Monday, March 27, 2017
When Kip Anderson's best friend, Quentin, wakes him up in the middle of the night, Kip is sure that he's dreaming - because Quentin has recently died. But Kip quickly realizes that he's not dreaming and, while his friend may be deceased, he's far from at rest.
Quentin is worried about his widow, Lily, who hasn't been taking care of herself since he passed away. At his best friend's request, Kip agrees to try to help her and before he knows it, he finds himself growing closer to Lily by the day.
When Lily continues to take risks with her health, Quentin's advice is for Kip to put her over his knee! At first, Kip is taken aback at the thought of doing such a thing, but as Lily's behavior becomes increasingly self-destructive, he finds that he has few other choices...
Publisher's Note: This book contains elements of domestic discipline. If such material offends, please do not purchase.
Enjoy this free preview of A Match Made in Heaven:
"Common, Chief, wake up already."
The familiar voice filtered slowly through Kip Anderson's sleep fogged brain, making his full lips turn down in a frown of confusion. A second later, there was a hard thump on the mattress near his face. Awake now, his brows furrowed, he hesitantly peeled first one eyelid open and then the other, his pale brown gaze falling on one of the well-worn sneakers he used solely now for mowing his lawn during the summer months. It was grass stained and muddy on the sole, and the stench from it was enough to make him want to pull the covers up over his head. But he didn't do that, because its presence on his bed in the middle of the night was too unusual a thing to ignore, even in favor of going back to sleep. Even after being up damn near all night long helping one of his mares bring a new foal into the world.
"Oh, good, you're finally awake." The return of the voice brought Kip's head up with a snap. He'd been sure he was dreaming it earlier. Now, he wasn't so sure that he wasn't still sleeping, and the dream continuing. Because there was no way that he was awake and actually seeing the man that stood before him. It just wasn't possible.
Standing just inside Kip's walk-in closet, still dressed in the same clothes he had last seen him in over four months ago was his life-long best friend, Quentin Craig. As Kip watched, Quent dropped the mate to Kip's lawn mowing sneaker, and grinned crookedly. To Kip's eyes, it even looked like the grin wobbled a little and he could have sworn that Quent's eyes misted over. He had to clear his throat before he spoke again to Kip. "We need to talk, buddy."
Never mind that it was the wee hours of the morning, or that Kip had been up for over twenty-four hours straight before finally finding his bed that night. Never mind that Quentin was a sleep whore who rarely saw the light of day before at least ten in the morning, nor the fact that he had a gorgeous wife of five years waiting for him at home. Those reasons were certainly enough, each of them on their own, to make this middle of the night visit seem a little weird. But the one reason that had Kip Anderson questioning his sanity at that moment had them all beat by a mile: Quentin Craig was dead. He'd been killed in an automobile accident over seven months ago. Kip had been in the car with him, and he'd gone with him in the ambulance to the hospital. He'd been sitting next to him when he'd died. And he'd been the one to break the news to Quent's wife.
And now, here was his best friend, apparently back from the dead, looking exactly as he had on the day of his funeral, with the noticeable exception of the absence of the suit coat his wife Lily had chosen for him. Instead, Quentin stood before Kip in only the western cut dress slacks, pearl snap white dress shirt with its cuffs unsnapped and rolled up his forearms, and his best pair of dress boots, spit-shined so bright they even gleamed in the dim lighting of Kip's early morning bedroom.
Quent took a couple steps out of Kip's closet, approaching the bed slowly. He seemed to do so deliberately and Kip had the idea he was trying not to spook him. "I'm sorry about throwing the shoe at ya," he apologized sheepishly, removing the odorous sneaker from the rumpled flannel bedding when he got close enough. "But unfortunately I'm limited in what things I can control. I would've just given you a good shake, but my damn hand probably would've gone right through your shoulder, Kip. I haven't figured out some of the finer points in my new... situation. Being a ghost has its restrictions..."
"G-ghost?" Kip whispered, staring at Quent. His best friend sat down on the edge of the bed and nodded at him. Kip's eyes ran up and down the apparition before him, noting now the smoky quality of his image, and the way he didn't indent the mattress beneath him at all as he sat there-truthfully, it was more like he was hovering there instead of actually sitting.
"I can control inanimate objects," Quent continued calmly, as if his lifelong best friend wasn't having a nervous breakdown right beside him, "but if I so much as touch something alive-especially a human being-well, my damn arm goes right through and it creates the strangest feeling..." He sighed and cocked his head to look at Kip closely. "You okay, Chief? You don't look so good."
Kip's eyes bulged at him. "No, I'm... I'm not okay!" he sputtered. "You... you're... you're supposed to be dead, Q! What the hell's happening to me?"
"Calm down, buddy, rein it in, now. Relax. Nothing's happening to you, okay?" Kip recognized the steady voice Quentin was using now as the one he'd used in their rodeo days to both steady a fearful horse, and woo a nervous rodeo babe. "It's really me. I'm really here. Okay? And I need you to try to get a grip and just accept that, because I really need to talk to you. And I'm not going away until I do."
Kip gradually felt his pulse slow to a more normal rate. What the hell? he thought suddenly. Either this is one crazy dream, in which case there's nothing to worry about because all that will happen in the end is I'll simply wake up, or I really am going crazy in which case there's nothing that I can do about it anyway, so why tear myself apart over it? The last possibility in his mind-that Quentin was telling the truth about it really being him there, in the flesh (or so to speak)-Kip did not even give consideration to.
"All right," he finally said, nodding his agreement. "I'm listening. So talk already. What's so damn important that you had to come back from the grave and scare the shit out of me in the middle of the night?"
Quent's eyes were hard on him when he answered. "Lily."
Kip had had a feeling that was where this was all headed. But hearing that one word, as always, did a funny thing to his insides. Briefly, he closed his eyes and counted silently to five in his head before reopening them and daring to meet Quentin's gaze again.
"What about her?"
"You know damn well what I'm talking about, Kip," Quentin accused and the small vein in his forehead that always pulsed when he got angry became prominent. "You made me a promise, pal, and you haven't kept it."
Kip had to look away from his friend's eyes. It was true, of course. And he felt bad about it. But he just didn't know how to keep that promise. He hadn't had a clue how he was going to do it from the very moment the words had fallen out of his mouth, but he also hadn't been able to stop them, either.
"Do you even remember the promise you made me the night I died, Kip?" Quent asked, and his voice was dark and thick. Kip made himself meet his gaze and slowly he nodded.
"I couldn't forget it if I tried."
"You promised me you would look after my wife. Make sure she was taken care of, help get her through this..."
Kip nodded. In his head he could hear the words he had exchanged with Quent that horrific night: Promise me, Kip, please... Just tell me you'll be there for Lily... she doesn't have anyone else... she's going to need you... Promise me you'll take care of my wife, Kip. Please...
And, God help him, Kip had promised.
"I'm sorry, Q," he said now, his gaze again on the floor beneath his bare feet. He felt like an ashamed child under his best friend's disappointed gaze. "I know I haven't watched over her like I should have. It's been about two months since I've checked in with her in person, though I have called her a few times. She always seems fine... It's hard... I don't know what to say to her... how to comfort her..."
Quentin was studying him as he spoke, and the inside of Kip's stomach flip-flopped. He wondered if ghosts had ways of looking inside a person's soul and knowing the truth that was printed there. He wondered if somehow Quentin knew already the things that Kip was keeping to himself, those things he'd kept to himself all along, even when Quentin had been alive. The things he had never told another person.
"I'm sure it's hard for you. I understand more than you think. But I need you to help her because I can't. I've tried going to her like I came to you tonight and she doesn't see me. I guess maybe she's just not ready to see me like this yet; she hasn't really accepted that I'm gone. Look, I've never asked you for anything before, Kip, and I hate to call in favors with anyone, but I'm calling in mine with you now. You have to do this for me. She needs you."
Kip squeezed his eyes shut and hung his head dejectedly. He wished he knew how to make Quentin realize just how impossible what he was asking for was.
"Look man, I know I owe you... God, I wouldn't even be alive today if you hadn't saved my ass that night in San Antonio..." Kip closed his eyes against the memory, but he still saw the arena, smelled the rodeo animals, and felt the earth shaking as the bucking bull spun in circles, mindless of the rider hung up on its back. If it hadn't been for Quentin jumping across that wild animal's back that night and untying the knot of rope that held Kip in place, he would have been ground under the heels of that bull till there was nothing left of him. It had been the last night of both their careers in that dangerous sport. It had been too close, the picture of death too clear. The next day they'd promised one another to get out and they'd kept the promise. And their lives. For a little longer, anyway, in Quentin's case.
Kip shook his head and made himself look at the man who had saved his life. "There's no one else?" he finally asked, knowing better than to hope.
Quentin considered this for a full minute before he answered. "It's not that there's no one else, man. There's no one else I want to ask."
"Why? Because I'm your best friend?"
Quentin nodded. "There's that." He paused for a minute, studying Kip closely, making that topsy turvy feeling start again in Kip stomach. "But even more important than that," he finally said, "I know that you love her."
Kip felt like the air had been sucked out of his lungs. "What?" he croaked.
His best friend since childhood grinned mischievously. "You didn't realize that I knew that, did you, Chief?"
Kip stared at him, his mouth agape, then opening and closed on words that never made it out of his throat. Quent laughed.
"It's all right, Kip. Don't hyperventilate on me. I've known how you feel about Lily all along. I'm not blind you know. I saw it that first time you two met, right before you realized that she had come to that party with me. It was stamped all over your damn face. And then you found out I had seen her first. And you stepped back. And stayed back. You let me have her. And for that I owe you an eternal debt that I will never be able to repay."
"I... I can't believe you... you knew all along?" Kip let out a deep breath and stared at Quentin. "You have no idea how the guilt used to eat me up about how I felt about her."
"I don't know why you'd feel guilty," Quentin shrugged. "You never once acted on your feelings. You could have, and I imagine Lily would have gone with you-or at least she would have been sorely tempted. But you did the honorable thing."
"I wasn't always so honorable in my head," Kip admitted, and was rewarded with a raucous laugh from Quentin. "God, it's good to hear that laugh again," he commented, watching with appreciation as his friend threw back his head and roared with his mirth.
"Look, man," Quentin said when he overcame his laughter. "I'm asking you to take care of Lily because I know you want to, and I know you care about her. There's no one better. You've been like a brother to me my entire life. And I don't want my wife to be alone for the rest of hers. The two of you need each other."
"So, you're giving me permission to pursue Lily," Kip felt the need to clarify. "Your wife."
"Not only that, Chief," Quent added, "but I'm promising you I'll kick your ass for you in the afterlife if you don't."
Kip stared at him for a beat before realizing just how serious he actually was.
"Well, when you put it like that, what other choice do I really have?" he asked with a grin.
They spent the next hour talking about Lily and the things she had been up to since Quent had died that Kip didn't know about it. Apparently, Quentin had been watching over her from above while Kip had been struggling with his guilty conscious, and what he had seen hadn't pleased him.
"She's not taking care of herself, or the farm," he told Kip, exasperation in his voice. "She's stopped her exercise routine, she hardly eats and when she does it's only junk food. She stays up to all hours of the night then sleeps away the day. She's pushed away all of her girlfriends and has taken a leave of absence from work. Every day she gets worse and worse."
"Oh, my God, I had no idea," Kip said. "I'm so sorry I haven't been checking up on her better. I really thought she was okay."
Quent gave him a meaningful look. "It's okay. Just don't let me down again. I need you, here, Chief."
Kip nodded. "Anything else I need to know about?"
His friend shrugged. "It's bad enough her not taking care of herself, but the land's going to hell over there too. She let all of the help go and last year's crops were a wash. I don't think she even plans to plant again this year.
"It also worries me because she rarely goes off of the farm for anything anymore. Used to be I had to practically tie her down to keep her from going to this function or that one in town, but she's like a recluse anymore. She has everything she needs delivered to the house, from her groceries to take out food to movie rentals. It's just not healthy."
"She sounds like a mess."
Quentin shook his head. "I know she's having a hard time, but she needs to start taking better care of herself. You know her cholesterol's high and the way she's eating is going to send it through the roof. She knows better than that. If I were still around, she'd be over my knee in a heartbeat..."
Kip's eyebrows rose. "Huh?" he asked.
Quentin met his gaze. "That's something else you probably ought to know about Lily," he said calmly, as if describing the weather. "We used domestic discipline in our marriage. It was helpful, for both of us, really."
"What are you talking about?" Kip half-growled, his hands clenching instinctively at what he was hearing. Not that he could punch a ghost, after all. Or at least he didn't think he could. "Are you telling me that you hit her? You used to hit Lily?"
"No," Quentin clarified evenly, glancing down at Kip's fists with a wry grin. "But when the situation warranted it, I did paddle her bottom for her."
Kip's mouth fell open. "I... I don't believe I'm hearing this..."
"It's actually a lot more common than you would think, Chief. You go online sometime and do a search on the work spanking and see what you come up with. You might not believe me, but the first time I spanked Lily, it was her idea, not mine. She asked me to do it. At first I was just as blown away and wary of the idea as you obviously are, but as time went on, I saw the benefits to it."
"She asked you... to spank her?" Kip repeated, then watched in obvious disbelief as Quentin nodded solemnly. "What, as foreplay or something?"
