Busy Busy….come bother me!

I’ve been in a writing whirl lately, finishing Portrait, which I’ll be sending out later in the week.  I also finished Sea of Pearls, which needs some massive editing before being whipped into shape, and I’m starting a completely different type of endeavor, fictionalized history.

Lady Six Sky will be an account of the initial year of reign of Lady Wac Chanil (Lady Six Sky), a Mayan Princess sent from her home at Dos Pilas (Mutal) to take control and reestablish the royal bloodline of Naranjo (Saal).  Based on true events, this is the personal story behind the stone monuments we have as the records of this era of political intrigue of the Maya World.  And as always there’s romance and some steamy scenes with her chosen mate, one of the most famous artists of the time, who’s work is now in some of the finest museums of the world, Ah Maxam. 

It’s so much fun to do all this research!  Yes, I am a total nerd.  Hmm…think I can take a trip to Mexico for “research” off on my taxes?

But, I’m still celebrating the release of Match Made by Moonlight, and so I’ll be joining a bunch of authors from Ellora’s Cave and Cerridwen Press for a fun  author chat  to promote our latest books.  Please come by and  make fun of me, I’d love to see you guys!

Chat is TOMORROW  from 8 -10 PM EST/ 5 – 7 PST.  My official time slot is 8:40, but I’ll be hanging around the whole time.  Just click on the link to head to the excellent site for Night Owl Romance:

A Holiday Release

First of all,

Myspace Glitter Graphics - http://www.sparklee.com

I hope everyone has a wonderful, peaceful, stress-free day with family, friends and food!

But, should you need a break….

My latest book is being released today with Cerridwen Press! This was the first book I ever wrote, and I will hav bits of these characters inside me my entire life. I had a wonderful time getting their story written, and I hope you have fun reading!

On starting and finishing

So, I am finished with the (albeit crummy) first draft of Portrait of Passion.  Editing is a fascinating process where you go through phases.  Phase 1 is clinging to the thing and taking every little comment as a personal assault.  One of the most important part of growing as a writer is to crush this phase into as small a time period as possible…preferably picoseconds.  Phase 2 is disbelief that you could ever produce the vile crap that is on the page.  Phase 3 is just laughing and fixing said vile crap.  Phase 4 is defending things you really like, even in the face of questioning, while recognizing that a happy medium of compromise may need to be found so that the intent and ideas shine.  Phase 5 is being happy enough with the thing to send it to the “real” editor.

Once you’ve sent it off to the publishing house, the resulting weeks of waiting are a swirling mist of pain and pleasure that is almost addictive.  You’ve sent your baby out into the world, and it’s weird but wonderful.  No one will understand it and it’s going to be crushed and you will weep.  When the thing is accepted and you get a contract for it, it’s like lightning up your spine and the world is a bright sunny wonderful place.  It’s exhausting it is!

So, Portrait is currently hovering between Phase 2 and 3.  Those of you promised copies will not get them until I’m at least in Phase 4.  That will be at minimum another week.

However, I’m still on my 500 a day kick (going strong since August 1) and so I’ve jumped in and started the next book, another in the Lithos series, Sea of Pearls.  Fun characters with a reformed manipulative bitch and a crabby, antisocial dolphin man.  At least the sex will be interesting!

For Monica

Chapter 12 to the end!

Chapter Twelve

* * * * *

The sky was mostly clear, an auspicious beginning for the month of May.  The sun was just setting and the sky was blushing from orange to pink to deepest blue, the wisps of clouds remaining in the sky stained lavender.  The moon was just rising, winking down like a brilliant silver eye.

Central Park was crowded, the first warm day of the year bringing out the masses to play.  Lovers strolled hand in hand, older children played ball on the wide lawns and mothers basked in peace for a few more minutes, delaying dinner so their children could work out the pent up frustrations of a long cold winter.

His ragtag family was sitting in a secluded grove, far from the playgrounds and lovers’ lanes.  They sat around a small fire, greeting May Day in the old ways, the fire small enough to avoid censure from the lackadaisical park police.  It was likely the last time they would all be together, though the ties that bound them would not fade with time or distance.  They’d still all get a box of Giuseppe’s cookies at Yuletide, or a snapshot of Michael as he grew tall and strong with his mother’s love.  For now though, they held tight to their proximity, not wanting to go home just yet and break the spell of the lovely afternoon.

Ixchel sat with little Michael perched on her lap, cooing to him in singsong Spanish while Irene looked on, a winsome smile on her face.  Carlos and Giuseppe spoke in a wild mix of Italian, Spanish and English, debating in wise tones what made a good cup of coffee.  June had Hester on her lap, and gazed into the fire with contentment. Alan had an arm wrapped around June’s shoulders and a new air of confidence in his bearing. This was now his family too and no one could dare tell him otherwise.

Mary was quiet, her wizened face looking out at this little hodgepodge of New York with eyes that had seen the best and worst in the faces of mankind.  And she still embraced life with enough passion to have greeted six great grandchildren the day they came into the world.  She raised her eyes to the heavens, peering through the haze over the city to watch for the first sparkling star of the night to appear.  It was almost time for the young and the old to clear out and leave this little bit of wilderness to those in the prime of life to pay homage to the old ways once again. 

Daron looked out on all of them with a calm and quiet sadness.  He would miss every one of them but would carry them with him always.  Without them, he could never have won the woman who owned his heart.  From the shelter of the trees, he watched Sophia laugh at some comment Tommy had made that made a blush stain her cheeks.  Daron wondered what would cause his wild woman to blush and what each of the crowd had told her about what was to come on this night. 

It was time for the chase to end and that which had been separated by a lifetime to unite.  The Spring Dawn is courted by The Hunter and when mated they bring forth the bounty of the year.  Daron chuckled to himself, wondering in their rocky courtship, who was Hunter and who was hunted?

Tonight, there was no question.  He could feel the blood pumping through him, readying himself for a chase.  She was so incredibly alluring.  Her hair was untamed, starting to curl in mahogany waves as she let it grow out of its sleek city bob.  Flowers had been woven through her hair as a crown, set just slightly askew in a way that made it entirely her own. Her dress was a comfortable green cotton, but it let her curves finally ride free of the restrictions fashion placed upon them.  Her feet were tucked up under her and he could just make out the tips of her bare toes tickling the grass.

He remembered the feeling of those toes between his fingers, the look of bliss upon her face as he rubbed her aching feet with his thumbs.  She’d run herself ragged in the last few weeks, taking care of him as he recovered from that shotgun wound.  The doctor Irene had brought into Sophia’s little apartment had gotten out all of the buckshot, and had told him how lucky he was that the shot had only grazed him and he hadn’t broken his ribs, punctured a lung or worse.  In truth, with Sophia’s powders and poultices, he could barely feel an ache unless he exerted himself a great deal.  And she hadn’t let him.  She’d actually tied him to the bed and forced him to watch her packing up her things while completely naked.  It had been a cruel punishment for his clumsy attempts to help ease her burden, but she’d taken his cock into her sweet mouth and sent him over the edge as a reward once he swore he would keep to the bed and not try to help.  She was his wild woman, and he looked forward to moving to this forest of hers in Ohio, where he could make her scream out her pleasure without worrying that the neighbors upstairs would start thumping the floor in an effort to get them to stop.

But she’d done more than pack her things.  She’d gone to pack his as well, though that was a simpler task as he owned little.  Then she’d helped mind Hester while June prepared for her new life and blossomed as her worries had been lifted from her.  Sophia even helped with the upkeep of his building, and gone so far as to argue with the old stuffy manager Mr. Tigg that Tommy would make a fine replacement as caretaker.  Add to that her rounds to all of her “patients” from the drugstore to make sure they had a good supply of herbs for their various ailments had rendered her exhausted.  Her powers had yet to return to full strength, and they would likely not return unless she got some rest.

Still, in all the hustle and bustle that he’d heard secondhand from Tommy and June and Irene as he recovered, Daron knew she was happy.  He could see it in her eyes when they woke up in her bed in each other’s arms.  Even all the goodbyes had been good for her soul. She’d told him that everyone was sorry to see her go, but they’d told her they’d never seen her looking so good and they were happy for her.  Daron could tell it was good for her to learn how important she was to people, how she needed to see the good inside her could make her stronger not weaker.  She was ready to be his partner in every way and Daron embraced the coming darkness of night when he could take her completely as his own.

It was the most auspicious day for a wedding.  Even if it was a very different kind of wedding.  Surely they would have to fix the American legalities of it somewhere and sometime, but that didn’t really bother him.  He didn’t really think it bothered Sophia much either.  What would occur tonight would be a great deal more rewarding than wearing uncomfortable clothes and standing in front of a crowd while a priest or minister droned on endlessly.  Their marriage would be wrought by themselves and the heavens, in the splendor of nature.

