Darcy Peel, haunted by the past and strange erotic dreams of a young woman and a Indian warrior, has left her academic career in California to come back home to Arizona to find out what happened to her sister who has disappeared in a canyon believed by many to be haunted. Her first day back, she meets Alan Brandt, a lethally attractive deputy. She knows she should avoid him and their obvious sexual energy and concentrate on her mission.
In this scene, and against her better judgment, she has gone with him to her girlhood home on the Little Springs River. She has followed her intuition that her sister left something in a hidden cave behind the huge “jump-off” rock, she and her siblings always used to jump into the river. This rock outcrop juts out from the cliff that defines the course of the river. She has found something in the cave and memories start to assail her as she is driven out of the cave by a supernatural energy. That energy, she realizes, is all tied up with the overly helpful deputy—who is so similar to the ghost warrior in her dream/visions.
Tumbling out of the cave, barely holding on to the pieces of paper, Darcy scrambled to her feet and stared at the desert broom whipping torturously back and forth. The gust of wind causing it pushed her back several steps, her feet again in the water. She turned toward the jump off, took a step and halted. Someone stood at the top of the rock. A girl?
Darcy walked toward the massive stone. Oh my god, this happened before. Just like this, when they all dashed out of the cave. The gusting wind swept them out as if they were dust, and then they had seen her—the girl, like a ghost standing on the rock in her long skirt and floppy hat. She thought of the other day on the river, and the voice saying “Emmaline.” Was this Emmaline?
The memory was so vivid, so real—was she there now? Darcy closed her eyes and rubbed her hands over her face. When she opened her eyes, the girl was gone. A blur of movement to the side then a large, male shape appeared.
Alan’s voice broke into her thoughts, scattering them to the four winds. “Darcy! Are you all right?”
He stood at the top of the rock. Darcy shaded her eyes against the glare of the sunlight beyond the overhang of the cliff. The play of light behind him cast a halo around his body. She blinked. Standing there like that, he looked naked. An image of bare glistening skin over toned, bulging muscles played tag with the real scene.
She made the connection once again between Alan and the dream warrior, or captor, or lover, whatever he was, in her dreams. Her body responded with a flush of heat from cheeks to toes.
“Are you okay?”
She couldn’t respond, staring at him as she was with her mouth open.
He moved to the edge of the rock. “I’m coming down.”
“No! I mean, no need to come down, I’m okay.”
Please just stay there. She wasn’t prepared to share the cave with him or have his energy, his beautiful sexy body, confuse or throw off what she was experiencing. She rubbed her arms, that tingling feeling of excitement like claws raking over her skin, a confusing sensual mixture of fear and arousal. This was maddening. Why did this keep happening with him—okay, which him? The ghost or the deputy?
“Get a hold of yourself, Darcy Peel,” she said half-aloud then stuffed the pages into a deep pocket on her cargo shorts and grabbed a glance at the little lagoon/swimming hole. Focus! Her gaze took in the main flow of water she could see from her vantage point. She listened for the sound of fast-moving water. All seemed okay—water as languid as before. She took a deep breath then looked up. “Where’s the sun?”
A pause before he repeated. “Where’s the sun?”
“Yes, can you see it? Is it in the right position?”
Another pause. “Yes, I see it. It’s right where it’s supposed to be.”
Darcy scowled at his placating-the-child tone of voice.
“Okay, I’m coming down,” Alan decided, forestalling any further objections. He used toeholds on the jump-off rock and the cliff face to ease down and then was beside her. “Are you sure you weren’t—watch out!”
He threw himself against her, crushing her into the brush and the cliff behind. In the next seconds, he moved so fast she saw only a blur in the shadowed light of their position. He grabbed and threw something colorful away, its sinuous movement like a pennant carried off by the wind.
Startled and confused, Darcy looked up at Alan’s flushed face. “What happened? Was that a coral snake?” She grabbed his hands and looked for punctures. “I need better light!”
“Oh, it wasn’t a coral snake.”
“How do you know? Did you see the bands of color around its body? ‘Red touches yellow, kills a fellow’ you know.
