Queen of Swords
A Sanctify Novel
By Katee Robert, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2012 Katee Robert
All rights reserved.
Ophelia Leoni stared into her glass, wishing she could will it full again. Sadly, it didn't seem too interested in helping her out, and the empty bottle at her elbow wasn't doing her any favors, either. By all rights, after that amount of liquor, she should be flat on her back or passed out in a corner somewhere.
It had barely made a dent on the grief dragging down her shoulders, trying to suck her into the ground. Two weeks. Such a short time in the grand scheme of things, but it felt like she'd gone through a war. Being responsible for the loss of her entire crew and ship would do that to a woman. And if the only way she could get through the night was to drown her sorrows in the clear liquid brewed on Keiluna, so what? It was her way of dealing with things, the censoring looks she got from Mama notwithstanding.
But she wasn't going to be drinking away a single damn thing with an empty bottle. A quick glance at the harried waitress told her all she needed to know — she wouldn't be helped any time soon. And she needed another bottle as quickly as possible to quiet the demons inside her, ready to take their pound of flesh as soon as she lowered her guard. She'd do damn near anything to escape them for a little while.
A sweaty sex session might be just the thing to cure her problems, but she couldn't bring herself to go there. Not now, not with some man who couldn't begin to breach the chasm that'd opened up inside her.
She sighed. Acquiring more alcohol meant abandoning her comfortable booth and braving the crowded tables to refuel. Normally, it wouldn't be a problem. This was her booth, and if anyone was idiotic enough to try to take it from her, the bouncer Hans would have no problem shoving them out the door. It was family tradition, after all, since her parents had met in this exact booth a very long time ago.
But she liked it there. It was far enough back into the shadows that no one bothered her, and she was able to pretend she wasn't sitting there, drinking by herself and grieving. If she got up, she was undoubtedly going to have to talk to someone.
There was no help for it. She had to shore herself up and make the trip. Ophelia took a fortifying breath, grabbed her empty glass and bottle, and headed for the bar.
She barely made it three steps before some jackass stepped in front of her. He was like most of the clientele The Hammer had started attracting in recent years — young, pretty, and human. And, if the glazed look in his augmented, twilight-blue eyes was any indication, three sheets to the wind. "Hey there, pretty lady."
Did that kind of lame come-on actually work on women? She made herself look at him, from his synth-leather pants to the V-neck shirt that seemed cut to show off as much as his scrawny chest as possible. Even depressed and aiming to get completely blitzed, she still had some standards left. This guy sure as hells wasn't up to them. "Go away."
When she stepped to move around him, the world swayed a bit. Thank the Lady the liquor was finally kicking in. It wasn't enough to spread blessed numbness over her pain, but the bar took on a vaguely shiny look that said she was heading in the right direction.
If only this dick would get out of her way. Instead, he stepped in front of her again. "I wasn't done talking to you." Then he made his last in a long line of mistakes that started with dressing himself like an idiot. He grabbed her arm and tried to muscle her toward the table where a group of what must've been his friends stood watching.
This puny guy thought he could make her go anywhere she didn't want to? It would have been laughable if she wasn't ready to clock him in the face for touching her without permission.
Still, she tried to keep her temper in check. Hans might be willing to give her some leeway because of what happened with The Dutchman, but he would be pissed as hells if she trashed his bar. So she yanked back on the idiot's hold, bringing him to an abrupt stop. He actually tried to take another step before he realized they weren't moving. Ophelia leaned into him, so close she could feel his breathing pick up. His gaze dropped to her mouth, as if he actually thought she'd suffer through a kiss from his frog lips.
She grabbed his chin and squeezed until he met her gaze. It was only then, when he looked into her eyes, that he finally recognized this wasn't the situation he'd expected, and his desire shifted to something closer to fear. A better person than Ophelia wouldn't have enjoyed that shift so much. "Let go of my arm right now, or I'm going to cut off your pathetic excuse for genitals and shove them down your Ladydamned throat." There. That came out at least somewhat pleasant.
The guy went pale and let go of her as if her arm had caught fire. She held his chin captive for one more breath before she released him. He took two large steps back. "Gods, chick. Fine. Your loss."
She knew all too much about loss, and letting him walk away didn't even register on the scale. "I'm sure." Situation handled, she turned and renewed her quest for a new bottle of liquor. She needed numbness, and she needed it now.
* * *
Boone O'Keirna knew he was in trouble the second he heard his mark speak. When Ophelia had gotten up from her booth back in the corner of the bar, he'd followed, determined not to let her slip away in the crowd. Then that fool stepped in and tried to manhandle her.
