Tainted Kiss by Sharon Kay

Tainted Kiss by Sharon Kay

Tainted Kiss

Watcher’s Kiss, Book 1

by Sharon Kay

Ebook ISBN: B00YAY18J4
Print ISBN: 978-1514351864

[ Paranormal Romance, MF ]

Arawn’s secret, more heinous and ugly than anyone could imagine, prevents him from surrendering his heart. Despite his intentions, he and Ria forge a connection both fiery and unexpectedly tender. Yet evil stirs in his blood, and hiding the truth from her will be the ultimate betrayal.

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Chapter One


Arawn’s boots thudded heavily on the marble floor of his elite warriors’ headquarters. Pristine white with streaks of glittering amber, it was hard and cold.

Like its Commander.

He entered the medical wing and his nose welcomed the sweet scent of orange blossoms. It was reassuring, tantalizing, and vibrant. Just like the female from which it ensued.

The hall was empty. This section of Lash Watcher HQ didn’t get a lot of activity, thanks to the accelerated healing abilities of the demons here. The battle that had occurred at his doorstep a month ago resulted in the most injuries his healers had ever seen in his six centuries as the leader of the Lash race.

He slowed in front of a wooden door, and turned the handle with a soft click. He stepped in, and his mind instantly relaxed when he laid eyes on the woman sleeping peacefully amidst a mountain of pillows.

Ria.

Long blond curls framed her heart-shaped face, and she sighed in her sleep, mumbling a soft, “Mmm.”

Mathias, her brother, sat at her bedside. His profile bore the weariness of a man clinging to hope against all odds. “Hey,” he said without looking up.

He didn’t need to. Mathias’s superior sense of smell could identify anyone passing in the hall, even with the door closed. And Arawn had been coming here so often, a guy didn’t need to hold Mathias’s title of Hunter to expect him.

Arawn had visited Ria enough times that everyone stopped giving him surprised looks when he did. Well, surprised wasn’t quite the right word. More like surprise immediately followed with a hasty neutral face and a quick move to get back to whatever they had been doing.

No one questioned him.

Except, occasionally, his top soldiers. Like Mathias. Stubborn, determined, and one of Arawn’s best fighters, he’d always let Arawn know what he thought. He was a damn good brother to Ria too, and he had thrown Arawn plenty of raised eyebrows when his frequent visits started. After all, Arawn had a hundred demands on his time. And Ria wasn’t his in any way. Not his mate, not his relative, not his significant other. Just another skilled fighter in his ranks, who already had loving family members to sit and watch her.

But nothing could keep Arawn away. The same questions lingered in his mind every day, from dawn until he would arrive and see her for himself. How is she? Is she better? Worse? Will today be the day she wakes up?

Mathias raised grim eyes to Arawn as he walked farther into the room. The guy looked like he’d aged a century in one month. “She’s the same,” Mathias said, answering Arawn’s unspoken thoughts. “Looks like she’s dreaming now.”

The same. Those two words rasped in Arawn’s brain like harsh cawing crows. Taunting him with her lack of progress, but holding back his anger by the simple fact that she hadn’t slipped into critical condition. Beneath her closed lids, Ria’s eyes darted back and forth. “Maybe she’s reliving the battle.”

“Yeah,” Mathias said. “And this time, I bet she kills that Serus before he knows what hits him.”

Arawn grunted. That Serus demon was responsible for Ria’s magically induced coma. The fucker had spewed toxic breath her way and she hadn’t been able to dodge it in time. On top of that, she’d received a bone-deep slash in one thigh which, ironically, was the least of anyone’s worries.

“I’ll take a break, if you’re gonna be here for a bit.” Mathias stood and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m due to drop in on Caine’s surveillance lesson today, anyway.”

“Good.” Arawn nodded in dismissal. “I got this. You go show the novices how shit gets done.”

“Will do.” Mathias squeezed his sister’s hand. “Come on, Ri. Wake up so you can embarrass the hell out of me by telling Gin all the crap I did growing up.” Then he stepped out and closed the door.

