I love Halloween because I enjoy seeing the various costumes. Whether I am astounded by a person’s creativity or left smiling over a trick or treater’s cuteness, I never end the night with a sad face. Below, I have shared a few photos that I thought were memorable from past Halloweens. Enjoy and remember be safe out there.
TONIGHT, SHE PLANS TO LET GO. Dressed up and anonymous, Sadie Liberato feels powerful, sexy and free. Where better to lose herself than a masked party?
Gear Blackstone’s cheating ex and scheming best friend have managed to spin his life into a serious downward spiral. At least with a mask on he can cut loose for one night. And cut loose he does—with the sexiest, snarkiest chick he’s ever met.
After a scorching-hot encounter, Sadie and Gear are desperate to find each other in real life. But can the heat last when the masks come off?
The music’s tempo jolted the partyers to new heights of enthusiasm.
“Great DJ,” Devil said, his foot tapping to the beat.
She found herself doing the same. “No kidding.” She eyed the tiny corn dogs on his plate. He had half a dozen. She wondered if he’d miss one… “Hey, is that B-Man over there?” she asked.
When he turned his head, she stole an appetizer off his plate and shoved it in her mouth. Oh yeah, Elliot would be thrilled to see her display her “house manners” in public.
The devil turned back to her. “Not him.” He frowned at his plate, then at her full mouth. “Did you just steal my food?”
“Nope,” she answered around a mouthful.
He stared at her for a moment, then burst into laughter. It was a full-bodied laugh, holding nothing back. Charming and real. She put Devil at the top of her list.
She swallowed, wishing she had something more to drink. As he finished off his plate, he glanced at her clean one, then at her. When he sighed and handed her his beer, she took it gratefully.
“No backwash, I promise.” She opened her mouth to show him hers was clean, then downed half the bottle. “Damn, that was good.”
He blinked. “Ah, you want more?”
“No, no. You drink that. I’ll go get some.”
She moved to go, but he grabbed her arm. They both paused. Together, they glanced down at his large hand on her wrist, and he dropped her arm. “Ah, that’s okay. You stay here. I’ll get you something. Beer? More chow?”
She nodded. “Um, both, thanks. I’ll save your place.”
He left, and she watched his progress as he cut a swath through the crowd. Yes, the devil made his own path. This time, no one bothered him as he returned posthaste. To her surprise, she was glad. The guy smelled good, a hint of subtle cologne that went straight to her head. He had a kickin’ body and a great smile. But that air of Don’t fuck with me really turned her on—ah, made her amenable to his presence.
Talk about a wordy mouthful. At the thought, she found herself glancing down his body to see what else might be a mouthful.
Jesus, Sadie. Get your head out of the gutter, girl.
“You okay?” Temptation leaned closer. “You look a little flushed.”
“You can tell in this lighting?” she teased, trying to get it together.
“Good point.” He handed her a beer, placed his own down on the table, and then put a plate overloaded with goodies on top of their empties. “This is to share. To share,” he said slowly.
“Yeah, yeah. Man, I’m starved.” She fell on the plate as if the Russians were coming.
To her amusement, he fought with her for the cheese curls as much as for the mini egg rolls, and they devoured the snacks in good company.
They talked with their mouths full, making fun of the drunken genie as well as several unsuccessful hookups on the dance floor.
“Oh, now that had to hurt,” the devil said. “Rejected by a zombie and her warty witch friend.”
“Yeah, but he’s not taking it personally.” Sadie took another sip of beer, loving the fact he hadn’t gotten her a sissy glass to drink from. “See? He’s turning from the undead to slutty doctor chick.”
“Slutty? Isn’t that non-PC?” he sneered, and she thought he sounded familiar, but the loud music made it difficult to tell. “Because I say the wrong thing about a woman, not a ‘chick,’ and I’m a caveman asshole setting women’s rights back twenty years.”
“Well, I can say slutty. You have to say sexually adventurous.” Sadie grinned. “Kind of like telling a gay guy he’s a raging homo. Now I can say that, because my brother earned the title. But you try telling him that, and he’ll knock your head off. And call him anything else, and I’ll knock your head off.” She hefted her fake sword before leaning it against the wall. “Don’t try me.”
