Threshold of Sacrifice (Friday Fiction)

I’m primarily a romance writer, but sometimes I like play in the Realm of Weird. The next time I post a Friday Fiction it will be overflowing with romantic bliss. Promise. For today, I chose:

Threshold of Sacrifice

Dakota Storm slipped into the forest, and was immediately cloaked by the dank reach of lengthening shadows. Somewhere up ahead, the murderer blundered toward the Threshold, driven by a need for escape. Boone would be that stupid.

“The idiot would have to rabbit toward the Threshold,” Shane Anders muttered beside him.

Neither was happy to be tracking, but it was too late to turn back. Dakota would have given anything to be someplace other than the realm of the Thunder Being and his Pale Queen.

Several hundred yards ahead, they came upon Boone balled up on the ground. The murderer was curled like a fetus, the muddy ocher of his shirt sharply contrasted against a  bed of ferns. A bloody knife lay a few feet away.

“Boone.” Dakota squatted and rolled him onto his back. He was semi-conscious, his eyes slitted and glazed.

“What the hell’s wrong with him?” Shane asked.

Dakota shook his head. The ground was soaked with blood, but he couldn’t see any sign of injury. Hooking his fingers into Boone’s shirt, he shook him roughly. “What did you kill?”

“It…” Boone made a gurgling sound. His body convulsed and his head rolled to the side, limp as a rag doll’s. Lightning forked from the heavens.

Dakota was immediately overcome by a punishing crush of disorientation. Pressure built in his lungs and boomeranged through his chest, the pain eerily familiar. It spurred an ancient memory, rooted deep in a past he’d hoped to forget.

There was bile in his throat, rancid as sun-rotted fruit. His legs buckled and he dropped to his knees, only half aware of Shane’s strangled gasp. Around him, the Threshold awakened in a fury of wind and sound.

Within seconds it was over. Dazed, Dakota staggered to his feet. Boone was unconscious, Shane sprawled a like a piece of twisted metal. A white rod of bone jutted from his thigh, splintered and webbed with blood.

“Shane!” Dakota stumbled in his haste to reach him, dropping at his side. “Shane! Answer me, damn it.” A string of pulpy pink flesh spilled from a hole in Shane’s gut, reeking faintly of bowel. His lips were bloodless and veined with blue, his flesh cadaver-cold.

Frantically, Dakota pressed his fingers to Shane’s neck, feeling for a pulse. The bitterness of truth washed over him, chased by murderous rage.  The Threshold had called him back to the place of his birth. Stillness mocked him and, in that chill cloak of impenetrable silence, he knew there would never be life again.  Not for Shane Anders.  “I’m sorry, Shane. It’s my fault for leading you here.”

A red glow spooled at the edges of his vision.  He ground his teeth to silence a curse as the Thunder Being emerged from the trees.

The creature was more man than bird, its wings folded over heavily-muscled limbs.  Long black hair framed a face that was neither young nor old, offset by moonstone eyes and crimson lips.  The man, if man he could be called,wore a flowing robe of malachite overlaid by an ankle-length cloak of ebony feathers.  The flinty hardness of his eyes reminded Dakota of blue-veined quartz.

“You killed my friend.”

“He was caught in upheaval of the Threshold’s awakening.  That one,” The Thunder Being indicated Boone.  “Killed a foundling. We have carried it into the Black Dawn.  The foundlings are young ones, still underdeveloped.  They hide in the trees, visible only in the wink of an eye.  The transgression cannot go unpunished.”

“But you killed the wrong man!”

“That is not for me to decide.” The Thunder Being turned and melted into the trees. Dakota sensed a flicker of demonic hunger followed by a subtle kiss of forgiving light.

The Pale Queen had arrived. Tall and willowy with a cascading veil of milk-pale hair, she was unclothed, her body translucent as moonlight.  Only her eyes betrayed color, solid black pools void of pupils or whites.

“You have invaded our home and taken the life of a foundling.”

Unlike the Thunder Being, there was a hint of mercy in the woman’s voice.  Dakota realized rage would accomplish nothing.

“I beg forgiveness.”

“There must be payment for the foundling.”

“Choose another.” Dakota’s thoughts returned to Shane, broken and bleeding, his body limp and lifeless.  It was an image he’d carry forever.

The woman moved from the trees, diaphanous as clouds caressing the face of the moon.  She halted just shy of him, her scent an overpowering blend of clover, wildflowers and decay.

“And who would you have me choose?  The one who killed the foundling?”

