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Authors: Allyson James

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Mortal Temptations
Allyson James

 

 

Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
Acknowledgements
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE FOR
The Black Dragon
“More dragons, please, Ms. James!”—
Night Owl Romance

 

“The audience will relish this compelling entry.”

Midwest Book Review

 

“Dragon fans rejoice . . . tasty and tempting reading.”

Romantic Times

 

Dragon Heat
“A unique and magical urban paranormal with dragons, witches, and demons. Will keep you enthralled until the very last word!”
—Cheyenne McCray,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Shadow Magic

 

“Exciting and passionate, this story is gripping from beginning to end.”—
Romantic Times

 

“[A] delightful romantic fantasy.”—
Midwest Book Review

 

MORE PRAISE FOR
ALLYSON JAMES AND HER NOVELS

 

“Hot! A must-read.”—Rhonda Thompson,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel

 

“[An] exquisitely sensual tale spiced with danger and fantasy.”

Booklist

 

“[A] delightfully charming paranormal.”—
Midwest Book Review

 

“Instantly grabs the reader . . . explosively passionate . . . wonderful.
Allyson James has done a great job.”—
Fallen Angel Reviews

 

“Sweet, funny, and deliciously erotic.”—
Romance Reviews Today

 

“Fine romantic fantasy . . . beguiling.”—
The Best Reviews

 

“Sizzling love scenes keep things spicy in this adventure romance.”

Romantic Times
Titles by Allyson James
DRAGON HEAT
THE BLACK DRAGON
THE DRAGON MASTER

 

MORTAL TEMPTATIONS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I’d like to thank my editor, Kate Seaver, for giving me the opportunity to write this book and this new series. As always, her guidance and patience are amazing. Second to Allison Brandau, assistant editor extraordinaire, for all her hard work on this and all my books. Thanks to my husband for his unflagging energy and support. I don’t know how he does it.
Last, thank you to Luna and Sandy, two new fuzzy friends in my life, for bringing back the laughter.
For more information on
Mortal Temptations
and other books, please visit my website,
www.allysonjames.com
.
1
Midtown, Manhattan

 

WHEN Patricia descended to investigate the noise in her antique store, she found a man with a broken wing stretched unconscious across the floor.
He didn’t have white angel wings or transparent dragonfly wings; they were shining satin black, feathers gleaming and glistening in the dawn half-light as they spilled around his body. One wing cradled his bare torso as though cushioning his fall, and the other was broken.
Patricia played her flashlight over him, taking in muscled, broad shoulders, a chest dusted with dark hair, narrow hips hugged by blue denim, and a strong throat encircled by a thin gold chain. He had dark hair long enough to flow over the store’s ugly beige carpet and a square, handsome face. His eyes were closed, lashes resting on firm cheekbones. His legs were twisted, one arm flung out to break his fall.
And wings.
The broken wing lay at a right angle from his back, the ends fanning across the floor. Strewn about the feathers were things he’d swept from the counters when he fell: an entire stand of necklaces, a box of sparkling pins, and a bisque doll who’d landed a few feet from him with her legs wantonly in the air.
Patricia couldn’t blame her. He was sexy as hell.
Her two cats, Red Kitty and Isis, sauntered in from the back room. They sat on their haunches and stared at him, probably wondering whether he was overlarge prey or someone with the potential of filling the food bowl. Either way, they couldn’t lose.
Were his wings a costume? But no costume-shop creation could match those glorious feathers and the perfection to which they fit him. When she crouched down to carefully touch the feathers, they were warm and alive, the tips fluttering beneath her fingers.
Being psychic, Patricia was no stranger to creatures of the night, but she’d never seen anything like him. His psychic aura was incredible: hot and wild, with lightning flashes that stabbed through the shields she usually kept in place. He didn’t
feel
evil, but he didn’t feel good, either. Most humans were a mixture of both, but supernatural creatures tended to be one or the other.
Her flashlight took in the bruise that stained his temple blue and purple. He was a big man, and anything that could take him down would be . . . bigger. She sensed a lingering taint of evil in the shop, like a faint odor of rotting meat. But it didn’t come from the man, and he was alone now. The only auras in the place were his, hers, and the tiny, vibrant ones of the cats.
When she touched the bruise, he moaned but didn’t wake. She fetched her first aid kit from the tiny bathroom and doctored the bruise, but she wasn’t sure what to do about the wing.
It was broken halfway along, her fingers finding the thin middle bone bent. She had no idea how to treat it, but it couldn’t hurt to carefully straighten the bone and wrap the whole thing with an Ace bandage.
The man twitched and moaned through the procedure, but the pain wasn’t enough to wake him. She fetched a pillow and gently arranged the man’s head on it, then covered him with a blanket.
That was all she could do for him. She was not a witch or a healer; her gift was the ability to read auras of people past and present and the psychic imprint they left on objects. That was why she liked antiques; she could feel their history and the people who’d touched them. Antiques weren’t dead pieces of the past to her but shadows of living, breathing entities.
Patricia curled up on a Belter gentleman’s chair and tugged a second blanket over her knees. Red Kitty joined her, the long-haired tom never passing up the chance for a warm snuggle. Isis, the black-and-white female, stayed next to the man to keep watch.
Patricia settled in to wait. Would the entity on her floor prove to be good or evil?

