Where There's Smoke
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by Lex Valentine
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: A murderous father. A son with a price on his head. Zander's year-long affair with a mysterious woman ends when she tells him that her abusive mate is the father he's never known. The woman, a prophesy-dreaming immortal known as the Phoenix, explains that Zander has three brothers and that his father killed their mothers. Now, the Phoenix has dreamt of her mate's death and Zander's destiny. Voth is the Phoenix's successor and Zander's true mate. The two set out to find Zander's brothers while eluding the assassins sent after them by Zander's father. Passion burns hot between them, sealing their fate, as their journey leads them to fulfill the Phoenix's prophecy.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
10 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [118 KB]
Reading time: 75-105 min.
The Phoenix rose from the flames, the scent of charred feathers stinging Ancelin's nose. Darkness held him tightly, the only light coming from the eerie wavering form of the Phoenix and the fire. He tried to move his limbs. Nothing. Awareness flooded his brain as the light from the Phoenix grew brighter.
"I'm dreaming," he said.
"Of course," the Phoenix replied, although its beak never moved.
"This is a prophecy." Ancelin's heart thundered.
In all the years he had been mated to Nix, her phoenix-driven prophecies had never touched him. Every night he slept beside her and knew she dreamed of the destinies of others. Yet, not once had she dreamed of him. Tonight, the world as he knew it shifted on its axis as her phoenix--her soul--came to him as he slept.
"You have no need of explanations, Ancelin," the Phoenix told him. "You know what I tell you shall come to pass."
Ancelin might be a demi-god, but the power of the Phoenix was beyond his control. "Just tell me and get it over with," he gritted out arrogantly, unwilling to admit fear crept into his heart.
The Phoenix's flames burned hotter, the image glowing brighter. "Your transgressions shall be the vehicle of your end, Ancelin. The pain you have caused others will turn on you. The trinity will break you, and you shall be no more. Your fate is at hand."
Ancelin swallowed hard. If he had been able to feel his limbs, he knew they would be trembling. A phoenix prophecy could never be reversed. It always came to be.
The Phoenix's voice grew cold and disdainful. "Three and three have you used for your own ends. Three times have you broken your vows. Your life force shall be the payment for your transgressions, and three hands will bring about your death. With your passing, new lives will be wrought for those whose lives you've torn. With your blood, the circle shall be mended. It has already been decreed."
With a start, Ancelin awoke, gasping for air. Beside him, the flame-haired form of his mate lay still as marble, barely breathing. Anger flooded him, and he wondered if he could break the prophecy by killing her as she slept.
Her eyelids flickered. "You have not the ability to snuff the Phoenix's flames, Ancelin," she murmured, her turquoise eyes boring into his as she sat up in their bed.
Rising to his feet, Ancelin yanked the silk sheet and wrapped it around his hips. He glared at his mate left sitting on the wide mattress, her naked skin glowing in the moonlight. "That's what you think. And even if I couldn't kill you, that does not mean I cannot change the prophecy by snuffing out the lives of those who seek to end mine," he snarled.
"I did not dream that on purpose, my lord." His mate's words were cool, but respectful.
He stormed toward the bathroom, fury riding his heels. "You did, Nix. You knew I was unfaithful, and this is your punishment."
She shook her head, the red-gold curls tumbling around her shoulders. "Ancelin, you know I have no control over the dreams, over the Phoenix..."
"Fuck you. I always knew you were a cold-hearted bitch. Why do you think I sought comfort from others?" Ancelin sneered. He went into the bathroom and slammed the door.
Left alone, Nix rose from the bed. The moonlight showcased her perfect form as she crossed the room to an escritoire. From a small drawer, she withdrew a hand mirror with a gilded frame shaped like a phoenix.
She brushed her fingers over the glass and a vision appeared in the oval. A young man with dark hair and argent eyes stared at the ocean, watching the movement of the waves. Nix touched the mirror where his arm was, and he flinched. There on his skin appeared a phoenix mark. He blinked in shock and stared at the tattoo-like artwork that swirled over his bicep.
Nix swept her palm over the mirror, and the vision changed. This time, two men, obviously twins, one dark and one light, materialized on the glass. They stood in the forest gazing at the moon. Nix's fingertip touched the mirror, over the right side of one's chest, then over the left side of the other. Both flinched as black tribal lines, the mark of the phoenix, wrote themselves onto their skin.
Again, Nix's palm passed over the mirror. She closed her eyes for a moment, a spasm of pain crossing her beautiful features. Opening her eyes, she gazed at the image of a man with hair as fair as the moonlight, his eyes glittering like jet. He stood beside a fire, his face turned toward her. Her fingertip pressed the glass gently, as if she actually touched the side of his throat. Unlike his brothers, shock did not show on his face. Instead, his eyes seemed to bore into hers.
