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The Pirate’s Surrender
Sequel to To Seduce a Soulmate
by Laura Tolomei

eXtasy Books

eBook ISBN: 9781771110365

All right, so he did it! Marin seduced me. And the sex is fantastic, blows my mind every time, no complaints there. But that thing about being his soul mate still doesn’t sit right with me. Yet there seems no way around it except…but can I do it? Do I want to do it? No, I don’t know if I’m ready to surrender. Me, the pirate, and to the blond devil, no less…talk about fucked up destiny!

Chapter One

Sitting on the toilet, Drake stared at the unfamiliar bathroom. He was still groggy from a deep sleep, which could account for his forgetting where he was or how he had gotten there. The peeing was not helping either, since it kept him focused on his aching bladder, so full it actually hurt, and the terrific erection doing its best to empty it. Maybe the two contributed to clog his senses at the moment…who could tell?
Safe to say, the bathroom was nothing like his own, the piping too old and in some places too rusted to be his. The sink was also old fashioned and with two faucets, rather than the solitary modern one he had at home. Turning his head, he would have examined the bathtub, too, if the pee had not stopped its furious rush, so after a vigorous shake at what remained as rigid as marble, Drake got up and stumbled back to bed.
He did not have far to go. The bathroom adjoined the bedroom and everything he saw on his way confirmed he was not home. From the iron-wrought bed, the massive chestnut closet to one side, to the quaint wooden window shades, filtering pale, trembling light, nothing was a standard fixture of his house in Atlanta, Georgia, or in many other American homes for that matter.
But it was no use to keep wondering when light was scarce and his eyes needed to adjust to it. Instead, he crawled back to bed, curling on his favorite side. The only thing he knew was that he had just woken up from a deep sleep with the swollen bladder and the impressive hard-on he now grasped firmly, sliding the soft skin up and down the tight stem. He did not indulge, though, just a couple of strokes before returning to the problem at hand. Where was he?
Someone stirred behind him. And with whom? Drake did not turn immediately, waiting for whoever was there to settle in a new position. Then carefully, he rolled on the opposite side, shifting the thick cock until it pressed on the other person’s naked back. It was a man, no doubt, light-skinned and a lithe build smaller than his for sure. But if Drake dominated him with his more muscular frame, what attracted his attention was the sexy ass rubbing against his rigid dick. At first, Drake thought he was imagining it. Maybe he was confusing his own slide on the tempting cleft as that of the other man. Stopping for a second, though, he realized the butt was stroking the shaft of its own will, independently of Drake. Fucking arousing, no doubt, made the erection swell to a gigantic dimension, still did not give the man away. What did the trick was the flash of blond hair, short and thick like the devil’s, so unlike his long black strands, which could only mean—
“Good morning, Pirate.” The heavily Irish-accented voice caught him off guard. “How was your first night in Cork City?”
Ireland! That’s where I am! “Not as great as my first fuck on Irish soil.” He grinned, increasing the slide between Martin’s buttocks.
“That was just the appetizer.” Rolling to face him, Martin had the same broad smile, lighting his handsome features and the startlingly green eyes. So Drake’s heart stopped.
It had all happened so fast, he had not gotten used to Martin’s beauty or to the fact they were actually together. Not that it had been easy for the good-looking devil to seduce the pirate. No, not at all, despite the short time that had passed from their first meeting, since Thanksgiving to be precise.
“Now you’ll be treated to vigorous sessions of Christmas fucking, which is the reason I brought you all the way over here.” Stretching closer, Martin gripped the hard cock. “And since today’s Christmas Eve, I might as well get started…” Cocking his head in understanding, he threw open the sheets. “Right after I’ve seen to some pressing matters.” Then he got out of bed and moved to the bathroom.
Yes, just one short month convinced him to have sex with a man for the very first time in his life. Sure, Martin and his technique, a slow circular maneuver that replaced his initial blowjob slip, had left Drake no choice except capitulation a few days before they left for Ireland. So good was the blond devil, he had crumbled the pirate’s resistance, not to mention his many objections, to the novelty of having sex with a man. Impressive, to say the least.
From the room next door, Drake heard the bladder being drained like a waterfall tumbling down a mountain. To be honest, if Drake had never considered it an option, it was not out of any prejudice, simply did not think it was something a pirate would do. Why a pirate? Because it was his alter ego, the way he saw himself since he was a little boy and growing up had only reinforced the role model to the point of creating doubts where none should have existed. Luckily, his friend Peter and the Greek philosopher Plato straightened him out on that count. “Would this qualify as my Christmas present?”
“Not entirely.” Back, Martin slipped between the sheets, pressing to him again. “What you got last night was only a…first installment.” His warm palms cuddling his twitching piece had a long experience. Never one to choose between genders, the Irishman had done his time with both, enjoying them for their differences as much as their similarities. And he was not just an expert on cocks. He loved them in whatever shape or form they came, knowing their most intimate desires and providing the comfort they needed. Like now, for instance, slipping below the covers to close his hungry mouth around the bulging head, then sliding his lips to the balls and sucking it practically to the throat. The swallowing effect drove Drake crazy, which had also been his undoing in his parents’ house on Lake Lanier.
Unusual, completely unexpected and unprecedented to come so quickly and without any restraint in a stranger’s mouth, for such had been Martin at the time. Women rarely, if ever, had the privilege to drink his sperm. They never seemed to hit the right spot on his sophisticated dick that did not surrender easily to a vigorous lapping, however practiced the tongue. But Martin had set a different standard from the start, bypassing all Drake’s mechanisms and sucked him dry the first time around. Now it seemed no different.
Swinging his hips forward, he made Martin take more, past the tongue’s blocking to reach the plunge, if a tight curl had not stopped him. Just a temporary setback, though, to allow for a gulp of air before the cheeks pressed again on all sides, while the hands took firmer control of the situation. God, he had a wonderful touch. Strong, forceful yet not hurried, it adapted to the pirate’s rhythm until it was too late to contain the tide. Holding the blond head to screw it deeper, Drake shoved one last time and everything spilled out, soul included, in the warm cavity opening wider to receive it all.
Evidently unsatisfied, Martin did not let go of his prize, which explained why it did not go limp, remaining stiff and ready for more action. Despite their limited sexual activity, the pirate already knew how insatiable the devil was and how irresistible his urgings were. And it could definitely become a problem. Already Drake could not get enough of him, whether down his throat or up his ass, Martin’s mastery over his dick was something unique and seldom experienced before, like coming with a blowjob. To Martin, cocks had no secrets, none he had not discovered and put to good use, with the pirate in particular, judging from the healthy erection rising so fast after an explosive climax.
“Just love them when they’re hard.” Coming out from underneath the covers, the devil kept jerking him.
“So they can stick better in your ass.” Chuckling, Drake toppled him, pressing his stomach down on the mattress.
“Can’t wait to get it as a matter of fact.” Raising his behind, the blond Irishman captured the tip of the erection in his cleft.
“Just open wide,” Drake teased, poking the tight entrance. Knowing Martin, he would not need too much of a preparation, his ass always ready to receive thick pieces. The bulging head was drenched enough anyway, to have no problems breaking through and sliding up the cramped passageway Mother Nature provided.
Hell! Simply fucking delicious. The back end was Drake’s favorite also with women, so at least that had not required too many adjustments. Maybe what he still had to figure out was how to handle life with a man, a prospect he really did not feel ready to face. Martin did not seem to have much experience in that department either, considering he was coming from a failed marriage.
“Fuck! You sure know how to screw an ass.” Moving seductively beneath him, Martin raised his hips to get more inside, something Drake had no trouble delivering. “And to think I had to wait an entire month to get it.”
“Not many resist you, eh, Devil?” It was not a question, merely a statement. Martin’s allure was undeniable. Drake, too, had been fascinated upon first seeing him, but it could have ended there had that disturbing feeling not kicked in to change everything forever.
“No, Pirate, practically no one resisted in my entire life.” Swinging faster, he accelerated the tempo. “Particularly not after one of my great blowjobs ever.”
“So I’m a little slow.” Long hair brushing Martin’s shoulders, Drake went along, stepping up the shoves to ram the narrow hole to a pulp.
There was a moment’s silence on Martin’s part that Drake used to penetrate to his balls and pump with greater force. Then the blond Irishman moved in such a way the pirate had to pull back and allow him more leeway. When it became clear the man wanted to change position, Drake reluctantly left the snug confinement for the time it took Martin to lie on his back. After the change, it was only a matter of seconds to slam back in his ass, legs cradled to Drake’s chest.
“No, Pirate, you’re anything but slow.” Now the devil caught his face between his palms. “Your only problem is that you’re scared shitless.”
And he was right, too. “Oh, come off it!” Shoving harder on purpose, Drake tried not to think of it. “No way am I going to be scared of a great ass like yours.” Maybe humor worked better. And fucking was having its results, too. The deeper he sank, the more pressing his need to come again and forget about everything.
“You know what I mean.” Arching his back, Martin brought the dick all the way inside with a suddenness that cut off Drake’s breath…or rather the little still left after the devil pulled him down for an avid kiss, which blew the pirate’s mind to outer space.
Martin’s tongue pushed down his throat, wrapping around his when it did not have to battle it for supremacy. An exciting addition for sure and had Drake’s shaft not been stuck in Martin’s butt, it might not have had any consequences. Instead, the two effects combined the second the ass squeeze became irresistible, the fleshy walls cramming it on every side. On top of it, his pounding was jerking off Martin’s dick, caught between their bellies, until everything spiraled to the point he felt the wetness on his stomach before he realized the devil was coming. So he let it go, plunging with a muffled groan into Martin and bursting.
“You’ll see how much better it can get once you accept it, too.” Martin’s voice breathed in his ear as he cuddled his head to his chest.
Right! He had almost forgotten the goddamn catch.
“Our connection, I mean.”
He was his fucking soul-mate, for Christ’s sake, and there seemed no way around it either.

