Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Coming Oct 10th: Entice Me @CindySPape #RB4U

Title: Beltane Lion
Author: Cindy Spencer Pape
POST:  Second Chances

As humans, we don’t always get a second chance when things go wrong. My story in ENTICE ME, however, is getting one.

I wrote a short little story in 2008 called Beltaine Bargain, as a test to see if I felt comfortable writing historical romance. This was a paranormal as well, which you’ll see from the blurb. I sent it to The Wild Rose Press, a wonderful publisher, but one where my reputation was for writing contemporary cowboys—not enchanted medieval knights. Despite great reviews, it never sold so much as a hundred copies.

Fast forward seven years. I’m a better writer now than I was then, and I definitely have a larger audience. I’ve reworked some and left some the same, but the biggest change is in the ending, which I’d always had a few problems with, since the day I hit send on my initial edits. Now, for this anthology, Beltane Lion gets a new life, and Rhodri gets the closure he always deserved. I hope you enjoy dipping into my world of medieval and magic.

Blurb Rhodri of Llyan has returned from the Crusades a cursed man.  On the way home to Wales, a young friend is sorely injured. Rhodri seeks the aid of village healer, Selene, whose gift for healing is as uncanny as her beauty.  Selene’s magic can cure wounds, but she isn’t sure she can break the curse or heal the wounds on Rhodri’s heart? 
Heat Level: 3


“Where are you bound, my lord? I can send word when your friend is ready to be moved.” She sipped the soup, understanding now why it had resisted spicing. In the back of her mind, she must have sensed an impending patient.
“Home to Wales.” He didn’t even pause between mouthfuls to answer. “But you won’t need to send for me. I’m staying.”
Staying? That was never going to work!
“But my lord, there is only the one bed.” True there was also the loft, where her father stayed on his visits, but Selene had planned on sleeping there herself.
He cocked one golden-brown eyebrow and tilted his head toward the ladder to the loft. So he’d seen it. Fie! Then he swallowed and nodded.
“I’ll pitch my campaign tent in the field beyond the cottage. I’ve spent more nights in that than in a bed these last many years.”
Oh. How utterly reasonable. Selene sagged into her chair and nodded.
“That will be fine, my lord.” She studied her soup, unwilling to gaze on him openly.
“Rhodri.” His voice was gruff, but gentle, and so soft she could not make out his words.
“Beg pardon, my lord?”
He cleared his throat then spoke again, marginally louder this time.
“Since I’ll be your guest, you may as well use my name. It’s Rhodri. Rhodri ap Madoc, Earl of Llyan.” There was but a trace of a Welsh lilt to his English, just enough to lend a musical softness to his rough tone.
An earl? Oh my! She struggled not to let her discomfort show. Here and now, he was only a man, like any other, she reminded herself.
“Well that explains the lion on your shield, I suppose.” She sent him a smile. “I am called Selene. Welcome, Rhodri.”
He tipped his head in a bow.
“Well met, Mistress Selene. I am eternally in your debt. What boon can I offer in return for you care of my young charge? Name it and it is yours.”
“Let us wait until he recovers to talk of payment, my lord.”
He gave her an unexpectedly engaging grin and tsked.
“I mean Rhodri. But you could begin by explaining to me how it is that there are gashes and blood on your clothing, yet none on your skin.”


Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after and brings that to her writing. EPIC and PRISM winning author of over 60 published works, Cindy lives in Michigan with her family and a houseful of pets.
(Photo by Russ Turner Photography)


Sunday, September 27, 2015

A pirate adventure fantasy... #RB4U #MFRWauthor #RomFantasy

The Gates of Infinity (novella)
Genre: Erotic Pirate Fantasy

THE GATES OF INFINITY lead to a different world where passion and deception may yet destroy two universes about to collide. Will time continue to turn upon itself, or will the mirror of our world open the gate and return stranded pirates and their sorcerous consorts to familiar shores?

