Desert and Destiny [The Dark Desires of the Druids # 3]
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by Isabel Roman
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance
Description: The first time they met, Arabelle Bahari tried to kill him. The second time, they made love on a desk in the British Museum. But they needed each other, and Gareth, Lord Moore, despite his arrogent ways and pompous manner, drew her back to him each time they met. He needed her to decipher the magickal runes on a special box and Arabelle discovered she just needed him. Gareth, Earl Moore, had closed himself off from the world. He had his work at Parliament and his work securing a place for his kind, magickers, in a world that hated and hunted them. When he met Arabelle Bahari, he felt an attraction he'd never experienced before. And while he didn't trust her, he did want her. They came together out of need, helpless to resist the passion between them. but when an old enemy tries to kill Arabelle, will Gareth realize the depth of his emotions? Or will the desert swallow them all?
eBook Publisher: Ravenous Romance/ravenous romance, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [210 KB]
Reading time: 121-169 min.
The chilled spring air bit his ungloved fingers, but he ignored it. To his right, rats scurried in the garbage, their sharp claws clicking along the slimy cobblestones. Gareth, Lord Moore, slipped down the dark London alley.
The scent of magick hung heavy in the air, but of the few he saw nearby, he sensed he was the only magicker. The man he followed, the magicker he followed, must have sneaked into an abandoned building. Still, he should've been able to sense him. Turning a corner, he ducked low.
Instinct made him do so, and most likely saved his life. The man he followed was stronger than Gareth first suspected and he gathered his magicks to him like a cloak. Corwin must have warned his minion to be on the watch for magicker followers. Obviously, the baronet hadn't bothered to explain there were stronger magickers in existence than gypsies.
A pile of trash loomed up before him, but Gareth easily batted it aside and kept moving along the alley. He knew where the magick came from. An abandoned building to his left beckoned him like a tavern.
The nameless man he followed disappeared, but it didn't matter. Gareth saw what he'd come for. Sir John Corwin, baronet, stood beyond the filthy, uncovered windows with what looked to be a pipe in one hand, with which he repeatedly hit his captive. The bound man lay sprawled on the floor, unmoving.
"Tell me of the box!" Corwin's scream carried to where Gareth stood. "The wooden box covered with jewels!" Another thunk with the pipe. "It was in Lord Preston's possession. Where is it now?"
Despite the beatings, he suddenly raised his eye. In that moment, Gareth knew the other man sensed him. Corwin remained ignorant, a usual state for him, and raised the pipe once again. This is the treatment that son of a bitch gave to those he suspected of being magickers. In this case, Corwin was right; the man was a magicker.
"Damn." Gareth was caught. If he saved this man, whom he believed to be Richard Bertram of the British Museum, he'd give himself away. Unless he killed Corwin, too, which wouldn't pain him. The man was a murderer and rabble-rouser, as well as a pompous ass.
He'd show him what a true magicker could do.
Silently moving around the building, a half-burnt shell of its former self, Gareth located the door. Just as he was about to enter, the magicker he'd followed attacked him.
Without a word, the man leapt off the deteriorating second floor of the opposite building.
Gareth wanted to make an acerbic comment about the surprise attack, but was angry the other man managed to surprise him. He must have had an artifact that shielded him from detection.
Stumbling backwards, he avoided the second punch the man threw. Damn it, he didn't have time for this. With the overwhelming stench of the wind in the alley swirling like a tornado, he pushed the man up. But he was stronger than Gareth suspected, and didn't rise as high as he'd wanted.
Furious, Gareth let his anger overcome him. During the nearly-quiet fight, the other man's cloak fell away to reveal a woman. A dark, beautiful woman. Surprised, Gareth released her.
"Who the hell are you?" Gareth demanded. "And what the hell are you doing here?"
"A magicker like you," she spat, straightening her man's clothing. "I'm searching for a man Corwin's taken from me."
Her eyes, darker than the night, glared at him in reproach. "Bertram?"
The nameless woman nodded. She said no more as she studied him. "This way." She led him to the entrance of a severely rundown building.
"Stay here," he ordered. "I'm going to kill that bastard."
Used to having his every word obeyed, both as a viscount and as a master of his Druidic line, he paused when she gripped his arm. Magick gathered to him, ready to break down the door and attack John Corwin, the most hated of Witch Hunters. It hummed along him, but he stayed.
"Bertram is almost dead--Corwin beat him. Tried to murder him for no other reason than he believed he could."
