Authors: Ophelia Bell
Tags: #Paranormal, #Romance, #dragon shifter
Breath of Memory
Copyright 2014 by Ophelia Bell
Cover design by Dawné Dominique
All rights reserved.
orey, like a good Catholic boy, tended to flagellate himself a little too often over his conflict. He recognized his issues, but it didn’t stop the self-torture. It wasn’t even about being Catholic. He told himself that over and over. He was just trying to be honorable. He loved Racha more than he’d loved any woman—except for one.
So when his ex, Jill, came into Racha’s office and said hello like they’d never said goodbye, his entire world was turned on its head.
He could still remember the flavor of her essence on his tongue, like it hadn’t been a year and a half since he’d last been with her, enticing her back into his bedroom one morning and shoving his tongue deep between her legs. Like she hadn’t called him the next day to tell him it was over because she’d met someone else.
That memory turned the remembered flavor of her sweet climax bitter on his lips.
Yet here she was, beautiful as ever and talking to his mate. And Racha, ever the professional, was carrying on the conversation as though it were business as usual.
“Ms. Valenti, I understand you worked very closely with my father before he died. I’d love to hear everything.”
Corey had taken up a spot just behind Racha’s chair, leaning against a heavy bookcase and watching Jill suspiciously. She darted a quick look at him, which he returned as impassively as possible.
“Yes. I’ve worked here for about a year and a half since he hired me as PR Director. It is lovely to finally meet you. I have to say you don’t resemble your father at all.”
“No, I take after Mother more. Forgive me for being so forward, but I gather you and my father had a relationship that went beyond the professional?”
Jill flushed at that, and Corey was sure he caught a slight bite to Racha’s words. He had never discussed her family with her before, aside from her younger brother, Kris, who he considered a good friend. Racha’s last comment before admitting Aris Tech’s as yet unnamed PR Director—and her father’s former lover—to her office had spoken volumes.
“She’s not my mother.”
Jill seemed to catch the tenuousness of the conversation and answered delicately. “Aris could be persuasive. It was always in his nature to get what he wanted.” Jill glanced at Corey again with a slightly apologetic expression.
Corey swallowed and averted his eyes. So that’s who the richer man had been. He’d had no idea of his usurper’s identity. Only that the last time he’d laid eyes on Jill was as she climbed into a sleek limousine after a banquet he and Erika’s team had attended not long before their expedition. He hadn’t seen the man she had been with.
“Why did you stay after he died,” Corey blurted. “I mean, if you loved the man, surely it would be too difficult to be faced with his memory every day.”
Jill flinched at his comment, laced as it was with accusation. Escape was precisely what Corey had done when he lost Jill. He’d left town a couple weeks later and spent the next year with Erika and the others hunting for the ancient temple where he finally met the love of his life, a woman worthy of replacing Jill. Racha glanced over her shoulder at him with a hard look, then took a deep breath and seemed to brace herself when she turned back to Jill.
“My father was never an easy man to live with. He and Mother were estranged for a significant portion of my life, but somehow he always went back to her.
“He told me when we met that his wife had died. Or should I say mate? I know how…
Aris was. You don’t have to hide anything from me.”
“Yes, she died a little more than twenty-five years ago.”
Jill shifted in her seat, her eyebrows drawing together. In a near whisper she said, “He always used to talk about how his days were numbered, but that his daughter would take over for him after he was gone. He seemed so vibrant and full of life at the end, even. So…
. He never told me how old he really was until the end.”
Racha stood from her desk chair and crossed the room to pour three drinks from the crystal decanter on the bar. She added an extra measure to one, then turned and handed one to Jill. She handed the fuller one to Corey, giving him a resigned look and surreptitiously caressing his wrist when she passed by. The touch did little to calm him.
“Come sit,” she said, inviting Jill to the comfortable sitting area near the window. The sun streamed through behind her, casting her perfect delicate skin into a golden glow.
Jill sat beside her and took a hesitant sip of her drink.
Seeing the two of them facing each other—Racha’s dark, otherworldly beauty facing the golden light of Jill’s angelic features—Corey’s heart seemed to split. God forgive him, he still loved her.
He almost didn’t hear the rest of her story, as enthralled as he was just watching the two of them. But when Jill turned her back to Racha and lifted up her hair to display the back of her neck, he snapped back to attention. What had she just said? “Marked.”
