No hinges squeaked. In fact, not a single sound emerged. Yet one moment the bedroom doors were closed and the next, the two panels were sliding open.

Grace stood to the left, unseen and hidden by the shadows cast by the thick ivory. When Darius stepped past her, his feet tangled in the sheet-aka trip cord.

He propelled forward with a grunt.

The moment he hit the ground, Grace jumped onto his back, using it as a springboard, and raced into the hall. Her head whipped from side to side as she searched for the right direction. Neither appeared better than the other, so she ran. She didn't get far before strong male hands latched on to her forearms and jerked her to a halt. Suddenly she was heaved onto Darius's shoulder, too shocked to protest as she was carried back to his room. Once there, he slid her down his body. She stilled, feeling the buttery softness of his shirt and the heat of his skin past her clothes. Their bodies were so close she even felt the ripple of his muscles.

Without releasing her, he somehow caused the doors to slam together, blocking her only exit. She spun, watching, her gaze widening. Breath froze in her lungs as failure loomed around her. No. No ! In a mere two seconds, he'd snatched away her best chance for freedom.

"You will not be leaving this place," he said without a hint of anger, only determination. And regret? "Why are you not in my bed, woman?"

Overwhelmed by her failure, she whispered, "What do you plan to do with me?"

Silence.

"What do you plan to do with me?" she cried.

"I know what I should do," he said, his voice now a low growl that vibrated with anger, "but I do not yet know what I will do."

"I have friends," she said. "Family. They'll never rest until they find me. Hurting me will only earn you their wrath."

There was a concentrated hesitation, then, "And what if I do not hurt you?" he asked so softly she barely heard him. "What if I only offer you pleasure?"

Had the callused surface of his palms not brushed her forearms, she might have been frightened by his words. Now she was oddly enthralled. Every fantasy she'd ever created rushed through her mind. Her cheeks fused with heat. What if I only offer you pleasure ? She didn't answer him. Couldn't.

He answered for her. "No matter what I offer you, there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it." His voice hardened, losing its sensual edge. "You are in my home, in my personal chambers, and I will do whatever I want. No matter what you say."

With such a dire warning ringing in her ears, she snapped from whatever spell he'd woven and called upon her terrorist training from flight school. SING, she inwardly chanted. Solar-plexus, instep, nose, groin. Jolting into motion, she elbowed him in the solar plexus, slammed her foot into his instep, swung around and shoved her fist into his cold, unemotional face. Her knuckles collided with his cheek instead of his nose, and she cried out in pain.

He didn't flinch. He didn't even bother to grab her wrist to prevent her from doing it again.

So she did.

She drew back her other arm and let it fly. On impact, she experienced a repeat of the first punch. Throbbing pain for her, smug amusement for him. No, not amusement, she realized. The blue of his eyes was too cold and hollow to hold any type of emotion.

He arched a brow. "Fighting me will only cause you hurt."

Her gaze slitted, incredulous, clashing with his. After everything she'd endured these past two days, Grace's temper and frustration erupted full force. "What about you?" She jerked her knee up, hard and fast, gaining a direct hit between his legs. Groin: the last section of her training.

A slight breath whooshed from his lips as he hunched over and squeezed his eyes shut.

She raced to the door and began clawing at the seam. "Open, damn you," she railed at the exit. "Please. Just open."

"You do not look capable of such a deed," Darius said, his voice strained. "But I will not underestimate you again."

 

She never heard him move, but suddenly he was there, his arms braced next to her temples, his hot breath on her neck. She didn't try to fight him this time. What good would that do? He'd already proved he did not react (much) to physical pain.

"Please," she said. "Just let me go." Her heartbeat thundered in her ears. From fear, she assured herself, not from the sensual strength of his body so close to her own.

"I cannot."

"Yes, you can." She twisted, facing him, and shoved him backward. The impact, though slight, caused him to trip once more on the sheet. He took her down with him and when he hit, he rolled them over and pinned her.

