Layla’s last day of normal life quietly came to a close. She laid the paranormal romance novel onto her nightstand and let out a deep, satisfied sigh, still relishing the exquisitely ravishing sensations that tingled throughout her body. She yawned and stretched, luxuriously spreading herself onto Roger’s side of the bed, grateful for his out-of-town convention.
Her sleeping Siamese cat, TaiChi, resented the disturbance and slatted his eyelids at her, then rolled over and presented his back to her, reminding her of Roger. Layla’s pent-up passion simmered below the surface and she threw the extra pillow she’d been using back onto Roger’s side of the bed with a careless flip, intensely aware of she and Roger’s growing indifference towards one another. She couldn’t keep ignoring the issue.
The source of Layla’s escape tonight appeared last Tuesday at lunch when her sister pulled a copy of ‘Come, my Love’ out of her purse, insisting the novel’s intensity would steam Roger right out of Layla’s mind for a while. As Layla had touched the book a little jolt of electricity shot up her arm, along with a thrill she’d never experienced. Poised on the cover, the dark handsome stranger seemed to lock eyes with her. For a brief moment she couldn’t look away, losing control as his smoldering intensity conveyed a taste of his passion.
“See what I mean?” Suze had chuckled, assuming Layla’s reaction reflected the same response the rest of her friends had given when drooling over the cover’s gorgeous hunk. Suze saw the usual hot and sexy hard-body most covers of the genre sported. What he was doing, going to do, to Layla – Suze had no idea.
Layla tossed the book into her bag forgetting about it for now. Passed down a long line of Suze’s friends, the magic had been searching for a connection. The minute Layla’s hand touched the cover she had been chosen. Tonight, with each word she read, the pages became real for her, sucking her into an alternate reality. Layla conjured up the embodiment of her hero and he entered her thoughts, subconsciously claiming her for his own.
Layla hugged herself, longing for another virtual embrace from the mysterious hero of her book. In the last three hours she’d been mesmerized, transported out of her mundane world with a spark, deep inside her, igniting. Passion flared, and by the time she finished the last page she could hardly contain herself. Restless, she picked up the book and fingered the cover, yearning for the hard, masculine intensity of his heat. She craved more of him. So much more.
Her Hero, Nicolai Vladislov, with his tanned, rippling muscles, rock hard abs and smoldering eyes threw Roger’s balding, flatulent, doughy 32-year old physique into a sub-category of humanity for Layla, bringing her reality into sharp focus.
Her Hero. Yes, in one short evening Nicolai had become hers – and she his. He stepped out of the pages and embraced her, merging with her until everything else vanished and there was only the two of them. She couldn’t remember the story, couldn’t remember anything from the last three hours, except a deep longing to be with Nicolai. A shudder washed over Layla and she threw back her head and closed her eyes in another long, breathless sigh.
The telephone rang, interrupting Layla’s ultimate fantasy, and she picked up the receiver. It was Roger.
“Hey. How’s it going?” He wanted something, she could tell.
“Fine, Roger. What do you need?” Her flat tone came naturally without thinking.
“Yeah. Well, I’m happy to hear your voice, too.” Even after four years his sarcasm still managed to force an apology from her.
“I’m Sorry, Roger. How’s the convention going?” She tried to make polite conversation, but they both knew she didn’t care; neither did he.
“The usual. How many ways are there to say ‘buy our insurance’?” He laughed at his lame joke and rushed on. “So, did you get the cabin booked for June?”
Oh, crap. She’d forgotten all about their annual fishing vacation. She’d never hear the end of it if his favorite cabin was reserved already.
“Uh. I called and left a message,” she lied. She would do it first thing in the morning.
Roger was silent for a moment, and then attacked her. “You didn’t call, did you?” He asked rhetorically and rushed on. “Dammit, Layla, I leave one thing, ONE THING for you to take care of and you screw it up.” One thing that revolves around you, Layla thought, as Roger launched into one of his tirades to ‘make her better’ and she waited quietly. If she didn’t fuel the fire he’d burn himself out in a couple of minutes.
Roger’s attitude, his criticism, his beer gut, only served to feed Layla’s need for escape. She knew Suze was right on target about leaving him. The subject had come up more than once during the sisters’ recent lunches. Roger used Layla, and she tolerated him. The original infatuation had run its course long ago.
“You call first thing tomorrow. FIRST THING.” Roger finished and paused to replenish the air in his lungs, adding, “That damned cat better not be sleeping on my pillow.” Another pause. “Tomorrow night. Airport. Eight p.m. Don’t be late.” He hung up before Layla could say anything and she slammed the receiver down angrily. Who did he think he was – God?
At twenty-eight Layla had given up on finding her soul mate. Soul mates were over-rated. Suze claimed she’d found ‘Mr. Right’ withBrandon, but Layla insisted their relationship was the exception.
