Authors: Sabrina York
For thousands of years, Keeshan has
waited. A curse put him in the lamp, damning him to an eternity of pleasing the
women who find it. Each time, the women enter the lamp, ensnared in a web of
lust and love. And each time, just as he grows to care, the women leave.
But Aimalee is different somehow.
With her, Keeshan’s desire knows no bounds—he needs to be with her, inside her,
every second she’s there, like an addict who just can’t get enough. Eventually
she’ll leave just like the others but until then, Keeshan plans to indulge her
every sinful urge. And maybe, just maybe, she’s the key to breaking the curse.
paranormal romance features a plus-size heroine and a hero who worships her
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
This book is dedicated to Celeste Deveney, who refused to
let me give up on Keeshan and Aimalee.
Thanks to Carrie Jackson for her editing genius, making this
book the best it could be, and to the Ellora’s Cave art department for an
awesome cover. To all the Ellora’s Cave staff who work so hard to make these
books shine, you are all amazing!
My heartfelt appreciation to my fellow writers for their
support. Especially Sidney Bristol, Monica Britt, Carmen Cook, Wendy Delaney,
Delilah Devlin, Cerise DeLand, Tina Donahue, Natalie French, Desiree Holt,
Kathy Klein, Gina Lamm and Chantilly White.
To all my friends in the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of
America, Passionate Ink and Rose City Romance Writers groups, thank you for all
your support and encouragement.
Aimalee gazed at the ancient artifacts arranged on the
worktable and twin slashes of pleasure and pride washed through her. The depth
of the stories these remnants embodied fascinated her. It was her charge to
bring this mystery to the world, to make it live again.
And tonight it would all happen. Tonight was the culmination
of many years of research and hard work. This revelation would make her name in
the antiquities world.
Discovering a lost civilization tended to impress even the
most jaded historian.
These particular objects had been found on a dig in a
desolate rocky valley in what once had been the great empire of Persia, mingled
with typical remnants of the day. But these items were unlike anything she had
seen before. Clearly not Persian, their style was far more exotic and the
symbols were utterly unfamiliar. They sparked her curiosity and sent her
fantasies running rampant. They were moldy old historical fantasies but
She gently repositioned an exquisite ceremonial bowl, her
gloved hand lovingly tracing the mysterious carvings on its lip. Lord. What she
wouldn’t give to be able to decipher those symbols. While they weren’t
cuneiform—at least any adaptations she had studied—they carried hints of Median
and Assyrian influences. The odd thing was they also incorporated Sumerian
Civilizations five thousand years apart on the timeline.
Even so, what really caught her attention was the way the
etchings seemed to shimmer, shift on the metal surface. She was sure it was
simply an illusion but couldn’t keep herself from staring at them. Every item in
her display was stamped with the delicate, enigmatic scrawl.
Of all them, the lamp was her favorite. Something about it
spoke to her. She picked it up, cradling it. She loved the weight, the breadth,
the warmth of it. While it was not a particularly ornate creation—except for
the whimsical dance of the spout—the design, the inscrutable inscriptions on
the gleaming gold face, caught and held the eye. When she rubbed at a tiny
smudge with her thumb, she could have sworn the lamp glowed in appreciation.
But then she had always been a fey and fanciful creature.
“There you are.”
Aimalee tried not to cringe as a sharp voice, akin to a
fireplace poker on a chalkboard, sliced through her sanctuary. It was difficult
not to cringe.
“I should’ve known I’d find you here.”
Aimalee set the ancient lamp onto the worktable and
meticulously drew off her gloves before she turned. She needed to gird her
loins before an interaction with Sorcha. She usually did.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like the museum’s public relations
director. But Sorcha had an uncanny ability to make Aimalee feel uncomfortable
in her own skin. Inadequate.
Sorcha was everything Aimalee had always wanted to be but
wasn’t. Tall, willowy and sophisticated. She wore only the highest fashion. Her
shoes were sleek with impossible heels. Her hair and makeup were always
flawless. Like a mannequin’s.
Aimalee couldn’t tame her wayward curls if her life depended
on it. And rare was the day she didn’t have three-thousand-year-old dust
smudged across her cheek.
She rubbed her palms on her faded, stained jeans and cleared
her throat. “I’m always here.” Sometimes it seemed as though she lived in this
musty basement. Then again, this was the only place she felt at home. And
frankly she resented this intrusion, especially today.
