“There’s nothing more sensual than a pile of fall leaves and the
crisp bite of autumn in the air.” Sparkle Stardust drew in a deep breath
of October with its many erotic possibilities. “Fall is a sexy season.”
She climbed the wooden steps, paused beneath the porch light of the old Victorian
inn, and turned to gaze at night shadows enveloping the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
“Phtt! Hiss!” The chubby gray cat she clutched to her chest expressed
“Hmm?” She glanced down at him. “You spoke, sweetie?”
“Every season is sexy to you. And there’s nothing sensual
about a pile of leaves or New Jersey. Now put me down.” He wiggled
in a vain attempt to leap from her arms. “And I’m a verbal being.
I have to be able to talk out loud. I hate this mental communication crap.”
She stroked his head. A warm fuzzy moment. He was an entity with unspeakable powers,
and yet he chose not to claw her when even a teensy scratch would make her drop
him. Of course, if she were cynical, she might conclude that he just didn’t
want to be dropped. Mede was still working on the cats-always-land-on-their-feet
thing. “Wrong. New Jersey is an erotic playground. I remember a time in
Wildwood on the roller coaster?”
“Sweetie” stared at her in horror. “You did it on a
roller coaster? You’re kidding, right?”
“You have no imagination, Mede. Haven’t you ever rolled around naked
in a pile of leaves with a woman who was hot for you, and then had crazy sex as
the leaves crunched and crackled under your sweat-slicked bodies?” Sparkle
considered what she’d said. “In your human form, of course.”
She slid the tip of her tongue across her bottom lip as a particularly delicious
memory touched her. “Preferably your golden-god human form.”
“No. Rolling around naked in a pile of prickly and scratchy dead
leaves isn’t a turn-on. Now put me down. I need to be free and verbal.” He wiggled some more.
“Can’t do, sweetie. The cat form is for heavy-duty snooping. It won’t
work if you don’t stay in character. And I have to make sure no one hears
me talking to you out loud.” It was beneath her, but she felt gleeful triumph
in adding, “You wouldn’t let me talk when I was the cat.” She
tried to look righteous.
“Put. Me. Down.” He glared up at her from angry amber
“Uh-uh.” Sparkle smiled at him. Male anger was so...arousing. She
didn’t think that was the effect he was aiming for, however. “This
is an inn, Mede. No cats running loose. It’s either this or the carrier.”
He narrowed his eyes to dangerous amber slits. “Try to put me in
a carrier and New Jersey will be nothing more than a dust cloud blowing across
Sparkle decided that maybe she’d pushed him as far as she should. “Okay,
no carrier. So here’s the deal. We go into the Woo Woo Inn, and I tell them
I’m a witch and you’re my familiar.” She could hear the sound
of a car drawing closer.
“No.” He watched with her as the car’s headlights
appeared around the last bend in the inn’s winding tree-lined driveway. “You tell them exactly what we are. We’re cosmic troublemakers and
proud of it.”
Sparkle sighed. Mede could be so pigheaded. “No one will believe me. Witches
are part of the culture. No one’s ever heard of cosmic troublemakers.”
“Your point is?” He looked exasperated. “This
is the Woo Woo Inn. Everyone here expects the weird and wacky. No one will care
what we call ourselves.” He glanced up at Sparkle, and for the first
time she saw humor in his cat eyes. “And I’m not pigheaded.”
Sparkle couldn’t help it, she smiled back. Mede could always do that to
her, make her forget all the irritating little things he did. Of course, he could
also do a lot of incredibly sensual things when he was in human form. And for
Sparkle, sexy would always cancel out irritating.
Mede returned his attention to the driveway. “That’s Thrain
parking his car. We need to make up fake names.”
“Fake names?” She frowned. Sparkle Stardust was who she was, and she
couldn’t conceive of another name having such panache. “It’s
been over two hundred years. Thrain won’t remember our names.”
“Hello? I’m Ganymede and you’re Sparkle Stardust. Trust
me, he’ll remember. We need dull ordinary names.” He narrowed
his amber eyes, obviously having as much trouble as she was with the word “ordinary.” “Just call me Trojan while we’re here.”
“Trojan? That’s a condom brand.” She bit her lip to keep from
laughing. Mede hated anyone laughing at him.
He twitched his whiskers in irritation. “It’s a tough-guy
name, and you’d think of sex no matter what name I picked.”
“I think I’ll be Prada.” Her absolute fave shoes.
“Prada? I never heard of anyone named Prada. Doesn’t sound
like an ordinary name to me.” Now his whiskers and ears were twitching.
