Everyone knows the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But what if the picture begs for more than a thousand words? This anthology features stories that were inspired by the cover photo. Writers were challenged to use the photo as their muse or inspiration and to let their imagination take over from there. The result is a collection of stories at once nostalgic and looking toward the future, finished off with a dash of hope and a sprinkle of romance.
Michael M. Jones’s “Devil’s Masquerade” takes us through an erotic masquerade filled with disguised nobles, following the lovers Agents Starling and Grace as they search for a rogue sex demon; Brandi Guthrie’s “The Seer’s Mask” lets us into the mind of Gadeah, a powerful seer tormented by the lack of meaningful love in her life; Victoria Pond’s “Heir Apparent” tells of His Lady Highness, a princess forced into playing the role of a knight after both her brother and husband are killed, who discovers a long-lost loved one hidden in a tower far away; and Anya Levin’s “An Unusual Legacy” explores a futuristic world in which a group of rebels creates Freedom, an invitation-only chance to temporarily experience life without the constant informative babble of the identification interface.
Through this compilation of stories, editor Jennifer Levine has once again given readers the chance to get to know an interesting variety of characters, desires, and circumstances, proving that a picture really can be worth much more than a thousand words.
Devil’s Masquerade by Michael M. Jones
The Seer’s Mask by Brandi Guthrie
Heir Apparent by Victoria Pond
An Unusual Legacy by Anya Levin
Enjoy an enticing excerpt:
Excerpt from The Seer’s Mask
by Brandi Guthrie
His mask told me things, things I knew he’d want to keep hidden. But I was never one to be fooled by the cold glitter of surface thoughts. Not me. Not Gadeah the Seer.
It was my power to see the core of all things, and it was my power to strip that essence away until all that remained was flesh and bone.
But Aamir… he was so much more.
On the other side of the ballroom, his molten eyes beckoned; the orbs were dark and hot, like chocolate or coffee–things foreign to the City now since his kind, the Muhannad, came and fought and lost, but cost us so much.
The slip of filigreed metal that covered his forehead and draped his cheeks was supposed to be a punishment, a chain to remind him of defeat. Through it, the Sisters of Sight tempered his thoughts and actions. For three months his mind had been bared to our gaze. A lesser man would have fractured, but his lips smirked, unrepentant as the cleft in his chin. I imagined my tongue in that dimple–and other places–and my insides tingled. His smirk widened. Heat unfurled in my cheeks, and I looked away.
My consort’s damp fingers curled around mine. Once, I’d enjoyed his touch, but since the War, his caresses, like so many things, had turned cold. Unfeeling. Locked behind years of pain and sacrifice. His left hand–the hand that should have borne my ring–was twisted now, deformed in the enemy’s devices. When he’d returned to me from their prisons, I’d known that it wasn’t the only part of him that had been twisted.
And I’d made the enemy pay for that–a thousand-fold. I’d destroyed their armies, opening the Third Eye and gazing upon them until their souls withered and their hearts exploded. Only the strongest of their warriors had withstood my wrath–Aamir and a few others–and we had chained them with masks.
My eyes slipped toward Aamir again. He lounged against the marble wall, a shadow absorbing the dancing light of one hundred candles. My Sisters fluttered around him, teasing him with their veils and twitching hips, but not drawing too close, sensing danger. Moths to his flame.
He wasn’t looking at them, however. This night, like every other night, his eyes were only for me. Our gazes brushed, the brief contact enough to make my pulse thunder and my breath catch.
I could have called him to me. Bound by his mask, he would have to obey. But I’d resisted, knowing that the fire banked in his molten eyes would fan to flaming hate the moment I took him to my bed. Yet we looked and stared, and I wished to speak to him, to say so many things. Perhaps, even, to say that I was sorry for him.
But I said nothing, squeezing my consort’s hand.
My consort did not join me that night. He had not joined me since his return. I had thought it was the shame of his deformity that had kept him from my side at first, but then I realized there was an emptiness to him, as if my power had carved through him as well as the violent Muhannad and left him a shell.
The one time I had ordered him to my bed, he had touched and kissed and fondled as usual. But his phallus had remained soft, inattentive. I stroked it. Took it into my mouth. But to no avail. He would not attend me.
