When a villainous wizard escapes from exile, the devastatingly sexy Doomsday Brethren must defend all magickind in the spellbinding second book in bestselling author Shayla Black's seductive new paranormal series.
Ex-marine Caden MacTavish has shunned his magical heritage all his life, but he will do anything to heal his desperately ill brother, a Doomsday Brethren warrior in mourning for his missing mate. Posing as a photographer, Caden must convince firecracker tabloid reporter Sydney Blair to reveal the source of her recent expos� on a supernatural power clash. Unfortunately, keeping his hands off the sizzling redhead proves as hard as getting them onto the potent and mystical Doomsday Diary he discovers at her bedside. A bloody rebellion led by an evil, power-hungry wizard is imminent. If Sydney divulges the book's existence, she will jeopardize magickind's most deeply guarded secrets and become the ruthless wizard's number one target. Caden has never trusted magic's cruel and dangerous powers, but he will protect Sydney with his life and magic -- even if it means risking his heart.
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1 . My only disappointment
Posted February 13, 2010 by Turcato , conroeis that the book ended! Shayla Black is an addictive writer. Love this series!
September 27, 2009
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Excerpt from Seduce Me In Shadow by Shayla Black
"WE HAVE PROBLEMS."
Caden MacTavish rolled his eyes. If Bram Rion thought that was news, it came two weeks too late.
Hovering on the edge of a bottle green armchair, Caden watched Merlin's grandson slam the door to his palatial home office, locking the Doomsday Brethren into the edgy silence with him. Each were warriors in their own way, most magical. All had the kind of mettle that would have been welcome in the Marine platoon in which Caden had served.
Without Bram's Hollywood smile, magickind's Brad Pitt looked both jumpy and grave. In fact, all the wizards, and Marrok, the former immortal and King Arthur's champion, looked grim. The tension ratcheted up, and Caden's thoughts drifted to his absent brother Lucan, a Doomsday Brethren warrior.
Please God, let this end soon.
A loud crash upstairs thumped the ceiling, shook the walls. A woman screamed, terror bleeding from her voice. On the upper floor, a door crashed open, the shrieking grew louder, and footsteps pounded above him. She was running down the stairs. Heading out the door.
Tearing out of the library, Caden raced to the shrieking blond woman, ignoring Bram's shout calling him back. He grabbed the frantic witch by her shoulders. Though likely over two hundred, she looked deceptively young. Her wide green eyes were glazed with fear.
"Wait. Please." He caught her anxious gaze. "My brother -- "
"I can't." Her voice quivered. "He's big and feral and -- snarled that I smell of another man. He ripped his chchains." Her words broke with new tears. "And lunged for my throat."
Caden closed his eyes and held in a curse. The fifth energy surrogate Lucan had frightened away in two weeks. Now what?
At the top of the stairs, Bram's sister Sabelle appeared. Her lace shirt and golden hair were askew, but her demeanor was calm. "I have Lucan under control. Let her go."
Instead, Caden clasped the witch tighter. If he released her, what would become of his brother? "He needs her. Without the energy she generates..."
Caden couldn't finish the sentence. The thought.
"He'll die." Sabelle sighed. "He misses Anka so deeply that it's unhinged him mentally. My Aunt Millie says she's never seen a case of mate mourning this severe."
More dreadful news. Where was the freaking light at the end of the tunnel? Bram and Sabelle had dragged him away from his peaceful life in Dallas two weeks ago; the hell hadn't let up since. Frustration ate his gut like acid. He didn't want to fail Lucan. Years ago, he'd been unable to save his younger brother. Damned if he'd let his older one die, too.
"If Lucan isn't taking the energy to survive from these women, how can he have enough strength to fight them?"
"Primal rage," Sabelle supplied. "When the surrogates come, it's as if he's defending an attack. It's a delusion, and we can't explain otherwise to him. All his senses, except smell, have shut down. Surrogates bring the smells of their other clients along unwittingly. Lucan fights back."
"Maybe...it's time to consider that he wants death," Bram murmured behind him.
Fury slashed through Caden. What kind of friend eventhought that? Caden had held the hands of fallen comradesin Iraq and prayed for their recovery...even as some rattledtheir last breath.
"My brother will not die like this! I will find Anka andbring her back."
"It may be too late. Let the witch go," Bram demanded.
"Please," the scared blonde pleaded.
Caden shook with rage. He wanted to crush something, punch a wall, lash out at magic, which had again screwed up his life. But the sobbing witch in his grasp shrank back in fear, like he, too, was a monster.
For about the two hundredth time since returning to England a fortnight ago, Caden cursed magic. To a human male, the loss of a beloved wife could be emotionally devastating. But as a wizard, Lucan's loss had reduced a perfectly sane person to a rabid animal. The man upstairs wasn't the older brother Caden had idolized as a child.
Though he'd left his childhood home a dozen years ago, and disavowed anything or anyone associated with magic, now that tragedy had struck, and he might lose his only remaining brother, a guilt seared Caden. The thought of never speaking to Lucan again? Unthinkable.