What a grouch. “Okay. Prada Smith. Is that ordinary enough
for you?” She considered the situation for a moment. “And I’d
suggest we completely immerse ourselves in our aliases, even when we’re
thinking. Thrain has enough power to slip past our thought barriers if we’re
Sparkle studied the man climbing from his car. “Even with our name changes,
do you think he’ll figure out who we are?”
“No way. The last time we met, you were a cat and I was in human
form. Besides, that was back in 1785. It’s 2005 now.”
Sparkle smiled. “You looked like Paul Bunyon.”
He offered her an annoyed hiss. “I looked like a powerful Scottish
laird, and I don’t have a clue why I invited you along on this job.”
“You invited me along because I bribed you, oh greedy one.” She tried
on a sweet smile. Okay, so sweet smiles weren’t her thing. “I offered
you a month of uninhibited sexual excess on an exotic island. Of course, you’ll
have to show up all buff and blond. Remember the last time we did this? What a
yummy memory.” She shivered to indicate how delicious it had been.
He chose not to comment on her yummy memory. “Why’d you decide
to come along this time?”
Sparkle kept her attention on the man who had now pulled his travel bag from the
trunk of his car. “For the same reason you’re probably here. If this
Cindy Harper is the person we think she is, I want to make sure Thrain does the
wrong thing by her. Wrong as in sexually tempting and wicked.” She glanced
down at Mede and smiled. “Of course, all work and no play makes Sparkle
a dull troublemaker, so I intend to create all kinds of erotic excitement in Ye
Olde Woo Woo Inn.”
Small travel bag in hand, the man strode toward them. Such a small bag for such
a big man. Big. A word to conjure with. She loved the word “big.”
He climbed the porch steps then paused in front of them. Sparkle had to look up
a long way to meet his narrow-eyed gaze. She’d only seen two men with eyes
that I’m-hot shade of blue. One of them was the man facing her, and the
other was Darach Mackenzie. Of course, Thrain wouldn’t remember meeting
“Hi, I’m Thrain Davis. Do I know you?”
“Definitely not.” Surprised, Sparkle felt him probing her mind. Her
shield was in place so he’d find nothing, but the fact that he felt the
need to probe was a red flag. She couldn’t forget he was an immortal like
them and had survived by always being careful. “I’d certainly remember
if I had.” She offered him her sexiest smile, the one known to reduce grown
men to whimpering lumps of throbbing testosterone. “I’m Prada Smith,”
She glanced down at Mede. “And this is Trojan.”
Thrain smiled back at her, and Sparkle blinked. He hadn’t been at his best
the last time she’d seen him, so she hadn’t realized the full extent
of his sensual pull. Talk about a high-amp vamp. Vampires were sexual creatures
by nature, but this one would take any woman’s lust level to a new high.
“Great meeting you.” He nodded at her then pushed open the inn’s
door and went inside.
“Wow. What an erotic powerhouse. Did you feel it? Did you?” She glanced
down at a glowering Mede.
“No.” He glared at her.
“You’re jealous.” She smiled at him. “You have to know
that no being is sexier than you are, sweetie. But Thrain is still special.”
“Sweetie” looked a little mollified.
“I’m going to have soooo much fun here. Messing with the sexual lives
of humans always gives me a buzz.” She thought for a moment. “Of course,
with so much talent, it would be a shame for me to limit myself to humans. I’m
open to manipulating the sex lives of nonhuman entities as well.”
Mede made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a groan. “Did you
pack lots of the pink stuff? I feel a tummyache coming on.”
Cindy Harper had werewolf burnout. Six had checked in this week, and once
a werewolf sat on your furniture it took days to get the hair out. Why did it
always have to be werewolves? Why not wereducks, or werebunnies?
She stood near the front door, smile already in place and electronic organizer
in hand, waiting for the last few guests to check in. She knew the organizer sort
of jarred with the old-fashioned feel of the inn, but she couldn’t help
it. She was addicted to technology. Electronic gadgets were now, and her motto
was: Always look forward, never look back. Looking back was useless. She hadn’t
found the answers she needed there.
Cindy couldn’t wait to meet people who checked in after sunset. Guests who
arrived at nightfall were usually the most interesting. They understood the game.
Her inn only awoke when night mist crept from the surrounding forest and twined
around the old inn like ghostly fingers. Travel guides always gave the Woo Woo
Inn five stars for atmosphere.
“Uh, Cindy, could you tell me how to get to that cemetery you mentioned
in your brochure? It’s dark now, so I figure the spirits will be up and
running soon.” Her guest from the Dracula room offered Cindy a toothy grin
showcasing his long pointy canines.
