Thursday, April 28, 2022

A future for them is impossible... #Fairies #Ireland #ParanormalRomance

Daughter of Lore cover


He doesn’t believe...

Zeke Kendall doesn’t believe in fairies. He’s a scientist; an anthropologist who has spent the last ten years digging in the harsh deserts of the American Southwest. But things look a lot different in the soft green shadows of Ireland. There it is easier to believe that magic exists, especially when Zeke tumbles off a fairy mound and ends up in the arms of the beautiful Nuala, who seems to know everything about him. When she tells him she is a fairy, he actually wants to believe it, even as he knows better.

She can’t believe...

Nuala is daughter of Mab, Queen of Fairies. She has grown up in the twilightland of the fae, fiercely loyal and loving to her people. But she has also been in love with Zeke Kendall ever since she first saw him in her scrying water as a child. To now have him so close is both joy and torture.

For she is the heir to the great crown of the Tuatha de Danann fairy clan. She has no place in Zeke’s world. And he, a man drawn in the sharp edges of his deserts, has no place in hers. Even as passion rises and the love she’d only dreamed of blossoms into reality, Nuala knows that a future for them is impossible. And yet, she can’t find a way to send him back to his own world.

Note: This title was previously published as Dark Seduction


Zeke Kendall did not believe in fairies. Not merely a serious scientist but a man of the millennium, he held no truck with ghosties or ghoulies or things that went bump in the night. It didn’t matter that he was standing hip-deep in what was purported to be a fairy glen in the middle of Ireland, where generations had seen, consorted with and recovered from fairies. Even standing in the middle of fairy central, Zeke could say with perfect conviction that he did not believe in the species.

Which was why the sudden sight of the delicate, sloe-eyed woman sent him reeling.

He caught her out of the corner of his eye, the way you would in a dream. Creamy skin that all but glowed in the soft, watery light. Thick, curling auburn hair that seemed oddly dry in the rain. Big eyes. Wide eyes. Clear, laughing green eyes that sparkled at him and then turned away. Eyes he would swear on his grave he recognized from somewhere.

Before he realized what he was doing, Zeke was following her. Splashing in puddles up to his ankles, he shoved aside ferns and fuchsia and oak branches in his haste to catch up with her.

She was in a dress. A floaty kind of silky thing in the most iridescent shade of peacock he’d ever seen. Tantalizing over breast and hip and thigh. Compelling a man who had never had the need to be compelled.

Zeke was no monk. He’d had his share of relationships. He’d been told by people other than his family that he was handsome. Rugged, according to his latest friend, Tina. Wide-shouldered and tall and healthy. He hadn’t needed to beg women to stop for him, nor had he ever particularly felt the gut-wrenching desire to do so.

But suddenly, after the swift, stunning sight of a woman who had laughed at him, luscious strawberry lips parted over perfect white teeth and a toss of perfect copper hair, he was running as if his life depended on it.

And somehow, on a single path to a single stream in the middle of nowhere, he lost her.

Zeke got to the very bottom of the path, all but breathless from hopping boulders, sliding through mud, and ducking under foliage, and stopped. Looked around. Stared hard at nothing.

He was sure he’d seen her. He could almost still hear her windchime-light laugh as she spun away. He swore he smelled cloves. Hell, he could almost feel that silk dress against his fingers.

Where the hell was she?

Who the hell was she?

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author and RWA Hall of Fame member Eileen Dreyer and her evil twin Kathleen Korbel have published over forty novels and novellas, and ten short stories in genres ranging from medical suspense to paranormal to romance. She is thrilled to have joined Oliver Heber Books to continue her Drake’s Rakes series about Regency aristocrats who are willing to sacrifice everything to keep their country safe, of which Ill Met by Moonlight is a near relative.

A former trauma nurse, Eileen lives in St. Louis with her husband, children and large and noisy Irish family, of which she is the reluctant matriarch. A seasoned conference speaker, Dreyer travels to research, and uses research as an excuse to travel. Oh, who's she kidding? She doesn't need an excuse. She has the Irish wanderlust and satisfies it as often as she can to the point that she has sung traditional Irish music on four continents. She also had the incredible chance to research Drake’s Rakes by attending the 200th anniversary of not only the Battle of Waterloo, but the Duchess of Richmond ball (in period attire). She has animals, but refuses to subject them to the limelight.


