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Tracy Cooper-Posey: It’s The Season To Be Merry

It’s the Winter Solstice today.

Actually, to be precise:  This year, the exact moment of the solstice is at 17.47 UTC (or 10.47 a.m. MST, which is my local time), which is when the top half of the globe is facing furthest away from the sun, and starts rolling back toward it for the summer.

The different religious and cultural customs around the world vary from one extreme to another, but when it comes to the winter solstice, nearly all religions and cultures celebrate or observe the solstice, and there are some strong parallels around the world.  For Celtic countries, such as Ireland, the winter season traditionally begins on November 1, on All Hallows or Samhain. Winter ends and spring begins on Imbolc or Candlemas, which is February 1 or 2. Most East Asian cultures call Dong zhi their winter solstice. Some midwinter festivals take place at night, such as the Hōku, the Hawaiian full moon closest to the winter solstice. And many European midwinter celebrations still centre upon the night of December 24 leading into the December 25, which was considered to be the winter solstice, when the Julian calendar was established. In the Jewish Talmud, Teḳufat Tevet, the day of the winter solstice, is recorded as the first day of the “stripping time” or winter season. Persian culture also recognizes it as the beginning of winter.

The solstice itself was possibily celebrated as early as neolithic times. The layouts of monuments such as Stonehenge in Britain and New Grange in Ireland show that both have been carefully aligned to the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.

We often complain about the excess of food and goodies that magically appear around this time of year and make their way into our gullets and around our hips.  The practice is almost hard-wired into our genes from centuries of cultural habit – any culture!

Jenna MacDonald, cynic extraordinaire, flees to Banff, Canada, for the holiday season to lick her wounds in private after an assignment takes a tragic turn. But trouble manages to find her even in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. A mystery-clad stranger called Rhys Cellyn exerts a powerful influence over her mind and her body, while Jenna struggles to stay afloat in the mythical world he plunges her into. Time is against her, for at the moment of the winter solstice she must make a fateful choice.

