Authors: Lynne Connolly
A dangerous enchantment that can only be broken by fire…
Even Gods Fall in Love
, Book 4
Vulcan, living in the body of Harry, Earl of Valsgarth, prefers a quiet country life, channeling his fiery temperament into his metal workshop. But he can’t ignore a summons from Mercury.
When he spies the ravishing woman across the London theater, he realizes why Mercury needs him. She is Venus, in the body of a French duchesse. In legend, his wife. But she is under an infatuation spell that has escalated into obsession. Unchecked, it’s hot enough to cause another Fire of London. Harry is the only immortal with the strength to break it.
Virginie revels in the joy she has found with Marcus, also known as Mars. Until Harry arrives in her parlor, leaning on his cane, oozing his particular brand of seduction.
When murder abruptly splits Virginie and Marcus apart, Harry must cope with a painful withdrawal that could destroy her—and half the city. If Harry can’t find who is framing her, she will lose her place in society. And possibly her mind to madness…
Warning: When the gods get busy, it gets hot as Hades. Could cause noticeable reddening of your cheeks. Which cheeks, we’ll leave up to you.
Forged by Love
When a woman in a box opposite leaned forward and smiled at him, her bodice cut so low that he could see her nipples, Harry decided it was time to leave. Blatant display bored him. He set his palm on the ledge in front of him and reached for his cane.
His companion put his hand on top of his. Harry turned his head to glare at him, brow raised. “You require something?”
Amidei removed his hand, not the least put out by Harry’s best glower. “Stay. The real show hasn’t started yet.”
Harry glanced at the stage. Nobody could claim that the play was riveting to the audience; some idiotic tragedy about a man with two wives who set out to kill them both. It didn’t even have the saving grace of Garrick to help it along. The management had promised Garrick, but the actor had been summoned to Court to dine with King George. “This is a damned tedious play.”
Mercury—or rather, Amidei, Comte d’Argento—met Harry’s gaze, a smile playing over his lips. “Do you not appreciate the subtle innuendo?” He lifted his fingers, elegantly indicating the watchers. “Can you not see how engrossed they are?”
Harry huffed a laugh. Those members of the audience not involved in chatting or wandering around the auditorium were ogling the boxes through spyglasses. Very few paid much attention to the play. In one of the boxes opposite, a group of bloods were engaged in a game, barely glancing away from their cards.
Without looking, he jerked his head to indicate the woman who’d treated him, and half the audience, to a view of her bounteous breasts. “That wasn’t in the least subtle, and I’m in no mood for doxies tonight.”
Amidei followed the direction of his brief indication. His smile broadened to a grin. “Lady Hutton would be deeply displeased at being compared to a doxy.” He shrugged. “But you have the truth of it. She prefers to pursue her acquaintances without words. It is, after all, her privilege, since she is a widow with no husband to displease. However, I’m with you. She has the heart of a doxy. I prefer not to go where so many others have been.”
Harry increased his pressure on his cane, intending to get to his feet. “However,” Amidei continued smoothly, “that was not the show I intended you to see when I invited you here.”
As Harry stood, the door opened to admit a gentleman. He was tall, like Harry, and also like Harry, he had grey eyes. But his shade was closer to blue, not stormy and dark.
Immortals usually had grey eyes. Harry opened his senses and detected a trace of one he didn’t know. He bowed. “Henry, Earl of Valsgarth,” he said. “Vulcan.”
The stranger gave him the same obeisance, and added an artistic flourish. “Edmund, Duke of Kentmere.” He straightened and met Harry’s gaze in a direct challenge. “Eros.”
The Olympian immortals tended to use their Roman names. “Cupid?” Harry said.
Kentmere’s fine lips tightened. “I prefer Eros.”
Harry could guess why. Cupid’s depiction as a fat cherub would not appeal to a full-grown man.
Kentmere glanced over Harry’s shoulder to where d’Argento stood. “What’s the reason for the abrupt summons? I have to warn you I don’t appreciate being dragged away from my honeymoon.”
“Then you should not have left trouble behind you,” d’Argento said as Harry moved aside. “Please, both of you. Sit and wait.”
Relaxing his grip on his cane, Harry sat and took another look.
Below their box in the pit, gentlemen had their backs to the stage. They preferred to ogle the ladies in the boxes. Their quizzing glasses flashed. The ladies were feigning to hide behind their fans. Either that or using them to wave at acquaintances. The great chandelier over their heads blazed out heat and light. Jewels glittered, people shrieked with laughter at a private joke when someone on stage was dying.
