Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Herald Of The Zombie Prince

My eyes fluttered open but I found myself still covered in darkness. I blinked several times to clear my vision but not a single pin-prick of light found its way to my retinas, but of course for all I knew the beating I’d taken over the past few days could have caused some ocular damage.

The chair under me was bare steel, cold and hard, but still a welcome break from hanging from a chain by my wrists as I had since being brought to this place. My body ached from the myriad of tortures they had visited upon me in an attempt to get the information they wanted, yet I hadn’t broken and I attributed that to my years of training.

The skin across my stomach was red, blistered and burnt from electrocution, the tips of three fingers were crusted in blood where my nails had been, and the simple act of breathing made me acutely aware of at least two broken ribs. They wanted that information badly.

I heard a door open somewhere, the metal hinges grinding just before the sound of boots echoed through the air. Less than a minute later the door to my cell opened and the sudden flood of light stabbed at my eyes, making them water and giving me an instant headache.

Fluorescent lights flickered on around me, giving off their watery glow and casting deep shadows into the corners of the room. When opening my eyes seemed like something I could do without dying I lifted my lids, letting myself acclimate slowly before fully opening my eyes.

Before me stood the most unassuming man I’d ever seen. No taller than five foot eight, average build leaning toward plump and thinning, non-descript brown hair that was cut short but shaggy. His face held not a single remarkable feature, and I knew this is what made him efficient; five minutes after seeing him most people wouldn’t be able to recall what he looked like.

“Good morning, Simone.” His voice was just as forgettable as the rest of him, but I was surprised he knew who I was since I hadn’t even given up my name to my captors. He stepped toward me, his stride slow and deliberate, hands in his pockets, stopping when the tips of this polished shoes bumped my bare toes.

He spent a full minute staring at me, his brown eyes narrowing periodically as he cocked his head from one side to the other as though trying to puzzle something out. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, folding his arms across his chest.

“I don’t care if you’re the herald of the zombie prince Jesus.” My voice was raw from screaming, and having to speak made me want to whimper like a wet kitten.

His smile was humorless, bordering on sinister, and I actually had the wherewithal to be afraid. The lackeys who had beaten me over the last few days didn’t instill the kind of fear in me that this man did, and I knew that I either had to escape or he would kill me.

“I can’t quite figure you out, Simone,” he said, rocking from the balls of his feet to the heel and back again. “It’s almost as though you enjoy the pain when all you have to do is tell me what I want to know. Easy peasy, right?” I remained quiet, which brought a frown to his face. “Very well, have it your way.”

The next day and a half pit my will against his, and in the wake of a new level of pain there were many times I was hair’s breadth from telling him what he wanted to know just to bring the agony to an end. I slipped in and out of consciousness, welcoming the spells of utter blackness where I felt nothing, and wondering if this would be the one from which I wouldn’t wake.

When I woke it took me several moments to process the fact that I was no longer in that dark cell, no longer cold. I was still in pain, but it was muted, the edge dulled by medication that was being fed to me through a tube. I moved my head slowly, taking in the white walls, white sheets, white floor and white lights, slowly recognizing the sector medical facilities and feeling a sense of relief I hadn’t expected I would ever feel again.

Glancing to my right I stared at the sleeping form of my partner where he slouched in a chair at my bedside, his long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle, arms folded over his chest. His sandy hair was unkempt, and his clothes looked like he’d been wearing them for a week; I would have smiled if I knew it wouldn’t hurt.

“Darren?” My voice was less than a whisper, but it was enough to snap him upright in his chair, his hazel eyes darting around the room before coming to rest on me. He scooted the chair closer and gently took my hand, being careful of the needles and tubes plugged into it.

“Simone.” He said my name like an answered prayer.

“How long….”

“Three days,” he answered, brushing my hair out of my eyes. “I thought I might lose you.”

“It’ll take… more than…. torture… “

Darren laughed, shushing me. We stared at each other for several minutes, and in my eyes he read my question. “We got the information we needed. Sheridon is still alive, but he’s being held only until you’re well, then he’s yours to do with as you please.”

