Purty Privies won the Preditors & Editors Reader’s Choice in 2013 and 2014. Dante’s Gift, the first in A Chicago Christmas series, received the 2016 Golden Quill, Aspen Gold
and Heart of Excellence awards.
The surrounding mist climbed Melissa’s boots and swirled in and around her legs like an affectionate cat. Gentle but firm, it pushed her inside the magical forest. The stillness of the place struck her. The kind of hush that fell over a room when something significant was about to happen. Her heart raced in anticipation. In front of her towered a massive Hawthorne tree with charred branches that seemed to welcome her. Between the gnarled limbs was a large blackened hole that filled the center of the trunk.
“I have been waiting for you.” She jumped at the sound of an old man’s voice. She screamed as a face appeared in the tree. “I do not mean to frighten you, child. I admire your courage. It’s a quality essential to your future.”
“Why am I here?” Melissa asked.
“To meet your Fate,” answered the raspy voice. The distant sound of hoof beats distracted the ghost–like image. “And he has arrived.”
Melissa turned toward the forest opening in confusion. “The mist…”
“Yea, it conceals our home from trespassers on the outside but does not impede our view from within.” The elderly man chuckled. “Rolf did not exaggerate your beauty.”
The hammering of hooves grew nearer.
“Ah.” The old man shook his head, regret in his eyes. “I must go.”
Horse and rider burst through the tree line. A presence enveloped her, an aura she recognized… The man on the hill. The same man that entered her mind each night. And his name was Rolf.
The great black beast came to a stop before her; an agitated snort escaped his flared nostrils. The stranger dismounted in a swirl of black cloak and raw strength. His eyes—glittering like gilded gold—fastened upon her, stealing her breath. In one fluid motion, he wrapped a powerful arm around her waist and pulled her hard against his chest.
He spoke only one word. “Melissa.”
Her body’s response to him frightened her—already she gave in to his demands willingly. The nearness of him sent Melissa’s blood pounding through her ears. “Rolf?” she whispered, clinging to him, afraid to raise her eyes.
His fingers lightly stroked her cheek and sent a shudder through her body. He lifted her chin, bent his head, and then paused. Uncertain, she found the courage to look up, her mouth half–open in a silent question. The intensity and passion in those hawk-like eyes told her he now claimed her as his own. Their breath mingled for a moment before his lips brushed hers. Then she threw back her head, surrendered to the sheer pleasure of his kiss, and her world shattered.
The soft touch of his mouth sent a shiver through her soul that made her knees buckle. His chest was hard beneath her palms. He buried his fingers in her hair and forced her head back, demanding more. She clutched at his surcoat to keep herself upright.
“I must have you,” he murmured as his teeth nipped her earlobe. His breath tickled and teased her neck. One hand roamed the length of her back, sending waves of heat to her core. His manhood pushed against her skirt.
Melissa struggled to free herself from this spell, this desire that brought with it a hunger she’d never known. Her betrothed waited somewhere beyond the trees, and she knew instinctively this meeting would cause them both grief. Even as her mind told her to run, her heart kept her rooted in place. She stopped resisting, leaned into him, and gave way to pure passion.
But as her mouth opened to return the kiss, he slipped away. Her eyes flew open, and his image wavered then faded into the darkness. “Come back to me. Do not leave me like this,” she cried.
Melissa awoke, the tears wet upon her cheeks. Emptiness burned in her stomach. She wrapped her arms around herself and curled into a tight ball to shield her body from the pain. She should not have hesitated.