Authors: Stephanie Draven
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Romance - Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Romance - Fantasy, #Paranormal, #American Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Nymphs (Greek deities), #Shapeshifting
Kyra tried not to stare at his bare chest. It was sculpted like an iron breastplate and gave her vivid memories of having run her hands all over him. “I knew you’d come. After all, we have unfinished business between us.”
His hand came to rest on the wall behind her and he leaned in, his closeness making her nervous and excited at the same time.
He caught her by the chin and lifted it, forcing her to look at him. “I know who you are. You don’t have to pretend you’re demure now.”
The feel of his calloused fingers brought back such sharp memories of pleasure that Kyra felt weak at the knees, just like in all those mortal movies where the fair damsel swoons away. And it wasn’t just arousal. She could have handled that. No, this feeling was something different from lust, and wholly unfamiliar. She felt as if she was being turned inside out and it was more than she could bear.
But nothing had changed. She hadn’t fulfilled her destiny. She hadn’t conquered the hydra within him. She hadn’t killed him. She hadn’t even convinced him to give up arms dealing.
But she knew he was going to kiss her. If she didn’t stop him, he was definitely going to kiss her.
And gods help her, she wanted him to….
Don’t miss the bonus short story included in this book!
Two stories for the price of one!
is currently a denizen of Baltimore, that city of ravens and purple night skies. She lives there with her favorite nocturnal creatures—three scheming cats and a deliciously wicked husband. And when she is not busy with dark domestic rituals, she writes her books.
A longtime lover of ancient lore, Stephanie enjoys reimagining myths for the modern age. She doesn’t believe that true love is ever simple or without struggle, so her work tends to explore the sacred within the profane, the light under the loss and the virtue hidden in vice. She counts it amongst her greatest pleasures when, from her books, her readers learn something new about the world or about themselves.
I always thought that in Homer’s
Calypso really got a raw deal! Having saved Odysseus from the sea, she was his lover for seven years before he broke her heart and sailed away without a backward glance. Something about this always stuck in my craw.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against a good mortal woman like Penelope, but I promised myself that if I ever invented a supernatural heroine who saved the hero from a dark fate, she’d get to keep her man. Accordingly, I’ve written a
I’d be delighted to hear what you think, so please stop by www.stephaniedraven.com. And here’s hoping that, like the heroine of this book, every single one of you blazes a path through the world.
To my husband, who is my light in every dark storm and the man who carries me over all life’s thresholds.
In writing this book, I was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s
Andrew Niccol’s sobering movie
Lord of War,
Calypso in Berlin
and Megan Hart’s devastating novel
The latter spoke deeply about abandonment—a theme I adopted for this book, not just in terms of romance, but to our commitment as citizens of the world.
Firefighter Brandon Rice helped me with questions about ambulances and explosions. Recreational pilot Mark Bylok walked me through all things airplane related. Daniel D’Amico was my guide to Niagara Falls. Medical student SarahScott Brett answered every question I had about wounds. And my brother-in-law taught me that he’s never to be questioned in matters involving firearms. Many thanks also to professor Daniel Levine for his expertise in African security issues. He was a generous source of ideas, information and advice.
I’m grateful for my fabulous agent, Jennifer Schober, who pushed me to embrace my dark angsty voice—and for my editor, Tara Gavin, who knew that Kyra and Marco’s love story was not a
I’m also indebted to my friends from FiranMUX and my readers: Lisa Christie, Theresa D’Amario, Rachel Jameson, Kai Lawson, Constance Phillips, Christine Rovet, Susan Rubin, Joey Thompson and Stephanie Wolfinger. Special appreciation goes to Leah Barber, who not only read the manuscript but also helped give me time to write it.
Lastly, I thank my family for their unabashed fandom! When I was sixteen, Dad critiqued my very first manuscript. Mom critiqued
manuscript with an unerring eye for detail. My sister gave freely of her time and technical expertise. And while I wrote this book, my poor husband endured a seemingly endless soundtrack loop of Suzanne Vega singing, “My name is Calypso.”
They obviously love me, and I love them right back. Thanks, everybody!
res climbed over the rubble of his burned-out armory, his mood black as the soot-covered remains.
