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by Dee Carney
Category: Erotica/Menage Erotica/Romance
Description: Paranormal Menage
Jonah Ballard has seven days to find a way to stop the possession trying to consume him or resign himself to preternaturally induced madness. His twin brother, Elijah, has no intention of letting that happen. Their father's legacy has doomed them from a young age, but the brothers will have to trust each other as never before if they're going to survive.
A chance meeting with emotionally ravaged Laurel Butler might provide the brothers part of the solution that they've been searching for. In the next seven days they have convince Laurel to take them into her bed, the first step toward the beginning of the end of their curse.
As the hours rush by, both old and newly formed wounds threaten to break the bond the trio is only now starting to forge. For how can a woman who has nothing to live for, who toys with death on a daily basis, and who doesn't know how to save herself, save them?
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, cutting, menage (m/f/m).
eBook Publisher: Loose Id, LLC, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
24 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [192 KB]
Reading time: 122-171 min.
"She wants to die... That could be very good for us."
Jonah glanced up after his brother's statements drifted into his mind. He followed the direction of Elijah's gaze across the self-service station. From where he stood, the woman fueling her vehicle a few feet away had nothing in her outward manner to give credence to Elijah's assessment. She was pretty, he decided after a moment. But yes, sad.
"Is she the one?" he asked his twin with the telepathy they'd honed to a fine art. They were running out of time, and Elijah's desperation sometimes spilled over to Jonah. He hoped this wasn't just another futile attempt to find a solution to a problem that was never meant to be resolved. For his brother's sake, he wanted all of this to end quietly, quickly, and with as little emotional pain as possible. The irony of that hope wasn't lost on him.
Elijah dipped his chin in a curt nod. "She could be."
"Does it matter? We're out of time, Brother." Jonah tried to rein in his despair, but it released into the air surrounding them before he could recall it. Even if Elijah wasn't an empath, the sting of the emotion would have made the atmosphere crackle.
"I refuse to believe that. We'll do this again and make it work this time. It has to!"
The fierce determination behind Elijah's words almost made Jonah smile. For his brother's sanity, they would try this again. He wouldn't get his hopes up, but just as Elijah said, it had to work this time or the bond would be severed forever. The madness of the dark would consume him until he went the way of their father.
It had to work this time.
Jonah studied the woman again. She was of medium height and build with enough curves to make him lick his lips. Her long brown hair had been pulled away from her face into a loose ponytail. From what he could see at this distance, tired gray eyes sat above an elegant nose and a generous mouth. Even if she wasn't the one, proving her capable for the task would be enjoyable.
"She's living a meager existence. We could offer her...much, Jonah."
His gaze traveled to her car, and he nodded. The FOR SALE sign on the weathered vehicle, the suitcases piled into the backseat, and the sundry miscellaneous items crammed against the back window were cause for speculation. "You think she's living inside that thing?"
Elijah nodded. "I can feel her hunger and her loneliness. She's not yet at desperation, but she's heading there fast." He cocked his head. "It should be relatively easy to convince her to come to us."
"She is satisfactory for you?"
"She is. You?"
Jonah turned away, suddenly washed with something akin to guilt for their exchange. He extinguished the feeling as quickly as it had risen. Sympathy was something he simply could not afford to give right now. Without glancing back at the woman, he sent the thought to his brother.
Laurel Butler walked through the convenience store, running her hand along the shelves, trying to remain inconspicuous as she moved around. Every few minutes she tugged on the tail of her shirt in a desperate attempt to keep the gaping hole in her jeans covered. What a day to have chosen to wear bright pink underwear. If anyone had caught a glimpse of it so far, they were at least polite enough not to ogle.
Her stomach rumbled, a protest perhaps of her perusal of bright boxes whose sides proclaimed All New! or Better! and sometimes, Number one! She didn't much care. Hell, even the tins of mystery meat, precariously close to expiring, were a feast for the eyes. A slug of screw-cap wine, a microwavable burrito, and perhaps a package of mini-powdered doughnuts to top off the meal, and she'd feast like a king.
She thought long and hard about the rotating tubes of meat she'd just seen in the case, glistening with greasy sweat, but damn, smelling like a baseball game. Slather one of those bad boys in some mustard, stuff it in a warm bun... Heavenly.
A sobering calculation of the money in her purse redirected her thoughts. With a sigh, she walked down two aisles and picked up a loaf of bread and a generic brand of peanut butter. She'd just imagine the combination was a steak with a baked potato when she choked it down later. And tomorrow. And the day after.
Whatever. At least she'd eat for almost a week before having to think about groceries again.
What she needed to think about was making the plot rolling around in her mind something worth publishing. With any luck, a manuscript worth turning into a movie. Even better still, something that made her the next household name in the field of romance or maybe even erotica. Fans, fortune, and fame to follow. Not necessarily in that order either. Just something good in her life, for once. That's all she wanted.
