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Layla Bahset had a secret; she didn't know who she was.
Oh, she knew her name, but standing here with her feet in the timeless sand, staring up at the persimmon sunrise over the Mojave Desert, she remembered nothing of herself before she'd come here. Beyond the past two years of her life, Layla's mind was bare—every glimpse of memory bounced like tumbleweed out of her grasp. She remembered no family. She remembered no friends. She didn't even remember where she'd lived before moving to Nevada.
The certificates on the walls of her office told her that she was a licensed therapist; her diplomas boasted the finest schools. But she couldn't remember attending them. She was a riddle with no answer—a complete mystery to herself—and the one rare puzzle she didn't want to solve.
As the dry morning winds whipped hair into her face, it prickled like the needles of a cactus, but Layla didn't mind. For in spite of all the things she didn't know about herself, there was one thing of which she was absolutely certain: she belonged to the desert.
It wasn't just that her skin was the color of golden sand and that her hair was as black and glossy as a scorpion's shell. It wasn't even that her eyes had been described as a lush green oasis. It was that when she looked into the desert, she felt as if the desert looked back.
Even out here, alone in the dunes, she knew that someone was watching her. She didn't know who he was or what he wanted. She only knew that he was closing in on her like a storm, getting darker, and closer, every day.
"Tell me how you felt the last time it happened," Layla prompted and her patient twitched like a frightened warhorse, about to rear up. Some people might be surprised at how shy the eighteen-year-old art student was, given that his gregarious father was a Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter, but Layla's heart went out to him. "Tell me, Carson. I want to help you."
The young man just shoved his hands down into his pockets like he was totally lost in the world. "You're gonna laugh at me."
"No. I only want to help you," Layla said in her most soothing voice, just as everything about her office was meant to soothe. The neutral colors, the soft rug and the nondescript lamps had all been chosen carefully. "I promise, I won't laugh."
Carson stared out the office window and Layla followed his gaze. Her office had a spectacular view of Las Vegas and the mammoth mountain ridges that encircled the city like a fortress, cutting it off from the ordinary world. By daylight, the flat expanse of Vegas seemed almost commonplace with its craggy maze of middling skyscrapers and tired tourists stumbling out of the casinos like bleary-eyed vagrants. But at night, Las Vegas would be different. The lights would sparkle even before darkness chased away dusk. Then the tourists and the gamblers would be gods again, their eyes clear but for the avarice. At night, the visitors and the city's residents would mingle on the streets together to party. There would be an atmosphere of festival, the magic stuff of life. But unless she could help young Carson Tremblay, he would never get to experience anything like that.
"My dad thinks I'm on drugs or just doing it for attention," he said.
"Are you?" Layla asked.
Carson shook his head. "I guess I thought I was just some kind of moody artist who gets off on destroying shit. You know, like those rockers who smash up their guitars? I even wondered if maybe I was allergic to paint. But it doesn't just happen to me in galleries or studios. The last time it happened, I was visiting the Grand Canyon with my family and my girlfriend. Well, she's my ex-girlfriend now. I scared her off with what I did."
"What triggered it?" Layla asked.
Carson's lower lip wobbled. "It wasn't fear of heights or fear of falling down the cliffside, if that's what you're thinking. It's just that when I looked at the enormity of the canyon—the jagged rocks and the water-carved curves—I picked up the tire iron and started swinging it blindly."
It was hard to imagine a gentle soul like Carson Tremblay wielding a tire iron. The young man hadn't hurt anyone, but he'd destroyed his father's car, upset his family, and scared away the girl he loved. "Were you angry, Carson? Did something make you so angry at your father that you'd want to smash his windshield and the headlights?"
"Yeah. No. I dunno. My dad wanted us all to look at it, you know? He's gotta know everything. He's gotta uncover everything. I guess that's his job as a reporter. But I was just staring at the rocks and the scrub. The wildlife and the barrenness. It was everything right and wrong with the world, and my heart started pounding."
Layla's heart started pounding, too. Thinking of the desert. Thinking of the yearning.
"I heard this rush in my ears and I went weak with a cold sweat," Carson said. "I tried to close my eyes, like I couldn't bear to look. It was just too " He struggled to find the word.
"Beautiful," Layla breathed, finishing for him.
At last, Carson met her eyes. "Yeah. Exactly. Too beautiful. Can things really be too beautiful?"
Layla was sure of it. Things could be too beautiful. Too delicious. Too pleasurable. Desires were dangerous. Passion unlocked things in a person that might otherwise be best left undisturbed and unexamined.
