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In Pursuit of Mr. Sands Part 1

There’s something about travel that inspires strange tales and the Muse has been poking me with her big stick again. I don’t mind the bruised ribs of inspiration when they lead me to such fun stories, and this time they’ve led me back to Mr. Sands.

Mr. Sands’ story, as I suspected, is far from finished. And as I certainly suspected, someone like Mr. Sands couldn’t sneak around very long without being discovered by Madga Gardener and her consortium. Remember, this is a work in progress, so be gentle with me. Enjoy the next instalment of Mr. Sands’ strange tale.

 

In Pursuit of Mr. Sands Part 1

 

I followed him at a safe distance. He was fast tracked through passport control at Heathrow, as was I, and neither of us had luggage. He was my job. I wasn’t about to lose him. Once through customs and in the arrivals hall, he made his way to the Wetherspoons, where he ordered coffee, and I did the same, discreetly watching him watch the woman who was ushered in by one of the first class flight attendants, who settled her into a booth and ordered her up a full English breakfast. The woman looked dazed and her hands shook with her first bite of food.

She had good reason to be shaky, and she had good reason to be half-starved. I knew exactly what the attendant was explaining to her in hushed whispers, and so did he. He was the reason for her weakened condition. The flight attendant knew that and so did I. The thing is no one knew that I knew.

My name is Elise North. I’m a PI. At least that’s what Magda Gardener calls me, and that’s what my business card says – the one I hand out when I need to look legit. Most of the time I work under cover, and my ID changes with the job. I don’t own a gun. It would hardly do me any good. I work on cases that need a delicate hand. I do, however, own a silver-tipped stake … more of a stiletto, actually, but I know how to use it, I guarantee you that. I’m athletic, I’m fast and well trained in martial arts because, in a field as specialized as mine, if things ever go south, about the best I can hope for is to escape and run like hell. None of those skills, however, are the reason Magda Gardener hired me. I have other gifts, gifts that in the kinds of circles Magda and her people run in, are highly coveted.

Those particular gifts are the reason I was just off the night flight from New York’s JFK to London Heathrow after paying an enormous sum of money to sit across from Daniel Emerson Sands in first class. Before we were even off the runway at JFK, all of the flight attendants made time to pay the man homage. A big name celebrity couldn’t have drawn more solicitous, yet quiet attention. Each one, whether male of female, approached him with a fan girl flutter of excitement, I observed in a flush in the cheeks, a quickening of the pulse in throats, in temples, in a moistening of lips with a flick of the tongue, in an acceleration in the breath.

He kissed the fingers of the female attendants, so delicately caught up in his strong grip. Each of the male attendants he offered a warm handshake, then a clasp of the shoulder as they bent forward, almost as though they were about to share a secret … or a kiss. While it came as no surprise to me that each attendant responded with a little gasp and then a grunt and a shudder of the body that would have been almost undetectable to someone less observant. Neither did it come as a surprise when, each time, Daniel Sands inhaled deeply and sighed as though he had just past a bakery with the door open allowing its delectable scents to fill the air. What also came as no surprise, the thing I had spent the most time preparing for, and yet still found disturbing, was the frisson of fear that accompanied ritual. Each attendant came to Sands eager and willing, but fear was as much a part of the formula as lust. They all knew what he was. If they didn’t, he couldn’t do what he does, what he must, on this flight … repeatedly.

While we taxied and took off, Daniel Sands sat quietly perusing a copy of The New York Times as though he were any other passenger in transit just wanting the journey to be over with and to arrive safely at his destination. But I knew better. I’ve known better since Magda Gardener assigned me to follow him, to learn all about him that I can. As I said, I handle jobs for Magda that are of a delicate nature. You see, Daniel Emerson Sands is an incubus, a particularly powerful one, and one Magda has set her eyes on. It’s a very dangerous thing to have Magda Gardener sets her eyes on you. Mr. Sands had no idea he was up against a master huntress. All he wanted was his special in-flight meal service.

