Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)
The stone creeps. I press as close as I can, hooking my arms around the Minotaur’s neck. I kiss him, hard, and after a moment I feel him stir and kiss me back. I smile against his mouth. Taste tears. Mine.
The Minotaur murmurs something I do not understand. I do not let go. I keep kissing him, even when he begins struggling, protesting, trying to push me away from the contagious gathering of stone. I hang tight, ignoring him. He has been betrayed by magic—both of us have—but I will be his champion to the end.
The stone rises. The Minotaur and I stop moving. We are locked together, and all I can do is tilt my head, to kiss him. I look into his eyes—blue like sky—blue with grief—and try to smile.
“Not what you expected?” I say, and the Minotaur makes a choking sound that I cut off with a kiss.
One last kiss.
The stone covers my face. I go blind.
The next time I learn how to see again, I find myself cradled in strong arms. I am being carried. My feet dangle, my head lolls, and I feel sick to my stomach. I struggle to be put down. Just in time. I bend over, gagging, eyes streaming.
Then I remember. I fall to my knees.
A hand touches my shoulder. I turn. Find the Minotaur crouching beside me. He is not wearing the mask.
It startles me. For a moment I do not know him, but then I look into his eyes and they are the same soul, same heart. I touch his mouth with trembling fingertips, and he captures my wrist, holding me gently. His hands are the same, as well. Strong and warm.
“How?” I murmur. “I thought we were dead.”
“We were,” says the Minotaur, a hint of wonder in his voice. “You gave your life for mine.”
I sag against him. We are still naked. I run my hands over his body, searching for injury. Explore his face, studying the unfamiliar lines, the dark curl of his hair. He is a handsome man. But then, I thought so before ever seeing his face. Before he was anything but a presence in the dark.
I trail my fingers down his neck, following the red imprint of the former straps. The Minotaur watches my eyes. There is such tenderness in his face I want to lower my head and weep. I think I might do so anyway.
“How?” I ask again.
“I was a monster,” says the Minotaur, “and the king did not think it possible that anyone would ever care for me. Not enough to do what you did. The fact he even allowed one chance to lift the curse was meant more as punishment than hope. To break me with the futility of my existence. Because who…
who would ever love a Minotaur?”
“I do,” I say quietly, and he shuts his eyes, shuddering.
“You had faith,” he whispers. “You believed in me, or else you would not have held me.”
“It was difficult. I thought you would kill me in the process.”
“I almost did.” He opens his eyes. “I became the creatures I transformed into. Only your touch kept me centered. Only you. If you had let go…”
I stop him. I do not want to think about what might have been. I glance around, noticing for the first time that we are in some kind of building. The stones are dark and smooth with age, and there are pillars rising to a vaulted ceiling that is elegant in its massive simplicity. The silence is heavy. We are alone. But there is light—streams of it cutting through holes in the upper segments of the high walls.
I look at the Minotaur. “Where is the labyrinth? How did we escape?”
“The labyrinth is where it always is,” he says gravely. “It is everywhere and nowhere. But we were able to leave because you freed me. And as you know, I have…some skills of my own.”
I shiver. The Minotaur helps me stand. “Come. There are clothes nearby.”
“How do you know?”
“Because this is home.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Home has been empty a long time. There won’t be anything left to find.”
The Minotaur smiles. “We shall see.”
But before we begin walking, I lean in for a kiss. A soft kiss that becomes urgent, fierce. I remember fear, desperation, my decision to die, and such memories will never leave me. They are another darkness, another labyrinth, and I want the Minotaur to steal me away. To save me.
And he does, his own calm face breaking into a mask of grief and desperation. He pushes me up against a pillar, his breathing unsteady, tears shadowing his eyes. He kisses me so deeply I feel him in my soul.
The Minotaur takes me. He is hard and I am ready and he slides so easily into my body I wonder how two people could fit so well and still be separate hearts.
I say as much, later. Later, when my legs are still wrapped around him and we lie on the cold stone floor. The Minotaur smiles. I can still see the outline of the mask, the mighty horns resting like a crown. Fit for a prince, I think. A prince of the labyrinth.
