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Midnight Lily
Mia Sheridan

PROLOGUE

I saw her everywhere. Walking down sidewalks, in crowded restaurants, once in the brief flash of dark hair and white lace right before an elevator door closed. Without thinking, my heart thundering in my chest, I'd run up four flights of stairs only to find that it was someone else. Someone holding a little boy's hand. She'd pulled him closer to her side as she’d exited the elevator, looking at me warily as if I might grab him and run.

Those were the times I still doubted my own sanity, still questioned whether she had ever existed at all. But then I'd remember the feel of her fingertips on my skin, the slippery silk of her hair, the sound of her laughter, and the way I loved her still, and I'd know, I'd know, deep down to my soul that she was real.

I dreamed of her, and in the darkness, she held me in her arms. In the darkness, she whispered that I was strong enough to hold on, that I was worthy of the love she'd given, and she reminded me who I was before I was anyone at all.

My Lily of the Night. Only of the moon.

Because now, just as then, when daylight came, she was no longer there.

CHAPTER ONE

Holden

The powerful whir of the helicopter propellers grew faint as they slowed and finally came to a stop. I opened my eyes blearily and stared out the window at the vast forest surrounding the grassy field where we'd landed. My muscles twitched and I fisted my hands on my thighs, but I felt a little better than when we'd taken off from San Francisco. At least I'd slept. Maybe for a couple hours? It was something, and more than I'd had the night before. Possibly more than I'd had in the last three days.

"You coming, man?" Brandon called as he threw the door open. "Sorry to wake you, but there's a bed inside that will be a lot more comfortable than that seat."

"I wasn't sleeping," I muttered, grabbing my duffle bag and moving slowly toward the door. A painful drumbeat pounded in my head, and nausea swept through me. Goddamn, I still felt like death warmed over. I grimaced as I hopped out of the open door. "I was praying."

Brandon chuckled. "Oh ye of little faith. Did you actually doubt I'd get you here in one piece? Mad pilot skills, bro." He turned and began walking, not bothering to close the doors to the helicopter, meaning, I supposed, that he wouldn't be staying long. I followed along behind him.

"You can't even hold on to a damn football half the time. And they pay you millions to do that. Why should I trust my very life in your hands?" Brandon shot me a scathing look over his shoulder but then laughed.

"Still can't believe you bought a helicopter," I said, catching up to him as we stepped through tall, dewy grass.

Brandon shrugged. "I always wanted to learn to fly. Why not? Life's short. If you have the opportunity to cross a few things off your bucket list, I say do it. Plus, it takes three hours to drive here from the closest commercial airport. This was a whole lot quicker."

"Jesus, how far to any civilization at all?"

"About seventy miles to Telluride. When I said privacy, I meant privacy."

We walked through a sparse grove of trees and came out on the side of a massive, two-story luxury cabin, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows on both levels. As we walked closer, I could see the trees and sky reflected in the glass, as if the huge structure was part shimmering illusion. At night it must look like a shining beacon. I whistled, looking at the forest directly in front of it—what would be the view from inside. "Damn, when you build a remote lodge in the wilderness, you don't mess around. This is like the fucking Shining, dude. Does it come with a set of spooky twins?"

Brandon chuckled as I followed him up a large set of stone stairs. "Careful what you joke about. Last time I was here with a group, a couple of the girls swore they saw a ghost in the woods. Came in screaming and hollering from the hot tub." He shot me what I assumed was supposed to be an expression of mortal fear, and formed one hand into the shape of a claw.

I made a scoffing sound and rolled my eyes as he pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the door. "Sounds like a bad combo of alcohol and heat stroke." And limited brain cells. That was always a factor when it came to the girls Brandon partied with. I should know. They were the same ones I partied with, too.

"Either way, they required lots of protection from the heebie-jeebies just outside—naked protection. In my bed. Win-win. You know what's really creepy, though? Apparently there's an old, abandoned mental institution five miles or so from here. Isn't that fucking awesome?" There was no sarcasm in his voice. He meant it was awesome.

"Awesome," I repeated half-heartedly. And creepy. But I had a few problems bigger than an abandoned building miles away. Brandon threw the keys on a side table as we entered the massive room. The whole space was decorated in sturdy, masculine furniture, befitting a luxury ski lodge, arranged in small groupings to make it feel more intimate.

"I had a feng shui decorating expert out here to make sure the flow of energy was balanced and shit." I stared at him blankly before glancing around briefly.

"Is that what I've been missing? Balanced energy?"

Brandon shrugged. "Could be, dude."

I managed a soft laugh, dropping my bag and walking toward the window where I could stare at the view. From up here it was an entirely different experience. The beautiful vastness of deep woods all around, the cloud-capped mountains far beyond, the way dew sparkled on leaves under slants of late-afternoon sunlight. I silently stared for several minutes.

"So you're really going to leave me here, huh?" I asked without turning, my voice sounding more desolate than I'd intended. Nothing except air, forest, stone, and sky. Oh, and an abandoned mental institution. Couldn't forget about that. Well, and myself—the one thing I could never escape, although I was damned good at trying. Out here though . . .

Brandon paused. "Yeah, I really am. And you're going to be good—better than ever. You know it's—"

"Yeah, I know." My mind supplied what Brandon hadn't. A second chance, a final chance, the opportunity to forge a comeback . . . high time to get my shit together. I continued to stare out the window. The beautiful simplicity of the landscape felt like a mockery of the dirty, roiling complexity inside me. Or maybe it wasn't complex at all. Maybe it was the simplest thing in the world: I was a goddamned fuck-up. I'd gone so far up my own ass that I couldn't find my way out again. Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I turned back to Brandon who was looking at me with concern.

I ran a hand through my hair. I needed a shower. Cringing, I asked, "Will you tell me what happened last night?"

Brandon paused. "You don't remember any of it?"

"Bits and pieces." I sagged down onto the nearest chair, massaging my temples. I still felt the remnants of the massive headache I'd woken up with thanks to the copious amount of alcohol I'd consumed the night before. And the fact that I needed a fix. "I remember Paul tossing me out." My agent, his face filled with red-hot rage as he very literally kicked me out of his house. Sprawled in the dirt, groaning, gritty saliva dripping down my chin as Brandon dragged me up.

"You fucked Sabrina in the downstairs bathroom, man. The whole party heard it."

Sabrina. Paul's beautiful, blonde trophy wife.

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