One

“Be kind to dragons, for thou art crunchy when roasted and taste good with ketchup.”

Richmond, Virginia

Dr. Channon MacRae paused in her note-taking and arched a brow at the peculiar comment. She’d been staring at the famous Dragon Tapestry for hours, trying to decipher the Old English symbolism, and in all this time no one had disturbed her.

Not until now.

With her most irritated look, she pulled her pen away from her notepad and turned.

Then she gaped.

No annoying, irreverent little man here. He was a tall, mind-blowingly sexy god who dominated the small museum room with a presence so powerful that she wondered how on earth he had entered the building without shaking it to its foundations.

Never in her life had she beheld anything like him or the seductive smile he flashed at her.

Good grief, she couldn’t take her eyes off him.

Standing at least six feet five, he towered over her average height. His long black hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail, and he wore an expensively tailored black suit and overcoat that seemed at odds with his unorthodox hair yet perfectly fitting with his regal aura.

But the most peculiar thing of all was the tattoo covering the left half of his face. A faded dark green, it spiraled and curled from his hairline to his chin like some ancient symbol.

On anyone else such a mark would be freakish or strange, but this man wore it with dignity and presence— like a proud birthright.

Yet it was his eyes that captivated her most. A rich, deep, greenish-gold, they were filled with such warm intelligence and vitality that it left her completely breathless.

His grin was both boyish and roguish and framed by inviting dimples that enchanted her. “Rendered you speechless, eh?”

She loved the sound of his voice, which was laced with an accent she couldn’t quite place. It seemed a unique blending of the British and Greek. Not to mention, deep and provocative.

“Not quite speechless,” she said, resisting the urge to smile back at him. “I’m just wondering why you would say such a thing.”

He shrugged his broad shoulders nonchalantly as his golden gaze dropped to her lips, making her want to lick them. Worse, his prolonged stare sent a rush of desire coiling though her.

Suddenly, it was so extremely warm in this little glass room that she half expected the gallery windows to fog up.

He folded his hands casually behind his back, yet he seemed coiled for action, as if he were ready and alert to take on anyone who threatened him.

What a strange image to have…

When he spoke again, his deep voice was even more seductive and enticing than it had been before, almost as if it were weaving some kind of magical spell around her. “You had such a serious frown while you were staring at the tapestry that it made me wonder what you would look like with a smile in its place.”

Oh, the man was beguiling. And just a little too cocksure of his appeal, judging by his arrogant stance. No doubt he could get any woman who caught his eye.

Channon swallowed at the thought as she glanced down at her tan corduroy jumper and her hips, which were not the fashionable, narrow kind. She’d never been the type of woman who drew the notice of a man like this. She’d been lucky if her average looks ever garnered her a second glance at all.

Mr. Do-Me-Right-Now must have lost a bet or something. Why else would he be speaking to her?

Still, there was an air of danger, intrigue, and power about him. But none of deceit. He appeared honest and, strangely enough, interested in her.

How could that be?

“Yes, well,” she said, taking a step to her left as she closed her pad and slid her pen down the spiral coil, “I don’t make it my habit to converse with strangers, so if you’ll excuse me…”

“Sebastian.”

Startled by his response, she paused and looked up. “What?”

“My name is Sebastian.” He held his hand out to her. “Sebastian Kattalakis. And you are?”

Completely stunned and amazed that you’re talking to me.

She blinked the thought away. “Channon,” she said before she could stop herself. “Shannon with a C”

His gaze burned her while a small smile hovered at the edges of those well-shaped lips and he flashed the tiniest

bit of his dimples. There was an indescribable masculine aura about him that seemed to say he would be far more at home on some ancient battlefield than locked inside this museum.

He took her cold hand into his large, warm one. “So very pleased to meet you, Shannon with a C.”

He kissed her knuckles like some gallant knight of long ago. Her heart pounded at the feel of his hot breath against her skin, of his warm lips on her flesh. It was all she could do not to moan from the sheer pleasure of it.

No man had ever treated her this way—like some treasured lady to be quested for.

She felt oddly beautiful around him. Desirable.

“Tell me, Channon,” he said, releasing her hand and glancing from her to the tapestry. “What has you so interested in this?”

Channon looked back at it and the intricate embroidery that covered the yellowed linen. Honestly, she didn’t know. Since she’d first seen it as a little girl, she’d been in love with this ancient masterpiece. She’d spent years studying the detailed dragon fable that started with the birth of a male infant and a dragon and moved forward through ten feet of fabric.

Scholars had written countless papers on their theories of its origin. She, herself, had done her dissertation on it, trying to link it to the tales of King Arthur or to Celtic tradition.

No one knew where the tapestry had come from or even what story it related to. For that matter, no one knew who had won the fight between the dragon and the warrior.

That was what intrigued her most of all.

“I wish I knew how it ended.”

He flexed his jaw. “The story has no ending. The battle between the dragon and the man lives on unto today.”

She frowned at him. He appeared serious. “You think so?”

“What?” he asked good-naturedly. “You don’t believe me?”

“Let’s just say I have a hefty dose of doubt.”

