Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mating Instinct

A hush of expectancy fell over the room and the crowd parted. Ty looked up as curiosity got the better of her glum mood to see who would command such a response. A man dressed entirely in black had entered the room. His garb was the same hue as hers but that was all they had in common. He was one of them and she remained an outcast. 

A cheer erupted from one side of the room and quickly spread as if the crowd had become infected with joy. Shouts that could have been a name or just a word of praise in their foreign tongue came from every corner but hers as she sat silently watching. He was taller than the others by at least half a foot, perfectly proportioned from broad shoulders to muscular thighs. Unlike most feline males his hair was cut short, almost to the scalp, the planes and angles of his square face clear to see. Another anomaly among his kind was his perfect skin. Not a scar in sight.

Ty briefly closed her eyes against the sight of the sexiest man she’d ever seen in her life. Of course he would be. Most felines oozed sex and sensuality like a natural scent. His unmarked face either meant he was royalty and others fought for him, or he was so good no one ever got close enough to mark him. She’d guess it was the latter. He didn't carry himself with the stuffy self-importance of the royals. 

Shame and guilt immediately speared through her as she gazed at Cassandra, her host. The empress held her clasped hands to her breasts, a smile beaming from her perfect face as the newcomer approached and sketched a perfect bow before her.

“Zachariah! We had no idea you would return to us so soon. What a wondrous surprise.”

He grinned and Ty wondered how any woman could remain standing in the onslaught.

“Empress Cassandra, I simply couldn't stay away. What excitement have I missed in my time away from the city?”

Her smile faltered and for a moment Ty thought the empress might glance her way. However, Cassandra quickly recovered and turned in the opposite direction, motioning a group of tittering females toward them.

“Ladies, present yourselves to Zachariah so he can begin the dance.”

Couples began to form as the beautiful, single females approached Zachariah. A stab of envy pained Ty’s chest as he turned to charm the females. He’d never once looked her way, hidden in the darkened corner of the large room. She shouldn't have expected him to, but disappointment filled her just the same. As her host it was Cassandra’s duty to introduce them, but she obviously didn't want Ty meeting Zachariah this evening.

Through the remainder of the festivities Ty watched in silence as the sexy feline danced with every female in the room, single and mated alike. He’d never once glanced her way, or even seemed to notice her sitting alone at the small table pushed aside for her use. Halfway through the evening Darius and his mate Eleanor arrived and Ty felt a glimmer of hope that she might have someone to talk to. The feline doctor was the only one who had been nice to her throughout the entire journey from Earth to Erestes. 

Darius glanced around the room until his gaze fell on her and he took a single step in her direction. But then Eleanor clasped his arm and her tight smile of warning was clear even from across the room. Without hesitation he turned away and followed his mate in the opposite direction. Ty swallowed the lump of humiliation in her throat. She’d grown used to such treatment from her human peers. Why did it seem to hurt so much more from feline strangers on a world so far from home?

The celebration did eventually end and Ty stood as the ballroom slowly emptied. Cassandra glanced her way once, a silent signal to approach, and Ty quickly weaved through the empty tables.

“What is this? Did I actually miss a dance partner?”

She froze as Zachariah’s deep voice slid down her spine. He’d come from behind silently while she’d been distracted by making her way to the empress. Startled, Ty glanced up to see the displeasure on Cassandra’s face and took a deep, even breath. She was a diplomat, damn it. It was her duty to meet every feline in the city regardless of their delicate sensibilities. It was time to grow a backbone and do her duty. Just as she was deciding on what to say, Zachariah walked around to stand before her.

“Oh, Zach, this is our human visitor. A diplomat from Earth.”               Cassandra’s dulcet tone held a hint of humor, as if hiding Ty in the corner all evening was the normal way of doing things. 

Ty tilted her head up to look into Zachariah’s eyes through the dark veil. They glowed emerald with gold flecks around the deep black pupils. His easy grin of before was gone, replaced by obvious confusion.

“Human? Where have you been all evening and why am I just now hearing of your arrival?”

Cassandra actually laughed as Ty stood silent. She had no clue how to answer without upsetting either feline.

“Ty doesn’t dance, especially as we do. And how were you to hear of anything while traveling in parts unknown?” Cassandra asked.

Zachariah studied Ty’s veiled face a moment longer before allowing Cassandra to pull him away with a delicate hand on his arm. The tightness in Ty’s chest eased and she took in a lungful of air before following the couple out of the ballroom.

“She is staying with me for the moment. Darius brought her to us when he returned from their lands. We are in the midst of working on a trade agreement I think you’ll find most interesting.”

Zachariah lifted a brow but said nothing as Cassandra continued on about the trade agreement she planned to implement with the humans. Ty followed silently, wondering about the lofty plans the empress had yet to put down in writing. So far nothing had been done to progress trade between the species. She was surprised the empress still entertained such an idea. The hostility she’d faced every day was so intense she’d remained safely tucked away in the small room assigned to her by Cassandra since her arrival. Ty only ventured out for meals and an occasional walk in the gardens, but even that was dangerous. 

Zach walked away from Cassandra’s private sitting room with her words still echoing in his ears. Their people hadn't taken the arrival of the human diplomat as well as she had hoped and were threatening to kill the woman. Anger sparked in his gut. How could they be so stupid as to think killing the human would be a good thing? Intergalactic trade was their only hope as resources slowly dwindled to nothing. 

They had realized the problem too late and conservation efforts hadn't been enough. Finding intelligent life in another galaxy had been their saving grace and last hope. With the advances humans and felines alike had made in the past few years, portals could now be opened and trading goods in a reasonable time-frame was a real possibility. The human diplomat had been the first to walk through the portal. He was still in awe of her bravery and it angered him all the more that his people weren't as well.