He shrugged. “You have a sword. I have a pitchfork…somewhere. I think I left it by the bar.” He glanced across the room. “But hey, I have no plans to tangle with your brother. I’m here to sin until this thing is over. Nothing else, and no fights.” He paused, and she swore he added something else under his breath.
At that moment, her brother appeared in the crowd, his gaze searching.
She took Devil by the waist and turned him, noticing how he tensed but ignoring it. “Sorry. I’m having fun not mingling, and my brother is right over there looking for me.”
He relaxed and glanced over his shoulder. “Which one?”
“See the Phantom? He’s a pain in my ass, much as I love him. I didn’t want to come to this tonight, you know.”
“Yeah? Me neither.” He stayed where he was, still watching the dance floor. “Uh-oh. He’s looking over here.”
“Crap, crap, crap. This is a primo spot!” She did what any smart woman in her situation would do. She turned Devil so he completely blocked her from Elliot. “I need to blend in. Work with me, would you?”
She wrapped her arms around his thick neck and dragged him down for a kiss.
At the taste of his lips against hers, she shuddered, not having expected he’d taste better than his beer, or that up close and personal he’d smell like man and sex and chocolate. Chocolate?
Jesus, she must have had too much to drink.
Then he dragged her closer and deepened the angle of their kiss.
Sadie forgot about her brother, about the last crab cake on the plate, about how much she didn’t want to be at the party.
And fell into the arms of a man who kissed like the devil himself.
Award-winning author Marie Harte has been writing professionally since 2005. She’s both a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author and has written over 100 books and counting. Marie writes books with heat, humor, and Harte. ♥
She writes independently and for several publishers, to include Sourcebooks and Entangled. Though currently writing contemporary romance, she also writes paranormal and romantic suspense. Basically, everything romance with a touch of spice.
Before turning to writing full-time, she earned a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University and spent several years in the United States Marine Corps as a communications officer.
Marie currently lives in Central Oregon with her family. There’s nothing she likes more than finding a good book to read and a great cup of coffee to drink.
For the 18+ reader: Strong language and descriptive sex scenes. Extensive BDSM play.
When Holt answers the door of his hotel room, high priced call girl, Valorie, considers him just another john. Her plan is to go out to eat, maybe go dancing. After that she’ll spend the night with him, then go home. It will be just another business evening.
This was not going to be a normal evening. Her first clue was when he put a collar around her neck and attached a leash. Next, he told her to put on her coat and boots, but nothing else. “We’re leaving the hotel,” he told her. Hours later, Valorie has been kidnapped, humiliated and is being held captive on an island. She doesn’t know where the island is located, or what Holt’s ultimate plan is. It’s not for the sex she was hired for, she’s certain of that.
Holt pinched her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilted her head up. “You were a good girl in there.” He leaned in to kiss her and she twisted her neck at the last second so his kiss landed on her cheek instead.
“It’s my policy to not kiss clients on the lips,” she said.
“I see,” Holt said, and pulled back.
A cab pulled up and Holt held the door for her then slid in beside her. He gave the driver an address she didn’t recognize and the cab pulled away from the curb. Thirty minutes later they pulled into one of the smaller airports that served the area rather than the international one she was familiar with. The cab let them out at a two-story building and he guided her inside. A single, what she thought of as a ticket counter, occupied one side of the room and a man stood behind it. There were two rows of seats and three people, a man and two women, sitting in them.
Instead of going to the doors that led onto the tarmac, Holt guided her to a set of stairs that led up. At the top, he opened the door there and a blast of cold air smacked her in the face. Holt guided her across the lighted roof observation area to the outer wall that rose to just above her knees. From there up was a fence made of wire that reached over her head.
While the cold bit at her, falling snow collected on her shoulders and in her hair. A red and silver business jet was parked on the tarmac below. It was the only plane there. “Nice plane, I wonder who it belongs to.”
“Me,” he said.
Valorie glanced at him and her estimate of his wealth rose.
“We’re going to be flying out of St. Paul soon, but we have a few things to take care of first.”
“First of all, Mr. Frazier, I, nor my booking agency, ever agreed to leave the city. Second, remember you’ve only rented my services until tomorrow morning.”