The flight attendants and the woman at check-in, and all of the others that Sands had contact with before boarding, they were nothing more than nibbles, appetizers, if you will. There were only seven of us in first class, but only one was his chosen main course. As with all of his in flight meals, she was upgraded from economy. I stood behind her in the line at check-in, I watched while Mr. Sands, ever so subtly bumped into her, all apologetic for being so careless. I watched the way he rested a solicitous hand at the small of her back to steady her so she wouldn’t fall. I watched the way he smiled at her. I watched, and I knew from my research, that she was the one, that she would have a visit in the dream world she’d be very unlikely to forget. And she would wake up weakened and confused.

Just as I expected, there was no lingering over dinner in first class. everyone fell asleep almost immediately after they’d eaten, and the attendants made themselves scarce. What I hadn’t expected was that as soon as everyone was asleep, Sands rose up from his seat and walked among the passengers, touching each of them lovingly. I was just about to panic, not sure what he’d do when he found me awake and not under his spell. I was just about to throw caution to the wind, flee to the lavatory and lock myself in when his tender ministrations were interrupted by the unexpected appearance of the blonde flight attendant. “You’re here,” she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” And suddenly my own heart was racing as he took her face in his hands and kissed her. And I swear, it wasn’t his magic affecting me, it was just that – well the way he kissed her was so damned sexy. He tasted and tested and teased her mouth like she was dessert and she responded as though the kiss was a raw desperate fuck. And then with a deep intake of breath, he released her. She shivered out what I was sure was an orgasm and then left, shutting the curtain behind her as though nothing had happened.

Before I could heave a sigh of relief, I was in danger of being found out again. One by one he kissed everyone in first class, as though he sought something out, and each one of them writhed and moaned and sighed in his kiss. I’m pretty sure a couple of the men even came. But I knew exactly what he was doing. I knew that in their sleep, he took the kisses from them, stolen kisses, and yet no one denied him because it felt so damned good. Still, I sensed that same hint of fear I had with the attendants. The mix of fear and lust is such an intriguing blend.

For me, there was no escape, and when he came to me, I could do nothing else but pretend to be asleep. The fear I felt, well that was genuine enough, and so was the sense of arousal after what I’d just observed. All I had to do was exactly what everyone else had done, when he came to me, and I felt his closeness, felt the humidity of his breath against my lips. As he cupped my cheek with a large palm, as he mantled me with the heat of his body and all but pulled me into his arms, for a terrifying moment, I thought I had made a mistake. I thought it was me he had come to claim, even as I knew that was impossible. And anyway, sex has its own magic, doesn’t it? His kiss was slow and deliberate and deep. I responded by pressing up into his embrace, by sliding my tongue against his, by allowing the bruising of lips against swollen lips as my pulse raced and I felt my own humid heaviness down below my belly. When he sighed softly and settled me gently back into my seat, I was as disappointed as I was relieved as he turned his attention to the blonde who was to be his main course.

I had not expected to be required to do more than observe. I had not expected an up close and personal encounter. From the safety of my feigned sleep, I observed what appeared to be nothing more than him laying one hand low on the woman’s belly while he breathed in her breath in a deep kiss. But I knew it to be so much more than that for both of them. I could practically see the magic like heat waves roiling off of them. It was there, something far more than what was visible, something I remained safely on the outside of. And as I observed, I actually believed I had fooled him. I actually believed I might get away with the impossible that Magda Gardener had asked of me. In retrospect, I should have known better.

 

Demon Love — Minus the Selfie

I’m talking demon lovers today. Sorry no selfies of me with a demon. All my demon friends are pretty camera shy. I met a woman once who really believed that god was her lover. I spent an afternoon with her while she filled me in on the details. God’s my lover … What does one say to that? The experience stuck with me and kept coming back to me. I often find myself wishing I’d asked more questions, wishing I’d listened more carefully. But of course the whole experience made me nervous. Still, how could the story possibilities now intrigue me? It was from that kernel that In The Flesh was born, teased out from the big question: What if it was true?

There’s certainly lots of evidence in mythology for seduction of mortals by gods and demons — even in the Bible. But what it it were true, here and now? What would that relationship look like, and what happens if that immortal invisible lover has a wandering eye.

 

 

 

In The Flesh Blurb:

When Susan Innes comes to visit her friend, Annie Rivers, in Chapel House, the deconsecrated church that Annie is renovating into a home, she discovers her outgoing friend changed, reclusive, secretive, and completely enthralled by a mysterious lover, whose presence is always felt, but never seen, a lover whom she claims is god. As her holiday turns into a nightmare, Susan must come to grips with the fact that her friend’s lover is neither imaginary nor is he human, and even worse, he’s turned his wandering eye on Susan, and he won’t be denied his prize. If Susan is to fight an inhuman stalker intent on having her as his own, she’ll need a little inhuman help.

