Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How to Feed Captive Shifters (@ShariElderBooks #shifter #romance #food)

Unnatural Allies cover

By Shari Elder (Guest Blogger)

Have you ever walked into a restaurant, in a house, or just down the street when a smell tickles your nose, your stomach grumbles louder than a rock band, and your mind fixates on food? When there’s not a granola bar or several sticks of gum nearby to calm the cravings, do you design ever more elaborate meals to feed those hungers?

In my latest paranormal romance, Unnatural Allies (Shifting Alliances #2), Nicca, my wolf shifter is held captive by a insane fae woman, who casts a spell that prevents her from shifting. Trapped in human form, worried and hungry, she goes a little crazy with the meal planning. I didn’t mean to write this part in, but it took over my brain, and gave me immense pleasure to put it to the page. Since food is another sensual pleasure, I thought it would be fun to share what Nicca created. They are all so scrumptious and provide ready-made meal plans the next time you invite a shifter for dinner.

  • Salmon with potatoes roasted with rosemary and green beans sautĂ©ed in garlic butter.
  •  
  • Ribs slathered in Texas barbecue, on top of cheese-crusted mash potatoes followed by mango-raspberry swirled mousse with a wafer as spoon or a wedge of lemon meringue pie with a mint leaf for garnish, ending with cappuccino spiked with Kahlua or amaretto.
  •  
  • Oatmeal raisin cookies with carrot and chocolate chips and a big glass of milk or hazelnut coffee with cream
  •  
  • A grilled cheese sandwich with Portobello mushrooms, green onion and tomato with a side of horseradish coleslaw followed by vanilla-iced gingerbread and a peppermint tea chaser.

Once I started down this track in the story, I couldn’t stop the ideas from flowing. That’s a bit how the book itself came to be. I had written Shifter Trials (Book #1 Shifting Alliances) as a stand-alone story. Nicca and the hero, Evan, were secondary characters. Once I started with them, I couldn’t stop. I’m happy to introduce Unnatural Allies, a love story between a rat alpha and a wolf beta and food is actually a problem. Thanks for dropping by.

Blurb

A World in Transition

Violent fae encroachment on shifter land is heating up. With death tolls rising, the impossible becomes necessary – an alliance among predator and prey shifters.

An Inconceivable Love

Nicca Baron, lone wolf and wolf clan beta, finds herself under the command of Evan Grant, the rat alpha. In different circumstances, he’d be dinner. Or so her wolf keeps reminding her. Evan proves to be a perceptive leader, a skilled fighter and irresistible to her lonely heart.

To rule the rats, you have to rule the pack. Evan is a whiz at managing people and groups. Until he finds himself leading a mission made up of every single large animal that thrives on rat flesh. And not the kind between his legs. The only bright light is Nicca. Her storm gray eyes miss nothing, her brilliant mind comprehends everything and her succulent curves offer the perfect place for a rat to nestle.

An Impossible Future

In each other’s arms, Nicca and Evan discover love and a new perspective in an off-kilter world. But a wolf cannot mate with a rat, no matter the strength of the human attraction.

Buy Links



Bookstrand: http://www.bookstrand.com/unnatural-allies-mf

Excerpt

Evan had never seen Nicca look frightened before. Those silver eyes expanded into saucers, and they were still beautiful. He wanted to wrap her in his arms, just hold her close as they both tried to process a world spinning out of control. Even his rat wanted to comfort her.

She was getting under skin and fur.

The last leaves hung limp on the branches, resisting winter’s pull. Away from the sidhe, the air had warmed, although the sky retained a grayish winter hue. Shifter bodies held heat, keeping them comfortable in the most brutal frost. Evan burned hot from continuous movement, the too frequent adrenaline spikes, and Nicca’s nearness. Everything about her fit, like she was made for him. That agile mind, open-mindedness, those lush curves. Hell, she even spouted poetry. He yearned to put a sign around her neck—no trespassing, this woman belongs to Evan Grant.

Except for that whole wolf thing…

Why don’t we find a comfortable place to set up camp near Fairy Falls and call it a day?” he said to get his mind back to practical things, not wishing for something he couldn’t have. He told himself he selected the location as part of the mission. All species declared the pristine, wild falls a safe zone, so they wouldn’t need the wolves or eagles to stand guard. The fact that it was the number one rated site for shifter romances had nothing to do with the selection. Nothing at all.

No one would ever accuse Nicca of talking too much, but she was withdrawn even for her on the hike to the Falls. “Any suggestions on places to sleep?” he asked when her silence got too loud for him.

