Gypsy Fire by Caitlyn Willows

GypsyFire

 

GYPSY FIRE
by Caitlyn Willows
Paranormal Romance (Short Story)
August 2007
Cover Art ©Lacey Savage

“Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be. Whoever holds gypsy fire holds the key to riches beyond imagination. It is a powerful ally and a dangerous foe.”

That’s the family legend behind a mysterious coin owned by Riley Hathaway’s great-grandmother and left to her. But she felt the fire for attorney Patrick Spencer long before the coin sliced their fingers and mingled their blood. While her sisters fight for ownership of the coin and the riches they know it will bring, Riley learns its true wealth. Only Patrick can stoke true gypsy fire, and only he can quench it.

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Review:

This is a cool story; one with passion, fire, and genuine emotions throughout. The situation the couple finds themselves in only fuels the fire between them and makes them enjoyable. A wonderful quick read that leaves you with some unexpected twists that will delight the reader. Another winner for Ms. Willows. ~Matilda, Coffee Time Romance

EXCERPT

Patrick Spencer watched Riley Hathaway battle the grief threatening to overwhelm her. Even with makeup, pale freckles stood out against her otherwise porcelain skin. Freckles…the curse of every redhead he’d ever known. Of the three he’d had to deal with in the last month, he was ready to throw two of them into the Pacific Ocean with lead boots. The third one? Well, it was hard to believe she was related to the other two. He would have done anything to spare her this pain.

He’d known Fiona Hathaway since he was a boy filing pocket parts in the California Code Annotated at his family’s law office. Who would’ve guessed he’d be the one to handle her estate now? She’d been old then at seventy-five. Now approaching one hundred, her time left was measured in hours. She’d outlived everyone in her family except her three great-granddaughters.

When it came right down to it, her active lifestyle was what had brought her down. One misstep as she rushed out the door a month before had sent Fiona tumbling off her front porch when she hit a spot weakened by termites. Riley had called the exterminators that very day to have the place inspected and fumigated. Fortunately, they caught the infestation at the beginning—only that one spot would need to be replaced.

Unfortunately, Fiona had hit her head and broken her hip on the flagstone walkway. At some point pneumonia had set in and refused to leave, despite the regime of antibiotics the doctor had placed her on. She’d been fighting hard but losing fast. Her periods of awareness had been few and she’d been barely coherent during them. Each breath more labored than the one before it.

When his grandfather and father had asked, Patrick didn’t hesitate to take the lead in seeing her affairs ran smoothly during this time. He’d helped Riley settle her at home with a visiting nurse so Fiona could pass in peace in her own bed as she’d wished, and he was at the house almost as much as Riley. Once he realized what opportunistic bitches Heather and Jillian were, Patrick made sure he was always there when Riley was not. No one was going to take advantage of Fiona. He remembered her laughing blue eyes, sharp wit, quick smile, and the peppermint pillow mints she always carried for “good little boys and girls.” Riley had all of those qualities too, right down to the mints in her purse.

Her sisters, however, were a piece of work. Even now they paced the corridors outside Fiona’s bedroom, waiting like vultures for the old girl to draw her last breath. Part of his job was to see they didn’t pick her apart afterward—or rather, her estate. Fiona’s instructions had been clear. He was here to help carry them out.

While Heather and Jillian were greatly inconvenienced by Fiona’s lengthy stay on earth, Riley was heart-sick over her inevitable demise. She spent as many hours as possible by her great-grandmother’s side, holding her hand, tracing the blue veins showing through Fiona’s paper-thin skin, talking and reading to her, kissing her wrinkled cheek, falling asleep in the chair beside her. He’d caught Fiona’s smile focused on Riley more than once. Just as quickly as it appeared, it would fade as her body pulled back inside itself.

Fiona’s eyelids fluttered open, scattering his thoughts. His breath caught in fear that this was her last moment. He wanted to wrap his arms around Riley and shield her from the pain. To bury his face in her thick, red hair while he dealt with his own grief at the passing of one hell of a woman. So far he’d fought the urge to touch Riley in more than a casual manner, trying to keep a professional distance out of respect for her and his family’s business. But Patrick was losing that battle, just as surely as Fiona was losing the one she waged. He wanted to kiss Riley, slow and sweet, easing his way in and then pulling her tight against a body that had been hard as a rock since the second they’d met. He wanted their naked flesh burning against each other’s, fire whirlpooling around as they touched, tasted…

“Hi, Gram,” Riley said softly.

Patrick snapped his thoughts into place. His perpetual erection wasn’t so easily tamed when it came to Riley. He ordered it to physically subside, then did his best to ignore the throbbing monster.

