I freeze in the doorway.
The Bargainer reclines against my headboard, looking for all the world like a predator. Sleek, caged power and dangerous eyes. He also appears far too comfortable in my bed.
His eyes move over me lazily. “My, my, Calli, you’ve upgraded your lingerie since I last saw you.”
I ignore the way his words cut into me; the last time he saw me I was a teenager trying to seduce him, and he wanted nothing to do with me.
“Hello Desmond Flynn,” I say, invoking his full name. I’m fairly certain I’m the only one who knows it, and that information makes him vulnerable.
He gives me a slow, smoldering smile that tightens my stomach even as it constricts my heart. “I didn’t realize you wanted to spill secrets tonight, Callypso Lillis,” he says.
Unlike the Bargainer, I flinch when I hear my full name. Only a handful of people know it; everyone else knows me simply as the artist Callypso.
The Bargainer’s eyes devour my exposed skin, and I feel like that fumbling teenager all over again. I take a deep breath. I’m no longer that girl, even if the man in front of me looks exactly the same as he did in my youth.
I cross the room and grab my cotton robe from where it hangs on the back of the bathroom door. The entire time I can feel his eyes on me. I turn away from him to slip it on. “What do you want, Des?” I ask, cinching the robe at my waist.
“Demanding as always, I see.” I yelp as his breath tickles my ear. I swivel around to face him. “Odd character flaw of yours,” he says, his eyes narrowed, “considering how much you owe me.” His voice is husky and low.
The Bargainer stands not even a foot away from me, so close I can feel his body heat. I didn’t hear him get up from the bed and cross the room. Not that I should be surprised. The magic he uses is subtle; if you aren’t looking for it, you won’t notice it.
This close to him I can see every complex facet of his face. High cheekbones, aristocratic nose, sensual lips, chiseled jaw. Hair so dark that it shines blue in the light.
But it’s his eyes that have always captivated me the most. They’re every shade of silver, darkest at their edges where a thick band of charcoal gray rings them and lightest near their centers. The color of shadows and moonbeams.
It hurts to look at him, not just because he is inhumanly beautiful, but because he shredded my fragile heart a long time ago.
The Bargainer takes my hand in his. It always surprises me how warm his skin can be when everything about him suggests otherwise. And coming from him, even this chaste touch has the siren in me begging to be released.
I glance down at our entwined hands as he pushes the sleeve of my robe up. Underneath it, my onyx bracelet covers most of my forearm, each bead a magical IOU for a favor I’ve bought off of the Bargainer.
He twists my wrist back and forth, assessing his work. I try to pull my hand away, but he won’t let go. “My bracelet has made you famous,” he states. His bracelet.
I shiver at the thought. I don’t know whether he’s speaking of the favor that made me initially famous, or my now iconic piece of jewelry. Iconic because I never take it off. Ever.
No one knows that’s because I can’t remove it. Even if it weren’t strung with spider silk—and thus too strong to cut off—the magic that binds it to my wrist prevents me from removing it until I pay off my debts.
The Bargainer’s hand tightens on mine. “Calli, you owe me a lot of favors.”
My breath catches in my throat as my gaze meets his. The way he looks at me, the way his thumb is rubbing circles into the soft skin of my hand … this is it, the moment I’ve been waiting over ten years for.
I exhale. “You’re finally here to collect.”
Instead of answering me, the Bargainer’s other hand glides up my captive wrist, over all seventeen rows of my bracelet, not stopping until he gets to the very end of it, until his fingers grasp the last of my 322 beads.
“We’re going to play a little game of Truth or Dare,” he says. His eyes flick to mine, and they gleam with mischief.
My heart slams into my chest. He’s finally collecting his payment. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.
His mouth curls seductively. “What will it be, Calli?”
I blink a few times, still stunned.
“A dare it is,” he says gleefully.
Fear grips my heart. The Bargainer is infamous for his steep payments. It’s rarely money he asks for; he has no need for it. No, he usually takes something more personal, and every repayment comes with added interest. Considering I have 322 unpaid favors, the man essentially owns my ass. If he wanted to, he could order me to wipe out a small village, and I’d be magically bound to until each and every bead winked out of existence.
He’s a dangerous man, and at the moment, he’s rolling the bead between his fingers and watching me with those calculating eyes.
I clear my throat. “What’s the dare?”
Instead of answering me, he steps into my personal space. He lets go of my wrist. Never taking his eyes off of mine, he tilts my head back and cradles it.
What is he doing?
I stare up at him. A small smile dances along his lips, and I notice his pupils dilate only a moment before he leans in.
I stiffen as his lips brush mine, and then my body relaxes as his mouth glides against mine. My skin illuminates as the siren awakens. Sex and blood, that’s what she thrives on. Between the concert and this kiss, she’s more than satiated, but just as greedy as ever.
I wrap a hand around the arm that cradles my head. My fingers press against the warm skin of his wrist. Beneath it, I can feel his unyielding muscle.
He’s real, this is real. That’s all I have time to think to think about before the kiss ends and he pulls away.
He glances down at my wrist and I follow his gaze. The very last bead of my bracelet shimmers for a moment then fades away. The kiss had been my dare; the kiss had been the first payment the Bargainer collected.
I touch my fingers to my lips, the taste of him still on my skin. “But you don’t like me,” I whisper, confused.
He reaches up to my face to trail his fingers over my glowing skin. If he were a man, he’d be completely under my spell at the moment. But he’s something else entirely.The Bargainer’s eyes glitter. “I’ll be back tomorrow evening.” His gaze sweeps over me again, and he raises an eyebrow. “Consider the following advice a favor free of charge: be prepared for more than just a kiss.”
Want more information on this project? Here’s the book description:
Want more information on this project? Here’s the book description:
Callypso Lillis is a siren with a very big problem, one that stretches up her arm and far into her past. For the last ten years she’s been collecting a bracelet of black beads up her wrist, magical IOUs for favors she’s received. Only death or repayment will fulfill the obligations. Only then will the beads disappear.
Everyone knows that if you need a favor, you go to the Bargainer to make it happen. He’s a man who can get you anything you want … at a price. And everyone knows that sooner or later he always collects.
But for one of his clients, he’s never asked for repayment. Not until now. When Calli finds the Bargainer in her room, a grin on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, she knows things are about to change. At first it’s just a chaste kiss—a single bead’s worth—and a promise for more.
But as the payment increases, turning both physical and emotional, Calli finds she’s got another problem. She’s already in a relationship with a shapeshifting bounty hunter, one who’s not too keen on sharing. When he discovers the Bargainer’s payment plan, the Bargainer finds himself on a paranormal hit list. Now Calli is faced with a dilemma: allow the Bargainer to die and free herself of her obligations, or save his life and fulfill them all.