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by Marie Treanor
Description: Ever since a jealous wife cursed her, Christi Blythe has lived seven hundreds years of a half life, trapped by day in the black queen of a chess set. She lives only between the hours of dusk and dawn, waiting for the one true love who is willing to sacrifice a vital game of chess to break the curse.
Now, years after she has given up hope, her remote Highland hotel is hosting a chess match between two high-profile Grand Masters of the game. One of them is the brilliant but erratic Russian, Andrei Zuvaran.
Andrei suspects there is something different about the luscious barmaid and her chess set. One hot night with her--and one shocking dawn--confirms it. But he can't afford to lose this match. Not even to free her.
He's got more riding on it than money, more than his heart. His next move could cost a life.
_This book has been previously published and has been revised from its original release._
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2009
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [158 KB]
Reading time: 91-127 min.
"You have a free spirit." He smiled, causing her to look away.
"I wish that were true. What made you chose this place for your return match with Garrick?"
"Ah." He began to walk on again, Christi with him. "Lots of reasons. I like your Highlands. I like peace. And I liked the good old days when I could play chess in pubs and cafes. And another reason which I might tell you later."
"Not really. I drove up here last year after the first match with Garrick, and I was intrigued. So I chose to come back."
"Shouldn't you be playing in Russia this time?"
"But I am no longer intrigued by Russia."
She shook her head at him, smiling, and watched his own returning smile die on his lips.
"You intrigue me."
There were a lot of smart answers to remarks like those. Over the long years she'd used most of them to good effect, to lighten a mood, to defend her honor, or to further entice. Yet when he said it, she could think of no reply. Eventually, when the silence screamed too loud, she muttered, "I can't think why," and walked faster.
His stride lengthened accordingly. He said, "I wonder what you are doing here, so bright and beautiful in this sleepy place where nothing ever happens. I thought it must have been your home."
"You think I would fit in better among the bright lights and shallow socialites of a big city?" she mocked. She couldn't think why she was so angry.
Zuvarin looked surprised. "No, I thought you would have a more--challenging--job."
She laughed. It wasn't entirely steady. "Believe me, working in that bar on a Saturday night is challenging enough for anybody."
"But what else do you do? What else have you done? I want to know your life story."
Again the laughter bubbled up, with a dangerous hint of hysteria. "You don't have the time. And neither do I. I have to go in now..."
She spun around as she spoke, suddenly desperate to avoid this unwanted temptation. She meant to hurry back to the hotel, with or without him, but again he took her by surprise, catching her arm and swinging her round to him. Her foot caught on the frost-hardened grass, and his grip changed to steady her, so that she stood in his arms, close enough to feel his body's heat surging through the cold. And her own answered so vividly that she felt deliciously weak.
His head bent down toward her, his lips whispered against her ear, "Why are you are running away? You are not--frightened of me?"
But she was. She was terribly frightened of him, though it was not a fear she was about to explain to him.
"Of course not," she managed, while, with eyes closed, she tried to deal with the devastating effects of his breath, his lips, at her ear. Beneath all her warm clothing, her nipples felt hard as little pebbles. The spreading heat in her stomach, between her legs, made it ridiculously difficult not to press herself into him, to control the spurt of triumph as she became aware of his own arousal just touching her body. His arms felt so strong, warm and exciting that she couldn't prevent her smile into his leather coat.
As if he felt it, he moved, setting one cold, gentle finger under her chin to lift her face to his. It was inevitable now. There was no point in trying to fight it. In fact, she welcomed it with fierce joy, her lips already parting for the first taste of his mouth. It came gradually, as if he was afraid to spoil the moment or, perhaps, giving her time to avoid it if she wished.
Reaching, she accepted his mouth. She liked the feel of his warm, dry lips, his gentle, sensitive exploration of hers. One of her hands had pushed its way up, without her knowing, and now she touched his cold, rough cheek, a blind, instinctive caress. At that, she felt his lips stretch into a smile. His mouth began to move more urgently, widening, deepening the kiss until she gasped, allowing, returning, the wild caressing of his tongue.
His hands slid down her hips, holding her against his rock hard crotch, which began to move on her so very slightly, slowly, subtly, in lazy simulation of sex, the gentle, gyrating rhythm driving her swiftly toward insanity. It had been a long, long time--oh God, had she ever wanted a man so much as this one?
Finally, he broke the amazing kiss, one hand leaving her hips to feel for her breast. She took it there for him, thrusting it under her sweater, under both sweaters, holding it to her while she reached again for his mouth, moaning into it at the touch of his stroking, caressing fingers on her skin, his palm on her tight, wanton nipple.
"Oh, Christ, I want you..." he ground out, little more than a whisper against her lips.
"And I..." Then, quite abruptly, the moment froze, as cold realization flooded in. She was doing it again. "Oh, God!" Gasping, she tore her mouth free, struggling in his arms. "Stop! Let go, I have to ... Please ... Please, I'm sorry...!"
His arms had loosened immediately, and yet it was with something like a sob that she wrenched herself out of them and ran blindly back toward the hotel.
The big, baronial building, with all its turrets and Victorian follies, was mostly black against the starlit sky so that the brightness of the lounge window shone like a beacon. Archie's party was still going. Christi tried to focus on that, to be pleased for Archie's takings. She wondered if she should go back and help after all, stop herself thinking, feeling...
Abruptly, she became aware of footsteps behind her, hurrying. Presumably Zuvarin--or ... Already panting with the exertion of her run, she found her breath quickening further as she noticed two men on either side of the hotel steps. She couldn't recognize them in the dark. Their burly shapes were unfamiliar and, even in Lock Foy--hardly a crime-capital of the world--suddenly ominous.
She slowed. After all, she had nothing to fear from Zuvarin except her own traitorous body--or was it Zuvarin?
The footsteps behind had slowed too.
Muggings did not happen in Loch Foy. They weren't viable when everyone knew everyone else, and their parents and grandparents, too, for the most part. She'd never even considered her personal safety before in this place. But now, when the hotel was full of strangers, was it really so unlikely?
The men at the steps moved toward her. One threw a cigarette butt on the ground as he walked. Definitely, they were strangers, and their every deliberate movement was somehow aggressive, threatening.
Nerves shrieking now as the footsteps kept following behind, Christi balled her hands into fists to be as prepared as possible. She was sure that later she would laugh at her over-reaction.
The men came to a halt right in front of her, blocking her path. Heart thundering, she muttered, "Excuse me," and tried to swerve round them, to confuse them by her suddenness. Only then, from behind, a hand closed over her shoulder. Instinct jerked her elbow back to jab, only the hand had already slipped down to hold it still, even as she realized, stupidly, that the eyes of her two forward assailants were not looking at her, but at whoever stood behind.
"Dobri vyechir, Zuvarin," one of them said, with obviously sarcastic bonhomie.
Good evening, Zuvarin. Somewhere over the years she had picked up enough Russian to know that. And Zuvarin, still holding her elbow came to stand beside her.
"It was," he said in English. "Good night."
And with ungentle determination, his arm now protectively about her shoulders, he pushed between the two and walked her up the steps.
"What's going on?" she hissed. "Who are these idiots?"
"Unpleasant men, but they won't hurt you."
Her eyes widening, she stared up at him as he held open the door for her to pass through. Though he spoke calmly enough, there was a new tension about him that bothered her.
"And you?" she demanded.
His smile was lopsided, but reassuringly genuine. "Not while I'm winning. Christi..."