Fog churned over the ocean, the wind blowing the roiling mass over the highway, turning the silvery night a dark, angry gray. Wisps curled around the truck as Gedeon ‘Player’ Lazaroff maneuvered one of the severely tight curves on Highway 1 along the northern California coast. He was familiar with the highway, but most of the time he rode his Harley and had his brothers riding with him. In some ways he was thankful they weren’t with him, but he would have welcomed the comfort of their company.
The dark gray mist thickened so it seemed an impenetrable wall and he slowed down, although he was so close to home his inclination was to step on the gas to get to there faster. He was nearly desperate to make it back to the Torpedo Ink clubhouse and the solace of the room he used there. He owned a house and normally would have gone there, but at this point, he didn’t have the time. The clubhouse was much closer and the longer he was out in public, even in the seclusion of the truck, the more dangerous it was. He knew that and he had vowed never to take chances with anyone’s life again.
The cell played Master’s short tune announcing a call and Player hesitated, swearing under his breath. Sweat beaded on his forehead and trickled down his face. He wiped at it with his palm before hitting the Bluetooth. Cellphone service was spotty at best on Highway 1 and he hoped it wouldn’t work. Naturally, he wasn’t that lucky.
“Yeah?” He was abrupt. Off putting. Hoping Master would get the hint.
“You okay? Where are you?”
“About four miles from home.” Deliberately he hadn’t distinguished between the clubhouse and his residence.
There was a small silence. Four miles from home meant Player had been pushing hard. Far too hard. Risking trouble. Already, they’d broken the rules by separating. Torpedo Ink members stayed close. When running a mission, they paired up, eyes on one another at all times. They’d gotten into unforeseen trouble and Player needed to get home fast. Master wasn’t able to drive as fast. He carried an unexpected passenger with him and Player couldn’t risk being in close proximity with her, not in his present state of mind, although he’d only told Master, he was feeling very sick and needed to get home.
Master had to drive the passenger’s vehicle home anyway so it had all worked out for the best. They’d reported to Czar and let him know Player was coming in early without Master and Master was bringing in ‘baggage’.
“Tell me,” Master insisted.
“Fog rolled in.”
“Pull over. I’ll send someone to you.”
“I’m close. I can make it. Just one of my damn headaches.” Player poured confidence into his voice, ignoring the way the road seemed to be coming alive with the fog wrapping it in loops and whorls like smoke from a pipe. “Less than four miles now.” He shook his head trying to clear it. All that did was rattle his already hurting brain. He clenched his teeth against the pain.
“You sure? Go to the clubhouse, it’s closer”
“Yeah. Good idea. I can make it.” He could. There was no one with him. He was good. Just make it into the yard. Park the truck. Get to his room and lie down. His head was pounding. It felt like his brain was coming apart. He had made it home a day early, so that was a good thing. “I can make it no problem,” he reiterated, trying to pour confidence into his voice.
Blue and red cut through the gray veil of fog in the rear-view mirror, and he cursed silently as he looked down at the speedometer. Shit. Speeding. He could have sworn he’d slowed down. Hadn’t he? He couldn’t remember now. He was sweating bullets.
“Gotta go, Master, you’re breaking up anyway.” He needed to concentrate. He dropped the connection before Master could protest.
They had run what was supposed to be an easy assignment, trailing a couple of ‘Ghosts’ Code, their computer genius, had uncovered. Find out where the two were going, which motorcycle clubs they were targeting next. Easy, right? Torpedo Ink wanted to know who they were.
The ‘Ghosts’ turned out to be businessmen who had been preying on weaker members of the various outlaw motorcycle clubs, specifically those members who gambled, getting them in deep and then making certain that they gave up information on the clubs running drugs, guns or trafficking in return for getting out of debt. The Ghosts wanted cuts into those particular businesses.
When the clubs reacted negatively, they had the presidents’ old lady kidnapped, raped and tortured until the club complied or she was returned dead and another woman was taken. The Ghosts had a particularly vicious group of hitmen doing their dirty work for them.
Player’s club, Torpedo Ink, had rescued two women belonging to separate MC clubs from the hitmen the Ghosts kept on retainer. In both cases, Torpedo Ink had been hired secretly so no one associated them with the rescues. The larger clubs didn’t want it known that they had gone outside their club looking for help. Torpedo Ink didn’t want it known that they had helped. They were a small club and they wanted to stay under the radar, both from law enforcement, other clubs and definitely the Ghosts.