The story poem that begins the novella:

ocean kissed sands wink diamonds into the night
the whisper of waves caresses nerves taut with panic
the sea-foam surf is a balm to troubled spirits
and the abyss of down-soft waters beckons as a lover’s embrace

out there, somewhere, is a ship
using stars to guide a course to infinity
eternity, too, has a path to follow
and a destiny to fulfill

standing on the rooftop of a once-thriving inn
I wonder at the fate that pulls me ever closer to death
isolation has become a way of life, my existence
against all my efforts to turn away from the void before me

the sea calls to me, pulls at my soul with seductive purpose
I hear voices carried on the misted winds
promises that I can’t quite define
but which haunt my heart and inflict greater agonies

I turn away to pursue the sandman of my dreams
despite the knowledge that there will be no respite there
no escape from transient demons and specters
no shelter in the arms of Morpheus

eyes close and breaths lengthen and deepen
then he comes to me, the devil who torments my being
with sensuous murmurs and erotic promises
he shows me what my life is without, what I deny within myself

the dream begins.....

the gentle sway of the ship is the rhythm of passion and sex
the lap of waves the stroke of a lover’s tongue over a swell of quivering flesh
the surge of the tide is his possession of my eager body
the fall befits our writhing ascent into heaven

who are you? I ask in mystified wonder
am I afraid of his answer, or anticipating it?
he laughs, a hearty, faintly mocking reverberation of humor
and my blood runs cold, then hot with rage

he is magnificent, this proud pirate who steals
with the exquisite skill of a thieving seducer claiming his virgin prize
dark hair streams and smoky eyes gleam with anticipation
and this is what I have been born to desire?

lover.... friend.... enemy.... destiny....
his hands have taught me love and pain
his heart has scarred me with hatred and unbearable pleasure

mentor.... destroyer.... confidant.... father....
you drove me to his arms, intent on betrayal
and in the end it was I who was betrayed, by myself

he touched me, and I was whole in his hands,
balanced on the edge of discovery and despair
I went willingly to his bed and his heart
asked desperately to remain prisoner to his destiny

he kissed me, a soft caress that vowed so much more would follow
and I stood before him, naked in all ways, desiring
things I could not yet name, but knew within me
and he held me with his gaze, searching for deceit, finding only trust

his hands stripped me of everything, while giving everything back
his mouth, soft, wet, suckling at my breast, gave me the taste of euphoria
hot, rigid velvet sheathed within my clutching body tortured me with ecstasy
and his possession defined my being and made me what I am

sorceress.... companion.... seer.... hope....
I am Mahjrah’s mate, and his life is mine, as mine is his
though we both have often wished it were not so

and I have betrayed my beloved captain.....

comrade.... strength.... protector.... deception....
what we did was wrong, yet it, too, was predestined in so many ways
Mahjrah made you my champion, and that story is as old as time itself

and now I stand before him again, waiting and afraid
trembling with need and terror, and reawakened love
yes, I love you, Mahjrah, always and only you
and somewhere inside you, I feel the poison of my treachery

you are uncertain, even as you stand solid and ever strong
the serpent of doubt and suspicion has bitten deep
that venom mingles with the heart’s blood of our bond
and I do not know which will emerge as the stronger power

still, you have taken me again, in passion and welcome
my body has been reclaimed, even as my spirit hides in shame
try as I may, I cannot forget the rapture that you gave me
and all I am able to offer you now is the frightened shell I have become

you deserve far better, you have asked for little,
given everything without question or price
until now, when a challenge far greater than others removes our choices
now you charge me with the task of finding our home

I have always thought my home was in your eyes
but the romanticism of that whimsy is a joke in the face of this harsh reality
you demand a gateway to another life
and I must find a way to obey this command

our world....
close enough to touch, to feel....
the parallel of this prison in which we have been trapped.....

Part Two: a short scene...
The moon shone silver across the restless waters of the cove, casting spectral shadows of ice into the endless ripples of the current. Sitting alone on the shore, Veranna stared at the magical night-scape and felt despair engulf her anew. They’d been stranded for eternal weeks, and no member of the crew looked upon her with warmth or friendliness now. Except the Captain, Mahjrah’s eyes held unflinching kindness and undeniable love. Her salvation, she knew.

