Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bound By Love by Wendy Stone

The sunlight tickled her nose. She tried to brush away the glaring beam with one hand, wrinkling her nose when it stayed with such stubborn tenacity. A sneeze caught her unaware, waking her to a nightmare of bright light and a cuff ringing her ankle. The cuff was attached to a long chain, shackling her to a large bed.

Adrianna sat up, staring at the unfamiliar room with a frown upon her exquisite features. Her mind raced as she fought to remember how she’d gotten here. The last thing she recalled was unlocking the door of her walkup apartment in Queens, going through the six deadbolts with a groan. Her father installed them last month, certain that she could never be too safe on her own in the big city of New York. He’d been right, though the deadbolts hadn’t helped her cause.

A massive hand came over her face when she’d pushed the door open, causing her to drop her mail and the large ring of keys that jangled as they hit the ancient carpeting of her foyer. She’d been dragged unceremoniously into the apartment, kicking and screaming through the hand that covered her mouth, muffling any noise she tried to make.

Her eyes frantically searched for help, or for a weapon; anything she could use to break free. But the huge man that held her in his grip resisted her easily.

“Do not fight.”

The words were whispered into her ear, spoken gruffly in a strange but melodic accent. Adrianna couldn’t help but roll her eyes. Yeah, right, she thought. Like that’ll happen. She kicked back, hitting his shin with the sharp heel of her boot.
He cursed, using foreign words that sent a chill through her blood. Who was this man? And why was he here? Her family had no money; she had no ties to anyone’s fortune. Her thoughts were interrupted when the brute wrapped his arm just below her breast and squeezed, cutting off her breath.

“Settle, wench, and I won’t have to hurt you.”

He spun her around, hand still clasped over her mouth, giving her a good look at his body. He was tall, with shoulders that seemed impossibly wide and narrowed to lean hips and long, thickly muscled legs. His chest was covered with a strange leather vest; it almost looked like snake skin, but with a pattern unlike any she’d ever seen. His black pants were tucked into knee boots laced with thongs of hide, a faint fringe of fur ringing the tops. And at his waist, pushed through a thick black belt, was a sword that seemed longer than she was tall to her frightened eyes.

“This will be much easier if you do not fight,” he said, and she saw his eyes roaming over her with interest. “I will remove my hand if you promise not to scream. If you do,” he added hastily, looking into her eyes, “I shall just be forced to knock you out and take you anyway.”

Under his stare, Adrianna felt her resolve waver. She was a fighter but she was smart as well. Maybe if she cooperated, she could come out of this alive. Who knew what this Conan wannabe wanted with her? With a slight nod, she acknowledged his words, giving her assent.

He lowered his hand and Adrianna got her first unobstructed look at his face. Long, thick hair that was straight as pins hung past his shoulders, pulled back from his face in thin braids. It was a deep auburn, almost more brown then red. His eyes were brown, wide set and intelligent. High cheekbones and a sharp jaw framed a mouth that was just a hint too full to be perfect. Those lips grinned just then and she looked into his eyes, seeing the humor he must be feeling at the way she was looking at him.

“Like what you see, wench? ‘Tis too bad you aren’t mine, but I promised you to a friend. He deserves you for the good that he did me, so see that you treat him well.” He turned and spoke to someone over his shoulder. “Bring the bitch in. Place her there, on that long bench, so that we may finish this business and return home before much longer.”

Adrianna watched, stunned by the man’s words and his nonchalant attitude. He spoke of promising her to another as if she belonged to him, a possession to be given away at a whim. She opened her mouth, only to close it again at a warning glare from her captor.

A woman was brought in, petite in form, caped and gagged, her hands bound in front of her. The man holding her was as gorgeous and foreign-looking as the one who had grabbed her, wearing the same strange clothing, except this man wore a gold arm band. In the short space of time that Adrianna got to look at it, she noticed it was intricately carved, and detailed with what looked like precious stones. He too, though had the same dark auburn hair and brown eyes, though his seemed more serious.
The woman was pushed onto the couch, her cape falling back off of her shoulders with the roughness of the move. She was naked underneath, her body beautiful and lush despite the grime and bruises that marred its satiny surface. Her eyes, a tawny amber color that matched the sunlit tresses that cascaded around her, shot sparks of defiance at the men now standing above her. Adrianna couldn’t help but admire the feisty demeanor of the slender woman.

She almost screamed when she was thrust down beside the naked girl, her hands taken and tied securely in front of her. “What are you going to do with me?” she gasped as the ropes bit into the tender skin of her wrists.

Damien turned and looked at the woman he’d come to retrieve. He could understand Kaden’s lust for her. She was as beautiful, if not more so, than any woman in their land. Her long hair was russet colored, curling delightfully around her slender, oval face. Huge green eyes stared up at him with a mixture of terror and defiance. Ivory skin, as creamy smooth as the texture of silk, had turned even paler with fright, save for the mark made by the pressure of his hand upon her face. Her lips were strange, the bottom one slightly smaller than the top, giving her an unusual upside-down look.

It was an arresting face, one that made a man want to stop and look, count the green flecks in her eyes, touch skin that craved a man’s hand to warm it. Her body was also a delight to behold. Slender, but seeming with delicate strength, her waist could be enfolded between his hands. Her breasts pushed at the white material of her blouse, straining its capacity with their abundance. Her hips were rounded, long curvy legs easily seen in the short skirt she wore, one which scandalized his sense of propriety for what a woman should be allowed to wear.

But this was a strange place, and he had to make allowances for the customs and ways of these people. “I mean to take you back to my lands, lady. You are the prize, given by me to one of my men for his bravery and honor.”

Adrianna sat as if he’d struck her. Taken out of her home, given to a stranger and made to do God knows what? She had to get out of here, and now.

Opening her mouth, she gulped in a huge breath of air. But before she could let loose the shriek that burned her throat, a rag was thrust into in her mouth, causing her to gag at its rancid taste.

“I warned you,” her captor said pleasantly. “Now sit there and be still. I need but a moment to concentrate on the rest of the task that I must perform.” He closed his eyes, leaving the man he’d brought with him to stand watch over the two bound women.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes, and with a guttural grunt waved his hand above the heads of the two women. Adrianna felt a strange tingle start at the base of her spine, a kind of energy that built into a ball, traveling up her backbone and leaving a trail of gooseflesh in its wake. It shivered through her, almost like an orgasm as its heat built.

She moaned, unable to help herself, feeling her legs weaken and shake. Her arms shivered as sensation spilled over and through her, pulling out of her until the energy encased her head. Her eyes closed, rolling backwards as the tingling fingers of sensation probed and tantalized her system. Her thighs grew lax, opening, a moistness dewing between them, growing wetter until she felt as if she were dripping. Her breathing grew heavy; the air thick in her lungs as she waited for something she knew had to come. She longed for it and would have begged had she been able to speak. All she could do was moan against the filthy rag in her mouth.

It exploded, sending silvery shots of light behind her eyelids. Pleasure robbed her of her senses and she fell back, her mind going black with the shock.