Automatically she reached up to push him away from her. But her fingers caught in his shirt, causing the neckline to gape. Both of the medallions he wore sprang free and one of them plopped against her nose. She gasped. Which one belonged to Alex? The one with the glowing eyes?

What did it matter? she thought then. She'd come here with a medallion, and she was leaving with one.

Determination thudded like a drum inside her chest. To distract him, she screamed with all the power her lungs allowed. She flailed her legs and wrapped her sore hands around his neck, as if she meant to choke him. She hurriedly worked one of the clasps, and when she felt it unlatch, she jerked her hands down and shoved the chain into her pocket. She gave another ear-piercing scream to cover her satisfaction.

"Calm down," he said, his features pinched.

"Bite me." She screamed again.

When she quieted, he said, "I would be most upset if you damaged my ears."

Upset? He would be most upset. Not infuriated, not lost in a rage. Simply mildly upset. Somehow, with this man, that seemed all the more frightening than out-of-control fury. With a deep, shuddering breath, she relaxed into the floor. After all, she had what she wanted, and fighting him did nothing more than press their bodies together.

His brows winged up, and he blinked, broadcasting his shock at her easy compliance.

"That easily?" he asked, suspicious.

"I know when I'm beaten."

Darius used her stillness to his advantage and allowed more of his muscled weight to settle atop her. He braced her wrists above her head-something he obviously liked to do, since it was the third time he'd done it to her-causing her back to arch and her breasts to lift for his view.

"You wish for me to bite you?" he asked, dead serious.

Briefly she experienced confusion. Then she realized what he meant. Oh, my God. She had told him to bite her. Something dark and hot twisted in her stomach, something she had no business feeling for this man. An image of his straight white teeth sinking into her body and taking a little nibble filled her line of vision. Erotic and sexual; except...

If he were a vampire, she'd just given him an open invitation to make her his next meal.

"I didn't mean it literally," she managed to squeak out. "It's just a figure of speech." With barely a pause, she added, "Please. Get off me." He smelled so good, so masculine, like the sun, the earth and the sea, and she was sucking in great gulps of that scent as if it were the key to her survival. He was beyond dangerous. "Please," she said again.

"Too much do I like where I am."

Those words echoed in her mind with such clarity her body offered a reply: I like where you are, too . She ran her teeth over her bottom lip. How did he do this? How did he make her feel strangely captivated and oddly entranced, yet fearful at the same time? He was quite possibly a blood-sucking vampire. He was also so sexy he made her mouth water. Made her ache in places she'd thought dead from disuse. Made her crave and fantasize and hunger.

Get a hold of yourself, Grace. Only an idiot would lust after a man of questionable origins and even more questionable motives.

What did he want from her? She studied his face, but found no hint of his intentions. His features were completely blank. Her gaze probed deeper, taking in the scar that slashed down his cheek, raised and puckered, interrupting the flow of his dark eyebrows. This close, she noticed the slant to his nose, as if it had been broken one too many times.

He was darkly seductive. Dangerous, her mind repeated.

That's it , she realized reproachfully. That's why I'm so attracted to him. I'm a danger junkie .

"What did you do to your hands, woman?" he suddenly demanded. His features were no longer blank, but projected a fierceness that was beyond intimidating.

"If I tell you," she said, faltering in the face of that severity, "will you let me go?"

His eyes narrowed, and he brought one of her palms to his mouth. Heated lips seared her flesh before the tip of his tongue flicked out, licking and laving the wounds. Electric currents raced through her arm, and she almost experienced an orgasm right then and there.

"Why are you doing that?" she asked on a breathless moan. Whatever the reason, his actions were utterly suggestive, endearingly sweet, and she gasped at the deliciousness of it. "Stop." But even as she spoke, she prayed he didn't heed her command. Her skin was growing increasingly warm, her nerve-endings increasingly sensitive. A drugging languor floated through her, and God help her, she wanted that tongue to delve further, to explore deeper territory.

"My saliva will heal you," he said, his voice still fierce. But it was a different kind of fierce. More strained, more heated, less angry. "What did you do to your hands?" he asked again.

"I climbed the walls."

He paused. "Why would you do such a thing?"

