Todd had somehow backed her against a tall tree on the deserted walkway. She couldn’t move back and if she moved forward, well…Todd’s large, muscular body was blocking the way.
They stood in the tree’s cool shade, colorful leaves falling all around them. They were staring into each other’s eyes; each one was afraid to make the first move. Todd finally moved closer, encircling her and giving her the long, heartfelt kiss that she’d been waiting for—for a very long time.
She couldn’t believe that he was holding and kissing her. His mouth was soft and hard at the same time—pulling her deeper and deeper into his world of heightened feelings. When he touched her, she felt somehow different—not herself anymore. He took total control of her mind and her body. It felt unbelievably good, but scary at the same time. She still wasn’t sure that she was ready to give up her freedom to be under Todd’s control.
He was staring down at her—as if trying to commit her face to memory. He caressed her eyelids with his lips. Then his warm lips moved down her face to her mouth once more. She shivered in delight. Who knew that he could be so gentle and caring?
The kisses grew ardent, but her mind remained focused on the way he had been memorizing her features. Why? Was he going away? Was there something he wasn’t telling her? Of course, there was—he and his friends were always keeping secrets. She didn’t know if she could trust him. But damn, he was a good kisser. And he was beautiful: his big brown eyes had those long lashes that any woman would die for; she loved his cleft chin and his finely chiseled features.
She ran her fingers through his soft, curly brown hair. But she had to be able to trust him—with her life if need be. His lips were trailing down her neck, down her chest, ending at the deep V of her neckline. He was licking her skin, causing her limbs to tremble. She felt warmth flowing down her body, awakening her nerve endings with the sudden unexpected thrill. She threw her head back and softly moaned.
He groaned in response, his playful tongue reversing in direction, picking up speed until it reached her mouth once again. Then he descended upon her with his lips; his warm mouth, which was molding itself to hers. His whole body was molding itself to hers until she felt as one with him. She was falling into his embrace.
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Venture Galleries is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Monday’s Sampler features an excerpt from The Dead Game by Susanne Leist. A beachfront town, a haunted mansion, people disappearing or turning up dead–these are the elements of gothic horror, but this unique novel has a more than a few twists.
As one reviewer said: The Dead Game by Susanne Leist is a mysterious supernatural thriller with plenty of twists and turns that is well-written and keeps you turning the page. From the first page you start a wild ride and just when you think all is well, she throws in another twist.
Can you feel your heart beating? Is it beating too fast? Do you feel trapped?
This is because you are. You’re standing in a pool of water, in the basement of End House, wearing your party clothes. But there is no party, no host and no guests.
The door behind you locks shut. The only way is forward, through the falling cages with their sharp edges, ready to ensnare their next victim.
Circular saws begin to descend, looking for heads to slice off.
Meanwhile, Linda is upstairs with the rest of her friends being pursued by creatures through revolving rooms. Or are they illusions? What should she do?
The owner of End House takes no prisoners.
The Dead Game has begun.
Linda was passing the empty tables by the tall windows when she felt her arm being tugged—very hard. Before she could react, she found herself being forcibly dragged through the open patio doors and onto the isolated garden path. She came face to face with the mighty Wolf and his trusted companion, Hayden. The grounds were deserted. Everyone had left the gardens and she was all alone with the two wicked vampires.
Wolf glared at Hayden. “Please let go of her arm; we are not animals. We never force ourselves on women.”
“Chivalry among demons—I’m very impressed. Too bad your table manners and choice of dishes leave a lot to be desired,” Linda said. Her hatred of Wolf had just caused her to forget her low position in the food chain; she closed her mouth to stop herself from talking. In the future, she must remember that he was a vampire—the strongest one in the world—and that he could easily destroy her at any time.
Wolf didn’t seem the least bit focused on her. “I didn’t come here to play parlor games with you. I need you to convince Todd to join with us. He can never be human or will ever be accepted by them. He belongs with us. He must stick with his own kind.”