The Ghosts kept themselves out of the line of fire, hiring hitmen to do their dirty work and infiltrate the clubs for them. That’s why they called themselves Ghosts. They believed no one could ever trace them. They didn’t know about men like Code who were that good with computers and could track just about anyone.
Player took his foot off the gas and eased the truck to the side of the road, watching the sheriff pull in behind him. He was two lousy miles from the Caspar turn off and the clubhouse. Two miles. In his present state it was dangerous to have any interaction with any other human being. That had been the reason he’d separated himself from Master. Being safe. Making certain everyone was safe. Now this, all because he wasn’t paying attention. He knew better.
He hit the back of his head against the seat twice in recrimination and fished his license out of his wallet. Transporter and Mechanic, fellow members of the Torpedo Ink club, always kept the vehicles in the best of shape, the paperwork up to date and in the glove compartments. He had no doubt everything was in order, but he was so tired he wasn’t certain if the truck was clean of any weapons. He just couldn’t remember if he’d given everything to Master or if he’d kept guns with him.
He was exhausted, seventy-two hours without sleep and he’d used his psychic gift for far too long, something he knew better than to do. It not only drained him and took a huge toll physically and mentally on him, but if he used it for too long, it began to spill over into his reality. That was the main reason he had pushed so hard to make it back to his home. He needed to be where he was surrounded by familiar things and he could replenish his strength and allow his fractured brain time to recover.
He’d always kept that side effect from his fellow Torpedo Ink members. They thought he would get a migraine and Alice in Wonderland characters would appear. It would be funny and they would all get a laugh. They had no idea how truly serious and fucked up that reality could get, or how it could really morph into something far, far more dangerous.
He buzzed down his window and shut off the truck as the deputy walked up to his vehicle. He recognized him right away. Jackson Deveau was a good cop, but one difficult, if not impossible, to misdirect. Just his luck. Player’s head was pounding so bad his stomach began to twist into knots. He glanced around the truck hoping like hell everything was in place and there were no weapons in sight. He had a carry permit, but it was best to not make any waves—especially with Jackson.
“Player,” Jackson greeted as he took the license, his dark eyes moving over Player’s face, seeing too much like he always did. “You all right?”
It was never good to try to deceive Jackson if you didn’t have to. The members of Torpedo Ink suspected he was a human lie detector. He just seemed too good at figuring everything out.
“Feel like shit. Was trying to get home and didn’t realize I was speeding until I saw your lights. Sorry man.” He resisted rubbing his pounding temples. “Do you need the registration and insurance? The truck is registered to Torpedo Ink and the insurance is up to date. Czar’s going to kick my ass for this.”
Jackson handed him back his license. “I have to see the papers, Player.”
Player reached over and opened the glove compartment, noting that Jackson’s gaze followed the movement, one hand out of sight, probably near his weapon. Jackson didn’t take chances, not even with the people he knew and actually liked. It was always difficult to tell with Jackson whether or not Torpedo Ink was included with those he liked. The cop’s expression gave very little away.
Player handed over the registration and insurance and gave into rubbing his temples. He didn’t want to look too long at Jackson or the fog that was drifting in off the ocean. He’d been creating illusions longer than he should have been and now those edges were blurring with reality. More than once, when he was tired, his mind played tricks on him and he couldn’t separate reality from the worlds he created. People had gotten hurt. Several had died. He didn’t take chances. He worked on that all the time, and he knew when he needed to shut it down which was more than twenty-four hours ago.
“Thought you always ran with a partner.” Jackson said it casually as he carefully inspected the paperwork.
Player cursed silently. His heart was beating too fast. Behind the sheriff, a large caterpillar floated in the air, smoking a giant blue-green hookah. Big rings of smoke curled around the truck. Around Jackson. Player began to count in his head. Numbers. Repeating them over and over. The caterpillar began to puff in time to his counting, the smoke coming out in the shapes of his numbers at first and then those rings began to morph into letters of the alphabet.
“Master picked up a passenger in New Mexico. I got sick and couldn’t wait for them so I hit it for home.”
Little beads of sweat trickled down his face. There was no stopping it. The smoke letters tilted first one way and then the other, rocking as if in tune to music. He realized he was tapping a beat on the steering wheel as he often did, in keeping with counting in his head.