So much waste,
he thought, kicking aside scorched artillery crates. All harmless shrapnel now. So many mortars reduced to ash…so many bullets warped from the heat, deprived of their savage destiny on the battlefield. Magnificent guns destroyed without ever finding their way into the hands of even one ferocious warrior.
It was a travesty
. And the broad-shouldered god decided that someone should have to pay.
“Who did this?” he roared, discovering one of his vultures hovering over a dead body. At his approach, she left off tearing at the corpse’s gory innards and flapped her wings. With a rush of wind that spiraled the dust and autumn leaves around her, she rose into the form of a willowy redhead and licked the blood from her scarlet lips.
“The guards say it was a woman who blew up the armory,” his vulture explained, shoving the gutted corpse onto its back. The dead man’s belt was
his pants unzipped, as
if he’d died while taking a piss. “This one caught her and decided to have a little fun…”
“It doesn’t look as if he had a chance to enjoy himself.” Ares noted the dead man’s face, stiffened in shock, as if he couldn’t fathom what had happened to him. But Ares knew what had happened.
Kyra had happened
His daughter was lethal with a blade and knew how to defend herself. She was also a rebellious child with a knack for finding new and unique ways to annoy him. “What about the file on the hydra?”
His minion twitched. “It’s gone. Kyra must have taken it.”
Ares liked the look of fear in his vulture’s expression and was hungry to take out his frustrations on her. There could be pleasure in it—for him, at least. He reached for that fiery hair, yanking his vulture’s head to the side so that her throat was exposed. “And where is my daughter now?”
“I—I don’t know,” the vulture stammered. “They shot her, but she escaped.”
Bullets wouldn’t stop Kyra. As a nymph of the underworld, she crossed the thresholds of life and death at will. What’s more, she was immortal. He’d seen to that. There wasn’t a wound she could suffer that wouldn’t heal. She could appear to mortals in her own guise, or fade into the mists like an apparition. The fact that she’d let his guards
her meant that she’d
him to know she was responsible for this.
The unmitigated gall of the thing! For Kyra to destroy
weapons was almost too much to bear. And to add to that insult, she’d taken the file on the newest hydra—a man whom Ares intended to add to his monstrous menagerie. Admittedly, the war god admired Kyra’s audacity. After all these years, most of the forgotten ancient immortals slunk away like beaten dogs to live mundane modern lives, but
daughter was still certain she was fated to do something glorious. And
he couldn’t fault her for it, even if it drove her to test him like this.
Ares was an indulgent patriarch, after all. Unlike his own wine-soaked lecher of a father, Ares encouraged the fierce nature of his descendants. He’d even made war with them at his side. Oh, how mortals had trembled when Ares rode into battle with his twin sons, Phobos and Deimos, at the reins of his chariot! How the mortals had screamed in terror when he unleashed his monsters. Fire-breathing horses, hydras, chimeras and minotaurs…
Oh, how he missed those days.
And he intended to relive them with Kyra at his side. If only she’d accept her true destiny. Instead, she was in open rebellion against him. Did she think he could be stopped by blowing up his munitions? If so, she was wrong. Lesser gods might fade away, but the forces of war remained eternal. No one sacrificed at Zeus’s temples anymore. The science of spindly weathermen had reduced the once fearsome sky god into an old man who spent his days in a taverna complaining about the loss of Greek culture to the European Union. Exhaustion, science and some of the newer gods of peace and goodwill had crowded the old gods off the world’s stage. Even crafty Hecate had been relegated to being a fortune-telling gypsy!
But Ares was different. It had been a long time since anyone had seen him as the Greek god of bloodlust, glowering from beneath his plumed helmet, but men still worshipped him, whether they knew it or not, because
was different, too.
The new gods didn’t glorify it, and science only made it more deadly; it bankrupted the victors as well as the vanquished. War was a senselessness mankind couldn’t explain. Warriors no longer called for Ares by name, but they still made bloody sacrifices. And whereas Zeus once ruled the gods of Olympus, Ares meant to rule now.
So how was he to deal with Kyra’s rebellion? Perhaps it was a phase that would pass. After all, his daughter was born to viciousness. Kyra claimed to abhor war, but the wreck
she’d made of this armory only proved that she was bred for destruction.
