NEW Release! VOICE of TRUTH
Here's a sample - a LARGE sample - Prologue and 1st Chapter. ENJOY!!!
Sophia knew something wasn’t right the instant she opened her mouth to sing and the first note hit the air. Her voice actually sounded good. It was only one word—part of a word really; more of a syllable—but it was good.
Her brows lifted in mild curiosity, and she cleared her throat before trying it again. When the next note came out as clear and pleasant as the first, her hands tightened around the steering wheel.
She glanced down at the chai latte in the cup holder. No, it wasn’t some kind of reaction, and she hadn’t scorched her throat—it remained untouched. But something had happened to change her voice so drastically.
Her gaze darted to the rearview mirror, but her reflection seemed the same, nothing out of the ordinary. She looked back to the road just in time to avoid rear-ending an expensive sedan.
Sophia clamped her mouth shut and glared at the radio. The pop singer seemed unaffected by her present condition. Well good for him. She remained silent for several blocks, time enough to reason it had never happened at all. It was, doubtless, just one of those things, where you drive under a power line and it messes with the radio reception. Yes, that was it.
With her bravery renewed, Sophia changed the station. A new release aired, one she didn’t know the words to, so she jabbed buttons until she heard the familiar strains of an old song. She was being silly. She opened her mouth once more.
The notes came out in a clean, effortless flow that scared her. "Am I losing my mind?" she asked the radio.
Maybe it was her hearing. No, she could still hear the swish of wipers across freshly sprinkled glass, the suck of rubber tire treads on wet pavement, and the singer’s voice, satin smooth as always. Of course, people didn’t always hear themselves the way they really sounded, right? She was probably just as bad as ever, but maybe she had wax buildup in her ears or something.
Then again, she was under more stress than usual, with parent-teacher conferences and Principal O’Malley dogging her about spending too much time playing games with the children and not enough on curriculum. It didn’t seem to matter that Sophia’s class was ranked at the top of the school in reading and comprehension, and in math, second only to the fifth grade Mighty Math Majors. She didn’t feel the sting of that loss; those kids were abnormally attracted to numbers.
She pulled into her space in the school parking lot, turned off the ignition and went over the general things she should know: name, address, phone number, days of the week, mother’s maiden name. Everything seemed to check out. People having breakdowns didn’t know these things off the tops of their heads, did they? Then again, how could she be sure she wasn’t twisting the answers in some way, or—
She forced her mind to a grinding halt before it could carry her over the edge. All of her saliva had dried up, and her heart was racing at a rate she was certain couldn’t be healthy. What she needed was a witness—a second party to deny or confirm that she could sing, or needed psychological treatment.
Sophia flipped open the cup lid, took the cup with both hands and sipped. The liquid was blazing hot, but she sipped steadily.
If she wasn’t already over the edge, she was close. How was she going to pull off a calm facade in a classroom full of first-graders, whose job it seemed, was to notice every minute detail?
Just as Sophia got out of the car, the sporadic drizzle became a steady rain. Though she held her briefcase over her head, she was damp by the time she got inside and not in the mood to keep up with the morning gossip in the teachers’ lounge, so she went directly to her class. In bad weather the students were brought inside to await the first bell, so she figured she had about ten minutes before she would collect her fifteen children from the gym.
She fumbled for her cell phone and had her brother on the line almost before she realized she’d dialed him. If anyone could talk her down, Anthony could.
"What?" Anthony barked into the phone.
"It’s me. Just getting up?"
"Unfortunately. What’s wrong?"
Over the phone, Sophia could hear the scrape of match to striker, the sifting of air through the end of a cigarette. She was still praying he would quit. "Nothing."
"You didn’t call me first thing in the morning for nothing."
Sophia twisted a lock of black hair around her finger. "Nothing, exactly."
"So, tell me what’s not exactly wrong," Anthony said.
Growing up, she had often wished her two brothers didn’t know her so well, but found it an enormous comfort right now.
"I can sing," she said finally.
"No, you can’t," Anthony stated as a blunt fact.
"I couldn’t," she agreed as her hands flailed with excitement in every direction. "But now I can. I don’t know how or why, but I can. At least I think I can."
"I’m not following."
"Neither am I."
She started at the beginning, as best she could pinpoint it. When she finished and he said nothing, she went to the portable stereo in the corner of the room, popped out the sing-along CD, and popped in one of the CDs she listened to during free period.
"Hold on, listen." She put the phone where he could hear and waited for the singer to complete one of her trademark vocal summersaults before turning down the stereo and following with one of her own.
"Who was that?" Anthony asked when she picked the phone up again.
"You see? That’s what I thought when I first heard it." He might not believe her yet, but at least he was hearing the same thing. "It sounds like me, but…not. I mean, it sounds like I would sound if I could sing, right?"
"I just woke up, Sophia," he said impatiently. "I’m not in the mood for games."
"It’s not, wait. Listen again."
It was easy enough to silence him when she sang a song they had made up as kids. It was a gruesome ditty about food poisoning, intended as some kind of childish revenge when Uncle Victor had made them sit at the children’s table at Easter. Since they’d never disclosed the lyrics to another soul, Anthony would have no question it was her voice.
Sophia heard his fridge door open and the seal break on a bottle of water. "That was you," he said, surprised.
"You must be leaving something out. Think. Did you hit your head or get accidentally hypnotized or something?"
She had to laugh. "How do you get accidentally hypnotized?"
"How should I know? I don’t hear you coming up with anything better."
He was right; she had nothing more rational to offer. Noise in the hall caught her ear, and she looked up to see Mrs. Falk marching by with her third graders.
"I have to run. Thanks for listening. Love you." She hung up and ran to gather her class, feeling a little lighter now that she had spoken to someone. He was probably right. She must be missing something.
Throughout the day, she rewound and replayed every moment she could remember, working backward from the time she turned on the radio in the car that morning. Before that, there was the coffee shop, dressing for work, the shower…the shower. No, she’d sounded as bad as usual.
There didn’t seem to be much point, but she went back to the night before that. It had been a quiet evening alone at home. Ben had tried to talk her into joining him and another couple for dinner and a movie, but she knew that when they were alone later, he would try to talk her into other things. He was a nice enough guy, but much too preoccupied with pursuing a physical relationship. She didn’t want to dwell on him.
Apart from watching an old black and white movie, she could remember nothing to distinguish that night from any other. Nothing remarkable, nothing disturbing or riveting.
Sophia looked down as small, persistent hands tugged on her sleeve. "What’s the matter, Lily?"
The teary eyed child sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "I drew a picture for you. Now it’s gone. Bentley ate it last night."
Sophia had seen Lily’s monster dog on occasion, dragging its owners around the neighborhood, and had no doubt the girl spoke the truth. She crouched to eye level with Lily and smoothed a hand over her silken hair. "That’s all right, you can draw me another one."
"I wanted to give it to you today," she whined, though Sophia imagined she had intended the assertion to sound urgent.
Even after all the schooling and working with children Sophia realized there were some questions that could never be answered. Like why, when asked if they had to use the bathroom, children would refuse, but two minutes later on the way to the bus, would be bursting at the seams. Moreover, why, when school was almost over, would a little girl all at once remember that a ravenous mutt had eaten her drawing the night before? Kids.
"We’ll be singing the goodbye song in a few minutes," Sophia told her gently. She took a sheet of white paper from her desk and handed it to Lily. "Go back to your seat and you can draw until then."
Sophia went back to the boom box, and put in the disc of the friends’ goodbye song they sang every afternoon before leaving for the day. When the children gathered in a circle by the door, she took a deep breath and pushed PLAY.
They were her first audience.
Three years later
So much had changed in such a short period of time, Sophia thought, looking down on rain-slicked Fifth Ave. Just a few years ago, April would mean saving pennies and stretching her budget to allow for a spring break vacation. And probably using most of that free time fine tuning her curriculum for when she returned to school.