“Really sorry about speeding, Jackson, must have started inchin’ up on the gas when I got closer to the turn off without realizing it.”
The letters drifted by Jackson’s head. Spelling words. Death to the guards. Off with his head. Player closed his eyes, but the vision stayed in his mind, refusing to leave, the fog becoming smoke swirling around the truck and closing off the road so even when he opened his eyes, it was difficult to see anything but the smoking caterpillar, Jackson, the wall of gray and those taunting letters that grew in length and width, filling the sky above the sheriff as if condemning him.
Player forced air through his lungs as the smoke from the hookah began to swirl in time to his tapping fingers, the fog rings dropping like nooses around sheriff’s neck. Abruptly, he forced his hands away from the steering wheel. He used music to soothe his brain but it was all part of the fracturing now. He had to get out of there before he hurt Jackson.
“I don’t think a few miles over the speed limit is worth Czar kicking the crap out of you. I think we can let it slide this time.” Jackson handed back the registration and insurance, watching with his cool, dark eyes as Player put the papers back in the glove compartment. “Make it home safe.”
“Will do. Thanks for the break. Nasty weather tonight. You be safe as well.”
Player didn’t wait for Jackson to get back to his SUV, nor did he look to see if the caterpillar had disappeared. He was too far gone to make it to his own home. The clubhouse was closest and he could hit his old room there and bed down for the night. The fog was thick on the road, but he knew exactly where he was. He started the truck and eased it back onto the highway, concentrating on getting back up to speed, wanting to make those two miles as quickly as he could without further mishap. He just had to get to the clubhouse and into his room without any further contact with anyone.
The fog kept curling into shapes, hearts and diamonds, spades and clovers. They floated against the backdrop of the gray wall. The road wrinkled and moved, but he drove doggedly on, knowing the way, forcing his mind to work in spite of the images that had been familiar to him since his childhood.
He turned off the highway and drove toward the ocean, where the fog rose up like a large fountain off the churning waves, spouting into cyclones that danced toward the bluffs. Player tore his gaze from the waves and drove straight to the clubhouse, counting over and over to one hundred in his mind to keep his brain occupied so it wouldn’t build stories or shape those cyclones into anything monstrous in the foggy weather.
He drove through the open gates into the parking lot and to his dismay, the lot was filled with Harleys, trucks and a few random cars. His heart sank. Music blasted out of the clubhouse. Two fires roared in the pits on the side overlooking the ocean where men and women danced and partied in the fog. He could make out their eerie shapes gyrating even as their laughter was muffled by the heavy mist.
A fucking party. He was a day early and the club was having a party. He’d forgotten it was on the schedule to meet with another club whose members had come, like them, from one of the four Sorbacov training schools in Russia. The club, calling themselves, Rampage, wanted to join Torpedo Ink.
Player didn’t dare be around anyone in his present state. He was too worn, his brain fractured, the migraine too severe. He needed time to heal. To rest. A party with lots of people attending was the last place he needed to be. He forced his brain to keep counting, refusing to look at the grayish figures looking like silhouettes in the fog.
He pulled the keys out of the ignition and sat there for a moment, trying to clear his mind, eyes closed tight, breathing deep, counting in his head in the hopes that just by being in a familiar place, surrounded by his brothers, he would be okay. He opened his eyes slowly, reluctantly.
At once he saw the ocean, waves crashing against the bluffs—white foam rising in the air. The beat in his head became lobsters clacking claws together as they danced in the spinning cyclones rushing toward the bluffs where the eerie shapes in the fog danced with that same beat. The lobsters called to the sea creatures to rise up, as they did, their forms growing in those whirling columns of mist as the beat accelerated, the drumming going faster and faster to match the crazy gyrating twisters dancing over the wild waves.
The dancers around the fire pit moved with the beat just as out of control, turning toward the turbulent sea and the wall of fog and strange unnerving cyclones heading for the bluffs. One dancer stumbled backwards, nearly falling into the firepit. Several men grabbed for her, pulling her to safety, as she screamed and laughed hysterically.
