INTO THE LAIR
2007 Dream Realm Award
Book 1 - Into The Heart Series
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance - Paranormal
October 2007
Cover Artist - Marci Gass
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-59632-578-4

Sebastian and Lauren Garner think it's the chance of a lifetime when they are invited on a unique expedition to search for the secret of long life. But it's an experience that holds more adventure than they anticipated. It's a chance of a lifetime, all they have to give up is their souls. Deep in the Yucatan jungle, the Garners are running out of time to save themselves. Does the key to salvation lie in an ancient one who has cast his spell over them, or does he too have an agenda of his own? Who do they trust when all seems lost? What do they chose when the promise of the world and forever is within their grasp?

"There is nothing even remotely predictable about Caitlyn Willows' smoking-hot story of love, lust and betrayal. An engaging hero and heroine lead the reader on a fast and delightful roller-coaster ride through the complex world of sexual experimentation and ancient mysteries. Willows never skimps on the romance, the sex or the action, and the result is an erotic romance unlike any other. Utterly unputdownable!" ~Lacey Savage, award-winning author of erotic romance

"Wow! That's the best word I can come up with to the describe this story. Adventurous, erotic, poignant, passionate...and that just begins to describe it. A must buy for any reader who enjoys searing romance peppered with jungle adventure, shapeshifting intrigue, and timeless devotion. ~Adrianna Dane, award-winning author of erotic romance

To read an excerpt of this book, click here

Related stories are:
Into The Lair
Into The Night
Into The Wild

PURCHASE

       

WHAT THE REVIEWERS ARE SAYING

FIVE STARS! [A]n incredible book, with all of my favorite elements; love, sex, mystery, sex, adventure and, oh, did I mention sex? Lauren is a beautiful, intelligent young woman who is desperately in love with both her husband and her career. Sebastian is equally in love with Lauren, equally intelligent and a HUNK! They are having a wonderful time being back in civilization, so that they can have all the sex that they want. My, do they want a lot of sex! They have graphic, kinky, erotic and elaborate sex that they couldn--t have on the dig because there were too many people around them. I felt orgasmic just reading about their sex. Even better, they loved only each other. The many secondary characters help the plot move seamlessly along. The mystery began early in the story and continued on throughout the plot as the adventure continued. I kept thinking that I knew what was going to happen, but Ms. Willows was too good for me and did not allow me to figure out the mystery until the book's end. Brava, Ms. Willows, you have given us another wonderful read!~Marcy Arbitman, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

FIVE ANGELS! Don’t be fooled into thinking a book about an archeology adventure or mystery will be boring or tame; this is an erotic story! Lauren and Sebastian have sex in every location, position, and opportunity they find. The couple is very creative and this is a sensual tale that will leave you needing a way to cool off as you read! But the book has more than hot sex to appeal to the reader. This is a very imaginative story that includes shape shifters, possession, and an evil plot to steal souls from someone on the expedition. Lauren and Sebastian sense that something is wrong from the beginning but they are not sure who can be trusted and who are the bad guys however, people other than them depend on the funding for their main project so they feel compelled to go and insure the continuation of their life’s work. I loved the characters of Lauren and Sebastian and hope they will appear in the sequel that is the story of two of the secondary characters from this tale. I can’t wait to read book two, titled Into the Night! Ms. Willow’s imagination is so creative and fun that I will watch for other works by her and read them. I hope she plans to write more books for this series! ~Stephanie B, Fallen Angel Reviews

This novel has it all…a loving relationship between the married characters, deceit, betrayal, long held ancient secrets, poisoned darts and deadly villains. The multiple secondary characters give great depth to the piece, helping to keep the plot interesting and suspenseful. As the story progressed, I kept wondering what the Prentices were up to and why, but Ms. Willows well written story kept me guessing until the very end. Good work! ~Pam, My Book Cravings

