His desires could lead to betrayal.
But without each other, neither can survive the dangers ahead.
Annie Freemont knows this isn’t the right time to get involved with a man like Chase. After years of distrust, she’s finally drawing close to her estranged family, and he’s an employee on their estate in Maine. Though she never intended to stay on the estate for long, her father’s illness and the mysteries surrounding her family made leaving impossible. And now with the newfound hope of rescuing her long-missing mother, Annie’s determined to be involved with the family’s plans one way or another.
If only she could keep her mind off Chase and focus on the impending rescue. But there’s something about the enigmatic Chase that she can’t resist. And she’s not the only woman. Annie fears a seductive stranger who is key to safely freeing her mother is also obsessed with him. As plans transform into action and time for a treacherous journey into a strange world draws near, every move Annie makes will test the one bond she’s trusted with her secrets, her desires—and her heart.
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Beyond Your Touch
A Dark Heart Novel
By Pat Esden
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Patricia AR Esden
All rights reserved.
Bury the truth in robes of marble and ivy, In halls of learned books and tomes ripe with false beliefs. But it still breathes, still whispers and waits.
— Excerpt from Devils and Djinn
By Samuel Freemont
His neck tasted like strawberry jelly. Well, actually like jelly and powdered sugar — which was no surprise since we'd spent the last hour wreaking havoc on his freshly washed sheets, first by having a jelly doughnut fight, and then by making love in said newly created mess. Chase was no slouch when it came to lovemaking, far from it. But the doughnut fight had made me laugh until I cried. In all honesty, I'm not sure which I enjoyed more, the fight or the sex — or seeing him laugh, his mind and body off-duty for a change, just there in the moment with me.
Chase rolled me onto my back and straddled me, his forehead resting against mine, his soft blue aura soaking my skin with warmth. We kissed again, gently this time, lips moving in a slow, delicious waltz. I broke away and wiggled a bit lower, trailing kisses down his neck and licking a lingering dab of jelly off his collarbone. He flinched when the tip of my tongue brushed the scarred skin just below his left shoulder, a fist-size mark created so many years ago by Malphic's branding iron.
It was hard to even begin to think about how different Chase's childhood and mine had been: me traveling and dealing antiques with my dad, blissfully unaware that the stories he told me about magic and his family were real — and Chase kidnapped from his human mother, taken to the djinn realm, branded and enslaved by his genie father, and raised to be a Death Warrior until my family rescued him five years ago. It was crazy. Almost unbelievably so, but it was the truth.
The phone on the floor beside his bed jangled, and our private world evaporated as Chase climbed over me and sat on the edge of the bed to read the text.
"Damn. I was supposed to go see your grandfather this morning." He was up, grabbing his briefs and jeans, his aura fading with each step.
In less than a dozen strides, he was across his attic bedroom and into the tiny half bath. It wasn't like Chase's and my growing relationship was a secret, something banned because I was a Freemont and he worked for my family. But finding any semblance of privacy had proven impossible with both of us living on my family's estate of Moonhill. It had been a month since I'd first come here with Dad and things had started to sizzle with Chase. Still, we'd only managed to spend the whole night together a couple of times. Mostly we stole our alone time when and where we could, like this morning.
I retrieved my jeans and shirt from the floor, then glanced out the window. It had been foggy and barely dawn when I'd driven the ATV up from the main house to have doughnuts and coffee at the cottage with Chase. Now the fog had lifted and sunshine brightened everything. It had to be close to eight or nine o'clock.
My eye caught the movement of a dozen black sheep drifting under Chase's clothesline and headed around the corner of the cottage toward the estate's front gate.
"Chase?" I turned toward the bathroom. "I'm guessing the sheep aren't supposed to be wandering around in your yard?"
"Crap!" He flew out of the bathroom and dashed down the stairs. His footsteps stopped and he called back up to me. "Don't worry about the mess. I'm doing laundry later. And Annie, I'm sorry about running off like this."
"Don't worry. I'll be right down to help." I made my own quick trip to the bathroom and headed down the narrow stairs to find him. I didn't know a thing about sheep, but I was sure he could use an extra hand with rounding them up or something.
Once downstairs, I started across Chase's tiny living room. There wasn't much in it: a secondhand couch, a chair, some exercise equipment, a coffee table, and an ivy plant he'd picked up after I started visiting. Through the front windows, I had a view across the sheep-covered lawn to where a black Jaguar had stopped on its way out the gate. Chase stood with one hand on its roof, hunched over, talking to the person riding shotgun. My grandfather. It looked like my uncle David was driving and someone was in the backseat. My dad.
My shoulders tensed. Last night, Dad hadn't mentioned going anywhere. He hadn't texted or left a voice-mail message, either. For that matter, I'd never seen all three of them go anywhere together. What the heck was going on?
I found my cardigan on the coffee table next to our empty coffee mugs and Chase's blue yarn and knitting needles. Snagging it, I shoved my arms into the sleeves and launched myself out the front door.