During his musings, dark had fallen and the firelight made the faces of those he loved glow with a touch of excitement.  Sophia was obviously excited and a bit nervous and most likely worried that he would somehow manage to open his wound somehow.  He had no such qualms.  Tonight, he would be the Hunter.

He pulled the brown leather mask over his eyes, hiding his face in the customary manner of the May Day revels.  He smiled a bit, wondering what the police would make of him if he should be caught on the hunt for his bride tonight?

* * * * *


When the first star flickered into hazy view in the night sky, Mary Pinckney made her way to her feet, assisted by Tommy and Alan.  Her eyes flickered to the trees and made out the shady figure waiting there. All of the group stood up around their little fire, waiting for the unspoken tension to be broken.

“We gives thanks, oh mighty Heaven, for your bounty ta us in dis lan’.  Tis time for promises done be filled and journeys to be commencin’.  We pray not to be forgettin’ those who is in our hearts.”  She looked around taking in everyone with a small smile and a sparkle in her eye, giving her benediction to each.  A breath of wind fanned the fire before them so its light seemed to completely encompass her in a reddish glow.  She raised her arms over her head and her voice rose slightly, taking on a deep resonance.  “As de year turns an’ de seasons do change, we walks from one part o’ life ta nother, will ye or nil ye. Tis High Spring and de time for courtin’ dance be over.  Time for the Hunt to begin.”

Tommy stepped closer to the fire, holding a small carved horn in his hands.  “I call the Hunter.  Come forth and lay claim to your pretty bride!” He winked at Sophia and then raised the horn to his lips to play a long low note.  Again the fire seemed to roar to life and Daron took his cue to step out of the shadows and into the fire light.

Sophia smiled at him, taking in his dark clothes and the leather mask with an amused smile and a raised eyebrow.  She dropped him a pert curtsy and then blew him a kiss before scampering away into the woods, her laugh ringing out into the night.

He made to follow her, but was surrounded by all the others, shouting their congratulations and skipping and dancing around him holding long ribbons of fabric that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.  This may be part of ancient traditions in some parts of the world, but it was some he could have done without.  He was eager to be after his bride before she got too far away for him to sense with ease.  Not that he truly thought she would run far from him, but Central Park was not the safest place for an attractive woman after dark.  Especially one expecting to be chased and caught!

Soon enough, given his sour expression, he was allowed out of the circle of well wishers with much laughter following his dash into the woods.  Let them have their fun.  He was the one who would have the best of rewards this night.

As he crept silently through the trees, memories of his childhood surrounded him.  The soft crooning of night birds and the rustling of leaves was as soothing as a lullaby.  In a remarkably short time the city fell away completely, no matter that this was its busiest hour.  The honking swirling volume of a million people faded to nothing in this vast overgrown wilderness.  

He looked for evidence of her passing, the mark of heavy footfalls, a broken branch, something – but her stories of growing up running wild through the trees around her home must have taught her something of how to avoid detection.  He followed one promising trail, of recently disturbed leaves and a twisted branch, only to find hanging on a branch a pair of tiny lace underthings that made his cock twitch with desire.  He rubbed the silky fabric against his cheek, inhaling the subtle fragrance that was distinctively Sophia.  Then as some blood finally returned back to his brain, he realized that she’d planted the trail and left him a prize for being fooled so thoroughly.  He didn’t know whether to stand there and laugh heartily or to turn her over his lap when he did find her and give her a good spanking.  Hell, she probably wouldn’t think of it as a punishment actually.  Again, he stood still, his erection throbbing in the constriction of his trousers as he imagined the sound of her moans and the slap of his hand against the beautiful curves of backside.  He could practically taste her skin as he soothed any lingering redness with the lapping of his tongue. She squirmed under him and he finally eased her suffering by sliding inside her…

Ah! Chovihani! The woman has bewitched me. He turned around and retraced his route, wondering where she may have gone.  He was tempted to try and simply feel for her presence, but they had agreed that little use should be made of their powers or the Hunt would not be very difficult at all.  Why the hell did I agree to that?  Because I didn’t think she’d be so good at hiding.

Long minutes passed where his irritation grew until he heard something like a gasp far ahead of him on his right.  He pitched through the trees, his blood surging in him to ready himself for a fight. In his mad dash, he almost missed the silver tinkle of her laughter.  He stopped suddenly and then jumped as a fat ginger cat streaked by him, apparently affronted at being disturbed in his nighttime prowling by an upstart girl.  Restraining his own amusement, he followed the feline’s direction to see where it might lead.

He walked slowly to the edge a small meadow and out of the corner of his eye saw a flash of white. Rather than react in case she’d already caught sight of him, he made a thorough study of the fresh tufts of spring grass a few yards from his feet.  He knew she was perched above him in that ancient oak tree.  The light of the rising moon had touched the pale skin of her calves as she scrambled up the wide trunk, her skirt rucked up around her waist like a wood nymph.  He knew she had all manner of hidden talents that he looked forward to discovering, but treeclimbing was one he never would have guessed.

Despite their tacit agreement not to overtly use their powers, this close he could sense her mirth and knew that she thought she had him fooled.  He made a show of coming out into a clearing and stalking about as though he had lost her trail.  But it was no longer possible for him to lose her and this was the truth she needed to understand.  He had already learned his lesson for the night – never underestimate Sophia Hunter.

He left the clearing in a direction almost opposite of the tree she was ensconced in.  Then he crept back around, through the cover of the maples and beeches, knowing his dark garments would help him to fade into the surrounding overgrown brush.  Working silently around to the majestic oak tree in the center of the stand, he looked up toward the sturdy high limb she’d picked for her hiding place.  He wished he’d kept his gloves on for scaling the rough bark as quietly as possible.  Still old skills returned from his youth and he managed to ascend without snapping any branches or causing her to look beneath her instead of in the direction he’d originally disappeared. 

The sweet curve of her neck was revealed as she looked toward the ground and the hem of her dress was still tucked into the waistband of her dress as she straddled the thick limb of the tree.  She looked wild and utterly perfect, the most vital woman he’d ever met.  He worked himself around the trunk until he slid into the small gap between her beautiful ass and the main tree trunk, wrapping a hand over her mouth to make sure she didn’t scream.

Rather than startle, she darted her tongue out and swirled it across his palm.  Arching her back against him and rubbing her firm ass against his painfully hard cock, she drove him half mad.  It was clear that they’d both been playing games and she’d known exactly what he was doing the entire time he’d been stealthily approaching her.  He chuckled, nipping the back of her neck and dropping his hand from her mouth to cover the swell of her breast instead.

“You found me.” Her voice was husky and a little breathless, either from desire or the climb.  “Did you like my present?”

“What, these?” he pulled the fine lingerie from a pocket and dangled it on a finger.  “Do you enjoy torturing me, little vixen?”

“Only because you seem to enjoy being tortured so much!” she reached back and squeezed his erection through his trousers.  He dropped the lacy treasure down threw the rustling leaves. Her squeak of displeasure was quickly silenced as he plucked hard at her nipples, then flicked at the buttons of her dress.  Her breasts spilled out into his hands and she leaned into him as he ran his fingertips over her nipples with the softest touch, feeling them harden and relishing in the soft whimpers she gave him as her head rested against his shoulder.

Soon he wasn’t satisfied with the lush feel of the globes of her breasts and the sparks of arousal that flowed between them.  He wanted them both to burn.  Her skirt was already shortened for her climb, so it was simple for his hand to skim up the supple skin of her thighs.  Those thighs were gripped hard around the hefty tree branch on which they were suspended, but he wrapped an arm around her waist and she relaxed enough to open her legs to him.  She was hot to touch, her lower lips parted for him.  He stroked a finger in a slow circle around her clit.  She twisted against him, frantic to get closer to those teasing fingers.  He smiled at her enthusiasm, until he grunted in pain as her elbow managed to bang against his ribs as she tried to grip his thighs for leverage.

“Oh God, I’m sorry!” She tried to twist around to see to his wound, but he refused to let her budge.  He tightened his hold around her waist and thrust a finger into her sheath, forcing her back to considering her pleasure rather than his health.

But she was not so easy to distract, “You, Mr. West, are a terrible patient.” She breathed out, turned her face into his neck and planting an open mouthed kiss against that sensitive skin.

“I am healed, woman. And I am Hunter now, not West.” He twisted his wrist, plunging two fingers deep within her and circling her clit with his thumb in an irregular rhythm meant to drive her crazy.