Oh my! Grab a fan and your man before commencing to read Into The Lair. This is one hot story. I really loved reading about a long-time married couple who were still lusting for each other as much as when they were first wed. The devotion between the two made the novel special. Solid pacing, interesting characters, and an original plot topped it off. If you enjoy erotic romance with a splash of m/f/m interaction, you’ll take pleasure in Into the Lair. ~Chris, Joyfully Reviewed

FOUR STARS! A young couple is swept into a world of danger and betrayal in this creative and entertaining story. Their chemistry is explosive, and the steamy erotic encounters are hotter than the jungle setting. The secondary characters are all well developed and add to the mystery to a plot that will keep you hooked. ~Gail Pruszkowski, Romantic Times

 

EXCERPT

Prologue

 

He watched from the shadows that dusk cast over the land. The cool San Diego night beckoned people to the Prentice Museum in droves. What better way to camouflage one’s actions than in a crowd? The innocent and unwary wound their cars up the hill as the sun set; last rays glinting off the windshields made them look like diamonds.

Clouds in the distance hovered over the Pacific Ocean, teasing with the hint of thunderstorms that had yet to materialize. All they’d gotten during the day was sweltering August heat and humidity. Mother Nature had made up for it with a colorful display of purples, golds, and pinks against the clouds and the kiss of a cool breeze. It didn’t matter. The atmosphere was heavy with desperation and foreboding. He would have felt it in any weather.

His nostrils flared as they arrived. The perfect couple -- young, intelligent, beautiful…irresistible. Tonight would be the night they’d be marked. He could smell the hunt hovering in the air. It was woven with the scent of the woman’s pussy, punctuated by the testosterone cloud hovering around the man.

He stroked the erection thrusting up insistently before him….and wanted them…wanted his life back. And they were going to help him achieve all of that.

This time, no mistakes.

Chapter One

 

Chillbumps dotted Lauren Garner’s skin. Her stomach tightened with the creepy-crawly feeling someone was watching her. She’d felt that way since she and Sebastian had arrived at the Prentice Museum. Which was ridiculous, because they were the guests of honor. Naturally, all attention was on them.

But this…this was different. More like something was watching, not someone.

She clutched her husband’s strong forearm and stretched to her tiptoes. He smiled when her breath caressed his ear.

“I need to go to the ladies room,” she whispered. “Come with me…please.”

He gave her a single nod and lifted his champagne flute to the ladies surrounding them. “If you’d all excuse us for just a minute…” He set the glass on the tray of a passing waiter, cupped Lauren’s elbow, and steered her toward the restrooms down the far corridor beyond their exhibit.

“What’s wrong?” he asked when they’d gotten out of earshot.

“I feel ‘off.’ Nervous. On edge. Like I’m being watched.”

“Of course you’re being watched.” His voice deepened, falling over her like a sensuous caress. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the room. Every man wants you. Every woman wants to be you.”

She turned into him and ran her fingers beneath his tuxedo jacket, felt the hard chest beneath. “Only because those women want you.”

“Mmmm…” He twisted open the door to the handicapped restroom and gently pushed her forward, locking it behind them. “Do you know how much I want to fuck you right now? I’ve had a killer of a hard-on since we walked into the place.”

“Are you sure that’s not just nervous energy?”

He grabbed her hand and placed it on his cock. “Does that feel like nervous energy to you?”

Her pussy clenched with want. Moisture soaked the cotton liner in her pantyhose. That’s what she needed -- him. Now!

“I can’t let you go back out there like that, now can I?” Hiking up her silky black dress, she grabbed the waistband and peeled her pantyhose down and off one leg.

Sebastian didn’t hesitate. One hand freed his erection while the other hoisted her bare leg up and around his waist. Lauren braced herself against the sink, gasping when he impaled her. His fucking was raw, hard, fast…and just what she needed. All she could do was hold onto his massive shoulders for dear life.

He reached between them and pushed her clit against his cock. Each stroke raked over it, pulling her tighter and tighter. Orgasm rolled over her sweetly, relaxing those tense muscles, scattering her unease. He seated himself on a hard thrust and grunted with his release. They stood there for long minutes, draped around each other in the wonder of the moment.

