Authors: Helen Scott Taylor
Helen Scott Taylor
Copyright © 2013 by Helen Taylor
Cover design © Helen Taylor
The right of Helen Taylor to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Copyright owner.
The breathy cry of a woman in the throes of passion echoed along the corridor of Château Montgatine. Luka Vlad ground his teeth as he imagined his personal assistant, Pablo, lying sweaty and satiated in bed with the woman.
He stopped halfway up the staircase and pushed open a window, drawing in the hot, humid air laden with the fragrance of ripening grapes. He stared morosely at the neat rows of Cabernet Franc grapevines running down to the River Cher. After he had knocked back a few glasses of wine, his life would not seem so bad.
With a bitter laugh, he clenched his fist against the window frame before turning towards his office. These days he almost believed the lies he told himself.
He yanked off his tie and tossed it aside. Paris had been stifling. At least now he was home, the thick limestone walls of his château held the worst of the July heat at bay.
The documents he'd asked Pablo to prepare were stacked neatly in the center of the large oak desk. Luka glanced back along the corridor. How long before Pablo noticed his return? How long before his friend came for him? Luka released a lingering breath and uncorked a bottle of Château Montgatine.
After pouring, he raised the glass to the light and examined the liquid: deep purple with hints of ruby, infused with the power of sun and earth.
Lowering the glass, he inhaled its intense aromatic presence, then sipped raspberry and black currant compote
. Power, finesse, and balance
Power and finesse were also attributes of the beautiful woman pictured in an article he had torn out of
and pinned up. He raised his glass to the glossy image. Clare Moray's thick-lashed, sultry blue eyes stared back at him. His fingers twitched as he imagined touching the dark hair streaming over her satin-draped curves.
"Moray Faceglo defies time," the strapline promised. And at the bottom of the page in a wispy font was the Moray slogan, "It must be magic." A simple and effective marketing gimmick for the anti-aging face cream her company manufactured—but it was far from magic.
, Miss Moray. I look forward to meeting you." Her generous curves were barely concealed beneath the folds of silky fabric gathered at her waist. She was luscious, the image of her grandmother, and probably equally as deadly.
The sound of footsteps made him turn. Pablo halted in the doorway, shoulder against the door frame, grinning.
Luka was not ready for him yet. He was never ready. In an attempt to buy time, he dropped his gaze to the stack of papers on his desk. "Thank you for preparing these."
"Leave the paperwork. You're tired,
There was no use denying it. The pallor of Luka's skin and the dark smudges beneath his eyes always gave him away.
"I've a gift for you." Pablo beckoned him.
With difficulty, Luka kept his expression mild. The gift would be psychic energy from the woman he'd heard earlier. He hated this need, this weakness, but fatigue gnawed at his bones. He wasn't sure how much longer he would last without the energy boost.
"Come, Luka." Pablo led the way along the corridor to his bedroom. "I've employed this new woman Lila in the kitchen. She likes me and she's willing. And," he said kissing the bunched tips of his fingers, "she's beautiful."
As they entered Pablo's bedroom, warm air laden with the smell of perfume and sex clogged Luka's nose. A pale, slender woman stretched seductively on the bed. Her long fair hair fanned across the pillow. Slowly, she drew one foot up her leg and pouted her pink lips in a provocative gesture.
Luka paced to the window and fixed his gaze on the garden. He had to be in this room ready to receive the energy, but he wished he was anywhere else.
"Are you all right?" Pablo stepped up beside him and rested a hand on his shoulder.
"Yes. Please, just do it. Get it over with." Pablo's face fell and Luka immediately regretted his harsh tone. If not for his friend, he would be far worse off.
"Very well." Pablo headed to the bed.
Luka braced his hands on the window frame, closed his eyes, and dropped his head. How he hated this process, and hated himself for needing it.
The mattress creaked as Pablo climbed on the bed and Lila giggled self-consciously.
"Are you ready for more pleasure, my sweetling?" Pablo asked.
Luka tried to ignore the sounds behind him. He imagined walking beside the River Cher, the sun warming his back, the sweet fragrance of ripening grapes in the air. After a while, the woman's ecstatic moans grew so loud he could no longer ignore them. He glanced over his shoulder. Pablo moved on top of Lila, his olive skin and rippling muscles in stark contrast to her pale legs and slender arms.
Through narrowed eyes, Luka made out the shimmer of psychic energy dancing around them in a diaphanous cloud.
Lila moaned, whipping her head from side to side. Luka tore away his gaze and gritted his teeth, battling the hunger that taunted him. The touch of his hand would steal her energy and possibly her life. The only way he could safely get psychic energy was using Pablo as an intermediary.
