Friday, November 21, 2008

Windy City Love Affair by Jane Leopold Quinn

"Ma'am?"

The rumble of the deep, rich, masculine voice with its western twang speared her heart. And lower.

"Ma'am?"

Being a Chicago girl, Lorren Samples at first tried to ignore the stranger's tall, broad-chested body crowding too closely. You had to watch out for yourself in the big city. A man touching you on the street could spell danger. Then she made the mistake of glancing up at him.

Holy frickin' cow! The man was the closest thing to beautiful male perfection that she'd ever seen. Not in the movies, not on TV, nor on stage. Certainly, she'd never seen anything like him in person. A passerby bumped her, throwing her against him. Her hands automatically reached for his forearms, his gripped her shoulders. She stood stiffly, silent and unexpectedly breathless.

Wow. Brown eyes. Rich chocolate. Warm cocoa. All those good, lickable, delicious, sensuous flavors. Burnished dark eyes surrounded by lush long lashes gazed back at her.

A horn blared. She gasped, brushing her breast against his forearm as she turned to see what the hell the problem was. The sound, the brush woke her to the city around her.

"Sorry," she muttered and stepped back to try to establish some distance between them. It was a cab that had pulled in at the curb at Union Station for a pick up. That's when she noticed the luggage at his heels. A soft, black leather satchel.

Heels? Heels on cowboy boots. Tan, stitched-toe cowboy boots. Well worn and slightly scuffed as if he lived in them. Speechless again, her gaze tracked the blue, faded jeans hugging long, long legs up to lean hips and a flat belly. Holy Christ! Her head jerked up. He had a hard on. It was pretty difficult to hide that in snug jeans. Her face flamed hot in embarrassment.

He stared back, a smug, aware expression on his handsome face.

I guess he's not embarrassed about his humongous hard on. That's when she noticed that she still held on to his solid-muscled forearms. Bare forearms. Bare, hairy forearms. Okay, stop it. You're acting like...well she didn't know what she was acting like. She'd never been in this situation before. It was like a scene from a movie. The "meet cute."

* * * *

Jess Croften covered the woman's hand with his. It wasn't like he'd planned on picking up a pretty woman, but he had watched this one all the way from the intersection, willing her to cross over and continue straight toward him. He'd squinted a bit to sharpen his focus, and the closer she got, the more he could see that she was all prime.

He didn't normally think of women in beef-related terms, but he wouldn't mind having this fine lady on a plate and eating her up. Literally and figuratively.

She'd obviously been preoccupied, her expression scowling and smoothing out in turn. Her lips were moving slightly as if she was talking to herself. He was in Chicago on business, but that didn't mean he wouldn't jump on the chance to find a woman. And he had no intention of letting this one go until he knew everything about her.

The brush of her breast electrified the hairs on his arm, heating his blood even as she pushed away from him and looked down toward his feet. His skin sizzled as her gaze roamed up his body to where he wanted it to be—on his...crotch? No secrets there as to how she affected him, were there? He smirked at her wide-eyed response to his arousal.

Whew! God, she's a pretty thing. Her apple-round cheeks were pink and soft, her lips covered in a rosy gloss that he wanted to lick and kiss right off her. She was tall. Her chin could easily rest on his shoulder, and he was six-three. Auburn hair, held loosely back in a ponytail by one of those elastic things, was fluffed up around her head, little damp ringlets plastered to her temples and neck. He couldn't see the color of her eyes because of sunglasses, but he'd get around to that.

"Ma'am?" he asked a third time. "Can you tell me which way to Michigan Avenue?"

She jerked her hand off his arm so fast it was as if his question had broken a spell.

Damn.

"Um, sure." She backed up to put space between them and took a deep breath. "Go to the corner, turn that way." She pointed right. "And go about eight or ten blocks." Then she glanced at his boots. "It's quite a way though. Maybe you should get a cab so you don't lug your stuff around."

"Aw, ma'am, it's not heavy. I've carried more than this." Back home and in the Army.

"Well, okay then. Um...see ya. Have fun." She gave him one of those little girly wiggles of her fingers before she turned away.

Son of a bitch if she wasn't walking away from him. No way, honey. Grabbing up his valise, he sprinted after her reaching her just as she turned the corner. Just as she turned to look back at him. If he would have bet on that, he'd have won.

A breeze lifted her hair, pushed a strand over her lips. She dragged it out of the gloss.

He wanted to see her eyes under the sunglasses. He wanted to find out her name. He didn't know exactly why he was so interested, but her mixture of contradictions enticed him. Tall, round-cheeked, hair just this side of frizzy and wild, but she was dressed in sophisticated clothing—tight skirt and very fitted, man-style white blouse and...fuck-me stilettos. High heeled, open sandals with cherry red toenails peeping out. Whoa, horsie. His hard on just thickened.

"Which way're you goin'?" They'd stopped again in the middle of the sidewalk with aggravated, complaining people streaming around them. He didn't care. He wasn't going to let her walk out of his life. Not that she was in his life, but...

If she'd just take those damn glasses off.

The Fifth House by L.E. Bryce

Dyas struggled to contain his disappointment as the ship's deck on which he stood moved into the harbor. With his snow-white hair, in his priestly blue and gray robes, he knew he was on display, and it would not do to offend people with whom he would be staying indefinitely.

