Hot Enough To Burn

January 21, 2022 – Phoenix Fury, Book 1

Free first in a series

**HOT ENOUGH TO BURN is a re-release. It was originally published in 2014 as BURN FOR ME.**

Prepare to burn up the pages in this hot paranormal romance by New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Cynthia Eden.

Do you believe in monsters? You should, they walk among humans every single day. Reporter Eve Bradley has known the truth about paranormals for a while, and her latest story has taken her inside the mysterious Genesis facility. It’s at Genesis that Eve first meets Subject Thirteen, Cain O’Connor. Big, gorgeous, and truly, truly HOT.

Cain is a phoenix shifter. Every time that he dies, he rises from the ashes…stronger, deadlier, and another step closer to losing his control. And what happens when a phoenix loses control? Welcome to hell on Earth.

Cain feels an instant connection with Eve, a woman who swears she wants to help him. The attraction between them burns hotter than his flames, and soon, Eve is the only link to sanity that Cain has as the world turns to fire around him.

Eve isn’t human, despite the cover she’s used for years, and she is more than capable of withstanding a little heat. But as their enemies plot to trap them, Eve and Cain will be forced to trust each other completely. Be forced to surrender to a desire that cannot be controlled, and soon, if they are not careful, it’s a desire that might just have the power to destroy them both.

If you want something too badly, if you want someone too much…you will never even see the fire coming, not until it’s too late. Be careful. You don’t want to get burned…

Author’s Note: Welcome to the world of my phoenixes! Hot paranormal romances are waiting for you. HOT ENOUGH TO BURN is a romance steamy enough to singe your fingers, but what else should you expect from a fierce shifter hero? HOT ENOUGH TO BURN was originally published by Kensington back in 2014, and back then, it had the title of BURN FOR ME. I’m super excited to bring this tale to readers once again! It’s a full-length story (90k), with a guaranteed happy ending.

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Chapter One

The first time Eve Bradley saw Subject Thirteen, he was in chains.

She froze in front of the glass wall that separated her from him—a wall that, to Subject Thirteen, would look just like a mirror. The one-way mirror let the doctors and observers watch his every move. Not that the guy could do much moving when he was chained to the wall.

“I-I thought…” Eve tried to fight the tremble in her voice. She was supposed to look like she belonged here. Like she fit in with all the other researchers who were so eager to experiment on the test subjects. “I thought everyone was here voluntarily.”

Dr. Richard Wyatt turned to face her, his white lab coat brushing against her. “The chains are for his safety.” His tone implied she should have realized that obvious fact.

Yeah, right.

Was she really supposed to buy that line? Being chained up—that equaled safety in what mixed-up world?

“Dr. Bradley…” Wyatt’s dark eyebrows lifted as he studied her with an assessing gaze. “You do realize that all the subjects here are far, far from human, correct?”

She knew the spiel. “Yes, of course, I do. They’re supernaturals. Here to take part in experiments that will help the U.S. military.” So all the fancy guys in suits had told the media when the Genesis group started their recruitment program last fall.

Not that she believed their story. It had taken her months, months, to set up this cover and get inside the research facility.

If she’d been on her own, she never would have passed clearance. But, luckily, Eve had managed to make a few powerful friends over the years.

Friends who wanted to know the truth about this place as much as she did. They all had an interest in Genesis.

Some reporters really could smell a story. Right now, Eve’s nose was twitching.

She glanced back at Subject Thirteen. Everyone knew paranormals were out there, living in the midst of humans. About ten years ago, the first supernaturals had made themselves known. They’d come out of their paranormal closets. And why not? Why should they have been forced to keep hiding? Always hiding in the shadows had to suck. Maybe they’d just gotten tired of living a lie and decided to force the humans to see what was right in front of them—or what was living right beside them.

Since the big revelation, things had changed for the paranormals. Some were hunted. Some turned into instant celebrities. The reaction from the humans, well, that was mixed, too.

Some humans hated the supernaturals. Some feared them. Some really enjoyed fucking them.

Eve didn’t necessarily fall into any of those categories.

Subject Thirteen was staring right at her. A small shiver slid over Eve’s body.

His eyes were dark. They looked almost black—as black as the thick hair that hung a little too long as it brushed over his broad shoulders. Thirteen was a handsome man, strong, muscled—definitely muscled—and with the sculpted bone structure that had probably caught plenty of attention from the ladies.