She awoke.

Adrianna rubbed her eyes, staring around the peculiar room with disbelief. It was round, floor to ceiling windows gracing the thick stone walls every few feet. The wavy texture of leaded glass filled the windows, distorting the world outside. A door stood closed on the far wall, the only wall not studded with windows. In the center of the room were the bed she was in and a large ornate mirror.
“Where am I?” she said softly, her voice unusually loud in the absolute quiet of the room. “Where did he take me?”

Adrianna rose from the bed, anxious to go to the window and see if she could recognize anything. She couldn’t have been unconscious that long, so they couldn’t have taken her far. Maybe she could find a way to let someone know she was trapped here, held against her will. She gasped with shock, realizing for the first time that she was naked.

Did he do it? The man who’d taken her? Had he stripped her, chained her to this bed? Adrianna shook her ankle, feeling the cuff drag against her foot as the heaviness of the chain weighed it down. She reached over, grabbing the thin blanket she’d been given, and tried to pull it from the bed, cursing when it wouldn’t move.
“Who would sew the damn thing to the bed?” she asked aloud, not expecting an answer, just craving the sound of something other than the silence of the room to ease the fear that kept trying to overwhelm her. She stopped struggling with the blanket, resigning herself to walking nude in the small room, and went to the windows.
The view was amazing. It seemed as if she could see forever, staring over a vista of trees and water that stretched to the horizon. She could see a forest, cut back and away from immense walls that surrounded the building she was in, at least at this side of it. An orchard lay to her left, large trees heavily laden with fruit. Farther, she could see a garden laid out in neat and orderly rows, people working with hoes, bending and gathering.

They were dressed in curious long dresses reaching to their ankles, rough materials that, even at such a distance, seemed strange to Adrianna’s untrained eye. The women wore their hair long, to the waist in most cases, blowing in the slight breeze of the day. One carried a baby at her breast in a sling.

A noise below caught her attention, and she strained forward, pressing her face to the window to stare the long distance to the ground. Three men, all riding huge horses, came into view. She squinted to see them through the wavy glass, amazed as she stared at the leather breeches that covered thickly muscled legs and were tucked into rough looking boots. Vests covered their upper torsos, leaving huge arms bare to the sun. Gold colored bracelets banded heavily-muscled biceps, sparkling in the bright light. At their waists, Adrianna swore she could see swords, again one looking as if it were taller than she.

She gasped at the sight of these men straight out of some Robin Hood movie set in the day of brigands and duels, with ladies who fainted and swooned at manly forms. Was she in some kind of strange camp or fair where machines weren’t allowed? Or worse yet, one of those strange cults she’d heard about, where they stole women and made them sex slaves, keeping them from everything they ever knew.

Before she could think further, she heard the click of a key turning in a lock, and spun around. The door to her prison was being pushed open. Glancing at her naked body, Adrianna hurried to the bed, climbing in to pull the blanket up to her chin.
An old woman hobbled into the room, a tray in her hands. She gave Adrianna an angry sneer, and then slammed the tray upon the floor close to the bed. Without another look, she turned and started to leave.

“Wait,” Adrianna said, holding out her hand.

The woman turned, looking over her shoulder at the girl in the bed. Her eyes, a vivid blue and incredibly beautiful, seemed to seethe with untold anger as she stared at Adrianna. She stood, waiting for Adrianna to speak.

“I…Could you tell me where I am?” Adrianna asked, hesitantly. “I’m afraid I can’t remember anything.”

“Ha! Lucky then you are,” the old woman said. Although she was little more than a crone, her singsong voice sounded surprisingly young.

“Why am I here? Whose place is this? How’d I get here? Can’t you tell me something? Please?” Adrianna heard the hysteria in her voice but couldn’t help it. She was scared and this glowering old woman was her only source of information.
“You’ll know when they want you to know.” With those words, she turned and left the room, moving with a speed unexpected from someone so old.

“I’ll know when they want me to? What kind of answer is that? Dammit! Why am I here?!” Frustration made her want to lash out and she looked for something to throw. Her food tray, lying on the floor, caught her attention and she bent over to pick it up, wanting to throw it against the wall, maybe even break the mirror.

But instead, her stomach growled, making her wonder how long she’d been unconscious. She set the tray on the bed, staring at the strange food. A gray, slightly sticky looking mass that reminded her of oatmeal sat in a roughly carved wooden bowl. Coarse bread was on the tray next to it. A silver mug held a milky liquid. Lifting it to her nose, Adrianna sniffed at the drink. It smelled sweet, like milk and honey, and she took a small sip.

It tasted somewhat odd, but good, and even though she worried about the food being drugged, Adrianna ate everything that was there, relishing it like a gourmet dinner prepared by a chef in a four star restaurant. Afterwards, when she put the tray on the floor and settled back against the too small pillow, her mind seemed clearer.

As the day progressed, Adrianna’s restlessness grew. The crone returned twice more, bringing more food and taking away the empty trays, cleaning out the rough wooden bucket that Adrianna had been given for her more personal needs. She never spoke again, no matter how much Adrianna begged for answers. Threats fared no better, ignored, or worse, smiled at. By the time the sun set in this bizarre place, Adrianna was no closer to knowing why she was here than when she awoke.

By the third day, Adrianna had given up. She slept a lot, finding comfort in unconsciousness. It battled the boredom, the tedious inching of time that passed more slowly as the day progressed. When she was awake, her time was spent at the windows, staring at the scenery, watching the people go about their daily lives and wondering if this was all that was left for her. To watch life like a fish in a bowl, always on the outside, growing more numb every day of her captivity. Would she grow mad if left in this room?

When I Dream of You by Mychael Black and Shayne Carmichael

Daniel walked in and stood not too far away from the door. The gym was packed with people waiting to use several machines and chatting to pass the time. Most of them were men with towels around their necks, some in shirts and some not, wearing tight little shorts. There were trainers scattered throughout as well, most of them with a client. It was a typical Friday evening, the majority of the men having just got off work.

When he spotted Karl coming towards the desk, Daniel gave him a hesitant wave. Thankfully the black eye and bruised mouth had faded to faint discolorations on his face. Dressed in a pair of loose jeans and blue t-shirt, he didn't look like the rest of the crowd.

"Well, hi there," Karl said, bypassing the desk entirely as he headed toward Daniel. With a gentle grip, he tilted Daniel's head up. "Looking much better. How have you been?"

"Yeah, it's starting to go away. Finally." Looking up at Karl, Daniel smiled a bit. "I wasn't sure what time you got off, but I hoped you wouldn't mind a bit of company. Would you?"

Karl smiled and stroked his thumb over Daniel's bottom lip before letting go. "Sure." Without seeming to give it another thought, he turned and leaned over the desk. The woman behind it just chuckled as Karl crossed off his name for the rest of the day. Turning back to Daniel, he said, "Come on back with me. I need to change, then maybe we can go grab a bite. You eat yet?"

"No, I haven't, but you don't have to take off work. I can come back later."