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Re-Scue
by Laura Tolomei

Romance Divine

eBook ISBN: 9781934446898

Only one rule: never fall in love. But the sex and blood is just too good to pass up. So what to do? Blood and sex are the only fair game he, the hunter, allows me, his prey, to have in our passionate chase through time and space. And for his sake, I’ve had more lives than I care to count.

Chapter One

Didri was bored.
Her world was just too…perfect. By far not an origi­nal thought, she stretched and yawned, mouth fully open turned to the blinking flashes overhead. Damn! Her shift about to begin, she was still in bed, despite the wake up system having switched on half an hour ago. The soft lights she had ignored, so the intensity grew a notch for every minute of loafing until they became too harsh to endure. And the blinding effect always got her out of bed, scrambling to her feet, then dragging them to the coffee machine.
Buzz, buzz, buzz. Now what? She was sure she had turned off the fastidious NetConnect before collapsing, yet here it was, bright and alert to remind no one was allowed to be off-line, not even during sleep. Reluctantly changing direction, she went to the opposite side, first looking for the remote…but who knows where the heck I buried it last night…then brushing a small sensor half hidden behind the glass-like wall of her tiny living quarters—a bed turned couch during the daytime, a closet, a stove and an essential bathroom all there was to it for Shindera wasted no space.
“Don’t tell me you just woke up!” A handsome young man smiled from the giant wall screen.
“Markay, what do you want?” Half exasperated, half pleased, Didri shuffled back to her first target. “Don’t you have anything better to do than wake people up at this ungodly hour?”
“Particularly before they had their coffee.” He chuckled.
“My point precisely.” With two steps, Didri reached the coffee machine. The lid stuck as usual, it required a brutal act of persuasion or a careful sliding back and forth to unscrew. Still no technologically advanced dispenser would ever re­place her trusted old-fashioned trapping, found at the bottom of a useless pile of junk in a so-called antique store, at least not until it made the best coffee in town.
“Just thought I’d keep you company while you got ready, since tonight we’re working the same shift—”
“Which doesn’t give you the right to barge in.” Too late she realized the words had gone out of her mouth before she had time to think them through.
Her friend since always, Markay had been something more at one point, and though it had not worked out for her, like a true Shindera gentleman, he never pressed it. His obvious disappointment notwithstanding, he accepted the fact women had the right to choose their sexual partners, free to change their minds even at the last minute. Politeness and respect being the rule, no man dared take a woman against her will and Markay was no exception. Besides, she liked him better as a friend—funny, kind, understanding, the perfect shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear in which to pour her frustrations during their numerous lunches or dinners.
“Hey, baby, only wanted to be friendly. That’s all.” His hazel eyes became suddenly darker and she knew she had hurt him. “What’s eating you lately anyway?”
Wish I knew! “I’m sorry, Mar­kay.” She stopped fidgeting with the unruly machine to send him an apologetic look. “It’s just…” Her hand waved aim­lessly in midair. “I’m bored,” she finally admitted. Or rather she had no taste for a perfect life without excitement, nothing new to discover or experience, everything meaning­less.
“Bored? What are you talking about?”
“Exactly what I said.”
“Come on! What about your job?”
Ha…as if that could ever make a difference! Checking on a stupid machine vomiting tons of pills was anything except heart-racing, however fascinating at first to watch them pour out, the many shapes, sizes, colors—blue round tablets, then red triangular ones, green spheres, purple hexagons, orange-coated cylinders. Authorities encouraged a large use of them, claiming they balanced shifting moods, or so the ads boomed from every street-corner screen. She had never felt tempted, like some of her friends, to try them, her brain still working on what a shifting mood meant. For sure, a bunch of shiny tablets could not cure her bore­dom, no matter how loud the ads shouted. “Big deal!” Hav­ing resumed the unscrewing, the lid finally came undone. “We all work such brief shifts we’ve got too much free time on our hands and nothing to do with it—”
“Only because you’ve been refusing to go out for the last month or so.” On the screen, Markay was not looking at her anymore, focusing instead on the contents of his closet. “You could’ve come to the club or—”
“I’ve had it with the clubs, the sex…” She grabbed a cup and filled it. “The orgies and everything even remotely associated with them.”
He spun around to stare at her. “Since when does sex bore you?”
Bringing the cup to her lips, she reflected on what to reply, unable to explain the voracious hunger for something different, something she could not even name. “No…I…” Shaking her head, she returned Markay’s hard stare. “I didn’t mean that…”
If sex in itself was not boring, the problem was finding the right partner. Number and gender not an issue on Shindera as long as everyone conformed to the polished, civilized veneer society seemed so fond of. We’re still beasts at heart, none excluded. Instead, the nice, polite, restrained men and women were…boring, Boring BORING! No male lover ever really satisfied her, not even the best of them, which to her was Markay. Oh, he had been perfect, less refined than most if she had to analyze it prop­erly, yet once it was over, the persistent, hungry growl, coiling like a fiery snake in the pit of her stomach, told her something was still missing. As for the others, too well mannered to be effective in bed, they had long failed all her expectations. And switching to women had not helped either. She had no taste for soft curves, round breasts or wet cunts, yearning instead for hard cocks that stuffed her every hole. Mostly, she wanted men who knew how to use them between her wide-open legs, or if they chose the back entrance…the mere thought enflamed and crunched her stomach even further. But it was all in her head. “Oh, Markay, I can’t explain it.” Sighing heavily, she moved away from the small counter on which she left the cup of coffee, going to her closet. “I have this…” She stopped to search for a word, even though she knew it did not exist. “Thing about finding someone who’ll make me feel something more in a different way perhaps.” Glancing behind her shoulders to catch his eyes, she glimpsed his magnificent naked body—tanned, muscular, firm ass turned her way—as he picked out a pair of pants. “It’s like I’m…”
“Unsatisfied.” Fastening his belt, he swung around to face her.
“Yeah, more or less.” Half dressed, powerful chest filling the screen, he looked even more handsome. Her eyes lingered longer than they should have before returning to the closet where, digging for clothes, she pulled out a skin-tight suit.
“That’ll look terrific, baby.” A dazzling smile lit Markay’s face. “Why don’t you wear it?”
Like him, she had no qualms about being naked, so she carelessly tossed aside the shirt she used as a pajama and proceeded to get dressed, the pants fitting as snugly as a second skin to outline her ass in all its firm roundness.
“I always said you had a great ass.” Markay just had to emphasize it.
“Didn’t think you still noticed,” she snapped back without bothering to look at him.
“Believe me, baby, you’re kind of hard to miss.”
Sure, by all the wrong guys! “I’ll take your word for it.”
“Hey, would I lie to you? In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s your most prized possession.” He paused and from the closet’s inner mirror, she noticed he sent an appre­ciative glance. “You don’t know how many men I catch at work staring at it and probably imagining—”
“Sorry, I’m not interested lately, remember?”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Hey…” Now she turned to face him. “I’m not like you who can change partner as often as changing under­wear.”
“Maybe you ought to try it, too, instead of moping alone at home.”
“Maybe I just had enough of it,” she challenged.
“Maybe you just don’t know what you want.” His reply sounded harsh, almost exasperated. “As long as it makes your life unnecessarily miserable.”
Yeah, like those sad kids at the baby factory. “Perhaps I’ll come with you next time and—”
“Have fun at the club for a change.”
“Sure.” Hardly convinced, she glanced once more at her mirror image, as always lacking in real beauty, at least the conventional kind men appreciated. Definitely too tall, too thin, too little breasts, and her well-developed muscles or her triangular shaped face, half hidden by long dark hair that could not conceal the green fiery eyes, did nothing to help.
“Come on, baby. I didn’t mean to—”
“I know you didn’t.” Closing the closet, she sent him her best smile, pretending everything was fine. “Are we ready?”
“Just waiting for you.” Without her noticing it, he had covered his torso with a remarkable blue shirt.
Together, they moved to the door, the apartment and screen going black as soon as they left, while they kept chatting on their way to the tiny, efficient glider that would fly them to work on the multi-leveled airlanes crossing Byoldar, the only solution to beat chaotic traffic.
“Tonight looks like a slow one.” Markay’s musings made her look outside the vehicle as it took off. “There’s practically no one around.”
“Better.” Interrupted during the brief walk, visual contact resumed with a flash the second she entered the aircraft. “Much better.” Turning on the engine, she took off, too. “That’s why I love the night shift.” Not that it made any difference for there were just as many people working as during the daytime, only the late hour made it seem less real, like a dream.
“Sometimes it’s fun to work days, too. You get to meet different people.”
“I’ll leave them to you.” She chuckled. “Speaking of which, how’s that new boyfriend of yours?”
“He’s great so far and even if it’s not been long, I think—”
“Hold on, Markay.” Looming in the distance, Didri knew she could not avoid it. “I’m going to be off line in a sec…” His handsome face faded abruptly, replaced by a dazzling picture of a technologically advanced city.
“Welcome to Byoldar, Shindera’s desert pearl!”
“Those damn ads…” Markay’s voice crackled.
“A city created for man’s absolute comfort and well-being.” Instead of his reassuring tone, a metallic voice took over, switching off all other transmissions as Didri glided near one of the giant screens suspended in midair. “Admire its beauty and elegance.” The voice insisted while the video showed a glossy picture of a shiny city under harsh light. “Built with the latest discoveries in industrial science, Byol­dar has impressive buildings and…” Exasperated, Didri turned off her earpiece in an attempt to defy commercials’ bad habit of activating automatically directly inside each flying device, obsessively broadcasting the desert pearl’s glittering reproductions from every corner screen.
The depreciable system was just another reminder technology ruled every aspect of Byoldar’s life, as if anyone could ever forget. Its tall, productive towers with glis­tening metallic walls glaring in the midst of a vast wasteland were impressive enough, even if to her knowledge, no one ever actually saw them, the desert or anything beyond for that matter. “Poisonous air, heritage of previous mismanagements, prevents life in the open for all of Shindera’s cities,” authorities claimed, “but thanks to the airtight, transparent bubble, Byoldar survives the deadly atmosphere outside.” So we’re all doomed. And the thought of having to spend her entire life in the same damn place, the amazing desert pearl, only added to the sense of frustration.
“Did you survive?” Reconnected immediately after the robotic croak turned off, Markay’s ironic tone brought her back to the present, his bright eyes shining from the glider’s small screen.
“Barely.” Then glancing up to calculate how far she still had to go, it caught her eye, same as always, similar to many other buildings, the cold metal surface with huge glass windows for eager gazes that were never allowed outside. But then, what else can you expect from a baby factory?
As a rule, society required everyone to donate their genes for artificial reproductive purposes, authorities having foregone the dangerous family upbringing traditions that had proved so negative in the past. Now no two people raised children, rather they grew up in organized groups managed by social workers doing their best to provide some measure of love and joy. Sometimes this worked and provided pro­ductively healthy individuals. Other times…well, no one liked to dwell on system failures.
“Beat you here!”
At Markay’s announcement, she realized she had reached her destination, too—the suspended parking lot over the pharmaceutical company. “Yeah, I see you.” Amused, she watched him get out of his flying trap.
