Home > Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(5)

Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(5)
Author: Keri Arthur

I kicked the door shut behind us, but the utter blackness of the room didn’t hold sway for long. Anticipation danced from his skin, tiny fireflies that spun brightly through the room.

He stopped, then caught my other hand, his amber eyes glowing with heat as he raised my fingers and kissed them gently. “Flame for me,” he said. “Please.”

I smiled and let the heat rise. Fire erupted between our joined hands, primal and hot. He threw back his head, his nostrils flaring as he sucked in the fierceness of it. His skin began to glow and the heat of it rolled over me, a siren song that was so sweet, so enticing.

“More,” he whispered.

I allowed the flames to grow, let the molten fingers reach for the ceiling. He gasped, shuddering, and the delicious waves of heat and desire became more intense, fueling the urge to fully become flame rather than flesh. But not yet. Not just yet.

“Rory,” I said, needing more than just the caress of heat and desire.

He responded instantly and erupted into flame. It tore through my body, enticing my own fires to life with such force that it was hard to tell where his flame ended and mine began. This was no caress, no tease. This was a firestorm that ripped through every muscle, every cell, breaking them down and tearing them apart, until our flesh no longer existed and we were nothing but fire.

He was fierce and bright in the darkness, a being that radiated strength and passion and caring. All I could think about, all I wanted, was his heat and energy in and around me. We began to dance, entwine, wrapping the fiery threads of our beings around each other, tighter and tighter, intensifying the pleasure even as it rejuvenated and fed our souls. Soon there was no separation—no him, no me, just the sum of both of us, and oh, it felt glorious.

But this wasn’t just sex for us—this was something a whole lot more vital. Phoenix pairs needed to regularly merge flames, or face diminishing—in some cases, even death. And this was the reason so many of our relationships had turned to ashes. No matter how much we might love someone else, we could never remain faithful to them. Not if we wanted to live.

The dance went on, burning ever brighter, ever tighter, until it felt as if the threads of our beings would surely snap and implode.

Then everything did, and I fell into a storm of feverish, unimaginable bliss.

I’m not entirely sure when I came back to flesh, but it was to the awareness of a distant but determined pager buzzing away madly. I swore softly, but didn’t move. In the aftermath of such an intense joining, my legs usually refused to support me. Professor Baltimore could wait for a change.

After several moments the page stopped. I stared into the darkness, listening to Rory’s breathing, feeling good and happy and whole.

And yet . . .

And yet, as good as it was between us, I always wanted more. I wanted what Rory and I had and an emotional connection. But that wasn’t my lot. Not in this lifetime. Not in any future lifetimes. The best I could ever hope for was a man who was willing to share—and men who understood the necessity of my being with Rory were few and far between.

Sam’s image rose like a ghost to taunt me. Sam certainly hadn’t been one of those few. He’d been furious when he’d found out about Rory’s presence in my life—furious and betrayed, and justifiably so in many respects. I’d tried to explain what I was and why Rory was so necessary to me, but Sam had refused to listen.

I sighed and rubbed a hand across my eyes. After all this time, you’d think I’d be used to the pain of disappointment. But it never got any easier.

Ever.

Rory eventually rolled onto his side and dropped a kiss on my lips, soft and lingering. “I hope that page wasn’t urgent.”

I took a deep, shuddery breath that did little to ease my aching heart. “Knowing Mark, he probably just wants coffee.”

“Then I better let you go. I know what it’s like to suffer caffeine withdrawal.” A grin I felt rather than saw teased his lips. “It’s almost as bad as sex withdrawal.”

“Which is not something you suffer very often.” Amused, I pushed upright, then walked into the living room and grabbed my handbag, rummaging through it until I found the pager. There was no message, but the little light on the side of the small screen was flashing, which usually meant he wanted to see me but was too busy to tell me why.

I threw the pager back into my bag, then headed into the bathroom for a quick shower. Urgent or not, I wasn’t about to head to work smelling of smoke and fire.

