Sarah Wylde did not move from Chicago to a small town to get involved with a man. Particularly one like Justin Herne, a man far too mesmerizing and dynamic to be in a rural town like Lilesville. To make matters worse, Herne runs a sex shop in the unincorporated limits of Lilesville, and Sarah is Lilesville's new police chief. She doesn't care whether or not the locals call it a women's sensuality shop and that Herne is considered a respectable citizen. She's keeping her eye on him. The only problem is, Justin is more than happy to stay within viewing distance. When a ritual murder draws them together on a case, she finds that maintaining a professional distance isn't going to be an option.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from If Wishes Were Horses by Joey W. Hill
She had been in a small town too long if she could excuse trespassing with the lame excuse of "no one will mind". Particularly since she, the chief of the Lilesville police department, was the one doing the trespassing.
Something about the forty-two acres of undeveloped land backed up against her own five-acre property called to her, however, and had done so since she had moved in almost six weeks ago. The adjacent property belonged to Justin Herne, a local resident who operated a sex shop in the small town's unincorporated area. Her cop's mind rationalized that he'd want to stay on the good side of the law, even if he did discover her there.
She winced at the thought. She hadn't met the man, but she was sure he'd get that derisive sneer to his lip that all those who walked the shades of gray between law and lawlessness did when they caught a police officer bending the rules. You're no better than me, sister.
Still, it wasn't as if it hadn't been done by the previous occupants of the house. A well-worn path led into the woods from her back stoop and tonight she'd finally given in to the urge to follow it, to find solitude.
The parallel to the changes she had made in her life over the past several months did not escape her.
Her divorce had been painful and predictable. Overworked big city detective, too many hours on the job, irascible and closed off when she was at home. When she found the lipstick on his collar and put it together, he claimed she drove him to the other women. She shot four holes into their bedroom wall over his head, went out, got drunk and humped an accommodating salesman hanging around the bar of a nearby hotel. In the morning she woke with sour breath, a massive headache, and a broken heart.
Sarah moved from her fast warm up walk into a jog, stretching out her thigh muscles, but she couldn't outrun her thoughts.
God, divorce sucked. It wouldn't be so bad if it were possible to have the memories surgically removed as part of the process, but every other second she remembered. Small images as lethal as a sliver of glass gently drawn across a major artery. His cheek against hers as they danced at their wedding. His warmth curled around her in bed. The bed that waited cold and empty for her now.
He'd turn her over and start a gentle suckling of her breasts as she lay there, half between sleep and dreams. His hand would slide down her stomach, slip under the waistband of her pajama bottoms and press against her, a slight movement of two fingers against her clit, his other fingers delving deeper into her moistening, willing folds as she turned her mouth to his, awake now and rising to the passion in his kiss.
Truth be told, the sex had become not-that-great except in those half-dream, half-awake times, but early in the marriage it had been good. Maybe it was that way for everyone. She didn't know when it had gotten to be something she had to will herself to do, like an exercise workout. Something she knew would make her feel better after she did it, but getting started and in the zone took effort.
She thought her husband was a wonderful lover in the beginning, but as time went on there was something desperate to his performance, like a man trying to hold onto something he thought was running away from him.
But I was right there. Wasn't I?
She turned off the path and scrambled up a wall of dirt and vines, her major muscle groups screaming as she pushed herself, her blood roaring in her ears. She got to the top, picked up another path and tried to push herself back into the same hard run. Her lungs rebelled, forcing her to a shuffling trot. A moment later she gave up and just stood, hands on knees, head low, wheezing for oxygen, trying to establish a rhythm to her erratic breathing.
She found a rhythm, but it was not her own. Sarah realized she was matching the cadence of her lungs with a beat that was not coming from her pulse.
She straightened, forcing her breath to an even keel so she could listen. A drum. About six seconds between beats.
This was private land. She should not be here, and she should definitely not be following her curiosity through the woods, pinpointing the location as she moved silently.
Perhaps it was the cop instinct suggesting that people did not go deep into the woods in the middle of the night to beat a drum for innocuous reasons. Or perhaps it was something else drawing her. As she got closer to the sound, the pace of the beat stepped up and she felt her blood stir with it. There was a hush in the forest as if all the creatures of the night had stopped to listen, and the heat that prickled over her skin did not come from the leaping shadows that heralded a fire somewhere just ahead.
Now she heard voices, raised in a chanting song that reminded her of the ceremonies she had attended as a child with her Cherokee grandmother. The voices were devout, strong, aligned with the drums. Men's and women's voices.