He must restore Lucan's mental health. To do that, he had to find Anka and return her to his brother's arms -- quickly. And clearly, the witch Caden currently detained couldn't help.
With a sigh, he released her. "Go."
She sprinted out and closed the door. Silence reverberated.
"Come back to my office," Bram said.
Caden whirled on the wizard. "I won't give up on my brother, damn you!"
With a twitch of Bram's finger, Caden was magically hauled back into the office. Caden seethed with resentment as Bram slammed the door behind them. He opened his mouth to give the wizard a furious earful, but Bram held up a hand.
"I understand your frustration. But our difficulties aren't merely about you and your family. These problems affect us all." He gestured to the other three men in the room. "And the rest of magickind."
"My brother is chained to a bed like a lunatic, Anka is missing, and we haven't a single clue where she's gone. We cannot make Lucan whole without her return. Nothing is more important."
"I wish. Our other problems are many and grave."
Ice Rykard, another of the warriors, was a big man, but when annoyance stamped his square, hollow-cheeked face, like now, sane people backed away. "You summoned me here to tell me what I already know?"
As Ice rose to leave, Bram blocked his path. "Something new has arisen. Prudence requires that we attend to it. All of us."
Bram refused to help his brother, then sought his assistance? Caden would have laughed if he weren't so furious. "I came only to find my brother's missing mate -- "
"Former mate," Bram corrected. "Their bond is broken."
"Involuntarily," Caden stressed. "I've no doubt Lucan still regards Anka as his, and they were in love. Why would she not welcome him back? I'm here to find her so they can bond again, not solve your problems."
Bram sighed. "Lucan is my best friend, and I want more than anything to make him whole again. But that is a mission of mercy. The other matters are of life and death."
"If you do not help me find Anka, Lucan will die!"
"If we fail to act on this new problem, thousands, maybe millions, will die. Including Lucan."
Sacrificing one for many. Bram had shoved this "necessity" down Caden's throat before. His patience was wearing thin. Exhaling, he rubbed gritty eyes. Every day, worrying. Every night, not sleeping -- he often paced, Lucan's mad countenance swimming in his mind. Meanwhile his brother's "friends" worried about everyone else.
"Please." Simon Northam, or Duke, the youngest of the Doomsday Brethren, drilled him with a stare. "We need you as much as Lucan. The sooner we tend to these issues, the sooner we can help him."
Caden felt four pairs of eyes locked on him. Except for the fact Bram had kept a roof over Lucan's head, he owed these men nothing. He'd known them a mere fortnight, wanted nothing to do with magickind and their problems. But their stares accused him of abandoning them...and Lucan's cause. Guilt twisted in his gut.
Blast them! He merely wanted peace and solitude since witnessing half his friends dying in Iraq. Of the few who had survived, two had returned home, only to commit suicide. Another was in prison, unable to make the transition from shooting terrorists in a desert shithole to walking the dog in suburbia. The last had gone missing following a training exercise at his home base. The tragic death of Caden's younger brother nearly two decades ago had proved that magic's body count was even more shocking and heartbreaking. He'd had enough of loss, of death. As soon as Lucan recovered, Caden would return to his sedate life as a staff photographer for a Dallas newspaper. No one died taking pictures of city council meetings.
"The Doomsday Brethren means a great deal to Lucan," Bram reminded.
"Besides, you may soon need us. Your magic is coming..."
Caden prayed that his sleeplessness was merely anxiety, stress, and not a harbinger of his own coming transition into magic. But there was no denying the electrical surges and flashes of emotion racing through his body of late. He feared that the witching hour -- in this case, his thirtieth birthday -- was approaching. "Not if I can help it."
"You can't." Bram shrugged. "If you have the magic gene, it's coming."
Marrok, the human warrior-giant who looked every inch a medieval knight, from the slash of straight hair that reached his shoulders to the sword strapped to his hip, frowned at Bram. "Does this new problem concern Shock? Have we yet heard from the varlet?"
The shadiest member of the Doomsday Brethren had been MIA since their battle two weeks ago with the evil wizard Mathias, who sought to control magickind with the help of his minions, the Anarki. During that skirmish, Shock had suddenly appeared to switch his loyalties to the other side. No surprise there, given the man's dark background. Because Shock was both Anka's previous suitor and cozy with Mathias, Bram thought he might be willing to divulge Anka's whereabouts. Caden disagreed. Mathias had brutalized Anka after abducting her and forcing her to break her mate bond with Lucan. Shock had apparently done nothing to help her.
Bram, Ice, and Duke all shook their heads.
"Nothing? That is vexing," Marrok snarled. "Surely he has told Mathias much about us."
"It's Mathias's quiet that disturbs me," Ice cut in. "Two weeks of it...Right dodgy. Makes me itch."
If Caden cared about magickind, he'd agree. But his only mission was to determine what Mathias had done with Anka and return her in the hopes of restoring Lucan's sanity.