Eileen Dreyer will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Review Tuesday moved to Thursday: Crystal Clear Truth by Kayelle Allen - #ReviewTuesday #ScienceFiction #Romance

Crystal Clear Truth cover

Crystal Clear Truth by Kayelle Allen

Amazon, 2022

Shohn Lexius is a Kin warrior – and an exile. Embittered by the tragic and unjust death of her brother on her female-led home planet of Felidae, she now works as chief security office for Luc St. Cyr on Tarth. Her intelligence, perceptiveness, courage and loyalty have made her invaluable to her employer. Only Shohn knows that loyalty is a lie, that her true mission will force her to betray him.

Joe Townsend is a scientist. Like his father, he’s an expert on the fascinating but deadly firestorms associated with the precious crystals that power space flight. After his father is killed, Joe uncovers evidence suggesting that the parents who raised him had deceived him about his biological heritage. Armed with nothing but a photograph of his birth mother, he hires Shohn’s organization, IdBot, to help him uncover the mystery woman’s identity and details. He soon finds he needs Shohn’s expertise more than he realized, as mysterious forces work to block his quest for the truth.

I first encountered Shohn in A Stolen Heart, the first book in Kayelle Allen’s Antonello Brothers series, in which she’s an important secondary character. I was delighted when I learned that she had been featured in a book of her own.

My relationship to Ms. Allen’s science fiction saga of the Sempervians is a bit equivocal. I find the Kin endlessly fascinating. (My personal ailurophilic tendencies may have something to do with this!) The author has done a brilliant job creating their unique biology, their culture, their language and their modes of interaction. Crystal Clear Truth highlights this triumph of imagination. Despite her years on Tarth, Shohn is both truly alien and thoroughly believable. Meanwhile her romantic connection with Joe (which is developed in a slow, thoughtful and utterly delicious manner) depends strongly on his familiarity, understanding and respect for her culture. I appreciated his sensitivity, which made their relationship much more plausible.

I’m far less interested in St. Cyr, Pietas and the Empress. I’m really not sure why; it may be that near-absolute power removes so many limitations that there’s no challenge. Or it may be that I get frustrated when these immortals behave like petulant teenagers.

In any case, Crystal Clear Truth focuses almost exclusively on Shohn and Joe, so I found it highly enjoyable. Joe is a beta male, comfortable yielding power to a dominant female like Shohn. At the same time, he’s brave and competent, not to mention brilliant. My kind of guy, in short!

The search for Joe’s mother provides a framing conflict that allows Shohn and Joe to grow closer and learn to trust each other. That conflict ultimate gets resolved a bit too quickly and easily for my tastes, with a surprising outcome that I shan’t reveal here. But I’ll admit I was far more focused on the burgeoning romance, including Shohn’s resistance to her feelings, than on the question of Joe’s parentage.

For the many devoted fans of Ms. Allen’s series, this book will be yet another treasured chapter in the epic she has spent decades creating. I’m a more casual reader of her work, having dipped my toe here and there into her world. I think that of the four or five books I’ve read, Crystal Clear Truth was my favorite.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

I think I love you – #HistoricalRomance #Humor #LGBTQI #MFRWHooks

A Midsummer Night's Gender Bending cover

This Wednesday, I am celebrating yet another new release – well, a re-release – of my humorous and romantic tale A Midsummer Night’s Gender Bending. If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you don’t want to miss this one! Here’s the blurb:

What visions I have seen! Methought I was enamoured of an ass.

The year is 1595 in the reign of Good Queen Bess. Stage-struck, young Ben Hastings leaves his father's farm for London, to join Will Shakepeare's band of players. Hugh Templeton, the handsome leading man, takes the innocent lad under his wing, but Ben soon discovers that Hugh wants more than just friendship. Meanwhile a savvy tavern maid named Jenny engineers a comedy of errors to save Ben from Hugh's lewd embrace and win him for her own.

Just for fun - I’ll give away two copies of the book to people who leave comments on this post.

