After learning a disturbing truth about his heritage,
Lysander breaks off a relationship with the woman he loves
so she will not discover he is in fact a half-Praetorian
monster. Lysander would rather break Phaedra's heart than
have her come to hate him. But fate has other plans for the
pair and their paths once again cross when they must travel
to Rome to find an ancient artifact. The two of them
reconnect on their journey in more ways than one; they
begin to dream of ancient Rome and a star-crossed couple
whose unhappy past may hold answers to the present day
Sexy and smart, ASSASSIN'S HEART, is a stand-out read.
While sinfully erotic at times, Burns never loses track of
what is really important to readers; character development,
relationships and story arc.
Condellarie never understood why he had telepathic
and telekinetic powers until the night his
Praetorian father tortured him and left him for
dead. Now, the half-angelic, half-demonic face he
sees in the mirror is a reminder of the monster he
must keep hidden or face expulsion from the order of
assassins know as the Sicari. But his dreams of
Ancient Rome hint at a destiny he finds hard to
accept, especially when it involves the woman he
loves, but can never have.
The consequences of desire.
healer in the Order, Phaedra DeLuca witnessed her
motherâ€™s murder when she was just a little girl. The
haunting memory makes her loathe everything
Praetorian. When she travels to Rome in search of an
ancient artifact, she must work alongside a man who
once cruelly rejected her love and healing touch.
But her dreams of Ancient Rome tell of an
irreversible and possibly dangerous future. For the
distant past and present are about to collide--with
the one man she is destined to love.
A Year Ago, Chicago
Lysander woke to screams. Pain was the next signal he was
still alive. The cut on his thigh ached with the force of a
charging bull ramming a horn into him. The screams
intensified. They sounded like an animal's high-pitched
squeals of terror and pain. His gut twisted. Dominic? Or
Peter? He instantly reached out with his mind, and tried to
figure out how many Praetorians were in the other room. Not
a single emotion or thought.
Christus, how long had he been out? His telepathic ability
had never been that strong, but at least he should have
been able to know how many of the bastardi were out there.
A salty taste on his tongue said his mouth was full of
blood. He spit it out onto the floor and opened his eyes.
The darkened room was not much bigger than a storage room.
Nylon rope bound his wrists, pulling his arms up over his
head in a painful stretch. He tugged on his restraints
Merda, he hurt. How long had he been hanging here? The
screams on the other side of his prison's door rose on a
wild crescendo until they died down to low piteous cries.
Praetorians had developed their torture skills during the
Inquisition. Technology had just updated those skills. A
cold, vicious bite of unfamiliar emotion tried to surge
through him. He suppressed it.
No one survived Praetorian torture sessions, and the
remains of the Sicari he'd seen said they'd died an
agonizing death. He closed his eyes in a desperate attempt
to shut out those gruesome images. Think about something
else. Phaedra. The ugly emotion building inside him eased
slightly. Deus, she had a gorgeous mouth. And her hair.
Soft as silk. Threading his fingers through that dark silk
last night . . . last night. He winced as grief lashed at
him. Maybe the Elysium Fields would let him recreate those
incredible moments with her as often as he wanted.
Beside him, a soft whimper of fear forced him to turn his
head. Marta. A few feet away, he saw his healer tied to the
wall. Praise Jupiter, at least she was still alive. In the
next breath, he remembered what happened to healers. Guilt
gnawed at him with savage glee.
"I'm scared, Lysander." The terror in her voice almost made
him give in to his own fear.
"I know, cara."
"They took Peter first."
It was a simple statement, meant only to inform, but it
sent more guilt slicing through him. This was his fault. He
should have known something was wrong the minute they
entered the warehouse.
"Let it go, Lysander. You're not to blame." Her forgiveness
ate away at him, but he ignored it.
"We're getting out of here." His fingers explored the knot
of nylon holding his wrists together in a painful grip.
Sailor's knot. Immediately, he visualized the rope slipping
apart in opposite directions until it released him. Nothing
happened. In the near darkness, he saw Marta turn her head
"It won't work." The word was a quiet sigh of defeat. "They
gave the three of you some type of drug to suppress your
telekinetics. Dominic tried to free himself all the way up
to the last minute, but he couldn't. We're going to die
No. The Praetorians wouldn't let her die. She was breeding
He buried the thought and returned his attention to the
rope holding him hostage. Closing his eyes, his fingers
helped him memorize the way the rope was tied. The screams
in the other room gained momentum again, and almost as if
they came from a distance, he heard Dominic's thoughts. A
whisper more than anything else. Nothing clear. The drug
had to be wearing off. But would it wear off in time to get
him and Marta out of here?