Still trying to shake off her disappointment over the hot dogs and other convenience-store culinary delights she had no business fantasizing over, Laurel turned the corner and collided with a chest. A very firm, very masculine chest.
"Oh crap. I'm sorry," she offered, not really looking up because she'd managed to drop the stupid container of peanut butter. To her relief, it landed with a dull thump and rolled almost a foot away until stopped by one of the shelving units.
"My fault, I assure you."
Something about his apology smacked of propriety. The crisp enunciation. The sincere tone. She looked up and almost staggered back.
The clearest blue eyes she'd ever seen studied her, faint traces of amusement making them crinkle at their corners. Even if for some reason she'd missed the barely there smirk on his lips, she couldn't have missed the smile in his eyes. Flecks of blue and silver had never before looked so captivating.
On a breath she murmured, "Sorry."
Except she wasn't. Holy hell, he was a good-looking man. If getting a bruised ego meant running into someone who awakened her neglected libido, the more the merrier.
He stood there in a perfectly crisp white button-down shirt tucked into a formfitting pair of dark blue jeans. The sleeves were rolled up a few inches, revealing curls of hair along his forearms. Thank heaven for small favors, no rings of any type adorned his fingers. She liked his hands. They were strong, capable. The kind that might know exactly what to do in every situation.
Every possible situation.
He took a step, bent, and retrieved the plastic jar. "I believe you dropped this," he said, handing it to her.
She took it, almost stretching her fingers far enough to graze his but losing her nerve at the last second. "Thanks. My lunch."
And dinner. And breakfast.
He frowned. "That wouldn't be right at all. How about lunch on me? My way of apologizing for not paying attention."
Some reflex made her spine stiffen. As much as it pained her to say it, she replied, "No, thank you."
He tried again. "I know it's forward and all, but I hate eating alone."
Laurel glanced around the dingy gas station-cum-convenience store. She hated that her budget meant she had to eat here at all. "I pretty much ran into you, so, uh... Anyway, thanks, but no. Besides, I've already had lunch." The second the lie slipped out, she grimaced. She'd said only seconds ago that the packages in her hands were lunch. Stupid. As if to add to her humiliation, her stomach chose that precise moment to rumble again. People a few states away probably heard it.
His lips curved into the most delectable smile. "Dessert, then?"
"I'm on a diet, but thanks."
He shrugged. "Oh...well, maybe next time?"
He gave her a curious smile before turning to leave, treating her with a view from the back, which was just as enticing as his approach. Now who was ogling rear ends?
By the time Laurel finished paying for the meager groceries and gasoline, she had begun to seriously regret turning down that meal. She couldn't believe she'd just said no to a free lunch from an attractive man! Smooth move. Her grandmother's nagging voice warning her to not trust strangers could be damned. She could have used something that didn't include polysorbate number eighty for sustenance. Never in her thirty years would she have thought she would kill for a simple green salad.
She hated that she'd sunk this low, fantasizing about vegetables of all things. All she'd wanted to do was start over with a brand-new life. Forget the memories of the past and move forward. She'd just never imagined starting over would be this hard. Nothing wanted to go right, and damn if she didn't bump across every single obstacle that could think to get in the way.
This too shall pass, she reminded herself.
She steeled her resolve and pushed through the door, the smell of gasoline assaulting her senses. Wrinkling her nose in distaste, she moved to her car only to find Mr. Gorgeous studying it. She frowned, picking up her pace to approach him. "May I help you?"
He pivoted to face her, and when he saw who it was, the corner of his mouth turned up into that dazzling half smile. "Hello again." He glanced at the plastic bag dangling from her hand. "You know, I've been replaying it in my mind, and I still think that collision was my fault. You'd really make me feel better if you'd let me at least buy you a cup of coffee or slice of pie or something to make up for it."
God, she was hungry. Would it really be so bad if she took advantage of his offer?
Well...no. It wouldn't.
She worked hard to stop herself from grinning like an idiot at him. There was nothing wrong with getting a good meal so long as she remained careful about it. Still, she'd give him one last, final chance to back out. "Well, I wouldn't want to put you out."
"You wouldn't." He inclined his head toward her rust bucket. "Yours?"
"Still for sale?"
Laurel hesitated. She'd kept the sign in the window with the scant hope someone might offer her a few hundred for the old beater on a day she needed money. Kind of like today. Only the plan had been she would have a place to live before she sold it. Reluctantly, she said, "I have an offer for it."
Damn. Just about every time he asked her a question, a lie popped out of her mouth before she could recall it.
He raised a brow as if he sensed the deception in her voice. "I might want to counter. Could we discuss it while we eat lunch--I mean, dessert?"