His friend's eyes darkened. "Not that it's any of your business, but yes, sometimes it was as foreplay. But the first time, and a lot of other times over the years, it was for punishment for something she had done wrong. Consequences for a poor choice in judgment. The first time she'd had a moment of weakness after a very bad day at work and had given in to the craving for a cigarette when she was trying to quit. She felt so guilty about it afterwards, and she was afraid that after she'd given in once she would continue to do so. So, she asked me to correct her actions with a good spanking. She thought it would help to deter her from smoking again. I never was very good at telling her no, so I did what she asked me to, though she had to really help me along the way that first time." He smiled wistfully, obviously remembering what had happened, memories that he was not about to share with even his best friend, because they were simply too personal and special.
"Did it work for her?" Kip asked, still reeling from this information about the two people he had thought he knew best in his life. "Did she smoke again after that?"
Quent's grin widened with pride at the question. "Actually, no, she didn't. That time it worked. Though, in all honestly, there were some other times when it didn't. And others where I had to give the lesson more than once for it to really sink in."
"And she really wanted this from you? She really asked you for it?"
"She did in the beginning. As time went by, I got better at understanding when she needed that from me. I could read her better and I knew when something wasn't right with her. I could tell when she wasn't being honest with me, or when she was hiding something. I also made up a few rules of my own once we were married. I didn't appreciate her army brat language, so whenever she got really vulgar with her mouth, she got spanked. If she did something dangerous, she didn't take care of herself, or was acting like a brat, I spanked her. Stuff like that. Sometimes she would throw a fit like a fish wife for no reason at all, and I came to realize that was her way of letting me know she needed me to step in and take control for a while. She still confessed things to me later on in our marriage, but usually I had to do the detective work on my own to know when she had gotten herself into trouble."
Kip was shaking his head. "I can't believe what I'm hearing."
"Believe it. I wouldn't tell you all this if it wasn't true, and if it wasn't important. Lily is the same woman, Kip. If you really want to be with her, if you want to love her and take care of her the way I think you do-and the way I'd like you to-then, you need to realize that she's going to need the same thing from you that she needed from me. You're going to have to be able to do that for her when she needs you to."
"I've never spanked anyone in my life!" Kip exclaimed.
Quent shrugged. "Neither had I. So what? There's a first time for everything. And, to tell you the truth, once you get over the fact that her bottom's going to sting for a while and maybe be a little sore to sit on the next day, it can be rather enjoyable to have that writhing little bare backside under your hand, over your lap..." He cleared his throat and swiped a hand through his hair with something like irritation. "Once you've done it a few times I'm sure you'll know what I mean."
"I don't know about this," Kip argued still. "I wouldn't even know where to start."
"Well, obviously you're not going to go charging in there the next time you see her and throw her over your lap for a whipping. Right now all I want you to do is get your butt over there tomorrow and start making a lot more regular visits to her in person. Try to get her out of the house. See if you can get her to start taking better care of herself and the farm. Help her out. In the meantime, I've book marked some websites on your computer for you. Check them out, they should be helpful to you where the spanking thing's concerned. And I'll be around to help you with all of it, too. I'm not just going to leave you hanging after this."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that," Kip admitted. "This is a lot to digest in the middle of the night. Plus, I liked seeing you again, Q, talking to you again. It wasn't fair how you were taken from us so fast like that."
Typical of Quentin, he ignored the last part of what Kip had said. "I don't have any other choice except to check back with you. I can't rest till I know both of you are settled and all right. And I know you too well, Chief. In the morning you're going to wake up and think this was all a dream, even though I'll leave you a couple surprises to make you question otherwise."
Kip smiled crookedly. "Either a dream or I'm losing my mind."
"Or maybe ghosts really do exist. 'Cause here I am, right here in front of your eyes, brother."
As she had every morning since the day Kip had brought her home from the shelter Patch, his white spotted cat, woke him up the following morning by walking all over his chest and purring her heart out to him in a bid for fresh food and company. Kip opened his eyes reluctantly and grimaced as one of her claws dug a little too deeply through the covers over his bare chest.
He smiled at the feline and stroked her back, winking at her as she arched it and rubbed her chin against his palm. He didn't have it in him to be mad at her for waking him up. She was the only female that had frequented his bedroom for a long time now.
He glanced at the alarm clock, which he hadn't had to use since getting Patch, and cursed mentally. He'd overslept, which wasn't like him. But he supposed he shouldn't be surprised given how exhausted he'd been last night.
And then his eyes fell on the lone, grass-stained sneaker lying on the floor near the bed. And for a few brief moments, his sleep addled brain couldn't imagine what it was doing there.
But when he remembered why it was out, a surge of panic hit him.
It was just a dream, he told himself sternly, even as he was jumping out of bed and pounding down the hallway to the spare room he used as both a computer and storage room. I just don't remember taking the shoes out, but I must have at some point, because there is NO such thing as ghosts!
But the computer couldn't boot up fast enough for Kip. And when it finally did, and he clicked on the icon for his online favorites, he let out a low curse that would've gotten his mouth soaped up good when he was a kid.
There had to be thirty new additions on that favorites list. And every single one of them was somehow spanking related. There was Discipline and Desire, Shadowlane, Pablo and Mija's Treehouse, and some newsgroup called soc.sexuality.spanking. There was even a link to a top 100 spanking website site, which only further amazed him because a top 100 implied that there were even more than that in existence.
He was thinking of plugging in a search for the word spanking, as had been suggested to him last night, when he noticed he had new mail too. Half afraid to open it, he clicked on the icon and watched as a message popped up with his own email address as the sender.
Don't wig out on me when you see all this. Just try to go along with it and accept that it was really me that was here last night. And it'll really be me in the future, when I think you need some advice with Lily.
I forgot to tell you two things last night. One, the Fall Harvest Dance is next month. Lily always did love to dance but I always hated it; I hardly ever took her, and if there's one thing I could change looking back now it would've been that. So, ask her to the dance when you see her today. Convince her to go with you.
And B, I know you're going to need more proof of what happened last night. I'm sure right now, you're wondering if you aren't doing all this yourself, losing your mind and adding the bookmarks and sending this email yourself. So the next time you're at Lily's, try to get into my bedroom closet. There's a chest in there, a wooden one. Take a look inside and see if it doesn't support the fact that my visit to you last night was real.
Of course, Kip had been thinking exactly that. That he'd been the one to move the shoes, add the bookmarks on the computer, and write the email. Except that he'd never obsessed about spanking a woman before. So that part didn't fit. And the email was written in Quentin-ese, right down to the 'Chief,' which he'd always called Kip, and to the 'one' and 'B' in the way he'd listed his items. And as long as Kip had known him, Quentin had never signed his full first name; he always just used the Q.
There was one way to find out for sure. If he could get into Quentin's closet and look inside that chest, he might have a more definite answer.
And he'd already made up his mind to go over to Lily's today anyway. Even if the 'visit' he'd had last night had only been a dream, one thing was clear. His conscious couldn't take this anymore. He'd made his best friend a promise to watch over his widow. And he was going to get his butt in gear and do just that. He'd wasted enough time as it was.
And whatever else followed after that he would deal with when the time came around.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
When Mandy meets Quinn Douglas, she thinks he's awful - serious, stern, and hopelessly old- fashioned. She has absolutely no interest in him, but after events throw them together several more times, she changes her mind and they start seeing each other.
Mandy relishes her independence but Quinn, a viscount from a titled Scottish family, is not used to having his authority questioned. Mandy knows nothing about his position or his family, but she does quickly learn that dangerous behavior or a bad attitude won't be tolerated. Being held to account is new for Mandy, who soon learns just how painful a trip over a strong Scotsman's knees for an old-fashioned lesson can be.
Quinn's family is dead-set against the developing relationship, and once Mandy finds out who Quinn really is, she herself has doubts about such a different lifestyle.
Can two people from such opposite backgrounds find a future together?
DISCLAIMER: This book contains elements of domestic discipline and power exchange. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.
Please enjoy this free preview of The Viscount's Lessons:
Chapter 1 - Would it Kill Him to Smile?
Mandy ran up the steps of the museum. She was already fifteen minutes late for her appointment, and she had no idea where she was supposed to find this Mr. Douglas. She'd spoken with him on the phone and had the impression of some dusty old man, so she really wasn't much looking forward to the meeting.
She stopped at the information kiosk and asked directions, then ran breathlessly up some stairs and down a corridor. Near the end of the hall she stopped, read the name on an office, and went in.
"Is Mr. Douglas here?" she asked, trying to sound composed. "I'm Mandy Stuart."
"Miss Stuart, do come in," said a deep voice off to her side. She whirled around and stopped dead. Standing in the doorway of a large office to her right was one of the most handsome men she'd ever seen. He was well over six feet, with full dark hair, piercing dark eyes, and a strong square jaw. He had an athletic body even though she guessed him to be in his mid- to late thirties.
"Mr. Douglas?" she asked, trying to cover her surprise.
"Aye." The word was clipped and wasn't accompanied by a smile. He stood to the side of his door and motioned her in, so she entered the office and waited for him to follow.
"Please sit down," he said, motioning her to a chair in front of his desk. "I'm afraid we won't have much time. I have a three o'clock engagement, so with your tardy arrival, our time will be limited."
Mandy stared at him in disbelief. Could he be any ruder?
"I'm sorry I'm late," she said, smiling at him. "Something's going on outside and they've got several streets blocked off."
Mr. Douglas looked at her evenly and nodded. The young woman sitting across from him was definitely pleasant to look at, with her strawberry-blonde hair and blue eyes that seemed not quite serious. She had the American way of smiling for no reason at all, and even now she looked as if she might start humming at any minute.
"Tell me again what it is you want from me," he said.
"Well, as I told you, I'm an independent writer and often do features for the Houston Times. I'd like to do an article on the visiting exhibit you've brought here, especially because we've had several other articles about Scotland over the last year. Your exhibit on life in nineteenth-century Scotland will have a lot of appeal to many of our readers."
She stopped and took a breath, then continued. "When I spoke to you on the phone last week, I suggested several areas of particular interest we might focus on."
"We've never spoken before," he replied. "It was my father with whom you spoke."
"Oh." Mandy was temporarily taken aback. "Should I be talking with him now instead of with you?"
"He had to return to Edinburgh due to a family emergency, so I shall be handling the exhibit in his place." He noticed the look of hesitation on Mandy's face and added, "Don't worry, I sometimes work with him on these projects. I am fully credentialed to deal with such matters."
Mandy blushed slightly and looked uncomfortable. "I didn't mean to imply that you weren't," she said, looking at his impassive face. He looked like someone Hollywood would cast as the stern master of a nineteenth-century estate. She smiled to herself. Maybe he was well equipped after all to oversee the exhibit.
"Shall we get started then?" came the deep voice. It sounded more like a command than a question, and Mandy hastened to comply. "Of course," she said, getting out her phone to record.
They spent the next thirty minutes with her asking questions and then recording his answers, and it was obvious that he did indeed know a lot about the subject.
"If I could just ask a couple personal questions," Mandy added. "I assume that you yourself are from Scotland. Did you grow up there, and was your family there in the nineteenth century?"
The younger Mr. Douglas studied Mandy a minute before answering, and she had the feeling he somehow found the question objectionable.
"Yes, I grew up there, and yes, my family was there in the nineteenth century," he replied finally. "The Douglas clan is an old one, with roots going far back. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have to end our conversation." As he spoke, he rose from his chair, so Mandy quickly gathered her things together and also rose.
"I really appreciate your taking time to talk to me today," she said, extending her hand to him. She had a big smile on her face.
Mr. Douglas shook her hand and said something polite, but his face remained serious.
"May I call you again if I need to?" asked Mandy, still smiling.
There was really no way Mr. Douglas could decline, so he agreed, and, in truth, he found the idea of being with this attractive young woman again rather agreeable. There was something about her that seemed to bring life and energy into the room.
Mandy spent an hour looking at the exhibit and making notes. She'd come back again with a photographer, but for now, she needed to start writing.
"Oh, my god, Jenny, you can't believe how awful he was! I swear he had a broomstick stuck up his you-know-what." Mandy was sitting with her best friend Jenny having supper in their favorite Irish pub. They were both laughing.
"Well, at least you don't have to work with him. Will you be seeing him again?"
"I'm not sure. I might need to talk to him one more time." She shook her head. "Do you know the whole time I was there he never even smiled? I wonder if he thinks he's supposed to stay in character with the exhibit?"
They both laughed again. Then Jenny suddenly remembered something.
"Are you going to that international party the Chamber of Commerce is putting on this Friday?" she asked. "I know you like to go to those kinds of mixers to see if any interesting ideas pop up."
"I'm going, but I'm surprised you're asking," answered Mandy. "What does it have to do with you?"
"I got stuck being the liaison for our office," Jenny replied. "Marta usually does it, but she's out for maternity leave."
"Then I guess I'll see you there."
Mandy entered the large hall at the Houston Downtown Marriott and looked around. Attendance was good, and there was a general din of overlapping conversations. Around the edges of the room were booths where different international groups had information about their activities as well as about their countries. Mandy got a drink and then wandered from booth to booth, occasionally picking up a brochure or handout.
When she got to the Scottish display, she noticed that a nice flyer was available telling about the visiting museum exhibit. Just as she reached out to pick one up, someone jostled her from the side, making her stumble a bit. Her drink splashed onto her dress, and she bumped into someone behind her rather hard. As if on cue, a hand came from nowhere and steadied her.