“He’s not like you in any way at all: he cares too deeply for people and is loyal to his friends. On the other hand, you and your kind enjoy killing too much and have no feelings whatsoever.”
“Todd will never be accepted by humans or by his own kind. He will be an outcast with nowhere to go. He must join with us.”
“Todd is human and will always be accepted by humans.”
“Let’s kill her now, boss. She’s going to be trouble. I could take her away and no one will ever see her again,” Hayden said, grabbing hold of her arm again.
Oops, she did it again. Her big mouth had now sealed her fate. She had to learn how to be more assertive without getting herself into trouble.
Wolf strolled over to her with a wicked gleam surfacing in his eyes.
“I have a much better use for her in the future. When she finally comes to her senses, she’ll realize that she will be better off with a real vampire with limitless powers than with a pathetic human. She’ll learn about intoxicating love and passion—not the games that humans play that pale in comparison.
Here comes the human. Let her go for now.”
Linda was horrified to find herself wrapped in Wolf’s strong, muscular arms. She became hypnotized by his black eyes and tempted by his deep voice. He seemed perfect in every way. She only wanted to be with him.
“I’ll be back for you.” Wolf held her tight against his body and whispered in her ear. “I love the way you stand up to me with your flashing blue eyes. Soon you’ll be mine, my beautiful ice queen.”
Linda couldn’t move her body. She was stuck in some kind of trance…she couldn’t leave; didn’t want to leave if given the choice. His voice soothed her and made her think of love, passion, and great need: a need that could be satisfied only by him with his expert hands and mouth. She knew that one day she was going to be with him, to be joined with him.
He lowered his mouth onto hers and drew her into a swirling haze of unexpected feelings and desires. His mouth fully covering hers introduced her to a new realm of pure pleasure. His powerful form enveloped her, making her feel feelings that were foreign and untried for her. She couldn’t get enough of him. She tentatively began touching his face and then his body with an eager and unrelenting hunger. She didn’t know what she needed, but she knew that she wanted and desired this beautiful man standing right before her. Her past life was washed out of her mind, never to be considered again. She begged him to take her with him tonight. In response, Wolf lifted her in his arms, as if she weighed nothing, and turned to leave the party. His beautiful face looked victorious and happy. His black eyes filled with passion. She hoped that it was because of her. He looked down into her small face and gave a hearty roar.
While Wolf carried her in his powerful arms, a dark shadow swooped out of the house and flew directly at them. Linda was knocked out of his arms, and Wolf was thrown across the patio.
She looked up to see who had attacked them. It was Todd, his eyes a deadly shade of green, standing there panting.
Linda backed away in horror. Todd’s eyes cleared and returned to their original dark color. Then he looked at her. “Don’t ever be afraid of me. I’m here to protect you.”
Then he was struck down by Wolf.
They began circling each other like two wild animals. Todd thrust his body at Wolf, causing Wolf to lose his balance, and they crashed together to the ground. Wolf pushed Todd aside and stood back up. He lunged at Todd, who sidestepped his maneuver. Todd retaliated by lifting him high up in the air and flinging him through one of the glass doors to the house. Wolf rose up and dusted glass off his clothing.
He said to Todd, who stood before him, “We are not anywhere near finished, my dear friend. The next battle between us will be more private—without so many witnesses. If I were you, I would watch your back…and your pretty little girlfriend.” Wolf stalked away with Hayden following close behind. Todd quickly followed.
Linda was left standing alone outside. She felt bereft without the touch of Wolf’s lips on hers and the solid strength of his arms holding her. She had felt the unmistakable pull by him on all her senses. In his arms, she’d felt weak and needy—as if she needed him to live. Todd and Wolf were extremely powerful and both had taken hold of her senses.
Intense feelings of claustrophobia began to overwhelm Shana in the narrow, confined space. The air was becoming heavier and thicker. She thrust her hand in front of her, where she could feel the air: it felt strangely thick and spongy. When she tried to move her arm back down, she found that it was being held firmly in place. She was being sucked into the unyielding darkness, where some unnatural force was probably lying in wait for them.