I’ve, uh, never really been here,” she whispered, looking at the ground. “Just run by it on patrols sometimes.”

And that makes you sad?” He itched to run his hand down her cheek.

This mission makes me sad.” Her gaze stayed lowered as she walked.

His rat senses perceived a deep despondency wrapped around her like a black aura.

This mission makes you angry, anxious, and confused. Not sad.”

Who are you to correct my assessment of my emotional state?” She gave him a half-hearted snarl. He figured he’d hit an open, raw nerve.

I lead this mission, and I will not have you fall apart on me. Right now, you are not okay.” He opened his arm, aping Rafe’s earlier action, inviting her to him to take comfort. “Let me help.” Let me touch you.

She visibly shook herself, ignoring his outstretched limb. “You’re right. I need space. Let me run as wolf.”

He dropped his hand, then nodded to cover the ripping sound his heart was making. “Stay close,” he said over the lump of disappointment lodged in his throat. “Give me your backpack, and I’ll find a place to sleep. Meet me at the falls when you’re done.”

Relief brightened her eyes. Once shifted, she brushed against his leg, then licked at his hand dangling by his side. He ran his fingers through her thick, gray fur touched with black and silver as she trotted off. “Grab some happy, Nicca,” he said into the air, as she raced out of sight. Come back to me. Accept me.

Alone, he hummed as he walked toward the falls. The low tune soothed his skittish rat, who hated being alone and wasn’t too fond of the woods. Rats felt secure in the pack. The human in him appreciated the red gold of the sunset streaking across the powder blue of the sky, weaving in and out of spiky, hunter green firs that ate up the landscape. Beauty truly did soothe an aching heart. The whirr of winter birds, a chorus to his ears, unnerved the rat. He picked up his pace, following the smell of ice and the roar of the falling water.

When he arrived at the falls, he saw Nicca standing at the edge of the descending water, running her fingers through the stream. That sadness he’d sensed earlier scented the air and dulled those unique gray eyes. Following a powerful intuition, he approached quietly, staying upwind so she wouldn’t notice until he stood directly behind her. She may have rejected his offer of support earlier, but he was determined to try again. His way.

She turned to face him, and tilted her head up to meet his gaze. He pushed behind one ear a lock of hair that was draped along her cheek. The tresses felt like silk, the skin velvet against his fingertips.

Evan?”

He leaned over, touching lips to lips ever so gently. Giving comfort. Sneaking a taste. Exploring what might be. She pressed back, her mouth opening slightly beneath his. He sank into cherry and cinnamon, shyness and heat. She didn’t require a friend; she needed a lover. He desperately wanted to be that man.

He pulled back, falling hard for the blush staining her cheeks a bright pink.

Follow me,” he said, taking her hand, and led her to the camping spot he noticed along the way.

To love a wolf.

About Shari

Hello, I'm Shari. By day, I crawl out of bed, mainline coffee, walk the dog, get my kid off to school, hop on the metro, and save cities within the four walls of my office. Usually by email.

At night, the other Shari emerges. I take off the suit, curl up on the couch and let my imagination play, with words and images until stories take shape (while periodically checking on my teen-ager, hiding out in the bedroom and plotting world domination with her furry minions).  As my alter ego, I save cities in a cape and spangled tights, wander space and time on a surfboard, fly over the Himalayas on feathered wings, make six-toed footprints in indigo talc snow on the sixth planet in the Andromeda galaxy or eavesdrop on Olympian gods while pretending to whip up a bowl of ambrosia.

In all these wondrous worlds, romance and passion blossom. I can't resist a happy ending. And I am particularly prone to writing happy endings for those who have given up on ever getting one. That gives me immense satisfaction. 

Join me on my journey. The best ideas emerge from team work.

Hang out with Shari on the Web





Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review Tuesday: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (#lesbian #thriller #historical)

The Paying Guests cover

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Riverhead Books, 2014

Frances Wray lives a rather dismal and claustrophobic life in 1922 London. She spends her days cooking and cleaning for her widowed mother, trying to maintain the illusion of gentility though they’re nearly bankrupt. In her scarce free time she mourns the loss of her two brothers, taken by the War, and her former lover Christina, now coupled with another woman.

Desperate to make ends meet, Frances and her mother decide to rent out several rooms. Their lodgers —the “paying guests” of the title—are not the sort of people with whom the Wrays usually associate. Lilian and Leonard Barber come from a different social class, and have different habits and values. They smoke and drink, play the gramophone and dance, host parties and play naughty games. They are a “modern” couple, with much freer manners than the more traditional Wrays.

