Sunday, May 4, 2008

Caught by Marie Rochelle

Ryan couldn't believe his luck. Standing not ten feet in front of him was the woman he was supposed to hunt down. How in the hell had she planned all of this? Was the entire police force asleep when she climbed into his car? Damn, he was doing everything he could not to notice how her picture didn't do her justice. Ajana Bennett was beautiful. His attraction for her only heightened since she was positioned in front of him, displaying a killer body in form fitting clothes.

He wasn't dumb. He saw that Ajana was a damn good-looking woman, but if he let her sway him with her pretty face and centerfold body. He would end up on traffic duty and he wasn't going to let that happen. He had to find a way to get out of this cuffs and arrest Ajana.

"We can begin by you getting me out of these handcuffs. After I'm free I'll call the station, then take you in. I won't press charges if you don't put up a fight."

"Are you crazy? Half this town thinks I'm a jewel thief and the other half probably doesn't care about what happens to me. I'm not about to turn myself in to anyone. However, you will tell me why you gave an interview to that reporter."

Ryan tried to move his hands and get the cuffs loose, but Ajana was one smart woman. She made sure they were tight enough that he wasn't able to do it. He had to find a way to trick her into taking them off of him Then Miss Bennett would be taken down to the station and booked on two separate charges. His offer not to press charges ended the second she ignored it.

"I always talk to the press when I feel the leads are turning cold. I had to smoke you out some way, and it worked." He smirked. "You came to me. I didn't have to break out in a sweat to find you."

"Why aren't you listening to me?" Ajana snapped. "I'm not guilty. You have the wrong woman. I haven't robbed any jewelry stores."

Jerking his arms again, Ryan was growing tired of hearing Ajana's lies. The station had a videotape of her in action. She wasn't going to get away with it. "Miss Bennett, you're guilty as sin and I'm going to prove it."

* * * *

Ajana didn't know how she was going to get herself out of this mess. Officer Lerner was wrong. She wasn't the thief the cops had been searching for the past two months, but it didn't seem like he was going to believe her.

Everything had been fine with her last hideout until Officer Ryan Lerner decided to go on television and display her picture to the world. First she was so captivated by how handsome Officer Lerner was that she hadn't heard the words coming out of his mouth. But the second her picture flashed across the screen the fog in her mind cleared. It took her all of five seconds to get out of the restaurant and into her car.

All the way back into town her mind played out several ways to get Officer Lerner to listen to her side of the story, but not once did any of her ideas involve kidnapping him. God, she was already looking at twelve years in prison for a jewel heist she didn't do. Now with the federal offense of kidnapping an officer she would never see the light of day if she got caught..

Sitting on the coffee table in front of Ryan, Ajana crossed her legs and ran her gaze up and down the length of the hunk in front of her. Television showed off how nice looking he was, but it diminished his thick and shiny his dark brown hair. Or how the green flecks in his dark brown eyes made them look more hazel than brown.

"Stop staring at me and let me go. I swear I'll do anything I can to help you get a lesser sentence," Ryan exclaimed.

Ajana shook her head slowly. "No, I can't let you go. You're my only hope of clearing my name. You should know the definition of a kidnapping. The kidnappers never lets the hostage go until they are positive every demand has been met."

"Your demands aren't going to be met because you're guilty. I have all the proof I need in the file out in my car," Ryan tossed back at her.

"What proof?"

She watched as Ryan pressed his lips together, then turned his head away from her. "Don't tell me then. I can go and get it myself. But you should know, Officer Lerner, I'm not going to prison for a crime I didn't do." Spinning on her heel, Ajana raced from the room back out to the car.

* * * *

"You idiot!" Ryan screamed at himself. How could you let her know about the file? She's going to destroy it and where will that leave you? He had to find a way out of these damn handcuffs, and soon. Ajana honestly believed she was innocent, and a desperate person did desperate things to prove their innocence.

