Serpent Mound: a Nia Rivers Adventure (Nia Rivers Adventures Book 4), страница 1
Table of Contents
Also by Jasmine Walt
Also by Ines Johnson
About the Authors
ARC COPY - NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION
Copyright © 2017, Jasmine Walt & Ines Johnson. All rights reserved. Published by Dynamo Press.
This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and incidents described in this publication are used fictitiously, or are entirely fictional. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, except by an authorized retailer, or with written permission of the publisher. Inquiries may be addressed via email to [email protected]
Cover art by Rebecca Frank
Edited by Mary Novak
Electronic edition, 2017. If you want to be notified when Jasmine’s next novel is released and get access to exclusive contests, giveaways, and freebies, sign up for her mailing list here. Your email address will never be shared and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Created with Vellum
Also by Jasmine Walt
Also by Ines Johnson
About the Authors
Some say life moves fast. That’s not necessarily true. The speed at which life moves is a matter of perspective.
Parents wrap their offspring in a cocoon of protection that cracks all too soon when the children burst their way out. For the mother and father, it’s a blink of the eye. But for the child, independence comes at a snail’s pace.
Once they’ve broken the casing of their parents’ hold, the newly-winged adults stutter-step brusquely through life, rushing toward a time when they can slow down. And when that time comes, in the twilight of their years, and their pace is sluggish once more, they look back and lament that they didn’t savor what they had as they find themselves hurtling toward an end that they are never quite prepared for.
Such is the human existence. Or so I’d been told over the last couple of millennia by the few thousand human beings I’d asked. It was a rhetorical question: “Where has all the time gone?” For them, the answer was the same, but for someone like me, time had never gone anywhere. It stayed with me.
Life had always moved at a steady pace for me. Every day the world rushed by me in a blur of colors and faces and lights. Most of the time I felt like I was standing still while the world spun. People grew up, grew old, and died in the time it took me to look over my shoulder.
Perhaps that’s why I was constantly on a quest to break the speed limits.
My right foot pressed the gas pedal into the floor as I broke one hundred and fifty miles per hour. With the sole of my left foot resting on the floorboard, I felt the gravel kick up at the underbelly of the low-riding car. Looking down at the speedometer, I saw that I crested two hundred miles per hour.
The tires hummed as I urged them to eat more than their share of the asphalt. The engine rumbled, accepting my challenge as I pushed the vehicle to its maximum. The tailpipe roared with delight, not in the least exhausted.
My mouth split in a grin as the adrenaline rushed to my head. I felt my pulse thumping against the leather bindings of the steering wheel. The scenery was a blur of green globules and blue blobs. My short breaths rang in my eardrums as the speed dial ticked up to two hundred and fifty.
“Easy there, tiger,” said a deep male voice coming from the passenger seat. “We see your claws. You don’t have to bare your teeth as well.”
Ignoring my companion, I pressed the gas pedal, aiming to eke out the last twenty miles that the car was reported to go. The Venom GT was the fastest car in the world. And I wanted to go fast right now.
I needed the speed. I needed to bust out of the cocoon that time had wrapped around me from as far back as I could remember. I needed to break free of the casings and hurtle toward whatever was waiting in the twilight for someone like me.
I wanted to outrun life. I wanted to get ahead of the consequences that were on my tail. I wanted to leave this asphalt and take off into the sky.
Instead, I released the gas pedal and pumped the brakes, coming to a screeching halt. Both my body and Tres’s slammed forward. My chest smashed into the steering wheel. Tres’s chest got intimate with the dashboard.
“Dammit, Nia.” He rubbed at the spot on his forehead where he’d contacted the windshield.
I didn’t bother to glance at him. I knew he wasn’t harmed, just a bit miffed at me and my recklessness. He’d broken no skin. He was nearly unbreakable. Nearly.
Tres turned to me, removing his long forefinger and thick thumb from his brown forehead. The spot where he’d hit his head hadn’t even turned dark. No bump would dare form on that proud brow. As he removed his hand from his face, his hair fell over the spot like a silk curtain.
I’d always thought his hair was chestnut, but looking up close I saw that I was wrong. It was more henna, somewhere between a reddish-brown and an orangish-brown. The play of the colors fascinated me, and I stared.