Undoubtedly my early-morning presence at the cottage would confirm Uncle David's conviction that I had the morals of a sewer rat. Well, to hell with him. I was twenty, after all. Chase and me hanging out together shouldn't get anyone's panties in a bunch. But David would hassle my dad, who in turn would tell me to be more discreet and to not forget to use protection — and remind me that Chase was half genie as if that might call for some kind of magical contraceptive. Which would make me blush and worry Dad might be right.
A knowing smile tugged at the corner of my grandfather's mouth as I jogged between the sheep and up to the car. I put my hands on my hips and glared through the open front-passenger window. "So, what's going on?" I asked.
"Apparently, they're going to Slovenia," Chase said, folding his arms across his chest.
I let my glare dart past Grandfather and to my dad in the backseat. "Slovenia? Don't you think you might have said something? What the heck's in Slovenia?"
Dad's eyes sparkled with excitement. "A bone flute, a twin to the Divje Babe. But more recently discovered and still in private hands at this moment. If our theory's correct, it can be used to open the veil between realms, and more specifically to break through even a warded veil. Interesting, wouldn't you say?"
My pulse jumped at the possibilities and I nodded my agreement. My mother had been Malphic's prisoner in the djinn realm since before Chase had been kidnapped and enslaved. The family had tried to rescue her, but failed when Malphic used a warding spell to seal the veil before everyone could escape. If this flute could do what they thought, then we'd be able to attempt another rescue — like as soon as they got back.
I tilted my head, studying Dad intently. "Are you sure it'll work?"
"Fairly sure, but that's where we need yours and Selena's help," he said.
Grandfather patted my hand. "Talk to your aunt Kate, she'll tell you all about it."
"We need to get going," Uncle David grumbled.
The car rolled forward a few inches, but I held on to the window's edge a moment longer. Acquiring a flute in Slovenia had to be safer than fighting a vengeful genie and his shadow-henchmen, and we'd all survived that. Still I didn't believe for a second I was hearing the whole story. "Be careful," I said.
Dad gave me a quick air-kiss and a wave good-bye. "Don't worry. This is going to be easy." His tone was light, but there was a catch in his voice.
I waved back, then hugged myself as the Jaguar glided through the open gateway and disappeared down the road beyond.
An uneasy feeling twitched in my stomach. Dad hadn't sounded that confident, not at all.
I pushed my worry down deeper, locking it away. Everything would be fine. Of course it would. It had to be.CHAPTER 2
Flutes created from bones that once gave swans flight or carried the weight of lumbering bears now transport us to otherworlds on the notes of a song.
— From the Scroll of Zitherod.
Translation by Dr. Rupert Bancroft Walpole
Chase gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Don't worry. They'll be fine."
"Maybe," I said. "But no one's going to convince me that acquiring an artifact like that isn't risky, most likely downright dangerous. And there's the little issue of how legal it is — and getting it past customs and into this country."
"They know what they're doing."
"I suppose." Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the sheep once again wandering in the direction of the open gateway. Chase must have noticed them too because he took off after them, whistling and waving his arms to herd them back into the yard. I raced after a couple of stragglers. And in no time at all, we had the whole flock across the lawn, funneling up a footpath toward their shedlike barn and pasture.
"Must be a break in the fence," Chase said as we stopped to catch our breath.
I moved in close to him. "I'd stay and help you look for it, but it sounds like Kate's expecting me." I tilted my chin up and looked into his eyes, hoping to score a last-minute kiss.
"Yeah, I'm curious to hear more about what's going on too." His voice betrayed nothing, but the smolder in his ocean-deep eyes told me that I was going to get my way, and that perhaps he was recalling a bit of the Doughnut Olympics as well.
A flutter of desire danced in my stomach. I raked my fingers up his chest and readied to go up on my tiptoes. But a pang of anxiety mingled with the flutters, and I lowered my hands and gaze. I needed to finish talking about my worries before we got distracted by more pleasant things. Besides, getting it all out with him would make it easier to face Kate.
I took a deep breath. "It's not just the Slovenia trip that's bothering me. I'm terrified about what comes next. It sounds awful, but —" I looked back up. "I love my mom. I want her back. But my dad ... I hate the idea of him vanishing into their realm like she did, whether he has a magic flute or not. We just saved him from one genie. I don't want to lose him to another one. And I know there's no way to talk him out of going."
Chase brushed a wisp of hair back from my face. "Nothing's going to go wrong." He slid his fingers down my jawline, gave me a quick peck on the lips, then turned away and started toward the footpath. Miffed that he hadn't gone in for a real kiss and convinced he was finished talking, I was about to go after him and launch into all the reasons why everything could go wrong, when I heard him mumble, "I'll make sure of it."
"What?" I said, hoping I'd heard wrong and mortified by what it could mean.
He kept walking up the footpath, wading through the sheep.
My cheeks burned with anger. He couldn't be planning to ... he wouldn't!