Karl just grinned and took Daniel's hand, tugging him back toward the locker rooms. "I'm one of the owners," he said casually, taking a swig from his water.

"Oh ... I didn't know that. I guess that's okay then."

"Now you do," Karl said with a wink. "If you don't feel comfortable chatting while I dress, you're welcome to hang out right here. My locker's around the corner." As he walked, he tugged his shirt over his head, back muscles rippling and glistening with sweat.

"Nah, doesn't bother me. I stopped by your place before I came here. Figured you had to be at work." Daniel followed him, then settled on the edge of the bench near Karl's locker, watching the flex of muscle beneath velvety dark skin from the veil of his lashes. "Don't know if you ever expected me to see me again, though."

"Was kind of hoping I would," Karl said. He unlocked his locker and pulled out a black gym bag. After digging through it for clean clothes, he set them on the bench and peeled off his shorts. A black jockstrap held everything, though it left little to the imagination. "Told you before: I'm partial to your company. I think Cin misses you, too."

Oh, he wanted to look, badly. But Daniel wouldn't invade Karl's personal space with blatant staring, so he looked off towards the top of the lockers. "I think I missed you guys, too. Work has been a bit hectic, otherwise I would have come to see you sooner."

"I can understand that. Where do you work, anyway?"

"At an attorney's office down on Fremont Street. And no, I'm not a lawyer, don't want to be one, either. I do office work and research for my dad." Finally, he glanced back down and stared less than overtly at Karl dressed in sinfully tight jeans.

Karl caught his gaze and smiled. "So what are you in the mood to eat?"

Daniel stammered as he ducked his head slightly. "Uh, yeah. Haven't had a chance to eat since last night."

Karl just chuckled and shook his head, tugged a red Polo shirt on, and closed his locker. With the bag slung over his left shoulder, he followed Daniel out. He waved goodbye to a few of the members and trainers, then held the front door open for Daniel. "After you."

"I took the bus down here since Dad needed the car tonight. I'll have to catch it by eleven since that's the last bus that'll run tonight."

Digging his keys out of his jeans pocket, Karl glanced over at him. "How are things at home?" He led the way to a white Camaro.

At first Daniel didn't want to answer that. "Okay, I guess."

Karl stopped and put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Why don't I believe that?" He turned Daniel around to see his face.

"I get sick of listening to him, you know." Another casual shrug hid the real emotion behind the words. "Sometimes he gets really hateful."

"Something tells me he's not fond of your choice in partners," Karl said quietly, his eyes never leaving Daniel's.

Not sure how much to say, Daniel played it safe and kept his remark general. "He's not fond of anything about me."

Karl's hand moved up to cup Daniel's cheek, his fingers sliding back through Daniel's hair. "Then he's a fool."

Daniel responded with a grateful smile. "I think he is, too. Just when you're in the middle of it, that's sometimes hard to remember."

Karl gave him a soft smile, gaze lowering just the slightest bit to settle on Daniel's mouth. "Yeah ... I believe it."

Searching for something to say, Daniel opened his mouth, but it took a couple of seconds before the question came out. "What did you want to get to eat?"

Karl blinked and shook his head slightly, letting his hand fall away. "Um, whatever you're in the mood for." He unlocked the car door for Daniel before going around to the driver's side.

"Burger King, if that sounds good." As he settled in the car, Daniel looked out the passenger window and fastened his belt. "We can just stop and get something real quick."

"That works." Karl buckled and started the car, then pulled out into the street. "So, got any plans for the weekend?"

"No, not really. Just hanging wherever I feel like it."

"You know you're welcome to crash at my place."

"It won't be too much trouble? I just wanted to come over and talk to you for a while. Wasn't looking for a place to crash or anything like that."

"I know," Karl said as he pulled into the Burger King parking lot. "It gets lonely. I want you to come over, chill out, hang with me and Cin. Besides, she'd never forgive me if she smelled you on me and you weren't there."

"I enjoyed being with you guys last week. Really did miss you two. You wanna go through the drive-thru or go in?"

"We can go in if you want. Or take it home."

"Drive-thru," Daniel decided. "I'll take a triple Whopper, fries, and a Coke." He dug into his back pocket for his wallet.

Karl reached over and put a hand on Daniel's arm. "My treat. Please?"

"I'm really bad about letting other people pay for my stuff."

"I'm really bad about letting friends pay for everything all the time." Karl drove up to the menu speaker. After ordering their dinners, he moved up to the window, paid, and started handing the bag and drinks to Daniel.

"Why do we sound so much alike?"

"Great minds think alike?"

"Glad you think I have a great mind," Daniel laughed.

"Hell, if this is all it takes to hear you laugh, then maybe I won't have to do tricks."

"Now you know I'm not going to let that pass, Karl. I want to see some tricks now." Grinning impishly, Daniel reached for the door handle when the car stopped in front of Karl's apartment.

"When I actually think of some that could be taken as funny, then I'll remember that," Karl said with a wink. He turned off the car and got out, taking the drinks from Daniel before heading up the stairs.

Bags in hand, Daniel was right behind Karl. He felt a lot happier and more relaxed then when he'd first entered Karl's gym. When he saw Cin barking and trying to get attention, he moved closer to Karl. "We better get in there before she comes through the window."

"I got her a plain hamburger," Karl said as he unlocked the door. The second it was open, Cin barreled out of the apartment, barking wildly and pawing at Daniel's legs. Karl just laughed and shook his head, waving Daniel inside.

Putting both bags in one hand, Daniel tried to keep the food away from the dog as he pet her. At the same time, he headed for the living room. "Heya, Cin. Hungry, aren't ya?"

Karl closed the door and followed Daniel into the living room. "Hey, baby girl. You know Daddy didn't forget you. And look! I even brought Daniel!"

As if she knew exactly what Karl was saying, Cin did a little dance in the middle of the living room floor. Balancing on her hind feet, she twisted and turned and jumped, all the while pawing at the air and yapping happily.

Laughing, Daniel plopped down onto the couch. Just watching Cin and the interaction between her and Karl relaxed him. It was so much different from his own home, the difference like night and day.

Karl set their drinks on the coffee table and dropped down onto the couch beside Daniel. "Where's her burger, before she goes after ours?"

Opening one bag, Daniel found the extra burger and handed the bag to Karl. "Think this one is yours. It has Cin's hamburger." Grabbing the other bag, he pulled his triple and fries out before taking the paper off a straw and sticking it into his soda.

"Cool." Karl unwrapped the plain hamburger and set it on the floor where it was quickly snatched up and carried off to Cin's corner in the living room. Settling back, Karl ate and watched Cin, his gaze wandering occasionally to Daniel, a little concerned, a little curious, and a lot happy.

Daniel could feel Karl's gaze on him while he ate. He felt an urge to open up to Karl, but he wasn't so sure it would be fair. He appreciated everything Karl had done for him, and Daniel didn't want to pile any more of his personal problems on the man.