Player saw three men turn to look toward the truck. One sprinted toward him. He let out his breath and closed his eyes. He just had to get into the clubhouse and away from everyone. Maestro, one of his brothers, took the keys from him, and wrapped his arm around him. “You should have called ahead. Recognized your Alice in Wonderland calling card.” There was a hint of laughter in his voice. “How bad is it?”
“My fucking head is about to explode.” Player dared to open his eyes, trying to squint, seeing Maestro through the shimmering fog with the strange backdrop of lobsters riding spinning waterspouts in the ocean over his shoulder.
Maestro was a big man with wide shoulders, vivid gray eyes that could look like liquid silver when he became intense. His hair was dark, streaked with silver and like Player, he wore it longer. He appeared to be very gentle, and soft spoken but that hid a very dominant personality. Right now, he urged Player out of the truck into the curling fog where his free hand held the truck keys—but the keys were already morphing into a pocket watch. For a moment, a White Rabbit appeared behind Maestro, looking over his shoulder at the watch and shaking his head, those long ears flopping as he did so. His nose wrinkled, and worry gathered in his eyes. Then the rabbit began to morph into someone else altogether and Player’s breath hitched. He hastily concentrated on the watch.
The watch was intricate. Made of gold. He would never forget that particular watch. He fixated on it. He remembered every detail of it. The way it worked so precisely. The elaborate transparent design. The two covers. The golden chain and swivel fob. As he looked at it lying in Maestro’s hand it grew in size so he could see the images imprinted in the cover. He could hear the seventeen ruby jewels working to ensure perfect precision. He had to stop. He couldn’t look at that watch or think about it.
“My head hurts like a mother, Maestro, I’ve got to close my eyes. Get me inside, will you?” He tried to keep his voice as even as possible, tried to convey that he was really shaky from a migraine, not that his brain was fractured and that any minute he could royally fuck everyone up.
“Sure, Player.” Maestro said. “Keep your head down. I’ll get you inside. The place is packed,” he warned. “A lot of noise.”
Player squeezed his eyes closed tight. He couldn’t afford to make the pocket watch part of any of this scenario. He was already skating too close to being out of control. “Can’t look at anyone,” he admitted—and it was a hard admission. He didn’t like any of his brothers to know how truly fucked up he was. “Get me to a bathroom. Need a shower to clear my head. I’ll go to bed and be fine. Throat’s sore. Need water and some Tylenol.”
“I’ll get you there and bring some water and Tylenol to the bathroom. Let’s go.”
Player stayed right in step with him, his eyes on the ground. The cement he’d helped pour moved, narrowing, rippling under their feet. Once he took his gaze from the sidewalk but then he saw the monstrous pocket watch and heard the ticking in time to the lobsters’ clacking and he preferred the strange dipping and wheeling pathway. He just kept pace with Maestro, trusting his brother, not the images in his head.
The common room was overflowing with partiers. Player tried not to look at them as he and Maestro waded through the half-drunk dancers as they gyrated around one another and the bodies pressing close. He did his best not to inhale as they hurried across the room toward the door that led to the back rooms. He couldn’t take in the scent of sex. Several girls were going down on men and two were already on their hands and knees calling out for more. He jerked his gaze from the sight, counting over and over in his head. Drinks were on tables, filled to the brim and they rose in the air and tipped liquid onto the floor and the backs of men and women as Player and Maestro rushed toward the back.
“Shit brother,” Maestro hissed, as laughter erupted all around them. “Alice in Wonderland strikes again.”
Player’s stomach lurched. He had deliberately cultivated his fellow club members to see the humor in the crazy things that happened when his ‘migraines’ occurred after he went too far using his psychic talent. He couldn’t fault them when they laughed or made light of it. They had no idea how dangerous he was or how much he truly despised the mere mention of that story and every damn memory it dredged up. None of it good.
As they made their way through those dancing or fucking, he knew it impossible to tell if the drinks were knocked off as dancers pressed too close to the tables allowing the newcomers to wind their way through. Maestro pulled open the door to the back rooms.
The moment Maestro opened the door, Player could hear women moaning. A few of his brothers were using the rooms and doors had been left open, something not all that uncommon during a party. The smell of sex was heavy in the confined space of the hall. As they passed an open door, a woman’s voice called out, begging for the queen’s maids to join them for sex. Her partner answered her, “What the hell are you going on about? What queen? What maids?”
