Click on image to enlarge.
by Jennifer Lynne
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: Flint McCallum is a man on the edge of darkness. He has returned from the Middle East to start a new life with his teenage son, but the memories of conflict are too strong and the rage in his heart threatens to destroy everything he touches. Even his relationship with his son. Thirty-one year old Pandora Paige is an artistic free spirit with a mystical gift. She offers a helping hand to troubled souls to guide them out of the dark. Towards hope. From the moment they meet in a bar on the bayside fringe of Melbourne, these polar opposites are destined to join together in a blaze of passion -- a blaze that Pandora hopes will be strong enough to blast away the darkness keeping Flint captive. But her number one rule -- to stay detached -- becomes harder to maintain as she becomes more deeply ensnared in the intriguing force of Flint's magnetic yet troubled personality. She is afraid of his darkness, even as she is inexplicably drawn to it, and wants more strongly than ever to be successful in her quest to help him reach the light. For Flint it was meant to be one night of passion. A walk on the wild side where he could forget the dark thoughts pulling him down, enjoy some damn good sex with an intriguing woman and walk away emotionally intact the next morning. The perfect one night stand. The last thing he expects is to encounter the mystic forces that make Pandora what she is. Forces that he doesn't believe in on a rational level, but that seem to be drawing his emotions to the surface as fast as he tries to tamp them back down. In his experience, giving in to emotion can be dangerous. Giving in to emotion can get you killed. Yet in the course of this one incredible night he finds the very beliefs on which his life has been built seriously challenged by Pandora. He discovers there is such a thing as magic, and he opens up to her in a way he never thought possible. In doing so, he exposes himself at his most vulnerable. Pandora, in turn, finds an emotional connection with Flint that she never expected, and it frightens her to feel dependent upon another. They know only each other's first name. And yet each of them understands the other more intimately than anyone has ever been allowed to in the past. The exposure is too overwhelming for Flint and he does what he would always do when faced with the raw honesty of emotion. In the grey light of dawn he runs. As fast and as far from Pandora as he can get. But Pandora has learnt through their brief hours together that their lives will be entwined beyond this one night of desire. She discovers that a free spirit is only really free if there are no shackles holding it prisoner. She begins her own journey toward overcoming the fear in her heart and opening herself up to the potential of love. But it seems she has left her discovery far too late -- both for herself, and for Flint, the man who has unlocked her heart. Flint has been caught up in his own internal battle between the seductive allure of the dark and the generous gift of light that Pandora is offering. Their futures, now firmly interwoven, balance on a knife's edge. Is Flint too far gone to accept her gift and begin the journey forward towards healing? Towards hope? Or will the attraction of the dark prove too strong and drag them both into the dangerous shadow lands where light and color are just a dim and distant memory? To My Readers: I love the excitement and allure of the dark side, but to me it is always important to stay within reach of the light. The dark and troubled Flint was in my mind for quite a while before I wrote this story, and I knew he needed a strong and unflappable heroine who would not be afraid to reach into the darkness and offer a guiding hand. I think there is no one else who could have touched his emotions the way Pandora did -- I hope you agree that these two are made for each other!
eBook Publisher: Red Sage Publishing/Red Sage Presents, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [107 KB]
Reading time: 64-90 min.
Pandora's Gift: Chapter One
The run along the beach at dusk had done nothing to calm his jangled nerves. Even when he stopped to watch the orange and gold sun spread its twinkling blanket over the water, giving his body a chance to recover from the exertion, things still felt out of kilter.
This was not a customary feeling for Flint McCallum. Nor did he wish it to continue.
One hand on his hip, he raised the other to rub the persistent crick at the back of his neck. Today had made him feel older than his thirty-eight years. He knew his reaction had been out of all proportion to the events that began with a phone call from the hospital. And it annoyed the hell out of him that one phone call had created such internal havoc, breaking his primary rule since the last posting.
Stay in command of your emotions at all times. Don't let insanity win.
