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By TAWNY TAYLOR
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Tawny Taylor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSin in stilettos hunted him.
In Drako Alexandre's lifetime, lust had worn many masks—fair and sweet, dark and exotic, male and female—but whatever form it took, it always, without fail, seized its prey. There was no escape. Yet, like the quail in Drako's favorite sutta, "The Hawk," Drako knew he would eventually break free from the predator's grip ... and shatter its heart.
Tonight, the hunting ground was one of Drako's favorite haunts and lust was a redhead in an itty-bitty fuck-me dress, her mile-long legs bared to there, her full tits a sigh away from tumbling out of her dress, and a dozen erotic promises glittering in her eyes. She didn't know it yet, but the hunter would soon be the hunted.
Drako acknowledged her with a hard, piercing stare. In response, lush lips pursed in a seductive pout.
Yes, he'd have this one. But on his terms.
Let the games begin.
Eyes on the prize, expression guarded to keep her guessing, Drako tipped his beer back, pulling a mouthful of bitter ale from the bottle. As he swallowed, the heavy bass of the music thrummed through his body, pounding along nerves pulled tight with erotic need. Red and blue lights blinked on and off, casting everybody in the nightclub, male and female, in an alternating crimson and deep indigo glow.
Her gaze shifted.
His body tightened.
Oh, yeah. He liked this place. A lot. He slowly swept the crowded room again with his eyes. Writhing, sweaty bodies, mostly female, packed the small dance floor. Groups of people crowded around tables, the flickering red tips of their burning cigarettes dancing in the shadows.
"I've got the redhead," he announced.
"That's just as well." His brother, Talen, set his empty glass on the bar's polished top and shoved his fingers through his spiked platinum hair. "I'm not in the mood for this tonight."
"Not in the mood? Are you kidding me? Look around, baby brother." Sitting on the other side of Drako, Malek shot Talen a bewildered glance. About a dozen women gaped as his shaggy blond surfer-punk waves danced on a breeze.
Drako slid his quarry a heated glance, then twisted to flag down the bartender. "Yeah, well, if you spent half as much time working as you do playing, Malek, we'd—"
"Yeah, yeah, I've heard it before, big brother." Malek ordered another beer for Drako, then clapped him on the shoulder. "But like I say, life is short. You gotta live while you can." He slipped from the stool, peeled off a twenty, and handed it to the bartender. "Do either of you have a bad feeling about tomorrow's meeting with the old man ...?" Malek stood a little taller, tipped up his chin. "Ohhhh, yes. Talk to you later." Not waiting for them to answer his question, he headed toward the nearest flock of admirers.
"I think I'm calling it a night." Talen said, watching Malek gather a small herd of women around him.
"Okay, bro. See you at home." Drako checked his redhead again. She was still sitting at the table with her friend, but she was looking a little less certain of herself now. One hand was wrapped around a wineglass, the other nervously tugged at a lock of hair.
That was better. An aggressive woman did nothing for him.
Letting the corners of his mouth curl slightly, he lifted his fresh beer to his mouth and waited for their gazes to meet again.
Uh-huh. Much, much better.
He held her gaze, and everyone and everything else in the crowded bar seemed to slowly drift away, until nobody but his redhead existed to him. Electricity sizzled between their bodies, like heat lightning arcing between storm clouds.
Her tongue darted out, swept across her plump lip, then slipped back inside. She set her glass down and, breaking eye contact, leaned over to her friend sitting next to her. They both glanced his way. The friend smiled and nodded, and then the pair of them stood.
Their arms linked at the elbow, their gazes flitting back and forth between him and the back of the bar, they hurried in the opposite direction, toward the bathroom.
That was an interesting reaction. Nothing like what he'd expected. Was she playing him? Were they both?
Mmmm. Both. Maybe he'd have two women tonight. Two was always better than one.
He dropped a fifty on the bar. And with his beer clutched in one fist, he walked around the far side of the room, taking the scenic route to the dark corridor at the rear. He'd catch them out there, where it was quieter, more intimate.
His timing was perfect. Just as he rounded the corner, they clacked out of the bathroom on a breeze of sweetly perfumed air. They halted instantly, eyes widening, one pair a soft gray-blue, the other a deep brown.
Up close, the redhead lost a little of her charm. It was her friend who demanded his attention now. Her features were different—her almond-shaped eyes tipped up at the outer corners, the uncreased eyelids hinting at her Asian ancestry. Her full lips were plump and freshly coated in shimmering gloss. Her carefully applied makeup emphasized a set of picture-perfect cheekbones, and her slightly mussed hairstyle lengthened a slender neck, a tumble of silky blue-black waves cascading over her shoulders.
He'd seen her before. Where?
"Hi," the redhead said, her voice a deep and sultry siren's call.