He hated that Ajana was on the wrong side of the law because she was one hot little number in the eggshell sweater and jeans. He couldn't help but notice how Ajana's butt was cupped nicely in those jeans as she ran from the room. He twisted around in the chair to relieve some of the ache in his groin. Had he really been without a woman for so long that he was lusting after the prime suspect in an ongoing case? Shit, after this was over he would have to dig out that little black book and find an old girlfriend to call.

"Hey, I know you aren't asleep, so why are your eyes closed?" Ajana came back into the room with his bag in her hand. Sitting down on the couch, she tossed the gun on the table and then unzipped his bag.

"I didn't tell you that you could go through my things," he retorted as Ajana tossed confidential items from his bag onto the table.

"I don't need to ask your permission for anything, handsome. I want to look inside here, so I did," Ajana answered, then smiled at him before reaching back into his dark blue bag.

"Flirting with me isn't going to get me on your side," Ryan replied, not liking how her compliment made him feel. Damn, he knew he was hard up for a woman when a known criminal was turning him on.

"Just stating the obvious," Ajana countered. "You know, you're an attractive man. If we had met under different circumstances I might have approached you."

Ryan sat silently as he observed Ajana lift her file and spread it across the glass table. She didn't say a word to him as she read over her file and looked at all the witness statements. He wanted to tear his gaze away from her, but he couldn't. It seemed like a light was around her that drew his undivided attention.

Ajana was totally different than he thought she would be. She was spunky, border lining on tough, but there was a softness about her. She almost had him doubting that it was her on all of the surveillance cameras. Shit, if Sergeant Carelli knew he was thinking this way he would have an appointment with the department shrink in five minutes flat.

"This isn't me in these photos. I have never been to any of these places," Ajana uttered, drawing his eyes down to her full bottom lip.

"Don't play that with me. It's you and we both know it," Ryan said. "Look, you're holding a close up of your face. Are you really going to tell me that isn't you?"

"Yes, I am. You have to trust me. Officer Lerner, I swear this isn't me in any of these pictures."

"It's kind of hard to trust you and I'm still handcuffed to this chair."

The Invaders by Gregory L. Norris

When the lights went out in Verdance, they usually stayed out. That was one of those facts of life you just accepted living in the shadows of Wolf Hill. Not much ever happened in the little town. The summers were hot, the winters cold, and in between the two extremes as the weather shifted, you could expect some pretty nasty storms to knock out the power. And when the lights went dark, it wasn't uncommon for them to stay dark.

The storm that Phillip McKinley would always remember as having started it all had swept in on a sticky Saturday night at the end of summer, right before the start of school. He'd planned on hanging out with a bunch of his boys and had told Patti he didn't feel well to get out of their date, which was as much the truth as it was a lie. The storm rolled in with towering thunderheads and a violent cannonade soundtrack to match. His dad and Vivienne – Phillip couldn't bring himself to think of Viv as 'mom' or even 'step mom' as she wasn't ten years older than he was – were over at some friend's party, sipping cocktails with trendy names and bright colors the human digestive system hadn't been designed to process.

Because of the weather, Tommy Toscano, who would most likely back him up as quarterback on their last season of football together at Verdance High, was the only guy who made it to the McKinley house. And he didn't come empty handed.

Phillip knocked back one of the beers in the six-pack and exhaled his frustration. "This sucks," he sighed.

Tommy checked his cell for the fourth time since entering the dark house. "No signal."

"No duh, shithead," Phillip absently responded. "No power, no movies, no video games, and no TV."

"Please stop trying to cheer me up," Tommy grumbled, draining his bottle. "I'm so bored right now, it's tragic."

Phillip finished his beer. He considered reaching for another, but stopped himself. Alcoholism had taken his mother, and the disease ran in his genes. More so, he feared a second one might loosen him up, and when Phillip got loose, he started to talk. By the third, he'd be revealing his deepest, darkest secrets to his sometimes best friend, who would probably be revealing his own by that point. No, the risk wasn't worth it.

Phillip folded his arms. "Dude, I'm gonna call it an early night. No use waiting for the juice to come back on, and I'm seriously pissed off enough as it is."