When they were done, Karl stood and took the trash into the kitchen. Then he returned to the couch and grabbed his drink before sitting back against the arm, facing Daniel. "A part of me wishes you could talk to me," he said quietly. "But then I remember that we only met a week ago."

"Don't think it's that. Just I got a lot going on, and it's not really your hassle to deal with." Curling up against the arm of the couch, Daniel practically huddled in on himself, wrapping his arm around his legs and hugging them against his chest.

Karl stared down at his cup, toying with the straw. "I had a dream about you a few nights ago."

Resting his chin on his knees, Daniel stared at Karl, puzzled. "A dream? About me?"

Karl didn't look up, just nodded. "Kinda like the first night we met, but different place, different guys. But always you. Always me."

"You think I'm trouble and you want to help?"

"Not that you're trouble." Karl glanced up, giving Daniel a sheepish grin that looked well out of place on the face of muscle-bound bodybuilder like him. "I've developed a bit of a protective streak is all," he said finally.

"I was gonna say that, but wasn't sure if I should or not. Do I look that helpless?"

Karl shrugged, looked back down at his drink. "Nah, just that cute."

Daniel opened his mouth to say something then realized he wasn't sure if he should say it. Instead, he decided on something else. "All the guys you see and you think I'm cute? I've seen some of the men at your gym. Those are the kind of guys everybody drools over."

"Then why have I never wanted a kiss from them, but one week has me dying for just one from you?"

Daniel licked nervously at his lower lip and his gaze fastened on Karl's lips. "Why don't you kiss me before I say something really stupid?"

Karl didn't waste any time, taking the invitation for what it was. Scooting closer, he cupped the back of Daniel's neck and pulled him close, bringing their mouths together. He licked tentatively at Daniel's lips and when they parted, his tongue slid inside. Pliable to Karl's touch, Daniel fisted his hand in the front of Karl's shirt. Tugging Daniel closer, Karl twisted slightly, pulling Daniel onto his lap. His other hand rested on Daniel's hip but went no further. He sighed into the kiss, the sound content. Drawing back slightly, Daniel warmed Karl's lips with his breath before his tongue brushed over them again.

"Lord, you're a temptation," Karl whispered.

"And you think you aren't?" Ducking his head, Daniel began to nuzzle against Karl's throat, his words muffled. "God, I want to taste you."

"Anything you want, so long as I can return the favor," Karl said, voice gone husky, deep. He tipped his head, giving Daniel all the room he wanted.

Just the thought was nearly enough to make Daniel come in his pants. Shifting restlessly in Karl's lap, he felt the hardness of Karl's cock beneath him. Without meaning to, he bit more sharply then he meant to at Karl's skin.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Jilted by Leigh Ellwood

"I'll be right down," Dara Winter called over the rail separating the lofted stairwell from the airy downstairs foyer. "Let me get my gloves."

She walked into her bedroom, and quickly the white satin, arm-length gloves she'd planned to retrieve were forgotten. Instead, the Ghosts of Engagements Past demanded her attention, as they were currently arranged in an arc before her.

Only they weren't ghosts, but muscle-hardened flesh and blood. Scowling lips, folded arms, and ramrod postures greeted her this morning, invoking a discomforting sense of doom that wiped the smile off Dara's own face.

"Big day, huh, Dara?" the closest to her challenged. "Bet you never expected to find one of us here, let alone three old flames."

"What...?" Dara's heart leapt into her throat.

"We meant to send cards," the man continued, "but figured something like this deserved a more ... personal salutation."

She said nothing, only stared, then blinked, as though lamely attempting to wish them away by not acknowledging them immediately.

"This is the curse of neglecting to acquire something borrowed and something blue," the front man snickered. "I didn't see anything here that tells otherwise, which is surprising, considering your history with cast-offs."

Dara did not look happy; that was apparent. Who could blame her? "On the day of my wedding, of all days, this has to happen?" She watched the faces of the three, studying their reaction to her. Could they detect the surprise, fear, and fury flitting as one new emotion across her features on a whirlwind tour of her nerves? She didn't know how to react to something like this, and it showed.

Her voice, she imagined, would put things better into perspective.

"How did you get in here?" Dara demanded. "This house has been full of people since Friday, and I was just up here twenty minutes ago when I got up. No way in Hell that you three crawled up the trellis on the side of the house.

Indeed, the intricate white wooden grid that trained ivy along the house's exterior toward the roof was frail. Any one of them would have cracked it on the first step. The three men together would have easily rendered it to toothpicks.

"Look," she continued, flouncing toward the widest window in the room. "I had the window locked all night. You couldn't have come in that way."

"Who says we did?" another of the visitors challenged.

"How did you get in here?" she echoed. "You're too large to be missed."

This was the truth. Big men, they were. Strong and cut with identical lantern jaws and thick veins roped around biceps. One in every flavor--blond, brunette, redhead--dressed in jogging shorts and T-back tanks. It looked like the set of Alpha romance cover model convention had been relocated here.

And yet, not one drop of sweat to indicate any had been out for a run and decided at the last minute to spoil her big day. To think they were able to spoil her nuptials without much effort or strain ... and look so damn delicious.

Of course, the real physical exertion was yet to come. There was going to be a struggle, she knew, and she swallowed hard just contemplating the consequences.

Jack of Hearts by Leigh Ellwood

The second he saw her hands extended to welcome him, he no longer felt apprehensive. The handshake was firm, her nails painted a smooth, red lacquer with nary a crack or bubble marring the finish. Blood red, so smooth one might expect the color to ripple like a tide pool when touched. These were not the hands of a charlatan, not of a person who might bite her nails in fear that her deceits might be uncovered. This woman, this dark, sensuous woman draped in fringe and knotted lace lining cuffs, collars, and hems, knew her business.

Lars folded a crisp fifty dollar bill and a rose quartz pendant into her waiting palm and took a seat in the plush chair opposite hers, then touched his elbows to his knees. He hovered over the splayed deck of cards on the table before them. "You can dispense with any theatrics," he told her. "Just tell me what I need to know, not what I want to hear."

He hoped, however, that what the psychic had to say was what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear that Lila had indeed become reincarnated and now lived in this age. Exactly how old Lila would be now was immaterial; if she were elderly, he would change her and restore her youth. If she were still a child, he would wait. Vampires only had time ... and the desire to feed. Besides, he had waited this long ... a few mortal years were nothing to him.

The soothsayer said nothing as she pocketed the cash, then turned the heart-shaped quartz in her palm. He had given it to Lila nearly two hundred years ago as a promise to marry; she had been wearing it the day Lars was changed, the day his creator slashed past the ribbon around her throat as she blocked the vampire from Lars in a weak attempt to protect him. The memory of that terror--Lila's shrieks of pain, his creator's cold indifference--bubbled in his memory as he watched card after card slide through the dark woman's fingers. Lars swallowed back the pain and tried to focus on the deck. This was not a time to mourn; he would not let his anger overshadow what could potentially be the rediscovery of his joy.

