Read StoneHardPassion Online

Authors: Anya Richards

StoneHardPassion

Stone-Hard Passion

Anya Richards

 

Book two in the Unveiled Seductions series.

 

Tattoo artist Jasmina is on a
mission to entice her client Vidar into bed, but getting the shy, obscenely ripped
troll to agree is going to take some work. Even telling him straight-up she
wants him doesn’t break through his reserved, polite demeanor. Just what does a
jinn have to do? Maybe showing him the pleasures they can enjoy without
jeopardizing their friendship will do the trick.

Beneath Vidar’s staid exterior his
blood burns with the thought of having Jasmina for his own. He’s been carrying
a torch for years, never thinking she’d be interested in a troll. Although he
desperately wants to take Jasmina up on her offer, there’s something about him
she doesn’t know, and he doubts she’ll still be interested if she finds out.

When Jasmina’s past threatens and
Vidar offers her sanctuary, there’s no way to stop their passion from boiling
to the surface. But despite their new closeness, secrets and dangerous enemies
can destroy what they’ve built, forcing them to sacrifice everything to prove
their love.

 

Stone-Hard Passion

Anya Richards

Acknowledgment

 

Thanks to my indispensable crit partners, Amy Ruttan and Cristal
Ryder, for all your support and for loving my troll as much as I do.

 

Chapter One

 

Jasmina watched snow blow past beyond the massive glass
panes fronting the Midnight Café, remnants of a blizzard crossing over from the
human world to the faie the night before. The winter seemed especially long
this year, but now spring was upon them and Jasmina almost wished it wasn’t.
The shorter nights meant Vidar couldn’t stay long at the tattoo parlor, but had
to rush off to avoid the sunrise. She often wondered what it was about the
sun’s rays that reacted with trolls to turn them to stone. No one seemed to
know.

“Did you get the essence from Cassie?” At Ula’s question
Jasmina turned to look up at the goblin, who raised one neon-green eyebrow in
emphasis. “You better have. Your troll will be here any minute.”

Jasmina saw her one eyebrow and raised it to two. “Since
when has Vidar become ‘my troll’?”

From her spot behind the high reception desk, Ula smirked.
“Since you’ve been tattooing him for the last two years. The only reason I can
think of for him to get that much ink is because he’s stuck on you.”

Jasmina smiled. It was a wonderful way to deflect almost
anything. “Lots of my other clients have more ink than him, but the designs
aren’t as intricate. I apologized for it taking so long the last time he was
here.”

“Huh, bet he said it was no problem. Probably came up with
some new idea to prolong the process.”

“Nope.” She let the smile turn to a grin, thinking about the
idea
she
had to allow her to keep working on Vidar longer. “As far as I
know we should only have a few more sessions. Besides, it’s not like he’s here
every day. More like once every three, four weeks or so.”

The goblin didn’t seem to be having as much fun poking at
Jasmina as she’d hoped, but Ula wasn’t one to give up easily. Still grinning
suggestively, but with her long, skinny fingers drumming the desk, she said,
“More than enough time for him to fall for you. Like every other man who comes
in here seems to.”

That smarted. Being an anomaly definitely had its
disadvantages. As the only jinn woman around she attracted a lot of attention,
mostly unwanted. But she just giggled. “I don’t recall being hit on by Hervé,
or Jakuta, even before he met Gràinne. Vidar and I are friends, as can be
expected after spending so much time with each other. Vidar is…”
Smart, hard
to read, and almost obscenely ripped.
“Shy. And a true gentleman.”

Ula snorted. “As I expected. Absolutely useless. Besides,
he’s a mess. Even if he were interested, I’m pretty sure you’d run a mile.”

Okay, that was going too far, even for the acid-tongued
goblin. Jasmina didn’t mind being ragged on, but she couldn’t let Ula insult
Vidar that way. “You know, if you get past the stereotypes about trolls, you’d
realize he’s not that bad-looking.”

Silver-hued eyes wide, Ula stared at her as though Jasmina
had lobsters coming out of her ears. “Are you kidding?”

Jasmina only grinned again, knowing it would drive Ula
bonkers.

Cassandra was floating toward them, got to the desk and
started talking before Ula could take the discussion any further.

“I put the sun-essence in your room, but let me know if
you’re going to want more because I’ll need extra notice. I might have to go
away for a while in a couple of weeks.” Cassandra tugged on her vintage brown leather
coat then flipped her sheaf of flame-red hair out from under the collar.
Glancing at the four-foot-high chronometer behind the bar, she frowned. “I
better get out of here. I’m running late.”

“Hot date tonight?” Ula leaned forward, crazy green curls
flopping into her eyes.