 

NICO woke to a pounding headache. He seemed to be on a hard floor, but he felt a pillow beneath his head and a prickly wool blanket across his chest.
He knew the Dyon hadn’t been kind enough to leave him with a pillow and blanket. The Dyon had been doing its damnedest to beat Nico black and blue once they both figured out the ostracon and its inscription was no longer here.
The creature had thrown Nico across the counter, Nico hitting his head on the way to the floor, and the Dyon had dissipated. It wasn’t allowed to kill him.
Nico raised his throbbing head and met the intense stare of a sleek black-and-white cat. Its gaze bored into his as though the creature were trying a spot of telepathy, but Nico knew it was just a cat. Nothing supernatural about it, thank the gods.
The stink of Dyon lingered in the room, quickly being covered by the aroma of percolating coffee. Nico tossed aside the blanket and painfully climbed to his feet.
He stumbled and caught himself on a glass counter, rattling the glitzy jewelry that glittered on its surface. He wasn’t dizzy, despite the headache, but he couldn’t get his balance.
He realized that his left wing was all wrong and saw in amazement that it was tightly bound. An Ace bandage crisscrossed it, crushing the feathers, held together with bright blue tape.
“Shit,” he said out loud.
He heard running feet, and a woman emerged from the back room, a steaming mug of coffee sloshing in her hands.
Oh, fuck.
She was absolutely beautiful. Her hair was incredibly curly, a riot of dark blond ringlets that cascaded across her face and flowed down her back. She had a face neither too round nor too pointed, full red lips, and a lusciously curved body.
Her head would rest at his collarbone if she stood against him. He wanted her to, so he could lean down and inhale the warmth of her hair. He could whisper into her ear that he was there for her use; all she had to do was name her pleasure.
His cock began to lift, his balls warming and tightening against the fabric of his jeans.
He felt the familiar pull of longing, the compulsion of the spell kicking in.
Damn it, not now.
The curse beat on him at the most inopportune times, and this was a most inopportune time.
The woman started toward him, followed closely by a fluffy red cat. The black-and-white cat leapt to the counter, scattering more treasures, and sat down to resume her watch on Nico.
The woman reached Nico and looked up at him, and something stabbed through his heart. Her eyes were blue green, an incredible oceanlike aquamarine that sparkled like the sea in the sun.
“What are you?” she demanded.
Not
Who are you? What are you doing here? What do you want?
No hysterics. She simply wanted to know what kind of creature had landed in her store.
“A customer,” he said, forcing a smile.
“I don’t open until ten. How did you get in?”
She wouldn’t believe him if he told her, so he just winked. “Through the keyhole.”
“What were you expecting to steal? I don’t have anything valuable in here, just sentimental jumble that reminds people of their grandparents.”
“But you
had
something valuable?”
Her flush told him he was right; plus the thing’s unmistakable presence still hadn’t worn off. It had been here, but he and Andreas hadn’t figured that out until too late. The Dyon hadn’t known, either; he’d been following Nico to see what Nico was up to.
“I didn’t call the police,” the woman pointed out.
“I noticed.” He’d also noticed she wore a tight-fitting T-shirt that nicely outlined her braless breasts.
“I thought I’d have trouble explaining the wings to the cops,” she said.
“Probably.”
“So, what are you?”
He took the coffee she handed him and sipped it. Did it taste better because she made it? The curse wanted him to believe so.
“A man with wings,” he answered.
“I’m psychic; I can tell you’re not human. Your aura is . . . strange.”
“Is it?” He finished off the coffee quickly, needing it. He also needed her to touch him again. The curse was kicking in fast this time.
“Would you mind helping with the bandage?” He asked her. “I’m off balance like this.”
She looked doubtful but set down the empty cup. “The bone was broken in half. I think you should keep it still.”
“I heal quickly.” He steadied himself on the counter and let her reach up and peel off the tape.
To unbind him, she had to step right into the flowing feathers of his wing. He couldn’t stop himself from snaking the wing around her, liking how good she felt cradled in its embrace. He could feel every hollow and crevice of her body with the sensitive tips as she plucked at the tape and started to unwind the bandage.
Her breasts brushed against his bare chest, and he wondered if she could feel his pulse hammering under his skin. Her hair smelled nice, clean and fresh, like she’d just washed it.
His already inflated cock was throbbing by the time she unwound the last of the bandage and stepped away. Nico flexed the wing bone, which had mended as he slept. It was a little stiff but manageable.
“I can try to find a shirt for you,” she said, her gaze fixed on his bare torso.
