A man trapped by magic, an enigmatic guardian, and a virgin who will bind them all...
Ordered to secure a precious box from the priests of Fausta, Marek isn't told a virgin ward is part of the deal. Ash's innocence and need drive him to touch her, taste her, to take the twisted power in her flesh and energize his own. But hidden players force Marek into doing something unthinkable.
Lucas' soul has been trapped for four hundred years. His new master demands he invade Ash's dreams and take her virginity. If he does, the treasure she guards will open. He's happy to obey. However, he finds her guarded by a man unlike any he's known in his long life.
Ash should deny the fire in her blood, remember who and what she is, but something inside her finds both men irresistible. As their lives intertwine, they're driven to find pleasure, using their unique blend of sex and magic to fight an enemy who would consume them all.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Her Dark Soul by Kim Knox
How could she make the temple her past? It had followed her to this house in the form of a box.
Ash blinked. The thieves had broken into the temple, hunting for something. Was that something the square wooden box? But then what was she? Marek had used her to heal himself, some form of power that smashed out of her under his words and caresses. Her gut knotted and she gripped the sharp edge of the table. It was another form of magic. She was another form of magic. As Marek supposedly protected her, she protected the box. "What did we bring from the temple? What did the thieves want?"
Marek closed the drawer. "I guard. I don't question."
"And they pay you for that too?"
He picked up the leather bags and turned to another drawer. She ignored the close brush of his body. A dark smile pulled at his mouth and she knew that he deliberately taunted her, keeping her on edge. Keeping her ready for him. "Yes, they do."
"Am I payment?"
He paused. "More of a bonus." He closed the drawer on the leather pouches and returned to the table for the statuette. Picking it up, he turned it to the light and a frown creased his forehead. "Beautiful workmanship," he murmured. "A knight owns this treasure?" He snorted softly. "No, he looted this from a northern prince."
He'd dismissed her so easily, seemed more concerned with the provenance of the statuette than the fact that he would taunt her for her...her magic whenever he pleased. "What am I, Marek?" Anger was a tight fist in her chest, fueled by her tired, hungry body. "What did the priests do to me?" Pain undercut the fury. Rani had to have known what they'd turned her into, known and never said. "And why?"
"They didn't pay me to answer your questions." He moved away and opened another drawer. The statuette found its home.
She snorted. "I'm paying you. I healed you. So tell me."
"Don't waste your anger on me, Ashsara." Marek picked up the lamp and shadows thickened across the cellar. "I heard your stomach. We both need breakfast."
He strode from the cellar, taking the light with him. As the darkness closed over her, Ash fought down her panic and followed him up the short flight of steps. "I could be here for a long time." The words made her pause. How long would she be with this man? If the priests feared for the safety of their stupid box, would they ever let it--and her--return to their temple? Years. Her stomach turned over. It could be years before she left Marek's house. "And you intend to ignore me?"
Her temple name stung. She wasn't that woman anymore, praying for the good fortune of the city from dawn until dusk. She was a slave to a plain little box and the man who guarded it. "Ash," she muttered. "Ashsara was my holy name."
Marek stopped on the last stair and stared down at her. He wiped his hand over his jaw. "I hate working with priests." He let out a slow breath. "We have to eat...Ash." Marek pushed open the door and allowed her to precede him.
Food and then at least some form of explanation. It was the best she could hope for right then.
Ash leaned against one of the small kitchen's walls while Marek moved around the white-plastered room with quiet efficiency. The lamp brought light to the room, mixing with the shaft of weak light from the grille above the oven and the open arch that led back through the garden. It wafted the soft scent of fruit trees into the cramped space, not the soothing scents of chamomile and wild jasmine, but the hint of pears, of ripening apples eased the empty ache under her heart...and also reminded her of her hunger. She focused on something else. "You have no slaves?"
"I have occasional use for them. Donel's most trusted slave cleans here, but that's all." He lifted covered jars from the small, dark pantry and put them on the bench. "I prefer to source and prepare my own food." He pointed to a stack of metal platters on a shelf to the left of the low fireplace. "Get two of those."