“An oversite I intend to take care of right now.” Holt pulled his phone out of his suit jacket and called the agency. “Mr. Frazier again, I’ve decided I like Valorie and wish to retain her services for the entire weekend.” He waited to listen, then continued. “Yes, that amount is fine. Put it on my card.” Another pause. “I’ll have her back Monday morning. Thank you.”
He put the phone back in his pocket and smiled at her. “I’ve extended your services until Monday.”
“So I gathered.”
“Okay that’s taken care of. Next on my list; take your coat off, Val.”
“You’re fucking insane. I don’t have anything on under my coat and it’s freezing out here. Besides, I won’t get naked in public.”
Holt rubbed his chin. “Won’t? Or just haven’t had the proper motivation?”
Valorie said nothing, she just glared at him.
“I guess we’ll see.” He dug into his wallet and took out a bill but didn’t show her its value. “This is what I’m asking. You’ll take your coat off, then walk down the stairs with me and out onto that plane wearing nothing but your boots and jewelry.”
“For a fifty, or even a hundred, no damn way. It’s cold out here and there’s people down there”
“What if the bill is a five hundred? And you can put on this.” He dug into the sports bag and handed her a black mask that covered her eyes and nose.
She swallowed hard. “What do you think I am?” she growled.
“We both know what you are, Val. Your body is for hire. We just have to negotiate how much money it will take to motivate you into doing what I ask.”
“I beginning to hate you, Holt.”
He chuckled. “Hand me your coat.”
Valorie frowned, then, in resignation, untied her coat, slipped it from her shoulders and handed it to Holt. Her nipples stiffened immediately, and goose bumps formed on the rest of her body. Flakes of snow had collected in her hair and now they touched the rest of her with cold biting kisses. Her teeth began to chatter.
“All right, I’m naked and standing in the cold, satisfied?” she snarled.
“Not quite.” Holt stretched her arms above her head. “Hook your fingers in the fence wire.” Reaching down he slapped her inner thighs while ordering her to spread her legs. “Now hold that pose,” he said.
Valorie peered down at the workers around the plane and tears filled her eyes. They were partly from the cold and partially from humiliation. If any of them should look up she was fully displayed for them. She envied the hooded jackets they wore. Twice a flash of light highlighted her and Valorie knew Holt had snapped pictures.
He slapped one of her butt cheeks, the coldness magnifying the sting that radiated outward and causing the cheek to tense reflexively. The smack sounded loud as a gun report in the silence. “Ow, fuck, that hurt, Holt. You got your nudie pictures, can we go in now?” she asked.
“Not just yet. Turn around and face me in the same pose.”
Valorie spun, hooked her fingers in the fence again and waited for him to snap two more pictures of her in full frontal pose.
“Excellent. You’re a gorgeous woman, Val,” he said.
“Humph. Can we go inside now? I’m freezing my tits off.”
Holt stepped closer and pulled down on the leash attached to the back of her collar. His action forced her head to tilt back, her breasts to jut forward, and her back to arch.
“You’re an asshole Holt,” she snarled.
He grinned. “I’m your client, indulge me.”
“Danm it, take me inside before I turn into a Popsicle.”
“What will you do for me if I agree to take you inside?”
“What do you want? A blowjob? You want me to lick your balls?”
“The price of taking you inside is a kiss…full on the lips. Right here and right now.”
“Fine! You win. I’ll kiss you.”
Holts grin widened. “I’ve changed my mind and I’m upping the cost.”
“What the hell do you want?” Her lips trembled from the cold and frustration.
“The price is still a kiss, but the open mouth, tongues jousting kind.”
Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. “Okay, but do it now while I can still feel my lips.”
Holt pulled her into embrace and sealed his mouth to hers. His suit coat was cold but infinitely warmer than her bare skin. The taste of his kiss and the passion behind it nearly stole her breath.
Holt broke their kiss, and said, “See? Bending your rules and kissing me wasn’t so bad was it?”
Valorie frowned at him. “Fuck you.”
“That will come later at the time and in the manor of my choosing, not yours.”
Valorie bit her half frozen lip to silence her retort and glared at him instead. Holt gathered the sports bag and her coat then took her hand. “Let’s get you inside now.”