Maestro kicked the door closed as they hurried past. “We never should have shown you that old Alice in Wonderland porn, Player,” he said, laughter in his voice. “You gotta stop thinking about that movie.”
Player could have told him it had nothing what-so-ever to do with thinking and everything to do with smells, association, and with his fucked-up fragmented brain playing tricks. Every open door they passed, Maestro slammed closed with his boot until they were all but sprinting down the rippling floor to the bathroom at the very end of the hallway.
This particular bathroom was considered off limits during parties to outsiders, and the brothers kept to the rule. Lana and Alena, their sisters, both fully patched members of Torpedo Ink, used that room exclusively, although now they shared it with some of the other members wives. Maestro yanked open the door and practically shoved Player inside.
“I’ll be right back with a bottle of water and Tylenol,” Maestro promised and closed the door, leaving Player alone.
The scent of fresh lavender immediately washed the smell of sex away, giving Player a bit of a reprieve. He let himself take a deep breath, inhaling the lavender, taking the scent into his lungs, hoping to chase some of his terrible tension away. Perched on the sink and continuously breathing deeply, he texted Master to tell him he made it home safely while he waited for Maestro to return.
Maestro was fast, handing him the water and pills. He also brought him a clean pair of jeans and shirt. “You need me to wait and get you back to your room?”
“Naw, I’m good now. I can make it, no problem. I’ll lock up for the night and just sleep it off. You know I’m good once I’m down,” Player assured, pouring confidence into his voice. He detested that he’d taken Maestro from the party. Worse, it was dangerous for Maestro to spend too much time with him.
“If you’re certain.” Maestro dangled the keys to the truck from his fingers.
At once, Players, gaze caught and held there, unable to stop, no matter how much he willed his mind to pull away. The keys morphed into the dreaded gold pocket watch, the case swiveling back and forth nearly mesmerizing Player. The timepiece began to grow in front of his eyes again. He counted faster, forcing himself to turn his entire body away.
Player tossed back the Tylenol and chased it with water. “Absolutely. The shower will help and then I’m sleeping as long as possible.” By some miracle he kept from yelling at Maestro to get the fuck out. He kept his voice even and calm.
He didn’t look at Maestro, still counting in his head, hoping his brother would take the hint and get out of there fast. He didn’t trust himself. No one was safe. No one, not even those he loved. Not when he was this bad. He was fortunate in that he had deceived his brothers for so long into thinking he got vicious migraines and nothing was really wrong with him. No one really ever questioned him and Maestro wanted to get back to the party.
The moment the door was closed, Player stripped and stepped under the hot water to wash off the road and to try to let the clean scent the women kept in the bathroom clear his fragmented mind. His head was pounding, the roaring so terrible he could barely stand it. Truthfully, he only experienced pain this bad once before. That was the time he’d lost total control and his entire world had come apart when he realized what could happen. He was scared for everyone there in the clubhouse and if necessary, he was going to bunk right there on the bathroom floor.
He took his time letting the hot water pour over him until he began to hallucinate that the shower floor was beginning to fill up like a pool. He had to blink rapidly, call the numbers aloud to himself as he dried off and dressed. There was no staying in the bathroom. He had to get to his private room, put in earplugs, turn off the lights and go to sleep. The more he slept, the faster his brain healed.
He took several deep breaths of the lavender, deliberately dragging the scent into his lungs, flung the door open and planted his gaze on the door to his room. It seemed a very long distance away. He sprinted. He was normally fast. Very fast. He had long legs and he could cover the distance with ease, but the floor undulated like a massive snake, threatening to throw him off balance.
Music played in his head. Will you, won’t you. Will you? Won’t You? He tried to shut it off. Lobsters clacked their claws while snails shook heads and tortoises asked them to dance. He leapt over the wood rising like waves, the creatures looking at him with wide, knowing eyes. He kept his desperate gaze glued to his door. It appeared to be moving as well, growing smaller and smaller as if he had been dropped into an alternate world. He shook his head hard, drops of sweat hitting the floor. He began to count aloud, uncaring if anyone in any of the rooms heard him. It was the only way he wasn’t going to suck them into his reality.
Doggedly, sweat dripping off him, ignoring the seriously pitching floor, and the diminishing door, he kept running. He knew this universe, the one that sucked him in and became a nightmare version of reality. Everything in it was too dangerous for words. His fractured mind changed the world around him into a dark, sinister place where torture, murder and vicious cruelty lurked around every corner.
