Read an ExcerptDamned, Delicious and Dangerous
By Delilah Devlin Lisa Renee Jones Megan Kearns APHRODISIA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Voletta felt faint with alarm; her stomach was in knots. I can't have lost it. Someone must know where it is!
But what were the chances anyone here would just give it back to her? She didn't have any gold to offer as a reward for its return. She'd already had to steal the voluminous cloak she wore so she wouldn't walk naked into their midst.
She stepped farther into the entryway.
"Hullo, Miss," an elderly gentleman said as he approached, his avid gaze sliding over her hair.
She clutched the edges of the cloak, only too aware its thick folds hid her nudity. "Good evening, sir."
"You're a stranger here."
Her nose twitched at the sour smell of liquor and unwashed skin that emanated from him. Not many men believed in the value of a thorough cleansing.
If only she hadn't been so fastidious herself, she might never have paused beside the gurgling brook, then noted the thick green curtain of foliage that rendered the glade an irresistible temptation.
"Miss, are you looking for someone?" he asked, his gaze looking beyond her shoulder furtively.
She took a deep breath. How to explain? "I lost something."
"Yes?" he said quickly. "Perhaps we can help you find it. Whydon't you come have a seat? Can I take your cloak?"
"No! I'm chilled. And I won't be staying long. I've just come to make an inquiry."
"Come along, now," he cajoled. "You must join my friend, Edgard, and myself. I am Martin, by the way. I promise we are as harmless as we are hospitable. We might even be able to help."
The old fellow seemed a friendly sort, although she didn't feel quite comfortable with the way his gaze kept searching her face.
"Come, come. You seem overset. Have a wee drink with us-just to warm you up. Then we'll help you find whatever you've lost."
Unused to talking to men, to anyone for any length, really, she tried to demur. "I shouldn't. I must keep looking."
A frown drew his thick peppered brows together, then quickly faded as he smiled once again. "What is it you've lost?"
She nibbled her bottom lip, then blurted, "My fur. I've lost my fox fur."
"A fox fur, you say?" His glance slid away, and his gnarled fingers scratched his head. "Was it part of a garment?"
"No ... not yet. It was ... a gift. I need it back."
"Come along. Edgard purchases furs. Although one fur is hardly distinguishable from another."
"Oh, mine was unique," she murmured.
She let him lead her to a table at the rear of the establishment. Another man stood, younger than his companion, with a large, round belly and ruddy cheeks. He drew up a chair and indicated that she should sit.
"No," Voletta said, holding out a hand. "I really should be on my way."
"But your fur ..." the elderly man began.
Each passing moment deepened her unease. "I'm sure I just missed it in the darkness. I'll retrace my steps."
"A fur, did you say?" the fat man said, giving a pointed glare at his companion. "Where did you leave it?"
"Beside a brook. I put it down for only a moment."
"Yes, just before dark."
His gaze sharpened. "A fine fur, was it? Unblemished by any trap's teeth?"
"Of course!" she said, feeling hope at the man's brightening expression.
"And red as your hair, miss?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, it is."
"I saw just such a fur. The bürgermeister brought it to me. My wife is even now sewing it onto a fine cloak."
"Sewing it?" she asked, pressing her hand to her belly.
"Yes, as part of the dowry for a nobleman's bride."
Voletta reached for the man's arm. "I must have it back."
The heavy man dropped his gaze to her hand, then reached up slowly to pat it. "And you shall. We will go to my shop in a moment. Would you have a drink with us first?"
Relief made her lightheaded, and she nodded. "But quickly, please."
"Of course. Don't fret yourself."
Voletta accepted the beaker the older man handed her and took only a sip, then set her glass on the table. "Sir, I apologize for rushing you, but could we please go retrieve my fur?" "Of course." He stared expectantly. "How are you feeling?"
Voletta shook her head. "Fine, can we go now?" Only she didn't feel fine. Her head swam. The men before her seemed to teeter and stretch. "How odd," she said, her voice sounding to her own ears as though it rose from the bottom of a deep well.
"Best get her out of here, Edgard, before she topples."
"Come, miss. You wanted to see my shop?"
She tugged at the collar of her cloak. "S'warm." "Catch her!"
"Seems a shame. A beautiful girl like her."
The voice, Edgard's, she remembered, came from right beside her.
"Just get the trunk off the cart," Martin whispered harshly.
Voletta tried to lift her head, but the movement made her nauseous. She pried open her eyelids and found herself looking down at a rutted track. Graying daylight stabbed like tiny daggers at the backs of her eyes.
The air around her was damp and cold. Her skin prickled-she was naked! A fog had rolled in, droplets catching on her breasts and cheeks. The bastards had taken her cloak!
She forced up her head and stared after the men riding atop a cart rolling down a long, steep trail. Then she noticed other things: her hands were tied behind her; a rope was wound around her waist to keep her upright against a pole.