Pablo's hand landed on Luka's shoulder, dragging him back from his thoughts. "Open your eyes,
Luka stared into his friend's brown eyes, every muscle in his body trembling in anticipation. Pablo held Luka's face between his hands and a rush of restorative power flooded into him. Tingling energy raced along his nerves, easing the aches in his joints, and relieving the fatigue in his muscles. Relief rumbled deep in his chest. He gripped Pablo's shoulders and held him close, until the sense of fulfillment receded and the guilt and despair crawled back.
An agony of pleasure and pain radiated between them. Luka pushed Pablo away and braced a fist against the wall. At times like this, he was never able to think of words to thank his friend for all that he did to keep him alive.
Thank goodness the top floor corridor of Clare Moray's New York office was empty when she arrived back from her business lunch. The last thing she wanted was another run-in with the chief financial officer.
Her personal assistant was busy misting the fluffy ferns that spilled from a multitude of bright ceramic pots around her desk. They didn't match the chic black-and-white décor, but it didn't matter. Clare wasn't fond of her grandmother's minimalist decorations, anyway. Susan's indoor garden made a welcome change.
"Hi, there. Meeting useful?" Susan asked.
Clare pinched a bunch of her beaded silk camisole above her waistband. "Useful for adding a few pounds. I'll have to hit the gym after work."
"Tell me about it. I wish the doughnut place wasn't so close." Susan patted her butt with an eye roll. "Your messages." She handed across a few slips of paper.
Clare took them and nodded towards Edward Gregore's office just down the hall. "Has our helpful CFO been around today?"
"He left some more financial reports on your desk about thirty minutes ago. I asked him to leave them with me, but you know what he's like," Susan said.
"More reports?" Clare's heart dropped. The man was determined to drown her in paper. "Is he still in his office?"
Clare grimaced. "Okay, time for me to get busy." She checked her watch and grabbed the stack of letters awaiting her signature. "If Edward asks for me, tell him I'll catch up with him on Monday. I must sign off on the proofs for the new Faceglo ads, and I've got that conference call in forty-five minutes."
Susan nodded and scribbled a note on the schedule beside her keyboard. "I'll remind you five minutes before it's time."
Clare reached the double doors to the president's office and grasped the golden dragon-shaped handle. A little flutter of nerves went through her as she entered the thickly carpeted hush of what she still thought of as Monique's office.
Her grandmother had been beautiful and in demand, no social event complete without her presence. Yet those who crossed her saw a different side to Monique, the cold, hard woman beneath the glamorous exterior. She had not been easy to work for.
Clare's breath rushed out in annoyance at the sight of a thick pile of financial documents marring the symmetry of the glass and stainless steel desk. Edward Gregore could throw everything he liked at her. She wouldn't let the jerk intimidate her into resigning.
He'd made no secret of the fact he expected to become president of Moray Skincare when Monique died, but Clare had inherited over fifty percent of the shares and she was confident her stint as VP of marketing had given her enough experience to take control. She was on a steep learning curve, but she could do it. She had no intention of standing aside for a male chauvinist.
Settling into the deep leather chair, she flicked opened one of the folders, briefly scanned the figures, and pushed the heap of papers aside with a huff. She'd learned enough at business school to recognize that Edward was trying to confuse her with nonsense.
Decisive male footsteps echoed in the corridor outside her door, followed by Susan's voice raised in protest. Clare's gaze jumped to the door, waiting for Edward's knock. Instead, the double doors swung open and the man breezed in as though he had the right. He slammed the doors carelessly behind him and strolled across the carpet towards her.
"Clare, looking beautiful as ever," he crooned in a patronizing tone.
Without invitation, he dropped into one of the tan leather guest chairs facing her and crossed his legs.
"Good afternoon, Edward. I didn't hear you knock." She didn't expect an apology. The man had the sensitivity of a rock.
With a self-satisfied smirk, his pale blue gaze traveled over her appreciatively. She suppressed a shiver. He wasn't bad looking, but he made her skin crawl. Beneath the fragrance of aftershave, Edward always smelled horrible.
"We have an issue." He slid a piece of paper across the desk. "They've had a problem with the stock of Factor T at the Sloterdijk production facility in Amsterdam."
The paper turned out to be a fax. Clare tapped her French-manicured fingernail on the date. "This came in yesterday. Why the delay in telling me?"
"I wanted to check it out myself first."
Frustration filled her, just as it had when social workers talked over her head, deciding her life when she was younger. "I should have been alerted the moment we found out."
Edward stared at her, his eyes suddenly empty. This weird zoning out thing he did was another reason he creeped her out.