Home » , , , , , , » Ensnare: The Passenger’s Pleasure #1 (Demon Paranormal Romance) by Mac Flynn

Ensnare: The Passenger’s Pleasure #1 (Demon Paranormal Romance) by Mac Flynn

I'd never known such delicious desire, such ravenous, lustful wonder, until that book fell into my hands. And it literally fell into my hands.
Ensnare: The Passenger’s Pleasure #1 (Demon Paranormal Romance0
Ensnare: The Passenger’s Pleasure #1 (Demon Paranormal Romance) by Mac Flynn
But my story starts before that, at the office where I worked. It was one of those steel prisons where people live their entire lives in small, gray cubicles. Human interaction is a choice, pay increases a dream, and advancement a lie. I worked on the thirteenth floor, and everyone joked that people on that floor were especially cursed to boring lives. I was proof enough of that. Even my name was plain Jane. Jane Johnson. I toiled my days under a plain name in a plain office in my plain job and life. Never did I believe anything wondrous, anything wonderful could come to me, but somehow it did. Maybe it was fate, but I had a feeling something had its tendril in the matter. I sat in my cubicle typing up a report on my computer with a stack of more paperwork beside me when a shadow fell over me. It belonged to the bully of the floor, Stimson. He was a burly guy with a sneer on his lips and a leer in his eyes. He leaned against the entrance to my cubicle and looked me over. "So what's Plain Jane doing this weekend?" he asked me. "Nothing. . ." I mumbled. "What's that? I can't hear you over how lame you are," he sneered. "I really need to get to work," I told him. "No, what you really need to do is pick up your mess," he argued. He swiped his hand across my desk and knocked into the stack of papers. "Hey!" I yelled as I tried to grab the pile, but missed. The pieces of paper flew in every direction and littered the floor with a carpet of mess. "Now pick it up before I tell Mike," he growled. Mike was the floor manager, and he demanded everyone's cubicles be as clean as a five-star restaurant kitchen. He was also more of a coward than me and let Stimson get away with everything but murder. Murder would have meant too much paperwork filed with L&I. I slid down on my knees and tried to gather them as fast as I could, but Stimson was faster. He pressed his foot on the papers in front of him and smashed them with his shoe. "Oops. Did I do that?" he laughed. I gathered the paper against my chest and tried not to cry. "Why are you doing this to me?" I sobbed. Stimson leaned down and grinned at me. "Because I can. What're you going to do about it?" I cringed. "Just leave me along, okay?" I pleaded. "Why should I?" he growled. "Jane, letter for you!" came the shrill voice of Mike. That was my ticket to freedom, in more than one way. I threw myself past Stimson and out my cubicle. Mike stood at his office down the hall, and I hurried to him with the papers still clutched against my chest. He frowned at the mess in my arms. "What have I told you about keeping clutter out of your cubicle?" he scolded me. "I-I know, sir, but I was just-" He stuck an envelope in my face. "I don't care. Whatever it is deal with it, and this letter. You know company rules. No personal mail is to be sent to work," he reminded me. I plucked the envelope from his hand and looked over the return address. "Fantasy Cruises?" I read aloud. "It's one of those cruise liners that go around the world, but don't let me catch you sending spam to you office address again, got it?" Mike ordered me. "Yeah, sure," I half-answered. The name on the address was definitely mine, but I couldn't remember ever contacting a cruise company. I turned and stumbled back to my cubicle. Stimson was gone, but there was still the mess on the floor and in my arms. All that was forgotten, though, as I dropped the papers onto the floor and dropped into my chair. Something told me this envelope was important. I tore it open and read the contents aloud in a hushed whisper. Dear Miss Johnson; Congratulations on winning an all-expenses paid trip on our Caribbean Cruise! No purchase is necessary, and this offer is void nowhere! Merely contact our booking office at the number below to confirm your reservation. When arriving at the ship please present this announcement as your ticket. We hope see you soon under the warm Caribbean sun! It was signed by the company's entertainment director. I thought it had to be a joke. There was no way I would've won any contest, especially one I didn't remember entering. I read and reread the letter, but it always said the same thing. I'd won, and all I needed to do was call the number. I reached for my purse and the phone it contained. A hand reached out and snatched my winning ticket from me. I whipped my head up and looked into the grinning face of my constant antagonist, Stimson. He waved the ticket in front of me. "What's this? Somebody get a traffic fine?" he teased. I frowned and tried to grab it, but he lifted it out of my reach. "Give it back!" I demanded. His eyes widened a fraction of