Monday, January 31, 2011

BEYOND MAGIC by Lizzie T. Leaf

BEYOND MAGIC - Book one in Lizzie T. Leaf's Magical Love Series.

Following the Powers directive to unite soul mates, a Scottish Cailleach's magic will have repercussions in several realms.

Mixed-blood Ian McCabe, grandson of Fae and gods tries to deny his powers. When he discovers mortal, Emma Grant unconscious at the bottom of the steps to his castle, his world starts to change.

Tour director Emma Grant's bus breaks down and her effort to find help results in a fall that knocks her unconscious.She awakens to find the man of her dreams staring into her eyes.

But will his secrets and her distrust of men tear them apart?


"Powers that be,

I ask of thee,

Show me the good,

Show me the bad,

Show me the ones,

I am to make glad."

Hands, gnarled and wrinkled, old as time itself, waved back and forth over the crystal ball. Fog obscured what moments earlier had been clear glass. As the mist dissipated, the blurred image of a man appeared.

The Cailleach gasped and her eyes widened with surprise. "Nae, it canna be."

The face came into focus and she had no doubt about one of the lovers. She knew of no one else on any realm with hair that shade of gold, streaked with fire.

He ran a hand through the top of his unruly mop. Eyes, blue as the sapphire DooNell wore around her neck, stared directly at her for a moment, before turning to the computer screen on his desk.

Still unsure of what to make of the vision, the old hag started another chant and waved her hands across the glass orb once more.

"Powers that be,

Show more to me,

Show me the one fair,

Who needs to be there."

Once again, the fog in the ball swirled, then lifted. The hag stared at the face of a female. Not the young girl she expected, but a woman seasoned by life. The Cailleach watched as the female swept a heavy mane of rich auburn hair from her neck, and stared as if she viewed the hag. A puzzled frown puckered her brow, and her sherry colored eyes darkened. The crone's heart beat a rapid tattoo until she remembered she could not be seen by the mortal.

A woman's voice called from another room, "Emma, where are you?"

"In here, Cori. How was your day?" The one DooNell now knew to be Emma pulled a piece of chocolate out of the bag by her hand and popped it in her mouth before she turned toward the door behind her. "Sure hope it was better than mine."

Through no request from the old crone, the crystal ball clouded over and the image and voices were gone. The mist cleared again and two faces, side by side, now stared from the glass, each pair of eyes reflecting their longing for something unseen.

"So be it." The Cailleach bowed her head in surrender to what the Powers required. She pulled in a deep breath before summoning the energy she needed for the task ahead.

Eyes opened wide, arms outstretched, she set the magic in motion to bring two beings together.

"Winds of the earth,

Currents of the sea,

Let these two,

Find the love,

They need to be."

Slumping back in her chair, the Cailleach sighed. She had done her part to set their discovery of love for each other into play. Now it was up to the universe to carry it forth.

Far harder would be explaining to Oberon why she had interfered in the life of his only grandchild. Neither the Faerie King, nor the entities involved from the other realms, would be happy with her over this potential new love she'd just set into motion.

"Ah, DooNell, lass. May be it, you be getting too old for this business of magical love?"

She sighed and forced her weary bones from the chair. There was much to do if the will of the Powers could succeed, and she had been given the task to make sure it did. Too many worlds were involved to leave the uniting of Emma and Ian to chance.

Chapter One

Emma Grant caught movement out of the corner of her eye as a man swooped down on her. What was she? Road-kill? The vultures had started circling shortly after the bar filled to capacity.

The placed reeked with more testosterone than a Super Bowl locker room. Unfortunately, the jocks that gravitated to her table crushed her dream of being irresistible to the opposite sex.

Yeah, like I've ever lived under that delusion.

Tonight's pull, like that of so many others, had been something else…the empty chair across the table from her.

"Say, if you're not using this chair I'll take it off your hands." A chiseled-jaw blond flashed his pearly whites at her and reached for the subject of discussion.

Fed up with the assumption the seat was empty because she wouldn't be waiting for someone, Emma glared and snarled. "Move it an inch and I'll break your arm."

"Sheesh. Keep the damn thing."

"I intend to, thank you very much."

She watched him stalk away and a small sense of satisfaction lightened her mood. That quickly dissipated with the scraping sound of the contested chair. Ready for another battle, she whirled around to face the latest "God's gift to women" only to discover the real reason she'd had to battle most of the men in the bar.

"It's about damned time you got here," Emma didn't attempt to hide her irritation as her roommate and best friend flopped into the chair across the table from her.

"Bite me." Cordellia Sparks patted her face with the tissue she pulled from her purse and flashed a snarky grin. "I had to cruise around forever to find a place to park that wasn't blocks away. It's hot as hell out there."

Being told to "bite me" didn't surprise Emma in the least. That was the favorite expression used by the bubbly blonde when something annoyed her. "No shit, Sherlock. I spent the whole afternoon out in the heat, not on my ass in a nice air conditioned office like some people I could name." Emma glared at the woman across the table, taking fiendish delight in the normally bouncy blonde curls now plastered to her friend's flushed face.

"Oh for Pete's sake, don't give me 'The Look.'" Cori preceded to finger comb her hair in an effort to unglue it from her head. "You'd think after all these years you would have realized it doesn't work on me." A shake of the damp curls and they bounced back into their normal ringlets.

Hate her, Emma decided as she watched the ease in which Cori turned a bad hair day into a cute one. Annoyed yes, Emma was still glad to see her sister of the heart finally place her rump into the chair she'd been fighting to keep empty until the persistently late woman arrived. Their first meeting in college had resulted in a connection stronger than the one she had with her real sister, which said a lot since she was a Yankee from Gettysburg, of all places. But Cori's habitual tardiness drove Emma crazy and had created several heated discussions through the years.

"I didn't give you 'The Look' as you call it. I simply pointed out you're not the only one here who feels the heat." Emma returned the glare directed at her with the comment. Cori could get her undies in a bunch if she wanted to.

The cocked eyebrow from the blonde served to spur Emma to share more of her thoughts. "I'm the one who traipsed around the city all afternoon on a walking tour for a group of testosterone-pumped teenage boys. They had more interest in ogling any female under thirty who passed, than my riveting history of Denver." Yes, she was grumpy and out of sorts, but Cori better keep her remarks about it to herself, or she'd get up and walk right out of here.

"By the way, why was it so important to meet at this meat market? Why couldn't we go home to our nice air conditioned house?" Triple digit temperatures and humidity always put Emma in a foul mood. Summer was one of the reasons she left South Carolina after graduating from college.

Denver offered a less humid option, but this year the thermometer and the blabber mouth weather people wouldn't let her escape the dog days of summer, even in the Mile High City. For cripes sake, it was only the end of May. She couldn't wait for July and August.

"Take a look around you." Cori fluffed her short do again, which only served to give more perk to curls Emma wouldn't achieve in a lifetime. "What do you see?"

"A blonde bubble head?"

And as always, a well dressed one. Too bad she's four inches shorter than me. I really like those pants. Being five feet ten eliminates most of her wardrobe for me.

She didn't need cute outfits to impress the high-class travel clientele who walked through the door of her business the way Cori did. Her current position of tour guide required comfortable shoes and loose clothes for the miles of walking the job entailed.

The remark earned Emma a scowl, so she tried again. "A crowded room?"

Cori leaned across the table. "Right, and what gender are most of the bodies in here? Male, darling. Male! This is the number one happening spot in our deliciously upscale Cherry Creek neighborhood." She sat back with a smug smile.

"Fat lot of good it does us." As much as she loved Cori, there were times when her friend thought with her head up her ass. "Look harder, blonde one. Most of the guys in here are young enough to be our sons."

"Bite your tongue my cynical friend…younger brothers is more accurate if you have to consider something as mundane as age." Cori sat back in her chair and surveyed the room. "Hey, there's an older guy at the bar."

Emma looked in the direction her friend stared and sighed. "Cori, neither of us is desperate enough to start dating guys old enough to be our grandfather."

"True." Cori smiled at the waitress who finally showed up to take their order. "Cosmopolitan for me please, and a glass of whatever sugary wine my grumpy friend is slurping, though God only knows how she can drink that crap." She flashed a grin at Emma and winked. "Anyway back to our subject."

Subject? What subject? Their conversation since Cori's arrival was more like follow the bouncing ball.

"And that would be?"

"Men-or rather our lack of them. Here we are almost forty and alone."

"Speak for yourself ancient one. I'm only thirty-eight."

A diabolical smirk curved Cori's lips. "Soon to be thirty-nine if I recall correctly. Sort of like staring down the barrel of a loaded gun as that new decade creeps up on you, isn't it?"

Emma rewarded her roommate's evil grin with a smack on the shoulder. "I can't believe I call you a friend."

"You love me and you know it." Cori rubbed the spot of Emma's blow. "So, as I was trying to tell you, I feel the tick of my biological clock."

"Tick. Hell, mine's been booming for years. Big Ben sounds soft by comparison, but I do believe my main spring has sprung." Emma drew circles with her finger on the table in front of her, unable to meet her friend's eyes.

"Sprung? Tell. What the hell do you mean by that remark?"

"I mean…" Emma paused to clear her throat, reluctant to say the words about to come from her mouth. "I think I had a hot flash today."

"No!" Cori's jaw dropped. "I hope you don't get as bitchy as my mother did when she went through the change. I love the woman dearly, but for awhile there she turned into Super Bitch."

"I'm not in the change yet. Haven't you heard of peri-menopause? I said I think I may have had a hot flash; then again, I may have overheated a little. After all, I was wearing my feet to nubs in ninety-plus degree heat in an effort to enlighten a group of teenagers on the history of our fair city. Between their attitude and the weather, who knows?" Emma regretted bringing up the subject and knew the resentment reflected in her voice. "All I know is one minute I was hot and the next, really hot."