He took a step forward, and again his fierce, manly presence overwhelmed her and sent a jolt of desire through her. “Hmmm, a hefty dose of doubt,” he said, his voice barely more than a low, deep growl. “I wonder what I could do to make you believe?”

She should step back, she knew it. Yet she couldn’t make her feet cooperate. His clean, spicy scent invaded her head and weakened her knees.

What was it about this man that made her want to stand here talking to him?

Oh, to heck with that. What she really wanted to do was jump his delectable bones. To cup that handsome face of his in her hands and kiss his lips until she was drunk from his taste.

There was something seriously wrong here.

Mayday. Mayday.

“Why are you here?” she asked, trying to keep her lecherous thoughts at bay. “You hardly look like the type to study medieval relics.”

A wicked gleam came into his eyes. “I’m here to steal it.”

She scoffed at the idea, even though something inside her said it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to buy that explanation. “Are you really?”

“Of course. Why else would I be here?”

“Why else, indeed?”

Sebastian didn’t know what it was about this woman that drew him so powerfully. He was involved in grave matters that required his full attention, yet for the life of him, he couldn’t take his gaze from her.

She wore her honey-brown hair swept up so that it cascaded in riotous waves from a silver clip of old Welsh design. Several strands of it had come free of the clip to dangle haphazardly around her face as if the strands had a life of their own.

How he longed to set free that hair and feel it sliding through his fingers and brushing against his naked chest.

He dropped his gaze down over her lush, full body and stifled his smile. Her dark blue shirt wasn’t buttoned properly and her socks didn’t match.

Still, she drove him crazy with desire.

She wasn’t the kind of woman who normally drew his interest, and yet…

He was beguiled by her and her crystal blue gaze that glowed with warm curiosity and intelligence. He longed to sample her full, moist lips, to bury his face in the hollow of her throat where he could drink in her scent.

Gods, how he yearned for her. It was a need borne of such desperation that he wondered what kept him from taking her into his arms right now and satisfying his curiosity.

He’d never been the kind of man to deny himself carnal pleasures—especially not when the beast inside him was stirred. And this woman stirred that deadly part of him to a dangerous level.

Sebastian had only come into the museum to get the lay of it for tonight and to find out where they housed the tapestry. He hadn’t been looking for a woman to pass the lonely night with until he could return home where he would be… well, lonely again.

However, he still had hours before he could leave. Hours that he would much rather spend gazing into her eyes than waiting in his hotel room.

“Would you care to join me for a drink?” he asked.

She looked startled by his question. But then he seemed to have that effect on her. She was nervous around him, a bit jumpy, and he longed to set her at ease.

“I don’t go out with men I don’t know.”

“How can you get to know me unless you…”

“Really, Mr. Kat—”

“Sebastian.”

She shook her head at him. “You are persistent, aren’t you?”

She had no idea.

Suppressing the predator inside him, Sebastian put his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching out to her and scaring her off. “I’m afraid it’s ingrained in me. When I see something I want, I go after it.”

She arched a brow at that and gave him a suspicious look. “Why on earth would you want to talk to me?”

He was aghast at her question. “My lady, do you not own a mirror?”

“Yes, but it’s not an enchanted one.” She turned away from him and started away.

Moving with the incredible speed of his kind, Sebastian pulled her to a stop.

“Look, Channon,” he said gently. “I fear I have bungled this. I just…” He stopped and tried to think of the best way to keep her with him for a while longer.

She looked to his hand, which still gripped her elbow. He reluctantly let go, even though every part of his soul screamed for him to hold her by his side, regardless of the consequences. She was a woman with her own mind. And the first law of his people ran through his head: Nothing a woman gives is worth having unless she gives it of her own free will.

It was the one law not even he would break.

“You what?” she asked softly.

Sebastian drew a deep breath as he fought down the animal part of himself that wanted her regardless of right or laws, the part of him that snarled with a need so fierce that it scared him.

He forced a charming smile to his lips. “You seem like a very nice person, and there are so few of you in this world that I would like to spend a few minutes with you. Maybe some of it might rub off.”

Channon laughed in spite of herself.

“Ah,” he teased, “so you can smile.”

“I can smile.”

“Will you join me?” he asked. “There’s a restaurant on the corner. We can walk there, in plain sight of the world. I promise, I won’t bite unless you ask me to.”

Channon frowned lightly at him and his quirky humor. What was it about him that made him so irresistible? It was unnatural. “I don’t know about this.”

“Look, I promise I’m not psychotic. Eccentric and idiosyncratic, but not psychotic.”

She still wasn’t completely sure about that. “I’ll bet the prisons are full of men who have told women that.”

“I would never hurt a woman, least of all you.”

There was such sincerity in his voice that she believed him. Even more convincing, she didn’t feel any inner warnings, no little voice in her head telling her to run.

Instead, she was drawn to him and felt a most peculiar kind of serenity in his presence, almost as if she were supposed to be with him. “Down the street?”

“Yes.” He offered her his arm. “C’mon. I promise I’ll keep my fangs hidden and my mind control to myself.”

Channon had never done anything like this in her life. She was a woman who had to know a guy for a long time before she’d even consider a date.

Yet she found herself pulling on her coat and placing her hand in the crook of his arm, where she felt a muscle so taut and well formed that it sent a jolt through her.