Though their presence constitutes a painful invasion of Frances’ privacy, the Barbers also bring some color to her drab life. She finds Lilian fascinating, with her bright clothing, costume jewelry, knick knacks and gewgaws, as well as her rather poor and common but boisterously affectionate family. Flirtatious and good-looking, Leonard proves to be a challenge, emphatically and uncomfortably male in what had been an all-female household.

Lilian and Frances become friends, then more than friends, after Frances confesses her former affair with Christina and the younger woman admits how deeply unhappy she is with Leonard. As they grow closer, they struggle to hide their forbidden passion from the world. Then their secret triggers a series of tragic events that entangle them in shared guilt and tear apart their mutual trust.

The Paying Guests is a phenomenally good book. It is simultaneously an historical and social commentary, a terrifying thriller and a steamy lesbian romance. Ms. Waters manages to capture the fleeting nuances of emotion with astounding precision. Her characters live and breathe. Their relationships exhibit all the contrariness and complexity of real human interaction, shifting and reshaping from one moment to the next.

Sarah Waters is known for her rich portrayals of the past. Compared to the colorful Victorian era she captured so expertly in Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, her post-War London feels grim and unsettled, full of uncertainty and suppressed violence. The Great War shattered illusions and remade society. A whole generation of young men died. At the same time, new opportunities opened for women brave enough to take advantage of them.

Despite these new possibilities, women were far from free. Ms. Waters’ horrifying description of a pharmaceutical abortion makes this stunningly clear. Frances chooses to break off her relationship with Christina when they are discovered, rather than being repudiated by her family. Unable to support herself, terrified of being alone, Lilian is trapped in her loveless marriage to philandering Leonard.

All these uncertainties and pressures, as much as their mutual attraction, drive Frances and Lilian into each other’s arms. Their lovemaking is furtive but intense. Without being anywhere nearly as graphic as I (for instance) might be, the author paints scenes that are gorgeously erotic.
But already the darkness was lessening. Lilian was beside her, a shimmer, a blur. She put out her hands and they found her face, they found her lips: they were smooth, cool, wet. She kissed them again, even as she touched them, kissing around and across her own fingers. She drew her hands, damply, to Lilian’s throat, to the silky skin at the opening of her nightgown.

The gown had three small buttons on it, hard and round. She undid the first, and then the second.

May I do this?’

She felt Lilian hesitate. But the third button was undone now; now she had parted the cloth, had dipped her head, was stroking and kissing. And after another few seconds of it Lillian moved forward with a sigh to meet the touch of her fingers and her mouth. Her breasts were warm, fantastically heavy, fantastically hard at the tips. Beyond was the thud, thud of her heart—Frances kissed every beat of it.


Finally, The Paying Guests incorporates all the tension of a mystery, a period police procedural complete with swaggering officers, severe judges and dodgy witnesses. This last section of the book was painful to read, as guilt, secrets and circumstances conspire to drive Frances and Lilian apart. I couldn’t stop, though, no matter how dark the story became. I needed to know the verdict—even if things were going to end as badly as it seemed.

I won’t tell you how the book does end, though. I don’t want to spoil the experience.

The Paying Guests is not as much of a feel-good novel as Tipping the Velvet. It’s not as cleverly constructed as Fingersmith. However, it’s one of the most vivid and realistic portrayals of the human heart I have ever read.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Sneak Peek: Shopping for a CEO's Wife by @JKentAuthor (#romcom #elopement #shopping)

Teaser graphic

Description

Snowbound. Sounds so romantic, with visions of cuddling before a roaring fire, hot chocolate spiked with brandy, and a secret elopement.

Wait. What?

My fiancé's father won't stop trying to turn our pending wedding into a three-ring media circus so he can get free publicity for his family's Fortune 500 company. My mother has decided she's done with All Things Wedding and asks her teacup Chihuahua for mother-of-the-bride advice.

They've all gone certifiably mad.

Then the stress from the wedding puts my mother in the hospital, I scream at my future father-in-law in front of a camera crew and the video goes viral, and the romantic wedding that started with Andrew's grand Pride and Prejudice proposal looks less like Jane Austen and more like Dostoyevsky.

So what do you do when you're a fixer and you can't fix something?

You give up on it.

Not on Andrew, silly.

The wedding.

Shopping for a CEO's Wife is the 12th book in Julia Kent's New York Times bestselling Shopping series. As Shannon and Declan enjoy their newlywed bliss, Andrew's father wants to exploit Amanda and Andrew's nuptials, much to Amanda's chagrin. Can she learn to stand up to her future father-in-law and fight for what's right? But the real question is: will Spritzy the teacup Chihuahua end up being a flower girl?