Either someone else was trespassing on Herne's property, or he had given them permission to be there. Either way, it would do no harm to take a look in case something came up. And whether it was something or not, she would talk to Mr. Herne this week and get his permission to run on his land.
Her guilt somewhat assuaged, Sarah moved forward. She saw the flickering of the fire but not the fire itself, and as she got closer to the noise she realized it was because the chanters were below her in a ravine. She went to her belly and inched forward so she could peer over the lip.
Nine were gathered around the bonfire. Seven circled the fire, including the drummer. Two were inside the circle, closer to the flames. The light plumbed the depths of the ravine, exposing all its shadows and starkly outlining the movements of man or beast, or both.
Since Sarah was part Cherokee, there was something vaguely familiar about what she was seeing. Nevertheless, her cop side wished for the comfort of her sidearm.
One of the two in the circle was a man. She knew that because from the neck down he was naked, save for the paintings of symbols on his chest, arms and thighs. He was also impressively aroused, his cock rising from a dark tangle of hair like the shadows of the ravine. Okay, the guy was more than impressively aroused. He was hung like a much larger mammal. In fact, it was the size of his erection that made her think he might be closely related to the animal whose head he was wearing, a ten-point stag whose eyes glittered brown and feral in the firelight. A pair of straps, crossed over his broad chest and back and buckled under the cut of the deer's pelt, anchored the noble skull to the man's, but even with the help of the straps, his shoulders and neck had to be strong to take the weight.
He sprang up from a kneeling position and turned with the beat of the drum, offering, displaying...yes, he was displaying himself, to the woman across the fire from him.
She was naked as well and heavy-breasted, with generous hips and symbols painted on her body. A crescent crystal hung from a plain cord around her neck. She wore no headdress as he did, and Sarah saw the woman with dark, shoulder length hair and bright green eyes was probably in her early thirties. Her hands were outstretched and crusted with mud as she sang the chant with the others. She cupped her breasts and spun in lithe invitation.
A woman in the circle began to sing alone, the others dropping to a soft murmuring chant behind her. Her voice was a soft rush of sound, like wind moving through marsh grass.
The woman is the altar.
The center of the circle.
Death and life spiral around her.
Inside the circle, the naked woman's arms folded across her chest, her focus inward and yet intent upon the man.
Sarah gasped as the deer man leaped the tall bonfire. No running start, no warning, just from a crouch to a soaring burst of power in a moment. It was not the effeminate elegance of a ballet move. No, he exploded over the flames like a primal warrior, muscles bunched at thighs and back, neck corded and taut.
He landed at the woman's feet in another crouch, his pale body curled toward the earth in a posture of deep obeisance, his fingers tented against the ground, their tips sunk into the soft earth. His haunches tightened and released with the beat of the drum, a rippling, infinitesimal rhythm of buttocks and back thigh muscles that suggested the erotic movements of copulation.
As the woman looked at him, a smile lit her features and brightened the ravine with a power greater than the heat of the fire. The hair rose on Sarah's damp neck.
Something was there, part of the woman, linking them all, even Sarah, for the energy flowed through the stillness that gripped the ravine. It did not feel threatening as much as it simply swept over and overwhelmed the senses. Sarah felt it through the stuff of her sweat suit, the heat above her, the press of earth below, against her breasts, her loins, her thighs.
The crouched man pressed his jaw against the side of the woman's calf, careful not to harm her with the antlers. He had his hand on her leg, holding her. She touched his bare shoulder and swayed, still softly singing the chant along with the others, her eyes vividly alive and yet far away at once.
He kissed her feet, her knees, the flesh just above her pubic mound. He did it in a formal, fervent way as she raised her hands out and above herself again, her nipples tightening in want even as she sang praises to those they were worshipping. Now a man from the circle sang out, in a deep baritone that resonated through the air.
Lord of life
Death and the underworld.
Sun to the Goddess's moon.
Male to Female.
Strong in the physical world
as She is in the spiritual.
Magic springs from their Joining
Balance is in their unity
Matter and spirit brought together
Death to Life and Life to Death.
Something new comes from something ending.
A new beginning.
The cycle continues.