She shifted her line of vision and shivered when her eyes came into contact with the repaired ship anchored in the small harbor. The mast stretched upward and the rigging stood starkly outlined, a wraith-like silhouette against the glowing orb sweeping steadily across the sky. The Scarab waited with patience her crew did not possess. Waited for her to summon knowledge and power she no longer controlled.

“Mahjrah’s looking for you.”

Startled, Veranna turned, and sighed inwardly at the cool masque of Doren’s indifference.

“I’m afraid, Doren,” she murmured without conscious thought.

Anger sparked in his eyes and she flinched. His expression softened with regret an instant later and he sat next to her.

“We’re all afraid, Veri,” he confessed with clear reluctance.

“I can’t imagine you, or Ehtionne, feeling fear.” She smiled in spite of herself.

“Everyone’s afraid of something, Veranna,” he chided. “Even Mahjrah.”

“You say that as if I should know your fear, but not his.”

“You’ve seen my fear, Veri,” he muttered, voice tinged with bitterness. “Even if you don’t remember it just now.”

He added the last with self-deprecating irony, and she felt a tremor begin deep within her. It burned through her with shocking speed, leaving her quivering against all she didn’t know.

“What is he searching for that I am supposed to know about?”

“Ask him,” Doren told her candidly. “Maybe that’s what he wants to talk to you about now?”

Suspicion flared in her dark eyes and he laughed at her.

“He doesn’t tell me what he wants from you, Veranna,” he said with a hint of derision.

“I suppose he doesn’t really have to, does he?” she retorted and rose. “He wants the same thing the rest of you want, the impossible.” She strode away, angered beyond reason by the exchange. She was still scowling when she found Mahjrah further down the shore.

The tall captain watched her approach, his expression guarded, but curious.

“You look as if you wish to kill someone, lady,” he remarked.

“Perhaps I do,” she replied, looking past his shoulder to the men who were standing a short distance from them. “What is it you want, Mahjrah?” she asked, suddenly weary.

“Darius is near, Veranna,” he said quietly, very serious now. “We need an escape from this place before Isiress pinpoints our location.”

“Isiress can control her magic, Ehtionne,” Veranna reminded him, uncomfortably aware of the many ears listening to their words. “I have no such strength. You ask what I cannot give.”

Dark eyes glittered like onyx in the flickering flames of the torches that had been lit. Veranna held her breath, waiting for anger, hoping desperately for understanding.

Slowly, Mahjrah nodded. He went to take her by the elbow, then led her toward the small circle of huts they’d erected for the duration of their stay on the isle. When they reached the relative privacy of their quarters, he sat her down and knelt before her.

“I know you can defeat this sorceress who guards The Pharaoh’s Ghost,” he began firmly, but gently. “But you must know it, too, my lady,” he continued, tone pitched to a sensual purr of sound. “You possess great power and knowledge, Veranna, and we need both while we are so vulnerable.”

“I’ve been trying, Mahjrah,” she assured him. “I want to help you!”

He considered her words with a seriousness that inexorably woke fear as she waited for him to voice whatever dark thoughts were creating such fierceness in his handsome features. When his low, gravel-textured voice finally stirred the air between them, she trembled.

“We need to take a great risk, love,” he began ominously. “One that may be our last hope of recovering your lost memory.” Dark eyes clashed as he forced her to meet his stare. “Do you trust our bonds, Veranna?”

It seemed a totally inappropriate question, and that, too, frightened her for eternal seconds as he awaited her reply. Unable to form the words, she nodded mutely, the response an intuitive answer born in her heart. He accepted her nod after only a second’s hesitation, then rose and left. A moment later, she heard his strong voice shouting for Doren. Hugging herself tightly, she listened as Mahjrah ordered his mate to bring Veranna’s trunk from the ship. When he re-entered the hut again short minutes later, Mahjrah carried a silver bowl etched with magical rhunes and filled with ashes. Behind him, Gianni came in with hands full of the mystical candles. He put them next to the bowl that Mahjrah had placed in the center of the hut’s rough floor, then he left them without a word.

“Tell me what you remember,” Mahjrah ordered.

“Place the candles that contain sky, earth and fire in a circle around us,” she replied without thought. His smile was an encouragement she responded to, and she continued quickly, lest she lose the precious strand of knowledge. “Strength, divination, and earth power.”