She felt a slight shift in the air—possibly even a slight breeze. The darkness slowly lifted and loosened its hold on her arm. She turned to flee, but her hasty escape was interrupted by a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream. What now? What else could be in store for them?
She looked ahead into the darkness and spotted Louise, standing as still as a statue with her huge blue eyes wide open in horror as she stared at the far end of the tunnel. The group edged closer to Louise and watched the bizarre scene that was being played out in front of them.
In the darkness of the tunnel, a light was being projected on one small area. In this subdued light sat a woman in rocking chair, rocking a baby in her arms while humming a sweet lullaby. To Shana, the scene looked very peaceful and serene—which didn’t at all fit with Louise’s terrified reaction.
She asked Louise, “Why are you so afraid? Who is that lady with the baby?”
Louise replied, “It’s my mother holding me. I’ve seen this scene numerous times in old pictures. My mother had died when I was only a baby.”
“This scene has to be one recreated from you own imagination. Before our minds are toyed with any further, we must turn around and leave. Right now!”
Louise grabbed Shana’s outstretched hand and followed her back through the tunnel.
Mike ran through town. He heard chanting noises coming from the direction of the park. He crept closer to the lit gazebo, being careful to keep close to the real shadows cast by the deserted buildings. In the distance, he was able to discern dark shapes circling the gazebo, holding hands and chanting in a strange language.
The gazebo was lit by flickering candles and in their midst was Louise, hanging from a noose. The figures wore dark robes with hoods concealing their faces. The shadowy figures appeared to be human. This terrified him even more since he now realized that they could even be people from his own town.
He crept away before he was spotted. He fled through the dark streets—as if the hounds of hell were chasing him. He didn’t know if the forms were from hell or from earth, but he understood that they were dangerous and deadly. He had to accept the fact that it was too late to help Louise, but he could still get help from the sheriff for the rest of his friends.
She said, “I’ll go.” She didn’t know where she got her courage from, but she was tired of being controlled by the freak who owned this house.
She climbed the tower’s brick wall, using her hands and feet to push her body up the wall, brick by sharp brick. The farther up she climbed…the farther away the top of the tower seemed to be. She knew that this couldn’t be possible unless someone was playing tricks with their minds again—like with the water that had appeared.
She was almost at the top when she heard a booming sound coming from above. The gate that had been lying across the top was now crashing down to one side—the side she was hanging on to. While she held on tight, she closed her eyes and prayed. The gate bashed against her, but she still managed to keep her footing. She climbed back down before she got swatted like an ant against the wall.
“This must have been the master plan all along; that we all die in this house—one by one,” she yelled at Mike and David, who were both standing in the doorway with their mouths hanging open. Mike’s response was simply to turn around and stomp away. She was disgusted by this whole business and by Mike’s total lack of sympathy. He didn’t seem to be at all concerned that she’d almost been killed. She knew he wasn’t a real friend and couldn’t be relied upon in the future.
Her first visit was to Shirley, the self-appointed town gossip. As soon as Shirley spotted her walking in, she hung up the phone. Who had she been talking to? And why hadn’t she wanted her conversation to be overheard?
Approaching Shirley’s desk, apologized, “You didn’t have to hang up just because of me. I only came over to gossip since business is slow today.”
“I was finishing up anyway. What can I help you with? Come sit with me on the couch.” She led Linda to the pretty flowered couch under the green-tinted front window, while she settled into the large matching armchair.
“Have you been invited to the party at End House on Friday night?” questioned Linda as she attempted to get comfortable in the mound of pillows scattered around her.
“No, of course not—only the young people of Oasis have been invited,” explained Shirley—as if this were obvious to everyone. She was looking down as she spoke…busy straightening her blouse and smoothing the pleats in her skirt. Shirley was always adjusting some piece of clothing.
Even Shirley was giving vague answers to her straightforward questions.
“Why?” she prompted Shirley.