an inch. "Is the little pussy cat growing some claws? What's this thing for, anyway?" He glanced over the contents and his smile widened. His eyes flickered to me. "Well, what do you know. It looks like the little pussy cat has won a prize for me." "It's not yours!" I shot back. He stepped back into the hall. "It is now." I don't know what came over me. Maybe it was the years of his torture, or the chance of escaping the daily grind, or maybe I was just fed up with my miserable existence. Whatever it was it made me let loose a vengeful cry and jump my tormentor. I shoved him against the wall opposite the entrance to my prison. The air was knocked from his lungs, and in his weakness I grabbed the ticket and stepped back. It was only a heavy push, but my chest moved up and down like I'd completed a triathlon. I'd never been a physical person, but this man, this monster had pushed my angelic patience to the limit and beyond. Now he stood there with a mixture of disbelief and fury on his face. "Why you little-" "What's going on here?" Mike yelled. He stormed down the hall and stopped between us. His eyes turned from me to Stimson and back again. "Well? What happened?" Stimson pointed a finger at me. "She shoved me for no reason!" I started back and my mouth dropped open. "You stole my ticket!" "I've heard enough!" Mike shouted. He turned to me and frowned. "Jane, you knew company policies and yet had something mailed to you. Now it's started this fight that I'm going to have to report to HR." "But I-" "No buts. No nothing. Pack up your things and go home. You're suspended without pay until further notice," he told me. "But-" "Now!" he ordered me. I turned away, but not before I glimpsed the triumphant grin on Stimson's smile. The crowd around us grumbled among themselves, and Mike turned to them with a glare. "Get back to work!" he barked. Everyone but Stimson scattered to their holes. Mike turned to my oppressor and glared at him. "You, too, Stimson." Stimson bowed his head. "Of course, sir." He disappeared from the view of my cubicle. Mike strode away down the opposite end of the hall. I stumbled over the mess of papers and fought back the tears in my eyes. This wasn't fair. I'd only fought for what was right, and here I was the only one punished. Stimson would get off with a stern reprimand and I would lose at least a week's worth of pay, not to mention the humiliation in front of so many of my peers. "Enjoy your little show," a voice hissed. I turned to find Stimson at the entrance to my cubicle. His eyes were narrowed and shining. "When you get back I'm going to make sure you get what's coming to you." I glared at him and flung my purse over my shoulder. "Maybe I'm not coming back," I told him. He scoffed. "You're coming back. You don't have anywhere else to go." "Maybe I'll find some other place to go," I returned. He sneered at me. "You'll come back and then I'll give you what's coming to you." He slithered away. I stepped outside and stalked down the hall past Mike's office. "Jane?" Mike called through his open door. I paused and looked inside. He sat behind his large desk and had a tired smile on his face. Mike gestured to the seat in front of his desk. "Could we talk?" I glanced over my shoulder at my cubicle, and past that at Stimson at the end. He grinned and nodded at me. I looked back to Mike. "No, we can't, because I quit." I turned my back on Mike, Stimson, and my entire life, and boy did it feel good. CHAPTER 2 Good, that is, until the elevator doors closed behind me. I leaned my back against the rear wall and ran a hand through my hair. "What was I thinking. . ." I murmured to myself. "You can't quit, Jane. You've got an apartment to pay for, food to buy, student loans to pay off." The list went on and on, but that didn't change what I'd done. I'd effectively given my notice, and it was only two weeks until I was separated from my only source of income. To add insult to injury, the suspension meant I wouldn't be paid for at least half that time. "Broke in two weeks. . ." I muttered. "Brilliant, Jane. What are you going to do now?" My eyes flickered down to the open top of my purse. The white cruise ticket stuck out from the dark fabric. I picked it out and held it in front of my face. A smile slowly spread across my lips. This was my ticket to one last hurrah before I bid farewell to my dreams and financial stability. A whole week away from the drudgery of my existence. A whole week to be someone other than me. "Why not?" I whispered. I stuffed the ticket back into my purse and stood straight. If this was going to be the single most refreshing moment in my life then I was going to make the best of it. The cruise was in two weeks. The instructions were to call to confirm my reservations. I whipped out my phone and reread the number. My hand was sweaty and my fingers were clumsy, but the other end soon rang. I listened to the third ring and started to doubt my typing skills. "Hello?" came a man's voice on the other end. "Hello, is this-" I glanced at the director's name, "-Mr. Smith?" The