By the feel of that arm, she could tell his fashionable black suit and overcoat hid one incredible body.

“You seem so different,” she said as he walked her out of the room. “Something about you is very Old World.”

He opened the glass door that led to the museum’s foyer. “Old being the operative word.”

“And yet you’re very modern.”

“A Renaissance man trapped between cultures.”

“Is that what you are?”

He cast a playful sideways look to her. “Honestly?”

“Yes.”

“I’m a dragon slayer.”

She laughed out loud.

He scoffed. “Again you don’t believe me.”

“Let’s just say it’s no wonder you said you wanted to steal the tapestry. I suppose there’s not much call for slaying a mythological beast, especially in this day and age.”

Those greenish-gold eyes teased her unmercifully. “You don’t believe in dragons?”

“No, of course not.”

He tsked at her. “You are so skeptical.”

“I’m practical.”

Sebastian ran his tongue over his teeth as a sly half-smile curved his lips. A practical woman who didn’t believe in dragons yet studied dragon tapestries and wore a misbuttoned shirt. Surely there wasn’t another soul like her in any time or place. And she had the strangest effect on his body.

He was already hard for her, and they were barely touching. Her grip on his arm was light and delicate, as if she was ready to flee him at any moment.

That was the last thing he wanted, and that surprised him most of all.

A reclusive person, he only interacted with others when his physical needs overrode his desire for solitude. Even then, those encounters were brief and limited. He took his lovers for one night, making sure they were as well sated as he, then he quickly returned to his solitary world.

He’d never dawdled with idle conversation. Never really cared to get to know more about a woman than her name and the way she liked to be touched.

But Channon was different. He liked the cadence of her voice and the way her eyes sparkled when she talked. Most of all, he liked the way her smile lit up her entire face when she looked at him.

And the sound of her laughter… He doubted if the angels in heaven could make a more precious melody.

Sebastian opened the door to the dark restaurant and held it for her while she entered. As she swept past him, he let his gaze travel down the back of her body. He hardened even more.

What he wouldn’t give to have her warm and naked in his arms so that he could run his hands down her full curves, nibble the flesh of her neck, and hold her to him as he slowly slid himself deep inside her while she writhed to his touch.

Sebastian forced himself to look away from Channon and to speak to the hostess. He sent a mental command to the unknown woman to sit them in a secluded corner. He wanted privacy with Channon.

How he wished he’d met her sooner. He’d been in this cursed city for well over a week, waiting for the opportunity to go home, where if not the comfort of warmth, he at least had the comfort of familiarity. He’d spent his nights in this city alone, prowling the streets restlessly as he bided his time.

At dawn, he would have to leave. But until then, he intended to spend as much time with Channon as he could, letting her company ease the loneliness inside him, ease the pain in his heart that had burned him for most of his life.

Channon followed the hostess through the restaurant, but all the while she was aware of Sebastian behind her— aware of his hot, predatorial gaze on her body and the way he seemed to want to devour her.

But even more unbelievable was the fact that she wanted to devour him. No man had ever made her feel so much like a woman or made her want to spend hours exploring his body with her hands and mouth.

“You’re nervous again,” he said after they were seated in a dark corner in the back of the pub.

She glanced up from the menu to catch sight of those greenish-gold eyes that reminded her of some feral beast. “You are incredibly perceptive.”

He inclined his head toward her. “I’ve been accused of worse.”

“I’ll bet you have,” she teased back. Indeed, he had the presence of an outlaw. Dangerous, dark, seductive. “Axe you really a thief?”

“Define the term thief.”

She laughed even though she wasn’t quite sure if he was joking or serious.

“So tell me,” he said as the waitress brought their drinks, “what do you do for a living, Shannon with a C?”

She thanked the waitress for her Coke, then looked to Sebastian to see how he would deal with her occupation. Most men were a bit intimidated by her job, though she’d never been able to figure out why. “I’m a history professor at the University of Virginia.”

“Impressive,” he said, his face genuinely interested. “What cultures and times do you specialize in?”

She was amazed he knew anything about her job. “Mostly preNorman Britain.”

“Ah. Hwaet we Gar-Dena in gear-dagum peod-cyninga prym gefrunon, hu da aephelingas ellen fremedon.”

Channon was floored by his Old English. He spoke it as if he’d been born to it. Imagine a man so handsome knowing a subject so dear to her heart.

She offered him the translation. “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.”

His inclined his head to her. “You know your Beowulf well.”

“I’ve studied Old English extensively, which, given my job, makes sense. But you don’t strike me as a historian.”

“I’m not. Rather, I’m a sort of reenactor.”

That explained the way he looked. Now his presence in the museum and knightly air of authority made sense to her.

“Is your study of the Middle Ages what had you in the museum today?” he asked.

She nodded. “I’ve studied the tapestry for years. I want to be the person who finally unravels the mystery behind it.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Who made it and why? Where the story of it comes from. For that matter, I would love to know how the museum got it. They have no record of when they acquired it or from whom it was purchased.”

