Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Best Laid Plans by Jade Falconer

After a moment, John brought over some pieces of smoked meat on an old metal plate. “Sorry there’s no fine china, it’s all I could find,” he said, smirking. He also set one of the canteens down next to him. “Drink plenty of water, you were out for a while. I may have hit you harder than necessary. I didn’t realize you were so...delicate.”

William accepted the plate, settling himself to sit cross-legged on the floor. “I don’t suppose you have anything stronger than water,” he said. His head was still throbbing dully, but he’d ceased to notice it until John mentioned it.

John raised an eyebrow and seemed to consider. “Actually...” he went over to his pack and pulled out a flask, “suppose it’s the least I can do, considering.” He held it out to William as he sat beside him.

“And never let it be said you didn’t do the least you could do.” It was an old joke, and not meant unkindly, but as the words left his lips he looked a little worriedly at John. He wasn’t sure if the other man had a sense of humor, or if the quip was going to earn him another bash on the head.

John stared at him curiously for a moment as he chewed, then he laughed. “You’re an odd one,” he observed.

William relaxed a little. “Sorry.” He took a bite of his food, watching John surreptitiously. Every moment in the other man’s presence made him more appealing to look at. He wished he knew more about him, but he couldn’t think of a way to ask that wouldn’t sound ridiculous. Could one make small talk with one’s abductor?

After they’d eaten, John took a drink of the flask and sat back. “You don’t have to look at me like that. I’m not going to hurt you. I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.”

William averted his eyes and felt himself flush. He’d been caught staring and he felt flustered. He pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. “I know. I wasn’t, I didn’t think you were.”

“Then what?” demanded John, taking another drink. “I assure you, I want this over as much as you do.”

William’s gaze snapped back to John’s face. “Nothing. I, nothing.” He licked his lips and took a sip of water. “Why don’t we talk about something else? To pass the time,” he suggested.

John nodded. “We have nothing but time. So, tell me, William. Why haven’t you married yet?”

William was a little shocked at so direct a question. “Now you sound like my mother,” he said quietly. He considered how to answer for a moment. “I was supposed to marry a young lady who’s the daughter of an old family friend, but she didn’t want to leave Boston.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not really interested in all that.” He knew it sounded odd. “What of you? Are you married?”

“All that?” John repeated with amusement. “No, I’m not married. Who would want to marry a man with no job and no prospects, with a mother who needs...” he stopped himself suddenly, looking annoyed.

William watched John’s face. “I would think plenty of women would like a man like you,” he said quietly. He could tell there were things John didn’t want to speak of, so he skirted the issue.

“A man like me?” John laughed. “And what kind of man do you think I am? Besides a desperate kidnapper?”

William’s lips twitched. “Under the circumstances, I think it’s safe to say ambitious.” He smirked a little, looking at John meekly. “But you know what I mean. The usual things. Strong. Attractive. Masculine.” He bit his lip. “At least, I assume that’s what women look for. I wouldn’t really know.”

John just gazed back at William for a long moment. He had a curious look on his face. “I don’t know what women look for, either. And I don’t much care, actually. But I’m sure you have them very interested, with your fortune at least.”

“Oh, yes. I’d love to spend my life with someone who wants to take all my money. I’ll have to do that eventually, I suppose, but I’m not particularly looking forward to it.” He looked down at his boots. “But I’m surprised you don’t have some pretty little girl to look after you. You seem like the type that would want to be taken care of.”

“The idea certainly appeals,” nodded John. “Being taken care of.” He shrugged. “Just the details are the problem.”

William was playing with his bottom lip. It was a nervous habit and he scraped his teeth over it. “What sort of details are in your way?” he asked quietly. This was turning out to be one of the most intimate conversations he’d ever had with another person. Rarely did anyone want his opinion, or worry about why he did the things he did.

John stared hard at William, then took another deep swig. He handed the flask to William and scooted closer. He loomed over the smaller man and growled, “Maybe my tastes don’t run to pretty little girls.”

William accepted the alcohol. He took a deep drink, sensing that he would need it. He drew a shaky breath, staring into John’s eyes. “What do your tastes run to?” he asked hoarsely. His heart was pounding. It felt like all the hair on his arms stood on end.

“Well, the pretty little part is right,” John amended, and his gaze traveled obviously down William’s body.

William felt warm all over. “Have you ever kissed a girl?” he whispered, his eyes dropping to John’s lips. Suddenly he wanted to know what it was like. He felt a strange tightness low in his belly.

“Of course,” John said. “Done more than kiss, too. Haven’t you?”

William shook his head. “No. I’ve never done anything.” He realized this probably only added to his strange reputation. “What’s it like?”

“Kissing a girl?” John asked, taking another drink and gazing steadily at William. “S’alright. Don’t much care for it.” He shrugged.

It begged the obvious question. The whiskey combined with the blow to the head had made William tipsy. So he asked, “Have you kissed another man?”

John reached out with a quickness that belied the amount of whiskey he’d drank, and he had hold of William’s shirt front, dragging him close. “Men have been killed for asking questions like that,” he growled, face inches from the smaller man’s.

William gasped. He wasn’t expecting that reaction. He swallowed audibly. “Is that a no?” he whispered. He was confused and aroused, and not a little frightened. But John had said he wouldn’t harm him, and for some reason he believed him.

John didn’t let go—he stared into William’s eyes and whispered, “I think you know the answer already or you wouldn’t have dared ask it.”

William’s eyes widened with a small amount of surprise. He’d been thinking it, but he couldn’t really believe it. It was difficult to encompass in his admittedly limited knowledge of the world. “And did you like it?” he whispered. The moment was charged. He was equally embarrassed and enraptured.

“Oh, yes,” breathed John. “Kissing men, and indeed, doing much more than kissing, holds much more appeal to me than doing anything with a girl.” Their faces were still inches apart.

Pirate's Booty by Teresa Noelle Roberts

Elizabeth McGill scrolled back up to “why in hell had he come here in winter?” and typed “[Good question]” next to it, flagging it for further consideration.

The rest had been good enough to sell the book on the strength of a few chapters, but she kept coming back to that question: Why would her pirate-hero Matthew return to Block Island in winter?

Leaving aside the minor problem that her heroine was swathed in fifty-seven layers of wool, making quickies logistically challenging, her research suggested that pirates were no dummies. Like rich retirees, they wintered in the Caribbean and only visited New England, whether for “business” or social reasons, when the weather was better. But the characters kept telling her the story took place in winter, and the dramatic, changeable winter weather provided a great backdrop for the love story. At least it had seemed that way in Atlanta, and she’d been sure the reason for the wintry setting would make itself clear once she was actually on the island. Now that she was here, though, it was harder to come up with a justification. No sane pirate would visit a tiny, windswept island off the Rhode Island coast in winter when he could be somewhere warm.