Buy links

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2m3vVmt


Excerpt

Experiencing a season together for the first time when you’re in a new relationship is a rite of passage. For instance, my idea of a fun winter activity involves reading under a thick, fuzzy blanket, snuggling up to a roaring fire, and drinking hot chocolate.

Andrew, on the other hand, likes to race down a snow-covered mountain at speeds that would qualify him for the Indy 500.

Guess where we are now?

I am not going down that double black diamond trail. No way,” I declare, staring at an incline of doom on this mountaintop in Vermont. As I stare down the slope, I wonder what kind of sick bastard planted thirty-foot giant pine trees in the middle of a ski trail.

The sun is shining on this fine Saturday in December. You can’t see my engagement ring, which is hidden by gloves so thick, I might as well box instead of ski. Warming packets tucked away in pockets near the wrists aren’t really helping, because in my terror, all the blood in my body has gone to my gut, which is currently screaming “Run away! Run away!” while leaving my hands and feet to turn into frozen concrete.

Andrew’s response?

A grin.

About the Author

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Julia Kent writes romantic comedy with an edge. From billionaires to BBWs to new adult rock stars, Julia finds a sensual, goofy joy in every contemporary romance she writes. Unlike Shannon from Shopping for a Billionaire, she did not meet her husband after dropping her phone in a men's room toilet (and he isn't a billionaire). She lives in New England with her husband and three sons in a household where the toilet seat is never, ever, down

Social Media Links:

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2cnaTGc


Release blitz organized by Writer Marketing Services.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Random Smut (#SmutSunday #ComingTogether #TabooErotica)

Smut Sunday button


I was trying to decide what book I’d use for today’s Smut Sunday excerpt. Then I had a brainstorm. I’d let fate decide.

I counted the books on my single author titles page (49), then asked Random.org to choose one. The result was my charitable taboo erotica tale, A Breed Apart.

In this pseudo-Victorian tale, a woman whose virtue has been compromised is hired by a wealthy couple to serve as governess for their young daughter. When she arrives at their remote mansion, she begins to understand why their advertisement specified a “woman of experience”.


This is a particularly smutty excerpt. But it’s just the beginning...

When you’ve finished my Smut Sunday offering, head back to Smut SundayCentral for more great smut.




"Good day, Miss Varney." The high, clear voice exuded confidence. "Welcome to Hawthorne Manor." According to the letters I had exchanged with her father, Clara Hawthorne was five years old, but she held herself with the dignity of an adult. She was a diminutive creature, barely three feet tall, dressed in a ruffled apple green frock with matching slippers. A cloud of red-gold hair framed her perfect features like a halo. Her eyes burned with green fire like her mother's.

"Good day, Clara. I am to be your new governess." I had risen from my chair when my employer returned. Now I bent from the waist to bring myself closer to my enchanting new charge. "I'll be teaching you reading and spelling, figures, music and drawing, and French, if you'd like."

"I can already read," Clara told me solemnly. "But Edward and I would very much enjoy learning to speak French."

"Edward?" I glanced up at Clara's parents.

"Her imaginary playmate," Peter replied, his voice odd. He turned his attention back to the child. "Your lessons will start tomorrow, Clara. Are you pleased?"

"Oh yes, Papa." The girl surprised me by taking my hand. Like sun breaking through clouds, a glorious smile glowed on her pixie face. "We shall have fun, shan't we, Miss Varney?"

"If you are so eager to learn, then I think we shall," I replied. "I look forward to teaching you."

"Now run along back to your games, darling." Rachel Hawthorne beamed down at her daughter. "I will call you when it's time for supper." The girl scampered up the stairs, her demeanor finally suited to her age. All three of us watched her disappear.

"She is absolutely charming," I told my employers. "And she appears to be extremely intelligent."

"Wait until you hear her sing. She has the voice of an angel." Peter Hawthorne returned his gaze to me. "Ah, you've finished your tea. Have a nip of brandy now."

"Oh, I don't think that would be advisable, sir..."

"Please, we're not so formal here. If I am going to call you Joan - and I am, because 'Miss Varney' is just too damned stiff - then you must call me Peter. Certainly not 'sir'!"

"I couldn't, really, it wouldn't be proper..." I began, then stopped short, not knowing what shocked me more: his profanity, his insistence that I use his first name, or the fact that one of his hands was stroking Rachel's buttocks while the other cupped and squeezed her breast. Rachel's face made it clear that his caresses were more than welcome. A flush painted her alabaster cheeks, like the first hint of dawn. Her eyes half-shut, her lips parted, she was obviously in a state of bliss.