He let the whisper of each turned card absorb the echoes in his head, until there was nothing but steady breathing and rapid shuffling, quiet yet tense. The woman's voice was a honeyed purr that tickled the back of his neck and slithered up his skull.

"Something very important was taken from you."

"Don't tell me what I already know," he countered tersely. Her retort was a frown that pinched her lovely face. Lars watched her rifle through the remainder of the deck until nothing remained facing upward but three cards, all hearts. She bit her lip. Dark eyes widened. Lars edged forward in his seat.

Jack of Diamonds by Leigh Ellwood

"Bonjour!"

Jack's head snapped away from the window. From the back bustled a grandmotherly figure in a blue dress, wrapped in a yellow gingham apron. She had the look of a cartoon mascot just stepped from a box of biscuit flour. To that effect, white dust trailed her like a dissolving halo, and patches of baking residue clung to the hands that poured Jack tea from a fine china pot.

It could only be Flora, the woman Miss Ruby said harbored vampires in a safe house environment situated somewhere in the hotel. Exactly how they were accommodated Jack didn't want to know. He pictured a line of coffins arranged in a dark, dank cellar and cringed to think of his lover lying there, cold and alone, when he could be in Jack's warm bed.

Assuming Lars wanted to be in another man's bed, Jack mused sadly. He had to know; the manner in which Lars left after their only night together was so open-ended. He needed to know if Lars wanted him, or if their one night together was nothing more than a failed attempt to recapture what Lars had lost two centuries ago with Jack's previous incarnation.

"I'm sorry, I'm American. English, Anglais," Jack responded to Flora's rapid, unaccented French.

The woman paused, her expression momentarily puzzled, then laughed gaily as she patted his shoulder. "Oh, forgive me. Force of habit," she said. "I don't find many tourists here, what with the house being so far away from all the usual attractions."

"I know." Jack tried to smile, but instead did his best to discreetly brush away the crumbled sugar and butter crumbs from his sweater.

"First time in Paris?" When Jack nodded, she continued, "I do hope you'll enjoy your stay," she said. "Of course, you can tell easily I'm not a native," Flora's ample chest shook with quiet laughter, "but the city is more my home than my actual hometown could ever be. I don't think I could ever leave, I have so many friends here."

"So many friends. I made a good friend not long ago myself." He reached into his pocket for the small trinket that had become his worry stone. He set the heart-shaped rose quartz on the table and spun it idly, watching the point and rounded curves blur into a perfect circle. "He gave me this."

Flora began to rattle off the current menu of dainty edibles and finger sandwiches, but stopped upon seeing the quartz charm. The knowing look on the stocky woman's face relieved Jack. At the very least, Miss Ruby hadn't sent him on a wild goose chase by picking a city off an atlas and a restaurant from an Internet search.

"I have the feeling," Flora said, taking the chair opposite Jack's, "what you want is not on my menu." Her eyes fixed on the spinning heart until it stopped, pointing directly at Jack.

Jack shook his head. Flora's smile bore a recognition of the jewel that rattled him. Even as this happened, he still couldn't believe it. He wanted to look around for hidden cameras.

"Trust me, as long I've been harboring them, I still have trouble accepting how integrated these phenomenal creatures are in our society. You," she pointed at Jack, "I already know, too, believe it or not."

Jack's heart lifted at that. She wouldn't know unless somebody had come to tell her. "That I'm the reincarnation of an heiress from the time of Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil," he supplied. It felt weird to say, but at least the woman didn't laugh.

"You were Lila D'aubigne, the great love of Lars Ullsson."

I'd like to think I still am. Lars loved this woman, this Lila, and had waited centuries for her next incarnation. By logic, Lars should be in love with him. Jack certainly loved Lars, had done so for years before their first encounter, as Lars appeared often in his dreams to woo him.

Of course, those weren't really dreams, Jack knew, but memories of Lila's past. More and more, parts of Lila surfaced to meld with Jack's consciousness. Jack could understand Lars being confused with the gender shift in Lila's latest incarnation, but a part of him hoped Lars could look past it and see the soul and spirit of his true love, regardless of how it came packaged.

Homecoming by Sabrina Luna

The crisp autumn air with its occasional flurries of amber and red leaves is like no other season. It's Homecoming, my favorite time of the year. I'm Jack MacDonald, teacher of World History at Eastmore Academy. It's a private school, well-known for academics, and noted for its strict codes of behavior and discipline.

At forty-one, I'm one of the youngest male teachers on staff. I still have a full head of hair, even if it's gone salt-and-pepper gray. Thanks to regular visits to the gym, I've also managed to keep lean and fit. And, even though I'm hipper, cooler than the other staff members, my pupils know I'm certainly no pushover. Sure, I'm aware of what they call me behind my back.

Mr. MacDiscipline.

I've been known to reprimand those unruly ones, the ones who don't behave, just as well as some of the older staff members. I've earned my nickname for enforcing Eastmore's codes as I've instilled my own type of discipline on the more difficult ones. The reason I chose the teaching profession was to help shape the future of the next generation ... and it's a decision I'm proud of.

It was a couple of days until the Eastmore Homecoming Alumni Day. This special day was a longstanding tradition at the school. A day for our former pupils to return and lecture to the senior classes. It was also an opportunity to discuss their career choices and what they had been doing for the past years since their own graduations.

As the head of the Homecoming Alumni Day committee, my planner was already packed with guest speakers. I was surprised when Harriet Goldman, mother of one of my former pupils, telephoned my office late in the afternoon.

"How are you and Mr. Goldman?" I inquired politely with the phone cradled on my shoulder. I was, as usual, multi-tasking, sorting through papers on my desk while I chatted.

"We're very excited. Jimmy has come home from Iraq," she chirped merrily into my ear.

"Oh? I didn't know he had been stationed overseas," I responded casually. "Last I heard, he was in the Army, but I didn't realize--"

"Yes, he told us that his unit had a few close calls, but at least he's back and safe." I could sense the relief in her voice.

"That's wonderful news," I acknowledged. "I'm very happy to hear he's arrived back home."

"Yes, well, that's why I'm doing him a favor and calling you."

"Me? Why's that, Mrs. Goldman?"

"Jimmy will be leaving on a trip soon," she continued. "But, first, he'd like to come to the Homecoming Alumni Day and be a guest speaker for your senior class."

"I don't know, Mrs. Goldman. I'm pretty booked up with guests."

"He's always spoken very highly of you, Mr. MacDonald. I'm sure it would mean so much to Jimmy to come speak to your classes. Would you please try to work him into the schedule?"

Even though I repressed my enthusiasm, I was eager to see how James had turned out. It had been five years and, as much as I didn't want to admit it, I was curious too.

"Well, let me look at the schedule here." I flipped open the notebook and scanned the well-organized time table. Thankfully, I could squeeze him into an opening for my final class of the day.

"Alright, I'll pencil him in. Tell him to be at my class at two o'clock sharp tomorrow afternoon. I'm sure the senior class will be delighted to hear him speak." I too was secretly looking forward to his visit.

