Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Many Splintered Thing / Day 15: "...that would make me a real asshole, don’t you think?”








Day 15 and the beat goes on. We roll along...

~~~~~~

He knew he was wrong to do it. You weren’t supposed to get off like a teenager when someone was out walking your dog. And yet, he couldn’t seem to help it. Getting himself taken care of seemed a necessity at the moment. Like eating, showering, sleeping. He needed to do it or he’d never be able to be around this woman or have a conversation without intermittently sporting wood. No matter what he did, his mind kept returning, over and over again, to that kiss. To that moment she gave in. To him.

Gave in. To him.

He shook the water out of his hair and gripped his cock. It wasn’t going to take long. “Fit to pop, fit to pop,” he muttered, shutting his eyes to the spray as he stroked himself roughly right out of the gate.

Caleb pressed his left arm to the wall, pushed his forehead against his arm. Kept his eye shut tight to 
block out the world. His hand going up and down his shaft was both mesmerizing and not quite good enough. But it would have to do, so he forced himself deeper into the memory. The moment her lips softened. The moment her tongue touched his for just a millisecond. The moment her limbs went loose and her body relaxed and he could tell she was lost to the kiss.

That moment.

And then he let his mind run with it and he was parting her legs, knocking them wide, running his cock along her wetness. Staring at those three deep scars now bared to him, disappearing somewhere in the beautiful cleavage that hid beneath that black tank top. And his mind carried him forward. Forward into her, over her, lost with her.

All the bullshit soap opera script craziness fell away and it was him and Dahlia. Her blue eyes wide, her dark hair loose and fanned out, her lips parted and her body arching up under his.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he whispered as he came.

Simultaneously, the dog barked outside the bathroom and a fist pounded the door. Caleb jumped. 
“Stop diddling yourself and come out. Mary up in the kitchen sent back enchiladas. Her enchiladas. Homemade. They are magical…mystical. They’re better than sex. And you have five minutes to get out here or I’m eating yours.”

And then he could tell by the shift in the energy that she was gone.

He shook his head, his hands shaking in sympathy or from the adrenaline rush he wasn’t sure which. “Coming,” he whispered. And then he laughed.

*

He grunted.

“Told you,” she said. Dahlia put another forkful in her mouth and rolled her eyes. “Better than sex.”

Caleb mumbled around his own mouthful of enchilada. “You’re having sex with the wrong people then.” He looked into her unamused face and shrugged. “But close. They’re definitely a close second.”

He finished his enchilada, took a swig of ice tea and then a sip of a whiskey she’d poured. “So, when Jasmine called me to come down here she said Harrison was fucking the maid. That would be you?”

He realized he was holding his breath, hoping she’d say no. How embarrassing.

Dahlia tipped her head back and her braids danced as she laughed long and loud. He watched her, feeling himself smile. Apparently he was way off on this one.

Finally, she straightened up and took a deep breath. “Um…no. That would be the extended staff who come in to help me. This place is a handful but I prefer to do it alone. It’s a long, hard day of work but I like long, hard days of work. They keep you honest. Physical labor is as Zen as I get.”

He raised his glass to that but kept silent.

“When they have guests come for extended stay or a large party, they bring in auxiliary staff to help me out. And that, I welcome. This was Harrison tip-toeing through the tulips. Actually, her name was Rose. The other one was named Willow which is a tree, not a flower, but you get my little joke there. See, even their maids are pretentious.” She winked at him.

It went straight to his cock. So he took more whiskey and let it sit on his tongue before swallowing it 
down.

“So, tell me, loverboy. I know why I’d roll over and do her bidding, she can fire me if she gets it in her head to. But you? Why did you come all the way down here at her beck and call? Is she that good of a lay? I have a hard time imagining it.”

He shook his head. “Well, first, you’d be wrong. She’s pretty good in the sack. And by the way, you just answered one of my questions. If you two had ever…” He twiddled his fingers at her until she snorted.

“Fucked? No. I’ll explain me and Jas another day. For now you tell me about her magical vagina and why it was worth a trip from Boston.”

“Baltimore.”

“I stand corrected.”

“And not really Baltimore proper. I was on the shore. But you get the idea.”

“I do. A hell of a pussy for that kind of trip.”

He grunted again. Considered another enchilada and realized it would be a huge mistake. He was stuffed. He stood, to give himself something to do, and found the plastic wrap in a drawer on the fourth try.

“Did I make you uncomfortable?”

“A little,” he said. He hated it, too. He was used to being the person who made other people uncomfortable.

“Was it my use of the word pussy?”

“Nope.” He put the pan in the fridge and refilled both their glasses of tea. Odd, but he was getting rather domesticated already. Maybe it was the dog.

“Then…?” She left the question open. He watched her stretch out her long, long legs and put her feet on one of the kitchen chairs.

“It’s a hard question to answer. I’m not sure why. I mean, yeah, there are other women to have sex with in the world. Some of them can put her to shame. But…” A sudden rush of anxiety filled his chest at the shift the conversation had taken. It startled him into taking a deep breath.

She waved a hand. “Sorry, you don’t have to tell me. Sorry I asked. None of my business.”

“No, it’s fine.” He sat. “I didn’t realize my reasoning until you asked.” He fidgeted with the salt and pepper shakers. “I guess she’s the closest thing I’ve known to actual love.”

He looked at her and she looked back. Dahlia’s eyes were amazing. Especially when she was thinking of what she should say.

“Well, damn. I can’t make a joke out of that, can I?”

“Well, you could.” He chuckled softly, drank more whiskey.

“Yeah, I could, but that would make me a real asshole, don’t you think?”
 


photo credit: Katie Ring via photopin cc

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Many Splintered Thing / Day 14: "That went well, don’t you think? I pissed off two different women at once but for entirely different reasons."