The sooner he forced her to accept it, the better.
yra was dressed to kill. Literally.
Just beneath her short red skirt and only inches above her high-heeled boots, a small but deadly hunting knife was strapped to her thigh. A gun might have been more useful, but Kyra preferred the weapons of an older, less complicated time.
A knock came at the nightclub’s bathroom door—probably another gaggle of drunken Italian socialites—but Kyra wouldn’t be rushed. She stared at her reflection in the mirror to steel her courage. She might not be able to thwart Daddy and his bloodthirsty minions, but she could do this
one heroic thing
for humanity. This was her destiny.
But the mirror reflected a distorted image. It was cracked, as if the thumping club music burst through the wall from the other side. Still, she could see that her plunging pearlescent halter top complemented neither her black tresses nor her ghostly pallor. No matter. Kyra never let mortals see her true form, anyway. Tonight, her prey would see her as she wished
him to see her: with blue eyes and cropped platinum hair; after all, she’d studied Marco Kaisaris long enough to know his type. And she was ready. Hydras like Marco were dangerous, but surely not to someone like her. She just had to kill him. Like Theseus and Perseus of old, she had a monster to slay.
With that thought, Kyra gave the bathroom door a shove and it swung open like a gate to the underworld. She stepped into the nightclub’s press of bodies and people made way for her, as if they sensed her power. As the dance beat drummed at her pulse points, she brushed against the crowd, and it excited her because she had a nymph’s nature; she found the vitality of humans to be infectious and distracting. This was, of course, one of the many dangers of getting too close to mortals.
The club was dark but for the strobe lights that shined spots on the walls, purple as evening shade, purple as wine. The grape kaleidoscope illuminated the writhing bodies on the dance floor, flashes alternating with pitch-black. But the darkness posed no obstacle for Kyra. Like all nymphs of the underworld, she carried an internal torch. Her eyes could penetrate the darkness. She could see through a crowd, through clothes, through flesh. Her eyes could even breach the barriers around men’s souls.
And from the bar, her quarry’s soul lit up like a flare.
She knew Marco Kaisaris even though the face he wore was not his own. He was dark, brooding and slightly unkempt. He wore an expensive dress shirt open at the collar, the glimmer of a gold chain at his throat. He didn’t look like an arms dealer, but then he was almost as good at disguises as she was. He wasn’t
a mortal man, after all. He was also a hydra.
Kyra slipped into the standing-room-only space next to him at the bar, pretending to dig for money in her purse. She felt his eyes on her—an intense, wary stare. Fortuitously, a group of revelers pushed her a little closer to him. She pretended it was his fault.
“Do you mind?” she asked in Italian, grateful that the club was quieter here.
Marco shrugged, taking a swallow from his glass, which was filled with amber liquid and ice. “I was just sitting here.”
. His voice. It was baritone and beguiling, with a hint of a New World accent. American or Canadian—she couldn’t be sure. Either way, it was the kind of voice that’d make a normal woman swoon and it weakened even Kyra’s immortal knees.
Gods above and below,
Kyra thought. What justice was there in the world that such a voice could belong to a monster?
Recovering herself, she brushed his leg, but his expression betrayed nothing. Everything about his posture was guarded. Sexy, but guarded. That’s when Kyra noticed he held a picture of an older man and was tracing the edge of it with his thumb. Naples was known for its criminal element, so the photo was probably of some contact Marco was meeting tonight. A supplier of munitions or a thug looking to buy an arsenal. Someone in Marco’s violent business. “Friend of yours?” she asked in English, motioning with her chin toward the picture.
“My father.” A look of melancholy passed over his face as he slipped the photo into his shirt pocket, but that’s all he said. He didn’t want to talk. And that was a problem because she’d planned to lure him somewhere private with the promise of a steamy encounter; she couldn’t kill him in the middle of the club with everyone watching. To make matters worse, her cell phone was vibrating. It was probably
father calling to rage at her for destroying his arsenal. Daddy thought it was Kyra’s destiny to join him, but she had no intention of being a part of her family’s legacy of war. If anything, she wanted to make up for it.
