As I mentioned yesterday, I'm hosting a Facebook Book Launch Party for Bound By The Summer Prince next Saturday! :-) There will be games, prizes, and I'll be answering questions, so it would be awesome if you could join me! :-) The link for the party is Bound By The Summer Prince Book Launch Party!
Thank you all so much!!! :-)
Roni was in trouble and she knew it. This wasn't an unusual condition for her. As a con artist and petty thief by profession, she often found herself on the wrong side of the law; and thus in trouble. But this time the men who were chasing her wouldn't read her rights and lock her up if they caught her. No, this time the end of the chase would be far more violent, and Roni knew that because of this she had to make sure they didn't catch her. She was trying desperately to prevent them doing so, if only she hadn't put on the damn high heels when she left home earlier!
She had worn the heels because she knew how important it was to look one's best; especially for one with her vocation. Roni didn't even crack five feet tall in her stocking feet, and wearing the highest of high heels was just one of the ways she manipulated people's impressions of her. Besides, they made her legs appear longer and her butt look good. Unfortunately, none of that changed the fact that they were very difficult to run fast in!
It all started when she found herself short of money for her rent and had tried to throw a quick con together so she wouldn't be evicted from her rattrap apartment. She was new to the city and hadn't learned who all of the major players in the underworld were yet. She'd had to leave her last city of residence rather precipitously, and so she hadn't had time to do her usual amount of homework.
Roni wasn't classically beautiful, and was far too voluptuous to be fashionably beautiful, but she'd found that there were always men who would follow her wicked curves around anywhere she cared to lead them. Her tits and ass coupled with her unusual complexion served to keep men guessing; which, of course, kept them interested. Roni's parents had both been of mixed race, though they had refused to disclose what exactly those races were; even to Roni.
She, herself, had no idea what parts of Earth she owed her genetic heritage to, but she knew that the unusual mix of features and the indeterminate skin tone she had been blessed with made it possible for her to be a veritable chameleon. A simple change of clothing and slightly different shades of makeup and she could change her appearance dramatically. Was her skin a lovely creamy cocoa a la Halle Berry? Or was she a tan Malibu beach bunny? Or perhaps she was a descendant of the place that had once been commonly referred to as 'the Orient?' Her appearance would never give away any secrets. Throw in some hair dye or a wig and she could be a completely different person.
Her current predicament stemmed from her most recent mark. He had seemed like any average Joe, and she had picked him out almost immediately from all of the possible suckers who had been at the club she'd ventured into earlier to ply her trade. He hadn't been very attractive, but he hadn't been impossibly ugly either. He'd obviously had money, but hadn't seemed rich enough for the money to be a problem later. In short, he'd seemed perfect and had responded beautifully to the scam she'd run on him. How was she supposed to know he was the local crime boss’s brother?!?
He hadn't dressed with the ostentatious flair that most successful criminals favored. He hadn't seemed to have an entourage or any 'security' with him. His face had been open, and rather guileless; not the hardened, cynical expression most people who spent time with the less-than-pure-as-the-driven-snow elements of a city usually developed. He hadn't had any of the normal signs that would have warned her away.
She had given him a professional evaluation before she'd even approached him, and he'd seemed like a very safe target. The only thing that would have made him more perfect would have been for him to keep his wallet in an easily accessible pocket. Then she would have dispensed with the whole charade and just light-fingered herself into solvency. Unfortunately, he'd been savvier than that and had kept his wallet buttoned up in an inside pocket at the front of the sport jacket he'd been wearing. She'd been able to see the outline of the wallet from across the room, but knew she'd have to get up-close and personal to have a chance at relieving him of it.
She'd begun by dancing through the crowded club; slowly heading towards him. She knew the second he noticed her; she had felt the way his eyes caressed her body. Once he'd finished studying her breasts in the low-cut dress she was wearing, he'd raised his eyes to her face and she'd met them with hers. The 'come-hither' smile she flashed had him following his dick straight to her side and from there it had been easy.
He'd bought her drinks, which she'd pretended to drink, and she had acted progressively more intoxicated as the night progressed. As she swayed her body in time to the music, she had clung to her target more and more. And when she suggested they find someplace more private to get to know each other he'd been all too willing.
Once he'd taken her to his apartment, it had been easy to get him out of his coat and to convince him that she just had to have one more drink to calm her nerves. After all, the thought of being with someone as handsome as he was just had her poor, little head in a spin. He'd swallowed it hook, line, and sinker and had left the room to get a bottle of 'the good stuff.'