 

 

Researching God’s Lovers Excerpt:

 

By the time I finished my breakfast and was ready to go, Annie was already fast asleep, curled in her nest at the foot of
the altar. Outside, the smell of burning rubbish stung my eyes and the back of my throat.

I had little enthusiasm for the handbag sale, nor for lingering at the make-up counter. Instead I found myself in a coffee shop, laptop open researching God’s love life, which turned out to be a long history of seducing humans.

Zeus visited Danae in a shower of gold. He seduced Leda in the form of a swan. Eros came to Psyche in the dead of night forbidding her to look upon his face. Hades dragged Persephone down to the Underworld. The Virgin Mary was impregnated by the god of the Bible. In the New Testament, Christ is the bridegroom, and the church his bride. And the list went on and on. Perhaps even the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was just another way for divinity to experience flesh.

I had always loved mythology, and I’d read all these stories before. I’d just never put them together to get the whole picture. And though I was seeing an aspect of divinity that I found rather disturbing, I couldn’t help feeling there was still a piece of the puzzle missing.

I suppose I should have felt relieved. Annie wasn’t as unusual as I’d thought. God was the ultimate stalker, and he didn’t seem to be very faithful to his lovers. Just Annie’s type. I tried not to think about the implications of my experience in the bath last night. After all, it was just mythology, and I’d had a lot of wine. And there’s never any accounting for my vivid imagination. After all, I was a writer. I made my living as a teller of tales.

“What are you reading?”

I jumped at the sound of Annie’s voice and quickly minimized the page. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

“I’m feeling better.”

“How did you know where to find me?”

She leaned down and whispered next to my ear. “My lover’s God, remember? You can’t hide from him.” I barely had time to register shock before she reached down and restored the page.

“Trying to learn a little bit more about him, are we?”  She smiled at the monitor and nodded knowingly. “None of this does him justice. He’s the Hound of Heaven. He’s always pursuing those he loves, and there’s no escaping. Once he’s set his eyes on you, he’ll do whatever it takes to make you his own.”

I suddenly felt cold.

 

 

 

Buy In the Flesh:

eBook:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon AU
Amazon CA
Amazon DE

Barnes & Noble
iBooks UK

iBooks US
Kobo
Smashwords

Print:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Barnes & Noble
Createspace
The Book Depository

 

 

“No one writes paranormal fiction like KD Grace. In penning her tales of myths and magic, she plumbs psychological and spiritual depths that most authors don’t even realize exist. Ms. Grace ignores tropes and conventions, following the trail of her stories down the rabbit hole of her own fertile imagination. The truths she unearths amaze, arouse, terrify and delight.” Lisabet Sarai

 

Shameless Selfie Peek at a Shameless Diary

Dreams imageIMG_0347

 

It’s Shameless Selfie time again, and with me being in the honeymoon stage of this year’s NaNoWriMo I find myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a scribe, to be a wordsmith. That being the case, I thought it would be a good time to take a little shameless peek at In The Flesh and Susan’s secret diary. Enjoy!

 

In The Flesh Blurb:

When Susan Innes comes to visit her friend, Annie Rivers, in Chapel House, the deconsecrated church that Annie is renovating into a home, she discovers her outgoing friend changed, reclusive, secretive, and completely enthralled by a mysterious lover, whose presence is always felt, but never seen, a lover whom she claims is god. As her holiday turns into a nightmare, Susan must come to grips with the fact that her friend’s lover is neither imaginary nor is he human, and even worse, he’s turned his wandering eye on Susan, and he won’t be denied his prize. If Susan is to fight an inhuman stalker intent on having her as his own, she’ll need a little inhuman help.

 

kdgrace-itf-finalIn The Flesh Excerpt — Not Alone in the Dark:

I wasn’t alone in the dark. I knew that the first time I entered the crypt at Chapel House. I could feel a presence there, almost as though someone stood just behind me, about to reach out and touch me. The shiver over my skin was not so much from fear, though certainly there was an element of fear, as it was from longing, bone-deep longing. I could barely breathe for it, I could barely stand under the weight of it, and I couldn’t imagine how such an ache, such a hunger could exist inside my flesh and not tear me apart. I was astonished that Annie seemed completely unaware of anything out of the ordinary, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t anxious to share it with her.

