Erin Quinn Books

Lucky Me Publishing, June 2018


“Hurry, Ruairi.  Hurry.”

The whispered command tickled the inside of Rory MacGrath’s ear, feather-light and taunting.  He brushed it away and rolled over, trying to block out what he instantly knew.  It was the dream again—the one that felt too real to be just a dream.  In a moment he would open his eyes and find the woman standing beside him.  He wouldn’t know if she was flesh or fantasy, wouldn’t be able to distinguish imagined from reality.  Not even in the morning.

He acknowledged this, tried to convince himself that he didn’t believe her to be more than a projection of his own mind.  A fantasy he’d conjured and spewed into this semi-somnolence.  He felt his heartbeat begin to race; his breath slowing and deepening—combatant symptoms to the paralyzing awareness.

He thought he opened his eyes, but couldn’t be sure anymore.  Either way, he saw her waiting impatiently beside the couch where he’d fallen asleep watching ESPN.  The apartment was dark, lit only by the flickering screen of the TV behind her.  It cast her in gray and white, dreamscape shadows.  Then the flashing screen went blank and they were both bathed in darkness. 

This—of all that was about to come—it was this that he hated the most.  The black on black void held him captive for interminable moments. 

Sound came before the light was restored.  It was rumbling, indistinct, but a sensory input that his panicking mind grasped gratefully.  There was something out there.  Something more than his fear.  More than his sleep-deadened body.

A flicker heralded the flame of a candle.  An instant later others sparked to life until boundaries of a room could be determined in the glow.  He was no longer in his apartment.

He scanned his surroundings quickly before fixating on the woman again.  It was impossible not to.  She looked the same as she had last night and the night before and the night before that.  She had dark hair—too burnished for black, too velvety rich for brown.  It was full and silken and glossy as mink.  It hung to her waist in a wave of body and bounce, gleaming with the flicker of the candlelight.  Her eyes were brown, as dark as her glorious hair.  They burned like the tiny flickering flames around her.  Even his dream-self couldn’t believe their luminescence.  Her lips were full and soft, one corner caught between her teeth.  She looked exotic, her skin dusky and her features fine.

She wore a blue dress with white sleeves—something that laced in places where there should have been seams or zippers.  It bloused and flowed over her round shoulders, past hips that made him think of sex in a deep, drowning way.  The hem brushed a scattering of twigs and straw on the floor.  Not even her feet peeped out.

She stood in the center of a room with three stone walls.  Behind him hung a thick woven curtain that served as the fourth.  He knew it without turning to look.  There was a table with a pitcher on it in the corner beside a lumpy bed covered by a scarlet blanket.  The room was damp and drafty, making the tapestries on the walls billow, but the woman seemed oblivious to the cold.

As he watched, she began to untie the dress, letting it fall, revealing a white shift beneath it.  The thin material silhouetted her body for a moment before she began to remove that too.  Even as some part of him shouted again that she wasn’t real, Rory succumbed to the seduction.  She was every fantasy he’d ever had, ever wanted. 

Her skin was so smooth and hued it might have been carved from the waxed light that made it gleam.  Her breasts were full and heavy and he felt the air leave his lungs as she bared them.  She glanced up then—every time, every night, at just that moment.  Almost as if she’d heard him.  Her cheeks were flushed.  Her eyes defiant.  Anger, bordering rage filled their depths.  So much of the dream made no sense, but that part—that look of fury mixed with consent—it bewildered him the most.

When she was stripped bare, she stood in the flickering light and stared at something just over his shoulder.

He turned—every time he turned even though by now a part of him knew what he’d see.  A tall man with overlong hair stood just behind him.  A man dressed in a weird get-up that looked like it had come from a movie set.  Archaic, like the dress the woman had stripped.

His cloak was made of some animal fur—not politically correct faux fur, but the real thing, with paws stretched flat at four points and the stub of tail nearly dragging the floor.   It was flung back from his massive shoulders, revealing a heavy circle of gold round his throat.  An obscure word floated to the top of Rory’s thoughts.  A torque.  That’s what it was called.  It was as thick as Rory’s fingers and engraved with Celtic spirals covering its surface.  It looked heavy.  The man’s shirt had a wide slit for his head, boxy sleeves that fell to his forearms, and a front embroidered with more spirals and symbols in purple and gold at the hem and seams.  It hung to his thighs, like a dress.  Beneath it were short pants that gathered below his knees and leather sandals wrapped midway up powerful calves, Roman style. 

