In episode 17 of In The Flesh, Susan’s sojourn with Alonso Darlington and his entourage involves a return visit to a dream she doesn’t remember. Today’s episode is a little longer, in which much is revealed, and is often the case, when much is revealed, the plot thickens.
And check out the alternate cover the fabulous Kev Blisse has designed for me. Hard to say which I like best.
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In the Flesh is very dark paranormal erotica. 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.
To read the story in its entirety up to this point, follow these links to Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16.
In The Flesh Chapter 17
‘What?’ I came out of the chair nearly upsetting my coffee cup onto the white linen tablecloth the servant had spread. ‘Talia’s going to sleep with me? Are you crazy?’ I could imagine Annie getting a good laugh out of this, elbowing me in the ribs saying if I wasn’t up for the task she’d be happy to oblige.
‘Oh it’s nothing sexual,’ Alonso reassured me, gently patting my arm.
‘Well,’ the woman said with a modest shrug and a dip of her blue eyes that said she was checking me out. ‘It could be, if you want it to be.’
Before I could totally panic, Alonso slipped an arm around my shoulder and glared at this Talia person. ‘You’ll have to forgive my colleague, Ms. Innes. She has a very strange sense of humour. I promise, she’ll do nothing you don’t invite,’ I didn’t miss the threat in his voice, clearly aimed at the woman. Then he turned his full attention on me. ‘And I would suggest that what you do invite be nothing more than the sharing of dreams, considering that your … love life, as it were, is already somewhat complicated. You don’t need to add another complication to the menu.’
‘To the menu,’ the woman chuckled wickedly. ‘Oh, I like that turn of phrase, darling. Perhaps you should have been a Scribe yourself.’ She spoke to Alonso, but her gaze was locked on me. ‘She does look practically edible, don’t you think? Though I’m guessing you’re probably well-sated after feasting on Reese.’
Alonso growled at her. He actually growled and, I think — yes, I’m certain, he bared his teeth! My skin prickled and the fine hairs on the back of my neck rose. For a moment, I swear the man seemed more animal than human and, between him and the woman, who eyed me like I was dinner, I felt like I had been set loose in the primordial woods with the wild beasts.
‘What’s going on here?’ I started at the sound of another woman’s voice, one I’d heard in the dark of the crypt, and turned to see Maggie, with Michael right behind her. If I hadn’t been wrong-footed and frightened already, I certainly was now. Alonso and Talia might have been scary beasts in the woods, but Maggie was the huntress everyone feared, myself included. Even Talia was instantly subdued by her presence. In the midst of raised hackles, Michael came to my side and slipped a possessive arm around me, literally pulling me away from Alonso, just as a ginger-haired man in jeans and a plaid shirt entered the room.
‘Is everything all right?’ He asked.
Talia offered half a smile. ‘Of course it’s not, Reese. Come on in. You might as well join the fun.’ She gave Maggie a sideways glance and stepped up to flank Alonso on one side while Reese came to his other.
For a moment the room was deathly silent. Only Maggie stood alone, nearly blinding in her golden brilliance, and I couldn’t keep from wondering how someone so stunning could be so terrifying, and why. Even Talia paled in comparison – especially on my fright-meter. And the minute her gaze turned on me, even from behind the strange dark glasses she wore, I felt a tingle bone deep as though I had just passed beneath a high-tension wire and a million volts was just a heartbeat away.
‘How’s Annie?’ Christ in heaven, I don’t know how I found my voice in front of her. Maybe because I was still pissed off that she’d left me in the crypt at Chapel House. But she had rescued my friend, something I’d made a thorough mess of. I owed her hugely for that.
