“It is King? Are you kidding me? But not Kong, right?”
His men broke into smiles, but King snapped his fingers, and they went back to work. He gave the brat his fiercest I’m-gonna-fire-your-ass scowl, because this frightening sense of peace he felt around her invited him to let down his guard. “And you are?” he repeated, a little louder, a lot more determined.
“Real scared.” She gave him a flirtatious wink, and he wondered what color her eyes turned in passion.
“Name?” he snapped like a ranking cadet high on his own importance.
She clicked her heels and saluted. “Cartwright, Harmony, sir.”
“At ease.” King unclenched his fists, once, twice, three calming times, exercising his hands to relax them. “Harmony, is it? As in musical, melodious, sweet, pleasant, peace—not peaceful. No way.”
“Give yourself a salute, soldier, or is that anatomically impossible?”
King turned toward the crew, almost hoping they’d argue again, or the wind would wail, or a wall would fall in, anything. For the first time in his life, he sought the castle’s personal brand of torture, but no go. “You’re not kidding,” he said. “That wail hasn’t stopped in a hundred years.”
She gave a half nod. “I seem to have a knack for calming people, pets . . . entities, as it turns out. It’s a gift, but don’t let it go to your head. Pick me up, again, and I’ll deck you.”
“Is that any way to be positive?”
“I’m positive I’ll deck you.”
“That’s better.” King picked up a blueprint, instead of her. A calming effect, his ass, and yet . . . She’d been both calming and tormenting him since she walked in. She was no ordinary goddess. This one packed a warhead that could disarm even him—peace—if his “harmonious” crew and the blessed sound of silence were any indication. But anyone who could disarm his self-protective instincts became the enemy. Without his defenses, he’d never have endured his family, military school or his own stupid mistakes.
He was a survivor, to the death, but he had a feeling this woman could jeopardize even his killer instincts.
He tossed the print back on the makeshift plywood table and wished he could kick a sawhorse to ease his frustration. “I need to know who you are. And I presume you have a reason for being here.” King tried to ignore the challenge the peacemaker presented, sexual and otherwise. “After all, you didn’t take a water taxi out here by accident.”
He caught her disturbing withdrawal, her long ginger lashes at half-mast, her eyes the smoky blue gray of doubt. She bit her bottom lip as if . . . seeking a plausible excuse. He could almost see the lie forming.
“Um . . . vintage clothes,” she said in a rush. “Got any lying around the castle?”
He’d never heard a worse excuse for a fake accidental meeting. “Bullcrap.”
“Oh oh, you just invited a bunch of poop down on you.”
He gave her a look. “Methinks its name is Harmony.”
“No, people love old clothes. Some collect them. Some use them for costumes. I sell them.”
Hell, she was making it up as she went along.
King went back to his laptop and took a sip from his empty foam coffee cup. Crushing it with his embarrassment, he shot a basket in one and decided to play the scented sexpot’s way, to see if he could wrap his mind around her tactics . . . or himself around her.
“I’ve got rooms of old clothes,” he said, pretending to ignore her for his computer. Hiding from her, was he? Hell, he was gonna need a shrink after an hour in her company. “You’re stuck here anyway,” he said, typing nonsense in his spreadsheet, “so you might as well look around upstairs and see what you can find. Go ahead. The place is nothing if not sound. Just stay up there until I come for you. Contrary to what you’ve seen, a construction site is dangerous.”
“Good Goddess!” she said. “I have a castle to pillage?”
King raised his head and caught a smile that could melt glass.
“That’s it!” Short-circuiting, and forfeiting whatever wits he had left, he indicated that she should precede him up the circular stone stairs, out of hearing and sight of his men. At the landing to the balcony above the great hall, he stopped to press the elevator button. He hadn’t wanted his men to see them get on the elevator downstairs. Too cozy, which he didn’t intend. He intended to get the truth out of her.
She peeked toward the balcony. “One more flight to the living quarters?” she asked. Oblivious to his fury? Or pretending to be?
She preceded him into the elevator, and he pressed Five for the tower.
“Retro elevator,” she said, tracing the diamond shape of the gated door. “Turn of the century? The twentieth century, I mean?”
“Good guess,” he said. Halfway up, he hit Stop.
“Hey, we’re between floors.”
He pinned her to the wall, one arm on each side of her head. “You pillage, and I plunder? Is that your game?”
She frowned, her confusion real enough. “I beg your pardon?”
Confused as well, King forged on, stubbornly entrenching himself. “You are way out of your league, here. I don’t know which one of my ex-friends is playing matchmaker this time, but I’m not in the market.”
“You sure think a lot of yourself, Your Heinieness.” Her deep curtsy made him feel like a horse’s ass, as she intended.
He gave her a hand up, and held on too long, but she didn’t pull away. One or both of them stepped closer. He wasn’t sure which, but he did know that he wanted to kiss her . . .
Out of the question.
With an apology on the tip of his tongue, her ring caught his eye and he became transfixed. He ran a thumb over it. “Where did you get this?”
She pulled away, flipping her hair, hitting him in the face with corn silk and giving him a peppermint high.
His body went on red alert. All systems go.
“What do you care?” she snapped. “You’re not in the market.”
* * *
Harmony had suspected that the ring might be her ticket to fulfilling her psychic mandate, and judging by her host’s shock, she might be right. “Are we getting out of the elevator?”
Paxton backed against the control panel, denying her access, and slipped his hands into the pockets of his classy black slacks. “That’s up to you.”