man laughed. "That depends on what the first name is." "Is this Mr. Jay Smith of Fantasy Cruises?" I rephrased. "Then you have the right man. What can I do for you?" he wondered. "My name is Jane Johnson, and I-" "Miss Johnson! We were hoping to hear from you soon!" Mr. Smith interrupted. "I knew no one could resist our wonderful package, and I'm glad to hear you've proven me right!" "So this trip isn't free?" I asked him. "Absolutely everything involved in the trip is free! You get a beautiful state room with a permanent seat at the captain's table!" he told me. "So this really is true? I really did win a contest?" I persisted. "Entered and won! And might I congratulate you on your wonderful stroke of luck? We had a half million people enter, but your name was chosen by our random computer generator!" he revealed to me. "When did I enter?" I asked him. "You don't remember?" he returned. "I-um, I just can't quite remember," I told him. "Well, let me see here." I heard a rustle of papers and a short tap of a keyboard. "It looks like you entered just before the deadline which was two days ago, and your name was chosen yesterday." There was a short pause. "That's very strange." My heartbeat quickened. This was it. I'd asked too many questions and now he'd found an anomaly that would disqualify me. "What is?" "Oh, it's nothing. Just a coincidence with one of our other passengers. Your name was placed in the pool the same time he took the suite beside yours," he told me. "What's his name?" I wondered. "I'm not at liberty to say, but I can say you'll have the time of your life aboard our wonderful cruise liner!" he replied. "There's a party every night, and you'll be among a very select group of people. Very fine and very elegant. I'm sure you'll enjoy them." I studied the ticket. "I'm kind of far away from the port. How do I get there?" He laughed. "Not a problem. We have that covered. We'll send you your airline ticket and get you here before the first whistle! And believe me when I tell you you'll have the time of your life! Smith was a man of his word, even if his word was a little hard for me to follow. Six days later found me at the port with a small suitcase in hand. It held the food proper clothes I owned, along with a few odds and ends between parties. The cruise ship loomed in front of me, a behemoth of the oceans that could fit a small town aboard its dozens of levels. People crowded the peer to board and gawk at the majesty of the white fish that would take its passengers on a trip through paradise. "Miss Jane Johnson?" a voice spoke up. I turned to find a young man with a bright smile. He was about twenty with sandy-blond hair and blue eyes. His white suit had a name tag on the front with the same emblem that graced the front of the cruise liner. "Yes?" I replied. He bowed his head. "My name's Stuart, and I'm going to be your personal steward for the trip." I blinked at him. "A personal steward?" He nodded. "Yes. I'm here to I'll assist you in whatever way I can." I smiled. "I'd be glad if you could show me my cabin." "Fortunately you have a suite. It's much larger than a cabin and is on one of the top decks. I'll be glad to show you where it is," he offered. I laughed. "If you don't I think I'll get lost." He held out his hand and nodded at my suitcase. "But could I take your suitcase?" I pressed it against the front of my legs. "I think I'll hold onto this." "That's fine. Just follow me, Miss Johnson," he invited me. "Jane," I corrected him. "I'm supposed to-" "Please call me Jane," I pleaded. "I'm sure there's dozens of Miss Johnson's aboard, but only one Plain Jane." He smiled. "You're not plain, Miss-" I wagged my finger at him, "-Miss Jane." I sighed. "There's been wars over that, but I don't even want an argument on this vacation." Stuart led me up the long plank and onto the deck of the ship. "Is this your first time on a cruise?" he asked me. "My first time on a vacation that wasn't a Sunday walk in the park," I told him. "Then I hope this one will be memorable for you," he wished. "Me, too," I replied. I glanced over the pristine deck with its large swimming pool and dozens of lawn chairs. People crowded the railing and waved goodbye to loved ones they left behind. It must have been nice to be missed on a vacation. "Miss Jane?" Stuart interrupted my sad thoughts. I shook myself and smiled at him. "Yes?" "You're suite's this way." He indicated a stairwell that led into the belly of the ship. Stuart led me down a long flight of stairs to the top floor of guest rooms. The white-hued hallway was twenty feet wide and each door on either side was spaced thirty feet other apart from the others. Decorative tables stood along the walls with bowls of sweets and fruits set on their tops. "Each room is separated from the others by soundproof walls for maximum privacy," Stuart told me. "The food in the dishes is for you to take, and room service is free." "So I can eat out of any of these bowls?" I asked him. He glanced over his shoulder and showed off his amused smile. "Any of them," he confirmed. I