She continued to chatter on about her plans to make Chapel House over with a state of the art kitchen—she who didn’t cook, and a master suite that would rival the finest hotels in London. Strange that I could listen with one part of my brain and comment on her ideas for an open plan living space, for a library in the choir loft, for a wet room in the sacristy, while with another part of my brain I felt like every cell of my body was responding to whatever it was, whoever it was that I was certain waited there in the darkness, just beyond the beam of Annie’s Maglite.

 

*****

 

The departmentalizing of Annie’s plans and the feel of the presence in the darkness became much more difficult when I felt the closeness of a warm, hard body against my back and the humid nip of a kiss on the nape of my neck. I explained away my little gasp of surprise to Annie by saying I’d almost lost my footing. I should have been frightened. I should have been terrified, and believe me, I was. But by the time I felt a large hand splayed low against my belly, by the time I was certain of the maleness pressed hard and low just above my butt, I was far more intrigued than I was frightened. Even if terror had won out, I don’t think I could have forced myself to move as the hand in the darkness migrated to cup my breasts and thumb my nipples, first one, then the other, and the slow grind and undulation from behind became more demanding.

“The roses, they smell lovely.” I managed a breathless response to Annie’s ramblings about plans for the overgrown mess of a garden. “You might want to consider a scent garden.”

She laughed. “I can’t smell anything, but then you were always the one with the sensitive nose. Of course I’ll make sure there are lots of roses.” She knew they were my favorite, but I couldn’t imagine her not smelling them; the scent was nearly overwhelming in the tight space of the crypt. To my surprise, as she rambled on about a patio with a Jacuzzi, the smell of roses was subsumed in my own scent and the humid, piquant scent of a man well aroused. The hand on my breast began a slow, torturous descent, and I wanted nothing more than for Annie to keep talking, keep planning, anything to keep her from dragging me away from this place, at least for a few more minutes.

I asked about the Jacuzzi, hoping that would give me another minute. By the time she got started about the sites she’d looked up online and the builders she’d talked to, I was rocking back against the hardness, craning my neck to yield as much bare skin as possible to teeth and tongue and lips all soft and warm and wet and sharp and hard and demanding. Oh,

I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, but looking back, I wonder how the hell Annie couldn’t see? How could she have missed it? But she rattled on and on about some builder just up the road near Keswick who was supposed to be really good, some guy named Michael. Like I gave a fuck.

The study suddenly felt stuffy and overheated, and Michael’s grip on my hand convulsed. His jaw tightened, but he didn’t look at me.

Magda paid little attention to either my discomfort or Michael’s. She just kept on reading.

He was cute, Annie said. That led to observations about this Michael’s broad shoulders and nice arse and speculation as to whether or not he would be any good in bed, and was it wise to seduce him before he put in her Jacuzzi or wait till after and seduce him in it. All the while I nodded and pretended to be interested.

I was thankful for the extra time, but Christ, how could she not notice me standing there, legs apart, rocking back and forth and shifting from foot to foot like I had ants in my knickers? In truth, what I wanted in my knickers surely couldn’t actually be there, and yet I felt it, fucking hell, how I felt it! I swear, I could feel muscle and sinew. Hell, I could feel the actual shape of an erection as though we were both naked, as though all he need do, this dark being who surely was just my imagination, was bend me over and open me, me struggling to keep my breathing quiet, me struggling to focus enough attention on my friend that she wouldn’t suspect I was about to come. Oh yes, I was terrified. I would graveyard-angel-1have, should have, run, if I hadn’t been so intrigued, so turned on. I just wanted one more second, and then another and another.

In desperation that shocks me even now as I write this in the dark silence of Annie’s flat, I grabbed onto a wrist that I swear was as solid and warm as my own and guided the caress, the tease, the fondling of fingers and palm down my belly toward where I really needed it to be.