Layla cursed herself. She shouldn't have let her mind go there. Without any real memories of her own, she seldom brought her own issues into therapy. It was one of the reasons she was very good at this, she told herself. One of the reasons she justified keeping her memory loss a secret. This way, it could be all about her clients. She could help people. Heal people. "Carson, you may be suffering from an unusual case of Stendhal Syndrome."
"I looked that up on Google," Carson said, meandering around her office as if he couldn't make himself sit still. He stopped by her bookshelves, running his fingers over the spines of her neatly organized books. "It's where tourists faint or freak out after seeing great works of art, right? But I told you, it doesn't just happen in a studio, and even if it did, I'm an artist. I can't avoid art. I've got an exhibit this week. There's got to be a cure."
Some therapists would recommend a psychiatrist who would almost assuredly prescribe antidepressants, Layla thought. But that would treat his symptoms, not the underlying cause. Besides, she worried about deadening his emotions. She didn't want to turn Carson into someone like her. Someone numb to everything but the fear. Someone who couldn't even remember herself and didn't want to.
"Carson, I think we're going to try something called trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is a fancy way of saying that we're going to slowly expose you to the trauma until you have a more balanced perception."
"I don't know what any of that means," Carson said. "But I guess you know what you're talking about. I mean, you must get some real crazies who come in here."
Layla glanced up to see that he'd plucked a piece of paper off of her shelf. Carson handed it to her. "I like to think I'd never really hurt anybody, but if I ever get like the guy who wrote this, I hope you have me locked up."
Layla didn't recognize the note or the handwriting, which spelled out the words in bold strokes upon a slip of paper that was crisp and textured like papyrus. But she recognized a threat when she saw one: I'm always watching you, Layla, and when I come for you, there will be a reckoning.
As she crumpled the note in her hand, her heart hammered so loudly in her chest that she worried her patient would hear it. All this time, she'd been half-convinced that her nighttime rituals of checking her locks were simply what any sensible woman who lived alone would do. But now she knew her dread wasn't imagined. It was all real, scrawled in bold black ink.
He 'd been here. He'd slipped past her vigilant assistant and her locked doors. Whoever he was, he'd been in this very office. And he was coming for her.
It took Layla several long minutes to regain her composure. If she let her mask slip, her patient might see how terrified she was, and it might ruin all the progress they'd made together. "You'll never become like that, Carson, and no one is going to lock you up."
Fortunately, they were interrupted by Layla's efficient—and officious—assistant Isabel who tapped lightly on the door to let them know that the session was over. While Layla tried to hide her shaking hands, Isabel marshaled Carson out of the office, then returned with a cup of tea and the newspaper, folded over to the crossword puzzle.
It was a nice gesture, but Isabel wasn't normally the kind of assistant who catered to her, which meant that Layla must not be hiding her emotions as well as she hoped. "What's the occasion?"
"Feliz cumpleanos!" Isabel crowed, and just like magic, she produced a lone muffin with a lopsided birthday candle on top. "Happy birthday, Dr. Bahset!"
Was it her birthday? Layla fought the urge to check her driver's license, which was the only way she could have known for sure. Layla hadn't celebrated her birthday last year and her confusion must have been obvious, because Isabel added, "And don't fuss at me that you don't like sweets. It's a low-fat bran muffin. Bland and tasteless, just how you like it!"
Layla did prefer bland. Food was just fuel, after all. "Thank you, Isabel. It was so nice of you to remember."
Isabel clucked as she lit the candle atop Layla's bran muffin. "Who else would remember?"
That wasn't quite fair. Over the past two years—the only two years of her life she could remember—Layla had made friends. Well, colleagues really. And she occasionally dated. There were other people in her life, but admittedly, probably none of them knew whether or not it was her birthday. After all, she'd become a master at deflection, always turning conversations away from herself and away from her past.
"Let's celebrate tonight!" Isabel said. "Come out with me and the girls."
Layla was tempted. After reading that threatening note, she didn't want to be alone tonight. But Isabel was the very definition of a social butterfly with a swarm of adoring fans always in her wake. Layla wasn't sure she could handle quite so much company. "I'm really tired lately."
"Don't be loco. Come with us to amateur hour. I'll teach you to dance up on stage." Isabel, who was studying to be a sex therapist, managed to say this as if it weren't scandalous at all.
"No, thank you. I prefer not to be paid for my skills in dollar bills."
"Ha! I think you got other plans. Is Dr. Jaffe taking you out tonight?"
