I jerked awake, arms and legs tangled in the sheet and comforter, my pillows in a heap on the floor. What happened? What did he say?
Where am I? Oh no, not again. Not another nightmare, another shadow on my day.
If I were wearing a red-bordered name tag, it would read, “Hello! My name is Charlotte Angstrom Eddy McAntic.” At school, I enrolled with my given name, but I changed it to Charli when I was a preteen. Now I answered to hon, Mom, Auntie, “Where are you?” or “Help!”
When I was a teenager, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, my friends and I were convinced that we wouldn’t live, or didn’t want to live, past the age of thirty. But of course I did survive to cross that infamous, untrustworthy threshold. I spent my thirties, forties, and even my fifties in peace and harmony aligning marriage, mortgage, careers, and children.
I married Pud, a no-nonsense, hardworking, establishment-type guy. Somewhat surprisingly, based on his serious, no-frills demeanor, he parlayed a math degree into an exciting career supporting open-wheel auto racing. I started out as a free spirit, and I ended up taking the more traditional route. I earned a law degree, focused on contracts, and then dedicated myself to my favorite jobs—wife and mother. Our two boys were young adults now, almost launched, although still within the orbit of Planet Home.
Thanks to love, the stars, and a little help from my friends, the seasons gently went round and round.
So why was I having bad dreams?
I aimed to be joyful. Most of my screen names and usernames contained some form of the word joy to remind me every day to be a positive person. I believed that something wonderful was always around the next corner. From a first grader who daydreamed during reading circle and then discovered an exciting game on the playground to a shy teen who bought an ice-cream cone and then flirted for the first time with the guy behind the counter, I always knew that something thrilling would be around the next turn.
But now, my husband was newly retired, and some of my home responsibilities had eased up, as well. Yet my personal positivity was challenged. Was there really something amazing ahead for us at this point in our lives? I didn’t even know how many miles or corners remained for us, let alone thrills.
Pud and I had been in harness for over thirty years, creating a home, raising a family, being responsible. After all that, I had to admit that I was bewildered by the way Pud and I were getting along now. Not only was Pud leaving me and heading to the golf course morning, afternoon, and early evening; even when he was at home, he was quiet and withdrawn. We didn’t talk very much, and I didn’t feel close to him. When he was away at the golf course, I was lonely. When he was home, I was even lonelier.
We seemed to be at a distance from each other. We were like people passing each other on a walk, smiling politely and saying nothing beyond “Hi” or like acquaintances waving across a busy restaurant. We were cordial but not close—and certainly not husband-and-wife close anymore.
Who was this stranger in my house? I suppose when Pud worked and I was more involved with my home and children, we had grown used to going our different ways. Pud traveled so much for his job that we literally were physically apart for much of the time. Had we also separated emotionally through the years?
I had high hopes that when Pud retired, we would have fun together. But what exactly should we do? Just take it easy and binge watch multiple TV seasons? Or have contests to see who could read the smallest print without reading glasses, or who could count his or her pills into the plastic compartments faster?
I didn’t seriously expect that we would spend dreamy hours of bliss in twin hot tubs sighing at the ocean view like in the TV commercials, but I did crave some romance now that we had time together after the busy years. I yearned to hold hands as we smiled and looked deeply into each other’s eyes. I desired to lovingly stroll together into our golden years. Pud was strolling, all right—hand in hand with a golf club.
Part of me understood that the guy had worked hard his whole life and certainly deserved the opportunity to indulge his golf passion, and I could even go so far as to say that I was glad he had something interesting to do and wasn’t just hanging around the house with the retirement blues. Truth be told, we lived on a golf course, so I had to expect some golf. But the other part of me wasn’t expecting golf to be a new forty-hour-a-week job.
The men’s league was on Tuesday; Wednesday was a men’s group at another course in town; Thursday, Pud and his buddies traveled to different courses around the state; and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were mandatory golf days. What about me? What was I supposed to do? Sit on a bench at the clubhouse and wave as he made the turn?
Some of our friends assumed that I golfed and that I enjoyed golfing with Pud. Wrong on both counts. We attempted to hit the links together early in our marriage, but I was too much of a type A personality and competitive. Pud was just as type A as I was, and when I had trouble learning the game, he became an impatient teacher. I was his frustrated student. Pud was a scratch golfer and relished the competition with his male buddies. I gave up and decided that I had better things to do than spend four hours on a Saturday afternoon on a good walk spoiled.
It was time for me to get up, but the dream had left my thoughts swirling and careening like an out-of-control carousel. Carousel? Oh, that was part of my bad dream too. There was something about clowns leaning from carnival horses and waving signs as they went round and round. What had the signs said? Pud, stay home! You can’t make him stay home! What should I do? I needed to catch the brass ring of blissful married retirement. Charlotte! You need to stop tormenting yourself. Take a deep breath, and think calmly.