“Don’t move, baby.” So she did not, after landing on the first available spot. “I’ll pick you up.” And he came straight over. “Give me a kiss.” Opening the door, he bent to receive his prize full on the mouth, then gave her a hand to get out of the vehicle. “Wow, I said you’d look good with this on!” Holding her at arm’s length, Markay ran an appre­ciative glance over the curves her outfit blatantly displayed.
“Then it ought to impress my new boss.” Closing the glider, she began walking to the entrance.
“So it’s true.” He followed close behind. “I’d heard Gallyan was to be transferred, but I didn’t think it’d be this soon.”
“Jaymien told me it was today.” Taking out the electronic plastic badge, the same used for every transaction on Shindera, she ran it through the machine that beeped in recognition and flung open the glass doors.
“But you don’t seem particularly excited.” Stopping on his way down the long tunnel, Markay searched her face. “Aren’t you the one who wants to meet new people? Who’s tired of the same, old routine?”
“Oh, he isn’t going to be any different from my other bosses.” Engineers were the worst kind anyway, their exces­sively methodical, logical minds in rigid bodies having failed her few expectations time and time again until she had none left. “And even if I don’t know him, you can take my word for it.” Moving forward, she hurried along.
“Have it your way.” Shrugging helplessly, Markay accelerated to catch up as she turned into another corridor. As she came to a halt midway, in front of a closed door, he reached her for another kiss, his lips briefly lingering on hers. “See you at meal time.”
One more electronic control, then after the beep, Didri was inside the pill-tech, as she called the workstation with ten machines rushing square-shaped blue tablets onto running belts and into dark blue cylindrical containers. As usual, nothing worth noticing, so instead her gaze ran to the manager’s closed office door and to the drawn blinds on the window next to it.
“Hello, Didri.” The only man in the room headed her way. “Ready to take over?”
“Sure, Jaymien. Do you have something unusual to report?”
“Nothing, no problems with machines or assembly lines.”
“All right.” One last glance around to make sure he had not missed anything, then she nodded, satisfied. “Have a good night.”
He turned to leave, but stopped before reaching the door. “Oh, just one more thing.”
“What is it, Jaymien?”
“Hem, about the new manager…”
“Yeah, what about him?”
“He’s…” Licking his lips nervously, Jaymien seemed to search for a specific word.
“Don’t bother.” Her hand ran to his shoulder to reas­sure him further. “I really don’t care how he is.” Then she watched him leave looking relieved. “He’s probably like every other engineer we’ve worked with, no big deal,” Didri added to herself, alone now with the machines hum­ming in their tireless drone.
“Actually, I’m nothing like any other engineer.” A deep, throaty voice rang out behind her. “Or any other man—for that matter.”
Startled, Didri spun around. “I didn’t mean…” A tall, well-built dark-haired man faced her, his arresting gray eyes and rippling muscles beneath a flimsy shirt almost too attractive to be true. His gaze not at eye level, though Didri was tall enough to expect it, he stared instead between her legs and made no mystery about it until with deliberate slowness, evidently wanting to evaluate the rest of her body, he raised it. Immediately a shiver ran down her back at his blatant disregard of conven­tions, or ethics for that matter, his mere presence making her nervous and strangely weak in her legs, not to mention tight in her stomach. But beyond the purely physical sensations, a warning bell rang in her head, forcing her to take another, more careful look at him.
Apparently a total stranger to her, she was sure she had never seen him before in her life, yet a nagging feeling of familiarity refused to be silenced, no, worse, pulled her in an uncommonly sexual way. “Hem…” Blushing violently, she lowered her gaze, doing her best to ignore the disturbing attraction by pretending to check one of the machines. “Do I have to do anything special tonight?”
“With an ass like yours, many special things come to mind.”
“What?” Unsure she had heard correctly, Didri’s gaze swung back to his face. “Beg your pardon?”
“Just a thought,” he teased. “Anyway, I know you’re a trained professional, so I have nothing more to add. Today will be an ordinary shift.” Then without another word, he went to his office and closed the door.
And that was it for the rest of the night, spent without either seeing or hearing from him again.
“Hi, Didri, you’re in early tonight.” Jaymien’s cleaned his hand on a dirty towel hanging by one of the machines.
“I…didn’t feel sleepy, so I came in as soon as I woke up,” she lied, glancing cautiously around. So where is he? Truth was she had not slept a wink plagued by one heated scenario after another. Her body responding in spite of the obvious unreality, unable to wipe his image or the few words he said, rather playing them over and over to assign with meanings she was quick to change the second after, the interpretations never quite satisfying her frantic heart. “It seems awfully quiet tonight.” But if it’s only a trick of my mind, why do I feel like he’s recognized me, too?
“Yeah, isn’t it great?” The man’s eyes twinkled in satisfaction. “You can always count on new managers to leave immediately after having taken active service.”
“You mean…”
“The engineer is on leave for the entire day and night.” His tone mocked the one used by top executives to deliver official messages.
“Already?” Her heart flopped to her stomach. “Hasn’t he just started?”
“Who knows?” Jaymien shrugged impatiently, obvi­ously what the boss did, or did not do, not one of his priorities. “Just watch out for the machine at the far end. There’s something wrong with it and I’ve had to check it through twice already.” Then mumbling a quick goodbye, he grabbed his jacket and left.
Serves me right, me and my stupid fantasies! Trying to keep disappointment at, Didri paced nervously around the workstation, going from one machine to the next, without checking any, uncaring if the pill-flow stopped or continued, wanting only her shift to end. And when it finally did, Didri walked out as soon as her replacement arrived, without even waiting for Markay, too depressed over her own foolishness to keep company with anyone.
*****
“Is the boss in today, Jaymien?” Though trying to sound normal, the nightmarish wait spilled to her voice, giving it an edgy sound she, for one, did not like. Then again, she was returning from the longest two off-days of her life after the previous four straight shifts. But who cared for one as miserable as the one she had just spent cooped up in her apartment, thinking of him, instead of going out with friends, a trip to the club or to the Holorealm.
“The engineer? Haven’t seen him all night.” With a curt nod, Jaymien went to the door. “See you tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” More a whisper than a real question, her lips trembled as she watched him go, her tone weak, wavering.
“Of course, he didn’t see me.” A throaty voice be­hind her almost made her jump. “I really couldn’t care less about him.”
She turned around slowly, to give her heart time to recover from its disastrous plunge to her feet. “Hello…”
“So you missed me?”
“Oh, no…” Taken aback by his frank approach, Didri moved slightly, raising her head defiantly. “Why should I? I mean what’s the idea—”
“Liar.” With a single stride, he reached her, so close his breath caressed her face.
At the unexpected nearness, Didri averted her gaze.
“Look at me, sweetie.” A finger under the chin tilted up her face. “I have some interesting work planned for you tonight.” His gray eyes traveled down the length of her, undressing at leisure.
“Of what kind?” Angry with her body for tingling in excited anticipation, she pressed closer anyway.
“Do I need to spell it out?” Grabbing her ass, he pushed it against his crotch to dig the erection in her belly, which made her wet just like his mouth ravaging hers. Bruising her soft lips, he forced his tongue down her throat that required a fierce battle to avoid suffocation. Still she swayed seductively, daring him to go further.
“You have a wonderful mouth.” Briefly, he brushed her lips with a finger before pushing on her shoulders. “Why don’t you use it where it’s most needed?”
If the considerable bulge did not yield immediately to her fumbling undressing methods, it had no trouble stick­ing inside her mouth that up had no particular liking for it. Now, instead, she could not get enough, mouth and hands completely at his service, almost choking in her haste to swallow it entirely. He moved accordingly, apparently uncaring if he hurt her, only instinc­tively stopping when she was on the verge of throwing up, which made her double her efforts to please him, repeatedly curling her tongue around the demanding cock to satisfy it whatever the cost, craving his come like she had never wanted anything in her life before.
But he obviously had other plans. Picking her up and laid her against a machine, securing her arms through the handles, then slid her pants down to her ankles.
“Well, well, no underwear.” With a sigh, he clutched both firm buttocks, squeezing cruelly until a moan escaped her lips. “I totally approve.” Easing the pressure slightly, his fingers traced the round curves before following the tantaliz­ing cleft. “An ass like yours deserves all the attention it can get.” Then without warning, he stuck the same fingers, now drenched, in the tight hole.
“Ouch!” Shocked, if not frightened because she could not see him, Didri thrashed to get free. “That hurt.” However much she fantasized about it, only Markay had managed to penetrate it, causing more pain than pleasure. “Please don’t.” But in her heart she knew this man would not take no for an answer, no matter how pitifully she begged.
Without even bothering to answer, he replaced the fingers with his hard and large cock that pushed repeatedly, as if aiming for full depth despite Didri’s loud gasps.
“Relax.” Even if he whispered, it sounded more like an order.
“Easy for you to say,” she spat ironically, curling on herself and tensing every muscle.
Sarcasm at least made him stop moving. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Sorry, too late for that!”
“If it’s a burning sensation, it’ll soon pass.”
“It fucking hurts!” And in case he still did not get it, she raised her voice.
“Oh, you may think so, but your body likes it, I can tell.”
“You’re lying.” Pinned to the machine, she was afraid to move even slightly in case it helped his shaft slide further inside. “Just get out! I can’t stand it anymore.”
“Hush, sweetie.” Bending over, he stroked between her legs and to her intense shame, she realized she was literally dripping, her body obviously enjoying what he was doing to it over her mind’s objections. “You simply have to cross that boundary.” Then he stuck the fingers in her mouth. “Now lick them off and get moving.”
“What boundary?” However perplexed, she immedi­ately complied, wrapping her tongue around them to suck them dry of her sticky fluid intoxicating her senses, hoping all the while to stall him.
“The one between pain and pleasure.” As though reading into her intentions, his fingers returned between her legs, landing on the throbbing swell begging for attention. Stroking it with expert fingertips, just one touch and Didri almost screamed in plea­sure from his continued rub on the slippery flesh, arousing a fire she had never known before. Unconsciously, she started swaying at his rhythm to deepen the sensation until her ass rose on its own, then down and even sideways, so he thrust anew, screwing the erection up the confined space within moments.
Surrendering completely to his mastery, Didri matched his pumping, but as the cock filled all the available space, the heat from the increased rubbing, not to mention an odd ball of fire waiting in her stomach to surface and burst, propelled the already frenzied tempo. Or perhaps it was the hand-play that was driving her mad, trapped as it was in the honeydew between her tightly closed legs, burning for his sensual tease that traced the edges of her slit before shoving inside.
Pleasure caught Didri unaware, not accustomed to the fire spreading from her cunt and ass all the way up to her head, then down to her toes in repeated waves that swelled her body uncontrollably. She would have screamed, too, if circumstances allowed, instead of biting her lips, while goose bumps ransacked her body, throwing open her ass to fit his entire length all together, which he did, sucked inside by a few well-aimed shoves that drowned it with his powerful and convulsive jerks.
For a long moment, neither moved, slumped as they both were over the machine, the man collapsed on top of her, only Didri had to tighten her hold on the handles to pre­vent a shameful crumple to the floor given her shaky legs, still prey of the violent physical release. And just thinking about it brought pleasurable fresh waves of shivers across her back.
“Glad you liked it.” Grinning broadly, he pulled away.
Too dazed by the experience, Didri did not budge an inch, her guess he would return to his office confirmed by the familiar unlocking sound that flung open the private space. But instead of the clanging closure, she felt him near again like he had forgotten something. “By the way, I’m Tylean.” Then rapidly turning around, he was gone.