Renewing her resolve, Kyra turned the phone off and flashed Marco Kaisaris her most charming smile. “Mind if I sit here?”
Marco motioned toward the distinct lack of empty bar stools. “Sit where?”
Okay, she’d have to be a little more aggressive. “How about if I sit right here?” Before he could do a thing to stop it, Kyra slid into his lap. It was a crucial moment. There was a good chance he’d thrust her away, alarmed at her forwardness. But as the backs of her bare thighs pressed against the weave of his linen slacks, his breath caught, and it wasn’t just with surprise. He liked it.
This shouldn’t be too difficult,
she thought. Her nymph’s charm made it easy to seduce mortals—even special ones like him—and she felt him respond, his breath warming her neck. Encouraged, she shifted wantonly with her hips, precisely timed with the music, careful not to let him feel the sheathed knife on her leg. He liked that, too.
She could tell because he wrapped one arm around her waist and inhaled the cheap perfume she wore. It smelled like overripe passion fruit and candy and he reacted as if she were just a confection—one little taste wouldn’t hurt. His teeth grazed her neck beneath her choker where a glowing peridot stone hung like a tiny lantern in the dead of night. She tilted her head for him and felt him go hot all over.
“You’re shameless,” he finally whispered, the scent of expensive alcohol on his breath.
But I’m not shameless,
she thought. There were many shameful things in this modern world, but her sexuality wasn’t one of them. How was it her fault that men were so easy to arouse? “
shameless? What about
You look guilty of something.”
He let the cool glass in his hand slide wetly over her shoulder. “And what do you think I’m guilty of,
Give it a shot.”
Oh, she was going to enjoy killing him. “Are you telling me to guess?”
“No,” he said, his mouth finding the soft spot behind her ear. Then his voice lowered. “Unless you
me to tell you what to do.”
Her stomach fell away with arousal.
. Absurdly, she did want that. Just for a few minutes. It wasn’t sex with mortals that was dangerous for nymphs, after all. Just all the emotions that came after. Still, best not to let him get the upper hand. “If you tried to tell me what to do, we’d only end up engaged in a fierce battle of wills.”
She felt him smirk against her neck. “Mine is hard as iron.”
. He meant his
was hard as iron. Trying to steady herself, Kyra fanned her fingers over the bar. They came to rest on an unopened pack of cigarettes.
. Old school. “Yours?” she asked, and when he nodded, her lips curled in mock disapproval. “Bad addiction to have.”
“I’m not addicted,” he countered, one hand stroking her arm. She loved the callused feel of his fingertips on her smooth skin. “I only smoke when I’m trying to come to terms with something.” Kyra almost asked him what he was struggling with. But she didn’t dare. She shouldn’t care.
care. It’d only make it harder for her to kill him. “I can quit anytime,” he said.
“How about now?”
He paused, then crushed the whole pack in his fist, tossing it behind the bar like so much trash. He looked smug at her openmouthed stare of astonishment. “Like I said. Iron will.”
He might think so, but he couldn’t resist
. She was sure of it.
Marco called to the bartender. “A drink for the lady.”
“And what if I’m not a lady?” Kyra asked, with a provocative smile.
“That’s okay,” Marco murmured, grasping the nape of her neck. “I don’t plan to be a gentleman tonight.”
She let him bring her back to his penthouse; even from the marbled foyer she glimpsed just how well the monster was living off his ill-gotten fortune. If he’d chosen any of the artwork here, he had exquisite taste. But this probably wasn’t his penthouse, just like the face he wore wasn’t his own. He was a hydra of a thousand faces—an impostor—which made it all the more remarkable that he didn’t seem suspicious of her; he apparently brought women home with him all the time.
Kyra thought. Killing him wasn’t going to be difficult at all.
The only problem was that he was an astonishingly good kisser. His mouth was on hers, dizzyingly warm. It surprised her how much she actually liked the way his stubble scratched her cheeks and the animal way he bit her lower lip every time she pulled away for breath. He wasn’t shy about touching her, and he wasn’t taking his time.
He pushed her back against the door, a rapid strike, all strength and speed. Caged in by his strong arms, she saw that his eyes were stormy with challenge. She felt her insides quicken in response. Oh, he
didn’t know who he was dealing with.