Cassandra had faltered when he’d asked her to explain why the felines disliked the human so much. All he knew for certain was the ridiculous outfit Ty had been wearing was part of it. But he refused to believe his people were so vain as to care about the differences in human and feline physiology. 

As he approached the front door, movement from the corner of his eye stopped him in his tracks. He turned to see a lone figure slipping through a side door and out into the private gardens. Knowing everyone else was already in their rooms for the night, he decided it must be Ty. Curiosity and admiration prompted him to follow.

Moonlight danced across her raven locks, causing them to gleam like polished onyx. They flowed in curling waves to her waist and took his breath away. Felines were naturally light-haired and fair-skinned. The images he’d seen of humans had blown him away with the diversity in their coloring. They had all colors of the rainbow it seemed. He’d never admit aloud that he’d longed to know a dark-haired woman. 

He quickened his step to catch up to her. She seemed lost in thought and he deliberately crunched the gravel beneath his feet to announce his presence. He knew the moment she realized she wasn't alone by the tensing of her shoulders. However, when she immediately bowed her head he frowned in confusion.

She stopped at a large fountain sitting in the center of the garden and he slowly walked up beside her.  He expected her to at least look to see who had joined her, but she turned her face away from him instead. He frowned but thought maybe it was just a human reaction.

“Good evening again, Ty. I hope you don’t mind if I join you.”

She cleared her throat but didn't turn to face him. “Good evening, Zachariah. No, I don’t mind.”

Her deep, sultry voice caressed his senses and he wanted to purr as his body instantly hardened. He’d known thousands of women in his thirty years of life, but never before had just a woman’s voice given him an erection. He bit back a groan and turned to face her fully, hoping she would do the same.

“I’m glad to see you've removed the veil. Is it a human custom to wear one?”

His question had the opposite effect of what he’d hoped for as she turned to give him her back. Her head lowered further and his frown deepened.

“No.  The empress insisted…for my safety.”

Cassandra had said as much, but he’d hoped she’d been wrong. Now his curiosity was too great to ignore and he grasped Ty’s shoulder, turning her to face him before she could protest. The surprise on her face was the first thing he noticed, the scars were the second. Small white lines covered her skin from brow to chin as if someone had taken the tip of a knife and slashed indiscriminately.

 Ty gasped and threw her hands over her face before jerking away from him. Anger burned in his gut, too much to pinpoint as he considered what she must have gone through in the two weeks since her arrival. The felines were a proud and vain race. Zach had no doubt the death threats to this imperfect human were very real.

“Why?” He wasn’t even certain what exactly he was asking, but Ty seemed to think she did and answered in words that left him cold.

“I’m sorry. I don’t think my superiors realized sending me would make everyone here so angry. I've tried to tell them, but they won’t listen. I was sent to get me out of the way.”

Zach shook his head, not quite understanding what she meant but knowing she’d misunderstood his question. He stepped toward her slowly, giving her time to run, but his brave little human only straightened her spine and lowered her hands to face him head on. Her bravery made him grin. Confusion filled her gaze as she watched him smile down at her.  If he didn't know better, he would think no one ever smiled at her.

“That isn't the question I was asking, but now I have to know why you were sent away.”

The slight blush that stained her cheeks was barely visible in the moonlight, but feline vision helped him see it well enough. Her humiliation was so obvious he had the insane urge to hold her. That urge gave him pause. Had any female ever affected him so quickly and to such an extent? Even without considering the many bed partners he’d had over the course of his adulthood, he knew the answer was no. Something about this human called to a primitive urge in him felines whispered about in awed voices. The silent beast within was very interested in this female despite her not being feline, and despite her obvious physical imperfections.

Zach had never questioned his instincts and didn't do so now. When the urge to reach out and touch her cheek had him curling his fingers into claws, he immediately relaxed one hand to do it. Her sun-kissed skin was softer than the silk the humans had sent over as a part of their first diplomatic gift. She gasped at the contact but didn't move away from his touch. He was so pleased he nearly growled in delight, but fought the urge to keep from frightening her.

 In theory the humans might understand what the felines were on a genetic level. However, all of his research showed that the closest Earth had to his race was a known predator without the ability to communicate with humans. His Earthly cousins were the base form of what his race had evolved from over a millennium. It wouldn't do to remind Ty of that before he bound her to him.

Her eyes slid to half mast as he brushed the tips of his fingers over the slight ridges of her scars. If anything, the sign of her strength made him crave her more. There was nothing more attractive to a feline male than a strong female. Often the feline women used their words and position in society to display that strength. Zach had never cared to have a sharp-tongued woman or one more interested in social standing than pleasing him. Too often that left him with weaker females than he craved. Ty seemed to be the best of everything in one enticing package.

“Regardless of why you were chosen to come here, Ty, I think I definitely want to know more about you. The empress won’t notice if you slip away for the night. Come with me.”

Zach’s deep, sexy voice slid like warm chocolate down her skin, sending a chill up her spine. No man had ever looked at her with such obvious desire in his eyes. If she hadn't already heard whispers about this honorable man from the house staff, Ty might have thought he was playing some kind of joke. However, stories of his honor and integrity had been on nearly every tongue since her arrival. 

Even her loudest protesters had claimed Zach’s return would be a deciding factor. The felines looked up to this man. He wasn't royalty, but his strength and courage were legendary. He was a scientist and soldier, an integral part of the negotiations between the felines and humans.

She shivered from his intimate touch and weakened under the sensual assault. She couldn't possibly refuse him and didn't question why it never entered her mind to do so. After her silent nod of approval, he took her by the hand and led her through the back gate of the garden. The streets were empty and silent, but she didn't fear the darkness with Zach holding her hand. Nothing in the small feline city was very far away, and they reached his house quickly. She looked around as they walked inside, but didn't see much as he led her to his living room. 

