Finalist: Australian Romance Readers Awards
Nominee: The Romance Reviews Best Book of 2011
DEFEAT THE DARKNESS
by Alexis Morgan
Release Date: March 2010
Hard–eyed and hard-bodied, Hunter Fitzsimon isn't what Tate Justice expected in a tenant for the apartment above her garage. Terse and intensely private, Hunter's mission is to protect a narrow stretch of the barrier between Earth and Kalithia against the Paladins' ruthless enemies -- a job that would be much easier without his sexy landlady nosing around. So when she follows Hunter into the woods late one night, he decides to teach Tate a lesson with a passionate kiss that brings her to her knees...and unexpectedly ignites red-hot desire deep in his soul. But the warrior's dark and dangerous world is no place for his fiery lover. Does possessing Tate mean turning his back on his brethren...or will Hunter forsake the woman of his dreams for the harsh duty he's always known?
It was obvious her new tenant hated being stared at, but there was no way to avoid it. Considering the quaint nature of Justice Point, Hunter Fitzsimon shouldn't be shocked to find out that watching him tote a handful of boxes up a staircase would draw a crowd.
However, her neighbors had spent more than enough time ogling the newest resident. Tate waited until Hunter was inside the apartment and shooed everyone back around to their own yards. If he was surprised to find himself alone when he came back out, it didn't show. With the same look of grim determination, he returned to his truck for yet another load of boxes.
His limp was getting more pronounced, clear evidence that he'd made one trip too many up the steep stairs. She'd seen him carry in a duffel bag and a motley assortment of cardboard boxes but nothing that looked like food.
It would only be neighborly to take him some lunch. Making some extra sandwiches wouldn't be that much more bother than making just one for herself. Add a couple of soft drinks, or better yet a cold beer, one of her fresh blueberry muffins, and an apple. No, make that two apples. He might get hungry later.
She tucked the food into a basket and set the sign in the shop window to say she'd be back in fifteen minutes. Timing her approach was tricky. She waited until he'd carried up another load. Picking up two of his smaller boxes, she followed him up the steps.
He exited the apartment just as she reached the top. He immediate snagged the top box off her stack and stood glaring down at her.
She found herself caught up in the net of his angry gaze, his eyes green and smoky, framed by ridiculously long eyelashes. It took considerable effort to look away. He clearly wasn't thrilled to see her. Fine. He was her tenant, not her best buddy. But he still had to eat.
"I didn't ask for help." He shoved the box inside his apartment and reached for the second.
She hesitated before releasing it. "I know you didn't, Mr. Fitzsimon. I also realize you are perfectly capable of hauling all this stuff up here by yourself."
He didn't respond. If anything, Hunter looked even angrier. When he held out his hands again for the box, she surrendered it.
"Thanks," he grumbled.
He started back inside. Before he could close the door, she stepped up on the small landing and blocked the door with her hand.
He prevented her from opening it any farther. "What now, Ms. Justice?"
"It's Tate, and this is yours." She all but shoved the basket at him.
"That's not mine."
"I know. It's lunch . . . for you, I mean. I thought you might be hungry." Rather than wait for him to react, she turned away.
"No rush in returning the basket."
"Ms. Justice, I don't need . . ."
Ignoring him, she skipped back down the steps. When she reached the bottom, she looked back and smiled. "Look, I know you've got a lot to do, and I've got to get back to the shop. Let me know if you need anything."
The sound of the door slamming closed was his only response.
Hunter watched his pesky landlady through the window until she disappeared into that behemoth of a house. His first instinct was to go after her and shove the basket right back into her interfering hands, but that was his temper talking.
She'd meant well. Earlier, she'd even run off all the nosy neighbors to afford him some privacy when she thought he wasn't looking.
Maybe she did understand that he wanted to be left alone. If not, he'd find some way to make that fact abundantly clear. And the truth was he was in no shape to drive anywhere just to eat. If he didn't rest his leg soon, he'd be in a world of hurt.
After one more final trip up the stairs for the last load, he limped over to collapse on the small couch and gingerly lifted his leg up to rest on the coffee table. Shards of pain ripped through his much abused limb with lightning speed. Gritting his teeth, he kicked his head back and waited for the worst of it to pass.
On a scale of one to ten, right now the pain was an eight. Anything less than a nine didn't warrant a pain pill. His rule, not his Handler's. Doc Crosby had argued that Hunter would heal better if he stayed ahead of the pain rather than wait for the medicine to catch up with it. But popping pills that made him queasy and dulled his brain would be just one more in the long line of concessions he had to make because of his injury. He'd already lost too damn much; better that he grit his teeth and ride out the pain. Eventually it would fade to a manageable level. It always did. Meanwhile, he'd check out what Tate Justice had packed him for lunch.
