- The Darkest Seduction
Cool, but in no way comparable to hers. The front of her butterfly stretched along her chest, stomach and legs. The back of her butterfly stretched along her shoulders, thighs and calves. A total body tat that glimmered with the radiance of crushed pink diamonds.
Ashlyn’s honey-colored eyes found her over Maddox’s muscled shoulder. “He’s not trying to get rid of you—”
“Yes, I am,” Maddox said.
“—he’s just cranky,” the human finished.
Viola’s brow wrinkled as she attempted to figure out how the poor, addled pregnant woman could have come up with such a preposterous idea. Get rid of her? Please. Men, women and children, mortals and immortals, fought to keep her by their sides. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about me,” she said. Wasn’t that what humans said to one another to prove they weren’t offended by stupid ideas? “I’m sure he’s simply overwhelmed by my magnificence.”
Maddox was the one to scowl this time, tossing the dark expression at her before stopping in front of a closed door. But then Ashlyn giggled and his gaze shot to her face. His entire body softened, melting like an ice cube in the summer heat.
A pang throbbed in Viola’s chest. She thought back, but couldn’t remember anyone ever looking at her like that, as if she were the morning sun, the midnight moon, and every star perched in the endless sky. Even though she’d had thousands—no, bazillions!—of admirers.
“Where’s your dog?” Ashlyn asked.
“Princess Fluffikans is exploring these new surroundings without any hindrance from mommy.”
“That explains the screaming downstairs,” Maddox muttered.
Ashlyn kissed her husband on the lips, then reached out to twist the knob. The door creaked open, and Maddox carried her inside. Fresh, clean air wafted to Viola. Out of habit, she scouted every inch in a single sweep, searching out all the mirrors and reflective surfaces. To the left was a vanity, and she made a mental note to avoid it, even as her demon urged her to close the distance…to take a teeny-tiny peek…just one, just for a second, because she would look so very beautiful....
She gritted her teeth. Dewy flowers spilled from colorful vases balanced on every piece of furniture in the room except the bed. Flowers had been woven in the wrought-iron bedposts, though, twining and clinging like ivy.
A portrait hung in the center of the far wall. And sweet heavens. Viola approached the thing slowly. The attention to detail was stunning. She could only take in a little at a time, studying one small section, looking away, then turning back to study another, repeating the process again and again until she’d gone over every inch.
In it, Ashlyn lounged in a lush, jewel-toned garden, flower petals in her hair, draping her body and dripping all around her. But the petals were not actually petals; they were faces. So many faces. The warriors here, their women, faces Viola didn’t recognize and others she did—including her own. She quickly looked away from her own image, deciding to ponder its presence at a safer time.
One of Ashlyn’s arms was bare, her skin tattooed to her elbow. Flames and snowflakes twisted together, and while the flames should have melted the flakes and the flakes should have doused the flames, the two somehow fed off each other, growing in color and intensity the higher up her arm they moved.
There was a reflective pool in front of her, and Maddox peered at her from its murky depths. Ashlyn reached for him with that tattooed arm, a silver ring winding along her index finger, glowing majestically.
Viola’s nerve endings tingled. She’d seen paintings like this one before, but couldn’t recall where or when. What she did know: every color, every face, every inch meant something. For real. This was symbolism at its finest. Only she didn’t know how to decipher it.
“Who painted this?” she asked, her awe unmistakable. She straightened, turned away from the portrait before she lost hours of her life puzzling over the thing. Same as she lost hours every time she caught sight of her own image.
“Danika, Reyes’s woman,” Maddox muttered.
Danika. Hmm. Now that the painting was behind her, Viola allowed herself to question her inclusion in it. She’d met Danika for the first time this morning. The female appeared human, but after seeing this, she knew there had to be more to her. “It’s an exquisite piece.”
“Her work always is,” Ashlyn said proudly.
“She sees into the future?”
“We will not discuss that,” Maddox said.
So yes, she did. “She’ll want to paint one of me all by myself, of course. I’ll have to check my schedule and make sure I have the time to pose for her.” If not, I’ll make time. Must question her. Must learn more about myself.
Another giggle from Ashlyn. Another scowl from Maddox.
He’d placed his female on the bed and tucked the covers around her. Now he smoothed the hair from her brow, as gently as if he were caring for a fragile infant. “What do you need, sweetheart? Name it, and it’s yours.”