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Excerpt

~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~

She shook her head, denying it. “This afternoon, that man in the coffee shop, the one that chased us…he didn’t call you Cellyn. He called you…A-Aveyon.”
“Avaon,” Rhys corrected. “It’s a name I used once, long ago. That is the name he knows me by.”
It was a perfectly straightforward answer, but the hints of a mysterious past, of different identities, annoyed her. It made her uneasy. “Who is he, then? He doesn’t have multiple identities…does he?”
“His name is Clement Hine, and no, he uses no other name.”
“Maybe I should have let him help me instead of you.”
His gaze remained steady. “You also know the truth of that, Jenna. You let your instincts guide you this afternoon, and you’re still safe. You knew without being told that you could trust me.”
She could not meet his gaze, could not acknowledge his truth. She would not willingly let him pull the conversation back to where he had been taking it, so she kept up the attack.
“And where were you in the coffee shop, then? I studied every face in that shop, before the coffee thing happened. And you weren’t there. Not before then.”
“Every face, huh?” he asked, with a small smile. “That’s not a common talent, remembering faces.”
“It’s not talent, it’s training,” she snapped. “And stay on the subject.”
“Training?” His eyes narrowed. “Wait…you knew we had lost them this afternoon…” He sat forward, the brows coming together. “You never asked why I bought the coat. You knew. What do you do for a living, Jenna? Whom do you work for?”
“I can’t say.” Wariness flooded her. The SIA’s secrets were not hers to divulge.
“You’ve already said too much.” Rhys leaned back and crossed his arms. “Not CIA or FBI…you don’t have that sharp, PC look about you. Royal Canadian Mounted Police?” He lifted his brow.
“Nice guess, as we’re in Canada. But I’m American. Anyway, I won’t confirm your guesses, even if by some wild chance you guessed right.” Which he would never do. The SIA—the Special Investigations Agency—was called that for a reason. While the CIA cavorted about in public drawing the gaze of civilians and other countries’ organizations, the SIA quietly moved in the shadows, getting the job done. No one knew about the SIA except those who worked for it. And even Jenna didn’t know every facet of the organization, just her small pocket of it.
Rhys’ frown deepened. “Given your appearance, your speech idioms and the hint of West Coast in your speech…all things considered, I’d say you work for the SIA.”
Jenna snapped her jaw shut before it could do more than sag open by a millimeter or two, but it was enough to tell him what she would not say.
He smiled. “Yes, I thought so.”
“How do you know that? How do you know about the SIA at all?”
“Simple. I have done contract work for them. And I know, from that work, that headquarters are in Seattle. I’m familiar with the type of people they employ. And you sound a little like a Seattle native. Add that to your unusual training…” He shrugged. “I won’t pry any more, because I know you can’t tell me anything, but at least we both know that you’re more than capable of looking after yourself if need be. That will help.”
“Help what?”
“For the solstice.” He nodded toward the window beside them, where snow built up against the glass. “They’re already starting to throw their defenses against us. What they will bring to bear on us during the solstice will need all our combined skills.”
The subject was turning back to the uneasy territory she’d nudged it away from. She grasped quickly for a deflection. “So where did you spring from this afternoon? I notice you carefully didn’t confirm that you weren’t in the shop before that coffee thing happened.”
He sat back, and Jenna could almost feel his sudden caution.   “Why do you call it that? ‘The coffee thing’.”
“What the hell else should I call it?”
“What happened?”
“Then you weren’t there.”
“Tell me.”
She shrugged. “I overheard a man ripping a woman to shreds—verbally, anyway. Then she…I dunno.” In her mind, she saw again the woman’s hand swivel around, the big coffee cup in it. The woman’s eyes widening in surprise—even before she tipped it upside down. “She got fed up with it. Got pissed off. Something. And she dumped her cup of coffee in his lap. Serves him right.”
“Is that what really happened?”
She felt the little jump of nerves inside her. “Of course it is!”
He lifted his fingers a little. A calming motion. Peace.
Screw that. She glared at him. “So if you weren’t in the shop when the coffee got dumped, then where were you and what made you decide to step up and help me?”
He studied her. And with the same certainty she had felt over his caution, she now knew he took her measure. His gaze did not fall away from her face by a millimeter as he spoke slowly and clearly. “When you dumped that woman’s coffee into her partner’s lap, I was a quarter of a mile away.”
His gaze wouldn’t release her, wouldn’t let her shy away from the bald fact he had just given her.
She realized her hands trembled and put them flat on the table, to hide the tremble. “Goddamn it…” Her voice was hoarse, and she cleared it. “What did I do to that woman? I sat a table away from her.”
“You did exactly what you’re beginning to suspect you did, Jenna. You made her dump the coffee.”
