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Authors: Ann Mayburn

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BOOK: Dreamer
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Not moving, she pulled some air into her nose and gasped. It
was the dark spice that she had smelled at the market, but more intense. Warm,
rich, it stroked along her senses and left her wanting to rub her face against
his body. To roll in his scent like a kitten with catnip. Unable to help
herself, she leaned further forward and placed her nose almost to his skin, the
warmth of his body flooding her. Taking a deep inhalation from him this close
was almost drugging and she opened her mouth, breathing hard against his neck
as her clit began to pulse with the beat of her heart. Just the slightest bit
of distance would close the distance between her mouth and his skin. If he
smelled this good he must taste divine.

To her disappointment, Devon pulled away before she could
lick him. When her passion dazed gaze met his laughing one her arousal fled. A
smug smile curved his deliciously full lips and brought her back to earth with
a snap. He knew exactly the kind of effect he had on her, and he enjoyed it.
Wanting to wipe that smug expression off his face, she said, “Man, you smell
like a French whorehouse on dollar night.”

His dark eyebrows flew up in shock as Jack fumbled his yo-yo
and laughed himself off the couch. Standing up, Devon placed his arms on either
side of her and leaned in. “Do you want to know what you smell like?”

“No,” she said in barely audible whisper. Even breathing out
of her mouth, his scent filled her soul. A rill of energy moved over her body,
and she relaxed into it.

“You smell like jasmine and honey.” He took a deep breath,
his big chest expanding as his arms flexed on either side of her. “Soft and
delicious. Too bad the inside doesn't match the outside.”

“Ouch,” Jack muttered from the couch. “That was below the
belt.”

His mean remark cut her deeper than she would have expected,
and it took all her self-control to keep from scratching his beautiful eyes out
or breaking out into unexpected tears. Jerking back from her, Devon strode over
to the windows and looked out at the street below.

“Fuck you,” she muttered and stood abruptly. “Jack, I'm out
of here.”

Holding his hands up, Jack said in a soothing voice, “Shan,
I'm sorry. Devon shouldn't have said that.” She tried to walk around him, and
he blocked the way. “You can't leave.”

“Oh yes I can, watch me.”

Jack blocked the hallway entrance, becoming an immovable
wall in an orange Hawaiian print shirt. “No, you can't. Not without Devon.”

“What?” She tried to shove at him, and he didn't budge. “You
can go eat a dick if you think that Captain Asshole is going anywhere with me.”

Big arms unexpectedly wrapped around her and picked her up
as if she weighed nothing at all. Struggling against him, she tried to kick out
his kneecap and head butt him to no avail. A deep laugh rumbled through his
chest and vibrated against her body like an erotic tuning fork. “My name is
Devon, not Captain Asshole. I've been assigned by my god to keep you alive long
enough to enter your time of trial, and I will do it even if it kills me.”

“Get your hands off me!” He walked her across the room and
plopped her back in her chair.

“Shan, he's telling the truth.” Jack took his cell phone out
of his pocket. “I hate to have to do this, but I've got to pull out the big
guns. You have to believe us, and you have to understand how important this is.
Normally I’d encourage you to kick Devon in the balls, but this is about more
than him being a dick. So I need both of you to grow up.”

The irony of Jack telling her to grow up made her glare at
Devon who gave her a smug look and pursed his lips in a kiss. Damn, he had a
mouth she would love to taste. Asshole. Seething, Shan kicked out at Devon from
the chair and snarled when he easily dodged her foot. His mocking grin had her
digging her hands into the arms of the chair. Never, ever, had she wanted to
kill and fuck a man more than Mr. Devon King, and at the moment she was leaning
towards the kill side.

Jack pushed Devon out of his way and stood in front of her.
“Hello, Royce?”

Blinking up at Jack, she tried to pretend that he was
talking to some other Royce, not her dad.

“Good to hear you too. I have a problem that I need your
help with.” Jack's gaze was sympathetic, and she returned it with a glare.
“Actually, Shan has a problem, and she needs your help to understand what’s
going on.” Jack's eyebrows rose in surprise. “Yeah, how did you know?”