I shook my head slowly and Darren frowned at me. “Kill him. I won’t…. be… like him.”

It was his turn to shake his head, smiling softly at me. “As you wish, I’ll gladly mete out his punishment, and he’ll pay for almost taking you from me.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Agitated Garden Gnome

I’d wandered through the forest in search of Wiley for three days. He had disappeared inexplicably and my baby sister had thrown a fit, waking the whole clan with her tantrum, and my mother begged me to look for him. So here I was, tromping through part of the woods I knew belonged to another clan, my feet cold and wet and my tummy growling for food.

With an exasperated sigh I sat down on a fallen log and pulled a strip of venison jerky from my pack, gnawing at it and savoring its savory flavor. Wiley had only ever been trouble from the moment he showed up, always getting into places he didn’t belong, eating things he shouldn’t be eating and causing enough mischief to give our leader a perpetual headache.

He had only been allowed to stay because my sister adored him, and from the time she was born we were all told she was fated to deliver our people from our forced nomad lifestyle so she got what she wanted. Unfortunately, all the doting had turned her into a spoiled brat, and I was counting the days until I turned 21 and was free to leave the clan.

I was tired of wandering, hoping the place we settled wasn’t owned by people who were afraid of us or felt threatened to the point of chasing us off at sword point. I wanted to live in a real house, eat at a real table and sleep in a real bed. I’d only been in a regular bed once, just over a year before with the daughter of a landowner who didn’t mind us camping on his property.

That single spontaneous night was spent entangled in Anne’s willowy limbs. The feel of her skin against mine, softer than the silk of her sheets, made me hate my own bed roll and it pained me to leave her when the sky blushed pink. She had laced her fingers into my hair and kissed me, hard and bruising, making me swear I would return; it was a promise I made willingly.

And now here I sat, more than a year later, searching for a mangy fox to pacify my spoiled sister when I wanted nothing more than to wrap myself in Anne’s warmth and passion. With a sigh I rose to my feet, brushing leaves and dirt from the seat of my breeches as I set out again, following the faint signs Wiley had left behind.

The sound of yelling floated through the air, a high pitched voice speaking so rapidly I couldn’t clearly make out any one word. Following the sound I emerged into a small clearing and stared wide-eyes at the small agitated garden gnome who was fending Wiley off with a stick.

“Hello?” I said, drawing the gnome’s attention as well as the fox’s. Wiley turned, and recognizing me he bounded through the grass to lay at my feet, rolling onto his back in the hopes of some tummy rubs. Bending down I scooped him up, looping a rope around his neck to ensure he wouldn’t get away again, all the while the gnome watched me with angry black eyes.

“Thatbeasttriedtoeatmyfaceoff!!!” he screeched, his rapid speech making a single word out of many, and I fought back the urge to laugh.

“My apologies, good sir,” I said, bending at the waist and bowing to the tiny man. “This creature belongs to Aurora, destined savior of the Wanderers. I’ve been hunting him three days now and I thank you for your help in capturing him.”

“Justgoanddon’tcomeback!” the little man shouted, turning on his heel and disappearing into the undergrowth, still cursing about Wiley all the while.

I made the trek home in a day, not having to take the time to look for signs, clues or trails to track the sly red fox, and I emerged into camp to a cacophony of noise. Greetings and cheers rose up around me as I walked past lean-tos and sleeping pallets, making my way to my family tent.

My mother and sister emerged and looked around, clearly trying to figure out what all the ruckus was, and spotting me my sister ran toward me and pulled the red fox from my arms. I didn’t get so much as a thank you from her or a welcome home from my mother, and the lack of such a simple nicety pushed me over the edge I hadn’t known I was at.

“Mother, I’m leaving, and I won’t be back.” My voice was very matter-of-fact and the look on her face told me she didn’t believe me; her look changed however when I turned and headed back out of camp.