‘I’ve done what I can for her.’ Her voice was like honey dripping over hot flame. ‘She’s resting comfortably.’ She moved forward, gaze still locked on me, until she stood close enough I could feel her breath on my face, cool and sweet like the fell air. I was sure she could see how my pulse raced in my throat at her nearness. ‘Right now I need to know what you’ve done to release the Chapel House Guardian so I can learn how to return him to his prison. He was there for a reason, you know. Though I imagine you’ve figured that out by now.’ She gave me no time to defend myself and, if what everyone said was true, I had no defense anyway. ‘Since you have no memory of the momentous occasion, I need you to sleep with the succubus.’
‘Succubus? She’s a succubus?’ I nodded to Talia, who only shrugged modestly. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! I have a demon trying to seduce me, an angel who’s marked me, and by the way, Michael, that mark — it hurts like a sonovabitch when the demon gets mad, and now you want me to sleep with a succubus? Honestly, I don’t see how the hell –’
‘Oh for fuck sake,’ Talia broke in, ‘stop being such a drama queen, do you really think I want to incur Magda’s wrath?’ She gave the woman a quick nod of her head. ‘If you want sex, you won’t get it from me. I’ll just tiptoe through your little dreamscape all nice and polite-like and prod a memory here and there as needed. You won’t even know I’m there. Your loss,’ she added under her breath.
‘I’ll stay with you,’ Michael said, giving Talia the look he might reserve for a rabid wolf.’
She cursed under her breath. ‘Anyone else want to join in? Why don’t we just make an orgy of it?’
‘Shut up, Talia,’ Alonso said. ‘We’ve already discussed this.’
Embarrassed by Talia’s bluntness and by my ridiculous whining when my friend’s life was in danger, I squared my shoulders and found my voice, cowardly though it was. ‘What do I have to do?’ I asked, hoping my trembling wasn’t as obvious as it felt to me. I was pretty sure it was only Michael’s support that was holding me upright at the moment.
‘The juice,’ Alonso spoke, nodding to the empty orange juice glass on the breakfast table. ‘It contained some herbs that will make you drowsy very shortly. You’ll sleep in Talia’s arms.’ He nodded toward the door. ‘You should probably return to your room shortly, unless you want Michael to carry you.’
‘When were you going to tell me about this juice, about being drugged?’
‘I just did.’ Alonso replied ‘Besides, as Magda has said, we really have little choice if we want to put this monster back where he belongs and save your friend’s life.’
Magda lifted my chin on the curl of her fingers and, I swear, if Michael hadn’t been holding me upright, I would have fallen through the floor. Even through her glasses, there was something about being the center of her attention that made me feel like I was being unraveled one molecule at a time. But when she spoke, the situation became very tightly focused, indeed. ‘Susan, if I can’t sever Annie’s link with the Guardian, she will die. She’s been under his thrall too long. You’re the key, like it or not, and if you’re not willing to do whatever it takes, then it’s best you put a bullet in your friend’s brain right now, because her death will neither be easy nor quick. Do you understand me?’
There were no more jokes, no more snipes. The room was silent as a grave as I stepped away from Michael. ‘All right.’ I glanced at Talia, who nodded in return and stepped forward. ‘If it’s all the same to everyone, I’d like to make it back to my room under my own power.’ I was beginning to feel like my tongue belonged to someone else, and the floor felt a long way from my feet. With Michael flanking me on one side and the succubus on the other, I carefully maneuvered my way back down the hall. It was only as Michael kissed me possessively and tucked me down beneath the duvet that I noticed Magda perched on the edge of a sailor’s trunk in the corner near the bathroom.
‘Are you the audience,’ I slurred.
‘Afraid so, darling. Traditionally the dreamer and her dream walker are witnessed by a third party who doesn’t sleep and remains uninvolved in events so she can awaken the dreamers if … there are problems.’
‘Are you expecting problems?’ I looked from Talia to Magda and back again, to find Talia was stripping out of her clothes. For a second that thought disturbed me, but I was way passed holding a thought in my head for very long.
‘Possibly,’ came the reply that disturbed me way more than the naked succubus now sliding down under the duvet by my side. Whoever this Magda was, she pulled no punches and made no effort to soften the blows. Clearly the woman didn’t have to make nicey-nice.