Just beneath her hairline on the back of her neck was a red, disc-shaped tattoo, identical to his own, aside from the color. It pulsed with a steady inner glow.
“Fuck me,” Corey muttered. “The bastard mated you.”
He immediately felt like an ass for referring to Racha’s father that way, but the fucker had stolen his girl. Of course it wasn’t lost on him that the man had also
the woman he loved now.
Jill let her hair fall back to her shoulders in a sweep of shining gold and turned back around. Her blue eyes were shining when she met his gaze.
He had an overwhelming urge to walk over and kiss her. To offer forgiveness and ask her to come back to him. But Corey’s life was a lot more complicated now. Between loving the Dragon Queen and his new role as Chief Technical Officer of one of the most profitable technical corporations in the world, he didn’t have room to consider reconnecting with an old lover.
Still, he knew how Reds worked—if Racha’s father had wanted Jill badly enough, there wasn’t much she could have done to resist his seduction. Perhaps he could forgive her someday, but the wound was still too raw, even after all this time. And even worse, the vivid memory of the last time they made love kept replaying through his mind. Right now he just needed to put as much space between the two of them as possible.
While Jill stood and straightened her tailored suit, Corey headed to the door. Racha’s voice held him back.
“Corey, take Jill down to the marketing wing and show her our new plan.”
He glanced back and was confused by the curious look Racha gave him when she stood. She seemed flushed again, like she was primed for sex, even though they’d finished a very satisfying session only moments before Jill had arrived.
Jill stepped forward as if to follow Corey, but Racha gently gripped her arm. “Wait…”
The moment seemed to slow to a pregnant crawl as Corey watched Racha pull Jill into a tender embrace, holding Corey’s gaze the entire time. Racha slid a hand down Jill’s back, but stopped just shy of impropriety. Her thumb rested just over a spot that Corey knew Jill loved to have caressed.
With that one subtle touch, Jill tilted toward Racha. Racha leaned in, pulled Jill’s head toward hers and kissed her deeply.
The sight made Corey’s blood grow hot. It was as though Racha had seen into his mind and was now acting out his own fantasy. Her enjoyment of it was so plain he believed he could taste Jill himself, which only enhanced his longing.
Just a kiss. That seemed to go on forever. He imagined himself holding Jill, sliding his own tongue between those supple lips, the way she would feel and taste, the warmth of her soft curves pressed against his hard body. And he imagined where he would take it next.
As if reading his mind, Racha slid her hand up Jill’s side and cupped her breast, grazed a thumb across the tip that jutted against the sheer fabric of her blouse. Jill tensed and moaned against Racha’s mouth.
Corey was about to either get in on the action or call a stop to it to preserve his sanity when Racha pulled away.
Without a word, Jill turned and followed him into the elevator, dazed from the experience. Corey punched the button for the marketing floor.
Once the doors closed, Corey hazarded a glance at Jill. She leaned against the handrail in the elevator, flushed and rubbing her lips thoughtfully.
“She’s… powerful,” Jill said, then looked at him. “You’re hers, aren’t you?”
“It’s a little ironic, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean?”
“That I left you for her father and now that he’s gone, here you are, mated to her.”
“I moved on.” The statement wasn’t precisely a lie. He
moved on, but sometimes life had a funny way of bringing a person full circle.
“But you came back.”
Yes, he had, and here they were, standing side-by-side in the enclosure of the elevator. He was immersed in the familiar, citrusy scent of her. Her chest rose and fell with deep breaths as though she were trying to calm herself down. The pale silk of her blouse was translucent enough for him to see the pattern of lace of her bra. His gaze drifted higher—her top button had come unfastened, affording him a view of the top of one full breast. He licked his lips, imagining pressing them against the soft skin, tugging the shirt open and making her moan when he took her nipple into his mouth and sucked.
He shifted closer and turned his head to try to smell her hair.
Jill’s head turned toward him a fraction, just enough for him to know without a doubt that she was aware of him. Her shirt fell open just a little more, the silk sliding along the creamy skin of her chest before draping wide and displaying the lace-fringed swell of her breasts.
Hail Mary, full of grace…
His conscience was busy doing a panicked backpedaling, trying to keep his libido under control. Though he didn’t precisely agree with Jill’s observation of his relationship with Racha, it was still the truth. He belonged to her. He’d left the temple six months before as the Dragon Queen’s Consort. Inheritance or not, he and Jill were coworkers now and he had to keep things professional. Racha was the woman he was committed to now. Jill had given up that opportunity more than a year earlier.