I really, really didn't think today would happen. I'm very tired. Not sure why. Just dragging and dragging. But then I sat down to do some words and magically the words came. Even more magically, some of tomorrow's words arrived too. LOL. So below is today's offering. Please read to the bottom for a special message.

Thanks and ❤️
Sommer

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Day 14

The moment the front door snicked shut she shot out of his arms like a wet fish. She put the aviators back on, her black braids swinging indignantly as she marched from the room.

“Was the kiss that bad?” he called, throwing his hands up.

“Asshole!” she said. The front door opened and then slammed.

Caleb ran a hand through his hair and laughed. He sank down on the sofa and untied his boots and took them off. If he had the rest of the day off, he was getting comfortable. In his duffel bag he had a pair of shorts. If he could just muster up the energy to get up and rifle through it.

Alice came over, tail wagging, ears perked. He stretched out on the sofa, overjoyed to the point of near weeping to be lying down on something soft. She put her head on his belly and stared at him.

“I can’t let you up here. Something tells me this is a no-puppies-allowed sofa. But I will scratch your head.” He began to run his fingers up and down her dark snout. Her eyes drifted shut and her tail thumped. “Wow, if only all the females in my life had this wonderful reaction to my attentions.”

She sighed.

“That went well, don’t you think? I pissed off two different women at once but for entirely different reasons. I think that was a hidden talent and now I know about it.” He shut his eyes. He was very tired. Too tired. He hadn’t been so heavy-limbed exhausted in a long, long time.

Alice, the best therapist ever, continued to rest her head on him and allow his loving attention to soothe her. So Caleb kept talking. It felt perfectly natural to unburden himself to a dog. Why hadn’t he gotten one before now?

“And God help me, Al, but I actually thought Harrison wasn’t too much of a huge douche bag. So…I think under different circumstances and maybe in an alternate universe I could like him. But don’t tell anyone.”

She sighed again.

Caleb heard the front door open and he froze. Alice gave a soft rumble that said, What are you doing? Pet me!

“Shh.” She shushed.

He heard boots clacking on the floor and suppressed the initial urge to sit up straight. She was back.
She sauntered in holding a bottle.

He smirked at her, he could tell it was his jerk face but was unable to control it. “You came back. I thought you’d left for good.”

She dropped to the armchair and pulled off her boots. Then she took off her short socks, balled them up and tossed them toward the hallway that branched off the living room. “Well, sorry to break it to you, loverboy, but I live here. So I’m not leaving for good any time soon.”

She called the dog and Alice promptly switched her attentions the newcomer, putting her head in Dahlia’s lap.

“Traitor,” Caleb growled.

Dahlia’s laugh was genuine as she patted Alice. Finally, she sighed and picked up the bottle from the table and waved it in Caleb’s general direction. “Interested?”

Caleb rolled to his side. “Well, I’m no wine expert but that doesn’t look like wine. That, my new roomie, looks like whiskey.”

“That’s because it is whiskey. Now, I’m only asking once more. Interested?”

He stretched, hearing his joints creak and something snap. She winced and he grinned. “Sure. But I need to find some food to go with it.” He got to his feet and followed her. He tried very hard to keep his eyes off her ass and failed miserably. To make up for it he said, “Sorry about the kiss.”

“No you’re not.” She entered the kitchen with him on her heels. Her bare feet barely made a sound on the floor.

“No. I’m not. Busted.”

“What do you want?” she asked, opening the fridge. “There’s leftover from the last two nights. The chefs make staff meals. You can have a pork chop or some chili. Or you can raid the freezer. That’s all stuff I bought. I eat like a fourteen year old.”

He opened the freezer. “Yeah, you do. But I’m not one to talk. Where I come from I have a lot of fresh produce in the house. Some pretzels and chips, beer, and then I tend to walk to local places and buy myself meals. Cheap meals, but good local meals.”

“Well, you can have Hot Pockets, soft pretzels, Fudgesicles, Tater Tots…well, you have eyes. You can eat whatever you want until you get to the store to grab stuff you want to stock.” She took down two short glasses and poured them each two fingers. She handed one to him and when he took it their fingers touched briefly.

He recalled the kiss, that instant of surrender, and he had to focus really hard on not letting his dick get hard. But he had a feeling that the lovely, somewhat abrasive, ass kicker Dahlia was going to star in his masturbatory fantasies. And he was fine with that.

He held up his glass. “To new friends and new adventures.” His gaze fell to those scars and he found himself itching to know about them. But that was for another day. Possibly another life.

She clinked but then she said, “We’re not friends. We just met. And you groped me ten minutes in.”

“I call foul on the term ‘groping’. I did kiss you, though. And I have to admit, I’d have been tempted to do it with or without and audience.” He looked her right in the eyes when he said it. He wanted her to know that as cheesy as it might seem, it was sincere.

She looked away.

For some reason, her looking away without a cutting comment felt like a victory. “I changed my mind. I’ll eat something once I shower and change. Seriously, I’m disgusting. You feel free to go spend your day off away from me. I’m going to take a year long shower, steal your pork chop and then pour another of these.” With that, he downed the whiskey and focused on the fierce burn as it traveled down into his belly.

She studied him so intently he almost wished she’d put the damn aviators back on so he couldn’t see it happening. Rarely did someone’s intense attention make him squirm—hers did.

“I can’t get caught away from my beloved.” She betrayed herself by smiling when she said it. He returned the smile. “I’ll take Alice out around the grounds. We’ll be back shortly.” Then she looked down at the dog and said, “Want to go pee on some bougainvillea, girl?”

Alice bounced playfully. Caleb felt pretty good. If the dog liked her, Dahlia was aces in his book. He looked at Alice as a security system at the moment. An early warning asshole detector.

“Yeah, sure. Thanks,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

She gave him one of her patented short nods and muttered, “No problem.” Then she downed her whiskey without a wince or a blink and he felt his dick want to get hard all over again.

photo credit: JonathanCohen via photopin cc

