Authors: Dara Girard
Paradise just got a lot hotter
Nikki Dupree feels like the luckiest designer in the world.
She’s just been commissioned to reinvent the magnificent island home of wealthy recluse Lucian Kontos. From the moment the private plane he sends for Nikki touches down, she’s enchanted by the breathtaking sunsets over the shimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean. But all bets are off when Nikki meets her insufferably arrogant alpha employer….
After his world was scarred by fire, Lucian thought his life was over. But Nikki could be his second chance. With her sensual beauty and passion for life, she’s slowly healing his heart. In her arms, the smoldering secrets of the past are consumed by the desire burning between them. Can Nikki see beyond the past of a wounded man who wants to spend the rest of his days loving her?
“You’ve bewitched me.
“You sit there quietly watching me with those eyes of yours unafraid, but also unsure. I can see a cascade of emotions crossing your face, but I can’t read them. You intrigue me even when I don’t want you to. I can’t afford to. But it feels good because you make me forget—” He gripped his hand into a fist. “You make me forget things I have no right to.” He brushed the flower against the hollow of her neck, his gaze trailing behind it like a slow, sensual caress. “Perhaps I’m wrong. You’re not a goddess, you’re a sorceress.”
“No,” Nikki said, breathless and tense lest she do or say anything to break the invisible bond between them. “I have no magic in me.”
“That I find hard to believe.” Lucian lifted Nikki to her feet and his mouth covered hers. The touch and taste of his lips were even better than she’d remembered. Her entire body came alive at his touch. The air felt more fragrant, the breeze cooler and his body solid and as hot as volcanic fire. She surrendered to the demanding mastery of his hands and the practiced persuasion of his mouth. Every fiber of her body went weak at his touch.
He pulled away, his eyes smoldering with fire, but his voice cool. “I didn’t expect this.”
“Neither did I.”
“I shouldn’t let this happen.”
“Then blame me,” Nikki said, bold and impulsive. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
Books by Dara Girard
The Glass Slipper Project
A Gentleman’s Offer
Round the Clock
Words of Seduction
Pages of Passion
Beneath the Covers
All I Want Is You
fell in love with storytelling at an early age. Her romance writing career happened by chance when she discovered the power of a happy ending. She is an award-winning author whose novels are known for their sense of humor, interesting plot twists and witty dialogue.
When she’s not writing she enjoys spring mornings and autumn afternoons, French pastries, dancing to the latest hits and long drives.
Dara loves to hear from her readers. You can reach her at [email protected] or P.O. Box 10345, Silver Spring, MD 20914.
Have you ever wanted to get away from it all? The obligations, the job that no longer excites you, the on-again, off-again boyfriend you should have broken up with months ago? That’s exactly how Nikki Dupree feels when she impulsively takes an assignment to redesign the house of the reclusive Lucian Kontos.
Initially, I thought Nikki would have fun with JD’s brother from
All I Want Is You.
But they were having too much fun and nothing was happening so I had to go with someone who could prove a challenge to her. Enter JD’s friend Lucian.
Immediately, an electricity ignites between them that seems to expand to everything and everyone around them. An attraction so powerful that even the gods and goddesses of myth seem to take a hand in it.…
So, my dear reader, here is another tale I hope you enjoy.
e would die tonight in this hell of his own creation. Flames licked at the walls outside his bedroom, shattering the windows down the hall, and turning everything they touched into blackened ash. Everything burned around him and he would soon burn with it. The fire had yet to reach the room where he’d imprisoned himself, but he knew the smoke would take him first. He imagined gossamer black arms seeping under the door, slowly gathering together to strangle him. Lucian Kontos let the smoke invade his lungs, just as he’d let Alana invade his life and his heart.