The thought heightened his desperation to free himself.
There wasn't anything he could do for his friend, but maybe
he could get Marta out of here. Save her from a fate worse
than what he would end up enduring. Even knowing that
didn't make it easy to shut out the screams.
Almost as if she could read his thoughts, her fear vibrated
through the room like an instrument being played with a
wild fury. It reinforced his belief that his abilities were
returning. He focused his attention on the knot,
concentrating hard on mentally undoing the twisted fibers.
Dominic's screams grew louder—bouncing off the walls
of the room at a frightening level. A sickening dread
clawed at him. Concentrate. His friend was as good as dead.
He had to focus on getting Marta out of this torture
chamber. Overhead, he felt a slight movement in the rope.
Triumph rolled through him. He wanted to tell Marta, but he
didn't. It would be cruel to raise her hopes only to see
them crushed if he didn't succeed in time. The thought made
him work harder. The rope nudged its way free a tiny bit
more. In the back of his mind, he heard Phaedra's voice
He was certain it was a figment of his imagination, but it
bolstered his courage in a way nothing else could. He'd be
damned if he was going to lose her, just when he'd found
her. He turned his attention back to the rope, only to
sense what seemed to be Phaedra's fears for him.
Impossible. He knew full well it was simply his mind
compensating for the pressure he was under right now. The
mind did strange things when it was under stress.
Once more, he focused on the rope, blocking out everything
but the nylon knot. After several minutes, the mental drain
made him ease up on his concentration. Christus, this was
almost as hard as when he'd taken Cleo's dare as a kid to
unlock the cabinet holding the Order's sacred Assent of
Office parchments. This time his failure wouldn't be the
Indictio. And right now, he'd willingly take on that hard
labor. He visualized the rope's knot unraveling when a
sudden shift in emotions echoed in the back of his head.
Dominic's shrill screams swelled even louder in the small
prison then abruptly went silent. A dark emotion slithered
through his veins.
The minute Marta said his name, he turned his head toward
her. The resignation on her face filled him with rage,
guilt, and fear. He'd failed. He was going to die, and
Marta—he shut down the images of what she was going
"I'm still here, cara."
"I know," he said hoarsely.
He frantically pictured the knot above his head falling
open, releasing him from its hold. When that didn't work,
base animal instinct took over, and he sawed at the nylon
with his wrists in a hopeless effort to free himself.
"I won't let them breed me," she whispered, almost as if
consoling herself. "I'll find a way to keep that from
"Fotte," he roared as the door to their prison flew open.
Blinded by the sudden light streaming into the room, he
stretched out with his thoughts to determine how many
Praetorians there were. Two. Fear and rage swelled inside
him as he continued to saw at the rope with his wrists.
Someone rushed at him and his last thought was of Phaedra
before the light in the room blinked out.
He awoke to find himself in restraints on a hard surface,
his head locked into place by a leather strap. The rafters
directly above him said he was still in the warehouse. The
soft clink of metal tools hitting against each other made
him want to turn toward the sound, but he couldn't. A quiet
chuckle echoed in his mind, and he instinctively threw up a
shield against the mental probe.
"Do you have a name, Unmentionable?"
The pleasant tone of the man's voice didn't ease the sudden
fear crawling across his skin. It increased it. He closed
his eyes and tried to stem the emotion that threatened to
drown him. No. He couldn't give in to the terror. It would
drain his ability to keep this bastardo out of his head. He
swallowed hard and tried to focus on something pleasant.
Something the Praetorian couldn't use against him. Flowers.
When was the last time he'd bought flowers for someone? The
thought was idiotic, but he could sense the Praetorian's
irritation as his mental barrier kept the man from probing
"Come now, Unmentionable. Tell me your name."
"Why? It doesn't really matter, does it?" An image of
Phaedra slipped past the shield.
"Not really, but it does personalize the experience." There
was a note of amusement in the man's voice that said he'd
seen Phaedra. It sent a bolt of rage through him.
"I'm sure it does," he snarled as he opened his eyes to
meet the flat gaze of the Praetorian. He rolled saliva and
blood around in his mouth and spat it at the man. "Lysander
Condellaire, Primus Pilus of the Order of the Sicari, son
of Aurelia and Massimo Condellaire."