The Hook

Heaven. Dear God, Ben prayed, forgive me if I have offended Thee. I am a lost lamb, wandering in the wilderness. Show me the way that I may choose what is right and good in Thy sight. A short prayer, but somehow it made Ben feel more confident. He rose and dressed then slipped downstairs to the tavern’s main room, leaving Hugh asleep.

At first, the room appeared to be empty. Then Ben spied movement by the hearth. The serving wench was stirring up the fire under a kettle of something that smelled like soup. The aroma made his stomach twist, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since last sunset.

He watched the girl for a few minutes before making his presence known. She moved with a quiet efficiency that appealed to him, building the coals into a glowing pile, coaxing the flame with the bellows, laying two loaves by the hearth to warm. She was built as slightly as a child, with modest breasts and slender hips, but Ben thought she must be close to his age. Her features were regular; her expression suggested stubbornness. Her hair was her crowning glory, a profusion of blonde curls that tumbled halfway down her back. Even as he noticed, though, she pulled a cap out of her apron pocket and stuffed her hair into it with an impatience that made him smile.

Good morrow, Miss,” he said finally. She looked up, annoyed, guilty to have been caught unawares though her activities seemed completely innocent. When she recognised him, however, a warm smile replaced her irritation.

Ah, Master Player. Good morrow. Did you sleep well?” Ben heard the hint of laughter in her voice. Was it only because of his drunken exit the previous evening, or did she know more?

Well enough, thank you. I ask your pardon for my excessive intoxication last night. I did not behave like a gentleman.” Ben was surprised to hear himself speak so fair. It must be the influence of Master Will’s verse.

This is a drinking house. We’re quite accustomed to intoxication in all its forms.”

Even so…”

She waved him into silence, placing a steaming bowl and a hunk of bread on the trestle in front of him. Then she sat opposite, staring at him until he lowered his gaze in embarrassment.

Tell me,” she said finally. “Tell me what it’s like to be on the stage.”

Well, I have only been a player for a few weeks.” He dipped his spoon into the bowl to cover his confusion. “I’ve only played women’s parts, so far. Because I’m young and mostly unbearded. Someday, though, I’ll play a general. Or a king.”

Or even, perhaps, a god. You are handsome enough.”

Something in her voice made him look up from his breakfast. The intensity of her gaze was unnerving. It was hot, like the sun beating down on a field in high summer. Under that gaze, he began to swell and harden. That reminded him of Hugh, which only made him harder still. He blushed, hopelessly, not knowing how to handle this brazen, unladylike person.

She reached across the table to put her hand on his. “I want you, Ben. As my first lover.”

He snatched his hand away as if burned. “What?”

She sat back and brushed a wayward curl from her eyes. Her bodice was half open; he could see the way her breasts rose and fell with her breath. “I want you. I think I love you. I know that I desire you. Will you have me? I’m a far better choice for you than that old lecher Templeton.”

Ben’s stomach lurched. Only with a supreme effort did he avoid vomiting all that he had eaten. “I don’t know what you are saying,” he choked out, standing and backing away from her. “What nonsense…?”

Just because I’m a virgin doesn’t mean that I’m na├»ve. I saw you. The two of you. Last night.”


Don’t worry, I’ll not tell anyone. But you should forget him, Ben, forget him and choose me. Help me to escape from my dog of a father, and I’ll help make you the greatest actor of our time.”

No – I – um, I have to be going, Miss. I have a performance this afternoon.” He tried to make it to the door, but somehow, she managed to block his way.

She grabbed his two hands in hers and locked her eyes on his. “Please. Think about it. My name is Jenny.”

I’ve got to go…” Ben was close to total panic.

Jenny stood on tiptoe and lightly kissed his lips. “Go, then. But you’ll see me again, before long.”

She stepped out of his path. He raced out into the street as if pursued by the devil.

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Don’t forget to leave a comment. And I do hope you’ll click on over to visit the other authors joining today’s Book Hooks event.

