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Authors: Anthology

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)

Hotter Than Hell (7 page)

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
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I follow my routine before bed. I must. Routine keeps me alive. But after stretching out inside my sleeping bag, I hesitate before closing my eyes. I can feel the library breathing around me; the labyrinth with its endless maze of books like a forest overhead. Wilderness bound, with my back against the ground. I search within my heart for the roots of the home I have made. Look deep inside, for comfort.

I close my eyes and fall into sleep. Fall some more, into the oubliette.

This time, there is no door of bones. Just the darkness and shreds of light, playing against muscles smooth and hard as stone. A dream , I tell myself, but this time I know it is a lie, though not how or why. Nor does it matter. I am here, standing in front of the Minotaur, and the air is hot and the sand is soft and I can feel sweat trickling between my breasts, above my pounding heart.

“You came back,” says the Minotaur, as quiet as I remember, deep and rough and rumbling.

“I didn’t think I had a choice.” I remember his touch, and stand very still.

Shadows shift; light plays over a sinewy shoulder, the edge of a strong jaw. The Minotaur moves closer; a gliding motion, impossibly graceful. “There is always a choice. If you had fought me, in your heart, I would not have been strong enough to bring you here.”

“Here,” I echo. “Where is here?”

“It is a place with no name.” Closer still he moves; I imagine a growing heat in the air between us. “No name, ever. Only, we are at the heart of a maze, a house of halls and riddles. One way in, no way out.”

The Minotaur does not stop moving. I steady myself, refusing to back away. I glimpse only fragments of his body, but that is enough. He is very large. I can see his horns.

“What are you?” I whisper. The Minotaur stops, but not entirely. I stifle a gasp as he takes my hands, his fingers huge and strong. He gently, slowly, raises my arms. I almost resist, but I have been thinking of him all week—perhaps forever—and though I fear him, I have in my life feared more than the Minotaur, and I can suffer the unknown for my curiosity.

“I am a man,” he says softly. “Though I have been made to live as a beast.”

He places my hands upon his head. I close my eyes as he forces me to touch him, and I see with my palms a hard surface, unnatural.

A helmet. A mask, even. Made of bone and steel and hide. A terrible thing; terrifying. I feel straps run down the sides, behind, all around, holding it in place. I cannot imagine wearing such a device.

The Minotaur releases me, but I do not stop. I do not want to. My fingers explore and connect with flesh, a jaw, his lips. A flush steals through me. I pull away, but again the Minotaur catches my hands.

His mouth moves against my fingers as he speaks. It feels like a kiss.

“A moment,” he whispers, as his breath flows over my skin. “Just one moment, please.”

I give him his moment. I cannot help myself. I feel in my own heart a pang of longing, a sympathetic echo, and it cuts. I live in my own oubliette, my own labyrinth. I am a forgotten woman, invisible as the Minotaur to eyes beyond this dream. I cannot remember being anything else. I cannot remember being held, ever.

I rest my forehead against his broad chest, pressing close to stand between his feet, seeing him with my body, feeling him lean and strong. I listen to his breath catch, and inhale a scent of sand and rock and something sharper still.

“I did not bring you here for this,” whispers the Minotaur.

“I did not come here for this,” I reply. “I do not know why I am here.”

“A selfish reason.” The Minotaur’s fingers tighten, briefly. “To save my life.”

“I don’t save lives. I barely have my own.”

“You live in darkness. Amongst the books. You go there in the night to hide.”

“You’ve watched me.”

“You know I have. You have felt me.”

“Yes,” I breathe. I have felt him for a long time. My watcher, my only friend in the catacomb darkness, who has always felt more real than imagination should allow. Now, here in the flesh. Perhaps.

The Minotaur loosens his hold, his hands sliding away even as my own fingers trail down his throat, soothing a path along his shoulders. His skin is warm. His hands are warm, as well. He touches me again, palms resting against my spine. I am wearing very little. As is he.

I open my eyes and tilt back my head, trying to see the Minotaur. I cannot. The fleeting light is gone.

His face is lost. I am afraid that I am lost, as well.

“Why me?” I ask him. “Why?”

The Minotaur stands very still. “Because you know this. You know this pain. You know what it is to have no one. To be…no one.”

My heart hurts. “And so? Because of that you think I can help you?”

“I hope,” he says simply. “I hope you will understand. I hope you will have compassion.”