She dropped her head against the window frame. The children she’d taught were in fourth grade now. In fourth grade there was no more marching around the classroom shaking tambourines fashioned from paper plates and dried navy beans. No more cutting out pictures that started with the letter of the day. All of them had probably forgotten the words to the goodbye song. She wondered if they thought about what had become of Miss Gallo in their minds.
Her winsome smile faded. The amount of airplay her songs received made even her sick, so it wasn’t likely any of them had forgotten her name, but would they recognize the real Miss Gallo under the image that had been pasted over her? And was it fair for her to wish them to remember a woman she barely remembered herself?
She couldn’t pretend she was the same person. Even trying to distance herself, it was hard to remain untainted by the world she now lived in. Sometimes just seeing what others were willing to sacrifice for fame and fortune was enough to change someone.
What amazed Sophia was that the less she recognized herself, the more strangers not only identified her on the street, but seemed to feel a connection to her. She had the media to thank for that, reporters who baited lines and dangled bits of her life over the murky waters of gossip for greedy, empty minds to snatch up. And what reporters couldn’t find, they manufactured. The stream had to keep moving at all costs, no matter who paid.
Resentment stretched restlessly inside her. The gossip stream had carried her out of a life she’d been contented to live, into a world of tinted windows, endless commitments and security I.D. tags. It was what prevented her from developing close relationships, and in some cases, destroyed relationships she’d already had.
Not that it was all negative. Seeing and meeting so many talented artists at awards’ shows never got old. Above that, it created circumstances in which it was possible to influence people, to make a fan’s wish come true, or bring life to a starving Ethiopian village. But, she must never forget how easily life could be taken away.
Her movements slow and languid, Sophia went to the cherry wood bar to pour a glass of wine, something she’d only recently begun to do to help her unwind. With the glass in one hand, she undid the clips in her hair with the other, releasing a fall of black silk down her back. She yearned to take off her makeup, but needed to relax for just a moment.
Maybe she could catch a nap before her sound check at the Garden. If not for the television appearance this morning, she would still be in bed. How people expected her to perform first thing in the morning, when her day didn’t usually begin until it was half over, was just… She sighed. She used to be a morning person.
Crossing the room, she caught a glimpse of her own face staring back at her from the front page of Personality magazine on a side table. She always requested these publications be banned from her suite, but it must have been an oversight. Maybe an overzealous waiter who thought it would be a form of adulation…
Taking a closer look, there was no sign of weariness in the photo, no clue that she’d only gotten four-and-a-half hours sleep the night before. The wonders of cosmetics. She gave her image a wry smile and turned away.
People saw what they wanted to see. Not long ago, people described her smile as friendly, her heavy-lidded, long-lashed eyes as dreamy, even contemplative. But squeeze that same face through a camera lens, add a little rumor, and voila! A temptress was born. An item she’d made the mistake of reading recently, now described her mouth as seductive, her eyes suggestive.
Sophia sank onto the sumptuous damask couch. It would be ungrateful to say her life was bad. She had numerous properties, piles of money and more advantages than she could count. But she would give no thanks to the media for any of it. God and her fans got all the thanks, in that order. Without God and this peculiar gift He’d given her, it wouldn’t be possible to help so many.
Yet there were still nagging questions. How had it happened? Why? Why at that time? Questions she would never have an answer to.
She washed them down in a swallow of crisp, white wine. It must be the rain making her feel low. Why else would she feel so edgy and dissatisfied? Certainly not that it was her birthday and neither of her parents had called.
She tucked her bare feet under her, tilted her head back against the cushions and stared up at the ceiling. The truth was, it was none of those things. It was Kira Quinn. Even the reason Sophia was thinking about her class today was due to Kira. Because they would be her age soon. And before long would catch up and pass her. Because Kira was dead and buried in a tiny cemetery in San Antonio.
Sophia closed her eyes tight and willed the tears away. Her head felt too heavy to lift from the thick fabric, so she closed her eyes and listened to the silence, and the steady thump, thump of a heart feeling sorry for itself. It was better than replaying the voice of Kira’s mother in her head, telling Sophia she wasn’t to blame, it was just a terrible tragedy.
Sophia couldn’t totally agree. Six months ago today, Kira had been crushed to death at one of her shows; certainly she held some responsibility. And worse, she hadn’t even faced Kira’s parents personally. Even if they had requested her attendance, the public would have made a sick festival of the funeral, waving pictures and snapping new ones. She had, of course, spoken to them, insisted on paying for the services, etc., but…
The knock on the door made her heart ricochet in her chest and she set the glass on the rosewood table as she leapt up, almost tipping both over.
A luscious redhead spiraled in, a burst of vivacious color in a light blue suit with lime green lapels and cuffs. The matching rain slicker she carried over her arm was cast aside as she leaned in to kiss Sophia’s cheek.
"Kitty," Sophia sighed, wearily.
"How many times have I told you not to leave the door unlocked?"
Whenever her publicist was in a room people seldom noticed anything else, but when Sophia turned back to the doorway, there was no way to miss the man who filled it. He was at least six feet, with wide shoulders and a broad chest.
"Didn’t I tell you she never locks the door?" Kitty slapped his arm. "She needs another bodyguard. Can’t seem to keep one, but that’s another story. This is Cade Fioretti. He’s for you," she told Sophia.
"Excuse me?" Sophia closed the door.
Kitty giggled and tossed her purse on the couch. "Don’t worry, it’s nothing kinky, Darling. Cade’s the writer I was telling you about."
Sophia released a long, exasperated breath. "We talked about this, Kit."
Kitty swept a handful of auburn locks away from her heart-shaped face. "It can only benefit you."
"I don’t want my life story written," Sophia told Cade definitely. His crystal green eyes bored into hers, clashing in a brief battle of wills. She looked away. "I’m too young for a biography anyway. Shouldn’t that wait until I’m dead?"
"Really, biography has such a scholastic sound to it. Cade’s thinking of something more intimate, but not intrusive," Kitty assured Sophia. "We really should remain open-minded, don’t you think?"
"I don’t care what you call it," Sophia returned. "I don’t want it."
Kitty tugged on the collar of Cade’s leather jacket, striped with darker shades of brown where the rain had lashed at it. "Would you like me to take that for you?"
Cade remained silent, his eyes fixed on Sophia.
"Cade?" Kitty prompted.
When he looked away long enough to shrug out of his jacket, Sophia went to the table and picked up her drink. She no longer wanted the wine but handling the glass gave her something to do with her hands. She would rather be watched by thousands of people, than scrutinized by one.
"You look better in person," Cade said.
She wasn’t surprised that his voice was deep. "Thank you," she answered, assuming it was a compliment. He was staring again. "I’m sorry, would you like to sit down, Mr.—"
It was only one word, but the force of it brought her up short. She knew it was petty, but because of his arrogance and the way he was watching her expectantly, she deliberately resisted saying his name. "Would you like to sit?"
"I saw you on TV this morning," he said. He circled her once, examining her from all angles like a patron at an art exhibit. The nerve.
"You don’t give much away, do you?"
"I don’t know what you mean." Of course, she did and when he quirked one eyebrow she knew he knew she did.
"The interview," he said.
Sophia set down her glass with a snap and placed her hands on what there were of her hips. "I answered every question directly and completely."
"Without giving anything away. That’s quite a skill."
He seemed to be deliberately provoking her. "Look, Mr.—"
"Mr. Fioretti," she emphasized. "I don’t mean to be rude, but I have no intention of spilling my guts to you so a bunch of empty-headed puppets without lives of their own can use your words as ammunition to pick me apart."
"Is that what you think of your fans?" he asked, slyly.
"I’m not talking about my fans," she snapped. "I’m talking about people like you. The press."
