Authors: Deborah MacGillivray
NEW YORK CITY
Raven laughed, but suddenly clicking noises sounded and the Gypsy woman moved. Her carved hands once more passed over the huge crystal ball, which began to glow a faint luminous blue, the colors within seeming to swirl. The mannequin tilted her head faintly side-to-side, then her eyes closed. When the lids lifted, those amber orbs gazed at Raven with such intensity it was hard to recall the figure was only a carved figure in a box. Finally, another click sounded and a card ejected on the side. Raven stared at the lifelike woman, unable to move.
Shaking off her silliness, Raven reached out and took the card. The Lovers. She stared at the image on the card’s face, once more feeling the hand of Fate molding her future. A warning buzzed in her blood as she studied the image, reluctant to turn it over, fearful to read the fortune on the reverse.
Brishen nudged her elbow. “Go on. See the rest of your fortune. The Gypsy, she promises romance to come—a big handsome lover, eh? But what else does she say?”
Feeling one door close on her life and another open, Raven flipped the card over. A bubbly laugh escaped as she saw the words written there:
Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Miss Fuzz and I miss you
and to some very special ladies
Diane Davis White, Diane Mae Thompson, Monika
Wolmarans and Leanne Burroughs
and all who have
fought the battle and survived!
“Sometimes, Trev, when you least expect it, life grabs you by the short and curlies and gives you a firm squeeze.” Trevelyn Sinclair Mershan vented his frustration to the pair of accusing green eyes staring back at him from his rearview mirror, and oddly he felt for an instant as if he gazed at his twin brother. Looking at the reflection was like looking at Jago; they were nearly that identical—on the outside. Inside they were nothing alike. Saint Jago served as the conscience of the three Mershan brothers.
“And me? Well, they might wonder if I have horns hidden in hair.” Trev laughed. “They might be right, too.”
He down-shifted the powerful Lamborghini Murciélago, burying the tachometer into the red. His fingers flexed around the gearshift, relishing the engine’s deep growl of protest; the sound evoked an image of a panther roaring in the night. At one with the darkness surrounding him, he guided the sleek black roadster toward his destination. He was a fool to come here, he knew that only too well. Regardless, he was lured onward, unable to resist.
“Ulysses was tempted by a siren’s song. Why should I be any different?” he said with a touch of self-derision.
Once more, he glanced at the mirror. Questions were reflected in his eyes—questions he didn’t like. They asked why he raced through the night, compelled toward his goal against his nature. But this was a fool’s errand, and he wasn’t even going to summon reasons to justify what he was doing. They’d be lies.
As a vice president of Mershan International, so many responsibilities weighed upon his shoulders. Frequently
he did deals worth millions of dollars before lunch—hundreds of millions. His signature on a contract often affected thousands of lives. He liked the control.
“Like it? Bloody hell. I get off on it.”
And women…Well, he never had the need to chase any female. All he had to do was stand still and they were all over him. It was often humorous, the lengths they would go to end up on his arm—and in his bed. A parade of beauties had traipsed through his life, few ever lasting long enough to leave a lingering impression. “Flavors of the month,” Agnes Dodd, his sour-faced secretary, was fond of sneering. Yet for the first time in his life, Trev was going after a woman. It rankled.
She wasn’t merely a woman, either. Raven Montgomerie was a riddle. Perhaps that was why he’d been unable to put the portfolio aside and go to bed tonight, leaving all this business until the gala tomorrow. The sexy redhead haunted his waking hours. She invaded his dreams—dreams so vivid that he’d repeatedly awoken bathed in sweat, his body cramped with agonizing need. Endless cold showers did little to chase away his persistent hunger. Trev was tired of reading reports and staring at the stack of photographs of Raven, irritated he had a hard time making the words and pictures go together. Most frustrating of all, he refused to face the fact that he hadn’t taken another woman to bed since he’d seen her five months ago. His brother Jago would howl with laughter if he ever got wind of that.
“You’re bloody losing it, old son.” He clucked his tongue in a manner Jago often did when trying to shame him into being good.
Why should Raven have such a hold over him when they’d never even spoken? She was a beautiful woman, true, but then all the Montgomerie sisters were. One of the pampered granddaughters of Sean “Midas” Montgomerie, she’d been raised in the lap of luxury. A silver spoon wasn’t good enough for her; only a service of
gold graced the table of Colford Hall where she’d been reared.
Lights of the ancient manor came into view as Trev rounded the bend. In response, his muscles tensed and his heart rate jumped. The glimmering windows cast their pale yellow light out onto the rolled lawn. Trev slowed the car to a crawl as he wheeled past the towering, ornate gates before the winding drive, taking in the 14th-century manor house and swallowing back hate. This palace in all its five-story splendor, this epitome of a wealthy English estate, was a picture of obscenity and unfairness to him and to his brothers.