“It’s a rhyme to help identify the colors on venomous snakes. You must not be from around here.”
Alan chuckled. “Well, I didn’t stop to analyze the stripes.” He stilled her hands by folding them in his. “I’m okay. But you’re shaking.”
She pulled away. “Alan, are you crazy? You picked it up. You caught a rattlesnake in midair and threw it over the cliff!”
“Wait a minute. Rattlesnake? The cliff?”
Darcy glanced around. A memory had clicked in her mind—like a camera capturing a vivid image—where she saw a steep trail, a rattlesnake striking, then it being hurled over a rocky ledge.
Alan’s warm hand settled on her shoulder. “Darcy?” He turned her toward him and said something. A strange confusion made it hard to concentrate, but it sounded like he said, “zoning out again.” He slid his hands down her arms. “Rattlesnakes don’t have red next to yellow or whatever the rhyme says and we aren’t on a cliff. Though I feel like I’m falling off of one whenever you’re around. Now, what is going on with you?”
After a few seconds with no response, he placed a hand on the side of her face and stepped closer. “What is going on with us?”
The strange energy was back—a low-level charge of electricity that coursed through her flesh, heightening every touch. Her body hummed with the contact. And she could tell, by the way he was looking at her, that he vibrated on the same wavelength.
I shouldn’t have brought him here!
She took a step back. “Nothing, Alan. Nothing is going on with us. Like I’ve said before it’s just me. I’m going through…something.”
He closed the space she had just made. “Well, gorgeous, looks like I’m going through it with you. And I want to know what the heck ‘it’ is.” He ran the backs of his fingers up and down her arms. “Don’t you?”
Darcy started to say something in response but each stroke down her arm seemed to excite far more intimate flesh. “I—”
A stiff breeze swept through the tight area and abused that poor desert broom again, saving Darcy from trying to say something coherent. Alan turned and stared at the spot of the hidden ingress. “Whoa, did you see that? I think there’s an opening there. See? Air is coming from behind the brush.”
Darcy put her hand on his arm. “No. No, it just seems that way.”
“I think I see an opening. Is there a cave?”
“No! It’s just a small crevice in the cliff, as I recall,” She tightened her grip. The few fingernails she had left dug into his flesh.
He ignored the sharp pressure on his arm and took another step toward the swaying brush. “What is this place?” he asked. Then his voice lowered and tip-toed into the next question. “Have I been here before?”
“I’m sure you would have remembered. Now look, I’ve hurt my foot—” Huh? She looked down, wiggled it in the sand and flexed it. She’d been walking on it with no pain. Okay. Don’t think about that now. “Can we just go?”
He turned to her. “I knew it. You’re hurt.” He made a quick survey of the jump-off and the swimming hole—and her bare feet. “Seems I’ll have to carry you out of here.”
Darcy was glad she’d distracted him from her secret, but wasn’t so sure she’d helped that other predicament when he picked her up. She made an embarrassing squeaky noise and wrapped her arms around his neck. In three long strides, they were at the jump-off rock.
“Alan, I can walk. What are you doing?”
He took a deep breath, shifted her weight and looked at her, his mouth inches from hers. “Hell, I really don’t know. I don’t think I’ve known since I met you.” He slipped his arm from under her knees letting her feet touch the ground but he didn’t let her step away. “But I knew, right from the moment I met you, what I wanted to do.”
He wrapped one arm around her waist, bringing her body flush with his. She heard his sharp intake of breath, felt the sweet abrasion of his chest against her breasts. He exhaled in a rush and cradled her even closer. “Now, I’m shaking,” he whispered. “That static electricity is at it again.” His hand moved up her back pushed into her hair, forcing it out of the loosened hold of the hair band. His breath brushed the side of her face and his lips found the tender part of her neck just below the ear. “God, I want you.”
A change seemed to come over him, intent, urgent. The simmering heat in his words and the sweet pull of his mouth as he sucked the sensitive skin on her neck undid her. Her legs weakened as did her resolve. Her head fell to the side to give him more access but out of the corner of her eye, she caught a faint red glow at the cave’s entrance. She stiffened. “Alan, I—we need to go.”
