There are certain dreams where one knows that one’s dreaming. Those dreams where one can even choose and control what happens in the dream—the chances of actually fulfilling some of the fantasies each of us have.
Then there are the true nightmares, which seem more real than any reality one has ever known. The kind of dreams that swallow you whole, consume you, enslave your mind and bend it to their own illusory will.
The girl lay on the table in the torture room, her cuffed hands and feet struggling weakly, rattling the rusted chains. Her body was a mass of wounds, cuts and burns. Blood had clotted in rivulets all over her flesh. She didn’t have the strength to scream anymore, just whimpered pitifully from time to time. I stood helpless in the doorway, unable to move or to utter a sound, feeling trapped in my own terrified body.
The Countess stood looking down at Romelia, eyes glinting with cold-blooded madness, just like the knife she used to caress the girl’s naked body. Her splendid silk gown was the same color as the blood staining the blade. Her hair was piled up high, exposing the milky white, graceful curve of her neck. Her beauty was staggering, but poisonous—the beauty a demon is gifted to lure the innocent to their destruction.
Her red lips stretched into a wicked smile as she ran her finger over one of the girl’s wounds and lifted it to her mouth. When her eyes met mine, I looked into the abyss of evil, as paralyzed as the victim of a snake that mesmerizes its pray.
“It’s not only their blood I need,” she said in a low, sultry voice that chilled my bones to the depths. “I need their fear, their cries. I want to test their pain endurance. It’s fascinating how long they last, some of them. Others are a disappointment.” She shrugged her elegant shoulders. “Their minds just shut down. Their eyes become dull, even duller than they usually are.”
She grabbed the girl’s hair and lifted her head, putting her face close to the young woman’s.
“Wake up!” she shouted, but then let the head drop in disgust when she got no reaction. She sighed.
“This one is gone. Better end it. It’s no fun anymore.”
So saying, she put the knife to the girl’s throat and pressed the sharp edge into the soft flesh, bit by bit, as though cutting into a loaf of bread. When the girl’s body began to convulse and her blood gushed, my own scream seemed to tear me apart from the inside.
“Serena, wake up!”
“No, please, don’t! I beg you, don’t do this!”
“Baby, it was just a dream. Wake up now!”
My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see anything. I only heard Hunter’s voice through the ragged sound of my breathing. He was shaking me, murmuring words I could barely understand over the mad thumping of my heart.
“You were only dreaming,” he said again, taking my face between his hands and staring into my eyes. “It was just a nightmare. It’s gone now, do you understand? Look at me.”
Gradually, I brought his face into focus, concentrating on taking slow, deep breaths that cleared my head. When I nodded, he lowered his forehead over mine for a long moment.
“You know, being awakened by your screams in the middle of the night is going to make my hair gray prematurely.”
Though he tried to sound amused, I could hear the worry in his voice. I stifled a sob.
“I’m sorry, Hunter, I couldn’t help it. It was awful, the dream…”
I closed my eyes, unable to fight the shudder that shook me. He noticed and, drawing the sheet aside, pulled me onto his lap, rocking me gently like a child as he held me tight in his arms.
“I know, baby, I know. I was just kidding. What did you dream about?”
I burrowed my face into his shoulder, trying to get as close as possible to his warmth. I felt so safe and protected by the solid shield of his chest that my terror started to fade, even as I recalled the horrible dream.
“I dreamed of The Countess killing Romelia. She… She had tortured her, and then she started cutting her throat, slowly, agonizingly. She spoke to me. She said it wasn’t only their blood she needed, but their fear and their cries. She wanted to see how long they lasted.”
He stroked my hair as I spoke, keeping my face hidden into his shoulder. I dimly noticed that he had turned on the bedside lamp, which bathed the room in a soft, golden glow.
“It’s normal for you to have such dreams after all that’s happened,” he said, angling my head back with two fingers on my chin, to look down at my face. “You’ve taken this documentary too seriously. That alone was bound to give you nightmares, but Romelia’s murder is far worse than that. It triggered something dark in your subconscious.”
“Hunter, to me it’s obvious there’s a connection here. Don’t you agree?” I asked, staring earnestly up at him.
He nodded grimly.
“Of course there’s a connection. When a castle of The Blood Countess is discovered, a girl is tortured and killed in the same manner The Countess used on her victims. A blind man could see a connection, but what is it?”
I tucked my head under his chin again, unable to find a reply that would ease the frustration in his voice.
“I don’t know.” I sighed. “All I know is that I want to get the hell out of here as soon as possible. I know I’ll never forget this, but at least I want to be far away from this place.”
We sat in silence for a while. Finally, I raised my head again to look at him. The low light cast deep shadows over his face and under his eyes. His skin was pale under the two-day stubble.