Riley combed her fingers through Fiona’s silver-white hair. She’d kept it brushed and neat for her. Fiona had always been meticulous about her appearance—a trait all her great-granddaughters inherited. Heather and Jillian might be bitches from hell, but they dressed to understated perfection, as Riley did—not too much, not too little, just right for whatever the occasion might be. On this late fall day, when Southern California could be extra warm or cold depending on the minute, that was a thin sweater with slacks for the older sisters, a skirt for Riley. A skirt he desperately wanted to get under.

“Sweetheart, you look so tired.” Fiona’s voice was breathy, hard for her to get out.

She slid her gaze from Riley to him. The sparkle in her blue eyes had dimmed. Patrick admitted not seeing that glint of life scared him.

“You too,” she told him.

Her thin hand shook as she reached for the pendant that rarely left her neck—a silver coin with a silver chain threaded through a hole drilled at the top. She grabbed the coin too tightly, cutting her finger on the thin edge.

“Gram, here, let me help.” Riley’s hand shook as much as Fiona’s. “What are you trying to do?”

“Give to you. Yours now.”

“Oh, Gram.” A tear slipped down her cheek. The pain of her loss—his loss too—knifed through Patrick’s heart.

“Take it,” Fiona told her.

Riley snatched up a tissue from the box on the bedside table and blotted the blood from Fiona’s hand. The injury looked no worse than a bad paper cut. Riley plucked up the necklace and gently turned it around until the clasp was at the front. Her hands still shook too much to unlatch it.

“Here. Let me.” Their fingers brushed in passing. Sensation like liquid warmth slithered up his arm.

He thought he caught the semblance of a smile on Fiona’s lips as he unhooked the clasp. Once it was free, he cupped the pendant in his palm and let the chain slither down on top of it. Blood remained from Fiona’s cut. He watched the small spot settle in his heart-line.

Fiona wrapped her thin fingers around his wrist. Her grip was feather-like. “You’re holding gypsy fire. Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be.” Her chuckle was swallowed by a coughing spell.

He and Riley tried to prop her up to clear her lungs. When the fit had passed, she sagged into the pillows. “Send those other two in here. I want to speak to them alone.”

“Fiona—”

“Alone, Patrick. Riley needs some fresh air. See she gets it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He offered a smile and plumped her pillows behind her while Riley smoothed the bedcovers in place. She added a kiss to Fiona’s cheek, blinked away a rush of tears, and let him lead her from the room.

Patrick liked how she fit beside him—the right height at his shoulder, the right pace with his, the right everything, whether she wore flats like now or heels. He’d taken to having that proprietary touch of his hand to her back when he escorted her through doors. She’d never so much as flinched. In fact, he’d swear there were times she leaned into his touch. That action always made him feel omnipotent, as if he could conquer the world.

Her rust-colored sweater was tucked into a matching shin-length skirt, and he couldn’t help wondering if her skin was as soft as the sweater. With every step they took, her skirt brushed against his leg, distracting him all the more. He watched the way her shoulder-length hair kissed her neck and longed to pull it away and do the same, letting his lips memorize every inch.

Her sisters pounced on them when they walked into the hallway. Their gloomy presence could dim a supernova. They dulled the light in this otherwise bright old house. In the month he’d known them, Patrick hadn’t heard Heather or Jillian utter a kind word about anyone…unless it was a man they were interested in impressing. Both had tried over-the-top flirtations with him on that first day—hookers were less bold—then moved on to other fishing grounds when they learned he wanted nothing to do with the bait they tossed out. It didn’t take a genius to see these women were always looking for the easiest way, felt the world owed them a favor, and were out to get anything and everything they could grab. These were not nice women, a fact that detracted from their hot-as-hell looks.

That’s what made it so difficult to believe they shared the same genes as Riley. The older two had already blown through two trust funds and an inheritance and now circled, waiting for more. Riley had gotten a business degree, opened her own craft store, and tucked the rest away for the children she planned to have one day. She took care of Fiona too, making sure she had whatever she needed.

“Gram wants to see you,” Riley told them.

When Heather darted past her to go inside, Riley grabbed her arm and yanked her to a stop.

Don’t upset her.”

Heather’s always-icy blue stare chilled a few more degrees. She didn’t bother with a response, just jerked free and swung open the door. Jillian hurried to catch up.

“That goes for you too,” Riley told her.

Her middle sister ignored her and shut the door in her face.

“Come on.” Hand at her back, Patrick turned her away. “Let’s walk around the garden.”

It gave him peace when he did so, and he was sure it did Riley, since he’d found her there on more than one occasion.

Riley glanced at the door over her shoulder, then placed her hand against his chest, right over his blue-striped tie. Could she feel the thump of his heart beneath it? Could she sense he wanted her hand lower, pressed against yet another erection, just as she pressed against the silk tie? On impulse, he wrapped his fingers around hers and squeezed.