~~~~


So THIS is happening and live. Which makes me a little weepy and a lot grateful. This community--my community--has been so wonderful to me and mine over the last year I have no words. It is too big for little words so I'll just say thank you. To Tamsin Flowers who had the idea, Alison Tyler for her editing magic, Selena Kitt / Excessica for her publishing skillz, Willsin Rowe for that amazing cover (but which of his covers aren't amazing? None. That is the answer.), the writers who submitted, the writers in the book, people buying it, the people talking about it. To all of you who had a hand in it, I appreciate it. I appreciate you. I can't even begin to explain what this book means to me and my heart.

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Sommer

Presto Chango--a boring hump day into a chance to win a Paranormal Bundle (runs until Friday). Shazam!

I should (should) be back later with AMST but we'll see. In the meantime, here's a little ditty about a paranormal bundle and the first chapter of Kiki Howell's Hidden Salem. Just drop a comment (just say hi or whatever you want) and you'll be entered to win the bundle. I'll choose someone Friday and let Kiki know who the lucky winner is.

Easy peasy!

XOXO
Sommer




Curated by David H. Burton
Welcome to the Paranormal Romance Bundle, curated by the International Bestseller David H. Burton (Broken: A Paranormal Romance) — a specially selected collection of award-winning paranormal romance books that will leave you wanting more!
Lisa Olsen and Dannika Dark were both kind enough to offer not only one book, but two! Lisa, of the best-selling Forged Bloodlines and The Fallen series brings us two phenomenal paranormal romance novels: The Company of Shadows and Moonsong — both will whet your appetite for more of her 20 works. Dannika, a USA Today Bestselling author of the famed Mageri series and The Seven series has brought us two of her delectable works: Seven Years and Sterling — both firsts in her popular works that will get you quickly hooked!
From the award winning Kristie Cook comes a story right from the incomparable Soul Savers series. For those that have already immersed themselves into this incredible world, you can't miss Genesis. For those that have not read her works, what better way to get acquainted, and then thoroughly addicted, to a best-selling series that will leave you wanting more!
From the sultry Kiki Howell — an author with over thirty stories published between eleven different publishers — is Hidden Salem. I've known Kiki for a few years now and her writing is nothing short of superb. I couldn't wait to include her in this bundle and she had exactly what I was looking for. It's the perfect fit for this bundle!
This is a very exciting bundle that has been a pleasure to curate and I know that you're going to love this line-up as much as I do! – David H. Burton
The initial titles in the bundle (minimum $3 to purchase) are:
   Hidden Salem by Kiki Howell
   Seven Years by Dannika Dark
   The Company of Shadows by Lisa Olsen
   Genesis by Kristie Cook
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $10, you'll get another three books:
   Broken: A Paranormal Romance by David H. Burton
   Sterling by Dannika Dark
   Moonsong by Lisa Olsen
The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, and .mobi) for all books, but after the three weeks are over, the bundle is gone forever!
It's also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.
Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.
   Get quality reads: We've chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
   Pay what you want (minimum $3): You decide how much four fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that's fine! You'll still get access to four thrilling titles.
   Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there's nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
   Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. We're currently featuring Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.
   Receive extra books: If you beat our bonus price, you're not just getting four books, you're getting seven!
StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.
For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, Twitter us at @storybundle, Like us on Facebook, and Plus us on Google Plus. For press inquiries, please email press@storybundle.com.





Hidden Salem
By
Kiki Howell



Hidden Salem, Second Edition by Kiki Howell © September 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used factiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © by Kiki Howell 2013
Second Edition

Graveyard Cover Art Photographer
   Missie Tong, Missie Tong Photography © July 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.


Dedication
This story would not have been possible without the unending love and support of my husband and two sons. They always graciously gave me the time I needed to research and write. As well, I must say a very special thanks to my mom and my aunt who took me on my first trip to Salem. I have so many great memories. But, without you two, I would’ve never “met” Mary.
Also, I would like to say a special thanks to Salem, MA. So many I met there were a source of help and inspiration, as if by magic, just when I needed it. I would like to give special mention to Lori Bruno for reaching out to me, talking to me and offering me information while I was in her store. And, I just have to mention Salem Beer Works at 278 Derby Street. The best meal I had in Salem!

Praise for Hidden Salem

“Richly vivid and captivatingly engrossing, Hidden Salem is a mesmerizing tale that blends an eerie historical past with a rather terrifying present. Kiki Howell brings the fascination of the witches of Salem - both past and present - to a brilliant level, adding liberal doses of sensuous love, suspense and murder to provide a hard-to-put-down, provocative and memorable story that you don't want to miss.”  ~ April Pohren, Cafe of Dreams Book Reviews

“Kiki Howell spins a tale that will bewitch your heart and leave you wanting more.” ~ Misty Rayburn - Top Shelf Book Reviews

"This book is filled with secrets, lies, love, death, and magic. You are taken on an adventure that would appease any adrenaline junky...  I would recommend this book to everyone. You won’t be disappointed."  ~Crystal, Romancing the Book

"I have read a lot of books about witches and ones about Salem witches. But I have never read a book that was anywhere near like Hidden Salem. Hidden Salem was unique in the way that it actually portrayed the witches. I mean that a lot of people could or maybe even can do the things that Makayla does..."
 ~ Nancy Allen, The Avid Reader

"I’m a sucker for a great Witch story and this one has just jumped to the top of my list! ...I was hooked by Kiki Howell’s writing from the very first chapter. She took us on Makayla’s journey immediately, straight into visions and cops. I seem to enjoy books more that have action all the way through and I found Hidden Salem kept me turning the pages to see what was going to happen next. It has a great plot that I was addicted to and there are some romance scenes, but nothing too graphic. It was a fantastic paranormal/romance that I want more of!" ~Nomi’s Paranormal Palace