No one tried to stop me, I suspected they all thought I was bluffing and would be back when I ran out of food or the weather got bad. What they didn’t know was that I was dead serious, only this time what I was tracking had long ebony hair, emerald eyes and slept on sheets of silk with arms open and waiting for me.

Fool's Journey

We are all of us fools, paupers and princes alike. I’d forgotten where I’d heard this, but with this phrase making endless circles through my mind I waited patiently for the airplane to touch down in Rome. I was the fool, more the fool for letting myself get lost in another person’s identity, thoroughly losing my own in the process.

Samuel was a force to be reckoned with, his personality so overpowering it was all but impossible not to feel like clover in the shadow of an oak, and I had allowed myself to cushion his feet for six years. Sometimes he stepped lightly, like butterfly kisses across my cheek. Sometimes he stepped hard, fists and stone words bruising me inside and out.

I had managed to toss a few things into a single suitcase after he’d left for work: clothes, toiletries, a handful of photos, everything else was left behind. I felt like a coward, slinking out of my own home as though I had no right to expect better treatment, and yet the moment the door had clicked shut behind me I felt like I could finally breathe.

I didn’t think Samuel would miss me, and I was fairly sure he would quickly find a replacement on which to inflict himself, but I couldn’t think about that poor woman’s fate; I couldn’t save them all. I was focused singularly on rediscovering who I was, so much so that I hadn’t even noticed our descent until the tires hit the tarmac.

To choose a destination I had quite literally spun the globe on my way out of the house, closed my eyes and jammed my finger against it, bringing the textured sphere to an abrupt halt. Under my finger was Italy, and without a second thought I made that my destination, determined to create a new life for myself.

It was hard at first; learning the language and learning the city, but learning to live was the hardest part. It was months before I stopped jumping at every raised male voice I heard, and even longer before I could bring myself to go on a date.

Italian men were much as the stereotype described: they talked with their hands, thought very highly of themselves and assumed that every woman wanted them. But, as with all stereotypes there were many things that outshined the small percentage of common perceptions, and I eventually found myself hopelessly in love with a passionate, kind and gentle man.

Mario’s hands talked all right, they talked to my body with feathery touches. He thought highly of himself, but wasn’t arrogant. He did think every woman wanted him, but that was fine with me because to him I was every woman. I was amazed on a daily basis that it was possible to be so happy.

The day I opened the door expecting the pizza delivery man and instead found myself staring into Samuel’s face instead was the day I experience real fear for the first time. In all the years I’d spent being abused, I’d never experienced true terror because it was only me that was in danger; now there was another target.

“Briana.” Samuel’s voice was absolutely even, no rise or fall in the tone, and I knew from experience that he was at his scariest and most dangerous when he used that voice.

“Samuel,” I replied, absolutely certain he could hear my heart hammering against my sternum. “What are you doing here?” I mustered every ounce of will I had and stayed in the doorway, blocking his entry as best as I could.

“Is that question even necessary?” he asked in the same even tone, his pale blue eyes boring into my brown ones.

“I thought you’d have just moved on,” I said, “Found someone else.”

Before he could reply Mario’s voice drifted from the back of the house, asking in Italian what was keeping me, and panic was plain on my face. Samuel moved as though to come inside and I stepped into his path, leaving one sweaty palm on the doorknob and laying the other on the doorframe.

“You need to go,” I said quietly, “There is nothing for you here now.”

Samuel’s blue eyes narrowed on me, and it felt like he was looking for a chink in my armor through which he could hurt me, and I lifted my chin a notch, hoping the apparent defiance would prove to be a successful bluff.

“What’s going on, love?” Mario asked, appearing behind me and laying his hands gently on my shoulders.

I could feel the press of him at my back and was both relieved to have him there, and terrified Samuel would hurt him. Before I could reply; however, Samuel spoke, a polite smile splitting his face.

“I seem to have the wrong house.” He shifted his eyes to lock with mine. “The person I was looking for isn’t here anymore.” With a small nod he turned on his heel and made his way down the walk, passing the pizza delivery man on his way.