“I need…” She paused, lips parted. She focused on his mouth, then shifted her gaze to their locked hands. He realized he still had Fiona’s necklace in his palm.

“I believe this is intended for you.” Patrick folded the pendant into her hand.

Smiling, Riley closed her fingers around it. “I never thought I’d see the day it came off her neck permanently. She would’ve raised holy hell if she found out the staff had removed it at the hospital when she was admitted. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve it before she regained…” She gave a light laugh. “I guess I can’t say she’s ever fully regained her senses.”

Patrick touched the silver chain that dangled from her hand. “She was aware enough to know it was still around her neck. Imagine her upset if she’d found it gone.”

That brightened her smile. “True.” She rubbed the thin coin between her fingers.

“It was as much a part of her as the peppermints she carried in her purse. When I was a kid, I asked her if it was pirate treasure. She said…” He laughed lightly at the memory. She’d said then what she’d told them minutes before.

“It’s gypsy fire. Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be. Never forget that, young Patrick.”

Riley held the silver up between them. Age had worn the impressions on it to bare visibility and made it blade-thin. “Gypsy fire. That’s what she always called it.”

“I remember.” Patrick touched the surface next to her thumb. “It’s very old.”

“Centuries…if you believe the tale.”

“I don’t think I ever heard that one.”

Though Fiona had spun other stories for him when he visited the law office. She knew how to capture a child’s imagination. Even at the ripe “old age” of thirty-two Patrick still liked to hear them.

Riley’s eyes held some of the mischief he’d seen in Fiona’s. “Ages ago a necklace was forged over a campfire by a gypsy man for his gypsy love—”

“Over a gypsy fire.”

Riley giggled. “Exactly…and don’t forget this was in days of yore.”

He gave her a nod. “Of course. Continue, please.”

“He forged each coin from the finest silver, infused it with love. The hole in this one was drilled by his hand when he drilled the others to link. No one knows how many coins the necklace held, but it’s believed to have been a small fortune. On the night he was to give it to her, he found her ravished by another. He used the necklace as a garrote and strangled the man. It broke, scattering coins everywhere.

“Our lovestruck couple gathered as many as they could find and fled from the kingdom, for to stay meant certain death for one and banishment for the other. No one knows what became of them. Some say they lived happily ever after. Some say evil was attached to the coins once the man was killed. The coins are still found every so often, part of the gypsy fire, for there were so many on the necklace, the couple couldn’t take them all. One thing everyone does agree on is—”

“Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be.”

“Yes. Gram always told us too, that whoever holds gypsy fire holds the key to riches beyond imagination. It is a powerful ally and a dangerous foe. Choose wisely.” She laughed. “Rather like in an Indiana Jones movie.”

This was the happiest he’d seen her since they’d met a month before. Damn, he wanted to kiss her. Those bright blue eyes so filled with life looked into his right then. Patrick couldn’t breathe, much less think straight. Their fingers were still locked around the coin. Bound, some part of his mind said. Her lips parted—soft, inviting.

Time slowed as he bent toward her. He felt her breath become part of his. He was hot. Gypsy fire.

Their lips touched, froze together. A sigh settled them into the tender caress. Then, in unison, their tongues reached out, became one. The kiss deepened. His mind folded in on itself. He felt the touch of her chest to his, then her pelvis. But the coin locked them as one, not their arms. He deepened the kiss but it was Riley who demanded it of him. He wanted to feel her flesh, the heat of it, the silk of it, inside and out.

The bedroom door whipped open, shattering the moment. Still, they didn’t jerk from the kiss, merely pulled apart.

“Where the hell is it?” Heather demanded. She zeroed in on the coin clasped between their fingers. “Give me that. I’m the oldest. It’s rightfully mine.”

She snatched it away before they could stop her. The edges sliced through Patrick’s fingers like a razor. Riley’s gasp mirrored his. She’d been cut as well. He caught her hand and pressed his wounded fingers over hers while he glared at Heather.

“Fiona gave it to Riley,” he told her.

“Don’t.” Riley lifted her uninjured hand. “It’s not worth fighting over. All that matters is Gram. I have all I could possibly want or need.”

“I don’t.” Heather held up the coin. “But I’m going to.”

“Then I hope you enjoy it.” Riley slipped free of Patrick’s hold and walked away.

Heather’s smirk of triumph led her back to her great-grandmother’s side.

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My Salvation by Caitlyn Willows

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MY SALVATION
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotica – Short Paranormal
April 2014 (previously released in November 2006)
Cover Art © Lacey Savage

A traffic accident took away Aaron’s salvation, his fiancée Melinda. Lost and grief-stricken, he plunged back into his former days, drowning his grief in mindless parties and drunken debauchery, until a random accident of his own threatens his very soul. Trapped at the crossroads of heaven and hell, he finds himself in limbo, waiting for the Powers That Be to determine his fate. Now, as his soul hovers between eternal bliss and endless damnation, Melinda returns from the grave to help him earn his salvation once more.