“Thank you. I’m freezing. I’m going to turn blue.”
“Are you ready to go in without clothes, Val?”
Leaning down, he stuffed the bill into her boot, again preventing her from seeing its value. When they entered the building and the door closed behind them, she relished the warmth. At the bottom of the steps they paused before going into the lobby. Holt held one of her hands and she automatically placed the hand of the other over her pussy.
“Uncover yourself and put your arm at your side,” he ordered.
She growled but did as he commanded. Valorie wanted to dash across the lobby, but Holt’s restraining hand prevented her from doing so. Instead they crossed at a slow pace. The man behind the counter gawked at her as did the trio that was seated. Her nipples slowly relaxed from their stiff condition.
“I feel like some damn prize racehorse that you’re parading around for people to see and admire,” she grumbled beneath her breath at him.
“I’ve had racehorses before and they were fantastic to display for all to see. They’re beautiful and so are you. If my plans work out, you’ll probably cost me more than a racehorse.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she asked.
Just as they reached the door leading out onto the tarmac, the man seated behind the counter spoke, causing her to forget her question to Holt. “Nice handprint on that tight ass of yours, babe.”
Valorie’s cheeks heated. “Fuck you,” she mumbled low enough that only Holt could hear.
G.E. Stills is zany but has a serious side. He lives in the southwest with a wife and two fur babies. He cares deeply for his friends and hasn’t met an animal yet he didn’t like. He lives in the southwest but often longs to live by the sea. He frequently says, “We have the sandy beaches but where is the water?”
Most days will find him hovering over his keyboard putting to words the stories of the many characters that pace into his mind. Their tales are both serious and humorous. A multi-published author, his stories cover many genres including contemporary, paranormal, and science fiction. Most of his stories have action, adventure, and humor. Some of them are erotic and some are not, but all have romance. His paranormal stories normally involve witches, demons or vampires with an occasional shape shifter thrown in for good measure.
G.E. Stills loves to hear from his readers and can be contacted at any of these sites.
One kiss can change everything. Dulcie has had a secret crush on her co-worker Rowan for ages, but she’s too shy to let him know, and preoccupied with raising her rebellious teenage sister. When she bumps into him in the darkness of a haunted barn, she can’t resist stealing just one kiss.
That kiss enchants Rowan. If only he could figure out the identity of the woman whose kiss haunts him. While running from a troubled past, he may find that the woman he least suspects could lead him out of the dark forever.
The first kiss happened in the dark. It couldn’t have happened otherwise. Though Dulcie had longed to kiss Rowan for ages, ever since he first ambled by her cubicle at the office and tossed her one of his affable smiles, she wouldn’t have dared to let him know. How could she? Rowan Pearce was beautiful. Self-assured. Magnetic. Everything Dulcie Brooks wasn’t.
Of course she hadn’t planned the kiss. Kisses were the furthest thing from her mind as she strode toward the haunted barn at Sumner’s Farm. The ramshackle building stood on a small rise overlooking the farm’s expansive cornfields on one side and forest on the other. Above the craggy black outline of the treetops, a half-moon gleamed against a swath of inky sky.
Stepping around the slanted, weathered-looking gravestones that flanked the path leading to the barn’s entrance, Dulcie merged with the lineup of visitors waiting for the dour Frankenstein’s monster guarding the door to usher them inside. Red lights glowed in windows laced with cobwebs, where shadowy faces peered out and ominous moans and creaks emanated from within the wood-plank walls. Cheesy as heck, but just creepy enough to rouse goose bumps on her arms.
When a pair of hands gripped her shoulders from behind, Dulcie jerked and let out a startled squeak.
The hands pawed her hair. “Brains! I must find brains to eat. Where can I find brains?”
She spun to face her coworker, Nora, who flashed a wicked grin.
Dulcie folded her arms over her chest. “So very droll.”
“Scared?” Nora waggled menacing eyebrows. In the evening dark, the shadows crossing her face deepened the hollows of her eyes, lending her normally elfin features a ghoulish aspect.