"I'm so sorry," she started as she regained her balance and turned around. Then she froze. Oh, no! she said to herself. There she was, looking up at none other than Mr. Douglas from her appointment the other day. It just had to be him she collided with!
His dark eyes were looking at her intently. "No problem," he said as he withdrew his hand from under her arm. "Are you all right now, Miss Stuart?"
"I'm fine, thank you," she said, politely. She gave him a brief smile. "I'm sorry I stepped on you like that. And please, call me Mandy."
Those dark eyes were still looking at her intently. "Quinn," he said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"My name is Quinn." The briefest hint of a smile seemed to pass across his face.
"Sorry. I'm a little slow tonight. Anyway, thank you again. I would have hated to land on the floor." She looked amused at the idea.
"Would you like to sit down while I get you a new drink?" he asked, gesturing towards one of the tables.
Seriously? This might be one of the last people she'd like to sit down with, but she had to admit he was being nice, and she certainly didn't want to offend him since she'd probably need his help again before she was done with her article.
"Sure. Thanks," she heard herself saying. At least she'd have a good story for Jenny tomorrow. She sat down and crossed her legs, then handed her glass to Quinn.
"What are you drinking?" he asked, taking in her long shapely legs. She'd worn a pantsuit to his office, but tonight she was wearing a short dress that revealed much more of her obviously fit body. She looked barely out of college, and he wondered briefly if she was even old enough to be drinking.
"White wine will be fine, thank you."
She watched as he walked towards the bar. He might not be the world's most personable guy, but he was certainly over-endowed with good looks. She guessed him at 6'2 at the least, and those eyes! Maybe when you had eyes like his, you didn't need to talk.
"Here you are," said Quinn, setting a new glass of white wine down in front of her. He had a glass of red for himself as he sat down next to her at the small round table. For a moment neither of them said anything, and Mandy began to suspect this was going to be as bad as she'd feared. Then Quinn sat back in his chair and looked at her.
"Is Houston your home town?" he asked.
"Not originally, but it is now," she answered.
Quinn was always amused at how differently the words "home town" were interpreted on this side of the ocean. For him, a home town was where your roots were, and that didn't change, but here in mobile America, they did.
"I was born in San Antonio, but we moved around a lot. I went to Rice, so then I just stayed here afterwards." She smiled at him and took a drink of her wine, then added, "I like Houston."
"It's an interesting city," Quinn said noncommittally.
"You mentioned Edinburgh in our interview. Is that where you're from?"
"We have a family home near there, yes," he replied.
Mandy thought it was a strange way to word it, but she let it pass. In all honesty, she didn't much care where he came from.
"It's lucky you could drop everything and come look after the exhibit when your father had to go back to Edinburgh," she said, searching for something to talk about.
"I was already here."
Mandy looked surprised. "I thought you lived in Scotland."
"I am from Scotland, but I'm a visiting lecturer here in Houston this year."
"At one of the universities?" asked Mandy. She couldn't quite imagine him holding the interest of a class, although the women might all sign up based solely on his looks.
"At several of them, actually. Rice first invited me, but the University of Houston and TSU have both asked for some time as well. They've kept me quite busy."
"So what exactly are you lecturing on?" asked Mandy, surprised to discover she really was interested in the answer.
"Different things at each school. Scottish history in the seventeenth- to nineteenth centuries, Robert Burns, modern Scottish culture, the differences between English and Scottish life, those types of areas."
"Have you actually studied those things, or is it just because you're Scottish?"
Mandy realized her question sounded a bit rude, and Quinn looked at her strangely before answering.
"I have actually studied such things," he said dryly.
"Sorry. I guess that sounded kind of rude." She giggled, and Quinn looked at her in surprise.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know that much about Scotland," she went on. "When I was looking at the exhibit the other day, it was all new to me. It seemed like Scotland was really different from England in a lot of ways."
Quinn nodded, then added. "If you'd like, I'd be happy to walk around the exhibit with you and answer any questions."
Mandy was startled by the offer and even more startled to hear herself accepting. Had she just gone mad? Why did she keep arranging to spend time with this man? Yes, he was gorgeous, but would it really kill him to smile a few times a day?
They agreed on the next afternoon and said good-bye.
She chose to ignore the small part of her that watched in fascination as Quinn's tall strong body made its way towards the exit. Wait until Jenny hears this! Mandy thought to herself. She's never going to let me live it down.
Monday, March 20, 2017
The Dark Forest Holds #1 in Erotic Fantasy for over 2 Months! And you can read if for #FREE with Kindle Unlimited.
Congratulations to the authors of The Dark Forest which has held #1 in Erotic Fantasy for over 2 Months! All 7 authors have taken a Top 10 in Amazon's author ranks as well. That's quite an accomplishment! Have you read The Dark Forest yet?
#1 BDSM, Fantasy, Horror, Action Adventure, Thriller and Suspense!
The most controversial book of 2017 ~ Carolyn Faulkner
Enjoy seven wicked tales from seven bestselling authors, each more deliciously deviant than the last!
Nothing is as it seems in our dark and twisted fairyland. Princes are not charming and the path to happily ever after is paved with creative punishments and supplication. Do not fret for our fair maidens. These are still fairytales. Love will conquer all in the end.
BEAUTIFULLY PRIMAL A Beauty and the Beast tale by Zoe Blake Beatrice the Beastly will be tamed by no man. Prince Rhys is determined to possess her on his terms. Will she respond to his rough handling or deny them both their destiny? SLEEP, MY BEAUTY A Sleeping Beauty story by Alta Hensley Briar Rose has one choice. Submit or die. But when she meets her trainer, a sadistic and damaged man named Prince, she soon realizes that her choices are not so black and white. In a world cast in an apocalyptic nightmare, is it possible for one woman to find her happily ever after? MR. WOLFFE'S LITTLE RED A Little Red Riding Hood story by Maggie Ryan Regina Redd is a young professional woman during the week... and becomes Little Red when with her Dom/daddy, Drake Wolffe. How will Master Wolffe guide his Little Red through this erotic, intimate journey to push her limits, to learn she can soar so much higher than she ever dreamed?
A Cinderella tale by Tabitha Black
Trapped in a life of endless drudgery, Ella has just one joy; rock god Zainon Matthews. Every night before falling into an exhausted sleep, she wishes he would magically appear and whisk her away to a happily ever after. She has no idea how close she is to getting that wish... or the dark,sadistic desires Zainon will expose her to. THE TOWER A Rapunzel story by Jennifer Bene When one of her father's enemies rips Rebecca 'Rapunzel' Sinclair from The Tower and takes her prisoner she is dropped into a nightmare of pain and pleasure. As her masked captor works to break her down will she be able to face the darkness in her past, and the dangerous desires she's discovering inside herself? NIGHTMARES IN WONDERLAND An Alice in Wonderland tale by Addison Cain When darkness falls, Alice hears the tick-tock of the grandfather clock, and the hosts of Wonderland come out to play. The Hatter has all the power, loves to twist and taunt, and is eager to draw sweet Alice into a never-ending nightmare of degradation and fun. Tea anyone? GOLDI IN CHAINS A Goldilocks story by Maren Smith Breaking into that house was every bit as easy as Goldi had been led to believe. What it wasn't, was empty and shifters (particularly were-bears) were not known to be forgiving. Now, trapped in the terrifying dark of their basement dungeon, Goldi knows she's in for a long night of carefully exacted revenge.
*Publisher's Warning - This anthology is extremely dark, twisted, and will push your comfort level. There are taboo, and high kink level acts, graphic sex, anal play, ménage, age play, and whatever else your darkest mind can think of. Do not buy this book if you are expecting your typical hearts and flowers romance.
Enjoy this free preview of The Dark Forest:
Beautifully Primal Warning
You hear the bark and fear the bite but cannot escape the Beast's dark embrace. Your wild nature calls to his own and demands to be tamed. Resistance will not be tolerated, the Beast will have his way.
A purple mist snaked its way through the deep, dark forest. The malevolent moon cast an ominous glow on the barren earth below. The unsettling scream of a raven could be heard high above the crippled and twisted tree branches.
Her breath came in tortured gasps as her slippered feet slid and tripped along the slick, frozen ground. Reaching out blindly in the darkness, she fell against a tree trunk. The sharp edges of the bark pressing against her soft cheek and the palms of her hands. Heedless of the bite of pain, she withered to the cold ground. Her rich, velvet gown pooling about her like a death shroud. Casting large anxious eyes about, desperate to see through the gloom, she searched the shadows.
Is it gone?
Did she lose it in the mist?
The sickening sound of splintering wood cracked like a whip through the unnaturally silent forest. A heavy thunderous tread rolled closer and closer still. The rattle and crunch of crushed underbrush was punctuated by guttural snorts and grunts.
Forcing her stiff and cold limbs into motion, she grasped the roughened tree trunk, using it to pull herself upright.
She must keep running.
It was getting closer.
Her skirts felt wet and heavy with frosted dew, chilling her fingers as she fisted large swaths high above her ankles. Willing herself on, she ran deeper into the forest.
Her mouth opened on a startled scream as her body was wrenched forward, then ruthlessly back by a heavy weight on her skirt train. Desperately pulling on the fabric, she looked down to see it pinned under one large, black paw.
Screeching in terror, she fell to the ground. Twisting her body till she was on her back, her fingers digging into the frigid dirt as she tried to claw her way backwards. Her feet helplessly kicking through her skirts, trying to dislodge her attacker.
There was a low, feral snarl.
A second paw pressed against her hip. Through the mist, the beast, covered in sleek, ebony fur slowly came into focus, shifting its massive weight to hover over her slight form. The first paw moved, stepping on her thick curls as they fell in waves about her, forcing her to remain prone and still. A thick obsidian mane framed a long, powerful snout and startlingly bright green eyes. It was the beast's eyes which mesmerized her. Captured her. She forgot to scream. Forgot to breathe as she fell under their spell. Filled with almost human emotion, she could read their primal intent.
"Please," she begged.
The beast cocked its head to the side, as if it understood her plea. Its muscles bunched and shifted as it leaned forward on its paws. Its strong chest bearing down on her breasts. Pinning her under its weight, his snout pressing against her neck. The beast was learning her scent. Reflexively, she inhaled. It smelled of moss, cedarwood and honeycomb. Her brow wrinkled, confused. She had expected the sick, acrid scent of blood.
The warmth radiating from the creature's body spread over her own, banishing the night's chill. The silken strands of its mane brushed her cheek as its snout moved downward. Her body trembled with an unnatural response as the tip of the beast's tongue lapped along the ridge of her exposed collarbone. Alarmed, she tried to get away. Rising on her elbows, ignoring the sting of pain as her hair trapped under his paw pulled and tugged.
The beast's mouth opened on a low growl, exposing long, white teeth. The points so thin and sharp they appeared almost opaque. With a whimper, she sank back to the ground, lying helpless under its restraining weight.
Watching its captured prey intently, the beast lowered its snout to trail between her breasts, down her middle. Again, reading an almost human response in the evergreen depths of its eyes, her breath grew ragged and uneven. As its powerful body prowled closer to her hidden core, fear of both it and her own response overcame all else.
Springing upward, she latched onto its mane, filling her small hands with its silken weight. The beast reared back with a roar, pulling her with it. On its hind legs, it towered over her petite frame. Her slippered toes barely skimming the icy peaks of grass that covered the earth. Her body was forced flush against the beast's powerful chest as it dangled, held aloft only by her faltering grip on the beast's fur.
As the beast's head tipped back on a deafening bellow, the ebony fur morphed into red, moth-eaten rags. The sharp teeth became blackened and blunted. Its majestic snout, shortened to a broad, flat nose. The beautiful emerald greens eyes become a colorless, watery gray. His deep-throated roar shifted into a high-pitched cackle.
It was the gypsy woman from the fair two summers ago.
Loosening her grip, she fell to the ground, staring at the shriveled woman in horror.
Pointing one gnarled hand towards her, the gypsy woman, spat out, "I curse you! You, who are arrogant, who hold yourself above all those around you. Your beauty is your curse. You shall only know happiness through pain, will only find love through supplication to the beast. Be forced to yield to the hand of your master or face your destiny alone!"
Beatrice awoke with a start. Her legs tangled in the heavy, velvet bed covers. Her breath visible in the frigid bedchamber. It was a dream, she told herself. Just a dream.
Sleep, My Beauty Warning:
Sleep, my beauties. But when you dream, be warned. You will discover dark taboos, delicious fantasies, and sexual delights you may never want to wake from.
Once upon a time, there were blue skies, and bright sunrays. But today, and any other day from this point on, the ash fell from the sky, casting a thick layer of darkness and despair. I leaned against the open doorway, reached out with my palm, and allowed the grey particles to fall into my hand.
"I have to. There is no other choice," I said in a low voice. I looked over my shoulder at the three women I had grown to love who sat by a low burning fire, and swallowed the large lump in the back of my throat. "I don't want to leave you. But if I don't leave now, they will come and take me anyway, punishing all who try to stop them."
The frailest of the women nodded in understanding. Dear Jane could barely stand nowadays, but still had a strong spirit I admired greatly. "They will come for you regardless, true." The other women, Anna and Ruth, nodded silently in agreement. You could see that it pained them to do so, but these women had always been honest and direct with me since the day they found me and offered shelter in their home.
