Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Demon Lover

“Wonderfully inventive and clever.” - Romantic Times

Since accepting a teaching position at remote Fairwick College in upstate New York, Callie McFay has experienced the same disturbingly erotic dream every night: A mist enters her bedroom, then takes the shape of a virile, seductive stranger who proceeds to ravish her in the most toe-curling, wholly satisfying ways possible. Perhaps these dreams are the result of her having written the bestselling book The Sex Lives of Demon Lovers. Callie’s lifelong passion is the intersection of lurid fairy tales and Gothic literature—which is why she’s found herself at Fairwick’s renowned folklore department, living in a once stately Victorian house that, at first sight, seemed to call her name.  But Callie soon realizes that her dreams are alarmingly real. She has a demon lover—an incubus—and he will seduce her, pleasure her, and  eventually suck the very life from her. Then Callie makes another startling discovery: Her incubus is not the only mythical creature in Fairwick. As the  tenured witches of the college and the resident fairies in the surrounding woods prepare to cast out the demon, Callie must accomplish something infinitely more difficult—banishing this supernatural lover from her heart.


“So, Dr. McFay, can you tell me how you first became interested in the sex lives of demon lovers?”  The question was a bit jarring, coming as it did from a silver- chignoned matron in pearls and a pink tweed Chanel suit. But I’d gotten used to questions like  these. Since I’d written the bestselling book Sex Lives of the Demon Lovers (the title adapted from my thesis, The Demon Lover in Gothic Literature: Vampires, Beasts, and Incubi), I’d been on a round of readings, lectures, and, now, job interviews that focused on the sex in the title. I had a feeling, though, that Elizabeth Book, as dean of a college with a prominent folklore department, might genuinely be more interested in the demon lovers of the title.  It was the folklore department that had brought me to the interview. It certainly wasn’t the college— second- tier Fairwick College, enrollment 1,600 students, 120 full- time faculty, 30 part- time (“We pride ourselves on our excellent teacher to student ratio,” Dr. Book had gushed earlier). Or the town: Fairwick, New York, population 4,203, a faded Catskill village shadowed by mountains and bordered by a thousand acres of virgin forest. A great place if your hobbies were snowshoeing and ice fi shing, but not if your tastes ran, as mine did, to catching the O’Keeffe show at the Whitney, shopping at Barneys, and dining out at the new Bobby Flay restaurant.  And it wasn’t that I hadn’t had plenty of other interviews. While most new Ph.D.s had to fi ght for job offers, because of the publicity surrounding Sex Lives I had already had two offers (from tiny colleges in the Midwest that I’d turned down) and serious interest from New York University, my undergraduate alma mater and fi rst choice since I was determined to stay in New York City. Nor was I as financially desperate as many of my friends who had student loans to pay back. A small trust fund left by my parents had paid for college and grad school and I still had a little left over to supplement my teaching income. Still, I wasn't sure about NYU yet, and Fairwick was worth considering if only for its folklore department. Few colleges had one and I’d been intrigued by the approach the college took, combining anthropology, English, and history into one interdisciplinary department. It jibed well with my interests— fairy tales and Gothic fi ction— and it had been refreshing to be interviewed by a committee of cross-discipline professors who were interested in something other than the class I taught on vampires. Not that all of them were fans. An American history professor named Frank Delmarco— a burly guy in a proletarian denim shirt rolled up to show off his muscular, hirsute forearms— had asked me if I didn’t think I was catering to the “lowest common denominator” by appealing to the popular craze for trashy vampire books.  “I teach Byron, Coleridge, and the Brontës in my classes,” I’d replied, returning his condescending smile. “I’d hardly call their work trash.” I hadn’t mentioned that my classes also watched episodes of Dark Shadows and read Anne Rice. Or that my own interest in demon lovers wasn’t only scholarly. I was used to academic snobs turning up their noses at my subject area. So I phrased my answer to Elizabeth Book’s question carefully now that we were alone in her office.  “I grew up listening to my mother and father telling Scottish fairytales . . .” I began, but Dean Book interrupted me. “Is that where you got your unusual name, Cailleach?” She pronounced it correctly— Kay- lex— for a change. “My father was Scottish,” I explained. “My mother just loved the stories and culture so much that she went to St. Andrew’s, where she met my father. They were archaeologists interested in ancient Celtic customs— that’s how I got the name.  