“Damn it, you really like to play games, don’t you?”  She sucked in a breath as he pulled out his fingers and pinched her clit hard.  She let out a scream and he rubbed her softly to sooth away the shock.  

He put his lips against the shell of her ear to answer.  “For a thousand years, Magi become part of the family of their ashavi.  I left my mother’s name in the forests of the Alps when I was called to Search for you.  I took a Searching name, West.  That was the direction in which I was driven to go.  Now that I have found you,” he took the tender lobe of her ear in his teeth and bit softly, eliciting a satisfying moan that reminded him how close he was to exploding inside his trousers.  “Now that I have you, you are mine and I am yours, I am Daron Hunter.”

She could form no words, only nod her head in response. Writhing against him, she was so close to her peak he could smell her as a bright contrast to the earthy scent of the woods around them.  He wanted to bring his fingers to his lips and taste her and wished that there was some way he could pull her hips to his face and lap up her flavor.  It was almost impossible twenty feet in the air.  He wasn’t sure if it would be possible to scramble back to the ground with Sophia melting in his arms and a cock so hard he could drill a hole in the damn tree.

Sophia solved his problem for him.  She tore his arm from around her waist and leaned forward, clutching the wide limb of the tree for support.  She planted her feet against the massive trunk and inched backward until she was pressed tight against him.  Looking back at him over her shoulder, she bit her lip and reached back, pulling at the fabric of her green dress until her firm buttocks were revealed, her legs wide open and her slick wetness more than ready for him. 

As she watched, he licked his fingers of her sweetness and opened the buttons of his crotch, releasing his hardness.  It was throbbing with arousal held too long, and he needed to be inside of her before he lost all semblance of control.  He slid the slick skin of his head against her moist slit and almost shivered with the need to bury himself inside of her.  She growled and he relented, thrusting his hips forward as best he could with his legs still gripping the damned tree limb. 

As he slid within, there was a long blissful sigh let loose into the air.  Daron wasn’t sure whether it was his or hers or both of them together.  It didn’t matter.  She was embracing him like no other ever could, her inner walls so tight he felt every shudder of her pleasure.  He couldn’t get as deep as he would have liked, but together they pushed pleasure higher, with her pushing back against him and making sexy little cries that made him twitch inside her.

He gripped her hips hard and pulled her against him faster, harder. The moonlight seemed to get brighter as it reflected down through the leaves on to her translucent skin.  Her strong, sensual hands as she gripped the rough back, the side of her face as she turned her head toward him her eyes closed in rapture, all of it was turned bright silver.  But he realized it wasn’t the moon.  It was her power flooding back into both of them.

Just as he could feel her pleasure almost as much as his own, he could now see her essence shining through her skin, radiating her joy and they bound themselves to each other.  It drove him to push harder, to grip the rough bark with his knees and drive forward until she screamed and pulsed around him.  He was so close to following her he thought he would lose his sanity, but he wanted to feel every moment of her orgasm, every wave that shattered her. 

He knew he would not find completion until he could lose himself in her.  And no matter how enticing his bride was, a tree branch was a difficult place to find abandon.  He grit his teeth against the complaints of his cock and ran a soothing hand over Sophia’s back, calming her as her recovered.

Soon she looked back over her shoulder, a look of mild confusion on her face.  She clenched internal muscles and he hissed with the feel of it, trapped on a knife’s edge between fulfillment and torture.  “Can’t get…the damn tree is not terribly convenient for…” he trailed off, lost for words and knowing that he sounded like a petulant child upset with his favorite toy.

“Oh!  Actually, this particular tree is very convenient.” She pulled herself forward and he slipped out of her regretfully, immediately missing the warmth of her most intimate embrace.  Nimble as an acrobat, she brought herself to her knees and then to her feet.  She turned around and faced him, placing one foot uncomfortable close to his slick cock as she raised the other to step on another nearby branch to scramble higher into the tree.  He caught her thighs in his hands, and ducked his head beneath her skirts, running his tongue over the warm cream of her juices.  Her hands gripped his head for support and he licked and sucked at her exquisite feast until he feared she would topple as her knees grew weak.  He finally let her go and he had every assurance that she was again in desperate need of him, wanting him every bit as much if not more than before her recent climax. 

She gave a shuttering sigh and pushed him slightly away from her, finally pulling herself higher into the tree.  He watched as she climbed another ten feet into the branches, stopping where the trunk seemed to split into two.  There was little choice but to follow her.  Wincing, he tucked himself back into his trousers and began to climb. 

He was surprised to find that she was not balancing on another precarious perch, but kneeling on a small platform wedged in the saddle between the two trunks of the oak.  She shrugged at his look of astonishment.  “Birdwatchers.  City is full of them.  Thought this might come in handy someday.” She patted the wood planking affectionately.

Soon he knelt in front of her, close enough for his chest to brush the tips of her breasts.  Laughing, she pulled the green cotton over her head and let her dress fall where it will, then she reached up and pulled the leather half-mask wore over his head.  He wrapped his arms around her, crushing her to him and kissing her, letting her taste her own intoxicating flavor on his lips.

Then she was pulling at his shirt and he followed her example, shedding his clothes with embarrassing eagerness.  She lay back against one of the twin trunks, opening herself to him completely.  He knelt between her thighs, pulling her hips up to his and thrusting inside her once again. This time, he could watch her eyes flutter close as he impaled her.  He could watch the sway of her breasts as he drove himself deep enough to hit the entrance to her womb. 

He felt hot.  Her heat was searing him, flowing over his skin until they were both incandescent with it.  Their bond was no longer visible, it was encompassed in all of them, their entire being.  Her hands gripped at his lower back, her nails digging into his skin and pulling him closer and closer to her.  Her sheath rippled around him, trapped at the peak of pleasure but refusing release until he could travel with her.

She opened her eyes suddenly, staring into his with frantic intensity.  “I need you, ashava.” It was a whisper, but he broke under that spell.  With a final hard thrust he spilled himself inside her and roared.  She screamed, tightening her legs locked behind his thighs and forcing him to stay deep inside her as they rocked together, shaking with surrender.   Their hearts sped at the same rapid pace, their breath rose and fell together in sharp gasps.  He lost all sense of time and place, and he knew only her. 

Slowly, the world changed.  He felt the thrum of their lives.  The life of the tree that cradled them, the creatures that stirred in its branches.  He felt connected to the owl that flew overhead, the wildflowers blooming in the field below.  And then the people.   The millions of people in the city, all of them full of life and their own purpose, but connected to each other in so many ways.  For an instant he could see and feel it all, wrapped inside of the woman he loved.

He exhaled, blinking in astonishment as the ecstasy faded and he was once again himself.  She looked back at him with wide eyes, equally enthralled and mystified with the vision of beauty they had been given.  It was a profound wedding gift.

He wished they could stay like this for the entire night, wrapped together in this little sanctuary high above Central Park, but he was already afraid of the damage the rough bark had done to her naked back.  He pulled slightly away from her and she moaned, but allowed him to shift their positions until he was leaning against the opposite trunk and she was cuddled into his chest.

They listened to the sounds of the night, the wind in the trees and the small sounds of night creatures and the distant sounds of the city.  It was getting cold, but he didn’t want to move. 

She laughed softly and he furrowed his brow, curious as to what stray thought had caused such a reaction.  She turned her head to look up at him and said, “The first major decision of our marriage is going to be very strange.  Who’s going to climb down the tree and get all our clothes?”

He leaned over the platform and looked down to see the dark patches of his shirt and trousers and her dress hanging from various branches between here and the ground.  Then he chuckled, holding his wild woman close and thanking the heavens for the gift of finding her at last.



* * * * *

The cabin “weren’t nothing special”, except if you knew the stories of happiness she’d always heard from Grams.  Grams and Granpa had lived here when they were first married, more years ago than Grams had ever desired to tell.  The clapboard cabin was sturdy and Sophia remembered playing here as a child.  The overgrown woods and the wildflowers created a haven in which her imagination could run amok, with tales of fairies and nymphs, cowboys and injuns or exciting adventures from the depths of the jungle.

It was hot enough for a jungle now.  The air was thick and sweltering, like the heat of her breath on a cold winter’s day, so warm and moist that you could see it as much as feel it.  At some blessed minute in the next hour it would start raining and bring some relief, but for now she had every window wide open. The old creaky door was also propped open with her bucket as she swabbed clean the freshly whitewashed front porch.

She leaned for a moment on the mop handle, dragging the back of her hand across her brow and tucking in a wisp of hair that had escaped from the kerchief that covered her head.  It wasn’t the first time since they’d come here to settle that she thanked the Seven Heavens that the cottage was here amongst overgrown woods, so the tall maples and birches protected the little house from the worst of the July sun. 

