Ghost Stories #5: “Breathless” in the BREATHLESS Anthology
Release Date: November 24, 2009
Format: Trade Paperback
“Let go. Let go for me…” It was a house of sizzling seduction with satisfaction guaranteed. Now the notorious bordello Perdition House bares all its secrets—and ignites your wildest fantasies…
Blue McCann longs to feel desired…needed…wanted. Now, thanks to a mysterious corset, she’s a lush-bodied beauty back in 1913. And she’s going to reward the caring, oh-so-capable hands of Dr. Colt Stephens with all the pleasure he can take…
Tawny James has legs—and secrets—that won’t quit. And since she likes her men big and bad, private investigator Stack Hamilton is uncovering all her luscious desires…
And when Mariel Gibson needs artistic inspiration, she calls hard-bodied carpenter Danny Glenn to work his masterpiece—over and over again. Because you can never, ever reveal too much…
The excerpt contains adult content. By reading any further, you are stating that you are at least 18 years of age.
Blue McCann traced the lines of the corset through the glass of the store window. Ivory satin and lace, the exquisite vintage piece looked way out of her league. She admired the delicacy of the hand stitching, as perfectly even and precise today as it had been a hundred years ago. Timeless, the handcrafted corset pulled her toward the window every time she passed by.
Timelessness was alluring to people whose time was up. Today, she’d gone out of her way to stop by just to look. Silly, to dream of having a piece of clothing like this one. Still, the corset pulled at her, made her dream of wearing it. She smiled through her next cough. That’s why she came here, in spite of the rain, the unrelenting coughing and pain, the corset reminded her she was a woman: a sexual being. If she wore something like this corset she could be desired, wanted, maybe even loved.
Loved? She must be delusional. A cough racked her chest and she turned away, into the wind. Rain lashed her face so she turned back, chilled more than ever. She had to get home before the wind pushed the rain through her clothes.
The cough went so deep she bent over, hating the hollow feeling in her chest. She leaned on the glass for a moment to catch the little breath she could. Love, the idea was ridiculous, coming from a woman whose very name came from the color of her skin when she was found in a dumpster. The cop told the Head Nurse the newborn girl he’d found had been so blue he thought she was a painted doll at first.
On another gust of biting wind and rain, the shop door opened and a woman stepped out. “Can I help you? Need to use the facilities? Or maybe a phone?” She stepped around Blue and put her hand on her shoulder. Warmth radiated where the woman touched, even through her thin jacket and thinner sweater.
She’d heard of hands like this. Healing, warming. Blue had always hoped she had them.
The woman’s body shielded Blue from passers by and the nasty wind. “This corner is a raceway for wind gusts,” the woman said. Her warm hands firmly urged her toward the entrance to the store and Blue couldn’t resist the softness of the warm air that drew her into the store.
Out of the corner of her eye, the corset seemed to shimmy, but a truck went by and rattled the glass. That was all it was. The weight and rumble of the heavy truck and made the glass shiver. She couldn’t have seen the corset actually move on its own.
“Thanks,” she nodded at the woman. “I was just,” she hesitated, knowing she was silly to ask, “wondering how much that corset is? It’s beautiful.” The heat from the woman’s hands infused her back, made her feel stronger. She straightened, squared her shoulders.
“Come inside out of the rain and I’ll take a look. I can’t remember the price. But with your coloring, it will look fabulous on you.” The husky, amused tone made it seem like a done deal, but Blue was broker than broke and living on nothing but dreams and whimsy. And not for long, either.
As Blue stepped to the door, she tried to see the price tag but a draft twirled the tag like a leaf in Autumn. “Whenever I stop here to check the price, the tag’s facing the wrong way.” She coughed again and the woman helped her to a stool by the cash desk. The woman’s healing hands fell away and Blue sank onto the stool, appalled at how weak she felt.
“I don’t want to cause you any grief with your boss,” she said when she could. She knew how she looked. This kind of store didn’t entertain her kind of customer. The broke kind and now that—.
“My name’s Faye Grantham,” the woman’s voice cut off Blue’s thought, “and I am the boss. Welcome to TimeStop.”
Blue raised her gaze to see a vision of white and gold loveliness. “Pleased to meet you,” she said.
Faye was a 50s movie siren, all blonde curves and a come-hither look that seemed completely natural. “Wow!” Blue breathed. “You’re a knockout.”
“Thanks, I like the look, although sometimes I go for sixties mod rather than blonde bombshell.” She did a twirl and her skirt kicked up, showing a glimpse of crinoline. “TimeStop specializes in vintage Hollywood wardrobe castoffs, but the corset you admired came from the attic in my home, Perdition House.”
“Perdition House,” Blue repeated, trying to place the name. She came up empty.