"Did you feel your heart racing like you'd just run a hundred yard dash?"

"Well, maybe not that hard, but it did beat a little fast."

"Well, sounds like the start of menopause if you ask me." A smug little smiled paired with the twinkle in Cori's eyes. "Either that, or a hot guy walked by and I like the hot guy theory better."

"Nobody asked you. I shared my day when you asked about it." She hated it when Cori used the I-told-you-so tone.

The waitress plopped their drinks on the table and Cori rummaged in her purse and fished out several bills to pay for them. "See, this is another confirmation of what I've been trying to tell you. We both need a man."

"And how do you propose we accomplish instantly what we've not achieved in thirty-plus years in the love department?" Emma raised her eyebrow to emphasize her point. "I read something the other day. Women over thirty-five have a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married."

Emma watched her friend slide several bills to the waitress. The tip for the harried looking woman must have been a good one given the grateful smile she flashed as a thank you. Maybe she should have offered to pay for her drink, but she'd get the next round. Besides, Cori irked her with all this talk about men, a subject she tried not to think about these days. She couldn't remember the last time she got laid. Better to focus on her new career as a tour director and travel guide than non-existent sex.

Cori sipped her drink and nodded approval. An anxious expression crossed her face as she appeared to study Emma for a moment before she spoke. "Well, since things are serious for both of us in the love department-as in seriously not having any-maybe I should share something about me you don't know."

"Which is?" This should be good. She knew most of Cori's vanilla history. Raised in the perfect family with parents who adored her and a mother she still called weekly, well the whole thing was enough to put most people to sleep. But, come to think of it, Cori's mom could be pretty demanding at times, so maybe there was discord in paradise.

"I'm a witch."

"Yeah, I know you're a bitch."

"No stupid." Cori's cheeks puffed out with irritation. "Witch! As in itch with a 'w' in front of it."

"A what?" Honestly, next the ditz would tell her about the hex she put on their nosey neighbors, which wasn't a bad idea. Better yet, if she was a witch, why in hell hadn't she conjured up some men for them before now?

Witch my ass. The woman still believes Prince Charming will ride up and sweep her away someday.

"I don't recall stuttering. I said I'm a witch."

Emma couldn't decide whether to laugh or throttle the woman sitting across from her. "Cori, I love you like a sister, but sometimes you're just plain full of crap. Like right now. Next you'll tell me you ride a broom across the moon on Halloween."

Cori shot her a drop dead glare and downed the rest of her drink in one gulp, signaling the passing waitress for another. "Well, shit-a-brick. You don't have to act so high and mighty. There are things about me you don't know and this happens to be one of them."

Biting the inside of her cheek, Emma repressed a grin. The booze had started to hit her friend when the shit-a-brick comments began to flow.

Better think about food or getting home before she digresses into her other favorite drunken foul abuse verbiage.

"Yeah, and how did this magic happen? Excuse me, I mean when did you decide to become a witch?"

Cori was a cheap drunk and the second Cosmo sitting in front of her would make getting her home a fun task. Obligation prompted Emma to pay for the drink. Her tip must have been small compared to the earlier one from her friend, because Emma only received a slight smile from the server.

She turned her attention back her friend. "Maybe we should order an appetizer." She definitely needed to get food into Cori.

Waving away Emma's suggestion, Cori continued with her explanation. "Heredity. You don't decide to become a witch with real powers when it's in your bloodline, one only needs to work to develop their natural powers."

The little burp emitted at the end of this declaration took away from the intended seriousness Emma knew the statement meant to convey.

"I know both your parents, and your mother doesn't come across as a witch. Hell, most of the time she's not even a bitch. And when your father was alive, he was one of the sweetest guys ever." Emma still mourned his loss along with Cori.

"You don't know the full story." Cori waved her hands to emphasize the point, and bumped her glass. Part of her drink sloshed on the table and onto her fingers. "Fuck-a-duck. Oh well, waste not, want not." She licked the liquid from her hand.

Uh-oh, we're to the talking with hands and fucking feathered friends level. I should have insisted we order food.

"Mom is no witch and Dad wasn't my real father. He was the second husband."

Emma choked down a giggle as Cori leaned back in her chair and attempted to focus her eyes. When it appeared she was unable to accomplish the feat, Cori shrugged her shoulders and continued her tale.

"The first, the one who sired me is a warlock. He and Mom split when I was around three. She didn't want him to teach me the craft so she booted his ass out."

"Oh." Stunned at the news, Emma could think of no other comment.

"Pops and I reconnected when I got older, but not too often since neither of us wanted Mother to find out and raise hell. He's some mucky-muck on the witches' high council and frankly, I think I embarrass him since I don't practice magic." Cori leaned forward. "But, with our love lives in such a depressed state, I may have to reconsider brushing up on the family craft. What do you think?"

Distracted by her cell's vibrating dance across the small table, relief surged through Emma as she managed to catch the phone before it bounced to the floor to partake in a germ fest.

"Hello." She placed a hand over one ear in an attempt to block some of the noise around her. Upscale or not, all bars had at least one thing in common…the more alcohol consumed the louder the volume became. "Could you speak up, it's pretty noisy in here." Still unable to hear above the roar, Emma retreated to the hallway outside the ladies room where the background noise became a hum.

"Sorry, who did you say you're with?" When the caller said Simple Tours, she almost dropped the phone. She'd submitted a resume to them months ago and never heard back. Several comments from the caller, who identified herself as Jane, told Emma the she had the information in front of her. The next question had Emma's heart pounding.

"Scotland? Sure I can lead an extended tour around the country. I'm sure I can rearrange my schedule."

She answered a few more questions then grabbed for the pen she'd stuck in her pants pocket earlier. She used it to jot down on her wrist the number Jane gave, then promised to call her tomorrow to confirm the tour after she looked at her calendar.

Come hell or high water I'll make this opportunity work.

Emma snapped her phone closed and headed back to the table, still in shock from the call.

Holy crap!

Her wish for a job assignment had been granted, but not for some airport "meet and greet" or rinky-dink coach tour around Denver. Still unable to believe the news, she sat down and turned to face a curious Cori. "You'll never believe this. Simple Tours asked if I want to lead a tour for them."

"Wonderful." Cori leaned over and attempted a quick hug. Emma settled the tipsy blonde back into the chair, grateful she hadn't fallen out.

"I told you they'd call. Out of all the land tours I book, theirs are the ones I get the best feedback on." This endorsement of the group was followed by a burp any guy would envy. "Where is the tour going and when do you leave?"

"Scotland. Two weeks from tomorrow." Emma fished in her purse for the small notepad she carried and transferred the phone number written on her wrist.

Cori's face fell. "Scotland. That's one of my dream trips and I'm too frigging busy to clear my calendar that soon. Damn, wish I could go with you so we both could have a Scottish fling." A smiled played across her lips as she dreamily stared into space. "I love men in kilts."

Emma raised her eyebrows and grinned. "Why don't you use magic to clear your schedule?"


The waitress plunked another round of drinks on the table before Emma had time to take offense.

"From the gentlemen in the corner." The harried server pointed to a table of four men in various stages of pudgy, jowly and balding that grinned and waved. The waitress leaned in as she cleared the empty glasses from their table. "I prefer my man out of his kilt." A lewd wink over her shoulder as she swung her hips through the crowd left no doubt what she meant.

Emma groaned when two of the men from the table identified as their new patrons made their way toward them. "Let's get out of here." She shoved back from the table and grabbed her bag.

Cori attempted to stand, but couldn't manage the coordinated movement of rising from the chair and turning. "Oh fuck-a-duck." She blinked and grinned as her rear teetered on the edge of her seat.

"God, you're such a potty mouth when you're drunk." Emma glanced over and mentally prepared herself as the duo of bald and balder swooped down on them. "See what you've done Miss Hot Pants." Right now, the thought of a Scot in or out of his kilt seemed like a better option than the guys moving in on them at fighter plane speed.

* ~ * ~ *

"Morgana, would you please stop shuffling through my papers. I have them laid out in a special order." Ian grabbed the stack from her hands before the small Faerie went into one of her famous tantrums at being told not do something.

"Ian, why do you spend so much time with that infernal device?" She pointed toward his hard drive and he reached for her finger to direct it toward a safer object. The last thing he needed was a computer crash. Her little rosebud mouth went into a pout. "You could be having more fun doing something with me than shut away in this stuffy old room."

Ian stifled a groan. Why in hell did she show up so frequently to create havoc, if life in the castle bored her? "Maybe you should stay in the Realm if you find things here not to your liking." Oops, probably not a good remark to say out loud. He saw the angry sparkle in her dark eyes and braced for an explosion.

"Excuse me, Your Highness." Helmond, Ian's butler, stuck his head around the door before he stepped further into the room. "You have a phone call."

"Thank you, Helmond. I'll take it in here." Ian sat down in his desk chair and Morgana draped herself over the back then started to run her fingers through his hair.

Helmond cleared his throat. "Sire, I do believe this is a business phone call." The stocky elf glared at Morgana.

She puckered her mouth in displeasure, but Helmond's steely glare held steady. Ian bit back a smile. The two were always in a battle of wills that the determined butler usually won over the mischievous Faerie.

"Oh, very well. I have better things to do anyway than hang around this drafty old castle." She planted a kiss on the top of Ian's head. "See you later." In the blink of an eye, she was gone.

"Sire, you really must talk with your grandfather about Morgana spending so much time here. Her mischief with the household staff is creating discord. They become very skittish when they even suspect she's around."