She tapped her hands on the chair and tried to ignore Devon
again. “Why is he talking to my dad?” she spat out.

Devon ignored her as well and kept his focus on Jack while
he spoke to her dad. “She's been assigned a mentor. Devon King. Uh-huh, yeah, I
thought you would know Nuri.” Jack ignored her silent demands for the phone.
“Loki and Mentu both demand that he stay with her day and night. Yeah, shit is
that serious. She's right here.”

Grabbing the phone from Jack, Shan hated the quaver in her
voice as she said, “Dad, what's going on?”

Royce sighed heavily on the other end. “I can't talk about
it with you, Shan.” She started to protest and he cut her off. “Listen to me.
You have to do what Mr. King says. He is your best chance at surviving. Please,
honey, please let him help you.”

“Why?” She stood and turned her back on Jack and Devon. “Why
are people trying to hurt me? Were those attacks my fault?”

“No,” Devon said from over her shoulder, and Royce echoed
him on the phone.

Royce said in a low voice, “Shan, I'm proud of you. Only a
tiny fraction of humanity is ever considered for the honor of being a Chosen. I
have to go, but please believe me when I say that Devon King will do everything
he can to keep you safe. Please trust him.”

The line went dead, and it left her staring at the painting
on Jack's wall. At first, it looked like a random assortment of blobs of color.
Only when stepping back and expanding her view did she see that it was actually
a portrait of Chrissy, Jack's girlfriend.

“You painted this, didn't you?” she asked and tossed the
phone back to Jack.

He actually blushed. “Yeah, but don't let the word get out.
I don't want your art dork friends banging on my door asking for my autograph.”

Closing her eyes, Shan shook her head. “Devon, can we try to
talk like two normal human beings for a second?”

His expression was wary, but he nodded and sat on the edge
of his chair. “There are two forces in the world, Creation and Destruction.”

Jack pulled her down onto the couch next to him and ruffled
her hair. “We're the good guys, Creation.”

Devon ignored him and continued, “If you pass your time of
trial, and a Creation god or goddess chooses you, the Creation side gains a
powerful new warrior.”

She snorted. “I'm not really warrior material.”

“It's not only about physical strength.” Jack gestured to
Devon. “He's the Chosen of a War God, and that reflects in his personality and
body. I'm the Chosen of a God of Tricks and Mischief, and that reflects in my
personality.”

An unpleasant fear twisted her stomach. “I'm going to become
someone else if I become a Chosen?”

“No.” Jack shook his head and laced his hands together. “The
traits that make you compatible with the god are already there, but joining
with them makes those traits stronger.”

“Like Jack's trait of having the sense of humor of a
twelve-year-old boy.”

She almost laughed but schooled her features back into
disapproval. “Any idea who I might be the Chosen of?”

Devon kept his mouth shut, but Jack chuckled. “I'd guess a
war god or goddess.”

His response surprised her. Standing next to Devon, she
couldn't imagine anyone finding her intimidating. “War god? Why would you think
that?”

“The dominance thing you have going on with Devon.”

“What?” The word came out in a breathless gasp. How did he
know about her secret cravings? Had Daisy talked to him? Was it some special
Chosen skill, and most importantly, did Devon know?

Jack gave her a puzzled look at her stunned expression.
“Yeah. When two war powers get together, they always fight for dominance. That
might be why you and Devon seem to mix like oil and water.”

Devon shrugged. “It's part of who I am. War is about
dominance and winning.”

Relief swept through her, and she sat back against the
couch. “Oh.” Realizing the men were giving her worried looks, she sat back up.
“So who are these Destruction guys that will be trying to kill me?”

“Just like there are Creation gods, there are Destruction
gods. Who knows who is going to come after you, but Loki and Mentu are sure
it's going to happen.” Devon stood and strode to the window again. She couldn't
help but admire the way his body moved, all contained power and threat. A
predator in every sense of the word.