His automatic answers surprised her. “They bought it in 1926 from an anonymous collector for fifty thousand dollars. As for the rest, it was made by a woman named Antiphone back in seventh-century Britain. It’s the story of her grandfather and his brother and their eternal struggle between good and evil.”

His gaze was so sincere that she could almost believe him. In a strange way, it made sense, since the tapestry had no ending.

But she knew better. “Antiphone, huh?”

He shook his head. “You just don’t believe anything I tell you, do you?”

“Why, kind sir,” she said impishly with a mock English accent. “This not that I don’t believe you, but as a historian I must align myself with fact. Have you any proof of this Antiphone or transaction?”

“I do, but I somehow doubt you would appreciate my showing it to you.”

“And why is that?”

“It would scare the life out of you.”

Channon sat back at that, unsure of how to take it. She didn’t really know what to make of the man sitting across from her. He kept her on edge all the while he lured her toward his danger. Lured her against all her reason.

They remained quiet as their food was placed on the table.

While they ate, Channon studied him. The candlelight in the pub danced in his eyes, making them glow like a cat’s. His hands were strong and callused—the hands of a man who was used to hard work—yet he had the air of wealth and privilege, the air of a powerful man who made his own rules.

He was a total enigma, a walking dichotomy who made her feel both safe and threatened.

“Tell me, Channon,” he said suddenly, “do you like teaching?”

“Some days. But it’s the research I like best. I love digging through old manuscripts and trying to piece together the past.”

He gave a short half laugh. “No offense, but that sounds incredibly boring.”

“I imagine dragon-slaying is much more action-oriented.”

“Yes, it is. Every moment is completely unpredictable.”

She wiped her mouth as she watched him eat with perfect European table manners. He was definitely cultured, yet he seemed oddly barbaric. “So, how do you kill a dragon?”

“With a very sharp sword.”

She shook her head at him. “Yes, but do you call him out? Do you go to him…?”

“The easiest way is to sneak up on him.”

“And pray he doesn’t wake up?”

“Well, it makes it more challenging if he does.”

Channon smiled. She was so drawn to that infectious wit of his. Especially since he didn’t seem to notice the women around them who were ogling him while they ate. It was as if he could only see her.

As a rule, she stunk at this whole male-female thing. Her last boyfriend, a D.C. correspondent, had educated her well on every personal and physical flaw she possessed. The last thing she was looking for was another relationship in which she wasn’t on equal terms with the man.

For her next love interest, she wanted someone just like her—a historian of average looks whose life revolved around research. Two comfortable peas in a pod.

She wasn’t looking for some hot, mysterious stranger who made her blood burn with desire.

Channon, would you listen to yourself and what you’re saying! You are insane not to want this man!

Perhaps. But things like this never happened to her.

“You know,” she said to him, “I keep having this really weird feeling that you’re going to take me someplace later and tie me up naked so that your friends can come laugh at me.”

He arched a brow at her. “Does that happen to you often?”

“No, never, but this night has the makings for a Twilight Zone episode.”

“I promise no Rod Serling voice-overs. You’re safe with me.”

And for some reason that made absolutely no sense whatsoever, she believed him.

Channon spent the next few hours having the dinner and conversation of her life. Sebastian was incredibly easy to talk to. Worse, he set her hormones on fire.

The longer they were together and the more laughs they shared, and the more incredible he seemed.

She glanced at her watch and gasped. “Did you know it’s almost midnight?”

He checked his watch.

“I hate to cut this short,” she said, placing her napkin on the table and sliding her chair back, “but I have to go or I’ll never get a taxi out of here.”

He placed his hand lightly on her arm to keep her at the table. “Why don’t you let me drive you home?”

Channon started to protest, but something inside her refused. After the evening they had spent together, she felt oddly at ease with him. There was an aura about him that was so comforting, so open and welcoming.

He was like a long lost friend.

“Okay,” she said, relaxing.

He paid for their food. Then he helped her up and into her coat and led her from the restaurant.

Channon didn’t speak as they made their way toward his car down the street, but she felt his magnetic, masculine presence with every single cell of her body.

Though not a social butterfly by any account, she’d had plenty of dates in her life. She’d had a number of boyfriends and even a fiance, but none of them had ever made her feel the way this stranger did.

Like he fit some missing part of her soul.

Girl, you are crazy.

She must be.

Channon paused as they neared his sporty gray Lexus. “Someone travels in style.”

Winking devilishly at her, Sebastian opened the car door. “Well, I would turn into a dragon and fly you home, but something tells me you would protest.”

“No doubt. I imagine the scales would also chafe my skin.”

“True. Not to mention, I once learned the hard way that they really do call the military out on you. You know, fighter jets are hard to dodge when you have a forty-foot wingspan.” He closed her door and walked to his side of the car.

She laughed yet again, but then she’d been doing that most of the night. Goodness, she really liked this man.

Sebastian got into the car and felt his body jerk the instant they were locked inside together. Her feminine scent permeated his head. She was so close to him now that he could almost taste her.

All night long he had listened to the dulcet sound of her smooth Southern drawl, watched her tongue and lips move as he imagined what they would feel like on his body, imagined her in his arms while he made love to her until she cried out from pleasure.

His attraction to her stunned him. Why did he have to feel this now, when he couldn’t afford to stay in her time and explore more of her?

