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Aeromancist, the Beginning

Seven Forbidden Arts : Prequel to Volume Two

By: Charmaine Pauls
Published By: Melange Books, LLC
Copyright: Copyright 2015 by Charmaine Pauls
Eight Chapters / 47,000 Words
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Passion always comes with a price.

All that Russian aeromancist Lann Dréan wants, is to enjoy a month of peace in the privately owned convent in Santiago he is turning into a home. When an American literature student walks into his library of ancient books, his holiday intentions change. The untouchable Lann is inexplicably enraptured. For all his famed control, he cannot stay away from Katherine White.

Gifted with a hunted talent and a price on his head, the best Lann can offer Kat are thirty days of unrivaled passion before returning to his paranormal crime task force in New York. If Kat consents to his terms, she will agree to walk away on Day Thirty. Forever. But his uncontainable desire comes with an unforeseen price.

Aeromancist, the Beginning by Charmaine Pauls

A man who sat behind a large desk came to his feet. Kat swallowed. Just as she had thought. It was the man she had caught a glimpse of that morning. She could tell from his clothes, and his height. But his face had been in the shadows. And Lann Dréan was nothing like people said. The descriptions didn’t do him justice. Apparently, Mr. Dréan didn’t like publicity, because he never allowed his photo to be taken. Now she stood facing the man himself, and nothing could have prepared her for his physical appearance.

He was tall and dressed immaculately in grey slacks and a white dress shirt—no doubt privately tailored because they perfectly fitted his lean, muscled body. His long, blond hair was braided down his back, his sideburns extending down a strong jaw. His distinctly Arian features were off-set by almond-shaped eyes, eyes that were almost yellow, like amber flecked with gold, and lined with heavy, dark lashes. The contrasts were arresting—almost frightening.

His sensual lips pulled into a beautiful, but practiced smile, exposing a dimple in one cheek. It came as a strange disappointment to Kat that he used a gesture with her he had probably used with countless females, all as defenseless to his good looks as she was right now. Even so, she couldn’t help return it. As she continued to stare, he took his time to round the desk and cross the floor until they stood face to face.

He was composed, too controlled, as he took her hand and brought it to his lips, letting only his breath caress her skin. Long, strong fingers grasped hers lightly. She could have easily pulled away, but she was mesmerized, studying his impeccably manicured hands, the gold band around his thumb, and the ruby ring on his pinky. The monastery owner released her hand and took a step back.

“Thank you for meeting me,” he said with a heavy Russian accent she found very appealing. “I’m not sure if I should say, Miss White … or Miss Clark.”

At the mention of the false name, her smile faltered. Her hand gripped the chair back next to her. She wasn’t sure what she had expected Mr. Dréan to discuss with her, but it wasn’t this.

“Do you need to sit down?” He moved to a lounge area facing a fireplace and pulled out a wine-colored armchair. “Please.”

It wasn’t an invitation. Kat walked to the chair on uncertain legs and sat down on the edge. She eyed him warily. “How did you find out?”

He took the sofa opposite her and poured gold-colored liquor from a crystal decanter into two tumblers.

“I’m a member of the flying club.” He offered her a glass. “Scotch?”

It wasn’t a question either. She reached over the low table to accept the drink, even if she had no intention of drinking it. She tried to put herself in his shoes, to figure out what he was thinking.

“I’m not a security risk, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He gave her an amused smile. “No?”

“How do you know about my … other name?”

“First things first. Let’s get the formal introduction out of the way, shall we?”

“I know who you are, Mr. Dréan.”

“Please call me Lann.” His expression was mocking. “I’m not sure who I’m having the pleasure of meeting.”

She was pretty sure he knew, but she said anyway, “Katherine White. Everyone calls me Kat.”

“Who is Delia Clark?” He watched her intently as he sipped his Scotch.

“It’s just a name I made up.”

“Why?”

She studied her hands. “I love flying, and I’m not supposed to.”

“Why not?”

She contemplated ignoring the question, but glanced up and saw the relentlessness in his lion-like eyes. “I promised my parents, and my godfather, who also happens to be my mentor.”

When she fell silent, he said, “I’m listening.”

“I don’t see how this is any of your business.”

She moved to get up, but he said, “What you’re doing is illegal. You may even face legal charges.”

She left her glass on the table. “What are you threatening me with?”

“I don’t make threats, Katherine. If I wanted charges laid, you’d be arrested by now.”

