“Be kind to dragons, for thou art crunchy when roasted and taste good with ketchup.”Dr. Channon MacRae paused in her note-taking and arched a brow at the peculiar comment. She’d been staring at the famous Dragon Tapestry for hours, trying to decipher the Old English symbolism, and in all this time no one had disturbed her.
Not until now.
With an irritated look, she pulled her pen away from her notepad and turned.
Then she gaped.
No annoying, irreverent little man here. He was a tall, mind-blowingly sexy god who dominated the small museum room with a presence so powerful that she wondered how on earth he had entered the building without shaking it to its foundations.
Never in her life had she beheld anything like him or the seductive smile he flashed at her.
Good grief, she couldn’t take her eyes off him.
Standing at least six feet five, he towered over her average height. His long black hair was pulled back into a sleek pony-tail and he wore an expensively tailored black suit and overcoat that seemed at odds with his unorthodox hair, yet perfectly fitting with his regal aura.
But the most peculiar thing of all was the tattoo covering the left half of his face. A faded, dark green, it spiraled and curled from his hairline to his chin like some ancient symbol.
On anyone else such a mark would be freakish or strange, but this man wore it with dignity and presence- like a proud birthright.
Yet it was his eyes that captivated her most. A rich, deep greenish-gold, they were filled with such warm intelligence and vitality that it left her completely breathless.
His grin was both boyish and roguish and framed by inviting dimples that enchanted her. “Rendered you speechless, eh?”
She loved the sound of his voice that was laced with an accent she couldn’t quite place. It seemed a unique blending of British and Greek- not to mention, deep and provocative.
“Not quite speechless,” she said, resisting the urge to smile back at him. “I’m just wondering why you would say such a thing.”
He shrugged his broad shoulders nonchalantly as his golden gaze dropped to her lips, making her want to lick them. Worse, his prolonged stare sent a rush of desire coiling though her.
Suddenly, it was extremely warm in this little glass room. So hot, she half expected the gallery windows to fog up.
He folded his hands casually behind his back and yet it seemed as if he were coiled for action. As if he were ready and alert to take on anyone who threatened him.
What a strange image to have…
When he spoke, his deep voice was even more seductive and enticing than it had been before, almost as if it were weaving some kind of magical spell around her. “You had such a serious frown while you were staring at the tapestry that it made me wonder what you would look like with a smile in its place.”
Oh the man was beguiling. And just a little too cocksure of his appeal judging by his arrogant stance. No doubt he could get any woman who caught his eye.
Channon swallowed at the thought as she glanced down at her tan, corduroy jumper, and her hips which were not the fashionable, narrow kind. She’d never been the type of woman who drew the notice of a man like this. She’d been lucky if her average looks ever garnered her a second glance at all.
Mr. Do-Me-Right-Now must have lost a bet or something. Why else would he be speaking to her?
Still, there was an air of danger, intrigue and power about him. But none of deceit. He appeared honest and, strangely enough, interested in her.
How could that be?
“Yes, well,” she said, taking a step to her left as she closed her pad and slid the pen down the spiral coil. “I don’t make it my habit to converse with strangers, so if you’ll excuse me…”
Startled by his response, she paused and looked up. “What?”
“My name is Sebastian.” He held his hand out to her. “Sebastian Kattalakis. And you are?”
Completely stunned and amazed that you’re talking to me.
She blinked the thought away. “Channon,” she said before she could stop herself. “Shannon with a C.”
His gaze burned her while a small smile hovered at the edges of those well-shaped lips and he flashed the tiniest bit of his dimples. There was an indescribable masculine aura about him that seemed to say he would be far more at home on some ancient battlefield than locked inside this museum.
He took her cold hand into his large, warm one. “So very pleased to meet you, Channon with a C.”
He kissed her knuckles like some gallant knight of long ago. Her heart pounded at the feel of his hot breath against her skin, of his warm lips on her flesh. It was all she could do not to moan from the sheer pleasure of it.