The deer-man rose to one knee, and the priestess kept her arms spread out to either side of her. He kissed each breast, a reverent brush of lips over the top of each curve that Sarah felt on her own flesh. It was sexual, but it was more than that. Her reaction trembled deep inside her, begging to be immersed in this moment of strong connection between two bodies, between the people and the Beings they were revering, between all the polarities in the world. It was a yearning for belonging so strong she felt it not just in the imagined touch of lips on her breasts, but in every vulnerable energy point inside her body.
When the deer-man stood, he was taller than the priestess, even discounting the headdress. He took her hands and the drummer's tempo increased, the chants of the circle becoming more insistent, building until the ground vibrated.
Two of the circle stepped forward, and Sarah saw they were all unclothed. Each took a gentle hold of one arm of the priestess and lowered her to the earth. The antlered man stood over her, firelight dancing across his skin, etching the shadows of his tense shoulders, his upright cock, the intent set of his jaw. The two assistants returned to their places, and the priestess lifted her arms and opened her legs, inviting him into her body.
He is worthy
Lord of the Sun
Consort to the Moon
His Seed placed in the fertile Earth
brings nourishment to us all.
Birth, growth and death
All begin again in Their joining.
As above, so below
As above, so below
As above, so below
The chant and the drums matched the pounding of her heart, the rushing of her blood, the heat of her loins. Sarah watched, mesmerized as the man knelt between his lady's legs and slowly laid himself upon her, holding his upper body with the strength of his arms. His hips pushed her thighs wider and she undulated, a sensuous movement taking him into her willing womb. Sarah heard the priestess's soft moan, his masculine grunt, and her own moist entrance contracted, weeping with the desire for total fulfillment.
The priestess caressed his face with her hand as she raised her arms and laid them over her head, opening herself to him fully. His knees dug into the earth as he increased the power of his strokes, his flanks quivering with each penetration, his head dropping to rest just over hers so their eyes were locked, though his were shadowed by the mask, his shoulder muscles corded to take the increase in forward weight.
The Lord and Lady become one
As we are all One
To renew our spirits
This joining is the transformation we know
This is the moment we transcend who we have been,
but we do not forget the path we have traveled.
We grow above it, along the spiral
So below becomes above
then below again
And life never ends because death never ends.
The strong voice of the soloist singing carried above the increased power being placed on the drum and the stamping of the circle, which now matched the rhythm of his thrusts. Sarah's own hips pressed into the earth in time with the priestess's, her thighs loose as if she too were open to this joining. Her fingers clenched the earth and she realized when salt touched her lips she was crying. As the fire illuminated each face, she saw most in the circle were weeping.
She did not know when she had shifted from a cop's suspicion to immersion in a ritual she knew nothing about, but understood like an instinctive response to a mother's touch. She did not think of herself as a spy any longer. She simply was a part of what was going on below her.
A harsh moan tore from the man's lips and he threw his antlered head back, keeping his thrusts in even measure with the furious pounding of the drum. The woman beneath him exposed her lovely throat, her heavy breasts wobbling back against her sternum as she lifted her hips higher to match his power, taking him deeper, her face eclipsed by delight, an ecstasy as much spiritual as physical.
Spots of light clouded Sarah's vision. Staring too long at the two etched by the roaring flames might have caused them, or her own lightheaded state, but the flashes were there, and a wave of heat roared over her. She gasped at the beauty of the lights that obscured the bodies of the participants, as if they had burned away all but the purest essence of every person.
A moment later, or it could have been an hour, Sarah became aware of the crackle of the fire, the return of cricket and frog song. A light breeze touched her face and moved the trees above her. The antlered man and the priestess were gone.
Sarah raised her head, blinked and studied the clearing below. The drummer beat out a soothing cadence, like a mother's recorded heartbeat for a baby's lullaby. The other six sat in their circle around the fire, passing around a goblet filled with liquid and tearing chunks off of a round of bread.
Had she actually blacked out? Or had the two inside the circle been there at all?
Oh, Sarah. Get a grip.
She couldn't deny the Indian part of her blood was thrumming on high alert. It knew that just because she couldn't explain something, it didn't mean it had not been there, a real part of an existence beyond human understanding. Cops liked intuition, trusted it. Her partner in Chicago had told her several times he thought her spiritual roots gave her an edge she was too willing to discount. He claimed they were there in ways she didn't even notice because they were so much a part of her.
In this case, those roots were so shell-shocked she hadn't noticed the disappearance of two wild naked people, one with a stag head's strapped to his skull.
Okay, Sarah. Enough trespassing and eavesdropping for one night. She slithered back down the incline, made it to shaking legs, and staggered for home with a full and confused mind.