"I was trying to escape."

"Foolish," he muttered. One of his knees wedged between the juncture of her thighs. The ache in her belly intensified as their legs intertwined.

He exchanged one hand for the other, swirling his tongue along the peaks and hollows, making her aware of all sorts of erotic things. The way his eyes flickered from ice-blue to golden-brown. The way his soft, silky hair fell over his shoulders and tickled her skin.

If he planned to hurt or kill her, surely he wouldn't concern himself with her comfort like this. Surely he would not-

He sucked one of her fingers into his mouth. She moaned and gasped his name. He whorled his tongue around the base. This time, she moaned incoherently and arched up, meshing her nipples into his chest and creating a delicious friction.

"That is better," he said roughly.

Her eyelids fluttered open. His expression taut, he held her hands up for her view. Not a single blemish appeared on the healthy, pink skin.

"But-but-" Confusion overshadowed her pleasure. How was that possible? How was any of this possible? "I don't know what to say."

"Then say nothing."

He could have left her sore and bruised, a punishment for trying to escape, but he hadn't. She didn't understand this man. "Thank you," she said softly.

He nodded, the action stiff. "You are welcome."

"Will you let me up now?" she asked, dreading-anticipating?-his response.

"No." He placed her left palm at her side, but held firm to the right. His fingers continued to caress and trace every line, as if he couldn't stand to break contact. "What did your brother plan to do with the medallion?"

Briefly she considered lying, anything to stop the flood of conflicting desires running rampant. Then, just as briefly, she considered not answering him at all. She knew instinctively, however, that he would not tolerate either from her and that would merely prolong their contact. So she found herself saying, "We've been over this before, and I still don't know. Maybe he wanted to sell it on eBay. Maybe he wanted to keep it for himself, for his private collection."

Darius's brow furrowed. "I don't understand. Explain to me this eBay."

As she expounded on the concept of the online auction, he glowered furiously.

"Why would he do such a thing?" Darius asked, genuinely perplexed. "Selling such an item to a stranger is the epitome of foolishness."

"Where I'm from, people need money to survive. And one way to make money is to sell our possessions."

"We need money here, too, yet we would never barter our most prized possessions. Is your brother too lazy to work for his dinner?"

"I'll have you know he works very hard. And I didn't say he was going to sell it. Only that he might. He's an auction addict."

Darius expelled a sigh and finally released her hand, bracing his palms on either side of her head. "If you mean to confuse me, you are doing a fine job. Why would your brother give you the medallion if he had any desire to sell it?"

"I don't know," she said. "Why do you care?"

In stalwart silence, he watched her, looked past her, then watched her again, his dark thoughts churning behind his eyes. Instead of answering her, he said, "You claim to know nothing, Grace, yet you found the mist. You traveled through. You must know something more, something you haven't told me."

"I know I didn't mean to enter your domain." The faintness of her voice drifted between them. "I know I don't want to be hurt. And I know I want to go home. I just want to go home."

When his features hardened dangerously, she replayed her words through her mind. What could she have possibly said to have such an ominous effect on him?

"Why?" he demanded, the single word lashing from him.

She crinkled her forehead and gazed up at him. "Now you are confusing me ."

"Is there a man waiting for you?"

"No." What did that have to do with anything? Unless... surely he wasn't jealous. The prospect amazed her. She was not the kind of woman to inspire any kind of strong emotion in a man. Not lightning-hot lust and certainly not jealousy. "I miss my mom and my aunt, Darius. I miss my brother and my apartment. My furniture. My dad made all of it before he died."

Darius relaxed. "You asked me why I care about the medallion. I do so for my home," he said. "I will do anything to protect it, just as you will do anything to return to yours."

"How can my owning the medallion hurt your home?" she asked. "I don't understand."

"Nor do you need to," he replied. "Where is your brother now?"

Her eyes narrowed, and her chin raised in another show of defiance. "I wouldn't tell you even if I knew."

"I respect your loyalty, and even admire it, but it is to your benefit to tell me whether he traveled through the mist or not."

"I told you this before. I don't know."

