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Authors: Elizabeth Lapthorne

StrategicLust

BOOK: StrategicLust
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Strategic Lust

Elizabeth
Lapthorne

 

Book 9 in the Urban Seductions
series.

 

Josh is a confirmed bachelor, a
Mage who likes playing the field within the magical community. Now he and his
coworkers have a bounty on their heads after destroying a grimoire that reeked
of dark magic. It’s the last time he should want to get seriously involved with
anyone.

Yet he finds himself irresistibly
drawn to Kate, a sensually appealing warrior who is tasked with protecting him—and
cannot allow herself to become personally involved with her charges.

Yet despite Josh’s promises to
himself and Kate’s professional dedication, the magnetism between them only
grows as threats both magical and mundane threaten to rip them apart.

 

A Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from
Ellora’s Cave

 

Strategic Lust
Elizabeth Lapthorne

 

Chapter One

 

“This isn’t a game,” Kiera Patrick insisted firmly. Joshua
Delamere had to struggle not to groan as he rubbed his hands over his tired
eyes. Kiera and her lover, Hayden Foxworth, had come over before dawn, both of
them looking obscenely awake and fresh. Kiera was his coworker and best friend.
Josh couldn’t think of any other person he’d let get him up at this hour unless
it was for a naughty game or encore to the previous evening.

Kiera gave him her serious look, her brown eyes holding his
gaze steady, her black hair perfectly arranged. Even Hayden—who usually
appeared scruffy—seemed to have had time to get himself prepared. He only had a
hint of stubble, his overgrown dark hair neatly combed and his gaze just as
worried and serious as Kiera’s.

“We do need to discuss this situation,” Hayden said. “And
Kiera wanted to fill you in before we’re dragged off to another endless
meeting.”

Josh sighed and dragged his fingers through his hair. He
crossed over the motel room to the bathroom, left the door open and ran some
water over his hands, wiping the sleep from his eyes. Glancing in the mirror as
he patted his skin dry, he saw his light-brown hair still looked unkempt
compared to his normal every-hair-perfectly-arranged style, and his amber eyes
seemed drawn, tired.

The rented bed Josh had been forced to sleep in on the last
few nights had been uncomfortable, far from his own soft, welcoming one. He
missed his apartment, he missed his own possessions and most of all he hated this
feeling of being in a box, caged. He missed his freedom, the independence he
had always taken for granted to go where he wished, do what he pleased and,
most important of all, sleep with whomever, wherever he wanted.

Even when he shared a slightly uncomfortable bed, usually
the warm, willing witch with whom he spent the time made the temporary
inconvenience more than acceptable.

The cause of his tiredness—and truth be known his cranky
demeanor of late—was not just the bed and the lack of a willing pleasurable
partner, however. After destroying a truly evil grimoire their mentor and
Tribunal elder had given to them to “deal with” Joshua, his coworker Kiera and
Hayden had all had contracts put out on their heads. Hayden, taking the task of
protecting Kiera upon himself, had hired a Guardian for Josh—a sexy, svelte and
drop-dead gorgeous redhead called Kate Williams.

Josh, a confirmed bachelor, playboy and all-around fun-time
wizard, had been instantly smitten. Kate, however, had barely blinked twice in
his direction and his ego—not to mention other parts of him—was starting to
chafe and beg for attention. If he heard her “that would be unprofessional”
discussion one more time he might truly break down and weep. Josh was of the
opinion that everything that could be remotely deemed fun or adventurous was
classified as being against the rules of the Guardian handbook.

It was driving him nuts.

Josh turned to Kiera. “You’ll notice
I
am taking this
seriously. It’s not me who’s been shot in recent days. I’ve been holed up in
the middle of a low-rent motel keeping my head down here with my Guardian.
Unlike you and Hayden here, who have been running around pretending to be super
heroes.”

“Yeah, well, that’s all about to end,” Kiera retorted with a
firm glance at her lover.

Kiera and Hayden had been in a number of tight corners in
the last few days. Hayden had initially been shot in the shoulder during a run-in
with a bunch of thugs who’d jumped with glee to fulfill the contract out on
Hayden and Kiera’s lives. Kiera and Hayden had needed to flee for their
personal safety. They’d hidden for a while, but been unable to stop themselves
from looking further into the mystery.

