» In 2005, I was invited to contribute a short story for a project to aid the victims of the tsumani tragedy in Asia and later the Katrina victims. A full 100% percent of my earnings for Bewitched, Bothered, and Bevampyred went to the Red Cross, and continue to do so. Bewitched, Bothered, and Bevampyred was released in paper and electronic format in early March, with each chapter penned by a different bestselling author in an episode format resembling a television series. Four of us authors loved our characters so much that we thought they deserved longer stories, so we got together and created an anthology: Mysteria. Talk about an instance of something good coming out of something good!
PRISM Award Nominee
Siren Books Bestseller
Wow. Eyes wide, Harmony stood there, staring, rooted to the ground, as if her foot were locked in cement. She asked God to send her a sign. But she'd never expected anything like this! The best naked man she'd ever seen, she decided with no small amount of half-crazed, hormone-driven, lust-fueled objectivity. And she'd seen her share of naked men.
Hmm. That didn't sound right. But it was true, naked men in her life had been a buck a dozen. Only she just hadn't slept with them. Her one affair, in college, was a pleasant but distant memory, and since then she'd spied naked men, fairly frequently, glimpses here and there, in and out of locker rooms, military field hospitals, and in the desert, where there hadn't been much privacy when she'd served as a pastor in Iraq....
Focus, Harmony. There is an unclothed hunk-a-love lying in your flower bed.
Right. And what in the name of heaven was he doing there? Men didn't just fall out of the sky. Ask and ye shall receive .
“Harmony,” she warned herself.
She dropped to her knees, her fingers going to the unconscious man's corded neck to feel for a pulse. His skin was tanned, perfectly smooth. Midnight black hair curled long and loose around his neck. Taking a closer look, she saw he appeared flushed, as if he were sunburned or had stood too close to a fire. More likely, he'd collapsed after a night of carousing. He was going to be pretty embarrassed once he realized he'd left wherever he'd been hanging out without his clothes.
Bubba growled, low and deep. “Shush, boy,” Harmony soothed. “It's okay. I know martial arts, and you have sharp teeth. If he turns out to be the town serial-killer-rapist, we'll team up and put him away. Until then, Bubba, you behave.”
Harmony pressed her fingers to the man's neck. There...she felt a heartbeat...slow, distant, almost forlorn. It was if he'd grown tired of living.
She sat up straight. Gosh, that was a weird thought. Tired of living? Where did that come from? If anyone was a mind-reader, it was her Great-grandmother Eudora. Great-grandma was said to be a “seer.” But as a child growing up in the Faithfull clan, the mere mention of Eudora's psychic talents would have earned Harmony the threat of a mouth washed out with soap, if not the real thing. Yet, as Harmony studied the stranger's face, the resignation there, the weariness, she could almost believe it were true that he was ready to surrender.
Well, she'd fix that. No one was giving up the goat on her watch, especially not dressed in his birthday suit and crushing her best zinnias!
“Hello? Sir? Are you okay?” Bubba's brown eyes were wary and huge as Harmony tapped the man on the shoulder. “Come on, up and at ‘em. You can't sleep here all day. People will talk.”
Not even an eyelash twitched. She took hold of his solid shoulder and shoved. “Okay, Sleeping Beauty, time to rise and shine. I'll even brew you a pot of coffee to help things along. I make a mean pot of java, too.”
No response, not even a snore. He was dead to the world. As a last resort, she switched to her air-force-officer voice. “Wake up, soldier! Now . Move, move, move!”
The man cracked open one eye, and then the other. At first she thought she saw a red glow, but it seemed to be a trick of the sun, because his eyes were beautiful, reminding her of the mellow gold of good scotch, the kind her father would reverently pour out in a glass once each week, late on Sunday night. “Now that God's work is done, Harmony,” he used to tell her.
“Hells Bells.” Sleeping beauty frowned, squinting as if the bright sunshine hurt his eyes.
“It lives,” she teased.
He peered at the Garden of Eden garden sign, his parched lips forming whispered words. “I'm dead.”
“You're not dead. Not even close.”
“Thanks for the compliment, but no. I'm a flesh-and-blood woman.”
His head fell back to the dirt with a soft thud. “Dragon offal...goblin scum, he is.” His accent was strong, a cross between a Scots burr and a bad Captain Hook parody. “The bastard did it, he really did, and now I'm here. Aye, and mortal, too. Mortal in Mysteria.”
“Is that kind of like sleepless in Seattle?”
Groaning at her joke, he flung his arms wide and rolled onto his back.
Glory be. Her mouth went dry as she looked him over. For injuries, yes, that was it. Before she administered emergency caffeine, she'd better make darn sure he wasn't wounded.
She gave him a thorough inspection. After all, it was her citizen's responsibility. Her pastor's duty.
He was built...incredibly, amazingly, enormously , and that's all she'd let herself think on that subject, dragging her eyes away from where she shouldn't have been looking in the first place. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him. Or a single scar. He was as sculpted as a statue of a Roman warrior, except with body hair, the perfect amount, too, short and coarse and dark.
Something drew her eyes back to his face, where she discovered he was watching her with something close to amusement. “You seem, uh, to be all in one piece,” she said quickly explained.
He flashed a blinding grin. “You like what you see, then.”
She stopped her blush before the heat of it could reach her cheeks. She'd grown up with four brothers, two older, two younger. Like heck if she'd let the fact that a man was sprawled naked in her garden in all his admittedly very magnificent glory distract her.
“As a matter of fact, I don't like what I see.” Was that the hurt of a wounded ego that flashed in his eyes? Certainly it was surprise. “I don't care for the sight of a man, face-down drunk in my flowers on a Sunday morning--butt naked. But considering that I just got done praying for a sign, I suppose I shouldn't complain, because I didn't spell out the specifications!”