But even his bizarre attire was not the strangest part.  What made Rory gasp was more tangible, more figurative.  It shook him no matter how many times he faced it. 

The man looked exactly like Rory.  He didn’t resemble; he wasn’t similar.  Literally, he could have been Rory’s reflection.

As Rory stared he became aware of the ebb and flow of noises coming from beyond the curtained wall, a rumble that now distinguished itself into laughter and conversations he hadn’t noticed while he’d watched the woman strip.  He’d heard only the beat of his heart pounding in his ears then.   Now sounds surged into the candlelit room, the drone of speaking men mingling with raucous hoots and jeering, an occasional giggle or shriek of mirth from the women.  One man’s words rose above the rest as the speaker threatened to come in and show Rory where everything went.  The man used Rory’s name, but pronounced it with the same Gaelic inflection that his dream woman had used when she’d urged him to hurry.  Ruairi.

Rory frowned, realizing he recognized the man’s voice.  He knew he’d heard it before.   From their expressions, it was familiar to the naked woman and his identical twin too. 

A surge of lewd cheers followed the man’s threat.  Volunteers offered to help with the endeavor.

The taunts galvanized Rory’s twin into action and he began stripping away the strange costume with nimble, frantic fingers.  He unfastened a gold chain holding the fur cloak at his throat and tossed the heavy garment onto the bed before bending to untie the sandals.  Frowning, Rory went back to watching the woman as she watched his double.  She stood straight and proud, neither hunching to cover her nudity or posing to flaunt it.  She wore no expression, but her eyes sparked and flared with something Rory couldn’t quite identify.  It couldn’t be longing.  There was too much anger for that.  Her fingers curled in on each other in a tight fist.  Then they eased, then they contracted again. 

But it was the way her gaze swept over his twin, the way her breasts lifted with a soft breath and her tongue moistened her lips that enthralled him. 

He couldn’t look away though that distant awareness inside him was shouting again, warning him not to relax, not to be mesmerized by the rise and fall of those lovely breasts.  But he couldn’t stop himself as he stared at her, longing to touch her. 

He knew the end of this fantasy dream was coming, as it always did just at this point when he felt he might explode with the want and need rising inside him.  He braced himself for it, for what came after when he finally awoke alone and aching, still feeling that somehow it had been more than a dream, though he knew that was crazy.  She would torment him during the wakeful hours afterwards.  The sight of her, close enough to touch . . . to smell . . . to taste . . . .  He would imagine she was everywhere, just out of reach.

But this time the dream took another turn, veering unexpectedly.  Shocking him.

Rory tensed, suddenly uncertain in unknown waters.  What next?  Would his body double do what the real Rory longed for?  Would he take her in his arms and bury himself deep between the woman’s warm thighs?  Would watching them be better or worse than always wondering what came after that heated look in her eyes?

Her gaze flitted over his twin’s body, lingering on the bunched muscles in his shoulders, the tight ridge of his abs, sliding lower, to the hard-on that stood tight against his belly.  She flushed and turned away, moving to the table where she filled a cup with wine and gulped it down.  Rory found himself entranced by the play of candlelight on the slope of her spine, on the curve of her ass, the long length of leg.  His body double watched with equal fascination.

She took another drink before facing his twin again, but whatever Dutch courage she’d gained vanished when she turned.  She looked so vulnerable standing before the massive size and barely restrained power of his muscled twin.  Rory wanted to intercede, not trusting his double with his dream woman.  Even now, a part of him caught the irony in that.  Rory was no more trustworthy than this stranger who looked like him.

He watched with growing frustration as the two met in the center of the room.  As his twin reached out and touched her skin, slid his hands from shoulders to buttocks, pulling her tight against his body.  It enraged him, watching.  Confounded him, because he also felt some strange sense of participation.  The old phrase, taking a shower in a raincoat came to him.  It fit exactly.  He experienced some of what his twin must be feeling, and yet only through the thick layer of distance.

His twin and woman backed up until they reached the crude bed and then fell on it.  Rory’s gut tightened as they came together in a tangle of limbs and passion.  There was little love, that was apparent, but there was heat and need that perfumed the air and sizzled in the silence.  The two seemed to clash in a battle for control, yet neither relinquished it and neither retained it.  Rory could only ride the wave, dry and isolated while his mind and his body yearned to take his twin’s place, be one with the complex and fervent confrontation.

When it was over, he was twisted tight and hard as a rock.  He cursed under his breath, damning this dream world that had dominated him.  Wishing to awaken but unable to bring his consciousness back to his sleeping body.

