Excerpt from Gabriel


     Shara was asking Hestia a question when she felt a warm pressure against her leg. She shifted in the small space available without crowding Hestia. When Zeus moved as well, she was certain the contact was not accidental, even though he appeared to be totally involved in conversation with Athena.
     Under the circumstances, Shara thought it would be better to ignore him than make a scene. But when his meaty hand slipped under the table and onto her knee, she changed her mind. As his fingers inched their way beneath her tunic and up her naked thigh, she leaned close to Zeus's ear and murmured, "If you wish to continue fathering your dynasty in the future, I'd suggest you remove your hand from my leg."
     His hand stilled uncomfortably close to the juncture of her thighs. "You would risk your love's life over a trifling?"
     Shara met his gaze with a smile. "No, I wouldn't tell him that you took his warning as a joke. I would handle the matter myself."
     He continued to stare at her for several more heartbeats then let out another roarlike laugh as he brought his hand back to his own lap. "Gods above, I like you, Shara. You could be one of my own."
     I just might be, Shara thought. We'll find out the truth soon enough. As she turned away from him, she caught sight of Gabriel glaring at her as if she'd committed some terrible offense. Even after she resumed her conversation with Hestia, she felt him staring at her.
     Despite his obvious displeasure with her however, she hadn't expected him to do anything about it in front of so many people. She was wrong.
     With a few words to those around him, Gabriel rose and came to stand at Shara's side. "It was a pleasure meeting all of you," he said, grasping Shara's upper arm and practically lifting her upright off the bench. "We are especially grateful for your kind hospitality, Zeus and Hestia, but we traveled a great distance today, so we must ask that you excuse us until dawn."
     Shara barely kept her balance as he started to pull her away before she had climbed over the bench.
     "Aah, the mating fever strikes again!" Zeus exclaimed, much to everyone's amusement, except Shara's.
     She was going to strangle Gabriel the moment they got out of here. By the time he stopped by their bags to fetch his sleeping pouch, she was certain every person in the entire lodge assumed the same thing Zeus had—that they were rushing outside to couple before the fever reached a peak.
     Walking rapidly toward the hill from where they had first seen the commune, neither she nor Gabriel said a word until they were a good distance away from the lodge. The exercise did not mellow his irritation with her however. "Hadn't I told you enough about him? Or had I told you so much that you were tempted to try him yourself?"
     "What the drek are you talking about?" Shara shot back as she lengthened her stride to keep up with him.
     He came to a stop so abruptly, she was several steps past him before she halted as well. "I'm talking about the way you were toying with Zeus. For someone who claims to have no interest in coupling without establishing some sort of bond first, you certainly were anxious enough to share your gifts with him!"
     Shara's mouth dropped open in shock. "You can't really believe that."
     "No?" He threw the sleeping pouch onto the ground. "I told you about that special nectar of his. It was a rare, addictive aphrodisiac that not only kept him potent, but made his women so desperate for relief that they didn't mind sharing him with every other woman who caught his eye. And there you were, ready to accept his invitation to share a cup or two with him!"
     Shara propped her fists on her hips and glared up at him. "I am not brainless or lacking in recall. I wouldn't have drunk any of it. It would have been a perfect opportunity to test him."
     Gabriel narrowed his eyes at her. "Oh? Then perhaps you'd like to explain why you practically had your tongue in his ear after dinner?"
     Shara gasped. "I have no idea why you think you have the right to question anything I do or with whom but you are completely out in space on this one." She took a step closer and poked him in the shoulder. "I'll have you know, that vile man was sliding his hand up between my legs as if it were nothing more personal than a handshake. The only reason I was anywhere near his ear was so that no one else at the table would hear me threaten to castrate him!"
     The stiffness went out of Gabriel's stance. "Really?"
     "Look at my eyes, if you still doubt me."
     The moon illuminated her face sufficiently for him to see the yellow flecks of anger and no hint of olive. He took a deep calming breath. "I'm sorry. I overreacted."
     "I'll accept your apology if you'll tell me what I have done to make you think I am completely without common sense."
     "I don't think anything of the sort," Gabriel retorted. "I was simply worried about you. Zeus is of a time and culture very different from ours. He was the type of male who considered a smile from a female consent enough to act on his desires. It was not beyond him to use force to gain whatever he wished, including women."
     Shara still thought the excuses he was giving for his irrational behavior in the lodge were only part of the truth. "I see. Then I suppose I should thank you for preventing me from getting raped a second time in one week." She turned to walk away from him but he caught her arm and pulled her back.
     "A second time?" Gabriel felt the tension vibrating between them and was furious all over again that she could cause him to lose his self-control so easily. "I thought we were past that but if you wish, we can rehash the entire sequence of events... including my rape!"
     Her eyes widened and she was about to hurl a more direct insult at him when he pressed his fingertips to her lips.
     "Hush. I'm sorry but this isn't rational. Listen to us. Sniping at each other like spoiled children." He traced her mouth then brushed her cheek with the same fingers.
     The soothing touch made her realize how foolish they were being... again. "You're right. I'm sorry I overreacted as well. I swear I'm not usually so unreasonable."
     His hand trailed down her throat and around to the nape of her neck beneath her hair. "Nor am I usually prone to jealousy."
     Angling her head, she leaned a bit closer. "Jealousy?"
     He nodded and held her gaze with his. As his one hand continued to stroke her neck, the other moved to her lower back and urged her closer still. "Yes, jealous. A perfectly reasonable response, given the facts of the situation. You rejected my attention, yet you appeared to be welcoming another's. My male ego was bruised. I'll stay aware of it in the future."
     She wanted to tell him she understood and appreciated his honesty but his hands were working some sort of magic on her spine, and the way he was looking at her made her forget the words she would have said. His head lowered ever so slowly and she willingly tipped hers in anticipation of his kiss. The thin layers of material separating their bodies could not conceal the physical changes occurring as they came together more fully but this time those changes weren't quite as alarming to her.
     Shara and Gabriel both started at the faint sound that arose from between their chests. Since he knew what had caused it, he recovered more quickly than she did.
     "Yes, Beauty," he said, lifting his triangular recorder so that he was looking at its mirrored surface.
     "What is it?" Shara asked anxiously. "A warning?"
     "Of sorts," he said with a frown then pressed the back of his recorder against his inner wrist. "Beauty, physiological analysis. Display pulse rate and body temperature."
     Shara read the illuminated data as they appeared. His readings were in the high-normal range.
     "It must have been you," he said with a crooked grin. "Hold up your hand."
     She wasn't sure why he was doing this but she obeyed. With Beauty held against her wrist, he turned her arm so that she could see herself in the mirror.
     Shara's anxiety increased as she noted the new readings.
     Her pulse rate was slightly above normal and her temperature was up 1.2 degrees.

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