Monday, October 1, 2007

Bitter Harvest - Aurora Black

Bitter Harvest - Aurora Black
October, 2007 - ISBN 978-1-59426-931-8
$3 eBook (five formats) - Buy Now!
Author's Backlist: Aurora Black

The tiny chapel stood on the hill, the surrounding oak trees almost completely shielding it from outside view. The woman in white paced beside their majestic trunks while taking the sweet country air into her lungs, her expression wistful as she remembered the first time she'd visited this tranquil spot. She was no more than six or seven years old at the time, and she'd claimed it as her special place where she could play and dream about the future. Now, she was getting married there to the love of her life, and she couldn't have been happier.

The bride could hear the soft crunch of grass behind her. She turned around and came face to face with Jack's breathtaking eyes. They glittered in the morning sun as their owner smiled at her, and her breath caught.

"Hey, I thought I'd find you out here. Everyone's waiting inside."

Claire's own smile dissolved. Her groom cupped her flawlessly made-up face in his hand, and she wanted to weep at his tender touch. Jack's concerned voice broke through. "What's wrong, babe? It's not too late to call things off if you're having second thoughts about marrying me."

She shook her head emphatically, her elegant and complicated wedding hairstyle threatening to unravel. "NO! I mean, no. Jack, I'm not backing down. Shortly after we met, I knew you were the one for me. Please, never doubt that. I just needed a moment alone for some fresh air, and…"

Jack stepped closer, the front of his tuxedo lightly brushing against her bridal gown's bodice.

"What, Claire? You know you can tell me anything."

"Promise you won't laugh?"

He raised his hand in the air, performing a three-finger salute. "Scout's honor."

A laugh escaped her lips. "Were you seriously ever in the Boy Scouts, Jack?"

His grin was pure mischief as he looked down at her. "No, can't say that I was." Their laughter quickly died off, and the mood was serious again. Jack bent to place a gentle kiss on her parted lips, careful not to smudge her lipstick. "But you can still tell me."

Claire took a deep breath before replying. "I had a nightmare last night, about you and me. Something terrible happened. I don't know what, exactly, but I recall a tremendous sense of loss and despair. We were walking together along some road, and then we were separated by a thick fog. That's the only way I can describe it. I kept calling out to you, reaching for you, but you were no longer with me. I never want to go through that again, dream or not."

A tear escaped her eye, and Jack lovingly wiped it away with his thumb. "You never will, not if I can help it. Now let's go inside before our guests form a search party, and after all is said and done, we can begin our lives together as man and wife. Are you with me, love?"

He held out his hand for her to take, and Claire laced her fingers with his. "Let's do it."

Beast Magic - Sapphire Phelan

Beast Magic - Sapphire Phelan
October, 2007 - ISBN 978-1-59426-786-4
$3 eBook (five formats) - Buy Now!
Author's backlist: Sapphire Phelan

The lion crept through the tall grass. He never let his gaze waver from what he saw in front of him, keeping focused on the trap.

He bared what he thought was a parody of a human smile, showing his glistening fangs as the odor of five hunters wafted to him. They hid behind some heavy brush only fifteen paw lengths away. The stench was repugnant to his nose combined with the hot, humid air.

He knew what they were thinking. That they were being smarter than the dumb beast, when in reality he wanted to be caught. It was his destiny to spring the trap. Then he could be taken across the Great Water to meet his fate in a human female, the one from the dreaming that he would take as his mate. The magic within him wanted to be called forth and show this puny prey what he could really do, to surprise and frighten them. But he forced it down back into himself. Now was not the time to let it free. They were not his real enemies, just pathetic humans who didn't know any better, as his father would say. He could have used his beast magic to whisk himself away to where he wanted to go. But he felt this plan was better. Much better.

Ramses, the werelion, stepped forward. Dried grass and large palm leaves crunched noisily under his massive paws. He discovered the edge of the pit the humans had dug, covered with brush to hide it. His superior hearing picked up the echo of a human catching their breath, as he toed some ground by the trap. Stepping onto the leaves, he crashed through and, along with the earthly covering, fell into the hole.

He landed on all four paws. With a low roar rumbling in his chest, he paced the length of the hole. Pausing, he glared up into the excited eyes of the hunters as they surrounded the hole and stared down at him. Listening to them chatter among themselves about how easy it had been to capture the lion, he let them believe it for a brief moment.

Then the low rumble in his chest morphed into laughter. The lion watched as uneasiness replace the excitement in their dark eyes, as if they heard and understood his inner thoughts.

Soon he would find his mate and claim her. The Dreaming never lied.

* * * *

Shana Tory began dreaming again. It was the same scene, since she was five: she stood alone at the zoo. Her mother had just let go of her hand and vanished into the crowd of people. Suddenly, the crowd dispersed, and she found herself standing in front of the lion exhibit, staring into the golden brown eyes of a large male with a heavy black mane.

The big cat lay still like the Sphinx, his gaze intent on her. Though frightened, Shana drew closer as if she couldn't help herself. Her nipples hardened under her blouse and she felt heat pooling between her thighs. Unexpectedly, the lion rose to his feet and padded nearer to the boundary that separated them. He halted, and then roared. She screamed and ran away.

Shana awoke, frantic, her limbs tangled in both the sheet and blanket. Her hands fisted the material as sweat dripped down her face, staining it.