But my friends call me Callie.” What I didn’t add was that my parents had died in a plane crash when I was twelve and that I’d gone to live with my grandmother on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Or that I remembered very little of my parents besides the fairy tales they told me. Or that the fairy tales had come to seem so real that one of the fi gures from those stories had haunted my dreams throughout my teens.  Instead I launched into the spiel I’d delivered a dozen times before— for my college essay, grad school interviews, the pitch for my book. How listening to my parents telling those old stories had fostered a love of folklore and fairy tales that had, in turn, inspired me to study the appearance of fairies, demons, and vampires in Romantic and Gothic literature. I had told the story so many times that it had begun to sound false to my ears. But I knew it was all true— or at least it had been when I first started telling it. I had felt a passion for the subject when I first realized that the stories my parents had told me when I was little existed in the outside world— or at least pieces of them did. I’d find traces of their stories in fairy tale collections and Gothic novels— from The Secret Garden and The Princess and the Goblin to Jane Eyre and Dracula. Perhaps I’d felt that
if I could trace these stories down to their origins I would reclaim the childhood I’d lost when they died and I moved in with my conscientious, but decidedly chilly and austere, grandmother.
Perhaps, too, I could find a clue to why I had such strange dreams after their deaths, dreams in which a handsome but shadowy young man, who I thought of as my fairy-tale prince, appeared in my room and told me fairy tales just as my parents had. But instead of becoming clearer, the stories my parents had told me had grown fainter . . . as if I’d worn them out with use. I’d become a very competent researcher, earned a doctorate, received awards for my thesis, and published a successful book. The dreams had ended, too, as if I’d exorcised them with all that scholarly research and analysis, which had sort of been the point. Hadn't it? Only with the disappearance of the dreams—and my fairytale prince—the initial spark that had spurred my work had also gone out and I was struggling with ideas for my next book.  I sometimes wondered if the storytellers I documented— the shamans sitting around a campfi re, the old women spinning wool as they unfurled their tales— ever grew bored with the stories they told and retold.  But the story still worked.  “You’re just what we’re looking for,” Elizabeth Book said
when I’d finished.  Was she actually offering me the job here and now? The other universities where I’d interviewed had waited a seemly ten days to get back to me— and although I’d had two interviews and taught a sample class for NYU, I still wasn’t sure if they were going to hire me. If Dean Book was actually offering me a job, her approach was really refreshing— or a little desperate. “That’s very flattering,” I began. Dean Book leaned forward, her long double rope of pearls  clicking together, and clasped her hands. “Of course you’ll have had other offers with the popularity of your subject. Vampires are all the rage now, aren’t they? And I imagine Fairwick College must look rather humble after NYU and Columbia, but I urge you to consider us. Folklore has been taught at Fairwick since its inception and the department has been nurtured by such prominent folklorists as Matthew Briggs and Angus Fraser. We take the study of legend and myth very seriously . . .”  She paused, as if too overcome by emotion to go on. Her eyes drifted toward a framed photograph on her desk and for a moment I thought she might cry. But then she squeezed her hands together, turning her knuckles white, and firmed her mouth.  “And I think you would fi nd it an inspiration for your work.”  She gave me such a meaningful smile that I felt sure she must know how much trouble I was having with my second book.  How for the fi rst time in my life the folklore and fairy tales that had seemed so alive to me felt dull and flat as pasteboard. But of course she couldn't know that, and she had already moved on to more practical issues.  “The committee does have to meet this afternoon. You’re
the last applicant we’re interviewing. And just between you and me and the doorpost, by far the best. You should hear from us by tomorrow morning. You’re staying at the Hart Brake Inn, correct?”  “Yes,” I said, trying not to cringe at the twee name of the B&B. “The owner has been very nice . . .”  “Diana Hart is a dear friend,” the dean said. “One of the lovely things about teaching here at Fairwick is the good relationship between town and gown. The townspeople are truly good neighbors.”  “That’s nice . . .” I was unsure of what else to say. None of the other colleges— and certainly not NYU, which had all Manhattan to boast of— had bothered to talk about the amenities of the town. “I certainly appreciate you taking the time to consider my application. It’s a fine college. Anyone would be proud to teach here.”  Dean Book tilted her head and regarded me thoughtfully.  Had I sounded too condescending? But then she smiled and stood, holding her hand out. When I placed mine in hers I was surprised at how forcefully she squeezed it. Beneath her pink suit I suspected there beat the heart of a steely- willed administrator.  “I look forward to hearing from you,” I told her. Walking through the campus, past the ivy- covered Gothic library, under ancient leafy trees, I wondered if I could stand to live here. While the campus was pretty, the town was scruffy and down at the heels. The heights of its culinary pretensions were a handful of pizzerias, a Chinese takeout, and a Greek diner. The shopping choices were a couple of vintagey- studenty boutiques on Main Street and a mall on the highway. I paused at the edge of the campus to gaze out at the view. From up here the town didn’t look too bad, and beyond were forest- covered mountains that would look beautiful in the fall—but by November they would be bare and then snow-covered.  I had to admit I had my heart set on New York City, as did Paul, my boyfriend of eight years. We’d met our sophomore
year at NYU. Although he was from Connecticut he was passionate about New York City and we agreed that someday we would live there together. Even when he didn't get into graduate
school in the city he had insisted I go to Columbia while he went to UCLA. Our plan was for him to apply to New York City schools when he finished rewriting his doctoral thesis in economics and got his degree next year. Surely he would tell me to hold out for the NYU offer rather than leave the city now. But could I really say no to Fairwick if I hadn’t gotten a definite yes from NYU? It would be better if I could find a way to put off my answer to Dean Book. I had until tomorrow morning to think of a delaying tactic.  I continued walking past the high iron gates of the college onto the town road that led to Hart Brake Inn. I could see the blue Victorian house, with its decorative flags and overspilling flowerboxes, from here. The opposite side of the road was bordered by massive pine trees, the beginning of a huge tract of protected state forest. I paused for a moment at the edge of a narrow trail, peering into the shadows. Even though the day was bright the woods were dark. Vines looped from tree to tree, fi lling every crevice and twisting into curious shapes. This is where all the stories start, I thought, on the edge of a dark
wood. Was this why the dean thought that living here would be an inspiration to me? Because the woods were the natural habitat of fairies and demons? I tried to laugh off the idea . . . but
couldn’t quite. A wind came up and blew out of the woods toward me, carrying with it the chill scent of pine needles, damp earth, and something sweet. Honeysuckle? Peering closer, I saw that the shadowy woods were indeed starred with white and yellow fl owers. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. The breeze curled around me, tickling the damp at the back of my neck and lifting the ends of my long hair like a hand caressing me. The sensation reminded me of the dreams I’d had as a teenager.  A shadowy man would appear at the foot of my bed. The
room would fi ll with the scent of honeysuckle and salt. I’d hear the ocean and be fi lled with an inchoate longing that I somehow knew was what he was feeling. That he was trapped in the
shadows and only I could release him. The psychiatrist my grandmother had sent me to said the dreams were an expression of grief for my parents, but I’d always found that hard to believe. The feelings I’d had for the shadow man were not at all filial. Now the invisible hand tugged at me and I stepped forward, off the pavement and onto the dirt path. The heels of my boots sank into the soft, loamy soil.  I opened my eyes, stumbling, as if waking from a dream,
and started to turn away . . . That’s when I saw the house. It was hidden from the road by a dense, overgrown hedge. Even without the hedge the house would have been hard to see because it blended in so well with its surroundings. It was a Queen Anne Victorian, its clapboard painted a pale yellow that was peeling in so many places it resembled a cleverly camouflaged butterfly. The roof was slate and furred with moss, the decorative cornices, pointed eaves, and turret were painted a deep pine green. The honeysuckle from the forest had encroached over the porch railings— or, more likely, the honeysuckle from the house’s garden had spread into the woods. The vines and shrubs circling the porch were so thick it looked as though the house were sitting in a nest. I stepped a few feet closer and a breeze stirred a loose vine over the door. It waved to me as though it were beckoning me to come closer. I looked around to see if there were any signs of habitation, but the driveway was empty, the windows were shuttered, and a green dust, undisturbed by footprints, lay over the porch
steps. Such a pretty house to be deserted, I thought. The breeze sighed through the woods as if agreeing. As I got closer I saw that the vergeboard trim along the pointed eaves was beautifully carved with vines and trumpet- shaped fl owers. Above the doorway in the pediment was a wood carving of a man’s face, a pagan god of the forest, I thought, from the pinecone wreath resting on his abundant fl owing hair. I’d seen a face like it somewhere before . . . perhaps in a book on forest deities . . . The same face appeared in the stained- glass fanlight above the front door.