"During our last battle, Olivia laid a bolt of power on Mathias that should have flattened the bastard," drawled Duke. Clad head to toe in designer everything, he looked perfectly urbane and wealthy, the artful muss of his dark hair cut perfectly, just like his aristocratic features, all the way down to his cleft chin. "It appeared to deplete his magic and should have prevented him from rising again, but..."
"This is Mathias," Ice finished.
Exactly. If Mathias regained even half his power, the small but determined cabal of warriors assembled under Bram's direction were screwed, and every man in the room knew it. How could the Doomsday Brethren kill a wizard who had already returned from the dead once? He had an army of slaves at his disposal. Caden could count the Doomsday Brethren on one hand.
Bram winced. "I'm afraid, gentlemen, our problems are worse than that."
Marrok muttered, "Would that we knew from whence Mathias found so many disposable recruits."
Those were troubling, indeed. Mathias had stripped the souls from human bodies to create walking dead Anarki, for the purpose of helping Mathias enslave magickind and destroy the Doomsday Brethren. During their last battle, the black-blooded zombies had been plentiful -- and immune to magic.
"All true," Bram conceded. "But I called you here to discuss something even more critical."
Ice cast him a cutting stare. "Your magical signature tells me you took a human mate last night? A problem, indeed."
Caden's jaw dropped. Bram, one of the most pedigreed wizards today, had taken a human mate?
"Wouldn't your grandfather be proud?" Ice sneered. "Merlin prized that pure bloodline. Pity."
Bram charged toward Ice. "Shut your bloody mouth, you fu -- "
"Cease!" Marrok grabbed him and held him back.
Caden was inclined to help. Bram and Ice were always at each other's throats. If Bram needed wizards loyal to him for the Doomsday Brethren, why the devil had he picked Ice to join?
"Piss off!" Bram growled.
"We can fight no enemy if we are too busy fighting one another," Marrok advised.
"Beating in the tosser's skull would make me feel better."
"What has you on edge?" Duke asked.
Caden wondered the same thing. Bram was usually the voice of sanity amidst all this magical muck. At the moment, he behaved as if he was crawling out of his skin, one step away from the mental ward.
"Where is your mate?" Ice added fuel to the fire. "I'd like to offer her my condolences."
"My mate is none of your concern. However, the Book of Doomsday is." Bram hesitated, then rolled his shoulders. "Last night, while I slept, she found it."
"Found it? Lying about?" Duke demanded.
"It was hidden." Bram rubbed the back of his neck. "She must have searched for it."
An ominous gong clanged in Caden's gut. Magickind wasn't his issue, but if that book disappeared...everyone, magical and human, was at risk.
"She cozied up to you to find the book?" Ice looked ready to laugh.
Bram didn't have to answer; the humiliation on his face did it for him.
"Shut up!" Caden glared at the stubble-headed wizard, then turned back to Bram. "What happened? Where is the diary?"
"She took it and disappeared."
Bram's quiet admission resounded through the room.
"Fuck," Ice muttered.
"You have no idea where it is?" Caden struggled to pick his jaw off the floor. "Where she is?"
"Double fuck," came Ice again.
The Doomsday Diary was the ultimate weapon in the magical war. Used properly, it was rumored to grant any wish, up to and including the world's annihilation. People had died in Mathias's quest to obtain it. Lucan's life was in shambles because of it. The Doomsday Brethren had formed and were fighting a war to protect it. If Mathias obtained the book and used it to bring about doomsday -- well, that was everyone's problem.
"I second what Ice said," Caden muttered.
"You had no magical protections on the book?" Duke asked.
"Of course. Against anyone magical. I never imagined a human would know of the book's existence, much less that I had it. The only way she could know is if she's Mathias's pawn. I worry...What if he has the diary now? What will he do to her?" Bram paced, raking a frantic hand through his golden hair.
Marrok planted a friendly hand on Bram's shoulder. "Use your bond to find her."
With a shake of his golden hair, Bram sighed in frustration. "I can't and I don't understand why. I should be able to...It's confounding me."
"You touched her, aye?" Marrok asked. "Did you not use your powers to read her mind?"
"Yes...and no. I could read her body with my touch, but not her thoughts. I've never encountered such a woman before."
Duke sighed. "What the devil should we do now?"
Panic? Caden kept the thought to himself.
"Not to add to our problems, but have you seen this?" Duke slid a newspaper in the middle of Bram's desk. The bold black headline screamed Supernatural Forces Battle in South London Tunnel.
Bram glanced at the paper. "Out of This Realm? It's a rag. No one takes that rubbish seriously."
Not true. Back home, several of the reporters at the Dallas Morning News were addicted to the paper's imaginative stories. They were more creative than The National Enquirer's.
"That may change after this issue's lead article. The byline belongs to a reporter named Sydney Blair. She's disturbingly close to the truth. Most news outlets wrote off the battle with Mathias as a foiled terrorist act, a gang initiation, or the work of a madman. Ms. Blair calls it 'an ongoing clash between powerful factions within magickind.' "
Bram's eyes bulged. "How the bloody hell does she even know there's a magickind, much less an ongoing battle? Few in magickind know of Mathias's return."