He repeated the words like the Catechism. Why wasn’t he touching her? Because she’d given up. She’d left him. He’d moved on. He was with someone else. Someone who had just given him an incredibly erotic scene to ponder that would be stuck in his head for the rest of his life. And now Jill was standing alone with him in a tiny, mirror-walled room and he was struggling not to kiss her just the way Racha had.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. The familiar rhythm told him it was a text from Racha. He glanced at the screen and immediately smacked the STOP button on the elevator’s panel.
“What is it?” Jill asked. Her hands gripped the rails, her eyes wide with alarm.
Worship her the way you worship me.
“Corey! Is something happening?”
He stared at the screen, trying to make sense of it. The prickle at the back of his neck reminded him of the camera in the corner. He twisted his head around to stare up at the mirrored corner of the elevator. The camera was on the other side of the glass, hidden but watching. Racha was watching. And fuck if that didn’t turn him on more.
He turned back to Jill. “Forgive me, baby, for I have to sin.”
ill’s breath left her lungs in a gasp against Corey’s mouth. Confused by the sudden kiss, she pressed both hands against his chest. Her palms slid up over his shoulders, reveled in the familiarity of his hard muscles underneath the crisp cotton of his dress shirt. The intensity of the kiss left her breathless. Her fingers tangled in his hair and she arched against him. So much the same, but so different. So demanding.
It was like they’d never been apart. The same charge of passion was there. His beautiful hands were on her body, his tongue in her mouth. The memory of Aris had faded, but the guilt over hurting Corey hadn’t.
She let the memory linger in the back of her mind until it wouldn’t let her enjoy his kiss. Until the buzz of her dead dragon lover’s energy that still infused her was too strong and made her stop.
Corey came back in more passionate than before. Both his hands gripped the sides of her head and his mouth was intent on devouring her. Something about his touch… every skimming caress of his fingers… made the specter of Aris recede just a little. But never completely.
Aris’s seduction was still clear in in her memory. Along with her betrayal of the man she loved.
The one who was now gripping her ass and pressing himself against her. He said nothing, too occupied with teasing his tongue into her mouth. He tugged impatiently at her blouse until his fingers found the buttons and unfastened them. She was too dazed to help, but marveled at how little he’d changed. He’d been an impatient lover, but never to the point of ripping her clothes.
She wished he would now, though. She needed him to tear them to shreds and fuck her.
He tugged her lacy bra down to release one breast. “What?” He blurted out the question in a gruff tone just before latching onto her nipple.
Her head knocked back against the wall when he freed her other breast and teased that nipple with his thumb. The entire world seemed to be spinning except for the parts of her body he was touching. Her nipples, her stomach, her knee, her thigh.
His fingers slid up her inner thigh while his mouth still sucked eagerly at both her breasts in turn.
Goddamn her for comparing him to Aris, but she did. Aris had been perfectly accommodating to her every need. Anticipating her moods to the point of infuriation. He’d been a surprise at every turn, and she had loved him.
Corey was his impulsive self, at least now that Racha had set him loose. The whispered words between Jill and Racha hadn’t meant much to her until now. “He will worship the both of us.”
She wondered how he would feel if he knew what Racha had said to her. Not that she cared when he had her pressed against the back of the elevator. The mirrored walls showed every angle of their tangled embrace. It seemed lurid to her own eyes when she wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him to her. Her skirt rode up, displaying the tops of her stockings. His hard cock was pressed solidly between her thighs, the front of his trousers rubbing against her hot center.
“Too much for you?” he asked, his lips twisted in that half smile of challenge that she knew so well.
“Fuck you,” she said.
He laughed and slipped down to his knees, leaving her perched on the rail of the elevator with her legs spread. She almost dropped her legs but paused when she felt the tease of his tongue against her panties. Her head flew back again, forgetting the wall and knocking into it with a bang.
“Holy fuck, men like you should be regulated.”
“Mmhmm” was all he said when he pressed his mouth against her pussy. He grazed his teeth across the fabric with a growl. Jill was sure he would rip her panties off with his teeth. Instead, he stood and pulled her tight against him, capturing her mouth in a rough kiss. With his tongue doing its masterful plunging sweep between her lips, he tugged the hem of her skirt up until the cold steel of the handrail pressed against her backside. His hand was between her thighs again, pushing beyond the edge of her panties and sliding between her slick folds.