Which didn’t say much for her sanity, seeing that it was February and she was on Block Island herself instead of in the relative warmth of Atlanta, but no one ever said writers were sane.

And besides, it was different in the twenty-first century, wasn’t it? Running water, central heating, regular ferry runs, even if they were less frequent in winter, and all the comforts of home in the grocery store. The island, twelve miles offshore and half nature preserve, felt isolated from the mainland, especially in bad weather, but civilization was a quick email away. Or phone call, assuming the sometimes spotty cell service was working.

But still, it was cold and isolated and eerily quiet except for the sounds of surf and wind.

Elizabeth shivered, rubbing her hands together over the meager heat thrown off by her laptop. The rental agent had assured her that the beachfront cottage was winterized. Maybe it was, by hardy New England standards, but damn it, she had wimpy Atlanta standards of cold; it had been years since she spent any time up north in winter.

Then again, she supposed most of the people who rented the place weren’t sitting still all day, moving little but their fingers. Tourists, including the rare winter visitors, came to this little island to tromp through the salt marshes bird-watching, or ride their bikes on the gentle hills, or do something else active.

Not her. She’d been writing like crazy since she’d arrived on the island four days earlier, inspired by the isolation and the wild weather. More than she’d written in the past month in Atlanta. The book had been accepted on proposal, but she’d had an awful time getting beyond those precious “three chapters and a synopsis.” It had been a good instinct to rent a place on Block Island, where her characters “lived” more than two centuries ago, and to do so in winter when the tourists deserted the place, leaving only the year-round population of fewer than a thousand. Here, it was easy to imagine Abby, a fisherman’s young widow, and Matthew, her childhood sweetheart who turned pirate after being scorned by the community for being illegitimate, easy to depict their separate lives colliding in the beautiful, but claustrophobic atmosphere of the island.

But damn, it was cold today.

And claustrophobic was definitely the word. Or maybe stir-crazy. Sure, her point in coming here was to hunker down and write, but she sometimes needed to see another human face, hear another voice. The cottage didn’t have a television, which had been a selling point at the time she rented it, but she’d take fifteen minutes of a randomly chosen sit-com or movie at the moment for the illusion of human contact.

Allowing her brain a break, she stared out the front picture window. Drafty and impractical at this time of year, but you couldn’t beat the view of the surf and the deserted beach, at least when it was light enough to see much. Right now, she could barely make out the dark mass of the waves, although a full moon should be rising any time to illuminate the scene.

Reflected movement in the big window caused her to turn to the smaller one on her left.

There went her next-door neighbor Lucius, the other part of her cottage’s good view, tromping toward the village.

Considerate of him to leave his porch light on so she could see him!

She couldn’t help staring after him with a little voyeuristic thrill that moved from her eyes down to her suddenly perky nipples and from there to her clit, which tingled as if to remind her it needed occasional attention.

Lucius was bundled up against the cold in a bulky navy peacoat and an extraordinarily ugly brown hat with earflaps that made his head look mutated, but he still managed to look good.

Okay, he looked lumpy and bulky, but she knew how good he looked when he wasn’t quite so encumbered, and she had a vivid imagination. His shaggy dark-blonde hair that he wore pulled into an untidy ponytail, his high cheekbones, his smoky gray eyes, his lean, but powerful build, the weathered complexion of someone intimate with the ocean, had made her revise her descriptions of her hero. Thanks to Lucius, her dashing pirate Matthew was both more disreputable-looking and sexier than her original vision, although she’d have to go back and make sure the character’s eyes were uniformly gray, not brown as they’d started out.

And that inspiration sprung from exchanging a few words with Lucius the day she took possession of the cottage—a blessedly warmer day than this one, when he’d been out and about in nicely snug, faded jeans and a heavy charcoal sweater, cable knit like an Irish fisherman’s and definitely well-loved. She knew little about him other than he was knee-weakeningly good-looking. That, and that he was a handyman at one of the island’s surviving grand Victorian hotels. He’d mentioned it and then offered his services if anything broke down in her house, either to fix it or find someone who could.

Oh yeah, she’d take his services any time…

He was hot and worked with his hands. She’d moved from those bits of information into a fantasy that involved her calling him because she thought her bed seemed rickety and squeaky. He’d decide the best way to test its strength was to tie her to it spread-eagled, then torment and tease her wide-open self with those clever hands and an equally clever tongue. Caressing and teasing her nipples roughly enough to almost hurt, making them swell and harden and ache. Licking and caressing her swollen clit until she was soaked and trembling, on the verge of orgasm, then drawing back—over and over again so she grew got wilder and wilder with desire. He’d wait until she was a sweat-drenched, writhing mass of lust before fucking her senseless. And of course, it was a perfect cock, long and thick and with a jaunty curve to it that hit her G-spot with every stroke. (Hey, it was her damn fantasy. Why shouldn’t he be endowed like her heroes?)

Sometimes, in the fantasy, they broke the bed, which in fact had been fine until they started going at it like particularly rut-crazed weasels. And then he spanked her because it was “all her fault” and got them both so excited they fucked again on the broken bed, or up against the kitchen counter, or…well, just about anywhere, really.

Despite the chill in the room, her body felt fevered, aching with need.

Dressing for warmth rather than style had certain advantages. It was easy to slip her hand inside her yoga pants, easy to find her slick, aching clit and circle it with her fingers, imagining Lucius’s hand there instead.

Good God, she was drenched, close already, simply from thinking about him, so turned on that her cold fingers added to the sensation instead of making her flinch.

Cranking up the sexual tension between her poor, frustrated characters had gotten her juices flowing—damn, she loved her work sometimes—and her quick replay of the hot-and-kinky handyman fantasy had brought her so close that a few touches…

Oh, yeah!

She bucked up, imagining she was crashing into Lucius’s hard body, screwed her eyes tight to shut out everything but the fantasy. She saw red as she came.

Heart and cunt both fluttering, Elizabeth came back to reality with a crash.

What was she doing sitting alone and playing with herself instead of checking the guy out for real? He lived next door. Why not go over and ask to borrow a cup of sugar or a screwdriver or something equally lame, anything to start a conversation?

Because talking to him might spoil the dream—might reveal, for instance, that he was dumb as a box of seashells or shallow as a tide pool. Gorgeous was enough to spark long-distance lusting, but he might not have any other qualities that would make her want to turn the fantasy into something real.

Then again, who said everything had to be “real”?

Dreams of Death by Mychael Black and Shayne Carmichael

Aaron ditched his buddies easily enough. None of them had any clue what he was up to. If they did, they would have trailed him, then beat the ever living shit out of him.