He moved back but put his hands the on rock face behind her bracketing her between his arms. “Is that a full ‘Stop,’ or can I ‘Proceed with Caution’? Because I’ve been on this wild ride since I met you, and I really think this just has to happen.” Before she could protest, he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers.
Startled by the sudden movement and the heading-straight-to-coitus tone in his voice, she gripped his forearms, intending to push him back and stop this before it got out of control. But his soft, warm mouth pressing and molding with hers so sweet and undemanding surprised her. He truly was shaking, trying, she realized, to hold himself at bay. He shifted his weight and drew back. His gaze locked on hers as he took a deep, ragged breath. “Tell me to stop and I will.” He kissed her again, as if stopping was nowhere on the agenda, then broke away and again braced his arms on the rock wall behind her. He put his forehead against hers. “But tell me now.”
A tiny moan vibrated in her throat and she opened her mouth under his, forgetting where they were or the palpable energy emanating from the cave. He took the offering and stroked her tongue with his, giving her the feel and taste of him that she’d been craving all along.
She entwined her arms around his neck and he shifted in response. He pressed his knee between her legs and filled the space with his hard body, his erection positioned against her moistening mons. He deepened his kiss and swayed back and forth in a firm, erotic caress.
A whisper. “You’re here. You’re finally here.”
Darcy pulled back. She looked at Alan but he hadn’t said it and didn’t seem to hear it. Instead, he took the opportunity to put both hands behind her and press her closer.
“God, why do I feel like I’ve been with you before?” he asked. “My hands remember the feel of you—how you fit against me.” He kissed her again, bit, and suckled her fevered lips. “I know before I even take you how sweet it is to be inside you. How can I know this?”
She was aware of the heightening sexual excitement in him. It rippled through her, as well, when a whispered entreaty pressed against her ear. “Please stay with me.”
Darcy swayed in Alan’s arms. What? She looked at his face. She was sure he hadn’t spoken. Whose voice is that?
“I’m not going anywhere,” Alan said against her mouth before trailing kisses across her jaw. “There’s no way—” He kissed her mouth. “—I’d stop this, now.”
Darcy felt his teeth against the skin of her neck, and all she wanted was for him to take her. Now. Hard. She craved his powerful body moving, thrusting, working deep into her flesh. She pressed against him, reveling in the feel of him, letting the energy that sparked between their bodies dance along her skin wherever they touched.
In the back of her sluggish mind, she realized this response was so out of control for her. What was going on?
The voice again, a hoarse whisper, “I am but a ghost without you.”
Alan brought his hand up to her breast, closed over her, kneaded, and pressed. Darcy’s head fell back and she sighed in response to the exquisite pleasure.
“After waiting so long—without you—” he said.
Then she stiffened in his arms as the context of his words broke through, ‘not going anywhere,’ ‘after waiting so long,’ ‘without you.’ Had he heard the voice, too?
“Alan?” she said placing her hands between them to push against his chest.
Nuzzling her neck, then nipping at her ear lobe and moving, if anything, even closer, he murmured something she couldn’t make out.
Then the sound of splashing, the rattle of metal, and the whinny of a horse broke through the sexual energy of the moment with the sharp, cold edge of reality.
It’s no mystery why Krista Lynn writes about the high desert of Arizona. She grew up on a gold mine about 60 miles north of Phoenix. The closest neighbor was 6 miles or so down the Agua Fria River, or another 20 miles by dirt road. The magic and spirit of a rugged, isolated landscape where mysteries are carried on the wind, and whispered in your sleep are the multi-colored threads woven into her series of romantic supernatural suspense set in the high desert of Arizona.
Before embarking on the writer’s path, Krista taught physical geography and GIS courses at CSUF and Fresno City College before taking an Academic Coordinator position at UC Davis Cooperative Extension where she built a GIS program to assist agricultural research. She lives in California with her husband and a menagerie of dogs, goats and one spoiled horse while continuing to write the Canyon Trilogy and an anthology of cozy mysteries.