Even now he could see her face, remember the scent of her lotion, the seductive fragrance of her perfume, the touch of her hand, the beautiful slope of her neck when she threw her head back and laughed. She loved to laugh. It was what had attracted him to her at first. Now he wondered if she’d been laughing at him. It seemed likely now, as he looked back. He’d been a fool. Not only because he’d carelessly let her into every part of his life, but because he’d given her his heart as well. That had made him as weak and blind as a newborn puppy. God, how he’d loved her, and now he’d die because of it. But he welcomed this end. His shame demanded this punishment. It suited his sense of honor and justice. His foolish heart had led him to a fiery grave.
Lucian inhaled the smoke, waiting for the toxins to slowly suffocate him and turn his lungs as black as charcoal, and prepared for death.
The urgent voice of a young girl ripped through the loud roar of the flames. A distant cry that he hadn’t expected to hear.
No, not a cry. A scream. She was screaming for him.
But she wasn’t supposed to be here. She was to be safely away. Miles away. He’d made sure his brother took her with him. Maybe he was hallucinating. Yes, that was it. He was having an auditory hallucination because she was the one thing he truly regretted having to leave behind. But he’d made sure she would be taken care of.
Lucian stiffened in the chair where he’d been awaiting his end and swore. He wasn’t hallucinating. She was here in this inferno he’d once called his home, screaming his name. Instantly the sweet call of death and its promises to end all his suffering no longer mattered. He had to save Callia. He had to reach her. He grabbed a pillowcase and covered his mouth, then went to the door, ignoring the pain in his leg, and opened it. He dropped to his knees so that he could crawl under the layer of black smoke that choked the air. He knew the smoke would overtake them both, so there wasn’t much time to reach her.
He wanted to call out and let her know that he was coming to get her, that he’d do anything to make sure she was safe, but he knew that he couldn’t. He had to reserve what little oxygen he had left.
Lucian reached the stairs and saw the bright glow of the red, orange and yellow flames below and heard her voice again, but he still couldn’t see where she was. He was about to turn away when he saw something wiggle on the floor. That was when he noticed her fingers. He rushed forward and saw Callia hanging from the edge of one of the steps where a staircase used to stand.
She looked up, her eyes wide with terror. It mirrored his own—as if they’d found each other locked together in purgatory—but he quickly replaced his fear with a steely determination. She would not die. He wouldn’t think of the long drop that awaited her if she fell or the flames that shot up to seize her.
“I can’t hold on,” she said.
“You must hold on to me.” He grabbed the railing, praying for it to hold, and wrapped an arm around her neck. He straightened, then grabbed her around the waist as the stair fell away. There was no way out except up. He lifted her in his arms and dashed toward a room off to the side and closed the door, knowing they didn’t have much time before the fire reached them.
He pounded his fist against the door, then turned to her. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
She wrapped her arms around herself. “I sensed something was wrong and I told Basilio.”
“And he brought you back here?” Lucian said, angered that his younger brother would ignore his orders. He’d come back into his life only eight months ago, after nearly a decade of separation. “Where is he?”
“He’s not here.”
“Then who brought you here?”
“I don’t know.”
“You have to know,” Lucian said, pressing her, eager for details. The information she knew was vital to him. “You didn’t get here by magic.”
“I really don’t know how I got here. I woke up in my room and smelled the smoke. At first I thought I was dreaming.”
Lucian pounded the door again. It was even worse than he’d imagined. Someone must have drugged her and placed her in the house, knowing what was going to happen. But why? “When you woke up, you should have tried to escape.”
“But I had to find you first to warn you. I knew you were in danger.”
He gritted his teeth. “That’s why you should have stayed away.”
Callia blinked and he saw the tears. He rarely lost his temper with her, but he couldn’t comfort her now. She was only eleven but already had her mother’s beauty and her father’s defiant nature. Now wasn’t the time to argue. Silence was better. He needed to think. He walked toward a set of windows and winced as a shooting pain ripped through his side, making him feel as if he’d aged a hundred years.
Callia took a step toward him. “You’re hurt.”
