Prince Vlad rests his hand on the small of my back. “Come, Lady Ilona, look at the faces of anarchy and villainy, and see how much they resemble your friends and family.”
“I will not.” I back away from the entrance where moans rise from the bowels of the labyrinth like a demon’s song.
“The choice is yours, of course.” His tone is low and gentle, but in the lamplight his stare is wolf like.
I shift from foot to foot, look away, only to glance back. Does he hear my heart knocking against my breast? Can he smell my fear as it beads wet on my neck? Do I want to rise to this challenge? Or am I a fool for allowing him to bait me?
My fingers tighten around the lamp’s clay handle. “I will humor you, my lord, but only because Father taught me courage and graciousness.”
“Mihály taught you well.” He holds out his hand. “My lady.”
The lamp divides the darkness like a saber, each foot forward lighting our descent into hell. Ghostly groans from below seep through the rock. I sink into Vlad’s fur-lined coat as though their suffering will soak into my soul.
Vlad pauses before descending the narrow rock steps leading into the labyrinth’s deepest level. “Are you certain?” His eyes glint with challenge. “A weak constitution is nothing to be ashamed of.”
I lift my chin and glare with pretended insult. “I am the daughter of Michael Szilágyi and Margit Báthory. Iron courage flows in my blood.” I push back my cuff and show him the blue-forked veins in my wrist. “I am as brave as Hadak Ura, our ancient pagan warlord.”
“I believe you, my lady. I will not doubt again.”
The clanking chains and eerie moans get louder with each step down, the noises merging into a demonic choir like that of Ördög’s requiem to the Underworld. My legs shake, my neck wet with icy prickles, and my skin tightens around my chest.
I lift the lamp into hell.
The circle of light shines upon a pockmarked man stretching his arm between the bars, his fingers curled like claws. “Bless me, good sister.”
In the cell next to him, a naked wretch spits onto the ground. “Menj a fenébe!”
“I am innocent!” A third prisoner grabs the bars and presses his wild-bearded face against the iron. “Tell His Highness there is a Turkish spy in his court. He is in danger! You must warn him!”
My head swivels toward Prince Vlad.
“There are always spies,” Vlad whispers.
I walk with measured pace and let the lantern reveal each doomed prisoner. Most stare, empty-eyed; the whips, chains, skin shredders, bone crushers, and strappado take away all hope and spirit. Others shout obscenities. One man kneels, hands in prayer, and mutters the Hail Mary.
The weight of their misery crashes down, squeezes my heart, and crushes my breath. This place must be worse than hell’s torments because these wretches yet live, have all their faculties! No one deserves this! It is inhumane! Sadistic and depraved!
My breath comes in shreds and clumps. I cover my nose with Prince Vlad’s cape, the stench of rotting flesh enfolding me in its putrid embrace. My pace quickens. It is time to end this test of my courage.
“You!” A milky-eyed wretch points to Prince Vlad and begins chanting in a foreign tongue.
Prince Vlad guides me away from the cells. “You have thrice over proven your courage tonight.”
“What language was that man speaking?”
“He recites from the Corpus Hermeticum.” Dracula takes the lantern and illuminates the stairwell. “It’s a pagan book of alchemy, astronomy, and metaphysics.”
“It sounded like he cursed us.”
“Pay no attention to a madman’s rants. That particular book is nothing but Egyptian and Greek nonsense.”
I tread upwards, evil’s chill clinging to my limbs. At the top, I try to purge the dungeon’s misery, malice, and madness with a long exhalation. Yet the horror sticks like nettles in my soul.
“This way.” I move past the dark tunnel and enter the lighted one, relieved to put space and distance between the prisoners and me.
The tunnel ends at a large grotto where Prince Vlad pauses to light the ring of torches affixed to the walls. I wait on a stone bench near the baptismal fount, sighing with relief as the golden glow of the church-like arches infuses peace into my troubled soul.
Prince Vlad sits beside me. “We go from hell to heaven.”
I tuck a stray lock behind my ear. “This was Father’s favorite grotto. God’s Buried Cathedral, he called it. His second favorite has a Titan-sized head emerging from the ground—like a god got stuck in molten rock. I was only in that grotto once. It reminded me of an insect trapped in tree sap that ages to amber—the insect forever entombed—never aging, almost alive in its resin grave.”
“Do you find that horrific or beautiful?” His eyes search mine.