She passed her hand over the mirror, and it darkened. Putting it away, she returned to the bed she had shared with Ancelin for the last century. A loveless bed. A loveless mating. Soon the prophecy would come true and she would be free. Ancelin thought he could break it. Nix knew it was possible under certain circumstances, but she was determined that it would not happen this time. The Phoenix would win. It almost always did. And this time, if she were to survive, it must.
* * * *
Zander loved a nice pair of thighs. His current lover had the best thighs of anyone he'd ever been with. His tongue snaked its way up the smooth skin that lined the inside of her left thigh. Her breath hitched in her throat, but other than that, she didn't even tremble at the onslaught of his agile tongue. A chuckle rose from deep within his chest.
Her cinnamon spice scent rose on the warm air, commingled with that of her arousal. Zander pushed her thighs farther apart and flicked the tip of his tongue over her hairless mons. His mouth quirked in a grin as, finally, a tremor shuddered through her.
"Tease." Her husky voice caressed him as surely as the brush of her fingertips over his shoulders.
"You love it," he chuckled and parted her damp folds with his fingers, exposing her engorged clit. Breathing in her rich perfume, he pressed forward, his mouth opening over her sensitive flesh.
A choked cry escaped her, and her hips bucked. With one palm braced across her lower belly, he held her still as his tongue languidly circled her swollen nub. As always, the salty sweet flavor of her burst on his taste buds, sending his lust soaring and making his cock hard as stone.
"I love what you do to me, Zander. You make me feel alive." Her voice held a note of despair that was nearly lost in the husky overtones of arousal.
Zander had heard that despair before. He knew what it stemmed from, if only in the general sense. Her mate didn't have a care for her. Abused her and tormented her mentally at every turn. Zander wished he knew who the guy was so he could end her ties to the asshole. Then he would take her for his own.
This time her voice was firm and businesslike, not a single note of passion in it. He raised his head and met her turquoise eyes. "What's wrong, Nix?"
She pushed herself up and away from him, scooting to the side of the bed. "You know what's wrong. I told you to stop those thoughts." She glared at him, her frustration plain to see in her expression.
Zander's eyes flicked over the tumble of red-gold curls, the creamy skin, tip-tilted breasts, the heart-shaped face, and gaze sharper than a razor. "He doesn't deserve you. Let me take you away," he urged.
She shook her head. "It is not your place, Zander. He will reap what he has sown. The Phoenix has spoken. The prophecy is in motion."
A frustrated sigh escaped Zander. Now, his cock throbbed heatedly in time to the angry pounding of his head. Nix's mate had always been a sore spot between them. She refused to tell him who the man was and refused to allow him to free her. For the thousandth time since he'd met her, he wondered how powerful her mate was. She seemed determined to protect him from the man. As if he needed protecting.
"From this man, you do require protection, Zander. You cannot take him alone, and drawing his ire would bring about your death. I cannot have that," she said coolly.
The way she so easily read his mind didn't bother him. When they'd first met it had been disconcerting, but a year later he was used to it.
Rubbing the Phoenix mark on the side of his neck, Zander rose from the bed. His stiff cock bobbed as he walked over to the huge plate-glass window of his bedroom. He leaned one forearm against it and stared out at the storm that lashed the coastline.
"Nix, I care for you. What is between us is good, but this situation with your mate..." He glanced over his shoulder at her. "It can't continue."
White teeth sank into her lush pink lower lip. Her shoulders rose in a silent sigh of acquiescence. She turned her head, looking away from him. Slowly, she rose and began to dress. Once clothed in black jeans, a black cashmere sweater, and boots, she turned, her arms raised as she pulled her fiery hair back into a ponytail. Gathering up a black leather jacket and matching gloves, she walked toward him, her movements economical, yet graceful.
"You're right, Zander. This can't continue. I should have done this long ago, prepared you months ago, but I didn't want to leave you," she said in a low, worried tone.
He frowned and pushed back his long, unruly blond hair. "You don't have to leave me, Nix. Just tell me who he is and I'll free you from his tyranny."
She shook her head. "Already you don't understand. Get dressed. We need to go somewhere."
She turned and left the bedroom. Zander grabbed his jeans and yanked them on, buttoning them hastily. He sensed the tension in her and that surprised him. She'd shown him many sides to her personality in the last year, but she'd never shown fear or tension. He tugged a T-shirt over his head and grabbed his leather jacket, padding silently into the living room.