"Thank you so much!" Ms. Goldman gushed. "Jimmy's going to be just thrilled that you've managed to work him into the schedule!"

After we exchanged 'goodbyes', I placed the receiver back into the cradle. With a soft sigh, I sat back, closed my eyes and let the old memories wash over me. James Goldman. Jimmy. I recalled him as an unruly, poorly disciplined boy with a sharp tongue. But he also had a keen wit and a charming smile that made my cock hard just thinking about him.

Bad boys like James were certainly more of a challenge. And I certainly liked a challenge. I had been firm, but fair with the young man. It had taken several after school reprimands to put him on the straight and narrow path towards graduation. I was glad that, after he'd graduated from Eastmore, James had joined the Army.

I'd kept my infatuation with James carefully concealed during the years he was my student. I didn't want to lose my job or worse. But, I must confess, I lost my composure one rainy afternoon.

Flexible Sexual by A.J. Bray

The cursor on the screen blinked back at my tired, watery eyes. I'd been staring at the same unfinished line on Page 146 for over an hour when the telephone rang.

"Hey, Sandra! Where the hell have you been?" Tanya squeaked into my ear before I had a chance to answer the phone.

"Where do you think I've been? Sitting here with Marco the Cabana Boy, sipping cocktails, while he pampers my perfectly pedicured feet." The irritation in my voice was palpable, but she didn't seem to notice.

"We need to get out tonight. Nothing lame, either. You, me, overpriced alcohol, on the town, in one hour. You get my drift?"

"You know I can't," I said with regret, "I just can't leave with this stupid chapter hanging here like this."

"Are you still harping on that vampire shit? What's wrong with good, old fashioned, trashy romance novels? Why do you have to add in all this weird extra crap? Just make the sex hot and people will buy it. Besides, no one likes vampires anymore."

"I like my vampires," I sniffed, "and I think people will buy it for the hot sex and the dark, gothic feel. Broader readership, see? I just have no clue what to make them do, now. I want them to socialize, but how the fuck do the Undead party? Everything I make them do just seems stupid."

"Whatever." I could tell she was losing interest in the conversation. I hoped she'd drop the idea and call someone else. "Maybe your Vampire People would know how to interact more if the person writing them did, too. 'Write what you know,' or something like that. That's what I learned in junior high English. Besides, and you've probably forgotten what sex is like. You need to get some dick pronto, sweetheart."

I sat there for a minute, stunned. For the first time in her life, Tanya had a point. An excellent point. A very unfortunate, very accurate point. I was trying to manipulate a bunch of characters into social interaction when, between my day job as a call center lackey and my nocturnal literary aspirations, I couldn't even manage to speak civil words to my best friend. Forget the sexy parts. I hadn't touched a man in over a year, and even that was nothing spectacular.

I apologized to her and agreed that we should go out, after all. It had been ages since I let my hair down and, considering the fact that I was trying to write about hedonistic vampire nymphomaniacs, maybe seclusion wasn't the brightest idea. She agreed to pick me up in a half-hour, and I was left to try to dress myself for the public eye.

That was easier said than done. All of my club-appropriate clothing was either too small or too unfashionable, even for me. Thanks to a glance at the cold, frosted windowpane, I settled on a basic black turtleneck, black slacks, and a pair of daring red heels I bought in college, but never wore. I was attempting to fluff my hair when the phone rang again.

"Get down here, Sandy. There's no parking and the cop behind me won't let me sit here with my flashers on for much longer."

I pinned my hair up and considered grabbing my cell phone on the way out, but thought better of it since the only people likely to call me, other than Tanya, would be my parents. That would just be too sad for words, especially if they didn't call.

Once ensconced in the warm car and pulling into traffic, Tanya started grinning. "What?" I asked her, seeing myself falling into another one of her crazy little schemes.

"I have a surprise for you," she sang.

I crossed my arms and glared at her sideways while she drove, knowing very well that she'd understand that it was a pre-emptive "What?"

After a minute, she broke down. "Oh, okay, fine, ruin the surprise! I'll tell you. You know how you're writing about those stupid vampires?" I was silent, but kept looking at her, nodding. "Well, I got to thinking--what if we could see how vampires interact? Maybe then you could finish your damned book, and we could start acting twenty instead of eighty-eight!"

"Okay. So, you called up a few of your Undead buddies and got us into a monster shindig?"

"Well, kind of, yeah! I was checking out the City Paper, and I saw this ad for a new club downtown. It's one of those spooky Goth clubs where, I'm sure, everyone wears fangs and acts out being dead, or something. I figured we'll go there, have a few drinks, watch some weirdoes, laugh at the stupidity, then stumble home full of super-secret vampire knowledge." She was beaming now, obviously proud of her ingenious idea. As odious as it sounded, it seemed like a good plan, for me, at least. When I told her what I thought it, she bounced in her seat, almost hitting a car parked on the side of the street.

When we got there, it was not at all what I imagined. A polite man in a suit was at the front door, checking IDs, while another well-groomed gentleman just inside was taking money for the cover. We attracted a few curious looks from the patrons, most of who were, as predicted, dressed for a Vampire's Ball.

Once we stepped inside my perceptions shattered. Little groups of people milled around candlelit tables, drinking and conversing cordially with one another. Other little groups sat at the bar, greeting people they knew who wandered into their respective bubbles. It looked like an ordinary club--a rather civilized one, at that--except everyone was dressed ... oddly. And not just the three people I saw in capes, either. There were several clusters of guys sporting Anime t-shirts, a girl in a wedding dress, several people in full business attire, and a greasy, balding, little man in a very ugly, brown polyester shirt and matching pants.

"Damn it!" Tanya exclaimed from just behind me. "Where the hell are the necro orgies? The people drinking blood? For seven bucks, you'd think they'd at least have a Red Cross table set up somewhere."

I couldn't help but laugh. I had imagined a setting not unlike the one she just described. We settled at the bar and were discussing what to get when the tattooed bartender in hotpants deposited two very large chocolate martinis in front of us.

"From the gentleman at the far end," she said, reading our confused faces. She smiled, showing off a bizarre piercing between her upper lip and teeth. I noted the rather hypnotic effect it had as it glinted in the club lights, and imagined all the ways I could use it in my book.

"Ya know, this was a good idea," I started to yell to Tanya, but she was already halfway down the bar, drink in hand, making her way to the slick suit who'd ponied up for our drinks. I sighed, took a sip of the delicious liquid candy which had already won Mr. Suit an animated conversation with my long-time friend, and decided to see how the Undead danced.

As I approached the raised dance floor, the music got louder and louder, yet it thankfully lacked the painful, throbbing bass I remembered from my college clubbing days. I was having trouble making out the words when I realized it was all in German, and I, like many university students, had only taken one year of that class and passed with a shaky C average. The dancers were stomping to the fast beat, bouncing around the floor in mock rhythmic anger. Many of them were ecstatic, grinning and mouthing the words in perfect unison to friends who were doing the same.