Oddly, Raven Montgomerie eschewed living in residence, opting instead to make her home in a thatched cottage on the far side of the vast estate. Raven doing this simply made no sense. Why live in a small house barely of notice when she could reside in the regal elegance of Colford and have servants waiting on her hand and foot? People would kill to have the life she was born into. Contrarily, Raven chose a path of modest means and generally kept to herself. Trev supposed that, after learning how the other sisters lived, this bent of Raven’s shouldn’t perplex him to the point of obsession. One of the older sisters, BarbaraAnne, stayed on a small isle in the north of Scotland, while Raven’s twin Asha lived in some strange time warp, running several small businesses out in the middle of bloody nowhere Kentucky.
“Lady Contradiction is thy name, Raven Montgomerie. But you’re a puzzle I intend to unriddle. Then you’ll vex me no more,” Trev said softly.
Small muscles that bracketed his mouth deepened at the idea of Raven also being a twin. It gave him and Raven a commonality, an understanding of what it was like to share your physical likeness with another person while your thoughts and feelings were totally different. That alone set Raven above any other woman he’d been with.
Irritation unfurling, he punched the gas pedal and flew down the lane. These narrow roads through the English countryside were like a racecourse, and it was a true challenge to go as fast as he did—a challenge he savored.
A short distance later, he slowed to take a turnoff. Most people would zoom past and never notice the narrow track; its surface was nearly nonexistent, possibly the remnants of an old Roman way. Fortunately the Lamborghini sat low, for several tree branches bowed almost to the ground. One slapped at the car as it passed, making a noise like fingernails on a chalkboard, and Trev grimaced.
“Bloody hell, I really liked this car. Oh well, maybe midnight blue for the next one,” he mused. He traded cars nearly as often as he did women. His smirk became a scowl as the gas pan hit a rut in the road. “Hmm…definitely midnight blue.”
The flicker of lights appeared in the distance, so he shut off the headlights and slowed the roadster even more. He didn’t want Raven to spot him coming.
All things weighed, he wasn’t sure why he’d picked Raven as the sister to target. Perhaps the predator in him viewed her as the weak link. Possibly it was something more, some influence he didn’t even begin to fathom. He enjoyed strong women, females who didn’t play coy. A quick assessment of the Montgomerie sisters would peg them all as warrior stock with a natural ability to intimidate men. Not Raven. Haunting vulnerability wrapped her like a mantle, and in a strange fashion this intrigued Trev, evoked a fey response that defied labels, unlike anything he’d ever encountered.
As a rule, softer women failed to hold his attention. He took pleasure in the challenge of the hunt, the clash of wills—yet none of the other vibrant siblings mesmerized him in the manner Raven did. Trev could enumerate excuses why the other sisters failed to conjure his interest. One-by-one he’d crossed them off the list, coming up
with various logical reasons to give each a pass and leaving Raven, some might remark, as the last choice. Something told him that wasn’t true, though. Raven would never be the last choice. She was the first and only choice.
As a small knoll materialized in the fog, he cut the wheel, switched off the engine and allowed the car to coast across the lawn to a halt under an oak tree. The slight roll in the landscape saw the mound overlooking the thatched house, nestled into the odd crook in the land.
“My, what a perfect location for tonight’s bit of work,” he said, his voice loud in the still night. “All the better to spy upon you, Little Red Riding Hood.”
Pocketing his keys, he opened the car’s gull-wing door and then paused with his foot balanced on the frame while his eyes took in Raven’s home. The bungalow was two stories, though the second level was likely just a bedroom and bath due to the steep incline of the roof. The only time Trev had been in a thatched house was when he was small, in the months after his father committed suicide. But he’d been too young to remember that time in Ireland the way his older brother Des did. And while Trev had expected to look down his nose at Raven’s humble home, instead he was fascinated. An air of warmth and welcome beckoned him toward the cottage, which was aglow with amber lights.
He sat on the hood of the car and studied the whitewashed structure, trying to pinpoint Raven. Playing Peeping Tom was easy. The onetime gardener’s cottage was constructed of so much glass. There were two greenhouses, too, one on either side. The first had likely been a hothouse, the other for plants that required a more temperate clime. But Raven was an artist, a painter. The report Julian Starkadder had compiled said she was working toward a one-woman show for a local gallery come spring. The smaller glass room had been turned into a studio. Even from this distance Trev could see the easel, though
it was too far away to tell what was currently painted upon the large canvas.