"A Primus Pilus. I'm honored." The man pretended to brush
off a fleck of the spit that had not even come close to
him. "It's not often I have a First Spear to administer
redemption to. I am Nicostratus. Your judge and jury. As a
heretic, you may repent at any time."
He didn't answer. Something said this bastardo liked to
talk to his victims, and he wasn't going to give the son of
a bitch that satisfaction. In fact, he was going to fight
hard not to give the man any kind of response, no matter
how bad—a red-hot needle of pain scraped its way
across his skin. He nearly bit his tongue off to keep from
screaming out loud.
Instead, he dug his fingers into his palms, and his body
jerked violently against his restraints. It was impossible
to escape the needle's persistent fire or the excruciating
pain. When it stopped, he found himself breathing raggedly
with relief—ready to sob. A moment later, his body
bucked hard against the straps holding him down.
Ever so slowly, the skin on his face gave way to the man's
cruel touch. Nerve endings sent horrifying signals to his
brain at their sudden exposure to the air. He almost wept
from the pain, but swallowed the cries he wanted to let
"You're a brave man, Condellaire. It's not often I
encounter an Unmentionablecapable of holding back his cries
when I strip his skin."
Lysander opened his eyes and he choked on a rush of bile as
Nicostratus showed him a strip of flesh dangling from a
pair of small forceps. He swallowed the bitter fluid in his
throat, but not before a wave of helplessness crashed over
him. The emotion sent him spiraling down into a dark place
where he wanted to hide from what was happening to him. No
sooner did he hit the bottom of that hellish pit than he
fought back. He bucked his body against his restraints.
"Fotte you, you Praetorian bastardo," he mumbled, each word
more agonizing than the last as the movement of his lips
tugged at the exposed muscles on his cheek. In his mind, he
visualized his fist driving itself into the man's face.
His effort was rewarded by Nicostratus's head flying
backward from the invisible punch. In less than two
seconds, the man recovered and quickly reached for
something on the tray next to the table. Needle in hand,
the Praetorian pushed up Lysander's sleeve and proceeded to
inject him with something.
"You're stronger than I thought. But this should keep you
in check," Nicostratus said with just a hint of anger. The
man started to push Lysander's sleeve down but
stopped. "Well now, what have we here? A birthmark?"
The man's voice was coaxing in a way that sent an icy
sensation creeping over Lysander's skin. An instant later,
the exposed nerve endings on his cheek lit up in a bitter
blast of fiery pain. Christus, the Praetorian was patting
him on his exposed muscle. He fiercely bit down on the
groan rising in his chest. When he didn't answer, the man
made a small noise that indicated curiosity.
"Tell me, Condellaire, did your mother ever explain where
this mark comes from?"
"My father, you bastardo."
"Your father. I see."
A whisper of sound drifted through his head. The son of a
bitch was trying to read his mind again. Desperately, he
fought to fortify the shield around his thoughts and filled
his head with nonsensical images. Anything to block the
man's probe. He would not let his mind betray the guild or
the Order. The Praetorian's thoughts strengthened in an
effort to dig deeper.
Lysander shored up the fragile wall he'd built inside his
head with images of his mother. Determination and willpower
helped him to pull every memory of his mother he could find
inside him. The Praetorian chuckled. It wasn't a pleasant
sound. Rather it encouraged the helplessness that had taken
root in his stomach and spread through every muscle in his
The man's mental probe withdrew and Lysander's muscles
shuddered into a limp state, his ability almost on the edge
of failure. Christus, he couldn't fail. He wouldn't give
this bastardo that satisfaction. The sound of metal against
metal told him the carving was going to begin anew. Eyes
closed and fists clenched tightly, he locked his jaw in
preparation for the fiery needle to carve its way into his
"This is for not knowing me, boy."
Puzzled by the statement, the tension in his body eased
just before the laser hit his skin. One thin stream of fire
after another flew across his eye in an X pattern. Deep in
the back of his mind, he started to sob from his inability
to save his friends or himself from this hell. He was
powerless, and the knowledge crushed him. Somewhere he
heard the sound of screaming, and he realized it was him as
the laser continued its terrible path across his cheek. He
sank into the pit.
When he came to, he immediately wished he could crawl back
into oblivion. He automatically opened his eyes, and the
action shot a bolt of lightning deep into the back of his
head as his eyelid pried itself off his seared eyeball. It
pulled another roar of pain from him. Nicostratus laughed.
"Now then, my son. We need to talk as we don't have much
"Just end it, you sorry fotte." The pain it cost him to
speak made him slide toward the dark edge of the abyss, and
he closed his eyes again.