I stormed up the path, sheep bawling and pushing forward. I caught up with him at the barnyard gate. My voice rose an octave. "You can't just say something like that and walk away. You're not going to the realm. You can't."
He tugged the gate open and the sheep siphoned through. "I shouldn't have said anything," he muttered.
"Well, I'm glad you did. I'm terrified enough for Dad. But you? It's too dangerous."
His unflinching eyes locked with mine, nailing the truth to my heart. "Who would you rather have go, your uncle David or someone like Tibbs who doesn't know a thing about the realm?"
The ache in my chest transformed into a numbing chill. I wished with every inch of my being that it weren't the case, but he was right. Plus, I totally understood that his desire went beyond his knowledge of the realm and the djinn. My mother had been the closest thing he'd had to a mom in the realm and she'd given up her chance for escape so he could get away.
He pulled the gate shut, then rested his hands on its top rail and stared out at the sheep and the hillside beyond it. When he spoke, it was as if he were talking to himself as much as to me. "I knew it wouldn't be long before we'd have to go to the realm. I should have been expecting it, should have been training, getting in the zone. But — you and me — I lost track of things."
I slipped up next to him and ran my hand along the rail until my pinky nudged his. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I mean, I was scared before and now —" I swallowed a lump in my throat. "I know you have to go. It's better for everyone. And I promise, between now and then, I'm going to help find the safest possible way for you all to do it."
The sheep had wandered farther off now, heading out of the barnyard and up toward the cemetery that was their favorite place to graze. Up there was a headstone with my mother's name on it. My grandmother's grave was up there too.
A sick feeling crashed over me and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to hold back a flood of painful memories. Since a few weeks ago when I'd broken the spell Aunt Kate had used to protect me from the anguish of remembering my mother's kidnapping, a million flashes from my early childhood had returned to me, too many memories to fully comprehend at once. But over time their meanings and connections had become clear. Some were wonderful. Others — like the ones roiling in my head right now — haunted me and filled me with shame.
Chase slid his hand over mine, the warmth of his touch driving off the memories for a second. "When I'm with you, I don't think about anything else." His voice lowered, almost to a whisper. "It's not easy, keeping my aura under control so no one will see it. Letting go when I'm with you, the rush of being myself is better than anything else. But Annie — when I go into the realm, I need to have total focus and control...."
His voice faded into the distance as the memories assaulted me again. I had to tell him what I'd recalled, especially with the reality of my mother's rescue and homecoming drawing close. If I kept what had happened to myself, the guilt and shame would burn a hole right through me. If anyone deserved blame for my mother being trapped in the djinn realm it wasn't him. It was me. "Chase," I said softly.
He turned toward me. "Yeah?"
The morning sun slanted across his face, sending shadows gliding along his jawline. I could have stared at that face forever, the strength of its lines, the hint of dark stubble, his tan, his dark cropped hair, his amazing eyes. He was beautiful, and he was about to risk his life to keep my dad safe and rescue my mom. Lives I should be saving because I alone was responsible for setting in motion the events that led to her kidnapping — and to my grandmother's death.
My chest tightened and I swallowed back my words. Telling him would ease my anxiety. But he had enough to think about without shouldering my secrets. Besides, I wanted to enjoy every minute I could with him. Once — or if — Mother came back, decisions would have to be made: if she and Dad were going to live here or go back to our house in Vermont, where I was going to stay ... things like that. It seemed far off in the future right now, but I'd also planned on taking a Sotheby's course in London this fall, to work toward my goal of becoming a certified fine art appraiser. Dad had even agreed to pay for it. I had to decide if I still wanted to do that. "Nothing," I said. "It just — it kind of pissed me off when you didn't kiss me. Like, really kiss me."
An amused smile twitched at the corner of his mouth and a glisten sparkled in his eyes. "You sure you can handle it?"
A wildfire ignited inside me and I giggled as he dramatically swept one hand around my waist, dipping me backward like a Disney prince sweeping his princess into a kiss. His lips smothered my laughter. I hooked my hands around his neck and returned his kiss, openmouthed, our lips and tongues teasing and tantalizing each other's. His lips withdrew for a heartbeat, then returned even more insistent, his free hand claiming my chin, holding me prisoner, making me surrender to a round of even more sultry kisses. A blast of pleasure shuddered through me and I groaned. His lips left mine, nibbling their way to my ear.
"Better?" he whispered.
"And then some." I could barely breathe.
"I'm thinking one more," he said.
Two or maybe three kisses after that, I drifted back to the cottage, squashed on my helmet, and took off on the ATV. As I headed up the driveway, I was lost in the buzz still zinging through my body and the vibrating hum of the engine. But when I reached where the drive overlooked the sprawling main house and the ocean beyond, my searing guilt and shame returned with a vengeance, and those unrelenting memories hit me full force.
Excerpted from Beyond Your Touch by Pat Esden. Copyright © 2016 Patricia AR Esden. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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