Monday, April 25, 2022

A twisted path of love, adventure and redemption – #PNR #EroticRomance #ShifterRoyalty @AnitaPhilmar

Banished Hero cover


With no memory of her past, Faye Lynn Berton clings to a father, who curses her ability to shape-shift. Yet he revels in using her special skill to scam local villagers. The only freedom she knows comes as she soars through the sky in falcon form. A chance meeting with another changeling turns her world upside down. Beyond satisfying the powerful sexual cravings that follow transformation, he reveals a surprising dimension of sex between their kind… one to unlock the secrets of her soul.

Havyn Westmore has questions… Faye Lynn holds the answers. Determined to unravel the mystery of who she might be, he strives to gain her freedom and trust. Teaching her the finer techniques of transformation keeps her close, while sex strengthens their bond. But on the trail of discovery, Havyn must confront his own past. Accused of a heinous crime, he’s banned from his homeland. Now, he’s torn between robbing Faye Lynn of her birthright and a life in Paradise or facing certain execution.

Banished Hero is a hot paranormal romantic adventure with a royal shapeshifter family. This longer novella guarantees a HEA with two other stories in the series.

Second edition. Newly revised and edited.


Strangely, our meeting feels as if it was pre-ordained.”

With a low groan of pleasure, his tracker’s stare flashed, and his fingers squeezed her throat lightly, showing a ravenous desire. “Maybe” A wave of uncertainty vibrated through her shapeshifter’s intuition. Am I getting the message wrong? “But I wonder… are you a predator or lover?”

Uncertain about how he’d respond, she decided, either way, she’d willingly surrender to his cravings because they matched her own. Though the sweltering heat in his amber eyes helped reassure her with the message of whichever you need me to be, effectively securing her heart and soul.

“As a man… I’m a predator by nature.” Lightly stroking a steamy caress along her jaw, he dropped a brief kiss on her lips. “However, in this case… I want to be your lover.”

Reading his succulent smile and the glint of power in his copper stare as genuine affection, she cherished his sensual caresses. Each one inspired a wave of euphoric sensations that rippled through her body, expanding the erogenous heat developing in her core. Hot liquid dripped between her thighs, begging for a cock to fill the neglected space.

The precious title of a lover shuddered through her nerve endings, inspiring an impossible dream of a devoted protector who’d cherish her forever. Lungs robbed of air by the fantasy caused her to inhale quickly, only to have the air rush back out on a sigh when his searing hand cupped her breast in a fevered grope. The callused pad of his thumb rubbed her nipple, sending shock waves vibrating through her body, lighting every cell until the hair on her head tingled.

Oh, my, I” She gasped, fighting between each heavy pant to impart a coherent thought. Her senses flirted with insanity at the mind-blowing intensity his touch inspired. Fighting the all-consuming passion racing through her blood, she struggled to capture the exclusive pleasure brought on by a man gently arousing her excitement before callously groping for his own satisfaction.

The scorching heat of his mouth covered her breast, robbing her thoughts of everything but him. After only an instant, he retreated, followed by a light brush of air over her moist skin before he continued to torture her by licking each puckered tip until longing sizzled to the ends of her fingers and toes, igniting them with sprinkles of ecstasy.

* * * *

Note from Anita: I am currently rewriting my books and plan to re-release a new book each month for the next few years. Welcome to the journey and I hope you join me for this exciting ride.



About the Author

Anita Philmar likes to create stories that push the limit. A writer by day, and a dreamer by night, she wants her readers to see the world in a new way. With the influence of her children’s sci-fi programs, she likes to play with diverse cultures and places where anything can happen. She enjoys bringing hot romantic moments to life in a variety of genres, such as historical westerns, paranormal suspense, and contemporary murder mysteries.

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Sunday, April 24, 2022

When the stars align, passion sizzles – #Astrology #EroticRomance #Anthology

Zodiac Encounters cover

Limited time availability!

Grab these twelve engaging erotic romance stories from NY Times bestselling, USA Today bestselling, and award-winning romance authors.

Ever wonder how the stars played into the chemistry of lovers? Who has the spiciest sign? Who is the most adventurous? Who wants to rule the bedroom? Who wants to treat you like a queen?

Get your hands on this steamiliousness while you can!


Mia London

Renee Luke

Sadira Stone

Terry Towers

Marie Tuhart

Cadence Vonn

Universal Book Link:

Blurb for Caught up in Capricorn by Sadira Stone

When a confident, control-freak Capricorn is forced to partner with a prickly, seductive Scorpio, their business and their hearts will never be the same.