"I'll take your suggestion under consideration, Helmond. Though one would think with the various godly blood from my father and Fae from my mother, I could keep one female Faerie under control without the aid of my elders." Ian shook his head in disbelief. Or could he? When it came to Morgana, maybe the butler had a point. Oberon, the Faerie King was the only one she listened to. "I don't understand why she spends so much time here, when she contends the Faerie Realm is more fun."

Helmond rolled his eyes. "Surely you jest, Sire. The little midge has a crush on you."

"Oh, I see." The thought hadn't occurred to him. "To me, she's a pesky little sister." Ian closed his eyes and attempted to envision the relationship Helmond hinted Morgana wanted. Nope, his mind refused to go there. Only brotherly concern emerged. He shrugged and considered the subject closed. "Guess I'd better get back to work."

"Your call, Sire." Helmond nodded toward the cordless phone on Ian's desk.

"Oh, there really is a phone call? I thought you used the excuse as a ruse to get rid of Morgana."

The butler adjusted his tie and smoothed down his frock coat. "I do believe it is Mr. Brian."

"Thank you Helmond." A prickling of the hairs across the back of his neck as he reached for the phone alerted Ian the caller had an ulterior motive for the call. "Ian, here."

"Ian. How the hell are you old man? I've held so long I'm on the verge of dying of old age."

He chuckled at the sound of his agent's voice. "Sorry about that, my friend." The chills intensified, spreading across his shoulders. Brian was checking up on him. Probably had a call from the new editor on when the next book of Celtic folklore would be available from Ian Nordic.

"So tell me, Brian. To what do I owe this honor?"

Like I don't know.

"Had a shout from that new editor in New York, you know, Susan Brown, the one who took over for Marge. She's wondering when to expect the next book?"

Surprise, surprise.

Damn, he hated to break in a new editor. He'd had Marge trained on his work habits. Why in hell did these people have to retire? "Brian, did you tell her to back off? Bloody hell, she got the edits back on Faerie Dreams early. I've barely started the new book and she will get it when I've completed it to my satisfaction."

"Care to share any insight on what it's about with your agent and best friend, old chap?"

"Brian, you know I'll tell you when I complete the first draft. That's the way I work, and after all these years I'd think you'd have figured it out."

The agent's sigh came through loud and clear. "I know. You've always been an odd duck, even back in our school days, but since you moved back to that god forsaken castle in the middle of nowhere, you're becoming down right strange."

Ian let his silence speak. They had been roommates when he went to boarding school in the mortal world. Their friendship continued after graduation and Brian knew him well enough that the lack of comment would tell the agent he'd overstepped their preset boundaries.

"Okay, okay. You're right. But thought it best to make you aware the vultures are circling. This woman is rather aggressive."

There was more to Brian's call than to ask about the current book. Ian could sense his friend's stress. "Come on, out with it. What are you not asking or telling me?" He could almost see the man at the other end squirm in his chair.

"Well." Brian cleared his throat and started over. "It seems this new editor thinks it would be a good idea if you did a book tour. Your fans are really foaming at the mouth to get sight of you."

"No." Book tours were not on his agenda and Brian knew it.

"Right. Well, that's what I told her, but you know how pushy some of these American broads can be. I finally said I'd ask, but warned her not to expect the results she wants since you're about the most reclusive s.o.b. I know."

The sound of shuffling papers came across the line as clear as if Ian had moved the ones on his desk. A vision of Brian's cluttered desk flashed before Ian's eyes.

"Just checking in with you, my friend. Wanted to keep you up to date on what's happening in the world of publishing for Ian Nordic. So, guess we'll talk later."

Ian laid down the phone and grinned. Most of Brian's teenage years had been spent in England when his father was the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. His almost English accent peppered with American terms and slang delighted Ian.

Still, there was no way would he do a book tour, even to please his friend. Let the public eat up his books the publisher pitched as Celtic folklore. He turned back to the blinking screen, clicked on save and closed down the computer.

It was time to play Laird of the Manor and show his face around in the community. That was as close to being recognized by people as he wanted to get.

If the world found out the truth about Ian Nordic, Ian McCabe could kiss his peaceful life goodbye.


Sunday, January 30, 2011


FIRST AND LAST The Magical Sword - Book Four by Stacey Kennedy

One woman, one bond, one final battle ... can even Nexi Jones defeat the deepest darkness of evil?

Meet Nexi Jones - Witch, Guardian and now, Lady of the Underworld. Embracing her new role, Nexi begins the task of changing a world led by darkness. But not everyone is happy to see her rise to power. Before long, a resistance within the Underworld is forming.

As the darkness begins to close in around her, Nexi's magical abilities flourish in response - forcing Nexi to dig down deeper into her past to discover this source and why she was gifted with such incredible strength.

With her Guardian, Kyden by her side, Nexi will meet her greatest challenge yet as she begins to discover that fate might have been a bitch, but she was a bitch with a plan.

Chapter One

Nothing could have prepared me for what faced me now--nothing at all.

Magnus, my destined mate, was dead, by my own hand. Since Magnus and I had completed the bonding ceremony, the role of Ruler over the Underworld had now landed in my lap.

Oh yes, it’s unbelievable. I’m now the Lady of the Underworld. Coming to terms with such insanity, my body reciprocated with full out laughter.

No one said a word. The demons, witches, and warlocks that filled the room all studied me. Some of them laughed a couple times. Others just looked royally pissed.

“Ahh...” I finally managed after my laughter ceased and my breath returned. “Wow, that’s funny.”

Kyden brushed the hair back from my face, his touch gentle and loving. I glanced up and saw my hunky Guardian--his typically strong features soft with relief and dazzling green eyes more than amused by my fit. As his gaze held strong with mine, the memory of all that had taken place hit quickly. For the first time since this whole bizarre situation started, all the emotions I should have felt slammed into me, and my breath caught in my throat.

You see, while Magnus was here and our bond held strong, all I could feel was anger, and my love for Kyden had vanished. Now that Magnus’ hold was gone, it took all of a second before those tears of laughter became ones of sadness.

I let out a scream that echoed the pain in my heart and did nothing to hold back the tears that began to fall.

Misa rushed forward, grasped my arm tight. “My Lady, are you all right?” Her all-American girl look was troubled indeed, but don’t be fooled--she’s a demon.

Kyden gathered me up into his arms as I sobbed heavier than I had in my entire life. Sobbed that I almost lost him and everything that mattered, but mainly because I’d betrayed him. Not only had I slept with Magnus in the dreaming, but Kyden had seen me want him. Had seen me kiss him and witnessed my undying love for Magnus.

I couldn’t even look him in the eye.

Zia, Master of Witches and one of the four master supernaturals who governed the Otherworld, knelt down beside me. Her long strawberry blond locks brushed against my arm. “You have nothing to be shameful of, Nexi. A soul bond is not one by choice.” She gave a firm look that I’d expect to see from someone who was as close to me as a mother. “Do I need to slap you to make you see reason?” She made it a habit to smack some sense into me if I couldn’t see it--regularly.

I glanced up at her, momentarily eased by the distraction of receiving a blow from her. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

Kyden let out a long deep breath, which I only heard, since I refused to look at him. How could I? After all that happened, how could he still love me? He stood with me in his arms, said nothing to the others and quickly left the auditorium.

When he reached a large Maple tree, he sat beneath it, cradled me in his arms, and took my chin in his hand to force my gaze to his. “We’re going to sort this out now. I won’t have you feeling shame or guilt. So, tell me, Álainn, what troubles you?”

Álainn, Gaelic for beautiful--normally hearing him use the pet name he gave to me sent waves of love straight to my soul, but now all I felt was empty. “I slept with him. We were bonded. Oh my God, Kyden, I’ve betrayed you.”

His grip on my chin tightened, his eyes bore into mine with such intensity it captured my already shallow breath. “You think I give a fuck about Magnus and his attempt to lure you?”

“How can you not?” My voice squeaked, tears streamed down my cheeks. “How can you forgive me?”

He brushed his fingers along my cheek to wipe away the tears. “There’s nothing to forgive you for.” His voice gentle and so unlike Kyden. “I don’t doubt for a moment where your heart lies. Besides, he took you in the dreaming--it wasn’t flesh on flesh. And what happened in there,” he nodded back to the auditorium, “is to be expected. His bond had taken you. The fact that you had the ability to deny it and destroy Magnus in life itself is enough. But I know you. The real you--the Nexi Jones that stole my heart would never have considered another.”


He put his finger on my lips to quiet my words. “No. I told you, there’s nothing that needs to be forgiven.” He sighed again, even deeper. “All that matters is that I still have you.”

Tears still streamed down my face as I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him as tight as I could. “I love you, Kyden.”

“As I do you,” he whispered against my ear.

We stayed that way for a while, just holding onto each other. Sure, my heart still felt heavy, but something else filled my thoughts. I backed away to meet his gaze. “You almost died.” I could barely even say the words, unable to think of what could have been.

“But I didn’t.” His gaze was unwavering. “This is the last conversation you and I will have on this subject. We have been granted the right to be together again and we won’t waste it. We won’t worry about what has happened or took place, only focus on each other and our future. Am I understood?”

I nodded, understood his words perfectly and sank against his chest as he wrapped me in his strong protective hold. This was the last time we would ever talk of Magnus, and what took place, because he didn’t matter--what happened didn’t matter. All that mattered was us, our love and life--no matter how strange it was about to become.

We stayed like that for a while, hugging each other, never letting go. Never again would we be apart and I relished in the love I felt in his embrace.

After my tears finished, Kyden leaned back and smiled down at me. “We need to get back. You have a world to rule.”