Dakota had no use for noble ideas.  He would gladly trade the murderous Boone for Shane. “As you wish.”

“The decision is too easy. The Threshold demands a sacrifice.” The Queen smiled, exposing the pointed tips of her teeth. “I will return the life of your friend, but not for the one you offer. If I breathe life into Shane Anders, what will you give me in return?”

Dakota knew there was only one answer.

“You can have me.”

“That payment I will honor. Thunder Being. Pale Queen, and Black Dawn.” She smiled and slid her hands onto his shoulders. “And then there were four.  Dakota Fury, Storm Prince. This is where you belong.”

He closed his eyes as her teeth sank into his neck.  His last conscious thought was of Shane, alive and well.

Chance Meeting (Friday Flash Fiction)

It’s Friday!  I thought I’d try a flash fiction again. Romance happens anywhere, and I have a habit of jumping all over the time map when I’m writing. For this, I stepped backward into the dusty west. No paranormal element, just some light sensual fun. Hope you enjoy!

~ooOOoo~

Chance Meeting

Colton Ricker ambled his horse down a trail to the lowlands surrounding Sable Creek.  The weather was pleasant and sun-soaked after two days of torrential rains.

“Easy Reno,” he cautioned when the gray grew fidgety on the uneven ground.  The terrain was rutted with random pockets where water and loose soil formed to create slurries of mud.  He’d almost reached the creek when he spotted a buggy stuck dead center in a thick quagmire off the bank. A woman stood on the floorboards, her red-gold hair tumbled around her shoulders as she tried to urged the horse forward.

Colton continued down the path, intrigued and amused. “Trouble, Miss?”

The woman shot him an annoyed glance.  Blue-green eyes flashed beneath a luxurious fringe of hair the color of toasted apples.  “I didn’t think the bog would be so deep.  Any horse in the east would have crossed it without blinking an eye.  I don’t know why this mare is being so stubborn.”

“The east, huh?”  He should have known from the cut of her clothing.  Leave it to a highbrow uppity skirt to look down her haughty nose at western stock.  “There’s nothing wrong with the horse. It’s the driver who’s green.”

A flush of color flooded the woman’s cheeks.  “I’m perfectly capable of handling any horse created, Mister . . . .”

“Ricker.”  He doffed his hat.  “It’s my land you’re crossing . . . or trying to. We got hit by heavy rains the last two days. Any fool knows these lowlands bog down with mud after a string of wet weather.  If I were you, I’d back that mare out the way you came.”

“Well, you’re not me.” The woman tugged down her short jacket, perturbed he had the gall to challenge her.

Colton had to admit she was a looker with all that cinnamon-colored hair and trim waist.   He thought about climbing down and helping her, but that would involve muddying his boots and, hell, she obviously thought she could handle the fool horse by herself.  Who was he to second guess some silk-stocking, bee-in-her-bonnet blueblood?

He drew his leg up, languidly hooking it over the saddle horn as he watched her snap the reins.  “You keep eggin’ that mare forward, you best sit down.  Sooner or later she’s gonna bolt and you’re gonna end on your pert derriere.”

She glared but didn’t rise to the bait. “I don’t think so.”  Aother firm snap of the reins.  “Giddup.”

“I might be inclined to help if you ask. Nice-like, that is.”

Her glance was withering. “I don’t need your help, Mr. Ricker.”

“That so?  Well, I can’t leave you stuck here till sundown and, at the rate you’re going, I’ll be a fossil ’till you get that buggy outta there.”  Colton swung down from the saddle and took two steps forward.  “I hope you appreciate the fact I’m muddying my boots.  I can’t abide prim eastern women who oughta know better than to venture out of their perfumed tea parlors.”

“Perfumed tea – -” The woman choked off the words in indignation. Venom and dragon-fire danced in her eyes.  “You arrogant, insufferable toad! How dare you insinuate – -”

Colton jabbed a finger at the horse.  “You best stop your caterwauling and pay attention to that mare.  All your hissing and spitting is making her fidgety.”  Even as he spoke, the mare tried to extradite her forelegs from the mud but the woman was too incensed to pay attention.

“I know perfectly well what I’m doing,” she spat, whirling to face him.  She stepped to the edge of the running board, her features pinched and flushed.  “I don’t need the interference of some long-haired rube cowboy – -” The mare gave a sudden lurch and the woman reeled sideways from the carriage.

