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New York City--Three Months Later
LaMia paused just inside the entrance of McDougall's Bar and Restaurant, in huntress mode as her glance drifted from and touched each male patron before she caught sight of her prey.
She leered and moved forward with the flow of the crowd, eager now to get a better look at the two men she had stalked from the parking lot.
LaMia watched them now, a pair of extraordinarily gorgeous males out on the town, drinks held high and toasting their most recent business success.
No one else looking at them would guess that one of them was only half-human.
She did not know yet what to make of the other man, Alex Ryan's co-worker and intern, Mateo Diaz. The bar was too dark and too noisy to gather the appropriate intelligence, but she knew he was important enough for Alex and Genesis to befriend, and this made him important enough for LaMia to make him her next target.
There was something intimate and familiar about Mateo, something strangely inviting that had her panties damp with want and her heart shuddering with a sensation akin to ... unease. She sensed that the young man was related to Julian.
LaMia smiled for the first time in a long time at the providence that had, in all likelihood, brought another Diaz descendant into her path. It was almost a guarantee that the young man also possessed the kundalini her body so craved.
She would make sure Mateo was not recruited into Genesis's abhorrent Harvesting Program. This was the best form of revenge against those responsible for her exile, and she would enjoy every moment watching Alex andGenesis squirm after she seized their precious pet.
Mateo followed Alex out of McDougall's with some hesitation, more worried about being in Genesis Ryan's company again, than the crucial proposition that Alex had to divulge once they arrived at his condo.
He couldn't say what it was about the exotically beautiful Genesis that he found so disturbing since their first meeting when he'd just started with her husband's company, but he always felt ill at ease around her. Her scrutiny made him feel like a bug under a microscope.
Mateo realized he was not the only one she visually dissected--as he had come to think of her gazes--it was just the way she appeared to observe everyone, as if ever on the lookout for anyone who might do her husband harm.
What Mateo wouldn't do to have someone like this in his life, to have a woman watch his back the way Genesis watched Alex's.
When he looked at her vigilance this way, he didn't feel so bad about the prospect of seeing her soon. He began to feel more envious of Alex than nervous about his wife.
"Everything all right back there, kid?"
Mateo focused his attention on Alex as the other man paused several feet in front of him with his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
He smiled, unoffended by the moniker. He was used to it even though Alex, at twenty-nine, was only five years older than he was. He was used to it because his baby face had elicited similar responses from everyone he'd come into contact with at Ryan and Associates when he'd first started a little more than a year previous.
Despite his light beard and mustache, the secretaries and other office assistants had either thought he was one of the partner's kids visiting the office, or a high school student doing a paper on the craft of architecture. Never had they thought he was so close to being a full-fledged architect himself, not until Alex took him around the offices and introduced him as Ryan and Associates' newest prodigy.
"Everything's fine," Mateo assured him. "I'm just curious about this proposition you have to offer me and why you have to make it at your home."
Alex backtracked to stand beside him, put a hand on Mateo's shoulder, and gave it a warm squeeze. "It's something that's better explained in friendly, familiar surroundings."
Friendly and familiar surroundings were Mateo's own brownstone apartment in Harlem.
"You've been to my house plenty of times." Alex grinned before he arched a questioning brow. "You're not afraid of my wife now, are you?"
Mateo coughed and quickly covered his mouth with a fist, surprised Alex had hit the nail so squarely on the head, as if the man had read his mind.
The idea would have been farfetched, except Mateo had experienced the sensation of his mind being picked on numerous occasions when in Alex and Genesis's company.
Hell, it was no stranger than his empathy.
"C'mon, Matt." Alex clapped him on the back and pulled him close as he led the way to his car. "I'll sate your curiosity and tell you all you need to know. I promise."
Mateo couldn't help feeling as if he was being led down a dark and lonely path he really didn't want to pursue or explore.
