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eBook by Nathalie Gray
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
eBook Description: His fall from grace came in the year 117 A.D. Cursed for the last two thousand years, Gaius roams the earth, always one heartbeat ahead of his own personal hell, but always a step behind salvation. Until an irreverent, modern woman crashes through his defenses and teaches him to never give up. Unfortunately, hope always comes with a price. To My Readers: I've always been interested by curses. Not the words (well...), but the power of a person's hate. I've always wondered, what if a curse took shape, followed its target everywhere it went. A tailor made hell. This is such a story. Gaius did a bad thing two millennia ago and is still living his punishment. When Anne-Marie stumbles into him, she can't resist trying to help this handsome stranger with the wounded eyes. But the curse isn't done with Gaius. Not by a long shot.
eBook Publisher: Red Sage Publishing, Published: 2009, 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2010
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4 Reader Ratings:
"An erotic, paranormal romance which takes readers from Ancient Egypt to modern day Montreal. This fast paced story, strong and dynamic characters, great world building and fantastic sex was a remarkable read. Heartless is a fantastic and quick read, which I recommend to anyone who enjoys action, romance and hot sex."--NIGHT OWL REVIEW TOP PICK
Heartless: Chapter 1
Summer 117 A.D., Alexandria, Aegyptus (Roman Empire)
Gaius could not move. He could not talk. Whatever the priestess had given him worked splendidly. He was lucid and awake, yet unable even to blink. Fear closed a cold, clammy fist on his innards.
Armed but naked save for jewels that glistened like liquid fire, she sat astride him as he lay supine on a stone surface. So cold. Through an aperture near the stone roof's apex, a blade of Egyptian sun stabbed at an acute angle and lit the burial chamber in all its glory. Lapis lazuli statuettes, obsidian scarabs, old-fashioned canopic jars of deep alabaster. Those would soon contain his viscera. But he was not dead. Not yet.
The priestess Mehnit--his wife--parted his gown over his otherwise naked body, traced down his chest and then lower, where she grabbed his member in a bejeweled fist. Her other hand, clutched over a dagger, rose high above her beautiful, proud head. On the weapon's wide, leaf-shaped blade, Roman symbols gleamed for a moment. How appropriate for him, a Roman praetor. One about to die a most horrible death.
She moved her hand up and down and managed to rouse him. How he could be hard at a time like this, Gaius could not understand.
An expression of bliss flashed on her chiseled face. Then she raised herself and sank down over his cock, took him deep into her. Their favorite position. Her kohl-lined gaze on his face, she worked her hips slowly.
"You have betrayed my trust," she murmured, rolling her pelvis. "You have lain with another woman."
He wished he could deny it and claim that he had never meant to hurt her, but it would have been a lie. He had not cared about her or anyone else but himself and his own pleasure. She had been a trophy on his dais. Just like the many other mistresses with whom he had cheated.
Had he always been so callous?
Ten long years in Egypt--and power, a lot of it--had exacerbated all the dark streaks in him to the point that he could hardly recognize the man living in his skin. The old lure. Coins, power and a handsome face could be perfect companions to a man's descent into the abyss. He should know. His own demise had begun two years before on a night of drunken debauchery. One, two, and then more women had come to pleasure him, to let him do to them what his wife refused him, to desecrate their flesh for his enjoyment. For Rome's champion, no desire went unsatisfied. And he had taken the women, the men, everything he wanted. Even a steady mistress, something he had seen his father do and had vowed never to emulate. The last thing he wanted was to become like that hateful man.
But Mehnit was presently going to save him from all that, was she not? Cure the patient by chopping off his head.
She continued writhing over him, bringing rapture as well as shame. Her essence glistened along his shaft. Jewelry clicked with the sweet music of minute bells. Hair blacker than night cascaded over her slender shoulder and obscured the face he had noticed on his arrival, one he had spent the first two years in Egypt admiring and caressing until lethargy and indolence had cooled the fire in his veins. Until ennui had made a fop of a soldier. As she had done on the night she had greeted him at her temple all those years ago, she took him deep into her sweet, moist sex. Despite his paralysis, Gaius felt the fire tingling in his testicles, precursors of a sordid and ill-timed climax.