"This is getting us nowhere," he said. "What does he look like?"

Pure stubbornness melded the blue and green of her eyes together, creating a churning sea of turquoise. Her lips pursed. Darius could tell she had no plans to answer him.

"This way I can know if I have already killed him," he prompted, though he wasn't sure he would recognize any of his victims if he ever saw them again. Killing was second nature to him, and he barely glanced at them anymore.

"Already-Killed him?" She uttered a strangled gasp. "He's a little over six foot. Red hair. Green eyes."

Since Darius had not seen colors before Grace, the description she'd just given meant nothing. "Does he have any distinguishing marks?"

"I-I-" As she struggled to form her reply, a tremor raked her spine and vibrated into him. Her eyes filled with tears. A lone droplet trickled onto her cheek.

His arm muscles constricted as he fought the need to wipe the moisture away. He watched it glide slowly and fall onto her collarbone. Her skin was pale, he noticed, too pale.

The woman was deathly afraid.

The clamor of his conscience-something he'd thought long expired-clanged inside his head. He'd threatened this woman, locked her inside a strange room, and fought her to the ground, yet she had retained her fierce spirit. The concept of her brother's death was breaking her as nothing else had been able.

There was a good chance, a very good chance, he had killed her brother. How would she react then? Would those sea-eyes of hers regard him with hatred? Would she vow to spill his blood in vengeance?

"Does he have any distinguishing marks?" Darius asked her again, almost fearing her reply.

"He wears glasses." Her lips and chin trembled. "They're wire-rimmed because he thinks they make him look dig-dignified."

"I know not what these glasses are. Explain."

"Cl-clear, round o-orbs for the eyes." Her trembling had increased so much she had trouble forming her words.

He pushed out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. "A man wearing glasses has not entered the mist." He knew this because he would have found the glasses after the head rolled to the ground-and he hadn't. "Your brother is safe." He didn't mention there was a chance Alex could have entered the other portal. Javar's portal.

Grace began to cry in great sobbing howls of relief. "I hadn't wanted to think of the possibility... and when you said... I was so afraid."

Perhaps he should have left her alone just then, but the relief radiating from her acted as an invisible shackle. He couldn't move, didn't want to move. He was jealous that she felt this strongly for another man, no matter that the man was her brother. More than the jealousy, however, he felt possessive. And more than the possessiveness, he felt the need to comfort. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and surround her with his strength, his scent. Wanted her branded by him .

How foolish, he thought darkly.

The love she possessed for her brother was the same he had felt for his sisters. He would have fought to the death to protect them. He would have... His lips curled in a snarl, and he banished that line of thought to a hidden corner of his mind.

Grace pressed her lips together but another sob burst free.

"Stop that, woman," he said more harshly than he'd intended. "I forbid you to cry."

She cried harder. Big fat tears rolled down her cheeks, stopping at her chin, then splashing onto her neck. Red splotches branched from the corners of her eyes and spread to her temples.

Hours passed-surely these long, torturous moments could not be mere minutes-until she at last heeded his order and quieted. Shuddering with each breath, she closed her eyes. Her long, dark lashes cast shadowed spikes over the too-red bloom of her cheeks. He held his silence, allowing her this time to gather her composure. If she began crying again, he didn't know what he'd do.

"Is there... anything I can do to help you?" he asked, the words stilted. How long since he'd offered comfort to anyone? He couldn't recall, and wasn't even sure why he'd offered now.

Her eyelids fluttered open. There was no accusation in the watery depths of her gaze. No fear. Only pitying curiosity. "Have you been forced to hurt many people?" she asked. "To save your home, I mean?"

At first, he didn't answer her. He liked that she wanted to believe the best in him, but his honor demanded he warn her, not lock her in delusions about a man he'd never been. Nor would ever be. "Save your pity, Grace. You fool yourself if you think I have ever been forced to do anything. I make my own choices and act of my own free will. Always."

"That doesn't answer my question," she persisted.

He shrugged.

"There are alternatives. You could talk to people, communicate."