Annie yammered on about this Michael, all the things she’d heard about him, all the things she wanted to do to him—at least I think she did. My God, my whole body felt alive, every cell, every molecule. I could damn near feel the coursing of my own blood through my veins. You have no idea what an exhilarating combination fear and arousal make. I lost track of what Annie was saying, and the air was filled with the scent of sex. I could smell him, actually smell this phantom man, who was as near release as I was, and I was sure, as my knees gave beneath me, I felt the warm wet of his orgasm against my lower back. And then for an instant everything around me was silk and darkness, so perfect, so ecstatic. But just beyond that warm tight space, I knew. I knew as well as I know my own breath, I was terrified, and what I felt was like no terror I’d ever known before and, holy God in heaven, I want to feel it again.

 

Buy In the Flesh Here:

eBook:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon AU
Amazon CA
Amazon DE
All Romance eBooks
Barnes & Noble
iBooks UK
iBooks US
Kobo
Smashwords

Print:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Barnes & Noble
Createspace
The Book Depository

 

“No one writes paranormal fiction like KD Grace. In penning her tales of myths and magic, she plumbs psychological and spiritual depths that most authors don’t even realize exist. Ms. Grace ignores tropes and conventions, following the trail of her stories down the rabbit hole of her own fertile imagination. The truths she unearths amaze, arouse, terrify and delight.” Lisabet Sarai

 

Blind-Sided and Tunnel-Visioned

writing-imageIt’s crazy times at Grace Manor right now. Yup! You guessed it. I’m finishing up Blind-Sided, the sequel to In The Flesh. I’m at the “runaway train” part of the writing when the novel not only takes on a life of its own, but takes over  my life as well. I’m at that mad rush to the end in which my mind is on one thing and one thing only — finishing the book. Right now I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing Blind-Sided. My world has been reduced to the dilemmas of my characters and my efforts to gett them to the end of the novel in one piece with, at the very least some, HFN. Everything else falls by the wayside until I write those two magical words THE END.

Well, actually, that’s not the end, because then I’m bereft, but this year, I have NaNoWriMo and another novel waiting in the wings to help me through the empty nest period. In the meantime, if you’ve been noticing my absence on social media and wondering if I’ve fallen off the planet, I haven’t. And since you’re all so patient and lovely, I thought I might share just a little bit of Blind-Sided.

Please remember this is a work in progress. It’s the author’s equivalent of sharing the sonogram of the new baby. And yes it’s a girl! And a boy! And a demon and a vampire and … well you get the picture. Enjoy!

 

Blind-Sided Excerpt: Demon Dreams

Susan was running, being chased by Cyrus, his axe raised above his head ready to split her in half. He was gaining on her with every step. “It will do you no good, Scribe. Your angel is dead. Your vampire is dead. Your human is dead and the bitch, Magda Gardener, is captive where she belongs, to service the one she has wronged for all eternity. And you! You will serve him too, but you won’t be required to spread your legs for him like she will.” He roared with laughter, “Or perhaps he will require that of you too. Perhaps he might even give me the honors. But you, little Scribe, you will write the future world order, under his command.”

She stopped dead and closed her eyes. Better the axe than the future he painted, the future she would be forced to write. She waited for the blade to fall.

“There is no axe, my darling. Dreams are often filled with lies and deceit, the things we most fear, perhaps fear even too much to contemplate when we traverse the waking world.”

            She opened her eyes with a start and found herself in the Guardian’s prison, which was much more like a garden 431px-medusa_mascaron_new_york_nythis time. He chuckled softly. “I am, perhaps, influenced in my decorating by quality time spent with Reese Chambers.”

            She smiled in spite of herself. “You could do worse than be influenced by him.”

            “As far as humans go, he is, indeed a jewel, as you say. A pity human life is so very brief. I can scarce imagine how one such as he would evolve given a millennia or two.”

            “Sometimes a deadline is a good thing. Humans tend to do their best work under pressure,”

            “That is true. Time on one’s hands can, indeed, be an unwelcome curse. One does things … things one would not ordinarily do, when one is bored. Things one would regret, if one had an understanding of the transience of the moment.”

            “Ah, I didn’t know you were a philosopher too,” she said, half wondering why she was in pleasant conversation with the bastard, but then it did beat the hell out of being locked in a nightmare with Cyrus and his axe.

The Guardian chuckled. “I shall take that as a compliment, my dear Susan, a thing to be treasured in our … interesting relationship.”