She went cold. So, Lann wasn’t a reasonable man. She could only hope he was compassionate.

“Why are we having this conversation, Mr. Dréan?”

“Because I don’t want you to find out from your godfather that I called him. I wanted to tell you in person.”

In a heartbeat, the ice in her veins turned into fire. “You called Charles?”

“Not yet. I’ll call him first thing tomorrow morning. And then your parents.”

“Why would you do that?” she said, slightly breathless.

“I don’t know if you can be trusted. I can’t allow people I can’t trust in my home.”

Her hope of Lann being compassionate dwindled. Panic took over. She needed his books for her thesis. Without this material, she had as good as failed.

“If you tell Charles that I’ve broken my promise, he’ll make me go home. He’ll cancel my scholarship.”

“Give me one good reason why he shouldn’t.”

“Look, Charles made me agree to the stupid condition. He promised my parents not to give me the scholarship unless I agreed not to participate in … dangerous activities.”

He lifted an eyebrow, indicating that he was waiting for her to continue.

She cleared her throat. “My parents are protective, that’s all. There have been some … incidents.”

“Is getting involved in dangerous activities that lead to  incidents a habit of yours?”

“I don’t consider flying more dangerous than driving.”

He traced the rim of his glass with a finger. “Tell me, Katherine, what do you enjoy about flying?”

“I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Try.” He fixed her with his unsettling eyes.

Kat lifted a shoulder. “I guess I like that I don’t have to be in control.” Something in his expression shifted. Did she say something wrong? “Mr. Dréan, I didn’t lie about my identity when I signed in at your library. I swear I’m not a security risk. If you call Charles, he’ll feel obliged to tell my parents, and they’ll only worry unnecessarily.”

“Your parents have a point. You have a reputation at the club. You’re a daredevil.”

She gave him an impatient frown. “What’s this to you, anyway? I can’t imagine you’re concerned about my safety.”

His eyes narrowed even as his lips curved. “Oh, but I am.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I want you to promise never to fly with anyone else at the club, unless it’s with me.”

She opened and closed her mouth. “You?”

“I’m the only person I trust.” She could see he meant it. “A lot safer than Frank. You agree? Good. Then it will save us both a lot of unpleasant explanations.”

She was going to say more, but he got up, indicating that the matter was closed for discussion. He lifted his eyes to a wall clock and smiled faintly back at her.

“It’s almost dinner time. Would you care to join me?”

The invitation took her aback. She wasn’t sure what to make of it. Maybe he was trying to be polite.

She got to her feet. “Thank you, but I have to go.”

“I’ll show you the part of the convent that’s not open to the public. You’ll find the restoration interesting.”

Turning the offer down would seem rude under the circumstances. She had no choice but to accept the arm he offered. His muscles flexed under her palm, hard and warm. He stared at her as they walked, and she got the feeling that he was sizing her up.

Despite her reluctance, she did find the alterations interesting. He explained the work of an architect specializing in the restoration of historical Chilean buildings. Soon she was enraptured, listening intently and enjoying the musicality of his accent.

After they had visited the upstairs rooms, Lann took her downstairs to the pool deck where a table was set for two. He pulled out a chair and stood waiting.

She fumbled with the sling of her handbag. “I can’t stay.”

“Do you have another engagement?”

She wasn’t going to lie to make him accept her decision. “No.”

“And have you eaten?”

“No.”

“Then please join me. I’d be delighted not to dine alone.”

A man like Lann never had to dine alone, she guessed. The list of volunteers would be long. It felt like a mistake, but she sat down anyway. Lann was a perfect gentleman. He adjusted her chair and draped a napkin over her lap before taking his place. Almost immediately the man with the black suit appeared, carrying a tray with two plates.

“This is Alfonso, my right-hand. I know you’ve met, but I’m not sure you’ve been properly introduced.”

Alfonso inclined his head and served them. By the time he left, Lann had already reached over the table and filled her glass with wine.

“Seared tuna, and Roquefort-pear salad,” he said. “I hope it’s to your taste.”

Instead of answering, Kat took a gulp of wine. While she was squirming in her chair, wracking her brain for something to say, Lann seemed at ease with the silence.

After a couple of bites, he said, “What is your thesis about, Katherine?”

“Daemon lovers.”

His eyes lifted to her. “Expand.”