Dainty fingers rubbed at that swollen belly even as a soft smile played at her plump lips. “I would really, really love an orange. Just one this time, though. Last time this particular craving hit, you brought me the entire grove.”
“I will bring you the best, most succulent orange you have ever tasted.” He caressed her cheek for a moment, as if he couldn’t bear to look away from her. Then he forced himself to do so and shot Viola a threatening glare.
“You will guard her with your life. And if you hurt her, even accidentally…” His hands fisted at his sides.
“Can’t think of anything vile enough?” Viola thought for a moment. “May I suggest disembowelment? You can hang me from the ceiling with my own intestines. That would be really gruesome.”
He gaped at her.
“Word of warning, though. Intestines are pink and pink is my best color. Wait. Who am I kidding? All colors are my best color. So, if you go that route, be ready to fall in love with me all over again.”
His mouth snapped shut, a grimace contorting his lips. “That’s it. I’m staying. Viola, you go find the orange.”
“No way. Unless we go together and you carry me.” All that walking had caused her feet to throb.
He looked at the door, then Viola, then the door, then Viola again.
Oh, come on. “Your resident angel already told you that I’m pure of heart, can be trusted, blah, blah, blah.” That had surprised Viola, because she wasn’t sure she’d ever been pure of heart. The fact that the warriors believed the dark-haired girl without a moment’s hesitation had really surprised her. Supposedly, they were the most suspicious beings on earth. “Oh, and bring me an orange, too, but put it beside a hamburger and fries. I skipped lunch.”
After issuing a few more threats to her life, he finally stalked from the room.
“Overprotective momma grisly,” she muttered. “Geez.”
“Have you never been in love?” Ashlyn asked.
“Hello. I’m not a fool.”
“Is that a yes, then?”
“Um, yeah, that’s a no.”
A serene smile met her vehemence. “Why so much horror at the prospect?”
The ache in her chest returned. She rubbed and rubbed, nearly peeling off her shirt and the skin underneath, but the damn ache persisted. “I don’t know.” Time to change the subject. “I’m thinking about planning a singles’ night here at my new home—fingers crossed it’s forever—and letting the unattached warriors court me.” She strolled to the bed and eased onto the edge. “Maybe a speed-dating-type thing, since I usually can’t stand a man for more than a few minutes at a time. Afterward, I’ll give the ones I like a rose and the others will have to pack their bags and leave the fortress permanently.”
“Hmm. Well.” Ashlyn tapped a finger against her chin, the corners of her lips twitching as if she were fighting another laugh. “Believe it or not, there are only a few singles left.”
“Well, let’s see. There’s Torin.”
His image rose in Viola’s mind. White hair, black brows, brilliant green eyes. Gorgeous face and muscled body. “He’ll do. You may continue.”
“Well, not that he’s not wonderful, but I should warn you there’s a potential drawback to dating him. He’s the keeper of Disease, and he can’t touch another living creature skin-to-skin without causing a plague. You wouldn’t get sick from him because you’re immortal, but in turn you also wouldn’t be able to touch another living creature without passing on the illness. Besides him, that is.”
Viola rubbed her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “You’re right. I wouldn’t get sick if I touched him. I’m sure you noticed how killer my immune system is. But even still, I’m not sure I want someone so flawed worshipping at my temple. Who else is there?”
“There’s Kane, but he’s…” Sadness dulled Ashlyn’s amber eyes. “He doesn’t date. Says it’s not worth the hardship.”
“He’d change his mind for me, of course, but that’s not why you’re sad, right? I believe I heard something about him being missing.”
“Don’t worry. As soon as he finds out I’m here, he’ll find his way back. Even if he’s dead. I don’t like to brag, but that’s happened a few times before. I’ll just shoot out a quick little Screech, and boom. The race to reach me will begin.”
Rather than cheer the girl up, her reassurances tossed worry into that storm of sadness. “Uh, you’re not supposed to Screech,” Ashlyn said. “Remember?”
Viola’s shoulders slumped. That’s right. Within five minutes of arriving here, Lucien had dragged her to the luscious Torin’s bedroom and told the guy to check out her blog and website—evidently he was the resident computer guru. Afterward, both men had issued the same warning. Screech or post anything online about her location or her new BFFs and she would never be allowed back.