“Only afraid that you’ll flay the skin off my arms like you did on that haunted hayride.” Dulcie plucked a sprig of straw from Nora’s pale blond curls. Huddled in the tractor-drawn wagon that had brought them to the barn, Nora had screamed like a six-year-old as zombies and masked men with chainsaws emerged from the woods and shambled behind in chase. Dulcie could still feel the fingernail gouges in the delicate flesh above her elbow.
Nora laughed. “This place is a blast. Why didn’t you bring your sister?”
Dulcie rubbed her hands along the sleeves of her cardigan, where the October chill seeped through to her skin. “Allie didn’t want to come and hang out with my stuffy old coworkers at some lame team-building thing.”
“Stuffy? Well, she may have a point. We’re not exactly the most with-it crowd–evidenced by the fact that the only term I can come up with is ‘with-it’.”
Dulcie slid off her glasses and used the edge of her cardigan to wipe a fine coating of dust from the lenses. “She had plans to go out with some friends tonight. Lord knows where, or what shady business they’re up to.”
The lineup inched forward, and Dulcie glanced at her coworkers, a mixture of staff from several departments at the head office of River’s Edge Adventure Gear. Alan McCarthy, the company’s vice president who had arranged the outing, waited at the front of the line.
Directly behind Alan, she spotted Rowan, his hands resting casually in the pockets of his fleece jacket while he chatted with copywriter Andy Newman. Normally she tried not to let her gaze linger on Rowan for too long, but she couldn’t resist the occasional glimpse at the strong lines of his profile and soft sweep of his blond hair.
Glancing away, she gave herself a silent scolding. At twenty-six, she was far too old to be caught in the throes of a secret crush. Especially when she’d barely spoken to the man in question in the nine months they’d worked two floors apart in the same building.
“My kids wouldn’t come, either,” Nora commiserated. “It’s for the best that they aren’t here to witness my embarrassing cowardice. It might scar them for life.”
Dulcie glanced back at her. “At least they’re at home with your husband, not roving the streets with their hoodlum friends.”
One edge of Nora’s mouth lifted. “You sound like a mom.”
“I’m the closest thing to a mom that Allie has right now. Someone has to worry about her.”
Nora’s hands settled on Dulcie’s shoulders again, but with a reassuring squeeze this time. “She’s seventeen. Rebellion is natural at that age. And, as her guardian, you have the pleasure of reining in that rebellion. But don’t fret so much. This isn’t big bad Toronto, it’s Donnington, Ontario’s most innocuous city. There’s nothing scarier here than this ridiculous haunted barn.”
“The shambling, grungy-haired, tobacco-reeking boy she hangs out with scares me more than anything lurking about here.” Dulcie heaved a sigh. “At her age, I was home every evening, usually studying or curled up in front of the TV. No parties or boyfriends. I never gave our mother a moment’s anxiety.”
“You don’t say,” Nora replied dryly.
Dulcie shot her a withering glance.
“It’s just that you’re a cautious, by-the-book sort of person. In a good way. Everyone appreciates how reliable you are.”
Boring and predictable, you mean. Dulcie opened her mouth to offer a rebuttal, but couldn’t think of one before the line ahead began to move and Nora nudged her forward.
Within a couple of minutes, Frankenstein’s monster lifted his moldy hand to direct them through the doorway into the barn. Dulcie entered ahead of Nora, her stomach tightening a little as she passed the threshold and headed into a darkened corridor. She felt Nora close behind, breathing raggedly, the toes of her shoes bumping Dulcie’s heels.
“Stay close to me,” Nora whispered, dread lacing her voice.
Dulcie folded her arms tight over her chest to avoid Nora’s clutching hands. She shuffled toward a corner dimly illuminated by blinking lights. Eerie moans echoed through the walls.
A figure leaned out from an alcove–a vampire baring his fangs–and Dulcie jolted. Nora gasped, while the teenaged girl behind them let out a startled shriek.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Dulcie muttered, walking onward while the vampire retreated behind a curtain.
Rounding the corner, with Nora still at her heels, she passed a series of mutilated corpses and skeletons suspended from hooks, and then entered a corridor lined with formal portraits of ghoulish half-decomposed subjects.
Nora bent close to a portrait of a woman wearing a black Victorian dress and hat. “Look at this one,” she said. “The eyes seem to follow you.”
