Authors: Delphine Dryden
Tags: #Romance, #Erotic
How to Tell a Lie
Book One, Truth & Lies
Allison Moore does her psychology research from the safety of the internet, where she can study her subjects’ lying ways without the need for pesky human involvement. Online games are the perfect place to look for liars and have fun at the same time.
Seth Brantley is a fellow professor who can make even economics seem sexy. When he and Allison realize they’ve been “researching” in the same game, a face-to-face meeting seems inevitable. After all, they’re practically neighbors—they’ve been working in adjacent buildings for years.
Fresh from a breakup and afraid to take a risk, Allison wants to keep her affair with Seth strictly electronic…but she can’t deny their virtual antics are hot enough to melt their keyboards. Can Seth convince her to give up the safety of
and take a chance on passion in the real world?
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
How to Tell a Lie
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
How to Tell a Lie Copyright © 2009
Edited by Kelli Collins
Cover art by Syneca
Electronic book publication November 2009
The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
How to Tell a Lie
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following
mentioned in this work of fiction:
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: The Saul
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The wizard’s rune-traced scarlet robes flowed out behind him as he leapt from his white lion mount and darted toward the stone archway, flinging spells as he ran. The lithe snow elf, her raven locks swinging down in wild curls below the edge of her helm, was only steps behind him. Together they battled through the phalanx of gruesome
warriors to break into the darkened chamber beyond. Stopping only to loot the bodies, the pair leapt and spun up a long, spiral stairway until they reached the gallery that led to the great portal they sought.
Sunlight burst through the ruined ceiling of the temple in broad beams, illuminating a series of vine-wrapped statues. Knowing they would have only one chance to trigger the precise series of events needed to activate the portal, the two treasure hunters paused to rest in a half-lit corner, eyeing the shadows warily, to refresh themselves and take stock.
The wizard, a human with fair hair, finally quaffed the last from his flask and rose in one swift motion. With a flash of his staff, he eliminated a night-troll who would have taken his
companion by surprise. Shrugging off her thanks with modesty becoming a lord of magic, he pointed toward the first statuette and waited while the girl took aim with her bow. Once his own staff was trained on its target, he gave the signal and they fired together, shattering their targets and unleashing a flood of hell-spawned furies from the crackling void that suddenly sprang into demonic life in the center of the great, vaulted chamber.
Her aim was true, his bravery immense. Within minutes, the last of the idols and the last of the furies were disintegrated in a single, combined flurry of magic, and the sickly green light of the hell door flickered out to reveal, in its place, a sphere of luminescent blue, with a beauty of unearthly perfection. Elated, exhausted, the intrepid duo ran with a single purpose and dove into the flashing orb, the elf-maid vaulting into the light with a graceful swan dive that ended in a full flip just as her body breached the glowing wall and snapped through the portal into the next dimension.
The loot, even divided, was substantial. They had made a good team, and they discussed this teamwork after they were safely back at base. There was always the subtext, hinting but never stating that the possibilities such camaraderie offered were significant and went far beyond the mercenary. Neither ever followed through, but both kept coming back for more. More of the hinting, more of the teamwork.
But ultimately they were strangers. Neither knew the other’s true face or name, neither knew about the other’s home or family.
That was par for the course, and it was all right for most of the participants.
After all, it was only a game.
* * * * *
Allison twisted the Lucite rod that controlled the angle of the blinds, trying to lessen the glare on her computer monitor. She had told herself over and over that the office furniture should be rearranged, but somehow she never got around to it. She was always too absorbed in work. Perhaps some part of her psyche preferred these few moments of irritation each afternoon, the short break forced by the natural light’s battle with the screen’s illumination. Maybe she felt some measure of control, such a rare commodity, when she successfully restored the proper balance and was able to work again despite the sun’s efforts to stop her.
Or maybe, Allison had to acknowledge, she was just a hopeless nerd.
The in-game chat was almost empty anyway, and she was getting hungry. A few more minutes maybe, but after that she would have to go find something to eat. Aside from finally beating a tricky quest with only one other player to assist, it had been an afternoon of little accomplishment. A few scattered notes, but nothing remarkable. The only other people in chat were
, whom she already suspected to be an inveterate liar, and
, with whom she had just completed the quest. He was a contributor she found difficult to assess. She knew very little about either of them, of course. Both of the players claimed to be male, and she was fairly certain both were telling the truth on that score; there, however, the similarity ended.
seemed very typical of game participants in Allison’s experience. He claimed to be nineteen and a college student but from some of his incidental comments, Allison gathered he was really nowhere near finishing high school. His grammar, spelling and reliance on
were also clues to his youth, although Allison had been surprised many times since beginning her research to find just how well some adults had assimilated the internet’s idioms.
was a bit of a hothead. Well meaning but so quick to take offense, he was sometimes useless in a clinch because he would sooner fling blame than simply take another run at a problem. That feature of his personality, Allison suspected, might have to do with the type of person he likely was. She could too easily envision him as an awkward, pimply, unsightly mid-teen who spent most of his free time in front of a computer screen, ignoring real people and authentic experiences in favor of lying about his age to a bunch of virtual “friends”. The common mythos would have him be an incipient computer genius, destined to make billions. She suspected he was more likely to end up as yet another call center employee. An uncharitable view, perhaps, but she thought it was probably a fair assessment.