Startled, I realized I’d come all the way up the steps and was
standing at the front door, my hand resting on the bronze door
knocker, which was carved in the shape of an antlered buck.
What was I thinking? Even if no one lived here it was still private
I turned to leave. The wind picked up, lifting the green pollen
from the porch fl oor and blowing it into little funnels
around my feet as I hurried down the steps, which groaned
under my boot heels. The vines that were twisted around the
porch columns creaked and strained. A loose trailer snapped
against my arm as I reached the ground, startling me so much
that I stumbled. I caught my balance, though, and hurried
down the front path, slowing only because I saw how slippery
it was from the moss growing between the stones. When I
reached the hedge I turned around to look back at the house. It
gave one more sigh as the wind stopped, its clapboard walls
moaning as if sorry to see me go, and then it settled on its foundation
and sat back, staring at me.
“Who owns the house across the street?” I asked later,
while having afternoon tea with Diana Hart on the
porch. Diana, a slim, copiously freckled woman in her fi fties,
shifted in her wicker rocker.
“What house?” she asked, her large brown eyes widening.
She wore her chestnut brown hair so closely cropped that it
accentuated the size of her eyes.
I pointed across the street even though the house wasn’t visible.
“The one behind the overgrown hedge. A pretty yellow
Queen Anne with green trim. It has a very unusual stained- glass
fanlight over the front door.”
“You went up to the door?” Diana asked, setting down her
delicate china cup in its matching saucer. Milky tea sloshed
over the brim.
“The house looked empty . . .” I started to explain.
“Oh yes, no one’s lived there for more than twenty years.
Not since Dahlia LaMotte’s cousin died.”
“Dahlia LaMotte, the novelist?” I asked.
“Oh, you’ve heard of her?” Diana had her head down while
she added more sugar to her tea. I could have sworn she’d already
put in two teaspoons, but then she had quite the sweet
tooth, as evidenced by the pink frosted Victoria sponge cake
and chocolate- chip scones spread out over the wicker table in
front of us. “I thought her books had gone out of fashion long
Diana was right about that. Dahlia LaMotte had written a
half dozen bodice- ripper romances at the turn of the twentieth
century— the kind of books in which a young girl loses her
parents and then fi nds herself at the mercy of an overbearing
Byronic hero who locks her up in a Gothic tower and makes
threats against her virginity until he is reformed by her love
and proposes honorable marriage. Obviously infl uenced by
Ann Radcliffe and the Brontës, her books were avidly read in
the beginning of the twentieth century, but then fell out of
favor. They’d been reprinted in the sixties when authors like
Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt made Gothic romance popular
again. You could still fi nd copies of those reprints— tattered
paperbacks featuring nightgown- clad heroines fl eeing a looming
castle on their covers— on the Internet, but I hadn’t had to
buy them there. I’d found them hidden behind the “good
books” on my grandmother’s bookshelves, a dozen books all
with the name Emmeline Stoddard written on their fl yleaves,
and devoured them the summer I was twelve— which was another
theory of where the shadow man of my dreams had come
from: reading all those steamy Dahlia LaMotte books!
“I’m interested in the intersection of fairy tales and the
Gothic imagination,” I said primly— a primness ruined by the
blood that rose to my cheeks at the memory of a particularly
salacious scene in my favorite Dahlia LaMotte book, The Dark
Stranger. “I knew she lived in upstate New York, but I didn’t
know she lived here.”