Glancing at her watch, she cursed. “Well, this has been fun,
but I have to get back to my studio and get some work done.” What she really
needed was some time to herself, away from Devon's overwhelming presence, in
order to try to process how her world had been turned upside down.

“Should I follow you, or do you want to ride together?”
Devon asked.

“What?” She seemed to be saying that a lot today.

His full lips twitched, and Jack patted her shoulder. “He's
coming with you.”

“The hell he is!” An image of him lounging on her couch,
looking all delicious and tempting flashed through her mind. Angry at her
body's betrayal, she squared her shoulders and threw her chin in the air. “He's
coming with me over my dead body.”

Chapter Eight

 

 

Shan slumped into the cream leather bucket seat of Devon's
Barracuda and sulked. “I don't have a spare room. You're sleeping on the
floor.”

“That's fine,” Devon said in a mild tone. You would never
know by his voice that he had just carried her kicking and screaming down the
stairs of Jack's apartment moments before. He certainly wasn’t out of breath
and her nipples were still hard from feeling his muscles flex beneath her while
he kept her secured in his arms. The man was freakishly strong, yet didn’t scare
her. Despite his manhandling, he’d been gentle, even when she’d wacked him
across the chest once he set her down. He merely chuckled, grabbed her hand and
examined her knuckles with a gentle touch that made her knees weak, then shoved
her into the car.

Led Zeppelin played softly out of the speakers, and the big
engine rumbled as they coasted through downtown D.C. They were on their way to
Devon's apartment so he could get some clothes and supplies. What kind of
supplies he would need, she had no idea.

“I only have one bathroom,” she added. “Sometimes the hot
water goes out.”

“I've had worse.”

The sunlight spilled over his face and cut off the sharp
angle of his jaw and cheekbones. He kept his gaze on the road, and she allowed
herself to admire the play of the muscles of his forearm. Once again the urge
to taste him filled her and she tried to keep her libido under control. At
least that tempting scent wasn’t coming from him at the moment.

“You know, this isn't happy fun-time for me either.” He
glanced at her, and she quickly turned to look out the window. “I should be
back with the rest of the Temple Guard, leading my men and women. Trying to
find out what happened at the bazaar to prevent it from happening again.” His
frustration leaked into his words, and she felt a momentary twinge of guilt.

“I have an air mattress, it’s comfy-kind of,” she blurted
out and closed her eyes at how dumb she sounded. She was an experienced and
accomplished woman with a string of lovers. Why did he make her feel like the
awkward girl she had been in junior high talking to the star quarterback?

“Better than the floor.” He turned up the music, and she
leaned her head back against the seat, uncrossing her arms. They didn’t speak
until they reached his apartment building near Capitol Hill. Her eyes grew wide
at the sight of the impressive glass and steel building before they drove into
the parking garage beneath.

She let out a low whistle. “They must pay Temple Guards
pretty good.”

The cars they passed in the underground garage cost more
than her apartment.

Devon grunted and swung them into a space. Unsure what to
say, she followed him in silence as they waited for the elevator. “So, uh,
Chosen of Mentu, huh?”

He looked around and said in a low voice, “Yes, but we try
to keep it under wraps.”

Biting her lower lip, she turned her gaze back to the
elevator doors. It seemed like no matter what they talked about, she couldn't
find a safe topic. The doors slid open, and they rode in silence to the twelfth
floor.

Thick cream and bronze carpet led them down the hall to his
apartment. Instead of using a key, he pressed his thumb to a pad. The door
beeped then swung open.

“Nifty,” she murmured and looked around the foyer.

It was not what she expected at all. Sage green walls
blended into the soft tan carpet. A large silver edged mirror stood against the
far wall, and she grimaced at their reflection. Devon looked like someone who
had stepped out of a magazine, and she felt small and pudgy standing next to
him. Turning her back on their image, she crossed her arms. “Did you decorate?”

He watched her closely and shook his head. When no more
information came out, she wandered down the hall into the living room. Black
leather furniture surrounded a giant TV with at least five different kinds of
video game systems arrayed beneath. With a grin, she picked up one of her
favorite games from the floor and examined the box. He had the collector's
edition.