But she didn’t let it show. She never let it show. Never let
Sorcha wrinkled a perfect button nose and scanned the
cluttered room with a moue of distaste. “I don’t know how you can stand it. No
.” Yes. It did smell. It smelled like history. It
happened to be an aroma Aimalee loved. “I would hate being stuck down here.”
Aimalee rubbed at the pulse throbbing in her temple. “Did
you want something?”
“Ah, yes.” Sorcha switched on her most brilliant gee-I-want-something-from-you
smile. “Carter can’t find the appendix for your dissertation.”
Aimalee frowned. “Why does he want that?” For heaven’s sake.
Carter had never shown much interest in Aimalee’s research. In fact, for a
museum director he exhibited a surprising indifference to history. Then again,
when they were together he usually had other things on his mind.
Sorcha shrugged one shoulder. She fiddled with a hair that
had somehow come undone from her elaborately curled coif. “He’s meeting with
the board, I guess. He probably wants to mention you.”
That made sense. Naturally the board of directors would be
interested in her recent discovery. When the findings were released to the
journals there would be a huge hoopla in the antiquities community. And hoopla
meant moola. The board was all about moola.
“I have it on my computer.”
“Hmm. And what’s the password?”
Aimalee sighed. “Sorcha, I am not giving you my password.”
As though that would make a difference. Aimalee’s computer
was her life. Everything was on there. Everything that mattered anyway. “I can
give it to him later.”
“He wants it now.”
Typical. Carter was always impulsive and impatient. Aimalee
didn’t mind so much when they were in bed but the rest of the time his
impetuosity was just annoying. Like now. Aimalee tolerated it because…well,
because he was Carter. He was quite the catch. For someone like her. Handsome.
Successful. And as the great-grandson of the famous Egyptologist Howard
Carter—several times removed—he had a certain cachet in their world.
Aimalee sighed. “I have a copy in my files.” She bent down
to unlock her lateral files but didn’t miss Sorcha’s grimace. She riffled
through her meticulously arranged documents and pulled out a thick folder.
“Here it is.” The result of five years of intensive study.
Sorcha hesitated before holding out an exquisitely manicured
hand. “He wanted a soft copy.”
“I can get that to him later.”
“Really, Aimalee. What do you have to do that is so
important you can’t just go up to your office and save it on a thumb drive?”
Ah. Now the real Sorcha began to emerge. That sweet bow-shaped lip curled into
a nasty snarl and sharp green eyes snapped with annoyance. At any second,
Aimalee expected several more heads to sprout from her neck and begin whipping
around with slavering, snarling zeal. Like the Hydra.
“I’m finishing up the Arabian Nights display. Remember? For
tonight? Kinda important.” Aimalee glanced back at the table impatiently. She
wanted to get back to work.
Sorcha snorted and stuffed the precious sheaf of papers
carelessly under her arm. Aimalee tried not to wince. “Sometimes I think you
care more about these dusty old artifacts than you do about your boyfriend.”
Aimalee froze, trying not to let her shock show. “My
Caught out, Sorcha flushed. Carter had insisted they keep
their relationship secret because he was the museum director and she was a
curator. Aimalee had always quietly resented the fact she could never stand by
his side in the bright light of day—but she’d understood. She’d never told a
That meant only one thing.
And he’d told
Acid churned in her gut.
“W-what makes you think he’s my boyfriend?”
“Oh please.” Sorcha arched a supercilious brow. “I notice
There was nothing to notice. Carter was always careful about
that. Meticulously careful. Painfully careful. He went out of his way to appear
indifferent to her whenever they were in public. And sometimes when they
Aimalee picked up a clipboard and pretended to scan the
sheet on top. “I have to get back to work. Did you want anything else?”
“There was one other thing. Carter asked if you could, you
know, not come tonight.”
“Not come tonight?” Aimalee whirled around and gaped at
Sorcha. She’d been working on this display for months, utterly devoted to this
project for years. She’d been so looking forward to showing off her work,
presenting her findings. She’d even bought a new dress for heaven’s sake.
That happened, maybe, once a decade or so.
“It’s going to be quite a crush. All the big benefactors
will be there. And you are…” Sorcha made a scornful little flourish with
slender fingers. Her expression said it all—
. Aimalee knew it to be
true. She knew what she was. But having Sorcha point it out rankled.
