Hellish Love Stories
Lani Monroe choked on a scoff. Black magic—what a joke! Who did these so-called practitioners think they were kidding? Fanning herself with the conference brochure, she carefully traversed the main floor of the overheated convention center. She was here among all the sweaty nuts with a purpose. As her town’s Head Librarian, she’d registered for the Occult Convention to rectify the gaping holes in her library’s booklist. After all, it was utterly deplorable that the town of Demon, Arizona, had no books about demons within their own public library. Not only that, but not even a single book on anything supernatural.
She had a duty and she was going to do it right, even if the convention center’s air conditioning did suddenly die at the peak of the Texas summer with several thousand people packed inside like milling cattle. So here she was tripping over witches and avoiding the occasional grabby warlock, while desperately searching for the bathroom to freshen up.
The convention might have been silly enough to make her laugh more than once, but so far it was also a complete success. In her oversized purse rested three lovely new editions to her library as well as a list of a dozen more books she’d be ordering the moment she was back home.
The sense of accomplishment almost satisfied the weird feeling that had been nagging her for months. Almost, but not quite, and her gut told her it would return all too soon. There was something she was supposed to do. Unfortunately she didn’t know what that something was.
But for now … a bathroom. Throwing some water on her face was about the only hope she had for staving off heatstroke in this smothering heat.
The crowds parted and, lo and behold, there was the skirted lady silhouette perfectly emblazoned beside the bathroom door. She pushed through the ring of people, ignoring the muffled complaints. Just as her hand touched the door, it opened.
Someone behind her yelled, “Stop!”
But she was through the door and blinded by a flash of bright, white light and then immersed in pitch black and tumbling forward.
“Holy crap!” The floor was gone, and she was falling, but before she could do more than conclude it was an elevator shaft and she was about to die … she landed.
“Oomph,” someone groaned into her ear.
The lights came back on, or rather … she unpinched her eyes.
The man she’d landed on growled, “Who are you?”
She didn’t move. But it wasn’t his complaint that kept her from scrambling off his warm lap. Nor was it her bruised backside, pressed against the edge of a boardroom table. Not even the complete non-logic that had her falling through the convention center bathroom floor and landing in the arms of a bare-chested hunk of a man.
It was the hard glares from the other men spaced out around the meeting room which left her curling into the man’s warm body. The other men’s angry gazes seemed to almost glow despite the fairly bright meeting room. Not only did they not look happy, but they also looked like a mismatched gang of desperados. The clothing they wore was an odd mix that varied from leather and torn denim to one man in a ‘James Bond’ tux.
She swallowed hard and leaned into the heat radiating from the one who’d caught her. When his arms came around her protectively and she became encased in all the warm flesh, her brain shut down. But now wasn’t the time to be led by hyperactive, normally-ignored hormones. “Where am I?” she whispered. “How did I get here?”
Her personal landing pad shoved back his chair and stood, with her still in his arms. “Excuse me.” His jaw bumped her head as he nodded to the other men and spun on his heel carrying her from the room.
“Hey!” She turned in his grip and found his impossibly green eyes staring back. “You’re beautiful… I mean, who are you?” Her breath caught at the possessive gaze and the slight twist to his lips. She didn’t know this stranger, and yet there was something familiar about him, something almost comforting.
And something very silent. He wasn’t answering her questions and they were really starting to build up. Was he angry like the other men? Had she intruded on something private, something dangerous?
Familiar or not, gorgeous or not, she had to get some answers. She struggled once more against his firm grip on her thighs. “Who are you? Where am I? How did I get here? And where are you taking me? Much as I love reading about the strong silent type, such myths are seriously overrated in the real world. So start answering, mister.” She poked him in his deliciously toned and very naked chest.
“I’m taking you to my apartment.” His voice rumbled like a purr, and he might as well have said, “To my bed, to be ravished.” The tone was both softly inviting and intimidatingly naughty. One thing it didn’t sound was angry or even threatening.
The words should have felt like a threat, should be setting off warning bells. So why did it sound tempting?
Her body sizzled awake in ways she’d never felt before. His heroic whisking her away called out to her feminine side, that same side that never got free within her sedate library. Apparently the strong and mostly silent type did work for her. The flex of his arms and the warm press of his smooth chest… Damn, he could have been on the cover of a romance novel. Oh, yes, he’d have been on one of those old bodice rippers. Maybe with his black hair braided like an Indian brave. He didn’t look Native American, but few of those old cover models did. Any way she looked at him, he was hero material. Real shame she wasn’t a typical heroine…
Right now she was more like the “too stupid to live” type who deserved whatever foul fate managed to find her. She should have been struggling. She wasn’t. She should be screaming bloody murder until Mr. Green-Eyes figured out she wasn’t worth the effort to rape. But she didn’t do that either.