He turned and pulled her close but then released her hand. They stood a breath apart, not touching. She marveled at how his feline eyes held so much intelligence and desire, but didn't frighten her with his intensity. Arousal swept through her body and she shivered at the need clenching her belly. He was a stranger not of her species, but the need to be in his arms had quickly become essential to her survival. 

“What’s happening to me?” she whispered, unable to keep the tremor from her voice.

He frowned and cupped the side of her face with one large hand. “Don’t be frightened, sweetness. I feel what you feel. We were meant to find each other.”

She gasped and stepped back from his touch. She couldn't remember the last time a man had willingly touched her and this one couldn't seem to stop. His words rang in her ears, but she was afraid to believe them. How could he say such a thing when he didn't even know her?

“But I have scars,” she blurted, heat immediately flushing her face in humiliation.

His sad smile only lasted a heartbeat before he closed the distance between them again. This time he grasped her shoulders and held her in place.

“Who doesn't  You must be a very strong person for having worn them on your face for all to see.”

Her tears came without warning and she tried to turn away but he wouldn't allow it. His warm lips captured hers, startling her with the first kiss she’d ever known. A low growl filled the room as he wrapped his arms around her body. Her breath caught while new sensations assaulted her. He tasted like mint and exotic spices, his masculine scent filled her lungs. 

She gripped his shoulders and held on as her knees began to wobble. Still the passionate kiss went on and on until she lost all sense of time and self-preservation. Her next coherent thought came as Zack broke the kiss and lifted her into his arms. She didn't protest, even as he carried her to his bed. A rational part of her mind screamed in denial as he began to undress her. What would he think of the many scars covering her entire body? Every feline female Ty had seen was flawless. 

As if sensing her fears, he kissed her again and her thoughts scattered. Her shoes, socks and jeans disappeared quickly, her t-shirt clenched in his hands when she whimpered. Zach looked into her eyes and slowly removed the shirt without once releasing her gaze. He licked away the last of her tears before looking down to see what he’d uncovered.

Anger was the first clear emotion on his face. Next came acceptance. Ty was trembling in humiliation and fear that he would push her away. He smiled at her and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.

“You may not be flawless, my love, but you are still very beautiful to me.”

She released a breath she hadn't meant to hold and threw her arms around his neck. He kissed away the rest of her doubts and pulled off his own clothes. His body was the perfection she had expected, with the exception of four slashes across his right hip. Ty traced them with her tongue before he returned the favor on every inch of her skin. By sunrise they had learned each other well and lay sated in each other’s arms.

“Will she be angry?” Ty whispered.

He inhaled the fragrance from her hair deep into his lungs as he considered how to answer. “The empress? Perhaps. But she will take one look at us together and know it was fated. There is no arguing against a mating bond.”

He watched the movement of her slender throat as she swallowed. The confusion in her gaze worried him but he knew in time she would accept him.

“That sounds very serious. Like…like a marriage.”

He kissed her gently before sitting up against the headboard. Looking down at her on his bed, raven hair spread across his pillow, gave him such a sense of satisfaction he wanted to growl in contentment. He grinned and ran his fingers through her hair.

“It is. Very serious, very important and very rare. This wouldn't be the first time one of our kind mated outside our species, but it doesn't happen often.”

“Just like that? It’s a done deal? Or do I get to decide if I agree?”

His grin melted as if it had never been. She wasn't happy in his arms? That was a lie if he’d ever heard one. It hadn't been his imagination telling him he was the first to enter her body, and he knew she had been pleasured well. He bit back a growl and calmed his intense emotions. Humans didn't have the same instincts felines were born with. It shouldn't come as a surprise that she didn't fully appreciate their connection yet.

“Do you find me lacking in any way?” he asked. “Is there someone else, here or back on earth, with whom you’d rather spend the remainder of your days?”

She bit her lip, distracting him for a moment, before she too sat up. Rather than joining him against the headboard, she stood and strolled out of the room. Curiosity prompted him to follow as she found her way back to his front room and began to dress.



He frowned at her calm voice. She was fully dressed before he thought of how to respond.“You didn’t answer my questions.”

She kept her back to him but thankfully didn't try to leave the room. She was fully clothed while he remained naked but that didn't bother him. Nudity was not remarked upon among his kind as it was with the humans.

She turned her head slightly, as if she would face him, but then stopped. He waited patiently, hoping she would come to him and let him hold her.

“No,” she said. “I have no one. I've never had much of anyone and hadn't expected to find anyone here. Your people would never accept me to be your mate, Zach.”

He closed the distance between them and pulled her into his arms, her back against his chest. She allowed it but remained stiff in his embrace.

“My people do not dictate who I take to mate, sweetness. They would never try.”

“But the respect they have for you…all I've heard for days is about your greatness.”

He chuckled though it held little humor. “And you believe my falling in love with you will mar that?”

She pulled away and spun to face him. Anger and confusion in her gaze. “Love? You’ve known me less than twenty-four hours. Love doesn’t happen that fast.”

He grasped her arms and held her still as he looked deeply into her eyes. “Perhaps not among humans who have never evolved to the point of realizing their full instinctive nature. We are a different species, sweetness. We do not rely on years of learning each other’s faults before deciding to tolerate them for a few months at a time. We are felines and we know our mates almost at first contact. Even before I saw your face I was drawn to you.”

Tears streamed down her battered face and anger pulled at his gut again. He would learn who had hurt her and find a way to make that human pay. But for now his main concern was convincing her of her place at his side.

“But…but the empress—”

“Has no hold over me. She is royalty and I owe her family my allegiance. But that means nothing in the face of this. Please trust me, Ty. Trust that I want you, and trust that I will do everything in my power to make you happy if you will stay with me as my mate.”