Lucian held his hand out, keeping her away. “I’m fine,” he lied. Yes, he hurt. He hurt all over, as if every nerve ending had been electrified, but that didn’t matter now. He needed to keep her safe. Lucian opened one of the windows and lifted her onto the windowsill. “I’m going to throw you into the pool.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“There’s no reason to be afraid. It will be okay.”
“I want you to come with me. Let’s jump together.”
“No need. You know how to swim.” He lifted her up.
She grabbed the window frame. “No.”
“Callia, listen to me.”
She fought him even harder. “No!”
“You must jump,” he demanded, struggling with her.
“No!” she screamed. Her resistance was just as frantic as when he’d found her on the stairs, clinging for her life.
He released his hold and stared at her, bewildered. “Why not?”
“If you let me go, you won’t come with me.”
Lucian silently swore, hung his head and released a heavy sigh. She knew him too well. Sometimes he wondered why this strange little girl loved him so much. Especially since he was the cause of her father’s death.
He lifted his head and met her eyes, his voice stern. “Callia, you are going to listen to me.” He cupped her face in his hands. He’d never pleaded in his life, but this time he would for her sake. “My little one. Please listen to me. Your life is all I treasure. Save it for me.”
“No. Either I live with you or I die with you.”
A part of him wanted to laugh at her bold statement, and another part wanted to shake her. This skinny little thing who was all arms and legs wanted to fight
? He could easily overpower her, and if he had more strength, he would have by now. He knew he could crush her body, but not her will. He heard the roar of the flames at the door and saw fear enter her eyes. She didn’t want to die, despite her rash claim, and she didn’t deserve to.
She grabbed the front of his shirt in her tiny fist. “Come on, Uncle Lucian. Let’s go.” She tightened her grip. “Jump with me.”
“We don’t have time for this.”
She buried her face in his neck. “Please, Uncle Lucian. Please don’t leave me alone.”
“You won’t be alone. You’ll have—”
She vigorously shook her head and said in a trembling voice, “No, please. Please!”
“Shh. Don’t cry.” He sighed. “Okay. I’ll jump after you.”
She shook her head again.
“You promise, really?” She held out her hand.
He took it and held it against his chest, over his heart. “I promise. On my soul.” He kissed her hand, then released it. “Now, let’s go.”
She looked at him.
He turned her face. “Don’t look back at me. Only look ahead. Remember what I taught you?”
“Where I’m going matters more than where I’ve been,” she said, as though repeating a solemn vow.
She hugged him. “I love you, Uncle Lucian.”
“I know,” he said impatiently, disentangling himself from her grasp. They didn’t have time. He had to get her to safety. “Face forward.”
She did, and he threw her out the window and watched her fall into the water. He waited for her to emerge to the surface and felt his tense heart relax when he saw her head pop up and she swam to the edge of the Olympic-size pool. She was safe.
The fire was at the door. Lucian could hear it pressing against the wood, wanting entrance. He turned to the door, knowing that in an instant it could all be over. All the secrets, betrayal and curses could die with him. It was his fate. He turned to the window from which Callia had fallen, and stared at the darkening sky, watching as the sinking sun created the same violent reds and yellows against the horizon as the blaze that consumed his house. He’d promised Callia he would live, even though she’d be better off without him. He’d promised on his soul, but he felt he had no soul to make a promise with. Looking down, he saw her mouth move, but it was too distant to hear. He knew she was calling his name.
He wouldn’t leave her yet; he’d defy fate. He sat on the edge of the window. “I’m coming,” he said, not caring if she heard him or not. He would not leave her afraid. Just as he was pushing away from the windowsill to launch into the air, the fire broke through the door and reached through the room like the long arm of a fiery beast, as if trying to grab him back. Glass exploded above him and the uncontrolled fire continued to fuel itself. Then suddenly there was an explosion caused by a back draft, the result of the fire suddenly receiving oxygen, and it propelled Lucian through the air.
Before he hit the water, he briefly wondered if he’d have a watery grave instead of a fiery one, and then he thought of nothing else.