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REVIEWS

FIVE HEARTS! Beautiful, amazing, enthralling-I cannot think of enough words to describe this magnificent short story! I found myself intrigued and aroused-my, oh my Melinda and Aaron had erotic sex. They pulled me along with them in their graphic sex. Then there were the parts of plot where I just wanted to cry. Ms. Willows has an unbelievable ability to wring emotion out of her readers. Melinda, who is dead and Aaron, who wishes to be dead are surprisingly well described for a short story. The plot flows absolutely seamlessly, even when twists come in the story. I cannot remember a story ending which I have enjoyed more. Brava, Ms. Willows! ~Marcy Arbitman, The Romance Studio

4.5 BLUE RIBBONS! Caitlyn Willows takes us on a fascinating journey of self-discovery with this short tale. I could have easily cried for Aaron, his beloved Melinda and the life that they should have had together. It’s very easy to understand his disappointment and how simple it would be to slip into his old ways after such a loss. At the same time, you get the feeling that Melinda may have physically died but she never truly left him in spirit. Ms. Willows brings us the life after death experience in a beautiful heart-touching way that readers won’t soon forget. ~Chrissy Dionne, Romance Junkies

[A] heart-wrenching story that is sure to pull heavily on your emotions. There were moments where I was teary eyed, instances where I shook my head in shame and times where my spine was tingling with heated passion. My Salvation was so engrossing that I read it in one setting. I could easily see the love shared between Melinda and Aaron. Their chemistry was very passionate and expanded across time. There is not much more I can say without giving away the plot; however, I took great pleasure in reading Melinda and Aaron’s story and I am sure once you discover My Salvation you will enjoy it also. ~Nikita Steele, Joyfully Reviewed

EXCERPT

Aaron Crane hoisted the bottle of Absolut to his lips and chugged it. He’d passed the buzz-stage quite some time ago, yet he still maintained a death grip around the neck. The vodka dulled the pain in his heart, filled the void in his soul, and faded the memories that assaulted him even in his dreams.

“Are you taking a leak or what?” Joe Sanchez hollered back.

“Keep your panties on,” Aaron yelled back.

He heard the other three snicker in response, most probably because Aaron had used the word “panties” rather than for the insult he’d intended. God, they really were an immature bunch. None of them had evolved beyond the mentality of a college freshman. Fun was belching contests, seeing who could piss the farthest, and laying down quarter bets of whatever game was on TV, while they scratched their balls and scarfed pizza. Aaron was the only one of the bunch who held a steady job. If he kept partying with these guys, he’d be standing behind them in the unemployment line, and he knew it. Insurance companies liked their claims adjusters alert and attentive, not to mention timely, and he’d been none of those lately. Hungover, emaciated, and perpetually tardy were more likely descriptions.

And yet, in his grief, Aaron had chosen to return to this comfort zone rather than setting out on his own. The more time he spent with these four, the more he disliked them…and himself. But then, he’d hated life and himself since the night Melinda died. The only thing he wanted was to be dead, too. That’s how he felt inside—dead.

He tossed back another drink. Who the hell got the bright idea to stop off in the middle of the desert? They were halfway to Vegas. Why the fucking side-trip?

“Screw it.”

Aaron sank to the nearest boulder and stared across a landscape silvered with the light of a full moon. A warm breeze washed over him. They’d made love under a moon like this once, with only the wind as their blanket. Melinda had wrapped her legs around his. They’d clutched each other as closely as two people could as they soared to the stars watching over them.

He’d loved everything about her from the moment they’d met—her beauty, her goodness, her laughter, her mind. Melinda made him want to be a better person. Hell, he had become a better person, shrugging off his errant ways to be the man she’d want. She was his salvation. Everything he’d dreamed of had seemed to fall in his lap once she’d beamed her smile over him. Paths Aaron never knew existed opened. The world, the future, was golden.

The day he proposed they’d scoured the Internet for the perfect honeymoon spot. There was really only one choice—Desirata. Melinda had read about the idyllic island chain in a travel magazine; a tropical paradise where all a person’s needs were met. It was off the beaten tourist path, exclusive, private—visitation was granted on a person’s needs, not their wealth. Melinda filled out the application, her eyes shining the whole time.

“I know they’ll accept us,” she’d said.

Aaron didn’t care where they went. As long as they were together, he’d give her the world if he could. What better place to start than on a white sand beach perched on the edge of a crystal blue-green ocean?

And just like that…she was ripped away from him. All because some fool blabbering on a cell phone ran a stop light at sixty miles per hour. She’d died clutching the envelope containing the Desirata application.

