The Plano Book Club Book of the Month Selection January 2008
LRC Award Winner, 2nd Place for Best Sci-Fi Fantasy 2007
LASR Award Nominee Best Book 2007
Fantasm Award Winner, Best Overall Fantasy Romance
LASR - Best Book
RR@H Top Pick 2007
PEARL Award Finalist Best Paranormal Romance 2007
Readers' Choice Award Winner, Best Contemporary Romance 2007

Chapter 2

Present Day, Kentucky

Lifting the icy-cold bottle of Coors to his mouth, Jago Mershan froze in mid-motion, then groaned as if he received a stiff blow to his solar plexus. His whole body tensed as everything about him receded to gray. Nothing could have prepared him for the impact of Asha Montgomerie on his senses.

Jago’s green eyes tracked the woman who’d slid out of the black Jaguar and strode across the parking lot, the image of warm honey suddenly foremost in his mind. Only, his sweet tooth wasn’t throbbing. His pain centered lower―much lower. The jukebox switched to Bob Seger’s pulsing “Come to Papa”, causing the right side of his mouth to twitch into a hungry predator’s smile. Low laughter rumbled in his chest as his eyes never left Asha. He whispered, “Yeah, come to papa.”

She was tall, around five-seven, the height increased a shade by the heels of the brown leather Wellies. Her black jeans fit snugger than his English racing gloves and lovingly displayed the long, sleekly toned limbs that would wrap around him―ah, a man―and never let go. Being a lowly male, he thoroughly appreciated how the firm breasts filled a 34D to perfection, no Miracle Bra needed, no Pamela Lee implants. Bodies like hers were a throwback to the heyday of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Placing her hand on the porch rail, she followed the spiral up the creek stone stairs, her body undulating in a quiet, feline grace. The superb breasts swayed perceptively with each step, the black, scoop-necked sweater revealing tempting cleavage.

As she moved along the row of plate-glass windows he was treated to her profile, the derrière promising a male enjoyed watching her walking away as much as he would her coming toward him. Well, almost. Seeing those mobile curves approaching, a man would tingle with anticipation of getting his hands on that firm flesh.

Sunlight caught and refracted through the full glass door as Asha opened it, blinding him for an instant. Then she rematerialized, born from the brilliant shafts. The setting sun's aura followed her with an arcane sentience, greedily clinging to her to form a red-gold halo about her―a breath-stealing shard of time that burned deep into his soul. When he was old and grey, he’d recall this instant as if yesterday and remember its power, how it moved him.

Not a classic beauty, Asha’s face was arresting, feline. Her jaw line hinted of the Montgomerie stubbornness, but a faint cleft in her chin softened the effect. His body bucked as he imagined running the side of his thumb over the shadowy dip, seeing those cat eyes watch him, enrapt by his action. A flicker of arrogance flashed in those amber eyes, though in an understated way, the haughtiness carried off with regal self-assurance few women ever truly achieved.

Asha glanced about the room in disinterested fashion, her hair rippling like silk down to the small of her finely arched spine. A honey-color generally ascribed golden brown, though Jago deemed the label pathetically short of characterizing her mane. The locks shimmered with a thousand golds, from fiery to pale auburns and vibrant browns. It provoked an appetite to see it spread across his pillow as he drove himself into her slick, welcoming body, feel it draped and cool over his burning skin. A hunger that would force a throwback like him to howl.

A smile tugged wickedly at the corner of his mouth when the jukebox changed tunes and the singer began ah-ooing about “The Werewolf of London”. Given a British passport was in the glove box of the leased Jeep Cherokee, and the fact she provoked him to consider howling, he chalked up one for the odd quirk of fate and timing.

It was fascinating to observe the emotional shifts on male faces as they watched the striking woman pass. Clearly, they wanted Asha. Oh, did they want her! Nonetheless, Jago doubted any would approach her. She stared men in the eye, dismissing them with a flick of her long black lashes, a poise that would send all but the ardent meat-eaters running. They would look her up and down, lick their chops, but the power, the regnancy radiating from her would humble all but the dauntless fools. In the end those fleeing would feel guilty for even daring to look, to wish, knowing they were not worthy. Only sheer morons with nothing to lose would take the risk.

Or a man as assured of himself as he was.