Word had spread that the Maleficent Army was moving in, and it was a matter of a day, maybe even hours, before they would storm our small village, looting and killing all to get what they wanted.
They wanted women.
They were on the hunt for all the young, beautiful females under the age of twenty-five, by order of the most powerful man left standing on this charred and destroyed earth-Grimm Maleficent. Decades of war, bombs, violent attacks, and a ruthless way of living had left very little of what once was a modern, high-tech society. The thick layer of grey destruction dripped from the atmosphere, casting what was left of civilization into a deep and dark slumber from the life we once lived. The world had changed drastically. People merely survived. Their souls cast in an eternal sleep.
Nothing but simple existence.
Nothing but emotionless breaths purely to meet the basic needs of life.
Nothing but a walking nightmare underneath the doom of suffocating air.
The weak became weaker. The poor even poorer. Very few people of power existed, but the few who remained were the most evil of them all.
Chills ran up my spine at the mere thought of Grimm Maleficent. The tales of a pure monster were enough to have the man feared by all. He and his army had risen from the ashes and had become even stronger with the embers of the world sizzling around him. I knew his army was marching my way, and when they reached my small village consisting of less than ten structures, they would slowly and mercilessly kill all who stood in their way.
I had no choice. I couldn't run. Where would I run to? I couldn't hide. They would find me. I couldn't fight. They would win. And since I was the only woman under the age of twenty-five who resided in Hollow Valley, I needed to surrender without a fight, for the sake of everyone else. It wouldn't be fair to the women, who watched me with tears in their eyes, to attempt to harbor what Maleficent would eventually obtain anyway. They would die trying-I knew this-but I couldn't allow that to happen. I would sacrifice. I had no choice.
"When I think about the things they will do to you," Ruth said as she dabbed the tears in her eyes with a handkerchief that had long lost its stark white color only to be replaced with a dull grey. Grey like the world. "We can't just sit here and do nothing, knowing... well, just knowing."
"Ruth! Hush," Jane scolded. "She doesn't need to be thinking of those awful things right now. We need to help her stay strong. They're coming, and there isn't anything we can do about it."
My shoulders sagged in defeat as I watched the older lady scowl. They knew. I knew. Every single woman who wasn't diseased or maimed-which was rare-would eventually belong to Maleficent. His appetite for sexual pleasures that crossed into a realm of dark erotic horrors were tales that kept any innocent awake with nightmares. Devious kinks, perverse taboos going beyond the most devilish of imaginations. Maleficent was a sadist, and although I really did not know what that truly meant, I did know that it was something to fear.
"It's time, child," Anna said, motioning for me to come sit on the small wooden stool that rested at her feet.
I knew what the woman wanted, and what all the women would want to do as well. It was custom. A tradition. A way to say goodbye but forever mark the person leaving. The people saying goodbye would all leave a lasting farewell. A slice of the skin-a scar forever to remind.
Walking over to the stool, I unbuttoned the top buttons of my tunic while taking the slow but deliberate steps toward the final parting from the only women I knew and cared about. Silently sitting down, with my back facing Anna, I lowered the fabric of my shirt, exposing my shoulder blade fully. From the corner of my eye, I could see Ruth reaching for the only knife in the house. The one we used to carve the dried meat of old wild game carcasses we stumbled on while foraging, or to divide a discovered root into four equal parts for the daily meal. It wasn't the sharpest, but it would do for what its purpose would be today.
Anna held her hand out, and Ruth placed it on her open palm. "As I say goodbye to you forever, I give you the gift of courage." She sliced the knife in a straight line down the flesh of my shoulder, ignoring the hiss of pain that escaped between my clenched teeth. "May you always have it."
Jane pushed her chair over with her feet, grunting as the extra exertion took whatever reserves of energy she had left. She reached for the blade, and sliced another line down my shoulder. "As I say goodbye to you forever, I give you the gift of endurance. May you always have it."
The searing sting from the cuts brought tears to my eyes, but I refused to allow them to fall. The cuts were gifts of love, and I needed to fight the superficial pain and concentrate on the deeper emotion and energy connecting me to the women as they offered the only thing they had of any worth, though not of monetary value. As tradition dictated, the loved ones would offer a trait of theirs that they valued greatly but would be willing to sacrifice to another. This farewell ceremony consisted only of three bloody slices to my flesh, a far cry from what others had endured. As a child, I could remember when villagers would say goodbye to the soldiers, both men and women, leaving for battle, and each remaining person-not able to fight-would mark the back of the departing with the same bloody knife, offering their farewell gift. The sign of a true warrior who had left behind all that they once loved would be a shoulder or back scarred with marks from people who were forced to say goodbye forever.
In this world, everything was forever. The belief of hope had long expired, and no one believed or lived by looking toward the future for a possible good outcome. Hope dissipated right along with the sunrays-nothing but grey, dread, and despair in its place.
Ruth helped Anna out of her seat and to another so that she could sit behind me with the blade. She placed the tip of the metal to my flesh and pressed firmly, barely breaking the skin. "As I say goodbye to you forever," she slowly lowered the knife down the length of my shoulder, "I give you the gift of submission." As Ruth reached the end of the cut, I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling the blood from my wounds drip down the side of my back, running along the grooves of my ribcage. "May you always have it... and understand it fully."
I glanced over my shoulder to stare at the woman, slightly confused as to why she would alter a time honored tradition and ceremony by changing the verse. Although, when I looked into Ruth's eyes, I could see the woman had wanted to offer something extra. It was her final farewell gift, and she simply wanted to give a little bit more.
Raising my tunic-not caring about the bloodstains that would occur-I watched my dirty fingers fiddling with the buttons as an excuse not to look at the women. I didn't want to cry. I didn't want to break down and shake with fear. It was my duty to remain strong. I was no different than all the others who had left before me. Everyone would eventually leave one way or another.
Taking a deep breath, I made my way to the doorway and paused with my back to the women. Without turning to face them, I said, "As I say goodbye to you forever, I give you the gift of memory. May you always have it."
Walking out the door and down the dirt path, I knew it would only be a matter of time until I walked right up to the army to surrender. I didn't know what that meant, or what consequences would occur from such an act, but I had no other choice. I didn't look back once as I crested the hill that would remove any sight of my village behind me.
Never look back. Never look back.
Those were words I told myself time and time again when I had to leave or say goodbye to others. Those were the words I chanted when I walked away from my charred childhood home, knowing that not a single soul but myself had survived. Those were the words I recited as I tried to block out the image of my mother's eyes, closed as if she were only asleep, but while my bloody father stared lifelessly up at me, eyes wide open. One parent looked so peaceful while the other looked so tortured, even in death.
As I trailed up another rolling hill, I concentrated on the cadence of my heartbeat to move my hungry and tired body forward. Beat after beat, I marched, until the sound of the beats grew in intensity. Glancing up toward the horizon, I realized that the sounds were not from me but from the approaching Maleficent army. I had found them, or they had found me.
I stood in place, hoping that zero movement on my behalf would signal to them from a distance that I meant no harm. I would not attack, nor try to run. How one sacrifices to save others, I didn't know. But all I could do now was stand in place and wait.
Luckily, my plan seemed to work as a large caravan of men, both marching and on horseback, approached me. A large, covered, wooden wagon with bars on the windows was being dragged by mules. It slowly made its way behind the soldiers. At a glance, I assumed it was a prison transport of some kind.
"So what do we have here?" a soldier asked as he rode up beside me, gazing down in both fascination and disgust. I knew I wasn't clean, and my tattered clothes reeked of filth, built up over days of no access to fresh water. I had long ago given up looking into a mirror because the ghastly woman who always stared back at me haunted my dreams.
"My name is Briar Rose. I am twenty-four years old and want to surrender myself to the Maleficent army. I come from Hollow Valley and am the only woman of age. Rather than wasting the time of your men to come fetch me, I decided it best to come and meet you instead." I desperately hoped that my attempt to ward the army off with my practiced speech would save my home from any destruction from these brutes.
The man laughed and called out over his shoulder to his men, "This little rat is by far the most foolish woman I have ever encountered. She is here to willingly give herself over to Maleficent."
The men laughed and mumbled their agreements in response, but I stood proud, refusing to let them take away the courage I was just given as a farewell gift.
The leader of the army focused his attention back on me as I willed my body not to shake before him. His stare bored into my skin and seemed to sear my frail bones. He licked his lips slowly as he clearly was considering all his options. "Very well. Since you have decided to make it easier on yourself by not putting up a fight, the least we can do is spare you the pain of one." He motioned for the man driving the mobile prison to dismount and take care of me. "Put this beauty to sleep, and let's get her back to join the others. We still have a few more villages to hit on our way before nightfall."
The man rushed to me and reached for my hand. He grabbed my index finger and flipped it over. He then reached into his pocket, pulled out a small metal syringe, and pricked my finger with the needle before I even had the chance to pull away. A small drop of blood remained. I studied the tiny droplet, confused, trying to figure out why he would have done such a thing. He glared up into my face with a wicked smile as my eyelids grew heavy and my vision blurred. I tried to blink away the menacing fog, but the wave of defenselessness grew in intensity.
The prick of the finger...
Every muscle in my body weakened as the last words I heard faintly in the far off distance were, "Sleep well, beauty."
Saving Ella Warning:
Seduced by his music and drawn to his gaze, she will kneel before him; his to obey. If you tremble and wince at the thought of such blind obedience then this may not be the tale for you. But if the thought of absolute control makes your heart flutter, then turn the page!
"Brace yourself, Ella. You know you deserve this."
Placing her palms flat on the polished oak desk, Ella blew a strand of blonde hair out of her face and bit her lower lip. She knew what would happen next. It was always the same.
"Are you ready?" Nathan continued.
"For God's sake, just get on with it. As much as I know you enjoy dragging this out, I do have work to do," she said-rather snippishly, considering she was bent over a desk with her bared and vulnerable backside pointed forlornly at the ceiling.
"I'm well aware of your chores." Her stepbrother's tone was just as dismissive. "Your failure to complete them all on time is why you're here."
"It's absolutely impossible to complete all those chores on time, and you know that as well as I do," she snapped. "The only reason why I'm given such a ridiculous list every damn day is because your mother," she put extra emphasis on the word, "knows you get some kind of perverse kick out of punishing me this way. And how she loves to indulge her beloved son."
"That's a lie!" Nathan yelled, bringing the wooden paddle down with a resounding crack.
A blaze of pain seared across both Ella's buttocks and she gasped, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the desk harder in order to hold her position. Taking a deep breath, she debated briefly whether or not to keep taunting him. Fuck it.
"Most of those stupid tasks are pointless anyway," she went on. "Ever since we moved into this smaller house, the housework would be easily managed if we split it evenly between everyone. But oh, no... you and your darling sister get to lounge around all day while I have to do everything."
She bit her lip as Nathan brought the paddle down again, the thick wood landing in precisely the same spot, reigniting the burn. Once she'd absorbed the initial sting, she glanced at him over her shoulder. "Tell me, darling brother," she said mockingly, "are you hard now?"
"Shut up!" The third and fourth swats landed in quick succession.
Ella closed her eyes, trying hard to keep her temper in check. It was so unfair. Ever since her father had died, she had become like the household slave, having to do everything for her stepmother, not to mention her step-siblings, Nathan and Anastasia. Every weekend, she watched enviously from her bedroom window as they left the house to go and party, all dressed up in the latest fashions, piling into cars filled with laughing, jubilant friends, while she herself still had endless and mundane housework to do.
I have no life. It's so unfair. Why did Father have to die? Theoretically, now that Ella was over eighteen, she should be able to leave home... but her stepmother, unwilling to lose free slave labor, had made it impossible. The evil woman had confiscated Ella's birth certificate and all other important paperwork, and Ella had never been permitted to learn how to drive-although, of course, her siblings had. With no friends and no social network outside the house, it was quite simple: she had nowhere else to go.
"Then why do you do this?" she panted, once Nathan had planted the fifth paddle swat lower, catching the tops of her thighs. "You could always just tell Mother that you carried out the punishment without actually having done it."
Nathan remained silent.
"You're just too much of a coward to lie," she went on taunting him. "And even though you won't admit it, you're some kind of sick sadist who enjoys paddling his stepsister."
"I swear to fucking God, Ella," Nathan snarled, "if you don't shut up right now, I'll... I'll-"
"You'll what?" She gave a hollow laugh. "Punish me? Send me to bed without any supper?" A great wave of fury consumed her and she used that surge of energy to push herself up off the desk and spin around to face him. "You don't seem to understand," she said, grimly. "There is absolutely nothing you could do to me to make my life worse. I have nothing. I am treated as though I were nothing. I am at your beck and call every hour of the day, and often during the night as well. I'm given impossible tasks purely so you and your evil witch of a mother can exercise your sadistic urges and find 'excuses' to punish me. I have no life!" Her heart pounding, she stared him down, trying to find some trace of humanity or humility in Nathan's eyes, but they were cold. Blank. Uncaring.
"Get back over the table," he said.
"No." She folded her arms over her chest, marveling at her own audacity but realizing at the same time that she had been speaking the truth-she really did have nothing to lose.
"I'll tell Mother."
"Tell her." Ella's backside throbbed and she was aware that she must look ridiculous with her pants and panties around her knees, standing up to a man who was only a year her senior, but at that moment, she didn't care. I've snapped, she thought suddenly. I've finally reached the end of my rope. It was curiously liberating.
