Authors: T. A. Grey
“Come on, let's get the hell out of here,” Rosa said, tugging on Lily's arm like an impatient child to her mother. She didn't budge.
“No, wait, I want to talk to Telal first.”
Rosa spotted the man in the corner coming towards her and her heart started racing. “Then get a ride home with him, I'm out of here.”
Lily muttered something that sounded like a goodbye but Rosa didn't stay to hear it. She bolted from the room. The male incubus tried to go through the door at the same time and stepped on her dress. She tripped and the material split with a loud rip. That male was coming closer, his brow pinched forward. Something about him frightened her, sent her running down the hallway towards the stairwell. If she could get there before he caught her, and some instinct told her that was exactly what he was trying to do, then she could cast her spell and port back to the shop.
Glorious relief surged through her body as she came to the door. She slammed her hands into the push lever and darted inside, breathing hard as she plastered herself against the wall. What on earth was wrong with her? She quickly dismissed that stupid thought. She
listened to her instincts and in this particular case they told her to run and hide.
A soft sound, like a footstep, came from the other side of the door. Rosa held her breath, stared wide-eyed at the metal door. It started to open, and her eyes widened until they burned with the need to blink. The man came through the door. He looked around then found her hiding spot behind the door. The furrow between his eyebrows deepened along with the frown on his lips.
“Are you well?”
Her heart drummed hard at the sound of his voice. It was deep but had an accent to it, almost Irish sounding.
She nodded at his question and hoped that the answer might be good enough for him. Maybe he'd just turn and leave.
He gave her a curious look then motioned back to the hallway. “Were you running from me?”
She gulped and found it strange that he thought someone running from him was odd. The man was
.” She nodded quickly to prove her point.
Though he wasn't standing close to her, he took a step back as if to give her room. “Why?”
She licked her dry lips, and standing this close to him, really got to take in just how big he was. She was no short woman, though she wasn't particularly tall either, yet he towered over her, had to be at least 6'5”. Yet it wasn't necessarily the height that had sent her running, but the packs of muscles he carried and the edge of violence that seemed to be barely contained in his body. His shoulders, arms, chest, and legs were huge and filled out the black clothes he wore. He had the body of a man who spent hours working his muscles to perfection.
Her senses chose that moment to speak up. As if another voice was in her head, she closed her eyes and listened to its advice.
She still would have run if the man wasn't so big.
Then what was it about him? “You're big,” she whispered.
His lips pulled into a frown as he looked down at his chest as if seeing himself for the first time. “I'm sorry...what?”
Knowing how stupid she sounded, she shook her head. “Just tell me what you want.” She crossed her arms. This dress was made tailored to her with sleeves that billowed around her wrists. While it looked pretty, she really had it made because sewn into each sleeve was a small pouch with a dagger, very light-weight and easy to use in it. She crossed her arms into her sleeves until she touched the metal.
He lifted a packet of papers in his hand. “Telal has a job for you. I'm his personal guard, Kearnyn.” He held out his hand to shake but she could only stare at the big paw.
Pretending to ignore his outstretched bear hand, she looked at his face instead. He had dark hair with natural streaks of red and green eyes that matched perfectly. His skin was much lighter than her own, but what she found the most distraction was his entire face. He was incredibly good-looking with high cheek bones, a square jaw, aristocratic straight nose and neat even ears.
“You're staring,” he said quietly in that deep voice.
Rosa felt her cheeks burn as she look down at the floor. “I thought I saw dirt on your face. Sorry,” she mumbled. “You said something about papers?”
He gave her a hard look that she couldn't read. “Telal has been given a job to manufacture enspelled weapons. He'd like to know if you'd be interested in assisting him, for a share of the profits of course.”
She swallowed hard and took the papers from his outstretched hand. What she'd tried to do was gently take them from him as if she was calm inside, but instead she snatched them, crinkling several of the pages in her fist.
Deep breaths, deep breaths. She quickly glanced over the pages seeing the sketchings and specs of the weapons and the kind of enchantment required. “How many do you want me to make?”
“Telal says that if you agree to split the work he'll share half the profits. That's 5,000 Weapons.”