Charlotte McAntic spent her thirties, forties, and even fifties in peace and harmony aligning her marriage, mortgage, careers, and children. As she stumbles into a new phase of life—also known as the Golden Years—Charli cannot help but wonder where the gold and her husband, Pud, are hiding.
Pud is happily
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I was in an accident right after high school. The Saturday after graduation, my best friend Clarissa was driving us to an end of school year party at a classmate’s house. We never made it. I don’t know what caused the accident. I was in a coma for over a month. When I woke up my parents were the first faces I saw. I was so out of it. At first I was disoriented and confused. I didn’t know where I was or how I ended up there. No one would tell me anything. I wasn’t allowed to watch television or listen to the radio. I guess they didn’t want to overexert me and send me into panic mode. I remained in the hospital for a week after I woke. The doctors put me through a series of extensive tests during the week. Physically I was fine with the exception of a few scars from cuts and bruises caused by the accident. Mentally...I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. When I was released and my parents took me home. That’s when they decided it was time I learned what happened; or at least what they knew from the accident reports. I sat quietly and stunned listening to them recount the events that happened after the accident. The reports said our car was found off a curve down in a ravine. There was no indication of foul play and our blood alcohol levels were clean. They couldn’t conclusively say what exactly could have caused it. I was found unconscious and immediately taken to the hospital. Clarissa was pronounced dead at the scene.
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Destiny knows no boundaries in this explosive, epic space adventure of honor and deceit, love and loss and high-stakes battles with vicious foes. Will Aric save his home planet's people, who wait in peril for the young king to return and claim the empty throne? Will Jade prove to his people that she's worthy to be their royal queen?
QUEEN OF CEREN is April M. Reign's third futuristic science fiction romance novel in the Human Alien Species Hybrid (HASH) series.
While blizzards raged across the Northern Hemisphere, tourists donned sunglasses, sandals, and garish T-shirts to confront a sultry January day in Barbados. The fierce sun seared virgin white skin and waves of heat rippled off the pavement.
Swarming the dock like ants attacking a crumb of sugar cookie, crew and passengers disembarked from three cruise ships docked in the deep-water harbor. Two of the ships, the Aurora and the Polaris belonged to Constellation Cruise Lines. The uniformed crew—wearing caps with bold blue and red CCL insignia and short-sleeved cotton shirts tucked into crisp white shorts—patiently directed passengers through the congested terminal.
Metal stairs rattled, supply carts clanked, and a loudspeaker crackled messages over the din of the crowd. Caribbean music pierced the discord. A string band twisted the melody of an old ballad into a lazy calypso beat punctuated by the mellow timpani of a steel drum. Five black musicians swayed and twisted through the throng keeping step with their own music—a Caribbean-style marching band. Frayed straw hats bobbed in time to the rhythm. Red, orange, and purple flowered shirts undulated over boxy green shorts and dirty white tennis shoes as the musicians played homemade instruments fashioned from lead pipes, coconut shells, scrap lumber, and tin. Electronic flashes burst from the crowd of tourists who diligently recorded the scene with cameras.
A man wearing a dark turtleneck shirt under a long-sleeved white service coat scowled at the crowd. Hefting a CCL tote bag the agile man maneuvered through the horde of bewildered tourists and slipped down a vacant corridor. Hesitating for a heartbeat he scanned the empty hallway, inserted a key into the door, and slipped inside.
The sign on the door read: “Quarantined Area, No Admittance,” but no alarm bells blared, no security guards charged in to make an arrest. The intruder turned on the lights and opened his tote bag. He removed a pair of surgical gloves, a cotton swab taped to a long stick, and a small black manicure case. A cricket chirped, a tree-frog trilled, and leaves rustled as lizards scuttled from sight. Forest sounds seemed incongruous in a room full of stainless steel equipment, wire cages, and glass enclosures plastered with large red labels proclaiming “Danger” in several languages.
Snapping surgical gloves onto sweaty hands, he cautiously pried open the lid of a small terrarium, inserted the cotton swab, and stroked the skin of the tiny frog. Startled, the frog vaulted toward the open lid. The stranger jerked back and dropped the cotton swab into the glass cage.
The two-inch reptile clutched the edge of the glass with sticky, bulbous toes and peeked through the opening. It looked harmless, strangely beautiful with iridescent yellow stripes down a navy blue hide, except for the deadly toxin coating its skin. One touch could kill a man as surely as a cobra’s bite.