Michael leaned down and kissed me again. ‘I’d wish you pleasant dreams, but under the circumstances … ’ He shot Talia a warning glance, then settled near the foot of the bed on a battered captain’s chair that creaked under his weight.
My last memory of the waking world was Talia pulling me into her arms and kissing me as though she were pulling the breath from me, pulling me under, into the world of sleep, and just before I lost consciousness, I wanted nothing more than for Talia to keep on kissing me.
It was a cry of terror that awakened me from a mundane dream of sitting at the big desk in the study of Annie’s old flat tapping away on the keyboard of my Mac. After all the dreams I’d had, or thought I’d had recently, after the way dreams had bled so convincingly into reality, I was totally prepared to be the one screaming like a banshee and making a fool of myself. I was completely unprepared to find that it was Talia doing the screaming.
I shoved my way from under the duvet and fell on my arse in the middle of the floor amid blinding light, confusion, shattering glass and screams. Michael helped me to my feet, and eased me back onto the bed. By the time my eyes adjusted to the light, I discovered Alonso sitting in the middle of the floor with Talia in his arms. She was wrapped in a blanket, sobbing and trembling against his shoulder. Magda knelt next to her and Reese stood behind them shoving aside pieces of the shattered mirror from one of the wardrobe doors with the toe of his hiking boot.
When Magda saw that I was awake, she moved to my side, motioning Michael away from me. ‘Are you all right?’ She lifted both of my eyelids in turn, staring into each like she was an optometrist.
I shrugged her away. ‘I’m fine. What happened?’ I nodded to Talia.
‘The succubus claims the Guardian’s inside you, that he confronted her in your dreams. Was he there?’
‘Christ, Maggie, you’re as subtle as a heart attack,’ Michael spat. ‘Do you even know what tact is?’
She shot him a warning glance, and he shut up. ‘Clearly you weren’t seeing the same things, she saw. Were you dreaming?’ Suddenly all eyes were on me.
‘I was, yes. But it was nothing important, certainly nothing about Him,’ I shuddered at the thought of the dream visits I’d had from Him. No, if he’d been there I’d have known.
‘I know what I saw,’ Talia said, looking at me as though I had two heads.
‘Susan, perhaps you should tell us what you remember,’ Magda suggested.
I told them, a little embarrassed that I’d had such a mundane dream and poor Talia had clearly had a nightmare. ‘There’s no way He could be inside me,’ I added. ‘I’d know. I mean surely I’d know.’
No one nodded agreement. Instead they all gave me the jaundiced stare. That did nothing to make me feel better. For a moment, no one said anything at all. Then I remembered my friend, who supposedly was resting comfortably somewhere in the bowels of High View and an icy prickle crawled up my spine. ‘What about Annie? If He’s here, won’t He go straight for her? I mean isn’t she an easy target?’
Michael shot Magda an accusing glance, which she ignored. ‘Trust me, Susan, she’s safe from him.’
‘Instead he was drawn to the succubus?’ I said.
‘Everyone is drawn to a succubus,’ Talia replied with a convulsive shiver. ‘That was the whole point.’
Unnoticed, Reece had gone into the bathroom and returned with a glass of water, which Talia took from him with a nod of thanks.
‘I was the bate.’
‘Jesus!’ I suddenly felt queasy. ‘You mean you went into my dreams knowing you might encounter Him there?’
Talia gave no answer, only sipped at her water.
‘Just because it’s a dream, doesn’t mean it’s not real,’ Magda said. ‘The only one who would have half a chance against the Guardian if he were to choose the dream route, which I’m guessing is how he got to you, was Talia. She feeds on dreams, especially sexual dreams.’
Talia forced a laugh. ‘That didn’t work out so well, did it?’
‘So it was you He was waiting for then, not me,’ I said, standing to pace by the bed. ‘All I had was a dream about writing, something I do every day.’