Naturally, he hadn't put his jacket back on just to go to the kitchen and she'd been able to nick his wallet out of his pocket and silently depart via the window and fire escape. That's when she'd realized her mistake.
As she'd climbed down the fire escape she'd noticed that the outside of the building was crawling with just the type of 'security' that had been notably absent from the club. Fortunately, she'd seen them before they saw her and she'd been able to slip away. As she’d skirted their location, she heard them talking about their chief, the city's top crime boss, and how they hated babysitting his brother. She'd known it wouldn't be long before they'd be on her trail.
Before she even made it back to her tiny apartment she'd noticed them shadowing her. She had considered just making a break for it, but she'd wanted to collect some personal items before she skipped town (again) and had thought she'd be able to give them the slip. After making it back to her place, she’d managed to throw most of what she wanted to take with her into the duffle bag she kept packed for emergencies.
But before she'd had a chance to change clothes and alter her appearance she'd seen them circling the building. Not wanting to be trapped in her apartment, she'd made her way to the roof and (after briefly removing her stiletto heels) had been able to jump the short space between her building and the building next to it.
Roni had been able to make her way back to the street and away from her apartment, but the part of the city she was in didn't give her many options for losing herself at that time of night. The streets were deserted and the few businesses in the area had long since closed and locked up tight. Even the clubs and the bars had closed down and the local drunks had made their ways home to escape the winter chill. Everything was still and silent. It all seemed deceptively peaceful.
The cold winter wind cut through her thin club-wear like a knife, and the click-clacking her high heels made against the pavement was painfully loud in her ears; she felt horribly exposed out on the open street. Convinced she was being watched, she ducked down a side street and hurried through the narrow alley as quickly as she could. When she'd reached the other side she turned and saw the outlines of four men following her. Knowing she'd been right and that stealth was pointless, she'd run as fast as she could and had zig-zagged through a number of smaller streets and alley-ways.
She finally found a building with an unlocked door and ducked inside, closing the door just before the men who were chasing her turned the corner. She knew they were right behind her and she looked around desperately for a place to hide. The room she was in seemed to be some kind of warehouse and there were boxes and equipment stacked around at what seemed to be random intervals. She dashed into the maze of odds and ends and found a small, concealed space that she thought she could hide in.
Just as Roni crawled into her hiding space, she heard the door open and the footsteps of the men following her. They knew they had her cornered and didn't seem to be in any hurry as they split up to search through all of the junk scattered around. It would only be a matter of time before they found her; there was nowhere for her to go.
As Roni scrunched down into her hiding place, she wished, not for the first time, that she could just give the wretched wallet back, but she knew that would be pointless. Roni knew exactly what type of men she was dealing with, and she knew they would not be willing to just forgive and forget. If they caught her, she'd be lucky to escape with her life; if they did kill her, she was sure she'd be wishing for her death long before it came.
One of the men passed close by the place where Roni was hiding and she tried quietly to snuggle deeper into the small cavity. As she did, she realized she was sharing the space with a half-grown, black and white, shorthaired kitten. The animal was regarding her with wide eyes and just as she started praying it would remain silent, it let out an ear-piercing yowl and jumped into her arms.
Roni jumped up out of her hiding place with her duffle bag slung across her back and the small cat still in her arms, and ran as fast as she could for the far side of the room. The men all started to converge on her position as soon as the kitten gave her away, and were close behind. As she ran for all she was worth, Roni tripped over some debris and began to fall towards a dark spot on the wall.
Expecting to hit the wall hard, and unable to put her hands out to catch herself without dropping the cat, she turned to take the impact on her back instead of on her face. She was astonished when she kept falling, and falling, and falling. She looked back up to see that the light from the warehouse seemed to be getting very far away and that the four men who had been chasing her were falling down the same hole she seemed to be in as well.
It seemed to Roni that she had been falling for quite a while, and she was beginning to wonder when she'd land, and if she'd survive the landing, when she was suddenly caught in a vortex. The cyclone took her breath away and ripped the kitten from her grasp. She had just long enough to worry about the poor creature before the lack of oxygen stole her consciousness and everything went black.
Roni slowly came back to herself, and the first thing she realized was that the air was no longer cold and biting; it was warm and wet. She opened her eyes and discovered that she was lying on a leaf-strewn ground and that it was daylight instead of nighttime. She wondered how long she'd been unconscious.
Taking stock of herself, Roni found that her limbs all seemed to be in working order and that her duffle bag had miraculously remained strapped to her back. She looked at her surroundings and saw that she seemed to be in the middle of a jungle.
