Dark Seduction
The Masters Of Time
Brenda Joyce

On Sale May 2007
ISBN-10: 0373772335

Dark Seduction BookcoverFrom Chapter One

A woman had broken into her shop and assaulted her. For one moment, Claire lay still, pretending to be unconscious, listening acutely to the night. But all she heard were the cars passing and horns blaring on the street outside.

Slowly, Claire opened her eyes, realizing she had been moved. She had been struck in the middle of her store, but she lay in the area between the kitchen and the shop, not far from her office. The desk lamp remained on. Claire slowly turned her head to gaze into the store. She almost cried out. It was empty, the front door thankfully closed, but it looked as if every single book had been thrown onto the floor. Her store had been ransacked.

Claire sat up, rigid with dismay and disbelief, aware that the woman had most definitely been looking for a page from that book she had mentioned. She touched the side of her head, hoping against all odds that her most valuable inventory hadn’t been stolen. Fortunately she had not been hit in the temple, because she’d be dead. As it was, she had a huge lump behind her ear. She needed to call the police and damn it, she needed to get to an Emergency room but she also needed to know what Sibylla had taken.

She had never heard of the Cladich. But in medieval times, there had been references to books and manuscripts which contemporaries had believed to have various restorative and healing powers. In spite of her aching head, she became excited. She would do a google on the Cladich as soon as she got her bearings back. But why would that intruder think that a page from that book was in her store?

And the intruder could be a simple nutcase.

But Claire was uneasy again, because Sibylla had seemed to know her and she hadn’t seemed crazy, not at all. She had seemed vicious, ruthless and determined. Claire reached up and clasped the pendant she wore, the gesture having become reassuring long ago, while taking a moment to recover her composure. Of all the nights for a burglary and an assault! But she wasn’t really hurt. If she were lucky, the woman hadn’t found what she wanted and she hadn’t been robbed. If she were really lucky, that page was actually in her possession!

Claire stood, beginning to calm, the throbbing receding to a dull ache, while a familiar excitement tingled in her veins. Her instinct was to rush into the store and take inventory, while going through her stock to see if a page had been inserted in one of the books, but what she had better do was ice her head first and then call the cops. And she also had to check to see if a book called the Cladich had ever existed at all.

But security came first. Claire went into the shop to lock the front door. As she crossed the store, carefully stepping over books and manuscripts, she retrieved the Beretta from the floor. The door had a double lock—tomorrow, when she had triple locks put on, she’d also add a bolt. As she turned the lock, the reassuring click sounded, but when she tested the door, it opened.

Her heart leapt with dismay. If her locks no longer worked, she was going to a hotel. Claire hesitated and opened the door a crack to look at the lock, not that she was at all mechanical. Her eyes widened and shock filled her as she stared at the gauges in the wood door frame—it almost looked as if Sibylla had pushed the locked door open, ripping the teeth of the locks through the wood jam to do so.

But that was impossible.

She slammed the door closed, refusing to panic. The street outside had been relatively quiet except for some passing cars, but she had no security now. Every night dozens of pleasure crimes occurred. Every night girls, boys, young men and women died while a madman took his pleasure, the way Lorie had died, the way her mother had died. Claire did not want to think about the crime wave now. Unfortunately she knew most of the details of the violent epidemic sweeping the country, even the world. She had made it her business to know.

She hurried to her desk, skipping over piles of books, grabbed the chair, and put it under the door knob. When the police came, she’d ask them to help her move a bookcase in front of the door. That should add enough security for the moment.

But how could she leave town tomorrow, as planned? And Claire realized her trip would have to be postponed. She’d had over twelve thousand books in stock, and she was going to have to take inventory. The police would demand it—and she was a professional first and foremost. And what if someone had put a valuable page in one of the volumes?

The lure of her vacation and Dunroch warred with her excitement over the possibility of making such a huge discovery. Claire ran into her office, not even turning the lights on. She tapped the space bar on her lap top to bring it out of hibernation, her pulse pounding now. She raced into the kitchen, hitting lights and began filling a Ziplock bag with ice. The pain in her head had dulled to an unpleasant headache. Maybe she would skip the hospital after all.

And from the store, she heard the chair scrapping just as she heard a man curse.