He refused to acknowledge the whispers growing loud enough to interfere with his counting. He lost track for a moment but immediately started over again. Then, thankfully, his hand was on the doorknob and he shoved the heavy oak door to his room open, all but fell inside, slammed the door closed and leaned against it, breathing hard.
The music changed from lobsters clacking their pinchers together and singing about turtles joining them in a dance to a distinctly middle eastern beat. The tinkle of little bells caught at his mind, pulling him out of his head. Lighting in his room was dim. Candles were scattered around flickering gently. A mixture of essential oils gave off the fragrance of pink plumeria, Egyptian musk and ginger, bathing his senses in the exotic flavors. Instantly his mind filled in all the details of a stormy middle eastern night, so far from the nightmare images of his childhood and the night they’d accidentally consumed mushrooms.
Player flattened his palms against the door and stared in shock at the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen in his life dancing just a few feet away, staring back at him with enormous, startling chocolate eyes, framed with dark lashes. Her hair was dark, and extremely thick, still moving with her body to the music, falling passed her shoulders in luscious waves. This definitely wasn’t part of the familiar nightmare world his fucked-up brain conjured when it was fractured and he needed to be alone and just let it heal.
Soft washed out blue jeans rode low on generous hips and a rose-colored tee was knotted under equally generous breasts. Her abdominal muscles had been undulating to the music as her hips performed intricate movements and her curvy buttocks and very high rounded tits shook to the music. Coins and bells hung from a wide golden belt wrapped around her hips and bells swung from an ankle bracelet with every movement she made. She came to an abrupt halt when his shocked gaze hit hers.
“What are you doing in here?” Player managed to find his voice. It came out rougher and far gravellier than he intended, maybe even a snarl. He had a lower register, one that tended to intimidate easily.
He was a big man with wide shoulders, a thick chest, muscular arms, and narrow hips. His hair was brown with streaks of blond. It fell a few inches beyond his shoulders, a thick wild mass that made the vivid blue of his eyes only more piercing and direct. He kept a short, trimmed dark beard and moustache that also added to the effect his eyes had on others. He was very aware she might find him extremely intimidating, especially alone in the room with him, but he couldn’t move away from the door no matter how much he told himself to step away.
“I’m so sorry.”
Her voice was musical. Soft and gentle. Like a cooling breeze sweeping through the room…or his mind. She looked genuinely distressed, her amazing eyes, expressive, the long lashes sweeping down as color flooded her face.
“One of the Torpedo Ink members told me to come into this room. That I should dance in here.” Her explanation came out fast, the words tumbling over one another and yet at the same time, her tone was lyrical, as if she blended the notes with the universe, unlocking some secret formula that set everything right.
Player could see letters floating in the air, but they were moving away from him. Away from her. The eastern themed music didn’t fit at all with the down-the-rabbit-hole nightmare world his mind created when he was so far gone like this. He pressed his palms harder into the door, standing firmly in front of it, more to keep her in now then to keep everyone else out. He recognized that in some way, she was soothing to his fragmented brain and that was a puzzle he needed to solve. Now, he just wanted her to stay and talk.
Her body had been moving when he’d entered and the rhythm of her bare feet, ball to heel, hip dipping low, swaying gently, hands flowing so gracefully all kept time with the earth itself. She seemed to flow gracefully, in harmony with the music, with the earth.
He was a woodworker. A musician. Everything about him had to do with nature and rhythm. At the moment, he was so out of sync with nature, so completely out of tune, but he recognized that she was the most naturally gifted woman, make that naturally gifted person he’d ever met. He hadn’t known anyone like her actually existed. She could have been born of the earth itself.
It wasn’t just that incredible voice of her, but her body as well, every movement, no matter how small, flowing and soft. He was mesmerized just by the way, when she spoke to him and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, he felt the heartbeat of the earth like the beat of the Arabic music playing so softly in the background.
“What are you doing?” He made every effort to gentle his voice. It still came out with his rougher rasp, but, he didn’t sound like he was going to kill her. That was a plus. “Before I came in. What were you doing?”
The color sweeping up her neck into her face deepened. “Practicing dancing. They said it would be all right to wait in here.”