He paused at the passenger side door of Alex's car and waited for Alex to disengage the power locks. His heartbeat sped when he caught the sudden, spicy-sweet scent of cinnamon on the air, as if someone were baking a cake nearby with the ingredient generously sprinkled in. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and an icy-hot liquid sensation of lust settled in his groin in response to the enticing aroma.
Mateo sniffed the air more thoroughly, looked at Alex to confirm that he had smelled the scent too and saw Alex frown as if confused.
Mateo had an instant to glance up right before something swooped down towards them from the indigo, star-dappled sky, something large enough to be a person, but with wings spanning five feet across from either side of its back.
Definitely not human, but definitely a female.
Mateo thought it right before the woman dive-bombed towards him, arms outstretched in front of her as if she were some sort of super-heroine.
He had a moment to step away from the car and hear Alex's warning cry of "Look out, Matt! Duck!" before the woman hooked her arms beneath his armpits, scooped him up, and took off for the sky again.
"Oh, shit ... Mateo! Matt!"
Okay, this could not be happening! He wasn't soaring a hundred yards off the ground with Alex yelling through cupped hands and chasing after him from the parking lot of McDougall's. A woman with humongous wings had not just swooped out of the sky and grabbed him. No, siree!
Mateo glanced up at his abductor, but she didn't look at him, just kept her eyes straight ahead as she flapped those big bat-like wings and acted as if he wasn't suspended below her.
"Hey! Hey ... you!" What exactly was he going to say? 'Put me down' didn't seem like such a good idea when she was soaring over rooftops as if she had a hang glider attached to her back.
"Silence, human. We will be at our destination shortly."
What the hell was that? A line out of a Shakespearean play he hadn't read? She certainly spoke in the same stilted accent.
Christ, he hated heights!
Here's a hint, Matt. Don't look down.
He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth to try to make the sick feeling in his stomach go away.
Mateo opened his eyes, couldn't help himself, as they glided over a deserted area of the city in Lower Manhattan. From what he could make out by the light of the moon, it looked like some place in TriBeCa with converted lofts and narrow streets dominating the immediate area.
She aimed for the roof of one of the warehouses and smoothly landed.
As soon as his feet touched the rooftop pavement, Mateo tried to make a run for it but was stopped in his tracks by a green force field that completely encircled him after he'd taken only two steps forward.
He scowled at his kidnapper through the bubble prison as she circled him, hands clasped behind her back. He thought there was something oddly familiar about her, about the way she looked at him.
He pummeled the capsule with his fists, and she smiled at him like an indulgent parent watching her baby throw a fit of temper in his crib.
"Let me out of here!"
She raised a fist in front of her as if in a Black Panther salute and twisted it back and forth a couple of times, her movements unhurried and strangely erotic. "You will sleep now," she murmured.
They were the last words Mateo heard before he passed out.
So, the Inanna bitch had finally made her move on Alex and Genesis' latest assignment, Mara Lamashtu thought as she watched one of Emsharra's premier huntresses swoop from the sky to take her quarry like a bird of prey swooping down on a lake to pluck a fish for its meal.
If she had not hated LaMia Enlil so much, she would have applauded her flash and style, but she did hate the exiled Inanna, hated her with every breath she took. Mara hated her every day she lived in her Sebitu skin without her mate and was reminded of what LaMia had deprived her.
They had taken Xaphan away from Mara, LaMia and that crossbreed bastard Alex Ryan, Nahemah's favored great-grandson and royal phenomenon.
Soon they would pay.
Mara stared into the sky now, her plans for revenge momentarily forgotten as she tried to follow the path the Inanna had taken with her victim and wondered why so startling and out of the ordinary an acquisition.
No matter LaMia's motives. The Inanna had met her match once when she had stepped over the line with her grandmother, Nahemah.
She would meet her match again. Only this time, LaMia would not be exiled but destroyed along with her new acquisition and his sponsors.
Mara would see to this.