A blinking pink text tag caught Allison’s eye, and she scanned the personal message at the bottom of her chat box.
: Are you up for a “Monastery of Doom” run later? Some friends and I are planning a raid there. After eight o’clock, server time. We could use a healer, if you’re interested.
Allison smiled and considered the offer while she automatically cut and pasted the comment—with its accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation—into a file she kept open for that purpose.
almost always wrote in complete sentences, which was rare in the context of online chat. He occasionally used
in an ironic way, and it usually made her laugh, but it was all too obvious he was a well-educated grownup. And one with a good sense of humor, she noted.
: It’s tempting. But I don’t usually play at night.
She left it open-ended, willing to be persuaded. After a moment,
response scrolled up.
: I have noticed that. I don’t know what you do for a living, Princess of the Vowels, but I think I want your job.
: LOL. You, who are always in the game in
, are clearly already employed in a way that allows you far too much free time. I want YOUR job.
: If you only knew! But back to the raid tonight…are you going to come? It will be geeky good fun. If you’re worried about your gear, I could make you a loan. I have plenty of resources.
Allison smiled, raising her eyebrows. Lending the kind of money he was talking about was, within the context of the online game they were playing, tantamount to blatant flirting. Especially when the offer was made in private chat. She tapped her fingers restlessly against the keys, trying to figure out the best response, her research notes forgotten. When she did start typing again, she found herself flirting back automatically.
: Hmm. That is tempting. But how would I ever repay you for those clothes? Would I then be a kept woman?
: Of course not.
: You’d put me on an installment plan? Charge me interest?
: You would be a kept snow elf. And I could take your repayment in trade.
: Sir, that’s a scandalous idea!
: You’d better believe it. But I have to do something to assert my claim,
. After all, I’m fairly certain we’re the only two adults in the guild right now. Well, except for my friends who play at night. My raid group.
: I’m thinking of how best to respond to that.
: How better to spend a Friday evening? Nestled safely in the bosom of anonymity, racing around a dungeon with nine of your best virtual friends, flirting shamelessly in private chat…
: What brought all this on, Not?
: To be quite honest, I also just wanted you to meet my friends. They’re nice folks. I know them in real life, or rather I know about half of them in person and the others are people I correspond with in my professional life. But the main requirement is having half a brain. They’re actually the ones who started this guild, lo these many years ago. The daytime kiddies are just recent additions, not part of the core group.
It was a long paragraph for in-game chat, and Allison scrolled through twice, making sure to stop and copy it into her file. Her researcher’s instincts were instantly alert at the sudden inclusion of so much personal information. She wished, not for the first time, that she could just know in some automatic way whether this were all true or not.
always sounded like he was telling the truth, but she knew how dangerous that assumption could be in the online world, where there were no nonverbal cues to tip off a reader that the subject was lying.
“The Subject”. Allison paused and frowned, recognizing a sudden pang at the realization that
had jumped back into “subject” territory again. Her academic work—studying clues to lying and truthfulness in internet-based casual written language—required her to read everything in chat with a jaundiced eye. For a few moments,
had been just a person, an interesting online friend who was fun to flirt with. Now, she felt guilty for noting all his words and sifting through them for clues about his honesty.
: Sorry, distracted by work. And hunger. I think I might have to decide later, after I’ve eaten something. I just realized it’s after six and I haven’t eaten since about ten, so…
: Oh. We’re in the same time zone then. I’m about to go eat too. Indian I think. Yum.
Allison smiled, engaged despite herself.
: Ooh, that sounds delicious. There’s this amazing Indian place down the street from where I work. I always get an order of
, and eat myself silly.
: Yes and yes, but you have to add sag
to that. This place near me, Khyber, makes the best sag
She read the restaurant’s name, startled.
: Weird. That’s the name of my Indian place too. Freaky, man. But I’ll bet your place doesn’t have a huge, fluffy Maine Coon cat who winds around your ankles while you eat. Ergo, my place wins. Score!
: Wait…on Brink St.? Next to the place where the old bookstore used to be? It’s four blocks from where I am sitting right now. I’m at the U. That’s insane!
Her heart started beating in her throat and her fingers shook, but she felt compelled to answer.
: I’m extremely
out right now.
: No, no, don’t be
out! It’s okay. I’m a harmless economics professor. Don’t tell me you’re here too? Oh, please don’t tell me you’re an undergraduate.
: Tell me your name so I can Google you.
: Seth Brantley. In the business college. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Where are you? I know people should never answer that in chat, but I really must know. My curiosity is now officially piqued. How crazy is this coincidence?
: You’re just
, right? You’re not trying to read all my papers online or anything?
: *taps fingers on desk, sighs, listens to crickets chirping*
Allison had moved from Google to the university’s website, and was busy reading not papers, but an impressive list of publishing credits and awards. She also scanned through the long list of linked resources that Professor Brantley provided for his students to use. She took a moment to respond to Not—or rather, Seth—before returning to her reading.
: *processing, please stand by*
: LOL. Okay.
When her eyes finally caught his office number and she realized where his building was, Allison’s heart started pounding again.
: Okay, Dr. Brantley—if that is your real name—go to your window and open it up.
: You don’t know what you’re asking,
, I think it’s probably painted shut, and even if I pry it open the humidity is going to wreak havoc on my books.