Running away, if the spirits had any sense. Cindy always wondered what dentists
thought when patients walked in and said, “I wanna be a vampire, Doc.”
She smiled at the mental picture. “No problem, Latrienne.” Also known
as Jim Kehoe on his American Express card. “Just take the path into the
woods behind the inn. It’s about a five-minute walk, and don’t forget
He frowned. “Won’t the light scare away the spirits?”
She shrugged. “It’s an old graveyard so I’m pretty sure the
spirits are down with flashlights. Besides, lots of murderers, bank robbers, and
worse are buried there. No wimps in that bunch.”
“Worse? Oh.” He swallowed hard. “I think I’ll take my
girlfriend along. She won’t want to miss this.” He scurried up the
staircase, his black cape flapping as he went.
Cape? She needed to take him aside for some advice on the latest styles in vampire
Cindy shook her head in wonder. Didn’t these people know that none of this
was real? Obviously not, because her inn was always full. With enough capital
to indulge her sense of humor, she’d bought and renovated the old place,
then dedicated it to all those who were fascinated by the strange and unexplained
or who thought they were the strange and unexplained.
She’d named it the Woo Woo Inn in a moment of wild whimsy then stepped back
to see what happened. What happened was that she had a spectacular success on
During her six months in business it had been pretty easy to separate her guests
into two categories?the delusional or the curious. A select few were genetic scientists
she’d specifically invited to visit the inn in the hope that...
Her thoughts scattered as one of the final guests she’d been expecting walked
The impact of the man striding toward her made Cindy suck in her breath. She dealt
with the weird, wacky, and wonderful on a daily basis, so she felt she was pretty
much immune to anyone or anything that walked through the Woo Woo Inn’s
doors. But this man... It was as though every woman’s darkest fantasy of
the ultimate alpha male had suddenly materialized in her hallway.
She didn’t need to burn any brain cells analyzing him. This was a man to
be enjoyed on a strictly primitive level. Cindy let her basic instincts do their
First impressions-- Tall. Broad-shouldered. Long leather coat?unbuttoned.
Jeans?buttoned. Damn. White shirt?mostly buttoned. Double damn. Of course, her basic instincts never spoke in complete sentences, so once her
gaze wandered above his neck she had to move up a step in the evolutionary process
to do justice to him.
Describing any other man, she’d simply say he had blond hair, but on this
man blond didn’t say it at all. Blond evoked images of all things soft and
golden. No one in their right mind would describe him as soft or golden. The wind
had whipped his hair into a long tangled glory lying across those incredible shoulders.
Each strand was the sun rising over the icy North Sea, the swish of a longboat’s
prow cutting through the gray waves, the battle cries of sea-borne invaders. It
was...Viking. He was a dark warrior no matter the color of his hair.
Dark warrior? Whoa. She was skating on the thin ice of purple prose
when she usually just laid everything out in the fewest possible words. He had
a great bod and sexy hair. That’s all there was to it.
“You must be Cindy Harper.” He stopped in front of her and offered
his hand. “Thrain Davis.”
His voice matched the rest of him, all husky and filled with dangerous erotic
traps for unwary women. And she definitely detected a touch of Scotland there,
not so much in his choice of words, but in the cadence of them. Cindy shifted
her Viking imagery to purple hills, shadowed glens, and sexy Highlanders.
“Hi.” She automatically took the hand he offered, but still kept her
unblinking gaze on his face.
His eyes were a strangely brilliant shade of blue. Blue was an ambiguous color.
It was a flame’s superheated center and winter’s coldest waters. She
suspected he could be both.
Uh-oh. She’d just fallen through the ice.
“Welcome to the Woo Woo Inn.” Her brain’s welcome.
“Oooh, yes! Pant, pant, pant. Woo-hoo, come and get me, you big
beautiful hottie.” The welcomes from the sluts who lived in her basement.
“Thanks.” He smiled.
Even if a portal to Hell had opened at her feet, she wouldn’t have felt
more shocked. Sure he had sensual lips and great teeth, but that’s not what
his smile was about. It was about temptation. Every woman who ever saw Thrain
Davis smile would wonder about the pleasure his mouth could give her, and from
there go on to imagine what his mouth combined with the rest of him could accomplish.
His intense blue gaze and sexy smile were an invitation that said, “Press
any of my body’s hot spots for sensational sex.” Cindy allowed her
glance to slide the length of him. Both her basic and higher-level instincts agreed
that it would be fun to explore those hot spots.
“I think you need to blink now.” His smile widened.