Though Caden had eschewed magic long ago, even he knew the necessity of keeping magickind's existence a secret from humans. Witch hunts, trials for heresy, and burnings at the stake weren't distant memories for a society whose citizens often lived to be one thousand. The seventeenth century was, relatively speaking, last year. No one was na�ve enough to think that technology was any insurance policy against genocide. People still killed what they didn't understand.
"I consulted Peers and People of Magickind before coming here. I found no mention of her," Duke said. "She is no witch, nor is she mated to a wizard."
"Human? Mayhap she's one of Mathias's soulless minions," Marrok suggested.
"If Mathias wanted to influence humanity, he wouldn't take over a tabloid reporter's mind to do it," Bram assured. "Besides, if she's still leading a human life, she could not do so looking like an undead Anarki. The other humans notice walking cadavers."
"So she's fully human," Duke surmised. "And frightfully well informed."
"Or perhaps..." Ice glared at him. "She's getting her information from someone who rejected magickind and would celebrate its end."
"Me?" Caden jumped in the big wizard's face. "I've no love for magic, true, but I would never advocate mass murder. Besides, ending you all would mean my brother's death. Would I be here saving him if I was willing to kill magickind?"
Duke nodded, the cooler head prevailing. "He's right."
Muttering, Ice backed away. Barely.
Turning back to the newspaper, Duke went on, "Whoever she is, she's dangerous. The rest of the article is equally disturbing. 'The bodies discovered in the tunnel are decomposed far beyond expected, given their recent deaths.' "
"This is no secret." Marrok waved his words away. "The media has been scratching over that like a mongrel with fleas."
"Listen further," Duke barked. " 'Out of This Realm has learned the bodies bear new wounds and fresh traces of gunpowder, suggesting they somehow fought in the battle, rather than merely being left behind as a macabre message. It appears as if they were actually more dead than alive prior to the battle, but able to fight due to evil magic.' "
"She's guessing," said Bram.
But even he didn't sound convinced. Caden winced.
Duke shook his head. "Here's more: 'According to an anonymous source, there's a mad wizard on the loose once more, allegedly fighting social injustice in the magical world. He'll stop at nothing to tear down the establishment and replace it with his version of anarchy.' "
Caden shook his head. Poor magical bastards.
"Who is this anonymous source?" Bram demanded.
Duke laced his fingers together with quiet concern. "Ms. Blair claims it's 'a witch who recently found herself tangled in this magical war.' "
"A witch?" Ice spat. "Who knows so much?"
Caden's heart stuttered and adrenaline charged. "Anka."
"Or perhaps any of the other missing women, like Craddock's daughter," Ice pointed out. "But what witch in her right mind would spill sensitive secrets to a bloody reporter?"
Who knew? Still..."It could be Anka," Caden insisted.
And possibly the first clue Caden had discovered to her whereabouts in a fortnight.
"Whoever her source, Sydney Blair knows there's a magickind, that we're at war, and that Mathias is supposedly fighting the Social Order," Duke insisted.
"The moment anyone actually listens, humanity will hunt us. It'll make the Inquisition seem like a bloody holiday." Bram raked a hand through his disheveled golden hair and continued to pace. "And if Mathias reads this, her life may well be in danger. We must handle this situation immediately."
Bram leaned back against his desk. The morning sun slanted through the office's open shutters, showing just how much strain the wizard was enduring. He swallowed, then pinned a wily gaze on Caden that made his blood freeze. "I know how we can deal with Ms. Blair. You've worked at a newspaper."
Caden sent him a wary glance. "So?"
"Offer your services as a photographer and shut her up, before she reveals anything more about magickind."
He didn't want to get involved. "Why don't you visit her and do that wizard mind-reading trick of yours?"
"Only works if I'm touching a woman -- deeply. Now that I'm mated...well, I can no longer get that close to Sydney Blair, or any woman except mine. So you'll have to go and pry information from her the human way."
Caden's thoughts raced. Perhaps he could placate them and help his brother. If he worked for Ms. Blair, he could discern if her anonymous source was Anka.
Bram smiled tightly. Bloody bastard had Caden by the balls and he knew it. In order to make Lucan whole, he must find his brother's mate. At the moment, the reporter was his best -- and only -- lead.
"Have we come to the part yet where I spank you?"
Sydney Blair closed her eyes as the last notes of "Happy Birthday" echoed through the small conference room. Had her perpetually randy coworker, Jamie, actually suggested a little light S&M with the entire staff of Out of This Realm looking on?
A dozen of the newspaper's employees twittered with nervous laughter, except her yummy new photographer, Caden MacTavish. Mortified, Sydney risked a glance at him. The taut arms bunched over his wide chest and the chilly blue of his watchful eyes made her wince.