He turned toward her again, catching once more the sensual promise glimmering in her cool blue gaze. Despite the invitation he read on her face—or maybe because of it—he found himself tiring of her already. His attention snapped back to the quiet woman next to him. An old David Bowie song echoed in his head, "China Girl." "I know this is the world's worst line, but don't I know you from somewhere?"
"I'm not sure." His China Girl stared at the tattoo on his neck, following the curved line up to his jaw. "I think I recognize the tattoo."
"My brothers and I have the identical design, a griffin. It's kind of a family thing. Our mother did the work."
"Your mother? How interesting." The redhead inched closer to get a better look, or so he assumed. "It's very sexy. I'm not crazy about tattoos, at least not most of the ones I've seen. This one's very different. All black, and gray and sorta ... what's the word I'm looking for?"
"Celtic?" The brunette offered.
That brunette was spot on. Their mother had been 100 percent Irish. There could never be any doubt, with her mane of copper-colored hair and freckles. And the design she'd created for her three sons was as Irish as her maiden name, O'Sullivan.
The redhead scowled. "No, that's not it. I mean, yeah, it is Celtic, but that's not what I'm trying to say. Men with tattoos are a little ... dangerous."
"Wicked." Something darkened the brunette's expression.
"Yes, wicked." The redhead's white teeth sank into her lower lip. "That's a good word."
Yeah, that was a good word.
He was feeling a little wicked something going on. And he could tell at least one woman was feeling it too. "Can I buy you ladies a drink?"
"Actually"—the brunette shot the redhead a nervous glance—"we were getting ready to leave—"
"But one more drink wouldn't hurt," the redhead finished, slanting a smile his way. "Thank you. By the way, my name's Andi and this is Rin."
"Good to meet you, Andi and Rin. I'm Drako. Let's find a table." He motioned for them to precede him out of the dark corridor. He followed them back into the crowded heat of the bar. As they shuffled and wound their way through the throng, his gaze meandered down the back of Rin's body, from the bouncing curls that tumbled down her back to a nicely rounded ass hugged in a snug black skirt. When she stopped to let a couple pass by, he leaned over her shoulder and whispered, "Maybe we can figure out where we've seen each other before."
A delicate fragrance drifted to his nose. Jasmine. It was refreshing, compared to the cloying blend of cigarette smoke and cheap cologne hanging heavy in the air and making his nose burn.
"Sure. Maybe." She hurried around a couple clawing at each other like bears in heat.
He smiled at her expression as she shuffled past them, her lips parting, cheeks flushing a pretty pink.
Damn, this was a hot place, in more ways than one. It sure put him in the mood to fuck, with all the gyrating bodies and hard, thumping music. A song he recognized started playing, a slow, sexy number, and taking advantage of the moment, he caught Rin's slender wrist.
She glanced over her shoulder.
"Dance with me." He didn't wait for her to respond, just tugged her gently until her body was flush with his. He looped one arm around her back, splaying his fingers over the base of her spine. He felt her stiffen against him, then relax.
She was petite, the top of her head hitting his chest at about nipple level. He liked how small and fragile she felt in his arms, how her little body fit against his.
And how she worked those hips of hers. Damn.
Sparks of erotic hunger zapped and sizzled through his body with every sway. He tucked his leg between hers and rocked his hips from side to side, melting at the feeling of her hips working perfectly with his. Her feminine curves conformed to his hard angles as she pressed tighter against him. He cupped her chin and lifted, coaxing her to look at him, to let him see that beautiful face, to maybe taste her lush mouth.
A second female body crowded against him from behind. A woman's hands glided down his tight thighs. Breasts flattened against his back. Within a second, his prick was hard enough to bust through brick, his balls tight, his blood burning like acid.
Rin's eyes lifted to his, and her lips parted in a natural pout, so different from the practiced expression her friend had donned for him.
That was it; he had to kiss her.
He tipped his head, his entire body tight and hard and ready. But just before his mouth claimed hers, she lurched away. He opened his eyes to catch the redhead slipping into her place as the music changed.
He twisted to find his delicate Rin, but she'd disappeared into the crowd.
"She's my friend," Andi shouted over the music as she undulated against him. "I won't say anything bad about her. But she's just not into this. She's so shy. Sorry." She smoothed her hands up his torso.
He was sorry too.
There was something about her. A quiet sensuality that didn't need to be forced. He hadn't been that intrigued by a woman in a long time. "No need to apologize for her."
"I'm guessing you like your women a little less aggressive?"
"Got it." Her expression softened. "If you want to be the predator, I can be the prey. Let's play." Giggling, Andi slipped out of his arms and dashed into the crowd.
Now this was getting interesting.
Rin all but forgotten, he set out to hunt down his redheaded quarry in the black fuck-me dress.
Hunter. Prey. It looked like both of them would get what they were after tonight.