He’d left them trying to track Dracula, and hadn’t bothered to tell any of them he had a really good clue where the killer might strike next. He didn’t think this person was a serial killer. No, it had to be an honest-to-God vampire. No matter what the speculation in the newspaper said.

With each victim, it had become easier and easier for the police to find them. The vampire was either getting exceptionally careless or, as Aaron suspected, increasingly panicked. The last victim had been found in a derelict building right outside of town. If Aaron’s hunch was correct, the vampire wouldn’t be too far off. The cops had no clue they were dealing with a real vampire. They were too busy with their killer profiling and lab reports.

No vampire in his right mind would commit these killings, not in this day and age of legal citizenship. It was far too easy to get a meal and maintain respectability for the vamps. Even the newspaper theorized it was a mortal trying to cause trouble for the vampires.

Making no effort to hide himself from anybody watching from derelict buildings, Aaron pushed open the old rusty gate of the rundown complex. The police had assumed since they hadn’t found any signs of life in the surrounding area that the killer wasn’t there. Aaron knew better. The vampire would be an expert at concealing himself from any searches, and the cops had no idea what they were really looking for. Chances were the vampire had the power to hide himself even if the cops were looking right at him. Other than the occasional breeze, everything was unusually still. The moon cast a silver-gray glow over the rubble-strewn ground, but the buildings themselves were hidden beneath shadows. It was the perfect place to hide, especially for a vampire.

He avoided the building where the yellow police tape flapped against the door. He doubted if the vampire would push his luck that much. Instead, he paused for a moment, looking over each building before he chose the one furthest from the others. It made a good place to start. Turning the knob, he found the door locked. Then he slowly circled the building, trying to find a way in.

“Bingo,” he muttered to himself, seeing the broken window in the back wall. Raising himself up over the sill, he climbed into the window. He had to squirm to squeeze his way through the tight frame.

Once inside, he swung his flashlight and the beam lit the broken wooden crates strewn over the floor. A rat scurried across the floor and darted into a hole in the wall. The air was stale, and dust particles drifted in the light as Aaron swept it around the room. The crates looked like pallets for stacking goods and most were nothing more than enormous splinters now.

As he crept farther, he directed the light around the room. Looking towards one of the doors at the back, Aaron saw the flash of a shadow moving across the doorway. He lit the door, but there was nothing there. Aaron kept the flashlight steadily lighting the door. Beyond it was a hallway stretching on for what seemed like the entire length of the building. Doors led off from each side along the hall, and most were closed, their windows broken. Then the shadow reappeared in the hallway. It hovered a few yards in front of Aaron, but it didn’t advance on him.

Aaron didn’t move any closer to the strange darkness. “I know you’re here, and I know what you are.”

Though he probably should have been terrified, Aaron wasn’t. He had something the vampire needed. And to get it, the vampire would have to let him live. His heartbeat accelerated.

Although the shadow didn’t move, a deep, resonating voice broke the silence following Aaron’s pronouncement.

“Who are you?”

“Aaron Sellers. Who are you?” Aaron lowered the flashlight out of courtesy.

“Taylor.”

With the absence of the light, the shadow drifted closer. As it moved, it took on a more tangible form. The features were not clear, but from the shape, it was obvious this Taylor was a man.

“Why are you here?”

Aaron didn’t retreat from the advancing form. Frowning slightly, he focused on trying to find details of a face within the misty dark. “I’m here because you need to get out of here. The cops are going to track you down and real soon. They aren’t all stupid.”

A laugh as dark as the blackness surrounding them was Taylor’s immediate answer. “And what would you suggest? Given my nature, I am limited in my choices.”

The tone of the laugh made Aaron shiver, yet he wasn’t the least bit of afraid. Maybe a saner person would have been, but this was his dream come true. This town was too damn small to attract any vampires, and this was his only chance of seeing one.

“Not exactly.” With a devious grin, Aaron fished in his jeans pocket and dug out his car keys. “I figured you had no way out of here. Your chariot awaits you, sir.” After making an exaggerated bow, Aaron straightened, laughing. “I was right about you.”

“Right about me?”

The figure stepped closer and the shadows faded, revealing a fine-featured man who looked to be no more than in his late twenties. But his dark brown eyes held ages within them. He was dressed in black cloth pants and a white, loose shirt. His long, dark brown hair fell over his shoulders. The black boots he wore were as dusty and ragged as the rest of his clothing.

“How were you right about me?”

“You’ve been getting a bit panicky, Taylor.” Nodding slowly, Aaron intently studied the man. Whoa. Yeah, he’d been expecting something in the region of good looking, but damn. Even in the shabby clothing, a certain quality showed through in the way Taylor held himself. The chiseled features gave the vampire a handsome, albeit arrogant, air. “I thought that you were getting nervous because the cops were starting to get closer and closer to you. And you can’t get out of here without help.”

Taylor’s lips slowly curved in an odd smile. “A brave young man you are, to be propositioning me. Very well, Master Aaron Sellers.” Taylor bowed, though his gaze never left Aaron’s. “You have piqued my curiosity.”

“I didn’t want them to catch you,” Aaron said. “My car is outside, and I’ve got enough money to last for quite a while.” He had cashed in every one of the bonds his grandparents had given him, and sold about everything he owned except for the car to come up with the money.

One of Taylor’s dark eyebrows rose at that. “You are intriguing.” With that, Taylor walked by him, toward the window Aaron had used to come in.

“Uh, thanks.” Aaron followed behind, studying the vampire’s back. Excited thoughts ran through his head, along with a million and one questions. Finally he settled on one. “How long were you asleep? This is 2028, by the way, just in case you didn’t know.”

“A hundred and twenty-two years,” Taylor said as he slid effortlessly through the window. “And you, Master Sellers. How old are you?”

Aaron crawled out behind him, only he didn’t have as easy of a time. Tumbling to the ground, he nearly cracked his head on a large rock. Scrambling up and brushing himself off, he answered, “I’m twenty-two. I’m willing to bet you have no idea of how the world has changed.”

“Such beautiful youth,” Taylor said with a grin. “Where might my chariot be?”

Aaron grimaced before he gestured to the other side of the building. “It’s at the back gate. I didn’t want anybody to see a car on the main street in front of this place.” Pointing the flashlight towards the ground, Aaron led the way to the gate then out to his car. “The cops have found, like, six bodies so far. Any more out there?”

“No. I’ve not been out this evening.” Dark eyes watched Aaron closely.

After closing the door behind him, Aaron went to the other side and got in. “Is it necessary for you to kill, Taylor?”

Taylor returned Aaron’s look in silence for several seconds before answering. “I suppose not. Why?”

“Well, logically, if there are no dead bodies, there’s nobody going to come looking for you. Ethically, you just can’t kill.” Aaron stayed to the back roads, driving in a meandering pattern. “Vampires are legal citizens now. No reason to kill. Not with people willing to line up for the privilege.”