Grief had torn him in two. He’d tried so hard and for what? To bury the woman he loved? It was all for nothing. In the end, that’s all he had…nothing.

Aaron had quickly reverted to his previous ways, hoping to drown out the unrelenting pain that haunted him day and night. He hated life, hated the four rowdy friends who couldn’t wait to pull him back into their fold. Where once he’d found some measure of joy in the constant partying, now it was merely an escape from the horrors of an unjust world.

He closed his eyes as the breeze brushed over him, lifting the hairs on his arms. His mind drifted with the sensation, imagining Melinda was here with him, gently dancing her fingers against his skin. She’d kiss her way down his throat, while she toyed his nipples into hard dots meant for suckling. While her lips played there, her hands would wander to his cock, stroking, kneading…

Aaron clutched at the erection that burst to life. “Not now…please.”

In his present state, relief wouldn’t be possible. He was too drunk. The fact he had a hard-on at all was a shock. But with memories of Melinda assaulting him, his dick refused to obey the rules. All he could think about was how great her lips felt around him, how tight her hot pussy felt when he was inside, and how painfully lonely the world was with her gone.

Emotion clogged Aaron’s throat. Tears welled up behind his eyelids. Hand shaking, he lifted the bottle to his lips. A sudden gust of wind knocked him off-balance. Arms flailing, he toppled backward. The vodka bottle shattered against the boulder.

Aaron sat on the hard cushion of sand. Moonlight glinted off the shards of glass. Fear welled up inside him. He needed the forgetfulness in that bottle. The pain in his heart was too much to bear without it.

He hugged his knees to his chest. That’s when he noticed the blood. His hand was cut and he hadn’t—still didn’t—felt a thing. Heartache was more than he could bear, but a cut like this…nothing. It was really bleeding, too.

Wonder if it needs stitches? In his fogged brain he tried to calculate the distance to the nearest hospital. A coyote’s howl nearby snapped him upright. He was just pondering whether they could scent blood like a shark when he heard Joe stomping back his way.

“What the fuck, man. You comin’ or not?”

“I fell. Jesus, cut me some fuckin’ slack.”

Aaron shoved himself to his feet. He staggered there for a second or two, then followed Joe. At least the hard-on was gone. He glanced down to make sure and stumbled over his feet, nearly plowing into the other man.

Joe caught his shoulder to steady him. “You okay? Jeez, what happened to your hand?”

Aaron pulled away when he reached for it. “Bottle broke. It’s just a cut. It’ll stop bleeding soon. What was so all-fired important that we had to stop in the middle of nowhere?”

“Check it out.” He motioned to where the other three stood, just beyond a sign that read, “Government Facility. Restricted Area. No Trespassing.”

What little morality Aaron had remaining reared its head. He pulled Joe back. “Are you nuts? This is a restricted area. You’re going to have us thrown in jail.”

“Like we’re gonna get caught way out here. And since when did a little something like rules stop you?” He trudged onward.

Aaron followed reluctantly behind. God only knew where they were. Visions of Area 51 gendarmes swooping down on them filled his head. They weren’t in that area, were they? He’d paid no attention to the direction in which Joe had driven. His only interest had been in reaching the bottom of the bottle.

“What is it?” he asked as he crept forward. Please don’t let it be an alien, his drunken brain whined.

“Take a look.” Joe pointed to six rectangular boxes. They looked like—

“Are those caskets?” Aaron asked.

“Sure enough.” He actually sounded proud of the discovery. “I found them the last time I came through. I was looking for a place to take a leak and there they were. Suppose it’s a desert cemetery someone dug up?”

Aaron frowned. They were old coffins, nothing more than pine boxes. But they didn’t have the aged look he would have associated with a desert cemetery. Still…it was night. “Where are the bodies that were inside?”

“Ewww…” Joe adopted a spooky voice. “Maybe it’s a vampire lair.”

“Shut the fuck up, idiot. Let’s get out of here.” He turned to go.

“Scaredy-cat. I’ll pay you fifty bucks to lay down in one.”

The other three snickered—their comment on everything.

So, that’s what this was all about. Aaron tossed up his hands. “Whatever. I’ll play your stupid game.” Anything to get out of here and on the road. The bleeding hadn’t stopped. He really needed to find a hospital.

He staggered over to the nearest coffin. A wave of dizziness overwhelmed him. Shaking his head to clear it, Aaron hoisted himself inside and stretched out.

“Satisfied?” he asked. “Pay up.” But he couldn’t move. Weakness overwhelmed him.

I’ll just close my eyes for a minute.

His mind slipped into the limbo stage of twilight sleep. Soon the nightmares would take him and there was nothing Aaron could do to stop them. He drifted on a sea of nothingness. Two tunnels lay ahead—one dark, one light—and there he hovered, waiting…waiting…waiting.