Ash wondered if he knew the word please, but she did as he ordered and set the plates on the scrubbed table. Marek spooned olives, raisins and honey onto both platters. A chunk of white cheese and bread joined them. He poured a little red wine into two beakers and filled it to the brim with water from a jug.
"Sit," he said, pointing to the low stool.
Ash dropped her behind onto it, still staring at her full platter. Her breakfast, taken in the third hour, had always been a simple meal of cracker bread and water from the temple well. "You always eat like this?"
"Ash." He waved a chunk of bread at her before he dipped it into his wine. "Are you going to question everything?"
A brief smile flickered across his mouth and she fought not to echo it. He kept catching her out, this Marek Savada. Hard, cruel...but then a hint of humor. Her ignored stomach growled again and she attacked the bread and cheese, happily mixing in olives. With her belly on the way to being full, tiredness crept into her bones, yet she still had to have some of her answers. She lifted her cup, hoping the aroma of wine clinging to the water would snap her awake. "So my answers?" She took a brief sip. "I have magic, yes? A ward means something other than having the temple as my guardian."
"Wards are human, ones bound to protect an object of importance. Kill them and the treasure remains sealed forever." He shrugged. "The most difficult ward to cultivate--and the strongest--is the virgin ward." He lifted his cup. "I salute the Temple of Fausta. It appears to have an efficient system in place."
Ash blinked, the cup still at her lips. Every one of the women she'd grown up with, the small girls and babies she'd played with, every one of them was little more than a means to an end. She'd spent her days being so grateful to the goddess and her priests for rescuing her from the Street of Cries. She willed herself not to bang her cup back on the table. "They used all of us."
Marek shrugged and wiped his last hunk of bread through the smear of honey remaining on the platter. "Welcome to Bukhara."
"This is not funny!"
He paused and looked up, his eyes dark, stern. "No, it isn't. I was hired for a job and I've been forced into taking in a ward by the emperor. As split as his power is, I have to obey him. As I would the Senior Prime of my Order." His head tilted and his dark smile, the one that warmed her flesh, curved across his mouth. "Though you bring unexpected benefits."
Ash felt the blush rise under her cheeks. "About that." She straightened, embarrassment gripping her...but he had offered her a way out. She planned to exploit it. "If I'm to guard this box, you can't..." She waved her hand, not wanting to give a name to the riot of desire he flashed through her body. "You can't use me. I must remain untouched. Your oath--"
Marek laughed. "Oh, I can fuck a virgin ward, Ash. Take you every way I could possibly want. My oath is for the treasure, not the other guardians. The problem is yours. That wild rush you get, the one that smashed into me? That was your defense, your protection of the box and your release. You can never find your own pleasure."
"That...you..." She couldn't find the words to answer him. The idea of doing whatever he wanted with her had her blood hot and her heart pounding, but the knowledge that she would never find true pleasure, that she would always feed him with her magic dulled the rush. "So a virgin ward is unbreachable?" she murmured.
"It takes ancient magic to break something as powerful as you, Ash." He stared around his small kitchen. "And not even ancient magic can fight its way through into this house."
Ash stared at the few remains of food on her plate, her appetite gone. She hated and craved Marek. It made no sense, and by the goddess, she was simply dead tired. She pushed her stool away from the table and stood. Ash found it hard to look him in the eye. Rani was wrong. She would be Marek's whore. "As you've just eaten, you're unlikely to want to fuck me now. Where can I sleep?"
He was silent and she forced herself to meet his gaze. She couldn't read him, but that could be the heavy ache of tiredness suddenly gripping her. Marek pointed through the open arch. "The stairs to the upper floor are across the garden. Take the smallest room."
"Thank you." She murmured the courtesy out of habit and left the kitchen. A bed, a few hours of dreamless sleep and after that maybe she would be able to think more clearly. Though her circumstances would not have changed. Marek planned to use her however he wished. Ash hated that her body grew warm at the thought.