No man had ever treated her this way- like some treasured lady to be quested for.
She felt oddly beautiful around him. Desirable.
“Tell me, Channon,” he said, releasing her hand and glancing from her to the tapestry. “What has you so interested in this?”
Channon looked back at it and the intricate embroidery that covered the yellowed linen. Honestly, she didn’t know. Since she’d first seen it as a little girl, she’d been in love with this medieval masterpiece. She’d spent years studying the detailed dragon fable that started with the birth of a male infant and a dragon and moved forward through ten feet of fabric.
Scholars had written countless papers on their theories of its origin. She, herself, had done her dissertation on it, trying to link it to the tales of King Arthur or to Celtic tradition.
No one knew where the tapestry had come from or even what story it related to. For that matter, no one knew who had won the fight between the dragon and the warrior.
And that was what intrigued her most of all.
“I wish I knew how it ended.”
He flexed his jaw. “The story has no ending. The battle between the dragon and the man lives on unto today.”
She frowned at him. He appeared serious. “You think so?”
“What?” he asked good-naturedly. “You don’t believe me?”
“Let’s just say I have a hefty dose of doubt.”
He took a step forward and again his fierce, manly presence overwhelmed her and sent a jolt of desire through her. “Hmmm a healthy dose of doubt,” he said, his voice barely more than a low, deep growl. “I wonder what I could do to make you believe?”
She should step back, she knew it. Yet, she couldn’t make her feet cooperate. His clean, spicy scent invaded her head and weakened her knees.
What was it about this man that made her want to stand here talking to him?
Oh to heck with that. What she really wanted to do was jump his delectable bones. To cup that handsome face of his in her hands and kiss his lips until she was drunk from his taste.
There was something seriously wrong here.
“Why are you here?” she asked, trying to keep her lecherous thoughts at bay. “You hardly look like the type to study medieval relics.”
A wicked gleam came into his eyes. “I’m here to steal it.”
She scoffed at the idea, even though something inside her said it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to buy that explanation. “Are you really?”
“Of course. Why else would I be here?”
“Why else, indeed?”
Sebastian didn’t know what it was about this woman that drew him so powerfully. He was involved in grave matters that required his full attention and yet for the life of him, he couldn’t take his gaze from her.
She wore her honey-brown hair swept up so that it cascaded in riotous waves from a silver clip of old Welsh design. Several strands of it had come free of the clip to dangle precariously around her face as if the strands had a life of their own.
How he longed to set free that hair and feel it sliding through his fingers, brushing against his naked chest.
He dropped his gaze down over her lush, full body and stifled his smile. Her dark blue shirt wasn’t buttoned up properly and neither one of her socks matched.
Still, she drove him crazy with desire.
She wasn’t the kind of woman who normally drew his interest and yet…
He was beguiled by her and the crystal blue gaze that glowed with warm curiosity and intelligence. He longed to sample her full, moist lips. To bury his face in the hollow of her throat where he could drink in her scent.
Gods, how he yearned for her. It was a need borne of such desperation that he wondered what kept him from taking her into his arms right now and satisfying his curiosity.
He’d never been the kind of man to deny himself carnal pleasures. Especially not when the beast inside him was stirred. And this woman stirred that deadly part of him to a dangerous level.
Sebastian had only come into the museum to get the lay of it for tonight. To find where they had housed the tapestry. He hadn’t been looking for a woman to pass the lonely hours with until he could return home where he would be…well, lonely again.
However, he still had hours before he could leave. Hours that he would much rather spend gazing into her eyes than waiting in his hotel room.
“Would you care to join me for a drink?” he asked.
She looked startled by his question. But then he seemed to have that effect on her. She was nervous around him, a bit jumpy, and he longed to set her at ease.
“I don’t go out with men I don’t know.”