 

Unfettered by Caitlyn Willows

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UNFETTERED
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Novella – Supernatural/Paranormal/Fantasy/Witchcraft/Magic/Time Travel/BDSM
April 2016
Cover Art by Dar Albert

Isabelle has long loved and cared for the dilapidated Victorian house on the hill. So when she decides to cast a spell to give her sexual expertise and the perfect mate, what better place to go than her beloved Victorian—a house of dubious reputation. But she learns all too soon that it pays to be specific in spell-casting. Everything she’s asked for is hers…back in 1901. Oh, and one more thing—she forgot to ask to keep them.

The woman of his dreams sifts through Daniel’s grasp like the fine grains of salt sprinkled on his floor. He’s known a few spell-casters in time, but for a cautious man to dare something so…impossible…well, it wouldn’t be the first time his mother considered having him committed. With the help of friends, he sets out to do the impossible—go to Isabelle. A feat seemingly doomed by calendar quirks.

Would the Fates be so cruel to keep them apart—like the Sun who always chases the Moon? Only the mercurial grandfather clock holding court in the Victorian can tell…if anybody would bother to listen…

NOTE: Unfettered was previously released by another publisher. It has been revised and re-edited for this version.

 

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EXCERPT:

Isabelle looked up at the old Victorian house centered on the grassy, oak-shaded hill. She’d always been fascinated by this place. Built post-Civil War, the history surrounding it was sketchy. Rumor had it the original owner was the widow of a wealthy collector who had made the home into a museum in homage to her husband.

She wasn’t so certain, since she’d found no documentation to back up that story. There were plenty of tales of it being haunted as well. Someone always claimed to know someone who knew someone who had experienced ghosts in or around the place. Isabelle had spoken to several old-timers in the area. They all agreed the stories were true, and that they’d heard them from their parents and grandparents.

The moon glinting off a window caught her attention. Isabelle often wondered if the tale of ghosts had been generated by one of the loose ladies of the house during its presumed brothel period and perpetuated by adults since then to keep adventuresome kids away from the property. The brothel rumor held some weight. Ghosts…she wasn’t so sure. She’d experienced no hauntings in all the times she’d been there.

Spanish moss draped among the ancient tree limbs waved a greeting to her on the summer breeze. Its presence helped lend a sense of spookiness to the area, as did the cemetery, whose ravaged marble tombstones no longer bore the names of those buried there.

A winding cobblestone driveway large enough for two cars to pass threaded its way up the sloping rise to the house. A more direct stairway built into the lawn from the road also led straight to the driveway.

Isabelle slung her backpack over her shoulders and took the steps two at a time. She’d planned this night for months, counting the days until school was out and she had no responsibilities to take up her time. And no parents hounding her every step to talk about their “darlings.” Light from the full moon guided her way.

For some reason, upkeep on the property had ceased about twenty-five years ago. She’d toiled to keep the stairs and the driveway accessible, had even hired someone to come by once a week to trim the lawn and someone else for pest control. A house this beautiful deserved care, and she’d been doing that in some fashion for thirteen years now—ever since she was twelve years old.

She knew everyone thought she was nuts. As the years passed, the comments and the weird looks that came her way died off. Everyone seemed to accept that she’d become obsessed with the place. A few family members, even some friends, had tried to find out who owned the property so she could purchase it. Isabelle sighed. That would have been a dream come true. But the aloof owner—the mysterious Daniel Braddock Estate—wasn’t interested in selling. Odd that her attempts to purchase it never brought him—or her, or them, or any representative thereof—around to investigate her handiwork on the place. She’d always fantasized the owner would be so grateful for her meticulous and loving care that he would have no choice but to grant her the deed. After all, she visited it nearly every day and had yet to see another soul there besides the handyman and exterminator. Even her hope to snatch it up in a tax-lien sale hadn’t come to fruition. The taxes were always paid on time, in full, every year by the estate. She looked around as she crossed the lawn. If they loved it so much, why did they stop taking care of it?

Trying to find out was driving her nuts. What little information she could find only led to more questions. Upon the wealthy widow’s death, the house had passed into the hands of Penelope Marsden, a single woman of presumably ill repute. She’d owned and operated the Victorian around 1880. Upon her death eighteen years later, it had passed into the hands of Thomas Braddock. He seemed to have disappeared around 1900—no record of death, just disappeared. He did, however, have the foresight to deed the house to his younger brother Daniel…who’d also disappeared two years later. That didn’t help the house’s reputation any. Given the house’s scandalous reputation, its lack of repair, absent owners, and the missing prior owners—it all coalesced into tales of murder, mayhem, and all manner of nefarious doings, which added even more grist to the rumor mill.