stopped at one of the bowls laden with chocolate and dipped my hand in for a quick taste of the luxury. "You seem to have found my favorite bowl," a voice piped up. I yelped and spun around. My hand knocked against the side of the bowl. The glass container spilled onto the wooden floor and shattered. I knelt down and hid my face as I tried to pick up the shattered glass among the colorful chocolates. "I am so sorry. It was an-ouch!" I pulled my hand back and saw a bead of blood appear on the tip. Someone knelt in front of me and grasped my wrist in a gentle but firm hold. I looked up and met the gaze of the most handsome man I'd ever met. He had crystal-blue eyes that matched his bright smile. His hair was cut short and slightly spiked at the top. He wore a casual white shirt and slacks, and his even tan told me he hit the tennis courts more than once a week. Strange fantasies invaded my mind. I could just imagine him wrapping his arms around me in a tight embrace. Our lips would join together as his hands explored my body. I would groan and press myself against him. His warm body would feed the insatiable lust that grew inside me. What the heck was I thinking? My cheeks blushed and I swiftly bowed my head. "I-it's just a scratch," I protested as I tried to free my hand. "I'll be-" "You'll be a good girl and let me look at it," he insisted. He tilted and turned my finger, and I almost regretted when he released me. "Nothing serious, but you might want to get a bandage on that." Miss Jane, are you all right?" Stuart asked me. He stood at my side, and his eyes flickered between the other man and me. There was a hint of hesitation I hadn't seen before. "It's just a scratch, really," I assured him. I stood and noticed my luggage beneath the table. The lid had popped open, and the contents were strewn over the body and onto the floor. My underwear and pink socks were displayed for all the world to see which fortunately at that moment consisted only of Stuart and the stranger. "I'm so sorry!" I yelped. I jumped at the clothes, but the mystery man beat me to the pile. He shoved many of the delicate articles into the luggage, shut the lid for me, and stood with the handle in his hand. There was a mischievous smile on his lips and the same look in his eyes. "You apologize too much for such a beautiful woman," he commented. I frowned at him. "I don't think beauty has anything to do with apologizing. Now if you would just give me back my suitcase-" I snatched at the luggage, but he swung it out of my reach. "I accept your correction, but I get the feeling you don't quite believe what I'm telling you," he teased. "I'm asking you to please give me back my suitcase," I insisted. I made another go of it, but he was too nimble and the suitcase remained in his grasp. "Mr. Archer, if you would?" Stuart spoke up. "She hasn't seen her room yet." Mr. Archer hesitated, and I struck and snatched the suitcase from him. Rather than be annoyed his smile widened to a grin. "You have more spunk than you let on, Miss Jane," he commented. I stood straight and frowned at him. "That's Miss Johnson to you, Mr. Archer. Good day." CHAPTER 3 I turned my back on him, and Stuart led me down the hall. We'd only gone a few yards when curiosity overcame me and I glanced over my shoulder. Mr. Archer still stood there, and he still had that bemused smile on his lips. A porter came up and pointed at the broken bowl, and still he continued to stare at me. I looked away and thankfully we reached the near end of the hall. My room was the second-to-the-last on the left side. A woman about my age stepped out of a room opposite mine. She wore a chic white skirt with matching blouse, and her long blond hair was pulled back in a becoming ponytail. Her eyes were a bright auburn, and they looked me over with all the kindness of a cougar. She laughed at me and walked down the hall. "This way, Miss Jane," Stuart invited me. He held the door open and I stepped inside my suite. The space was larger than my apartment. There was a full living room, dining room, and a modern kitchen. Off to the right was the master bedroom and adjoining bath. "I hope you'll be comfortable here," Stuart commented as he joined me by my side. I smiled. "I think I can manage." "I'm glad to hear that. If you need anything, the fridge is fully stocked and room service is only a phone call away," he assured me. "If you prefer not to cook, the meals are posted in this brochure guide." He pulled out the thick brochure and handed it to me. "As a permanent member of the captain's table you'll have your choice of the best cuts of meat and the freshest vegetables." "Is there a map to the dining room?" I asked him. He smiled and pointed at the brochure. "You'll find a map and a schedule for all the ship's events. There's a spot reserved for you on all activities, so don't hesitate to join." "All of them?" I teased. "Only if you don't want to get any sleep," he warned me. "The activities go from early morning exercises to the late-night party in the exclusive clubhouse. Merely show them your