He snagged the cold beer and popped the top. For sure he didn't want to encourage her good Samaritan act, but he definitely owed her one. The beer was a brand he wasn't familiar with, probably from a local microbrewery, but it tasted damn fine.
Figuring he shouldn't be downing alcohol on an empty stomach, he fished out one of the sandwiches and took a healthy bite. He wasn't much for bean sprouts, but the sliced ham was definitely a cut above the bologna he'd planned on buying for himself. By the time he'd finished the sandwich, an apple, and half the blueberry muffin, he felt a helluva lot better.
For the first time, he took a close look at his new home. It wasn't much space-wise, but he couldn't complain. Whoever had designed the apartment had done a decent job. He'd certainly made do with less in his life. The pillow top queen-sized bed was a pleasant surprise as was the oversized tub with spray jets. He planned on trying that out as soon as he unpacked enough to make the place livable and made a quick trip to the closest grocery store.
Right now, he was glad to be not moving or hurting so much. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift. For the moment, his leg had quit throbbing, and he could use a little shuteye. He'd drive to town later and maybe treat himself to a decent meal before coming back. Tomorrow would be soon enough to start learning the lay of the land surrounding Justice Point.
Tate opened the kitchen windows to dispel the smell of burnt muffins and had to admit she was more than a bit distracted. She set the charred remains aside to toss out in the woods later. Her usual customers wouldn't appreciate charcoal flavored pastries, but her four-legged friends weren't nearly so picky.
Once she stuck the replacement batch in the oven and set the timer, she'd sit down at the table and see if she could concentrate long enough to polish her latest chapter. That she could also keep an eye on the apartment over the garage was beside the point. Tate had no business spying on her new tenant, but she'd never been able to resist a puzzle, and Hunter Fitzsimon was definitely puzzling.
What was he doing here in Justice Point? As much as she loved the place, it didn't have much to offer a man like Hunter. He was obviously recuperating from a major injury, but he didn't seem the type to be drawn to quiet village life. There was too much intensity in the man to be satisfied with the slow pace of life that made up her boring days.
No! She hadn't meant that. Her days were quiet, true, but calm didn't mean boring. Life with her mother had been unpredictable and chaotic. The only respite Tate had ever found had been her summer visits to her uncle's house, which now belonged to her. Bless Uncle Jacob's heart, he'd left her his ramshackle Victorian and enough money to live on for several years as long as she was careful.
He'd made it possible for her to pursue her dream of becoming a published author.
Her mother had promptly demanded she sell the place, probably hoping Tate would then share the profits with her. But in case Tate's resolve wavered, Uncle Jacob had staged a preemptive strike against Sandra Justice's greed by stipulating that Tate couldn't sell the house for at least five years or the proceeds would go to charity. When her mother had heard the terms of the will, she'd stormed out of the attorney's office cursing her brother-in-law's idiocy and leaving Tate to find her own way back home.
It had taken Tate less than a week to break her lease, quit her job, and move into the house. Her mother had only spoken to her once since then and that was to ask for money. When Tate had explained she didn't have it to give her, good old mom had hung up in a snit. No doubt, Sandra would get over it eventually and reach out to Tate again, probably about the time her creditors started calling.
Meanwhile, she wondered what her mother would think of the newest resident of Justice Point. Sandra always had an eye for a good looking guy, but she preferred her men older, richer, and malleable. Glancing out the window toward the garage, Tate had to admit that she was strangely relieved her tenant didn't fit those demographics.
The timer on the stove chimed reminding her that she was there to keep an eye on her baking, not her new neighbor. As she was setting the muffins out on the rack to cool, a noise from out on the driveway caught her attention. She moved closer to the window and groaned as soon as she realized what was going on. One of the Auntie M's was standing at the bottom of the garage steps and hollering. If they kept this up, Tate might very well lose her tenant. However, short of posting No Trespassing signs, she didn't know how to keep people from bothering Hunter.
Besides, it wasn't her job anyway. She'd be better off keeping a wary eye on things and see how he handled the situation himself. Having made a wise decision, she immediately ignored it and went charging to the rescue. The only trouble was that she wasn't sure exactly who she thought needed saving.