He'd half expected her to call in the hulking bouncer she'd chatted up when she got there, or let someone else come to the rescue. It's what any other prospective member of his half-brother's harem would do. All of them were as helpless as they were beautiful, exactly the way Kristian liked them, and Boone hadn't thought this newest woman would be any different. Then she turned around and threatened the guy so thoroughly that even Boone flinched. There was intent in her voice, and plenty of it.
When she retreated to her booth, new bottle in hand, he should have gone back to his post. It was the smart thing to do. But apparently his smarts had taken a backseat to curiosity, because he couldn't stop himself from cutting through the crowd between them.
She barely looked up as he slid into the seat across from her. "Not interested."
Another contradiction. Kristian's women tended to flock to whatever male caught their eye, and they never missed an opportunity to preen and primp. Not this one, though. It only made him want to crack through the shell she had so obviously erected around herself more. "I'm Boone."
"How nice for you. Go away. I'm not in the company kind of mood tonight."
He'd noticed, as had most of the rest of the crowd if the way they avoided her booth was any indication. He'd also noticed the way she stared into her cup as if it held all the answers of the universe. That level of loss was intimately familiar to Boone, and he couldn't stop himself from wondering what had put that sad look on her face.
None of your godsdamned business. He was only there for some recon work — to figure out if she was going to bring all the resources of her father's gunrunning company under Kristian's thumb — not to find out all her deepest secrets. But he couldn't have walked away now even if he'd wanted to. Instead, he found himself leaning forward. "You look like you're in the mood for forgetting."
Now, finally, she looked up and met his gaze. Those violet eyes — the same eyes that classified her as one of the Diviner species — were like a kick to the chest. For a second, he'd actually forgotten what she was. Idiot. She tucked her long, black hair behind her ears. "What would you know about that?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to make some off-hand comment, something biting and snarky, but that wasn't what came out of his mouth. "I have plenty of memories I wish I could cut out and never see again." The knife in his brother's hand. The blood soaking Boone's sides and dripping onto the floor. His father saying to Kristian, I'm proud.
She frowned, as if she couldn't decide if she really wanted to get into this conversation or kick him to the curb. "You don't believe in learning from the past?"
Now that he had her attention, he couldn't lie. He wasn't even sure he wanted to. "Some lessons come at too high a price."
Her eyes clouded with some memory, and he sat back and watched her work through it. The lapse couldn't have lasted more than fifteen seconds, but his curiosity ramped up in response. This woman wasn't a delicate blooming flower, one of those beauties who'd faint before they faced a sliver of the grief written across her face. Ophelia was something else altogether.
Finally, she gave a short nod. "I'll drink to that." Then she downed the contents of her glass. Without pausing, she filled it halfway and slid it across the table to him. "So should you."
He'd tried to drink away the past before. It didn't work. Nothing worked. But he didn't think she'd appreciate his advice on the subject. Hells, he wasn't even sure why he wanted to give it in the first place.
As expected, the burn of alcohol down his throat did nothing to push back the memories threatening to take hold. This wasn't why he'd come over. Dredging up the past didn't do either of them a damn bit of good, but now he'd taken that first step, and there was no going back. He held up the glass. "This hasn't been diluted."
Her dark eyebrows rose. "Of course not. You're on Keiluna, stranger, and, what's more, you're in The Hammer. We don't water down our liquor here."
"So I gathered." He accepted the second round she poured, though it didn't go down any easier. He was pretty sure the two shots alone had already stripped his esophagus lining. She'd finished a bottle of this shit by herself? Against his better judgment, his opinion of the woman rose yet another notch.
Ophelia Leoni was full of surprises.
He watched her take a shot and absently set the glass back on the table. She looked like she was thinking hard, though the slight glazed look in her violet eyes matched the warmth pulsing through his body as the alcohol kicked in. They could sit there all night. There was no pressure to fill the silence that seemed to surround this booth, but he found himself speaking anyways. "It doesn't work, you know."
"What doesn't work?"
He motioned at the bottle. "You might think it numbs the pain, but it's only festering while you're not dealing with it."
"Is that so?" She leaned forward, her thin silver top pressing against her breasts and clearly outlining her nipples. He wasn't prepared for the bolt of lust that shot through his body at the sight. Gods.
"Yeah." His voice came out a little hoarse, so he cleared his throat. "It just compounds the problem."
"Who said anything about me trying to solve this problem? Maybe I'd just like to forget for awhile." She swirled the clear liquid in her glass, gaze going distant again. Before he could follow up with another question or guide the conversation to safer territory, she refocused on him. "You know what's another great way to forget?"
If you figure it out, let me know. He didn't speak it aloud, though. As fascinating as he found Ophelia, he wasn't about to share the details of his own demons with her. "What's that?"
She spoke in such an offhand manner, he was sure he'd heard her wrong at first. "Wait — what?"