Briefly, Claire was paralyzed, but not by fear. She was in disbelief. It could not be another intruder! And then the fear began. She moved, grabbing the gun from the counter, checking wildly to see if it was loaded and then slamming off the kitchen lights. She faded into the wall behind the kitchen door, which was open, as she never closed it. Trying not to panic, she listened intently for the man again but heard nothing.

Yet it hadn’t been her imagination. She had heard a curse, nearly inaudible except for a guttural and exasperated tone. Claire’s heart pounded with frightening force. Had he left? Or was he even now ransacking her store? Was she going to be assaulted again?

Was he looking for that page from the Cladich? Because this could not be a coincidence. She hadn’t been burglarized in the entire four years she had been open for business in her Village location.

The phone was on the other side of the kitchen. She knew she should call 911 but she was afraid the intruder would hear her and turn his attentions on her. She gripped the gun so hard her fingers ached, her palms sweaty now. Anger began. This was her store, and damn it, she had every right to defend her property. But the fear was consuming and no amount of righteous anger could chase it away.

Trying not to pant, afraid her shallow breathing was audible and would expose her, Claire began creeping into the hall. The damned desk lamp remained on, making her feel horribly exposed. She could see across her store to the front door, but no one stood in there.

And as she passed the stairs, she was seized from behind.

Claire cried out as a huge, powerful arm locked her in place against what felt like a stone wall. For one moment, as her leapt wildly, she froze. Panic made it impossible to think, time stood still, and she became aware of being held, vice-like, against a huge, powerful and obviously male body.

Her heart was thundering, but suddenly, it slowed. And for one moment, Claire had a shocking sense of familiarity, of recognition—in that moment, fear vanished, replaced only by her acute awareness of stunning male power and strength.

He spoke.

Claire did not understand a single word he said. And her heart slammed and raced and fear clawed at her again. Her instinct was to struggle and she began to squirm, grasping his arms to wrench them off, wishing she had spike heels on, so she could jam one into his booted foot. And as her bare legs came into contact with his thighs, she froze, because his legs were absolutely bare, as well. Claire inhaled harshly.

He spoke in the same guttural language, jerking on her with his huge arm, and she did not have to speak his language to know he was telling her to be still. And as he jerked on her, she felt him stiffen against her backside.

Claire froze. Her captor was aroused, shockingly so, and the sensation of a great, hard length pressed against her was terrifying—and electrifying, too. “Let me go,” she gasped desperately. And two words blazed across her mind: pleasure crime.

He stiffened, but in what she felt was surprise. Then he said, “Put yer weapon down, lass.”

He spoke English, but there was no mistaking the exaggerated Scottish accent. Claire wet her lips, too dazed to even try to consider what that coincidence meant. “Please. I won’t run. Let me go---you’re hurting me.”

To her surprise, his grip eased. “Put the weapon down, be a good lass.” And this time, as he spoke, she felt his stubble against her jaw, his breath feathering her ear.

Chills swept her, her mind went absolutely blank, and she could only think of the powerful pulse pounding against her. Something terrible was happening, and Claire didn’t know what to do. Her body had begun to tighten and thrum. Was this how those women died in the dead of the night? Did they become dazed and confused—and aroused? She dropped the gun and it clattered on the floor but did not go off. “Please.”

“Dinna scream,” he said softly. “I will na hurt ye, lass. I need yer help.”

Claire somehow nodded. And when he removed his thick arm, she ran to the other side of the hall, whirling and slamming her back there to face him. And she cried out.

She had expected anything but the masculine perfection facing her. He was a towering man, at least six inches taller than she was, hugely muscular, and he was dark. His hair was as black as midnight, his skin bronzed, but he had shockingly pale eyes—and they were trained upon her with unnerving intensity—and surprise.

He seemed just as surprised by the sight of her as she was by him.

She shivered. God, he was handsome. A slightly crooked nose, perhaps broken once, achingly high cheekbones and a brutally strong jaw gave him the look of powerful hero. A scar bisected one black brow, another formed a crescent on one cheek, and they didn’t matter—they merely added to the appearance that this man was battle hardened, experienced, and far too strong for anyone’s good.