She was trying to save him, he realized with no small amount of shock. She knew nothing about him, not his rationale, not his past, not even his beliefs, yet she was trying to save his soul. How... extraordinary.

Women either feared him or wanted him, daring to take a beast into their beds; they never offered him more than that. He'd never wanted more. With Grace, he found himself desirous of all she had to give. She called to the deepest needs inside him. Needs he hadn't even realized he possessed.

Admitting such profound desire, even to himself, was dangerous. Except, he suddenly didn't care. Everything but this moment, this woman, this need, seemed utterly insignificant. It didn't matter that she had passed through the mist. It didn't matter that he had an oath to fulfill.

It didn't matter.

He dropped his gaze to her lips. They were so exotic, so wonderfully inviting. His own ached for hers, a soft press or a tumultuous crush. He'd never kissed before, hadn't cared to try, but right now the need to consume-and to be consumed-by that heady meeting of lips proved stronger than any force he'd ever encountered.

He gave her one warning. Only one. "Stand up or I will kiss you," he told her roughly.

Her mouth dropped opened. "Get off me so I can stand!"

He rose, and she quickly followed. They stood there, two adversaries caught in a frozen moment. The withdrawal of her body from his hadn't lessened his need, however. "I'm going to kiss you," he said. He meant to prepare her, but the words emerged more of a warning.

"You said you wouldn't if I stood," she gasped.

"I changed my mind," he said.

"You can't. Absolutely not."

"Yes."

Her gaze darted from his mouth to his eyes, and she licked her lips just the way he wanted to lick them. When she dragged her gaze up again, he met her stare, holding her captive in the crackling embers of his own. Her pupils dilated, black nearly overshadowing the brilliant turquoise hue.

He recaptured her in his arms and dragged her back down to the floor. "Will you give me your mouth?" he asked.

A sizzling pause.

I want this , Grace realized dazedly. I want him to kiss me . Whether the fire of his desire had simply burned into her, or the desire was all her own, she wanted to taste him.

Their gazes locked and she sucked in a breath. Such desire. Blistering. Had there ever been a man who had looked at her , Grace Carlyle, like this? With such longing in his eyes, as if she was a great treasure to be savored?

The outside world receded, and she saw only this sexy man. Knew only the need to give him something of herself-and take something of him. He was living, breathing sexual gratification, she mused, and more dangerous than a loaded gun, yet as gentle and tender as a bed of clouds. I truly am a danger junkie , she thought, loving the contradictions of him. Was he a brute or a lamb-and which did she crave more?

"I shouldn't want to kiss you," she breathed.

"But you do."

"Yes."

"Yes," Darius repeated. Needing no more encouragement, he brushed his lips against hers once, twice. She immediately opened, and his tongue swept inside. She moaned. He moaned. Her arms glided up his chest and locked around his neck. He instinctively deepened the kiss, slipping and sliding and nipping at her mouth just the way he'd imagined. Just the way he wanted, uncaring if he were doing it right.

Their tongues thrust and withdrew, slowly at first, then growing in intensity, becoming as uncivilized as a midnight storm. Becoming wild. Becoming the kind of kiss he'd secretly dreamed of, the kind of kiss that caused the strongest of men to lose all sense of self-and be glad for the loss. Her legs relaxed around him, beckoning him closer, and he fitted himself into her every hollow, hard where she was soft.

"Darius," she said on a raspy pant.

Hearing his name on her lips proved to be sheer bliss.

"Darius," she repeated. "Tastes good."

"Good," he whispered brokenly.

Caught in the same storm, she boldly rubbed herself against the hardness of his erection. Rubbed herself against all of him. Surprise mingled with arousal in her expression, as if she couldn't believe what she was doing but was helpless to stop. "This can't be real," she said. "I mean, you feel too good. So good."

"And you taste like-" Darius plunged his tongue deeper inside her mouth. Yes, he tasted her. Truly tasted her. She was sweet and tangy all at once, unfailingly warm. Flavored as delicately as aged wine. Had he ever sampled anything so delicious? "Ambrosia," he said. "You taste like ambrosia."