“Hank and I don’t fit in with the younger crowd…We’re too old and our spouses have already passed on.” As she spoke her shoulders began to droop, causing Linda to wonder if she did that on purpose just to appear older and frailer.
“Both of you look so young.”
“No. We’re in our seventies.”
Unnerved by this unexpected answer, Linda stood up and bid Shirley goodbye.
At the Town Hall, Linda crossed over Main Street to turn back in the direction of the beach. She passed the sheriff’s office, where the sheriff and his young deputy kept a close eye on everyone and everything in town, and then Minnie & Frank’s Grocery.
She crossed back over the side street to reach her own block. Glancing into Mike and David’s store windows, she noticed that their antique shop was still very dark inside—the green tinting on its windows made it appear even darker.
At her shop she unlocked the door. Each morning as she turned on the lights for the day, she experienced a warm feeling of belonging rush through her. She was happy that she had moved to Oasis, even though she had to force herself to overlook all the weird occurrences in town and to think of them as part of the town’s own special uniqueness.
On Sundays many tourists and residents frequented Linda’s shop to sample her homemade coffee and pastries while lingering to socialize. She loved it when her store was full of people and she could hear the sound of their happy laughter, which helped to wipe away the shadows that haunted her in the evenings. This Sunday she had missed the morning services at church because of the constant stream of tourists who kept wandering into her store.
Later that day Shana came in, bringing sandwiches with her. “I figured that the only reason you would miss church and all the gossip was if you were too busy,” said Shana, “and I was right. Look at you, knee deep in books.” She sat on the floor beside Linda, setting up their lunch on a blanket. Linda was busy unpacking boxes of books, which she then sorted through on the floor. “This has been my only quiet time today without tourists.”Her long, usually silky dark hair was messy around her small heart shaped face from her long day of bending over boxes of books and serving demanding tourists.
“Come sit down so that we can eat and talk,” said Shana. “I’ll tell you what everyone had said this morning.” Shana knew that she couldn’t resist a good gossip session. Linda sat down and waited patiently to hear what had transpired at church.
“I discovered that only the young shop-owners of Oasis have been invited to the party, and not the old-timers,” continued Shana as she munched on her sandwich. “Mike and David had found out that Judy, Gregg, and Ryan have also been invited. Maybe only the people who reside in the apartment complex have been invited…but I don’t know what the possible reason could be.”
“I’ve always told you that this town was peculiar. Please come along with Todd and me on Friday night. Louise had asked Todd if he could also pick her up. I won’t feel comfortable with you going alone.” Linda sat on the floor staring at Shana, feeling too nervous and edgy about the upcoming party to eat anything.
“That’s fine with me. Everyone else is going in groups. Mike and David are getting a ride with Tom and Edward, while Ryan, Judy, and Gregg are meeting us at the house after they get off from work at the hotel,” said Shana. “I’d rather go with you anyway.”
“Then it’s all settled.” Linda decided as she continued to sort through her books.
“Why aren’t you eating?” asked Shana. “I ate all of mine already.”
“I’ll eat once I’m done with this mess.”
After they finished chatting, Shana left to go home.
Linda worked straight through the afternoon, placing all the books on the shelves. Feeling exhausted she went home, had dinner with her cats as company, and retired early with them for the night in her bed.
Linda did feel the extreme tension in the air. She didn’t know if she was imagining it, or if it was only the usual tension between her and Todd. Whenever he was near, she experienced a strange tingling sensation; whenever she looked into his big brown eyes, she felt herself melting inside and getting tongue tied. Today she’d experienced this rippling tension even before she’d bumped into him. She was happy that he was escorting her home, since she did feel safer with him by her side.
Todd accompanied her home and even checked inside her apartment for possible intruders. She followed at his heels. They made their way back to the front door, where Todd placed his hands on her shoulders and gazed into her eyes. “Will you be all right? I can stay here with you.”
Even though this sounded more than tempting, she refused his generous offer. “I’ll be fine.”