"Have I not brought you pleasure?" she murmured between rolls of her hips. "Did I not make a home of my flesh for you?"
She had and she did. When had he become such a fool that he would treat a woman--his own wife--this way? Like father, like son.
Abruptly she pulled away, left him quivering with unspent release. His glans glistened with her nectar. Their gazes met. Oh, but he would suffer.
Present day, Montreal, Canada
The October rain was a degree away from turning to freezing drizzle. She could feel the sting on the exposed skin around her hood. After checking one last time down both ends of the gloomy alley--downtown Montreal was a byzantine knot of them--she used her knee to keep the cutters steady. The chain fell in a dull clang against the folding grille door. Hands steady, she pushed it aside just enough for her to squeeze through the aperture. In her profession, a gangly form and long, skinny hands paid well. Too bad her boyfriends never seemed to agree. Oh, well. Anne-Marie Valois, antiquities thief and unofficial expert on everything Egypt, didn't need anyone else's approval.
She padded down the narrow corridor and spotted the fake security camera in a corner. The owners hadn't even bothered to at least pretend the thing was on and let the wire dangle near the wall. A cursory glance would reveal nothing, but to her practiced eye, the thing was as fake as a knockoff pair of Louboutins to a shoe connoisseur. She passed a door to her left that opened into a tiny office in serious need of a makeover and some organization--one of her obsessions. Beyond was the darkened inheritance gallery itself. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. The musty smell of old books and faded paintings, the subtle perfume from vintage clothes and hats. Who'd been these people behind the objects? What had been their story? Why had their family not kept these lovely things instead of selling them to this gallery?
A person could spend a day in here, going through the layers and epochs, and never touch the same thing twice. But she knew exactly what she wanted. She'd seen it earlier that day on a supposedly Rococo Revival parlor table which had probably come from the Bombay store and had been left outside a couple of days to gain a weathered look. But the item on the table had frozen her in mid-step. According to the ad in the paper, the private exhibition would last only one weekend before the special item would return to the family's vault.
Anne-Marie smiled as she stopped in the middle of the gallery, facing the door. There it was.
Her heart had skipped a beat that morning when she'd first seen the canopic jar in person. The ad didn't do it justice. A canopic jar, it had said. Well, this wasn't any ordinary funeral urn. It was old. The real deal. One for which she could find a dozen buyers within the hour. And just as it had that morning, her heart rate accelerated now that she stood alone with the treasure.
Egyptian, obviously, post-Ptolemaic and bearing no namesake cartouche, crafted from the deepest alabaster she'd ever seen. It was almost completely amber with rust-colored veins and a jackal head for stopper. The carving had lost both its ears, and coupled with its upper lip curled in a rictus, it gave the beast a mad, feral look. Faint streetlight caressed its polished surface through the window.
She remained in the shadow in case someone happened by on the sidewalk. Even at two in the morning. Montreal, the city that never really slept. Like Vegas, Sodom and Gomorrah all in one convenient location. And the food was unbeatable.
Anne-Marie shrugged her backpack off along one arm and set it on the floor in front of her. Meant for a laptop, its padded sides and bottom would be perfect for that night's job.
A stench suddenly filled her nose but was gone the next moment. Ew. God, something in this gallery could use a few days outside. And some bleach.
Squeezing by odds and ends and a collection of frilly parasols in a WWII artillery shell, she neared the canopic jar. The faint buzz of an insect forced an automatic swat response.
"Can't take a break even in October," she muttered, waving her hand over her head.