His gaze was amused. It was a great restraint on his part that he wasn’t doing a serious belly laugh. I gave his arm a good smack. “It’s not funny. This is insane. What are they thinking? I can’t rule them.”

He stood with me still in his arms, then placed me on my feet, took my hand and squeezed it tight. “It’s a peculiar situation for sure, but one you can’t deny. So, best we just go face this and see what they want from you.”

“Just when I think I can’t take anymore, life only seems to get harder. You know, I’m thinking your whole idea about leaving the Otherworld doesn’t sound all that bad right now.”

He cupped my cheek, ran his thumb over my bottom lip. “I’m afraid, Álainn, that isn’t a choice anymore. Don’t worry, I’ll be with you. We’ll get through this together.”

I leaned into his hand and smiled. At least, I had that. He would be beside me through anything. With him, I had everything.

Hand in hand, he led me back toward the auditorium. When I entered, everyone stood and bowed. I snorted, thoroughly annoyed. “Oh, please.”

Kyden chuckled.

“Are you okay?” Zia inquired.

I loved the telepathic communication we shared as Spirit Witches, especially in times like these, when others didn’t need to hear.

“Better. But what the hell, is this for real? Do they really think I’m going to lead them?”

Her smile was more than amused, it bordered on hilarity. “I’m not sure what they expect of you, but it seems as though Azar and Misa must have a plan since they assisted you against Magnus. Be kind to them, Nexi. They gave you a great gift by helping you.”

“I know you’re right, but Zia, I can’t do this. I. Don’t. Want. To. Do. This.”

“There are steps for you to appoint a new leader, but right now, we need to learn more of this world. You cannot appoint someone who you know nothing about. Think of the consequences. Let’s just take this one step at a time, all right?”

Just then, Misa approached me and bowed. “My Lady...”

“Nexi,” I interjected before she continued. “My name is Nexi.”

“Okay then.” She smiled. “Lady Nexi.”

“No, drop the Lady, just plain old Nexi.”

Misa looked around completely confused. “You’re asking me to call you only Nexi?”

“That’s right.” I glanced around the room to all the Underworld creatures. “All of you. My name is Nexi. That’s it! Got it?” Everyone in the room exchanged a confused glance. The sight of it made me laugh. “And none of this bowing stuff. It’s quite ridiculous.” Their befuddled expressions shifted to complete bewilderment. I had the real feeling that I was asking for the impossible.

To hell with it, I had other matters to attend to. My gaze fell upon Azar. A warlock who looked just as one would expect--scruffy with long white hair and dark eyes that exuded power.

I released Kyden’s hand and stepped toward him. As I reached him, he bowed. I touched his arm, drawing his gaze back to mine. “Why did you help me?” He’d withdrawn the hold Magnus had on me. Without his help, it wouldn’t have turned out this way. I would have been lost to the darkness forever.

He held his hand out, an offering for me to read his thoughts. Just a neat trick the Spirit Element gives to me. I took his hand without hesitation and opened myself up to him so that I could get a grasp on what this was all about.

In an instant, visions flashed through my mind and I recognized the first one immediately. I’d seen this memory in Misa’s mind at the beginning of this mess. At the time, though, she’d pulled away so I couldn’t see more. Now, it became clear.

Azar and Misa wanted to change the path of their world, protect and make it different--better. But Magnus was set in his ways. Yes, they could have defeated him, but then Pye would have taken his place. This would have been worse. So, that’s where I came in.

Misa planted the idea into Magnus’ head to have Pye destroyed. Then, with him out of the way, they put the plan into motion to destroy Magnus. They believed I had all the qualities of a supreme leader and no longer wanted to live in the realm of evil. They would have stopped Magnus’ hold over me earlier if they hadn’t needed me to bond to him first. It guaranteed that I was next in line to rule.

The visions stopped and I released Azar’s hand. Stunned, shocked--I was speechless.

Kyden stroked my arm in a soft touch. “All right?”

I glanced at him. Still unable to speak. This was all very serious, but to be truthful, I had no idea what to say. Off all the things that I thought this might be about, this had never once crossed my mind.

They chose me to lead. Me.

“Nexi, you have to say something.” Zia’s voice filled my mind.

I glanced at her. She gave me a nod of encouragement, to say whatever needed to be said, but still I couldn’t. I seriously drew a blank. I’d never been without words before or so completely dumbfounded.

Misa cleared her throat, broke the silence. “Um...Lady...I mean to say, Nexi, needs some time to process. Let’s give it to her.”

Just like that, every warlock, demon, and witch stood in unison and left the auditorium. All that remained were Misa, Azar, Zia, Talon, and Kyden.

When the final Supe left the room and the door closed, Zia ran to me, hugged me with every ounce of her strength. “I didn’t think it was going to turn out this way.” Her voice hitched. “I love you, Sweetie.”

Still, I stood speechless.

Zia leaned back, then glanced worriedly at Talon. The Master of Guardians, and Kyden’s father, had just released his son from a tight embrace. He looked a lot like him--had the whole ‘slay my dragon’ thing going on. “I think she’s in shock,” she said.

“Help her.”

Zia glanced back to me, kept her hold tight on my arms, and released her magic. A rush of ease filled me.

I exhaled deeply, then gave my head a shake. It relaxed me enough to ground myself again, but I was still unbelievably shocked. Clearly, Zia didn’t want to take away the sense of what was going on here, knew I needed it to make good decisions, but took the edge off.

“So...” I hesitated. Everyone looked at me, waited for me to continue. “You do know that I’m a White Witch?”

Misa nodded, a sweet smile spread across her face. “Yes, we know.”

“And you do know I won’t accept Black Magic, right?”

“Why do you think I didn’t allow you to accept it after the bonding ceremony? We don’t want you to change.” Azar smiled.

Now it made sense. At the time, he suggested that Magnus and I wait until we were alone for me to accept Black Magic. With all types of sultry promise, Magnus had agreed. A deep shudder erupted within me as I remembered the way he looked at me then, the way I felt and wanted him. Just yuck!

I shifted my focus away from thoughts along that line and got back to business. “Why?”

“We like how you are,” Misa responded.

I gave my head a shake, tried to understand all this, but nothing seemed to make sense. “I’m so confused.” I gave my temples a good, hard rub.

Misa laughed. “What’s there to understand? I told you repeatedly that we’re not what you think we are. Yes, we’re demons and must siphon souls to feed our world and our magic, but we disagree with our past leaders. We don’t want innocent souls taken.”

I had to laugh at the idea of such insanity. “You’re good evil guys?”

“Makes you like us, right?”

I did remember when she’d told me this awhile back but I thought she was totally nuts. The truth was, now, I did like her. Demons are the pure essence of evil and she denied her very own soul to live in kindness. That definitely put her on the side of the good guys. Still, none of this made any sense.

“Honestly, why have you chosen me? There were lots of powerful witches and warlocks here tonight. You could have picked any of them.”

Misa’s smile was shrewd. “Not as powerful as you. With you leading, it puts us in a position of great safety. No one can go up against you, which will keep our world and our wants, protected.”

Before I could process that, Zia said, “She’s right, Nexi. You’ve grown undeniably strong. You shielded Kyden against Magic--used your shield on another. I still don’t believe it.”

My magic always did seem to be stronger with emotional motivation behind it so it really didn’t surprised me anymore that my powers exploded when I needed them most. Besides, my mind just couldn’t break away from how insane this all was. “But I have no experience with leading anything. I’m only twenty-four years old for gosh sakes. I can’t do this.”

Azar placed a hand on my shoulder, his smile kind. “You were born to do this and we’ll be here to guide you.”

I waited a good ten breaths as I let my mind process the situation. It wasn’t going to go away and would happen whether I liked it or not. So, as they say, better face the music and find out exactly what they wanted from me. “Lay it on me then, what do I have to do?”

“First, we need to establish rules that your minions must adhere to.” Misa informed.

Suddenly, a horrific thought came to mind. “I don’t have to live here, do I?”

“You are the Ruler of the Underworld. You can do whatever you like--the rules are yours to make.”

My gaze met Kyden’s, relief palpable in my tone. “Well, that’s a bit of good news.”


“You can assign yourself minions to handle your daily duties, and to look after the world for you, if you don’t wish to live among us.” Misa continued.

Okay, easy decision. “I appoint you.”

“Me?” Misa gasped.

“Well yeah, you seem to know lots. You’ll do fine.” Better than I could do, and oddly, I trusted her. Yeah, I trusted a demon, never thought I’d see the day.

She started to bow, but I grabbed her arm quickly. “Please don’t. That’s just too weird.”

“As you wish, my...” she stopped herself and smiled. “Nexi.”

I smiled in return. Whoever guessed that I’d find a friend in Misa? I would never have thought it possible. Friends come from unusual places, and I couldn’t deny that when I looked at Misa, all I saw was a friend.

“We’ll be in nightly contact with you about situations that arise and matters you must deal with. It’d be my pleasure to act as your Siren to assist you and deal with most of the trouble without you. The role is normally given to a witch, but times have changed now, haven’t they?” Azar cut in.

“Great.” Maybe my involvement wouldn’t be as much as I thought. These two seemed to know what the hell they were doing. “So, you’ll only come to me if something really serious comes up?”

“As Siren, I’ll deal with anyone who goes against the laws you put forth. We’ll detain them here. Then, weekly you’ll need to come so they can stand before you.”

I sighed loud and proud. There went my whole plan to let everyone else handle it thing for me. “All right, got all that, so what do we do now?”

“We need to bring everyone back in so you can set in place the new rules.” Misa stated.

My gaze hit on every face here. “Er...I hope you are all going to help me with this?” I was glad to get a nod from each of them in return.

