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Authors: Elizabeth Lapthorne

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Passionate Investigations

BOOK: Passionate Investigations
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Passionate Investigations

Elizabeth
Lapthorne

 

Book eleven of the Urban Seductions series.

Zahra Gower is a free-spirited witch. Even
though her father and older sister work on the Magical Council, politics and
power hold no allure for her. Rob Padden is everything the Council members
aren’t. A bad boy through and through, he works with Zahra’s sister for one
reason only—he’s the best investigator around.

When Zahra’s sister dies under tragic and
strange circumstances, Rob is the only person Zahra can trust to help uncover
the truth. The sizzling, sensual chemistry that has been present between them
from the beginning finally ignites, and all the rules are thrown out the
window.

Reader Advisory: This story has graphic sexual language and
scenes—no closed bedroom doors (or other rooms) here!

 

A
Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

 

Passionate Investigations
Elizabeth Lapthorne

 

Chapter One

 

Zahra Gower glanced guiltily over her shoulder to check she
hadn’t been discovered as she stepped out of her four-inch stiletto heels. Her
electric-blue, sequined cocktail dress was the exact same shade as the
silk-covered sandals. She’d painted her toenails fire-engine red for the swanky
party her father and elder sister had insisted she attend.

Despite her complete disinterest in the politics their jobs
entailed, ever since her mother had passed away, Zahra always felt pressured to
come to these twice-yearly affairs.

The coast clear, Zahra flicked a shoulder-length blonde curl
out of her face. Silently she opened the French doors that led from her father’s
personal office directly out onto the lush, expansive gardens of their
ancestral home. The muffled sound of laughter and hundreds of conversations
going on were not completely muffled by the privacy of Grant Gower’s heavy
mahogany study doors. The moment Zahra stepped out onto the lush green grass,
she hastily closed the French doors and the party receded behind her.

With a sigh equal parts guilt and relief, Zahra took
advantage of her escape and hurried farther away from the house. Instantly
enclosed in a different world—a world she had been escaping to for years
now—she relished the feel of the soft grass beneath her naked feet and inhaled
the sweet scent of her mother’s prize roses. Some of Zahra’s happiest and
earliest memories were of herself and her mom here in the garden, tending the
multitude of flowers and bushes.

Tanya, her elder sister, had always taken after their
father. Tall, willowy and incredibly smart, she’d seemingly forever had a keen
interest in the politics of their magical society. From an equally young age
Zahra had known Tanya would be a witch to be reckoned with one day—powerful,
beautiful and canny.

Zahra, on the other hand, had always been what her father
called in mingled exasperation and puzzlement as “a free spirit”. Far more like
their mother, she had a magical affinity for plants and horticulture. Zahra had
zero interest in power or politics and even less aptitude. Her father tried
valiantly to restrain his disappointment, but eventually had conceded defeat
when reality became clear.

Everyone agreed Zahra was better off tending to herbs,
creating poultices and channeling her magic elsewhere.

With her lungs full of clean, fresh air, despite their
nearness to the city of Chicago, Zahra could feel the crowded tension of the
previous few hours slowly begin to ebb under the soothing tranquility of her
favorite garden. Evading the party as well as wandering the beauty of the well-maintained
lawn, Zahra quickly began to forget all about her family responsibilities and
enjoy the moment for what it was—freedom.

She could also almost—but not quite—forget the main reason
behind her hasty retreat. Tears blurred her vision for a moment but she quickly
clenched down on the instant reaction.

“It’s so wonderful to have fresh blood and a new, young
masculine virility enter the corporation,” one of her father’s drunken cronies
had impressed upon her not ten minutes ago in the main ballroom. “Miles
Lancaster is exactly what we old wizards needed to lift our game. He reminds us
what the hunt for power is like, what we all felt so strongly back in our
youth. Miles is the perfect wizard to inject a bit of passion and that raw
hunger into all our plans. Your father is a genius, my dear.”

Even though the wizard had clearly indulged in more than a
tipple the leer he gave Zahra had been unmistakable. It set her teeth on edge.
Worse, she heard the double entendre in his words and it had her heart racing.
Denial thrummed dangerously through her blood as she struggled to hold on to
her wild imagination.