Asha’s aloof scan of the dining room finally reached Jago. The amber-brown eyes widened as her stare collided with his. The witchy force of those cat-eyes rocked Jago, stole his breath. Lightning sizzled along his nerves as the odd moment in time lengthened. All about them faded. Never had he felt that connected to anyone before.

Then with a sweep of her long lashes, she pretended she hadn’t noticed him.

“Nice try, Asha.” he said under his breath, then took a long draw on the beer to kill his parched throat. Jago Luxovius Mershan, you're one lucky sonofabitch―or curst, he mused.

Asha spoke to the hostess, their words lost under restaurant chatter. Evidently she’d requested the blinds be dropped, for the woman did, plunging the diner into shadows. Asha went ahead and seated herself in a booth about halfway back, on the side opposite of the long row of windows.

His position on the stool at the counter was dead center on the aisle, thus affording him a splendid show. Oh yeah, this Scottish miss had one sweet ass! The way her derrière moved sent his blood into a low rocking thrum, similar to a Harley-Davidson jump-starting in his chest. Yep, that's what Asha reminded him of―his classic ‘67 Harley Electra Glide in black―all sleek curves and lines, created so a man just craved to climb on for the ride of his life. He contemplated if Asha made love Harley-style―zero to a hundred m.p.h. in a blink of an eye.

It would be riding thunder.

He nearly laughed aloud realizing if he told her that―in all sincerity meaning it as the ultimate compliment― she'd probably deck him. Only a man would think comparing a woman to a Harley―not just any bike, mind you, but a Harley―was highest praise. He recalled that old Robert Palmer song “Bang a Gong” and the stanza about a woman being built like a truck. Females just didn’t get what Palmer wailed about. Men did. It was one of those Men are From Mars kind of stalemates. Few things born of man could bring Jago to his knees faster than a vintage Harley or the perfect woman. And Asha Montgomerie, without doubt, was the perfect woman―in his eyes. A man's hottest fantasy come to life. His fantasy for far too long.

Over the years he had seen dozens of photos of her. Then back in May, at her grandfather’s funeral in England, he’d seen her from a distance. Brief glimpses little prepared him for the up-close affect this woman had on his system. It took all his control not to get to his feet, go to her, put a hand behind her neck and devour that small, pouty mouth.

Jago wanted her as he’d never wanted a woman before. And without hesitation he’d take her, possess her, brand her and never look back. Damning the consequences. Because like her, he too was a throwback.

Too bad he was here to tear her safe, secure world apart. Before the dust settled, she'd likely hate his guts, despise him just as powerfully as he craved her.

Jago prayed he didn’t destroy them both before it was done.

***

Asha stared at the menu―not that she needed to read it. The Windmill served Cajun Gumbo on Thursday, fresh Halibut on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a grilled New York strip that would melt in your mouth every day of the week, along with BLTs, club sandwiches and burgers and fries. She was aware Kentucky catfish was no longer a specialty on the menu, thanks to the sprawling suburban population of Lexington polluting the Kentucky River with their sewage. She knew the prices. Wouldn’t have to ask for availability. Small wonder since she ordered the food supplies each week.

She usually ate after the supper crowd thinned for the evening. Only, she’d spent the day on the horse farm and was ravenous, even though it was barely five. She’d eat early and be ready to handle the cash register, leaving Rhonda free to concentrate on seating customers as they came shuffling in.

The long fingernails of her left hand tapped out a restless rhythm on the Formica tabletop while she feigned attention in the plastic covered menu. Asha tried to block out the handsome man sitting at the counter drinking a beer. Her eyes spotted him the instant she came in, though she affected pretence she hadn’t. Inside, her heart bounced against her ribs with a bruising force. Men like him were hard to miss. A female sensed their presence as much as saw them, some basic animalistic instinct that set off alarms.

“What’ll you have, Boss Lady?” Netta asked, setting a small glass of ice water on the paper coaster. With a grin, she pulled the Bic pen from her hair above the side of her ear, popped her gum, and waited for Asha to order.

“You ever wonder why we put paper coasters under our drinks when it’s a Formica top?” Asha asked blandly. She knew Netta was waiting for more than her order. She wanted to gossip about Mr. Tall, Dark and Potently Sexy sitting on the stool.