He let me look, making no move to come closer or move away. That was his way with me. He’d give me a moment to decide. But only a moment. If I hesitated or showed any uncertainty, he’d make my decision for me and make the move that suited him best. Looking in his eyes now, I knew that my moment to choose was almost up. I’d already decided what I would do.
I’d once thought this man was an ogre due to his land-grabbing of historical sites, bulldozing of structures of cultural significance, and building of modern, metallic eyesores. My opinion of his business practices had only shifted slightly. I had no problem admitting that I was entirely wrong about his physicality. An ugly green monster this man was not.
Sure, Tres was big enough to fit the bill. His voice was deep enough to scare grown men. When he smiled, his teeth did this glinting thing that made me feel like he would eat me alive. But any woman would be happy, willing, to be devoured by that wicked gr
In fact, that grin was getting closer to me. My decision-making time was up, and he was about to take control of the situation and play it to his advantage. His broad shoulders blocked out the sun as he moved into my space. He didn’t speak a word with that low, growling voice of his. He didn’t need to. I knew his intentions.
I only had one second left. So, I decidedly turned my torso until my back rested against the driver’s seat. Facing forward, and away from the advancing passenger, I reached my arms over my head, creating a barrier between the two seats while giving my torso a stretch. My actions also halted Tres’s advance.
The car’s engine still purred, waiting for my next command. I reached forward and, with a flick of my wrist, turned the key and pulled the fob from the ignition. Swiveling around in the driver’s seat, I handed the key back to its owner.
“Thanks,” I said to Tres. “I needed that.”
His dark gaze raked over my face. I knew he saw the wild glint in my eyes, the flare of my nostrils, and my upper teeth tugging at the corner of my lower lip. I knew that he knew that I was having trouble coming to terms with my feelings for him. We’d gone from enemies to allies and were now knocking on the door of lovers. I’d taken a series of turns on the road with his car, but it was the fast-moving status of our relationship that was giving me whiplash.
“Yeah,” said Tres, “I can see you did.” His tone was as smooth as the engine of his car. The car had purred at fast speeds, but it had played the same humming tune while it had idled. “Any other thrill ride I can help you with, Dr. Rivers?”
Tres tilted his head against the headrest as he gazed at me. The gleam in his eyes spoke of patient inevitability. My limbs began to tingle and my legs became restless. I leaned over, turning in the opposite direction, and reached down for the seatbelt. I fumbled a moment before I was able to release the catch.
As I left the car I heard the distinct rumble of laughter coming from the passenger seat. I didn’t bother looking behind me to see if he’d follow. Tres liked the chase, and it felt good having someone prowling after me, wanting me.
It felt good being able to laugh with him, to flirt with him, all while a dark cloud floated over our heads. It was nice to forget for a moment that there was any danger on our tail. But it was only a moment.
I took one last look at the Venom GT. It looked like a bug with its headlights resting at slanted angles on the front end. The bumper was assembled in a way that resembled a smirk. The raised back looked like the tail wing of a plane. The bulbous body that could house only two bodies completed the look. I’m sure when it was in motion it resembled a gnat, zipping down the highway so fast that no one could hope to swat it.
Tres caught up beside me. His large hand came to rest on my lower back as we walked. His fingers didn’t flit about like a bug. Neither did they dig into my skin like a tiger’s claw. I felt the ridge of his long pinky finger at my sacrum. His thumb glanced off the curve of my waist. His palm followed the movement of my hips.
It was a perfectly normal and benign gesture for a couple. But we weren’t a couple. We were…
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what we were. Because I couldn’t entirely remember what we had been. And Tres was very reluctant to tell me about our past.
The men in my life seemed to make that a habit—keeping our past entanglements and indiscretions from me. Zane, the man I had once considered the love of my life, had sworn he kept the past from me in order to protect me. But that secret past had come back to assault us both.
Tres had his own secrets as well as some of mine. But he said he wanted to leave the past behind us and start with a clean slate. Unfortunately for him, my nature was to dig until I knew what the original story said.
“You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” said Tres.
“Yes, I did. I’m taking you home.”
“Typically when a woman says she wants to take me home—”
“What?” I snorted. “That’s when you run the other way to avoid meeting her parents?”
Tresor Mohandis was an infamous playboy. For the last few decades, he’d been spotted on the arm of, tangling tongues with, and coming out of the boudoirs of some of the world’s most beautiful women. As an Immortal, he had to change his name and identity often, but I always recognized his face in a photograph or the tone of his voice in an article.