"I'll ask you one more time. Get back down, take the remaining swats, and we'll pretend you never had that little outburst."
She had to hand it to him, he was still trying to maintain the façade of having the upper hand, even if he had lost. And, judging by the look in his eyes, he knew it.
"How many more?" she asked, lifting her chin. For some reason, the realization that she had won this little argument was enough for her to back off. For now. Truth be told, Ella was exhausted, and the sooner they got this little scenario over with, the sooner she could finish the remainder of her daily tasks and escape to bed. She had some serious thinking to do.
Nathan hesitated. "Seven."
"Three," she countered.
"Five. Final offer."
She almost smiled. "Fine. Five more." Feigning indifference, she turned once more, bending over the desk. "And hurry up."
The renewed burning, searing pain was an indication that Nathan was trying to make the most of his remaining swats, trying to punish her further for her outburst, but Ella's mind was on other things and she took each and every one without making a sound.
She wasn't sure why it had taken her so long to reach this point, but now she had. And she was going to make some changes in her life.
Nathan tossed the paddle aside without another word, and Ella was equally silent as she pulled up her panties and pants and left the study. Anastasia was hovering near the door, eavesdropping as usual, Ella thought bitterly, but she resolutely ignored her stepsister and marched purposefully up to her little attic bedroom. Once there, she flopped down on the bed, ignoring the dull ache in her buttocks, and looked up at the one thing that gave her life meaning.
Oh, Zainon, why can't you come in on a white charger and rescue me from all this? she thought ruefully, gazing up at the handsome, square jaw, the deep, intense eyes and the shaggy black hair of the man on the poster. Ella had tacked it to the sloping wall in such a way that she was able to see it comfortably when she was lying down.
Zainon Matthews was a musician-no, a rock god. His singles consistently hit the top of the indie charts and he regularly performed to sold out stadiums, with legions of screaming fans all scrambling to get a better look at their idol. He enjoyed the sort of adulation normally reserved for teen popstars; but this was no baby-faced industry puppet. He had real talent, could play several instruments (although no-one could beat him on the guitar) and had a raw, smoky voice which sent shivers down Ella's spine whenever she heard him sing.
In her view, his God-given good looks were just the icing on the cake.
Anastasia and Nathan, both also big fans, had every album he'd ever recorded, and Anastasia had so many posters of him that she'd once, in a rare moment of sisterly sympathy, given one to Ella. Of her two step-siblings, Anastasia was by far the kinder. Unfortunately, she was also timid, and rarely dared to speak out against Nathan or their mother's harsh treatment of Ella.
With a deep sigh, Ella closed her eyes, feeling the familiar ache in her chest at the thought that Zainon Matthews was scheduled to give a concert a mere hour's drive away in just a few days' time. Nathan and Anastasia both had tickets, of course. Ella had tried everything, she had even fallen to her knees and begged her stepmother to be allowed to go, but the bitch had simply given that infuriating smirk of hers.
"If you finish your chores on time," she'd said, looking down her nose at Ella.
"Then I can go?" Ella had been so full of hope she'd been unable to breathe.
"That's what I said."
What she hadn't said was that she would hand Ella a list of tasks so ridiculously long that there was no way she would ever be able to get them done in a month, let alone three days. But Ella was no fool, she'd had a feeling there would be some kind of catch. If not an unmanageable list of things to do, then it would have been something else impossible. There was no way she would ever be allowed to do something as wonderful as attend a concert. She never had before, why should things change?
You could go anyway, a small voice in the back of her head told her. After all, what have you got to lose? What would they do to you afterwards? Beat you? Keep you in the house and force you to work your fingers to the bone from morning till night, seven days a week?
Ella allowed herself a small smile at the irony of it all. But she didn't have any money, no means of transport, nothing to wear and, most important of all, no ticket.
It was all so unfair. Ignoring the dull ache in her bottom, she crossed one long leg over the other, folded her arms behind her head, and stared deeply into Zainon's light gray eyes, willing him to show her a way. One night. One night was all she was asking for. A few measly hours in exchange for a lifetime of servitude and drudgery, one magical experience about which she could dream and fantasize for the rest of her life. Something amazing to cling to while she scrubbed floors, polished windows, pruned plants, washed dishes, mended clothing, and did the thousand and one other things that toiling in her stepmother's house involved.
"Please, Zee," she whispered, reaching out to stroke his chiseled cheek. "Show me a way."
Unfortunately, the day before the concert, Ella still hadn't come any closer to finding a way to get there. Nor had she been able to make any significant progress on that ridiculous, mile-long list she'd been given.
"How are you coming along?" Her stepmother's voice was almost gleeful. "Do you think you'll finish on time? Time's a'ticking."
Ella dropped the sponge she'd been using to wash out the kitchen cupboards and spun around to face the tall, angular woman. "I've been asking you this question for years and you've never given me a decent answer. But I will ask again: why do you enjoy torturing me so?"
Griselda raised an arched eyebrow. "Torturing you, my dear? I cannot fathom what you mean."
"You know exactly what I mean. I bet you don't even have a ticket for me. I bet you're just using this whole thing as yet another way to humiliate-" Her words died in her throat as her stepmother reached into her skirt pocket and produced a slip of paper.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean, dear. Of course I have your ticket. It's right here."
Ella eyed the card suspiciously. "How do I know that's a real ticket?"
Griselda held it out. "You can see for yourself. Uh-uh, don't take it. You will be able to hold this in your grubby little hands once you've completed all the tasks."
Zainon Matthews Live, the ticket said. Ella's heart beat faster at the sight of the delicately embossed words. The date, the time, the location... it all seemed to be real. So close, and yet so far. "Please," she whispered in a strangled voice. "I've never asked you for anything. In all the years since Father died, I've cooked, cleaned, served and waited on you hand and foot. Not just you, but on Nathan and Anastasia as well. Never a single birthday gift, never a kind word in return, but I always still-"
"Always what?" Griselda barked. "Behaved? Did as you were told?" She gave a shrill laugh. "If that were truly the case, would we keep having to punish you? How many times has poor darling Nathan had to take the paddle or the strap to you-to no avail? And as for the ridiculous notion that I've never given you anything... is food and shelter nothing? You have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, enough to eat. You get a damn sight more than you deserve. Even now, you're getting a fair chance to attend this stupid event, although I cannot for the life of me fathom why you-any of you-would want to go. I've heard this... person... sing, and really, what he does cannot be called music. Not by any stretch of the imagination!"
Ella sighed, biting her lower lip as the ticket was once again removed from her sight and tucked back into Griselda's skirt pocket. She was too tired to argue. I might as well face facts... no matter what I do, I won't be able to go. Bitter tears of disappointment threatened to spill over and she swallowed them back past the sudden lump in her throat. "Fine," she said at length. "If you say so, Mother."
"Do not presume to take that tone with me, young lady," Griselda spat. "Else I'll think of some more things to add to that list."
"I don't think that would make any difference." Ella clenched her fists. "Your list as it stands is more than adequate. In fact, I might as well give up now. You know as well as I do that your demands are impossible. Ten people working around the clock couldn't complete those tasks in time for tomorrow evening."
Her stepmother gave a mocking chuckle. "Such a defeatist attitude, dear. So pathetic. Just like your father. I must admit, I was a little irritated when he died so young, leaving you in my care..." she eyed Ella as though she were a cockroach on a plate of food, "but in another way, I suppose it was a blessing of sorts. You have saved me a fortune I would otherwise have had to spend on real servants."
Before Ella could rush at the woman and claw her ugly eyes out, Griselda spun around and flounced out of the kitchen.
"I will never understand what he saw in you, you evil bitch," she muttered under her breath. "Oh, what's the use? I may as well just give up now." She picked up the sponge and flung it against the wall. Then the bucket full of soapy water caught her eye. She had just taken aim when Anastasia's voice startled her.
Ella paused. "Don't what?"
"Don't kick the bucket over. You're only making more work for yourself."
Ella eyed her suspiciously. "Why? What do you care? You don't have to clean it up."
"Well, no, but still..." Anastasia trailed off, emerging slowly from the corner in which she'd been standing, silent as a shadow.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" Ella asked with a huff. "Why do you always stand around in corners, watching, listening? Do you enjoy seeing me suffer?"
"No." The slim girl was fidgeting, her long, dark hair hanging over her face, obscuring her features as always. "No, I don't. I feel bad for you."
"Not bad enough to stick up for me," Ella said bitterly, crossing the room to retrieve the sponge. Then she felt bad. Out of the three members of her family, Anastasia had always been the kindest by far; giving her the poster of Zainon, secretly giving her extra food, and even letting Ella have her old iPod when she'd received a new one for her birthday. It had been loaded with all the music Zainon Matthews had ever recorded, and Ella no longer knew what she'd have done without that single pleasure in her life. "It's all right," she said, catching sight of Anastasia's stricken face. "I know you don't dare."
"You're right, I am a coward. But that doesn't mean I don't feel bad for you."
"I don't need your pity." Ella added more soap to the sponge, then dropped it on the counter with a wet thud. "Ugh, what's the point? I won't be going tomorrow anyway, I may as well stop killing myself."
Anastasia glanced over her shoulder, then moved closer to Ella. "You will be going," she whispered urgently. "I'm going to help you."
"What?" It was some kind of trap, it must be... but even so, she felt a tiny flicker of hope in her breast.
"You heard me. I'm going to help you. We're going to get the ticket from Mom somehow, and you're going to the concert. With me."
"Are you serious? Why?" Ella narrowed her eyes. "What's in it for you? If Mother catches you, you'll be in for it."
Anastasia stole another glance around the kitchen, obviously terrified Griselda or Nathan would emerge at any moment. "Not here," she said. "Meet me in my room in ten minutes. If anyone comes in, I'll say I have mending for you to do. I'll explain there."
Before Ella could reply, her stepsister had slipped away as silently as she had come.
Mr. Wolffe's Little Red Warning:
Be forewarned that within the dark, deep forest lies a cabin. The 'goodies' Little Red has gathered on her way will be used to remind her what happens when a little one is a naughty girl. This book contains the spanking of adult women, elements of age play including anal play, discipline delivered on a bare bottom and elsewhere, BDSM play and power exchange. Step over the threshold of that cabin at your own risk. While this twisted fairy tale is not all sugar and spice, I promise, Regina's very own big bad wolf will have your heart pounding and your panties dampening.
"Finally, something that doesn't look like boring correspondence for a change."
Regina looked up from her desk to see Glenda standing beside the metal cart she pushed around to deliver mail and the occasional package to any one of the employees occupying several floors of the building.
"Hi, Glenda. What do you mean?"
"Just this," Glenda said, plucking something from one of the bins in the cart and waving it in the air. "Isn't it gorgeous?"
And it was. The deep red of the envelope was of a hue that had one thinking of the most beautiful rose, but it was the black wax seal that had been pressed against the flap that had Regina swallowing hard. The color did not bring a bouquet of roses to mind, but instead, had her tummy flipping, her heart pounding, her blood racing and, of course, her buttocks clenching. It took her a moment and hearing a very familiar word to snap her back to the present. Tearing her gaze from the envelope, she interrupted. "Wh... what did you say?"
"I asked whose party you were invited to..."
"No, I mean, what did you say just before that?"
Glenda looked puzzled and then grinned. "Ah, you mean naughty? I was just saying it's a bit naughty. If you ask me..." she looked around so as to reassure herself that no one was listening and leaned a little closer, "that fancy seal actually looks like someone's ass."
Regina could feel her face go hot and prayed the woman thought hearing such a word in a professional environment was the cause of her blush. "I'm sure you're mistaken," she said.
"Hmmm," Glenda said, making it a point to give the back of the envelope a closer inspection. "Nope, pretty sure it's a butt." She giggled and continued, "And, since it is for my dear friend, you can tell me how I can wrangle my own invitation. If the party is anything like that naughty seal, it sounds positively wicked."
Not about to agree to that request, Regina shrugged. "Just drop it on my desk. Mr. Evans needs me to run these notes upstairs."
"What? Aren't you the least bit curious? I mean, come on! How often does anyone get such a sexy piece of mail?"
"It's probably just some invitation to a fancy new restaurant opening," Regina said, standing and gathering a pile of papers she'd been working on, shoving them into folders. "You know how it is. Send the critics and reviewers' minions some sort of coupon for a meal they couldn't possibly afford on their own in hopes that we will persuade the powers that be to give the restaurant or chef a rave review. It happens all the time. Remember that new grill... um, what was the name? Pig Trough? We all got to go eat for free and then we all wound up with food poisoning?"
Glenda's expression of expectation disappeared as she sighed. "I suppose you're right." She dropped the envelope onto Regina's desk, added a few additional pieces of mail and then said, "Hey, a bunch of us are going out tonight. Can you come? It won't be free but the tapas bar won't send you to bed for the entire weekend either."
"Let me get back to you," Regina said, already opening her desk's top drawer and scooping the mail into it. "I've really got to get this stuff upstairs."
"All right, call me later," Glenda said, giving a wave and pushing her cart, disappearing into the warren of cubicles that sat outside Regina's office.