“Ethics were never my concern, but I am willing to feed without killing, if only to satisfy my curiosity. Where are we going?”

“Satisfy your curiosity about what? We’re going to stop at a hotel so you can clean up, and I can get you some other clothes. I just want to make sure I wasn’t noticed at the warehouse.”

“I’ve never fed and not killed. I don’t know how the beast inside me will react. There must be something to sate him.” Taylor stared out the passenger side window as he spoke, his tone eerily conversational.

Aaron doubted if Taylor would try to kill him, at least for the moment. “You’ll have to, Taylor, or you won’t last long here. I’m sure you can tell things aren’t like they were when you went to sleep.”

“I have kept track of the pulse of part of this world, even in my rest.”

As he drove out of town, Aaron didn’t look back. He wanted to put some miles between them and New Vale before he stopped. “The nearest town is about twenty miles away, so it won’t take more than fifteen minutes to get there.”

“You’ve yet to tell me why you’re helping me.” Even in the dark, Taylor’s stare was sharp and piercing as he looked over at Aaron.

“I told you, I didn’t want them to catch you.” Shrugging slightly, he met Taylor’s look briefly. “I had a feeling what you were. It’s like a dream for me to meet you. Well, one of your kind. You have no idea.”

“A dream.” Taylor’s laugh was deep, even stronger in the enclosed area of the car. “What clued you in?”

“A group of friends and I have been following the killings. We knew everything going on. Enough of it leaked to the newspapers to label you Dracula. Nobody was serious about it. It was a hunch on our parts, and we didn’t dismiss the real clues like the cops did. They just didn’t want to believe anything that crazy. No vamp wants a death hunt on their ass.”

“A following,” Taylor mused. “Now that’s interesting. Although, I must admit that I’m looking forward to a bath. And how do you suggest I feed?”

Pulling off onto the exit, Aaron stopped at the red light. “Find somebody to feed from and hope to God you don’t kill them. I don’t think I’m going to be much help to you if you leave a string of dead bodies everywhere we go.”

“Then I will fuck when I feed,” Taylor said matter-of-factly.

Any average person would have understood the concept of it being wrong to kill, but Aaron doubted very much it would work on Taylor. Getting that unexpected answer, Aaron stared at Taylor wide-eyed. “Umm, I suppose that would work?”

“It will have to.” Taylor glanced back over at him, giving Aaron an odd smile.

Not quite sure what to make of it, Aaron looked away from him. When the light turned green, he pulled out onto the street and made a right. “We’ll definitely have to get you cleaned up first. Unless you have some super-seductive powers or something.”

“No one has ever turned me down.”

“Okay. I’ll take it that means yes.” Aaron didn’t doubt it at all. Even beneath the layer of dust and tattered clothing, Taylor’s looks were astounding, and that was putting it mildly.

When he turned into the hotel parking lot, Aaron parked the car a bit away from the main entrance. “I’ll get the room. It shouldn’t take me more than a few minutes.”

“I will be here.”

Under Cover of the Night by Megan Hussey

Emerging from the velvety depths of a long, cold night, Carlotta Wilkes stepped through stained glass doors into another, better world. Immediately she was greeted by an irritatingly flawless example of male perfection, one that took her drink order and led her to a rose-patterned settee at the back of the room.

“Your favorite seat, Miss.” Aside from his sculpted features and well-muscled frame, the waiter at Club Nuit also had the good sense to call her ‘Miss’ as opposed to ‘Ma’am.’

For the sake of his tip, this is a good thing. The thirty-eight-year-old grinned as she regarded the polished tile floors, multi-tiered chandeliers and sprawling wall murals that distinguished the Clearview, Florida nightclub; a discreet Mecca designed for women only.

Yeah, it’s all nice and discreet until they get to the floor show. She let out a decidedly unladylike whoop as Ramon Montague—a longtime friend and one of three owners of Club Nuit—took the stage.

“Bonne nuit, Carlotta!” The tall, muscular Ramon pinned her with a white-toothed smile.

So much for discreet. Carlotta slumped in her seat, but watched closely as her favorite performer addressed the gathered crowd.

“For those ladies who are joining us for the first time this evening, I want to welcome you,” his smooth, lilting voice poured forth through full and sensual lips, “to your fantasy.”

He tossed his head back, his long, thick ebony hair settling lightly around his shoulders.

“At Club Nuit we leave no woman unsatisfied,” he gestured broadly across the room, drawing raucous cheers in response. “We aim to tease you, please you, seduce you and entertain you.” Pausing, he winked flirtatiously at the crowd. “And if, at the end of the evening, you’re in need of total fulfillment,” He beckoned seductively. “Please don’t be afraid to approach us after the show.”

With this Carlotta’s gaze flew unbidden to a corner staircase, where a second Nuit entertainer—an angelic blond named Xavier—lead a stiff, conservative-looking older woman to the second floor of the club.

She won’t be stiff for long, I wager. Carlotta never ventured to the upper level of Club Nuit. Yet the sight of the smiling, rejuvenated women who came frequently down the staircase, and the sounds of club goers who giggled in praise of “the built-in bordello,” never failed to intrigue her.

Ultimately intriguing, however, was the sight of Ramon center stage, swaying rhythmically to the sound of smooth, melodic music piped lucidly through an overhead stereo system.

Although muscular, Ramon boasted an agile, graceful form that seemed custom made for dancing. And he drew an enthusiastic response as he snapped his agile fingers and swiveled his hips seductively.

He drew further enthusiasm when he peeled his sleek ebony jacket slowly and seductively from his shoulders. Soon the jacket was discarded, and he unbuttoned and stripped off the white silk shirt that lay beneath; revealing a massive bronzed chest that drew ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from the crowd.

“Nothing like a Club Nuit striptease,” she nudged the woman beside her and winked slyly.

“I thought so, too,” the woman snorted, “until I went upstairs one evening.”

Carlotta started. “Did you go with Ramon?”

“Yes,” the woman nodded.

Silence ensued as Ramon slid his ebony slacks teasingly down the length of his tight, taut legs, revealing as he did a ruby red thong that just barely concealed his bulging package.

“So how was it?” Carlotta’s gaze remained fixed on Ramon’s flawless form.

“How do you think?” the woman smirked in response.

She turned to face Carlotta.

“Ramon is an incredible lover,” she waved broadly in his direction. “He totally devotes himself to a woman’s pleasure, and will stop at nothing to fulfill her desires. And when all was said and done between us, he refused to take any money.” She shook her head. “He said I had done just as much for him as he had for me.”

“And you did, my sweet.”

Carlotta inhaled sharply as Ramon’s melodic voice seemed suddenly too close; and his citrus-tinged scent filled her senses.

