Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nevermore by Brenna Lyons

Traia didn’t question who knocked at her door. With vampires, weres, and zombies hunting the night, no human came to her door after sundown, late enough that he couldn’t complete his business with her and return to the safety of his own shields before the sky darkened. She rarely saw visitors after mid-afternoon.

He knocked again, a jaunty little children’s song backbeat. Traia crossed one leg over the other, making a conscious effort at ignoring him. Though it probably wouldn’t discourage him, Traia was hardly about to invite him in.

He’s not a vampire, she reminded herself. Refusing to invite him in would make little difference.

Vampire or not, I am not welcoming a foul creature into my home.

He knocked a third time, a more impatient cadence, heavier than the previous inquiries. “Traia.” His voice was soft, taunting, and all too familiar.

Traia bristled. “I’ve been nice so far, mutt. Push me much farther and I’ll make cuffs of your hide.”

He laughed at the warning. “Now, Traia. The fact that I’m knocking on your door should tell you something.”

“That you’re persistent and stupid?” she ventured rudely. He deserves no better.

“That your shields and traps won’t work against me,” he countered.

“They are simple magick. I have stronger.” As if to reassure herself, Traia picked up the items she would use to drive him off. Her gaze strayed to the final weapon in her arsenal, and she shuddered at the thought of using it.

“Perhaps.” The truth didn’t seem to concern him. “Probably so.”

“If you enter my home, you will be carried out.” Memories of his tall, strong body prompted a silent addition to that statement. By a very strong man or two of lesser strength.

“Would you care to open the door and be proven wrong? I would hate to have to break it down to do so.”

The presumption! He really is a dog.


She shivered in arousal. Her thighs dampened, and her nipples tightened. It didn’t make sense. She knew what he was. Why was he still able to affect her this way?

Traia forced her mouth to unglue. “The door is not bolted.”

He hesitated. “You’re inviting me in?”

“You wish.”

His dark chuckle set off another round of shivers and several warning bells. Traia wished she could claim a sense of dread caused them, but nothing about his approach made her feel it. It was only her mind screaming warnings. It made no sense. Her senses had never failed her so completely before. Then again, neither had her magick.

The door opened, and Traia’s mind rioted. She’d invited him in the first time—had she nullified her defenses in the process?

No. He’s not a vampire. Vampires were the only ones who nullified the magick with an invitation. Not to mention, the vampire had to be invited in at each visit, and she certainly hadn’t done so. Not at the shield line and not at her door.

He stepped into her line of sight, and for a moment, Traia forgot how to breathe. Galen! Goddess, but the man was beautiful. And he knew how to use that cock to keep her in bliss.

Too bad he means to rip my throat out.

As if in agreement, he licked his lips. Traia raised the silver amulet in warning, belatedly musing that she should have simply tied it around her throat.

Galen arched an eyebrow at the move. The door swung shut behind his hand, and he added the bolt for good measure.

Don't Dare the Reaper by Leigh Ellwood


She knew that voice—though it sounded distant and full of static. Probably a faraway temptation to rejoin the waking world, but she wanted none of it. Just a few more minutes of sleep, she decided. She had no pressing appointments at her photography studio. The people of Dareville could wait for their portraiture.

“Sue, baby, come on.”

No. Behind her eyelids came into focus a clear image of ice, stretching for miles before her. Her skates laced and tied, she took to the endless rink with all the poise of an Olympic champion, twirling and gliding with ease. Figure eights, figure sixty-nines—no number proved too difficult to etch on the hardened surface. She contemplated starting pi as well, right after a double axel.

The landing she flubbed, and Sue landed face down on the ice. The dry cool of the surface numbed her skin and left a lasting impression as that insistent voice guided her back to consciousness.

“Sue!” Cal shook her now, and she finally opened her eyes to discover they weren’t in their bed at home, but lying on a dark floor.

The entire room was pitch black, in fact. Yet, there had to be some light source since she could clearly see her worried husband.

She looked down at herself, then at Cal. Neither wore a stitch of clothing, yet it seemed natural in this situation. She experienced neither a chill nor embarrassment.

“Thank God,” he said, and drew her close.

“Where are we?”

“Hell if I know, are you okay?”

“I-I think so.” Nothing hurt. She tried her legs and stood without any problems, as did Cal. She studied their surroundings, or rather lack thereof. “Nice place.”

“Could use a window or two, but sure,” Cal said.

Sue smiled, happy to know her husband’s sense of sarcasm hadn’t suffered whatever had befallen them.

What had happened, exactly? She closed her eyes to recap the events of the day, but recalled nothing unusual. They’d made love that morning, then an early run and breakfast. Grocery shopping at Jake’s and lunch with their friend Kate at the Dareville Inn. Tiny Jack O’ Lanterns lined the lattice work of the small hotel—there was to be a Halloween party for the kids there…

Halloween party. Brady and Ellie. They were on the way to the Garristons’ house when they were hit.

“We crashed,” she said out loud. “The car.”

“Yeah, but where is it?” Cal loosened his hold and stepped away. Each footfall echoed an odd sound, as though they stood in a large, empty soundstage.

“We couldn’t have been thrown, we’d be all bloody and cut,” he added. He looked about to say more, but his face paled. Sue realized he shared her very thoughts.

Perhaps, they hadn’t been ejected from the car because they were still in it—their corporeal selves, anyway.

“We’re dead, Cal?”

He shook his head, bewildered. “I don’t know, babe. I don’t know. Come here.”

She gladly eased into his embrace and pressed against him, then gasped when she confirmed her worst fear. “I can’t hear your heart beating.” She trembled in his arms, trying to sob but tears didn’t come. Cal kissed the top of her head, but beyond that she detected no other movement. His breath didn’t caress her skin. His pulse didn’t race. He, like her, just was.

At least her sense of touch remained intact, and she assumed the same for Cal. That provided some comfort in this uncertainty. She savored the scratch of a light tuft of chest hair against her cheek, and how his hand smoothed over the swell of her backside. Any other time, this would arouse her, and she felt sad. Had they lost the ability to truly enjoy intimacy in this place?

“This is too weird. Cal, you don’t think this is Hell, do you?” Despite seeming to have no major working organs, Sue managed to sense a chill shiver down her spine after all. She thought of everything she and Cal had done, the earthly pleasures enjoyed since they fell in love, and wondered how much of it counted against them in their final judgment.

He didn’t answer right away, and part of her hoped for a joke to lift her spirits. Finally, he looked up and said, “This can’t be Hell.”

“How are you so sure?”

“If it were, I’d be the only one here.”

He looked down at her. In this state—death, near-death, whatever—his eyes maintained their lively hazel color, and she saw the desire flickering within them. Cuffing the back of his neck, she pulled him down for a long, slow kiss, relieved to know not everything ended in death.