Her lips tingled when he pulled away from the kiss. The look of lustful determination on his face was almost more arousing than his touch. She remembered that look and how it almost always preceded the most satisfying and surprising sex they’d ever had.
He spun her around and pressed her against the side of the elevator, the hand rail the only barrier between her flesh and the polished glass. She braced her palms against the glass. Her eyes met his in the reflection briefly before his gaze drifted down to her exposed breasts. He cupped both breasts in his hands and teased her nipples until they were almost too sensitive and she was out of her mind from the pleasure. She pressed her ass back against him, her core aching to have him. Her blouse had fallen off one shoulder and he drifted his lips across the pale skin, up the side of her throat until he nuzzled against the back of her ear.
He slid back down to his knees behind her and she watched their reflection, almost as though she were an outside observer. The scene brought back the urgency of their sex life when they’d been together. The way he’d seemed like he could never get enough of her. He shoved her skirt up until it was rucked around her waist, and tugged her panties down, grazing his teeth over her skin in a path that followed the lacy fabric down across the swell of her ass. With both hands gripping her hips, he urged her back against his eager mouth. She gripped the handrail and bent over, adjusted her stance to spread her legs wider and give him access.
His hot breath gusted against her swollen flesh. She thought she heard a whispered prayer behind her just a moment before his tongue slicked gloriously between her pussy lips all the way from her clit up the crease of her spread ass cheeks, then back down. He paused long enough to plunge his tongue inside her in several swift strokes before descending back to her clit and sucking.
She was lost in a haze of pleasure, on the verge of orgasm when he stood again and urged her upright. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips parted from steady, shallow pants. He stood at her side, his erection pressed against her hip, but he seemed more concerned with touching her all over than with fucking her. One of his large hands gripped her ass cheek, his fingertips digging in briefly, then slipping between again. She shuddered and leaned her shoulder against his chest when he slipped two fingers deep inside her. His other hand slipped between her thighs from the front and began mercilessly stroking her clit.
“Touch your nipples, Jill,” he whispered. “Goddamn you look beautiful when you’re about to come.”
She lifted shaking hands and clutched both breasts, squeezing and tugging at her nipples until twin little spikes of pain shot through her. The hand between her thighs worked her in a steady rhythm. The fingers plunging into her from behind shifted, sweeping a slick stripe of her juices back between her ass cheeks and teasing at the tight opening.
“Oh, God yes,” she murmured. She gasped and leaned harder against him when he pushed beyond the barrier, his finger fucking into her ass and sending jolts of pleasure through her. Her clit was a tingling mass of sweet sensation that seemed to increase in potency with every stroke of his fingers. When the rush of her climax broke through, she released her breasts and turned her head. He read her pleading look and claimed her mouth in hungry kiss she used to ride out the waves and to muffle her own harsh gasps.
He held her in his arms afterward, waiting out the aftershocks that even the slightest touch seemed to incite. She pressed her face against his chest, reveling in the scent of him. A new scent was mingled with his familiar musk, however, and she abruptly pulled away when it registered what it was. She’d had a good breath full of Racha’s lovely scent when they had kissed. It wasn’t a perfume so much as a natural, verdant aroma that evoked memories of summer for her. It was all over him, too.
He didn’t belong to Jill anymore. She didn’t belong to anyone now, and that fact had never been quite so apparent as it was at that moment, with Corey standing on the other side of the elevator with his hands in his pockets. He was only a few feet away but may as well have been on another planet. He watched her reflection silently while she straightened her clothes. Why hadn’t he fucked her? He’d always been keener on her pleasure first, but always took his own. And his erection was very apparent still, its thick ridge visible behind the front of his trousers.
The buzz of a phone sounded and he pulled his hand out of his pocket to look at the screen. A small smile curled the corners of his mouth and he glanced up at the corner of the elevator. He made a casual salute to whatever it was. A camera? Had someone been
the entire time?
“You’ve got to me fucking kidding me,” she muttered. She disengaged the STOP button with a rough gesture and the elevator car lurched back into motion.
He gave her a perplexed look. “What is it?”
“This was all a fucking game to you, wasn’t it? You and her.”
“I don’t play games, Jill. Neither does she.”