Sydney slowly turned to the office lothario with a glare that let him know how little she appreciated his comment. He merely wagged his brows at her and grinned from ear to ear.
"Have we come to the part yet where you leave?" Caden countered.
The words somehow sounded polite. Caden had that upper crust Londoner sound, though muted by time elsewhere. But he could still say most anything and sound civilized. His current expression, on the other hand, rivaled Attila the Hun's on a bad day.
"You think you should be first to have a go at her?" Jamie challenged Caden. "I've seen how you stare."
Sydney went hot all over -- from more than simple embarrassment. Caden lit her up like a millennium fireworks show. She'd be thrilled if the man had sexual thoughts of her. But in the few days she'd worked with him, he had not appeared to notice her more than professionally, despite Jamie's delusions to the contrary.
"Bad karma!" Aquarius, her flower-child assistant, scolded. "Mellow!"
Neither spared a glance for the little waif. Silver bracelets tinkling, Aquarius reached out to Caden. Whether she intended to soothe him or test his aura, Sydney didn't know. She shot a warning glance at her assistant. Now was not a good time for her healing-crystal/save-the-world routine.
"You may find this concept hard to grasp," Caden asserted, "but some men are capable of admiring more about a woman than what's in her knickers."
Jamie scoffed. "If he's a nancy boy."
Sydney smothered a laugh. Caden was definitely not gay. Despite that, she felt certain he'd never considered what went in her knickers. "Stop it, both of you! This is a birthday party, not a brawl."
"What's your wish?" asked Leslie from Circulation, trying to smooth the tension.
A romping shag with Caden, but since that wasn't likely to happen...head reporter had a lovely ring to it. Sure, she worked for a paranormal tabloid that few took seriously, but it paid the bills. Soon, she hoped to make a name for herself writing stories that traditional journalists eschewed. And people everywhere would recognize her once she found proof of the supernatural. Until then she would write about the world she believed must exist -- and her parents had utterly rejected. Besides, Out of This Realm was a scream to work at. Where else could she collect a salary for chasing Ripper ghosts and conducting interviews at the London Psychic Centre?
Her personal life, on the other hand? Disaster. How did one manage to become a sad spinster at twenty-eight? The endless string of dates from her uni days had been replaced with deadlines and staff meetings. Her last boyfriend...his pretty face had failed to compensate for the fact he had the IQ of a dead houseplant and the emotional range of a pea. Perhaps she should wish for a man.
Yummy waves of chocolate hair with caramel streaks, fathomless blue eyes, a body that belonged in magazines -- and a reserved exterior that made her long to know the man beneath. Too bad the attraction didn't run both ways. She sighed.
"She can't tell us her wish or it won't come true," Holly, her editor, pointed out, then faced Sydney. "Now stop fannying about and open your gifts."
Sydney looked at the gifts on the table, but her gaze strayed to Caden, who continued glaring at Jamie.
He was a puzzle, that one.
From the moment Caden had walked in the door, he'd been fixated on that battle in the South London tunnel a few weeks back. He'd said her story about the magical war was utter rubbish...but asked a load of questions, especially about her source. Not that Sydney would tell him -- or anyone else -- the woman's name. Impossible, anyway. She didn't know it.
Aquarius distracted the tense crowd by shoving a bright pink floral-wrapped box into Sydney's hands. From the number of packages stacked on the small round table in the conference room, it looked as if everyone had brought her something.
"You shouldn't have gone to such trouble."
"We want to show you how much we appreciate you," said Leslie.
Aquarius started pouring cups of her infamous homeblended herbal tea as Sydney unwrapped gifts. A pair of delicate silver earrings, a relaxing massage at a local day spa, and a sumptuous Italian silk scarf trimmed in blue crushed velvet. Jamie gave her a gift certificate for a large pizza and a Blockbuster card -- both of which he'd likely insist on sharing. Caden had given her a somewhat impersonal card and a small box of nice chocolates. She would have preferred a hungry kiss.
Wrapping paper and greeting cards littered the table when Sydney at last got to Aquarius's package. The young woman was practically vibrating with excitement. "Open this! It's from me."
"You baked and organized and still got me something? You shouldn't have."
With the butterfly tattoo on her shoulder and her mesh and lace top, Aquarius didn't dress like a normal assistant and refused to make coffee -- too full of chemicals and caffeine. She wasn't good with a computer...yet. But Aquarius had a knack for stories, for juggling Sydney's hectic schedule, fielding the editor-in-chief, soothing paranoid readers and keeping internal chaos at a minimum. And despite being total opposites, she and Aquarius had become good friends. Sydney smiled at the thought.
"Are you two going to start snogging or are you going to open that?" Jamie hollered.
After tossing another glare at Jamie, Sydney turned to the gift. It was square and slightly heavy. Aquarius had wrapped it in buttery yellow linen and an over layer of white lace -- different from her usual recycled choice.
"Open it. Go on," she whispered.