“That’s all right. I brought my own.”
Nico retrieved his T-shirt from where he’d dropped it when he’d unfolded his wings to fight the Dyon. The ceiling was too low for a good stretch, but he fluffed his wings all the way out, the feathers sleekly erotic against his back.
The feeling didn’t help his erection die, especially when he imagined pinning her against him with the wings.
There was a sharp pull in his shoulder blades, then the wings slid away, vanishing. He sensed her gaze on the sharp, black tattoo of wings that fanned over his back, the points of them disappearing under his waistband.
As he slid the T-shirt over his head, the cloth pulled at the hated chain, reminding him what he was.
“Andre’s?” The woman read the logo that slanted from his right shoulder to his left pectoral. A large cat’s-paw print splotched just under it. “Do you work there?”
Andre’s was a trendy bar and club around the corner on West Fifty-sixth Street that had opened a few months ago. It was packed every night.
“I own it with my friend Andreas,” he said.
“Oh.” She looked at him in surprise. “I haven’t seen you around. Not that I get the chance to get out much.” She sounded regretful.
“Come tonight and talk to me. I’ll waive the membership fee.”
She fixed him with a stare as penetrating as her cat’s. “Does everyone there have wings?”
“No, just me.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Nico pulled a shining black card with white lettering out of his back pocket. The name he used, Nico Stanopolous, was printed at the bottom. “Show that to the doorman, and he’ll let you in. Tell him I invited you.”
She took the card, giving him a suspicious look. He flicked a more staid, matte-white card out of the little holder on her counter.
Patricia Lake, Proprietor.
“Nice to meet you, Patricia. Thank you for fixing my wing.”
“You still haven’t told me what you were doing here. Even if you didn’t take anything, you knocked half my jewelry stock onto the floor.”
Nico gathered up the pins and earrings and tangle of necklaces and replaced them on the counter. “I came to find something,” he said. “It wasn’t here.”
“Would you mind telling me what?”
He hesitated. He could hear Andreas’s roar if Nico decided to trust the woman, but that wasn’t what made him reticent. He’d endanger her with too much knowledge, making her a target of things she couldn’t possibly understand or fight.
She had magic in her, obviously, because she easily accepted that a man with wings had entered her store without breaking in or triggering the alarm. She hadn’t called the police; she’d put a blanket over him and waited for him to wake up.
“Come to the club tonight, and we’ll talk about it.”
Patricia cocked her head, looking more adorable by the second. “And I should do this because . . .”
“You’re curious.” He tickled the black-and-white cat behind the ear, and the creature purred. “If you weren’t, you’d have called the police by now. I took nothing. You can search me if you want.”
He spread his arms, warming when her gaze flicked up and down him. She was a beautiful woman, and part of the reason he wanted to wait to tell her was so he’d have the chance to draw this out. His body throbbed with need, and his cock hadn’t deflated since she’d walked into the room.
He knew damn well why he wanted to see her again, and the knowledge both excited and depressed him. She found him attractive, and she’d find him even more attractive tonight. It was an even bet that she’d want his hands on her, the compulsion affecting her, too. He looked forward to it and at the same time resisted it.
He suddenly wished with all his heart that with her, this could be real. But the thought only brought more depression, because he couldn’t trust the voices of his heart.
“Come by if you’re interested.” He shrugged. “I have to go before Andreas rampages Manhattan looking for me.”
A rampaging Andreas was bad. The man had a temper, and he’d give them away if he wasn’t careful.
“I’ll have to let you out.”
The grates were still firmly over the doors. Patricia unlocked a box with a small key and punched a code. There was a loud click, then she opened the door and slid the grating back a few feet for him.
Nico turned sideways so he could slide through, letting himself brush against her as he went. She had a lovely, soft body, and he wanted to bury his face in her riotously curling hair and breathe her in. He craved it with an intensity that wasn’t quite normal.
Outside, Manhattan was stirring. Early-morning commuters poured up from the subways and spilled across the sidewalks in a sea of black and dark gray. He had to go.
He brushed the tip of her nose with his fingertip and slid all the way out the door. She rattled the grating closed behind him without saying good-bye.
Nico chuckled as he moved into the crowd. Their relationship was going to hurt like hell when it was over, but first, it would be very, very good. He’d suck as much as he could from that and pretend it wouldn’t break his heart when she was finished with him.