Mahjrah did as she requested, and by the time he was done, Doren and Marcello had retrieved the heavy case that had a permanent place beneath the captain’s bunk. Doren looked Veranna, his doubt clear, but he held his silence. Moments later, the captain and his lover were alone again.

“Choose your magic, lady,” he said and indicated the case that stood inside the doorway. “I fear that we have little time.”

Trusting to instinct once again, Veranna rose and went to the case. She opened it, and inhaled the enticing aroma of spices and herbs, and the tingle of mystical power that emanated from things hidden in the lowest levels of the case. As before, music was an undercurrent that guided her, attuned her to the very earth on which she stood. She lifted the upper tray of items and looked into the more powerful objects held in the chest. Mahjrah’s hand reached past hers, and he retrieved a key from the corner, a key that was gold on one side, and silver on the other, perfectly melded together, each side carrying the symbols that were on the coins contained in the chest they guarded. The key dangled from a cord made of strands of hair, hers and his, entwined with ribbons of blue and ebony, the colors of their eyes; he slipped it over her head and smiled when it came to rest just above the shadow between her breasts.

Aphrodeesia enchantrae,” he whispered roughly, his hands gliding over her back, before he moved to stand behind her and cup full breasts as he began to nuzzle her neck.

Shaking with another layer of emotion now, Veranna reached for the requested amalgam. She sucked in a rasp of air when the pressure of his hands increased and his sure fingers teased already straining nipples to greater sensitivity. Guided by instinct, she let the powder fall into the silver bowl, mingling with the ashes that would stir to life and reawaken her memories. The music that symbolized her power began to rise and find voice inside her.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Let’s Talk About Tickling with @PumpUpYourBook and @TickleWriter #kindle #ebook #RomFantasy

Veronica Frances is the author of the gutsy, no-holds-barred novel, Tickling Daphne H. Her new non-fiction book Let’s Talk About Tickling sheds a refreshing new light on the subject. She is known as the TickleWriter in some circles.

Veronica also writes under her real name, Stacey Handler. Stacey is the author of The Body Burden; Living In The Shadow Of Barbie. Her book was featured in Jump Magazine, Australian Women’s Weekly, The National Enquirer, and several other publications, radio shows and cable TV shows.

Stacey excels at public speaking, singing, composing, and writing. She is a singer-songwriter, poet, and has written in many different styles. She has an album and several singles available, including her two popular anthems, Ain’t No Skinny Little Thing and Soap Opera Diva.

She lives in New York City, where she continues to write erotica, fiction, poetry and non-fiction.

For More Information
About the Book:

Title: Let’s Talk About Tickling

Author: Veronica Frances
Publisher: Blue Note Books
Pages: 240
Genre: Non-fiction/Erotic Literature/Self Improvement
Format: Kindle

Let’s Talk About Tickling is an honest, straightforward discussion about tickling. Discover the many different aspects of tickling—the fantasies, the realities, the many paradoxes of the tickling fetish and how to come to terms with ones own sensuality.

A refreshing and very welcome find, Let’s Talk About Tickling is for anyone who wishes to expand their awareness of tickling and other related fetishes. This book will be of great interest to anyone who wants to get in touch with their sensual self, whether they have a tickling fetish or not.

Author Veronica Frances offers her readers the chance to improve their relationships in and out of the bedroom by shining a light on the powerful significance of tickling. She reminds us that tickling is not merely the whisper of a feather on the flesh. It is an echo that calls us from deep within, beckoning us to listen and respond.

For More Information

Thank you for this interview, Veronica. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I have been writing ever since childhood. I published my first book fifteen years ago and have grown very much as a writer since then. I realized I wanted to write erotic fiction as well as erotic non-fiction. I was always writing poems and erotic stories in high school, but I dreamed of writing a non-fiction erotic book that would help people in some way and I have finally accomplished that with my new book, Let’s Talk About Tickling. 

Can you tell us more about Stacey Handler?

Sure. Stacey Handler is the other name that I write under and is my real name. Veronica Frances sort of just came to me one day as an idea for a pseudonym I could use for all of my erotic tickling writing.