“We really need to get back out there.” He squeezed her ass and carefully slid free.

Lauren laughed to herself. The last thing they needed was a semen stain on his dark tux or her dress.

Using wet paper towels, they cleaned up quickly.

“You okay now?” he asked as he tucked in and zipped up.

Lauren smiled and kissed his chin. “More than okay. It was just what I needed. You go on. I need to pee.”

He captured her lips in a kiss, then winked, wiped her lipstick off his mouth, and left.

Lauren locked the door behind him, laughing at that earlier creepy feeling. She was on edge, that was all. Nothing like an orgasm to settle a girl’s nerves.

She took care of her personal needs and fixed her makeup. The biggest night of their lives and she was in the bathroom having sex.

“Mom would be so proud.”

She might look killer-hot, but she felt like a freaking Barbie doll. And these pantyhose were smothering her.

“Screw it.” She peeled them off and tossed them into the trash. Of course, that also meant she was now bare-bottomed.

Wearing panties might have helped. It was one of her greatest conundrums. Panties with pantyhose? She’d always considered it redundant. If they were pantyhose, why wear panties? Out of all the things she’d ever discussed with girlfriends, the topic had never come up. Sebastian was worthless on the subject. The fewer clothes she had on, the better he liked it.

“Like anyone will notice.” The focus was supposed to be on the artifacts on display.

Clutching her tiny purse, she swung open the door and left. At the end of the corridor, she felt the first trickle make its way down her thigh. She did an abrupt about-face back to the ladies room to sop up the remnants.

Sebastian’s knowing smirk greeted her when she finally returned to the exhibit wing. He lifted his glass in a private toast. Lauren snagged a crystal champagne flute from the tray of a passing waiter and followed suit, giving him a knowing smile of her own.

Content once more, Lauren sipped her golden champagne. It was light with a hint of sweet, not too dry; the perfect complement to what she hoped would be a perfect event.

She twirled the glass between thumb and forefinger and wandered toward her favorite of all the Maya artifacts she and Sebastian had unearthed in the last two years. Restored and on display in all its glory, the blue-green jade idol gleamed as it had when first carved. The phallus was an eye-popping ten inches long and three inches in circumference, jutting out from the proud figurine that bore it -- the envy of every woman at the exhibit.

The artist had shown intricate attention to detail, using the stone to its full potential. Veins of gold naturally running through it became veins of the idol’s penis. There was a slit in the glans with precum at the tip and no hint of foreskin, which made it extra unique considering its age. The scrotum was wrinkled and full, close to the body. Fingernails and toenails were present, musculature well defined, as were eyes, ears, nose, and the sloped Maya forehead prevalent for the culture at that time. The artist had even managed to capture the male’s grimace of pre-orgasmic pleasure.

The idol was made for grasping. Inspection had revealed ancient fingerprints over it, which they’d meticulously documented before cleaning. Lauren could appreciate its being well used. Once in the place it was intended, the idol looked guaranteed to provide extreme pleasure. The hilt would nudge a woman in just the right spot. A skilled lover could manipulate it to perfection, or the lady could ride the sucker like a horny cowgirl and get herself off easily.

Lauren would be lying if she’d said she wasn’t tempted to try it out -- no matter how many thousands of years old it was. At those times when she thought no other members of her archaeological team were looking, she’d unwrap the statue from its protective nesting of straw and caress the bulbous head, stroke the massive erection…and wonder.

She drew in another sip and studied the gathering. Clumps of people crowded around the Maya artifacts, oohing and ahhing over it all. There was still a wealth of material trapped beneath the Yucatán soil. The problem was finding enough capital to continue the dig, and then getting back to the site before poachers took it all. Hence the exhibit of what they’d found to date.

It’d come as a surprise to them that funding was an issue. Until now the Braden Institute had been known and revered for its deep, never-ending pockets. To discover otherwise was a bit…unsettling. When the digging season ended in the Yucatán, she and Sebastian were informed there would be a showing of their discoveries to date. That was six months ago, and they’d been working nonstop in preparation for it since then. At some point money was mentioned, and the exhibit became a fund-raiser while the rest of their team waited, bags packed and ready, to return to the site and continue. And the clock was ticking. She and Sebastian felt more pressure than ever. Their dig crew was depending on them.