Colton reacted instinctively, darting forward.  As the mare bolted from the mud, wrenching the buggy behind it, Colton blundered into the quagmire and caught the woman in his arms.  He felt the impact of her weight against him, all shapely curves and tempting softness.  Her arm was around his neck, her mouth parted in a shocked “O” of surprise.  In the passing of a single heartbeat her expression passed from enraged to embarrassed, then back to enraged.  A wash of bright color seeped into her cheeks.  “Put me down, Mr. Ricker.”

Colton wasn’t sure he wanted to comply.  Uppity and all, there was something sensual about her.  He wasn’t above holding her longer, tantalized by the close press of her body.  He could feel the rounded swell of one breast lodged against his chest, a sensation that had him thinking with all the wrong parts of his anatomy.  Proper women generally didn’t want anything to do with him.  It was a novel experience to have such a prim thing pressed up against him.  He grinned.  “Guess you should have listened to me about the mare.”

She was growing agitated.  “Put me down.”

“You sure about that?” Colton’s grin was pointed and brash.  “You got your arm wrapped around my neck awfully tight.  Seems to me, you’re the one hanging on.”

“How dare you!”  Naked anger sparked in her eyes.  She started to squirm, using her hand to push away from him.  “I will not be manhandled like some, some  . . . farm animal by a backwoods, countrified  . . . hillbilly!”

“Hillbilly?”  Colton’s mouth thinned on the word, his anger spiking.  He was usually the one to slyly prod, remaining cool while others grew reckless, but even he had a breaking point.   Something about people who thought they were better than others naturally rubbed him the wrong way.  “You want down?  Let me oblige – -”

Colton opened his arms, unceremoniously dumping the woman rear-end first into the mud.  She landed with a plop, sending a splatter of muck across Colton’s pants.  It was worth it to see the look on her face, a combination of shock and indignation.

Mud sucked at her heavy skirt, saturating the expensive material waist-deep in the rear.  It left large dollops clinging to her face, chest and hair.  Her arms, braced behind her were sunk to the elbows.

Looking at her, Colton felt his anger drain.  He laughed out loud, unable to recall when he’d seen a more deserving sight.  “Sure hope you got a good laundress.”

“You pig!”  She lobbed a handful of mud at him.

“Hey, quit that.” He danced cat-quick out of the way. “That ain’t no way for a lady to talk.  Or act.”  He stretched out his hand.  “I’ll help you up.”

“Stay away from me.”  Defiantly, she clambered to her feet, trying to shake clumps of mud from her dress. Her hair hung in her eyes, the curling ends wilted and askew.  A few steps away, the mare waited docilely, unaware it had been the catalyst of her humiliating predicament.

Colton watched as she tried to climb into the buggy, her saturated skirt making it difficult to move.  He knew she’d scratch his eyes out given the chance, but found the situation comical.  “Don’t be such a snippy prima donna.  Sheath your claws and let me help you.”

“If you so much as breathe in my direction, Mr. Ricker, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”  She settled into the seat, and collected the reins.

Colton had to admire the way she sat with her back ramrod straight, all highbrow and uppity despite the mud dripping from her clothing.  He regretted he hadn’t kissed her when he’d had her in his arms, just because he’d never kissed an eastern-bred woman.  Deciding she couldn’t hate him any worse than she already did, he stepped quickly to the side of the buggy, slid a hand behind her head, and covered her mouth with his.

He had one fleeting impression of warmth and sweet-honey, of crackling passion and wine-red heat before she wrenched away.  Her open palm connected with his cheek in a stinging slap.

Grinning, Colton stepped back from the buggy. “You kiss better than you hiss-and-spit, Miss . . . ?”

Fire flamed in her eyes.  “I wouldn’t lower myself to give you my name, Mr. Ricker.   If there’s any justice in the world, we’ll never see each other again.”

Colton smiled faintly, watching as she collected the reins and sent the buggy on its way.  Eastern-bred and blue-blooded.

He knew he hadn’t seen the last of her and rather liked the idea.

~ooOOoo~

A la carte Kiss (Friday Flash Fiction)

It’s Friday the 13th!  Always a good day for a writer of the paranormal to play around.  I thought I’d post of bit of Friday Flash Fiction in honor of the <ahem> event.  So here you are . . . I hope you enjoy this little interlude I dreamed up called:

A la carte Kiss

Alana picked at her grilled chicken salad. She’d been hungry when she and Lucian arrived at the restaurant, but her appetite had taken a nosedive. His fey, exceptional looks routinely attracted attention wherever he went, but he hadn’t removed his sunglasses and that made him seem odder still. She kept expecting one of the dining patrons to leap from their seat, stab a finger in his direction and shriek “Vampire!” Maybe lunch hadn’t been the brightest idea – – especially given it was with a man who looked like he’d stepped from the pages for a Victorian-era novel.

