Heart of the Phoenix
From the ashes he was born and in the thunderous flames he will die, but not before branding her heart. Tayla Hampton thought she had escaped her past. She was wrong. It’s caught up with her. Luckily she has a guardian angel … or something like that.
Thaddeus Delos is not your ordinary protector. His mythical DNA is proof of that. Still he hungers like a hot-blooded man, loves fiercely and will protect Tayla with his life. Only that life isn’t promised to him much longer…
Read an Excerpt
He’d smelled her. It was the scent of mating, the odor of sex, pure and simple. And while Thaddeus was keenly aware of his duty and purpose in coming to Grayson Moore Academy, that didn’t keep the baser instincts from prickling at him. With each breath he felt her seeping inside, filling the holes and gaps left from a lonely existence far away. This was his life’s destiny—his final assignment.
His feet ached a bit in these shoes that shined beneath the lighted ceiling. The dress pants hung over his muscled thighs like the smooth sheets back home. He’d grown accustomed to the restricting buttons of the shirt, the tight knot of the tie, and no longer pulled at the garments with distaste.
It was imperative for everyone’s safety that he fit in. But when the time came, his appearance, his purpose, would be revealed.
He’d prepared himself for this task, just as he had for the others, speaking the language repeatedly until his accent had all but vanished. They’d sent him to save her even though it was against his very being, against the legend of his kind. But that was only half of who he was. Danger was coming and he would be there to meet it head-on, to give life a chance to renew, to rejuvenate. It was his duty.
They preyed on her, had for some time now. He was not allowed the details, only told that she could not die. And that was enough.
She was fretful, and as strong as her mating call to him was, he sensed something beneath it, something primal that honed in on him specifically. Yet he didn’t have time to give it further thought. Giving her a moment to regain the control he knew she possessed, he waited at the door, waiting.
Instead, he felt despair and worry clawing at her, pushing against the protective barrier she’d raised, barking intensely. He knocked. Disturbing whatever it was that haunted her with a simple act saved her.
He was used to beauty, had seen it for years in many shapes and forms. It did not faze him. A pretty face, an awesome aura—none of it had any impact on him.
Yet this tall woman, with her curvaceous form, glistening golden eyes, hair long and flowing like flames, lips plump and kissable, irrefutably stirred something he’d thought long dead. That both confused and angered him. But he would not let that show.
Her hand hovered over the knob as she assessed him in one long sweep.
“Thaddeus Delos.” He stepped into the office, uninvited yet arrogantly sure of his place, brushing lightly past her on his way. “I am the new history teacher.”
He was at her desk, his backside resting against the massive oak, arms crossed, watching her when she turned.
A handsome face did nothing for her—not anymore—since that was what had gotten her into trouble the first time. She closed the office door, took a couple steps until she was standing directly in front of him. “Tayla Hampton. I thought you were arriving tomorrow.”
No, she wasn’t affected by the sharp curve of his jaw, the chiseled outline of his chest, the scent…what was that? It wasn’t cologne, and not the natural scent of masculinity. It was something different, something simple yet unique.
The sea, she thought instantly. He smelled like the sea.
So what? That didn’t matter either. He was just a man and all men were liars.
Then he tilted his head, his eyes dark for a moment, then luminescent with a spark of crimson.
His long, dark dreads were pulled back from his face. He had a different, foreign look that intrigued her. He was a big man, more than six feet tall and wide like a linebacker. He looked wild and untamed although his clothes were neat and stylish.
Over his shoulder outside the window the sky, a few moments earlier serene, was now an angry gray as it grew turbulent with clouds heavy with rain.
“I was needed tonight,” he stated simply.
Needed. That word struck a chord.
“No. Actually, I distinctly remember telling you Monday was fine.” Her heart rapped against her chest but she refused to move. Although he was quite formidable and a virtual stranger he wasn’t making her nervous. She refused to allow that.
Thaddeus heard her speaking, watched the way her deep blue skirt floated around her legs like tiny ripples on a stream. She wasn’t what he’d expected and then again she was. He’d sensed something exceptional about her but had tried to dismiss it. Now, face to face, he knew that Tayla Hampton would not easily be dismissed. Her eyes were intriguing, pulling him in. The smooth skin of her cheeks framed by the flame-colored hair appealed to him on a level he’d yet to acknowledge. He didn’t think twice, simply reached out, and twisted strands of her hair around his fingers. “Like fire,” he mumbled. “The exact color of fire.”
She frowned and moved, just barely, out of his reach. To move too far, too fast, would show that he’d gotten to her, that she was leery or afraid. She was neither. “I am the principal of Grayson Moore Academy. I have three hundred students and fifty-five staff members. I run a pretty tight ship around here and at no time is touching allowed.” She said the last pointedly, her words crisp in the intensely warm atmosphere.
Her fists tightened at her sides. She was not affected by that smile.
“I’ll get your keys and show you to your room. You can fill out all the appropriate paperwork tomorrow.”
Moving to the other side of her desk, Tayla fought off the salt-water aroma attempting to seep into her system. Retrieving the keys from her drawer, she looked up, finding herself only inches away from the source of that enthralling scent and the owner of that smile.
He closed a hand over hers, transferring the key into his palm. “Where I come from fire is used to cleanse, to purify.” He held on to her hand, giving a little pull. “I am ready to see my room.”
Tayla couldn’t ignore the heat shooting from where their palms met up her arms and down through her chest. Heat that spread from his body to hers stinging through her bloodstream. Her body tensed. It was weird, this feeling she was experiencing. It was new and indescribable, but it was definitely there, something that touched her beyond the physical, beyond the clasping of their hands. It reached deep, planting itself firmly inside her body, making itself at home.
That was insane.
She pulled her hand away from his and walked out of the room, not turning back to see if he followed because she knew that he did. He moved quietly, no sound of shoes clicking on the marbled floors, no breathing, no rush of clothing. But she felt his presence as if he’d always been there.
The staff quarters were in a separate building of the mountaintop estate. It was Sunday and nearing seven-thirty so the students were already in their dorms for the night. Tayla led him through long, high-ceilinged hallways, down winding stairs and through the massive front doors of Grayson Moore.
Once outside she inhaled the crisp autumn breeze, tilting her head to survey the dark heavy clouds above. “There’ll be a storm soon,” she announced.
“That is why I am here.”