What Corey Monaghan wants most is to live an honorable life and find a woman worthy of his love. In spite of heartbreak he never believed he’d recover from, he has finally found that woman: Racha Aris, the Queen of Dragons.
But when his old love and the reason for his heartbreak walks back into his life again reigniting his old passion, he is terrified that he’ll lose the life he’s made with the Queen and jeopardize their plans to start a family.
Will he be forced to accept an alternative that might sabotage his every desire? Or will he learn that he has room in his heart for two women?
Corey, 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…unique 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… young. 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 fathered 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 had 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," the text read~.~
“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.”