Under my real name, I have written and published a book on body image that includes poetry and prose. I also write all kinds of other poetry. I am also a singer-songwriter and have worked as a professional clairvoyant, empath and clairaudient.

You mentioned you wrote a book on body image under your real name. Can you explain how that relates to an interesting tidbit about your family?

Yes. My grandmother Ruth Handler created the Barbie Doll. The Ken doll was named after my father and the Barbie Doll after my aunt. The Stacey doll was named after yours truly.

As you can imagine, growing up having Barbie as a plastic family member made my own body-image issues a rather formidable challenge at times.

My book is called The Body Burden; Living In the Shadow of Barbie. It helped a lot of women find the road to self-acceptance and I did quite a bit of public speaking on the subject. I do feel that I have grown a lot as a writer since then, so I don’t talk about my first book all that much anymore. I prefer to focus on what inspires me to write as the woman that I am today.

Do you continue to speak out about the importance of having a positive body image?

Yes. My original song, Ain’t No Skinny Little Thing encourages women to feel empowered and beautiful, no matter what body negativity society continues to throw at them. Ain’t No Skinny Little Thing is available on iTunes.

Can you tell us briefly what your new book, Let’s Talk About Tickling, is about?

Let’s Talk About Tickling talks about the many different aspects of tickling. It deals with the psychological, the physical and the emotional aspects of the tickling fetish, as well as giving tons of useful advice about how to bring more sensuality and laughter into your relationships and your life in general. 

It is not simply a book about tickling. It is a book about discovering your true sensual self and sharing that information with your partner. It emphasizes the importance of communicating your fantasies and desires, so that your relationship does not become stale. While tickling is the main fetish my book deals with, it also discusses other related fetishes and many other informative tips on keeping your sensual-self alive, as well as your personal relationships. 

Would you consider your latest book, let’s talk about tickling, to be a one of a kind? How so?

Yes. There are several books surfacing about tickling, most of them fiction, but I haven’t really found any that delve quite as deeply into the psychological aspects of the tickling fetish as let’s talk about tickling does. 

What makes my book unique is how it taps into the emotional and spiritual parts of tickling and how tickling and laughter can actually better our lives. 

What questions do people ask you when you tell them about this book?

People are extremely curious as to how I can write an entire book on the subject of tickling. My answer would be that tickling is not only the gateway to sex, but the gateway to tons of discussion about sensuality, laughter, foreplay, flirtation, the inner child, fun and of course, BDSM and role-play. 

People want to know if my book is a book about BDSM. Tickle-play can be anything you want it to be and it can lead us down the adventurous pathways of BDSM. However, tickling can be just as much fun without BDSM. So, my book is not primarily a BDSM book, but I do talk about the subject whenever I feel it applies to a certain chapter or activity.

What was your greatest challenge writing this book?

This was a very challenging book for me because there were so many subjects to cover. It was very difficult figuring out the right order for the chapters. There are 68 chapters in Let’s Talk About Tickling. I was constantly moving the chapters around and for a while it felt like I was playing musical chapters and it was very frustrating. I wanted the chapters to flow and it took a while to get them just right, to where I was happy with them.

What’s one fun fact about your book people should know?

Tickling is the gateway to sex.

Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?

You can contact me and check out my blog via my website:

You can also follow me on Twitter:

Dorothy Thompson
Owner & Founding Mother at PUMP UP YOUR BOOK 

Bloggers! Sign up to host your favorite authors HERE!

Friday, September 11, 2015

11th Day 9th Month - 14 years Later... #RB4U #MFRWauthor

Fourteen years ago today, this world froze for moments forever suspended in time. For some there was triumph, perhaps even satisfaction. For most, there was horror of a magnitude seldom seen or felt. Thousands of lives were lost in heartbeats of time while the world watched, helpless and struggling to cope with what they were witnessing. I remember watching, with millions of others, as the towers fell... the sound of the CNN crew's voices as they reported the unimaginable horror they were witnessing... all of it... surreal at the time, it is indelibly printed on our minds in those seconds.