Chapter One

In the outer edges of my vision, the cloudless sky became as dark as night. A shroud of fog descended, an image only I could see, I knew, but for a moment blocked my present reality. Despite  the  sunlight  that  warmed my shoulders,  shadows  of  rainclouds  filled  the  sky. The juxtaposition between today’s reality and the glimpse I caught of the past were like a thousand icy fingers tapping down my spine.
I’d stumbled upon another piece of residual energy stuck in the earth, what some would call a place memory. Thus, a scene from the past played itself out for me. Nothing new. I’d long ago come to terms with the fact I’d grown up different. I’d not asked for these gifts, if a person wanted to refer to them as such. I managed to live with the fact I was empathic. With living people, that proved one thing, but I often had to deal with the emotions of the past of the dead as well.
Though the smells of brine and salt water still came with each breeze, the picturesque scene of Pickering Wharf blurred, changed shape before me. I’d longed to see Salem’s gateway to the sea, without any reason as to the strong yearning. Now, here I stood on the harbor in the year of 2011, but it looked like something straight out of a history book. I witnessed the place in both its present time and the way it appeared many years ago. The misty view of the past flickered before the real time images in front of me. I squinted, cocked my head, but I couldn’t make the scenery look as it had a minute ago. The edges of mud and rock along the water were no longer as formed by the elements. Instead, it expanded in spots, presented itself as it had once looked long ago, as if centuries of erosion had never happened.
A ghostly aberration of a woman, not of this time, appeared before me. My heart skipped a beat. She stood between the shoreline and me. Dense, pelting rain soaked her hair. I trembled against the thickness of the air. Her dress, a Puritan brown, clung heavily to her body. Yet I knew, as if we were the same person, more than material weighed her down. She hugged her flat stomach, arms wrapped in a protective squeeze.
The ghost-like image glanced back at a large, spectral ship. The old seaworthy vessel fluttered into my field of vision as quickly as it dissipated into the ether. The clanging of its bell marked its arrival and its departure. As if she’d been spooked by the same apparition, she took off on a run. My muscles jumped to do the same, but I tensed, defiant in my stance, frozen in place.
The woman was not a ghost, though. This I knew from research. I’d read books on the sly, so no one would know the secret of my gifts. I tried hard to appear normal more than any other thing I did in my life. If people were aware of what I could see and what I could feel, they would call me crazy, lock me up, and throw away the key. This I knew without a shadow of a doubt.
The idea that a place can hold a memory of past events that can be viewed or felt by people with certain sensitivities, people like me, is not a new one in the field of parapsychology. Studies had shown that in places where the human spirit had experienced intense feelings, a trace of their anguish stuck, engrained itself into the ground. It is that trace, that energy, which a receptive mind can pick up on, witnessing the past like a vague vision.
I kept all this in mind. I didn’t exist in this woman’s time any more than she did in mine. I stood firm, tried to ignore any apprehensions as she flew toward me. Her feet barely hit the ground. She appeared to look through me. A few seconds later, she stepped into me. I looked down at my body, unsure if I stood still or floated backward with the woman. Her lungs moved inside mine. I no longer had control over the air that entered and left my body. My ribcage expanded and contracted, forced by hers.
For a moment, fear seized me. My breathing stopped. She grew frantic. Her tension lifted my brows and tightened my jaw. I resisted the urge to curl over a nauseous stomach. She sighed, resigned herself to her fate, and then rebuilt her courage. The name Mary floated into my mind with a low hum of a sound, the timbre of a somber voice.
For a moment, her vision became mine, the harbor as it had looked centuries ago. The muggy air, rank of horse droppings and dead fish filled my nose. The silent, dark street became eerie, intensified by the rhythmic lap of the the water’s movement and the men who worked behind her. A forlorn warning, that told her prospects were bleak.
Sudden grief strangled me. Her fear punched me in the gut. The tang of blood from where I’d bitten my lip soon replaced the sour taste in my mouth. Her husband had died on the trip over, but somehow she knew she carried his child. The questions as to how she would live in this place and take care of her child filled her mind, and thus mine. The urge to hug almost made me extend my arms to comfort her. I knew that action impossible. No woman, ghost, or spirit actually stood there.
About such occurrences, there’d been arguments among the sciences as to whether some sort of ether or medium existed, a non-tangible matter read by the subconscious, a pseudo-haunting if you will. Even though she appeared ghost-like, transparent, and unstable, this Puritan woman from another time didn’t dwell here in the present with me. This moment played on a loop, repeated for anyone sensitive enough to see it.
Yet, to me, and only to me, she appeared so real at the moment. Her feelings mixed  with mine, getting all stirred up in the pot of emotions boiling in my stomach. I couldn’t distinguish the difference between her reactions and mine—a common plight for an empath.
My mouth dried. Air caught in my throat. Chills ran over my skin despite the heat. Rays of the October, late-afternoon sun infused my clothing. Tears stung my eyes as I fought the dizziness that threatened my frail grip on the reality I knew.
I admonished myself. She no longer walked this earth. On any plane of existence, she didn’t exist. No ghost stood before me, just a strong unwavering mixture of memory, energy, and emotions stuck forever in a plot of dirt. Whatever tragedy had stricken this woman from the past had been profound enough to charge this spot of land for several hundred years.
To prove I didn’t need to be wary of this—well, let’s call her an apparition for clarity’s sake—I forced my feet a few steps forward. As if she’d read my mind, she left. The fact that I’d read hers shocked me the most. It took a minute for my vision to become lucid, as I returned to the present day and watched the sunlight glisten on the soft ripples in the   water.
This day, this basic Wednesday in my modern world became clear again. Yet the year 1752 went through my brain, as if I’d recalled a fact for a test. 2011, undeniably, spread out before me again. I looked behind me, glared down at the spot where the energy of the eighteenth century remained stuck, as if I would see a sign or something mark it for me. Of course, only I would see that sign too. A lunatic? Crazy? Me? Perhaps. The proof, half of me wanted to step on the spot again, and the other half of me, the one I most often ignored, wanted to flee. Curiosity killed the cat would probably be etched on my gravestone one day.