“Sure. Do what you need to set it up but then make yourself
scarce. Be out of there by seven. ’Kay?” Sorcha pinned on a dazzling smile. “I
told him you’d understand.”
With that she spun on her Jimmy Choos and waltzed from the
room, elegantly swinging between boxes and crates and piles of books, leaving
Aimalee sitting at her worktable, reeling with shock and repressed rage.
Make yourself scarce.
The mandate of her entire existence.
The fuck she wasn’t coming tonight. She’d worked far too
long, far too hard on her dissertation, on this presentation, to simply fade
into the background now when it was all coming to fruition. This was her baby.
Oh, she’d be there. Come hell or high water.
Without thinking, without redonning her protective gloves—a monumental
no-no in the museum world—Aimalee picked up the lamp and a cleaning cloth and
began to polish her treasure. A deep sense of satisfaction and pleasure spiked
through her, assuaging her annoyance.
Okay, so her love life was more than a little disappointing
and frustrating. And yes, her professional prospects were limited but at least
she loved her work. Really loved her work…
She renewed her invigorated scrubbing on that one smudge
that just wouldn’t wipe away.
Imagine the gall. Asking her to miss the night of her life
so Sorcha could stand in the limelight at Carter’s side and reap the rewards.
Aimalee rubbed harder and faster, fury rising like a chained
beast in her belly. A red tide descended, blurring her vision. Everything
beyond the lamp faded. The world beyond her passion, her work, dissolved.
She’d had enough of this.
Enough hiding her relationship.
Enough elicit, hurried trysts.
Her movements slowed as a strange sensation crawled down her
spine from her neck to her solar plexus. It pooled in her womb. Her fingers and
toes began to tingle. Throb. Prickles of excitement and anticipation skittered
over her skin. Her body warmed, softened, dampened.
Her hand flew to her nape where gentle tendrils caressed
her—like a lover’s whisper. The tingling increased and contracted and wafted
inward to settle just below her pounding heart. Her essence condensed,
coalesced, as light as smoke, wafting and roiling. A strange sense of
unreality, of disengagement, overcame her. She closed her eyes and the dizzy
sensation increased. She tried to open them again but couldn’t. She twisted,
curled, floated in the ether. A great whooshing sensation rocked her
consciousness, sucking her into a smaller and smaller space. A dark place.
And then an eerie silence, a supreme stillness, descended.
* * * * *
Slowly, she came to herself. She glanced around in a
befuddled daze and stilled. She was no longer in her familiar workroom but in a
lavish boudoir, a seraglio swathed in gauzy, flowing drapes. Glowing braziers
wreathed in aromatic smoke lit the room with a dim, somnambulant light. The
velvet cushions she reclined upon teased her sensitive skin. With a start, she
realized she was utterly naked. A shiver coursed through her. What on earth had
happened? Where was she?
But before she could work it out, a billow of iridescent fog
roiled before her. Aimalee stared, transfixed as the cloud slowly coalesced
into human form. A man.
A very large man.
She tipped back her head and their gazes met, clashed. His
eyes glowed with a scorching fervor. A bolt of electricity shot through her.
His features were stark, a savage beauty etched with a
desperate hunger—high, striking cheekbones and wide, sensuous lips. Dark hair
curled gently about his face and neck. A sudden desire to comb those silky
skeins skittered through her.
Aimalee swallowed heavily. Her avaricious attention trailed
down across brown shoulders and powerful arms. His chest was bare and broad and
ridged. It rippled at the mere touch of her gaze.
He stood, legs slightly apart, bunching thighs taut as
though he were about to spring forward but was holding himself back with great
effort. Strength, power and passion rolled off him in waves.
But for metal cuffs about his wrists and neck, he was naked.
Oh. And he was aroused. Magnificently and tremendously
The sight of his jutting, throbbing member made her heart
clench. A strange heat pooled in her womb when she noticed the pearlescent drop
glistening at the tip of his cock.
He was, in a word, ready.
Then again, so was she.
And then he spoke—a deep, mellifluous voice that resonated
straight through to her soul.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Aimalee,” he said. “I’ve been
waiting for you a very long time.”
Aimalee leapt to her feet and grabbed one of the oversized
cushions to cover her nakedness. She gaped at the enormous man in confusion.
His words made no sense at all. At the same time, those words, that tone, their
timbre, moved her in a way she couldn’t quite comprehend.