Half an hour later, we had rules to set the Underworld to rights. The crowd piled back into the auditorium and took their seats. Misa gave me a quick nod to begin.

“Here goes.” I said to Kyden, who gave my hand a squeeze before letting go. Nerves rattled me. Public speaking was never my strong suit. So, I made it quick.

“Rule one: No more taking innocent souls. Anyone who does will face destruction. Understood?” Every head nodded so I continued. “Only humans who have done something wrong, murder, rape, you know that kind of stuff. Those souls you can drain, and do whatever you want with, but that’s it.”

When a Demon drained a soul, it didn’t actually kill them, just weakened their life force--took a few years off. If they ruined lives, who cared that they’d die a little early. I sure didn’t.

“Rule two: If a human asks for something in return for giving his soul,” Which was how the majority of the souls were taken--given freely in exchange for something. “You cannot do anything evil. Got it? No hurting others, stealing, murder, anything that falls into those categories.”

I continued for what seemed like hours, until my mouth ran dry from talking. The rules were simple ones, we weren’t able to change the way of the Underworld, but we could run it along the same lines of the Otherworld. With the only difference being, I was the Council. What a big joke, right?

“I have put Misa in charge. So, anything needs to go through her.” Everyone nodded again. “Azar will now be my Siren. If there is trouble, go to him, and he’ll sort it out.” With that all said and done, I looked toward Azar. “You need to choose your...” I hesitated, searched for the right word, “...guard.”

Azar leaned in, his voice low. “Sorry, that’s your job. We’ll arrange for a challenge for you to choose who defends you.”

“Oh. Well, okay. We can do that.” I had no idea what I was doing and really hoped I didn’t look as ridiculous as I felt.

“Is that all then, Lady...I mean to say, Nexi?” Misa asked.

“Yes, that’ll do.” I glanced around the room and looked upon a few faces before me. “I guess I should probably thank you all. If it wasn’t for your support, things would’ve turned out very different.”

When Magnus called out for help, no one had given him aid. A couple of firm nods acknowledged me, but that was about it. I glanced back at Misa who smiled at me. “I guess that’s it, so can I go now?”

“You do not need to ask my permission,” she replied softly.

“Okay.” I walked back to Kyden and grabbed his hand. “Let’s go then.”

Everyone in the auditorium stood and bowed as Kyden and I walked, Zia and Talon followed. “Stop doing that.”

No one listened.

Zia chuckled and stepped alongside me. “Better get used to it, Lady Nexi.”

I scowled at her. “This is so not funny. I’m just glad I don’t have to really do anything. Anyways, it sounds like they want most of the things we do, so that’s good right?”

“We’re entering a new time. I never thought I would live to see the day when the Underworld joined the Otherworld in its endeavors.”

“Or that I’d be running it.” I had to laugh at the craziness of it.

“We always knew you were special. Drake and Tryianna would be proud of what you’ve become. Their daughter, the Ruler of the Underworld.” She laughed quietly. “They’d never have believed it.”

“Will you think...” I searched for words.

She took my hand and smiled. “You’ll do fine. Not to worry, Sweetie, we’ll assist you. You won’t be alone in this.”

The second we reached the bottom of the hill, Kyden squeezed my hand while Zia did the same to the other in preparation for the coming teleportation. That’s how the portal works. Wherever you come in, you only need to go back to that same place and think of home.

A moment later, it hit. My breath sucked into my body as my eyes closed for the force of it. When the air quieted and I could breathe again, I opened my eyes, glad to be back in the Council’s Foyer. The portal belonged in the Otherworld, and was a thick wooden door that sat in a room better described as Kings Chamber than a Foyer. I never could understand why they called it that.

My gaze immediately landed on Kyden’s. “Home, sweet home.”

He smiled, wrapped his arm around my waist and opened his mouth to speak but I put a hand up to silence him.

“I have been a mess. Do you know what you’ve done to me?” Willow’s annoyed voice rang through my mind.

My familiar had probably been in hell these last few hours. As my protector, we’re always connected in mind, therefore, she would have known everything that happened through my eyes. It’s the way she could sense if I was in danger and protect me. However, since she was unable to enter the Underworld, she couldn’t do anything about it. It must have been hard.

I picked her up and snuggled my face into her black fur. “I’m sorry, Willow. You must have had a rough go of things.” My tone came out sarcastic, but I could tell from her purr that she knew how happy I was to be back here with her. She felt whatever I did.

As I placed Willow back on her paws, another person I loved came to my mind. She would have gone through hell these past couple of nights too.

“Haven.” My soul-sister, the equivalent to a soul-mate, but without the romantic junk. We are sisters destined to be together and can sense what the other feels. Usually, it annoyed me that I couldn’t feel anything without her coming to investigate, but right now, all I knew was that I needed her. “Where is she?” I asked Zia.

“Finn took her home to sleep,” Zia answered. “I’ll come with you and we’ll wake her.”

“I’ll go and inform the others of what has taken place.” Talon said, as he leaned in and kissed my cheek. He glowed with happiness. He hadn’t lost his son, and I could tell from the look in his eye that he was just as happy not to lose his daughter. Warm fuzzies spread through me.

With Talon on his way into the Council’s Hall, Kyden kept my hand tight in his as we walked toward the Witches House located at the east side of the castle. It was a blessing that it is not too far from the Guardians House since the Gothic castle was big enough to get lost in--it’d happened on numerous occasions in fact.

The entrance to the Witches House was marked with the word Witch etched into the stone wall. Suddenly, urgency ripped through me. The memory of her in pain, how cold I was to her, overtook my thoughts. I needed to get to her.

I released Kyden’s hand and ran for Haven’s door. Luckily, it was only a few doors down. Once there, I grabbed the handle and flung it open to find Finn sitting on the couch, his head in his hands.

His gaze immediately snapped up and he was off the couch in a second flat. His slender muscled body tightened tremendously as this surfer babe’s expression shifted to confusion. “Nexi?” Kyden stepped in next to me and leaned against the doorway. Finn looked like he saw a ghost. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. “Kyden,” he whispered.

“Yes, you fool.” Kyden laughed.

Finn ran at full speed toward us and lunged himself at Kyden. The second they thudded to the ground, he started laughing. “I expected to float right through you.”

Kyden chuckled along with him. “Mind getting off?”

Finn jumped up, reached his hand out for Kyden. He took it, hopped to his feet and embraced him in a tight man-hug. The two would never use words to say just how glad they were to see each other. Male pride and all, but I could see it written all over their expressions.

He released Kyden and latched onto me with a hug. “What happened?” he asked, backing away from me and glancing between Kyden and I.

“Let’s wake Haven first,” I said and moved into the living room. “I don’t want to have to repeat it.”

I headed past the kitchen and into the bedroom. When I entered, Haven looked so peaceful as she slept on the bed. I sat down next to her and took her hand. She is a ray of sunshine, and it never left her even when asleep. She practically glowed. Her bouncy brown curls lay across the pillow and cradled her sweet face. Zia sat on the other side, and ran her hand along Haven’s head.

Instantly, Haven’s big blue eyes fluttered open and her gaze met mine. “Nexi.”

“Yes, Haven. It’s me.” Tears filled my eyes as I squeezed her hand. We were home and safe.

Seconds later, Haven jumped to her feet, glanced at everyone in the room, then fainted. Finn lunged for her and scooped her up. “Well, that wasn’t the reaction I expected.” I laughed.

Zia chuckled along with me, stood and approached Haven. She rested her hand on Haven’s cheek and immediately woke her.

“You are all right? Kyden is alive? You’re back?” She rambled on.

I laughed, patted the bed for her to sit with me. “Okay, take a deep breath, and let me tell you what happened.”

By the end, Haven sat with her mouth wide open. Finn looked equally shocked.

“You’re the Ruler of the Underworld?” Haven whispered, disbelief clear in her tone.

I nodded. It was all I could do; worried she wouldn’t be pleased with the news.

Haven blinked twice, then burst out laughing, as did Finn. Kyden and I joined in.

“Just when I think it can’t get any worse, something always proves me wrong.” I sighed and wiped tears from my eyes.

Haven wiped her own and took a deep breath to gather herself. “It’s not so bad. You said it yourself--you don’t really have to do anything.”

“I guess.” I shrugged a little. “It’s just so bizarre. I never thought I would be grateful to a bunch of demons.”

Haven giggled. “Me neither.” Suddenly, a curious look came upon her face. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, I feel fine. Why?”

“Then we have somewhere to go.” She smiled.

“I’m not going anywhere. I only just got back.” I jumped off the bed and moved next to Kyden. He wrapped an arm around my shoulder and lightly ran his fingers across my skin.

Haven stomped her foot, her lips pursed in a pout. “But I have something planned for you.”

“How have you had time to plan anything?”

“Well...” She smiled sneakily. “It was something I planned a week ago and since all is well now, we should continue on with the plans, don’t ya think?”

“Plans for what?” I asked, hesitantly. I’d become suspicious, who can really blame me? Haven had a knack for doing the unexpected.

Kyden leaned down and whispered in my ear. “Have you forgotten what tomorrow night is?”

I met his eyes, trying to think. Tomorrow. What was happening tomorrow? Then, it hit me like a smack in the face. “Our bonding ceremony?”

He smiled, brushed his fingers across my cheek. “I’m glad you haven’t forgotten.”

Haven watched me impatiently to give her the acknowledgement she sought. As much as I wanted to stay with Kyden and never leave his side again, we had agreed that this wouldn’t rule us. This situation was over and I needed to treat it as such.

As the acceptance settled in, I noticed the mischievous look in Haven’s gaze. “What have you planned?”