The surge, the mental thrust as she had silently shouted at the woman…
She touched her temple, felt the clamminess there. Cold sweat. “You can’t know that. You weren’t there.”
“I felt it, Jenna. Even from a quarter mile’s distance I felt it. You can’t control it properly yet, so you push the field too hard. I’m surprised Hine didn’t break out with a nosebleed, sitting that close to you.”
She recalled Hine’s face when she had first seen him. The etched brow. “He had a headache.” Then meaning of it hit her, and the trembling worsened. “Oh shit.” She realized she was rubbing her own temple, and dropped her hand. “No, no, no…this is…too bizarre. It’s a fairy tale, Rhys.”
He exuded calm, a stoical patience. “You haven’t asked yet how I got to the coffee shop so quickly.”
But her mind slid away from contemplating that poser. The potential answers disturbed her too much to consider too closely. She shook her head. “Rhys…what have you got me mixed up in?”
He covered her fist with his big hand, and squeezed to keep it still. He looked at her steadily until she calmed down.
“I teleported.” The two words were soft, but perfectly clear.
She shook her head a little. “No.” It couldn’t be possible.
He gave her answers she didn’t want to hear; yet she knew he told the truth, the impossible-to-encompass truth. And he sat there, calmly waiting for her to take it in. To accept it.
“Okay, then. Teleport us to Florida. Out of the snow, away from Clement Hine.”
“I can’t do that.” He sat back once more. “The more powerful lords can teleport themselves over short distances. Only the most powerful amongst us can transport other people at the same time. There hasn’t been one with that sort of power for…centuries, that I can recall.”
Us. She shivered. Did he include her in that pronoun? “That you recall? What are you, some kind of historian?”
“Something like that.”
She pushed her glass away from her. “I can’t…just accept this…this fantasy. Not like this. For god’s sake, Rhys, I’m an agent. I move in the world of the real. I deal with facts, with harsh realities.”
“This is real. Believe me.”
“Take it on faith?” She grimaced. “I’m atheist. I don’t believe a thing about this business of yours, Rhys. It’s all fairy stories for little kids. In the real world there’s a reason for everything, and nothing goes bump in the night unless someone pushes it.”
He smiled. “That sounds like something someone else said once, that you’ve remembered.”
The sadness that seemed to permanently hover nearby these days descended over her like a pall, along with the pain and the fury the memories delivered each time she recalled them. “Yes, someone else did say that once.” Sudden tiredness drained all the resistance in her.
“Someone close.”
Tears pricked at her eyes, and she wiped them on her sleeve with an impatient movement. “Let’s change subjects.”
“Your lover.” Rhys frowned. “What happened, Jenna?”
She stared at him, and the full force of her fury and helplessness surged anew. “He’s dead, okay? He was on assignment with me, and someone screwed up and Kevin died. Now let’s change the goddamn subject.”
It was the first time she had managed to speak the words aloud, in the three months since Kevin had died. Her eyes swam with searing hot tears, and the lump in her throat threatened to tear out her esophagus, so hard and big did it seem. But she managed to ride out both tears and hurt, until she sat looking at the tablecloth, back in focus, the sting in her eyes clearing. Only then did she dare look at Rhys.
He sat very still. “Kevin Allen?”
This time she made no attempt to support her sagging jaw.     “You knew him?”
“We…worked together a couple of times.” Rhys spoke as if his mind drifted elsewhere. Then he shook his head and gave a small gusty laugh. “Stars above, now it becomes so clear…” He spoke to himself. But then he focused upon her again. “Is that why you’re here in Banff, Jenna?”
“Sort of. Here…there is no one I know. Nothing I’m familiar with.”
His eyes narrowed a little, the ridiculously long lashes lowering. “Running away?”
“I prefer to think of it as detox and rejuvenation.”
His stare would not let her go. “You were injured? When Kevin died, you were injured, too.”
“Yes.”
“You’re mended, then? Physically?”
“The doctors tell me I’m well again, but I get weak. I still don’t feel…right.” The confession provided a surprising relief. The lag in her recovery had bothered her, even though she had not spoken of it to any of the doctors assigned to her case. She had dismissed it as simply the physical manifestation of her grief over Kevin, and conveniently ignored the small voice of denial inside her.
“It’s not just the altitude here?”
“It’s not the altitude. It’s a…weakness. I don’t like it. It makes me feel unsure of myself.” She stopped herself from revealing more, from speaking of the odd little things that had been happening lately that made her feel unsettled and adrift. Like the coffee thing.
“Yes, I can see how someone like you would find that disconcerting. But if you don’t like the unsettling feelings, then why come here, where everything is new and unsettling?”
“I don’t…I can’t stand the idea of waking up at home, Christmas morning. Alone.” She pushed away the wail of self-pity with a mental shove.
“Ah…of course.” He grimaced a little. “I’m sorry, Jenna.”
She shook her head. “We both knew the risks. Accepted them.”
“But it doesn’t take away the pain.”
