Authors: Elisabeth Naughton
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal
“Theron,” she rasped.
His lips slid to the nape of her neck. Trailed lower. He drew his hand down her spine as he rubbed against her again. Both hands found the sides of her underwear as his lips kissed the base of her spine. He lifted his head slightly and pulled the edge down.
“Oh, yes.” Casey arched her back and closed her eyes.
She was so swept up in the moment, she didn’t realize Theron had gone still behind her until she pressed back and met only air.
She turned slightly to find him staring at her skin with wide eyes.
His finger brushed over the lower left side of her back, just above her buttock. “This marking. Is it a tattoo?”
She knew what he was looking at. And he wasn’t the first person to comment on it.
She chuckled. “I’m too afraid of needles to get a tattoo.”
When he didn’t respond, only continued to stare at her skin, apprehension crept into her chest. “I was born with it. It’s just a birthmark.”
His eyes lifted to hers. Though he’d removed his hand, heat radiated from his fingers where they hovered over her skin. “This doesn’t look like a birthmark. Tell me about your parents.”
He wanted to talk? About her folks?
Apprehension turned to wariness, and the skin near her birthmark began to tingle. She pushed up from the couch and turned slowly, sliding down onto the cushions until she sat and her mark was hidden from his view.
His jaw was tight, his eyebrows drawn together until a deep crease lined his forehead. One glance confirmed what she’d already suspected. That heavenly erection that had been pressed up against her moments before was gone.
Her skin prickled, and a blast of self-doubt at her near nakedness washed over her. She reached for her sweater, dangling from the arm of the sofa. “My…my parents?”
“Your mother and father. Where are they?”
Unease knotted her stomach. She pulled the sweater over her head and, by the time it was once again shielding her breasts, discovered he was back in his jeans, staring at her with an intense expression she couldn’t define.
This was what she’d wanted to avoid, right? This awkwardness. Things had gone too far, and now he regretted it. Just what had happened to change his mind? He’d been all over her before—
“Casey,” he said sharply. “Focus. Your mother and father.”
She gave her head a sharp shake, unsure why her brain seemed so muddled. “My mother died just after I was born. My father…I never knew him. They had a brief affair years ago when my mother was studying in Europe. She came home after she found out she was pregnant. I…I never met him.” She glanced up. “Why do you want to know this now?”
He ignored her question. “Who raised you?”
“My grandmother. This is her house. Was,” she amended as she looked around the living room and a sick feeling settled in her stomach. She could actually hear Gigia’s disapproving voice in her head over what she’d almost done. “She passed a few months ago. Cancer.”
His jaw clenched as he studied her with narrowed eyes. Then he uttered one word.
She knew enough Greek to recognize a few choice swear words. And at that moment, Casey was reminded that he was a complete stranger. She didn’t know anything about him besides his name. Why had she helped him? What had actually happened to him? And what was he
doing in her house right now?
She pushed up slowly from the couch as questions pinged around in her brain again. Ones she’d somehow—and foolishly—brushed aside earlier. “What’s going on here? Why the sudden interest in my genealogy? Just who are you anyway?”
His expression softened. Just a touch. Just enough so those black-as-sin eyes engulfed her attention.
Or maybe she only imagined they did. But for a moment, for a split second, he was the sensuous almost-lover she’d kissed and fondled wildly just a few minutes before.
“No one,” he whispered, as he reached for her hand. “No one important.” His fingers wrapped around her wrist and pressed into her skin ever so slightly, right over her vein, and though she knew it couldn’t be, she thought she heard a note of regret in his voice. “No one you will remember. Close your eyes now,
And like a lamb being lead to slaughter, she did.
Isadora smoothed the covers over her legs and plastered on a smile as fake as the cubic zirconium some human women went gaga over as she looked up at her father’s personal physician.
The crease between Callia’s perfect eyebrows wasn’t a sign of optimism.
Not that Isadora needed confirmation from the race’s greatest healer. She was growing weaker by the day. She knew it in her head, felt it in her bones. She just didn’t understand why.
Callia replaced the tools in her bag with quiet care. “No visible injuries. Your vitals are strong. Whatever agents you encountered in the human world shouldn’t be affecting you like this. Is there something you aren’t telling me?”
Now, there’s a question. How in the name of Hades to answer that one?
Isadora twisted her hands in her lap to give her time to think of an answer, pushed her long hair over her shoulder and wished for scissors so she could cut the heavy mass. Tradition forbade it though. Females of the royal family were to remain untouched until matrimony. In every sense of the word.
And wasn’t that just a kick in the pants? Not to mention, one of the many things she planned to change about the monarchy as soon as she was queen.
If, that is, she lived long enough to assume her crown.
“Of course not,” she said under Callia’s ruthless stare. “I’ve told you everything.”
Callia’s expression remained stoic. Her pale violet eyes narrowed. It was obvious she knew Isadora was lying, but the healer wasn’t willing to challenge her.
At least not yet.
One check in the plus column.