"You for real?" Tommy huffed.

"I'm sorry, man. I just need to hit the rack early. Let's hang tomorrow."

Tommy gathered up the last of the beer and trudged to the front door. "Whatever."

"I'll call you," Phillip said, noting the irony as Tommy again checked his cell phone on the way out.

He considered lighting a candle. Viv had dozens of them scattered around the place. Unfortunately, none were simple, pleasant scents, like blueberry or peppermint or vanilla. No, hers had mystical, winsome names like Heart's Desire, Summer Sorbet, and Ocean Foam, though they all smelled to Phillip like dish soap.

Defeated, Phillip trudged up the stairs to his bedroom at the back of the split-entry house, navigating the way on memory. The air in the room was hot and musty, owing to a pile of dirty clothes in one corner and the sealed windows, done so out of respect for the house's central air conditioning.

Phillip plodded to the nearest window, which looked out across the side yard and at the dark windows of the Miller house next door. He lifted it and a wave of hot, moist air billowed into the room. Phillip instantly started to sweat. The second window faced the old Hindenwood place near the pine-studded summit of Wolf Hill. Phillip pushed the other energy efficient pane up.

More wet air surged in, infused with the exotic summer smells of mowed lawn, flowers, and a trace of the chemicals from the Miller's in-ground pool. Phillip used to hop the fence and swim there late at night, until Harold Miller installed a sensor light and he'd gotten caught, which had led to no small amount of embarrassment along with plenty of grief from Vivienne, the social zealot.

Phillip peeled off his damp t-shirt and wagged it under his arms, stirring the piney scent of sweat and the dregs of the deodorant he'd slapped on during a day that already felt lifetimes in his past. Losing the lights, the power, and the gadgets instantly crippled modern human society, devolving it back to the cave, he thought, a sour smirk twisting the corners of his prickly, unshaved mouth. If the lights stayed out long enough, men would be making fires by rubbing sticks together and then clubbing one another over the head with them.

Phillip sighed out a swear and unhooked his shorts, letting them drop to his hairy ankles. He absently scratched at the meaty fullness of his balls, accessing them through the elastic leg band of his boxer briefs. He decided to do what most bored males throughout all of human history have done when confronted with too much time and not enough distraction: masturbate. And he didn't plan to think about Patti Collings, his trophy girlfriend, while he did. No, thanks to the one beer and the musky warmth in the air, the smell of his own maleness surrounding him, Phillip embraced his deepest of personal secrets.

For months now, he'd come to accept the strange, dark desires teasing him in his dreams and tempting him when he was around his friends, dating back for as long as he could remember. They weren't the automatic sentence to eternal damnation that a lot of supposed authorities on the subject of morality would have him believe. One overcast morning the previous June, he'd simply rolled over with the usual morning wood and had rubbed one out into a dirty sock. In the accompanying fantasy, he'd envisioned what it would be like to mount the ass of his fellow man, while reaching around and stroking the fuckee in this too-sweet-to-believe vision. He rode the sock to a climax equally as magnificent as the one he mentally blasted between said fuckee's ass cheeks.

Just like that. There had been no great revelation, no brush with mortality that shook him to his core, no message delivered by signs and portents. But there had been undeniable magic in accepting the truth that Phillip desired what he desired, and he could live with it, defend it if he must. Even if he wasn't about to shout out the truth to the world while bent in a huddle on the football field, Phillip was now feeling more comfortable in his own skin than he could ever recall. He was gay.

Unlike the rest of his teammates who loved to brag, Phillip was also a virgin. Not counting all the tall tales and fables of sexual conquest he'd concocted in the locker room over the past few years to keep his friends' imaginations satisfied.

Phillip's imagination drifted back into the delicious territory that had kept his cock stiff nonstop, all summer. Dropping to his knees, he licked a finger, let it wander between his naked legs, along that patch of sensitive skin between his balls and asshole, and eventually dipped it into his most private place. His flesh there was hot and moist with sweat. After a few gentle circles, he withdrew it, licked it. This was what the asshole he'd some day fuck would taste like.