Isabelle scrunched up her nose as she puzzled through her thoughts. People didn’t disappear without a reason. Although, considering what she’d found in the basement… She shook her head. No. They had moved away, died, procreated. The Daniel Braddock Estate was evidence of that. Someone had obviously planned for something, had an heir or heirs. Someone somewhere had answers, and they were being very tight-lipped about it. She shook her head again to get rid of the rambling thoughts. Her mind needed to be clear tonight, not jumbled with a puzzle that had thwarted her for years.

She paused at the edge of the lawn. Moonlight bathed the three-story house in a wash of silver that was almost magical. She took that as a sign, a blessing for what she was about to do. At night, the wear on the place wasn’t as apparent as it was during daylight. Alas, her expertise and pocketbook only went so far. She could keep the interior clean and pest-free—quite a feat when there was no running water or electricity—but outside, the best she could do was keep the yard up, brush the cobwebs from the shingles, and nail the loose shutters back into place. Oh…and keep the windows sparkling, at least the ones she could reach. She’d even replaced those broken by time and hurled rocks.

Determined, she refused to give up. One day this house would be hers. Her efforts had to win her that right. She refused to entertain the possibility of failure or how illogical her actions might seem. She was desperate. Where else could she turn except to the house she’d loved all these years? She’d cared for it as if it were her very own, loved it as no one else did. Surely that devotion would be returned.

Isabelle crossed the cobblestone drive and retrieved the skeleton key from beneath the garden rock where she’d first found it thirteen years ago. Her parents would have had a fit had they known she’d been inside the house back then. She never told them, although they knew she frequently visited the place. She’d seen them follow her a time or two, but they’d never stopped her visits.

She trotted up the marble steps and, once she stood on the old wooden porch, she paused to look back. In its heyday, she imagined it was quite impressive to see carriages dispelling visitors at these steps. Day or night, it would have been wondrous.

The creak of the slowly rocking swing in the corner of the porch caught her attention. How many lovers had sat there? She could almost imagine their ghostly presence as they watched her. In all the years she’d been coming here, no spirit had ever made its presence known.

Isabelle shoved the key into the lock. The door swung open on well-oiled hinges. Amazing what two cans of WD-40 could do to make the squeals and groans disappear. She wished she could have done something like that about the wooden floors. They creaked with every step she took. But at least they were clean.

Her first visit inside the house had left her a dust-covered, cobweb-draped mess. Every visit left her that way until she’d finally decided to clean it years later. She’d dusted, swept, and polished everything she could. Scrubbed the grime from the windows inside and out. Everything might be threadbare and worn, but it was at least a little cleaner. Well, at least as clean as could be, given twenty-five years of neglect. The rugs, drapes, and upholstery had been too fragile, so she’d left them as is.

Isabelle shut and locked the door behind her and set her backpack on the floor. The grandfather clock always greeted her first upon entry, its hands frozen at the twelve o’clock position. She remembered the day she’d polished it until the dark wood gleamed. Fixing it, though, was way beyond her expertise. She’d flirted with the idea of hiring someone to get it working again, but since she didn’t own the place, she wasn’t sure that was a wise move. No one minded that the yard and house were kept in order. That benefited the neighborhood by keeping the rodent population at bay and the yard from being a true eyesore as well as helping resale values in the area. However, openly acknowledging that she’d actually breached the front door—that she had been inside the house on multiple occasions—was a different issue. While the temptation to do so in the hope it would drag the owner out made her consider it, the threat that it might backfire and she’d lose access to the house stayed her hand.

She brushed her hand down the side of the huge clock. Midnight or noon? What momentous event had stopped time? The voices of the past were as silent as those mysterious trustees who held the ownership reins.

Isabelle inhaled. The wild-berry air fresheners she’d placed there three days ago had put a crisp, fresh scent throughout the house. She stood there and absorbed the house’s energy. A feeling of warmth surrounded her. Maybe those voices weren’t so silent after all.

She picked up the box of safety matches from the Queen Anne console across from the clock and lit the new candles in the sconces on the foyer wall. Using them for light, she wandered into the main parlor and lit all the remaining candles there as well. Faded mirrors reflected the golden, flickering flames, adding coziness to the warmth she’d perceived earlier.

It was going to be a wonderful night. She just knew it. By the time she left in the morning, all her needs and most of her wishes would be fulfilled.

Dark, gleaming stairs beckoned her upward when she returned to the foyer. Was that how previous occupants and guests felt? Drawn into the very heart of the house? Or did they prefer to wander into the basement playroom just off the empty wine cellar to engage in harder sex play? She didn’t know much about that aspect of sex but was pretty sure that every bondage toy in existence back in the day was down there.