His fingers crept downward, across her crimson-clad torso to her belly. I sank back into my chair, riveted by the salacious picture they presented. Peter's hand settled near the join of her thighs. I could see him probing into that space through her skirts. Meanwhile he nosed her jet curls out of the way and nuzzled her earlobe.

Under my layers of wool and muslin, I felt my privates grow damp. I swelled and ached the way I had when Thomas pulled me into the pantry to steal a kiss. I remembered his hands groping beneath my clothing, so skillful in kindling lust in my virgin body. I watched and I remembered and God help me, I wanted what Rachel had. I wanted him to touch me that way, bold, lewd, laughing, certain that I would not resist....

"Joan? Joan!" Rachel stood before me, offering me a crystal snifter half full of golden liquid. "I think you need this. You look as though you are about to faint."

Confused and compliant, I reached for the glass. Her fingers brushed mine. Something like lightning coursed through my body to strike my moist center. I tried to suppress a moan.

"Drink," Peter ordered. "The spirits will revive you." I swallowed a mouthful of the liquor. It seared my throat then settled comfortably in my chest, glowing like banked coals. Heat spread through me, melting me, burning away my anxiety and my exhaustion.

"Ah, that's lovely," I told them, taking another wonderful sip, and then another. I didn't recall when or how they'd ceased their lecherous embrace. Somehow that did not seem to matter. The room floated around us, golden and warm as the brandy they insisted I drink. For the first time since I had been expelled from Dalrymple Hall, I felt safe.

Peter was at my side, helping me to stand. His arm snaked around my waist. I supported myself against his lean, strong body. Rachel took my elbow. Their scent, wild herbs and rain-washed stone, rose around us. I stumbled, treading on the hem of the woman's gown.

"Oh, I'm so sorry...I told you that I shouldn't drink the brandy." I found myself giggling. After a moment the couple joined me in laughter.

"Do not be concerned, Joan," Rachel murmured as they assisted me in climbing the stairs. Her lush body pressed against mine. Nothing had ever felt so heavenly.

"We will take care of you," Peter whispered, his breath hot against my ear. "You are going to be part of our family."


Good, I thought to myself, so intoxicated that I did not resist at all when they stripped me of my clothing and pulled a nightshirt over my head. I need family.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Mile A Chapter - Writing and Exercise ( @KateHillRomance #pnr #werewolf #vampire)

Grit cover

By Kate Hill (Guest Blogger)

I love writing. To me, it’s a way to escape as well as a way to express myself. There is a short list of things I don’t like about writing. At the top of that list is that writing is sedentary.

It’s easy to sit at a desk and get lost for hours in a book. For me, sitting for extended periods of time can be a problem, especially now that I’m older. Body parts stiffen up and I have a pelvic issue that is aggravated by sitting. I also enjoy movement, and for most of my life I’ve worked out on a regular basis. Though I set aside time for formal workouts at least five days a week, I’ve found it helpful both physically and emotionally to sneak in spurts of exercise throughout my day.

Since exercise and writing are important in my life, I’ve found ways to combine the two, in particular during the editing stages of my books. One of my favorite ways to do this is my mile a chapter routine. I work on edits and proof reading for one chapter, and then I get up and walk a mile. That gives me a fifteen to twenty minute break between chapters that allows me to exercise my body and also clear my mind so that I’m more focused when I sit down to work on the next chapter. If I’m doing a five chapter novella, by the time I’m finished, I’ve walked five miles, which is about ten thousand steps. I love to wear a pedometer so that I can keep track of my steps throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll do other types of exercise in between chapters as well. Whatever keeps me moving, feeling good, and inspired to work.

I use a similar routine when I’m writing a first draft. I set a goal of five hundred or one thousand words and do some type of exercise in between. It can be a short walk, yoga, or calisthenics. Five to ten minute movement breaks are preferable when I’m working on a first draft because I don’t want to lose track of the story. When writing a first draft, I like to go with the flow, so if I’m in the middle of a scene that I want to finish, I won’t stop at a particular word count, but in general I try to get up and move every half hour to an hour.

As a writer, I’ve found that stretching is especially important because typing for long periods of time creates tension in my upper body. Unfortunately, stretching is something that I don’t do often enough throughout the day. I find that keeping an exercise journal motivates me and reminds me to fit stretching into my day. The journal also makes me happy because it’s another kind of writing and it makes referencing past routines easy.