Just then, the DJ segued the foreign tune into a Depeche Mode song I hadn't heard in years. I smiled, already feeling the alcohol warming my neck and shoulders. At the sound of the opening bars, a whoop rang out amongst many of the patrons at the nearby tables, and a stampede of velvet and leather-clad dancers filled the floor. I found myself swaying with them, but still staying on the fringes of the floor like I'd seen the wallflowers do in high school.

I was just beginning to give birth to an epiphany relating to the irony of the situation, when my eyes were drawn to a flashing object on the dance floor. It appeared to be coming from one of the dancers, a girl dressed in purple with long, long hair. When she spun again, gracefully moving to the off-beats, I watched her barrette catch the light and reflect a tiny diamond pattern across my chest. My breath caught in my throat as I watched her long, sinewy body arch and move to the music. Many of the other dancers seemed to dance with the same style, but none had her fluidity, her grace, her oneness with the music. Her movements were blatantly sexual--from her fluttering hands to her rocking hips, she oozed sensuality.

Then there were the contradictions that I noted as I stared, fixated and mesmerized. Her dark purple, sleeveless blouse was tight across her breasts, and dived low into her cleavage, yet was made of dense velvet so thick it hid her most intimate details like a shell. Her violet skirt was ankle-length, yet was frothy and insubstantial and slung so low on her hips that a strip of flawless olive skin showed, punctuated by another gleaming crystal at her navel. I swallowed the rest of my drink without tasting it, my eyes never leaving her black, swirling hair and bucking hips. The DJ slid that song into another, this one unfamiliar to me, and the girl walked over to a friend on the floor, exiting stage right.

Feeling more than a little uncomfortable shame, I tried to tell myself it was because I was staring, not due to the hot wetness that had formed in my panties. I turned and headed back to the bar, this time requesting a stiff Cosmo from the personable Goth behind the bar. I tipped her and was about to head back to my unobtrusive vantage point when I saw the little stars of light play across my chest. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked toward the source. She was sitting at a small corner table and the greasy little man in brown was hovering, obviously trying to pick her up for the night.

As I stood there watching, she looked at me and caught my eye, a silent cry for salvation. Taking a shaky breath, I headed toward them. When I was quite near, she looked at me and beamed, standing up out from under his gaze. She extended her hand to me and I took it without thinking and drew into a one-armed embrace. It must have been what she planned, because she squeezed me tightly against her body. Her exotic perfume was intoxicating, and I was horrified to realize that I was burying my face in her neck. As if she sensed my humiliation, she ran her dexterous fingers up my spine, sending goose bumps to every inch of my flesh.

I loosened my embrace and stepped back. Her eyes were hypnotic up close, large and dark, fringed with heavy lashes and framed by her thick brows. Her olive skin was perfect over her high cheekbones and delicate nose, but her lips were almost lewd, though--full and wet with gloss. She looked to where Mr. Polyester was retreating to find another victim. At long last, she turned and spoke to me.

"Thank you so much. That man was going to spoil my outfit with his incessant drooling. I'm Shovani, by the way." She laughed, and it rang though my buzzing head like a finely tuned wind chime. I managed to mumble my own name after several false starts, but she didn't seem to notice my fumbling, and motioned for me to sit at the vacant chair across from her own. I sipped my Cosmo with a shaking hand and lowered myself to the chair.

"So, what brings you here, Sandra? You don't seem like this would be your scene." She paused for a moment, then added, "Although, you do seem to admire the dancing."

I choked and looked up at her. Her eyes were shining blackly, an indecipherable look on her face. Amused? Aroused? I couldn't tell. I shifted in my seat and told her briefly about the book I was writing, omitting the part about my perceptions of people drinking goblets of blood at the bar and cavorting masochists getting whipped in the bathroom. She saw through the omission.

"And I'm guessing you bought that myth about Goth clubs being havens for those who fancy themselves Undead, depressed, suicidal kids in Marilyn Manson shirts, and devil worshipping hedonists?" Her accuracy made me blush, but she dismissed it with a laugh. "That's okay," she said, "as long as your research has shown you the reality. And as long as you put me in your book," she said the last part quickly, like someone swatting a fly. She reached out and covered my hand with her own for a second, her warm complexion standing out against my winter-pale fingers. When I looked up at her again, her lips were parted slightly, her eyes flashing with lust. I turned to see if there was an attractive man behind me, distracting her, but there was no one. I turned to face her again, and she read my thoughts.

"No, there was no one else. I meant that look for you. I thought you'd like to know how you've been looking at me all night. Hungry, isn't it?"

I lowered my head and folded my hands, my heart drowning out the thumping of the music from the distant dance floor. The implications in her words hung like damp draperies between us, thick and heavy. I sat like that for some time, hoping she'd walk away and forget the conversation. When I looked up again, she was still smiling at me from across the small table. Her tongue darted out from between her teeth and licked her lips delicately. My eyes blurred and my throat closed. I had never been so aroused in my life.

She came to my rescue, asking me more questions about my book and writing. She explained that she was an artist, and very interested in reading my work, and would I like to see hers? I agreed, nodding my head to save my voice from giving away my relief over a new subject. Every so often, her expression would morph from curious conversationalist into lusty seductress, causing me to falter, but it began to seem like a game to her. I was comforted by that thought, and it gave me courage to elaborate on some of my answers. Gradually, she leaned toward me, one hand on the table, one caressing her own thigh through the filmy fabric of her skirt.

"So, Sandra," my name rolled off her tongue like a beautiful curse, "be honest with me--did you expect to come here and meet a bunch of lunatic witches, gypsies, and sexual deviants?"

"Well, no, not really," I lied, "I guess I wanted to see how the darker part of society interacts, so I could transpose that onto my vampires."

"Oh, good," she said, "because we're not at all crazy. Well, maybe him," she gestured to Mr. Polyester, who was now across the bar. "The rest of us are very nice, sane witches, gypsies, and sexual deviants."

I laughed with her, beginning to feel at ease, and said, "Oh, really? I believe the sexual deviants part, but the last time I checked, there are no such things as witches or gypsies anymore. Maybe I'll have those in my next book, though."

Her eyes twinkled with amusement. "Oh, you think so?" She chuckled, her mouth turning upward, in an inviting smile. "Then explain to me how I'm a Romani, a 'gypsy' if you will, being taught the ways of a Drabarni, or seer, by my grandmother. My name is a variation of the Romani word for witch, a highly-respected occupation in my culture."

I leaned forward in my seat, my face getting dangerously close to hers, but I was beyond caring. Was this lithe woman before me an actual gypsy? It was believable after the way I saw her move. Another thought occurred to me.

"It sounds stupid," I began, then wished I hadn't, "but are you a Succubus, or something?"

She flipped her hair back and laughed. When she brought her eyes back to mine, though, her expression was pure sex, more intense than before.

"No," she whispered, "because a Succubus feeds on men, and I prefer the fairer sex."

Desperate Measures by Eva Gale

Every muscle in her body trembled.

"Turn around and face the wall," he said.

Dorothea Grady's hands shook while she turned.