“How can you get to know me unless you…”
“Really, Mr. Kat-”
She shook her head at him. “You are persistent, aren’t you?”
She had no idea.
Suppressing the predator inside him, Sebastian put his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching out to her and scaring her off. “I’m afraid it’s ingrained in me. When I see something I want, I go after it.”
She arched a brow at that and gave him a suspicious look. “Why on earth would you want to talk to me?”
He was aghast at her question. “My lady, do you not own a mirror?”
“Yes, but it’s not an enchanted one.” She turned away from him and started away.
Moving with the incredible speed of his kind, Sebastian pulled her to a stop.
“Look, Channon,” he said gently. “I fear I have bungled this. I just…” He stopped and tried to think of the best way to keep her with him for awhile longer.
She looked to his hand which still gripped her elbow. He reluctantly let go, even though every part of his soul screamed for him to hold her by his side regardless of the consequences. She was a woman with her own mind. And the first law of his people ran through his head: Nothing a woman gives is worth having unless she gives it of her own free will.
It was the one law not even he would break.
“You what?” she asked softly.
Sebastian drew a deep breath as he fought down the animal part of himself that wanted her regardless of right or laws. The part of him that snarled with a need so fierce that it scared him.
He forced a charming smile to his lips. “You seem like a nice person and there are so few of you in this world that I would like to spend a few minutes with you. Maybe some of it might rub off.”
Channon laughed in spite of herself.
“Ah,” he teased, “so you can smile.”
“I can smile.”
“Will you join me?” he asked. “There’s a restaurant on the corner. We can walk there, in plain sight of the world. I promise, I won’t bite unless you ask me to.”
Channon frowned lightly at him and his quirky humor. What was it about him that made him so irresistible? It was unnatural. “I don’t know about this.”
“Look, I promise I’m not psychotic. Eccentric and idiosyncratic, but not psychotic.”
She still wasn’t completely sure about that. “I’ll bet the prisons are full of men who told women that.”
“I would never hurt a woman, least of all you.”
There was such sincerity in his voice that she believed him. Even more convincing, she didn’t feel any inner warnings. No little voice in her head telling her to run.
Instead, she was drawn to him and felt a most peculiar kind of serenity in his presence. Almost as if she were supposed to be with him. “Down the street?”
“Yes.” He offered her his arm. “C’mon. I promise I’ll keep my fangs hidden and my mind control to myself.”
Channon had never done anything like this in her entire life. She was a woman who had to know a guy for a long time before she’d even consider a date.
And yet she found herself pulling on her coat and placing her hand in the crook of his arm where she felt a muscle so taut and well-formed that it sent a jolt through her.
By the feel of that arm, she could tell his fashionable black suit and overcoat hid one incredible body.
“You seem so different,” she said as he walked her out of the room. “Something about you is very Old World.”
He opened the glass door that led to the museum’s foyer. “Old being the operative word.”
“And yet you’re very modern.”
“A Renaissance man trapped between cultures.”
“Is that what you are?”
He cast a playful sideways look to her. “Honestly?”
“I’m a dragonslayer.”
She laughed out loud.
He scoffed. “Again you don’t believe me.”
“Let’s just say it’s no wonder you said you wanted to steal the tapestry. I suppose there’s not much call for slaying a mythological beast, especially in this day and age.”
Those greenish-gold eyes teased her unmercifully. “You don’t believe in dragons?”
“No. Of course not.”
He tsked at her. “You are so skeptical.”
Sebastian ran his tongue over his teeth as a sly half-smile curved his lips. A practical woman who didn’t believe in dragons and yet studied dragon tapestries and wore a misbuttoned shirt. Surely there wasn’t another soul like hers in any time or place. And she did the strangest things to his body.
He was already hard for her and they were barely touching. Her grip on his arm was light and delicate, as if she was ready to flee him at any moment.
That was the last thing he wanted, and that surprised him most of all.