Just then, the woman in the painting opened her mouth wide and screamed. Nora yelped and jumped back, splaying her hands over her face.
“Oh my God, Dulcie. This place is gonna give me a freakin’ heart attack.”
Dulcie gripped her elbow. “Come on. We’re halfway through.”
In the next room, in order to pass they had to push through a cluster of decapitated heads dangling from ropes, eerily aglow in sickly green light. Dulcie wrinkled her nose and shoved through the rubber props.
Emerging on the other side, she realized she’d lost track of her companion. She spun to look back, but a crush of teenagers in the narrow doorway blocked her view. “Nora?”
No response came, and to avoid being trampled she had to move forward into a pitch-black passage. Staring blindly, Dulcie pressed her hand to the rough planked wall. Whispers and nervous laughter echoed around her. It was all cheesy special effects and cheap scares, but she couldn’t help the frisson of nervous tension that ran down her spine as she stumbled through the dark, not knowing what might leap out at her at the next turn.
She took a step away from the wall and collided with a warm body. Hands closed around her upper arms and she jolted.
“Sorry. Are you all right?”
Dulcie froze, and then wavered on her feet. Rowan’s voice. Her pounding heart tripped over itself while his hands remained on her arms, steadying her. She could read in his tentative tone that he didn’t know who she was.
She couldn’t find her voice. Rowan Pearce stood inches from her, touching her. Heat flared from her skin under his fingers and rippled through her body. With her heart throbbing in her throat and her insides quaking, something came over her–an impulse too powerful to resist, a long-repressed compulsion unleashed in the cover of darkness.
Finding his elbow, in a single swift motion she slid her hand up the soft sleeve of his jacket and over the collar, touched his neck, and then traced the line of his jaw with her fingertips. Skimming her thumb across his lips to fix their location, she leaned in and pressed her mouth to his.
Excitement exploded inside her. His supple, warm lips tasted of the salty-sweet caramel popcorn she’d seen him eating during the wagon ride.
To her surprise and pleasure, Rowan didn’t pull away. His grip on her arms tightened a fraction as his mouth molded to hers and glided against her lips.
Though blind in the dark, Dulcie let her eyes flutter closed. The kiss lasted only a few seconds, but filled her senses with heat and longing.
Excited voices and giggles erupted from around the corner, just before a crush of bodies jostled Dulcie and Rowan apart. Shrieks filled the darkness. She stumbled sideways, dazed and disoriented, her hands flailing. The fingers of one hand scraped the wall while the other brushed against the people shuffling past. Rowan was gone.
She found her bearings when a sliver of light pierced the dark as a nearby door cracked open. The door opened further and she stumbled toward it, following a woman ahead of her onto the grass outside.
While the evening chill cooled her heated cheeks, Dulcie blinked and glanced around at the people scattered behind the barn. She didn’t see Rowan among them.
A hand closed over her shoulder and she whirled around.
Nora stared at her with reproach. “Where were you? I thought you were right in front of me.”
Dulcie cleared her dry, tight throat. “Lost my way for a bit.”
Shuddering, Nora hugged herself. “I didn’t like it in there. Too crowded. What did you think?”
“It was … fun. Kind of a rush,” Dulcie said. She still felt slightly dazed, as though she’d just woken from an intense and titillating dream.
“But would you do it again?”
She bit her lip to keep a grin from spreading over her face. Yeah, in a heartbeat.
I’m a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and historical romance. Nothing gets my heart pumping like a good love story with absorbing emotion, plenty of passion, and an old-fashioned happy ending. That’s why I write romance, and I’m thrilled to share these stories with you. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, with my husband and three children.
As a child, Linandra spent many hours slaying monsters and having adventures.
So, when faced with a future containing little in the way of excitement (but plenty of cereals) she gathered up her courage and set out into the world.
It soon turned out that becoming a dashing hero – or any hero at all – wasn’t as easy as the stories made it out to be; if someone’s garden was, say, infested with weedrats, they sought to hire a mercenary, not a waif off the streets.
Now on a journey going nowhere, when Lin comes upon an old barn, all she’s really looking for is respite from the cold. But this is a place which holds more secrets than it does hay and Linandra soon finds herself dragged into the lives of wizards, cleaning-ladies and other, even stranger, folk. Much to her chagrin, this also includes Setharrion, who is trying very hard not to let his own past catch up with him.