Looking up slowly, she faced the hottest pair of washboard abs imaginable; not to mention a barely concealed cock presented up close for her inspection.

Carlotta’s heart thudded in her chest as her slit gushed wildly. In an effort to fight temptation, she jerked her head upward and away from his captivating privates.

Big mistake. Ramon’s wide, dark eyes seared her with a seductive stare, and he gave her a soft, sensual smile that only aroused her more.

“Come see me after the show, Carlotta,” his tone soft and alluring. “It’s time for us to take things further—to be together, truly and fully.”

Carlotta chuckled. “After the show,” she shifted uncomfortably in her seat, “I have to go home and fix Coney dogs and martinis for my husband and his poker buddies. I’m married, Ramon.”

She inhaled sharply as the flirtatious dancer swooped down upon her, pressing his warm, sensual lips firmly into hers.

For a moment she felt lulled by the tender ministration of his sensual lips, and she groaned when he thrust his thick, wet tongue boldly forth to meet hers.

And, heaven help her, she kissed him back.

All too soon he pulled away, regarding her with passion-dazed eyes.

“You just told me all I needed to know,” he brushed her cheek softly. “Meet me after the show.”

“Speaking of the show,” Carlotta nodded to the surrounding crowd, who frowned condemningly in response. “You’d better see to these ladies, before I get lynched in a fit of jealousy.”

Carlotta continued to watch attentively as Ramon finished his act, pouting, flexing and flirting until the crowd was in a frenzy.

And no one is more adept at pouting, flexing and flirting than Roman, she inhaled sharply.

Although always a gentleman, Ramon could—through a discreet stare, the flick of his tongue, or the placement of a carefully chosen word—ignite a fire that spread wild throughout a woman’s body.

And while Carlotta’s senses were aroused by all of the Nuit men, she had formed a special bond with Ramon, one that also excited her mind. The two often finished off their ‘Nuit nights’ with spirited discussions of their favorite books, and sometimes he even invited her backstage for the viewing of a favorite movie on the club’s DVD player, or a spirited game of checkers or chess.

Unlike her husband Neil, who scoffed in the face of her intellectual diversions, Ramon praised her great knowledge and quick wit. And one night he expressed his divine appreciation in a decidedly novel manner.

* * * *

The couple christened the end of an evening with two glasses of sparkling red wine and a friendly game of chess.

“Victory!” Carlotta raised her arms in triumph as she aced their third game.

“Bravo!” Ramon applauded her heartily, then arched a curious eyebrow. “Care to up the stakes a bit, love? How about a game of strip chess?” His voice lowered, and he pinned her with a teasing stare. “I could let you win. And instead of just looking, you’d be free to touch me as well.”

Chuckling nervously, Carlotta stood from the table. “It’s been fun, Ramon, but I really have to go now.”

With a graceful flourish he arose from his seat and stepped lithely to her side, taking her hands into his. “I’m sorry to be so bold, Carlotta.” His voice whisper soft. “I don’t mean to pressure you.” He massaged her slightly trembling fingers with the lightest, sweetest of touches. “We’re such good friends, but I feel something more.” He stepped closer, his sweet breath grazing her cheek. “Let me taste one of your kisses, Carlotta. Lend me a fantasy that will bring great pleasure to my dreams, and to my waking hours, when I touch myself and think of you.”

Instead of answering verbally, Carlotta surged forward and pressed her lips hungrily against Ramon’s.

Their kiss, while brief, was warm and sumptuous, and Ramon’s full and sensual mouth flowed across hers in a show of tender passion. He took in his breath and pulled her closer, sweeping her body backward as he deepened their kiss.

Soon the couple was locked in a heated embrace, and Carlotta basked in the feel of Ramon’s strong muscled arms as their bodies clung desperately together. In a blinding rush she experienced the perfection of his body; the feel of his hard, toned chest as it pressed hungrily into hers, of his lithe, toned thighs as they gyrated ever so slightly, and the light lap of his long, wet tongue as it grazed her hungry mouth.

Finally she drew back, and stared deeply into his eyes.

“That felt good,” she grinned, adding silently, Congrats, Carlotta Wilkes, on what is officially the understatement of the century.

“Good,” Ramon cupped her flushed cheeks and massaged her face with teasing, tickling fingers, “but not enough.”

“I want more, Carlotta.”

Sin is Not a Four-Letter Word by Aliyah Burke

They say the winds of change blow when you least expect it. What the hell did they know? Mace Dylan frowned as the cold January wind bit into his skin, sinking deep beneath his clothes and into his bones like icicles.

“Range?” he muttered, knowing the people on the other end were warm.

“Five hundred meters,” a hushed voice reached his inner ear where the device sat. There was a microphone placed against his throat so he could whisper and be heard as if he was standing next to them and speaking normally.

“Copy.” He rolled his shoulders to get some stiffness out of his muscles.

The wind increased in intensity, making him squint despite the mirrored sunglasses he wore. Damn, it’s cold!

“Two hundred and fifty meters.” That same quiet voice reached his ear. Normally, the feminine voice held a sensual and teasing note to it, but right now, it was all business.

Mace blinked and imagined himself somewhere warm. A lush female body curled up next to his, giving him pleasure. Heat all around him instead of this damn cold.

Almost as if the woman knew what he was thinking she sent another word along the wire. “Focus.”

His light brown eyes snapped with indignation. He had never lost focus on a job. Okay, once -- but that was a long time ago. “Intercepting.” With a lithe move, he rose from the bench he had been sitting on and headed off through the park. Soon his long strides had him blending in with the other people who moved through Groznyy, the capital of the republic of Chechnya, Russia.

“Directly ahead. Gray hat, blue jacket, and black pants.” The voice informed him.

Like that’s not what most of the people in this place are wearing. “Got him.” Amazing what modern technology can do. The tracker that was in his wallet was releasing a signal that was picked up by a receiver in his glasses. The man he followed strolled easily; clearly oblivious to the transponder he carried.

His hands were shoved in his pocket as he sidestepped to avoid an older woman moving slowly before him. That move put him just where he needed to be.

Mace bumped into the man he was after and reached out to steady him. “Excuse me,” he said in Chechen.

The man grunted and turned to say something and found himself with a gun in the side.

“What the …?”

“Keep moving, nice and slow,” Mace warned.

Together they walked down a side street and into a dark building. Mace led him up the steps and into a room crowded with five other people.

With a small grin, Mace closed the door and shoved the man deeper into the room. As much as he hated the long process of the stakeout, he loved bringing in a terrorist. That’s what you did when you were a member of the GDS.

The GDS, or Global Defense Squad, answered to no one. Many didn’t even recognize its existence. The GDS had access to all the other agencies’ files but no one had access to its files. The squad hunted terrorists all over the world, but in particular the ones who threatened the United States of America.