There were trees all around her, which seemed to disappear into a sky that she could only catch glimpses of through the green canopy above her. Close to the ground, the trunks of the trees were as big around as a small car and there also seemed to be quite a few bushes, vines, and creeping vegetation scattered in the places where there were breaks in the towering foliage.
Roni stood up and slowly dusted herself off, continuing to stare in amazement at the verdant wonderland around her. The cat was nowhere to be seen, but the four men had also made the journey to wherever they were. None of them appeared to be awake yet, fortunately, and as she continued to look she saw that one of them would never wake again.
One of the men was lying next to a tree that seemed to be oozing a golden, viscous substance from its roots. The man's head and shoulders were already encased and the ooze was slowly making its way down his body. It almost looked like he was being encased in amber, but Roni had no interest in moving closer for a better look. It was clear the man was dead, but she still had three more to worry about and they were starting to stir.
Looking around for the cat one more time, and failing to find him, Roni quickly started off into the jungle; seeking to put space between herself and her pursuers. She had to be careful about how she placed her feet in order to keep her heels from sinking into the soft, moist ground. More than once her shoes got stuck and she had to stop and free them before she could continue. Because of that she made much slower progress than she'd hoped and she began to worry that it wouldn't take long for the men to catch up to her.
As if to confirm her fears, she heard her pursuers crashing through the underbrush and moving closer to her. She started to panic and looked around for somewhere to hide. Unable to help herself, she turned and looked over her shoulder and saw that one of the men was nearly upon her.
Roni tried to stretch her legs to run faster but one of her shoes caught again and she went sprawling on her face. The man chasing her missed his grab at her when she fell, but turned to take advantage of her helpless position. As she looked up, expecting to feel his hands on her at any moment, she saw a blur of motion approaching him from above.
While Roni looked on, a vine whipped out from the tree above and severed the man's head. She gasped as his head flew off into the underbrush and a second vine dropped down to grab his body and quickly haul it up into the tree's branches. The whole procedure had happened between one breath and the next and left Roni blinking in astonishment.
Scrambling to her feet, Roni desperately tried to avoid looking at the place where the man's head had disappeared. She kept a wary eye on the branches overhead as she scuttled underneath them to continue her flight from the remaining two men. She could still hear them not far away, and she didn't have time to contemplate the fate of the man who had nearly caught her. She'd have to think about that later.
As she ran, she tried to keep an eye on the surrounding forest as well as behind her for signs of pursuit. Her caution cost her speed, and it wasn't long before another one of the men caught up to her. She looked around for something to use as a weapon as he advanced on her. This man seemed to have learned from the examples of his two unfortunate companions and kept part of his attention on their surroundings, which slowed him down somewhat.
Roni picked up a stone she found lying on the ground near a tree, intending to use it to defend herself, and was startled when it suddenly sprouted a plethora of legs and began squirming and chittering at her frantically. With a yelp, she threw it away from herself, and it happened to land on the leg of the man who was chasing her. They both watched in astonishment as the rock-creature quickly climbed to the top of the man's head and latched all of its legs around the man's cranium.
The man started screaming as if the rock-creature were burning him; Roni, unable to help herself, raced over to try to help him. The man was running in circles and waving his arms around hysterically, and he knocked her several feet away from him with his frantic flailing. Before Roni could gather her feet under her again, she saw that the man was bleeding badly.
The bleeding started underneath the rock-creature, from the top of the man's head, but the man quickly began bleeding profusely from his eyes, ears, and nose. Horror-struck, Roni continued to watch as the man’s insides appeared to melt. First, his head seemed to deflate and sink into itself, as if his skull had ceased to exist, then his neck sunk into his chest and his chest seemed to run down towards his feet. Mercifully, the man's gurgling screams ended quickly, and it was only Roni who was left to be horrified as his bones seemed to liquefy and what had once been a human being turned into a skin sack leaking red, viscous fluid.
Once the man was a puddle of skin and goo on the ground, the rock-creature settled in the middle of it and extended what looked like a straw to Roni. It inserted the end of the straw into the puddle and began making slurping sounds. Fighting her rising gorge, Roni ran off into the forest.
Out of breath, Roni soon had to stop her headlong flight; plus, it occurred to her that running blindly through the forest might not be the best idea. It was clear to her that she was either dreaming, dead, or someplace far from home. She immediately decided to operate under the assumption that she was still alive (and not dead and in Hell), that she hadn't lost her mind, and that she was awake.
This decision wasn't made because she was sure that all of these things were true; she'd just decided that on the off chance that she was alive, awake, and sane the best way to remain so was to act as if the dangers she perceived were real. If it turned out that her mind (either awake or asleep) was manufacturing nightmares for her to navigate she didn't see how acting as if they were real would harm her in anyway, and if she were dead she supposed she'd be beyond harm.