A reclusive person, he only interacted with others when his physical needs overrode his desire for solitude. Even then, those encounters were brief and limited. He took his lovers for one night, making sure they were as well-sated as he, then he quickly returned to his solitary world.
He’d never dawdled with idle conversation. Never really cared to get to know more about a woman than her name and the way she liked to be touched.
But Channon was different. He liked the cadence of her voice. The way her eyes sparkled when she talked and most of all, he liked the way her smile lit up her entire face when she looked at him.
And the sound of her laughter…
He doubted if the angels in heaven could make a more precious melody.
Sebastian opened the door to the dark restaurant and held it for her while she entered. As she swept past him, he let his gaze travel down the back of her body. He hardened even more.
What he wouldn’t give to have her warm and naked in his arms so that he could run his hands down her full curves and nibble the flesh of her neck. Hold her to him as he slowly slid himself deep inside her while she writhed to his touch.
Sebastian forced himself to look away from Channon and to speak to the hostess. He sent a mental command to the unknown woman to sit them in secluded corner. He wanted privacy with Channon.
How he wished he’d met her sooner. He’d been in this cursed city for well over a week, waiting for the opportunity to go home where if not the comfort of a warm touch, he at least had the comfort of familiarity. He’d spent his nights in this city alone, prowling the streets restlessly as he bided his time.
At dawn, he would have to leave. But until then, he intended to spend as much time with Channon as he could, letting her company ease the loneliness inside him. Ease the pain in his heart that had burned him for most of his life.
Channon followed the hostess through the restaurant, but all the while she was aware of Sebastian behind her. Aware of his hot, predatorial gaze on her body. The way he seemed to want to devour her.
But even more unbelievable was the fact that she wanted to devour him. No man had ever made her feel so much like a woman. Made her want to spend hours exploring his body with her hands and mouth.
“You’re nervous again,” he said after they were seated in a dark, secluded corner in the back of the pub.
She glanced up from the menu to catch sight of those greenish-gold eyes that reminded her of some feral beast. “You are incredibly perceptive.”
He inclined his head toward her. “I’ve been accused of worse.”
“I’ll bet you have,” she teased back. Indeed, he had the presence of an outlaw. Dangerous, dark. Seductive. “Are you really a thief?”
“Define the term thief.”
She laughed even though she wasn’t quite sure if he was joking or serious.
“So tell me,” he said as the waitress brought their drinks, “what do you do for a living, Channon with a C?”
She thanked the waitress for her Coke, then looked to Sebastian to see how he would deal with her occupation. Most men were a bit intimidated by her job, though she’d never been able to figure out why. “I’m a history professor at the University of Virginia.”
“Impressive,” he said, his face genuinely interested. “What cultures and times do you specialize in?”
She was amazed he knew anything about her job. “Mostly pre-Norman Britain.”
“Ah. HwÃ¦t w G r-Dena in ge r-dagum Ãž od-cyninga Ãžrym gefr non, h Ã° Ã¦Ãželingas ellen fremedon.”
Channon was floored by his Old English. He spoke it as if he’d been born to it. Imagine a man so handsome knowing a subject so dear to her heart.
She offered him the translation. “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.”
His inclined his head to her. “You know your Beowulf well.”
“I’ve studied Old English extensively, which given my job makes sense. But you don’t strike me as a historian.”
“I’m not. Rather, I’m a sort of re-enactor.”
That explained the way he looked. Now his presence in the museum and knightly air of authority made sense to her.
“Is your study of the Middle Ages what had you in the museum today?” he asked.
She nodded. “I’ve studied the tapestry for years. I want to be the person who finally unravels the mystery behind it.”
He looked down at the table. “What would you like to know?”
“Who made it and why? Where the story of it comes from. For that matter, I would love to know how the museum got it. They have no record of when they acquired it or from whom it was purchased.”