I moved a shaking foot and wobbled off-balance. An unwelcome stone caught in my sandal. Distracted, I stumbled through a half-kick to dislodge the intruder. I sighed as I watched the pebble skitter back among its friends. Their multicolored surfaces glittered, outdone in their illustriousness only by the boats that glistened in stark white contrast to the vast blue water. Dots of bluish-white light swam in my vision. Reality, present day clearly emerged again. With a mixture of relief and disappointment, I said good-bye to Mary. I sighed, head down, not quite ready to face today or real people. My muscles weighed heavy inside my limbs. I longed for a nap, to close my eyes over the growing throb in my head.
“Are you okay, Miss?” A gruff baritone voice covered me like a heavy blanket that offered warmth. The sound of it proved intimidating,  yet  seductive.—deep  and  direct,  yet  smooth  and  sexy. Still, I grappled between reality and consciousness, questioned the reality of the voice I heard. I shook my head in an attempt to leave behind my previous experience. While I often experienced emotions that lingered in the earth, I rarely found myself privilege to images or voices. My mind reeled  because  I’d  felt  her  physically  inside  of  me.  My  body  fought  to  recover  from  her sentiments. Thoughts that belonged to someone else ran rampant in my mind. The full on headache that had now formed beckoned me to close my eyes.
Instead, I turned in the direction of the voice as a man in a police uniform put his hand on my shoulder. A dry fire ignited in my chest as every nerve ending came abruptly to attention. Both hindered my already impaired breathing. My vision blurred, and I fell.
When I opened my eyes again, after what seemed like a second to me, the man had my body braced against his. Embers of awareness burned in my stomach. Once more, I couldn’t draw in air. Had my body shut down or revved up? I found myself lost in his cool blue eyes contrasted by dark lashes. When they locked with mine, my cheeks warmed and I briefly smiled.
My cheeks burned as I looked away because I knew my smile had been too wide.
“Uh, let’s get you closer to the ground so I can call for help.” Out of the corner of my eye, I witnessed his gaze sweep down my body before he swept his arm under my legs and sat me down on the grass. In my haze, I still had my head on his shoulder. I pulled back, became entranced by the two jagged scars over his left eye. I found my hand on his chest. “Matt, I need help. Call—”
“No, don’t call for help!” I swallowed hard over my dry, raspy throat. What I anticipated to be a yell had come out as a squeak. Fully aware again, I hated the damsel in distress persona often forced upon me, and I sure as hell didn’t need some doctor trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Not this time. I’d become quite skilled over the years at lying away my peculiarities. I’d become sick of it just the same. “I’m fine. I’m sorry. Please, cancel the call.”
“Matt. Forget it.” He scowled down at me with his jaw set. “You sure?”
I nodded as the heat in my cheeks moved down my neck and chest. In that moment, the air warmed to the same heat his body had afflicted against mine. I tried to create some distance between us, but as I stood up, I felt like we were magnets. It took every ounce of effort I had to create some space. A sudden jolt to my system, as if he could feel my desires instead of the other way around, moved me faster. The thought screamed of ridiculousness, yet I reacted anyway. Unfortunately, the movements were too sudden. I swayed. His hand grabbed my arm. The yearnings in me increased. An inferno blazed through my core. My skin tingled from the inside out, from my head to my toes, which included places that made me blush.
He cannot read your mind or feel your feelings, ones that are not even all yours to begin with, I scolded myself.
“You don’t seem fine.” He’d paused between each word. “May I have your name?”
Though he didn’t sound the calm, cool, and collected cop, he straightened his back and put his hands on his hips. Sexy as hell. I wanted to lean into him, have him be my personal protector. I wanted to be the reason for his unrest. Stupid, but true. Maybe my receptors had been fried from my encounter with Mary moments ago, or maybe he was a bundle of contradictions. Either way, I grew intrigued, to say the least, by the want that came from him and rushed through me. His strong, solid frame proved intimidating in a way. I hadn’t missed the flexing muscles in his arms when he lifted me as if I weighed nothing more than as a feather. Anyone could sense that much. There was something fierce, almost predatory about him as he subdued his own raw affections. Every one of his muscles felt tight and tense against me, like a snake ready to strike. When he licked his lips, I shuddered.
“I’m Makayla, Makayla Knight from Ohio.” Shut up! He only asked your name you bumbling idiot, I yelled at myself. I needed to scream at someone. These often ill-timed gifts of mine overwhelmed me: Mary’s fears, the cop’s unexplainable anxieties and my (for lack of a better term) lust.
I’d regressed back to being a hormonal teenager after one touch. Despite being in my early twenties, I had the silly urge to flip my hair and flirt. Get a grip, girl! You’ve met cute guys before.
On the other hand, this guy glorified different, a wealth of well-incorporated contrasts. The rough cut of his muscular body contrasted with the gentle way he touched me. The chisel of his tightened jaw and sharp voice appeared to be in direct opposition to the way he seemed to be a bit tongue-tied.
He personified that perfect combination of bad boy and well-cut gentleman danger and protection. He stood menacingly before me, a rare temptation. I knew I would make a fool of myself if I didn’t stop staring at the mesmerizing contrast of the cool color of his blue eyes and the warm thickness of his shiny black lashes. I just couldn’t get over them or even look away. If only we’d met under different circumstances, and I hadn’t already humiliated myself, I might’ve even flirted with him. I figured he knew his way around a woman.
“Well, Makayla Knight from Ohio, I’m Sergeant Noah Ayers, Salem PD. Are you sure you’re all right? I mean, you don’t look fine. Not that you aren’t… I mean you look—I’m sorry. You‘re still shaking. Just a second ago you were out cold.” He touched my arm again, but the carnal appetite hungry inside him embraced me elsewhere.
“I just haven’t eaten. Long drive. I was too taken with the water to get food first. Silly. Or, stupid. And, now that I’ve humiliated myself, let me just say, sorry to have bothered you.”