“Unfortunately, no.” Cassie wrinkled her nose. “Or at least
I don’t think so. My mother set it up, so I’m guessing he’d be marriage
material rather than the hot, one-night-stand type.”

“Like the troll.” Ula sniggered.

Ignoring her, Jasmina sent Cassie a sympathetic look. “Your
mom’s at it again, huh?”

Taking a breath, Cassie blew it out with an annoyed huff. “I
swear to Sol, my mother feels my biological clock ticking, even though I
don’t.”

The three of them shook their heads in unison.

“Whatcha gonna wear?” Ula narrowed her eyes, lips curved in
an evil grin. “Let me guess…the slip dress you wore to the Solstice party?”

Hervé had asked them to wear clothing to the party that
would showcase their tats, and Cassie’s spidersilk dress had more than fit the
bill. Cut down to her ass in the back, plunging in the front and barely long
enough to be decent, it had every man in the place hoping for a wardrobe
malfunction so something private would fall out. Cassie had confessed to having
it be-spelled to stay in place.

“No, although it’s tempting.” She laughed lightly, but
Jasmina could see the stress and annoyance in her eyes. “I’m going more for the
tough, biker-chick look tonight. This guy is a grand mage, and they’re usually
pretty conservative.” With another quick glance at the chronometer, she tugged
the strap of her messenger bag higher up on her shoulder. “Okay, I’m outta
here.”

“Hang on.” Ula’s eyes snapped with mischief. “Before you go,
got a joke for you.” Cassie paused, and Jasmina knew what was coming even
before the goblin continued. “Little Miss Jinn here thinks the troll’s
good-looking. Ever heard anything like it?”

Cassie looked from Ula to Jasmina and back again, but to
Jasmina’s surprise, she didn’t join in with Ula’s laughter. Instead she
shrugged. “If you look past the hair, he’s okay.” Now it was Jasmina who
laughed at the look of shock making Ula’s mouth gape. “He must be one of the
mountain trolls, rather than lowland or one of the bridge clan.” She wrinkled
her nose. “Those are pretty gross.”

“See?” Jasmina couldn’t help rubbing it in, even stuck out
her tongue at the goblin. “I’m not crazy.”

“You both are,” Ula retorted, throwing her hands up in
disgust.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Cassie qualified. “He isn’t pretty,
like most of the men around here are. I don’t know if I’d even call him
handsome. But he isn’t ogre ugly either.” With a wave of one hand, she took
off.

No, Jasmina silently agreed as she leaned against the desk
to wait, ignoring Ula’s grumbling. Vidar certainly wasn’t pretty. His face was
too rough-hewn to be beautiful—craggy, with a large, blunt nose and broad, flat
cheekbones—but perhaps that was what she found so attractive. Most jinn men
were extremely handsome. Same or more so with the other magical races, leaving
her to sometimes wonder how much of what she saw was real and how much was
spells and illusions. Vidar was natural, without glamour—either magical or
cosmetic—and over the time they’d spent together she’d come to appreciate that
more and more.

As though her thoughts conjured him, the front door opened
and the troll stepped in, pausing on the threshold to look around in his slow,
thorough way.

From a distance she could see why Ula was so dismissive. In
a world where grooming and choice of clothing was limited only by imagination
and the availability of a decent spellcaster, Vidar stood out, and not in a
particularly good way. His blond hair was shoulder-length, wild and totally in
keeping with the huge, bushy beard and moustache covering the lower part of his
face. It also seemed to go particularly well with the long-sleeved plaid shirt
and shapeless sheepskin vest, baggy old jeans and work boots he was wearing.

But behind all that hair was a pair of the kindest, most
intelligent eyes Jasmina had ever seen, and a mouth that was surprisingly
delicious. And under the clothes…

A hot trickle skittered down her spine.

Just then he noticed her, and she thought there was a little
smile lurking in his gaze. She didn’t translocate to meet him halfway, as she
did with her other clients. The first time she’d done so to Vidar he’d stepped
back, a wary, almost angry expression in his eyes. And when she’d offered to
magically whisk them up to her tattoo room, he’d politely declined. Jasmina
figured he was just one of those beings who, unable to translocate themselves,
viewed it with suspicion.

Besides, it was a pleasure watching him walk toward her. It
was easy to track him as he wove his way through the other patrons since he was
at least a foot taller than most. Crowds tended to part for him and it was no
different tonight, although the place was already pretty full.

Even though it was only just dark, Fridays tended to be
pretty steady, with a decent crowd coming in for lunch and never seeming to go
away. Upstairs in the loft Jakuta was finishing up a piercing job, and Hervé
had just started on his first client of the night. In the bar and games area
people talked and pool balls clacked, the party atmosphere rising, the night
beginning to rev up. In a few minutes the DJ Hervé employed from Thursday
through Sunday nights would crank up the music and the place would really start
to rock.