Considering the crowd milling about, Lauren had to admit the exhibit seemed a rousing success. Barry Page darted through the guests like a cartoon ferret OD’d on espresso.

She bit back a laugh. Barry did look like a cartoon ferret -- dark hair slicked back, pointed nose leading the way, bug eyes never still as they searched out the next target. No one pursued funding for the Braden Institute more aggressively than Barry. But with each day that passed, he became a bigger pain in the ass. If she heard him say, “It takes money to make money,” one more time, she’d pop his head off.

From the beginning, she’d been more than reluctant to do this fund-raiser. Barry’s aggressive pursuit of contributions made her more so. She didn’t like crowds, and she didn’t like being the center of attention. Plus, the mere thought of leaving the quiet haven of field work made her nervous. She hadn’t worn a dress, much less high heels, since she married Sebastian five years before. And dressing up for Sebastian meant Dockers and a pullover shirt.

But, man oh man, look at him tonight.

In his black tux he looked good enough to eat. Lauren wasn’t sure who got more attention -- Sebastian or her well-endowed jade friend. Considering some of the obvious touching going on, Lauren wondered if Sebastian shouldn’t have been sealed in security glass like the artifacts. Other than their dash to the restrooms, neither of them had spent a second alone since they walked into the exhibit wing. Everyone wanted to press hands with the couple who’d made the discovery -- archaeology’s new rising stars.

Lauren wasn’t sure how true that was, but it was definitely a huge career boost for them. And any notoriety that helped them continue their work was fine with her. Obviously, the institute felt that way as well. Once word got out about the artifacts, the Prentice Museum offered to display them and provide the level of security necessary to protect them during their stay. Liam Prentice had spared no expense. Why he didn’t just donate the money to the dig and leave it at that…

She assumed the man had an agenda of his own. Didn’t everyone? Considering tonight’s success, the Prentices would be the talk of the town for months to come, if not years. That talk would generate more visitors to the museum. More visitors meant more money, more investors for him. She couldn’t fault a person for that; after all, wasn’t that exactly what she and Sebastian were doing tonight?

Lauren took another sip of champagne, smiling as Sebastian laughed at something a matronly redhead half his height and twice his width said. Damn, he was handsome. His skin was golden from years in the Yucatán sun. All except his cute, milk white ass. His dark brown hair was trimmed neatly for a change, rather than straggly from one of her field haircuts. Those deep brown eyes sparkled, like he was having the time of his life. No one would guess he was as nervous as she was about all this.

His long fingers cradled the crystal flute. Every so often he’d absentmindedly brush his thumb along the side, reminding her of how often they played against her breast. Need curled into her belly at the thought. After ten years they were still going strong. She prayed they never grew tired of each other.

Sebastian’s gaze shifted her way. His smile deepened into that I’m-going-to-fuck-you-until-we-both-collapse look. She swore he could will her clothes to drop with that hot glance. And they’d just had a quickie!

Wait ’til he finds out I’m bare-bottomed.

Would he scold her for being a “naughty girl” and promise a spanking later? Haul her off to the first available storage closet and give her some more quick and thorough loving? Either and both sounded good to her.

“I can remember when my wife used to watch me with hungry eyes.”

Lauren glanced up at the man beside her. She’d been so absorbed in thought she hadn’t noticed his approach, but she had no trouble recognizing Liam Prentice. Those sky blue eyes alone made him memorable. Silver blended nicely with the blond, making his hair look like precious metals had been spun there. From what she’d heard, he had the personality to back up those distinguished looks, too. He and his wife, Viola, were charming, wealthy, connected, and damned good-looking. Lauren hoped she and Sebastian were as lucky when they hit their fifties.

“Mr. Prentice, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Lauren Garner.” She offered her hand to him.