As with all tragic and life-altering experiences, the imprint of those hours is branded on the hearts of all who were touched by what happened on September 11th, 2001. From all over this vast planet came prayers for the fallen, their loved ones, and those whose courage defines what is best in the human race. We honour those who fought to save lives, for those who sacrificed and paid the highest price of all to fight for peace in the years that have followed.

Each person will carry their own scars, be stained by grief, and uplifted by restored hope–all emotional realities forged in the pain of those first hours after the twin towers overlooking New York City fell in flames. While we grieve for the lost, pray for those who remain, and seek understanding, never lose sight of hope. In the darkest recesses of the human soul, hope must exist and breathe, or we have all lived, and died, for nothing–and that would dishonour every life that was taken too soon, or given to defend what is good in this world of ours.

May God’s blessings touch the hearts of all who walk in faith, in hope, and seek the light of understanding. May His Grace be such that we can one day breathe free again, without fear. Remember those who fell, and those who remain, always.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

GIVEAWAY - 5 eBook Bundle of Western Romances #RB4U #MFRWauthor #RomFantasy

Words dazzle and deceive because they are mimed by the face. But black words on a white page are the soul laid bare.
~ Guy de Maupassant

I read that quote this morning and it lingered, making me think about the truth of the words... when we write, we often DO open part of our souls to the world. Writers are intensely committed to the words they put on a page, the dreams they present to the world as their work, and the parts of their internal selves that are revealed in ways non-writers can’t begin to reveal.

Why do we do it? I’m sure the answer to that is as diverse as the people who’ll read this, and the authors who publish books every day. For some of us, it’s a drive as natural and primal as drawing breath. We are born storytellers, with a knack for making worlds come to life for others. Since I am one of those people who’s been classified by many as being a “natural writer” I’ll go with that as my reason for continuing in a business that has taken more from my soul than it’s ever given back.

Curious now, with so much author/reader interaction every day with the advent of social media, how many of you feel authors are sharing pieces of their souls with you through their books? Is this something that makes you want to read more, know more? Is any fiction entirely fiction, do you think? Or is it another facet of a complex mind coming out into the open? I don’t know anymore where half my stories are born, but they are constantly changing. Genres blur, get mixed together, the time/era for those stories has been across the span of known history, so it’s always been an adventure in one way or another.

I suppose everyone writes for different reasons, just as readers read for different reasons. So, what pushes you to write? And readers, what lures you back to certain authors over and over?

I have a great gift pack for one lucky winner - a five book eBundle of Western themed romances, mostly historical. So, if you'd like to sample some of my best writing, enter away - 4 of 5 of these books are best-sellers on Amazon and ARe Romance eBooks.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Winner Take All Party on Facebook - over 50 books for one lucky winner! #RB4U #MFRWauthor

Over 50 books to be won! A month long party hosted by the Book Escapes Authors on Facebook. Enter below to win, and join the event for other prizes and fun!!

You can find us here: Winner Take All Party

Winner Take All Party Prize Package

Enter To Win!!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Myth, vengeance, and sensual romance... Silent Death returns.... #RB4U #MFRWauthor #RomFantasy

Genre: Contemporary Action/Thriller
Publisher: Crimson Frost Books


Adam Walker is one of the Company’s best field agents, a highly trained, well-honed killing machine when that’s what’s needed. But, he’s also a man of many secrets, and one of them is that he’s a ninja, one of Japan’s mythical death warriors. When another of Adam’s secrets, his lover Kiku, is killed, he turns to the one person he trusts, fellow agent Shainna Barton. While Shainna covers for him on a mission, Adam metes out his revenge, and discovers that his friendship with Shainna has a much deeper meaning that either of them ever realized…


