Book 3: Soulfire
The door opened, and Nigel stepped into the room.
Natalie jumped and then tumbled back as Ella yanked her away from him.
“Get out of here, Nigel,” Ella commanded. “You’re dangerous.”
His shirt was caked with blood, and it was ripped to shreds. New pink scars peppered his body, and his eyes were dark with a raw determination she’d never seen before. There was no sign of the artist. He was pure warrior and pure action.
And he was focused on her. “Everyone but Natalie, out.”
“No.” Ella squared her shoulders and faced Nigel. “Leave us,” she said, but her voice was flat and calm. No force of suggestion. “You’re too dangerous.”
Recognition flashed in Nigel’s eyes, and he inclined his head. “I am,” he agreed. He met Natalie’s gaze again, and this time there was acknowledgement in his eyes. “This is your opportunity to walk away, Natalie. One chance, and if you don’t take it, I’m keeping you until this is over.”
His tone was brutal and unyielding, and it sent a shudder through her, a quiver of longing. He wouldn’t leave her. No matter what. He could keep her alive, and he would.
Of course he might snap and kill her, too.
What was a girl to do? Bad boys were one thing, but bad boys were something else entirely. She’d had enough men luring her to her death, thank you. She shook her head. “I can’t—”
His face hardened before she even finished her denial, and guilt coursed through her. He needed her. He’d snapped, and in the most horrible way. She knew him well enough to know that he would never, ever turn on her intentionally, so she knew it had been out of his control. She could see the haunting horror in his eyes, the anguish of knowing that he’d lost a battle of the worst kind. Her fingers folded with the urge to reach out and touch him, to reassure him that he wasn’t a monster, that whatever had happened wasn’t him, and she knew it. For him to snap like that, dear God, what kind of beast was he fighting within?
Nigel was burning with passion, with strength, with power. He was life, and he wasn’t going to lose, and he wasn’t going to die. Maybe he could teach her how to be the victor. Maybe he could show her how to defend her own life and believe in herself. Maybe—
Ella took her arm. “Don’t go down that road. Not with him. You know what men like him are like. There are other ways— “
“No!” Maggie scrambled to her feet, stumbling over the cushions. “I touched him while he was saving her. He has a good soul.” She grabbed Natalie’s other arm, her young face raw with a grown-up understanding that Natalie didn’t expect. It was the face of someone who had been through hell and was still living in its shadow. She tugged on Natalie. “He saved your life, Natalie.”
“He did?” Natalie suddenly recalled hearing his voice while she’d been catapulting down the crevasse. With the demons stalking her, the hell chasing her, she’d heard his voice calling to her. She could still feel his warmth plunging into her body, yanking her back from the free fall, ripping through the pain crushing her chest. He’d been there, and he’d brought her back. “Of course he did,” she said softly. “Of course he has a good soul.”
Nigel still hadn’t spoken, but his brow furrowed ever so slightly at her words, as if he couldn’t quite believe what she’d said. He made no effort to convince her to stay and help him. He was simply waiting for her answer. Allowing her to find her own path. His face was impassive and hard, as if he already knew she was going to abandon him. Abandon his friend he needed to save. Abandon the man who’d had no one to count on for one hundred and fifty years of hell.
God, she wanted to help him, but being around him brought out the very traits in herself she was trying so hard to suppress. What would happen if she spent more time around him? If she liked him more?
But she couldn’t battle the demons on her own. Nigel was dangerous, but so was she. Apart, they were both turning into monsters of hell. Together? Maybe they’d be the demise of each other, but maybe, just maybe, they had a chance.
She took a deep breath, not taking her eyes off the warrior who had (apparently) killed her once and had (definitely) saved her twice. He was her best chance to live, and also to die. But everything else gave her the chance only to die. “It’s okay, girls. You can go.”
Nigel let out his breath and nodded, his eyes lighting up. She smiled back at him, and suddenly teaming up with him didn’t seem so dangerous. It just felt right, deliciously, powerfully right. Nigel stepped aside to let Ella and Maggie leave, then he walked in and pulled the door shut behind him.
And suddenly, the room full of everything that tipped her off sensually seemed very, very small.
* * *
Nigel stepped inside Natalie’s private hideaway and shut the door. He leaned back against wood, and she heard the click as he locked them in. His shoulders were as wide as the door, and his black leather pants and black T-shirt were taut across his muscled body. The rose tattoo on his cheek was shadowed, and his eyes were hooded. He looked dangerous and delicious.
And he was blocking the only exit.
Heat began to unfurl inside Natalie’s belly as they stood there in silence, letting the weight of their presence hang heavy in the air. She shifted her position on the pillows. The velvet was soft and seductive against her bare feet, caressing the tender skin and making chills run down her spine.
Or were the chills from the way Nigel was looking at her? Um, yeah, locked inside this sensual room with the man she’d already had a little trouble resisting? Wasn’t this exactly the kind of deadly and explosive combination that people warned about? “So, um, are you okay now?”