High cheeks. Square jaw. Lips that were hard, a little thin, but still sexy…though she could have sworn that mouth held a cruel curve.

Her heart began to pound faster. Thirteen’s eyes were sweeping over her body. A slow, deliberate glance. “Can he—can he see through the mirror?” His gaze felt like a hot touch on her skin.

“Of course, not.” Dr. Wyatt’s instant response. The doc sounded annoyed with her.

Her shoulders relaxed.

Subject Thirteen smiled.

Damn. Her shoulders tensed right back up again.

Wyatt checked his notes and then told her, “Go check his vitals before we begin the procedure for today.”

Right. Vitals check. Her job. Eve nodded. She’d done two years of med school before realizing the gig wasn’t for her, so she could pass muster with these guys, no problem. Only part of her résumé was fake.

The good part.

Eve walked slowly toward the metal door that was the only entrance and exit to Thirteen’s holding room. A guard opened the door for her. An armed guard—which brought up the next question. Why did volunteers have to be guarded?

Oh, jeez, but this place was creeping her out. Volunteers, my ass.

Sure, she’d seen a couple other subjects during her time at the Genesis facility. Not many, though. Her clearance wasn’t high enough to get her past level one. Or it hadn’t been…until today.

Until she’d been told that Dr. Wyatt needed her services for his latest experiment. Dr. Richard Wyatt was Genesis. A former kid genius, he had a wall full of degrees, and currently was the leading expert in the field of paranormal genetics.

He was also a hard-ass who gave her the creeps when his cold green eyes locked on her. Maybe he was a fairly attractive guy, but something about him made her blood ice.

The guard waved his hand, indicating that it was clear for Eve to proceed. When she walked into Thirteen’s holding room, Eve saw the slight flare of the man’s nostrils. Then his head turned toward her slowly, the move almost like a snake’s as he sized her up.

He didn’t speak, but his powerful hands clenched.

Eve opened her small black bag. “Hello.” Her voice came out too high-pitched. She drew in a steadying breath. The guy was chained. It wasn’t like anything could happen to her. She needed to get a grip and do her job. “I’m just here to run a few quick checks on you.” No machines were hooked up to him. No monitors. Wyatt wanted these checks done the old-fashioned way—hell if she knew why. Eve pulled out her stethoscope and stopped a foot away from Thirteen. “I-I’ll need to listen to your heartbeat.”

Still nothing. Okay. Eve swallowed and offered a weak smile. Obviously, she wasn’t dealing with a chatty fellow.

Eve slid closer to him. Her gaze darted to the chains. They held his arms trapped at his sides. Even if he’d wanted to grab her—don’t grab me, don’t!—he couldn’t move.

What if Wyatt was setting her up? The guy was chained and that had to mean he was dangerous, right? Those were some seriously thick chains. They looked like something right out of a medieval torture chamber.

“I won’t hurt you.”

She jumped at the sound of his voice, and what a dark, rumbling voice it was. When the big, bad wolf from that old fairy tale talked, Eve bet the beast had sounded just like Subject Thirteen.

She exhaled and hoped she didn’t look rattled. “I didn’t think you would.”

His lips twisted in the faintest of smiles—one that called her a liar.

Eve put the stethoscope over his heart. She adjusted the equipment, listened, and glanced up at him in surprise. “Is your heartbeat always this fast?” Grabbing his chart, she scanned through the notes. Fast, but not this fast. His heart was galloping like a racehorse.

Eve put her hand against his forehead and hissed out a breath. The guy was hot. Not warm, not feverish, hot.

And she was so close to him that her breasts brushed his arm.

Subject Thirteen’s heartbeat grew even faster.

Oh…just…oh. Hell. She hurried backward a bit.

“I need to draw a sample of your blood.” She also wanted to take his temperature because he had to be scorching. Just what was he? Not a vampire, those guys could never heat up this much. A shifter? Maybe. She’d seen one of those subjects on her first day. But the shifter had been in a cozy dorm-type room.

He hadn’t been shackled.

Eve put up the stethoscope and reached for a needle. She eased closer to Thirteen once more and rose onto her toes. The guy was big, at least six three, maybe six four, so she couldn’t quite reach his ear as she whispered, “Are you here willingly?”

Eve began to draw his blood. Thirteen didn’t even flinch as the needle slid into his arm.