His cock leaked. Phillip ran the same pointer finger and its thumb along the straining head, over the gummed-up slit. Wetness coated his touch. And that was what he would feel when he thrust in, forcing the other young man's cock to fuck his grip. Phillip tasted himself. He liked what he liked, and he liked it way too much. Certain tight-assed hypocrites on the tube, in the locker room, and worse – in his own living room – had bullied him over the years with their jokes and their dogma into believing it was evil, aberrant behavior. That any man who felt the way he did was marked as one of the living damned; that he was really only here among the chosen people to burn oxygen en route to an eternity of burning in hellfire deep beneath the surface of the earth.

"Fuck that," Phillip grumbled.

Anything that felt so right could not be wrong.

He tossed back his head and opened himself up to the possibilities. Could he suck another dude's cock? Why not? He'd certainly imagined his erect length vanishing down enough unshaved throats in recent weeks. Oh, but the idea of mounting, of fucking…and not just with his cock, but his tongue, his fingers. Hell, what about using his big toe? A new fantasy for Phillip to jerk his dick to materialized in the shadows. He would fuck an asshole with his big toes. The concept was too sweet to deny, so simple and yet more complex than even Newton's Law of Gravity and Einstein's Theory of Relativity combined.

The equation's power doubled, tripled, quadrupled toward infinity when you added the notion of love into that mixture of wild, passionate sex. For while Phillip's dick ached for release, more than anything, his heart ached to be captured. That was his biggest secret of all. He wanted sex and romance, in equal parts. He wanted…

The dark room shifted out of alignment with the normal world. Phillip tensed; his naked flesh, glistening under a sheen of fresh sweat, tingled with pins and needles in anticipation of what would soon engulf him. The orgasm, aimed at the floor and something he'd pulled from the clothes pile (a t-shirt or boxer briefs – thankfully, Phillip did his own laundry), started among the trigger of nerves that lined the underside of his cock. But as had happened so often that summer, it cycled outward in concentric waves, inviting parts of his body to join in he hadn't dreamed capable of such arousal. His nipples, his asshole, his throat, ears, and toes all responded, seeming to climax with his erection. He stifled his moans, only to have his clamped lips merge with the other gleeful participants in what promised to be a hell of an orgasm.

Tingles rippled over his face. The nape of his neck followed, along with the sensitive pits beneath his sports-toughened guns and the hairless undersides of his wrists. His entire body was consumed by pleasure as his balls pulled up tightly around the base of his shaft, and his cock unloaded.

The room's landmarks gradually re-solidified among the shadows. Phillip's erection went from white-hot and itchy to slightly sore in his stroke-hand. Reluctantly, he released it. The eruption, and the knowledge that there would likely be another, had helped to lighten his mood. Phillip felt himself smiling in the darkness. The secret about the true nature of his sexuality quickly retreated, however, as another took its place.

Through narrowed eyes, Phillip caught sight of a single light, golden and radiant, burning through the brooding darkness of the forest at Wolf Hill's summit.

It was a light where none should exist. Hindenwood House had sat vacant since the McKinley family moved to Verdance and, so far as Phillip knew, for years before that. Sometimes, kids went there to hook up and party because, through the generations, the brooding Victorian manor had become legendary, the local haunted house. The perfect place to feel up your hotty and tap her. Tommy had done so to his, or so he claimed. Tommy was a stud, and Phillip believed him. He'd checked out his equipment enough times in the locker room after football and on sleepovers to know Tommy had the goods to back up the bragging.

Was it kids up there, the glare of a headlight, a glow stick or a flashlight?

A shiver rippled through Phillip's insides. Mimicking his climax, it started at his ears and didn't stop until its concentric waves reached his toes, causing them to curl into the carpet's pile. That light was glorious. It couldn't be kids messing around, bored out of their skulls and looking to get into trouble during a blackout. The light was pure, and all too brief, vanishing seconds after appearing.