“Excuse me?” She frowned at his cryptic communication style.

His smile was indulgent. “Please do expand. I’d love to hear more.”

“Alright.” She shifted. “My argument is that the daemon lover is the male form of the muse. I’m using literature to demonstrate how he has showed up in legends as vampire, beast, prince or angel, and what his role was in the development of female sexuality, creativity and spirituality as expressed in modern literature.”

“Now I understand why the books in my library would be useful to you.” He studied her as if contemplating a puzzle. “Mrs. Sullivan mentors romantic art students. How come you’re with her group?”

“She’s a friend of Charles. He asked her to take me under her wing.”

“How long since you arrived in Santiago?”

“It’s only been a month.”

“And for how long will you stay?”

“One year. I have eleven months left.” She kept quiet then, focusing on eating.

“Eleven months,” he mused. “Then we have time. I would very much like to get to know you … better.”

The nuance of the statement almost had her choking. There was no way they were getting to know each other beyond tonight. Lann Dréan was far too dangerous. She felt it in the stirring of her body, and most of all, her heart.

“Tonight will be all the getting to know each other we’ll be doing.” Her tone was stern, but darn it, she didn’t even manage to convince herself.

He put his knife and fork down. “Then I’d be wise to make the most of the moment. Tell me about yourself.”

The way he stared at her made her feel as if no one else existed. It was hard not to feel flattered, and at the same time, intimidated.

“What do you want to know?”

He rubbed his chin as he studied her. “What is your best feature?”

“My best feature?” She played with her fork. “I have a lot of determination and—”

“I meant physical.” His eyes traveled slowly from her head to her waist.

Lann Dréan was definitely unsettling, but she had no intention of giving him the pleasure of the knowledge. She met his gaze squarely. “I like my hair.”

His smile was slow as his eyes caressed her some more. “I wouldn’t know  what to choose.” He took a sip of his wine. “I love this wine. It is my favorite. What is yours?”

She gave a nervous laugh. “What is this? Twenty questions?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “Is that a game?”

“Yes.” She studied him. “Is this?”

“No.” The amusement was gone from his eyes. Instead, they were filled with heat, and intent.

Kat swallowed. Determined to bring the conversation back to safer ground, she said, “I love coffee, ice cream and poetry.” She took another big mouthful of wine and forced a laugh. “There. Now you know the most important things about me. Your turn.”

Instead of taking the bait, Lann remained serious. “It seems we have a great deal in common, Katherine.”

She refused to participate in his game of words. Feigning ignorance, she said, “You like coffee and ice cream?”

Lann simply smiled.

They finished the rest of their meal in silence, and when Lann lifted the bottle, Kat shook her head.

“Are you in a relationship, Katherine?”

It was hard to keep her voice nonchalant. “No. You?”

“Not … yet.”

She knew where this was going and she couldn’t do it. Lann was a keeper, but he didn’t keep. She knew it from the gossip snippets, but also from intuition. She got up abruptly. “It’s getting late.”

“Of course.”

He immediately pushed back his chair. His compliance both surprised and disappointed her, and the latter sentiment scared her. But Lann acted oblivious to her turmoil. He took her hand and led her down the dimly lit hallway past the garden that was dark now, except for two spotlights that cast the trees and shrubs in a veil of green light. Every part of her body was aware of his strong fingers folded around hers. Her nerve endings came alive, making her skin tingle with an electric crackle. Even if she wanted nothing more than to escape the disturbing sensations, pulling away would only demonstrate that she was affected, so she did nothing but to experience it in silence.

At the library, he stopped, took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door.

“What are you doing?” she said.

“I want to show you my library.”

“I’ve had the tour.”

“But not by me.”

He ushered her inside until she stood in the center of the room. During the day, the broad windows let in plenty of natural light, but now they were dark, and the dim ceiling spots cast the wood in a warm glow that washed over her with the welcome scent of the ink and leather. Lann flicked on the overhead light, and, as always, she looked at the spines with the embossed gold titles in awe.

He led her to the back of the room where the most fragile books were displayed in a glass cabinet, and surprised her by unlocking the door with a cylinder key from his keychain.

“Would you like to touch them?” he said very softly, close to her ear.

She put a bit of distance between them and dared to glance at him. “You’d let me?”

He opened a drawer under the cabinet and pulled out a box of white gloves.

“Here.” He handed her a pair.