Nix stood in the bland stainless steel of his kitchen, a water bottle in her hand. Sitting on the leather sofa, he began to put on his boots.
"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" he asked, getting to his feet.
"No. I'm going to show you something that is right."
Zander followed her to the door, and they stepped into the dimly lit garage attached to his cliffside home. Nix tucked her long hair into her jacket and zipped up, reaching for a black motorcycle helmet. Zander did the same. He adjusted the helmet so that the built-in mic was near his mouth, then turned on the radio that allowed him to communicate with Nix. He hit a button on the handlebar of the sleek black motorcycle in front of him, and the garage door rose.
He swung a leg over the heavy bike and settled into the leather seat. Nix hopped on, balancing herself easily behind him. Her arms wrapped around his waist, and the visor on her helmet dug into his shoulder blade. He started the engine with a roar and backed carefully out of the garage onto his private drive.
The rain had stopped, but thunderous gray clouds still filled the sky. Gravel spurted from beneath the wide tires of the bike as he put the heavy machine in motion. They sped down the winding road, moving in unison through the curves. By the time they came out on the main highway, the rain threatened once more.
"Take the coast road."
Nix's disembodied voice whispered in his ears. Her body pressed tightly to his back as the bike turned toward the rocky coastline. A huge truck rumbled past them, passing swiftly on their left and shaking them like a terrier with a rat in its mouth. Zander held the bike upright through sheer force of will. Bikers and truckers never seemed to get along on the road. He'd learned that the hard way many years before.
Turning off the main highway onto a twisting road that led to the beach, Zander felt Nix tilt her head back, looking upward, her body stiff with tension. Unable to take his eyes off the road, he had no clue what she was looking at. When they reached the road that paralleled the rocky beach, Zander stopped. The motorcycle's engine growled loudly in idle.
"Which way?" he asked.
A soft sound, almost a sob, came through the speakers. Then Nix's voice filled his helmet. "Left."
They roared south on the coast road, the wild beach stretching to their right, the surf crashing with insane abandon as the next wave of the storm approached. The shifter inside Zander ached to be released. The urge to soar through the sky with the storm fired every nerve ending he had, and adrenaline coursed through him. The elements drew him, the wilder the better, and he loved flying in them. Grounded and in human form, the freedom of his bike with its closeness to the elements was a perfect fit for him.
Zander maneuvered the heavy bike around a strange rock formation that sprung up out of the sand. He glanced over his shoulder. A huge bird drifted in the sky, its feathers dull in the half-light, the long tail floating behind it like a cloak.
Nix's softly spoken words had Zander scanning from left to right looking for "there". The bird glided closer, and Zander saw a campsite. With more rocks than sand on this part of the beach, the only area of hard-packed sand held a small tent and a fire pit. Nearby, behind a scattering of huge black rocks, stood a monster of a black motorcycle, golden flames licking their way over the fenders.
Pulling in beside the other motorcycle, Zander cut the engine and took off his helmet, his shoulder-length hair blowing in the wind. Nix hopped lithely off the bike and removed her helmet, securing it to the back of the bike instead of setting it on the seat as Zander did. He looked at her curiously. Her action inferred that she would not be returning with him. His jaw clenched. Maybe it was time for answers. For a year, he'd welcomed her to his bed whenever she appeared. He would do almost anything for her and not just because he bore her mark on the side of his throat. Emotions he'd never known he had were vested and bonded to her, although he was positive he was not in love with her.
Zander followed Nix to the fire pit where the flames rose a bit higher than they should have for an ordinary fire. They swelled when Nix came closer, and he realized they were responding to the presence of the Phoenix. A draft of cold air brushed his face, and he looked up, his eyes tracking the movements of the pale brown bird with the long tail as it circled the campsite.
"Why are we here, Nix?" he asked quietly.
Seating herself on a smooth boulder, she looked at him across the width of the fire pit. "Because it's time for you to know the truth and meet your destiny. Your path no longer lies with mine," she said simply.
Anger poured through him in a rush and heated his cheekbones. Silently, he cursed his pale skin and hair. "I hate it when you go all phoenix on me. What truth and what destiny?" He stomped closer to the fire pit, and the flames leapt higher. The bird circling above swooped lower.
"My mate is your father, the demi-god Ancelin."
Nix's words hit him like bullets, and he recoiled, taking several steps back from her. Cold air swirled around him and the brown bird dove toward the fire pit, the long tail brushing his cheek. As the bird entered the flames, a small explosion occurred, and the flames swelled higher, out of control for a split second. Then they calmed, burning with an eerie glow Zander had never seen before.