“We are two pieces of a puzzle,” says the Minotaur. “You and I.”
“So where do we go now? What do we do?”
The Minotaur points. I narrow my eyes; a moment later I see the silver mirror resting close by on the stones. Set there earlier, no doubt, when I was ill.
“Anywhere,” he says simply. “We go anywhere.”
I think of my library, my home in the darkness, my routine. My old life, safe and quiet. I am not naïve; anywhere will not be easy. But I look at the Minotaur, curled around my body, staring at me with his shining eyes, and I know that he is not naïve, either.
And I would rather face a life with him, no matter the danger or difficulty, than rest easy by myself.
I take his hand. “Have we really left the labyrinth?”
“I think we are making our own,” says the Minotaur. “It will be an adventure.”
“I hope so,” I reply.
And it is.
HE VANISHED IN A WHIRL OF MIST, LEAVING BEHIND scents of sandalwood and sex on a hot summer’s night.
Ericka Roberts cried out and clenched her bedcovers in both fists as she woke. Perspiration coated her body and the sheets clung to her damp skin. Her breathing was harsh, her heart beating so hard it pounded inside her ears.
These dreams are killing me.
For the past week, since she’d arrived at the oceanside condo in San Diego, she’d woken sweating, body aching with need and frustration. In her dreams, her demon lover teased her with his tongue and tasted her until she was on the edge of a climax so powerful she knew it would rock her to her core.
The moment she reached that pinnacle, he would stop. He’d rise, spread her legs with his hips, a sensual expression on his strong features. He’d nudge his cock against her folds and she’d hold her breath in anticipation.
And he would vanish.
Goddamnit. He just disappears!
The dreams were so intense that each morning she woke up pleasantly sore from his rough attention.
How’s that for a vivid imagination? She groaned and flung her arm over her eyes. “I’ve entered another dimension, where sane people don’t exist.”
Ericka moved her arm from her eyes and turned onto her side, facing the window. Shadows from palm trees and the first hint of morning sunlight winked through the glass as she faced reality.
Not too far away, the rush and pound of the surf matched the rush of blood in her ears and the pounding of her heart. The scent of sandalwood shifted into salt and brine mixed with the vanilla of candles she’d placed on every available surface of the room.
She attempted to grasp the power of the dream, but it faded through her fingers like tendrils of mist.
Yethe was there, never leaving her thoughts.
Ericka blew a strand of red hair out of her eyes and chewed on one of her nails. She slumped in the deck chair, her shorts hiking up her thighs. Her mind was anywhere but on the page on her laptop.
Another planet, maybe.
It was nearing sunset. For most of the day she’d been sitting on the porch, trying to work on her nonficfion book that included people describing visits by beings from Otherworldly realms.
“The freaking book,” she grumbled as images of her demon lover refused to leave her mind. “The damned dreams happen because you’re studying and writing about similar paranormal occurrences.”
She glanced at the ocean. “Get a grip.”
This hidden stretch of beach outskirting San Diego was a perfect place to “channel” her writing. The water called to her, calmed her, let her slip into a state of mind where her body no longer existed.
“Okay, that’s enough.” She punched a few keys and exited her doc and her web browser before closing her laptop. “You sure better have a productive day tomorrow.”
When she’d rented the condo in the past, her fingers always flew over the keys of her laptop as she wrote her nonfiction paranormal books. Everything about the supernatural attracted her, but she especially loved her current topic.
Hence the dreams.
The wind kicked up and pages of one open research book on mythology flipped one after another in a sudden cascade. She reached for the book as the pages stopped at the intro to Incubae and Succubae.
She drew the book closer and studied the picture she’d practically drooled over the first time she’d read the research book. A painting of the backside of a man. With her finger she traced his shoulder-length black hair, muscular back, and tight ass. Her imagination supplied the rest. No doubt he’d be as toned and fit everywhere if she could manage a peek at him from the front.
The corner of her mouth curved. When she first looked at the picture, she’d been intrigued by giving up one’s soul for one’s desires.