“It’s no bother, really.” A smile flashed over his face, warm and sexy, good enough to rival any I’d ever seen before. A primitive hunger, passion, surged through his hand, and made my blood  course  through  my  veins.  Yet,  the  instant  another  cop  showed  up,  Sergeant  Ayers tempered his lusts. He pulled back his hand, our physical connection severed.
“What’s going on, Noah?” the second cop inquired.
“I guess nothing. The lady claims she’s fine, just hasn’t eaten. I saw her walking…well, funny.” He shot me a killer smile as he spoke.
My heart quickened, and I returned a pathetic, sheepish grin. I reminded myself that people didn’t get from me what I felt from them. My feelings were safe, knowledge only I knew.
“When I got to her, she passed out. Instinct was to call the squad.”
The man I think he’d called Matt had started to ask me something, but inklings of darker affections came from behind me, began to hinder my ability to concentrate. I didn’t want to encounter another moment from the past again before I could get rid of the officers. I attempted to block it out, push at the feelings with my own, but an instinctual empathy to the alarm of another woman took over. Such was the plight of an empath. There are days you can block other people’s emotions, make yourself feel a bit in control of your own life. And then, there are the days when you feel everything everyone feels, hopeless to do anything about it.
Fear grew, wrapped around my already aching lungs. I folded my arms over my chest with my hands clenched into fists. The nails that bit into my palms kept me lucid. I bit at my lip as the indication of something evil, dark, lurked behind me, bristling the hairs on my neck.
The affectations were too strong to be from the past. These feelings were in the here and now. To get them so intensely without touching the person, they had to be over-the-top in strength. I had to figure out where, or from whom, the fear came from. My moment of choice had vanished.
“You really don’t seem all right,” Matt agreed.
“Wait a minute. Please,” I begged, walked away from the cops as my hands signaled them not to follow me. Trying to force my trembling legs to work correctly, I willed them to turn and propel me forward. I knew the cops followed me anyway, but I ignored them, moved toward the danger like the dumb chick in a horror film. I wanted to be more the gutsy heroine.
As I reached the weather-beaten posts that stood at the top of the break wall, panic assaulted me. The distress so viable it lived and breathed as an entity of its own. Sweat broke out over my skin, then chilled the closer I got. Anger and a deep burn of lust seized me, raped me with cold fingers, which left what felt like hot scratches over my skin.
As always, as an empath, others’ emotions attacked me. They assaulted me in physical ways, then invaded and mixed with my own feelings until I couldn’t separate mine from anyone else’s anymore. To my chagrin, I often had trouble staying uninvolved as well. I figured if it was my lot in life to feel it, then I had a responsibility to respond, especially if I could help. My whole life, this had been my philosophy. In hindsight, to help had not always been the wisest course of action, but still the need to do so never went away. In a way, this defined me. It had formed the person I’d become.
On the beach below me, five boys stood against the retaining wall. They were young, maybe high school or college age. They had two girls surrounded, a pack who circled their prey. I could see where one girl twisted her wrist in an attempt to break free of the front guy’s grasp. The air trembled. Thick smoke, alive and pulsing, curved around the boy, his own dark aura. White noise buzzed in my ears, and I could taste his putrid intent. The emotions of the living were far worse, especially when they were close to pure evil. Sometimes I feared meeting someone dark enough that his or her presence would kill me.
“What are you doing?” Mr. Blue-Eyed Cop demanded. His voice roused the boys’ attention even though he’d spoken to me. The girl who’d been trying to break free started to cry. She tried to cover a strangled sound of weeping with her free hand. Hot tears blurred my own view until the movements of those below me on debris-riddled sand looked like knotted wood.
“Down there.” I pointed to the blur of figures. Sudden movement had me rub at my eyes. The one boy took off on a run, yanked the crying girl with him. That only lasted a few strides before she fell to the ground. Her assailant turned a second and raised a fist as if he was going to bend down and hit her, but one of his friends grabbed his arm.
“Stop!” Both cops yelled in unison about the same time they broke into a run after the thug.
“Leave her, man,” one of the other boys from the group shouted as they all grappled for their friend’s shirt.
The creeps got a decent start despite the moment of persuasion they’d attempted to get through to their friend. Still, by the time the cops got around the fence and to the sand, they were too far behind in the chase to reach the boys. They climbed jagged rocks with ease before they disappeared over the other side. The landscape became empty with the exception of a horizon of boats.
The more nefarious, foreboding tremors to my psyche had gone with them. I shook my head to clear it before I walked toward the two girls. I didn’t touch them on purpose, lest I feel more than I already did of their distress. They stood, their hands wrapped around each other’s forearms, as they held each other up while they caught their breath.
As I stood there, they tried to turn off the faucet of their feelings. I found this strange, as they couldn’t know I read them. Then it dawned on me that this was a moment of composure on their parts. I’d assumed they were going to downplay the incident and lowered one eyebrow at their odd maturity. They looked young enough to shriek with youthful, female drama, that teenage girl sort of thing.
“We’re grateful you came when you did, but please just walk away,” the one who’d been manhandled hissed at me through gritted teeth. Her dainty features pulled to a glare, scary despite the halo of blond hair that framed her reddened face. The way she brushed the sand off her arms and shirt, with stiff and harsh movements, screamed of anger, no intense rage.
I stepped back a bit, cocked my head at the sudden apprehension that pinched my muscles, bit at me like swarms of bugs caught under my skin. “I was just checking to see if you were all right.” My words were jumpy as I rubbed at my own arms.
“Don’t. Walk away.” A small amount of spit shot from her mouth with the words. She shook her head and wiped her nose in an unladylike fashion on the back of her hand. “You can’t help us. If they saw you…just go.” Her teeth hit together when she closed her mouth.
The girl grabbed her friend, led her away, and left me with my mouth open. In the past ten minutes I’d hit quite a spectrum of lurid emotions with the exception of my strange reaction to the cop. Body shaking, muscles aching, sweat coating my neck, I attempted to produce a rational thought. Damn, I needed something to eat, even though I wasn’t sure what my stomach could handle.