Instincts kicked in. Anne-Marie had to bite down hard to stay immobile as every fiber of muscle in her body tensed. This urge to just turn and run caught her by surprise. What was that? She'd never had cold feet on the job before. Frissons tingled down her spine as she clenched and unclenched her fists. Sweat made her wool hood scratchy and too warm.
She slowly leaned over the jar and eyeballed it to make sure she wouldn't damage it further. Black kid gloves would be good enough because she suspected the prior owners had probably handled it barehanded. And who knew how many before them. Damn, the thing deserved white linen gloves, a climate-controlled environment and a thief-proof security system. Not a cheap "wood" table with a crochet cover.
Pursing her lips, she carefully wrapped both hands around the jar and lifted it off the table.
Images swirled in her mind's eye. Flashes of light and of shadows. Haloes in brilliant hues. Then gone the next second.
"Holy shit," she breathed.
The next second, a deep sense of melancholy and sadness overwhelmed her. Then rage, an all-encompassing fury that made her want to break everything in sight and set fire to the remnants, destroy the shop to the last shred and speck that angry winds would disperse to the four corners of the world. It hit her so hard that she felt the jar start to slip in her hands. A snarl of pain left Anne-Marie and needle-sharp cramps tightened her chest. Rushing as best she could in the cluttered gallery, she backpedalled to her pack and hurriedly deposited the thing inside, smoothing the layer of bubble wrap over the head.
Her heart hammered. Sweat slicked her hands. She looked around, panic gnawing at her. Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong.
Anne-Marie coughed and blinked out the sweat. "What the hell was that?"
She didn't take her time as she usually did. Not tonight. Had to get the hell out of here. Run. Hard and fast and no backward looks. She hastily zipped the pack up, slung it on, and then aimed for the back door.
Something stopped her cold. There in the reflection of a glass cabinet stood a tall form. Her heart beating like a war drum, Anne-Marie cut a quick glance at the gallery entrance. Outside in the rain, a man in a long coat stood not a foot from the window, looking inside. Looking at her.
* * * *
Still the dagger remained suspended over her head in her small, ocher-colored fist. Gaius had always loved her hands. Tiny, wicked tools. A glimmer traveled along the leaf-shaped blade. She looked down at his heaving chest. Then lower.
For the love of the gods.
Her dark gaze snapped back up to his face. In his head, he sobbed in relief.
"You are a heartless jackal." Her smile was glacial.
She began to speak in a language he did not understand. Was this Egyptian? He did not know. He'd never taken the time to learn. Praetor Gaius Aelius Draco had not intended to fester ten years in Egypt, twiddling his thumbs while he yearned to fight for Rome, bored out of his mind and now about to be butchered. He hadn't learned about Mehnit's cult of the ancient gods and their rituals of old. No one believed in the afterlife anymore, not since the Ptolemies hundreds of years before. He hadn't bothered with the language, and he hadn't mastered the ways. The mistake would kill him. If he were lucky.
A tiny sound caught his ear. An insect.
The faint buzz spread and deepened, grew in an aural wave, amplified by the stone and marble surrounding, until it swelled to the roar of a swarm of insects. Gaius' breathing became arrhythmic. There, above Mehnit's head, a black mist blotted out the sun through the small opening. It undulated like a living entity before settling around the stone altar.
What vile, monstrous thing was this?
It formed a roiling mass behind her that even the pitiless Egyptian sun could not illuminate. Darkness incarnate. Like a collection of long black blades, it whipped the air in an eerie dance and then uncoiled upward to freeze behind his wife and hover around her upraised arm. It would add its support should her hand fail. The sheer malevolence of the entity made Gaius gag. He tried to cough or turn his head away from the malefic stench. Could do neither.
"You have dishonored me." The priestess's gaze bore into his. She hated him. He couldn't blame her. He hated himself, what he had become, what power and apathy had done to him.
The thing churned as it wrapped one of its bladelike appendages along her arm as would a bracelet of shadow. Almost beautiful. Her biceps twitched. Then the dagger plunged.