“The guilt,” she amended, surprising even herself with that revealing word.
Even Rhys veered away from it. “Kevin Allen was a cynic of the first water. He had no time for anything he couldn’t put his finger upon and identify.”
“He was an engineer. A geek.” It seemed disloyal to use those words to describe him that way, but even Kevin had called himself a geek. He had got a perverse delight out of the title. She suspected that at times, Kevin had maintained his ‘show me the evidence’ attitude out of sheer stubbornness, and a contrary need to show how insubstantial and pathetic beliefs grounded on faith really were.
“How much of your inability to swallow the truth now is simply you clinging to his attitudes, Jenna?” His tone had softened.
“Truth?” She pushed the bottle of pills a little, making them tip and roll across the table with a small rattle. “All of what you’ve said is hearsay. And parlor tricks. There’s no evidence.”
“Today wasn’t enough evidence for you?”
She couldn’t hold his gaze. “She dumped the coffee because the ‘prince’ she sat with deserved it. Every woman in that shop wanted her to do it.”
“You made her do it, Jenna.”
He didn’t emphasize the words in any way, but she jumped all the same.
“No, I didn’t.”
He stood the bottle of pills back up. “That’s why you have this uncontrollable need for omega 3s and sugar right now. You’re not used to it. Your brain needs the restoratives, the energy.”
“No.” She was just tired. It had been a long day so far, and she still hadn’t recovered from the accident properly. That’s why she had this need for food and was lightheaded.
“It wasn’t Hine, Jenna. And it certainly wasn’t me. We were both surrounded by temporals and therefore under the injunction of Erceldoune’s Precept—but you don’t know the laws yet.”
“What’s a temporal?” The question spilled from her before she reconsidered the wisdom of following Rhys down this conversational path. Her curiosity, her need to know it all, prompted it.
“Human. Not one of us.”
“A muggle?” All her defensive energy suddenly drained, like air from a tire. This time she knew he included her in the “us”.
He grinned. “I wouldn’t have thought, given your cynicism about this, that you’d watch that sort of movie.”
“It’s just fun.” Then she amended herself. “I thought it was just fun.”
“That sort of stuff is just fun. Toads and wands.” He pushed the pills towards her again. “Take them. And you should eat more oil for a while—lots of polyunsaturates and monos. Olive oil. And up your water intake. Three liters a day, for someone your height and weight.”
She looked at the bottle, and heard Kevin’s voice in her mind, a voice from the past. All that hocus pocus stuff is such bullshit. Only idiots who need to prop up their egos with the idea they have a more important role in life than the one they currently own will swallow it. Anyone with any sort of self-respect can only laugh at it.
Oh, how he would have skewered Rhys had he been sitting here listening to this! He would have slivered him into small pieces, all with a polite smile and irrefutable logic.
She looked at Rhys, shaking her head a little. “I can’t.” It was far too much to swallow right now. “I can’t…accept this.”
“You can’t accept what you saw with your own eyes? Felt?”
“Kevin—”
“Kevin would have accepted it by now. He worked on a scientific basis. Empirical evidence. You got all the evidence you could ask for today.”
She bowed her head. Rhys was right.
Again she saw the woman in the coffee shop, her eyes widen with surprise as she watched her own hand swing around with the coffee cup in it. It didn’t matter how much she tried to rationalize it, that one image would destroy her every argument. It was evidence. Unsavory evidence she couldn’t make go away. She had to accept that something had happened in that shop that resided outside her experience to date. Something had made that woman act. Someone had influenced her. But how? And why?
Rhys’ explanations made a superficial sense. They fit with her own sense of rightness. But the facts supporting his reasons were the stuff of fantasy. Fairytale logic. And that’s the point where her defenses rose. To go against the ingrained attitudes of a lifetime…
She was saved from having to answer right away by the arrival of their food. She fell on hers, cutting into the salmon straight away. Rhys, too, tackled his plate with gusto. Well, he would need the EFAs, too.
She sheered away from that line of thought, and pondered instead the question Rhys had raised. Would Kevin have accepted what he had seen if he had been there tonight? She looked at Rhys. “Did Kevin ever see you do…anything?”
He shook his head. “The law, the precept, prevents us—any of us—from using powers or displaying talents where a temporal will see them or be affected by them. The whole Corpus Temporalty was built around that precept. Temporals must never know, guess or even suspect our world exists.”
She continued eating, mulling it over.
They were drinking coffee before Rhys spoke again. He tapped his spoon against the side of the cup in a thoughtful way, then put it down. “Let me give you a demonstration.”
“Here?”
“Why not?”
“Won’t the brimstone and smoke draw attention?”
He rolled his eyes a little, then settled back in his chair, studying her, his long legs stretched out before him. The silence lengthened.
“And?”