They bespoke a sense of hunger, of passion, of desire—for
In a world wreathed in apathy, she had never known the like.
She had secretly yearned for a man to look at her like
. To speak to
her with such leashed passion.
But it had never happened.
This must be a dream, a hallucination brought on by the
stress of the past months. Perhaps she’d finally snapped.
How could this man have been waiting for her to come to him?
She’d never seen him before in her life. And she’d never been so certain of
anything. This was a man one remembered, cloaked as he was in an aura of power,
He was taller and broader than any man she’d ever met and
his body was corded with rippling muscles. His intensity should have frightened
her—that of a warrior determined to conquer.
An unexpected thrill trilled through her at the realization
he was determined to conquer
. It made her feel small, fragile and
Aimalee had never been the kind of woman who wilted before a
commanding man. She was independent and strong—she’d had to be. But this was
different. There was something about this man,
something about this place that changed everything.
Somehow she knew she could be strong with him and he would
still want her.
Nothing was more compelling to a woman than a desirable man
who wanted her as she was. Passion like this was a powerful aphrodisiac. And oh
how she felt it.
He felt it too.
“Touch me.” His whispered words echoed through the room,
Their gazes met and everything else melted away.
He stared at her, trembling, teeth clenched, fists tight as
though he longed to reach for her but couldn’t.
Aimalee shivered as an unfamiliar inclination struck her.
She wanted to drop the pillow and press her body against him. Rub against him.
His body was so beautiful. So perfect. She longed to touch him.
Of its own volition, her hand rose. At the last instant,
just before their flesh connected, she curled her fingers.
He winced as she withdrew, winced as though she’d slapped
him. Tiny tears clung to his lashes. “Please, Aimalee.” His voice was ragged.
“Please touch me.”
She stepped away, ignoring the desolation that swept across
his countenance. It cost her but she forced those primal urges down, back into
her subconscious where they belonged. Something wasn’t right here. Women didn’t
just suddenly transport into sumptuous bowers. Gorgeous men with smoldering
eyes didn’t simply appear from thin air. And most importantly, Aimalee didn’t
have thoughts like this.
She never had.
She couldn’t give in to these cravings. Not until she
understood what was happening to her. Her analytical mind wouldn’t allow it.
As though he could read her thoughts, a frown marred his
sculpted brow in fascinating furrows. He stepped closer and closer still—though
not close enough to touch. His breath was warm on her cheek. “Don’t fight it,
Aimalee. You cannot resist. Please don’t try.” He bent closer and his nostrils
flared like a stallion catching the scent of a filly in season. He licked his
My but they were beautiful lips.
And my oh my. He smelled of sandalwood and sin. The
combination made her head spin. She shook her head to rid it of these errant
thoughts. “Where am I? What happened?” More questions swirled but this was a
good place to start.
“Please.” Beads of sweat dimpled his upper lip. Heat roiled
from his broad chest. Everything about him was hard. “Not now. No questions
now.” He whirled away with a growl, showing her his back, frustration clear in
every rigid line. As he moved, the dim light glinted off the metal encircling
his neck. Aimalee realized it was hewn of the same strange iridescent metal of
Certainty dawned and with it a sense of incredulity. “I’m
inside the lamp.”
He shot a glance at her over his hunched shoulder, a wounded
animal. “Y-you touched it.”
“I’ve touched it many times before.”
“Many times.” A shudder racked him. He began to shiver, to
shake. “But never with…never with…”
He didn’t complete
the thought, as though the words were too painful to utter. He moaned in agony
and stumbled into the shadows.
She followed, racked with worry—he looked as though he were
dying—and lightly touched his shoulder. He froze at the contact, sucking in a
deep gasp of air, exhaling it on a small whimper. As their flesh connected, a sizzle
shot up her arm, rocketing to her core. Something tight within her released.
And then she realized…the release hadn’t come from within
It had come from within him.
Invisible chains binding him shattered and fell away.
He straightened and stood. Sublime relief descended upon him
like a cloud. “Thank you,” he gasped. “Thank you, Aimalee.” He drew his
knuckles along the curve of her shoulder then trailed down her arm, sending
riots of sensation through her. “You touched it with your bare hands, you see.
And the lamp brought you to me,” he said, answering her earlier—long
forgotten—question. He caressed her hand, lifted it to his lips then drew her
thumb into his mouth and gently sucked.