Cursed Fates. How they loved to tamper in mortal lives.

Pushing the thought out of his mind, he drove her to the hotel where she was staying.

“You don’t live here?” he asked as he parked in the lot.

“Just here for the weekend to study the tapestry.” She unbuckled her seat belt.

Sebastian got out and opened her door, then walked her to her room.

Channon hesitated at the door as she looked up at him and the searing heat in his captivating eyes. The man was so hot and sexy in the most dangerous of ways.

She wondered if she would ever see him again. He hadn’t asked for her number. Not even her email.

Damn.

“Thank you,” she said. “I had a really good time tonight.”

“I did, too. Thanks for joining me.”

Kiss me. The words rushed across her mind unexpectedly. She really wanted to know what this man felt like against her.

To her amazement, she found out as he pulled her into his arms and covered her lips with his.

Sebastian growled at the feel of her as he fisted his hands against her back. He clutched her to him as every fiber of his body burned and ached to possess her. Her tongue swept against his, teasing him, tormenting him.

She brushed her hand against the nape of his neck, sending chills all over his body, making him so hard for her that he throbbed painfully. He closed his eyes while he let all of his senses experience her. Her mouth tasted of honey, and her hands were soft and warm against his skin. She smelled of woman and flowers, and he thrilled at the sound of her ragged breathing as she answered his passion with her own.

Take her. The animal inside him stirred with a fierce snarl. It snapped and clawed at the human part of him, demanding he cede his humanity to it. It wanted her.

He was almost powerless against the onslaught, and his hands trembled from the force of holding himself back. He growled from the effort of it.

Channon moaned at the fierce feel of his powerful arms locked around her. She was pressed so tight against his chest that she could feel his heart pounding against her breasts.

His intensity surrounded her, filled her, made her burn with volcanic need. All she could think of was stripping his clothes off him and seeing if his body really was as spectacular as it felt.

He pressed her back against her door, pinning her to it as he deepened his kiss. His warm, masculine scent filled her senses, overwhelming her.

He kissed his way from her lips and down across her cheek, then he buried his lips against her neck. “Let me make love to you, Channon,” he breathed in her ear. “I want to feel your warm, soft body against mine. Feel your breath on my naked skin.”

She should be offended by his suggestion. They barely knew each other. Yet no matter how hard she tried to talk herself out of this, she couldn’t.

Deep inside, she wanted the same thing.

Against all reason—all sanity—she ached for him.

Never in her life had she done anything like this. Not once. Yet she found herself opening the door to her room and letting him in.

Sebastian breathed deeply in relief as he struggled for control. He’d never come so close to using his powers on a woman. It was forbidden for his kind to interfere with human freewill unless it was in defense of their lives or someone else’s. He’d bent that rule a time or two to serve his purposes.

Tonight, had she refused him, he held no doubt he would have broken it.

But she hadn’t refused him. Thank the gods for small favors.

He watched her as she set her key card on the dresser. She hesitated and he felt her nervousness.

“I won’t hurt you, Channon.”

She offered him a tentative smile. “I know.”

He cupped her face in his hands and stared into those celestial blue eyes. “You are so beautiful.”

Channon held her breath as he pulled her to him and recaptured her lips. None of this night made sense to her. None of her feelings. She clung to Sebastian as she sought for an explanation why she had let him into her room.

Why she was going to make love to him. A stranger. A man she knew nothing about. A man she would like as not never see again.

Yet none of that mattered. All that mattered was this moment in time—holding him close to her and keeping him here in her room for as long as she could.

She felt his hands free her hair to cascade down her back. He slid her coat from her shoulders, and she let it fall to the floor. Running his hands up her arms, he pulled back to stare down at her with hungry eyes. No man had ever given her such a look. One of fierce longing, of total possession.

Scared and excited, she helped him from his overcoat. His eyes dark with unsated passion, he removed his jacket and tossed it aside without care that it would be wrinkled later. So much for his impeccable suit. It thrilled her that she meant more to him than that.

He loosened his tie and pulled it over his head.

His eyes softened as she moved to unbutton his shirt. He caught her right hand in his and nibbled her fingertips, sending ribbons of pleasure through her, then he led her hand to his buttons and watched her intently.

Hot and aching for him, Channon worked the buttons through the buttonholes of his shirt. She trailed her gaze after her hands, watching as she bared his skin inch by slow, studied inch. Oh, good heaven, the man had a body that had been ripped from her dreams. His muscles were tight and perfect and covered by the most luscious tawny skin she’d ever seen. Dark hairs dusted his skin, making him seem even more like a predator, even more dangerous and manly.

Channon paused at the hard abs that held several scars. She traced her hand over them, feeling his sharp intake of breath as her fingers brushed the raised, lighter skin. “What happened?”

“Dragons have sharp talons,” he whispered. “Sometimes I don’t get out of the way quickly enough.”

She placed her hand over one really nasty-looking scar by his hipbone. “Maybe you should fight smaller dragons.”

“That wouldn’t be very sporting of me.”