He glanced up and his automatic answers surprised her. “They bought it in 1926 from an anonymous collector for fifty thousand dollars. As for the rest, it was made by a woman named Antiphone back in seventh century Britain. It’s the story of her grandfather and his brother and their eternal struggle between good and evil.”
His gaze was so sincere that she could almost believe him. In a strange way, it made sense since the tapestry had no ending.
But she knew better. “Antiphone, huh?”
He shook his head. “You just don’t believe anything I tell you, do you?”
“Why, kind sir,” she said impishly with a mock English accent. “â€˜Tis not that I don’t believe you, but as a historian I must align myself with fact. Have you any proof of this Antiphone or transaction?”
“I do, but I somehow doubt you would appreciate my showing it to you.”
“And why is that?”
“It would scare the life out of you.”
Channon sat back at that, unsure of how to take it. She didn’t really know what to make of the man sitting across from her. He kept her on edge all the while he lured her toward his danger. Lured her against all her reason.
They remained quiet as their food was placed on the table.
While they ate, Channon studied him. The candlelight in the pub danced in his eyes, making them glow like a cat’s. His hands were strong and callused- the hands of a man who was used to hard work and yet he had the air of wealth and privilege. The air of a powerful man who made his own rules.
He was a total enigma. A walking dichotomy who made her feel both safe and threatened.
“Tell me, Channon,” he said suddenly, “do you like teaching?”
“Some days. But it’s the research I like best. I love digging through old manuscripts and trying to piece together the past.”
He gave a short, half laugh. “No offense, but that sounds incredibly boring.”
“I imagine dragon slaying is much more action-oriented.”
“Yes, it is. Every moment is completely unpredictable.”
She wiped her mouth as she watched him eat with perfect European table manners. He was definitely cultured and yet he seemed oddly barbaric. “So, how do you kill a dragon?”
“With a very sharp sword.”
She shook her head at him. “Yes, but do you call him out? Do you go to him…?”
“The easiest way is to sneak up on him.”
“And pray he doesn’t wake up?”
“Well, it makes it more challenging if he does.”
Channon smiled. She was so drawn to this man and that infectious wit of his. Especially since he didn’t seem to notice the women around them who were ogling him while they ate. It was as if he could only see her.
As a rule, she stunk at this whole male-female thing. Her last boyfriend, a DC correspondent, had well educated her on every personal and physical flaw she possessed. The last thing she was looking for was another relationship where she wasn’t on equal terms with the man.
For her next love-interest, she wanted someone just like herâ€” a historian of average looks whose life revolved around research. Two comfortable peas in a pod.
She wasn’t looking for some hot, mysterious stranger who made her blood burn with desire.
Channon, would you listen to yourself and what you’re saying! You are insane not to want this man!
Perhaps. But things like this never happened to her.
“You know,” she said to him. “I keep having this really weird feeling that you’re going to take me some place later and tie me up naked so that your friends can come laugh at me.”
He arched a brow at her. “Does that happen to you often?”
“No, never, but this night has the makings for a Twilight Zone episode.”
“I promise no Rod Serling voice-overs. You’re safe with me.”
And for some reason that made absolutely no sense whatsoever, she believed him.
Channon spent the next few hours having the dinner and conversation of her life. Sebastian was incredibly easy to talk to. Worse, he set her hormones on fire.
The longer they were together, the more laughs they shared, the more incredible he seemed.
She glanced at her watch and gasped. “Did you know it’s almost midnight?”
He checked his watch.
“I hate to cut this short,” she said, placing her napkin on the table and sliding her chair back, “but I have to go or I’ll never get a taxi out of here.”
He placed his hand lightly on her arm to keep her at the table. “Why don’t you let me drive you home?”
Channon started to protest, but something inside her refused. After the evening they had spent together, she felt oddly at ease with him. There was an aura about him that was so comforting, so open and welcoming.
He was like a long lost friend.
“Okay,” she said, relaxing.
He paid for their food. Then, he helped her up, into her coat, and led her from the restaurant.