Adam's steps were sure and silent as he made his way to the rear of the small theater. Exhaustion consumed him, but the residue of rushing adrenaline afforded his body a moment of false energy. Successful in yet another assignment—when the body turned up with the stolen files, there'd be no questions asked. Business as usual.
Still, the timing had been off, and there'd been no time to warn Kiku to stay at home. Uneasiness whispered inside him again, as it had for most of the past hour. Not for the first time during recent weeks, though . . . . He wondered if it had been wise to reject her desire to take their relationship to a more intimate involvement. Loving Kiku was as natural to him as breathing. But being her lover was something he hadn't honestly considered. Not until she'd brought it to his attention.
Why he hadn't noticed her love changing to passion baffled him now, as he thought about it. He'd told her intimacy of that kind would create distractions within his mind—the kind that might one day get them both killed. She'd been skeptical, though uncharacteristically reticent about explaining why, when he questioned her quick acceptance of his decision.
He thrust the doubts aside as he reached her office and entered. As always, the closet-like room appeared in complete chaos. An organized mess, she called it. He crossed the short space and picked up the phone as he settled on the edge of her desk. He was about to dial her home number when a flicker of movement drew his attention to the small, private parking lot separating the theater from a large apartment building next door. Adam slipped the receiver into its cradle and moved to stand in the shadows next to the small window behind her desk.
He spotted Kiku's nearly naked body and he froze. Instinct guided him as fear and rage surged through him. Reaching beyond the haze of tumultuous emotions, he drew on his training. A careful look at Kiku told him she was dead . . . her neck broken. Again, the flicker of shadows betrayed a presence. He waited. Seconds passed, so drawn out by tension they felt like hours, but one-by-one he saw each figure with striking clarity. And in that brief instant, each of the five faces was burned indelibly into his memory. He knew one of them by name, and recognized the others as students of Caisson's dojo. The heavy weight of the gun under his left arm all but spoke to him the alluring suggestion to pull the weapon and use it was so tempting. Adam had to force himself to resist using his weapon, a task made all the more difficult when Caisson bent over Kiku and placed a mocking kiss on her forehead.
He tore his gaze away, no longer trusting his ability to control his grief-enhanced rage. As he leaned against the wall, he realized he'd been holding his breath. Slowly, he exhaled, shaking uncontrollably despite his imposed strength of will.
When the wracking spasms of anguish subsided, he emerged from the theater's office and left without looking back.

* * * * *

Less than half an hour later, Adam slipped into Kiku's small flat. Like her office, it was in disarray, although not to the same exaggerated extent. He did a thorough, systematic search of the entire four rooms, removing every trace of his presence in her life. The items were few, for he seldom left even the smallest of articles behind. No photographs of them to be found, together or individually, a house rule they'd agreed to years earlier.
Hovering in the doorway, he took one final look at the place. It was so much like her, he thought, inhaling the light residue of sandalwood incense in the air. Books on every subject to satisfy her insatiable thirst for knowledge were strewn about, along with old theater posters, exotically painted masques, and cassettes and CDs in various languages. Despite his protestations, a map hung on the wall, dotted with postcards from the countries they'd traveled together. He hesitated for a moment then decided to collect the cards and destroy the map.
When he finished, he locked the door and turned his back on this place, too. Kiku would have expected nothing less from him.

* * * * *

Shainna Barton sighed in weariness as she kicked open the door to her apartment to drag her luggage inside. She'd been out of the country for over a month this time, and home seemed more appealing than she would have thought possible. She was growing tired in more ways than one.
A quick slam and the door shut firmly, leaving her in the silent, air-conditioned sanctuary she'd bought only a year before, a purchase she'd recognized as the first step toward her accepting pending retirement from the field.
She'd called home the night before, and her oldest and dearest friend had opened the apartment and stocked the cupboards for her. DeeDee Caulwell was one of the few constants in Shainna's life. She honestly didn't know what she'd do without her.
The phone rang. She stole a glance at the caller ID. Dee. Shainna dropped her shoulder bag and flopped into a chair as she grabbed the phone. The worry in DeeDee's voice hit before the actual words, and Shainna automatically reached for the TV remote control to turn on the news report her friend was going on about with such dread. The reporter's words ran together as Shainna's world twisted wildly on its axis. Her pulse roared so loud in her ears she barely heard DeeDee say she was on her way over.