Still, there were a few souls foolish enough to be out in the noonday sun.  Including her husband.  He would be coming inside soon enough to find refuge from the heat.  With that thought fresh in her mind, she was unsurprised when she could feel him come closer.  Still facing the opposite direction, she knew he had stepped into the dappled shade surrounding the house.  Her eyes followed her uncanny senses and she turned around, taking in the sight of her man.  She was struck hard with unquenchable lust, the kind she thought only existed in naughty book.  His bare torso was slick with sweat, his arms thick with muscle from cutting firewood and clearing bits of the surrounding forest to use for their kitchen gardens and her herb fields.  He said he was learning to settle down and regaining the strength he’d lost with the years of easy city living.

She didn’t care why he did it, only that she very much appreciated the results.  His long hair was bound back at the nape of his neck. She wanted to free it and let it flow around her like a black curtain trapping her in a world where nothing existed but the two of them and desire.

“Thirsty work, taming a forest.  Not so sure she likes being tamed,” she smiled, and watched one dark eyebrow raise in question.

“A man works himself hard and wants only a glass of water and this is the welcome he gets?” His voice was hoarse, and not just from thirst.

He stopped at the foot of the porch steps, kicking off his shoes to match her own bare feet.  When he looked up, her eyes locked with his, reading the message in those green eyes – he wanted her every bit as much as she wanted him.  That glass of cool water he was coming to get was nothing more than an excuse.  Even if she was sweaty and smudged, her hair in a blue kerchief and dressed in an old worn shirt that had once been white and a calico skirt rucked up around her waist for the work.  She could feel his need, feel it prickle up her skin, pinch her nipples, sigh into the heat of her folds.

She smiled, licking her lips, wondering how exactly he would start the dance this time.  While their desire was never something they could hide from one another, her husband seemed to relish the chance to tease her, to surprise her.  To drive her into madness until he’d take her, giving them sweet release and drawing them so close they could see the divine within each other.  Her knees went just a bit weak at the thought.  Truth was, she loved every minute of his games.

Daron had made it his mission to tease her.  He’d taunted her from the moment they’d left New York, running his fingers over the nape of her neck and blowing in her ear and making her wild for him.  The only thing keeping her from ripping off his clothes and riding him to Timbuktu was the pair of wide blue eyes that would every so often pop up over the front seat and stare at them with a six-year-old’s blatant curiosity.  They’d hitched a ride with Alan, June and Hester in the six-seater Studebaker Alan had got in trade for his beloved Ol’ Nellie.  Behind them they’d pulled a rickety trailer stacked up with their lives in boxes.

Somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania the parade had halted, and Alan had managed to rustle up an amenable Justice of the Peace. Quick as a wink, there was a whole passel of newly married folk, Alan and June Lowbridge and Daron and Sophia Hunter.  It had taken less time to do the ceremonies than to explain to the poor fella that the men in Daron’s family had always, apparently for more generations than a person could count on both fingers and toes, taken their wife’s family name as their own.

Sophia knew that her Grams would have been tickled by the whole situation.  Grams would have liked them all – Alan and June, and sweet little Hester, who looked like she was having the time of her life traveling all the way across the country to Arizona.  Alan had a professor friend who’d become the head of the Chemistry department in Tucson, and it just so happened that he’d sent Alan a job offer the very same day Alan had met June.  It was funny how fate seemed to work out that way.  Grams used to say that an awful lot too.

Grams would have especially liked Daron.  She’d have made a long whistle the first time she caught sight of the man.  Mama had just looked him over and frowned.  But Mama had no say in the matter, they were married and the cabin had been hers since Grams had died.  The cabin and the acres surrounding it were theirs free and clear.  There was no pressing headache, no sense of being crushed by the weight of a million souls, no one around for miles but squirrels and possums.

Sophia could make all the noise she wanted to.  Daron, sure did look like he’d like to help her to do just that. She watched a drop of sweat inch its way down the cords of his neck as he slowly climbed up the three stairs to the porch.  Would he tease her? Start at her bare toes and kiss every inch of her?  Follow her into the house for that glass of water and end up bending her over the table, testing the strength of that sturdy oak as he slammed into her hard enough to send them and the table scooting across the floor?

He pounced suddenly, striding across the porch and wrapping his hands around her waist, pushing her back into the doorframe.  The bucket got pushed aside and the mop fell to the floor as she looped her arms around his neck and loosened the tie binding his hair with practiced ease.  His lips and tongue tasted salty as they ravaged her mouth, tasting her like he’d not had her in weeks instead of mere hours.  He’d woken her up with his tongue swirling around her nipple and his fingers deep within her sheath.  Hours later, she was still more than ready for him, so when he pushed off her skirt and pushed down his loose trousers, she was eager for the feel of him within her, happy that he wouldn’t make her wait.

She propped a leg up against the opposite side of the doorframe and he ran two fingers over her clit and dipped deep inside of her, making her as ready as her moans sounded.  She wrapped her hand around his hard cock, loving the way he pulsed in her hand as she positioned him. 

Daron bent his knees and thrust himself into her, pushing her into the doorframe and hitting every spot just right.  He still stretched her in the most wonderful ways, making her wince just slightly with pleasurable pain at the first moment of entry.  She pushed back against him as he thrust, watching his face from half closed eyes as she stared down to where they were joined.  The lust was plain on his face, a mixture of animalistic passion and tenderness was her ashava unleashed.  He made her feel like the most perfect example of woman in the world, and she almost believed it when those green eyes held her captive.  His eyes flickered up to hers as though hearing her thoughts and suddenly she couldn’t think anymore at all.

He tore the kerchief out of her hair, leaving sweaty strands of her hair to fall around her neck in wild disarray.  Then he ripped off all the buttons on the old shirt she wore, breaking eye contact to lean down and suckle each nipple hard enough to make her flutter internal muscles against his thrusting cock, flirting with orgasm just long enough to make her toes curl.

That was just a bit more than he could stand.  He was close, she could tsell.  She tightened those muscles one more time, trying her best to drive him over the edge.  She knew she succeeded when he gripped her hips and pulled himself as close to her as possible, bending his knees and driving up into her as his teeth scraped the skin of her collarbone.  She clung to his shoulders for dear life, whimpering as his pelvic bone dug into her clit at exactly the right angle.  Pushing against the doorframe with one shaking leg, she rolled her hips to keep up the rhythm until a scream was torn from her. 

Lightning flashed in the distance as her climax washed over her and the skies opened up with much needed rain.  The waves of her orgasm crashed into Daron, and with a shout he pumped his seed into her, the force of his last thrusts the only thing keeping her upright.

They sagged against each other in the doorway, holding each other and stroking sweat drenched skin.  He pulled away and she moaned slightly as her legs threatened to crumple under her. 

“Time for a drink, ashavi!”

Finding strength from out of nowhere, he picked her up, light as a feather and walked out into the pouring rain. She squealed and then laughed, opening her mouth and drinking in the rain, letting it soak into her skin as he swung her around in a circle.

When she’d first seen Daron West, mysterious Magi, the world had come flooding back into her heart.  Now that she was completely his, she embraced the deluge.  Together, they were stronger than the storm.







Ashavi/Ashava- companion, partner of life, soulmate

Chovihani – witch

Gadje- a non-Romani person

Gitano/Gitana- Spanish Romani, they speak Calo a Spanish with lots of words borrowed from Romani.  Many people thrown out of conventional life by the Spanish Inquisitions joined the Romani living in Spain to make up the Gitano people

Magi –A tribe of Iranian people highly respected as capable and wise leaders.  They were followers of the Zoroastrian religion and so well known for their knowledge they gave rise to the word we use to apply to the supernatural talents, “magic”.  They spread out throughout the Middle East and India, but no direct trace of their influence can be found after the tenth century, A.D when it is thought that religious wars within the Persian Empire brought about their disappearance.  In fact, they still exist, hidden among many peoples of the world, each son handed the task of finding his lifemate or ashavi and releasing their combined powers.

moco- magic, power in Gullah/Geechee dialect

moll- A gangster’s girlfriend

Oshun- a Yoruban goddess of love, intimacy, wealth and diplomacy.  Her worship can also be found among the legends of the Gullah peoples of the Sea Islands of South Carolina

Phuro- a Romani male elder

Romani – Called Gypsy by most for the mistaken belief they came from Egypt, these dynamic people roam all over Europe and now the Americas.  Originally from India, their Romani language is closely related to the languages of the Indian subcontinent.  Most have converted to Christianity, but the importance of Sainte Sara la Kali is a reminder that they once worshipped the mother goddess Durga, and her incarnation as the avenging Kali.

