The butler inclined his head. "Bonsoir, mademoiselle."
"Bonsoir." Lyra loved speaking French; the sounds were so musical.
"Monsieur LeNoir would like you to wait for him in the parlor." He swept his arm toward an arched doorway to the right. "May I take your jacket?"
She shrugged out of her brown wool coat and handed it to the butler. He slung it over his arm and directed her to the parlor.
The moment she stepped over the threshold, Lyra felt like she was in a Sherlock Holmes book. The room boasted a huge fireplace with an ornate mantel over top. An old-style sofa and two chairs with end tables sat in front of the crackling flames. Exquisite artwork adorned the walls. Cherrywood floors were stylishly covered with oriental throw rugs. By the look of them, they were probably worth thousands of dollars apiece. Even the faint sweet smell of pipe tobacco laced the air.
She'd heard that Theron LeNoir was wealthy but truly she had no idea of the extent of it before now.
Lyra turned to ask the butler something, but he was already gone. Theron LeNoir stood in the doorway instead.
Looking the part of the wealthy homeowner, he wore dark wool trousers and a button-down shirt with gold cuff links flashing at the wrists. His dark hair was slicked back from his high forehead but unbound. The ends fell over his ears and brushed the collar of his shirt. At the seminar today he had tied it back, giving him a look of elegance and refinement. With his inky black hair flowing around him, he looked sexy and dangerous.
Smiling, he moved into the room toward her. "Bon-soir, Lyra. I am pleased you accepted my offer to come to my home."
"Well, I appreciate the invitation. It's not every day I get to see artifacts and books from witch history."
"Yes, I imagine a lot of things were lost in the immigration to America as well as during the persecution. Witches weren't the only things burned during that time."
Lyra tried not to watch him as he busied himself at the bar, uncorking a bottle of wine. He had a fluid way of moving, like a meandering stream of cool crisp water. He set out two wineglasses and poured the red liquid into them. Picking them up, he came to Lyra and handed her one. "From the LeNoir vineyard."
He tapped her glass then took a sip, watching her over the rim.
Normally she didn't drink, but the polite thing to do would be to at least take a sip. Normally she wasn't polite, either, but his obvious pleasure at watching her drink prompted her to do so.
The wine was heavenly on her tongue as she held it in her mouth for a second then swallowed. It was better than she expected it to be.
He must've seen the surprise on her face, because he smiled. "It's the best wine in France. This particular bottle is over sixty years old."
"Oh, well, it's pretty good then."
Chuckling, he cupped her elbow and guided her toward the sofa. "Let's sit and talk. Catch up on the last five years."
Lyra sat but she really didn't want to engage in conversation with Theron. She'd never been good at that, especially with men. Attractive men, in particular. Or it could've just been her fear of speaking with Theron. Seeing him again, being this close to him, made her think about the time five years ago when she attended a spell-casting class and he had been there. He had made an impression on her then, and it seemed it was still lingering.
Her thighs were quivering something fierce as he sat next to her on the sofa. Not so close that their legs were touching, but near enough that his delicious cologne enticed her senses. A combination of spice and nature, he smelled like her herb garden in Necropolis.
"I enjoyed your talk today at the seminar. I didn't know you were an expert in demon summoning."
He chuckled. "I'm hardly an expert, Lyra. I have some cursory knowledge that was handed down to me by my maternal grandmother and a keen interest in the dark side of people. Witches in particular."
He stared at her while he spoke. His gaze was intense. Lethal even. She could hardly look away.
Nervous, she guzzled the wine down and set the glass on the side table. A drop escaped her mouth and it dribbled down her chin. Blushing, she was about to dab it, but Theron beat her to it.
With the pad of his thumb, he slowly wiped the red drop away. He held her gaze the whole time and she found she had lost her breath. He had the most amazing gray eyes. Stormy. Fierce. Dangerous. A caustic combination if she mixed in the fact that he was tall and gorgeous.