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Visionquest
by Laura Tolomei

eXtasy Books

eBook ISBN: 978-1-55487-724-9

It wasn’t till he took me to his bed and made love to me, for the first time… that in spite of everything, I gave him what he wanted most, my soul in its entirety, for I knew right there and then I was sealing my destiny forever.

Chapter One

“Hey, Ilenio, wait up!”
I turned. “Hello, Athrias.” I smiled at the young man coming my way, followed by a herd of sheep. “Going home early, too?”
He nodded vigorously. “After all that’s happened at the village, my father doesn’t want me to stay out late.”
“Yeah, I know.” I fumbled, whistling to my sheep to resume the path down the mountain. “It’s not like it used to be.”
“You can say that again! That…beast—or whatever you care to call it—is really making people afraid.” Angrily, my friend tossed his head back. “We’re not free to go out at nights or whenever we feel like it.”
“Well, I for one wouldn’t want to end up like those butchered corpses.” A sad smile curved my lips at the memory of the nasty pictures my nightmares tormented me with of late.
“So you’ve seen them?” Lowering his voice, he came closer, a glint of insane curiosity flashing in his eyes.
“Hem…not really.” I blushed. No one knew about those dreams, but they were getting so bad, they had simply slipped out. “Just heard someone say how terrible the bodies looked when they found them.”
“Especially since that beast takes it out on people our age.” Athrias shook his head, then took a step back as if I weren’t so interesting after all. “Have you heard about the last one?”
Not in so many words. Nauseated by his sickly gossipy tone, I tried stopping the gory image of a young body crossed by bloody slashes, one deep in the throat, another at the crotch like a giant hole instead of the usual sexual organs, without any success. “Not in any detail,” I lied eventually, ignoring the cold shivers running down my back.
He moved closer again, this time though as if wanting to make sure I wouldn’t miss a word. “I heard my father tell my uncle it was cut up so bad, the Patroniter had trouble identifying it.”
I sighed. “Oristan is as befuddled as the rest of us. And who could blame him? They tell me that poor girl—”
“No, Ilenio, it wasn’t a girl, but a boy.” He lowered his voice. “They tell me the killer had fun cutting off his cock.”
So that’s why he had a giant hole where it should’ve been! Sick to my stomach, I couldn’t reply. Then again, who needs pictures nowadays? Apparently, word got around fast in our village.
“And that was just the last thing they did to him.” Athrias grim tone sounded ominous. “My father was so disgusted he couldn’t talk about the other details, but one thing seems certain.”
The killer must be an animal for sure. There’s no other explanation. Those gashes came from nothing human, not even close to being done with a knife.
“Oristan is convinced it’s an animal.”
“Too bad he can’t seem to catch it.” Raising my gaze to glance at the last rays of the day, I felt their warmth despite the season’s turn for the cold.
“My father’s the Patroniter’s only assistant.” Athrias shrugged. “There should be more men or resources since the Seigneuros abandoned our county two years ago.”
“Right after the raptor’s massacre, right?” Of course, I remembered the last time we had seen the master of Griphonis Castle in our midst, the same time five people were slaughtered in one single night and since one of them was found on a tree, it had given rise to the common saying about a bird being responsible for the horrifying incident. And what if it’s him this time, too?
My friend nodded. “And one of them was Adur’s son, his only son if I remember correctly.”
“Wasn’t he the one they found up the tree?”
“Yeah, he was.” Athrias pause a while, probably the memories working on him, in spite of his macho attitude. “And they had a tough time taking him down, too.” Shaking his head sadly, I saw him give in to the first real emotion since we started talking. “What a horrible way to end!”
“My father told me he wasn’t living with his parents anymore when he got killed.”
“You’re right. He was much older than us and I think he was working at the castle already.” Turning to glance behind his shoulder, Athrias checked on the sheep. “Well, wherever he was living, it didn’t save him from the raptor’s fury.”
“It’s strange how it all blew over that time, though they never caught the killer.” I followed his example before continuing. “And the myth about the raptor—”
“What else could’ve taken a body, and a dead one at that, up a tree if not a bird?”
“So maybe the same thing’s responsible for the new deaths.”
“Not a chance.” The young man’s eyes blazed in denial. “My father says there are too many differences between the way the people back then were killed and the wounds he found on the recent killings. They’re completely different, which means something else entirely is at work now.”
Possibly, but we’re no nearer catching this one than we were the last one. No need to share the thought, so we walked in silence for a while.
“Besides, last time the Seigneuros himself followed my father’s investigations closely while now…” He shrugged nonchalantly. “He doesn’t seem to give a damn about his people being butchered.”
I yawned. Like my father, I felt our land was better off without any demanding Seigneuros to watch our backs. And even were he to return, I was sure he would be as powerless as the Patroniter to stop the brutal murders, which—I couldn’t help noticing—coincided with my coming of age and the start of my nightmares. Dejectedly, I cleared my head free, unwilling to think about either, then yawned again.
“Come on!” Whistling softly, Athrias turned to his herd once more. “We’re almost home.”
Raising my gaze, I caught sight of our village, nestled in the fertile Iotaris Valley, right under the imposing mountain that held Griphonis Castle. Soft glows lit its wooden cabins, scattered around a central square in a circular pattern. Together, we sped up the leisurely pace, prodding the sheep to imitate us, until we reached the large market place where our paths divided. Nodding a brief goodbye, we separated, each having to go a different direction to get home.
“Good evening, son.” Standing at the shed, my father checked the sheep crowding inside. “Was everything all right?”
“As usual.” Then looking at his face, I realized the same wasn’t true at home and fear clutched my stomach. “How’s Elianij?”
Corias’s forehead creased with more worry than his eyes had dared transmit. “Your baby sister has taken a turn for the worse,” he mumbled at last, weighing each word. “The doctor can’t do anything else for her.” He sighed heavily. “They tell me at Lycidare we may find a better doctor, but he asks for a lot of money, which we don’t—”
“Papa!” My younger brother’s high-pitched tone startled me. “I could work in the forest and get more money—”
“Hush, Artmos! You don’t know what you’re saying.” Raising his voice, Father shook an angry finger in front of my brother’s face. “Those jobs are dangerous enough for more experienced men, imagine for small brats like you, and we’re in enough trouble already with your sister without putting you at risk, too. How do you think your mother would take it? Do you want her to die of heartbreak?”
“No, of course not.” Artmos started apologetically, lowering his gaze to the floor. “I only wanted to help…”
“I know you did.” Corias’s tone softened as he patted my brother’s back. “But your mother would never forgive me if I let you go.”
“She must feel terrible…” I glanced at Father as my voice trailed off in the darkness.
“Come on, boys.” Straightening his shoulders, he threw back his head and tousled Artmos’s hair vigorously. “All’s not lost.” After we had all gone out, he closed the shed door, then headed toward the house. “Your mother has cooked an excellent stew and she’s waiting for us to enjoy it.” He patted me on the back. “I think you both earned it, so let’s move.”
Infected by his spirit, I smiled bravely and began following him. “And I’m starving.” Then quickening my step to keep up with him, I hurried along.
“Oh, and things are looking up for the village, too.” Swinging his gaze in my direction, Father’s eyes twinkled. “Have you heard the news?”
“What news?” Curious, I accelerated to keep up with him.
“The Seigneuros has returned to Griphonis Castle!” My little brother’s happy shout made us both smile. “And he’ll get rid of all the bad guys.”
“Right.” Corias nodded, opening our front door.
I kept my peace. If they chose to believe one man could actually make a difference in the battle between good and evil, I certainly wasn’t going to spoil their illusions. So I remained silent while we settled inside for our much needed nighttime rest however tormented mine was of late. But then they were only dreams or so I hoped as I bargained with the faceless entity above us to spare my sister’s life in exchange of mine, if necessary, or of whatever price he had set on it, which I would’ve gladly paid, anything to avoid my parents the agony of her loss. Yet, as I fell asleep, nothing came back from the vast darkness beyond the conscious realm except visions of blood and destruction, so that upon waking and finding my sister in the same conditions as the night before, I wondered why I had wasted my breath and precious time until I realized there was really not much else I could do for her or for myself either. And since it was the start of another brand new day, I got dressed and left.