He didn’t hesitate. A handshake said a lot about a person. His wasn’t a condescending girly squeeze, or a bone crusher. He shook her hand like a colleague, someone he respected.

“Your reputation and that of your husband’s precedes you, Mrs. Garner. Everyone is talking about you.” His gaze never left hers. She wasn’t sure if she appreciated his directness, or found his steady perusal unnerving.

“Lauren…please…and thank you. It’s wonderful to know our work means so much to others.”

“Probably more than you realize. Viola and I had the chance to tour the exhibit privately this afternoon. What amazing discoveries. We’re in awe of your accomplishment.”

Coming from a man of his caliber and deeds, it was quite a compliment. “Thank you, Mr. Prentice. I’m honored you feel that way. I don’t know what to say.”

“First names with us as well, Lauren. Viola and I aren’t much on pretense. We leave the snobbish displays to some of our so-called friends.”

Lauren fanned her fingers at the base of her throat and laughed.

Liam leaned closer, humor dancing in his eyes. “If they only knew what we really thought of them.”

“Somehow I suspect you don’t waste a lot of time with them, though.” And he most probably let others do his dirty work if he was displeased. He struck her as the type of man who would smile in your face, then order your head on a platter behind your back.

“Very perceptive, Lauren.” He tapped her shoulder. “I knew I’d like you the instant I saw you across the crowded room.”

Lauren sipped her champagne as she fought the urge to give him a playful push. “Now, Liam, that almost sounds like the beginning of a very bad pick-up line.”

He tossed back a contagious laugh. “It really does. I’m so sorry. I’ve been watching your and Sebastian’s work for so long, I feel like I know you.”

Lauren was at a loss for words. She and Sebastian knew who the Prentices were -- only a hermit living in a time warp wouldn’t -- but they hadn’t thought much about the couple until this exhibit.

“Now you’re going to think Viola and I are stalkers.” His eyebrows scrunched together with what looked like regret. “Please don’t. We’ve continued to follow archaeological discoveries after we left the field, even built this museum to help display them. We certainly can’t begin to rival what the Braden Institute offers, but we do like to help fund those few scientists we find to be extraordinary -- like you and Sebastian.”

Was he saying what she thought? That he was ready to fund their dig? She forced herself to retain some level of professional demeanor and not squeal…or get too far ahead of herself.

“Again you have me at a loss for words.”

“Then I’d say it’s the perfect time for you to tell me firsthand about your discoveries, starting with this intriguing little statue behind you. Although calling it little is definitely a misnomer.”

Lauren felt her cheeks heat. Her comfort level nosedived.

“I’m sorry. I did it again.” He cupped her elbow, gave it a quick squeeze, then swept his arm out. “Come meet Viola. Looks like she’s already waylaid your husband. It’s the perfect time.”

Lauren glanced in Sebastian’s direction. Viola Prentice had his attention, every word and action monitored by the throng growing around them. She matched Liam in looks, though hair dye most probably hid her gray. Both were fit and trim. Her calves looked like she was used to walking, well-defined with no hint of fat. Lauren couldn’t tell if her legs were really suntanned, or if that was merely the color of her pantyhose. In either event, it was too dark a color and the one thing about her that was unbecoming.

She wore a black dress like every other female there -- understated elegance in the silk fabric that hugged her slender curves. An omega necklace gleamed around her throat, matching bracelets flashed around her wrists from under her long sleeves. More gold shone from her earlobes. She wore the jewelry like it was an extension of herself, like a queen. It was hard not to compare herself to the older woman. Sebastian’s smile her way told her she measured up just fine.

“Ah, yes, more hungry eyes,” Liam said with a laugh. “If only to be twenty years younger…”

She smiled up at him. “And know what you know now?”

“Exactly.” He added a nod and lifted his hand to his wife. “Viola, dear, quit hogging our good-looking friend and let the Garners give us a detailed tour of everything.”

Viola turned a sultry smile Liam’s way.

“Talk about hungry eyes,” Lauren muttered to him.