As the diminutive creature squeezed through the glass lid, the intruder retreated to a safe distance. The frog jumped, landing near his shoe. Screaming, he scrambled to avoid the dangerous reptile, plastic soles squeaking against the slick floor, and crashed into a cart full of metal trays that clanged to the floor. The frog vanished. Holding his breath, the man stepped in circles, searching. He spotted the quivering reptile—a patch of glowing color in the dark shadow of a table—and exhaled a sigh of pent up breath.
Heart pounding, he fished out the cotton swab, unzipped the manicure kit, and extracted two glass vials, a white plastic toothpick, and a pair of tweezers. Eyeing the frog, he rubbed the moist swab over the toothpick and the tweezers, slipping each into a glass vial.
Storing the vials in the manicure kit, he noticed a sticky smear on his jacket sleeve just inches from bare skin. A similar smudge the size of the frog marred the glass terrarium. Cursing, he threw the swab to the floor and stripped off gloves and coat. Folding the tainted sleeve to the inside of the jacket, he wiped a trickle of sweat with a trembling hand. Turning off the lights, he fled.
No one noticed a man wearing a dark turtleneck shove a white bundle into the dockside trash bin. He joined a group of tourists who climbed the gangway to the Aurora.
The laboratory remained quiet for an hour. When the door clanged open, the tiny reptile retreated to safety behind a table leg.
Hubert flipped on the light switch singing, “Every liddle ting goin’ ta be ah—all right.” He wagged his head to the rhythm of his own song as he dragged a sloshing orange bucket on wheels into the laboratory. Glaring fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed overhead.
He abruptly stopped singing and surveyed the room warily. “Hello! Who’s been makin’ such a mess?”
A marshy scent of rotting wood and leaves wafted from a nearby enclosure. Inside a miniature dinosaur shifted its head to peer at him with an eerie gaze.
“It’s a good job I’m not de bloke cleaning your cage, mister,” he said and skirted past the reptile.
“Wonder how des trays get spilt over de floor. Nobody was working las’ night.” After stacking trays onto the proper cart, he bent and picked up a cotton swab from the floor. “Dis looks mighty strange. Dem science blokes don’t toss trash ’round like dis.” He fingered the sticky substance at the end of the swab. His skin tingled and heat flashed up his arm, sweat stung his face. He swiped his forehead with a meaty brown hand. “What in de world...” Eyes widening, he clutched his throat and gagged.
Scrambling for the door, Hubert tripped over the orange bucket and sprawled on the floor. Legs twitched. Fingers jerked. Soapy water sloshed across the checkerboard linoleum, soaking Hubert’s body and seeping into the shadows. The frog climbed up the table leg, its beady black eyes watching the large man die.
That evening Bajan radio spread the news over the airwaves: “A terrible accident resulting in death at the Port Authority occurred today when a janitor touched a lethal Poison Dart Frog. The frog, which escaped from a shipment earmarked for the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, was subsequently captured. Discovery of the body occurred when a lab technician entered the facility to perform afternoon feeding duties. Public release of the identity of the deceased was withheld pending notification of family members. The Port Authority promised a full investigation.”
When Charli and her husband, Pud, enter retirement, Charli mistakenly believes that paradise is just around the corner. Unfortunately, instead of spending their days soaking in matching hot tubs and admiring each other’s wrinkles, Pud lives on the links and Charli cleans out the basement. Still, they press on, eventually becoming closer while bonding with young relatives through a love of fine dining. Now the couple faces new and weighty challenges.
Charli and Pud’s days are filled with more excitement than AARP discounts and Lawrence Welk reruns—and more calories than they ever imagined. Realizing they are out of shape and slipping mentally, Charli and Pud check their BMIs and immediately decide they need to change their ways. With a goal of becoming healthy sooner than later, the couple embarks on a roller-coaster ride through calorie counting, label reading, and laborious exercising. But when Pud begins making mysterious phone calls and acting strangely, Charli cannot help but wonder if more problems are lurking around the corner.
The Golden Age of Charli continues the delightful tale of the energetic, friendly, and positive McAntics as they cruise through their retirement years and discover the consequences of too much of a good thing.
“I don’t want you in jeopardy. Is that so hard for you to understand?”
“We’re in a war. I’m a criminal. Is that so hard for you to understand?
We’re fresh out of those bubbles you like to put me in.”
“You don’t have to help them hurt you, Lareina. You don’t.”
“No. I can get to them first.”
“That’s what I’m for.”
There was nothing to say to that. They were silent.