She started to pull them on, but her hands were shaking and she battled to fit her fingers in the holes. Suddenly, his hands were on hers, finishing the task with sure, strong movements.

“Thank you,” she mumbled, trying to appear casual.

“Old verses about magic. One of my favorites.”

He moved behind her. His chest brushed up her back. The heat from his body penetrated her clothes. His arm came around her and then he took her hand and placed her palm on the page, his big hand covering her gloved one.

Her heart and breath started to do funny things. She should have only wanted to lift the book from the padded interior, to turn the pages, to hear the crackling of the paper, but all she could focus on was the tall Russian who manipulated her hand, working her fingers to gently turn the pages. Her body felt hot, her mind fuzzy.

“Why the interest in old books?” she said in an attempt to steer her thoughts away from this touch.

He gripped her chin and tilted her face up to him. “Do you always talk your way out of situations you feel uncomfortable in?”

Her eyes widened at his arrogance. And at the truth of his observation. She opened her mouth but found no words of defiance.

Thankfully, Lann let her off the hook by dropping the subject. For a while, they looked at the books in silence, Lann waiting patiently until she had had her fill.

When she returned the gloves, he left them in a basket on the side, and said, “Come. I want to show you something.”

“There’s more?”

She followed him to a narrow staircase in the corner. At the bottom, he turned to give her a smile, a gesture that almost seemed encouraging.

“What’s up there?”

“My den.”

She couldn’t help but be curious. He led the way to the top level where a landing broad enough to walk on ran around the shelves. There was a door in the corner. As she waited for Lann to unlock it, she felt like Alice in Wonderland, about to pass through a secret door. It was so low even Kat had to bend. It made her expect something small, maybe a tiny storeroom with more books, but it was a big, comfortable room with a slanted ceiling and a skylight through which she could see the stars. The walls were covered with wooden panels and lined with shelves full of books. It was fitted with an oversized desk, a leather sofa and a wrought iron four-poster bed. The carpet was a rich burgundy color and the bed linen deep shades of red. Cushions were scattered everywhere, even on the floor. It looked like the perfect place to read. A den, just as he had said.

She smiled. “This is cozy.”

“It’s the vault. It’s fireproof, so this is where I keep the most precious books.”

She looked at the skylight. “Even with that?”

“It’s fitted with a metal shutter that closes automatically in case of a fire.”

Her eyes flittered to the bed. “You sleep here?”

“No, I don’t sleep here. Sometimes I read here, until late, but that’s what the sofa is for. The bed is for fucking.”

Her insides scrambled like broken eggs. Her body flushed. He had stepped up to her, standing close to her now. If she took a deep breath, her breasts would touch his chest. She shook her head, making her curls tumble over her shoulders. “Why are you showing me this?”

“Why do you think?” he said softly.

She stood very still, aware of the silence stretching between them, until he lifted his hand, and with one finger gently traced the curve of her breast.

Kat took a step back. “I have to go.”

He tilted his head. “But do you want to?”

“Yes,” she said, battling to find her voice.

“I don’t think you do.”

“How would you know?” She failed miserably at sounding annoyed. Instead, her sentence broke off on a needy croak.

“Your breathing is shallower.” He took her hand in his. “Your palms are sweaty.” His eyes lowered to the hardened tips of her breasts. “And there are other signs.”

She gasped in horror, because he was right. “Shock provokes the same symptoms.”

“Whether it’s shock or need, the pleasure I’d give you would be no less intense.”

She turned on her heel and hurried down the stairs to the exit, eager to escape into the dark, cool night. She ran into the garden until she stood in front of the statue of Saint Teresa.

Lann followed her outside, but he did so in his own sweet time, leaving her alone for at least a minute to calm down, or maybe to sweat it out. When he stopped short of her, she took a step back.

He frowned at her. “I never force, Katherine.”

His proximity was disturbing. “I’m going home, Lann.”

He seemed to consider it for a while. “Give me one good reason why you won’t stay.”

“For starters, you’re too old for me.”

He smiled. “I’m only thirty.”

“And I’m serious about my studies. I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I don’t have time for relationships or casual flings.”

He nodded. “We can work around that.”

“No,” she said firmly, “we won’t work around anything. Thank you for dinner. I’m leaving now.”

“Alright,” he said, “I’ll tell my driver to take you home.”

The fact that he gave in so easily should have had her sighing with relief. Instead, it scared her.

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