Genre: Romantic Suspense, with a Fantasy twist
Publisher: Rhea Rhodan
Date of Publication: March 4, 2016
Page Count: 259 (Kindle)
Page Count: 342 (pb)
Word Count: 80K
Cover Artist: Fiona Jayde
When fantasy and reality collide, only love can be believed.
Shattered by a brutal attack and forced to flee, painfully withdrawn Dr. Prudence Marsh buries her emotions under numbing logic. For years, her escapes to a fantasy world created to survive her hellish past have been nothing more than a guilty pleasure. But when the host of the safe house turns out to be a dead ringer for her dream warrior, she fears she’s lost her precious mind along with everything else.
Ex-SEAL Max Delaney has been known to dabble in a hot, delicious mess—or two, or three. He has no idea how to handle a cold, sour one. Blackmailed into babysitting Dr. Marsh in his hidden bunker while she finishes a top-secret project sucks. Until he falls for her. Then it blows. Every clue Max unravels buys him more questions. Every step forward lands him two steps back, flat on his ass.
Demons past, present, and future haunt Max and Prudence as they stumble along the twisting path to love. Merciless enemies and shifting alliances drive both to desperate measures, tumbling them over the border between shadow and substance—where each must choose what, and whom, to believe.
“Lemme take that for you.”
“No, thank you, Mr. Delane." The words were crisp and determined, her stance defiant, and her lips so tight they’d all but disappeared.
Only slightly daunted, he tried again. “That’s Delaney, ma’am. You can drop the ‘mister’ though, along with the bag. Go ahead and hang onto the briefcase if it’ll make you feel better, but my mother would reach out from Beyond and smack me silly if I let you take one step with that duffle.”
Her jaw clenched and she released a sigh so muted he almost hadn’t heard it. “Very well. I have no wish to be responsible for any punishment you might receive in addition to the imposition of my presence.” No smile graced her face; no hint of sarcasm laced her tone.
What the hell? His mojo floundered. He shrugged on the duffle bag she held out to him, which turned out to be a lot lighter than it looked, and the impossibly small suitcase sitting on his porch. He stared at the oddly shaped package next to it. “What’s that?”
“My spinning wheel.”
Right. What else would a woman running for her life grab on the way out of the house?
He tucked it under his arm, held the door open for her, and led the way past the vestibule, through the kitchen, and down to the cellar. When he simultaneously lifted the pair of canned peas on the shelf and the hidden panel slid open to reveal the bunker door, her soft gasp gratified him.
She couldn’t even see the cool parts yet, only the narrow hall and a glimpse of the kitchenette. The command center, with its bank of monitors, servers and other equipment in the main room wasn’t visible from the entrance; neither was the den with its awesome entertainment system.
“Did you build this yourself, Mr. Delaney?”
“It was originally a fallout shelter leftover from the 50s. I did restore, convert and enlarge it myself.” He opened the bedroom door and noticed for the first time how bare it was. “I’m sorry it’s not cozier. I don’t, er, entertain down here. I built the living quarters in case of emergency; I only use it when I’m jamming on a project. The shower’s decent, though, nicer than the one upstairs. And the TV’s great.”
“I do not require ‘cozy,’ nor do I waste my attention on the drivel broadcast on television. This room is sufficient for my personal needs. Of greater importance is whether your equipment will be adequate for my professional needs." Another frosty breeze from the tundra.
Whatever it takes. “I’m glad you, um, like it since you’ll be down here awhile. And I’m confident you’ll find my equipment beyond adequate." He pushed a grin and waited for her reaction.
Nothing, not even the flicker of irritation he’d expected.
“Let us hope so. If you’d be so kind as to allow me to examine it?”
God forgive him, he was tempted. Just to provoke a change in her expression. Of course, if it didn’t, that frigid gaze could shrivel him for life.
He opted to lead her to the command center, and with a flourish, pulled out a second chair he’d bought this morning. “At your service.”
“Thank you.” She smoothed her bag of a skirt and sat with surprising grace. “May I assume no one other than you or I has access to this chamber?”