Silas knocked once and let himself in. If he cared what they thought of his intrusion, it didn’t show. “I’m here to interrupt your little powwow.” He directed his conversation to Christian. “I know you’re a big man, all scary and shit. But that don’t mean a damned thing around here.” He slapped two pills down on Lareina’s nightstand. “Your antidote. You better take it within the hour.” He ignored her raised eyebrows, keeping his focus on Christian. “You’ll need one of those every night for at least a week. Here are your choices…You can be a part of the solution, or you can wake up and start chasing us again. But I have to say you really are shit at it. You ain’t that hard to elude. So give it a good think.” He turned to leave.
“Silas!” Lareina wanted to laugh. She sooo wanted to laugh. She put a restraining hand on Christian. “You drugged us?”
Silas glanced back, unrepentive. “My way is effective, decisive and keeps you out of the mix. You can’t think straight with him around, anyway. Maybe you need to be asleep.”
“Boy, I’m going to beat the snot out of you.” Her uncontrolled grin nixed the threat.
“When I’m in the market for a mosquito bite, I’ll let you know.” He let himself out.
Silas was Silas. Lareina knew that when she collected him. She created him. Damn, he was good.
Christian was another matter altogether. He hadn’t said a word. That was never a good thing. “Christian?”
It took a minute before he responded. When he did, it was devoid of emotion. He snapped his eyes at her, deeply sincere with his intent. “You might want to start getting unattached and resign yourself to knowing I’m going to kill him. I’m informing you now, so when it happens you will be able to recall I warned you.”
Lareina felt a chill.
The ship anchored beyond the wide mouth of the fjord as sailors lowered a native canoe filled with supplies. Reggie gazed down at the small craft and shuddered. The tiny craft bobbed alongside the schooner, which already rocked too much to suit him. A heavy woolen coat hung to his knees but it barely kept him warm against the icy breeze. How would he manage to camp inside the glacial straits of the fjord?
“We’ll return in two weeks, sir,” the captain said and broke Reggie’s reverie. “We can’t afford to set here with them icebergs floatin’ past.”
“Yes, I understand.” He stiffened his shoulders and held out his gloved hand. “Thank you, Captain Jefferies. I appreciate your taking on this commission.”
Reggie winced under the vice-like grip of Jefferies and the captain grinned. “Your financial inducement was substantial, sir. I’d hate to lose my best customer so take a care! If you’re not here upon our return, we’ll launch a rescue party to search you out.”
Laughter erupted from behind Reggie. He turned to see a grinning native face surrounded by shaggy black hair. “No need to risk lives of crew, Captain Jeffries. We come back when moon is full and wait for ship.” Scottie, a Tlingit guide from the village of Hoonah, scampered down the rope ladder and jumped into the rocking canoe.
“He’s a highly recommended guide, and I’m certain we’ll be here on time,” Reggie said, more to reassure himself than the captain.
“We’ll collect supplies in Skagway, so the ship will be ready for the next stop on your excursion.”
“Mind that you collect my new shipment of paint and canvas.” Reggie peered down into the canoe. “I’m keen to get that shipment as I’ll run out of proper supplies soon enough.”
“We could slice up one of our small sails to make canvas. No need to waste gold shipping it from Europe when there’s plenty of sailcloth right here. A vigorous wash would make it clean enough to slap paint on.”
Indulgently Reggie smiled, having heard the offer before. “Don’t cut up your sails, Captain. My supplies will be waiting in Skagway. I’m sure of it.”
His stiff boots slipped on a wet rung of the rope ladder as he descended toward the deep blue water. He tightened his grip on the ropes and sucked in a breath to calm his nerves.
“Come on, boss. It’s just a few more steps!” Scottie shouted.
Reggie inched closer to the water and stretched his foot out to touch the canoe. A firm hand steadied his boot until he connected with the canoe bottom. The small craft teetered. “Got you, boss,” Scottie said, and the Hoonah propelled him toward a solid bench. “You sit safe here.”
Feeling grateful to avoid the icy-black water, Reggie sighed as his butt plopped onto the flat board stretched across the canoe. He stretched his arms out to grip both sides of the craft as a wave crashed against the boat. Water penetrated the fingertips of his thick gloves. As Reggie shivered Scottie untied the canoe and scrambled over bundles to reach his own perch. Soon the native paddled the homebuilt craft toward rocky cliffs jutting above the mouth of the inlet. Droplets from the paddles pelted Reggie’s face.
He saw a paddle resting against his right foot. “Should I help you row?” he shouted.
“Not yet! First you watch, see how I make strokes. We reach smooth water and then you help,” Scottie shouted back.
Relief washed over Reggie, since he feared releasing his death-grip on the canoe. The streamlined craft rolled over ocean waves that moved toward the mouth of the fjord. Sea water mixed with fresh water as the river current flowed steadily out to sea. Large chunks of ice floated past, and Reggie wondered how long it might take to reach the glacier.