Definitely not the type of man Lyra usually found herself alone with. Men like Theron didn't notice women like her. She had learned that lesson years ago. Yet here he was looking at her as if he wanted to gobble her up in one bite. His sexual potency hadn't changed in the past five years.
Lyra sucked in a deep breath after he dropped his hand from her face and sat back, regarding her mouth with interest. His curiosity bothered her. There had to be an ulterior motive.
She had certainly felt something pass between them when they had first spied each other at the seminar. But that could've been nothing more than a magic recognition. They were both witches. Kin of a sort. Although he was a dhampir, born from a witch mother and vampire father, he possessed magic and some of the more loathsome vampiric traits, like an ingrained sense of self-importance. Or maybe she was just wishing there had been something flashing between them.
All she knew was that the way he was looking at her now made her nerves zing.
She jumped to her feet. "I'd love to see the books now, if you don't mind."
He leaned back against the sofa and studied her intently. Lyra had the sense he was laughing at her in some way. It might've been the way his lips twitched at the corners.
"I make you nervous, no?"
"No." Lyra lifted her chin. "I thought this invitation was to show me artifacts and tomes. Not to get reac-quainted with each other."
"Can't we do both?" He leaned forward on the sofa, tilting his head to one side as if studying her. "I still find you fascinating, Lyra."
"Fascinating like a science experiment, I'll bet."
He stood and shook his head. "No, fascinating like an iris in bloom, or a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly."
Oh, he had to go and compare her to her favorite flower. She desperately wanted to swoon right about now. Inside a French castle, facing this sexy Frenchman would be a perfect opportunity to swoon. But the prag-matist in her swallowed the urge and took a step back from his penetrating gaze.
"However much I'd love to be a butterfly, I would prefer to see the artifacts you have. Unless your boast of amazing artifacts is only thata boast."
He searched her face for what seemed like minutes before bowing his head to her. "Pardon, Lyra. My manners have left me for a moment." He swept his arm toward a closed door on one side of the ornate hearth. "Of course, I will be happy to show you my collection."
Without waiting for her reply, Theron walked toward the door. By the way he moved, with his chin raised and his shoulders stiff, she knew she had upset him. Guilt squirmed around in her gut, but she pushed it down, refusing to allow it to soften her resolve. He was a lothario through and through. However much she might have enjoyed his seduction, she wasn't going to be a notch on his bedpost. Five years ago she had considered it, toyed with the idea of losing her virginity to him, but he had proved to her without a doubt that he was a cad. She'd never been a notch on anyone's bedpost and she wasn't going to start now with this man.
He could take his romantic designs, if that's what they truly were, and shove them up his perfectly formed butt.
"Lyra?" He startled her from her thoughts.
"Yes. Right." She marched to where he stood in the open doorway, an expectant look on his face.
The moment she crossed the threshold, her breath whooshed out of her lungs. His collection room was awe-inspiring. She'd never seen so many historical artifacts and old leather-bound books in her life. She had thought her gran had an extensive collection of old tomes, but it paled in comparison to what Theron possessed on the four-tiered shelves that wrapped around the room.
She wandered across the room like a kid in a candy store. Eyes wide, tongue out, she nearly drooled at the sight of a large bronze cauldron displayed in a glass case in the corner. Chalices in silver, bronze and wood were arrayed on one wall, along with a bronze oil lamp in the form of a horned bird standing on one leg.
There was a witch's mirror from the 1400s, a wood-handled sickle adorned with black magical symbols, and a large display case of mandrake roots. She wanted to put her hand against the glass, hoping to soak up the history and magic.
"I can't believe you have all this." She circled the room, shaking her head. "I'm in complete awe."
"Come." He held out his hand. "I'll show you a few of my prize pieces."
Absently, she took his hand, too overwhelmed to think twice about it. He drew her to the far corner of the room and stood beside a lit glass case.
Lyra looked in and nearly passed out. "Oh, bless me. A maze stone."
"This is from 800 Ireland. It claims to be the map to Mother Earth's underworld."