Lachant might be the largest of the Seaward Islands, and its center of administration, but its main port left much to be desired. Built around a natural, crescent-shaped harbor, Thevit hugged the waterfront like the rustic town it was, no match for the city Dyas and his companions had left ten days earlier.

You were warned not to expect too much, he thought ruefully. This is not Sirilon. You'll be fortunate if the priests here can read and write.

Because he had no other choice, Dyas accepted the grim reality before him. Nevertheless, he yearned for the seaport that had been his home since birth: its jostling forest of masts and sails, its many shops and thoroughfares, and most of all the temples crowning the heights. That Thevit lacked these things only magnified the void he felt.

Behind him the first mate shouted. As the ship glided toward the dock, lines were thrown and caught by dockhands, and the anchor dropped. The gangplank descended even before the ship stopped moving. Dyas's gaze went to the dock with its long pier, and the crowd that had formed. Some called out to the crew, asking for news or shouting offers of assistance. Most stared at the ship and its passengers, making no attempt to hide their astonishment.

Dyas frowned at their overt curiosity. In Sirilon and elsewhere on the mainland, people treated the Lady's sacred consorts with deference, which included keeping a respectful distance.

Beside him, his two companions noticed also. "They are staring at us," muttered Elantho.

"Gods, are those three what I think they are?" Lamad did not point. There was no need. Dyas could not fail to notice who was striding up the gangplank, or share the other man's surprise.

The three men boarding with the dockhands wore homespun tunics and trousers, and might have been mistaken for sailors or laborers if not for one slight difference. Dyas had been told by islanders among the Lady's servants that long exposure to the sun often bleached light-colored hair. From afar such people might be mistaken for talevé.

Not this close.

Dyas gaped, then swallowed hard. The men moving toward them were indeed Water-lovers.

Without a word, the foremost man approached the bundles on deck, bent, and hefted the smaller chest containing Dyas's books and writing materials onto one shoulder. He stood tall, as people from the Seaward Islands often were. Strands of white hair, stirred by the afternoon's faint breeze, escaped their braid to frame a face roughened by wind and sun. Full, sensual lips parted in a smile revealing even, white teeth. "We'll show you where you'll be staying," he said, in a deep voice.

"Put that down at once." Elantho, product of a princely upbringing, wielded protocol with rigid authority. "Talevé do not perform manual labor. There are plenty of other men to carry that for us."

Dyas winced at his imperious tone. However those words might reflect his own sentiments, Elantho could have phrased his reprimand more kindly. "What he means is—"

"That he'd prefer to carry his own baggage," finished the man. Glaring once at Elantho, who immediately fell silent, the stranger turned once more to Dyas. His eyes were pale blue, a shade not often seen on the mainland. "My name is Adarrel. The men with me are Teval and Omis."

Dyas caught his breath at the intensity of the man's stare, then, realizing he was being observed, cleared his throat and blinked. He prayed he was not blushing. "I am Dyas Olvyseras," he said. "The one who gets to carry his own things is Elantho né Hethigal, and the one beside him is Lamad. We are talevé of Sirilon, servants and consorts of the Lady of the Waters."

Adarrel snorted with laughter. "Are you always that formal when introducing yourselves on the mainland?"

"No, but it is the custom in Sirilon."

"Maybe so, but here in Thevit you'll have your audience asleep before you're done."

Now Dyas knew he was blushing. Gods, it's those eyes, and that smile. Resisting the urge to bite his lip, as he often did when flustered, he shifted his gaze to the chest Adarrel balanced on his shoulder. "Is it customary for you to come down to the docks whenever a ship puts in and help unload?"

"We help wherever it's needed, and we knew you'd be arriving any day now." Adarrel turned, took a cautious step back down the gangplank, and motioned Dyas to follow. "You don't do the same for your neighbors in Sirilon?"

"Absolutely not," Elantho replied, his voice dripping with disdain. Dyas noticed that he made no move to carry his own baggage, even the manageable leather satchel at his feet, but left it and his trunk for the dockhands. "Where are your priests, and your guards?"

"Why should we need guards?" asked one of the other talevé.

His question met with laughter from the other two. "Why, indeed?" answered Adarrel. "As for the priests, they'll meet you later. There's no need to be so formal when you're only just arriving."

Under the circumstances Dyas judged it wiser not to mention that he and his companions would have welcomed the formality. Priests would have served as a barrier between his group and the onlookers pressing around them. Someone touched his elbow, tugged at the sleeve of his robe. Other hands reached for his hair, his face, their boldness prompting him to sharply gesture them back. Elantho snapped at them, and even Lamad, who rarely spoke, muttered something about the lack of manners.

Whether it was the sudden closeness, the heat and smell emanating from too many bodies, or the sensation of being on land once more, the pier seemed to sway, its rough planks no longer as solid as they first appeared. Dyas blinked back his dizziness, and grasped Elantho's arm to steady himself.

"Move back, all of you!" shouted Adarrel. "You're going to smother them, and they haven't even gotten their land legs again."

Good-natured laughter followed compliance. Dyas felt a hand on his shoulder, heard a voice urging him to catch his breath. Once the nausea passed he found Teval, the talevé who had spoken earlier, standing beside him. "Are you ready to go on?"