“Oh yes, we’ve had quite a number of famous authors in
Fairwick. Dahlia was the daughter of Silas LaMotte, who made
his fortune in shipping tea from the Far East. He built Honeysuckle
House in 1893 for his wife and daughter. He planted
Japanese honeysuckle all around it because his wife, Eugenia,
loved the smell of it. Sadly, Eugenia died a few months after
they moved into the house and Silas died soon after that. Dahlia
lived all alone in Honeysuckle House, writing her novels, until
her death in 1934. She left it to a younger cousin, Matilda
Lindquist, who lived there alone until her death in 1990.”
“Matilda never married?”
“Oh no!” Diana widened her eyes and then looked down,
noticed the spilled tea in her saucer, and blotted it with a cloth
napkin embroidered with hearts and fl owers. “Matilda was a
sweet, but rather childlike woman of very little imagination.
Really the perfect one to live in Honeysuckle House.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Just that living alone on the edge of the woods might scare
some people if they had active imaginations,” she said, pouring
herself another cup of tea. She held the pot over my cup and
raised a tawny eyebrow. I indicated I’d take another cup, even
though I’m more a coffee person than a tea person.
“But Dahlia LaMotte lived there alone,” I pointed out.
“And she certainly had an imagination.”
“Yes,” Diana conceded, “but Dahlia liked to scare herself.
That’s how she got the ideas for her books.”
“Hm, that’s an interesting notion,” I said. “I’d love to see
the house. Do you know who owns it now?”
“Some LaMotte relation in Rochester. Dory Browne of
Browne Realty holds the key, sees to repairs, and shows it to
the occasional house hunter. A lovely gay couple from the city
looked at it last year and almost bought it. They would have
been perfect for it, but they changed their minds.”
“So Dory Browne could show it to me if I wanted to see it?”
Diana looked up from her tea and blinked her long dark
lashes. “Are you thinking of buying it?”
I began to protest, but I stopped. Really I only wanted to see
the house out of literary curiosity, but if I told Diana that she
might not be able to convince Dory Browne to show it to me.
“Well, if I get an offer to teach here I’d have to fi nd someplace
to live. And I’m tired of living in a cramped little apartment.”
That part was at least true. My studio apartment in Inwood
was the size of a closet.
Diana was studying me carefully. For a moment I was afraid
she’d caught me in a lie. But it turned out that wasn’t it at all.
“I’ll call Dory and ask her to come by tomorrow morning to
show you the house. I’m not sure if the Honeysuckle House
would be right for you,” she said. “But I think you might be
perfect for it.”
After consuming Diana’s ample tea, I decided that although I
was too full for a run, I’d better take a long walk to burn off
the scones and clotted cream. I walked down toward Main
Street, past Victorian houses, some lovingly restored like the
Hart Brake Inn and others in various stages of disintegration or
restoration. As I neared Main Street the houses grew larger, but
also shabbier. Clearly the town of Fairwick had enjoyed a time
of prosperity at the end of the nineteenth century. Faded signs
on brick walls advertised long gone businesses: LaMotte Tea
Company, Miss Fisk’s Haberdashery, and, in giant letters across
a huge brick building, the Ulster & Clare Railroad. I vaguely
recalled that the town had been an important railroad hub in
the late nineteenth century, but then the Ulster & Clare had
failed, the trains had stopped coming to Fairwick, and the
town began its long slow decline into shabbiness and poverty.
It still had elegant bones, though. A Greek Revival library
stood in a green park that had once been prettily landscaped.
Now the rose bushes were leggy and a strange- looking bush
with feathery gray blooms— like a giant dust mop— had taken
over the paths and fl owerbeds. The yards of once stately Victorians
were overgrown and crowded with garden statuary. The
residents of Fairwick were apparently partial to red- capped
gnomes, plastic deer statues, and metal cutouts of winged fairies.
No Madonnas, no baby Jesuses, but maybe those came out
at Christmas.