"And what is it you’re afraid they’ll learn and use against you?"
Heat rose to Sophia’s cheeks as she glared at him. She felt crowded even though he’d taken several steps back. "You see? You’re turning my words around. You’re proving my point."
He smiled then and the air backed up into her lungs. Until this very moment, Sophia never believed a smile could cause physical damage to another person. Well, not damage exactly, more a malfunction of normal response.
"I’m sorry, what?" she asked after seeing his mouth move.
"Prove me wrong," he repeated.
"Now you’re baiting me."
He nodded in acknowledgement, sending a lock of damp, overly long hair into his eyes. His hair was only a few shades lighter than hers, Sophia noticed, but with dark auburn threads, that caught the light when he moved. He could use a haircut. And an attitude adjustment.
"Children, stop your bickering," Kitty ordered.
"I’ll come back when you’re in a better mood," he told Sophia, and reached for his jacket but Kitty yanked it out of his reach.
"Wait!" Kitty looked helplessly at Sophia. "At least hear him out."
Sophia was exhausted and needed to rest up for the show that night, but Cade’s challenging grin told her that to do anything other than listen at this point would only make her look childish. She had no doubt he would enjoy seeing her make a fool of herself. And write about it.
"OK, you win." She sat in a gold wingback chair, gestured him to the couch and fixed a pre-fab smile on her painted lips, determined to keep it there for the duration of his visit. Because it was a thin line to baring her teeth, she made a conscious effort to relax her face.
Fourteen minutes later, Cade was about to jump out of his skin. He knew the value of being patient, but didn’t have time to waste listening to Kitty push his project. Yes, it was a chance for Sophia’s fans to get to know the real woman behind all the glitz and album signings. Yes, it was true that it wouldn’t hurt sales, but Cade disagreed when Kitty said it could only be positive. Really, one never knew how these things could turn out, and it wasn’t fair to try and convince Sophia otherwise.
Kitty’s legs brushed past his several times as she walked around the room, griping about Sophia’s public image which, she mentioned, had suffered in the wake of Sophia’s refusal to sing in the gay pride parade.
Cade stretched his long legs out in front of him so that Kitty would have to reroute her steps.
Patience seemed to be one of Sophia’s strong points, he observed, watching her unreadable expression as she listened politely, agreed to obvious points, and then ultimately, but skillfully withdrew before consenting to a biography.
Frustrated, Kitty sat down beside Cade and crossed her smooth, shapely legs. She wore some exotic female scent.
Cade tried not to breathe more than necessary.
"How about a drink?" Kitty asked him. "Or we can order up something to eat."
Cade shook his head.
"They serve an excellent—"
"Nothing. Thanks," he added stiffly. He didn’t like aggressive women, even if Kitty was good-looking, with a curvy body and enough sex appeal to melt his fillings. If any pursuing was to be done, he’d be the one to do it. First, he wanted the option to decide whether or not there would be a pursuit. An aggressive woman took away that option.
Not that either of the ladies in the room were physically his type. He preferred the long and lean variety. Both had the lean all right, but were a little short on the long. And each posed another problem. While Cade had no question that either would provide him with hours of pleasure, he’d never been particularly attracted to older women, and Kitty had to be almost his mother’s age. Sophia was young, but she was also subject material, and he never, ever messed with subject material. Plus, the fact that she’d probably been wishing him dead didn’t bode well for getting her into bed.
Cade leaned back into the generous cushions and watched her. Despite her calm facade, her hands never ceased in their movement, whether it was flexing her fingers, or twisting the gold necklace she wore. She repeatedly swept a long length of hair back behind her ear when it had barely broken free. And she’d licked her lips several times in a few minutes. It wasn’t an intentionally seductive act, but her being unaware of it made it all the more so.
He’d heard a lot about Ms. Sophia Gallo—that she yelled at reporters and stormed off stage when the mood struck her—yet she didn’t seem to fit the diva mold. So far, he would surmise that her purported aloofness spoke more of shyness than conceit, and her body language in no way indicated the wanton sex kitten the media portrayed. But, not everything was immediately obvious. If he had learned anything in dealing with people, especially women, it was that they could be very clever about hiding things.
He had to admit seeing her nervous was as alluring as it was surprising. He wondered if it was due to him or the fact that she probably felt trapped right now.
He checked his watch. "So, what do you say?" he asked Sophia directly, when he couldn’t wait any longer.
"What does your book entail, exactly?" she asked.
"That depends on you." He could see her bristle. "Look, I’m going to write the book, anyway," he told her clearly when she arched one perfectly sculpted brow. "We can do it my way, where you let me in your life for a while, give me exclusive insight into your mind, your past, your dreams." He paused. When she did no more than quietly stare at him, he continued. "Or we do it your way, where you resist me, I tail you, probably misinterpret some things, get half-truths from jealous no-talents, and draw my own conclusions. My way’s best for both of us."
Sophia stopped twisting the chain on her neck and eyed him evenly. "Can’t you just tell me what you want so we can discuss it, and find mutually acceptable ground?"
He couldn’t stop the laugh any more than he could stop reaching for her hand and pulling her to her feet along with him. She was absolutely charming, in a quietly indignant, difficult sort of way.
"That’s funny. Really." He kept her hand in his as he walked with her to the door, taking his jacket as he went.
She was something, even when she used her eyes as daggers as she did now. Despite being glossed over with a palate of makeup, her face had only come by way of genetics. She shared some traits with another famous Sophia of Italian movie prominence, with the almost overly large mouth and dark, sultry glare that could skewer a man at thirty paces.
But, it was there the resemblance ended, for her body was tight and compact, with softer curves, but that was another matter, and one he wouldn’t dwell on.
"I know you don’t trust me," he told her, unperturbed by the way she tried to tug free. "I can respect that. I don’t trust anyone, either. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to argue with you. I have a meeting with my publisher in less than an hour."
Her brow raised again, and it gave him the impression of a queen, pronouncing sentence on a lowly peasant. Now that he thought of it, there might be some imperial affiliation in her lineage, maybe a monarch or two. He would add that to his research.
"Well," Sophia said, dislodging her hand at last. "I won’t keep you."
"Sophia—" Kitty began.
"I’ll think it over and get back to you," Sophia said, making no effort to disguise her annoyance.
Cade had to admire her spirit, even as she opened the door and backed him into the hall. "I need an answer by Wednesday." He still admired it when the door closed in his face. He grinned when he heard the snap of the lock.
HAPPY RELEASE DAY to DESCENDED~AARO! Officially it's tomorrow, New Years Day, but he just couldn't wait. http://www.amazon.com/AARO-DESCENDED-Book-Dana-Pratola-ebook/dp/B00RNAXLRO/ref=la_B005G40TAQ_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1420061952&sr=1-5
I thought it might be a good idea for you to get acquainted with Aaro Highlander before his story, DESCENDED~Aaro, comes out. So he has graciously agreed to share bits of his journal with us, a little at a time.
May 5, 4pm
This afternoon I soared. God, I love laying the tips of my wings on the current, following wherever it leads. It’s so freeing, not just to my body, but it’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable praising my Father. No distractions, no harsh or urgent sounds pulling my mind back to earth.
But pulled I was, by the sight of something out of place in the brush below.
My heart still grieves for what that girl must have gone through before being thrown in a shallow grave, a final resting place of refuse or the forgotten. But she will not be forgotten. I will know her name like I know my own, and see to it that her would-be executioner pays for his crime. Or, I fear, crimes. I’m going back later to search. I hope I don’t find any more graves, but I have a feeling I will.
Father, give me strength.
June 7, 3am
A man tried to sell me an unconscious woman. Things went downhill from there.