She shivered at the hottie’s frosty demeanor; talk about a contradiction. His square, unforgiving chin, and his soft-worn tee, as black as his hair—despite the dusty construction site—made him look like Satan come to call.
Granted, the negative energy in this place had long ago created a type of karmic quicksand, the kind that sucked you under before you could call for help, but her presence had calmed some of it, so why was he so upset?
She had a psychic job to do, whatever it was, yet her host seemed to be doing his best to stop her. She couldn’t tell him the real reason she was here, a lie of omission he probably sensed. Between the two of them, there were enough karmic vibes and raging pheromones to hamper anybody’s endeavors, never mind a mandate as nebulous as hers.
The pheromones, she couldn’t help. A physical sexual pull was just that, and theirs carried enough energy to light New York. She’d deal with that later . . . or not.
She did, however, need to understand his karmic vibes. “I realize you’re a Paxton,” Harmony said, “but how closely are you connected to this place?”
“I own it, lucky sucker that I am.”
When she attempted to circumvent him and hit the Down button, Paxton took her wrist in a grasp she found both gentle and stimulating. Now she was more turned on. No. That couldn’t be right. She hated being touched, except by her sisters . . . and, apparently, by Brass Ass McGrumpy.
Slam it! He’d breached her protective circle of light, and she hadn’t realized it. She’d forgotten about keeping herself protected, or her sphere of white light remained intact, and she didn’t need protecting from this guy.
As she watched, Paxton’s luminous whiskey eyes probed hers . . . and didn’t she want to give him . . . everything he wanted. His gaze touched her physically, stroking her brow, her lips, parting them . . .
Harmony struggled from her sensual stupor. She knew better than to meet a man on a spiritual plane. Yet this didn’t seem to be the same man. Had she dreamed his ego trip of a short while ago, his certainty that this was a setup? Because now he was simply annoyed . . . and horny . . . and curious . . . and horny . . . no ego involved.
Given his captivating gaze, not to mention his charisma and his body sculpted by a master, she could see why unwelcome setups might plague him. She also understood why he ran. Women chased him. Not the other way around. Sometimes he let them catch him, and when he did, he used them—for sex, nothing more.
Not a one had ever touched his heart. Sex for sport, as he’d thought outside. Wait! She’d heard his thoughts? Her heart skipped a beat. Oh, oh.
News flash—she could read him.
Hot flash—mutual-attraction city going up. High rise under construction. Hold on to your underwear.
Good Goddess, she was sensually, sexually, and most important, cosmically hot-wired to the hunky tight-ass. If she let her emotional barriers down, she was screwed . . . literally.
Why didn’t that sound as bad as it should?
She might ordinarily think about jumping his bones, but under the circumstances, in the midst of her psychic mandate, she shouldn’t even consider it. Should she?
Um, yeah. He was the best prospect she’d had in . . . Withering witch balls, he was the best prospect she’d ever had.
Warning! When flying into the teeth of a cosmic sexual attraction, mistakes . . . of cosmic proportions . . . could be made.
Slow down, she told herself. No knee-jerk reactions here. Take a deep breath. Think. And try to make some blooming sense of this.
Why, of all the people she came across, could she read him?
She usually read people who owned the old objects into which she came in contact—dead people. Long dead. So why could she read this living, breathing hunk of hundred-proof testosterone, this earth god who filled his molded black T-shirt like a workout model?
“You own the place alone, right?” she asked, to be sure. “No partners or siblings co-own it with you?”
“That would be too easy,” he said. “I’d love to pawn the nightmare off on a relative. There isn’t a one of them who doesn’t deserve it.”
Her suspicions were getting the better of her. “Did you spend a lot of time here as a very young child?”
“If you must know, I was born here.”
Holy astral plane! “Why not in a hospital?”
“I arrived early in what the record books call the hundred-hour snowstorm, February 26, 1969. Storm surges of hurricane proportions. Couldn’t get my mother to the mainland, but what does that have to do with—”
His beeper went off. “My foreman needs me.” Paxton hit the elevator’s Down button and stopped on the second floor. Before he got out, he turned to her. “Stay.”
“Woof,” she replied, as she stepped on the landing to watch him run down the stairs, admiring his loose-limbed, pantherlike gait, his butt as tight and fine as his pecs. Hot and hunky Hurricane Paxton, whose spirit and ownership so permeated this ancient stronghold that he became her very own psychic pot of gold.
When he’d released her wrist to leave, she was surprised she’d let him hold it for so long, but now she felt bereft, foolish her, and reading him became difficult, which shouldn’t surprise her. Proximity always shed light on a psychometric’s impressions, and touch clarified them. Touch brought images, scents, sounds, and emotions into focus. Positive vibes uplifted her. Negative vibes depressed and sometimes made her ill.
For that reason, the only physical contact she allowed and trusted were her sisters’ . . . until King blooming Kong.
In a castle overflowing with negativity, he had touched her. And not only had she allowed it, she’d welcomed and wallowed in the skin on skin contact. Like water in the desert, she’d welcomed it.
Who knew she’d been so parched?
She hated being touched. She hated being carried, and she particularly hated having her space invaded—her father had said she was a horror of a screaming baby—but when Paxton had taken her outside earlier, then back inside again, she'd had to force herself to stop being passive by pretending to fight him.
His touch warmed her. To cinders, it could warm her. If he put his mind and man brain, into it, who could tell what kind of inferno they could create.
Wha’d’ya know, her psychic gift had led her to a horny hunk with a lockbox of lifetime secrets and assessing Jesus eyes . . . a man as instantly and magnetically hot for her as she was for him, though he’d never admit it, not to himself, and especially not to her.