Owner Ryan Lee keeps a sharp eye on every detail of Salty Dog Brewery. His brewer’s sudden departure leaves just one replacement, Lilo Eisinger, the brewer’s stunning, sharp-tongued daughter. Though smart and talented, Lilo’s weird, niche beers are the last thing Salty Dog needs. Ryan burns for her, but he must protect his business.

Master brewer Lilo reluctantly puts her plans on hold to help Ryan, the smug, handsome jerk she’s loathed since middle school. But Ryan’s been good to her dad, and maybe she can turn this obstacle into a medal-winning opportunity for both of them, if only she can pry his grip loose from their beer menu.

Working side by side lowers their defenses and ignites long-simmering desire. But a high-stakes craft beer contest triggers their fierce competitive nature. Can their budding love survive this battle of wills?


Lilo leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “You’re pretty transparent with your phony smile and your bedroom eyes. You and I are stuck together professionally. Let’s make the best of it and not muddy the waters with flirtation.”

There’s that Scorpio sting Gemma warned me about.”

Gemma warned you about me?” Judging by Lilo’s sour expression, Gemma was due for a talking to.

She and Jesse stopped by yesterday. She says Scorpios are like coconuts. Hard, scratchy exterior, soft and juicy interior. According to her, Capricorn and Scorpio have a lot in common. She says, with my practicality and your intuition, we’d make a great team.”

Lilo’s eyes narrowed. “Just what kind of team do you have in mind?”

I’m talking about work, of course. Although—” He stroked his chin, weighing his chances. “I wouldn’t object to getting to know you better. You know, on a personal level.”

Her eyebrows rose, then scrunched. She licked her lips, then clamped them tight. What the hell was going on in that hard head of hers?

Finally, she set down her fork and folded her hands on the table. “I’m gonna be straight with you, Ryan. I’m attracted to you.”

Yesss! “Is that so?”

But I’m not the casual hookup type. I have to at least like a guy before getting intimate. And I’m not sure I like you.”

His jaw fell. “What the hell did I do?”

She gave a slow, feline blink. “Besides being a schmoozer who doesn’t have faith in my skills as a brewer?”

I never said—"

Your actions say otherwise, always watching me to make sure I don’t screw up.”

Did it ever occur to you I just like looking at you?”

Blurb for Tangled in Taurus by Sadira Stone

Headstrong, homebody Taurus plus passionate, freedom-loving Aquarius equals the worst match ever, but their blazing chemistry is unstoppable.

Jesse Del Toro struggles to keep his organic farm afloat, hard enough without the delicious, dangerous distraction of Gemma Moore’s return to Trappers Cove. The bewitching vagabond will never settle down in their quirky beach town. But once ignited, their fiery attraction sets them on a collision course that could wreck him.

Shaken by a breakup, Gemma flees to the soothing serenity of Trappers Cove. Helping in Aunt Zora’s metaphysical shop will calm her stormy emotions. But from the moment Jesse walks in, calm is a lost cause. The hunky herb farmer is frustrating, stubborn, and oh so tempting. One hot night reveals his hidden side—sweet, sensual, and determined to make her his.

When a harmless secret backfires, Gemma discovers just how deeply she’s wounded the beautiful bull man, and how desperately she wants to keep him.


He bit his lip, a distractingly sexy gesture. “I’ve been reading up on Aquarius people. You don’t really like talking about your feelings, and—”

Hold up. Mr. I-Don’t-Believe-In-Woo-Woo-Stuff has been reading up on astrology?”

He shrugged. “You believe in it, and so does Zora, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to learn more about where you’re coming from.”

Gemma didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “I can’t believe it. I’ve been sitting here alone, worrying that you’ve lost interest, and you’ve been doing research? Can’t we just cut to the chase?”

With a low laugh, Jesse glanced over his shoulder, then placed his lips a hair’s breadth from her ear. “Get naked, you mean? Is that what you want, Gemma?”