Mario paid for our dinner and carried the box into the kitchen, pulling me along behind by the hand. As he busied himself with getting plates and pouring wine I stood and fought to keep from trembling, very aware how close this fool’s journey had come to ending.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Old Glory

I pulled into the parking lot of my old high school, nosing my car between painted lines and killing the motor. I sat in the quiet interior for several minutes without moving, just staring at the campus before me, and when I finally climbed out and my feet hit the asphalt a flood of memories washed over me. I paused and took several deep breaths before making my way up the main path.

The school was made up of separate hexagon shaped buildings, the cedar shingles black with age and I was overwhelmed at the vivid images that raced through my mind as I walked. There were the stairs where me and my one friend ate lunch every day, there was my senior locker, and there was the pay phone from which I’d call the office posing as my mom to excuse my sister when she ditched.

There wasn’t much that had changed in the 20 years since I’d graduated, and pausing by the office door I looked up at Old Glory flying overhead, feeling sorry that it was fated to be in high school forever. I walked the entirety of the campus, reliving so many memories both good and bad that by the time I climbed back into my car I was emotionally exhausted.

I drove back to my friend Wes’ house and flopped down onto the sofa with a sigh. Wordlessly he appeared and offered me a beer, taking his and sitting down beside me, an inquisitive yet knowing smile on his face.

“So, how was it?” he asked, taking a swig of Corona from the bottle.

I sighed and took a drink of my own beer, turning in my seat to face him, staring intently into his brown eyes. He was one of my wisest friends, and I relied on his insight and intuition to keep things in perspective lest my crazy imagination get the better of me.

“It was the same, and yet vastly different,” I finally answered. “Why did everything then seem so earth shattering when it was really unimportant? And why do the things we eventually recognize as stupid continue to impact us even all these years later?” It was an earnest question, I really wanted to know and my plea for an explanation was plain on my face.

He smiled slyly and shrugged one shoulder before taking another drink. “At that age there’s no perspective; few people have experienced at 17 what they have experienced at 40. It only continues to impact us if we let it, but it takes work to slough off those scars.”

I took another swallow of my beer and dropped my head back against the cushions, closing my eyes and trying to imagine what the evening would be like. It was my 20 year reunion and the idea of seeing people who had either ignored me, or who had been downright mean, was enough to tie my stomach into knots. Wes had agreed to go along as my date even though he graduated the year after me, but it was a small town and he knew everyone from my class.

“Come on, get up,” he said, rising to his feet and holding his hand out to me, “It’s time to start getting ready.”

I took his hand, letting him haul me to my feet and push me toward the bathroom to shower. As the water poured over me my mind wandered in every crazy paranoid direction it could find, refusing to see that we were all adults now and no one was going to throw gum in my hair again.

As I slipped into the new dress I’d bought just for the occasion I sipped at my beer in an attempt to calm my racing heart. Make-up applied, jewelry carefully selected and hair done I emerged with a deep breath. Wes was leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets with one foot crossed over the other, looking stunningly handsome in his tux. My movement caught his attention and he turned his attention to me, a smile spreading slowly across his face, and I felt like I was finally going to prom.

“You look very handsome,” I said, my heels clicking on the wood floor as I crossed the living room to throw my beer bottle away.

“As do you,” he replied, taking my hands and holding my arms out to the sides to boldly get a better look at me. “You ready?” he asked, pressing a kiss on the back of each hand.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I answered, taking a deep breath.

We walked out to his car and made our way to the Tanaya Lodge where my classmates were waiting, and as I climbed out of the car I braced myself in the face of learning if high school ever really ends.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Compass Rose

She was barely tall enough to see over the railing, having to stand on piles of coiled rope to get a glimpse of the sea. Her hair was bound at the base of her neck with a satin ribbon, the long strawberry blonde curls bouncing with each touch of wind, and the heavy layers of her pink dress billowed around her legs.

The sound of the Captain’s door opening drew her attention and she eagerly hopped to the deck, her hard soled shoes clip-clopping across the planks as she ran toward the bridge deck where Captain Harris unrolled his maps, gathering her skirts and trotting up the stairs. Captain Harris saw her coming and smiled, stepping to the side to make room for her, lifting her onto a box so she could see the maps.