"Richard is dead." Her voice was no more than a whisper, husky and as dark as her looks in this black night. "I can feel it."
Wondering what kind of powers she possessed that she could shield herself as well as sense life in others, Gareth found himself looking not at the doorway to plan his attack, but at her.
Anger pulsed through him at the news of Corwin's latest kill.
"You can't kill him," she repeated.
"Who are you?" Time slipped by, and he knew by now Corwin had fled down the filthy alleyways. He'd have to track him again.
"It doesn't matter," she said. The hardness in her voice replaced the sadness of moments ago. "We can't make Corwin a martyr. I sense you're powerful. Your magicks are strong. Please do not involve yourself with Corwin; he's far too dangerous. There are those of us already who deal with him, and we're winning."
She turned away, leaving him at the door, Corwin somewhere in the maze of streets and Richard Bertram dead. "Let it be."
Gareth let her go, watching as the night swallowed her up. Her words intrigued him, but he knew he'd get nothing more out of her. Whatever Bertram was to her, she'd left him here because it was safer to do so.
Admiration shot through him, but he dismissed it. Gareth lost his prey, his chance to kill Corwin and get him out of their way once and for all. He didn't know what, if anything, Bertram had told the baronet, and he'd lost his one lead on deciphering the box.
His gaze drifted in the direction in which the woman disappeared, intrigued not only with her powers but with her words.
Going after her, he released his anger, though it always seemed to be right beneath the surface these days. He concentrated only on her magickal signature. She was fast, whoever she was, and had already made it to the better section of town. Keeping to the shadows, he stalked her along the busy streets, eyes avoiding others, hoping no one recognized him. Her cloak disguised her figure, hood covering her face. Still, now that he knew she was a woman, he saw little signs. The way she walked, the sway of her hips even beneath the cloak.
Once they were out of Whitechapel, she took a carriage. Dodging through the streets, he continued to follow her, partly through the gold he offered the driver and partly by following her magicks. She left the carriage at Lincoln's Inn Field and continued on foot.
Gareth had to hand it to her; she knew what she was about. Never once did she look back, and he wondered if she used her magicks for protection again. It would do her no good now that he felt her magickal signature well enough to follow her.
Down Brownlow, onto Bedford, then Princeton. Where in all of bloody London was she going? Around Red Lion Square, onto Bloomsbury Square. When she turned onto Great Russell Road, toward the British Museum, he closed the distance between them.
Only then did she turn, placing a magickal barrier between them as he walked up to her. Gareth smirked when she huffed and released the barrier, apparently recognizing him.
"Let me repeat," he said, exhibiting a semblance of calm. "Who the hell are you?"
"How could you have possibly followed me?" she demanded. Her voice was darkly smooth. The streetlamps only sharpened her exotic beauty. Almond-shaped eyes as fathomless as the night gazed angrily at him.
"Only someone with great skill, only a--" she broke off, her generous mouth thinning with understanding and annoyance.
"Only a master?" Gareth offered and bowed. Surprised at his physical reaction to her beauty, he briefly wondered if the rest of her body was as tempting as her face. "Gareth, Viscount Moore, at your service."
A brief look of recognition crossed her face. Was it because she recognized his title, he wondered, or his name as master? He thought he knew all the most powerful magickers in England. After their meeting tonight, apparently he did not.
"Come on." Without another word, she turned and headed into the museum.
They wandered down the hallways, beyond the ornate displays, past boxes scarcely labeled, and into the Egyptology section. Sarcophagi were piled against one wall. Opened crates, their packaging spilling out, were against another.
She switched on the gas lamps lining the office, illuminating the cramped space with oily yellow light. The nameplate on the desk read Professor Baz Bahari.
"My father..." she said, immediately dispelling his thought that this was her husband's office. Gareth couldn't have said why that pleased him. "...is curator of Egyptology here at the museum."
"That must make you," he said, all the pieces of this night's puzzle coming together, "Arabelle."
A finely shaped eyebrow rose in question. In this light, she was even more beautiful. "How did you know that?"
"A mutual acquaintance was to introduce us."
Sadness crossed her face, gone in a heartbeat. She hid her feelings well enough, but he could see the grief in her dark eyes.
"You were bringing me Lord Preston's box," she said.
Gareth lowered his voice as well, acutely aware that voices carried farther in silence. "Yes. Mr. Bertram was to introduce us."
"He was a good friend." Arabelle's eyes drifted down to the cluttered desk, but she did not cry. What was between them? Only friendship, or something more? "It appears we're working toward the same goal."