She swallowed as he removed his shirt and she saw his unadorned chest for the first time. He was scrumptious. She ran her palm over his taut, hard pecs, delighting in the way they felt under her hands. She ran her fingers up his chest and across his lean, hard shoulder, which was tattooed with a dragon. “You do like dragons, don’t you?”

He laughed. “Yes, I do.”

Sebastian was doing his best to be patient, to let her get used to him. But it was hard when all he really wanted to do was lay her down on the bed and relieve the fierce ache in his loins.

He nibbled at her neck as he unfastened the buttons on her jumper and let it fall to the floor. She stood before him wearing nothing but her shoes and her misbuttoned shirt. It was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen in his four hundred years of living. “Do you always button your shirts like this?”

She looked down and gasped. “Oh, good grief. I was in a hurry this morning and—”

He stopped her words with a kiss. “Don’t apologize,” he whispered against her lips. “I like it.”

“You’re a very strange man.”

“And you are a goddess.”

Channon shook her head at him as he picked her up in his arms and moved with her toward the bed. She placed her hands over his muscles, which were taut from his strain. The feel of them made her mouth water. He laid her gently on the mattress, then ran his hands down her legs to her feet so he could remove her shoes and socks and toss them over his shoulder.

Her heart pounding, Channon watched as he nibbled his way over her hip to her stomach. He moved his hands to her shirt and slowly unbuttoned it, kissing and licking every piece of her skin that he bared.

She moaned at the sight and feel of his mouth on her, at the way he seemed to savor her body. Spikes of pleasure pierced her stomach as her body throbbed and ached for him to fill her.

She wanted him inside her so much that she feared she might burst into flames from the fire tearing through her body.

Sebastian felt her wetness on his skin as he slid himself against her. His body screamed for hers, but he wasn’t through with her yet. He wanted to savor her, to commit every inch of her lush body to his memory.

What he felt for her amazed him. It was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. On some strange level she gave him peace, sanctuary. She filled the loneliness in his battered heart.

He buried his face in her neck while her hardened nipples teased the flesh of his chest and her hands roamed over his back. “You feel so good under me,” he whispered as he soaked her essence into him.

Channon took a deep, ragged breath. His words delighted her.

He nuzzled her neck, his whiskers softly teasing her flesh while his hand skimmed over her body to touch the burning ache between her legs. She hissed at the pleasure of his fingers toying with her and arched her back against him as he slowly dragged his mouth from her neck to her breast. His tongue swept against the hardened tip, making her tingle and throb.

She bit her lip as a wave of fear went through her. “I want you to know that I don’t normally do this sort of thing.”

He lifted himself up on his arms to look down at her. He pressed his hips between her legs so that she could feel the large bulge of him while his expensive wool pants slightly chafed her inner thighs. The hot feel of him there was enough to drive her wild with need.

“If I thought you did, my lady, I wouldn’t be here with you now.” His gaze intensified, holding her enthralled. “I see you, Channon. You and the barriers you have around you that keep everyone at a distance.”

“And yet you’re here.”

“I’m here because I know the sadness inside you. I know what it feels like to wake in the morning, lost and lonely and aching for someone to be there with me.”

Her heart clenched as he spoke the very things that really were a part of her. “Why are you alone? I can’t imagine a man so handsome without a line of willing women fighting behind him.”

“Looks aren’t all there is in this world, my lady. They are certainly no protection against being alone. Hearts never see through the eyes.”

Channon swallowed at his words. Did he mean them? Or was this all some lie he was telling her to make her feel better about what she was doing with him? She didn’t know.

But she wanted to believe him. She wanted to comfort the torment she saw in his hungry eyes.

He pulled away from her and removed his shoes and pants. Channon trembled as she finally saw him completely naked. Like a dangerous, dark beast moving sinuously in the moonlight, he was incredible. Absolutely stunning.

Every inch of him was muscled and toned and covered by the most scrumptious tanned skin she’d ever beheld. The only flaws on his perfect body were the scars marking his back, hips, and legs. They really did look like claw and bite marks from some ferocious beast.

When he rejoined her on the bed, she pulled the tie from his hair, letting it fall forward to surround his sinfully handsome face.

“You look like some barbaric chieftain,” she said, running her hand through the silkiness of his unbound hair. She traced the intricate lines of the tattoo on his face.

“Mmm,” he breathed, taking her breast in his mouth.

Channon held his head to her as his tongue teased her. Ripples of pleasure tore through her.

She ran her hands down his muscled ribs, then along his arms and shoulders as she drifted through a strange hazy fog of pleasure. Something strange was happening to her. With every breath he expelled, it was like his touch intensified. Multiplied. Instead of one tongue stroking her, she swore she could feel a hundred of them. It was as if her skin was alive and being massaged all over at once.

Sebastian hissed as his powers ran through him. Sex always heightened the senses of his breed. The intensity of physical pleasure was highly sought by his people for the elevation it gave them and their magic. The beauty of it was that the surge of power usually lasted a full day, and in the case of truly great sex, two days.

Channon was definitely a two-day high.

He looked into her eyes to see her gaze unfocused and wild. His powers were affecting her, too. The physical stimulation to a human was even greater than it was to his breed.

He knew the moment she lost herself to the ecstasy of his sorcerer’s touch. Her barriers and inhibitions gone, she threw her head back and cried out as an orgasm tore through her. “That’s it,” he whispered in her ear. “Don’t fight it.”