But he did give a small, negative shake of his head.

Shit. She eased back down and tried to figure out just how she could help him.

“I’m Eve.” She licked her lips. His gaze followed the movement. The darkness in his stare seemed to heat. Everything about him was hot. “I can help you.”

He laughed, and the sound chilled her. “No,” he said in that deep rumble of a voice, “you can’t.”

Eve realized she was standing between his legs. His unsecured legs. His thighs brushed against hers, and she flinched.

The smile on his face was as cold as his laughter. She’d been correct when she thought she saw a cruel edge to his lips. She could see that hardness right then. “You should be afraid,” he told her.

Yes, she was definitely getting that clue.

Eve pulled out the needle. Swabbed some alcohol over a wound she couldn’t even see. Then she stepped back, as quickly as she could.

“Don’t come back in here,” he told her, eyes narrowing. A warning.

Or a threat?

Eve turned away.

“You smell like fucking candy…”

She stilled. Now her heartbeat was the one racing too fast.

“You make me…” His voice dropped, but she caught the ragged growl of “hungry.”

And he made her afraid. Eve slammed her hand onto the metal door. “Guard!” Her own voice was too high. “We’re done!”

The door opened and she all but fell out of the room. Even though she was afraid, she risked one last look back. Thirteen was staring after her, his jaw locked tight. He did look hungry. Only not for food.

For me.

The door slid shut and she remembered how to breathe. She sucked in a deep breath as she looked up—right into Dr. Wyatt’s too sharp green gaze.

“Problem?” Wyatt asked softly, the barest hint of a southern drawl sliding beneath his words. Since the Genesis facility was hidden away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, many of the folks working there had a slight drawl that spoke of roots in the South.

The guards, anyway. Thirteen hadn’t possessed any accent that she could hear.

Yanking back her control, Eve shook her head and pushed Thirteen’s chart toward him. “No problem at all, sir.”

Liar, liar.

She could still feel Subject Thirteen’s stare on her body. Worse, she could feel him.

“Good,” Wyatt said, “because it’s time to begin.”

Uh, begin? She’d rather thought her job was done.

He motioned to the guard. She’d already learned that guy’s name. Mitchell. Barnes Mitchell. As Eve watched, he pulled out his gun and checked the clip.

“The first shot shouldn’t be to the heart,” Wyatt instructed as he cocked his head to the side and pursed his lips. “We want a comparison shot. Wound him first,” he said with a nod, “then go for the heart.”

What?

But Barnes just nodded and headed back into Thirteen’s room with his gun ready.

Eve lost the breath she’d taken as horror nearly choked her.

***

Cain O’Connor drew in a deep breath. The air smelled of her. A light, sweet scent. He could almost taste the woman—and he wanted more of her. So much more.

What were the bastards thinking? Sending in a little morsel like her. Didn’t they know what he could do to her? What he wanted to do? After all these months…

Maybe they’d wanted to tempt him. He pulled on the chains, testing their strength. They weren’t made of any metal he’d ever come across. Reinforced with who the hell knew what. The Genesis pricks thought they were so smart with their inventions. “Supernatural-proof” as that ass Wyatt had gloatingly told him when he’d asked about the chains.

The chains wouldn’t hold him forever. This prison would end. Their nightmare would begin.

Soon.

The door of his cell opened. He caught a glimpse of her—Eve—as she glanced back at him. Her blue eyes were wide, afraid. She should be afraid. She should run as fast as she could from this place. Before it was too late for her.

It was already too late for the others. He’d marked them for death. Especially that bastard Wyatt. The doctor got off on torture.

How will you like it when you’re the one screaming, Wyatt? Will it be so much fun then?

The guard stepped inside. He smelled of sweat and cigarettes. The door closed behind him. No more Eve.

But Cain could hear her footsteps. Hers and Wyatt’s. His senses were far more acute than he’d let on. Why give the enemy any advantage?

Why give them any fucking thing at all?

The guard, a stocky bastard with shifty eyes and a definite taste for torture, had his weapon out. Cain’s jaw locked. He knew what the gun meant. This time, they were going to try old-fashioned bullets.

Would they take a heart shot? Or a head? Maybe the guard would shoot him right between the eyes and blow his brains out.

“What are you doing?” Eve’s voice. Drifting lightly to his ears like a whisper. They thought they’d soundproofed his room.