She’d spent years looking for a second chance. Now it had found her. Only, it wasn’t like anything she’d ever imagined…
She was, however, very grateful that it didn’t eat her.
What she really wanted was to be back in her bed at her last attempt at holding down a job. Even more, she wanted to be back in her own bed. The one she’d always had, growing up.
It had been hard and narrow and there hadn’t been much in terms of bedclothes, but they had been there. Right now, even that sounded appealing. Being back home, going about what you did every day. Was that really so bad?
Lin’s thoughts strayed, as if trying to find anything else to think about but the current situation, while edging another step closer to the ground. Her knuckles turned white where she gripped the bars.
A shivering foot swung down, searching for the next rung in the dark.
What had she been thinking, switching that dead certainty of her future for this? That every day would be the same? That she’d know what she’d be doing ten, even twenty, years from now. ?
And what had she exchanged it for? All this? She hadn’t even found a place for herself yet. Not after her last position went down the drain, quite literally.
A tumbled drop down to the ground and a loud ‘ouff’ when she misjudged the last bar on the ladder and she couldn’t fall any further. Once there, Lin knew that the path between her and the barn doors was devoid of obstacles and those had, inside of them, a much smaller normal door that she could go through without all the hassle of towing open the big ones.
That’s what she normally used when sneaking out.
Tonight, she never got the chance.
Accompanied by a whole series of rumbles and forks of blazing light zigzagging through the air those large barn doors flew open. As if forced aside by the sheer power of the wind, they greeted the storm beyond in its unbridled fury.
Linandra became transfixed to the ground. Her vividly green eyes, thrown open as wide as the doors, stared almost without seeing. Her mouth fell open, gaping like a fish out of water. The gale tore at her long hair, whipping it all aroundher, but she didn’t notice.
The next bolt of lightning caught her off-guard and as she peered out into what was left of the night, the night looked right back.
‘Oh, mother of all that is,’ Lin whimpered, while the rest of her mind went blank.
The lightningstrike had just lit up what was in front of her. She’d been happier if it hadn’t.
It was big. No, big didn’t even come close. It was huge. Humongous. A veritable mountain of flesh and armoured plating. The rainwater wasn’t just trickling off its skin, it was cascading down from its body in torrents and lightning reflected off the powerful flanks every time the sky sizzled and frayed.
If it hadn’t been for the illumination of the thunderbolts, she never would have seen it. From tip to tail it gleamed with a deep, inky, black. It was as if the night had coalesced from smooth velvet into rocky crags. If crags could move with a purpose.
Had it been moving away, Lin would have followed its progress, even been impressed by the sheer, raw, power it exuded. But it was getting closer and every part of her mind that hadn’t already shut down, was screaming with primal urges to run away—if only she hadn’t been frozen in intimidation.
While the storm continued to rage around them it was being pushed into the background for Lin. The rain kept streaming in through the opening in the barn, hitting her in the face, but she no longer saw that either.
The body before her gleamed, slick with rainwater. The muscles bulged even as it stood still, as if had been caught in motion, readying a leap into the sky.
Immense wings, still partly extended, blackened out parts of the heavens, drowning her world in shadow, like an eclipse to the suns.
The head, this close up, seemed elongated with noble, if craggy, features as they reached the crest, and it was crowned with a whole array of short horns and spikes carrying on down the neck.
But that wasn’t where her attention was. It was the eyes. Luminous orbs in the dark. Yellow and red with fire, they filled her world. Looking into them you could, almost, believe you could see beyond them, into a world twirling and spinning and, without any doubt whatsoever, looking right back at her.
For a brief moment, the two of them stood there, motionless, in the rain and the wind. Then, lowering its head, the dragon approached the gaping hole in the barn.
Held by the same almost hypnotic gaze as the mouse caught out by a viper and, foraging for food, becoming food itself, Lin couldn’t move. Her breath came in short, jagged bursts.
The jaws, slightly parted, were only meters away when Lin finally managed to break away. She scuttled backwards.