Well, it's FINALLY here. Book two of the DESCENDED series - DESCENDED~Sebastian - released on November 13, 2013. Below is Sebastian's first review, and the first chapter, as well as a bonus excerpt. Enjoy!
Paranormal Romance At Its Best! ★★★★★ In DESCENDED ~ SEBASTIAN, Dana Pratola creates a character that I've fallen in love with, Sebastian Gray. He's sarcastic, heroic, and incredibly sexy, in short, the perfect masculine romance character.
Sebastian brought his hand to his face, covering the still present sting of Carol Anne’s hand print. A woman so petite should not be able to slap that hard. He gave a nod to the steward, who made no attempt to control his amusement. The whole airport witnessed the confrontation. If he was the aggressor, someone would have stepped in, but because Carol Anne was a woman….
He probably should have ended their time together back at the hotel and taken a cab to the airport by himself. Letting her drive and walk him inside had been a bad idea. Or, he shouldn’t have said anything. She would have figured it out when he never returned to Vegas or answered her calls. Either way, he was a coward. She was a sweet kid and though they’d just met, he could see she’d been hopeful a “real” romance would bloom.
Trying not to inhale too deeply the standard airline smells of stale cologne, feet and sweaty upholstery, he found his aisle seat, settled in and closed his eyes. Was a moment’s peace too much to ask? Apparently. No sooner did his head fall back against the seat than he was bumped. Hard, from the side.
His head snapped up.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry.”
Sebastian recognized the redhead standing at his elbow. He’d seen her last night at a club on the Vegas strip.
“It’s his fault,” she said, sending a dagger gaze to the man across the aisle.
“I didn’t mean to,” the man said.
“Oh, right, you tripped and grabbed my butt to keep from falling.”
Sebastian’s brows lifted. She looked justifiably angry. He peered around her perfectly grabbable bottom to the pink face of the accused. He didn’t look like he possessed the nerve to touch anyone, but letches came in all forms.
“Is that true?” Sebastian asked him.
The man turned worried eyes to a middle-aged woman in turquoise tights and flowered top trudging up the aisle. His wife, no doubt. Before she got halfway to him, he mumbled an apology and hurried to his seat.
The redhead gave what Sebastian could only describe as a hiss.
“Some people,” she said, skimming Sebastian’s knees as she squeezed past him with her carry-on bag to take her seat at the window.
“Why’d you let him off the hook?” he asked.
She gave Sebastian a quick shrug and clicked her seatbelt into place. “Wasn’t for him. I’m tired and I’d rather avoid a scene right now. She won’t believe me anyway,” she added with a head toss in the direction of the couple. “I have experience with wives. They’d rather believe I flirted with their husbands than that their husbands are pigs.”
Sebastian smiled when she said the last three words at a significantly louder volume. From the look of her, all long and lean and sexy, and after witnessing her on the dance floor last night, he was willing to bet her experience with husbands went a long way.
In fact, maybe she was solely interested in married guys, as some women were. It would explain why she’d refused the drink he’d sent to her table. He looked down at his left hand. Ringless. And he intended to keep it that way.
A red blur brought his attention back to his companion as she gathered her hair in her fist and flipped it behind her. “What’s your name?” he asked.
Her immediate suspicion made him chuckle, as frosty blue eyes raked over him, top to bottom. “Paranoid?”
“No, I’m not paranoid.” She looked at him then. Really looked. A light of recognition went on in her eyes before they narrowed. “You’re that guy. From the club.”
“Guilty. And you’re the woman who sent my drink back.”
She rolled her eyes and gave him a smirk. “I wasn’t thirsty.”
Yep, there was definitely some underlying venom here, and it didn’t seem to be residual from the butt grab. This was aimed directly at him.
“Did I do something to offend you?” he asked.
“Not offend, so much as exhibit yourself as a jerk.”
“Well, that might be true, I’m not sure. I had a little too much to drink last night,” he confessed. “So let’s start with one offense. If it’s something I can apologize for, I will. If not, you have to tell me your name.”
Drawing her eyebrows together diminished the impact of her angry gaze some. He couldn’t help smiling. Some women were adorable when angry.
“That doesn’t make sense,” she said.
“Sure it does. Tell me one thing I did to make you think I’m a jerk.”
“You asked every girl at my table for their phone numbers,” she fired, without hesitation.
Sounded like him. “I apologize.”
“Then you asked every girl at every other table for their phone numbers. Including the ones already with someone.”
That explained the pieces of paper in his jacket pocket this morning. “Well, should I have to apologize for that? You didn’t want to be bothered, so I moved on.” She didn’t answer. “I apologize.” The corner of her mouth twitched, against her will, he was sure. “What else?”
“You sent me a drink.”
Sebastian raised a finger. “Ah, only to you, no one else, if memory serves.”
She faced him fully now. “I guess I should have prefaced my argument with, you were already with a woman. The same woman who slapped your face a few minutes ago,” she added, hitching a thumb toward the rear of the plane.
“Ah, I’ve got you there,” he said, pleased with himself. “I can’t apologize for that, because it’s not my fault she followed me. I told her to stay in the suite.”
Her face blanked. Then she blinked.
“It probably sounds bad—”
“Probably?” she asked.
“It sounds bad, but I just met her. It’s not like I cheated on my girlfriend.”
She gasped. “You have a girlfriend?”
“No. No, that’s not what I mean. I mean it was a weekend thing, no strings.”
She arched one eyebrow. “It that supposed to make you look like less of a jerk?”
His reflection blinked back at him from her clear cerulean eyes. He looked clueless. And he had no answer.
Palms out, she raised her hands. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”
No. But, why did he feel he should?
They were silent through take off, she looking out the window, him staring at the back of the seat in front of him. Once the plane leveled, she took a book from her bag and began to read.
“What The Word Says About…. What?” he asked, reading the book’s cover.
She gave a sound of annoyance. “Everything.”
He paused, watching her. She stared straight ahead, waiting for him to speak again. “It might help if I knew what that meant.”
She flashed him a mad look.
“The title,” he clarified. “I have no idea what it means. What’s the Word?”
“The Bible. The Word of God.”
Oh, great. She was one of those born agains. To dismiss her now that he figured it out might be insulting. “Oh.” He spread his hand open, turned it over. “I don’t know the first thing about that.” And please, don’t start telling me.
“I don’t either,” she said. “A friend gave it to me.”
Oh, okay. Somehow that put them back on even ground.
She continued reading for a few minutes before closing the book and turning to him.
“What’s your name?”
She smiled, just enough to make him feel excluded from a private joke.
“I always liked that name,” she said. “I had a gerbil named Sebastian.”
“Really.” Now she wanted to make small talk? Strange woman. “So, are you going to tell me your name?”
He held out a hand. “Nice to meet you.”
At the touch of her hand, pleasant electric currents coursed up his arm. Obviously a shared experience, she pulled her hand back the same instant as him, and rubbed her arm from elbow to wrist.
“Okay, Sebastian,” she began, the look on her face one of polite distress. “Nice to meet you, too. If you don’t mind….” She opened her book to the marked page. “I’m going to get back to my book.”
Sebastian nodded. He could be doing work, or going over plans in his head for a new client, or fabricating an excuse to blow off the art exhibit he’d promised the same client to attend tonight. Well, promise was a tricky word. He’d said he would come if it was possible. If he was going to be somewhere else it wouldn’t be possible, right? Couldn’t be in two places at once.
Ordinarily, he’d like to get out and mingle, but lately he’d given serious thought to staying out of the social scene. In fact, this trip to Vegas had been intended as a kind of last fling before he did just that. The incident with Carol Anne confirmed it to be a good idea. He could do without being slapped for a while.
He glanced over at the redhead. Best to stay far away from her. She’d evoked a strange reaction in him when he’d seen her last night, laughing and shaking her hips with her small group of friends, all nearly as attractive as she. Yet, Natalie was the one his eyes kept coming back to. Bad vibes. Because they weren’t bad at all, but enjoyable.