Logic, what she needed was logic. And logically, this couldn’t be happening. “Couldn’t be real … shouldn’t be happening…” Not to mention feeling this entirely wonderful. The man’s thick arm under her hand flexed as he turned a corner. He was gorgeous, built perfectly, and was toting her around like a feather… but he absolutely could not be real, let alone really carrying her back to his apartment.
The last sensible thing she remembered was feeling faint from the heat and seeking out the bathroom to try and cool off. Falling through the floor wasn’t sensible, wasn’t likely, certainly wasn’t possible. The convention center didn’t even have a sublevel below the Occult Convention. Even if she did fall through the floor, she would be stuck in a crawl space or something—not an elegant meeting room.
It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t happen.
If it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck … then it must be a duck; but if it looked impossible and every piece of evidence said this wasn’t reality, then it must not be reality.
She spent too much time reading, which was of course a not unexpected job hazard, especially in a tiny town where the average age was around sixty. She spent nearly all her time reading. So a vivid imagination shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about. None of this was real. It was just an elaborate delusion. Her fingers brushed against the hot skin of the man’s shoulder. Thank God for vivid, life-like delusions!
Relief swept away the fear that should have been in full force but had built too slowly to be grasped. She hadn’t fallen into some convention center basement into the arms of a mafia madman, or been captured by corporate bandits about to hostilely take over the Laredo business district, or even accidentally interrupted a terrorist plot only to be rescued by the undercover CIA spy in their midst…
Nope, she was undoubtedly passed out from the heat and experiencing nothing more than a muse-inspired dream.
What a shame. “Dang shame you’re not real.”
“Don’t I feel real?” Mr. Imaginary Hunk chuckled, and the rumble vibrated through his chest into her side, feeling very deliciously real. How sad that she was really lying on the floor of the convention center in a passed-out heap.
Cupping his firm jaw and staring into the endless depths of his emerald eyes, she contemplated her options. She could either bemoan her loss of consciousness, or she could embrace this wonderful dream. The decision was easy. All her life she’d played it safe and missed out on adventure. This one time she could have the best of both. This adventure was about as safe as could be considering she’d eventually wake up and go back to her life. Maybe she’d even remember the dream and be able to hold onto the memory when life in Demon got too boring.
Not to mention that nagging sense of something was yelling to jump in and live a little.
Yep, decision made—she’d enjoy the moment. Lani slid her fingers up around his neck, pulling him down and planting a kiss on him. She licked over his lips until they softened and parted. She’d be bold and take a kiss like none she ever had before… or she would have if she knew how. Fortunately, the second she hesitated, her mystery hero licked right into the pause, teasing her tongue into a proper tangle, devouring her down while still leaving her some control. In other words, he was a darn good kisser. When they finally drew back, she was left panting with desire deeper than she’d felt in years. Maybe more than she’d felt ever.
And he had yet to answer a single question. In the aftermath of the kiss, she didn’t care much about his answers, was having some trouble even remembering her questions. “I never knew I had such a good imagination…” She kissed him again, licking over the crease of his lips and diving back in when those lips parted for her.
With her arms around his neck and her mouth locked firmly to his, she easily lost track of how far he carried her. Not that it really mattered here in dreamland. Finally they came to a halt, and she came up for air. He’d stopped in front of a plain door, which opened without him touching it.
Never mind the sci-fi door. “Oh, my God!” She gaped at the plush carpet and smooth silver walls. The room itself was a living room or den and was filled with electronics that almost defied description. One entire wall appeared to be a huge TV with the furniture clustered loosely around it. But best of all were the shelves and small nooks which overflowed with books. There were probably five hundred books tucked in around all the high-tech gadgets. Despite the fact that her TV was only a nineteen inch model from the eighties and her furniture had never matched … the way the books fit in everywhere reminded her of home. “This is all yours?”
He didn’t set her down like she’d expected. Instead he turned her slightly left and then back to the right so she could take in the space. “Yes, this is my home.” He started forward once more, carrying her away from the books.
The door closing with a very final-sounding snap broke her from the strangeness. What if the theme of this dream wasn’t a romance but had a thriller or horror plot? “Wait, wait, wait!”
He didn’t wait, but moved through the apartment to a hallway, through another door. Only then did he stop at the corner where his huge bed was just tempting the view.
“Put me down. There’s no way I’ll be the sacrificial blond. See, I have brown hair.”
He hesitated, bringing them to a stop, and one fine, dark eyebrow jumped upward.
“Please, put me down.” She bit down on her lip.
For a long moment he just met her gaze with his strange eyes. Then he surprised her by releasing her legs, dropping them down to take her weight. The motion sent her purse swinging, and it rounded and slammed back into the worst possible target, dead center of his black slacks. He buckled under the assault, cupping himself and stumbling backward to lean against the back of the sofa.
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
She translated the response to mean he was injured pretty badly. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to… I guess that means I won’t be ravished and fall desperately in love after all.” She settled the deadly purse under one arm and advanced on him once more. “Can I help? Do you want me to look at the injur…” What was she saying? She giggled. Guess this is a comedy. “Umm, never mind.”