Phillip hunched down at the window sill, aware of the full, throbbing weight of his reawakened erection. He waited and watched the darkness, hoping to see if the light would return. It didn't, but for most of the night and as long as he managed to stay awake, he occasionally heard noises, as though somebody was up there, moving things around at Hindenwood House.

From the Shadows by Jae Knight

New Orleans, December 31, 1799


"Hurry up, Lily! Mama had the carriage sent around already. We can't be late!" Elizabeth bounded into the room, a comical expression of distress on her beautiful face.

Lily looked again in the mirror and smoothed her black hair, ignoring her sister's outburst and smiling at the reflection of Elizabeth's impatient scowl behind her. Lily looked critically at her dress; it was the color of clotted cream with an underskirt of gold, to match her light eyes. She turned away from her reflection, satisfied.

"Richard will be waiting for me!" Elizabeth was referring to her betrothed, Richard de Villiers. Although their engagement was not yet official, Elizabeth knew tonight was the night they would finally announce their betrothal and she was overeager to get to the de Villiers ball right away. Many believed that Richard should go with a younger bride as Elizabeth was twenty-three. But Richard and Elizabeth were in love and that was why Elizabeth had waited to marry. The Fontaine's had wanted their daughters to marry for love and not for money.

Lily looked at her sister and told her, "He will still be there by the time we get there." It was New Year's Eve. Tonight the ladies Fontaine were going to the de Villiers' 'New Years Turn of the Century Ball'. Richard de Villiers was Elizabeth's intended. Elizabeth, who was Lily's older sister by two years, was sure that tonight was the night Richard would announce their betrothal.

"Lillian Marie Simone Fontaine! Stop your preening! We must hurry. It is already nine o'clock!" Lady Claire Fontaine made her way into the room with the two sisters. Even though her face showed signs of age, Lady Claire's beauty still radiated from her. Her face sweet and lovely, though lined. Her black hair was streaked liberally with gray, giving her a distinguished look instead of making her seem haggard.

"I told her that we mustn't be late, Mama," said Elizabeth with a pout. Elizabeth wore a bright gown of periwinkle with an underskirt of peacock blue. Her hair was arranged in artful, glossy black curls and peacock feathers.

Lily apologized, "I am sorry, Mama."

In the carriage, Lily did her best to cheer her sister's spirits but Elizabeth's pout remained intact. She filled the silence with her customary witty banter until they could see the grand chateau looming into view.

As they reached the Chateau de Villiers, a grand two-story Georgian style plantation house with expansive lawns trimmed in manicured hedges; they could see that the house was already full of people.

"It's going to be quite a crush, dears," Lady Claire predicted. The women were helped from their barouche by handsome liveried servants and they made their way gracefully into the crowded house.

"Elizabeth, there you are, my dear! I've been looking all over for you. Richard will be in the ballroom already." The hostess, Lady Jane de Villiers, greeted them in the foyer.

"Lady Claire, Lillian, you both look positively charming. I do hope you will enjoy this night." Lady Claire and Lily thanked her and left Elizabeth with Lady Jane.

"Oh, there is Cousin Margaret. Do go enjoy yourself," Lady Claire suggested as she headed toward her waving cousin.

With that, Lady Claire left her daughter. Lily supposed she should make her way into the ballroom. It was amazing to see this many people crowded into one house, even one of a size such as this. But then, everyone had wanted to attend the 'Turn of the Century Ball'. Half of the guests Lily did not recognize. She put on a smile as she entered the ballroom.

The ballroom could only be described as stunning. Mirrors reflected the dazzling light from the chandeliers off all the ladies' jewelry and guests' crystal champagne glasses, blinding her at first glimpse. Gold leafing covered all the furniture and mirrors in the room, further adding to the dreamlike glow. The lights made the gold wink among the dancing and chatting crowd. There were rich, red velvet curtains flanking all the windows and the French doors leading out onto a cobbled terrace.

Lily spotted her friend, Catherine, across the room. Lily smiled at her friend, looking uncomfortable in her red silk evening dress, her blond hair tumbling in large curls over her shoulders. She stood near a window as if trying to blend in with the curtains.