Finally, he spoke. “In the coffee shop, you heard me when I told you to keep walking.”
“Well…yes.” She shrugged.
Yet I didn’t speak. The words echoed in her mind as if she had heard them, yet Rhys’ lips had not moved.
She swallowed. “Ventriloquism?”
He shook his head, almost smiling, and sighed. “Cognitive dissonance. You have a vested interest in not believing what you saw and heard today, so the details will already be hazy in your memory.”
“Am I really being that stubborn?”
“You’re not the worst case I’ve come across.” He smiled a little. “Let’s try something else. I want you to close your eyes, and…have you ever meditated?”
“Me?”
“Well, it helps if you’ve had practice clearing your mind.        Close your eyes and think of a dark place—a tunnel, going endlessly back.”
Curious, she closed her eyes and tried to think of the nothing he had been indirectly asking her to think of. It took a moment for her to let go of her other senses. She heard the murmur from other diners, the soft chink of cutlery against the beautiful porcelain china they used here. She smelled her coffee and felt the rough burr of the tablecloth beneath her fingers.
And she was very aware of Rhys, sitting across the table watching her.
Then she took a deep breath and consciously tried to let it all go, to relax and fall deeper into the well of blackness she pictured in her mind, shutting down her hearing, concentrating.
In her mind’s eye she saw herself. It wasn’t her own thought—she wouldn’t think of herself from that outside perspective and besides, it had a quality, foreign and different, that marked it as not her thought. She saw a woman sitting at a table, one forearm resting across the tablecloth before her, her head bowed. She seemed slender to the point of illness. Her collarbones were starkly outlined above the scoop neck of the tee shirt, and her arms seemed thin. But her hair glowed golden red in the lights from the restaurant, rippling down across her shoulders. He wanted to push back the long lock there, that one, back over her shoulder…
Jenna jerked her head up to look at Rhys, and for a moment even when her eyes flickered open the image remained, and the unmistakable impulse that accompanied it. But it disappeared a second later. The delay, more than anything else, told her it was not simply something she had dreamed up on her own.
Rhys leaned over the table and lifted the lock of hair that lay against her chest, and pushed it back over her shoulder.     “That’s better.” Then he leaned back again, his black eyes with the tiny crows feet marks at the corners watching for her reaction.
“How?” Her voice croaked. Her heart beat heavily. This was evidence. Proof. How could she deny it any longer and maintain any self-respect? And if she must accept this moment, then the other moment in the coffee shop must also be as Rhys had maintained. She had made that woman dump the coffee.
Her gut clenched tight, and her skin prickled with tension.   “Why? Why any of it, what did Hine want with me…?”
“The how I can’t answer. The why…well, that’s for later.” He looked around. “For daylight and an absence of night fears.” He held up a hand as if she were about to protest. “I promise that there will be an explanation. For now, let me leave it at this: the skills we have all are a product of our fields. Some of us have large fields; others have small ones. Each of us can sense the others’ fields, and sometimes from long distances away. The closer we are, the more detail about that field we can sense.”
“But it wasn’t ‘sensing’! You put in my mind what you were seeing. What you felt.”
“Those of us working together can do that.”
“Working together?”
“Or simply being together. Close association builds bridges and sometimes unexpected synergies.” He rubbed his temple. “Which makes it impossible for us to lie to each other. You can’t lie in your mind. But enough for tonight, Jenna. You’ve got more than enough to think about.”
“Can I do that too? Give you my thoughts?” Then she blushed as she added, “Or have I been giving them to you all along?”
“It doesn’t work that way. It’s not like radio waves that are out there to be scooped up by any competent radio receiver. It takes an act of will to share your thoughts. But if you can hear me, then I most certainly can hear you, if you learn how.”
“How?”
“You pass it over. A deliberate decision, a determination to send it out…but don’t try it tonight, Jenna. You’re still recovering from this afternoon.”
Enough clues had been dropped for her to grapple with the problem. She married up what she had experienced a moment ago with her emotions and actions this afternoon in the coffee shop—the moment when she now realized she had been…what? Using her powers? She sidled away from that cliché, and studied Rhys instead. He watched her, his eyes narrowed a little.
She tried a simple thing. She ‘pushed’ a thought at him. Can you hear me?
No reaction. She shrugged. “You’re not hearing me.”
He smiled a little. “At first, it’s a lot easier to give something that has emotional importance to you. It’s easier to push.”
His use of the word ‘push’ to describe the process reassured her. She was on the right track, then. At the coffee shop she had been emotionally wound up. But what of emotional value could she push at him now?
She thought of the intoxicating need for him she had experienced the moment she had seen him. The disorientation…