Molten lava, deep in her core, churned and spat.
She knew she should not allow this. She knew she should pull
away. The voice of sanity within her whispered as much. Trouble was, that voice
of sanity was starting to recede. “W-why?” It was the only word she could
manage. The only thought she could conjure.
He kissed her knuckles, one by one. “You are here for me,
Aimalee. For this.” His scalding touch trailed back up her arm. She jerked in
reaction but didn’t protest. Her body was heavy, drugged with desire. Her mind
befuddled, rapt in it. Enthralled.
He tugged gently at the pillow she held before her. She
watched in mute dismay as he tossed her armor carelessly aside. “God, Aimalee.
You are even more beautiful in the flesh.”
Reverently, he cupped her breast. And then his head
descended and those lips—those delicious lips—wrapped around a coral crest.
Sucked. Spiking sensation rocked her. Exquisite trills danced along her spine.
Tremors rippled through her womb.
But still…she resisted. As difficult as it was to fight
against the alluring enchantment he was weaving—and it was difficult—she
lurched back and gasped, “Who are you?”
Instead of answering, he scraped her nipple—sending spirals
of delight snarling up her spine. Oh! It was getting harder and harder to
resist him. Harder to focus on her outrage as he enticed her deeper into his
But she was not the only one besieged by temptation. His
body was taut as a bowstring—he fairly hummed with the tension.
He pulled her into his arms. The shock of his hot skin
against hers from chest to groin made her lightheaded. He traced the line of
her back from her buttocks to her shoulder blades.
“I am sorry, Aimalee,” he murmured, his tone limned with
remorse. “But I cannot answer your questions anymore. I cannot wait. It has
been far too long.” He lifted her hair and bent to place a gentle kiss on her
nape. With his tongue, his velvet, drugging tongue, he traced a strange and
sinuous symbol there.
A peculiar warmth blossomed there and drifted down her arms,
across her chest, infused her body and soul. Her nipples tightened. Her body
liquefied. A hot rush of arousal seeped from her womb. Her clitoris throbbed
and a scorching hunger snarled and snapped like a long-caged beast.
She wanted him.
She wanted him like she had never wanted a man before.
She ached to fist her fingers in his hair and drag him down
on top of her. To take his lips with her own. Suck on his tongue. Consume him.
Grind against that magnificent cock and torment him until he whimpered with
need. Until he took her. Fucked her. Impaled her.
Her mind reeled with pleasure and passion…and confusion.
This was not like her.
Not like her at all.
Hadn’t Carter told her repeatedly that she was frigid?
She had never
like this. Ached like this.
Needed like this.
“What are you doing to me?” Even to her own ears, the cry
was laced with pleasure, desire, delirium. She placed her palm flat on his
chest to push him away but at that touch, passion swelled—the passion in her
and the passion in him, tangling, twining. His skin was smooth but his hard
muscles bunched at her touch.
He threw his head back and groaned in ecstasy. Or perhaps
“I can’t. I need… I want to…” He hissed through his teeth.
“But I cannot wait. I cannot.”
Easing her down onto the cushions, he covered her. The
sensation of his hot, sweat-dampened skin against hers sent a shock wave
through her. He nudged her legs apart. Neared. She writhed beneath him, eager,
wanton, lost in wonder. Ravenous for him. Impatient.
He did not make her wait.
He slid inside with no preamble but she didn’t care. She wanted
this. Needed this. Her body was ready for him. Eager for it. He filled her with
one slick stroke. Possessed her. She cried out a garbled plea, a benediction of
bliss. So perfect. So right. So complete.
He rested there, buried deep and exhaling harshly, gritting
his teeth. And then he began to move. Slowly at first—a long, deliberate
withdrawal followed by an agonizing, measured thrust.
She clutched at him, clasped at him in desperation, holding
him tighter and tighter until she thought for sure she would explode from the
rising tension that twisted and writhed and howled inside her. But she could
not keep him in.
He withdrew and she howled in frustration. Then the howl
became a sigh as he sank deep again.
Each foray accompanied by his bestial grunt, her desperate,
fruitless clenches to keep him.
It was a long battle, an endless dance of retreat and
advance. A tormenting hunger, the delight of fleeting fulfillment and then
roiling anguish again as he once more pulled out, leaving her empty, desolate,
Tension rose, ratcheting up notch by notch. Bliss, abandon,
hunger heightened with each perfectly placed thrust. Impatience, anticipation,
need beset her.