Four years with Roger had established companionship, and familiarity. Human nature embraced familiarity, no matter how contemptible. Layla was in a rut, and she knew it. She needed a super-human push,
She reached to turn off the bedside lamp and caught movement in the corner of her eye. A slight breeze raised the hair on the back of Layla’s neck. Where had that come from? A bolt of electricity ran through her body down to her toes, making her shudder. She surveyed the dim room for an intruder. A slightly metallic smell of iron assaulted her nostrils and she froze, her eyes darting around the room. Nothing. She looked at TaiChi still sleeping peacefully.
Paranoid, she thought. She’d checked the doors and windows, set the alarm. Layla scooted down into the covers and pulled the sheet over her bare breasts, leaving the light on, waiting.
Outside, the vacant street offered empty silence. A light fog covered the ground and sleet pelted the window with a methodical drumming, hypnotizing Layla with repetition. Warm drowsiness crept in on cat’s paws and enveloped her like a mantle, embellished with fringes of indescribable passion. Her sexual tension grew to a crescendo and release danced in front of her, just beyond her reach. She thrashed in a semi-conscious state until, exhausted, a deep slumber finally claimed her.
TaiChi bolted upright and stood in the middle of the bed, hissing, riveted on a black recess of the room. Back arched, tail flagged, he stood on guard in the dark as Layla came awake with a start. Moonlight poured through the window silhouetting the cat in attack mode, the undefined danger making both their hearts pound.
The mixture of snow and rain outside the bedroom window still battled for dominance as Layla focused on the lighted alarm clock. Almost three a.m. She felt disoriented, warm and out of breath. As if she’d been exercising.
She reached for the bedside lamp and stopped, surveying the dark room. The light had been on when she fell asleep. She knew it. The metallic smell permeated the air again, stronger this time, and Layla felt her breath catch in her throat. TaiChi jumped to the floor, escaping into the darkness with a sharp yowl.
“Tai?” Her alarm vanished with the cat and was replaced by a peaceful calm that surrounded her like a warm summer evening.
The fragrance of orchids replaced the metallic odor and relaxed Layla, sending her into a deep comfort zone.
“Ya khachue tebya…,” The powerfully masculine voice crept softly into her thoughts, enveloping her in a tropical pool of warm emotion, floating her across the universe and back with one fluid sweep. Time simultaneously rushed past her with the speed of light and stopped, taking her breath away.
“Yes!” Her voice rasped as desire overcame her. “I want you, too.” She repeated into the dark as he materialized above her, a lock of black hair falling over his brow above incandescent eyes. Just like she’d envisioned him. Layla knew he would take her, use her as he wished. She relished the inevitable moment, raising her lips to his and whispering passionately, “Nicolai.”
His strong arms cradled her and Layla felt the heat of Nicolai’s firm body pressed along the entire length of her own. Sensing his desperate need for her as the heat swelled between them, her own passion rose to meet his. She knew she would give him whatever he desired.
Nicolai’s desire was to join with Layla eternally, body and soul, but he also needed sustenance. She could only fill one need. Instinctively she knew she must choose.
For Nicolai, her soul mate, her destiny, she must willingly betray another. He could only tempt her, prod her until his need became too great. He would entice her with the only tool at his disposal. Raw human passion. She felt a sharp prick on the side of her neck as his soft, full lips brushed sensually against her skin, gently licking, nursing. Feeding.
“You look tired – not sleeping well? When’s Roger coming back?” Suze’s voice held genuine concern for her younger sister as they chatted over their weekly luncheon, but her tone also pressed Layla for the usual gossip.
“I sleep better without him around. You know that.” Layla didn’t want to talk about Roger, or gossip. There were more important things filling her thoughts, and she couldn’t account for at least nine hours of her life every night. She must be sleeping. The dark sunken areas below her eyes and pallor of her complexion reflected a part of life that she couldn’t share. Not yet. The moment of truth would come soon enough. It didn’t seem fair that Suze was unintentionally adding to Layla’s distress.
“Sorr-eee I care about you.” Suze’s sarcasm fired Layla’s irritation. Their life long, share-all relationship had turned into a battle of wills as Layla became more guarded. Suze stabbed a piece of cucumber on her salad plate and shoved it into her mouth in a huff as the tension between them became palpable.
Layla grabbed her own fork and they ate in uncomfortable silence as Suze sulked and Layla thought about last night’s dream, about Nicolai. Nicolai grounded her, centered her soul. She was addicted to him, couldn’t get enough of him. Her need for him amplified each time they were together, as she sensed his need for her. She knew their time might end soon, and she swallowed the lump in her throat as she studied her sister’s beloved face, choking back her mixed emotions. The ritual would be simple. Her choices were not.
“Would you care for another glass of wine?” Startled, Layla’s knife slipped and made a tiny knick on her thumb. She looked up to see Bryce grinning down at her, waiting for the inevitable zinger from Suze in the ongoing game they played. Though happily married, Suze and the young waiter took turns flirting each week at Layla’s expense. Layla watched Suze push salad around her plate for a minute, ignoring them both.
“No thank you.” Suze clipped the words off in finality. “I guess we’re almost done here.”