Ericka rolled her eyes. Between that fascination and the topic of her book, no wonder she’d been experiencing such intense nightly dreams. She’d been reading about Incubae and Succubae until her eyes damned near crossed, and now her imagination had brought a demon lover of her own.
She shook her head, snatched up her books and her laptop, and headed into the condo. After she put them away, she glanced at her cell phone. A tiny red light blinked, indicating she had a message.
Ericka checked the recent callers. Mom, Mom, and Mom. And oh, Mom . Being the youngest child of a huge Irish family, Ericka had to suffer through her mother’s constant worrying over nothing and everything.
She smiled when she saw that Julia, her sister and closest friend, had also called. No one in the world knew Ericka like Julia did.
For a moment, Ericka thought about calling her sister and talking about her dreams, but shook her head and set the phone aside. Despite Ericka being well known for her books on paranormal occurrences, Julia refused to believe in anything she couldn’t see for herself. A real skeptic.
Ericka slipped outside of the condo into the wavering sunlight and trotted barefoot down a rocky, sandy path. The cool ocean breeze lifted Ericka’s hair from her shoulders. She sucked in a deep lungful of salty air.
Ericka’s thoughts wandered as she looked out at the beauty of the ocean. The water was relatively calm, only making a deep sucking sound before the onrush of a wave. Sand squished between Ericka’s toes as she walked closer to the water.
“Could a dream man manifest himself as real?” she said out loud, then shook her head. Julia would be catching the next flight from Seattle before Ericka could blink if she started talking about a man coming into her condo at night—even if he was a dream man.
Ericka reached the firm wet sand just as a wave receded, and she wiggled her toes. Water rushed back and the small wave slapped her bare calves and ankles with a salty sting before drawing away again.
“You should be writing fiction, Ericka,” she mumbled. “He’s a freaking dream .”
Another small wave splashed against Ericka, this time high enough to reach the hems of her shorts.
She looked out at the soft swells of the ocean and the reflection of the oranges and pinks of the sunset rippling on the waves.
Her heart rate kicked up a notch—it was almost dark. Anticipation fluttered in her belly.
Almost time for sleep.
And her dream lover.
Aedan studied the winking stars above his quarters. The constellations were so different in his realm than in Ericka’s.
Just the thought of her hardened his cock so that it tented his toga. His skin felt tight beneath the material, as if he were being stretched from his bedchamber to Ericka’s bedroom in the Earth Otherworld.
He took a deep breath before he lowered his gaze from the glittering sky to several pools of exotic fish he had collected from places he had visited over the centuries. His mother Belisma found it amusing that he, an Incubus, had a sort of hobby. He had to admit she was probably right.
Demons didn’t have hobbies. Demons had missions.
And I have friggin’ fish.
The swimming blurs of the colorful fish were likely proof that his mind—and demonic mission—was slowly unraveling.
His chamber was carved from rock and in one corner a waterfall rushed over stones into a bathing pond. Moisture dampened the walls, moss growing on the surfaces, and the floor was soft grass—his own private paradise. Every Incubae or Succubae had a different type of chamber, depending on whether they were of fire, earth, air, or water.
A water Incubus, Aedan was the offspring of the water goddess herself.
Which probably explained his fascination with fish.
His bed commanded the center of the chamber and had a mattress of soft leaves in a carved-out stone shell. He wondered what Ericka would think of his world, never mind the fish. What it would be like to bring her here. To take her in his bed.
He pressed his fingertips to his forehead.
First the fish, and now dangerous thoughts. Way past dangerous. Why after centuries of fulfilling women’s desires, was he thinking of such abominations?
That was never done—bringing the human through the veil. Only souls could travel with the Incubae or Succubae to where the souls were stored until the human’s shell died. Soul after soul he’d collected without a second thought.
But Ericka…Over the past month he had watched her as he prepared to go to her and work toward winning her soul. He had witnessed her strength, her beauty, her commitment to family and friends, her sense of fairness, her intelligence, as well as her love of writing. Which, ironically enough, involved researching his kind. Something he found both amusing and intriguing.