Read an Excerpt
APRIL 17, 2008
“Know what the three greatest pleasures in life are, buddy?”
Will Scarlet glanced at the inebriated mortal and the sweaty, beefy hand he had dropped on his shoulder. “Sobriety, courtesy, and daily attention to one’s personal hygiene?”
“Wrong.” The drunk grinned. “Blondes, brunettes, and redheads.” He leaned over and dropped his voice to a liquor-scented whisper as he pointed past Will. “See that one down there, the one in the pink? I’ve had my eye on her all night. She’s been acting real particular and standoffish, but you know it’s an act. She didn’t come here to leave alone. She only wants a real man.”
Will didn’t have to look at the slim, stylish woman on the other side of the bar; he’d been watching her since following her and his master into this place. “Perhaps she’s waiting for someone.”
“Damn straight she is. Me.” The mortal straightened and used his belt to hitch up his trousers. “Now watch and learn something, buddy.” He staggered off toward the redhead.
Will followed his progress by watching the mirror behind the bar. During his mortal life, he, too, had pursued his pleasures—wine, women, and song—with the same dogged, oblivious determination. Had he not, he would not be sitting in this noisy, crowded nightclub, surrounded by bountiful measures of all three. He would certainly not be wishing for silence, solitude, and a cup of tea. He would be long gone and forgotten, a layer of dust in an ancient unmarked grave.
The glass of red wine he was neglecting, while of pitifully infantile vintage, was far superior to the thick, sour stuff he had drunk too much of as a youth. For all its clarity and sophistication, however, it had no spine to it. Perfumed water had more character.
Then there were the ladies, in which he generally had a considerable interest. No woman from his village would have dared display as much beauty or skin as the innumerable females milling about this place. Certainly women of this era were prettier and smelled infinitely cleaner, but like the wine, they, too, had little substance.
As for song . . .
Will turned to eye the three bards playing their electronic instruments with mechanical indifference. They cared nothing for the music they produced; that much was obvious. As for the one singing, had he screeched like that in public during Will’s time, he would have been carted off as a madman.
The Bar with a View had only two merits, as far as Will was concerned: It was within walking distance of his master’s city home, and it closed at two a.m. Within the next hour he’d see to it that Robin was suitably occupied for the evening and perhaps steal a few hours for himself.
Gilded emerald eyes looked out of memories he should have banished centuries ago. You could stop. You could stay with me, and take me to wife.
It is too late for me now, child.
Then take me with you.
Will rubbed his brow. Claris of Aubury had been dead and buried for centuries, and still not a day went by that he didn’t think of her in some fashion. He could recall perfectly every word she had ever spoken in his presence, exactly as she had said them. He could sketch the sweet grace of her countenance in his thoughts whenever he closed his eyes. Sometimes, when he felt most alone, he thought he could smell her skin, and taste again that one, sweet kiss he had stolen from her.
Take me with you.
After Clary’s mother had died of the coughing sickness, Clary’d had no one else in the world but him. He’d known that. But by the time she was old enough to marry, he’d been branded an outlaw. To save her from sharing his fate he’d left her behind, and in doing so sacrificed her and any hope of happiness. When he had become Kyn, he had gone back for her, only to discover he had lost her again, this time to her own frail mortality. The orphaned girl had died alone and friendless, her body carted away to be burned with the other victims of the plague.
Perhaps that was why she had lingered in his mind for so long. She had no one else to haunt.
“Anyone sitting here?”
A young female dressed in a dark business suit stood indicating the empty bar stool next to Will’s, but she addressed another female sitting on the other side. He didn’t care for her ignoring him, her dismal garments, or the tight way she’d pinned her honey-colored hair to the top of her head.
“Not anymore,” the other woman said. “Go ahead; he’s not coming back.”
“Thanks.” She placed a slim briefcase under the edge of the bar before taking the seat and waving a ringless hand at the bartender. When he came over, she said, “Coffee, black, please.”
As she took out a mobile phone and began reading text messages, Will watched her. Cleverly applied eye and lip color and that torturous topknot of hair couldn’t disguise how young she was. Her jewelry, a pair of simple gray pearl ear studs and a modest string of the same around her slim throat, seemed too drab.
To add to his annoyance, tonight she had sprayed herself with some expensive scent that women fancied made them seem more alluring. That vexed him more than mannish clothing; he liked the natural smell of a woman’s skin.