"Indeed." He forced a calmness into his voice--one he rarely felt anymore--and nodded.
Dipping his hands into the pockets of his borrowed clothes, Gareth felt the pendant. Once Raven's, he took it from his former fiancée when she'd outgrown it nearly eight years ago. The thistle engraved on the surface was nearly worn smooth with time and the touch of his fingers, but he knew it well enough to feel the edges even now.
"Lord Moore," Arabelle's voice brought him back to the present. "Have you the box? Please don't tell me it's been lost to Corwin."
"The box is safe," he assured her. "I wonder, however," he added slowly, watching her carefully, "how Corwin knew of its existence."
Head tilted to one side, dark eyes shining with honesty and scorn, she said, "Corwin has searched for it for years."
Jerking in surprise, Gareth wondered why he didn't know that. "I see." Turning, he absently dismissed her as he planned his next move. He needed to gather the others, tell them of this latest development.
"I'll be back within the hour, Miss Bahari. Two at most." At the door, he turned to her and was once again taken aback by her beauty. "I presume, as you were to translate it, you'll be able to do so this eve?"
Eyes narrowed, she gave a short nod. "As you wish," she hissed.
"Good," he said and exited the office. "Excellent." * * * *
She heard them before she saw them. They bickered quietly. No, she decided, they didn't bicker so much as jest. She walked down the hall, freshly washed and changed from her earlier adventure, still hearing Viscount Moore's deep voice calling her name.
"I do apologize, Morgana," a man said with a voice that rumbled enigmatically across her skin. "Moore does this just to aggravate me."
"Nonsense," another voice added, in flat tones that sounded American. There was humor in it. "I'm certain Gareth does it because he enjoys dragging us out of bed after midnight."
More laughter, but Arabelle didn't think Lord Moore's voice was among them. He didn't seem the type to laugh at himself. His friends, if one could call them that, didn't have that problem.
A third male voice said something too low for her to hear in the winding passageways, and more laughter echoed around her. With sudden certainty, she knew none of them had been sleeping when Lord Moore's messenger arrived.
Turning the corner to stop both their wandering and the comments that filled her with jealousy, Arabelle came to a stop before three couples.
Her eyes immediately sought out Lord Moore. She noticed he'd changed as well, and now led the group. They were all finely dressed, though one wore the black of mourning and Arabelle wondered why she'd ventured out. Two couples, she amended, for it was obvious from their body language that they belonged together. Moore was not with the other woman, though she fit into the group just fine.
"Miss Bahari," Moore said, nodding his head. He wasn't one for ceremony, was he? All work--too much work, if his earlier attitude was any indication.
"Lord Moore," she replied in a cool voice.
One of the men walked forward. He looked vaguely familiar but she couldn't have said where, or whether, they'd met previously. Under his arm he carried a wooden box, inlaid with jewels and inscribed with Druidic writings.
"Lord Preston," she realized aloud and eagerly stepped forward.
"I think," the American woman said, "our dear Miss Bahari recognized the box rather than the earl."
Ignoring her, for it was true, Arabelle looked up at the handsome earl. He was tall and good-looking with a tanned face and scars that had her wondering where he'd been. Lord Preston bowed over her hand and she smiled.
Moore, with an impatient glare, made the introductions. The Earl and Countess Preston; The Earl and Countess Granville; Lady Isadore Harrington, sister to the Earl of Granville. Arabelle nodded at all of them. She only slightly knew them from gossip and Parliament, but wondered what was between Moore and Preston. She had a feeling that when Preston's wife moved beside him that the tension had something to do with the dark-haired beauty.
Richard would know, but with a prick of sadness, Arabelle remembered he was dead. Her dearest friend, who loved to listen to gossip as much as study Egyptian relics, murdered at Corwin's hands. One day, she vowed, she'd find the baronet and seek vengeance.
Forcing memories of Richard away, she tried not to snatch the box when Preston offered it. Anticipation raced through her as she looked at the intricate carvings.
"It's exquisite," she breathed. "So much more amazing than I'd thought it would be."
Walking back to her father's office, knowing they followed, she set the box on the desk she'd cleared earlier for this very purpose. Every inch of the sides was covered, the space around the gems, even the bottom of the box held something.
It was going to take her a while to translate it all. Assuming she could even make out more than half the symbols.
"She reminds me of Gareth," Lady Preston whispered. It was low enough not to disturb her, yet Arabelle raised her head. All six of them watched her with fascination as she studied the writings.