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Bloody Passion
by Laura Tolomei

eXtasy Books

eBook ISBN: 978-1-55487-417-0

There’s a hidden treasure inside everyone. Some show it, but only a few can afford it. Sometimes, you only need to know how to manage other’s treasures, even if self-destructive. But in the end, it’s like seeing yourself in a mirror. So how to explain the violence?

Chapter One

Later, I couldn’t quite remember how it all started…well, not as exactly as how it ended. My memory’s fault, no doubt, clogged as it was by its blinding, passionate desire, a fire so hot it consumed me, coursing through my bloodstream like a river’s sweeping current anxious to reach the sea. That had always been my weakness, not to mention his power, the fatal attraction, which would eventually break me. However hard I tried, I could never resist him or his call, the most insistent sound in my ears. Surely, my uncontrollable cravings got the better of me, their echoes reverberating through my mind, my body, my very spirit. No, I had no defense, no way of protecting myself while his fire burned it all, me included.
Korax had tried to warn me, but of course, I didn’t listen. “Beware of the powers of evil disguised as angels,” he used to say during my long training, but as my head nodded in understanding, my mind kept thinking he was just a foolish old man. Sure, as if you’d actually seen them, I mused sarcastic, too immature and inexperienced, mostly too full of myself to change my ill-considered ways, my senses already getting the better of me, until the dream began.
I didn’t remember it at first, not in any detail, with the exception of an occasional weird image fogging my mind, though its power grew to the point I dreaded falling asleep…if I could call it sleep at all. Instead, it felt more like a slow, relentless drowning into a dense fluid ocean closing over my head. But water wasn’t my problem.
Apparently weightless, I floated in a red, sticky liquid, the color, feel, smell and taste of blood, suffocating my senses, penetrating my nose, smearing my mouth, filling my lungs with a heavy load that pulled me down to the bottom of a blissful oblivion. Exactly when the thought occurred to me I was dying, I never could quite remember, at least not as clearly as its irresistible call for sometimes life just isn’t worth living, no matter how much you believe in it. I only knew that at one point, the wolf instinct took over, maybe because I surrendered my energy to its powerful force that was sucking it away in the first place. With a fierce struggle, the wolf emerged in all its might, clawing the liquid and demanding freedom from the redness that threatened to cloak his senses to a stupor, limbs fighting hard, energy pouring from every muscle, until in the end, with a loud gasp, I’d break through the murky surface, lungs burning from the sudden intake of air.
In silence, I looked over the dark reddish expanse, the blood moving more slowly on top than it did at the bottom, its bittersweet taste lingering in my mouth and on my skin. Once again, the deadly silence made it all seem unreal, like a bad dream that would soon clear from my head if it weren’t for the body floating away, its pale flesh ripped by deep, red, wolf gashes from which life ebbed out forever. And as the truth first dawned on me, noting could I do except watch it disappear in the distance, trembling and helpless to stop any of it.

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Spying The Alcove
by Laura Tolomei

eXtasy Books

eBook ISBN: 978-1-55487-347-0

When his assistant declares sex is to be shared for it’s too precious to lock away in a drawer or save for an exclusive use alone, that it’s free, and has no limitations except our own and gender should never be an acceptable limit, the Professor has trouble accepting this simple concept despite the intriguing tale of a Roman matron’s journey into erotism. Apparently two unconnected stories—Valerio and Andrea in modern day Sicily, Lidia and Brutus’s hot passion in 1st century AD—an ancient medallion will bring them together as Valerio spies the sensually burning alcove in an increasingly unbearable sexual tension.