She bit her lip again and he felt inclined to kiss away the sting. After a few minutes her tears had stopped and he finally released her.

“I never expected this to happen,” she said.

He grinned. “ I've been waiting for you my entire life.”

She sighed and melted into his embrace. Though he knew doubt still assailed her, he was confident everything would work out. He would announce his intentions to the empress within the hour and it would take no time at all for word to spread. As soon as everyone knew Ty was under his protection the threats would stop. Once that was taken care of he would see about securing the trade agreement. His only demand now would be for Ty to remain on Erestes indefinitely.

“Do you have family back on Earth?” he asked. “Is there anyone there you will miss?”

She appeared surprised at the question but then slowly shook her head. “I have no living relatives and no real friends. I was chosen for this journey for that reason. I had hoped for a new beginning, a place where I wouldn't be judged by the scars on my face.”

He took the time to kiss every scar he could reach before picking her up in his arms and returning to his room.

“Felines may be quick to judge based on appearances, but we are also quick to realize the better qualities in a person once they present themselves.”

She smiled weakly as he set her on his bed. “And how would you even know my good qualities? We've barely talked.”

He chuckled and began pulling her clothes off. “I have my instincts to tell me, and everything else will reveal itself in good time.”

She opened her mouth as if to argue but he kissed her until only sounds of pleasure escaped. He might have to take his time convincing her of his Mating Instinct, but he would be certain it was time well spent.

Read more of the Summer reading trail here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Welcome Surprise

Originally written for All Romance ebooks

I watched from the open doorway as he glided across the room, all sinuous grace and masculinity. No one moved quite like Jareth, with a controlled strength that drew all eyes to him. I’d never believed a man could walk like that outside a romance novel, but he was living proof that many of my fantasies could be made flesh and blood.

I stayed in the shadows as my eyes followed him from one group to the next, ever the attentive host. We were celebrating his birthday after all. The look of surprise on his face when he'd stepped into the room was worth every hour I’d spent planning the shindig behind his well-toned back. 

I was about to tear my eyes away from him and head in for a drink when he suddenly turned and spied me. Our eyes locked, and his face broke into the dimpled grin that always makes my knees weak. I thought I smiled back, but even now I can't be sure. My heartbeat sped up as he made his way toward me, and I found myself glancing around nervously for a means of escape.

"Hey, sweetheart, I believe I have you to thank for this gathering."

I looked up, to compensate for the difference between my petite five-two height as opposed to his six-foot frame. He was smiling at me and shaking his head slowly. “Lydia, you know I hate surprises. What on earth possessed you to do this?"

That's when I noticed the strain in his smile and the heat of his emerald gaze. He was not at all happy with me and a sudden pain flared within my chest at the realization.

"I'm sorry, Jareth. It's been so long since you've seen most of these people. I thought you'd be happy everyone could get together."

He sighed and ran a hand through his thick black hair. "I don't want to be with everyone tonight, Lydia. I just want to be with you."

All rational though fled as I tried to digest his words. We'd been friends for three years and he'd never shown a romantic interest...or so I thought.


“Come on,” he said as he grabbed my hand and led me toward my bedroom. “We need to have a discussion in private.

I heard the irritation in his voice more clearly and had to fight the sting of tears. All I wanted was to please him, but more often than not the things I did to make him happy only angered him, if he noticed at all.

“I’m sorry, Jareth.”

 He must have heard something in my voice, because he abruptly stopped and turned back toward me. He looked at my face for a moment before running a fingertip down my cheek. That’s when I realized a couple of tears had slipped out.

“Baby, why are you crying?  I’m not angry with you. I just had a bad day and I was looking forward to an evening alone with you, that’s all.”

“Oh. O-okay.”

I took a deep breath and tried to pull myself together. Suddenly I was in Jareth’s arms and his warm lips were pressed against mine. I sighed into his mouth, which he took as an invitation to explore while I melted against him. We moved backwards and suddenly were in my bedroom and he was blindly shutting the door. I heard the turn of the lock and my knees weakened.

“Jareth,” I whispered breathlessly, trying to convey all of my feelings in his name alone.

“God, Lydia. I want you so bad. If this isn't what you want, you need to tell me now. Once I see you naked I won’t be able to stop.”

I whimpered against his lips as he slipped his hands beneath my t-shirt.

“J-Jareth, your guests…”

“I don’t give a damn about them. If they notice us missing they’ll eventually get the hint and leave.”

He kissed a path down my neck even as he raised my shirt over my shoulders. I felt the loss of his lips as he moved away to remove my shirt. I shivered, but he pulled me back into his arms before the cold could penetrate. His warm skin against mine caught me by surprise and I gasped, shocked that he’d removed his shirt so quickly. He was kissing me again while unbuttoning my jeans. I was holding onto his shoulders for dear life. My knees were too weak to hold me up.

Within heartbeats we were both naked and I was more than a little self-conscious. I wasn't worried so long as he held me against him, but then he lifted and carried me to my bed, placing me gently in the center. When he moved back to admire the view, I immediately tried to cover myself with my hands. He chuckled and took my hands in his, pulling them away slowly as he looked over his prize. The desire in his eyes left me panting and I wanted to pinch myself to be sure it wasn't a dream.

“You’re so fucking beautiful. You have no idea how long I've dreamed of having you like this, exposed for my enjoyment.”

“I-I didn't know.”

He looked into my eyes and gave me a sweet smile I couldn't help but return.

“I know. I’m sorry if I seemed to blow you off, but I swear I've wanted you for a long time.”

Before I could ask him to elaborate, he covered me with his body and all rational thought fled. The sensation of his skin rubbing against mine brought tears to my eyes and I moaned into his mouth as he continued to kiss me. It felt like he kissed me everywhere, leaving my skin tingling from head to toe. My eyes tried to drift shut and I fought to keep them open, not wanting to miss a second of him on top of me. I ran my hands over his broad shoulders and down his biceps, reveling in the strength there. He was everything I’d ever wanted and thought I’d never have. 