Cindy blinked then quickly dropped his hand. What had that been all about? She’d
learned when she was eighteen never to let a man’s physical appearance affect
her judgment, and she hadn’t been eighteen for a very long time. But she
tried to be honest with herself most of the time, and she couldn’t deny
that something about him touched all of her hot spots.
“You’re a spectacular-looking man. I’m sure women all over the
world have suffered dry eyeballs after meeting you.” She smiled back at
It was his turn to blink. He was probably used to women playing coy around him.
Well, she said what she thought. Within reason. She didn’t think she’d
share her hot spot fantasy with him.
“Spectacular-looking? I don’t think so.” He frowned then raked
his fingers through his hair. “At least, I hope not. I want to blend in
with your other guests.” He actually looked worried. “It’s the
hair, isn’t it?”
Cindy thought about some of her other guests. No, he definitely wouldn’t
blend in. “It’s the whole package.” His response sort of surprised
her. Most men she’d known loved to have their egos stroked. “You mustn’t
look in a mirror often.”
A smile tugged at the corners of his expressive mouth, and she had the feeling
he was laughing at a private joke. “No, I don’t. But you’re
wrong, Cindy. What you see now is the ordinary me. I save ‘spectacular’
for dark moonless nights.”
Cindy felt a stab of disappointment. He must be just like most of her other guests
who liked to play at being something they weren’t. She glanced at her organizer.
For some reason, Hal hadn’t entered any info next to Thrain’s name.
An oversight. “So are you a vampire, werewolf, demon...?” She waited,
ready to put in the details.
His soft chuckle mocked her. “None of the above. I’m only here to
observe. Paranormal events fascinate me.”
Cindy glanced up to meet his suddenly intent stare. Sheesh. She was back to the
unable-to-blink thing. And she felt...different. She couldn’t put her finger
on it, but it was like something alien had touched her mind. Whatever it was slipped
away before she could think about it. Probably just the beginning of a headache.
She hadn’t slept well today, and lack of sleep always gave her a headache.
“You don’t believe any of this, do you?” Thrain swept his arm
wide to encompass all that she didn’t believe. “Why do you run this
place if you don’t believe in any of the paranormal stuff?” For some
reason, he seemed really bent out of shape by his insight.
How had he known? She’d never talked about her personal beliefs with anyone.
Cindy shrugged away what she couldn’t explain. “I don’t know
what makes you think that, but I guess the truth is that I’m an observer
like you. I’m open-minded, but I need proof before I believe anything.”
And proof was the one thing that no one had ever offered.
But someday, someone might walk through the inn’s door with all the answers
to her questions, and she wanted to be here when it happened. “I opened
the inn because I wanted to invest my money in a business, and this seemed like
it would be fun.” Not the only reason. Definitely not the only reason.
He latched on to just one part of her answer. “I think we’re entirely
different kinds of observers.”
She sensed disappointment before he seemed to close off his emotions. His expression
gave away nothing. Since she couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say,
Cindy simply shrugged.
“Are you really open-minded? Would you accept proof if it were standing
in front of you?” He sounded sincerely interested in her answer, but his
eyes remained neutral.
Now he was creeping her out. “Sure.” Maybe. She shifted her attention
to her organizer and carefully entered him as an interested observer. “I’ll
have someone carry your?”
“I can carry my own bag.”
Cindy looked up from her clipboard at his terse comment. Yep, she’d somehow
managed to annoy him. Not a good beginning to his stay. She smiled in the hope
it would improve his mood. “Your choice. I’ll have someone show you
“I can find my own room.” He held out his hand for the key.
Now he was making her mad. She barely stopped herself from slapping the key into
his palm. “Fine. You’re in the Incubus room. Second floor, turn right.
Breakfast will be in a half-hour, and then you have a choice of activities. The
brochure in your room will give you the details.” She forced some warmth
into her voice. No matter how strange her guests acted, they were still paying
for an enjoyable experience, and she’d play the happy hostess even if it
Cindy tried to look past him, but he stayed planted in front of her, his body
blocking her view of the front door. Impatient, she looked up at him. “What?”
A sudden smile softened his mouth and actually reached his eyes. “You deserve
some good memories. I do great memories.”
Memories? What did memories have to do with anything? He left her staring after
him as he strode past her then climbed the stairs. Mmm. He looked just as wow
going as he did coming. She smiled. What a totally sexual animal. Within that
context, she understood the great memories thing perfectly.
Only when he was out of sight did she return her attention to the front door.
What had just happened? Because something had definitely happened.
Okay, she wouldn’t think about it now. At least there was one thing she
knew for sure. No way could the last guest top that.