Channon didn’t speak as they made their way toward his car down the street, but she felt his magnetic, masculine presence with every single cell of her body.
Though not a social butterfly by any account, she’d had plenty of dates in her life. She’d had a number of boyfriends and even a fiancÃ©, but none of them had ever made her feel the way this stranger did.
Like he fit some missing part of her soul.
Girl, you are crazy.
She must be.
Channon paused as they neared his sporty, gray Lexus. “Someone travels in style.”
Winking devilishly at her, Sebastian opened the car door. “Well, I would turn into a dragon and fly you home, but something tells me you would protest.”
“No doubt. I imagine the scales would also chafe my skin.”
“True. Not to mention, I once learned the hard way that they really do call the military out on you. You know, fighter jets are hard to dodge when you have a forty-foot wingspan.” He closed her door and walked to his side of the car.
She laughed yet again, but then she’d been doing that most of the night. Goodness, she really liked this man.
Sebastian felt his body jerk the instant they were locked inside his car. Her feminine scent permeated his head. She was so close to him now. So close he could almost taste her.
All night long he had listened to the dulcet sound of her smooth Southern drawl. Watched her tongue and lips move as he imagined what they would feel like on his body. Imagined her in his arms while he made love to her until she cried out from pleasure.
His attraction to her stunned him. Why did he have to feel this now when he couldn’t afford to stay in her time and explore more of her?
Cursed Fates. How they loved to tamper in mortal lives.
Pushing the thought out of his mind, he drove her to the hotel where she was staying.
“You don’t live here?” he asked as he parked in the lot.
“Just here for the weekend to study the tapestry.” She unbuckled her seatbelt.
Sebastian got out and opened her door, then walked her to her room.
Channon hesitated at the door as she looked up at him and the searing heat in his captivating eyes. The man was so hot and sexy in the most dangerous of ways.
She wondered if she would ever see him again. He hadn’t asked for her number. Not even her email.
“Thank you,” she said. “I had a really good time tonight.”
“I did too. Thanks for joining me.”
Kiss me. The words rushed across her mind unexpectedly. She really wanted to know what this man felt like against her.
To her amazement, she found out as he pulled her into his arms and covered her lips with his.
Sebastian growled at the feel of her as he fisted his hands against her back. He clutched her to him as every fiber of his body burned and ached to possess her. Her tongue swept against his, teasing him, tormenting him.
She brushed her hand against the nape of his neck, sending chills all over his body, making him so hard for her that he throbbed painfully. He closed his eyes while he let all of his senses experience her. Her mouth tasted of honey, her hands were soft and warm against his masculine skin. She smelled of woman and flowers, and he thrilled at the sound of her ragged breathing as she answered his passion with her own.
Take her. The animal inside him stirred with a fierce snarl. It snapped and clawed at the human part of him, demanding he cede his humanity to it. It wanted her.
He was almost powerless against the onslaught and his hands trembled from the force of holding himself back. He growled from the effort of it.
Channon moaned at the fierce feel of his powerful arms locked around her. She was pressed tight against his chest so that she could feel his heart pounding against her breasts.
His intensity surrounded her, filled her. Made her burn with volcanic need. All she could think of was stripping his clothes from him and seeing if his body really was as spectacular as it felt.
He pressed her back against her door, pinning her to it as he deepened his kiss. The warm, masculine scent of him filled her senses, overwhelming her.
He kissed his way from her lips, down across her cheek, then he buried his lips against her neck. “Let me make love you, Channon,” he breathed in her ear. “I want to feel your warm, soft body sliding against mine. Feel your breath on my naked skin.”
She should be offended by his suggestion. They barely knew each other and yet no matter how hard she tried to talk herself out of this, she couldn’t.
Deep inside, she wanted the same thing.
Against all reason- all sanity, she ached for him.
Never in her life had she done anything like this. Not once. And yet she found herself opening the door to her room and letting him in…