And still the actors ground on.
Perhaps the company at White’s wouldn’t be as tedious as it had been the last time he was in town. Harry preferred to avoid London, but now he’d needed to come, called by the man sitting next to him. Amidei had asked every Olympian to help him launch his new venture, the Pantheon Club. Harry had arrived that very afternoon to be dragged here immediately after dinner.
A movement in another of the boxes opposite caught his attention and he gazed at the woman taking her seat. She wore sapphire blue, a colour that might have appeared garish on such a golden blonde. This lady’s astonishing beauty outshone everything else, even the diamonds glittering around her throat. Harry caught his breath.
Amidei sighed. “I wondered where she’d got to. I was beginning to think she wasn’t coming.”
“Good God, who is she?” Harry spoke without taking his gaze from the vision. She hadn’t seemed to notice them, although they sat opposite. She had a younger woman with her, but Harry didn’t waste much time on her. The lady drew him. Her breasts swelled up from her low-cut bodice, a lace frill teasing the possibility of an untamed escape. But unlike Lady Hutton, there was no obvious display. She lifted her hand to take a glass of white wine from the footman who had followed her into the box, her movement graceful to her fingertips.
“Do you know her?” Every thought had fled Harry’s head except how he could gain an introduction to the vision. She pulled him as the other had not. He didn’t care how many or how few men had visited her recently. He wanted her regardless. The moment was purely lust, but there was nothing wrong with lust in the right situation.
D’Argento glanced at Kentmere and touched his finger to his lips, requesting silence from their new companion. “She’s one of us. Guess who she is.”
One of us.
She was an Olympian. In the old days they’d been called gods. Some still called themselves that, but Harry was uncomfortable with the word. They were immortals, another false name. They were immortal until they walked into a building mined with bombs. Then they were dead, at least the bodies they had occupied were.
That cataclysmic event had changed the course of their history. Thirty years gone, but nobody forgot it. “One of the Graces?” Her elegant economy of movement demonstrated her innate nature.
“No.” Amidei sounded sharp. “A Grace wouldn’t cause so much disturbance. Look around you.”
Harry tore his attention from the vision to study the audience. He hadn’t noticed until now, but the hush that had fallen was not due to a particularly spirited effort by the actors on the stage. All eyes were trained on her, the woman who behaved as if supremely indifferent to the stir she had caused. Men stared at her in open lust, women in admiration or jealousy. Some turned away and exchanged comments with others. As he watched, the world began to spin again. Murmurs rose to challenge the efforts of the thespians.
“Venus,” he said. That explained the lust.
“Indeed,” Amidei murmured. “Venus, in the body of the Duchesse de Clermont-Ferand.” This made sense. Venus could attract anyone of either sex without even trying. Harry’s cock stirred, something no gentleman should allow to happen in public. But his member didn’t seem to realise he was a gentleman. She exuded allure like a perfume that saturated the atmosphere.
“Her first name?”
Harry burst into gales of shocked laughter. “How could anyone call her that? Virginie?” He faced d’Argento, resisting the temptation to stare at the goddess opposite.
Amidei indicated the woman opposite with a jerk of his chin. “I wanted you to see her as she is in society, and that is the real reason I asked you here tonight. Do you know why?”
Harry’s head went up and he stared at her again. Her beauty glowed. And still she took no notice of them, but realisation came to him in a pounding thump. He was the blacksmith of the gods, the ugly one. Vulcan. “Yes, I know. Because in legend, Vulcan married Venus. They were very unhappy, as I recall.”
“They were, at least in myth. I am hoping that link will help us now in some way.”
Harry had resisted her allure long enough to take notice of other people, and his mind started to work again. He’d suffered a bolt of lust, that was all. Did she know she was doing it? He didn’t know, but he suspected not. She was excited, and she’d transmitted that to everyone around her. He felt that undercurrent as if she had stroked him with it.
One of the actors raised his voice, declaiming something about love and truth. Harry wished he’d speak more quietly. The voice echoed uncomfortably around his head, interfering with his thoughts.
Kentmere swore under his breath. “This is her doing.”
Venus would never look at him twice, whatever their backgrounds. The legends got a few things right. He was still ugly. Most times his appearance never bothered him, but occasionally he wished for a more comely form. He was too large for most women’s tastes and his face wasn’t smooth or elegant, like the man he was looking at now. Plus, his twisted leg wasn’t exactly a lure.
Tension vibrated through him, but he was no youth, besotted and unable to hide it. Besotted he might be, but so was half the theatre here tonight.