“No. This is not real.”

“It is real to me.” The Minotaur pulls me tight against him. “And I think it is real to you. More real than the life you have left behind.”

It is true, but I will not say that. “And this? Your life?”

“This is no life. Not here, in this place.”

“You are confined?”

“A prisoner.”

“Why?”

“For living. For breathing, for being. Much the same as you, I think.”

“I’m not locked up.”

“Are you not?” The Minotaur’s hands tighten against my back. “I think we are the same, you and I.”

I close my eyes. “I am alone, that’s all.”

“Alone,” he echoes. “This place would be sufficient, if I was not alone.”

“So you brought me here to stay with you?”

“No.” The Minotaur’s voice is rough. “No, I would not ask that of anyone. Only, there is a world beyond this darkness, and I would see it, find it, live within it.”

“You might not like that world,” I tell him. “You might want to come back to this place after you’ve seen what you want.”

“Like you?” says the Minotaur softly. It is impossible to know his meaning, to dare divine those two words. All I know is that I wish to echo them, to say, like you , or to add another word: I.

I like you, I want to tell him. I do not know why, but I do. And I am crazy for it. All of this, crazy .

But the Minotaur is right. He has chosen well. I understand him. Or at least, part of him. The rest is mystery. The rest is insanity.

“I need to sit.” I slide out of the Minotaur’s arms to kneel unsteadily in the sand. The odd shadows of light are still gone; the darkness is profound. I cannot see myself. I am only voice, thought, sensation.

But I feel the Minotaur crouch beside me, and savor the contact of his knee against my thigh, the heat of his sigh. Touch is a lifeline in this place. A reminder.

“How long have you been here?” I wonder if I could survive in the oubliette, alone.

The Minotaur rumbles. “Years. Centuries, even, though time moves more slowly in this place. I suppose millennia have passed in your world.”

“And how do you live?”

“There is water and food. Magic sustains the rest.”

I look toward the sound of his voice. “Magic.”

“It is what brought you here.” The Minotaur touches my hand. “The first time was the hardest. This time, easier.”

I feel numb. “You have magic. You should be able to leave this place on your own, without me. There is nothing I can do for you.”

“So you are an expert on such things now.” His tone is light, but I protest anyway, embarrassed. The Minotaur touches my lips with his fingertips. The contact startles me into silence.

“I meant no harm,” he says. “And if you do not trust me, if you still believe this is all a dream, so be it.

I cannot force your heart to change.”

The Minotaur pulls way. I reach out, blind, and catch his wrist. I feel bold and foolish.

“Dream or not,” I whisper. “I don’t want to be alone.”

I hear his breath catch, and I listen for more, listen hard. There is nothing else beyond the two of us. A strong arm drapes over my shoulders. I do not flinch. The Minotaur surrounds; he lays me down against his broad smooth chest until we stretch close, entwined. I have never been held in such a way. Never been touched so gently. It startles me.

“You need to leave soon,” he rumbles. I try again to see his face. Nothing. I reach for where his jaw should be, but I find the mask instead. My fingers glide along a curving horn, wicked and cruel.

“Why?” I ask, then forget my question as his large hands trail up my sides, beneath my shirt. I am surprised at the pleasure I feel; even more, when my own palms glide down his throat to his chest.

There is cloth over his groin, but nothing else. So much skin.

He swallows hard. “You do not want to become trapped here.”

No, I do not. But that does not stop me from inching up his body, savoring his long lean muscles, touching him with my hands, gentle and curious. Curious about him, about myself.

“What are you doing?” whispers the Minotaur hoarsely.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I don’t know about any of this. Except, I am here…and I want to know you .”

“Then know me,” he murmurs. “Be the first to try.”

I hesitate, listening to the echo of his words, his pain. Something comes over me—the darkness, a cocoon—and within it I find myself a stranger, as strange as this man who calls himself Minotaur.

Magic, I think. Dreams and magic.

I touch him. The pulse of his throat is quick, his hands raw and hot. When he turns us on our sides the sand is gritty and soft, climbing into my clothes, rubbing my skin. I am blind in the oubliette, but my fingers are not, and I find again his jaw, his lips, and press close enough to taste his breath, to taste him.

I kiss the corner of his mouth. I capture his sigh with another kiss, this time on his bottom lip. The edge of the mask rubs against my cheek and brow; bone and hide protrude over the Minotaur’s nose.