Bryce looked at Layla with confusion and she shrugged apologetically. She didn’t want Suze to be mad at her, didn’t want harsh words left between them.
“I’ll have one.” Layla said, blotting her thumb with her napkin. “You’re starting to look good to me, and we can’t have that happen, right?” She winked and gave Suze a contrite grimace, waving toward her sister’s wine glass with an offer of reconsideration.
A smile slowly spread over Suze’s face and she relaxed a little, and then laughed outright. “Yeah. Ok, I’ll have one, too. Look out, Bryce. My sister is voracious once she sets her sights on you.”
Bryce nodded and backed away, deciding to take the coward’s way out this time. He didn’t want to jeopardize his tip with the older women, but the constant balancing act wore him down and today felt particularly odd.
“Well, you got to him this time. Good job.” Suze quipped, also sorry for the conflict. She didn’t know how to handle Layla lately. “Layla? What’s the matter?”
Layla twirled the remaining drops of deep red claret in her glass, the rich color reminding her of Nicolai. Everything reminded Layla of Nicolai. He filled her every waking moment and she found it more and more difficult to concentrate on anything else. She saw a reflection of Nicolai in the glass, licking the small cut on her thumb, felt his virtual embrace. It was almost time.
To willingly offer him someone from her mortal life was almost beyond her comprehension. But to become his victim, sentencing him to eternal remorse when his frenzy passed, was equally unthinkable now that they had found each other.
Layla couldn’t think straight. She could only get as far as her next possible moment with Nicolai and how much she wanted that moment, more than life itself. Whose life was the question.
Layla looked across the table at her sister. She wanted to tell Suze she’d revised her belief in soul mates, share her joy and her pain as they always had. She wanted to bring Nicolai into their world and have it both ways. Wanted the impossible.
“So.” Suze decided to jump in with both feet again. She was determined to get something out of Layla before their lunch ended. She tried to gauge Layla’s mood, gave up and blurted, “Wanna tell me about the new guy you’re seeing behind Roger’s back?”
Layla’s head jerked up from her renewed attack on the plate of steak tartar. She wiped bloody juice off her chin and pushed her sunglasses up on her nose, the beautifully sunny day giving her a headache.
“None of your business.” Layla glared at Suze, realizing she’d just admitted to having an affair and fed her sister’s quest for gossip.
“Geez, Louise.” Suze put up her hands in surrender. “I didn’t mean to hit another nerve.” Yes, she did, but she wanted gossip, not argument. She threw her napkin on the table and sat back. This just wasn’t going well.
“I’m going away.” Layla said suddenly, her tone flat, matter-of-fact. She couldn’t verbally fence with her sister any more either. Any more ever. She was exhausted, both physically and mentally.
“With who…Where?” Suze didn’t understand the ‘fight or flight’ attitude of her younger sister. It was out of character. Everything was out of character lately. “What about Roger?” Suze asked. Something was wrong and she wanted an explanation. It never came.
“I have to go.” Layla rose, throwing money on the table. “I love you, Suze. Always remember, I do love you.” She said cryptically and blew Suze a long kiss, like they were kids again. Then Layla was gone.
Layla lay motionless in her bed, waiting for Nicolai to come to her, her entire body quivering with anticipation. She craved his touch, her addiction to him overpowering her. Soon. Soon he would take her completely; her final exquisite moment with him before life as she knew it ended. A brief flash of her sister’s innocent face flickered and faded before her.
A rustling at the window alerted her to his presence a second before he had her.
“Ya prishel za vami, Lyubov.” He had come for her, his breath hot on her neck and Layla knew she was about to be extinguished. He hesitated for a brief second, recognizing only the two of them in the room. Then, with sadness, he leaned in to kiss her gently, one strong hand pinning both of hers above her head as he stroked her hair softly with the other.
She savored his wanton caress, his virile body covering hers, the scent of him, hot and urgent. Layla looked into Nicolai’s eyes and fought drowning in the dark pools of his lust. She struggled to remain conscious, aware of every second. His mouth on hers threatened to suffocate her with his passion, and neither of them could stop any of it. He had reached his peak and must feed. He could no longer control himself, could not delay.
She arched her back to receive him as his frenzy manifested itself and he prepared to plunge into her one last time. The blood roared in Layla’s ears and she feared her heart would rocket from her chest.
Across the room the bedroom door banged open and there stood Roger with his suitcase in hand, his face contorting as he shot angry words into the room like bullets, randomly firing at her in his sniper’s rage.
“I told you,eight o’clock, Layla.” Roger looked disheveled and sweat beaded on his round face, soaking the bandage where he had cut himself shaving that morning. “It’s ELEVEN o’clock. Where the HELL…” Roger’s voice trailed off as he surveyed the scene before him, shock silencing his tirade.
Nicolai was on him before Roger could formulate another thought.
As the life drained from Roger, Layla became intensely aware that Roger had finally, inadvertently, fulfilled her every need. Silently, she thanked him.