Regina yanked open the drawer, grabbed the red envelope, shoved it beneath some of the folders she held and hurried towards the elevator. Stabbing a button on the panel, she tried to control her thoughts as she watched the numbers change above the doors. She dashed out before the doors were completely open, turned left and, after a quick glance around, opened a heavy steel door. Within minutes, she stepped out onto the roof, taking what seemed like her first breath in the last several minutes. She scurried around several large protrusions housing various equipment that had always reminded her of ugly warts. It didn't help that they were painted a sickly looking green often used as make up for some evil witch. Regina slipped between two and out to her secret spot. Sinking down onto the overturned bucket she used as a chair, she closed her eyes and tried to convince herself that maybe she was wrong. Maybe the envelope really did contain some sort of coupon for a free meal or an invitation to a fancy party.
"What restaurant have you ever heard of that uses an exact likeness of your ass for its logo?" she murmured, opening her eyes to look down at her lap. No... she knew exactly who had sent her the envelope. She was pretty sure it was some sort of invitation but also sure it wasn't for a party... well, not the sort of party where a white, vest-wearing hare was ready to welcome guests down the proverbial rabbit hole. What she was suddenly very afraid to discover was exactly what sort of event she'd been invited to attend.
Placing the folders on the ground beside her, she ran her fingertip across the front where her name was written in beautiful calligraphy. Miss Regina Redd. Not the politically correct Ms.-no, he was far too proper to lower himself to use a title he'd consider inappropriate. One was either a "Miss or a Mrs." There was no in-between. Turning the envelope over, she felt her face heating anew as she gazed at the seal. She could remember the first time he'd shown it to her-her cheeks had flushed then as well. Knowing that he'd actually commissioned an artist to create a tool that, when pressed into hot wax, would replicate the very ass she was currently seated upon, had her finger shaking. Realizing that it was tapping against the seal as if... oh, God, spanking it, she jerked her finger away and with a final, hard swallow, she reached up to remove the antique hair pin helping to secure the mass of her curls in place, the auburn locks sliding down to cover her shoulders like a cape. Slipping the tip of the pin beneath the black wax, she gently lifted. The wax broke free of its hold, allowing the flap to loosen. Regina withdrew the heavy cardstock inside. It too was red, elegant and beautiful and yet, without reading the words, the black script was able to reduce her to a quivering mass of delighted anticipation as well as shuddering despair.
My darling little Red,
You do remember what happens to naughty little girls, don't you? That's right... they are required to make atonement for their naughtiness. When that naughtiness has been exceptional, the requirement moves to an entirely different level. Your attendance is required to discuss the progression from a simple chastisement to a much more, shall we say, involved punishment.
At six o'clock this evening, Mr. Grimm will arrive to escort you to me. You need not pack. Everything you need will be provided.
Prepare your mind to be ready to make your full confession. Prepare your heart to accept your discipline as you follow the instructions you'll be given to begin our little tale.
Any deviations from the rules will have additional consequences and, my naughty girl, as your current list will require a great deal to clear your slate, it would be in your best interest to follow every instruction to the letter.
Until you kneel naked at my feet...
All my love,
Yes, she knew what happened to naughty girls. They were punished... they were punished until they were very, very sorry for making bad choices; choices that she'd known were wrong but had hoped would go undetected. His instruction that she be ready to make a full confession had her mind scrambling, searching for each and every infraction of his rules... or even of his expectations. For some inexplicable reason, knowing she should be shaking in her boots, Regina found herself smiling instead. Her fingertip ran across his signature as if she could transfer her touch to his skin, her own flesh pebbling with tiny bumps as if already sensitizing itself for what she knew was coming. Returning the card back into the envelope, she tucked it into the pocket of her skirt. She'd slipped back into the narrow opening between the two pieces of equipment before remembering the folders. Returning, she bent over and as a sudden gust of wind lifted the back of her skirt, she froze. It was just a flash of memory and yet it was as vivid as if it were presently occurring.
She'd been instructed to bend over, her arms locked around her legs, her cheek pressed to her knees. Her skin had flushed hot with shame when her Master had lowered her panties to her knees, her arousal evident on the gusset, her scent inhaled with each shaky breath she took knowing that the artist was seated behind her, sketching her... well, the portion of her that was totally bare and lifted high. Master W hadn't hesitated to crack his favorite rattan cane across her quivering buttocks, chastising her for her slightest deviation from the required, humiliating position. Every time she saw the seal that had been created after that session, she remembered that day. For if one looked very closely at the impression in the black wax, they'd see not a heart as she'd tried to convince herself it resembled, but a heart-shaped bottom with the fine line depicting the wheal his cane stroke had raised on her right cheek. If that weren't proof enough, the small birthmark at the crest of her left buttock, the one that he claimed meant that she'd never truly had a choice-that it was her fate, her destiny to belong solely to him-was also on the seal. Straightening, her hand reached back, not to rub at a painful welt as that had disappeared long ago, but to rub the spot that if one but lowered her panties the barest fraction of an inch, would show the head of a wolf lifted as if howling its dark depravity to the moon.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. Her mind was empty of all thoughts except the ones trying to anticipate what he had in store for her. She gave a shrill shriek when a weight landed on her shoulder.
"Shit, Reggie, you scared me!"
A hand pressed to her chest, Regina swiveled about in her chair. "I scared you? Glenda, you almost gave me a heart attack!"
Glenda giggled, her face showing absolutely no remorse. "You should thank me. It looked like you were prepared to spend the entire night staring at that computer screen. Since you never called, I came back to see if..."
"Oh my God, what time is it?"
"Five thirty... Hey, where are you going? Aren't you coming with us?"
"I can't. I've got to get home!" Regina said, grabbing her purse from the bottom drawer and standing. "I'll talk to you on Monday."
"If you're sure? Hey, are you going to that party?"
Regina simply gave a wave over her shoulder and instead of waiting with her fellow coworkers at the elevator, she pushed through the door and tore down the stairs. With each flight, she prayed that traffic would cooperate. If not, if she didn't arrive home before six... She didn't need to contemplate the consequences... he'd said any infraction would add more to her atonement.
With a screech of brakes that caused her to jerk forward against the seat belt, she practically ripped the keys from the ignition of her VW Bug and reached for the door handle. With a curse at the lack of freedom, she fumbled with the seat belt catch, yanking it free. Grabbing her purse, she raced down the ramp of the parking garage and around to the front of her building. Her pounding heart leapt in her chest at the sight of a man, standing just inside the glass doors, his hands behind his back, his posture ramrod straight. When their eyes met through the glass, his arm came around and he pointedly looked down at the watch on his wrist. When he looked up, she felt her knees began to shake. His expression matched his name-well, probably his pretend name-but he did look very grim indeed. She never made it into the building as he strode to the doors and pushed through.
"I'm so sorry... there was a jam up on..."
"If you'll come this way?" he asked, his voice as calm as hers was frantic.
"Wait... I need to run up to my..."
"Miss Redd, you need to come with me," he countered as his eyes captured hers. "Unless, of course, you aren't concerned about keeping Mr. Wolffe waiting?"
Oh, she was concerned all right. She was suddenly extremely concerned. Glancing past him, she saw Paul, her doorman watching. "May I please tell Mr. Carter that I won't be home?"
"No need," the man said. "As Mr. Wolffe has already informed you, you need not worry. Everything has been taken care of." He paused and then lifted his hand, gesturing towards the curb where a sleek black sedan waited. "Shall we?"
"Ye... yes, of course," Regina said, managing to give Paul a shaky smile and a little wave before she turned to step in front of the driver, walk the few steps to the car and when he reached to open the door, managed a soft, "Thanks," before she bent to step into the vehicle.
"You are welcome, Miss Redd."
"Um... okay... um... I mean, thank you, Mr. Grimm."
"Remember to fasten your seat belt." With that, he closed the door, the sound causing her to give a little jump.
Geeze, just relax, she told herself. It's not like you are going to your execution. You'll be back in a couple of days. After fastening her seat belt, she remembered Glenda's words. No, she wouldn't be spending the weekend in bed with her tummy aching from food poisoning, but she'd most likely be spending it with her bottom... at the very least... aching from any one of a dozen implements that her love, the man who held her heart in his palm, would be using to exact the atonement he considered due.
Goldi in Chains Warning:
Three vengeful shifters... one thieving burglar caught red-handed... Beware! The following story contains serious caning, bondage, and all the anal and sexual punishment that ought to occur when someone is reckless enough to get caught in a were-bear's dungeon. When too big meets too hot, it's always just right.
She was an independent career woman with a penchant for the seamy underside of life. But then, she was Goldi, and she didn't mind that. She had always walked her own path.
Lockpicks in hand, Goldi moved through the cool forest shadows. The assorted pick sizes jingled as she twirled the ring of them around her finger-flip, catch... flip, catch-and beneath her feet, crisp pine needles and brush twigs crunched softly as she slipped through the trees.
It was a remote house, the directions certainly were right about that. Not a mansion by any means, but far from a hovel and hidden well back amongst the old forest cedars that blended damn near seamlessly with the mossy roof shingles. Shadows cast by overhanging branches seemed to draw one hazy grey curtain over the river-rock walls, while the overgrown trellises of hollyhock and ivy drew another in green. From this distance, what bits of the house she could make out clearly looked more like the face of the mountainous cliffs just beyond it, or perhaps the jumble of some past landslide already grown over with vegetation. If it weren't for the glint of daylight that periodically reflected off a second floor window as she circled the property, she might have walked right past the place without even noticing.
And that would have been a pity, because her caller had promised to pay two grand for this job. Divorce-such a nasty business. Especially when one soon-to-be ex decided to be a dick about how much she really did make and yet was stupid enough to keep records. Not that Goldi was any kind of tender-hearted Robin Hood or Scarlet Pimpernel. Oh no. When she robbed someone, it was all about the money and she certainly didn't give it away once she got it. However, every now and then, it did give her warm, fuzzy feelings to know her impending thievery was about to shaft someone who really, genuinely deserved it. Be they male or female, exes, in her opinion, always deserved it. If they didn't, they'd still be married.
Dressed all in form-fitting black, Goldi circled the house. First from a distance, then cautiously moving in closer, she stayed in the shadows where she'd be harder to spot until she felt confident no one was at home. No thin wisps of smoke snaked from the chimney nor were there lights on inside, not from any of the many windows and most had the curtains wide open. In this day and age, that practically begged for someone to break in. Goldi was too damn good at her job to refuse.
She made one last circle, this time with all of her attention fixed on each avenue of entry. The front door faced a small clearing; she wasn't quite comfortable with the idea of boldly going in through the front. There was a side cellar-style door, half hidden behind a chopping block and enough neatly stacked cords of wood to keep a small village warm for at least six months, but it had a padlock on it. The lower floor windows were all high enough that she'd need something to stand on in order to reach them, but if worse came to worst, she supposed she could climb one of those wood stacks. She'd hold that in reserve for Plan B, since the house did have a back door. Nice and secluded, tucked behind a small porch and two ivy-covered trellises. A simple door latch. No deadbolt. One look at that and she was decided; she was totally a backdoor kind of girl.
Somewhere in the forest, a twig snapped. Goldi froze, but a quick scan of the trees behind her revealed no hint of danger, especially not the two-legged, just-returning-home kind. Still, she hesitated, waiting and listening, her eye following the dip of each breeze-bending fern and the rustle of the brush. Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe it was the source of the noise she was looking for, but less than ten feet from where she had pressed herself to the trunk of a large evergreen, a pinecone suddenly dropped. Tic-toc-tac-it bounced off the thick branches high over her head and all the way down to the ground. This was a forest, she told herself, her wary eyes searching for signs of what had dropped it. Forests had animals. Squirrels and birds and all that shit.
Keep it together, Goldi, she told herself. When she got her phone call later today, she was not about to report she couldn't do the job because she'd let herself get spooked by a bunch of rodents chucking nuts at each other. She forced her attention back to the job.
The house remained still, with no signs of occupation behind any of those open windows. Slipping through the undergrowth, she approached the back door and climbed the steps. The ivy trellises hid her well, although that honestly didn't matter. The house was so remote, she could have done a striptease in the open yard without anyone ever knowing.
Tic-toc-tac! She jumped when another pinecone fell out of the trees, landing within feet of her. She looked up, seeing nothing but tree branches.
Somewhere, in the not quite so distant distance, brushes rustled.
Fucking bunnies, too. That sounded much too big and heavy to be a squirrel.
She fidgeted with the lock picks in her hand, anger growing as she swallowed her unease. Get in, she told herself. Get the finance ledger and get out again, only two grand richer. Eye on the prize, Goldi girl.
Eye on the prize.
The back lock was one of the easiest she'd ever picked, and the most unnecessary. Had she checked latch first, she'd have noticed the door was already unlocked. She tsked, as much at the owners as at herself. "Apparently, some people don't realize how dangerous the world can be."
Apparently, she didn't either. She was just about to go inside when a stick snapped behind her. Flattening into the shadows of the ivy trellis, Goldi peered through the wood slats and leaves. Her heart thumped to a sudden stop. Less than fifteen feet away, a shaggy brown bear was venturing from out behind two giant red cedars. Breathing heavily, nose to the air, it looked right at her.
"Oh shit," she breathed.
She didn't move. Neither did the bear, not for the longest time. In the end, easing herself over the threshold as slowly and as non-threateningly as she could, Goldi slipped into the house and shut the door. She locked it too, although fat lot of good that would do if the bear decided it wanted in. Both hands pressed against the door, she waited for her heart to either re-start or explode. She touched her chest, reassuring herself that it was indeed beating, and by the time she eventually peeked out through the side window, the bear was gone.