And what was that feeling? Electricity? Like in some romance movie? He flexed his hand. Probably a pinched nerve.
Whether she was actually reading he couldn’t be sure. If so, it was a tale of suspense and confusion that radiated off her in waves. He could relate to the mix of emotions, with so many thoughts whirling through his own mind. Work was going great, his love life—well, sex life—was on hold as of today, he was planning a trip to the Himalayas for summer….
Sebastian shut his eyes, rested his head on the seat and forced his brain to slow down. He had a dozen books stored in his brain—a knack he’d acquired since learning to read at three—which he could pull up at any time. He did so now, sliding the words of Dostoyevsky’s The Brother’s Karamozov through his mental vision.
Half way through the book, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. It wasn’t an encouraging message. Great. As if this weekend hadn’t been a trial already.
Nails dug into Sebastian’s left arm and he whipped his head to Natalie. “Ouch.”
“What? What did he say?” she asked, pulling her hands to her lap, eyes wide and terrified.
“They’re having an issue with the landing gear,” Sebastian said, calmly. “We’re in a holding pattern and are going to circle the airport while they can see if they can fix it.”
She grabbed his arm again. “An issue. What kind of issue?”
“You know why they’re circling, right?” Her voice, a frantic whisper, teetered on the edge of hysteria. “To burn off enough fuel so we don’t explode on impact!”
Yes, he thought, and to give emergency teams time to get in place and clear traffic from the sky and runways. He put his hand over hers, gently placing it back on her side of the armrest.
“Relax. This kind of thing happens a lot, and it usually turns out fine, which is why you don’t hear about it.” Usually. If all gear failed, or just the nose gear. However, with one rear side down…. He blocked all images of the plane cartwheeling down the runway.
Some of the other passengers were already murmuring in urgent tones, stowing their few belongings. Sebastian tried to filter them out and tune his attention to the cockpit. He got some flashes, none of them good, merely enough to tell him the rest of the landing gear was absolutely not lowering, and the side that had, was not going up.
Male or female, it didn’t matter, none of the passengers or crew wanted to die, and all found ways to express it, from whimpering to outright sobbing. When the pilot announced they were ready to land, and ordered emergency procedures enforced, a wave of terror and sadness undulated through the cabin. Sebastian deflected it as best he could.
Something needed to be done, but with no knowledge of planes beyond deciding on window or aisle seat, he couldn’t make the gear come down. He would have to concentrate his efforts on keeping the plane from slamming into the ground.
He closed his eyes. Jaw tight, hands gripping the armrests, he pressed his body into the seat and tried to relax. He reduced his heart rate to sixty beats per minute and fixed his concentration on the bottom of the plane.
The plane gave a slight jolt, and Natalie clutched his forearm, whining about death and last wishes. He shook her off and restarted his efforts.
Once more her short, well-manicured nails dug into his wrist.
Sebastian pushed forward and leaned over the armrest into her face. “You need to stop grabbing me, or you’re all going to die.”
“We’re going to die anyway!”
“Sit still, keep your hands off me, and shut up.”
She did. For two seconds. “What kind of animal are you? We’re going to die. Don’t you have any feelings?”
She started to rise. He couldn’t have that. They were running out of time and getting in the correct frame of mind was imperative. Sebastian reached up, touching her cheek, and bringing her fear-filled gaze to his. “You’ll relax now,” he said.
Natalie collapsed back into her seat in a semi-sleep, dreamlike state. At least she was quiet, but given her agitation and the adrenaline coursing through her, it was a definite possibility she might retain a memory or two. He had to risk it; there was no time to waste.
He glanced around to be sure no one was watching. All passengers were engrossed in their final moments, making peace with their gods, clinging to other passengers, or trying to contact loved ones via electronic devices.
The stench of perspiration intensified, and someone sobbed uncontrollably. He tuned it out, concentrating on the whine of the engines. He slowed his pulse while everyone else’s quickened, lengthened his breathing, while others hyperventilated, and began the mantra that would cocoon the plane in a protective air pocket.
In his mind he saw the bottom of the plane dropping ever closer, the ground rising to meet it. He saw the earth pass at a blur, then slower, slower as the gap between metal and concrete narrowed, but never disappeared, until the plane stopped.
The cabin lurched, bounced slightly, and listed to the left. A few people screamed, but not so many as he’d expected. Natalie moaned—the best scream she could muster under the circumstances.
To the distraught passengers and outwardly cool, inwardly panicked crew, Natalie was simply one more passenger who’d survived a harrowing experience and needed assistance getting off the plane. If the crew saw her unconscious, they’d never let her go home without the paramedics first giving her the once-over.
He reached across her and grabbed her book from the floor where it had fallen, shoved it into her purse, and dropped the purse onto her lap. He took her chin between his fingers, tilted her face to the side and spoke into her ear. “When you wake you’ll be a little dazed. You’re fine, and just want to get home and relax. With me,” he added, unfastening her seatbelt. “Wake.”
Natalie’s eyes flitted open and tried to fix on something solid, but Sebastian lifted her and moved her down the aisle, cinched to his side with an arm around her waist.
“Are you all right, Miss?” a hostess asked.
She nodded. “I’m fine. I want to get home and relax. With him.”
As the hostess moved on to usher passengers toward the exit, Sebastian hurried Natalie to the door. At the opening, he lifted her into his arms, her bag between them, and together they slid down the chute, landing at the bottom. He led her away before anyone could speak to them. Natalie opened her mouth to say something.
“Sleep,” he said.
She scooped her into his arms, her head falling to his shoulder, and continued on without stopping, through the building, to the parking area where he’d left his car two days ago.
Steps from his car, Sebastian was alerted he wasn’t alone. Apart from Natalie, there were people in the lot, though none were the source of the prickly sensation across his shoulders. He turned to see two security guards coming toward him.
“Hey, she okay?” one guard asked.
Sebastian looked around. They weren’t the source of the tingling either. “Yeah, she took a sedative, she’s really shaken up. We—”
“You were on that plane?” the guard asked, pointing to the disabled jet, now fully surrounded by emergency personnel and various airline staff. “You guys are lucky to be alive, right Dave?”
“Lucky, nothing!” Dave said. “It was a miracle. The plane didn’t even touch the ground until it stopped. I saw the whole thing.”
Sebastian murmured his sarcastic reply under his breath in his own tongue before reaching for the passenger door handle.
“You should hang around in case—”
“No,” Sebastian cut him off. “We’re fine, and we’re leaving.”
Both men blinked, smiled. Security officer, Dave, opened the door so Sebastian could slide Natalie into the seat and buckle her up.With a thanks and a wave, Sebastian made his escape.
Sebastian turned to find the artist herself, and his breath halting for the second time that evening. Not dainty, exactly, more petite, with full features and calming brown eyes. She was far prettier than the pictures he’d seen of her. Absolutely lovely.
Her smile bloomed the same time as his. “You’re Sebastian.”
His brows drew together in puzzlement. “Yes. Have we met?” Not that he would forget if they had.
She tipped her face up to him, giving his closer inspection. “Hmm. I should have known you aren’t the devil personified.” Then she burst out laughing. “My husband,” she said, in answer to his unspoken question.
His client, Marcus, stepped up and kissed the artist’s cheek. Right, Sebastian thought. Her brother—and Jett Cestone’s brother-in-law.
“Glad you could make it,” Marcus said.
“I’m having more fun than I’d anticipated,” Sebastian replied, with a smile for Haven.
“So glad to hear it,” Jett said, entering the little group. “Don’t let us keep you from it, there’s much to see.”
“Jett.” Haven shot him a stern expression, which he volleyed back.
