Behind every mask lies burning passions and dark secrets.
On a dark night in Chicago superheroes and supervillains collided. Sixteen year old Raven Keppler helplessly watched as Master Bloodless turned evil in a single stroke when he murdered her aunt Dryad. Hero Gryphon sent Bloodless to a watery grave, all of them unaware that Annette Keppler took deadly secrets with her to the great beyond.
Ten years later Raven must don her aunt’s costume and raise the villain Dryad. Blackmailed into discovering her aunt’s secrets, she must locate a map stored at the house of James McBride, the man Raven loves, and guarded by Gryphon, the superhero she fears.
But Gryphon has been waiting for her return and he knows just what to do with naughty villainesses. When Master Bloodless crawls from the grave it’s a race against time to discover where the map leads. Lost in the world of superheroes and villains, Raven will find herself seduced, defeated, and victorious by turns, but will her heart survive long enough to save the world?

Preview


CHAPTER ONE

 

“So this is what my life has come to,” Raven Keppler muttered as she shivered in the cool autumn night.
“Hey, you think you got it bad?” the being on the ledge next to her asked. He called himself Peter, her frequent fellow “night owl,” and he was a mourning dove. “I’m up like three hours after bedtime, these damn blue jays are chasing my kids all over creation, and now you want me to fly how far?”
“Hey, if you do this you can hang out on my balcony any time you want. I have good food and no blue jays.”
“Lady, I’ve been to your place; it’s a freakin’ zoo. No thanks.”
She forced a smile at him though the anxiety over the coming night kept it from blossoming. Peter cocked his head, his beady black eyes softening when he saw her own eyes brimming with unshed tears behind her mask. “Oh, hell, since the kids like you so much, I’ll do it.”
Raven swallowed the tears when she realized there was a chance she could still pull it off. “Great! There’s not much time, so repeat it back to me.”
“Jeeze, anal much? Okay, Ra-”
“Call me Dryad,” she ordered in a loud whisper.
He cocked his head and laughed a little dove laugh, sounding like a keening coo. “You’re not the real Dryad, I don’t know who’s gonna buy it.”
“Well, I have the same powers she had and I have her suit. I have the same hair and mask. Who’ll know the difference?”
Peter shrugged. “Okay Dryad; I fly over to the Bank on Ohio. There’ll be two pigeons waiting there for me. We all sneak in the open window in the building next door, and there’ll be five rats waiting inside for us. Tell them to set off the alarm at exactly eleven thirty. The pigeons and I cover the three exits, I stay on the roof and after twenty minutes when the cops come I fly like hell.”
Raven sighed and leaned her head back into the wind coming off Lake Michigan. “You got it.”
Peter yawned and shifted against the same wind, looking down off the Tribune Tower where they were perched. It was obvious the lofty height made him nervous. “You mind me asking what you’re up to? I know we talk and stuff, but you’ve never asked for a favor before. And setting off a bank alarm? What for?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s not Raven Keppler asking this, Peter, it’s Dryad.”
His beady little eyes looked her up and down, head cocking to the side. “You look like they rented you the wrong costume or something. I mean, nice suit.” He gave a dirty laugh.
She looked down at the black spandex suit straining over the few curves Mother Nature had seen fit to gift her with and shrugged. “It was my aunt’s, and she was a little shorter, a little bit…smaller, in certain areas. It’s not like anybody’s going to see me.” Despite her logic Raven felt herself blushing. “And don’t worry about the alarm. Normal humans never suspect animals of having any intelligence, and it’s not like the bank’s actually getting robbed.”
“One last thing. So why are we setting off a bank alarm if you’re not going to rob it?”
She bit her lip but knew she couldn’t involve Peter without telling him the truth. “You’re doing it to distract Gryphon.”
Peter cursed in a streak she couldn’t believe a mourning dove would know. “Gryphon! Are you nuts? He eats little villains like you for breakfast! He’s the best damn superhero in the whole country!”
Miffed she raised her chin a notch. “I’m not just any villain, I’m a Supervillain. Bane of Master Bloodless, jewel thief extraordinaire.”
He snorted, or tried to, but it came out like a coo. “Don’t forget you’ve also been dead ten years.”
Rave started to say something but the thought of her aunt’s death brought a lump to her throat. The original Dryad had been everything to her, and her brutal death at the hands of Master Bloodless was still a wound, even after all that time. It didn’t matter that Bloodless had turned bad himself and been killed by Gryphon, Raven knew the terrible secret of the walking wounded, that there was no such thing as closure.
Peter edged over and stroked a wing down her thigh. “I’m sorry kid, I can be a real jerk. Look, you can do anything you want, you know that. You’re even more powerful than the first Dryad.”
She sniffled back the tears. “Oh yeah? And how would you know?”
His head bobbed, a dove version of a smile. “We still talk about her. You don’t know what it’s like to have someone who understands us, a human who doesn’t call me a statue rat and throw rocks at me. We never had that before the first Dryad showed up and since you appeared on the scene and seemed to have her powers you’re all we talk about.”
“Oh, stop it.”
He sidled closer. “We’ll take care of Gryphon for you, don’t you worry. Hell, all we animals want is to see you happy. You’re so quiet, so lonely.”
“That’s enough, Peter. You make me sound pathetic.”
“You are lonely, despite all your animal friends. Carlos tells me you’re pining over that boss of yours. Human mating, you people drive me crazy.”
“Carlos? My pet Carlos?”
“Yeah, he chats. A lot. You just be careful, kid.”
That a ten month old bird was calling her kid cheered her up a little, and she laughed softly. “I will. And when I get home I’m going to tell Carlos to shut up or I’m clipping his flight feathers.”
“You sure do talk tough.”
“Just talk?”
“Yeah, just talk. That’s not such a bad thing, R- Dryad. Your aunt, well, she was one tough cookie, and she was a true villain. You’re pretty cool, but you’re a nice girl. Are you really sure you’re made of the same stuff?”
It was a question she’d wrestled with all her life. Thief and supervillain, or quiet and mousy personal assistant with no life beyond all her pets? Neither choice seemed like much, but it was all she’d ever had. “I guess we’ll finally see tonight, won’t we?”
Peter thought on it for a moment before sidling towards the edge. “Whatever it is that you do, you do it well,” he ordered.
She nodded and pushed away, floating above the bright city. She scratched at the spandex and made sure her mask was on, held in place with the trick her aunt had taught her. No one could remove it but her, but that didn’t stop her worrying that someone might try and bring her two worlds crashing together. “Thanks for all your help. You be careful too.”
“I always am. Just watch out for the Gryphon, he always gets the girl.”
She thought of the powerful superhero, the flying boy scout with super strength who made women’s hearts (and lower things) flutter every night. Not only the most powerful superhero of the near dozen in the country, but the poster boy for Supes in general. He’d been on numerous magazines and after eleven years of service he was only getting stronger.
Carlos could blab about her boss James all he wanted, but there was a part of her that would be forever fascinated with the blond superhero. She had every reason in the world to hate him but her body just didn’t seem to understand that.
She wasn’t worried that he’d catch her; she was worried she might give in to temptation and let herself be caught.
 