When the canoe entered the mouth of the fjord, the water calmed and Scottie’s paddle strokes slowed. He cheerfully announced, “Eagle totem help us cross into Raven territory.” Scottie stroked the stylized eagle pendant hanging from his neck.
Tlingit natives divided themselves into two clans, and apparently Scottie belonged to the Eagle clan. “Does the Raven clan claim this fjord?” Reggie asked.
Scottie nodded. “In long time past, Raven clan live at foot of big ice wall. Foolish woman make glacier much angry by singing too loud. It push Raven clan out of canyon into ocean. Be much quiet so we don’t make glacier angry.”
“I plan to be very careful of the glacier.” Reggie stared at the steep rock walls of the fjord and marveled at the glacial force needed to carve through solid granite. Before the trip he studied scientific writings and knew the ice gouged out the valley over thousands of years. Greenish blue water filled the valley floor in a flood of pure glacier water that melded with brackish ocean tidewater.
With an artist’s eye, he studied the color and wondered how to mix that particular shade. His fingers itched to open his paint satchel and search through the oils, but fright kept his fingers clamped to the canoe’s sides. He mentally painted the picture. Dark brown rock and emerald green trees rose in a near vertical slant from the jade green water. No. It was not jade green. He must combine blue, green, and brown pigments until he matched the true color.
An icy breeze brushed his cheek. He glanced up just as the boat rounded a bend and gasped with delight. High in the V of the shaded canyon walls, a vision of brilliant white gleamed in the sunshine. Excited, Reggie nearly stood to get a better view. The canoe rocked and he froze, clutching the canoe tighter. As he enjoyed the tantalizing glimpse of ice, the canoe skimmed silently across the water. Reggie kept quiet, almost afraid to break the spell of the glacier. He understood why natives believed the glacier was alive. It snaked down the canyon like a living thing that waited for them to approach in their tiny craft.
“C’mon Allison…don’t be afraid, I promise I’ll catch you!”
Seventeen-year-old Allison Roberts sat by the pool wearing a new red one- piece bathing suit. She was huddled in a corner on the floor of the huge patio where Jamie Marsden, one of the kids from school threw the biggest pool party she had ever seen. Jamie’s family had money and loved to flaunt it every chance they got and this night was no exception. She shook her head “No” as her boyfriend Joshua Patterson held out his arms to coax her into joining him and their friends in the large pool.
“Allison c’mon! You’re not going to drown, I promise! He shouted to her but as she looked at him…she saw her father standing in the river with his arms stretched out to catch a six-year-old Allison who was learning how to swim for the first time and was terrified of getting into the water.
“C’mon babe!” her father shouted as he motioned for her to jump into his arms. He promised her he would catch her and she trusted him more than anyone in the world, after all, he was indeed her father.
“Don’t let me drown daddy,” Little Allison said as she stood on a rock, prepared to jump.
“I won’t let you drown I promise. On a count of three ok?”
“Ok,” she replied reluctantly.
“One…two. Three!” he said.
Allison then raised her arms like a bird taking flight and jumped, no longer feeling the hard surface beneath her feet anymore but deep, shallow water as it quickly began to cover her face. As the cold water entered her nose she gasped. Her arms and legs moved wildly as she tried to stay afloat.
“Daddy help!” she cried out.
Russ Roberts watched her for two minutes with these dark cold eyes that made Allison’s blood turn colder than the river that began to consume her senses. He didn’t move, he didn’t blink, he didn’t flinch. He just watched his little girl scream and struggle to keep from going under; waving her arms wildly. It was her first time being in open water and she was terrified.
“Daddy!” she cried out.
After five minutes Allison grew tired and couldn’t fight it anymore as she slowly began to feel the weight of her body plummet down to the bottom of the river, salty water filled her mouth and breathing was no longer possible. Soon came darkness as she lost consciousness. Her long, curly blonde hair waved in the water as the fish began to swim around her small form lying still on the river’s surface.
Frozen with fear, she continued to sit on the patio and watch her boyfriend and her friends have fun without her.
“Allison?” Brooklyn repeated as she sat down next to her. They grew up together and had been best friends since kindergarten. She knew Allison better than anyone and knew it was a bad idea for her to come to this party. Brooklyn was a lovely African American girl from Chicago’s northwest side, whose parents moved her to Milwaukee Wisconsin when she was four -years-old. She came from a good family with a doctor for a father and a Singer for a mother who had sung backup for many famous artists throughout her career. It kept her mother away from home a lot and often times put a strain on her parent’s marriage. Brooklyn never noticed just how much of a toll her mother being away so much took on their family. She was too busy trying to battle the daily misery machine called School.