Chapter One

The sun shone brightly over the Selimos plain, coloring the ruins and making the distant Mediterranean sparkle. Like golden bits of straw, the blue water glistened at every wave, the image fuzzy under the glare as sea and sky melted into one at the far horizon.
Today’s the hottest one so far, Valerio thought, wiping the sweat from his brow. At this rate, we won’t survive June. He stopped digging to take his glasses off and wipe them dry. Placing them back on, he gazed at the ruins lying all around him, the ancient stones carelessly scattered on the plain or neatly piled in mounds at the building’s foundations.
Not much remained standing of the once proud city of Selimos, destroyed twice by a spiteful fate disguised around 400 BC as Carthage, then in 250 BC as Rome. Named after the celery plant, its official symbol, Selimos had held twenty-five thousand people at the height of its prosperity.
Valerio knew all the history, but somehow it became irrelevant whenever he looked at Selimos’s breathtaking views, which gave the place a feeling of being out of the world, closer to the gods than to humans. Hardly a casual effect, Valerio considered, perfectly aware of the powerful connection to the divine that pervaded the entire area. Standing on the city’s farthest western end, the roaring sea at his feet, there was no doubt in his mind the founders had followed the Greek tradition of selecting their locations based on how holy the place felt. And this is as holy as it gets, he mused, taking in one single glance the blue sky, the yellow sun, the blue-green sea, the sandy soil with its brown stones and the green hills at the back. Maybe it also explains its doom, certainly the work of a vicious god, jealous of its beauty.
Destiny had tied Selimos to Segesta, its long time enemy, which it had tried to defeat repeatedly, never actually succeeding. Eventually, this blind obsession had cost the celery city its own integrity. As history taught, its first destruction was the result of an allegiance switch during the disastrous Greek military campaign in Sicily. As an independent city, Selimos had moved against Segesta, believing its Athenian ally would never spare any resource to save it from a destructive assault. But the ill winds of war had caused Segesta to switch sides and its new patron, the mighty Carthage, destroyed Selimos instead, killing sixteen out of the twenty-five thousand inhabitants.
Rebuilt in later times, the city thrived again, even if it never reached its previous heights, until war between Carthage and Rome sealed its fate forever. After Rome’s victory in the second Punic war, Selimos suffered destruction for the second and last time.
Quite a short, violent history for such beautiful settlement, Valerio reflected. Eventually though, destiny had paid its debt to Selimos. Today it was the largest archeological site of Europe, a part of humanity’s treasures. Located in Sicily’s southwestern border, set on top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Selimos lay in the fertile valley of two rivers, surrounded in the south and west by water while green plains embraced its northern side. The city had a linear design with a complex structure made of temples, sanctuaries and a necropolis, all protected by an impressive set of defensive walls. Archeology had also uncovered many private homes, which testified to a rich city flourishing on trade and agriculture. Too bad, the only building still standing was Temple E, dedicated to Hera according to some theories. The rest of what must have been Selimos’s architectural magnificence was just rubble as if the city had suffered a major earthquake, its ruins resembling the pieces of a giant puzzle designed for an unknown god’s amusement.
The European Community had taken a great interest in the recovery of its ancient roots, financially backing many digging ventures, one of which justified Valerio’s hard labor under the glaring sun, trying to reconstruct the history of the family living in one of the city’s largest houses. Thanks to his pet project, Rome’s University had won European funding to study Selimos’s people. Naturally, its spiritual father—but mostly the best-qualified man for the job—Valerio Rossi had complete charge of the fieldwork. A brilliant mind, an expert in ancient Greek as well as Roman history, but mostly one of the youngest professors on staff, Valerio had gladly accepted the commission, enthusiastic about the archeological site and the chance to get away from Rome. Lately, things had become too complicated for his tastes, too many women requiring his undivided attention, suffocating him with an unwanted pressure he had been only too happy to escape.
A glint in the dust caught his eye, making him forget the mess he had left behind in Rome. Bending on his knees, he picked up a gold bracelet, cleaning it carefully. This particular site seemed filled with many precious artifacts, a probable indication to the family’s noble origin, judging also by the size of the house. Of course, no walls stood, but the room’s outlines were clearly visible, though buried under dust and debris. He would need to put it down on his report to the University—
“Hey, Prof, look what I found,” a voice interrupted his thoughts.
The Professor raised his head and smiled at the young man coming his way. “Yes, Andrea, what is it?”
Though funding had been limited, his work required at least two people. When the University had asked him whom he would bring along, he had had no doubt.
His assistant raced to his side. “Here, Prof,” he handed a terracotta object, “look what I found and it’s miraculously whole.”
Indeed, it was a miracle, Valerio thought. Taking the object from his assistant, a strong electrical current cursed through him the second he touched the warm stone. Andrea’s fault no doubt, the Professor reasoned, shaking his head. The young man had always struck him as being magnetically charged, maybe because of his looks, quite handsome for a man if Valerio was any judge. True, he seldom noticed outward appearances, focusing instead on the inner worth, but the sparkling green eyes, blondish hair and tall slim body made more than one woman’s head turn around.
When he had first seen the young man as a student, Valerio had been a lowly assistant professor, struggling with a meager pay, not nearly enough to cover the enormous amount of work he had to handle. The laughing green gaze had caught his attention from the start, its mocking challenge to the world an irresistible attraction. If that were not enough, Andrea’s age set him apart, too, for he was clearly older than most of his college mates. Perhaps the Sicilian born had indeed left his hometown in a hurry to escape a heart-wrenching past as malicious gossip claimed, but the explanation lacked any foundation. Whatever the reason, the blondish man was definitely unique, though Valerio had waited for his academic results before expressing an opinion. In spite of his good looks, Andrea had studied hard, displaying intelligence above average, very interested about Roman history in particular.
When Valerio had finally become a full-fledged Professor, at the startling age of forty-two, he had looked around for a suitable assistant, hardly surprised to see Andrea’s application and more than happy to accept it.
“This is amazing,” Valerio agreed, looking at the artifact. It was a terracotta medallion, a household knick-knack, judging from its small size. He brushed off the last soil residues, thinking it was another of the innumerable bits and pieces they had already uncovered. But the surprising picture on it stopped him cold. Looking closely, Valerio almost blushed for it depicted a man and a woman making love on a triclinium, the Roman laid-back couch used during official meals. The two of them lay side by side. The man behind the woman held her right leg high in the air while his cock, clearly visible, was halfway inside her vagina. The details were remarkable, both sexes finely designed, the faces showing the pleasure they must have felt in real life.
“What do you think?” Andrea asked. “Isn’t it incredible?”
“What’s incredible is that it’s still whole after all these years and the…” He gestured at the ruins.
“Yeah, it survived the city’s destruction apparently. Do you think it belonged to this family?” Andrea looked at the carving again. “Maybe she was the lady of the house.”
“Quite a lady,” Valerio grinned, thinking he would have liked to be the man behind her.
“Do you think that’s her husband?” Andrea enquired.
Eyes glued to it, the Professor kept staring as if the medallion had the power to speak. “Somehow, I don’t think so,” he said at last, his index tracing the carving. “Why would a husband have something like this done for his wife?”
“Maybe she was dead and he wanted to remember her,” his assistant offered.
Somehow, the explanation did not sound right. “Could be,” he said tentatively, “but the passion depicted here seems more fitting to—“
“A lover,” Andrea concluded as if the thought had struck him, too.
Valerio nodded. “But what is a Roman artifact doing here?” he asked to no one in particular, knowing Romans had never settled the city, their only contribution a destructive one.
“Perhaps a soldier lost it during the battle,” Andrea suggested.
“Must have been her lover.”
“Yeah. Or he carried it when he died here.”
“Either way, it doesn’t tell us who they were.”
“Actually, it does have a clue,” the blondish man objected, “if you look at the back.”
 Carefully, the Professor turned it around, peering at the smooth stone. “Hey, you’re right!” he exclaimed excitedly. “There’s a name engraved.”
“Yeah, Lidia.”
“Lidia?” Valerio studied the writing before agreeing with his assistant. “It’s probably her praenomen,” he concluded.
“Yeah. Too bad, we don’t know much about this family.”
“If we keep digging, we might uncover more, perhaps even the clues to their nomen.”
Andrea raised his head. The sun was setting, its red globe about to plunge into the Mediterranean. “Perhaps we will tomorrow,” he suggested, his gaze obviously caught by the beauty of the city’s red-streaked ruins next to a sea prey to a raging fire.
Valerio turned to look at the beautiful setting, too. The day had flown by so fast, he had hardly been aware of time’s passing. Then again, the days in April were still short, ending too quickly for his busy schedule. “All right,” he agreed, “I guess we’re through for today.”
Absentmindedly, he closed his palm around the medallion, feeling an intense heat travel up his arm. Puzzled, he looked at it again, wondering if it was his imagination playing tricks. But maybe not, he thought, having the impression the artifact called him as if it wanted to tell him something important. Impossible! he scoffed, shaking his head free from dangerous delusions. “I’ll take this along,” he announced, wrapping it in thick paper layers before pocketing it. Then he picked up the first of his tools, packing it carefully inside his backpack.
In silence, Andrea followed his example and they hurried to clear the area from the annoying human presence. Luckily, authorities kept the site closed to visitors in order to give them privacy during their work. Not that Selimos had ever a great affluence. The site did not have the advantage of adequate publicity so people seldom came, not even during high season while vacationing at the local sea resorts.
Walking slowly, the two archeologists headed out, passing Hera’s Temple on the hill’s eastern side, quickly reaching Valerio’s run-down car. One more minute and they left the digging site for the day.

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The Sex
Virtus Saga, Book 1
by Laura Tolomei

eXtasy Books

eBook ISBN: 978-1-55487-516-0

Powerful forces dominate Sendar’s feudal-like society. It’s threatening to devastate their world. To reach a new balance means to learn, grow, blend with the world, then go beyond it before it collapses into chaos. The prince, his lover and his woman must learn it if sex, power, magic, passion and jealousy won’t stand in their way.

Author’s Note: The following is indeed Chapter One though the book calls it Chapter Two due to a miscommunication.