 

PATRICIA arrived at Andre’s at nine, right before it opened.
Andre’s was a private club, its memberships sold online and through other businesses. Patricia had debated all day whether to go, but in the end she knew she’d not be able to pass up the opportunity to see her winged man again. Nico had hit it right when he told her she was too curious to resist.
She still had no idea what he’d been looking for. She’d searched her record books for whatever valuable items she’d moved in the past few weeks but couldn’t decide which one he’d come to find: the eighteenth-century writing desk; the ostracon, a small slab of limestone with Egyptian hieroglyphs on it; the carnelian earrings belonging to one of Queen Victoria’s daughters; or the bone-handled letter opener from 1675? She’d found buyers for all of them from her list of people who paid her to keep an eye out for “special somethings.”
Patricia handed Nico’s card to the doorman, telling him that Nico had invited her. The women in line behind her wore tight dresses, which showed mountains of cleavage, and sharp-heeled shoes, which bared miles of legs.
In her neat black pants and blouse, Patricia felt woefully out of place. She’d put in antique earrings and a cobwebby antique necklace that earned a few envious glances, but the ladies behind her were surprised when the doorman nodded gruffly and opened the door half a foot so she could slide inside.
A second doorman, wearing an Andre’s T-shirt and sporting a phone on his ear, took the card and jerked his head for Patricia to follow him. He led her through the dark club and up a flight of stairs. At the top he touched a buzzer beside a door and waited until the door clicked open. The doorman gestured her inside but didn’t follow her in.
Nico waited for her at the end of a plush-carpeted hallway. His Andre’s T-shirt was crisp and clean, and there was no sign of his wings. He’d obviously shaved since their last encounter, and his dark hair was damp from a shower.
He wore black jeans instead of blue, and sandals. Patricia had never liked sandals on a man, but she decided she’d make an exception for Nico. They seemed to go with him, giving him the aura of an ancient god.
He smiled at her, his dark eyes promising. “Hello, Patricia. I’m glad you came.”
He took her hand and led her into the room behind him.
She’d expected an office but found a suite. It had a living room done in trendy minimalist decor and a small kitchen tucked behind a shining granite counter. Through an open double door she saw a bedroom with an iron-poled canopy bed and cubelike shelves.
A man came in from the bedroom, also wearing an Andre’s T-shirt. He was not quite as tall as Nico, but his body was as well built and bulging with muscle. He had mottled black-and-white hair and eyes of clear ice blue. While Nico’s eyes could melt a woman like ice cream on a hot sidewalk, this man’s eyes chilled her through.
The one thing the two men had in common, besides powerful auras, was the thin gold chain around their necks.
The two of them looked completely wrong in this room, which must have been decorated before they moved in. This suite was for men in expensive corporate suits, not these beautiful males with auras of wild magic.
“This is Andreas,” Nico told her. “At least that’s what he calls himself. Andreas, Patricia Lake of Lake Antiques.”
Andreas swept Patricia a dismissive glance and started talking to Nico like she wasn’t there. “Does she have it?”
“Not anymore.”
“Have what?” Patricia asked. “I can’t help you find something if I don’t know what you’re looking for.”
“The ostracon.” Andreas fixed her with a chill blue gaze that had fiery rage behind it. “Give it to me, and Nico and I will fulfill your deepest desires. Anything sexual you’ve ever wanted to try, we’ll do it for you.”
2
PATRICIA blinked. “Oh, is that all?”
She thought of Nico’s wings feathering around her while she had helped unwind the bandage, the warm, black silkiness against her skin. Her heart started to pound. She imagined his wings cuddling her naked body, the satinlike feathers touching every part of her.
Andreas stepped in front of her, dissolving the heady vision. Andreas smelled of male musk and spice, a little like Nico, but while Nico was enticing warmth, Andreas radiated danger.
“You know what we’re looking for.”
“Of course I do. The ostracon with the inscription from the Ptolemaic period. Not as good as Eighteenth Dynasty, and not very important historically, but my client wanted it.”
“What client?” Andreas demanded.
“The one I sold it to.”
“So, get it back from him.”
Patricia’s irritation rose, covering her uneasiness. “I can’t just ask for it back. There is such a thing as client loyalty, and besides, I can’t afford it.”
“We will pay for it.”
“That’s not the point.”
Andreas threw a glance at Nico, who watched with his arms folded. “Nico, leave us alone.”
“No.” Nico seated himself in an elegant armchair, drawing his knee up and planting his sandal firmly on the upholstery. He smiled, but his dark eyes were watchful.
Andreas’s icelike gaze returned to Patricia. “I will pay you three times what your client paid for it.”
“Really? Why do you want it so bad?”
“Will you get it back for me?”
“I don’t know.” Patricia folded her arms, pretending his stare didn’t unnerve her. “I’m intrigued now. What is it about this ostracon that’s so special?”
Andreas glared at her another moment, then swiveled away. “Nico.”
Nico remained folded in the chair. “She’s obviously not going to be moved by money.”
“All humans will do anything for money,” Andreas returned. “Especially their women.”
“Insulting me isn’t the best way to get me to help you,” Patricia said. “I know the market; I can find another good piece for you at a decent price. As long as it’s legit. I don’t deal in stolen antiquities. But if you’re going to be an asshole, forget it.” She paused. “And anyway, what do you mean by
all humans
? I know Nico’s not human, and you don’t feel like it, either. Are you a winged creature, too?”
Andreas scowled at Nico. “How does she know?”
Nico shrugged. “She caught me with my wings down. It doesn’t matter—she understands. She’s magical.”
“Magical, how?”
“Psychic,” Patricia cut in. The way Andreas talked to Nico like she wasn’t there annoyed her. “I can see the auras of people. And things—I’m best with objects. The psychic clutter that inanimate objects pick up over lifetimes is amazing.”
Nico unfolded himself from the chair and came to her as Andreas’s gaze locked on Patricia again. They both knew how to pin with a stare. Patricia held her ground, determined not to back away from either of them.
Her heartbeat sped, and not entirely with fear. Having two very muscular, large males hemming her in wasn’t such a bad thing. Good cop, bad cop, or good winged man, bad . . . whatever. She could have fun dreams about this.
“What psychic clutter do you see on us?” Nico asked her.
Patricia looked at him, debating whether to lower her shields. She’d learned as a child to erect barriers between herself and what came to her, or she’d be so bombarded she couldn’t function. When she’d found Nico this morning, she’d kept her barriers firmly in place, sensing he had enough psychic energy to knock her across the room.
Now she slowly lowered her shields. If she was careful and controlled it, she could look without hurting herself.
The white-hot blaze of Nico’s aura sent her staggering. It was bright with awful power, stronger than anything she’d ever seen. She felt herself falling, then someone caught her—Andreas, she thought dimly.
Andreas’s aura struck her from the other side. It was as strong as Nico’s, but purple instead of white, sizzling with strength. Their collective power punched her like fists, and she screamed.
Nico’s arms came around her, his body so bright and savagely beautiful that she had to squeeze her eyes shut. He cupped her cheek, his voice insistent and urgent.
“Block it out, sweetheart. You aren’t made to stand this. Shut us out.”
Patricia collapsed in on herself, huddling into a ball supported by Nico’s strong arm. She instinctively started the exercises she’d learned as a child, chanting a string of sounds and picturing a screen rising to mute the auras around her.
Gradually the light died away, the wild purple hue of Andreas and the incandescent white of Nico dimming until they became hard-bodied males and nothing more. She drew a sharp breath that hurt her lungs, realizing she’d stopped breathing altogether.
Nico traced her cheek. “Are you all right?”
“I don’t know.” She gulped. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life. What the hell
are
you two?”
“Trapped,” Andreas said, suddenly somber. “Enslaved.” He touched the chain around his neck. “That’s what we are, Patricia Lake. Slaves who can’t go home.”