She studied him. Rhys calmly sipped his coffee, looking urbane and comfortable, while her gut churned with the remembered maelstrom. She deliberately recalled the moment when he had finally looked at her. It built inside her, a hot ball of emotions and images jumbled together. And just like at the coffee shop, she pushed it at Rhys, a mental shove she could feel with her body.

She knew she had managed it when Rhys put his cup down very suddenly—exactly like he had been struck by a thought.   His eyes widened. “Again.”
“If it’s just like a thought, can’t you simply recall it for yourself?”
“I have to have seen and felt it clearly the first time to recall it properly the second. It was too bright, too loud. Do it again.”
“I don’t know that I can.” Her cheeks prickled with heat.
His head bent a little sideways. “Don’t leave me confused, Jenna. I know what you were showing me. Today in the coat shop.”
“Yes.”
“Why that moment?”
“Because…well…” Showing him would explain it better and faster. She let the hot ball of feelings well up inside her again, and pushed it out towards him, trying not to shove so hard. She kept the single moment clear in her mind, and the feelings that went with it, discarding the rest of the package.
“More.”
She replayed the next few minutes, alternatively recalling them, then nudging them towards him. Then she discovered the trick of thinking and sending at once, and let the rest of the confusion, the feelings of betrayal, the lingering emotions over Kevin’s death, play out in her mind.
Then she opened her eyes and looked at Rhys, her gut still churning. What would his reaction be?
He nodded slowly. “I see.” Then he swiveled to face her squarely. “Let me show you something, now. It may ease your mind.”
A feather of fear touched her. “How well did you know Kevin?” she asked. “Is it something about him?”
“No.” He smiled a little. “Kevin and I got along tolerably well, given our differences of opinion. But he would never have confessed anything to someone like me.”
Jenna took a deep breath. “Or me.”
He nodded again, as if it wasn’t a surprise. “Close your eyes. You’ll find it easier that way until you’ve had more practice.”
She closed her eyes, and tried to think of the black well she had used before. And suddenly the images appeared there, firm and detailed. She immersed herself in them, caught by their intensity, the emotions in them, drawn into the story they unfolded…
A young Rhys, a long time ago—how long, she couldn’t figure. No reference appeared for her to establish time beyond the certainty that this memory came from long ago.   Rhys…staring out across the Atlantic, towards the shores of North America, knowing he was doomed to leave his home, his country, that he was being called there. She was there: the unknown woman who held his fate in her hands.
A flicker of impressions came, too fast for Jenna to separate them individually, but the overall sense of time passing: hard work, fear, loneliness. Danger, and the constant search for her. The one that he had come to America to find. The signs had faded, the search turned cold. But he had continued the fight, knowing that his future was set.
And then the sense of her had flickered back into being, like a candle coming back to flame. Weak at first. Hazy and out of focus, difficult to locate. But she was near. Very near.
And then the burst of energy, the increasing strength…which drew the attention of others besides himself. They all began to draw in upon the growing power, the untouched field…
Banff, where the call had inexorably led him. His hunt through the streets, in search of a woman he did not know, and would not recognize. And then, clear as a shout, the surge that had grabbed his heart and mind and told him without words her location. The jolt had pushed him into teleporting without pause to consider the wisdom of jumping to a place he didn’t know, where people would see him. He jumped, pulled by the imperative quality of the surge in her field, and the hovering presence of another field, one he knew, far too close by her. It had been instinctive, and pure luck. He arrived just outside the back door of the coffee shop as the uproar went up inside, and hurried in, brushing past bewildered staff, just in time to see Hine get to his feet, ready to confront a tall woman walking towards him.
It was her. He knew it with utter certainty. And she was in danger.
He let his instinct lead him. He pushed his mental command at her to keep walking, and stepped beside her, bringing her within his own field, which was potent enough to keep Hine at bay—especially while in public. But while Hine couldn’t use any esoteric methods to halt or delay them, he could still use physical force, so when they had reached the pavement outside the store, Rhys had instantly begun to run. He’d hoped to put distance between her and the reinforcements he knew Hine would call up.
And marvelously, she’d followed him without endless badgering demands for explanations. She’d accepted everything he’d done almost as if she’d known why he did it…and now he knew that she did know, was a consummate professional in her own right. Of course, it all made sense…her life, whether she’d known it or not, had been destined to serve the human race, and she would have naturally found such a niche on her own.
And then, because she’d behaved so sensibly, he’d risked showing her his face in the store. She’d recognized him, as he’d known she would, but for a stunning second his own astonished delight gripped him. She was…perfect. No other way existed to describe her. Had he been able to choose her, her hair, her eyes, her clear skin, they would all have been assembled to create the woman before him. And while he bathed in the pool of delight, he wondered if the fates that dictated such destinies had arranged things this way. Although fate often seemed capricious and cruel, sometimes it showed unexpected empathy for the people it shoved hither and yon.