Chapter One

Glancing dejectedly at the unfamiliar land, he felt utterly lost. The more the horse strode forward, the more he had no idea about where he was. Damn! The whole day spent riding home only to be in the middle of nowhere! But the estate had to be just around the corner, so to speak, he reasoned, thinking he had probably been circling it for the past hour or so.
Furious for the waste of time, he tightened his knees around the horse’s back, vowing he would reach home if it was the last thing he did. And he might just have kept his word if a fat raindrop had not hit his nose first, then his forehead.
Darkness had fallen fast, right after Stella’s setting, and the sky had looked anything but friendly ever since. Big black clouds had been steadily gathering over the horizon, promising a heavy downpour any moment now, anticipated by ominous thunderbolts, piercing the velvety darkness with distant flashes.
Damn! He cursed again. That’s all I need to make a bad day worse. He needed a shelter and fast, too, even if it was easier said than done, he mused, looking at the flat empty land, which seemed unable to provide protection or useful indications anywhere. Goddamn it, where’s a shelter when you need one? And after new rain hit him, he hurried along.
As if to spite him, the rain suddenly increased and the fat drops were now too many to count. And they had the most unfortunate habit of infiltrating through the clothes to run down bare skin, which he found particularly annoying.
Snorting, the horse reminded the rider he might not be the only one feeling uncomfortable. “Hey, Fuzeon.” Bending toward the black head, he urged him. “Let’s get a roof over our heads before we’re both drenched.”
The horse nickered softly in agreement and continued along the same route. Feeling hopeless, he raised his head just as the gods ruled to reward him, making him notice a distant light on the left, a faint and unstable glow to be sure, still the first sign of life in what seemed to be a desert.
Quickly steering Fuzeon, he hurried in that direction, only to realize, once he reached it, he was at the village’s outskirts, just a stone throw away from home. Too tired, but mostly too wet, to care at this point, he got off the horse, leaving him in the stable before speeding to the front door.
Poorly kept and neglected, the house looked run down with the exception of the annexed stable, a rarity to find in such a place. Must be Fuzeon’s lucky day. He’ll surely spend a better night than his master will. Then he knocked loudly.
“Yes, just a minute.” A female voice answered. After a few moments, she opened the door. “Good evening, sir. May I help you?”
At first, he saw a complete stranger standing on the threshold. True, the dim candlelight was not particularly bright and even the brilliant flashes of occasional thunderbolts did not help, but feeling quite sure he had never met her before in his life, he was about to speak when something stopped his casual greeting.
By the gods, I know her. An inner voice warned.
Surprised, he looked closer at the dark young beauty with the weird sensation of looking in a mirror, as if she were his reflection. Well, maybe not exactly, but something about colors and general build was amazingly similar.
Like him, she was slim and tall for a girl her age, which was definitely less than his, perhaps eighteen or nineteen at the most. Her thick, silky hair was as black as his and apparently with the same texture, even if longer, and he certainly did not wear his short.
Her perfect oval face did not quite resemble his except for the straight nose, exquisitely designed soft lips and the clear-cut almond shape of the eyes whose color he could not quite determine due to the poor lighting, though he wondered if they were black as his own.
Maybe she worked at Black Rose. But hard as he thought of the many girls employed at the estate, searching his memory, he found no trace of a name he could have easily forgotten. No, not a casual acquaintance at all, he realized for the more he looked at her, the more she felt over and beyond familiar as if belonging to him, which was definitely impossible because no member of his family lived in the village to his knowledge.
“May I help you?” The woman repeated patiently.
The voice startled him and he shifted on his feet to get free from his mind’s odd meanderings. “I’m sorry, milady, but with the rain and all, I seem to have lost my way to—”
“To Black Rose?”
“Hem…yes. I guess you know where I live.” The statement sounded stupid. Everyone in the village knew of Black Rose, which, judging from his clothes, she must have supposed was his destination.
“For that matter, I also know who you are.” She bowed slightly. “Welcome Prince Caldwell.”
Well, no surprise there either since I’m the local celebrity. “All right, since you seem to know so much about me, may I enquire on your name, Miss…” he asked instead, uncaring of the rain beating on his back.
“Just Ylianor.” And finally, she raised her head, looking straight at him with an amazingly intense green gaze.
“Who’s there?” A man’s voice cried out.
The angry tone broke the strange magic that had seemed to envelop them. With a start, as if suddenly realizing where she was, Ylianor stepped away from the door. “I’m sorry. It’s raining harder and I’ve kept you outside.” She gestured inside. “Please, come in.” Then turning around, she raised her voice. “I’m coming, Father.” Shifting back to the prince, she added apologetically. “If you’d excuse me…” quickly disappearing up a flight of stairs, carrying a small candle.
Hailed by loud thunder, Duncan Caldwell stepped inside the house, as poor and neglected as the outside. Wavering candles illuminated a table with a few chairs scattered around a cold fireplace near an empty kitchen. Nothing more to see, he waited patiently and after a few moments, Ylianor returned, holding a towel. “Here.” She handed it to him. “At least you can get dry.”
“Thanks.” He accepted gladly, shifting the long hair to rub the back of his neck.
“Would you like to stay the night? I mean, with the rain and all, maybe it would be better.” She smiled briefly. “There’s another bed upstairs and I could fix you something to eat.”
“Where will you sleep?” He looked at the very sparse furnishings.
“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m not sleeping tonight. My father’s dying, so I’ll need to look after him.”
The thought was not pleasant, but choices seemed limited. “I’m sorry. Can I be of assistance?”
“No, thank you. He’s been ill for a long time, but tonight I feel it’s his last one in this dimension.”
“I see.” Duncan commented, not sure he did.
“If you want, I’ll take care of Fuzeon. I’m sure this thunderstorm has frightened him enough already. Some food and water will do him good.”
Surprised, he cocked his head. “You seem to know an awful lot about me.”
“Not to worry. I’m the stable keeper’s daughter so not only do I know your family quite well, but your horses, too.”
That explains the familiar air. Actually, David had told him the old stable master was dying and Black Rose was having trouble replacing John Meyer, the man whose horse handling apparently had no equal. “Yes, please, if you could look after Fuzeon, I’d be most grateful. We come from a long journey and maybe I taxed him more than I should’ve.”
She disappeared outside. At the light of thunderbolts, he spied Ylianor from the window as she entered the stable to reach Fuzeon, his dark frame already moving to welcome her, then resting his muzzle on her shoulders while she patted his back. And Duncan watched them perplexed.
Fuzeon was a very special horse that did not trust strangers or his friends for that matter, privileging Prince Caldwell alone after he had managed to overcome the horse’s diffident nature. And considering the fact he had accepted neither his mother nor his sister, the animal’s behavior seemed even more puzzling.
On returning and finding him at the window, Ylianor pulled out a chair. “You can sit down while I fix dinner.” Her voice trailed to the kitchen.
Accepting her offer, he sat down, feeling every tired bone in his body, and watched her gather a few plates, then come out almost immediately, preparations not taking long as he had already guessed.
When she returned, she brought a vegetable soup, some bread and a small piece of cheese. “Here you go.” She set everything in front of him. “I know it’s not much.” Smiling apologetically, she went round the table to sit in front of him. “But I’m afraid supplies are a bit low because, with my father’s illness, I haven’t had much time to look after much else.”
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
* * * *
“I ate before you came.” The lie came out smoothly while she glanced at what would have been her dinner and part of her breakfast, too. The need for medicines had left little to trade for food since John Meyer had been sick for so long she almost could not remember when it had been different.
Well, no use dwelling on it, she reprimanded, looking at the handsome prince sitting in her modest home. After all that happened, the last thing Ylianor would have imagined was seeing him again anywhere, his tall masculine frame almost too big for the poor surroundings, filling the cramped space to capacity. Black eyes and hair, hanging to his shoulders, he looked impressive and particularly attractive with his brownish skin, probably tanned by an outdoor life.
The last time she had seen him…well, the one before the last, was almost ten years ago, right before her banishment from Black Rose. Prince Charles Caldwell had just died and though a mere nine-years-old, Ylianor could still recall the pleasure in Lady Caldwell’s eyes when ordering her off the premises on which she was born.
Your time here is over. Do you understand?” Sophia Caldwell had spelled out the words while looking haughty and self-righteous. “My mate is not here to protect you anymore, so pack your things and leave, never to return. I will personally throw you out, if I catch you around Black Rose in the future.”
And Ylianor still felt the devastating pain, remembering the hateful look blinding Lady Caldwell’s gaze or the smug smile curving her daughter Elizabeth’s lips. No, the women just could not wait, not even for Charles Caldwell’s body to become cold, before taking their revenge, also taking advantage of the fact her only other protector was not there to help her. With a shiver, Ylianor recalled Duncan’s absence from his mother’s side and the thought that all had not been lost had given her the strength to accept her bitter fate.
* * * *
“Hey, slut, where’s my food?” The voice upstairs shouted. “Are you going to let me starve, you bitch?”
Duncan turned, surprised by the language.
“Please excuse my father.” Ylianor was quick to intervene. “He’s very sick I’m afraid. It’s a disease, which has consumed his mind as well as his body. Now he doesn’t know what he’s saying half the times. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll bring him dinner.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Rising from the chair, Duncan felt embarrassed and concerned by the situation.
“No, thank you. No one can do anything for him.” She went to the kitchen, grabbed a tray and went upstairs.
The prince sat down and finished the poor meal alone, thinking over the events of the past few days and his meeting with Isabella in Harbor Town, something his mother had urged him to do.
“Duncan, you’re twenty-one and it’s time you start thinking about settling down.” Sophia Caldwell had looked at him annoyed. “We need heirs to pass on the family name.”
“Can’t Lizzy do it for the both of us?” Duncan challenged, knowing perfectly well, what the answer would be.
“Your sister Elizabeth is not…qualified.”
“Why not? Since the pledgers choose one family name, Lizzy’s mate may take ours, rather than his.”
“You forget you’re the official heir, not Elizabeth.”
“Even so, she may have a Caldwell offspring.”
“It still wouldn’t be…proper.”
“To have a Caldwell heir from your son is proper, but not one from your daughter?”
His mother had shaken her head in frustration. “Duncan, you’re giving me a headache.” She had stopped to hold her head as if to emphasize her point. “Anyway, I don’t understand why it should bother you so much. With your looks, I’m sure you don’t have any trouble finding a woman to mate.”
Ha, to find the right one, that’s the real problem. He sighed inwardly, thinking of the many he had already seen and tried. “I’m too young to pledge.”
“Nonsense! Your father pledged at the same age.”
Prince Caldwell shrugged. None of the many women he had known inspired any thoughts of a permanent union, most too boring or insignificant. In bed, they were not bad…the first time. Repeating the experience was bound to be as predictable as their conversations, which probably explained his growing lack of enthusiasm over the years despite his heartfelt belief there existed, somewhere in the world, the perfect woman for him.
There has to be. He repeated fiercely, each time he felt the aching void, crunching his stomach at times or used indiscriminately countless bodies to forget the only one he really wanted for—
“Are you done, stupid bitch?” John’s voice invaded his thoughts. “Get out of here! I don’t want to see your ugly face again. Fuck off or go fuck your blasted lovers and leave me alone.”
He hardly recognized John Meyer in this bitter and vulgar man. Duncan had known him since childhood, a nice person, not very talkative with humans, much preferring the company of animals. And who could honestly blame him?
“No one handles horses better than John,” his father used to say, referring to the stable master’s rare talent for horses. “Promise me you’ll keep him here when I’m gone.”
“Of course, Father, don’t worry.”
By then, Charles Caldwell had been sick for some time, so Duncan would have agreed to anything, although the request was reasonable. The time spent with John, after his father’s death, had confirmed the wise choice beyond any expectations, making it almost impossible to replace him at his illness’ onset.
Many had tried to fill the position, lasting only a couple of days, complaining the job required too much effort. The truth, as David had told Duncan countless times, lay in their inability to handle animals, treating them as things rather than living beings. As a result, his faithful valet had stepped in temporarily as stable keeper on top of his other duties, a situation unsustainable in the long run.
“I said get out! Get out of my house and stay out! Leave filthy slut. Do you hear me?”
Ylianor came down the stairs.
Duncan rose from the chair. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Don’t worry. The doctor said he’s not going to pass the night so…” She shrugged as if to indicate she tolerated the nasty behavior to make his passing easier.
“Maybe I could talk to him. We used to be friends when he worked at Black Rose—“
“No, please.” She raised a hand in frustration. “His mind’s so far gone, he hardly recognizes anyone anymore and even if he did, he’d just treat you as bad as he’s been treating me lately.” She shook her head in comprehension. “It’s best if you remember him in his better days, handling his adored horses, rather than this bitter self that has nothing left of him. Besides, his energy’s slipping away fast and it might be too much of a strain for him.”
“He seems to have a lot of energy for someone who should be dead by morning.”
“Well, medicine is not the exact science they would like us to believe, but for his sake, I hope it’s right. Even if it pains me to see him like this, I already have enough problems as it is, what with the house—” She stopped abruptly, averting her eyes, looking embarrassed she brought up the subject.
“What about the house?”
She shook her head. “It’s nothing, really. I was just thinking aloud.”
Not fooled by her denial, he breached the distance between them. “Is something wrong? Whatever it is, I might be able to help you.”
* * * *
Suppressing the impulse to lean her head on his chest and unburden the heavy load she had been carrying forever, it seemed, Ylianor took a step back. Her mouth already opening to utter another lie, she stopped upon reading the look of concern in his black gaze. Uncomfortable, she cleared her throat. “The village council needs to reassign this house to newcomers.” She blurted eventually. “While Father’s alive, they won’t claim it, but after, I’ll have to find other accommodations.”
“In the village?”
“I’m not sure I want to stay.” Actually, Ylianor knew Lady Caldwell had put pressure on the councilmen to get rid of her so with John out of the picture, she would have no trouble succeeding.
“But what about your job?”
Ylianor shrugged. “Nothing I can’t leave behind. I work part time at the bakery, but it’s not enough.”
He regarded her for a moment, his gaze searching her face as if looking for an answer. Then he took another step forward. “Have you ever worked at Black Rose?”
His warm body was really too close for comfort, Ylianor realized, feeling the heat envelop her. Moving slightly away, she raised her head defiantly. “Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. “Just wondering.”
It was her turn to regard him coolly. “You have no memory of me, right?” And she expected he would not.
Prince Caldwell sighed. “To be honest, I don’t, but you look awfully familiar, even if I can’t seem to place you anywhere or remember the first thing about you, not your name, how we met, what we did together…” His voice trailed off as his gaze suggested a variety of situations, none too professional.
Ylianor’s face flushed deeply, catching some of the images in his eyes. “You…hem…you probably saw me at the stables while I was waiting for my father.”
“Yeah…probably.” Although he sounded unconvinced and more in favor of his alternative scenarios, he seemed genuinely concerned about her future for he returned to their earlier subject. “So what are you going to do? Where are you going to live?”
“I don’t know. I’ll worry about it tomorrow,” she replied, making sure her tone indicated the end of the conversation. It hurt simply to feel her empty stomach’s pangs of hunger without making the situation worse by worrying about the future. Or the past, for that matter, Ylianor scolded, recalling the strong feelings this man’s family had meant for her and still did, if she just allowed them to resurface.
No, she did not want to answer his questions anymore and there was only one way to get out of the embarrassing silence. “If it’s all right with you, I’ll take you to your room, so I can check on my father for the rest of the night.”
Without any objections, he followed her upstairs to the small bedrooms, one of the two occupied by the sick man.
“Your room’s right around there.” She gestured at a door further away, then noticing he had caught somehow the pain coming from her father, she was quick to add. “Don’t worry. He won’t disturb you.”
“I’m so tired nothing could keep me awake tonight.”
Watching him go, Ylianor made sure he got to his room before sitting by her father’s bedside to wait the night, doing her best to ignore her hunger as time dragged on in strained watch of his drugged sleep, until dawn broke. Just as she was about to leave for work, he opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on her. “I’m sorry,” he managed to whisper. “About everything…please forgive me.” Then he was gone forever.