Still he pummeled her with those slow, deliberate
incursions. He could not keep it up forever though clearly he tried. Before
long, he succumbed. His thrusts became shorter, harder, deeper.
Aimalee, adrift in a swirling sea of sensation, nearly
insensate from incomprehensible pleasure, tucked her head into the curve of his
shoulder. He found a place, touched a spot at her core that sent rivulets of
teasing elation cascading through her.
More. More. More.
crazed, delirious with a thirst for that illusive peak, she nipped at his neck.
He growled in response and pounded faster, relentlessly
sending shimmering shards of delight along every singing nerve. The thick ridge
of his cock found her again and again, skewering her with sizzling sensation.
Her body tightened. The hovering dawn of something
magnificent haunted her, teased. And then his cock swelled, lengthened in
preparation for the coming eruption. The increased fullness coupled with his
pounding fervor sent her over the edge.
She quivered around him, lost, clenching at his cock with
utter, helpless abandon. The glow blossomed and spread like a flower in her
womb. A scalding tide washed through her, taking her, transporting her,
liberating her from every worry, every care, every thought.
A long, glorious release.
With a cry, she launched into ecstasy, mindless and—for that
sip of eternity—utterly, magnificently, superbly complete.
And then he collapsed at her side, panting and shuddering.
They lay there in a tangle of sweat-soaked limbs, shaking, quaking, reveling in
the mutual glow of utter and complete bliss.
Aimalee awoke in the tendrils of a delicious dream, visions
of a strong, sensual man mingled with scents of spice and sandalwood. With a
small, sleepy smile, she nestled deeper under the covers.
And then she froze.
She was not, in fact, at home in her bed.
For one thing, her sheets weren’t velvet.
For another, she didn’t sleep in the nude.
Her eyes flew open and she glanced around, gaping in shock
at the sumptuous seraglio from her dream.
But it hadn’t been a dream. She was here. In the lamp.
It was inconceivable. Her mind reeled with the implications.
Had the pressures of the past weeks finally sent her around
the bend? Was she hallucinating?
Could one hallucinate bliss?
Well for heaven’s sake. Of course she was imagining all
this. The only other possibility was that she had been somehow magically
transported to another place, another world.
A world where exquisitely handsome men wanted utterly
unremarkable women like her.
She snorted. That particular probability was even more
inconceivable than the prospect of being magically transported to another
But still…here she was.
She sat up, clutching a thick fur blanket to her chest, and
peered through the dimly lit shadows. The room was silent, still. She was
wasn’t there. She didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath
until she let it out in a great whoosh. A strange combination of relief and
disappointment assailed her.
Before she could process these conflicting emotions, another
unbidden thought arose. What if he had left her? Left her here alone? How would
she get back home? Could she get back home?
Good heavens. What would she eat?
Panic rose in her breast and she scrambled to her feet,
scanning the space about her intently, searching for clues. Searching for
The chamber was spacious and unburdened by excess
furnishings. Aside from the nest of cushions in the corner, there was a small
divan placed between two columns on one end of the room. A set of twin columns
adorned the other end. The only other items were the braziers, set about at
intervals, glowing like stars in a dark sky.
She noticed a splash of white against the dark bulk of the
divan. She padded across the room to investigate and discovered the splash of
white was an exquisite lace-and-ribbon robe.
Self-conscious of her naked state, she slipped it on. It fit
like a glove, clinging to her curves like a lover’s caress. She tied it closed
with the band of ribbons. With every move, the rough ruches of lace rubbed
against still sensitive nipples.
Thusly girded, she resumed her exploration. It was amazing
what a beautiful gown could do for one’s bravado.
Pity there was nothing she could do about her hair. Without
a brush she would never be able to tame her unruly curls.
Aimalee decided to take a methodical course in her
investigation, following the contours of the room in search of a door. There
had to be a way out. She found it between the columns on the far side of the
room, opposite the divan. It was easy to see why she’d missed it. The door was
recessed, hidden in an alcove swathed in shadows. Likely this had been done on
purpose to give the inhabitants the illusion they were sequestered and utterly
But things were often not as they appeared. At least that
had been Aimalee’s experience.