“I’m making you uncomfortable,” he observed.

“No. Well . . . .”  She prodded a plump piece of chicken, choosing her words. “You’d blend in better if you ate something.”

He grinned faintly.  “There’s no O-positive on the menu. I ordered coffee, isn’t that enough?”

She frowned, thinking how out of place he looked among the metrosexuals who juggled lunch over iPads and smartphones, texting, tweeting and sending emails.  They’d never been to a restaurant together. Mainly because Lucian didn’t eat. Couldn’t eat. He could ingest fluids – – coffee, soft drinks, broth, even alcohol, though the latter had no effect on him. But solid food was abhorrent, guaranteed to make him sick. Just one more reason they were incompatible. “I shouldn’t have let you talk me into lunch.”

Why had she? To spend another hour with him? How pathetic.

“You were hungry and needed to eat.” He sent an arch glance to her plate. “Since you’ve done little of that, you might as well tell me what’s bothering you.”

She shipped her lemon water, biding time.  “That’s a loaded question.”

“I live dangerously. Give me a loaded answer.”

His tone was bantering, but he seemed sincere. She knew she couldn’t dance around her feelings forever. Why not spill her guts? There were worse ways to confess heartache than over grilled chicken and romaine.

“All right, I’ll tell you what’s bothering me.” Alana pushed her plate away, thankful she couldn’t see his eyes behind the dark blue lenses of his glasses. Odds were she’d never be this bold again. “I’m almost twenty-eight. Single, attractive. Even sexy you might say- -”

“In two centuries I’ve never seen a better pair of legs.”

She tilted her head and flashed a sultry smile. “Why Lucian! And all this time I thought you liked boys. Maybe now you can explain why we spend two-thirds of our time flirting, and the other third pretending we’re not attracted to one another.”

The humor melted from his mouth. “How’s your salad?”

“What?”

“Your salad. I hope you enjoy it, because I can’t remember what food tastes like. Does that answer your question?”

“That’s a coward’s way out.”

“Precisely.” He stood, gathering his overcoat from an adjacent chair. “Enjoy your lunch, Alana.”

He was halfway to the front door before frustration propelled her in his wake. Determined, she caught him in the lobby and tugged him off to the side.

“You didn’t let me finish.” Her voice was clipped, tremulous with emotion. She looked up at him, jet black hair splayed over her shoulders, heart in her throat. “I’m almost twenty-eight, single, attractive – – and yes, damn it, sexy – – but I can’t find a man to hold my interest. In the last three years I’ve dated a district attorney, a pilot, even a professional race car driver. But every one left me feeling empty. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t do this. I shouldn’t have asked you for honesty.”

“Are you afraid of the truth?”

He closed his eyes, his expression pained. In the limited light she could see the sweep of his lashes behind his dark lenses. “I’m afraid to admit the truth. There’s a difference.”

“What are you saying?”

Rather than reply, he wrenched her close. She felt the crush of his lips against hers, the taste of him like exotic spice and midnight skies. Heady sensation streaked through her, bold, almost painful. She raised a hand, gripping the back of his neck, unwilling to let go.  

“Excuse me, miss.”

She tensed, annoyed by the voice. The intrusive braying voice that did not belong to her beloved vampire. Lucian started to pull away, and she made a soft sound in the back of her throat. The voice came again, insistently this time. “Miss.”

What is it?” Infuriated, she spun on the intruder. Lost in Lucian’s kiss, she had momentarily forgotten where she was, what she was doing. Reality crashed around her when she realized she’d made a spectacle of herself. A small group of people still waiting to be seated were glancing in her direction, a few whispering behind their hands. The man who’d taken her lunch order held out her coat, his expression stuffy.

“You left this at your table, Miss. I thought you might need it given how cold it is outside.” His glance slid sideways to Lucian, and his mouth compressed in a line of distaste. “Although you seemed warm enough a moment ago.”

Lucian bowed his head, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Mortals,” he muttered so that only she heard.

Laughing, Alana snagged the coat. “I suppose you’d like us to pay for the lunch as well?” she asked the waiter.

He raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t ordered dessert.”

Lucian dug for his wallet. “The lady and I will have that outside. Without an audience.”  He slanted a glance in her direction that sent a spike of heat cascading down her spine.

She flushed, delighted to realize he’d found something to suit his unique taste after all.

~ooOOoo~