Allyson James

Mortal Temptations

Mortal Temptations

by Allyson James
Berkley Sensation
January 2009
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Chapter One

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, chest dusted with dark hair, narrow hips hugged by blue denim, and a strong throat encircled with 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 in 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 lightening 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 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 arranged the man’s head gently 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 pillow and blanket. The Dyon had been doing its damndest 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 bore into his as though the creature was 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 climbed painfully 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 criss-crossed 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 or 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 ocean-like 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 remind 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 bra-less 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. It 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 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 melded 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 the waistband of his jeans.

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 56th 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 sent you.”

She took the card, giving him a suspicious look. He flicked a more staid, matt-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.”

Andreas rampaging 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. This 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 that showed mountains of cleavage, and sharp-heeled shoes that bared miles of legs.

In her neat black jeans 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, an 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 décor and a small kitchen tucked behind a shining granite counter. Through an open double door she saw a bedroom with a iron-poled canopy bed and cube-like shelves.

A man came in from the bedroom, also wearing an Andre’s t-shirt. He was not quiet 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 dismissing glance and started talking to Nico like she wasn’t there. “Does she have it?”

“Not any more.”

“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 you your deepest desires. Anything sexual you’ve ever wanted to try, we’ll do it for you.”