Only problem was, it didn’t do much to boost Isadora’s mood. It was foolish to feel inferior, considering she was destined to command more power than any other Argolean, but at that moment, in front of this
, Isadora felt like a speck on the floor beneath a dirty boot. As a healer, Callia had powers most Argoleans only dreamed of, and Isadora’s father loved to rave about the brains beneath Callia’s startling beauty. To the extent that Isadora was often of the opinion he’d rather have Callia for a daughter than the one fate had saddled him with.
Her father’s greatest disappointment was that in the almost seven hundred years of his life, his only heir had been female. Female and weak.
Callia finally broke the stare-down and finished gathering her things. Her long auburn hair spilled down her back as she moved. She wore slim, tailored slacks and a fitted blue jacket that looked stylish and bold. As most Argoleans were at least half human, and fascinated with human culture as a whole, their dress and mannerisms often mimicked those from the human world. The exception was the royal family, and Isadora in particular. Sheltered. Cloistered. Forbidden from crossing the portal or even looking through to the other side. All in the name of tradition and of upholding that which had been established over three thousand years ago.
Callia represented everything Isadora wanted to be. She was the consummate professional with enough sex appeal charging the air around her to light an entire village. And confident without fault. Another reason—among many—Isadora wasn’t fond of her.
“I’m going to return to the clinic and research your
symptoms in more depth.” Callia lifted the bag from the side of Isadora’s bed. “Then I’m going to speak with your father.”
“You don’t need to burden him with my situation,” Isadora said quickly.
“He’s still king. And I greatly suspect the health of his heir is of monumental concern to him.”
Right. His heir. Not his daughter. Not because he cared or anything.
Isadora didn’t bother to answer. What could she say anyway?
Callia swept out of the bedroom suite as gracefully as she’d entered. From beyond the double oak doors, a trio of mumbled voices drifted into the room. Callia’s, Isadora’s handmaiden Saphira’s, and the unmistakable sounds of a male voice.
For two days she’d been wondering what had happened to Theron. She remembered his coming for her in the human strip club and carrying her outside. But everything after that was a blur. She’d awoken in the castle. In this same four-poster monstrosity that could sleep six comfortably and threatened to swallow her whole each day of her pathetic life beneath the heavy brocade covers she hated, with the morning light from Tiyrns—a city she only saw from her veranda—shining in the cathedral windows across her room.
No one had heard from him. When she’d inquired, her father’s nurse said simply that the king had relayed a message to Isadora stating that Theron was attending to Argonaut business.
Which meant none-of-her-business business.
But Isadora knew that wasn’t true. Theron had gone looking for her because she’d run off. And something had happened to him.
Heavy footsteps crossed the sitting-room floor outside her door, followed by the loud rap of knuckles against
wood and Saphira’s strained voice, urging the visitor to leave and let the princess sleep.
Isadora swallowed and pulled the covers up to her chest. She hated feeling weak and timid in front of the Argonauts, especially in front of Theron, because he was so big and strong and…robust. Hated, even more, being stuck in this blasted bed and
like the weakling she really was inside.
“Y-Yes?” she managed in what even she knew was a pathetic voice.
Great commanding presence for the future Queen of Argolea to present to her loyal subjects, Isa.
She cleared her throat.
“My lady,” Saphira said from the other room. “The Argonaut Demetrius is here to see you. Are you receiving?”
Of all the Argonauts, Demetrius hated her the most, more so even than the rest of the Argonauts put together, though she didn’t know why. And that was saying a lot, considering the Argonauts had a real chip on their shoulders about anything dealing with politics. All of them except Theron. He was the only one who never seemed put out about having to set foot on royal ground when summoned.
The hair on the back of Isadora’s neck stood up straight as she thought of Theron again. What if Demetrius had come here to relay bad news?
Oh, gods. This couldn’t be good.
Both heavy doors swung open as if they weighed nothing. And the guardian who stepped through the opening was as startling as the crash of wood hitting wall.
Demetrius was the biggest of the Argonauts, at just over six-seven and close to three hundred pounds of pure steel. His features seemed carved out of marble—square jaw, straight nose, striking dimple in his chin and deep-set
mocha eyes. Short dark hair framed his face, and the body beneath the black leather duster and skin-tight black pants was as impenetrable as any castle keep. So were his thoughts. He had a don’t-mess-with-me air that permeated every room he stepped into, and never had Isadora seen him smile.
Sometimes she wondered if he even could.
“Your Highness,” Saphira said in a frantic voice, “I apologize. He wouldn’t be deterred. I told him you weren’t well enough for visitors today. But he—”
“It’s all right, Saphira.” Isadora pushed herself higher into the pillows. “I’ll see him.”
Don’t back down. Don’t look weak. Stand your ground.
Or lay on it, as the case may be.
Demetrius didn’t bow or nod or acknowledge the heir to the throne in any way, not that Isadora expected him to. The Argonauts were, collectively, the black sheep of the race. And Demetrius, even blacker.
Though they’d been chosen by Zeus and appointed as protectors of the race when it was established over three thousand years ago, few in the kingdom today understood or approved of their role. They saw the Argonauts as violent warriors given too much power by the king. Rogue individuals who spent most of their time in the human world hunting daemons, which were really no threat to their society.