Her stomach fluttered at his deep, rolling voice. “Sure, I'll do it.” She didn't even think about the answer, just gave the one she knew would make him leave the fastest.
He nodded and pulled a pen out of his back pocket. “Sign the line on the last page, Ms. Medina.”
She took the pen with shaking fingers and scribbled her signature where he indicated. “Just call me Rosa,” she said, handing the papers back to him.
He looked at her with a watchful expression that made her feel as though she were the center of his attention. It unnerved the hell out of her.
“Rosa, I look forward to seeing you again.” He held her gaze for a moment, then turned and left, the door slamming shut behind him.
Only after he left could she breathe normally again. Before he had a chance to come back, even though she didn't know if he would, she closed her eyes and chanted her porting spell. When she finished, she was back in her shop, but her encounter with the big man still lingered with her.
Telal sat at the head of the conference table writing furiously in a small leather-bound notebook. Kearnyn stood several feet behind him, a man whose size alone probably deterred attacks on his master.
Lily took a seat on the table, her thigh brushing against the papers he had out. His hand stilled then he slowly lifted his head to glare at her.
“What are you still doing here?”
“Waiting for a lift.” He probably didn't realize it, or at least wouldn't admit it, but the meeting had been hard on him. The lines in his forehead were more pronounced, the grip on his pen looked like he was trying to strangle it.
“Go home with Rosa. I'm busy.” He looked back down, his hand scribbling across the page in a heavy-inked slanted scrawl.
“She already left. Sorry but it looks like I'll be hitching with you.”
He let out a stream of demonish that sounded a lot like he was cursing her and her entire family—and he probably was. Lily barely controlled her grin.
stop kicking your legs like that?”
Lily glanced at her swinging legs over the ledge of the table and shrugged. “For you? Sure.” She stilled her legs, but it was like asking a child to stop squirming when he had an itch, and instead her bare feet started bouncing. His eyes swung to them.
“You are still not wearing shoes.” He said it slowly as if he couldn't believe it. Really, he was surprised, she thought?
“I haven't exactly had the chance to go shopping yet. It was slightly more important to make a remedy for my pain first. It's on my list of things-to-do though. What, do my pink toes frighten you?”
He stood and started shoving documents and his journal into his briefcase. “I can say, Ms. Bellum that is the first non-foolish thing you've done.”
Not feeling insulted in the least, she smiled at him. Then in a smooth move, she balanced her foot between his legs on the chair behind him and wrapped her arm around his neck, pulling them close together. His eyes widened in surprise then strayed to her mouth. Her heart skipped an unsteady beat, her stomach tightening as breathing became difficult. But the look lasted barely a moment before his eyes turned to a glare. He looked at her as if she was nothing more than an insect he'd rather squash. Probably true, too.
“Kiss me,” she whispered.
His eyes fell once more to her lips and she wet them with the tip of her tongue. How many times had she thought about his kiss? How many times had she dreamt of him kissing her? The answer was a lot. In fact, so many times that what were dreams and what were visions had become skewered together, blurring, until she didn't know which was what.
He looked her straight in the eyes and it was like the earth stood still. Particles, molecules, and dust around them paused as he looked at her not with contempt or disdain but something entirely different, something almost pleasant. He looked at her as a man might a woman he could be interested in, the look a man gave right before he bought a woman a drink at a bar. Warm, the look was warm, welcoming.
His hand slid across her cheek and into her hair where he loosely fisted it, then he leaned close. Her skin tightened in anticipation, need coiled deep in her belly. All she saw was beautiful golden skin, vibrant blue hair, and mesmerizing golden eyes that held her captive, left her waiting breathlessly.
He stopped, mere inches from their lips touching and in a low voice said, “Never.” And then he thrust away from her, leaving her trembling, aroused, and confused as he went to talk to Kearnyn as if nothing had happened.
Her mind still spun when he and Kearnyn stalked back to her. He laid his hand on Kearnyn's shoulder then hers and looked once more down at her feet.
He snorted, something close to a laugh. “So that's what it takes to make you sit still.” And then he touched her and the room around them fell like granules of colored sand in tans, browns, and blues then floated back up and materialized into hard, concrete shapes and objects.