Jasmina had no problem leaving all of it behind and taking
Vidar up to her quiet room. In fact, she admitted to herself with another
secret thrill, she was looking forward to it greatly.

“Huh,” Ula muttered, thankfully while he was still out of
earshot. “Maybe not ogre ugly, but I still can’t see the attraction.”

Jasmina didn’t bother to reply, just stepped forward to
greet Vidar. Behind the fair, slightly curling lashes his light-blue eyes were
definitely warm. The corners of his mustache lifted slightly with a rare smile.

“Hey.” Damn, her voice sounded breathy. She cleared her
throat. “How’ve you been?”

“Good,” he replied, holding out his hand as usual for her to
shake. “And you?”

“I’m well, thank you.” His hand was warm, a little rough.
Jasmina had never been with a man who did manual work. All the men she’d known
intimately had soft, often manicured hands. She liked the maleness inherent in
the rasp of his palm against hers.

And why was it, she wondered, still holding on to his
fingers, they hadn’t moved past the handshake stage? Every other client, after
the first two or three visits, moved on to the cheek kiss. By rights Vidar and
she should be at the kiss-on-the-mouth stage by now.

Without thinking it through, she went up on her toes and
kissed him lightly on his cheek. While she was close, she inhaled his
distinctive scent. It was one she particularly liked, a natural piney smell
that made her think of a verdant, healthy forest.

When she stepped back he blinked at her, and she could’ve
sworn his face went slightly pink, although if it did the color faded quickly.
Behind her Ula made a little sound, and Vidar’s eyes swung to the goblin.

“Nice to see you again, Ula.” His voice was deep, calm, with
a little hint of a lilt at the ends of his sentences. “You’re looking well.
Green hair really suits you.”

Whatever the goblin said was lost in the sudden boom of the
music as the DJ got going, and Jasmina was relieved. There was no telling what
might come out of Ula’s mouth, especially considering the conversation they’d
been having.

Leaning close to him, she bellowed, “Come on, let’s go
upstairs.”

He nodded, but hesitated. It was then Jasmina realized she
was still holding his fingers. She was about to loosen her grip when he simply
transferred her hand to his other one and started toward the steps leading to
the loft and private tattoo rooms above.

Startled, she automatically fell into step beside him,
glancing up at him from the corner of her eye. He was looking straight ahead,
as though there was nothing unusual about the fact they were holding hands.
This from the man who couldn’t look her in the eye for longer than a couple of
seconds when he first came to the Café to inquire about getting his tats.

She suppressed a giggle, amused at her surprise. They’d
known each other for two years and she was shocked that he’d actually loosened
up enough to hold hands with her…as a friend? Perhaps, if she were patient
enough, in another ten she could get him into bed.

Where did
that
thought come from?

Quickly she slanted him another glance, was relieved that he
didn’t seem to have heard her little gasp.

Yet the thought of having Vidar as a lover wasn’t unwelcome,
or repulsive. In fact, if she were really being honest it wasn’t even a new
concept. Having seen his torso bare as she inked him, she’d found herself
wondering about the rest of him, still hidden beneath the low-slung pants. He
was more than ripped. Vidar had the kind of body that came from hard physical
labor, not from a conscious desire to look good. His shoulders were broad, his
chest and abdomen deep, his arms massive and all of him rippled with hard
muscles.

She’d already been plotting to get him further exposed,
although she was going to sell it to him as being in the name of art, and on a
purely professional basis. Now she realized maybe it wasn’t just curiosity
driving her.

Not at all.

As they got to the top of the stairs and started toward the
door at the back of the loft, she let go of his hand to allow him to go ahead.
Knowing Hervé would be watching, she looked back to wave at him, saw that he’d
indeed looked up from the arm tat he was doing. Acknowledging her with a nod,
he went back to work and she went through the door, giving Vidar another
longer, considering glance as she did.

Hervé was one of those men both women and men fell over
themselves trying to attract. When she first applied for a chair at the
Midnight Café, Jasmina thought him extremely interesting, with his long, dark
hair and flashing green eyes. There was an edge to him too, as there was to
many of the dragonkin, but even that air of suppressed danger didn’t appeal to
her as much as Vidar’s earthiness.

Pushing through the door into her private room, her
heightened awareness of Vidar made her a little nervous. Not an emotion she was
used to. Going to one side of her tattoo table, she hooked her wheeled stool
closer with her foot and sat down to mix the ink with the sun-essence Cassie
had left for her. It was the standard formula for inking trolls, and without
the additive the tats would just fade away almost immediately.

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