pass and they'll let you in. Do you have any other questions?" I wiped my hand across my forehead and smiled. "Where can a girl put up her feet?" He pointed at one of the doors. "Your bedroom's right through there. The bed is a king-size, but if it's too large-" "King will be fine," I assured him. "Then I'll leave you to rest. You can use the phone and dial nine-nine for assistance, and they'll reach me," he told me. "Thanks, I'll do that," I promised. "I hope you enjoy your stay," he finished. He turned towards the door. "Stuart?" I suddenly called. He looked back at me. "Yes, Miss Jane?" "Who's He smiled. "Mr. Maximilian Archer, the tech billionaire. He has the room next to yours." "Thanks. That's all I wanted to know." Stuart bowed his head and left the suite. It may have been called a suite, but to me right then and for the next week it would be my palace. I would rule here as a queen. A benevolent one, of course, but a queen with the ability to do whatever activity I wanted. For my first official act, I decided a nap was in order. The long flight and even longer wait for the cruise had worn me thin. I tossed off my thoughts of rich Archer, my shoes and all my cares, and went into the bedroom. The bed was definitely a king, and there were a pair of large nightstand on either side with lamps. The master bathroom had a jacuzzi tub with free shampoo that cost more than a month's salary. My face fell. "If I had a salary. . ." I reminded myself. I shook myself from my brooding thoughts. This was a time for a new me, a window of opportunity to have fun before harsh life intervened. I turned, dashed across the floor, and catapulted myself onto my bed. The mattress sank beneath my weight and sprang up so I flew a few inches in the air. I laughed and rolled onto my back. The white ceiling stared back at me. I sighed and felt a wave of exhaustion wash over me. The long day took its toll. My eyes grew heavy, and before I knew it I slipped into a deep sleep. A ringing noise woke me up. My eyes fluttered open and I looked around a strange, luxurious environment. I glanced to my left and noticed the phone on the nightstand. It rang again. I struggled onto my arms and grabbed the receiver. "Hello?" I mumbled. "Miss Jane? It's Stuart," the voice on the other end told me. "I just wanted to tell you that dinner will be ready soon." I noticed a clock on the nightstand alarm and saw the time was nearly six. "What time is dinner?" I asked him as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. "Six-thirty," he answered. "Oh shoot!" I rolled out of bed and tumbled to the hard floor. "Ouch. . ." "Are you all right, Miss Jane?" Stuart asked me. I sat up and rubbed my head. "Yeah. Could you show me to the dining room?" "I can be there in five minutes," he offered. I looked down at myself. My clothes were creased beyond recognition, but fortunately I had a backup plan. "Could you make it fifteen?" I pleaded. "Certainly. I'll be there at six-fifteen," he promised. "Thanks." We hung up and I jumped into action. I had a nice blouse and dress pants stowed away in my luggage along with a simple but elegant black evening dress. That comprised the entirety of my fancy evening wear, but I'd make it count. "This is your time to shine," I whispered to myself as I slipped into my blouse. "Make a good first impression and have the time of your life." At six-fifteen on the dot there was a knock on my door and I opened it to find Stuart on the other side. He was dressed in darker evening attire, but had a bright smile on his face. His eyes swept over me and his smile widened. "You look great," he complimented me. I returned the smile. "You don't look so bad yourself." "It's just standard uniform," he told me. "But are you ready? The captain's table is served punctually because the captain can't be away from the wheel for long." "Yep." I stepped out of my room and walked down the hall with him. "They don't really have a wheel still, do they?" He shook his head. "No, just a bunch of controls, but it's easier to say 'wheel' because everyone recognizes that more than 'helm.'" Stuart led me up the stairs, but we turned off on one of the higher landings and walked down the hall. The hall connected with the other lower residential compartment halls and a steady stream of people joined us in the wide passage. "Can we all fit?" I asked Stuart. "This isn't everyone," he told me. "We couldn't seat everyone in the dining hall at the same time, so there's assigned hours." We flowed through one of three pairs of doors on the left and into the large dining hall. The hall was as large as a ballroom with the kitchen at the rear. The closest right corner was an empty dance floor with a small orchestra on a platform. They played soft music for the inflow of people. There were dozens of round tables nailed to the floor with four chairs around each. The only exception was a table close to the kitchen. That was long and rectangular, and could seat about a dozen people. Stuart led me over to the long table. Each seat had a small placard on the plate, and