Do you like working out? What are some ways you enjoy fitting exercise into your daily routine?


Fangs and Fists 2: Grit

By Kate Hill

An erotic paranormal romance from Changeling Press.

Blurb

Werewolf gladiator Grit faced his own mortality in the arena, only to be resurrected by a demon. Grit now lives a shadowy existence as one of the soulless, remembering only bits and pieces of his former life. Nonetheless, he recognizes evil and knows he must fight for the future of his young son, as well as the rest of the world.

Zari, a vampire warrior, helped Grit escape the tower where he had been imprisoned. She had feelings for Grit when they'd first met, but at the time he had been mated to another wolf. Now that he's on his own, they're free to explore their feelings as they fight side by side as part of the rebellion against the demons. In the midst of war, their love grows, but danger is everywhere.

Haylen, the demon who resurrected Grit, offers a bargain that may save or destroy the rebellion. Whatever the outcome, Zari and Grit intend to face it together and explore the once forbidden passion between them.

About Kate


Always a fan of romance and the paranormal, Kate Hill started writing over twenty years ago for pleasure. Her first story, a short erotic vampire tale, was accepted for publication in 1996. Since then she has sold over one hundred short stories, novellas and novels.

When she's not working on her books, Kate enjoys reading, working out, spending time with her family and pets and running the Compelling Beasts Blog, dedicated to antagonists, antiheroes and paranormal creatures. She also writes under the name Saloni Quinby.

Links












Friday, May 19, 2017

Myonphobia (#flashfiction #parody #bigfoot)

muscular man


[Just for fun... a send up of romance stereotypes!]

Laurel gazed out at the lake from the cabin porch and released another sigh. A full moon silvered the water. Little ripples murmured as they kissed the narrow beach. A gentle wind stirred the pines. Otherwise, silence reigned. She ran her fingers through her long, blonde locks. Pain knotted under her lush breasts. The night was achingly beautiful, but so very lonely.

Of course, she had wanted solitude. That's why she'd fled, after Harold's funeral. Her step children circled like vultures, ready to attack, determined to contest his revised will. She had to get away. Let her lawyers handle them She understood why her husband had cut them out and left his entire fortune to her. He was trying to assuage his guilt, to apologize for his failures. No amount of money, though, could ever compensate for those lost years.

She had always loved this place, buried in the forests of the Upper Peninsula, ten miles from the nearest settlement. 

“Aren't you worried, Lauri, up there all by yourself?” her best friend Marissa had asked when Laurel announced her plans. “A woman on her own? What about wild animals? Criminals? Rapists?”

I've got the satellite phone, hon. And the Farleys in the next cabin are barely a mile away. Jim checks by every day to make sure I've got everything I need.”

The haunting call of a loon echoed through the stillness A chill shiver ran up her spine. During the day it was easy to forget how alone she was, but at night...

I'm fine, she told herself. There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

A sudden noise arose, as if to contradict her self-reassurance, the crackle and pop of something moving through the underbrush along the shore. Shrinking back into the shadows near the cabin wall, she scanned the thick vegetation. The racket grew louder, snapping twigs and a huff that might have been the breathing of some great beast. A moose? she wondered. A bear?

She gripped the rifle Jim Farley had pressed on her. Laurel had no idea how to use it – what romance heroine would? - but the cold metal under her palm blunted the razor edge of her terror. If I just stay quiet, it will probably go away. She knew she should slip back into the cabin and lock the door, but fear held her paralyzed. Quite simply, she couldn't move. Standing barefoot on the rough boards, wearing only brief shorts and a tank top – why bother with undergarments when there was no one around? – she'd never felt so vulnerable.

The intruder was close now. She could see the bushes shaking, off to the left. Any instant, it – or he – would burst into the clearing in front of the hut.

She found herself whispering a childhood prayer.

Ugh! Damn roots!” It was a man's voice, confident and mature, deep and rich as milk chocolate, with a hint of a drawl that brought back memories from her youth. A decidedly masculine body stumbled out of the brush onto the beach. He pulled himself up to his full height – easily six three or six four – and gazed around him. Broad -shouldered and narrow-waisted, that lithe, powerful form set alarm bells ringing in Laurel's mind and a current of heat swirling through her body.

No. It couldn't be.

The interloper peered into the darkness and sniffed the air. All the lights in the cabin were off. He seemed not to see her. He raised his face to the moon.