“Both I suppose.” My shoulders move into my sigh. “Caves are dreary places.”
“I rather enjoy them. Tunnels have saved my life several times.” Dracula stands. “I think we are both ready for fresh air.” He offers his hand, its warmth a familiar comfort.
Together we walk through the tunnel lit by small lanterns that flicker like fireflies all the way to the exit.
Prince Vlad gives the stubborn iron-crossed door a hard yank and it groans open. Outside, a sapphire dawn drapes over Buda.
“On no.” My hands fly to my face. “It’s so late it’s early.” Were we in the tunnels that long? If my aunts discover I never returned to my room…I spin about, my voice edged with panic. “I have to go back. Now.”
Vlad’s brows crease with concern. He tugs a handkerchief from his robe and touches it to my lips as though dabbing at a smudge. “There’s something I must do first.” He lays the linen over my lips and sets his mouth on mine.
Even through the thin fabric, his lips sear my own. I part my lips, feel the linen moisten with the breath of our lust. I collapse into him, my body sizzling with desire. I am about to rip away the fabric and taste his lips when he breaks the kiss.
Vlad Dracula steps back, the handkerchief between thumb and forefinger. “If you marry Luigi della Scala you will still be chaste.” He drags the handkerchief across his mouth. “I will always have this.”
Chaste? Prince Vlad just violated my heart and corrupted my flesh!
Back in my chambers, I touch my lips that still burn with the memory of our kiss—my first kiss—and groan. Vlad Dracula used my virtue, conceit, and fears to study the labyrinth’s secrets. He took advantage of my desire for romantic adventure to learn the escape route.
Autumn Bardot writes smart erotica and historical fiction about sassy women, spicy sex, and daring passions! Her erotica includes Legends of Lust, ( Cleis Press )and Confessions Of A Sheba Queen ( Cleis Jan 2020). Autumn has a BA in English literature and a MaEd in curriculum and instruction. She’s been teaching writing and literary analysis for fourteen years. Autumn lives in Southern California with her hubby, rescue pooch, and ever-increasing family. Her favorite things include salty French fries, coffee, swimming, and a great book.
On the day of Lia’s university graduation party, her parents—wealthy art collectors with friends in high places—gift her a beautiful wine cup, a rare artifact decorated with roses. It’s a stunning gift, and one that August Bowman, a friend of her parents and a guest at Lia’s party, also has his eye on. The cup, August tells her, is known as the Rose kylix, and it’s no ordinary cup. It was used in the temple ceremonies of Eros, Greek god of erotic love, and has the power to bring the most intimate sexual fantasies to life.
But Lia is skeptical of August’s claims of the cup’s mythology and magic—after all, he’s a collector himself, and she suspects he just wants to get his hands on this impressive piece of art. So he dares her to try it for herself, and when Lia drinks from the Rose kylix she is suddenly immersed in an erotic myth so vivid it seems real—as though she’s living out the most sensual fantasy with August by her side…
Realizing the true power of this ancient and dangerous relic, Lia is even more wary of giving it up, though August insists it is only safe with him. He’s willing to pay the full value of the cup, but Lia has another type of trade in mind. One that finds them more tangled up in each other—and in fantasy—than either was prepared for.
Source: NetGalley and MIRA Rating: 4/5 stars
One of the things I have long admired about Tiffany Reisz and her writing is her ability to weave an actual story among so many scorching naughty bits scenes. Without doubt, that skill shines through once again in the second installment of The Red series, The Rose.
Lia’s parents are tremendously and ridiculously proud of her! To that end, they have not only thrown her an elaborate graduation party, but also gifted her with a priceless treasure, the Rose kylix. Given her interest in Greek mythology, the kylix is really the perfect gift for Lia. What she didn’t expect, the additional “gift” that seems to have come with the kylix, the most handsome and seriously interested in her kylix, August Bowman. August is charming, desirable, intelligent, stunningly intuitive, and determined to convince Lia of the true nature of the gift she has been given.
Thanks to a terrible encounter as a teenager, Lia is often skeptical of men and their motives, but August Bowman is a hard man to resist. With his incredibly in-depth knowledge of Greek mythology and his insights about the kylix, Lia decides to take a chance on August. The story he tells her about the kylix is unbelievable until, over a series of sex-fueled nights/encounters he proves to Lia just how powerful the treasure truly is. Aside from the amazing sex and waltzes through “history,” Lia finds herself falling for August and wondering if he really can heal her and help her overcome her great misgivings about men and relationships.