An odd anticipation revved through Sydney as she plucked at the silky white bow and tore open the wrapping to reveal...a book. An old-fashioned book. A red leather cover with gilt framing and some sort of scripty-looking symbol on the front. Sydney tried to hide her confusion.
Caden elbowed in and gave the book a very hard stare.
Aquarius laughed and urged her, "Read the card inside."
With a shrug, she opened the cover to reveal. Hmm ...An empty book with ever-so-slightly yellowed pages and a little white square of paper with a formal-looking script that read:
On these magical pages, spill your sensual
In a mere day's time, your wishes will
A kiss, a touch, a whisper, whatever you
In the arms of your lover, pleasure will
burn hotter than fire.
What? Aquarius believed this book could make sexual fantasies a reality? Sydney would love that, and she believed in magic, but this little unassuming book? In her hands?
Caden prowled close beside her, elbowing in for yet a closer look. He stared hard at the little journal, and she could smell that musky, woodsy scent of his that drove her mad.
"May I see that?" he demanded more than asked, reaching for the book.
"Certainly," Sydney murmured, handing it over. The lowcut black jumper she'd worn yesterday had done nothing to snag his attention. This book? He was enraptured.
Aquarius sent her a secretive smile. "Syd, do you understand? It's -- "
"An old book," Jamie hollered, edging in behind her. "What good is that?"
"I appreciate each gift. Thank you, everyone," Sydney said through clenched teeth. "I suspect we should get back to work now." Maybe that would make Jamie shove off.
Around her, the small crowd began to file out. Unfortunately, Jamie lingered. Sydney, her assistant, and Caden, still studying the book, also occupied the dusk-shadowed room.
"If you want something special for your birthday, I'll make time for you this weekend," Jamie offered with a leer as he dropped a hand on her hip and slid it toward her backside.
Sydney eased away and opened her mouth to defer to the mountain of work on her desk when Caden grabbed Jamie's wrist and squeezed -- hard.
"Bloody hell!" He jerked away and glared at Caden.
Normally, such high-handed tactics would annoy Sydney. She was a grown woman and knew how to fend off male octopi like Jamie. But if Caden's unexpected caveman impression put the lazy sod off until she found a more private moment to tell him to get lost, splendid. If Caden was just the slightest bit jealous, even better.
"What the devil?" Jamie cried. "Let go!"
"As soon as you do." Caden tightened his grip.
Jamie released her immediately. "Ring me this weekend if you want company."
As Caden watched Jamie's retreating back, he scowled. The waves of his silent disapproval towered over Sydney like a tsunami. She bit her lip.
"Would you mind speaking to me in your office for a few minutes?" he said.
As always, the tone was polite. She wondered if he thought to warn her about the evils of Jamie. Like an overprotective brother lecturing his adolescent sister? Depressing thought. Did she have to jump on Caden while naked before he understood?
"Fine." Might as well get it over with.
Caden raised a dark brow at her sharp tone and gestured to the door. "After you."
"Wait!" Aquarius snatched the book from Caden and gave it to Sydney. "Your gift! I should tell you about it."
Oh, the "magical diary." She couldn't leave without hurting Aquarius's feelings. Her confrontation with Caden would have to wait.
"I'll be there in a minute."
After a long glance at her, then the book, Caden nodded and slipped from the room.
Sydney dug her fingernails out of her palms, so frustrated she feared she would draw blood. Being a petite redhead, she didn't have a centerfold's breasts and wasn't one of those model-like creatures men got all in a froth about. But Caden treated her almost asexually.
"You want him," Aquarius whispered. It wasn't a question.
"I couldn't want him any more than if I'd shot myself with Cupid's arrow." She tossed her hands up in the air. "He doesn't reciprocate."
"You don't know that," Aquarius argued.
"Perhaps. He's impossible to read. So bloody private."
"I don't think he's as immune to you as you imagine."
She shook her head glumly. "I'd love to believe that. No, I'd love to experience it."
"You can." Aquarius tapped the cover of the old book. "He can be yours for the night."
Caden could have his pick of women. Besides being goodlooking, intelligent, and polite, he had proven dependable thus far. He wasn't lazy and seemed to truly listen. What woman wouldn't want a total package? Yesterday's snug shirt had outlined a positively yummy chest. And he was probably devastatingly good in bed -- not that she'd ever know personally.
Or could she?
Sydney frowned. The idea tempted her. Could this journal possibly be magical? It sounded awfully fantastical -- not that such a book existed, but that it had dropped into her lap. Supposing it had...would Caden truly be hers for the night after she jotted down a few ideas that involved scented massage oil, a big bed, and his naked body?
She cast a gentle glance at her assistant. "You believe this book is real?"
"It made one of my fantasies come true," Aquarius blurted. "Remember Alex, that yummy neighbor I told you about? He asked me out when I wrote down exactly what I wanted."
"Aquarius, he had an itch for you, so when his calendar opened up, he rang."
"And read my mind?" Aquarius challenged. "Until last week, I never knew making love under a waterfall would be so...invigorating."