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To Seduce a Soulmate
by Laura Tolomei

eXtasy Books

eBook ISBN: 978-1-55487-440-8

Finding a soul mate was the easy part. To seduce him proved Martin’s hardest challenge, for nothing in Pirate Drake’s black intriguing eyes seemed to recognize the one person destiny had selected for him. But can the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas be enough to convince him to the contrary in spite of his dilemmas about gender, feelings, connections and sex, or can Pirate Drake find a way around the burning desire, the erotic heat, the uncontrollable passion wrecking his senses at Martin’s mere sight?

Chapter One

“Hello?”
“Drake, honey, is that you?”
With a sinking heart, he adjusted the receiver to his ear, spiritually bracing himself for the onslaught to come. “Yes, Mom, it’s me.”
“Oh, honey, how are you? I wanted to be the first to wish you happy birthday.”
“Thanks, it was really nice of you to—“
“Oh, I know I could’ve waited until tomorrow, like your father said, but hey, you turn thirty-six today, not tomorrow. Besides, it’s a wonderful age, worth celebrating because it won’t ever come again.”
Just like all the others. Rapidly calculating the wasted time of his life, he suppressed an ironic smile. “That was really nice—“
“So what time are you coming over tomorrow?”
“Well…I suppose—“
“You know, everything’s almost ready for the Thanksgiving dinner. I have the turkey and the cranberries, and the potatoes. I’ll even try to make a pumpkin pie, though your father insists we buy one. Well, I told him that for my kids, I’d rather do it myself than buy one ready-made. But he’s got a thick head, so I had to agree I’d do as he says if I get really tired.”
“I see.” Drake tried to break the rushing flow, already knowing it was useless. And how can she breathe through all those words? He wondered, not for the first time in his life.
“Anyway, I’m sure Jenny will help a little and I’ve asked her to invite also Aline—“
“Aline?” He managed to cut in.
“Yeah, remember her?”
How could I forget? Anguished at the idea of seeing her again, he sighed.
His mother had continued as if completely unaware of his tightening stomach. “Your sister’s best friend and our next door neighbor.”
“I know who she is, Mom.” Slightly annoyed with her need to state well known facts, he shook his head. “But why is she coming over? It’s been years since we last saw her.”
“Not for your sister, honey. She’s kept up the friendship and helped her through a very bad year for the poor thing’s lost her mom to cancer just a month ago. Now she’s all alone and I didn’t think it fair she should spend the holidays by herself. She was part of the family anyway, don’t you remember?”
All too well. He sighed, wishing he could forget.
“And Jenny insisted, too, so I asked her over.” A deep breath told Drake that Rose Seymour had finally taken the much-needed pause. “Why, is it a problem?”
“No, of course not. I’m just surprised. That’s all.”
“Not as much as I, honey, especially when I learned Aline wouldn’t be the only unexpected guest. Jenny said she’ll probably convince her fiancé to spend Thanksgiving with us.”
“Jenny’s engaged?” Apparently, there was no end to surprises.
“So your sister tells me, with Dale…something.”
He liked to imagine her beloved features creasing in the effort to bring forth what she probably had no interest in recalling.
“I don’t remember his last name,” she admitted at last. “Whatever he’s called, it’s a nice change for your sister, don’t you agree? She hasn’t dated anyone particularly interesting since Mike left her.”
The subject was getting treacherous by the minute, so Drake had to stop his mom from taking the usual path that led to pity and recrimination for his sister’s future. “So this Dale something is gonna be part of the celebrations, too?”
“Yeah, and I’m very happy for your sister. She deserves it because it’s never easy being alone, especially if you’re a woman. Which reminds me, are you bringing anybody over? We have plenty of space, you know, and it wouldn’t be any problem if—“
“Mom, not again. I thought we had agreed you wouldn’t touch the subject unless I did.”
“Hey, don’t get all huffed up, honey. I was just asking. I guess your father’s right when he says men are different, but I worry about you all the same. You’re not getting any younger…”
No need to remind me, Mom.
“Time slips by so fast and it just ain’t fair for someone as special as you to spend your life alone—“
“I’m not alone. Don’t worry.”
Of course, she did not listen. “Going out with people doesn’t mean you’re not alone or happy for that matter. Today’s relationships are so much more superficial than during my time. With all this Internet stuff you hear about—“
“Mom, I don’t do any Internet stuff. I’m perfectly happy as it is and I can’t wait to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Does that satisfy you?”
Of course, it doesn’t. Drake was well aware of it, catching her sigh and knowing it definitely was not what she wanted to hear, but it would have to do as far as he was concerned.
“All right, honey, so what time are you coming over tomorrow?”
“In the evening. I have to finish up a few things here at work, then I’ll come over.”
“Bring something warm along. The lake’s beautiful this time of year, but it does get very cold, especially at night.”
As if I didn’t know. He shook his head, acutely aware he would never win against his mother.
“Your father is suffering particularly this winter.”
“Really? I hope nothing serious.”
“Oh no, honey, relax. He just has a bit of a cold he can’t seem to shake off, but I told him he’d better shape up for Thanksgiving or else.”
And Rose’s “else” was far worse than any blasted cold could ever hope to be. “Give him my best.”
“You’ll give it to him tomorrow directly, right, honey?”
“Sure. Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes, honey. You take care, you hear?”
He nodded at the receiver, mercifully hanging up, feeling as depleted as if he had climbed up the Himalayas in a hurry, coming down equally as fast.

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