Being one of the few black people in the entire school made Brooklyn feel isolated and alone. If it weren’t for Allison, she probably would’ve killed herself by now. She was a very pretty girl but rarely ever thought so herself. She was a perfect size ten but thought she was too fat. Allison talked her into wearing the yellow bikini they bought during one of their many shopping excursions but she chose the blue one- piece instead. The two girls sat together trying to look like they were having fun, but soon their cover would be blown.
“Where were you just now?” Brooklyn asked.
“The River,” Allison responded.
“You flashbacking again?”
“Was it that obvious? Allison knew she would have been better off staying home and watching a movie on Netflix or something. But it wasn’t every day that you get invited to a party at Jamie Marsden’s house. That was something you just didn’t turn down if you were lucky enough to be invited.
“This party blows…” Brooklyn said as she watched everyone drink and act like complete idiots. Parties were never her thing.
“Josh should’ve known not to ask you to get in the pool, after what your father did to you?” Brooklyn said as she watched him guzzle down a can of beer while talking to one of the guys at the party. Every now and then stealing a glance at Allison, his longtime girlfriend of two years.
“He doesn’t know about that Brook, and don’t you tell him either.”
“Why not, he loves you.”
“He won’t love me so much if he knew about my past.”
“But He’s going to find out eventually.”
“Not until I’m ready for him to know,” she said looking at her.
“Ok, fine. He won’t hear about it from me,” Brook promised.
Jamie and her boyfriend Jake approached the girls, both with a beer in their hands and appearing to be very drunk as they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other; looking like they just had a quickie in one of the bedrooms.
“You girls are killing my party, what’s wrong with you two?” she scolded.
“Hey Jamie,” Allison said as she tried to fake a smile.
“You girls are two of the finest looking bitches at this party,” Jake rattled off while trying to stand up straight.
“Hey!” Jamie shouted as she smacked him upside his head, “What about me dick head?”
“Oh sorry I meant you are the finest looking bitch at this party, is that better?” he corrected.
“Much,” she replied with sarcasm as she dragged him away from the girls and disappeared with him into the house.
Allison and Brooklyn laughed at all of the fakeries at the party. Every guy there was trying to get laid and weren’t even being discreet about it and whatever bullshit they were laying on these girls, seemed to be working. The party raged on until 1:00 am and then people started clearing out leaving Allison and Josh alone to talk as they prepared to go home. Josh was visibly concerned as he watched Allison not having any fun that night. He was hoping she would and felt like bringing her there was a bad idea. He didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. He helped her put on her jacket and lifted her long curly blonde locks to let it cascade down her back. He could smell just a hint of strawberries.
“You should’ve told me you didn’t want to come to this thing Allison. I can’t read your mind.”
“I did want to come until I had to watch you drinking with your friends all night. I guess I have to drive us home now…your too drunk,” Allison couldn’t help but smell the liquor on his breath, but she was kind of used to it now. Josh always
partied hard when he was around his friends, and it was ok with her as long as he didn’t forget she was in the room; like he did that night.
“I’m sorry Ally, I didn’t mean to ignore you. I just thought you wanted to hang out with Brook since she was here to,” he said as he looked into her pale green eyes. Allison then turned away and headed for the parking lot until he stopped her and took her in his arms. His penetrating ocean blue eyes always seemed to stop her in her tracks when he gave her that look, you know the one that says you’re his and no one else’s? And the way he caressed her soft oval face in the most loving way. He really was sorry.
“Hey…will you forgive me, baby?”
Damn, he always knew how to destroy whatever resentment she had for him and his many issues. Even making his issues her issues, but when you are in love with someone you really don’t care. You just deal. He slowly leaned in and allowed his lips to capture hers for a long lingering kiss. When they broke away he smiled and that was it, her anger had melted away.
“I hate you so much,” she said smiling as she put her arms around his waist.
“I know, and I am helplessly in love with you,” he said as they walked to his car.
Hours later, Ophelia stood in front of her kitchen counter, cursing a blue streak. “Shit, fuck, son of a bitch! This fucking hurts like hell!”
Her front door slammed open, and suddenly she was in Daniel’s arms, sitting in his lap in the nearest chair, his hands running up and down her arms in jerking, frantic movements.
“Phia! Are you okay? Who hurt you? What’s wrong?”
Ophelia laughed weakly, but didn’t unwrap her right hand from her left. Instead, she took a chance and held both hands up—showing him the blood seeping out from between her fingers. Daniel gritted his teeth, but he made no move to attack, and Ophelia’s respect for him raised another notch. He pulled out a handkerchief from the pocket of his shirt and gently pried her hands apart, clucking his tongue over the two-inch-long cut that was still oozing blood.