Faye tilted her head, let her gaze slide down Blue’s body. “Would you care to try it on?” She waved a hand toward the back where Blue saw a couple of dressing rooms. “I think it will fit. And I’m sure the man in your life would love to see you in it.”
As much as she loved the corset, it could never be hers. “I don’t have the money for something so beautiful.”
“I don’t believe that will be a problem. Your name’s Blue McCann?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she said through a cough. “How did you know?” She’d never been inside the store, she’d have remembered.
Faye took Blue’s hand in hers. She clasped it warmly and her eyes held a deep caring smile that Blue could fall into. “We must have met before because I recognized you right away. Care for a cup of coffee, Blue?” She walked to an old-fashioned coffee pot on a stand at the end of the counter. She tilted the pot and poured a cup without waiting for a response.
“Thanks, but I need to get home,” Blue said halfheartedly. The wind had kicked up even wilder. She’d be soaked by the time she got to her place. But when Faye offered her the cup she took it, and settled on the stool as if she had all the time in the world.
“No point rushing out into this kind of weather,” Faye said with a shiver.
Blue took a sip of coffee. Perfect. “How did you know to put in half a teaspoon of sugar and two creams?”
“You told me, of course. You’ve got someone waiting for you?” Faye asked, drawing Blue’s attention away from the delicious coffee.
“No, it’s not that. I can’t afford the corset, so I don’t see the sense—”
“We need a part-timer in the store,” Faye interrupted in an offhand way. “Maybe you’d be interested?”
“And maybe you don’t see that I’m, ah—” Another cough cut her off while she stood, ignoring the pain and weakness that rode her every movement these days. “I’m no charity case,” she said. Tomorrow, maybe, but not today.
“This isn’t charity, Blue, it’s more like a blessing,” Faye said and slipped the corset into Blue’s hands. It felt as silky and sexy as it looked. She pursed her lips, wanting badly to give herself permission to try it on.
She clutched it to her chest. “A blessing,” she repeated.
Faye smiled and her eyes glowed with warmth and caring. “I’ve got a feeling it’ll fit as if it were made for you.” Her voice sounded hypnotic and soft-toned. Mesmerizing.
She hadn’t mentioned how she liked her coffee, she was sure of it. The quiet calm of the store, the warmth of the corset in her arms and Faye’s deep smile soothed her. She needed soothing. Suddenly tired of being brave, trying to be strong, she soaked up the comfort of the store and Faye’s kindness.
“This corset has been in a trunk in Perdition for nine decades, just waiting for you. For Blue McCann.” Faye’s eyes were alight with promise and secret knowledge that gave Blue an odd comfort.
The more Blue thought about it, the more certain she was that she’d never met Faye Grantham before. She had a great memory, strong, clear, precise. She could remember the color of her kindergarten teacher’s favorite dress, the feeling of noiseless sobs when she was booted out of foster homes she liked. She remembered being locked in that sweltering car when she was three.
So, no matter what Faye said, Blue was certain she’d never set eyes on her, let alone been introduced. As for the corset? “I doubt it’ll fit, but I guess there’s no harm in trying it on.” Her voice had taken on the same soft warmth as Faye’s and Blue allowed Faye to lead her to a dressing room.
To Die For
1964 Las Vegas, Nevada
His brand new black Chevy Impala SS with the snazzy red bucket seats sat between them and the far distant road. He and Lenny were in a deep gully. Deep enough that the car would never be seen by the travelers heading for the strip.
Frank LaMotta stood while Lenny sniveled on his knees in the dirt by the left front fender. “Move away from the car.” He gestured with his pistol.
Lenny crawled like the maggot he was. When he got far enough from the Chevy Frank leveled the gun again. Right between Lenny’s bulging eyes. “I don’t wanna have to wash your blood off it. Not when we just drove it off the lot.”
Lenny’s gaze flicked to the car. “You fuckin’ bastard, you knew I’d want to see it.” Cars and women had been a reason to compete for years.
“Where are the diamonds?” The boss didn’t like the idea of his goods being heisted. Lenny should have known better.
“What diamonds?” But Lenny’s lips twitched and Frank wanted to laugh as piss ran into the dirt. Lenny always was a coward. Worse, he thought he was better than everyone else.
“You pissed yourself,” he pointed out, enjoying the moment. “If only Loretta could see you now.”
Lenny narrowed his eyes, tried to look like a man again. “You leave her out of this.”
“Tell me where the diamonds are and maybe I will.” He raised his gun hand to indicate the fullness of the broad’s tits, while his other hand held his bulging crotch. “Maybe I won’t.”
Lenny roared and made a lunge for the gun. Frank saw the move coming and smashed the pistol into the stupid bastard’s temple. Lenny sank back, dazed, onto the hard packed gully floor. “Tell me where you stashed the haul and I’ll leave her be.” He shrugged as if fucking Loretta was the last thing he wanted.