Mateo floated towards consciousness reluctantly. He stopped short of opening his eyes and instead squeezed them tighter as her fresh cinnamon scent washed over him again.
He did not want to open his eyes. He fully expected to find some grotesque being out of his worst Jeepers Creepers nightmare making a tasty meal out of his internal organs and keeping him alive long enough to observe his own death by slow dismemberment and evisceration.
Thing was, he didn't feel any pain or bloodletting, but that might just mean that his kidnapper had administered a local anesthetic, leaving him conscious enough to witness what would be done to him with scalpel and other sharp surgical instruments of mutilation.
Jesus, had he watched too many horror/slasher movies and CSI episodes in his day or what?
Yeah, buddy, just enough to be paranoid when you're plopped smack dab in the middle of one. Smooth move, Diaz. Tell us how you're going to work out of this one.
Finally, hesitantly, he opened his eyes and blinked several times to bring his vision in focus. When he tried to lick his dry lips and couldn't get his sluggish tongue past his mouth, he realized it was taped shut. He tried to sit up and get his bearings only to discover that he was also shackled, wrists and ankles, to a large four-poster bed.
He glanced around from his supine position on the firm, elevated mattress and slowly took in his lavish surroundings. He grudgingly appreciated his captor's decorating tastes.
She favored bold shades of red and green and luxuriant materials, the eclectic overstuffed chairs, sofa and accessories were all covered in some sort of lambent satin, velvet, or chenille.
The bed on which he lay in just his boxer briefs, helpless and cuffed, was covered in a rich burgundy satin comforter that made Mateo wonder exactly how much use such a mundane piece of furniture saw from a being like the woman who had made off with him.
"Ah, you are finally awake. I was beginning to wonder whether I had killed you or not."
Mateo wanted to ask her if it would have made a difference but settled for just staring at her with his best withering look.
"Oh, most assuredly it would have made a difference. I have big plans for you."
He frowned as she approached the bed, her slow, sexy rolling gait giving him time to enjoy the sway of her generous hips and the bounce of her lush, round breasts beneath the burgundy leather halter she wore.
Wait a minute, had she just ... "
She paused at his bedside, bent at the waist to sniff the air around him, and sighed in contentment before she gave him a ravenous look that made him forget his own name, much less his train of thoughts. Her expression reminded him of the way a cat looks at an injured mouse right before it pounces on the tiny creature to finish the job it started.
At his thoughts, she licked her full, copper-tinged lips. When she smiled at him, he saw something else simmering beneath her predator's glare: fierce desire.
Mateo didn't know whether to be flattered or not, struck suddenly with how much her intense gaze reminded him of Genesis Ryan, as if the two were sisters from a different mother, or at the very least, countrywomen.
Was it possible--?
"I hear your mind working a thousand miles a minute. Busy, busy, busy." She stood straight and sauntered several steps away. "All of your conjectures are for naught, however. I have suitably squelched your chance to be enlightened at the feet of the converted allies."
What the hell was she going on about? Was she talking about Genesis and Alex? Allies of who and what?
"Am I going to have to keep you bound and gagged or can I trust you enough to allow you a small measure of comfort and freedom?"
Was she asking him whether or not he would scream or try to escape if she uncuffed him?
"That is exactly what I am asking you. Not that you could escape me. If I chose to, I could stop you before you got within twenty feet of the door. As for the tape, I did that to protect your voice and my eardrums. If you do scream, however, I must warn you, one, that we are quite isolated here and there is no one around to hear you, and two, my loft has been reinforced with excellent soundproofing materials, so have a care and do not waste your time."
Mateo didn't doubt her speed or intent, especially when he remembered how she had so effortlessly plucked him out of the parking lot. He didn't doubt any of that speech about the isolation and soundproofing either. He most especially did not doubt anything she said when he realized that she was ... reading his mind!
He had thought the first time had been a fluke, but he was sure of it now.