Turning around, she let out a squeak as she almost ran into
the warm wall of his chest. The dark spice of his aura washed over her again,
and she went stiff, stepping back from him. Her physical attraction to him was
quickly getting to the point of being ridiculous. “You play Zombie Warz?”

The grin he gave her made her heart flutter. “Yeah. A couple
guards and I have a team going. We're pretty highly ranked in the tournaments.”

She couldn't help the giggle that burst out of her. “Devon,
you're a closet nerd.”

He gave her a narrow-eyed glare, but his lips still curved
into a smile. “I need to pack. Feel free to play a game if you want.”

Nodding, she turned instead to his bookshelf and tried to
make sense of his reading taste. Cookbooks, comics, novels, and photography
books lined the shelf in a mishmash of interests. One photo book caught her
attention. It was bound in shiny black vinyl with no words on the front or
spine. Curious, she flipped to a random page and almost dropped the book in
shock.

In black and white, a woman lay stretched out on some type
of table, naked. Above her, another woman dropped wax from a candle onto her
chest. Her nipples were covered in the wax, and her head was thrown back in a
silent gasp of pleasure as another drop hung suspended in time over her chest.

Licking her lips, she glanced down the hallway and checked
for Devon. A quick flip to another page showed a different scene. This time it
was a close-up of a whip wrapping around the sensual curve of a woman's bare
bottom and hip. Discolored lines from previous strikes showed on her flesh, and
the tasseled end disappeared into the shadow of her waist.

Heat and desire rushed through Shan’s body at the naughty
images. Page after page of carnality, tastefully captured on film, filled her
mind and she pressed her thighs together, trying to ease the ache building
there. She was wet, really wet, and she bet if she touched herself while
looking at these pictures she’d come in two seconds. A sound came from down the
hall, and she fumbled the book, trying to shove it back into the bookcase. She
didn't even attempt to work one of the video game systems. Instead, she swiftly
moved to stand in front of the window to look out at the fantastic view of
Capitol Hill in the distance.

Her nipples rubbed against the silk of her shirt and her
pussy throbbed. What could that book mean? Was Devon into BDSM? She didn't see
any other books about it on his shelf. Maybe he’d gotten it for the pictures of
the naked women instead of what they were doing. Yeah, that was probably it.
Men liked to look at naked women no matter what they were doing. One could take
pictures of a naked woman peeling potatoes and men would still find it hot. Or,
thinking about the image on the random page she’d opened, a naked woman having
a screaming orgasm while a dark and dangerous man spanked her.

Gods, she wished she had someone to do those things to her.

“You eat yet?” His voice startled her, and she tried to give
him a stern look.

“Can you try to make some noise like a normal human being
when you walk?” She tugged her jacket closer, glad the thick leather hid how
aroused she was.

His eyes scanned her from top to bottom, and his nostrils
flared. Avoiding his gaze, she wandered over to the kitchen and prayed with all
her heart that he couldn't smell her arousal. That wasn't possible, was it?

“What's for lunch?” She took a seat on one of the leather
bar stools on the other side of the cream granite counter.

He brushed his thumb over his lips, and she followed that
slight drag of skin. So full, his mouth was made for sin. “How about peanut
butter and jelly?”

“With all those cookbooks? I was expecting something more.”
Internally she winced. Damn, why did she say that? Now he knew she had looked
at his bookshelf.

“An ex-girlfriend tried to domesticate me. Didn't work.” A
loaf of bread hit the counter.

“So what's our plan for the day?”

Wondering if there would ever be a time when she didn't
blush in front of him, she said, “I have to meet a friend at five.”

He nodded, and a jar of grape jelly joined the bread on the
counter. “Where at?”

“The Temple of Aphrodite.” She tried to keep her expression calm
but licked her lips in a nervous gesture that ruined any attempt at serenity.

Slapping the sandwiches shut, he licked the peanut butter
off the knife in a long stroke of his tongue. She almost passed out. “Odd place
to meet a friend.”

“Her name is Daisy. She's my best friend, and her mom is the
High Priestess.”

