A/N: This story is actually to go alongside Forbidden No More, because I decided FN needs its own entry. I will blend Ashley and Grant into this story as well, but not for a while down the line. FN will serve as a sister story to give their background. Hope you enjoy both.

~Jen

PROLOGUE

"If the gods are there, help me..."

Kayla glanced over balled up, empty McDonald's bags, her laptop computer carrying case, and the bright pink purse tucked between the seats. Her mother had always taught her to be prepared for anything, but unfortunately she'd forgotten her baseball bat and Mace this morning.

Too bad she'd caved under Dr. Mommy's nagging her to apply to med school, instead of becoming a cop. A trusty firearm at her side would be more than a little reassuring right now.

The pounding and squeaking against the windshield sent shivers up her spine, and she swallowed as she reasoned, this is just a joke, get a grip. If this was real, this guy would have croaked already. The gaping neck wound and milky eyes were enough evidence for her to form that brilliant deduction.

Yes, this joke was about as lame as Diana's ghost stories.

The bloody man resembled Ranger Ted, with his slight pudginess and disheveled, salt and pepper hair, but he must have purchased his get up from a professional costume maker. Retrieving a gray remote from her purse, she eyed the three fingers that dangled loosely from the man's hand and splayed out on the glass each time the jokester struck it, leaving smudges of fake blood.

The park gate's black, spiked bars seemed to sprout from the top of his head, and he eyed her like a cat who'd just spied its prey, his snarl revealing yellow, red-tinged teeth.

"Good one, Ted!" she called with a shudder. "But I haven't even had my coffee, and I'm not in the mood! Now get out of the way before I run you over!"

When his growl filtered through the clear barrier, his insistent bangs rocking the car, she frowned. Her stomach lurched as she watched white tree buds rise and sink above the silly man's head. Usually Ted couldn't carry on a joke without bursting into hysterics. Last year on April Fool's Day, Kayla had gathered her things after a long morning stuffed inside the Nature Center with cute, giggling preschoolers, only to step outside and find a two foot, extra-fluffy squirrel shaking its fist from beneath a tulip-encircled tree. The prank hadn't lasted more than a moment, because Ted nearly fell out of the tree with the puppet strings wrapped around his fingers.

"Your expression," he'd roared as she rolled her eyes and tapped her foot on the cement. "You should see your expression!"

The rocking ceased, and she smirked. Ranger Dingbat.

She pushed the button, and the iron gates whirred open and stopped with a clang; but then the Dingbat became more vicious in his so-called attempts to get in, clawing more frantically and snarling like that stupid Doberman Pincer her mom had sworn to shoot between the eyes if he managed to chew himself loose again. Last time, the poor creature had leapt over the fence and-

"Hey!" She protested as the man climbed all the way up on the car hood and began punching the glass. "Get off now, Dufus... whoever you are! This is a new car!"

Her shiny, blue Sunbird Convertible was being devastated by this idiot!

As she reached for the door handle, the glass splintered- one, long, lightning bolt down the middle of the windshield. Ted wouldn't take the joke this far.

Drive, drive! Her mind screamed. Not with him on the car, you idiot!

Driving through the open portal would trap her inside the completely gated park with this lunatic, so she ensured the doors were locked, wrapped one hand around the steering wheel and stomped on the gas. The car lurched forward, her scream lashing out as she whipped the vehicle around and dislodged the maniac from her hood. He rolled over, his head smacking the asphalt and receiving a fresh wound as she righted the Sunbird, her hands slipping from the leather wheel.

Cursing, she flew down a pink, cherry-blossom-lined lane filled with squawking birds, and glanced into the rearview mirror just in time to see the weirdo stand and begin limping in her direction.

Her breath caught and she snapped her focus back to the street ahead, shoving her strawberry locks out of her face. A man bolted into the road.

Shrieking along with the tires as she jammed on the breaks, she peeked over her shoulder. The man behind her seemed to be gaining speed, and the man in front of her held out his hand like a traffic cop, his shoulders drooping as he limped toward the driver's side window.

Just as she lamented the finding of another freak, he shook his head, pleading, blue eyes meeting hers as he bent and wrapped on the window. "Open up!"

She shook her head, glancing behind them again. "Either get in or get out of the way! There's a-"

"I can't!" He yelled, his wagging head shaking loose a dark curl. "I can't! Roll down the window!"

"What!"

"Just do it!" He shouted. "Do it now!"

"What the hell?"

"Trust me, OK? I can help you!"

She must have been crazy or delirious, or so used to being Kayla the pushover that she couldn't think straight; but there was something about this man...

The sun illuminated his hair as though he wore a halo, and his bushy brow curled in a stern look that begged her compliance. His white, priest collar suggested integrity, but who knew?

Acid crept up her throat when she spotted the creep limping and snarling like something from The Night of the Living Dead. He must have been about forty feet and closing, and here this man was, standing out here like... like... She pressed the window button and with the disappearing glass came the strong scent of lilacs. Large, calloused hands cupped under her jaws, and the man frowned down at her with tears shining in his eyes. "It's started," he said huskily.

She blinked several times, squirming under the feel of his hands but not sure what the heck to do. "There- there's a lunatic down there-"

"I have something for you."

Before she knew it, he'd pressed his mouth into hers, and she froze like those bronze statues that dotted the park. Froze so stiffly that the breath seemed to have drained from her lungs, and she gripped the man's arms in a plea for mercy.