Of course, there are many obstacles separating Lia and August from their HEA. The obstacles come from sources known and others which are completely inconceivable to the mortal mind. Once the force of her true feelings for August come crashing down on her, Lia is prepared for battle. She will try and wrap her head around the inconceivable bits, battle the known head on, and do her level best to preserve what she has only just begun to build with August.
The Bottom Line: As always, once I started The Rose, I got sucked into the rabbit hole that is a Tiffany Reisz book and didn’t come out until the end. Hands down, I was totally smitten with August from the very beginning and found him carrying the story for me in so many ways. His guidance through the world of the Greeks, his confidence in his skills and abilities, and his care of and for Lia made him a stand out character for me. As the story and August’s identity unfold, he becomes even more interesting and intriguing. Additionally, the excellent ending with its lovely twists and turns and truly excellent guest appearances were perfectly appropriate for the rest of the story. Last, but certainly not least (and circling back around to the beginning) I completely appreciated the real story that happened in and around all the naughty bits. Gratuitous sex really pisses me off and Tiffany Reisz always makes sure the story is real, the characters are solid, and the sex is a part of the story rather than being the story. In all, yet another fine offering.
Bennett parked his truck and pulled out the key. “Yep. A lot of our high school buddies will be in there. They’ll be excited to see the famous movie director, Aubrey Reynolds.” He winked, and it gave me hope. If I could get him on my side, I had to believe I could convince Cole too. He reached over and opened my door. “If you don’t want to go in there with everyone, I’ll bring him out.”
Hands shaking, I nodded as my whole body started to tremble with nerves. “That sounds better. I don’t want to go in there just yet.”
Bennett sighed. “All right. I’ll bring him out.”
He got out of the truck and disappeared inside. Slowly, I exited the truck and walked toward the steps. My legs felt so heavy I doubted I could even climb up them. This was it. It was the moment I’d been dreading, yet looking forward to. I’d dreamed about the time I’d see Cole again, face to face. I already knew it wouldn’t be an easy meeting, especially considering how Bennett’s first encounter with me was.
Everything moved in slow motion as I waited for Cole to come outside. I stood at the bottom of the steps, feeling more vulnerable with each passing second. What if he saw me and then turned right back around? Getting him to hear me out wasn’t going to be easy.
“Oh my God, I can’t do this.” Heart racing out of control, I dashed to the side of the building. I peeked my head around the corner just as the door opened and Cole stepped out. I flattened myself against the wall so he couldn’t see me, and I was almost certain he’d hear me hyperventilating.
“What exactly did you want me to see?” Cole asked, laughing at Bennett. It was clear he’d had a couple of drinks already. “There’s nothing out here.” Hearing his voice brought up all sorts of emotions inside me. I’d missed him so much.
Bennett huffed, most likely thinking I ran off. “Never mind, brother. My mistake.”
Cole chuckled. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
I jumped out from beside the building, and Bennett stopped. “Wait,” I called out. Cole had his back to me, but he froze and turned around slowly. The second our eyes locked, nothing else existed. It was what I’d secretly hoped for. He might hate me, but there was no denying the bond we had. I felt the spark between us even now.
Wannabe actress Dani Steele’s résumé resembles a cautionary tale on how not to be famous. She’s pushing thirty and stuck in a dead-end insurance job, and her relationship status is holding at uncommitted. With unbearably perfect sisters and a mother who won’t let her forget it, Dani has two go-tos for consolation: maple scones and a blog in which she pours her heart out to her celebrity idol. He’s the man her father never was, no boyfriend will ever be—and not so impossible a dream as one might think. When Dani learns that he’s planning a fund-raising event where the winning amateur athlete gets a walk-on in his new film, she decides to trade pastries and self-doubt for running shoes and a sexy British trainer with adorable knees.
But when Dani’s plot takes an unexpected twist, she realizes that her happy ending might have to be improvised—and that proving herself to her idol isn’t half as important as proving something to herself.