“Nina?”

“Yeah, you know her?” She took a giant bite of her sandwich
while he poured them glasses of milk. At least with a mouthful of food she had
an excuse not to talk.

“I've met her before.” He gave her a wink. “I've known quite
a few of her priestesses very—” He took a drink of his milk. “Very well.”

Disturbed by the feelings of jealousy this statement brought
out in her, she took another bite of the sandwich and rolled her eyes.

Devon licked the jelly off his fingers, and she watched
those wonderful lips again. He didn't seem to be making an effort to make the
gesture sexual. It was probably her overactive imagination. She remembered the
sight of their reflection and how out of her league he was. Men like him didn't
go for girls that wore anything above a size two. Certainly not a double-digit
size.

“So why are you meeting her at the temple?”

“Uh, personal stuff,” she muttered around a wad of sandwich.

Chewing slowly, he leaned back against the refrigerator.
“Anything I can help with?”

She sincerely hoped he would think her constant blush was a
sign of high blood pressure. What she wanted to say was,
Yes, oh gods, yes
. What she said was, “Nope.”

Shrugging those big shoulders, he ate the last of his lunch
and drained his milk.

 

****

 

As usual, there was a line to get into the Temple of
Aphrodite. It seemed like everyone wanted better luck in love, or a better sex
life, and the love and sensuality Gods and Goddesses of every denomination
always had active Temples. Full of nerves, Shan got in line with Devon behind
an older couple. Images of Aphrodite done in glass tiles gleamed in the golden
lighting of the temple. A subtle scent of flowers perfumed the air, and it was
warm enough that she started to feel hot in her jacket.

Devon shifted impatiently behind her. “Follow me,” he said
and took off with his usual arrogant stalk.

Trying to ignore the glares of the people waiting in line,
she said in a low voice, “What are you doing?”

“Pulling rank,” he said with an unapologetic grin. Passing
the line of people, he stopped before the novice in charge of blessing those
who entered the temple.

The beautiful brunette novice with big green eyes looked up
as they approached, and her carefully lipsticked mouth opened into an O of
surprise. Shan was too busy mentally berating herself for the unreasonable bite
of jealousy at the way the priestess eyed Devon to notice that he had stopped
walking.

She ran into his back with an ungraceful stumble and felt
her new best friend, embarrassment, stain her cheeks with heat.

The novice gave her a brief, dazed glance-it really was
unfair how Devon managed to reduce women to puddles of hormones, then turned
all her attention, and charm, on Devon. “How can I help you?”

Even the lady in the suit that was waiting her turn gave the
novice an arched eyebrow at the sensual purr of her voice.

“Temple business,” he answered in a deep rumble that had all
the women in hearing distance sighing. He flashed a badge in his wallet, and
the novice looked at him through her lashes. Trying to fight off her own body’s
favorable reaction, Shan tried to tell herself how disgusting it was he could
affect women so easily.

“Of course.” The novice placed Devon’s hand over the swell
of her considerable breasts and blessed him with enough heat to boil water. It
was certainly enough heat to boil Shan's blood.

Devon stepped back, and the novice continued to stare at
him. “And my friend?”

“Oh, yes.” The novice tore her gaze away from Devon and onto
Shan.

As the novice placed Shan's hand over her heart, Shan felt
something stir inside of her. Their gaze met and Shan found herself thinking
how the novice had the cutest freckles high on her cheekbones. For some reason,
she found her body warming beneath the novice’s gaze, a strange lethargy
filling her that left her relaxed and pliant while energy flowed through her
body. That unfamiliar stirring moved through her body like the caress of
crimson silk sheets and into her hand over the woman's chest. Power rose between
them in a warm rush and Shan was faintly aware of Devon telling people to move
back.

Never breaking their gaze, the novice welcomed Shan to the
temple and gave her a blessing powerful enough that a hard throb of desire
pulsed through Shan’s body, making her gasp. The novice faltered in her words
and bit her lower lip. Her hands reached out to Shan, and her fingertips grazed
her cheeks.

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