Sinti-a group of the Romani that live farther to the north and west









For Monica

I have to use separate posts, as LJ won’t let me post it all at once!

Chapter Eleven

* * * * *

She still had her arms and legs wrapped around Daron, unwilling to let him go.  Yes it was cold, and yes, the damned roof was uncomfortable, but she felt too good to care.  Especially when he was blowing air across the edges of her ear and chuckling with that sexy voice of his. 

“You are mine now, yes ashavi?” It wasn’t a question really, but the tone was less proprietary than the last time he’d said something similar.  Give the man points for learning.

“After that?  You still doubt?  Tsk tsk…do we need to have another go just to make sure you understand?” She was joking, but when he gave her that smirk and began sucking on the sensitive spot right under her ear, one hand plucking softly at her tender nipples, she whimpered a bit in surrender.

“What am I supposed to call you then, huh?  Are you ashavi to me?”

He chuckled again and even if he was soft inside of her, she could feel that laugh in every inch of her body. Ashava.  I am your ashava.  Your friend, your companion and your mate.”

She wrinkled her nose.  “Well, ashava mine, if you are my fated mate, why don’t I remember a wedding ceremony then, eh?”

He smiled and she sucked in a quick breath at how handsome he looked in that moment, the soft swirls of residual energy from their fused passion rippling within his eyes.  “I think perhaps we can think of something, yes?”  He descended for a kiss and she was lost in the skillful thrust of his tongue and the texture of his lower lip between her teeth.  That’s why she didn’t immediately notice the clatter of the trapdoor to the roof being thrown open.

“West!  Where are you! Something’s happened to June and Hester!” footsteps clomped forward a few feet before halting abruptly.  Frozen in mortification, Sophia figured their naked bodies must shine like some kind of beacon on the dark surface of the roof.

“Jeepers creepers!” Alan squeaked before spinning around.

Sophia laughed.  What else could she do?  Only Alan could sound like a shocked fourteen year old girl in such a situation.  It was curiously charming.  She even felt Daron’s low chuckles as he pulled himself away from her, gallantly retrieving her coat from the pile of scattered clothes and covering her before searching for anything for himself.  She was struck again how ridiculously lucky she was to have such a man want her as much as she wanted him. 

She scrambled up from the ground, her body aching in wonderful ways, the skin of her knees and her back scratched from the unforgiving roof tiles.  It had been worth it though.  She felt as though she could run from here to Coney Island or win that dance marathon at the Savoy next weekend.  She pulled on her bloomers, her camisole, the prim blouse and skirt with a slightly dazed happiness, before she finally woke up to the frantic undertones that Alan and Daron were talking in.

“What’s happened?” she asked, watching the dark undertones of worry bleed from Alan to Daron and back again.  Daron took her hand and squeezed it for a moment before walking purposefully toward the trapdoor.  She turned to face Alan, hands on her hips.  This had better be good.

Alan looked down at her bare feet, rather than at her face.  He was still a bit red from embarrassment, but the kind of situation that normally would have shut him up like a clam seemed to play second fiddle to whatever bee had stung him hard enough to get him up on the roof in the first pace.  He took a deep breath, “I had come up to Harlem to visit June and Hester.” He paused half a moment, and when he’d received no wry taunt went on to the rest of it, “I went to knock on their door, only, the door wasn’t completely shut.  I knocked anyway and opened it wider, only to see an empty room.  They weren’t there, either of them.  I thought June might still be working, and Hester was being looked after by Missus Garcia or somebody else in the building.  Maybe she’d just forgotten to lock up…but there was a chair overturned, and all the jars in the pantry were dumped out on the floor.  And, I just have a bad feeling about the whole thing, that’s all.”

Sophia’s stomach dropped.  She’d been so close to June’s place, passing by the fifth floor on the way up to Daron, she’d even thought to stop by and say hello, trying to delay the inevitable confrontation that she thought was coming.  For all the joy that she’d felt just a moment ago, now there was a nagging sense of guilt.  If her Gift wasn’t capable of alerting her to foul play involving those she cared about, it was because of her own self-centered needs, not any limitations she knew of.

She raced after Daron, climbing down the ladder with foolhardy speed, slipping a few rungs and cursing as she almost blistered her hands.  Alan came down after her and stooped to pick up her ancient clogs, smiling through his anxiety.  “Hee, if I wasn’t so god damn worried, I’d be able to come up with a suitably witty comment on how low you have fallen in your choice of footwear, but I find I don’t really give a futz about it.”

Together they took the stairs fast, clattering into the apartment at the same time.  Daron crouched on the floor, staring at mingled remains of coffee grounds and flour and spilled black beans.

“There were three of them.”  Daron looked like a bird of prey, examining with trampled tracks like the keenest of hunters.  His cool detachment didn’t fool Sophia for a moment.  She could see the sharp flare of his anger and feel the echo of his remorse in her gut.  He stood, walking to the chair that had been flipped over in the middle of the floor.  June was fastidious and the coarse fibers hanging from the arms of the chair were not something she would have tolerated in her household.  Daron ripped one away, holding it up to the light of the weak bulb overhead.  “Rope fiber.  Somebody was tied to the chair.  Likely June, tied and gagged to wait for Hester to come up from Ixchel’s. Muladi bavel!” He swore and surged to his feet, pacing across the floor.  His chest was bare, revealed by his unbuttoned shirt and his feet were as bare as hers.  He radiated barely controlled power than seethed beneath the surface, waiting to be tapped into some kind of action.

She spoke, putting into words the inevitable conclusion and the companion question.  “Somebody or somebodies took them, against their will.  Who would take them and why?”

Alan butted in, his passion overwhelming attempts to reason out a course of actions, “Where the hell are they?  Shouldn’t we call the cops or something!  Why don’t we go after them!” He hovered near the door, as though not wanting to face the truth scattered across the floor.

Daron looked up at her, those green eyes clear as crystal.  “I do not know all that haunted June from her past, only that it was a threat that kept her awake many a night.  She had run many times to escape it and has often said in the last few months that she had stayed here too long.”

It was not really important.  They were missing and no policeman was going to bother themselves coming up to Italian Harlem to look for a couple of missing persons based on an overturned chair and spilled coffee.  Sophia had to try something else, something she was not certain she would be able to do in a city as crowded as New York.  She stepped in front of Daron, stopping his pacing and taking his hand in hers, feeling the ensnared power there.

She stroked his palm with her thumb, “Will you give me this?  I will need everything to try to search.”

He gave her a rueful smile, “You still need to ask me to give you anything?  It is already yours, ashavi.  Take all that you need.”

Alan cleared his throat, “Sorry to butt in to this fascinating conversation, but what the seven hells are you jabbering about!  We’ve got to do something!”

* * * * *

The last time Sophia had sat on the floor of this room she’d felt the undeniable pull of love.  She hadn’t wanted to recognize that the bright searing bond she shared with Daron as love.  She hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the feelings she had had, an almost painful fulfillment, as though her heart would burst if she let herself bask in the potential for bliss for too long.

She hadn’t known what to make of it.  She’d never seen such a bright connection. Heck, she’d never seen more than a ghostly wisp of the connections she now saw in vivid detail, ever since she joined her powers to his. 

Now they sat on the cold floor, legs folded in front of them, bare feet just touching toe to toe.  She held his hands in hers and she breathed slowly, trying to clear her mind as he had told her to do.  Instead, she watched him through hooded eyes.  Daron had practiced this kind of deep relaxation in the past, he had said.  His father had trained him to understand his powers from a young age, apparently more thoroughly and completely than Grams had ever been able to teach her.  Magic was something to keep hush about, something just a bit frightening.  Sophia had finally left home after one of her mother’s blistering diatribes against witchcraft.  Elinor Hunter had wanted to try and forget Grams ever existed and would try anything to drive the Gift out of Sophia if she could.

For Daron, magic was his birthright.  Sophia wanted to give their children that.  Daron’s face relaxed completely, losing the edges of tension and becoming almost the face of a boy. 

This must be how he looks when he’s asleep. But he was most definitely not asleep.  Her hands grew warm as pure power flowed from him and into her, sharpening her vision, filling her with energy.  Not that she needed much more.  She was already filled almost to the brim with power from their lovemaking and her body was still not completely certain that it would not resume their passion as soon as possible.  Her mind though was torn up with worry and guilt and energy swirled around her, diving in and out of her skin, making her sweat from the heat of containing so much undirected force.

Sophia tried to push down her own sense of panic and fear and clung to Daron’s solid determination, only she wasn’t entirely certain which emotion was whose or whether it really mattered. There was a scared little girl and a terrified woman somewhere out in New York and they had to be found before they were snuffed out like candles.