“The chicken should be done in another twenty minutes,” I said, walking back into the kitchen once I was dressed. “Don’t wait up for me—I have no idea how long this is going to take.”

He nodded, then wrapped his arms around me and dropped a kiss on the top of my head. “Catch a taxi. Public transport sucks at this hour.”

I relaxed against him for a moment, but as the air began to burn all around us again, I pulled away, grabbed my bag and coat, then got the hell out of there before desire got the better of common sense.

• • •

I arrived at the institute about twenty minutes later. Lights shone from various windows, including the one Mark usually operated from. I swept my ID card through the slot, then walked across the foyer to the security desk. The guard, a thin man in his mid-forties, watched me impassively from under heavily set brows.

“May I help you?”

I grabbed the sign-in book and nearby pen. “Is Professor Baltimore working in his usual lab tonight? He paged me about half an hour ago.”

The guard—Ryan Jenkins, according to his name tag—frowned. “I think the professor left about two hours ago.” He paused and checked the other book. “Yep. You can see his signature right there.”

He swung it around, then pointed at the appropriate spot. Sure enough, the professor had signed out at 8:52.

I grimaced. Not only had he called me from home, but he’d left the lights on in the lab again. Lady Harriet would not be amused—although she’d hardly say anything to him because he was her top scientist. It would come down to me instead. “Could you arrange for someone to go into his lab and turn the lights off? Her ladyship’s got a bee in her bonnet about saving energy of late.”

The guard smiled, and it oddly reminded me of a crocodile. All teeth, no sincerity. “Sure will. You need anything else?”

“No, thanks.”

I turned and walked out. I could feel the guard’s gaze on me the entire time and, for some weird reason, it had chills skating down my spine.

I jogged down the street to Mark’s place. From the various apartments on the first two levels came the sounds and smells of life—voices, music, late-night pizza, and even a baby crying. The third floor, however, was shadowed and silent.

I paused, the unease that had lingered after the guard’s attention suddenly flaring again. There was only one other tenant on this floor besides Mark, and he was a man in his mid-twenties who was probably out partying, given it was a Friday night. The old woman who’d lived in one of the other apartments had died last week, and the remaining apartment still hadn’t been rented out. So it wasn’t surprising the floor was hushed.

And yet something felt wrong.

Wrong is better than boring, that inner voice whispered. I flexed my fingers, then walked forward. When I reached his door, I pressed the buzzer. It rang inside, echoing softly. He didn’t answer, and there was no other sound to indicate whether he was there or not.

If he was asleep, I would resort to violence.

I stepped across to the security panel, entered the code, and had my iris scanned. The door opened. It was dark inside. Real dark. He must have drawn the curtains; otherwise the glow of the streetlights would be filtering in.

I swept my hand across the light switch. Light flared, the sudden harshness making me blink.

And I saw him.

Professor Mark Baltimore wasn’t asleep.

He was dead.

CHAPTER 3

He sat on a wooden-backed kitchen chair in the middle of the living room, his hands lashed behind his back and his feet tied to the chair’s front legs. His nose had been smashed, and bits of blood and gore had splattered across his face and dribbled down the front of his shirt—which had been torn open, revealing more cuts and bruises. Even his spiky gray hair was matted and dark with blood. They’d really done a number on the poor sod.

But why? What did he have that anyone would want so desperately? Nothing in his molecular research warranted this sort of response—nothing that I could see, anyway. But then, what would I know? I only made his gibberish legible and had no real understanding of what most of it meant. I didn’t even understand what type of molecules he was researching. Science had never been my forte. Reading illegible writing was, and that was the main reason I’d gotten this job—which no longer existed now that he was dead.

I smacked that rather self-centered thought away and dug my phone out of my purse, calling the cops for the second time that day.