He took a deep breath before turning his back on the kaleidoscope sunset and looking toward the buildings lining the shore along this section of Melbourne's southern fringe. He wasn't familiar with this part of the city, as he lived closer to the mountains in the east. But he had felt compelled by an inexplicable urge to let the ocean breeze blast away the remnants of the day. It hadn't worked.
He headed for the bar he'd spotted about thirty yards away. The last rays of April sun glinted off its windows, mocking his earlier attempt to turn his back on the dappling light. He could just make out the sign above the door. Stevie's Bar & Grill. Despite the cool air, drinkers had spilled out of the sliding doors and onto the open patio area that led down towards the sand. It was a happy crowd, the buzz of conversation punctuated at intervals by an occasional more strident tone or an extended burst of laughter.
So there were still people in this world who could enjoy a carefree moment. Lucky them.
The bitterness twisted his lips for a second, but these days he was beyond lying to himself. The contempt that filled him wasn't for the people enjoying a good laugh with their friends. No. The contempt was for himself.
He shifted in the cooling evening air, uncomfortable with his thoughts. Maybe he needed a drink, surrounded by people who didn't know--who should never know--what he knew. He'd hardly raised a sweat with the run, and he could change out of his running gear in the car. Matt was at a sleepover with a friend, so no problem if he got back a little late.
What the hell. What harm could one drink do? Just one. Then he'd head back to the hospital.
Pandora felt the connection the moment he walked in, the strength of it suspending her breath and causing hair on the back of her neck to prickle as if in warning. Was he the one?
From her vantage point in the booth, chosen deliberately for its position near the back of the room, she could study him as he walked toward the bar, shrugging off a battered leather jacket and sliding onto a stool in one easy movement. She stared at the dusty brown boots and worked her way north over long denim-clad legs and a tightly proportioned rear end. A t-shirt that had been black but now tended to gray accentuated the lean build and stretched taut across a wide set of shoulders.
She sensed a mixture of smooth and hard, like a thin veneer of civility over a solid core of rock. The hardness was much more subtle, only evident in the controlled movements, the inflexible angles, the sense of rigid muscle lurking beneath the veneer. If she were trying to describe him to a friend, she'd say a darker, more brooding version of Daniel Craig in the Bond movies. But that wouldn't be quite accurate.
It was like looking at an iceberg, cold, hard and beautiful, with only the very tip on display while the rest remained hidden beneath an impenetrable surface.
And it was the rest she was going to have to expose, if he really was the one.
She let the air out of her lungs with slow deliberation, not aware until that moment she'd been holding her breath. She felt a curl of surprise at the resentment that washed through her. Since when did she let anyone have that much effect on her senses? She wasn't used to it, had always remained detached. Always.
It was crucial to what she did and the only way she could survive intact.
As she watched, he raised a hand and raked it through short dark hair, rich with a sheen that reminded her of dark chocolate frosting on a cake. Then questing fingers moved lower and he massaged the corded muscles in his neck before dropping his hand again. Extreme weariness was implicit in the gesture.
Resentment faded and the tingling awareness returned. She closed her eyes to block him out, but her body had other ideas. She heard the murmur of his voice, deep and dark, as he presumably asked for a drink, and she imagined she could smell a musky male bouquet oozing from his pores. Impossible! There was way too much distance between them, and yet her nostrils flared at the imaginary scent. She shivered suddenly. Violently.
Don't let him be the one.
When she opened her eyes at the traitorous thought, she saw the murky darkness at his edges and knew. He was the one. She'd been called here this evening for this man.
And she didn't like it one little bit.
Her instincts were screaming at her to get up and walk out of there. Immediately. Drive home to her safe little haven in the hills and leave him to his own devices.
Yet even as she half-stood, she felt it again, a connection stronger than anything she had felt before. Every time he moved, her gaze was drawn to him as if an electric current passed between them. All her senses tuned to him as he stared down into his drink, then abruptly raised it to his lips and swallowed the amber liquid in one quick movement.