“Jareth.” I moaned his name, still trying to convince myself this wasn't a dream. He smiled down at me while pulling one of my legs over his hip.

“Ready, baby? I need you so much, Lydia… I love you.”

I gasped as he slid into me with one smooth thrust. He took over my mouth again before I could respond to his declaration and his gentle thrusts quickened. Before long I was panting and grabbing at him frantically as he gripped my hips for his possession. I wasn't very experienced, but it had never been like this. My climax built like a freight train, with an almost frightening intensity. 

“Jareth, Jareth…” 

I panted his name like a mantra as the wave crested and I experienced the most intense orgasm of my life. Two thrusts later he growled before I felt his warmth flood me. We were both gasping for breath as he leaned on his elbows, his face buried in my neck. He inhale my scent and I rubbed my hands over his back, hugging him to me.

“Oh, that was…”

I was at a loss for words. He chuckled and I felt it reverberate through me.

“Amazing. Glorious. Mind-blowing. Earth shattering. Did I miss any?”

He raised himself up and looked down at me. The smile on his face was perfect. He looked happier than I’d ever seen him.

“I don’t think so,” I replied.

“Me either. Except perfect and unforgettable.”

This time I laughed. “Yeah, those fit too.”

“You are perfect and unforgettable. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to realize it.”

I blushed and looked away. “That’s okay. I’m just glad you finally did.”

He nuzzled my neck and sighed in contentment, making me feel warm and cherished. We were still joined intimately and I wrapped my legs around him. I opened my mouth to suggest a shower when someone started banging on my door.

“Jareth! You asshole, are you in there? Bastard! I heard you two in there. Everyone could hear you.”

I cringed at the voice of my nightmares, Pamela, Jareth’s ex-girlfriend. She continued to bang on the door as Jareth sighed and slowly pulled away from me. I wanted to cry, but settled for wrapping my blanket around me and turning to face the wall. I heard him pull on his jeans, but kept my back turned as he went to the door.

“Pamela, what the hell do you want? You aren't even supposed to be here.”

“Of course I am, baby, it’s your birthday. You know I always give you something special on your birthday.”

Jareth snorted and I heard a commotion, but couldn't bring myself to turn and watch. I imagined him following her into the hallway where she would wrap her perfect body around him. He would then shut the door and leave with her as if what happened between us never occurred. I was so convinced that would happen that his next words shocked the hell out of me.

“Hey, Bri, a little help? Thanks. While you’re at it can you tell everyone else the party is over? Thanks, man, I owe you one.”

“Jareth! Jareth, you can’t want to stay with her. I know you want me.”

Pamela’s screams became muffled as my bedroom door closed and Brian’s voice sounded in the hallway. Next I heard the lock turn, telling me Jareth was still in the room. My relief was so great, tears sprang into my eyes and I quickly wiped them away. I heard him walk into my bathroom and turn on the water in the sink. He shut it off and a few seconds later the bed moved.

“Come here, baby. Let me clean my mess.”

His comment startled me and I realized we’d forgotten something really important. I rolled onto my back and looked up at him.

“You didn’t wear a condom.”

He gave me a small smile and simply nodded as he pulled the blanket off of me. After wiping me quite thoroughly, he returned the washcloth to the bathroom. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and looked down into my eyes.

“Lydia, I’m sorry about Pam. It’s been over for almost a year. I don’t even know how that psycho bitch found out about the party.”

I smiled as the tightness in my chest eased. “That’s okay. I’m not worried about her.”

“Good. Now, I have something for you. I know it’s my birthday, but I brought you a present.”

“You did?”

I looked up into his mischievous grin with surprise as he reached into his pocket and brought out a small black box. This time I knew I wouldn't be able to stop my tears as Jareth got down on one knee on the side of the bed. I sat up, suddenly unmindful of my nakedness, and pushed the blankets out of the way to get to him. He opened the box and revealed the most beautiful diamond ring I’d ever seen. It wasn't a huge stone, which I hate, or so small no one would notice. It was absolutely perfect. 

“Lydia Jean Magill, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”

I was already crying so hard I could barely see and my throat was tight with tears. I simply nodded and threw myself into his arms, sobbing like a baby.

“That’s a yes, right?” he asked with a laugh as he held me tight to his chest.

“Y-y-yes…yes, yes.”

He kissed me senseless again and I eventually calmed down enough for him to slide the ring onto my finger. We made love all night long and I finally confessed that I’d always been in love with him. He just smiled and said, “I know, I just had to be sure. You know how I hate surprises.”

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Necessity of Words

Originally written for

RHarrison: I’m bored.

That was his entire instant message to me, after only an hour at work. I laughed when I read it and immediately messaged him back.

MJLocke: Check your Facebook.

It took nearly two minutes to receive his response.

RHarrison: I don’t have one.

“Oh what a liar you are,” I said to the screen with a laugh, before typing the same message.

RHarrison: No, really. I don’t have one.

MJLocke: How can you not have one? EVERYONE has one.

RHarrison: Not me. No need.

I shook my head in disbelief and logged onto the website. After a very thorough search of every combination of Richard Harrison I could think of, I gave up.

MJLocke: Okay, you don’t have a Facebook account.

RHarrison: You checked?

MJLocke: Yes.

RHarrison: Too funny. I do have a blog, but I’m not going to tell you where it is. You have to find it.
I stared at the screen. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said aloud, but I knew better.  

Rick loved to be mysterious, and though I’d known him since high school ten years before, I still discovered new things about him daily.

MJLocke: Fine. I’ll get back to you once I find it.