Sebastian grinned, thoroughly enjoying getting under Jett’s skin. “Ease up there, Gabriel. I intend to see everything.” He turned to Haven. “I’d be indebted if you would give me the tour.”
Haven took his arm, ignored her husband’s growl, and steered Sebastian away. But, he could feel her tension, the escalating trepidation. Certainly not fear for her own safety, possibly what Jett might do to him. Unease ebbed and flowed around her, seemingly unrelated to this evening, though definitely related to Jett. Something of a deeply intimate nature.
He wouldn’t add to her stress. They stopped at a few pieces, commenting on detail and technique, before he turned to her.
“I’m making things difficult for you,” he said. She didn’t answer. “And I’m taking my life in my hands, no doubt.”
“A smarter man would watch his step, yes.”
Sebastian laughed out loud. No sugar coating or diplomatic hedging, simply the truth. “Would you be my new best friend?”
“No,” Jett answered behind him.
Haven smiled and took her husband’s hand.
“Aren’t deities supposed to be munificent?” Sebastian asked.
“I’m not a deity. Neither are you. However, I am munificent, in that I haven’t hurt you yet.”
Jett had a powerful aura, true, but Sebastian had a few gifts himself. And an aversion to being pushed around. He lifted his head and looked down his nose at his challenger.
“Stay out of my face, Jett, and there won’t be any need for generosity or subtlety or anything else.”
The harsh line of Jett’s lips bent enough to reveal clenched teeth. “Stay away from my wife.”
Sebastian seldom felt this degree of hostility coming from one person. A side table rocked nearby. No one appeared to notice, except for a man dressed all in black, who steadied it with one finger while looking nonchalantly around the room.
Telekinesis? Really? He had his own, but not to the degree it seemed evident in Jett, almost uncontrollable.
Haven squeezed her husband’s arm. “Enough. You’re not going to ruin this night for me.”
With that, she stalked away, bouncing all that velvety brown hair as she went.
Her marriage to Jett hadn’t been a big society event, just a private ceremony at home, so CNN said. Visually the two made a striking couple. Personality-wise, Sebastian couldn’t see how they’d gotten together. Maybe he’d misjudged Jett. There must be more to the man than a brain for business and a boorish need to control. Still, she was his wife, and Sebastian never crossed that line.
“Careful with that temper,” Sebastian told Jett. “You could wind up with ulcers.”
“And you could wind up—”
Sebastian followed Jett’s line of vision to where Haven stood watching across the room.
“…having a wonderful evening,” Jett finished, before hurrying after her.
Sebastian smiled. Jett’s Achilles heel. And who could blame him? He gave Haven one last look of simple male appreciation and started for the other end of the room.
~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~
Allow me to present the first 5 (yes, five) chapters of DESCENDED. Enjoy!
He has no wings or halo, but he’s an honest-to-goodness hero... And his lineage is quite impressive.
When a reclusive businessman takes an interest in Haven’s artwork, she knows it’s an answer to prayer. But Jett Cestone is an enigma with a disconcerting connection to the young women in his employ. He’s by far the most unusual man she’s ever met.
Haven is the most interesting woman to ever cross Jett’s path. But she’s too naïve and pure to learn what goes on in his home. Too bad he wants her more than he’s wanted anyone or anything in his life.
The light was no match for him. He could become one with any shadow or light, keeping his presence secret for as long as he wished, causing a man to believe his mind was playing tricks. Or he could be the last thing that man saw before he met his Maker. There were prices to be paid for his rare gifts—consequences—but none dissuaded him from his mission.
Three armed men guarded the corridor, yet he passed room after room unrestrained. The sounds of animal lust pierced his eardrums, the stench of sex invaded his nostrils and his stomach turned in revulsion.
He stopped in front of his target, listened. Beyond the door, a girl reluctantly offered her body to a stranger. Had she sounded the least bit enthusiastic he would have continued on. Her life was her business. But her voice was cold, her tone flat. She didn’t want to be here. And that made it his business.
Getting to her was easy. Getting her out, another matter. They were on the third floor, and he couldn’t fly. He wasn’t some kind of super hero. But he had to act now, before what was going to happen happened.
A door opened behind him and he glanced over his shoulder. A man came out, walked down the hall and disappeared down the stairs. One of the guards followed.
That left two to deal with. His odds might not get better than they were right now.
With a thought, he was inside the room.
Yesterday he’d seen this girl wrangled into the back of a car with several others. The evening’s entertainment for a celebration of debauchery at another exclusive downtown club. Now she sat naked on the edge of the bed as her customer shed his twelve hundred dollar jacket, reached for his belt buckle. She made no sound, no move to escape, but her eyes pled for mercy.
Rage, pure and deliberate, guided him as he stepped behind the man, gripped his head in both hands and snapped his neck with a violent twist. The man fell like a marionette with strings abruptly snipped.
The girl scrambled to the top of the rumpled bed, gripped the headboard with white fingers and drew her legs in tight, shaking from head to toe.
“D-Don’t hurt me.” Her voice was no more than a strangled whisper.
He raised a finger to his lips, remembering too late she couldn’t see it. “I won’t hurt you.”
Her eyes darted around the room. She tucked her head into her arm and cried, no doubt awaiting her next form of abuse. Apparently she’d heard such promises before.
“I swear I won’t hurt you. I’ve come to take you out of here.”
She dared a peek but saw nothing.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Diamond, you must trust me.”
“Why can’t I see you?”
Her voice told him she wanted to trust him, but at present he could not earn that trust by showing himself. “You will see me later. Right now, do as I say.”
Short of killing everyone, he would have to create a diversion. He had just the thing. Simple. Then the girl lifted fear-filled blue eyes.
“You have to get my sister, too!”
Sister? Was she kidding?
Diamond moved to the center of the bed. “I won’t leave without her.”
Unreal. How was he to get two girls out unnoticed?
“Where is she?”
“First room at the top of the stairs, on the left,” she said. “Her name is Goldie.”
He heard relief in her voice. It was too soon for that. “I’ll be right back.”
She glanced at the body on the floor. She was on the verge of hysteria, but would probably hold it together. She’d better.
In an instant he was back in the hall. A guard stood by Goldie’s door, checking his watch, unaware that an intruder had passed mere inches away. Inside the room, a man sprawled naked across the bed, hands folded beneath his head. A naked girl came out of the bathroom and approached.
Both parties looked around to see where the voice had come from. Before the man could get off the bed, his neck twisted and cracked in the same manner as Diamond’s customer. But unlike Diamond, this girl opened her mouth to scream.
“Shut up!” He covered her mouth with his hand. “We’re leaving here. Your sister is waiting for you.”
It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see him. Goldie swung toward his voice, wrapped her arms around his invisible form and cried into his chest.
He gave that about three seconds, then took her by the shoulders. “Put something on. Quick.” She did, grabbing a white satin robe. “When I tell you, run to your sister’s room and stay there.”
With that, he was back in the hall. Diversion...diversion... He grabbed the guard in front of the door, shoved him to the end of the hallway and through the window. Crude, but it would draw everyone’s attention.
When the other men ran to the window, he went back for Goldie. “Now!”
She tore off to Diamond’s room and slammed the door behind her.
Inside, the girls clung desperately to one another.
“What’s going on?” Goldie stared at the body.
“We’re being rescued.” Diamond answered. “Don’t ask a lot of questions!”
“Good advice,” their rescuer said. “We’re going to walk right out the front door. Understood?”
“What?” both girls asked in unison.
“We can’t!” Goldie took a step closer to where the voice seemed to come from.
“The back exit is no longer an option,” he replied. By now everyone in the building would be staring at a blot in the rear alley. “I’ll be right there with you.”
He went into the hall to clear the way. It would only be a matter of moments before someone came to gather the girls. Couldn’t very well have a bunch of captives around while the building swarmed with police investigating a murder-suicide.