She pulled at the ropes around her wrists, to no avail. Should she call out? Naked, she felt terribly vulnerable ... human.
Then she heard a sound ... soft, measured footfalls.
In front of her a shadowy form appeared beyond a dark iron gate at the end of the trail. The outline of the figure shimmered, then solidified before her widening gaze. She blinked. Maybe the apparition had just been a floating tendril of fog that had given her that impression.
The fog cleared for a moment to reveal the imposing figure of a man.
Voletta's breath caught. The man stood still, only feet away, his hard-edged face devoid of emotion, his lips drawn into a thin line.
He was tall, his shoulders broad, his hair and eyes black as midnight. The cotte and chausses he wore were equally dark, unrelieved by any embroidery or a bright cuff. He lifted his hands, pushed open the gate, and stepped through it.
"Please," she whispered, "untie me."
"I shall," he replied, his voice deep and ragged, as though rusty from disuse.
He stepped behind her, and his fingers glanced against her wrists. The ropes fell away.
Voletta turned, ready to flee down the rough trail, but his hand snagged her wrist. Alarmed, she gazed back.
"You don't understand," he said slowly. "I know you are frightened, but you must come with me. You are mine, now."
She tugged her hand, hard, but his fingers wrapped tighter around her wrist, and he started to walk back through the gate.
Digging her heels into the ground, she said, "You must release me. Those men kidnapped me. I'm not supposed to be here. I can't belong to you."
Silence greeted her outcry, and he forged onward, forcing her to walk behind him or fall to her knees.
"I'm expected. My family will be looking for me," she lied, shortening her steps only to stumble when he walked faster. He was strong; his fingers banded her wrist like steel. She tried to pry them away, but his grip bit into her flesh, and she gasped.
"You only harm yourself," he said, his voice as devoid of softness as his clothing and his face.
"I beg your pardon, but you are the one dragging me, sir," she bit out.
He shot a glance over his shoulder. His eyes peered at her, curiosity easing his dour expression. "Don't you fear me?"
"Of course not," she said automatically, but then realized it was true. She didn't fear him, exactly, but she was wary, and growing increasingly so the further into his demesne they went.
The man grunted and turned away, tugging her behind him.
They continued along, lush grass giving way to slick cobblestones. Above her stretched a tall, imposing keep made of large gray stones. Two menacing towers stood watch at the ends of a long wall. A portcullis, its gate raised, loomed like a great, toothed maw.
Voletta shivered, and her alarm caused her heart to thud loudly in her chest the closer they approached. Despite her creeping trepidation, details began to niggle. No heads appeared above the crenellated curtain wall. No gatekeeper greeted them inside the portcullis. In fact, no one appeared to be inside the bailey as they entered.
And yet, everything was perfectly attended. The cobblestones were clear of falling leaves; the grass beyond the cobblestone was perfectly manicured; the iron chain that lifted the portcullis gleamed with oil. As she stared behind her, the gear that lowered the gate began to move and creak, and yet no one stood beside it to work the mechanism.
Again the fog licked in front of her, and, in the mist, she saw the outline of a ghostly figure leaning over the lever he turned.
Cold, afraid now, Voletta quivered, her knees shaking so badly she stumbled behind him and landed on her knees at last.
The dark man halted, his back to her, his hand still clasping her wrist. A sigh escaped him, and he turned. Bending over her, he pushed away her outstretched hands and lifted her into his arms.
Voletta had been close to a man a time or two-had felt the hardness of their muscular bodies pressed to hers, had breathed their hot breath and inhaled the musky scent of them. They'd been pleasant to touch, delicious to kiss.
They'd also been easy to evade when their caresses grew too intimate, too unnerving.
With this one, however, she sensed strength beyond the tensile muscles that held her easily to his chest. His square jaw and straight lips spoke of an inner will that would brook no arguments.
He held her naked, completely vulnerable to his will. That she wasn't squirming, fighting tooth and nail for her freedom, shocked her-and deepened the shivers that pricked her nipples into tight buds.
She had to find the cloak with her special fur, and quickly. This man tempted her to linger and discover just what belonging to him entailed. Voletta guessed his possession would be a carnal form of enslavement. For what woman wouldn't be drawn by his rugged form and fierce, enigmatic gaze?
However, she'd managed to escape manly lures for a very long time. No matter the fascinating package, she'd just as soon flee before she saw him fully unwrapped!
She'd heard the men talking. Her fox's fur had been sewn onto a cloak for a nobleman. This nobleman, she had no doubt. It must rest in the trunk they'd dropped on the trail outside the gate.
"You've left the trunk behind," she said, in a small voice, not wanting to let him see how much it meant, and certainly not wanting to draw his gaze downward. The thought of him staring closely at her body heated her skin.