Daron’s presence next to her was unyielding, an anchor for the journey she was about to attempt.  The last time she had done this, she was still a girl, fresh and full of her talents as she searched through a dark forest for a lost little boy on a stormy night.  The Younge’s never forgot that she’d found their little Robbie, and she had had homemade toffee every Christmas after that, till she left for New York.

But it was easier to track a soul through the wind and rain and the stern presence of birch trees than through the throngs of New York.  Still, she had to try.

She tried to bring up the flavor of Hester; the quiet, joyful innocence that threaded throughout her essence.  The strong, resilient gold of June, facing her battles and winning.  She would win this one too. Sophia would use every drop of her abilities to see that it was so.

She found the incandescent bond that stretched between she and Daron.  Flowing her awareness into him was easy, but both comfortable and disconcerting all at the same time.  The dregs of their arousal called to each other, remembering the interrupted tryst.  She tasted him again on her lips but tried to force her mind back to her task and away from the drugging memory of the feel of his hard thighs under her hands, the shape of his ass and the sounds of his pleasure in her ears as he emptied himself into her.

But those memories did help to overcome her tension and with relaxation came the opening of her vision to the countless other bonds her ashava felt.  There was a strong bond, colored in a shade of the strong copper of her lover, extending far, far away.  She was sure that was his sister, whom she knew he missed more than anything else from his old way of life.  It was amazing how much they had both talked on that long carriage ride, and how much there was still to learn. There were bonds to all the people he’d befriended in the city, the people in his building, people he knew on the street.  It was remarkable how many lives he had touched, and who he had been touched by.  She wondered if she herself had affected half so many lives, though she’d been in New York more than twice as long.  Sorting through them all, she found two linked tightly together that were clearly mirrors of June and little Hester.

Taking a deep breath and trying to forget the hardness of concrete floor, the flickering light of the streetlamps outside the window and her own fear, she pulled herself along the glowing bonds, following in her mind’s eye out the window and down the street.  Other bonds, weaving the City of New York together as one coherent whole became almost impenetrable.  It was a mass of light, of feeling and emotion that she never would have suspected in the cold cruel world of the city.  It was ironic that bonds of connection, of love and affection, should end up impeding her search for those who needed help so desperately!

She heard a grunt of frustration and the sound pulled her back to her own body.  It wasn’t Daron who had made the noise though.  He was as lost in trance as she should be, giving all of his abilities to her for the search.  Alan had made the sound, in his impatient frustration to be of some use and in having to trust something his scientific training said was impossible.

She should be angry and tell him to shut up and let her work, but when she turned to face him, he held the answer that she’d been searching for.

Alan, sweet, amiable and all around quirky guy, had a bond that glowed brightly enough that it seemed impossible that she had never noticed it before.  How had it come to be?  When?  Had she truly been so low in the last few weeks that she hadn’t bothered much at all about the people closest to her?

But the bond was there and it was undeniable.  Alan’s face was intense, desperation evident in his eyes as they flickered back and forth between her and Daron.  Sophia knew what she should do, but couldn’t help second guessing herself.  It was Daron who grunted in exasperation, letting go of one of her hands and with his eyes still half closed in concentration gripped Alan’s forearm none too gently and pulled him in an awkward heap to the floor.

Sophia took Alan’s hand, preventing him from lashing out in confused fury at Daron.  “Help me Alan.  Help us find them?”

Alan furrowed his brow but left his hand in hers, muttering under his breath when Daron gripped his other hand.  “What could I do?  I don’t know anything about magic?  I’m only half-believing this mumbo jumbo will do a lick of good because I don’t have any other options!”

Daron snorted, “Being silent as possible would certainly help.”

Sophia repressed a laugh.  Perhaps they were too closely linked – Daron was starting to sound more and more like she did. “Alan, honey, just try and relax.  Think about June and Hester being safe.  Imagine that they are close to you.  Almost like, if you call, they’d come.”

Daron opened his eyes fully and smiled at her.  She felt his admiration, his pride in her simple instructions.  She had simply trusted her instincts, but the words felt right.  This time, when she closed her eyes, it was a simple matter to ride on a ribbon of white light that streamed from Alan’s heart out into the ether.  His love for June was remarkably strong and she was happy for her friend.  But when she felt the bond with Hester, the true affection he felt for the little girl, she was proud to know such a man.  Alan would be a marvelous father. But first she had to find the girl and her mother.

Whatever had happened to them, it had happened less than an hour ago.  They’d been taken to the opposite side of the island, she was sure of it.  The bonds strung out past Harlem, and arched over Central Park, down toward Midtown.  She had a firm grasp on it, as though it was a tangible thing she could hold in her hands.  But she had to get closer before she could pinpoint exactly where they’d been taken.

Her eyes snapped open.  “Alan, did you take the subway, or did you bring that damn car?”

* * * * *

If Sophia had thought Alan drove Ol’ Nellie a bit too fast the few times she’d ridden with him in the past, she had been completely wrong.  That had been a snail’s pace compared to the race they were running at the moment, the engine whirring and rubber burning as they lurched around turns.  She was certain that Daron must have lost circulation to his leg, she was clutching on to his thigh so hard.  Wedged between Alan and Daron in the front seat, she was thrown back and forth.  Daron’s arm around her shoulders was the only thing keeping her steady and losing the meager contents of her stomach.

Her eyes were clenched shut and she tried her best to avoid thinking about the hard turns and sickening speed.  She had to hold fast in her mind to the trail only she could see to follow and gave terse directions to a frantic Alan at the wheel.

The city spun past her in ghostly transparency, highlighted not by buildings, landmarks and streetlights, but by people and the relationship between them.  The threads that stretched out over the city formed a giant living tapestry and Sophia was trying to weave her way between the warp and weft to follow two single strands among the multitude.

The density of people became much greater as the entered the blocks of warehouses and tenement slums known as Hell’s Kitchen.  Daron tensed beside her, aware of the danger of entering the heart of gang violence in the middle of the night without a weapon to speak of. 

“Ah, well, she was a nice car while I had her,” Alan sighed.  If he hadn’t still been driving, Sophia would have kicked him.  But as they veered down 10th Avenue and passed deeper and deeper into some of the worse slums of New York, Sophia found she could barely call up the energy to breathe.  She held on to the bond she followed only with sheer will, gritting her teeth against the darkness pressing in all around her.  She wanted to cry and scream, rant and wail all the things people were too damn tired to bother with.  She didn’t want to think about all the possible horrors that could happen to a woman that looked like June, much less the sweet little girl that shared her remarkable beauty.

When they got to 39th Street, the trail grew crystal clear and icy hot, like holding a broken icicle in her bare hands.  She sucked in a breath through her teeth.  “I don’t give a damn about Ol’ Nellie, Alan, but you’d better find somewhere to park her.  Whoever took June and Hester, they are holed up in that alley right there.  And something about it seems really really nasty.”

She shrieked as Alan swung the car over, stopping on a dime and leaving the scent of burning rubber in the air.  Daron grumbled, before popping out of the car door, dragging her with him into the shadow of a nearby doorwell.  Alan seemed to have learned something from all the crime-thriller movies he watched, because when she thought to look around, she couldn’t see him anywhere.  It was a lucky thing, because a head emerged from the alleyway, clearly checking the street for any signs of disturbance.  And below that silhouette, a gun was clearly visible.

“Fuck,” said Daron, so quietly it was more like a sigh than a word.

“See, you don’t have to worry about making it in America, if that’s the first curse word you think of at a time like this.” It was trite, but at the moment she felt close to hysteria and she’d rather laugh then cry. Daron simply turned to her and set a finger against her lips for silence.  He caught her hand in his once again and turned back toward the alley.

The hour was late, but it wasn’t so late to explain the eerie quiet that engulfed the street.  For a moment, all Sophia could hear was the winds rustling past, carrying paper wrappers and the last of the dry leaves from the autumn long past.  Here, the orange glow of the sky was sinister not striking.  Sophia wondered how she could go from the heights of ecstasy to feeling such cold in the depths of her soul.  If Daron hadn’t been standing by her, she would have been unable to move, unable to think for the weight of despair she could feel.  Suddenly she realized she’d even lost the thread of Alan’s bond to June and she clenched her eyes shut, fighting the need to cry. 

“What’s the plan?” Alan whispered behind her and Sophia was so worked up she felt like she would jump out of her skin with surprise.  Slapping her hand over his mouth, she jerked her head in the direction of the alley.

There was sound filling the silence now, and it wasn’t pretty.  It was the sound of weeping mixed with the hard slap of bone on skin that meant someone was being beaten.