But he was a loon. He had to be. Because he was wearing clothing she instantly recognized—a mid-thigh, mustard colored linen tunic, which was belted, and over that, covering one shoulder, a blue and black plaid mantle pinned there with a gold brooch. His thighs were bare, but he wore knee high, heavily worn, cuffed leather boots. And a huge sword was sheathed on his left side, the hilt sparkling with paste jewels. He was costumed as a medieval Highlander!

He looked like the real deal. He had the bulging arms that could have welded a huge broadsword effortlessly in the kind of battle one read about in a history book. But he was a fake. Whoever had made his costume had done their research. His leine looked authentic—as if it had been dyed with saffron—and that blue and black mantle looked hand-loomed. She had to look at his strong thighs again, where his muscles bulged, thighs that looked rock hard from years of riding horses and running hills. Her gaze crept upwards, at whatever was beneath the short skirt of the leine. But of course, she knew what was there. A rigid raised line remained. Claire realized she was ogling him and gaping at the same time, perspiration now running in a stream between her breasts and thighs. She was breathless, but that was because she was afraid of him.

And then she saw that his eyes had lowered to her legs. She blushed.

He lifted his unmistakably heated gaze to hers. “I dinna think to see ye again, lass.”

Claire’s eyes widened.

His smile became seductive. “I dinna like my women to vanish in the night.”

He was most definitely mad, she thought. “You don’t know me. I don’t know you. We haven’t met.”

“I be insulted, lass, that ye dinna recall the event.” But his satisfied smile never wavered and he kept glancing at her legs—and her tiny midriff-baring tank top. “What manner o’ dress is that?”

Her color increased and she felt it. But she already knew he was attracted to her—and that could only mean he was dangerously oversexed. But now she prayed he was not one of those pleasure seeking murderers. “I could ask you the same thing,” she retorted, shaking. “This is a book shop. You must be on your way to a costume party. It’s not here!” She cried breathlessly. Then she wondered what she was doing—she had to appease this man at all costs and she had to get him to leave her store.

“Dinna be afraid, lass. Temptation ye may be, but I have other matters on my mind. I need yer help. I need the page.”

She exhaled now loudly, but not in relief. She didn’t want to be alone with this huge, sexual man. Her mind raced. If he was not violent, she should get him out as fast as possible—and then call the damn cops. She wet her lips. “Come back tomorrow.” She forced a smile and it felt sickly. “We’re closed. I can help you tomorrow.”

He sent her another seductive smile, clearly used to charming women to his way—and his bed—and a potent stare ensued. “I canna return on the morrow, lass.” And he murmured, “Ye wanna help me lass, ye do. Leave the fear; it dinna serve ye well. Ye can trust me.”

His soft bedroom tone sent a huge spiral of desire through her. No man had ever looked at her in such a manner, or spoken so seductively, much less a man like this. Claire could not look away from his gaze. The wild pounding of her heart eased. Some of her fear receded. Claire actually wanted to believe him, to trust him. And he smiled at her, knowingly.

“Ye’ll help me lass, an’ send me on me way.”

For one moment, she was going to agree. But her mind was screaming at her oddly, confusing her, and then the sirens of a fire engine blared on the street outside, clearly passing in front of her shop. He jumped, turning away towards the door and she came to her senses. She was covered in sweat now. She had been about to do all that he asked!

“No.”

He started.

“My assistant,” she swallowed, “will help you tomorrow.” She was as firm as she could be and it felt like a huge feat. She wiped her bangs from her eyes, her hand trembling. Had he come close to hypnotizing her? She avoided his gaze now. “If it’s important, you’ll come back. Now please, leave. As you can see, I have some cleaning up to do—and you are late for your party.” And she wished her voice hadn’t cracked with the terrible tension and fear filling her.

He did not move, and it was very hard to tell if he was annoyed, angry or surprised. “I canna leave without the page,” he finally said, and there was no mistaking his stubbornness then.

Claire glanced at the Beretta, which lay on the floor in the hall about an equal distance from them. She wondered if she could seize it and force him out.

“Dinna think to try,” he advised, his tone dangerously soft.

She stiffened, somehow knowing she could not best this man and that it would be dangerous to attempt to do so. He didn’t seem to be violent but he was a nut, because she wasn’t sure he was really on his way to a costume party. She’d help him if that would get him to leave. “Fine. I doubt I have what you are looking for, but go ahead, tell me what you want.” She glanced very briefly at his face and when she took in his hard beauty again, her heart did a double sommersault.