For moments after that first stunning examination of her, he’d been busy with details of survival, strategies and plans, but when finally he could draw breath and pause, the impact of her presence crowded in on him again. She was here. He could touch her. He must touch her, or go mad. The pressure of years of wondering, of waiting, must be released.
And now she sat before him at the table…hotheaded, and damned sexy with it…and with every moment that passed as she struggled to offload a lifetime of prejudices that she thought were incontrovertible fact, as she tried—oh, so hard—to give him a fair hearing, to find a way to accept everything that bore down upon her, his admiration for her grew in leaps and bounds. Such a woman! She was worthy, indeed.
He looked at her, at the signs of recent sorrow, and the markers of strength: the squared shoulders, the clear-eyed gaze, the fine line between her brows. The pressure to touch her again simmered. The need to take her, make her his…it was a hot cauldron burning within. But patience…she was strong, but she had been bruised badly—
Jenna gasped and opened her eyes, reaching automatically for the water glass, for anything to keep her eyes from his. She gripped the stem of the water glass and took an unsteady sip. Her body tingled, every nerve ending alive, writhing with the dammed-back pressure of a sexual need that threatened to explode. She ached with the need to be touched, to make love. And that, finally, made her look at him.
Despite all the fiery impatient emotions broiling within him that he had just revealed to her, Rhys sat in his chair calmly watching her.
She took a breath, trying to still her frenetic heartbeat. “Do you know what you’re doing, what that…does to me?”
“To the mind, a remembered emotion is no different from an emotion prompted by something in the present moment. If you were to vividly recall an argument you had with your boss a year ago, it would recreate the same physical response as having an argument right now. And, we’ve discovered, an emotion given to us by another as I just did to you, does the same thing.”
“You know what you showed me, don’t you?”
His gaze held hers again, not letting go. “Yes, I know what I showed you.”
She licked her lips. “Isn’t it a little unfair…making me want you?”
“As you did to me a moment ago?”
His calm matter-of-fact handling of such a sensitive subject, such a strange subject, allowed her to deal with it as prosaically as he. She could acknowledge the truth. “I had forgotten about that.” But her cheeks still burned.
“It can get confusing, Jenna. You may end up wondering what came first, like the chicken and the egg. That is why I had to show you that what I’m about to do next isn’t because of what you just showed me. That it isn’t your emotions goading me.”
Her heart gave a little jump. “What you mean is that you…”   She took a deep breath.
Tell me this way if you can’t speak it aloud. His voice sounded in her mind. We two will never be able to hide from each other.
The long-term implications in his thoughts, in the memories he had shared with her… Jenna knew she would have to deal with that soon, but for now, she took a deep breath and deliberately spoke aloud. “You wanted me before I gave you my thoughts. That is what you wanted to show me.”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
So I can show you this…
And the images/feelings came at her as a sensual junket…too entwined to differentiate, to even separate out the perspective. Her body, naked, against his. Hot flesh against hot flesh, the overwhelming joy of sliding his cock into her, the heavy weight of her breasts in his hands, the shape of her nipples against his tongue, brushing his teeth, and her hair, sliding across his chest, the intoxicating scent of it wreathing him. Softness. Warmth. Striving for the climax, straining against each other. Murmured delight…
Without warning, the glass in Jenna’s hand snapped at the base, giving way beneath the pressure of her fingers. The bowl of the glass smashed upon the table with a sodden crack. She jumped backwards, trying to avoid the cascade of water, her heart ricocheting against her ribs with more than surprise at the mishap.
The waiter hurried over to sop up the damage with a clean napkin, while Jenna attempted to pick up glass fragments with fingers that felt thick and clumsy. All the while she felt Rhys’ gaze upon her, knew he probably found her telling reaction amusing.
The waiter waved her hands away from the cloth. “No, no, your fingers. You will cut them, mademoiselle. Come, sit at another table. A clean table. Then we can clean up this mess and bother you no more.”
She had to look at Rhys then, to see if this was to his liking. And was shocked to realize that far from being amused, Rhys—finally—showed a reaction to their exchanges. His eyes had narrowed, and his breathing had quickened.
She didn’t want to move to another table. She wanted him to take her upstairs, and do to her what he had just shown her. She wanted…oh! She wanted to screw, make love, fuck wildly, until she was an empty husk, drained and depleted.
She wanted, above all else, to feel him slide his cock into her—that supreme moment that only came once, the sweet novel pressure of him pushing into her, hard and hot, and deeply satisfying.
She threw the thought at him, realizing that already the trick came easier, took less concentration to manage.
And she saw his chest lift on a sharp inhale.
He looked at the waiter. “We’ll just pay and go.”

~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~



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