I stepped back to the retaining wall and slid down it. With jerky movements as the wood grabbed my shirt, I made it to a crouch. I took out my camera and balanced it with trembling hands on my knees. I hoped to blend in like a tourist while I regrouped. The thought almost made me laugh. Salem, I figured, proved much less eventful for normal sightseers. My question remained, who had it better?
Even now that I was alone, a strange sensation lingered. Something mystical,  almost otherworldly, cabalistic, hung in the air around me, something so different from the energy stuck in the earth from the past, like I’d encountered with Mary moments ago. This present disturbance snaked around me. It hung heavy, though the breeze of October held no humidity, and pushed me to leave. I fought against it. Seeing Mary had proved my premonition to come to Salem had been right. I tampered the urge to scream into the wind that I was staying.
I wondered if the cops had caught the boys. They’d all been unkempt, clothes dirty and wrinkled. It crossed my mind that maybe they were in college and either couldn’t afford or didn’t have time for laundry this week. On second thought, the t-shirt one boy had on had read Giorgio Armani across the front of it. Weird. I surmised most people who owned Armani kept it better.
The weight of whatever evil had been here continued to burden me. I’d encountered this depth of depravity only in rare instances, and so I sat frozen, asphyxiated by a beast with fingers around my throat. My hand clutched at my chest. My heartbeat reverberated in my back against the wall. Never had I experienced such a sense of foreboding from ones so young. The air around them had pitched in a thin cloud of black smog. Thick as pea soup just didn’t describe it. A black, tar-like substance dumped on their auras seemed close though. Not all of them appeared to me this way, but their leader did for sure.
The more the base depravity sunk into my being, the more I understood why the girls had been so scared of the group of boys. I had to get up and move to convince myself I wouldn’t be murdered by this leftover energy, sacrificed in some demonic ritual. I swore demons lingered in the air. After a few deep breaths, I pulled my legs under me and rose despite the fact I could barely feel them. Ghost–like, I moved over the ground on what seemed non-existent feet.
As I climbed the mini-hill, I gained sensation; tiny pinpricks stabbed my heels and calves. The sludgy sand sucked in my feet, but I continued to the street. Everyday sounds greeted me, and I smiled back. The little coffee shop to my right brought sweet smells that made my stomach growl. I could at least get something to eat or a nice sugary drink with lots of caffeine. Desperate for food and a chair, I made my way to the shop semi-cognizant of my surroundings without incident. Relief flooded me with the jingle of the bell over the door.
When I’d almost finished my sugar and fat-loaded coconut cream pie mocha and a double chocolate muffin, the cop, Noah, walked in the door, adding another dimension to my self-induced sugar rush.
“I was hoping to find you…to make sure you were okay. Not being a stalker or anything.” He let out a sound close to a laugh, which had gotten caught in his throat.
“Cop and stalker, nice safe-feeling thought there,” I half laughed and immediately wished the words had stayed in my head.
“Yeah…” His fingers ran through his hair. The waves stayed as black as night even while they caught the orange light which hung above our heads. Tussled in complete disorder, his soft hair tempted me to run my fingers through it. I put my hands on the seat under my thighs. An inconceivable attraction stormed between us, a tempest I wished to brave just to be able to tell the tale. Something with so much energy, that it took on a life of its own between us, could not be ordinary. Never had I had the desire to want to read someone so strongly. The need went beyond curiosity.
“I’m better now that I’ve had my sugar-fix. Still shaking, but for other reasons...I mean sugar verses no sugar… So don’t get concerned if I stumble again.” I giggled, or made a sound similar as heat burned my cheeks. Those mesmerizing eyes radiated deeper warmth in the light of the store. His essence haunted me as much as the window darkened by the encroaching twilight.
“So, did you catch the guys?” I ventured.
“Actually, no, but we talked to the girls. They don’t want to press any charges. I know those kids. They were harmless pains in the butt when they were in high school too. Two are the sons of a few of the richer, more influential families around here. They get bored sometimes and cause some minor havoc. Matt is calling their parents now. I offered to follow up on your case.”
“I’m a case?” I asked, and let out a short laugh despite myself because he had hit the nail on the head there.
The giggling like a school girl has got to stop! I admonished myself.
“Well, no, you have no official case number or anything, but I wanted to make sure you were all right. It’s my job to secure a scene. I don’t like any loose ends. But, in your case…sorry, in your situation, I had to run off.” He stopped. I think he realized he’d rambled even if in cop talk. “It’s all part of our tourist protection policy.”
“Really? Well, thank you, but I’m just fine. Um, what sort of havoc were the boys up to today? Did the girls tell you anything? Or, is that all classified information?” I couldn’t shake the chill from the girl’s warnings nor the darkness, one indefinable to me still, which came from the boys. I hated to use the word, but truly it screamed of demonic. Like a beast, it had bared its teeth at me, and then gone in for the kill.
Frustrating as it was, I’d no way to explain to officer sexy-enough-to-die-for why he was wrong to think those boys were harmless. I never could decide if my gifts were blessings or curses. My blessings today were to have witnessed Mary and to have been rescued by Noah. The curses were, well, everything else.
“The girls said they were doing some kind of experiment, some stupid thing about how long they could go with minimal sleep, little food and no sex or showers. Guess they’ve been running around in the same clothes for four days. Stupid, spoiled rich kids.” He rolled his eyes and laughed. This time he sounded more natural, even with a short grunt that had caught him off-guard.
I made him nervous. That came across clear to me in tidal waves. People’s strongest feelings emerged the easiest to read, but I didn’t need to be empathic to read him now. His actions betrayed him, only confirmed what I felt of his emotions. The muscles in his broad neck held tense, while the veins stuck out as if his collar choked him. His fists moved from his waist to the table and back again. Of course, how much of the nerves were his or mine? How could I know? The guy’s presence threatened and shocked me all at the same time. He portrayed some action movie hero come to life right before me. I wanted to play damsel in distress, if only to lie in his arms once more, but that wasn’t me. I squared my shoulders and sat up straighter.