No one in sight, here or on the staircase leading to the main lobby. None of the other occupants seemed to know or care what was going on. He opened the door and two seconds later the girls were running, the hems of their matching robes flying in the breeze.
He remedied the one locked door at the bottom of the stairs in short order, but the larger door leading to the main lobby would be more difficult to breach. Two armed thugs stood guard, and from their casual stances, they had no idea what happened upstairs. They came to attention when they spotted the girls.
The girls stopped, but invisible hands and a whispered command nudged them on. “No matter what they say or do, keep walking.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” one goon demanded.
The girls looked at each other but went forward.
“Get back upstairs!” the other guard ordered.
He took a menacing step, only to crumple when his leg snapped under him at a distorted angle. Screaming and clutching his knee with both hands, he was relieved of his gun.
Before his partner could reach for his own weapon, it was removed for him. The butt of the gun swung across his face and he hit the wall amidst a spray of blood and teeth.
Lips trembling, eyes huge and round, the girls watched the guns float toward them.
“Hold these on them.”
They obeyed, with shaking hands.
“Keep your fingers off the trigger unless they try to get up.”
He riffled through the men’s pockets and recovered a key. In a matter of moments he dashed the girls across the bustling Seattle street to the safety of a waiting car.
But not before turning back to see a man at the top of the stairs. He recognized him instantly.
His next target.
“Jane Eyre Meets Batman” ★★★★★ “It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G” ★★★★★ “Made A Believer Out Of Me!” ★★★★★ “Dana Pratola’s books have spoiled me!” ★★★★★ ~~ Come see what all the buzz is about!
What do a woman of faith and a heathen biker have in common? The devil, of course.
Tessa is moved to intercede for a man she’s never met. When they do meet, she’s stunned. Gunnar is gorgeous, charismatic, and driven. He’s also hostile, self-destructive, and an unbeliever…and she’s drawn to him like no other. The temptation she feels is as dangerous as it is alluring. She wants to stay away, but God has other plans. He reveals the devil’s intent to destroy Gunnar and commissions Tessa to keep him covered in prayer. Can she rely on God to keep her from falling…in love, and into temptation? Or will the devil claim them both?
Tessa kept her eyes closed. Physically, she stood at the bathroom sink, her hands curled around the sides of the basin. In her spirit, she occupied that place
where utterance slipped through the thin veil separating this world from the other. Where speech fell on holy and unholy ears alike. Where words were
transformed into power.
She was in prayer.
Head bowed, Tessa prayed first for her brother, Dominic, then her father and mother. After several minutes she paused, but the urgency intensified. Her skin care routine abandoned, she went into her room and fell on her face at the side of her bed and with great distress, prayed in the spirit as she had nearly every day for the past two months. As though a life depended on it. She didn’t yet know whose, only that it was a man and that whatever his need, time was running short.
When at last she felt the burden easing she took her Bible and notebook and sat cross‐legged on the bed. She perused familiar passages and listed any verses that came to mind. There was nothing mystical in the process itself, but it helped her focus, hopefully revealing what God might want to show her.
“Can’t You tell me who I’m praying for, Lord?” she asked. “Is it someone I know?”
Some moments later Tessa felt directed to turn to a specific though unfamiliar verse in the twenty‐seventh chapter of Job. She ran a finger down the fine paper of the page, stopping at verse nine. “Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him?” she read aloud.
From there she turned to a verse she’d read the day prior in Psalm thirty‐four. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”
She knew before asking, “He won’t cry out for himself, will he?”
So it fell to her to be his voice. But try as she might, she couldn’t think of what to say.
It didn’t take long to see the problem. She was trying to use her reasoning to grasp the situation and as a result grew more confused. Confusion was not of
God. She commanded the devil to stop messing with her thoughts, then began to pray in earnest for blessings, health, and protection on the man’s behalf.
Strength to withstand.
The words came unexpectedly, an urgent impression on her mind. At last she had a bearing.
An hour later Tessa flipped her chestnut braid over her shoulder and wiped an already spotless countertop. The task was intended less for cleanliness and more to help drive away some of the lingering consternation from her prayers.
Like every other time God led her to pray for this certain individual, she knew the victory attained in the spirit realm was only advancement toward a goal and not the goal itself. More prayer would follow, and more victory.
Meanwhile she would make herself useful to Dominic. He kidded about her neatness, but cleaning was the way she’d relieved stress for most of her twenty five years. Besides, it was sweet of him to let her move back in until she found another apartment, so she would earn her keep with fresh laundry and scrubbed floors.
It also helped fill her time. The routine of practicing law twelve hours a day hadn’t allowed for sudden stops, and relearning the art of relaxation was proving harder than expected. She’d never excelled at it to begin with.
When the wall phone rang she wiped her hands on a dishtowel before answering. “Silano residence.”
“You can just say hello,” Dominic said.
“It’s more formal my way.”
“Just say hello,” he repeated. “Listen, I have a friend coming by. He’ll be staying a few days. That OK with you?”
Tessa switched the phone to the other ear. “It’s your house.”
“It’s yours, too.”
She smiled, knowing he meant it, but wishing he didn’t always sound so apologetic when he spoke of his ownership. Yes, their parents had given it to both of them, but Tessa’s heart wasn’t in the place like Dominic’s, so she’d signed her half over to him, and that was that. It shouldn’t be so hard for him to accept.
“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable,” he finished.
“Why would I be uncomfortable? The more the merrier.”
“You say that now.”
She couldn’t tell if he was joking but giggled anyway. “He isn’t a convict, is he?”
She could hear Dominic tapping something. Probably the end of his pencil on the steering wheel of his police cruiser.
“Gunnar’s not very social,” Dominic said. “Set him up in Mom and Dad’s room and leave him be. I’ll try to get off early.”
Tessa hung up, more baffled than concerned by her brother’s ambiguous description of the houseguest. He had a lot of friends, but she’d never heard mention of Gunnar. Must be a new guy on the force.
She smirked when the phone rang a moment later. It was just like Dominic to see if she would answer her way or his.
“This Dominic’s place?”
The voice was male and impatient, and she deliberated whether to tell him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m—who are you?” she returned.
“What’s the address there?”
“The address, the address. Dom’s expecting me. He forgot to give me the house number, and his cell is off.”
Dismayed that this churlish man was Dominic’s expected friend, Tessa reluctantly gave him the address.
“Great. I’m—what the—”
Tessa’s eyes widened as she listened to the man yelling at someone on his end. Something to do with a bike, breaking body parts, and a hospital. It was a little hard to piece together since his profanity was quite fluent. She’d never considered some words could be used in that particular order.
“Be right there,” he said in a slightly calmer tone.
Only after hearing a click in her ear did Tessa realize those last words were directed to her. Dominic could have expanded about his friend. Not very social? He was positively hostile!
Twenty minutes later the ground began to tremble. It started as a low vibration, building steadily until Dominic’s Sports Legends Bobblehead collection threatened to leap from the shelves of the cherry wood cabinet in the living room.
Tessa ran to the front window. Turning into the drive was the loudest motorcycle she’d ever heard. At least she assumed it was a motorcycle, it looked like none she had seen before. The entire contraption, from the end of the lashing,
curved tail to the tip of the spitting, forked tongue was matte black with barely a hint of green. Beneath legs poised to lunge, the tires appeared to devour the
pavement. It was hideous, and at the same time, mesmerizing.
Stunned, she watched it stop inches from the front steps. The rider, a virtual extension of the machine in matching black, mercifully shut off the motor and let
down the kickstand with a clever movement of his foot. Gunnar, no doubt.
She had been practically immobilized by that dreadful sound, but now she could move again, Tessa didn’t want to. Even as she watched the man dismount, letting the machine crouch onto the metal stand, she knew she should go to the foyer to welcome him properly, but a bewildering rush of panic kept her feet planted.