It wasn’t like I was keeping tabs or anything. His affairs were none of my business. If he wanted to gallivant with vapid women every night of the week and twice on Sundays, that was his business. I read the magazines and papers for the news and cultural articles.
“No.” Tres grinned, leaning his big body into my shoulder. “If a woman invites me over, I assume we’ll be alone and she wants to take me to her bed.”
Now, not only was his hand at my back, his body heat was pressed into my side as well. His face hovered above mine as I looked up at him. If he wanted to kiss me, there wasn’t much I could do to escape him. There was no seatbelt holding either of us back. There was no barrier between us.
I knew he wouldn’t take the advantage. He might move in closer, he might press his point, but at the end of the day, he wanted me to come to him. He’d told me before that this time I’d be the one to make the moves.
I could barely hold my ground as I walked in step with him. My body was raring to go. But something in my mind held me back from dropping the solid green flag to signal him off. If I were honest with myself, which I wasn’t ardently trying to be these days, I’d admit that there might be someone holding me back.
I hadn’t been with another man in five hundred years. Yep, I said hundred. Before that, I couldn’t remember a single face, though I know there had been a few before Zane. Tres was included in that number. Which meant we’d done it before. I couldn’t remember the down and dirty details of doing it with him. But my body remembered that it had liked it.
“We will be alone,” I said. “When we get to my place.”
He didn’t say anything, but I felt a rumble of awareness flare through his body. Standing next to him, I felt overheated. I took a deep breath but still felt frazzled. The tips of my toes and fingers tingled. I nearly tripped as we climbed a small flight of stairs. Tres held me steady and then pulled me into his body as we mounted the steps.
Finally, we reached our destination and I was able to step away from him. My body cooled and my mind cleared. A good thing too as we approached the aircraft hangar. We climbed the short stair stack that led us into the cockpit of the small seaplane.
“Where’s the pilot?” asked Tres.
“You’re looking at her.” I took the pilot’s seat and began my preflight checklist.
Tres stood stock-still on the platform. Even with the headphones I’d just placed over my ears, I heard him gulp.
“What’s the matter?” I said. The jitters from just a moment ago were gone now that I was in the driver’s seat once more. “Don’t you trust me?”
“At two hundred and seventy miles per hour on the ground? It was a little shaky.” Tres climbed into the plane and took his seat. “Now you want to go five hundred miles per hour in the air? I’ve never been comfortable putting my life in someone else’s hands.”
“You fly all the time. Is it because I’m a woman?”
“My pilots are on my staff,” he said as he strapped himself into the harness. “I pay them a healthy salary to follow my orders. You have never done what I tell you to do.”
“That’s because I’m not trying to be in your employ.”
“What are you trying to be to me, Theta?”
“Buckle up while I figure it out.”
My body jolted in the seat as the turbulence played havoc with the small plane. Beside me, Tres bumped about. His thick fingers gripped the harness belting him into his seat. His jaw clenched and his eyes squinted as though he were traveling through a sandstorm.
Secretly, I was getting a serious kick out of having this mountain of a man white-knuckling his seat cushion. He was a powerhouse in the corporate world and a no-nonsense businessman when it came to real estate and land development.
We’d battled over the years, with him coming out the victor more times than I’d like to count. But now I had all the power in my grip. My fingers flexed on the controls. I was half-tempted to do a barrel roll. But I wasn’t that cruel. Not really.
I reached over and rubbed Tres's knee. He jerked out of my reach.
“Both hands on the wheel, please,” he demanded.
“Seriously? I reach out to you and you’re telling me to keep my hands to myself?”
“You can take advantage of me when you get us on the ground.”
I let out a high-pitched giggle and immediately dipped my chin to swallow the offensive sound. I was not a giggler. I laughed. I smirked. I was even known to guffaw in days gone by. But I didn’t giggle like some society miss.
That wasn’t entirely true. Zane knew all the things to say to set me shaking with tinkling laughter. I took a deep breath and got hold of myself. I needed to get my ex out of my mind. Especially since I had decided to make room in there for Tres.
I glanced over at Tres. Of course, at that moment we hit another rough pocket of air. I took the aircraft up, aiming to find a patch of smooth air to complete our journey. It would probably be best if I spent my mental energy focusing on getting the two of us to our destination intact.