RHarrison: Here’s a hint, think of my hobbies. 

Hmm, what are his hobbies, I wondered. It immediately occurred to me I needed a plan of action and I turned away from my monitor. I pulled out a legal pad and pen and got to work making a list of his hobbies. After about ten minutes of serious thought and very little writing, I decided to get some actual work done. Rick might not have a daily agenda to adhere to but I certainly did, so I got to it.

It was lunchtime before I knew it and my phone began to ring.
“This is Melissa,” I answered quite professionally.

“Have you found it yet?”
Rick’s voice always sent shivers up my spine. The deep baritone came across the line like honey, weakening my knees and putting a smile on my face instantly.

“You know if I had I would've e-mailed you by now.” 

“That’s what I thought,” he said with a laugh.

“Well perhaps after lunch I’ll search again, but I do actually have work to do today.”

“Where are we going for lunch?”

“Where are you taking me?”

He laughed. “I’m feeling  generous today, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”

“Ooh, I know just the place! Meet me by the library in fifteen minutes.”

“What? Barbecue again,” he groaned.

“You know I love it. Besides, you said it was my choice.”

“All right, Mel, barbecue it is. Fifteen minutes?”

“Yeah, I’m on my way out the door.” I hung up, grabbed my purse and quickly hopped out of my seat. The great thing about being on the second floor was how close it was to the ground. I walked briskly past the line at the elevators and headed down the stairs.

Lunch was the same as usual, me bitching about how much paperwork my web-based company required of me, and Rick bitching about the lack of work he received on a daily basis.

“I wish I had your problems, there in your tenth floor corner office with an awesome view of the skyline. Poor baby, you’re so mistreated,” I teased.

“Hey, I would trade my office for a cubicle any day if the work was more interesting and gratifying. Whole days go by where I feel as if I've accomplished nothing.”

I laughed and shook my head. He was always so impatient, I still couldn't believe he worked in an office where he was forced to sit for any amount of time.

We finished eating and left the crowded restaurant. I wanted to get right back to my computer, but he talked me into a stroll through the park. Early afternoons in Houston are generally humid and miserable in September, but thanks to an odd cold front there was a nice breeze that day. We walked side by side, nearly touching at times, but not. He kept his hands in his pockets, I kept mine on my purse, and tried not to reach for him.

“Have you heard from Evelyn today?” I asked, eliciting a frown from his handsome face.

“I told her not to bother calling anymore now that the divorce is final. I’m sick of her whining apologies.”

“And she listened?”

“Nope, I just haven’t been answering her calls. I’m sure she’ll give up eventually.”

“Sounds like me and James. That reminds me, I have a new home number to give you.”

“Yes I noticed that this morning.”

“You tried to call me this morning? What time?”

“Oh, about five-thirty. Were you awake? Your cell phone was off.”

“Nope, I don’t get up 'til six. Why in the hell were you calling me so early, anyway?”

He smiled and looked away from me, but I kept watching him until he looked back. He shrugged. “I couldn't remember your middle name.”

“What?” He sighed and looked away again. “Why would you even need to know that? And especially at five-thirty in the morning?” I asked with a laugh.

“I don’t know. It just popped into my head, I guess.”

I could tell he was lying, but was too surprised by the entire conversation to question him further. “Well it’s Jane, after my grandmother. I can’t believe you didn't know that, Richard Xavier Harrison.”

“I didn't say I didn't know it, I said I forgot. There’s a difference.”


He flashed me his heartbreaking smile and my face burned. It didn't matter that we’d been friends for so long or that we’d never been more, his smile still weakened my knees. We’d been through a lot together, a marriage and divorce each, a failed adoption for him and miscarriage for me, but still we were friends. So much drama, that sometimes we would just look at each other and laugh in disbelief. We had the type of relationship that angered our significant others and confused strangers. Our relatives and close friends kept placing bets on our wedding date, which amused us both.

He walked me back to my building while our lunch hour dwindled down. I hated parting from him, when being in his company was always the highlight of my day.  

“Give me another hint,” I said as we stood beside the revolving glass door.

“Nah, I think you have enough to go on for now,” he teased.

I frowned and wrinkled my nose unknowingly, causing him to laugh and run a finger down it. Which it turn made me shiver.

“You can do it, Mel. You know me better than anyone.” I smirked and rolled my eyes. “Are you working late today? I have a meeting at five that should last at least an hour.” 

“Nothing all day, but you have to work late,” I teased.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said as he pulled me into his arms. He kissed my cheek, a habit I learned to adore, and released me quickly. “I’ll see you later, beautiful.”  

He turned and walked away briskly. I watched him disappear around the corner of my building with a sigh, before walking through the revolving door. I was soon too busy to spend any time searching for his blog, and I remained so all day. I left work even later than him and didn't get home until eight. A quick microwave dinner was all I could muster before falling into my bed, leaving my computer untouched until the following morning.

It was Tuesday, and I had meetings all day long. I didn't even have time for lunch with Rick, which was a very rare occurrence. He understood, of course, and had a bouquet of carnations sent to my office. I saw them sitting on my desk as I ran by from one meeting room to the next. I stopped and read the card. 

Missed you at lunch.  Call me tonight with your new number, Rick. 

It put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

I started dialing his number the moment I stepped from my office building. It was still ringing when I arrived at the bus stop and annoyance crept up my spine. His heartbreaking voice began instructing me to leave a message, when a car pulled up before me. 

“Hey, gorgeous, need a ride?” 
I looked up and he winked at me through the open window. I smiled as I hung up the phone and opened the door. “Crazy day, huh?” he asked as we pulled onto the highway.

“You have no idea.  My feet are killing me,” I replied. He laughed.
“Thanks for the flowers. They brightened up my dismal day.”