Cautiously, she opened the door and peered out at a U-shaped
atrium hewn of gleaming, moon-splashed marble.
The cool nighttime breeze teased the tendrils of her hair as
she catalogued her surroundings. Seven doors, evenly spaced, marked the curve
of the building. She could only assume each door led to a room like this one.
On the far end of the atrium, a marble balustrade framed a vista of the
sparkling sea in the distance.
Of her captor, there was no trace.
Aimalee stepped out, into the atrium, glorying in the
whisper of the night air on her skin, the cool marble beneath her feet. She
made her way across the broad expanse to stand at the railing at the far end
and stared at the most beautiful vision. The moonlight skipped across the water
in a sparkling band as a hint of dawn nudged at the horizon. The scimitar curve
of a sandy beach was visible between the lacy fingers of dark palms. The air
carried hints of citrus and mint.
It seemed, to Aimalee, to be the most perfect spot in all of
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, being trapped here for
At least if there was cheesecake.
With that thought, she headed back to the atrium and studied
the seven doors thoughtfully. If he was still here, he would be behind one of
Now, Aimalee had read a lot as a lonely, studious child. And
one of her favorite genres had been myth and fantasy.
The Adventures of
had been a particular favorite. So she knew the danger of
indiscriminately opening doors in enchanted palaces. There could be a tiger
behind one. Or a pit of vipers.
Probably not cheesecake.
Her belly growled. How long had it been since she had eaten
anyway? And how did time work in an enchanted palace?
Noticing a tiny sliver of light arrowing out from beneath
one of the doors, she headed in that direction, for some reason arching up on
her tiptoes. If there was a tiger behind the door, surely he would have sprung
out by now. She sidled up to the small crack and peeped inside.
Her heart leapt.
Oh. There was a tiger inside all right.
He was here.
Thank God he hadn’t abandoned her.
He sat in an ornate king’s chair before a large gilt-edged
mirror, his elbow braced on the thickly padded arm, his face buried in one
hand. He sighed and rubbed at his eyes with the pad of his palm, like a boy. Then
he sniffled and cleared his throat and sat up straighter, gripping the arms of
the chair with white-knuckle intensity, steeling himself. For something.
“Again.” His voice was choked, cloaked. Aimalee barely heard
the command but the reaction was immediate. The mirror began to shimmer. It was
a muted glow at first. Clouds swirled on the surface. But then a scene began to
A girl. Lovely, spirited and carefree. Smiling at some
secret thought as she confidently plucked berries from a bountiful bush, now
and again popping one into her mouth, staining her lips an even richer red. She
was dressed in a long, flowing skirt, wrapped with an apron—clearly the mode of
centuries past. Aimalee would guess early first century. Her hair was a dark
mass, intricately curled and braided and festooned with jewels. Whoever she
was, there was wealth in her family. And beauty.
There was a familiarity about her but Aimalee just couldn’t
place it. It nagged at her as the scene unfolded.
The girl spoke to a friend and then she laughed at the
response, tossing her head back with elegant abandon. Aimalee’s gaze shifted to
the man in the chair, called there by a sudden tightness. He trembled, this
big, strong mountain of a man. Trembled with tension.
Her attention snapped back to the mirror as a thundering
sound shook the sylvan scene. The girl glanced over her shoulder. Her
expression clouded. A hint of fear blossomed. Her eyes widened as she saw…
And then she screamed. She wheeled away and fled, dropping her
basket. Plump, juicy berries tumbled to the ground, crushed to red pulp beneath
But what was to happen next, what horrible fate was to
befall the entrancing, innocent beauty, would remain a mystery. Because just
then the mirror misted over, gradually obscuring the vision.
“No!” Her captor slammed his fist against the carved arm of
the chair. And then, more softly, desperately, “No.”
Aimalee allowed him his privacy, stepping back, away from
this display of desolation. But even as she moved, he stiffened as though he
sensed her presence.
Slowly, he turned.
“Aimalee.” He wiped his cheeks quickly but she still saw
them, the tears.
Caught out, she stepped forward, into the room. “Who was
A muscle in his cheek bunched. “No one.”
That, she reflected, was a little hard to believe. But she
let it go, as he was still shaking with reaction. She didn’t exactly understand
what she’d seen but she knew it was something significant. And personal.
Private and painful.
She’d had plenty of those moments herself.
He stood and she was struck again by his sheer magnificence,
the pure power of his presence. Even fully clothed as he was now.
