Copyright © 2012 Cassi Carver
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Kara dropped into a crouch behind the leaves of a giant bird of paradise as her claws silently pushed through the tips of her fingers. Her thigh muscles burned from the continued strain, but they could catch fire for all she cared. He wasn’t going to get her. Not this time.
When the sound of furtive footsteps approached, crunching softly through the thick, tropical undergrowth, Kara grabbed onto a low-lying branch and swung herself up, then quickly scaled the side of the tree. Her heart beat full-throttle, hammering so hard she hoped he couldn’t hear it. But if his hearing was that good, even the shallow breaths she took might give her away.
The buckskin-clad shape came closer. Head to toe, he wore a suit made of animal skin with a leaf pattern hand-drawn on the material. It was a hunting suit. But Kara didn’t feel like being hunted tonight.
She waited until he was directly under the tree where she hid. His chest and back were strapped with weapons that slowed him just enough to put him at a disadvantage. With a silent, decisive breath, Kara leapt.
Claws extended, she pounced on his back from above, flattening him to the ground under her, crushing a mass of fern fronds under his thick chest. She pulled a knife from his back strap and held it to his throat.
Smiling, she leaned down to whisper above his hooded ear, “Give up, big guy?” If it came out a little throaty and seductive, she couldn’t help it. Victory was a major turn-on. But then again, when it came to Gavin Cross, just breathing the same air was enough to get her hot and bothered.
He shifted under her, and his hulking body had no problem moving her with him. With her knees straddling his hips, she lifted up to allow him to roll onto his back.
“Lady Kara…” the man began, “you have need of me?”
Kara dropped the knife and jumped off, falling to one knee and clobbering a sprig of wild orchids in the clumsy maneuver. “Who the hell are you?”
“Patrick. You don’t remember me?” The warrior sat up and searched her eyes for a moment, but then his confusion cleared, as though he’d finally caught on to what was afoot. “Ah, you really don’t remember me, do you? You simply have need of a man. I don’t mind, my lady. I would be honored to service you.”
It still bothered Kara that his offer lit fuses all up and down her body. If she hadn’t grown up as a regular gal, she probably would have taken him up on his offer. Right here. Right now. Already, his substantial interest was growing.
She stood and brushed the debris from her black jeans. “I’m so sorry, Patrick. I really didn’t intend to…jump you. Lord Gavin and I are doing training exercises out here, and I thought you were him. You may want to hunt somewhere else until we’re finished.” When his brows rose, she added, “Finished training.”
Patrick stood, assessing her with a wry smile, then he retrieved his knife and returned it to its sheath. “Lord Gavin, you say? But he was the one who ordered the hunt.”
“He did what?” But just as she said it, something slammed into her from behind, carrying her blindingly fast through the maze of trees and vines until the blurred image of a clearing appeared.
In the next instant, she crashed into the tall grass face first and rolled onto her back—or was flipped, more like it. The hulking form above her blocked out the light of the moon with his massive silver wings. Her back pushed into the soggy soil, the moisture soaking through her shirt, and a root of some sort pressed against her ribs.
She glared up at Gavin, but with only an inch separating them, his hazel eyes were huge, eclipsing everything else in her vision, and his grin seemed to stretch as wide as his wings. “Gotcha.”
“What was that?” she demanded, but it was hard to yell at him with his lips so close to hers.
He brought a hand to her neck and ran his finger slowly across her throat. “If I had a knife, you’d be dead. I win again.”
Kara’s hands found his waist of their own volition. “No you don’t. You cheated. You sent a horny hunter into our training ground. I thought he was you!”
His breath was sweet and spicy, and the corners of his eyes crinkled with soft lines as he smiled. “Cheating is irrelevant when it comes to life and death, princess. Don’t expect integrity from those who want you dead.”
Her hands raked over the bare skin covering his ribs, until she curled her fingers into her palms to keep from touching him again. “Okay, that one doesn’t count.”
Gavin laughed and pulled her to her feet. “It counts. That’s three hundred sixteen for me and seven for you.”
“Shit,” she ground out. “Let’s try again.”
He reached out and adjusted her damp black T-shirt so that it lay smoothly against her chest. “You’re not ready, Kara.”
She batted his hand away. “So I can’t flash like a silver-wing. That doesn’t mean I’m defenseless.” She’d killed his brother, who was incredibly strong for a silver-winged fallen angel—but she didn’t think there would ever be a right moment to throw that in Gavin’s face. Besides, he’d just tell her that his brother hadn’t been an almost invincible black-wing like the beast they were planning to bring down now.
“We’ve done enough for one night. Let me take you home. It must be almost three pm in San Diego, and you said you had to work tonight.”
Now that Kara was officially part of the Mercury Clan—a band of more than three hundred fallen angel hybrids—Gavin had finally confided that Mercury Island was located in the Seychelles chain of islands. Albeit, with all the wards and defenses, there wasn’t a good chance of a fisherman or passing cruise ship catching on to that fact.
Being halfway around the world from San Diego, it was almost twelve hours off from where she called home. Three pm in San Diego meant she’d kept Gavin up all night here on Mercury Island.
“Yeah, I do have to work. And you need to get some rest.”
He wrapped his arms around her, preparing to flash. “Have you thought about my offer?” As he asked, they began to dissolve. He carried her through the inky tar, and a moment later, they were standing on the balcony off her living room overlooking downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.
She let the nausea and the boneless feeling pass before she answered. “I can’t.”
He growled and released her. “No lady of the Mercury Clan needs to work. I have enough resources to keep you comfortable from now until the Armageddon. Did I ever mention that Teras’s daughter working at a bar for minimum wage and paltry tips is just plain absurd?”
“Only about a dozen times. Don’t you ever get tired of this subject, Daddy Warbucks? I know I do.”
“Your father was my king, Kara. How can I hold my head high when I’m not caring for his only daughter?”
Kara reached up—way up, given Gavin’s six-foot-seven-inch frame—and patted his cheek. The dark blond stubble along his jaw was just starting to poke through and it tickled her palm. “You’re so cute when you go all protect-and-provide on me, but I gotta get ready for work now. Bye.” When she wiggled her fingers in farewell and turned to enter the apartment, Gavin slapped her on the rump. She yelped and dashed into the living room.
“Brat!” he called after her, and then he flashed.
And with the sting his hand left on her ass, he was lucky he did.
She growled and swallowed down her body’s reaction to her golden-haired protector. Since her lover, Julian, had called things off three weeks ago, bringing Kara’s sex life to a screeching halt, her starving body couldn’t handle even grappling or sparring with Gavin without her wanting to unstrap his weapons belt to unsheathe his broadsword.
She sat hard on the edge of the sofa and ran a hand over the side of her throbbing backside. What if she did quit her job? What if she took her place on the island as a lady of the clan? What would it be like to trade her boots and jeans for island wear and an ever-present supply of men eager to do her bidding?
As it was, she wondered how long could she pine for Julian, hoping he’d reconsider—and not just for the sake of her broken, humiliated heart, but also for how effective his attention was at helping her control her raging libido.
Truth was, females of Kara’s kind didn’t do well with abstinence once they’d reached her age. Hell, they didn’t even attempt it. And now more than ever Kara could see why.
She began to pull off her boots, but her face was angled toward the balcony window, pointing towards Mercury Island however many thousands of miles away. “Celibacy sucks!” she shouted.
But unfortunately, rolling around with Gavin Cross in a totally different exercise couldn’t happen until they’d accomplished their primary objective—sending that black-wing bastard Brakken to the Abyss before he got hold of Gavin’s only child.