Please welcome another debut author from my RWA chapter, Yosemite Romance Writers. 😉 Kris is such a gifted writer and artist. She designed that gorgeous cover and has done a bunch of great work for other authors and our Fresno chapter. I can’t wait to have time to read this book.
A HERO to HOLD
Disillusioned by the scandal that took her husband, Viscountess Charlotte Haliday will return to London and come face to face—and mouth to mouth—with a wounded war hero, the best man she has ever known.
First Kiss Snippet:
After all she’d borne at the hands of society, Charlotte had thought herself immune to insult, but for some reason this man’s failure to show her the most basic courtesy cut sharp. A lump lodged in her throat. Then his gaze went past her. She’d run out of time.
She turned to find the baroness. Everything about the woman glowed: her satiny dress, her golden hair, the breathtaking necklace of yellow diamonds at her throat, even her amber eyes. Charlotte and Lady Garret were of similar height, yet the woman’s aura left Charlotte feeling dwarfed. This was the witch who had destroyed her marriage, made her a pariah among her peers, fabricated a despicable persona that all of society now assumed was Charlotte herself. It had been almost two years, but it seemed like yesterday Lady Garret penned her novelette, published and distributed it amongst her acquaintances. Those pages had left Charlotte blackballed from society.
“Lady Haliday, what a pleasure.”
The malicious edge of humor in the baroness’s voice made her words a parody, and resentment speared Charlotte. “You’re a poor liar, Lady Garret, and you really needn’t expend the effort. I’m immune to your poison.”
The baroness noticed their silent companion, whose gaze was fixed upon her. “What, no introduction, my lady?”
The man did not react in any way. Well, Charlotte decided, at least he dealt out rudeness impartially.
The man shot her a look, brows lifting as if in question—as if he knew her and was silently communicating. Following blind instinct, Charlotte settled herself next to him on the empty half of the settee. She felt immediately and impossibly steadied.
Lady Garret’s mouth firmed, and her attention returned to Charlotte. “I’m surprised to see you here, my lady. Especially tucked away in a corner with a gentleman. It’s been a mere eighteen months since your husband passed. I’d go so far as to say this makes a mockery of his memory.”
Charlotte schooled her expression to one of polite interest. She would not show Lady Garret even an inkling of distress.
“I’d guess your actions will provide society with some entertainment,” the baroness continued. “A bit of a scandal is always appreciated. At least, it amuses me. It might even inspire me to pen another novel.”
A slow smile curled her enemy’s lips, and a quivering beset Charlotte deep inside. She kept her vision fixed on the baroness’s glittering eyes and wrapped her hand around the edge of the divan seat, anchoring herself. Over and over, for the past year she’d imagined this meeting. God willing, she would prevail.
She leaned back against the divan and forced her shoulders to relax. She had to appear confident, so she concentrated on keeping her voice composed. “I’m no longer that naive young woman you manipulated and tried to destroy. This time I won’t stand by while you spread lies about me. I’m not afraid of you, and I won’t crumble.”
The gentleman beside her turned his head, the chilly look gone from his eyes. Like heat from the sun, waves of quiet strength radiated from him and emboldened Charlotte. She marshaled her thoughts, leaned forward just enough to lend emphasis to her words, and continued with a harder voice. “You tell lies about me again, and I’ll make sure all of London is familiar with your machinations and your wicked soul. Until then, I’ll leave you be.”
Lady Garret’s eyes narrowed to mere slits. “How dare you threaten me?”
Charlotte did not look away. Didn’t this woman understand that she had already been consumed by the fire of scandal and risen from the ashes?
“You can say whatever you like about me,” she vowed. “You can tell all of London you saw me walk naked down the center of Regent Street. I don’t care. If it happens again, this time I won’t hide myself away—and I’ll make sure no one believes you.”
She felt the man sit straighter beside her, and a sudden desire to do something actually outrageous overcame Charlotte. To do something worthy of gossip, possibly even scandalous, and to do it without a care for the watchful eyes of Lady Garret. The thought left her giddy, and Charlotte closed her eyes to steady herself. Such an act would prove beyond all doubt that she had no fear of the baroness.