"So you're my step-mother." Zander's jaw clenched.
At first, he wasn't sure what to make of Nix's confession. He'd always known his father was an asshole. What decent man seduced a presumably innocent girl then abandoned her once she was pregnant with his child? It didn't matter that Zander's mother had used her more-than-considerable shape-shifting powers as well as her magic to deceive his father into thinking her innocent. To Zander's knowledge, his mother had never had a chance to show his father her true face. The man had simply appeared every night for a week, got his rocks off, and then bailed.
Nix grimaced. "I dislike that term. It implies I've treated you in a motherly fashion as befits the wife of your father. My position with regard to your father is tenuous at best. When I mated Ancelin, I thought he would be faithful to me and treat our bonding as sacred. I thought he respected and cared for me a little. I suppose I was naive, because I was wrong on all counts." She shrugged, her slender shoulders rising and falling gracefully. "It doesn't matter now. Ancelin's fate has been decreed. The Phoenix has spoken to him in his dreams. He lives on borrowed time."
Zander pondered her words. He had spent the past year since his mother's death searching for his father. Almost the entire time he'd been searching, the answers had lain in his arms. He'd been fucking Nix for a year, and she'd never told him the truth. Fury lashed him, but he tamped it down. After all these months, he knew a little something about Nix. She had reasons for her silence. Apparently, the time had come to find out those reasons.
"So my father mated you and then cheated on you. Now, he's dreamed of the Phoenix and knows his death is coming, is that correct?" he asked, drawing the words out slowly and thoughtfully.
"Yes, but there is more," Nix replied.
The cool tone of her voice told Zander she held her emotions on a very tight rein. She sat as if relaxed, but her pose didn't fool him. A maelstrom of emotions rode her hard. He walked around the fire pit and sat on a rock near her, looking into her turquoise eyes.
"Tell me," he whispered, his mind racing. So far, her revelations had been only a little shocking. Whatever else she told him couldn't be nearly so surprising.
A flicker of anguish registered on her face momentarily. If Zander hadn't been watching her closely, hadn't known her so well, he wouldn't have noticed that spasm of emotion at all. "Your mother was not the only girl Ancelin seduced after he mated me."
Nix hung her head in a shamed manner, almost as if her mate's acts of infidelity had somehow been her fault. Zander's eyes narrowed. Why the hell would she feel responsible for what that bastard had done? Had she rejected him, leaving him to seek pleasure with another?
Her head shot up, her eyes flashing fire. "Of course not!" she exclaimed. "In the beginning, I loved him. Until he betrayed me with your mother. Even then I forgave him and welcomed him to my bed. But he didn't want me. He spurned me yet again and left to seduce another. When his seed took root, he left her and took another lover. He stayed away until he had impregnated her as well. Only then did he return to me, bragging of the fertility of these women."
Nix's long, slender fingers stroked her flat abdomen. "The Phoenix sometimes cannot procreate. There is always another waiting in the wings should this be so. I have no children, therefore, my successor has been chosen," she murmured almost to herself.
The flames in the fire pit swelled once more, and Zander frowned at them wondering if Nix controlled them. He knew she had the ability. Every phoenix controlled fire. It was as if they were fire.
"So you're telling me I have siblings. Brothers? Sisters?"
"Brothers," she whispered, her eyes closing for a split second.
His mind tried to sort out her confessions. Three women, three sons. One prophecy. Leapfrogging from one set of ideas to another, a sickening truth occurred to him, and his eyes widened.
"Fuck me," he breathed. "Did my father kill my mother?"
Nix bit her lip, then she nodded. "The prophecy said that three hands reached for his throat. He took that to mean that each of the women who bore him sons would try to kill him. So he killed them first."
A fury greater than any he had ever experienced began to grow inside him. "You knew I'd been searching for my mother's killer, yet you kept this to yourself." The flat tone of his words conveyed absolutely no emotion. He knew it would tell Nix just how angry he really was. "Why would he kill the women? Why wouldn't he think it was his sons after him?"
With a sigh, Nix stood and paced around the fire pit. "Your father easily believes women will betray him. In your mother's case, she truly did, although not out of maliciousness. When he discovered the truth of who she was, her days were numbered despite the prophecy, Zander. Your father does not take betrayal well."
Irony rode her expression as she paused in her pacing. "He must always control everything and everyone around him. Betraying him in any way is a death sentence." She shook her head a little, her long ponytail swaying. "He has no trust in women so his first thought after the prophecy came to him was that I arranged for it because of his infidelity. His second thought was that I would use the three women who bore him sons as the instrument of his death."
