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       Tempted, p.1

           Elisabeth Naughton
 
Tempted


  Copyright

  Copyright © 2011 by Elisabeth Naughton

  Cover and internal design © 2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover illustration by Patricia Schmitt aka Pickyme

  Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

  (630) 961-3900

  Fax: (630) 961-2168

  www.sourcebooks.com

  Contents

  Front Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  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

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Eternal Guardians Lexicon

  Excerpt from Enraptured

  About the Author

  Back Cover

  For Tonia Wubbena and Rita Van Hee…

  my go-to first readers and biggest fans.

  Thank you for your honesty, support, and mostly

  your never-ending love of the written word.

  This one’s all yours.

  Ah, but the man—cursed be he,

  Cursed beyond recover,

  Who openeth, shattering, seal by seal,

  A friend’s clean heart, then turns his heel,

  Deaf unto love: never in me

  Friend shall he know nor lover.

  —Euripides, Medea

  Chapter 1

  Temptation hung like a thick mist in the club, calling to the desperation seated deep inside him.

  Demetrius swallowed back the shot of whiskey and slammed his glass on the table. Heavy bass pulsed around him, lights flickered over bare skin, strips of leather and dangling chains, and bodies ground against each other in time to the thumping music.

  He couldn’t remember where he was—LA, Houston, Atlanta?—but he didn’t give a rat’s ass. One human city was just like the next, and sleazy clubs like this that fed the deviants on the fringes of society were easy to find. Yeah, he was in the mood for pain tonight, and right now he didn’t care if it was he or the brunette in the skimpy dominatrix getup across the dance floor who got to dole it out.

  She shot him an I’d-hit-that look and smiled when he nodded her over. As she turned away from the two shirtless losers in dog collars she’d been talking to and headed his way, lights rippled over her cleavage, her long legs, her dark brown shoulder-length hair. A scar marred her upper lip and her makeup was way too heavy for his taste, but that was okay. He wasn’t beautiful either. So long as she wasn’t petite and pale and perfect, that was all he cared about.

  She stopped at his booth in the shadows, gave him the once-over. He knew what she saw—a big-ass, tattooed, scarred, and menacing biker dude dressed all in black. And obviously, from the gleam in her eye, she approved. But it was what she couldn’t see that should have scared her shitless.

  She braced both hands on the table, leaned forward so her breasts all but spilled out of her leather bustier. Three small triangles were tattooed just above her left breast. The Greek symbol delta repeated.

  His gaze flicked up to her eyes, outlined in thick black. Her fake lashes curled almost all the way to her eyebrows. No, he was sure she wasn’t Argolean, didn’t possess any link to the ancient Greek heroes who’d been the first to settle his realm thousands of years ago. As an Argonaut, born of the guardian class, his sense of perception was strong. She was definitely a mere human.

  That little bit of conscience dogging him pushed in, twisted through his gut.

  “I’d ask you how it’s hanging, stud, but”—she drew in a breath that seemed to give her pleasure—“I have a feeling I already know the answer: Well. Very, very well, by the looks of you.”

  Bind me, hurt me, and fuck me were written all over her heavily made-up face. And when she sent him that come-and-get-me look, what was left of his conscience slid to the wayside, just that fast.

  He flipped cash onto the table and pushed to stand, refusing to think of the reason he was here, in this human club, desperate for the all-too-familiar pain that would make him forget. “Where to?”

  “There’s a dungeon room below.”

  “Good enough.”

  Excitement flared in her eyes as she turned, giving him a nice view of her ass in the barely-there leather bodysuit. Not perfect, but it would do for tonight. “Follow me.”

  He made it four steps before he caught movement to his left. And two faces that shouldn’t ever be in a place like this popped into his line of sight.

  “Whoa.” Gryphon, Demetrius’s guardian brother in battle, stopped feet away, eyes wide as he took in the interior of the club. He pointed to his right. “Is that woman naked in that cage?”

  “No way.” Phineus moved into the light so he could get a better view of the cage hanging from the ceiling above the dance floor. “She can’t be—holy crap, she is!”

  Demetrius clenched his jaw. He didn’t have time for this shit tonight. He was off duty, damn it. It was the first night in months he wasn’t on patrol with the Argonauts, searching for the daemons Atalanta had unleashed from the Underworld because of her twisted need to control and annihilate. And the last thing he wanted to do was stand here with these two yahoos, ogling something he didn’t want. He glanced toward the far side of the room. His dominatrix stood in ice-pick heels on steps to a hallway that disappeared around a corner. Her what-the-hell’s-the-hold-up? look said he was running out of time.

  “Dude,” Gryphon said with a wide grin, eyes locked on the woman in the cage, now rubbing against the bars, “you’ve been holding out on us. This is where you go when you leave our asses behind in Argolea? I am so following you from now on out!”

  Demetrius shot the blond Argonaut a withering glare, then looked back toward his dominatrix. She was already moving back into the crowd, searching for someone else.