It was only then that she realized where he was. He lay spooned against her back, gently stroking her hair. Her insides tightened in a strange combination of fear and pleasure – fear that the pleasure she felt would lead back to the obsession that had nearly destroyed all their lives.

“That will not, my darling Susan. My desire is but to comfort you and to lend what aid I can to your healing.”

In truth, his touch was making her feel better, but then that could have been just the suggestion of it, just the fact that she was dreaming it so. She lay quietly in his arms savoring his touch, thinking that perhaps she shouldn’t, and yet her doubts were not enough to compel her to action. It was a pressure in her chest, just beneath her sternum that she recognized as his desire to ask something either he feared would make her uncomfortable or he feared her response to. For a moment she wondered how she knew that. She had no memory of them discussing it. “What’s on your mind?” She asked. “You have a question, I can feel it.”

“Why did you not call upon me in the time of your great danger? You left me little choice but to seek out Reese Chambers and to simply battle for our lives. If you would have but called on me, I could have done so much more.”

“I didn’t think about it,” she replied. “I suppose because up until all that has happened with Cyrus, and especially kdgrace-itf-finalbecause I was a bit frightened by what happened at the Dark Side bar three months ago, I didn’t trust you.”

“You may trust me, Susan. You are the possessor of my being, and your body is my home. While it is true that it is also my prison, to be without it would be untenable.”

“Oh don’t you worry, I will most definitely call upon you the next time.” And she was as sure as she was of her own name that there would be a next time. She shuddered and pushed back against the Guardian’s warmth and found him hard. She froze. “Please don’t,” she whispered. “Please don’t ruin it.”

“I am sorry. It was unintentional. I am after all a male.” Before she could respond, he said. “I will leave you.” And she felt the sudden cold of his absence. Shortly after that she woke to find Reese sitting by her bedside holding her hand.

 

 

A Shameless Selfie In The Flesh!

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Yup! It’s a BIG selfie this time, and it is SO shameless. I’m pleased to death to offer up the entire first chapter of my latest release, In The Flesh! Just now available in print and eBook. In the Flesh is book one of the Medusa’s Consortium Series, and I’m very excited to say the series is keeping me extremely occupied. Since a good deal of the action, is set in the Lakeland fells, and since both Alonso and Magda Gardener — AKA Medusa, live there, it seemed like the perfect selfie for this weekend. Enjoy the first chapter of In The Flesh, and it’s absolutely fine with me if you get addicted and need to read more.

In The Flesh Blurb:

When Susan Innes comes to visit her friend, Annie Rivers, in Chapel House, the deconsecrated church that Annie is renovating into a home, she discovers her outgoing friend changed, reclusive, secretive, and completely enthralled by a mysterious lover, whose presence is always felt, but never seen, a lover whom she claims is god. As her holiday turns into a nightmare, Susan must come to grips with the fact that her friend’s lover is neither imaginary nor is he human, and even worse, he’s turned his wandering eye on Susan, and he won’t be denied his prize. If Susan is to fight an inhuman stalker intent on having her as his own, she’ll need a little inhuman help.

In The Flesh  Chapter One

kdgrace-itf-final200“Susan, this is going to sound completely barking, but I think he might be God.”

What the hell do you say to that? ‘My boyfriend might be God’? I mean it’s not exactly common convo for a girls’ night out. Okay, so neither of us was famous for our successful love lives. Mine was basically non-existent, but Annie Rivers was notorious for her bad choices—usually married men or narcissistic twats with a wide range of addictions. But as far as bad choices went, this was a doozy. Aside from the fact that it was totally mad to think Lover Boy was God, even I had to admit it was right up Annie’s alley. Let’s face it, God—any of the gods for that matter—is not known for being faithful or particularly nice.

Annie hadn’t mentioned that she was seeing anyone, but I knew she had a lot on her mind with her heavy load at the estate agency and the renovation of what she was now affectionately calling Chapel House. Under the circumstances, I was surprised when she invited me up to Manchester for a long weekend, but she said she needed some girl-time, and we were long overdue for a good catch-up. Since I had no deadlines pressing and found myself with a bit of free time, I jumped at the chance to escape my claustrophobic flat in Brixton and spend some quality time with my friend. The last time we’d been together, she had just made an offer on the deconsecrated church.