“You are human and English?” His voice was an octave higher than before, but at least it grew steadier with each word, and he was standing a little more upright.
Then his question sank in. “Of course I’m human. What else would I be?”
He gave a short nod. “You speak English.” The pain must have been subsiding. He was slowly straightening back up to his six-foot-something height.
“I’m American, from Arizona.” She pushed aside his strange way of talking and asked the important questions. “Who are you? Where am I, and how can we make the most of this dream?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he moved toward her, invading her space until she backed away. Maybe she should clock him again with her bag? She’d settle for a good romantic comedy over a thriller any day.
She tripped and glanced back to find she was being herded toward his huge bed. “Whoa there, fella.”
“As in cease and desist. Put an end to the shenanigans. I might read books about alpha heroes but that doesn’t mean I dream of being forced into anything.”
His lips quirked upward in a suggestive smile. “You are very beautiful when you say whoa. Your lips round as if you are about to be kissed.”
He sure knew how to sweet talk a girl.
Then he opened his mouth again and ruined it. “You have questions. I will give you the answers in exchange for sex.”
“What? You’re nuts!” Maybe she’d clock him again just for being fresh and possibly insane. Would bashing his naughty bits get the dream man back in line, or would it just eliminate her chance of getting some pleasure out of this imaginary opportunity?
His mouth twisted with one corner tipping up while the other side looked entirely baffled. “If you will not agree to sex, then perhaps I will trade your answers for a kiss.”
“Answers for a kiss?” Not that it was a hardship. The nutjob excuse for a dream man was a pretty thing with his athletic body and striking eyes. And all that black hair, and he kissed like a devil … yum. Still, it would be fun to play along and keep her subconscious happy. “Just a kiss or do you mean a fire-breathing wonder like out in the hall?”
He shrugged. “One kiss, however you like.”
“Agreed, but I want one answer first as a show of faith.”
“Agreed. Which question do you wish answered?” He moved closer, close enough that the warmth from his body reached out for her.
Her body reacted to that heat. He was so sexy … had she ever had a man this attractive interested in her? With only two men between twenty and fifty living in Demon, she could safely say not lately. Were there even any men this hot in her whole county? Her stomach clenched, and she fought to remember what she should be saying or doing. What she wanted to do was throw herself into his arms. Could she be that wild even in a dream? The answer, sad as it was, was that she couldn’t jump him without at least getting to know him some first. “Who are you?”
His dark head descended toward her, while his arms circled and reeled her tight against his body. “I am called Meryk.” Then his lips captured hers.
Meryk’s kiss was much more in depth than his answers. The kiss brought her body alive and turned her mind to mush. He started off so sweet and almost tentative, but the moment she began melting against him, he deepened the kiss, parting her lips and tangling his tongue with hers. His locked arms should have been confining, terrifying, but instead his strength made her feel safe. With their bodies pressed so tightly together, there was no missing the fact that his family jewels were recovering fast.
But it was his spicy flavor that weakened her knees. He tasted of hot, fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon bread. How could he taste like that, just like her favorite comfort food? Bless her vivid imagination! How could she spend so long nibbling at him when all she knew was his name and his flavor?
She could because this chance would never come again, and any second she might wake up with a roaring headache and a delusional wizard trying to perform CPR.
Reluctantly she withdrew, finally opening her eyes to meet his somewhat smug grin. “You didn’t really answer my first question and now it’s time for answers to the other two important ones so I can really let go and get wild. Where am I and how long will I be here?”
He didn’t release her, but instead swung her back up into his arms, deftly avoiding the swinging bag. Once she was cradled back against his chest, he turned and sank down on the bed. “What are you called?”
“I’m Lani Monroe.” She held out her hand then felt silly as well as surprisingly sexy when he brushed a kiss over her knuckles. “You still haven’t answered, and more questions are popping up in my mind even now.”
“Lani Monroe, I have no idea how you came to be here or precisely how long you will stay, but I am very glad you came. I do swear that I’ll help you in any way I can. I will be especially pleased to help you ‘get wild’ if that is your wish.”
Relief flooded through her. Not that she wasn’t strong and capable. Certainly, she was, but just the thought of Meryk being there to help made the whole situation less threatening. “So where am I dreaming anyhow, Mexico? I just knew being so close to the border would make my imagination run crazy. Now I know I was right. Who would have thought that I’d dream up being sold into slavery?” But if she was now a victim of human trafficking, why did she feel so good in his arms? Nope, there had to be another purpose. Meryk just didn’t feel like the kind of dream man who’d need to buy a woman. “Okay, so spill it. Where am I?”
He caught her hand and pulled her tighter in his arms, lips so close that his breath feathered over her mouth. “Lani Monroe, you are in Abaddon, better known as Hell.”
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