Arawn turned to Ria, one of his best warriors. Seeing her immobile for a fucking month rubbed his nerves raw, because each day she remained unconscious meant less chance she would wake up. His healers kept a close eye on her and reported steady, though excruciatingly slow, improvement in her lungs and nervous system, the area where the toxin had done the most damage.

Leaning over, he brushed a stray curl out of her face. “Hey, Princess.” He sat in the chair.

She didn’t move, just kept dreaming. That was par for the course this last month. Arawn, Mathias, and Mathias’s mate, Gin, had kept up a rotation at Ria’s side. Once in a while she’d open her eyes in a blank stare. Sometimes her fingers would reflexively tighten on his, but that was all the response he’d get.

A soft knock drew his attention to the door and a growl rumbled low in his throat. Whoever that was could wait—

“Hi.” Ashina, one of the healers, stepped in. “I just need to check her real quick, then I’ll be out of your way.”

“Sure.” Arawn stood and folded his arms, giving Ashina room as she walked to the sink to wash her hands. Her ebony hair was in a ponytail today, and she was the picture of calm and cool experience as she began her check of the machines behind Ria. Lights flashed as she made adjustments.

“As you know, it’s been four days since I revoked the coma spell.” Ashina inspected the sensor and wire taped to Ria’s forehead. “Now it’s up to her body to realize it can wake up. But she needs to come out of it soon.”

“Glad you got her off the ventilator.” He’d hated the plastic tube in her throat. “Her lungs are fine now?”

“There’s no lingering damage and her pulse-ox is high, though I don’t know how long her recovery will take. Every day she’s out, her muscles atrophy. I know she’ll want to hit the ground running, but I doubt that will be an option.”

“She won’t like that,” Arawn grunted. He didn’t like hearing warnings about Ria’s health. “Why can’t you just wake her up?”

Ashina gave him a look that managed to be equal parts worry, compassion, and cold medical objectivity. “It’s better if she can do it on her own. Given what she went through, it could potentially be jarring for her if we force her to consciousness too quickly.”

Arawn ground his molars. Part of him wanted to roar in frustration, and part of him knew she was in the best hands in the realm. He gave a short nod to his healer and blew out a breath. “When are you gonna be here permanently?” Ashina split her time between Watcher HQ and her own private practice in another realm, something Arawn wanted to change.

She darted a glance to him and looked ready to roll her eyes, a reaction few dared give him. But they’d had this conversation before. “You know I can’t leave my other patients. Not yet anyway.”

“I know. Gotta keep asking though.” He had to admire her dedication to the village that had sheltered her for most of her life.

Ashina turned to Ria and held her hands an inch above the other woman’s body. They both looked so peaceful, like they were meditating or something. In a minute, it was over. “Her vitals are stable,” Ashina said. “Call me if she wakes up.”

Arawn nodded. He’d heard those words every day for a month. And every day, he hoped he’d finally have to make that call.

The healer left and once again Arawn was alone with the woman who he’d made a point to see every day, though she’d snoozed through every damn minute. He sat and took her soft hand in his. “Really need you to wake up, Tirianna. How ‘bout if I make it an order?”

Ria slept on.

Arawn shook his head, not knowing if it was nuts that he talked to her. He held on to a hope that she could hear him. It was said that people in comas could hear and understand the voices speaking around them. So he talked.

He was a demon of few words, but this woman got under his skin. She had for years, but he’d forced the feeling away.

But hell, she’d almost died.

And now, her recovery seemed too damn tentative.

Yeah, he regularly sent his Watchers to do dangerous work. That’s what they did, and every one of them relished it. Every one was fierce and filled with the desire to fight for the balance of peace. And Ria was also determined to prove her worth as a female warrior. Woe to the male who tried to go easy on her because she was a girl.

