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Authors: Deborah Cooke

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BOOK: Kiss of Destiny
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“Actually, I don’t,” admitted the flower nymph.

“If one came back, would you even know you’d seduced him before?” Nephele asked.

“Would it matter?” countered the flower nymph and Nephele shook her head.

She then returned to Arethusa’s story, pointedly turning her back on the flower nymph. “When the Earthdaughter and her mortal lover escaped from the Underworld, was Hades angry?”

Arethusa nodded. “Very! Because one of the things this man did was kill an Erinye.”

The nymphs all sat back in horror. “Which one?” Aura whispered, even though any one of them would be bad enough.

“Tisiphone!”

The nymphs gasped. This was the worst possible situation.

“And Hades pronounced his judgment. He poured the contents of his cup over Tisiphone’s body—”

“Not that vile potion,” the flower nymph said with a shudder.

“The very one,” Arethusa said before continuing. “And then he said
‘Tisiphone, the face of retaliation and the avenger of murder, take life again and exact your own vengeance upon your murderer and his kind. Pursue them through all eternity, until your thirst for revenge is sated.’

“As if that would ever happen,” Nephele murmured and Aura nodded.

Arethusa spread her hands to finish her story. “And she changed!”

“To what?”

“To a woman with hair the color of fire.”

Nephele rolled her eyes. “You
are
telling a story. No one has hair of that color.”

“She did!” Arethusa protested.

“And then?” prompted the flower nymph.

“And then she disappeared.” Arethusa lifted a finger. “One of her sisters asked where she could be found and Hades said
‘You all three have walked in whichever realm you chose. Tisiphone will live only in the realm of the living until her vengeance is served.’
He looked at the man before this last bit.
‘She will strike among the living, even as she abides in secret. His kind will never know of her vendetta until her vengeance is served.’

Nephele shuddered. “You have to feel sorry for him. Imagine being responsible for bringing a curse like that down on all mortal men.”

“But he wasn’t a mortal man, not really!” Arethusa crowed. Her audience regarded her in bewilderment. “He changed into a dragon and they flew out of the Underworld, right through the crack in the world that the Earthdaughter made.”

Aura gasped, even as Nephele shook her head in skepticism.

The flower nymph made a little purr in her throat. “A man who could become a dragon. I’d like to seduce one of them.”

“Surprise,” Nephele muttered.

“Wait,” Aura said. “Did either of them talk about a firestorm?”

It was Arethusa’s turn to stare. “If they did, I didn’t understand. What’s a firestorm?”

“And how do you know anything about it?” the flower nymph demanded, her eyes bright.

Aura might have explained, but she felt a delicious sensation of heat slide through her body in that moment. Sure enough, she glanced down at her hand to find a glow emanating from the tips of her fingers. She turned to face the source of the heat, just in time to see a black dragon fly through the low hanging fog over the glade. His eyes were brilliant gold and he breathed a stream of fire when his gaze locked upon her.

“Mother of Zeus,” the flower nymph whispered, fanning herself as she stared in awe.

“How could anyone follow us here?” Nephele said, sparkling silver as she changed to a cloud before Aura’s very eyes. The cloud that was Nephele rose high, but didn’t go through the mist.

No, Nephele would want to watch.

“I know that look,” Arethusa muttered. “He might be a dragon, but he’s after the same thing they all are.” Without waiting for agreement, she dove into the pool of water created by the glade. The surface of the water rippled, then shimmered as Arethusa changed shape. Aura had a glimpse of her face, then the nymph disappeared into the depths of the spring.

The dragon roared and Aura turned to face him. Once his gaze locked with hers, she could only stand and stare.

And want. The force of the firestorm had redoubled since she had fled from the dragon earlier, burning hotter and brighter and more insistently. She was trapped in an orb of heat, one that grew with every beat of the dragon’s wings and drained her of any desire to flee.

The only desire she had was for him.

She knew how Arethusa had been pursued by a river god. She knew how Coronis had been raped by Butes of Thrace. She knew that dozens of nymphs had been coveted, seduced and left pregnant—if not cruelly transformed—by their lovers, both mortal and divine. In a way, the desire of many nymphs to beguile men and use them sexually made sense, for it was a kind of retaliation for eons of abuse.

Aura knew all of that, but when the firestorm flooded her body and the dragon flew closer, when she could see the dragon he was and the man he could become, she could only think of his potent kiss.

This was not good. She had to find out about this son. Aura didn’t want to be abandoned by her lover to have his child alone. No matter how wonderful the firestorm was, it couldn’t be worth that life.

It was clear that she could run but she couldn’t hide.

Which meant she had to convince him to stop this firestorm. Sooner would be better. Aura licked her lips in trepidation, held her ground, and waited for her dragon.

* * *

He’d found her!

Thad flew directly toward his mate. She stood straight and tall by the side of a pool with a surface as smooth as glass. She held his gaze, as fearless as any dragon, even as the firestorm burned brighter and brighter. By the time he landed in front of her, shifting shape just before he touched the earth, there were sparks flying between them as brilliantly as fireworks.

Thad watched the orange and yellow light with wonder. He could feel the firestorm heating his body, sending a surge of desire through his veins. It was like the change slipping over him but intensified a thousand times.

It was all focused on his mate. He took a step closer to her and smiled, seeing the flush in her cheek and the sweet fullness of her lips. He wanted another kiss, if not a hundred of them, and wanted to make love to her forever.

For a moment, she looked soft and willing, then she shook her head. She took a step back, her move dimming the firestorm’s intensity a bit, and folded her arms across her chest. “What do you want from me?”

“To satisfy the firestorm.”

“What does it mean?”

“I told you. The firestorm means that you’re the woman who can bear my son.”

“And he’ll be like you?”

Thad nodded.

“And what are you?”