She didn’t. Instead, she turned toward him and grabbed feverishly at his body. Sebastian groaned as he obliged her eagerness.

She sought out every inch of his flesh with her hands and mouth. He rolled over and pulled her on top of him, where she straddled his waist, letting him feel her wetness on the hollow of his stomach. He knew she was past the ability to speak now and a part of him regretted that. She was all need. All hot, demanding sex.

Her eyes wild and hungry, she took his hands in hers and led them to her breasts as she slid herself against his swollen shaft. She leaned forward to drag her tongue along the edge of his jaw as she nibbled her way to his lips.

She kissed him passionately, then pulled back. “What have you done to me?” she asked hoarsely, her words surprising him.

“It’s not exactly me,” he said honestly. “It’s something I can’t help.”

She moaned and writhed against him, making his body burn even more. “I need you inside me, Sebastian. Please.”

He wasted no time obliging her. Rolling her over, he curled his body around hers as they lay with her back to his front. He draped her leg over his waist.

He tucked her head beneath his chin and held her close as he drove himself deep inside her sleek wetness. He growled at the warm, wet feel of her while she leaned her head back into his shoulder and cried out.

Channon had never felt anything like this. No man had ever made love to her in such a manner. Her right hip was braced against his inner thigh while he used his left knee to hold her left leg up so that he had access to her body from behind her. She didn’t know how he managed it, but his strokes were deep and even, and they tore through her with the most intense pleasure she had ever known. He was so hard inside her, so thick and warm.

And she wanted more of his touch. More of his power.

He slid his hand down over her stomach, then lower until he touched her between her legs. She hissed and writhed as pleasure tore through her while his fingers rubbed her in time to his strokes. And still it felt as if a thousand hands caressed her, as if she were being bathed all over by his touch, his scent.

Out of her mind with ecstasy, she met him lush stroke for lush stroke. Her body felt as if it held a life of its own, as if the pleasure of her was its own entity. She needed even more of him.

Sebastian was awed by her response to him. No human woman had ever been like this. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she was part Drakos. She dug her nails into the flesh of the arms he had wrapped around her, and when she came again she screamed out so loudly, he had to quickly put a dampening spell around them to keep others from hearing her.

His powers surging, he smiled wickedly at that. He loved satisfying his partner, and with Channon he took even more delight than normal.

She rolled slightly in his arms, capturing his lips in a frenzied kiss.

Sebastian cupped her face as he quickened his strokes and buried himself even deeper in her body. She felt so incredibly good to him. So warm and welcoming. So perfect.

He held her close against him as his heart pounded and his groin tightened even more. The feel of her, the taste of her, cascaded through his senses, making him reel, making him ache, yet at the same time soothing him.

The beast in him roared and snapped in satisfaction while the man buried himself deep in her and shook from the force of his orgasm. With the two parts of him sated and united, it was the most incredible moment of his entire life.

Channon groaned as she felt his release inside her. Still wrapped around her, he pulled her even closer to his chest. She heard his ragged breathing and felt his heart pounding against her shoulder blade. The manly scent of him filled her head and her heart, making her want to stay cocooned by his body forever.

Slowly, the throbbing pleasure faded from her and left her weak and drained from the intensity of their love-making.

When he withdrew from her, she felt a tremendous sense of loss.

“What did you do to me?” she asked, turning onto her back to look at him.

He kissed his way across her collarbone to her lips. “I did nothing, ma petite. It was all you.”

“Trust me, I’ve never done that before.”

He laughed softly in her ear.

She smiled at him and dropped her gaze to the small gold medallion he wore around his neck. Odd, she hadn’t noticed it before.

She traced the chain with her fingers, then took it into her hand. It was obviously quite old. Ancient Greek if she didn’t miss her guess. The gold held a relief of a dragon coiled around a shield. “This is beautiful,” she breathed.

Sebastian looked down at her hand and covered her fingers with his. “It belonged to my mother,” he said, wondering why he spoke of it. It was something he’d never shared with anyone else. “I don’t really remember her, but my brother said she told him to give it to me so that I would know how much she loved me.”

“She died?”

He nodded. “I was barely six when…” His voice trailed off as his memories of that night scorched him. Inside his head he could still hear the screams of the dying and smell the fires. He remembered the terror and the arms of his brother, Theren, pulling him to safety.

He’d always lived with the horrors of that night close to his heart. Tonight, with Channon, it didn’t seem to hurt quite so much.

She ran her hand over the markings on his face. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, and inside his heart, he could feel her sincerity. “I was nine when my mother died of cancer. And there’s always this little piece of me that wishes I could hear the sound of her voice just one more time.”

“You’re without family?”

She nodded. “I grew up with my aunt, who died two years ago.”

He felt her ache inside his own heart and it surprised him. He hated that she was alone in the world. Like him. It was a hard way to be.

Tightening his arms, he let his body comfort her.

Channon closed her eyes as he ran his tongue around and into her ear, sending chills over her. She leaned into his arms and pulled him close for another scorching kiss. A tiny part of her wanted to beg him not to leave her in the morning. But she refused to embarrass herself.