"A waterfall? Where did you find -- "
"I'll never tell." She smiled coyly.
"Let me get this straight: This hunky bloke suddenly appeared and whisked you away to fulfill your fantasy, exactly as you wrote it?"
Dreamy didn't begin to describe Aquarius's faraway expression. "It was fantastic."
Sydney groped around for a chair. "Maybe you need a holiday. You're past due."
"I'm completely sane. Though I enjoyed Alex, he wasn't right for me -- "
"No man ever is."
Aquarius frowned. "There's a man out there. Somewhere. I'll know when I meet him."
Sydney had heard this before.
"Point is, I don't need this journal." Aquarius shoved it at to her. "But you..."
"But me...what?" Sydney fisted her hands on her hips.
"Well, if you want Caden, write your fantasy in here."
The idea was tempting. With her luck, Caden would find the fantasy she'd written. Since she didn't think he wanted her, mortified wouldn't begin to cover how bad she'd want to crawl into a hole and wait for a new millennium.
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Neither is pining away. Look," her voice dropped to a whisper, "take the diary with you this weekend and write your deepest desire about Caden. Wait a day or two. If it doesn't come true, what have you lost? When I return from holiday, I'm sure you'll have loads to tell me."
� � �
Caden marched into Sydney's office and barely refrained from slamming the door. The fiery sun setting over the jagged London skyline matched his mood. The Doomsday Diary, here? In human hands? He must steal it from Sydney, remove her from danger. He needed a plan. Now.
But he was besieged by an equally strong urge to punch both Bram Rion and Jamie What's-his-name.
Wanting to beat Bram to a pulp? Caden understood that well. Bram embodied so much of what he despised about magic: the blithe assumption of supremacy, unpredictability, the utter inability to compromise, and the total lack of awareness that it might be required. Magic's inequality chafed as well. In a human world, anyone could learn to defend themselves and grow stronger each day -- or buy a better weapon. In the magical world, a witch or wizard never had more power than they were born with, and if they found themselves at the mercy of someone more evil and powerful than themselves...God help them.
But Caden's reaction to Jamie he didn't understand. Nor could he grasp his own drive to possess Sydney so completely that she was unaware another male even existed. He'd done his best to ignore it, hide it, but she'd become a fever in his blood. The urge defied logic. He was on a mission. He was good at those, thanks to the U.S. Marine Corps. Focus. Get in, get out, get the job done, end of story. Don't do anything stupid.
Falling in life-altering lust with Sydney, particularly now, fell into the stupid category. Yet he couldn't stop. His assignment was to prevent Sydney from revealing more about magickind -- a move that would protect her too -- and discover if Anka was her source of information. Unfortunately, he was finding it difficult to focus on more than pushing the saucy reporter against a wall, kissing her senseless, then shagging her into sighing bliss.
Damn it all! He hadn't been na�ve enough to believe that his assignment at Out of This Realm would be easy, but he'd had little success tracking down Sydney's source of information while stifling her stories. She was infuriatingly and admirably determined. Throw in the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Doomsday Diary? This had become what his platoon buddies called a cluster-fuck.
Cursing, he pulled his mobile phone from his belt and dialed an increasingly familiar number.
Bram answered immediately. "You have news?"
Did he ever, but first things first. "How is my brother?"
Bram hesitated. "Weak. We're doing our best, but we're running out of options."
The wizard's words were a stab in the chest. "Don't you dare let him die while I'm in London doing your dirty work."
"Believe me, if I had anyone else suited to this task, you would still be gnashing your teeth here at Lucan's bedside. Matters are too critical for me to be there. Duke can pass as a human, but who would believe that the Duke of Hurstgrove wants a job at a tabloid? That leaves a fifteen-hundred-yearold warrior, an attitude-challenged wizard, and you. You alone have both experience in photography and the human world."
"Your problem is mine only as long as my brother is alive. If he dies, I cease to care. Are you clear?"
"As if you'd drawn me a picture." Bram shot back. "Believe me, as desperately as we need wizards for this fight, I'll happily release you when I can. I want only those committed to the cause."
Bram's intimation that he wasn't good enough annoyed Caden. He shrugged it off. What did he care if Bram didn't see him as a member of the team he hadn't wished to join?
He'd wanted nothing to do with magic since his younger brother's death -- by his own mother's magic. An accident, yes. But he'd been just twelve when Westin, barely toddling, had been stricken.
Since leaving home at eighteen, he'd lived happily among humanity. Their ways seemed normal, comfortable. Being back among magickind now merely reminded Caden of all the reasons he loathed it. This gut-wrenching madness of Lucan's merely underscored everything.
"Rion, do you honestly believe that you and a handful of wizards can defeat the most powerful magical creature in a millennium and his growing army?"
"Perhaps not, but we'll certainly fail if we don't try. Why do you care as long as Lucan stays alive?"
"I'm against this, but Sabelle insists on being his surrogate. Or attempting."