Staring with wide blue eyes, she watched as Captain Harris pulled a small, round brass object from his pocket, opening its lid and peering at the bobbing needle within.

“What’s that?” she asked, excitement plain in her songbird voice.

“It’s a compass, Rose.” He answered, lowering it so she could see it more clearly. “That needle inside always points north, so no matter where we are we can always find our way home.” It had been strange at first having a child on the ship, let alone a female one, and it had taken some smooth talking to get the crew to accept her and not think of her as bad luck. But now, three weeks into their journey, he had become quite fond of the little girl.

Rose was betrothed to a foreign Duke who was at least twenty years her senior. The arrangement, while none of the Captain’s business, set his dander up. What kind of parent was so eager to be rid of their child as to send them off to be married before the blush of womanhood was upon her?

Captain Harris sat the compass on Rose’s small palm, watching her eyes light up as the needle bounced and danced under the crystal, and she looked excitedly from the compass to the Captain’s face and back again. He couldn’t help but smile at her unabashed enthusiasm.

Shouting erupted from the crow’s nest and everyone looked up to find the crewman posted pointing to port and shouting pirates. Chaos engulfed the ship, men running to and fro to prepare for a possible battle.

“Hold onto that, little one,” Captain Harris said, scooping Rose up and running down the stairs, ducking into his own cabin and depositing her behind his desk. “Stay here,” he said as he made his way toward the door, “And don’t come out no matter what you hear.”

Rose crawled under the desk and pulled her knees up, wrapping her arms around her legs and squeezing the compass tight. The sounds of yelling, gunfire and tromping boots overhead created a cacophony of noise that made her head hurt, but slowly the noise eased until only the creak of the hull filled the air.

Trepidatiously Rose crawled from beneath the desk, climbing to her feet and walking to the door. Grasping the brass handle she turned it and pulled the heavy wooden door open, letting out a startled scream when she was roughly grabbed and hauled onto the main deck before being dropped unceremoniously at the feet of a stranger. Opening her hands to break her fall, the compass hit the deck and rolled, stopping when it met the black leather of the stranger’s boots.

Rose looked up into the deeply lined face of who she could only assume was the pirate captain. He wore a red scarf on his head that matched the sash at his waist, gold embroidered breeches and tunic hung on his thin frame as though made for someone else, which they undoubtedly had been.

Reaching out to reclaim the compass, the pirate Captain bent down and snatched it away from her, laughing when she glared up at him. Climbing to her feet Rose seethed at him, oblivious to the sea of pirates surrounding her and the ship’s crew.

“Give that back,” Rose ordered, her tiny hands fisted at her sides. “That doesn’t belong to you.”

The Pirate Captain laughed, “You hear that boys, it doesn’t belong to me.” His mocking tone made Rose’s blood feel like fire in her veins. He bent down to be at eye level with her, his breath rank with whiskey and rot, “But that’s never mattered much to me.”

A smile spread across Rose’s face, slow and sinister, and it was enough to back the Pirate Captain up a step. The calm wind that had been steadily blowing picked up, but only on the deck where they stood, the ocean swells remained small and didn’t break. Rose slowly opened her arms wide, her little fingers flexed straight out and palms up, seeming to will the wind into action.

The Pirate Captain shouted an order to one of his crew, pointing at Rose as he spoke, his words lost to the wind. With a nod the crewman drew his sword and pushed his way through the wind, his menacing snarl paling in comparison to Rose’s and with one quick motion of her hand the blade of his sword curled up like burned parchment.

Captain Harris watched wide eyed as Rose fended off every armed man who tried to cut her down, their weapons twisting, torquing and melting at her command. It only took a few minutes before the men fled back to their own ship, and as their Captain stated to move Rose stopped him with a look, holding her small hand out to him.