More wolf than bull, I imagine.

I stroke the hollow of his throat with my finger. “Who did this to you?”

His chest rumbles. “I am the child of a queen, but made out of wedlock and a bastard, still. To protect herself, my mother made a bargain with her lover to hide me away so that her husband, the king, would never know of her betrayal. It was done as she asked—the king was gone away to war. Though as such things happen, upon his return he discovered the truth. The king was a sorcerer, and my mother’s choice to deceive him…poorly conceived.”

I try to make sense of such a story. “So you were alone, then? No one cared for you?”

“I had a tutor, an old man who raised me. A nursemaid, too, though she was taken from me when I had no more practical use for her. A good woman. I learned not to miss her.”

“And this?” I tug gently on a horn.

“An act of power,” says the Minotaur grimly. “And fear.”

He rolls me on my back before I ask another question. His mouth hovers over mine, hands cradling my face. He kisses me. It is a deeper kiss than what I gave him, and I am taken off guard by the slow heat of it, the pleasure. I am unfamiliar with intimacy, but my body responds as though born to it. I rise up against the Minotaur, clutching his back.

He tugs on my nightshirt—we part long enough for him to drag it over my head—and then I have no time for fear or regret as he strokes my breasts, fingers sliding over my nipples, at first tentative, then with more confidence. I moan against his mouth, hooking my leg around his waist, rubbing against him. I am wet between my thighs, pleasure clenching in my gut like a delicious fist.

The Minotaur overwhelms. I could not fight him off even if I wanted, and I do not. I have been alone too long, and this—no matter how strange—is an opportunity not to be lost. I might hide from the world, but I am a survivor—I take what I need, what I want, what I desire. Only, I have never desired this. Not until now.

His loincloth strains hard between my thighs. I writhe, savoring the luscious friction of his erection stroking my own wet heat. I reach down to touch him. His skin is soft and hot, throbbing, and he breaks off his kiss to push hard and long in my hand. I squeeze, gentle; a pulsing rhythm. The Minotaur groans and slams his fist in the sand. He pulls out of my grasp.

“You will finish me,” he says, and then it is my turn to dig my hands into the sand as his fingers slide between my thighs, entering me deep. His mouth follows, tongue running swift as he sucks and licks, and a moan tears from my throat as I twist in his arms. He captures me. Hooks my legs over his shoulders.

And then, when I am almost on the brink, his mouth and hands disappear and I feel the heat of his body poise above me. He does not need to ask. I spread my legs wider. The Minotaur pushes inside, and though his size might have predicted discomfort, all I feel is delicious warmth so unexpected, so overwhelming, I am momentarily paralyzed with pleasure. Stiff with it, even as he is stiff, the both of us shaking. He is hard and hot; I feel mounted, pinned, like a puppet on the head of a spear, except this is flesh and blood and dream, and there are no strings attached to my body, no master controlling my actions.

One giant hand presses against my thighs, tugging them apart. The Minotaur slides deeper, but only just. And then his hands move again, but only to push my legs together, tight. Squeezing him inside me.

Holding him like a vise, even as he begins to move, to draw out, just as slowly as he entered.

I shudder, a moan escaping from between my clenched teeth. The Minotaur’s own breathing is harsh, though he is gentle as he thrusts, his large hands holding me close in a careful embrace. I wish I could see his eyes, and press my lips against his throat, feeling in my pounding heart a wild ache that reminds me of my first time in the library labyrinth, held safe within the darkness of a new home. I do not want that feeling to end.

“More,” I whisper, and the Minotaur rumbles with pleasure. He sits up, holding my hips tight against him as he rises to his knees. I tip backward, head and arms resting against the sand, bound by flesh still large and hot.

The Minotaur is strong. He holds me flush against him and thrusts hard, driving into me with a strength that is both pain and pleasure. He is in complete control as he moves my body, rutting with a ferocity that makes me cry out, the tips of my toes digging into the sand. I try to move with him, but give up, letting him set the pace as he holds and pulls me with raw hungry strength. It is a punishing rhythm, but so is my desire, and the gathering pleasure inside my body is so devastating I lose myself when it breaks, arching violently, breath rattling in a silent scream as I come in his arms—as he comes in mine—sinking us down at the last moment to move against each other in the sand.

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
3.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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