"Sex. S-e-x." She motioned at him, a slow grin spreading over her face. If he thought she was striking before, it was nothing compared to now, when he was faced with her amusement. "Why are you so shocked? I'm sure a big badass like yourself has heard of it. Maybe even experienced it a time or two."
Still trying to catch up, he shook his head. "Once or twice."
"Thought so." She finished her glass and overturned it on the table. Boone watched her warily as she stood and circled around to his side. Her smile was faintly mocking, as if she was making fun of him. Hells, she probably was. It seemed the more likely possibility than this actually being reality. The fact he couldn't decide which it was only intrigued him more.
That said, he'd come there to gather information, not to seduce Kristian's new courtesan. But, as her hip bumped his and her unexpectedly flowery scent wrapped around him, he didn't move away. He didn't want to. But he also wasn't going to jump when she said jump. "Sex tends to cause new problems."
"Does it?" She leaned in, not quite close enough to kiss, but close enough that her breasts pressed against his arm. It was a battle not to move so he could touch more of her, but he somehow managed. Until her breath brushed his ear. "I think it might help us both forget our problems for a little while."
The temptation to take her up on her offer was nearly overwhelming. He shifted his arm, rubbing against her breasts even as he reached for all the reasons he couldn't do this. "I doubt that's a good idea." Problem was, he couldn't come up with a single reason why not.
"Only one way to know for sure." She used a single finger to tip his chin up until their faces were mere centimeters apart. Then she kissed him. Given her forward manner, he'd half-expected a clashing of teeth and tongue, but that wasn't what Ophelia did. No, she teased him, her lips brushing his once, twice, and a third time before her tongue traced along the seam of his mouth.
And, with that shockingly sweet kiss, he was lost.
All reservations fled when she pulled back, nipped his bottom lip, and gave his arm a tug. "Come on."
Boone shoved out of the booth and followed her through the crowded dance floor, maintaining his grip on her hand. They were almost to the door when it hit him — he was following her along like a trained pet. She'd thrown out the demand, and he'd barely hesitated on taking her up on it. If he let her, she'd be driving this ship until she was finished with him.
He stopped and pulled her against his chest. Ophelia's grin didn't dim, but some of the amusement left her eyes. "You're hot," she said, "but no one's hot enough to get me kicked out of The Hammer for sex on the dance floor."
Boone ignored her attempt to push him away and ran his hand down her spine to cup her ass. Her clothing didn't leave much to the imagination, but feeling the lean muscle of her body was something else altogether. He hitched her up, until she pressed again his hard length. "If we do this, we're doing this my way."
"Does your way involve enough orgasms to forget my name?"
Gods, this woman was something else. He thrust against her just enough to make her eyes drop to half-mast. "If you're lucky, you might even get a bed."
"You could turn a girl's head with that kind of talk."
He kissed her, because if he let her keep talking, he was going to take her right there. Who knew that a snarky spitfire with shadows in her eyes would be his undoing? Boone took her mouth until both their bodies were shaking with need. All he wanted to do was pin her to the wall next to the door and rip both their clothes off. Not here. Not like this. With her melting in his arms, it took more restraint than he would have imagined possible to take a step back.
The buzz of people in the club gave him the reality check he so desperately needed. He wasn't going to take Ophelia in the middle of a crowded club, let alone drag her outside and have sex with her in some alley.
No, for this woman, he needed all night.
Ophelia knew a bad idea when she saw one, and this rugged, dark-haired man was bad with a capital "B." Since she'd had more than her fair share of bad ideas in the last few weeks, she should've been running in the opposite direction and patting herself on the back for making a wise decision for once. But she'd seen the sadness in his eyes, kin to the weight she currently carried in her chest. This man had known the kind of overwhelming loss that made a person wonder if the sun would ever rise again. With him, she could forget for a little while and walk away in the morning.
She cupped him through his pants. "Your place. Let's go." No way in the seven hells would she try to sneak him past Mama and Papa. He'd never make it out of her parents' house alive.
He growled and kissed her, the barely reined-in savagery confirming she'd made the right decision. Before she could sink into the feeling of his tongue against hers, he broke away and led her out of The Hammer and into the cool evening air, keeping her hand in a punishing grip. As if she was really going to have second thoughts. The damn man was lucky she didn't shove him up against the nearest wall and have her wicked way with him right there, right then.
When he pulled her into an alley, she paused for half a second, wondering if he'd read her mind or if she was about to get in over her head in a murderous situation. But Boone just yanked her into his arms and kissed her again, dragging his teeth over her bottom lip hard enough to make her moan. Boone spun her around and pinned her against the wall beside a narrow doorway. He slid his hands under her tiny silver top and cupped her breasts, growling low in his throat. She arched into him, the feel of his calluses on her sensitive skin making her entire body spark. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Queen of Swords by Katee Robert, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2012 Katee Robert. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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