he pulled out the chair in front of my plate. My seat was one away from the head where I read the name of our captain on the placard. Half of the seats were already filled, and I wasn't thrilled to see the woman from across the hall opposite me. The woman scrutinized my clothes and lifted her nose. I put on my best face and bowed my head to her. "Good evening," I spoke up. "Good evening," she grudgingly replied. "I think our rooms are close together," I commented. "Yes, I suppose they are," she remarked. Our friendly conversation came to an abrupt end when the captain strode up to the table. The man was on the right side of fifty with graying hair temples and a stern but kind face. He wore a dark blue uniform with a name tag on the breast. The captain was flanked on one side by a man in a similar suit but younger, and on his other side was the man I'd met in the hallway by the candy dish. Mr. Maximilian Archer. He glanced at the table his natural smile widened. Archer walked over to my chair and bowed to me. "Good evening, Miss Jane," Archer greeted me. I plastered a smile on my face and bowed my head. "Good evening." The captain walked up to Archer's side and extended his hand to me. "You must be the lucky woman who won our contest." I shook his hand and nodded. "That's me." "It's a pleasure to have you at my table, and I hope you enjoy your stay," he told me. "I'm sure I will. Everyone's really helpful," I replied. "I'm glad to hear it," he answered. Archer tugged on the captain's arm and jerked his head towards the vacant seats. "We should sit down or they'll serve without us." The captain got the hint, and the three men took their seats. I was unfortunate enough to have Archer take the one beside me. The haughty woman had the other man, who I guessed was the first mate, sit beside her so the men still flanked the captain at the head. The rest of the table held other people of aristocratic air, and I noticed two women who sat on the other side of Miss Haughty seemed to make a triplet of disdain. The one to Miss Haughty's immediate left was a woman of twenty-five with short blond hair and a narrow face. She had a thin nose and bright brown eyes that matched her face. On her left was a dark-colored woman with black hair and pursed lips. All three wore fine sets of evening wear complete with slaughtered animals and an overabundance of perfume. The three made a triplet that I nicknamed the Neapolitan Ninnies. They looked at me like I was lower than a bug, and stared at Archer like he was higher than God. Waiters hurried up to us and handed out the menus. They were thick, cumbersome things filled with more food than a grocery store. The most common language among the lists of foods was French, a tongue of which I was not familiar. I lowered my menu and looked over the top at the other guests. The Neapolitans conversed among themselves in French and pointed out various lines. The other guests looked equally at ease. "Troubles?" a voice whispered. I whipped my head to my left and found it was that annoying Archer man. He had a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his lips. He nodded at the menu. "Can't decide?" he wondered. I frowned and snapped the menu shut. "I-I'm just waiting to see what everyone else is ordering," I stammered. "Is that what you call it?" he mused. "I'm fine, really," I insisted. I was completely out of my league, but I wouldn't admit it to him. "Then you won't mind me helping you choose," he returned. He scooted our chairs closer. I leaned away from him, but he didn't seem to notice. He forced open my menu and pointed at the dinner set. "I recommend the duck with the orange sauce along with some red wine and, for dessert, the chocolate cake. How does that sound?" He looked up into my eyes and I couldn't help but blush. The guy was annoying, but still handsome. "I-I guess," I agreed. "Excellent choice, mademoiselle!" he applauded as he leaned away from me. His outburst caught the attention of the others at the table. The three women glared at me, and noticed there was a tinge of jealousy in their depths. I had to admit it felt good to get a little revenge from them. Maybe Archer wasn't so bad. CHAPTER 4 The orders were taken and the menus taken away with them. The leader of the three women, the one who's suite was across from mine, leaned her elbows on the table and cradled her chin on the tops of her overlapped hands. She batted her eyes at Archer. "So how's the search for your fairy-tale wife going? Find her yet?" she teased. The uniformed man beside her grinned. "What's this about, Archer? Looking for love in all the wrong places?" Archer chuckled. "It's not like that at all, Charlie." "It isn't?" the woman continued. She leaned towards Charlie while her eyes remained on Archer. "He's been telling everyone around him that he might settle down and disappoint his millions of tabloid admirers by marrying." "Hope to be a part of them, Renee?" Charlie asked her. Renee leaned away from him and shrugged. "Isn't every girl?" "I'm sure I don't," the middle woman spoke up. My