She reached for the coffee the bartender brought her, causing her sleeve to slide back and reveal a small oval shadow on the inside of her right wrist. No profile had yet been etched in the center of her black cameo tattoo, nor would there be until she pledged her loyalty to the immortal Darkyn lord she chose to serve. Will had been hoping for the last six months that it would be the face of his lord, Robin of Locksley.
As she sipped the vile-smelling brew, she tapped something on the diminutive, slide-out keyboard of her phone—but she still didn’t address or look at him.
Amused, Will leaned closer and spoke in an exaggerated American drawl. “Are you angry with me, sweetheart?”
“I’m not your sweetheart.” She glanced up, impatient. “And why would I be angry?”
“Any number of reasons, I daresay.” He watched as the bartender walked past. “So how shall I get back into your good graces?”
“You were never out of them.” She leaned over and gave his cheek a surprisingly chaste kiss. “It’s good to see you again, Will.”
“You might have seen more of me”—he turned her face so he could return the kiss on her soft mouth—“had you come to my bed last night, as you promised.”
“Work takes priority.” Something flickered in her eyes, chased away by her smile. “You know how it is.”
Officially Reese Carmichael was employed by Archer Enterprises as an advertising executive who promoted the various products and goods produced by the Atlanta jardin. Unofficially she served Robin of Locksley as one of his many human servants. Reese knew exactly what he and Will were, because she had been born into a family of tresori,mortals who had served and protected the Kyn for more than five hundred years. They had also trained her to do the same.
They had been casual lovers for the last year. All their busy lives permitted was a stolen night together once or twice each month, and most of the time Will was glad of it. Like him, Reese was strong and energetic, in the very prime of her life. Unlike him she would grow older by the year until her time to pass came.
“I do. All the same, I missed you.” He picked up her warm hand and kissed the back of it before holding it between his cool palms. “So, what have you been doing that keeps you so damnably busy?”
“There’s a regional sales conference going on this week for sporting equipment manufacturers and distributors.” She made a face. “I had one of the last presentations of the day, and as usual the program schedule ran insanely late.”
As she told him of her work, Will watched her face. Reese did not use the wretched beige-colored paint so many females did that made the face into an anonymous mask; for this he was grateful. She possessed exquisite skin, smooth and golden as warm cream, that took on a slight glow no matter what light played over it. Tonight he noticed it more than he had in the past, perhaps because he wanted so badly to taste every inch of it.
She glanced around him. “Where’s his lordship?”
“Off in the shadows.” He nodded toward Rob, who was sitting on the other side of the room and trying to intrigue the young red-haired female he had lured to him. “He’s rather occupied this evening.” He felt her touch his sleeve. “Do you like my new shirt?”
“I’ve always loved that color.” She smiled. “Not many men would be brave enough to wear as much red as you do.”
“What’s wrong with red?” Indignant now, he regarded his shirt and trousers. “’Tis a cheerful color. Father Christmas wears it.”
“So do prostitutes.” She chuckled and tapped his side with her elbow. “I’m just giving you a hard time. I like it; it makes a statement.”
“So does your undertaker’s suit.”
“This, I will have you know, is the latest in unisex professional wear.” She made a contemptuous sound. “Someday, when I actually own my soul again and don’t have to worry about how I’m perceived by the old boys of advertising, I’m going to burn everything in my closet. Until then, it’s nothing but dressing like I don’t possess breasts.”
“I’d burn now and worry later.” In the bar mirror Will saw Robin speaking to the redhead. “I think I’m about to be relieved of my duties for the evening.”
“Good. I need to talk to you somewhere quieter.” She emptied her cup of coffee before she slid to her feet. “Come on.”
Will didn’t want to leave the club, but it didn’t appear as if Robin needed him, and it was obvious that something was troubling Reese. She spoke and behaved with her usual careless charm, but tonight her smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Fortunately he knew how best to chase away her worries.
Will followed her out of the club and into the maze of corridors leading to the elevators, the front desk, and the exercise room. When he saw where she meant to go, he caught her around the waist and guided her in a different direction.
She glanced down the short, empty corridor. “I think we’d be more comfortable in the lobby.”
“Too many people.” He took the hotel key card from his pocket and unlocked the day manager’s office door. “No one will interrupt us in here.”
With coy reluctance she went inside. “I’m working on the winter catalog, and I’d like to have the new line of composite bows photographed at Rosethorn.” She retreated behind the manager’s desk, placed her briefcase on it, and opened it. “I’ve never been out to the estate, so I’ll need to spend some time there, find the most attractive setting for the shoot, that sort of thing. Can you arrange it?”