“So, yesterday I told you about the attack we launched at Stroehm. That brings me to the following month, which was when we had to intercept some information passed between a Viper informant and his lieutenant.” Arawn settled back and propped one ankle on his opposite knee. “Fucker had been spying on several weapons makers…” He talked. It was good and therapeutic, though he’d never admit that to any of his soldiers.

He was reliving old history, which meant reliving old strategies and assessing if they worked or not. He couldn’t help it. He was a planner and a warrior. Leading the Lash demon race was his priority. Mainly in the area of safety, but once in a while he had to step into dispute resolution. Not his favorite thing and something he delegated as often as possible.

Reaching the end of his story, he leaned forward and cupped Ria’s jaw. “Wake up, Ria. That’s an order.”

She sighed and turned her head a fraction of an inch toward him. Her pale skin was soft under his rough fingers, and her full lips were devoid of their normal pink hue. Her dream had apparently ceased, since her eyeballs had stopped their rapid back-and-forth. Anyone who glanced at her would think she was sleeping like an angel.

Wasn’t there an Earth fairy tale about a sleeping beauty? He shook his head as the sappy story came back to him. A princess who could only be awakened by true love’s kiss.

True love. That concept was long gone from his life. But gods, what if it was in the cards for Ria? She sure as hell deserved it.

Unbidden memories of his childhood sprang into his mind. He hadn’t shared those stories with anyone in so long…but maybe that’s what Ria needed to hear. Something new, some happy memories. His tactical excursions, and those of his Watchers, were all on record in the HQ library. But his own life, at least his early years, was a closed book.

He cleared his throat. “Did I ever tell you about when I had to help with the harvest when I was a kid?” He paused. She didn’t move. He lost his focus in her blond curls as nearly-forgotten images raced to the forefront of his brain. “I was about ten. All the parents from our village sent the kids over to the neighboring villages to help them bring in the crop. It was in the Lakewood region. You know, where they have those giant fields of cilantro.

“We didn’t mind, because it was only for a week or two, and we were with our friends, and there was a candy store in Lake Coriander. The owner would give us candy first thing in the morning. I swear, that shit kept us wired all day but somehow wore off at night.” He chuckled. “We’d come home smelling like cilantro and ready to drop.

“I’d always help the smaller kids, carrying their baskets to the giant containers that all the plants went into for drying and sorting. Especially the girls. Especially one named Lottie…” Arawn stopped the minute the name left his lips.

He hadn’t said it out loud in centuries. Old regrets and biting anger swirled with new vexation at Ria’s unconsciousness, creating a surge of emotion that broke like a dam inside him. One loss and the potential of another smacked him hard. No. Not if he could help it.

He took Ria’s hand in both of his, cradling her slender fingers as if he could hold all of her, protecting her until she got better. “This is an order, baby. Wake. Up.”

Ria didn’t move.

The weight of lost possibilities, both past and future, weighed heavily on his shoulders. Too heavily. It was too much emotion and it made no sense, but he couldn’t escape the insistent warning in his heart that Ria had to pull out of this. Arawn dropped his head to their joined hands and spoke another word that rarely escaped his mouth. “Please, Tirianna. I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing here. I’m supposed to have all the answers but this time I don’t. All I know is that I need you, need you to wake up. Now.” He inhaled her sweet scent and visualized her eyes opening, willed it to happen.

Gods, he could drown in those eyes. Deep turquoise, like a tropical pool. And hell, that sounded like the sappiest thing he’d ever heard. Good thing he hadn’t spoken it aloud. Because you can’t go there. Not again.

The memory of his mate, killed in front of him seven centuries ago, hit him like a sucker punch. They killed her because of your job. Ria deserves a better male.

Arawn tensed to leave as mixed feelings rocketed through him. He had no solid reason for being here. The healers could monitor Ria. But damn it all to hell, something about her drew him despite all logic, and he needed to breathe right next to her. It was a summoning whisper that he couldn’t ignore.

And sure, he could say whatever the fuck he wanted while Ria was unconscious. Because it couldn’t turn into anything. He’d had his chance at the fairy tale. And it had ended in a dirty alley.

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