Damn, this was the fifth time this week she had that nightmare from her childhood. This time, though, the lion had reached the boundary that kept him from her. In the next one, she feared he might leap over it and get to her. She hated nights like this, for they gave her an unreasoning fear of lions, especially the male ones.

Shana stumbled out of bed and headed to the bathroom. She saw her pale reflection in the mirror above the sink. It bothered her. Dark half-circles under her eyes made her appear bruised and tired. She turned on the faucets and hot and cold water gushed into her hands. Splashing her face, she hoped that its refreshing feeling would take away some of the dream leftovers. Quickly finishing up, she applied moisturizer and powder to her face to cover up the lingering effects. It was getting harder to look good for work these days. Maybe she needed to see a therapist or something so she could start getting some real sleep.

Once dressed, Shana breakfasted on oatmeal and drank a cup of coffee. She put the bowl and cup in the sink, then rushed off to work. Parking her car in front of the boutique where she worked, she climbed out and paused to stare at the vast parking lot of the zoo across the road.

Empty right now, in a couple hours the parking lot would be jam-packed with all sorts of vehicles. Families would be entering through the zoo's entrance to visit the animals and birds that populated the attraction.

The same zoo that figured in her dreams.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. That's all it was, she reminded herself, a dream, and nothing more. Okay, maybe she had some issues with lions. But she would fix that problem today, right after she got off work. She would go over to the zoo and pay her admission, enter and make her way to the African lion exhibit. It was the only way to prove to herself that there wasn't a lion in there waiting for her. Wanting her.

Shana spent the next eight hours working. Though she tried hard to keep her mind on her work and the customers that came in, she still would stop at the big window. Her gaze would stray across the road to the zoo. When four o'clock rolled around and her relief walked through the door, she grabbed her purse. Muttering a quick good-bye, Shana ran out the door and jumped into her car. Watching for traffic both ways, she pulled out of the parking lot and drove across the road. She pulled into a parking space not far from the entrance, got out and ambled up to one of the booths. An old lady sat inside, munching on an apple and reading a book. Putting both the half-eaten apple and the book down, she looked up with a smile.

"A ticket?" the old lady asked.

"Yes, just one, please."

Digging through her purse, Shana found a ten-dollar bill and handed it over.

The lady smiled. "It's only half price, dearie, as we close in a couple hours. That's five dollars. Though if you don't have anything less than that ten, I can give you back change."

Shana thrust the ten back into her purse and rummaged until she found a five. She slid it toward the lady, who handed her back a ticket. Then she hurried through the turnstile, tossing her ticket to a bored, young man and entered the zoo grounds. She ignored the flamingos flapping their pink wings, streaked past the bear exhibit, circled around the giraffes, and made her way to the exhibit that held the big cats.

A leopard screamed while a black panther paced its cage, its yellow eyes zeroing on her as she passed. Shana found the lion enclosure and stopped at exactly where she always stood in her nightmare. Three lionesses lay on fake rock ledges, one's maw opened wide as it yawned. A male stood not far from them, young, and with not much of a mane. What there was of it was only brown with black ends. Not the unrelenting black of her dreams. She didn't see the dream male among them and breathed a sigh of relief. Her sigh broke in mid-breath though, when a shadow exited from the entrance to the quarters where the lions slept at night. The shadow lengthened, reaching toward her with grasping fingers. She backed away from the fence, frightened and knowing with certainty what was approaching.

A magnificent male emerged from the darkness, his coat a shiny golden color. A mane of midnight covered his head and reached down to his chest between the two front legs. With eyes of golden brown, he stared directly at her, as if he knew she had come only to view him.

Hands over her mouth, she watched as he moved like a regal king. The other male backed out of his direct path, a long, keening sound issuing from young one's jaws. He fell to his belly, as if acknowledging his superior. The older lion turned his head, growled, and continued his way to the boundary.

He halted, coming to his goal, and his gaze met hers once more. Shana couldn't tear her eyes away as her fear left her. Something sparked between them and it kept growing, an electrical charge with an odor of burning ozone. Erotic, it made a flush of heat fill her. Finally, she broke free of the lion's spell and, with a cry, bolted.

Like a frightened gazelle she ran, shoving pass crowds of people massing at the front entrance. She hurtled along with the others, pushing through the turnstile and out into the parking lot, not stopping until she stumbled into her car. Starting it, she roared out of the parking lot and down the road. She finally quit running when she pulled into her driveway and shut off the engine.

Her forehead pressed to the steering wheel, she tried to bring her shaking under control. She called herself a stupid fool for even going to the zoo. The lion was real. Uncanny as it seemed, the dream lion had just been made flesh for her this afternoon. What further creeped her out was the fact she had sensed that it knew she was there.

Like he had called her to come. With the dreams. Waited for her. And like the dreams lately, she had begun to be turned on.

What was wrong with her? He was only an animal.

Purse in hand, she climbed out of the car and locked it. She went into the house. Tossing her purse onto the coffee table, she slumped into an armchair to the left of the couch and kicked off her high heels.

With a headache coming on and her appetite lacking, Shana decided to retire early. Thank goodness, tomorrow was Saturday and she didn't have to go back to work—she had weekends off due to seniority. She took off her clothes and dropped them all in a pile in the middle of the bedroom floor. Crawling into bed stark naked, she drew the covers up to her chin and fell quickly asleep.