Hunter jerked awake, his well-earned nap ending abruptly, leaving him groggy and confused. It took a second or two for him to recognize his surroundings. Someone was raising a ruckus right outside. He carefully lowered his leg back down to the ground and used the arm of the couch to push himself up to his feet. After grabbing his cane, he started for the door, ready to order Tate Justice to leave him the hell alone.
Only it wasn't Tate. Outside on the landing, he found himself looking down the steps at a tiny old woman banging her own cane on his steps with a surprising amount of determination. There were a lot of things he'd done that he wasn't proud of, but abusing little old ladies wasn't one of them. He choked back his temper and aimed for somewhere close to polite when he spoke.
"Can I help you, ma'am?"
She stopped banging away at the step and peered up at him. "Young man! Come down here right now."
There was no getting around it. It would take a lot harder heart than his to ignore her summons. He started down the steps, taking his time to avoid setting off his leg again. His visitor stood at the bottom watching him through the thick lenses of her glasses for several seconds before abruptly turning away.
At first he thought she was embarrassed for him as he awkwardly limped his way down the steps, and his anger flared. Then he realized that someone else was headed in their direction. He didn't have to look to know that once again Tate Justice was intruding on his privacy. She was still a few yards away when he reached the bottom. The old lady immediately turned back toward him and thrust a plate of cookies at him.
"My sisters and I wanted to welcome you to Justice Point. We would've thought that Tate would've had the good manners to introduce you around." She shook her head, looking sorely disappointed. "I'm Mabel. My sisters are Madge and Margaret. They would've come along to meet you themselves, but we didn't want to overwhelm you on your first day in town."
It was impossible not to like her feisty spirit. "That was nice of you, Miss Mabel. I'm Hunter Fitzsimon, and I have to admit to having a sweet tooth. These cookies will be greatly appreciated, so please thank your sisters for me."
She patted him on the arm. "I'll do that. You have nice manners, young man. Now I'd better get back home."
As she made slow but steady progress back up the driveway, he debated whether to wait for Tate to get up the courage to make her final approach or to go on back upstairs. He decided to wait, figuring she would make a better target for his aggravation.
"Well, have you taken root there or did you want to say something?"
She winced. "I was going to try to head Mabel off at the pass, but didn't get here fast enough. She and her sisters like to bake cookies for everybody in town."
"So what's the problem? Did you think I got my kicks being rude to old ladies?"
She shifted from foot to foot. "Not exactly, but I could tell you don't like being bothered."
He couldn't resist tweaking her temper a bit. "Maybe it's only nosy landladies I don't like bothering me."
Her chin came up and her dark eyes narrowed. "I wasn't being nosy. I was being neighborly."
"Obviously my mistake, but then it's hard to tell the difference. At least now you can sleep nights knowing that I don't eat old ladies for dinner."
Tucking his cane under his arm, he held the plate of cookies in his right hand and kept his left on the railing to better support himself going up the steps. When he'd gotten about halfway, he looked back over his shoulder to see Tate still standing right where he'd left her.
"The show's over, sweetheart. You can go back to whatever it is you do besides stare out your kitchen window."
Ignoring her gasp of outrage, he continued on up, waiting until he was inside before risking another look. She'd almost reached her back porch, righteous indignation clear in every step she took. He set his cane aside and ate his first cookie as he watched.
Chocolate chip, his favorite. The sound of a door slamming carried across the lawn, making it clear that Tate Justice had a temper.
For the first time all day, he smiled.
"The enthralling sPaladins series just proves Alexis Morgan is an author who will be around for an exceedingly long time. . . . Defeat the Darkness has gripping danger,unfolding mysteries, and a heartfelt romance to keep the reader entralled during every imaginitve scene." Singletitles.com
"A dark and brooding addition to this outstanding series that is irresistible." Fresh Fiction
". . . the climax of Defeat the Darkness will drive this exciting series in a whole new direction." A Romance Review
Fallen Angel Reviews: The sparks fly off the page when these two get close to each other . . . Ms. Morgan has gifted readers with another fantastic tale . .. (5 Angels)
Night Owl Reviews-Thank you, Ms. Morgan, for another great read! (4.75/5 STARS, Reviewer Top Pick!)
Romantic Times: The Paladin adventures continue in Morgan's newest tale of good vs. evil. Although the Paladin heroes are fated to die again and again, there is a mental breaking point. With her new hero, the author explores one man's fight to recover both emotionally and physically. As this series evolves, Morgan also redefines the definition of evil as the interaction between her two races continues. Good stuff! (Four stars!)