Netta shrugged. “The Windmill has always put paper coasters under glasses.” She popped her gum and lifted her eyebrows. “You know what happens if you try to change anything around here. More than the natives get restless.”

Ignoring the comment, Asha folded the menu and handed it to the bleached-blonde. “New York strip, medium-rare, and a salad with French dressing. I’m famished.”

Nessa exaggeratedly spun on her New Balance leather sneakers, her eyes sweeping over the man at the counter. “Hmm…I’m famished, too.” Giving Asha a wink, she took the order to the small window. She attacked the ticket to the wheel, spun it around for Sam and then dinged the bell to get his attention.

The stranger on the stool drew Asha’s gaze. Compelled her to look at him. Dared her to look at him. She tried to mask her glance, nonchalant, as though bored and seeking diversion, letting it sweep the whole room until it finally reached him. She failed. Their eyes locked and Asha nearly flinched as she felt the focus of his mind. The throb of his radiant sexual power sent a shiver of physical awareness to roll through her body and slam into her womb with a force she’d never experienced before.

He unnerved her. Rarely did men do that to her. Actually, no man had. With her potent cat-like eyes, she could look down her nose and set even the strongest of them to feeling like slugs. The ability second nature to her, she turned on the frost and glared as if he were something she’d stepped in. As a rule, it sent them to running. Not this one.

He leaned back against the counter with a wolfish grin and looked. Not pretending to do anything else. He just stared at her. It was damn unsettling.

She couldn’t even pretend to gaze out the windows at the horse farm’s pastoral scenery across the road. She’d asked Rhonda to close the blinds against the harsh afternoon glare.

“Here you go.” Netta set the iced Pepsi, a salad and a basket of rolls before her. She stepped so her body blocked Asha from the stranger’s view. “You know that man at the counter?”

Thankful Netta gave her the perfect excuse for taking her eyes from the stranger, Asha broke a roll and buttered it. “What man?”

Netta gave a dry laugh and popped her gum a couple times before saying, “Nice try, Sugarplum. Men like that are impossible not to notice.”

“Never saw him before in my life.” Asha sipped the cola. Oh, she would remember this man had they met.

A master gossip, Netta excelled at knowing when to tell all, when to hint. With her smart mouth and flashing baby-blue eyes, she’d charm a person’s life history out of them in a wink. The diner likely had higher profits and long line of ‘regulars’ due to Netta’s down-home charm. What she knew about the stranger would be forthcoming.

The only way to play the game, Asha mused, answer a question with a question. “Why would you think I know him?”

“Sexy Lips has a foreign accent, British I think, like yours. Gives a gal shivers.” She hugged herself, then popped her gum. “Also, I get this sense he was waiting for something… maybe you. My granny knew things. She passed that on to me.”

“Steak’s up, Netta,” Sam, their cook, called through the open space, setting the plate up on the warmer.

“Back in two shakes.” Netta went to pick up the inch-thick steak and returned to place it before Asha. “Eat up, Sugarplum.” She glanced sideways at the black-haired stranger and wiggled her eyebrows. “Looks like you’re gonna need all your strength.”

#

“I sure enjoyed that dinner. You tell Sam that, eh, Asha,” Melvin Jackson said, picking up a cellophane-wrapped peppermint from the bowl at the side of the register. He unwrapped it and then popped it into his mouth while waiting for Asha to ring up his ticket.

Sam poked his head up in the small window. “Sam heard your big mouth flapping. So, you liked the gumbo?”

Melvin patted his round stomach. “Damn fine, though just a pinch too much sassafras and not enough filé powder.”

“Blah. It was perfect,” Sam’s black face frowned.

Asha counted out Melvin’s change, only half listening to the routine these two went through every Thursday night. Each week, Melvin came in for the gumbo dinner; each week he and Sam fussed over the filé powder and sassafras. A running game between the two.

The whole time, she could barely keep her attention on them. She felt the stranger watching her. She tried to tune him out, ignore him as if she was unaware of his presence. It was impossible. Her skin almost tingled knowing his eyes followed her every move.

“Night, Netta, Sam, Asha!” Melvin waved as he opened the door and stepped into the night.

Asha had just stuck the receipt in the basket by the register and closed the till, when Sexy Lips leaned across the counter and asked, “May I have another Coors?”