“But she was watching us, wasn’t she? The entire time. How many women have you gotten off in this elevator while she watched? I know you always enjoyed watching, too… I guess you finally found your true match, huh?”
The doors opened on her floor and she was out like a shot, heading down the hallway to the sanctity of her office.
“Jill!” Corey called after her. He didn’t run to catch up, though. She supposed letting the employees see their CTO running after her would have been a little conspicuous, but he did speed up when she reached her office. He slammed a hand against her door to prevent her from closing and locking it.
“Jill, we need to talk.”
She gave up trying to keep him out and turned away, taking refuge behind her desk.
“You couldn’t have tried that before your tongue was buried in my snatch again? Jesus Christ, Corey. Don’t you get that I still love you? I never stopped, even when I was with him. I wanted him to bring you in, too, but didn’t think you’d be too keen on sharing.”
“You’d have been right.” He shut the door gently behind him and lingered, facing away from her for a second before turning and looking at her.
“So what the fuck was that?” She pointed in the direction of the elevator. “You get to share me with her now, in some twisted voyeuristic game you two play?”
“It isn’t a game. Christ, Jill, you’re the only other woman I’d ever consider going down that road with. I was on the verge of going nuts standing in that elevator with you and not touching you. I’d never have done it without her knowing about it.”
Jill dug her nails into the blotter on her desk. The meeting should have been simple. She’d gone in expecting to complete the formality of having Aris’s daughter accept Jill as her inheritance from her father. Corey’s presence had thrown her, however, and she’d never managed to actually broach the topic. Her mind still spun from the last hour or so. Seeing him again was the least of it.
She struggled to keep the tears at bay and turned to face the window behind her desk. Corey made no sound, but a moment later she could feel his warm presence close behind her.
“I missed you,” he said.
She clenched her eyes shut tightly. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Was he good to you, at least?”
She nodded, staring blankly out at the view of the harbor beyond her window. “I loved him like crazy. But the day he died I dreamed about you.”
“You broke my heart.”
“You left the country before I could explain. Then took your sweet time coming back.”
“What was there to say? You told me you loved me one day and the next you were with him.”
The day in question was still vivid in her mind. Making love with Corey the morning before beginning her new job. They’d begun making plans, excited about their future. He’d invited her to meet his mother that weekend.
In the span of twenty-four hours everything had changed, but any words she gave him now would fall flat.
Max Aris had happened. He’d had an inexorable pull on her the moment she’d shaken his hand and gazed into eyes the most impossible shade of dark blue. It wasn’t that Corey meant any less to her, but the sheer presence of Aris had overwhelmed her to the point that he became the sole focus of every single thought, whether it was about her work for him, or the lightest touch of his fingertips at her waist when they exited the elevator together. He’d taken her to dinner that night to celebrate her first day, then had seduced her so thoroughly she’d never left.
“He didn’t give you a choice, did he?” Corey asked, bringing her back to the moment.
“It wasn’t his breath, if that’s what you’re wondering. He showed me what he could do a few times, after I found out what he was, but he never used it on me. I made the choice because I think deep down you needed me too much. I was willing to compromise in our relationship because I loved you. He offered me a relationship that never required a compromise. He gave me almost everything I wanted.”
“You’re delusional if you think you didn’t compromise.”
“You found your match, Corey. If I had stayed with you, that never would have happened. I can see that she’s good for you. When I’m gone, you’ll have her.” She let out a long breath. “I want you to be happy.”
His hand gripped her shoulder and spun her around. “What the fuck are you talking about? I’m not a fucking fool, Jill. So why the hell does it sound like you’re about to die or something?”
“Because I am.” Tears rose to her eyes again and she let them spill over unchecked. “I should have died with him, you know that, right? Or at least soon after. That’s how it works with their kind. When she goes, you will, too, and you won’t even object.”
He stared at her in horror.
“Corey, don’t tell me she hasn’t told you.”
“She has, but she also told me we had centuries before we had to worry about it. Now you’re telling me it’s happening to you?”
“I would be dead now, except he did something at the end. The last time we…” Her breath caught in her throat and came out as a sob. “Last time we made love, I knew it would be the last time. I was ready to die with him. But at the last moment it was like every ounce of his power filled me. He said he’d given me a gift and made me promise I would be happy, but he died in my arms before he could tell me what it was. I— I think what he gave me was time to find you again. Except I can’t have you, and without Racha’s acceptance of me as her inheritance it’s all over.”