She was afraid to have him in her apartment—all evening or even all night. What would she say to him? She was still too nervous around him. She needed baby steps in order to get used to being with him. One day they might even have a full conversation.
Watching her face, he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before turning to walk away.
Linda had closed her eyes, hoping for a brief second that he was going to kiss her on the lips, but instead only felt a small peck on her cheek. Of course, she scolded herself, he wasn’t interested in her in that way and she was just fooling herself again with false hopes and dreams. But as she was lying in bed later that night, trying to fall asleep, she thought that anything could happen at a party…or even the next time they met late at night in the moonlight….
Shana Logan was running to hit the ball over the net, her long red hair flying in the wind. She was strong and athletic looking. Her long-lashed, pretty bright green eyes were focused on the game. Linda felt small in comparison…with her own petite frame and less flamboyant brown hair.
Linda shook her head at Shana’s need to be in control at all times. Shana was too serious about everything, even unimportant things like sports.
Shana hit the ball to Todd Morrison, who returned the ball over the net—right into Louise Cannon’s stomach. Louise squealed in pain while Todd rewarded her with one of his devilish grins.
Linda admired Todd’s rugged good looks…with his thick black wavy hair and dark brown, almost black eyes. He ran like an athlete, despite being tall and muscular. His muscles beneath his white t-shirt rippled as he dove to hit a ball. His muscular thighs beneath his denim cut-off shorts tightened and flexed as his legs pounded the hot sand. To her he looked perfect in every way.
Not being talkative, she often found Todd observing everyone from a discreet distance, causing her to wonder what was behind those dark, enigmatic eyes. Those two black pools to his soul allowed her very brief glimpses to his true feelings. What she wanted was a deeper access to his thoughts, t0 understand how his mind worked—
and to find out if he liked her.
On the other hand, Louise didn’t appear to be too happy with Todd right now. She clutched her stomach as if she were in extreme agony from the ball hitting her. Her stomach was flat and she looked stunning in her tiny blue bikini. Louise looked great in everything she wore, with her doll-like features and perfect toned body. Her hair was long, straight, and blonde and her eyes were light cornflower blue. She looked like a small doll, but one with an angry expression on its face.
Todd rushed over to soothe her, causing the game to break up. Mike Aronson and David Deer walked over to greet Linda, while Shana stood back from the others with an annoyed look on her face.
David said to Linda. “Did you receive that strange invitation in the mail today?”
While keeping a careful eye focused on the ongoing interaction between Todd and Louise, she replied, “I didn’t get a chance to go through the mail yet….What is it an invitation to?”
“It’s for a private party at one of those huge mansions.” His voice rose an octave higher. Mike said, “It’s not at one of those houses but at End House, which just sits all alone, empty and deserted.” A strange faraway look crossed his face as he continued, “It just hangs at the edge of the steep cliff overlooking the sharp rocks and the raging waters of the ocean….”
Slowly his mouth lowered onto hers, drawing her into a swirling miasma of unexpected feelings and desires. His mouth fully covering hers introduced her to a new realm of pure pleasure. His powerful form enveloped her, making her feel feelings that were foreign and untried for her. She couldn’t get enough of him. She tentatively began touching his face and then his body with an eager and unrelenting hunger. She didn’t know exactly what she needed, but she knew that she wanted and desired this beautiful man standing right before her. Her past life was washed completely out of her mind, never to be considered again. She begged him to take her with him tonight. In response, Wolf lifted her in his arms—as if she weighed nothing—and turned to leave the party. His beautiful face looked victorious and happy. His black eyes filled with passion. She hoped that it was because of her. Then he looked down into her small face and gave a hearty roar.
While Wolf carried her in his powerful arms, a dark shadow swooped out of the house and flew directly at them. Linda was knocked out of his strong grasp, while Wolf was thrown across the patio.
She looked up to see who had attacked them. It was Todd, his eyes a deadly shade of green, standing there panting.
Linda backed away in horror. His eyes clearing, Todd looked beseechingly at her. “Don’t ever be afraid of me! I’m here to protect you!”