Poisoned Kisses

Poisoned Kisses

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by Stephanie Draven

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Daughter of the war god Ares, Kyra had been born into darkness—a darkness she'd vowed to annihilate. Just as she'd destroy the notorious Greek arms dealer Marco Kaisiris for feeding the bloodlust she despised. She'd use her nymph's carnal powers to seduce him, then slay him. But Kyra wasn't prepared for Marco's secret weapon.

For millennia Kyra had avoided

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Daughter of the war god Ares, Kyra had been born into darkness—a darkness she'd vowed to annihilate. Just as she'd destroy the notorious Greek arms dealer Marco Kaisiris for feeding the bloodlust she despised. She'd use her nymph's carnal powers to seduce him, then slay him. But Kyra wasn't prepared for Marco's secret weapon.

For millennia Kyra had avoided mortal men, but she couldn't resist Marco's magnetism, his raw sexuality. Time and again his sculpted body took her to heights to which only the gods soared. That he was a shape-shifting hydra she could forgive, but not his one fatal flaw—his poisoned blood could kill her. Kyra had fallen for the only being who could destroy her…. Yet how could she spend eternity without him?

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Harlequin Nocturne Series , #98
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Kyra was dressed to kill. Literally.

Just beneath her short red skirt and only inches above her high-heeled boots, a small but deadly hunting knife was strapped to her thigh. A gun might have been more useful, but Kyra preferred the weapons of an older, less complicated time.

A knock came at the nightclub's bathroom door—probably another gaggle of drunken Italian socialites—but Kyra wouldn't be rushed. She stared at her reflection in the mirror to steel her courage. She might not be able to thwart Daddy and his bloodthirsty minions, but she could do this one heroic thing for humanity. This was her destiny.

But the mirror reflected a distorted image. It was cracked, as if the thumping club music burst through the wall from the other side. Still, she could see that her plunging pearlescent halter top complemented neither her black tresses nor her ghostly pallor. No matter. Kyra never let mortals see her true form, anyway. Tonight, her prey would see her as she wished him to see her: with blue eyes and cropped platinum hair; after all, she'd studied Marco Kaisaris long enough to know his type. And she was ready. Hydras like Marco were dangerous, but surely not to someone like her. She just had to kill him. Like Theseus and Perseus of old, she had a monster to slay.

With that thought, Kyra gave the bathroom door a shove and it swung open like a gate to the underworld. She stepped into the nightclub's press of bodies and people made way for her, as if they sensed her power. As the dance beat drummed at her pulse points, she brushed against the crowd, and it excited her because she had a nymph's nature; she found the vitality of humans to be infectious and distracting. This was, of course, one of the many dangers of getting too close to mortals.

The club was dark but for the strobe lights that shined spots on the walls, purple as evening shade, purple as wine. The grape kaleidoscope illuminated the writhing bodies on the dance floor, flashes alternating with pitch-black. But the darkness posed no obstacle for Kyra. Like all nymphs of the underworld, she carried an internal torch. Her eyes could penetrate the darkness. She could see through a crowd, through clothes, through flesh. Her eyes could even breach the barriers around men's souls.

And from the bar, her quarry's soul lit up like a flare.

She knew Marco Kaisaris even though the face he wore was not his own. He was dark, brooding and slightly unkempt. He wore an expensive dress shirt open at the collar, the glimmer of a gold chain at his throat. He didn't look like an arms dealer, but then he was almost as good at disguises as she was. He wasn't just a mortal man, after all. He was also a hydra.

Kyra slipped into the standing-room-only space next to him at the bar, pretending to dig for money in her purse. She felt his eyes on her—an intense, wary stare. Fortuitously, a group of revelers pushed her a little closer to him. She pretended it was his fault.

"Do you mind?" she asked in Italian, grateful that the club was quieter here.

Marco shrugged, taking a swallow from his glass, which was filled with amber liquid and ice. "I was just sitting here."

Oh. His voice. It was baritone and beguiling, with a hint of a New World accent. American or Canadian—she couldn't be sure. Either way, it was the kind of voice that'd make a normal woman swoon and it weakened even Kyra's immortal knees. Gods above and below, Kyra thought. What justice was there in the world that such a voice could belong to a monster?