Christ, this was getting creepier by the moment, creepier than his own alien gifts.
Mateo stared at her back as she walked away from him to the stainless steel kitchen in the distance. He tried to see if he could spot the wings she had used to fly away with him, but there was nothing except the mahogany smoothness of her well-muscled back.
His fingers itched with the memory of how that smooth skin felt beneath them, as if he had been with her before, inside her, too many times to count, and craved to do it all again.
He let his gaze lazily drift down her six-foot tall, hour-glass figure from the gentle slope of her bare back to the slim curve of her waist and finally to her endless legs encased in painted-on burgundy leather pants and matching knee-high boots.
Despite his precarious state, Mateo felt his cock hardening in his boxer briefs, fantasized about putting his dick in her slick, hot cunt. What was wrong with him?
She turned back to him then, hazel eyes glinting with insight, leering as she stalked across the burnished parquet floor.
She sat at his bedside. "I am LaMia Enlil, and there is nothing at all wrong with you except that you are a healthy, red-blooded male."
What was this? Formal introductions before she killed him? And damn, he wished she would stop dipping inside his head like that!
He used to think it was cute as well as advantageous to know other people's feelings, especially girls he was involved with as a late teen. He had, however, gotten over his psychic voyeurism years ago when, at twenty, he'd experienced his then girlfriend's severe menstrual cramps. He'd snooped because they'd argued earlier in the day and he had thought she was just using her period as an excuse to get out of having sex with him. He had been sorry for his mistrust ever since.
LaMia was more outright and rude with her snooping than he had ever been though, and he didn't like it one bit. He didn't like someone like her tooling around in his brain and knowing every little thing he was thinking.
"Contrary to your assumptions, I am not rude. I am merely availing myself of any and all opportunities to get to know my submissive better. And you will call me Mistress or Mistress LaMia, by the way," she said then firmly placed her hand on his forehead.
Who the hell is this woman?
He closed his eyes and braced himself as her subtle, yet heady, cinnamon-and-female scent washed over him. He felt the tug on his brain as if she had reached inside his head to gently peel back the layers of his past.
Mateo's heart pounded a vicious beat in his chest, obliterating all miniscule sounds in the loft as he wondered if his heart would explode.
She held her palm against his forehead for several long moments, ransacking his mind, melding with his memories until she became a part of them.
He knew this woman! Knew her too intimately to deny her or forget what he had been doing with her for the last several months--but more importantly, he knew her too intimately to deny what she had done to his family so many years ago.
One woman he implicitly trusted with his body and soul. The other had taken too much from him for Mateo to trust her at all.
How could they be one in the same?
Her touch was insidious, seductive, seeping into him like the mist in his dreams, and then he realized she was the mist in his dreams.
He could see how his brother and father had succumb to her allure, how his father had allowed her to come between him and Mom and how his brother had allowed her to drain the life right out of him. The promise of the ultimate climax and release was too powerful to resist.
But resist he would ... this time.
Suddenly, LaMia jerked back her hand and gasped.
Good! He wasn't the only one so overwhelmed by what she'd just done.
"It is you! At first I was not certain, did not believe it was possible that fate would actually send you to me..." She reached for a corner of the tape and viciously stripped it off his mouth.
"Do not make me regret doing that."
Like he wasn't regretting it already, Mateo thought as he flexed his jaws in concert with his fists clenching and unclenching in the cuffs above his head.
"I'm not a dog!" Mateo shot back and silently gauged her reaction. He noticed the slight upward tilt of her lips, an expression of admiration and amusement that just barely reached her hazel eyes.
So, she was enjoying this, enjoying him. Hell, he'd give her something to really admire and smile about once he was free. "What do you want me to say, Mia?" he asked, thinking two could play the game as he let the moniker slide off his tongue and saw her blink at his audacity. "You accuse me as if I tried to defraud you. You abducted me. I thought you knew who I w--"
"Silence!" She slashed the air with her hand as she leaped from the bed.