Very late one night last week I decided I needed a break from all the heavy, emotional roller coaster books I had been reading. I landed on Eliza Gordon’s Dear Dwayne, With Love and was thoroughly entertained from start to finish! In fact, it was exactly what I was looking for and I’m sort of mad at myself for not reading this little gem far sooner than I did ☹
In a nutshell, Dani Steele is not at all satisfied with her life. Her two sisters are ridiculously successful, her mother is a complete nutter, her boyfriend is just a step above a cave man, her job pays the bills and that’s about it, and her acting career is going nowhere. Though Dani appears happy on the surface, she pours out her true feelings into her journal/diary which she has, since the age of 12 written in the form of letters to her hero, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Through thick and thin, The Rock has been there for Dani, “hearing” all her woes, “listening” to all her hope and dreams, and “sympathizing with” her issues and feelings about the people and events in her life.
While Dani accepts she will only ever admire The Rock from afar, Fate has other plans for her life and with the proper alignment of the stars, Dani comes across an opportunity that would allow her to meet her hero. All she must do is compete in an obstacle course competition and win her age group! Um, what?? Excuse me?? Yeah, Dani has never run a day in her life so winning this thing is going to take some serious commitment and the help of one miraculously beautiful trainer, Marco. With absolutely no idea what she’s really getting herself into, Dani signs up for the event, contracts with Marco for personal training, and launches herself into a series of weeks and months that will test her both physically and emotionally.
Though Marco is miraculously beautiful, he is also a slave driver when it comes to fitness. In addition to the physical workouts, Marco also instructs Dani to radically alter her eating habits. What. The. Actual. Hell. No more fun pastries with her work friends, no more pizza, no more fast food, just smoothies and vegetables, and smoothies, and infused water, and smoothies!! The struggle is real and while Dani has chosen not to share her fitness journey with her friends, she has chosen to share it, and all the other annoyances in her life with The Rock in her diary, a tome she never, ever, in the history ever expected anyone other than herself to read.
Enter stage left, the hacker with a mean streak . . . . .
In the blink of an eye, all Dani’s most intimate thoughts, feelings, and raw emotions are made public and everyone in her life, everyone, is made privy to her diary! To make matters worse, every time someone opens the email and link, it is sent to everyone in their contact list. Yeah, Dani’s life has gone viral and pretty much everyone, with no middle ground either loves or hates her. Without doubt, everyone she is closest to falls firmly into the “hates her” category. With no friends or family to turn to, Dani commits herself even more firmly to her fitness goals and earning the right to meet The Rock, the only person on earth who will sympathize with her plight 😊
The Bottom Line: I should have known, given how much I enjoyed Must Love Otters, that I would love this book too! My favorite part of this book, without doubt is all the conversation. I am such a fan of dialogue and this book is filled with witty, sarcastic, funny dialogue that comes in all shapes and sizes. For example, Dani not only communicates with others in real life, but also has her written diary which is written in a letter format, and her inner monologue which is often a two-sided conversation with The Rock. All the conversation not only moves the book along but reveals what we are really meant to see, learn, and know, that is, how Dani evolves as a human and how she navigates all the events, both good and bad, that happen in her life. Though this is a very funny read, it is also the story of a human being who is essentially a good person, but, like all human beings, still has things to learn in this life.
P.S. I also bought the audio version of this book and sincerely hope the real voice given to Dani is just as good as the voice she spoke with in my head 😊
Sam parked in front of Paige’s home. The drive from the restaurant had been a quiet one. Paige’s attempts to draw Jess into the conversation had resulted in the briefest of responses. As for the attempts he’d made… Well, Jess hadn’t entirely ignored him, but she’d put even less effort into her responses. No doubt she was worn out. The swift change from dynamo to drowsy wasn’t a surprise. Kids seemed to run on an on/off switch.
“I enjoyed our evening,” Paige said, breaking into his thoughts. “Though it wasn’t what you expected for a first date, was it?”
“I never know what to expect when it comes to you, and that’s what makes you so exciting.”
Her eyebrows shot upward. “Exciting, me? Hardly.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I’m just plain Paige.”
He released his seat belt and shifted slightly. A quick glance to the back revealed that Jess had fallen asleep. Even so, he lowered his voice. “You have the face of an angel and a joy for life that doesn’t stop. I haven’t known a dull moment in all the times we’ve spent together. Everything about you makes me want to know more.”
Her lips parted, and those gorgeous brown eyes gazed into his. “Wow.”
Sam chuckled. “Seems I’ve left you speechless.”
Her chin tilted upward, her luscious mouth just inches away. “So, that’s your secret power?”
“No, baby.” Sam cupped the nape of her neck in his palm. “This is.”
His lips touched hers, igniting a spark so unique, it had no comparison in his life.
