Home > Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark #9)(17)

Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark #9)(17)
Author: Kresley Cole

Just as she finished reading, a tall stranger entered. With his inky black hair, jade green eyes, and bronze skin, the man was model handsome, looking plucked from the pages of Latin GQ. "Is this seat taken, querida?" he said, sweeping an admiring glance over her.

MacRieve growled low in his throat. Sensing the Lykae was about to attack the new male, she furtively pinched his arm, until she was certain blood welled under his skin.

He was undeterred. With a killing look, MacRieve crossed his arms, leaning back and kicking a dirty boot up atop the chair in question. "It's taken now."

The man narrowed his eyes as if he might protest, but eventually he chose another chair on the other side of the room.

Shortly after, Captain Travis swaggered inside, with a fuming mug of "coffee" in his hand and a pretty young woman behind him. Without preamble, he began, "As you know, I'm Wyatt Travis, your captain."

Our drunken, money-grubbing captain. Who'd refused to help a damsel in obvious distress. Not that he could've done anything.

He negligently sat on the stool up front. He might not be as tall as MacRieve - few were - but he was big, like a former NFL player. The love of liquor must have been a recent development, since he was still built like a seasoned athlete. "And the Contessa's my ship. One hundred and eight feet long, she's a light draft, draws only five feet. Lets us get deep into the jungle." He pointed toward the back of the room at a wall-sized map of the river and all its known tributaries. They resembled veins - a rain forest circulatory system. "I'll keep that map updated with our whereabouts." Push-pins had left holes throughout, until the paper was missing in places. The Contessa, it seemed, had been just about everywhere in the basin, and she'd been there many times over.

Travis paused for a deep drink from his mug, so she took the opportunity to glance at MacRieve from under a lock of her hair.

He looked suspicious and aggressive, so different from the man she'd first known. He was harder now, darker. Because of me. Her lips were still tender from his harsh, demanding kiss - a constant reminder of what he planned to do with her this evening.

He's going to try to have sex with me. Realization fully hit her. This very night.

How was she supposed to sit through this meeting, knowing what would befall her when they returned? She was on edge and knew he could sense her tension - because she could sense his as well.

And what would she do when he tried to? Earlier, as she'd removed her clothes, the look in his eyes had been delighted, as if he were unwrapping the best gift he could possibly conceive of.

Surprisingly, she'd responded, finding it... erotic to strip at his command. Maybe she was a closet submissive - who'd needed to dominate every opponent over a thousand years. All except for MacRieve? Am I delirious?

"We're heading south toward the very end of the Amazon proper," Travis continued, "then turning off on the San Miguel tributary to some of the most remote parts of the basin. We'll motor all night until the river gets tight." Another swig for the thirsty captain. "Since we're going deeper into virgin territory, this trip lent itself to several different disciplines. Everybody here's in different fields, so there's no direct competition."

He made a negligent hand motion toward the young woman beside him. "This is my cook."

Of middling height, with soulful hazel eyes, the female looked to be all of nineteen. "Hi, I'm Izabel Carlotta Ambos," she said with a confident wave. Izabel was comely, though she wore a shapeless shirt and baggy cargo pants, cinched tight with a belt. "I'll be preparing your meals. My bife a cavalo is deliciosa, and if you keep the kitchen stocked with fish, I'll keep fresh feasts on the table."

MacRieve perked up at that.

"Some of you have met my twin, Charlie. He's the deckhand." Same Brazilian accent as her brother, same hazel eyes.

Izabel smiled at her, and Lucia gave a pained smile in return. Oh, no, not the we're the only two females on a ship of males bonding bit. She had no need for additional "pals." Especially not short-term human ones.

Besides, there was something off about her that Lucia couldn't put her finger on. Perhaps Izabel had Lorean in her, somewhere far back in her family line. Or maybe she was completely human, but with a curse hanging over her. Something was amiss.