They both knew he was lying. He’d wanted that broad since he’d first seen her on stage. But she’d chosen Lenny first. Frank had been patient long enough.
A wild cunning entered Lenny’s gaze. “I won’t tell you where I stashed the diamonds, Frank.” He put his hands up to implore. “You know I won’t.”
“You’ll tell me or Loretta’s next.” After he fucked her good and hard, just to let her know what she passed up by taking Lenny into her bed.
The stupid bastard still shook his head. “Nah, you wouldn’t hurt her. Not when she told me how she feels about you.”
His cock twitched to life. “Whadda ya mean?”
“I came back for her and she told me. Damn broad! I came back for her. If I hadn’t I’d’a been in South America by now. You never would’a found me.”
“What’d she tell you?” Any red blooded male would focus on Loretta. That woman left him speechless. He almost hated her for it.
“She wouldn’t leave with me, because of you.” Lenny shook his head sadly. “Fuckin’ broad. Can’t trust ‘em. Never could.”
He and Lenny had talked once about getting out, what it would be like, but fuck it, that dream was dead as Lenny.
“We’ve known each other a lot of years,” Lenny whined. “Do me one favor.”
Frank nodded, pleased at the idea of Loretta waiting for him, wet and ready. He nodded. “For the sake of the years.”
“Loretta. The boss might figure she knows more’n she does. I never told her anything, I swear.” The knowledge of his death sat clear in his gaze. “I got the feeling the last few weeks there was someone else, so I never told her nothin’.”
Stupid bastard good as told him she’d been thinking about Frank. He stopped a moan at the thought of all that female flesh quivering for him. He could taste her now. He’d keep her name out of it. He’d keep her for himself. “When I’m banging her tonight, I’ll think of you.”
The bullet hit clean. Least he could do for a friend. Lenny slumped, life draining into the dirt, following the track of piss. They’d run together for fifteen years. But now, Frank had a new Chevy and Lenny’s woman.
Today, Seattle WA
The phone call he never expected to get came at four forty p.m. on Saturday. Tawny James. Hallelujah.
He tried like hell to keep up with what she said, but images of Tawny flashed into his mind. He saw her legs, breasts, incredible hips, all smooth and lush with those dimples just below the small of her back where her ass filled out her bikini bottom.
Which was exactly what she expected would happen. Which was why she’d quit working for him in the first place.
He pulled his head back from where it wanted to go and shoved it back into the conversation. Something she said raised every one of his protective instincts. She was in danger and he’d been doing the teenage fantasy thing about her body. He was such a shit. And she knew it. “A stalker?” he asked. “You’re sure?”
“Some creep’s just gone through my laundry at the Wash’n’Suds, Stack. What would you call it if it isn’t stalking?”
“Sick? Perverted?” Stalking, why hadn’t he thought of that? This guy was probably another ex-boss who lov— wanted to get her into bed.
“Me, too, except this is the last straw. This guy’s been in my house.”
“What? When?” And the all-important question. “Where?” He jotted her address, but he memorized it as she spoke. Each syllable stood emblazoned in his skull.
“I’ll come get you,” he said, “and bring you here. If he’s watching, he’ll see you’ve reached out for help.”
“Once he gets a load of your size, that may be enough to make him back off.” She chuckled, low and breathless in that husky way she had that made him think of her breasts, jiggling and her ass, all soft—pull it back, Stack. Now.
“I have a sense he’s some weasel of a guy that I’d never notice in my daily routine,” she explained.
“Not an ex?” Which was the way these things usually went. But the underwear angle didn’t seem right for a love affair gone wrong. Not unless the guy shredded her clothes. Most of Tawny’s clothes deserved to be shredded.
“I don’t have any exes, Stack. Just you.”
Body by Gibson
Mariel Gibson sat in her usual seat in the corner of the teacher’s lounge. She flipped to the arts and culture section of the football coach’s copy of the newspaper. An announcement caught her attention and as she leaned in closer to read it, her shoulders pulled tight and a light sweat broke out on her forehead. A competition for artists. One of the judges was Nigel Withers. Rat bastard.
She took a surreptitious glance around the lounge. No one watched her, they never did. In a sports mad high school full of jocks, mousy Mariel never attracted attention.
Without so much as a niggle of guilt, she tore the page out of the super jock’s paper and folded it neatly into quarters, then eighths. She doubted the strutting jockstrap would ever notice the arts and culture page missing. Slipping the square of paper into the front pocket of her denim jumper, she stood and headed into the ladies’ room. A splash of cool water on her neck and wrists calmed her. A competition! Dare she enter?
Nigel Withers. The idea of facing him in such a public forum made her belly roll in dread. She lowered her head to watch the faucet drip into the sink and remembered how he’d sliced her to ribbons. Cut out her heart. Stole the love of her life!