Lily stopped to chat with the other guests when necessary, so as not to appear rude, and finally made it to her friend's side.

"Lily, I am so glad that you are here," Catherine exclaimed, grasping onto Lily's arm as if she were a lifeline. Lily smiled and gave her hand a little squeeze of reassurance, as Catherine was quite shy.

"You knew I would be here, Catherine. Elizabeth thinks that tonight is the night Richard will announce their betrothal." Catherine nodded and smiled wistfully, her brown eyes dreamy, as if imaging she were Richard's fiancée.

Lily danced and conversed and enjoyed herself, getting caught up in the excitement of the pressing crowd. After a dance with a charming but rather boring gentleman, someone that she had never met before stopped her. He was quite stunning.

Tall, quite pale, the bluest eyes she had ever seen. He was dressed all in black except for a stark white shirt that had elegant lace at the cuffs. He had thick, dark auburn hair that was tied back with a black ribbon.

"Excuse me, mademoiselle, but I could not help noticing your beauty. You are the loveliest woman here, if I may be so bold."

Lily blushed prettily and thanked him for his kind words.

"Could I possibly have this dance?" he asked her, bowing over her hand and lightly kissing her knuckles.

"Well, I would love to but I do not yet know your name."

The mysterious stranger smiled and replied, "Forgive me my rudeness, mademoiselle. I am called Angelo Milonne." He then took her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm.

Angelo led her out into the next dance. It was a waltz, one of Lily's favorites. As they danced, Angelo stared into her golden-hued eyes and she could swear he was seeing more than his own reflection. Lily sucked in a breath as his body languidly moved with hers to the music. His hand on her back was scorching and her thoughts became confused.

The waltz ended and Angelo bowed to her.

"Thank you for the stimulating experience. You looked flushed. Shall we step outside to walk in the gardens?" he asked. Lily thought briefly of saying 'no'. It was deemed unseemly to wander off with a man alone but Lily's heart thundered excitedly. She smiled graciously at him and threw caution to the wind.

"Lead the way, sir." He once again took her hand.

"Please, call me Angelo."

They walked sedately through the rows of rosebushes, their heady aroma filling the night air. Angelo stopped at a beautiful fountain portraying the birth of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. All around them, yet distant, were the sounds of lovers' secret trysts. He once again looked deep into her eyes, as if peering into her very soul.

"I sense a desire in you for something more. Something different and exciting. Something dark." Then they continued walking and before she knew it, he had led her off into the trees where they would not be seen. They were too far from the house to be heard.

The shadows were thick here, cast by the hanging foliage of the willows that dripped with gray Spanish moss.

Lily swallowed nervously, wondering if she should have stayed in the safety of a crowd. But then his words had rung true and she was mesmerized by the hidden promise of fulfillment. Lily was bored by the life she led. Society was dull. She craved travel to foreign places, shimmering oceans and sandy islands. New Orleans would always be home, she knew, but adventures awaited her.

Angelo stepped closer to her, his arms outstretched. His eyes looked into hers and he nodded and said, "Yes, and I can give you adventure. I can give you a gift. A wondrous gift. Freedom. You could go anywhere, do anything and be anyone. I can show you power, hunger and so much more. Just say the word."

Angelo promises so much but could he actually give me these things? she wondered.

His eyes tugged at her, making promises she longed for him to keep and before she realized she had even made up her mind, she heard herself say, "Yes."

Angelo smiled and leaned in toward her. It was her first kiss and it was wonderful! His hands trailed over her body, making her shiver in pleasure. Angelo slowly traced her lips with his tongue; her breath was warm and sweet on his face.

Lily struggled to keep her wits about her but all she could think of was Angelo and the feeling he was giving her. All she wanted in that moment was Angelo and what he could give her. Angelo's fingers worked at the back of her dress, loosening the laces until it sagged at her shoulders. Angelo stopped kissing her and looked down at her nearly exposed breasts. With a gentle tug, the dress fell to her waist and it was short work ripping the thin material of her gauzy chemise.