"I'm not going to end it, Lysander. I couldn't kill my own
son." The words ripped through him with the same painful
force of the laser the man had used on him. This son of a
bitch wasn't just insane, he was sadistic.
"Merda di toro."
"No, it's true. I'm as surprised as you are. And I find it
interesting that no one told you about your mother and me.
We had a . . . well, let's say she resisted my charms."
Pain made his thoughts sluggish. Resisted. Was the bastardo
saying he'd raped his mother? Not possible. The man was
taunting him in an effort to break him down. The Praetorian
made one more attempt to break the last defensive wall he'd
built around the Order's strategic information. Unable to
think straight, an image of Phaedra filled his head, and he
clung to the memory of the night before. Nicostratus made
an insulting noise.
"Ah, yes, that reminds me of how I fucked your mother. If
I'd known she was ready to breed, I would have taken her
"You're a liar." Each word sent fire shooting up into his
brain; it took him a moment to realize he was sobbing the
"No, my boy. Take a look."
Lysander tried to keep his eyes closed, but fingers pinched
his eyelid, forcing open the only eye he had left. He
stared at the mark on Nicostratus's arm. Immersed in agony,
he couldn't focus. Despite his uncertainty as to what he
was really looking at, he wanted to throw up. Deep inside
him, a vague thought registered the image, but he refused
to believe it. He tried to shake his head.
"What?" he whispered, barely able to speak.
"Look closer, Lysander. It's proof I'm your father."
"A mark?" He closed his eye, praying for oblivion. Fingers
pinched his eyelid again.
"The eagle. Do you see it?"
He groaned as he blinked and focused on the mark the man
had on his arm. The bastardo had lost it. That mark wasn't
an eagle—it was a bird. His mark was an eagle. His
mother had said it belonged to his father.
"Your's . . . bird. Not . . . eagle." He barely got the
words out as he hovered on the brink of consciousness.
"Look again, boy."
Suddenly, there were two arms with matching eagles in
almost identical spots thrust in front of him. They
blurred. He was seeing double, that's all. The helplessness
reached his heart, tearing it apart like a rabid animal. He
stared, his mind trying to comprehend what he was seeing.
"No." He didn't have the strength to shout, and the
"But of course it's true. I knew the minute I probed your
mind. How else do you explain your extraordinary ability to
resist my repeated probes for information? A true Sicari
might show some resistance to me, but they would not be as
strong as you." Nicostratus made a soft sound of amused
"Not true," he rasped then roared with pain as the
Praetorian bastard lightly tapped his skinned cheek again.
"You would have made a fine Praetorian, my boy. Your
ability to defy the pain you're in is exceptional."
The laser hit his skin again from his ear down to his jaw.
The pain pulled a pitched scream of agonized terror from
him, and he fell backward into a black pool of
nothingness—his last thought was of ancient Rome and
Phaedra running to meet him. He was home again.
He had no idea how long he'd been out, but when he awoke,
everything was silent and dark. Was it nighttime in the
Elysium Fields? He tried to sit up. The slight movement
sent fire streaking through every cell in his body. He
started to cry. The Praetorian had left him here to die.
Alone. His own son.
He grew still with horror. He wasn't Sicari. He was
Praetorian. The obscene thought pulled a cry of denial from
him. His mind hovered on the brink of despair. Impossible.
It couldn't be true. But they shared the same birthmark.
The whisper of truth curled through his head. He wouldn't
believe it. The bastardo was lying. A teardrop rolled over
his skinned cheek, and it pulled a sob of anguish from him.
"Fotte. Fotte. Fotte."
It was a roar of fear and helplessness, as well as a cry of
agony. More tears flowed over his bared muscles, until the
pain sent him back to that dark place again.
Voices filtered their way down into the pit, and he
shuddered with terror. They'd come back for him. Like a
wild animal anticipating more torture, he tugged at his
restraints, ignoring the fire that consumed his body. He
wouldn't be able to keep the son of a bitch out of his head
this time. He heard running feet, and then he smelled the
soft scent of a woman. Marta?
"Dulce matris Deus." Cleo leaned over him, her cool hand
brushing across his forehead. Horror widened her eyes as
she stared down at him. In the next instant, she spoke into
her mike. "Lysander's alive, but I don't know for how much
longer. He needs the Curavi. Now."
He couldn't hear the response she got, but a sudden image
of Phaedra filled his head. She was here. A subtle warmth
filled him as her fear and worry for him whispered sweetly
across his mind. Deus, he needed her right now. Needed to
feel her touch. Her hand in his, her healing—no.