Zahra rarely lost her temper, but more than a few times
Tanya and their father had despaired of her ever holding on to her volatile
emotions. It was times like these Zahra missed her mother with a genuine,
physical ache. Often she believed the only reason she had survived her teen
years was because she could rant, vent and cry to her mother before getting a
hold of herself and putting aside whatever angst-filled, teenaged-boy-driven
drama had consumed her and move on.

Determined to settle herself, Zahra had searched through the
large throng of people searching for Miles—her current beau. Never before had
her father been so impressed with a wizard she had dated. Indeed, Grant had
been effusive in his pleasure at her choice in partner, for once.

Zahra found Miles, but warning bells sounded in her head.

Even recalling the mental picture had her deeply upset.
Miles had been secreted away in a shadowy corner, whispering into the ear of a
lush, beautifully jeweled witch. The bitch had laid a pale, slender hand
intimately on his chest as they both laughed at something he’d said.

Jealousy was a new feeling for Zahra, one she didn’t like in
the least. She had raced away, needing time, space and the freedom of the earth
beneath her feet and the natural wind upon her face to decide if her rage came
from jealousy, betrayal or a different sort of anger.

Right now she felt confused and muddled, unable to sort
herself out.

Am I jumping to conclusions?

Finally, winded, Zahra slowed her pace and reached a hand
out to shakily touch the bright-green, paper-thin leaves of the nearest tree.
Searching deeply within herself, she tried to sort out the riot of emotions
clambering within her heart.

She hadn’t believed herself in love with Miles, but the
potential had been there. Zahra was reluctant to throw out four wonderful
months over one possible misunderstanding—but at the same time she would not
play the foolish, blind and adoring lover either.

Pushing the whole mess aside mentally, Zahra moved to one of
the many rosebushes. Reaching out her hand, she cupped a brown, shriveled rose.
Whispering a soft incantation, she felt her magic rise. A small flicker of
golden light shone and the rose bloomed once again.

Flexing her toes in the grass, Zahra felt the first real
smile of the evening cross her face. Satisfaction at seeing the beauty of the
flower helped ease the pain inside her chest. A small frisson of energy
remained in her palm from the use of her magic. With a critical eye Zahra
surveyed the rest of the blooms, seeking out any further plants that might need
her attention.

“I’d heard you were good,” a male voice sounded behind her.

Taken by surprise, Zahra whirled around guiltily to face the
intruder.

Rob Padden stood beside a large tree, leaning casually
against it. She recognized him instantly, even in his tuxedo. Rob worked with
Tanya in a small, politically connected company that discreetly sought out and
shared information with those who needed it. While Tanya usually consulted with
members of the Council and Tribunal, Rob worked largely with the Enforcers and
others associated with keeping the laws of the magical community.

Tanya and Rob had been working side by side for almost a
year now. Initially, Zahra couldn’t imagine her image-conscious, by-the-book,
every-hair-always-perfect sister working in conjunction with this wild man.

With his shoulder-length black hair, olive tanned skin and
wicked green eyes he had always struck her as the sexy, devilish bad boy. Rob’s
propensity for wearing black jeans or motorcycle leathers merely aided the image
Zahra held. In the secret, most hidden part of her soul Zahra could admit the
wizard was a walking, talking, naughty fantasy for her.

“I learned most of my magic out here,” she replied as she
let her hand travel over the other pale-pink roses on the bush. “This was my
mother’s favorite place to be. I can’t count the number of afternoons we’d
spend out here when I was a child. She taught me most of what I know.”

“Tanya always keeps fresh flowers on her desk,” Rob
commented.

Zahra lifted her gaze to catch his, searching to find if he
were teasing her. His face remained neutral, merely making the observation.
Zahra relaxed, surprised at how ready for a fight she seemed to be.

“Despite outward appearances Tanya is not a female clone of
my father,” Zahra weighed her words carefully. “Just like I am not identical to
my mother. Tanya might have inherited most of my father’s political savvy and
me the love and appreciation for nature and beauty, but Tanya enjoys nothing
more than to relax in a pretty garden after her day’s work. Also, I am not as
ignorant of the Council’s movements as I let on.”

“I’m learning that,” Rob answered. “You’re a curious woman,
you know that, Zahra Gower? You appear all lightness and froth upon initial
meeting, but you have a sharp brain in that pretty blonde head of yours.”

Zahra smiled wryly. “You sound surprised.”