“Okay, but why would they do that though?” I couldn’t stop my questions. Something about the group had gotten under my skin and not in a good way. I’d become the dog with the proverbial bone.
“Who knows? They’re bored rich kids, like I said. I won’t even try to explain them. Seems the one boy had had enough of the no sex part, and his girlfriend was a bit turned off by his no showering part. At least, that’s what the girls claimed in fits of fake and nervous laughter.”
“Ah.” I bit my lip. It was really none of my concern as I just passed through this town. Just because I felt it and couldn’t explain it, didn’t make it my business. This had become the new mantra of my life recently, and soon I promised to enforce it as well. I was just a little slow on the uptake.
“Can I ask what made you walk over to them in the first place?” he inquired as he rubbed the first signs of stubble in his face.
Sure, but I will have to lie, I thought as I searched for a viable answer. “Good hearing, I guess. I thought I heard some sort of whimper. I thought someone was hurt.” I impressed even myself sometimes at my ability to contrive a new truth, one better than the real one on such short notice. It was a gift. What could I say? Just one I shouldn’t be so proud of, though.
“Funny, I didn’t hear anything.”
I shrugged. What else could I do?
“Well then, what brings you to Salem from Ohio, Makayla Knight?” He pulled his jacket forward and leaned back in his chair. The sexy sprawl revealed other fine parts of his anatomy, a package I’d brushed up against in my embarrassing swoon. Although the idea of it irritated the crap out of me, what I wouldn’t give to be in that position again, in private. Attraction did funny things to a girl. I wouldn’t berate myself for the thought. No sense in that as I’d probably never see him again.
“Well, I’m an author. Or, at least I’m aspiring to be. I’m writing a book.”
“Ah, Salem has been the inspiration for many books.”
Lies, lies, and more semi-lies are what I usually told. I would write them down to keep track, but I probably wouldn’t be here long enough for it to matter what I told him and what I didn’t. Although, I would bet Mr. Sexy Cop Guy here had a mind like a steel trap. To keep it short and simple would help if need be.
I’d yet to write even a word of any book. Oh, I’d wanted to, that was true enough, and I’d thought Salem was a good place to start. I’d traveled here to write. That made me an author, didn’t it? Therefore, what I said proved true enough. Leaving out pertinent details didn’t constitute a lie. I didn’t owe him my life story. I just wanted to talk to him until a situation arose that made it okay for me to touch him again. Right or wrong, I wanted to know everything about him.
“So, since this is Witch City, are you writing a non-fiction historical or a paranormal fiction type deal?”
“Well-versed in the town’s literature too, Sergeant Ayers?” I teased despite myself.
“Call me Noah. I’ve had to read quite a few books where this city is concerned. They’ve come in to play in crimes and conspiracies, actually, but on that I can’t say any more.” He winked at me so adorably that I wanted to kiss him. Even happy, his eyes held such intensity. “So, what are you writing?”
“Well, the fantasy or fiction type stuff. I really just hope to stumble over inspiration somewhere here. If not, Salem seems a cool place to visit anyway. I’m like a magnet to water.”
Stumble I’d done already. I couldn’t wait to go back to Pickering Wharf and, fingers crossed, find out more about Mary. I’d come here on intuition alone, followed a whim that had nagged at me. I’d traveled here to discover a hidden Salem. Someone here wanted me to write their story, a sort of redemption for something done wrong. I didn’t know exactly. Call it a hunch. Mary was a good lead, a good confirmation that I should have followed the feelings that lead me to this historic city. In fact, Mary appearance had offered me much more than I’d expected so soon.
“Me too, and I’ve lived here my whole life,” he agreed.
He stood, tugged up his pants, and showed off a manly outline. I shut my mouth not to drool as he held out his hand to me. I had to laugh at myself because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d reacted this way to a man.
“I’m relieved to see you doing so well. I better catch up with my partner, but I hope to run into you again before you leave,” he stated rather matter-of-factly.
Really? I wondered if he’d wanted to say more as I took his hand to shake. I’d had a moment’s hesitation to touch him, but I’d pushed through it. I couldn’t avoid the shake, or I’d look crazier than I already did.
Our palms met and caused me to gasp. I tried to contain it, started fake coughing while more of his reactions to the world rushed through me. He remained complex,  loaded  with  conflicting emotions, questions, and turmoil. The brunt of it hit me like a hug too harsh and yet welcome just the same. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to hold his hand for hours until I uncovered everything about him, what he loved, what he hated, what got him excited, made him smile endlessly, and so on. Alternatively, I at least wanted to hold onto him until I found the underlying cause of the lust in him, which complimented mine.
“Strange,” I muttered before I realized it.
“Huh? Are you sure that you’re okay? What’s strange?” I received a crooked smile as the fingers of his other hand ran down over his five o’clock shadow.
“Me today. Don’t you agree?” I attempted a pathetic save.
“Well, I wouldn’t quite put it that way.”
Damn, that grin of his should be illegal.
“Yeah, I don’t think I want to know how you would put it after I humiliated myself by passing out in your arms.” I forced a laugh and forced my fingers, one by one, to let go of his hand, even though I wanted to cradle his palm to my chest. An overwhelming urge to be in his arms, to kiss him, to talk to him through the night, made my all-of-the-sudden dry mouth start to salivate again.
“Stop. It happens. I’m not complaining. Let’s see, I would use the word interesting, maybe fascinating, definitely beautiful, but I’m not the writer. And, I’m on the clock and shouldn’t be saying such things. I better go before I get myself in trouble.”
“Thanks…for saying… well what you did.” I actually blushed. If the heat radiating off my face indicated the amount of red on my skin, then I was sure he noticed. How could I ask him if he’d been flirting with me, or if he made a habit of being this friendly with all the ladies? “Well, anyway, it’s nothing a good night’s sleep won’t cure. It’s just been a long two-day drive for me.”
“Where are you staying?”
“In Salem’s Waterfront Hotel. I got lucky, apparently, snatching a room that became available with a last minute cancellation.”
“Good. You don’t have far to go, then.”
“Nope.”
“It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Makayla.”
“It’s been a pleasure being assisted by you, Ser…Noah.” I couldn’t help but to watch him
walk away.