A telltale whining and scratching from the pantry saved him from telling a lie.
He whispered praise in her ear, “That’s it. Now don’t you feel better?”
She shivered in response, though her hands at his back had warmed. He smiled into the fresh scent of her hair and wrapped her more tightly in his arms. She was his now; even if she didn’t know it yet.
With firm, subtle pressure, he brought her head to rest on his shoulder. Her hands tightened around him, then, finally, her body relaxed fully into his.
Her sigh was what did him in, what scrambled his brain and sent the jolt to his heart, then racing lower, hotter. He swallowed hard. Patience was suddenly a whole lot scarcer than it had been a minute ago.
The Balconies. Any one of the half dozen private patios facing the ocean would do. Each of the double doors was chaperoned by a broad back discreetly turned from the couples enjoying the seclusion they offered. It was one of the unique and best features of the club.
With experienced ease, he guided his plunder across the dance floor to the nearest unoccupied one. “You’re a bit flushed. Would you like some ocean air? The view is great.”
She blushed and murmured something indistinct he chose to take as assent. Another covert tip and nod to the bouncer—the same one who’d been at the VIP gate, still wearing the frown—and their path was clear.
The moon cast a diamond-strewn path across the water and glimmered in her depths of her eyes. He wanted to climb into that fire and stay there until Judgment Day.
After a few gulps of the salty night air, she said, “Thank you, Mr. Delane. I’m afraid the effects of the alcohol may have—”
“It’s Delaney." He squeezed her hand. “Calling me Max would solve the problem, you know."
“I’m still not certain I’m comfortable—”
“We can’t have that. I want you very comfortable.” He kept his voice low and soothing, ran his hands up her tantalizingly bare arms to cup her face. She gasped at his touch, her eyes widened and her lips parted.
He’d meant the kiss to be subdued, a simple brushing of mouths, and that’s how it started. But he couldn’t stop what followed. Couldn’t keep his hand from gripping the back of her head; holding it at the best angle for his access; from tracing her lips with his tongue and gently opening her mouth to accept it; prevent his other hand from roaming between the cool satin of her hair and the warm silk of her dress to the swell of her sweet, tight ass; squeezing it, and pulling her close. Close enough for her to feel the rock hard extent of his hunger. Close enough for him to feel the moist heat of hers—God help him with what control he had left.
Her arms circled his waist, her delicate, surprisingly strong hands pressed into his back, stroked, pulled at him in helpless, inexperienced little tugs that made him want to push up her dress and set her on the railing, wrap those long legs around his waist, and—
“Please, Delane.” The desperate ache in her plea squeezed him like a fist and echoed all the way to his toes. He shook with the effort to clamp down on his lust.
“‘Max.’ Say it, Prue. Say it and I’ll take you to paradise, sweetheart. C’mon,” he whispered it into her ear, then nipped it tenderly. Understanding why he needed that particular surrender wasn’t important, winning it was.
He slipped the hand on her ass under her dress, ran his finger under the lace of her panties, reached to stroke the hot velvet, teasing her, driving himself to the knife edge of desire.
A warning rush of overused air boxed his ears a few seconds before a shrill voice pierced them. “There you are, Max, darling! I thought this was our balcony. Remember? A couple of weeks ago we…”Bam. Just like that, Prue froze in his arms. He opened his eyes and saw the shutters slam over hers, dousing the lighthouse, leaving him at sea in empty darkness.
Award-winning author Rhea Rhodan resides in Minnetonka, Minnesota. She’s been telling herself stories since long before she learned to write. She attended the University of Minnesota with a focus on Journalism, then Brown Institute for Broadcast Journalism. After many adventures, misadventures, and a couple of short marriages, she found the love of her life in Regensburg, Germany, and has been living happily ever after since.
She journaled those adventures extensively (some might say rabidly) beginning in middle school, but didn't combine her writing and story-telling until several years ago, when one of the stories grabbed her by the throat and shook her like a rag doll until she gave in and wrote it. Having tasted freedom, her muse refuses to return to the confines of her head, and has successfully turned the tables, keeping her at the keyboard to appease it.
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