As he raised his hands to take off the helmet, she closed her eyes and sucked in a deep calming breath. When she opened them, he was gone. Though she didn’t see his face, she had a hunch it wouldn’t be friendly.
She heard the front door swing open, then shut with a bang. Solid boot heels struck the hardwood of the foyer in perfect sync with the thick thudding of her
heart. He was walking in her direction, and if she didn’t move soon, would discover her frozen there like a rabbit in crosshairs.
Finding that idea worse than her fear, Tessa strode toward the foyer. Why should she be afraid of a man just because he’d been a little short with her on the
phone and rode a motorcycle that looked like a demon? Just because he was ill mannered and didn’t knock before entering someone’s house didn’t make him a savage. He was a friend of her brother.
Of course, her mind countered, he hadn’t known the address, so how good a friend could he be?
Tessa pushed away her misgivings and swung around the doorway and into a human wall. She teetered for a second before landing hard on her butt. From her seated position, her gaze moved up from scuffed biker boots and black pants. A matte black helmet dangled in front of her face and drew her gaze up the arm of a scarred leather jacket. She couldn’t help noticing that shoulders filled the doorway.
She guessed right about his face. Definitely unfriendly. Eyes dark as a night sea glared down at her from beneath slashing brows, and an unsmiling mouth
offered neither apology nor ease. What she didn’t expect was his hair. There wasn’t any, only the suggestion of it on a well‐shaped head.
He made no attempt to help her, which surprisingly did more to bolster her courage than undercut it. He was a startling sight, but she would not be unsettled in her own home.
Tessa got to her feet and held out a hand, wishing she’d inherited her mother’s ability to fabricate a smile on cue.
“Hello. I’m Tessa,” she said in a voice belying her nerves.
The man didn’t take her proffered hand, though in an impatient gesture, elevated the helmet a little in minor acknowledgement. She put her hand down and
skirted past him.
“This way,” she said.
He followed her to the front of the house, heels drumming close behind, his eyes hot on her back. She fought an inexplicable urge to run straight out the front door.
“Where do I put my bike?” he asked, when Tessa turned to lead him up the stairs.
His voice, rich and authoritative in person, sent an odd tingle along her spine. Tessa moistened her dry lips before she spoke.
“You can bring it around back,” she said, her gaze alighting on him momentarily before looking away. “On the side of the house by the shrubbery is fine.” She managed to point in the general direction.
He shifted his weight, but didn’t speak, waiting it seemed, for her to look at him. She did. She could all but feel his penetrating eyes and was struck with the foolish notion he could absorb her thoughts. In that case, she needn’t worry since she couldn’t reasonably form any. Had he asked another question? Had she answered the first one?
When he turned from her and walked out, Tessa released the breath she’d been holding. “Stop it,” she chided herself. “He’s only a man.”
It was true, but this time when the horrific noise began, Dominic’s Bobblehead collection wasn’t all that quaked.
As he rode to the side of the house Tessa hurried to the dining room windows. The machine was fascinating, but the man held her eye. As intimidating
and strange as he was, she couldn’t deny she found him unusually attractive.
Gunnar set the bike on the stand then swung his leg over and stood beside it. When he removed his jacket, revealing the form fitting gray shirt beneath, Tessa’s hand automatically went to her throat. Muscles bunched in his back and arms as he unhooked the elastic cords securing a black duffel bag to the seat.
He set the bag on the ground before lifting a flap on a saddlebag, and removing a length of shiny silver material. With a deft motion, he snapped it out into the air and covered the bike before crouching to fasten it near the back tire, then the front.
Tessa ducked away from the window as he made his way to the front of the house, and at the sound of the door opening and closing, she tried to look busy,
making a task of aligning the tablecloth.
“Where’s my room?” he asked from the doorway.
Tessa gave the tablecloth a last tug. “That was quick.”
Gunnar shifted his jacket and duffel bag to the opposite arm.
“That’s some motorcycle,” she said. “It’s…unique.”
He returned an impassive stare.
Tessa considered herself an even‐tempered person, one who went to great lengths to avoid confrontation, but this man was trying her patience. Best to show him his room and be done with him.
“Excuse me,” she said and nudged past him to walk to the stairs. She didn’t hear him behind her and looked back to find him in the same spot. “Are you coming?” she asked, this time without consideration to courtesy.
Her room and Dominic’s were upstairs on the right, and between them the door leading to the attic. Passing it, Tessa wished she could isolate Gunnar up
there, but Dominic said to put him in their parents’ old room at the end of the hall. It made sense, taking into account his size and the fact that the attic held a single
bed. But the thought of him sleeping so close to her brought no solace.
She entered ahead of him, her gaze shooting around the room. Although she hadn’t been in here in years, everything looked pretty much the way she remembered. A solid blue quilt draped the queen size bed, with hand stitched throw pillows marching single file across the top. The lead crystal lamps and silver
alarm clocks stood on their bedside tables, all polished and gleaming. Everything as it should be.
“This room gets great light.” Tessa doubted Gunnar cared, but something needed to be said. “Make yourself at home. There’s a sun porch downstairs and a
library if you want to read,” she continued, as he flung the duffel onto the chair‐and‐a‐half that stood between two east facing windows. “If you need anything—”
“If you need anything,” she began again, “ask Dominic. I’m sure he’d love to help you.” She could almost feel the heat when his gaze whipped to hers.
“I said I won’t need anything.”
Her lips bowed in what hopefully would pass for a smile. “It must be wonderful to be so autonomous.”
She thought the corner of his mouth tugged in response, but those near black eyes narrowed a fraction, long enough to distract her. When she lowered her gaze again his lips were fixed in an unyielding line. She must have imagined it.
“I hope you enjoy your stay,” she said, wiping an undetectable speck of dust from the dresser top. “Dinner is at six. You’re welcome to join us.”
In the hall with the door closed behind her, Tessa clenched her fists. Oooh! How could she let him provoke her? He was obviously in the habit of intimidating people, but she shouldn’t have let her control slip. She’d dealt with worse than him—attorneys no less—and held her own. If he wanted to take her on…
Dominic’s friend, she reminded herself. There was no need to score a point or stand her ground. She would take Dom’s advice and leave Gunnar be until he
left in a few days. She made a conscious effort to relax her hands.
Gunnar retrieved the bottle he kept in his duffel bag and lowered himself to the edge of the bed. How did he end up here? Not just in this room with matching mahogany furniture, plump pillows and frilly wallpaper, but in this frame of mind. He was a fool to believe he had a grip on things, however briefly.
He opened the bottle and drained the amber liquid in two long pulls before tossing the bottle and cap back in the bag. Dragging a pillow into position, he fell back on it. Each corner was adorned with a gold silk tassel. He could appreciate craftsmanship, but everything in this room screamed look‐but‐don’t‐touch.
Dominic didn’t mention his parents were pretentious snobs. He didn’t mention Tessa either. Now that was a look‐but‐don’t‐touch woman if ever
he’d seen one. How could it be possible she and Dominic were related? Maybe he was adopted.
Gunnar gave the tassel a brush with his finger and closed his eyes, hoping to sleep. Better, to never wake up.
Want to read more? Amazon has posted the first 4 chapters in the Look Inside feature for the Kindle version: http://www.amazon.com/The-Covering-ebook/dp/B005G4G7EI/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_ke?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313370443&sr=1-1
Also available in paperback and for Nook at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-covering-dana-pratola/1104473665?ean=9781611161014&itm=4
Available at: http://www.pelicanbookgroup.com/ec/index.php
I Love this song (Turning Page) from Sleeping At Last. It's from the 4th Twilight movie, but don't hold that against it if you're a hater, LOL. Not everyone likes the vocal, but the words are everything a romantic song should be. Enjoy.