Read Marked Online

Authors: Elisabeth Naughton

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal

Marked

Marked
Elisabeth Naughton

LOVE SPELL   

PUBLISHER’S PLEDGE
MARKED

Dear Reader,

J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters. I’ve never been able to resist them. And I couldn’t resist Elisabeth Naughton’s Eternal Guardians either. There’s a reason they call the particularly hot men Greek gods.

Marked
brings you cursed warriors, an immortal woman with a serious grudge against the guys, and the ultimate protector who has to make a decision between killing the one he loves or watching his race be doomed to daemons. And just wait till you get to the kinky relationship between Hades and Persephone.

There’s an epic scope to this book that kept pulling me deeper and deeper into this mythical, mesmerizing world. It’s smart, sexy and utterly fresh. And after reading it, I’ll never be able to look at those Olympian gods in quite the same way.

Dorchester’s Publisher’s Pledge program is our way of identifying particularly special books by giving readers a risk-free guarantee. We feel so strongly about
Marked
, we’re willing to pay a full refund to anyone who doesn’t find it everything they want in a paranormal romance.

I sincerely hope that
Marked
enthralls you the way it did me. Welcome to the world of real heroes.

All best,

Leah Hultenschmidt

Editor

L
OSING IT
A
LL

Theron brushed a finger down Acacia’s cheek, watched her back rise and fall in deep sleep. Studied the way her lashes formed spiky crescent shapes on her pale cheeks. Her courage still awed him. Last night she’d been ready to take him on. There was no other female in the universe who would dare stand up to him when he was in one of his moods, but it hadn’t stopped her. She was fearless. And as selfless as he’d told the king. Everything he’d never wanted but now couldn’t imagine living without.

He’d known she was his from the first taste. Long before he’d ever slid deep inside her. If he’d been more in tune with his humanity, he would have recognized it the first time he’d kissed her back in her small house. But he hadn’t. Because he’d needed her to unlock that side of him he’d always repressed.

She was his curse. His soul mate. His life. And there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to keep her from dying.

For Alice, who listened to the idea for this book first and encouraged me to write it.

Alice, I blame you.

And next I caught a glimpse of powerful Heracles.
Around him cries of the dead rang out like cries of birds
Scattering left and right in horror as on he came like night…

—T
HE
O
DYSSEY

C
HAPTER
O
NE

Some nights, a woman just wanted to bash her brain against a wall to keep from screaming. For Casey Simopolous, this was one of those nights.

“Yo, sistah. My tongue’s not getting any wetter over here by itself.” The blond frat-boy wannabe at the other end of her section threw his arms out wide with a could-you-be-more-stupid? look on his face. “We gonna get those drinks or what?” The two idiots seated next to him at the small circular table laughed and slapped him on the shoulder in a you-da-man move that made Casey grind her teeth together.

Oh, she could think of a number of comebacks for that one, but like the bad girl she wasn’t in this den of indecency, she bit her lip instead. She plastered on a smile she didn’t feel, dropped off the beers at table eleven and headed toward the troublemakers.

She hefted the full tray over her head as she zigzagged through XScream. Around her, heavy bass echoed from speakers hidden in the walls, vibrating the floor beneath her feet, sloshing her brain against her skull in the process. She had a killer headache, and that low-level buzz she’d been experiencing for the last thirty minutes was wreaking havoc on her usually cool-headed mood. If she hadn’t eaten recently, she might have chalked it up to low blood sugar, but since Dana had forced her to choke down a burger during her break, she knew that wasn’t the case. And she was tired of trying to figure out just what was wrong with her anyway.

Strop stressing already, would you? Sheesh…

She shook off the thought and picked her way around tables, past loggers and teachers and even the town’s mayor. Far be it from her to judge who got their thrills in a place like this. To her right, Anna was onstage, working it for all she was worth, and from the corner of her eye, Casey caught a bra—or was that a G-string?—fly through the air, but she ignored that too. Just as she did every night.

The college kids who’d been flicking her crap all evening whooped and hollered as they watched Anna turn with a lusty grin, bend over at the waist and shake her size-zero behind. They obviously didn’t catch the fact that Anna’s seductive wink and lip-licking was motivated by nothing but dollar bills, but then that wasn’t exactly a surprise. These three yahoos were anything but Rhodes scholars.

They barely spared Casey a glance as she drew close, which was just fine with her. The micromini schoolgirl ensemble Karl insisted all the servers wear wasn’t the most flattering outfit on her five-foot ten-inch frame, and she couldn’t wait to be done with her shift so she could get out of it as fast as possible.

She set the first beer on the table in front of troublemaker number one, moved around behind the blond who was shaking his head in a yeah-baby move while salivating over Anna, and reached for the next beer on her tray. But before she could wrap her fingers around the chilled glass, a body slammed into her from the side, jostling the drinks and her and sending frothy golden liquid spilling over her tray.

“Hey!” she exclaimed, trying to right the tray before she lost everything on the table at her side. “Watch it!”

That buzzing picked up in her head, and before the words were even out, a tingling sensation lit off in her hip to radiate outward across her lower back and knock her equilibrium out of whack.