The gentleman beside her still radiated waves of quiet heat. His hand rested on the divan, and before she could consider the wisdom of her idea, Charlotte found herself caught up in it. She placed her hand atop his and laced their fingers. He tensed, and her heart began to race. What was she thinking? And yet, her daring thrilled her as nothing ever had, and when Charlotte looked at Lady Garret and saw the baroness struggling to hide her surprise, suddenly she was sure.
“At least this time,” she announced, “what you write will be based on truth instead of falsehood.”
In the grip of something foreign and reckless, Charlotte turned to the gentleman, gazed into his eyes and curled her hand around the back of his head. He resisted a bit as she drew him near, but she couldn’t afford to hesitate now. She didn’t relent.
A little shock ran through her as their lips touched. She felt his hesitancy and tightened her hold, some part of her still aware. Then his lips moved, and what had started out as the softest touch became firm.
A tremor took up residence in her marrow as she returned the pressure of his mouth. She’d kissed no man but Haliday, and she’d thought one kiss must be much the same as another, but this man’s kiss was…different. Even the smell of him—the starch of his shirt, the enticing aroma of citrus and cloves and maleness—was unique. For a long moment Charlotte was lost in his solid heat, in the slide of his gloved hand along her jaw. Then, in the periphery of her awareness, she heard the rustle of skirts. Lady Garret was leaving.
Too dazed to feel triumphant, Charlotte placed her hand on the strange man’s chest and gently pushed until their lips separated. She stared into bottomless blue eyes that brimmed with warmth, felt the tension in him, knew his breathing came as hard and fast as hers. Then his hand gripped her waist and pulled her back. His lips dragged over hers, nudged hers apart, and he captured her again in a warm, luscious kiss that burst upon her senses with a completeness that obliterated everything else.
She was lost. She’d been married four years, but never had desire swept over her like this. It confused her, frightened her even, but soon all thought fell away and Charlotte was left to revel in sensation. The man’s hands slid up her back and brought her breasts and hip hard against him. His chest was broader and firmer than her husband’s had been, and she nestled into his arms as if she’d been made to fit there. His tongue stroked hers, and her breath caught and heat ripped through her.
A confused, distressed little noise escaped her. The man abruptly pulled away.
Trembling, gasping, Charlotte looked into a shuttered face and humiliation crashed down. What had she done? What had she been thinking? She didn’t even know this man’s name. Fiery heat enveloped her, and her face burned. She thought she might expire of embarrassment. How could she have done such a thing?
“Oh!” She pressed her fingers to her lips, staring.
If Charlotte thought the man looked unhappy before, he now looked absolutely thunderous. Lips narrowed to a grim line, he held his shoulders rigid like a soldier standing at attention.
“Oh!” She jumped to her feet and saw his eyes flare. She had to leave, find someplace quiet and try to figure out what had happened tonight. She opened her mouth to ask the man’s name, to tell him hers and apologize, but the ridiculousness of the situation stopped her. The man had spoken no more than one sentence in her presence. Perhaps if they remained strangers she could pretend this event hadn’t occurred. She didn’t even know if he was married!
She backed toward the doorway.
The grim command in his voice made her pause. His hand reached out, but she whirled and broke from the alcove. She headed straight for the veranda door, wanting only to escape into the dark night until she could compose herself.
She attracted some attention from the way she hurried, weaving her way around the revelers, but finally she gained the solitude and deep shadows of the veranda. Her chest heaved as if she’d run a footrace. The cool night air soothed her heated cheeks, but inside emptiness twisted, left her aching.
He could have come after her, but he’d not.
After a satisfying career as an Emergency Room nurse, Sheri Humphreys closed the book on her diverse nursing experiences and followed a lifelong love for writing and historical romance to a new vocation as a writer. She lives with a Jack Russell mix rescue, Lucy, in a small town on the central California coast.
You can connect with Sheri here:
I’m so excited to share this debut release from my old friend, Sheri. We were both in a writing group way…back…when. She went on to a flourishing career in nursing–still writing in her spare time, while I…well, you know my story. If you’re a fan of historical romance, you won’t want to miss this dynamic book. I LOVED the snippet, didn’t you? I do believe my heart is racing a bit. 😉