She found herself wondering what he'd taste like if she were to approach him right now, if she were to lean forward and run the tip of her tongue around the edge of his lips, outlining the shape of sensuality, the hint of cruelty that lay beneath the facade. Would the taste of whisky linger on his lips, mingling with the dark and heady flavor she imagined she would find in the warm cocoon of his mouth?
She knew the moment he became fully aware of her. His essence leapt into her mind like a snarling tiger ready for conflict. The seat leather pressed into her back as she recoiled from the sudden threat inherent in his stillness. She watched his spine stiffen, saw the weariness in his body vanish and the hardness in his features intensify.
He stayed like that, frozen, for seconds only, but she felt him questing, seeking, until his head abruptly tilted and he speared her with an assessing gaze. From this distance she couldn't see the color of his eyes, but she felt the latent power in his regard.
The call to her senses was so strong she found her lips parting in supplication. Her body was working against her will, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it. She reacted to him physically in a way she had never experienced until he walked into the room. It was as simple as that, and infinitely more complex, given the enormity of the task that lay ahead of her. If she chose to accept it.
The thought of escape flickered through her brain, but she knew with sudden clarity that she couldn't ignore the calling of the blood. Not this time. The darkness was not just at his edges. It had invaded his core. Without her, he'd be lost.
But it wasn't the depth of his need that scared her half to death.
It was the strength of her own.
He'd felt it as soon as he walked in, like a prickling between the shoulder blades. It wasn't something he could easily put into words, but he'd had similar feelings before, an awareness of something beyond the norm. Ignoring it in the past had almost cost him his life. It had cost the lives of others.
He stopped the thought before it could go any further and concentrated on the here and now. It was different here. It had to be. He wasn't in the Middle East, and he wasn't in a situation where life or death turned on a knife's edge. This was suburban Melbourne on a Friday night, and he was surrounded by people enjoying a transition between work and home where only the pleasure of the moment mattered.
But the prickling continued, and as he slid onto a stool at the bar and ordered a drink, he shrugged off his jacket in case he needed to move quickly. A quiver of warmth flittered across his skin, raising goose bumps in its wake, and despite himself he felt the corners of his mouth lift momentarily. This didn't feel like danger. More like a welcoming electric current, if such a thing could ever be welcoming, working its way through his body and charging his pores with an intense yet vibrant energy. Whatever it was, this weird thing he was experiencing felt not altogether unpleasant. In fact, he thought as he raised his glass and drained the whisky in one quick swallow, the experience could almost be described as sensual.
The word echoed through his mind as color flashed at the edges of his vision. He turned and met the bold gaze of a woman sitting by herself in a booth near the back of the room. He knew instantly that she was the source of the strange awareness, but how he could be sure of it lay beyond his comprehension. She didn't look like anything out of the ordinary. Early thirties, maybe, with long black hair, dressed like a leftover from the seventies in a multi-colored, loose-flowing top and what looked like flared jeans from what little he could see of her legs under the wooden table top. He narrowed his eyes as he studied her. Good-looking in a bohemian kind of way, but definitely not his type.
Maybe it was the concentration marking her features as she gazed at him without blinking, the way he suddenly felt exposed, as if she delved without his permission behind the exterior to what lay beneath, that ignited the rage in his chest. He clenched his teeth, struggling to keep his breathing even, but the hand he slammed down on the bar had fisted involuntarily.
"Another whisky. Make it a double." The words growled out of him before he could control himself, and the barman jumped to comply.
What the hell was wrong with him today? The impulse to get hammered and forget the bad stuff was common in his line of work, but he'd never been one to give in. Sure, there was nothing he could do at the hospital except sit around waiting for Jack to wake up. And no doubt Rita would call him if there was any news. So why now, here, with an eccentric woman's gaze burning an imaginary hole in the back of his head, did he have the irresistible urge to down yet another drink, stride over to that booth and throw her across the top of the polished table with everyone in the room playing voyeur as he punished her for invading his space?