To her horror the dragon pursued even if it had to crouch down to fit through the doors. But it didn’t pounce. Surely it saw her? It couldn’t be ignoring her, could it?
Its steps light, each one still made the nearby ground shiver every time one of those clawed feet hit the ground. And what claws they were … more like an armful of talons. Or should that be a foot-full of talons? Four whole sets of them.
Creeping forwards, moving with a grace and dignity that belied the cramped location, the midnight dragon entered the barn. And as it wrapped its tail around its feet, the doors slammed shut behind it.
She was trapped. Trapped, with a huge, toothy beast only meters away. Why, oh why weren’t any alarms sounding? They must have them in this place, surely? No one wanted a rampaging dragon dropping in unannounced. Dragons raided places like this, didn’t they?
A calmer mind might have asked itself, that if a dragon raiding party had arrived, then why was it curling up like a cat that had just returned home from a three-day excursion, in a wooden, very flammable structure, rather than roaring and gnashing its teeth at everything in sight.
By now, body parts should have been raining from the sky, screaming and wailing coming from the people still alive.
That’s what dragons did. Everyone she knew said so. That was why all those knights in all those stories had always needed to go off protecting the kingdoms from them.
Dragons were beasts: huge, hulking brutes that breathed fire and trampled everything in their wake.
This one, however, was making itself comfortable in the middle of the open planned structure. The tail was, slowly, draping itself around the series of support pillars that held up the loft. Its tip scraped against the bottom wood, creating furrows where the soft material was no match for the hard scales.
Guess that explained those marks she’d seen earlier, Lin figured, in between the madness. What an odd thought to have pop into your mind at a time like this, Lin chided herself.
By now, the dragon had nestled its head on top of its front paws. It didn’t seem like it was planning on going anywhere, anytime soon.
The problem—and since she was still alive it was a somewhat smaller problem than, say, five minutes ago—was that the dragon was looking right at her. It was a calm gaze, filled more with amusement than cunning. But it was looking right at her.
(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique)
When we visualize a dragon, we form an image of a humungous, snarling beast determined to bring havoc, death and destruction. However, in The Damsel and the Dragon we learn dragons can be gentle, compassionate, loving, and protectors of all — humans or otherwise. Kaherion possessed all the above qualities and so did Setharrion (Seth). Being a beast doesn’t always equate a monster. Lin, a humanoid, was a witness to their softer side. They were patient with her when she gave them attitude. Seth, in fact, rescued her on more than one occasion. He charmed her. He was playful. He was a dragon worth knowing – worth caring about. Joran, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. He was a true beast and did have carnage in his sights. When the dragons battled, the book really heated up.
Now, even though, I thought the fist 2/3 of the story was dragging a bit there were some memorable scenes.
1.) Seth (in human form) groaning about nails and their lack of importance. Also, him clothes shopping was quite a funny experience (for me, not so much him). Let’s not forget his sweet tooth. Cute.
2.) Lin’s pet dragonling was just adorable, in a highly mischievous way. It behaved like an ordinary unruly pet. It chewed on inappropriate things, needed obedient school, and liked to do its own thing. Sounds like new puppy behavior to me.
Once again, I must state that once Lin and Seth came face to face the book picked up much needed steam. My interest, which seemed to be diminishing, was captured. Seth was just so likable, a sweetie. When Lin confronted him in dragon form, I almost snickered at his reaction. He whined, folks. That moment made the whole chapter for me!
**This book did end with a HEA but also left it wide open for more adventurous tales.**
Mae is a creature of contradiction: The type of person who loves to discover new things, and faraway places, but worries about sticking her nose into the shop she’s walked past every day for years and years and who can be as much a starry eyed idealist as the most bitter of cynics, about the same thing, at the same time. If you think this is exhausting – you’re right.
There’s absolutely nothing contradictory about her love of reading or writing though – and she happily does both as much as she can (it’s true what they say, there never IS enough bookshelf space). Somewhere along the line, this will, probably, involve dragons 🙂
Incidentally, she also wishes she could type as fast as her imagination runs and that someone really should come up with a reliable way to train muses and characters to stick with the story and don’t go chrono-hopping, explore strange new alternate realities or, even worse, insist on bringing home plot-bunnies.