Aside from the two glassed-in spaces, a dining room had been added, also with glass walls. Raven Montgomerie’s life was on display, but he figured she never considered that. Some beautiful women loved to put on a show for anyone looking—even Peeping Toms. Still, for someone as gorgeous as Raven, she didn’t live her life on the stage she created here; Trev was willing to bet the Lamborghini on that. Raven was far away from people, so she obviously felt no need to hide behind drapes.
“Where the hell are you, Red?” he asked. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
It was exasperating: all these walls of glass and he couldn’t spot her. He knew she was at home. She’d been working on preparation for the gala all day, doing final touches. After supper he’d grown twitchy, so had driven past the banquet hall that her brother, Cian, had rented for Montgomerie Enterprises’ big bash. As he spotted her coming out of the building, Trev swung into a parking lot down the road and watched while she slid into her ancient MGB. Keeping a distance, he followed her until she took the turnoff for this cottage. She was still here. His predator’s sense confirmed that.
Growing impatient, he pushed off his car and trotted toward the cottage. The MGB was parked at the side of the house, attesting to her presence within. Staying to the shadows, Trev circled around the larger greenhouse toward the back of the dwelling. As he passed the far side, he saw Raven. Her face was framed in the kitchen window, an overhead light nearly a spotlight on her. From her movements, he discerned she was washing dishes.
Her face was more than beautiful; it was arresting, with a hint of feline ethereality. While her jaw reflected the same Montgomerie stubbornness as her sisters, the thinness of her countenance softened the effect. Trev shuddered. His whole body cramped with longing.
“Longing?” he said aloud. The word caused him to pause. With any other woman he’d have said lust. Trevelyn Mershan didn’t long for women; he simply wanted to screw them. Once he achieved that aim, they lost any fascination. Longing required more than animal impulse. It spoke of something deeper.
Music floated through the night, and it took a moment to identify the song coming from the kitchen: “Constant Craving”—an oldie by K. D. Lang. Raven’s mouth moved as she sang along.
Though Trev couldn’t hear her, a shiver slipped up his spine. Yeah, he knew something about constant cravings. Five months of them. Ever since last May, at her grandfather’s funeral. He recalled sitting with his brothers at the rear of that small church, watching the seven Montgomerie sisters in the pews at the front, then later while they exited the ornate building. The memory haunted him. So peculiar: beyond her beauty, there was little about Raven that would normally attract him. No, Raven Montgomerie was
his taste in women. And yet, he’d known in that breathless instant when their eyes collided, outside the ancient Norman kirk, that in five months’ time he’d come for her, though hell should bar the way. She was the key to getting close to the Montgomeries, to finally meting out the long-overdue Mershan vengeance.
An inner voice warned Trev that he and his brothers’ objective had damn little to do with his coming here tonight. A ravenous need was rising in him, something dark, dangerous. A force primeval.
Raven had straight auburn hair that flowed down to the middle of her back. The shade was a bit darker than her twin’s. Right now, it was swept back in a ponytail, making her lovely face appear even younger. Trev wanted to go inside to her, to pull that black velvet band from around those dark red tresses, feel their heavy weight in his hands, then yank her head back and kiss her—kiss her until…until what? Until he woke up Sleeping Beauty.
She was hiding from the world here. She skirted along life’s edges, not putting her emotions out there, never taking risks.
“Too bad, Red. Life’s for the meat-eaters.” Trev smiled, feeling much like a wolf targeting a choice lamb to single out from the flock.
Raven reached up, snapped out the light above and moved away from the casement. It annoyed Trev he could no longer see her. Prickly, impatient compulsion crawled over his skin. He inched closer to the house, daring to go right up to the wall and look into the kitchen window. Inside, Raven was bent over, pouring dry cat food from a big bag into two bowls. The way those stretch jeans molded across her derrière riveted his attention, leading him to envision walking up behind her and running his hands over those curves. So intense was his fantasy, it took him a minute to notice the fat cats at her feet: one grey and one marmalade rubbed against her calves, meowing.
Trev almost laughed aloud as a new creature appeared: a seagull hopped up and began stealing pieces of food from the cats’ bowls. Hopped—because the silly bird only had one leg. The scene grew even more surrealistic when a fat black dog wandered in from the greenhouse. Trev blinked thrice, having a hard time believing his eyes. No, it wasn’t a dog but a tiny pony!
He shook his head as Raven sighed. “Come on, Marvin,” she ordered—though Trev was unsure whether she addressed the bird or the equine. “You know you’re not allowed in the main house. Just the greenhouse.” Then, leaving the cats and the seagull chowing down, she marched Marvin the Pony to the back of the house.