"Shit," she said again, craning her neck and leaving face and hand prints on the window that she then had to erase. But no, the bear really was gone. Give her five seconds and the ledger, and she'd be gone too.
Relieved, Goldi assessed the main floor of the house long enough to get her bearings. She was a little surprised, frankly. Although the caller had told her this was the home of a woman, there wasn't a single feminine frippery anywhere in evidence. In fact, the décor was singularly masculine. That didn't make sense. The furniture was blockish, wooden and looked like it had come straight out of a Medieval Dungeons R Us catalog. The dining table was long enough to double as a rack with a fathomless array of ropes and pulleys dangling from the ceiling above it. Of the four chairs arranged around it, one had thick leather straps on each arm and leg, as well as a seat that could be changed out. The one on it right now was perfectly normal, but there were three others stacked neatly against the wall-one with a giant hole in the seat, one with metal bumps and knobs, and one with a rather sizeable and suggestive protuberance positioned where one would have no choice but to sit directly on it. Her pussy underwent an involuntary spasm, though she wasn't at all convinced that was where such a protuberance was intended to go.
To the right, she saw far enough into the kitchen to recognize some of the tools hanging from the over-the-stove utensil rack and on the hooks on the wall were implements that would have been more at home in any gruesome mafia murder scene. To her left in the living room, positioned right in front of the unlit fireplace was a wooden horse. Again, it was blockish, but complete with neck and head and even a long, flowing mane. It was also complete with straps upon its back and at the top and bottom of all four legs.
"What sick bastard lives here?" she was startled enough to say out loud.
A puff of heavy breath was her immediate answer. Goldi jerked back from the door to find a giant black nose pressed up against the window right at face level. The bear was back and it was breathing in the air, picking and discarding through all the many scents until it found hers.
Goldi retreated from that thin pane of glass and only stopped retreating when she accidentally bumped up against the wooden horse. She leapt back from that now too, crashing into the wall where an array of wide to thin leather straps, braided whips, crops and canes were hanging. Two fell from their hooks to the floor. Her skin tingled, not just from where she'd touched the horse, but now feeling every place on her back, hips and buttocks where those now swaying implements had brushed her. Her stomach tightened. Her nerves tangled and twisted together in an odd and uncomfortable... warm but scared... unnerved and yet vaguely aroused sort of way. It moved through her in sinuous, serpentine motions, taking root deep in the pit of her fluttering belly, so low that that she could almost feel it prodding between her legs.
The ledger, she told herself. Get the ledger and get the hell out of this place.
And then she had it, that oh shit moment when for all her alertness and caution, she heard the slow shuffle of heavy footsteps crossing the hardwood floorboards of the room directly above her head. A lesser thief might have forgotten everything and bolted right then; not Goldi, although she did bolt. Out of that interrogation-slash-serial killer-style décor of a living room, down the hall past the corner staircase and into the study. The ledger was exactly where the directions she'd been given had said it would be. A stark black book almost a foot wide, twice that in length and heavy enough to balance out a baker's morning sack of flour-it was lying open on the desk where anybody could steal a gander at the contents.
Normally, Goldi would have been tempted, but now was not the time. Already those shuffling steps had reached the upper-floor staircase and now were coming down the steps. She ducked back out of the study, striving hard to be quiet even knowing she was trapped. With every step she took and every step she heard-it had to be a man; he sounded so heavy; what, did he weigh a ton?; and why did his boots on the stairs make a sound like claws scraping the wood?-she knew she wasn't going to make it out without being seen. For the first time in the whole of her nefarious career, she was caught.
Her heart thundering against her ribs, indecision froze her in the hallway. Huge shadows of movement were growing upon the wall of the corner landing to her right. The snuffling black nose of the bear was still exploring the back door's window straight ahead of her, and to her left, the only door-sized exit left available to her, was the front door.
It was locked. Padlocked, in fact.
From the inside.
Once upon a time, a wise man had told her that the downfall of man was destined to be greed. Another had immediately corrected him, saying that fate would always be caused by a woman. Well, Goldi knew better. They were both wrong. The downfall of man always had and ever would be his or her own morbid curiosity, and certainly she was not immune.
Heavy ledger clutched to her chest, Goldi couldn't save herself from her own awful curiosity. Just as the heavy shuffling footsteps turned the landing corner, she turned far enough to see what was even now staring back at her with beady black eyes. Not a man. No, it was another bear. A huge bear, bigger even than the one starting now to scratch for entrance at the back door.
They stared at one another and, for one horrible, heart-attack-like pause that gripped the interior of her chest, neither moved. Then animal muscle rippled under the dense fur of its pelt and the bear hupped up to stand on its back legs. Stretching out its massive neck, it opened its mouth and brayed the kind of bellow no girl wanted to hear from any creature as big as that or outside the protection of an extremely sturdy bear-proof cage.
She ran, the book still clutched tight to her chest (because if she made it out of this alive, it was still worth two thousand; a girl had to have priorities), and that bear in fast pursuit. It bounded down the stairs, chasing her the length of the hall. Its size was her best ally. When she rounded the corner, it hit the wall and she ducked into the first open door she saw. Slamming it fast between them, she almost fell down the stairs directly behind her before she realized she was trapped in the cellar instead of a closet.
It was very dark down below, but with a glimmer of light that reminded her there was another way out. The double cellar doors she had seen during her reconnaissance outside. Those doors were her way out, especially now that the bear had reached this one. She could hear it snuffling along the crack at the bottom and see the massive shadow of it blocking out the light. This door opened inward. All the bear had to do was shove and the jamb would shatter, and then the beast would be inside. With her.
Goldi fled blindly down the stairs, barely able to see the dim outline of each in the darkness. What she found when she reached the bottom did not make her happy. There were no windows. Her only avenue of escape lay in the cellar doors she'd seen from the outside. She ran to them, pushing and shoving and doing little but rattling the double doors on their very secure hinges. Shit; she'd forgotten they were padlocked.
"Damn it!" She slammed her shoulder against them, trying with all her might to force the doors up and open, but neither budged and the only other exit was currently being investigated by a very large and growling bear.
She turned in a full circle, her eyes gradually adjusting to the gloom enough for her to make out the sparse lines and hard edges of widely spaced furniture and even the dangling cord of a single bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Feeling the way with her feet, she reached for it, hoping the light might help her find another way out. It didn't, but it did help her see her situation more clearly.
This wasn't a cellar. It was a torture chamber and she was standing in the middle of it, mere feet away from some kind of cruel bondage bench. Like the horse upstairs only without the equine neck and head, it had four legs, a padded rail across the top, and multiple rings on all sides by which to affix whoever was stupid enough to get caught in this house.
Right now, that someone was her.
Everywhere she looked, she saw horror after horror. Neatly coiled ropes, straps, manacles, crops, paddles, and even hooks-hooks, hanging from other hooks-dangled off the stone walls. Blindfolds and masks lined the shelves amid more gag varieties than she'd ever known existed. Gags with balls, gags with bits, gags with round metal hook contraptions designed to force a jaw open and keep it that way no matter what.
Another hard thump pulsed through her, an unexpected echo of which landed, centered, and took command of her clit.
Once upon a time, a wise man had told her moments of stress could teach a person a lot about themselves. She had to stop talking to wise men because this wasn't at all something she wanted to learn.
The low, scraping footstep on a hard stone floor.
Goldi looked down at the stones she was rooted to, at her own feet which hadn't moved. Her heart thumped again, her clit hummed, and every fine hair on her body stood up on end as she heard the bellows-like exhale of beastly breath nowhere near far enough behind her.
Her own breath sounded abnormally loud and shaky as Goldi faced the third bear. It was even larger than the other two she had seen, and it was squaring itself against her from the far side of this entirely too small cellar. Facing it now too, she hugged the ledger tight against her.
She was going to die. She was a little surprised that she wasn't more scared. Her legs were shaking. She was clutching the book so tight that the edges of the hard cover bit into the fleshy parts of her fingers, making her knuckles ache and throb. But she didn't scream. The urge was there, choking up the back of her throat at tonsil level, but that was as far as it rose, even when the bear rose to stand. Twenty good feet separated them and it still towered over her, not roaring or growling, or making any noise apart from the heaviness of its breathing. Not moving either, apart from a faint pawing at the air and a twitch of its black nose.
The Tower Warning:
When kings make bad decisions, sometimes it's the princesses who bear the burden. Tortured, tormented, and used for dark purposes, you're in for a ride. Tread lightly, the nightmare doesn't end when Rapunzel leaves The Tower this time.
Rebecca stretched as she walked across the empty apartment, the buzzing voices of the television keeping her company as she settled onto the couch. The shining white tile reflected the images moving across the screen, some sappy sweet romance movie had started while she'd been washing dishes.
Click. Cooking show. Click. Reality show. Click. Commercial. Click. Dad?
The volume was too low to understand the chipper looking woman on the screen, but she turned it up fast. "... to attend. Software magnate Daniel Sinclair is showing his softer side this week as he opens the Sinclair Shelter for Women. While Mr. Sinclair is well known for his contributions to technology, he's not often caught in the public eye, but he appeared today with his daughter Rebecca as they cut the ribbon to open this..." The voice on the screen faded in her ears as she watched the flashes of images. Her father cutting the ribbon, smiling and waving at the cameras, all blond hair and dimples - the perfect CEO. Then they were both waving, his arm around her waist - a picture perfect father and daughter.
Her voice came over the surround sound speakers and she cringed, hating herself for agreeing to that damn interview."Right. My father just wanted to, you know, do something to honor my mother's legacy. I'm really just, uh, glad to be here for it. It's nice."
Nice? You're such a fucking idiot.
The news mercifully switched back to her father, his vibrant voice filling the room for a minute as he walked the camera crew through a tour. The one and only Daniel Sinclair, practically perfect in every way.
Perfectly poised, perfectly dressed, and perfectly happy to spend all his time at the office.
She should have just gone skiing without him, invited a few friends and enjoyed herself - but no matter how childish it seemed, she missed him. Missed the days when it was just the two of them going for a run near the waterfront, or ordering Chinese and watching bad movies.
And how many years had it been since that happened?
'Too many', she answered inside her head.
As Rebecca sulked, taking a large drink of her wine, the reporter appeared in the frame again. "The facility is set to open in the next few weeks, and according to Mr. Sinclair's representatives they are already in active communication with support organizations throughout the city. We can only hope others follow in his footsteps. Back to you, Tom!"
When the news anchors took back over, she slid the volume back down a little and sighed. Tapping her phone, the display revealed 10:17 in bright numbers, and she contemplated texting him. To ask when, or if, he was coming home tonight, but that was ridiculous.
She was twenty-four, not some kid.
She shouldn't even be living at home, hell, she shouldn't be working for her father.
But it makes him happy.
Lying back on the couch, she tilted the wine glass back and forth, watching the pale chardonnay blur the skyline outside the floor to ceiling windows. The night sky was a black hole above the city, not a star in sight with all the light pollution. If she were smart, she'd move somewhere far away, somewhere she could wake up and walk outside without going down forty-two floors in an elevator. Out of the city. Somewhere she could be someone new. Being the daughter, and thus the charmed employee, of the head of Monarch Systems had some benefits - including the beautiful, spacious, two-floor penthouse that took up the top floors of The Tower - but it also meant that she spent her whole life here.
She worked in The Tower, she slept in The Tower, and unless her friends begged her to go out, she never left. And, lately, even that was a rare occurrence.
"You're pathetic," she growled and lifted the wineglass. Empty. With a sigh, she pushed herself off the couch and wandered back into the kitchen to refill. The stack of papers she'd printed out lurked underneath her laptop on the crisp dining table, tempting her to just bury herself in work.
To be just like Daddy.
It was what she'd always wanted. It was one of the few things that made him smile with pride. It was why she'd killed herself to get the business degree and the art history degree. Something she needed and something she loved, but only one of them was ever going to matter. After all, how was she going to shake off the dumb blonde perception of the board if she couldn't speak their language? If she didn't start showing them, she knew how the company was actually fucking doing?
The memory of how she'd looked on the news flashed behind her eyes. The form-fitting royal blue dress, the tasteful jewelry, her long pale hair falling to her waist, that perfect Sinclair smile - she'd looked more like she was trying out for Miss America, not preparing to be the heir to one of the most successful companies on the East Coast. Fuck, she wouldn't even take a girl like that seriously if they said they wanted to run Monarch Systems.
Damn it all.
"Let's just drink until we can't think. How does that sound, Rebecca?" Talking to herself, again, she grabbed the whole bottle of wine and headed back to the couch. Glass refilled, cold and biting as she swallowed, she zoned out on the newscast. Something about a shooting, police looking, blah blah blah. So much chaos in the world, so many angry people. As she took another sip, she heard the click of the door behind her and she smiled to herself.
Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
"Hey Dad," she called over her shoulder. "I want to show you something, come in here before you run off to your office!" Pressing the rewind button on the remote so she could show him the news report, she set the wine down. The stupid DVR went too fast and she had to stop it and fast-forward, cursing under her breath. "They were just talking about the facility on the news. I looked like a complete idiot, but you did great. Hold on, I'll show you. Did Patricia tell you this was airing tonight?"
He didn't answer her, but she clicked pause as soon as the image of the new building filled the screen. Was he on the phone and ignoring her again? Asshole.