Kyra gripped a thick handful of his dark hair and when his hands snaked up under her top, thumbs brushing over her nipples, she thought he was rather daring for a creature that could be killed; he’d been wary in the bar, but now that he’d committed himself to having her, there was no hesitation in him at all.
The heat of him delighted her. The roughness of his touch. The bestial sounds he made, as if he meant to devour her. Kyra’s heartbeat crashed in her ears, as if the thumping roar of the club music had followed them here. She told herself it was just the allure of his mortal energy, the dangerous deception of a man’s desire. But had it felt this good the last time she’d taken a mortal lover?
Maybe Marco was different. The clues in the file she’d stolen led her to believe that in addition to being an arms trafficker, Marco Kaisaris was a war-forged hydra, a mortal man, a monster that could be killed. Now she wondered if he was actually some shape-shifting trickster god, which would excuse her attraction to him and relieve her of guilt for what she was about to do. Stabbing an immortal, after all, wouldn’t cause any lasting harm.
His scent—somewhere between man and musk—drove her crazy. Meanwhile, his kisses had become frenzied as if pleasure was such a fleeting thing in his world he had to consume it before anyone took it away from him. As Marco nipped at her neck, his mouth moving over the luminous gemstone she wore, her own gasps cut through the stillness of the penthouse apartment. Whoever he was,
he was, he was rocking her world.
But Kyra prided herself on not being one of those silly nymphs who dallied with mortal men and fell helplessly under their spell. She’d taken plenty of lovers and cast them aside when she was done. After all, she was built for carnal passions, for stolen pleasures in the dark. So, it wasn’t Marco’s all-consuming sexual prowess that was giving her second thoughts about killing him. It was what she saw inside him, beyond the surface. A looming shape of almost unfathomable grief. Beyond the veils of darkness in which he wrapped himself, she glimpsed a forlorn desperation to know and be known, to understand and be understood.
This, she hadn’t expected. Sincerity, pain, need. His vulnerability was subtle but potent sex magic. It made her curious; there was a longing in her to let her eyes open wide and illuminate everything inside him. Unfortunately, that would drive him mad, and that was one thing Kyra would never do to a mortal again. Besides, there’d been a reason she’d tracked him down for months, a reason she’d slipped
into his lap tonight, and it wasn’t to satisfy her curiosity or to enjoy herself with a sexy stranger.
Like her father, Marco Kaisaris made a profit selling weapons. He was a merchant of death. The underworld was filled with victims of the bullets Marco sold. No matter what her lust-soaked mind wanted to see inside him, he
an evil man and if she wanted to make up for all the pain and chaos her father had caused in the world, Kyra had no choice but to kill him. The hydra
to be the reason Kyra still had her powers while so many of the old immortals had lost theirs. This was her destiny. Still, it was with true regret that she realized Marco’s groping fingers would soon discover her hidden knife. With a long-suffering sigh, Kyra stopped him. Marco pulled back, a slow and frustrated tilt to his lips. “Am I going too fast?”
Gods above and below
, his voice just wrecked her. The heat of it seared a path from her belly down to the quivering place between her legs. Oh, how she wanted him to touch her. But when he tried to put his hand under her skirt again, she didn’t let him. “Wait. I’ve got something for you.”
She turned slightly and, with one hand, secretly unsheathed the knife beneath her skirt. The motion between her legs must have looked particularly obscene, because Marco’s eyes narrowed with desire. “Don’t be a tease,
“Oh, I’m no angel and I never tease.” With that, Kyra thrust the sharpened blade at his chest, aiming directly for the heart. But something went horribly wrong. She’d prepared herself for the blood, the resistance of blade against bone and the death grimace. What she hadn’t counted on was Marco being nearly as fast as she was. Kyra knew that Marco had military training. Still, she could hardly believe how deftly he blocked the blow with his hand. The knife slashed open his palm from fingers to wrist and red blood sprayed the carpeted floor.
His expression twisted in surprise at her betrayal, and he
used his uninjured hand to grab her wrist. He slammed it against the wall so hard she thought the bones in her hand might have shattered. “Drop the knife,” Marco growled, all sincerity and need now replaced with the hard features of a furious and injured man.