. I knew I should probably clean her up and change her clothes, but I didn’t think she’d appreciate it when she discovered a stranger had stripped her. I might lose an eye or a hand if I did. Better not risk it.
Her breathing eventually evened out. I don’t know how long I stayed there watching her sleep.