To dispel her unease at having them watch her so, she asked, "Are you aware what Corwin thinks this box is for?"
"Until tonight," Moore said, "I wasn't aware he knew of its existence." He gave a sardonic nod in her direction. His gaze, however, landed on Lord Preston."
"How could you be aware?" Arabelle demanded. "You are one of our masters, yet you do not walk among us." She stood, all the anger she'd ever held against those who claimed to be their Druidic Masters, yet never bothered with others overflowing, "How are we to share any information with you?"
"As a non-magicker, Miss Bahari," Preston said, "I've seen how they go after those with magick. If the Hunters knew of the masters' existence, how long do you think any of them would have lived?"
His dark head tilted to the others, and she suspected he was the only non-magicker in the group. The magick was strong within them all, overpowering the small office. The same strength that radiated off Moore also surrounded Lady Preston and Lady Granville. Were they the other masters?
They had to be. Already Arabelle could feel her own powers increasing.
She nodded. "Are you aware Corwin believes this box leads to our lost Druidic treasure? He's discovered the lore of our repository. He believes it to be a repository of wealth rather than knowledge."
"And does it lead to our repository?" Lady Isadore asked, looking very pale in her black gown. Her eyes were alight with knowledge, with interest. Hadn't she heard the Granvilles were murdered? Yes, it was sometime in the summer. Sympathy welled within Arabelle for Lady Isadore, and for Lord Granville. She missed her own mother terribly and couldn't imagine losing both parents at once.
Lady Isadore gestured to the box sitting innocuously on the desk. "Is this that box?"
"Yes," Arabelle said, gaze back on Moore's brown one. He drew her like the proverbial moth to flame. "It needs more study, but I believe it might be."
"Excellent," Lady Isadore said, smiling. It was beautiful, seeing her entire face light up with life. It was so at odds with her clothing. "Will you do us the honor of returning to Harrington Manor with us, then?" She moved through the parting crowd and took Arabelle's hand. "I sense your determination is pure and I'm certain we shall achieve greater progress if we're all together."
Lady Isadore didn't look at Moore, but his gaze swung to her in what Arabelle presumed was surprise. She began to think the man had no manners at all.
"Yes," the American Lady Granville added, "please do. We'd love to have you."
"Indeed we would," Lady Preston added with an equally sincere smile. Arabelle had a feeling she was being expertly shanghaied--whether genuinely so, she wasn't sure. "It's getting late," she said, glaring at Moore. "Someone will be round with all the arrangements when the sun actually rises."
Moore ignored the obvious jab and continued to stand there looking arrogantly handsome. And incredibly sexy. What was it about arrogant men that made Arabelle wet? Must be a familial weakness; her father was arrogant and she remembered her mother thinking it was sexy.
Arabelle shuddered and nodded to the people crowding the office. Shanghaied. There was no other word for it. * * * *
Gareth hung back from the others, watching them as they entered the carriages. The night had turned cold, and a brisk wind cut across the courtyard. The moon was a bright sickle in the sky, stars even more dazzling against the crisp night.
They'd taken the box with them, prudently keeping Miss Bahari out of harm's way should Corwin somehow discover she'd obtained it. She hadn't looked pleased and he'd felt the uncharacteristic need to explain himself.
Not that he had. But he still felt the need.
Though he'd come in his own carriage, he didn't make his way toward it now. He didn't feel part of the group, not since Preston's arrival into their lives. Raven, hand coiled around her husband's arm, turned to looked at him. Even from this distance, the concern in her vivid blue eyes was evident, as well as the warmth they held for him.
Not wanting her to see how she affected him, he cooled his gaze. Whenever he saw her with her husband, a lump rose in Gareth's throat. She didn't disappoint, and with a quick word, she left Preston's side for his.
"Why don't you check on Miss Bahari?" she said. Her eyes were bright in the night and she looked up at him, as she always had, with affection and warmth but nothing else. "You told me of her friend's death."
He nodded but didn't reply. Raven's beautiful blue eyes suddenly changed to the darkest black, and instead he saw Arabelle Bahari's mysterious gaze looking up at him. Blinking, he dispelled the image, but it was difficult to forget her.
"Check on her," she repeated, "before you retire."
Gareth nodded and watched her return to Preston. The carriage pulled away. He waited until the sound of hooves was a distant echo before turning to the museum. Following the treasure-lined path he had earlier, he found Arabelle Bahari exactly where they'd left her, standing before her father's now-empty desk.