They were wrong. He couldn’t hear the voices perfectly, but he caught the exchange as a whisper. Knew so much more than the not-so-good doctor realized.

Cain glanced toward the mirror. He saw right through the reflection and into the room. All it took was a little focus, a slight push of power…

There she was.

Her dark hair was pinned at the base of her neck. Her face—so damn pretty. Glass-sharp cheekbones, red, plump lips that made him think of sin and sheets.

And her eyes…fucking lethal.

Perhaps one of the few things that could be lethal to him.

“Why does the guard have his gun out?” Eve demanded, and he heard the fear shaking in her words.

He didn’t like the sound of fear in her voice. Didn’t like the smell of it on her, either. When Eve had gotten close to him, she’d been afraid.

Poor Eve. She probably didn’t know who she should fear more…him or Wyatt.

Cain looked at the gun that Barnes held. “Hardly seems fair,” Cain muttered, “shooting me when I’m chained.”

“You’re gonna let the guard shoot him?” Eve’s immediate cry.

Ah, she was definitely not like the others. That could be a problem. When hell came calling, and it would be calling soon, he’d have to make sure she didn’t get burned.

Not too much, anyway.

The intercom clicked on. “Proceed with the test,” Wyatt’s annoying drawl ordered as it drifted through the speakers and into Cain’s cell.

Dammit. Cain tightened his muscles. He hated for the woman to watch this, but perhaps she needed to see just what these bastards were capable of doing. She’d signed on for this, so she should understand just how psychotic her boss truly was.

“He can’t proceed—” Eve shouted, her words tumbling through the intercom—

Just as the guard fired.

The bullet drove right into Cain’s side. Tore through skin and muscle. Blood spattered. Agony had his body shuddering.

But he didn’t make a sound. That was a pleasure he wouldn’t give the sadistic bastard watching.

“Silver bullets can pierce the subject’s skin,” Wyatt’s cool voice rattled off as if the guy were talking about the weather.

Cain’s hands clenched into fists. The next shot would be to a vital organ. He knew the drill. Wyatt liked to play at first. Torturing SOB—

“Stop!”

Cain glanced up. Eve was pounding on the glass. The mirror was shaking beneath the force of her fists. “Guard, get away from him!” she yelled, the desperate words echoing through the intercom system. “Drop the weapon!”

Not like the others.

Wyatt grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her back. Anger pulsed in Cain’s blood. The doctor shouldn’t be touching her.

“Proceed.” Wyatt’s order.

Eve shrieked and twisted in Wyatt’s arms.

Cain saw her break away from the doctor. She ran for the cell door. Yanked it open.

“Proceed.” Ah, now Wyatt sounded pissed.

Eve was rushing inside. “Get away from him!” she yelled at the guard. “Drop your weapon and just—”

The guard fired.

The bullet drove right into Cain’s heart. He heard the thud as it tunneled into him. Felt the sharp tear as it ripped through his heart. One instant of time. Two.

His gaze met Eve’s. Her eyes—so blue—widened and her lips parted in a scream he didn’t hear.

Too late. Cain was already dead.

***

Blood bloomed on Thirteen’s chest. The bullet had blasted right into him—straight into his heart.

Eve ran toward him, ignoring the gun that the guard was slowly lowering. Fucking killer. Shooting a chained man. Yeah, that was fair.

Thirteen’s legs had given way, but the chains had stopped him from crashing onto the floor. His head sagged forward, hanging limply.

Her hands slid under his jaw, and she tilted his head back. Oh, damn. His eyes were closed, his lashes casting heavy shadows on his cheeks. Her breath whispered over him. “I’m sorry.” She should have moved faster. Knocked out the guard. Done something to save this man.

Instead, she’d just watched him die.

“You need to step away from the test subject, Dr. Bradley,” Wyatt said, his voice not on the intercom, but coming from behind her.

Eve stiffened. “You just murdered a man in cold blood.” She’d never expected to discover this. Experiments were one thing. Murder was a whole damn other sin.

One that wouldn’t be forgiven.

Her fingers brushed lightly through Thirteen’s hair. She’d said she would help him.

“He’s not a man.” Wyatt sounded amused. “You know that. No humans are test subjects in this facility. Genesis only recruits paranormals.”

Fury had her shaking. “Human or supernatural…you killed him.” She glanced back at Wyatt and the guard. Both were standing a good ten feet away from her.