“How in the world did you accomplish this, Phia?” he asked, his ministrations tender as he blotted the wound.
“I cut myself trying to cook,” Ophelia mumbled, “obviously not my most graceful moment.”
Daniel chuckled. “At least you didn’t sever a digit, so it’s not that bad.”
Ophelia sniffed, tears brimming. “Yeah, but it freaking hurts! It might even be deep enough for stitches, and I really don’t like needles.”
Daniel pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I may have a solution, if you’d trust me.”
“Does it involve your fangs?”
He shook his head. “No–” his eyes gleamed mischievously– “but it does mean I’d get to taste you.”
Ophelia wiggled in her seat, and Daniel groaned. “On second thought,” he said with a wicked grin, “keep moving like that, and I’ll have a different way to distract you.”
Eyes wide, Ophelia jerked to a stop, but not before the damage had been done, and the physical proof of his desire poked the side of her leg. She flushed. “Uh...” She licked her lips. “the pain. What about...the pain?”
Daniel laughed and pressed a kiss just below her ear. He took the handkerchief away from her wound. She hissed in pain as it stuck. “I’m sorry,” he murmured as he pulled it free. “I really can help, but you might rather put a bandage on it and let me drive you to the clinic.”
Ophelia bit her lip. He looked so uncomfortable, and even though his remedy had to do with him being a vampire, she wasn’t nearly as put off by the notion as she would have been a few days prior. She looked into his eyes and shook her head.
“What do you need to do?”
He sighed with relief. “Vampire saliva can either stop bleeding, or make a person bleed more, depending on whether we’re drinking or ending the feeding. Unfortunately for you, to stop the bleeding and trigger the numbing agent that will help with your pain, the fangs must be triggered, which means a drink has to be taken. However, that doesn’t mean I need to bite you–” he paused and winked– “unless you want me to, of course.”
Ophelia swatted his shoulder with her good hand. “I thought your saliva is what makes a person a vampire?”
“It is, but it’s…complicated. Mortal blood is designed to fight the infection, so to speak. I would have to consciously force it into your bloodstream for a minute or more for there to be any chance of it taking hold. For this, and for any pleasure feeding–” he gave her a wicked grin that made her laugh– “my saliva merely interacts with the skin around the wound, preventing it from trying to close until I’m ready to stop. Are you okay with this?”
Ophelia bit her bottom lip. “You won’t bite me?”
He shook his head. “I won’t. My fangs will descend, but I won’t bite, I promise. I’ll only drink for a moment, and then close it.”
Taking a deep breath, Ophelia nodded, emitting a startled squeak when his eyes glowed bright blue and his fangs shot out. With his golden hair, and lightly stubbled jaw, he was sexy beyond belief, and the look on his face had her nearly giving in to the urge to tilt her head to the side and offer him everything. Taken aback by the direction her thoughts were headed, Ophelia blinked rapidly, and raised her hand.
He took her wrist in one of his, and her fingers in the other, turning her hand until the cut along the side was near his mouth. “Last chance to change your mind,” he whispered.
Ophelia gulped, her body tingling beneath his heated gaze. “Do it, Daniel, please.” The last word came out on a whisper as she subconsciously flipped her long hair behind her back, exposing the smooth column of her throat. Daniel’s eyes darkened, and keeping his eyes on hers, he pressed his hot mouth to her skin, sucking gently at the wound.
The tingling in her body intensified as he laved his tongue over the cut, raising his head a few seconds later. Ophelia’s breath came in short pants as moisture pooled between her legs. She’d never felt like this, and she wondered if it was part of the saliva interacting with her skin. Ever logical, she cleared her throat.
“Am I—uh—is this because of…?”
Daniel smiled, fangs flashing. “No, Phia. I would never use power on you like that.”
Ophelia sucked in a breath. It was because of him. /For heaven’s sake, take for once. Take without question. Love./ Her eyes widened at her own thoughts, and she made a split-second decision—he was her vampire, after all. Adjusting her position, she straddled him, the proof of his desire a hard spear aimed straight at her core. Cupping his face in her hands, she kissed him, relishing when his breath caught in shock. His hands gripped her hips, rocking her against him as she deepened the kiss, her tongue exploring his mouth, uncaring of the fangs he possessed.
With a moan, she nipped his bottom lip. “Do you want to bite me, Daniel?”
“Yes,” he groaned.
Ophelia pressed a hand to the back of his neck, pulling him forward until his mouth rested above the pulse at her throat. “Then do it.”
His lips grazed her heated skin, his fangs scraping lightly. “Are you sure?”
She moaned, the pleasure building as she continued to move against him. “Yes!” Without another word, he plunged his fangs deep, and she shattered, realizing the absolute truth:
She was in love with a vampire.