 

NICO spread the magazine open on the table, standing behind Patricia as she leaned over it. Her hair smelled like honey. The compulsion of the spell was making him crazy with desire, and he wondered if it was driving Andreas crazy, too. The spell would embrace the one Patricia was first attracted to, but a woman could be equally attracted to both of them.
Patricia touched the photograph of the ostracon he showed her. An ostracon was nothing more than a piece of stone or pottery with ancient writing on it. Egyptians and ancient Greeks had used them like modern people would use paper tablets. Many contained jottings of day-to-day notes by scribes and priests, or even school-boys’ lessons.
The photograph’s caption said the entire thing was about one foot wide by two feet high. The magazine showed one close-up section of it, and Nico could read what looked like a spell that might mean his and Andreas’s freedom. Or it might mean nothing at all.
Patricia nodded. “This is the one I had. I bought it from a dealer here in New York. It was offered on the market by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, not for very much, so it couldn’t have been that important.”
“I don’t care where it came from,” Andreas said. “I only care where it is now.”
“But where things come from can tell us a lot about them,” Patricia argued. “Objects retain impressions of where they’ve been and who touched them.”
“And what did this tell you?” Nico asked.
“That it was old.” Patricia looked up at him, those aquamarine eyes catching him. “Authentic, not a copy. From the Hellenistic period in Egypt—after Alexander the Great and before Cleopatra. It’s fairly ordinary—as far as ancient ostracons go. I didn’t feel it trying to give me a strange or urgent message or anything.”
Andreas shoved himself away from the table. “We didn’t need you to tell us this. It’s in the article.”
Patricia ignored him. “Anyway, a dealer bought it and brought it to New York. I thought it was interesting, so I picked it up.”
“And sold it again,” Nico prompted.
“I have a buyer interested in Egyptian artifacts. So yes, I sold it.”
“To a person you keep secret,” Andreas growled.
Patricia made a noise of exasperation. “If you’re so anxious, I can ask my customer if you can at least look at it, as long as you don’t do anything obnoxious, like try to steal it. If you’re nothing but powerfully magical antiquities thieves, I’m not letting you anywhere near it.”
Andreas’s lip curled, but he subsided.
“If you can arrange such a thing, we’d be eternally grateful.” Nico smiled, warming when her eyes softened for him. Andreas liked to dominate, to take, and make a woman enjoy his taking. Nico, on the other hand, very much enjoyed giving.
“I’ll make phone calls tomorrow,” Patricia promised.
Andreas grabbed a cell phone from the kitchen counter and shoved it at her. “Call now.”
To Nico’s delight, Patricia met Andreas’s belligerent look with one of her own. “It’s too late, and my client’s elderly. Tomorrow.”
The growl that came out of Andreas’s mouth was primal. Nico expected the man to morph to his true self and force Patricia to do what he wanted, but Andreas clenched his hands and turned away.
“Is he always like this?” Patricia asked Nico, loud enough for Andreas to hear.
“You have no idea.” Nico winked at her. “But sometimes he’s a pussycat.”
Andreas sent him a furious look. “Why the hell did I have to get stuck through the ages with you?”
“Fantastic luck,” Nico answered.
Andreas’s growl escalated, his fists tightening. But Andreas wasn’t stupid. They needed to find the answer, and as volatile as Andreas could be, he’d not jeopardize things when they were so close. His dominant tendencies sometimes got in the way, but he’d learned—painfully—how to control himself.
“I’m going downstairs,” Andreas said and slammed out of the room.
Patricia watched him go. “You have interesting friends.”
“That’s one word for him.”
“Um . . . I have to ask. Are you two . . . ?” She looked embarrassed.
“Lovers? No, sweetheart. Old, old friends who got stuck with each other, is all. Why?” He grinned. “Were you thinking about it?”
Her furious blush told him he was right. Women they’d pleasured together had said what would please them most was watching Nico and Andreas naked on a bed together. Sometimes they obliged.
The two of them shared a friendship that spanned eons, and they could touch each other when they needed to without worry.
Patricia gazed at Nico in a gratifying way. He imagined her bare against his body, her sleek curls rubbing his skin. He’d like her looking at him like that while he lay flat on the bed with her straddling him. He could reach up and catch her breasts in his hands, lift his head to suckle her.
“Can I see your wings again?” she asked.
Nico’s body tightened as her blue green eyes flicked over it. His cock began its little dance of hope. “My wings?”
She twirled one of her curls around her finger, her eyes soft and so damn sexy. “I want to make sure I didn’t imagine them.”
“Seeing my true aura didn’t convince you?”
Patricia shivered. They’d had to feed her two cups of coffee before she calmed down after letting herself look at their naked auras. Nico had never met a human being who
could
see them, which made Patricia even more interesting.
“That’s different. The wings were tangible; I felt them.” She gave him a wistful smile. “I’d like to see them again.”
Nico grinned, his cock dancing even faster, and moved to the center of the room to strip off his T-shirt.
He often let his wings free when he was upstairs, to keep from cramping, but never before had unfurling them been tinged with erotic excitement. It was almost like she’d asked him to do a striptease.
He tossed away the shirt and put his hands on his hips, determined to give her a show. He made a soft sound as his shoulder blades gave a jerk that was always slightly painful but somehow a pleasure, like the moment before climax.
The wings rippled from his shoulders, spreading in black smoothness out from his body. They were huge, curving up over his head and down his back to curl at his feet.
He stretched, loving the warmth of extending the tendons to the very tips. He couldn’t fly much in Manhattan—too much risk of being seen—and he loved any opportunity to spread himself wide.
Patricia’s red lips parted. “They’re beautiful.”
Her voice rasped, low and sweet, not releasing any tension from his erection.
He curved the wings in an arc in front his body. “So come here and touch them.”
In wonder, Patricia left her chair and came to him. He tickled her cheek playfully, and she laughed, burying herself in the crush of his feathers. She rubbed her face against them, humming in her throat as she enjoyed the sleekness on her skin.
Her cheeks flushed, her nipples pebble-tight against her blouse. “They feel so good.”
“You aren’t bad yourself.”
Nico slid his arms around her and gently drew her into his complete embrace. She came against him without a struggle, still buried in the warmth of his wings.
“My cats are fascinated with you,” she said. “They think you’re some kind of bird man.”
“No.” He cupped her face in his hands and brushed his thumbs over her cheekbones. “Some kind of god-man.”