Their novice detections had culminated in a fireball-throwing,
shotgun-shooting frenzy. They’d only made it out alive by the grace of two
other friends who had miraculously been present. Kyle and Sally had given them
surprise backup, the two Guardians having left a brainstorming session with
Hayden and Kiera just minutes earlier.

Realizing their luck would soon run out, Kiera and Hayden
had organized the meeting they were all about to head out to. Their intention
was mainly to bring in extra help so they could hide more effectively. Hayden
was a Special Ops agent on voluntary leave, used to dealing with rogue witches
and wizards and bringing them to justice. After falling deeply in love with
Kiera, however, he had decided that her safety meant more than catching the bad
guys.

While Josh privately thought there wasn’t a chance the dark-haired
wizard would call it quits, Hayden had consistently put Kiera’s safety above
his own desires and agenda. It was an attitude Josh could admire, Kiera being
one of his best and only true friends.

Kate finally spoke up for the first time since she had
ushered Hayden and Kiera into the living area. “I think bringing in two
Assassins to consult is a smart move.” Her blue-green eyes scanned the area
relentlessly, gauging and assessing the windows and constantly monitoring what was
going on all around them.

Josh didn’t even want to even think about the millions of
things Kate was simultaneously processing. The witch had a one-track mind—something
that, to a degree, he could understand. Sadly for him, Kate’s single track
revolved around work, work, safety and work. He had been determined to inject a
bit of fun and frivolity into her life. So far he had failed miserably.

“I know both Kyle and Sally well,” Kate added. “They’re a
bit off the wall, but good Guardians. They should be able to help us.”

“I also called in Melissa and Daniel,” Kiera admitted. “The members
of the group who have been ambushing us are not quite powerful enough to be
well-known Assassins, but they had that feel and certainly had the talent.
Admittedly they’re not the most powerful I’ve ever come across, but they were a
cohesive, professional team. I’m hoping Melissa and Daniel might be able to dig
something up too.”

“Do you think your two Assassin contacts might be able to
get this group off our backs?” Kate asked, her eyebrows rising only slightly
and her voice a few tones higher. Had Josh not been paying close attention for
days now to every nuance of the redheaded witch, he never would have guessed that
she was actually surprised under her cool, placid exterior. The tiny giveaway
of her raised tone, however, told him otherwise.

“I certainly hope so,” Kiera replied with a quick, decisive
nod.

“If we could get the crew to leave us alone, or better yet
rescind the contract, then we could focus properly on the real issue. While the
threat is serious, it’s also an impressive smokescreen foiling our attempts to
uncover the real risks. We need to find out where the leak has come from and
who has been fiddling with all this dark magic,” Kate reminded them.

“I agree with what you’re saying in theory,” Hayden
interjected gently. He scratched a hand over his ever-present stubble. The
large, dark-haired wizard might appear wiry, but he had more than proved
himself able and talented over the course of their adventures. “But even if
Melissa and Daniel can help with our ‘minor problem’ with this crew of hopeful
killers, that doesn’t mean there won’t be others willing and waiting to pick up
the slack. I don’t think we can fix all our hopes on that one outcome.”

“Considering how limited our movements have been,” Kate
pointed out, “which means essentially zilch, some help is better than nothing.”

Josh sighed. It was the most Kate had spoken at once since
he’d met her a few days ago. Lust, frustration and desire fought for dominance
in his stomach.

What the hell did he need to do to get this witch's
attention? Usually it was not a problem. A smile, a small joke, a casual glance,
and witches all but hurled themselves into his arms. Kate, on the other hand,
kept her distance, barely spoke or glanced at him and seemed utterly impervious
to his charms. It was driving him insane.

“While I’m not exactly one for sticking my neck out,” Josh said
with slight hesitation, “do you really think it wise to continue searching this
hard?”

Kiera frowned at him and Hayden rolled his shoulder with a
wince of pain. Josh hurried on before his coworker and her lover could
misunderstand him and think he was calling their dedication or work into
question.

“It’s just you’ve both borne the brunt of everything so
far—” Josh began. He was startled dumb when Kate interrupted and continued more
smoothly than he could have conveyed his meaning.

“And you’ve already been wounded once, Hayden. Kiera has
only escaped real damage through sheer luck. Why don’t you both lie low, at
least until you’re fully healed. Maybe it’s our turn to try to uncover what’s
really going on around here.”

Josh stared at Kate for a moment, trying to read whatever
emotions could be glimpsed in those soft blue-green eyes.

