Lorin set his empty flute on a passing server’s tray, once more scanning the room for Sunny’s distinctive red hair. This time he found her, across the room talking to Addie. Every sound, every scent, every other person in the room, faded from his mind. Her curls were piled atop her head. Instead of the formal tiara, she wore a three strand headband of emeralds in every shade possible.
Her dress was teal, with a subtle sparkle. Sprinkled across the bodice and shoulders were teardrop crystals in pink, purple, yellow, green, teal, blue, and orange. Totally Sunny. And totally elegant.
She turned her back to him. The same crystals studded the back of the dress, which dipped to reveal shoulder blades he wanted to trace. With his fingers and his tongue. Careful to stay behind her, he wove through the crowd. Addie spotted him and he held a finger to his lips.
For the first time in his career, he wanted to greet her as a daro greeted an owner. But would she let him? Only one way to find out, so he went for it.
He eased in behind her. In one smooth motion he settled his hands on her hips, bent his head to the left, and kissed the side of her neck. Her body became a statue. “It’s me, Sunny,” he whispered in her ear. This close, her spicy-sweet fruit perfume filled his nose. He wanted to kiss the tender spot behind her ear where the scent lived, but she might stab one of her four-inch heels into his foot. So he refrained, even though the effort made him want to whimper.
She did crazy things to his body. Made him want to carry her to bed and not let her leave until he’d erased every bad memory of touch put in her by her cretin of a father. Until she erased every bad memory of touch put in him by her mother.
“What are you doing?” She spoke in a whisper, too.
“This is how a male daro greets his mistress. I’ve never done it before.”
“Everyone knows what it means?”
“Yes.” He released her. “Are you okay with it?”
She turned. Without putting distance between them. “It’s too late for it to matter. Give me some warning next time.”
Next time. He let a smile curve his lips. “All right.”
The orchestra moved into a slow waltz. Puccini’s Quando M’en Vo, from La Bohème. One of his favorites. “Dance with me?”
“I don’t know how.”
He held his left hand out, palm up. “Follow my lead, and no one will know.”
She stared at his hand, then slid her right hand into his. He led her to the edge of the dance floor, took her in a waltz hold, and let the music carry them away. “Look at me, not your feet.”
Blue eyes, with pupils dilated, fixed on his face. Tense muscles kept her in statue form.
“Relax, Sunny. Breathe.”
She did. He kept it simple, moving in a circle around the edge of the room. When the music stopped, she did too. “Are you hot? I’m melting.” She left his arms. Letting her go took every ounce of willpower he possessed.
Childhood enmity turns to love, with one problem: his heart isn't his to give.
Lorin is a daro, a Lokmane man trained to make humans feel special and valued. As Prime of Arkos House, no one stands between him and the safety of the daros under his care—except his mistress. The dead one, and the new one. He needs to focus on the Essence crisis infiltrating the Houses, and his sister's safety. Not figure out how to balance his duties with falling in love.
When her mother dies, emotionally wounded Sagira Memeos becomes the Marcasian Empire’s newest High Lady. And reluctant owner of the most sought after daro in said empire. He’s her childhood nemesis, and way too sexy for his own good. With his kindness finding its way into her bruised soul, asking for his help to navigate her succession to ruling high lady probably isn't her brightest idea.
Lorin wants Sagira. But not if he has to pay for it with innocent lives. She’s a distraction he can't afford while the bedrock of Marcasian high society is under attack. Not to mention facing losing his sister to the man who wounded Sagira. If the daro houses fall, all hope of freedom goes with them.
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Rachel Leigh Smith was swept off her feet at the age of six by Magnum, P.I., then again at nine by Frank Hardy. She remembers her favorite romance novels by the hero’s name, so of course she writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family, a half-crazed calico, a ginger tabby lion, and a menagerie of book boyfriends.
She's a member of Romance Writers of America. She blogs sporadically at www.rachelleighsmith.com, hangs out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RachelLeighSmithAuthor, and can sometimes be found at http://twitter.com/rachelleighgeek. You can sign up for her newsletter here.