Blinding pain. Searing agony.
A voiceless scream ripped from his throat. Tears streamed from his eyes, gathered in his ears. Waves of nausea choked him. He wanted to push her off him, stop her arm from twisting and wrenching. Blackness clouded his vision. The buzz of insects intensified. The thing screeched and thrashed, extended two long, glistening limbs to encircle his wife's waist and slither over her breasts as would a lover's hands, then down her belly before curving up between her thighs. There, it took her. Thrust its nightmarish barbs into her flesh. The desecration repulsed him yet he could do nothing but watch. Like twin albino scarabs, her eyes rolled back in her head.
Just as the sinister entity took Mehnit, she stabbed into his chest again and again. Gaius howled in his head, knowing no sound would come out but unable to stop himself. Something rammed under his rib cage, searched inside him, centered on a spot, and yanked mercilessly.
Behind her, the blackness writhed with increasing tempo and force as it ravaged her sex, enough to lift her with its rhythmic thrusts.
"A jackal," she moaned, bending over to place her cruel mouth against his ear. With a triumphant, orgasmic yell, she snapped up straight. Her bleeding fist was poised by her head, brandishing--
Gaius' vision failed him. As did his sanity.
"Heartless," she whispered.
* * * *
Present day Montreal, Canada
Fear spread through her chest. Primal, absolute fear.
Anne-Marie sprinted to the back door and checked that the coast was clear even though she wanted to run as if the devil were after her. Maybe he was. The incongruous thought made her sob-giggle. Panic squeezed her throat, clamped a cold fist in her gut and pulled down. She closed the door, grabbed her cutters and ran. As fast as she could. She trained for this stuff and worked hard to prepare against every eventuality. She'd come close to being caught before. Why was tonight so different? Why this irrational fear of a lone man looking through a window? At least he wasn't a cop. The owner maybe? Not the one she'd seen earlier that day, that was for sure, unless he'd grown a foot taller and gained forty pounds of shoulders.
She hadn't taken ten steps when a dark shape flitted across the alley in front of her, left to right at about two meters off the slick ground. It never actually touched the pavement.
Skidding on the slippery cobblestones, Anne-Marie gripped the cutters harder, ready to swing as she ran past the spot where she'd seen the form disappear. Nothing but dumpsters, emergency ladders, and at the end of the alley like a beacon calling, her battered but beloved 3-series silver BMW parked facing out in case of a hasty retreat. She was cautious if nothing else.
Rain made everything look greasy and dangerous. Her breath rose in puffs as she dug in the pocket of her cargo pants, pulled out her keys. With a thumb on the automatic unlock button, she swerved left so she could squeeze between the brick wall and the driver's side door.
Everything happened fast.
A thud on the hood of her car. The sound of metal groaning. The rear window burst in milky-white spider web patterns. A shape of impossible proportions and nightmarish darkness rose over the roof of her car and towered in front of Anne-Marie as she skidded to a halt.
Like a loose knot of black ribbons coiling and whipping, a fist of roiling smoke, and a core of such abysmal depths that she felt sucked into the dark void. An overpowering stench made her gag. Then the sound of insects, swarms of them, filled the alley. Drowned even her thoughts. The thing didn't seem to have a front or back, yet she knew it faced her and was looking at her. It whipped forward one of its blade-like appendages as if feeling for her, wanting to touch her. Anne-Marie didn't know how it was possible for her not to start screaming and never stop. Her heart pounding hard, she took a step backward. Then another.
The thing moved up from the hood to the roof of her car, puncturing metal with its sharp limbs. Each perforation made Anne-Marie flinch. On a level deeper than consciousness, she knew it was female. She couldn't explain it, but that thing was--or had been--a she.
Still, she backed away, slowly, facing the...the thing. Never turning her back to it. Couldn't turn her back to it.