"The trunk does not concern you," he murmured, sounding not the least winded by carrying her so far.
"But it contains things that belong to me."
"I will provide all that you need."
Her legs squeezed together. He hadn't purred, hadn't injected a hint of heat into his voice, but his low, growling words still scraped her nerves raw. "That's so arrogant! What if there is something that means the world to me inside that trunk?"
He halted on the steps leading into the keep and stared into her eyes. "From this day, I will be your world, your only companion, your only lover."
A shudder racked her body. He'd said it so intently, as though making her a promise.
A sudden fullness choked her throat. She read steely determination in his eyes, yet at the same time, she detected a hint of vulnerability beneath that hard gaze. The yearning she sensed pulled her, and she drew back. This man could make her question her need to escape.
Voletta knew in that moment he would never willingly let her go-and part of her, the weak and feminine dimension of her being, was grateful he intended to remove the choice.
Damien-Lord Malphas-watched, fascinated, while bright color flooded the woman's cheeks and crept slowly down her neck to stain the tops of her round breasts.
Since the moment he'd spotted her tied to the post awaiting his arrival, he'd tried not to stare. For a thousand years he'd retrieved his "gifts" from the town of Daemonberg-only to be disappointed.
His previous brides had ranged from blond to brunette, sturdy and strapping women who'd nevertheless cried and wailed at the sight of him and his enchanted castle. When the crying had finally calmed, he'd done his best to keep the women happy, seeing to their comfort and making sure all their needs were met. Some had become friends-over time. Most had shared his bed, but, in the end, not one of them had been the one he'd needed.
This woman was different-a fascinating and fey sort of creature. Her gentle, slight curves appealed to him after having had so many large, buxom women. However, not being a small man, he worried he might hurt her the first time they came together. He vowed he'd be gentle, although he knew instinctively his will would be tested.
When he'd untied her, he'd noted the long, auburn hair-such a rich, warm color-that hung in a tumble of curling waves to the tops of her firm buttocks. The gentle swell of her hips, the turn of her narrow waist, the apple shape of her small breasts: there wasn't any part of her that didn't tempt him to follow its shape with his lips and tongue.
Close up, her eyes flashed gold with a quiet defiance and were framed by sooty lashes. Her skin was unmarred by a single freckle or mole and was the color of sweet, fresh milk. Her feminine parts ...
Well, he would look closely soon enough, but the glimpse he'd allowed himself of the auburn thatch between her legs and her strawberry nipples made his mouth water with a thirst for her cries.
He took a deep breath and stepped with steady deliberation up the stone steps to the door of the keep, trying to control the riot of excitement flooding his body. It filled his loins with a quickening thrum that pulsed through his cock at the thought that just maybe this woman was the one who could end his imprisonment.
For, if not, he was doomed to another century within these wretched walls-and she would grow to hate him. Kept from her family and friends, with only him for company, she would surely go mad or become hopelessly morose.
This time, however, he'd do everything right. He'd woo her gently, learning her passions while he sated himself on her pretty flesh.
Please let the woman be interesting and amusing, he prayed. Or he'd spend his days roaming the rooms apart from her, riding his horse until the dawn as he'd done for a millennium.
The nights, with this one, would be a delight. If he approached her as women dreamed, with gifts, soft words, and caring caresses, she'd open to him like a rose.
If he failed, they were doomed to live in misery until her death, then, once again, he'd wait until the day the gate allowed him to open it so that he could bring inside another bride.
So many women. He'd forgotten all but the first and the last. None had filled the emptiness of his days. Gabriel had promised him a reprieve if he could learn to love. Only the Fallen Ones seemed doomed to spend their long lives alone-a curse by The Father for their betrayal.
Damien held the woman close, breathed in her fresh, woodsy scent, and prayed that this time he'd learn the meaning of love. For, this woman with the fiery hair and cautious gaze stirred him as no other ever had.
Damien paused as the door to the keep opened silently. He waited for a gasp, but noted from the corner of his eyes that her only reaction was a narrowing of her gaze. What should he tell her about the odd things she would witness over the coming days? Part of him wanted to watch her, to silently gauge her courage. Another wished to ease her past any fears she might have.
However, unused to talking to another being, he remained silent, knowing he'd only say the wrong thing. He had no gift for honeyed words.
The woman shifted in his arms and stared around his home. He wondered what she saw ... wondered whether she recognized that the bleakness of the place mirrored the emptiness of his soul.
"Please, sir," she said softly, "I can walk on my own. You should put me down."
More likely she wanted another chance to escape, to run across his bailey and slip between the gates. If she was successful, she would win her freedom. He could not go after her, and the townspeople were not obliged to replace her. They'd done their duty.
Excerpted from Damned, Delicious and Dangerous by Delilah Devlin Lisa Renee Jones Megan Kearns Copyright © 2008 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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