“Indeed.” Liam beamed. “Maybe your and Sebastian’s influence is rubbing off on us. One can only hope.”

* * * * *

Damn, Lauren was killer hot tonight in her little black dress and come-fuck-me black heels. Their quickie in the restroom hadn’t kept his erection away long. All he had to do was glance her way, think of those high-heeled legs tossed over his shoulders, and he was hard again. He couldn’t wait to leave this agonizing event and go home.

Though he tried to hide it, Sebastian had never felt more out of his element. He smiled, shook hands, engaged in mindless chit-chat…which he discovered was fairly easy if you could get the other person to talk about themselves. All he had to do then was smile or laugh or nod at intervals, answer a few questions.

While guests crowded him with mindless chatter, Sebastian focused on Lauren’s collarbones. On how her skin would taste when he’d trace his tongue over them. On how she’d sigh with pleasure and stretch her tight body against him. On the brush of her floaty hem against shapely legs. He couldn’t wait to peel her naked and feel her quiver beneath his touch. Couldn’t wait to see her surprise, hear her laughter, when she saw the present he’d had made especially for her.

There wasn’t a woman in the room who compared to Lauren, and Sebastian had seen every one of them close up…with the exception of Viola Prentice.

The Prentices were their benefactors for this event, though they’d never met. The institute arranged everything, with specific instructions that the Garners were to extensively woo them in the hope they’d help fund the dig. Sebastian and Lauren weren’t stupid. They knew a good thing when they saw it, but neither of them appreciated the added pressure. Pressure made more intense when the Prentices weren’t here when the Garners arrived.

Barry Page had nearly had a coronary over their absence. His heaved sigh of relief was a little too obvious when the Prentices made a quiet entrance thirty minutes later. They’d paused for a second, scanning the gathering. Body language said a lot about them, how close the two were -- his arm around her back, her standing in the cove of his body. Sebastian liked to see that in a couple who’d been married a long time. It was like a glimpse of what he hoped he and Lauren would have in twenty-five years -- still crazy in love, still so hot for one another the kindling could be used to start a fire.

A smile had sent the Prentices on separate paths, weaving into the crowd after they’d snagged champagne flutes from a passing waiter. Barry had wasted no time nailing Sebastian with a look that clearly told him to corner Liam Prentice. Sebastian promptly ignored it.

Barry was great at his job, but there was a time and place, and attacking Prentice the second he walked in the door wasn’t it. Sebastian had too much professional respect for Prentice to do that. After all, Prentice had paid for this event, donated a portion of his museum with extra security, even added the draw of champagne, open bar, and heavy hors d’oeuvres buffet on the patio. He deserved Sebastian’s and Lauren’s thanks, not to be hit up for more money. Sebastian planned to do just that once Lauren finished her quiet perusal of her Mr. Happy idol…and Sebastian could politely slip away from the redhead’s lengthy story of a bout with Montezuma’s Revenge on her one trip to Cabo San Lucas twenty years ago. His brain shut down amid her graphic descriptions of all the barfing and pooping she’d done. His smile frozen in place, all Sebastian could do was nod while he prayed for an opening to excuse himself.

Then he saw Liam Prentice approach Lauren. The gaggle of people perpetually gathered around Sebastian parted at the same time. The redhead’s rambling dissertation screeched to a halt the second Viola Prentice stepped forward, her smile open and welcoming. She was a striking woman, gracious in the face of the power she possessed yet didn’t flaunt here.

Sebastian thrust his hand her way. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Prentice.”

She slipped warm fingers into his, grasping them firmly as she edged closer. “The pleasure is mine. Please…first names. It makes life so much more pleasant. I read a story once about an elderly woman named Mary Grant. She was asked if there was anything she missed most, having reached ninety-five years. She responded that no one ever called her by her first name anymore…always ‘Mrs. Grant.’ I never want to be in that position or put others in it.”

Sebastian could appreciate that, though he’d never considered it before. “Then first names it is, Viola.” They dropped hands on a simultaneous nod. “My wife and I would like to express our sincere thanks for all you and your husband have done.”