She’d suffered for three years because of him. She turned on the cold water again and shoved her wrists under the stream, in a bid to regain her sanity. If not her sanity, then at least her good sense.
But still, the chance to prove that she was better than mediocre didn’t come along every day. Mediocre. Was there an uglier word? She doubted it. A do-nothing, says nothing word that killed her artistic soul. After all, there was only so much bland to go around and she had more than her share.
It would have been better if he’d hated her work. Then she would have known she’d created some kind of emotional response. But mediocre? Arrgh!
Just to add salt to the wound, the pompous ass had leered at her breasts. “I often tell artists they have a good hand, but you, my dear, could do better with your mouth.”
He’d pinched her cheeks to make an O of her lips. Nothing hurt but her pride. She’d slapped his hand away in a reflexive motion and shoved her canvases back into her portfolio.
He wore an expression that said being serviced was his due. After all, he owned one of the city’s most prestigious art galleries. He said, calmly and cooly, that his word could make her career, bring her art the attention she hoped for. And for one brief second she wanted, really wanted to prove to her family that she could make a living with her talent.
Hearing him, wanting what he offered, she had the sickening sense that if she refused him she would never muster enough courage to show her work to anyone again. Nigel Withers hadn’t hurt her physically, but her creative spirit shriveled.
“You want me to—you hate my paintings and you want me to—” she was near breathless with shock, needing to understand.
“Hate your paintings?” He looked at his well-buffed nails. “No, you misunderstand, your canvases are too mediocre to hate. They’re beige, lifeless.” And then he dived in for the kill. “There isn’t enough talent on those canvases to cause a reaction.”
She ran out, devastated, her movements stiff and awkward.
Three years later, she still suspected he was right. She lifted her head and stared into the mirror. She’d let that rat bastard ruin the last three years of her life. But she refused to let him ruin the rest of it.
The fire of determination filled her eyes and she straightened. She would enter this competition for better or worse and would learn the truth.
Could she live with a confirmation that she would never be more, be better, than a wanna be? Yes, because at least she could move on with the other areas of her life. She could say she’d given it one more shot and done her best.
She gathered the tattered remnants of her pride and turned the dripping water faucet off tight.
She had to face Nigel Withers again, or she’d be stuck in this stasis forever. The thought was not to be borne.
Two hours later, she sat in her car inside her garage with one foot on the floor and the other still inside the car. Her car keys filled one hand and her briefcase sat on her lap. She’d been sitting here for three full minutes, frozen in excited fear.
She was too rattled to think clearly. Rattled. Exhilarated! Terrified!
A glance in the rearview mirror told her she looked a mess. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks pink, she had a fine sheen across her forehead. If she didn’t know better, she’d think she’d just been having sex. Great sex. Hot sex.
Hah! Like she even remembered the last time she’d had sex when she wasn’t alone. She let her head fall back on the headrest. Closed her eyes and allowed her mind to wander to Danny.
Danny Glenn. Her carpenter.
He would finish building the deck soon, and then he’d move onto a new job somewhere else. For six months he had been coming to her house, working on various renovations. For six months, she had been running out of batteries once a week. Nice, but not enough to keep the man off her mind.
It was one thing to try to show Nigel Withers that she was an artist with merit, it was quite another to tempt Danny into seeing her as desirable.
Maybe the two were connected. The stereotype of an artistic woman was a free spirit, flamboyant and confident. A sexual being, ready to explore her boundaries.
Mariel the mousy high school art teacher exploring her sexuality? Oh, please. The jocks at the school would have a field day with that idea.
Still, if she managed to seduce Danny, then she’d feel much more confident about this competition. She could face Nigel Withers without blinking. She’d know that even if she wasn’t the artist she hoped to be, that at least she’d discovered herself as a woman. Maybe she could become a free spirit. Maybe she could be flamboyant and paint her nails black and dye her hair green.
So, she now had two ways to seize control of her life. The first plan was to get with Danny Glenn, to gain the confidence to face the rat bastard, Nigel Withers. Her belly clenched. And if Danny didn’t take the bait? If he laughed at her awkward moves?
In her dreams, she was never awkward. What she needed to do was simple. She needed to think like Jayne. Jayne never shied away from hot sexy men or hot sexy behavior.
She closed her eyes, brought an image of Danny into her mind. The man was a perfect specimen. Sun-bleached brown hair, wide shoulders, long lean legs and forearms that made her drool.
Some men knew they were gorgeous and played it up, but other men just were. He didn’t have a clue how he effected her; he never would unless she showed him. Talk about terror, her heart palpitated to think about showing Danny her wild side when she wasn’t even sure she had one.
So, if you like your books scorching hot—run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and pick this one up. Because this one You Gotta Read!”