Where they appeared wasn't Telal's office nor was it her room at his place. “Where are we?” Shoppers ambled around with bags of purchases from designer stores, the rancid scents of dozens of perfumes, colognes, and candles mingled together into something that made her want to sneeze.
“The mall. Go shopping. I'll send a car to pick you up in two hours.”
“Aw, but I hate shopping.”
Her words fell on deaf ears as he and Kearnyn disappeared before her eyes.
She started walking through the mall, not really seeing anything, because her mind was busy analyzing that moment at the desk. And it had been a moment—that much she knew. He had wanted to kiss her. He really, really had. She checked herself for a second. She had to be sure. Because if she was right then this was excellent progress on her plan to wear him down until he gave in to her.
He could have been faking the look in his eyes,
she'd felt something in that moment, a kind of static charge that swayed between them. That could not be faked. Telal Demuzi
want to kiss her.
For the first time in her life, Lily shopped with zeal and a smile on her face.
Sitting on his knees with his feet tucked behind him, Telal closed his eyes and took deep breaths. In through his nose, out through his nose. He closed his mind off to everything. The specially-made room helped to block out all noise and had a concave cream-colored ceiling and white padded floors. Each little spec from the floors to the ceiling added to the harmony of the room and allowed him to open his mind.
Today, he couldn't get his mind to do what he wanted worth a damn though. Each time he focused his mind on nothing, heard only the fictional sound of waves crashing in his mind, it was shut off, staggered, until all he saw was her.
Her soft words still lingered with him, invading his thoughts like a fly buzzing around his head. He tried to swat it but it continued to elude him. He took a deep breath and tried again. His thoughts centered, focused, then the image of her sliding naked and wet out of the tub slammed into the front of his mind.
Slouching in defeat, he scrubbed a hand over his face. She was beautiful, yes, but he saw beautiful woman all the time and it never interfered with him like this. He knew this might happen if she came here. Even in the short amount of time he'd spent around the succubus, she'd managed to imprint herself in his thoughts so easily.
The last time he'd had a woman was nearly twelve months ago. He hadn't slept with her out of any kind of sexual frustration, but more out of boredom. His life had a habit of feeling tedious, boring. Go to sleep and try to get in a few hours, then get up and go to work and plan, plan, plan. At the time, he'd thought a fling with a beautiful vampire would change things up. Instead, he'd done the deed and left without a goodbye. It'd been cold, passionless. Then he'd had a restless night's sleep only to wake up to the same job, same work. He hadn't attempted anything with a woman since then. It wasn't the answer to his restlessness.
He'd found peace in meditating. Not only that, but his powers seemed to regenerate faster, to grow stronger. Coming from a powerful line of royalty, he had the power to bring back life. But there were conditions, such as the death must be very,
recent. It also drained nearly all of his powers. After he'd saved Alpha Lyonis Keelan he'd been depleted for a week. He'd barely had the strength to port everyone out of the rift and get himself back home before he'd collapsed on the floor—limbs like putty, eyes burning and bloodshot—only to wake up days later in his bed. His guard Kearnyn had seen to him, fed him, just another reason he paid the bastard so much.
In truth, he recognized that the succubus Lily Bellum presented a major problem to him. Several problems, in fact. She interfered with his job whether she was around him or not. She'd caused him nothing but stress in the past by summoning ancient demons, and now she lived under his roof. Naked and wet...
He shook his head to clear the image. The woman had to be daft to chase after him like she did. He was a demon and couldn't be further from compatible with her than if he were an
. If she realized it then she just didn't care. Foolish
. Yet he couldn't deny that the thought of touching her body, of tasting her lips wasn't completely appealing.
Forcing his eyes closed, he blanked his thoughts from Lily Bellum. He will not touch her; he will not let her interfere with his job. His people depended on him. Taking the succubus was not in the cards.
* * *
Hours later and only mildly more relaxed, Telal showered and threw on a fresh button-down satin shirt with black slacks. He went into his office, pleased that at least Kearnyn was already there and ready to go. At least something today would go the way he liked it—normal and easy.