She wriggled her brows. “You’ll see.”

Oh for Christ Sakes! This was going to be bad.


Saturday, January 29, 2011



Could letting go of her inhibitions change her future?

Julie works to pleasure others. As a sex phone hotline operator, it’s her job, not her joy.

She’s tired of living without pleasure or happiness in her life. Acting on impulse, she decides to venture beyond the familiar and partake in her deepest darkest fantasy, one which requires the skill and patience of two rugged and rogue rangers.

Can Julie stop hiding and learn to accept this wilder, more wanton facet of herself? Can letting go set her free from the regrets of past mistakes and guide her to a more prosperous future?


The Park Rangers by Eve Knight
Welcome to the Pleasure Club

Dear Ms. Julie Channing,

We’re pleased to welcome you to The Pleasure Club.

As you have already signed and returned the contract and filled out all the necessary forms to ensure you receive your every wish, we will be in touch with you shortly with the details of your first Pleasure Night. Your Wish List and Pleasure Forms have been turned over to our staff of highly trained Pleasure Guardians, and they are hard at work finding your perfect match.

We will endeavor to meet your personal fantasy.

When you are contacted again, you will be given a location where your Pleasure Night will begin, and you will also be given a safe word to use should you at any time become uncomfortable. There is no shame in changing your mind. We’re here for your pleasure, and should your safe word be used, your match for the evening will cease all activity, and the game will be put on hold until a mutual agreement between you and your Pleasure Masters can be reached.

Once again, welcome to The Pleasure Club. Please feel free to contact the office at any time should you have any questions.

Yours truly,

The Pleasure Club Management

* * * * *


Your Pleasure Night will begin Monday, the twentieth, at Everglades National Park around three p.m. Please find enclosed a map of the park with the necessary parking area and hiking paths highlighted for your convenience. To fully meet your request, we ask that you not deviate from what we’ve specified.

Also included is a cell phone number. If, for any reason, you encounter difficulties parking or while en route to meet your pleasure masters, the person on the other end will assist you. For extra safety, we will have spotters on the ground observing your arrival until you meet up with your pleasure masters. The safety of everyone involved in your pleasure night is of the utmost importance to us here at the club.

Your safe word is contraband.


The Pleasure Guardians

* * * * *

Waves of heat rose up from the blistering ground. It baked the soles of my hiking boots, and sucked the sweat from my pores to soak through my top and worn jeans. Sticky humidity weighted my every breath, engulfing me in its inferno.

To many, this was hell in the middle of July. Summer brought torrents of rain, and severe lightning that set fire to the pines and scattered wildlife.

But to me, it was heaven.

Bordered on all sides by wet prairies, the Pinelands boasted large, dense groves of sabal palm, saw palmetto, and Dade County Pine.

A slight, rain-scented breeze laced with smoke ruffled the hair at the nape of my neck, providing me some respite from the heat. Lightning arced through the trees, and the accompanying rumble of thunder followed seconds later. I progressed down the twenty-two mile long Old Ingraham Highway, passing a cluster of West Indian lilac. Somewhere in the distance an Eastern bluebird called.

My lungs labored with every step that took me away from the highway down another trail. My muscles burned. The forty pounds I carried strained my shoulder muscles. Sweat poured down my back and trickled between my breasts.

I was a long way from home. My boring existence as a sex hotline operator living sad and single in Detroit didn’t provide me much entertainment.

Since dropping out of college two years ago, I’ve worked to satisfy men and sometimes women. To get them off while I went to bed alone and unsatisfied.

Some callers were downright disgusting, some lonely. Whether they wanted something dirty from me or not, as long as I got paid, I didn’t care.

There were some callers, though, who piqued my curiosity with their vividly hot fantasies. There were nights when I didn’t have to fake an orgasm. My climax would slam into me with such force, I’d have to restrain myself to not lose control. I’d end the call and lie awake, tossing and turning, my pussy overflowing.

My fantasies became more vibrant as time passed. I didn’t just crave a night of hot, raunchy sex with one man but two. Two men who’d draw out the sultry, sexy woman inside me.

It was pure fate that introduced me to The Pleasure Club. My cousin, Amira, did nothing but rave about the skill of the pleasure masters.

She’d needed only one night with one master she called Michael to add some zest to her life. She’d gotten a bit of that and much more since her night eight months ago. Now she had a fiancée and a baby on the way. There was still hope for me. Letting go of my inhibitions would set me free and perhaps change my life, too.

How could I resist going after a fantasy, especially one that came custom-made, tailored to fulfill my every naughty desire? I was tired of breezing through life, never taking chances, never adventuring beyond the familiar. So what if I didn’t get into nursing school? I could be a kickass photographer. I just needed to take the plunge.

I needed to stop hiding and pretending Honey Trollop didn’t exist. I had to accept her as part of me—all of her. No more shy, boring Julie. It was time I went after what my body craved—to release my inner trollop.

I’d always loved the idea of a park ranger. My fantasy involved two rangers slaking my lust in one of the most magnificent national parks our country had to offer. I shared this deep, dark desire with Amira, along with my concerns about safety. She assured me that The Pleasure Club would be perfect for meeting and surpassing my every need, while maintaining the utmost discretion.

Satisfied, I acted on impulse. I booked my flight. Rented the SUV I had parked at Long Pine Key camping and picnic area, and reserved the hotel room to stay in after my Pleasure Club experience—all steps that brought me to where I was now, awaiting my Pleasure Masters.

A low rumbling nearby signaled the approach of a vehicle. Heat stirred inside me, a heat not entirely brought on by the extreme temperature.

A jeep crested the rise behind me. I stepped aside on the road to allow the official-looking vehicle to pass to my right. Instead of leaving me in its dust, the driver pulled over to the wide shoulder and parked.

He pushed up his visor and rolled down his window. The cool air inside the cab wafted out, bringing with it the scent of leather, sweat, and man. His dark gaze traveled slowly down my body. Its intensity sent my hormones rioting.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Are you lost?” he inquired, his eyes finally meeting mine. “You’re trespassing. This path isn’t safe for hiking. You’ll need to come with me to safer ground.”

“How does one look lost? Besides, you’ve never seen a woman walking alone?” I infused a hint of irritation in my tone so my words fell somewhere between annoyed and bitchy.

I was nowhere near being lost. About a quarter of a mile back, I purposefully ignored the “no trespassing” sign, walking under the gate barring my way.

“Folks don’t travel without a partner or two. Those who do are usually up to their necks in trouble.”

“Well, as you can see, my neck isn’t up to anything but getting covered in sweat and mosquito bites.” I swatted at the pest on my cheek. “It’s my shoulders and back that are starting to ache like a son of a bitch.”

I only slightly regretted including in my fantasy the parts involving me walking miles through the swamp carrying a sack heavy enough to bend me in two. The only thing keeping me going this past hour was the thought of the phenomenal fuck awaiting me—my reward for such persistence.

He eyed my gear. “How long are you planning to stay with us?”

“Just a day.”

He lifted a brow, skepticism flashing in his expression before his gaze became shuttered. A line formed in his tanned forehead. “That’s a lot for one person to be lugging around, especially for only spending a few hours on the trail. What do you have in there?”

“Nothing too impressive, just the things I need to make my hike more comfortable. Mostly water since I’m so hot.”

I wasn’t overheated yet, but I couldn’t wait to see how high this guy would take me.

“Show me. And while you’re at it, hand over some identification.”

“Is this necessary?” I shifted, repositioning my burden.

“It is if you’re in possession of something illegal. You’re trespassing and refusing to cooperate. I’m more than a little suspicious of what you have in that sack.”

“Suspicious? Of me? I’m harmless, Ranger.” I feigned an appearance of innocence. I widened my eyes before narrowing my gaze on his stark expression. “Just what are you thinking I’d find worth stealing? I’m just here for a relaxing hike. I’m trying to get in touch with my primitive self.”

“There’s plenty you could be carrying: some of our plant life, bird feathers, soil samples, rocks…”

“I didn’t get your name. I want to be sure I report the correct ranger to the National Park Service when I file my complaint.”

“Ranger Jim at your service, ma’am.” Ranger Jim slid his long body from the jeep. His khaki pants molded themselves to his tight ass, his matching buttoned down shirt stretched tight over his broad chest. He strode to me, unhurried, his stare penetrating. “Now, how about handing over your identification? And unless you want to show me your research and collecting permit, I’m taking you in. I’ve had enough of your games.”

“I haven’t done anything. You can’t do that.”

He stopped before me. He stood so close I could smell the cinnamon on his breath and the sharp tang of his aftershave. “I’m doing you a favor. We’ll go to my office where my partner and I will examine every item in that knapsack and on your person. Unless you want to get soaked out here. It makes no difference to me where we conduct our interview.”

I peered up at the approaching dark clouds. Thunder, low and ominous, roared in the distance.

I could fight him, but I’d lose. He had a good sixty pounds on me, and a good eight inches to my five foot three. I wasn’t a waif by any means, but he was well proportioned and all lean, hard muscle.

I glared into his tanned, angular face. “You and your partner, huh? You afraid you can’t handle me on your own?”

His full lips turned down into a severe frown. I thought I observed a glint of humor in his gaze, but when I looked again, I only saw the same blank expression as before. “Ranger Brad and I never work alone when dealing with a difficult tourist.”

I took a sip from my canteen. The cool water tasted delicious as it soothed my parched throat. “I can’t see how I’m being difficult. You’re the one who stopped me.”

“Are you going to hand over your identification, or should I just haul you in then strip search you myself?”

I took my time obeying his order. I reached into a jean pocket and removed my wallet, while sending him a defiant glare from under the brim of my old cowboy hat.