He buried one hand in her hair, luxuriating in the softness. His other hand traveled down her shoulder, down the slope of her breast, her ribs and over her thigh. She quivered, tightening her legs around his waist. He brought his hand back up and did it all over again. She purred low in her throat.

He wondered what she looked like just then, and wanted to see her eyes as he took his time with her, as he pleasured her in a way he'd never done with another woman. The concept of watching her, seeing her take her pleasure, was as foreign as his desire to taste her, but the need was there. He tore himself away from her mouth, breaking the kiss-surely the most difficult task he'd ever performed-and lifted slightly.

His exhalations came shallow and fast, and as he gazed down at her, his jaw clenched. Her eyes were closed, her swollen lips parted. The fiery red of her tresses was an erotically tousled mass around her face. Her cheeks glowed a rosy-pink, and the freckles on her nose seemed darker, more exotic.

She wanted him as desperately as he wanted her. His shaft hardened dangerously with the knowledge. She probably felt the same hopeless fascination and undeniable tug that he did. A tug he didn't understand. His soul was too black, hers too light. They should despise each other. They should have desired distance.

He should have desired her death.

He didn't.

She slowly opened her eyes. The delicate tip of her tongue darted out and traced her lips, taking in the last hint of his possession while leaving a glistening trail of moisture. How soft and fragile she was. How utterly beautiful.

"I'm not ready for you to stop," she said with a seductive smile.

He didn't respond. Couldn't. His vocal cords suddenly seized as something constricted in his chest, something arctic and scorching at the same time. I should not have kissed her . He jerked up and onto his knees, straddling her hips.

How could he have allowed something like this to happen, knowing he had to destroy her?

He was the one who deserved death.

"Darius?" she said questioningly.

Guilt perched heavily on his shoulders, but he fought past it. He always fought past it. He could not allow guilt in his life if he hoped to survive.

As he continued to watch her, her expression turned to confusion and she gingerly lifted to her elbows. Those long, red curls cascaded down her shoulders in sensual disarray, touching her in all the places he yearned to touch. Her shirt gaped open over one creamy shoulder.

Silence thickened between them. Smiling bitterly, he wet the tips of two fingers and traced the lushness of her lips, letting the healing qualities of his saliva ease the puffiness and erase the evidence of his possession. She surprised him by sucking his fingers into her mouth just as he'd done to her earlier. Feeling the hot tip of her tongue caused his every muscle to bunch in expectation. He hissed in a breath and tugged his fingers away.

"Darius?" she said, her confusion growing.

He'd come here to question her, but the moment he'd seen her, touched her, tasted her, those questions had fled. Yes, he'd managed to ask her one or two, but the need to capture a glimmer of her innocent flavor had been so fierce he'd soon forgotten his purpose.

He'd forgotten Javar. He'd forgotten Atlantis.

He would not forget again.

If only he could prove her duplicitous, he could kill her now without a qualm, then rip her image from his mind. As it was, he wasn't sure he could force himself to even chip one of her pink oval-shaped nails. The thought unnerved him, battered against him, and filled him with the urge to howl at the gods. Failure to act against her would mean breaking his vow and surrendering his honor. But hurting her would mean obliterating the last shreds of his humanity.

Gods, what was he going to do?

He felt shredded apart as he lunged to his feet. A cold sweat popped on to his brow, and it required all of his strength to spin and stalk to the door. There, he paused. "Do not attempt to escape again," he said, not glancing back at her. If he faced her, he might lose the strength required to leave her. "You will not like what happens if you do."

"Where are you going? When will you be back?"

"Remember what I said." The thick ivory opened for him, and he stepped into his bathing room. Then the door sealed automatically, not emitting a single noise as it blocked her dangerous beauty from his view.

Grace sat where she was, shaking with... hurt? He'd wanted her, hadn't he? If so, why had he left her reeling from the intensity of his kiss?

Why had he left her at all?

He'd walked blithely away, almost callously, as if they'd done nothing more than discuss their least favorite disease. She laughed humorlessly.