Mateo had a flash of her in Julian's bedroom the last time he had seen his brother alive.
He saw the woman's glowing yellow gaze when she glared at him over a shoulder, bared her teeth and hissed.
Mateo had a second to react as she finished draining Julian of his life-force--or whatever the phosphorescent red light that was arcing from his brother's body into the woman's was called--before she turned on him.
He charged across the threshold and hurled his body through the air, intending to knock her off Julian. He got within a couple of feet of the bed before she raised her arms in front of her and rasped, "Kundalini" right before zapping him with a green bolt of lightning from her fingers.
His body heated now with the memory. Lust raged through him, making his cock jut upward like a repugnant invitation.
Get a grip, Matt. Forget how much you want to drive your dick into her and make her scream like she made your brother scream. Just concentrate on now. Here and now.
"You killed him."
"Julian's death was an unfortunate consequence of our coupling."
He reacted without thinking, violently kicking out with his shackled legs.
She drew back and stared at him as if he were a dangerous animal that had to be watched carefully.
Her reaction was instant and infinitesimal, just enough to let him know that he wasn't the only one affected by their encounter.
Mateo closed his eyes, tuned into her body's responses, felt the shimmering fire inside her, felt her vaginal muscles spasming and ... was that regret hovering just on the outside of her consciousness? Regret for what had happened to his brother?
Good, he would take these and run with them.
He opened his eyes and smiled. "Why did you take me?"
"I took you for the same reasons I took your brother. I took you because..." She slashed the air with her hand again and sat back down on the bed, a tightly wound ball of energy.
Mateo's body immediately reacted to her closeness, that energy. If he had been free, there were all sorts of ways he could have helped her unleash that energy but she wasn't giving him a choice. Not yet. "Why?" he demanded.
"It matters not why I did it, and beginning now you will learn it is unwise to question my actions or my motives. As of this moment, you are a human with no rights and no say over what I do to you here."
The hell he was. Human, yeah, but with no rights and no say? Where the hell did she come off? This was still America, wasn't it?
"The quicker you learn to deal with that, Mateo, the better."
He didn't know what angered him more, the familiarity with which she addressed him or the fact that hearing his Christian name flow from her lips made him hotter than had she put her hand on his cock and caressed him. In fact, the more she spoke, the angrier and hotter he got.
He had time and energy to indulge his desires. He was, as she had just put it, a healthy red-blooded male, after all. He didn't, however, like to waste his time or energy on anger and a past he could not change. Life was too short. For Ms. Arrogant Nubian Queen though, he thought he might make an exception. "I'm not afraid of you," he said and as he peered at her, she returned his glare tenfold. He didn't flinch, would die before letting this woman intimidate him.
"Oh, you are a spirited one, so worth the effort of taking you. I am going to enjoy breaking you in, Mateo."
He just bet she would enjoy breaking him in if he allowed her to, but he had no intentions on allowing her to break him in.
All this time he had thought she was a figment of his traumatized, juvenile imagination, something he had conjured up to help him deal with the bizarre nature of his brother's death. He thought she was something he had created to help him deal with the horrendous circumstances surrounding his parents' murder/suicide.
She was real, however, and before him now, the woman at the root of all three losses, a being he had grown to despise.
Mateo pulled against his manacles. "Undo these cuffs," he commanded, sudden rage fueling his bravado. He knew very well what she was capable of, how powerful and lethal she could be. He didn't care.
"You are giving me, LaMia Enlil, an order?"
"I'm giving you an order, yes," he bit out.
She laughed, reached out a hand to smooth a stray lock of light-brown hair from his face, and his dick twitched in his boxer briefs at the unexpected gentleness of the contact. "You are absolutely precious," she murmured.
She said it like he was a cute poodle or kitten who had just done a neat trick.
Mateo snarled and jerked his wrists against the cuffs again. "Bitch. Let me out of here, now!"