There was no doubt. She would never forget those perfect cheekbones, that arrogant nose, that chiseled jaw. Moonbeams lit his bottomless blue eyes, making them glow like sapphires. A strangled moan escaped her throat. Her nipples beaded under her thin top and a growing hunger throbbed in her core.

Grant. Grant Steele. The one man she'd ever loved.

Laurel? Laurel baby! You are here, after all.” In two athletic bounds, he'd scaled the porch and stood towering over her diminutive frame. He was solid, real – this wasn't one of her eternal fantasies. Without preliminaries, he gathered her into his arms. He smelled of balsam, damp earth and grease from his favorite french fries. The all-too-familiar scent left her limp and increasingly damp.

His firm lips pressed against her, mastering her in an instant. Molten need flooded her as he pulled her more tightly against his rock-hard body. His tongue invaded her mouth and tangled with hers, brazen and insistent. Meanwhile his always-bold hands traced her bountiful curves, kneading her well-toned buttocks and tickling the side of one full, tender breast.

Lightning sparked through her with each of his touches. His massive erection prodded her pubis as he continued to ravage her mouth. All she wanted was to sink to the ground and open herself to him. It took every ounce of will she could muster to push him away.

Grant – Grant – wait a moment, please!”

I've waited half a lifetime for you, angel. That's long enough!” Nevertheless he backed off a bit. She pressed her hands against his chest, needing to catch her breath for a moment, to increase the distance between them. If she didn't, she'd go mad.

Under his tight tee shirt, ridges of unyielding muscle rose and fell under her fingertips, like a bumpy road. She fought down a sudden wave of nausea. “Grant, how did you ever find me?”

Instead of answering, he bent to kiss her again, nibbling at the corner of her mouth, sliding his burning lips along her jaw, sucking on her earlobe until electric sparks sizzled down to her moist center. His hands busied themselves, too, slipping under the waistband of her shorts to cup her bare rear cheek.

The shock of his flesh on hers made her see stars. He kindled delight in every cell of her being, but she had to hold on, at least for a moment. She had to know. She trust her palms against his chest once more, ignoring the shudder that crept through her.

Grant! Please! Who told you I was out here?”

Nobody told me. I just knew. You're my soul mate, Laurel. I always know where you are. Of course, getting to you might not always be that easy.” He glanced a bit ruefully at the biceps bulging out of his short sleeves, which were scratched and raw from fighting his way through the woods, then favored her with one of his irresistible, boyish grins. “But it's worth it...”

The sight of his torn, pneumatic flesh made her a bit queasy. She ducked away before he could descend on her mouth once more. She wanted him – oh, how she wanted him, with the pent-up urgency of fifteen years apart! But first they had to talk. Communication was important. She wasn't going to just give herself to him like some slut. She had to know how he felt, why he'd left town so suddenly after that night, so long ago...

Still. His soul mate, he'd called her. Passion flared in her heart and between her thighs. It was too wonderful to be true!

If you felt that way – why did you leave me – you know, after...”

After you refused to give me your cherry?”

Come on, Grant, you know we couldn't. We were barely seventeen. We were romance characters. It's just not allowed.”

He didn't try to disguise the bitterness in his voice. “I ran away from the hurt. I thought I could forget you. That I could bury myself in other bodies and burn out the need.” With a gentleness that almost made her sob, he trailed his fingers through her luminous golden tresses. “And I tried, baby. Believe me, I tried. I whored my way from Mombasa to Bangkok. But you were with me the whole time. Every woman I ever fucked was really you.”

His crudeness made her own desire flare. “Oh, Grant...”

Then, when I heard your husband had died, that you were a widow now – I had to track you down. To make you give me what you've owed me for so very long... what we both need and deserve...”

He seized her with new roughness. “I'm finally going to make you mine, baby.” Her clothing tore like tissue paper under his assault. She sprawled backward onto the porch, bare as the day she was born. The night air, cool on her fevered skin, both thrilled and terrified her.

Her nakedness stunned him for a moment. He gazed at her with something like reverence. “God, you're beautiful, Laurel! You're a dream come true.” He dabbled his fingertips in her moist cleft, barely revealed by her gracefully parted thighs. “And so wet, darling! You want me as much as I want you.”

He knelt between her legs and she held her breath. The moment – the moment was coming. But she had to tell him the truth.

Of course I want you, Grant. I always wanted you, no matter what I said or did. That night up on the hill above town – you have no idea how much I wanted you to be my first. How difficult it was to say no.”

I should have been.” Anger and regret both rang in his voice. He was fiddling with his jeans, trying to get his zipper open. Laurel held her breath. “But it's too late now.”