“A
Pyr
. We are dragon shape shifters, charged with defending the treasures of the earth and the four elements.” Thad cleared his throat and recited the foundation story of his kind, placing his hand over his heart as he did so. “In the beginning, there was the fire, and the fire burned hot because it was cradled by the earth. The fire burned bright because it was nurtured by the air. The fire burned lower only when it was quenched by the water. And these were the four elements of divine design, of which all would be built and with which all would be destroyed. And the elements were placed at the cornerstones of the material world and it was good.”

“But the elements were alone and undefended, incapable of communicating with each other, snared within the matter that was theirs to control. And so, out of the endless void were created a race of guardians whose appointed task was to protect and defend the integrity of the four sacred elements. They were given powers, the better to fulfill their responsibilities; they were given strength and cunning and longevity to safeguard the treasures surrendered to their stewardship. To them alone would the elements respond. These guardians were—and are—the
Pyr
.” He finished with a flourish, because the passage was his favorite.

“To them alone?” she echoed, her skepticism clear.

“That’s the story.” Her question made Thad wonder whether she knew something he didn’t.

She surveyed him, nibbling on her bottom lip. “It doesn’t mention anything about a firestorm,” she noted and he was disappointed that she wasn’t more impressed.

“Yet here it is!” Thad lifted a hand toward her and a spark shot from his fingertip. It landed on her chest, right above her heart, and there was an explosion of light on contact. She gasped even as Thad felt a stab of hot pleasure in his chest. He heard her heart skip a beat again, then felt that dizzying sensation of his own heart matching the pace of hers. They could have been one being, drawn together by destiny and fated to remain together forever. He reached for her, but she backed away again.

She had doubts.

That wasn’t unreasonable. Thad wanted her to choose to be with him, not to just be overwhelmed by the firestorm. He didn’t want her to have regrets.

“I can imagine that this is a surprise to you,” he said, keeping his voice low. “My kind say there is nothing like the firestorm. I knew of it and it’s still shaking my universe.”

“You expected it?” Her skepticism was clear. “It happens all the time?”

Thad held up a finger. “Once in the life of each
Pyr
, he will experience a firestorm. He has one chance to create a son and a future.” He knew she didn’t think much of his answer.

“A future for your kind, you mean.”

“A future for himself.”

“What about the mate?” she demanded, and her tone was a bit sharp.

Thad swallowed and tried to make a coherent argument, even as his body raged with desire. “
Pyr
and mate are brought together by destiny. Once it was believed that satisfying the firestorm was the end of it. But I have met those of my kind who create a permanent relationship with their mates, who become partners for the future.”

She eyed him warily. “Why?”

“Because they complement each other. The firestorm finds the mate best suited to the
Pyr
in question. It seems incredible, but that’s how it works. They make a team and raise their sons together. It’s what I want.”

Something in her eyes softened. “How long of a partnership?”

Thad smiled, sure that he was making his case. “Forever.” He took a step closer, the sudden increase in the heat of the firestorm making him close his eyes against it. When he opened them, she’d retreated again.

“You’re immortal, like a god?”

“No, but we are long-lived. So, for a long lifetime together, maybe even beyond that.”

“No guarantees?”

“Only because I don’t know what happens then.” He offered one hand to her, but she simply stared at his outstretched fingers. “Spending all my days and nights with my destined mate is fine by me.”

“What if your destined mate doesn’t want to have a son?”

“She doesn’t have a choice.” Thad smiled and reached toward her. “I’ll try to make it worth your while.”

She looked indecisive. He could see the desire in her eyes but also that she was resistant to the idea. He knew she wanted him. She kept looking at his mouth, at his hands, then catching her breath. He eased closer, lifting a strand of her long hair. As he wound the curl around his fingertip, the firestorm blazed golden. The light touched her features, making her look like a gilded treasure, and Thad’s chest clenched. He watched as she parted her lips, then bent quickly to steal a kiss.

The way her lips clung to his told him that she wasn’t that resistant.

“My name is Thaddeus,” he whispered against her mouth. “My friends call me Thad.”

“Aura,” she whispered, her eyes were dark and wide. She studied him as he repeated her name softly, and Thad dared to steal another kiss. This one lasted longer and was more potent, making his heart pound and filling his body with a need for more. He felt her fingers in his hair, lightly first, and then when he slanted his mouth across hers and deepened his kiss, her grip tightened.

Pulling him closer. Thad caught her close and lifted her against himself, liking how she framed his head in her hands. Their kiss turned hungry and demanding, kindling to an inferno that demanded satisfaction. He wanted to feel his skin against hers and he slid his hand under the hem of her chiton.

As soon as his skin touched hers, she spun out of his embrace. She backed away, her lips swollen and her cheeks flushed, and eyed him warily. Thad could see the tight beads of her nipples making peaks in the soft fabric and the smell of her desire made his dragon roar. He took a deep breath in a bid for control, determined to let her set the pace.

Then he realized one good thing.

“You’re not disappearing this time,” he said. “How did you disappear like that, anyway?”

Her smile flashed, as if he’d given her an idea. “You think you’re the only one who isn’t human?” she asked, but Thad was confused.

She laughed, then lifted her arms and disappeared in a sparkle of falling light.

He spun in place, but she was gone again.

He had to find her!

Thad suddenly felt a wind ruffle his hair, like a woman’s fingers sliding through it, except the spark of the firestorm crackled there, too. The caress slid down the back of his neck, both a breath of wind and a flurry of sparks, swirled around to cross his chest, then danced down his arm. He stretched out his hand and felt as if fingers of wind interlaced with his own, or maybe a breeze slipped through his fingers. Sparks cascaded from his fingertips as the wind faded to nothing, and he turned in place, wondering where she was.

BOOK: Kiss of Destiny
10.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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