She’d known going into this that tonight would be all they would ever have. Yet the thought of not seeing him again hurt her more than she could fathom. She literally felt that losing him would be like losing a vital part of herself.

Sebastian knew he should leave now, but something inside him rebelled.

It wasn’t much longer until dawn. He still had to retrieve the tapestry and return home.

But right now, all he wanted was to spend a little more time holding this woman, keeping her in the warm shelter of his arms.

“Sleep, Channon,” he whispered as he sent a small sleeping spell to her. If she were awake and looking at him, he would never be able to let her go.

Immediately, she went limp in his arms.

Sebastian ran his fingers over the delicate curve of her cheek as he watched her. She was so beautiful by his side.

He clenched his hand against her silken curls and took a deep breath in her hair. Her floral scent reminded him of warm summer days of shared laughter and friendship. Her bare hips were nestled perfectly against his groin, her lower back against his stomach. Her smooth legs were entwined with his masculine ones. Gods, how he ached to keep her here like this.

He felt himself stirring again. He felt the need within him to take her one more time before he upheld his obligation.

You must go.

As much as he hated to, he knew he had no choice.

Sighing in regret, he withdrew from the warmth of her and crept from the bed, still amazed by the night they had shared. He would never forget her. And for the first time in his life, he actually considered coming back here for a while.

But that was impossible.

His kind didn’t do well in the modern world, where they were easily hunted and found. He needed wide-open spaces and a simpler world where he could have the freedom and solitude he needed.

Clenching his teeth against the pain of necessity, he dressed silently in the dark.

Sebastian stepped away from the bed, then paused.

He couldn’t leave like this, as if the night had meant nothing to him.

Pulling his mother’s medallion from his neck, he placed it around Channon’s and kissed her parted lips.

“Sleep, little one,” he whispered. “May the Fates be kind to you. Always.”

Then, he shimmered from her room and out into the dark night. Alone. He was always alone.

He’d long ago accepted that fact. It was what had to be.

But tonight he felt that loneliness more profoundly than he had ever felt it before.

As he rounded the hotel’s building and headed toward his car, he collided with a middle-aged woman who was walking, huddled from the cold, in a worn jacket. She wore the faded uniform of a waitress and the old shoes of a woman who had no choice but to be practical.

“Hey,” he said as she started past him. “Do you have a car?”

She shook her head no.

“You do now.” He handed her the keys to his Lexus and pointed it out to her. “You’ll find the registration in the glove box. Just fill it out and it’s yours.”

She blinked at him. “Yeah, right.”

Sebastian offered her a genuine smile. He’d only bought the car to use while he’d been trapped in this time period. Where he was going, there was no need for it.

“I’m serious,” he said, nudging her toward it. “No strings attached. I took a vow of poverty about fifteen minutes ago, and it’s all yours.”

She laughed incredulously. “I have no idea who you are, but thank you.”

Sebastian inclined his head and waited until the woman had driven off.

Cautiously, he stepped into the alley and looked around to make sure there were no witnesses. He called forth the powers of Night to shield him from anyone who might happen by, then he shifted into his alternate form. The power of the Drakos rushed through him like fire as the ions in the air around him were charged with electrical energy—electrical energy that allowed him to shed one form and shift into another.

In his case, his alternate form was that of a dragon.

Spreading his bloodred wings out to their full forty-foot span, he launched himself from his hind legs and flew into the sky, careful to stay below radar level this time.

Sebastian had one last thing to do before he could return to his time. Yet even as he headed back to the museum, he couldn’t shake the image of Channon from his mind.

He could still see her asleep in the bed, her hair spread out around her shoulders. He could still feel the texture of the honey-laced strands in his palm.

His dragon form burned with need, and he yearned to return to her.

Not that he could. One-night stands with humans were all he dared. The risk of exposure was too great.

Sebastian crossed town in a matter of minutes and landed on the roof of the museum. He summoned the electrical field that allowed the molecules of his body to transform from animal to human and flashed back into his man form.

With a flick of his hand, he dressed himself all in black, then shimmered from the roof into the room that held the tapestry.

“There you are,” he said as he saw Antiphone’s work again. Sadness, guilt, and grief tore through him as he recalled his baby sister’s gentle face.

After he’d sold this tapestry, he had never wanted to see it again.

But now he had to have it. It was the only way to save his brother’s life. Not that he should care. Damos had never given a damn about him.

After all the things Damos had done to break him, Sebastian still couldn’t turn his back on his brother and let the man die. Not when he could help it.

“I’m a bloody fool,” he said disgustedly.

He willed the tapestry from the museum case into his hand. Then he folded and tucked it carefully into a black leather bag to protect it.

As he began to shimmer from the room back to the roof, an odd burning started in the palm of his left hand.

“What the…?”

Hissing from the pain, he dropped the case and pulled off his glove. Sebastian blew cool air across his hot skin and frowned as a round geometric design appeared in his palm.

“No,” he breathed in disbelief as he stared at it.

This wasn’t possible, yet there was no denying what he saw and felt. Worse, there was a presence inside him, a tickling in the depth of his heart that made him curse even louder.

Against his will, he was mated.

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