She gave him a startled look. As her lips formed a question, he leaned in and kissed them.
He kissed her slowly, sliding his tongue into the warm wetness of her mouth. She made a noise in her throat, her breath hot on his lips, then she opened to him like a flower.
Something jolted across his skin, a spark of awareness, an incredible joy. His heart beat faster, and a trickle of sweat moved from his shoulder blades down his spine to his ass.
With the spark of joy came sorrow. The curse had fully ignited. It was going to be good, so good. And then it would hurt like hell.
The kiss went on, her lips moving while she wove her fingers through his sensitive feathers. She was exploring him, getting to know him. He cupped her head in his hand, her warm curls spilling over his fingers.
“My,” she murmured.
He’d like it better if she’d said
Mine.
But she couldn’t, of course. Part of the enslavement was that Nico and Andreas could give plenty of physical enjoyment, but they’d receive no love in return. No matter how much he delighted Patricia, she would never fall in love with him. In the end, she’d walk away and forget him, and Nico’s heart would break.
He pressed the thought aside. “Do you like to dance?”
She blinked. “Dance?”
“Downstairs. This is a club.”
“Oh.” She looked like she’d forgotten. “No—thanks. I haven’t danced in a long time, and I’m not really dressed for it.”
Her face was red, and she wouldn’t meet his eyes. Nico thought about the women who usually came here to ogle him and Andreas, dresses cupping their asses and mile-high shoes. Patricia didn’t think she could compete, but she was wrong. She’d look fantastic in a tight skirt, but even more important, she’d look fantastic out of it.
“Sex, then?” he offered.
Patricia backed up quickly, only to be hemmed in by his wings. “You and Andreas toss out that offer casually enough.”
Nico shrugged, pretending like hell that his entire body wasn’t burning with need. “We’d be good together.”
“I didn’t come here to get laid.”
He caressed her back with his feathers, softening his voice. “I’d make it so good for you, Patricia.”
Her rapid breathing told him she believed him. But she firmly parted his wings and stepped away from him. “No.”
She puzzled him. He knew she wanted him; her body gave all the signs. Yet she hugged her arms across her chest and turned away as though stopping herself from accepting.
“Are you going to throw me out now?” she asked in a hard voice. “Because I didn’t fling myself on your bed and squeal, ‘Yes, take me’?”
“No. You can stay as long as you like.”
“Good, because I’d like to ask you more questions.”
Nico felt a twinge of disquiet. The Dyons for the most part simply watched, but if they thought Patricia knew too much or was trying to help Andreas and him, they might attack, as had the one when Nico searched the antique store. Dyons couldn’t kill Nico and Andreas, but they could kill anyone helping them.
Nico crossed his wings behind his back, letting the feel of them calm him. “What questions?”
“Like how did you get into my store?”
“I told you. Through the keyhole.”
“I have dead bolts. Keyholes don’t go all the way through these days.”
“Don’t they?” If Nico concentrated, he could slide through spaces that ordinary humans couldn’t find.
She changed the subject. “Why is this ostracon so important? It’s not very big, and it’s not important historically, even as old as it is.”
Now they were moving into dangerous territory. “Andreas and I want a look at it.”
“Meaning you aren’t going to tell me.”
“There are some things it’s safer not to know.”
She chewed her lip. “Is it some key to a secret dimension or something? Where the bird gods live?”
Nico burst out laughing. “No. It’s an ordinary piece of writing, like you said.”
“You wouldn’t be interested in it if it were ordinary.”
He had to concede the point. “I just want to look at it. No harm to your elderly client.”
“What about Andreas? Will he look at it without harm?”
Patricia couldn’t know how much his senses were singing with her in the room. She wasn’t the only one who could see auras. Hers was brilliant red and blue and smelled fresh, like crisp autumn wind. He’d love to spend a year in bed with her with them slowly getting to know each other. It would be a joy to teach her.
“Andreas isn’t so bad once you get to know him,” Nico said. “No, wait; yes, he is. But he doesn’t harm innocents.”
“Does he have wings, too?”
“No. I’d tell you what he is, but I promised I wouldn’t.”
Patricia subsided, still chewing her lip. The action made her mouth all the more red and kissable. “I guess I’ll just have to find out for myself.”
He sobered. “Be careful with Andreas, love. He won’t harm an innocent, but it’s not good to get in his way.”
“Do you get in his way?”
“All the time.” Nico lifted his wings overhead and reluctantly slid them back into place, letting the tattoo cover his back. He moved his shoulder blades as he adjusted his balance, then reached for his black T-shirt.
“If you don’t want to dance, let me walk you home,” he said, pulling on the shirt. “The streets are dangerous at night.”
Patricia looked him up and down, her gaze lingering on his torso. “I have the feeling that I’ve met the most dangerous things in the city tonight: you and Andreas.”
He let himself smile as he came to her and brushed a kiss over her lips. “You just might be right.”
3
THE woman who’d purchased the ostracon for her eclectic collection was one of Patricia’s regulars, an elderly lady who lived in an airy marble and gilt apartment on the Upper East Side. She’d outlived two husbands, was vastly wealthy, and loved to collect antiquities.
Patricia called her in the morning after a restless night thinking about Nico. When he’d gathered her in his feathers and kissed her, she thought she’d go into orgasmic shock.
He had a strong mouth and knew how to kiss. She’d felt the swell of his arousal even as she’d pulled away from him, knowing she was going too fast.
When he’d offered sex as casually as he’d offered to take her downstairs to dance, she’d felt a stab of disappointment. Maybe she was old-fashioned, maybe she expected too much, but she wanted sex to be special. Not
We have a few hours, so how about it?
She didn’t want a fuck buddy. She wanted it to mean something.
So what did high-minded Patricia dream about all night? Nico in her bed, his wings spread so she could rub her naked body all over them.
In reality, Nico had walked her home, lightly kissed her good night, and left as soon as she’d entered her store. In her dreams, he’d carried her upstairs, stripped off her clothes, and laid her on the bed, his cock high and ready for her.
A big, beautiful cock, too, straight and tall, dark and rampant. Patricia’s secret stash of nude male photos always included the cock; she loved looking at them. Asses were good, but there was something about a swollen I’m-here-for-you cock that always sent her over the edge.
She was dying to see Nico’s, wanting to find out if the reality matched what she’d felt behind the zipper of his jeans.