  No. His muscles coiled. He’d been sitting here for the last hour, scoping out the scene, and she was the only one who fit his requirements. She was the only one who in some way didn’t remind him of—

  “…Isadora’s vanished. Like into thin air.”

  Demetrius whipped around at the sound of Phineus’s voice and focused in on the dark-haired guardian. “What did you just say?”

  “For shit’s sake,” Gryphon yelled over the pulsating music. “Didn’t you hear a damn word we said?”

  Demetrius glanced between the two Argonauts, who’d given up gawking and were now focused solely on him. Humans had taken notice of their conversation, but drawing attention was suddenly the least of his worries. As if his brain had just come back online, he realized Gryphon and Phineus should be in the royal temple. Right this minute.
Witnessing the princess’s binding ceremony. Not here in this seedy club with him.

  “What do you mean, vanished?”

  “Gone,” Phineus said, snapping his fingers for effect. “Into thin air. No one knows where she went and Theron wants your ass back in Argolea, like now, to help find her. If the Council finds out she’s missing…”

  Demetrius’s chest went cold as Phineus’s words faded in his head. He thought of the Council of Elders, of their desire to see Isadora ousted as soon as her elderly father, the king, passed and she assumed the crown of their realm. It was no secret they didn’t want her to rule. Then his mind shot to Atalanta and what the goddess would give to get her hands on Isadora. As a descendent of the Horae, the three goddesses of balance and justice, Isadora had powers yet untapped.

  Then again…

  Wouldn’t it just be like the princess to run off again? Except now…this wasn’t about her anymore. This was about all of them. Didn’t she realize she was screwed—that they were all screwed—if Atalanta got her claws on her?

  Plan for tonight forgotten, he pushed by his fellow guardians and stalked to the door as his mood grew blacker and that dark mist he lived with every day of his damn life roiled and boiled inside him. Bodies parted as he passed, but he didn’t need to look to see the fear in the eyes around him. Normally he’d enjoy scaring the shit out of a group of humans, but right now all that mattered was getting outside so he could open the portal and flash back to Argolea, then find that bloody princess before she screwed up everything for good. And when he did? Oh, when he found her—after he laid down the law—he was going to haul her skinny butt back to the castle and make sure she was exactly where she should be.

  Bound. Forever. To any Argonaut who wasn’t him.

  “Demetrius! Dammit.” Gryphon sighed at his back before he reached the exit. “What in Hades crawled up his ass and died?”

  “I don’t know,” Phineus said. “I’ve been wondering that for over a hundred years. You ever figure it out, you let me know.”

  ***

  She felt as if she weighed a thousand pounds.

  Isadora tried to get up but couldn’t. Her arms and legs were heavy, her mind nothing but a thick, murky fog.

  She shifted her head, groaned when pain stabbed her skull. Faintly, she thought she smelled basil burning. And…clove.

  Peeling back her eyelids, she looked through hazy vision that seemed to come and go. She was in some sort of dark room. The air was cold, and light flickered over the walls as if from a candle.

  Her father often used candles to light corridors in the ancient castle of Tiyrns, but something in her gut said this wasn’t any room in the royal castle that was her home. At least not one she’d ever been in.

  Apprehension churned in her stomach. To her left, a soft voice murmured, “Are you sure this is safe?”

  Isadora recognized the voice. She blinked several times and peered up at a woman dressed all in black. A hood shielded her face, and she stood with both hands extended and hovering above Isadora’s abdomen.

  “Perfectly. She won’t be harmed. Much.”

  “I don’t know,” the first voice whispered.

  The hooded figure reached for something behind her. When her hand returned, it glistened with moisture. She touched Isadora’s forehead, the spot between her breasts, and then, lightly, she traced lines over Isadora’s bare belly.

  Gooseflesh prickled Isadora’s skin. Her mind was like a worn gear caught in a wheel, trying to catch, over and over, yet slipping each and every time.

  “Demeter,” the female chanted, “goddess of fertility. Come to us so that she may bear thy fruit.”

  Bear fruit? Isadora went cold all over as her mind stopped its frantic search for answers and she focused in on the female above her. Tiny tendrils of fear slithered down her spine.

  “She’s awake,” the familiar voice said. Though pain raked her skull, Isadora shifted, looked that direction. She knew that voice. Strained to make the connection she was sure was on the tip of her mind. Then froze when she realized who it was.

  Saphira. Her handmaiden. Her trusted confidante. The one female who knew her better than any other.

  Saphira didn’t meet her gaze, but thoughts, memories, images swirled in Isadora’s hazy mind as she stared at the female she considered a friend: Sitting at her vanity on the day of her binding ceremony to Zander, peering into the mirror, seeing the first glimpse of the future she’d had in several weeks. Realizing she was trapped, that if she didn’t get away, there was no way the vision she’d just witnessed wouldn’t come true. And Saphira. Coming to her rescue. Kneeling at her feet. Bringing Isadora tea and claiming she had a way out of the entire mess.