He turned his attention back to the stage. Either the play had concluded or the actors had given up. “Is there any more?”
“An interval, then a ballet.” Amidei barely spared the stage a glance. The hands were scurrying over it, removing the sticks of furniture. The wings slid out and the backdrop was hauled up to reveal a vista of a forest.
“I believe we are to be treated to nymphs. If we are very fortunate, there might be shepherds too,” Kentmere said dryly.
Harry returned his attention to the woman opposite. Of course she had the presence that great beauty brought, but there was more. “I want to meet her.”
“You cannot do that tonight. I don’t want you meeting in the eye of society. This theatre has seen its fair share of drama recently, on the stage and off it.”
The first nymph pirouetted on to the stage. Her scandalously short skirt drew desultory whistles from the ironically named part of the theatre called the gods. Most of the lower parts of the theatre took little notice. The orchestra scraped its way through something instantly forgettable. The dancer twirled and twisted, but never quite showed her all. Maybe she had one fold of the skirt tucked between her legs, but the display was damned clever, if not seductive. In other circumstances, she’d have stolen the show.
Not tonight, though.
A shadowy figured entered Virginie’s box, tall, dark and far too well-built for a woman. The level of excitement increased as the man came into view. Harry didn’t know him, but since he hadn’t visited town for some time that didn’t entirely surprise him.
“And so another act begins,” Amidei said.
Harry watched. The man took a seat, close, but not as close as a husband might. When she leaned towards him, he smiled, and to Harry it looked predatory. He kept his hands below the parapet. Then she flinched, very slightly, but the fine leaves of her fan trembled in response.
Kentmere groaned once more. “Now I see what you are at.”
“Damn, what is the idiot doing?” Such a blatant exhibition of lust shocked Harry.
“Guess.” Amidei did not sound surprised.
“Everyone is watching,” Harry pointed out.
“They don’t care.”
The first rule the Olympians lived by was to keep their identities secret. Venus and her lover were skating so near to the edge they threatened to expose their powers. Waves of arousal, pure sexual heat were emanating from them to spread over the theatre like a tidal wave. “She’s one of us—what is she thinking?”
Her shoulders had slumped, and if he wasn’t mistaken she’d closed her eyes. He didn’t need to see what the man was up to. He could guess.
Shock chased out the excitement pounding through the atmosphere. It had taken hold of the nymphs on the stage and their movements grew increasingly lascivious. The shepherds had joined them and they had their hands on their partners’ bodies, cupping breasts, delving under skirts. The women on stage begin to disrobe as Venus’s influence took everyone’s attention.
Some dancers at the theatre earned extra income in the bawdy houses and bagnios fringing Covent Garden. From their performances it appeared they had started their evening work early.
Kentmere’s tension radiated through the place. He sat bolt upright, his hands clenched on the rail in front of their box. He stared at the couple opposite, and Harry felt the power as he pushed it towards them. As Eros he would have something to do with love and passion. Perhaps he could stop the pair opposite going too far. As if they had not gone too far already.
Boos and jeers came from the people sitting in the gods. They booed and jeered at everything, but the volume increased. Their heads were turned to the box where Venus and her lover were engaged in making private activity public. Some would have a bird’s-eye view of the box where Venus was cavorting with her lover. Ragged cheers erupted from the parts where the audience would have the best view.
Missiles flew, oranges, nutshells and worse. Not just at the couple in the box, either. Miraculously none of them hit Amidei, Harry or Kentmere. Or maybe not so miraculously. “Are you deflecting them?” Harry asked.
Amidei nodded curtly. “That would add insult to injury. Now do you see why I brought you here?”
“What do I have to do with this mess? I will help you if I can, for the sake of the community, but what chance do I have against Adonis over there?”
She was nearly leaning against the man’s shoulder, almost faint with ecstasy. Shouts echoed around the auditorium, lewd comments bouncing off the walls.
“That’s not Adonis,” Kentmere said. “It’s Mars. Otherwise known as Marcus, the Duke of Lyndhurst.
do you understand?”
Recognition shot through him. Oh yes, Harry saw it now. “Venus and Mars.” Since nobody would hear him over the roar of the audience, he let rip with a string of curses. The couple opposite were oblivious to the noise, or anything except each other, but still he sensed nothing but lust. Was he alone in that? “What in hell’s name is wrong with them? I stayed hidden for years, until I learned what I was and what I could do.” He was half talking, half-communicating mind-to-mind, in the way of the gods.