“Apparently not.” He didn’t move from the door, but his gaze swept over her body. Possessive. Owning.
“I’m so sorry.” She searched his arms but didn’t see any blades on the verge of emerging. “Can I help?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he seemed to need to clarify her choice, as if he couldn’t quite believe it. “You stayed.”
She nodded, her heart softening for him. For this great warrior who was steeled for her to walk away. “Of course I stayed.”
He was watching her intently, as if trying to see inside her soul. “I told you, if you stayed, you were mine until it’s over.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know that. I’ll help. We’ll do it together.” She grinned at him. “I’m not afraid of you, Nigel, so you can stop worrying about it. I’m in. I’m staying. I’m not running away.”
He closed his eyes for a moment, as if drinking in the beauty of her words. Her heart began to thud, and it felt so good to see his reaction. He needed her. She could help him. He could help her. Neither of them had to take on their burdens alone. Not anymore.
“Thank you.” He opened his eyes and smiled. It was a warm expression, tender, but it was laced with a fierce fire, with male power, with the determination to dominate all obstacles.
Inside her, the womanly, sensual part that she’d tried so hard to suppress purred and stretched and beckoned to him.
“I called Christian,” Nigel said. “We’re meeting him in thirty minutes at the last known portal to the Den. We’re going in.”
“Into the Den? I’m going too?” At his nod, her heart began to pound, and this time she knew it wasn’t from the sexual awareness percolating through every cell in her body. Her heart was thudding because the thought of heading into the Den was a little daunting.
Yes, a part of her was sort of curious to see this hellhole that had damaged so many men, but she’d also heard an awful lot about the horrors there. Yes, true, she wasn’t a man, so that might buy her some wiggle room with the women in there, but she would be with a man, a target, and she would be aligned with him, going on the full offensive against Mari. And even if her double X chromosomes gave her some indemnity, the Den and its occupants were a rather formidable opponent, and if they didn’t succeed in disarming Mari, her entire future was going to be pretty grim.
A lot of pressure and a lot of unknowns! And the last time she looked, she wasn’t exactly an all-star when it came to battle situations. So, taking on the Den. Yeah, no problem. She could do this. Right?
Nigel smiled. “You’ll be fine. I’ll do the killing, maiming, and disarming, and all you need to do is hang around if I need you. Cool?”
She raised her brows. “Somehow, I doubt it’s going to work out quite like that.”
He grinned and inclined his head in acknowledgement. “Yeah, okay, more likely, you’re going to have to tie me down and seduce me until you can influence me so I’m under control.”
Her cheeks heated up and she swallowed hard at the visual Nigel had just put into her mind. “Um.”
“We need to leave here soon.” He pushed off the door and walked toward her. His body was tense, his face a mixture of turbulent heat and the cold, lethal focus of a warrior. The closer he got, the larger he seemed. Not just his bulk, but the sheer intensity of his presence. He was focused on a quest, and he would sweep her up into his mission ruthlessly.”We’ve got five minutes for you to tap into your power source and get me cleared up.”
He tugged her the rest of the way, and she fell into his chest.
She managed to get her hands free to catch herself, but his body was hard and hot beneath her hands. “We already tried. I can’t affect you. I’m not that kind of Mystic—”
“I don’t care what you think you are, or what you think you’re not.” He tucked her against him, her body flush against his. “But I know that two of my friends are trapped because I screwed up. Plus, I almost killed you.” His grip tightened, and regret flashed in his eyes. “I can’t afford to lose it again, and you’re my best chance to make it happen. Got it?”
“With sex? I’m not really comfortable—”
“I know you’re not.” He softened his grip and rubbed his hand over her hip, his touch seductive and alluring. He bent his head so his mouth was inches from hers. “Do you want to be able to save yourself against the deedubs? Do you want to own your life again?”
Her breath caught in her chest, and hope flared to life inside her. “Oh, yes.” That would be a gift, a true gift. What good would a gold star rating for her store do if the deedubs could destroy the store, and herself, whenever they wanted to?
His face softened with understanding. “Then you need to tap into your power source, sweetheart, and I’m going to help you. I need it, you need it, and the people counting on us need it.” He moved his hand around to her lower back, his palm searing hot through her shirt. “Do you trust me?”
“Of course.” She didn’t even hesitate. It didn’t matter that he’d snapped. It made no difference how lethal his expression was. This was Nigel. She would always trust him.
He smiled, the softness in his eyes relieving the tension in his muscles. “Then let me kiss you.”
Her heart began to race. “Um— “
“You need to tap into your power source, and that’s your sensuality.” He thumbed her lower lip. “Let me kiss you,” he said again. “I’ll keep you safe.”
Her blood was rushing so hard she could barely hear herself think. Her hands were trembling, and her belly was dancing with anticipation.
She nodded once.
Then he kissed her.