As though approaching an unpredictable animal he stretched his arm out as long as it would go and gently sat the compass in her hand, backing away as Rose curled her fingers around it. The pirates scrambled away, severed the ropes that bound the two ships together and made a hasty departure.

As their ship made its way toward the horizon, Rose turned to Captain Harris and smiled sweetly, holding the compass out to him, “Now we can get home.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's a Beautiful Day If You're A Duck

The restaurant was dimly lit with ivory candles glowing warmly from within glass hurricane shades etched with twisting vines. Tables and chairs of dark glossy wood were generously spaced throughout the elegant room, thick navy blue carpet flowed underfoot and heavy burgundy drapes billowed around the wide windows like rich picture frames.

The food was divine; the wine, perfect. My macadamia nut crusted chicken had been paired with a mango passion-fruit jam that made the flavors sing. A sweet white wine complimented the taste and my palate had never been happier. The passion-fruit infused cream brulee was light and creamy and was my idea of heaven.

Across from me sat Alistair, his close cropped hair the color of honey and his laughing eyes like whiskey. His suit was clearly made just for him, tailored to his broad frame and the dark gray fabric was as soft as a baby’s cheek to the touch. When he had picked me up for dinner I had felt very aware of my off the rack dress, but he smoothly diverted my focus by brushing his lips across the backs of my fingers and telling me how beautiful I looked.

When we finished our meal we rose and made our way through the sea of quiet conversations and out through the heavy brass and glass doors. Standing under the dark green awning we stared at the rain that was drenching the city, a spring storm the weatherman didn’t see coming as of the six o'clock news.

“Shall we walk?” Alistair asked, a wide smile making his eyes sparkle with mischief. “My apartment isn’t far if you’d like a nightcap.”

“Walk? In this?” I asked, raising my brows at him.

“What, it’s a beautiful day.”

“Sure, it’s a beautiful day… if you’re a duck,” I replied with my own smile and he laughed, rich and warm.

Holding his arm out to me I slipped mine past his bent elbow, and together we struck out, stepping from beneath the shelter of the awning. We talked as we walked, nature’s wet kisses like pearls on our cheeks, warm and delightful and occasionally we would both spontaneously laugh up into the sky.

By the time we reached his door we were soaked to the bone and laughing almost uncontrollably. He fumbled with his keys, his fingers wet and the metal slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor with a jangle. He bent down to pick them up and his laughter suddenly ebbed as he stared at my legs, tentatively reaching out to caress the curve of one calf, and his touch slammed the brakes on my own laughter.

Alistair rose slowly, trailing his fingers up the outside of my leg, his gaze firmly focused on what he was doing. He lifted his eyes and stared at me, moving slowly as he stepped toward me, and the intensity of his gaze made my heart rate double. He gently pressed himself against me, pinning me to the door, his lips hovering only a whisper away from mine as he fumbled with his keys. He smelled of warm pears and vanilla, clean and edible, and the click of the deadbolt brought our lips together in a light exploratory kiss.

As the door swung away from my back his arms replaced it, wrapping around me before walking me slowly backward into the apartment and I pushed the door shut once we were inside. Our motions were slow, deliberate and focused, every moment a new discovery.

I pushed the heavy suit jacket off his broad shoulders, the expensive material hitting the hardwood floor with a wet splat. His white dress shirt clung to him, translucent where it touched his skin and I gave into the urge to descend on one nipple, the starched cotton rubbing between my tongue and his skin and a low moan escaped him.

He took his turn, unzipping my dress and peeling it away, revealing my bare breasts, and I stood unabashedly before him in nothing but my panties and heels. The rise and fall of his chest moved me back toward him, impatiently pulling his shirt out of the waist of his pants and pulling the shirt tails apart, sending buttons flying. My fingers attacked the button of his slacks, pushing them down to find him bare underneath, eager and waiting.

Alistair lifted me up and I wrapped my legs around him as he carried me to the bedroom, his mouth and tongue anything but idle on the way, tasting and exploring my neck, shoulders and breasts.