Recovering herself, she brushed his leg, but his expression betrayed nothing. Everything about his posture was guarded. Sexy, but guarded. That's when Kyra noticed he held a picture of an older man and was tracing the edge of it with his thumb. Naples was known for its criminal element, so the photo was probably of some contact Marco was meeting tonight. A supplier of munitions or a thug looking to buy an arsenal. Someone in Marco's violent business. "Friend of yours?" she asked in English, motioning with her chin toward the picture.

"My father." A look of melancholy passed over his face as he slipped the photo into his shirt pocket, but that's all he said. He didn't want to talk. And that was a problem because she'd planned to lure him somewhere private with the promise of a steamy encounter; she couldn't kill him in the middle of the club with everyone watching. To make matters worse, her cell phone was vibrating. It was probably her father calling to rage at her for destroying his arsenal. Daddy thought it was Kyra's destiny to join him, but she had no intention of being a part of her family's legacy of war. If anything, she wanted to make up for it.

Renewing her resolve, Kyra turned the phone off and flashed Marco Kaisaris her most charming smile. "Mind if I sit here?"

Marco motioned toward the distinct lack of empty bar stools. "Sit where?"

Okay, she'd have to be a little more aggressive. "How about if I sit right here?" Before he could do a thing to stop it, Kyra slid into his lap. It was a crucial moment. There was a good chance he'd thrust her away, alarmed at her forwardness. But as the backs of her bare thighs pressed against the weave of his linen slacks, his breath caught, and it wasn't just with surprise. He liked it.

This shouldn't be too difficult, she thought. Her nymph's charm made it easy to seduce mortals—even special ones like him—and she felt him respond, his breath warming her neck. Encouraged, she shifted wantonly with her hips, precisely timed with the music, careful not to let him feel the sheathed knife on her leg. He liked that, too.

She could tell because he wrapped one arm around her waist and inhaled the cheap perfume she wore. It smelled like overripe passion fruit and candy and he reacted as if she were just a confection—one little taste wouldn't hurt. His teeth grazed her neck beneath her choker where a glowing peridot stone hung like a tiny lantern in the dead of night. She tilted her head for him and felt him go hot all over.

"You're shameless," he finally whispered, the scent of expensive alcohol on his breath.

But I'm not shameless, she thought. There were many shameful things in this modern world, but her sexuality wasn't one of them. How was it her fault that men were so easy to arouse? "I'm shameless? What about you? You look guilty of something."

He let the cool glass in his hand slide wetly over her shoulder. "And what do you think I'm guilty of, Angel? Give it a shot."

Angel? Oh, she was going to enjoy killing him. "Are you telling me to guess?"

"No," he said, his mouth finding the soft spot behind her ear. Then his voice lowered. "Unless you want me to tell you what to do."

Her stomach fell away with arousal. Yes. Absurdly, she did want that. Just for a few minutes. It wasn't sex with mortals that was dangerous for nymphs, after all. Just all the emotions that came after. Still, best not to let him get the upper hand. "If you tried to tell me what to do, we'd only end up engaged in a fierce battle of wills."

She felt him smirk against her neck. "Mine is hard as iron."

His will. He meant his will was hard as iron. Trying to steady herself, Kyra fanned her fingers over the bar. They came to rest on an unopened pack of cigarettes. Marlboro Reds. Old school. "Yours?" she asked, and when he nodded, her lips curled in mock disapproval. "Bad addiction to have."

"I'm not addicted," he countered, one hand stroking her arm. She loved the callused feel of his fingertips on her smooth skin. "I only smoke when I'm trying to come to terms with something." Kyra almost asked him what he was struggling with. But she didn't dare. She shouldn't care. Couldn't care. It'd only make it harder for her to kill him. "I can quit anytime," he said.

"How about now?"

He paused, then crushed the whole pack in his fist, tossing it behind the bar like so much trash. He looked smug at her openmouthed stare of astonishment. "Like I said. Iron will."

He might think so, but he couldn't resist her. She was sure of it.

Marco called to the bartender. "A drink for the lady."

"And what if I'm not a lady?" Kyra asked, with a provocative smile.

"That's okay," Marco murmured, grasping the nape of her neck. "I don't plan to be a gentleman tonight."

• *

She let him bring her back to his penthouse; even from the marbled foyer she glimpsed just how well the monster was living off his ill-gotten fortune. If he'd chosen any of the artwork here, he had exquisite taste. But this probably wasn't his penthouse, just like the face he wore wasn't his own. He was a hydra of a thousand faces—an impostor—which made it all the more remarkable that he didn't seem suspicious of her; he apparently brought women home with him all the time.