Brilliant! Though Bram's protective attitude was hardly a surprise. But Sabelle was a tough, courageous witch with the unusual ability to make others feel whatever she wanted with a touch. If anyone besides Anka could provide Lucan energy, it was Sabelle.
"Tell your sister I appreciate her more than she can know."
"No guarantee it will work."
It had to. "Thank her anyway."
"All right, then. What news have you to report?"
"I've learned little about Sydney's source of information. She's guarding the name like a national secret."
"Seduce her. Charm her."
Bram's suggestion made Caden grit his teeth. He didn't have Bram's easy way -- and he was completely enthralled with the woman he was supposed to bamboozle. He wanted her more than his next breath -- and was desperate to bury the feeling.
"Her secret is the least of our issues at the moment. I'm having a devil of a time stalling her next story. Before the bodies were removed from the tunnel, Sydney's previous photographer took a few pictures. Grainy and fuzzy, which works in our favor, but we know of no one else who arrived in time to snap any, so she's still scooped every other news source. People will pick up Out of This Realm in droves, I fear, if she prints it with a proposed story that these men comprise Mathias's unwilling Anarki army, out to dissolve the Social Order and eradicate the Doomsday Brethren."
Bram sounded ready to hit the ceiling. "She knows about us? Where is she getting this information?"
"I'd like to know that myself and have no clue. Unfortunately, it gets worse."
"Indeed. I found the Doomsday Diary. Sydney Blair acquired it fifteen minutes ago."
Bram cursed a stream of loud, ugly words.
"On that, we're agreed," Caden supplied.
"You're absolutely certain?"
"There can't be many old red books bearing Morganna le Fay's symbol."
"Send me a picture."
Bram didn't trust him. Whatever.
"Bloody hell. Better yet, steal it from her."
"She won't let it loose soon. It was a birthday gift from a dear friend."
"Who?" Bram snapped.
"The astrological sign?"
"Sydney's assistant," Caden corrected. "Is she your mate?"
"That wasn't the name -- describe her. Perhaps my missing 'wife' uses aliases."
"Short, almost fey looking. Brown wavy hair to her waist, green eyes -- "
"Not even close. Which raises the question, if Sydney acquired the book from this woman who is definitely not my mate, how did she get her hands on it?"
"I was hoping you could shed some light."
"None. Ask her. Maybe she'll know how to locate my mate." Frustration oozed from every syllable. "But we must recover that diary. Now."
"I have good news and bad news about that. The bad news is that Sydney is a smart, tenacious reporter who's determined to keep writing 'fresh paranormal stories,' in her words."
"Which means she may choose to write about the diary." He groaned. "How can there possibly be good news?"
"She doesn't know its purpose. Yet. She's been told that writing in the book will grant her sexual fantasies. And I'm not sure she's convinced it's real."
"Pray it stays that way, at least long enough for you to do whatever you must -- steal, sweet talk, or seduce her away from that book."
"I'll work on that while determining the name of her source. You're coming to help, right? Use a bit of magic and..."
"Can't. There was another Anarki attack two hours ago. I've just left what was the Pullmans' estate. Burned to the ground. Their newly transitioned daughter is missing. Everyone else is dead. I have to report to the Council."
That wasn't good news. If the Anarki were attacking again, that meant Mathias was on the mend and his power rising once more. Caden didn't want to care, but...he rubbed his tired eyes with his fingers. After seeing so much war and death in his life, attacks on families, on women, troubled him.
"What will you do next?"
Bram sighed. "What we have been: keep searching for Mathias, not to mention Shock and his brother, Zain, who appears to be the evil bastard's right-hand lackey."
"Have you considered telling other magical families about this attack? They have to start protecting themselves."
"So you're going to pretend you care about magickind now?"
Caden restrained a growl. "I would not wish what's happened to my family on another."
"Rumors are beginning to spread about Mathias's return, but the decision to officially tell magickind falls with the Council. They approve transcasts and issue edicts."
"Certainly a few words on how best to defend yourself -- "
"Which is why no such edict will be created any time soon. No one knows how to defend against Mathias, and the Council would rather err on the side of silence than inaccuracy. Bloody stupid bastards."
"You're one of them," Caden pointed out.
"The lone voice of reason, I assure you. I've long argued that we should communicate magical news via transcasts or the like frequently. But by the time the Council agrees to the verbiage..." Bram scoffed. "It's old news."
That didn't surprise Caden. Dawdling old fools, Lucan had long said, even their Uncle Sterling at times.
Caden was curious why Bram stayed on the Council, likely enduring one frustration after another. But it was none of Caden's affair. He didn't want to become more entangled in the magical world. Already, he was in too deep.
"You'll come to assist with the diary once you've helped the victims of the latest attack?"
"As soon as I can," Bram said. "Keep working on Sydney Blair."
Caden could think of any number of ways in which he'd like to work on Sydney. Completely naked with her on her back, came immediately to mind. But that couldn't happen. Now he needed to focus on his brother. "I will."
Copyright (c) 2009 by Shelley Bradley LLC