Casey swayed, reached out for the table but only caught
the edge with the tips of her fingers. She had a moment of
Oh, crap
as she went down, heard chairs scrape the dingy floor and the college kids’ shouts of surprise. But before her body hit the ground, an arm of steel that seemed to come out of nowhere wrapped around her torso, and another darted out to rescue the falling tray.

She didn’t have time to do more than gasp. The mystery man who’d nearly knocked her to the ground turned her in his arm as if she weighed no more than a feather and set her on her feet. He handed her the tray, nodded and said in a thick accent, “Excuse me.”

And Casey lost all ability to speak.

He was huge. Easily six and a half feet tall and at least two hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle. His legs were like tree trunks, his chest so wide it was all she could see. And that face?
Greek god
came to mind, with that olive skin, the shoulder-length hair the color of midnight and those black-as-sin eyes. But it was the way he was looking back at her that really threw her off guard. Like he recognized her but couldn’t place her. Like they’d met, but the idea didn’t thrill him. Like she was the last person on the planet he wanted to be staring at right now.

“Jesus,” one of the college kids behind her exclaimed. “Are you brain-dead or what?”

Oh, damn. Those stupid college kids.

She was just about to turn to defuse the situation, but the Greek god beat her to it, shooting them a withering look that could have turned flesh to stone. The kid’s smartass mouth snapped shut, and the comments died behind her. Neither of his friends piped up to berate her more.

And for the first time all night, a little of Casey’s headache dissipated. She wanted to turn and look at the stupefied expressions on the troublemakers’ faces, but she couldn’t tear her gaze from the man in front of her. He must have noticed her staring, because he cast another bewildered look her way, then gave his head a swift shake and headed off to the other side of the club.

And it wasn’t until he was all the way across the room that she finally drew in a breath.

Holy cow. What was that?

Her lungs suddenly seemed one size too small. She sucked in air, rubbed a hand over her brow and tried to regulate her breathing as she continued to stare. He stopped at a booth near the back wall, and though Casey couldn’t see his face, it was clear he was talking to someone seated in front of him.

Someone who was female and blonde and petite and who had come in alone a half hour ago, then slinked into the shadows to watch the show.

At the time, Casey hadn’t paid the woman much mind. Occasionally women came into the club alone. But now she did. Now that
her
hero in black had zeroed in on the blonde beauty, Casey definitely wanted to know more about each of them.

“You gonna stare all night or get busy?”

The voice at her back shook Casey from the fog brewing in her head. Turning, she pulled her attention to the three college kids, studying her like she was a complete moron, their irritation with her obviously usurping the earlier intimidation from her mystery man. The tray wobbled in her hand, but she caught it before the half-empty glasses spilled again.

“So sorry,” Casey muttered, grabbing a rag from her tray and mopping up the mess on their table. What was wrong with her? “I apologize.”

“Geez,” the blond muttered, shaking beer from his fingers. “What are you, mentally challenged or something?”

Casey ignored the comment and finished cleaning the table. “I’ll get you three more beers—on the house, of course.”

“Damn right,” the one to her right snapped, as he turned to look back at the stripper dancing a few feet from him up on stage.

She ignored that too as she finished grabbing empties,
then glanced toward the hulking shadow several tables over.

“Those guys giving you trouble?” Nick Blades asked as she drew close.

“No more trouble than normal.” Carefully, Casey picked up the wadded napkins on his table and dropped them on her tray. He was nearly as big as the Greek god, but that’s where the similarities ended. Nick’s blond hair was cut military short, he sported a series of strange tattoos and piercings, and it was hard not to stare at the jagged scar that ran down the left side of his face from temple to jaw. He always sat in her section, and though she’d told herself a thousand times he was harmless, a part of her just couldn’t convince herself of that. She’d been there. She’d seen what he could do. And though she was grateful, she didn’t want to see it again.

He watched her carefully, but she didn’t make eye contact. “You seemed a bit distracted there.”

Casey’s hand paused as she thought back to the hulking Greek god, and warmth spread up her cheeks as she went back to cleaning Nick’s table. It made perfect sense a guy like that would glance right past her and go after a looker like the woman in the corner. Men didn’t generally notice stick-skinny Amazon women when curvy, petite blondes were anywhere close.

“You want another one, Nick?”

At his silence, Casey finally glanced up, and that’s when she noticed Nick wasn’t watching her but was staring across the club with narrowed eyes and a tight jaw. Staring toward the Greek god and his blonde bombshell. But he wasn’t looking on with admiration or intrigue or even jealousy. No, Nick was watching them with malice, and very clear recognition.

Weird. How would someone like Nick know a guy like that? “Nick?”

Nick cut his eyes from the corner, his face turning impassive. “Might as well.”

That tingling intensified again across Casey’s lower back as she backed away from his table. “I’ll get that for you and be right back.”

She left him sitting in the same spot and headed for the bar, reminding herself the whole way she didn’t want to know what Nick Blades thought of anyone. She had enough of her own problems to worry about. On a long breath, she set her tray on the shiny surface and handed Dana, the bartender, her orders.