She tugged off the butter-yellow sweater she'd been wearing over a matching shell and thrust it at him. “Here, put this on.”
Sinew and muscle corded his arm from wrist to shoulder as he peered curiously at the sweater dangling from his fingers. It looked tiny grasped in his hand. Clearly, he didn't know what do to with the thing.
She waved her hand. “Cover up.” Your huge wing-dinger, she almost shouted. “For modesty sake.” Although modesty was way more her issue than his, it seemed.
He pushed upright, clods of dry dirt sprinkling down as he sat up. Tight, defined stomach muscles brought new meaning to six-pack abs. She almost sobbed with relief when he spread the sweater over his private parts.
“I am not drunk,” he argued.
True, his eyes were clear, not bloodshot, as he swept his gaze around the garden, lawn, and the church. And he was in top physical form, too, gifted with the well-hewn body of a NFL running back--powerfully muscled, without a linebacker's bulk. Carving a body like that took time. Alcoholism didn't lend itself to keeping regular workouts.
“What happened to you?” She folded her arms over her chest. “It usually doesn't rain naked men. At least not in the six months since I've lived here. Unless it's a seasonal thing.”
His lips twitched, his gold-brown eyes sparkling, as he sized her up in an approving way. “If it is seasonal, lass, then we had better take shelter.”
“Clothes first. Where'd you leave them?” she asked as calmly as she could as he didn't seem to care that he wore none.
He glanced around. “They took everything. Left me with nothing.”
“You were robbed?”
“Aye, you could say that.” His expression grew bleak all over again. “Robbed and abandoned.”
“Oh, no. I don't like hearing that. Everyone's no nice around here, law-abiding folks. I can't see anyone doing something like this. It makes me sick to find out it may be otherwise.”
“Nay, lass. They were not from here. They were from...the south. Aye, that's it.”
“Oh, you mean Colorado Springs?”
He shook his head.
“Nay. Far, far to the south. Farther south than you have ever been, lass.”
Mexico, she thought, nodding. “That's okay. We'll get them. Just because they skipped out over the border doesn't mean they're home free. You can use my phone to call Jeanie--Jeanie Tortellini,” she added at his blank look. “She's our town sheriff. And a good one, too. She'll file a report.”
He frowned. “Nay. No reports. Will do no good.”
“If you don't let her know, the thugs who did this to you will do it to someone else next time they cross the border.”
Tiredly but firmly, he said no. “‘Tis over. ‘Tis done.”
“Wow,” she said in a quiet voice. “Just wow.”
He glanced at her strangely. “Wow?”
“You were robbed, beaten, stripped, and unceremoniously dumped in a pastor's flower bed. You have every right to be angry.”
“I am angry.”
“Yet, you haven't uttered one grumble of vengeance or head bashing.”
“‘Tis, no use, truly, to wish for such things.” He seemed to be ready to say more but stopped himself. “None of it would do any good. ‘Tis done.”
“That's exactly what I mean by wow. It's not easy to forgive and forget. A true man of mercy; that's what you are.”
A look of pain crossed his face. “Aye, and it ‘twas my downfall, too,” he muttered.
“Mercy is never wrong! Never. In fact showing mercy is good for you. And not only for your body--” She threw her hand over her heart. “Forgiving is good for your soul.”
He choked as alarm lit up his face. “Can you tell if a man has one? A soul.” All once cynical and wistful, his expression revealed nothing of the reason behind the odd question.
She explained gently, as if to a child. Perhaps, spiritually, he was still very young. “Some people have rotten souls, and some have beautiful, generous souls, but no matter what, they have one. You, me. No exceptions to that rule. Everyone has a soul.”
He made a skeptical sound, but the longing in his face was clear as he rubbed his cleft chin. “How do you know so much about souls?”
“It's my job. See that church? I'm the pastor.” As much as she loved her chosen calling in life, she deflated a little. Once men found out she was a pastor, they stopped thinking of her as a woman. From then on, they wanted only three things: absolution, friendship, or free counseling.
“A woman of God,” he said with dawning surprise. “You are a nun.”
A laugh burst out of her. “It seems like that sometimes, but no, I'm not a nun. I can marry, have a family, just like anyone else.” I can have hot, feverish sexual fantasies about well-built naked men. I can feel so horny I can't see straight. I sometimes think of “celibacy” as a four-letter word .
She thrust out her hand. “I guess I should introduce myself since you obviously don't know who I am. I'm Harmony--Harmony Faithfull.” He grasped the tips of her fingers with a cool, dry hand. There was gentleness cloaked in that strength, softness that he seemed to want to hide, but that she recognized anyway, putting her at ease when common sense told her she should be feeling the opposite. Just like when you sensed he'd grown tired of living. “And you are?” Ironic how she could know what every pore on his body looked like but not his name. “You have one right?” she teased when he didn't immediately answer.
His dark brows drew together in concentration. She was about to suggest he see a doctor for shock or a possible concussion when he blurted out sheepishly, “I am called demon.”
“Oh. That's a favorite of mine. My nephew's name is Damon, too.”
“Demon-- Damon .” He looked up, brightening. “Yes, I am Damon.”
She smiled encouragingly. “Damon...what?”
Again he concentrated.
“I am Damon,” he announced. “Damon of Mysteria.”
“Damon of Mysteria. It doesn't sound familiar. Or maybe I just don't recognize you without your clothes.”
A devilish glint sparked in his eyes, sending shivers from her neck downward, flipping the “on” switch attached to all the neglected places in between as the sensation plunged to her toes. “Well, lass,” he said, winking. “I dinna think you can say that any longer.”