* * * * *

From her window seat, Shainna looked out at the night sky. Her chill had very little to do with the air-conditioned air. The ice reached into her soul and expanded outward to her quivering limbs. She wasn't prone to infatuation, never had been, but there was something almost obsessive in her passion for Adam Walker. They were friends; the relationship worked for them. But Shainna had realized, long ago, the hunger she felt in Adam's company had precious little to do with being friends. If she'd been less honest, she would have hated Kiku Shimoda, simply for being the love in Walker's life. But Shainna was too much a realist to pretend the other woman was the reason Adam didn't love her.
She sighed and closed her eyes, letting her head thump gently against the wall at her back. Adam's amazing topaz eyes came into focus so quickly she was startled to discover he wasn't next to her. She could feel him, though. All around her. Inside her heart. His pain was agonizing—and total. He was out there, and by now, he knew.
"What are you going to do, Adam?" She asked the question aloud, as was her custom when working possible angles to a puzzle. She shivered when the answer, like a cold caress, brushed her consciousness—a promise of mayhem and death—as if Adam had spoken directly into her mind. They'd been connected on some level for what felt like forever. And in that moment, she wondered if he'd actually heard her and responded.
Before the odd thought could create another conundrum for her to ponder, she was distracted by a knock at the door. She crossed the room and opened the door, breathing a thankful sigh at the sight of her friend.
"Are you all right?"
She shut the door as DeeDee glided past, shedding her coat and tossing it into a chair before she turned to Shainna.
"I'm still trying to take in what's happened." Shainna confessed. "This is going to destroy Adam. Especially when he finds out what the press is reporting. I don't even know where to find him, Dee!"
"Maybe that's for the best." DeeDee's features showed visible concern.
Adam Walker was always a touchy subject between them, and the gentle censure in her friend's voice made Shainna's temper flare.
"Okay, Shain." DeeDee held up her hands in a gesture of surrender before Shainna had time to snap. "Truce. Back off. What are you planning, anyway?"
"If I know Adam, he's going to find who did this." She paced, chewed her thumbnail, and tried to make her brain function past her fear for the man. Kiku was the world to Adam, and Shainna knew—via the Division grapevine—the two had been a solid couple for some time. Whether or not the rumors were based on truth wasn't relevant to her heart. She'd tried not to resent Kiku for Adam's lack of interest, but it hadn't been easy when every part of her spirit and body cried for the man in ways she wished rather to never have experienced.
"And . . . ." She finally added. "He's going to make them pay for what they did to her—in blood."
"That sounds like Adam," DeeDee agreed, her tone reflecting her dislike and her near contempt for the man they discussed.
"Why do you hate him so much?"
Startled, DeeDee didn't answer for a moment, then she laughed. "I hate what he does to you. Adam himself means nothing to me. I know you'd walk through hell for him, and he wouldn't have to ask you to do it. What would he do for you, Shain?"
"The same thing if I needed him."
"You're so certain of that. Why?"
"Because he's Adam. Because what exists between us is a lot deeper than simply trusting another agent with your back."
"What happened in Italy last year?" DeeDee asked. "You've never said much, but something changed between you and Adam on that mission."
"Yeah, we took our last day and went sight-seeing like normal people. I got drunk and told him I loved him. We blamed the wine the next day, and pretended it never happened."
"What did he say?"
"I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies."
DeeDee's frown of confusion made Shainna laugh. "It's a quote we found earlier that day, a 15th century Italian poet called Pietro Aretino wrote it. Adam told me we were friends, there was no room for anything else between us."
"But he's always willing to ask you to risk your life for him!"
"It's my job, Dee. And his!"
"Not this time. This time it's personal, so you should stay out of it."
"How am I supposed to do that? He's going to need backup, and if I know Adam, he's going to make it clear he wants me."
"Doesn't mean Michael will agree." DeeDee reasoned. She'd been fidgeting and tidying up the apartment from the moment she'd started the conversation. Now, she stopped moving. "He does have some control over Adam."
Shainna laughed at DeeDee's careful words, barely recognizing the shrill, hysterical edge that turned the sound brittle. "No one controls Adam," she said, barely above a whisper. "Michael knows that better than anyone."
"So, what are you going to do?"
Shainna trembled. "Wait." She returned to the window and stared into the night once again. "I'm going to wait for him. What else can I do?"