“Rosa Medina signed the contract to enspell the weapons.”
“I figured as much. I want you to oversee the project. I'd do it, but it seems I have a trip to plan now.” And Lily Bellum was actually the least of his problems at the moment. Odd.
Kearnyn paused for a moment then nodded.
Telal didn't miss the unusual beat. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not at all,” he answered readily.
“Good, now let's plan this out. The last thing I'd expected was to make a trip into the rift.”
He grabbed a flat paper map of the earth which showed the lines where the rifts were and took a seat at his desk. Not only did he have to decide on the right point of entry which wouldn't get him immediately killed, but he had to plan on seeing his family—if they were alive—for the first time since the war. What would they say or think? He'd abandoned them to live atop the rift, though Tobius 'the bastard' Kulev had lied to him. He could still feel the burn of deceit after all these years.
When he'd agreed to help Tobius close off the rift, it was under strict understanding that only the lower levels would be closed off. He went along with it because his people would be allowed, as they always have, to travel on the earthen-realm freely; and the extra protection offered by the newly formed Atal Warriors would help to keep the
demons at bay. Or so he thought. Never could he have guessed his decision would lead his people into a hundred-year long war.
He didn't learn until the last minute when the Atal Warriors charged through the rift's barrier, that that wasn't what the Commander had planned at all. He was going to lock all of them under the rift. He could still remember the smirk on the bastard's face as he'd turned to him and said, “Don't worry; you're safe for all the help you've given us.”
He could have stayed below in that suffocated realm without a chance of leaving lest he meet his fate from one of the Atal Warriors, but he’d seen his chance at freedom. His decision was purely selfish but years later he realized he had made the right one, because if he hadn't left when he did then there would be no one to champion for his people's right to those who hold the power over them.
The day Tobius en Kulev and his mate were murdered by rogue demons was a day he'd celebrated. In traditional demon fashion, he'd ordered the finest alcohol in the city, invited all of his friends, though they were really mere acquaintances, and drank, danced, and fucked for a solid week. It happened ages ago but it still felt like yesterday.
Kearnyn and Telal poured over maps and ideas until they chose the ideal location. A part of the rift some ten miles away from the main rift city of
. He remembered playing in the fields outside the city as a child with his brother Alrik. Trees of dark brown branches with fluffy pink and white flowers filled the grassy field with bright colors until it almost looked like a painting. At the time he'd taken it for granted, had never really appreciated the beauty of it. Yeah, he didn't do that until after he was gone and couldn't look at it again. Life was cruel like that.
He'd hike, hopefully uninterrupted, to the castle. His father's guards used to keep watch, so he'd have to get past them first and into the throne room. He'd wait and see what kind of welcoming he'd receive. Hell, he didn't even know if his father, mother, or brother were alive. If they were, then they hated him. That much he knew for certain. His father always had a cruel streak, quick to punish, quick to hurt and, as he got older, he stopped seeing his mother protest his treatments until, eventually, she joined in.
When he was young, he'd taken it upon himself to watch over his little brother. Telal never wanted to be king, but Alrik would be perfect for it. When his father died, Telal would be put in charge, so he saw to it to teach his younger brother so that he could hand the kingdom over to him. Alrik had a fair heart and a sight for justice, but even Telal had seen the effects of his father's 'grooming' over him. His opinions had started to change, to mimic his father's. Secretly, Telal would take him through the prisons or outside the castle’s walls to show him the non-royals—the
The class injustice had always rubbed him raw. Even after he left the rift, he continued to see the same pattern in humans for hundreds of years. For a long time he thought it was just the way life worked. Though today he didn't believe it; he believed it could be changed.
As they finished mapping out and planning his course of action he went through the pros and cons of this trip. The pros—to see the kingdom and another true demon for the first time in a thousand years. The cons—seeing his family, if they were alive. If his father still carried the throne then he might toss him into a prison to rot for a thousand years while rats ate his flesh. Or worse, his brother was dead. His heart constricted at the thought like a fist squeezing it. He'd never loved anyone like he loved his brother. With any luck, his brother had heeded his advice and ran a kingdom where the
were treated equally.