Player dared to bring one hand up to his neck to massage the tight knots. He tried to breathe through the pain in his head, making it difficult to think straight. His brothers. They must have sent an exotic dancer to his room, thinking he would need some relaxing fun after his long drive. They had no idea the mission had gone to hell and things had taken a turn for the worst. This woman with her beautiful bedroom eyes and thick pelt of glossy hair practicing her craft while she waited for him shouldn’t be wasted. He took another deep breath to try to get on top of the crushing pain.
“Your name?” He managed to bite out the question without sounding like he was going to take a bite out of her, at least he thought he did. She still hadn’t moved. The little ankle bells were very still, as were the ones dripping beneath the golden coins around her hips.
She whispered it and her name sounded so lyrical to him that already his mind was working on role playing with her. How could he not? The setting was perfection. She was a gorgeous belly dancer hired by his brothers. They knew he would come in tired from the long drive and tense after the mission. She was just perfect to relax him. Where had they found her?
“You’re practicing your dancing?” He encouraged her to talk to him, needing to hear the sound of that musical voice. The tone seemed to find a way into his fractured mind. Each note, each way she framed the pure pitches, along with the movements of her body, seemed to connect, to transfer nutrients to his starved brain cells.
She nodded and again the small movement was accompanied by the shifting of her feet, the ball of her foot to her heel and then the sway of her hip. The little bells at her ankles and hips jingled, blending with the beating of the Dumbek, the Arabic drum that accompanied the music playing. She had such a natural rhythm to her and he felt it from the bare soles of his feet to the already quieting thundering in his head.
“I don’t mind. I didn’t realize you were in here. It startled me is all. It’s crazy out there.” He gestured toward the hallway, hoping she’d choose to stay. To encourage her, he kept his large frame draped against the door.
“Is this your room?”
He wanted to savor the cadence of her voice, that soft lyrical sound that moved around the broken pieces in his head and knitted them back together. With every word she uttered the terrible pounding lessened. “Yes, but it feels like an Egyptian oasis out under the stars in here. I wouldn’t mind playing your prince. I like role playing.” He flashed her a smile. He’d been told more than once he had a ‘killer’ smile and could melt the panties off a woman if he tried. He was trying now. “My brothers call me Player.”
Her laughter was a soft melody, playing over his body like the touch of fingers. A slow burn started out of nowhere, a kind of molten lava moving through his veins as if she’d woken a long-forgotten part of him he hadn’t experienced naturally since he was a boy.
“Of course, they do. Why aren’t you at the party like everyone else?” She tilted her head to one side, but as she did, the thick fall of her hair swayed, her abdomen undulated, hips dipping and shifting in a figure eight, bare feet rising and falling, unaware that she had found the perfect heartbeat with her music, the drum and her enticing laughter.
“I’m more of solitary man. What about you?”
“My dancing isn’t going to work in that crowd.” She laughed again, low and musical, her arms moving gracefully out from her body, a sensuous invitation as she began to dance around the room. “I dance only for my prince, remember?”
Her voice was a blend of smoke, sin and sex. That slow burn in his veins became hotter, the fire pooling in his groin, shocking the hell out of him. He didn’t have natural erections. He was always in control of his body, commanding his own erections. The nearly violent reaction to the sultry tone of her voice was without comprehension. None. He couldn’t conceive of the hot blood pouring into his cock being real. None of this could be real, not if his cock was involved and there was no denying the enormous and urgent reaction to her.
“You have gorgeous eyes.” She did. He doubted if he could make up those eyes of hers. He had a vivid imagination, but her eyes were unusual. They were large, a deep, deep startling chocolate surrounded by dark lashes. He could drown in her eyes, never a good thing for a man like him. He found himself trying to choose the exact color of brown. They were a dark chocolate, almost a near black. “Are you wearing contacts?” He knew it wasn’t just the deep rich color, but the shape and size of her eyes and the heavy dark lashes surrounding them.
She shook her head and the action set the dark mass of hair flowing in waves around her face and shoulders and down her back. The lights from the candles caught in the glossy strands, highlighting the sheen, allowing him to see the various shades before the silky mass settled, framing her face and that exquisite bone structure.
“No, I inherited my eyes from my grandmother. I was very lucky to get her coloring.”
There was love in her voice when she said grandmother. Her voice had gone even softer. She was capable of wrapping a man in real love, the lasting kind. Where that thought came from, he didn’t know, since he wasn’t altogether certain he believed in love.