A slight shiver slithered over her body, a cross between female fear instinct and instant turn-on. Wow! Images, of that deep voice whispering sweet nothings in the middle of the night was enough to give her hot flashes.

As yet, Asha couldn’t determine what color his eyes were, due to the recessed lighting, but their power rocked her to her toes. Forcing herself to turn away to the glass door cooler behind her, she removed a Coors. She used the old-fashioned Pepsi-Cola, wall-mount opener to snap off the top. Twist off my arse, she thought, and handed it to him.

As his fingers closed around its neck, hers flexed in a spasm about the brown bottle. Did beer have salt?

Her grandmother had taught all her sisters never to pass a warlock salt. She now wondered if that was salt or as in salt being an ingredient in something else? Maeve had been Scottish, born on Falgannon Isle in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, where the past wasn’t so distant and superstitions the norm. Maeve believed if you passed a warlock salt you open yourself to obeying his suggestions. When Asha had pressed why, Maeve said it was an old warlock’s trick, a test if you’d bend to his will. Asha guessed she should have clarified if that was salt in all forms.

His black brows lifted, questioning her hold on the bottle. Perplexed amusement twinkled in the penetrating eyes, the shade of deep green garnets, nearly so dark one might take them to be dark brown or black. They held a power, a force that rattled her.

Again Falgannon Isle, where her sister BarbaraAnne lived, came to mind. The island was under an ancient curse which demanded her sister―the Lady of the Isle―marry a green-eyed man with black hair to break it. Asha wasn’t even ‘heir apparent’, the fifth of seven sisters, but she couldn’t help think of B.A.’s curse as she stared this man in the face. Maybe she should pass B.A.’s address to him. He had the black hair, green eyes and his voice had a sexy hint of Ireland―the three requirements to fulfill the dictates of B.A.’s curse.

A hot flare of jealousy suddenly hit the pit of her stomach. For some reason she didn’t want her sexy blonde goddess of a sister anywhere near this man.

Dismissing the weird thoughts, she released the beer.

“Thank you.” A hint of laughter touched the words. “For a moment I thought you were going to arm-wrestle me for it…though I cannot say I would be adverse to the idea.”

She opened the till again and set about arranging the bills so the ‘faces’ anal retentively faced the same direction. Any excuse to avoid those probing eyes. “Not for a beer. I don’t drink beer.”

“Beer or alcohol in general?” he asked.

“Beer.” Asha closed the register, trying to think of some other chore she needed to do. An escape. There wasn’t anything, so she drew a cola from the fountain. She held up the glass. “I’m a Pepsi addict.”

“That still doesn’t answer my question. Drink anything besides Pepsi?”

“The occasional Whisky―without the E.” Asha forced an appearance of being cool, calm and collected. Then why did her heart pound so erratically? No male had ever caused this chemical reaction within her, on par with sticking her finger into an electrical socket.

“What’s wrong with beer?”

“I don’t care for the taste.” She shrugged. “Sue me.”

Dark green eyes danced with mischief. “Have you ever drunk a Coors?”

“No, I once drank a Dark Isle and a Wee Heavy.”

“Dark Isle? Wee Heavy?” he inquired.

“Scottish Ale.”

“Ah, room temperature. You should try Coors. Big difference between American beer and European ale.” He pushed the bottle at her. “Try it.”

She stared at the container, once again worrying about beer having salt. This was too much like the Wicked Witch offering Snow White the poisoned apple, but instead of a witch she faced a warlock. Damn! She wished now she’d paid more attention to Maeve’s warnings.

He remarked, “First, you almost won’t let me have the beer, now you stare at it as if I’m offering you a cobra.”
“I’m working.” Asha grasped at the very logical reason.

He laughed softly, saying he didn’t believe her. The low sexy rumble wormed its way under her skin, sending Goosebumps over her body. “Chicken.”

Damn, she really wished she knew if they used salt in brewing beer. “I don’t drink with strangers.”

He leaned forward and stuck out his right hand. “Jago Fitzgerald.”

Asha stared at it. A beautiful hand. You could tell a lot about a man from his hands. Not a nail biter, so he wasn’t the nervous sort. The nails were clean, manicured. No calluses, yet the hands weren’t soft. She judged he had some sort of indoor job, but used those hands on weekends to exercise. The fingers were long, elegant. Hands of a warlock trying to trick her into doing his bidding.