“We should be thanking you.” She motioned to the displays like Vanna White turning letters. “This is a breathtaking find. Makes me crave to go out in the field for one last hurrah.”

“From what I’ve heard, you and your husband were quite a force thirty years ago, amassing a nice resume of spectacular finds.” Then they’d retired to the estate those discoveries, and an immense inheritance, had built.

“Viola, dear, quit hogging our good-looking friend and let the Garners give us a detailed tour of everything,” Liam called out, interrupting her from any reply she might have made.

“An excellent idea.” She gave her husband a sultry smile, then turned to Sebastian. “Shall we?”

“It would be my honor.” Sebastian offered his arm to escort her. Viola wasted no time looping her hand through it.

“You and your wife make a striking couple,” she said as they strolled in that direction.

He gave a soft laugh. “Thank you. I was thinking the same thing of you and Liam when you walked in.”

Laughter bubbled out of her. “Oh, goodness…it’s nice to know we’ve still got it after all these years. I imagine Lauren was excited for the chance to dress up for a change.”

Her comment nearly brought him to a halt. Viola must have noticed he faltered because she put her other hand over his arm and squeezed.

“Look how breathtaking she is.” Her gaze slowly swept over Lauren, appraising, comparing, judging. If Viola had been a man, Sebastian would have called it lecherous. “She’s probably thinking the same about you, judging from the lust in her eyes. Most men bitch about the monkey suit, but there isn’t a man alive who doesn’t look devastating in a tux. Fires up those juices. Don’t get me wrong…being able to work together day in and day out is wonderful. But being away from the grind, the grit of field work… Well, that sort of thing grows old after awhile, and we women do like a bit…more.”

Sebastian’s feel-good disappeared. Is that what Lauren wanted…more? For the first time in their ten-year history, he wondered if he’d somehow let her down. She never said. In fact, she’d seemed happy to be digging for past civilizations…didn’t she?

He took a mental step back. What had he given her? Other than their professional accolades, they had nothing to speak of. Most of the money they earned was tucked away in savings and investments, hoarded for a rainy day. They had a small apartment that was more for storage than for living. They lived out of suitcases. Correction…backpacks, duffel bags, and crates. He’d had to rent the tux, which was the norm for most men. But Lauren didn’t own pantyhose, much less a nice dress and heels, and she hadn’t been too thrilled with the idea of having to shop for those items.

Sebastian smiled her way. Seeing her killer hot took his breath away. Her long brown hair drifted down her back, gold highlights catching the light. He wanted to comb his fingers through it over and over again, mine it for gold while his cock bored a tunnel into her cunt. Sparkly rhinestones dangled from her ears, begging him to nibble. He found himself wishing he had given her diamonds, instead of a canvas tent in a sweaty jungle.

Odd how Viola’s innocent comment could knock him off-kilter and spark doubt. Now that the seed was planted…

He extended his hand to Liam Prentice as they approached. “Sebastian Garner, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” He kept his smile bright, hoping it would dissipate his unease.

“Trust me,” Liam said. “It’s my pleasure. Everything you’ve uncovered…amazing. A lot of hours. A lot of hard work.”

“Definitely.” Viola extended her hand to Lauren. “I feel I know you so well through your work that I should hug you.”

“One can never have enough hugs,” Lauren said with a smile.

“My feeling exactly!” Viola tossed her arms around Lauren’s neck with no further warning.

Sebastian saw Lauren’s eyes widen with surprise. Clearly she wasn’t expecting Viola to carry through with such an exuberant embrace. All she could do was laugh with her and return the affection. As they parted, Lauren gasped and pressed her fingers against the curve of her neck.

“Oh, dear,” Viola tsked, “it looks like the catch on my bracelet scratched you. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay…really.” Lauren glanced at her fingers. It was all Sebastian could do to not pull her hair aside to see the scratch for himself, especially when the smile she gave the other woman didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“See? No blood.” Lauren lifted her fingers to show them as if to back up her words. “If it’s visible, my hair should hide it. No harm, no worries.”