Truth be told, up until last week, Isadora had feared the Argonauts like everyone else. She’d regarded them as dangerous rebels who reveled in their power and lived for the killing. She’d even found herself agreeing of late with the Council’s anti-Argonaut propaganda campaign, which preached that so long as the portal was protected, Argolea was safe and the Argonauts weren’t needed. Those who applied for permission from the Council to cross over into the human world to satisfy their curiosity did so at their own risk. Therefore, what was the big threat?
But then Isadora had found her father’s letters. And she’d realized just why the Argonauts were so important. And so dangerous. Right then, she’d discovered the entire truth.
“To what do I owe this unexpected encounter, Argonaut?” She tried to command an air of authority from her regal bed but knew she did a half-assed job. She was in no position—physically or mentally—to command even an ounce of authority.
A snarl curled one side of Demetrius’s mouth. “No one’s heard from Theron since he went looking for you six days ago. I know you think your own asinine reasons for going to the human realm were warranted, but I disagree,
His last word was spoken with such distaste, he might have punched her in the stomach. The effect was the same. Had she thought she held any authority over him?
“Because of you,” he went on, “we may have lost one of our own. I want to know
where you went and what you saw.”
She was still reeling from his lack of social grace, but one thing got through loud and clear: the hint of gloating in his voice.
For a horrifying moment, she wondered if Demetrius
But that was ludicrous, right? They were kin, born of the same guardian class.
Her spine stiffened. “You would be wise to watch your tongue, Argonaut.”
The look he sent her chilled her to the bone, but she lifted her chin anyway, straightened her shoulders and remembered she was royalty. It wasn’t wise to test an Argonaut, especially a righteously ticked off one, but at some point she needed to stop being the weakling everyone expected her to be and stand up for herself. If, gods forbid, something had happened to Theron in the human
realm, then as soon as her father passed, she was on her own. And the command of this ragtag group would fall to her.
Gods help her.
“You are not my queen,” he snarled, his gaze roving over her as if he could see through the sheets and her nightdress below all the way to her naked flesh. And the contempt brewing there said he wasn’t impressed. “Not yet, anyway, and not likely, from the looks of things here. I answer only to the king. And to my kinsmen. You, Princess, would be wise to watch
Isadora refused to swallow or show an ounce of intimidation. Theron frightened her at times, but she knew he’d never do anything to harm her. The others—especially Demetrius—were a completely different story.
“I told the servant your
sent here yesterday everything I knew,” she said in a voice she hoped like Hades didn’t shake. “When I left Theron, he was fine. You ask the wrong person.”
He stepped closer to the bed, his eyes narrowing on her face like a cobra ready to strike. “Oh, I think not, Highness.”
“Do not think it has escaped my attention that you still refrain from declaring what was so damn important in the human realm in the first place. If Theron is dead because of you, my kinsmen will find out what you are hiding. And royalty or not, we will seek vengeance.”
He would. That was certain. But not over his grief for Theron.
No, Demetrius would seek vengeance for the simple pleasure of doing so and the promise of a kill.
He towered over her, mere feet from her bed. It was clear to both of them he could do whatever he wanted to her before anyone outside would hear her scream.
She closed her mouth tight.
Seconds passed between them, a virtual stare-down
that left her as cold as she imagined the blood pumping in his veins to be. Finally, she gathered her courage and swung her legs over the side of the mattress.
Though it took every ounce of strength she had in her, she slowly pushed to her feet. Even when she stood, he was still nearly a foot and a half taller than her, but she refused to show an ounce of weakness. The crimson robe she wore fell open, revealing the white nightgown beneath, but his eyes didn’t stray downward. To him she was nothing.
“Twice you have challenged me, Argonaut. There will not be a third. You are dismissed.”
“Princess,” he sneered, “you shake.” He stepped so close, she had to crane her neck to look up at him, and still they didn’t touch. A malevolent, knowing smile cut across his lips. One that seriously made her want to step back.
She fought the urge.
. Do I frighten you?”
Perspiration slid down her skin and pooled at the base of her spine. “I’m not afraid of you.”
He leaned down so his lips were a breath from her ear. And for a moment, she wanted him to touch her. Just once. So she could have the connection and see into his future and what he was planning, as she’d been able to do so often in the past.
The only problem was, she wasn’t sure her powers would work this time.
“You should be,” he whispered in a chilling tone. “You would be wise to be very afraid.”
They both turned at the harsh command and looked toward the doorway. Theron stood just inside the room, every bit as dark and brooding and dangerous as the commander he was.
Relief swept through Isadora’s frail body. She braced a hand on the mattress to steady herself as Demetrius stepped away. One quick glance up confirmed what she
suspected. Contempt slid across Demetrius’s features before he masked it quickly with indifference.
The kinsmen shared quiet words at the door that Isadora couldn’t hear. Demetrius cast her one last withering glare before stalking out of the room.
All her energy flagged. She wanted to flop back onto the bed she detested, but she still hated to show weakness.