When I Looked into him, I’d Seen that he no longer loved me. No longer loved himself. And I Saw, not too far in the future, the dark glimmerings of a dishonorable death. I would have pleaded with him not to take his own life, but I knew my words would echo in that hollowness, ringing and ringing, to no effect. If anything, it might have driven him to do it sooner. So I sent him away. It was only after the door had shut behind him that I’d allowed myself to cry, muffling my sobs in the velvet pillows.
Sighing, I slipped now from my cold bed and draped a sheer robe over my shoulders. The moon was bright tonight, turning the sands silver. Under the orb’s forgiving light, the signs of the battle were not so evident. No scars upon the earth. No blackened palms. The fountains sang a watery lullaby, dribbling over stone that had never been shattered by magic.
Golden lights winked beyond the walls. My people could sleep easily tonight, knowing that the Muhannad people were defeated, knowing that I had saved them. Would that I could sleep so easily.
The Seer was not meant to use her power to destroy; unleashing the Third Eye was always a last resort. But the Sisters had been fearful, our people desperate, and the Muhannad vengeful. They’d shown us no mercy, and I had been given no choice.
The dry, desert breeze lifted my hair from my shoulders, pulled my robe open. I closed my eyes and pretended it was a lover’s caress. A true lover, one who would drown my sorrows in pleasure until I could no longer regret. My hand joined the breeze’s path. Fingers slid a tickling path over my collarbone, between my breasts, down the curve of my belly, to the nest of dark red curls nestled between my legs.
I hesitated, then opened myself to the kiss of the night air.
My nails slid over the nubbin of flesh hidden within. With a purr of need, I massaged it, imagining it was a man’s hand… Aamir’s hand. I let my head fall back. My unbound hair skimmed my back and teased the sides of my breasts. Still massaging–faster now–I tweaked my nipples with my free hand. They pebbled. I groaned and sagged against the doorframe. My eyes drifted shut as my longest finger slipped inside, a tease, a torment, stoking my need for more. Something harder. Thicker. By the Sight, if only–
My eyes flew open and I tensed, suddenly sensing someone behind me.
“Don’t stop on my account, mistress,” came the throaty growl. “I was enjoying the vision.”
Blood filled my cheeks and my hands fell away. I fumbled for the edges of my robe, but warm, big hands covered mine. Breath smelling of almonds and honey teased my neck. My head fell to the side of its own accord, inviting lips to sample my pulse. I waited. No kiss came.
Shame filled me. I pulled away, clenching my robe closed, and faced him. The mask’s edges shadowed his eyes, but his lips–those beautiful, expressive lips–were a slanted line of mockery.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded, brushing my hair away from my flushed cheeks and raising my chin.
“The guards let me in. I am, after all, your personal pleasure slave.”
He didn’t have to remind me. I’d spent long nights gazing up at my bed’s gauze canopy, recalling the night I had pronounced him mine. Tortured by his people’s ghosts, he’d been unable to service the Sister who’d chosen him for the night. He’d been mad, his mind a splinter away from breaking, and no amount of whipping could overcome the pain roiling inside him. The Sister would have killed him if I hadn’t intervened, but I didn’t have to make him mine. I’d done that for other reasons I refused to explore.
Aamir’s knuckles skimmed my cheek. I quivered, wanting, needing, as his voice rasped over me like the softest of silks. He stepped closer. “I’m yours, and yet… you haven’t called me. You haven’t called any of the slaves.”
“I have a consort.”
“An impotent consort.”
“That is none of your business, slave.”
His lips quirked. “So, it’s true. You’ve been celibate since the War.”
“I have been respectful of my consort.” I slipped past him, but stopped when I realized I was heading for the bed. I veered toward the plate of fruit and decanter of chilled wine instead. My hand shook as I poured the amber liquid, splashing some on my sleeve. The fruity smell mingled with the musk of my arousal. Pursing my lips, I sipped.
“Monogamy is not expected of the Seer,” he said.
He was right. Before the War, I could have found my joy in him, used him regularly and with zeal. But unleashing the Third Eye had shifted something inside me, and life’s shallow pleasures no longer sufficed. I wanted more now. More than power. More than adulation. More than sex.
I wanted love.
To read the rest, download the ebook today!
This anthology of erotic fantasy features stories inspired by the cover photo. Writers were challenged to use the photo as their muse or inspiration and to let their imagination take over from there. The result is a collection of stories at once nostalgic and looking toward the future, finished off with a dash of hope and a sprinkle of romance.