How much space did he need, for Christ's sake? She was way over the other side of the room!
He drew a ragged breath, fighting to push his emotions back where they belonged. Inside. Locked up. Where they couldn't escape and hurt anyone else.
After a moment he raised his drink and turned toward her, intending an ironic salute. But he nearly fell off his chair in shock as he stared into a pair of tawny eyes only two feet away from his own. "Jesus! How did you get across the room so quick?"
She smiled, the action transforming the seriousness of her face into momentary beauty, and he instantly revised his former impression. Still not beautiful, but by God, there was something about her, something so vibrant you couldn't help but be mesmerized.
"Magic," she said with a laugh.
The sound rippled over his skin like a piece of velvet ribbon.
Freaking hell, man, he told himself. Get a grip.
She sat, without waiting for an invitation, on the empty stool beside him, flicking long dark hair back over her shoulders and studying him carefully. "I think you could do with my company tonight," she said at last. "I'm Pandora."
The ring of self-righteous conviction in her manner brought his rage straight back to the surface. So much for control, he thought as words tumbled out of his mouth. "Do I look like I'm trolling for company? I'm not buying tonight, sweetheart. You might try your luck with that trio over there. They've probably got more than enough between them to afford you." He nodded towards a group of businessmen at the other end of the bar and waited for her inevitable departure at the insult.
Instead, one of her slightly arched eyebrows rose and her strange tawny eyes fixed themselves on him with only a hint of reproach in their depths. "You're not getting rid of me that easily," she said, shifting to a more comfortable position on the stool. "You'd be disappointed if I left."
"Really?" He fought the sudden urge to grin and shrugged instead, not wanting to admit she had thrown him off balance with her response. "Suit yourself, then." He would have turned back to his drink, but she suddenly smiled as if enjoying a little secret, and his breath caught in his throat. It felt as if the sun had come out and was shining just for him.
He could feel a radiant heat emanating from her body as she shifted again, and he had to fight the urge to reach out and run a finger along the line of her jaw. It was a strong, stubborn jaw, framing a face that defied stereotype, with a wide mouth, definitely sensual and curved up in that knowing grin, below angular, jutting cheekbones that gave her a faintly Slavic look.
But it was her eyes that dominated, capturing his attention whether he wanted to give it or not. Big, strangely colored eyes that had no end to them, eyes that drew him in deep and stripped him bare, exposing everything he wanted to keep hidden.
Part of him wanted to get up and move out of her orbit, put as much distance as he could between himself and this odd little creature with the most all-knowing gaze he'd ever come across. But another part of him responded to her nearness with an intensity he hadn't felt in years. His senses were heightened by her presence. He noticed the finest of hairs on her forearm as she placed her elbows on the bar, caught a faint floral scent--delicate, almost citrusy, but beyond that he couldn't identify the fragrance--as she moved. He imagined he could hear her quickening breath above the general noise in the room.
Would her skin taste as fresh and clean as it looked if he leaned over and pressed his lips to that fast-pulsing point in her neck?
Her mouth parted and a faint blush of pink touched her cheeks. As if she read his thoughts. It was the first hint of a crack in her annoying composure, and he felt an absurd flare of pleasure at the realization.
"So, Pandora the Persistent. What makes you so special that I can't do without you?"
"Mock me if you have to, but you won't be disappointed." She leaned in towards him and again he felt the delicious warmth coming off her body. His groin tightened in response. "You brought me here this evening." Her eyes widened with seeming innocence. "And seeing as how we'll most likely be leaving here together, it'd be nice to know your name."
This time he couldn't help it. The grin popped out of its own accord, lifting the corners of his mouth as he considered the audacity of her words. He wanted to prove her wrong. She was so damn sure of herself. But it was a hell of a long time since anyone had made him smile. He'd forgotten how good it could feel.
"Flint," he said at last. "At your service, Pandora."
* * * *