“Jago?” she tested the name’s sound. Though his accent was British, he pronounced it with a long A Irish sound. Instead of Jag-o, it was Jay-go.

“It’s Old English for―”

“James, I know. I just never met one walking around before.” He waited for her to accept his hand. When she didn’t, his left brow arched calling her coward. Well, damn him, no man called her chicken twice! She took his hand. It was warm, dry. “Asha Montgomerie.” A tingling went up her arm, lodged in her shoulder, then her neck. Yeppers, a ruddy warlock.

The handshake was firm. His thumb traced a small circle on her palm three times before releasing it. What? Is that some sort of old warlock school handshake? Asha wondered.

For an instant something hot flickered in his dark eyes. Oddly, Asha had the inkling he thought about using that hand to pull her to him and kiss her. Then it was gone. She chalked it up to a trick of the recessed lighting around the counter.

He let go. She thought she’d passed the challenge rather well, outside the electrical shock and imagining he wanted to kiss her. Then his left hand wiggled the Coors by the long neck. Caught up in thinking Netta was right―he did have sexy lips―she blinked, recalling he dared her to take a drink of beer.

She slowly took the Coors, saw the smug smile almost escape before he reformed his face. Taking the brown bottle, she turned it around looking at the label.

“What? It’s a Coors.” He laughed.

“I was looking for a list of ingredients. Every bloody thing has ingredients and daily nutritional requirements― even bottled water. But not beer. TM.”

“TM?” he queried.

“Typically Male. Don’t mess with male bastions like beer.”

“What’s to know―barley, hops, water and yeast?”

She hesitated and then admitted. “I wondered if there was salt in it.”

“On a low sodium diet?”

She smiled, suddenly enjoying the banter. “Something akin to that.” Feeling silly for worrying about salt, she took a sip, then passed him the bottle back. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to Pepsi, Cherry Coke and 7-Up.”
“Cherry Coke? Why not Cherry Pepsi?”

“Cherry Coke is an old favorite around here,” Asha replied evasively, then chided, “You want a burger and fries with those beers?”

“I’m waiting ‘til the supper crowd thins a bit more. Then I’d like one of those strip steaks with onion rings. And don’t nag. I’ve only had three in the last two hours. I’m not driving. I only have to stagger a few feet up the hill.” He winked.

Winks like that should be outlawed as not safe for female consumption.

“Up the hill? As in one of the bungalows?” Asha thought, oh great, next to me. Talk about temptation under her nose!

Jago nodded with a roguish twitch at the corner of his mouth. Netta came out of the swinging door, carrying a tray with slices of strawberry pie. “Hey, darling, on your next pass into the kitchen how about tossing one of those steaks on the grill for me? And a side of onion rings?”

Netta batted her lashes at him, then glanced to Asha and winked at her. She tossed over her shoulder, “Sure thing, Sexy Lips.”

“Sexy Lips?” His black brows lifted at the nickname. “I can live with that.”

Damn Netta, feed the man’s ego! Sexy Lips? Hell, every inch of the man, head to toe, was drop-dead sexy.

If he was sticking around, that spelled trouble for her, Asha feared.

Suddenly, the jukebox came on. She closed her eyes and groaned as the song started playing.

“’Laura and Tommy were lovers. He wanted to give her everything…’”

Asha sighed resignation. It was a great song, one that seemed to last through the ages. “It certainly lasts around this place,” she muttered, glowering at the Wurlitzer 2700.

It had been new in 1963, and now likely was worth a small chunk of change since it was a collector’s item from the Silver Era. This one would go for ten times the market price of others, since each booth still came with the original wallette table changers.

But the bloody thing had a mind of its own.

Netta came back with the empty tray catching the line of Asha’s questioning stare. She shrugged, saying, go figure.

“I thought Derek took that song off the jukebox,” Asha redundantly commented.

Netta’s laughter bubbled. “You try taking it off.”

Asha scowled at the shiny chrome Wurlitzer that looked brand new instead of over decades old, as Ray Peterson soulfully crooned on, “’Tell Laura not to cry. My love for her will never die…’”

End of Chapter 2ha scowled at the shiny chrome Wurlitzer that looked brand new instead of over decades old, as Ray Peterson soulfully crooned on, “’Tell Laura not to cry. My love for her will never die…’”
***

 

 

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