Sonia Clarkston, his supervisor and lover, looked over at him. Her dark blonde hair was swept back in a tight bun, making her look her part of cold boss lady. Her tan skin shone in the iridescent light of the room and her big green eyes narrowed as she looked at the man before him.

“Who the hell is that?” her soprano voice demanded. “That’s not Vladenski.”

Mace spun the guy around and yanked off the cap. Greasy, straw yellow hair flopped in his eyes. His breath left him in a hiss. It wasn’t Vladenski. “What the hell happened? Who had recon on him?” His body tightened as he tried to get his anger under control.

No one said a word, so Mace ground out. “Well don’t look at me, I was in the goddamn park all morning. Why couldn’t someone tell that it wasn’t Vlad?” He began stalking around the room after thrusting the unknown man onto a ratty couch.

All eyes turned to Enrique who shook his head. “Hey,” he complained. “It’s not my fault. The dude’s wearing a hat and it’s not exactly summer outside. He’s all bundled up from a distance he looked like Vlad. Mace never said anything about not being able to track the signal, so why wouldn’t I think it was Vlad?” He looked at Mace, but saw only his reflection in the mirrored lenses.

Mace noticed the shudder that crossed Enrique’s body, despite the conviction of his words. He wasn’t about to offer up any slack, he was pissed they hadn’t nabbed the right guy.

Sonia stood up, all six feet of her toned body, and moved toward the man glaring on the couch. “Who the hell are you?”

The man spit on her. Before it had time to settle on her black suede jacket, she backhanded him with a fisted hand and sent him flying back against the couch. “I wouldn’t do that again, if you want to keep those little dangling things between your legs,” she said in an emotionless voice.

The men in the room shifted. They knew that she would do just that and not even blink. Mace ignored her threat and walked back over to the man with a bright red mark on the side of his face. Removing his glasses, he put them in his coat pocket.

He reached out with one hand and lifted the smaller man right off the plaid cushion. “Who the fuck are you? Don’t screw with me. I’m cold, hungry and really want to get out of this place.”

The look of defiance filled the other man’s face as he just stared back at Mace. “Nothing you do could be worse than what he would do if I talked.”

A blankness filled Mace’s face. Opening his hand, he allowed the man to fall back to the couch. “You’re right. But just think about what would happen when we put you away in prison and leak it that you spilled your guts about Vlad and all his dealings.”

The pale face grew even paler. “You can’t do that,” he stuttered in Chechen.

A cold glint grew in Mace’s light brown eyes, making them shine. “Yes, I can. And you will be locked away with some of the worst men in history.”

Sonia leaned in and hissed, “And we’ll release that you raped one of the inmate’s daughters.”

The others in the room nodded their heads at that. Enrique added, “You know they will turn you into their bitch and kill you slowly, while you are forced to pleasure them.”

“But…but…you are officers of the law.”

Mace lifted one shoulder and let it fall. “Your point being?”

The man leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. “Okay. I’ll tell you.”

Mace and Sonia grabbed metal chairs and straddled them facing the small man. “Let’s start with who the hell you are,” Mace suggested.

“My name is Stolski, Dima Stolski. Vlad is gone. He has left Chechnya and is on his way to find...” His eyes darted around the room.

“Where?” Mace demanded, noticing how Stolski’s jaw clenched.

“He said he was going to find Cicero,” Stolski admitted in a resigned voice.

Sonia and Mace glanced at each other. Cicero had been eluding the GDS for years. Many years.

The sound of choking snapped their attention back to Stolski. “No!” Mace shouted as he lunged forward, trying to pry the man’s mouth open. “Give me the counteragent,” he ordered as he tried to get the stuff out of Stolski’s mouth.

“It’s too late, Mace,” Sonia said as she crouched beside him. “He’s dead.”

Stolski’s eyes were rolled back in his head. A line of frothy white foam dribbled from his half-opened mouth.

“Damn it. He did it; he took a goddamn cyanide pill.” Mace shoved the dead man away from him.

“Well, at least we know where Vlad is going,” Sonia grumbled as she rose. “Let’s get this shit packed up, and get out of here.”

“No,” Mace countered. “No one knows where Cicero is. The man’s a damn ghost. And no one has the means to get to him.”

Sonia nodded as she continued to pack up the surveillance equipment. Mace noticed she remained quiet. It was uncharacteristic of her. He wondered …

Once they were on the plane heading back to the United States, she approached him. The others were sleeping, but not Mace; he was reading over the report he would file.

“How are you doing?” she asked as she sat beside him. Her long fingers reached out to rest on his tanned arm. Mace always looked so damn good with his darker coloring. He was half Native American and half white. On him, the combination had created a beautiful man. His skin was continually tanned, no matter what time of year, or where in the world they were. She was jealous of that fact. His hair was thick and dark brown. Depending on the light, it could have hints of red or blond in it. It was blond for this assignment. He was gorgeous.

She was glad they were fucking, even if she was his superior, but there were times she wanted more from their relationship. It was no secret around the office they were sleeping together, but no one said a word since she never gave him leniency on a job. In fact, most of the time she was harder on him than the others in their team.

Mace barely looked up at her from the papers in his strong hands. “I’m fine, just pissed that we lost Vlad.” His attitude showed that he wasn’t in the mood for her ministrations.

“I know a way we can find him.” Sonia removed her hand from his arm. He was in a mood, but that wasn’t unusual for him. Mace didn’t like to lose.

“How the hell are we going to find him if he is with Cicero and we have no way of finding out where or who Cicero is?”

“There is a way,” she insisted.

Dropping the papers in his lap, he turned his golden brown eyes to the woman next to him. “And that would be?”

With a deep breath, Sonia met and held his gaze. “Sinjin.”

The world dropped out from under him. Mace would have collapsed if he hadn’t already been sitting. His mouth moved but nothing came out.

Sinjin. The one woman who had been his downfall. She had snowed him good. He thought she was a victim like the others, but it turned out she had played him just like she played everyone. The day before they were to move in and capture Cicero, he had been tipped off; and when Mace and the rest of the GDS agents had burst in on the scene all they found was Sinjin.

She had pled, begged, and sworn she was innocent, but his fury at finding a picture of her in bed with Cicero had hardened his heart toward her pleas. So he had refused to speak on her behalf after they arrested her. She had spent the past six years in an isolated prison in Iceland. A prison called Ferð Endir, Journey’s End.

Sinjin had been a mercenary. One of the best. When she had refused, for whatever reason, to give up Cicero, the GDS had not been lenient with her. She had been wiped from the radar. All her files had been destroyed, and for them she didn’t exist.

Not wanting to see her, Mace asked, “Are you sure that would be wise? After what happened between her and the GDS, why would she be willing to help out?”