And thank God for that. Rippling naked warriors had a
tendency to distract her thoughts. Though his clothing—also evocative of a time
long past—did little to cloak the magnificence of his form. The buff breeches
clung to the lines of his calves and thighs and his tunic stretched at the
seams across his broad chest. With laudable determination, she swallowed the
drool pooling in her mouth and wrenched her gaze to his face.
His appraisal flicked over her and warmed. Warmed her.
Warmed him. His cloak of pain melted away and a new, familiar tension rose.
Aimalee realized with a mortified start that even though she was fully wrapped
in the robe, every aspect of her body, from the swollen coral peaks to the
downy nest at the juncture of her thighs, was completely visible through the
lace. Made more conspicuous by the illusion of a veil.
She pulled the robe more tightly around her, wincing as the
lace scraped against suddenly throbbing nipples.
What was it about him, she wondered, that could make her
ache like this, with naught but a glance?
“You look…” His voice went ragged and he paused, letting his
focus linger on shadowed recesses. “You look astounding. Did you sleep well?”
She flushed. “Yes.”
He cleared his throat and shuffled his feet then shoved his
fists into the pockets of his breeches…which drew her attention to his lower
Oh dear. Another mistake. For there, between the twin lumps
of his fists, was that other lump. Even as she stared, it grew. A sinuous snake
eased its way up his stomach.
It took some effort but she managed to fix her gaze
elsewhere. Where that was, she couldn’t have said because the vision of him was
burned on her brain.
“I’m sorry about last night, Aimalee,” he said.
Her gaze snapped back to his. Remorse etched his features.
Aimalee frowned. He was
She wasn’t sure what to think about that.
As strange and unfamiliar and mindboggling as their coupling
had been, it had been, without a doubt, the most amazing experience of her
And he was sorry.
She tendered a small, noncommittal nod, recoiling as she
always did to some safe, scarred place within. But his next words arrested her headlong
“I’m usually able to show more restraint. Don’t leap upon a
woman the first instant I see her. But you are so…so…” He gestured at her,
caressing her from afar. Thick lashes flickered with some deep, inexplicable
emotion. “And it’s been so long.” His expression shuttered but she caught a
glimpse of the pain, the passion, haunting him.
Aimalee swallowed. “How-how long has it been?”
“A long time. Longer than you can imagine.” He took her arm
and led her back to the atrium, carefully closing the door of the mirror room
behind him. “Next time it will be better. I promise.”
Aimalee gaped at him.
Was that even possible?
“Now that the worst of it has been released, I’ll be more
patient. Next time I will take care of your needs first.”
Aimalee yanked her arm from his grasp and whirled on him. A
multitude of conflicting thoughts and emotions warred within her. Delight,
anticipation, indignation, confusion, the ghosts of bone-deep disappointments
past and so many more.
“Okay, hold on, buster.” She propped her fists on her hips
and glared at him. “What makes you think there will even
a next time?
Damn it all, I don’t even know your name.”
He put his broad palm to his chest and gave a formal bow. “I
She crossed her arms over her chest and struggled not to be
charmed by the gesture or his smile, which released an explosion of dimples on
his cheek. Or the lazy droop of long-lashed lids over velvet brown eyes.
Really. It was hardly fair that a man should have such long lashes
those glorious dimples.
“That was hardly my point. I don’t know where you come from,
K-Keeshan.” Heavens. His name was like honey on her tongue. “But where I come
from, women don’t just leap into bed with every…” she gestured in his general
direction and bit her lip to keep from saying gorgeous or handsome or delicious
or any of a hundred other adjectives that leapt to mind. “With every man who
shows a modicum of interest.”
“Oh, I have more than a modicum.” He arched a brow. “I
Aimalee snorted. “Again, not the point. Women like me just…
We just don’t.”
He shot her a sympathetic glance and shook his head. “You
won’t be able to help it, Aimalee. The magic is too strong. It has a hold of
both of us.”
Ridiculous. Aimalee didn’t believe in magic. She was a
scientist. The only things that mattered were things she could touch and feel
and… Her logic stuttered at the fact that she could touch and feel
No. This had to be a dream. As real as it felt, it had to be
a construct of her imagination. Nothing more.
It was unnatural to want like this.
Unnatural to ache like this.
Unnatural to lose every vestige of control like this.