He heard a sound to his right.  Confused, he looked at the stone wall and saw the woven banner with a crest at its center billow and then move.  A man appeared—dressed like Rory’s twin had been only not so fine, not so resplendent.  This man’s clothing lacked the adornment and embellishment but it had the same ancient look to it.  He was armed with a bladed weapon—too short to be called sword, too long to be a knife.  His manner said he knew how to use it.

What happened next came in a jerky blur—a film strip that jumped and dragged then sped forward without pause.  His twin leaping off the bed, the woman sucking in a harsh breath that seemed to clog the scream she wanted to release.  There was recognition on all their faces and Rory understood that this intruder was no stranger.

Unfettered by the vulnerability of his nudity, his twin crouched in a fighting stance as the new man circled him with that long and wicked blade clenched tight in his hand.  Then they charged one another, one naked, one garbed.  The fight was quick, silent and violent.  Rory’s twin overpowered the other but not without a struggle.  He unarmed the attacker quickly, slamming him against the unrelenting stone and crushing the intruder’s throat with his bare hands.   

Stunned, Rory looked from the dead man now sprawled on the floor to his naked twin to the woman who watched from between spread fingers.  She rushed toward his twin with a look of horror on her face.  Rory spun and saw that his double was on his knees now.  His hands clutched his gut and something dark and viscous ran through his fingers.  Blood.

Rory crouched beside the woman as she stared at the gaping wound across his twin’s abdomen.  Blood gushed from it, splashing her bare skin, seeping into the straw and twigs covering the floor.  There was so much of it.  Too much.    

“Why?” she breathed the question, those eyes scanning his twin’s face. 

Yes, why?  Rory wanted to know as well.  Why had the intruder attacked them without provocation?

His twin was bent with agony and didn’t answer.  As his twin reached out a bloody hand to the woman, Rory knew the life was draining from him.  It was like watching his own death, unbearable and inescapable.  The look in his twin’s eyes cut him as deeply as the gash in the other man’s flesh.  There was rage and there was pain.  Desolation.  Realization.  And something deeper, more agonizing.  A wound more painful than the one emptying his life onto the floor.

“It’s the both of us he’s betrayed, isn’t it?” the woman said, her words so soft Rory thought they were imagined.

His twin closed his eyes and nodded once.  Then he looked up and for a cold instant, it seemed he stared right at Rory.  There was comprehension in the look—comprehension and shock.  Then, relief.  Rory felt the how forming on his lips but he had no voice here, in this nightmare that had morphed into something no longer symbolic but terrifyingly real. 

His twin stumbled to his feet and now he clutched an object in his hands.  Rory gaped at it, reeling again from the shift this dream-world took.

It was the Book of Fennore.  Rory would recognize it anywhere, even here, in this warped fantasy he couldn’t escape.

 The Book had a black cover made of leather, beveled with concentric spirals, and crusted with jewels, gold and hammered silver that twisted and twined around the edges and corners.  Three cords of silver connected in a mystifying lock fixed over the jagged edges of thick creamy paper.  As old as the earth and sky, the Book was more than a bound text, it was an entity with its own consuming desires and twisted needs.  Just touching it gave it access to the heart, mind, and very soul.  Its call was irresistible.  Its promises, unimaginable.  Rory knew better than anyone. 

A low humming had swelled around the three of them, a sickening buzz that lodged in the pit of his stomach and blocked out the sounds on the other side of the curtain.  He felt hot and cold . . . and scared.  The dream breached what little barrier remained between nightmare and terror.

The humming whine throbbed and pulsated—too low to be heard, too insistent to be ignored.  With it came a blistering heat that burned like a coal in his head.  A reasonable, alien part of him began to cite calming words—It will be all right.  It’s just a dream.  Just your imagination.  And once again, dream-Rory recognized that the input was coming from his wakeful self.  Dream-Rory found that even more terrifying because that implied a plurality that went beyond the symbolic twin. 

This can’t be a fucking dream if I’m thinking all of that . . .

Everything began to shimmer, became the stuff dreams are supposed to be—translucent, then transparent, then transcendental.  .  .  .  Before he could wrap his thoughts around it, the woman turned her head to where he knelt beside her.  The cold fear on her face struck an answering chord within him.  She saw him. 

She saw him. 

She lifted a hand that shook and set it against his chest, as if to test his solidity.  Her eyes widened; her mouth rounded and into an “oh” of disbelief. 

And the shock of her icy fingers against his hot skin jerked him awake.

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