Not entering immediately, he remained in the shadowed hallway and studied her. Her shoulders were slumped and her head bowed, and Gareth didn't think it was the overwhelming presence of six powerful magickers who had invaded her sanctuary that caused this display of emotion.
A single tear dropped from her cheek to the desktop.
Although she was the most exotically beautiful woman he'd ever seen, Gareth was surprised at his reaction to her. He wanted her with a fierceness he'd never experienced. Never expected.
"Are you going to stand in the shadows for what's left of the night?"
Her voice was even huskier now, putting him to mind of moonlight on her skin as she wrapped her body around him. When she looked up, her eyes were clear as glass, the blackest of glass.
"I was worried about you," he said, stepping into the brightly lit office. "You lost a friend tonight. That could rattle anyone."
"I'm not rattled," she said, voice melancholy. "I've lost friends before. As magickers..." She tossed her head and her long black hair whirled about her. He hadn't noticed it before, the silk of it, the length. It added to her allure. Gareth wanted to feel its weight, feel it against his skin, wrapping around them as they made love. He shook his head to clear the image.
"We grow all too accustomed to losing those we care for," she said.
Making the effort, he rounded the desk to stand before her. He debated taking her hand, uncomfortable with such displays. "Yes. We've lost too many, to the point where our grief has hardened us."
"I'm surprised," she said, leaning a hip against the desk.
"That I understand grief?" Gareth offered a short bitter laugh. "You're not the only one who has lost those she loves."
"No," Miss Bahari said, "I'm surprised that the grief of those outside your circle affects you."
Angered by her callous remark, Gareth grabbed her upper arms and shook her. They were slim and muscular beneath the loose white top she wore. "I didn't ask for this, Miss Bahari. I was born to it and have done the best I could under the circumstances in which we live. It's never been just my life at stake."
"You've protected yours," she snapped back, "but what about the rest of us?"
She didn't try to break away, but her voice fought him, her eyes blazing fury. Some small part of Gareth thought he shouldn't be so attracted to her, but it was soon drowned out by his own anger, anger and desire.
"You denied us the chance to learn from you. Even now, I can feel my own magick increasing with your nearness. Yet you've left us in the cold."
"It was not," he said softly, still holding her, "my intent."
The air shifted between them and then sparked around them. She hadn't moved, hadn't tried to break free since he'd grabbed her. Suddenly her hands were on his face, pulling him forward. Her mouth was on his, hot and greedy. The spark turned to an inferno and he embraced it.
Arabelle Bahari tasted as dark and mysterious as her beauty and name suggested. She drew him in, drawing him further into her web of desire.
He lifted her to sit on the desk. Her thighs pressed against his, drawing him closer. Fingers nimble on her top, he quickly stripped it from her body, letting it fall to the floor. Through the chemise, he cupped her breasts, finding already erect nipples through the thin silk.
She moaned and arched into him as he ripped the material down her arms. Her hips arched, and Gareth was surprised to find her hands bunching her skirt around her hips, legs quickly winding around his. She was bare beneath the khaki skirt.
"Arabelle," he managed. His cock was pressing against his trousers, and the wet heat of her seeped through the material. Lowering his head to her breasts, he suckled one nipple into his mouth, teeth grazing it. She bucked against him.
Then her fingers were on his trousers, stroking him through the wet material, and he knew he had to have her now.
"I want you," she whispered.
Leaving her heavy breasts, the tempting nipples jutting for his attention, Gareth ran his hand down her body. He wished he had time, and space, to explore her further. To taste every inch of her, to learn her softest spots.
Slipping a finger through the hair covering her secret place, he grazed her nub. She arched against him, pleading with him in a long, low moan. Entering her with one, then two fingers, he felt her wet heat clench around him.
"Yes, yes," she chanted.
Pulling away from her, he undid his trousers, and released his straining cock. Guiding the tip to her folds, he teased her, as he tugged on a nipple. Her nails scraped along his shoulders, and Gareth swore she drew blood.
It only spurred him on.
With one hard thrust, he entered her. Arabelle Bahari shattered against him, crying wordlessly as she orgasmed.
He waited, then slowly moved in and out of her, fingers stroking her nub, building her back up. Her impossibly dark eyes opened and in their reflection, he saw himself. One hand left his shoulder to cup her breast, toying with the nipple as she continued to watch him.
Harder now, he thrust, feeling his own orgasm winding higher and tighter through him. She screamed, coming against him in hard jerks, head thrown back, slim body arching in a beautiful bow.
With one last thrust, he came, too--spilling himself into her until he felt as if nothing was left.