A look of triumph flitted through his eyes. “Ancient wisdom was given to the shamans of Dalriada long ago and put in three scrolls. One of the scrolls, The Cladich, was stolen from its shrine centuries ago. The book has the power to heal an’ I ken a page is here, in this place.”

Claire started. What the hell was going on? “Your lady friend was already here, looking for a page from the Cladich, or so she said.”

He started, and then fury glinted. “Sibylla was here?”

“Not only was she here, she wacked me over the head. I think she had brass knuckles in her fist,” Claire added with a wince. Was he in cahoots with the first burglar? But if so, why on earth would he be dressed in such a costume?

And the moment she had spoken, she wished she had not. He crossed the narrow hall before she could take a breath. Claire cried out, but it was too late, his arm was around her again. And briefly, their gazes met.

“I said I would nay hurt ye, an’ it would benefit ye greatly, lass, to trust me now.”

“Like hell,” Claire cried, her heart thundering in alarm. But once again, she could not look away from his magnetic gray eyes. “Let go.”

“God’s blood,” he finally snapped, jerking on her. “Let me see the wound!”

And as their eyes met again, Claire understood his intentions and she was shocked. He only wanted to see if she was hurt? But why would he care?

He was a loony burglar, wasn’t he?

“Ease yerself,” he said with a smile, his tone coaxing.

And when she allowed herself to relax just slightly, he eased his hold as well. “Good lass,” he murmured, the words as sensuous as silk upon her bare skin, and then he was threading his long, blunt fingers through her hair, brushing the shoulder length strands aside, finding her scalp. Claire stopped breathing. His touch was like a lover’s caress, the barest flutter of his fingers across her hot skin, causing her body to tighten, her heart to leap, anticipation to swell, and for one maddening moment, she wished he would run his hand down her neck, her arm and over her breasts, which were tight and peaked. He gave her a brief glance that was almost smug, telling her that he knew. “Tha ur falt breagha.” (Accent on e in breagha: \e.) His tone had dropped into a soft, seductive whisper.

Claire breathed. “What?” She had to know what he had said.

But he had found the lump. She winced as he touched it and said more firmly, “T’is a good sized robin’s egg, I think. Sibylla needs a lesson in proper manners an’ I have the mind t’ be the one t’ teach her.”

She had the oddest feeling he meant his words. She stared into his gaze, trying to understand who and what he was, when he lifted the pendant she wore. Oddly, she did not mind. He held the pale grayish-white stone in his hand, his knuckles firm against her skin, there beneath the hollow of her throat.

She trembled, aching now beneath her shorts, as their gazes slowly met.

“Ye wear a charm stone, lass.”

She knew she couldn’t possibly speak—this man was too potent, too mesmerizing.

“Be ye kin, then? Do ye hail from Alba? Be ye a Lowlander?”

His hand had moved lower, so that her heart was thundering beneath it. Alba was Gaelic for Scotland. “No.” Was he going to slip his hand over her breast?

He let the pendant fall against her skin, but as he removed his hand, his fingers deliberately brushed a path along the top of her breast, trailing fire in its wake.

Claire gasped, staring into his heated and bold eyes. And she could see them entwined, then and there, in the small hall of her home. “Don’t.” She didn’t even know why she protested, because protesting was not on her mind.

He stared back. An eternity seemed to pass. There was no doubt he was seeing the same image she was—and she had the feeling he was debating giving into the huge tension knifing between them. Then his expression changed and he smiled, but it was self- deprecating. “Ye need,” he said thickly, “a new manner of dress. A man canna think clearly with such a fashion afore him.” And he turned away from her.

It was a relief. Instantly, Claire came to her senses, jumping away for the wall. Her body was on fire. This man was dangerously seductive. Finally she said, “Who are you? Who are you, really? And why are you dressed that way?!”

A twinkle came to his startling eyes and his face softened. And he smiled at her, the smile so genuine he became Beauty Incarnate, revealing two deep dimples. “Ye be needin’ a pretty introduction? Lass, dinna be shy. Ye need only have asked.” His voice rang with pride. “I am Malcolm of Dunroch,” he said.

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