"Goddess, it's beautiful." Lyra's fingers itched to trace the lines of the labyrinth carved into the stone.
Theron moved to the next item. "It took me five years to finally acquire this."
Lyra glanced into the case. A silver dagger lay on purple velvet. Ancient symbols were carved into the black handle. She'd seen a drawing of it in one of her witchcraft lesson books but never thought it was real. "Merlin's sword."
"C'est magnifique, non?"
"Yes, it's spectacular."
"And this?" He pointed to the next case, which was smaller but on a much higher pillar.
She looked in and lost her breath. "It's a medieval love ring."
"Yes, from the fifteenth century."
"Is there an inscription?"
He nodded. "Mon coeur entier."
"My whole heart."
Lyra nearly sighed. The ring was spectacular. It was made of polished silver, and the metal had been twisted and shaped into an intricate braid. At the center was a love knot, making reference to the binding of two souls into one. To think some lucky woman five hundred years ago was given the ring by a man who loved and adored her. If only she could be that lucky someday.
"And now to what you've been waiting for."
Startled from her fanciful thoughts, she blushed as Theron led her to the middle of the room to another glass case. Inside was a thick, black, leather-bound book.
"This grimoire is said to be two thousand years old."
Lyra bit her lip to stop the squeal of delight she was about to emit. She loved ancient texts. She got her best spells from them.
"From the way you spoke about books the last time I saw you, I knew you'd appreciate it." Smiling, he nodded to the book. "Would you like to touch it?"
She glanced at him, unable to hide her surge of pleasure at the sight of the book and the fact that he remembered her love of texts. "Really?"
He pushed a red button on the side of the case, and the glass box slid to one side, opening it. Stepping out of the way, he gestured toward the book.
Rubbing her hands together, Lyra took a deep breath, reached out and opened the book. Instantly, the tips of her fingers began to tingle. The book was old and powerful. Residual magic still clung to it like spider-webs. There was a faint red haze over the pages.
As she flipped the aged pages, she took in some of the spells. Some were of a common variety. Charms for love and prosperity. But others were written for more nefarious reasons. She skipped over the text, not wanting to invoke anything nasty by accident.
Her fingers halted on a page of symbols. She recognized some of them from the murders that had plagued Necropolis and San Antonio several months ago.
Three women had been murdered so fartheir throats slit, blood drained from their bodies and ancient magical symbols painted onto their torsos in blood.
The crime-scene teams in both Necropolis and San Antonio believed they had solved the crimes, but Lyra hadn't been so sure.
"I know these symbols."
Theron glanced over her shoulder at the page. "Hmm, it appears to be an ancient demon summoning. Black magic that hasn't been used in two thousand years."
"This outlines what I've been seeing in a couple of cases still unsolved back home." She ran her finger over the text and symbols, excitement making her hands shake. "Could I take this book with me? I'd love to be able to go over it and translate these words. Maybe I can finally figure out what all the ceremonies really mean."
"Hmm, I don't think so."
Startled, she looked at him. "I'm sorry?"
He pushed the button on the case and the glass lid slid back over the book. "This book is much too valuable to be out of its sealed environment for long. I can't even imagine what hours of touching would do to the integrity of the pages."
"Didn't you hear me? I said the information in that book could help in more than one murder case."
"I heard what you said, Lyra. But you have no idea how much money I paid for that book. Maybe if you wanted to look through the book here, with gloves on, I could accommodate you."
"I have a plane to catch in four hours."
"Oh, well, that wouldn't be enough time now would it?"
She gritted her teeth. "No, it wouldn't."
He gave her that amused look again that nearly had her biting down on her lip to stop from screaming. "Hmm, I really want to help you, Lyra, but"
"How about you pack the book up in an airtight wrapping and I can take it with me and send it back to you the same way."
He shook his head. "That won't do."
Excerpted from Veiled Truth by Vivi Anna Copyright © 2008 by Vivi Anna. Excerpted by permission.
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