"Yeah, that's right," the captain said. "Chuck is my right-hand man. You'll meet him later." Another draw from his mug. "Chuck and Izabel are new to the Contessa - so this trip is the last one of a long trial period. Drop me a dime if they screw up." The captain seemed to have a cosmic inability to call Charlie anything but Chuck. "Now, some of you are already acquainted, but it's customary on this ship to do a round of intros. Tell us who you are, what you study, and why you're here."

The pale man said, "I guess I'll start" - his accent was east coast, upper crust - "I'm Benjamin Rossiter, an M.D. and professor of chemoecology at Cornell. I'll be looking for uncataloged plants in the hope of discovering pharmaceutical uses." Though his manner was relaxed, he had dark circles under his blue eyes and sweat had beaded above his upper lip. "We've only identified one percent of the medicinal plants in the basin, yet that one percent accounts for twenty-five percent of all our pharmaceuticals. The potential is nearly inconceivable." He held up a palm, casting them a half grin. "And I'll stop myself there, so I don't make your eyes glaze over." The guy looks moneyed. So what's he doing on a tub like this?

The darkly handsome man spoke next. "I'm Marcos Damiãno, head of the department of social anthropology at the University of São Paulo."

If Lucia had suspected Izabel had some connection to the Lore, she was certain Damiãno did.

"My specialization is indigenous shamanism, and I'm here to search for uncontacted tribes."

MacRieve still had his arms crossed over his chest. "If they're uncontacted, do they no' want to stay that way?"

Lucia jabbed her elbow at him, and he grunted.

Damiãno gave a tight smile that didn't reach his vivid green eyes. "Several large oil companies are bidding on these remote territories, falsely claiming they're unoccupied, so any tribes there will certainly be contacted regardless. My aim for this expedition is to get photos of them from a distance and prove their existence, which would halt all oil exploration on their lands." He waved to the cowlick guy beside him. "Dr. Schecter?"

"Right, right, I'm Dr. Clarence Schecter, a zoologist from UC San Diego." He removed his glasses, polishing them with his shirttail. "My area of study is unculled species of reptiles."

Rossiter raised a brow. "Unculled?"

"Yes, when men hunt, they pick off the largest of the species. Over time, the pool becomes smaller. So the deeper into the jungle we get, the more chance there is of spotting larger-than-normal river specimens."

With all their talk of going deep into the jungle, Lucia might not have to dump them as early as she'd thought.

MacRieve scoffed. "What do you mean 'larger than normal?' Normal out here is no' exactly small." MacRieve had said he'd hoped never to come back here. How long had he been in the basin before? And why?

The captain agreed. "I see giant animals every day. Tarantulas with meaty bodies the size of dinner plates. Foot-long scorpions. Twenty-foot-long gators. Giant otters and even catfish'll stretch nine feet."

"And by gator," Dr. Schecter said in a patronizing tone, "I assume you mean the South American crocodilian species called the caiman?"

At Travis's shrug, Schecter said, "That's the thing. In other areas, we have fossil records of caimans reaching forty feet long. But they've been overhunted. Now, once we gain enough distance from civilization, and with the sonic baiting techniques I'll utilize, I'll be able to document primordial specimens."

MacRieve coughed the word, "Sonic" just as Rossiter made a sound of realization.

"Megafauna," the man said. "You're searching for megs! If you're a cryptozoologist, just admit it and take your ribbing."

Cryptozoology - the study of creatures from "myth." They're in a room with at least two cryptids. And they don't even know it.

"Me? I'm not a cryptozoologist!" Schecter flushed red. "Otherwise I'd be aboard the Barão da Borracha."

As Rossiter groaned, Travis's expression turned chilling, while Izabel studied her captain's sudden change in demeanor.

"Wait - what was that?" Lucia asked. Nïx had said, Beware of the barão da borracha. The Rubber Baron wasn't a person but a ship? "Why do you say that?"

Schecter answered, "The Barão is filled to the bevels with cryzos. You know, cryptozoologists. Captain Malaquí takes them hunting in the jungle for 'demons' and 'shape-shifters' in backwater tributaries." He added, "I've heard passengers go out with Malaquí. But sometimes... they don't come back."