Patricia tried to calm her libido by talking to Mrs. Penworth. Mrs. Penworth looked and sounded like a sweet, little old lady, but some of the stories she told of her years as a World War II army nurse made Patricia realize she’d had one hell of a past. Mrs. Penworth always got a wicked twinkle in her eyes when she talked about her wild days.
“Of course, dear, bring your friends by. I’ll have Myrtle make drinks, and we’ll have a little happy hour. Myrtle likes it when we have friends for drinks.” Myrtle was the housekeeper who’d lived with Mrs. Penworth for forty years.
Patricia hung up, sensing that Mrs. Penworth would enjoy Nico. She wasn’t so sure about Andreas, and she hoped Nico could keep the belligerent man in line.
The bell on the store’s door jingled, and when Patricia came out of the back, a man was leaning his fists on the counter, studying Victorian brooches inside the glass case. He was strong and muscular, much like Andreas and Nico, and wore faded jeans and a sweatshirt. He’d braided his white blond hair into a tail that hung to the middle of his back.
When the man looked up at her, Patricia couldn’t hold back a gasp. His eyes were wrong. She couldn’t put her finger on why, as she stared into the yellowish gaze; then she realized his pupils were slits, vertical like a cat’s—or a snake’s.
Speaking of her cats, they’d vanished. She remembered their intense interest in Nico, and even with ordinary customers, they’d come out to investigate, but this time they’d deserted her.
She felt the man’s aura tapping at her shields, and she refused to lower them. If he was anything like Nico and Andreas, his energy would knock her over.
“Where is the ostracon?” He spoke in a thin voice, almost hissing, nothing like Nico’s warm baritone or Andreas’s gravelly growl.
“The one from the museum in Cairo?” she asked as though unconcerned. “I’m afraid I sold it, but I can take your name in case I come across another one—”
How he got to her so fast, she never knew. One moment he was by the jewelry display, the next he had lifted her high and slammed her back onto the counter. His breath was foul, his slits of eyes terrifying.
“Retrieve it. Destroy it.”
“Destroy it?” she gasped. “An artifact? I don’t think so.”
“You will.” He shook her, and her head jounced painfully against the glass. “You must not interfere.”
“Interfere with what?”
“She will punish you. Her wrath can reach across centuries.”
“Who is
she
?”
Her heart pounded in fear. She couldn’t reach the phone or the alarm button behind the cash register. This man was strong enough to kill her with his bare hands, and there was nothing she could do about it.
A low growl rumbled through the store. The sound went on and on, building in intensity, like a wild beast barely containing itself. In the back, her two cats started to howl.
Something blurred on her right, and the blond man dropped Patricia as a huge wild cat barreled at him. Patricia screamed and dove aside as the man and cat tumbled across the counter, everything left on it slamming to the floor in a heartbreaking crash.
Patricia got to her feet, wondering what the hell to do. Call the police? Animal control? Hose the cat down with the fire extinguisher? But the big cat had just saved her life, and she knew it. Police would shoot the beautiful thing dead or haul it away God knew where.
Red Kitty and Isis came bounding out of the back room, still howling. They danced around the fight, watching avidly, for all the world like they were cheering the big cat on.
The blond man managed to roll away from the cat. His clothes were in tatters, his shredded skin bloody. He hissed like a snake, then suddenly he became a thin column of smoke and disappeared altogether.
Patricia blinked in shock. But she didn’t have much time to relax, because the wild cat halted in front of her, fixing his gaze on her from three paces away.
He was a snow leopard. His fur was white with mottled black spots, his eyes ice blue. His body was heavy, shoulders and haunches rippling with muscle, paws sporting razor-sharp claws.
“Nice kitty,” Patricia tried.
Isis stalked around her and walked right underneath the leopard, rubbing her head against him as she went. The leopard glanced once at the cat, then back at Patricia. They faced off, woman to leopard, then the leopard yawned. His huge red mouth was lined with pointed teeth, his lips peeling back to reveal every one of them.
The leopard lay on her carpet with a whuff of breath. Isis butted his shoulder, and he butted her gently back before starting to groom his blood-smeared paws.
“Don’t be afraid, Patricia.”
Patricia bit back a shriek as Nico’s black wings came around her. “Damn it. Don’t you use doors like the rest of us?”
“Are you all right?”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s a leopard licking its toes three feet in front of me.”
Nico skimmed his warm lips over her ear, and she started to calm in spite of everything. “I asked him to come,” he murmured. “We sensed the danger.”
The leopard gazed up at her with cool blue eyes, and Patricia realized in shock where she’d seen that look before.
“He’s Andreas.”
Nico’s hot breath touched her neck. “It is. You’re the only human I’ve met who’s been able to make the connection.”
Patricia let a tiny part of her psi ability touch the leopard and saw the same purple-hued aura she’d seen at the club.
“He’s a . . .” She groped for words. “A were-snow leopard?” Nico chuckled. “Not exactly. Divinity trapped, like I am.” “Andreas said that last night, that you were enslaved. What does that mean? And who was the blond man?”
“A Dyon.”
“What’s a Dyon?”
Andreas, still in leopard form, growled softly at Nico.
“We’ve dragged her into it,” Nico said. “She needs to know.”
“Tell me,” she said softly. “Please.”
“Dyons are minions of Hera. Powerful. Old. We won’t let them hurt you.”
Patricia threaded her fingers through his feathers, loving the warm feel against her arms. “Why should they want to?”
“They want to keep us from breaking free, so they’ll hunt any who try to help us. That is why, once we see the ostracon, we’ll leave you well alone.”
Patricia felt a strange compulsion to grab him and hold on tight, to tell him he wasn’t allowed to leave. She was just starting to get to know her winged man and the were-leopard and their incredible auras, and she definitely wanted to know Nico better.
“Don’t go,” she felt her lips say.
Nico’s hands skimmed her waist, then he gently kneaded her abdomen, circling with his knuckles. “We have to, to keep you safe. But before we go, maybe I could give you something to remember us by?” The sensuality in his voice let her know exactly what he meant.
This was all wrong. She’d just survived an attack by a strange man with snakelike eyes and had been rescued by a leopard who turned out to be Andreas, and all she wanted to do was take Nico to bed. No calling the police to report the breakin, no demands to know exactly what was going on. What she needed most right now was to be with Nico.
She gently disentangled herself from his wings, walked shakily to the front door, and turned over the Closed sign. She snicked the locks shut and pulled down the blinds against the crowd outside.
“All right,” she said, holding out her hand to Nico.