“Good , that’s what I was going for.”

“So, how was your day?”

He shrugged. “Same as usual.  I ate lunch in my office though, it was rather boring.”

“I’m sorry. Now I feel bad.”

“You can make it up to me. Where should we go for dinner?”

My face flushed. Dinner out with Rick was a rare pleasure as we’d both been in serious relationships until recently.

“Hmm, I think you should spend a lot of money on me tonight. Let’s go to a steakhouse.”

“That strip club on the west side has a free steak buffet on Tuesdays,” he said in complete seriousness.

I gasped and slapped him on the arm. He burst into laughter and shook his head. “You know I’m joking.”

I grinned. “I know. What would you have said if I agreed to go?”

“I don’t know, I probably would've been too shocked to say anything. But I still would've driven us there.” We both laughed.

We pulled into the restaurant a few minutes later, and he grabbed my hand as we walked inside. He placed his fingers at the small of my back and gently nudged me to our table. Warmth filled me at his touch, and could barely order my drink. His eyes were on me as I scanned the menu, but he said nothing. 

We spoke of work as we ate our appetizer, and our exes during dinner. He ordered dessert but I refrained, and he made me share his anyway. I could tell his attitude toward Evelyn had changed. Though had spoken of her rarely over the past few months, it had usually depressed him. Tonight he seemed almost happy to discuss her and her daily calls begging for his forgiveness. 

She was the reason their adoption attempt had failed. Though she had been able to hide her addictions from him, they had grown worse and had become a part of her daily routine. One day she had been high at work and immediately fired, a huge blow to their perfect-couple image. His divorce had been finalized two weeks before mine and he had helped me through the process. Now that over four months had passed I rarely thought of James, but we discussed both of them at length that night.

“I told Evelyn last night I don’t want to speak to her anymore. She took it well, so I think she and David are getting back together,” he said.

“How do you feel about that?” I asked quietly, searching his face for emotions.

He shrugged. “At first I felt a small hint of jealousy and of course anger. But if he’ll keep her out of my hair, then maybe I should thank him.” 

I smiled. David had apparently been her supplier and Rick had a special hatred for him.

“Now that I've changed my number, James should get the hint. Angie saw him at a club with some girl on Saturday. She actually called me from the club to tell me, like I was going to run over there or even care. I just laughed and said more power to him.”

He smiled. “So, we finally got these crazy people out of our lives.” 

I sighed. “Yeah, it only took, what…five years?”

“Something like that.” 

“That’s too long to be miserable.” 

He simply nodded. 

Since he was driving I decided to indulge myself, so I was already on my third martini. Thinking back on that night, I realize the alcohol must have kept me from considering his watchful gaze, and lingering touches across the table. He put one arm around my waist and held my elbow in his free hand, holding me close to his chest, as we made our way to his car. I thought nothing of him holding my hand on the drive home, or following me into my apartment. It also seemed completely natural for him to remove his jacket, tie and shoes before joining me on the sofa.  

We started watching a movie, some old black and white I barely recall, and I leaned against his chest. He started running his fingers through my hair and kissed the top of my head, longer than I would have expected. I wanted to lift my face to his and beg him to kiss me, and for a moment I thought I had. Then I heard the distinct beeping of my alarm and realized I was dreaming.

When I woke, I was lying in my bed alone, still dressed in my slacks and blouse from work. My head was pounding and the screaming of the alarm was piercing my skull like a jackhammer. I rose slowly, gripping my head, the events of the night before creeping in as I walked into the living room. Rick was asleep on my sofa, in nothing but his boxer shorts. I watched him sleep for a minute or two before remembering that time was slipping by. I woke him with a touch, my hand on his chest. He looked up at me and smiled, taking my hand in his and kissing it.

“Good morning, I’ll make coffee,” was all I could think to say.

He released my hand and sat up, still grinning at me. I busied myself in the kitchen while he dressed, trying not to think of him undressed.

“I’m going to have to go in late. I’m sure someone will notice if I show up in the same clothes as yesterday,” he said as he entered the kitchen.  

I handed him a cup of coffee. “I’m going to jump in the shower. You can make yourself something to eat if you want.”

“No, I’ll drive you in and we can stop somewhere for breakfast on the way.”

“Rick, you don’t have to drive me all the way to work. That would be a waste of gas.”

He shrugged. “No biggie. You’re worth it.” 

I smiled and finished my coffee. 

My shower was quicker than usual, as I was conscious of Rick waiting on me in the living room. We made small talk as we drove, and I suddenly felt a bit awkward. I knew we hadn't slept together, but the feeling remained and I hated it. He dropped me off with his usual kiss on the cheek, and I was still blushing as I walked up the stairs. 

It was another busy day and I missed lunch once again. When I finally returned to my desk, around two o’clock, there was a bouquet of yellow roses waiting for me.

You’re too busy for lunch, and I’m too busy for dinner. Meet me for breakfast tomorrow.

I smiled after scanning the card quickly, and picked up the phone.

“This is Richard.”

“What could possibly be more important than dinner with me?” I joked.

“Absolutely nothing, sweetheart, but I have a client that thinks he is,” he said with a laugh.

“Ah, so you are going out on a date, and with another man. I’m so jealous.”

“Well, I thought about taking you along with us, but he’s single too. If he started flirting with you I might lose my cool composure.”

I laughed. “Fine.  Pick me up tomorrow about six-thirty.”

“All right, love, see you then.” The line went dead before I realized what he'd called me.

That night I went over my list of his hobbies. Hiking, surfing, football. Does he fish, I wondered? I laughed at myself as I suddenly realized how little I knew of him. His spare time over the past year had been spent in legal bookstores and the library. We had spent many evenings together discussing the monetary repercussions of divorce. I suddenly started to wonder what he really did for fun, but could think of nothing. 