Only when I found my fake ID did I raise my gaze to his. I handed over the card. To The Pleasure Club, privacy was just as important as safety. When I approached Amira with my intentions, she explained how all interactions between club members must be anonymous. It was an individual choice whether or not to provide real names.

Ranger Jim scrutinized the ID with the photo of the woman with short red hair and blue eyes before glancing to me. I bought a pair of blue contacts and chopped off a good six inches to my natural fiery locks.

“Take off your hat.”

The hiss and crackle of the two-way radio echoed from inside the jeep. Ranger Jim turned his profile to me to reach inside the cab for the receiver. “This is Delta One.”

“This is Cougar Two. What’s the hold up? This storm’s a big one. Better get back to the station ASAP.”

“I’m heading back right now. Bringing a tourist in for questioning.”

“Shit,” Cougar Two snapped as he let out a long sigh. “So much for going home early.”

“I don’t think you’ll mind interviewing this particular tourist.” There was no way I could miss the dose of smugness in his tone. “Over and out, Delta One.”

I pulled my hat off to let it dangle by my side.

Ranger Jim backed from the truck and turned his focus on me. “So, Ms. Honey Trollop, will you come with me, or do I need to take you in by force?”

I advanced toward him, leaning in, breathing him in as I moved. My breasts brushed against him. My nipples tightened as I inhaled. “You won’t have to force me to do anything, Ranger Jim. I’m all yours.”


Friday, January 28, 2011



Duane Simolke's collection counters homophobia, promotes equality, and celebrates life!

The first edition of Holding Me Together received a StoneWall Society Pride in the Arts Award. Simolke's publisher, iUniverse, named it an Editor's Choice selection.

This revised, second edition begins with an updated version of his multi-part essay "Reactions to Homophobia," followed by poems and short essays on a variety of topics, such as writing, AIDS, religion, violence, family, friendship, and gay relationships. It also includes several new or newly revised works.

Many of the poems and essays in this collection also appeared in various magazines and newsletters. Though Holding Me Together focuses heavily on gay themes, it also examines universal themes and will appeal to countless readers.

By Duane Simolke

When I lie beside him,
His knee presses
Against the underside
Of my knee,
His hand presses
Against my chest,
As if holding me together.
If I wake,
And he isn't beside me,
I'll curl up
Like a frightened child,
Lost in the dark,
Afraid to move.
If I wake,
And he isn't beside me,
The thickest blanket
Won't keep me warm.
But I wake,
And find him
Beside me.
He holds me together.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

WILD NEVADA RIDE by Sandy Sulivan

WILD NEVADA RIDE - Book Three in Sandy Sullivan's Wilder Series

Katrina Jamieson didn't have time for a man in her life, much less a cowboy. She's not about to give up her career as a fighter pilot for anything. Zipping amongst the clouds at 40,000 feet is her dream and being the best pilot the Force has ever seen, encompasses her days.

Justin Wilder, cattle rancher and all around gorgeous hunk, doesn't need the feisty Katrina in the middle of his world. He does just fine, thank you very much, taking care of his cows and building his ranch, but he can't seem to forget her after she slams her brand new, Mustang GT 500 KR into the side of his truck.

When their worlds collide, sparks fly and these two are so hot, skin sizzles when they touch. Can their attraction stand the test of time or will it burn out faster than the afterburners of her jet?



“Mind if I cut in?” The deep voice of the other man cut into their conversation. Mark smiled and stepped back as she frowned, but allowed Justin to wrap his arm around her waist and take her hand in his. The tingle of awareness rippled across her arms, sending goose bumps skittering across her flesh.

Trying to think of small talk, she asked, “So you raise cattle, Mr. Wilder?”

He chuckled, flashing those devastating dimples, and she sucked in a ragged breath. “I have a few head and dabble in selling them.”

Nervously flipping a curl over her shoulder, she said, “Well, you must be good at it if Mark is involved. He doesn’t mess around.”

“How long have you known Mark?”

“Most of my life.” Swaying to the soft music with him like this sent heat right between her legs. The warmth of her hand grasped within his palm sent electricity zinging down her spine. It’s been way too long since I’ve been with a man if I’m getting horny just dancing with one. “How long have you known him?”

“Oh, about five years now. I’m surprised I’ve never seen you two together before tonight.”

“I was in Iraq until about two months ago. I don’t always attend functions like these with him.”

“Ah, I see. You must be very close.”

Giving him a teasing smile, she replied, “Like family.”

“Are you originally from Las Vegas, Ms. Jamieson?”

“Actually, not Las Vegas itself, but close by. My family moved here some years ago from Los Angeles.” She studied the man, her eyes sweeping over his features, noting the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. Um…thirty-something? “What about you, Mr. Wilder? Your slight accent puts you as a non-native of Nevada, too.”


“Tired of the snow?”

He laughed softly. “Just a little. I like heat.” His gaze moved over her face and she could feel the warmth spreading to her cheeks.


“Two brothers, one sister, and my parents. One owns the family ranch in Wyoming and one settled in South Dakota. My sister lives with my parents currently.”

She tilted her head and said, “No one special, I assume, since you came alone.”

“Get right to the point, don’t you, Katrina?”

Her name rolling off his tongue sent shivers down her spine again. I’ve never heard anyone say it like that before. “I don’t believe in mincing words. I’m a straight shooter.”

“Then let me ask you this—is there something between you and Mark?”

“Now it’s my turn to wonder at your motives for your question.”

“I’m curious.” He pulled her a little closer, his hand resting on the bare skin of her back where her dress dipped. He splayed his fingers, encompassing every bit of exposed area, scorching her with their heat. Warmth spread through her, settling low in her belly when their gaze collided.

Her voice came out a little breathless, at least to her own ears when she replied, “Mark and I are actually cousins. His mother and my father are siblings.”

Tucking her hand inside his own before placing it on his chest, his tempted lips lifted in a sexy grin, sending her heart into a rapid tempo. The warmth of his breath caressed her lips, and she parted them slightly on a sigh when his gaze slipped down. “No kissing cousins?” he whispered.

“No,” she murmured in return, her lips tingling in response to his nearness. “I have very little time for relationships of any sort, but family means everything to me.”

His gaze returned to hers. “A woman after my own heart.”

“Hardly, Mr. Wilder.”

He frowned. “You wound me. I thought we were past that.”

“Past what?”

“I thought at least we were on a first name basis now. After all, I still have chips of baby blue paint on my truck.”

Anger flared, making her cheeks flush and her eyes burn as the hand resting on his chest balled into a fist.

He grabbed the fist and held on tight. “Uh-uh, no violence.”

Her jaw clenched tight, and she hissed between her teeth, “Let me go.”

“As you wish.” He slowly let loose of her fist and slipped his hand from around her waist. His hand purposely ran high enough to brush just under her breast with his thumb. She sucked in a ragged breath at the contact, her eyes going wide when desire raced along her nerves.


His words swirled around in her head and she frowned. He didn’t just proposition me, did he? Nah… maybe? A soft giggle bubbled from her lips and a smile quirked at his.

“Are you getting tipsy, Ms. Jamieson?”

“Nope—drunk maybe.” That was it. I’m just a little drunk. It has to be the reason I’m having this outrageous conversation with a man I hardly know, but one I’m crazily attracted to.

He laughed. “I guess I should take you home then, if you’ll tell me your address.”

“Um… maybe—maybe not.”

“If you don’t tell me your address, I can’t take you home.”

“Maybe I don’t want you to.”

That got his attention. He stood, moving to her side and chuckled while he held out his hand so he could help her to her feet. “Now I know you’re drunk. You have no idea what you are saying.”

She let him pull her up, but when she stood in front of him, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “Yes, I do. I want you to make me forget slimy hands on my skin,” she murmured, pressing her lips to his exposed neck where his shirt lay open. His hiss echoed through the room and his hands wrapped around her upper arms.

“Katrina…” he growled.

She pushed the collar of his shirt out of the way with her nose and licked the skin beneath her mouth, before moving closer to his ear.

Letting her hands wander down his chest, she plucked the buttons loose until all but those inside the waistband of his trousers were unfastened. Sliding her hands into the gaping material, she let the hair on his chest slip through her fingers while she nibbled her way across his cheek until their lips were a hairsbreadth away from each other.

She opened her eyes and gasped when she saw the raw heat reflected in his gaze.

“You’re playing with fire, lady,” he growled.

“Burn me,” she whispered.

She almost whimpered when his lips came crashing down on hers in a kiss meant to melt any resistance she might have put up, but she had no intention of backing down. Returning his fevered kiss, she slid her tongue along the crease of his lips until he moaned and opened his mouth. His hands were everywhere, in her hair, sliding along her spine, slipping over her shoulders, taking the thin material of her dress down with them as her skin burned under his touch. His mouth left hers, and she tipped her head to the side, telling him without words what she wanted. He trailed his lips across her cheek to her ear, nipping at the lobe with his teeth for a moment. Continuing down her neck, he nibbled, licked, and sucked at the soft skin until she moaned deep in her throat.

Her dress slipped down her arms and off her body, pooling at her feet. One calloused palm cupped her breast, thumbing her nipple until she inhaled sharply.

His hands moved around to her ass, cupping the soft mounds, molding them with his fingers, and pulling her tight against him until she could feel his erection against her belly. He moved from her neck down her chest until his mouth closed over her pert nipple. Whimpering, she held his head to her chest when she felt her pussy fill with need so strong, she ached for his touch. His thumbs hooked the sides of her lace panties, pulling them down as his mouth traveled down her stomach, stopping to play with the dangling belly button ring for a moment.