Dana pulled the tap and filled three pints for the boys Casey had spilled on moments before. Then she glanced toward the middle of the room. “I see your admirer’s here again tonight.”

Casey frowned. She didn’t like to call Nick an admirer. Didn’t like to call him anything, for that matter. But she’d never shared the real reason with Dana, and she wasn’t about to now. “I know.”

“It’s kinda sweet,” Dana said. “Though he doesn’t strike me as your type.”

Casey didn’t think it was sweet. Lately it was bordering on creepy. But she shrugged for Dana’s benefit. “I don’t have a type.”

Dana smirked and set the beers on Casey’s tray. “And if you did, it definitely wouldn’t be the bad-boy biker type.”

It got under Casey’s skin, just a little, that she was so predictable. “Don’t judge a book by its cover, Dana.”

Dana pinned her with a look as she poured vodka into a glass and added orange juice from a pitcher. “Spoken like a true bookseller. How’s the shop anyway?” She dropped a cherry into the drink and set it on the tray.

“Fine. Not as busy as this place, but then I don’t serve up sex between the pages.”

“Maybe you should.”

Casey couldn’t help smiling. “Yeah, maybe I should.”

She waited while Dana finished her order, and tapped her fingers on the bar to the beat of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack.” Jessica was onstage now, already shimmying
out of her hot shorts, and Nick was barely paying attention. Casey’s gaze swept over the room, and for a fleeting moment, she wondered what her grandmother would say if she could see her now.

“Acacia.
Meli,
what has happened to you?”

“Nothing, Gigia. It’s only temporary.”

“It’s always temporary with you,
meli.”

“You off in a few?”

Dana’s voice pulled Casey from her musings and she nodded. “Yeah. Thank God. Fifteen more minutes, then I’m free for the weekend. The bookshop’s closed tomorrow and Monday.”

“Good. You work too hard, Casey. I don’t know how you do it. All day at the shop, nights here. Ease my worry, honey, and tell me you’ve got a hot date planned.”

Casey reached for the tray. “Yeah, with a good book.”

“You need to get out more, Case. Find a good-looking guy who’ll remind you what life is all about.”

Casey thought back to the Greek god. She just bet
that
guy could remind her what life was about.

She shook off the thought as she hefted the tray and turned to leave. “I don’t have time for hot dates. I’m too busy.”

“After you deliver those,” Dana said at her back, “cut out early. I’ll cover for you.”

Casey glanced back. “You sure?”

Dana shrugged and smiled as she wiped out a glass, her soft red hair glinting under the dim lights. “Yeah, sure. Go on. Something comes up, I’ll get Jane to cover your tables.”

“Thanks,” Casey said on a sigh, feeling suddenly tired.

“One thing before you go. When you get home, would you check to see if I left my phone there the other night when I came over? I can’t seem to find it.”

“Sure thing. I’ll call you at home.”

Dana winked. “Appreciate it. Have a good weekend, Casey. You deserve it.”

Casey stopped at the college kids’ table and delivered their beers, then glanced toward the back corner. The blonde was pushing herself out of the booth, but she stumbled when her feet met the ground, which was weird because Casey was sure the woman hadn’t had anything to drink. The Greek god was right there to catch her, though, just like he’d done with Casey.

No, not like he’d done with Casey. Her eyes narrowed as she watched. He was much gentler with this woman. He pulled her close as if she were made of glass and seconds later swept her up in his arms and whisked her out the back door of the club, straight out of a scene from
An Officer and a Gentleman.

Only this guy was ten times bigger and a million times hotter than Richard Gere ever was.

Warmth rushed to Casey’s cheeks again as she watched, and envy—the only word she knew to describe that strange tightness in her chest—stabbed at the center of her. What would it feel like to have a guy like that so focused on her?

The door snap closed behind him, leaving only the darkness and thumping base of the club in its wake. With a frown, Casey took a deep breath and turned.

No sense worrying about something she’d never have. No sense worrying about something she didn’t have time for anyway. She needed to finish her shift so she could get home and sleep off this weird virus she’d been fighting the last few days. Then pull herself together so she could do it all over again Tuesday morning.

She crossed to Nick and handed him his Coke. “I’m heading out, Nick. You need anything else, Dana will take care of you.”

He lifted his fresh glass. Long sleeves covered his arms, and the fingerless gloves he always wore kept all but the tips of his fingers from view. “Will do. And Casey?”

Other books

The Souvenir by Louise Steinman
The MORE Trilogy by T.M. Franklin
Dahanu Road: A novel by Anosh Irani
Winged Magic by Mary H. Herbert
Losing It: A Collection of VCards by Nikki Jefford, Heather Hildenbrand, Bethany Lopez, Kristina Circelli, S. M. Boyce, K. A. Last, Julia Crane, Tish Thawer, Ednah Walters, Melissa Haag, S. T. Bende, Stacey Wallace Benefiel, Tamara Rose Blodgett, Helen Boswell, Alexia Purdy, Julie Prestsater, Misty Provencher, Ginger Scott, Amy Miles, A. O. Peart, Milda Harris, M. R. Polish
Alexander the Great by Norman F. Cantor
A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson