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In Pursuit of Mr Sands – Free Read

As most of you know, I brought Elise North into A Demon’s Tale because she so intrigued me in her encounters with Mr. Sands, which I plan to revisit at a later date. We haven’t seen the last of him yet. But this little story, first published in Cosmo, gives a glimpse into PI, Elise North’s life before a certain demon turned it upside down.

As you know, from previous Medusa Consortium stories, in Magda Gardener’s world, nothing is ever simple where relationships and sex are concerned. And Elise is no exception. There are always complications. I hope you enjoy Elise’s pursuit of Mr. Sands, and I bet you can guess who has hired her for this little task.

 

In Pursuit of Mr. Sands

Five hot summer nights, I followed Mr. Sands in and out of clubs and bars in Soho. Sometimes it took him the better part of the night to pick up a woman, though he could have had his choice. Sometimes he found the one he wanted in the very first bar. There was no pattern, no rhyme or reason, no similarity that I could see in his choices. He never took them home. He never told them his name. He never fucked them. But he always made them come. Their response was unanimously a mix of ecstatic release and surprise, as though they hadn’t expected it.

He took them in alleys, in stairwells, even once on a crowded dance floor. It was always quick, always intense and it always felt a bit dangerous. He didn’t mind if the women bit or clawed or howled like wolves. They always came, but Mr. Sands never did. I wondered if he practiced some form of eastern discipline that enhanced male pleasure through refraining from ejaculation.

I’m a PI, and monitoring Mr. Sands’ nightly wanderings is my job. The woman who hired me to tail him isn’t his ex or a psycho lover. She claims she’s never met the man. But hey, everyone’s kink is different. If she gets off on my reports, then who am I to judge, as long as she pays me. And she pays me well. In fact she set me up in a posh flat with a view across the street right into Mr. Sands’ posh flat. Though it hasn’t helped much. He keeps his curtains drawn.

Every night Mr. Sands goes out at exactly ten, and every night I follow him. Every night I watch as women flirt and eyeball him longingly until he finally makes his choice. Some nights he wines and dines the lucky girl. Some nights, he simply takes her hand and leads her off to do the deed. Last night, his choice was a porcelain-skinned woman with ginger hair. He led her from the bar without so much as a word. She was breathless, wide-eyed, her full breasts bouncing in her scanty bronze sheath as she struggled to keep up with him in stilettos she was none to steady on. I could almost feel the sense of urgency that might have been hers, might have been his. The dress was tight enough that the lack of panties was evident, a bit too tight for a woman so well curved. But Mr. Sands didn’t seem interested in fashion or conventional beauty.

He pressed her up against a small loading dock in the ally, taking her mouth as though she were his favourite dish, slapping her hands away from his fly, though even I could see his bulge through my binoculars. There beneath the streetlight, he freed her breasts into his hands, thumbing and raking peach gumdrop nipples and heavily stippled areolae.

She sounded like a kitten mewing for its mother as he scrunched her dress until her Brazilian was as bare as her breasts. She gave a little yelp as he hoisted her up onto the loading dock and palmed her thighs wide apart forcing her back onto her elbows. One shoe dropped to the pavement with a muted thud as he cupped his hands behind her knees and pulled her closer to his face. Then he fingered her, studied her, caressed her as though he’d never seen a pussy before. All the while, she moaned and whimpered and squirmed against the hard concrete. “Please,” she begged. “Oh please.” But he ignored her keening.

When, at last, he spoke, his voice was velvet against bare skin, “You’ve been pretending. But you don’t need to for me.” Then he buried his face between her thighs, and she bucked and gyrated against him tugging and pulling at her breasts. Once again, he slapped her hands away and reached up to knead her almost as though he were raising his arms in an act of worship. He pinched and thumbed while never slacking in his efforts between her thighs. Her cries became guttural, like he’d awakened something feral in her, something that could now no longer be caged. He slid his hands down to cup her bum and drew her closer, as though he might crawl up inside her right next to that feral thing he’d awakened. She came with an animal howl that sent shivers up my spine and made the view from the binoculars shudder with the hammering of my pulse. At last he pulled away and wiped his face on the back of his arm. Then he mantled her close, covering her lips with kisses, she all but sobbing into his mouth.

Finally she spoke in little gasps of effort. “I’ve never had an orgasm before.”

“I know,” was all he said, as he bent to retrieve her shoe and gently slipped it onto her foot.

I stood in shock at her revelation, at his. The woman had never had an orgasm? Did he choose his women that way? But then how the hell would he know? I was so lost in my speculations that I had to scramble back into an alcove in front of a service entrance to keep from being seen as Mr. Sands escorted her back to the bar.

And just like that it was over. I knew the drill by now. The woman would return to her friends with a smile on her face, and Mr. Sands would go home.

I followed him, as I always did, then took the lift to my flat. Inside I stripped to tank and panties, wilted from the relentless heat. It was one of the few summer days each year when it hadn’t cooled down much at night. I poured myself a glass of cab. Usually unwinding from a night of tailing Mr. Sands meant a little hands-on. I had a vibrator, but there was something about our nightly rendezvous that gave me the urge to touch myself. Maybe the total lack of penetrative sex in those steamy encounters made me empathetic. My last task every working day was to open my curtains and make sure Mr. Sands was at home. He always was. Though his curtains were perpetually drawn, I could make out the cinnamon glow of lamplight inside. Occasionally I could see the shadow of movement back and forth beyond the drawn drapes. That was my cue for some ‘me time,’ as I fantasized about what he did after he came home late at night unsatisfied.

With wine glass in hand and my mind on the night’s intriguing discoveries, the curtain was completely open before I turned to find that Mr. Sands, for once, had followed suit. He stood looking right at me, wearing only grey track bottoms slung low around his hips, his chest glistening from the heat. I froze gaping, as he sipped a whiskey and brazenly looked me up and down. I’d been compromised. My client had warned me to make sure he never saw me. But I was confident, maybe a little arrogant. I was good at my job. I should have shut the curtains and left. But I just stood there like a rabbit in the headlights, my nipples stiffening beneath my tank top as surely as if he’d stroked them as he had the redhead’s. The quirk of his lips, the trailing of his gaze over my body sent shockwaves of heat core deep. The clench between my thighs, the subtle shifting of my hips wouldn’t have been noticeable by anyone. Hell, I could make myself come on a crowded bus and no one was the wiser. But he knew. I was certain he knew.

I raised my glass for a much-needed drink and miscalculated, dribbling red wine across white cotton and a distended nipple. His gaze was not subtle as he nodded to my breasts. I knew exactly what he wanted. Slowly, I lifted the glass and drizzled the cab across my breasts – all of it, gasping at the shock of it, biting my lip, closing my eyes just long enough to savor the sensation. When I opened them, he slid a hand inside the front of his track bottoms. It wasn’t difficult to tell he was hard, nor that he was substantial. I took in the shape of him as brazenly as he had me, giving my own little nod. But he only shook his head and raised an eyebrow making it clear that it was tit for tat.

Caught in his gaze, I could scarcely breathe, I could scarcely believe the risk I was taking. He knew where I was. He knew what I’d done. And yet I lifted my wet shirt  off over my head, the AC tightening my nipples still further. As he watched, I slid a hand into my panties mirroring his movements. I fingered my way down between my thighs, gasping at the slick swell of me, my tide pool scent filling the room as I began to stroke.

His own stroking had exposed the base of his cock in its nest of dark curls, and my mouth watered. I nodded again, wanting to see that tool he’d kept hidden all these nights, desperate to see him lose that cast iron control.

He gulped the rest of his whiskey and set the glass aside. Then he slid the other hand beneath his waistband to scoop and cup his sac, and I moaned my approval as his efforts revealed just a little more. And then it was a stand-off, neither of us blinking, neither of us flinching, we rubbed and stroked and flaunted ourselves, each in an effort to will the other into that final reveal. He shifted and pumped and moved in such a way that I could make out almost every detail of his heavy package from beneath the tease of fabric. The lust in his eyes was laced with something slightly wicked. Strange I’d never realized fear could be such a turn-on. I wanted to run and hide even as I wanted him to fuck me with his eyes.

I pulled my fingers from my panties and raised them to my mouth, giving him a hungry stare as I tasted my own slickness, then I sucked. He bit his lip and his body jerked. For a horrible moment I thought he’d come without me. But he took a deep breath and nodded. It was time. I slid a thumb into the edge of my panties and, with the other hand, counted down. Three…two…one. We both dropped our drawers. After that things got serious. He stepped closer to the window, as close as he could get to me. One hand cupped, the other stroked and tugged the heavy length of him as though it were seriously in need of taming.

Without looking away, I reached behind me and pulled the Queen Anne chair close. Then I plopped down splaying my legs over the arms so that he could see my efforts, fingers darting and circling, dipping and scissoring, butt raised high to give him a better view. The look on his face was utter concentration. I imagine mine was the same. As his orgasm burst in heavy spurts against the windowpane, I convulsed my own release, nearly upsetting the chair.

Afterwards we just stared at each other, still cupping ourselves, too stunned to think, too spent to move. But at last, he bent, pulled up his track bottoms and tucked his cock. He studied me for a long moment, the hunger in his eyes making me squirm in that place between arousal and fear. Then he waved a finger at me as though I’d been a naughty girl. Finally, he blew me a kiss and drew the curtains. The next morning, to my relief, and my disappointment, Mr. Sands was gone. But I’ll track him down. He has secrets I want. It is my job, after all. And I’m good at what I do.

 

Horse Power: Complete Free Read

 

Several years ago, I began collecting a series of short stories written and inspired by
my travels — not the places so much but as the disconnectedness, that being outside of time sense that’s always there when we cross oceans and timezones and find ourselves completely out of our own context. While the series is slow at coming together, I add a new story every now and again.

 

The original title I’d planned for the collection was Jet lagged and Lusting that because many of those stories came out of the fevered dream space that in which one finds oneself when trying to recover from a long journey. It’s a space where sleep is uncertain and fleeting and being awake feels completely surreal, almost as though our bodies aren’t quite connected to our minds.

 

I find that in those times, I’m very open to the Muse, and to strange thoughts and ideas that seem more real than not and that lead me to a different creative space inside myself. Horse Power is one of those tales. I wrote it and shared it several years ago and today felt like a good day to share a free read. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Horse Power

I didn’t think it strange when I first saw the horse running on the beach in the middle of the night. That in itself was strange … that I didn’t think it strange, I mean. It was a very high tide and the wind was just blowing out the tail end of a storm, which was not going out peacefully. I didn’t think it strange that the white horse, who looked almost silver in the moonlight, was alone, frolicking in the waves. I didn’t even think it strange when I glanced away long enough to pull on my bathrobe and looked up to find a man standing where the horse had been. That he was naked and that the horse was nowhere in sight I didn’t think was really all that strange either. I just figured as jet lagged as I’d been the past couple of days I was dreaming, and a disappearing white horse and a hunky naked man on a midnight beach well that was a helluva lot better than some of the jet lagged dreams I’d had.

 

I had rented a cottage on the beach near Lincoln City for a bit of holiday and some much-needed downtime from my hectic schedule. I’ve often wondered how different my life would have been if I’d gone to the mountains instead. But hindsight is always better than foresight, and it’s better not to dwell on what I can’t change. I spent a lot of the first couple of days wandering the cottage in the middle of the night and sitting on the deck watching the ocean. That’s what I’d been doing when I saw the horse and then the man. As I watched, suddenly a wave high enough to cover a house swept over him, and I cried out, dropping the untied sash of my robe and pressing my face to the sliding glass door of the cottage. I had no idea what to do. No one could swim in that high sea. I didn’t even know who to call – 911, the Coast Guard, the police. As the wave scoured the beach, I stood nose pressed to the glass, heart racing. I had to do something. But what? And who would believe me? Surely anyone I did call would think that I was on something, or drunk, or … jet lagged. If there had been a man on the beach such a wave would have washed him far out to sea by the time anyone got there to check out my call. Still, I couldn’t just do nothing.

 

Straining my eyes to make out the darkened beach, I fumbled for my phone on the table next to me. I only glanced away for a split second to grab the device, but when I looked back, as the waves receded, the man was standing unmoved exactly where he had been. No, I think he was even closer. His back was to me, and he seemed to be looking up at the moon, his arms raised, his head thrown back. For a moment the thought flashed through my head that he might have been a marble sculpture standing there on the sand.

 

But then he turned, and honestly, I forgot all about my speculations. He was magnificent, unruly hair tossed around his head in the wind, water glistened and sheened off his arms and torso and dripped down the curves of his elbows and buttocks. He was muscle and sinew – not like a body builder, more like a dancer. But even a dancer couldn’t move like he did. He moved like the waves and the water. He flowed, muscles undulating beneath taut moonlit skin. I was so mesmerized by the look of him, the move of him that it took me a second to realize not only was he walking toward where I stood inside the cottage, gawping at him, robe wide open, but he was looking right at me.

 

I should have stepped back out of view. I should have pulled the curtains. I probably should have been terrified, but I just stood there staring. As he moved across the sand it was impossible not to notice his heavy cock becoming heavier with each step until he rested a protective hand against it, a hand that both protected and caressed, and the clench and tremble below my belly was a sign of just how aware of his cock I was. I was far more aware of my body warming and moistening and swelling to the sight of him than I was of the fact that a strange naked man on the beach was watching me with hunger in his eyes. By the time he reached the deck that led to the sliding doors of my room, the arousal I felt was liberally laced with fear, but when he vaulted the railing as easily as if it hadn’t even been there, I let out a shriek, dropped my cell phone on the floor in my efforts to jerk the curtains shut and fled into the bathroom. It was only after I locked the door behind me that I realized I had stupidly trapped myself. There was no window in the bathroom, no escape route if he did find a way in. Every horror film I’d ever seen rushed back to me along with every serial killer tale I’d ever heard. Abductions, tortures, kidnappings and white slavery all ran through my head for a split second. Be calm, Sadie! Be calm. It’s just your imagination.Surely it’s just your imagination, I told myself.

 

I woke in the morning stiff and sore and sprawled on the bathroom floor in my robe. There was nothing I could use for a weapon, and my watch read 9:00. The wind had died down, and if the forecast was right, the sun would be out and it would be a beautiful day. I cinched my bathrobe tight around my waist and, with fingers none too steady, unlocked the door, took a deep breath and poked my head out. The cottage was deserted, everything exactly as I’d left it, curtains hastily drawn, phone on the floor near the edge of the bed. After gathering enough courage to open the curtain and venture onto the deck, I discovered everything exactly as it had been the evening before. There were no footprints on the decking, no footprints on the sand beyond. There was no evidence of the naked man at all.

 

 

I dressed hastily and walked out onto the beach behind the deck. There were no footprints of any kind up close to my cottage, just lots of strange odd-shaped indentions in the sand. In my muzzy-headed condition, it took me a few minutes to realize they were hoof prints. I just figured someone had been out for an early-morning ride, though I thought it was a bit cheeky for them to come this close to my cottage.

 

As I went through the day, a little shopping in Lincoln city, a drive up the coast, lunch at Tidal Raves in Depoe Bay, my thoughts about the naked man on the beach became less thoughts of the scary stalker kind and more thoughts of wondering what might have happened if I’d invited him in when we were both clearly aroused by the situation. After a long walk on the beach in the afternoon sun, the man constantly in my thoughts, I masturbated in a long steamy shower leaning up against the tiles pretending the spray was the rain and the waves, that it was his mouth making my nipples tingle and rise, that it was his fingers opening me, stroking me, finding all the places that made me grind and shift and buck like a mare waiting for a stallion, that it was his fingers spreading me and making me ready for his cock. Thoughts of his cock reminded me of the white horse on the beach, and that made me wonder at the enormity of my need thinking of him vaulting my deck railing, thinking of the horse frolicking in the waves, thinking of the ebb and flow, of the undulation of sex, of his body penetrating mine; thinking of the overwhelming wave of release I might have had if I’d simply opened the sliding door and let him in.

 

When the sun set, I became ridiculously bold – perhaps it was due to jet lag, but certainly a couple of glasses of good Oregon Pinot Noir didn’t hurt. I stripped out of my clothes and wrapped myself in a blanket, then I settled in the chaise lounge with my glass of wine and my Kindle. I always had several erotic novels pulled up for my reading pleasure. I had a lot of sexual energy and at that point in my life, I was my only outlet, so I read a lot of erotica and watched a bit of porn now and then, but the man on the beach was even better than porn, and he was my own fantasy story come to life And then I’d ran away from him! I couldn’t really believe he was real, and yet if he was a dream, it really pissed me off that I’d done something so stupid as to run away rather than to stay and let him properly fuck me. I didn’t place much stock in lucid dreaming. I figured you get what you get, and your unconscious has a vicious sense of humor when it comes to the dreams you get, but I really, really wanted to revisit the man on the stormy beach. Instead, I got the horse.

 

It was the soft whickering that woke me. The moon had risen in a bright disk painting the pale horse in a silver grey dance of light and shadow. He pranced and sidestepped just beyond the edge of the waves, tossing his main, tail flowing like a kite behind him as he frolicked. Then suddenly he stilled, as though he were aware of my wakefulness. Seeing that I was no threat, he moved forward toward me. I stood, pulling the blanket tightly around me and moved to the rail, then I remembered the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. “I’ve got something for you, boy,” I said. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

 

I was only gone a minute — just long enough to nab an apple, but when I returned, the horse wasn’t alone. The man from last night sat astride him, just as naked as he was the night before. But this time I wasn’t scared. This time I felt myself in control of the dream. He watched as I strode boldly down the steps onto the sand and offered the apple to the horse, feeling the soft velvet of his muzzle against my palm as he took my offering.

 

Then the horse gave me a gentle head butt and I lost my grip on the blanket. As it slid open, the man offered me his hand. It was a dream, I told myself. It had to be, so I lifted my hands to him letting the blanket fall away as he bent and scooped me one-armed onto the broad back of the horse and settled me in front of him. I gave a little gasp as, with the flat of his large hand low on my belly, he pulled me back against his hard naked chest.

 

And then we were like the wind racing down the beach dangerously close to the swell of the waves. The spray took my breath and stung my eyes and for a moment I saw nothing but a blur. He slid his hand up my belly to caress my breasts, and on upward to cup my throat and my jaw, drawing me around, and I twisted and arched toward him as he mantled me and took my mouth and I breathed in the fresh breath of the storm humid and wild on his kiss, a kiss that lingered and deepened as the rhythm of the horse drove me back against his body, back against the urgency of his cock pressed to the small of my back.

 

Once he was certain I wouldn’t pull away from the dance of his tongue, his caress migrated downward again, thumbing my nipples until I squirmed and ached, stroking my belly in little kneading circles, each one lower than the one before, until he shivered his fingers down through my tight pubic curls. Even spread wide as I was mounted on the muscular back of the horse, unconsciously, I opened still wider as he teased and worried his way between my legs.

 

 

I pressed hard back against his body for leverage to get long thick fingers into places slick as seaweed and more heated than the laboring back of the horse. He intuited the depths of me where the hungry places begged and wept for release. With fingertips and the broad flat of his thumb, he explored the valleys and folds, the swells and undulations until I growled and arched and forgot how to be civilized. The salt spray that had misted us now rose above us in glorious curling waves, higher and higher until we road in the dark rise of their foamy shadows. The horse screamed and reared and I fell back against the man, who was now guiding the animal with only his knees, one hand teasing and making me ready, the other cupping my buttocks and lifting me until I could feel the insistent press of him pushing, prodding, opening me. Then with a loud, inhuman cry like a warrior at conquest, he plunged home deep and hard, forcing the breath from my lungs in a desperate cry for relief just as the horse turned headlong into the roll of the wave and took us down to the deep.

 

I came to myself in the semi-doze of the place where fantasy happens, naked breasts peeking to break the surface of the calm ocean undulating beneath me as I let the waves carry me in. It didn’t seem strange to me that I was naked and unafraid in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, nor did it seem strange when I realized I wasn’t in the middle at all, but gently riding the swells in toward the beach next to my rented cottage. It didn’t even seem strange that the sun was rising in the sky when my last memories had been of heated sex and full heavy night. What did seem strange, as I waded up the beach and wrapped myself in the discarded blanket that lay exactly where I’d left it, was that my cottage was swarming with police.

 

From my deck, two uniformed officers spotted me and the place went wild. Before I could speak, I was swarmed by EMTs trying to shove an oxygen mask in my face while one kept telling me just to relax and breathe deeply. When I was finally able to convince everyone that I was all right, a plain clothes detective named Dirk Snyder shooed the EMTs away and guided me the chaise lounge.

 

“What’s going on, detective? Why are all these cops in my cottage?”

 

He took a bottle of water a uniform handed him and gave it to me. When I’d drank most of it back in thirsty gulps, he settled onto his haunches next to me and held me in an earnest gaze. “Ms. Gibbons, you’ve been missing for three days.”

 

“What?” Suddenly the deck felt more like the deck of a ship as the memories of the wild ride on the beach came back to me. “How can that be?”

 

“The cleaner came Tuesday morning and found the place wide open. Several of the neighbors thought they saw you walking into the water. The tides were still high. They feared the worst.”

 

Since that night five years ago, I’ve read everything I can about the gods and goddesses and the spirits of the deep. I’ve read all the mythology and fairy tales I can find about water and water deities. I’ve read about water horses and mermaids and how sometimes they seduce people and take them down to the deep never to be released again. I guess I was lucky. But I’m more inclined to believe there was a reason for my survival. That reason is my daughter, conceived sometime during those three days I was supposedly missing. Every once in a while I have faint recollections, intimations of dreams of a place beneath the waves, of a man and a horse nearly interchangeable — always insatiable, and of me always ready and full of longing. The memories leave me aching with a desire I have no name for, and when I can stand no more and give myself relief beneath my sweat-drenched sheets or in a foamy bath or a steamy shower, I wish I could bring it all back to me – those three days.

The child who bears little resemblance to me but is a constant reminder of her father is the beautiful gift he left me, and yet I want more. Every day I want more, and yet I can’t bring myself to return to the sea because I’m afraid he’ll come for us, but I’m even more afraid that he won’t. Someday I’ll gather my courage and take the child he gave me back to that beach at Lincoln City and tell her about her father, and when the tide is high and the storm blows out on the heels of a full moon, we’ll wait for him together. Someday.

 

Concerto: Part 4

It’s time for the 4th episode of Concerto, my WIP unfolding in serial form right here on my blog. For a burned out writer, a holiday in a remote cottage on the Isle of Sky involves a mysterious man, a little night music and a struggle to discern what’s real and what is just  imagination.

 

Concerto Part 1: A little Night Music

 

Concerto Part 2: Distractions

 

Concerto Part 3: Too Much to Bear Alone

 

 

Concerto: Chapter 4 Writing and Waiting

I scrolled down through the open doc on the computer screen, the one I didn’t remember writing. It was a detailed account of everything that had happened until the point at which I had tripped on the patio of the cottage at the end of the stable yard and, in doing so, disturbed the man at the piano. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to make sure I documented everything that had happened the past night, or at least as best I could. I doubted I’d ever find words for the experience of sharing the man’s music, what it had done to me, what it had done to both of us. But I had to try. I didn’t want to forget what it had felt like, how it had moved me. So I wrote.

 

As is often the case when I write, the flood gates opened and what poured forth on the page was far more detailed and had much more depth than what I actually had in mind when I sat down to write. I remembered more clearly the way the music rode the waves of the storm, the way it anticipated the rage of the wind and the moments of calm. Somehow what the man had played felt like a way of making sense of everything, of the storm, the sea, of my doubts, my longings, of his need to share what he had created. That need was something I had not really thought of, certainly hadn’t understood until he settled me in my bed. Of course every artist, every writer, wants to share the end result of their efforts, but I had never really considered that just maybe that creation could not be fully experienced by its creator unless it was shared.

 

By the time I finished, the kettle had grown cold, the fire burned low and my body had become stiff from sitting so long. It had been ages since I’d gotten so lost in my work, since my work had felt like anything other than a slog through heavy mud. Rubbing my hands together, I rose and put more wood on the fire. The rain pelted the slate roof, and the wind whistled through the cracks between the windows and their ill-fitting frames. In the kitchen, I clicked on the kettle again and found the Nescafe on the tea tray, not wanting to take time to make proper coffee. While I waited, I chafed my arms and stared out the window. A heavy fog had descended and the cottage at the end of the stable yard was now not visible at all. I fantasized about taking coffee and the coveted packet of shortbread across the cobbles to my neighbor and thanking him for last night, a thing not possible in this weather. When the kettle clicked off, I held my breath and listened, frustrated by the howl of the storm, but even between heavy gusts, I heard no music wafting through the thick air. A glance at the clock on the kitchen wall told me it was just past noon. The growling of my stomach reminded me that I’d had nothing to eat since yesterday evening. I tore into a package of croissants and ate one while I made the coffee. Then I returned to the lounge, determined to let the man rest. I figured he was exhausted.

 

I’d only just settled in to write again, when I noticed what looked like a self-published paperback in pride of place on the coffee table. “Cliff Down Lodge Reclaimed.” I flipped through the pages sipping my coffee and munching on another croissant. The book was mostly photos with captions, before and after shots of how the present owners had found the place and what they had done to make the stable cottages inhabitable. There was a brief history, but not really much more detail than what my landlady had told me on the ride over. What really drew my attention was the last three pages of the book. They were full of images taken from battered daguerreotype photos. Sadly none of them were of the stables. Most were of the lodge itself perched precariously on the cliffs above the sea, with its heart stopping view. I recognized the gatehouse as one of the last piles of rubble we had passed on the rough ride into the cottages. From the look of the photos, there must have been nothing left of the main house.

 

The rest of the images were of the interior, of the entrance hall, the formal dining room, a morning room. But the photo that drew my attention was of the music room. It was not particularly large, wood floors covered in rich carpets, heavy chandelier hanging from the ceiling, walls a mix of dark wood and heavy tapestries. In one corner there was a concert harp. But it was the grand piano at the center of the space that drew my attention. Perhaps it was simply the past night’s adventure that colored my perception, but to me, it was obvious that the piano was by far the most important part of the room. But then if the lord of the manor had daughters, they more than likely would have all played, as would have his wife. Or perhaps I simply watched too many period dramas.

 

I was about to set the book aside and make more coffee when I noticed the images on the last page of the book, all of pen and ink drawings. One of those was done in the music room of a dark haired man at the piano. And though it was difficult to tell from a print of an old drawing, the pianist, who sat poised to play, looked very much like the man in the cottage at the end of the stable yard. I laughed at my active imagination. I could easily see a story coming from this, though a rather predictable one I feared. I put the book down and went to get coffee.

 

As I refilled the kettle, the music began again, and even in the pouring rain, I couldn’t resist its pull. In an instant, I was out the door. In another instant, I was drenched to the skin, a condition I didn’t notice as I strained to hear the music against the wind. I only became aware of my waterlogged state when I slipped inside the French doors without so much as a knock and stood savoring the music as I dripped on the wood floor. My pianist gave only a quirk of what might have been a smile and kept on playing. While he said nothing, somehow I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the music was an invitation especially for me.

 

Matchmaker: FREE read Part 3

Happy Boxing Day to my British friends and family. As promised, here is the final episode of Matchmaker, a little romance of the feathery kind. If you missed the first two episodes, here are the links:

Part One

Part Two

 

Enjoy!

 

Matchmaker Final Episode:

She had left the back door open. How could she have been so careless? No telling what a neurotic African grey might do if left to his own devices. And even though it was warm out in the afternoon sun, the temperature was supposed to drop tonight with even a chance of snow. She had to find the bird now.

She searched the streets in the neighbourhood on foot, the pair of binoculars she’d bought two summers ago for whale watching near Capetown bouncing from side to side around her neck as she walked. She couldn’t lose Ezekiel. Yes, he was all she had left of her friend, but he was more than that. He was a big part of what had drawn her to Ellen in the first place. While it was true, Ellen was the nutty professor who talked to birds, it was Ezekiel who had been even more astounding. Ezekiel was the erudite bird who talked back, who in spite of Ellen’s best intentions, had picked up some rather colorful slang. He was affectionate, he was astute and Mary was convinced he had a wicked sense of humor. And now he was loose on the streets in hostile territory with snow predicted. She had to find him.

She questioned all of her neighbors and called everyone she knew. Unlike the gaudy ring-necked parakeets now populating Kensington Garden and spreading across South England, Ezekiel would not stand out in his dapper grey plumage. At least the ring around his leg would identify him as hers.

The sun was setting as she made a second broader sweep of the area in her car, with still no sign of the bird. He would be roosting soon. She could only hope he found a safe and warm place for the night. Inside the house, she sat on the sofa and stared at the empty cage, eyes blurring at the thought of poor Ezekiel lost and alone in Guildford.

She was thinking of making up “lost” posters when the phone rang.

“Hello?” A velvety male voice filtered into her ear. “Did you by any chance misplace an African grey parrot?”

“Oh, God yes!” She covered her phone and choked back a sob. “Is Ezekiel all right?”
Soft laughter. “Ezekiel, is he? Looks more like Casanova to me.”

“Pardon?”

The laugh again. “He’s flirting shamelessly with Cassandra… Oh, Cassandra’s my African grey.”

Mary’s knees buckled and she dropped heavily onto the sofa. “He’s flirting? Ezekiel is flirting? You have an African grey? Female?”

“That’s why I call her Cassandra. Look, my name’s Don, Don McKenna. Do you have a pen? I’ll give you my address. I’m not sure these two know each other well enough for a sleepover yet.”

Who’d have guessed? Don McKenna lived only a few streets from Mary. Obviously he didn’t frequent the personal ads. He was tall with longish sun bleached hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He wore faded jeans and a navy polo shirt stretched across broad shoulders. His warm smile matched the laugh she’d enjoyed on the telephone. He offered her a firm, slightly calloused handshake.

“Ezekiel and Cassie are in the conservatory.” He motioned her through the small but tidy house and out to the conservatory where the two birds perched next to each other in the flicker fairy lights and evergreen bunting. Ezekiel was preening Cassandra’s neck. It was easy to tell them apart. Ezekiel was a darker shade of grey. When they heard the humans approach, Ezekiel squawked and flew to perch on Mary’s shoulder in a flurry of soft feathers.

“You crazy bird.” She blinked back tears, hoping their host wouldn’t notice how soppy she was. “You didn’t need my help to find a friend, did you?”

He nipped her ear gently then flew back to Cassandra.

Over a cup of mulled wine, she told Don of her ordeal with the no-longer-mourning Ezekiel.

He laughed. “Let me get this right. You placed a personal ad and put up with crazy people and iguanas and pythons just to find a friend for Ezekiel?”

She blushed and nodded.

“Wow! What a matchmaker.”

“What a matchmaker, indeed.”

From the perch he shared with Cassandra, Ezekiel eyed Mary as she sat next to Don on his sofa, the reflection of the
Christmas tree lights now glistening brightly in the darkened windows of the conservatory. She didn’t know whether the bird’s vocabulary included “No need to thank me,” but she was pretty sure that’s what he was thinking.

Don sighed contentedly as the two birds got about a little mutual preening. “This may well be the best Christmas present Cassie’s ever had.” Then he turned his attention back to Mary and raised his wine. “Happy Christmas, Mary.” Then he nodded back to Ezekiel and Cassie. “I have a feeling the New Year’s going to be very exciting.”

 

Matchmaker: FREE Holiday Story Part 2

Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates and to those who don’t Happy Holidays. As promised, here is the next instalment of Matchmaker, a fun little romantic romp of the feathery kind. It’s squeaky clean, which is not what you usually expect from me, but it is romantic to a fault, which you do expect from me.

If you missed the first episode of Matchmaker, just follow the link.

Whatever you celebrate, I wish you all the best. Enjoy.

 

Matchmaker Part 2

“No, I’m sorry. Yes, the parrot has to be a female. No, a female love bird won’t do.” Mary hung up and crossed another name off her list just as the doorbell rang, and her friend Tessa let herself in.

“Any luck?” Tessa set take-away Chinese and a bottle of chardonnay on the table.

Mary shook her head and began helping her friend unpack dinner. “Six males. The only female I could come up with was some kind of rare mutation. If I want to purchase her as a companion for Ezekiel, I’ll have to marry a billionaire fast. They’re so expensive, and not only that, but what if I find a female, mortgage my life and bring her back here, only to find Ezekiel doesn’t like her? Then I’m stuck with two miserable birds.”

“What about the personal ads?” Tessa spoke around a mouthful of spring roll.

“Ezekiel’s a parrot, in case you’ve forgotten.” Mary passed a grape to the unhappy bird, who had just squawked in her ear. He tossed it up into the air, let it drop, then squawked again.

“Not likely to forget that, am I? But what if you put in an ad for yourself, you know, and include Ezekiel in it?”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? It’s easier than marrying a billionaire.” Tessa grabbed a pen and pad from the counter. “I’ll help you. We can put it out in all the local papers. It won’t cost much and it’ll have a wide area of coverage. Then there’s online dating. We could try there, couldn’t we?” Mary could see where this was leading. Tessa was always trying to fix her up, but even she had to admit, the idea was hare-brained enough that it just might work.

After much haggling and several glasses of wine, they came up with the ad:

 

Seeking companion – M/F. Must have female African grey parrot.

 

Tessa sighed. “Well I’m a bloke fan all the way, but I have to admit by making the ad M/F you’ll get twice the possibilities for Ezekiel, and who knows,” her smile turned wicked, “you and Ezekiel may both find a girl friend.”

“This is not about me, Tess. I’d sleep with the devil himself just for a squawk-free night’s rest. And I want Ezekiel to be happy.”

Much to Mary’s surprise, the responses flooded in. Colin from Reading was anxious to meet her and bring along his Sadie. Since she didn’t want to run the risk of nutters coming to her door, she had arranged to meet Colin at Stoke Park for their first interview. After a short wait, a middle aged man in a rumpled suit approached with a large pet carrier and sat down next to her. “Are you Mary?”

“Are you Colin?”

“I am.”

She shook his hand cautiously, eyes darting to the pet carrier. “Please tell me you didn’t bring Sadie in that?”

“Of course. She loves her walkies, don’t you, sweetheart? Who’s a good girl? Who’s daddy’s good girl?” He opened the carrier and pulled out a scary-arsed snake. “I thought someone who’s kinky enough to have a parrot fetish might just like a little variety. My girl is a ball python. She’s not quite full grown yet, are you sweetie?”

Plenty big enough to give her the shivers, Mary thought as Sadie poked her head out of the cage, that seemed to be way too full of snaky coils for Mary’s liking. “Sadie’s very affectionate,” he said, trying to coax her out. But Sadie was having none of it.

“It’s the middle of December. Are you crazy? It can’t be comfortable for her to be out here.”

“Oh she has a nice warm water bottle. Don’t worry.”

Sadie, however, had no intention of being friends with Mary, and no matter how delightful the young python might be, she was no companion for Ezekiel. Mary wished Colin and Sadie a happy Christmas and headed back home.

 

By the end of another sleepless week, Mary had learned more about the drawbacks of using personal ads to find partners for pets than she’d ever hoped to know, but she was still no closer to easing her feathered friend’s loneliness. Between her efforts to decorate her Christmas tree when she didn’t feel festive at all, she carried on a one-sided conversation with Ezekiel, offering peanuts in the shell, which he cracked open, but only let them drop uneaten to the floor. Then, with the same wood crushing beak, he affectionately preened the hair around her ear. What was she going to do? She’d been offered an iguana, a ball python, two boa constrictors, a budgie, a ferret and a cage full of zebra finches. The search through the normal channels had been no more successful.

It was clear Ezekiel was becoming more and more fond of her, and in time, she figured he’d get used to her and go on with his life. If she hadn’t gone to the pet psychologist that might have been enough, but the thought of Ezekiel never being able to speak in his own language and never being able to know the love of a good bird was fast becoming an obsession with her. She would find the parrot a companion if it was the last thing she did.

“Where’s Ellen?”

It was the first thing Ezekiel had said since he’d been with her.

Her throat tightened. “I’m sorry, Ellen’s gone, Sweetie.” She ran her index finger up the parrot’s breastbone, ruffling soft feathers. He arched his neck and gave her a gentle nip.

“I know what — let’s sit in the back garden, and I’ll read to you. It’s nice and warm and you’ll enjoy the sunshine. Later we’ll have a nice fruit salad and some nuts.”

Just as she opened the back door, the front door bell rang. It was Tessa.

“Just returning your Christmas DVDs.” Tessa glanced at her watch. “Love to hear more about Ezekiel’s personal life, but I’m having cocktails with some friends and then we’re off to Marcella’s Christmas party.” She nodded to Mary. “You should join us. Surely you could find someone to stay with Ezekiel for a few hours.”

“Have a good time,” was Mary’s only reply as she waved her friend off. She wasn’t about to leave the poor bird alone.

When she returned to the kitchen, Ezekiel was gone.

Matchmaker Part 3

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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