As I waited for them to arrive, I dialed the office but got a busy signal. When I also had no luck with Abby’s cell number, I left a message, saying she needed to contact me immediately. Hopefully, she’d do so sooner rather than later, because if Lady Harriet found out about the murder via the TV or newspapers, there’d be hell to pay.

Time after that seemed to drag. I tried to ignore the guilt that crawled through me every time I glanced at his body, but had little success. While I knew it was highly unlikely I could have changed the outcome here if I had answered the buzzer when it initially went off, there was always going to be that what-if question lingering in my mind.

Although—truth be told—if I had gotten here earlier, I might have been found dead alongside my boss. I sometimes dreamed of death, but my own usually came without warning.

The cops eventually arrived. I was questioned, first by the men who’d initially responded and then later by the detective in charge, and it was close to two—yet again—by the time I finally got home. I stripped off my clothes as I walked through the living room, then padded into Rory’s darkened bedroom, crawled into his bed, and snuggled into his back.

And promptly went to sleep.

A strange sound woke me. An incessant, annoying noise that just went on and on. I blinked, my mind fuzzy and my body securely cocooned in the warmth of Rory’s. Eventually, I realized what the sound was. Someone was downstairs leaning on the intercom buzzer.

“Whoever that is,” Rory murmured, “tell them to f**k off. It’s still early, for god’s sake.”

A glance at the clock proved he was right. It was barely seven. But whoever it was apparently wasn’t going to take silence for an answer.

I groaned and pulled myself away from the delicious heat of Rory’s embrace, then staggered barefoot and na**d through the living room. Only I wasn’t entirely watching where I was going and I ran shin first into the coffee table, spilling Mark’s precious notebooks everywhere in the process.

I cursed fluently and hobbled the rest of the way to the intercom, slapping the button hard and saying, “Whoever the f**k you are, you’d better have a good reason for waking me up at this hour of the goddamn morning.”

There was a long silence; then an all-too-familiar voice said, “It’s Sam. We need to talk.”

Surprise, and perhaps a tiny bit of pleasure, raced through me. “You and I said all there was to be said the other night. I don’t want—or need—you in my life.”

“Look,” he said, voice gravelly and decidedly grim. “I don’t want this any more than you do, but you happen to be the only witness to Professor Baltimore’s murder—”

“I didn’t witness it,” I corrected tartly. “I found the body. Big difference.”

“And,” he continued, like I’d never spoken, “you worked for the man. You knew him better than anyone else at the institute, apparently, and that makes you a possible key to tracking down his murderer.”

“I met the case detectives last night. You’re not one of them, so why the hell are you here?”

He hesitated. “This case is no longer being handled by homicide. It’s been turned over to us.”

“And who, pray tell, is ‘us’?”

My voice was every bit as cold as his, but my heart was hammering so hard it felt like it was going to tear out of my chest. And I didn’t know whether it was the fear that talking to him could inflame all those barely buried feelings or the half certainty that it would turn them into ashes and blow them away forever.

“That is not something I’m about to explain over an intercom. Let me in, Emberly.”

“Never again,” I muttered. And the last thing I wanted was memories of him in this apartment. When we’d split, I’d either thrown out or gotten rid of every single thing that reminded me of him, and that not only included all the furniture and every gift he’d given me but also the apartment we’d once shared. “I’ll come down. Give me five minutes.”

I turned around. Rory was standing in the living room doorway, his arms crossed and his expression grim. “Do you want company?”

I hesitated, then shook my head. Sam wasn’t dangerous—at least not physically. My mental health was another matter entirely, but that wasn’t something Rory could help me deal with. “Go back to bed. I’ll join you afterward.”

He continued to study me, concern radiating from him in waves. I picked up my old sweatpants and T-shirt from the floor and dressed, then grabbed my jacket and slung it on. “Honestly,” I said, when I finally met his gaze again. “I’ll be okay.”

He didn’t say anything, but his gaze remained on me as I picked up my keys and headed out.

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