The sound of feet pounded on the warehouse floor once more,
and first Ares then Phaedra came into view. He'd never seen
a more beautiful, yet terrifying, sight in his entire life.
He couldn't take part in seeing her lovely face marred by
his injuries. Couldn't let her see the monster inside him.
Terror lanced through him as she reached for his hand.
Tormented, he tugged at the restraints. If she touched
him—tried to heal him, she'd see him for what he was.
He couldn't let that happen. Couldn't let her perform the
"No. No Curavi."
Cleo clamped down on his arm. "Christus, he's out of his
mind with pain."
"For the love of God, Cleo. Tighten those restraints."
Panic laced through Phaedra's voice. "I can't heal him if
he's fighting me. I'll heal the lesser injuries first. Then
we can transport him. When we're home, I'll . . . I'll do
what I can for his other wounds."
He saw her swallow hard and recognized her fear. The idea
of her taking on his injuries was a nightmare, but he knew
without a doubt that when she touched him she'd be able to
see all the darkness inside him. He was too weak to keep
her locked out of his thoughts if she touched him. She'd
see. She'd see everything because the pain was too horrible
to prevent her from learning the truth.
"No," he roared. "No Curavi."
The strength of his voice echoed loudly in the room, and he
heard Ares utter a vicious curse while Cleo grasped his
hand in a death grip. Fear and horror darkened Phaedra's
eyes as she bent over him. Her mouth brushed across the ear
on his unmarked cheek.
"Let me do this for you, carino," she whispered in a sweet,
gentle voice. "I'm not afraid."
"No. Refuse the Curavi."
He tried to shake his head as he forged through the pain
and ground out the words forcefully. Couldn't let her see.
Her parents' murder . . . hated Praetorians . . . couldn't
bear her hatred. He felt himself slipping off into oblivion
and climbed up the cliff back into the pain. She'd heal him
without his permission if he didn't protest.
"Listen, you dumb son of a bitch." Cleo's voice was
harsh. "You let Phaedra heal you or I'm going to rip you a
new one. You hear me?"
"No . . . dead already." And he was. He was Praetorian, and
if anyone found out . . . he'd rather die.
"Give me your hands, Lysander. With your permission, I must
touch you to heal your injuries." There was a frantic
desperation in Phaedra's voice, but it only made him clench
his hands into tight fists.
"I. Refuse. Curavi."
His voice wasn't loud, but it was strong and determined. He
heard someone nearby release a vicious sound. Ares. His
Legatus forcefully pushed Cleo aside to grip his arm.
"Take the goddamn Curavi, you sorry bastardo,"his guild
leader ordered in a fierce voice.
Something wet hit his unscarred cheek and his gaze shifted
from Ares to Phaedra. In the dim light, he could see tears
clinging to her lashes. He wouldn't hurt her. Wouldn't let
her see he was everything she hated. He loved her too much.
He couldn't let her see that or his shame. He released a
sob of pain.
"Is. My. Right. Refuse. Curavi." Each word was a labor of
effort to say.
"No," Phaedra exclaimed violently. "I'm not about to let
you die, you dumb bacciagalupe. Ares, make him take the
"No. My. Right." He hovered on the edge of light and dark.
"I can't, Phaedra. If he'd been unconscious, it wouldn't be
a problem, but he's refused. There's nothing I can do."
Ares's voice was fierce with disgusted anger.
"Please, Lysander. Don't refuse me." His cheek grew wet as
Phaedra bent over him, her mouth against his ear. Her hand
bit into his arm and he felt a pulse of energy as she
pleaded with him. "Don't try to save me from the pain. Let
me save you. I want to do this for you. I don't want you to
The heat in her hand grew stronger, and a roar built in his
chest. With a wild cry, he bucked against the restraints
holding him in place. Restraints that proved he'd been
powerless against the Praetorian, but he wasn't helpless
anymore. He had the right to refuse the Curavi. And for her
sake, he wasn't about to let her heal him.
"Get the fuck away from me. I don't want your goddamn
healers touch. I refuse Curavi." The blast of words made
him pay a dear price as a cloak of needles wrapped itself
around him, digging into every part of his body. He saw the
agony flare in her beautiful brown eyes, and deep inside a
voice cried out for her. The only thing that kept him from
taking his words back was the darkness welling up inside
him. He was Praetorian. There was nothing that could change
that. But it was his secret. A truth he couldn't share with
anyone, not even the woman he loved.