No, Kyra thought. Killing him wasn't going to be difficult at all.

The only problem was that he was an astonishingly good kisser. His mouth was on hers, dizzyingly warm. It surprised her how much she actually liked the way his stubble scratched her cheeks and the animal way he bit her lower lip every time she pulled away for breath. He wasn't shy about touching her, and he wasn't taking his time.

He pushed her back against the door, a rapid strike, all strength and speed. Caged in by his strong arms, she saw that his eyes were stormy with challenge. She felt her insides quicken in response. Oh, he so didn't know who he was dealing with.

Kyra gripped a thick handful of his dark hair and when his hands snaked up under her top, thumbs brushing over her nipples, she thought he was rather daring for a creature that could be killed; he'd been wary in the bar, but now that he'd committed himself to having her, there was no hesitation in him at all.

The heat of him delighted her. The roughness of his touch. The bestial sounds he made, as if he meant to devour her. Kyra's heartbeat crashed in her ears, as if the thumping roar of the club music had followed them here. She told herself it was just the allure of his mortal energy, the dangerous deception of a man's desire. But had it felt this good the last time she'd taken a mortal lover?

Maybe Marco was different. The clues in the file she'd stolen led her to believe that in addition to being an arms trafficker, Marco Kaisaris was a war-forged hydra, a mortal man, a monster that could be killed. Now she wondered if he was actually some shape-shifting trickster god, which would excuse her attraction to him and relieve her of guilt for what she was about to do. Stabbing an immortal, after all, wouldn't cause any lasting harm.

His scent—somewhere between man and musk—drove her crazy. Meanwhile, his kisses had become frenzied as if pleasure was such a fleeting thing in his world he had to consume it before anyone took it away from him. As Marco nipped at her neck, his mouth moving over the luminous gemstone she wore, her own gasps cut through the stillness of the penthouse apartment. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he was rocking her world.

But Kyra prided herself on not being one of those silly nymphs who dallied with mortal men and fell helplessly under their spell. She'd taken plenty of lovers and cast them aside when she was done. After all, she was built for carnal passions, for stolen pleasures in the dark. So, it wasn't Marco's all-consuming sexual prowess that was giving her second thoughts about killing him. It was what she saw inside him, beyond the surface. A looming shape of almost unfathomable grief. Beyond the veils of darkness in which he wrapped himself, she glimpsed a forlorn desperation to know and be known, to understand and be understood.

This, she hadn't expected. Sincerity, pain, need. His vul nerability was subtle but potent sex magic. It made her curious; there was a longing in her to let her eyes open wide and illuminate everything inside him. Unfortunately, that would drive him mad, and that was one thing Kyra would never do to a mortal again. Besides, there'd been a reason she'd tracked him down for months, a reason she'd slipped into his lap tonight, and it wasn't to satisfy her curiosity or to enjoy herself with a sexy stranger.

Like her father, Marco Kaisaris made a profit selling weapons. He was a merchant of death. The underworld was filled with victims of the bullets Marco sold. No matter what her lust-soaked mind wanted to see inside him, he was an evil man and if she wanted to make up for all the pain and chaos her father had caused in the world, Kyra had no choice but to kill him.

The hydra had to be the reason Kyra still had her powers while so many of the old immortals had lost theirs. This was her destiny. Still, it was with true regret that she realized Marco's groping fingers would soon discover her hidden knife. With a long-suffering sigh, Kyra stopped him. Marco pulled back, a slow and frustrated tilt to his lips. "A m I going too fast?"

Gods above and below, his voice just wrecked her. The heat of it seared a path from her belly down to the quivering place between her legs. Oh, how she wanted him to touch her. But when he tried to put his hand under her skirt again, she didn't let him. "Wait. I've got something for you."

She turned slightly and, with one hand, secretly unsheathed the knife beneath her skirt. The motion between her legs must have looked particularly obscene, because Marco's eyes narrowed with desire. "Don't be a tease, Angel."

"Oh, I'm no angel and I never tease." With that, Kyra thrust the sharpened blade at his chest, aiming directly for the heart. But something went horribly wrong. She'd prepared herself for the blood, the resistance of blade against bone and the death grimace. What she hadn't counted on was Marco being nearly as fast as she was. Kyra knew that Marco had military training. Still, she could hardly believe how deftly he blocked the blow with his hand. The knife slashed open his palm from fingers to wrist and red blood sprayed the carpeted floor.

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