 

NICO followed Patricia up her carpeted stairs to her apartment, leaving Andreas below to guard. The big cat sneered as Nico went.
Nico’s heart beat swiftly, his blood already hot. He couldn’t have Patricia for always, but he could at least have this. He’d give her the greatest pleasure she could handle, and when he was far away, he’d remember it, live it again in his dreams.
Patricia’s apartment was tiny: a compact kitchen, a bedroom big enough for a bed, and a full bathroom grouped around a small living room. Nico stopped her in the middle of the living room and drew her close for a kiss. Her mouth tasted good, like fire and spice, and he licked his way around her lips.
Her hands tightened on his shoulders. “Nico.”
“Mmm?”
“I didn’t bring you up here for sex.”
Yes, she had. Her body wanted it; he could feel it under his hands. She lied. “What, then?”
“I think you owe it to me to tell me what’s going on. I find you wounded in my store, then this Dyon person tries to beat the whereabouts of the ostracon out of me, and now Andreas is a leopard. I’d like some explanations, please.”
Nico leaned his forehead against hers. His body was on fire, everything pushing him to take her. He would have to soon, or the pain would become searing, crushing agony.
“Patricia, you don’t need to be in this. Andreas and I have dealt with Dyons before, and we’ll deal with them again. Without you getting hurt.”
She gave him a grim smile. “Too late for that. Do you think this Dyon thing will leave me alone because you don’t tell me anything?”
No, Nico really didn’t. But he and Andreas might be able to draw him off. Once they’d seen the inscription, they could leave Patricia alone.
He threaded his hands through her hair and brought his wings around to enclose her. “Patricia, I need to touch you.”
She put her fingers on his lips. “Not until you explain.”
“No, I mean I
need
to touch you.” His skin was burning, his cock so tight it hurt. “If I don’t—” He broke off, his heart squeezing. “Let’s just say it won’t be pretty.”
She gave him a speculative look. “Is that the line you use on all the women whose stores you break into?”
“Feel me.” Nico took her palm and pressed it to his cheek.
She flinched when she felt his burning skin. “What’s wrong? Are you feverish?”
“No. Cursed.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me touch you, Patricia. Let me spread you and pleasure you—I have to. I need to.” His heart was banging so hard it was making him sick. “Please.”
“Why?” She pushed away from him, and he had to let her go. He couldn’t force her. If she didn’t want him, then he’d simply have to suffer.
“It’s why we need to look at the ostracon. The writing on it could help us break the curse.”
She looked bewildered but concerned. “What curse?”
He loved her eyes. That blue green like the sun-dappled sea drew him to her. He wanted to kiss her eyelids, lick his way to her throat, part her blouse, and arouse her with his tongue.
He kissed her palm and pressed it to his chest. “The pain won’t go away if you don’t let me fuck you.”
She might not believe his words, but she must feel his heart beating like a piston, his skin on fire, see the pain in his eyes.
“Why are you—why do you feel like this?” she asked.
“The mother of the gods cursed us. Andreas and me. We must pleasure a woman like her slave, or we burn up. The curse won’t kill us, but it will make us wish we were dead.”
Patricia’s eyes rounded in horror. “Why would someone do that to you?”
He tried to shrug, but his body hurt. “Some goddesses can take righteous indignation a long way.”
“And I can help you by letting you give me sexual pleasure?”
He nodded, his throat too tight for speech.
She let her fingers soften on his lips. “All right, but if this is the worst pickup line since pickup lines were invented . . .”
His heart sped in hope. “You’ll let me pleasure you?”
She smiled slightly. “Yes.”
Nico let out his breath, some of the pain dissipating. “Thank all the gods. Put yourself in my hands, Patricia. You won’t regret it.”