***
 
He was too tired to go out, and if he had to fight with that little minx again he was sure he’d ruin his good reputation with a serious spanking. He thought of the tight spandex suit and her lush curves and closed his eyes, groaning. Okay, spanking was not the right idea, nor was bondage, or any of the other mental images he couldn’t shake.
She’d spent the last two nights trying to break into his house, and tonight, instead of going out to stop her as Gryphon, James McBride was just going to damn well sit there and wait for her as himself. He knew who the would-be villain was, and what she was after, and she’d have to come inside his bedroom to get it.
He made sure the curtains were open, the window too, and he changed for bed as if it were just a normal night. His movements were stiff, and though he had only pure intentions in his mind, his body knew better. Once he had Raven Keppler in his bedroom, he wasn’t going to let her go. He would make her fess up, and then he was going to give them what they both wanted.
It was not yet eleven  and he poured himself a glass of brandy to pass the time. For two days now he’d waited to see if she knew he was Gryphon, or if she’d admit to it. To see if she’d admit she’d put on her aunt’s suit and assumed the dead woman’s identity. Not that she had any reason to come clean, after all she was trying to steal from him, and Raven had no idea at all that he knew her aunt had been Dryad.
The world of Supes was a small one, and she had been raised on the wrong side of it. Her damn aunt had used her as a sidekick when she was just a kid, working as lookout while she pilfered banks. No great evil cause, she never tried to take over the world, she just had a need to strike back at a world that had been cruel to Annette Keppler. Pretty young Raven had been caught up in a dangerous game, and when Master Bloodless had killed Dryad, she’d been alone in the world.
Annette had long been James’ father’s lover, and if Samuel McBride knew Annette’s real identity he hadn’t let on. Instead he’d taken Raven under his wing after Annette’s death and saw to it she had an education, and made his son promise to always look out for her.
She’d been back home now for five years. Five years and he hadn’t once seen her use her powers. Five years of tightly wound hair buns, bad suits, and soft smiles that had driven him out of his mind. For five years he’d wanted to touch her but couldn’t.
Raven was many things, and the biggest part of her was honorable. She hadn’t wanted to repeat her aunt’s mistakes, to fall in love with a man she saw as so different, to find herself tempted by a lifestyle that was foreign. For five years he had greatly admired that restraint, but he also had waited too long and now it seemed she’d given in to the dark side.
And that meant she was fair game.
He didn’t know for certain if she was there for the key sitting in his safe, or if she was after something else. He didn’t have much that would tempt the niece of a great jewel thief, especially not since every day she was in his house, could walk off with a Lalique vase if so desired. Truthfully, he didn’t really care why she was trying to break in. He would find out, and James was in the mood to toy with her first.
He wanted that long brown hair wrapped around his fist, to feel those long supple legs wrapped around his waist as he sank into her pale, soft flesh. He wanted to feel her surrounding him, hear her moan and surrender to him, to taste her and feel her as he’d ached to do for so long.
Raven Keppler had been in his blood for five years now, always quiet, always hard working, always evasive. He had ached to tell her his own secrets, to make her share hers, but she was so damn restrained. Now she had given into those secrets, and he wasn’t above exploiting her hidden identity to get what he wanted.
Raven Keppler, now Dryad, wouldn’t know what had hit her.