Lily could have fainted when she felt his hands touching her breasts. They seemed to get heavier, swelling in his hands. Her nipples tightened to the point of being painful. Lily couldn't think of why she was letting him do these things and at the moment, she did not care. Lily let out a small scream when he traced her nipple with his tongue.

Angelo backed Lily against an old Weeping Willow; the hanging branches seeming to embrace them intimately, hiding them in its shadows. With one hand he lifted her skirts and with the other hand freed himself from his breeches.

Lily, realizing what he was about to do, knew a moment's panic. If she allowed him to take such liberties with her there could be dire consequences and she would be unfit for any decent man to wed. Angelo, sensing her escalating fear, kissed her again, trailing his hand up her inner thigh. Lily's eyes fluttered and she moaned when he gently slipped his finger into her.

* * * *

Angelo drank in her sounds of ecstasy and smiled against her lips. All resistance fled from Lily as he moved his finger slowly in and out of her moist heat. He withdrew from her and took one of her hands and wrapped it around his erection. She gently stroked him, adding fuel to his fire. Lily, feeling empowered by the reaction she was receiving, took charge. She kissed his neck and bit him hard as she moved her hand up and down his length.

Angelo growled as he felt her teeth on his neck, and then he smiled.

Wicked little minx! Yes, she would be ready for the blood.

Angelo lifted her legs and set them around his hips. Lily wrapped her arms around his neck and he spread her open and thrust his full length into her. He caught her scream in his mouth. Slowly, he pulled back until just the head of him was inside her and roughly impaled her again.

Gold Fever by Missy Lyons

Barbara cleaned for hours, scrubbing the wooden floors, dusting off the worn furniture, washing down the windows, until she fell onto the bed, exhausted. The quilted down comforter enfolded her in its warm folds. She didn't mean to close her eyes, but the physical fatigue consumed her. It wasn't long before she drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Darkness settled over the new frontier and went unnoticed by Barbara as she slept on the bed. It was not until much later, she was startled awake by the sound of the door swing open and closed. Heavy footsteps broke the silence of the night. Her heart froze in fear as she realized she had forgotten to lock the door. It was pitch black in the cabin, and so quiet she could hear the stranger's breathing across the room from her. She was a woman in a strange place. A wild land, full of Indians and cowboys. Outlaws walked among everyone else freely. The law of the west was about who carried the bigger gun. It wasn't safe for her to be alone like this. What had she been thinking?

Silently she lay still frozen in place on the bed, agonizing over what to do next. She couldn't see him, but he sounded big. She imagined it was his coat that just fell to the floor. He sat down on the chair, loosening his clothing.

Good Lord! He was undressing!

Barbara hoped he didn't plan to join her in the bed. He didn't know she was there yet. Perhaps if she was quiet she could slip out unnoticed. Then she could go get the sheriff to throw the trespasser out. She moved one leg slowly to the edge of the bed, trying not to make a sound. She imagined he just took off his shirt as she stood up in the darkness. Revealing a bare chest that no lady of good society should be seeing on any man except her husband.

The soft material barely made a sound as it was tossed on the floor. He began to whistle in the dark as he worked to undress. One shoe hit the floor with a thud, and then another. What was he doing now? Working at his belt perhaps? Goodness sake, she was going to be in the room with a naked man soon. She heard another item of clothing hit the floor with a clink. There was not much left to remove but his pants, so she wasn't surprised when she could hear the sound of the material being removed as he pulled it off his legs.

Desperation hit her. She had to get out of here now! This was incredibly dangerous. Being alone with a man who was both a stranger and naked was a recipe for disaster. No one even knew she was here alone to worry about her if she went missing. There was no one she knew that could help her. Nowhere that she could go. Stealthily she crept to the door and towards safety.

The floor creaked under him as he stood up and came towards her. Panic seized her heart and suddenly in a frenzy, she threw the door open, running for her freedom.