"Boundaries, Isabel. Boundaries," Layla warned, picking up her pen. She always did crosswords in pen.
"Chica, you'd have more fun if you didn't have all those boundaries."
Layla didn't dare reprimand Isabel for her sass. After all, Isabel not only helped Layla keep track of her day-to-day life, but stood as a living reminder of all the lies she'd spun to cover the things she didn't know. Isabel was the first person Layla had fooled into thinking that she wasn't an amnesiac, and because of Isabel, it was easier to fool the rest. On the other hand, sometimes it seemed as if Isabel wasn't fooled at all. "You're sure not dressed for a hot date tonight, Dr. Bahset "
Layla wouldn't have the first idea how to dress for a hot date. She owned a closet full of dark skirts and high-necked blouses. Isabel, by contrast, was always dressed as if she had a hot date. Today Isabel was wearing a curve-hugging suit and leopard print heels that weren't entirely office-appropriate but made her look like some kind of sex goddess.
Isabel handed Layla a lovely box from a fashionable Las Vegas boutique. "Here. A present for you. Open it, then I'm gonna sing."
"You didn't have to get me anything," Layla started to say.
But Isabel held up her hand. "Trust me, I did. You need somebody to put a little sexy in your step!"
Neatly folded beneath sparkling tissue paper was a siren-red dress. Layla pulled it out, laying it over her knees. "It's lovely, thank you." And it was. Given Isabel's own taste in clothing, it was a remarkably restrained choice: a knee-length, sleeveless sheath with delicate shirring at the neckline. Layla didn't own anything like it.
Isabel grinned. "Wear that on your date with Dr. Jaffe and he'll want to give you birthday spankings."
Isabel laughed and in spite of everything, Layla couldn't help but laugh with her. Her incorrigible assistant had that effect on everyone, so as far as Layla was concerned, Isabel could say, do and wear whatever she wanted.
"Happy birthday to you " Isabel sang, her voice a Spanish purr. But when Layla leaned over to blow out the candle on her bran muffin, Isabel stopped her. "Wait. What are you gonna wish for?"
That was a good question. Layla already had plenty of money, though she had no idea where it came from. She had a successful practice, but not successful enough to justify her fat bank account. So, what should she wish for? Did she dare wish for her memories back?
Posted February 28, 2012
Wow. That cover is just...epic! Really loved that cover, I gotta say. Now on to the rest of the book, lol. I don't usually read stories about military/ex-military and PTSD, I don't have the strength to go through it with them. But this being a Harlequin, I was betting on that part of the story being more like a setting then a significant matter - I was wrong. Sort of. The ex-military and PTSD does come into play, but since we have other elements like mythology, old Egyptian gods, Aztec goddesses, a sphinx, a Minotaur, you see why I could deal with it. Plus, obviously, the smutty awesomeness that's expected and always delivered. The plot was sort of awesome, actually, minus the whole Syrian dungeon and torture thing, that I didn't like at all. But other then that, wow, great plotting! It was also a very original mix, in my opinion, I mean I totally didn't see the next events coming, I was wondering and getting surprised all over the place. I did get the sense of what the main couple will be pretty early on, but it wasn't one of those lover lost/lover found or childhood crush turned lover sort of scenarios, this one was a bit darker and slightly twisted and man, I'm a sucker for that! The characters were really interesting and original, Ray had a lot of magnetism and Layla's evolution was very well rendered, I could actually feel her turn from something of a machine into a woman. The Ray/Layla couple had a special kind of chemistry, a sort of love/hate to begin with, that developed into intense chemistry and ended up becoming love. I was with it all the way, I believed every second of it. I also got my personal flavor of fun with Seth, though there wasn't nearly enough focus on him. Well, there was, he wasn't a main character, but he was the villain of all villains so I wanted more, lol. I'm hoping for more, to be clearer, because Seth needs to unleash his inner beast, go on rampage and make that Aztec goddess shake from roots to tips of her branches, fu~fu. Good writing, interesting plot, charismatic characters and originality - to sum it all up, if smutty is for you, you should totally give this a try.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2012
Review: Dark Sins and Desert Sands by Stephanie Draven
Kept getting confused in the story. Had a lot of sex scenes. Lot of deaths.
Their is also self sacrifice, love and forgiveness.
Dr. Layla Bahset has no memories of her life except the last two years. She woke up in the deseret in a car, box of certificate she earned and plenty of money enough to set up her office.
