Dark Sins and Desert Sands
It wasn't difficult for Ray to find Layla Bahset's office. She hadn't gone to any trouble to hide her identity. She was listed right there in the Las Vegas phone book like she was just an ordinary
woman and not evil incarnate. This had probably been a mistake—to come directly to his
interrogator's office in the middle of the day. They'd have him on the security cameras and someone might be able to identify him. But unless he planned to stalk Layla Bahset down the street, like he'd done with the guard in Aleppo, this was the easiest way to handle things.
"Hola," the woman at the desk purred, eyeing him with unabashed interest while her fingers
arranged a vase of flowers. "My name is Isabel. And aren’t you just trouble in a tight black T-shirt…"
She was a glamazon with cinnamon-brown eyes, Latin curves in all the right places, and a
smile that could cause a war or two. Ray felt himself flush under her magnetic charm. She was sexy as hell and it'd been a long time since anyone looked at him with anything other than malice, but Ray couldn't let himself be distracted by flirtation. He'd come here for Layla Bahset.
He'd come here for justice. He'd come here to clear his name. Nothing less would satisfy.
"So, will the doc see me, or not?" Ray asked.
"Lucky for you, Dr. Bahset's a workaholic. I'm sure she'll squeeze you in, Papi."
Were they already to the nickname stage? "Thanks, Cha-cha," Ray returned, swiping a piece
of candy from her desk. He popped it in his mouth hoping the sugar would steady him, but the intense sweetness put him even further on edge.
Dr. Bahset's office door was half open, and he took a moment to watch her. Was it just Ray's
imagination, or had he been in prison so long that every woman looked like a goddess today? Layla Bahset was as flawless as he remembered her, and Ray found that comforting. If a wisp of her black hair had escaped the confines of her severely upswept coiffure, it might’ve given him pause. If her lips had been slightly chapped instead of delicately glossed, he might’ve hesitated. But she was perfect.
Beneath the demure white blouse and dark skirt, there wasn't a single crack in the facade through which her humanity might have shone through.
Yet here she was, in the flesh.
It all happened in slow motion—fractional increments of time. He stepped into her office and
locked the door, hearing the satisfying sound of the bolt sliding into place. Layla Bahset looked up, her emerald eyes disarmingly and deceptively warm. He remembered those eyes, as green as the Nile and as timeless as the pyramids. Eyes so penetrating and pitiless that his throat had constricted with every question she'd asked. Now he made himself just as hard and pitiless. His boots rapidly closed the distance between them and her smile faded. His coat caught the edge of a low end table and overturned it just as she rose to her feet to call for help.
Then he had her.
Kicking her chair out of the way, he slammed her against the bookshelf and felt her go boneless with fear. Rage blinded him as he wrapped his hands around her throat and he struggled not to let the beast in him take over. He reminded himself that he wasn't here to choke her; he just needed to keep her from screaming. He let her exhale and felt the heat of her breath on his face.
Her palms flattened against his chest to fend him off but the rest of her was surprisingly warm and yielding. He could actually feel the heat of her through his shirt. She smelled like something sweet and fragile, like a desert blossom. Like something he could trample and destroy.
Damn. It had been a mistake to touch her. More than two years had passed since he'd touched
anything so soft, and the intimacy of skin against skin might be his undoing. Her eyes were closed, lips trembling. He could almost taste the salt of her fear-induced perspiration. It should've given him a feeling of satisfaction or mastery, but it only made him hungry for her. Urges he no longer knew he had clawed their way to the surface. With his blood running hot and his knee between hers, he nearly forgot what he'd come here for.
"Look at me, damn it," he growled close to her ear until her pulse quickened beneath his
fingertips and her eyelashes fluttered open. "I bet you thought you'd never see me again, did you? Take a good look and hope it's not your last."
Her eyes frantically searched his face as if for something she might recognize, and it infuriated him. Her face was burned into his memory. Her questions were branded in his flesh. That she could have forgotten him was unthinkable. He let his eyes blaze a path to the edge of her mind,
but he was so angry he could barely focus on controlling her. The top button of her white blouse had come undone, baring her collarbone, and he wanted to press his mouth into the hollow of it.
After everything she'd done to him, she was finally at his mercy. He could have her. He could show her his strength and power now that he wasn't in chains. The desire to take her was so strong that it actually shook him out of his stupor.
He wasn't that kind of monster, after all.
He let his grip relax, fingers splayed over her shoulder as she took a desperate breath. "You're
not going to scream, okay?" She nodded and in spite of his admittedly tenuous hold over her mind, she didn't scream. She didn't claw at him either. Instead, she did the most astonishing thing. Her delicate hand slipped over the taut sinews of his forearm in a caress. "Let me help you," she whispered.
He couldn't remember the last time another human being had touched him in gentleness, and
the intensity of it was unbearable. Unbearable. He was an escaped creature of the black dungeon.
Perhaps he wasn't meant for the sounds, scents, or gentle sensations of the world anymore. Perhaps he knew only pain now. Her touch left him unbalanced. Unsteady. He had to pull away. "Sit down at your desk," he commanded, but he wasn't sure if it was his power that compelled her or just the fear.
"I want to help you," she repeated, settling into her chair.
"You didn't help me when I was in Syria," he snarled. "You just asked me all those questions,
and they'd swirl in my head like you were some kind of sorceress. Like you'd bewitched me. And when I wouldn't answer, you'd send me back to have my hands and feet beaten until they bled. Of course, that was before you tried to make me think you actually cared about me…"
She shook her head as if she didn't know what he was talking about and it made him even
angrier. "Oh, give it a second and you'll remember me. You see, everything has a price, sweetheart, and your bill has just come due."
About Stephanie Draven
Stephanie Draven is currently a denizen of Baltimore, that city of ravens and purple night skies. She lives there with her favorite nocturnal creatures–three scheming cats and a deliciously wicked husband. And when she is not busy with dark domestic rituals, she writes her books.
Stephanie has always been a storyteller. In elementary school, she channeled Scheherazade, weaving a series of stories to charm children into sitting with her each day at the lunch table. When she was a little older, Stephanie scared all the girls at her sleepovers with ghost stories.
She should have known she was born to hold an audience in her thrall, but Stephanie resisted her writerly urges and graduated from college with a B.A. in Government. Then she went to Law School, where she learned how to convincingly tell the tallest tales of all!
A longtime lover of ancient lore, Stephanie enjoys re-imagining myths for the modern age. She doesn’t believe that true love is ever simple or without struggle so her work tends to explore the sacred within the profane, the light under the loss and the virtue hidden in vice. She counts it amongst her greatest pleasures when, from her books, her readers learn something new about the world or about themselves.
For more information, visit http://stephaniedraven.com/