"He doesn't have much imagination, does he?" Zander muttered sourly. The whole story left a bitter taste in his mouth. He knew what his mother had done in order to have him and had wondered if her deception had brought about her death.
A soft bark of laughter escaped Nix. The rusty sound told him that her amusement wasn't the pleasant kind.
"Once he killed the three women, the prophecy came to him again. It was then that he began to seek out his sons. Even if he knew the truth, you and your brothers would not be safe." She waved her hand toward him, and his skin burned with power where her mark lay. "The truth is that your father has four sons not three. One woman bore twins. You have three brothers, Zander. Already there is a connection between you in part because of Ancelin's blood and in part because you all bear the mark of the Phoenix. I am not sure if your brothers feel this connection, but I know that you do. You have dreamt of them."
Zander sucked in a breath. Over the past six months he'd had dreams of a merman and two werewolves. Men who also bore the mark of the Phoenix on their bodies, but in different places. The werewolves were marked on the opposite sides of their chests. The merman was marked on a bicep. His own mark was more personal, caressing the skin at the side of his throat. His gaze caught and held Nix's.
"You marked us."
She nodded. "The night your father had the Phoenix prophecy. The marks help protect you from him."
"He wants to kill us."
Again, she nodded. "I marked each of you more than a year ago. Your brother Danyl's mark did not physically appear until I met him and touched the spot where I knew the mark lay. Your brothers, Jayce and Ryder, had their marks appear when Ancelin tried to kill them."
Zander narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "Mine appeared the first time I made love to you. I thought you did it," he murmured.
Nix smiled. "I did. But not then." She sat on the rock beside him. "After Ancelin killed the three women who'd borne him sons, the prophecy again came to him as he slept. Once more, it told him of three hands reaching for his throat, that his death drew near. So he knew he had not stopped anything by killing those women. That is when he decided to kill his sons."
"Why are you telling me now? Why didn't you tell me when I met you for the first time?" Zander's head ached from the info dump. He'd fantasized of taking Nix from her abusive mate and keeping her for his own. Now, he knew it would never happen. Best a demi-god and take the man's mate? No way. Zander had a lot of gall, but tempered it with the wisdom to know when he faced a losing battle.
"It will never happen, not because you cannot best your father, but because I am not destined to be yours, Zander," Nix said with quiet emphasis. "Your mate is another."
Zander's breath hissed in sharply. Her tone conveyed a gravity that spoke to him of prophecy. Yet, the Phoenix had never come to his dreams.
She smiled at him, the corners of her bowed mouth curved upward with a spark of amusement. "I came to you in person, Zander, because a prophecy came to my dreams. The Phoenix is your destiny, your mate, but I am not."
He hadn't thought she could surprise him any more than she already had, but her words stunned him. Shaking his head as if to clear it, Zander deliberately caught her gaze with his and held it.
"How can that be, Nix? You are the Phoenix." He kept his voice pitched low, hoping it didn't give away the turmoil within him.
"But Zander, did I not say that the Phoenix has come to my dreams? It has foreseen my death. The one who takes my place is your mate."
The soft cadence of her voice washed over him, and he shuddered. The finality, the surety in her words rocked his world. Nix was going to die. The reality of it made his chest ache. His lungs burned with every breath he took. His father would bring about her death. Every cell in his body knew it, and his hatred for the man who gave him life flared anew.
"I cannot deny your reasoning, Zander. Ancelin does figure into my end." Her smile gentled as she shifted on the rock, leaning forward slightly as she spoke. "We are all part of a larger destiny, you know. Every life is entwined with another, affects others. Each act of destiny affects many. The universe is much more than the sea and shore before you. Beneath the waves lie things you have never seen, and beyond the stars lie things you cannot comprehend. Each thing is a piece of the puzzle that knits together the fabric of this universe and beyond. What your eyes see is a miniscule part. What your heart feels is a much larger, grander portion. What your soul knows is infinite."
Zander clamped down on the urge to tell her being cryptic and going phoenix on him wouldn't stop him from trying to prevent her death. Instead, he focused on the words that had the potential to fuck with his carefully balanced existence.
"Since you know who my mate is, why don't you clue me in?" He tried to keep his words from sounding edgy with the sense of betrayal that had crept into his emotions.
The fire glowed brighter, and the flames rose impossibly high. Zander suddenly wondered why the nondescript brown bird he'd seen earlier had done a kamikaze into the fire. Realization sparked inside him, and his eyes went from Nix to the strange glow in the fire. The outline of the bird appeared and morphed into the shape of a person. A man stepped from the flames.