She propped herself up on her elbows, her eyes glued to his fingers. “No, Grant. It's not.”

What?” He sat back on his heels to stare at her. “What are you talking about?”

Harold – he – well, let's just say that he and I never consummated our marriage.”

You mean – are you trying to say....” he whispered.

Yes, my love. I'm still a virgin.”

Praise the Lord and the saints!” He dragged her back into his arms, kissing her all over. “I can't believe it. After all this time... Oh, baby, I'm going to make it so good for you, so very good. Just lie back and let me take care of everything!”

With exaggerated care he settled her onto her back once more. Her legs flopped open and her musky aroma pervaded the atmosphere. Never in all her thirty three years had she been so drenched, so aroused, so ready.

Grant gave her a devilish grin. He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it over his head to reveal his naked torso.

Laurel screamed. Terror drowned out every erotic thought, every lascivious sensation. “No! No! Get away from me!”

The vision before her was more monster than man. Unnaturally smooth, totally hairless skin stretched taut over the swollen contours of his massive pectorals. Puffed-up deltoids merged into the ballooning biceps she'd glimpsed earlier. Ropy veins twisted around the contoured flesh of his arms, like tubing installed to nourish some artificial life form. Below his nipples, his abdomen rippled, wavy crests and valleys, all hard and burnished. The sight made her ill, made her weak. She closed her eyes, unable to bear the horror.

Laurel, honey. What's wrong?” Grant bent closer to her face. One rubbery nipple brushed against her own breast.

Aye! Get away from me...!” Crab-like, heedless of the splinters embedding themselves in her bare butt, she scooted backward, trying to get away from that unbearable ugliness and the awful fear it kindled. Fear was her only reality now. She clambered onto her feet, stumbled down the porch steps and raced off into the night.

Of course, Grant could have stopped her – he outweighed her by sixty or seventy pounds, easily, and he had all those muscles – but he was so astonished by her reaction that he didn't even think about it. What was wrong with her? All the women he'd had over the years had raved about his physique. He'd expected Laurel to go weak with lust, as they had...

He shook his head. She had always been a bit nuts. A virgin at thirty three! Maybe she wasn't his soul mate after all.

Meanwhile, Laurel crashed through the forest, heedless of the branches tearing at her naked flesh. Her only thought was to put distance between her and the disgusting reality of Grant's over-inflated body. She ran and ran, until she was totally lost. Finally, when her strength failed her, she collapsed on the mossy bank of little stream that ran through a moon-dappled clearing.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she gasped for air. Sobs shook her ripe, vulnerable body. Was she crying for her lost love? Her lost innocence?

Gradually her breathing slowed. She drank deeply from the crystalline rivulet, to soothe her raw throat. Then she lay back and closed her eyes, focusing on the faint sounds of the night and the sweet, spicy scents of the nature. Gradually a kind of peace stole over her. She had escaped. She was free.

Her fingers drifted to her bare sex. She was still wet, still tingling with residual want. Not for Grant, though. Never. Dreamy and relaxed, she stroked her moist folds and savored the ripples of sensation kindled by that light touch. Perhaps she didn't need a man at all.

The sound of breaking branches roused her from her erotic reverie. Grant! But whatever was forcing itself through the underbrush was bigger than Grant, more powerful.

Her heart in her throat, Laurel rolled onto her knees. She was ready to run if she had to, but for the moment curiosity held her fast.

A hairy form at least seven feet tall burst from the trees into the open area and stood, sniffing the air. The beast stood on its hind legs like a man, but its immense stature and shaggy pelt made it clear this creature was not human. Its tufted ears swiveled, trying to locate the source of Laurel's shallow breathing. Saliva dripped from its maw, which bristled with vicious looking teeth. Meanwhile, jutting from its groin was a rigid and very human-looking male organ – aside from the fact that it was half again as long and thick as any penis that had ever appeared in an erotic romance story.

The creature's ferocious growl changed to some more ambiguous vocalization when he finally noticed Laurel's naked form crouched on the earth. He took a step forward, his erect member bobbing like a conductor's wand. The rhythmic motion held Laurel transfixed. Rekindled lust flickered through her, tightening her nipples and moistening her virgin cunt.

Her fur-covered companion made another sound, grunting with a rising intonation that seemed to signal a question. He took yet another step in her direction.

He didn't seem inclined to attack her. Laurel almost wished he would.

Finally, worn down by too much terror, frustrated with waiting, she flopped over on her back, raised her knees and gave the creature a good look at her wet and gleaming sex. Enough was enough.

Come on, big boy. Let's see what you can do.”