Lucia waited for Travis to naysay that, to call it a baseless rumor. Instead he drank deep.

She asked the captain, "Is that ship close by?"

"Headed north in the opposite direction," Travis said tightly. He added in a mumble, "As I like it."

Izabel canted her head at Travis, and her thick black braid swept off her shoulder. The young woman clearly carried a torch for the much older, and remarkably less sober, captain. Good luck with the male specimen you've got there, Izabel. P.S.: This ship has been over-culled.

"Where're they searching for demons?" MacRieve asked. "Which tributary?"

Schecter answered, "My guide in Iquitos told me Rio Labyrinto, or some such."

At that mention, Lucia tensed and of course MacRieve noticed. He put his callused hand on her back. It was warm against her, even through her shirt.

"That's nothing but a hokey legend," the captain muttered into his cup. And for a second, Lucia thought he was lying.

Schecter said, "Well, likely so. But I'd taken all that information with a grain of salt since the guide also told me that they were loading a coffin onto the ship!"

Now both Lucia and MacRieve tensed. A vampire? What would a leech possibly be doing out here? For some reason she thought of Lothaire. He'd been making power plays throughout the Lore for the last year -

"Your turn, Dr...." Schecter asked her, trailing off.

"What? Me? I'm Dr. MacRieve." She grated out the last word, and the werewolf's lip curled. "From LSU."

Damn it, what would Nïx have said was her field? She glanced at Travis. "And I'm a..."

He frowned. "Paleopathologist?"

Paleo what? Damn you, Nïx!

Now Dr. Rossiter frowned. "Paleo? How will you find a fossil record in a live river basin?"

"I would love to tell you, but it's a trade secret," she said with a forced smile.

"At least tell us what diseases you are studying as a pathologist," Damiãno said.

"If Dr. Rossiter feared he'd make your eyes glaze over, I could put you to sleep."

Schecter turned to MacRieve. "And what is your field, Dr...?"

Despite the fact that he was a prince, he answered, "Mr. MacRieve. I'm here in a security capacity for my wife. She's the beauty and brains - I'm the brawn."

She stiffened again at his calling her his wife. MacRieve had no idea how much that word bothered her.

Schecter asked, "Why exactly would anyone need security?"

"Are you jesting?" MacRieve asked. "You doona know?" He flashed an aggravated look at Travis, then said simply, "Because we're in the bluidy Amazon."


 22

The sun had begun to set, filling Lucia with more anxiety. She couldn't remember the last time she'd dreaded nightfall more. And she'd warred with vampires!

She repeatedly debated her options. One idea she'd ruled out? Telling MacRieve the truth. If she revealed to him precisely why they couldn't have sex ever, much less tonight, he would no doubt tell her she could live without the archery - because he would protect her.

And if he used that reasoning with her, she thought she could hate him.

Once the meeting was over, Izabel brought in a tub of iced-down Iquiteña beer for "the doctors." When she set the tub down, her blouse gaped, and Travis's eyes were on her like a hawk. Then he scowled at the glimpse of her exposed bra. A scowl? Most men would be delighted.

With an inward shrug - who could understand the minds of mortals?  - Lucia crossed to the salon entrance. As she reached for the knob, she noticed that the door was thick, with a security barricade that could be slammed in place. A rain forest panic room? Interesting...

Once she walked outside, she stopped at the closest rail, nearly gasping at the oppressive heat after being in the air-conditioned room.

MacRieve snagged a bottle of beer, then followed her out, standing next to her at the railing. He held the bottle with his forefinger curled around the neck. Which was so... male. "Where do you think you're going?" he asked, stowing his sunglasses in a pocket.

"Back to my cabin."

"Happy to escort you there." He took a swig, placing his free hand on her lower back.

Dead man walking? Try dead Valkyrie walking. Every step closer was grueling. She was breathless, filled with trepidation. Why hadn't she been able to deny him in the past? Part of her whispered, It's not him you can't deny - it's yourself.

She was going to have to strike against him yet again. But how? How to get her bow? And then get him off the boat?

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