“It happens all the time,” Annie told me when I went with her to view the place. “No one’s religious any more, so small churches are deconsecrated when they’re no longer in use, and they’re sold as boutiques, office buildings, houses and even pubs. But this one is about to become my home.”

She had chatted away enthusiastically about the lounge that would be where the altar was, how the whole nave would be open-plan living at its best, kitchen with an Aga, study in what had been the small choir loft, and the perfect master suite that she’d always dreamed of. What good was money if you couldn’t spend it?

This time, however, when I arrived, she was otherwise occupied.

“You’re early.” Breathing heavily, Annie peeked from behind the door she had opened only a crack.

I wasn’t early, but I wasn’t stupid either. Her hair was mussed, and the flush in her cheeks was a testament to my bad timing.

“Shall I come back in an hour? Two?”

She threw a quick glance over her shoulder, and from inside I caught the strong scent of jasmine, Annie’s favorite flower. “Thanks, Susan. You’re a dear.”

“Okay, you lucky cow, but when I come back, I’ll expect details.” I barely managed a kiss on her cheek before the door slammed in my face.

After what I felt was an appropriate amount of time at a nearby Starbucks, I returned with a nice bottle of chardonnay and my best ‘tell me all about him’ smile. I knocked; then I knocked again.

I was just beginning to think she was having such an orgy that she’d forgotten about me when the door opened and she squinted out into the fading evening light.

“Susan?”

She was wearing her robe, but the glow was gone, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She forced a smile. “I must have fallen asleep.” Her anemic embrace alerted me to sharp angles and jutting bones that had been cushioned by shapely curves when I saw her three months ago.

“Honey, you’re thin. Must be too much shagging and not enough chocolate. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the—”

She flipped on the switch behind her, and it was evident in the harsh light of a bare bulb that, for all practical purposes, she had done nothing with the place.

She looked around and color rose to her cheeks. “I’ve been busy.”
“Things wild at work?”
“I’ve taken some time off,” came the curt reply.
In spite of all her big plans, Chapel House was still a church, complete with dusty

pews and an altar covered in plastic drop cloths.
“I see the previous owner hasn’t moved out yet.”
She ignored my comment. “I’ll show you around.”
“No need. You showed me around last time. Just find some glasses and fill me in on

all your news.” I followed her down a narrow hallway into a more recent addition to the building, added on to a small lady chapel no longer in use. It had become a kitchen and a couple of rooms for classes and meetings, now all divided off by hanging drop cloths, just as they had been when she’d shown me the place three months ago.

“You can sleep there.” On the floor behind one partition was a mattress with a duvet thrown over it. There was a dusty wardrobe in one corner and a backless chair for a makeshift night table. “Bathroom’s down the hall.” She gave a listless nod in that direction.

“Annie?” I took her in my arms. “What’s going on? What did you and Shag Boy get up to anyway that left you this exhausted?”

“Don’t call him that.” She pushed me away with an effort that seemed uncharacteristically fragile for the woman who had been her company’s best agent three years running. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”

I took her hand and led her into the kitchen. “A glass of wine and a nice Chinese will set you right. You should have told me he’d be here. I could have come some other time, or he can stay. I mean I have earplugs, you know. And anyway, when do I get to meet him?”

She offered a shrug and shoved limp blond hair behind her ear. “It’s complicated.”

Isn’t it always?

I ended up drinking most of the bottle of chardonnay, and a lovely takeaway was wasted as Annie picked at her Mongolian beef and practically fell asleep at the table. “Come on.” I took the glass from her hand and pulled her to her feet. “You’re

exhausted, and I’m not sympathetic, but you can’t tell me juicy gossip when you’re falling asleep in your rice. Now which of these lovely rooms is the master suite?”

“I sleep there.” She shot a glance back down the hall toward the nave. “I like the way the moonlight comes through the big windows in the apse above the altar,” she added quickly.

“Are you the sacrifice?” I took her arm, surprised at her strength as she jerked away.

“I told you, I just like the light.” In spite of her protests, I walked her up through the nave, trying to ignore the disquiet clawing at my stomach as she shuffled up the aisle between the pews, past the transept and the chancel, to a pallet of blankets and pillows on the floor at the foot of the altar. The air was redolent with the scent of jasmine, but there were no flowers that I could see. A chill fingered its way up my spine.