The wooden stairs led to a balcony that overlooked the garden below. Ash opened several doors until she found the smallest of the bedrooms. The single, small window was shuttered against the light and a low bunk stretched out under it. Ash closed the door, sinking the room into further darkness, pulled off her sandals and curled up under the thin blankets. The noise of the outside world, of the clatter of workmen, the cries and laughter of children, and somewhere below she heard Marek stacking dishes. All the sounds pressed over her. Strange and--if she weren't tired and full of food--disturbing. Ash shifted to create a comfortable dip in the soft rushes, closed her eyes and let sleep take her.
But she awoke with a start. She could hear breathing in the room with her. Her fingers fumbled for the latch on the shutters and tugged one of them free. Morning sunlight slanted into the room, cutting across the end of her bed and hitting the man standing there.
Ash let out a wild yelp and tried to scramble from the twisted covers.
"I'm not here to hurt you, Ash."
Something about his voice seemed vaguely familiar, a smooth deepness that eased under her skin and stopped her struggles with the trapping blankets. Ash fought to focus on him. She couldn't know him. The only men she knew were the few slaves she had seen working in the priests' market garden and Marek. Her stranger was dark like Marek and held that man's lean, flawless male beauty.
A smile curved his mouth and her heart squeezed, the first flush of interest running hot through her body. Damn it, did she have no shame?
Her stranger's smile deepened. "You know, this isn't quiet real." He looked over the low ceiling before returning his dark gaze to her. "You're asleep, Ash. So really there's no need for shame."
Heat bloomed in her chest. "How did you...?"
"This is a dream. Your thoughts weave around you in strings of soft light...and I can see them as clearly as the rise and fall of your breasts."
Ash yanked the blanket up over her shift, her face flaming. She closed her eyes. "I want to wake up. I need to wake up." She said the words out loud, clear, sharp. Ash opened her eyes expecting to find darkness and her sudden madness over...but the man simply smiled at her.
"It's not that simple."
He moved around the edge of the bed and Ash kept her attention fixed on him. He flicked open the first button of his shirt. Her breath dried and her breasts tightened. And damn, what had the priests done to her to make her so eager?
He laughed, something rich, warm and laced with wickedness. "Now, Ash." He flicked another button on his linen shirt and she couldn't look away from the hint of brown flesh he revealed. "The priests of Fausta gave you a gift. Something beautiful. Something to be shared."
He tugged the shirt over his head and dropped it beside the bed. Sunlight edged the lean hardness of his chest and the memory of Marek burned through her.
"Him?" he asked.
He tugged at the belt that held his breeches and Ash's heart lodged in her throat. She tore her gaze away, her eyes fixed on the bloodless grip she had on the blanket. Her heart beat hard. He said it was a dream, but she couldn't believe it, not deep down...and the thought of his bare body panicked her.
"He is crude," he murmured. His breeches puddled at his bared feet. "No finesse. His only desire is to use you."
"Who are you?" She kept her gaze on his feet, torn between keeping her eyes exactly there, or letting them roam up the muscled length of his calves, his thighs and stare openly at his nakedness. It's a dream. That wicked little whisper burned through her thoughts. It is...
"My name is Lucas."
His name warmed through her and the knowledge that she dwelt in the safety of a dream gave her courage. Her gaze skirted up his legs, heat burning in her face and she stared at his erect cock. Ash had no memory of ever seeing one, but she must have to be imagining Lucas there with her. Her gaze snapped up to his face and her blush deepened. "How are you here?"
"Ash, questions are dull."
Lucas eased her back onto the bed and she let him. His warm fingers brushed over hers, easing her tight grip on her blankets. He pulled the cover free and that joined his clothes on the floor. His brief, wicked smile had her heart thudding. Leaning over her, he teased a finger over her collarbone and traced a path to the peak of her nipple. She gasped, her hips twisting involuntarily. What kind of dream was this?