Rob shook his head firmly. “Not at all. I might have been
bamboozled at our first few meetings, which were admittedly brief with your
sister dismissing me like a servant and your father breathing fire down my
neck, but a part of the reason I make such a damn fine Investigator is I enjoy
scraping below the surface. I want to know how things really are and to sort
the bullshit from the truth. You, sunshine, have more layers than almost any
other witch of my association.”

Zahra’s mouth dried at the wealth of sensual meaning clearly
behind his observation. Subtle, but undeniable, chemistry hung in the air
between them. Not for the first time Zahra privately wondered if it had been a
coincidence that neither Tanya nor her father had introduced Rob to her until
after
she’d accepted a number of seemingly casual dinner dates from Miles all those
months ago.

Rob appeared to flirt outrageously with every witch he came
across. Zahra had always assumed it was merely his way. More and more of late,
however, she had to question that. Fire and need burned in those deep-green
eyes, something subtle flickered behind his gaze that indicated to her his
banter with her was not casual.

She found herself caught, trapped in the intoxicating lust
that threatened to consume them both. It took a concentrated force of will for
her to break their locked gaze, returning her attention to the grass at her
feet.

“You should be inside,” she said, pretending the wobble in
her tone was not there. “Apparently everyone who is anyone is networking to
their heart’s content, politicking as always.”

“I’m not interested in what’s going on in there. Ninety
percent of the wizards and witches in there live and breathe their so-called
power. All the real action happens behind the closed doors, anyway. The
ballroom is just posturing to look good. Besides, I’d heard such compliments of
your father’s garden I wanted to come out and see it for myself.”

Zahra smiled. The balcony of her own tiny apartment held her
day-to-day refuge, but nothing felt quite like home as much as these grounds.

“What’s your excuse for rushing out?” Rob asked, his tone
clearly curious. “I noticed you fleeing those French doors like the hounds of
hell were nipping at your pretty ankles. Problems with the ponce?”

“Miles is not a ponce,” she returned more sharply than she
had intended.

Rob’s distaste for Miles had been clear since the two
wizards met. Miles, ever the aspiring politician, had couched his dislike
behind careful barbs and stinging put-downs. Rob, in stark contrast, had never
minced words and made his antagonism clear.

“Miles is a—”

Zahra had no idea why Rob cut his words off so suddenly,
pressing his lips together and moving his mouth as if rolling something within
it. When he started again the anger in his tone had been curtailed slightly. “That
wizard isn’t good enough for you, sunshine. I know he’s your daddy’s little
golden boy, the up-and-coming star. But I truly never would have expected you to
be that desperate for your father’s approval.”

Zahra shook her head and turned around, taking a few long
strides before whipping around again. Closing in on Rob, she pointed a finger
to his chest, hard. The fact she barely came up to the wizard’s shoulder did
not negate the fury she held barely leashed.

“I agreed to go out with Miles because he is a charming,
sweet wizard. He’s easy on the eye and unlike most of his contemporaries can
hold down a conversation on a topic that isn’t his own aspiring career or what
the latest piece of Tribunal or Council legislation from three centuries ago is
being argued this week. He cares about me, is interested in my work and—most
importantly of all—respects me as an independent witch.”

“And the fact your father approves of him…” Rob let his
words trail off suggestively, his green eyes twinkling wickedly. Clearly the
wizard was now yanking her chain, not genuinely arguing with her.

“If you think I’d date a man—wizard or not—because he had my
father’s seal of approval, you know a lot less about me than you think you do,”
Zahra said with a shake of her head. She began to pull her finger back, but Rob
reached up and took her hand in his.

Their gazes met once again, all the words remaining unsaid
between them weighing heavily on the air. Energy crackled between them. Zahra
felt her cheeks flush hot, unable to draw her gaze away from the wizard as his
fingers gently clasped around her own. It took her a moment to realize the
electric sizzle she felt was the heat of his energy, passing from Rob to her
through their connected hands.

Heavy masculine lust sang through her, fiercely potent and
strangely alien. Zahra’s nipples peaked and slick need warmed her pussy. Her
breaths came in short, sharp pants. Only when she saw an answering flame in Rob’s
eyes did she realize not only could she feel his need through the shared
electricity of his magic, but unconsciously she reciprocated with her own,
clearly passing through their linked hands to him.

She snatched her hand away as if it were on fire.

BOOK: Passionate Investigations
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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