Ray for years was in a prison and torured they wanted to have him confess to treason. Till one day he had power and was able to escape. He was turning into the minotaur and had power to make people do what he tells them. But after he always bleeds. Ray also has uncontrollable anger fits. He wants to find out who set him up to be a treason. He also wants to find the woman psychologist who was their asking the questions.
Their are a couple of Gods of mythology as part of the story and the sphinx as a person. I did enjoy the book but thought it could be a lot better somehow.
I was given this ebook to read in exchange for a honest review from Netgalley.
10/18/2011 PUB Harlequin imprint Harlequin Nocturne
Posted October 14, 2011
Who would ever have believed that the path of vengeance would lead to the discovery of love? A man born and recreated and a woman created yet reborn join together to find that which others denied them. Dark Sins and Desert Sands ends up being a powerful and completely entertaining tale that kept this reader on the edge of her seat.
I was fascinated with the heroine that Ms. Draven created. It seems she explored the possible question of, "what kind of person would I be if I didn't have all the baggage from my past?" Layla, the heroine, didn't purposely pursue the answers to that question. How and why she did is intimately mixed up with the villain of the book.
Layla is a nice person. Too nice. By that I mean she is bland - not forceful or colorful. She's numb to life and yet she knows there's something out of reach, something missing and it's driving her nuts that she can't figure it out. She does the best that she can because she has a good heart. And after reading the book, it totally makes sense. Inside, the heroine really is a decent and giving person who longs for the dream of love, home and kids. A reader is in for a surprise when they find out what Layla is actually capable of. She ends up being a very sympathetic character and I cheered her on as she tried to thwart the destiny mapped out for her. When the heroine starts putting the pieces together, mixed with the person she was at the beginning of the book, get ready for a treat. She's a tough cookie and will fight for what is important, no matter what. The person who inspired that keen sense of loyalty is the yummy hero, Ray.
Ray is an awesome character. He's a military guy with a great record - to a point. His sense of duty, honor and integrity would normally be great qualities and they are. But they can and were used against him. He experienced horrible terrible things. Ms. Draven described a scene that would make anyone puke, not just the hero. Despite the things done to him and his need for revenge, it didn't block him from the basic good nature inside himself. He wasn't blinded by rage all the time and when he wasn't, clarity exposed some intriguing possibilities that blew his mind. And, it set him on a path totally different from his original goal, much to my delight.
The culprit and villain that created the chaos and horror that dogged the steps of Layla and Ray throughout the book is, Seth. The author was creative and amazing in what she did with him. I felt I should hate his character: certainly I was given enough ammunition to do so. But I couldn't. In reality, he was as dysfunctional with relationships as a guy could be. He was so set in his ways; he had become arrogant, lofty and totally clueless when it came to a real woman. The bad guy also had some weird phobias and twisted views of women in general. He's so complicated! Because of the author's brilliant writing, I ended up giggling with diabolical glee when Isabel matched wits with Seth. That's all I'm going to say about that - wouldn't want to ruin the fun for readers.
Secondary characters contribute mightily to the plot movement in the book. I enjoyed how the author led me to a false sense of ambiguity about their presence in the story. They were more than they appeared and readers are going to be pleasantly surprised at the roles they play.
Read the Full Review at The Long and Short of It Romance Reviews
Posted October 13, 2011
American military Specialist Rayhan Stavrakis spent two years in a prison in Aleppo, Syria before escaping. He captures one of his guards and reads the man's mind to learn who in the States set him up for torture in this hellhole, what happened to his family and the name of the American shrink who worked with his hosts. He learns his family is safely home and the psychologist who coolly abetted his torturers is Dr. Layla Bahset.
Ray slips back into to United States seeking Barhset so he can read her mind and learn who ordered his rendition and why. When he finds her in Las Vegas, he is shocked on two accounts. First he desires his enemy and second she insists she has no memory of him, Syria and her past. He realizes she is telling the truth about suffering from amnesia while she wonders if he is the one she feels has been stalking her. Ray knows they have a mutual enemy who wants both dead, but he vows to use his other paranormal power to keep the woman he loves safe.
Dark Sins and Desert Sands is a wonderful desert romantic fantasy that brings Minoan mythology into the modern world. The story line is fast-paced from the moment Ray begins his quest and never slows down as the hero struggles with a new set of issues once he catches up with Doc; his thirst to get even with her kept him alive and somewhat mentally stable during the ordeal, but has to change to a new paradigm. Readers will appreciate Stephanie Draven's marvelous Mythica thriller.
Posted November 9, 2011
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Posted October 26, 2011
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