With that resolution in mind, Roni decided she needed to find her way out of the forest (and hopefully to somewhere safer) and/or find people who could help her. Considering what she had seen, climbing the trees to try to find out where the edge of the forest was didn't seem like such a hot idea; so she decided to just pick a direction (away from the last place she had seen the man who was still chasing her) and go in as straight a line as possible. She couldn't hear the last of the men who had been chasing her and she thought to wonder if he might already be dead, but erring on the side of caution seemed the better part of valor in this situation and she started off into the forest again.
Just as she began to think she might be putting some real distance between herself and the place where the third man had died, she heard a plaintive mewing from nearby. Sighing, but knowing she'd never be able to walk off and leave if the kitten was near and needed her help, she started looking around; after all, she considered herself at least partially responsible for the kitten being in danger in the first place. It didn't take her long to follow the crying and find the kitten. It was entangled in what appeared to be a web of long, thin leaves.
On the ground in front of her, was a plant that looked like a giant, mutated tulip. It had long, thin leaves and a central stalk with a blossom at the top; but instead of standing up straight the leaves were woven into a cage, at the center of which was a very frightened looking kitten. She crouched down to get a better look. The kitten didn't appear to be injured, just trapped.
Given what she had seen of the potential for violence among the flora and fauna of this forest, Roni was rather reluctant to just stick her hand into the tangle of leaves and try to pry the kitten out, so she began looking around for something to use to move the leaves. First she had to be sure that whatever she picked up wouldn't suddenly decide to eat her; it was a nerve-wracking process. She finally found a stick that seemed both long and thick enough for the purpose, and also seemed to be relatively inert.
She picked the stick up, keeping a wary eye on it, and began to move back towards the plant that had trapped the kitten. It appeared as though the leaves were moving closer together, trapping the kitten in an even smaller space. Worried the kitten would either be crushed or smothered, Roni began to hurry but was stopped as the kitten let out an ear-piercing yowl at the same time something crashed through the brush behind her.
Roni spun, raising the stick in front of her, to face the threat behind her. She saw the last of the men who had been chasing her stumble out of the underbrush and fall, facedown, on the ground. He lay there, twitching, and then looked up at her, an expression of utter anguish on his face. The man seemed to be trying to speak, but no sound escaped his mouth. Suddenly, he opened his mouth even wider and looked as if he were trying to vomit.
Thousands of tiny, crawling creatures came scuttling out of his mouth. Distantly, Roni's mind tried to classify the creatures as insects; though she knew she had nothing to base that assumption on other than superficial appearance. The man gave her an expression of complete horror, and then his eyes rolled up into his head and he was still except for the movement of the creatures. Roni prepared to run, but the creatures didn't seem at all interested in abandoning their meal, and were busily encasing the man's body in some kind of web-like substance.
Trying to keep an eye on the mass of creeping creatures, she turned back to the plant that had trapped the kitten. No longer able to see the animal, she could hear his mournful cries from inside the bundle of leaves. Poking the stick into the center of the tangle, she found the leaves were difficult to move, and that they left marks on the stick as though their edges were sharp. That knowledge made Roni glad she hadn't just blindly plunged her hand into them, but she was able to use the stick to make a large enough opening to stick her hand in and grab the kitten.
As she pulled the kitten out, she found that there were small vines wrapped around its back legs. They didn't release it when she pulled it away from the plant, but she dropped the stick and let the leaves close back together and the sharp edges severed the vines. She was then able to unwind them from its legs.
Roni looked the kitten over, but other than some lost fur where the vines had wrapped around its legs, it seemed none the worse for wear. She did notice during the course of her inspection that it was a he. He didn't seem at all inclined to leave her arms again, and he snuggled under her chin and purred. Even with the threat of the men gone, Roni knew the forest itself was still a threat and she needed to get out of it as soon as possible. Turning to continue on her way, she found that she wasn't alone.
Between the trees, in the direction she had been headed before she'd been distracted by her search for the kitten, stood a very tall man with hair that was a blonde so yellow she doubted it was from nature. He was very well built and muscular, and the features of his face were stunning with large, purple eyes, high, sharp cheekbones, and full, bowed lips. Roni became lost in the beauty of his face for a moment, but soon realized that this man might be the help she'd been looking for.
Just as she was about to speak to him, an expression of rage contorted his beautiful face; he raised his hand to point at her, and shouted in a language she'd never heard before. Afraid that the man meant to attack her, Roni spun, intending to run away, but found that she was unable to move her feet!