Like an angry storm cloud, it agitated lower and stabbed a feeler down into the trunk of her car, seemed to slice easily through the metal. And this was a 1989 BMW, from back when cars were made of actual steel. Anne-Marie yelped when one of the tires burst with a sharp hiss of air and the smell of old air and rubber. Her car collapsed on the back passenger side.
To her shock, the sound of insects changed, modulated, and acquired a pattern. "Heartlessss." The hiss, more than anything else, shocked her out of her fear-induced paralysis.
She didn't know why, but she flung the cutters at the thing. Then she ran.
Instincts kicked in. She couldn't stay in the open but needed a barrier between that thing and her. Teeth gritted so hard her jaws hurt, Anne-Marie leaped up the closest emergency ladder and scaled it as fast as she could. Below, the thing had left her car and flung itself at the bottom rungs. Like whips, blades of darkness flogged upward. The ladder shuddered under the assault. A cry escaped her when something struck her boot. Her hands and feet working fast, she climbed up to the first balcony, kicked a leg over the railing and then ignored the door--no time to check it, that thing was closing in--as she charged up the narrow, circular stairwell leading to the second level. Rain turned each rusty grille step into a deathtrap. Below, the hellish thing thrashed upward.
Another level she climbed. Another, then another. Wind hit her square in the face as Anne-Marie crested the roof ledge. Around her, rooftops bristled with antennas and satellite dishes, sheds, vents and chimneys. Her stomach in a knot, she ran across the roof, her soft boxing boots crunching on gravel and tar, and reached the other side only to realize she wouldn't be able to clear the gap to the next building. Not without a lucky jump.
"Merde, de merde, de merde." She chanced a glance behind her. Nothing. No smell, no sound. Was it gone? Had it even existed? Was she going completely nuts?
She checked anyway but found no access ramp across the divide, and was considering turning back when the sound she'd come to associate with paralyzing fear and half-remembered nightmares swelled up over the ledge. One whipping blade of pure inky black and then another cleared the roof.
For the first time in her life, Anne-Marie didn't calculate risks, didn't observe and take notes, and didn't study the situation for the best option available. She ran. Hard and without looking back. She had one chance.
She made sure her stronger leg hit the roof ledge last and swung her arms forward as she leaped between the two buildings. She put everything she had into it. But as soon as she rose in the air, she knew it wouldn't be enough. She was falling too early, too fast.
With a bone-jarring thud, she hit the other building brick shelf and clawed at the metal flashing nailed around the ridge to keep the rain out. Too slippery. Despite frantically scraping the wall with her boots, Anne-Marie slid back. From behind her came a hiss like water drops falling on a burning log. The thing was laughing?
Another centimeter. Her shoulders ached, as did her fingertips. Not much more flashing could slide away before she was in freefall. With the height, at least she wouldn't suffer.
Another centimeter, the final one. At the last possible second, two hands shot out over the crest of the roof ledge, grabbed her wrists in iron grips, and yanked her upward as though she weighed nothing. The hissing stopped, replaced with a cry like fingernails on a blackboard. She couldn't explain it, but she understood the thing was pissed. Then silence.
Anne-Marie pedaled furiously as she helped whoever had her by the wrists to hoist the dead weight she'd become. A head and a pair of thick shoulders were the first things she saw as she was pulled onto the safety of the flat roof identical to the one she'd left behind.
She rolled up to her knees and stood. The breathless "thanks" never made it past her lips.
Him! The man she'd caught looking through the window.
Anne-Marie leaped back a step, hands up in a guard. He didn't move a muscle and just stood there scowling.
Had she been in the mood, she would've thought he was sexy in a scary way with dark hair plastered to his head and eyes narrowed to murderous slits. Rain made rivulets on either side of a Roman nose that tended to the aquiline. He stood quite a bit taller than her five-nine, and he didn't look one bit happy. And when, from his long black coat, he pulled a long black gun, Anne-Marie only managed a squeak of fright.
Oh, mon dieu. She was going to die like this.
Arm extended, he fired.