* * * *

"What the hell?" Vincent Waverly heard the door slam and the sound of someone running out of the cabin. That wasn't the the wind. His heart pounded with a mixture of anger and fear. What was that person doing in here? Why hadn't they spoken a word to him? He didn't know who it was, but he did know he wasn't going to let that someone get away from him.

* * * *

Barbara could hear him curse before running after her. His breath came hard as he pounded the soft earth behind her. She pushed herself to run faster, lifting her skirt up out of the way of her feet. Unrelenting he refused to allow her to escape.

Suddenly he was upon her, his strong arms locking around her chest, imprisoning her arms and using his bodyweight to knock her to the ground. The soft earth and grass broke her fall, but it momentarily knocked the wind from her lungs. She struggled against his arms, pulling at him until he cursed again.

"Let go of me!" she demanded, wriggling under his body.

* * * *

"You're a girl?" his deep voice said in disbelief. His hands were on her ripe breasts, feeling the fullness of them as if to be sure of her sex.

"Not a girl." She puffed out her chest indignantly, arching away from him. "I am a woman. Now get off of me, you big oaf."

He wasn't about to argue with her there. She was most definitely a woman, with very womanly curves. However, he wasn't about to remove his body from hers until he had some answers, and even then he wasn't sure he wanted to get off her. His body was already responding to being in such close contact and she was a perfect stranger. His powerful body pinned her to the ground, and in a most ungentlemanly like manner. This was not a situation he anticipated. His conscience dictated that he should be removing his body from hers, but there was still another matter to consider. What was she doing here in the first place?

He growled out, "Not so fast. What were you doing in my house?"

She seemed indignant when she responded, her voice lined with restrained anger, "Your house? It belongs to me. I am Joseph Lane's daughter."

"Who?" He didn't recognize the name, but instinctively knew she wasn't the burglar he originally suspected. She really did think she belonged here. He turned her body over, kneeling above her. Her disheveled hair was strewn about her shoulders. His cock was hardening in response to her feminine curves, straining against the confines of his pants. Vincent always had been a sucker for a beautiful woman. There were too many women in his memories. He couldn't remember half of their names, but this one…

"Joseph Lane." Barbara paused a moment. If this stranger belonged here at all, he would recognize the name. "He owned the gold mine here and built this house, and I have come to claim it now that he died. You are the one that is trespassing," she gritted out between clenched teeth.

The man cocked his head studying her in the moonlight. It was lighter out here than in the house and he could see the resemblance now. She looked like his old friend, Buster. He stared deep into her stormy eyes. Her eyes were a prettier shade of blue than her father's, only accentuated by her anger. He let his gaze trail down her face to her heaving breasts, making her even more tempting. As if she sensed where his mind was headed, she let out a small growl.

She was a spitfire, to be sure.

"What is your name?" he asked.

Her fighting spirit captivated him. Even overpowered, she wasn't about to give up her escape. Her lips pursed in resentment of her confinement.

"Barbara Lane." Her angry voice sounded almost sexy with its raspy tone.

"You're Buster's daughter?"

"No. I just told you. I am Joseph Lane's daughter. Do you have a hearing problem?"

Apparently she never knew her father was known around these parts as Buster, not Joseph. He smirked at her comment, chuckling to himself. That snippy attitude would help him keep his cock under control. She was far too tempting under him. He could feel every curve of her, his groin nestled into hers as if it belonged there, and the way she wiggled made him loathe to make a move to get off her.

Begrudgingly, he got off her, and noticed she was suddenly aware of his near naked state. She gawked at him before turning away with a blush to stare at the ground. He stretched out his hand to help her up to a sitting position and she reluctantly took it.

It was plain to him that she was an innocent. She looked at him as if she had never seen a naked man before, and Vincent didn't mind the way her gaze had drifted curiously over his body. He knew he turned most of the ladies' heads, but she was different somehow in the way she tried to keep her eyes modestly avoiding him. Though he could tell her body was reacting to his as well, and not from fear.

He pulled her close to him, but not touching her intimately. Making him acutely aware of her body.

"It's my pleasure to meet you, my dear. My name is Vincent Waverly."