The glance she gave Sebastian begged him to not make a big deal out of it. Though he agreed, giving her a slight nod, he still didn’t like it.

“Still…” Viola unlatched the heavy gold bracelet and shoved it deep into Liam’s trouser pocket. “There…that’s that. Now,” she looped her arm through Lauren’s. “Tell us everything. I want to hear about every speck of dirt you brushed away to find these treasures.”

Liam touched his wife’s shoulder. “Not every speck, dear. I believe they’re ready to open the buffet.”

Viola cast a worried frown toward the double doors leading to the large glass-enclosed patio. “A quick tour then.” She flashed him a smile and turned Lauren toward the exhibits.

Liam gave him a palms-up shrug that said, “What can a guy do?”

Sebastian smiled with his nod, and they fell in step behind the women. Barry tracked every movement. Sebastian hoped to hell he kept his distance. He and Lauren needed this moment, and not for the potential money it would bring. They needed the break from the crowd, to be able to talk quietly about their discoveries and not the mindless garble they’d had to spew since they’d arrived.

Hands clasped behind him, he was content to let Lauren take over the tour. She had a sweet tone to her voice that could mesmerize howler monkeys, squalling children, hysterical females, and rampaging men…all at the same time. One-on-one, Lauren was excellent. She froze up when she had to give group presentations, though. Just the thought of standing behind a podium made her sweat. Teach, yes. Lecture, no.

They’d finished the circuit as the caterers were opening the doors to the patio. Sebastian hated the idea of going back into schmooze mode. Judging from Liam’s resigned sigh, he did, too.

“What’s the term? ‘Into the breach’?”

Viola giggled. “Is it such a burden to be polite?”

“Sometimes,” he said with an overdramatic sigh. “Especially when we’re having such a great talk.”

“Come on.” Viola looped her arm through Liam’s and tugged him toward the patio. “I’m sure we can worm a private table for the four of us from the Mother Hen.”

Sebastian tried his best to cover his laughter with a cough into his fist. It was impossible. The description of Barry was too accurate.

Liam smirked. “Has he made your life a living hell?”

Lauren squeezed her arm around Sebastian’s waist, silently reminding him of his manners. “He’s just doing his job,” she said.

He conceded the point with a nod. “And he does do it very well, no arguing there. But Viola and I know how annoying it can be to be yanked from your element and displayed like show dogs.”

“Well, we won’t lie about that,” Lauren said. “It’s been awkward and tense.”

“And only the beginning, from what we’ve been told,” Sebastian added. “If we want to continue doing what we love.”

Liam pulled in a deep breath through his nose. “What if I were to offer you a solution?”

Sebastian wasn’t sure how to respond to that. It sounded like Liam was saying he was going to fund for the dig. But it couldn’t be as easy as all that?

“What type of solution?”

Liam paused for a sip of champagne, then smacked his lips. “Viola and I are putting together a unique expedition. We’d like you two to join us. We feel you’d mesh well with us and the rest of the potential team.”

“And how would that be a solution?”

He was glad Lauren had asked that question. Sebastian had a dozen more running through his head.

Liam smiled. “Join us for the weekend, and you’ll see. Others will be there, too. Acquaintances of yours, I believe. No strings. I’ll lay out the plan then. You have nothing to lose, and at the very least, you would have had a couple of days to relax away from our friend before returning to your dig.”

Fortunately, Liam didn’t use the spiel “you have everything to gain.” If he had, Sebastian might have walked away.

“I’m…intrigued,” he finally said.

“Hopefully we can keep you that way.” Liam grinned and hoisted his glass. “Come on. Let’s eat before the herd decides to stampede.”

Sebastian tucked his arm around Lauren’s waist as they followed the older couple out. That’s when he realized…

“You’re not wearing your pantyhose,” he whispered against her ear.

A pink flush colored her cheeks. “I’m not wearing any panties either,” she whispered back.

Now he had two intriguing possibilities to think about.


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