“I’m sorry I woke you up. I know you need the rest as much as I do. But I really appreciate you coming to my rescue. Thank you,” I added, smiling faintly.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, his voice deep and husky.
At that moment, I discovered he was naked, except for a pair of black boxers. I had been sitting on his lap for at least a quarter of an hour, crawling all over him, but barely now the realization struck me. The smooth skin of his bare chest looked well tanned. His nipples were taut, dark against the dusting of golden hair sprinkled over his magnificent pectorals. It arrowed down over the length of his sinuous, muscled abdomen to disappear under the waistline of his underwear.
I swallowed hard, unable to keep my eyes off his body, so well sculptured it simply defined pure, raw masculinity. My gaze meandered up again and I noticed the tattoo on his left shoulder. It was a dark-gray snake curled around his rounded biceps. Its snarling head with demonic red eyes and bared fangs covered a good portion of the muscled shoulder. A triangle darted through the beast’s mouth, its top corner spearing its head.
“Any special significance?” I asked, indicating the tattoo with a motion of my chin.
“Just a little souvenir I brought from Saudi Arabia.” When I kept staring at him, he elaborated, “A cobra snuck up on me during my last mission in the Force. I was crawling on my belly during a hostage rescue mission, and the son of a bitch jumped right out of the sand. See? The eyes are drawn right where the fang marks were.” He put his fingers on the tattoo, where I could see two small, faint scars beyond the snake’s eyes.
“You were in the Army?”
He nodded shortly.
“Yeah, for ten years or so. But it wasn’t the life I wanted.”
I looked again at the tattoo. Then the light dawned on me. The triangle was in fact the Greek letter Delta.
He seemed surprised by my perceptiveness, but he nodded again.
I lifted my fingers to trace the marks on his flesh, invaded by an overwhelming feeling of tenderness. My heart melted as I thought of the pain and agony he must have experienced. He had been a soldier. A tough life, for tough men…
“You could have been killed,” I whispered, still touching him gingerly. Absurdly enough, I felt tears sting my eyes for the man who seemed to have such little happiness in his life. I wanted to cradle his head to my chest and comfort him like a child, to stroke his hair and show him the beauties of the world.
“I wasn’t,” he said gently.
He bent his head, lifting my hand to his mouth. His lips were incredibly soft on my palm, his hot breath sending shivers of arousal through my body. Our fingers interlaced and he looked up again. The intensity of his gaze was almost tangible, making my pulse accelerate as desire sizzled between us.
He pulled me toward him and sealed our lips in a scorching kiss. His tongue delved into my mouth in a way that made my whole body tingle. His hands on my waist kept me glued to his body and my fingers plowed mindlessly into his hair, ran over his back and dug into the hard muscles.
When he lifted me effortlessly to straddle him, I gasped, feeling his rigid erection straining against the black cotton of his boxers. Instinctively, I pressed my hips over him, heat on heat, causing a low growl to escape from his chest to mine.
His hands cupped my bottom, drawing me tight against him as he continued kissing me hungrily. The stubble on his cheeks was rubbing against my skin, and I thrived on the sensations of this rough touch. When my stroking hands moved over his pectorals, a deep sound vibrated in his chest. Quick as lightning he reversed our positions, and in a moment I was flat on my back under him, my mouth still trapped and devoured by his.
His lips and tongue trailed kisses down my jaw line. When his teeth grazed the sensitive skin on my neck, I arched up toward him, moaning, and my hands slid down to his ass. Our hips were pressed together, undulating in an instinctive, elemental motion, but soon that wasn’t enough for either of us.
Hunter lifted my pajama top and took my breasts into his hands. He lowered his mouth and thoroughly kissed each peak. I was lost in the exquisite pleasure of his touch. When his lips went lower and his fingers slipped under the elastic bands of my pajama bottom and panties, I raised my hips to help him remove them.
He stopped for a moment, kneeling on the bed to look down at me. His gaze was incandescent as it lingered over my body. When his eyes pierced mine, I felt as if something clicked into place and the puzzle was complete.
He lowered himself on top of me again and kissed me, this time tenderly, but no less passionately. He supported his weight on one hand as I felt him remove his boxers. Then we were naked, skin on skin, invisible steam rising from our overheated bodies.The smooth, velvety tip of his rigid penis touched the slippery entrance of my sex. I tensed in anticipation, just as I raised my knees. Before he pushed himself into me, he said gruffly, “I don’t have any condoms with me. Are you on contraceptives?”
For several moments, I looked up at him dazed, my lips parted as though I didn’t understand the question. Then I shook my head.
“No. I never… I mean, I never needed to think of contraception,” I stammered.
He stared down at me for a long moment, stunned.
“Are you saying you’re a virgin?” he asked incredulously through choppy breaths. I tore my gaze away, lowering my eyes to his chest.
~EXCERPT from Ruined Innocence~