The next morning, Thursday, he was right on time. We stopped at a deli for a quick breakfast before heading into town. He was vague about the dinner with his client, which made me curious. After endless prying on my part, he relented and confessed to everything.

“I was wrong about the free steak buffet. It’s on Wednesdays,” he said.

It took a moment for me to make the connection in my mind to our previous conversation.

“Aha, so you had yourself a grand old time last night?” I asked with a grin.  

I have to admit I was jealous. I didn't like the idea of him looking at other women, especially half or all-naked ones, but I did my best to hide it from my voice.

“It was okay. The steaks were tough and the drinks were overpriced, but Brian seemed to enjoy himself.”

“That’s your client?”

“Yeah, he’s a good guy. Super smart, but not very sociable. I was shocked when he asked to go there.”

“Hmm, so it was his idea, huh?”

“Yes, I swear it. Apparently he heard about it from some guy on his flight in. Hell, I had to Mapquest the damn place.  I’d never been there.”

I smiled and shook my head. I was happy to know he wasn't a regular, even if it really wasn't any of my business.

He dropped me off and we made plans for lunch, meeting at a nearby Chinese restaurant. He was pressed for time, so it was short and sweet, and I missed him the moment we parted. He worked late so I took the bus home and spent my evening searching the internet. I checked dozens of sites on everything from football to hunting, but never found his blog. I even checked sites dedicated to blogging, but he was nowhere to be found. I finally called it quits around midnight and went to bed.

The next morning I drove into work because I didn't want to stand at the bus stop in the rain. I tried calling Rick when I got to my desk but was immediately redirected to his voicemail. I emailed him three different times but he never responded. By lunchtime I was worried, so I tried calling his house.


“Hey! What are you doing home?” I asked.

“Oh, I took a vacation day. I didn't tell you?”

“No. I was getting worried.”

“I’m sorry, honey, I guess I forgot. What time will you be home today?”

My anger and fear immediately melted away. “Mmm, by six for sure.” 

“Okay, dinner will be ready by seven. I went to Whole Foods and got two huge steaks.”

I laughed. “Okay, I’ll be there.”

We hung up and I got back to work. The day couldn't go fast enough, as I anticipated seeing Rick for dinner. I whizzed through traffic and got home in record time, nearly an hour early. After a quick shower I rummaged through my closet, indecisive. 

What am I doing? This isn’t a date!  

But I couldn't shake my nervousness. At exactly seven ’clock I was knocking on his door, in a pair of tight jeans and a low cut blouse. It was blue, his favorite color, and no less than the tenth one I’d tried on. He ushered me in quickly and handed me a glass of wine as he hurried back to the stove. The aroma was intoxicating, making my mouth water.

“I thought you said dinner would be ready by seven,” I teased.

“Yeah well, just be happy it isn't burnt…yet.”

We laughed.

“Have you found my blog yet?” he asked.

“No,” I said into my glass.

He shook his head with a grin on his face. “Tsk, tsk. And I thought you knew me so well.” 

“So did I.” 

I drained my glass and walked over to the refrigerator. I was pulling it open, when he suddenly slammed the door shut.

“The wine’s on the table,” he said, giving me a strange look.


I walked over to the table a little puzzled, and curious about the deep red blur I glimpsed before he shut the refrigerator door.

“Do you want a refill?” I asked as I poured my wine.

“No, I’m good. But would you mind finding my cell phone? It’s probably in my room.”

“Sure.” He didn't look up from the stove as I turned and walked into his bedroom. 

I stood in the doorway and looked at his neatly ordered possessions before spotting his phone on his computer desk. As I reached for it, my hand brushed against the mouse and the screensaver disappeared. My name on the screen immediately caught my eye, and I sat down to read.

“What’s this?” I asked the empty room as I looked at the unfamiliar website.

It was a writer’s site I’d never heard of, but it suddenly dawned on me that writing was the hobby I’d forgotten about. We’d taken a creative writing course together both in high school and in college, but I never knew he was still writing. The poem on the screen was called Melissa Jane, and I read it quickly.

    Friends for so long
    Lovers never
    though I have loved her always.
    She is my world, my heaven
    my muse, my vice.
    Her smile uplifting,
    her laughter intoxicating.
    Will she ever truly be mine?

I read it three times, my heart pounding in my chest, and immediately drained my glass of wine. I looked around the site some more, and was about to close it, when I saw the word “blog” in the corner. I clicked on it and pulled up a few entries, clicking on one titled My Muse.

It’s funny, but she doesn't even know the effect she has on me, my Melissa. She is just so perfect, so wonderful. I do my best writing in the afternoons, after having lunch with her and staring at her perfection for an hour. I still haven’t the nerve to show her any but that will change in time I’m sure. Of course, it’s already been ten years, but I can only hope, right? We shall see. Now that we’re both free again perhaps she will give me a chance. Perhaps she will finally realize that all I ever think about, all I have ever wanted, is her.

The screen began to blur, and I realized I was crying.  I wiped away my tears and stood, picking up my wine glass and his phone. I walked out of his room slowly and looked around. The living room, kitchen and dining room all occupied one wide open space, and he was in none of it. There was something different on the table though, a bouquet of red roses. I saw that the patio door stood open as I emptied my hands onto the table. I could see him standing outside by the pool with his back to me. 

Walking out, I took a deep breath before wrapping my arms around his waist. I felt the tension leave his body as he sighed and grabbed my hands. I planted a kiss on the back of his neck, and he shivered against me.

“I’m in love with you too,” I whispered.

“You finally found my blog,” he replied quietly.


“We wasted a lot of time.” 

I laughed and remained silent for a moment, relishing in the feel of him in my arms.

Then I finally replied, “I would've known sooner if you’d posted it on Facebook.”