"He offered you choices..."
Ash blinked. Was that it? Was she acting out what Marek had offered her, what her body craved? Feeling wanton, she tugged her shift up over her thighs. The sharp gleam in Lucas' eyes tightened her flesh and gave her the courage to pull the material higher up over her hips and bare herself to him.
"More?" The heat in his voice echoed in her blood, his gaze fixed on the juncture of her thighs. He wet his lips. "Let me see all of you."
Her heart in her throat, Ash pulled her shift over her head and lay naked before him. Heat beat in her face and the tight ache low in her belly increased...but still she looked at him, certain of what she wanted. "I want your mouth on me."
Lucas sucked in a quick breath and his cock twitched. "All over?" He paused. "May I bury my face between your thighs and lick and eat you?"
The fire of need pounded through her. She could only nod, her body already trembling and she almost cried out at the first brush of his mouth against her breast. Her spine arched into him and Lucas' low laughter shot liquid heat deep into her belly. He straddled her, the warmth, the strength of his body, the press of his hard cock into her thigh driving fresh desire through her flesh.
"You taste..." His murmur died away and his tongue teased the underside of her breast, her ribs, the curve of her belly. "Never, never have I tasted anyone like you. Sweet." He nibbled low across her belly and she gasped. "Succulent. So..."
His lips brushed her mound and her heart stopped. He was so close to where she ached for him, his breath hot against her skin. His fingers eased over her thighs, parting her before him. Yes, she wanted this. She wanted his mouth, his tongue on her as Marek had described, curling, teasing her. Fucking her.
She felt his grin against her and his fingers dug into the firm flesh of her thighs, pinning her to the bed. "I will give you all those things. I promise." He paused and Ash met his dark gaze. Golden fire lurked in him and the promise of it, the promise of wild and wicked pleasure called to something deep and old in her. "And more. I will give you your every desire, if that is what you wish."
The gleam in his eyes, the fire, panicked her. This was wrong. Lucas, the dream was wrong...but then his tongue curled against her and she was lost. He licked through her folds, teasing, finding a spot that almost had her bucking off the bed. His hard hands let her down and the thought of his control, of him taking her--
His low, satisfied growl rippled through her flesh and his tongue pushed harder, meeting a resistance that had her aching, desperate for him to break.
"Fuck me." She muttered the words under her breath and tangled her fingers in Lucas' hair, beyond caring that he, that what she was doing was wrong. He had to take her, bury his tongue inside her and make her scream.
"Yes..." The word was raw and harsh against her damp flesh. Her blood pounded. Already, the tight heat low in her belly pulsed, thickened and she shook, her body hardly her own. He had to do what he promised, bury his tongue inside, so deep and fast, fucking her until... "First my tongue then my cock. Your pussy and your ass. You'll be so thoroughly and deliciously breached--"
"Yes." Ash tried to arch against him, against the wickedness of his words, the fire in her body almost impossible to deny. "Yes, I--"
Darkness broke over her and hard hands yanked her from her bed. Marek loomed over her, breathing hard, the light from the open doorway hugging him. "What are you doing?"
Confused, her body on fire, the need for her to find another man to finish what Lucas had started made her cover Marek's mouth, stroke her tongue over his. His taste, its hot sweetness scorched through her. She wanted him. Now. Hard. Fast. She needed...
Marek crushed her body hard to his and deepened their kiss, his groan tearing through her flesh. She clutched at his hair, grinding her hips against the hardness of his erection. Her own groan mixing with his as his hand tugged at her shift, finding the bare skin beneath. She could imagine him naked like Lucas--
Light danced behind her eyes...and then Marek was grunting, his arms tight around her body as her magic smashed into him in a wild rush.
Ash pulled her mouth from his and her head dropped to his shoulder. Some of her ache was gone, but not enough and a sourness twisted her gut. She hated this. Hated it. Marek held her up, his breathing harsh and hot against her ear.
"Damn you..." she murmured.
"Damn us both," he said.