She didn't have to glance at the groceries in her hand to know she wasn't going to turn him down a second time. Grandma might have warned against the dangers of talking to strangers, but Grandma also hadn't raised no fool. "Sure."
He held out a hand. "Elijah Ballard."
"Laurel Butler," she said, taking it in hers. There. That took care of the part about being strangers.
A static charge between them jolted her. In his eyes, she thought she caught a glimpse of--she couldn't name what, but it seemed hungry, needy. Elijah didn't seem to notice. "Ms. Butler, if you'll follow me in your car, I know a great little place around the corner. Best pie for miles."
Her heart fluttered. "I look forward to it."
After unlocking the door, she slipped inside. This time, it only took two tries to make the engine catch and rumble to life. Rolled-up windows saved her from most of the cloying, thick billows of smoke that poured from the exhaust. Most of it.
By the time she looked around for Elijah, she couldn't spot him. Then an SUV cruised to a stop next to her. Her new friend gave her a small wave and pulled forward. She maneuvered behind him and swallowed a gasp of surprise. He was driving a luxury vehicle, something worth upward of fifty grand or more than her car had when it was brand-new. Fifteen years ago.
She spent the time it took to get to the restaurant debating if she thought whether it was creepy or sexy that he put so much energy into trying to get her out to lunch. Obviously, he wasn't interested in buying her car. Then again, how did he know which one belonged to her? Had he been watching before she'd gone inside the gas station? Through her musings, her grandmother's voice played the same advice over and over again: "don't talk to strangers."
Normally, I'd say you're right, Grandma, but I can't afford to be picky right now.
Besides, hadn't she taken care of the strangers part? On top of that, he really did seem like a nice guy and with old-fashioned manners to boot. Not many men these days held open her car door while she got out. Then held open the door to the restaurant. Then, by God, held out her chair when she sat down!
He also waited with infinite patience for her to choose something from the menu. Her decision stalled a few times. The task of choosing something she could afford to pay for--namely, a side salad--versus something that would be filling and that he would pay for was overwhelming. She didn't want to take advantage of him, but her stomach made the most awful rumblings at the enticing scents drifting through the air. He'd implied lunch was on him, but if it wasn't and she ordered the wrong thing, it'd be a month of Sundays before she could afford to eat again.
She ran a finger down the descriptions of food, her mouth watering the entire time. "I really can't decide. I'm starving."
"Peanut butter sandwiches aren't as filling as they used to be."
Her ears burned brightly, but she ignored the subtle jab.
Elijah chuckled and gave her an easy way out when he said, "I'm in the mood for a steak and a baked potato. That goes pretty well with pie, right? Care to join me?"
She recollected wanting the very same thing but settling for cheap eats less than an hour ago. Her mind waffled. What the hell? Might as well go for broke. Literally. "Sounds good."
Conversation with him flowed easily, as natural as if she'd known him all her life. Although she tried to maintain some formality between them, he insisted she called him Elijah, and he slipped in jokes that made her smile often. By the time they finished dessert, he'd managed to sneak in a job offer she couldn't turn down. He met every creeping doubt with reassurances that seemed so well timed he could have been reading her mind.
And that's how she found herself standing before his front door a few hours later.
She fingered the card he'd given her as she stared at the sprawling ranch-style home. The landscaping seemed too perfect. The crisp breeze flowing over a lake she saw glistening beneath the sun provided even more comfort. The quiet solitude offered by the serene neighborhood was also almost too good to be true.
What was she doing here? And worse, had it really come to this?
One week, he'd said. A trial period for her to see if she could meet their expectations. A pair of brothers in need of someone to look after the inside of their home. In exchange for a few cooked meals and cleaning up behind them, she would be offered a place to live and a small stipend. More than what she needed to live on. If they weren't too demanding, it was a chance to write her book and still manage to exist. Maybe even save up a little bit.
Elijah Ballard managed to ride up on his heroic stallion and offered her salvation in the guise of a job. Warning bells had clamored in her mind at the beginning of their conversation, but she'd stifled them. That just because a man who looked good enough to eat offered to buy her lunch shouldn't have set her off. By the time he paid for their meals, she couldn't figure for the life of her for what reason the hesitation might have been. Grandma would have loved him.
Now, she pressed the doorbell and tried not to appear anxious. He'd given her names of people he said she should call for references for them. They weren't perverts trying to lure single women into their lair. They were well-to-do businessmen too busy to attend to the simple tasks of everyday life. Even if she only lasted the week, it would be seven days she didn't have to look for shelter or food or sleep fitfully, hoping the police or an unscrupulous vagrant wouldn't come knocking on her car window. The thought of taking a real shower under running water almost made her orgasmic.
Seven days didn't have to be just seven days, he'd assured her. This could be home.