She hooked her fingers into his hip pockets and tugged him against her. “Yes, please. Ever since that night by the fire, I can’t stop thinking about your touch, your voice, your…”

Gemma.” He took her chin between his thumb and forefinger, his expression serious. “You’re vulnerable right now. I didn’t want to take advantage. If you want to be with me, you need to understand I’m not a casual hookup kind of guy. I have feelings for you, which is kind of scary, considering you’re all set to bolt from Trappers Cove as soon as Zora is well.”

Gemma sighed. “I haven’t decided what I’ll do when she’s well.”

That admission was all it took to rekindle his smile. “Look, I’m not proposing. I’m not asking you to move in. But before I do all the things I want to do to you, I need to know I’m more than just a way to pass the time until you leave.” His fingers skimmed down her throat, then over her collar bones—and just like that, she discovered her new favorite erogenous zone.

What do you say, Gemma? You ready to take a leap of faith?” He pressed a kiss to her temple and murmured, “Because when you’re ready, I’ll love you with my hands, my tongue, my cock. I’ll fuck you so good you won’t want to leave me.”

Dizzy, she clutched his shirt to keep from tumbling to the floor.

He nibbled her earlobe, his breath hot against her skin. “You’re not there yet, Gemma. And I won’t give you what we both want until you let your guard down.” His hand slid down to squeeze her hip. “What do you say, Gemma? Are you ready to be real with me?”

About the Author

Award-winning contemporary romance author Sadira Stone spins steamy, smoochy tales set in small businesses—a quirky bookstore, a neighborhood bar, a vintage boutique... Her stories highlight found family, friendship, and the sizzling chemistry that pulls unlikely partners together. When she emerges from her writing cave in Las Vegas, Nevada (which she seldom does), she can be found in belly dance class, or strumming her ukulele, perhaps exploring the West with her charming husband, or cooking up a storm, and always gobbling all the romance books. For a guaranteed HEA (and no cliffhangers!) visit Sadira at

I’d love to hear from you! Please visit me on all the socials.

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Saturday, April 23, 2022

Charity Sunday for the Earth – #CharitySunday #EarthDay #WWF #PNR

Charity Sunday Banner

Two days ago we celebrated Earth Day. Well, “celebrated” might be a bit overly optimistic. The earth and the natural environment are facing more serious threats than ever before. However, I guess we can be hopeful that perhaps people are becoming more aware and concerned about these challenges.

In observation of Earth Day, for this month’s Charity Sunday I’m supporting the World Wildlife Fund. 

I’ve chosen WWF, out of the many environmental and nature charities that exist, for several reasons. First of all, although they have “wildlife” in their name, WWF recognizes the critical importance of the environment and habitat. Indeed, the condition of our planet’s wild creatures is an indicator of how well – or poorly – we are doing in our stewardship of nature. WWF takes a broad perspective and supports programs focusing on climate change, sustainable food production, ocean and river conservation and environmental education. A second motivation is the fact that although WWF is a global organization, they work locally through many country-level affiliates. I believe this is important because environmental problems always have distinct cultural, political and economic contexts. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution; instead individual communities need to engage and address their specific issues.

Anyway, for today’s event I will donate $2 to WWF for each comment I receive.

Meanwhile, I have a highly relevant excerpt from my short paranormal romance Hot Spell: Elemental Passions Book 1. This book is currently on sale for only 99 cents as part of the release bash for Book 2 of the series.


The flames of passion are more than metaphor.

Comfortable and at home in nature, Sylvie doesn't mind being alone in the wilderness. But she's not the only being haunting the glades and the trails. The stranger she encounters bathing in the stream near her camp obviously wants her, but refuses to act on his desire. Aidan is cursed with a power he fears will destroy her if they surrender to their passion. Can Sylvie refrain from tempting him?


The hills, normally a brilliant emerald at this time of year, had turned a premature yellow. Sylvie gazed off to the east, imagining soaring pines and gleaming white summits. A yearning seized her—an almost physical need to be in the woods again. She smiled and brushed her unruly hair out of her eyes. Camping would be just the thing. It was barely Memorial Day. There wouldn’t be any crowds. There might even still be snow.

She bounded down the stairs to pack her gear, singing to herself. Being alone in the mountains didn’t bother her at all. In fact, it was just what she needed.