Had he merely toyed with her? While she panted and ached for him, while she bathed in the decadence, the wildness and the exquisite need, had he merely sought to control her? To gain the answers he seemed to think she possessed?

Perhaps it was best that he'd left, she thought furiously. He was a confessed assassin, but if he'd stayed, she would have stripped herself naked, stripped him naked, then made love to him right here on the floor.

For that one moment in his arms, she'd finally felt whole and she hadn't wanted the feeling to end.

This hunger he awakened inside her... it was too intense to be real, but too real to be denied.

Beneath his cold, untouchable mask, she'd thought she had seen a fire blazing inside him, a tender fire that licked sweetly rather than devoured needlessly. When he'd gazed down at her so carnally and said, "I want to kiss you," she'd been so sure the fire was there, simmering under the surface of his skin.

Her long repressed hormones cried out whenever he was near, assuring her that any intimate contact with him would be wild and wicked. The kind she'd fantasized about for years now. The kind she read about in romance novels, then lay in bed, wishing a man was beside her.

Enough! You need to find a way out of here. Forget about Darius and his kisses.

Though her body protested something so sacrilegious, forgetting such an earth-shattering experience, Grace pushed the kiss to the back of her mind then dug the medallion from her pocket and anchored it around her neck, where it belonged. Ha! Take that Darius .

She vaulted to her feet and spun in a circle, hoping that by searching the chamber this second time, she'd find a way out. A hidden latch, a sensor, something . When she saw only the same jagged walls, with no break in the pattern, she cursed under her breath. How did Darius enter and exit without so much as a word or touch?

Magic, most likely.

She blinked in surprise at the ease with which she entertained such a concept. Magic. Yesterday she would have committed anyone who claimed magic spells were real to a psych ward. Now, she knew better. She could speak a language she'd never learned.

Not possessing any magic of her own, she decided to ram into the door with her shoulder. She prayed she didn't break a bone as she girded herself for impact.

One breath, two. She rushed forward.

She never hit.

The door slid right open.

She nearly tripped over her own feet but managed to slow her momentum. When she stopped, she glared over at the door. If she didn't know better, she'd swear it was alive and purposefully tormenting her. There had been no reason for it to open this time. No reason except the medallion... Her eyes widened and she fingered the warm, ridged alloy at her neck. Of course. It had to be some sort of passkey, like a motion detector. That explained why Darius hadn't wanted her to have it.

I can escape , she thought excitedly. She surveyed her new surroundings. She wasn't in the hallway she'd expected. She was in some type of bathing room. There was a lavender chaise longue piled high with beaded, satin pillows; a large glistening pool rested inside a stone ledge. Towering, twisted columns. Multiple layers of sheer fabric hung from the ceiling. A decorator's dream.

In each of the three corners was an archway leading off somewhere. Grace debated which direction to take. Sucking in a deep breath, she raced through the center route. Her legs ate up the distance as she pumped her arms. The walls consisted of one jewel stacked upon another. From ruby to sapphire, topaz to emerald, the gems were interspersed with weblike gold filigree.

There were enough riches in this one little hallway to feed an entire country. Even the least avaricious of people would have trouble resisting such allure. That was exactly what Darius guarded against, she realized, the greed of modern day society. Exactly why he killed.

With all of this obvious wealth, she expected servants or guards, but she remained alone as she ran and ran and ran. A light at the end of the hallway caught her eye-and no, she didn't miss the irony of that. Huffing from exertion, she headed straight into the light. She may not have an exciting life to get back to, but at least she had a life. She had her mother, her aunt Sophie and Alex. Here she had only fear.

And Darius's kisses.

She scowled, not liking the heady thrill she received from the remembrance of his lips against hers, of his tongue invading her mouth oh, so sweetly. Of his body pressing into hers.

Lost yet again in the memory of such a soul-searing kiss, she didn't hear the frenzied male voices until it was too late. A table of weapons whizzed past before Grace spurted to a halt. Sand flicked around her ankles. Her mouth dropped open, as did the pit of her stomach.

Oh, my God.

She'd escaped Darius only to throw herself at six other warriors just like him.