“Are you willing to risk yourself, Josh?” Kiera replied.
Having known his friend for years, he knew her comment was more tongue-in-cheek
than genuinely questioning his honor or courage. Josh grinned amiably at his
partner, finding the teasing, playful banter more comforting than any words of
encouragement could be.

“Well it’s not for
me
that I worry about being shot
at, burned or otherwise harmed,” Josh insisted with false modesty. “It’s all
those witches. Imagine what an outcry there would be if I were damaged or hurt.
Witches statewide would be left devastated, protests would be lodged, marches
begun. All in the name of—”

“Oh for Circe’s sake!” Kate finally broke in, her tone that
of a witch who’d taken almost as much as she could bear. More astonishing than
her cursing was the fact her eyes this time held a distinctive twinkle,
amusement clearly shining in them.

Josh found his breath taken away. The fire living deep
inside her was more intoxicating than he could have dreamed possible. The fact that
she even seemed to be getting in on their teasing was as much a surprise as the
secret laughter glinting in her eyes. Until that moment he hadn’t realized she
even possessed a sense of humor, let alone thought she would get on board with
their antics.

Her beauty flummoxed him. Joshua found himself even more
entranced by her than he would have believed possible.

“You can
not
possibly be that good,” Kate continued,
her eyes shining. “I mean, you can’t be even remotely that popular with the
witches. The size of your ego alone—”

Josh interrupted Kate before she could finish, a wicked,
impish smile plastered on his face. “Oh it hasn’t been exaggerated,” he
insisted sexily. “The size of my…
ego
most certainly matches up to
everything you’ve heard and I’ve stated.”

Kate snorted but once again her lips compressed into a thin
line as she resolutely refused to be goaded further. Josh felt a keen sense of
disappointment, knowing in his heart that the verbal sparring with this
redheaded witch—one of his favorite forms of intimate byplay with his closer
friends and more loved paramours—would be exquisite. A true prelude to earth-shattering
sex.

A tiny smile twitched at the corner of her soft, lush lips
even as she fought to repress it. Josh felt his mouth fall open in shock. Kate
was playing with him? Teasing him? Grinning in that beautiful manner at
him
?

He felt his body react instantly. His heartbeat picked up
almost painfully fast, his muscles tightened and his stomach dipped as if he
were in a plane that had started to freefall. Her pale, pale, creamy-white skin
had a healthy glow to it, the faintest of flushes lending color to the
otherwise porcelain-like perfection of her complexion. Her eyes laughed at him
and the wavy, deep-red fall of her hair framed her face and fell smoothly to
her shoulders.

While Kate usually had her hair tied back in a short
ponytail, the early hour coupled with the urgency of what Hayden and Kiera had told
them meant they’d barely had time to dress themselves, let alone fiddle with
ablutions or fixing their hair. Joshua decided he definitely liked the Kate he
currently saw, even more so than the intoxicatingly infuriating Guardian who
could remain purely and utterly focused on her working agenda even when he so
desperately craved her attention.

Not for the first time Josh found himself obsessing about
taking those soft red lips of hers with his own, tasting her intimately and seeing
if her skin was as soft and supple as it appeared. His curiosity was immediately
aroused and he yearned to discover whether her scent of honey and cinnamon was
natural or a subtle, sensual perfume she used. Josh was about to lean forward,
scoot his chair closer to her so he could touch and taste the divine temptation
Kate presented to him, but a slight sound from Kiera made him recall their
audience.

With a willing partner Josh usually was prepared to indulge
in practically anything, voyeurism and exhibitionism included, yet he somehow
found himself reluctant to have his first true experience with Kate in front of
an audience. Also weighing on his mind was that the Kate he had spent the last
couple of days with would not appreciate witnesses to such a private, intimate
moment, if indeed she were even willing. To date she had not appeared receptive
in the least, and that had been a large part of what had fuelled his desire for
her.

Josh opened his mouth, about to try to gently feel his way
through the landmines of desire, hesitation, arousal and uncertainty he felt
weighing between them, but Kiera beat him to the punch.

“We’re supposed to be meeting Melissa and Daniel in half an
hour,” she interjected with a faint hint of commiseration, which Joshua assumed
was for him and his interrupted by-play with Kate. “Melissa didn’t want to meet
too far out of the city, which is why Hayden and I got up at an unearthly pre-dawn
hour and came to see you first.”

BOOK: StrategicLust
3.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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