Main Street itself was sad and dreary. Half the storefronts
were abandoned. The businesses that looked to be fl ourishing
were the tattoo parlor (ubiquitous in college towns, I’d noticed
from my recent lecture tours), an old Airstream diner, a head
shop, and a coffee place called Fair Grounds. At least the latter
smelled like it brewed a decent cup of coffee. I bought a soy
latte and a New York Times and a sandwich in case I got hungry
later, although I suspected that Diana’s tea would hold me
till bedtime.
Walking back uphill to the inn, I passed Browne Realty.
Looking at the listings pasted onto the window I saw that the
houses in town were going for even less than I’d imagined. For
the price of a one- bedroom apartment in Manhattan I could
get a fi ve- bedroom Victorian here. I wondered what Honeysuckle
House would sell for.
It started to drizzle then, so I walked faster up the hill. It
wasn’t raining hard when I reached the inn, so I stopped on the
other side of the road and peered through the hedge at Honeysuckle
House. The face on the pediment seemed to look back
at me. The raindrops streaming down its cheeks looked unnervingly
like tears. Suddenly the rain began to fall harder. I
crossed the street and sprinted up the steps to the porch, stopping
to shake the rain out of my hair and off my jacket so I
wouldn’t shed water all over Diana’s hooked rugs and chintzupholstered
furniture. A thump on the wooden steps behind
me made me turn around, sure that someone had followed me
up the steps, but no one was there. Nothing was there but the
rain, falling so hard now that it looked like a gray moiré curtain
that billowed and swelled in the wind. For a moment I saw
a shape in the falling water— a face, as if just behind the watery
veil, a face I knew, but from where? Before I could place it, the
face was gone, blown away in a gust of wind. Only then did I
recall where I’d seen that face. It was carved into the pediment
of Honeysuckle House.
It was an afterimage, I told myself later when I was lying in the
too- soft four- poster bed, listening to the rain that hadn’t let up
all evening. I’d stared at the face on the pediment long enough
that I’d fashioned it out of the falling rain. A face, after all, was
the easiest pattern to fi nd in random shapes. And that face— the
wide- set dark eyes, the broad brow, the high cheekbones, aquiline
nose, and full lips— was particularly striking. So striking
that I’d even imagined for a moment that it was the face of the
fairytale prince from my adolescent dreams, but that was impossible
because I’d never seen his face. He’d always stood on
the edge of the darkness, inches from the moonlight that would
have revealed his face. I could almost see him now, taking
shape behind the veil of my eyelids instead of the scrim of rainwater.
I forced my eyes back open. I was tired, but I’d told Paul I
would call him at nine California time so I was struggling to
stay awake until midnight. At a quarter to, I called him, hoping
he was back from his evening seminar early. He was.
“Hey you,” he said. “How was the interview?”
“Good, I guess. I think they’re going to offer me the job.”
“Really? So soon? That’s unusual.” I thought I detected a
faint note of jealousy— the same edge I’d heard in his voice
when I got into Columbia and he didn’t and when I’d gotten a
publishing contract for my thesis just after his thesis had been
turned down by his reading committee. “What are you going
to say if they do?”
“I don’t know. I can’t imagine living here and it seems ridiculous
to leave the city when you’ll be applying for jobs there
next year. I suppose I could just turn it down . . .”
“Hm . . . better to try to put them off until you have a fi rm
offer from NYU. How far did you say it was from the city? A
couple of hours? I could visit weekends.”
“It’s three hours over mountainous roads,” I told him. “It’s
really the back of beyond. The place where I’m staying is called
the Hart Brake Inn.” I spelled it for him and he laughed. “And
there’s a place across the way called Honeysuckle House . . .”
“Let me guess, there are plastic cows everywhere and the
town bar’s called the Dew Drop Inn.”
“Plastic deer,” I said, yawning, “and it’s the Tumble Inn.”
“Yeah, well, it does sound pretty unbearable. I bet it’s freezing
in the winter, too. Still, better not burn your bridges until
you’ve got a fi rm offer in the city. I’m sure you’ll think of a way
to keep your options open.”