  Isadora struggled again, glanced up when she discovered her arms were tied to some kind of bar. Frantic, she tried to lift her head again and this time succeeded, only to peer down the length of her body and learn she was bare but for a sheet low across her hips. Red lines marred her skin, fanned outward from her belly button. Lines that looked like they were drawn in blood.

  Oh, gods…

  A scream bubbled up Isadora’s throat, but the sound came out muffled and ragged. Belatedly she realized a gag was stuffed in her mouth, tied behind her head. Terror clawed its way up her chest.

  “She’ll hurt herself,” Saphira said as Isadora thrashed again.

  “No, she won’t.”

  Isadora’s eyes shot to the woman in the black cloak, and anger welled inside her as the female lowered her hood.

  Isadora had met her before, she was sure of it. Spiky red hair, sharp green eyes. Isadora squinted, tried to see through the haze, but still couldn’t make the connection she knew was right there.

  “Yes,” the female breathed, leaning closer, her gaze coming to rest on Isadora’s face. “We have met, Princess. Patience. It will come to you if you let it.”

  “Isis,” Saphira warned.

  Like a light bulb flicking on, the face and the name converged. This female was a witch. She and her consorts manned the secret portals in the Aegis Mountains Isadora had used to cross into the human realm unseen. And the lines on Isadora’s stomach…Her eyes shot down her body again. Now she recognized the shape. The lines of blood were drawn into the shape of a pentagram.

  No. No. Gods, no…

  Isadora arched her back, tried to kick and claw herself free, fought with everything she had in her. But the bonds holding her were too tight, the slab of granite beneath her body unforgiving and cold as ice.

  “Shh, paidi,” Isis said, rubbing a hand over Isadora’s forehead. “We wouldn’t want you to expend all your energy just yet. You’re going to need it for what lies ahead.”

  Isis moved away, came back with a small black dagger. Isadora’s eyes grew wide all over again as she looked up at the double-edged blade, at the twin curves of silver metal that made up the guard—one up, one down—at the gleaming black handle, at the ball at the end that formed the shape of the pentagram. When she recognized the sun symbols of Medea running up and down that handle, her vision blurred.

  An athamé. The ceremonial dagger used by Medean witches to direct energy when invoking a spell. Holy skata.

  Saphira moved around the table, sprinkling something on the floor. The scent of roses drifted to Isadora’s nose. Isis passed the dagger through the smoke of burning herbs, then through the flame of a black candle. From her pocket she produced a handful of brown granules—dirt?—and sprinkled them over the dagger and Isadora’s belly. Finally, Isis dipped her hand in a bowl and flicked liquid over the blade and Isadora.

  Fear rendered Isadora immobile; the bonds held her tight. All she could do was watch as Isis held the dagger over her belly and chanted, “Child of earth, of wind, of fire and sea. Into our lives, we welcome thee. As I will it, so mote it be.”

  A fertility spell. They were casting a fertility spell?

  “Are you sure this will work?” Saphira asked.

  “Have faith,” Isis replied.

 
; “I do. It’s just…” Saphira wrung her hands. “Is this the only way? I mean…” Her voice lowered. She refused to look Isadora in the eye. “The dark one…he’ll hurt her.”

  “Atalanta knows what she’s doing.”

  Atalanta? Dread welled in the bottom of Isadora’s chest.

  “You know she is our chance for freedom,” Isis said before Saphira could answer. “If our powers are to grow and we are to be free of this prison as we so desire, we cannot afford to let this deal with Atalanta slip by.”

  Deal with Atalanta. None of that sounded good to Isadora. She struggled against her bonds again.

  Saphira grimaced, nodded.

  A wicked smile spread across Isis’s face. “Trust me, Saphira. She will enjoy what is to come. Before this is over we will all get what we want.”

  “But, Isis…” Saphira’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You know she’s of the royal family. That she’s untouched. That she is a—”

  Isis held up a hand. Saphira closed her mouth. She didn’t argue again even when Isadora screamed, “Fight for me!” from beneath the gag.

  Isis set the dagger on the table behind her and returned with a flaming black candle, which she held over Isadora’s stomach. Isadora’s eyes jumped from Saphira to the witch now swirling the candle over her abdomen. “The circle is cast and we are now between worlds. Beyond the bounds of time, where night and day, birth and death, joy and sorrow meet as one. It is in this place we invoke the tantric powers of Hecate.”

  No, no, no…

  Isis set the fat black candle on the center of Isadora’s belly, right over the pentagram outlined in blood. Then she held her hands over Isadora and the candle and chanted, “Mother, goddess, we call on thee. Set this female’s inhibitions free. Let her have dreams of lust and desire. To ready the way for our rebirth through fire. As I will thee, so mote it be.”

  Unbridled lust? Passion? Oh holy hell…no. Panic and a sense of urgency welled in Isadora as she wrestled against the bonds. Isis lifted the candle, titled it sideways. Isadora’s eyes grew wide and she struggled harder. A single drop of melted wax rolled over the side of the fat candle to drip down toward her bare flesh.

 
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