arch-nemesis snorted. "Of course you are, Alicia. Everyone is." "I might as well throw in my hat," the third spoke up. "But aren't you married to the Duke of Cornwall?" one of the women down the table asked her. She frowned and waved her hand in front of her face. "He's such a bore that we're divorcing at the end of this week. I'll be back to plain Lana Galas." Her eyes flickered to Archer. "That is, unless I can find another man who'd be better at entertaining me." Archer held up his hands. "Before we start fighting over me in the third person, I want to dispel the rumors. I'm not looking for a wife. I've found her, and she's sitting at this table right now." The other guests at the table gasped. The captain chuckled. "You have a flare for the dramatic, Max," he complimented him. Archer grinned. "And I've only just begun." One of the boat stewards came up to the table. He held a book in his hands which he presented to Archer. The tome was three inches thick and had a plain brown leather cover. I didn't see any words on the covers or spine. The pages between the covers was yellow with age. I had to have it. The thought came to me so suddenly that I jerked back in my seat. I shook my head and tried to clear the strange, sudden desire, but it remained. I wanted that book. My body burned with a hot, sensual desire to possess the tome. I felt my fingers twitched. If only I could stroke its cover and brush my fingers over its pages. I felt I could die happy. I took a deep breath and swallowed some of the heat inside me. This was nonsense talk. I was much too sensible to fall for such foolish, sudden impulses, and over a book! Archer took the tome in hand and smiled at the three curious women opposite him. "Perfect timing," Archer complimented the man. The steward smiled, bowed his head and left. "What is it?" Renee purred. "My wedding gift," Archer explained as he held up the book on the fingers of one hand. "This is one of the rarest books in the world. My bride will receive this book on our wedding night." Alicia's lips turned into a pout. "Is that it? A book." "If you don't want it then I know two others who do," Archer teased. Alicia perked up and reached out her hand. "You're giving it to me?" He laughed and pulled the book from her reach. "Maybe we can play Russian Roulette." Lana wrinkled her nose. "Isn't that where the losers die?" "More or less," Archer confirmed. "It will be less on my boat," the captain spoke up. "Come on, Max, out with it. Who gets it?" Renee snapped. Archer smiled, set the book on his plate and stood. He bowed to the table and stepped backwards towards the dance floor. "Perhaps I'll give it to the first person who dances with me, man or woman." The book was quickly forgotten and abandoned on the table as the women tussled with each other as they tried to stand at the same time. Many at the table followed them to the floor as the orchestra, goaded by Archer, struck up a faster tune. I remained one of the few occupants of the table. The others were older and probably hungrier more for food than dancing. My eyes invariably fell on the book, and my desire to own it overwhelmed me. I looked around the dining hall. Everyone's attention was on the dance floor. Just a little snatch. A little peek at the rare contents. My only problem was the captain and his mate. They were still at their seats and watched the proceeding dance floor fight with apprehension and amusement. The three women grappled with each other for dibs on the first dance. Things got serious when hair was pulled and a shirt was torn. "Captain, I really think you should interfere in this," one of the older women spoke up. The captain sighed and stood, and his mate joined him. "So it seems. If you'll excuse us." The pair marched to the dance floor. Now was my chance. I snatched the book and hurried from the table. No one was the wider. I hurried through the crowds of tables and empty halls back to my suite. My door was duly locked behind me, and I rushed into my bedroom and bounced onto my bed. My legs were stretched over the bed and the book sat on my lap. I brushed my hands over the rough cover. A thrill ran over me. I took a deep breath and opened the book. There were a few words on the title page. "The Darkness In the Heart of Man," I whispered. What a strange title. I flipped to the next page which was supposed to show the copyright, but that was blank. I pawed through the other pages. They were all blank. All of them. The only words was the title. My shoulders slumped and I closed the book. "Great job, Jane," I scolded myself. "You just stole a book that has a total of-" I opened to the title page, "-seven words. That should get you about seven months in prison." I was about to close the book again when something caught my eye. The pages were an aged yellow, but there seemed to be some sort of white glow from them. I leaned down and squinted. There was definitely some sort of light. I straightened and turned the book over in my hands. There didn't seem to be any place for a bulb, or even a battery. "What in the-ah!" I