His bed was an ocean of silk sheets in which we got lost: drown, died and lived. He covered me with warm kisses, taking me to the moon and back, his caresses soft and delicate and I cried out for more until he slipped inside me. The patience and restraint he’d been exercising vanished once his body was buried deeply in mine, and his movements became frantic, hungry, and he ate at my mouth while pushing himself deeper.

I rose up to meet him, pacing him and driving him on with my own passion, flipping him onto his back and rearing up over him without breaking the rhythm he had set. His long elegant fingers gripped my hips, his head thrown back and eyes squeezed shut.

Bending forward I took his face in my hands, “Look at me,” I said before bestowing a bruising kiss on him. “Watch me.”

His gaze didn’t stray, his whiskey colored eyes locked with my hazel ones. His hands roamed, plucking at my nipples and teasing me where we joined as I drove us both to the edge of ecstasy. We hovered on the blissful edge of sexual tension for several spine arching moments before falling headlong into the raging sea of release in a tangle of limbs and pounding hearts.

Friday, March 5, 2010

If a Chicken and a Half

Isabelle stood over the stove stirring the bubbling brew with her favorite wooden spoon, the long handle worn smooth from her touch. The large cast iron pot radiated heat from all sides, warming her stomach through the soft cotton of her T-shirt.

With one long tapered finger she touched the words on the worn page, the paper dark and stained from years of use; some corners dog-eared to mark a favorite recipe. Isabelle had found the book in a used book store while on vacation in New Orleans, almost lost between Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray’s newest tomes.

The small leather bound book was no larger than the average paperback, and it felt good to the touch, almost warm and the moment Isabelle held it in her hands she knew she had to take it home. Some of the writing inside was smudged beyond legibility, verifying that it was handwritten and not a copy; someone had spent a great deal of time creating it.

Isabelle had brought the book home in her purse, not trusting it to her checked luggage, and was home only one day before she chose a recipe from it’s pages and headed to the grocery to get the ingredients. The resulting roast duck with caramelized carrots and onions in a sweet brandy sauce melted in her mouth and elicited blissful sighs from her with every bite.

It had been two weeks since she had tried that first recipe, savoring each meal in the quiet solitude of her small London flat, pairing it with a wine that complimented it perfectly and following it up with a sweet pastry from the corner café.

Today’s meal was stew with chicken, veggies and cream. The list of herbs for this recipe had been strange, asking for things she’d had to order on-line, and the cooking directions had been very, very specific on the order in which to add the ingredients.

Isabelle had followed the directions perfectly, adding a little extra chicken since she had it, and as she tossed in the last of the herbs, chopped honeysuckle blossoms, a column of blue light erupted from the pot. With a gasp she staggered backward until her hips hit the counter opposite the stove, her topaz colored eyes wide.

The blue light flickered like a strobe, silver smoke and red sparks joining in the visual fray, the brightness increasing in intensity until Isabelle finally had to shield her eyes. She could hear the light, hear it sizzling through the air like lightening, and the sound grew louder and louder until she thought her ear drums would rupture.

As unexpectedly as it began the light and sound stopped and Isabelle staggered from the sudden silence. Blinking into the normal white light of her kitchen she stared wide-eyed at the nude man curled up in the middle of the floor. He had olive skin, warm and brown as though kissed often by the sun, and waves of dark hair crowned his head, the long locks spilling across the gray linoleum like silk.

He groaned, and at the sound Isabelle scurried away, pressing her back against the refrigerator and holding her wooden spoon out to ward the man off as he slowly climbed to his feet. When he stood before her it was all she could do not to let her gaze wander, with such a feast for the senses it was nothing short of a miracle she managed to hold his green stare.

“Who are you?” Isabelle asked, a tremor in her voice.

He smiled at her; white teeth flashing as his rich laugh enveloped her. “You tell me, you made me.”

Isabelle frowned at him, confused, and with another laugh he pointed at the cookbook that lay open on the counter. Moving slowly toward the book she picked it up and scanned the page, stopping when she reached the small, blurry footnote at the bottom: “If a chicken and a half is used, the results will be extra delicious.”