“Annie, I’ve always known you were a little weird, but this is just creepy.”

“No really, look.” With a feline stretch, she lay back in a pool of moonlight and I caught my breath at the effect. It was as though she were lying under a luminous waterfall. In the monochrome tones of growing night, she appeared startlingly transparent. As the robe that she wore fell open, her nipples peaked, and the woman who had always been a little bit shy about her body tugged and shoved aside the robe until she lay naked atop the blankets, her pale hair spread across the pillow like a reaching halo. The moonlight exaggerated the arch and curve of rib bones way too visible for the woman I knew.

Goose flesh rippled over her rice paper skin, and for a moment, in her writhing and stretching, in the soft moan that filled her throat, if I hadn’t been standing there watching, I’d have thought her to be making love with someone. In spite of what my eyes told me, I gave a quick glance around the room to be certain we were alone, and even then, I wasn’t sure.

Annie was usually the take-charge chick, but action seemed better than letting myself be freaked out by what was probably, what was hopefully, nothing.

I sat down next to her and pulled the mound of tangled blankets up around her chilled body, tucking her in. Before she could protest, I laid a hand against her forehead. “Annie, tell me what’s wrong. Have you seen a doctor? Are you ill?” My insides knotted at all the horrible things loss of weight and constant tiredness might herald.

“No! No, Susan, nothing like that, I promise you.” She sat up and threw her arms around me in the most enthusiastic show of affection I’d had since my arrival. “Oh, Susan, I want so much to tell you everything. I can hardly contain myself, but I just get so tired. You’d understand better if you knew him.”

“Does he at least have a name?”
She squeezed my hand and lay back on the pile of pillows.
Outside, somewhere close by, someone was burning garden trash. I looked around to

close the window, but none of the arched windows in the nave were open. Judging from the way my eyes burned, it must have been quite a bonfire.

Annie coughed and cleared her throat. “Please, Susan, if you’re my best friend, don’t ask any questions. Just let me tell you in my own time, in my own way.”

“All right. I’m listening.” A flutter of a breeze curled around the altar and rustled the plastic ever so slightly.

For a long time she didn’t speak. Her lips were the only things about her that were still full and shapely, but even they seemed pale and colorless in the moonlight. She smoothed the blanket carefully over her thighs. “I knew he was watching me even while Todd and I were still together.”

“Todd? You mean the married bloke?”

She nodded. “So many times I felt like someone was near me, looking out for me. I really didn’t realize who was pursuing me until after I broke up with Todd, about the time I moved in here.”

She lay silently for a few seconds, still smoothing the blanket unnecessarily. “I realized I no longer wanted to live without him. That was the first time our relationship became… physical.”

“Became physical,” I chuckled. “Right.”

She ignored my sarcasm. The bow of her mouth, the way she curled a lock of hair around her finger, made her seem childlike, innocent. “Oh, Susan, you’d understand if you knew him.”

I’d call the police if I knew him, I thought, all the while wishing the neighbors would stop with the damned burning already.

“I know you must be thinking I’m crazy.”

“Hon.” I squeezed her hand. “I’ve always thought you were crazy, so what else is new?”

She forced a jagged little laugh and continued, “He was so angry when I invited you.”

The disquiet I felt escalated into something a little more tetchy. “Jesus, Annie, he controls who your friends are? That’s really sick.”

“No, it’s not that. He’s been wanting to meet you for ages. He was angry that I waited so long to do it. He finally forced the issue. He felt I didn’t want you to know about us, that I was ashamed of him. I wasn’t,” she added quickly, “I could never be. And anyway, it doesn’t matter. In the end, he convinced me that you were someone who would understand.”

That I had somehow gotten this bloke’s attention made me feel slightly queasy. “What else does he know about me?”

“He knows everything, Susan. He knows what we’re saying now, what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling.”

“What the fuck is he, a mind reader?”

In the growing gloom, she seemed as insubstantial as the plastic on the altar. She pulled the blanket close around her with tightly fisted hands, knuckles chalk pale. “Susan.” Her voice was a thin whisper that I might not have heard in a place less silent. “This is going to sound completely barking, but I think he might be God.”

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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