"No, no, no. The shot will be all fuzzy." He slipped out from behind the small black box and strode over to the dry bar. A silver tray on the marble top held crystal decanters of variously tinted amber liquids, and he stood and studied them for a moment before choosing a short glass. She watched him pour three fingers' worth into a faceted glass and walked over to her.

"Here, this ought to help you calm down a bit." He handed her the glass. "Down the hatch." His smile was a bit tilted and sad, and her face heated.

She tightened her silk wrap, took the glass, and looked at it, then him. "I don't even know your name."

"That's no matter. Just drink up and we'll see if we can get you to not make a fuzzy picture."

She looked him in the eye. Would she dare drink naked in front of a strange man? She tossed back the glass like an easy woman then coughed until she couldn't catch her breath. He reached out, but his hand dropped back.

No use lying to herself. She was happy to take the money. But she still wondered if she was tearing off a part of her soul. Moral women didn't pose nude for strange men.

"Are you all right, then?"

"Yes, I think so." She twisted the wrap collar in her fist, holding it to her throat.

"Well, then let's get this over. Go stand up against the wall with your hands on it."

She walked over, the thick oriental carpet soft under her icy feet, and stood facing the wall.

"Drop the wrap." His voice pierced her to the bone. With a shrug the silk wrap slid off her shoulders and skimmed her hips, crumpling at her feet. Cool air slithered over her back, making her shiver and goosebump.

"Perfect. That is just perfect." The camera clicked twice. "Run your hands through your hair a bit."

She pulled her fingers through her waist length hair, her deceased husband's pride, and untangled the snarls. Her eyes burned and she closed them, counting to ten. It was a job. It was money. I hate you, Arthur.

A tear escaped, and she blinked the others back. She hung her head, glancing back at him over her shoulder. He was staring at her, a sympathetic look on his face.

"You don't have to do this. No one is making you."

The knot in her throat squeezed.

"My husband."

He jerked back. "He's making you do this?"

"Yes ... No." She shook her head. "He's dead. But I have nothing. So yes, I must do this." She took a deep breath.

He stood next to the tripod with his hand on the camera and rubbed his brow. "You can't do some wash? Embroidery?" His eyes lit up, "A housekeeper?!"

She laughed. "Of course a man would say that. Do you know," she paused turning to him, "dear sir, do you know what a woman in New Jersey is legally able to own?"

He shook his head.

"Nothing." She threw her hands up "Even my undergarments are my husband's property!"

"I know, I thought ... never mind what I thought."

"May we please get this over with? I don't know how long my courage will last."

"Of course."

She took a deep breath and shook her hair out, tickling her lower back.

"That's good. Hold still now." She threw her chin out at the last second. Click. Click.

"Now, take your hands and run them down your bum, that's it, now hold your rear," he said, muffled by the box. Click, click, click.

Her fingers spread, holding each plum. Today she had shown the physical sum of her. Parts that before never felt either warmth from light or the cool of a breeze. Parts, that even though they were her own, she'd paid no attention to. She smiled. Her dead husband never even saw them. Arthur just tunneled in on occasion when the whim took him. Always in the dark and it never was enough. She couldn't bring herself to ask for more, but she would lie next to him after he fell asleep clenching her thighs together until she found release. Even still, she wanted him to be inside her. Skin on skin.

Her skin tensed and suddenly she was aware of the fan's breeze.

"Perfect."

His voice snapped her to the present. She turned, looking into the small glass lens, and a flush crawled up her neck to her hair. How did she look from that little black box? Her body was not in its prime. Although she never had children, her skin still drooped a bit and there were lines on her face. He glanced at her from the side of the camera. His sleeves were rolled up baring his wiry wrists while he adjusted the camera.

What was the point of fear anyway? You only feared because of the things you could lose, and since she'd nothing left to lose ... it was what it was. It came down to living, and in the pit's bottom things looked much different than when you were looking down from the safety of the edge.

Everyone made their decisions, and this was hers. Now that she was naked in front of less than an acquaintance, it dawned on her that lying to herself wouldn't make it less than it was. He wasn't one to judge.

His dark hair curled in at the nape and he looked a scant few years older than her thirty-seven. He adjusted a button on the camera and her skin tingled. His shoulders were broad and his waist tapered. He'd left off his collar and wore his shirt opened with suspenders, the sight of his collarbone and chest drawing her. Never before had she seen a man dressed so casually that she saw the skin of his throat. She wanted to draw her finger over the bone to where it dipped into his shirt. The breeze reached him, tousling his unlacquered hair, and she thought to brush it out of his eyes.

"Do you think me wanton for exposing myself like this?"

Silence.

Dominion by Mychael Black and Shayne Carmichael

Tage knelt on one of the pillows on the floor. Each strike of the flogger and the accompanying sound from Jason made him squirm slightly. Completely naked, the influence the scene had on him was obvious, his cock twitching with every strike to Jason's skin. Tage tried to keep his movements unnoticeable since he'd been instructed to remain silent until Dominic ordered otherwise.

"Such sweet sounds," Dominic purred. "Wouldn't you agree, Tage? Is this not a fine sight before us?"

Jason's head fell forward and he wrapped his hands around the chains holding his arms to the cross. When Dominic's fingers slid down Jason's spine, Tage knew what was coming next. Every muscle in his body tensed, waiting for long fingers to push deep inside Jason.

"Yes, Jason," Dominic said as two slick fingers slid into Jason's ass. Jason gasped and rocked.

"Yes, Master. A beautiful sight." Tage nearly stuttered over the words as he swallowed hard. He had to bite at his lip as he watched Dominic's fingers enter Jason. Every frustrated muscle in his body ached and begged for release, yet he still held his position just as he was supposed to.

Fingers still deep, Dominic unlocked the restraints on Jason's wrists. He nipped at the sub's neck and chuckled. "Have a seat, Jason. Enjoy the show." As he withdrew his fingers, he pulled out a seat from between the bottom cross-beams.

Jason waited, breathing labored, as Dominic unlocked the cross' rotating platform, turning it until Jason was facing Tage. Then Dominic eased him down onto the chair, every inch of descent maddening as the dildo anchored on the seat slid deeper inside Jason. With his ankles still locked in place, he had no choice but to stay seated--full and breathless.

Then Dominic turned to Tage. "Come," he said, holding out a hand.

Dominic positioned Tage between Jason and the wooden cross, and strapped Tage's wrists up. Reaching up to the ceiling, he pulled down a black leather sling, suspended on heavy duty chains. After fitting it around Tage's back and shoulders, he pressed a button on the wall. The chains groaned and rattled as the sling was lifted. By the time he was done, Tage's legs were restrained as well, holding him open, his ass level with Jason's face.

"Now, since you two seem to greatly enjoy each other," Dominic said, "you should enjoy this. Jason, you are forbidden to come. Tage, however, is allowed--but only by your tongue. You may hold him open, but your tongue is the only part of you that will enter him."

"Yes, Master," Jason replied, looking up at Tage suspended before him.