We talked a little more and then said good night. When I
turned off my phone a wave of dejection swept over me as random
as the gusts of damp air that were coming through the
open bedroom window. I supposed it was just the strain of
maintaining a long- distance relationship— the uncertainly of
not knowing when we’d ever manage to be together for longer
than the summer or winter vacation. But we’d known what we
were getting into when we agreed, during our senior year of
college, that neither of us would compromise our careers for
“the relationship.” We’d done better than most of our friends,
and we had a good chance of ending up on the same side of the
country next year. Really, it made sense for me to hold out for
the job at NYU. If Dean Book offered me the job I’d fi nd some
way to hold her off, and then I’d call NYU and tell them I had
another offer. Maybe that would propel them into giving me
the job.
The decision made, I felt a weight lift off me, a lessening of
tension that made a space for sleep to enter. As I began to drift
off my last thought was that I should get up and close the window
to keep the rain from coming in . . . but I was already too
far gone to move.
I couldn’t move. I should get up and close the window but I
couldn’t move an inch. There was a weight settled on my chest,
pinning me to the bed, pushing me deep into the soft mattress,
which surrounded me in an enveloping embrace. I couldn’t
move a muscle or draw in a breath. Even my eyelids were
pasted shut. I struggled to open them against the light.
The rain had stopped. Instead of wet gusts of air, moonlight
streamed through the windows. It was the moonlight that had
pinned me to the bed. I could see it spilling across the wide pine
planks, a white shaft carrying on its back the shadows of tree
branches that quivered in the breeze, trembling to reach me. I
recalled the tangled trees and shrubs surrounding Honeysuckle
House and had the confused impression that the moonlight
was coming from there. There was something wrong with that
idea, but I was too tired to fi gure it out and the moonlight was
so bright I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. They fl uttered
shut and I saw him. The fairytale prince from my teenaged
dreams. With him came the scent of honeysuckle and salt
air I remembered from those dreams and the longing I’d always
felt. He stood on the threshold between shadow and moonlight,
where he always hesitated . . .
He stepped forward into the moonlight. It was him, the man
from the house across the way. I forced my eyes open and he
was still there, hovering above me, looking down at me, his
face thrown into shadow by the moonlight cascading over his
back like a silver cape. I could only see the places the moonlight
touched: the plane of one cheekbone as his head tilted
sideways, a lock of his hair falling over his brow, the blade of
his shoulder. Each piece of him took shape and weight as the
moonlight touched it. It was as if he were made of shadow and
the moonlight was the knife sculpting him into being, each
stroke of the knife giving him form . . . and weight.
The moonlight sculpted a rib and I felt his chest press down
onto mine, it rounded a hip and it settled onto my pelvis, it
carved the length of a muscular leg and it pressed against the
length of my legs.
I gasped . . . or tried to. My mouth opened, but I couldn’t
draw breath because of the weight on my chest. His lips, pearly
wet, parted and he blew into my mouth. My lungs expanded
beneath his weight. When I exhaled he sucked in my breath
and his weight turned from cold marble into warm living flesh.
Moving fl esh. I felt his chest rise and lower against mine, felt
his hips grind into mine, his strong legs part mine . . . He inhaled
a long draft of my breath and I felt him harden against
me. He rocked against me, pushing his breath into my lungs
just as he pushed himself between my legs and then inside of
me. He felt like a wave crashing over me, a moonlit wave that
sucked me down below the surf and pulled me out to sea, onto
a crest, and then back under again . . . and again and again and
again. We rocked to the rhythm of the ocean until I lost all
sense of what was me and what was him, until we were the
wave cresting, then crashing onto the fl at hard sand.
Then I lay panting like a drowning person, slicked in sweat,
alone on the bed in a pool of liquid moonlight.

See comments from satisfied readers here:
·  “Gothic, atmospheric, beautiful, and romantic urban fantasy,” By Karissa Eckert “Devourer of all books fantasy”
·  “Strong urban romantic fantasy,” By Harriet Klausner
·  “An excellent guilty pleasure read!” By ChibiNeko “Sooo many books, so little time!
·  “So much more story than I expected,” By Mary Chrapliwy
·  “So much to sink your teeth into,” By Kelly (Fantasy Literature)
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