Turning to find her father, she caught a dark shape in her vision, too close, and then the sharp pull of someone's fist in her hair made her gasp. Panic flooded her with an overdose of adrenaline and she kicked out, her foot colliding painfully with the coffee table, but she was caught. Her struggles only sent her wine crashing to the floor, and an instant later she was hauled over the back of the couch. Rebecca landed hard on the tile, but the adrenaline was now a live wire in her veins and she made it onto her knees, planning to run, when the hand returned to her hair. Air hissed between her teeth, a whimper rising up as the man tightened his grip and then forced her flat. A knee behind her shoulder blades pinning her painfully against the cold tile.
"Let me go!" she screamed as soon as she caught a breath, her voice breaking, but there was no one to hear her in the empty building. No one is coming. Fight. Reaching back, she dug her nails into gloved hands, trying in vain to tear his grip free. A growl rumbled above her just before he cracked her forehead against the floor. Pain flashed like a firework behind her eyes, turning her stomach while she tried to protect her face. Her ears were ringing, and for a moment she was so stunned that she didn't notice the jerking motions at her waist until she felt the cool tile on her lower belly.
Oh God, he was taking off her pants.
"NO!" Rebecca tried to push up from the tile, but he moved instantly and dropped his knee into her back again, crushing her until her ribs creaked. He was so heavy, too strong, and her fingers slid over the smooth tile finding no traction. Tears blurred her eyes as she whimpered, the sensation of his gloves brushing her thighs as he pushed the soft pajamas down making his motives all too clear.
This couldn't be happening. There was no way this was happening.
It was a nightmare.
Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
When he grabbed for her ankle to pull off the pants, she kicked her legs, and his knee dug harder into her back, pain radiating up her spine as it became almost impossible to breathe. "You want to fight me?" The rough voice preceded a hard spank across her ass, and then there was another, and another. Merciless, hot, and stinging. "Go on then. Let's see what you can do. Try and run, whore."
With a sharp tug, her pants were free of her legs, but then he was off her. Rebecca ripped air into her lungs, her ribs aching as she eased up onto her elbows. When he didn't grab for her, she lunged forward, scrambling to her feet to run for the security system by the front door.
She needed to hit the panic button so someone would come. So someone would know what was happening. Six-minute response time, she could make it six minutes.
Wait, why hadn't it gone off?
The red light was blinking on the front of the security panel, glowing confidently as if it were still armed, and she was barely five feet away when the full weight of the man slammed into her. The hard hit sent them both to the floor, bruising her knees as she caught herself on her hands. No! His arm wrapped across her throat, blood pounding behind her eyes as he began dragging her backwards-away from the panic button, away from the front door, away from escape. "That was pathetic," he hissed against her ear. "All of you rich bitches are the same."
She couldn't breathe, her lungs burning as she tried to claw at him, but his long sleeves were tucked into the gloves. Fight, dammit! She had to fight. Reaching behind out of desperation, she went for his eyes. Cloth. A mask. Before she could find the eyeholes he yanked his head back, and his grip on her throat tightened further, an oppressive blackness starting to creep in from the edges, her hearing fading like she was moving down a long tunnel.
No. No. No. No.
He twisted her suddenly and she found herself bent over the back of the couch with a fist in her long hair. For a moment she didn't even care as air returned to her once again, her lungs starving for it, but then his knees were spreading her thighs. Rebecca choked on her first attempt to scream, reaching back to try and push him away.
"Stop! Don't! Please, don't," she begged hoarsely as she tried uselessly to bring her legs together.
"Shut up, or I'm going to hurt you." The harsh voice came again, and she froze as she felt the sharp metal of a knife trace over her waist. Shivers made her muscles jump involuntarily, fear plucking away inside as the slow scratch of the blade kept her still. With a nudge, he spread her further.
"I said shut up." There was a tug at the edge of her underwear, his fingers stretching the fabric, and then the tension gave way as he cut them off her. Tears burned her eyes, her heart still racing as she tried to catch her breath. Then she felt the draft of air between her thighs, cooling the wetness already gathered there.
Why? Why was she wet?
"Don't do this, you don't have to do this." A hard jerk at the hold he had on her hair silenced her, and then she heard the sound of his zipper. "Please!" She whimpered the word, but he ignored the plea as he pushed her legs wide.
Nightmares in Wonderland Warning:
How deep into the woods are you willing to stroll? For the story ahead is truly dark and twisted. The horrors of thorny thickets and poisonous swamps await. You've been warned.
This is where the romance ends and the nightmares begin.
Every childhood memory, every last horror over the years held one object in common: a stuffed white rabbit. Since I was a baby, the snowy toy sat on a shelf above my reach, high atop the nursery's sprigged walls. I had many playthingsI was not allowed to touch lining that shelf, the china faces of dolls with golden ringlets like mine in plenty. My mother was the one who told me to only look, never touch-that like me, these dolls were expected to remain immaculate and beautiful.
There were other rules: I was not permitted to muss my frock and pinafore, nor was I ever allowed to touch my hair. I was to be always clean, starched, crimped, and expressionless-my overlarge blue eyes lowered in a demure position should someone address me. It was never phrased so bluntly, but even as a small child I understood that, like the jewels of my nursery, my purpose was to serve as a pretty item for others to enjoy.
Often, I was put on display.
When Mama and Papa would throw their soirees, our house would transform into a fairyland-flowers, exotic foods, extra staff bustling about our London brownstone. After dark, the magic of music would seep upstairs, above the crowds of gentlemen in their dress coats and ladies stuffed in taffeta and ribbons. My nanny would spend the entire day preparing me to be seen for five minutes. In my fresh dress, scratchy lace at my throat and at the cuffs of my sleeves, she'd take my hand and lead me down the twisting staircase to where my proud parents waited.
If it were near Christmas or my birthday, before the crowds of Papa's friends, all eyes on me, Mother would give me a new doll to add to the collection on the shelf. Like clockwork, my arms would reach out and the new toy lain upon them. Always I would thank her for her generosity, tuck the doll carefully under my arm, and then to be sent right back upstairs.
The doll with its cold china face would be taken from me the moment I was restored to my nursery, placed upon the shelf with its myriad counterparts. I never minded the loss of the bauble. My favorite toys were my miniature porcelain tea set and the worn rocking horse at the foot of my bed.
Though I'd smiled as expected when my mother handed me the cursed thing, truth was the dolls' fixed expressions frightened me... all thanks to the rabbit nestled in their ranks.
Everything goes back to that rabbit.
I could not tell you how long it had been up there, who had given it to me... I could tell you nothing about it.
But I could tell you this: the dolls with their dead stares could be ignored. I could pretend they were not there. The same could not be said of that stuffed rabbit. Black glass eyes followed me wherever I played, when I napped, dressed, did my toilette. I was always watched... and there was no getting rid of it. One autumn morning, I had finally found the courage to climb atop my bureau and reach for the cursed thing. I threw it in the fire before my nanny might notice, and I watched it burn.
That afternoon, I had felt whole. I had not been afraid of the glass eyes or what they would bring when the house was asleep.
But, when I had returned to my nursery after the daily, elegant tea with my parents, my short-lived bravery died. In fact, I think a part of me died, sank right out from my toes and into the floorboards.
The rabbit was back, on the shelf innocently sitting, tucked between the dolls that looked like me. The white of its fur was pristine. There was no soot or rips. The glass eyes had not melted, they shone under the lamplight, glowering at me in judgment.
One look at the thing, and I had screamed my head off. My nanny had come running, and in the end, I'd earned a whipping for my noise. Like all good children, I was to be seen and never heard.
For the hundredth time, I'd begged her to take the white rabbit away.
My pleas fell on deaf ears.
Every few years, months, weeks, I don't know... I never slept, recalling time was a difficulty for me... I would again try to make my move against the rabbit. I had thrown it out my window and into the street to be run over by carriages and made dirty by the dust and shuffling of strangers. Other times, I had hidden it someplace else in the house: locked it in cabinets, buried it in the attic, set it upon the bed in the maid's room. The rabbit always came back.
I don't know why. I never know the why of anything.
Night after night that rabbit would infect my little nursery with evil. Tucked into my bed, alone, the house would be soundless save the ticking of the grandfather clock downstairs. The growing noise of that clock was the herald of trouble: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, louder and louder. No breaking storm could have roared through the house as furiously as that screaming timepiece.
Covers to my chin, my wide blue eyes would dart to and fro. Though the noise was wretched, I longed for it to continue into forever. I would rather feel it vibrate through my bones than face what came next. Because that cranking cog of noise would end abruptly, sometimes after hours, sometimes after just a few short moments. Then I would be trapped in deafening silence, with only the sound of blood racing through my ears to warn me danger had arrived.
Silence was unsafe. The dark was a living thing, monstrous. The thin slice of moonlight cutting through the curtains offering no succor. Casting the shape of my window's panes against the papered wall, that scant light illuminated a single horrid thing. If I let my gaze stray, peeked just a little to the right, I would see something that should not be.
The rabbit's stitched head had turned, those flat glass eyes staring right at me. And then they would come.
The first time I'd seen her grace my nursery, I had been very little-so young that I could not tell you what my age might have been. The apparition was naked, slender-a young woman, shoulders hunched forward in the shadows. Long hair, tangled and matted, hung messy to her waist. Every bit of her bared body was covered in wet blood. Before her, she'd rub her slippery hands together while pacing, back and forth, a terrible clicking coming from her throat.
One sight of her, and I had wet the bed.
Hours stretched by, her dark eyes shining behind the wet tangles of blood drenched hair, watching me, waiting. The monster's prowl endless, I cowered in sodden covers, tracking her every movement.
In my heart I knew that to place even a toe from that bed, to consider running for my nanny, would be the end of me. I didn't dare breathe. I knew that naked, bloody woman wanted badly to hurt me.
At daybreak, when my nanny arrived to prepare me for the day, she scolded me soundly for dirtying the sheets. I was marched in my soiled nightdress before my parents, intruding upon their private breakfast so that they too might echo the castigations of my nanny.
I had tried to tell them that there had been someone in my room. I tried to make them hear me. My father had scowled, his waxed mustache twitching.
Tantrums and melodramatics were not to be tolerated. I had earned myself a spanking and a day locked away in my room, made to lie on the same wet bed, where every time I closed my eyes, I was certain bloody hands would slip from some dark corner to strangle me.
Even after a sleepless night, even with the safety of the sun bright in the room, I could not find rest. It was too wet and cold, my blankets smelled, and I was ashamed of myself.
It was not until almost dark that the maid came to change my sheets and dress me in a clean gown for sleeping.
She should not have bothered.
The tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, of the grandfather clock crashed through the house so loud, so very loud I was certain the whole city must have heard that drumming.
Before I was fully prepared, before my childish prayers to Jesus were done, all went quiet.
Swallowing, I cut a glance where I should never have looked. Up high on the shelf, moonlight showing the perfect white fur, the rabbit had once again turned its head to watch me.
The woman was coming back, I knew it. She was coming and she'd figured out how to get me.
But then there was no wet slap of her sodden feet on the floor. No chesty, clicking breaths.
All was quiet and I began to breathe easy. It had just been a bad dream; the rabbit must always have been facing my direction. My papa was right; I was just a silly little girl full of nonsense.
I was so very wrong.
There were worse things than the bloody woman. In the silence, I heard a pair of soft, childish giggles. Spider-like hands crept up the side of my bed, fisting my covers.
Something was under my bed!
With a terrible yank, my blankets began to be dragged under the mattress, the childish laughter growing mean. I tried to make a grab for my only defense, but whatever was hidden beneath me was so much stronger. In vain, I toppled to the floor. Before I might clamber back up, hands shot out from the dark space under my bed, encircled my ankles, and yanked my little body across the floor.
Next thing I knew I was stuffed under my bed, prodded and scratched by the unseen nightmare.
Unlike the evening before when I had kept silent, doing my best not to draw the red woman's attention, I screamed. No one heard, no one came to save me. Scrambling to claw my way free, I fought and I kicked. My gown was ripped, white ruffles torn right off. I got myself to the nursery corner. Pressed my boney shoulders into the tasteful wallpaper and stared around the room, knees knocking together.
My arms smarted, my legs-I had been scratched so badly there were bleeding cuts all over me.
Then I saw them.
The first one leapt upon my bed and began jumping. The other took my sheet, threw it over his head, and ran about the room like a shrouded ghost. Two little boys... they were just two little half-dressed, emaciated boys.
Chortling as he bounded up and down on my mattress, the cruel-eyed waif grinned at me. His teeth had been filed into points, sharp and sinister. Looking at my wrist, I could see the bite marks those teeth had left behind-little puncture wounds that did not bleed much, but stung so badly my eyes watered.
His cohort was exactly the same.
The remainder of the night I spent pressed back against that corner. Sometimes I think the demented pair forgot I was there, or they had grown bored of me. They would play their vicious games; if one grew angry with his companion the play would grow violent. Turning their claws and teeth on one another, the scamps crashed about my room-knocking toys from shelves, breaking things.
When they would pull apart from their fighting, they turned their beady-eyed stare at me.
Snarls turned to giggles. In seeing my terror, the boys had found a new game to play. Trying to trick me, the pair of them worked in unison to sneak, to make a grab at my hands or feet, to drag me back screaming under the bed. My knees were bruised, elbows too, from all the times I had fallen trying to break free and hide from the pair of devils.
They were more cunning than one tired little girl.
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