If Mark Wilkerson had to listen to any more of that morbid organ music, he was going to throw up. A migraine beat against his temples and tears rolled down his cheeks as he stood propped against his crutches, his dislocated shoulder aching. Through bleary eyes, he viewed the three closed coffins at the front of the viewing parlor. Gold glitter on white satin ribbons across the caskets read, “Devoted Father,” “Loving Mother,” and “Baby Sister – Sabrina.” She was only six.
Ornate floral arrangements surrounded the closed caskets, their florist shop fragrance adding to Mark’s migraine. He ran his hand across the smooth surface of his mother’s coffin; fingered the satin ribbon. She was in there, at least what was left of her, but he would never see her again. Never again would he feel the warm touch of her lips on his cheek when she kissed him good night.
His weepy eyes abruptly gushed with tears. What happened? He still wondered, shaking his head. Even though he’d somehow survived the accident, he still didn’t know anything about it. All he knew was what the County Sheriff’s deputy and the doctor at the hospital had told him; that he and his family had been in a tragic, fiery accident on the Carquinez Bridge on Christmas Eve.
The doctor also told him his memory would probably return, but it could take some time. He’d called it “dissociative amnesia," whatever that was. He said it was often caused by severe emotional trauma.
Mark’s grandmother, Emily Wilkerson, told him he’d performed with the family at a rest home earlier that night, but he couldn’t remember that either. He felt, more than remembered his father had been angry about something. Then there was Amanda Bonfili. What happened on their date? Or did they have a date? He just couldn’t remember.
Mark moved to his father’s casket. How could he live without him? His dad had been his greatest inspiration, his best friend. He looked down at the casket as his tears rolled. How could he live with the guilt of knowing their last words may have been spoken in anger? He’d never even had a chance to say I’m sorry, if he’d done something wrong or even good-bye. Somehow, he felt he might have been at least partly responsible for the accident. “Forgive me, dad.” His cries escaped his lips in a whisper, “for whatever I did. I’m sorry.” Tears stung his eyes and he wiped them on his sports jacket sleeve.
He wished he could see his family just one last time, but the undertaker had told him their bodies were too charred. The thought horrified him and Mark agreed it would be better to remember them as he’d last seen them alive.
At least his sister, Amy, was being spared the funeral ordeal. But she was still in a coma and her condition was serious. The doctors said she could have brain damage if she survived. That sounded worse than his amnesia.
The accident had only been three days ago and tomorrow, after the funeral, the coffins would be lowered into the cold ground. Is that all there is to life? Mark wondered, To live your life then be discarded like some trash. Hanging his head, he wished he could have died in their place, or at least with them. How Amy and he had survived was a mystery.
Moving to Sabrina’s casket, he laid his forehead against her tiny coffin. “Dear God! Please make this go away. Make them come back.” But even as he prayed, he knew God couldn’t make that happen, assuming He was even real. After all, why would an all-powerful, loving God take away the people he loved most; his parents and his six-year-old sister who had so much to live for, the family Amy and he needed?
Why? The question kept repeating over in his mind, as he wiped his eyes again. Why did his parents have to die and of all people little Sabrina?
SABRINA! Mark wanted to shout, as if it would bring her back.
He missed his baby sister every bit as much as he missed his mother and father.
“Sabrina,” he whispered.
He would never see her again. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Mark thought of her charred little body inside the tiny coffin and the pain she must have endured in the fire. She didn’t deserve to die.
Mark felt a warm hand on his shoulder. Straightening with his crutches, he leaned into his grandmother’s arms. “Go ahead and cry,” she said. “It’s good to let it out.”
Mark leaned down and laid his cheek in the hollow of her neck. He could smell her sweet, old ladies perfume. “Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t God protect them? Why did He let Sabrina die and not me? She didn’t even get a chance to live her life.” He turned away and tightened his fists on the crutch’s handgrip.
He felt his grandmother’s warm fingers turn his chin. “Mark, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me too and it will be hard on Amy when she comes home.” His grandmother choked on her words then blotted her eyes with her hankie, “if she does. Son, we don’t always understand why He allows things like this to happen, but my mother always told me, ‘what we see today as a tragedy, we may look back at tomorrow as a blessing.’” Emily hugged him tighter and stroked his hair.
“A blessing? How can losing almost my entire family ever be a blessing?” Mark huffed and pulled away. His head throbbed even more. Then looking back at his grandmother, he said, “If I ever find out who caused the accident, I swear… I’ll… I’ll kill him…. I promise that.”
“No, Mark. Don’t think like that. It was just that, an accident. You need to forgive them.”
“I can’t, Grandma. I just can’t.”
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