Wyatt shrugged. “It’s part of the experiment.”

What?

He huffed out a frustrated breath. “You really should step away. If you don’t, well, I’m sorry, but I can’t guarantee your safety.”

Insane. The doc was a mental case, and as soon as she got out of this joint, she’d blast her story loud and proud to every media outlet in the country. She’d shut down this hellhole if it was the last thing she ever did.

Sure, some folks were hesitant about the supernaturals, but no one was going to accept a killing facility. No one would—

Thirteen moved, just a bit, beneath her touch.

“Step back, Doctor Bradley.”

Was that fear in Wyatt’s voice? Eve couldn’t tell, and since she wasn’t looking at him, there was no way to read the emotion that might be on his face. Her attention was on Thirteen because…she could’ve sworn that she’d just felt him take a breath.

Impossible.

Sure, vampires could survive an assortment of attacks, but this guy was no vampire. Eve would bet her life on that. She’d seen him die. It was—

His lashes lifted. His eyes locked on her. Only his eyes weren’t black anymore. They were red, burning like flames. Burning so bright—burning, burning…

Hard hands yanked Eve back. She fell onto the floor, dragging Wyatt and the guard down with her. Their hands were on her. They were the ones pulling her away from Thirteen.

But almost instantly, Wyatt and Mitchell were back on their feet, and hauling her across the room with them.

Eve let them drag her away, but she couldn’t take her gaze off Thirteen. Smoke was rising from his body, as if he were burning from the inside. That gaze—it looked like she was staring straight into hell. A man’s eyes shouldn’t flicker with fire.

His did.

The smoke rising from his body began to thicken.

“Out!” Wyatt’s bark. The guard grabbed one of her hands. Wyatt grabbed the other. They all stumbled out into the hallway. Wyatt closed the door and quickly punched in a security code to lock the room down.

Eve memorized that code. Because what locked a man in…might just be able to let him out.

Then they all were racing back to that one-way mirror. Because it wasn’t just smoke rising from Thirteen’s body any longer. Flames were covering him.

“Oh, my God.” The stunned whisper slipped from her.

Thirteen’s head turned. Through the flames, he gazed at her.

Every muscle in her body tightened with pure terror. She’d never seen anything like this before. How? How could he be standing? He was standing now. Not on his knees any longer. Not hanging from the chains. Standing.

The flames slowly died. They’d melted his clothes away. Ash drifted around him. Thirteen stood there, naked, strong, his body absolutely perfect.

No sign of the bullet wound that had ended his life.

Only…his life hadn’t really ended, and he was still watching her.

“What is he?” Eve managed to ask.

Thirteen pulled on the chains that still bound him. Chains that had to be impervious to fire.

“I don’t know…” Wyatt told her, and there was no missing the excitement that hummed in his words, “but I’m going to find out.”

Thirteen’s gaze cut to the doctor.

He sees us. She didn’t know how, but the man who should have been dead could see right through that protective glass.

“Another successful experiment.” Wyatt turned away from the observation mirror and headed toward the corridor that led back to his office. “Tomorrow, we’ll try drowning. It will be interesting to see if the test subject’s flames burn through the water …”

Eve didn’t move. She couldn’t.

Tomorrow, we’ll try drowning.

Dr. Richard Wyatt was some kind of seriously messed-up Frankenstein scientist. She put her hand to the glass. She didn’t know what Thirteen was, but she couldn’t let Wyatt keep torturing him.

“I’ll stop him,” she whispered.

But Thirteen shook his head. Then he mouthed two simple words: I will.

***

Richard Wyatt glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Eve put her hand to the glass—as if she were trying to touch the test subject. She should have been terrified, desperate to get away after what she’d just witnessed.

The others had been.

But, no, she was still there, staring in fascination at Subject Thirteen. Just as the subject was staring back at her.

How absolutely perfect. The experiment had been even more productive than he could have hoped. This new development could open up a whole world of unexpected possibilities.

A perfect killing machine. An immortal assassin.

One that only he could control.

The experiment had been a definite success. He could hardly wait for tomorrow’s show to start.

Those flames were so beautiful. Would they burn Eve’s delicate skin? Or would Thirteen finally start to show his true strength?

For her sake, Thirteen had better hold on to his control. Because the lovely Eve wouldn’t just be an observer for tomorrow’s event.

She’d be a participant.