Isabelle laughed. She’d thought it was a dungeon when she’d first seen the room. Whips, chains, collars, cuffs, tables, and racks—they’d stirred something deep inside her. She’d like to say it was curiosity, but her pounding heart and raised pulse told her it was much more than that. Even as young as she’d been when she’d first stumbled upon them, aspects of the room had inspired her imagination and excited her in ways she’d eventually learned were sexual in nature. That room and its contents had given Isabelle her first taste of adult horny.

She’d spent as much time exploring that naughty basement playroom as she had the rest of the house. She had even indulged and had lain naked on the rack, her arms and legs spread wide and her eyes closed as she’d imagined the flogger being laid across her bare ass.

Her breath quickened at the thought. Her pussy moistened with the throb of her clit. Yes, she’d imagined the fire building in her ass until she couldn’t stand it any longer. Then she’d remove the soft leather strap from its nearby hook—the strap she’d bought to keep there—whip herself with it, then rub it over her clitoris until she came.

How many others had “suffered” such a fate down there? Or maybe upstairs in one of the many lavishly decorated bedrooms with those sturdy four-poster beds?

If the rumors were true, thousands had been pleasured in those bedrooms. Judging from the fact that the basement toys did exist, Isabelle had no reason to doubt those particular tales.

Set away from the main city and protected by the many oak tree sentries around the property, it would have been a popular brothel. Discreet. There were those who claimed Penelope Marsden was a madam who had passed the house into the hands of her nephew—or son, depending on who told the story. Thomas Braddock presumably added to the home’s hedonistic history with grand orgies and parties, where bondage and discipline were as prevalent as the food and wine that freely flowed.

As for the man himself, no one seemed to know what had become of Thomas or his successor. Daniel Braddock simply disappeared one night in the early 1900s. Some said he ran off with the daughter of a wealthy banker. Some thought he might have met with an untimely end, perhaps while strapped to the very rack Isabelle indulged herself on. Some hinted that he’d gone into service during World War I and either died or met a French bride and stayed in Europe. Maybe both men had served in the war, and their stories had become entangled over the years. Maybe that explained why the house still remained with the estate—perhaps a descendant had kept the place for sentimental reasons. That was so much more pleasing than to think the heirs battled over the old place. If only that person would come here, could see how much she loved this house…

Her rambling thoughts had distracted her again. At this rate, she’d never get to the point of her visit. She needed to hurry so that she could take advantage of every second that still remained.

Isabelle retrieved the backpack and returned to the parlor. Candlelight reflected off the mirrors around the room, brightening it as well as electricity would. Out of the whole house, this was her favorite room. Threadbare gold brocade flecked with splashes of red covered the chairs and the love seat, while remnants of matching curtains flanked the windows. A black-marbled fireplace veined with gold dominated the far wall. She’d love to see it alive with a toasty fire. She pictured herself entwined in the arms of a lover before it. A good lover, one who knew how to stoke a woman’s desires. Not like the men she’d known thus far.

She glanced up at the portrait hanging above the mantel. Now there was a woman who knew what good loving was about. Black hair tumbled down her back, revealing a glimpse of creamy white skin beneath. Her face was turned away, barely visible from the shadows of whatever blocked the light. But it was obvious from the arch of her body that she was in the throes of pleasure. She stretched on the red covering that draped over her breast and one hip. Isabelle had found the remnant of what she thought was the covering upstairs.

The woman in the painting had been real.

That was what Isabelle wanted—intense pleasure at the hands of another. She’d even let her own black hair grow into a cascade of curls, hoping to somehow channel the woman’s spirit. Her long hair had definitely gotten her male attention, but none had possessed the skill her body craved.

With any luck, that would change after tonight. She’d have not only the knowledge but also the experience to get what she needed in the bedroom. A little luck wouldn’t hurt either. Or a lot of magic.

The alarm on her watch alerted Isabelle that midnight was fast approaching. She had little time to prepare. Everything had to be ready, so she could execute the spell when the full moon was at its zenith.

Isabelle unzipped the backpack and started to lay out her materials. She’d done a little preparation the day before—moving furniture, rolling up the rugs she’d prayed wouldn’t fall apart—and had exposed a large section of the bare wooden floor. She wanted to do this spell before the fireplace with the woman’s portrait in full view. Her desire was simple—to increase the sexual quality of her life and find the perfect match for her. What better way to draw that to her than by appealing to the notorious qualities of this house?

The spell was sure to work. In fact, she was sure it would. Madam Delores at the New Age shop where she’d purchased the spell kit was more than adamant of its success as long as Isabelle followed the directions.

She’d written down everything she wished for and had committed the words to memory. Madam Delores had also insisted that Isabelle give her the words to write down along with the instructions.

“Things happen in the heat of the moment, in the rush of the mystic vortex,” she’d explained.

As Isabelle placed her white votive candles in a wide circle, she repeated the words again in her mind.