* * * *

The miles evaporated as Sylvie raced along the highway. Hot wind from the open window whipped her long hair back behind her. As the road climbed under her wheels, her spirits rose as well. She sang along with the oldies station as she drove—Satisfaction, Thunder Road, Born to Be Wild. The DJ’s playlist matched her mood. For the first time in weeks, she felt free, the burdens and worries of city life left behind her. Even the continuing heat failed to oppress her, spiked as it was with the scents of pine and wildflowers.

She reached the trailhead about five. Sunlight slanted between the towering trees like gold bars. She locked her car, then shouldered her pack and set out at a brisk pace for the campsite, about three miles up the path. She’d camped in these woods before, when she’d been in college. It seemed like a hundred years ago.

Alice and Jill had been appalled when she’d told them her plans. “Alone? In the middle of the wilderness?” Jill’s perfectly shaped eyebrows had knit in a frown. “What if something happens?”

What could happen?” she’d laughed, guessing that neither of her friends had ever taken a hike or slept under the star—or would ever consider doing so.

Wild animals! Bears. Mountain lions. Or you might fall, break a leg and be stranded. You could starve to death.”

And what about murderers or rapists?” Alice had rapped her fingernails against her desk. Her turquoise enamel matched her outfit. “You never know who you’ll meet out there in the woods.”

I’ll have my phone,” she’d reassured them, although she’d known there’d likely be no signal. “Animals are shy. They won’t bother me if I don’t bother them. And I took a self-defense course last year. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Anyway, you’ll know where I am. If I’m not back on Tuesday, send out the National Guard.”

She strode along the trail, swinging her arms and filling her lungs with the fragrant mountain air. Sweat pooled in her armpits and under her breasts. The weather was still unseasonably warm, but a fresh breeze played amongst the trees, hinting at the coolness to come wherever it touched her damp skin. As dusk shrouded the forest, her senses grew keener. An owl perched on an overhanging branch—she caught the yellow glint of its eyes. Some furred creature skittered through the underbrush and the mournful call of a loon reached her from the direction of Crystal Lake, miles away. A spicy hint of crushed fennel tickled her nose, triggering a pang of hunger. Sylvie smiled, remembering the chunks of salmon marinating in a Ziplock bag in her backpack. She’d brought a half bottle of wine, too, for her first dinner in the wild. Somehow, she’d felt like celebrating.

Full night had fallen by the time she reached the campsite, perched on a ridge above the steep banks of Sandman Creek. As she piled fallen branches inside the ring of blackened stones and kindled them into a merry blaze, she could hear the stream singing to itself…or maybe welcoming her back where she belonged.

Her meal was every bit as tasty and satisfying as she’d anticipated. Afterwards, she sat for what seemed like hours, her back against the rough bark of a huge spruce, tasting the residual sweetness of her wine, watching the fire burn down to a clutch of glowing embers. The cinders shone from within like some dragon’s precious cache—ruby, gold, an occasional flash of emerald. The play of light fascinated her.

Her muscles ached from the strenuous hike. Her hair was in knots and a sticky film of perspiration coated her skin. None of that mattered. Peace enfolded her, along with a profound sense of well-being. The breeze whispered to her. The creek babbled and laughed.

Water. A bath. Relaxed, lazy and sated though she was, the notion still held an irresistible appeal. Sylvie checked the remains of the fire to assure herself that there was no chance it would escape the rocks encircling it. Then she dug a towel out of her pack and headed down the forested slope to the creek.

The gurgle of water tumbling over stone grew louder as she approached. The very sound was refreshing. A few feet from the edge, she stripped off her clothes, draping them and her towel over a convenient boulder. She was about to step out of the woods when an unexpected movement caught her eye.

There was something splashing in the creek a bit downstream from where she stood—something…or someone. Sylvie shrank back into the shadow of the trees.

Directly opposite her, the stream rushed over river-polished rocks, flecked with white froth. To her right, though, it widened into a calm pool, black as the sky above. The unexpected noise came from there.

She peered into the night. All she could see at first was a round, furry mass that seemed to float upon the surface. Ripples stirred as a figure rose from the water. At the same time, the half moon climbed above the crest of the trees. Its pale rays revealed the form of a naked man.

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