The next morning, Drako headed down to the library with a satisfied smile on his face and memories of one lush redhead strapped spread-eagle on his Saint Andrew's Cross.
Damn, that had been one of the best nights he'd had in a long time. Andi wasn't just a slut; she was a pain slut. The more he gave her, the more she begged. And that insatiability had applied to everything.
By the time they were through, both his single-tail whip and his cock had gotten a thorough workout.
He'd sent her home less than an hour ago, had taken a shower to wash away the lingering scents of sex from his skin, and was ready to face whatever news their father was about to deliver.
Whatever it was, Drako knew it would be major. The old man had said his good-byes ten years ago, after his brothers and his wife had been buried. He hadn't called, written, or even e-mailed his three sons since. Not that any of them could blame him. He'd paid his dues; he'd earned his freedom. Someday, they'd earn theirs too.
Until then, duty was duty. It wasn't like they had it bad.
When he entered the room, he found the old man sitting behind the desk—the one Drako considered his—hands clasped, waiting, silent, gaze sharp. It was damn good to see that face.
Malek was slumped in a chair next to the fireplace, looking like he'd had a long night—which he probably had. Talen was looking bright-eyed and alert, no doubt because he'd turned in early, like usual.
Drako knew he looked like Talen, but inside he felt like Malek. Dead dog tired.
The old man lifted his cool gray eyes to Drako and cleared his throat. "We can begin."
"Sorry I'm late." Drako snagged the closest seat and braced himself for what was coming.
Their father stood, hands on the desktop. "All three of you men know how vital your duty is. You've served well, protecting The Secret faithfully since my brothers and I stepped down over ten years ago. For that, you have earned my respect." He straightened up, crossing his arms over his chest. "But now it's time to prepare for the future." His assessing gaze turned to Drako. "Son, you're my oldest. The leader of your generation of Black Gryffons. You've proven to be an excellent leader-fearless, loyal, responsible and yet sensitive. I admire the man you've become."
Drako didn't know how to respond to his father's words. It had been a decade since the old man had paid him any compliment, let alone one so great. "As I admire you, father. You set a fine example, as the firstborn of your generation."
The old man smiled. After a beat, he said, "You've just celebrated your thirty-first birthday. In order to assure your retirement by your fiftieth, all three of you must father sons within the next twelve months. Which means you must take wives. Immediately."
Drako had understood this day would come, since shortly after taking his father's place as the leader of the Black Gryffons. Thus, he'd accepted it long ago. It was their fate, their duty, their honor.
But, gauging from Malek's barely stifled groan, at least one of his younger siblings hadn't been mentally prepared for the responsibility of wife and child yet.
"Must we all take a bride?" Malek asked. "If Drako conceives three sons, there would be no need for the rest of us to father children."
"Of course," their father said. "There's no guarantee he'll produce one, let alone three."
Malek's shoulders sank a tiny bit. "Okay, but today, marriage and children don't always have to come hand-in-hand—"
"No bastard child will ever be a Black Gryffon." Their father shook his head. "That's the law."
"I think the law's antiquated," Malek grumbled.
"Doesn't matter what we think." Drako stood, giving his scowling younger sibling a clap on the shoulder. "So what? You have to take a wife. It's not the end of the world."
"Depends on your perspective."
"Hey." Drako glanced at his father. "There's no law that says we have to be monogamous, right? I mean, if our wives know beforehand that we have no intention of limiting ourselves to having sex with just them, then we're good, right?"
Their father shrugged, eyes glimmering with an unexpectedly playful sparkle. "If you can find yourselves wives who are willing to live with that kind of arrangement, then more power to you. Your mother wouldn't. It was hell, giving up certain things, but I could never deny that woman anything." He sighed. "There are some sacrifices that are worth it."
"I hear you," Drako said, knowing fully well what kind of agony it had to have been. "Discomfort" was an understatement, but he respected the old man more than he could ever say for his commitment to their mother. Since at least the early eighteenth century every Black Gryffon had practiced some form of D/s, and many of them had taken multiple lovers. His father had done neither.
In the silent moment that followed, Drako studied the man he had emulated his entire life. The old man's once dark brown hair was now all silver, and lines fanned from the corners of his eyes, but otherwise in Drako's eyes this man would always be the powerful guardian leader he had respected and admired. His father's body was still heavily muscled, his mind sharp as a blade. Drako guessed retirement hadn't slowed him down a bit.
Only the deep shadow in the old man's eyes hinted at how close he was to passing from their world to the next.
"I miss her, son," their father said. "Your mother loved like nobody I've ever known. The last ten years have been so empty without her."
Excerpted from DARKEST FIRE by TAWNY TAYLOR Copyright © 2011 by Tawny Taylor. Excerpted by permission of APHRODISIA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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