jerked back and tossed the book. It fell two feet from me onto the bed with its pages closed. The glow ceased to glow. I waited a few minutes in breathless anticipation of something happening, but the book just sat there. I tentatively reached out and tapped the cover with my finger. The book sat there. It looked plain and normal, but I didn't trust it. I slid open the drawer to the closest nightstand, snatched the book from the bed, and tossed it into the drawer. I slammed the drawer shut and hopped back to the other side of the bed. Nothing happened. No explosion or strange light. I snuck close to the draw and popped it open. The book lay there, but there was no ominous glow. I leaned against the wall behind the bed and took a deep breath. "It's just your tired eyes playing tricks on you. . ." I muttered to myself. That decided it for me. I hadn't slept enough during the day, and the hunger didn't help. A trip to the suite refrigerator was made, food was procured, and I felt better. I slipped into my nightshirt and shorts, and slid beneath the covers. Sleep came quickly to me, but I was destined for a strange dream. I dreamed I woke up in the middle of the night. The room was lit by a strong white light. I thought I left the lamp on, so I rolled over. My eyes widened when I beheld the book laying open on the nightstand. The glow poured out of its open pages like thin, golden tendrils and spilled down onto the floor. The covers on that side of the bed shifted and rose as the things slid up the side of the bed and beneath the sheets. They glided across the bed and over my body. I wanted to run from the bed, to scream, to do anything but lay there, but I couldn't. There was a strange lethargy over me that kept me from panicking. It was almost like I knew it hadn't come to hurt me, but quite the opposite. The sheets rose and fell with the slithering, pulsing tendrils as they washed over me like a soft, warm wave. Their tips dipped beneath my shirt and brushed against my breasts. I shuddered and felt my mounds swell with sensual desire. My hands gripped the mattress sheet as more tendrils slithered beneath my shirt. They wrapped their lithe bodies around my breasts and slowly, gently massaged them. I gasped. My pulse quickened. My chest heaved up and down. The sensual strands of light slid over my trembling flesh. Each touch stoked a burning desire inside me that I never knew existed. Every graze, every brush made me want more. I couldn't get enough of these sensual touches. My eyes shot wide open when the tendrils slipped beneath the elastic band of my shorts. They stroked the sensitive nub that lay hidden in my wet, hot folds. I groaned and squirmed. This felt so wrong, and yet I knew it was right. I wanted this. I wanted this so badly that my body ached for it. "Yes. Oh god, yes," I groaned. The tendrils heard me and shuddered. Their warm bodies sank deep into my hot core. Each penetration was a new feeling of being reborn in a world of sensual desire. I knew only the feel of them as they penetrated me. They stretched my walls and filled me with longing for the delicious pleasure that was to come. The tendrils pulled out and thrust back inside me. I leaned my head back and moaned. The warm strands of light penetrated me again and again. Each time was a new experience in love-making, a new sensation of lust that I reveled in. These creatures of light made me a creature of lust, and what I lusted for was their touch, their thrusts, their seduction. Their bodies pressed close against my trembling, sweat-soaked flesh. I was surrounded by a warm heat of tension and desire. I wanted to stay in that sweet, sensual pleasure forever, to feel the bliss of sexual desire for all eternity. My body, though, craved completion. It demanded release from this delicious ache that engulfed my mind and soul. I needed release, and I needed it now. "Take me," I moaned. My tongue flicked out and licked my dry lips. "Take me now." They heard my pleas. The tendrils thrust faster. Their lithe bodies slid over me in a hot web of lust. I flailed atop the bed. My hands tugged at the sheets. I whipped my head from side to side. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" I chanted. These tendrils were my lover, my god, my whole world. I existed only for them to have their way with me, and I enjoyed every second of my submission. My end came in an explosion of wild pleasure. I arched my back and cried out my joy to the bright world as I was swallowed by the sexual frenzy of our love-making. When I fell back the world was dark. So was my room. My body was covered in sweat, but no tendrils. I sat up and looked around. The room was shrouded in night. There was no sign of the creatures. I glanced at the nightstand. The book was gone. I found it in the drawer, and I drew it out and brushed my hand over the plain cover, so much like me. "Was it all a dream?" I whispered. No one answered my question. Not even I could. A knock at the door made me jump. More trouble had arrived.

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