Sonia watched his reactions. “She doesn’t have to agree. If she gets implanted with a chip we could track her. The reason she is where she is, is because Ferð Endir was the only place we knew he couldn’t break her out of. But I am positive that he is watching that place for who comes and goes.”

Mace remained stoic. “So we will use her as bait. What if she tells him of the implant?”

Sonia shook her head. “Nope, she wouldn’t know of it. It would be implanted when she was getting a doctor’s visit.”

“Sounds like you already talked it over with your superiors. Why are you telling me? If this is the way you are going, it will have nothing to do with me.”

“We want to see if she will cooperate first. If she is willing to do this, we will wipe the slate clean. She will be allowed to resume her old life.”

“You aren’t making sense. Why ask for her cooperation? She snowed the agency last time,” he bit out, the feelings of betrayal rising to the surface.

“We are hoping she will be bitter at him for leaving her to rot in that place. She seems the type who thrives on revenge.” Sonia crossed her lean legs and fixed him with a stare, waiting for his response.

And the GDS will be on the top of her list to extract revenge upon. “I still fail to see why you are broaching this with me.” He arched a brow and held her assessing gaze.

“My superiors think you should be the one to offer the deal to her. Explain it all, what she would be expected to do and what she would be given in return. Hell, you can even tell her about the implant.”

“What’s so special about this implant?” Mace tried to slow his heartbeat.

“It will have a failsafe.” Now Sonia looked uncomfortable.

Cocking his head, Mace narrowed his eyes. “As in, you would have the power to kill her?”

“If she wasn’t holding up her end of the bargain and threatened to blow it, allowing Cicero to get away, then yes, she would be eliminated.”

Mace shook his head. “No way. I’m not doing this. I am not telling her that we will give her freedom all the while knowing that the implant could kill her if someone at the agency deemed it warranted.”

“I’m afraid there isn’t an option for you on this Mace. The orders have come down. You have to do it.” Her eyes softened, almost like they had just finished making love. “I know this is hard for you, but it’s the best way. Cicero is a danger to the world and needs to be stopped.”

Slashing his hand through the air, Mace clenched his jaw and stood. “I know how dangerous he is, Ma’am. I don’t understand why I have to be part of your game.”

The use of “ma’am” had Sonia narrowing her eyes, the earlier softness wiped away. Mace knew she understood he was telling her that if he did this, there was no longer a relationship between them. For a moment, she appeared to consider allowing him to refuse it. Never had he reacted like this before to a direct order.

“You are going to because that is your order. You have a past with her and that will be a way in.”

“My past with her was destroyed when I did nothing to help her get out of that sentence to go to jail in the middle of nowhere. I washed my hands of her six years ago!” Mace’s voice had risen, which woke up the rest of the team. They watched with shock. Mace rarely lost his control.

“Well then I suggest you do whatever you need to in order to get back in her good graces,” Sonia had begun to shout as well. She hated to be challenged and he knew it. “Just don’t forget that with that chip, if she strays from the plan, she will die.”

“Oh yeah, that’s a great selling point, isn’t it. Come help us, the ones who put you here, and we may not kill you,” Mace sneered, his fists clenching.

“You are my subordinate,” she snapped. “Do as you are fucking told.”

“I know my job. I’ll do it, but it will be a cold day in hell before I like it.” Mace stomped off to another part of the plane, ignoring the stares he was receiving.

Sitting down in a different seat, Mace groaned. A cold day in hell. Well, Iceland sure as hell wasn’t going to be warm. This must be the winds of change. Shoving a pillow under his head, he closed his eyes.

The image that floated before him was that of Sinjin. She stood tall and proud before him even though there were tear tracks down her face. The peach summer dress she wore moved gently in the light wind that blew. Her hair was short and being ruffled by the warm caress of the wind. Her dark skin was stunning against the dress she wore and he knew personally just how soft it was, softer than it appeared to the naked eye.

More winds of change.

The devastation that filled her dark brown eyes cut him to the quick as he turned his back on her pleas. He watched with forced indifference as she was taken by two women agents and shackled like a thug.

The metal cuffs were tight against her bare skin, but she never took her eyes off him, the pain in them receding to be filled with contempt. Each snap of a cuff, each rattle of a connecting chain, turned her gaze harder and harder until it was like looking at diamonds. Dark brown diamonds.

There were no more tears as Dirk Tenodar told her that if she would just give up Cicero, they would cut her a deal. When she remained silent, he warned her she would be locked up. A warning that still got no reaction from her.

She allowed them to put prison booties on her feet since she had been barefoot when they burst into the house. The whole neighborhood was out to see her shuffling steps that took her into the waiting paddy wagon.

As Mace watched her be assisted up the steps, her dark face swung back to look at him. If there hadn’t been emotion in her eyes before, now there was. Loathing. Then as if dismissing him she hobbled into the back of the vehicle transporting her to her new home. Ferð Endir.

Making it Real by Victoria Blisse

It’s amazing what you can find online, especially when you’re not really looking for it. I was bored, blocked and searching for inspiration for my latest romance tale when I came across Thirty-Something, a forum created specifically for those folks slipping genteelly into middle-age.

I joined out of curiosity and boredom really, but I found myself amongst like-minded procrastinators from the world over. Within a matter of days, I’d created hundreds of posts. After a couple of months, I had established friendships with people throughout the globe.

I kept strictly to the nice threads and questions on the board and avoided controversy and debate. It seemed they always turned nasty. I’m more of a “give peace a chance” kind of girl. So, it was a bit of a surprise to find a full-fledged debate raging in an innocuous thread started by a friend. Just a thread about preparations for Christmas. One person stated that October was far too early to be thinking about Christmas and the thread totally derailed into a discussion of commercialism and the apparent exploitation of the purchasing public.

I was intrigued. Normally such in-depth debate would send me scampering to a safe, fluffy thread on favourite colour or bands or simple word association. However, I found one of the posters in this argument fascinating. William Blake was not a name that I’d run across before and with it being the Internet, I was pretty certain it was neither his real name nor the eighteenth century poet resurrected. The little picture beside his post, something I knew was called an avatar, or AV for short, was a smug-looking handsome young man, gazing into a camera.

“Hot,” I exclaimed, fanning myself. As I continued to read through his posts I found him intelligent and witty, too. Unfortunately, the end of the debate had changed from intellectual exchanges of opinion to open mud-slinging. In an effort to calm the situation, I took a long time composing my opinion. I incorporated a plea for a return to intelligent debate, since posturing whilst slinging insults was not helping anyone prove their point.

I was delighted when a little box flashed up on my screen, proclaiming, “You have a new Private Message from William Blake.”

You’re right. I lost my temper, will cool down before posting there again. Thanks.

