It was very early on a cold January morning, a day for burrowing deeper into down quilts, and that seemed to be what everyone in Greenwich Village was doing. The narrow streets were silent and deserted, except for the dog walkers and joggers.
In her brownstone apartment five stories above a tiny, winterkilled garden, Kathryn Russell was debating whether or not to do some burrowing of her own. Her single, dark braid was dangling over her shoulder, as she scrunched herself up on her elbows, yawned, blinked the sleep from her eyes, and looked at the face of the old-fashioned alarm clock on her night table.
Kathryn groaned, fell back onto the pillows, and flung her arm across her eyes.
6:05. Fifteen minutes until the alarm went off, but what good were fifteen minutes when she felt as if she hadn’t slept a wink?
What a night! First she’d been wide-eyed, trying desperately to fall asleep but stopped every time by the realization that she’d finally agreed to marry Jason. Not that she wasn’t happy about it. Jason was perfect for her, she’d known that for weeks.
It was just that she’d surprised herself with that sudden yes almost as much as she’d surprised him.
Then, after she’d finally managed to drift off to sleep there’d been those dreams about her father and how things had been years ago, before her parents’ divorce, and then about Charon’s Crossing, the house in the middle of nowhere that he’d left her—the house that was sure to be just another infuriating reminder of the way her father had spent his life, tilting at windmills.
Sighing, Kathryn snuggled deeper into the blankets. Maybe Jason was right. Maybe she should have waited until summer, when he could take some time off and go to Charon’s Crossing with her. Maybe…
No. There was no point in waiting. The time to sell the house was now, during the height of tourist season. It was just that her father’s attorney insisted it needed repairs before it could go on the market.
“If you wish, I can authorize them for you,” Amos Carter had said, his accent crisp and very properly British.
Kathryn didn’t doubt the man’s honesty but only a fool would agree to an unnamed expenditure of funds without seeing first-hand what needed to be done. She wasn’t about to drop dollar after dollar into a bottomless well.
She yawned again and her eyelids drooped. I might as well get up, she thought, very clearly.
And then her lashes fluttered to her cheeks and she tumbled into darkness.
* * *
She is standing on a verdant green plateau, overlooking a crescent of white sand. Beyond, a huge sun floats on the breast of a sapphire sea. There are rocks below. She cannot see them, but she can hear the beat of the surf as it hurls itself against the shore.
The scene shifts, kaleidoscoping around her with dizzying swiftness. The sun has finished bleeding into the sea. It is late and very dark; the only illumination is from a sickle moon that rides high overhead. Kathryn is standing before an arched white trellis. It is overgrown with roses: she cannot see them, in the darkness, but their perfume surrounds her. Ahead, she sees a delicately curved wrought-iron gate. It is closed but she knows instinctively that it leads deeper into the garden. She is barefoot, and the grass is soft and damp to her toes.
She turns in a tight circle and tries to see beyond the narrow perimeter of pale moonlight that surrounds her, but she can’t. She feels uneasy, as if she is not alone, as if there is someone else here, someone standing just off in the darkness…
The voice is a whisper, deeper than the night that surrounds her, yet it seems to resonate through her body. She whirls around, her hand to her breast. The wrought-iron gate has opened and a man is coming slowly towards her. She cannot see his face—the moon has fled behind a lacy froth of cloud—but his presence is imposing.
He is tall and broad-shouldered. His hips are narrow, his legs long and muscular. His stride is slow, almost lazy, yet there is something of the predator in it.
Her heart trips crazily, then begins beating wildly in her breast.
She wills herself to take deep, calming breaths.
I am dreaming, Kathryn thinks very clearly. I am not here at all, I am at home, safe in my bed.
“Kat,” he says again.
She steps back quickly but there’s something behind her. A bench. Her legs feel boneless. Wake up, Kathryn tells herself fiercely, come on, come on, wake up!
He is standing inches from her now. He reaches out, touches his hand lightly to her cheek, sliding his fingers along her skin, and she flinches back.
“Who are you?” she says sharply.
He smiles; she can see the flash of his teeth in the darkness. “No games, Kat,” he murmurs. “Not after we’ve found each other again.”
His hand slides along her throat. His fingers curl around the nape of her neck, his thumb settles against her racing pulsebeat. He exerts the lightest of pressure, yet she has no choice but to move forward, closer to him.
“Sweet Jesus,” he says, “how I’ve missed you.”
She wants to speak, to tell him she has never seen him before, but she cannot. She is becoming entangled in the misty reaches of the dream. His hand continues its journey, slipping to her shoulder, then down the length of her arm. He catches hold of her wrist, lifts her hand, brings her fingers to his mouth.
“I’ve been waiting such a long time, Kat.”
His arms encircle her and he gathers her close. Kathryn catches her breath at the feel of him against her. He is all heat and hard muscle, and a wild excitement begins to course through her blood.
This is crazy. Crazy! The part of her mind that is dancing on the knife edge of reality, the part that knows she is dreaming, races furiously in an attempt to regain control. She must open her eyes and wake up!
But when he clasps her face between his palms and sweeps his thumbs across her cheekbones, she trembles.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispers.
His hands are in her hair, undoing the neat braid that hangs down her back, letting the dark strands cascade to her shoulders like ebony silk. He catches the hair in one hand, wraps it around his fist so that she has no choice but to tilt her head back, exposing the long line of her throat to him.
He bends to her, feathers kisses along her temple, along her jaw.
“Kat,” he groans, and finally—finally—his mouth slants down over hers.
Heat, swift and dangerous as summer lightning, arcs through her blood.
His hands go to the row of tiny buttons that adorn her nightgown from throat to breast. Kathryn reaches up to stop him; her hands clasp his wrists but his fingers are swift and nimble and, in truth, she doesn’t want to stop him, not really. She wants this to happen, wants the buttons to fall open, exposing her flesh to the warm night air.
And to his mouth.
Oh, his mouth! He kisses his way the length of her throat and she burns everywhere he touches. When, at last, he presses his lips to the high, curved slope of one breast, she cries out.
“Yes,” he growls, “yes,” and with a soft moan, she loops her arms about his neck and lifts herself to him, rising on tiptoe, pressing her body to his.
She is on fire for him, she wants him with a passion that obliterates everything else. She moans and digs her fingers into the thick, silky hair that covers the nape of his neck. She brings his mouth down to hers. The kiss is deep, passionate, and when it ends, he makes a sound of his own, one that is part male triumph, part elemental desire.
“Tell me that you never stopped thinking of me,” he says in a fierce whisper. He lifts her into his arms. “Tell me that you want me now, deep and hard inside you.”
She is beyond speech, beyond everything but sensation. The answer he seeks is in the way she clings to him, in the way she moves against him. He bends her back over his arm, kissing her again and again, his tongue thrusting into her mouth, and she feels the flooding warmth of her desire building between her thighs.
Is she dreaming, or is what is happening real? A whisper of fear dances along her skin.
“No,” she says, but it’s too late. His mouth is on hers, he is drawing her down, down into the softness of the grass, into darkness and desire to the sound of thunder, rumbling far out over the sea…