“Of course.” Will secured the latch. “I’ll take you on a tour myself.”
“That won’t be necessary. Why are you bolting the door?”
He turned and crossed the red-and-gold paisley carpet. “Guess.”
She again feigned impatience. “I don’t have time for this, Will.”
“Do you not?” He backed her into the filing cabinet, catching her wrist and bringing her hand against him. She’d never made him this hard this fast, and he could see that it startled her as much as it did him. “What have you time for, then?”
“I need to go to Rosethorn.” She shuddered as he kissed her neck. “Tomorrow night would be best.”
“But we’re here now.” The pungent scent on her skin made him draw back and frown. “Christ Almighty, Reese. Did you spill a bottle of that perfume on yourself? ’Tis all over you.”
“I was on the phone when I put it on. I probably went a little overboard.” She glanced down as he began opening her jacket. “Will, don’t.”
If he didn’t get inside her soon, Will thought he’d go mad. “As you wish, my lady.” He dragged her down to the carpet, shoving her skirt up over her hips.
She tried to sit up as he bent down, and their mouths fused together. By the time he broke the kiss he had worked himself free of his trousers and was pressing into her softness.
“Bloody hell.” He gritted his teeth as her body resisted him. “Relax, sweetheart. It’s just me. Let me in. Let me love you.”
Reese began to say something, and then she closed her eyes, her body arching up as he went deeper.
“That’s my girl.” Will eased into her, forcing himself to go gently rather than hammer into her. “Can you let me . . . There, yes, like that.” He had breached her to the hilt, and held still to feel the faint flutters against his shaft as her body adjusted to him. He had always delighted in her warmth and willingness, but for some reason tonight she was as tense and tight as a new bride. “Easy, sweetheart. It’s only me.”
Will had enjoyed making love to her dozens of times, but never once had it felt as this did. She clenched around him as he drew out of her, dragging at him as if she meant to keep him buried deep. When he forged in again, tears spilled from the corners of her eyes.
He froze. He’d never forced a woman in his life, and yet here she was, soft and slick and warm around him, and weeping in silence.
“No,” she muttered as he disengaged his body from hers. “Do it. Finish it.”
“Not with you crying on me like that, sweetheart.” He straightened her garments and his before he lifted her from the floor and put her on his lap. “What did I do? Was I too rough? Did I hurt you?”
“It’s not you.” She wiped the tears from her face with quick fingers. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long time.”
“Reese. It’s been three weeks.” He caught her chin in his hand and made her look at him. “You really don’t want this. Damn me, but I thought you were jesting.”
“It’s my fault, not yours,” she said, easing out of his grip and standing. “I’m just tired, that’s all. I wanted it to be special. Another time, okay?”
Will couldn’t tell if she was lying; the perfume she wore kept him from detecting the changes in her scent. “I’ll call for a car.”
“I brought my own.” She tugged at the hem of her skirt. “Would you arrange for me to have access to Rosethorn tomorrow night?”
“On one condition.” He took her hand in his, startled to feel how cold she was. “Will you forgive me for behaving like a brute?”
“There’s nothing to forgive.” She hesitated before she stood on her toes and kissed his mouth, her lips soft and damp. “I’ll see you soon.” She unlocked the door and fled.
Will considered following her, but the taste of her tears still lingered on his mouth. That and her strange reaction to his lovemaking had him in complete upheaval. She was his friend, his lover—how could his advances have shocked her? Why would she refuse him after they had found pleasure in each other so many times?
Reese’s tresoran training included a thorough understanding of the ways of his kind. She knew how determined Kyn males became when they were aroused by a human female. Centuries of discipline and self-denial had taught Will to control his instincts and appetites, so she had never been in any real danger. He would rather fall on a bed of copper swords before he hurt a woman, mortal or Kyn, and yet . . . He suddenly realized something else that had happened, something he barely recalled.
In those stark moments as he had pulled her to the floor and put himself between her soft thighs, his dents acéréeshad stretched into his mouth, fully extended, eager for the hot richness of her blood.
This, when he’d fed well from the stores Robin kept at the penthouse before escorting his master to the club. His need for human blood, the only form of nourishment he could take, should not have returned until he woke tomorrow night. Nor should he have had such a primal reaction to Reese. In all the months they’d been lovers, he’d never once been tempted to feed on her. Tonight he suspected he could have drained her dry.