“Get in that damn door, girly!  And let go a the lil’ one.  I ain’t decided what I’m goin’ to do with ‘er yet.  If you’re good, I might let ‘er work in the sweatshop and if you’re bad, I’ll just turn her over to a child-pimp for a fat fee.  She’s a pretty lil’ thing, ain’t she?”

“She’s your daughter, you scum!” The voice was clearly June’s and the resounding slap that followed her insult rang against the walls.  Alan lurched forward, making it halfway to the alley before Daron tackled him soundlessly.

“They have guns.  We must have a plan or it does June no good to have you dead.”  Daron’s eyes gleamed in the half-light looking deadly serious, but Alan did not cower in front of the larger man. 

Alan pushed Daron away, then began looking up at the decrepit warehouse they were standing in front of.

“Maybe we can get above them?  Drop down on them or something?”

Daron nodded joining the inspection.  Sophia closed her eyes again, taking a deep breath and trying to fight the instinct to just sit down and give up.  A door slammed down the alleyway and Sophia realized they must have gone in a doorway at the end of the alley.  Listening intently for a moment while the men were occupied, she heard no further echo from the alleyway.  Creeping along the side of the building, she knelt on the filthy ground and peered around the corner, praying there wasn’t some flunky with a gun waiting to shoot her head off. 

The alley was empty except for a panel truck, open at the back.  There was a half unrolled carpet on the ground.  There was no sign of anyone and no indication if the three men Daron had predicted from the tracks in June’s kitchen were all the enemies they might be facing.  She was pulled back abruptly and almost let out a yelp, but the absolute fury in Daron’s eyes and that flooded into her from his touch silenced her. 

“Don’t risk my heart so easily, woman!” He had not raised his voice.  He didn’t need to.  Then he too looked around the corner and assessed the situation, pulling back quickly when two men appeared in the alley to shut the back door of the truck and take in the carpet.  When their grumbling voices indicated they had heaved the heavy carpet on to their shoulders, Daron eased around the corner once again.

The door slammed.  Daron turned back to Sophia and Alan.  “They went into this building.” He indicated the warehouse with quick gesture.

“It sure looks abandoned though.” Alan piped up.  He looked around the corner quickly.  “And what’s up with the carpet cleaning truck?”  He took a whiff of the air.  “I can tell you guys right now this building hasn’t seen the kind of chemicals they use to clean carpets.  All I smell is…” he paused, a wry grin on his face. “Somebody around here has a cheap still.  Eau de bathtub gin is hard to hide from a chemist.”

Sophia blinked, knowing enough not to question Alan’s nose for chemicals but not seeing what use that was to anyone at the moment.  Daron had drifted back to the front door of the place, examining the lock on the door.  Strangely enough, it was a cheap padlock and faster than the time it took Sophia to walk from the corner to stand by Daron’s side, he’d gotten a knife out from somewhere and had stripped off the outer casing.  A couple of turns of his nimble fingers and the thing had dropped away.  Daron slid the knife into the well between the door and the doorframe and with a loud click that seemed to echo ominously, the way seemed clear.

“That was just like the movies!” said Alan, clearly impressed.  “Any other gypsy-type magic you gonna pull?”

“No,” said Daron, worry evident in his voice, “that was too easy.  I may be the son of an instrument maker and the grandson of a jeweler, but that should not have been as simple as that.”

“Let’s just go in!  Face whatever the hell it is and get them out!” Sophia was sick of standing around and talking.  If she was going to face death, she’d face it.  “Time’s a-wasting and we don’t know what’s happening to them!”

Daron took a look at her white face and knew.  “You lost your connection?”

She looked away and nodded.  Daron took a deep breath, bent forward and placed a kiss on her lips.  “Can I convince you to stay here, ashavi?  It is a bad neighborhood, but…”

“Are you kidding!  Hell no!” she pushed past him and turned the knob, pushing open the door slowly and heaving a sigh of relief when the hinge didn’t squeak too loudly.  No sign of a night watchman or a barking dog.  In fact, there was nothing in the room but a shred of light from the cracked windows high up on the bare walls and the empty expanse of wooden floor.  Aside from stray garbage, squeaking rats and a couple of blankets that might have housed a hobo at some point, the place looked like it had been empty for years. 

Daron came up behind her, putting a hand in the small of her back.  By the time they’d all entered, it became evident that this was just one of many large rooms in the place.  Alan sniffed again loudly.  “I think we should split up, cover this whole place.  Something smells fishy to me.  I’m going that way.  You folks go whatever way your magic stuff takes you.  Holler if you need me!”

He stalked away, leaving Sophia and Daron blinking in confusion for a moment.  Still, he was right, they could cover more territory if they parted ways for a time.  Sophia didn’t want to have additional things to worry about, but Alan had disappeared through an open doorway to the right of this front room before she could find sufficient arguments to merit a response.  Daron flicked his head forward and she sighed, following Daron deeper into the echoing building.

The floor seemed to make a ridiculous amount of noise as they crept across it.  The farther they had traversed toward the back of the empty warehouse, the louder the voices they’d heard seemed to echo.  But then those voices suddenly cut off, replaced by a tiny sound that Sophia hoped was only Hester sniffling in fear.  She didn’t want to dwell on all the other possibilities for what the heartrending noise could mean.

Daron gripped her arm tightly and quickened their pace.  The floor made ominous creaking noises.  Something just seemed wrong about it.  Sophia dared to draw back her fragile walls blocking out the roiling density of people in the tenements nearby.  She wanted to try to understand more about the coming danger they faced.  Overwhelmed by sickening nausea she stopped dead in her tracks staring down at her feet with eyes wide.

Then the world dropped out from under their feet.  She barely had time to let out a scream as Daron pulled her tight to him, trying to flip them in mid-air so that he would take the brunt of whatever they hit as they plummeted down into the dark.

* * * * *

Sophia woke from her stupor with the beginnings of a blistering headache and the urge to retch.  Fortunately, it had been long hours since she’d absentmindedly chewed on an apple and a sausage roll, so there wasn’t much for her stomach to try and eject.  Daron had an arm around her waist and he was trying diligently to haul her to her feet despite her dead weight.  She tried to help, but her left ankle sent a bolt of pain through her and she hissed in pain, finally opening her eyes.

She almost slammed them closed again.  The view down the barrels of a .44 and a sawed-off shotgun was not a sight she’d particularly wanted to see in her lifetime.  But she needed to be there and not faint like some namby-pamby heroine in a dime store novel.  She couldn’t leave Daron alone to save everyone.                                                                                                             

The voice she’d heard berating June in the alley greeted her in harsh tones.  “Thanks for dropping in on us! Never thought that trapdoor would come in so ‘andy now, did ya Billy?”  The man grinned menacingly around half a cigar. 

One of the two gunmen smiled, showing rotting yellow teeth in a leer as he held up the .44.   The other one, presumably Billy, caressed his shotgun and answered, “Yep, sure is.”

The ringleader coughed and Billy amended his answer, “Yes sir, Mr. Diggins sir.  It’s very handy.”

Mr. Diggins wore a sharkskin suit and a fine felt fedora, both in a matching shade of blue bright enough to be called teal.  With the fading gold of his hair and the livid redness of his cheeks, he looked like an aging peacock.  Sophia swallowed a nervous giggle.  He looked utterly out of place against the backdrop of the dank basement. The shine from his patent leather shoes chased off the skittering of roaches fighting over crumbs on the floor from somebody’s discarded lunch. 

Her eyes fluttered to her right, where June sat clutching a wide-eyed Hester against the brick wall.  June was almost catatonic with remembered terror.  Sophia forced herself not to look for Alan.  Either he’d run for the cops or he was still upstairs, clueless about the basement’s occupants. She hoped he had a chance of evading the two bulky henchmen that flanked Diggins.  Those two nasty looking fellas were wearing much rattier clothes than their boss.  It seemed that Diggins kept his money solely for his own benefit.  Sophia hoped that translated into those brutes being all show and no substance.

“So, what da ya two fancies possibly got goin’ with Juney-baby to bother followin’ her all the way down to the Kitchen, eh?” Diggins chomped on his words like he chomped on his cigar.

Sophia pushed past the sickening hopelessness that dragged her down.  She spoke before caution caught up with her thoughts.  “And what the hell reason have you got to steal her and her daughter out from their home?” Daron’s hand tightened around her elbow and she suddenly felt a shot of the deadly intent behind Diggins’ icy gray eyes.  They were all in deadly danger.

Diggins moved his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other and stared at her.  “You ain’t as pretty to look at as Juney-baby, but you do look a sight sturdier.  I’m sure the boys will have a fun time breakin’ you in ‘fore I sell ya to a whorehouse.”