Too bad he wasn't lucky. His gut told him a different story. The chances of his brother turning out to be what he wanted were near to nil. The chances of him being alive were even less.
His thoughts were interrupted when the office door swung open and Lily Bellum sauntered in wearing a flowing white dress with blooming pastel flowers on it that fell just above the knee with a flat pair of black sandals. Her hair was pulled back with a tie that showed off her slender neck.
She's just a beautiful woman.
Not even that beautiful. You've seen many before and will many, many more before you die.
“Hey fellas, what's going on?” She hopped onto the desk, crushing the map and papers he'd been making notes on and wrinkling their perfectly flat surface. He ground his jaw until it popped.
“Working. Get out.” He debated again throwing her out, but damn, he couldn't do it. She'd go to the law. This woman went after things like an eighteen-wheeler barreling a hundred miles per hour down the highway. Having the police breathing down his neck while he was this close to getting his people freed wouldn’t do. And if he were to admit it, he knew he owed her father Frank. He'd helped him get set up on this realm when no one else would even glance his way. Shit.
She smiled at him and he swore her eyes twinkled. She crossed her legs and started kicking the top one. His eyes fell to the smooth skin. Kick...kick...kick. A jeweled bracelet on her ankle chimed with the movement.
His chair slid harshly across the floor as he stood and planted his hands on the desk, leaning over her. “I said get...out.” He kept his voice low and deadly, every bit the threat he meant it to be.
She just smiled at him like he amused her. God dammit, she made him want to pick up his chair and throw it through a window.
She looked down at the papers on his desk. “Oh, planning your trip to the rift, huh? I hope you're making that a trip for two, because I'm going.”
He laughed, he couldn't help it. Her statement was the epitome of absurd, besides it felt good to laugh in her face. “No way in hell.” He glared at her to shove his point home.
“I'm going one way or another.”
He looked at Kearnyn for guidance or
but he only lifted a big shoulder in a shrug and discretely left the room. Telal's eyes narrowed on the closing door and he mentally made a note to cut the vampire's wages.
She hopped down from the desk and ran her hands over her hips then gripped the bottom of her dress and swung it side to side in a little dance. “Like my new dress?”
He grunted and started stacking the papers she'd messed up on his desk. He hated the disorder but righting it always made him feel peaceful inside. He did his best to ignore the obnoxious woman but he might as well pretend not to hear music blaring from an amplifier at a metal concert.
Grabbing the documents, he headed for the filing cabinet. Her soft steps followed him. “I bought it just for you.” He put the papers in the proper file in alphabetical order then locked the drawer before turning around and almost bumping into her.
“Get out of my office.” He headed back to the desk with the intent of calling Kearnyn to come drag her away when she touched his arm, pulling him to a dead stop. She walked around in front of him, a wide smile on her unpainted pink lips. Then she reached into the valley between her breasts and pulled out a thin long box.
He had to swallow twice before he could speak. “You keep things between your breasts?” His voice turned hoarse like he'd drank a gallon of acid.
Her eyes grew hooded, sexy; her smile wicked. “Not usually but I can if you'd like.”
“What? No.” He cooled his expression into a bored look as she handed the box to him. He stared at it as if it might explode the second he laid his fingertips on it.
She waved it at him. “Well, take it.”
“What is it?”
She rolled her eyes. “It's a gift. Come on, I thought you were smart. Just take it.”
He shook his head and ignored the strange feeling in his chest. No one gave him gifts, ever. Why would they? Hell, it felt awkward as fuck. “I don't want it. Just keep whatever it is.” He stepped around her and took a seat at his desk as he finished stacking his papers and locking up the important documents that he wouldn't want some succubus to get in to.
“Well, I'll tell you what. Either take the gift and open it now or I'll take off my dress and show you my new matching bra and panty set.”
His jaw dropped like a falling elevator. What the hell?
She was just playing games with him now. He slammed his finger into the intercom button and commanded Kearnyn to get his slow ass up here
. He ran a stiff-fingered hand through his hair and started making a few extra notes for his trip when she marched in front of the desk and planted her hands on it.