She stepped out of the underwear before he laid her back on the couch cushion, bringing her ass to the edge. He looked into her eyes, a small smile rippling across his mouth when his lips grazed the inside of her knee and she moaned. I knew there was a reason I didn’t wear pantyhose tonight. The rough pad of his tongue rasped against the sensitive skin of her thigh while he moved closer to the aching need between her legs.

“God, Justin—please,” she groaned softly.

She didn’t think it possible, but his eyes got even hotter and a darker brown when he settled his mouth on her clit. Lashes any woman would kill for covered his eyes as he ran his tongue in a slow lick from her quivering pussy lips back to her clit. Swirling the aching bud with the tip of his tongue in the slowest, most agonizing manner she could ever remember feeling, she almost screamed, wanting him to hurry and make her come. He sucked her clit for several agonizing moments, before dipping inside her pussy with the tip of his tongue, until she wiggled on the couch cushion. Whimpers of need fell from her mouth while she begged him to hurry and take her. When he finally slipped two fingers inside her wet pussy and sucked on her clit hard, a tortured groan ripped from her throat as hot cum spilled over his hand.

His mouth finally left her quivering flesh, before he kissed his way up her stomach, across her chest, stopping to suck softly on the nipple. When he took her lips with his, she could taste herself on his tongue as he slipped it inside her mouth to duel with hers.

Her hands found his chest, working the shirt off his shoulders and down his arms. Pulling her mouth away, she pushed him back as her lips found his rock hard muscles, before nibbling at his male disks until they stood up, aching for her touch. His hands wound themselves in her hair and a groan rumbled deep beneath her mouth when her fingers plucked the button at his waist. Working his pants loose, she tugged until they pooled at his thighs along with his boxers and his cock stood proud, begging for her mouth.

Rolling backwards onto the floor, he pulled her with him until she lay sprawled across his chest. Her hand moved down, cupping his balls, as he hissed when her mouth moved across his chest again. His stomach quivered under her when she licked her way down across his washboard abdomen, following the trail of hair until it reached his groin.

Using only the tip of her tongue, she laved at the pre-cum glistening on the end of his cock. His hips lifted slightly, telling her what he wanted. He fisted her hair when she opened her mouth, taking him inside and swirling her tongue around him. Rocking his hips to her rhythm, it wasn’t long before she could feel him swell inside her mouth.

“Kat—stop.” He pulled her up by her shoulders, settling her across his chest again and kissing her. “God, I want you,” he growled into her mouth, before he flipped her over onto her back.

He took her nipple between his lips, sucking and nipping until she squirmed beneath him, begging with her moans. Two fingers slipped inside her pussy while he worked his pants off. She whimpered when he pulled his fingers out and whispered, “Don’t move.”


Wednesday, January 26, 2011



Little does Jasabel Buchanan realize the rakish Bermuda sloop she sights on the horizon is about to plunge her into a passionate voyage of intrigue and adventure. An indentured lady's maid to the rich Governor's daughter, Jasabel is taken prisoner when the ship on which they sail is seized by pirates. Soon she finds herself the personal captive of the pirates' dark, enigmatic captain.

Sent into bondage on the plantations because of his Jacobite loyalties, Captain Neil Devlin escaped to become the terror of the English colonies. When the chance to abduct his former owner's daughter presents itself, he takes it. What he doesn't expect is her spirited, and captivating, lady's maid.

But amongst old injustices an evil lurks, and before she can be free, Jasabel must decide if she dares to love a pirate.


Chapter One

June 1692

Jasabel Buchanan had yet to scream.

She had not screamed when she heard the thundering feet charging toward her bolted cabin door, nor when the simple wooden panels had splintered and pirates had surged into her cramped quarters. Nor did she yell when a particularly fearsome--and malodorous--pair of those men had dragged her up on deck, despite her desperate struggle to scratch and kick them. Screaming would have done no earthly good. And Miss Felicity was screaming enough for both of them.

Miss Felicity looked like a heap of clothes on wash-day as she lay sobbing and pounding her palms against the planks. Her blonde ringlets, whose curled perfection Jasabel had labored long to create this morning, were now a tangled shambles. With gratuitous force, her captors hurled Jasabel forward, then shoved her to her knees at Miss Felicity’s side.

Jasabel crouched low, protecting her head, expecting a blow from somewhere. But none came. In fact, the men’s shouting and raucous laughter seemed to be farther away. She glanced up. The pirates had moved off to appropriate more plunder. Miss Felicity raised her reddened, tear-stained face to the sky and wailed. Internally, Jasabel wailed right along with her.

When she had first seen the sloop on the horizon, she had thought it such a jaunty ship. Its triangular, gray sails were rakishly slanted back, almost like fins, as if the clean-lined ship were a denizen of the seas, sprung fully-formed from the waves themselves. It came up on them swiftly. Never had she imagined it would raise the red flag. Never had she thought such a beautiful craft could be possessed by pirates.

Trying to assuage her aching knees, Jasabel rolled onto her hip and, jaw clenched, surveyed the defeated crew. None of the Rebecca’s sailors seemed injured, which tallied with the fact that from her cabin she had heard a distinct lack of cannon fire. After Captain Walters had ordered Miss Felicity and herself to seek shelter behind their rooms’ locked doors, he had apparently surrendered the Rebecca to the pirate vessel without resistance. How did Captain Walters think mere locks would keep them safe when an entire ship could not?

Murmuring soothing words to Miss Felicity, Jasabel attempted to huddle close and was coldly rebuffed for her troubles. No matter how horrendous the circumstances, Miss Felicity apparently found familiarity from her servants intolerable. After almost a year in her service, she shouldn’t have been surprised. That was typical of Miss Felicity.

The pirates finished rounding up the men of the Rebecca. Bright sun bore down on them as they stood in a long, tense row, from her captain to the lowliest member of the crew. Most were staring up at the quarterdeck, from whence the captain would normally command.

Jasabel swiveled, following their gaze, as one of the sailors gasped, “It’s the Devil himself.” Her breath caught in her throat. She would not have argued the point.

The raven-haired man standing on the quarterdeck, imperially surveying them all, certainly seemed capable of striking fear into the doughtiest of hearts. He was tall, lean, with broad shoulders, and dressed entirely in black from his boots to his plumed, three-cornered hat. Silver lace at his throat, silver buttons down the length of his coat and ringing its wide cuffs, and silver embellishments along the leather baldric from which his sword hung provided the perfect foil for his dark aspect.

“I am Captain Neil Devlin, and well pleased I am you’ve heard of me.”

Even his voice was dark, like smooth port wine, but it was also surprisingly cultured and possessed a lilting cadence. He strode a few paces along the quarterdeck. Sunlight glinted off his silver as he moved. He wore no fashionable wig, nor the surfeit of ribbons gentlemen generally sported, yet he struck her as more well-bred than the average male of her acquaintance, let alone amongst pirates.

“You may also have heard that afore I depart I offer to those who want it a chance to turn pirate.”

“Do not listen to that Irish rogue,” Captain Walters bravely interjected. “The wages of piracy is Hell.”

The pirates froze in a terrible hush, as if they expected their leader to take ruthless offence at the words, but he simply chuckled.

“Damnation may well await us, but those who join us shall be our equals, with a vote in our doings and a share of our spoils. I make this offer to slave and free man alike.” His words boomed across the expanse. “Step forward now and hazard your life for your own gain rather than your masters’.”

Two black men and one white slowly separated from the line of crewmen. Since slavery in the islands encompassed all colors, each of them might be a slave. Having been waylaid so soon out of St. George’s Town, Jasabel was not yet acquainted with the crew’s situations but she hoped for their sakes they were going to a better life. One of the pirates beckoned the men to follow and they headed for the sloop. Then another of the dark captain’s minions called out the successful transfer of the best of the Rebecca’s cargo to the pirate ship’s hold.

Jasabel’s heartbeat quickened. Their ordeal was almost over. Perhaps they were mere moments away from being allowed to return to the shelter of their cabins. She swiped at the perspiration trickling down her temple. The air felt close and thick. This was decidedly not a day for loitering in the harsh sun. Gathering her torn, cotton skirts together--blue dress, white petticoat, and white shift, she wished there was a way to fan her stockinged legs without attracting male attention.

“Move them across, as well.” It was Captain Devlin’s voice. The words sent a jolt of fear through Jasabel’s frame and her eyes darted to the dark pirate in time to see him pointing in her and Miss Felicity’s direction.

“You cannot mean to seize the women,” Captain Walters exclaimed. His face had reddened with anger, although his vehemence was undermined by his powdered wig slipping slightly askew.

“Regretful I am to be telling you this, but they are part of the cargo, and as such we’ll be taking them with us.” The pirate did not sound regretful in the least.

“If you have a shred of decency, man….”

Captain Devlin grinned. “I’ll not be knowing that word, sir. I’m a damned pirate, am I not?”

Rough hands snatched Jasabel’s arms. She could hear Captain Walters sputtering in indignation as she was dragged across the deck. Miss Felicity was screaming again. But nothing could stop their forcible departure from the Rebecca. The pirates were in control, and they were far stronger than either woman. Conserving her energy for whatever the dark captain had in mind for them, Jasabel mounted the shrouds. As she carefully climbed around to the outside, the tar-stiffened ropes chafed her palms. The menacing creak and bump of the hulls as they collided together with the rhythm of the waves, warned her she would be crushed between the two lashed ships if she fell now. She tried not to look down.

Then again, perhaps it would be better for her to fail in her leap? Being ravished by a pirate was supposed to be a fate worse than death. He would most likely murder them when he was finished. She sucked the salt air deep into her lungs. There was an outside chance she could survive this. It would be a sin to give up now.

Jasabel gathered her strength and jumped.



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