“You have unusual eyes as well,” Zyah pointed out. “You have dark hair, maybe not as dark as mine, but your eyes are an unusual shade of blue. Almost like an icy blue.”
When she spoke, her body moved. The movements were subtle, but his mind was so tuned to her, not even the smallest detail escaped him. It was as if those soft, sensual notes were grounded in the earth the way her body movements were. It was true that he had blue eyes, but his hair was light brown with streaks of blond while hers was a rich chestnut color, a glossy, dark mass that added to her exotic, dancer appearance.
“You look like you stepped right out of Egypt or Persia. I traveled to several of the Middle Eastern countries and found them quite beautiful.”
Zyah smiled. It was slow in coming, but well worth the wait. He found himself holding his breath in anticipation, watching her mouth. She had a generous mouth, just like her breasts and hips. Like her large eyes. Her lips were full and curved perfectly, like a bow, her lower lip bitable. Her mouth was a shade of red without lipstick, although he thought she wore a gloss and he already had fantasies about having those lips stretched around his cock. When she smiled, he could see her straight white teeth, although there was one little crooked tooth on her bottom row just to the right that set his pulse pounding. She was not only gorgeous, but sexy beyond imagining.
“Did you have your own private dancer when you traveled to the various countries?”
That voice of hers, so sultry with smoke, sin, and sex, curled around him like the sounds of the various instruments playing the Arabic music so softly in the background.
“No, I wasn’t there for the beautiful women, although honestly, I never saw anyone who looked like you.” He had been an instrument of death each time he’d been there. He was an assassin, trained from the time he was a child. He’d seen the dancers, beautiful women, but he hadn’t managed to stay and listen to the music or watch the dancers after he’d killed his intended targets. He couldn’t very well tell her that.
“Are you going to come all the way into the room or just stay leaning against the door?”
Her gaze drifted over him, and everywhere she looked it felt as if she touched him, caressed him with her fingers. His cock pulsed. Throbbed. Ached. He wanted to fist it right there while she danced for him. “I don’t know. If I move, are you going to leave me?”
She tilted her head to one side and again, when she moved, her hair swung around her in a sexy slide, setting her body into motion as well. Those small subtle moves added to the pull on every one of his senses. He found himself totally unable to look away from her. He’d never been so wrapped up in someone so fast. So completely.
“Not if you really want me to stay.” Her lashes swept down and back up, almost demurely. A look of innocence clashing with her sensual body movements and the sound of her voice.
“I want you to stay and dance for me. I want you to talk to me. You’re the best surprise I’ve had in years.” That was the absolute truth and he hoped she believed him.
Her smile came again and more hot blood raged through his veins and pounded through his cock. All on its own. His body actually worked. It was a fucking miracle. She was the fucking miracle. He had no idea where his brothers had found her, but whatever they’d paid her to be here in his room waiting for him, it wasn’t nearly enough. They couldn’t have known she held some kind of elemental magic in her that worked itself into his body, into his brain, repairing all the damage and making him whole again.
She held out her hand to him and when she did, her arm movements were graceful and flowing as if she was dancing already for him. He wrapped his fingers around her hand, touching her for the first time. Skin to skin. His cock nearly exploded right along with his heart. She led him to the bed, her hips dipping with every heel to toe movement. The gold coins on her hips shimmied and shook causing the bells to jingle on the belt as well as the bracelet around her ankle. He had no idea he could find ankle jewelry so sexy, but he did.
He settled on the bed, pulling off his shirt, barefoot, with only his jeans on, the room lit only with those scented candles. The music started again. He felt the difference in the music this time. It was very sensuous. He was a musician and very familiar with instruments. His ear was finely tuned to pitches. He recognized the distinctive percussion of the goblet shaped drum, the Dumbek. The Kanun was a stringed instrument that produced beautiful sounds much like a harp. There was a Ney, a flute that had an amazing tone to it.
Zyah seemed to become one with the harmonious rhythms of the music, her arms gracefully flowing, almost mesmerizing. She moved in a circle, hips swaying, the bells calling to him. When she faced him, her abdomen was completely isolated, undulating, all the while her arms were moving over her head, hands telling a story. Flowing. Spellbinding. A seductress all his. He was utterly captivated by her. Zyah. His private dancer.