‘Oh he wasn’t trying to seduce me,’ Talia said. ‘He was trying to chase me out, and that’s exactly what he did.’ She forced her way to her feet with a little help from Alonso and Reese, then came to pace next to me. ‘Tell me about your dream in as much detail as you can remember.’
I shook my head. ‘All right. It was a writing dream. I have them all the time. I have them more often when I’m close to a deadline. Usually those involve my laptop breaking down or my entire manuscript being deleted, that sort of thing.’
‘Look, what might seem completely mundane to you could be critical,’ Alonso said. I noticed his arm was now draped protectively around Reese’s shoulder and the two had crowded into the shadowy space next to the wardrobe away from the window.
‘It is strange,’ I said, sifting through the jumble of events of the past few days. ‘Every other dream I’ve had up until this one has been either sexy or nightmarish or some bizarre combination of the two. Even if I just doze. I’ve dreamed a lot,’ I added.
Talia studied me for a second, brow drawn, then she huffed out a sharp breath. ‘May I try something?’
‘Of course.’ The words were barely out of my mouth before she pulled me into her arms and kissed me. She kissed me hard and deep, and I returned the favor with more gusto that I would have thought possible. Somewhere far off, I heard Michael protest and Magda cut him off. In the back of my mind for a split second, I heard Katy Perry singing I Kissed a Girl, and then the world went blank as though someone had just pushed the reset button.
I set in front of my Mac the tap, tap of the keys filling the silence like the rhythm of my pulse. The moon hangs heavy, framed by the open window in Annie’s study. I’m tipsy, but not drunk, at least not too drunk, but I can’t sleep. My whole body buzzes, but it isn’t an alcohol buzz, it was like being in the zone when all the words flow onto the page, and the story I have inside me explodes like magic, like an orgasm. I’m breathless and trembling and pushing, pushing, always pushing against it, rubbing against it, feeling it penetrate me, fill me, ride me in the darkness until every last breath, every last word, every full stop burst onto the page, and I’m left weak and trembling and wrung out.
Then I’m no longer in Annie’s comfy flat. I’m in the crypt at Chapel House, the darkness awash in the scent of roses, sweet, sweet roses. I’m writing away with insane focus, something that has to be said, something that has to be freed onto the page. And, fucking hell, I’m horny. I’m always horny when the words are flowing. When the story’s coming fast and furious, it makes me want to come too. I’m writing. I’m writing. I’m writing! The silver light bleeding through the bars in the tunnel, touches me like the words do, touches me exactly where they do, in places so private no one has ever touched me there before. And I’m shy, and I’m embarrassed, even ashamed, and I’m overwhelmed with desire that burns me and flashes across my synapses like sheet lightning. And I need! Oh God, how I need! I’m writing. I’m writing …but what I’m writing is more powerful than any story I’ve ever written, and I want more, good Christ I want so much more! I want it all and I need it with an ache that will surely destroy me if I can’t have it!
And the door’s not locked, and I’m terrified and aroused, and intrigued, and I can almost see the words flowing onto the page as, with trembling fingers I open the barred door that creaks with ancient disuse. And He’s there like light itself splitting the darkness. And I write Him onto the page, feeling His lust, His need, His passion in every word. And when I’m finished, trembling and spent and replete, He’s there, fully present, fully mine to possess.
Then I hear Annie in the bathroom. The toilet flushes, and I hold my breath, hold my secret tight so she won’t hear. And when I’m sure she’d gone back to her bed, with fingers cold against the keys, I copy everything, all of it, every word, every nuance, every stuttering heartbeat onto a memory stick. Then I hide it away. But before I do, I delete the words from my Mac so no one else will see, no one else will share in my ecstasy, in my passion, in the shame that so arouses me.
It’s only then, when I feel His breath against my neck, and the scent of roses fills the night air, that I realize I can’t close the door.