The winning touchdown at his final high-school game. His first collar as a law-enforcement officer. All the kisses from every woman he’d ever dated. Everything paled beside what should have been a simple good-night kiss. But this kiss meant more than all those experiences combined. This kiss was the next step toward the life he yearned to have.
Paige slid closer, her fingertips touching his face. Her lips parted, accepting his gentle invitation.
He breathed her in, savoring her sigh just before he deepened the kiss. Her fingers slid through his hair to the nape of his neck, and it took every ounce of restraint he possessed not to take things further.
He eased away, ending the kiss sooner than he wanted. A girl next door didn’t neck in the front seat of a truck in a quiet residential neighborhood, especially not with a child in the back seat.
A child showing signs of waking up.
“Are we home?” Jess asked, her voice thick and drowsy.
A small gasp escaped through Paige’s lips, and she twisted her head toward the back of the truck. “Sure are. Ready to get out?”
Sam swallowed his disappointment and reached for the door handle. By the time he rounded the truck, Paige was helping Jess to the ground.
“I’ll get the car seat out while you unlock the door,” he said.
Heading toward the front walk, Jess whirled around. “It’s a booster, not a car seat.”
Sam bit back a laugh. “Excuse me. I’m new to this sort of stuff.”
“Mr. Nick knows the difference.” She whirled around and stomped to the front door.
“Sure put me in my place.” He pushed the car door shut and strolled up the front walk to where Paige waited.
“Sam, I’m sorry. She’s tired—”
“It’s okay.” He set the booster inside the door. “How did Nick get so high on her list this quick?”
“They bonded over dinner last night. Plus, he spent time with her while I talked with Danny about the custody case. To top it all off, he’s engaged to ‘Miss Dana’ and calls her Sprite.”
Sam winced. “Ouch, tough competition.”
She punched his arm. “I’m sure you can win her over.”
A gentle snore sounded from the couch. They both turned to see Jess curled on the cushions.
“Want me to carry her to her room?” He lowered his tone to avoid waking her.
“I can manage.”
Paige walked to the door and rested one hand on the latch. His cue to leave.
“I enjoyed tonight more than I’ve enjoyed anything in a long time.” He paused, hand on the doorframe. “Love to do it again.”
Head tilted, she smiled up at him. “I’d like that too.”
He looked around the room a final time. His gaze lingered a second longer on the sleeping child, then several more on the woman in front of him. “Make sure you lock up behind me.”
She burst out laughing, then tipped him a salute. “Yes, sir, Sheriff, and thank you very much. Never would have thought of that.”
He returned the salute. “Here to serve and protect.” Seeing Jess was beginning to stir, he stepped outside. “What’s up for tomorrow?”
“Painting Jess’s room. I’ll probably stop by the restaurant around noon to check in.” Paige shrugged. “And give the paint fumes time to clear out.”
“I might stop in and say hello. Maybe we could plan something in the evening.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “Let me see how things go. Jess and I both might need an early night.”
One more kiss wouldn’t be out of line. Before he could put that plan into action, Paige made the move. Hands on his shoulders for balance, she lifted onto her toes. With her still several inches short of their lips meeting, Sam lowered his head.
She kept the kiss light and quick, barely more than a peck. Not the kiss he wanted, but one he cherished as a signal that Paige was ready to move forward.
“Good night, Sam. I had a nice time.”
The door closed behind him. He waited until he heard the lock being turned, then walked to his truck. Seconds later, the front of the house darkened. He sat for a moment, considering Paige’s last words.
Nice. A bland word for what had been the best evening he’d had in a long time. But it wasn’t a condemnation from Paige. “Nice” meant something else to her. She might be the girl next door, but from his point of view, temptation and chaos lived on the other side of that door.
A chuckle broke loose as he started the ignition. Nope, not a thing wrong with nice.
Dianna Wilkes is an award-winning contemporary romance author, known for the Providence Island mystery series. Reading has always been an important part of her life. “I learned to read when I was four years old,” she said. “Writing my own stories seemed a natural progression.”Dianna holds a B.A. in Visual Communication and a M.Ed. in Instructional Technology. She worked as an Education Consultant for a medical technology company before leaving the corporate world to write full time. Despite all that nerdy stuff, she loves creating stories of romance and mystery with touches of humor.When she isn’t writing, Dianna is deep in researching various twigs and branches on her family tree or fulfilling entries on her travel bucket list.