Daron growled, gripping the knife he held so tightly his knuckles turned white.  Sophia ignored the fear churning in her gut and tried to take stock of the situation.

Unlike the desolate rooms above, this sub-basement had the frenetic feeling of being very occupied.  A battered June sat on the floor, a rumpled Hester in her arms. It was hard to tell whether the mother was comforting the child or vice versa.  Against the concrete walls, there were stacks and stacks of rolled carpets, along with hundreds of half-gallon jugs imprinted with the seal of a well-known dairy.  There was a pungent smell in the air, and a couple of sputtering gas lamps provided the only light, its yellow waxy glow painting everyone in unflattering relief.  In the gloomy distance, there was a contraption that seemed to be made of dirty copper pipes, crusted over glass jars and laundry tubs.  It was a far cry from the neat precision of Alan’s basement distillery, but Sophia knew a still when she saw one.

Suddenly everything fell into place in her mind.  The carpet cleaning ad on the side of the panel truck in the alley was the same she remembered from the truck that had almost soaked her in front of Daron’s building.  The wild messy cloud of Hester’s bright hair confirmed her suspicion that the child had been rolled up in the carpet and carried down the stairs, her mother forced to follow quietly or risk harm to her daughter.  That’s probably how they smuggled their hooch too, innocent looking milk jugs containing second-rate joy juice rolled up in carpets and smuggled into speakeasys.  A neat trick, but one for a two-bit operation, not some high-rolling high-living gangster.

She tried to stand a little bit straighter with her injured ankle and put a provocative pout on her lips. “I don’t know, big boy, how many whorehouses you got?  Do I get to pick which one?  I might even like the work enough to give you fellas a freebee without scratching and biting.”  She gave a broad wink, “Unless you like that kind of thing.  I aim to please.”

Daron’s arm was still around her waist and she prayed that he and only he could read the terror underneath her sexy bravado.  He gripped her tighter and growled, whipping the knife around to hold it against her neck.  She flinched, her eyes widening with shock but it was mostly feigned, as she could feel a sense of trust and adoration ripple through her from where he clutched her waist so tightly.

Predictably, Yellow Teeth came just a bit closer. “There now, no hard feelings buddy!  Just ‘cause the bitch wants a new pimp don’t mean ya damage the merchandise.”  The man leaned close enough to drag a finger across her cheek. 

She smiled and then kicked Yellow Teeth in the balls with those heavy duty clogs, taking the .44 out of his hand with an ease that shocked her.  Daron aimed a kick at the fella’s head and Sophia was fairly certain he’d be out for a while. Blinking suddenly, she aimed the gun at Billy who held the shotgun and hoped to God her hands weren’t shaking as much as she thought they were.

“Or maybe we’ll just take June and Hester and get out of here. That would work too.” She swallowed, wanting nothing more than a sip of water and for this all to be a bad dream that she’d wake up from, snuggled tight in Daron’s arms.

Diggins was turned a bright shade of puce in his rage. “Fuck you and your pimp, you little bitch!  Juney’s my girl, I bought her from her mother fair and square.  She and her little brat are my property and I’m just taking back what’s mine!”

“That wasn’t my mama, Hugh…that was my stinkin’ no good cousin.  My mama died in one of your fucking sweatshops, trying to make a better life for us!” June hissed.  She stood suddenly, ignoring the twitching from Billy as he moved the shotgun back and forth between Sophia and June. June’s eyes flared until they seemed to burn blue.  “You took my childhood away, you bastard.  You ain’t going to take my daughter’s!” She leapt at him, nails out and scratching at his eyeballs.  Billy didn’t want to take the risk of shooting his boss and so watched dumbstruck as Hugh Diggins tried to subdue the wildcat he’d beaten up so easily a few minutes beforehand.  With a mighty backhand, he hit June hard enough that she flew into the wall and Hester shrieked and tried to run at Diggins.  But she never made it.

Instead, with a loud clanking noise, one of the jerryrigged pipes on the still behind Diggins swung out, bathing the back of that teal sharkskin in searing hot steam.  Sophia thought she heard Alan’s yell of triumph over Diggins’ squealing. Daron took advantage of the moment of confusion to run at Shotgun Billy.  For a brief moment, it looked like they’d won the day, but then the shotgun discharged and Daron staggered from the hit.  Sophia screamed, holding her gun up to shoot, but Daron was faster, bowling the guy over and then slamming the back of his head against the hard floor.  He kicked the gun away and then slumped over.

Sophia felt frozen, hoping again that she would wake up.  Dropping the gun, she folded her hands around her middle and collapsed on her twisted ankle. She couldn’t lose him.  This time she’d not be able to keep her sanity. Alan leapt over the steaming pipe and ran to Daron’s side, feeling for a pulse even while he glanced over at June slumped against the wall.  “He’s alive, Sophie.  We’ll get him out of here and to the hospital in no time!”

“Hell you will!” coughed Diggins.  He was barely standing, his back arched in pain and an inhuman grimace on his bloody face as he held a .22 pointed at Alan before turning it toward Sophia and then toward the unconscious June.  “I’m taking all of you out for this crap.  Nobody hurts Hugh Diggins and lives.  Nobody!”

It was true.  Seeing clearly for the first time, the bonds which held the others in the room tied together were completely absent from Diggins.  There was an emptiness around him.  At another time she might have pitied the man.  But now she would make him finally feel pity.

She filled herself up with the sharp pain of her worry for Daron, the righteous wrath of June, and the misery of a thousand souls within five hundred yards.  All of the suffering of the multitudes packed into Hell’s Kitchen and failing to find a way out spiked into her, and then through her.  She pushed, as Daron had once with Hester.  She took all of what she felt and poured it into the emptiness around Hugh Diggins.

The darkness cut visibly through the dank steamy air, hitting Diggins like a physical blow.  His arms flew backward and the gun fell out of his hand.  Then he crumpled, the combination of physical and emotional pain too much to keep him upright any longer.  He fell, twitching on the floor and clutching his head like a man possessed, all the ghosts of his past come to haunt him.  With a wrenching cry he stopped moving, his nails digging into his skull hard enough to draw little rivulets of blood to add to the scratches June had given him.  He was broken.

Sophia drew a shaky breath, tears running down her face with the full impact of what she had done.  If Diggins wasn’t dead, he would never be the same.  Daron groaned, trying to pull himself upright.  Sophia sent a whispered word of thanks to the heavens and scrambled on hands and knees to see how bad he was, planning to send Alan to check on June.  Then, she had to figure out how the hell to get them all out of there and into the tiny car if the car was still there.  And how not to lose consciousness, when her vision was rapidly dwindling to a long tunnel.

“Hey, you lot down theres!” A thick brogue called down from the gaping hole in the ceiling where a hidden trapdoor swung open.  “Are ya havin’ a bust-up or a party hereabouts?” The dark-haired youth inhaled deeply the smell from the buckets of sour-mash Alan had overturned in his attack on the still.  “It smells like a party and looks like a brawl.  Just me favorite sort of fun!  Are you lot looking for company?”

What the hell?  Was this kid more trouble? Suddenly, she recognized the burly fella as one who had followed her in the first few days after she’d discovered the group in the park that spring morning.  “Tommy?  Are you Tommy?”

“Tommy’s the name, and trouble’s me game.” He squinted down into the darkness and suddenly turned serious. “S’that Daron?  Is he hurt?  I saw the pharmacy fellow’s pretty car out front as I was walking home with some mates from the bar and chased off some kids that were botherin’ it. Heard a riot a’ noise and thought it might be best to investigate.  I’m not drunk enough yet not to be lookin’ for trouble.”

She breathed a sigh of relief, she had help now and wouldn’t have to get everyone in that tiny car. “It is Daron and he is hurt, I don’t know how badly.  We’ll have to get him somewhere safe with better light, even better to the hospital.”

“Right.  Best call Irene then, she always knows a fancy doc to call who’ll stay quiet for a bit of blunt.  And there’s a carpet truck out here we can hotwire easy as you please. How the blistering hells do me and me boys get down there?”

Alan shouted up directions from where he cradled a befuddled June in one arm and a sniffling Hester in the other.  Sophia crawled forward a few more feet, finally able to turn Daron over and see the weeping red of the wound in his side.  He was still breathing, for which she was grateful and he groaned loudly and captured her hand in his when she tried to examine the wound further.

“I’ll live, ashavi, have no fear.” The words were said in a whisper, but that and the sure pulse of his life force calmed her enough that she let consciousness slip away, falling into a warm black pit where there was nothing but the sureness of Daron’s hand in hers for the rest of her life.