It was not the most exciting PM ever. The words and message were unexceptional. Only the identity of the sender made it extraordinary. I spent several minutes composing a reply, as I knew it was an opportunity to get to know the handsome rebel better. I sent my message masterpiece off into the ether and settled down to wait for a reply. To bide the time, I read through his past posts.

“No wonder we never crossed paths,” I Mumbled, as I read yet another contentious political debate thread. “He posts on everything I don’t.” I was disappointed not to receive a reply straight away, but people have lives away from the computer. So I waited patiently. I enjoyed looking through his old posts, anyway.

I was intrigued to find he was significantly younger than the thirty years stated in the forum name. He’d stumbled across the forum while researching something for his latest company. He was a whiz kid, a successful businessman and a sharp debater; my complete opposite. I waited tables in a local café to make ends meet whilst I pretended to have a career in writing. I was getting stories published, but I wasn’t challenging JK Rowling is the sales stakes.

I couldn’t get the guy out of my mind and, as we’d barely interacted, it was kind of worrying. I logged off the Internet and attempted to concentrate on the novel I was working on at the time. As I tapped away at my laptop keys, I found myself placing William’s features on the character I was writing. The scene twisted into something completely unsuitable for a non-erotic historical romance.

“Why, Sir, you flatter me.” She giggled and hid behind her fan.

“But you are the most beautiful and desirous female her,” he replied, his dark, almost black eyes fixing her in their gaze. “I want you, Mary and I want you now. Right here on this dining table. Push away the cutlery, candlesticks and napkins and lie down for me, whilst I undo all your layers and bury my face in the sweet musky smell of your muff.”

“Snap out of it!” I yelled out loud. I highlighted and deleted the erotic paragraph. I stared at the blank space for a good fifteen minutes before I gave up, switched off the computer and went to bed. He was in my mind even as I lay under the heavy duvet. Each time I closed my eyes, I saw that big, knowing smile. What does he know? I wondered and imagined he knew I was there, lying naked in my bed.

My eyes closed and my hands skimmed to my fleshy breasts with their excited nipples, and then further down over my softly rounded stomach. My fingers flitted through pubic hair and down into the hot valley between my thighs as I fantasised.

I saw him above me. He pulled the duvet away and feigned shock at the naked body beneath. I imagined those intense chocolate eyes running up and down my curves, lust evident in their twinkle. He lunged for me. Our lips met as his hand ran up and down the curve of my breast and hip. He pulled me to him, so I could feel the hard bulge.

His lips slipped lower and he sucked and nibbled on my neck. Alone in my bed, my fingers slipped in the slickness the fantasy created. I rubbed firmly over my excited clit as my imagined lover’s lips roamed down, hunting out and capturing the hard pellets of my nipples. Impatiently, he hurried even lower, over my stomach. He split my legs around him as he delved deeper. He kissed over my soft, curly mound and his tongue flicked out and found my tender pleasure spot.

I looked down in my dream world. His eyes were fixed on me; he was licking and kissing my pussy with great fervour, his fingers inside my slick tunnel. He filled me and I anticipated how his hard cock would feel there instead.

My mind raced with imagined passion as I stroked my clit. I felt his imaginary lips licking and loving me in such an intimate way. Each breath came in shorter bursts as my arousal continued to grow. My chest heaved as I rubbed quickly, desperate to reach my peak on his imagined tongue. I came hard and fast as I envisioned him sucking eagerly, drinking down the refreshing flow of my feminine juices.

Panting, I pulled the duvet tighter around my vulnerable nakedness and sighed. Will was young, virile and handsome. I was convinced he’d never be interested in me, a mid-thirties fatty.

“Pleasantly plump,” I verbally chided myself. I was really trying hard not to use negative descriptors about my body. I’d seen a wonderfully positive life coach on Oprah and that was one of his rules. Always think positively about your image. The problem was that what other people thought of my pleasantly plump and ample curves really mattered to me. It often pulled my thoughts towards the negative. Also, I hadn’t been in a real relationship in the past eight years. If I was desirable, there would surely be a queue of men on my doorstep. In reality, Pete was the only man who showed any interest.

Pete lived locally and we met on Thirty-Something.

“It’s a small world.” I exclaimed when I found out he lived in the next borough along from mine. I flirted with him and we went as far as having cyber sex, which was a completely new experience for me. At the time, I found it quite exciting, though I did feel that I was often left high and dry once he’d received his pleasure.

But meeting in real life was a folly. It became apparent that everything he’d told me online had been a blatant lie. He was not thirty-five, the same age as me. Add twenty years to that total and you’d be closer. He didn’t look at all like Nicholas Cage, and he certainly wasn’t charming. I had to physically fight him off at one point. It had to be the adrenalin which allowed me to wrestle with such a brute and win. I called it off because of his lies and intolerable behaviour. How could I have a relationship with someone who was so deceptive and violent? I simply could not.

Unfortunately, Pete could not see why I made such a fuss. He continued to bother me online. Emails, PMs and threads appeared, trying to engage me in conversation once more. I never answered any of them and each time a new thread appeared, I cringed with embarrassment. But, at least it was just embarrassment. I never revealed my real life location to him in any detail and I’m very thankful for that. A man stalking you online can be ignored, but in real life, it would be a very scary thing indeed.

After an hour of tossing, turning and not sleeping, I returned to my computer and got back to work. I resisted checking my email and forced myself to write one thousand words of Felicia and Felix’s stilted and formal courting. After that, I deserved a break.

My heart thumped like a techno beat when I saw that a PM awaited me from William. I couldn’t open it fast enough. Even with broadband, the page was loading far too slowly. I needed to know what was in that message.

Actually, the reply was not filled with innuendo, as I would have liked, though the simple statement enclosed within it seemed to hint at future flirtations. Well, it did once I ran it through my sex-starved brain a few hundred times.

It was the start of an interesting and unlikely online relationship. LadyUK (my highly original username) began to frequent more and more debates. I followed William Blake into them all. I found it refreshing to be taking part in the intellectual and stimulating discussion. I was learning much about the world; politics, religion and people. It was fascinating.

I mostly did it to read William’s words, though. He was so smart it made my pussy ache with need. He was so handsome that a mere sideward glance at his sweet, seductive smirk had me wishing for something hard and masculine between my thighs. I knew I was being daft. I knew I was acting like a schoolgirl with a crush, but I couldn’t stop it and, to be honest, I didn’t really want to. It was just a bit of innocent fun, I thought and I certainly wasn’t hurting anyone at all. I was enjoying being a complete and utter sexpot. However, my light and flirty romance story kept getting derailed and pushed into darkly sensual erotica. Something I was a fan of but not something my publisher would approve, I was sure. I ended up deleting so much during editing that it seemed like one sentence forward, two paragraphs back.