Self-proclaimed sorceress Kora only wants to succeed as a small business owner in Sedona. Her new age shop might not be in the red if a certain beautiful high priest hadn’t blackballed her. Desmond promises to scratch her back if she scratches his. Finally having her loudest detractor on her side is worth any task, no matter how distasteful.
A favor for dear old Mom—the goddess of magic—earns Kora a powerful undead enemy. Only the city’s vampire ruler can help her out of her latest bind. But Maximo’s demands hit a little too close to the heart.
It’s one step forward and one step back toward Mom’s plans for total coven infiltration. But Kora has time, and with her soul in the balance, she has no choice but to succeed.
Maximo tilted his head to the right as he sank the chair in a slow bounce. “City ruler’s significant others are generally considered untouchable.”
I drew a loud breath through my nose. Though he probably wasn’t fooling me, I didn’t like the suggestion. Not considering his recent history.
“You killed your significant other.”
“I killed my significant other to save you, Miss Walsh.” His precise pronunciation and stiff frame hinted he was irritated he’d had to speak the words.
I couldn’t refute the accusation. My face heated. I’d be dead or still enthralled if he hadn’t stopped Ascencion. Enthrallment was a fate worse than death. Was I wrong to be disgusted with him?
No, my disgust was because he’d immediately sought me out so soon after his lover’s death. His failure to observe a period of mourning was simply in poor taste.
A little truth might be in order. “And then you came to me the next night. That doesn’t give me warm fuzzies.”
“I will admit that probably didn’t look good from the outside looking in. But you must understand Ascencion and I had been over for decades.”
He stood, moving toward the window behind his desk. Maximo lifted the white Roman shades and gazed into the moonlit garden. His back remained to me as he spoke.
“I asked that woman to marry me ten times in our century and a half together.” He emphasized the number with slow enunciation. “Each elaborate gesture earned me a laugh in the face. She broke my heart more times than I can count. I cared too much to make her stop. When I finally hardened myself to her and her whims, I no longer cared enough to make her leave.” He shrugged. “She kept the house organized. What I didn’t realize was how deeply she’d dug her nails into my business. I’m not sorry she’s gone, Miss Walsh. There was nothing left to mourn.”
His long-winded speech reinforced the words they’d exchanged during Ascencion’s final minutes.
But there was still the little matter of my ring. “How do I know you’re not just trying to use me for the ring?”
He gave a soft laugh. “Like you’re using me?”
“You’re enabling this behavior.”
“I’m taking advantage of something you want, yes. But if you’ll recall, I’ve been after you since Ascencion dropped you in my living room last month. Long before the appearance of this.” He wiggled his pinky where I could see it.
“You were after me?” I couldn’t stop my loud scoff.
“I claimed you as part of my faction so you could stay.”
“That hardly seems like—”
“I asked you to the solstice ball so I could win your date.”
He had been in a bid war with Eamonn Cary for the date. There was one problem with that. “But you let Marino win it.”
Maximo gazed at me out of the corner of his eye rather like the woman in his painting. “Because Ascencion wouldn’t have allowed anything else without hurting you.”
His girlfriend had joined the bid war shortly after him. I recalled that much. And I recalled thinking she’d torture me if she won.
But he still had my ring.
What leverage would I have if I agreed to his terms for safety from Nadir Khan? And was I honestly thinking of dating a vampire? I didn’t know the first thing about dating! Trip had scared every potential beau off for as long as I could remember.
But Trip was avoiding me. Two weeks was an age for him. Had he finally given up his obsession? Or had the gods finally done something to keep him away from the Mortal Realm as part of his punishment?
Shaking myself, I focused my attention back on Maximo. “I need my ring back. I can’t agree to anything until that’s settled.”
He fully faced me, rubbing his fingers over the thin strip of hair coating his jawline. “Yet if I return it to you, you’ll have no incentive to remain with me.”
“I would as long as Nadir Khan was a threat.”
His indulgent smile returned. “The ring will be an anniversary gift.”
The only anniversary I’d ever observed was my birth. But I could handle his demand if it were for a short time. “A month?”
“Like all anniversaries it would be a year, Miss Walsh.”
My jaw dropped open. “You’re not serious! I’ve never had a boyfriend in my entire life! There’s no way I’ll last a year! I don’t know the first thing about how! I really need that ring! You can’t do this to me!”
Maximo was in front of me before I’d noted the movement. I gasped through quaking lungs. His hands slipped around my waist, drawing me against his fresh lavender and warm sand scented chest before I knew what hit me. And then he kissed me with an urging press of his cool lips against mine.
He dug a hand into my hair, holding me still. My temperature lifted as he deepened the kiss with a sweep of his tongue through my lips. The eerily cool temperature should have been disturbing, and yet it wasn’t. I hardly noticed it as the soft muscle swirled and teased along the inside of my mouth. It had been so long since a man had held me that I was nearly helpless to fight my desire.
This was the kind of embrace that preceded something far more intimate. Yet he eased away, holding my gaze with his deep-set dark eyes. Together our chests rose and fell far heavier than they ought to.
“I’ll teach you how.” He stared at my lips. “Rebecca.”
My given name spoken in his softest voice was an unexpected aphrodisiac. I pushed my nails into my palms—the only way to avoid grabbing onto his cheeks for another go. The man could kiss.